This story is told from without, not from within. I am a Crane, not a Scorpion, and doubtless that this work will show that. I offer this work, not to bring anger, or accusations, or to place blame. This tale is one to honor those that have paid for the Empire…
Some with their bodies, and others with their souls.
The Burden of a Thousand Souls
A Story of the Scorpion Clan
By: Kakita Koshin
"See that the Spirits do not succeed, Yojiro-san."
- Toturi the First
The footsteps were soft, brushing against the damp night grass with only the slightest edge of sound. There was no crackling of underbrush, no whisper to give the samurai away as he crept south. Silence was a cloak, and this man wore it always, for he was a Scorpion, and stood close to the world filled with darkness.
Some would say, too close.
From the south was the lone light against the moonless, cloudy night sky. Even now the auras of the Spirit armies blazed like beacons, angry beacons, challenging even the newness of the Sun and Moon with their guttering light. The past had returned, with blood and fire, and it refused to by the future be denied.
Tonight, the Scorpion knew, would be their last night.
Or else it would be his own.
Then, almost before he knew it, the man was amidst the tents of the Lion. Sentries turned nervously at his appearance, barely able to distinguish friend from foe in the oppressive night. The Scorpion stood silent and motionless in the torchlight, studying each proud, stern face for a long moment before he was spoken to.
"What business have you here, Scorpion?" The man was young, barely a man, yet by the way he bore himself, the Scorpion might have suspected him to be a daimyo or a commander, rather than merely another face among the legions.
Raising the jade talisman, the Scorpion bushi almost whispered the words from beneath his mempo. "The Emperor's business." The symbol of the Toturi shown brightly in the torchlight, it's etching bright and new against the redness of the flames. "Take me to your commander."
The youth nodded, "Follow me, Bayushi-san."
They did not trust him; but they would obey the will of the Emperor. And as the Lion led the whispering walker through the waiting armies of the Lion, the Scorpion's mind was filled only with thoughts of that damning, admirable devotion. It gave the Lion their strength, for once Omino was able to see beyond what he had always dismissed as arrogance and empty pride.
The Empire had given them their life…
…Now it would give them their death.
* * *
Standing before the leader of the Lion armies camped to the south of Beidan Pass, the Scorpion removed his heavy helm a moment, leaving his face veiled only in a slender swath of silk. Beneath was a face pale and handsome, with strangely murky, unfathomable eyes.
"I am Bayushi Omino, sent by my lord and the Emperor."
The Akodo was an aged man, weary but unbroken, and he wore the mon of his restored family with pride. Grey eyes watched the samurai for a moment, before he waved the young guardsman away and offered a cup of sake to the Scorpion.
"What brings you here tonight, Bayushi? Have you come to fight?" His words were mocking, but only a slight insult. Nothing that would have been angering, had the two been friends. As it was, they were not, would never be, and so the jest left a moment of silence, before the Scorpion began.
Omino bowed, setting the untouched cup aside. "I have come on business of my lord Yojiro, Akodo-sama. My lord has need of your armies' plans, if the Scorpion are to aid you in the coming battle." The Scorpion waited, expecting another stinging retort, but instead the Akodo simply nodded.
"I thought that would be so," was all that was said.
Pressing the folded letters into the Bayushi's hand, the old warrior rose from his seat, his body still firm and tough as he walked to the edge of the tent. Pulling aside the flap with a deliberate slowness, the Akodo smiled slightly, "May the Fortunes favor you, Son of Bayushi. I hope that you will find your victory on the field of war."
His eyes betrayed him, but the old samurai did not see. "And to you, Akodo."
* * *
Footsteps in the night, the sowing of treachery and lies. Thus did Omino creep, through the blackness that welled out form his soul, until he came at last to the gathered armies of the Daidoji, set just to the east, wrapped in the shadows of the mountain's side. A few steps more, and there was movement; the quick readying of an arrow upon a string.
A moment later came the Daidoji, a young girl, dressed in light armor. Her short black hair fluttered in the night wind, and her face seemed more alive in the moonlight than anything Omino had ever seen. She spoke softly, watching him carefully, then asked why he had come.
"I serve the Emperor, and I must see your commander now."
Following the girl through the darkness, Omino's thoughts drifted, turning from the old Akodo to the Daidoji, to the young man in the sentries even now. With each step, it seemed, the damnation thickened around him, another life crushed like grass beneath his sole.
Stirred from himself, Omino bowed low, thanking the sentry as she opened the flap to her lord's tent. Before she vanished back into the night, Omino opened his mouth once, as if to say something, but then the Daidoji was gone, with nothing more than a flickering form in the Scorpion's mind.
All those years ago, Omino had called a Crane woman "mother" after his true mother had been banished into the Burning Sands. He had wept for his loss and his family, and suffered for the Shadow's lies. It had been the Crane that had taught Omino of loyalty and duty, long before he was returned at last to Scorpion hands.
It is a cursed mother, the Bayushi thought, who must die for the life of her son.
* * *
The Daidoji general bore the weight of many years upon his face, veiled even now in a mask of black. His armor was clean and polished, and his swords lay ready, prepared for the hours to come. As the Scorpion bowed to the general, those fiery eyes watched him silently, an inscrutable emotion working beneath an empty voice.
"Then your lord wishes to know of our plans for the coming Spirits, so that you and yours might join in the coming day?" There was something within the words, a veiled threat or a warning, or another meaning even the Scorpion could not divine.
The Daidoji nodded slowly, reaching down and making a curt, final fold. As he did, Omino saw for the first time the callused hands, how they moved with grace, even gird in steel and ready for war. In his years with the Crane, Omino had never noticed those hands before, even on the most skilled of their artisans.
Now, in the dimness of the tent's guttering light, they seemed to shine with the light of the Sun.
Finally, the last letter was done, and the Daidoji himself placed it into the Scorpion bushi's hand. Turning away to his maps and his weapons, the man stood silent for a moment, before his grating, weary voice asked an often-whispered question, "What are we fighting for, Bayushi?"
"For the Empire," Omino said with a shudder, hoping that he did not lie.
"I hope that you remember that," said the voice as the Scorpion left, "When the time comes."
* * *
It was there, in the dim light of the nearby Spirit armies that Omino knelt. Before him stood the glowing form of another Bayushi, a mighty general, fallen many years ago. Baku's shimmering fingers brushed against the folded seals, his face silent as always, as he considered what was to come.
"You have served our clan well, Omino," said the Spirit.
Eyes cast low, the bushi merely nodded. The praise was a pain, a bile welling up to fill his whole body; praise heaped onto him for allowing men to die, without hope of victory.
"Go now to Yojiro-sama," came the unearthly voice behind the mask. "Tell him that his trap has been baited, and that the Stone Crab will soon be there. Soon, this war will end."
With that, the two Scorpion vanished from the plain, each one driven by duty, and one consumed with pain.
* * *
The plain was so quiet now; not even the carrion birds circled anymore. There was a terrible beauty to the battlefield and the fallen, many lying as though sleeping until the eta came to carry them away. Omino's feet made much noise now; among the dead there was no silence needed of man.
Had they known…?
Had they known, that they could not win, that their betrayal was the price of the Scorpion's victory?
The young guard, so noble, now silent forever in the embrace of long arrows, thrown from the bows of long-dead masters.
The Daidoji girl, her beauty denied her in death by the cut of the sword that had taken her life a moment later.
They had been just as dedicated, just as ready to face any challenge, as he had been. And they had died, without any hope of victory. The Empire would never know their stories now, and the Bayushi wished that he had asked of each of them, if only to take a piece of that lost strength home.
Kneeling in the bloodied grass amidst the corpses of the Empire's price, and drew forth his wakizashi, cold and clean in the sunlight. His silken mask was thrown away, baring his pale, beautiful face to the empty world, and the eyes of the dead.
With a single, clean stroke, the Bayushi bled from cheek to temple, inheriting the pain of the Daidoji's fall, robbing himself of his beauty as death had robbed her. Three more small cuts, across his chest, as his ancestors watched him make his peace with the dead.
When at last the eta found him, and bore the wounded Scorpion from the field, he was asked what he had been doing, alone upon the bloodied plain.
Through the haze of pain, and tear-stroked eyes, Omino whispered, his voice weak from wounds, "I am atoning…"
"…For a thousand souls."
* * *
It is the choices that we make that define us. We play at games with laughter, and speak of our manipulations as being nothing more than stones that bleed. But for each stone that we touch, each life that we break, we remove a tiny shimmer of light, in this world of mortal darkness. That is why we are callous; that is why we condemn our weaknesses and swallow our inner pain.
To bear the price of the Scorpion in earnest is to wish for the release of insanity.
Let them say what they will of me; let them demand revenge. Let them say that we do not know compassion or honor, that we have forgotten everything but deception, lies and hate. We are the Scorpion, and there are many types of secrets that we must bear.
That we are human, and feel remorse and regret, is sometimes the darkest secret of all.