Echoes of the Fallen by Mat Dalen

Echoes of the Fallen

By Mat Dalen

Excerpts from the Journals of Tamori Euiko:

I write these journals as the continuation of my husband’s work.

My husband was born and raised Kitsuki Atasuke.

Although he died a Tamori, he never stopped being a Kitsuki in his heart, and after his death, I feel that it is my duty to continue his practices.

I may have taught Atasuke to become a Tamori, but he also taught me some of what it is to be a Kitsuki.

For his sake, I will continue the journals that all Kitsuki keep.

I am not trained to take notes and notice details as he was, but this is a way to keep a part of him with me, even if he does not return as a shiryo.

Farewell, beloved husband.

17th Day of the Monkey,

Atasuke died nine days ago, committing sepukku after being tainted in battle with the maho-tsukai Sadao.

The events that led up to his death were recounted by the tsukai-sagasu Kuni Harukichi, and are included with these journals.

There is no evidence to either support or deny her accounts, and the place where my husband was killed has been burned to eliminate the taint from it.

Although I suspect that there is more to his death than what she is telling, there is nothing I can do about it now.

Five days after the death of Atasuke, our only child, Tamori Shosei, left for the Crab lands to study with the Kuni.  He had completed his gempukku on the 14th day of the Goat, after training for nine years at Dragon’s Heart Dojo.  Although he showed some skill with the magical smithcraft they teach there, he was always more interested in the art of kagaku than in communing with the kami.  He would make a splendid battle shugenja, if he would only pay more attention to the kami. 

          Since the death of his father, I have sensed much anger in Shosei, directed towards the world.  I hope that he will be able to handle himself among the Kuni.  The Crab are a harsh people, and will not give him much leeway.  As a mother, I fear for him, but he is a man, and must forge his own path.  Maybe life among the Crab will be good for him.  He is closer in disposition to a Crab than a Dragon, and they have little patience for laziness.  He will have to learn to follow orders if he is to last among them.

19th Day of the Ox, 1158

It is official: the Phoenix and the Dragon are at war.  A mere seven days after the funeral of the great Toturi, the Lion and Phoenix in concert attacked our refugees.  While we may not be blameless in this matter, neither are we completely at fault.  Being located on Dragon Heart Plain, near the edge of the Ox lands, I am worried that our castle will be an easy target for the Phoenix to attack.  For now, the fighting seems to be concentrated to the south and east of us, but that could change at any time.  We have received word of troops moving near the Ki-Rin Shrine, a scant four days away by foot.  Any army would travel much slower than that, but it’s still far too close for comfort.

          I have increased the standing guard from five men to ten men, and have stationed scouts a day’s run away.  I expect that sometime soon Lady Shaitung will be sending orders.  Our castle is useful for its proximity to the Phoenix border, although it is too small to be very defensible, and is on a plain.  May Togashi have mercy on our souls, for I am sure the Phoenix will not.

3rd Day of the Tiger, 1158

Kyuden Tonbo has fallen.  The face of the Dragon, the Dragonfly, are scattered to the four winds.  I can only imagine that most of my friends among those people are now dead.  I have not seen any of them in years, but we had kept in contact.  They were good, honorable people, and did not deserve to be dragged into our fight.  They were created by the love of a Dragon and a Phoenix.  Now, the one clan sells them to their death, and the other is unable to save them from the retribution of their enemies.  The Lion may call this honor; I call it murder. 

          This war grates on me.  We are the Dragon – we never before decided to involve ourselves in the affairs of the empire, unless it was essential.  And now, we fight with the Phoenix, our cousins.  Some members of that clan share grandfathers and more with us.  Yet we would exterminate them, and they us, over mere land  This pointless war has touched the lives of so many innocents… the peasants of Mikoto Mura, where my young cousin Chieko fights the plague; the heimin, whose lives are contingent on our own decisions; the Dragonfly, whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I pray that Togashi will help us to create a lasting peace with our cousins among the Phoenix.

27th Day of the Tiger, 1158

Although hostilities have halted over the winter, troops continue to slowly trickle into the castle.  It is obvious that the generals plan to counterattack with the spring.  With most of our troops trapped at the Ki-Rin Shrine, it is necessary to find some way to support them, or at least to take the battle to the Phoenix.  We may be merely a minor outpost, but the new troops arriving on their way to the front are putting a strain on our food supplies.  If we get many more, the weakest might not make it through the winter.

          This afternoon, our scouts made a discovery, two refugees coming from the ruins of Kyuden Tonbo, a mother and a child of approximately eight years of age.  The mother was nearly delirious when we found her, but wore the armor of a Dragonfly samurai.  Apparently, she had been starving herself to feed her daughter.  From what we can get from the child, they were heading for Shiro Mirumoto for refuge, and lost their way when the skies clouded over.  The child identifies herself as Tonbo Chie, and states the name of her mother as Tonbo Kyoko.  I and our chief healer, Tamori Isako, will do all we can to heal Kyoko-san, but the outlook is bleak.

5th Day of the Hare, 1159

We have done all we could for Tonbo Kyoko, but she was beyond either of our skills.  Sometime between the hours of the Rat and the Hare, she passed into Yomi.  I have taken Chie into my own care, until she can be returned to her family.  She has much potential as a healer and a shugenja, if properly trained.  I only wish that she had been able to find her way to some place not so near to the war.

          I have begun moving all important documents and items to the family crypt, including these journals.  There are hidden passages and rooms down there, and anyone of the family should know of them.  If this castle should fall, then these, at least, will not be lost.  There are tunnels from those passages to the outside as well, far from the walls of this castle.  If worst comes to worst, these may be used as an escape route for a select few.

17th Day of the Hare, 1159

With the arrival of spring, the hostilities between the Dragon and the Phoenix have resumed.  The siege at the Ki-Rin Shrine continues, and the fighting has resumed.  Thankfully, there is no fighting near us, but that could change at any time.  Troops come and leave the castle all the time, en route to and from the front lines.  I worry for the heimin, as we must get planting done.  If we lose this valuable planting time to war, then the Dragon clan will be even worse off.

          My yojimbo, Mirumoto Juzo, has informed me that we will need to reinforce our defenses.  With so many people either wounded or fighting the Phoenix, there are not enough standing troops to mount a successful defense, should the Phoenix attack.  I sent a request to Lady Shaitung for more reinforcements, but word will probably not get back for several weeks, if that.  Meanwhile, I and the other healer shugenja are doing our best to turn our magics towards reinforcing the walls. 

          Tonbo Chie is slowly recovering and accepting the idea of her mother’s death.  I have tried to keep her involved with treating the sick and the wounded, to keep her mind off her loss.  I have also given her to Tamori Isako for instruction in Tamori magic, until I can find a way to get her to one of the dojos.  She is just at the age where she should be beginning training anyway, so this should be good.  Tamori Isako was once a teacher at Mountain Home Dojo, before retiring to become a healer, so she will know the skills that Chie needs to learn.

14th Day of the Boar, 1159

The fighting has been going on for over a year now, and there seems to be no sign of an end.  Aikune has become almost a force of nature.  Where he goes, few Dragon survive.  With the apostate Tamori causing even more confusion, it is hard to know who is the true enemy any more.  There are those who feel that the Phoenix need to be exterminated, and there are those who feel that the Shadowlands are the greater threat.  I have even heard rumors of Dragons joining forces with the Dark Oracle, to wreak further havoc upon the Phoenix.  I pray that this rumor is false, but looking at the soldiers, I know in my heart that there are some of them who truly hate the Phoenix that much.  I only hope that Lord Sezaru will find some way to stop this war, now that he has begun taking an active role in the Empire again.

          Today I received a report from the front lines that there is a Phoenix army marching this way.  Thank Togashi that Aikune is not with them, but these reports are still worrying.  Even with the reinforcements that we have recently received from Shiro Mirumoto, this castle is small, and ill-defended.  All but six of our shugenja are away fighting, and will not arrive in time to help.  If it comes to a siege, I will send the Tonbo Chie and Tamori Isako to the crypt, so that they might hopefully survive.  Chie is too young to fight, and Isako too frail.

20th Day of the Boar, 1159

The Phoenix army has arrived, and is preparing for a siege.  If we can hold out for long enough, we will move into the depths of winter, but they have far more shugenja than we do, and I suspect that our efforts to defend the walls will not be enough.  I have already seen evidence of at least a platoon of shugenja, more than ten times as many as we have, as well as a legion of five thousand samurai, to our mere eight hundred.  Unless a miracle happens, we are done for.

          If I do not survive, I want whoever finds these journals to see that they make it into the hands of my son, Tamori Shosei.  He will be among a group known as the Jade Hand, operating out of Crab lands.

To my son:

          Shosei-kun, know that I will always love you, and am always proud of you.  You have the blood of Isawa Agasha himself running in your veins, and I know that you are worthy of that honor.  Never forget, however, that the same blood that runs in your veins also runs in the veins of the Dark Oracle of Fire, the apostate Tamori.  Tamori was a good man once, same as you.  Learn from his lesson, and do not make his mistakes.

          Tonbo Chie is a good person.  Take care of her as best you can, and see that she gets the life she deserves.  She is an innocent in our war, and should not have been forced to see this much suffering.  Already two of her homes have fallen, and she has lost everyone she ever cared about.  I put her in your charge.

          Do not try to avenge the Phoenix for my death.  My death was an honorable one, in battle, trying to protect others.  The most important thing that you can do to honor my death is to try to create peace with the Phoenix.  They are our cousins.  The blood of the Tamori is the same as the blood in the Isawa, and the Agasha.  This war is purposeless, caused by the anger of a fallen man.  Striking back at the Phoenix for my death will only continue the cycle of death and destruction, and nothing will be accomplished.

          Goodbye, my son.  My love will always be with you.

Tamori Euiko

Chui of the Dragon Clan

28th Day of the Boar, 1159

The sounds of fighting above us have ceased.  I fear that this means my Lady has been defeated, for surely someone would come to seek us should we have won  Maybe those who know we are here are already dead… my Lady, her yojimbo Juzo-sama… I will wait for only two more days, then I must leave this accursed tomb.  I am not a Kitsu, comfortable in spending all my time among the dead.  Chie can survive for longer than I can if I do not come back.  She is young, and I have taught her enough magic to ward off the cold.  I am old, and I can feel the grip of the grave calling for me.  Whether it is by the Phoenix or by my own hand, it matters not – but I cannot stand being in this tomb much longer.  If I do not get out of here, I will go mad…

30th Day of the Boar, 1159

I cannot stand the call of the dead any more.  I am leaving Chie to seek help.  The Phoenix will have already left, if they razed the castle.  If not, then there will be friends out there.

Shosei raised his head from the last entry in the journal, written in a quavering hand.  He had discovered the body of Tamori Isako, frozen stiff in the courtyard of the ruined fortress, an arrow through her chest.  Apparently she had not gotten far before being discovered by Phoenix patrols.  The body of Shosei’s mother was not far away, burned beyond recognition save for her fireproof kimono.  Near as he could tell, she had fallen in combat with some nameless Phoenix shugenja.  The fortress itself had been burnt to the ground, leaving only the foundation standing.

          The one-armed alchemist looked across the small room at the sleeping form of Tonbo Chie.  She had survived long past what he would have given her credit for, rationing the food and then catching rats after that had run out.  He could only imagine how it had been for her, trapped in these rooms underground for four months.  If he had not come when he did, she probably would not have lasted more than another month, before the rats ran out.  Already, she was mere skin stretched over a skeleton, her clothes tattered and smelling of sweat and more.

          When he had arrived, the young girl had attacked him, taking him for a Phoenix in her delirium.  He had been required to hold her down with his good arm long enough to explain who he was, and even then she hadn’t stopped fighting him.  She had spent a long time glaring at him suspiciously, until he offered her food.  Apparently reasoning that anyone who offered her food couldn’t be an enemy, she had eaten her fill and then curled up to sleep, leaving him to look through those belongings of his mother that had survived.

          Lowering his eyes to the journal again, Shosei read again the initial passages by his mother, tears running down his cheek.  She had already been dead for two and a half months when he had left the Crab lands for home.  Silently he reread the passage addressed to him.  His mother had known that she would die the moment she saw the Phoenix army.  Memories filled his mind – the first time he had wielded a bokken, the first time he had successfully communed with the kami, his gempukku… the face of his mother was always there, encouraging him.  She had been busy, as all members of the kuge were, but still she found time to care for him.  The first time he had burnt his hand experimenting, it had been she who cast the healing spells.  Yet now…

          Shosei dashed the tears from his eyes with his good arm.  Now was not the time to grieve.  They may be safe in the catacombs for now, but they were still in hostile territory.  He had to find a way to get from the ruins of his home to Shiro Tamori.  Once there, he would be able to rest.  He glanced at Tonbo Chie again.  They would be easy targets – a young girl and a crippled shugenja, travelling across open land.  Shosei just hoped that the skills he had learned from the Hiruma would prove useful.

          The young alchemist moved slowly through the catacombs, making his way to the end of one of the tunnels.  The tunnel had not been used in a long time, and Shosei found himself comparing the workmanship to the tunnels he had seen among the Crab.  Compared to the masterwork of the Kaiu, these tunnels looked to have been made by mere apprentices.  The walls were rough and worn, and the sound of water dripping from some crack in the ceiling echoed through the chambers.  Dust was everywhere, only disturbed by the tracks of rats and other vermin.  The air was cold, stale, and felt clammy.  Finally, he came to the end of the dank passage.  There was a door set into the ceiling, angled to match the slope of the ground.  Releasing the magical wards, Shosei slowly cracked the door open, gazing out at the hills.  Lord Sun had just set, the last red rays of his light still lingering among the clouds.  The cicadas were loud in the spring dusk, the hiss of their calls drowning out any sounds of movement.  Lady Moon had not yet risen, and would not for several hours.

          Shosei nodded to himself, then went to wake Chie.  Although sleepy, she understood the need to leave this place, and silently gathered what food she could carry.  They could return later for his family treasures.  Shosei looked down at his mother’s journal for a moment, then gathered it and some important papers up and tucked them into a pouch.  With one last look around, he and Chie turned to leave the catacombs.  Together, they stole out into the night, away from that tomb that had once been their home.

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