Political machinations in the Emerald Empire have far-reaching ramifications!
By Seth Mason
Edited by Fred Wan
Utaku Ji-Yun, the Emerald Champion, rode at the head of her entourage as they made their way through the Imperial City. To her side, the ronin soldier Fukuzo gazed about like a man who had never been to Toshi Ranbo. It occurred to Ji-Yun that he possibly never had.
“You seem awestruck, Fukuzo-san. I hardly thought it possible,” she said to her friend.
The man looked back to the Emerald Champion and smirked, “Oh?” he asked. “Why does it seem so unlikely?”
“How long were you a ronin mercenary before I took you into my service? Ten years?”
Fukuzo nodded, “Yes, my lady. Though I prefer to think of my childhood before I was forced to kill people for money. Thank you for the reminder,” he gave the Emerald Champion a mirthful grin.
Ji-Yun had long ago grown used to the man’s dark sense of humor, so she simply laughed. “Yes, well. Between that and the horrors you met by my side in the Colonies, I believed nothing could make you look so openly affected.”
“I never thought I would be standing in the Imperial City, that is all,” he replied with a shrug. “Believe me,” he added with a rueful grin, “it was the last place I imagined I would ever be.”
“The life of a ronin can seem bleak,” Ji-Yun agreed.
“Yes, something like that,” Fukuzo said. “So, I understand your first petition today involves the conflict with the Crane and Mantis.” He nodded thoughtfully to himself and continued, “Quite the situation, really. The Utaku have never had much in the way of relations with either clan. However, the Moto have shown the Yoritomo favor in the past, while the Doji and Shinjo have been friendly for some time.”
Ji-Yun raised an eyebrow at the man. “Well, I suppose it is fortunate I am serving the Empress’ interests, and not my clan’s.”
Fukuzo sighed loudly. “Have it your way,” he said with mock disappointment.
* * * * *
Doji Rengetsu waited with a patient smile as the servant poured her tea. The Crane woman mentally recited several words and phrases she would need to be able to say calmly and sincerely depending on how her conversation went. As the servant moved away, Rengetsu waved her hand absently over the steam coming out of the cup. It was a perfectly calculated gesture, one meant to give her the appearance of someone completely at ease and somewhat bored. It was extremely important to her that she show no outward signs of the nervousness she held within.
It wasn’t every day one was sent before the Emerald Champion to testify, after all.
Lifting the cup to her chin, the Doji courtier closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, trying to force out some of her apprehension with the breath. As she breathed back in, the scent of the tea seemed familiar but escaped her. Her concern was now joined with mild annoyance at herself. Was she now so nervous she couldn’t even think of the tea that was being served here? Being flustered at the prospect of what she was about to do was one thing, but now she was starting to feel that it was getting to her far too much.
“Rengetsu-san, is this a good time?”
The Crane woman’s eyes fluttered open, and her apprehension threatened to leap out of her throat in a yelp. Her eyes confirmed what her ears suspected from the voice – she knew the man standing on the other side of the table from her. Things just became more complicated. “Of course, Emoto-san,” she said calmly, regaining her confidence at the unwavering sound of her own voice. “I would very much enjoy some familiar company.”
Emoto shifted his eyes around the room for a moment before he joined her. Rengetsu understood why – their clans were practically at the edge of war. Though it was the Daidoji who escalated the conflict with the Yoritomo, the Doji family had quickly moved to support their clansmen. Things had gone predictably from there. In the corner, several men in the colors of the Dragon Clan spoke amongst themselves, but seemed to pay them no mind.
Rengetsu reasoned, as she assumed Emoto did, that the Dragon were just as likely to care as not. Beyond that, the large captain saw only servants and guards in the chamber and seemed to realize there was no harm in sitting.
“I am surprised to see you this far from the Colonies, Emoto-san,” Rengetsu said, motioning towards one of the servants. “A cup for my friend, please,” she said quietly to the servant.
Emoto smiled sadly at the comment, looking down at the table. “I could say the same of you, Rengetsu-san,” he replied. After a moment’s pause, he added, “But I would also say it is good to see you. I have missed our games of go.”
Rengetsu smiled warmly, bowing her head to acknowledge Emoto’s unspoken concern. “When your letters stopped coming, I of course knew why. But I have committed the game to memory for when… well. When this misunderstanding has passed. I am certain we will have our chance.”
The Mantis seemed to force himself to relax, and finally said, “Of course, of course,” nodding to the servant when she came to set and fill his cup. “I am eager to see this all concluded myself, so that I may get back to the business of supplying the Empire with the bounty of the Colonies.”
“Emoto-san,” Rengetsu said, chuckling, “Let us have none of that here, so far from the conflict. There is no need to repeat the accusation that my kin are preventing the Mantis from executing their duty to the Empress. What good does it do now, where we are?”
Emoto smirked in spite of himself, “Yes, you’re right, of course. Rengetsu-san, you have been an excellent friend in the Colonies, I should not treat you with such disrespect.” He took a sip of the tea and raised an eyebrow. “One of your favorites, I believe,” he said with genuine happiness. “I would recognize the strong spices from the Tamori anywhere. How fortunate that the Emerald Champion’s hospitality would have it for you.”
The Crane woman affected a look of modesty and looked away. “Fortunate, indeed. I am certain it was simply coincidence,” she said, cursing herself inwardly. Hopefully, at least, Emoto would believe she was simply influential enough to have requested it. Then something occurred to her, “Emoto-san, how did you know this was one of my preferred blends?”
“Oh?” Emoto said, obviously caught a little off guard. “You have likely mentioned it at some point,” he muttered, looking away now. “So,” he continued quickly, “I imagine you are here to speak with the Jade Champion, your clansmate?”
Rengetsu shook her head slightly, “No, actually. I am here to petition the Emerald Champion. I was not aware the revered Asahina lady was in Toshi Ranbo at this time as well.”
Emoto nodded, “In this very estate, if I am informed correctly. Perhaps this is a shared hosting estate for the two Champions when their duties take them to the Imperial City?”
“Perhaps,” Rengetsu agreed, noticing Emoto’s immediate change in attitude. He was suddenly apprehensive, and stopped looking at her at all. “And what business might you have, my friend?” she said, attempting to soothe him with her voice. She was starting suspect she knew the answer to that question.
“I was called here to speak with the Emerald Champion on the matter of Yoritomo Tsang’s death,” the Mantis said evenly, not meeting her eyes still. “I assume Utaku Ji-Yun-sama is aware I was at the duel.” There was a silence in the room for a moment, and Emoto smiled weakly again. “I also assume you are here to testify on the matter on behalf of the Crane Clan.”
Rengetsu leaned back slightly and sighed. “Fate can be strange, my friend,” is all she replied.
“We were fools to think it would not come to something like this,” Emoto said quietly.
A screen on the far side of the waiting room opened, and a functionary stepped through. “The Emerald Champion would speak with you both now,” he said, bowing slightly and extending his arm to the door.
* * * * *
Mirumoto Ezuno watched the Crane and Mantis exit with a wary eye, then turned his attention back to the two men he shared the table with. “When will our honored guest join us?” he asked.
To his left, a lithe man in thick robes contemplated his own folded hands. “When he sees fit, I suppose. In any case, you and I have not come to deal with our… friends in the Spider Clan, Ezuno-san. I don’t see how it is any concern to you.”
The large yojimbo looked to the third man for a moment, then back to his master. “I mean no disrespect, Yayu-sama, but perhaps if we are able to offer any kind of aid to your cousin, we should do so.”
Yayu smiled placidly, but never looked up. “Muzu-san,” he seemed to ask no-one in particular, “do you need any aid with the Spider?”
Tamori Muzu shook his head and drummed his fingers on the table. “Unless your fine yojimbo is able to command a lord of the Susumu family, I fear there’s nothing to be done about this. I’m not entirely certain why I’ve been called before the Jade Champion, anyway.” He chuckled to himself and swirled the tea around in his small cup. With a whisper and a smirk, the liquid leapt up from the cup and flipped around in the air before returning to the vessel.
To the side, one of the Imperial guards stiffened and cleared his throat.
“That’s quite enough, Muzu,” Yayu said darkly to the younger member of the Tamori family. “I think we caused enough of a scene by insisting on keeping our swords. I will not have us be the first Tamori to be removed from the Jade Champion’s estate.” He punctuated his words by fidgeting with the katana on his side. The weapon made a slight click as he nudged it ever so slightly out and then back to the resting position in the saya.
Between them, Ezuno did his best not to frown deeply. The swordsman knew his charge had a reputation of being somewhat impulsive and free-spirited, but toying with the Seppun guards assigned to watch over the Jade Champion seemed ridiculous even for Yayu. “An odd choice,” he said, attempting to get their attention on something else. “There would be no harm in surrendering your weapons in the presence of Asahina Nanae-sama.”
Muzu looked at his own sword and maintained his mirthful smile. “We are different than the Asahina, Ezuno-san. We are different than most shugenja orders, truth be told. There is no harm and no shame in reminding others of that – even the Jade Champion. We, of course, offer no insult by this.”
“Of course,” Ezuno said stiffly. “The Tao teaches us, after all, to scorn authority and risk the wrath of others needlessly, just to prove a point.”
Muzu and Yayu looked at Ezuno in shock, and then at each other. After a pause, the two Tamori broke into laughter. “I fear the day you feel free to truly speak your mind, Ezuno-san. I believe none will survive your scathing wit,” Muzu said, raising his cup in mock salute.
On another side of the room, a door slid open, and a woman in rich red silks entered. The Dragons quieted themselves as she moved gracefully across the room and regarded them with critical eyes. “I am Yoshihara, of the Soshi,” she said as an introduction. “And in honor of the friendship between our clans, I would advise you to stop acting like mirthful, embarrassing children while you confer with my mistress Nanae.” She sniffed, and looked at the swords on the hips of all three men. “I find it somewhat boring that so many intelligent individuals are making such poor choices without outside influence pushing them to it. Which of you are Mirumoto Ezuno and Tamori Yayu?”
Ezuno and Yayu stood, and after a beat, Yayu said, “In case it was not clear, the one in the armor is Ezuno.”
Yoshihara seemed unfazed by the comment, “You are Dragons. I wouldn’t know which of you was the warrior and which was the priest even if one of you were stomping around in armor heavier than that worn by the Fortune of Persistence. I hope you have finished with your witticisms, because my lady will not tolerate such insolence.”
Yayu straightened himself, and his eyes seemed clearer suddenly. “I assure you, Yoshihara-sama, we will conduct ourselves appropriately. Is it time to speak with the Jade Champion?”
“This way,” she replied, turning to lead them from where she came.
* * * * *
Utaku Ji-Yun listened patiently as Doji Rengetsu gave her testimony. The Crane’s words were, unsurprisingly, eloquent, detailed, and utterly sympathetic to the Daidoji. Though the Emerald Champion had heard reports from uninterested parties already, she was having a difficult time not being swayed by the Crane’s speech. Had Ji-Yun heard the tale first from this woman, it was entirely possible she would have considered the Mantis practically pirates and traitors to the whole Empire.
When the Doji woman was done, Ji-Yun nodded and said, “Thank you for that explanation, Doji-san.” She turned to look at Emoto, who, to his credit, had stayed silent and respectful the entire time Rengetsu had levied serious accusations through inference and half-told statements. Most samurai would have jumped at the indirect slander long ago. Ji-Yun felt that the Mantis did not hold his tongue out of fear, but rather from sheer will. “Emoto-san, I am told you were present at the duel?”
“Yes, Emerald Champion,” Emoto replied, bowing his head.
“Do you understand why I have called you here, then?”
Emoto hesitated. “I cannot be certain, my lady,” he admitted.
“The Mantis have launched a series of strikes against the Crane in what any reasonable person would assume is retaliation for the accusations made during the duel.” Ji-Yun let the implication of the words sink in. To further pursue a grievance that had been settled by such means was a great breach of protocol. She motioned to Rengetsu with a wave of her hand. “The Doji family has requested that the Mantis be rebuked for their aggression. I would hear your statement on the matter before I give this my consideration.”
“Your personal consideration?” Rengetsu said, surprised. “I don’t understand why one such as yourself would bring their attentions to this low matter.” The unspoken comment – that there shouldn’t be any consideration needed – hung in the air.
“It may seem unusual to you, Doji-san, and I understand that,” Ji-Yun replied, “But I find that I am the first Emerald Champion to preside over disputes involving the … unusual legal nature of inter-Clan conflicts in the Colonies. It is better that we set a clear series of judgments.” The Emerald Champion waited for further comment from Rengetsu, and then turned back to Emoto. “I would hear what you have to say now, Yoritomo-san.”
Emoto composed himself and then simply said, “The Crane erred. After the duel, the Daidoji and Kakita Sasa accused the Mantis of widespread corruption and forgery of documents. The duel itself was involving the complaint of Yoritomo Minhiko against Daidoji Sosuke.” With that, he produced a small document from his obi. “As you will see by these records, verified by the Second City Governor’s attendants, Minhiko’s vessel has been conforming with the increased taxes, per the duel’s outcome. The other captains, however… were not so bound.”
“Preposterous,” Rengetsu said. “What the Mantis have engaged in is not simple retaliation over a slight of honor. Hundreds of Crane lay dead at the feet of Yoritomo soldiers and Tsuruchi scouts. I have heard it told that they have even pressed the holy priests of the Kitsune and Moshi families into war against my clan.”
Ji-Yun frowned at the woman’s outburst, “That is enough, Rengetsu,” she said. While Ji-Yun felt she was acclimating quickly to her role, she realized she would perhaps never be able to understand when such displays were true emotion or calculated. “Emoto, her words bear weight, however. What do you say to the accusation?”
Emoto shrugged, “She is correct,” he replied. “There have been incursions on Crane holdings along the rivers between the coast and the Second City. Foot soldiers have engaged the Crane on the land. The majority of the Mantis’ seaborne forces have begun to mass on the southern coast of the Colonies, and will begin an inexorable movement inland up both rivers, towards Twin Forks City. The Crane will surrender their ports or see them destroyed for their insult.”
Rengetsu paled and clenched her jaw in what appeared to be barely-checked rage. “You do not deny it, then? War between the clans is forbidden, Emoto-san!”
The Mantis captain gave the Crane a bland look, and then turned back to the Emerald Champion. “The Empress forbade war between the clans in the Empire, Ji-Yun-sama. As evidenced by the fighting over expanded lands and the legal leeway given the Spider, it is clear the Child of Heaven considers the Colonies to be exempt from certain expectations.”
Utaku Ji-Yun folded her arms and adopted a thoughtful look. When Rengetsu began to speak, the Emerald Champion quickly held up a hand to silence her. “Rengetsu, calm yourself. Emoto-san is incorrect.” The Crane relaxed for a moment, until Ji-Yun finished, “It is not something the Empress has considered, but it is something I should consider. That is where he is wrong.”
She looked at the two of them, thinking for a moment of her role and the will of the Empress. Clearly, the law as written in this instance was without clarity, and it was the duty of the Emerald Champion to both enforce the law but ensure the will of Heaven was executed in matters such as this. Peace had cradled the Empire for a whole generation, and Rokugan was better for it. But what did that mean for the warrior? What did that mean for the law?
After silent reflection, she finally nodded.
“The Mantis seek to redress an affront to their honor, Rengetsu-san. Their complaint is valid, and I will uphold it. So long as the Clan of the Mantis makes no aggression towards the Crane in the proper Empire, the Crane are responsible for defending themselves against the Mantis’ satisfaction in this matter.”
She looked sternly at both parties, not waiting for their words this time, but instead ensuring their silence. “That is all. I will draft my judgment and send copies to your daimyo.” She looked at Emoto and narrowed her eyes, “I warn you, Emoto-san, and through you I warn your Champion – do not test my resolve in keeping the peace within the Empire’s borders. Hiromi-san is a bold man, but I will not tolerate any … misinterpretation of my word. He may style himself the Growing Storm, but I serve the Child of the Heavens the storms find a home in. Are we clear?”
“You will find no fault with the Mantis in this matter, my lady. I thank you,” Emoto said, addressing his head to the floor.
“Do not thank me,” Ji-Yun said sharply. “I do no service to you, or even to the Crane were I to find in favor of them. The law is as it is.” The Emerald Champion stood, “You are dismissed.”
* * * * *
Asahina Nanae sat on a comfortable cushion as her guests settled themselves. Behind her, Soshi Yoshihara stood at a respectable distance and did not take her eyes from the two Dragons. In her years at Jade Champion, and her life before that as an attendant in the temples of her family, she had met several Tamori. Like the rest of her family, the need for the Dragon shugenja to turn their gifts to conflict and war saddened her greatly. She had learned quickly that it was a mistake to think they were all the same, however. As she looked at Tamori Yayu, she wondered what sort of man sat opposite her. “Tell me, Yayu-san,” she said without preamble, “what did you hope to gain by coming into my presence with both a yojimbo and a sword? Is it you do not trust your own skill, or do you not trust that of your guard?” The question was pleasant and conversational, turning what would have otherwise been an insult to a genuine inquiry.
Yayu looked back at Ezuno, then to the Jade Champion. “I am simply prepared, my lady. While I am certain of my safety here in your estate, it is our way to train with the sword, and it is Ezuno’s station to guard dignitaries and priests of the clan.”
“So you choose to adhere to the traditions that interest you,” she replied, indicating the yojimbo with her head, “but ignore the ones you wish?” She glanced at the katana on Yayu’s obi.
The Tamori smiled back at Nanae and said, “Well, yes. Would you like to learn how the Tamori train and how the students are allowed to make their determinations?”
The Jade Champion smiled brightly and leaned back. “That is really quite interesting,” she said without a trace of sarcasm. Inwardly, she was somewhat impressed by Yayu’s earnestness. “Perhaps we could correspond later about your family’s ways. I must admit I am intrigued. I was expecting some manner of strange obfuscation or logical trick as your answer. Quite refreshing, really.”
“Of course, my lady,” Yayu replied, bowing his head
“So, to the matter at hand,” Nanae said softly. “You have petitioned my office for assistance with your research into the Naga attacks on the Empire?”
“I petitioned one of your higher ranking magistrates, Nanae-sama,” the Tamori replied quickly. “I would not dare to approach you directly with this matter, of course. I was utterly surprised when I was informed you had taken a direct hand in my situation.”
Nanae looked to her assistant, and Yoshihara produced a scroll and handed it to her mistress. The Jade Champion unrolled it and gave it a cursory glance. “In this, it appears you are asking for information from the Yogo, the Kuni, and even the Asako regarding their knowledge of the Shadowlands Taint. Please do explain why.”
Yayu looked down for a moment, obviously embarrassed by the reasoning he was about to give. “The Dragon have had a rocky history with the Naga,” the shugenja began. “While we have not forgotten their betrayal of the Crab and their attack on our clan generations ago, it was made clear over time that they had a reason.”
“If I recall my history lessons correctly,” Soshi Yoshihara interjected, “it was because Lady Hitomi was dealing with the Lying Darkness.”
Nanae looked to the Scorpion then back to Yayu, “Certainly you haven’t come here to say the Naga are searching for a similar sort of corruption.”
The Dragon shook his head, “No, my Lady. Their attacks are too precise and too scattered for the situation to be similar. However, the lesson of the past is that there may be a cause we are missing. We believe it’s possible the Naga have contracted the Shadowlands Taint.”
Silence settled on the room for a moment, and Nanae considered the possibility. “I am no scholar on the Naga race,” the Jade Champion said, “but I was of the impression such a thing was impossible.”
“The prospect is both unlikely and disturbing, yes, but we believe the possibility is too great to simply ignore without some investigation.”
Yoshihara coughed quietly, and asked, “Who is this ‘we’ you keep referring to, Yayu-san?”
The shugenja looked away again, and replied, “Well, perhaps I should say that I believe the possibility is too great to ignore. Besides, even if it is not the case, I think it is worthwhile to have some communication between the clans in regards to this threat. The Naga attacks have been steady and focused, and they have suffered few losses over the past few years. And what do we have to show for it?” Apparently forgetting himself, he began to gesture in various directions as he spoke more quickly. “My lord’s father is missing. The Crab have lost one of their renowned sensei. The Unicorn Champion’s mother is likewise missing. The Naga have destroyed holdings of several clans near the Shinomen. And yet we do not act as if they are a serious threat.”
Nanae raised her eyebrows at the man’s low key outburst and leaned back. “Indeed, Yayu-san,” she said as she mulled the man’s words over.
“I apologize, my Lady-” Yayu began.
The Jade Champion raised a hand. “There will be none of that, my Dragon friend.” Her smile seemed to drain the nervousness out of the Tamori. “You are, of course, correct.” Nanae was not a woman of war, she realized, and this was a war that the Empire was facing. Because the enemy was well hidden and hardly an invading force that could threaten all of Rokugan, many of the noble houses had simply dismissed it as a threat for others to deal with. But that didn’t change the reality that so many had refused to acknowledge. She was not a woman of war, she thought again to herself as she eyed the sword on Yayu’s side, but perhaps she did not need to be.
“You will have your information, Tamori Yayu-san. I will draft an edict to the various shugenja orders to cooperate with your investigation fully. Furthermore, when you have finished with your inquiries, return to me. I will let your daimyo know that I have requested you for a duty to the Empire.”
“Your will, my Lady,” Yayu said, bowing his head to the floor. When he straightened back up, he asked, “What duty are you speaking of?”
“You will have an Imperial Legion and a detachment of Jade Magistrates under your command, Yayu-san. By my authority, you are now a senior member of the Jade Magistrates yourself, and you will have the authority to bring together a force necessary to deal with this threat.”
Yoshihara leaned in close to her mistress and whispered, “My lady, I might remind you that your authority here might be stretched. The office of the Jade Champion-”
Nanae turned to look Yoshihara in the eyes, and the Jade Champion’s placid but unyielding gaze silenced the Scorpion immediately. “It is the duty of the Jade Champion to root out spiritual corruption in the Empire and guard against its influence. I can think of no better execution of this duty than to shake the clans out of their indifference to this matter. While several clans, such as the Crab and Dragon, have taken steps to handle this threat, the spiritual rot of apathy has taken a firm hold on many.” She motioned towards the two Dragons, “Yayu-san and his yojimbo will be my instruments in combating that. Find the source of the Naga’s unrest, Yayu. If it is the Taint or not, we must end this threat.”
The only reply coming from the Dragon was a silent stare and a worried frown. A comment or protest was unspoken in Yayu’s heart.
“Are you uncomfortable with this edict, Yayu-san? I find you an honorable and eager man, but I think perhaps if you are so eager to wear that sword in my presence, you should be more prepared to have it called to service. I will send the documents and travel papers to your quarters in the city as I have them made available to me. That will be all.”
* * * * *
Outside the Emerald Champion’s chamber, Emoto turned and looked at his friend. “Rengetsu-san, it is unfortunate that it … I wish the Mantis might have sent someone else. Or perhaps the Crane…”
Rengetsu shook her head slowly, and the anger evaporated from her face. “No,” she said with a slight smile. “It was necessary. Do not think you have done anything terrible, Emoto-san. My lords were fully aware this would be the outcome. By coming to the Champion’s court to sue for peace and attempt to stop this war, the Crane will now be seen as the victims of Mantis pride and aggression.” She looked at her friend and gave him a sad look. “Your your clan will be alone in this, Emoto-san. Even your family’s friendly relations in the Unicorn and Crab will do you no good, as to associate with this attack will become a liability. You … well.” She stopped for a moment, and her hand flexed slightly towards him – as if to give him a reassuring gesture – but then she folded it back into her other hand. “You will die well, my friend. I hope it is enough for you.”
Emoto frowned deeply and looked down at her. “You have learned nothing, despite knowing me so well, Rengetsu-san. How many have underestimated the Mantis? How many have been trampled by us for their folly?” He leaned forward, and his breath landed on her cheek. She did not flinch. “We do not need the aid of others to crush the Crane.”
The two samurai looked at each other for another moment, and then as if on a cue – walked away to opposite exits from the estate.
* * * * *
Later that day in the Imperial City, Tamori Yayu looked at the letter in his hand but did not dare to open it. He knew it was the first of many that would come to him in the next few days. The unbroken seal of the Jade Champion had cooled hours ago, but everything felt unreal. Yayu feared that if he actually read the scroll, it would turn out this was simply a ploy or that Asahina Nanae had changed her mind.
“A Jade Magistrate, me?” Yayu asked out loud.
“Many would be thrilled with such a commission,” Mirumoto Ezuno replied, carefully tending his weapons in a corner of the room.
“Of course, of course,” the shugenja said absently. “The appointment is a great honor, but… I have no idea how I am going to do this. The Tamori and Kuni have had good relations, I suppose. But the Yogo? The Asako? And what will happen when I am to report back here and …An Imperial Legion?” he said, exasperated.
“You could refuse, I suppose.”
Yayu turned to his yojimbo and barked a laugh. “Yes, that seems prudent. I will simply back down from this prestigious appointment and give up the exact thing I was asking for. I am sure there will be no problem with that.” After a moment’s silence, he frowned and looked at the paper. “I have no idea where to even begin.”
“With a single step, Yayu-san,” Ezuno said. “Just as the Little Teacher told us.”
* * * * *
Utaku Ji-Yun stepped into the room Asahina Nanae had been giving audiences earlier in the day and bowed politely. “There seems to be a Dragon and a Spider waiting in the other room for you still,” she said.
“Indeed,” Nanae replied, taking a sip of her tea. “I wonder if they have figured out why I called them here yet.”
Ji-Yun looked back in the direction of the guests and frowned. “You intend to let them sit there for a while longer, I assume.” She turned back to her friend and sat down. “They will, of course, assume that they are in some manner of trouble the longer they wait.”
“Of course,” the Jade Champion repeated, smiling slightly.
Ji-Yun’s frown deepened a little bit now, going from thoughtful to slightly annoyed. “Is there any purpose to this, Nanae-san?”
“I think it is a good practice to not allow the Spider to get too comfortable.” Nanae took another sip and shrugged as she added, “And the Dragon… well, he does not have to know why. I believe that they should experience the other end of that arrangement from time to time.”
Silence descended on the room as the two women sat and Ji-Yun helped herself to some of the Jade Champion’s tea. Picking up her cup, the Emerald Champion studied it in the way that people stare at nothing particular while they think. “I have just authorized war between the Mantis and Crane,” she said finally.
It was Nanae’s turn to frown now. “I would not second guess you, of course, but if I would ask what was so important to be worth the lives of hundreds or thousands?” Her tone indicated that if their stations were different, or if they had not grown to know each other a little better over the past few months, she would have done far more than second guess Ji-Yun.
“The Empire is full of examples of what happens when tensions between the clans rise too high without release. It is simply incorrect to live in a place where insults can be given without proper retribution. And the Colonies… well. The Colonies are what they are, but perhaps it would be good to send a reminder that samurai must conduct themselves as such there. And that means being willing to support words and accusations with honor and steel.”
The Jade Champion looked as though she might argue, but nodded slowly. “You are right, of course,” she sighed. “I have just authorized a young Tamori to shake the secrets from three of the oldest shugenja orders in the Empire. And then I will give him an Imperial Legion to march around Rokugan. Perhaps I should not be so quick to judge the worth of unusual strategies.”
“If this were a game of Go,” Ji-Yun said, looking at her cup still, “I would have to concede your move was the more unusual one.”
“Oh, but it is a game of Go,” Nanae countered. “I just do not presume that I am the one moving the pieces.” With that, the Jade Champion finished her cup and set it down. “Perhaps it is time to go speak with a few more of the pieces. Good evening to you, Ji-Yun-san.”
The Emerald Champion returned the sentiment, but stayed in the room with her thoughts a little longer.
* * * * *
Days later, after returning to the Third Kama where it waited on the coast, Yoritomo Emoto stood on the deck with a Go board held in his hands. Looking to the north, towards the Imperial City far inland, he slowly tipped the board and listened to the musical sound of the glass beads falling into the sea.
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