The Isawa Ishiken were unique in the empire. They were the fifth group of tensai: specialists in Void. Void was a jealous master, and not just any shugenja could cast even the most basic Void spells. The use of Void magic took special training as well as innate ability.
The Realm of Void Edit
Everything in the world was created from the four elements: Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. The student of the Void, however, knew that all things were all four elements, held together by the intangible Void. The element of Void was that which existed outside of and surrounding the other four elements, defining them in its absence as silence defined the musical note it surrounded. The Ishiken were the students of this, the imperceptible Realm of Void. It was by far the most powerful of the elements, as well as the most difficult to master.
Joining the Ishiken Edit
Only the Phoenix could train the Ishiken.  Every Master within the Ishiken were tasked with constantly listening to the Void for the signs that a child had been born with a special sensitivity to the Realm. When such a birth occurred, the Masters met to evaluate the potential of the child. Those with only a slight ability were unlikely to ever manifest their potential in any significant way -- perhaps a Kharmic Tie to another individual or an innate sense of impending danger -- if the ability manifested itself at all. These children were believed to not be a threat to others or themselves if they remained untrained, so they were generally left to live their lives without the interference of the Ishiken.
If, however, a child possessed the potential to develop a usable ability in the Void, the Masters must make a decision to either take the child as an initiate of the school or to permanently place a shield around his abilities, blocking him from the Void so that he would not prove a danger if his abilities continued to develop unchecked and untrained. This decision must be made in the first five to ten years of the child's life. After that time, their abilities had the potential to become overly dangerous, as the child became increasingly likely to lose himself in the Realm of Void.
In addition, the earlier a child began the training of the Ishiken, the easier it was for the child to learn the proper techniques. As a person grew older, his view of the world became more and more rigid. The earlier a student began, the more easily he could shape his worldview around the realities of the Void.
When the Masters determined that a child should be accepted into the school for training as a Void shugenja, the first step was to find a Master that could teach the new initiate. This was not always the Master that discovered the new prodigy, as Ishiken generally had only one apprentice at a time. The first Master would be the one to explain to the child and his family the importance and necessity of proper training, but the Master to whom the child was apprenticed was the one with whom he would be spending his time. Once accepted to a Master, the prodigy was called an Ishi.
Ishi spend most of their childhoods living with and learning from their assigned Masters. The apprentices do not leave their Master's side for the first one to five years of their training, depending on their progress during this time. During this time, the Ishi spend a great deal of time building a bond with their Master. The closeness of the pair for this time makes most Ishi come to see their Master as a surrogate parent.
This was of great benefit to the students, because it helped to anchor them to the mortal world and helped prevent them from becoming lost in the Realm of Void. The Masters took great care to protect their students from this fate, up to and including erecting buffers around their ability to sense the Void. A Master would lower these blocks when he felt that his student was ready to safely experience the Void.
After the students had shown enough progress to satisfy their Master, they were allowed to make short trips home to visit their families. Through their entire training, Ishi were not allowed to travel anywhere else. Outside influences were seen as very detrimental to proper training of future Ishiken.
Training of the Ishiken Edit
Using the Void was just as complicated as any of the other four elements, and it was also easily the most dangerous of the five. Students were first taught the founding precepts of Void magic before they were even allowed to learn the intricacies of spellcasting with the Fifth Element. This process itself could take decades for lesser initiates.
All Void abilities were taught separately, despite the similarities between them and their foundational principles. This process was used because of the inherent dangers in Void magic, so that special and unique care would be used for each different application of the Void.
Once the students learned how to perceive the Realm of Void, they had to learn to understand what they saw there. Once a fledgling shugenja knew how to safely enter the Void, seeing things within the Realm was easy, but this did not mean that the student would understand the importance of what they saw, or even that they would understand what they saw at all.
Eventually, this study and understanding would lead the student to realize that everything he saw, from the mountains on the horizon to the crickets chirping next to him, was as much a part of him as his hands or feet. This was the stage of realization known as ishika, or "comprehension."
The Rings of Void Edit
The following described the path of the "typical" Ishi. Not all Void shugenja followed exactly the same path. Some learned certain lessons more quickly or more slowly than their fellow students. Because of the chaos of the Void, this was to be expected.
Beru Saishome Edit
Beru Saishome was the First Ring. Lessons in this Ring consisted generally of relearning how to understand the world. The student would meditate often and for extended periods of time, sometimes days. This process was designed to allow the student to tear away the blocks the Master had placed on his ability, slowly opening him to the Void.
Students at this stage are watched very carefully for signs of overexposure to the Realm of Void: confusion, dementia, euphoria, and/or madness. The Void is a very discomforting place at first, offering only deeply distorted views of reality. Students must learn to survive this immersion and return safely to the mortal world thereafter.
Once the student was able to regularly enter the Void, his training began in earnest. At these early stages, the Ishi was trained merely to sense things through the Void. This understanding was the basis for all lessons to follow. As the student learnt to sense things through the Void, he also began to develop an understanding that all things were connected through the Realm as well.
At this stage, the Ishi could sense the basics of the things he observed, such as what it was he was looking at from the Realm of Void, the presence of any magical beings or effects, or the health of any living beings. The Ishi could also sense the emotional state or surface thoughts of both humans and animals. Additional dangers, of course, posed themselves if the Ishi was attempting to delve into the spirit or psyche of an evil or Tainted being.
Beru Daimome Edit
Beru Daimome was the Second Ring. At this stage, the student began to truly understand what he saw within the Realm of Void, as he began to truly understood that all elements were one, and all was connected through the Void. The Ishi at this stage learnt to see the elements for what there were and to see the Void for its absence.
Ishi at this stage were taught to see beyond the rigid structure of the world and to see the swirling dance of the elements beyond. They were also taught to replace the rigidity of their perception so that they could return again to the mortal world, lest they be lost to the Realm of Void. Exposure to the fluidity of reality was a turning point for the student, as no Ishi could ever truly see the world with such a fixed lens again.
This enhanced perception also allowed the student to see their own place in the Realm and realized they too were made of the same earth, fire, air, and water as everything else, and that they were held together by the same Void. This allowed the Ishi to transcend the limitations of distance they had placed on themselves. This realization allowed the Ishi to discern the elements at much greater distances and with a much greater precision. In this manner, an Ishi could see what was beyond the next hill, in the next village, or across the Empire and in the Shadowlands.
Beru Sanbanme Edit
Beru Sanbanme was the Third Ring. At this stage, the Ishi learnt to mentally superimpose a thing's image in the mortal world over the swirling mass of elements as which it appeared in the Realm of Void. This stage brought great comfort to the student floating in the Void, although it also brought great danger. By making the Void seem familiar, it also gave the Ishi a greater temptation to answer the siren call of the Void and remain in the Realm. Reaching this stage and surviving required a great deal of concentration on the part of the student.
The ability to see a thing's physical image in addition to its elemental makeup now allowed the Ishi to see the mortal realm over great distances. Just as they could see the play of the elements across Rokugan upon reaching Beru Daimome, the Ishi could now see the mortal realm across the breadth of the land through the Realm of Void.
In addition, at this stage, an Ishi generally learned to affect the Void in others. This allowed the student to cause turns of another's fortunes, either good or ill, by either diminishing or increasing their connection to the Void. Most would generally see this as the intervention of the fortunes and never considered that it was actually the Ishi's doing.
Beru Yonbanme Edit
Beru Yonbanme was the Fourth Ring. At this stage, the Ishi removed the last of the barriers placed on him by his Master. He learnt to protect himself through his own discipline and anchor himself to the mortal world by his own will.
This stage of learning also allowed the Ishi to be more aggressive with his use of Void, stealing it from others or affecting their very person and abilities. Such aggressive use of the Void was more dangerous, however, for if an attempt should backfire, the effect on the Ishi would be even more devastating.
Beru Ganbonme Edit
Beru Ganbonme was the Fifth Ring. At this stage, Ishi were rightfully deemed Ishiken, and the knowledge of this Ring was theirs and theirs alone. The Ishi were not even aware of the existence of this level of learning. To those who had not achieved Beru Ganbonme, the Fourth Ring was believed to be the final stage of comprehension.
The Ishiken held a vision to unite the two worlds, and their trials were carried out separate from the rest of the Ishiken school. These powerful shugenja had abilities far beyond that of any Ishi. They were rumored to have the ability to completely rob a person of all Void, causing him to be completely unmade, or to expose the Realm of Void to those in the mortal world, causing death or madness to those who experienced it. These were truly the masters not only of the school's training, but of the Void itself.
Ability and Prowess Edit
Ishi could increase in strength both in terms of natural ability and training they had received. As the Ishi learnt to open himself to the Void, his natural capacity for manipulating the Fifth Element would increase alongside the increasingly intricate and powerful training he received from his Master.
In addition, as Ishi grew in the Void, they also grew in the other elements as well. This allowed Ishi to cast the same spells as any other shugenja, though they could use the Void in addition to the standard four elements.
Despite the strength granted through training and ability, there was also the matter of the student's connection to the fickle essence of the Void. Some students would occasionally plateau at a certain level of training despite early indications of great ability. Conversely, sometimes a mediocre student would suddenly achieved a great leap in ability as his connection to the Void became suddenly stronger. The latter was a dangerous position, as students were often not prepared for the sudden increase in their connection to the Realm of Void.
This surge was even more dangerous when it occurred in those who were deemed unfit for training early in their lives. Occasionally, such a person would experience a surge of power later in life that overwhelmed the blocks the Masters placed on his abilities and suddenly exposed him to the Void. The results of this were almost always disastrous.
Ishi and Ishiken Edit
All students of the Isawa Ishiken school could be rightly called Ishi. Only the most advanced, however, should be called Ishiken. The difference was that between a Master and a student. Only the most advanced Ishi -- generally those who had reached Beru Ganbonme -- were deserving of this title and were allowed to take on apprentices.
Known Technique Edit
- The Void's Caress
See Also Edit
- ↑ Way of the Shugenja, p. 61
- Way of the Phoenix Pages 55-63.
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