Saturday, January 16, 2010

Letters from Mesutsume - Age 18-22 + Epilogue

It is my fondest pleasure to at long last be able to present to you the fourth and final collection of Matsu Mesutsume's letters. In this collection, I have placed not only the letters detailing the return of the Unicorn and Mesutsume's historical involvement therein, but also several ultra rare letters detailing Mesutsume's life in the period of peace that lasted through the second half of her life.

It is my belief that this is the first time these letters have all been brought together in one place outside of Unicorn lands, and I would like to officially thank and acknowledge the descendants of Otaku Miriam for the aid in locating - and deciphering - some of the rarer pieces found in this work.

The significance of these pieces is unquestionable, especially to historical scholars throughout the Empire. So, here then, and without further ado, I invite you to read and enjoy this last collection of Matsu Mesutsume's letters.

Ikoma Masshiro

The Letters

Enclosed with this letter was a thin but long lock of well cared for red and white hair in a tight braid. Tied into the braid and the bottom is a small bell that chimed lightly when it was shaken. The hair has been returned to Matsu Mesutsume's descendants.
~Ikoma Masshiro


I killed you today. It does not matter that Kaori and Toki were able to save you in the moments before life totally left you, nor that I spoke to you just earlier but after the act itself and know you are fine. I know it is true, I saw it in your eyes, different and yet so similar to the look I have seen in the eyes of many as my spear has claimed their life. You were smiling though, happy for the experience. I do not know why but that didn't surprise me. I felt as though for the first time you were able to go all out against me, I have not seen that since your match against the sensei for the Akodo Elite Guard. The experience, I am not ashamed to admit, is far more terrifying and pressing when you are facing off against it then watching it from the side. At the same time, I must admit my pride and joy at finally being good enough for you to take me as seriously as you did.

I have no illusions about it. Today, I beat you. Today, I killed you. However, if we were to fight again, you would be the winner. Were we to fight two more times, it would be 1-2 in your favor. Three more times and it'd be 1-3 for you. Still, that my spear could find you, I am not sure I will ever perform as well as I did in that moment. Yet, knowing that I can do such things I have never been more motivated to do all I can to make that my standard, and not my exceptional performance. I look forward to a time when I can meet you as an equal in ability, and not as a challenge. Even if a challenge that you take completely seriously.

Your loving daughter,
Matsu Mesutsume


We have been sent on the march again, as I am sure you have heard. Our legion is reconstituted and seems to be trained up to an acceptable level. Heihachi-sama wishes for us to go out and gain field experience, and so we were sent down near where Lion and Scorpion lands meet. It seems though, that we will be getting more experience than initially planned. A new enemy has shown in the empire, riding through the shadow lands and breaking through the Crab lines like they were not even there. Reports claim they are not tainted, though these gaijin ride massive steeds that reports put at half again the size of Rokugani horses.

Half our legion has moved to the pass to slow their advance; the other half should arrive here in a few days. In the mean time, the Scorpion have sent a Legion and a Half to assist us. There is a feeling of tension about this, I get the sense that Zenko and Chengensai know their leader, and Toki seems to have some bad blood with another in their command. More than a few are nervous about this turn of events. Chengensai seems calm, provided we can stop this force from getting further in, I do not think he would mind much what happened right now. Only time will tell.

This force though blew through the Crab lines in five minutes from what we have heard. Already I can hear some of the troops talking about it taking a miracle to hold them here. I suppose that means Heihachi-sama sent the right group. I will write more later.

Your loving daughter,
Matsu Mesutsume


Things have become so much more complicated than they first appeared. That is the only way that I can hope to explain the situation in as few words as that. We have stopped the force that blew through the Crab's lines advance, though not through force of arms. Instead, we now sit with them to our north, guarding their rear from a possible attack from an approaching Scorpion army. The force I mentioned in my previous letter still at their north keeping them from further advance. We sit and await the arrival of more Lion forces, and the arrival of a Miya Herald that Chengensai has sent for, to test the claims of these people.

They claim to be the descendants of Shinjo, and speak in a broken form of High Rokugani that is hard to understand, but passable at least. They claim to be returning home, trying to go back to their lands - the ones that the Lion protect in their centuries long absence. They claim they have proof. We have no way of verifying any of their claims, but it seems to have at least partially given Chengensai hold to think. He feels this, while perhaps distasteful to some in our unit, is the best way to fulfill our orders. In battle, we would perhaps hold them for a few days - and that assuming they tried to wipe us out and not just ride past - but this way, we hold them for at least a week, perhaps more. Provided of course the Scorpion play along. Though Chengensai does not seem to think they will, and as such is preparing for that eventuality; his thoughts on the matter he keeps to himself. Whether he intends to hold us before the Scorpion, or turn us on those claiming to be descendants of Shinjo I do not know. I will simply have to wait and see.

The people themselves are interesting, though from looking at them I would never claim they had any Rokugani descent. That is, aside from the ones calling themselves Otaku. The Otaku, a family of warrior women very similar to the Matsu in many ways it seems, have retained their purity. There is very little sign of the gaijin blood in them, if any is even there, and the higher in their family's rank you get the more pure Rokugani they seem. A number of them have come to test themselves against me. I have bested them all with only sword work, not yet needing to show the spear technique you taught me. Their leader herself is among the number I have bested, though in our fight she was also holding back to a similar degree. If nothing else, they have shown they are enemies worthy of respect.

In other news, Matsu Toki is dead. Slain by an assassin that he spotted and stopped at the cost of his own life. He was smiling as he died, like he had fulfilled some duty long held in wait. I do not know how his wife will take it. I am not sure how much she cared for him, but they were both young and it was hard to dislike Toki even when one tried. I'll have to keep an eye on her for the next few days. I will tell you more of Toki's death when I see you next. I have not the skill to convey the tale in writing.

For now though I must go, my time to supervise the watch is fast approaching and I am unsure when supplies of less important things such as candles will come in for us. I will write more later.

Your loving daughter,
Matsu Mesutsume


The battle is over and we stand victorious. Chengensai is dead. Sachi is dead. Zenko is dead. Tomi is dead. Kiba is dead. All in our legion save for myself, Tsumaro, Kaori, and Hijo lay dead on the battlefield. Shokan survived as well, but was injured in a way so grievous that when given the choice to be saved by Kaori, he requested he be allow to die with his wife as a Lion soldier in a battle that will surely be remembered for all time. Of the Scorpion, they sent 45,000 against us, 25,000 still survive though our hostilities are at an end. There were 2,000 of us against their 45,000, and in the end they were the ones to pull back and concede the day as ours. Though perhaps for that I should start at the beginning.

I already told you our situation, holding those claiming to be descendants of Shinjo, Unicorn they call themselves, by way of tact instead of spears. Over the previous few days we waited, the rest of our Legion showed up and filtered through their ranks and bolstered our strength to a full one thousand. The next day, the Scorpion army showed up near the evening, Chengensai went out to speak with them alone. It was not something Tsumaro or I were happy with, but he was insistent. Not thirty minutes after he had gone to meet the Scorpion, a runner came to us looking for our second in command. The scorpion were coming through, we could join them, move out of the way, or die. We had ten minutes to decide, though I already knew our answer. Tsumaro has said the words countless times before, I do not know why he did not say them then. "Neither of those is going to happen".

The word spread through our line like wild fire, we would stand and defend these Unicorn. We would stand and defend Chengensai's word that should it come to battle, he would defend them to the death. The Unicorn talked quickly, and were ready to move even faster. Their main force intended to break out the front of the pass and continue on, the leader of their women warriors - Otaku Miriam - stayed to defend the back with us along with 200 of her mounted female warriors and 800 of their male infantry. Communication was an issue, though thankfully there was little to communicate. Against a force that was over twenty times our size, what do you do aside from grip your spear and move until you no longer can? Our lines were set before the Scorpion began their advance, so much activity in ten minutes I do not think I have ever seen save in the heart of a battle.

The Scorpion began their advance, and Kaori pleaded with the kami. Osano Wo himself heard her call, and smote the front Scorpion lines. Carving out a large circle in their center that they had to move around. As they began to reform, Osano Wo began again and again, striking lightning deep into their center. Their command staff went down under the second barrage; their banners went up in smoke. Their shugenja must have been caught off guard and wiped out, for throughout the battle the kami never once raised hand against us. Though they did multiple times against the scorpion. I do not know what Kaori did, all I can say on it is that it was the most powerful display of magic I have ever read about, let alone seen. She seemed to glow with an ethereal light, and at parts of the battle you could see years of life washing off of her like the tides as she continued to direct and call upon the kami to aid us in the battle. I have often heard Kaori comment on wishing to be a true samurai, I think that if there had ever been doubt of her being one that it was fully laid to rest on this day.

Our line met with the Scorpion lines and there was death all around. The Unicorn use an interesting spear, almost half again as long as a yari. Its effect in stopping a charge is impressive to say the least. As is its ability to stab over two ranks of soldiers. We used it in a fighting retreat, backing further and further into the narrow part of the pass. Osano Wo smiting Scorpion all around us and funneling them into our kill zones as we fell back in ranks. They lost nearly 10,000 in this opening part, we lost around 700. The kami favored us, Bishamon and Hachimon surely smiled down upon us, what chance did the Scorpion have? It was then that Miriam and her 200 mounted warriors began to harry their back. Sweeping in with their strange conical spears on the first pass, killing at least three each before dropping the weapon and turning to the sword. In and out of the back of the Scorpion they swept, losing people with each pass but killing far more than they lost. The scorpion advance stopped, they turned to face this harrying force from their back full on. In response Miriam and her women prepared to plunge deep into the center. Before the battle I had spoken with Miriam, when discussing her tactics I had claimed we would meet in the middle. The time for that meeting quickly approached.

Unhappy with our retreating fight, and not about to let the Scorpion deal with one group of us and not the other, we called the charge. I am sure for any looking down on the battle it would look strange, the maybe 600 of us left on one side and the 150 on the other charging into a force of over 30,000 warriors. We are Lion though, and the confusion and fear amongst the Scorpion was strong. Our two units sliced through and met in the center. Even further reduced yes, but we made it to the center. A circle was formed there, Kaori in the center so she could continue to direct the kami in our fight. The Scorpion pressed in, and we continued to kill them as they came.

I do not know what possessed him, but Zenko called out to the remaining Scorpion commanders then. Calling one in particular a coward and an eta for holding back. The Scorpion came to find him, and while I could only barely see it through the fighting I know they had a duel. The Scorpion looked skilled, a truly competent duelist, perhaps even better than most of the good Kakita. Zenko was never a duelist, holding only a passing knowledge. He knows the form, he can draw his blade without embarrassing himself, but he is no duelist. He is Lion though, and when the time came for the blades to be drawn, he was the slower. Speed, however, is not enough on the battlefield. The blow that hit him was not strong enough to sever his concentration and Zenko struck back with the fury and power of a Matsu. A second later both men fell over dead, and for the second time in my life, the second time that week, I watched as Righteousness enabled the worse duelist to win when it mattered. People have said many things about Zenko. I know that none of us trusted him when he first showed up. His tactics at time were suspect, as was his skill set. He was one who was easy to speak against at times, too quiet, too shady in many ways. In death, at the moment he died, Zenko pulled back the covers and showed us all what truly lay underneath. Zenko was, is, Lion; he died a true and full part of Razor Paw. He has earned his place in Yomi.

Tomi and Kiba fell shortly after Zenko. Our circle had broken into two smaller groups due to the sheer weight of the enemy numbers. Tomi worked the middle between the groups, keeping a flank as light as possible for both groups. To see her and Kiba working through the field, you would think they were one creature and not two. The loss of Tomi's legs to the Ogres did not make her weaker, instead it awakened something that was truly a sight to behold on the battlefield. Cat and rider took turns, in one instant Tomi would strike out all about them as Kiba dashed through or past the opponents, keeping them safe while Tomi rained death all around. The next, Tomi would turn her spears defensively, knocking weapons and opponents out of the way so they could not harm Kiba while the great cat tore into their sides and flanks. To watch the two in action, you would swear Emma-O himself had come down to the battle with  a desperate need to fill a not insignificant quota. In the end, the Scorpion managed to pull Tomi off of Kiba's back, a mistake for the one in question as he was immediately killed by Kiba while Tomi held him unable to defend himself. His nearby friends however were still free to act, and without her legs Tomi was simply unable to defend herself. Kiba's last act was to save Tomi, and Tomi's was to die avenging Kiba. I do not think either of them would have ever wanted it to end otherwise. Even with her now dead, I still find myself in awe of her perseverance. Many claim the loss of a leg is the death of a bushi, and Tomi instead took that loss and made it into strength. Were we to all be as dedicated to bushido, so perseverant in pursuit of our causes, the Empire would be a much different and better place I feel.

Sachi was the next to fall. I told her before the battle that today was the day she had been waiting years for. I did not believe my own words. I believe she had already made up any harm to Razor Paw long ago with her dedicated service, her constant quest to better herself. She needed to hear it though. She would never accept that what she did was something so minor that it could be made up for in any other way but a battle like this. I put her in front of a unit, named her among our best five warriors, put her on equal footing with Tomi, Tsumaro, Shokan, and myself. Though she did not show it, I think it both surprised and pleased her that she was given such trust. She did not disappoint. Lady Matsu herself would have been impressed with Sachi's performance today. She was a tornado of death on the battlefield, killing endlessly as they came at her with no thought for her own safety. I heard her crying out during the battle, that the Scorpion had taken Toki from her. She fought like someone with nothing left to lose, and in doing so I feel she gained everything she had ever wanted. Or, at least, realized that she already had it. I watched her fall seven times over the course of the battle, each time to wounds that should have removed her from the fight. I watched her stand back up eight times, with help from the kami and Kaori. Each time, she went back into it with abandon. At one point of the battle she boasted to have killed more today than I did in my first three wars combined. She shone as brightly as any I have ever seen on her last day, and looking back on it now I can say honestly that that was what I always wanted from her. Not for her death, but for her to shine that brightly. I think, in many ways that she looked to me in much the same way I looked to, and in ways still do look to, Yoko. I was something to be surpassed, something to be proven to. I seem to be destined to forever lose this kind of meeting, no matter which side I am on, for in her death she has surpassed me and joined Yoko in a way I do not think I will ever be able to match. I am left now needing to live my life to prove to the both of them that it was worth it, that I am worthy of them.

With Zenko, Sachi, Tomi, and Kiba down the standards were left in danger. Shokan and Hijo were still defending them, but two people to defend both the Otaku and Razor Paw standards against so many enemies was dangerous. Kaori, once again, proved the savior and asked the Earth kami for help. They responded by raising the earth under the two standards a hundred feet into the air, Shokan and Hijo with them. The act left only Miriam, Kaori, Tsumaro, and myself within reach of the scorpion. So soaked with their blood, their younger troops were shying from meeting us and even the more seasoned hesitant to send more men to die at our hands. The lines pulled back, and we instantly realized what was coming. We broke for the area near the standard, Kaori called to the water kami to protect us from the arrows. This battle was not done yet, it would not end so ingloriously as being shot by arrows while an army stood back and watched. The water kami heard her, and enveloped us in a protective bubble. For minutes we could see nothing, so thick was the layer of arrows falling around us, the protection afforded us several long minutes of much needed rest.

The four of us conversed quickly about our choices. Kaori claimed she could raise the earth and bring us up to the standards, we could wait there for the Lion army. None of us, even Kaori herself liked the idea but it was an option. We could all keep fighting as well, we would die eventually, but so would many more of them. I thought of the prospect of a duel. We had already killed so many of them, and were we to fight we would likely kill many, many more before we fell to them. The Empire however may have need of those we killed, the reason we were fighting had long since been gone. Tsumaro agreed it was a good idea, and for a moment I could see how strongly he wished to be the one to go out and do it. Success, however, was more important to him than personal glory, it always has been, and so he allowed me to do it.

Miriam came with me as I left the protective bubble. The Scorpion archers all aimed at me. I requested to speak with their leader, an aged Scorpion who still had the grace of a warrior. I suggested a duel. If we win, they withdraw, we allow them to collect their dead, we can collect our dead, and the battle simply ends. If they win, they had won. No more resistance from us. Either way, no more Scorpion save perhaps one would die. Their leader agreed, and we settled into stance. He was good, but with the focus I've achieved since our fight those months ago, I was just slightly better, and as I said, we are Lion and today the kami and fortunes favored us. My strike killed him cleanly, though his spirit was strong enough that he left a deeper mark on me than any I have received before from any opponent. The Scorpion honored the deal, though some did not like it. We have pulled back as well, and await the approaching Lion army as we continue to hold the pass.

I should end this letter now, I am running out of paper if nothing else. Before I do though, I realize I have not spoken about Tsumaro in the battle, and that is a disservice to him. Throughout the battle he shone brightly. He responded swiftly and courageously. There was never any hesitation from him, and he stepped up to fill Chengensai's absence with courage and honor. The technique he has learned from Heihachi, he has completely mastered. Combined with the teachings of the Elite Guard he becomes a killing machine from whom there is no escape save to turn tail and run. He set a pace even I could not keep up with, limited only by the fact the Scorpion could not get to him in fast enough numbers for him to truly ever leave me completely behind. Today was an important day for Tsumaro, today he showed how much he has grown from that young samurai he was when we first met, unsure of himself and looking to Chengensai as a guide for how to act honorably and properly. Today I watched as Tsumaro became the truest representation of the Lion that I have ever seen.

I will write more to you later, when there is time and paper to do so.

Your loving daughter,
Matsu Mesutsume.

Due to an unfortunate incident involving heavy rain, almost all of Mesutsume's remaining letters were destroyed before any could be read. We do, however, still have these two letters, written about ten to fifteen years after the battle with the Scorpion, commonly referred to as Razor Paw's Last Stand. The second of these letters was still held with honor in Ikoma Tsuyokaze's memorial shrine, and was read for my transcription by the honored Sodan Senzo Kitsu Moritaka.
~Ikoma Masshiro


I am writing you now from Unicorn lands, and I am here on more business for the Lion. Otaku Miriam has offered to let me stay with her for the several months I will be up here, and then she may come with me back to Swift Sword on some Unicorn business herself. I trust you are well, and that my husband is helping out sufficiently where you need him to. Is my daughter well? I know she is training in the dojo and contact is scarce at best, but I was unable to receive word the last time I was home. I am sure she is making us, and our line, proud as she learns, but confirmation of that would be nice.

It is beautiful up here, Father. The Unicorn have done much since coming home. I think it will still be another few years before they are ready to fully take over their lands, but the progress is astounding. There are still gaps in understanding between them and the Lion stationed here. The job is trying at times, but also rewarding. Lion have never been ones to hide behind words, and the openness of the Unicorn helps with that as well, but there has been more than one duel over a simple misunderstanding of proper etiquette. Particularly over the Unicorn's custom to shake hands, and the too casual way that they will sometimes clap you on the back to show friendship.

Miriam has been a big help with some of these customs. She is a fast learner, and seems eager for her family to fully re-integrate with the Empire, though she has steadfastly swore that her people will not forsake the traditions that they picked up in their journey simply because they may be 'scoffed' at here. A claim that  turned the Etiquette Sensei the Doji sent up here to help white with shock. I am not sure if I will ever see that Doji again now that I think about it.

I need to end this here, I have a busy day ahead of me. The meetings alone would make a full day, but I am also honing my skills with the spear further. There are tricks they have learned on their journey that are simply fascinating. I can not wait to show you before our next match when I am home. Be well father.

Your loving daughter,
Matsu Mesutsume


This is the last letter I will ever write you. You have moved on from this world to the next, your life one of the few to be taken by my hand since that fight with the Scorpion oh so many years ago. It feels strange to be writing to you like this when you are dead, and yet it also feels right. To say goodbye in any other way I feel would be a betrayal of our relationship, of this tradition that we have maintained for over twenty years, ever since my gempukku and my first assignment to Razor Paw.

The Unicorn are doing well, and have completely re-taken their lands now. Their military is strong enough to hold them, even against us were we to try, and what could be a more true statement of ability than that? The annual war games near Shiro Ikoma seem to be favored amongst both the Lion and Unicorn that are there. A way to preserve friendships, while still engaging in the martial competition that is so much a way of our lives. The displays of skill that are shown there can be truly spectacular. It is a regret of mine that I was never able to show it to you.

My first daughter's gempukku happened just the other day. She wore white throughout the ceremony in mourning for your passing, though when I look in her eyes I know she understands why what happened happened. She is not like us; she is not a killer with a beast inside yearning to get out at all times and needing to be kept under tight control. She is a warrior, a samurai, pure in her devotion and purpose. It is interesting to say those two things at the same time. She understands us, the people like you and I, but she is not like us. Has ever a person ever existed before? She has told me that she will live up to my story, some how, some way, but that the way will be hers. She will walk a path similar to mine, but not mine. I am not sure I have ever been prouder of her. She chose the name 'Sachi' for herself at Gempukku. I am sure that the Sachi from Razor Paw will watch over her. Especially with such a goal set for her life.

Speaking of Razor Paw, while I am sure you know already, Ikoma Kaori passed away upon finishing her tribute to the Water Kami. The deal paid back to the kami for their aid in that battle oh so long ago. I have sent a letter to Tsumaro with my condolences, and speaking of how proud I am to have ever known her. The Kitsu will be adding her name to the Razor Paw roster at the Hall of Ancestors soon, and I am thinking I will go to see it and pay my last respects to the woman who was so instrumental in so many of our battles.

I will wish you rest now father. You have walked a long path, and set a fine example for all to follow. Perhaps I will see you in my future, either in Yomi or another life. Thank you for all you taught me, I hope you know how important it was to me.

For the last time, your loving daughter,
Matsu Mesutsume

This last letter is the last one Mesutsume ever wrote. At least, that has been recovered and found so far. Ikoma Omoidasu have argued for years as to whether this letter is a goodbye, or if Mesutsume ever gave one to her family. Either way, it holds the last words Mesutsume expressed to her daughter Sachi in writing.
~Ikoma Masshiro


I received your letter recently, and I wished to extend my congratulations to you on becoming accepted into the Lion's Pride. It is somewhere I never went, something I was never apart of, and to hear that you are adding that legacy, that honor, to our family line is something that fills me with pride.

Your letter also brought a smile to my lips. Reading it, I could not help but remember all the countless letters that I wrote to your grand father while I was on duty. It did not matter that we were both stationed in the same castle for years at a time, I still wrote to him regularly. Using the letters to sum up my thoughts and disclose everything I could to him. I am happy to see that you are doing much the same with me.

Your husband is doing well. As well as he ever does, anyway. He seems quieter, calmer of late. He is, as always, constantly off in his other world. Speaking to his brothers and sisters is what Tsumaro told me it was.

I have begun to teach your daughter the spear. I know that you have dedicated your life more to the sword than the spear since joining the Lioness legion, but in this I can not help myself. She will learn both, and be as fine a warrior as her Mother and Grand Mother could ever hope because of it. Speaking of, I hope you are still keeping sharp with a spear, even dedicated to the sword as you may be, it is still a weapon you should remember, a legacy of our family.

I am proud of you daughter. They are words I never heard from my father, though I knew he felt them. They are words I do not think I have ever told to you, though I know you know I feel them. You have done the impossible, continuing our family's legacy of martial excellence while ending the matched legacy of endless killing and bloodshed. It is the highest of tragedies that there are no wars worthy of you, able to show the world just how good you are, but I can see it in you. You have accomplished the goal that you set out to achieve at your gempukku. You have blazed your own trail while still matching me. I am proud to call you my daughter, and proud to be counted among the teachers of such a fine warrior.

I will end this by passing on a message, Otaku Miriam's daughter has written asking if you will be heading out to Unicorn lands. I think she wishes to keep strong the connection between our families, and while she is fond of me there is too much respect owed to me from the friendship I had with her mother and the battles we fought together. If you are interested, I will see if I can arrange it. Though I must warn you, even if not interested it may happen due to matters out of my control.

Walk with honor Sachi, I am looking forward to our next match.

Your loving mother,
Matsu Mesutsume

In the sixth month of the 49th year of her life Matsu Mesutsume vanished. Her daughter awoke one morning to find her mother's spears added to her own in the weapons rack, and her mother simply gone. When asked, Otaku Miriam's daughter nodded knowingly, and explained their tradition of doing just that when they come to a certain age. This tradition is now followed in the line of Matsu Mesutsume. A final walk to find an opponent worthy of ending your life.
~Ikoma Masshiro

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