Conclaves of Light and Dark
By Maxime Lemaire & C Thomas Hand
Edited by Fred Wan
The Spine of the World Mountains
Isawa Koizumi made his way through the mountains heedless of paths or roads. The air kami held him aloft at every step. He walked sure-footed upon air to avoid the slipping rocks. He reveled in the gusts of ice cold winds. Their purity was unlike anything found in the more civilized regions of Rokugan. He was so focused did not notice he had arrived at his destination.
It was a simple slab of flat terrain near the top of a high mountain. In that inconspicuous place stood a being of power, the one who had called for Koizumi and the others.
“Void,” Koizumi said and bowed low to the Oracle in the body of Isawa Kiyoteru. “It is an honor to meet you.”
“Air,” the Oracle said as she turned to face her counterpart. She greeted Koizumi with a respectful bow. “There is no need for formality. We are equal.”
“I still have difficulty believing the Dragon chose me.” Air said. Koizumi flexed his fingers experimentally grasping the thin air of the mountain. “I don't feel much different. Then, I have always been strange.”
“You are the Son of Emma-O,” Kiyoteru said. Her star-filled eyes bore into Koizumi’s soul. “The Fortune of Death. It was your destiny to become the Oracle. You were always more attuned to the spirits than others. Of the mortals chosen, you will note the changes least.”
“Where are the others?” Koizumi asked.
“Not all possess the speed of air.” The Oracle of Fire arrived at the outcropping in the body of Kakita Ibara. “.
“Forgive me,” Air bowed. “I imagine the new burden of power is difficult to bear.”
“Burden?” The Oracle smiled with Ibara’s lips. “Does the candle feel burden when it lights the way? Burdens are a mortal concern, Brother Air. Though I reside in this mortal vessel, I am not inclined to suffer its humanity.”
The sound of rushing water interrupted the conversation. A mental image of a thunderous waterfall filled the minds of those present. In the blink of an eye, the vision transformed itself into the form of a shugenja in a wide- wicker hat.
“So quickly do we forget the memory of duty and love.” The Oracle of Water finished its transformation into a body that once belonged to Agasha Kyokuta. In its fathomless eyes, Fire and Air saw a brief flash of Kyokuta’s mortal life. A celebration, a wedding and a wedding night, and mere days later the gift of the Dragon fell upon this form.
“I must caution you against the dangers of remaining married to a mortal while being an Oracle. Although it might be slightly easier for you, since as your spouse is not an Emperor,” Kiyoteru said, referencing her predecessor, Toturi Kaede.
Void looked on without emotion. “It is better that you have chosen to sever your ties. There is too much precedence of the danger of holding close to lost humanity.”
“Where is Earth?” Ibara said “I feel Saori’s body nearby, but cannot see her.”
“I am here,” Saori emerged from nearby rock, skin shifting from gray to the natural color of flesh. “I wanted to hear what you had to say before I appeared.”
“Unnecessary deception,” Air frowned. “Especially among Oracles. We could have found you had we wished. I suppose this kind of action isn't surprising, from a student of Shourido. As confusing as the Dragon of Air’s choice is to me, your selection by the Dragon of Earth is…impossible to comprehend.”
Saori sneered as she took her place, completing a circle. “You may have been Chosen, but not I. You may have given up the clarity of human perception and accepted the embrace of the Dragon, but I seized it. You will never meet the former Oracle of Earth and you will not find me as bound by your foolish rules.”
“This action will not be without consequences,” whispered the Oracle of Water. “Our power is meant to be contained.”
“Threats?” Saori smiled. “Of you all, I am the only one with clear perspective. Your judgment is clouded by the mind that binds you.”
“Please,” Kiyoteru held up a hand, “how we got to where we are now does not matter, nor does who we were before. You are not what you were, not even you.” The eyes of Void pierced Saori’s bravado and the Oracle of Earth fell silent. “You know why you are here.”
“The prophecy,” Air nodded. “Time grows short. The Clans are wholly unprepared.”
“For now. Visions trickle to those with the gift of prophecy, but mortal minds are too weak to comprehend. Unlike ours,” Saori said. Without a word, she and Ibara stepped away from the edge of the mountain. Each of the Oracles turned their gaze to the open spot.
“There is more we can do.” The intensity of Fire bolstered Ibara’s words.
“Not ourselves. Not directly. That is why we have summoned a conduit.” Void whispered. “Oshiryo, monk of the Seven Fortunes, comes to ask his questions.”
On cue, a filthy hand gripped the lip of the outcropping. The monk heaved himself up, body shaking with the strain of the climb. He was covered in sweat and chalky dust and for a moment merely laid upon the flat stone to catch his breath with closed eyes. It did not take him long to feel their eyes. In a flash of movement he twisted about and prostrated himself before their power. “Rise and face us.” Void whispered. “Speak your mind.”
“I thought I had gone mad. I dreamed of three phoenixes and two cranes dancing together on a mountaintop,” Oshiryo rose, his every movement careful and polite. He wiped at his plain brown robes. He tried for levity. “I can't help but notice you are not presently dancing.”
“No,” Fire smiled through Ibara’s lips. “And Saori was most recently of the Dragon, not the Crane.”
“Visions and dreams take their liberties,” Saori said with a smile. “Welcome, Oshiryo-san. Do you know why you are here?”
“I believe I do.” Oshiryo bowed low. “You represent the future and I am the vessel that must ask the question.”
“How did you know?” Saori’s eyes narrowed.
“I have spent a lifetime listening for the song of the elements, my Lady. Looking for the tiniest variations in their voices to better understand the universe and my place within it. The power you wield is anything but tiny and you would not have sent me visions without purpose.
“Very well,” Air nodded. Koizumi’s arms opened in a welcoming gesture. “Are you ready to receive knowledge of the prophecy which threatens to engulf Rokugan in darkness?”
“I am,” Oshiryo said, face grave. “Shall I ask my first...”
Oshiryo gasped, unable to finish his sentence. He looked down and saw a powerful tattooed arm covered in blood protruding from his midsection. The arm pulled back. Oshiryo fell, a lifeless sack of flesh. A maniacal grin contrasted with the grisliness of the act.
“Who are you?” Fire said and drew Ibara’s blade of fire. “Why did you do this? He was but a peaceful monk!”
The newcomer stepped over Oshiyro’s body and shook his fist free of the gore and blood. “Kokujin Dairu.” He looked down at the fallen monk with derision. “The peaceful fall easily when war comes. It is the way of things.”
“Kokujin,” Kyokuta said in disgust. “You bear the name of the twice-cursed Dragon.”
“I chose a master whose teachings encourage free thought and the acquisition of power. You chose to be slaves to beings who view humans as barely above ants in nature. To each their own,” Dairu shrugged.
“I will cut you down where you stand!” Ibara’s mortality surged up through the Celestial power of the Dragon of Fire demanding to be heard.
“No,” Dairu chuckled. “I offer you no aggression, so you cannot harm me. You are limited by response to mortal stimulus. That is why you are weak, even with your limitless potential.”
Ibara felt the Oracle’s distance return, her human rage replaced by the infinite heat of Fire.
“How did you avoid detection?” Air frowned. “We should have been able to sense you.”
“Please,” Dairu rolled his eyes. “You see only the elements, using them as a crutch. There are other powers in this world, powers which allow you to exist beyond the reach of mere elemental realms.”
“It seems our purpose here is no more,” Void sighed without emotion in response to the travesty before her. “Let us depart.”
“Hold,” Saori said. “I want to hear what he has to say.”
Dairu gave the Oracle of Earth a nod. “You wanted to impart knowledge of the prophecy upon this mortal, yes?” He nudged the dead Oshiryo’s head with his bare foot smearing his face in the dirt. He looked up with a wicked grin. “I'm guessing you can only do so once, otherwise you would warn the entire Empire. You chose him because he is meek. He would not use the knowledge for personal gain.”
Dairu spat into the hole his fist had created. “Weakness.” He looked at each Oracle in turn and settled upon Saori. “You are stuck without a vessel for your message. But if I ask, you’ll tell me.”
“We could leave before the words can leave your lips,” Saori said.
“I imagine you could. I can see why you might not want to give me the prophecy. I fully intend to exploit your wisdom.” Dairu shifted his gaze back to Kiyoteru. “But I have no reason not to share with others along the way. Others will hear your words, this I guarantee. Who knows? One of your beloved heroes might even trust what I say.”
“Ridiculous,” Air said.
“We're done here,” Void stated flatly. We shall not speak again.”
All at once, the Oracles disappeared. There was no grandiose display of power – one moment they were there, the next they were not. Dairu shrugged. He reached down and lifted the lifeless body of Oshiryo and in one quick jerk hurled him over the side of the cliff. He felt mild disappointment as it vanished below a curtain of clouds. Then heard the splatter and grinned. “I thought you might you come back,” Dairu said without turning.
“Indeed,” Saori said. The Oracle of Earth emerged once more from the rocky outcropping. “The others are too closely bound to the Dragons to defy the will of Void. But I can answer your question.” “I'm impressed,” Dairu said. “I wasn't sure my gambit would succeed. Not that I should have expected a student of Shourido to miss an opportunity.”
“Indeed,” replied the Oracle of Earth. “I know someone will find a way to extract knowledge of the prophecy from you. Samurai from my second Clan already seek you out. Many of them are fools. A few are dangerous enough that I do not doubt they will find you and make you talk. Now…say the words.”
“What is the prophecy you and the Oracles spoke of?” Dairu said.
The winds halted as Saori spoke. The earth shook with dire prophecy and Kokujin Dairu's smile grew large as he learned what few in the Empire knew. What they would soon discover.
Fukitsu Province, Scorpion lands
Bayushi Nitoshi examined his world from on high. He looked out over a balcony atop Shiro Yogo to study the vast expanse below. Somewhere in the south Lion armies fell to sickening betrayal.
What do they look like, Nitoshi thought. All their golden banners snapping, gleaming under the sun, blood nourishing my lands? Are they as fierce as they claim? Are they as vast? They have such anger and rage and hate for me. Soon, they will all be dead.
“They will be real,” Nitoshi whispered. He breathed deep, eyes closed, and inhaled the cool air through his mask. He could see them in their thousands cast about in disarray.
“My lord,” a gentle voice pulled the Scorpion Champion back to reality. It annoyed him to have his moment of peace interrupted, but life was fleeting and fickle. When he turned a thrill raced up his spine like a shock of lightning. He could tell from the Soshi’s face that they had succeeded.
“Have you brought me news worth telling?”
The shugenja bowed and Nitoshi noted a tremble of fear. He smiled beneath the mask. Her fear told him more than words ever could.
“Which one have you tracked?”
The Soshi swallowed. “We fear they intend to destroy our agent, Lord Nitoshi. The Lady Yogo wished me to inform you because she knows how much you value –”
Nitoshi glided forward until he stood mere inches away. “Which one?” He was unused to needing to repeat himself.
“All. All of them, my lord.”
An unremarkable cave along the Crane coast
A murderous undertow sliced just below the waves. The chop wobbled a small fishing boat just in sight of the shore. The little kobune bucked atop the surf. Salt-water saturated its hull. Before the fisherman knew what had happened, he was sinking.
The current flowed on.
A woman floated up to her chest in the punishing surf, body bound to a jagged stone. She faced the coming tide with arms bent back at agonizing angles, hands and forearms melded into stone. The woman’s red mask and black outfit were covered in algae, seaweed, and sticky water.
Atop the stone sat a Broken Man. He gave her little regard. He stared out to sea with eyes coated in a film of cracked dust and madness.
The tidal wave crashed against the woman’s face and the spray exploded in all directions. Water soaked the mask and filled Shosuro Hawado’s burning lungs for the hundredth time. A man rose casually out of the water. He sat before Hawado on a cushion of bubbling surf. He looked at the drowning woman with a smile.
“What fun.” Hida Saiyuki chuckled. The Dark Oracle of Water lounged back and eyed their prize. “We grow more powerful each day. I don’t think I could have punished a mortal with such fervor a month ago.” Saiyuki stretched his arms behind his head. Biceps rippled with a liquid muscle straining against meager human flesh. Twin dai-tsuchi rose from the water on either side of the Shosuro. Saiyuki’s eyes were eager as he clapped his hands together and the weapons raced to cave in her skull.
The watery hammers exploded upon a shield of air.
“Don’t be so dramatic.” Soshi Yoshihara twisted out of the whipping wind just behind the crumbling façade that was the Dark Oracle of Earth. “Even if you do have the power to kill her, she cannot die yet.”
Saiyuki’s amusement fled, instantly replaced with boiling rage.
“You dare? You are not yet one of us. I will not abide disrespect.”
The statue that was the Broken Man cracked and rose. Rock fell from his flesh. Dust flew from his mouth. “She…is...correct. Void…comes.” He turned toward the shore and waded through the tidal pull. The Dark Oracle of Water and Soshi Yoshihara followed.
The trio joined a fourth man who stood far from the lapping shore. Tamori Wotan was an inferno of self-hatred. Yoshihara could feel his seething anger from a dozen yards away. She made sure to stand as far from the Dark Oracle of Fire as she could, but braved a question.
“What you are looking for out in the sea?”
Wotan’s gaze was locked on the horizon to the north and east. “You don’t feel it? A sliver of our power, an ominous remnant of us all. He will come again, as sure as my family is damned to fulfill this dark purpose, he will seek to destroy us once again.”
Yoshihara turned towards Saiyuki. “Who is he talking about?”
Saiyuki spat a glob of sea onto the ground at Wotan’s feet. It sizzled and evaporated. “He’s terrified of Handan, the living judgment who slew most of our predecessors. Coward.”
“Coward?” Wotan flew about in a rage and Yoshihara was forced to back away from the heat. “It devoured the power of Oracles and you do not expect it to try once more?”
“Hush,” came a whisper from the cave. A man made of the eternal night between the stars coalesced into the form of Tonbo Toryu, Dark Oracle of Void. In his robe of gathered night, he strode out to complete the conclave’s circle. “Let him come. We have other concerns.”
Void turned to Yoshihara. “You have it.”
The Soshi bowed not trying to hide her fear. With trembling fingers she brought out the tiny crystalline tear. She felt a cold sigh issue forth from the cave.
“You left behind the surprise for the Jade Champion?”
Yoshihara nodded. “My first and only act in service to Isawa Kaname. When the time comes her hands will be quite full.” Yoshihara paused and then braved her question. “Before I take the mantle of power, you will warn them?”
Eyes of fathomless void turned to the Shosuro in the waves.
“In exchange for your service, we will give them the knowledge they desire. You know little of what you ask. They will be at one another’s throats, as always. We sow only seeds of fear and dissension. Go out into the water. Speak to her as I speak to you. Let him hear our words.”
Yoshihara felt a glimmer of the power of the Dark Oracle of Air, but did not grasp for it. Not yet. The tear would not channel through a corrupted force and she had a message to impart to her lord.
“Why this ploy? Why not sear the message on the girls back and send her on her way?” Wotan spoke through gritted teeth.
Toryu turned his unblinking stare to the Tamori. “Because we want them to know we have grown. We want them to understand that Jigoku’s power is limitless and unstoppable. We want them to fear.”
“Why…here?” The Broken Man said in his broken voice.
Saiyuki nodded. “He’s right. Won’t they be able to track the corruption left at our gathering?”
“Of course. But they aren’t looking for it yet and our erstwhile allies in the Spider have already begun to seek out the Seals. They will find it first.” Toryu watched the tiny tear in Yoshihara’s fingers and spoke aloud to himself. “Amusing. Prophecy about the Seals imparted with an object just as old as they. The fall of Ningen-Do rests upon artifacts and magic from before the Fall of the Kami.”
“What should we tell them?” Toryu turned an ear back towards the cave. He listened to a voice only he could hear. “Agreed. Yoshihara, repeat my words. You will meet a Banished soul and in his wisdom you may find redemption. An Empire that seeks to defy prophecy is doomed to failure…”
The Dark Oracle of Void continued in his empty voice for long minutes. He repeated the echoes from the cave to the Soshi who restated each syllable in exacting detail. Through her voice to Hawado and by the magic of the tear of the Oni’s Eye, the Scorpion learned of a dark prophecy, a Banished soul, and sorrow to fill a Champion’s heart.
Toryu spared a glance northward. A mere day away by foot was the private estate of the Doji lord. Toryu could feel the wife and sister giving birth together – a rare and kharmic occurrence. The births were difficult. They were having complications. The Dark Oracle of Void blinked, just once, and the empty whispers of the cave flowed like death to touch upon their weak mortal forms. Just a push in the right direction. He could already see the resulting calamity the monstrous action would have upon Makoto.
Yoshihara finished. Instantly, Toryu and the others focused all attention upon her form. She screamed and dropped the stone into the ocean. The mantle of the Dark Oracle of Air fell about her, ripping at her soul. The power smothered in its cocoon embrace. Her lungs ignited with the need for pure air, but were instead rewarded with the filth and pollution of the kansen.
Water crashed atop the rock and exploded. When it cleared the rock was broken and Hawado had disappeared.
Toryu blinked a second time and the dark conclave was over.
Bayushi Nitoshi listened to the dark words in a quiet chamber beneath the earth. He looked up at the ceiling and considered the past. He was now as far below as he had been above before. A strange coincidence.
The Yogo daimyo waited nearby. He trusted no one else to be present. To hear these words. Nitoshi disliked prophecy, especially when words of darkness came from via a captured Kolat artifact that the Scorpion did not truly understand, may not ever understand. More disturbing was the origin of the evil portents. The beings at the other end knew Nitoshi listened. They knew he would have to react.
The Scorpion Champion wondered at the nature of the darkness. Were Oracles required to speak the truth? It felt, somehow, that Void was different than the rest.
“Shut it down for a time. Who knows if they can perceive us through the connection. Seal the chamber as well. A month, perhaps two. And when you test it next, use someone expendable.”
The Yogo daimyo nodded. “What will we do with this knowledge, my Lord?”
Nitoshi pulled off his mask. He ran a hand across his face to clear his head. He was quite tired. He found it difficult to sleep these days. Perhaps it was the boredom. The tedium of his office was never ending. He glanced about the shadowy room and thought about where he was.
“Shoju discovered a prophecy in a place similar to this, did he not?”
“Yes, my lord.” The Yogo shifted in obvious discomfort.
“Be calm, Amika. You are not Junzo. And though I bear the weight of his decision, I am not ‘the Usurper,’” Nitoshi’s lip curled at the name. It was good to remember what others thought of you. What they thought of your past.
Nitoshi had been told every scrap of detail about the interactions of Shoju and Junzo that could be known. He could see it, in his mind’s eye. Shoju on his dark throne. The prophecy of the last Hantei falling from his fingers. Junzo, eager to obey, eventually betraying them all. Shoju was a hero vilified because his act of heroism required a loyalty far greater than most samurai could conceive. He had been forced to kill his lord, his Emperor. His friend. For the fate of the Empire.
Nitoshi turned from the past. In the days to come he thought he could see a path to redemption. He would seize it no matter its cost.
“The prophecy cannot be trusted,” the Yogo said.
“Of course not.” Nitoshi reached out with slender fingers towards the Oni’s Eye daring it to wound him. He heard Amika hiss with indrawn breath.
“What will you do with the knowledge it has given, my lord?”
Nitoshi’s smile did not quite reach his eyes.
“Nothing others will understand.” Nitoshi stared into the deep clear chambers of the nemuranai at a memory only he could see.
The above stories include the following 10 Unresolved Storyline Prizes:
- Pacific Rim Championships – The Conclave of Light – Winner (Garth Davos, Spider) – Chose: Kokujin Dairu to observe the Conclave of Light Oracles - Link: http://www.l5r.com/2014/09/26/2014-pacific-rim-championships-12612-12714-queensland-australia/
- The South American Championship – The Conclave of Darkness – Winner (Walbert Ibarra, Scorpion) – Chose: Bayushi Nitoshi to observe the Conclave of Dark oracles – Link: http://www.l5r.com/2014/10/23/2014-south-american-championship-12614-santiago-chile/
- Return of Light and Dark - Link: http://www.l5r.com/2014/08/05/2014-fall-tournament-season-storyline-prize-list/
- The Dark Oracle of Air (Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina) – Winner (Jorge Matar, Scorpion) – Chose: Soshi Yoshihara
- The Dark Oracle of Earth (Marburg, Germany) – Winner (Alexander Wolf, Phoenix) – Chose: The Broken Man
- The Dark Oracle of Fire (Tacoma, WA, USA) – Winner (Roman Sampson Kovacic, Dragon) – Chose: Tamori Wotan
- The Dark Oracle of Water (Castro Valley, CA, USA) – Winner (Carlos Rentas, Crab) – Chose: Hida Saiyuki as the new Dark Oracle of Water
- The Oracle of Air (Selangor, Malaysia) – Winner (Koo Min Jern, Phoenix) – Chose: (Isawa Koizumi, backup choice)
- The Oracle of Earth (Dallas, Texas, USA) – Winner (Matt Demand, Crane) – Chose: Doji/Mirumoto Saori
- The Oracle of Fire (Dublin, Ireland) – Winner (Jack Murray, Crane) – Chose: Kakita Ibara
- The Oracle of Water (Madrid, Spain) – Winner (Gustavo Caperan, Phoenix) – Chose: Agasha Kyokuta