-------------------Chapter Twenty-One, As Told By Aiko Kaijitsu---------------------

Decisions

By Aiko Kaijitsu

Wen and Lo were walking along after the sun rose that morning. The air was damp and dew was yet glistening on the grass tops.

“I understand that you wish to join the Brotherhood of the Fists of Bahamut,” Wen said.

“Yes,” Lo said. They stopped and stood to face each other.

“I will not define for you what that means, for since I first met you, you have acted within the strict beliefs of my Order. However, before me, I who have the rightful authority to initiate brave souls into the Order, I must ask you in person if this is what you truly want.”

“There is one thing and one thing only that gives me joy in this world. The Mongols have taken everything from me. I only derive joy from vanquishing evil wherever I see it.”

Wen nodded.

“Since we are both forsworn to a Lord, or in our case, a Lady, we must now seek her permission, for you are her Champion as well. Secondly, I must tell you that there is one thing I see that may stand in your way. It is your rage. Fists of Bahamut are lawful. I hope I will see you tempered as you go along.”

“Let us go to the Empress then,” Lo said.

Wen nodded, clapped Lo on the shoulder, and they set out to find her.

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“We successfully rescued An Mei and recovered Hatsue, but there were more prisoners in the Imperial Palace. We still need to rescue them. In addition, I don’t think our alliance with the Mongols we have made in order to achieve our goals here is working out, because of Ochir. I think we should ask the Mongols to leave our island,” I said.

“I must protest!” Chaka cried. Chaka, Ameiko, the Jade Archer and I were gathered together in a tent. I was hoping not to do this in front of her, but she had been sticking to us like sovereign glue.

“I’m sorry Chaka, but your husband is crazy. He’s a problem. He’s a problem for you Mongols as well.”

“I’m not going to disagree with you, but let’s hear what the Empress thinks about all of this,” Chaka said.

I looked at Ameiko, and asked for some leeway. My sister would get her chance, but I still had more to say.

“Chaka, you are clearly a very different sort of person than the group that you represent. I appreciate that and give you credit for being instrumental in a great many things. I do not have a problem with you, and I also must admit that I have no real reason to equate Prince Batsai-Khar with the prevailing Mongol mentality either. It’s simply the fact that we are not comfortable working with Ochir that we must come up with a solution.”

Chaka put her hands behind her back. “I think I do have a solution. But first allow me to inform you that what you have heard about the Mongol Empress’ death have been greatly exaggerated.  She has contingencies to prevent against an accidental or untimely demise. You must also understand, that as much as Ochir blusters, a different sort of Mongol, a feminine sort, is firmly in control of the Empire. Let me assure you, that under no circumstances, and I do mean under no circumstances, will anyone in Blue Silk Village be harmed by Mongol hands. Take my word for that. They may be kept under guard, but without word from the Empress, nothing will harm them.

“Now as far as the Ochir problem, I totally agree with you that he is becoming untenable. And we must do something about it. But there is still another matter, and that is the one where Wen is not guiltless in this whole affair.”

“Yes he is,” I said, without hesitation. “You have to be crazy to say that, and I don’t want to have to begin thinking of you in that way. Wen hasn’t done anything wrong, so we are going to disagree on this.”

“I do disagree, he threw my husband off a ship.”

“That’s already been dealt with,” I said.

“How so?”

“How so? Do you have to read my journal again?” Surely she must recall Prince Batsai-Khar sending us to rescue Ochir when he was captured and in line to be executed by the Daimyo? I mentioned my concern that our act of rescuing Ochir would wipe the slate clean on that count specifically, right in front of Prince Batsai-Khar. So, she had intended to keep this card in her hand all along, just as I knew she would.

“I’m not going to stand here and defend what our laws are. Mongols have a concept of good and evil that is not shared by us. I would like to be respected at that level. I don’t have to explain why Ochir is evil, deserves death, or deserves to be imprisoned in our country, but he does.”

“If you declare my husband your enemy and deserving of death, then what’s to stop me from declaring your husband those things as well?”

“Nothing, that’s your choice,” I said. It was true, I couldn’t stop her from saying so. I think she would have hard time enforcing her view, however.

“I see, so that’s where we are right now. I suggest we switch this up, totally."

“I think so,” I said.

“I’ll take your husband, and you’ll take my husband. We’ll go on different paths, and perhaps we can come to an understanding.”

“What!” I cried.

"You will be responsible for protecting my husband, and he will be responsible for protecting you. Wen will be responsible for protecting me, and I will be responsible for protecting him."

"That's crazy!" I cried. “We’re not doing that!”

"Yes, it is crazy, but our situation right now is crazy. Who would win if we decide to fight each other right now? I know who, the oni that sits on the throne.”

“You're dealing with somebody that doesn't have the same method of thinking that has worked for you Mongols in China. Just because you overpower and slaughter one village, and so threaten another, doesn't mean we’re going to roll over and play dead. We have a different way of thinking in Japan. We have the honor passed down to us through these families through the ages to preserve. So, we don't take what you're saying as what we have to live by. I think were at the point where if we don't work a way to imprison Ochir, and so curtail the damage he’ll do, we’re going to have to ask you Mongols to leave our island."

"Well, I guess thank the gods then you're not in charge!" Chaka said.

It was true, I wasn’t. "Well, there's your possible salvation.” I nodded at Ameiko.

It was time to convince the Empress. I looked at my sister.

“How long is it going to be before he’s threatening another village? How long is it going to be before he’s threatening my son to get something he imagines benefits the empire? How long is it going to be? Enough rope has been doled out to Ochir over all this time and he clearly is not getting it. The Mongols are not willing to admit it and come to grips with it, or do anything about it."

Ameiko took a deep breath. "Very well, this is what I've decided. There are many other matters that weigh on my mind. Those of the heart, and others. But I see that I must deal with this matter personally. So I will accompany you. Then I will decide who can be traveled with.”

“And I will go as well,” the Jade Archer said.

Uh oh. This wasn’t going well.

“The Mongol Prince wishes reinforcement. So I will send Wen with him. Wen will have the authority to gaze upon each soldier that comes onto Japan. And none may arrive here without his say so. So, Chaka, if there is another sort of Mongol, I suggest you round them up.”

“This is unwise, my sister, but I will do as I am ordered,” I said.

“I must announce my presence in Kyoto. But first, I must go to the Emperor of old and ask for his blessing, so that I may become the Empress. This I can only do personally. I need your group to fight our way in.”

“Of course, my sister.”

“There is another matter upon which I need your advice. The matter of the Shinobi coin.”

“That coin belongs to Allegro, as far as I am concerned.”

“It does not belong to Allegro, it was given to me by Akira for safekeeping.”

“My advice will be then to ask him to return the coin in person. I’m sure he will return it.”

“Or should we let him keep it?”

“I think we should let him keep it.”

“We’ll ask him,” Ameiko said.

“He is going to stay with An Mei for a while. We don’t know what will happen if it takes him over, however,” I said.

“Walk with me sister.” I went with her to discuss something in private. She told me of a plan that would change everything. She said to go along with her, and everything would work out in the end.

As we walked back to the group, “I still don’t like it,” I said, “Mark my words, sister, if he issues anymore threats, we’re not going to have any more discussions.”

There was a knock at the door. I knew it would be Wen and Lo, so I went to answer it.

“Hey, look, it’s Wen and Lo,” I said, trying to sound surprised. “I’m on the ropes guys, she’s not going for it,” I whispered to them.

They both walked into the room, and bowed before the Empress.

“My Champion, and my Brother-in-Law,” she acknowledged them.

“Empress,” Lo began, “I am your servant. I respect your position. I think that perhaps you are the only chance in this sea of violence and death. Do concepts like freedom, honor, respect, mean anything to you?”

“What kind of a question is that? Of course they do!”

“Then why do you ally with those who trample on them at every opportunity? The Mongols have taken everything from me, my wife, they have taken my tribe, enslaved them in some pen they belong not in. They have enslaved millions of people. They kill them as they are but chattel. So I ask you again, why? Is it just because they think they're better than everybody else?"

“So, what exactly are you asking me?" 

"I have overlooked many things as I have gone about my duties, the sworn duties of the Princess of Japan. But to harm an entire village of people, even just to lock the gates, and tell them they can't leave, for something they had nothing to do with? This is beyond the scope. There is nothing but pure evil in that act."

Chaka wanted to leap out at those words, but the Empress stayed her with a gesture.

"If I, as a warrior, and as your Champion, look the other way at such egregious evil, then I am not worthy of serving any of you."

Ameiko hesitated for a while before she spoke.

"My dear and loyal Lo, you presume--too much."

At this point, I walked over and stood by Lo. Wen was already standing on the other side of him.

Dipaka appeared, somewhat unkempt, for he had just finished attending to An Mei. He had also raised Hatsue with his mighty powers as well. He was in time to hear my sister’s decree.

"It is by fate and necessity that I've been impressed with delivering Japan from this terrible scourge. The oni’s atrocities are the most egregious. I must see to this task first. I will trust that you are loyal enough to envision what I must do. I am not blind. I see the Mongols for who they are."

At this, Chaka took a bow.

"Your task will be this. Lo, you will come with me. You will break down every door and gate that I want to go through. You will destroy every evil oni that stands in my way. We will go and ask the Emperor of old for permission to claim the Jade Throne.

"Wen, you and Chaka will go with the Prince and gather the Mongolian troops that are to be brought to Japan. You'll clear every last Mongol that enters Japan. You have the power to evict any Mongols at you observe sneaking in. The rest of it will come with me, unless the gnome is too chicken come without his wife.”

“What? I don't think we'll have that problem. Nobody's ever said Ochir was not brave," I said. “He simply puts adding a feather to his cap above the lives of entire villages.”

Wen stepped forward, and bowed to my sister.

"Empress, with your permission I would like to initiate Lo into the Brotherhood of the Fists of Bahamut."

"My permission is hereby granted."

When turned and faced Lo. "Repeat after me. I, Lo, will brook no excuses for evil acts. I will be most compassionate, and have limitless charity for the downtrodden, helpless, and dispossessed. By the great Dragon Bahamut, I am a Fist."

Lo repeated it all back, line by line.

“You are now a Brother of the Fist,” Wen said, and they bumped their knuckles together.

"Congratulations Lo," I said.

"Thank you," Lo said.

"Now we must do our duties, whether we like them or not," I said.

"I will swear this too: and I will swear it upon my faith to Bahamut, if any harm comes to one hair on any person's head in that village because of the Mongols, I will do my duty here, fear not, but after such duty is done, I will not rest until justice is done."

Chaka said, "That is where Wen and I are going, to make sure none of that happens."

Lo tilted his head at Chaka. "You are perhaps the one hope for the Mongols, and perhaps the one hope for that wretch that is called Ochir."

"Thank you," Chaka said.

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Ochir, Prince Batsai-Khar, and Sandru were poring over a large map laid out on a table and chitchatting about what port would be best used to bring a Mongol army over to Japan.

"I think you guys are getting ahead of yourselves, I think the Kublai Khan said he wants her to be begging," Ochir reminded them.

"The Empress has given her permission to bring our troops over, but it has to be cleared by her or her people,” the Prince said.

“Have you contacted the Ainu as I suggested?” Ochir asked.

“We have begun choosing a task force, but it would speed the process along if you went personally. Due to their history, the Ainu are a suspicious people. I suspect we can persuade them without you in due time, however. We have to go and find Gangnum-Sum, and give him time to gather his people.”

“If his people are even a fraction of the warrior that Gangnum-Sum is, they should be very formidable. Especially in numbers. They are unruly, so we can’t treat them as an army. They are native to this terrain, so perhaps they could be used as more of a guerrilla force. I have already hinted at some type of autonomy for them after the islands have been pacified.”

“We shall deal with that,” the Prince said.

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The next day we all gathered to pick teams.

My sister laid out the scenario for us.

“Here’s what we have to do. There’s going to be a lot of undead in the graveyard we need to cross. There may be Outsiders inside the Shrine itself. The Shrine is a mystical place. So be ready with your holy powers, Dipaka. You’re going to be instrumental on this mission.”

“Wait a minute,” Dipaka said, “We are going to pay a visit to a major undead site, and Wen is going to be off somewhere else?”

My sister was quiet for moment. Suddenly I realized that she must feel awfully ganged up on. I wasn’t totally sure she knew what she was going to do next.

It was a valid question, and I didn’t want my husband to go. I waited for the answer too.

The Jade Archer broke the silence. “I will be with you in Wen’s stead. And believe me, I can deal out way more damage.”

Yes, but she wasn’t my husband. My heart was aching already. “My sister, shall we consider rescuing the remaining girls still captured in the Imperial palace?”

“We shall go to the shrine and seek permission with all due haste. Then we shall go to Kyoto to announce my ascendance and rescue the prisoners. We leave for the Shrine tomorrow.”

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We had the rare chance to visit with Yoshi for a while. I was so happy, and so was he, it seemed. I wondered if he even remembered that I was his mother. It seemed that he did, for he smiled and babbled with me for a long time.

Wen and I laughed and played together with him for hours.

“I don’t like any of this,” I said to Wen. “We have not been apart from each other for a long time. I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I tried to get her to reject the Mongols. I think we can succeed here without them. We shouldn’t invite them here at all. But she wouldn’t see. She thinks we will lose.”

“Don’t worry about that, my sweet princess, that’s just our duty calling. This is what really matters,” he nodded at Yoshi. “You have given me and this world the greatest gift possible already, and—“

He was not able to finish. He lowered his visor.

I have never loved him more than at that moment.

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The next day the Empress came forward with official declarations for the Mongols to hear. “Prince Batsai-Khar, I am requesting Mongol troops to help me defeat the Jade Regent. This will be under the condition that Prince Wen Tiang-Xiang inspect each and every troop and clear them before they set foot on Japan.”

“So you’re asking for help and making demands,” Ochir calmly said, before the Prince could respond.

“The help has already been promised by virtue of my betrothal to the Prince. What I require from you is for you to accompany me and help me claim the throne of Japan. Wen will ensure that no evil men set foot on Japan.”

“If you let Wen decide which Mongol troops can come over, you’ll wind up with an army of cowards. There is no such thing as a non-evil killer. So you’re talking complete nonsense.”

“It is my decree. As long as you are in Japan, I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

“I don’t think it’s right for you to be asking for something and making stipulations.”

“I am not asking you for anything. I am asking the Prince of the Mongols, who is my fiancé, for something.”

“You’re asking Kublai Khan for something,” Ochir said.

“The Prince can ask Kublai Khan anything he wants. He can bring troops here if he wishes, of his own accord, he does not need the Kublai Khan to do so for him.”

“I’ve talked to him myself, and he wants you to beg before he will send troops,” Ochir said.

“Then you can go back to your Khan and snitch on your Prince. I’m really not interested in your internal affairs.”

Ochir turned to the Prince and said, “If we’re gonna let these women, and I include Wen in that group, decide which Mongols are fit for service, we might as well just cut off our balls right now and hand them over to them.”

Wen didn’t even move.

“You can give them your balls if you want, but I have plans for mine,” Batsai-Khar said.

I shuddered at that.

“All you have to do is obey orders, my sister said to Ochir. “If you don’t wish to do that, you may leave Japan.”

“Ok, I see how it’s going to be,” Ochir said.

“Yes, that is the way it’s going to be. I tire of this oaf, Prince, remove him from my sight or remove yourself from my sight.”

“You know, you’re really getting uppity for someone from a little backwater town with a shitty inn to run.”

My heart leapt when the Jade Archer’s bow appeared in her hand. Her other hand was reaching for an arrow. Her eyes were fixed on Ochir.

“You weren’t so tall yourself back then!” Ameiko cried.

“No! There is no reason for violence!” Dipaka leapt forward and raised his arms.

I cast a haste on the Jade Archer, Lo and Wen. If there was going to be a fight, I was determined that we would win it. I hoped the others would see the haste as a clue that I supported the decision to fight. I knew I wouldn’t get away with any offensive action around Dipaka.

Chaka dispelled my haste at once, but it didn’t matter. I hoped the message had been sent.

Chaka went over and put her hand over Ochir’s mouth. “Now’s the time to stop talking!”

“Lo, you better come over here by Wen,” I said, again hoping that the message would be read by Lo and the Jade Archer.

They both just stood there, impassive as stones. The Jade Archer would never leave my sister’s side.

Dipaka’s glow shone on them, and the anger drained from the Jade Archer’s face. She dropped her hand and lowered her bow.

Ochir pulled out a piece of jerky and threw it at her feet. “Get used to this,” Ochir said.

“I’m sure we’ll speak again,” the proud elf said, sneering at Ochir.

Prince Batsai-Khar cleared his throat. “I will go and secure the reinforcements we require.”

Wen stood forth. “I will make sure that no further evil infests your land, my Lady.”

Ameiko smiled.

“It warms my heart to see a peaceful solution,” Dipaka said.

I could have smacked myself on the forehead.

Ochir looked to Prince Batsai-Khar. “Good luck finding even one soldier that’s going to pass muster under this fool.”

The Prince just kept on smiling.

Chaka said to me, “I want my husband back in one piece.” Right, I thought. I was hoping he would fall off a cliff or something.

“Bring enough quality weapons for the Ainu,” Ochir reminded Chaka.

They left, and prepared to go on their journey. I kissed Wen goodbye, and we waved at them as they rode out.

“Don’t worry, I can do anything Chaka can do,” my sister said. “Except I’m an Empress.”

“Hah!” Ochir cried. “You aren’t the Empress yet, just one in waiting.”

“Why don’t you let us determine who rules here, Ochir? This is our country, not yours,” I said.

“Oh, like you don’t give me orders in your country?”

“No, I don’t think I do.”

“What about when you said I couldn’t dispatch troops to Blue Silk village?”

“Oh, I protested you threatening to murder an entire village, sorry, my mistake,” I said.

“You ordered Wen to kill me,” Ochir said.

“I still want to kill you, and if you don’t watch it you still will get killed! It’s only because of your brother that you are alive now!”

“I’d quit bringing that shit up if I were you Ochir,” Lo growled. “I should take this sword and cut off your head and call it justice.”

“You go right ahead,” Ochir said.

My sister finally put her foot down. “We’re not going to have any more of this talk, period!” she cried. “We’re going to get rid of the usurper, the Jade Regent! The enemy! But first we are going to the Shine of Hallowed Ancestors! Now!”

We all fell silent. We steeled ourselves, and set out. 


Further Missives

His Holiness Pope Gregory the Tenth
Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo
Viterbo, Italia
 

Your Holiness:
Greetings from Munkh-Ochir Batbayar, General of Kublai Khan’s Southern Army.

I would like to extend my heartfelt Congratulations on the occasion of your Election to the Leadership of the Holy See on 1st September, 1271 of your race’s calendar. My understanding is that your Election to the Papacy was the longest in your faith’s History, and the first such Election to be the result of a great “Compromise”. Surely your god has smiled upon you and Buddha has blessed you!

As you may know, it is a longstanding custom of the Mongolian people to offer hospitality to esteemed friends and strangers alike. In Celebration of your Election to the Papacy, and in support of our people’s burgeoning Alliance against the Mamluks in your Holy Lands, I would like to offer you a Papal Consulate in the city of Guangzhou. This is my personal Gift to Your Holiness, and will include in this Consular Compound a complex of Diplomatic Offices, a Garrison for your Holiness’s Guards, a Private Residence befitting Your Holiness, and a Grand Cathedral with Clerical Living Quarters for Your Holiness’s priests and nuns.

Moreover, once the Islands of Japan have been Pacified and becomes a stable Vassal State of the Mongolian Empire, I will also personally supervise the building a Papal Consulate in Kyoto.

I invite Your Holiness to immediately dispatch an Emissary to Guangzhou in order to advise and consult with our Architects and Builders. I would like for construction to commence as soon as possible.

May your god continue to favor His Holiness, may Buddha bless You, and may your Enemies fall Mercilessly to your Sword!

Respectfully,

General Munkh-Ochir Batbayar
Son of Munkh-Ochir Baatarbayan Khan
Guangzhou

 

Munkh-Ochir Baatarbayan Khan
Guangzhou

Honorable Father,
It has come to my attention that you have countermanded a Direct Order that I recently issued regarding the retrieval of the Scepter of Five Rings. I must protest this action, and demand an explanation.

I issued a Direct Order for the immediate creation of an Extermination Force, to be drawn from 2,000 of your elite troops, and dispatched to lay siege upon Blue Silk Village for a period of two weeks. If the Scepter of Five Rings is not returned by the end of the fourteenth day of the siege, then the village is to be completely exterminated.

Considering that the thief of this highly valued Imperial Property is from Blue Silk Village, it is Standard Operating Procedure to impose collective punishment upon the Village for the thief’s crime. Under normal circumstances, the Village would have been immediately been destroyed without prejudice. However, because I am well acquainted with the thief, and have travelled extensively with her in the past, I am actually being very lenient by offering to spare the Village if the item is returned.

Need I remind you that the task of recovering this item was given to me by the Great Kublai Khan’s wife herself? Chabui personally told me that the retrieval of this item was of paramount importance to the Empire. Before we took Guangzhou she told me, “...at the end of the war, only one thing matters, the Scepter of Five Rings. Do not kill the Emperor, but be sure to take the scepter.”

You may indeed have the authority to countermand my Directives. But to do so in light of such a critically important matter without consultation leads me to believe that you did this against your own free will. Did your wife have something to do with this? If so, this is unacceptable and most counterproductive.

I again must protest your actions, and demand an immediate explanation.

Your Faithful Son,

Munkh-Ochir Batbayar
General of the Great Kublai Khan’s Southern Army
Guangzhou


Fingers of Death

By Aiko Kaijitsu

We rowed the Origami around the island as Dipaka steered. Ameiko kept the Seal tightly in her hand and underneath her tunic. She sat at the bow and looked forward over the mirrored water. We went first beneath one torii gate, and then another. There were five total that encircled the island, and legend said that if we took the Seal through all five gates, we could pass on to the Great Beyond. Then the structures on the island would be revealed to us.

“Don’t get out of the boat,” Ochir quietly said, as if lost in a trance, as he looked out over the mist strewn water. “Don’t get out of the boat,” he said again. “Absolutely goddamned right.”

Lo rolled his eyes.

Once we had made it through the last gate without killing each other, we saw a dock appear, and a large stone temple on the shore. There was an immense torii gate to the right of it, and a cobbled path that led on beneath it.

The shrine itself was over twenty feet high, and we walked in through the open double doors. Two small shrines were on either side of the entrance, and artistic tapestries of the celestial realm hung on the walls. Since there was no one there, we kept on going forward down the central hall.

Four sitting rooms branched off to the sides halfway down. Tables and sleeping pallets were ready there. Tatami mats covered the floors.

“Looks like a good place to camp, if we need one,” I mused. We went into the main shrine.

A huge statue of a gold dragon towered almost to the ceiling. In the corners of the room, braziers smoked. The smell of sandalwood was so strong, I guessed that it must have been masking some other odor.

The room looked empty.

“Hag alert!” Suishen suddenly warned, and Lo dropped into a combat stance. “There’s something in here,” he growled. His eyes glowed blue.

“I’ll take the bait,” Aki said, and moved into the room. “Let’s see who jumps--”

Suddenly, Aki was engulfed in darkness and silenced in mid-sentence. He was effectively gone to us.

“You have been cursed with Rokurokubi’s curse! You will say nothing more!” we heard a woman cry from within the blackness.

Lo sprang into action and dove into the inky darkness. “That’s not a problem for Aki, whoever you are! I can take care of this Aki! Back out if you can hear me!”

I tried to dispell the darkness, but failed.

Dipaka ran forward boldly, and the darkness was banished by his holy nimbus.

A human woman was revealed, and she was dressed in a short Kimono. Her legs were skinny and pale, and her knees were knobby. Her neck was impossibly long, and it moved like a snake. Her head reared back and she hissed at Dipaka. Her teeth were locked in tight rows and were razor-sharp. A forked tongue flicked in and out.

Aki’s foot tangled her legs, and she collapsed to the floor. Aki straddled her waist and punched her in the abdomen several times, and her neck shrunk back down to its normal length and she began to cry. Her teeth looked beautiful now.

“No, don’t kill me,” she sobbed. “Please.”

The Jade Archer threw down some manacles on the floor beside her. “Put her in these,” she said.

“And then we’re putting her in here,” I said, as I opened the bag of holding Aki had donated to the cause. I thought of it now as the new prison wagon. It seemed like so long ago when we were with the caravan back in China. Now, there wasn’t even such a place as China, and we were far, far, away from Silk’s End. Something felt wrong about all of it.

Rokurokubi hissed through her gag as I closed the bag and tied it to my belt. We found she had stashed quite a bit of jewelry and other things of worth, and she had a necklace of prayer beads and a brilliant steel shield.

We went back outside and headed under the giant torii gate, to the islands interior. It smelled like gooseberries.

“Man, I feel sad,” Ochir said, as we looked upon a wide graveyard and meandering path. Headstones and monuments jutted this way and that.

“That’s strange,” I said, “you are not capable of sadness.”

“I know, so it really does feel weird,” Ochir said. “It’s got to be a magical effect, I’m actually finding out what being sad feels like for the first time. It sucks to be you guys.”

“Don’t look now! It’s shades again!” Dipaka cried. “All around!”

We were all blasted with strength loss, and instantly felt very weak. Black shadows appeared on all sides of us, and their orange eyes were glowing coals.

Although we all began to fight the shadows with our usual skills, Dipaka simply blasted them all out of existence with a holy utterance of healing.

“Begone!” he commanded. They were destroyed and screamed as they vanished.

Ameiko pulled out the Seal and restored our strength. Dipaka healed us all up, and we headed into the cemetery.

“Uh, guys, why are the gravestones ahead moving?” Ochir asked.

Sure enough, gravestones were shuddering on both sides of the path in front of us. As we watched, whole rows of them coalesced and got up, and formed great giants made of clumps of dirt, graves, and headstones. I saw the bony arms and legs of the dead jutting from the soil here and there. They towered over thirty feet in the air above us.

There was no way past them.

They both breathed cones of ash and grave dust on us, covering us completely. We were blinded by the ash and soot, so we were hacking and gagging horribly.

Then they bowled into Lo.

“Oh shit!” Lo shouted.

“Hold steady!” Dipaka ordered, and then suddenly our blindness and choking was gone, as though washed away by a magic hand. “You are healed!” Dipaka mimed tapping Ameiko on the forehead.

“Thank you father,” the Empress said with a smirk.

In the meanwhile, Lo and Aki and Ochir worked on the gravestone beasts and eventually they crumbled away to dust and stone.

We kept on going.

We saw an archway inscribed with Japanese symbols, and a glowing bridge that spanned a moat. A truly massive torii gate stood at the opposite end of the bridge, which led to a courtyard on a tombstone shaped island.

I saw that the gate bore a glyph of warding, and it was set to harm those that might try to pass underneath. I warned Ameiko.

“Yes, she said, “it would be symbolic to approach the Realm of the Dead while close to death, but I think not,” and she dispelled the glyph with a snap.

We saw a covered stage in the courtyard that had all sorts of musical instruments awaiting their artists to play them. Ameiko took up a Samisen and played the most amazing music. It sounded as if there were two of her playing together. It was quite inspiring.

We heard a great snort. From beside a multi-chimnied building on our left, a gigantic furnace golem snorted again and arose from a squat, spat out some hot coals, and moved to attack us. Smoke billowed out from cracks in its joints.

Ochir and the Jade Archer had a contest to see who could do the most arrow damage while the rambling creature made its way to us.

Although the elf laid some good arrows on the giant, Ochir easily took the game when his arrows caused the massive behemoth to collapse before it even got to us. He threw a sausage at the Jade Archer’s feet.

The elf growled at the gnome.

The building the creature had been guarding turned out to be only an empty crematorium, and it had a small wing that served as a tool shed.

To the right of us were standing tombs. One bore the name of Empress Amatatsu Onoko, and I bowed low in respect to my ancestor before we passed it by.

There was a black pond ahead. Smelly cattails poked out of it here and there. A narrow footpath led over to a gazebo. I handed Lo two potions of flying. He drank one right then, and Ameiko helped get us all in the air. We flew onward. Two huge trees and the statue of a crying girl stood in the garden. Huge rocks marked the boundary of the garden, where a path led into a white building flanked by statues of kirin.

“Uh oh, Ochir,” I joked, pointing at the two Kirin as we flew down to the doors. I knocked them open.

Behind the doors of the crypt were five chambers, four at each corner and one at the center. Each room was a shrine unto itself and contained urns of gold, silver, and platinum.

I saw a ghost hiding inside one of the urns. It was an old man with a beard. He looked like he was asleep. I could tell it was Emperor Shegure.

“Sister, there is a ghost hiding inside that urn over there,” I said. “I am sure it is the Emperor we seek.”

“Which urn is it?”

“That one,” I pointed to it.

Ameiko went over and knelt before the urn. She held out the Seal.

“Emperor, I have come for your blessing, and to see if we can avenge the treachery wrought against you by the Jade Regent.”

The ghost woke up, looked around, and then rose up out of the platinum coins that filled the urn.

“What? Whatzit…?… hmmm…”  he stammered as though lost, but then he snapped awake. He looked right at us.

“I am the rightful Emperor of Japan, and I demand to know who you are and what you are doing here!” he crossed his arms in front of himself.

I bowed low with my sister and she explained everything to the ancient apparition. When she was done, she asked, “How did you perish Emperor? Until now, we didn’t know what had become of you.”

“I was betrayed by my bodyguard, Soto Takahiro, and my advisor, Renshii Meida. They told me I would be safe here, away from those who killed my family.” His eyes were sad. “But they lied. They murdered me.”

“Can you give us your blessing?” Ameiko asked.

His face suddenly contorted with rage. “I’ll give my blessing to no one while my body lies in dishonor! I have only curses now for those who survive me! I cannot rest! I cannot find peace! And I won’t grant peace to anyone else while I’m denied it!”

“Where is your body now?” she asked.

“They hid it in the Well of Demons, in a great chasm beneath the hills of this very island.”

“If we retrieve your body, then will you grant your blessing?”

“If you recover my remains from the Well of Demons, and properly cremate them and place the ashes in this urn here, I’ll grant you the blessing of the Higashiyama family. I’ve grown quite fond of this urn during my time here. But my blessing alone won’t be enough. I think you'll need blessings from the ancestors of all five of the imperial families.”

“How can we get the blessings of the imperial families?” she asked.

“It’s been a long time since an Amatatsu held the throne, but the tomb of Empress Amatatsu Onoko stands  outside—perhaps you can speak with her there--after you have recovered my remains. You must go down the hole to find them.”

“We shall recover your bones so that you may rest in peace,” Ameiko said, and she pulled out a sheaf of scrolls and cast buffing spells on us all.

“Let’s go people! Tactical speed!” she ordered.

My sister hasted us and we went. We soared like super heroes over a lake that was fed by the waters of a spring that flowed down out of the western hills. A ring of jagged cliffs stood a wretched watch around a spanning chasm where the spring cascaded into an abyss. The stentorian sound of the falling water was mind-numbing.

We flew down the hole. We came into an underground cavern, where a large lake formed in a reservoir before the water fell down another chasm. Ameiko cast a fog spell that floated down and covered the surface of the water. We landed at the edge of the lake on a little beach that had a passage leading away at the back of it.

I pulled out a powerful potion of water breathing I’d been saving for just such an occasion. We passed it around and each took a sip. I prayed I wasn’t going to have to breath water.

Suddenly, brown slime balls flew out of the fog and hit me, Dipaka, and Ameiko smack in our faces. Our heads were engulfed, so we were being smothered, regardless of our water breathing.

I was beside Ameiko, so I grabbed her hand and opened a dimension door a pace away and got my sister out of the grappling glue. I couldn’t reach Dipaka.

Brown melting men that looked and smelled like feces arose from the fog and threw more sticky shit at us.

Ochir fired his deadly arrows at the blob men while Lo pulled the glue thing off of Dipaka’s face.

The blobs tried pushing us underwater with their own telekinetic powers, but they were weak and we all dashed through the narrow stepped passage at the back of the sandy opening. 

We came unto a mammoth underground courtyard at the end of the tunnel. A balcony looked down from far above the room’s marble floor. Imperial tapestries adorned walls. A waterfall on our left poured yet again down a hole into even deeper misty depths.

Six naked erinyes with ebon skin and black wings and composite bows stood in a line before us. They were covered with innumerable scars that formed quite beautiful patterns.

They parted and allowed a tall, bone white, faceless woman through. She was like a column. She waved her hand and uttered a word, and we were all seized by writhing black tentacles that grew up out of the floor.

The dark girls all fired arrows at Lo and Ochir as they dealt with the tentacles, hitting them repeatedly. Both professional warriors didn’t let any of the arrows slow them down.

The Jade Archer attuned her magic Daiku to the faceless woman with an arcane command word. “Rache!” she cried.

The woman laughed. “I am the handmaiden of Amatatsu Maemi! You will die before me!”

“I don’t think so, bitch!” Ameiko dispelled the tentacles, freeing all of us. “Come on guys!”

Aki released the mighty growl of the Mountain upon them, and they were all blown back and two erinyes were stunned and laying flat on thier backs.

Dipaka dashed over and healed Ochir, and then headed for the bloody Jade Archer.

Lo engaged several erinyes on his side of the room.

Ochir fired his tri-shot at the handmaiden and somehow missed.

The Jade Archer snorted at him.

“Hey, it happens,” he said.

The Jade Archer fired four shots at the pale handmaiden and killed her dead. The masked woman slumped to the floor.

“Stop!” a commanding woman’s voice rang out. We saw a woman appear with two very muscular erinyes standing behind her on the balcony above us. “Scions, you have proved your skill to me. Here me out. Please.”

The woman floated down from her perch to our level and landed in front of us. She was very beautiful. She had luxurious black hair, and it was made up in a headdress of silver and gold. Her eyes had the longest lashes I’d ever seen. At least that was how everyone else saw her.

“I am Amatatsu Maemi, your ancestor. There’s no reason for us to fight any further. I will tell you where the bones of the last Emperor lay.”

We all looked at each other in disbelief.

“Allow me to explain. I sat on the Jade Throne of Japan for over two hundred years. I lobbied the powers of Hell to extend my life, and to make myself beautiful. I pledged my soul in payment. When I died with no heir, the devils of Hell held me to my contract, and transformed me into the hellish handmaiden you see before you.” She looked into my eyes.

I knew with my true sight that she wasn’t as beautiful as she appeared. She was hideous.

“What can we do to release you from your torment?” I asked.

“Separate her head from her body,” Ochir said.

“Restore my line to the Jade Throne. Now that I see our line will survive, I will withdraw, and show you where the old Emperor’s bones lay, and you may secure his blessing.”

“Ok,” Ameiko agreed.

Amatatsu Maemi smiled a wicked grin and floated over to the falls hole and pointed down into it.

“You will find the remains down there,” she said. She floated back up to her balcony and glared at us as we descended into the shaft.

“Looks like our aunt is a devil,” I said to Ameiko. “That should be great at family reunions. Evil Khans, devils, who knows what’s next?”

Ameiko frowned at me. “You just won’t quit, will you?”

There was another subterranean pool below, and a vast cavern loomed above it.

We saw the heads of a clutch of froglike demons rise from the water. I fireballed them and they lowered back down again.

The Jade Archer sprouted wings from her celestial armor and flapped around the cave like a huge bat, looking all over for the way.

I spied an illusory wall with my true seeing. “Over here,” I yelled to her. She scowled and we all flew through the illusion.

We arrived in a long cavern, filled with sculptures. A black throne rested against the far wall. A crown of gold rested on the throne’s massive seat.

The smell of decay arose from a long-dead corpse sprawled out on the floor.

“Here we are folks,” Ameiko said.

We heard boots. A dead man walked out from a side passage in full armor to stand before us. His eyes glowed inside his helmet.

“I am Grave Knight Akatsuka Katsumoto, and I defend my Emperor, even in death!” The skull-faced knight announced, and then let out a peal of maniacal ghostly laughter. It echoed out of his helmet.

Suddenly an enormous, bat-like creature shaped from utter darkness flew out of another passage on the far side of the cavern. It was gigantic, it’s wingspan must have been a hundred feet.

“You think we can talk our way out of this?” Ameiko asked me, with a lopsided grin on her face.

“You two were happy running an inn back in Silk’s End, right?” Ochir joked, downing a potion of displacement, and handing one to Aki.

The nightwing roared and blew a horrible acid blast on all of us.

The Jade Archer’s wondrous hair was now melted beyond all recognition, and the rest of us weren’t in much better shape.

A regal man walked out of another passage while we smoked. He was a ghost, or so it appeared.

He had a Fu Manchu mustache and beard, and a silly hat that must have been all the rage when he was Emperor.

“I am Emporer Shojinowa Ito! I am Japan’s greatest ruler! I am descended from a bloodline steeped in necromancy! My reign blights the history of the Jade Throne, prompting the keepers of imperial records in Kyoto to erase my name from all of their books! Only a few of the most diligent historians know that I was the greatest ruler of all time!”

His eyes glittered with madness.

Ameiko stepped forward.

“We do not wish to disturb you great Emperor, all we want is Shegure’s corpse. It’s lying right here, please give it to us, I think you should, for I am very cute, after all,” Ameiko said, blinking fiercely.

This time I did slap my forehead.

The undead Emperor was ignoring my sister and looking at me. Suddenly I felt my heart seize and my breath stop. I closed my eyes and forced myself to shake it off, but I was devastated. Emperor Ito had just tried to kill me with a death spell. I could barely stand after it passed, and my insides writhed. After another second I shrugged it off.

“You shouldn’t have done that Emperor!” I cried, filled with rage. “Now you will be remembered by no one! I, Aiko Kaijitsu, Scion of the Amatatsu, hereby wish that you be disintegrated!”

Ito’s eyes snapped open when the disintegration ray pounded right through his spell resistance, but his evil smile and demeanor returned when the bolt only singed him.

“It that the best you can do, Wu Jen? I guess my concern regarding you was misplaced,” Ito laughed.

The Jade Archer fired her bow at him five times and hit four of them. The Emperor only laughed.

Lo engaged the graveknight on the floor and expertly hacked him down with Suishen. The undead Knight never even stood a chance. Lo roared his ear-splitting roar. 

I thought of Wen.

Dipaka let out a curing blast that healed us all.

Ameiko cast haste while the nightshade wrapped itself around Emperor Ito to protect him.

Ito pointed at Dipaka and cried, “Die!”

Dipaka staggered but didn’t go down. He was clutching his insides, just like I had been.

Ochir pounded the nightwing with a tri-shot and it screeched and revealed the Emperor again and dropped back.

“Who shall I finger for death next?” the Emperor laughed.

“I am the true foe here, Emperor!” Lo answered.

“You are but a gnat, and when I have finished with your betters, fool, your mind will be an easy thing to control.”

“I’m sure that’s just what your Knight thought!” Lo taunted, pointing to the pile of armor and bones on the floor.

The Emperor’s eyes rested on the remains of his Knight, and then he did try to kill Lo with his spell. Lo shrugged off the effect with his mighty constitution and laughed. “Gotcha!”

I dispelled Ito’s mirror images and shield spell. “Get him guys!”

The Jade Archer shot him several more times and he shot a corrupting gaze back on her. Her face smoked and she began to melt. She looked horrid. I felt so sorry for her.

She just kept on fighting.

Dipaka flew up to face the nightwing. The nightwing bit him as he neared. He was ripped open and blasted with ice and cold. There was a terrible otherworldly rending sound, a death effect, but Dipaka resisted it.

Dipaka cast a heal and tried to strike the nightwing with it, but he was buffeted away at the last second. The heal spell was still glowing on his hand, ready to go with a touch.

“I suggest you take the opportunity to leave!” Dipaka yelled at the nightwing.

The nightwing’s eyes were glowing orbs, and no change came over them at his words.

Lo air charged the nightwing but it bit Lo first on the way up. Suishen protected Lo from the cold damage, and Lo shrugged off the death effect. Lo pierced the nightwing in return, and it was staggered by the fiery blow.

The nightwing locked in mortal combat with Lo and bit him again, and then sucked away his heroes feast.

The Jade Archer and Ochir’s arrows flew past as Lo struggled with the creature. It sucked away Lo’s stoneskin next.

Aki slammed the nightwing in the side. “Give up!” he cried.

“Oh, don’t worry about your hulking brute, you idiots, worry about your elf!” Ito fired his finger of death at the Jade Archer.

She perished right then and there, and her body fell to the floor in slow motion for my sister and I. My heart sank when I saw her vacant eyes.

My sister screamed. I ran over to secure her lover’s body. I picked her up and ran around the corner.

“I wouldn’t bother! My finger of death provides for no restoration of life!” Ito taunted.

“I hate you!” Ameiko spat at him and jumped around the corner too. We both forced back our tears and carefully put her in the bag.

Lo chopped the nightwing three times and killed it dead. Two topaz eyes bounced off of the floor after it’s dark form dissipated. Lo pointed Suishen at Emperor Ito and said, “Next!”

Ochir fired at the Emperor, and his tri-shot got through. The arrows thunked into Ito’s torso. He basically ignored them.

Aki slammed him hard in the face.

“If you ever manage to kill me, you feckless half-wits, I have rejuvenation! I’ll be back!” Ito laughed.

Lo charged Ito and ran Suishen right through him, but still he only laughed.

Dipaka tried to touch the Emperor with his charged healing, but it was blocked by Ito’s spell resistance.

“Not so fast, Holy Man!” the Emperor cackled.

Ochir swooped down in front of Ito, and said, “Come on!” and shot him square in the face with his tri-shot, and finally destroyed the ghost. The apparition was still laughing as it burst into fragments of plasma.

Ochir took a well deserved bow.

Dipaka healed us all, and we secured the area, and collected the valuables we could find.

In short, we returned the bones to the old Emperor's urn, and sought his blessings.

He bestowed them upon my sister, and presented us with Seishinru, a special elixir to help us in our struggle.

“Seek out the sovereign dragon Takono after you have toppled the Jade Regent. He is bound to serve the Jade Throne,” he advised us. He took my sister aside and talked to her about many things in private, while we waited. I knew she was devastated about her friend.

We bade the old Emperor peace and respectfully exited his tomb. I held my sister’s hand as we went out.

Amatatsu Onoko’s shade appeared at her standing tomb as we made our way past and she too spoke at length with my sister, and offered to help us in our endeavors.

We bowed to our ancestor and took our leave, returned to our folding boat, and left the strange island behind. 


Ever more Missives

My dearest Wen,

I hope my letter finds you well. I have enclosed the part of my journal that describes the adventure we had on the Island of our Ancestors.

Don’t read it if you are busy doing your duty, I know you are my honorable man.

Ameiko secured the blessings from the old Emperor’s ghost.

Lo is doing great as a Fist of Bahamut.

Ochir was practically a gentleman on our adventure and certainly turned in a great performance with his bow. He made his expected wisecracks but I certainly cannot expect him to refrain from such, or hold him accountable for his humor.

I hope Chaka and the Prince are fine.

I miss you terribly, and Yoshi too. I can’t wait until all of this is over, but I am more confused now than ever. I do not seem to be the master of my own destiny.

I am afraid my sister is going to do something rash and spoil the good intentions of the family.

I have to confess to you, my husband, that I have begun to hide new powers so that I will not begin to be perceived as a threat.

I do not believe the Mongols intend to let my sister and I live. They are here to take this country for themselves.

I have thoughts of Xia. I want her to come back to me. I intend to visit her soon, if I can, and get her to give up the staff, but that is our secret.

I will come to you when I am unlooked for.

I love you always,
Ping

 

 

 


 

 

 

 
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