Secrets abound in Rokugan. Everyone has something they’d rather their neighbor never discover. The Wind played by the winner of this tournament (assisted by the clan they are playing) will uncover some potentially dangerous information about the champion of the clan played by the second place winner… ”
“Speak swiftly,” Tsudao said to the messenger in a clipped tone. “I have much to do this day.”
“Of course, my lady,” replied Haru, emissary of the Ox Clan. “I have been sent by my lord Morito with an offer of aid.”
Tsudao arched one eyebrow as she paced her command tent. “Aid?” she asked, looking at the gangly little courier. “I command the Imperial Legions. All the samurai of Rokugan are at my disposal. I already have the troops I need. Had I any desire for Ox cavalry, Lord Morito would already know.”
“The Ox offers more than mere cavalry,” Haru replied with a thin smile. “We offer information.”
Tsudao peered at Haru carefully. “Information?” she asked.
Haru nodded quickly. “We offer you our eyes so that justice may be done,” he said with another deep bow. “The Ox are a young clan, but our heritage is strong. Our steeds are bred from the swiftest Shinjo mounts. Our diplomats have been trained in the cunning ways of the Ide. A generation living between the Dragon and Phoenix have opened our eyes to the subtleties of the world. We see much that others my miss, Lady of the Sun.”
“And you wish to help me?” Tsudao asked. “Why?”
“You seek justice,” he replied. “We wish to help you.”
“So that the Empire might be at peace?” Akodo Kaneka laughed. “I have no need for peace, little Ox. I am a warrior. War makes the Empire strong.” The eldest son of Toturi turned away from Haru, glaring at the lines of paired off students sparring with one another in the Akodo dojo. Kaneka scowled as he tapped his bokken impatiently against his shoulder, as if trying to select which clumsy youngster was most in need of a thrashing.
“Perhaps you are correct,” Haru said, “but the heir who can unite the Empire would gain much favor in the courts.”
“You are not offering unity,” Kaneka said. “Correct me if I am mistaken, but it seems to me as if you are offering blackmail. You will give me what I need to turn one clan against another, causing more chaos.”
“Chaos is like fire,” Haru replied. “It can be destructive, or it can forge anew. Show the clans that they cannot defy you and they will realize that their feuds with one other are ultimately unimportant,” Haru answered. “However, if war is what you desire the information that I offer could incite war in abundance.”
Kaneka scoffed. “A samurai does not brew conflict in the shadows. You suggest that I bend words to my advantage. You would have me slay the truth and loot the Steel Throne from its corpse.”
“I suggest nothing of the sort,” Haru replied, a mild note of offense in his voice. “There are no lies here. I suggest only that you put to good use the information that has already been discovered.”
“And what information is that?” Kaneka asked, glaring at the young Ox.
“A dark secret,” Hantei Naseru whispered. “A dark secret involving the daimyo of a Great Clan, and his family.” The Anvil steepled his fingers as he gazed at Golden Sun Bay. The sun sparkled on the waters east of Otosan Uchi, a brilliant mosaic of refracted light that surpassed any of the works of the great artisans decorating the Imperial Palace. “And what makes you think that I do not already know that which you offer to reveal?” he asked.
“If you find my information lacking, then you may take my life if you wish,” Haru answered.”
“You believe your life is not already mine to take… ninja?” Naseru asked.
A brief flicker of surprise crossed the young courier’s features. Haru opened his mouth nervously.
“Save your words, Haru,” Naseru said with a dismissive wave. “Your profession means nothing to me, unless of course you have been sent to assassinate me. In such a case, I would refer you to Isei.”
Naseru’s yojimbo glanced down at the courier. His eyes were even colder than his master’s.
“Four heirs,” Naseru whispered to himself, now ignoring Haru. “One throne. For months this struggle has continued and still none of us have the decided advantage. Each of us has our allies, but none willing to defy the other clans to support us. This cannot continue. Something must change. The Clans must be taught that their own struggles mean nothing – an Emperor must be chosen.”
“You must be chosen,” said Haru.
Naseru’s eye met those of the courier. The Anvil’s gaze was stern, his frown severe. “My primary concern is not one of self-aggrandizement, but one of balance,” Naseru said. “If this wedge you offer is as strong as you imply, then we must be careful to insert it subtly; we need only seed doubt, not incite further war.”
“I am always careful, Hantei-sama,” Haru bowed deeply. “That is why I came to you.”
“And to none other?” Naseru asked.
“Of course you were the only one I thought to approach,” Haru said.
Toturi Sezaru looked at the man coldly. The Wolf was a center of calm in the midst of the busy tea house, flanked by the bushi, shugenja, and courtier who always served him. “You lie,” Sezaru said, as if the idea was more curious than insulting. “You have already approached each of my siblings with this offer.”
“As my daimyo commanded, Toturi-sama,” Haru answered. “Yet, in my heart you were the only one I deemed worthy to approach. Thus I saved our encounter for last.”
Sezaru cocked his head slightly, his strange depthless eyes seeming to dissect the Ox where he stood. “How did you find me here?” he asked. “I am on a quest to find the Oracles of Light. I could have been in any one of a thousand towns and villages in Rokugan.”
Haru nodded, lowering his gaze respectfully. “Like a large stone thrown in a still pond, your greatness sends ripples through the Empire, Toturi-sama,” Haru replied. “As I said, my clan has a singularly unique perspective of the Empire. We see more than most realize.”
Sezaru sighed. “You juggle truth and lies as if both were equally meaningless,” he said. “Why should I care what you have to offer?”
Haru smiled simply. “If you do not accept my offer,” he replied, “someone else most certainly will…”