by Oni no Jingasa
-The Spider and Dragon now leaned on one another more and more. But neither side forgot the circumstance that had brought them together…-
Daigotsu Takayasu did not appreciate his escort. He did not care for the need for such ‘protection’ while he was in the Second City.
They had met at Shadow Point nearly six months ago. He had only accepted his charge after lord Kanpeki demanded it to be so. ‘Go forth with our friends in the Dragon and show the empire that we are just as civilized as they are. Let them seethe at the thought of honorable Spiders walking in their midst.’
Takayasu was honorable. Honorable in his dedication to his kami, to the code of shourido, and to his lord. He had no time for any other kind of honor.
His legion had been culled until it followed suit. He led them through hells that the rest of Rokugan would never see. Those that remained were unquestionably loyal to him and skilled beyond any other Spider legion in the colonies.
They now sat outside of the city – wasting valuable time and resources while he was forced to visit the harpy sitting on her little throne. His mission was to ask permission to continue on toward Twin Forks with his men…what a pain.
His yojimbo practically danced at his side while she absorbed the sights and sounds of the exotic city. She had missed seeing the resplendent place on her trip through the province to meet the Spider- but now she was truly enjoying the scenery and people they passed by.
She could tell that Takayasu was not.
‘Taka-sama, why the grim mood?’ She rolled on her heels as she spoke, unable to hold any form of face in her excitement.
‘I am always this way.’
‘Not true! When we bested the bandits on the road from Seven Rainbows you were quite animated…I even caught a rare smile on your face when you cut their leader down!’
She winked…what kind of samurai makes such childish displays anyhow?!? This charge of his was going to be the end of him!
‘I have been here before! We were bleeding for this hovel before the rest of the empire even knew it existed. It does not contain the same ‘excitement’ for me that it apparently does for you.’
‘That’s right! You were Rikuganshokan to the Spider forces for a time here! That must have been exciting!’
‘No, it was not.’
‘Fighting side by side with the Crab and the Unicorn- that must have been quite a rich source of tale and legend!’
Behind his mask he rolled his eyes, a regular occurrence. If only he could find a way to kill her without his lord gaining suspicion.
‘Can you act like a proper samurai, or will I have to report you to your lord?’
She quieted for a moment in mischievous reflection…
…The moment passed, Takayasu wished it had lasted longer.
‘We have arrived at court Taka-sama! It must be exciting to see Lady Suikihime again after all of these years.’
‘She came after my time here. Now be quiet Tsukino!’
The two of them entered the open air court of the Lady Suikihime. The herald announced their presence and allowed them to enter.
Court in the colonies was generally an informal affair. The majority of courtly matters were handled in the large shaded area around the palace. The main court was held inside the palace itself in the cool and gently shadowed Silk Chamber.
In order to enter the Silk Chamber one had to jockey for an audience based on their status and the nature of their desire to see the court’s host. For this to happen a letter of courtly interest had to be handed to the lady’s aide.
Today the aide was supposedly a man by the name of Kitsuki Kira.
An hour of his yojimbo’s incessant babbling on the various other courtiers and scenery later Takayasu finally made it into the proximity of Kira.
Kira, watched over by a Mirumoto Higaru, bowed politely as Takayasu and his guard made their acquaintance.
Kira was the first to open the conversation after their introductions, ‘Daigotsu-sama it is a pleasure to see you. I see that you have chosen to bring your yojimbo to court today, you honor our clans with your continued compliance with the empress’ commands.’
‘The Spider are no fools Kitsuki-san. We know a threat from higher authority when it is made apparent to us. We will continue to be who the empress needs us to be.’
‘I would expect nothing less from you. What brings you to court today?’
‘I am requesting permission to move my legion through the province from the Lady Suikihime. I am sure that a fast admission to the Silk Chamber would be advisable to avoid panic in the local population.’
Kira bowed again, ‘I would think that your movement may be a bit hasty general. There are uses for the Spider in the province at this time. The locals have been warned for a week now that you were coming- they have had time to steel their resolve.’
‘No one is prepared for a lasting stay near the Spider Kira-san. No one wants the corruption we represent nearby.’
‘On the contrary, I personally seek your aid in a matter of import that may be closely related to your interests. Would you have the time to hear our plea for assistance?’
‘Would it speed my audience with the lady today?’
‘It would. We Dragon are no fools and know when to offer more than threats when in an exchange with the Spider.’
‘Make your request. If I deem it worthy of my time then I may grant it.’
Evening had turned the city into a nebulae of lights suspended in shadow. It was hours past the successful request to move the Spider troops through. The venue was an evening retreat for the venerable Doji Kurata.
At the gate was a contingent of Crab, led by a man seeking vengeance.
‘Open your gates Kurata! You will pay in blood for killing my wife! I have permission from Lord Renyu himself for my challenge! You will meet your ancestors before dawn!’
A scared servant darted across the courtyard to the gate. The instant she unlatched it she was sent sprawling across the ground as the Crab powered through.
The group of them marched quickly toward the open doors of the estate. When they came to the opening they stopped to observe those who awaited them.
Doji Kurata stood at the far end of his entrance flanked by Takayasu and Tsukino on one side. On the other stood Kira and Higaru.
The group bowed as the crab entered. No one noted that the Crab marched across Kurata’s wooden floors still wearing their footwear.
At the last moment Mirumoto Kira slid between the Crab and Kurata.
‘Please remove yourself from my path of vengeance. I have no quarrel with you, and have legal issue with Doji Kurata.’
Kira smiled pleasantly, ‘Kuni-sama, please accept that I have chosen to oversee your challenge against Doji Kurata. I have permission from the highest authority to do so and the will to see the law upheld.’
The Crab paused in thought.
‘I Kuni Fujasu, accept the arbitration of Kitsuki Kira over my challenge against Doji Kurata.’
I moments Kira re-arranged the room and ordered the various samurai to their proper positions. Ceremony may be lax in the colonies, but would be observed on his watch!
Once the two involved in the challenge were properly arranged, and the audience was set to one side Kira presided over the affair from his position on an ah-hic stage, ‘Kuni Fujasu what complaint strains your honor to the point at which a duel is required to satisfy it?’
‘I have been given permission by my lord Kuni Renyu to cleanse the stain on my personal and family honor that has spawned from the actions of Doji Kurata. The man killed my wife during a medical procedure that carries its origins from within the Spider clan- thus making it questionable! Moreover when my wife’s body was inspected for her cremation she was found to harbor traces of the shadowlands taint!’
Kira waved his fan toward Doji Kurata, ‘What say you to this claim Doji?’
‘I have been in the service of the colonies since the birth of Second City. I have a character witness account provided by the General Daigotsu Takayasu who commanded the fearless army of the Spider during those harrowing days. It was from his personal surgeon that I learned the technique that I used on your wife. A technique that has saved many lives in the colonies since my mastery of it. I claim that your wife was tainted in the line of duty for her clan and kept it secret. Due to her weakened state and amount of infection she did not have the strength to survive the procedure.’
Kira pondered for a moment before continuing, realizing that he had not been made aware of a key fact in this situation…’What was the nature of the procedure Kuni Fujasu?’
The Crab was barely containing a volcano of rage, held in check only by his imminent satisfaction in revenge, ‘Childbirth.’
The court was silent for a terrible moment.
‘Did the child survive Doji Kurata?’
‘It did not.’
Kira was genuinely disturbed by the news…This matter did require that honor be satisfied, but it was obvious that more was going on beyond the actions the lead these two samurai to this event.
The duel would continue, ‘Both samurai have stated their positions. If Kuni Fujasu wins, then it is noted that Doji Kurata did in-fact commit an act of malpractice and will be investigated for his association with the shadowlands. If Doji Kurata wins then this court will hold Kuni Fujasu and his peers in suspicion as they may still be harbouring the taint amongst their number. Do both of you wish to proceed knowing that these are the possible verdicts of this arbiter?’
They both bowed.
‘Kuni Fujasu do you have a champion?’
‘I need no champion to enact revenge on this day!’
‘Doji Kurata do you have a champion?’
‘I do. I defer to my old associate whose honor is also in question due to these events to choose a champion for my cause.’
Kurata bowed deeply to Takayasu.
Takayasu stood, ‘My yojimbo will suffice for this task. She is young and brash- making her a match for the passion bleeding from the individuals entangled in this challenge.’
Kira approved and announced Mirumoto Tsukino as she replaced Kurata.
Both duelists were allowed to write their death poems and place them on the stage on either side of Kira.
‘This duel is to the death, a rare choice, but one made and accepted by samurai of higher station than myself.’
Kira signaled the ready stance with his fan, the samurai took their positions and bowed.
Kuni Fujasu whispered as he took his stance toward Tsukino, ‘I have no quarrel with you, but will cut you to pieces to get what my honor demands.’
Kira lowered his fan- the duel began…with silence.
A moment of assessment went by.
Fujasu was allowed a dotanuki as his primary weapon due to his position in the Crab. It was a deadly weapon, if uncivilized- but his katana was at home, away from any tainted blood he would surely endure on his missions.
She carried a tightly bundled daisho with black handles, her outfit was concealing and bound to be an issue for her vision should Fujasu put her on the defensive…
Fujasu exploded toward his opponent while she was still holding her position with her arms contained in her abundant sleeves.
In an instant he was on her. She had failed to properly draw her sword and was forced to resort to a nimble display to dodge his deadly strikes.
After an array of attacks Fujasu realized that she was still smiling. He began to seek her motive as he pressed his attack. Why would she not draw her weapons?!?
A moment passed before he realized that he had been a fool to be so aggressive.
He stopped and coughed a moment. He had found her secret! It was too late, his rage had blinded him, but he finally realized her damned secret…
She bowed politely and drew her second of three blades. While not considered entirely honorable, it was not out of the question for a samurai to carry three blades. The niten technique used both members of a daisho to achieve victory, but she had acquired a second katana during her tenure with the Spider, one that fit neatly between her other two.
Most people never saw her draw it and hide it in her abundant sleeves until it was too late. This was the case tonight.
She quickly removed Fujasu’s head with a cheerful spin, much like a fanciful stage performer would have done before their audience.
Fujasu was dead before he hit the floor. It was as painless as she could make it.
Tsukino bowed to her fallen opponent.
Kira stood and raised his fan…’This arbiter will take responsibility for the outcome. The duel stands!’
The Crab allowed themselves to be taken into custody without incident.
Eta had just removed the body of Kuni Fujasu moments before
Kira gathered the Spider and the Crane to him, ‘What technique could be an alternative to standard childbirth Doji-san?’
Kurata bowed as he replied, ‘The child had turned before he was due, and thus I was forced to excise him from her belly. It is a procedure that has been used many times by myself as well as the Spider, who have suffered from this problem more frequently than most.’
Kira gripped his chin before asking his next question, ‘Was the child tainted?’
Kurata bowed deeply in response.
‘Takayasu-sama, your choice of yojimbo is excellent…if with questionable technique.’
‘She is as enigmatic as the clan that assigned her to protect my interests.’
Kira bowed to them as he made his leave, ‘I thank you for attending this matter for me Takayasu-sama. I am sure that you would not want your only known act of kindness for the Crane be lost to passions of a single samurai.’
Kurata bowed deeply to Takayasu as well as Tsukino. ‘Thank you both for considering an old ally from the early colonization. I am in your debt.’
Takayasu simply left.
Tsukino smiled at Kurata as he came to sudden grips with the idea that his old acquaintance had left in such a rude manner…‘He would say that you owe him nothing. He would also say that you were worth coming to the aid of… In lieu of his self-inflicted silence I wish to provide his meaning with the words that he cannot himself convey.’
She bowed, before bouncing away to rejoin her assigned charge.
Doji Kurata was left in a baffled and relieved state in his home.