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Right of Honor, Strength of Steel
By Rich Wulf

"Tell me, Higatsuku, why I should spare your life."

The most difficult part was, Shosuro Higatsuku could not think of a reason. He bowed as deeply as possible and apologized again; perhaps that would buy him time. "Rumors spread swiftly and grow with the telling, even as your glorious victories against the Crane increase with every telling, Kaneka-sama." The young Scorpion exercised every iota of his willpower to keep the fear from his voice. He glanced about the great meeting hall of Yasuki Yashiki, hoping to find some shadow of sympathy in the faces of the Bastard's advisors. He saw none. "Surely there is little truth to these rumors. Surely this is nothing more than another attempt by your enemies to undermine your claim upon the throne"

"Perhaps'" Kaneka said, "if rumors were all l faced. Kitsuki-san?"

A tall man in robes of green and gold stepped forward, looking nervous and out of place. Glancing around and bowing briefly to those assembled, he drew a slim scroll from his robe. "My name is Kitsuki Remata," he said. "It was I who originally undertook the investigation of Akodo Kaneka's heritage, and discovered that he bore a closer blood relation to the Yasuki house than its daimyo at the time, Yasuki Hachi. Upon further investigation, I detected certain. . . inconsistencies in my initial findings, and chose to conduct an independent investigation."

A few Lion and Crab among Kaneka's advisors were glaring at the Dragon. Some moved their swords where they could be drawn more easily Remata hesitated. As much as Higatsuku disliked seeing one of his clan's allies the target of their anger, he was relieved that their attention was no longer on him. He stepped back into the crowd.

"Go on, Kitsuki-san," Kaneka said sharply. "Your family is renowned for its dedication to the truth. Anyone who would interfere with the truth will answer to me."

Remata nodded. "The earlier documents were a forgery," he said.

A chorus of startled gasps echoed through the room; all had heard the rumors, but to hear them confirmed by a Kitsuki was something different. Higatsuku was not surprised. He had warned Kaneka of such a possibility months ago. Had the Bastard listened?

"The geisha Hatsuko bears no relation to the Yasuki," Hachi said. "She was, in fact, purchased by the Shosuro from the Nanbu, a small vassal family of the Soshi."

Akodo Ijiasu leapt to his feet. He looked ready to draw his blade.

"Ijiasu-san," Kaneka said with a small smile. "You seem prepared for combat. Whom do you plan to attack?"

Ijiasu paused, mouth open. "I. . ."

"Do you believe you have more right to anger than I?" Kaneka asked.

"Of course not, Kaneka-sama," Ijiasu said.

"Then sit," Kaneka commanded, "and let me deal with this."

Ijiasu sat, lowering his head in shame. Higatsuku was impressed once again. Though Kaneka had an astounding capacity for violence, he had an equally remarkable ability to control his temper when it mattered.

"Remata-san," Kaneka continued. "In your estimation, who do you think is responsible for this fraud? Who would seek to stain my honor in such a manner?"

"I think that much is obvious," Moto Chagatai said, stroking his short beard. "Your half-brother, Naseru, has little love for you, Kaneka-sama." Higatsuku looked at the Unicorn Khan silently. Much like Kaneka, that one was far more intelligent than his brutish demeanor suggested.

"Actually," Remata continued, "it was Lord Naseru who dispatched me on this mission. I believe that he had hoped that I could somehow disprove Lord Kaneka's relation to his father. When he received the news that Kaneka was in fact the Yasuki heir, he seemed most distressed."

"That makes sense," Yoritomo Kitao cut in. "Everyone knows that Yasuki Hachi is Naseru's lap-dog." Higatsuku chuckled silently. That one, he knew from experience, was exactly as stupid as she looked.

"So not Naseru, then," Kaneka said, sounding unconvinced, "which brings us back to Miya Ippei, the man you believe forged the documents in question."

"A man who was recently found dead, from an overdose of Liquid Void, a powerful opium extract," Remata said.

"How convenient," Kaneka said with a scowl.

"My investigations have determined that Ippei owed a considerable gambling debt to the Golden Fish casino in Ryoko Owari," Remata added. "A casino owned by your advisor. Shosuro Higatsuku"

"Which brings us back to the beginning," Kaneka said, looking back to Higatsuku.

Higatsuku groaned inwardly as everyone in the room turned their attention to him once again.

"What do you have to say for yourself, Higatsuku?" Kaneka asked.

"You should kill him, Kaneka-sama," Moto Chagatai said. "I would." Chagatai met Higatsuku's gaze with a dead-eyed stare. Higatsuku quickly looked at the floor.

"One moment," Kaneka said, holding out a hand toward Chagatai. "Speak, Higatsuku."

"My lord, I am. . ." Higatsuku paused for a long moment. "I am disgusted!"

Kaneka raised an eyebrow. "Explain."

"I find this entire situation insulting!" Higatsuku said, finding a measure of courage as he gained momentum. "You know me, my Lord. You know that I would never plot against you."

"I do?" Kaneka replied. "And how do I know that?"

"Have you so quickly forgotten how I entered your service?" Higatsuku cried. "You threatened my life and brutally assaulted me! I have seen how my lord treats those who have earned his ire! I have seen the fate of your enemies! Do you truly think that I wish to be counted among their number? Lord Kaneka, I am terrified of you."

"So it seems," Kaneka said impassively, "The fact remains, you were blackmailing Miya Ippei."

"As were three Bayushi, two Ikoma, and an Otomo I can name!" Higatsuku cried. "The man was. . . unrestrained in his urges. You know that I serve you loyally, Kaneka, and you know why." Higatsuku let the suggestion hang. Both men knew that Higatsuku had commanded the death of the Mantis Champion, Aramasu. A single word from the Bastard to the appropriate Mantis samurai and Shosuro Higatsuku's life would be worth less than a Doji courtier in the deep Shadowlands.

Kaneka frowned. "You claim to be loyal, but such a thing is easy to say."

"Then allow me to prove it," Higatsuku said, stepping into the open area in the center of the chamber.

With a swift movement, he drew his wakizashi from his obi. A startled hush passed through the assembly. Higatsuku looked at each of them with a smile. He could tell what they were thinking. Some wondered if he planned to attack Kaneka. Some wondered if he planned to commit seppuku to prove his sincerity. Instead, his action stunned every samurai in the room

Shosuro Higatsuku buried his sword in a crack between two stones in the floor, twisted, and shattered his own wakizashi.

"Higatsuku, what is the meaning of this?" Kaneka demanded.

"Proof, my lord," Higatsuku said, plucking a small piece of broken steel from the floor. "Legend has it that after the Kami fell from the sky, a great tournament ensued to determine who would become the first Emperor. As you know, the first Hantei was the winner. To ensure the loyalty of his mighty brothers and sisters, Hantei demanded proof. Each one of them broke their original wakizashi. A legendary swordsman forged them into a single katana, a blade that Hantei carried always at his side. What samurai would dare shatter his own blade - a living symbol of his honor - if he was anything less than truthful? What samurai would dare enter into such a covenant if he was not sincere? I offer you this fragment of my broken blade, so that you may use it to forge the sword that will bring unity to the Empire."

"Kaneka-sama, I give you my sword as well!" Akodo Ijiasu said without hesitation. "In the name of the Lion Clan!" The young Lion stepped forward, knelt, and broke his wakizashi as Higatsuku had done.

"But what of the Yasuki?" Kaneka replied, refusing to be distracted from the matter at hand by Higatsuku's dramatic gesture. He rose from his seat and faced the Scorpion.

"You have never accepted the title of daimyo!" Higatsuku replied. You came here only to restore order and that you have done. The Crane attacked the Crab, distracting them from their duties on the Wall. You punished them. That is not the act of a usurper, that is the act of an Emperor."

"I am not Emperor." Kaneka said. "I have not earned that title."

"Shogun, then," said Moto Chagatai. The Khan rose and drew his wakizashi.

Kaneka looked at the Unicorn Champion curiously. "I am not familiar with that title."

"It is a title described in the Book of Sun Tao," Chagatai replied. "The shogun is the Empire's military leader, a soldier who leads the people when the Emperor cannot or will not."

"Rokugan has never had a shogun," Akodo Ijiasu said.

"It has never needed one," Chagatai replied. "Until today, the shogun was merely a theory proposed by Sun Tao. Do you not see the beauty here? If you cannot ignore the whispers of your enemies, then shout to drown them out. Your brothers and sister take only small steps to claim the throne for themselves. Take this bold step, and let the Empire know that you are not to be trifled with."

"So be it, then," Kaneka said. "By the right of my honor, and by the strength of my steel, I will be Shogun."

With that, Moto Chagatai drove his sword into the floor and shattered it. "I am proud to serve you, Shogun'" he said, extending his hand in the Unicorn symbol of greeting.

"I am proud to have your loyalty, mighty Khan," Kaneka said, accepting Chagatai's hand and shaking it fiercely without hesitation. A respectful murmur passed through the many Unicorn present. Higatsuku concealed his disgust at the strange joy Unicorn took in touching one another's flesh.

"What of the Crab?" Kaneka asked, turning to their representative.

"You have treated us with honor," Hida Hitoshi said, also rising and shattering his sword. "My troops will serve you, Shogun, and I offer the services of the Kaiu Forge in preparing your new blade."

"My sincerest thanks, Hida-san" Kaneka said, impressed. The new shogun's eyes scanned the room. "Remata-san?"

The young Dragon blinked. "Yes?"

"You risked much coming here to report the truth to me," Kaneka said. "You are both brave and cunning. I would greatly value your service, Dragon, but I know you already serve Naseru. I leave the choice to you."

Remata paused for a long moment, brow furrowed in thought. "Lord Kaneka, I think. . ." a slow smile spread across his face, "I think that my life would be much simpler in your service." With that, Remata drew his sword and shattered it upon the floor.

"Excellent," Kaneka said. "What of the Mantis?" he turned to Yoritomo Kitao.

"With all due respect," Kitao said, bowing. "I would prefer to continue serving as I have. We Mantis require. . . flexibility"

"So that you can betray Kaneka as you did the Grab and Crane?" Higatsuku asked, smiling slightly. Kitao glared at Higatsuku, but said nothing. She knew better than to defy Higatsuku in public; he knew the truth behind her sudden ascension to Mantis Champion. "Shogun, if I may speak?" a voice came from the assembly.

All eyes turned. A petite young woman with delicate features stepped forward. She was dressed in the green silk of a simple Mantis sailor. The dark gleam in her eyes suggested she was anything but simple. Without another word, she drew the wakizashi from her obi and shattered it between the floor tiles.

"What is the meaning of this?" Kaneka demanded. "Who are you?"

"Shogun-sama," the girl said, "Yoritomo Kitao has difficulty demonstrating her loyalty in the same way that a blind man has difficulty perceiving color." Reaching behind her back the young Mantis drew out a pair of silver kama, holding them high for all to see. "I am Yoritomo Kumiko, Daughter of Storms, the true heir of Yoritomo. I give my loyalty to the Shogun." The assembled samurai gasped in shock and astonishment.

"Well," Higatsuku commented to himself, "This is an unexpected turn. . ."

"You!" Kitao shouted, advancing toward Kumiko. "How dare you?''

Kaneka gestured curtly. A pair of large Unicorn samurai barred Kitao's path.

"What?" Kitao demanded, glaring at Kaneka.

"Kumiko has displayed loyalty where you failed, Kitao," Higatsuku said boldly. "We will allow her ample opportunity to prove she is who she claims to be. For the time being. I suggest that you do not threaten the Shogun's vassal further."

"Well said. Higatsuku-san," Kaneka said.

Kitao seemed about to say something, then thought the better of it. Bowing to Kaneka a final time, she turned and left the chamber. Her Mantis samurai fell into line behind her. A handful remained, bowing before Kumiko. Kitao gave them all a disdainful glance, and was gone.

The impromptu ceremony continued for two hours, with many samurai stepping forward and offering their fealty to the new Shogun. Higatsuku was now alone in the chamber, writing names on a long sheaf of paper. He had been careful to memorize the faces and names of all those who had broken their blades. His own proclamation of loyalty may have had little other motivation than to preserve his own skin, but he would do his best to see to it that all the others kept their oaths. That sort of thing was why Kaneka kept him around, after all.

"Well done, Scorpion," said a voice from the shadows of the darkened chamber.

He looked up in surprise, "Lord Kaneka?" he said.

"The trick with the swords was a bit dramatic, don't you think?" the Bastard asked.

"Did my actions displease you, Lord Shogun?" he asked.

"Not in the least," Kaneka said with a small chuckle. "You played your part well Scorpion."

Higatsuku frowned. "I beg your pardon?"

Chagatai and I have been planning this for months. Kaneka said. I have always known I was not the Yasuki heir. Why do you think I was so careful not to take the Yasuki name? Once we had the resources of the Yasuki to draw upon, I had always intended to declare myself shogun and march upon the capitol. You merely provided a physical symbol for the others to rally behind, and I thank you."

"Incredible." Higatsuku said. "I suspected nothing."

"You are not the only one here with Scorpion blood," the Bastard said.

Higatsuku could not suppress a chuckle.

"Your games suit my purposes, Scorpion, but be cautious," Kaneka said. "I am watching you. Remember that I have Lion blood as well." A murderous gleam shone in Kaneka's eyes.

"Yes, Lord Shogun," Higatsuku said, hiding the terror from his voice.

Kaneka left Higatsuku to his work.






Kaze no Shiro Return


Togashi will return!