Legend of the Five Rings Oracle of the Void

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A Line in the Sand, Part 2

By Shawn Carman | September 30, 2014

Yasuki Hora opened his eyes and sighed. It was just past daybreak in the Second City, and already the temperature was soaring. He wiped the sweat from his brow and dreaded the preparations he needed to make over the next two hours that would get him ready for the Colonial Court. Most days he was exhausted by the time court actually began, and that was invariably before the mid-day meal. He had come to the conclusion, one supported by months of hard won experience, that the Colonial Court should not meet until what laughably passed for autumn in this strange land. Things then were at least bearable instead of nightmarish.

Hora stood and began removing his sweat-soaked night clothing. At least the spring water would not yet be too hot for his morning bath. It was the only time of day that he actually felt cool and comfortable, and he hoped to at least savor it for a short time before the inevitable misery took hold for the remainder of the day.

* * * * *

Despite that the summer was nearing its end, it had come on with a vengeance. The temperature was higher than anything Hora could easily remember. His entire body was drenched in sweat beneath this clothing, although his under-robes prevented it from showing on his outer garments. He felt weak from the heat, found himself swaying periodically and struggled to control it. Others had excused themselves from court for the day, but he would not be among them. That was the path for those who were not Crab.

Somewhere across the chamber, voices were growing louder. The din of polite conversation could be surprisingly loud at times, but even so, this was clearly something else. The tone of the voices was marked by anger, something that rarely surfaced in a court of this station. Blinking repeatedly to try and clear his vision from the sweat and heat waves, Hora attempted to see across the rapidly quieting attendants to see what the situation might be.

The two men embroiled in the increasingly heated debate appeared to be a Lion and a Scorpion, which was not altogether unexpected given the situation that was taking place half a world away, within the boundaries of the Emerald Empire. Hora was not particularly surprised to see the Lion’s face a mask of sweat-slicked rage, but he was rather surprised to see the naked emotion on the face of his Bayushi opponent. The heat, it seemed, could erode even the otherwise unassailable calm of the Scorpion.

“You are free to espouse whatever foolishness you wish,” the Scorpion was saying, clearly pushed past the breaking point. “It does not invalidate the simple fact that no heir has been formally declared. Until such time that the Divine Empress does so, your disparagement toward Iweko Shibatsu is as dishonorable as your empty, pointless bravado.”

The Lion’s face was a rictus of sheer outrage. “Iweko Seiken is the elder heir! Tradition demands that he ascend! Even if he were not the eldest, the shameful association between Shibatsu and the Spider Clan should be sufficient to convince samurai of even the most questionable nature that he is unfit to rule.” His sneer was beyond contemptuous. “But of course, the Scorpion are beneath even those of the most unquestionable nature.”

“Better than living as a hidebound buffoon who would follow Daigotsu himself if tradition dictated it.”

The shock on the Lion’s face was completely genuine, and in a flash he reached for his blade. The steel was free from its saya in a moment, and the gasps of the courtiers around him were almost deafening. In the span of a heartbeat, the Scorpion was on the ground clutching his chest, bright red staining the front of his kimono. And then his yojimbo was there, steel against steel as he met the Lion’s blade. The two dueled, and only seconds later, others joined them, some for similar ideology, others because of the jostling and collisions that ensued as a result of the conflict as it spread throughout the chambers like a plague.

“What is this?” a booming voice demanded, and Togashi Noboru was among the courtiers in an instant. The monk shrugged free of his outer robes, reveling the ink-emblazoned skin of his arms. His tattoos did not indicate that he was employing his formidable mystic power, instead depending solely upon his martial prowess as he waded into the conflict. “Who dares defile this place with violence?”

The combatants, hopelessly entangled with one another, nevertheless parted, leaving a single Lion who now stood over three wounded or dead Scorpion. “Sacrilege!” Noboru roared. He stepped forward, drawing his blade in one smooth motion and taking the Lion’s head from his shoulders.

“Drop your weapons at once!” Noboru shouted. “Or die where you stand!”

* * * * *

Bayushi Atsuto entered the Scorpion embassy within the Imperial City, placing his weapon aside at the door as he entered. In theory, he was but a yojimbo, one of many who served the Scorpion delegation to the Imperial Court. The reality, of course, was far different; he was a trained observer and courtier whose unnoticed position allowed him unique insights into the enemies of his clan, and behind the scenes, far from the prying eyes of others, he often coordinated more of the clan’s activities in court than anyone would ever guess. Some among his peers in the delegation seemed piteous of his position, but he relished it. He had no need of glory. He needed only victory, and in that he was quite successful.

Soshi Kitaiko was waiting to speak to him, as he expected. Her fox mask concealed what he was sure would be a rather anxious expression. “What happened?” she asked, forgetting decorum in the moment. He supposed it was forgivable, given the severity of the situation.

“I would not leave the embassy for some time, if I were you,” Atsuto said. “I think the Lion would react poorly to your presence, regardless of whether or not we find ourselves within the Emperor’s city.”

All the air seemed to rush out of the small courtier at once. “The Otomo granted the Lion leave to pursue satisfaction, then.”

“As expected,” Atsuto confirmed. “Nitoshi-sama anticipated this, of course. We are prepared to take the next step. “The Lion will regret their decision.” He paused for a moment. “Or they would, I suppose, if they were wise enough to have any notion of the world as it exists outside of their ridiculously narrow viewpoint.”

Kitaiko nodded. “I presume that the Champion has a contingency in place. He always does.”

Atsuto’s only response was a bemused grunt.

“How do we send him a signal?” she asked.

“There is no signal,” Atsuto replied. “I was supposed to send a signal if this didn’t happen.”

* * * * *

Peasants, merchants, and everyone else that normally filled the streets of the Second City scattered in every direction as the Dragon detachment moved purposefully across the Imperial District. The detachment included a dozen Mirumoto samurai in full arms and armor, but half again that number were the tattooed monks of the Togashi order, and at the head of their ranks was Togashi Noboru, head of the entirety of the Togashi. His expression was like the dark clouds before a storm, and no one who saw him dared linger in his path.

Wordlessly, the detachment stormed to the Lion embassy in the Second City, where they waited outside expectantly, no one ever speaking. Only a moment or two later, an unfamiliar man bearing the Ikoma mon appeared at the doorway, flanked by two armored Matsu yojimbo. “Good day, Togashi-sama,” the man said pleasantly. “You will forgive me, but no one has scheduled an appointment to speak with you today.”

“I am in no mood for pleasantries,” Noboru barked. “The actions that took place today within the Colonial Court were completely unacceptable.”

The Ikoma levied his steel-eyed gaze at the Togashi lord without flinching. “In that, we agree completely.”

“You will remand all members of the Lion Clan’s delegation to the Colonial Court into our custody until such time as any who participated in the instigation of what happened can be identified and held accountable for their actions.”

“I see,” the Ikoma answered plainly. “And will you, Noboru-sama, be remanding yourself into the Lion’s custody to answer for the life you took in the presence of the Imperial Governor?”

Noboru sneered. “Do not be ridiculous.”

“You are right,” the Ikoma said. “I will leave the ridiculousness to you, then. None of the Lion delegation will be relegated to your custody. You have no authority for such a thing, beyond that which you assumed yourself. It goes without saying that the Lion do not recognize your presumption as anything that approaches genuine authority.”

Noboru’s eyes narrowed. “The Dragon have long held a position of authority in this city. We are the stewards of the Spider by order of the Empress, and as such we have held position here long before the Lion. You will recognize our authority.”

“We will not,” the Ikoma countered. “Nor do we recognize the claim by your pet Spider that Iweko Shibatsu should ascend to the throne. It is counter to tradition. It is unthinkable, and we will not hear it. Iweko Seiken will sit upon the throne, as it should be, and any talk to the contrary is utter nonsense.”

Noboru’s hands twisted into fists. “You dare speak to me in such an insolent manner,” he said in a low, throaty voice. He noticed a handful of Crab samurai on an adjacent street that were paying particularly close attention to the conversation. The Crab were almost invariably supporters of Iweko Seiken, and he imagined that, should matters turn to violence, their choice would be quick and simple.

As if on cue, one of the Crab shouted “Iweko Seiken is the rightful heir!”

“Do not disrespect Iweko Shibatsu!” one of the Mirumoto countered.

There was the sound of steel being drawn, and then the streets were filled with chaos.

* * * * *

The young Lion priest walked through the corridor, his thoughts elsewhere. The lesson the abbot had given this morning had been remarkable, and had given him insights he had never considered before. Kitsu Watanabe considered himself a man of thought and consideration, and he loved revelation more than almost anything. It was as if entirely new avenues of thought had been opened up, philosophies he had never considered… he could scarcely wait to spend the evening chronicling his thoughts.

  A flicker of motion caught Watanabe’s eye. He glanced to the side, surprised that anything in this place, this sacred tomb that was so familiar to him, would ever seem out of place. He cast his senses forward, speaking to the kami all around him. “What secrets hide themselves here?” he asked.

  Infiltrators, whispered the wind. Spies, whispered the stone walls.

  Watanabe stopped for a moment as shock and disbelief washed over him. “No,” he muttered. “The Scorpion… they would not dare.” But of course the kami did not lie. They were here, in one form or another, and that could only mean one thing.

  Watanabe went to the balcony to look across the plains to the south. The Kitsu Tombs stood alone, the village that surrounded them having been destroyed many years ago and never rebuilt. The plains were therefore empty… or were they? The priest reached out with his hand and focused all his energy on stirring the air kami before him. Just when he thought he must be wrong, when his effort was all but expended, there was a shimmer.

  “An illusion!” he gasped. “The Soshi!” The Scorpion were known for such tricks, but to dare attack the Tombs? To move a force against the Lion? How would they even have gotten across the mountains? But that was the manner of wretched lives that the Scorpion lived, to accomplish such things in defiance of all honor and reason.

  “No,” Watanabe said. “No!”

  The foundation of the Tombs began to shake as the water from far beneath the surface of the earth was drawn upward, forming a massive tsunami held in check only by Watanabe’s will. The air shimmered once again as the Soshi dropped their illusion, and the sky was suddenly darkened with Scorpion arrows.

  “No!” shouted Watanabe, and unleashed the tsunami.

* * * * *

  Iweko Shibatsu, second son of the Divine Empress, maintained his personal chambers in a modest Spider estate that was approximately an hour’s ride from the Second City. He found that it was close enough to the city for him to conduct the business required of him, yet far enough away to deter those who wished to see him for matters that were anything less than essential. He should have been surprised, he supposed, by the magnitude by which this reduced those seeking audience with him, but of course he was not.

  “Shibatsu-sama,” a familiar voice said. Shibatsu looked up with a smile at an old friend.

  “Kanpeki-san,” he said. “I did not expect you. It is always a pleasure.” The pleasantries died on his lips, however, as he could see the severity of Kanpeki’s features, the tension in his stance. “What has happened?”

  “Grave news from the Second City, my lord,” Kanpeki said without preamble. “The debate in the Colonial Court has continued unabated. Those who believe you should be the next Emperor and those who believe it should be your brother have found no middle ground.”

  “That in and of itself would be insufficient for your demeanor,” Shibatsu said.

  “The debate in court today was… vigorous. The matter became violent, I am afraid. The heat of the season, coupled with the intensity of the discussion…”

  “Were people hurt?” Shibatsu asked quietly.

  “Several, yes, my lord.” Kanpeki seemed strangely restrained. It was out of character for him. “A few have died.”

  Shibatsu placed a hand over his forehead and closed his eyes. This was disastrous.

  “There is more, I am afraid.” Kanpeki’s tone was severe indeed. “The Dragon attempted to arrest several parties involved in the initial melee, but there was resistance. There was very nearly a riot in the streets. Fortunately, the ise zumi and my own monk attendants were able to stifle the matter before it grew any worse, but I am afraid the lines between your supporters and those of your brother has widened suddenly and quite dramatically.” He shook his head slowly. “I am not certain if damage of this magnitude can be repaired, if I am to be honest.”

  Shibatsu removed his hand from his face and met Kanpeki’s eyes. “Where is my brother?”

  “The northern provinces, near Journey’s End City.”

  Shibatsu nodded and took a deep breath. “I must see my brother at once. Make preparations for the journey, please.”

  Kanpeki bowed sharply. “Of course, my lord.”

* * * * *

  Bayushi Nitoshi sipped his tea and enjoyed the view of the sunset. The summer was slipping away to autumn, and the more comfortable evening air suited him. He had ordered his favorite autumn blend be stocked, and this was one of the first evenings he had chosen to enjoy it over the summer blend he favored during warmer months.

  Two scrolls sat on the table next to his mother’s tea set, which was one of the few items in the world that he truly treasured. The scrolls remained unopened. Nitoshi found no need to open them. He already knew what they contained. The one on the left was from the Otomo, unquestionably censuring the Scorpion for their action against the Lion Clan, despite that said action took place hours after the Otomo had granted leave for the conflict between the two to be played out on the battlefield.

  The second was from the Matsu daimyo. Nitoshi could practically smell the hatred and threat dripping from it. The Lion would attack, and soon, but now their attack would be governed by emotion instead of logic, reaction instead of tactics. It would make them easier, though not easy, to deal with.

  Nitoshi smiled. It would be a most interesting opportunity. He had not been this excited since the opportunity to take the Phoenix Champion’s eyes, some years ago. Perhaps this would be even more enjoyable.

About the author: Shawn Carman
Bio: Shawn Carman is the Story Team Lead for Legend of the Five Rings.