In the era of Emperor Edition, noble warriors of the Crab struggle with the burdens of their clan and how they fit into a bold new Empire.
By Robert Denton
Edited by Fred Wan
Beyond the Kaiu Wall, the Shadowlands were silent. Not the forbidding stillness of a predator’s gaze, nor the eerie stillness of which they were famous, the quiet of menace, the calm of death. This was a silence that stirred in the gentle brush of the wind, parting the haze of orange fire curtaining the black of night, as if to reveal the sky-strewn constellation-faces of the Fortunes. It was as if the land had temporarily abated its inherent blasphemy. It was peace. Peace in the Shadowlands. Even the River of the Last Stand, normally loud with reckless crashing, was silent. The lands themselves were peaceful. The Shadowlands had not known such peace in one-hundred years.
Hida Akano no Kakeguchi watched the gentle churn of the horizon. From this vantage on The Wall, a keen soldier could spot an incoming force three days before it arrived. In her grandfather’s time, attacks upon the Wall were frequent, requiring superhuman vigilance on the part of the Hida. They stood in their armor for days, thick with sweat, bones aching, eyes bleary. Watching. Always watching. The oppressive quiet of the tainted lands would break with the hammer-strike heartbeat of the Kaiu forges. A constant stream of Hiruma scouts alternated on endless scouting missions. Their eyes were ever open and their coffers were ever bare, for the war was never-ending. It consumed supplies and precious jade in quantities that stripped rice paddies and hollowed mountains. It was the burden of the Crab to live in a state of constant readiness and the virtue of their paranoia. They did not prosper as the other clans, but that was not their place. This was their duty, to serve in an endless war.
In those times, it was bad luck to look into the southern horizon. Doing so encouraged the darkness to sweep over the barren plains. Now, Akano stared into the Shadowlands and asked herself exactly when the war had ended.
The horizon was empty, as it had been throughout her twelve year vigil. She had not seen one significant battle in that time. Her unremarkable features were unscarred and pristine, her black ponytail folded tight in the warrior’s style, forever awaiting the donning of her helmet. Her grandfather’s blade sat sheathed in her obi. Her armor, hand-crafted by Kaiu artisans, was still untested. She bore no jade; there was no need anymore, a pure heart being all that was required, or so many believed.
According to the elders, this was the most prosperous the Crab had ever been in well over two-hundred years. The alliance with the Scorpion was most beneficial, as the Kaiu restoration of Scorpion fortresses renewed the family’s prosperity. The Yasuki had also come into their own, now that there was little war to drain the clan’s money. The Kuni’s restorative services were in high demand as of late, as were the Toritaka’s expertise with restless spirits. Even the Hiruma had new purpose; the Colonies were expanding, and the Hiruma scouts, and their recovered techniques, were deemed indispensable by the Imperial Explorers. Unexpectedly, the Crab had risen in a time of peace.
Akano released a sigh towards the south. She knew there would be no consequences.
She was suddenly aware of a soldier approaching from a nearby station. Akano recognized the smiling face of her friend, Hida Takeuchi. He did not bother to bow as he approached, and neither did she. They were too accustomed to the other’s presence to observe the ceremony, and they shared an impatience for such things.
“I think you know what I am about to say,” Takeuchi said, his voice wringing with dry humor.
“I would hear it anyway,” she replied.
“All quiet,” he reported. “Peaceful, even.”
“Hai. Here as well.”
The large warrior looked to the southern horizon boldly. “I hear Hiruma-sama may cancel the Twenty Goblin Winter this year.”
Akano felt her stomach twist. “Just a rumor, I’m sure,” she replied. She did not need to hear that.
He nodded again. “Another hour, and then we are relieved.”
“You seem eager,” she observed. “You have something planned tonight?”
He glanced her way and smiled. “Tonight, I perfect the sport of drunken tameshigiri. Care to join me?”
“Sounds amusing.” She was not smiling. “I must pass tonight.”
“Ah, of course,” he said, seemingly paying her reaction little notice. “I will return to my post now, Akano-sama.” He bowed this time, inflicting a wince on her features. She’d offended him, it seemed. As he turned to leave, a strange urge overcame her.
She spoke. “Takeuchi-san…”
He paused, glancing backwards. For a moment, the words lingered on her lips, requiring only the will to speak them. But the moment passed quickly, and she shook her head. “It is nothing,” she said, waving him away. “Carry the Fortunes.”
She watched him go, chiding herself for her weakness. How could she even consider burdening her friend with doubts? Doubt was like the taint in many ways. It was contagious, burdensome, and led to sin. She could not inflict that upon him, nor anyone else for that matter. So she simply swallowed the feeling until it twisted in her belly, ignoring the urge to ask the question that haunted her thoughts: In the wake of this extended peace with Jigoku, was the Crab’s duty even relevant anymore?
* * * * *
It was dim in the court of Shiro Kakeguchi. The white of the Sagiso flower motifs nearly glowed in the light of the pale candles, candles that had not been lit for over fifty years. The dais of the courtroom was empty, save for a bowl of lit incense. The room was long and narrow, flanked by thick walls, thin sliding windows, painted Sagisos, and hanging banners. That, and a single shoji door against the left wall. Akano felt an ache in her calves, but she remained still in her seated seiza on the courtroom floor. There were others in the room, but she would not be the one amongst them to stir.
But she did open her eyes to look at the door across from her. She and the others, all officers of the Kakeguchi family, sat in orderly rows facing the doorway. Beyond it was a network of halls and her daimyo’s private chambers.
A cold breeze stirred the room. The windows had been left open, as according to custom. It was necessary to prevent the spirit of the dying from becoming trapped in his courtroom. A single window needed to be open so that he could escape. The court had opened all of them, except those that faced the south. Though it was cold, not one Kakeguchi so much as shivered in their seats. Such was their discipline, their obedience. This display of reverence was the least they could do for their beloved daimyo. It was their final gesture of loyalty.
Akano sat in the front row. She was the closest to the door. It was a position of honor; she was his most loyal, his favorite officer. At the base of her skull, she could feel the gaze of those behind her. They did not understand why he had favored a warrior so young, and one who had never seen battle. Yet they did not question it. They were all Kakeguchi. It was not their place. She wondered, when the moment came, when his spirit left his body and passed through this room, would he see her?
The space behind a closed door seems infinite. So it seemed that the tale-tell creak of the nightingale floors began far away, soft in the distance, growing louder as they approached. One by one the officers broke their reverie. They looked up, and fourteen sets of eyes rested on the shadowed shoji door and its faded Sagiso motif.
The nightingale chirps stopped just as they reached their apex. The door slid open, revealing a white-painted face with streaks of black. The tall Kuni carried a pale white lantern that swayed in the renewed gust of wind. He looked silently at the two rows of seated officers and offered no expression. His eyes spoke volumes, however. They would all don white in the morning.
Akano felt a wrenching in her gut, but she did not shudder. She did not even clench her fists. Her face was still as they sat for long moments. She would not jeopardize the peace of her daimyo’s passing. Even a hint of emotion, and the spirit might linger. Instead, she closed her eyes, imagining the entwined strands of incense-smoke drifting out of the northernmost window and into the night.
* * * * *
Another quiet day on The Wall. Peaceful, as she always remembered it. Except, of course, in the fabricated memories of childhood. Back then, between her daily training in the orphanage, she would look upon the Kaiu Wall through her mind’s eye. She saw the heroic struggles of the Crab families as they fought back daily waves of bakemono. She saw her mother rise triumphant over the Twenty Goblin Winter, holding her grizzly trophies high above her head and the cheering of her comrades. She saw her father fighting beside the legendary Hida Kuon as they made their last stand. She saw her grandfather, frozen at the moment of his death, leaping from the highest of the watchtowers as it came crumbling down around him, engulfing a massive oni in one unified strike of stone and steel. She felt no sorrow that they were dead, that she was alone, for they had died with purpose in fulfillment of their duties. Every morning, before the supervised sparring between the orphans, she would pick up her bokken, close her eyes, and imagine that she was there beside them, in a place where time could not touch. And she knew that one day she would be. For she was a Crab; her identity was war, war against the eternal threat of the Shadowlands. She would stand sentinel over the Empire as her ancestors had done for over a thousand years. That was the duty of the Crab, and all other factors did not matter. If the Crab were poor, if the Wall had fallen, if the towers were corrupted, if the mountains were empty of jade, if the Maw itself rose from the stormy horizon, it did not matter. The Crab would always protect the Empire. They would fight Jigoku regardless. Nothing could ever take that from them.
Akano opened her eyes. The southern horizon was peaceful. Still.
What is the point? she thought.
* * * * *
The new daimyo arrived on the back of a slender pony. He was the youngest of the dead lord’s sons, but the only one still alive. Akano’s peers whispered that he was raised in the Imperial City, far from the lands of the Crab. His mother, a ronin consort, was not married to his father, but in the end that had not mattered. He was a living heir, and nothing else was important. His name was Hida Haruto no Kakeguchi.
He was very young, only two years past his gempukku. He was thin and pale for a Crab, aspects attributed to the age of his father at the time of his conception. He’d taken after his mother, with a boyish face and black eyes to match his hair. When Akano’s unit met their new lord, she’d lined them up along the dirt path leading to the outer wall of Shiro Kakeguchi, wearing their pristine armor and proudly displaying their colors. Resplendent in his expensive silks from the city, surrounded by advisors that were three times his age, she did not recognize any of her former lord in him. She bowed regardless, dipping the fluttering banner of her unit so that it was lower than that displayed by his retinue. He’d smiled at her from atop his horse, that sort of sly, charming half-smile that she imaged courtly women found attractive, but as he passed her by, all she could look at were his smooth, unworked hands.
She saw him again several days later. She was leading her unit in drills along the outer courtyard of the keep, in the looming shadow of Kyuden Hida. It had become a more common practice as of late. She could feel the restlessness of her soldiers, or perhaps the restlessness of her own mind. She’d noticed him out of the corner of her eye, watching her from a balcony of the palace. He was seated on new silk cushions he’d ordered from Toshi Ranbo, eating something from a ceramic plate. He was too far to see distinctly, but she knew regardless that he was watching her.
She was not ignorant to the minds of men. She knew he was not interested in the drills, nor the disciplined kata of her warriors. He was watching the grace of her movements, the bareness of her slender neck, the twist of her lean torso, the way her black hair fell neatly against her back after each sword strike. Rumors were circulating that he was seeking a wife, hoping to secure an heir as quickly as possible. Akano herself was unmarried as well, but she was well over marrying age, and she knew his advisors would say that she was too old for him, albeit in a whisper.
When they were done, she ordered her men to turn and face the balcony. They saluted him as one, bellowing their ancestor’s name in unison. It was a gesture that always coaxed a smile from the boy’s father when he was alive. Lord Haruto simply stood and entered the palace. Days later, Akano would receive word that she was being considered for promotion. Her lord wanted to make her his karo, one of his chief advisors. It was a significant event, for one so young had not received such a drastic promotion in over three-hundred years. Takeuchi insisted that they celebrate, arranging for a night of drinking with the rest of her unit. In older times, Akano would have gladly drank her friend under the table, shouting along to bawdy songs and engaging in jubilant challenges. But her heart was not in it this time. While the others celebrated around her, while the sake flowed as freely the good humored laughter of her peers, she could think only of her new lord’s smooth hands, his courtly smile, and the peace that surrounded the Kaiu Wall.
* * * * *
”You should have drank more,” Takeuchi said, his words slurring only slightly. He was alone, still donned in the gray and black yukata he’d worn at the party earlier. His sake-breath ascended as fog in the crisp night air. “If you’d had more sake, you’d be asleep right now.”
Akano cast him a hollow smile over her shoulder. She had expected solitude in the outer courtyard at this time of night, for no one had any reason to be here. But he was not unwelcome; she dimly wondered if he had sought her out. He stood beside her. The flickering lights from sentries upon The Wall nearly blended with the array of stars above them. They both watched the pinpoint-light reflections on the surface of the rippling courtyard pond.
“You had more drink than anyone,” she said, trying to muster a joking tone. “Why, then, aren’t you asleep?”
He shrugged in his good-humored way, lifting his massive shoulders. “Perhaps I am restless,” he confessed. “But in truth, I was hoping that I actually was asleep, and this was merely a dream.”
“Shall I confirm it for you?” she offered, a hint of a grin showing. “The pond is right there. I could toss you in and we’ll see if you awaken.”
He smiled. “So you are still capable of humor, then. I thought you’d forgotten.”
Akano felt a twinge, as if the moment had snagged somehow and pulled at her. Her smile faded. She turned her eyes to the water’s reflections. “I appreciate what you are doing,” she said. “I know I have been distant lately-”
“I am going to the Colonies,” Takeuchi said abruptly. “The first chance I get.”
She stopped, the weight of his words sinking in. She regarded him with a pinched brow, her eyes betraying her surprise. He would not look at her. He was watching the water. But she could see that his expression was troubled. It occurred to her, suddenly, that he’d been less jovial as of late. It was something she had attributed to boredom, but now it seemed that something was troubling him. He sighed, an odd weight to the sound. It tumbled from his lips like the failed draft of a letter.
“The Colonies?” she whispered.
“Hai,” he affirmed quietly. His eyes rose to the heavens. “They say that there is war there.”
In that moment, with those words, Akano knew that she had not been alone in her doubts, nor in her quiet despair. He, too, had felt cheated by their clan’s prosperity. He, too, wondered at the Crab’s purpose in this new Empire. All this time, she had thought that she was the only one, and her thoughts had felt like a betrayal. But Takeuchi, in spite of his jovial smile and constant jokes, had felt the same. And in that moment of realization, she desperately wished that she could go with him, to seek a new war in new lands. She knew such a thing was impossible, but for that moment, her child’s eye opened again, and she saw herself standing by his side, their weapons brandished against an unknown enemy, the banner of the Crab flying bravely behind them.
There was no need to say anything else. She simply nodded. They both stood in the darkness of the courtyard, waiting for the sun to rise.
* * * * *
Three days before her appointment was to be finalized, a courier brought Akano a bound message from Lord Haruto. On the day of her promotion, the Scorpion would be visiting the Sagiso Court of Shiro Kakeguchi. It was an important event, for a Scorpion had not stepped into the halls of the Kakeguchi estate in over two-hundred years. They were commemorating the event with a signing of an official document that would transfer many of the Kakeguchi to Scorpion lands. It was a show of good faith, a gesture that would ensure the continued prosperity of the Kakeguchi family.
Akano read the document carefully. The soldiers were being sent to staff Scorpion waystations bordering the Shinomen Mori. These Kakeguchi soldiers were being pulled entirely from the Kaiu Wall.
Akano let the document fall from her limp fingers. She could not believe what she had just read. Lord Haruto was ordering her to reassign her unit in its entirety. It was unthinkable; it would leave the Kakeguchi section of The Wall at a fraction of its standard count of arms. She could not recall a time in recent history when such a rapid depopulation of The Wall had taken place. Even in the face of other conflicts, the Kakeguchi had always ensured that The Wall was well-guarded. The numbers this order left behind had not been this low in over one-hundred years.
So it had been as she suspected all along. Their duty, the duty of the Crab, truly was irrelevant. They were no longer noble sentinels, stoic samurai empowered by an endless war against an immortal foe. Now they were just simple soldiers. Peace had eroded their purpose after all.
She could see it in their eyes as she explained the news. Takeuchi especially seemed to take it hard, visibly flinching when she spoke of their new orders. She could tell that they had all feared this day would come. Yet none questioned their new orders, for that was not their place. They bowed to her before they were excused to make arrangements. She could not meet their eyes as they walked past. Somehow she felt as though she had failed them.
It did not take long for the rumors to spread. Within hours soldiers whispered reports of other orders. Akano’s unit was not the only one being re-deployed to trivial posts throughout the Empire. Rumor said that eventually every Kakeguchi would be pulled from The Wall. The other Clans were whispering, wondering if the Crab’s demands for resources against the Shadowlands were still justified. After all, there had not been a true attack upon the Kaiu Wall in over two decades, and the threat of the taint had been defeated by the Empress. Why, then, did the Crab still stand upon The Wall? Why did they still fund a war against no enemy, when they could instead use their resources to better serve the Empress? It seemed Lord Haruto wondered this himself.
Wheels were turning in the courtroom of Shiro Kakeguchi. The lord’s imperial advisors had brought the jade stores to Haruto’s attention, mentioning that with no Shadowlands incursions in several decades, and no threat of involuntary corruption, there was really no need to stockpile the precious stone any longer. It could be traded to the other clans, returned to other courts, in exchange for political favors. The agreement would deliver much of the jade into the hands of the Scorpion, and Haruto had already drafted another agreement that would give much jade to the Crane in exchange for influence. None of her soldiers would dare speak against the will of their master, but Akano could sense their distaste of the affairs. When had politics ever concerned the Kakeguchi? What would the Little Bear, their champion, think?
Or had he already approved of this maneuver, and this was the new way of the Crab in the age of peace?
Akano sat before the shrine to her great-grandfather. It was night, and when the sun rose, she would go to the Sagiso Court before her new lord and watch as he signed the agreement that would strip her warriors of their duties. As his karo, she would remain behind, but this somehow made it feel far worse. Before her grandfather’s armor, in the presence of her ancestors, she sought some manner of guidance.
“What is the purpose of it?” she whispered, her words echoing off the walls of the quiet shrine. She raised her head, meeting the eyes of the empty mempo. “Is this the punishment for our failure? The consequence of allowing the Destroyers to enter the Empire?” She paused, as if waiting for an answer, but only the echo of her own voice met her ears.
She lowered her head. “Am I a traitor, then?” she said. “I do not wish my lord ill, and I rejoice at the prosperity of the Crab. But to leave the Wall? It feels… wrong.” She frowned. “I cannot put it into words. I know there has been no attack in so long. I confess that I have had doubts myself as to why we still stood our vigil before the lands to the south. But I cannot abandon it, great-grandfather. If the Kakeguchi no longer watch the Shadowlands, then what is left to us?”
She laid her hands on the cold floor, lowering her forehead until it touched the ground. “Please,” she whispered. “What should I do?”
As she pressed down on the floor, she felt a click beneath her hands. She paused. There was a slight pressure against her fingers, as if the stone there wanted to rise up. Gently she lifted her hand, and the flat stone lifted with it, revealing a hidden compartment she had not known was there. Within, she found a small book of tattered parchments, weathered with age and wet with time. Bringing the book closer to her lantern, she read the first few pages, eyes widening with every word. It was a journal. Her great-grandfather’s journal.
Hours passed. She raced from word to word, absorbing the kanji as quickly as she was able. From his own words, she learned that he served the Hida before the Clan Wars, that he watched the south horizon from the Kaiu Wall, just as she did now. Her trembling fingers traced his faded words. “Years without an enemy,” they said, “There is only peace here. The other clans whisper that the Crab duty is irrelevant.”
“What is the purpose?” they said. “Is our Clan’s duty even relevant anymore?”
She read the words over and over. They were the same doubts that had entered her own mind, the same fears. It was the same with his generation, with the lands of their enemies grown silent, the war seemingly over. But that had not been the case; the attacks renewed unexpectedly, enemies from without and from within. Then came the Day of Thunder.
Her eyes took in the words of the final pages. “In times of war,” he said, “the enemy is easy to see, our duty clear. It is in times of peace that we are most threatened. We become lax, and are consumed by our own doubts. But that becomes the new war. The war against doubt. We must always stand upon The Wall. We alone remind the Empire that they are in danger. Even in peace, the Crab’s duty is never over. Never.”
And then, she knew what she had to do.
* * * * *
Akano strode past guard after guard, hiding her discomfort with a cold expression. They did not question her, nor did they bar her path. Most were preparing for the arrival of the Scorpion, and thus had other things on their minds. But there were still many attending to Lord Haruto in the court, advisors, courtiers, and simple soldiers alike. There would be plenty to witness what she meant to do.
She took a deep breath. It took all of her strength to steady herself before she entered the courtroom. The courts of the Crab were not known for their attention to etiquette, but Akano’s abrupt arrival turned heads regardless. She was wearing her mother’s three formal layers of kimono, an abstract pattern of blue, white, and gray above inner layers of red and white. She’d pinned down her ponytail as if preparing for a helmet. She was unarmed, as was proper. The room, once noisy with the exchange of whispers, was now silent.
Upon the dais, Lord Haruto looked up from his seat. Before him, the court scribe worked on the final draft of the agreement that would strip her warriors of their duty and reassign them to Scorpion lands. She sat directly in front of the dais, taking her seat and bowing with some slight difficulty. They all watched her.
“Akano-san,” Haruto said, his half-smile coming to his face in an instant. If her arrival surprised him, he made no sign of it. “You have come to witness the arrival of our visitors? You are just in time.” His smile widened. “They will be here any moment.”
“Forgive me,” she said softly, her voice cracking for only a moment. Her mouth felt suddenly dry. “I am here for another reason altogether. I must speak with you, my lord.”
Murmurs shuffled through the court. Her eyes moved from one guard to the next. She thought perhaps they would try to stop her, but when she met their eyes she saw a strange glimmer there. It could have been hope.
Haruto was unfazed. “Proceed, then,” he said.
She took a moment to gather her strength, then looked him in the eyes. “I ask that you reconsider this course of action, my Lord. Do not send my men from the Wall.”
He almost seemed to anticipate her words. He nodded, then settled back into his seiza. “Interesting,” he said, eyes narrowing. “You seem to think you know better.”
“I know that your father would never have ordered such a thing,” she said softly. “I am his voice in this matter, as he cannot speak for himself.”
Murmurs arose from the gathered courtiers. She thought they were dissenting murmurs, as if they were shocked by her audacity, but as she scanned the room, she did not see hostile faces. In fact, they seemed almost encouraging, curious. Some even looked hopeful, as if she was saying what they could not.
The young lord still seemed self assured, although now perhaps he was reconsidering his taste in karo. “Akano-san,” he said, “you must forgive me. I am unaccustomed to explaining myself to subordinates.” His expression remained light, but his voice carried the tone of disapproval. “There is simply no reason to continue staffing The Wall as we have. I do not intend to abandon our ancestral duty, but this is a new Empire, and there are new enemies. The Wall is simply not as pressing as it once was.”
“This is what it wants,” she replied. Her words came steady, but there was an unfamiliar waver to them. A tone of finality. “It wants us to believe that it is not a threat any longer. It wants us to think that our duty is irrelevant. That we are safe.” She paused, licked her dry lips, keeping her gaze locked. “But this is not merely about the vigilance of the Kakeguchi, nor our ancestors’ promise to Hida himself. This is about our identity, my lord. We may seek this new prosperity, but at what cost? Kakeguchi are not politicians, my lord. We are warriors. We are the Crab. We stand on the Wall, now and always.”
She bowed, pressing her forehead against the floor. “I beg you, do not send my men from their purpose.”
The young lord’s smile became a smirk. “Admirable passion,” he said. “But my mind is made up.”
Akano rose from her bow. Her face was the emotionless mask of stoic duty that she had always worn. “I know,” she said.
Haruto raised an eyebrow. His judgement had not shaken her. The courtiers murmured.
“I know that I cannot change your mind,” she continued. Her hands moved to her obi and began to untie it. The volume of murmurs rose, their voices rife with whispered confusion. She’d never felt such strength until that moment.
One guard turned to another. “What is she doing?” he asked.
She removed the obi, still speaking, “But neither can I allow you to shame yourself in the eyes of your father, my lord. I apologize,” she said, grasping her collar, “but I must protest.”
At this, Akano pulled open her topmost kimonos, exposing the innermost layer. A crimson streak stained the kimono at the belly, an alarming red shade over the white of death. As Lord Haruto’s eyes widened in horror, she pressed her palm against her belly, unflinching against the sharp pain and the warmth between her fingers. She drew her hand away and up, showing him the blood that had soaked through the fabric and now coated her palm.
She knew that he could not be dissuaded. Thus, she acknowledged his sincerity with her own. She had slit her belly and bandaged the mortal wound, hiding it from all as she entered the courtroom. With unwavering strength, slowly dying, she’d protested her lord’s decision, only to punctuate her argument with this revelation. She was walking dead before the words had ever left her lips. She had committed Kanshi.
The room swam before her as Lord Haruto stood. His flawless robes rippled sluggishly, like the concessionary wave of a banner. In his eyes, he betrayed the panic and horror of one unaccustomed to violence. He had never seen seppuku, never watched as something died before him. She would have pitied him, but she only felt a strange peace. How strange, she thought. Despite our differences, in this way, we are alike.
The world faded out as the floor rushed towards her.
* * * * *
Lord Haruto remained standing for long minutes. His gaze never left the pristine corpse of Hida Akano. Even after the guards finally stepped forward and lifted her limp body, his glassy eyes remained frozen on the bloody stain on the floor. He had no words. He was as breathless as his dead karo.
He did not sit again until the guards left his presence, taking the fallen karo with them. The courtiers and attendants exchanged glances. As Crab, they were trained to handle the sight of blood, and thus only the significance of her act weighed upon them. But their lord did not have this training. He was raised in the Imperial City. Numbly he sat, face pale, jaw clenched, clearly shaken despite his steely gaze. In silence he stared at the document before him; small spatters of Akano’s blood, airborne from her fall, now soaked into the fibers of the paper. An eerie stillness settled upon the court, a foreboding silence. Not one soul in the room spoke. The Sagiso Court of Shiro Kakeguchi had not witnessed a Kanshi in over two-hundred years.