Heroes of Legend: Chapter Four

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Heroes of Legend: Chapter Four
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Author Josiah “Duke” Harrist
Release Date 2021-04-09
Previous The Battle of Cherry Blossom Snow: Chapter Three
Next The Battle of Cherry Blossom Snow: Chapter Four
Source Heroes of Legend: Chapter Four
Cycle/Set Temptations Cycle

18th Day of the Month of Hida, 1123, outside of Toshi Ranbo

Sunrise cut through grey morning clouds, coloring the snowy fields a brilliant crimson. As the morning ripened, Lady Sun cast the lines of Crane, Lion, Phoenix, Scorpion, and Unicorn samurai riding together in a blood-red silhouette before the dour clouds blanketed the scene in an otherworldly chill. At the head of a long line of cavalry, Shinjo Altansarnai’s face was drawn in stony resolve. Faint lines traced her features, hinting at years of worry and care. Next to her rode Ikoma Tsanuri. The delicately molded barding on Tsanuri’s steed were traced with frost patterns; how cold the poor mare—and its rider—seemed to be without the warm woolen wrappings of Unicorn riders.

Altansarnai’s mind was foggy from lack of sleep. The night prior had been mayhem as two previously warring clans struggled to realign themselves to fight side by side. And even in the brief hours the Unicorn Champion had taken to sleep, the revelation of Ikoma Ujiaki’s subterfuge—the impossible marriage, and the endless, fruitless feud between Lion and Unicorn—had eaten away any rest or repose. The blood price of Ambassador Ikoma’s conspiracy was beyond reckoning.

Tsanuri shivered, almost imperceptibly, as a cutting breeze tore across the wintry field. Altansarnai’s heart tightened at the thought of Tsanuri’s mother and her failed suicide attempt, the mock marriage arrangement; the entire bloody feud had been orchestrated by Ambassador Ikoma. There would be time to mend and heal later, but not until Ujiaki paid for his perfidy.

Perhaps she could at least take Tsanuri’s mind off the intense cold. Altansarnai’s breath manifested as a cloud as she broke the silence.

“I met an Ujik sage once. Living in a barren hovel out on the steppe, on the brink of starvation. Surrounded by animal furs and filth. The old man was thinner than parchment, but he invited me in, poured me a cup of watery broth, and told me he was the wealthiest man in the world.”

Tsanuri turned slightly, curious.

“‘What, pray tell, is your wealth?’ I asked him. He drained his broth and said, ‘Each day, Lady Sun shows me the animal I will eat, and the wind bears my arrows true. Every night, even in deep midwinter, I feast.’

“I drank one bowl of his broth, and he pointed to the mountains lit by the sunrise. ‘Lady Sun gives me gold,’ he said. A flock of birds nested on his roof, and he addressed them as his servants.

“It was then that I began to feel the effects of the broth he gave me.” Altansarnai’s expression broke into wry smile. Tsanuri chuckled.

“For all intents and purposes, I did enjoy a feast in the company of the lord of his home, with all his subjects in attendance. And although the winter was even more bitter than this one, the mountains were bathed in gold.” Altansarnai took a breath. Her warmth spilled out in a cloud, dancing like kami taking a thousand forms. “I suppose that a thing is as much how it is perceived as it is itself.”

Ikoma Tsanuri’s lips pursed. For a moment, Altansarnai saw something familiar in the general’s affect: like Haruko, she was a devoted daughter, sincere and noble, a successor to one of the great families of Rokugan. The young Lion’s keen eyes darted to and fro, searching for any threat ahead. The crunch of hooves in the thick, feathery snow filled the silence that stretched between them. Altansarnai reflected on the Lion general’s blithe confessions several days prior, then chose to respond in kind.

“The fields of Rokugan will always be stained with the blood of our people,” said the Unicorn. “I did what I had to for the Unicorn, as you have done for the Lion—"

“All that we did was in service to Ujiaki’s plans,” Tsanuri broke in. Her expression twisted in a look of pain as she guided her steed over a rocky outcropping, cresting a low hill that overlooked miles of empty snow. The clouds hung like a pall over the bleak landscape.

“We have no need to mix the blood of the Unicorn and Lion in marriage; the blood of our clans has mixed in the soil beneath our feet,” Tsanuri continued. “Duty has brought us death, Champion Shinjo. What we need now is justice.”

“Upon that, we are agreed,” Altansarnai’s tone was cold as ice. Her hands gripped the reins of her horse tightly. “Ikoma Ujiaki will pay a thousand times over for the misery he has wrought.”

When she looked into the general’s eyes again, she saw Tsanuri’s clear-eyed resolve. The Lion brushed a tear from her cheek and smiled at Altansarnai, who returned it in kind. Perhaps this was the kinship their families had always been fated to share, allied against a common foe.

The pair looked back to the cadre of samurai arrayed behind them. A Lion commander had pulled his mempō down to break into uproarious laughter, and was joined by several of his subordinates. Their mirth was broken by a shout as Utaku Kamoko rode up alongside the laughing man, her eyes hot with anger.

“You have the gall to show yourself in the company of the Unicorn?” Kamoko seethed. It was then that Altansarnai recognized the Lion commander: Matsu Agetoki, the man who had pillaged Kamoko’s home. The battle maiden’s hand rested on her sword’s pommel as she fought her rage. Altansarnai clenched her jaw as she prepared to intervene.

“Stand down, General Utaku,” came a clear, strong voice. A samurai bedecked in brilliant blue livery rode confidently through the lines of cavalry to come between the Lion and the Unicorn. Removing his helmet, Doji Kuwanan cut between the two, his cool brown eyes the only source of calm amidst the storm of emotion. “If you wish to settle your grievances with this man, you may do so in the appropriate time and place. But this is not that time nor is it the place.” The Crane noble nodded to Tsanuri and Altansarnai.

The Unicorn Champion looked to the Lion and Crane champions, and all the heroes behind them, who would ride into battle with her. Doji Hotaru gazed confidently at the head of a line of Crane elite soldiers, full of cool resolve. Altansarnai’s own children, Yasamura and Haruko, met her gaze, unflinching. In that moment, she felt herself the mother of all these young hopefuls, once set against each other by the acrimony of old wounds.

“Old wounds do not bleed,” Altansarnai shouted to their small army. “Though they may ache for generations. Today, let us set aside the past to strike at our true foe.”

The truth had broken like the sun through the clouds of war. Their true adversary was ahead, in Otosan Uchi. Ikoma Ujiaki would pay for his cruel machinations, as would Bayushi Shoju for his corruption. She saw the eyes of her riders alight.

“We ride for Rokugan!”

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5th Day of the Month of Togashi, 1123, alongside the River of the Sun

As the army crossed a small, frozen river to the snowy fields outside Otosan Uchi, a cadre of mounted samurai came into view. The Army of the Rising Wave was arrayed in a narrow crescent outside the imposing profile of the Imperial City. A serpentine tendril of smoke rose over the sloped roofs and faded glory of the pagodas; something inside the city was burning, but what? The Miwaku Kabe—the Enchanted Wall—girding the innermost city seemed to ripple and shimmer like a mirage. As the small army approached, a messenger rode out on horseback to meet them, bearing the sigil of the Dragon clan. After a brief parley, Altansarnai, Tsanuri, and Matsu Tsuko rode out over the frozen plain to meet Mirumoto Hitomi in the Dragon army’s camp.

The Dragon general’s face was a grim mask as she appraised them each, in turn, in the cool interior of her tent.

“Your arrival is most fortunate,” Hitomi spoke in a low growl. “I am relieved to see that only a portion of the Lion sided with Shoju, and that the Unicorn have brought their muster.”

This was only part of her clan’s muster, but Altansarnai did not need to correct the Dragon.

“Our purpose is far more dire than it first seemed. Bayushi Shoju promised to unleash the horrors beyond the Carpenter Wall, and has somehow delivered on his promise. We have received word from the Crab that Hida Kisada has fallen, and Akuma no Oni’s horde marches across their provinces with the discipline of a well-trained army.”

The words hung like a stench in the air. Altansarnai looked to her companions and saw dread written upon their faces. Her own stomach ached, as though a snake had coiled in her belly. Hitomi exhaled, then went on.

“Shoju must be defeated at all costs, otherwise he shall surely add his forces to the armies of the Shadowlands.”

“We understand,” Matsu Tsuko intoned. The rest of them nodded as she continued. “Bayushi Shoju poses a grave threat to the Emerald Empire. For the good of Rokugan, we will slay his Legionnaires before they can debase themselves further.”

“The task is dire,” Hitomi responded. “As long as the wall’s enchantments hold strong, there is not an army under the sun that could possibly breach the city.”

“We should starve them out,” Altansarnai said coldly. “We can order ships to blockade their port of entry. They will have no choice but to meet us on the open field.”

The suggestion of a smile tugged at Hitomi’s angular features. “Chancellor Kakita Yoshi has already sent word to the Crane and Phoenix navies. And a gentle suggestion has been sent to the Tortoise to patrol the outer waters for opportunists who might slip through.”

Altansarnai’s eyes strayed to a large table in the center of the tent, where symbols for the enemy and friendly forces were arranged in a crescent around the stronghold. At the edge of the board, the golden and violet pieces of the Unicorn and Lion armies were piled; the Dragon had not known if they were friend or foe.

“We greatly outnumber them. If we can overwhelm the ambassador’s forces and breach the Enchanted Wall, perhaps we may stop Shoju himself,” said Tsuko.

Altansarnai clenched her hands into fists. Ujiaki had not simply betrayed clan and code for the regent’s power: he had sided against Rokugan itself, allied himself with a man who served the Shadowlands. The Unicorn Champion strode to the war room table and stared intently at the figure bearing Ujiaki’s name, standing blithely before a carved facsimile of the wall. The very soul of Rokugan was in the balance.

“The Miwaku Kabe was built to keep the Forbidden City safe. Legends tell of a mysterious and grave calamity that befalls any who would besiege the city.” Tsuko stood next to Altansarnai and placed one finger upon the pointed top of Otosan Uchi.

The nameless menace of the wall fixed itself in Altansarnai’s mind. She thought of her own children, and of their future in this fractured empire. If she died, would they have the strength to carry on in her stead? And if they lost this battle, would the Emerald Empire continue to exist? Would any of her clan ride free under the eye-blue sky ever again?

“The Unicorn have traveled far and wide,” the Unicorn Champion said. “We do not fear the unknown; we try to understand it. And so, we forge our own path. It is our differences that make us strong. Much as the Lion draw strength from their virtue, and the Dragon their wisdom.” She looked to Hitomi, who smiled openly for the first time.

“If we stand united, we shall not fail.”

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12th Day of the Month of Togashi, 1123, Otosan Uchi

A week had passed. The monolithic wall towered over the outer districts, shimmering and rippling as the armies of the Great Clans assembled like a noose around Ikoma’s neck. The curl of smoke they had seen rising over the capital city had not stopped burning.

Altansarnai’s heart swelled as she surveyed their army: the regal Shiba Katsuda, resplendent in the finery of the Phoenix; the ethereal Doji Hotaru and her brother Kuwanan, blades gleaming in the noonday sun; the former Master of Earth once known as Isawa Rujo, now stripped of sign or sigil; and Bayushi Yojiro at the head of the faceless muster of the Scorpion clan; where Hitomi should have been, Mirumoto Raitsugu stood proudly before the monks and warriors of the Army of the Rising Wave, who were poised and ready like the force of water behind a dam, waiting to break.

“All has gone according to plan. Perhaps too easily,” said Tsuko as she brought her horse alongside Altansarnai and Tsanuri.

“Do you suspect a trap?”

“I expect one,” Tsuko replied. “Ujiaki seems almost to beg for defeat. With our forces combined, we outnumber the Imperial Army ten to one, yet Bayushi Yojiro’s scouts reported he ordered all forces outside the Enchanted Wall.”

“It is more than folly—it is suicide.” Tsanuri’s amber eyes seemed to glow gold in the morning light. The sun had crested the low cloud cover, glinting off the Lion’s tawny armor.

“He has chosen a good day to die,” said Altansarnai.

To her left, Yasamura and Haruko sat astride their own steeds, faces drawn. In a single moment, Altansarnai remembered holding Haruko for the first time, how her tiny fist closed around her thumb, her eyes shut. And then Yasamura, crying in the mud after scraping his knee. Cold nights curled up together for warmth. She wished she could dwell in each moment, gather her children to herself again, keep them safe in memory.

Haruko had grown tall and fierce, and would die honorably someday, serving her clan. Yasamura was sharp and angular, and like his mother, would also die for his clan if need be.

There was still hope. Her youngest son, Shono, would take what he had learned far across the Burning Sands to lead in her stead, should she fall in battle. And, barring his return, Altansarnai allowed herself to hope that Iuchi Shahai might be quietly allowed to return, for Daiyu’s sake. One fine sunny day, perhaps, they would all be reunited.

Altansarnai turned to those of her children who were with her now. “Fight bravely. Carve your own path. No matter the outcome, I will always be with you.”

Her son wiped a tear from his face. Her daughter gave a grim smile. Their forces stood at the western edge of Otosan Uchi, where across the field, Imperial forces had mustered. A cold wintry wind blew from the north, carrying the menace of snow and ice. There was nothing more to say. Altansarnai looked to her companions, then flashed her war fan for the signal. Overhead, a black-winged crow circled and let out a mordant caw. At that same moment, Tsanuri let out a loud bellow.

“Charge!”

A flurry of movement. The weight of a hundred horses trampled fresh-fallen snow. All silence and anticipation ceased, became the present. Across the battlefield, a unit of swift cavalry charged through a wall of foot soldiers, darting across the field in a blur of green and gold.

Before their forces were within striking distance, a wave of enemy arrows blackened the sky. A whorl of current rushed around their ears as Phoenix shugenja entreated the kami, who swept the arrows aside as if by calligraphy brush. Arrows clattered noisily on helmets and armor, harmless. And then, at the vanguard, the cavalry clashed. Altansarnai watched her vassals pass her, holding their curved blades out to mete death upon the Imperial Legions. Moto warriors let out a long, ululating Ujik battle cry, while the Utaku Battle Maidens rode forth in fearsome silence.

Holding up an eyeglass, Altansarnai watched lines of Imperial foot soldiers march steadily out from the capital. In the midst of them, perched upon a tawny steed, was General Ikoma Ujiaki. In his hand, he held a metal fan that glinted dully in the watery light.

“The scouts spoke true. The ambassador is situated at the heart of his army, directing their movements,” Altansarnai barked at Tsuko. To the north, Lion cavalry clashed with Imperial ashigaru, supported on either side by the tattooed monks of the Army of the Rising Wave, their arms and bare chests glowing with luminous energy. Another volley of arrows launched and were batted aside by friendly shugenja. Several of the Lion cavalry were struck, their riders tossed from their saddles, by a half dozen Legionnaires wielding heavy iron tetsubō. The thick iron clubs dipped in and out of the waves of soldiers like paddles in a river, sending warriors flying in their wake.

“Press on!” Altansarnai shouted into the din. She urged her horse into the fray, then leapt from the saddle in front of one of the bushi, whose tetsubō was embedded in the back of a fallen Dragon warrior. In a swift slash, Altansarnai felled him, then cleaved the helmet of another warrior in two. A backward swing from another tetsubō knocked her breath out, and she tumbled back into the mix of mud and snow as a warrior approached, their mempō painted with a rictus grin. The bushi brandished their tetsubō over their head to mete out death.

“Champion Shinjo! To me!” came a voice. Unthinking, Altansarnai rolled in the direction of the sound. A slash, then a gurgling cry. She looked up to see Doji Kuwanan wipe his blade clean.

Suddenly, the skin on her neck prickled. Beyond the Imperial Army, the west side of the Enchanted Wall shimmered, and the very ground seemed to groan as if under a terrible weight. A sudden sound of voices—barely perceptible, but growing stronger—rose like the sound of the whispering tide as an oily, black mass pooled on the face of the Miwaku Kabe. The sound of voices grew silent, overtaken by a mordant wail. Altansarnai felt the skin on her neck prickle with fear as the dark shape grew heavy and tumbled down to envelop the outer city and surrounding battlefield. As the darkness overtook knots of skirmishing cavalry and bushi, blue lights danced in the murk.

The wind was sucked from Altansarnai’s mouth, as if the wall itself had drawn a sharp breath. All around her, shouts of consternation turned to screams as phantom forms emerged from the ground: clawed, spindly arms digging out of the muck, followed by ghastly, hollow faces. Out of the earth between her and Doji Kuwanan, a three-eyed monstrosity with a broad forehead and clacking jaws erupted from beneath a pile of snow, wreathed in an iridescent blue film. Altansarnai felt her blood run cold; Ujiaki had bent the kami of the wall to his will. The blue lights dancing in the distance were an army of undead servants: ultimate proof of Shoju’s alliance with the Shadowlands.

All became chaos. A stone’s throw away, Ikoma Tsanuri and Matsu Tsuko plunged into the tumult as undead servants beset their forces with tooth and claw, devouring the fallen with reckless abandon. Samurai locked in combat were blindsided by ancient, crude weapons wielded by phantoms with misshapen heads and sightless eyes. In a moment of panic, Altansarnai scanned the battlefield for her children, but could not see them.

Next to her, the heir to the Crane Clan drew a sharp breath. “We must be brave.” Doji Kuwanan flashed a smile.

Nearby, Kakita Toshimoko launched himself, faster than the wind, at a line of advancing soldiers. The duelist’s blade moved so quickly it was almost invisible.

The pair waded through the tempest as another volley of arrows flew out from the Imperial forces. This time, the combined army had no shugenja nearby to bat them aside. Kuwanan and Altansarnai both dove for cover behind a fallen horse, its former rider slack-jawed in a look of dead shock. Altansarnai searched every fallen Unicorn, every empty face, for her children’s likeness.

An inhuman roar resounded through the pall of battle. The pair advanced to see Matsu Tsuko struggling valiantly against a hulking oni that flickered with blue light. The oni was tall, perhaps the height of three warriors, with a long, furred body and an equine face rotted through to expose a ghastly white skull underneath. It champed its teeth, then snapped at the Lion commander. Altansarnai’s pulse stopped. Just then, the light of Lady Sun caught a familiar metallic glimmer in the corner of her eye: General Ujiaki was not far to the south, twirling a metal fan. The Unicorn Champion felt her heart pulled in two directions as she watched Tsuko struggle against the oni. The weight of their task bore down upon her.

“We must reach Ujiaki at all costs,” Altansarnai commanded.

Kuwanan nodded, but there was a silent conflict written in his deep brown eyes.

“Go to him. I have something I must do.”

The moment was fleeting; there was no time for hesitation. Altansarnai bade the Crane farewell, then headed south.

Unleashing a hoarse whinny, the massive oni reared back and stamped at Tsuko, who deftly feinted, losing her magnificently plumed helmet in the process. The weight of the oni’s hoof crushed the helmet as it bore down on the Lion commander. The phantom charged again at the warrior, who sluggishly dove for cover.

Doji Kuwanan drew his blade, then charged for the oni. The swordsman’s form was as fierce as a Lion’s as he struck a dire cut to the phantom’s right flank. Instead of blood, inky darkness spilled forth to sour the earth, stinking of death. Its ire drawn, the demon whirled around to face Kuwanan, its face stuck in a perpetual grimace. Nightmarish red light shone through one empty eye socket; the other eye leered, bloodshot, down at the Crane warrior.

“Tsuko, flee! You spared my life once; now it is my turn to repay the favor!” Kuwanan shouted to Tsuko, who clutched her side. The massive beast had torn a gaping rent in her chestplate.

The oni let out a gut-wrenching howl. A cacophony of voices rose, whispering like the denizens of Jigoku, and the beast charged at Doji Kuwanan. Altansarnai, who had turned briefly to watch the struggle, gasped and looked away as the Crane was trodden under the oni’s massive hoof. When she looked back, a mass of phantom creatures had swarmed what remained of the samurai’s body.

There was no time to mourn his loss. Her prey was on the move. Another flicker from Ujiaki’s fan told her he had moved farther south. Altansarnai mounted a fallen soldier’s horse and urged it forward, over piled corpses and blood-soaked snowdrifts, toward the traitorous ambassador. Arrows whistled past her as another volley descended. Around her, the battlefield was in complete disarray—both Imperial and friendly samurai lay, dead or dying, pierced through with arrows, cut by blades, or slashed through by the phantom horde. The Unicorn Champion thought she saw her daughter Haruko among them, but when she looked again it was only a trick of the light.

Cresting a hill, she found a skirmish in motion: soldiers locked in combat, archers firing blindly into the fray, heavy cavalry cutting through wave upon wave of ashigaru. A whistling screech from an oni pierced the din. It took a moment for Altansarnai to make sense of the tangle of bodies locked in combat: the soldiers fighting each other all wore the emerald armor of Imperial forces. Utter chaos seemed to have taken hold.

A hollow voice rang in her ears. “You are deceived, my fellow Lion! Shoju has allied himself with the evils of the Shadowlands!”

It took a moment for the Unicorn Champion to place the voice, and to see where it originated: Akodo Arasou, fallen Lion Champion, stood in the midst of the fray. The apparition was swathed in beryl iridescence, flickering and flashing like a silhouette behind a paper wall, but the voice was unmistakably his.

“To me, Lion samurai! I, Akodo Arasou, exhort you to defend the reputation of the Lion Clan. Fight for your families. Fight for your honor. Fight for Rokugan itself!”

Mired in a tangle of warring soldiers was Ikoma Ujiaki, red-faced and blustering. As the ambassador snapped his fan with one hand, another roar echoed across the battlefield from the oni.

Sensing her opportunity, Altansarnai urged her steed into battle. As if guided by the kami of the winds, the horse cleaved like a bolt from a crossbow across feuding soldiers, past the glowing apparition, and carried her to the feet of Ikoma Ujiaki himself. Altansarnai cut two ashigaru down to make way. Ujiaki sat astride a massive warhorse, resplendent in his leonine beard and golden regalia. His voice was hoarse from shouting, and his cheeks were flushed. Upon seeing the Unicorn Champion, he let out a raspy roar and pointed his fan imperiously in her direction. It flashed in the sun. In that moment, Altansarnai and her blade were one: with a swift motion, she struck at his outstretched arm and cut it cleanly off.

Howling, Ujiaki looked pleadingly at her. The color drained from his face. Altansarnai picked up his fan and surveyed the field. The undead horde had vanished. Immediately, the clash of battle quieted around them.

“Ambassador Ikoma Ujiaki,” Altansarnai raised her curved blade to his throat. “I demand that you declare your defeat.”

The ambassador’s noble face was saturated with fear. A bead of sweat trickled down his brow as he nodded gravely. Clutching the stump of his arm, he struggled to dismount his warhorse, and stood in submission before her, head bowed. The sound of sheathed blades and dropped weapons issued around them as soldiers witnessed the surrender.

“Ikoma Ujiaki, you have brokered war and deceit, and allied yourself with the agents of the Shadowlands,” the Unicorn Champion said. The words themselves tasted bitter on her lips. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

The traitor wept openly, blood staining the fabric of his dusky kimono. Lines of worry and care traced his face, and his brow was knotted in a look of contrition.

“Champion Shinjo, I beg your mercy. For I have been deceived.”

The general pointed to a slender young woman bedecked in the armor of the Imperial Legions.

“When Commander Kitsu Chiemi called the spirit of Akodo Arasou, he spoke the truth to me and my armies. I did not know the depths to which Bayushi Shoju would go to deceive me and the Imperial forces.”

A hacking cough. Ujiaki looked pleadingly at Shinjo Altansarnai, his hazel eyes brimming with tears. Altansarnai’s chest tightened as she looked upon the ruin of this once-proud man. Her eyes strayed to the Kitsu, whose face was drawn in concentration. The ghost of Champion Arasou continued to bray in the din, exhorting Lion and Imperial forces to put down arms.

“You claim to be ignorant of Shoju’s alliance when you loosed the ghosts of the Shadowlands on this battlefield. Do you take me for a fool?”

“Those spirits were bonded to the wall from its creation!” Ujiaki exclaimed. “To its very stones. I merely–”

Altansarnai raised one hand to cut him off. “Even if what you say is true, Ujiaki, you have betrayed your duty to your clan, to the Emperor, to Rokugan itself. You have schemed and manipulated—” At this, Altansarnai paused for a moment. She thought of her wedding that might have been, the impossible choice. Tsanuri’s mother, pleading and broken. Even in his supplication, she saw in Ujiaki’s bearing an utter lack of conviction. There was only animal desperation, unyielding hunger, and naked ambition.

“You have disgraced yourself and your family, and put all of Rokugan in grave danger,” Altansarnai said. “The greatest mercy I can offer you is a dignified death.”

A dreadful silence. A snowflake drifted on a stray breeze and landed on the general’s beard, followed by many more. A heavy, ashen snow began to fall around them, muffling the battle with a preternatural calm.

“Champion, you do not understand. Shoju bewitched me. The duplicitous Scorpion forced my hand: I was compelled to act against my will!”

The snow fell upon friend and foe alike, burying the horrors of war in pure white. Altansarnai’s heart was cold.

“Draw your wakizashi and ready yourself.”

Seeing that his pleas fell on deaf ears, the general’s expression turned to rage. With his remaining hand, Ujiaki drew his short sword. Hot breath billowed out like smoke in front of him as he drank the winter air.

“I should have known better than to reason with a Unicorn,” he seethed.

Shinjo Altansarnai saw the flash of predatory inspiration cross Ujiaki’s face as he darted at her and stabbed at her torso. She stepped lightly to the side, then swung her scimitar with deadly precision.

“Let the snow bury your lies,” she spoke as his body slumped forward. Her part was done. Blood bloomed through the blanket of snow.