Distributed as fiction alongside a corrupt Phoenix theme deck for Corvallis Kotei 2009.
“Ningen,” Bairei said suddenly. “Will we see you again?”
The Master of the Void smiled slightly. “Who can see the future, old friend?”
When later Bairei was questioned, he would say that he thought he saw a familiar scroll tucked into Ningen’s obi, but he couldn’t be sure. He had almost dropped the whole stack he was carrying in his rush to return from the library, and it was possible that one had slipped out, but Bairei had dismissed any concern. Unlike some, he trusted Ningen.
The Master had been in his chambers for some time now, maintaining the Lotus position as he did every day at this time, but this day Shiba Daizan was apprehensive. He had heard the rumor floating around the (now almost empty) halls of Kyuden Isawa that Master Ningen had been sent on a suicide mission to the North, and it did not sit well with the loyal yojimbo. Daizan had stood faithfully by Ningen’s side ever since his reassignment from the City of Tears, and he’d take his own life before having to live with the shame of being yet one more yojimbo who let a Master die.
Finally, Ningen rose from his meditation with a look of determination on his face. He walked to his desk, and in quick strokes, made a brief list. “Brother Shiba,” he said, “Tonight you travel to reinforce the villages near Isawa Mori. Inform Takesi to gather the scrolls on this list as titled, and send Yutako as an advance scout. Have her warn Morihiko that I will arrive at your heels tomorrow evening.”
“As you wish, Master Ningen.” Daizan bowed, raising his eyes to study Ningen’s face for any hint of what he might have planned, but the Master’s face, as always, remained unreadable.
Unreadable, at least until one of his characteristic smirks that belied both sorrow and amusement. “Tell them that there may be other… unexpected arrivals.”
“Master Ningen, do you wish that I accompany you?”
“No, brother,” Ningen said, “Where I go, I go alone.”
Daizan, as always, professed to obey.
Ningen walked farther into the darkness of Isawa Mori. He required no lantern, as he navigated with senses other than sight, and the attunement he honed during his time in the Isawa Ishiken school revealed faint pathways of shimmering light; whenever he saw them, he thought of them as inevitable pathways. He had long before left his horse on the border of the vast forest, its fate resting with the Void. In this regard, Ningen mused, the two of them were not dissimilar.
When finally he reached a clearing within the forest, he paused. The forest was vast, and much of it was unexplored. Rokugan, however, had so few forests, and all of them were dwarfed by the forest of Shinomen. Some considered it the master of the rest, and many commoners refused to enter the forest’s borders, claiming they feared the demons that dwelled within. How wise they were. The Phoenix shugenja could keep the forests relatively safe, so the main dangers to the people were wolves and other wildlife, but to a Master of the Elements, this was the only place where his power was strong enough to maintain the contact he required. Distance was no issue, but to use the spells he intended, he would need a strong connection to the origin of the power.
Shiba Ningen sat in the middle of the clearing and began an incantation. He never moved his lips, but flaming script erupted in his mind’s eye, and above his head a small whorl of red energy began to form. The Kansen had answered. From the expanding circle of energy, a deep voice boomed:
“I am intrigued by your proposal. Kyuden Isawa, burning? How the mighty have…”
“Enough, Daigotsu,” Ningen commanded, more forcefully than he had intended. “The Oracle will not stop once it has its way with the Empire, and it cares nothing for your meddling attempts at usurpation. There is nothing to stop the army of fire on this side of the Wall. I am prepared to give you what I have promised.”
Daigotsu laughed cruelly, and the Kansen began to swarm more intensely over Shiba Ningen’s head. “Very well, brave Master. Keep in mind when you ‘save’ your clan’s holdings with these brutes, that not even I can control them completely.”
Shiba Ningen rose to his feet and stepped back several paces to face the growing portal. “You, Daigotsu,” he stated simply, his voice seeming to echo throughout the forest, “despite your power, are not the Master of the Void.” Ningen removed the scroll from his obi and read aloud a single word.
From the shadows of the nearby trees, it was all Shiba Daizan could do to keep from screaming in terror at what he witnessed.