Always Coming Home:
What Was Lost
Somewhere in the Shadowlands, after the Battle of Oblivion's Gate...
The woman stood on a rocky hillock on the edge of the plain, studying the silent battlefield with a practiced eye. The Crane detachment had apparently made it halfway across before being engaged by Shadowlands forces. In spite of being outnumbered, the Cranes had not only maintained their cohesion but had managed to fight their way towards a ridge that ran through the center of the plain, using it to shore up one of their flanks. Yohko shook her head sadly, the white hair of her topknot dancing in the fetid air. It had only delayed the inevitable, but it was still an impressive feat. Whoever the unknown commander had been, his death was a great loss to the Crane.
Yohko studied the battlefield for a few more moments and then slowly headed for the area where most of the Cranes had fallen. It pained her to steal from the dead, but her armor had long since passed the point of being repairable, and it was so hard to find good craftsmanship in the Shadowlands. Some of the Moto did quality work, but they had an appalling tendency to use the skins of their enemies as materials. She wasn't about to tell Moto Tsume what to wear, but she was a Crane and Cranes had standards.
Moving among the dead, Yohko began to plan what she was going to do with the bodies. They would reanimate soon, giving her a new unit for her forces. It was a pity they were all dead, though--Crane zombies were no more useful than the regular kind. A few living Cranes, on the other hand, would be invaluable to her cause.
A moment later a motion caught Yohko's eye. Investigating, she discovered a hand feebly trying to push away a dead ogre. Yohko hauled the ogre off to the side and discovered that the hand was attached to a Daidoji woman who looked fairly battered, but still very much alive. Yohko was elated. Truly the Kami favored her! Taking a cloth from her pouch and some of the Daidoji's water, Yohko began to clean the blood and filth off of her kinswoman's face. As she did so the woman stirred and her eyes flickered open.
"What…?" she mumbled.
"It is all right," Yohko reassured her. "The battle is over, and you are safe."
Slowly the woman pushed herself up to a sitting position and looked around the battlefield with wide and horrified eyes. "Dead. Everyone is dead."
"I am afraid so," Yohko said with genuine sorrow. "A great tragedy for our clan."
The eyes came back to Yohko and studied her, noting the white hair and the Daidoji mon on her clothing. "Who are you? How did you find me?"
Yohko gave her friendliest smile. "My name is Daidoji Yohko. I--" She got no further. The other woman gave her a look of absolute horror, which was then replaced by denial.
"No," she spat. "You are NOT Daidoji Yohko!" She scrambled away from Yohko and staggered to her feet.
Yohko rose more gracefully and considered the implications of the other woman's reaction. "You know the story of Hayaku's wife? The true story?"
"I do. And you cannot fool me, imposter. Yohko is now a blessed shiryo who guides her children."
Slow delight filled Yohko's mind. "You have heard her voice."
"I--" The woman looked flustered, as if she'd said more than she'd intended. "I have," she finally admitted.
"Then I am doubly favored to have met you here," Yohko said. She bowed deeply. "I do not claim to be the mother of the Daidoji; I merely bear her name to honor one who has been unfairly denied the glory she deserves. And now that we have settled the matter of my name, may I know yours?"
The other woman seemed perplexed over how to react. She was still clearly unhappy with Yohko, but the request had been phrased with such politeness it was difficult to refuse. "I am Daidoji Gisei," she finally said.
"Gisei-san," Yohko said, "would you like to sit and rest for a few moments while I conclude my business here? We have much to discuss, and the aftermath of a battle is not the most comfortable of surroundings."
"Business?" Gisei looked around eagerly. "Do you think there might be more survivors?"
"I doubt it. Zombies are stupid but reasonably thorough. You were evidently saved by having an ogre fall on top of you."
Gisei looked at her for a moment, puzzled, then her expression cleared. "You. You are one of the Lost."
"Lost? Oh, no, Gisei-san, I was not lost." Yohko laughed. "I was *found*."
"Traitor!" Gisei snarled. "You dare call yourself a Daidoji when you are allied with our enemy?" Without waiting for a reply she drew her katana and attacked.
Yohko sighed and rolled under the swing, drawing her sheathed blade out of her obi as she did so. She didn't want to kill Gisei--her link to Yohko no Shiryo made her a prize to be treasured. But if she kept up like this the bodies would reanimate before Yohko had a chance to strip them, and getting clothing and armor off a zombie tended to be tiresome and messy. Another strike, and Yohko saw her chance. She launched a hard, fast cut in towards Gisei's hands and was rewarded with the sight of the katana tumbling out of the other woman's grip.
"Now," Yohko said, pointing her still-sheathed katana at Gisei, "no more foolishness."
Gisei didn't reply, but her body stayed tense and her face held a still, focused look. Yohko knew that look well; it was the look of a Daidoji who had decided to wait and look for a better opportunity to strike. Good enough for now, she thought, and slid her katana back into her obi.
"Sister, I can understand your reaction. You have been in a battle, all of your comrades are dead, an ogre fell on you--all this, in addition to being tired and hungry and thirsty. In such a situation even Shinsei would have a hard time thinking clearly." Yohko kept a close eye on Gisei, gauging the effect of her words. "But believe me when I say that I have only the best interests of the Crane Clan at heart. Yes, I have pledged myself to Fu Leng's service, but only so that I may bring his power to support my clan."
"So sincere," Gisei replied. She waved her hand at the battlefield. "If this is how you support the Crane I fear to see how you would attempt to hurt us!"
"Indeed?" Yohko said. "Have the Crab never assaulted Cane lands? Have the Lion never fought on our fields? And yet you marched beside both to Volturnum, didn't you?" Gisei said nothing, her face a resolute blank. "Think, sister! What else could you expect when the Empire goes into the Shadowlands? But there is power here, vast power that can be turned to better uses. Did not Doji-kami bring government and civilization to Rokugan? Could we not bring her blessings to the Changing Lands?"
"You are mad," Gisei said. "Kuwanan would strike you down for even suggesting the thing."
Yohko balled her fingers into fists and struggled to keep the claws sheathed. "Kuwanan?" she spat. "And why would he have any say in Crane business?"
"Oh, how foolish of me," Gisei said. "Of course the Crane champion would have no opinions on the issue."
"Akodo Kuwanan," Yohko ground out the name, "is no Crane, and his claim upon our clan's championship is an offense against Heaven." Gisei looked at her, shocked. "Think, sister! For a thousand years the Daidoji have sacrificed life and honor in defense of the Crane. And yet, when Uji-dono led us against the Lion to fulfill his ancestor's command, Kuwanan turned the Doji against us. Was that the action of a true Crane?"
"The Emperor commanded him to stop Uji," protested Gisei.
"The Emperor? His Lion sensei! Crane champions have committed seppuku rather than strike down a single Dragon monk--Kuwanan didn't flinch at kinslaying! Worse, he turned us all into kinslayers!"
Gisei turned her head away, but not before Yohko could see the grief and guilt that flared up in her cousin's eyes. The tip of the wedge, she thought, and stepped closer. "Shiro no Yogin was a weak spot in our defenses; so long as it was in Lion hands our clan could never be safe. You know this is true. Uji did what he had to do to protect the Crane. That is the sacred duty of all Daidoji: to do what we must to protect our cousins."
For a long moment Gisei was still, and then her left hand came up in a fluttering motion. "I don't--" she started to say, and then Yohko stopped listening as Gisei's right arm swung out, a dagger clenched in her hand.
It was a clever move, Yohko thought as she flinched out of the way, and if her cousin hadn't been weak with exhaustion and horror it might have accomplished something. She grabbed Gisei's hand and twisted, forcing her to release the dagger. Keeping her grip on Gisei the Lost bushi pivoted and threw the other woman to the ground, dropping down on top of her as she did so. Gisei struggled, but could not break the hold Yohko had on her right arm. "Stop this before I am forced to hurt you," Yohko said, feeling annoyed.
"Do your worst!" There was a shrill note in Gisei's voice that hadn't been there before. "I won't join you! I won't!"
For the briefest of moments Yohko was tempted to show her just what "worst" was. Then lucidity came back to her and she fought the urge down. "Gisei-chan," Yohko said with terrible calm, "you are lying face-first in mud formed from Tainted earth and the blood of a hundred dead Crane samurai. Do you think I have to exert any effort to make you join the Lost? With every beat of your heart you come closer to joining of your own will."
"I won't," came the whisper.
"Is that what the Crab told you?" Yohko asked. There was no reply. "Soon your jade will wear out and you will be in danger of corruption. You must let me help you, or you will never get back across the Wall safely."
"Let you help me?" Gisei sounded incredulous. "Why would you want to help me?"
Yohko paused for a moment; she hadn't thought that far ahead in her argument. Then inspiration struck. "Because I need someone to help me gather up the swords from our fallen kinsmen and take them back to their families."
"You are lying."
"Why should I lie?" Yohko said. "Think, sister. Even if I am wrong in embracing Fu Leng, does that make me a heartless monster? How do I harm myself by sending their daisho back to comfort their kin?"
Yohko felt the slight easing of tension in her cousin's body and knew she had won. "We'll strike off their heads too," Gisei said.
"Of course," Yohko said. Iron Cranes, she thought wryly. Threaten what they loved and a Daidoji became as malleable as gold. She let Gisei go and helped her up. "The work will go faster if we split up. Your katana fell over there. And be sure to clean that mud off your face--it can cause a nasty rash that leaves scars." Gisei wouldn't look at her, but she mumbled some thanks before starting to wipe the mud off.
Yohko was halfway to the edge of the battlefield when she found a second living Crane samurai. She stared at the man for a moment, watching the blood trickle from his chest, and then she slowly turned her head and checked to see if Gisei was watching her. Finding that she wasn't, Yohko reached down to smear her fingers with the blood and then delicately licked them clean, savoring the rich, complex saltiness. If only I could write poetry, she thought. Then she could make her clan understand. She struck off the man's head and moved on.
Gisei finished first, and so when Yohko returned she found her sitting next to a pile of swords, gazing at the distant mountains with a disturbed look on her face. "Here we are!" she said briskly, adding her armful to the pile. "Too many for you to hold, though--we'll have to bundle them up somehow so you can carry them on your back."
Gisei looked at the swords for moment and then began to tremble. "Too many," she said, "and yet too few. There were more than that of us."
"The zombies would have taken some of the swords during the battle; they're usually capable of recognizing a weapon. And of course anyone who was Tainted before their death would have already gotten up and wandered off." Yohko took in the stricken expression on her cousin's face and laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry, Gisei-chan, I'll look for them, and send back what I find. Here," she said, handing her a pouch, "I found some food and water for you. You should eat it now, while the jade with it is still sound."
"Thank you," Gisei said, and mechanically started to go through the pouch. Yohko smiled to herself and set to work gathering banners to improvise into a sling. When Gisei finished her meal she joined in, and together the two women tore some banners into strips to serve as ropes, and knotted others to form a bag.
"I'm not expecting you to agree with what I have said today," Yohko said as they finished. "All I'm asking is for you to think about it."
"No," Gisei said stubbornly, "I won't."
Yohko gave a long-suffering sigh and indicated the bundle of swords. "Turn around, we'll need to tie this onto your back." Gisei nodded and complied. It took more ropes and knots than either of them expected, but eventually Yohko got the bundle secured. "There. Now you are ready. Carry the Fortunes, Gisei-chan."
"Thank you," Gisei said. She looked as if she was about to say more, and then she started walking off towards the mountains.
"Wrong direction," Yohko said. Gisei stopped and looked at her doubtfully. "You don't have to take my word for it; look at the battlefield. Your force came from that direction," she pointed, "so the Wall has to be that way." She pointed opposite of the way Gisei was headed.
The other woman looked, then turned around. "I'm sorry," Gisei said quietly, "you are correct. I don't know what I was thinking." She again started walking.
Yohko watched her for several minutes, thinking hard. She would wait until Gisei got over the next hill, and then follow her. There was no way her cousin could get out the Shadowlands on her own.
"This is not a good time for one of the Lost to be found dealing with the enemy," a voice behind her hissed. "Kamoko-thunder pledged herself to Tsume and then helped destroy him. Do you think to imitate her?"
Yohko spun around, wondering who could have crept up on her, and her heart pounded as she studied the speaker. He wasn't dark--he was darkness, an inky void in the shape of a man. She knew of only one being who matched that description, and she bowed very low to him. "Greetings, Makaze-sama. What is that you say? Moto Tsume is dead?"
"Tsume's dead, Akuma's dead, Adori's dead, and that idiot Yori got himself trapped in a Naga pearl." Yohko's mind spun, calculating the power vacuum this implied. Makaze took a step nearer, his fingers shaping themselves into knives. "And after all that, I'm not amused by the sight of you robbing Jigoku of a useful servant."
"I'm so sorry, Makaze-sama," Yohko said politely, "but you seem to have misunderstood the situation." She strongly felt the urge to run, but giving in to it would only get her killed in an extremely messy fashion. "It is not my intention to rob Jigoku of a servant. Far from it! I'm simply positioning her to be of maximum use to us in the future."
"In the future," the demon-shadow said, "she's going to be on the other side of the Wall, untouched by the blessings of Taint. I fail to see how this is helpful."
"She has to be without Taint, otherwise the Crab won't let her over the Wall. Think then! Gisei will come out of the Shadowlands like the First Daidoji, bearing the swords of her fallen kin. What could we do with such an agent in the Crane lands, Makaze-sama? What couldn't we do with such a one?"
"She is uncooperative," Makaze observed.
"She is vulnerable and weak," Yohko replied. "Thanks to Kuwanan she has seen the pain and suffering that bushido sows--she will come around in time. Gisei is a true daughter of my ancestor, and knows the good that Yohko did for the Crane. I will see that Gisei is given the means to likewise aid the Crane--she will embrace the darkness and find its power sweet."
"It's not a sure thing," Makaze said. He tilted his head as if in thought, fingers reforming out of knives. "Still, it's a good plan. Low risk if it fails, with still other possibilities left open; and great rewards if it succeeds. You would have made an excellent Scorpion, Yohko-chan. I'll help you."
"You'll help me?" Yohko said, surprised. She had been hoping to come away with her life; gaining the demon-shadow's help was an unexpected windfall.
"Why not? It's something to do until things get sorted out."
"Indeed, indeed," Yohko said, thinking furiously. "Makaze-sama, I had been planning to follow Gisei, and make sure that nothing ate her on her way out. You are known for your power and subtlety, however, and would be far more effective than I in this. If it truly amuses you to aid my plan, could you...?"
"Chaperone your little sister?" Makaze sounded amused. "It has been some time since I seduced a Crane. Consider it done." In the span of a breath he turned into a pool of shadow and then vanished.
A useful pawn, a powerful ally, and a new set of armor Yohko thought, turning her attention back to the battlefield. More signs her ancestor favored her.