A thin cloud covered the glow of Lord Moon in the night sky, and somewhere, the night grew black as pitch, and the wind blew a little colder in the darkness.
But not in Otosan Uchi.
The glaring street lights of the great capitol gave no hint to losing the light of Lord Moon. The skyline of the city stood bold against the black night, the square skyscrapers reaching like defiant hands into the sky. Atop one of the taller buildings of Otosan Uchi, a great ballroom was alive with activity, and the great glass ceiling and walls reflected the bright glow of the city. As the night progressed, the stone architecture of the rooftop was pelted by a slow rain. Inside the ballroom no one took notice.
The chamber musicians, the finest of the Kakita string orchestra, sat on a raised dais in the corner of the gigantic hall, playing older pieces, expressions of serenity on their faces. The music seemed to lift up over the sound of laughter, drinks, and the murmur of the crowd. As the final light overture of the piece came to a slow end, the crowd turned to the musicians and clapped politely.
One player leaned over to the young woman next to him, and whispered, "Why are we playing for them?" His voice was harsh, and the young woman was startled.
"What do you mean?" came the soft reply.
"You know what I mean!" He hissed, his eyes becoming a little darker. "These Scorpions!"
The young woman, her white hair and fair skin betraying her Doji ancestry, looked around at the assembled crowd. The festivities were held in a building owned by Dojicorp, and the ballroom was being rented by a family of the Bayushi. The House of the Scorpion.
The occasion was nothing particular; the Emperor would be holding an open court for some announcement, and many socially prominent people had arrived in the capitol city in the past few days. The current social life of the Bayushi was taken care of by a young woman, Bayushi Shiriko, who had sent invitations to people of even minor renown to this ball. Many of the invited parties had tried to travel to Otosan Uchi in private, but they had again learned that no secret is safe from the Clan of shadows.
"Oh Yoshiri," the young Crane laughed, "they're just having fun! Put away your hatred for another night!" She picked up her instrument at the conductor's command, and smiled. "Let your passions guide your music!" She whispered softly into his ear and began to play.
On the other side of the ballroom, a small gathering had formed around the young Shiriko. She was clad in a long red dress with a black vest. The traditional mask of the Scorpion house hung from the top of her head down to the bridge of her nose. The mask was black porcelain, and a silver Scorpion danced across the eyes of it. What was seen of her was the flowing black hair of the Bayushi family, and the dignified mouth and cheekbones of any socialite in Rokugan. She was young and pretty, many of the older generations said, and soon she would find a suitor to help her lead her Clan into the future.
Shiriko had lost her father five years ago; he had disappeared without a trace. Many who suspected the Scorpions to have less than honorable connections said his life was taken in a criminal war. The family denied such accusations, but never offered any other explanations.
Shiriko raised her glass to the gathered crowd. "To the nights of wonder ahead!" She spoke loudly, "The Diamond Empire will always be without equal!" Many of the guests cheered and raised their glasses.
"Ah, Bayushi Shiriko-sama" one young man said quietly to her left. She looked over to see a handsome young man in a formal suit with gold and black trimmings. A young Matsu of the Lion Clan. The Matsu continued, "I have heard it told you are seeking a husband to lend his strength to your Clan?"
Behind her mask, the young Scorpion raised an eyebrow. She smiled for all to see and said, "Yes, it is true that I wish to find love, as all should. The time of war is over and we should concern ourselves with living the life our ancestors died to provide us with!" This was met with several nods and shouted approvals from the crowd.
The Lion smiled and said, "I would be honored to provide such a station and service to one such as you." He bowed his head.
Shiriko laughed lightly. "And what makes you think I can love you, little Lion?" She asked to the suddenly startled young man. Behind her mask, the Matsu could see her eyes had become deadly.
No reply forthcoming, Shiriko smiled and said simply, "Nothing? Well, you at least do your ancestors justice with your boldness and bravery." She placed her hand on his shoulder her smile grew more wicked. Some of the observing guests looked uncomfortable at the sight. In public, there was still a strong aversion to physical displays of affection despite the changing times.
"Perhaps one cannot fully translate to speech the feelings of the heart," A calm voice broke through the spectacle, and everyone turned to see an older man holding a small cup of sake leaning against the glass wall. He wore simple gentleman's garb, but without the colors or markings of any Clan, except one.
The Mon of the Emperor.
"Magistrate Tetsugi. I am glad you could come by my small gathering," Shiriko bowed her head and replied without hesitation. The would-be Lion suitor seemed visibly more relaxed as her attentions left him. "You would perhaps know much of this subject of love, my lord Magistrate?"
The older man smiled. Tetsugi was the Magistrate of this section of Otosan Uchi, and was a friend of the Bayushi family here. He and Shiriko had worked together on several occasion, including the disappearance of her father. Tetsugi was perhaps the closest thing the young Scorpion Lady had to a father, but their relationship in social settings stayed completely formal.
The magistrate came away from the wall and towards the group. "I have seen forty-seven summers, young Scorpion." He reached the edge of the group and stopped. "That is quite a time to love and lose." He sipped his sake and laughed. "Perhaps too much time. Tales for other events, my lady Bayushi." He bowed low and added, "Provided your own cleverness does not blind you, you may live so long," Tetsugi smiled a little and took another sip of his sake.
Shiriko did not look amused as the Magistrate turned to leave. The voice of an older Unicorn diplomat caught her ear and she turned to her, acting pleasantly interested in her discourse.