Heart of Darkness

The Last Stand of Anjuhana

On this, the third day of the Festival of Falling Lights at Kyuden Kurogane-Hana, this humble servant of the Jade Magistrate, Agasha Osamu, bore witness to dreadful and terrible things. Please refer to my previous writings of the events that transpired yesterday as I will not take the time to explain them in this writing.

Seppun Ayuma, having been discovered in the caverns beneath Kyuden Kurogane-Hana, was in the capable hands of healers seeking to restore his broken body. My new companions and I knew we were working against a wielder of blood magic, and that whatever this Chuda had devised coincided with the Festival. Were the festivities to conclude without her identity revealed we knew for a certainty that her identity may never be disclosed and she would go on to terrorize the Empire. There was no doubt amongst any of our number that we must act swiftly. Even still, honor dictated that those who had competed so well in the challenges from the days prior should continue their efforts. Thankfully I had chosen not to engage in any of these competitions and was free to continue my investigations, however it would prove to be nearly fatal to me to do so.

Shosuro Jinko continued into the final round of the Sadane tournament facing off against Shosuro Mieko and Doji Ronshouko. I used this opportunity to steal through the hidden passages and into Ronshouko’s quarters. I have heard that the Sadane competition was quite a spectacle with Jinko summarily removing Mieko from the competition, but then himself falling to the wit of Ronshouko. Truly Jinko is a worthy man to match wits against, I must take care what I say in the presence of such a man.

Ronshouko’s room appeared as one might expect the room of a Crane to be appointed, rich with artistic elements and beauty. I myself was slightly jealous of the beauty and creativity of the room, however I did not let that sway me in my pursuit of the killer. I beseeched the Kami of air to aid me in finding what might escape even my penetrating gaze. Sure enough the kami illuminated Ronshouko’s calligraphy pen setting upon a table. Upon closer inspection I discovered that the pen was coated in a toxic poison. I made a note of this and prepared to leave the room, however my compassion overwhelmed me. How could I let such a terrible device of death lie? Surely Ronshouko did not poison her own favored writing implement. I returned to the writing table intent on removing the offensive object, unwilling to let another soul perish if I could stop it. Gingerly I grabbed the pen, careful to avoid the poison when I heard a noise coming from the hallway. What a perilous predicament I found myself in, for if someone should happen upon me holding this poisonous instrument of death would they not immediately accuse me as the killer. I attempted to move quickly to retreat to the passageway through which I entered the room but alas I could feel the pen slipping from my reluctant grip. The pen slid into open space and I feared it might clatter to the floorboards with such a racket that I would give myself away. I reached out without thinking to prevent the pen from falling and grabbed it full on only vaguely aware that I had now become a victim of the insidious trap which I sought to prevent another from falling into.

Much of the rest of the evening I do not recall, however I did spend the next day with famed storyteller Ikoma Kazue who relayed the following details to me. I have inscribed them in her very own voice so as not to lose the passion and intensity of her beautiful tale.

It is said that the greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it. We had sated ourselves on celebration for two and a half days, and while the murder of the Unicorn hung like a black cloud in the back of our minds, we sought to honor his memory in the things he so enjoyed. Many bore witness to Ronshouko’s mastery of the spoken word earlier in the day, still more turned out to see two compete over mastery of the blade. For while it has been said the pen is mightier than the sword, few would fill great halls to watch two men write.
Much and more will be said of Akodo Anjuhana. Few even knew her name before this day and many wondered just how this fair lioness had overcome the competition to square off against Mirumoto Chojiro. The air was thick with the tension of the moment as the two stood in the center of the hall, all eyes upon them, waiting for that first strike. All waited with baited breath for the lightning quick strike to come, anxious to blink lest they miss it. Then the sudden strike came. Mirumoto’s strike fell short and Anjuhana’s strike was true. My heart swelled with pride for this lioness and I foresaw great things in her future as the Seppun’s servants presented her with a dazzlingly beautiful blade.

It would be this self-same blade that would so brilliantly illuminate the darkness that sought to swallow the young Akodo that very evening. If only I could have frozen time at that moment of her victory, to allow her more time to revel in the victory of the moment, but it would not be so for that very evening an army of gaki descended upon Kyuden Kurogane-Hana and a savage battle was fought.

One may never know the countless brave and honored souls who spilled their blood in defense of the Seppun’s castle, and on the greater whole, the Empire. Indeed it would seem that in order to revere one, all must be honored. Yet, it is in moments such as these that legends emerge from the crucible of pain and death.

It was upon this mighty field of bloodshed that Akodo Anjuhana revealed the nature of her character. Many of the gaki fell to her prized blade as she rallied the bushi around her continually advancing deeper into the horde and leaving a swath of those she had cut down behind her. I spared only passing glances in her direction as she moved with the strength and power of a lioness. I sought to catch up to her, to stand by her side, back to back as sisters of battle. It was then that Seppun Goro, the standard bearer, took a glancing blow to the arm from one of the gaki. I saw it as if in slow motion. Goro thrown off balance by the blow attempted to land a blow against another foe, but it was batted away. Goro’s head was nearly rent from his shoulders by the gaki and his body fell to the ground along with the Seppun’s banner. Anjuhana saw the banner descending to the dirt, and watched as the gaki trampled upon it in their relentless push toward the kyuden. Anjuhana let out a roar of passion and carved her way to the banner, lifting it out of the dirt and raising it high with one arm as she cut down foe after foe with her left. There was a rallying shout of the Seppun’s forces and they surged further into the gaki, decimating their numbers. My heart swelled once more with pride for Anjuhana’s rallying cry.

Anjuhana then began driving forward into the gaki forces, bearing the standard aloft as she cut down foe after foe. The gaki were infuriated by her, and saw their forces beginning to break under her rallying call. They surged almost as one upon her. I could no longer see her for the press of bodies, yet the standard stood tall. It felt like hours before I could carve my way to her side, but by then it was already too late. The gaki had retreated from her and had taken her life in their wake. Anjuhana appeared at peace, her tenacious grip on the standard not allowing it to fall to the mud once more. Her face locked in a warrior’s cry. She had found her rest among the champions of bygone days. A statue is being cast of her form, bearing the standard of the Seppun to commemorate her sacrifice, and our victory on that fateful day. May her memory ever burn on in the minds of all Rokugani.

I must say, having once again read through that beautiful tale, composed by Ikoma Kazue a tear wells in my eye. I only barely knew the young lion, but she left an indelible impression upon me.

I have also since discovered that it was the ronin shugenja Natsuko who was to blame for the blood magic. It was Hiruma Nariaki along with Daigotsu Katsuchiyo and Shiba Yoto who came upon Natsuko in the midst of calling forth the undead horde. Katsuchiyo and Nariaki are fairly quiet as to what actually happened, but Yoto bravely sacrificed his life in an effort to stop one of the original bearer’s of the porcelain mask. His sacrifice may never make it into the epics of a storyteller, but the empire continues to thrive because of it and for that I know that I am greatful.


Leketh RogerFrench

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