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Minor Complications
By Rich Wulf

Kasuga Taigen smoothed his new kimono over his chest and adjusted his long topknot. With a dissatisfied frown he began to pick invisible lint from his sleeve. He barely noticed as the door to his chambers slid open behind him.

"Preen all you want, Taigen," his brother said as he entered the daimyo's chambers. "They will still see you for the pirate you are."

Taigen glanced back over his shoulder and then laughed out loud. Though it had been five years, he readily recognized Eizan. He quickly crossed the chamber to greet his brother, tossing aside decorum as he seized him in a rough embrace. "Eizan, it is good to see you after so long," Taigen said. "I thought your ship was bound for the Ivory Kingdoms."

" The Fortune's Coin is safe enough with my son at the helm," Eizan answered. "In the meantime, I thought you might be having a rough time in the Imperial City and might be able to use a hand. Though I see I have clearly underestimated your dire circumstances." Eizan smirked and threw out one hand, gesturing at the rich and sumptuously decorated quarters that had become his brother's home in recent weeks.

"Hai," Taigen said, scratching his beard with an embarrassed grin. "I confess I am not used to such luxury. Would you believe that these are only temporary quarters used for visiting dignitaries until more suitable arrangements' can be made?"

Eizan coughed. "If this is unsuitable, I wish I could live unsuitably."

Taigen nodded. "You may find this hard to believe, Eizan, but this has been very difficult. I feel the silken sheets, I look upon breathtaking painted shoji, I smell the rich incense that flows through these halls at all times, and the sailor in me warns to be on guard, not to become accustomed to such a life. A man's fortunes can change in an instant, and tomorrow all of this could be gone."

"You are right," Eizan replied, picking up a small golden statue of Benten and examining it curiously, "but you are also a fool."

Taigen raised an eyebrow at his younger brother.

"You are right that all of this could be gone tomorrow, Taigen," Eizan said. "So I say enjoy it while you can."

"I cannot afford to be distracted, Eizan," Taigen answered. "I have responsibilities and obligations here. The fate of&"

" just the Tortoise but of all the Minor Clans has been placed upon you," Eizan finished for his brother. "I know, brother, I know. You are a good man, an honorable man, but I fear that you will worry yourself to death. And if you die, I shall have to take responsibility for leading the Tortoise. No one wants that, least of all me, so for the sake of your lazy brother please enjoy yourself from time to time."

Taigen laughed out loud then took a deep breath. "You have not changed at all, Eizan," he said. "And you call me a pirate."

"Only out of some hope that there is still some hint of my old brother wrapped up in that courtier's kimono," Eizan answered.

"I am glad you are here, Eizan," Kaigen said sincerely. "You always knew how to make my troubles seem lighter."

Eizan smirked again. "A vagabond like me has no troubles at all, so it's easy for me to bear some of the burden. So how is life among the Imperial Court?"

"Boring, mostly," Taigen admitted. "Most of the days are spent discussing matters of law or policy. The senior courtiers spend a great deal of time attempting to curry the Emperor's favor or undermining one another's attempts to do the same. I have little to do there, but that is to be expected. I am a newcomer to the court and the others are uncertain what to make of me. I have tried to build new alliances, but the going is difficult. The Great Clans are reluctant to offer of themselves if they feel they have nothing to gain& and the Minor Clans have precious little to offer."

"Oh?" Eizan replied, surprised. "I had heard you had gained powerful allies among the Dragon."

"We have, we have," Kaigen nodded quickly, "If not for them we would have no voice in the court at all, but they can only help so much. The Dragon are embroiled in many difficulties at the present time, not the least of which is the ongoing war in Kaeru Toshi."

"So offer them aid," Eizan said with a shrug. "If they are our allies, should the Minor Clans not help them?"

"It is not so easy," Kaigen said with a sigh. "By Imperial Law a Great Clan cannot instigate war against a Minor Clan, but the reverse is not also true. If we openly helped the Dragon in Kaeru Toshi, the Unicorn and Lion might interpret such an action as an act of war."
"So let the Lion and Unicorn come for us," Eizan snickered. "I would like to see the Shiotome load their horses on a ship and chase us across the sea."

"Ah, but the Tortoise represent all the assembled Minor Clans now," Kaigen replied. "What if the Khan retaliates against us by striking at the Hare? Or if the Lion use our interference as an excuse to raze Kyuden Tonbo once more?"

Eizan nodded soberly, considering the implications.

"At any rate, this same problem is what I go now to discuss," Kaigen said. "Representatives of all the Minor Clans have come to the Imperial City to meet with me and discuss policy."
"Politics," Eizan said, "and I thought I lived my life on treacherous seas. You are better off without these problems, I think. Great problems are for Great Clans. We of the Minor Clans should simply mind our own business these problems will resolve themselves."

"I cannot believe that," Kaigen replied. "I cannot believe there is no way for us to help. What if Yoritomo had said the same during the Clan War? Where would the Empire be today?"

Eizan looked at his brother with a sad smile. "Kaigen, you are a worthy man, but you are not Yoritomo."

"Perhaps I will fail," Kaigen shrugged, "but that is better than a life of regret, knowing I was too afraid to make a difference."

"If you say so," Eizan answered. "I admit, I do not envy you, brother, but I wish you well and I will stand by you as long as you require."

"Arigato, Eizan-san," Kaigen replied.

Eizan bowed to his brother and departed. It was several minutes before Kaigen realized that the statue of Benten was missing as well.

Eizan truly had not changed at all.

A hush fell over the chambers as Taigen entered. He was still growing accustomed to being afforded such respect. As lord of the Tortoise Clan, his relationship with his vassals was rather informal so he was not used to being treated as a daimyo deserved. Fortunately his allies among the Kitsuki had been very accommodating, and he had incorporated many of the nuances of etiquette that one could normally learn only through experience. The assembled dignitaries rose and bowed as he entered and he returned their gesture with a respectful bow of his own and seated himself at the head of the table.

"Konnichiwa, my friends," Taigen said with a charming smile. "I am pleased that all of you could spare the time to meet with me."

"It is the least we can do in the interests of a peaceful Empire," replied Tonbo Karasu, representative of the Dragonfly. The old magistrate sipped from his tea and glanced around the room with a vaguely amused, distracted air. "I must admit I did not expect to be meeting with my fellow ambassadors in a sake house, of all places, but in my age I have come to accept the unexpected."

"Oh, come now, Karasu-sama," Ichiro Jinzaburo said with a laugh. "If this is Taigen's style of politics, I think our lords have chosen well. The Smiling Tortoise is an exceptional sake house." The broad-shouldered Badger took a long drink from a bottle that most certainly did not contain tea.

"And also a discreet one," Taigen replied seriously. "As the name suggests, this establishment is one owned and operated by my clan. Thus I can insure not only that you will be well satisfied with your choice of refreshments, but that we can speak freely here with no worries that our words will be heard beyond these walls."

"Hai," Karasu said with a nod. "I hope my comments did not come off as a complaint. It was merely an observation. I, like Jinzaburo, find your often unconventional approach refreshing, Taigen-sama."

"I appreciate your vote of confidence," Taigen replied.

"I fail to see why such measures are required," interjected Suzume Kazuko. The Sparrow representative was a plain, soft-spoken woman whose pale eyes met Kaigen's with a severe intensity. "We are in the Imperial City, the heart of the Empire. Is it not our intent for the Minor Clans to gain more respect and influence in the court? Why, then, do we need to keep secrets?"

"Never trust a man who keeps no secrets," answered Natsu, the wizened old representative of the Ox Clan. "For he will not keep yours."

"Care to explain that aphorism, Ox?" the Sparrow said, looking at him intently.

"Secrets are the life's blood of this city," replied Kitsune Kainko. The young Fox maiden looked toward the Ox with a bright, curious gaze. "Secrets are expected. If the Great Clans believe that we have no secrets, they will have no reason to wish to know us."

"And if they believe we cannot protect our secrets, they will never see us as worthy allies," added Ujina Hiroya of the Hare. "We will forever be pawns, rather than allies."

"My thoughts precisely," Kaigen replied. "That, in part, is the purpose of this meeting. To demonstrate to the Great Clans that the Minor Clans are organized, united, and prepared to assemble of our own accord."

"And perhaps, in some small way, to make those who have overlooked us wonder what we might be planning?" Kainko asked with a small smile.

"Of course not, Kainko-chan," Kaigen said with a grin. "Such an act is duplicitous and hardly worthy of a samurai."

"I'm certain Chancellor Kaukatsu will spend many sleepless nights pondering our secrets," Toturi Miyako said in a dry voice. The Monkey Clan Champion folded her arms across her chest and sat back upon her heels. "Now perhaps we can speak of the issues at hand."

Kaigen glanced at Miyako with a polite smile. "Of course, Commander," he said. "We all have other pressing duties, I would not wish to distract any of you longer than is necessary. There are several matters of import that consume the Imperial Court of late. The situation in Kaeru Toshi grows worse by the day. The threat of Iuchiban continues to grow. The Wolf's Inquisitors have fallen under suspicion after the death of Agasha Hamanari and the Wolf himself has proven unavailable to censure them. These are all issues upon which we must determine a unified stance before I can truly represent our best interests in the court."

"I find it curious that you mention Kaeru Toshi," Natsu said. "None of those present here are directly threatened by the conflict in that city."

"Speak for yourself, Ox," Jinzaburo said sharply. "The Badger Clan's dojo stands in Kaeru Toshi. This matter concerns us greatly."

"All three of you?" Natsu asked.

Jinzaburo frowned darkly. His fist tightened around the neck of his bottle.
"This is not a time for samurai to fight among themselves, whether they be Lion and Unicorn or Ox and Badger," Karasu added in his slow, patient voice. "Iuchiban is our true enemy. The Lion and Unicorn must be made to abandon their petty feud and deal with the Bloodspeakers."

Natsu drummed his fingers on the table. "We Ox are not the sorts that invite this brand of trouble," he said. "In involving ourselves, we will make an enemy of the Lion or the Unicorn, possibly both. Do not let the Dragonfly's lust for vengeance against the Lion blind you to the needs of this assembly, Tonbo."

"This is not about vengeance," Karasu replied tersely. "This is about peace."

"I agree," Natsu said. "A grave is very peaceful."

"My mistake," Karasu replied. "I had thought our intent in gaining a voice on the court was to make Rokugan a better place. It seems some of us prefer to continue hiding in the mountains."

Natsu scowled at the Dragonfly.

"What are our options, Taigen?" Kainko asked, looking to the Tortoise. "Is there any way that we can resolve this without bringing war upon all our houses?"

"The warriors of the Dragon Clan are the Emperor's chosen arbitrators in this war," Taigen said. "They have already aided us in gaining a voice on the court. I believe if we aid them in Kaeru Toshi, not only will we have repaid the favor we owe but we will have taken a significant step in restoring peace."

"So we anger the Lion and the Unicorn?" Jinzaburo replied, surprised. "And when the Dragon fade back into their mountains, what do we do then?"

"We will be acting in the name of the Emperor," Miyako said. "His authority will protect us."

"I have the greatest respect for Toturi III," Jinzaburo said, frowning at the Monkey, "but his authority did little to prevent this war from beginning in the first place."

"All of this is irrelevant," Hiroya interrupted, pounding on the table with one thick fist. "The Bloodspeakers are the greater issue here. Already they have threatened my homeland. Only narrowly were we able to repel them and that was with the timely aid of the Daidoji. We must carry the fight to the Bloodspeakers before they call another Rain of Blood upon us."

"Are you mad, Hare?" Kazuko replied. "The Minor Clans cannot defeat the Bloodspeakers."

"And why not?" Hiroya answered. "Outside of a few strongholds, Iuchiban's cultists hide in small groups. We Hare are experienced in finding such enemies we were founded to fight Iuchiban. With the magic of the Fox and Dragonfly paired with the warriors of the Ox, and Badger we can easily overwhelm any small forces we uncover while the Great Clans deal with Iuchiban himself. With the support of the Monkey's magistrates we could travel freely throughout the Empire without interference. With the Tortoise's aid, even the seas will not offer them safe refuge."

"I would be most eager to offer any warriors your hunters required," Natsu said.

"I thought the Ox did not wish to make enemies," Karasu answered.

"This enemy is already made," Natsu said coldly. "We Ox owe a debt of pain to the Bloodspeakers for those who fell in the Rain. A man should not have to kill his own grandson."

Karasu bowed his head to the Ox. "When your warriors ride, the shugenja of the Tonbo will ride with you."

"A grand plan, Hare," Kazuko said, "but what part would the Sparrow play?"

"I suppose you could tell a story about it," Kitsune Kainko replied with a grin.

Kazuko shot Kainko an icy look. The young Fox seemed preoccupied with adjusting the golden netsuke on her obi, and pretended not to notice.

"These are good ideas," Taigen said. "If the assembled Minor Clans can succeed where Sezaru's hunters have failed, we will not only have protected the Empire from a terrible enemy but we will earn the respect of the Great Clans by showing unity of both purpose and action, a trait we have not displayed since the days of Yoritomo."

"An odd example to aspire to," Karasu said. "Yoritomo was a great man, but the Alliance was not perfect, as I am sure the honorable Fox will attest. For my part, I saw many friends die in the Clan War under the banner of the Alliance. I would not wish for that again."

"Then we must be cautious," Taigen said, "and use well the lessons our brothers, fathers, and grandfathers paid so dearly for."

"Agreed," Toturi Miyako said.

"Now," Taigen continued. "The matter of Kaeru Toshi&"

The old Dragonfly sat alone at the table, staring silently into his cup of tea. Taigen and the others had long since left, or so he thought. A stirring of movement caught his eye and he looked up to see Kitsune Kainko sitting silently in the corner of the room. She watched him curiously with wide, violet eyes.

"How long have you been sitting there?" he asked.

She only grinned.

Karasu sighed in annoyance, but could not help smiling as well. He had spent enough time among the Fox to grow accustomed to their eccentricities, and found Kainko's mischievous silence oddly comforting, given the pressures of the Imperial City.

"I am surprised to see you here, Karasu," she said, rising and moving to his table. "I thought when you left Kyuden Kitsune you were going to retire."

"I planned to," he replied, "but there was too much to do in helping the Dragonfly establish themselves again& and when it was all done and Dayu-sama needed a representative to send to the courts there was no one else as experienced."

"Serves you right for being so efficient," she replied, sitting across from him.

"Careful with that tongue of yours, Kainko," Karasu said, though he could not help but laugh. "I think the Sparrow ambassador does not enjoy your wit as much as I do."

She shrugged. "What do I care?" she asked. "If Kazuko will balk at defending the Empire from Bloodspeakers then surely I've nothing to fear from her."

"Perhaps," Karasu said, "and in any case I have no doubt you can ably handle any trouble that you instigate."

"Life is boring without a little trouble," she replied.

"Well then you are in luck," he answered. "I think we shall have plenty in the days to come."

Kainko gave Karasu a long, steady look. "You do not trust Taigen-sama."

Karasu looked slightly uncomfortable. "It is not that," he said. "He is a worthy man and a charismatic leader. I do not doubt the Minor Clans will prosper under his direction& but I fear that his ambition may be misplaced. He was so eager to involve us in Kaeru Toshi, and while I agree something must be done he made no mention whatsoever of the Shogun's march toward Toshi Ranbo. I would think that, given our current circumstances, determining the Shogun's intentions is of far greater interest to the Minor Clans than making enemies in the City of the Rich Frog."

"Perhaps he trusts that the Shogun means his brother no harm," Kainko replied, "or trusts that the Emperor can protect himself from any threat the Shogun would offer."

"I am not convinced," Karasu said. "It seems strange to me."

"Perhaps he is too eager to repay our Dragon allies for the aid they gave us in gaining a voice in the court," Kainko offered.

"That could be," Karasu replied, "but it is difficult to say. Only Taigen knows his own mind, and for now he is our voice. We must trust his judgment. He has kept no secrets from us."

"But it is as the Ox says," Kainko answered. "Taigen seems to keep no secrets& so you do not trust him. You believe he is hiding something."

"Perhaps I do," Karasu said. "I think perhaps he has offered the Dragon more than he has told us."

"Then let us seek the truth," Kainko replied. "Taigen is not the only ones with friends in the Dragon Clan&"

Kasuga Eizan moved swiftly through the back alleys of the Imperial City. Though the streets were unfamiliar, he had seen their like before. After a few minutes of orientation he could find his way well enough, and once he was certain he was not being watched or followed he made his way toward the building he sought. It was a small, nondescript teahouse without any signs or decoration to allow it to stand out among the many other establishments that lined the streets. As a result, the interior was empty save one man. There was no illumination save what little sunlight passed through the narrow windows, allowing the single patron to sit in deep shadow. Eizan moved to the table and sat across from him.

"Well?" the man asked.

"It is as you suspected," Eizan replied. "My brother left the assembly of Minor Clans and visited Kakita Munemori's estates almost immediately thereafter."

The man nodded soberly, as if the news did not surprise him. "Few members of the Court would realize the true value in allying themselves with the leader of an assembly of Minor Clans. Kitsuki Mizuochi, your brother's contact among the Dragon, is one. Kakita Munemori, unfortunately, is another."

Eizan's eyes narrowed. "Do you believe the Crane intends my brother harm?"

"Unlikely," the man replied, "though those he serves might& and Munemori may be unable to protect your brother from them for long."

"Who does he serve?" Eizan asked.

"An organization that seeks goals uncomfortably similar to our own," the man answered. "There are many among them who are quite a deal more ruthless in attaining those goals than Munemori. In time, I fear, there will be a confrontation between us."

Eizan leaned forward urgently. "If my brother is in danger&"

"Calm yourself, Tortoise," the man said harshly. "I respect your loyalty to your brother, but remember where your greater obligation lies."

Eizan's face paled. He nodded quickly in acquiescence, but said nothing. He scratched absently at his wrist, glancing at the swirling tattoo he wore there. The wind whistled through the window slats, causing them to shift slightly. A ray of sunlight fell across the shadowed figure, revealing the wizened face of Natsu, the Ox Clan ambassador. The old Ox poured a cup of sake and pushed it across the table toward Eizan, then poured one for himself.

"For now, the collective reluctance to become involved in Kaeru Toshi works in your brother's favor," Natsu said. "The Minor Clans will instead turn their energies toward the Bloodspeakers& and they shall have unexpected success in their venture, through our subtle aid. Our victories will redeem us in the eyes of those who doubt. Your brother will be a hero, and our master will earn some measure of forgiveness."

Eizan nodded soberly and accepted Natsu's cup.

"Then for now let us not dwell upon of your brother's unsettling alliances; that is a problem for another time," Natsu continued. "Let us instead drink to good Master Coin, and to his return to Rokugan once we have defeated the Bloodspeakers in his name."
Eizan lifted his cup.

Kaze no Shiro Return

Togashi will return!