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Violence Behind Courtliness
By Shawn Carman and Rich Wulf

The city's name was Toshi Ranbo wo Shien Shite Reigisaho, or Violence Behind Courtliness City. There was perhaps no city in the Empire more aptly named, for tension and anger often ruled the streets of Toshi Ranbo. Before it had become the Imperial Capital, Toshi Ranbo sat at the heart of Rokugan's most bitter blood feud, the hatred that burned between the Lion and Crane Clans. Conflict blossomed within its heart and spilled over into its streets, which had all too often run red with the blood of noble samurai. Despite the violence, the people of Toshi Ranbo were a fierce and determined sort. The only seemingly endless commodity in Toshi Ranbo was hope those who dwelled here always hoped that the wars might come to an end, or that at least this time peace would last longer than it had the time before.

The Lion and Crane had warred over the city for centuries, neither able to hold it for long. The roots of suspicion and deceit had found fertile soil in such an environment, and the number of murders in Toshi Ranbo reached historic highs during such times of crisis as the War Against the Darkness and the War of Spirits. Some whispered that the city was cursed, that the sinister Legacy of the Forge had taken root within it.

Yet the history of the city was not entirely one of darkness. It was here that the Crane lord Kurohito removed the curse from his clan's ancient sword, Chukandomo, and offered it to the Matsu house to heal the rift between the two clans as had always been the blade's intent. It was here that Lion and Crane champions stood together after the fall of Otosan Uchi, offering to rebuild the capital here and set aside their enmity for the good of the Empire. For years, Violence Behind Courtliness City had known some measure of peace.

This peace ended one year ago today. On that day, explosions had wracked the city. Fires consumed a quarter of the city, killing hundreds. The Lion and Crane turned upon one another in their paranoia, each blaming the other for the catastrophe. Ironically, the only thing that ceased the two clans from breaking the fragile peace was the Rain of Blood. As foul magic poured from the sky and corrupted the hearts of the weak and wicked, both Lion and Crane set aside their investigations temporarily. Of course, neither side forgot. Lion and Crane each blamed the other for their failure to protect the Emperor's capital, and samurai do not forgive easily&

Today&

Akodo Setai knew more of suffering than virtually anyone who called Toshi Ranbo home. His past was filled with horrors that most souls could count themselves fortunate to never imagine. Despite his unpleasant past, Setai had slowly cultivated a reputation among those in the Imperial Court as an idealist. He was that something of an oddity in the court: a Lion who truly embraced peace.

Setai's morning had already been an interesting one, and he had not yet reached the court chambers. His tardiness would doubtless upset his fellow Lion delegates. Kitsu Juri in particular placed great emphasis on punctuality, but in Setai's mind it could not be helped. Two young samurai had come before Setai as he left his private residence this morning, seeking his wisdom to settle a dispute. It was a matter of honor; one man had spoken rashly and unintentionally insulted the other. The matter might have been settled in a duel, but Setai had brought the feud to a bloodless end. The two young men had walked away as friends. Such victories were worth more to the former Deathseeker than any battle. Juri and the others could wait. If he could not make time for such things, Setai reasoned, then what purpose was there to the Imperial Court at all?

As Setai approached the court chambers, his mood quickly soured. The voices within were heated, nearly shouting, which was frowned upon among such distinguished company. Even before he entered, Setai recognized the speaker's voice.

"It is as I have asserted all along, Chancellor," the small man was saying as Setai slipped quietly into the back of the chamber. "The Crane have done nothing to demonstrate their efforts to locate the culprit in the devastating fires that rocked this city, now over a year ago." He turned to face the assembled courtiers, particularly Bayushi Kaukatsu, the Imperial Chancellor. "We all remember the days following those attacks& and attacks they surely were for, surely only a fool would presume the fires were accidental. We all remember the chaos and the efforts of all loyal citizens of Toshi Ranbo, my clan in particular, to restore order. We Lion have worked tirelessly to discover the truth, but the Crane seem to have put aside their concern and embraced other matters. When did any of us last see the legendary Doji magistrates patrolling the streets? I know I have seen only a handful, only the few we might see in more peaceful times, even while countless Lion samurai still scour the streets."

"Your observations are keen, Shusaku," the Imperial Chancellor observed. "Your words seem not to have lost their edge, despite the frequency with which you recite them before this august body. In typical fashion, however, you have left us all desperately longing to know what you might suggest to correct this grievous oversight." The old Scorpion clicked his fan shut and looked at Shusaku questioningly. "Have the Lion's investigations born any fruit to justify your superior vigilance? Or do your warriors merely waste time here when they might be restoring peace in Kaeru Toshi or hunting the Bloodspeakers?"

"Their vigilance is well placed," Shusaku said grimly, ignoring Kaukatsu's scathing sarcasm, "but our power is limited. By Imperial decree Toshi Ranbo is a Crane city, as it was Doji Kurohito who originally broached the offer of peaceful coexistence between Lion and Crane to our Righteous Emperor. I believe it is in the Emperor's best interests that the Crane should cede their administrative rights throughout the city to Seppun Kiharu until such time as the truth can be discovered." He bowed deeply to the new Seppun daimyo, who glanced up in blank surprise at the sound of his name. "I have no doubt that such a good faith effort on the Crane's part will restore the faith of everyone within the city in their efforts."

Kaukatsu's expression was unreadable behind his elegant silk mask, but there was a distinct sparkle in his eyes. "That is, without question, the most entertaining thing I have heard in quite some time." He turned to the Crane delegation, half of whom were staring at Shusaku in silent rage. The other half, Setai noticed, almost seemed amused. "Cousins of the Crane," Kaukatsu said, "how do you respond?"

"None can fault Akodo Shusaku for his enthusiasm at protecting the Emperor's interests," Doji Seishiro responded evenly. "Indeed, his zeal should be commended. However, he seems to believe that simply because fails to notice the Crane's ongoing investigations, that they are not taking place. Clearly our Lion allies are doing a thorough job of searching for new information in the city streets, and we are welcome to allow them the glory of finding any enemies of the Emperor who choose to reveal themselves there. Rather than interfere with the Lion's objectives, we focus elsewhere. And in any event, the esteemed Seppun daimyo already has the great responsibility of tending to the Ten Thousand Temples. In such a time of spiritual uncertainty and doubt, I am certain our bold Lion comrades would not truly desire to distract Kiharu-san from his holy duties." Seishiro looked at Shusaku blandly, challenging him to reply.

Shusaku smiled slightly. "Then the Lion would of course be more than willing to aid the Kiharu in administrating the city. As you have admitted, Seishiro, we already know the streets so well."

Setai groaned inwardly as he saw the Crane delegates fix Shusaku with cold glares or merely hide their displeasure behind upturned fans. He knew Shusaku was an ambitious man; he desired nothing less than for the Lion to be Toshi Ranbo's sole protectors. There were many among the clan who agreed with him, perhaps too many. If something was not done swiftly, the peace between Lion and Crane might end here, and the Emperor's strongest supporters would be divided once more.

Bayushi Kaukatsu tapped the tip of his fan quietly against his chin. To Setai, his posture was similar to that of a sensei who has finally seen some hint of promise in the class's slowest student. "Quite an admirable and sincere offer, Shusaku-san," he observed with a glance to the other Lion. "And do you have the authority to speak for your clan in such matters? Setai-san, what say you?"

Kitsu Juri shot Setai a warning look; Setai only nodded and stepped forward. "Shusaku is a wise and honorable man, but he does not speak for all Lion, Kaukatsu-sama," he replied. "While he is, of course, completely correct regarding the Lion's desire to root out the Emperor's enemies, but I feel it inappropriate to presume the Crane have failed in their duties. If they were to ask our aid, we would readily demand it, but I would demand that they step down."

"Certainly not," Kaukatsu returned with a sigh. "You are a most honorable man, Setai-san. Though you are a Lion, I think none here could doubt that your first concern is that peace reign in this city. Perhaps I might importune you to evaluate what progress has been made by both Lion and Crane in discovering, as your assistant puts it, the truth. Then we might determine who, if anyone, has truly failed."

Setai winced inwardly at the Chancellor's words. Clearly, the old man was upset that he had undermined Shusaku's clever embarrassment of the Crane, and was placing him in an awkward and difficult position.

"I would of course be honored, Chancellor," Setai said, "if you feel I am worthy of such a task."

"Indeed I do, Setai-san," Kaukatsu responded with obvious delight.

Seishiro took another bite from his apple as he strode through the streets of the city.

"And the Lion say too few Crane magistrates patrol these streets," said a voice behind him. "I see Toshi Ranbo has been rendered quite safe from criminal apples." Another Crane fell into step beside Seishiro, shaking his head in mock condemnation.

"Nagori," Seishiro said, grinning to the storyteller. "I did not realize you had returned to the city."

"I have been here for three days, steeping myself in the local rumor and gossip before revealing myself," he said with a grin, "I assume you have been invited to Kakita Hirotada's dinner tonight as well?"
"I have," Seishiro replied.

Nagori sighed. "His wife will be most distressed if she learns that you ate first," the storyteller replied. "She takes great pride in the talent of her chefs."

"I know," Seishiro replied, still chewing, "but the rich cuisine of the northern provinces does not suit me. I spent too many years on the roads; I prefer simpler fare." He took a final bite from his apple and lobbed the core into a pile of refuse. Nagori simply shook his head and they walked in silence for several moments. Seishiro smiled broadly and drew another apple from his obi, offering it to his friend.

"Oh, thank Fortunes I was hoping you had another," Nagori said, accepting it eagerly and taking a large bite. "I forgot to eat before I left."

Seishiro laughed. "You'd best eat quickly, Nagori. We're almost there."

A Lion emerged from the gates of the estate. He bowed low to Doji Nagori, who returned the gesture, then turned and strode purposefully down the street.

"Who was that, Nagori?" Seishiro asked as he entered the building.

Nagori turned and glanced toward the street beyond. "Matsu Atasuke," he answered. "He is assisting Akodo Setai with his investigation and wished to ask a few questions."

"Atasuke?" Seishiro frowned as they entered the estates. "Domotai-chan's sensei?"

"The same," Nagori replied.

"This investigation is a farce," Seishiro snapped. "I had hoped for better from Setai, but it seems that he hungers to rule the city again as much as any Lion."

"Doubtful," Nagori assured him. A servant directed them to a quiet chamber where they could enjoy a cup of tea while they waited for Hirotada to attend them. "I spoke to Atasuke already. He seems almost embarrassed by the entire affair, and from what he said I believe Setai is extremely cross with Shusaku for placing the clan in such a position."

"Shusaku is more cunning than he appears," Seishiro said. "Doji Masaru knew him best; he was Shusaku's most relentless opponent until Kurohito mysteriously assigned him elsewhere. Now, ironically, his greatest opposition is from within his own clan Setai."

Nagori shook his head. "I confess I will never understand the Lion. Their heroes are among the most noble and honorable of men, but they stand beside their arrogant brethren, men like Shusaku."

Seishiro shrugged. "I suppose we do no less. Setai fancies himself something of a sensei. He hopes to save all of us from ourselves. I have told him on occasion that not all of us are worth saving, but I do not think he agrees."

"Fortunate he did not," Nagori said. "Did he not convince you to remain in Toshi Ranbo?"

"I am not like Shusaku," Seishiro replied, stopping at the door of the chamber.

Nagori shrugged. "Yet I fear Shusaku is not unique. Many Lion have been waiting for years for any sign of weakness, any sign to begin our blood feud anew& I fear some among our own clan are no better."

"Let the Lion challenge us if they dare," Seishiro said, sitting at the low table. "Kurohito is prepared for any Lion treachery. If they would break our treaty, they will swiftly find they cannot administrate the city without us, with or without Kaukatsu's help."

It was Nagori's turn to frown. "What do you mean?"

Seishiro sat across from Nagori and took a teacup. "How many major cities are found within the Lion lands? How many centers of trade that can compare to Toshi Ranbo, Ryoko Owari, or Yasuki Yashiki?"

"None, I suppose," Nagori answered. "Other than Kaeru Toshi, but that is hardly a center of trade considering the Lion's war against the Unicorn."

"Exactly. The Lion are tremendous soldiers, exceptional generals, and worthy allies or adversaries." Seishiro sipped his tea. "They are, however, poor administrators. Politics, mercantile concerns, and even management of resources at this enormous level confound even the most tactical mind. The Lion simply have no frame of reference for managing a city of this size. Even in Kaeru Toshi, they leave such matters to their vassals." He smiled. "So we have& helped them. There is a great deal of bureaucracy in the Imperial City, and the Crane account for more than their fair share of it. All Lion magistrates in the city have at least one advisor trained by the Crane. The Lion are simply not aware of the amount of effort it takes to keep this city orderly and controlled we have insured that they are not aware. Should we Crane lose our position here, Kurohito will simply recall their advisors and let the Lion stumble."

Nagori nodded slowly. "I am not surprised to hear my cousin endorsed such a gambit, though I find it difficult to believe the Lion have no capable governors."

"Perhaps I have exaggerated somewhat," Seishiro answered. "There are a few quarters with extremely capable governors who appear to need little or no assistance from us. Ieshige, for instance, seems to possess a keen mind, and his Okura district runs as efficiently as any Crane city. But for the most part our withdrawal would be an even greater political disaster for the Lion than it would be for us. Especially given their recent problems with the Unicorn in Kaeru Toshi the Lion could not afford to spread themselves so thin. In seeking to dominate Toshi Ranbo, they would inevitably be forced to ask for aid. Even a Lion's pride is not so great that he would fail the Emperor for it."

"Yet if such a thing were to occur, who could say if it would benefit the Crane?" Nagori mused. "Kaukatsu might move his own Scorpion agents in to restore order rather than turn to us& although I suppose in Kurohito's eyes that would be more welcome than losing Toshi Ranbo to the Lion again."

Seishiro nodded. "The Scorpion, at least, know the intricacies of negotiation. Though I cannot help but wonder if Kurohito's plans extend even beyond what we know."

"I would not be surprised." Nagori refilled his cup. "Your friend Setai& does he have any inkling of the Crane's true power in the city? Could his investigation pose a threat to this arrangement?"

"Setai is a good man, and I think perhaps he realizes there is more to the shared control of this city than is immediately obvious, but I do not believe he has discovered anything further. I hope it remains thus; it would be a shame to lose his trust over such a trivial matter. My true concern is with Kikaze."

"Daidoji Kikaze?" Nagori asked, confused.

Seishiro nodded. "Kikaze conducts his own investigations into the fires. I suspect he knows more than anyone about what has happened& yet he speaks only to Kurohito. When a Harrier remains silent, I grow worried. Whatever he has found, I hope Setai does not expose it to the city before Kikaze is prepared to deal with it."

"With luck, Kikaze has covered his tracks well," Nagori said in a worried voice. "I would add that if a Harrier deems fit to hide the truth from me, it is likely a truth I do not want to know."

"Perhaps," Seishiro said.

"In any case, above all discretion should be maintained," Nagori said. "This is the longest time in recent history that the Lion and the Crane have not warred upon one another. I, for one, would prefer it to remain so."

"As would I," Seishiro replied. "Though I think we are still at war& it is merely a different sort of battlefield."

Two Weeks Later&

Matsu Atasuke glanced over at Setai, and not for the first time wondered what two soldiers like themselves were doing in the midst of the Imperial Court. Setai's tale of redemption was well known, but Atasuke was little more than a low-ranking sensei. Setai had asked for his assistance because of knowledge of the Crane Clan, and now Atasuke was preparing to discuss matters that would affect his entire clan before the Imperial Chancellor, easily one of Rokugan's most powerful men.

All things considered, he would much rather be back at the dojo.

"Akodo Setai-san," Kaukatsu said in his rich, warm voice. "I understand you have been very diligent in pursuing the matter I set before you some time ago. Perhaps you might deign to address the Court today? I am certain many others share my interest in your investigation." The Chancellor glanced briefly at a cluster of Crane delegates on the opposite side. Seeing Setai's curt nod, Kaukatsu gestured to the floor in front of his dais and reclined, fanning himself lightly. Setai could not help but notice the tiny steel hooks that lined the edge of the Chancellor's fan.

"Noble cousins," Setai began, speaking in the loud voice of a career soldier. "I am but a warrior. The task that Kaukatsu-sama asked of me is something far beyond my experience in this life, but I could not deny his request. I have investigated the activities of both the Crane and my own clan in Toshi Ranbo, especially concerning the fires of one year ago, and I have come to very unpleasant conclusions." The crowd stirred at this, but Setai seemed to take no notice.

"This city was established as the new capitol of Rokugan," he continued, "as part of an agreement between Lion and Crane. As part of that agreement, both clans swore an oath to protect the city. In the spirit of this agreement, my lord Matsu Nimuro surrendered half the city to the Crane, that they might share an equal part in its defense, even though Doji Kurohito had himself ceded the entire city to the Lion only months before." He drew himself up and regarded the crowd. "My subordinate, Akodo Shusaku, has alleged that the Crane have failed in their duty to protect this city. I stand before you today to state my opinion that he is correct, and that the Crane have indeed failed in their duty to protect Toshi Ranbo."

Again, the crowd was restless. Atasuke glanced at the Crane. Doji Seishiro's expression was grim, but Doji Nagori simply watched Setai calmly. Atasuke looked back to Setai and nodded. After closing his eyes for the briefest moment, Setai continued. "The Crane have failed," he repeated, "but no more so than the Lion."

Kaukatsu held up a hand to quiet the sudden outburst of whispers. "Intriguing," he said with a languid smile. "Continue."
"Toshi Ranbo is the home of our Emperor and the joint protectorate of both Lion and Crane, the Emperor's Right and Left Hands," Setai continued. "Because of our mutual mistrust, because of the centuries of animosity between us, we have failed to set aside our differences and work together to uncover those who dared attack the Righteous Emperor. We have failed to live up to the example set by our noble lords, Nimuro and Kurohito. We have failed, and I for one am filled with shame."

"An interesting if melodramatic point," Kaukatsu offered. "The Emperor would be poorly served by the mass seppuku of Lion and Crane within his city. How, then, do you propose that your clan and the Crane atone for this dereliction of duty, Setai?"

"I have already submitted a formal request to all ranking members of my clan within this city," Setai said, "including both the venerable Kitsu Juri and the honorable Akodo Ieshige, to divulge all information gathered over the course of the past year to the Crane, that our information might be added to their own. What we could not accomplish separately, we may together complete. To begin with, I invite my comrade, Matsu Atasuke, to address the court." The soldier turned and nodded to Atasuke.

The sensei stepped forward and bowed low before the Chancellor. Kaukatsu gestured subtly with his fan, inviting Atasuke to speak.

"Kaukatsu-sama," Atasuke said. "It was my great privilege to assist Setai-san in his investigation. As a show of good faith toward the Crane and all those assembled in this city, beneath our mutual protection, there is a matter that we must discuss." He rose and gestured for a messenger to step forward. The young Ikoma woman offered a scroll first to the Chancellor, then to the Crane. "When in the course of the task set you set before us, Setai and I discovered these documents circulating among certain members of our clan. In reading them, you will discover as we did a plot by a handful of disloyal Lion to harm several members of the Imperial Court. This plot was put into motion by Ikoma Tsai and his vassals."

"And what has become of these vassals?" Kaukatsu demanded.

"They have confessed their crimes and offered the privilege of seppuku to cleanse their honor," Atasuke said. "They will be dead before sunrise, Chancellor."

"And the leader?" Kaukatsu persisted. "He was lost in the Rain of Blood, was he not?"

Atasuke glanced at Setai. The former Deathseeker's jaw was clenched tightly. He only nodded.

"Setai-sama, I do not understand," Shusaku said, voice nearly shaking with repressed anger. "You would surrender all of the fruits of our investigation to the Crane as well as announce the private shame of our clan before this assembly? How can you do such a thing?"

"This is not a matter of Lion or Crane," Setai said. "It is a matter of the Emperor's security. That surpasses all concerns of clan. My investigations thus far have determined that the Crane seem to know much, but their agents seek the truth in a far subtler manner than we Lion. Easier for us to surrender our findings to them and allow them to take over the investigation than to demand their agents compromise themselves by sharing what they have found with us."

"Compromise?" Kaukatsu asked mildly. "How unlike a Lion."

"Not at all, Kaukatsu-sama," said a voice from the back of the court.

The assembled courtiers all turned at the sound of the voice. Even Atasuke was surprised, though when he looked at Setai his fellow Lion only smiled.

"At this point I would like to introduce my esteemed ally," Setai said, "a face that is not unknown to this court. He is Doji Masaru, former Crane ambassador to Toshi Ranbo, current advisor to lord Matsu Nimuro in the city of Kaeru Toshi."

"A Crane, advising my lord in the City of the Rich Frog?" Shusaku said in surprise. "I have heard of no such thing."

"If Matsu Nimuro chooses not to share the details of his campaign in Kaeru Toshi with you, that is no fault of mine," Masaru said in a smooth voice. "I have come to speak on behalf of my master, Doji Kurohito, and accept the Lion's generous offer."

"Offer?" Kaukatsu asked, looking back at Setai.

"You have asked the Lion and Crane to bring peace to one city," Setai replied. "We offer you two. While the Crane conduct their investigations, they will also assume responsibilities for street patrols in Toshi Ranbo. Satisfied that the city is in safe hands, the Lion will be free to withdraw their troops to Kaeru Toshi, and there help restore peace as the Righteous Emperor has commanded."
"At my lord Kurohito's request I have spent the last few months in the City of the Rich Frog," Masaru said. "Matsu Nimuro has asked a great deal about the happenings in the Imperial City. Though my role is primarily as a tactical advisor, I have informed him of the events of the court as best as a humble samurai such as myself is able. Lord Nimuro sends a message for you, Akodo Shusaku."

"A message?" Shusaku asked, surprised. "For me?"

Masaru reached into his obi, drawing out a thin scroll and unrolling it with an open smirk. "Shusaku, of the House Akodo," Masaru read aloud. "The Lion Clan recognizes your endless vigilance in pursuit of the Emperor's safety, even in the face of those we consider our allies. To reward such vigilance, you are to be immediately reassigned to the city of Kaeru Toshi, where your unit will be the first to defend the honor of the Lion vs. the Khol, Army of the Center, led by Moto Chagatai, the Khan."

Shusaku's face paled, but he bowed smoothly. "For the glory of the Lion, I shall do as my lord commands," he said in an even voice.

Atasuke felt a cold chill creep into his heart. Shusaku was brash and arrogant to be sure, but what the Crane had just read essentially amounted to a death sentence. At least it was a Lion's death, a glorious death, and if Shusaku survived perhaps he would return a bit wiser than he had left.

One could always hope. In Toshi Ranbo, hope was the only truly limitless commodity.

 

 

 

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