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    • Owlbear

    The third in our series of previews of the fiction included in the Siege: Heart of Darkness event at GenCon and the product available for use in your home store!

     

    The late summer heat was stifling in the Second City, and no number of strategically placed gateways in the walls that defended the city, intended to allow the wind to circulate through the streets freely, seemed to make any difference. The more traditional denizens of the city, those who were unwilling to change from their traditional dress and customs, walked through the streets almost in a fugue, the heat addling their minds through the sweat-drenched layers of clothing that they wore. The city’s more progressive citizens, by contrast, were clad in what might generously be considered scandalous in the Empire proper, and while they too suffered the effects of the grievous heat, they could at least chuckle discreetly at the misery of their stodgy counterparts. No one gave thought to how this simple distinction between the two groups only served to further the gap between those who adhered to the principles of the Empire and those who embraced the Colonial lifestyle.

    Akodo Himaru looked abjectly miserable as he sat within the offices of the Second City Guardsmen, examining a number of reports from various subordinate agencies. He looked irritably at the vastly more comfortable seeming counterpart who sat across the desk from him. “A warrior of your standing should wear armor,” he chided. “If you will forgive me saying so, of course.”

    “Your thoughts are always welcome,” Shinjo Tselu said with a slight smile. “However, I find no need of armor within the city. I have absolute faith in the Second City Guardsmen and fear no enemy within the walls.”

    Himaru sighed lightly and smiled. “I thank you for the compliment, my lord. You have my word of honor that I will do all in my power to be worthy of such praise, as will those under my command.”

    “We sit within the greatest city in a land of wilderness and madness, it seems,” Tselu replied. “There will always be enemies who wish to besiege it, either mortals or the divine or some mixture of the two.” He shrugged. “I understand now that complete defense without incident is an impossible feat. Lessons hard learned, I am afraid.”

    “I am Lion. I do not accept that,” Himaru said flatly. He gestured to the many scrolls before him on the desk. “These are reports from scouts in the outlying sectors. As you can see, I find it of the utmost importance to review them to ensure we face no threats that we cannot anticipate.”

    “It is impossible to anticipate everything, my friend,” Tselu said. “The past two years stand as a testament to such truth.”

    “The Lion deal not in truth, but in absolutes,” Himaru countered. “This month’s reports are largely the same as always. Some bit of nonsense about bandits, but I believe that has already been dealt with by the Imperial Explorers. Bayushi Shibata may be a Scorpion but he knows how to fight, I must admit.”

    Tselu laughed. “Any sightings of the great beasts?”

    Himaru shook his head. “There is a report that someone found a shard of the Great Death’s bones, but nothing more than that. Fortunately we have little to worry about from that abomination. It is far too large to swim the rivers and reach us.”

    “One out of a number of horrors that we will not have to face, I suppose,” Tselu said. “Too many remain.”

    “Mm,” Himaru said absently, then frowned. He read the report again. “Do I recall correctly that you received a report from the Imperial Legions concerning the departure of the Dark Naga from Rokugan?”

    “You do,” Tselu confirmed.

    Himaru met his gaze unwaveringly. “I need to read that report, my lord.”

     

    *

     

    The Imperial Governor of the Colonies looked at the two men with an expression that could best be described as a mixture of amusement and disbelief. “The Dark Naga?” she inquired. “You are concerned… about the Dark Naga?”

    Tselu glanced hesitantly at the guardsman at his side, but as the senior officer, he knew it was his duty to respond. Suppressing a sigh, he began. “My lady, the chance of such a thing is incredibly small, we recognize that, but the possibility does exist. Scouting reports from the southern border of the Western Wastes indicate that there may be some vestige of the Naga that were driven out of Rokugan in the general region.”

    Otomo Suikihime sighed and placed a hand on her forehead momentarily. It was, Tselu reflected, one of the few occasions when he could recall her displaying obvious signs of stress or exasperation. The recent conflict with the elder Imperial heir must have weighed upon her more heavily than he had realized, and that troubled him. He had spent more time with the Governor than most, and he had thought he was beginning to understand her. He hoped he had not been mistaken. “You realize of course,” she began, her tone patient, “that our resources are stretched extremely thin as it is. You wish to deploy additional forces outside the city for a mere possibility that something might, potentially, pose a minor threat to the city itself.”

    “Every threat should be investigated, my lady,” Himaru replied cautiously. “The accursed Naga were responsible for the death of the previous Governor, and I… I cannot permit that to happen again.”

    Suikihime smiled. “Your devotion to your duty is admirable. I will pretend it is because you adore me, of course, and not because you would protect Daigotsu himself if he held this position.” She waved her hand, as if dismissing the entire affair. “We are in an extremely precarious position. Iweko Seiken took a large portion of both your men, and if we are seen to be sending those few we have remaining off on what amounts to a children’s fancy, we will seem weak. We cannot give the heir any reason to suspect we cannot oversee the Second City ourselves. That…” her voice trailed off as her eyes took in Himaru; Tselu did not doubt that, were it just the two of them, she would voice her true, doubtless scathing opinion of the eldest Imperial heir. Suikihime cleared her throat. “Seiken-sama would relish little more than to seize control of the city, I suspect. And I am quite sure,” here again she stared pointedly at Himaru, “none of us wish to see such a thing come to pass.”

    “Of course not, Governor,” Tselu said reflexively.

    Himaru’s response was only slightly more delayed. “As you say, my lady.”

    Suikihime smiled, but it was not her genuine expression. “Deploy a patrol as you wish,” she said with a wave. “No more than that. I want our people in the streets. I want every denizen of the Second City to understand that the Ivory Legion and the Second City Guardsmen are still here, protecting them from whatever unpleasantness might stumble across us next. Is that understood?”

    “Yes, my lady,” both men replied in unison.

     

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