|Japanese sword guards, UMMA|
Photo c. 2012 John Everett Till
These are works of art, the unique expression of an exiled Emperor-swordsmith with a deep knowledge of his land's great families and proud traditions. Each sword guard is an exquisite object intended to accentuate the bearer's presence, skill, and grace. One is destined for each of the nine noble clans of the realm of War Fan, a war-torn archipelago of some 800 islands.
The sword guards are being carried in secret to War Fan's new Empress, who has promised to do what 30 generations before her have failed to do: unite and bring peace to her land, forcing each of the noble clans to bow down in full submission before her rule. This won't be easy.
To that end, the Empress has gathered nine champions, one from each of the great clans. Together, they will pledge their swords and their lives to each other and to the Empress' rule. They will accept these fine sword guards as a symbol of their vows, and bring the nine noble clans into alignment with Imperial rule. If the champions are are successful, they will bring peace to the land of War Fan. Or they will die trying.
But first the champions must take the oath, and the Empress must have a gift for them that is commensurate with their service and self-sacrifice: each will be the end of their clan, at least as a power that challenges Imperial rule.
Standing in the way among the spheres are a number of Spherewalker swordsmen and swordswomen and Nightsworn sorcerers, each loyal to a clan or parochial cause. Disunity has a thousand allies; unity but few. The bearer of these sword guards may need allies and friends on the road who can help them reach home and the heart of the Empire safely.