Hell and Heaven are in the Hearts of Men
The Great Wall of the North
“You can at least say this about the gaijin dogs,” Kitsu Karashii mused as she sat down heavily in front of the fire, plucking out two skewers of fish with either hand, “they can put up a decent fight.”
“I do not see the same glory in this war as you, Karashii-san,” her companion confessed. He eased down gingerly, cradling a bowl of warmed rice. The two scouts had argued over the sense of building a fire. Shiba Korin worried that it would attract undue attention. Karashii countered that, with a warm meal in her belly, she could dispatch any Yobanjin patrols that might spot their fire. In the end, Karashii had proved too convincing for Korin to argue against for long.
The samurai-ko arched an eyebrow, a vibrant red even for a Kitsu. “Oh, no? This is a chance for us to prove our honor without having to war against another servant of the Hantei.” Taking a bite from one of her fish, she chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “It seems rather ideal to me.”
“Ideally, the gaijin would not profane our Empire at all,” Korin frowned. “That they are even able to do so troubles me greatly. The Yobanjin have attacked the Phoenix before, and we have repelled them each time before they could make even a fraction of the progress they currently have.”
“It’s only natural to change one’s tactics when they have proved ineffectual in the past. ‘Innovation creates victory,’ as Akodo-Kami said. Brutes and simpletons they may be, but these gaijin are not mindless, Korin.”
He shook his head. “It is not as simple as that, Karashii. The way they move through the mountains so quickly defies any logical explanation. The way they attack us now is pure chaos.”
“There is no such thing as chaos,” a voice cut smoothly through the darkness, a slight accent biting into otherwise flawless Rokugani. The two bushi were on their feet, katana drawn, before their discarded meals fell to the ground. “All things are obedient to their own natures,” the voice continued, heedless. “That which we label as chaos is simply the ignorance of the path upon which these natures travel.”
“Your gaijin tongue fouls the language of Heaven, dog,” Karashii snarled.
“Gaijin?” the voice, closer now, sounded amused. “Merely well-traveled and long from home.” A man stepped into the ring of firelight. His features and clothing, both travelworn, were vaguely Rokugani, though mixed with elements foreign to the bushi before him. With one hand, he wafted a fan composed of large white feathers – perhaps once plumage of the giant birds the Yobanjin sometimes employed as mounts – to ward of the fire’s smoke. With the other, he absently stroked his short beard.
Feeling Karashii’s unease, Korin quickly stepped forward and flung his arm before her. The man was out of place and Karashii’s training immediately identified that as a threat to be dealt with accordingly. “Explain yourself quickly. We are at war and you are an unknown.”
“Forgive my sudden appearance and unconventional countenance,” the newcomer said, bowing respectfully. “I am most assuredly your ally.”
“Words,” Karashii growled, shifting slightly.
“So they are, and so they mirror my actions as Bushido dictates. If you permit, I will discover to you why your enemy’s tactics trouble Phoenix-san so greatly and give you the means to remove them from the empire.” His gaze met Korin’s then shifted towards Karashii. “Phoenix-san seems willing to listen. Will you take my advice, Lion-san?” he paused momentarily. “Though it may be difficult to listen to it, as Akodo-Kami said.”
“Who are you to quote Leadership to me?” Karashii demanded hotly, Korin’s arm checking her as she stepped forward.
“Forgive me,” the man apologized again. “A lifetime beyond the empire’s borders have left my etiquette woefully deficient. Leadership was a gift given to my ancestor by yours, Lion-san. I meant to honor you with it, not deride.”
Realization began to creep upon Korin. “You claim you are no gaijin, but you are not a Unicorn, either, are you?”
“Being unfamiliar with the name, I must deny such a claim,” the man admitted. “I am Sun Kongming, and again I offer to you the means to drive the Yobanjin from our home.”
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