The Exile of the Scorpion, Part I
By Ree Soesbee
“The Scorpion have betrayed the Emperor!” The shout rang through the Imperial court as the Seppun guards leveled their spears at Bayushi Kachiko. She stood in the center of Otosan Uchi’s wide court, and lifted her chin in defiance. “I found this… in Toturi-sama’s quarters,” the guard panted, holding out a scrap of burgundy cloth. “The Emperor is missing… there is blood, everywhere… overturned and torn shoji screens. I fear for the Emperor’s life!” He fell to his knees before the Emerald Champion, lowering his head to the ground and placing the silk on the floor before Toshimoko. “Three of my guards say that they saw Bayushi Kachiko and her attendants enter the Emperor’s chamber not more than an hour ago. They are trusted men, willing to give their lives for this testimony.”
“I, too, my Lord Champion.” A quiet voice behind the guard, and the crowd parted once more. “I went to see Toturi-sama on a matter of business, and when I arrived, Kachiko was there. She asked me to leave, for the Emperor was resting before the celebration.”
Shiba Tsukune’s eyes were red with hatred, and her hand passed dangerously near the hilt of her katana. “I did not believe her, and I summoned the guard to attend the Emperor. I was there when they found the silk, and I have seen that what they say is true.
“Moreover,” Tsukune continued, “I knew of the secret chambers that led beyond the Emperor’s room. They were shown to me long ago. I led the guards through the secret passage, hoping to find some trace of the Emperor.” Her voice turned scathing “I found more than I would have liked, and less than I hoped. This dagger,” Tsukune held out a sharpened tanto, covered in blood, “was in the hand of a Scorpion spy. I attempted to capture him, but he resisted. His body is being attended to by the palace eta.”
“You are certain this man was a Scorpion?” Toshimoko asked simply.
The Champion of the Phoenix raised her head, throwing her shoulders back with pride.
“He was seen with Kachiko earlier, and my yojimbo knows his name. He was Bayushi Tagurnura, daimyo of a minor palace near Ryoko Owari and guard to Bayushi Kachiko
herself. I would stake my honor on it.”
A hushed whisper raced through the assembled courtiers. They had gathered within Otosan Uchi’s grand palace, thrown open the gates to the Forbidden City and planned a great festival. The occasion was the second anniversary of the reign of Emperor Toturi the first, Lord of Otosan Uchi and Master of all Rokugan. Now, he was missing, and the hate-filled eyes of the Phoenix believed that they knew the truth of his tale.
“Explain this, my lady… if you can.” Kakita Toshimoko held out the sash that Kachiko had been wearing earlier, noting the bloodstains on the rich fabric “It is yours, is it not?”
“It is,” the Mistress of the Scorpion said simply.
“It was found in the Emperor’s chambers, and these men say that you were the last to have seen the Emperor.”
“I removed the sash when I went to my chambers after the Emperor asked to retire alone. I do not know how it arrived in his quarters.”
Toshimoko kept his eyes on her face, watching the cunning eyes stare back at his own.
“As I am the Emperor’s Champion, I must judge on this case in his absence. Is there nothing you can say for yourself, Lady Kachiko?” The silence spread through the chamber like an uncomfortable blanket. As the Scorpion bushi gathered around their lady, Toshimoko continued. “If the Scorpion have done some harm to the Emperor…”
“Harm!” lkoma Tsanuri’s voice, shouting. “lf they have touched him, I swear l will destroy them all!”
More shouting, and the Crane reached for their blades, ready to attack every Scorpion guard that surrounded Kachiko’s still form.
“Return him, woman,“ Doji Kuwanan said angrily, “or suffer the revenge of an Empire.”
“What do you know of revenge?” Kachiko’s black hair slid across the smooth silk of her kimono as she turned to look at the Crane lord.
“What do you know of honor?” he snarled, gritting his teeth.
“Kill the Scorpion! Find Toturi!” The whisper ripped through the assembly as the dead Scorpion’s body was brought in by the eta. There was no mistake. It was Tagumura.
In his dead hand, he still held a torn piece of Toturi’s cloak/
“Judgment!” screamed Shiba Tsukune, pointing an accusing finger at the knot of Scorpion. “You have our testimony, and the vision of your own eyes, Emerald Champion!
What more do you need?”
“Kachiko…” Toshimoko whispered. “Anything.”
She was as silent as a stone.
“Then I must pronounce the Scorpion guilty of this crime, as accused.” Toshimoko said slowly, crumpling the silk scrap in his fist. “Return the Emperor, or suffer for your arrogance.”
“We cannot return Toturi-sama,” one of the Scorpion said, stunned. “We do not have him! Please, Kakita-sama…”
His head was removed from his shoulders before Kachiko could even whisper the command. There would be no more begging… not for the mercy of an Empire that had already chosen their fate. Toshimoko drew a long breath, pondering the sentence he would levy upon the Scorpion Clan. It was within his right to order their deaths at his hands, but such an action could only bring war and widespread slaughter.
“If I may speak, Emerald Champion?” A man in yellow and green stepped to Toshimoko’s side, and the Emerald Champion recognized his aide, Kitsuki Yasu.
“As my advisor and trusted aide, your words are welcome, Yasu-san,” Toshimoko said somberly.
“I, too have searched for information in the secret corridors of the palace, following where Tsukune-sama turned back to fight the Scorpion spy. I saw three men in the distance, entering a boat that sailed out into the bay. One remained behind to fight me, but escaped when he saw the guard approaching. I never saw his face, but his skill was that of the finest warrior I have ever had the opportunity to contest. When I fought with him there on the dockside, I disarmed him. After he had gone, I found this.” Yasu held out another blade, this one touched by blood as well.
“The blade is Akodo. They are – were – made for each Akodo samurai on his gempukku, and never left their owners’ sides. An Akodo guarded his blade as closely as he did his katana; no Scorpion born could blackmail him of it, and it cannot be reproduced. The secrets of its forging were lost with the dead Lion house; tradition maintains that part of the samurai’s soul went into his blade” Yasu unwrapped the tanto and held the ivory handle gently, looking down at the filigreed head of the noble beast that had been shaped into its tsuba. “If I may?”
Toshimoko nodded, and Yasu broke the knife’s hilt across his knee. The hilt shattered, chipping into ivory shards that scattered at his feet like glass. Yasu brushed away fragments of ivory from the tang, peering down at the metal with interest. When he saw the name inscribed upon the tang, his face grew ashen with surprise.
“The name, samurai?” the Emerald Champion prompted.
Remembering that he stood before the entire assembly of the Empire, Yasu flinched.
“Hai, -sama. The tang is inscribed with the name of the samurai that owned it, marking it with his life and his soul.” The Dragon looked up with haunted eyes. “Kage, sire. The tang bears the name of Akodo Kage.”
Kage, dead at the Day of Thunder, his body burned by the lkoma. Kage, whose knife had never left the old sensei’s side, not in all the years of his long life. No Scorpion could have taken the blade – only a Lion. Only another member of the Akodo house would have even known to take it and they would never desecrate such a holy item. Only an Akodo would have had this blade, been in that corridor – on that lonely dock – and then lost the blade during the struggle. An Akodo, after all this time, assaults the Emperor?
Or a stranger truth… Kage himself?
“How can that be?” Toshimoko blinked incredulously.
“It is too late, Emerald Champion. There is no more time for such distractions. You have your testimony – this ‘evidence’ is meaningless. Only testimony can change the fate of these Scorpion traitors. Pronounce sentence upon them, and let us immediately begin the search for Toturi, before these spies are lost forever.” Tsukune’s voice was bitter, cruel.
The Scorpion had already been pronounced guilty. No matter what the evidence, Toshimoko could not change his judgment. He did not know if the Scorpion were guilty, but he could not take the chance.
“Your sentence is not in my hands, but in the hands of the Fortunes themselves. lf you will not return the Emperor, then you will be lost to the Empire as well. Until Toturi the First is returned to his throne, unharmed, the Scorpion are forever banished from the Empire. Let all those who have allegiance to the Bayushi and their house journey to the north, through Exile’s Pass, to the wastelands beyond. The Empire has no place for traitors.”
Toshimoko’s voice rang clearly over the protests of the Phoenix, and he held up his hand to silence their cries.
“And if Toturi is brought back to us, Lady Kachiko,” he continued, “then you, as well, are welcome to return.” It was an offer, and a challenge, and he saw her dark eyes flash with recognition.
“It is a death sentence,” one of the Scorpion said softly, lowering his blade.
“It is a chance.” Kachiko whispered in reply.
“Such a journey would be hazardous.” The voice was quiet, but firm. The crowd parted, and from the rear of the chamber, by the tall Jade Throne. Kakita Yoshi regarded Kachiko critically. “We could not be so cruel as to subject your children to such a harsh journey. The Crane will gladly take them into our care – and educate them in your absence.”
After only a moment, the Mother of Scorpions bowed.