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 Footsteps in the Snow (A beginning) 
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Post Footsteps in the Snow (A beginning)
ooc: please talk to me before you post here as I try to get used to this
character.

The procession was slow and careful through the snow. They all followed a path that had not be walked for a good twenty years. Not since the Shugenja Akiko had passed away at the grand old age of ninety-seven. All of them had hoped that it would be much longer before they next walked the path to the Snowy Pagoda. But the Shugenja Kaede, daughter of Akiko, mother of Kyoko, had died long before her time.

Kyoko walked in the procession as was her right. She walked with her head bowed behind the priest carrying her mother's ashs. The young woman wore a gown of pale purple embriodered with tiny liliac flowers. Her skin was made up to be as white as the snow that blanketed the Mirrorlands at that time of year. The maid had painted Kyoto's lips a deep red earlier that morning and had drawn in khol about her eyes. Her jet black hair was drawn up and bound tightly in a bun. All of it made her seem aloof and distant, a doll come to life to walk in the funereal procession.

They passed through the wooden gate as the priests rang the bells. It was supposed to frighten away evil spirits and keep the honored dead safe. The Snowy Pagoda held the remains of many of Kyoko's ancestors. Now it would hold her mother's ashs as well.

She wished that her mother had not gone out to battle the wicked yuki-on-na. True the spirit had been troubling the people of the Mirrorlands greatly and her mother had been a strong Shuganja. Yet it seemed that Kaede's spells had not been enough to save her against the icey wasteland spirit.

Kyoko would mourn for her mother as was the custom. She would take her mother's place, leading the Mirrorlands and worshipping the divine Lady Isonia. Honor and duty ensured that she would do all that. But she had sworn to herself that one day she would find the evil spirit that had taken her mother's life. When that time came Kyoko hoped that she would prove to be a better Shugenja than her mother had been.

"For the honor of the dead I shall destroy it".

The Snowy Pagoda backed onto tall pine trees. Candles had been lit inside the building to show the procession the way. Incense would have been lit inside as well, another measure to force back the unwanted evil spirits. Wicked spirits could not be allowed near the Snowy Pagoda as they might try to steal the souls of Kyoko's ancestors from their rest. It was the Shugenja's duty to ensure that evil spirits could not succeed in their task. Kyoko would be held responsible by the ghosts of her ancestors if she let even one be taken by the spirits of Foret or Darden.

The procession continued towards the pagoda. The silence was only broken by the bells of the priests echoing through the snow-covered countryside.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Wed Jan 14, 2004 7:53 pm
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Kyoko walked through the pagoda's entrance, the priest carrying her mother's ashs following her. Inside the pagoda first floor there was only a simple altar. On the altar was a carefully painted picture of the divine Lady Isonia, dried lilacs arranged around it. In the Mirrorlands lilacs were the sacred flowers of the Lady. Young girls would collect them up and offer them to the priests and priestesses hoping that Isonia would smile on them.

The newest Shugenja of the Mirrorlands knelt before the plain altar and focused her gaze on the picture of the divine Lady. "Divine Lady of the heavens, you tested my mother and found her wanting against the yuki-on-na. Now I offer the ashs of my mother, the Shujenga Kaede, into your care". She lowered her head in respect to Isonia knowing that the divine ady would take her mother's soul into her care.

It was not the end of the matter though. Even with her mother laid to rest amongst her ancestors the evil yuki-on-na still walked the Mirrorlands. The snow that piled up in the land was proof that the wicked spirit had not been banished. Normally the Mirrorlands were green and pleasant with lowers carpeting the meadows. Since the spirit had come to the lands all that had changed. Even the two lakes whose surfaces were like mirrors and so gave the lands their name were little more than ice. Her mother's spells had not defeated the spirit. Seeking out the yuki-on-na had only suceeded in causing the end of Kaede's death.

And with her mother's death Kyoko had inherited not just the leadership of the Mirrorlands but also her responisibility to rid the lands of the evil ghost that plagued them. Her duty was clear as was the penalty for failing the divine Lady's test as her mother had done before her.

There was no other choice for the young Shugenja. Once her mother's ashs were put to rest Kyoko would return to the heart of the Mirrorlands, the walled city of Kamome. In Kamome she would prepare herself. Once preparations were complete she would have to go out into the snows and track down the yuki-on-na. If she did not the Mirrorlands would continue to be covered with snow as they had been since the spirit had appeared. No other would rescue the Mirrorlands from the spirit's blight. There was no other Shugenja in the kingdom and no warrior's sword could harm the spirit. With her mother dead Kyoko's duty was clear.

She would find and face the yuki-on-na. If she was strong then she would survive the encounter. If she was not strong enough then soon enough her ashs would lay alongside her mother's and her grandmother's.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Mon Jan 19, 2004 2:52 pm
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In Kamome everything was prepared and waiting for Kyoko's return. At the gateway to the city a priestess waited with liliacs from the temple. The robed woman kissed the flowers gently and then offered them to Kyoko. The Shugenja took the flowers, kissing the blooms herself before travelling on. As she headed towards the palace men and women bowed their heads in respect. She was their Shugenja, their protector and she would do her duty as she had been taught to. Duty and honor were everything, nothing else but faith in the divine Lady mattered.

Duty demanded that Kyoko finish her mother's task and deal with the yuki-on-na.

The palace doors opened were opened by a man on either side. The men were dressed identically, even their features appeared the same. The men might have been twins, sharing the same blood and the same parents. Brothers at the doors. Kyoko wished that she had had a sibling, someone to turn to in the times that faced the Mirrorlands. But with her Kaede's death Kyoko was alone, the last of her family until the day that she chose a consort and had a child. She would have a child one day, a child to follow in her footsteps and become the next Shugenja of the Mirrorlands.

The Shugenja of the Mirrorlands had always been a woman, it was the law. Just as it was the law that a child had to deal with their parents
unfinished business. The laws of the realm had been handed down from mother to daughter since the first settlement had been established. No one within the lands borders would have dared to question the laws, most certainly not Kyoko. As Shugenja she was supposed to be the living image of the laws and ideals of the realm.

She made her way through the palace. Kyoko had grown up in the palace's halls, she knew each corridor and room like the back of her hand. She knew that she could just close her eyes and make her way to any given room. Along the corridors and up the stairs she walked, never hurrying. Although she knew that she had to face the wicked spirit of the snow she did not rush. That was not how a Shugenja should behave. Her mother had told her many times over that a Shugenja should always be at peace and her mind calm. She should never rush or run, instead taking her time and letting her mind be clear. Only if her mind was clear could she make all the decisions that the divine Lady set before her.

The door to her rooms opened without a sound revealling a room decorated with purple and gold. On one side of the room a girl knelt by a fire and tended to it, warming the cool air. The Mirrorlands were not used to cold temperatures but the yuki-on-na's presence had seen to it that they had had to adapt to it. Fires were set in rooms and warmer cloth had been imported from traders in other kingdoms. Even so, now and then the cold would still seem to seep into Kyoko's bones, reminding her that the Mirrorlands had a far worse enemy than any heathen.

Heathens brought war and trouble to her home from time to time. They took from the outlying villages and towns without any thought for her people. That was another matter that she would have to deal with eventually. The raids from realms of Foret and Darden would have to be stopped one way or another. Yet the raids could be dealt with, they could be suffered.

The presence of the yuki-on-na could not be tolerated.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Mon Jan 26, 2004 7:36 pm
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Kyoko walked across her room to stand before a picture that had been painted of her grandmother, mother and herself. Three generations of her family together, though she had been little more than a babe and her grandmother had been close to death. Both her mother and grandmother had chosen to have a child late in life, the divine Lady Isonia blessing them long after a normal woman would have been sterile. The priestesses had declared that they were signs that the divine Lady was pleased with their devotion to her.

In the picture her grandmother, the Shugenja Akiko, sat up iron-backed, her expression stern and determined even though she had been only a few months from her death. Her hair had been painted as charcoal-gray and pulled back harshly from her face, not looking at all comfortable. Akiko's dress had been plain in design even though it was made out of dark purple silk, its color making the old woman's skin seem too pale in constrast. In her left hand her claw-like fingers had gripped the ornate shikomi-zue that had been the traditional weapon of the Sjugenjas of the Mirrorlands. The weapon should have been given over to Kyoko when she took her mother's place. It would have been given to her if only it had not disappeared.

Her mother had taken the shikomi-zue out with her when she had gone to face the yuki-on-na. But when her mother's frozen body had been found out in the snows there had been no sign of the weapon. It was just another reason for Kyoko to go after the winter spirit. She had to retrieve the weapon of her ancestors.

Once again Kyoko looked up at the picture, meeting the eyes of the painted image of her mother. The Shugenja Kaede seemed to look out of the picture at her daughter. The artist had caught a hint of laughter in her mother's eyes, a strange contrast with the stern expression of her grandmother. Her mother had been a larger woman than her own mother or her daughter. Not fat by any means but certainly more round in her face than the other two female members of her family in the picture. She had sat by her mother, holding her new born daughter closely, glad it seemed that the three of them were together.

Now the picture was the only thing Kyoko had left of a family. She had no brothers or sisters, no aunts or uncles. She had never known her father although her mother had occansionally spoke of him as a kind and noble warrior. All she knew of him was that he had died defending the small southern border. There wasn't even a single picture of him in the palace. There was always an unspoken sense that her mother had loved her chosen consort and that she had chosen him for more than his noble birth. Kyoko had no idea what her father's real name was, once a man became the consort of the Shugenja he gave up his name. All records of it were destroyed, he was simply the Shugenja's Consort and nothing more.

"I wish I had known him mother".

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Tue Feb 03, 2004 2:24 pm
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She turned her back on the picture though she could still feel the painted eyes of her dead mother and grandmother on her back. Kyoko did not look back at them. She didn't need any more prompting from the past, she knew exactly what she had to do. Somewhere out in the snows that covered the Mirrorlands the yuki-on-na waited for Kyoko. She had to face it and beat it, or die trying, there could be no other alternative for her. If she wished to do her duty for the people of the small realm and regain the honor of her deceased ancestors then she had to kill the creature. It was also the only way she was ever going to get the shikomi-zue of her forebearers back.

The shikomi-zue had reputedly been made by her ancestor the Shugenja Akasha when the Gods had still be young. Kyoko could remember her mother showing her the weapon when she had been a child, though she had not been allowed to touch it. No one except the ruling Shugenja was allowed to touch the weapon, it was a law that had ben in place since it had first been made. Only Akasha's descendants were allowed to touch the weapon and only then when they ascended to her throne. Over the years the shikomi-zue had been stolen only once and the culprit had been quickly caught. He had died by the same weapon that he had stolen.

Akasha had made a beautiful weapon, on the surface no more than an ornate staff, carved with the impression of liliac flowers. At the base of the staff the liliacs were only seeds, by the time the carving reached the top the flowers were in bloom. With a quick twist of the staff in the right section a spear blade would appear from within the staff, making the weapon far more dangerous than it first appeared. But as dangerous as it might be in combat the real power of the weapon came from the fact that it was the symbol of the shugenja's rule.

"I have to get it back, I cannot allow a mere tainted spirit to take control of it. The spirits of my ancestors cannot rest easily while it is held by one not of our blood".

Kyoko walked into her bathing chambers and finding the bath ready for her. Her maid hurried into the room, her steps quiet and her head bowed. The young Shugenja did not speak to her maid instead letting the girl go about her tasks. First the maid cleaned Kyoko's face of the thick layers of powder that had been used to make her skin seem so pale. Then she removed the Shugenja's outer layer of clothing, carefully folding it and setting it aside. She unwrapped Kyoko layer by layer till the young woman stood naked.

The Shugenja stepped up to the side of her bath, not flinching as she entered the hot water. The water was almost too hot and was strewn with dried lilacs and lavender. Steam from the water rose up in great billowing clouds, scented with the heady oils that been poured in there earlier. Droplets of steam condensed into water on her face as she sat down within the large bath. The water lapped at her neck, her bound up hair just kept away from it. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, focusing her thoughts on what she would soon have to do. This was the first step of the preparations that would eventually lead her to face the yuki-on-na in the snows.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Tue Feb 03, 2004 2:25 pm
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Kyoko let her body adjust to the hot water of the bath, she could feel her skin tingling from the heat. That was good, it meant that the impurities in her were being washed away. The impurities had to be removed from her body if she was to succeed where her mother had failed. The steam rose up from the water and condensed on her face so that it was not long before trickles of water began to run down like tears. She knew that the steam and the fragrant oils in the water would sting her eyes if she opened them now. Behind her the young Shugenja could hear her maid moving around, taking away the robe that Kyoko had worn to the Snowy Shrine. The maid would also be preparing the clothes that Kyoko would wear to track the yuki-on-na through the snows.

No one knew where the winter spirit had come from or why it had chosen to settle within the Mirrorlands. Never before had they been troubled by something like this. Kyoko had sat by Kaede's feet as her mother had looked back through the scrolls that chronicled the history of the Mirrorlands. Not once in all the years that her family had laid claim to the lands had anything like this happened to them. Even Akasha, her first ancestor, the Shugenja who had carved out the Mirrorlands and dedicated them to Isonia had not come up against a yuki-on-na.

"So why does one plague us now?"

Perhaps the evil ghost had been sent to attack the Mirrorlands by a heathen mage. Those who worshipped the fallen ones often came to her homeland waving the banners of war. Perhaps one of them had grown tired of waiting on the borders of the Mirrorlands. It could be that some unknown enemy had summoned the yuki-on-na and sent it to Kyoko's lands knowing that only the Shugenja would face it. If all of her family died by the spirit's hands then there would be no one left to sit upon the throne in judgement. Without a Shugenja to lead the people the lands would be easy pickings for the vultures.

"An enemy has sent this creature to the Mirrorlands, an enemy whose name I do not know. No one except me can face the spirit and stand a chance of beating it back. However if I fail as my mother did then there will be no one to hold the reins of power. Without a Shugenja on the throne the followers of the fallen ones will swarm over the Mirrorlands like locusts".

She stood up from the waters of the bath and let her maid wrap a towel around her. Kyoko's problem did not leave her alone though. On the one hand she had to face the yuki-on-na and try to reclaim shikomi-zue of her ancestors. It was a task that she had accepted knowing that it was her duty and also knowing that it would more than likely be the death of her. However if she faced the winter ghost and died she would leave her people without a ruler. The people of the Mirrorlands would be preyed upon by the followers of the fallen ones. Her people would be unable to protect themselves from the hordes of heathens that would descend upon them. To turn away from her duty meant leaving her people at the mercy of the winter ghost but to face it might leave them at the mercy of those that did not bow before Isonia.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Thu Feb 12, 2004 6:03 pm
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She stood as still as a mannequin as her maid fussed over her. Kyoko's skin was dried carefully with a large soft towel blotting away the last drops of water from her bath. The maid perfumed her flesh with watered lilac and lavender oils, ensuring never to use too much. Neither of them spoke, their positions in society kept it that way. By the laws of the Mirrorlands the maid was not even allowed to look into the eyes of the Shugenja. Only nobles, the priests and priestesses were allowed to meet the Shugenja's gaze. Anyone else was breaking the law of the kingdom and faced harsh punishment.

Her hair was let down from its ties and brushed gently, not that there were any knots in it. She had long hair even though it was rarely allowed to be loose for long, it was not considered proper for a lady to have her hair loose like a commoner. It was also as black as a raven's wing, so black that it almost seemed to shine blue in the light. Before she had time to really appreciate the feeling of her hair brushing against her neck the maid had tied it back up and secured it with a jade comb.

Her make-up was next, her face powdered till it was almost as white as the snow outside. Lips repainted a deep red, the cupid's bow accentuated by the colour. Her eyes were edged with khol once more, all in all making her look more like a china doll than a real woman. Sometimes Kyoko envied the lower classes in the Mirrorlands, certainly their lives were hard but at least they didn't have to put up with being made up like a doll everytime they wanted to go anywhere. She couldn't just rise from her bath, put on whatever clothes suited her, brush her hair out and walk into the streets. Kyoko had to be dressed just so, made up just so, everything perfect and precise, everything just the same as the first Shugenja of the Mirrorlands so many year before.

Kyoko looked straight ahead at the picture of her grandmother, mother and younger self. Behind her the maid picked up a plain soft shift made of thin silk for Kyoko to wear. It would be the first of many layers that the young Shugenja would be draped in. Next would come the hito and then the many layers of sugimi. Then the uchiginu and the uwagi would complete the outfit. The material used for the whole outfit differed depending on the layer. The layers closest to her skin would be thin while the top layers were thicker and the uwagi coat would be trimmed with the soft fur of white rabbits. Though each layer might not seem much against the terrible cold that covered the land, together the layers were more than enough.

Normally the whole outfit would have only been used for ceremonial purposes within the court of the Shugenja itself. It wasn't normally meant for going outside and especially not for confronting wicked spirits. But these were unusual times and ceremony demanded that the ruling Shugenja meet any threat to her rule in this way. Ceremony and tradition were important to the people of the Mirrorlands, just like duty they could not be ignored. Their history had a hand in shaping the lands and the people, that kind of thing could not be ignored. The wisdom of their ancestors had been passed to them in the form of ceremony and tradition. If they ignored that wisdom then they were denying their ancestors.

The weight of the outfit, the juni-hitoe, did not seem so great as it was placed upon her slowly. Kyoko knew that if she had just tried to pick up all the layers at once it would seem very heavy. But with the maid laying one layer at a time on her it didn't seem so bad, they were all just like the layers of responsibility that had been placed upon her since her mother's death. One at a time they didn't seem like much but taken all together they were so very heavy.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Wed Feb 18, 2004 7:11 pm
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Kyoko drew herself up to her full height, not slouching at all. She was the Shugenja of the Mirrorlands and the strength of her ancestors flowed through her. Their memories and spirits trusted that she would carry on the traditions and beliefs that they had defended. Many of them had given their lives to protect their beliefs and lands. She had to prove herself willing to do the same, it was the only way that she would prove herself worthy of joining them in the afterlife. One day she would be dead and her ashes would have to sit side by side with those of her ancestors. Kyoko could not let that happen if she was not able to justify her place among them. Defeating the yuki-on-na would definitely prove to her ancestors that her spirit had earned the right to be with theirs.

She walked gracefully out of her chambers. Not once did she stop or look for one last time apon those rooms. Kyoko did not want to look at the picture of the three most recent generations of Shugenjas. She knew what she had to do and she knew that it had not been so long ago that her mother had been in her position. Kyoko could remember the day when her mother had gone through the same preparations that she was now going through. There had been a hush in the air of the palace and even in the cityof Kamome that surrounded it. No one had wanted to speak too loudly or discuss anything. Everyone had felt in their hearts that silence was the best option, it was more respective to what was happening. Now that hush covered the palace and the city again.

The young Shugenja walked through the corridors of the palace. Although she appeared like a noblewoman who had stepped out of the oldest pictures in the palace no one turned their heads to look at her. They bowed instead, never meeting her eyes, just looking at the lowest hems of the purple and cream-coloured layers of the juni-hitoe.

She walked to the private palace temple without pausing. She had not needed to think which way she was going, Kyoko had been going to the temple since before she could walk. As a future Shugenja her mother had been insistant on her going to the temple regularly. It was only right that she show her devotion to the Divine Lady Isonia. Ruling the Mirrorlands was as much about faith as it was about tradition. The spirits of her ancestors would have been in uproar if they had ever thought that Kyoko's faith in Isonia was not total.

The temple was made of white marble with slim pillars of the stone rising up on either side. There were ten pillars in total, five on either side, ten pillars for the ten teachings of the Divine Lady. The teachings were duty, honour, care, protection, law, tradition, wisdom, respect, strength and love. Each pillar was carved with lessons on each teaching. The floor of the temple was covered with thick purple mats and hangings of the same color covered the walls. At the front of the shrine was a simple altar of stone. A length of lilac-colored silk covered the top of the altar, the edges of it sewn with patterns of flowers. On top of the altar was a grander and larger picture of the Divine Lady than had been in the Snowy Pagoda shrine. As in the pagoda lilacs and insence decorated the rest of the altar.

Two priestesses sat by the altar, one of them on either side. Neither of them moved as Kyoko walked into the temple and up to the altar. Their heads were bowed and in their hands they held hundles of dried lilacs. Their mouths moved silently as they sat there. The priestesses were praying for the Mirrorlands, asking for strength from the Lady Isonia during the troubling times. The vigil of the priestesses of Isonia had been kept up since the first night of heavy snow when the wicked spirit of the winter chill had come to plague them.

Kyoko knelt carefully before the altar, she had learnt when young how to move while wearing the juni-hitoe so as not to crease it. She fixed her eyes upon the picture of the Divine Lady for a moment. Then the young Shugenja bowed her head before the altar in order to begin purifying her mind for the task ahead. Her body had been made clean and ready, now her mind had to be prepared as well.

"Divine Lady Isonia I ask for the strength to protect the people of the Mirrorlands. I ask for the strength to take back what has been stolen from my family. I ask for the chance to take my revenge upon the yuki-on-na that killed my mother."

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Tue Feb 24, 2004 11:13 am
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For several hours Kyoko prayed to the Divine Lady before the altar. She did not move from her position of kneeling before the altar and its votive picture. When she had been a little girl she had used to wonder what Isonia was thinking when her followers knelt before the picture. She had always wondered if the Divine Lady had been pleased with the artist. But then she had grown up and realised that the picture was divinely inspired. If the Lady had been displeased with it she would have not allowed it to be completed or would have caused to to be destroyed in the intervening years.

"Divine Lady grant me your protection, watch over me as I try to undo the wickedness of the winter ghost that haunts the Mirrorlands. My mother, Shugenja before me, did not have the strength to stand against the yuki-on-na. But I ask that you give me that strength. Allow me to act as your weapon against it Divine Lady."

The yuki-on-na was a wicked thing, its grip on the Mirrorlands had caused many to die from cold and hunger. Crops had failed with the unexpected snow and ice. Animals had died from exposure. Children and older people had sickened and grown weak, some had even died. The situation had not got better or even eased, if anything it had just got worse with each passing day. Everyday the palace advisors had been given more reports of death and need from the territories outside Kamome. If the winter spirit was not banished soon the whole of the Mirrorlands would be turned into an icy waste where nothing could survive. As it was Kyoko did not know if it was already too late to save the lands of her people and her ancestors. Even if the yuki-on-na was removed from the lands the supplies of the kingdom had been destroyed, there would not be enough to last them through to the next harvest. On top of that the harvest might not ever happen as the plants died in the cold.

Kyoko could not give up hope though, she knew that she had to try her best. If she did not at least try she would fail her people by her inactivity. She was their Shugenja, it was her duty to defend her people no matter what it cost her. Even if meeting the yuki-on-na killed her she could not avoid it. The tenets of her Lady's religion and her duty to her ancestors and her people demanded that she meet the ghost and try to kill it. No one else would do that for her, no one else even knew of the troubles faced by the Mirrorlands.

To most outsiders the Mirrorlands were nothing more than a small area of the lands of Maxim. They played no part in the grand wars of faith and had no real contact with the rest of the world. The armies defended the borders of the Mirrorlands and nothing more. Kyoko and those before her had never ordered their armies to march out and increase the lands under their control. For the most part the rest of the world seemed content to leave the Mirrorland to their own business. Now and then a heathen lord would get too greedy and send his soldiers to the Mirrorlands. Sometimes her people were forced to yield, at other times they beat back the agressor and made him regret his decision. Though alone, the Mirrorlands were no easy pickings for wealthier men.

"Help me Isonia. I have only just become Shugenja and if I fall to the evil ghost I will be the last. Give me the magic and the will to stand against the ghost that has come to these lands. Help me. Please help me."

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Wed Mar 03, 2004 11:00 am
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The doors from the palace opened silently as Kyoko waited behind them. Outside all was white as fresh snow fell from the heavily laiden clouds in the sky above. The chill of the unusual weather soon made its way through the layers of the juni-hitoe. That was not a good sign. Every day the temperature seemed to drop further and the layers of ice on the wells grew thicker. If it got any colder the animals would start to freeze in their barns and the number of deaths of the populace would soar. The yuki-on-na had to be destroyed and soon, there was no other option. Kyoko had to face the spirit and destroy it or be destroyed by it. If she succeeded then with time the Mirrorlands would improve and return to their old way of life. If she failed her people would be forced to flee from their homeland.

It was the duty of the Shugenja of the Mirrorland to ensure that the people never had to leave the borders. Unless it was to chase down those who thought that they were an easy mark for war. The Mirrorlands were an independant state, their laws were their own and their people were willing to defend their way of life no matter what the cost to themselves. For all the ages back to the reign of the first Shugenja it had been that way, it was Kyoko's responsibility to ensure that it continued.

The divine lady Isonia had given the lands to her ancestors to take care of and rule over. If Kyoko failed in destroying the winter ghost then the Mirrorlands would also be destroyed. All that the lady had given them and all that her ancestors had worked for would have been for nothing. The blame for it would be laid at Kyoko's feet, the young Shugenja would not be able to blame anyone else for her failure. She would more than likely be dead if she faced the ghost and did not beat it but still the blame for the results would be heaped on her memory. The people of the Mirrorlands would be scattered to the four winds, forced to search for a new home. Each one of them would know that it was her fault that their previous homes were gone and they would rightfully curse her name.

She stepped out of the safety of the palace and into the biting chill of the winter wind. The snow crunched under her feet as she walked forward alone. No one else would come with her, no one else from the Mirrorlands was allowed to. It was the law of the land, only the Shugenja could combat a spirit's attack upon their soil, only the Shugenja had the power. There were mages and spirit-casters in the lands outside their borders but they were outsiders and rarely came to the Mirrorlands. Probably most of those outside the Mirrorlands didn't even know what was going on let alone think of sending aid.

Kyoko continued to walk not speeding up or slowing down her steps. Behind her she left a trail of footprints but those would soon be covered over by the next snow fall. Once she was out of sight of the city of Kamome itself no one would be able to follow her. The chances were that if she died no one except for the wild animals would find her body. It was hardly a death that she wanted to think about, a Shugenja's remains always found their last rest within the confines of the Snowy Pagoda. A Shugenja's body was not eaten by ravenous wild animals because she had fallen in battle to a restless ghost. That was how it would be though if she failed.

Men and women watched her pass by from the meagre warmth of their homes. Even though they were indoors she could see that they were wrapped up warmly as they tried to beat back the cold. They were depending on her, all their hopes rested on her actions against the yuki-on-na. She just hoped that the strength of their prayers were also with her, Kyoko would need all the aid she could get to defeat the enemy that waited for her somewhere out in the snows.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Tue Mar 09, 2004 11:40 am
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The city of Kamome was little more than a black smudge on the horizon behind Kyoko. She could feel it behind her as if it was a dark eye watching her. It would be easy to turn around and go back to the safety of the city if she wanted. No one in the city or the palace would dare to question her decision, it was not their place to argue with the Shugenja's choice. However if she returned they would be disappointed in her. They would not say it to her face but she would still know that they thought that she had failed them. People would hide it but now and then she would catch sight of their disappointment in her. If she chose to return to the city she would fail them, and she would fail her ancestors, the long line of her blood all the way back to the first Shugenja.

Anyway returning to the city would only be a temporary measure. The safety of the city would not remain for much longer while the yuki-on-na still haunted the Mirrorlands. The magical winter that the wicked ghost had brought to her lands would just grow stronger with each day. She could return to Kamome and hide from her duty but eventually she would find herself sitting upon a frozen throne. If that happened Kyoko would rule only over dead and barren lands, her people fled or no longer living. The history of the Mirrorlands and its people would be no more, it would end just because she was too afraid to live up to what was expected of her.

Away to her right a wolf howl ripped through the white landscape. Kyoko stopped still and looked in that direction but she could see nothing through the swirling falling snow. The wolves alone seemed to be the only animals in her kingdom that were surviving through the hardships. Admittedly the unnatural cold had drawn them down from their usual prowling grounds in the mountains to the east. Still the white wolves of the Mirrorlands were surviving in the low lands, feasting eagerly on whatever they could find. Kyoko had read reports of people as well as domestic animals being taken by the wolves. If times had been different she would have ordered out her most loyal warriors to hunt the troublesome wolves down.

Hearing the call of the wolf Kyoko wished that she had the shikomi-zue with her. Although she had never truly excelled at her lessons in using weapons she would have liked to feel the weight of the staff in her hands. The shikomi-zue was in the possession of the yuki-on-na though and Kyoko had to find the ghost before she could even hope to get it back. She would just have to hope that the wolves found their meal somewhere else. Kyoko did not want to have to use her magic until she had laid eyes on the enemy that she was trying to find.

Of course finding the yuki-on-na would not be easy. Although the ghost had bested her mother it would not be too eager to face Kyoko. The yuki-on-na was not a mindless demon-spirit. It would know that she was the Shugenja and that she would come after it. It might have magic of its own but it would not want to try itself against another Shugenja. Besides it did not need to. If it could just remain hidden then it could ensure that the Mirrorlands never threw off the mantle of winter that it had thrown over it. She would die of cold without ever having the chance to stop it.

So the spirit would try to hide and stay far away from Kyoko. The Mirrorlands were not vast as some other kingdoms were but there was still enough places where the yuki-on-na could hide from her. There were ways though to find a spirit, even one that would rather remain hidden. She reached into the sleeve of the juni-hitoe, taking out a small silk-wrapped package. The young Shugenja unwrapped the silk and revealing a thin sliver of amethyst bound by silver wire. She placed the stone upon the open palm of her right hand so that it was parallel with her fingers and waited.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Mon Mar 15, 2004 11:43 am
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Kyoko seemed to wait for ages, snow flakes gathering on her eye lashes till she blinked them away. She kept looking towards the silver-wrapped purple stone in her palm. Snow landed all around the stone, melting a little where it touched the heat of her hand. She wished that she was still in the palace at Kamome where it was warm. Even though she had only been away for a few hours it still seemed like an eternity since she had last been warmed by a fire. It took all her determination to keep her hand outstretched and not thrust it inside her sleeves to try and keep it warm. The Shugenja had to believe though that there would come a time when she would again sit by a fire and not worry about any wicked spirit invading the Mirrorlands.

Almost without her noticing the stone in her palm started to rise till it hovered no more than an inch above her hand. Only when it started to rotate slowly did she notice it. It span round and round, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. She watched it carefully, waiting till it seemed to get stuck pointing in one direction. It was acting like a compass but instead of pointing north it pointed the way to the ghost. All she had to do was keep her hand steadily beneath the stone as she walked and it would take her to the heart of the snowstorm where the yuki-on-na danced.

"That way. That's where you're waiting for me".

The yuki-on-na. The shikomi-zue of her ancestors. The winter ghost was waiting out there for Kyoko, hiding from her but perhaps realizing that the young Shugenja would come after it. The ideals of honor and duty had been instilled into Kyoko when she was still a child, she knew what she had to do. It was against everything that she had been brought up to believe in to not act against the yuki-on-na. If the spirit was allowed to continue its magical attack against the Mirrorlands then everything that Kyoko's ancestors had worked for would be lost. Everything that Kyoko had sworn to protect by accepting the mantle of Shugenja, gone.

She started to walk in the direction that the purple stone pointed. Now and then it would wobble slightly and change the direction a little one way or another. When that happened Kyoko would adjust the way she was walking so that she agreed with the stone. The lands all around her were covered with a thick blanket of white, she could not tell if she was walking north or east, towards one of the lakes or away from them. It did not matter though, even if she could have known which direction she was walking in it would not have helped. She had no idea where the yuki-on-na was hiding, she had to trust that the magic in the wire-bound stone did though.

The young Shugenja walked for what seemed like hours, the winds and the snows getting stronger and colder with each step. The world was achingly white as if even the idea of color had been stolen from it. Kyoko did not let it stop her though, she carried on knowing that there was no other choice for her.

Then through the snows there was movement. Kyoko stopped walking and looked carefully through the falling snow. No more than a few meters in front of her a woman danced slowly through the flurries. She was incredibly beautiful with hair the color of ebony, skin like finest white porcelien tinged with a tinge of blue. Her lips were as red as blood almost making it look like they were bleeding. The robes she wore looked like they had been made of thin silk in white, blue and faint purple. She was a vision of unearthly beauty and Kyoko knew that any man looking upon her would have gladly begged her for just one kiss.

Kyoko looked upon the yuki-on-na, upon the murderer of her mother.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Mon Mar 29, 2004 5:10 pm
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Kyoko stood and watched the winter ghost dance across the snow. Even though the Shugenja knew what the spirit was capable of she still could admire its cold beauty. She wondered what the yuki-on-na had been in life. It must have done something to be cursed with its current existance where it danced through the Mirrorlands seemingly intent on killing everyone and everything that lived there. Not that all yuki-on-na were supposed to be evil. Kyoko had been told the tale of her ancestor Etsu, who had three generations removed from Akasha herself.

The Shugenja Etsu had met a yuki-on-na in her life. The ghost that she had met was not the same sort of creature as the one that now troubled the Mirrorlands. That yuki-on-na had not covered the lands with ice and snow, in fact it had done quite the opposite. Etsu had been walking the mountains to the west of the Mirrorlands and had been caught up in a terrible snowstorm. The storm had been entirely natural but potentially just as deadly as any one summoned through magic. Etsu had thought that it was her fate to die in the snow but it had not been. Just as the Shugenja had been about to give up entirely the yuki-on-na had appeared and led her to safety. Of course that ghost had been very different to the one that she was now facing.

As if it has heard her thought the ghost turned and looked straight at her. It's beautiful face became contorted with rage, the cold eerie features covered with a cold fury. The spirit was most definitely not like the one that Kyoko's ancestor Etsu had come across and been saved by. This yuki-on-na did not care to lead her out of the snowstorm, it would gladly see her die and covered by a thick layer of snow. No one knew how a yuki-on-na came to be, no scholar in the Mirrorlands had ever been able to agree on their origin. Some claimed that the ghosts were the souls of evil women who had not been allowed to move onto the heavenly plane after death because of their sins. Others said that it did not matter whether a woman who good or evil only dying in the grip of a snowstorm could create a yuki-on-na. Growing up Kyoko had been taught all sorts of lore about the spirits, not just ones like the yuki-on-na.

Kyoko looked into the angry eyes of the ghost and immediately knew that she had made a terrible mistake. The eyes of the ghost were beautiful, just as the rest of her face was, but they were also completely inhuman. The young Shugenja could see how feral and wild the ghost's eyes were. There was something else in the spirit's eyes though beyond the rage and the unearthly beauty. There was something magical as well.

As the ghost looked at her she felt the blood in her veins turn to ice. Or at least it seemed that way. Cold spread through her body, rooting her to the spot, stopping her from moving at all. Even the ability to blink seemed to have been taken from her by the magical gaze of the yuki-on-na. She was helpless and unable to move. In her mind Kyoko cursed herself for being caught so easily, she should have known better than to look into the ghost's eyes. Even a child with only the bare minimum of training would have known better.

Her mother would not have been trapped so easily. Of course her mother had still died at the hands of the ghost but that was beside the point. Though her body felt as if it had been turned to immoveable ice there had to be a way to combat the ghost. Kyoko knew that she had to find a way. If she didn't she would be as dead as all her ancestors before her.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Tue Mar 30, 2004 6:04 pm
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She felt the yuki-on-na's mind touch her own, enfolding her in its will as it tried to send her into an endless sleep. The cold was soaking into the marrow of her bones and all the warmth of her skin seemed to be leaking out. It was a simple thing for the young Shugenja to imagine just laying down in the snow. Kyoko had heard that when someone died in the snow it almost seemed warm and comfortable in the end. Maybe that as because the mind retreated back into itself, leaving the flesh to suffer the cold alone. That wouldn't be so bad, just slipping off into death, floating away like a blossom on the waters of a slow moving river.

'Die and become a yuki-on-na then. Fail your ancestors if that seems easier than fighting back.'

The mist that seemed to be throwing dragging her thoughts down into the comfort of death was thrown off. Who had spoken those words? Not the ghost that was for sure, the ghost just continued its slow eerie dance towards her, all the while keeping its eyes locked on hers. If she could not break free of its gaze Kyoko knew that there would be no hope for her. If the ghost came too close and touched her then no amount of magic would help her. A yuki-on-na's touch was death, no one survived that terrible cold.

If she died in the snowstorm would she really become a yuki-on-na like the voice had claimed? It was a possibility that the scholars of Kamome had considered over the years. If she died and did suffer the same fate as the woman who had become the ghost then she would be failing her ancestors just as the voice had said. More than that she would be failing the lands that had been entrusted to her with the death of her mother. If Kyoko became a yuki-on-na she would plague the lands as the original one had, hurting the people and killing those that had looked to her for protection. That would be the worst betrayal of all to bring harm to those who had been loyal to her even after her death.

She would not let it happen, Kyoko was determined not to die and even risk the chance that she might become like the winter ghost. The thought did worry her though. Not that she would become like the ghost but rather that her mother might have done. Her mother, the Shugenja Kaede, had died out in the snow, she had possibly died at the hands of the yuki-on-na. Did that mean that her mother's soul had not journeyed onto the peace of heaven? Could it mean that Kaede's spirit wandered the world as another yuki-on-na? It was a terrible thing to imagine that her mother whose ashs she had only recently set to rest in the Snowy Pagoda might not be at peace.

The thought acted like a fire in her soul. The heat of the anger that she felt at her mother being condemned to the same fate as the yuki-on-na washed through her body. No longer did the cold seem to bother her. She had to best the winter spirit and stop its murderous march across the Mirrorlands. Only by beating it did she stand even the faintest chance to find out if her mother's soul was in heaven with the divine Lady Isonia or caught between life and death as a hungry ghost.

"I will not fail".

As the cold left her limbs and was replaced by the warmth of her anger, Kyoko found herself able to squeeze out those few words. The ghost stopped dead in its dance steps apparently confused by its prey's movements. Kyoko reached one hand into the sleeve of her juni-hitoe, into the concealed pouches that she had kept there. Twice her hand went into the pouches, first pulling out crystals of rock salt and then a tiny amount of a fine black powder. Her hands began to trace a series of symbols in the air. At first her actions were awkward but they began increasingly graceful.

"I call on the blessings of the divine Lady Isonia, I ask that she grant me the power to stand against you. I ask that she bring forth fire to stand against ice".

The ice around the yuki-on-na began to melt as Kyoko's spell took effect. The ghost itself shrieked out in pain as if the heat that was melting the snow was also in some way melting the ghost.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Mon Apr 05, 2004 5:51 pm
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The wicked spirit continued to scream out and the sound echoed across the snowy wastes. Kyoko wanted to put her hands over her ears to shut out the sound. She pressed the palms of her hands to her ears. She hadn’t noticed till then just how cold the skin of her hands was and she guessed that the cold was working upon other parts of her body as well. Her lips were probably turning blue making her look more like a ghost of winter than the yuki-on-na with its blood red lips.

The young Shugenja watched with her ears covered as the ghost took on a formal stance. She had seen that stance before, it was the highly ceremonial manner of a spell caster preparing for a battle of magic. Had the ghost once been a Shugenja? Or perhaps it had been some other kind of spell caster from outside the Mirrorlands? There again she supposed that the yuki-on-na could have just been mocking her and trying to put her on the defensive. Kyoko was after all a young Shugenja and had not had much experience outside of her lessons from her mother and grandmother. Although she had hurt the ghost only a little with her spell it would still want revenge for that.

Her hands were still over her ears even though the ghost had stopped screaming. Kyoko watched as the ghost started to draw symbols in the air just as she had done earlier. She could feel the yuki-on-na weaving the magic from the air and the cold, binding it together. The lips of the spirit moved but the words that came out were not spoken in a normal human voice. The words were almost hissed in her direction.

“I call on ice, on the power of the endless chill that can never be warmed. Flow around me, make me appear other than I am.”

A flurry of snow rose up around the ghost, hiding it from Kyoko’s sight momentarily. She wasn’t sure exactly what spell the ghost was attempting to cast even if it did feel rather familiar to her. Her mother and grandmother had taught her to recognize the spells of others in order to keep herself and the Mirrorlands safe. Although in her lands only the Shugenja had control of the forces of magic amongst the human population, the same was not true outside the borders. Out in foreign lands all manner of people used magic and sometimes those people set their sights on the Mirrorlands. Only by understanding the magic of others did Kyoko stand a chance of combating it as Shugenja and continuing to rule as her family had always done.

The snow died down one more and from out of it stepped –

Kyoko gasped as she saw, not the yuki-on-na, but a mirror-image of herself standing before her. She knew that it had to be just a trick but her eyes were trying to convince her that it was real

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Tue Apr 20, 2004 6:33 pm
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“Do you believe that your illusion will confuse me, ghost? I am young and have only recently inherited the title of Shugenja but I am not so foolish as to be taken in by your magic”.

Kyoko spoke quietly but her words still carried easily on the cold winds that swirled around her. She faced herself. Or rather she faced the yuki-on-na that has used its own magic to look like her. The scholars of Kamone had never mentioned that the winter spirit had access to that kind of power. Perhaps they had not known. Yuki-on-na were rare enough in the Mirrorlands that little was really known about them. Even the wisest of souls could claim to know no more about them than Kyoko herself.

Maybe it was their lack of knowledge that had led someone to set the yuki-on-na upon them. The young Shugenja had found herself wondering before if the presence of the ghost and its cold blight was not some attack from outside their borders. Standing alone in the wars that often overtook all the lands of the world meant that the Mirrorlands had many enemies and no friends to balance them out. They stood alone. It had always been their way.

The Mirrorlands were not common lands for outsiders to walk upon. The people of the realm did not choose to travel outside the borders very often. They were self-sufficient for the most part, only occasionally requiring the wares of traders. They did not bow themselves save to the Shugenja, the others of the court and the Goddess herself. Never once had they gone down on bended knee to outsiders not even when they were under attack and surrender might have seemed wiser. They were followers of the Divine Lady and followed only her lead. Now and then they would hear of others who shared their faith but that was the extent of their contact.

The yuki-on-na mirrored Kyoko's stance. When the young Shugenja lifted her right hand slightly, the ghost followed her action with her left. Keeping her eyes on the ghostly figure of herself Kyoko continued to move, watching as the spirit mimicked her gestures like a mirror. It was very disconcerting almost as though the ghost was giving her a glimpse of what she might become if she lose the battle of magic.

“But I will not lose. Not to you, wicked spirit. Your heathen masters will regret sending you here”.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Mon May 10, 2004 7:48 am
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"But I will not lose. Not to you, wicked spirit. Your heathen masters will regret sending you here”.

The yuki-on-na threw her words back at Kyoko, its voice almost identical to hers. Everything about the voice was the same apart from an underlying hint of iciness. It was not really an emotion more like a lack of it. There was no anger in the winter ghost, it did not hate Kyoko. The Shugenja knew in that moment that the spirit did not hate anything, she was not even sure that it could hate anything. It simply existed and obeyed the commands given to it. If anything it was a slave to the one who held its chains, but who would set it upon the Mirrorlands?

Kyoko knew that there were several heathen lands within a day or so's ride of the outer-most borders of the Mirrorlands. More than once the forces loyal to her and her family had clashed with them. They were normally just minor border skirmishes as the heathens tried to take her ancestral lands to add to their own. There had never been any serious problems with them, nothing beyond the skirmishes. She had never argued heatedly with them or insulted their honor and they had never done the same to her. As far as she knew it had always been that way between her line and their neighbors. Hostility hidden behind respectful faces. They were enemies but they were not ones that had ever sworn blood vengeance against her or her kin.

Yet someone had summoned the yuki-on-na and set it very deliberately upon the Mirrorlands. Someone it seemed hated the Shugenja's or the Mirrorlands enough that they would bind the winter ghost to their will. But who hated them so much? She could not think of any that had been so terribly angered by the ages-old presence of the lands of the Shugenjas.

"Who is your master? Who has commanded you to trouble these lands?"

"Who is your master? Who has commanded you to trouble these lands?"

Again the ghost just threw her own words back at her while it wore her face and figure. Kyoko almost felt as though she was trying to talk to her own reflection. It seemed that the ghost either would not or could not answer her questions.

"Mock me if you will. Mindless creature you will cease your harm to this place".

The ghost looked as if it was about to repeat her own words. But it did not. It stopped mirroring her movements and instead looked down at the snowy ground. Kyoko could not be sure but she almost thought that it looked sad and mournful. Yet that could not be true. The spirit was a wicked thing that had been bent to the will of another for the purpose of destroying the Mirrorlands. It could not feel remorse or sorrow. And yet even as she thought that Kyoko found herself questioning if that was right.

Mindless. Are you sure, Shugenja?"

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Tue May 18, 2004 6:37 am
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Kyoko was shocked by the words of the ghost. Well not just by its words but also by the look of sadness and regret on that otherwise perfect and flawless face. The illusion of the young Shugenja's image on the yuki-on-na was fading away. She watched her own features disappearing and the spirit's own reappearing on its face. The mimicked clothes remained but it was like looking at someone wearing the same outfit rather than watching herself now. It was a little less disconcerting but Kyoko remained on her guard. The ghost's sudden change in demeanor could very well just be a trap to lure her closer.

She had to acknowledge though that her initial estimation of the yuki-on-na had been wrong. It was more than just a mindless ghost of cruel winter. It had done more than just react to her presance by casting innate spells or mirroring her movements. It had asked her a question. Surely that had to indicate that it was capable of thought. Therefore was it more than it appeared, more than any of the legends claimed the yuki-on-na to be?

"Who is your master? Who commands you to plague the Mirrorlands?"

The ghost looked up for a moment, its ice-cold eyes meeting Kyoko's. The Shugenja could feel the cold that the yuki-on-na had cast upon the Mirrorlands sapping her strength as well as her body's warmth. She could not spend too long conversing with the spirit as it would mean her death. She had to deal with the matter and settle it soon. Only by removing the accursed and unnatural winter from her lands would she stand a chance of surviving and making it back to Kamome.

"My master? My master. You want to know who is responsible. You want to know who wants you dead. Of course you do. You want to know who plots against you and the Mirrorlands. Will you have the strength to protect this place and its people when the time comes Shugenja?"

"Tell me what I want to know spirit. Tell me and stop harming the Mirrorlands. Perhaps then I will be able to aid you in some way, free you from the grip of this master of yours."

"I would but I can't. I feel my power slipping away. It seems that my master knows that you are here, He knows that I had rebelled against his power and so is withdrawing my own strength bit by bit. You will have your lands back and I will be gone but you shall not know the answers that you seek from my lips. I cannot even remember his face now, it all slips away so quickly".

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Tue May 25, 2004 6:36 am
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The young Shugenja had no idea whether she could believe the words of the yuki-on-na. It could be that the ghost was trying to trick her in some way. For all she knew, it might be pretending to weaken just so that she would come closer. She didn't want to come within reach of the winter spirit. It's touch would be as cold as the depths of the winter season. That touch could freeze the flesh and take the life from the living. That touch meant death to mortal creatures like herself.

Yet even as she feared to come closer she saw that the yuki-on-na was changing further. It was fading or so it seemed. The ghost seemed to grow fainter with each moment that passed. Was this perhaps how such things died? If they could be said to die at all when they were simply restless ghosts of beings who had already known the touch of death and had simply not moved on. Perhaps if she stayed there for long enough it would fade away to nothing.

The air about her changed. The winds dropped away to stillness and overhead the clouds disappeared. Blue sky stretched as far as the eye could see. The light of Intop shone down over all, warming the snow-covered Mirrorlands for the first time in a while. Kyoko could almost feel the snow beginning to melt and knew in her heart that the great lakes that the kingdom was named for would soon shed their layers of ice. In time she knew that only the snow upon the mountain tops to the east would remain. That and the snow around the Snowy Pagoda where the ashes of those of her line were kept. The rest of the ice and the snow would vanish just as the ghost would.

"My lands will be safe and the people will live. The snow will not take any more of them, there will be no more reports of deaths due to the cold. I have not failed them as their Shugenja as I feared that I would".

Of course it did not solve all her problems. There was still someone of power in the world who wished her dead. That someone who had sent the yuki-on-na in the first place and caused her mother's death. Although the living of the Mirrorlands were safe now the honour of the dead had not been satisfied. Indeed it would not be satisfied until the one responsible for their deaths had been brought to the justice of the Lady Isonia. Justice that it was Kyoko's duty to see come to pass. Not just her duty as Shugenja, but also her duty as a daughter of one who had died.

But once the yuki-on-na was gone there would be nothing to trace her foe. She could not let the ghost disappear, not when it held the only clue to filfulling her duty and allowing the spirits of those who had died recently rest easy. Kyoko had no idea how to save the ghost she only knew that she had no choice but to try.

"I call on the blessings of the divine Lady Isonia, I ask that she grant me the power to stand with you. I ask that she bring forth strength from me to give to you".

The ghost looked towards her weakly.

"Do you truly know what you are doing, young Shugenja?"

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Tue Jun 01, 2004 9:00 am
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Kyoko felt the magic and the blessings of her Lady flowing out of her. The magic washed across the slowly warming air from her and towards the yuki-on-na. As her magic touched the ghost it was almost as though she found herself in two places at once. She was aware of the ghost's body as much as if it were her own. It was a very strange feeling to have. The Shugenja would almost have sworn that she was in two places at once.

However the body of the yuki-on-na felt very different to her own. It was colder and felt less substantial and real. She could feel just what the ghost felt including something trying to stuck away at the energy of the ghost. Kyoko supposed that was the ghost's master trying to steal away the life that he had given to it before she could discover his identity. She knew that if she was just a little stronger she would be able to follow that drain back and find out who was behind it. But at the same time Kyoko knew that she was not strong enough to manage that.

So instead of tracking the spirit's master back through the link she set about sealing that link. She sealed it with her magic and her own energy. The Divine Lady's blessings aided her and strengthened her, allowing her to continue when she might otherwise have failed. Kyoko could not allow herself to fail. If she lost the yuki-on-na then she would have no clues as to who had originally set it upon the Mirrorlands.

There would be no more clues. Kyoko guessed that her opponent would not let themselves leave something so obvious behind again. The next attack, and there would be another attack, would be more subtle. The next attack might strike at her and not the lands. If that happened then she might not get the chance to track her enemy to his lair. If she died there would be no more Shugenjas of her family line to protect the lands. And if there were no more Shugenjas then the Mirrorlands would be torn apart in the fighting as people tried to grab a piece of it.

The ghost had asked her if she knew what she was doing. She knew and she knew the risk. The ghost's master could suck away her own energy if she did not succeed in sealing the drain away. Kyoko knew the risk that she was running to save the very ghost that had plagued her people. Yet she had no other choice other than to act as she did.

She forced more power into the drain. Kyoko could feel it knitting together with her magic and cutting the yuki-on-na off from its former master. Every moment that passed weakened the link between the ghost and its master. The winter spirit grew stronger as it fed on her energy and was no longer drained to the same extent by its master.

Finally the link was sealed up and the ghost's image remained steady and strong.

"You saved me young Shugenja. Why would you do such a thing?"

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Mon Jun 07, 2004 4:37 pm
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The yuki-on-na floated just above the crisp surface of the slowly melting snow. It stared at the Shugenja who had just saved its life in surprise. The winter spirit had caused so much suffering and pain to the people of the Mirrorlands. It had even been responsible for killing the previous Shugenja, Kyoko’s mother Kaede. Yet still the young Shugenja had saved it from oblivion when its master had taken back his power from it. The ghost could not understand why Kyoko had shared her power with the very creature that had been charged with destroying her and all her family had built.

“I saved you so that you can make amends for the wrongs you have done to the Mirrorlands. If the divine Lady is willing maybe she will allow you to work off your sins and one day ascend to the heavens to sit with the ancestors and watch over the living. It is the highest honor that any of us who walk the lands may hope for. If you can prove yourself worthy maybe the Lady Isonia will allow you to sit by the right hand of the ancestors.”

Could a wretched creature like a yuki-on-na ascend to the heavens? It was not something that the ghost had ever considered possible. It did not know whether it had ever been truly alive. But if it had not been alive then how could it ascend? Yet what was it if it had not been a living creature?

”You believe that I could ascend to the place of the ancestors?”

“Yes, if you are truly willing to right those wrongs that you have done to the Mirrorlands by defending it and seeking out its enemies. If you do that then the Lady might favor you and wash you clean of all sin and crime. Only the pure and the wise may enter into the heavens and sit with the ancestors.”

”Then I shall begin the cleaning of my soul now. I believe I have wrongly taken possession of something that rightly belongs to you and your blood. When you mother challenged me I took from her something that should have passed to your hands. I have hidden the shikomi-zue that she carried and so now I shall return it to your hands so that it may continue to be passed from mother to daughter down your bloodline.”

How did it know so much about the shikomi-zue? It knew that the weapon had been made by Shugenja Akasha in the early days of the Goddess. The weapon was to be carried only by the ruling Shugenja and was a sign of her office. It knew that and yet it did not know how it knew it. It was a puzzle but one that would only be answered in time.

_________________
[center]~Yuki-on-na of the Mirrorlands~
Without enduring the bitter cold of winter,
How could the plum blossoms smell so sweet?

~*~[/center]


Thu Jun 17, 2004 4:38 pm
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Kyoko was not entirely sure that she had spoken the complete truth to the yuki-on-na. Could the winter spirit ascend to the heavens of the ancestors? She was not sure that a ghost could especially one that had done so much evil in the world. Yet perhaps if it were able to redeem itself it might be capable. After all the judgment of a soul was for the divine Lady Isonia alone. Perhaps if the ghost made up for all the wrongs she had done it would be able to enter heaven.

Somehow even after all that the ghost had been responsible for Kyoko hoped that the ghost would get the chance to be redeemed. In the end the ghost had been used by its master, whoever he was, and could not be wholly held to blame for what it had done. Another had moved it and ordered its actions. It could not be held completely responsible any more than the sword could be held responsible for the blood spilt by it. The one who held the blade, the one who ordered the yuki-on-na, that was the one to be blamed and punished.

The mention of the shikomi-zue and its possible retrieval did much for her spirits. She would have fulfilled the promise made to her ancestors to recover the weapon if nothing else. The weapon was the symbol of her family’s rule. All the Shugenjas before her all the way back to the first, Akasha. It was the connection between the ruling Shugenja and her ancestors. Some scholars even said that the ancestor spirits of the previous Shugenjas could make their wisdom known to the one who held the shikomi-zue.

Kyoko followed the form of the yuki-on-na across the melting snow. She still could not make out exactly where she was under the snow. She might have been near any of the pillars of the four spirits. Or she might have been near one of the two lakes that gave the Mirrorlands their names. She just did not know.

In time something appeared on the horizon and when they got closer the young Shugenja realized that it was a pillar of solid ice. The pillar rose higher than Kyoko or the yuki-on-na. It was slightly wider than the length of Kyoko’s arm. Within the very heart of the ice she could just make out the familiar shape and colouring of the shikomi-zue.

The Shugenja did not need to ask how the staff-like weapon had become encased in ice. The staff had been taken by a yuki-on-na. It was a spirit of winter and cold and ice. Encasing the weapon in the ice would not have been a problem for it. Taking the shikomi-zue out of the ice without destroying it utterly was going to prove to be more problematic.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Mon Jun 21, 2004 3:47 pm
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Kyoko walked closer to the pillar of ice. She pressed one hand against it and drew back suddenly at the cold. The Shugenja had known that it would be cold but she had not been ready for just how cold. It was not a normal feeling of cold. Instead of just chilling her skin the cold from the ice seemed to reach right through her skin and seep into her bones.

Magical cold. Enough to ensure that no creature of flesh and bone could touch it for long enough to free the shikomi-zue. She doubted that any normal weapon could damage the ice. The yuki-on-na and her previous master had decided that no one would get their hands upon the ancestral weapon of her family. The ice would prove to be a substantial barrier to Kyoko's retrieval of the weapon.

But she had to get it back. She had sworn that she would reclaim it. The ancestor spirits would not look kindly upon her if she broke that oath.

She walked two full circles about the pillar to look upon it from all sides. It looked the same from all sides. The shikomi-zue didn't appear to be any nearer the surface at any point. And if normal weapons would not work then she would have to resort to magic to free the shikomi-zue. She could hardly have the weapon spend all its time in a block of ice even if she had it removed from its present position to the city of Kamome.

Although the snow all around was melting slowly the ice pillar itself remained strong. Yes magic would be the only way to save the weapon. Otherwise she would not pass on the shikomi-zue to her own children. Passing on a pillar of ice was hardly the same.

The rock salt and fine black powder was withdrawn again and sprinked upon the ground about the pillar. She drew the arcane symbols carefully upon the air and felt the magic build within them. Then she stood back and spoke the words of power.

"I call on the blessings of the divine Lady Isonia, I ask that she grant me the power to stand against you. I ask that she bring forth fire to stand against ice".

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Mon Jun 28, 2004 5:29 pm
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At the base of the ice pillar the snow began to melt quickly as the heat of the Shugenja’s spell touched it. Where the white snow had laid green grass could soon be seen. Even though it had been covered by the snow for so long still the grass held its deep green color. As the snow gave way it almost seemed as though she could see dark emeralds peeking through from underneath. There was still life in the Mirrorlands underneath the snow. It did Kyoko good to know that.

Where there was life there was still hope. If the land still lived then the Mirrorlands would recover even after the chill attack of the yuki-on-na. Eventually the snow would disappear entirely and all the Mirrorlands would be green and fertile again. The people who had suffered so much during the unnatural winter would find their crops growing well once again. The animals would find food plentiful again and would return to the natural cycle of their lives again.

The ice of the pillar began to melt and water ran down the sides. The spell was doing its work well as it warmed up the ice but did not risk damage to the shikomi-zue itself. Her ancestors would not look kindly upon her if she destroyed the very weapon that had been passed down from one Shugenja to another from the very beginning. Kyoko did not wish to anger her ancestors. Though the dead had left the flesh behind they still could wield power if needs be and if angered enough.

Kyoko did not wish to anger her ancestors. And she did not want to disturb them in the heavens by her actions. The Goddess would not approve of the most honored ancestors being troubled by the actions of their descendant.

Though what did the Divine Lady think of Kyoko’s most recent actions? Would the Lady Isonia approve of her kindness and mercy to the yuki-on-na? Perhaps she should have let the wretched spirit disappear staved of the power that it needed to survive. But if that were so then the Lady would have stopped Kyoko’s spell of aid from saving the winter ghost. Or at least that was what the Shugenja believed. Surely if the Lady had been displeased she would simply have ceased the Shugenja’s spell?

The pillar of ice crumbled and melted as the heat from her current spell continued. Inch by slow inch the shikomi-zue was freed from its icy prison. Eventually the ice gave way altogether and the weapon fell to the ground. Kyoko hurried over to it and picked it up. She did not care that it felt so cold under her fingers, she was just too glad to finally have it back in her hands.

Finally she was truly the Shugenja of the Mirrorlands.

_________________
[center]~Shugenja of the Mirrorlands~
Like facing a precious mirror; form and reflection behold each other.
You are not it, but in truth it is you.

~*~[/center]


Mon Jul 05, 2004 6:02 pm
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