Story of Ashgara Edit
There was once a time when the Naga dominion over the lands we now know as Rokugan was absolute. Their people thrived as one clan, with Qatol, their ancient Champion, ruling them wisely. It was said that they knew no war among themselves. They would have lived in peace save for the battles they fought against the evil of the Shadowlands. This was the time the Naga called the First Burning of the Lands.
The Naga once had among them a gentle Lady, a woman of such rare beauty and spirit that the Sun Goddess shone the brighter in her presence. This woman was called by their people, Ashgara, and she was the only daughter of Qatol.
Ashgara's one pleasure was to sit by the river and sing while she wove fans from the green rushes that grew on its banks. She would often sit for hours, weaving and watching the Sun Goddess dance across the sky. One day, while seeking plants for her craft, she traveled farther down the river's bed than she had ever been before. There she found a secluded pool away from the swift-flowing current. Strange rushes grew there, colored red as blood and soft to touch but stronger than any she had ever seen before. With her sharp knife she cut many of them, and the fans she made that day were the most magnificent that had ever been seen.
The next day, Ashgara returned to the pool to see if she could find more of the rushes. To her amazement, the stalks she had cut had returned as thick and strong as before! She praised the strange plants and cut them again to make more fine fans. Returning to the spot the next day as well, Ashgara found they had again grown overnight. She decided that the stalks must be magical and resolved to bring them nearer to the village. It was as she dislodged the plant that she found among its roots a strange pearl, as large as a boy's fist. She gazed at the wondrous pearl, marveling at her good fortune, and took the red rushes back to the village to plant by the river near the town.
The next day she went out to the magic rushes. To her surprise, they were brown and dead. Ashgara looked at the withered plants and remembered an old tale that spoke of strange pearls that dragons used for their magic. Too late Ashgara realized what she had found, and turned to go back to her father's house. Before she could flee, however, a great shadow loomed over her from the riverbank. Fearfully, she looked over her shoulder and saw the dragon towering up from the river's waves.
Yu Lung, for that was the dragon's name, grinned at her, showing teeth as long as swordblades. He said that he would grant her one wish in exchange for the return of the pearl. Ashgara thought for a frightened moment, remembering the times she had watched the Sun Goddess dance in the heavens and how much joy the dance brought to her people. Trembling, she asked the dragon to give her the ability to dance like the Sun Goddess. The dragon's eyes narrowed wickedly, and then his mouth opened wide. Mists, thick and heavy, surrounded her.
When Ashgara awoke much later, it was night, and the dragon and his pearl had vanished. She tried to pull herself upright but found that the heavy balance of her tail was gone, and fell again to the soft bank. Looking down at herself, Ashgara gasped in shock. Her beautiful tail had been stolen, and in its place she had two hideous legs! When the Naga found her she was weeping by the river, and they carried her to her father, Qatol.
Unsure what to do with his daughter, Qatol placed her in her room under a guard of Naga soldiers. She was kept in the palace for many days, unable to face her people with the shame of her legs. Qatol was kind to his daughter but her people would not accept her as she was. They called her "abomination" and "cripple," and tried to convince Qatol to throw her into the far southern swamps. Always, he refused. Many shujenga tried to reverse the evil spell laid on her but it was no use, and Ashgara grieved at her misfortune.
Many weeks later a great blight struck the land. The bright midday suddenly turned to a cold ominous night. Darkness reigned, no Sun appeared in the sky, and the land fell into blackness. With the Sun's absence the dark denizens of the Shadowlands spread out from the south, bringing death and disease with them. The Naga Shugenja cast many spells, and to their astonishment they discovered the Sun Goddess had been captured and thrown into the darkness of the Underworld by a powerful God. Hearing this, the Naga despaired. At first, many Naga warriors went to rescue the gentle Sun, but all those that went to the Shadowlands died there. Time passed, the lands fell into devastation and ruin, crops withered, and the Naga people began to starve.
Ashgara mourned for her dying people. She knew there was no future for them unless the Sun was returned to the sky. So, she begged her father to let her go to the Shadowlands and seek her fate there. Qatol at first refused to allow her, but she begged him to let her go, saying that if she should find her death, at least she would die with honor. With a heavy heart, Qatol was forced to concede to his daughter's request. But, as a parting gift, he gave her a choice of the few weapons left among their people. Realizing that the Naga needed all their weapons to defeat the Oni which wandered the land, she chose only a great obsidian shield which had been carved by Qatol from the very stone that spawned the Naga.
And so, the Naga princess traveled into the Shadowlands. The way was dark and treacherous, and she met many evil Mujina there that taunted her and tried to lead her into the deadly quicksands. But always she outran them on her sturdy legs or hid among the dark waters of the swamp until the larger Oni had passed. Finally, deep in the Shadowlands, she found the opening to the Underworld.
The lip of the cave was thin, slippery, and covered in thick vines. Ashgara walked slowly across the treacherous ground, her feet holding firmly to rock that would have been as slick as ice to a Naga's tail. When she reached the opening she peered inside and saw there a darkness so absolute that it hurt her eyes to look upon it. She called into the cave but there was no answer. Only a faint gleam in the darkness reassured her that she had found the prison of the Sun Goddess. But, now, how was she to help her escape? If Ashgara ventured into that darkness, she too would become lost. There was not even wood for a signal fire.
Ashgara was so deep in thought that she did not notice when a powerful Oni arrived to guard the cave. Its huge claws dripped with poison and its gaping mouth drooled vomit and slime. Tiny red eyes deep within its skull pierced her soul to its core. Ashgara was trapped, with only the darkness of the cave behind her. The huge Oni hissed its pleasure at finding such a morsel for its meal! Eagerly it reached to grip her in its clawed hands.
Ashgara pleaded for her life and begged to dance for the Oni before he destroyed her. Thinking only of its own amusement, the Oni agreed to allow her. Ashgara pulled the mirrored shield from her arm and began to dance at the mouth of the cave. Her movements were slow, rhythmic, and precise, the obsidian in her hands dull and dark. Posing delicately for the Oni, she thought of her people who had died in the Shadowlands. She danced a dance of sorrow, remembering the few Naga left who may be dying in the palaces to the north. Gently turning the faintly glimmering mirror in her graceful hands, she kept the Oni's eyes on her movements, and danced until she thought she would die from fright and fatigue. The Oni's claws opened and closed reflexively, awaiting his meal.
As his eyes flickered over her, she shuddered behind the polished stone's soft glow, extending a slim arm in a delicate gesture of supplication. Drooling in pleasure, it reached out to grasp her as she passed near. Swiftly she passed behind the shining piece of obsidian, evading his grasp in a decorative twirl. Trembling in fear, she came to the end of the dance, the shield gleaming brightly in her hands, and the Oni lunged toward her eagerly. Only to be stopped by a burst of light from the woman at the mouth of the cave.
The Goddess returned and she seared the darkness out of the lands, burning them with her radiance and helping the Naga drive the Oni back to the pits of the southern swamps. That was the First Burning of the Lands. Further, as a gift to remember the brave Ashgara, the Sun Goddess gave all Naga women the ability to change their tails to legs and dance for her.
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