After the move of the imperial seat from Hyuga to Char Char Saran, the capital grew beyond measure for over a century. Too many people were crammed into a densely populated area, with shanties and slums packed, as the quality of living dwindled rapidly, with tragedy lurking just around the corner. A huge fire, igniting the city in the late hours of dusk, burned a great portion Char Char Saran, including the Imperial Palace and the imperial ruler inside it. Emperor Assuo VI Buffalo house of Nizimazu, brave but foolishly, decided to stand with those in suffering and share their fate. His legacy ended up being cinders and a power vacuum the enemies soon moved to explore. The feudal lords reacted and formed the Council of the Five Rings to guarantee leadership was still in force. But with the young imperial child grew old enough and ascended to the throne, the local warlords (the Inari) had seized the opportunity to acquire more authority within their domains and, eventually, further their influence within the court and with the crown. The divine rulers’ sphere of influence became narrower, ending up being relegated almost exclusively to a religious and symbolic icon for the masses. Adhering to their new forced role, the emperors dedicated most of their lives as the godly avatar that blessed their subjects, one to comfort the masses during the waning hours of light. That would all change when Kaizen (Tremanathi word for Emperor) Aksano I from the Dragon House of Kurogane took the throne.
A sound politician and keen reader of men, the young prince began making himself comfortable around the most powerful of the Inari, learning about war, state policy, and all the skills that make a strong statesman. Despite behind the nephew to Kazue II of the Turtle House of Akure (the second last of his house), the feudal lords never saw Aksano as a threat but as a curiosity. That started to regress when the boy convinced his uncle to build a large keep – the current Imperial Palace – in the middle of the lake Hiba, alleging having been visited in a dream by a powerful spirit. The visitor had explained that planting a new Holy Seat on the sacred lake would bring the divine avatar closer to his patrons. The devout ruler spared no expenses, and the palace was erected in record time, involving over 2 million workers. Once complete, the old emperor abdicated for his son, Emperor Kata II of the Turtle House of Akure, to spent the few remaining days of his life in the comfort of his gardens. Kata wouldn’t last long – barely over two years -, when he drowned in the lake. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the dowager empress produced a stillborn and so, unexpectedly, Aksano was called to start the new Imperial house of Kurogane, and the ruler chose the Dragon as his familiar. As a mourning tribute, Aksano mandated a new wide bridge to be built, to connect the palace to the mainland.
Commission work by Dariia Ivaniuk
The projected mighty bridge would be paved with smooth round pebbles from all corners of the empire, as a symbol of unity. All Inari and their local vassal lords were to provide pebbles from their fiefs, in as many colors possible, so all empire can feel they have a direct path to the Emperor’s loving arms. As a token of respect, the new Emperor requested the Five Rings’ Inari to participate on the inauguration of the bridge and the official completion of the palace. It was agreed these lords would present in person their 10.000 collected pebbles, handing over one of them to the supreme ruler during the ceremony. Inauguration day strolled in a couple of months later, with a huge parade taking place. Many Inari came to observe the special event with their families. Char Char Saran garbed its finest, and the streets were packed. The Five Rings’ entourage was the high point for the bystanders, with the mighty war leaders heading a procession with their closest of kin, soldiers and who was someone in their courts. They came through the west gate of Char Char Saran, crossing every avenue of the city, the colours drowning even the dullest, grayest of slums. At the final stretch, the bulk of the followers of these powerful Inari detoured to stay at the old palace, while their lieges and closest relatives walked the large promenade and bridge towards the Imperial Citadel. On their heels followed a long caravan with the final additions for the bridge. As they arrived in front of the main reception square of the palace, the Emperor greeted them in spectacular fashion, with a great figure of a dragon enveloping his reception hall. The five Inari all presented their pebbles in a great solemn act.
Screenshot from anime Rurouni Kenshin
“The Five Rings bring pebbles to build a bridge”, Emperor Aksano said, “when they should know the Emperor is the only stone from which an empire can be build”. He would then order his guards to apprehend the five Inari, the prisoners being were quickly tied up to wooden poles. “To make my Empire great, you give me pebbles. But to make yourself fat, you sucked my Empire dry. The Empire thanks you for offer but finds it wanting”. In a display of unabashed cruelty, the Divine One forced the captives’ relatives to stone their loved ones to death with their rocky offerings. Whenever someone stopped or pleaded for mercy, the Emperor would have them tied up as well. The vicious monarch would demand every soul to be tied up until nobody from the Five Rings and their relatives were left alive. The other Inari who attended the ceremony were forced to watch and cast stones on the innocent; those who refuses joined the victims. When the killing and screams ended, the night was already. As he waved for his servants to take the bloodied stones and add them to the bridge, Aksano turned towards those Inari still alive and demanded their unconditional love and fealty. Those who could, knelt. Those who couldn’t, bled. And yet, the Emperor was not done yet. As the attendants scuffled off to do the Emperor’s bidding, the ruler invited his guests to walk up to the palaces’ many verandas and balconies, for the final event was to soon take place.
Commission work by Piotr Jamroz
As he stood taller than all, he said: “Let this bridge remind all those who would betray the Kaizen and usurp his divine responsibility. Let the traitors blood the a warning that, while treason can come from anywhere, the eyes of the Gods are the Emperor’s own. The ears of the Gods are the Emperor’s. And the fire of the gods makes righteous the blood in the veins of the Emperor. For the Kaizen is the Dragon.” And with his ominous threat, he commanded his troops to burn down the old palace with all his enemies’ unknowing servants inside. Despite the heat, despite the danger, everyone stayed indoors. The fear gripped Char Char Saran’s heart and the capital would not sleep that night, with the screaming and the wood crackling drowning its sobbing. The Burning Red lives on in infamy; a clear demonstration of how Aksano I from the Dragon House of Kurogane had decided his rule would be. Despite the high number of dissidents in the early years after the Burning Red, an imperial iron fist crushed them one by one with such violence and savagery some of his enemies preferred to defect and try their luck with the Vorfon up north than hide within the confines of the empire. Eventually, all revolts were placated, and the ruler turned south, and the independent region of Indyvar. During his last years as a monarch and the push south, his name was feared enough to cause many to flee. Yet, in his eyes, he achieved exactly what he had set out to do: return the power of rule to the crown, taking from the broken fingers of the feudal lords.
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