By Mark Biffin.
Otosan Uchi, End of Winter, IC 1124
The White pieces glittered with the promise of untold fortunes, thought Bayushi Kachiko as she gazed out over the Go board.
Her opponent, the new Imperial Chancellor, spoke on about court matters while Kachiko used the time to gather her thoughts and reflect on the vital intelligence that had been brought to her attention.
Oddly enough this had become the routine at court this winter. They would attend the sullen Emperor upon his cold Emerald throne. Occasionally there would be a visitation, some fool who would try to gain the favour of the Emperor with some triviality only to find his or her efforts disparaged and the poor creature ousted from the Emperor’s sight.
While such distractions were entertaining, the courts were otherwise cold empty places of late. Still that did not erode the power she had, in fact quite the contrary. With people looking for guidance in the unusually empty courts, the Imperial Advisor had been able to capitalise, empowering a support network and building much political capital with the city and the Empire itself.
She slowly moved a black piece as her mind turned further afield to reports from her contacts outside the palace walls.
Reports had come to her of a Dragon army heading for Lion lands. Lead by Mirumoto Hitomi, their clan champion, it was hard to understand why she moved her armies now of all times. Perhaps Hitomi was to rendezvous with the Emerald Champion? If that was the case, Kachiko was certain that she would have heard about such a command, Kitsuki Yasu being the man that he is.
Kachiko suppressed a shiver thinking about Emerald Champion. Of all the people in the Empire, he was one of the few with a personal vendetta against the Scorpion, and one who could do something about it.
She watched her opponent place another white tile down quickly, the conversation seeming to have come to the topic of some ambassador from one of the clans. Nothing to challenge Kachiko’s own musings.
She thought for a moment on the Phoenix. Not a clan to be dismissed – though easy enough to do so in these unusual times. Junzo had avoided Kachiko for months, knowing that he would face justice soon, not even the wards of the master of the Yogo family could keep out the Scorpion when sufficiently motivated. And his theft of the most important of the Scorpion clan’s sacred duties certainly motivated them against him.
However Isawa Uona was another matter. It seems the rumour of a wall separating the Phoenix from the rest of the Empire was actually coming to pass. Construction has been planned to start in the spring and, if her informants could be trusted, the information that Uona is using the shugenja to build the wall faster was concerning. This may be a larger issue all too soon, she mused internally, but it had to wait for the moment – other matters needed attending to first.
Kachiko looked as though at her opponent, carefully maintaining her position of deep thought and pretending to be thinking about her next move, although already knowing where her next tile will be placed.
The Lion have mustered an army and if her predictions were true then they would march upon the Crane city of Toshi Ranbo come the spring, revenging the death of a long dead champion. Perhaps we would see what the son of Daidoji Yamato could do on the battlefield.
Thinking about the Demon of Toshi Ranbo brought a smile to her lips and puzzle to her mind, as she nonchalantly picked another black stone from her pile.
The Crane stood accused of a crime they didn’t commit. Her spies had told her of the investigations in Crab lands, and as one of the few people to know of the truth of the matter at hand, this left her with deep questions and deeper suspicions.
The Crab are obviously using this as a play to get more power, not truly believing that such evil could have befallen the upright Crane, yet never passing up the opportunity to take control of more lands. If left unchecked Kisada could have the entirety of the southern half of Rokugan soon.
So then there were two questions that remain, what was the Demon’s next move?
And more importantly, who could have orchestrated the framing of the Crane?
There were no obvious candidates. Many suspected the Scorpion – though this was not a plot set into motion by her own clan. Nor would the Crane visit this upon themselves; no one wants to provoke the Great Bear into ravaging their lands. A part of her felt that perhaps the wily sensei of the Lion could have done it, though that did not track – although he may be taking advantage of it, this ploy was far too devious for the Lion clan to execute.
It concerned her that someone could have managed to do this without her knowledge. Perhaps a new rise of power in the Shadowlands was to blame. Either way she needed to be far warier in her future endeavours. If there as some malign force opposing her will and the will of the Scorpion, then she would have to ensure the Scorpion would find them and destroy them.
Placing the final stone upon the board, she straightened herself and nodded to her opponent.
‘I believe that is game Yumiko-san. Your skills are getting better and I look forward to your return to the palace after your festival at Shinden Asahina is concluded. Again I apologise for not being able to attend, but Shoju-sama has asked for my return home as soon as the winter snows melt. He is eager for some time alone with me and the winter has kept us apart for so long…’
She rose, bowed to the Imperial Chancellor and then slowly walked toward her quarters.
There would be much she needs to prepare before making her way back to Kyuden Bayushi and thinking about the world has reassured her that there was much to do ahead of her and her clan if they were going to escape from the Crab alive.