Children of Thunder or War in the Ivory Kingdoms.
POV intro fics
The Miya was ushered before the former Scorpion quickly and unceremoniously. One did not keep the Mantis Clan Champion waiting when he had been woken in the middle of the night. At least on the pretence of a simple message.
As the half-dressed Mantis samurai broke the seal of Toturi I on the scroll, he stared at the messenger intently.
“I would kill a messenger for less than breaking into my home and assaulting my guards, Miya-san. A lot now depends on this being good” stated Yoritomo Aramasu flatly.
“I apologise Yoritomo-san, but when my Emperor orders me to get this to your person as swiftly as possible, I cannot be permitted to allow small matters like doors and guards to delay me” replied the Imperial Herald impassively behind a green half-mempo.
As the Mantis Clan champion read on, his expression changed from irritated, to curious, to thoughtful.
“Do I get to keep my head, Yoritomo-san?” asked the Imperial Herald, his voice thick with sarcasm.
“For now, good friend Miya-san. You were correct in bringing this to me as soon as you did. It seems our emperor has need of the Children of Thunder elsewhere. How goes the war against the Steel Chrysanthemum?”
“So far, inconclusive. We’ve fought several times, and every time we try and defeat them entirely, the Stone Crab holds his unnaturally tough army together. I can see why he was a living legend in his time.”
“You thought that a war against Hida Tsuneo would be easily won, never mind giving him an army of spirits? How do the clans fare? Are they still struck with indecision as their pasts feud with their presents?” asked the man some called the Stinging Mantis.
“The Phoenix have forced the spirits from Kyuden Isawa and pledged all their might to defeat them. The Crab have sent what they could, and you know the Lion and Toturi. Every sword they could send now fights for the Imperial throne, as it should. “
“And of the Underhand?”
“Their allegiance is much more nebulous truth be told. They sent a delegation to the Emperor, but I see more than a few in the company of the Hantei. It makes me uneasy” replied the Miya, hesitantly.
The Mantis smiled grimly. “You can trust the Underhand to always have a knife or two handy, Miya-san. I’d not be as worried. Besides, I have other concerns now.” He gestured to the scroll in his hand. “Do you have any staff on hand I could borrow? I need to dispatch messengers immediately, and a Miya is always a useful resource to have.”
The Imperial Herald nodded, “a dozen with me. They wait downstairs.”
“Good. I’ll have them brought up and given messages for mustering. In the meantime, stay a while, and enjoy my hospitality. I had a case of Unicorn brewed sake given as a gift to me recently, and I know you enjoy a cup or two” replied the Mantis.
“I’d not say no, but first, those messages. That’s a Miya’s top priority” responded the herald, leaning back into the chair while Aramasu picked up a writing brush to write orders. War was beginning….
Children of Fire and Thunder
“Prepare for action! Archers to stations! Marines, prepare for landing. Toniko, lead your marines left, Kalai, have your archers cover the advance, Usan, your men right. All others, follow me down the centre. Leave none alive, and show these spirits the power of the Mantis. Who do they face?” bellowed Yoritomo Arai.
“THE CHILDREN OF THUNDER!!” replied the four dozen samurai on board the ship, the Roar of Isora.
“Thirty seconds till landfall Captain” shouted the Navigator, Moshi Surai.
“Thank you Surai-san. If you could provide us some magical support, that would be greatly appreciated” replied Arai, giving the navigator the courtesies his men didn’t expect in time of battle. It helped to be polite to a master navigator. Especially when she could hurl lightning and fire from her hands.
They had been sent to the Yasuki Peninsula, 1146. A Spirit force under the command of Matsu Takagi had been ravaging Crane and Crab holdings, and the Mantis strongly disagreed with this. Arai was the master of a 15 ship fleet ordered to dislodge these spirits and restore total control of the area to the clans. Though it had some Lion in there, it was mainly Crane with small numbers of spirits from other clans like the Phoenix, Crab and Scorpion.
Arai joined his marines in preparation for the movement in. The spirits were camped 350 metres from the shore; a fog generated by the ships’ navigators cloaked each ship.
“Captain, their sentries are looking awfully concerned about something from this way” shouted Tsuruchi Kalai, master archer of the ships 15 Tsuruchi, and the keenest eye in the fleet.
“Acknowledged Kalai, have your archers ready to bring down their first men out, give the marines a chance to effect landfall properly” responded the captain.
“Very well captain. Tsurchi, fire as you bear on targets, priority to be given to the closest. Kill shots only, am I understood?!” shouted Kalai.
“Yes Kalai-san. The arrow knows the way!!” responded his troops.
As the ship began to land on the shore, Kalai heaved on his own bow, a Tsuruchi Dai-Kyu. Normally for horsemen, he was a master bowman. He blocked out all else; and his first arrow flew the 300 metres towards the closest sentry, a Crane samurai with a faint glow of a returned spirit. The body of the sentry crumpled as an arrow struck through his neck armour, and an audible shout went through the camp as the cloak of fog disappeared, revealing the Mantis fleet. To their credit the spirits mustered fast and in a matter of minutes a rough battle line had been formed of 400 or so spirits, with a large knot of Matsu at the centre of their camp. However, in the time it took for them to do that, the marines of the fleet had managed to kill a hundred or so of the spirit warriors as they tried to gather from camp.
“Captain, I think they know we’re here” said Yoritomo Usan, a bitterly sarcastic tone in his voice.
“Casualties?” replied his captain.
“Ten of our marines, 23 across the other ships. A good tally so far” responded the cheerful Mantis.
“Now the real fighting begins lad. Have the crews from the Fury of Suitengu, Kama of Thunder, Stormdancer and Dancing Orochi go right. The rest will follow us up the centre. Let’s see if we can get a surrender; I’d rather that than break a line commanded by a Matsu. I doubt we’ll get it, but send messengers to wait for my signal. The captains will know what I mean.” replied Arai.
“Your will” responded his second in command.
In two minutes, the four crews began moving to the right, whilst the other six began advancing on the spirits’ position. A rider in Matsu gold rode forward, a white flag of parlay held in one hand. He began to speak when he was 10 metres away.
“You samurai, surrender to Matsu Takagi, and he will spare your lives. You are no match for true Great Clan samurai” spoke the messenger.
“We are true Great Clan samurai, Matsu-san. I offer your commander the chance to surrender, and preserve his men. I doubt this will be taken, so take this back to your commander: If he doesn’t lay down his arms in 2 minutes, we will assume he wants a fight. And believe you me, Matsu-san, I will not spare a single warrior who marches under his banners” replied Arai.
“I will pass your message along Yoritomo-kun, but when you are defeated, expect no quarter from my lord” replied the messenger. He rode away towards his lines. In barely a minute, an audible cry of “BANZAI” was rising from the spirits, and a wedge began charging down the slight incline upon which their camp had been based. The Matsu formed the tip, and their commander ran at the front of his men.
Yoritomo Arai smiled to himself. He had counted on this impetuosity. “ALL TSURUCHI. FIRE ON THE TIP OF THAT WEDGE, MARINES, PREPARE TO COUNTER CHARGE ON MY SIGNAL!” he shouted, failing to restrain his amusement.
Bows twanged and arrows flew. Five volleys later, and the tip of the wedge was a bloodied mess. The figure of Takagi lay prone, 50 feet from the Yoritomo, with all his Matsu. They had taken the arrowfire for their unit, but the 100 or so Tsuruchi had done their damage. The 400 Yoritomo counter charged at 20 feet away at the faltering wedge. The 250 returned spirits fought hard, but after half an hour and the charge by the other four crews in the rear, the last of the spirits had fallen.
150 marines dead, 40 wounded, 10 of those heavily, but the navigators were tending to their wounds. They would most likely recover, but it would be touch and go. Sheer numbers had served to doom the individually tougher, but numerically inferior spirit warriors. Cries of grief and triumph happened every so often, as a samurai rejoiced in the victory, or as a man found a brother dead with a sword in his chest, or a spear thrust to neck.
“Captains, order your men to assemble back on board, and meet me on the Roar” shouted Arai to his captains. A cluster of voices assented, then began issuing orders.
The dead of the spirits were burned, whilst Mantis dead were taken up to ships, to be commemorated in their own way. Men would have to be replaced, good warriors and sailors all. Arai was briefly disgusted at the waste of it all, then put that aside. He would continue to show these spirits why the Mantis were a Great Clan, and would make the name Yoritomo spoken of with fear by all those who sought to bring chaos to his own time. But most of all, to show them the Mantis were the greatest sailors, warriors and raiders the Empire had ever known.
Beginnings and Endings
The last body was loaded onto the Kama of Thunder. In the battle against the spirit force, the samurai crew of the Kama had been nigh on annihilated. Their captain, Yoritomo Liung, called the Laughing Bear by his crewmen had personally killed 3 of the Crane warriors himself, and his warriors were at the forefront of the flanking maneuver. They bore the main brunt of the enemies blows, and of the 32 marines he led into the fight, 27 had fallen. Though all the fleet mourned the loss of 184 of its warriors, the loss of so many of one ship, as well as its captain, the Hero of Still Waters, was a great loss. With the leave of the remaining 5 men, including its Bowmaster, Tsuruchi Kang, the Kama would make a final voyage with the honoured dead.
The ship was set alight after a muttered spell by Moshi Surai. The ceremony had been simple, and the flames of the Kama provided a perfect pyre for warriors who had fallen. The crews which had gathered began to get ready to set off, but for the mean time, the captains were gathered in the mess of the Roar, to discuss several matters. Representing the Kama was Tsuruchi Kang, and the captains all acknowledged him as acting captain of the ship. In time, he and his men would be reassigned to a new ship, with a new crew and a fresh canvas upon which to write their glorious deeds.
“Fellow captains, my shugenja tells me we have a message come straight from our lord, Aramasu-sama. He has ordered that the bulk of the fleet is to return back to the Islands of Silk and Spice under my command, but that there are a couple of missions for which ships are required. Yoritomo Sanka-san, Captain of the Dancing Orochi, stand and be recognised” said the commander.
A smallish man, his body browned by constant exposure to the sun stood, “Hai, Arai-sama. What task do you and the Clan Champion ask of me?” he said formally.
“Our lord has asked that a 4 ship squadron assist the protection of Otasan Uchi, to provide ship defenses and a force of marines. In truth, you are to represent the Mantis there. I will assign to your command The Song of the Waves, Osano-Wo’s Wrath and the Stormdancer. Do any of the captains of these ships have any objection to my orders?”
“None, Arai-sama” they responded
“Good” he said. “Tsuruchi Mori-san, captain of the Foam Flyer, make yourself known”
“Hai, Arai-Sama. What orders do you have for the warriors of the Foam Flyer?” he asked.
“I am giving you command of four additional ships; you are to continue to patrol the eastern coast of the Empire. These will be the Fury of Suitengu, Light of Tengoku, Thunderchild and Yoritomo’s Rage. If you encounter any forces loyal to the Hantei, you will use your discretion on engaging them. I’ll arrange for as many additional troops as you may need to replenish your numbers to be taken from the ships under my command. Do any of the captains of these ships object to my orders?”
“None commander”, they all responded.
“Captain Kang will remain on board the Roar. The rest of you Captains, join me in a drink to our honoured dead, and then join your ships crews and brief your officers” said Arai. He motioned for his second to pour each captain a cup of Sake, a vintage brewed by the sake-masters of the Unicorn. He had developed quite a taste for it serving under Yoritomo himself on the Rolling Wave, his flagship. Even now, he remembered fondly serving as Yoritomo’s second, where he had seen first hand the rise of the Mantis from the front, and known the man who had become a hero of the Empire several times over. But now was not the time for thinking of that.
They all raised their cups, and Arai spoke proudly “To our dead, may they sail in tempests and reach a friendly port”, with the assembled captains roaring “To the dead” and downing the contents of their cups. The captains rose, and began to leave the mess. After several hours, and having bolstered troops on the ships on active duty, the three fleets parted, with the shugenja navigators providing fair winds. A week later, Arai and his fleet landed at the port of Kyuden Gotei, capital of the Mantis Clan and chief port of its fleets. The smells of the Islands, the bustle of trade, the sound of ships bumping against pilings and the jetties, all these things filled Yoritomo Arai’s slightly jaded heart with a quiet joy. One of his remaining dozen or so marines threw a rope to the jetty, and a stout dock worker caught it and tied off the Roar on a two foot thick mooring. The crew of the Roar all gathered on deck to hear their captain speak.
“We have arrived in port. Until told otherwise, this stop off is for a week. You have all been given the rota for men to stay aboard ship, each of you will do a total of a day. I will check to mark sure this rota is adhered to, or by Suitengu, I will flay the men involved for dereliction of their duty. Do you understand my orders?” Arai asked.
“YES CAPTAIN!” bellowed the mariners in return.
“Very well, enjoy your time on shore. Drink, fight and gamble me proud lads” responded Arai. A roar from the sailors responded, and those who weren’t to stay on ship jumped down the gangplank to get to their homes, or go and spend their coin on whatever pleasures possible. As for Arai himself, he looked up at Kyuden Gotei, and began the long trek to the Halls of the Clan Champion.
The door knocked. “Enter” said the man at the writing desk, busy with writing orders, considering tax yields and generally being bored with papers. The samurai that walked in took 4 paces, and knelt on the floor, bowing till his forehead touched the floor.
“Ah, Arai-kun. Thank you for coming so promptly, I wish to discuss something with you urgently. Get off the floor man, and walk with me a while.” said Aramasu impatiently.
“Very well, my lord Aramasu-sama” replied Arai. He rose off the floor, and took the cup of sake he was offered by the Clan Champion. “Thank you lord” he said, raising the cup slightly before drinking it dry.
“You doubtless wish to know why I have called you from operations on the mainland against the rebels. This is why” Aramasu said, offering Arai a letter. The commander took the letter, noting the Imperial seal on the backside of it.
“My lord, this news has been sent by our Singh allies? Are they certain this is true?” asked Arai with disbelief in his voice
“Aye,they did. We forwarded what reports we had from the Singh to the Emperor, and he has ordered that we, as the only clan with any sufficient fleet resources and connections with the Ivory Kingdoms, are the only Clan able to deal with these Ruhmalists” replied Aramasu flatly.
“Well, forgive my ignorance lord, but what do you need from me?” asked Arai, almost hoping what he suspected wasn’t what would happen.
“You were my father Yoritomo’s first warrior. When he taught me how to think and live like a Mantis, he told me that if I needed a steady commander with courage worthy of Kaimetsu-Uo himself, to look to you. I will not ignore the wisdom of my adoptive father. I have no wish to throw our fleet into the darkness, but I cannot ignore the Imperial command. Therefore, you are to take 15 ships, with 10 supply ships as well. Your objective is to sound out which houses we can trust, which houses are our enemies. If a house is neutral to us, try and make them either friendly to us, or at least hostile to the Ruhmalists. You are to use all means at your disposal and at your discretion to achieve these goals. If you feel the enemy is too great to defeat on your own, or that you have achieved your objectives of acquiring intelligence and combating this cult, send a signal back to my personal shugenja, Yoritomo Subara, and I’ll bring the whole force of the fleet to bear on these foul cultists. Do you understand the task I am trusting you with?” said Aramasu.
Arai bowed low, and said “My lord Aramasu-sama, I am honoured by your trust. I will do this thing you have asked of me. By your leave, I will choose my flagship to be the Roar of Isora, and I will choose ships from the Storms to form my fleet. In addition, I will need to provision them and acquire supplies for this mission, supplies I’m not sure I will need. Finally, I will require gold with which to purchase goods when in the Ivory Kingdoms, as well as to purchase good will in some places”.
The Clan Champion held out a piece of paper, and stated simply “Whatever you require, show the seller this warrant and it is yours. The treasury will bear the weight of anything needed. As for your gold, speak to my estate manager Sabato. He will take you to the stores and you can withdraw whatever you believe necessary to achieve the mission, gold, silver, crystal, jewels. So long as it is not Clan artefacts, it is to be laid at your disposal. This mission is vital if the Empire is to remain safe from outside. You may leave now, and may the Fortunes guide you, and the spirit of Yoritomo himself watch over you. Oh, one last thing, Arai-kun. Take Kazuya with you. You may not trust him, but he has never served me false. He will serve about the Roar well under your command”.
Arai bowed low to his champion, and left the room.
He had a war to prepare for….