The Dead of Winter (Rulebook story)
Written By: Unknown
Edited By: Unknown
Released: Unknown
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Story Year: 1172

The Dead of Winter (Rulebook story)

The wind vas like a living thing that craved pain and death, Akodo Seiichi had decided. It seemed to die down now and again, just long enough to give the men stationed at the southern front hope that it had gone for good, and then it reappeared, stronger than before, cutting them to very bones. He shuddered against the wind and attempted to seal the plates of his armor tighter, despite that he knew it was pointless.

Somewhere on the horizon, something in the south moved.

The cold was forgotten at once. Seiichi watched carefully, squinting his eyes against the glare of the white and grey. He stood on the forward sentry detail at least once every other day, and while he believed he had seen movement in the south before this time he was certain. Sometimes it had been a scattered flurry, as if troops moving amid the snow, but this time it was something larger, something monstrous. Seiichi shivered at the thought, remembering the terrible battle against the god-beast some months before. He peered carefully, scanning for any indication of what he had seen, but could find nothing.

Silently, Seiichi wondered if the winter would not break the spirit of the men who had endured months of constant war without complaint.

Moshi Kalani finished the report to his Champion, frowning severely as he set the quill down. He went to great pains to include every detail, every possible nuance, knowing that the vessels he dispatched to return to the Empire would take months to arrive assuming that they arrived intact at all. It seemed so futile, and he knew all too well that the frustation would be even greater for Yoritomo Naizen. "There must be another way," he whispered to himself as he sealed the scroll.

"Kalani-sama!" One of the junior officers entered the building. "Your engineer has arrived with his report!"

Kalani smiled wankly. "Thank you. And please, there is no need for shouting."

The officer blushed furiously. "I... am sorry, commander."

The commander waved the comment away and waited. After a moment, a middle-aged woman entered the tent. "Where do you get such ridiculously enthusiastic subordinates?"

"I believe someone hates me compiled the duty roster," Kalani remarked. "It is good to see you, Shotoko-san. What have you had learned?"

Yoritomo Shotoko smiled wearily. "I have spent the past two months carefully inspecting the Fourth Storm," she said. "I have checked every foot of every ship that we discovered. They are as sound as anything my family has ever created. More so, perhaps." She shook her head. "They are amazing.”

"An entire Storm of ships," Kalani said. "I still cannot believe it."

"Nor can I, and I have spent weeks running my hands across the wood of their hulls," Shotoko agreed. "They are huge. The entire clan could be transported within them, I think. And if that is an exaggeration, it is not a great one. The problem will be finding enough hands to crew them. We could exhaust all three current Storms and still be short."

"And you have tested them?"

She nodded. "We have taken three of them up to a week's travel from the coast, into deeper water than any kobune has ever endured. They are more adept at coastal waters but they can handle voyages into the deep with minimal effort."

Kalani rubbed his chin. "They change everything."

"Everything," Shotoko agreed at once.

A trio of robed figures moved trhrough the winding streets of the Imperial City, their thick cloaks drawn tight against the biting wind. Those around them were likewise bundled, hurrying on their way to avoid the horrific discomfort of the winter wind. The trio walked swiftly, ducking down a narrow and crooked alley to meet with another trio of similarly dressed travelers. The six stood in a hushed circle for several moments, waiting to see if any others would arrive from either end of the alley but they were alone. Finally, one spoke. "Shallah mubai takalla sho..."

The one who had walked at the head of the trio turned and struck the speaker across the face sharply, revealing a heavily tattooed forearm as her arm lashed out lightning quick. "Fool!" she hissed. "Speak not the mother's tongue in this land! It sullies our words!" She glanced at the others. "Speak the language of the cattle so long as we are within their land. They hate all that is different and will suspect something at once if they overhear even a sylable."

The others nodded. One glanced over his shoulder toward the massive building in the distance. "Where are the others, mistress?"

"Throughout the city," she answered. "They take their positions as we do."

"When do we strike?"

The leader glanced at the imposing profile of the Imperial Palace. "Very soon. Prepare your souls, for soon we give our lives for the goddess."

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