A Hero Born
By Shawn Carman

Rokugan, three months ago

The warm morning sun drove away the last hint of winter's chill as Shinjo Hekirou hurried to the training grounds. He had been running late all morning, but had been unable bring himself to forsake his morning prayer at the temple. He was not particularly superstitious, but he had prayed at the temple each morning during his lengthy stay at Kyuden Seppun, and did not want to begin his final morning there without what had become his ritual. Such things invited disaster. Fortunately, it appeared as though Hekirou had not yet missed anything. Quickly and quietly, he took his place in formation among the other young bushi gathering there.

The training grounds at Kyuden Seppun were not large, but they easily accommodated Hekirou and his comrades, perhaps two dozen in all. The quiet serenity of the majestic castle was almost enough to lull the young Unicorn into a sense of peace and contemplation. Almost, but not quite. His training with the Seppun had driven that from him months ago.

At the front of the unit's formation, an older man stepped up onto the dais that overlooked the training grounds. Hekirou thanked his ancestors inwardly, for had he been even a few seconds later it would have been a huge disgrace. The rigid posture and intense, burning gaze of the group's sensei was not something that bespoke tolerance or forgiveness. Seppun Zakuro was a master sensei of the Seppun Miharu and perhaps the greatest warrior Hekirou had ever met. The notion of angering him was not something the Shinjo wished to even contemplate. Only a few weeks ago, Zakuro had faced the six most promising students of this class in personal combat. Hekirou's leg was still a bit sore.

"My students," Zakuro began, his sharp, familiar voice echoing easily across the courtyard, "I have nothing more to teach you." He paused for a moment, perhaps to see if any of his students reacted to so bold a statement. Hekirou could hear nothing throughout the entire training yard, and a slight smile crossed Zakuro's face. "Your training here is complete," he continued. "Your clans sent you here so that you might honor them by serving the Emperor's family. You are ready for your first assignments, but you have only begun to learn the Seppun's lessons." Zakuro stepped down from the dais and walked among the young warriors, stopping and nodding occasionally. "You must take in everything around you at all times. You must never rest. Yours is a sacred duty that never ends. And if you are truly blessed by the Fortunes," he stopped and looked at Hekirou, "you may be given the glorious fate of defending the Emperor's children with your lives."

Hekirou felt his heart swell with pride at the thought. It was the dream of every honorable young man to serve and die in his lord's name. That he might have reached this far, to study with the Seppun and receive a duty post among one of the Four Winds… it was too much to believe. His excitement was kept in check only by the realization of the size of this enormous burden. His ancestors, family, and clan would all be looking at him now, expecting nothing less than complete devotion to duty, honor above reproach. He would not fail.

"You will each find a scroll among your belongings in the barracks," Zakuro said, rousing Hekirou from his deep thoughts. "You have been excellent students. I am proud of you all. Go now, and show me how well you have learned your lessons."

The students began to return to their barracks, a few talking quietly among themselves but most too tense or excited to speak. What assignments would the others be drawing, Hekirou wondered. What Wind would they all serve? Would he be working alongside them now? Or would they be parting ways for good?

So many questions. Hekirou could not help but smile as he thought of them. He hurried back toward the barracks, his mind racing at the possibility of what he might find there.

o

Miya Gensaiken struggled to clear his mind and focus. It was late, and most others within Kyuden Tonbo had long since retired for the evening. He had feigned illness and retired early to prepare to the night's ritual. Fortunately, fatigue would not be a problem. A Pekkle no Oni did not have the same need for sleep as a human, despite that they so closely resembled one another. It was just one more weakness that separated Gensaiken from the lesser creatures around him. He pointedly avoided the thought that he had occasionally needed sleep since he came to serve Toturi Sezaru. That this lengthy deception was beginning to affect him in strange ways was not a thought he would tolerate, at least not consciously.

Gensaiken distantly realized that his time among the Rokugani had changed him. He was becoming too accustomed to the luxuries of human society, too complacent. It was not a marked change, at least not yet, and he had no intention of allowing it to become one. He could not bear the company of these fools much longer. The time had come for him to fulfill his mission and be done with Rokugan for a time. The Shadowlands called to him, even across so great a distance.

Manipulate or destroy. That had been the mission given to him. He could still remember the whispering presence of Shahai inside his mind during the first months of his new duty, urging him on. Gensaiken had not heard from the Dark Daughter in months. She had forgotten him. She was not a patient sort.

Toturi Sezaru had proven all but impossible to manipulate. He valued the input of his advisors, including Gensaiken, but trusted his own counsel more often than anything else. All of Gensaiken's carefully designed plans to warp Sezaru into a pawn of the Shadowlands had apparently come to nothing, and he was weary of trying.

If he could not be manipulated, then he must be destroyed.

But how? Gensaiken could never hope to threaten the Wolf, nor did he have any allies to call upon who could. Even Daigotsu, possessing the Onisu of Desire, had not been able to kill the man. What could destroy him if not an Onisu? He could not call upon the Shadowlands for aid. Doing so would prove his weakness, and there was no place for the Lost in Daigotsu's legions.

Gensaiken completed his blood ritual, allowing his spirit to release from his body and roam free across the plains of Ningen-do. If the Shadowlands could offer him nothing, then he would try elsewhere. His spirit soared across the plains of the Unicorn and the nearby Dragon mountains. He sensed the one called Tamori deep within the mountains, but dared not risk his wrath by intruding. He continued to survey the mountains, looking for something, anything, he could use. Pekkle were architects of pain, adept at sensing others like themselves. There were dreadful things in the mortal realm if one knew where to look, and Gensaiken knew.

There. Far to the north. There was something. Gensaiken's spirit hurtled through the darkness toward it, eager to find whatever it was. He found it buried deep within the desert, incredibly old and forgotten. There was power there, but hidden deep inside, waiting to be awakened. He recognized it. Pekkle had not always served Jigoku. Before the coming of Fu Leng they had been powerful tricksters, wandering where they wished and serving countless wicked gods. The creature that Gensaiken sensed now was familiar, though it was like nothing ever seen in the Shadowlands.

A weak, twisted laugh escaped Gensaiken's lips.

o

Rokugan, the present day

Shinjo Hekirou stood motionless just inside the main entrance to the audience chamber at Kyuden Tonbo. In the months since he had come to serve Toturi Sezaru, he had mastered the art of blending into the background. It was a necessary skill for guardsmen and yojimbo, who were expected to perform their duty without interfering with their lord's duties. For all that he could appear as little more than scenery, however, Hekirou had a much more difficult time drowning out Toturi Sezaru's conversations with his advisors. As a guard, it was not his place to pay attention to such things, but his natural curiosity overwhelmed him. He hoped that one day he would be able to quash that annoying compulsion.

At the moment, two of Sezaru's advisors were having a hushed conversation in the middle of the room. Despite their attempts not to be overheard, Hekirou's trained senses could make out most of it easily.

"Don't be a fool, Koshei," Soshi Angai admonished. "You know as well as I do that something is not right with Sezaru. He's been acting strange of late."

"It is not my place to question Sezaru-sama," Toturi Koshei said firmly, an edge to his voice. "He suffers a burden such as you and I cannot imagine. The kami speak to him constantly. Such things are bound to influence his moods."

The Scorpion shugenja shook her head. "You cannot understand the kami, but I do. I assure you that it is nothing like that."

"You cannot compare yourself to him," Koshei countered.

"You do not understand," Angai insisted, her voice rising slightly. "Has your precious Lion honor blinded you completely?"

"I am a Lion no more," Koshei said bitterly.

"You are surely as obtuse as one," Angai retorted.

Koshei's rebuttal was interrupted by the arrival of Miya Gensaiken, Sezaru's primary courtly advisor. "Good morning to you, Angai-san, Koshei-san," the herald said warmly. "Have you seen Sezaru-sama? I have pressing matters to discuss with him."

Koshei's expression hardened further. Hekirou had noticed since his arrival that despite the yojimbo's obvious distaste for Soshi Angai, he disliked the oily Miya even more. "Sezaru-sama is still resting this morning, Gensaiken-san. He has not emerged from his quarters."

"No, I'm afraid you are mistaken," Gensaiken said genially. "I just came from there."

"What?" exclaimed Koshei. "I placed guards on his door, and they were to find me the moment he emerged."

"Why would you do that?" asked Gensaiken. "Do you not trust your master's ability to protect himself?"

Angai smirked. "Nothing amiss, eh Koshei?"

Koshei said nothing, but beckoned Hekirou and the other guard to follow him. The two fell in behind their superior without question, neither saying a word. The three moved quickly through the compact hallways of Kyuden Tonbo. Hekirou could hear Angai and Gensaiken behind them, muttering to one another beneath their breath. Sezaru's private chambers were not far, and when the group rounded the corner, Koshei confronted the guards. "You! You were to find me immediately upon Sezaru-sama's awakening! Why have you not done so?"

Hekirou recognized one of the guardsmen, a Phoenix that he occasionally played Fortunes and Winds with when off-duty. "Koshei-sama, Lord Sezaru has not emerged," the guard replied. "We have remained at our post the entire night. We believed he was still present until Gensaiken-sama informed us otherwise."

"They probably fell asleep, Koshei. Think nothing of it." Gensaiken's smile was forgiving and somewhat fatherly, but Hekirou could not help but find the man repulsive. His every move seemed designed to discredit or insult others. Were all Miya like him?

"No, Gensaiken-sama!" insisted the Phoenix. "We would never fail Koshei and Lord Sezaru in such a way!"

"These things happen," smiled Gensaiken again.

Hekirou could see Koshei's ire rising, and the guard's fury was evident on his face. The situation was potentially explosive, but was suddenly and unexpectedly defused by the arrival of Toturi Sezaru.

The Wolf did not look himself. There were large circles beneath his eyes, and he was paler than usual. His hair was disheveled and his robes appeared wrinkled and discolored. For that matter, Hekirou recognized them as the same robes he had worn the previous day.

"Lord Sezaru," Koshei said, his voice heavy with relief. "We were concerned when we could not find you in your quarters."

"I seem to have fallen asleep while researching a matter in the shrine," Sezaru said. Even his voice was different somehow. "I did not return to my quarters last night."

"My lord," Angai said softly. "That is not so. Koshei escorted you shortly after your evening meal. You did not feel well. Do you remember?"

"You are wrong, Angai." Sezaru waved her comments away casually. "I was meditating in the shrine. My recent visits to the Dragon and Crane lands have left me weary, and I fell asleep. That is all. Nothing more."

"No, Sezaru-sama, that is not all," Angai said. "Some sickness has taken hold of you. Koshei, tell him your account of last night."

The yojimbo's face was contorted terribly. Hekirou could almost see his loyalty and concern twisting him between them. "I am certain Sezaru-sama would remember more clearly than I," he said finally.

"Ah, there we have it. The matter is closed." Sezaru waved the lot of them away from the chamber doors so that he might enter. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have to prepare for a visit with the Scorpion ambassador."

"No." Angai slid between Sezaru and the door to his chamber. "Please, my lord, you must listen. Something terrible is happening here. You must listen."

Suddenly, explosively, Sezaru's face twisted into a mask of rage. He drew back his hand, as if prepared to slap the beautiful shugenja across the face. His hand stopped only inches from her. His face twisted as if in pain. Angai did not move or flinch, but only eyed the Wolf coolly.

"Angai," Sezaru breathed softly, lowering his hand. "I… I am sorry. I did not… I don't know why I did that."

"It is no matter, my lord," she said curtly. "I was presumptuous. I beg your forgiveness." She bowed quickly and left. Koshei's expression was unreadable, but Hekirou thought perhaps that Gensaiken looked bemused.

"Koshei," Sezaru said, exhaustion evident in his voice, "arrange to have my audience with the Scorpion delayed by three days." His expression flickered somewhat, then his voice was back to the strange tenor it had taken the past few weeks. "And see to it that I am not disturbed!" With that, he stepped inside his chambers and closed the door forcefully, shutting everyone out.

Hekirou looked to Toturi Koshei for direction, but the yojimbo seemed at a loss. The other guards bore similar stunned expressions. "Return to your posts," Koshei said quietly. Lacking any ability to help him, Hekirou did the only thing he could: he returned to his post and continued the sacred duty given to him.

o

It was late at night by the time Hekirou could find the time to ride the short distance from Kyuden Tonbo to the shrine. The secluded shrine was not devoted to any particular Fortune, but instead was devoted to the virtues of piety. Few came from the castle to worship here, meaning that Hekirou could often come and offer his prayers in solitude. Some might enjoy the ritual and spectacle of religion, but to Hekirou it was a time for quiet introspection and contemplation.

Tonight was different than most of Hekirou's visits. Normally he was full of good cheer and very grateful to the Fortunes and his ancestors. He still could not believe he was serving one of Toturi's heirs, and sometimes feared he would awaken from a dream to find himself back in the remote provinces of the Shinjo. Now, things had changed. Sezaru's behavior had rapidly spiraled out of control until he was, in Hekirou's opinion, dangerously unstable. Though it was not his place, the thought of serving under a mad Emperor caused Hekirou's stomach to churn. He had studied history enough to have a notion as to what kind of Empire had been born under the rule of tyrants like Hantei XVI and Hantei XXXIX.

Hekirou burned a stick of incense and settled into a meditative pose. He sat for over an hour, trying to find the peaceful sensation that he so often enjoyed during his trips to the shrine. It was no use. His mind was too troubled. As the time stretched on, he became frustrated and irritable at his inability to focus. Finally, he leapt to his feet with a disgusted expression.

This trip had been pointless.

"Greetings, Shinjo Hekirou," came a new voice. The young guardsman looked around and was startled to discover a shugenja sitting in a meditative position.

Hekirou frowned. "You startled me," he said, embarrassed at having been surprised so easily.

"It was not intentional," the stranger said. "I have always been somewhat easy for others to overlook." The corner of his mouth twitched slightly. "Forgive me for saying so, Hekirou-san, but you seem troubled."

The guardsman's frown grew more severe. "You have me at a disadvantage, friend," he said cautiously. The man was clearly Unicorn, and probably Moto from his appearance. Moto shugenja were notoriously eccentric. Hekirou always found their presence unsettling.

"Of course, how rude of me. I would naturally have heard of the new Unicorn Imperial Guardsman serving at Kyuden Tonbo, but you have no reason to know my name. I am Moto Tsusung, servant of the Khan. I am honored to meet you."

"I am flattered, Tsusung-san," Hekirou offered tentatively. "I am hardly worthy of such notoriety." He studied the markings on Tsusung's kimono and scroll satchel curiously. He had never seen such designs. They reminded him of Emma-O for some reason, but he had never heard of a shugenja devoted to the Fortune of Death. "Do you maintain this shrine?"

"Oh no," said the shugenja. "I recently completed work on a new temple back in the Moto lands. The Khan himself asked me to serve. I was honored to accept." He favored Hekirou with a smile. "We both serve great men. The gods smile upon us."

"The gods. Yes, I suppose one could say that," agreed Hekirou tentatively, instinctively defensive due to the stranger's bizarre mannerisms. "What brings you to Lord Sezaru's lands?"

"A matter of research," Tsusung replied. "There is a scholar among the Tonbo that is aiding me in a matter of some delicacy."

"I was given to understand very little of the Tonbo family's lore survived the Lion purge," Hekirou said. "What exactly is it you are researching?"

"Ancient funeral rites," the shugenja replied.

"That seems an odd subject for a Tonbo to study." Hekirou was somewhat skeptical.

"Death knows no family, no clan," Tsusung said, studying the long veins on the back of his hand. "All mortal beings shall face it in time, and it weighs heavily on us all. Even you, who are devoted to protecting life, are prepared to die at a moment's notice." Tsusung looked up at Hekirou. "Aren't you?"

"Yes," Hekirou nodded. "It is my duty."

Tsusung chuckled darkly. "Death is the duty of every pious man." He withdrew a packet from his obi. "But I have not come to discuss theology. I have brought you a gift from the Unicorn Clan. In recognition of your prestigious appointment." He held the package out to the young bushi and looked at him expectantly.

"I cannot accept," Hekirou began politely.

"I am not interested in courtly games," Tsusung snapped. "Just take it."

Hekirou stared at the shugenja blankly for a moment then took the small box. He unwrapped it to find a small stone pendant held by an incredibly thin chain. He noticed a tiny symbol inscribed on the stone. "Is this Meishodo? I don't recognize the symbol."

"Meishodo." The shugenja smiled again. "Yes, it is Meishodo, an amulet strong in name magic. You have a good eye. The symbol is in the ancient Moto language."

"What does it mean?"

"It is the ward against rogue servants of death," Tsusung said cryptically. "It will protect you and those you guard."

"Thank you, Tsusung-sama," Hekirou said. Perhaps he had been wrong to doubt this stranger. He was a Unicorn, after all, and the Moto might be strange but were known for their powerful hatred of the Shadowlands. "I will wear it when on duty, always."

"I am very glad to hear that, my young friend," the shugenja said. "I hope that you will not need it, but a little insurance never hurts, eh?"

"I have always thought that to be true," said Hekirou with a solemn expression.

o

Two days later, Shinjo Hekirou had all but forgotten about the amulet he wore. His spirits had begun to lift as well, although more than likely that was because he had not been in Toturi Sezaru's direct presence since his bizarre outburst a few days previous. The mood of the other guards indicated that something was still amiss. Sezaru's eccentric tendencies did not bother Hekirou as much as the others. Perhaps it was that he was Unicorn, or perhaps he simply believed that anyone who used Void magic was bound to be slightly touched, but he was not convinced that Sezaru's strange behavior was anything unusual. It was not until Sezaru and his advisors entered the audience chamber that Hekirou first realized how wrong things truly were with his lord.

The guardsman heard them before they arrived. Sezaru was loudly berating his advisors as he did so often these past few days. For their part, Koshei and Angai said nothing while Gensaiken made idle conversation, seemingly oblivious to Sezaru's ire. Hekirou had been wrong to think Miya Gensaiken an evil man. It was clear that he was simply an idiot.

Hekirou's thoughts were brought to a terrible halt when Sezaru entered the chamber. There was a blast of searing pain in his chest, and it was all he could do not to cry out in agony. Instead he clenched his teeth tightly and willed the pain to stop. It abated somewhat, but did not recede. Far more important than the pain, however, was Sezaru.

The Wolf appeared much as he always did, or at least much as he always did of late. His appearance was slightly disheveled and there was a gleam of anger in his eye. More importantly, there was a strange, inhuman creature coiled around him.
It was not a distinct shape. It was more of a shimmering form, like heat waves in the desert. Hekirou could make out some sort of squat shape hunched on Sezaru's back with thin, elastic limbs wrapped around his neck. What might be a head was resting against Sezaru's braid, pulsing with a strange sucking motion. Its long tail spiraled lazily around the Wolf's body like a plume of smoke.

The amulet burned Hekirou's chest again, worse this time, and he could not suppress a soft hiss of pain. To his horror, the thing that was not there stopped pulsating against Sezaru's head and turned slowly, lazily in his direction. This only caused the pain to intensify until Hekirou was certain his kimono would burst into flames.

"What… you… what is going on?" Sezaru asked, his voice strangely dreamy. "What are you doing?" He was staring at Hekirou with his strange, haunted eyes.

"My lord?" said Koshei. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"He can see us," whispered the creature in the ancient language of the Moto. "Why can he see us?" The creature's head reared back again and fastened itself more deeply to Sezaru's skull.

Koshei started toward Hekirou, but Angai grabbed his arm and held him back. "No," she said softly. "Something is wrong here. Something is terribly wrong."

Sezaru pointed to Hekirou. "You are plotting against me, Unicorn," he said in a wild voice. "You must die." There was a sudden spasm in the man's face. "No," he said, in a deeper voice, this time firm and unyielding. "The Wolf does not murder innocents."

And then a third voice, this one somehow Sezaru's and yet somehow nothing like Sezaru's, whispered in booming tones throughout the chamber. There was no sound, but everyone could hear it. Angai even placed her hands over her ears with the force of it, and Koshei was driven to his knees as the strange voice echoed through the chamber.

((Too many. Too many. Too many. Destroy it, Unicorn. Burn it, rip it from us.))

The pain was unbearable. Hekirou could not withstand it any longer. Driven by pure instinct and blinded by agony, he hurtled across the room with a terrible cry rumbling in his throat. From the corner of his eye he saw Koshei struggling to his feet, aiming his body toward Hekirou's rapidly moving form. He saw lightning coursing along the arm Sezaru held toward him, but the conflict warring on the Wolf's face would not allow the spell's energy to leave him. With a cry of anger and pain, Hekirou collided bodily with Sezaru, bringing the Wolf to the ground and pinning him there with all of his weight.

Screams filled the room. One was Hekirou's as the amulet seemed to explode on his chest. The burning was unbearable, unthinkable, unimaginable. Glowing fire spread down his arms and washed over Toturi Sezaru. The Wolf screamed as well, a ragged cry that was half anguish and half a terrible, unknowable rage. The invisible creature on Sezaru's back screamed as well, a crude, bubbling scream of outrage that burrowed into the mind like a rat devouring into a corpse.

Then it was done, and the pain was gone.

Somehow, Hekirou struggled to his feet. There, across the room, he could make out the form of the thing that had been clinging to Sezaru. It was solid now, a long, tadpole-like creature with raw, wet pink flesh. Its body was hunched and misshapen, resembling some terrible mating of a man and toad. Where its head would have been, however, there was only the outline of a grinning human skull. Its eyes glowed with a sinister yellow light. It scampered across the chamber toward Hekirou, long tail loudly slapping on the marble floor. The Unicorn struggled to draw his blade, but found he no longer the strength to hold it aloft. "You will not have him while I live," he rasped as he staggered between the creature and Sezaru, certain that his death was imminent.

"No," said Toturi Sezaru, "No more of this." The Wolf had risen from the floor. His face was healthy and whole if now flushed with anger. Power radiated from him; he filled the chamber with his might. He lifted one hand, and the terrible thing stopped. It reared back and shrieked, a bizarre, metallic sound.

"Unclean beast," the Wolf said, his voice thick with rage. "Did you think to corrupt my mind with your vile power? I return you to whatever foul hell spawned you." Sezaru made a ripping motion with his hand then, and Hekirou saw a great void split the creature in two. There was another brief shriek; the beast collapsed inward on itself, separated into dust, and was gone.

"Are you well, my lord?" Hekirou managed.

"I am myself once again," Sezaru said kneeling to send the healing Void coursing through Hekirou's terribly burned and battered form. "Thanks to you, Unicorn."

Shinjo Hekirou smiled with pride and promptly collapsed, unconscious.

o

It was dusk several days later by the time Hekirou arrived back at the shrine. He frowned to see there was no light within. He had hoped to find Tsusung and thank him for his assistance. The shugenja obviously had known something about what was happening in Kyuden Tonbo, but had said nothing. Hekirou was angry that the Moto had not come forward earlier, yet he could not doubt that Tsusung's intentions were, if not entirely clear, at least benevolent. How else could he explain the amulet's effect?

"Enter, Hekirou." The voice came from the pitch-black interior, startling the young guardsman. After a moment, Tsusung's pale form emerged from the shadows into the setting sun's fading light. "I thought you might come."

"Tsusung-sama," Hekirou said, bowing. "There was an… incident at Kyuden Tonbo. Lord Sezaru…"

"Was attacked," the shugenja answered. "I sensed it, even from here."

"Then you know what it was?" Hekirou asked eagerly.

"Yes. A powerful demon. A former servant of the gods I now worship."

Hekirou was aghast. "A servant? What manner of Fortunes do you serve, shugenja? I cannot imagine the Celestial Heavens spawning such a wretched creature!"

Tsusung shook his head. "I never claimed to serve the Fortunes."

"What are you talking about?" Hekirou demanded. "If you…" he trailed off. He took an involuntary step backward. "You said you recently built a shrine, built on the Khan's orders." He shook his head. "The Lords of Death."

"The Shi-Tien Yen-Wang," Tsusung corrected. "I am their priest."

"A priest of demonic forces." Hekirou's voice was firm. "The Lords of Death are not gods."

"Aren't they?" Tsusung's tone was not condescending, but rather that of a man explaining a difficult concept to a trusted student. "They served as the patrons of the Moto tribe for centuries, perhaps longer than our Empire has existed. They survived their long abandonment and gave up their quest for vengeance in exchange for us returning the respect they once showed us. Now they seek only to be remembered and to be accepted as equals among the Celestial Heavens. Such behavior hardly seems malevolent to me."

"Think what you will, priest," Hekirou said, mounting his horse. "I will have none of it."

"So be it," Tsusung said. "Sezaru is a priest of the kami and Fortunes, yet none of them acted to save him. The Lords of Death did."

Hekirou did not know what to say.

"You need not understand," Tsusung said patiently. "The Lords of Death are gods of justice, and justice is not always kind. They are merciless, vengeful, and often misunderstood but they protect the just." Tsusung smiled. "Much like the Unicorn Clan, no?"

Hekirou bowed his head. "Perhaps I have misjudged the Shi-Tien Yen-Wang," he said. "If it is they who are responsible for saving Sezaru, then they have my thanks."

"I knew you were a bright lad," Tsusung said.

Hekirou bowed a final time in thanks, whispered a short prayer to the Lords of Death, and returned to his horse. As he galloped back to Kyuden Tonbo, Moto Tsusung watched him with a strange smile.