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1] Tarrant Struggled
2] Serpent Orb
3] The Founding of a Clan
4] Dragon Law
5] The Coming of the Wolf
6] Yukio's Time
7] Strangers Visit
8] Meeting of Clans
9] Blackbone's Trust
10] Lord Hideo's War
11] Whispers of War
12] A Hero Returns
Chapter 6: Yukio's Time

Yukio was twenty-four when his father died and he assumed leadership of the Serpent Clan. Still, he wished his father had been able to teach him more, more of the past, the history and knowledge of his Dragon Clan ancestors. Some of it was on the old scrolls his grandfather had saved when fleeing the Horde. Some was scattered among dozens of old Dragon families, who, although they no longer practiced the old ways, had passed some of the knowledge down, like the kabuki fighting forms and the philosophies of the Dragon Warriors. The rest… was lost.

Still, times were good, and there seemed to be no need to question what was happening. Plentiful harvests had followed one another, year by year, for so long it seemed that this new land was a paradise. When the time came to marry, Lord Yukio did so intelligently, choosing a woman whose family had once ruled the Eagle Clan, and so erased one of the largest divisions remaining in the land.

Even the new arrivals, the Wolf Clan, seemed to be content to live in peace with them. The troubled history of the Dragon clan seemed to belong to a mythic past. Already men were starting to doubt the Horde, to treat it as a fairy tale, forgetting the terror and devastation their grandparents had endured, the times when it seemed the Dragon Clan and all human life would certainly be destroyed.

As the ways of the Dragon clan faded, new Serpent traditions began. One example of this was the new role of gunpowder. Dragon Clan had known the secret of gunpowder since time immemorial, but had never used it for other than large artillery, useful for sieges and large-scale engagements.

There were two reasons for this. One was the effectiveness of their traditional fighting units, particularly archers and samurai as long as they possessed a culture that practiced extremes of discipline and martial ability, there was no need to develop muskets or riflemen.

The other was the martial code, that valued personal skill and bravery over all else -- the musket was a weapon even a man with minimal training could use where was the honor, the beauty in that? Even a powder keg required training and strength to use, and it was needed for situations where another weapon could not be used. But to kill a samurai with a musket was simply to dishonor oneself, and that was synonymous with defeat.

But that had been the Dragon Clan, and the Serpent Clan's philosophy was quite different. Soon the sharpshooters' guilds multiplied, and the musket became a standard part of every armory. Despite its inferior range compared to the longbow, it became popular simply because it was easier to use, and trained archers were often scarce. It was a relaxed, fruitful time, with warm seasons and plentiful harvests, not a time to be serious. No one seemed to want to worry about the old standards of martial training, or points of honor.

Indeed, it was not until four years later that the first test of Lord Yukio’s leadership came. It began innocently enough, with the arrival at Serpentholm of a delegation from the farmers in the northern reaches of the Fertile Valley, in the shadow of the High Plateau. They complained of disturbances emanating from the heights chanting, flashes of light, once a groaning noise, as if some colossal beast were speaking in half-formed words. There was a strange taste in the Cascades, the river that trickled down from springs somewhere on the rocky mesa, and their animals drank only reluctantly. There were superstitions about the plateau, and the peasants were afraid to investigate.

Lord Yukio sent his nephew and thirty men, archers and swordsmen, to scale the Dragonsteps and satisfy themselves that nothing was amiss. They were gone for ten days, and even before they returned word ran ahead of them -- they had discovered a group of bizarre-looking strangers on the plateau, and were returning with them. This was the first Lord Yukio heard of Clan Lotus.

Chapter 7: Strangers Visit