The City of Lies was many things, but it was very rarely ever quiet. Today, silence fell over Ryoko Owari, a silence that was chilling to those familiar with the normal sounds of life and activity that filled the streets. Peasants huddled in their homes, peering out cautiously at the ranks of armored samurai that filled the streets. Hundreds of Scorpion samurai stood at attention along the sides of the road, watching cautiously as ranks of Lion, Mantis, and Unicorn marched through the City of Lies. The Shogun’s army marched upon the governor’s palace, and now the Scorpion Clan stood aside. From the highest tower of the palace, Naseru watched patiently.
“Are you certain about this, Naseru?” Bayushi Sunetra asked. “The Scorpion will drive him from the city if you ask.”
“Of that I have no doubt, Sunetra-chan,” Naseru said, “but would they fight for the city’s sake or only for mine?”
Sunetra’s eyes narrowed behind her porcelain mempo. “The Shogun intends to kill you, Naseru. Your words can do little to stay Kaneka’s blade.”
“An acceptable risk,” Naseru replied.
“I see,” Sunetra replied. “You do not intend to tell me what you will do.”
“Why Sunetra,” Naseru said, looking at her in feigned surprise. “You are the Master of Secrets now. I thought you already knew.”
“Fine, then,” Sunetra said in an irritated voice. “If he kills you, his army will leave the city unharmed as you have asked, but nothing will protect him from our vengeance.”
Naseru said nothing in reply. There was no need. She was already gone. He sat at his low desk and waited. Several minutes later, the door to his chambers opened and a weathered samurai in battered armor strode into the room. In the dim light, Naseru was surprised by how muck Akodo Kaneka truly resembled Toturi. His face was twisted in a grim scowl. One hand rested on the hilt of his katana as he scanned the chambers.
“No guards, no yojimbo?” he asked sharply.
“They will make no difference,” Naseru said, drawing a long pipe from his desk.
“Stand up, Naseru,” Kaneka demanded. “Face me.”
Naseru took his time filling the pipe and lighting it, then slowly rose and turned to face the Shogun. “Yes?” he asked blandly.
“What do you have to say for yourself, Anvil?” Kaneka asked. “I know you have sent assassins to destroy me.”
Naseru’s lip twitched a bit at the sound of the word brother.’ He took a long draw from the pipe and exhaled. “I sent no assassins,” he replied, tone mildly insulted. “I sent swordsmen to challenge and destroy you, for I felt an honorable death was what you deserved. You slew them with ease, or so I am told. Why do you dwell upon them? Were you afraid you would die?”
“You feel I deserve honor, yet you insult my courage in Otosan Uchi?” Kaneka replied with a smirk. He circled around Naseru, watching him like some hunting cat. “You trip over your own words, Naseru.”
“I do believe that you failed in Otosan Uchi, and I regret none of my words,” Naseru replied. “I feel that any celebration of our victory’ in that city is ludicrous. Or am I confused?” He looked flatly at Kaneka. “Has the Imperial City not been destroyed?”
“Fair enough,” Kaneka said. “Then answer this. What of the Yasuki War? I know you were behind the forgery that claimed I was the true Yasuki daimyo – some pathetic attempt to soil my name. Is there any reason why I should not slay you now and cleanse the shame you bring upon our family, brother?”
“None whatsoever,” Naseru replied. “Kill me as you killed Kakita Kaiten and heap another name onto your reputation.”
Kaneka chuckled. His hand moved away from his sword. “It is true, Naseru, you have many enemies,” Kaneka replied. “If I were to kill you I would gain favor just as my war against the Crane earned me favor. But I am certain your many allies would use it to bring shame to me as well, to destroy my chances to gain the throne by painting me as a bully and a killer. No, I will not kill you, Naseru.”
“Then why did you come here?” Naseru asked.
“Because I intend to spare you,” Kaneka said. “And when the Empire sees the mercy I have bestowed upon my treacherous, manipulative brother your plan will backlash upon you. It is you who will no longer stand a chance at the throne, once my courtiers are through with you.”
Naseru laughed lightly. “You assume that I will survive to prove your mercy,” Naseru replied. “I know many Scorpion who would be glad to kill me and claim that you cut me down in a wanton, mad act of violence.”
“You would not dare do such a thing,” Kaneka scoffed.
Naseru took another draw from his pipe and looked at the Shogun with an intense eye. “You know quite well that my desire for a peaceful, stable Empire surpasses my concern for individual lives,” he said. “Did you assume my own life was an exception to that rule?”
Kaneka looked at Naseru for a long time, gauging the sincerity of his words. He finally nodded, a gleam of respect in his eye. “So we are at an impasse. What shall we do? I cannot let you live, I cannot let you die, and you can do nothing to me.”
“We negotiate,” Naseru said.
“Let us be honest, Kaneka,” Naseru said, tapping the end of his pipe on one shoulder as he began to pace before the Shogun. “Each of us has loyal followers, but Tsudao has greater support than both of us combined, and Sezaru rules the religious hearts of the people. If either of us still intends to gain the throne, we must do something drastic.”
Kaneka folded his arms across his thick chest and laughed. “We must do something none would expect.”
Naseru looked at Kaneka and a sly grin spread across his face. “We must band together.”
“I despise you, Naseru,” Kaneka said.
“And I you, Shogun, have no doubt of that,” he replied, “but a place beside the throne is just as good to me as a place upon it, and if I gain the throne I guarantee you the same as Shogun of all Rokugan. Friendship does not breed good politics, Kaneka-san, and I think that gives us an advantage. Together, we could dominate this Empire.”
“I am listening.” Kaneka replied.