The City of Lies. How accurate a name for this place, Akodo Kaneka mused as he surveyed the city from a distant hillside. Nothing about Ryoko Owari Toshi was what it seemed. It was gentle and inviting one moment, and treacherous the next. Even now, with an army at his back and full intent to take the city by force if Naseru did not surrender to him, nothing was entirely as it appeared.
There was something wrong about this invasion overall, something that did not sit right with Kaneka. A patrol of Unicorn scouts on horseback appeared on the road, galloping toward his position. Kaneka stepped forward to greet them, a pair of stone-faced Akodo warriors on either side watching the Unicorn warily. The Shogun trusted the vows of every clan that followed him, but he took no chances.
The patrol pulled to a halt and their leader leapt to the ground nimbly. Kaneka recognized her as Moto Genki, one of the Khan’s most trusted and experienced warriors. She bowed to him as she removed her helmet. “The Scorpion have put up little resistance, Lord Shogun,” Genki said with a puzzled frown. “They form defensive lines then melt when we confront them. My scouts have found no traces of traps or ambushes.”
“They’re just giving up ground?” Akodo Ijiasu asked, moving up to Kaneka’s side. “What is their plan?”
“They need no plan,” said Moto Chagatai. The Khan squatted by a low fire, squinting as he peered into the flames. “Ryoko Owari is a Scorpion city. My clan has come as closest as any to conquering it, and not by force. The Scorpion know that the wealth and comforts of the city will eventually corrupt any occupying force, and in such an environment only the Scorpion can rule. All they need do is be patient, offer a token display of defense to show that they still mean to rule the city, and wait. I think Naseru made a mistake when he trusted the Scorpion Clan’s loyalty.”
At the other side of the Khan’s camp, Shosuro Higatsuku looked up with a start. The Khan looked at the courtier calmly, waiting for him to reply. “With all due respect, you are mistaken, Khan,” Higatsuku said carefully. “Once placed, a Scorpion’s loyalty does not waver. If Naseru cannot rely upon us now, then he never could.”
“I could care less for the Scorpion,” Kaneka said, speaking loudly to crush any argument before it began. “My objective is not to make war with them, only to punish Naseru.”
An Akodo warrior stepped forward, bowing deeply as he waited for the Shogun’s attention. When Kaneka turned his way, he spoke. “A messenger, Kaneka-sama, from your sister.”
“Tsudao?” Kaneka asked, raising an eyebrow. “What does she want with me?”
“Perhaps she is jealous of your army, Kaneka,” Ijiasu mused with a small chuckle. “She may call herself Empress, but you have allied more powerful generals under your banner but she. Surely she has sent this messenger to beg you not to destroy your wicked brother.”
“No,” Kaneka said, scratching his chin. “Jealousy is not Tsudao’s way. Send the messenger forward.”
The guard stepped to one side, indicating a small woman in the rough robes and straw cloak of a Miya herald. “Akodo Kaneka, Shogun of the Empire, you have been summoned to Kyuden Seppun by order of the Empress, Toturi Kaede. She requests that you make haste at once.”
The camp fell silent in shock.
“Kaede?” Kaneka replied. “She has returned?”
The messenger nodded. “She has retaken her throne, and wishes the Four Winds to gather as she names a successor. You have been recognized as a valid candidate.”
Kaneka scowled as he digested the news. He could not help but feel some sense of elation that his true claim to the throne had finally been acknowledged, but after working for years to secure it on his own, the thought that it may simply be given to him as a gift was bitter indeed. And the idea of letting Naseru escape&
“Tell Her Highness that I will be there,” Kaneka said. “After I have killed Hantei Naseru.”
The herald’s face paled. “Kill Naseru?” she replied, “but this is an Imperial command! You cannot disobey.”
“I am not disobeying,” Kaneka replied with a small smirk. “I merely follow all commands in the order they are given. When the Empress abandoned her throne, she set all the Empire to chaos. It is the unspoken command of every samurai who serves the Empire to restore order. Once that is done, once Naseru is dead, I shall come to Kyuden Seppun.”
“But,” the herald said weakly.
“Sayonara,” Kaneka replied. He gestured sharply, and two guards showed the herald away.