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IC: L5R: Blood and Jade - The Morning After

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The pre-dawn battle against the zombies was fierce and totally un-expected. They were utterly unrelenting and though they were not swift creatures, the zombies possessed an unholy strength and resilience... and there were dozens of them, in the heart of Ryoko Owari, mixed in among the parade and spectators.

As the zombies began to grab, choke and even tear limbs off of people, the celebrants swiftly came to the chilling realization that they were not festival attendees in a zombie costume, but actual zombies. That caused a panic in the crowd, causing many to scream and flee in fear for their lives turning the parade unto utter chaos. With so many running in different directions many were knocked down and some were trampled beneath the crowd. 

There were samurai in the crowd of mostly peasant celebrants, dressed in costume as well, and some were even armed. The samurai drew there blades, mostly wakizashi, though few had knives and other small weapons, having left larger weapons behind for the festival. Unfortunately, in the panic and with the various costumes, some celebrants fell to the blades of samurai who were unable to discern them from the actual foul creatures. Against the zombies though, their steel seemed ineffectual. The skin of the zombies' was difficult to cut, turning blades away easily. Even when a samurai managed to hack an arm or leg off of the zombie, the severed limbs continued to wriggle and crawl on the ground, continuing to attack the celebrants any way they could along side the unrelenting zombie.

Creatures such as zombies were unfamiliar to most of Rokugan, aside from the Crab Clan, and it showed, but Shosuro Kamiko deduced quickly that the zombies could not have formed 'naturally' this far from the Shadowlands, and those summoned by maho rarely had masks. These zombies were all masked, and seemed to be pristine, the corpses of the freshly dead given life by an item she and her brother had encountered before, the cursed zombie masks. Each mask contained a kansen, an evil spirit that would inhabit a dead body when the mask was placed on it, rendering it under the will of the person who placed the mask.

These zombies seemed slightly better, if you could use that word for a zombie, than others she had learned about. They seemed to be slightly more intelligent than others, actually attempting to avoid armed samurai and even working together, if one could say that.

"Shatter the masks!" she had called out, a command that was swiftly reiterated by her twin brother Miren.

It was a command that was tested tentatively at first, but as the first few zombie masks where shattered, sending the corpse falling to the ground like a marionette with its strings cut, the sound of shattering porcelain had began to ring through the air. It was valuable information that came just in the nick of time, allowing the tide to be turned as the ground trembled underfoot.

Up ahead, at the opened gates to the Temple of Amaterasu, the twins caught glimpses of fully armored samurai, in green and gold and bearing yari charging into the fray. Leading them was a young man, in his mid to late teens at best, wearing a gold and green kamishimo and wielding a blade that glinted like gold when the light hit it right. With a keen eye Miren picked out the mons on the young man and his guard.

It was the Lord Prince, Hantei Satorii, unarmored and leading his Seppun mirharu, his guardsmen, into battle against the zombies!

Beyond him and through the gates an even more pitched battle raged. Doji Yuzo, a Crane Magistrate in the city, stood before the pillar of the Dragon Globe, defending the High Priestess as she prayed while near him stood a small, hooded, Lion shugenja, her eyes glowing blue with magical energy. Before her had raged a lion, the enormous beast seemed to made of living flame as it tore into the zombies while a ghost of a woman stood next to another young Crane male, speaking to him. The light of the flaming lion even illuminated the form a kenku! One of the mythical, winged crow people, legendary for their swordsmanship had even joined the battle, fighting alongside the Topaz Champion!

The twin Scorpions pushed closer to the temple, hoping to lend aid and helping those along the way as she spotted a young Dragon woman, close her eyes and make a blind, nearly impossible throw of her wakizashi into one of the dragon puppets, revealing the moon cultists summoning the earthquake and directing the zombies. The Dragon woman and the Topaz champion did not allow anything to stand in their way as the fought their way to the moon cultists, swiftly dispatching them as finally, the young Crane male threw a small, sun, carved from jade, over twenty meters into the air, a feat that could only have been the will of the Fortunes.

At the small, jade sun soared up into the air it began to glow with the light of Amaterasu herself, igniting the Dragon Globe in glittering gold, reflecting the rays of Amaterasu herself, burning zombies as they fell to the ground, their master dispatched.

When all was said and done, the twins were exhausted. They, like most of the city, had been up since dawn the previous day, and now let the rays of Amaterasu wash over them as she broke over the horizon, a new day falling on the city.

In the streets dozens of zombies lay rotting, dissolving into a tarry, black goo with supernatural speed. A few hundred more people, mostly peasants, lay dead as well, some trampled to death, and though most were victims of the zombies, a few were unfortunate enough to have been mis-identification at the hands of the samurai.

The wounded were seen too and the eta called forth to collect the dead as the crowd milled about in a bit of a daze, shocked not only at the attack, but as what they had seen and been told of ghosts, lions and kenku. The Bon Festival in Ryoko Owari was always memorable, but this was one that would likely never be forgotten.


The morning after the Bon Festival...

Kamiko and Miren sat at the table, enjoying their meal in silence as they each thought over the events of the prior night. Since dawn they had gathered stories, rumors and reports and pieced together what had happened.

The attack had been devastating, and quite clever. Creating fresh zombies and sending them into the crowd of celebrants already dressed as ghosts and zombies, allowed them hide in plain sight. How long had they been infiltrated into the crowed before they attacked? The thought was disturbing.

But beyond the zombies and their clever insertion was the fact that they were merely a diversion to keep the crowd in a panic and any samurai busy as the moon cultists tried to topple the Dragon Globe with their Earthquake spell before the rays of the new dawn could ignite it again and bring the blessing of Amaterasu on the city. The plan was downright ingenious and would have succeeded too, had the Jade Magistrates in town not caught wind of it and managed to figure it out.

According to the twins' sources, the group of Jade Magistrates had battled an oni at the Apple Blossom Inn, defeated bandits at the crematorium, likely in an effort to gather bodies to be turned into zombies and then tacked down and slew the oni on Teardrop Island with the aid of the Lord Prince himself, unfortunately resulting in the destruction of the House of Fluttering Butterflies. From there they were spotted in the Fisherman's Quarter where they are said to have routed out a cell of moon cultists, slaying them and then racing with powerful magics to the Temple of Amaterasu to do battle with the Moon Cultists and zombies.

These same Jade Magistrates were said to have been among the Topaz Champions contestants to come to the Lord Princes's defense when he was ambushed in Tsuma, which not only resulting in the reinstatement of the Office of the Jade Champion, but also earned them appointments by the Emperor himself as the first new crop of Jade Magistrates. Truly, the wisdom of the Son of Heaven was beyond doubt.

"Good morning, my friends. I am glad to see you are both well after the stories I have heard of last night." came a voice, shaking them from their thoughts.

The young man they knew as Bayushi Ujimitsu stood before them, clad in his armor, but with his helm and weapons stored by the door as was practice. They knew him to be a Jade Magistrate as well, one of the crop from Tsuma even. He had been a Crane, a Kakita in fact, but had been cast out from the Clan by Lord Doji Satsume himself on the last day of the Topaz Championship. The Lord & Lady Bayushi swiftly stepped forward though and proudly brought him into their clan and the Bayushi family. Since that day he had become Bayushi Ujimitsu, and was as dedicated a member of the Scorpion Clan as one could hope for.

The fact that he had not been in town for the Bon Festival was, unfortunately, not odd. Since he was cast out of the Crane Clan his ancestors would have disowned him, leaving the freshly minted Scorpion no ancestors to pray to during the Bon Festival. It was one of those things that people knew, but nobody talked about. It was a private matter and one he had to deal with himself.

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Kamiko bowed politely and scooted over some, indicating he had a place here if he wished to sit.

"Ujimitsu-san. We are honored to be in the presence of a Jade Magistrate. Would you care for food? Drink?"

She took a little ceramic cup and poured him some still-hot tea.

Bayushi's presence was interesting, very interesting indeed. The exploits of the other Magistrates had almost certainly devastated the local maho, but the reports she had heard did not indicate they had directly faced more than a handful of truly powerful practitioners. The leadership was almost certainly still intact. It would take them time to replenish their resources and recruit new followers though. They would be at their weakest now.

The Jade Magistrates almost certainly would need to move on, but she hoped to speak to them directly beforehand. Firsthand accounts would be valuable for following up their work.

But she would let him get to his purpose in his own time. It was never seemly to appear too eager.

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Ujimitsu nodded and took a seat, bowing to each of the twins. Their mixed heritage was obvious, but it was something he would certainly never bring up. They were just as much Scorpions as he was, even more so as they were born to the clan and raised within it. He was brought into the clan only months ago, so he was certainly not one to judge.

"Thank you. I have no eaten yet today since I just returned to the city this morning." he explained as he called over the serving girl and placed his order.

"I could see the rows of bodies that had been collected beside the crematorium, and even the construction of pyres to deal with the bodies, so I am glad to see you are both well."

"I spoke to some of my fellow Magistrates and the informed me of what had happened last night and thought f you. I trust you have at least heard of what happened?" Ujimitsu asked.

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Miren watched his newest adult clanmate with understated appreciation. It was always a happy occurance to add to the strength of the Scorpion, and even sweeter when such a prize was plucked from the blind and unworthy. As his sister attended to Ujimitsu's tea, Miren served the fellow samurai from the platters that had been set out for the twins. His movements were smoothe and almost dance-like; years of training in courting and the beautiful art of the tea ceremony evident in every small gesture. 

"Clever cultists," Miren spoke mildly. In truth, he was quite alarmed at the prospect of such leadership and thought mixed together with the insanity of the moon cultists. "They planned the zombies as a distraction and were ultimately after the Dragon Globe?"

He hoped this was an isolated incident, but he never planned on hope. It was too depressing. 

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Ujimitsu nodded.

"That seems to be so. They hate Amaterasu, and so attacking Her temple and toppling the Dragon Globe would, at best, mean the city would not receive Her blessing for the year. At worst? Who knows?" he said with nearly a shudder.

"Had my fellow Jade Magistrates not been in town and caught wind of it when the inn they were dining at was attacked by an oni, the moon cultists likely would have succeeded too. Thank the Fortunes that my fellow Magistrates where there to uncover the plot and stop them. And they is part of the reason I have come to you. I know these magistrates, we were the first new crop of Jade Magistrates, appointed by the Emperor himself, and if they intend to purse the moon cult, I think you both might be of great assistance to them." he suggested with his hand subconsciously raising to lightly touched his veil for a moment as he thought back to the events in Tsuma.

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Kamiko nodded slowly.

"There are many oddities about this event. The creatures they created were unusual. The sophistication of their tactics, and the ambition of their aim. The difference I see between last night's cult, and the cult activities previously is night and day."

"I believe there is new leadership in play. Further, I find it very unlikely that this leadership was dealt with, despite the heroism of the Magistrates."

She took a sip of tea, letting her words linger in the air. Ideas flourished more effectively when given time to take root. And of course, she hadn't missed Miren's eyes lingering on Ujimitsu. It wouldn't do to deprive him too quickly.

"The cult will never be weaker than they are immediately following a defeat like last night's. Finding them quickly is of the utmost importance, or they will recover and strike again. If the Jade Magistrates are choosing to take on this task, then it will be both our duty and our pleasure to assist them."

Setting her cup down, Kamiko added, "Will you be joining us yourself, Ujimitsu-san?"

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"That is unlikely, but possible, I suppose. I have been looking into reports of the bandit leader "Fade" and/or his men using maho. Thus far I have found nothing, and his elusiveness is well known." Ujimitsu replied.

"I am not sure how well I will be received by them either. When we left Tsuma, things seemed to be ill at ease. 

I did go to school with Kakita Zoyu, the Topaz Champion though, so that may help things, especially after I give her an apology I owe her. I treated her unjustly in school and will offer my apologies." he explained.

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"Would you like us to stand with you from the start?" Miren asked with delicate sincerity. Apologies could be tricky; sometimes instead of soothing old wounds it could open festers and lead to new disagreement - or worse. Miren would be quite incensed to lose Ujimitsu-sama, either to the Topaz Champion's anger or to the law for protecting himself. On the other hand, pushing too hard might hurt Ujimitsu's pride or make him too self-concious to apologize for whatever it was that had happened in the past. "Or would you prefer our introduction afterwards?" he finished. 

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"I think it would be best to approach alone and see how receptive they are first. If things go well, I will arrange an introduction." Ujimitsu suggested.

Though he came from the Crane and went to school at the prestigious main dojo of the Kakita Dueling Academy, Ujimitsu seemed to have fully accepted and embraced his life as a Bayushi and a Scorpion. His gratitude to the Lord & Lady Bayushi was obvious, something that could likely never be repaid, and thus it made him all that more devoted to them and the Clan. The knowledge that his parents and family were taken care of lifted that tremendous weight from the young man's shoulders and finally allowed him to blossom with that single-minded purpose removed.

As long as the twins had known him, Ujimitsu seemed to be a very forthright man, cultured and skilled in etiquette due to his Crane upbringing, And it was his dedication to his family, a dedication so strong that he did everything he could win the Topaz Championship (and also caused his breakdown when he unexpectedly lost). But now that dedication was harnessed for the Scorpion and few who met the new Scorpion had any doubts about his fealty.

"If they agree, then you will be in good company. I am sure you have heard of their exploits thus far. From averting, or at least delaying, a war between the Lion and Crane by discovering the daughter of Lord Okimoto, long thought dead, had fulfilled a blood feud by killing Lord Hideji, to their actions just last night, they bring honor to their families, Clans, the Jade Magistrates and the Emperor." 

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Kamiko bowed her head in recognition of their many storied feats.

"It would of course be an honor to work with such as they.  With their aid, I am certain this cult and their black magic practitioners can be brought to the Emperor's justice."

"If my brother and I can offer any assistance to you in making this case to them, please do let us know. Otherwise we will await word of your success."

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Ujimitsu nodded again and rose from the table.

"I will seek out my fellow Jade Magistrates then. Thank you for your time. Enjoy your breakfast." he said before departing.


Perhaps an hour later, maybe less, Ujimitsu returned, looking pleased.

"Good news. They will happily accept your aid and expertise and would like to meet with you at the earliest possible convenience. They are at the Inn of the Apple Blossom and await your arrival." the young Scorpion said.

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Kamiko's blue eyes met Miren's from over her veil, and through the smokey gauze she could be seen to smile.

This was an opportunity in so many ways. Not simply to eradicate the Cult of the Moon and its deranged worshippers...but to make contacts and even friends with these Magistrates who seemed destined to wield great influence. Perhaps, with Fortune, even join their number?

"Thank you, Ujimitsu," she replied, setting down her teacup. "We will join them at once."

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