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Scenes from the Empire 3
By Rusty Priske
Edited by Fred Wan


"I don't understand why you are here." Kaiu Sadao's statement was direct, though it was aimed at someone not as used to directness.

Bayushi Kurumi did not shy away from the question. "Our clans have been at war, but now are not. Who knows how long such peace should last and I do not want to miss the opportunity to visit new friends."

Sadao scowled. "You have friends among the Crab?"

Kurumi ignored his expression and smiled prettily. "I do now." The smile vanished to be replaced by a coquettish pout. "Don't I?"

The Kaiu appeared to try to maintain his dour visage, but it relaxed as he sighed. "So, how can I help you?"

"I was told that you could give me a tour of the Kaiu Wall."

The frown returned, though not as deep as it previously was. "Why would you want a tour of the Wall?"

Kurumi smiled again, but this time it seemed more natural. Her eyes sparkled past her delicate mask. "If I could be completely honest, Kaiu-san, it is something that I feel the need to do." The smile slowly lessened and then disappeared. "In this time of& unrest& I have been very uneasy. I have had nightmares and nothing in the courts has given me respite."

"Nightmares?"

"I have seen very dark things attacking Rokugan. I have grown afraid of what lurks beyond the Kaiu Wall. I know in my heart that we are safe, but&" She trailed off.

Sadao repressed the urge to take her in his arms to comfort her. She had a way about her that made him want to protect her. "I can assure you, Bayushi-san, that you are very safe within Rokugan. The Crab will not let anything past the Wall."

She smiled, but with uneasiness still in her eyes. "I know that in my head, Sadao-san, but my heart needs more. I thought that if I came and saw the Kaiu Wall itself, and witnessed the bravery of the Crab, I would be better able to enjoy the warmth of my bed without fearing for my safety."

Sadao paused, and then said; "I think I can help you with that, Kurumi-san."


* * *

Mirumoto Ichizo ran through his kata a little quicker than normal. There was something nagging at him, a sense of urgency that he could not identify. When he finished he waited for a moment before starting them again, this time at the correct pace.

Ichizo sensed another person enter the dojo, but he felt no malice from them, so he continued his practice, keeping faith that no threat could enter a Mirumoto Dojo, deep in the heart of the Dragon Mountains.

As he finished a female voice broke the near silence. "You technique is very good. Your sensei has taught you well."

Ichizo turned to face the newcomer and then bowed deeply when he saw who it was. "Masae-sama. I am greatly honored by your words."

Mirumoto Masae motioned towards a rack of bokken at the side of the room. "I had hoped to train as well. Would you care to spar, Ichizo-san?"

Ichizo bowed again. "To spar with the Keeper of Air would be a great honor, Masae-sama, but are you sure you would not like me to fetch someone more accomplished? I do not think I would be of sufficient challenge to a warrior such as yourself."

Masae grinned. "If you have heard great stories of my battlefield glories, they may have been exaggerated, Ichizo-san. In fact, I get little time to train as part of my duties, so I may be quite out of practice. This is exactly why I seek out a Mirumoto dojo whenever my path crosses one."

"In that case, my lady, I shall endeavor to be a challenge for you."


* * *


"I had heard stories of the Kaiu Wall, but I was not prepared for its size. The sheer magnitude of it is simply amazing."

Sadao smiled broadly. Kurumi had worn away at his reserve with her charm and enthusiasm. "The engineering of it is the greatest accomplishment in the history of Rokugan. Can you think of anything that can compare?"

Kurumi shook her head. "Before coming here I would have thought that our cultural advancement would have been our greatest triumph, but I can see now that I would have been wrong. All of Rokugan owes the Kaiu for all they have done." She waited, allowing Sadao to soak in her compliment before continuing, "Now, the Hida who we saw guarding the battlements&"

Sadao interrupted. "More than the Hida stand atop the Wall. All of the Crab fulfill their duty there."

Kurumi nodded. "My apologies, Sadao-san. I would never impugn the duty of your family. I am just surprised that the Kaiu also walk the top of the Wall when they are tasked with maintaining it. The duties of your family are vast."

"They are. The Kaiu are well suited for such tasks, though, as we are both warriors and engineers. We have had aid in the past, maintaining the Wall, but those days are gone. Have you heard of the Nezumi that lived in the Wall?"

Kurumi's eyes opened wider in interest. "No. Inside the Wall?"

Sadao nodded. "They did. They weren't welcome at first, but then they started helping us do repairs and ensure structural soundness from the inside. They were quite a great help, until they left."

"They left?"

"All of them, all at once. The story I heard said that they joined the other Nezumi facing Tomorrow and they all died there."

"Tomorrow? What is that?"

"The doom of their race, or something like that. They all went and they all died, which tells me that their prophecies were true."

"Prophecies?"

Sadao's eyes flashed. "Would you like to see them?"

Kurumi smiled. "That sounds very interesting. I do have a question before we go, though. The Crab on the Wall is this the normal number? Do you sometimes have less or more on the Wall?"

"More when we know there is a reason. Sometimes less if we are fighting somewhere else. Not many less, though. The Crab know what their true duty is."

As Sadao led Kurumi down into the bowels of the Wall, he did not notice her slight frown.


* * *

"You were much too modest earlier when you spoke of your challenge, Ichizo-san."

Ichizo mopped the sweat from his eyes as he returned his two bokken to the rack. "You are kind, Masae-sama, but it was you who were too modest. Your skills have not diminished at all, as you had claimed."

"I am just grateful to have encountered such a talented sparring partner. Some dojo that I come across have no one training there when it is convenient for me. Others have only novices. I still train with them, but the challenge is less."

Ichizo's face remained impassive as he said, "Then I guess it was fortunate for me that you happened to come to this one."

"Fortunate for both of us."

"Masae-sama, if I may be so bold, I was wondering if you could answer something for me."

"If it is in my power, I will do so."

"How is it that you happened to stumble across this particular dojo in your travels? And then, once you happened upon this dojo when I happened to be training in it, how did you happen to know my name?"


* * *

"This is where the Nezumi lived. They called themselves the Third Whisker', though I do not know what that means."

Kurumi sniffed. "They did not care much for cleanliness, I see."

Sadao shrugged. "They weren't dirty, as such. The air doesn't flow well down here, though. What you smell is more mustiness than filth. They were very messy, however. There was always stuff strewn all over. We have cleaned up a lot of it. Once we knew they were gone we came down here and found a lot of incidental garbage that they had accumulated. I think what they saw as treasure would be very different than what we would see."

"So they did repairs for you?"

"Somewhat. They would effect repairs, yes, but I don't think they really did them for us. They just saw the Wall as their home and took whatever measures they could to maintain its integrity. I won't deny that it was helpful. They weren't exactly Kaiu, but they were quite handy."

"It is too bad then that they are gone." The expression on Kurumi's face showed that she did not completely agree with her own statement.

Sadao, on the other hand, did. "Yes. It is too bad."

"So, what were these prophecies you mentioned?"

"Oh, right. They are just down here. Don't trip over those rocks."


* * *

"Do not worry, Ichizo-san. My visit has no dark motives."

"I never thought it did, Masae-sama. I was merely curious as to why one of the Keepers would seek me out. I am not far removed from my gempukku. I am no one of any importance. I have not fought in any major battles. If you were a Mantis I would assume something else, but since you are not, I cannot think of any reason why you would seek me out."

"Togashi Satsu asked me to."

Ichizo's mouth hung agape. "Lord Satsu?"

"That is correct." Masae changed the subject deftly. "You mentioned the Mantis. What would you think if one of them came to see you?"

"I would think that I would need to defend myself."

"Why?"

"Because a samurai is responsible for his actions, whether they were intended or not."

"You speak of the incident at your gempukku." It was not a question.

Ichizo nodded. "I injured another samurai, due to my own carelessness. Little was said of it at the time, but I expect that he will seek me out."

Masae tilted her head to the side. "And we if I was to tell you that Yoritomo Saburo holds you blameless for his injury? What if I told you that he considers the accident his fault?"

"That would change nothing. I know who was at fault."

Masae appraised him for a moment and then said, "Do you know why Lord Satsu asked me to come here?"

"No."

"He is worried about you. It looks like he was right to be."

Ichizo's face hardened. "There is no need. I will not allow such a mistake to happen again."

"Yes. You train very much."

"Yes."

"The concern is not your training, Ichizo-san. It is your obsession. You do not train in order to succeed. You train in order to not fail."

Ichizo shrugged. "What is the difference?"

"Oh, there is a great difference between the two. When one trains to not fail, the best one can accomplish is mediocrity. You are aiming at a target that is only one step above failure. When one trains to succeed, however, all things are possible. The mysteries and wonders of the world open up to you."

"Not everyone seeks enlightenment."

Masae smiled. "That is true, unfortunately. However, Lord Satsu will need more than adequacy serving him when he sits on the Steel Throne."

Ichizo's eyes widened. "What?"

"Could you think of anyone more qualified? Lord Satsu is no mere fallible mortal. He is the only one that could claim infallibility in Rokugan. The throne should be his, and I will ensure that anyone who will listen to me will know that."

"Many will listen to you. You are one of the Keepers."

"Perhaps," she said. "The ambition of the clans may lead to deaf ears, but it is my duty as a Keeper to try and steer the Empire toward a path of salvation. For all my meditation on the matter, this is the only path I see that will not lead to ruin."

"Lord Satsu has asked you to do this?"

Masae shook her head. "He has not. He does not desire the throne. The tasks set before me by Rosoku and Sekawa force me to look past Satsu's wishes, however. I need to look to the future of Rokugan. Now, Ichizo-san, are you willing to do what it takes to stand by Lord Satsu when he takes the Steel Throne?"


* * *

Sadao and Kurumi stood before some wall paintings, illuminated by only the lantern carried by the Crab. "Here are the prophecies of the Third Whisker Tribe. You see here? This is where they are defending from some horrible beast. It marks their end. They have no history after that."

Kurumi started to make a comment about future events being called history but she thought better of it. Instead she said, "So it came true?"

"Well, it may have. I don't know exactly what happened to the Nezumi, just that they are mostly dead. I have heard that the Lion have built a shrine in the Shinomen Forest and anyone can go there to hear the tale, but my duties keep me here."

Kurumi nodded as her eyes took in everything on the wall. "I have never seen paintings like this."

"They are very unusual, even among the Nezumi. Normally they write nothing down, but it seems they wanted this to last for some reason."

"Maybe they wanted it to be seen after they had gone."

"I suppose everyone wants to be remembered."

Kurumi did not glace at the Crab. Instead she continued committing the images to her memory. "I thank you for your tour, Kaiu-san, but I have imposed long enough. I should let you get back to your duties."

"The pleasure was mine, Kurumi-san. I would be greatly honored if you would be my guest for dinner tonight."

She smiled at him. "You are so sweet, Kaiu-san, but I'm afraid I must decline. I should head home at the earliest opportunity. I also have duties and I have neglected them for too long."

As Sadao led Kurumi away from the former home of the Third Whisker Tribe, the Scorpion replayed the images in her mind. The dim-witted Crab and his fellows could not see the truth in the prophecies. For all their vaunted alliance with the NEzumi, they were incapable of understanding them. Even though the Scorpion had little knowledge of the One Tribe and its mannerisms, they knew enough to know that the creatures had some limited but legitimate means of foretelling the future. They had learned those lessons from the tales of Bayushi Kageki, among others.

Though it was not the duty that she was sent to the Wall to accomplish, Kurumi knew that this information needed to be passed on to her superiors.

She suppressed a shudder. It was not only their race that was ended by the dire threat of Tomorrow. It was not Nezumi that were being slaughtered by the terrible creature in those crude drawings.

It was humans.

*

 

Togashi will return!


Kaze no Shiro Return

 

Togashi will return!