By Rusty Priske
Edited by Fred Wan
Kisada walked from the bandit camp, absent-mindedly discarding the cloth he had used to wipe the last blood from his breastplate. The bandits had paid the price required by Kisada, even if they did not know what they were paying for.
Kisada turned towards the voice from the rocks with a smooth, almost casual motion. He showed no indication of surprise as his eyes scanned the area for a potential threat, his grip tightening on his tetsubo in the event that the end to the skirmish had not come as quickly as he believed. There were no more bandits, however. Kisada frowned, wondering at the gravelly voice, and scanned the area again with a more cautious eye. It was only the second time that he noticed the small, lizard-like creature regarding him impassively from atop a large boulder. The creature's skin was like stone, and he very nearly blended in with the stones around him.
The great Crab warrior stared for a moment. The creature was tiny, much smaller than a human, and from its posture it seemed aged. It clenched what appeared to be a walking stick in one hand. It made no threatening moves, and indeed did not seem capable of threatening him, unless it had some manner of unseen mystical power, in which case there would be little Kisada could do regardless. "Good?" Kisada finally repeated. "Had these men wronged you in some way, little one?"
"They hurt Dragon. Dragon are friends of zokujin."
"Zokujin," Kisada said, slowly loosening his grip on the weapon. He had heard of the little creatures before, and despite that they had some resemblance to goblins, they were not of the Shadowlands. They dwelled in the mountains far north of the Crab lands. Mountains like these, for instance. "If you knew they were here and you are a friend of the Dragon, why did you not tell the Dragon of their location?" he questioned, trying to assess the creature.
"I did not know they were here. I only knew to come. I come and you are here, killing bad humans." The little creature nodded sagely. "I am Kjgkt. I am prophet."
Kisada relaxed a bit more, increasingly confident that whatever the creature's purpose here was, it bore him no malice. "Well… Kijiggit," he struggled with the name, "I am Hida Kisada."
Kjgkt smiled at Kisada's fumbling pronunciation of its name. "Well, Hida Kisada, I ask you same question you ask me: why you kill bad humans instead of calling Dragon magistrates?"
"This was personal matter," Kisada said, resting the tip of his tetsubo against the ground. "I am looking for someone and the trail led to these bandits. Unfortunately, the trail appears to end here."
"Hrrm." Kjgkt cleared its throat. "I know what you seek. You look for a female Dragon whose sire was slain by these men."
Kisada's eyes narrowed and his grip tightened once more. "What do you know about that?" he demanded.
The zokujin smiled. "I already told you. Kjgkt is prophet. I know where to find the one you seek."
The Crab hesitated for a moment. He desperately wanted to believe it, wanted to hope that the little creature might be able to answer the questions that had plagued him for months. "Tell me, then. Or is there something you wish in exchange for this information?"
"I ask nothing. The one you seek is at the place the Dragon call Last Step Castle. Going deeper into these mountains is trouble, though. Finding it will be difficult. You need a guide."
Kisada considered Kjgkt's words. He knew that they were correct. There was no deception in this creature. "Forgive me if I overstate the matter," he said. "I traveled here from my homeland alone. I did not wish my enemies to know that I was traveling, else they would attempt to kill me, and I would be forced to shed their blood in the lands of another clan. Among our people such a thing is disrespectful, and to be avoided when possible."
The little creature cocked its head to the side. "You did not tell Dragon you were coming, did you? Is not also disrespectful?"
"Yes, but less so," Kisada said with a frown. "I would rather not speak to the Dragon before I find the girl. Will you show me the way, Kuh-jag-at?"
The zokujin prophet laughed. "Of course. Why else would I be here?"
Hida Kisada removed his great helm, seemingly oblivious to the cold, and scanned the windswept mountainside. "Are you certain this is the right place?" Eddies of snow swirled around their feet, and erased any sign of their passing behind.
The aged zokujin knelt and placed his hand splayed on the stone at their feet. "This is place. Very close now." Kjgkt stood and gestured to his large companion. "This way."
Kisada's patience was strained, as his guide could not move swiftly. He said nothing, however, as he never would have been able to find his way through the Dragon mountains without the zokujin's help. He could have requested aid from the Dragon, but there was war in the air of Rokugan and he would have needed to explain his quest, and that was something he did not want to do. It was not helpful that the Crab were essentially at war with the Dragon's closest allies, the Scorpion Clan. It was only luck that led him to Kjgkt. Luck or destiny, as the zokujin would have claimed.
"Here. There." The guide led Kisada around a heavy outcropping. Past it, Kisada saw a woman, girded against the weather, facing an easel. She used a paintbrush in what appeared to be a very haphazard style, very unlike any painters Kisada had seen in the past â€“ not that he had spent much time contemplating their craft. He examined her from a distance. She was a large woman, but not heavy. She was as tall as most men and her shoulders were broad. She would not have stood out among the Crab, but her size was unusual for a Dragon woman.
"Hello, Kjgkt. Who have you brought to see me?" The woman pronounced the zokujin's name the same way he had when he introduced himself to Kisada. That was something the big man had been unable to accomplish.
"This is Kisada. He asked me to help find you."
"And you didn't tell me you already knew her."
"You never ask." Kjgkt's smile could only be described as impish.
The woman's eyes betrayed her surprise at the name Kisada. Without putting down her brush, she bowed deeply. "The Great Bear. I am deeply honored, Kisada-sama. And, in truth, not a little surprised to find you so far from home."
Kisada appeared about to speak but his eyes shot over to the zokujin and he paused. Then he said, "Thank you for your help, little prophet. You have aided me when I had almost given up hope, and asked for nothing in return. Know that you will always be welcome among the Crab, and that we do not forget those who prove our allies."
Kjgkt's smile broadened. "And you are friend to Kjgkt, the Rejn, and the zokujin." With that he nodded, turned and left the way he had come.
The woman nodded after the creature. "That is a great honor. The zokujin are misunderstood beings, but their friendship is a valuable thing."
Kisada's eyes never left her. "This is something we have in common, I think."
She bowed again. "I spend a lot of time out here, away from Last Step Castle. The zokujin are curious and wished to know why I was here and what I was doing."
"And you were… painting?"
"Yes. My detractors say I lack technique, but there are those who appreciate the results."
Kisada looked at the canvas. He had little eye for such things so could not truly tell whether it was well done or not. "So," he said, uncertain as to what to say now that he had finally found the subject of his quest. "You have heard of me, then."
The woman hurriedly bowed again while laughing. "There are very few who do not know your name, Kisada-sama. My apologies, for I have not introduced myself. My name is Kitsuki Yoritoko."
Kisada's eyebrow shot up at the name. "That is a proud name, Yoritoko-san. May I ask your father's name?"
"Of course. It was Kitsuki Yasuo."
"And his mother's name was Kita, was it not? It is my understanding that she was not a Dragon, however. Forgive the personal nature of these questions, but this is of great importance… can you tell me how your father came to be a Kitsuki, when his mother was not of your clan?"
Yoritoko looked surprised when Kisada mentioned her grandmother's name, but she did not ask how he knew her. "My father rarely spoke of it," she finally said. "My grandmother died in battle on the Second Day of Thunder, and my father was taken in by vassals serving the Dragon. When he came of age, he married their daughter, a Kitsuki, and took the family name as his own. He trained with them and became a magistrate, in time."
Kisada nodded. "Are you a magistrate as well, like your father?"
She bowed her head slightly. "I am not. Fortunately for me, the Kitsuki respect and appreciate artisans as well, else I may have been forced to be something I am not. With great respect, Kisada-sama, may I ask why you have come so far? I cannot think it was to discuss my lineage and devotions."
Kisada frowned, but erased it quickly. "I did not expect an artisan. When I knew your grandmother she was a fierce samurai. Though one thing I have learned, through some difficult lessons, is that children are not always what their parents were, for good or for ill."
Yoritoko's face hardened, as she was unsure whether to take offense at Kisada's comments. Instead she returned to his first remark. "You knew my grandmother?"
Kisada smiled, though not broadly. "I did, though not as well as I should have." His smile faltered and, unbelievably, the gigantic man looked down, unable to meet her eyes. "It was not until I passed from Ningen-do that I knew that she had borne me a son."
Yoritoko dropped her paintbrush.
Kisada glanced down at it and then back up at her. "I take it that you were not aware that I am your grandfather."
Yoritoko shook her head mutely before pulling herself together enough to say, "She always told me that my father's father had died fighting in the Clan Wars."
Kisada cocked his head. "I suppose that is true, in its own way. My injuries did claim my life eventually. That is when I learned about your father, though I did not know what became of him. When I returned through Oblivion's Gate I vowed to track him down and make amends for not standing by him."
"My father died â€“ "
Kisada interrupted. "He was killed by bandits while doing his duty as a magistrate. I know. I found the remaining bandits from the band and extracted what vengeance was available to me. I thank you for not doing the same before I had a chance."
Yoritoko's head dipped, recognizing the admonishment. "That is not who I am. My father knew that. I left justice to his fellow magistrates. I mourned and went on with my life."
Kisada pondered for a moment and then went on, his voice slightly softer. "I did not come here to judge you, Yoritoko-san. I did not raise you or your father and I do not presume to know your ways. I will not make the same mistake I did with my son. I came her for reparations, not recriminations."
Yoritoko looked at him through uncertain eyes. "Reparations? You owe me nothing."
"I owe you your heritage. You carry the legacy of Hida, as do all of his children."
She shook her head. "I am no Hida. I am a Kitsuki."
Kisada nodded. "That is clear." He raised his hand at her immediate reaction. "I did not mean that as an insult, Yoritoko-san. I have learned many things in my life and I know that the Hida's burden is not for all to bear. It is just my way and the way of my family. If you are happy among the Kitsuki, that is enough for me."
"Then I am glad. I did bring you something, though." Kisada proffered his great helm from where he carried it under his arm. "I wore this through many great battles. It has seen many deaths, including my own, I am afraid. I had hoped that it would see more, with honor."
Yoritoko's eyes saddened. "Then I think you should give it to your grandson. I will not see many battles, Togashi willing."
Kisada shook his head. "Kuon already wields my swords and tetsubo. I wish you to have the helm."
"But I am no warrior. Your helm cries for battle, not for paint and dust."
"It cries for honor, and I sense that you have that."
Yoritoko bowed deeply. "I will treat it with great care and reverence… grandfather." Her tongue nearly tripped over the last word. "Perhaps one day I will have a son or daughter who will wear it with great pride."
"I'm sure someone could find a good Hida husband for you if you wish it."
"I was already betrothed, grandfather, though I am afraid that the war has put an end to that. He is a Doji."
When she saw the pained expression on Kisada's face, Yoritoko could not suppress her laugh, no matter how hard she tried.
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