Bitter Burdens
A Story of the Era of Gold

It was a presence that Negauru had not expected; a dark and throbbing presence that somehow filled everything and all. As the prisoner stood amidst the broken pieces that had once been captures, the aged traitor narrowed his eyes to the darkness, his eyes touched by neither curiosity nor fear.

"You are…more clever than the types of creatures that I have been informed of before," the man said softly, folding his arms with a deathless, hopeless calm. "You recognize the difference, don't you?"

"The difference between a defender of the Empire and a mad man."

You are not mad. The mental statement was so sudden, so intense, that it froze Negauru to his bones, jolting the Seppun backwards several shuddering steps. Insanity is not the cause for your lamentations, Seppun, taunted the Onisu.

Your tragedy is that you, and your truths, are quite sane.

With that, the creature was gone from Negauru, leaving him alone with the broken bodies and wasted blades…

* * * *

Bayushi Omino narrowed his eyes in anger, letting the feeling suffuse his samurai spirit, burning away the fear as he attacked with sword raised. The Scorpion's blade slashed through another of the strange creatures known as Tsuno, driving their ranks slowly backwards as he followed the Emerald Champion's flashing blade.

In the years since the Spirit Wars, Omino had sought many paths to serve both clan and conscience, and in recent years he had found it at the Emerald Magistrates' sides. Now, as the Horde stood in the heart of the Empire, the Bayushi found no need to find strength to keep fighting…

His duty to old sacrifices was a power all its own.

"Are you ready to…join your ancestors, Scorpion?" the Tsuno half-hissed, half-roared its challenge, knocking aside two bushi with one huge swing. "Your death is here!"

Narrowing his dark eyes beneath his mempo, Omino felt a savage smile come over him. "I know more of who is waiting for me there than you could ever imagine, monster. But I cannot go to greet them yet, no matter what burden to my soul."

* * * *

Three days later…

Of all the places in the defiled city that had to be examined, this was the place that disturbed Omino most of all. The great prison of Otosan Uchi had been the home of murderers and betrayers, but nothing so mundane could give the Scorpion bushi fear.

It was the ruined corpses that disturbed the scarred warrior, moreso than any threat of murder. Many of these men seemed to have died in the defense of this place, side by side with the guards and Imperial samurai. It was a kind of loyalty beyond failure that bit deeply at Omino, who knew all too well the faces of those who go without hope to die.

It was with those same eyes that the Bayushi considered a rent and broken figure, at the same moment that a shadow moved from inside.

Omino's katana was in his hand immediately, and his slender body was thrust behind a broken stone to one side. Through narrowed eyes the Scorpion allowed his vision to adjust itself to the darkness in the shattered guardhouse, wondering what kind of demon the Horde had left behind.

What came forward was neither demon nor undead, but a man who bore himself with a quiet nobility, his clothes rent and tattered and a katana at his side.

"A prisoner…?" asked the samurai to himself more than anyone, surprised that someone with such a bearing could be anything but a hero in Rokugan's eyes.

The aged man smiled sarcastically, his dirty face wrinkled with worry and time. "Once a prisoner, Bayushi, but no more. Now I am, like you," he said with that same mocking smile.

"A wanderer in the middle of dead honor and dead men."

* * * *

There was a moment, just a single breath, when Omino considered the bedraggled prisoner as a target, wondering how well he could possibly use that sword. The Bayushi had aleady fought a number of tiring battles today, but certainly he could finish off a malnourished and exhausted traitor.

"What are you waiting for," the old man snapped, as if annoyed at Omino's hesitation. "Do the Empire's will."

Bayushi Omino lowered his hand. "The Empire has had enough blood to choke itself, whoever you are. Come with me, for I know a better use for those hands."

"I am Bayushi Omino, servant to Yasuki Hachi the Emerald Champion," he continued, "and no matter how bad things may have been for you, criminal, I can make it worse for you if you choose to betray me now."

The man just shrugged in uncaring defeat. "Seppun Negauru, at your command."

Omino sneered behind his mask. "I didn't ask, criminal. Just hurry up and come along."

* * * *

There were more than enough wounded to fill the halls of the Forbidden City three times over, Negauru considered as he worked alongside magistrates and eta, forced along from man to man by the eyes and words of Bayushi Omino.

Beneath his mail and mempo Omino was, if anything, more terrifying to most people, and Negauru could not help but look at the unmasked Bayushi with his old Seppun eyes. Scars marked the man's face and neck, and beneath those scars were muscles honed from long journeys and difficult times.

"You must have a lot of stories behind those wounds, Omino," the former samurai said without turning from his current patient, "especially because so many seem to have been made on your own…"

"These scars represent something important to me, criminal," the Bayushi snapped in agitation, more worried for the dying Matsu on his pallet than the murmurs of the other man. Despite his deft skill with his hands and calm demeanor, something about this man Negauru made Omino want to hiss and recoil, no matter what honey hung on his words.

Negauru closed his eyes and laughed. "More burdens for the Empire, eh Bayushi?"

Omino's eyes shifted for a moment, just enough to make certain that the prisoner was continuing to work at his man's many wounds. "I would not expect for someone like you to understand," he said at length, "but these are a reminder of other people's sacrifices…they encourage me to cherish my own life."

"A life of hatred and distrust by your own protectors," Negauru commented sourly, "manipulated, misunderstood, and abused…"

The Bayushi's murky eyes became more focused on the Seppun, and for a moment the older man became worried, as if Omino had glimpsed something he did not wish him to see.

"It is our way and our burden," the Scorpion said without remorse or self-pity, "We all have burdens, but I think that is something you already know…"

"I am done with burdens, Omino," the old Seppun said with an equally dispassionate voice. "The body of this Empire is rotting, and its honor is something long since gone." They were treasonous words, and both men knew it. "I see no reason in dying for the four squabbling brats and the pickings they try and rip from this broken thing."

The Matsu he was tending to lifted his head at the oath, but Omino's eyes calmed him, and after calling for two replacements, the Scorpion seized hold on the other man.

"I think we will finish this debate away from the wounded, Seppun Negauru."

"For the Empire, Omino-san?" the criminal mocked him.

"No," the Bayushi hissed, shoving a katana into the older man's hand. "I have taken an oath to bring life to this Empire in repentance, Negauru, so this murder will be something that I do for me."

* * * *

The training fields of Kyuden Seppun was strangely empty considering all the people who stood just inside the great structure, from Asahina Sekawa's Jade Magistrates to the legions of Toturi Tsudao herself. As Negauru took his place, the old man smiled a bitter grin at the realization that no servants of the other Winds seemed to be present…

…They were too prideful, even now, to bow and aid a thousand fallen men.

"Are you ready, then?" Omino's face was again hidden beneath his simple black mask and dark red kimono, but now that he seen them, Negauru had no trouble reading both the signs and lingering effects of the Bayushi old scars and recent wounds.

"I am," the old man responded with a smile.

Their draws were something of a similar motion, with Omino's sword gliding low across close cropped grasses, and Negauru's pilfered katana slashing out from his own right side. The stolen sword tore through the Scorpion right arm and shoulder, sending him spinning as the older man leapt away.

Striking the earth with a bitter laugh, Negauru regarded the torn front of his poor kimono, for a moment paying the badly slashed Omino no mind. Ignoring a wounded Scorpion was something the old version of him would never have done…but Negauru was tired, and Omino had a strange nobility for one of Bayushi's sons.

"I win," the Seppun said finally, raising his katana over the struggling Omino, no hint of his inner turmoil as he prepared the fatal blow.

But the scarred Scorpion lifted his head and half-snarled, half-smiled. "Do you?"

With his good arm, Bayushi sheathed his katana and rose, calmly and confidently. The mask was tugged down, and he regarded Negauru, still ready to strike, with a skilled iaijutsu stance.

"There was no way that you could have lost to me, Bayushi…"

Omino nodded, "And I did not lose, Negauru. As we attacked, I realized something…" he let the silence hang there for a moment, enjoying with rage-born pleasure the growing anger on his enemy's face. "I realized that you and I have much in common. We have known the depths of despair…"

"…and you have been defeated by it. I could do nothing more."

Negauru stood there, pierced through the soul of his being, his eyes trembling slightly at the horrible perfection of the Scorpion revenge. The Seppun seized hold of his katana with both hands and slashed down, carving through kimono, flesh and bone…

* * * *

Two weeks later…

"I have often wondered if the path that you have chosen would ever lead you here," said the beautiful woman from her seat within the shadows, a superior smile poised upon perfect lips. "The betrayer and murderer of Bayushi Ikeniko, and the man who badly wounded and escaped the Emerald Magistrate Bayushi Omino in single combat. You are an interesting man, Negauru-san…"

The fallen man's eyes narrowed, "Domo, Lady Kyruko; I shall take those words as praise."

She smiled darkly, "What do you intend to do, then?"

Negauru's wrinkles rippled as he thought of Omino and his bloodless revenge, "I will teach them the truth, Kyruko-sama; that will be my revenge."

Somewhere to the north, the old man considered, the Bayushi was most likely fully recovered, and beginning to search for him even now.

Come and find me, most loyal and noble Omino, came the thought as the late day sun began to die. I will live with the pains that you have given…

…But I will not suffer alone. You will see the truth of the Empire that has scarred you so deeply; your life will be my revenge.

The Darkness Falls…

Bayushi Omino - Emerald Magistrate
Earth: 4

    Stamina: 4
    Willpower: 5
Fire: 3
    Agility: 4
    Intelligence: 3
Air: 4
    Awareness: 4
    Reflexes: 4
Water: 3
    Perception: 3
    Strength: 3
Void: 3
Rank 4 Bayushi Bushi
Notable Skills:
Athletics 2, Defense 4, Etiquette 2, Law 4, Iaijutsu 5, Intimidation 3, Kenjutsu 5, Kyujutsu 2, Lore (Bushido) 2, Meditation 1, Poison 2, Stealth 4, Sincerity 2
Honor: 2.3
Glory: 5.0
Advantages: Combat Reflexes, Strength of the Earth (4), Social Position (Emerald Magistrate)
Disadvantages: Permanent Wound
Insight: 207

Seppun Negauru - Imperial Traitor
Earth: 5

    Stamina: 5
    Willpower: 5
Fire: 3
    Agility: 3
    Intelligence: 5
Air: 3
    Awareness: 3
    Reflexes: 3
Water: 4
    Perception: 5
    Strength: 4
Void: 3
Rank 4 Seppun Miharu
Notable Skills:
Courtier 4, Defense 3, Etiquette 4, Iaijutsu 3, Intimidation 3, Kenjutsu 4, Law 4, Lore (Bushido) 7, Lore (Kolat) 2, Lore (Toturi Family) 3, Shintao 3, Sincerity 2
Honor: 0.7
Glory: 0.0 (Name stricken from all records)
Advantages: Balance, Clear Thinker
Disadvantages: Cast Out (Empire of Rokugan), Dark Fate, Sworn Enemy (Bayushi Omino)
Insight: 222