History of the Shadowed Throne

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Obsidian Dragon
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History of the Shadowed Throne

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(A summary of “The Shadowed Throne”, from Imperial Histories 2, pp. 227 – 245.)

From the Chronicles of Soshi Tishi, Imperial Historian:

These were dark times for the Empire, as the rise of the self-proclaimed Dark Lord of the Shadowlands, Daigotsu, brought with it the fall of Toturi I, second Thunder of the Lion Clan and by the blessings of Tengoku the Emperor of Rokugan. Nightmares spread throughout the land, and even the great Imperial City, Otosan Uchi, was crushed by his dark power. The Four Winds, the children of the late Emperor, rode forth, even into the Shadowlands itself, to avenge their father and destroy this enemy of peace and sanity. Driven by the valor of Toturi Tsudao, empowered by the magical might of Toturi Sezaru, and guided by the tactical genius of the Shogun Kaneka and the cunning of Hantei Naseru, the four infiltrated the City of the Lost to confront the dark champion of Jigoku.

Of the battle, many stories are told, some of them even partially accurate. It is enough to say that the words of Hantei Naseru proved adequate to weaken the resolve of the Dark Lord, as well as his faith in his foul patron, the Ninth Kami, who even then made war on the Heavens themselves. Deprived of the support of his greatest follower, the Fallen Brother's obscene assault faltered and failed, and he was driven back into the depths of his dark realm. Infuriated by the loss and his own exposed weakness, Daigotsu gathered his foul power to destroy the Winds, but was confronted by the Shogun. Even as he was consumed by the Dark Lord's power, Kaneka's blow struck true, and their enemy fell dead, putting an end to his campaign of corruption.

As the victorious children of Toturi returned to the Imperial Court, stories of their victory had already begun to spread. Courtiers and diplomats spoke in awe of the radiant courage of Tsudao, they whispered of the unstoppable power of Sezaru, and mourned the valiant sacrifice of Kaneka. Of Naseru's contribution, though, little was said, and in this moment were the seeds of jealousy sown. Even as he relinquished his claim on the Steel Throne and proclaimed his support for the ascension of his sister, Tsudao, as Empress, the youngest son of Toturi began plotting, determined to one day receive the respect and acclaim he believed he deserved.

With the assent of the remaining Wind, Tsudao became the Glorious Empress, Toturi II. As tradition dictated, her brothers left behind their family name, though both broke with the normal decision to join one of the Imperial families. Hantei Naseru chose to retain the name of the fallen dynasty, in honor of the agreement made by the Emperor that ended the War of Spirits, while Sezaru, who had grown close to the Dragonfly Minor Clan during his pursuit of the Throne, chose to join their family, the Tonbo. There would still be room for them in the Imperial hierarchy, however, as Naseru was named Imperial Advisor (the previous holder of the title leaving the office to become the Imperial Consort), while Sezaru became the Voice of the Empress, tasked with bringing her message of peace to the people. In honor of her fallen sibling, the Glorious Empress granted Kaneka legitimacy and formally established the office he claimed – Shogun, war leader of the Empire – by naming her friend and supporter Bayushi Paneki as his successor.

By rights, perhaps, the Empire had earned a period of peace, but such is never the lot for mortals. Soon enough disagreements between the Clans rose to become clashes, and threatened to develop into wars. The Dragon and Phoenix found themselves at odds over the disposition of two artifacts: Isawa's Last Wish, a nemuranai crafted by the first Phoenix Thunder that possessed unimaginable power, and the Covenant of Dark Fire, which granted the bearer limited control over the Jigoku-Tainted villain known as the Dark Oracle of Fire, who had forced the two clans into war only a few years before. The first was argued by the Dragon to be too great to leave in mortal hands, though it had bonded to the former Phoenix Champion, Shiba Aikune, while the second was found to have vanished from the lands of the Phoenix, leaving no hint of where it might have gone. My Clan, the Scorpion, also found war at their doorstep, as the Unicorn Khan Moto Chagatai tested our borders, hoping to draw out the Shogun to test his mettle. Chagatai had been a close ally of Kaneka, and was not convinced that any save for one of the first Shogun's followers could properly fill the role. If the new Shogun was to hold his position, he would have to prove himself on the battlefield.

Paneki was given the opportunity by the Glorious Empress, who dispatched him and his Legions to put an end to the Khan's aggressions, while Jade Champion Asahina Sekawa was sent north to seek a peaceful solution to the matter between the Dragon and Phoenix. As the growing wars drew the attention of all, few noticed that the Voice of the Empress, who had sought to cleanse the ruins of Otosan Uchi of the foul Taint, vanished for a time. When he returned, Tonbo Sezaru marched his followers south to the great Carpenter Wall. Wherever he had gone, he returned with the knowledge that the Dark Lord, having foreseen his death at the hands of the Winds, had conspired to cheat death and return to the mortal realm.

Sezaru's hunt drew the support of the Crab, though his forays into the Shadowlands drew heavily upon their already limited resources, but they soon found that Daigotsu had returned to his stronghold in the City of the Lost. Many brave samurai joined the Voice of the Empress in his quest to put a final end to his father's murderer, but of their success or failure none can speak. Not one, not even the Voice, has ever returned from that march...

While the Glorious Empress focused her efforts on seeking peace between the warring Clans, as well as her new family, the Imperial Advisor was not idle. He once again gathered supporters to himself, forming the Shadow Court, a political elite that soon infiltrated every important Court in the Empire. No Daimyo's decision would be made without their input, and all who would oppose them found themselves ruined by the Shadow Court's agents. Quietly, Hantei Naseru had effectively usurped political control of the Empire – he would not be Emperor, but the Empire was nevertheless his to command.

All battles and plots, though, amounted to little on the day it Rained Blood...

An ancient enemy of the Empire, the Bloodspeaker Iuchiban, was called forth from his tomb by his followers, and he chose to announce his resurrection with a blasphemous ritual that called forth a storm that spread across the skies of the Empire. The Rain of Blood killed many and drove more to madness, although such were the lucky ones – others found themselves twisted, Tainted by the power of the Shadowlands. The pirate Yoritomo Kitao, who had once been the Mantis Champion, fell to the Rain and joined with the dark ships of the corrupted Gaijin Garen Hawthorne, becoming the Dark Wave Fleet, who brought war to the islands of the Mantis. The former Daimyo of the Crane's Daidoji family, Daidoji Rekai, too fell into darkness, and led Tainted forces into the wilderness of the Crane lands, where they wage a guerrilla war against their former kin. By far, though, the greatest loss came from the battlefield where Moto Chagatai and the Shogun clashed. Chagatai, corrupted by the Rain, slew the Shogun and claimed the survivors of his Legions as his own, becoming the Blood Shogun. Driven by bloodlust, the Blood Shogun marched his Tainted force toward the lands of the Lion, his sights set on the new Imperial City, Toshi Ranbo wo Shien Shite Reigisaho. Of the armies in the field, only the Dragon and Phoenix were spared, protected by Shiba Aikune and the Last Wish, but they would soon find themselves assailed by darkness.

In the confusion and panic following the Rain of Blood, Iuchiban launched a series of attacks against the Empire. The oni summoner Shokansuru led a demonic horde against the Carpenter Wall, and the weakened Crab would have fallen save for the timely arrival of the Emerald Champion, Yasuki Hachi, and the remaining Imperial Legions. The combined forces held the Wall, but many of the reclaimed lands beyond were once again lost to the Crab, including the ancestral home of the Hiruma family. Iuchiban's lieutenant Jama Suru struck at the minor Hare Clan, whose founder had played such an important role in the Bloodspeaker's second death centuries ago. Finally, Iuchiban himself, along with the Tainted smith Yajinden, marched deep into the lands of the Phoenix, attacking Kyuden Isawa itself as well as the hidden city of Gisei Toshi, from which the bloodspeakers stole many powerful scrolls and artifacts. Every Clan (save the Scorpion, who had already lost nearly an entire generation of bushi who had followed Bayushi Paneki into the Imperial Legions) found itself at war with overwhelming darkness.

Though the Dragon and Phoenix armies arrived quickly to confront Iuchiban's forces, they found the Bloodspeaker's efforts redoubled as he sensed the pure blood magic that had been used in the construction of Isawa's Last Wish, and he came to desire the artifact greatly. He would not be deterred, not by the most powerful magics of the Phoenix, nor by the the prowess of the Dragon bushi – he seemed immortal, and unstoppable. Only the sacrifice of the Dragon Champion, Togashi Satsu, and the Phoenix Master of Earth of the Elemental Council, Isawa Nakamura, kept Shiba Aikune and the Last Wish from his grasp.

Into this rode the Doomseeker, Iuchi Katamari, who had been called forth from the Burning Sands. As a member of an obscure order dedicated to hunting down and destroying those who had made themselves immortal as Iuchiban had, he brought with him knowledge of the Bloodspeaker's only weakness – his very heart, which had been removed during the ritual that granted him immortality. He was joined by the aging hero Toku, Champion of the Monkey Minor Clan, as well as the Grand Master of the Elements, Naka Tokei, as he sought the hidden heart. Toku used a piece of the heart, given to him by the previous Grand Master Naka Kuro, to find Iuchiban's heart, drawing Jama Suru's undead army and the Bloodspeaker himself to them. Naka Tokei confronted Jama Suru's forces, destroying them but vanishing himself in the process. Iuchi Katamari used his understanding of Iuchiban's immortality to hold the Bloodspeaker at bay while Toku drove his sword into the hidden heart. Rendered mortal by the blow, Iuchiban was slain by the mortally wounded Doomseeker, who followed his prey into death.

While the army of bloodspeakers broke as their leader fell, the Blood Shogun's march continued. The Lion armies fell before the Tainted horde, which soon laid siege to the Imperial City itself. While the armies of the Great Clans gathered to confront the Blood Legion, the Glorious Empress herself rode forth to issue a challenge to the Blood Shogun. Many feared that the duel would see the end of Toturi's line and the rise of a Tainted warlord none would be able to dislodge, but once again the light of Toturi II shone forth, and her sword struck true, ending the threat of the Blood Legion and returning peace to the land.

The year is now 1168 according to the Isawa calendar, and the peace of the Empress has lasted for two years...yet all is not well within the Empire. The power of Hantei Naseru waxes ever greater as the Clans are forced to seek political solutions in the Courts he controls while their depleted armies recover. His sister, for the moment, seems unaware of this new and subtle threat. Only time will tell if she can reclaim control of her Empire, or if she will be reduced to a figurehead, her rightful power wielded instead by a man driven now more by ambition than by the Will of the Heavens...

As Bayushi Shoju decades had before, Naseru was forced to face the truth - ambition cannot overpower the Will of the Heavens, and Destiny will always guide history along the path of righteousness. The Shadow Court was unveiled and disgraced, the now-former Imperial Advisor and many of his most highly-placed co-conspirators all but fleeing into retirement in far-flung monasteries while those without benefit of high birth were forced to cleanse their honor on the end of their blades. Other conspiracies were also found, but were not so easily dislodged - a resurgent Kolat has gained a foothold in a number of clans, with rumors placing a Master close to the new daimyo of the Yasuki, Jinn-Kuen, while other major players have been said to have settled in Naishou. A new faction revealed itself, as well - allies of the Throne but not fully loyal to it, an organization that called itself the Red Hand. In truth, it was discovered to be the horrific Bloodspeaker order reborn, and its leadership, Scorpion ambassador Bayushi Akaite and Seppun Ryakudatsusha, once-candidate for leadership of his family. These two fled when their true nature was discovered, but they remain free in the shadows of Rokugan, awaiting the chance to return and inflict yet more horror on the people of the Empire.

The Throne remains stable for now, but all is not well. In addition to the Imperial Advisor, two other of the Chosen stand by the Empress no longer. Yasuki Hachi, Emerald Champion, fell when his forces were ambushed by a horde of oni at Shinsei's Last Hope, and while that shrine was protected, most of its protectors paid the ultimate price. Worse yet, and in accordance with troubling dreams suffered by Crab samurai throughout the Empire, this horde was led by the Oni Lord known only as the Maw, a force of raw destruction who, in its last incarnation, necessitated the building of the Kaiu Wall. Now, loose again, the horror it unleashes could be catastrophic. Asahina Sekawa, in response, has abdicated his positions as Jade Champion and daimyo of his family, traveling south to take up the task that felled the Emerald Champion. The Empress has declared that a Test will be held for both positions following the spring thaw...

...not that it matters much to a crop of pre-gempukku teens, who have received an invitation to complete their training at the distant but prestigious Hundred Stances Dojo, currently in the hands of the Crane with duelist Doji Hariya filling the role of Master Sensei. Perhaps these younglings will not take the lead in the current efforts to preserve Rokugan, but they will certainly be among the Empire's leaders one day...
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