The New Way
A Story of the Jade Empire
“Now begins a new age, an age of peace and honor. Let the Phoenix guide you, my little brothers and sisters of Rokugan, and we shall bring Shinsei’s wisdom home to you.”
- From the Proclamations of the Phoenix Clan
Standing atop the walls of the Imperial City, the samurai
watched the tattered, weary armies return to cheers and calls of glory.
Greatly diminished, they were…the cost of the Empire’s future and
past had been great indeed. Now, as the newborn light of the Sun christened the heavens
with red-gold fire, the Imperial forces had come home, Toturi’s loyal samurai,
and the Emperor himself.
Standing at the gates of the Imperial Palace, clad in the
finest robes of red and purple and black, stood the Oracle of Void.
Kaede’s eyes were filled with tears of joy, watching as the Emperor
stepped forward, his eyes strong and clear, and his face filled with a new
future for the land.
She bowed to him, her voice a whisper against the cheers of
the city. “Welcome to your home, my husband.”
Toturi smiled, looking around to the waving banners of the
Imperial Chrysanthemum that hung from every hall. Otosan Uchi was united in him, though the man knew that it
would not last. He walked into the
great castle with his wife at his side, leaving a wake of kneeling guards and
whispering courtiers in their wake.
“The Emperor has married a Phoenix, broken the ancient
tradition as Hantei before him.” Said the Crane, both shocked and insulted.
“She is too weak to give a strong son,” offered the
Ikoma. “There will come another weak Emperor from this, and another Kisada to
hunger for the throne.”
But the Kitsuki only smiled. “Kaede-sama will bring
changes to the Empire. Let us hope
that she can recover Toturi-sama’s promise of peace.”
Shaking their heads towards the ignorance of the
magistrate, the Lion, Scorpion and the Crane turned their backs to walk back
into the outer regions of the city. For
each of the three clans, there was much discussion to be held about this newest
challenge to the politics of power, and from them would be born many new
troubles that could scarcely have been anticipated.
Above them fluttered the standard of the Emperor, a now-hunted wolf that knew nothing of its own fate.
* * *
Yojiro stood in the window of Bayushi Castle, his long,
slender hands resting on the eve. The
daimyo of the Scorpion listened intently, the words of the master courtiers of
the clan all too heavy to him after so much pain and war already.
For this too would be war…the kind of struggle that the Scorpion had
always fought, with lies and whispers, since Bayushi’s time.
“If a Phoenix remains tied to the Imperial line, then no
doubt they will use this power to tear away all power from the other clans.
They admire only power, Yogiro-sama.” The poet spoke with a sour
tongue, as one that had little use for such blunt and unimaginative uses of
Shaking his head as he sipped at his sake, Goshiu laughed.
The master looked around at that other masked courtiers, a smile creeping
onto his face. “They are the Phoenix…masters of the elements, but fools in
every other respect. Can you think
that they can face us in the courts, where the traps that we lay cannot be
always turned aside with the aid of a Fortune’s prayer?”
“It is not our position alone that troubles me,” Itako
answered with a sour glance. “The Crane have lost much of their voice, though
their armies continue to grow…might we be rid of one enemy only to have them
replaced by a new one?” The words seemed to trouble the others assembled, and
when Yojiro turned he could see many eyes filled with uncertainty and anger.
The Scorpion were not pleased.
“They think themselves to be quite righteous,” the
Champion said simply, looking over each face that lay just behind their silken
masks. “We must show the Emperor that they are not.
Toturi is no fool…he can be shown, with care and forethought, the true
nature of the wise Phoenix. We
shall tear their masks aside to show him. This
has always been our way.”
Goshiu nodded, his smile still hanging on his face. “So
shall it be, Yojiro-sama.”
The plan did not go far enough for many of the clan; the
Phoenix had stepped into the Scorpion’s nest, married into a cage of traps and
danger. There would have to be more
repercussion that merely embarrassment in the court. Even the Phoenix needed to understand the price of taking
another’s power. Still, the
courtiers said nothing more of the matter.
In time, the rest of their work would come to fruition, if only their patience held.
* * *
To the east of the dark mountains of the Scorpion, the
Crane worked, their ancient home, Kyuden Doji, finally rising high above the sea
cliffs. The workers toiled day and
night, finally restoring what had been destroyed for so many years.
As the samurai and shugenja of the clan turned their backs and power to
creating anew, the courtiers of the Doji sat in deliberation, trying to set a
course through an uncertain future.
Yoshi stood at the highest window of the palace of the
Kakita, watching to the east, where the castle already began to rise.
The Imperial Chancellor shined slightly in the light of morning, and his
long white hair tailed in the sea-born wind.
Turning back to face his brethren, Yoshi spoke, his voice measured and
“I have yet to speak with the Emperor, but I would think
that our fear is without cause. Kaede
has fought hard against the Shadow…he marries her for that reason, which none
of us can rightly deny.” Yoshi’s voice was filled with trust for the
Emperor, and hope for the future that he would bring.
Another man spoke now, his voice more tinged with venom.
“And so we are to bow down to this Phoenix?”
Yoshi smiled. “We serve the Emperor, Toshika-san.
Remember that first, and our pride second.”
Another voice, this time filled with concern. “The Isawa
are masters of the Phoenix still, despite the Shiba Champion’s bold moves.
They accept only absolutism, even in peace.
They cannot be expected to enter the realm of the courts, without
“That is true,” Yoshi admitted with a nod. “They are
quite powerful, Denku-san, but they are still naïve to the world that they have
come to. That is why we must give
Kaede-sama our aid in all things.” The room grew silent, as courtiers
considered the words behind their fans and tea.
After a moment, Toshika spoke, his fine face still edged
with dissent. “So we are to become the servants of the Phoenix, now?
And when they ask of the Asahina to reveal their ancient writings and
articles of magic, ‘in the name of the Emperor?’”
Yoshi shook his head. “The secrets of the Crane are our
own, Toshika…even the Emperor knows this to be true. We must help the Phoenix, and in turn they shall help us.
We do not serve them…they are our equals, though the Isawa may not wish
to admit to it. But we do serve the
Emperor, and his family.”
Denku nodded his head. “I leave for Otosan Uchi tonight,
then. With your permission, Yoshi-sama,
there will be many to speak with.” Yoshi nodded, and the Doji rose to slip
Toshika nodded back to the younger courtier, a smile on his
face at last. “It is good that we make new allies in the Emperor’s court.
Let the Phoenix come, and bluster about peace and total servitude to the
will of Toturi. We shall hold the Empire together, as has been our duty for a
The Crane nodded, leaving with bows to their honorable
daimyo as they began the long-forgotten battle for peace.
Watching them go, Yoshi turned back to look towards Doji
Palace, rising towards the heavens like a being itself reborn.
He shook his head, knowing that even with the aid of the Crane, the
Phoenix might well stand within the jaws of great danger.
The advisor smiled sadly, and began preparing letters.
They would change the future of the Jade Empire, make ties to the Crane
again reach out into all the clans of Rokugan.
As he wrote, the courtier thought back to the years before the great
“By the hands of the Crane, Toturi-sama,” he said with the last letter’s fold. “You shall have your great peace.”
* * *
Standing assembled in the ancient halls of the Akodo, the
samurai and shugenja of the Lion spoke in heated tones, their eyes glancing to
the few assembled Imperial courtiers with looks of mistrust and ire.
Words were carefully guarded here, and in a simple room, furnished only
with two pillow-seats and a table, sat the four samurai, their voices hushed and
In the wake of the terrible battle of Matsu Palace, where
the troops of the Unicorn and the Lion had torn one another to pieces, it seemed
to them that the greatest defeat lay in the fallen Akodo, and Toturi’s new
wife was the topic of this much-hidden debate.
“She is weak, a shugenja with no knowledge of ruling men
or of war.” The Matsu had bathed his tongue in sake earlier, to loosen it
enough to speak out against the mighty Toturi, yet still he kept his voice
turned towards the truth. “She is not strong enough.”
One of the Ikoma nodded sadly. “Toturi-sama might have
chosen a lady of the Matsu, or the Ikoma, to serve with dignity and strength.
Instead he chooses this Phoenix…truly the Emperor has forgotten our
service to the throne, or else he would not have done such a thing.”
The lone Akodo, the last honorable member of the
still-fallen family, spoke through her clenched teeth. “The Emperor has turned
his back from us, in thought of a new age.
He turns to the Unicorn and the Phoenix, thinking that they can better
hold the Empire than we.”
“It is the right of the Emperor to choose his hands,”
said the Matsu with a growl. “But where do we now stand, in the face of such
The other Ikoma, a young girl of twenty-two years, spoke
softly. “We shall serve the Emperor better than all the rest, and show him
that the Phoenix are weak, and that the great steeds of the Kirin cannot match
the great hearts of his own blood.”
Nodding to her wisdom, the other Ikoma sipped at his tea.
“Let us serve him, as is his right as the Emperor, yet let us remove our voice
from the courts where we can. Let
the Phoenix prattle of peace, and the Unicorn of their precious, moldering laws.
We shall guard the Empire, while they bicker and bite about wisdom and
“And what of the Crane,” asked the Akodo. “They too
stand to lose much to the Phoenix…we cannot afford another war with them.
We must make peace, and show the Emperor that we too possess the
knowledge of preservation of the Empire.” The thought galled the Lion, burnt
their pride to the core, but even the most stoic Matsu had been forced to admit
that Kuwanan’s armies, and his tactics, had been beyond them.
Nodding at last, the elder Ikoma turned his face towards
the distant spires of Otosan Uchi. “There will be peace with the Crane, but it
will be our choice to have it, not the proclamation of the Emperor’s wife that
decides it. We must not allow
another Bayushi, or one that would take her place, to sully the Emperor’s
So the Lion turned their thoughts to revenge…a revenge so unlike themselves and their ways. Born in peace and compromise, they would show the Emperor that he had erred, and that the truly righteous stood in the shadows to his west, insulted and forgotten, but still ready to ready to serve his will.
* * *
That night, as the wind howled about the city of the
Emperor, Toturi stood in the darkened gardens, his cleansed body welcoming the
sensations of the cold and the night. He
was alone here, save for the guards at the edge of his vision, and for the first
time in many months, the Emperor was unworried for the future.
As he walked through the halls and corridors of the castle,
Toturi could not help but be entangled in old memories…the taint of the Goju,
and the price that his people had been forced to pay. The throne of Jade awaited him, stained with the blood of
innocent courtiers and diplomats.
Truly, he thought
in sadness, I have much to atone for.
But now, the Emperor knew that all could be restored.
He had Kaede at his side, and with her wisdom and strength, he could
restore the faith of Rokugan, show them all that he would stand above the
darkness, with dignity and honor. It
would be a simple thing, now, for Toturi had no doubt that the eight clans stood
behind him, united in service of the Emperor.
The Goju lay defeated, killed by the honor and sacrifices
of the samurai of Rokugan.
The Unicorn awaited his words, their magistrates prepared
beside the Imperial servants, the Monkey.
The wisdom of his wife, and the support of her family, was
Walking into the darkness of the great castle towards the
bed where his new wife already lay sleeping, Toturi felt a deep feeling that he
had finally succeeded, had finally brought the people their real victory.
Rokugan stood united at last, eyes turned to the future with hope…how
now, could he fail?
The Beginning of an Age of Gold…