Twilight of the Emerald Empire by John Wick

The History of Rokugan (as it is presented here) was written by a Captain Jeremiah Bereft many months after he was saved after a horrible ship wreck off the coast of Rokugan. Excerpts are presented here, but the complete text (and it’s conclusion) will appear as interludes in the forthcoming L5R novel, Distant
Thunder.

The religion of Rokugan centers on the worship of many, many gods. The most popular of these gods seems to be Osano-Wo, the Son of Thunder. The stories of Osano-Wo are ubiquitous. The tales of animal shape-shifters are also prevalent among the folklore of the Empire, and the tales of Osano-Wo and the animal shape-shifters (all full of tricks and romances) are how each of the Clans traced their lineage, making all Clans sons of Osano-Wo. Among the most powerful warriors of early Rokugan were: Hida of the Crab Clan, Doji of the Crane Clan, Togashi of the Dragon Clan, Akodo of the Lion Clan, Shiba of the Phoenix Clan, and Bayushi of the Scorpion Clan.

These warriors battled for generations. Finally, a single warlord rose from the conflict. His name was Hantei and he established his place in history by taking a small army of peasants against Hida Suburu, one of the greatest generals of the age. He routed the Crab army, killed Hida Suburu in single combat and spared the remaining troops. He offered them the opportunity to join his small force, and they agreed.

Hantei led his force across the land until men from every army had joined him. At that time, no family could resist Hantei and he was eventually declared Emperor over all. The First Age of Darkness was over, and the Empire of Rokugan was born.

At the very beginning of his reign, Emperor Hantei was faced with a crisis. From the southwest, the Shadowlands began to stir. The Shadowlands was the burial place of a Dark Lord trapped under the earth, or in a great temple, or some such place. It is from this place that all evil spirits come from, this Shadowlands.

Hantei sent warriors from each Clan to investigate. They were his best warriors, the strongest and most brave. The Emperor called them ‘samurai,’ and sent them with bows and horses into the Shadowlands. Not a single samurai returned.

A second crusade was sent and each and the 4 samurai returned, each with pale skin, black gums and tongues, broken rotten teeth and hollow eyes. They rode through the countryside destroying villages and temples, laughing like madmen. The Emperor sent out his samurai, but none could defeat them.

Just as one dilemma developed, Hantei was offered another. A stranger presented himself in the Emperor’s Court. He was dressed in simple robes and carried a large satchel strapped to his back. His head was shaved and his eyes were bright. When the Emperor asked his name, he gave what the Emperor considered an arrogant answer. “Shinsei,” he said, which meant ‘the new way.’

Shinsei claimed he was from over the mountains, and the Court laughed at him. For if he was truly from over the mountains it meant he was an uncultured barbarian. When he was laughed at, Shinsei said, “A man who laughs at an offer of wisdom is a fool. For who in the world knows what face wisdom wears, and how would he recognize it if he saw it?”

The Emperor asked Shinsei to share his wisdom. The little man explained that he was a disciple of the original Shinsei whose wisdom offered a new path, a path of enlightenment that any might achieve, despite their caste in life.

The Clans were outraged The thought that a peasant could achieve what a samurai amid achieve was not to be accepted. But the Emperor asked Shinsei if this new wisdom could be used in war, and Shinsei said, “To be great in one thing is to be great in all things.”

“Then prove this wisdom to me. Stop the madmen killing my people.”

Shinsei became the advisor to the Emperor and his general. He trained the Six Clans in his method of combat and brought them to fight against the madmen that ripped across the Emperor’s countryside. The madmen were destroyed and Shinsei turned his focus to the Shadowlands…

… Hantei turned then to building an Empire. Akodo Tagina stood before the Emperor and swore that as long as Akodo blood ran in the veins of the Lion Clan, they would serve his family, and if they fell then so would fall the Lion Clan. The Emperor made the Lion Clan the guardians of the Hantei Dynasty, and they have remained his most favored Clan. But an Emperor must marry after all, and with that in mind, Doji Yosai approached the Emperor with an excellent choice of brides. And that is how a Doji woman has been the mother of every Emperor since the birth of the first Hantei child.

When asked if they would support the Emperor, Togashi turn of the Dragon Clan presented a clever answer. “There shall be no day that the Dragon Clan shall not rise to protect the Empire.” The Emperor smiled and accepted his answer, sending the Dragon Lord back to his mountain home. Shiba Turatsu bowed low to the Emperor. “We are intrigued by this new wisdom, and we would return to our ancestral temples to study it and bring it to the people.” The Emperor nodded and the Phoenix went back to their homes. Then stepped forth Bayushi Yujimutso of the Scorpion Clan. “We shall return to our homes as well, Great Lord. But we are curious as to this new wisdom. We shall leave a diplomat here in the court to question this new way.”

Finally, the son of Hida Suburu stood before the Emperor. His face was young and his eyes were wide. He drew forth his katana and set it before the Emperor. “So did the Crab protect the Thunder, so shall the Crab protect the Empire.” And from that day forth, the vow of young Hida Tampako was observed. It would be the Crab Clan that would watch over the Shadowlands so evil would never again invade the Empire.

It was only two hundred years ago that the armies of a new Clan entered the Emperor’s lands. They wore purple and gold, and rode horses that were mightier than any Rokugan had ever seen before. This was the Clan of the Unicom. They claimed also to be descendants of Osano-Wo (whom they called Sung Tzé) and they offered to the Emperor their eternal devotion. The Six Clans were suspicious of the Unicorns, but the Emperor saw the need to breed the foreign horses with Rokugan stock and he accepted them and their oath of fealty.

Even an Emperor’s blood can run thin after many centuries, and so it happened with the Hantei dynasty. Unwilling to give up his Throne to his young and inexperienced son, the Emperor had grown old and enfeebled. The time was right for a coup. Through political maneuvering by the Scorpion Clan, a border skirmish had developed between the Crane and the Lion. Distracted by their borders, they were too preoccupied to see Scorpion armies moving into position.

The Phoenix armies were no match for the skill of the Scorpion. The Dragon had no counsel in the court to hear of the news in time. The Crab were entangled with the Shadowlands. And the Unicom were too inexperienced to give any assistance. It was time.

The Scorpion armies took the Imperial Palace in a single day. The Imperial Army was headed by the Emperor’s son who failed to hold the castle against the tactics of Bayushi Shoju, the Daimyo of the Scorpion Clan, long regarded to be one of the most cunning generals of the Empire. The Scorpion Clan sent word that the Emperor was dead and Bayushi Shoju declared himself the new Emperor. It seemed as if the day belonged to the Bayushi family. But then, swifter than the wind, the Unicorn Clan arrived. Their armies were too fast for Lord Bayushi, and they caught him off guard. The Lion and Crane joined in on the attack on the Palace, but Lord Bayushi recovered his wits quickly and began repelling the invading armies. But Shoju knew he could not keep them down forever. He sent word to Lord Hida Kisada of the Crab Clan, promising him favor in exchange for his military support. It would take many days, but the Scorpion general knew he could hold off for many weeks in the Imperial Palace. Soon, the armies of the Dragon and Phoenix also joined the battle. Soon, all Seven Clans would be on the field. The peace of a thousand years was over.

Two weeks later, after many attacks and counter-attacks, the battle-weary Lord Bayushi looked over the parapets of the Imperial Palace and saw the banners of the Hida family approaching. Now, all would truly be his. But the Scorpion Lord did not count on the banners to join the armies of the Lion and Crane, and when Hida Kisada stood beside Akodo Toturi and Doji Hoturi, he knew that his family line was finished.

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