Crane Winter 1120
Shiro Sano Kakita, Winter, 1120
The scent of winter dew jasmine filled the room as the water quietly bubbled in the pot beside the table. The tea ceremony had begun when the three men entered the room and had been conducted in silence as was proper. Now however its tranquillity faded as they viewed each other from opposing sides.
For Doji Satsume, the Emerald Champion, such peace was hard to find.
‘I trust all preparations have been made?’
Kakita Yoshi raised his cup before him, drinking deeply and weighing his words carefully before speaking. ‘All preparations were made, the same as they are every year, with the utmost care and done to our highest standards.’
Satsume snorted, ‘But not how they will be prepared next year! To think that foolish spur of the moment decision has cost us more in the courts than the regaining of our ancestral right to hold the Topaz Championship!’
Yoshi sighed placing his cup down.
‘It is only to be expected, Satsume-dono. He wants his reign to be memorable, not to be consigned to the Imperial Histories as just another number, another forgotten Emperor lost on the winds of time.’
‘That is irrelevant! How could he just make a decision without consultation or advisement?’
His son, Doji Hoturi, chuckled.
Turning upon his son, Satsume’s voice was scolding.
‘And what is it that you find amusing, Hoturi-kun? Something I have said about the well being of the Crane has reason to cause you mirth?’
The smile never left his face.
‘Be reasonable father! The courts are still dominated by the Scorpion, Bayushi Kachiko still has the Imperial Adviser’s position and the scheming Otomo are constantly badgering him for one concession after another; is it any wonder that he is trying to make his own decisions?’
Satsume recoiled as if being hit by snake.
Hoturi continued, ‘Yoshi-san, I am not too sure about this mutual defence treaty with the Phoenix. Will this not pull us into war with the Lion? When we have achieved almost a level of understanding with them it would be a shame to throw that away.’
Yoshi considered it for a moment, taking another drink of his tea.
‘It was a calculated risk, Hoturi-sama. The Lion will now be loath to make war upon the Phoenix if it will break our newly formed peace and will allow for more stability in the long term. And should it come to pass, we can always just send a small force…’
Hoturi nodded, ‘You are right of course. I am glad you were upholding our interests while I got to spend another enjoyable moment in Kachiko’s presence. No, you did a fine job of aiding our young samurai with their work on our behalf. We are pleased that the traditions are being upheld for this year and that the traditional values that we Crane are so highly prized for shall be on display.’
Satsume grunted, ‘But we didn’t make bold declarations in court thought did we? Unlike the Scorpion, declaring one of their own to win as if it was a foregone conclusion! I couldn’t believe the gall of that nobody, proclaiming that he would win the Topaz as if I wasn’t even standing there!’
Yoshi stared into his tea cup. ‘His name was Shosuro Kenshin I am told. He performed admirably in the courts though it is hard to understand what his true objectives were.’
Satsume seemed not to hear him, continuing his angry torrent of words, ‘And the Scorpion who thought about declaring his right to enter the Imperial Legions! I could see the idea cross our new Emperor’s mind too! I almost thought that he would do it too!’
‘Patience father!’ said Hoturi, lowering his cup to the table, ‘Proud proclamations are irrelevant if they cannot be backed up with actions. Yoshi, make sure those that wish to compete are given leave to do so and that they uphold the virtues of the Crane. If the Emperor wants to see the youth of today perform for his enjoyment, then the Crane will not be found wanting.’
Satsume considered his son for a moment before putting his cup down and examining his son carefully. ‘You would not restrict the entries? Put only our finest on display?’
Doji Hoturi’s smile faded from his lips, a firm bitter sound replacing his whimsical tones.
‘We are Crane. We are our finest samurai. As you are no longer Champion perhaps you need to be reminded of this fact,’
his face reverted back to its former smile and cheer, ‘Now perhaps we can get back to enjoying the court! I heard that Kachiko has a new revealing dress this year! Pushing the bounds of modesty even in the cold of winter…’
Doji Satsume stopped listening to his son. Placing his cup at the table, he wordlessly leaves the chattering and wanders mutely back to the new Emperor’s side, alone save for the nagging doubt upon his heart and the scent of jasmine on the air.
* * *
Otosan Uchi , Beginning of winter, 1120
As the Lady Amaterasu descended into the twilight sky, the tranquillity that set over Otosan Uchi was that of the most serene temple. All who dwelt within could only marvel at the majesty of the heavens as colours of lavender, azure blues and fiery reds streaked through the radiant heavens, whispers arose through the streets at the signs, clearly a blessing for all of Rokugan at the ascension of the new Emperor.
Matsu Tsuko felt no such thing.
Striding to the Lion residences within the noble district of the city, hearing the whispers filled her with disgust. The Emperor had not impressed her all that much, his random decision making infuriating her. Her opinions on the restoration of the Jade Championship were ignored and clearly the other clans felt much the same way as the Emperor.
To make her day even worse; she had been ‘summoned’ by Toturi to attend him. Silently she cursed the weak fool. Allying with the Crane, not being there when his clan needed him, not dying…
She dismissed the thought out of her head. She was a loyal samurai of the Lion. He was her Daimyo and such thoughts did not make her worthy of the Matsu name. And if there were only two things that she was certain of, that was one of them.
Striding into the Lion residences, the Matsu on guard bowed low as was proper and Tsuko acknowledged her clansmen with an inclination of the head. Such pride on their faces as she walked past gave her a sense of satisfaction. Her men respected her and that was all that she needed to know.
Entering into a well furnished room, its military tables covered with maps of the Empire, she took note of the new adornment in the room and snarled in anger.
There was a shoji screen painted with a depiction of a woman with ravishing ebony hair and the same armour as Tsuko herself now wore, kneeling on the ground, her blade lying forgotten on the ground, the woman holding her hand. The woman clearly seemed to be howling to the uncaring sky, her anger clearly showed on the delicate face, painted with the most elegant of hands. Behind her, a man, dressed in a simple kimono, his katana casually at his side, his expression serene, his countenance one of deep concentration and stillness. The only thing to give away his name was a simple mirror tucked into his Obi.
Matsu Tsuko had never seen something so disgusting in all her life.
She moved to tear the offending peace down as quickly as she could only to be interrupted a mere moment away from the painting.
‘Leave it Tsuko-san.’
The voice gave her pause. The voice was rich, filled with the depth of ages and of wisdom. She thought about ignoring it before it started again.
‘Tsuko-san, think about what it is you are doing. While destroying this artwork will give you momentary pleasure, you will have lost a clear moment of understanding.’
Tsuko whirled on the speaker, anger flaring in her veins.
The man was seated at a small table, his wrinkled face showing a great wisdom earned from his long experience. The simple style of the kimono hid the complexity of the colours, such browns and gold interwoven to make the garment shimmer ever so slightly.
Looking at him more closely, she could see that he was in the middle of a game of Go, a game in which she knew he was a master of, one she knew he would most likely win. But then Akodo Kage, revered sensei of the Lion, was one of the most renowned tacticians in Rokugan.
‘Why is that filth in here? Another lesson of humiliation? Is this what our new friends in the Crane have to offer us?’
The sound of a Shoji screen opening behind her silenced her and the voice of another man entered the room.
‘It is a gift I had specially commissioned to remind you of something Tsuko. Humility is but one of its lessons.’
Tsuko didn’t turn to face the new speaker, unwilling to look into the eyes of Toturi, the eyes of her Champion. Instead she restrained her rage and steadied her breathing.
‘That is much better, Tsuko-san’, said Kage, ‘channel that aggression. Turn it upon our foes and do not loose it upon your own clan. Especially at this time, we can ill afford to make enemies of ourselves.’
Slowly she breathed in and out, controlling her emotions to a state of neutrality. She did not speak again until Toturi had taken his seat at the Go table.
‘Why have you summoned me, Toturi? Come to reprimand me over my conduct at the Emperor’s funeral?’
Toturi waited before replying, much to Tsuko’s annoyance ‘I did not summon you here to reprimand you Tsuko. I summoned you here to find out your thoughts on how it went.’
‘How it went? If you are referring to my near cutting down of Yori for questioning my honour or for the Emperor to listen to that nobody Uona instead of his trusted right hand, then it went well!’
Toturi sighed, ‘I had hoped that you would have reported on the dealings of the clans or of the performance of our young samurai instead of being concerned only with yourself.’
Her tone rose, ‘That is absurd coming from your lips Toturi-kun! You who abandoned his clan in order to appease the Crane, who didn’t even fight for his clan! I was concerned with getting back at the Phoenix! And I had them running from me at the every opportunity.’
Toturi shook his head, ‘You also failed to get any support from the other clans for our justice against the Phoenix, while they signed a pact with the Crane and managed to gain support from every other clan for a Jade Champion except for ours! Tsuko-san I expected more from you than simple thuggery worthy of only a Hida! And to think that you may have alienated the other strong military force in Rokugan by abusing the Kuni daimyo, who I might add has the ear of Kisada no less! I wanted to hear something positive from you instead of your silly posturing!’
‘Posturing!?! Thuggery like a Hida?! You have gone too far!’ her hand moved quickly to her sword.
The crack of a cane on wood resounded through the room followed by the small tinkling of go stones onto a stone floor.
‘That is enough from both of you!’ Said Kage, his simple bamboo cane held flat above the upturned table.
‘Toturi, I have taught you better than that! Such an outburst only sullies your reputation and your own self worth.’
Turning to face Tsuko, ‘And you! You are the Matsu Daimyo! Such outbursts are unworthy of the legacy that you now hold! Now both of you will clean up this mess and Tsuko you will stop pacing and be seated as is proper etiquette!’
An awkward silence filled the room before Toturi righted the table and began to pick the stones up one at a time.
Tsuko stood shocked, not having realised that she had been pacing, before she too assisted to pick up the Go stones.
Once they were finished she took a small stool and sat at the table.
Kage was the next to speak. ‘We were about to discuss what to do about the Topaz Championship.’
Tsuko stiffened, ‘As I will be attending there will be no need for concern. I will be able to right the issues of the past and prove the value of the Lion clan in the purity of the Samurai arts! As the competitions surely favour us, there will be nothing to stop my rise as the next Topaz Champion.’
Toturi bowed his head, ‘Except that you will not be attending.’
Silence once again filled the room before the guttural response escaped the clenched lips of Tsuko, ‘What?’
Toturi turned his head toward her, ‘I said that you will not be attending. To do so would only potentially ruin any chance we have of making allies among the clans. For you to compete would only jeopardise any potential gains we could make.’
Staring directly into Toturi’s eyes with a burning look of fury and anger, her hand moved closer toward her daisho with every passing moment. ‘You mean to tell me that I will not be representing our clan at this most important occasion in front of the Emperor, right when we need a victory the most?’
Kage raised an eyebrow, ‘Tsuko-san you will be far too busy to be participating in a simple competition clearly unworthy of your time and attention.’
She whirled to face him, her hand slamming on the table, ‘And what could be more important than triumph in front of the Emperor and claiming the title for myself?’
He looked into her eyes, completely devoid of expression,
‘Don’t you have parents that need avenging? An enemy that needs chastising? An Empire that needs to show its respect?’
All the colour drained out of her face as shame quickly replaced her anger.
‘I am sorry Kage-sensei. I didn’t mean to lose my temper. I… was wrong.’
‘I am not the one that needs to hear that, Tsuko-san.’
She bowed her head and faced her Champion, ‘My apologies to you too, Toturi…sama.’
‘Do not worry Tsuko-san, we all lose control of our temper from time to time. The importance of patience is something that we both need to remember in the times to come.’
He unrolled a scroll from his belt and placed it on the table, ‘It seems that our Emperor will be offering a place for our young samurai at the Winter Court as well. This will be a perfect time to make further allies.’
Kage rose, smiling a wolfish grin, ‘I will accompany them. Perhaps I can enter into a discourse with the other Clans and see if we can come to some understanding.’
Toturi faced Tsuko, ‘In the meantime, this is what I want you to do…’
Matsu Tsuko ran past the onlookers toward the docks, carrying the shoji screen under her arm, determined to make it to a boat and make it out before the tides ebbed.
As she approached the Mantis kobune that would take her on her journey, she caught site of a pale full moon rising.
She smiled at this reflecting on how perhaps the heavens had sent her a blessing after all.
* * *
Chamber of the Elemental Masters, Kyuden Isawa, Winter, 1120
Fire is a curious thing.
That was the thought of the Elemental Master of Air, Isawa Uona, as she took her place seated around the table of the elemental masters.
Firelight shone brightly on the kanji symbolising the elements, Air, Water, Fire, Earth and the Void. She watched, entranced by their dance, their subtle movements emulating the rhythm of a dancer swaying from left to right in uninhibited freedom.
Her thoughts are disturbed by a slamming on the stone marble slab.
‘No! You are not welcome here Kaede-san!’ The angry voice of Isawa Tsuke rang out throughout the room.
‘Tsuke–sama,’ the voice of Isawa Kaede, acolyte of the void, sounded patient and clam in contrast to the older man’s roar, ‘the Master of the Void, my father, is ill. He has instructed me to attend in his place so that the elements may be balanced once more.’
Tsuke’s voice turned into a sneer, ‘If it was so important for him to be present then he would have made his way here instead of confining himself to his rooms. Only an Elemental Master may sit at the table and unless there has been a change of leadership, you are still only an acolyte, Kaede-san.’
‘With all due respect, Tsuke-san, that will be only a formality. My father…’
The voice of the Elemental Master of Fire exploded out across the room again.
‘Your father isn’t here, little girl! We are. Your brother Tadaka, has chosen not to insult us by sending an acolyte to fill his duties and neither will your father! Do not presume to take his place at our table when you do not even show proper deference to your betters. Now leave!’
A brief sigh was heard and then the shuffling of feet as Isawa Kaede left the room.
Uona paused her observation to glance around the room. Tsuke sat there shaking his head in frustration and fury, while the Master of Water, Isawa Tomo, laid back with his feet on the table asleep. The final two chairs of the Masters of Earth and Void were unoccupied, the latter with illness, while the former…
Uona thought about if she had even met the Master of Earth, and shrugged it off. If he wanted to play in the Shadowlands then that meant more power to her.
Uona smiled as she looked at the tired Tsuke.
The business with the Lion was not going well. They had not yet attacked but she was certain after only a few days around that petty and vain girl, Matsu Tsuko, that it was inevitable. The joy she would receive for choking the life out of Tsuko’s thick skull tantalised her, and she realised that she was getting carried away in the moment, something that she needed to make sure that she didn’t do.
After all, with this lull in conversation, her time to bathe in the glow of the fire had come.
‘Tsuke-san, I have some suggestions.’
Tsuke looked up, blinking to see that there was someone else still in the room.
‘Uona-san? I… almost forgot you were there. How did the business with the Emperor’s Funeral go?’
Uona smiled a dazzling smile as she summoned the air kami to place the documents of agreements and outcomes on the table.
‘It went exquisitely. The young samurai you sent were of the highest quality. They skilfully outmanoeuvred the other clans and arranged for most of our agreements to be ironed out with perfection.’
Tsuke took a moment to look over the document. He looked startled and a little shocked by what he read, before looking up at her perplexed.
‘This… this is impressive! A formal alliance of defence with the Crane and the instatement of the Jade Championship would allow us some leverage in the Imperial Court if we were to win it for our clan! A shame that there is no spell casting events at the Topaz but no matter; our samurai should be able to give a good accounting of themselves. They will need an escort, a chaperone…’
He considered the matter for a moment before turning to the Master of Water.
‘Tomo-san, you will be our representative at the tournament to aid our young samurai in this coming trial. You’re not opposed to this are you?’
The silence of the sleeping Master of Water was the only response received.
‘As we take your silence as a lack of opposition to our proposal, the council is delighted to award you with the post.’
Tsuke clapped his hands together, ringing like the sound of a thunderclap.
Isawa Tomo awoke with a start, looking about the room confused.
‘Ah…. Tsuke-san! Has the meeting finished already?’
Tsuke grimaced, his thin lips curling, ‘Yes Tomo-san. You just agreed to travel to Tsuma for the Topaz Championship. You really should be going if you are to avoid most of the heavy snows.’
Tomo’s eyes widened at the implication but seemed to shrug the very thoughts out of his mind..
‘Um… yes, the Topaz Championship! Great idea! Glad I volunteered. So I should be going now. Heavy snows.’
Tomo moved quickly out of the room.
As she watched him leave, Uona thought of a deer believing it has escaped the predator’s grasp only to find itself in a larger trap.
Tsuke shook his head as Tomo left, sighing, muttering about his incompetence, much to Uona’s amusement. She had always believed that the Elemental Council were omnipotent beings with no flaws that guided the Phoenix with unity and precision. The truth of the matter amused her greatly.
She studied the Master of Fire. His passions were much like the fire themselves, constantly shifting and changing, almost hypnotic, alluring, seductive. Then she remembered that fire burns those who get to close.
Lost in thought, Isawa Tsuke cocked his head slightly, clearly forgetting that she was in the room.
‘There will still be the matter of winning the Jade Championship. It is unfortunate that in this day and age that there are still powerful shugenja of the other clans, even amongst the minor clans. Agasha Tamori, Kuni Yori, Yogo Junzo even Moshi Jukkio could all be serious contenders against any single one of us.’
Uona laughed cheerily, her voice ringing out through the chamber, something that she doubted had been done in centuries.
‘Dear Tsuke-san, I have a proposition that may ease several of your burdens at once. If I could but have a moment of your time. you will see that I am not just another Tomo or Tadaka but that I am a Master in my own right.’
Tsuke looked startled, almost like Tomo had, but his face slipped back into a calm and intrigued expression.
‘Do go on, Master of Air. I look forward to hearing this…’
Isawa Uona danced merrily down the corridor, her beautiful orange kimono floating about her form, a graceful dance in the flickering fire light.
She smiled and rejoiced at having finally made her way onto the stage to illuminate the way and her joy at being respected and admired by the flames filled her with more delight than when she had first been graced with the Air Kami’s presence.
Indeed fire is a curious thing.
Especially when it is controlled.
* * *
Iron Mountain Dojo, Shiro Mirumoto, Winter, 1120
For the last three hours, these four sounds were the only things that could be heard in the dojo.
As Mirumoto Hitomi dispatched yet another student in the dojo, her sensei clapped his hands together signalling the arrival of an outsider.
Kitsuki Yasu, daimyo of the Kitsuki family, bowed to the sensei of the dojo and to the young Mirumoto Hitomi, before kneeling at the edge of the training floor. Accompanying him were the smaller form of her brother Mirumoto Daini and her uncle, Regent Mirumoto Sukune.
Hitomi ignored them. Glancing briefly at her sensei, she motioned for the next student to take the floor.
‘Hitomi-sama,’ intoned Kitsuki Yasu, ‘We have returned from the Emperor’s Funeral and have news that you will need to consider.’
‘Indeed, the young samurai that we have sent performed admirably, both not shaming themselves, and providing for several interesting trade agreements with the clans.’
Yasu sighed. ‘The Topaz Championship will be held once again in Tsuma, although the Emperor did offer the opportunity for it to be held elsewhere.’
‘You will of course be attending as one of our representatives…’
Hitomi stopped, ‘I will not. I am far too busy to travel and complete a gempukku for the amusements of others.’
Her brother shook his head, ‘Be reasonable Hitomi! You will be elevated to the role of Daimyo of the Mirumoto after your gempukku and the Dragon as a whole need your leader…’
Hitomi raised her hand to silence her brother before gesturing for her next opponent to take to the floor.
‘Daini-kun. I care not. If Yokuni-sama wants such a thing then let him order it. If not, then I will complete my gempukku here and then I will travel where and do as I please.’
‘Hitomi-san,’ her uncle began, his voice shaky and tired, ‘You must see reason. Your clan has gone to great efforts to recover. Our lack of presence in court, your non attendance at the Funeral did not go unnoticed! You need to compete and bring glory to your clan.’
Suddenly, Yasu’s bitter laugh filled the room.
‘Leave her be, Sukune-sama, Daini-kun.’ Yasu’s face returned to its mirthless state, ‘Our young samurai have gone to such an effort to prepare such an interesting demonstration for her.’
Daini’s eyes widened ‘Yasu-sama, don’t…’
Sukune raised his hand silencing his nephew as Yasu continued.
‘Indeed, to have your own clan want a demonstration from the Crab in the art of Tetsubo-jutsu, just so you can witness it first hand…’
-Crack Crack Crack-
‘…and performed with such perfection! There is even a chance that Hida Yakamo might give the demonstration himself! As he is the right age to compete in the tourna…’
Falling idly onto the floor, the bokken daisho had barely time to sound its impact before her foot met solidly with the Kitsuki Daimyo’s face, driving him to the floor.
Straddling his fallen form, Hitomi grabbed his kimono in her hand, her other clenched into a fist ready to deliver a more fatal blow, rage emanating from her very being.
The Kitsuki Daimyo looked calm and composed as blood trickled down his face. He turned his head to look at Mirumoto Sukune waiting patiently for a reprimand that would never come. He sighed, turning to stare back at Hitomi and continued.
‘It is sad that you will not attend, Hitomi. Shinsei does say that fortune favours the mortal man. Perhaps at the Tournament you could find what it is you seek.’
Hitomi’s eyes narrowed to slits. Slowly her hand let go of Yasu’s kimono, and she stepped slowly off his fallen form.
Her voice was a low whisper, barely concealing her hate.
‘I will give you credit, Yasu, your cunning words move me to action.’
She slowly walked out of the dojo, the snow seemingly melting at the intensity of her anger.
‘Insult me so again and your bleeding face will be the least of your concerns.’
Sukune and Daini rose as one and chased her out into the snow, calling her name as she moved through the yard.
Yasu rose slowly and walked onto the floor, picking up the fallen bokken daisho and gesturing for the next student.
The bitterness of his voice barely rose above the movements of the student drawing his bokken and facing the Kitsuki Daimyo.
‘Try that again Hitomi-san, and your little war with the Crab will be the least of your concerns,
* * *
Shiro Hida, Winter, 1120
Even as the snow turned the world white in the depths of winter, the large walls of Kyuden Hida burned a brutal red, illuminated in the light of a perpetual bonfire filled with the burning corpses of goblins and fallen men.
Large flocks of carrion, each seeking to find food in this barren wasteland, circled the skies looking for any sign of meat that might be found, any sign of weakness at the vigilance of the Crab.
The scouts on the walls shoot down the birds and place them atop the fire, a warning of their fate should they continue to come. Yet more come drawn to the pallor of death and misery that hung around these walls for all of time.
Kuni Yori smiled at the site, his thin lips and grasping twitches of his face offering no mirth or humour there. Like the rising of the moon, the inevitability of death and our eternal war, thought Yori, there are always those that will profit from death. No matter the risk.
Inside the main halls, a proud father and his eager son practiced sparring, their tetsubos rounding resounding off the furniture with every deflected blow.
‘You’re getting slow old man! Are you weakening against the next lord of the Crab?’
Hida Yakamo swung his tetsubo in over his head, a blow clearly strong enough to shatter a regular man’s skull.
But the man he was facing merely blocked it with his tetsubo, locking the pair of them together.
‘Now now boy! You have much to learn about winning a war rather than a mere battle!’ roared Hida Kisada, knocking his son over with a simple sweep of his legs.
Yelling from the floor, Yakamo was not prepared for his father to slam on top of him, driving the air out of his lungs. ‘Not fair old man, you cheated!’
Placing his tetsubo directly against the neck of his son, Kisada chortled, ‘There is nothing fair about combat boy! I thought that you would have learned that when you killed the Dragon’s son.’
Raising himself off his son, Kisada held out a hand to help his son up.
‘Our enemy will not give you a second chance; will not play by etiquette or rules, or honour. It will kill you unless you show that you are stronger, more cunning and better than it!’
Yakamo waited a moment before taking the offered hand and got to his feet, his armour weighing no more to him than a simple kimono.
‘The Shadowlands will never defeat the dutiful Crab, father! We will final defeat them and drive them from the lands!’ Yakamo grinned at his father, ‘no matter the cost!‘
A voice echoed from the entrance, a voice silken yet strong in its approach.
‘Well said, young Yakamo-san, well said!’
Kuni Yori slowly made his way toward the pair, his white face make-up showing up against the dimly lit room of the main hall of Kyuden Hida.
Kisada turned to his son, ‘We will continue this later my boy. Go out and help your sister train. Or at least keep her from breaking your young brother’s nose again.’
Yakamo snorted, bowing before Yori before leaving the two of them alone.
As the door closed, Kisada sighed.
‘He will grow up to be a fine Hida and a worthy leader of his people. If only his brother…’
Yori smiled, ‘Do not underestimate your second son, Kisada-sama. Hida Tsukune does have a tactical genius that his brother does not. Perhaps even better than…’
Kisada snorted, ‘It doesn’t matter, Yori! If the boy cannot lead his troops from the front then why would his men follow him? No, it is only through example that men can be lead, only through strength that they will follow and obey.’
He turned to face his old friend, ‘Now tell me how your futile attempt at politics at the Funeral turned out. I take it the Crane and the Scorpion ruined us as always?’
Yori smiled, placing himself in one of the seats left standing, ‘It went amazingly well. We have agreement from almost all the major clans to a display of action against the Shadowlands. And that they will all be sending assistance in one form or another.’
Kisada took a step back, his tetsubo pounding into the floor to help him maintain balance.
‘They what? For centuries we have gone unsupported and now they intend to assist us? Do they…’
Yori shook his head, ‘No my lord they do not. Perhaps if they did… but the assistance is coming in both troops, food and weapons. Even the Scorpion will be sending samurai to our assistance. It seems that they feel the time is right to assist us in our cause.’
Kisada righted a fallen chair before sitting on it. It creaked and groaned under the immense weight of the man and his armour.
‘Then we will need to move cautiously. If the Scorpion have turned their attention towards us as have the other clans, then we must be patient. Move too soon and we may find ourselves in a… difficult situation.’
‘Indeed my friend.’ Yori agreed, inclining his head in a sagely manner, ‘However there is more news. Our young samurai have also managed to partner with the Dragon for a tetsubo-jutsu demonstration at the Topaz Championship.’
Kisada chortled, ‘Well, I will make sure that Yakamo attends then! He will enjoy showing them another serving of his mighty prowess.’
‘Which is precisely why you will not be sending your children to compete in the competitions this year.’ Replied Yori smoothly.
‘What?’ replied Kisada warily, his hand tightening on the grip of his tetsubo.
‘It was a skilful manoeuvre, organised by the Crane or Scorpion no doubt. Should we present your son at the Topaz, a stray Dragon slice during the competition may end his life prematurely… especially if the Scorpion are involved…’
Kisada’s eyes narrowed.
‘Are you saying that the Scorpion would intentionally set my children up to be slaughtered?’
Yori stiffened, ‘I am merely saying that the Scorpion would use any strength that they possess to weaken your position my lord. Better that we do not send them now and foil the plot before it even begins.’
Kisada thought about it deeply, the silence echoing throughout the empty halls.
At last he began to speak, his voice clear and precise.
‘You have done well old friend. You have saved me yet again from the Scorpion and Crane plots. You are a valued friend and ally. But we will need to deal with their treachery.’
Yori inclined his head again, ‘Thank you Kisada-dono, you are too kind. And you need not worry. They will have their reckoning soon enough.’
‘Lastly Kisada-sama, the Jade Championship has been re-established and I myself will be entering this new competition for Imperial power. With Imperial resources at our disposal it will make our plans come to fruition all the quicker.’
Kisada rose from his chair.
‘Do what you must, Yori-san. Make sure that you give the young competitors in the Topaz their orders as I will see to our training. We will make sure that all of our enemies are punished once and for all!’
Yori watched as Kisada strode out of the room, his eyes glittering red in the firelight.
‘Oh I will do exactly what I must, Kisada,’ Yori whispered, ‘and everything will go exactly as I have forseen…’
* * *