The Mortal Man
A Story of the Crane Clan

"Fortune favors the mortal man."
- The Tao of Shinsei

    Standing before the armies of the Seven Clans, the Daidoji watched the towers of Otosan Uchi, their splendor ruined, torn down and defiled by the tainted minions of Fu Leng's servant. All around the man stood a thousand more brave souls, and behind them a thousand more. The armies of the Crane stood ready, and Sagatsu could feel their power in his bones.

    Tomorrow, there would be a battle. One that would decide the fate of the Empire…forever.

    With firm, determined motion, the Daidoji moved back into the waiting camp, knowing better than to waste his precious strength on such idle thoughts. As he moved through the camp of the Crane, the big Daidoji watched his brethren, seeing from face to face expressions ranging from determination to fear.

    In the span of this lifetime, Daidoji Sagatsu had fought many battles. The man's body was strong and disciplined, and his eyes burned even now with a fury. Stepping into the relative silence of his tent, the samurai set aside his swords in the cool darkness, unaware until the last moment of the presence already within.

    You cannot fight tomorrow.

    "Yokuni…" Sagatsu breathed, his breath suddenly heavy. The big man knew the secret of the Dragon Daimyo, and as he stepped backwards, towards the tent's rustling flap, the dragon continued, its eyes burning vigils in the darkness.

    It is not your place to fight.

    Feeling the Daidoji tattoos with a sudden clarity, Sagatsu shook his head, sending his long ponytail of hair swishing violently over broad shoulders, "You cannot expect me to stand aside now, Togashi." Even as he hissed the words, however, the big man knew that the words were true.

    It is a time for mortal man.

    "And I can do nothing?" The Daidoji's inner spirit, a being as ancient as the kami before it, moved within the body, filling Sagatsu with the darkest feeling of all: despair. "I can do nothing to help them…no matter what I am, they are my brothers…we cannot abandon them."

    I would never abandon them, Sagatsu…

    "Then what can we do?"

    The voice lingered a final time, before the dragon was gone.

    We will show them he can bleed.

* * *

    That night, the tents of the Empire were silent, save for the whispers of prayers, and also the smooth, easy movements of sentries. Come the dawn, there would be war, but for the moment, there was only the tension of destiny, and the shadows of the night.

    Sagatsu leaned heavily against a nearby stone, his large, muscled frame almost seeping into the stalwart rock. As the Daidoji sat, he contemplated many things; his place in the order of the universe, and the fate of the days yet to come.

    The footsteps were light and soft, but Sagatsu heard them. His hand already on his sword, the Daidoji waited, prepared for the strike that he hoped would not come.

    "Are you asleep, Sagatsu-sama?" The voice was young, barely past the edge of manhood, and it carried even now a friendly air.

    Shaking his head and relaxing his sword hand, the big man half-turned, "No, Koshin…I am not."

    Koshin was indeed a young bushi; his dark hair hung down his back, brushing his nape, and his pale grey yes still seemed a little too wide. To think that men like this had already bled the fields red at Kyuden Doji and Asahina Temples…it was more than enough to make the big Daidoji wish to cast away Togashi's words.

    "My father sent me, to request that you stand with him tomorrow."

    The big man nodded, knowing Koshin's father, Kakita Tsuna, was one of the finest swordsmen in Rokugan, and that to stand by his side was a duty that anyone of the Daidoji would have been proud to accept. "Tell your father…"

    "Tell him that I cannot fight with him."

    Behind him, the boy was silent for a moment. "I will tell him." Koshin turned to leave the field, his pale eyes still silent as he began to move away from the seasoned warrior.

    "Wait a moment," the big man said. Turning to see better the boy's wide eyes, the big man rose. Koshin was taller than Sagatsu, but not nearly as strong, and within his eyes the Daidoji could see the silence that could only be held inside a mortal soul. Many times Sagatsu had questioned himself since Togashi had told him what he was, but each time the truth shown true.

    "You will fight tomorrow?"

    Koshin nodded to the older man, "For the Empire, I will."

    It was at this moment, even before he made the action, that Sagatsu stepped aside from the world of mortals, joining the world of the spirits more fully than a man of blood ever could. The big man smiled slightly, seeing a piece of himself in those young, quiet eyes.

    "Do not fail."

* * *

    There was only silence, once the day was ended. Sagatsu sat upon the ruined plain, far from the battlefield and the celebrations beyond. His heart was heavy, as he sat in silence, but after a moment of mourning, the samurai rose, turning to the west, into the heart of the Empire. A final look, and the Daidoji saw the fires of the three pyres wither and die.

    "Now they know," he whispered to Togashi's spirit, and himself. "They know that He can bleed."

The End