By Shawn Carman and Rich Wulf
The Imperial Palace in Otosan Uchi, the year 436. . .
Hantei Yugozohime reclined wearily in her throne. The last courtier had at last been dismissed, and the day’s duties were finally at an end. The year that she had spent upon the throne of Rokugan had been an exhausting one, although she could not deny that the rewards were considerable. Those who had crushed her father and grandfather beneath their heels had been dealt with, and harshly. She knew that she should take comfort in her victory, but her years with the Lion had given her a lust for battle. Now that the battle was done, she was unsatisfied.
“You called for me, my Empress?” The timeless features of Otomo Hokusai, the newly appointed daimyo of the Otomo family, betrayed no emotion whatsoever. Although Yugozohime had only recently appointed him following his father’s exile, Hokusai had been one of the most powerful members of the Imperial Court even during the Gozoku reign. He was one of Yugozohime’s most valued advisors, and perhaps the only member of the Imperial families that she trusted without hesitation. Too many of her cousins had eagerly bowed down to the Gozoku’s reign, indulging in the generous gifts and blatant bribes the triad bestowed upon them for their cooperation.
“Shiba Gaijushiko,” she said. “He is the only remaining leader of the triad. Dare we trust him?”
“Absolutely not,” answered Hokusai instantly. “He will betray and deceive us at the earliest opportunity. He is, however, a tremendous coward. If he believes that your mercy is all that keeps him alive, then he will gladly betray all his comrades to retain it. Through intimidation, he will remain loyal.”
The Empress nodded, clasping her hands before her. “I agree. So at least we can rest assured that his organization is scattered and broken. They will not threaten us again.” She ran her fingers along the back of her katana, which always rested at the side of her throne. “But I must be assured that they will not rise again. I will not have my descendants threatened by such treasonous filth as these.”
“What would you have me do, Empress?” Hokusai asked eagerly. His earnestness was one of the things that endeared him so to Yugozohime. It was so unlike most courtiers. Very refreshing.
“You and yours will keep the clans balanced, strong enough to serve me but unable to challenge my rule. They must never again ally against the throne. The Son of Heaven is the supreme and only power this nation shall ever know, and you will see to it.” She leaned forward. “Are there others among the Otomo you can trust to help you do this?”
“Not yet,” Hokusai said honestly, “but I will make them see the truth. We will serve you, Your Highness, and serve you well.”
“Then you will do this thing for me?”
He did not hesitate, not even for a moment. “Yes.”
“How will you do it?”
“I do not yet know, my Empress,” he replied. “But I will soon.”
* * * * *
Kyuden Seppun, the year 1160
As a child, Doji Tanitsu had been a friend to all of Emperor Toturi’s children. Their adult lives had taken them in radically different directions, of course, but the basic relationship they had fostered remained the same. Naseru and Tanitsu had enjoyed games of go and sadane, with each striving to prove himself more cunning than the other. They had grown somewhat more distant since; the years Naseru had spent under Hantei XVI’s tutelage had changed him. Even still, they were close, as close as any could be to the Anvil. Sezaru had been more difficult. Sezaru was solitary and brooding by nature. Even yet, Tanitsu had made a special effort to include Sezaru in childhood games as they were growing up, and unlike the other children had never judged Sezaru because he was different. Tsudao was a different story; she was a sociable person and had many friends. Tanitsu, however, had become particularly close to her as, unlike her other friends, he had no ulterior motives. Other children befriended Tsudao to please her father or curry the heir’s favor. Tanitsu’s parents were both minor functionaries in Toturi’s household who saw no honor in using their child as a political tool. Thus, he befriended Tsudao by pure chance. Once, for a short time in their teenage years, they had been even more than friends. Unwilling to bring dishonor to the Imperial House, Tanitsu had ended the relationship and left Otosan Uchi. For a while, Tanitsu lived in Lion lands. Seeking to put as much distance between himself and Toturi as possible, Tanitsu sought out Akodo Kaneka, Toturi’s self-proclaimed illegitimate son. Ironically, Tanitsu’s reputation for reckless and impulsive behavior among his clan led Kaneka to tolerate him, as the Bastard typically had little use for Crane or courtiers. Tanitsu offered to write a chronicle of the ronin’s life, a chronicle which to this day was kept in a place of honor in Shiro Akodo.
Eventually, Tanitsu returned to Otosan Uchi. It was easy for him to tell himself that he no longer loved Toturi Tsudao, so long as he kept busy. He even begin to court Kakita Nanami, a beautiful Crane diplomat he had met during his travels. With Otosan Uchi’s destruction, Tsudao had relocated to Kyuden Seppun and proclaimed herself Empress. Tanitsu had arranged his current assignment to Kyuden Seppun merely because he knew Tsudao the best, not because of any lingering attraction for her. His personal feelings for her played no part in it.
“Keep telling yourself that, Tanitsu-san,” he whispered to himself as he strode through the halls of Kyuden Seppun. “Maybe soon you will believe it. . . ”
In his hand, Tanitsu clutched a scroll wrapped in silken ribbon. Otomo Hoketuhime, daimyo of the Otomo family, had issued invitations to all prominent samurai present at Kyuden Seppun, and many in the lands beyond, informing them that the Otomo would be hosting a session of the Imperial Court. The wording – “Imperial Court” rather than “Empress’ Court” was a telling one. Tsudao had declared himself Empress, but it was well known that Hoketuhime supported her brother Naseru. The Otomo had gathered in the home of their cousins, the Seppun, after the destruction of their home in Otosan Uchi. Friction between the Otomo princess and the self-proclaimed Empress had been palpable in the last few weeks. Despite his lifetime of service in the Empire’s courts, there were times when even Tanitsu grew weary of the games played there.
Still, whatever this matter to be discussed was, it must be very important. Bayushi Kaukatsu, the Imperial Chancellor, had effectively relocated a large portion of the Imperial Court purely by choosing to move his personal headquarters to Ryoko Owari. Between the Chancellor and Hantei Naseru, who had also moved his base of power there, Ryoko Owari had grown dramatically in political significance. If Tsudao was not careful, she might find her brother usurping her claim on the throne purely by default as the courtiers gathered in the City of Lies. Even yet, Tanitsu had seen many important samurai in the halls of Kyuden Seppun today, including a handful of Scorpion and Unicorn, clans that traditionally did not offer a great deal of support to Tsudao. The Otomo must have something very important to offer if they were luring the Empire’s most influential individuals away from Ryoko Owari.
Having reached his destination, Tanitsu took a brief moment to smooth any wrinkles from his exquisitely crafted kimono. Then, he rounded the corner into the court chamber, his practiced smile already in place. Long ago, Tsudao had once fondly called it his “liar’s smile.” The memory brought a brief, genuine grin to his face.
“Tanitsu-san,” said an Otomo functionary, approaching with a curt nod. “So good to see you again. How are your parents? It has been far too long since I gazed on the beauty of Kyuden Doji.”
“My parents are well, thank you, Motoshi-san. And you know you will always be welcome in my family’s estate.” Tanitsu found Otomo Motoshi to be rather arrogant and boorish, but he was at least honest about it. For this reason alone, Tanitsu had cultivated a strange friendship with him over the years. Motoshi was well educated on a variety of subjects, and thus quite easy to engage in interesting conversation. Even yet, Tanitsu was exceedingly careful never to reveal anything of importance in his presence. “Do you know what all this is about, old friend?” Tanitsu asked. “I have been unable to find anyone who knows anything about Hoketuhime-sama’s reasons for this unexpected session.”
Motoshi quickly masked a pensive look with a disarming smile. “Ah, I’m afraid I cannot do that, old friend. We have to have a few secrets, don’t we? If not, how would the Otomo ever maintain their reputation as sinister masterminds? The Scorpion would laugh us out of the court!”
This time Tanitsu’s smile was slightly forced. Motoshi clearly had no idea what was going on and was covering it badly. A more sobering thought, however, was that whatever was going to happen must be very important indeed if even members of the Otomo delegation were being kept in the dark.
“We certainly cannot have your people’s reputation challenged, Motoshi,” Tanitsu said with a laugh. “If even the Otomo can be disgraced, then the Crane will certainly be next.”
A few moments more of polite conversation followed before Tanitsu was able to extricate himself and move throughout the chamber. The assemblage was a veritable who’s who of the most influential and powerful men and women of Rokugan’s courts. Some of the most powerful men Tanitsu had ever met were present. In one corner Bayushi Kaukatsu himself engaged Ikoma Sume in quiet conversation – a frightening sight. On the far side of the room Tanitsu spied one of his childhood heroes, Ide Tadaji, Toturi’s former Imperial Advisor. Finally, there were many of the younger generation of courtiers as well, including the lovely Yoritomo Yoyonagi, the Emerald Champion’s representative Bayushi Norachai, and a smarmy looking Crab fellow that Tanitsu did not recognize.
It was rare to see so many in one place, and Tanitsu could not recall the last time so many important personages had gathered in one place since the announcement of the Imperial Chancellor. Tanitsu spent time moving through the crowd, greeting many old friends and meeting new additions to the entourages of the Great Clans. It was an old routine, one that had long ago become nearly automatic. Tanitsu’s mind was racing the entire time in an attempt to anticipate what might await them all when the Otomo made their announcement.
After what seemed like hours, there was some commotion near the host’s entrance. Servants came through the chamber to tend to the needs of the Otomo’s guests while Otomo Hoketuhime moved to the center of the chamber, taking time to smile and speak to her many guests as she did so. As always, Tanitsu marveled at the woman’s beauty. Some called her the Winter Princess, for her eyes were a deep, azure blue that drew in anyone who dared look into them. They were Crane eyes, the result of countless generations of intermarriage between the Doji and the Imperial Families. Hoketuhime had destroyed many of her enemies with those eyes. They were both a work of art and a deadly weapon.
“Dear friends,” Hoketuhime said warmly, “I must thank you one and all for joining us here at such short notice and under such mysterious circumstances. I hope that you will understand once we reveal our purpose to you.” Here she turned to regard her guests once more, although this time with a saddened expression. “The Otomo family has lost its ancestral home with the destruction of Otosan Uchi. Many of you have expressed your sympathies over our loss, and for that I thank you again. What’s more, many of you have even offered our people a home within your lands. Our cousins, the Seppun, were gracious enough to grant us harbor in their home for a time, and though I thank them for their mercy we cannot impose upon them forever. We are the Otomo – the blood of Emperors flows in our veins. We must find our own way. We must find new lands.”
A faint whisper ran through the room as many among the courtiers began to realize exactly where Hoketuhime was leading with this. Tanitsu brushed the noise away, focusing on their hostess. “Many of you have privately offered us territory in your own provinces, a place where we might build our new palace and reestablish ourselves. While this is a good solution to our problem, I have temporarily demurred. It would not be suitable for us to accept the hospitality of any single clan without allowing all who would extend such an offer to be heard first, for the Otomo cannot show favoritism, even to our closest friends.” Here she opened her hands to include the entire room. “So I would ask each of you who have made this most generous offer to repeat it before one and all, so that the Otomo may choose their new home from their allies with no allegations of favoritism or of questionable methods.”
Tanitsu smiled inwardly. He wondered if anyone had truly made that offer; it was unlikely. Most clans feared the Otomo. Though they were useful allies, they were best handled with caution. However, to stand before the daimyo and the representatives of the other clans and keep silent would dishonor the Imperial Family. Hoketuhime had manufactured this meeting so that her family could gain new lands and make it seem as if they were granting a favor rather than receiving it. Truly a marvel. Tanitsu would be surprised if any of those present failed to step forward and offer their land to the Otomo.
Tanitsu had already done so.
* * * * *
Three days later, Tanitsu had begun to think that he would have been better off to have offended the Otomo and faced Kurohito’s wrath. The past few days had been utterly exhausting, with representatives from each clan jockeying for position in an attempt to curry favor. Everyone recognized the political benefits of having the Otomo in their home provinces, and whether or not a given clan was interesting in having such an advantage, they certainly did not want their enemies to possess it. So the debates had raged for hours. They were all very polite and courteous, of course, but to Tanitsu that insincerity only made it all the more exhausting.
“Are all young people as tense as you? I certainly hope not, or there won’t be any future generations.” Kakita Munemori looked at Tanitsu with an odd, somewhat mocking expression. “Seriously, Tanitsu. Have you even noticed what’s going on around you in the chamber?”
“Of course I have, Munemori,” Tanitsu said irritably. “How can I spend ten hours a day in this room and not see what is going on around me? The Phoenix are currently lobbying to have the Otomo. . . ”
“That isn’t what I mean,” the older courtier said patiently as they walked. “I mean have you even looked around?”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that if the neckline of Yoritomo Yoyonagi plunges any farther south, it will enter the Shadowlands and be in serious jeopardy of becoming Tainted. How does that woman even walk without disrobing? I suspect she must be a shugenja.”
Tanitsu had stopped dead looked at the older man in shock. “I. . . I think heard a rumor that she trained at Amaterasu Seido, actually.”
“There you have it!” Munemori said, clapping his hands with a pleased chuckle. “I knew there was something magical about her!”
Tanitsu burst out laughing, feeling the exhaustion and frustration of the past few days washing away. “How have you survived in the Imperial Court this long, you old lecher?” he asked, taking the edge off the insult with a laugh. “I would think they would have cast you out decades ago.”
“I periodically feign madness,” the old Crane nodded somberly. “It makes the courtiers take pity on me. Oh, and the fact that I’ve had numerous illicit affairs with high-ranking women is also a great help. No husband or father can speak against me, or the skeletons will never stop tumbling out of the closets.”
Wiping tears of laughter from his eyes, Tanitsu shook his head at the courtier in mock disdain. “Surely you have been delivered by the Fortunes to keep me sane,” he said. “And while I greatly appreciate your wit, the fact remains that unless you and I find some manner of impressing the Otomo, the Crane will lose this battle.”
“Let us not think on the Otomo,” Munemori said, his voice taking a sudden serious tone. “Let us think of our competitors. Who do you see as a serious threat?” He arched one eyebrow, as if he knew the answer but were testing Tanitsu.
“The Scorpion and Lion,” Tanitsu replied. “None of the others can truly compete with Kaukatsu or Sume save Ide Tadaji, and he seems too distracted to care.”
“Let us deal with the Scorpion, then,” Munemori said. “They are the greater threat. Kaukatsu and his entourage are clever and inventive. They stole the court from us in Toturi’s reign. Should the Lion triumph, fair enough, so long as the Scorpion fail.”
Tanitsu shook his head. “I do not think I can outmaneuver Kaukatsu. He is too experienced, with too many contacts.”
“You are afraid of him?”
“Yes,” admitted the young courtier. “I know my limitations. There are very few foes that I truly fear facing in court, but Kaukatsu is chief among them.”
“I think that may be the most intelligent thing I’ve ever heard you say, and you’re an intelligent young man,” said Munemori. “Kaukatsu is a predator, and court is his hunting ground. We must be very careful.”
Tanitsu began pacing again, ignoring the exasperated look Munemori gave him. “If I cannot outmaneuver Kaukatsu, then I must find a way to make him withdraw his invitation.”
“Yes,” agreed Munemori. “And then we shall ascend to Tengoku and defeat Fu Leng. I’ll distract the Dark Kami while you hit him with your fan. After all, dealing with Kaukatsu should only take up our morning, and we need to stay busy.”
“I am serious,” insisted Tanitsu. “The Scorpion are the most devious clan in the Empire. Surely there is something we could draw attention to that they wish to remain hidden. If it was important enough, then they might even decide that having the Otomo among their number is not in their best interest.”
Munemori leaned forward. “Are you suggesting,” he said in a low voice, “that we attempt to blackmail the Imperial Chancellor?”
“No, no, not blackmail,” Tanitsu said hastily. “I prefer the term bluffing.”
“Bluffing a Scorpion,” the old courtier said very matter-of-factly, “That is the most insane thing I have ever heard in my life. By all means, let us proceed. Perhaps we shall amuse the court so greatly that the Otomo will become confused and settle among the Hare.”
“We need to plan,” Tanitsu said, his expression suddenly determined. “We have nothing we can use against them, and little time in which to search for information.”
Munemori stroked his chin thoughtfully and stared at Tanitsu for several minutes, an uncharacteristically long silence for him. “That may not be the case. I may have something that we can use, but it comes with a price.”
“What is it?”
“If I provide you with this information,” Munemori said quietly, “then you must give me your word of honor that you will not discuss it with anyone once your business is concluded. Not even with me, and certainly not with anyone else among the Crane. This material is extremely sensitive, and I risk my own honor by allowing you to see it. Do you understand?”
Tanitsu was clearly eager, but wary. He thought for a short while, weighing the possibilities. Finally, he said “I have been given my duty by Lord Kurohito. The price you ask, I must accept. I give you my word of honor.”
“That is all I need.” Munemori withdrew a scroll from his kimono. “This is personal correspondence from an old friend. It proves nothing, it does not even specify the matter at hand, but it should contain enough to put the Scorpion on defensive. Use it well, and then destroy it.”
Tanitsu nodded. “So then we need only fear the Lion.”
“Leave them to me,” Munemori said, his familiar grin returning. “I have some experience in dealing with boisterous opponents.”
* * * * *
Despite that numerous clans had all but been eliminated from consideration, none of the courtiers had yet left Kyuden Seppun. Everyone wanted to see the outcome, it seemed. All eyes were focused on the three who had most successfully courted the Otomo thus far: Bayushi Kaukatsu, Ikoma Sume, and Doji Tanitsu. Although he should probably be flattered to be considered the equal of two such men, Tanitsu was feeling nearly overwhelmed by the pressure and attention.
Nearly. He was Crane, after all, and a Crane never shirked his duty.
Laughter occasionally rang out through the chamber, and Tanitsu glanced over to see Kakita Munemori engaged in a lively discussion with Ikoma Sume and Yoritomo Yoyonagi. The young Mantis poet was obviously enjoying herself, but Sume looked mildly frustrated that he was tied up in what appeared to be a rather pointless conversation with no way to politely extricate himself. It was most likely the so-called “oblivious Sparrow trick” that Munemori had mentioned the previous evening: he would involve himself in a conversation and tell long, meandering stories that tied up his companions while acting completely oblivious to the cues they gave that they wished to leave. He would physically place himself in the path of any who tried to leave, preventing them from making a polite withdrawal. Ikoma Sume would be courteous to a point, even more so with the lovely young Mantis present, but he would not be detained very long. Tanitsu had a very narrow window of opportunity.
“Kaukatsu-sama,” he said, approaching the Chancellor. “It has been quite an interesting week, has it not? I consider myself quite fortunate to have been able to participate in such momentous proceedings.”
“Ah, youth,” smiled Kaukatsu behind his mask. The Chancellor’s tone was even, controlled, like everything about the man. “Every new challenge is some great adventure, a mark upon the face of history. When you reach my age, Tanitsu-san, you will learn to appreciate each challenge you face on its own merits, and not measure it by your own subjective viewpoint.”
“I can only hope to serve my clan as long and as well as you, Chancellor,” Tanitsu said, “and with half as much wisdom. Truly I am envious of your son Ogura, having a father with such wisdom.”
The Scorpion’s expression did not change whatsoever, though Tanitsu knew that the relationship between father and son was strained. “Ogura is a magistrate in Ryoko Owari Toshi. His service has been a great honor to me and to our family.”
“I have heard such,” Tanitsu admitted with a smile. “I have also heard some unpleasant rumors about that great city, rumors that fill me with sadness. But I should not discuss such hearsay in court. Forgive me my ramblings, Kaukatsu-sama.”
“There is nothing to forgive, dear boy. Rumors are half of what makes our job fulfilling, after all. Please, enlighten me. I fear everyone in Ryoko Owari is so intimidated by my position that I rarely get to hear any good rumors anymore unless I pry them from others.”
“No rumors! I can’t imagine such a fate,” Tanitsu joked easily. “Well, if the rumors are to be believed, your son was responsible for disrupting the activities of some dissidents right in the heart of Ryoko Owari not so long ago. The tales vary, of course, but I have heard everything from a cult of Bloodspeakers to a traitorous pack of Scorpion samurai conspiring to plunge the city into lawlessness. Even if the rumors are false, I’m sure the people of Ryoko Owari are grateful to have such a diligent servant of the Scorpion protecting them.”
“I see.” Kaukatsu’s expression remained absolutely inscrutable. There was no pleasure, no surprise, no change of any sort. Not for the first time, Tanitsu began to wonder of this had been a good idea. “There was a raid such as the one you describe, but Ogura was not within the city at the time. Fortunately, his allies and subordinates are as capable as he is, or else he would not work with them in the first place. The problem was dealt with quickly and harshly. Yojiro himself led the assault.”
“I am very glad to hear that,” said Tanitsu sincerely. He took a moment to look around the room is if he was finished with the conversation, then turned back as if remembering one last detail. “I had also heard something about a ‘blackened tower.’ Was that the headquarters of the group in question? I was unaware that there were any towers within Ryoko Owari. Or perhaps that was where Ogura was at the time? I should write to my friends among the Soshi and inquire as to this blackened tower… or was it shadowed? Yes. I’m sure that was it. ‘Shadowed tower. ‘A friend of mine from my time at the Topaz Championship some years ago is a student of architecture. I believe he studied with the Kaiu for a time. Surely he could tell me more of such towers. He was stationed within Ryoko Owari, and would certainly know of any such towers that your son might be involved with.”
The look Kaukatsu gave Tanitsu was not at all what the Crane had expected. On some level, he supposed he had hoped the Scorpion would pale, or even look scared. Instead, he was subjected to a brief, scathing glare, as if Tanitsu had gravely insulted him. Those eyes condemned, him assured him that he knew not what he was doing. “If you knew anything of which you spoke,” Kaukatsu said in a steady voice, “then you would not speak of it.”
“I wouldn’t?” Tanitsu replied with a look of surprise. “Well, perhaps I should ask the Otomo instead.”
“Stand down, Tanitsu,” Kaukatsu hissed. “This is your final warning.” The fire that burned in Kaukatsu’s eyes was unlike anything Tanitsu had seen in his life. Even in battle beside Kaneka’s soldiers he had never seen such anger. For a moment, Tanitsu feared he had gone too far.
“No,” Tanitsu said calmly. “You stand down. It is the Crane’s duty to rule the court, not the Scorpion. Stand down, Kaukatsu, or I will go to the Otomo with this.”
Kaukatsu looked at Tanitsu for a long moment, then shook his head slowly. “You are a fool, boy,” he said. “One day you will remember this conversation, and you will realize that I tried to save you. Let your fate be on your own head.”
With that, the Chancellor turned and coldly walked away, snapping his fan open in one hand. Tanitsu blinked, surprised by the Chancellor’s open display of defeat. From across the room, he locked eyes with Munemori. The old courtier smiled and nodded once, almost imperceptibly.
Tanitsu was not certain what he had just done, but he had acted as Munemori had instructed, and the words seemed to have had the desired effect on the Chancellor. He was uncertain what the Chancellor’s final words portended; some Scorpion bluff, no doubt. In any case, all the pieces were in play now. Who would win this most grandiose game of go was yet to be seen, however. It was, as Tanitsu had heard Ikoma Sume say once, a most entertaining game.
With that, Tanitsu stepped forward to speak to the Winter Princess.
* * * * *
Soft moonlight cast the gardens of Kyuden Seppun in an almost otherworldly light. The mood of such a place of beauty had served Kakita Munemori well in countless other midnight encounters in the past. This, however, was far from a pleasu before deciding no one was about. “Wherever you are, you can come out,” he said in hushed tones. “We are alone.”
A cloaked form stepped from the shadows between two rows of hedges. The moonlight barely illuminated the long, billowing cloak and the golden mon emblazoned upon it. The golden half-mask that matched the mon covered everything below the ridge of the man’s nose, leaving only his dark, penetrating stare. “Greetings, Munemori-san. I hope you have the information I require.”
“Doesn’t that mask make it difficult for you to skulk about in the shadows? Gold is hardly a inconspicuous color, Seiryo.”
“The fish would teach the bird to fly,” the Scorpion said with a dry chuckle. “Your gambit has proven successful. Kaukatsu apparently thought better of his attempts to secure the Otomo’s residence. Already, he has left for Ryoko Owari, perhaps to question his son.”
“Tanitsu did well,” Munemori agreed.
“Indeed. What did you tell him? What does he know?”
The Crane shook his head. “Virtually nothing. He knows the phrase ‘Shadowed Tower’, yet has no inkling what it means. He knows Ogura is connected somehow, either as an enemy or ally. He simply used a few tidbits of information I gave him to distract the Chancellor and secure the Otomo’s new home. They will be departing for Kyuden Doji within a month. That boy is truly remarkable.”
“Is he dangerous?” Seiryo asked.
“What do you mean?” Munemori asked. “Dangerous to us or dangerous enough to serve us?”
Munemori shrugged. “I said he knows virtually nothing. Which means, as intelligent as he is, that it is only a matter of time before he discovers the truth. He’s far too canny to let something like this go without questioning it.”
Seiryo brushed his cloak aside, revealing a glint of steel in his obi beneath it. “Shall I deal with him?”
“Don’t be a fool,” Munemori said gruffly. “That would only draw suspicion. And besides, I revealed what I did for a reason. He has great potential, and I will be there to guide his growth. Tanitsu would be a great asset to us; whichever heir lands on the throne, we will have their ear. The Crane will rule the courts, the Scorpion will rule the shadows, and so on. . . ”
“As it should be,” whispered Seiryo. “As it always should have been.”
The night’s shadows grew ever longer as the two men continued their discussion of Emperors, clans, and the conquest thereof…