What follows is an early draft of the first chapter's History section. I've only briefly spellchecked the bit; there may be some typos, and the method of transliterating Japanese for the game has not been finalized. Not even close. There are also "Sidebar" insertions here and there. In a printed version, that's about where they would be found, but here I'm highlighting them in darker gray. I tried a few different colors fo text and/or highlighting.. this managed to be the least ugly. I'll roll with it.
I hope the history gives an appropriate description of how Hachigoku came about, and more imprtantly the focus of the game: playing samurai. This is an Empire where there are basically two different settings and an accident of history threw them together. An earlier, complex society (Longguo, an analog of imperial China) transmits its culture on a younger, less complex society (Goshima, and analog for Japan), bringing the two on par, until a disaster forces the newer society to invade and supplant the older one.
In Hachigoku, the samurai rule and there is no doubt, even when you're a ronin, that you are socially a cut above. But beneath that caste is the surviving world of Longguo, a world of Secret Societies, kung fu, and ninja. And that's a whole 'nother game. One at a time.
Ninja? Forget I said that.
I hope the history gives an appropriate description of how Hachigoku came about, and more imprtantly the focus of the game: playing samurai. This is an Empire where there are basically two different settings and an accident of history threw them together. An earlier, complex society (Longguo, an analog of imperial China) transmits its culture on a younger, less complex society (Goshima, and analog for Japan), bringing the two on par, until a disaster forces the newer society to invade and supplant the older one.
In Hachigoku, the samurai rule and there is no doubt, even when you're a ronin, that you are socially a cut above. But beneath that caste is the surviving world of Longguo, a world of Secret Societies, kung fu, and ninja. And that's a whole 'nother game. One at a time.
Ninja? Forget I said that.
“An empire long united must divide.” – The Pilgrim
The earliest history of Hachigoku is known through legend and philosophical speculation borne by the Three Treasures of Literature and the Six Classics of Longguo. The Three Treasures collect the poetry and mythology of samurai culture before the loss of the Home Islands: the Kojiki, the Goshimashoki, and Man'youshu (or the Records, Chronicles, and Ten Thousand Leaves, respectively). The Six Classics collect the books central to teachings of the Sage on etiquette, ritual and government in Longguo before samurai conquest: the Chou I, Shunji Keiden Shikkai, Tei Shaku, Shikyo, Shoshu, and Rongo (the Changes, Annals, Rites, Odes, Documents, and Conversations respectively). The Sutras constitute a tenth “classic” in understanding spirituality, ethics, and cosmology in Hachigoku, primarily translated from Vendya texts brought out of the far west. Although there are myriad sutras circulating throughout the land, with sometimes contradictory interpretations, the faithful maintain that there is only a single sutra said in a hundred “useful” ways.
Sidebar: Calendars of Hachigoku
The various cycles of Hachigoku's timekeeping are discussed later, but the recording of history relies on two methods: reign years, and Sage Years. A tradition both among the Emperors of Goshima and Longguo, reign years are periods of rule named either for the ruler (often the case in Longguo) or by the ruler's whim (more common in Goshima). With the ascension of the Roju, the council took over naming, typically renaming an era only after exhaustive debate. An event occurring during such a time would be said to happen in the eighth year of Gaozu's Reign or the Era of Daikoku's Grace, for instance.
Sage Years date history from the traditional birth of the Sage himself, and are numbered consecutively; years before his birth are considered to fall in a completely different calendar, that of the First Emperor. As there are scant records surviving from before the time of the Sage, historians hardly use this numbering system except in the abstract. The Secret Societies are rumored to follow an even newer historical calender marking the fall of the Yellow Lotus Pagoda, but this is no concern of samurai, nor is the consecutive dating of the lands to the south and west who date their years “Anno Imperium.”
Most historians, samurai, and commoners refer to the year by its Sage Year, although they might embellish it with the element and zodiac cycles (more on that later). The reign eras are confined to officials of the Imperial government (such as their own historians, magistrates, and other bureaucrats) and artists, who are drawn to its tendency to give an age a “flavor.”
It is currently Sage Year 1410, and year 42 in the Era of Yoshi's Folly. You may set your campaign in whatever year you wish, of course.
Goshima, before the Exodus
East of Hachigoku are five islands, the lost “Home Islands” of the samurai: Goshima. Much of their history is lost; what remains is preserved in the Three Treasures as a mix of mythology, metaphor, and history, as well as in oral traditions and chronicles jealously guarded by individual uji. Prior to the Exodus, the islands were ruled by an Emperor through his military servants, the samurai. Then the akuma, ancient demons imprisoned underground, were released. Some say by a foolish samurai, some say by an angry god. In the chaos that followed, few ever knew the truth for certain. As each island become corrupted by akuma and overflowing yang energy, a new wave of Goshimajin, the people of those lands, set sail desperately for the west.
Sidebar: Three Treasures
Goshima Shoki (“Chronicles of the Five Islands”): Collection of myths and legends surrounding the first emperors of Hachigoku. Considered to be more historically accurate than Goshimashoki. Commonly called just the Chronicles.
Kojiki (“Records of Ancient Matters”): Written in the forms of song and poetry, the Kojiki details the origins of the world, Hachigoku, and spiritual rituals. Commonly called just the Records.
Man'youshuu (“Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves”): A vast anthology of poetry describing romance, loyalty, and war as seen by the Imperial Court during the height of Hachigoku's peace in Goshima. Commonly called just Ten Thousand Leaves.
From the Records:
Of old, Tendo (Heaven) and Nindo (the mortal realm) were not yet sundered, the yin and yang not yet divorced. They formed a chaos like an egg of obscurely defined limits, filled with seeds. The purer and clearer portion thinly flowed away forming Heaven, while the heavier, mixed part settled down to become the world below Heaven. The finer part easily became a united body, but the consolidation of the heavy and mixed was accomplished with difficulty.
Thereafter the kami formed between them. Amaterasu-omikami, the Lady Sun, ruled over the Northern Ocean, while Tsukuyomi-no-mikoto, Lord Moon, ruled over the Southern Ocean. Often they met in the world below with Ama-tsu-Mikaboshi, Lord Chaos, who treated them kindly and virtuously.
Lady Sun and Lord Moon said to one another, “Everyone has nine orifices so they can see, hear, eat, and breathe. Chaos does not have these. Let us bore some holes into him.” Each day they bored a hole into Chaos...
And on the seventh day he died.
In rage at both his death and her own foolishness, Amaterasu clawed at her skin and blood streamed forth. She fled across the sky. Tsukuyomi wept bitter tears and pursued, pained by her suffering and fearing for her safety. Thus the moon follows the sun to this day, hiding themselves away from time to time as symbols of the first two defilements of ignorance: Cruelty and Fear.
And the other kami looked down, and witnessed cruelty and fear as blood and tears mingled together to become men and women. These new creatures wailed pitifully as they thrashed about in the unformed corpse of the world, as if drowning in an endless ocean. The kami, cornering Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi, gave them a great jeweled naginata, Ame-no-Nuboko, and commanded them to save those screaming below. The two stood upon the Floating Bridge of Heaven, pushed down the blade and stirred the brine 'till it curdled, then drew the blade back up. The brine dripping down from the end piled up and became the island Onogoro.
But a hand reached out of the depths and grasped the blade, mixing its blood with the brine. Up from the seas rose Mikaboshi, wrathful and broken in heart. Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi battled for control of the haft, and brine and blood were flung across the seas in the struggle, becoming other lands far away.
Where Chaos blood mixed with brine arose the akuma, demons of wrath untempered by grief or fear. They roamed the new world preying upon the children of Sun and Moon, their claws slick with gore and jaws full of flesh.
Brother to Sun and Moon, Susanoo-no-Mikoto pleaded with the other kami not to let the work of his family be undone. They should fling themselves down from Heaven and fight the akuma on behalf of the mortals. He aroused such a righteous anger in them the Heavens shook, and they traveled through the Susanoo's lightning bolt, shaking the islands and scattering the akuma. But Susanoo's rage had been but an act; he had deceived them. And finding Heaven empty and gorging himself on the Immortal Peaches at the Celestial Feast, he introduced yet other defilements: Deception and Desire.
As the struggle over the naginata wore on, the three observed the armies of kami and Ashura tearing Onogoro asunder, with mortals perishing between them in the destruction. Then Tsukuyomi let go the haft and shoved Amaterasu forward with all his might. Startled, she was flung to the ground, shattering mountains where she fell. The sparks kindled the sky and the stars were born.
Mikaboshi celebrated his victory, until he glared down and discovered the blade buried in his chest hilt-deep. He howled to shake the Heavens, and the Forgotten Kami awoke to see Susanoo gorging himself. They demanded he apologize. He did so, but not before plucking the last Immortal Peach from the trees and swallowing it whole, introducing yet another new defilement: Insincerity.
Below, Tsukuyomi and Amaterasu charged the weakened Mikaboshi, and taking hold of the blade's haft whirled it Heavenward. His rage was bright but cold far from the world, and he was condemned to be the wandering star forevermore. Knowing that turning their full power upon the akuma would destroy all creation, they returned to Heaven to find Susanoo confronted by the Forgotten Kami. Unknowing of his transgression, they plead for mercy. Knowing neither betrayal nor shame, the final two defilements of creation, the Forgotten Kami pardoned Susanoo but declared a severing with Heaven.
“No longer shall we call Heaven home, for we see the final two destroyers of liberation on the horizon, and will play no further part in ignorance. We seal our knowledge behind the gates of our new home in Takamagahara (High Plain of Heaven).” And thus they passed from the knowledge of kami and mortal both.
From the Chronicles:
For it is written, Lady Sun and Lord Moon wished to provide guidance to their children in the world below. And so down a shaft of moonlight came Tsukoyomi's daughter, Kaguya-hime, who was found concealed in a bamboo stalk. And raised among men and women she came to love them.
But Lady Sun still feared her own power, and requested Susanoo's aid. Thus he sent her son, Tenno, down a bolt of lightning. And when he was beheld by those who found him in the crater, they marveled and stood in awe.
After a fierce life of facing down both kami and akuma, the two met and immediately sensed a divine spark within each other. After a lengthy courtship, as the historians insist is only proper, the two were wed, and their children were neither truly mortal nor immortal. They were kami, but of animals and trees and things of human hands. They yearned neither for Heaven nor dominion, but saw themselves as guardians of the children of the Heavens. And if sometimes their love must be stern and bruising, so be it.
Yet though mortals now survived the cataclysm, victory was far from assured. Praying for guidance, Tenno discovered a mirror in a temple consecrated to his mother, the Yata-no-Kagami, Eight Hand Mirror. In it shone her face, beckoning. Stepping forward he found himself in Heaven, and Lady Sun beamed at his appearance, for he had grown tall and strong and sure. He begged for a weapon to dispel the darkness below. Unsure, she sent him to the Moon upon a ship of cold flame. Tsukuyomi asked after his daughter, and trusting her to be well under Tenno's care handed over his gem, Yasakani-no-Magatama. With it, Tenno could see the hidden while he himself moved unseen, the Moon's might over the sea in his muscles.
Then Tsukuyomi told him where Susanoo could be found, asleep under the Immortal Peach Tree, waiting for it to bloom and bear fruit again, though it take ages. “Be sure, be silent, be swift, and take his sword, Ama-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi, the Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven.
Tenno succeeded, and descended back to the mortal world with all three treasures in his keeping. The wars ended with the kami pushed back to Heaven and the akuma thrown down underground. Finally, the mortal world was free from chaos.
For a time.
The returning kami swirling around Heaven woke Susanoo. They declared their banishment from the mortal world his fault and banished him in turn. Ever proud, he reached for his blade to challenge the judgment, only to find it gone. Bewildered, he caught sight of Lady Sun turning her face away and Lord Moon shielding her. Understanding, Susanoo rode the lightning down to the mortal world concealed in darkness.
Thus it is written, Betrayal came into the world.
Kaguya-hime slept in her tower. Once she had marched up and down the islands, as fierce as any man defending Goshima. But in her marriage to Tenno she had birthed kami after kami and been kept secure. Hiding his stormy countenance, Susanoo stole into Kaguya's court and wooed her heart away from Tenno.
Not one to keep quiet about his victory, Susanoo confronted Tenno with his cuckoldry before his own gates. Blades were drawn and clashed. As steel met steel, and sparks flew, Kaguya-hime gave birth to the Kami of Flame. Roaring, he strode into the duel and demanded his father submit or perish.
As son and father clashed, and the world trembled, Tenno sought his bride. Only ash remained, the birth of her final child overpowering. He flew back to the gates only to find the Kami of Fire wounded and Susanoo fled.
The two traveled to the borders of the Forest of Memory seeking Yomi, the land of the dead. Knowing that cleaving his way through the forest would release the akuma, he sacrificed the Kami of Fire to empower his army. While the akuma and men fought, Tenno donned his Moon matagama and passed over the bridge into Yomi.
None living ever saw him again.
Their son Amatarasu no Tenno no Enzo took the throne, and their daughter Amaterasu no Tenno no Mononoke succeeded in uniting all Goshima under her protection.
Longguo, before the Conquest
Before their samurai overlords made landfall, the Empire of Longguo (“Dragon Realm”) already possessed a rich, complex civilization. Founded more than a thousand years ago before the Conquest by a dynasty of five mythical emperors, the Sons of Heaven, many of their cultural and technological innovations of the Long'ren (“Dragon People”) informed much of Goshima's own civilization, from the highly evolved political and ethical philosophy of the Revered Sage and mystic power of Onmyodo, to the humble chopstick and tea. Longguo's society was administered by a highly trained corps of scholars, who laid out the social hierarchy of agriculture, handicrafts, and lastly trade later adopted by Hachigoku.
For hundreds of years, however, the authority of the emperors eroded, and petty warlords rose up across the land giving mere lip service to imperial glory. In the end, only three centers of government remained, each claiming rule over all the faded empire. The Wu dynasty seized power north of Iron Teeth Mountains, controlling the wide plains from the northern coast of what is now Takagoku to the mouth of Golden Tears River. The Zhou dynasty claimed a divine lineage and ruled from behind the safety of the basin formed by the meeting of the Iron Teeth and Green Mountains, gathering tribute from the lands south along Takarabune Bay. The Hakka League ruled the southernmost realm, west of the Green Mountains, an association of merchants who seized political power from the scholar class.
Intermittent sea trade and continuing, paternalistic diplomacy between both the Wu and Zhou rulers and Goshima brought the first rumblings of disaster, and coastal towns reported increased piracy and supernatural incidents. Then one day the first refugee ship wrecked upon the shore of Sakura Beach Village, in Wu territory. Then came a trickle of ships, a flood, a tsunami. The Zhou at first ordered all citizens to move thirty miles inland, abandoning the coast to the newcomers, in a mixed policy of charity, fear, and willful ignorance. The Wu ordered their armies to advance and offer the invaders no quarter.
Sidebar: The Six Classics
Chou I (“Book of Changes”): A divination tool using hexagrams; often a source of authority on manipulating living energy. Commonly called just the Changes.
Shunju Keiden Shikkai (“Spring and Autumn Annals”): The historical records of the Zhu dynasty in old Longuo, often cited by the Sage as the recommended models for political conduct and governmental structure. Commonly called just the Annals.
Tei Shaku (“Classic of Rites”): Collection of rites and spiritual music used in the Zhu dynasty in old Longguo. Used by the Sage as a model for interaction between humanity and the spirit world. Commonly called just the Rites.
Shikyo (“Book of Odes”): Collection of songs throughout the warring kingdoms period of Longguo history, cited by the Sage as political allegories. Commonly called just the Odes.
Shoshu (“Book of Documents”): A collection of speeches, oaths, and proclamations throughout ancient Longguo. Commonly called just the Documents.
Rongo (“Collected Conversations”): A vast collection of sayings and conversation both by and about the Sage. Commonly just called the Conversations or Sayings.
The Conquest (c. 700–800 SY)
The first few sorties by Wu generals were easy victories; the Goshimajin were battered and scattered, most still grieving the inevitable loss of their homeland. As the tide of refugees rose, however, the first desperate sailors and merchants who fled first were replaced by veteran warriors who survived horrors ravaging Goshima far more vicious than the formal tactics employed by Wu's gentile commanders. The counterattack was swift as fort after fort along Golden Tears River fell to determined samurai with no choice but to surge forward. Yet the legendary Wu general Xiaozi returned from the western borders battling an uprising from desert raiders, and he set up a string of keeps north of the wide river to launch a successful counterattack halting enemy forces. Both forces became entrenched and nearly two generations of constant warfare decimated the north.
As the southern Goshimajin were joined by samurai commanders, tensions between them and the Long'ren came to a head as the Zhou citizens realized the refugees were fast becoming settlers. An envoy representing the last distant claimant to the Tenno dynasty journeyed beyond the Heavenly Falls to meet with the Zhou court and propose an alliance against the Wu. Samurai would assist in leading and fight for the Zhou against the Wu; in return, their people would settle in the abandoned ports. With dreams of a reunified Longguo in their hearts, the court agreed.
The combined armies marched north along mountain passes and become embroiled in the quagmire. As the military toll on their economy worsened, too late the Zhou found their trade policies controlled by the Goshimajin on the coast, and the demands of voracious generals dominating their shrinking hold on their own bureaucracy. It took only a generation before the Zhou Emperor was a mere puppet for ambitious samurai, and two before the Tenno and Zhou dynasties merged in marriage.
Along with the Goshimajin came many of their supernatural allies and neighbors. Powerful kami, either empowered by ancestor or nature worship, found themselves struggling to survive in a foreign land as even the spiritual landscape of their ancient haunts tore itself asunder. Some traveled in shrines brought by their adherents, others fled along the dragon lines, sometimes clashing with the gods and natures spirits who already claimed their power. Yokai, supernatural creatures like the shapeshifting tanuki, turtle-like kappa, and crow-like tengu crowded into the wilderness territories of nature spirits already pushed to the edge of civilization by the rampant growth of Longguo. Earthquakes, storms, and floods wracked the triple empires as the balance of yin-yang energy suffered massive upheaval.
And then the last wave of Goshimajin drifted into port, with word of the last free island of Goshima. “Lost,” they cried, “all lost!”
Mikoboshi's akuma were fast approaching the mainland.
The Mikaboshi War
Chaos enveloped the remains of empire. Goshimajin soldiers and Zhou conscripts redeployed across the coastline, expecting a frontal wave of shadows and fire. When their homeland fell, flying akuma incinerated cities, giant behemoths toppled castles, and corrupted beasts swarmed over the countryside. Each island fell one by one, first by sea then land. They expected much the same.
When the Zhou palace fell to an army of oni, horned goblins from the underworld, smuggled in by a converted madman, they knew the terror would be far different this time. His forces were no longer easily identified monsters; now the Chaos Lord unleashed from history would destroy them from within, using his enemies against each other. Your neighbor could be harboring a demon. Family bonds frayed under suspicion, as every disagreement was a sign of potential corruption. Supernatural horrors clustered near Goshimajin settlements, reinforcing hostility present between native and immigrant populations, and renewing it even in the port cities where the two had mostly integrated.
Riots and desertions left the coast undefended, and the monstrous invasion began in earnest. Within two years, Wu forces were pushed west back to Ghost Valley, samurai along the Golden Tears River were pushed back north to be hidden beneath the branches of the Green Sea Forest, and the forces of Zhou fled to higher ground past the Heavenly Falls. Those left behind hid in the swamps, forests, and ruins, scavenging to survive. Thousands upon thousands gave their minds and bodies over to darkness in a desperate gamble for freedom.
Into this maelstrom walked a thin, tall, dark-skinned woman: the Pilgrim.
Mikaboshi's forces ravaged the land, but still the Chaos Lord itself never walked the shores of Longguo. Was it waiting, or did some force hold it back? Late one wintry night, two dwindling kami, scholars who had been elevated to minor godhood centuries ago, sat in the spires of the Palace of the Faithful Bride playing a game of go. Yet one, Jurojin, remained distracted, looking out over the battlements toward the devastated south. His opponent Fukurokujin implored him to return to the game, until Jurojin shrieked.
Fukurokujin leapt to his side, afraid that a great monster or assault wave was headed up the Heavenly Falls. Instead he gaped at what he saw: a bright, pure light shone like a beacon across the plain, emanating from a distant point on the shore and shooting into the sky. The two quickly spread word among their fellow kami gathered at the castle; there were only seven who dared stand guard so close to the wasteland. All could see the light, and once seen, could feel its warmth even when they closed their eyes.
They implored the samurai to open the gates and sally forth, but no mortal eyes saw the light.
Stymied by an unbelieving commander, the seven resolved to go forth on their own. Only one samurai demanded to go with them, unwilling to abandon his charges. Shimazu Okabe led them through a hidden pathway down the mountain, towards the mystery.
It took a week to make the journey over trampled farmland and crumbling roads, and with each step survivors gathered. Strangely, the road south was unbarred. A strange serenity took hold of the travelers; they needed neither food nor sleep.
Finally they stood before the decayed gates of a forgotten port, now teeming with people weary of war and suffering. People rushed forward to greet them, and to the newcomers' surprise they were all well-fed, and glad to help. “The Pilgrim,” offered one, “awaits you at the temple.”
The Pilgrim came from afar across the deserts of the west. Long'ren devotees of the Blessed Words in the Hakka League years ago sent to the empire across the sands a delegation seeking original Vedya texts, the language of the Blessed Words. In response the Shining Path sent the Pilgrim and a caravan of texts. For years Hakka scholars translated them into the language of the Long'ren as she journeyed across the lands of the League, seeking to alleviate suffering and founding monasteries. When the Mikaboshi War erupted, she toured the wartorn realms disguised and only now revealed herself.
Treatises, stories, and poems abound about what happened next, and no two agree. Some say the meeting went for seven days; others that it happened in a moment outside of time. She met with each individually; she spoke no words and they reached enlightenment together. Contradictions multiply.
All sources agree on a single point, however. The Pilgrim had a plan.
Sidebar: The One Sutra
Hoke Kyo (“Lotus Sutra”): One of the core sutras, the Lotus is seen as the primary sutra in expanding worship of Blessed Words beyond the lands of Nova Imperium and turning a movement against suffering into a religion.
Shitenno Kyo (“Four Heavenly Kings Sutra”): A sutra praised by rulers for describing the Four Heavenly Kings, and how they inspire good government according to the Blessed Words.
Kongo Kyo (“Diamond Sutra”): A complex sutra extolling the benefits of meditation in reaching enlightenment.
Hannya Kyo (“Heart Sutra”): A short sutra focusing on compassion and popular among the masses.
Kairyuo Kyo (“Dragon King of the Sea Sutra”): The first sutra written during the founding of Hachigoku, incorporating the Blessed Words as the destiny of all samurai.
The First Wa
The seven kami were emboldened to go to war, but the Pilgrim insisted only mortals could defeat Mikaboshi; mortal heroes chosen by these seven. She charged them to gather these heroes and bring them to her.
“How shall we know them, these heroes?” asked Daikoku, the shrewd kami.
“They must be blood of both this land and yours, and you will know them by signs indisputable. Trust your hearts to know, and find them soon.”
The kami left the protection of the growing city and slowly scattered, first in pairs, then alone.
When a year and a day had passed, five returned. Daikoku brought the quiet magician Akashi from the Hakka League. Benten brought the singer Shimazu Aiko from the Lightning Isles further south. Bishamon brought the swordsman Todo Genzoemon from the newly formed Ichigoku realm, and Fukurokuju brought the swordswoman Kitsuregawa Mononoke from the former Zhou capital. Ebisu arrived last, sailing the Takarabune through monster-infested waters with its helmsman, Tozawa Masaki. Each hero bore on their brow a sacred star gem, formed from the tears of their patron kami and blessed with a portion of their power. In the midst of their separate journeys each partnership inspired people throughout the lands under siege, as no quarter of ruined Longguo remained untouched by tragedy.
The Pilgrim looked at the motley crew and smiled. “They are the first Wa, the first real harmony to be found among your people,” she said, blessing each in turn. “They are five directions, five different roles, all elements in harmony, and liberators of this land.”
Daikoku eyed them skeptically. “You said seven; there are only five. Must we not wait for our brothers Hotei and Jurojin?”
The Pilgrim laughed. “All things in time!”
She commandeered the Takarabune, ushered the Wa onboard, and set sail for Goshima.
Sidebar: The Seven Star Gems of the First Wa
As each of the Lucky Fortunes discovered encountered suffering enough to make a god weep on their journey, each shed a tear. The tear became a powerful jewel, a “star gem” (hoshi no tama), granting the bearer magic. Each star gem found its way into the hands of a hero prophesied by the Pilgrim, and were returned to the keeping of the Seven Fortunes at the close of the Mikaboshi War. Lost to history and myth now, the Kairyuo Kyo promises their return in the Empire's darkest hour.
Gem of Beauty: Made from the tears of Benten, those in the bearer's presence cannot help but see a true beauty in the world and heighten their artistic sensibilities.
Gem of Benevolence: Made from the tears of Bishamon, those in the bearer's presence gain insight into the arts of war to defend others from suffering.
Gem of Fortune: Made from the tears of Daikoku, those in the bearer's presence experience extraordinary luck—not always for the better.
Gem of Liberation: Made from the tears of Ebisu, the bearer gains freedom of action, no matter the environment.
Gem of Mercy: Made from the tears of Fukurokuju, those in the bearer's presence cannot die and may be healed with a touch.
Gem of Truth: Made from the tears of Hotei, those in the bearer's presence may not knowingly speak lies.
Gem of Wisdom: Made from the tears of Jurojin, those in the bearer's presence gain phenomenal insight into the world around them.
The Long March
While the First Wa journeyed to their final battle Hotei and Jurojin sped south with their own champions, Hanako the archer and Sekai Hoshi the cavalier, only to be delayed at Guren Toshi, the Wu capital under siege. An uneasy alliance of Owari, Todo, and Yanigasawa samurai and soldiers under Wu command were threatening to fall apart in the face of Mikaboshi's corrupt force. Rallying behind the Immortals, the heroes, and Emperor Wu Li, they marched out to battle.
In single combat, Wu Li confronted a Susanoo maddened by yang corruption, killing him with his own blade. The siege was broken, and the Emperor demanded the fealty of the surviving samurai. Only Hanako and Hoshi hesitated.
“My lord,” said Hanako, “we are desperate to find our comrades in the south.” She told him the story of the gems, and their fate. The Immortals concurred. The Emperor, having witnessed the valor of the Immortals and their chosen heroes, agreed and vowed to support their journey. He divided his army in two; a smaller force would remain behind to counterattack fleeing Mikaboshi monsters, while the samurai uji would march on Akuma Tora-jo and secure the pass into Ghost Valley beyond Iron Teeth Mountains. Once the castle was taken, however, the Todo uji refused to march further south, insisting that the chance to drive Mikaboshi's forces into the sea here and now was too good to turn away. “Our might is clear, and a prophecy too dark to trust,” roared the Todo daimyo.
The Emperor's forces and the Todo parted ways, but the Wu refused to condemn them as traitors. “They seek to defeat evil in their own stubborn way,” he declared, and the Owari and Yanigasawa silenced their dissent.
The new, combined Imperial army gathered more samurai and commoners to its banners as it marched, only to reach the now bustling Kin no Tsuru Miyadono, a swiftly built fortress on the ruins of the old port city ruled by the last Zhou Empress, blood of both Goshima and Longguo, Tomoe. The gem-bearers nearly threw themselves into the sea, determined to swim to Goshima; only Tomoe's firm compassion swayed them to remain.
When Wu Li and Zhou Tomoe met the Empire shook to its foundations.
In part because Akashi the magician returned in a great burst of magic, heralding the end of the Mikaboshi War. The corrupted god lay in Jigoku, chained and forbidden from the mortal world.
Of their journey and the fate of the First Wa, Akashi would not speak.
The First Hikaru (c. 800–905 SY)
With the end of the war, there was no longer any doubt as to the political, military, and cultural power of the settlers; subjects no longer differentiated between Goshimajin and Long'ren, only between those who were samurai and those who were not. To cement this new society taking hold, the Wu and Zhou dynasties merged in marriage and took a new dynastic name: Hikaru.
Over the course of the next century, the new dynasty consolidated their hold on the Empire, rooted out the last major resistance from Mikaboshi's forces, and worked tirelessly to integrate a feudal samurai culture with the more cosmopolitan, bureaucratic society that shaped Longguo. They were not distant rulers; Hikaru Ryu (formerly Wu Li) and Hikaru Gozen (formerly Zhou Tomoe) personally led many sorties against monsters, bandits, and those warlords and daimyo who were not quick enough to swear allegiance. Hanako and Sekai Hoshi were often at their side, but Akashi remained in seclusion.
Daikoku's Wager (880 SY)
As the dynasty stabilized the Empire, it also expanded beyond its formerly frayed Wu and Zhou borders. While most of its reclamation and expansion occurred through military or political means, the most ambitious gain came through the most famous game of go ever played between the leader of the Hakka League and Asano Zura. With more than a little help from Daikoku.
The Kinoshita uji and their allies claimed the Bitter Forest between the Green Mountains and Lazy Dragon Mountains to establish the Hikaru's claim on Hakka territory, and issue an ultimatum to end their centuries-long rebellion against Imperial rule. The Hakka in turn sent an angry envoy to the Imperial court, asking by what right the new Hikaru could claim authority as if they were the Sons of Heaven?
“By right of defeating Mikaboshi to save the Empire, protecting its citizens, and with the blessing of the Pilgrim. Where were your soldiers when monsters flooded our shores, your farmers when our subjects starved, and your gods when the Pilgrim found ours?”
The envoy smiled. “Where were we?” he whispered, then raised his voice. “Where were your samurai when the empires fell to our west and south, and their troubles pounded against the Obsidian Wall, their garbage washed up on our shores? The whole world has been falling apart for centuries. The Wu and Zhou realms suffered, yes; but so did we, and we made it through by our own strength. We did not need each other then, nor now.”
An uncomfortable silence enveloped the court.
One daimyo made her way forward. “It sounds as if both our lands are tired of war. I hear yours are not, however, tired of gambling. If I might offer a wager? The greatest go player in all your realm, against only myself.”
“You would take the allegiance of the Hakka for victory, but what profits the League? I doubt you have much yourself, Asano; oh yes, I know your samurai hold only a little valley below the Iron Teeth. And I doubt your betters are willing to gamble the Empire away after so ferocious and honorable their victory.”
“I offer you my oath of fealty, to begin with.”
“The Hakka do not desire it.”
“A vow from the dynasty to treat the Hakka with peace and amity for all time.”
Both Hikrau nodded their assent, but the envoy scoffed, “Our due regardless.”
“And the fealty of all Seven Lucky Fortunes.”
That stunned the court, and anger flared among the samurai; protests and not a few dueling challenges erupted. The Fortunes present only looked at each other in bemusement; the Hikaru said softly, “Asano Zura has our full confidence,” before taking their leave. Indeed, the Asano daimyo had spent her life acting as their most trusted underhand, and long ago been gifted with an Imperial writ making her word law. Never had she publicly and brazenly used it, however.
“Now that… is intriguing.”
The next winter the Asano met the leader of the Hakka, Meng Zhe, in Ao Ren Toshi. Per negotiations, the game continued for five months, and two Empires held their breath. Meng Zhe was a grand master, but Zura knew one simple fact.
Daikoku the Fortune never, ever lost a bet. In the week leading up to the game, Meng Zhe had even opened the gambling houses of the great port city open to samurai to join in the festivities. One cloaked, large man ambled up to a man taking odds in a side-street, and with a strong Goshima accent bet on the Asano to win.
When Asano placed the last stone, Meng Zhe refused to accept the daimyo as a better player, and demanded to know what trickery she used. Daikoku revealed himself among the onlookers, laughing, and chastised the Hakka leader for betting against him. Other samurai braced for war, but the Asano understood that guile and bravado were more honored by the Hakka than honesty.
An outfoxed Meng Zhe handed over his amulet of leadership to Asano Zura, and wished her good luck on ruling “a pack of vipers.” Over the next generation she dismantled the League, sending the heirs of prosperous officials and merchants to be “educated” in the newly built Hikari Toshi and arranging their marriages to both loyal vassals and smaller uji thankful for fiefs.
The Reign of Hikaru Godaigo (905-963 SY)
As their century wore on, the founders of the Hikaru dynasty discovered they did not age as other mortals did. Mayhaps it was their close relationship with the Immortals and gem-heroes, their investure with a new Imperial authority, or the mysterious blessing of Tengoku or the Pilgrim. They watched their own children grow old and die, and their children grow gray. Each was gifted with their own land and samurai, but none could hope to rule.
As the Empire stabilized, the Emperor and Empress grew weary. Hanako and Sekai Hoshi felt weariness as well; the star-gems preserved their youth, but the regret of having never faced Mikaboshi and leaving others to die in their place left a heavy weight.
Then one night the Takarabune washed up on the shore…
Hanako, Hoshi, and the Hikaru rulers made a pact, and summoned Benten to bless their new Wa. They would sail east and discover the true fates of the First Wa. When Benten asked if Akashi would join them, they admitted sending Imperial agents looking for the magician for years with no results. Akashi's fate remained a mystery.
In the morning the four were gone, and the Hikaru heir, an older grandson named Godaigo, discovered the Imperial regalia in his room. Other than the Seven Fortunes, the last living reminders of the Mikaboshi War vanished.
Hikaru Godaigo had the unenviable position of following legends; his grandparents chose him as their heir not for his charm, intelligence, or accomplishments, but for his earnest interest in government affairs. Few laud his accomplishments as they do his predecessors and successor, but every person who travels a well-kept road or floats along a canal profits from his keen oversight of Imperial infrastructure. Architecture and engineering flourished under his reign, and the Imperial Palace moved from Kin no Tsuru Miyadono to the newly finished Hikari Toshi.
In government, he restored a universal system of administration based on teachings of the Sage, binding all daimyo from the former Wu, Zhou, and Hakka realms under a unified Imperial law. He even recognized a particularly impressive Wa, the Peach Tree Cavaliers, as enforcers of Imperial law, answerable only to the Emperor. Under his guidance they wrote the first charter of the Jade metsuke, and began training others in their investigative and legal philosophy.
Finally, bolstered by military units commissioned under the Jade metsuke, the Emperor supported a Kuroda-Date alliance to push into the Lake Lands between the Green Mountains and the Cauldron. Full of Hakka holdouts from the south and raiders from the north, the river valleys and lake basins held little samurai; with support from their Asano and Oda neighbors, the Kuroda and Oda swept down from the Green Mountains to tame the lawless hills.
The Reign of Hikaru Murasaki (963–1004 SY)
Hikaru Murasaki was a legend in her own time. A daughter of Godaigo's favored concubine, Murasaki was never in line for the throne, and lived fairly carefree. Before taking on court responsibilities as an adult, her romantic liaisons were quietly notorious. As an avid poet and painter, she was a terrible scholar, except in her religious studies. Even the Seven Fortunes, who still visited Godaigo's court from time to time, were enchanted with her.
Once promoted to court life, she rarely performed her duties, yet Godaigo continued to promote her; she survived numerous scandals born of jealousy. In defeat her enemies still couldn't help but admire her composure and sing her praises. Many regarded her as the last gasp of the golden age inaugurated by her great-grandparents, and she pretended to take no notice. Her beauty and grace remain legendary, and continue to provide material for samurai novelists and dramatists; the common people routinely enjoy comedies based on her escapades.
On Godaigo's deathbed, courtiers gathered around, already pressing their case for this prince or that princess to ascend the throne. Godaigo only whispered, “Bring me my shining daughter. Bring me dear Murasaki. She will rule...”
Shocked, a bitter rival quickly arranged a swordsman to slay her before messengers arrived. When he made it to her private estate, he slipped in to confront her in her chambers.
Only to discover her painting a portrait, with all Seven Fortunes in attendance.
That was the last challenge to her rule.
Ascension of the Seven Fortunes (980–991 SY)
By the time of Murasaki's reign, almost all the great kami ceased to dwell in the mortal world. While they still visited followers at their whim and claimed new, adopted sacred ground, the vast majority had either abandoned their essence or found new meaning in quelling the upheaval of the Celestial Court. Only the Seven Lucky Fortunes routinely walked the length of the Empire, and while they originally gravitated around the Hikaru court, over two centuries they wandered farther and farther afield, finding different parts of the Empire to their liking. Only Murasaki's youthful energy brought them back together; as her reign wore on, however, weariness with the world overtook them. They had long since ended fighting against mortal attempts to honor them with temples, shrines, and art, but distaste of worship and recognition drove them farther and farther from society.
Hotei, the last to settle, became the first to leave. In the wake of the Kuroda and Date campaign through Mizugoku, he had followed the armies into the valleys. Instead of mixing with the samurai, however, he dwelt in the streets and homes of villagers and refugees. One night he sat with some fisherman, laughing and drinking until dawn. The three men sobered when Ebisu's Takarabune floated to shore, the other Immortal at the prow. “I could hear you crying for Heaven, brother,” he said. Hotei nodded, thanked the fishermen for a fine evening, and left a poem to be delivered to the Empress.
Two years later, Fukurokuju left a game of shogi unfinished while the Oda daimyo slept; samurai on duty reported seeing the Takarabune flying above the palace's balcony. He left no poem, only a note requesting Murasaki finish the game for him.
A year later Bishamon was traveling with the Owari heir, Genzo. Both journeyed disguised as ronin, and Bishamon hid his true nature even from his companion. In a lonely mountain village, the two defended the peasants from a vicious band of vagabond ronin. After Genzo's decisive victory, Bishamon congratulated the youth and revealed himself, announcing that the Empire was blessed with a “merciful blade.” Then the Immortal bared his chest and drew his wakizashi, wrapping it in prepared poem, asking for the impossible: “Now take that blade, take that mercy, and be my second.” He knelt before Genzo by a nearby waterfall, and gave Genzo no choice; he was bound by ancient oath to obey the Immortal in all things. True to his nature, Bishamon's face barely registered pain as plunged the sword into his stomach. Genzo's sword never needed to drop; through his tears the young samurai watched as the Takarabune emerged from the waterfall. Ebisu disembarked, wordlessly bowed to Genzo, and gathered his fellow Immortal in his arms. The death poem was delivered to the Empress.
Three years later, Daikoku weaved his way through the markets Ao Ren Toshi. At every stall he stopped, spoke to the merchant, and moved on; every person he spoke to experienced extremely wealthy fortunes, and the economy of Ao Ren Toshi overtook every rival in the former Hakka league for the next century. The altar in his temple on the hill held a single gold coin and a farewell poem.
No living soul even realized the absence of Jurojin until all the other Immortals were believed to be ascended.
Benten held on for five more years; but her final request to visit the Empress was refused. Murasaki, it seemed, enjoyed herself with yet another of her “pretty boys.” The patron of song held a final concert for the Shimazu daimyo and his court; those present swore to a hundred different stories of her departure. She stepped off a cliff; she dissolved into mist; Amaterasu came down and carried her off in a cloud; the Pilgrim painted her onto a scroll and burned it as an offering. Her faithful maintained every single story was true. Regardless, the story circulated that Ebisu, too, had come to take her away to Tengoku. With no reason to return, the Empire assumed his ascension as well.
Expanding the Onmyoryo (997 SY)
While much of the Empire was at peace, religious strife bubbled around the edges of society. Northern Longguo had birthed a complex yin-yang philosophy, mythology, and sorcery, while south of the Iron Teeth the Sage's intense morality and reverence for tradition enforced a devotion to the Celestial Court in Heaven. Over the centuries the two had mixed and formed a synthesis with Imperial support. Early transmission of the Blessed Words, the Vedya, permeated the Hakka League, and the Pilgrim's arrival awakened a renaissance of Vedya thought, religion, and martial arts throughout the entire Empire. Added to these vying religions was the very real conflict between gods and supernatural creatures native to Longguo for millennial and the newcomers who flooded in with the loss of Goshima.
As the centuries rolled on, a supernatural shifting of power happened that very few could see, with many Goshima deities demoting their Longguo counterparts, local spirits accepting Goshima traditions of worship, and isolated communities of yokai and shen merging for protection and secrecy against suspicious humans. In the mortal realm, samurai had adopted a syncretic relationship between the traditions of the Sage and their own interpretation of the Pilgrim's teaching: Zen. The commoners, however, still respected folk magic rooted in ying and yang and the more independent monasteries founded by the Pilgrim's evangelism.
The slow melding of religion and philosophy happened under the guidance, often with a light touch, of the Seven Luck Fortunes. Only they continued to demand the reverence of both samurai and peasants; with their passing, though, the old wounds and scars flared to life. Monks and priests found themselves at the head of isolated peasant rebellions, and the shamans and sorcerers under samurai control were fractured and ill-prepared to face off against their magical counterparts across the Empire.
Murasaki turned to the small but influential Onmyoryo, an agency recruiting and training onmyoji for Imperial service even before the Exodus, founded long ago in Goshima. As the Imperial authorities on magic and the kami, they also oversaw the religious rituals and sacred sites under control of the Empress, spending the last three centuries maintaining harmony between old ways and new. In what seemed an impulsive decision, the Shining Empress issued a decree placing all temples, shrines, and onmyoji under Onmyoryo supervision, granting current Onmyoryo members status as the Makino uji. All those who practiced renkinjutsu, the elemental alchemy of the onmyoji, were declared samurai. If not already sworn to an uji, they were required to return to their hometowns and swear fealty to the local daimyo.
Those who failed to do so were declared ronin and outlaws, although the Makino offered sanctuary to many after the deadline. Still, many temples and shrines refused to bow before the Onmyoryo. Rather than cause further strife, most simply abandoned their settlements.
Empowering the Roju (1004 SY)
The Shining Empress was beloved by her subjects (so the histories say), but she wielded her power lightly, creating a council of senior advisors drawn from powerful daimyo. This council, the Roju, ran the day-to-day bureaucracy of the Empire. To support this system, with their advice, she took her father's administrative departments as a blueprint for how to organize the Empire. The seven geographical regions of the land were officially designated as semi-independent realms. Each was overseen by a single uji, responsible to the Empress and the Empire for the peaceful conduct of even those uji who were not sworn to their daimyo.
Ichigoku (“First Realm”) held the lands north of the Iron Teeth and south of the Silver Swords, and the Owari were given charge of their vast farmlands.
Nigoku (“Second Realm”) held the lands south of the Iron Teeth, and east of the Green Mountains. The cradle of culture and art was give to the Shimazu.
Chugoku (“Middle Realm”) held the small valley above Heavenly Falls, between the Iron Teeth and Green Mountains. The home of the Onmyoryo and a wealth of dragon nests, it was given to the Makino to oversee.
Hikugoku (“South Realm”) held the former Hakka lands below the hills of Mizugoku and west of the Green Mountains. A realm teeming with Secret Societies and seaborne trade, it is barely managed by the Asano.
Kitagoku (“North Realm”) held the densely populated coast north of the Iron Teeth and spread to the unexplored, barely inhabited forests north of the Silver Swords. This land of extremes was given to the Todo.
Mizugoku (“Water Realm”) held the hills, valleys, and myriad lakes of the land between the Green Mountains and the Cauldron. The Kuroda were given control, but they left peacekeeping to their Date allies.
Takagoku (“High Realm”) stretched across the northern reaches of the Empire, from the Silver Swords to the low foothills of the Cauldron. These high, dusty plains are guarded by the Ikeda, who maintain both ancient Longguo landmarks and a steady trade with the foreign Imperium.
Finally, the Empire received its proper name: Hachigoku, the Eighth Realm. It was an Empire greater than the sum of its seven parts. Each responsible uji provided an elder to serve on the Roju; added to these elders were representatives from the three uji descended from Imperial princes and princesses disallowed from inheritance; once an Imperial heir was declared, all other families members were adopted into one of the three branches: the Abe, Date, and Wazaki. In all the Roju held ten ruling elders.
To cement the balance of power between the Roju and the daimyo of the Empire, the caste system created by Godaigo crystallized; only adoption could move a subject from one caste to another, and only with the permission of their daimyo. To help enforce this code and prevent rebellion, the Roju enacted the Sword Hunt. All non-samurai had their katana confiscated, and the wearing of two swords (the daisho) was forbidden to any but samurai; violating this law meant summary execution. These and other laws became known as the Shining Code.
The Shining Empress, after the ascension of the Seven Fortunes, her childhood playmates and mentors, became increasingly distant. She ceded more and more authority to the Roju, satisfied that her Code, realm-division, and religious authority granted the Empire lasting peace. Summoning her council together, she detailed the last of her instructions and forced all present to take an oath, forcing each to maintain her system of government and change nothing “until my return.”
Her ultimate fate is a matter of conjecture; the Imperial histories only record an ambiguous detail: “The light of the Shining Empress, obscured by clouds.” In the centuries since popular stories and myth provide myriad fates: She retired to a monastery. She died of grief. She journeyed aboard the Takarabune to Tengoku, or Goshima. She became a pilgrim and journeyed to the Imperium. She was revealed as a kitsune and returned to the forest.
Whatever the truth, the Roju sustains the belief in her living existence, and steadfastly maintains that, despite any “necessary adjustments” her Code and organization remain intact and they “eagerly await the return of our Shining Empress.” Hachigoku became an Empire with only a theoretical Empress, and the Roju yet succeed in holding it together for the last four centuries.
Founding the Senryuu (1019-1021 SY)
As the peace of the Shining Empress flourished, hordes of samurai unable to go to war on a grand scale turned their swords on each other. Publicly, this slaughter was considered individual, isolated “unfortunate” instances of violence. Privately, daimyo worried that in cities throughout Hachigoku, the slightest insult or infraction of honor became cause for rivers of blood, one warrior at a time. Rivalries between different sword styles were rife with violent contention, the honorable rivalry between legends like Kitsuregawa Enma and Owari Tetsuo no longer emulated.
When the last practitioner of the Ashita ryuu fell before a young Sakai challenger, then daimyo Owari Genzo made it his mission to preserve the traditions of Hachigoku bushi despite themselves. With the ronin Hachisuka at his side, the two made a pilgrimage throughout the Empire, challenging and gathering the sensei of the seven greatest dojo representing each realm: the Ikeda, Kitsuregawa, Kuroda, Okabe, Owari, Sakai, and Todo. Their journey complete, the two convened a council of these sensei together at Bishamon no Seido, founding the Senryuu and requesting recognition by the Roju.
The Roju Tairo, Wazaki Masaki, was the third head of the Roju; unlike the previous Tairo, he firmly believed Hachigoku was destined to forsake the Hikaru dynasty and promote a new dynasty… and why shouldn't it be under the Wazaki? He kept these desires carefully hidden, however, placing key allies in strategic positions slowly over a decade. When the Date requested he take action against the Senryuu, he agreed with their assessment: such an organized group of samurai across Hachigoku outside of Imperial control could become the source of chaos and disunity. And, of course, an inevitable barrier to Wazaki ambition.
He rallied the Jade metsuke to gather samurai from already pacified uji and marched them through the Iron Teeth towards Bishamon no Seido. They laid siege to the shrine, ignoring the peaceful overtures of the Senryuu sensei. The Owari champed at the bit to charge in and lift the seige, but their daimyo's order kept them at bay; he would not imperil the future of his uji by sending them against Imperial forces. The Todo, however, sent their own force to aid the Jade army, while the Yanigasawa continued to negotiate for the release of the sensei, arguing that while they might seem presumptuous, they had as yet done nothing illegal. The siege should be lifted, and each sensei expected to commit seppuku by order of their daimyo; Genzo even agreed to commit seppuku himself, if it would bring peace back to the Empire.
Some members of the Roju, such as Oda Shenmue and Abe Keiko, supported this offer, and even the Wazaki seemed on the brink of reining in the Jade army. Historians endlessly debate what might have been; possibly the Wazaki might have succeeded in founding a new dynasty, or another overreach would have brought them down eventually. Regardless, the fate of the Empire was not in the hands of any daimyo or even the Roju, but at the whim of the Imperial general and the Todo general.
Todo Miharu was an exemplary Todo general, brash as lightning, but tactically brilliant enough to keep her cool in battle. She chafed at keeping her samurai held back, but understood the value of maintaining a siege instead of assaulting the most skilled, beloved warriors in Hachigoku; even the master of the Todo ryuu refused to leave Genzo's side. However, her cool head evaporated in contentious social situations.
Arima no Date Kintaro rose through the ranks as a conscientious, thorough metsuke in Imperial service. While many of his subordinates were secretly seduced, bribed, or blackmailed into Wazaki loyalty, the Tairo wisely kept the chief enforcer of Imperial law at arm's length. He was a rarity in the Tairo's direct service: an honest man.
Too honest. He could not keep his heart's growing desire for the Todo general silent. She rebuffed him, and when he could not accept refusal a duel resulted. Both were feared duelists, and a messenger from the Roju was dispatched to end this foolishness. The messenger never arrived, and on the eve of the duel Miharu was found poisoned in her command tent. The Todo released havoc on the Jade metsuke and their conscripts in raging grief, and amid the chaos some broke the siege and invaded the temple, mistaking the chaos for a surprise attack from the besieged. In the ensuing bloodbath, the Senryuu founders only survived by an Abe stratagem allowing them to escape and return home.
During the siege the Shimazu and Oda, at the quiet behest of the Abe, began investigating rumors of corruption in Imperial government. As the troubles in Ichigoku consumed the nation, ambassadors and metsuke loyal to these Roju members scoured the Empire. Case by case, they uncovered the wide network of Wazaki agents and loyalists scattered throughout Hachigoku, but took no action; they wanted to hear from the Senryuu. With the siege broken and the Jade army accused of dishonor by the still furious Todo, sensei one by one were met by their daimyo and questioned. As the winter continued, daimyo after daimyo declared they found no fault with the Senryuu. Instead, they endorsed the organization.
In a meeting of the Roju, the Shimazu and Oda made their findings public and requested the Tairo step down. Panicked, the Tairo ordered them cut down on the spot. Riots broke out through the city, but samurai loyal to the Tairo quickly quelled them with an enormous toll on both commoner and samurai alike. In the north, an alliance of Abe, Owari, and Todo forces harried the remaining Jade army throughout the summer, while Hachisuka traveled south to find a capital unwelcome to visitors. Uji with split loyalties fell to infighting, and an Oda force from Takagoku found its path blocked by Kuroda samurai holding the passes against “rebellion.” The Shimazu laid siege to Hikaru Toshi, but their forces were not enough to break the gates, and word reached them of a Sakai force sailing up the coast to relieve the city. The Sakai were no lovers of the Wazaki, but they were loyal to the legacy of Hikaru and unwilling to see the city fall to invaders. All knew their force would arrive once spring dawned.
Then at midnight of the last day of the year, a ronin army led by Hachisuka entered the city by stealth and infiltrated the palace, putting the Tairo and his guards to the sword. The gates were opened, the Shimazu marched in, and the troubles ended. Hachisuka accepted imprisonment, and her ronin surrendered their blades to the Shimazu. Over the next few months testimony brought forth the full extent of Wazaki corruption, and any such samurai were purged from their positions. Each uji determined its own punishments, including retirement, exile, or execution. Not a single Wazaki ally was allowed seppuku. By purging their own samurai first, the daimyo secretly under Wazaki sway escaped punishment. The Wazaki themselves faced annihilation; those willing, however, were allowed to swear fealty to the Yamanouchi, who for their own defense were exiled from the mainland and ordered to advance Imperial control of the Lightning Isles. The same offer was given to Jade army survivors in Ichigoku. To maintain the stature of the Roju, the Abe were put forward as worthy of ascending.
The reconstituted Roju granted the Senryuu an Imperial charter, devised by Imperial planners. While amending the charter requires Roju approval, the Senryuu were otherwise free from Imperial control. Feared as agents of chaos, the organization instead acts as one of the greatest peacemakers in the Empire, allowing free travel and communication between uji in a way even the gakuen system and Onmyoryo cannot while under Imperial authority.
Hachisuka accepted exile, but the Owari daimyo did successfully lobby for the ronin to be redeemed as their own uji. Their first daimyo, Hayashi, took Hachisuka as his family name. Hachigoku remained whole, the Hikaru legacy never challenged again.
The Kaiju War (1101-1104 SY)
After the ascension of the Abe to the Roju, the temporary alliance between Abe, Owari, and Todo dissolved. The Yanigasawa, however, with the aid of Owari and Todo sensei from the Senryuu, managed to bring them back together in a truce. By the end of the century, however, the insurers of peace had long passed on and old rivalries flared again. Border conflicts between the uji of Ichigoku and Kitagoku were a constant menace, but the Roju refused to interfere.
In this climate of distrust and enmity, tragedy struck the coast. Villages slowly disappeared from the Kitagoku coast, but calls from their vassals for an investigation and aid fell on deaf Todo ears; it only increased their suspicion of Owari subversion. Eventually the mystery enveloped Nigoku as well, until one night the port city of Akai Gake Toshi was attacked. A great beast arose from the sea, its massive skull breathing blue flame across the rooftops of the city. Its body was an equally titanic skeleton burning with the same fire, and its bony hands ended in claws. It clambered up the cliffs and over the walls, laying waste. Samurai and commoners joined forces to impede its access to the inner levels of the city as the population fled in terror. Only the local onmyoji, banding together across uji lines, succeeded in halting its destruction. By morning they lay dying, drained, as the beast dragged itself back to the sea. The surviving onmyoji gasped to his rescuer:
“I have seen its mind. Jigoku. From Jigoku it crawled, and there are more...”
Imperial sentries flocked to the eastern coasts, monitoring for more incursions. Reports poured in that beasts as wildly different in shape as reptiles, insects, birds, tentacled monstrosities, and other terrifying forms were arising from the sea, marauding, then either retreating back to the water or advancing into the forests and hills to sleep. Their territory was increasing. Onmyoji and other experts in Yang corruption were summoned to Onmyoryo headquarters to research the threat; while Hachigoku was filled with wonders, these huge bakemono did not assault the Empire in the Mikaboshi War. They were taken to be a new threat.
Over the next year, Todo forces were continually routed by both these monsters, now dubbed kaiju, increasing their hunting grounds, and by refugee armies fleeing destruction. Todo strongholds strategically built to defend against Owari and Abe invasion and tactics geared against such samurai could not handle the wildly divergent fights raging deep in their heartlands. The Owari daimyo offered to reinstate the old truce and send reinforcements.
At the height of Todo hubris, they refused.
The animosity between Owari and Todo had long been to the Abe advantage; to some extant they even instigated a crisis when necessary. Given the nature of the threat, however, they were rethinking this policy, and about to side with the Owari in persuading the Roju to step in and amass a Jade army. The Shimazu already maneuvered the Roju into turning the Imperial navy north, but their forces lost ship after ship to attacks by monsters rising up from underneath. But before the Abe could make their move, an oni army swept out from their hidden nests in the Silver Swords, and they were not alone. Kaiju strode down the mountains after them.
The Abe lost battle after battle; even Owari tacticians who joined could not counter the wily strategy of oni and brute force of kaiju.
Into their camp one night walked a mysterious ronin in hulking armor. He carried no swords, only a massive jade-encrusted tetsubo across his shoulders, and his companion looked thoroughly corrupted by Yang. After subduing the guards with magic, he asked, politely, to see the Abe and Owari daimyo. When they arrived he apologized for having his friend subdue their sentries and guards with sleep. “Had I lowered my club, they would be dead. We need every samurai.”
His stature and barely suppressed violence impressed the daimyo yet shook them. What would it take to defeat these kaiju, to save the Empire? Desperate, they agreed, and the ronin immediately barked orders. His ally took command of the onmyoji. They did not wait until morning, but under the stranger's command surged forward in a savage attack against the enemy. Samurai charged the oni, then retreated, luring them into hastily dug traps. The kaiju were felled one by one by the onymoji, and could not blink before the ronin pounced and crushed each beast.
By dawn, the invasion from the mountains was in shambles. The daimyo dispatched forces to harry the enemy back to the mountains, and turned to the stranger. “What is the name of our savior?” The ronin just shrugged. His companion, who spoke no words except for prayers, croaked a keening sound. The ronin smiled. “Ii. It will do. Now I will teach your men to do what I do, and we will show you lowlanders how to kill overgrown gods. Each kaiju is an akuma, twisted and summoned into a body powered by a hundred sacrifices. Each one took a long time to make. We must move and strike like a mountain falling from the sky.” His companion, Mizuno, was dispatched to the Onmyoryo to recruit and train onmyoji strictly as kaiju slayers. As winter fell, Ii's army camped in the Owari han, and drilled their men mercilessly in kaiju anatomy and tactics. Ronin and samurai from other uji made their across the Empire to join the fight, and a Jade army was assembled in Nigoku. By spring, the army rode out and liberated besieged Todo strongholds along the border, adding their might. The strongholds acted as bases for smaller tactical units, each with onmyoji trained to make the first assault and bushi providing the killing blows. Not since the Mikaboshi War had onmyoji been so militant.
By summer, a relief army of Imperial soldiers arrived on the Kitagoku coast, ferried by the fleet. Working together with Ii's command, the Jigoku forces were divided and crushed between them. As winter snows fell again, Hachigoku breathed a sigh of relief. Ii and Mizuno, however, refused to rest.
“This was no natural occurrence, and they did not arise from lost Goshima. They were summoned. This is not over.” The Roju, particularly the Todo who were in desperate need of rebuilding, preferred to think it really was over. If it took so long, as Ii had said, to summon such creatures, then Hachigoku had time to heal and prepare a response.
Ii found an unlikely ally in head of the Jade metsuke and the Asano daimyo, who offered their full resources. Ii deferred to Mizuno over leadership; investigation was not his talent. A massive manhunt and intelligence operation, in a further unlikely alliance with the Secret Societies, discovered a network of Mikaboshi cultists. This network, the Blood Lotus, spent nearly a century planning their summonings, but in the space of an autumn teams of fierce metsuke swept into their temples, ashrams, crypts, and gambling dens, eviscerating the organization. But not before their final ritual. Taking note of a map left behind, Mizuno rushed back to the north to warn Ii.
Ii and the largest single army ever assembled in Hachigoku's history, the combined force of Ichigoku and the remains of his followers from the year before, marched north. On a lonely promontory over the ocean, Ii confronted the Blood Lotus leader, and attempted to save the final sacrifice.
A titanic claw dripping with shadows rushed out of the sea before, larger than any before. No samurai present could see the full width of its wrist; those miles and miles away could see the tips of a talon against the sun, and even samurai from the Owari capital reported the sight through clouds. Its colossal shadow fell across the land for a hundred miles.
Then it struck the ground. Thousands upon thousands of samurai died; many more died in the wake of earthquakes ripping through all seven realms. The massive upheaval brought down villages and castles far from the coast. Quiet filled the Empire as the hand rose again; even dying samurai were too frightened to scream.
All eyes turned east.
Ii still stood.
The army cheered, a flood of exaltation lifting them off the killing ground. But the claw was rising, rising, growing, reaching a new apex. A forearm, gray and serrated and streaming in blood, followed. Before it could strike, Mizuno and his onmyoji flung themselves into the portal screaming prayers. Lightning and spirits swirled along coast as nature lost its mind. A massive tsunami struck the coast; millions more died. The onmyoji were never seen again.
But the portal closed. The arm shot up into the sky, then landed in the wasteland to the north. Ii ordered an immediate retreat, and the bravest samurai in Hachigoku lifted up the wounded and dying. They ran for days, as fire and shifting earth tortured the north. After three weeks, it was finished. The remains of the kaiju's hand so upset the spiritual landscape an entire range of sharp, wicked mountains rose up in the span of weeks, an open scab on the Empire. The forests and tundra of the far north now lay separated from the broad river valley of Ichigoku by cragged cliffs and peaks that yet bleed lava and breed bakemono. Only the foolhardy and desperate lived in the shadow of the Five Talons.
The political fallout from the Kaiju War fell squarely on the shoulders of the Todo. Shocked by their reckless disregard for the Empire, a feud that weakened them for generations before the monster infestation, the Roju demoted their status. They were forced from the Roju, and the borders of Ichigoku and Kitagoku were redrawn; the coast below the Five Talons now belonged to Ichigoku, and the Todo found themselves chafing under Owari authority. An authority they have never accepted, however. The Senryuu likewise stripped the Todo ryuu from their possession and gave it to the newly formed Ii uji. The Roju followed suit, elevating the Ii immediately to the Roju and giving them responsibility for Kitagoku.
Thus were the borders of Hachigoku and its seven realms fixed until the present day.
Fall of the Ichigo (1343 SY)
The Ichigo uji swore fealty to the Kuroda during the taming of Mizugoku, and their founder was foremost among onmyoji when it came to summoning fire kami. They jealously guarded their position in the Onmyoryo as defenders of the Ichigo legacy, to a point that made other onmyoji uncomfortable. Over the centuries it was their daimyo most prone to go too far segregating samurai onmyoji from those of humbler origins.
The final daimyo of the Ichigo, Aiyeka, ascended under tragic circumstances. Ont he eve of her gempukku, assassins connected to the Secret Societies murdered her entire family and slew onmyoji throughout the castle. This left her with a lifelong obsession with quashing rebellion and maintaining samurai authority in her realm. Ten years later, when a massive contraband shipment of firearms intended for the Golden Eyebrows Society was intercepted by Jade metsuke, she personally petitioned the Kuroda and their Date allies to assemble an expedition whose goal was nothing less than the final extermination of rebellion in Mizugoku. Shocked and terrified by the scope of the arms shipment, they agreed, over the objections of local Jade metsuke.
The summer of 1343 is still known as Aiyeka's Wrath throughout Mizugoku. What began as targeted attacks against known Secret Society villages and strongholds within Kuroda and Date allied territories soon spiraled out of control. Boats full of refugees began pooling into Dragon Boat Lake, or fleeing south and north into other realms, creating a strain on their economies and defenses. Lands controlled by independent daimyo became battlefields, their own villagers and samurai slaughtered. The Ichigo and their allies maintained that these were passing conflicts involving fleeing rebels with no respect for life or mercy.
The burning of a monastery in Omura lands became a flashpoint. Thousands of refugees had fled into Omura lands, where the samurai were fiercely devoted to Zen and held their commoners as near-equals. A monastery on the borderlands, one of many who claimed to be the “last” site visited by Hotei, was overwhelmed with the sick and dying. And then one night it mysteriously exploded in a rain of blood and fire. The Omura publicly blamed the Ichigo; the Ichigo, unsurprisingly, blamed Yang magic being embraced by the rebels.
The Onmyoryo took notice, and their own metsuke began trickling in, collecting testimony from survivors. In a bid to end the purge and save lives doing so, or so Ichigo Aiyeka proclaimed, she persuaded the Kuroda and Date to guard their flanks in a push deep into the Cauldron and Khali territory. She uncovered magic that could strike at the heart of the rebellion without risking any more samurai or commoners. Weary from a summer full of death and nervous about increased scrutiny from outside Mizugoku, they agreed.
In a heroic push up from the valleys below, the Ichigo fought off waves of rebels until they stood on the cusp of the Cauldron's Heart, a massive dragon nest manifesting in a valley of lava and hiding a forgotten temple. However, victory as not as assured as the daimyo hoped. The Kuroda and Date forces, guarding the pass into the valley as a rear guard, were lured away by reports of a massive rebel army sweeping in from the below. When they arrived to take up their positions against the foe, the enemy had vanished.
And the Ichigo samurai left to hold the pass found an Omura army scaling the cliffs above and hurling down boulders.
Inside the temple, no one knows Aiyeka's ultimate fate. Outside, however, and throughout all Hachigoku all those with Ichigo blood and sensitivity to magic suffered an excruciating immolation. One by one members of the Ichigo family exploded then faded into embers. The Empire boiled with fear and uncertainty, and riots broke out in all the realms. Anyone suspected of Ichigo blood, even commoners, found themselves the target of fearful mobs. Survivors related to those lost ordered swift pogroms against any suspected rebel settlements, or against anyone they decided fir the “Secret Society” mold. Bandits took advantage of the chaos. Jade metsuke and more tolerant daimyo struggled to stamp out fire after fire; Aiyeka's wrath burned through Hachigoku.
By fall the hysteria subsided. The Roju turned to the Onmyoryo to sort through matters. The Ichigo were decimated and their entire ruling family destroyed either in the conflagration or during the chaos; many in Mizugoku, and more than a few in the Onmyoryo, held the Ichigo to blame for their own fate. Publicly, they “expressed regret at the loss of a revered onmyoji legacy and daimyo dynasty” but believed it was a “mysterious judgment from kami of the Cauldron” who resented so much blood being poured into the soil of their home. The Omura were absolved of their involvement, since whether Ichigo involvement in the monastery's destruction was true or not, their thirst for vengeance was “within the bounds of Bushido.” Furthermore, the Omura were elevated to upper echelons of the Onmyoryo, with the disciplining of the Todo as precedent.
The Ichigo were no more; those samurai who survived the battle and combustion became ronin. Thousands petitioned the Kuroda and Date to become vassals; both uji declined, but they did agree to foster their children. Hundreds took them up on the offer; most did not.
But Mizugoku, they say, never heals. Its people only gain thicker scars.
Era of Yoshi's Folly (1368-1410 SY)
In the more than two decades since Aiyeka's Wrath unleashed havoc, long-simmering political disagreements, border disputes, and personal grievances between daimyo increased. The ever-tenuous fault lines between realms and their daimyo, samurai and peasants, rumbled. Whatever the truth behind the summer of rebellion suppression, it was clear to all that after four centuries, Hachigoku was still, for many, two Empires.
Into this turmoil walked a young politician, Oda Yoshi, the nephew of the Oda daimyo. He was appointed to the Roju, just as its current Tairo passed away. The uji were at odds as to who should be elected the new Tairo. The Shimazu and Asano both preferred their own representatives, but the Abe and Owari refused to recognize any leadership from the “scheming South” or the “naive South.” Supporting any candidate from the ever-expansionist Abe or Owari, however, would rankle the lower-ranking uji.
The Kuroda and Date wisely removed themselves from consideration.
The Ikeda traditionally supported whomever the Oda chose, and they almost never chose themselves. In any case, Yoshi was talented, bright, and able, but considered himself far too inexperienced for the role. Until the Ii councilor, traditionally an Aoyama samurai (“We have more important things to do than play politics,” say the Ii), invited him to tea and set out the Go board. She persuaded Yoshi to put himself forward as an “inoffensive” candidate. If it was overwhelming, Yoshi could retire, giving the Roju more time to weigh alternatives. However, stressed the graying samurai, what the Empire really needed now was a peacemaker, someone who could bend to the ego of other daimyo, but in so doing bend towards the general good of Hachigoku. “I may be trained as an ambassador, Aoyama-dono,” chuckled Yoshi, “but I can hardly stand up to daimyo with legions at their back!”
“Look at the board,” she insisted. “You've been trying to lose gracefully the entire night, as is only proper. You are the guest, and just a young upstart at that! Propriety is the cornerstone of your training, your philosophy. But… you keep laying stone after stone. There's two of you; one is listening intently to every word I say and building defenses against my arguments, deftly trying not to offend me, but the other? It's been aggressively circling my stones, digging into defend every speck of territory, and I haven't ever been giving into you. Are you even aware of that drive? I yield to the superior builder.” She bowed, and Yoshi left troubled.
Over the autumn he maintained a flurry of correspondence with his daimyo, an elderly samurai who had both succored refugees and fought bandits in the wake of Aiyeka's wrath. The two had long held a mentoring relationship, and talked about what could be done to make the Empire stronger. Oda Kenji was delighted to hear there might be a possibility in Yoshi being Tairo, and began his on correspondence campaign to back him, all the while trading letters as they discussed possible policies.
Autumn turned to winter, and the Winter Court of the Roju took place. Despite knowing their diminishing prospects, the Asano and Shimazu representatives put themselves forward in an initial private meeting, each politely nominating the other; a traditional fiction. Yoshi wondered if the Aoyama representative would follow through, when the Makino representative, a Nagai samurai (the Makino, like the Ii, felt their political capital was better spent on the Onmyoryo), spoke up.“The kami,” he rasped, “prefer Oda Yoshi.”
Yoshi's mouth went dry. The severity of such an endorsement was unheard of. The meeting ended abruptly, and the next few weeks were a whirlwind of veiled accusations from the Asano and a shower of gifts throughout the capital from the vaults of the Shimazu. All to no avail. Yoshi turned aside all scandals, and the Ikeda were no strangers to the political art of gift-giving. In the end, the next meeting brought the Asano and Shimazu to agreement if not reconciliation. Oda Yoshi was the new Tairo.
During the ceremony to install a new name for a dawning reign era, the Asano councilor muttered, “Yoshi's Folly.”
With a disarming smile, Yoshi accepted the name and made it official.
Over the next generation, as other councilors came and went, through the death of his beloved daimyo, Oda Yoshi retained his seat and control of the Roju. He pushed forward reforms to border laws, easing restrictions on the travel of religious pilgrims and entertainers. He sanctified trade pacts between daimyo to increase contact between enemies, and set up permanent Jade metsuke installations to monitor daimyo who were too friendly. He installed a system of visitation requiring every daimyo's family to spend at least six months out of the year in the capital, but he stopped short of demanding the daimyo do so as well. He relaxed but would not remove restrictions on foreign trade, authorizing an increase in exports as well as taxes from the Yamanouchi islands, opening up Blue Lotus City as a free port under joint Sakai and Jade metsuke rule, and engineering a difficult peace treaty between the Katagiri and Ikeda over their Imperium trade monopolies. Ronin in particular, by being employed in various minor capacities (the increase in pilgrimages meant an increase in yojimbo journeymen, for instance), and by instituting Jade metsuke as the advocates of any ronin accused of crimes in a daimyo's jurisdiction, prospered as well. Aiyeka's Wrath had set loose a wave of ronin in the Empire, and the Yoshi reforms kept small bandit bands from becoming dispossessed armies.
More than four decades passed, and Yoshi is no longer the quick-witted, spry administrator and envoy. He can no longer abandon the capital at a moment's notice to show up in another realm, quickly and quietly quelling a looming conflict. He shuffles to meetings, and fears the next generation of Oda and Ikeda daimyo do not embrace the peace he worked so long to hold together. It is not an eternal Hachigoku he engineered, but one in constant need of vigilance an maintenance. While some daimyo and Roju members still fully support his vision, his stalwart allies fade more every year.
The winter brings dark whispers of its own.
Reports of travelers being turned away at the borders of many Hikugoku han are troubling, especially in their uniformity. The safety of the Empire from rebellion in the South long rests on their inability to maintain loyalty to each other for more than a handful of generations. To see all act as one terrifies the capital, and various daimyo, led by the Kinoshita, demand to the know the fate of their ambassadors, merchants, and pilgrims. From Jade metsuke posted to the region the capital hears no word.
Nigoku faces its own rise in tensions, as Yamanouchi ships spotted at Hachisuka ports engaged in trade, defying Imperial edicts restricting them to a single Okabe port. Matters in Ichigoku are worse, as the new Owari daimyo's efforts to forge a peaceful alliance between its dominant uji are threatened by Todo mobilization; their ambassadors declare the whole proposed treaty as an “Owari trick worthy of an Asano” and rattled their swords. A string of ronin-led bandit attacks in Mizugoku threaten to bring the Kuroda-Date alliance either into conflict with the Omura-Tachibana alliance, or into partnership. Either result would be disastrous, thinks the Roju. Jade metsuke in the realm are demanding intervention. Chugoku is rocked with a religious movement, as peasants abandon the harvest and flock to the Makino capital; the Onmyoryo has asked the pilgrims to return home, and says the summons does not come from them. As peasants in Nigoku begin joining the movement, Nigoku daimyo are increasingly suspicious.
Only Kitagoku remains quiet, which itself is alarming as Aoyama envoys begin appearing throughout Ichigoku, Takagoku, and Nigoku. The ambassadors of the Ii are not known for their outreach, and even more curious is that they ask nothing in return for their services.
The tapestry of Hachigoku is being picked apart thread by thread.