Written By Lawrence Santos, Edited By Mark Biffin
Year 1122 IC, Otosan Uchi, Early Spring.
As Lady Sun shines in the early summer sky, members are converging to Imperial court within Otosan Uchi.
It was not often that one of the Imperial Legion commanders asked to speak with the Emperor in front of the Imperial court, however such an audience could not be denied.
As the Emperor enters the Throne room, every member of the court lowers to their knees in respect. The echoing sound of delicate footsteps approaching is drowned by the voice of Miya Soto, the Imperial Herald proclaiming “In the name of his Imperial majesty, Hantei the XXXVIII, we wish to hear from the Third Legion Commander, Ikoma Soto!”
Like a flower in the wind, the form of Ikoma Soto, Imperial commander of the 3rd legion, strode forcibly through the crowd to kneel before the Emperor.
The Emperor studied her for a moment. “Ikoma Soto, honoured commander in our Legions. You have sought audience with us. We would hear what you have to say.”
“Light of heaven, honoured Emperor, I have travelled here with the utmost of haste after a terrible tragedy that demands justice and retribution!” Soto said forcibly, her voice emanating the strength of her convictions.
“I, Ikoma Soto, commander of the Third Imperial Legion, request of you Orders of Appearance for the samurai named on this writ!” cries the Ikoma, throwing a scroll onto the floor.
The court watches in stunned silence as an attendant retrieves the scroll, the Emperor quickly reading the names on the writ, a puzzled expression appearing on his face.
“What… crime are they accused of, Soto-san? I know several of these samurai personally so your words hang heavily on my heart.”
The Ikoma raises herself to her feet, her head held high and gazes deep into the Emperor’s eyes
“Of practicing the dark art of maho – Of being maho-tsukai!”
Cries of shock and dismay spread throughout the room, fans snapping open and shut like the caws of a murder of crows disturbed from devouring a corpse.
It is not until the Imperial Herald raises his hands for silence that the court calms itself.
Looking at the downcast face of the Emperor, the Imperial Herald takes up the Emperor’s words,
“What testimony do you offer on this most heinous crime, Ikoma-san?”
Her smile widens, “I have testimony from their maho teacher, the former son of the Hare daimyo, Ozaki, who’s confession I have had… extracted from him.”
“His guilt has already been proven by a Jade magistrate, and my own men have been slaughtered by their foul castings.”
Silence reigns throughout the hall once more, no one daring to utter a word in defiance.
A small tear slowly rolls down the Emperor’s face as raises his head to view his court.
“If there is no other testimony…”
“But I believe there is, mighty Emperor,” calls a voice from deep within the hall, “And testimony to prove their innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
The Court parts from the speaker, a man kneeling, bearing the mon and sashimono of not only the Emerald Magistrates but also of the Kitsuki family.
After a brief nod from the Emperor, the Herald beckons the stranger forward to stand next to the Imperial Commander.
The Kitsuki does so with grace and dignity, bowing low to both the Emperor and his herald.
Boldly he speaks to the court: “Samurai of Rokugan, I am Kitsuki Jusai, Emerald Magistrate and son to the Kitsuki daimyo. Many of you know me by the zealousness of my convictions and the duties that I perform. It is with some sorrow that we have gathered here in the presence of the Son of Heaven to condemn these samurai for crimes of maho against our Emperor and against the empire of Rokugan.” He nods briefly to Soto in acknowledgement.
Kitsuki Jusai continues: “I stand here before you because not only is the safety of the people of Rokugan paramount to all but it is also important that the ones who are guilty are brought to justice! I say this not just as a magistrate in service to the Emperor, but also as a samurai who walks the path of bushido and honour!”
Kitsuki Jusai facing the Emperor, “Son of Heaven, I can prove that the samurai accused before you are innocent on the charge of maho.”
A mocking laugh escapes the lips of Ikoma Soto, “Let me guess Kitsuki? With proof? With your famed investigative arts? Was there a foot print that gave you some insight or some other clue?”
“Actually Soto-san, I have testimony of the mastermind behind these crimes.”
Soto’s eyes widen in shock at such a statement but the Kitsuki presses on.
“One of the samurai who travelled among them masterminded this plot and it is only through his confession that I am standing here to defend the innocent and punish the wicked. I ask only that the Emperor hear his testimony from his own lips before condemning the innocent.”
Kitsuki Jusai motions his arm towards a door and gestures toward the guards in affirmation. Moments later a samurai in the torn clothes of a dragon courtier and bound by the neck and arms with stocks walks into the court escorted by two imperial guards. The guards press the arm of their naginatas onto the back of the bound mans knees, forcing him to kneel.
The magistrate gestures another motion and the guards leave the court. With his back straight and looking forward he speaks dismissively “Tell the court your name.”
“Agasha Ocha.” was the reply from near the ground.
Kitsuki Jusai proceeds to walk back and forth as he questions the man in stocks.
“Do you understand why you are here today?”
“Yes… because I was caught practicing maho,” Ocha replies with a sneering face.
The court immediately brims with whispers and hushed words which are promptly silenced by the Herald once more.
“Why would you wish to practice maho? Are you not pleased with your position and life as a samurai of Rokugan?” Kitsuki Jusai asks with curiosity and determination.
“I am pleased with my life, but I wished I could do more than be a voice for the Dragon. After the fall of the Hare for the crime of aiding bandits by the Lion, I believed there would be power hidden within their walls… I had heard rumours that the Hare clan hunted such criminals zealously which meant that they may have scrolls or devices safely contained within their walls when the foolish Lion sought to destroy them. Such a power to be found in maho which I could harness to protect the Empire from its enemies. I immediately pursued an opportunity to go in search of this power.” Ocha stopped for a moment to regain comfort from the bindings of the stock.
“I travelled toward the fallen Hare castle ruins in search and encountered the samurai you have accused there.” Ocha attempts to gesture his bound hand towards the writ now lying on the floor.
“I made every effort to join them on their journey, earning their trust, in the hopes they would lead me to the prize. By duping them I ended up more successful than I anticipated:
finding scrolls detailing Maho techniques to realise my goals.”
The magistrate took the pause as an opportunity to regain control of the court: “Didn’t the other samurai you were travelling with notice you conceal the scroll?”
“No,” Ocha replied, “My study of medicine gave me all the scope I needed to trick them into allowing me time alone with the dead corpse holding the scrolls. They were completely unaware of duplicity, more fool them!” A sly grin appeared on Ocha’s face.
“Why then did you stay with your companions if you had found the ‘power’ as you call it?” Kitsuki Jusai asks with determination in his voice
“The simple answer is it wasn’t enough. I wanted more power and if this was a portion of what the Hare were trying to keep safe then it would only be a matter of time before my dupes would locate the lost Hare try to find the rest of their knowledge. And unwittingly they helped me succeed.”
“Did you find anything of a danger to the Empire?”
“During the time speaking to the former Hare samurai I came to learn that they did not perform maho, and did not know where their clan would hide more of their scrolls if they were to exist.”
Ocha breathes for a moment in disappointment then continues, “I knew they were lying but it would take additional convincing to get the Hare’s trust.”
Kitsuki Jusai stops for a moment and turns to the Emperor as if requesting to continue; one quick gesture and the magistrate resumes his questioning.
“Why was your voice within the courts not enough for you to do your duty to your clan and the Empire? Why regress to illegal magics? Are your abilities not enough?”
Ocha stares up and his voice quickly becomes stern.
“The kami do not hear my calls like so many of my brothers and sisters within the Agasha, so I turn to a source that will respond,” Ocha motions his arms so the sleeves fall and various scars can be seen, “With the power in my blood, I can use the power our enemies use against them!” He lowers his arms so the sleeves fall back.
“These foolish Dragon I travelled with are accused of maho but unlike me, the kami hear their calls for help and respond promptly and with the same vigour as their call. The Asahina who are accused are peaceful and never raise their tanto to a mouse much less themselves. As to the Shiba, her goal is mere defence of her charge. How boring! Should she have just embraced the power she would have been great!”
Ocha sighed, “Not even the Isawa would use the dark scrolls. I thought his bandages on his hands were scars like mine but on examination they are merely for warmth.”
He looked up at the magistrate, “To think, if it wasn’t for his stupid wrappings you would never have caught me and I would have been free to help our clan!”
Driven to the floor, Jusai spits on the fallen Agasha, his moot firmly nestled in his stomach.
Regaining his composure, Kitsuki Jusai turns to face the emperor “Son of heaven, the accused were only used as pawns to assist him in his quest for more power! This traitor has proven that he and he alone was responsible for the acquisition and use of maho. It is clear that the former Hare known as Ozaki confessed merely to do his duty and take his secrets to the grave and deserves the mercy of the court. And lastly I ask that this filthy traitor be dealt with as he deserves!” Kitsuki Jusai bows low as the court erupts with cheers and affirmation of Jusai’s findings.
The Emperor does not move for a moment, as if in a trance with his ancestors, then looks directly at the samurai in stocks “You, Agasha Ocha, are guilty of treason and performance of maho against the Empire. Those whom called you ‘friend’ are innocent of maho and are free of these charges.”
As the Emperor stands, the court bows in their entirety as he leaves the Throne room.
The Imperial Herald takes a step forward and focuses his eyes at the fallen samurai.
“Agasha Ocha, for the crimes of maho against the empire, by the order of Emperor Hantei the 38th, you are to be executed at the next sunrise as Magistrate Jusai-san sees fit.”
As the court leaves Ikoma Soto glares at Jusai, their gazes telling stories thousands of words could not convey. Finally Soto slightly nods before turning and leaving.
The Kitsuki sighed and closed his eyes deep in thought.
* * *
The following morning.
As Lady Sun rises over the eastern walls of Otosan Uchi, Agasha Ocha is clothed entirely in white. In front, his haiku written he awaits the Lady’s rise.
Beside him stands Jusai with his katana unsheathed beside him. “Ready, friend?” he says quietly as he looks down at the small courtier.
Ocha doesn’t acknowledge as he stares firmly at Lady Sun, cascading its light onto Ocha’s cold face.
“Such warmth from such a small thing, truly blessed are we all.” It is the last thought running through Ocha’s mind as the wakizashi, through pure instinct, performs its honourable duty.
* * *
Three days prior.
Kitsuki Jusai stared at him incredulously, “You want to WHAT!!!?”
Ocha merely glared back, “You heard me… And you’re going to help me?”
Kitsuki Jusai takes a moment while he gathers his thoughts, “Why would I want to accuse and condemn an innocent man of maho – before the Emperor no less?”
Ocha shifts slightly to regain comfort and composure “Because my brother and sister, along with six other innocent samurai and myself will be caught, tortured and executed for no reason. Should I not do this, the conspiring forces within the empire will win and that cannot be allowed to happen.”
“If I must sacrifice myself to allow my friends a chance to continue the hunt against the forces that move against both the Emperor and the Empire, then we will have truly failed in our duty.”
“I know what I ask is grave indeed, but it is in our code as samurai to do our duty and save the Emperor and Rokugan. No matter the cost.”
Kitsuki Jusai takes a moment to consider the request of the dragon kneeling before him then glances up and looks at Ocha deep in the eyes. “Very well. What do you need me to do?”