Far from Rokugan, the samurai of the Great Clans conspire against one another in ever-tightening circles, and the threat of simmering hostility bursting into the flames of war grows more present with each passing day.
Scions of the Colonies, Part 2
By Shawn Carman
Edited by Fred Wan
Yoritomo Hameko completed her stratagem and smiled across the table at Akodo Makotai. “I believe I have won, Akodo-san.”
Unexpectedly, the Lion’s features twisted into a smile. “Some call me arrogant,” he admitted, “and not without good reason. But that does not mean that I am foolish. I am a skilled player of go, and I do not question that. But you, it seems, are far better than I, and I congratulate you for it.” He bowed politely. “Well met, and the win is deservedly yours. It was my pleasure to play you, and I hope to recoup my defeat in the near future.”
Hameko smiled. “I would enjoy that,” she said. “I have sought out many challenging opponents, and you are certainly among the finest.”
“You flatter me,” he replied.
“I speak only the truth,” Hameko said. “Now that I have had the honor of playing you, I lack only one person from my list. Shiba Iaimiko, who has regrettably proven quite difficult to track down. It seems she is quite the busy sort.”
“Iaimiko,” Makotai mused. “That name seems familiar to me.”
“She is the student of one of your own clan,” Hameko said. “The primary reason for my interest in playing against her is that her sensei is Ikoma Aimi, perhaps the greatest master of go in Rokugan.”
“Indeed!” Makotai agreed vigorously. “She is younger than me by far, but vastly more skilled. Something of a prodigy, one might say.”
Hameko began to reply, but her words caught in her throat as she saw the approach of a Crane. There were very few Crane in Kalani’s Landing, given the recent difficulties between them and the Mantis, and this woman was drawing any number of unpleasant glares from those around them. “Excuse me a moment, Makotai-san,” she said warmly, “but it seems something unusual is in the offing.”
The Lion followed her gaze, then nodded knowingly. “A brazen tactic.”
The Crane was upon them before Hameko could respond. “I understand congratulations are in order,” the woman said with a warm expression. “According to tradition, this victory elevates you to the rank of go master, does it not Yoritomo Hameko?”
“It does,” she replied, forcing herself to maintain a pleasant demeanor. “Please forgive me, but I fear you have me at a disadvantage.”
“My apologies,” the woman said with a bow. “My name is Doji Iza. I arrived here only a short time ago, in hopes of securing an audience with your governor, Yoritomo Kanahashi. When I heard of your achievement, I thought I should offer my congratulations.”
“I am grateful for that, but I fear you may be disappointed in your search for an audience with the governor.” Hameko offered the best smile she could under the circumstances. “If I may be so bold as to ask a question, Iza-san… what made you think you could come into Kalani’s Landing in such a manner? It is an extremely dangerous thing to do given the… present situation.”
Iza seemed genuinely surprised, which indicated either that she was a far better courtier than her behavior indicated, or that she was utterly guileless, which suggested perhaps she might not live very long. “I apologize, but I was instructed to meet here by an emissary of the Imperial Governor.”
“Indeed she was.”
Hameko turned to whomever had spoken and very nearly recoiled in absolute horror. The man was standing very close and, at first glance, it appeared as though his face was covered with a crawling mass of living spiders. Fortunately, reason overtook her mind quickly and she recognized that it was simply the play of the light in the metallic mask that the man wore. The spiders were exquisitely crafted, tiny, and each one exactly mirrored the Spider Clan mon the man wore on his kimono. “I am Daigotsu Subudi,” he said, his eyes twinkling. “I am delighted to inform you that the Imperial Governor has appointed me the head mediator for the conflict between the Crane and the Mantis. Naturally, I have availed myself of the assistance of the Kitsuki and their brothers in this matter, as they are generally accepted as the executers of such duties.” The Kitsuki accompanying the Spider smiled pleasantly, but his yojimbo, a Mirumoto, was glaring at the Crane with an expression that most closely resembled poorly-contained hatred. Subudi gestured toward the center of town. “If you would not mind, Hameko-san, I would appreciate an introduction. I have not had the pleasure of your governor’s acquaintance.”
Hameko managed a smile that would have made the most gifted courtier proud. “It would be my pleasure, Subudi-sama.”
* * * * *
Mirumoto Mitoshi crept very carefully, silently, across the sands. With every movement, she felt the precariousness of her position very keenly. She glanced at her men, who were spread very widely across the region they were presently crossing, each of them, like her, having discarded their armor before they entered the area.
The Unicorn maps Mitoshi had reviewed before departing the SecondCity referred to this region as “the SandSea,” which made very little sense to her, but it soon became obvious once she and her men arrived. It seemed that the ground far beneath the sand had, for whatever reason, become weak over the years, and any significant weight placed upon it caused whatever bore the weight to sink into the sand almost as if it were water. The Lion, with their heavy armor and weapons and their rigid formations. The Unicorn, with their steeds that they could never abandon. Of course they considered this region impassable. For all intents and purposes, as far as they were concerned, it was.
After creeping along the SandSea for more than three hours, her men were exhausted and parched to the point of near-injury, but something pushed Mitoshi forward. It was only a short time after that that her patience and diligence were rewarded, for it appeared as suddenly and unexpectedly as an island emerging from the fog on the morning sea: an oasis, hidden in the center of the Sand Sea.
Mitoshi nodded to her men on either side, sending a silent message along the line of her men. They drew their blades and advanced, carefully maintaining the utmost silence. The young officer was alarmed to see the sheer number of tents and primitive structures scattered among the scant trees surrounding the small lake, but she did not permit this trepidation to stay her hand. She signaled via gesture for the scouts to move forward. Half a dozen of her men, some of her finest, drifted forward like the shadow of a cloud across the sands, disappearing into the oasis easily. Then she simply waited.
Moments seemed to stretch on far too long. Mitoshi struggled with the urge to order the remainder of her men into the encampment, but knew that doing so would be a mistake. She forced herself to remain patient, reciting the philosophies of bushido to herself to maintain her composure. As if rewarding her devotion to the sacred code of the samurai, one of her men appeared on the boundary of the encampment a moment later, and signaled for her to approach.
Despite the appearance that all was well, Mitoshi was cautious. She was alarmed at how many men the encampment seemed designed to hold. More than a hundred, perhaps as many as three hundred, could be crammed into these foul, crowded tents. “More than I expected,” she muttered to herself. She looked to the scout who had signaled for her. “What is the situation?”
“There were sentries, my lady,” he replied. “Ten.”
“Do any survive to answer questions?” she asked.
The young man cast his eyes downward. “No, gunso,” he replied. “I apologize. I take full responsibility. They simply would not give quarter, and…”
Mitoshi lifted a hand. “This is war, brother. These gaijin are responsible for the deaths of many innocent Rokugani. If you expect condemnation for killing them, you shall remain disappointed. If it makes you feel better, I will place you on atonement detail when we return home.” She glanced around. “What information has been recovered? Anything of significance?”
The scout nodded. “One of the men carried what appeared to be orders. Gaito is looking over them.”
“Excellent.” Gaito was the most scholarly of her men, and one who had studied various gaijin languages alongside the Unicorn and Mantis. As he approached, however, Mitoshi’s mood was somewhat quashed at the pale look on Gaito’s face. “What is it?” she asked. “What have you found?”
Mirumoto Gaito held out a scroll. “I… have translated a portion of the orders, gunso. This is the way we would read the name of the man leading these gaijin.”
Mitoshi took the scroll and read. She felt the color drain from her face just as it had drained from Gaito’s. “I know this name,” she said quietly. “Legulus.”
* * * * *
Asako Heiwa was among the most aged and venerable of all Phoenix, much less those Phoenix stationed within the Colonies, but as near as Asako Rinshi could tell, his age had brought him neither to infirmity to senility. His hands did not shake as he scoured the scrolls she had recovered from the abandoned and ruined Fudoist temple, and his eyes were as bright as those of a student, hungrily devouring every detail they offered. Finally, after more than an hour of careful examination, he set them aside. “Who else knows that you discovered this?” he asked calmly.
“No one,” Rinshi answered at once. “It is possible that the Crab who accompanied me suspects that I may have taken something from the temple, but he has no inkling what or why, and he will be distracted with his own discoveries, I think.”
“Ah, yes, the crystal scroll,” Heiwa said. How he knew of it, Rinshi had no idea. “That is something that will warrant out attention eventually, I am sure, but for now, the Fudoists are the more significant of the two. It is good that you permitted no one else to know of this. This is not knowledge that the average samurai should possess.”
Rinshi had not read the scrolls herself, and only knew the most rudimentary elements of their contents. “Are there steps that need to be taken to ensure they remain known only to the Phoenix?”
“Not presently,” Heiwa said. “At least not yet. When we have more time and can delve more deeply into the secrets these scrolls possess, there may be steps that are required. I trust I can depend upon you, should that occasion arise?”
“Of course, sensei,” Rinshi said at once, bowing deeply. “I am yours to command in all things.”
“Your service is outstanding,” Heiwa observed. “I am greatly pleased.”
She felt her cheeks flush. “Thank you, my lord.” She paused for a moment. “Have you considered whether or not we should inform the Master of Water?”
“We will not,” Heiwa replied at once. “It would be a foolish move on our part.”
Rinshi tried not to allow her surprise to show. “Are… are you certain, master? He is the highest ranking member of the clan within the Colonies, as well as a member of our own family.”
“He is both those things,” Heiwa agreed. “He is also a Henshin, as I am. The most important distinction, however, is that he is not an inquisitor, as we both are. Once I was Henshin and not an inquisitor, many years ago, and I understand the dramatic difference in thinking that distinction entails. Chukage-sama is not ready to hear the truths we bear, and he is not prepared to undertake the actions we must. He will not be informed.”
Rinshi bowed again. “As you wish, sensei.”
* * * * *
Akodo Tsudoken, the head of the Second City Guardsmen, adjusted his weapons where they rested in his obi. The Governor’s court was in session only a short distance away, and such things always made him feel slightly uncomfortable. It had been different in previous years, when there had been another Governor. Before he had failed. Now he executed his duties with a mechanical precision that bordered on the obsessive, but he felt empty inside. His duty was all that remained. That, and the increasingly frequent bouts of rage that he seemed cursed to ensure.
“Commander, we have outriders incoming.”
Tsudoken frowned at the news. He had long ago instituted a policy of maintaining men on the outermost perimeter of the city’s perception. In the event that something unusual took place, he could gain essential forewarning. He hoped that this was not one of those times. A cold feeling in his stomach cautioned him that it could be. “Bring them at once,” he ordered.
It was only moments before the men were brought before him, panting with the exertion of a long ride. “Report!” he barked at them.
“The Legion,” one of them said simply. “They will be here. Very soon.”
Tsudoken closed his eyes for just a moment. He had known this would come.
“What do we do, commander?” one of the men asked.
“We follow the orders of our Governor,” Tsudoken said flatly. “Seal off the Military District immediately. Withdraw all forces and lock down the wall.”
“Commander, this is not the way to achieve a diplomatic solution,” Shinjo Sanenari objected. “Please, reconsider.”
“Your objection has been noted,” Shinjo Kinto said. “Repeatedly, I might add.” He turned to the other man who stood with them. “What will their reaction to our approach be?”
“The city was built within a wall designed to withstand a siege,” Hida Kurabi said. “The Military and Imperial districts are within it. They will likely seal every entrance and prepare for a siege.” He shrugged. “That is what a Crab would do, at least. I cannot swear that the Second City Guardsmen will react similarly. The wall should be little challenge to destroy, however. They built it originally to repel cultists and beasts, not a concerted military effort.”
“No,” Kinto said wistfully. “The Emerald Champion did not give specific orders to seize the city. I can and will claim it under the auspices of restoring order, but destroying portions of it is not within my authority at present.”
“What is your ultimate goal here, commander?” Sanenari demanded.
Kinto did not smile. “I will see the Imperial Governor in chains.” He glanced at Sanenari. “I will of course send formal word of my intention with you to be relayed to the Governor. As far as I am concerned, you have freedom to pass between the sides undisturbed.”
Sanenari shook his head. “Thank you, commander.”
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