Prologue: The Ishi Clan

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The Elder of the Ishi was not hiding his unhappiness as he stormed into the estate of his clan without a single word to those he passed by. The youngest member of the Elder Council had witnessed something he had only heard rumors of. He had relented and went with the majority. He did not wish to bring trouble to his clan by siding with the likes of the Kari, the Hamara, and the Shima in regard to the Emperor though he was certain that there was something underhanded afoot. Jee of the Ishi cared little if those of his clan heard the commotion going on in his office. He had eyes and ears all over the nation and yet the assassination of the Emperor, Akizuki Kensuku came as much of a surprise to him as it was to everyone else.

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Back and forth he paced his mind mauling over every possible angle this could take. If he was a betting man he would wager that the Waichia were behind the manipulation of unit twenty-three. A heavy sigh left his lips as he thought about the men of the Ishi that served among that unit. The unit was made up of four Generals and Captains, eight Lieutenants, and fifty soldiers. It housed the largest number of Ishi of all of the units of the military. To say that his clan had taken a major hit, would be an understatement.

His sons, Yukime and Ryoko were two of the youngest of that unit. They had only been with them for a couple of months. A soldier’s life was short, but to be cut down like this left a knot in the stomach of the Elder of the Ishi. His father, Jin had once told him that ‘a single event can change the path the Ishi walked’. He could not help, but wonder if it was times like these that his father was speaking of.

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Jee’s pacing was quickly interrupted when he realized he was being watched. When it came to age, he was ten years older than the young man standing near the entry to his office. He watched him rub the back of his neck as a serious expression overtook his face and he quickly relaxed his body. Jee understood the young man’s reasons for doing so. There was no member of the Ishi that wished for others to witness high emotions not even those of their clan, though Jee had been the exception to every rule.

“Nao wanted me to let you know that Mikio has hidden himself away in his hermit hole and is refusing to speak with anyone.” The young man was straight to the point. Jee would not have expected anything less from Rin Ishi the son of the Commander of the Shisosha, Oro.

Jee noticeably sighed, “I do not need this from him right now.” There was a sound, however brief, but noticeable as Jee let his eyes fall upon the young man before him. “There something you wish to say, Rin?”

It was obvious that Rin was considering his words as Jee tapped his foot lightly against the ground. “I am sorry for your loss, Elder Ishi.”

The words of the young man caught Jee off guard and he stammered to respond, but Rin had already quickly departed.

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Jee knew that there was too much to deal with and that he had little time to spend keeping his clan in the right state of mind. Mikio had always been a loose cannon. The man had spent years delving into the darkest forms of esoteric incantations. It was said that he had seen the first Emperor, Tearra Tylo grow from a child to a woman. Of course rumors also circulated that Mikio had been the father of Tearra’s son, Soti. The most anyone knew for certain was that Soti was in fact of Ishi blood.

As he made his way from his estate the bright sun caused the hues in his hair to cast as blond instead of the telling ‘silver’ that signified that he was of the Ishi. His mind wandered as he moved away from his estate and toward the small hermits nest that Mikio resided within. Long ago, long before even Jee had been born Mikio had built himself a small homestead. There were certainly rumors about why. Many said that he was experimenting, playing ‘god’ even. Whatever it was, Jee cared little as long as it did not hinder his clan. It was not as though there was anyone in the nation of Aslann that could stand against Mikio now. Suetomo of the Kensuku had been on even footing, but now that he was to be executed there was no one more powerful than Mikio. This put the Ishi clan in a good position.

The Elder of the Ishi took a breath in as he opened the door to Mikio’s modest dwelling. Glancing around, the homestead appeared deserted until the combative ‘cries’ caught his attention.

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Jee found Mikio behind the house. He recognized the all too familiar stance as being one of the thousand styles of the Ishi. There was only one Ishi now that could say he knew all one thousand forms of his clan and that man was the most dangerous person in the nation. Jee was no slouch when it came to combative styles of the Ishi, he knew five hundred and fifty-two, but it was a rare thing to be able to look upon someone that not only knew all of the styles, but was a child when they were created.

Mikio had seen war. He had seen the rise of a nation and the falls of each of its Emperors. He was a prodigy of his time and the times that came after. He held that stance for so long that Jee wondered what troubles plagued his mind. He imagined the loss of Kuro, his student, his clansman, his blood was weighing heavily on Mikio. If that were even a possibility. The people of the nation both of his blood and not had said many times that Mikio was a true snake of the Ishi, despite having his mother’s green eyes.

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Approaching with caution, Jee opened his mouth to speak only to barely managed to block the attack that Mikio had directed toward him. The power of the strike was so fast and hard that Jee could feel the ulna bone in his forearm crack from the force. Wincing Jee held steady and strong, his piercing gaze locking on that of Mikio.

Jee could feel the regenerative abilities of his clan quickly going to work to heal the break as the almost lazy gaze of Mikio finally fell upon him. The oomba, a cigarette made of a tobacco plant called shimdamalticus and honey, rolled in a small piece of thin parchment called alo hung from between Mikio’s lips. There was no apology for the sudden strike. “Nao said you have secluded yourself within these walls. This is no time for you to hide Mikio.” The billowing smoke from Mikio’s oomba drew in Jee’s attention, though Mikio himself offered no words. “I need your head in this, there is no time for you to get lost in the muddled thoughts of insanity.”

Mikio’s voice was distant and cold and Jee could tell there was something heavy weighing him down, “All Ishi suffer from those thoughts. As the Elder of the Ishi you should be aware that even the most humbled Ishi can fall to the darkness.”

“Let’s not turn this into a debate, Mikio.”

“Why are you here?”

Mikio’s question had thrown Jee and he stumbled for a moment. They were still posed in fighting stances, their bodies not adjusting for a moment. Jee had to tell himself to not think of the aching throb at his forearm and keep his eyes fixed on the man he knew without hesitation could kill him. “You know why.”

“Oh,” The word had been drawn out like it always was with Mikio. Relaxed and uncaring in gait. Jee’s body remained in a fighting stance even when Mikio withdrew his hand and turned his back to him. “You are going to try to have me named head of the Shisosha.”

“I am, but it will be an uphill battle. They will not wish to have another Ishi within the same position and will try to place someone else…” His words were interrupted.

“Oh, what makes you think I am interested?”

“This one is not negotiable Mikio.” Jee waited for some response from Mikio to indicate that he understood, but all that was offered was silence. “I need to know you have my back on this.” His lips pursed when the silence continued. Mikio was always like this, lost in deep thought and often not engaging. Ishi were known for doing as they wished, none more than Jee himself so he did in fact understand the silence. It was not as though the Ishi were like the Waichia or the Shima, close clans that worked for the benefit of the whole. The Ishi were individuals first that were held together only by blood. They would betray each other if it benefited them. Certainly it was a rare occurrence. They were stronger as a whole, but that would not stop them from doing what was necessary, for themselves above all others. “Do you Mikio?”

“Who knows.” Mikio finally responded.

Mikio’s response did nothing for Jee’s confidence that he could get this situation to work out as he wished. He needed Mikio to be accepting of the position of the Commander of the Shisosha. Could he manage to convince this snake of the Ishi? He was not certain and as he stared at Mikio’s back he realized he had more than just the upheaval of the nation to be concerned about.

To Be Continued

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