The Empires of the Sun: A Fantastic Alternative History

Woodland Strider

Hunting was something even many of the nobles found themselves doing. As the third son of a low-ranking samurai, Kojima Kensuke found himself doing many of the tasks his brothers passed on to him. Pulling back the bowstring of the yumi longbow, Kensuke closed his eyes. The thaumaturgy he had been drilled in since childhood began to guide his vision.

The pine forest in front of him melted into a blur. He could sense the ki flowing from several animals, as well as from the forest around him. He could sense the energy pulsing from his prey, a strong buck deer. As the deer feed on some grass, Kensuke focused. He was about to release the arrow when turned and ran.

Could I have frightened it? he thought.

Based on the direction the buck was running, that seemed unlikely. The frightened animal was rushing directly at him. Reacting as fast as he could, Kensuke drew his sword, spun around, and ducked. He stood behind a tree to the side, sticking his sword out across the path. The momentum and single-minded urge to escape of the deer prevented it from noticing the hunter's ambush.

The animal's velocity and mass conspired to finish it. The legs of the animal made contact with the blade, and were sliced off below the knee. The blade of the katana was covered in deer blood, and the deer was now helplessly sprawled out on the ground, losing blood fast. Kensuke lifted the blade and quickly ended the animal's suffering.

As disgraceful as many of the monks found it, hunting and more regular contact with the blood and bodily fluids of animals were now a necessity of life. As one of the second generation, Kensuke felt he would do whatever was required to survive. As a few of the more diplomatic natives had shown, just about every part of the deer could be reused in some way.

Now, all that was left was to drag the thing home. Wanting to bag his first deer alone, he had used a tool previously reserved for war. The sword may be the "soul of the samurai," but souls could find themselves doing different things than they intended to. The harsh realities of survival trumped the traditions they had left behind.

Kensuke had never seen Old Nippon, though he had always been curious regarding it. The pine forests around New Edo had been the places he was most familiar with. While the first settlers considered the local savages to all be hostile, that had changed shortly after landing. Many farmers did not know how to adapt to the new soil, and there were few boats available for fishing. A group of unarmed savages approached one day, curious of the new arrivals. A pragmatic lesser noble noticed they had no metal objects on them, and that they gazed in awe of their metal swords.

The Emperor-in-Exile had personally lead the colony, as they lacked a shogun or other acting head of the nation. That noble would later gain an audience with the Emperor-in-Exile. He suggested that they offer instruction in metalworking and "proper civilization" if they would show their survival methods. The supreme irony of going to the more primitive culture in hopes of re-learning agriculture was the first major one. However, the Emperor, realizing the colony would starve without a reliable source of food, was eager to begin it himself. He degreed that all would have to do their share to survive in the new colony.

Some of the local tribes were friendly and eager to trade. Others were hostile and belligerent. Each new tribe contacted, however, helped them know more about their new home. There were some settled, and some nomadic ones. Stories told a few had even come from the great grasslands over the mountains to the far west. (The Emperor-in-Exile had decided to organize a more formal expedition at some point in the future.)

However, that was of no immediate concern to Kensuke. The more immediate concern was someone, or something, moving rapidly moving just below the canopy. There was a vaguely humanoid form jumping in between branches. For a split second, he swore he could see the tan skin of a woman with native features. Having from her waist was an oddly shaped metal bladed weapon, and a strange bow-like weapon was strapped across her back. How a native had metal weapons was something he did not bother to thing about at the time.

She obviously had some sort of thaumaturgical help moving through the trees. She glared at him, and then moved her lips. Kensuke could not understand what her strange tongue was exactly, but he got the general idea of what it meant: Run.

For a split second, he hesitated about abandoning his latest kill. He would change his mind momentarily. Staying low to the ground, he heard an odd droning sound. Looking up, he saw what he assumed the native woman was fleeing. Only the bottom of what was apparently a massive object glided over the treetops. A sickly red energy covered strange geometric shapes along the bottom and sides. Resembling a stepped mound in the air, the object also had a gem of some sort on the top. The entire structure was covered in a material with the texture of sandstone in crimson-glowing geometric patterns. The ley energy seemed to be sucked inwards to the bizarre craft. The craft stopped directly over Kensuke, and a flash of light was the last thing he noticed before the darkness took him.

Notes: Chronologically, "The Empires of the Sun" takes place in an alternative 1300s or so, while "Father of Lights" was set in a very different 1770s-1780s. A roleplaying campaign set in this world, "Legacy" takes place in 1300 BC and 1050 AD. So, chronologically, it's "Legacy," then "Empires of the Sun" then "Father of Lights."

Cover: A Japanese sakura crest emblazoned in crimson on the side of a sandstone Aztec pyramid.

Issue: A bloodstained katana protruding slightly from an Apache-style leather bag-sheath.