Fight For Tomorrow
By Rich Wulf
Daigotsu waited patiently in the heart of Fu Leng's temple, seated on the throne before the statue of Fu Leng. The Lost had taken great care to fortify and barricade the massive iron doors that led to this chamber, but the Dark Lord had no doubt that they would come. The Oracle had foreseen it. Today, Daigotsu would face the Four Winds. Today he would die.
He did not fear death, for even death was a trivial thing to one who wielded the dark magics as he did. Knowing of his fate in advance, he had made plans to assure his return. His true fear was not death but failure. Fu Leng's conquest of heaven hinged upon Daigotsu's actions here today. Daigotsu lifted his golden no-dachi from its stand and pushed all doubts from his mind. He had no time for such things today. Either he would triumph, or he would not.
Either way he would punish the Four Winds for daring to attack his city.
Outside, the sounds of battle drew closer. Steel clashed on steel. The cries of the injured mixed with the occasional roar of a shugenja's spell. Daigotsu patiently drew his sword and rose from his throne. He fell into a slow, graceful kata, waiting for his enemies to arrive. Here he would make his stand, beneath the eyes of his god.
Outside, legions of clay soldiers battled his army of the Lost. Created decades ago by the Phoenix Thunder, Isawa Tadaka, the soldiers were a potent weapon against the Shadowlands. The Dark Lord had received reports of Tadaka's Children seeming to grow in strength as they battled the Lost, but even that would not help them. Tadaka's Children were too few, and the armies of the Lost were too many. No, the clay soldiers were merely a distraction, annoying the Dark Lord's armies while the Four Winds sought out their true enemy. They would arrive, he had no doubt of that.
As if on cue, the doors of the temple were wracked by a tremendous explosion. One collapsed inward entirely; the other hung from its hinges at a strange angle, creaking as the metal bent under its own weight. Smoke and dust poured through the threshold, parting as a tall figure stepped into view. He wore long red robes, scorched and tattered from battle. A white mask covered his face, the forehead marked with a rising sun.
"The Wolf," Daigotsu said, saluting with his blade as paused before his throne. "We meet in person at last."
Toturi Sezaru said nothing, only clapped his hands together and unleashed a plume of brilliant white fire toward the Dark Lord. Daigotsu swung his no-dachi in a graceful arc, summoning a plume of black flame that served as a shield against Sezaru's spell. He spoke a word of magic and stomped the floor with one foot. A ripple passed through the floor toward the Wolf; the floor tiles exploded upward in the shape of grasping claws. Sezaru folded his fingers into a symbol against evil and shouted a loud kiai scream. The stone shattered harmlessly around him.
Daigotsu eyed the Wolf carefully, a glimmer of respect in his dark eyes. Sezaru nodded briefly.
Another figure stepped from the smoke behind Sezaru, a thick-shouldered samurai in battered black armor. "You seem evenly matched with the Dark Lord, Sezaru," Akodo Kaneka said, holding his katana in low to his hip with both hands. "Pity for him that you are not alone."
Toturi Tsudao also entered beside her brother, her golden armor shining brilliantly despite the darkness of the temple. A small band of clay soldiers followed them, all holding pikes at the ready. Together, the Winds advanced toward Daigotsu.
Daigotsu sighed. "Children of Toturi," he said. "Did you think that this would be your Day of Thunder? All of you together fighting the Dark Lord alone?" He smiled and spoke a quick spell. Around him, four demonic creatures faded into existence. Kyofu, Yokubo, Hakai, Muchitsujo, the most deadly of his Onisu.
"Show no fear," Sezaru said to his siblings. "These Onisu feed off of vice and dishonor. We are the sons and daughter of the Splendid Emperor. We bear no such burdens."
"But the Empire the Four Winds have torn apart breeds such things in abundance," Daigotsu replied. "You have fed my creations well."
"Enough talk!" Kaneka shouted, charging forward with his sword held high.
Daigotsu dodged to one side at the last instant. Kaneka's sword buried itself in the Dark Lord's throne, shattering the blade in two. Kaneka drew his wakizashi immediately and slashed out again, but the Dark Lord moved swiftly away. With that, the Onisu charged forward. Kyofu swung his tetsubo with a savage roar. Muchitsujo scuttled forward on metallic claws as Yokubo took to the air. Hakai remained at Daigotsu's side, unleashing a bolt of unholy flame toward Toturi Sezaru. The Wolf summoned a shield of air to protect himself, but staggered backward under the Onisu of Death's onslaught. The other Onisu charged into the Winds and their clay soldiers. Magical power surged between Sezaru, Daigotsu and Hakai. The room filled with swirling smoke and fire. Hakai advanced upon Sezaru and Daigotsu retreated, standing in the shadow of Fu Leng's statue. Here, he would conserve his power until the Four Winds came to face him.
Sensing movement to one side, Daigotsu turned quickly, holding his golden sword ready. A thin man in dark green armor had also retreated to this corner, watching the battle. He held up his hands defensively to show he bore no weapons. Daigotsu chuckled when he recognized him.
"Hantei Naseru," he said, eyeing the courtier cautiously. "The Anvil. You do not fight alongside your brethren?"
"I am no warrior, Daigotsu," Naseru said. "I merely came to show them the way."
"You should have remained in Ryoko Owari," Daigotsu replied. "Your battle is already lost. Even should I die here, I will become a martyr to the Lost. Their faith in Fu Leng will increase a thousand fold, and his conquest of Tengoku will be assured."
"Their faith in Fu Leng?" Naseru replied mildly. "I see no such thing. Your people do not believe in Fu Leng. They believe in you. You, in turn, believe in him. You are the focus of Fu Leng's power." Naseru looked up at the statue of the Fallen Kami. "I wonder what will become of you once Fu Leng realizes that he relies so heavily upon you. I hope he is a trusting god."
Daigotsu's eyes widened. He felt a sudden shift in the elements, a powerful attention upon his presence. He scowled at Naseru. "My faith in the Dark God is absolute!" he hissed. "I shall prove it by destroying you in his name." Daigotsu advanced.
"By all means, slay the man who speaks of your faults beneath the eyes of your god," Naseru said, quickly moving backward. "We would not wish for the Dark Kami to realize that your true plan is to supplant his place in the Celestial Order! After all, were you not a Bloodspeaker, one of the tsukai who defy Fu Leng's will? If I were the Dark God, I do not think I would rely so heavily on someone who could pose a future threat to me." Naseru looked at the eyes of Fu Leng's statue. They seemed to gaze back down at Daigotsu in thoughtful disapproval.
"Enough!" Daigotsu shouted. He swung his sword, downward at the Anvil, but it was deflected by a metallic clang and flash of brilliant gold.
Toturi Tsudao was there, between the Dark Lord and the Anvil. Her eyes glared intently into Daigotsu's. Her face was set in a firm scowl. "You have feasted on enough murder, Dark Lord," she said with a sneer. "Stay away from my brother."
A sudden tremor shook the halls of the temple. Daigotsu and Tsudao fell away from each other. The Onisu suddenly faded into nothing, with the exception of Kyofu, who slowly backed away and retreated from the room. The Dark Lord looked up at the statue of his Kami with a horrified expression. Toturi Sezaru looked up, cradling one burn and injured arm. "Fu Leng has been cast from the heavens!" Sezaru cried. "I can sense it even from here!"
"Impossible!" Daigotsu retorted.
"Your faith in your master was absolute, Daigotsu," Akodo Kaneka said. "A pity he did not have such faith in you. What happens to a god who draws all his power from your faith when he no longer trusts you?"
"No!" Daigotsu roared. He drew a short blade from his waist and slashed it across his arm, spilling his own blood to fuel his most powerful magic. The Four Winds had defeated him, shamed him, and ruined his god's mastery of the Celestial Order.
Now none would survive.
As Daigotsu's spell took affect an aura of black fire erupted from his body. The Dark Lord himself was unharmed, but all around him was scorched by unholy fire. The power boiled outward, consuming the clay soldiers who stood closest. Even Sezaru staggered, his magical shields quickly buckling before the onslaught. The Dark Lord no longer preserved any power for any thought of his own safety - all was focused on destruction.
And so it was that when Toturi Tsudao charged through the fire, he was not prepared. Her once golden armor sagged and melted in the flame. Her skin blistered and burned away. Through it all, her gold sun amulet burned brightly, and summoning the strength for one final blow, she struck the Dark Lord down.
Daigotsu fell backward, cleaved across the chest by Tsudao's blade. His mask fell away, revealing his handsome Hantei features, twisted in a bitter scowl. All that remained of Toturi Tsudao was her golden amulet, now shining on the temple floor near the Dark Lord's body.
Sezaru, Naseru, and Kaneka were silent as they looked upon the aftermath of the battle. All were too greatly shocked to speak, too stunned by their sister's sudden sacrifice. Sezaru reached up with one shaking hand and removed his mask. Tears streamed down his face as he stumbled forward, falling to his knees beside Daigotsu. He reached down and picked up his sister's amulet, wrapping his sleeve around his hand to protect against the heat.
"Why?" was all he could whisper. "Of all of us, why? She was the only one who truly deserved the throne."
"Then perhaps that is why she was taken from us," Naseru replied in a soft voice. "Perhaps the Empire does not deserve heroes such as the Sword. We must endeavor to better ourselves, to live up to her example, lest her sacrifice be wasted."
"Hm," Kaneka grunted, sheathing his wakizashi. "Lovely words, Naseru, but Tsudao favored actions. Prove your words true if you want to honor her."
The Anvil nodded quietly.
"Tsudao," Sezaru whispered, clutching her amulet to his chest and sobbing quietly.
Naseru looked away, leaving his brother to his grief, but Kaneka stepped forward. Outside, the sounds of battle grew closer. "Sezaru, we are done here," the Shogun said, resting one hand on his half-brother's chest. "We must escape. Is your magic strong enough to take us from this place, Wolf?"
Sezaru looked up at Kaneka with a glazed, unfocused expression. Kaneka frowned and shook the Wolf by his shoulder. "Sezaru!" Kaneka snapped. "Tsudao would not want us to die like this! We must escape before the Lost return!"
Sezaru blinked. "Yes," he said, nodding quickly. "Yes, I can take us from here… I can take us back home to Rokugan, but it is best we flee the temple first. Fu Leng's power is too strong here to risk such powerful magic."
"Then let us hurry," Naseru said. "The Empire awaits us."