Fight For Tomorrow
Toturi Tsudao marched through the halls of Kyuden Seppun, helmet clutched beneath one arm. Her face was stained with dust and sweat from travel. Her expression was grim, dark lines of exhaustion beneath her eyes. Beside her, Bayushi Paneki and Kitsu Dejiko followed silently. Both were as exhausted as she after their long ride from the Shinomen, but neither would voice any complaint before their commander.
Servants rushed ahead to announce Tsudao's arrival, though they could scarcely move more quickly than the Sword. Seppun Guardsmen stood at attention, watching Tsudao with alert expressions. It was subtle, but she could tell that something in their stance and demeanor had changed.
"No one is speaking to us," Dejiko said quietly as they passed through the halls. "Nothing but the briefest greeting. They do not wish to tell us something."
"Shoin summoned us," Tsudao replied. "I am sure he will tell us what is happening."
"Of course," Paneki said dryly. "He was so forthcoming in his first message."
Tsudao did not reply to Paneki's sarcasm; he only reflected her own doubts. She had come to realize during the last two years that Paneki's cynicism invariably touched on concerns she could not express herself. He was a sinister man, at times, but a valuable ally. They reached the doors of the throne room and a small man in fine brown robes stepped forward to meet her. He bowed deeply.
"Konnichiwa, Lady Tsudao," Shoin said cordially. "I am greatly pleased that you were able to respond to my message so swiftly."
"You will refer to the Empress as Her Highness or Toturi-sama," Paneki said tonelessly, drawing a startled look from Shoin.
"You said there was an emergency," Tsudao said. "My command staff and a squadron of my best troops are here now. The rest of the First Legion will arrive within two days. I have gone to great trouble to respond to your warning with very little information regarding the nature of the crisis, Shoin-san. Now what is the matter?"
"Follow me," Shoin said, "and you shall see why I could not tell you more." He opened the doors to the throne room and entered.
Tsudao and the others followed.
The Steel Throne was much as Tsudao had left it, save now a small, haggard woman sat upon it. She wore robes of burnt orange, hanging loose over her frail, stick-like body. Her long hair fell in waves over her shoulders, black now streaked with white. Tsudao did not recognize the woman until she raised her head, gazing upon the Sword with eyes of pure, depthless black. Dejiko and Paneki recognized her as well, and both fell prostrate upon the floor.
"Mother!" Tsudao cried in a choked voice. She ran toward the throne, casting her helmet away with a clang. She charged up the dais toward the throne and fell to her knees beside the throne, clasping her mother's hand with both of hers as tears streamed down her face. "Mother, you have returned!"
Toturi Kaede looked down at her child with a wan smile. "Tsudao-chan," she whispered. "I am pleased to see you."
"Mother, you look ill," Tsudao said, looking up at her mother in concern.
"The Celestial Order is in disharmony," Kaede replied. "The time of the Oracles will soon be over. I have returned only to name my successor, as your father willed. You must gather your brothers."
Tsudao's face fell in disappointment. "One of them is to be Emperor," Tsudao replied in a resigned voice. "Not me."
"Outrageous!" Dejiko said, rising and stepping forward to face Kaede. "None of the Four Winds deserves to rule as much as the Sword. Her brothers have done nothing but bicker, brood, and scurry about in the shadows. She defeated the Tsuno in the heart of the Shinomen. She drove the Dark Lord from the city in defeat. None are as worthy as she!"
Tsudao stood, looking down at her mother with a determined expression. She glared at Dejiko to be silent, but did not argue with her.
"Have a care, Tsudao," Kaede said in a sad voice. "Pride is a terrible sin. It was my pride, my wish to serve a role I could not fulfill, that caused such disharmony in the Celestial Order."
"This is why the guards did not wish to speak to me," Tsudao said grimly. "They no longer see me as Empress." Her eyes scanned the throne room, seeking each of the Imperial Guardsmen who had sworn fealty to her only months ago. They all looked away.
"So who, then?" Dejiko said. "Who will rule Rokugan?"
"That choice cannot be made yet," Kaede replied. "The Four Winds must gather, and they must face the Dark Lord. Each of you holds a key to his defeat, but if Daigotsu knows which of you is to be Emperor, then surely that Wind will die. Such a victory would assure Fu Leng's reign in heaven forever. Your Legionnaires can gather your brothers, bring them here, convince them to work with one another."
"Oracle Kaede," Paneki said in a cool voice. "I call upon your powers of prophecy to answer my question, as is the right of all mortals." The Scorpion looked up at the Empress with a frown, waiting until she replied with a nod. "If Tsudao were to simply take the throne back from you, continue as Empress, and marshal the Empire's armies against Daigotsu, what would happen?"
The room fell silent, and a sad expression crossed Kaede's face as the Void Dragon's wisdom filled her mind. "Instead of four, millions would risk their lives. A great war would follow. Rokugan would be changed forever, but even if Fu Leng were not defeated, Tsudao would rule long and be respected as a strong Emperor, if not a wise one."
"So it falls to me, then," Tsudao said. "To choose between my life and my throne, or the lives of those who follow me."
Tsudao bowed her head, and for a long moment her expression was torn. One hand trailed to the amulet she wore about her throat, the golden sunburst a Moshi priestess had given her long ago. When she looked up again, her eyes were clear of doubt.
"What must I do, Empress?" Tsudao asked her mother.