A STORY OF THE DIAMOND EMPIRE
BY SETH MASON
Tetsugi stood before the small window in his office, overlooking the vast city of Otosan Uchi. It was a glorious sight, thinking of the great history of this Empire, of the men and women who had died without hesitation to defend it. Tetsugi looked to the Imperial Palace, and wondered to himself when fate would call for him to lay down his life.
The sun began setting low into the horizon when the Magistrate's thoughts were interrupted by the buzzing intercom. "Tetsugi," came the voice of his secretary, Kakita Daiken, "the Kitsuki Magistrate is here to see you."
Tetsugi stepped away from the window and sat in his old chair. "Please send him in." he said, adjusting the folds of his kimono.
The door was opened from the other side, and in walked the young Dragon Magistrate Tetsugi had heard so much about in the past few days. Kitsuki Hatsu was a thin young man, with fine features and a long, braided tail of hair down his back. Tetsugi regarded the other Magistrate for a moment, then nodded, "Please have a seat, Hatsu-san."
Hatsu bowed and sat. "Is there something I can help you with, Magistrate?"
Tetsugi nodded and glanced out the window again. "I have heard that there was some sort of... circuitry imbedded in the heads of the assassins." The older man did not waste any time with formalities. He knew the Kitsuki would rather get things done instead of wait on custom when it was possible. Tetsugi continued, "Unfortunately, the Imperial Guard Captain was a tad overzealous and we were unable to keep one of the assassins alive." He looked back at Hatsu, "I haven¹t had a chance to look over the bodies yet, but what is your opinion of the wiring?"
Hatsu paused a second to collect his thoughts, then simply said, "Shosuro microcircuitry, or something nearly identical. I have yet to see any outside of the Scorpion able to make such things, however." The Dragon hesitated another moment, as if weighing a decision, then said, "I allowed a sample of the circuitry to go to Kaiu Toshimo, the Crab engineer, and he confirmed by suspicions."
Tetsugi nodded, "A wise thing to do. I'm sure you can handle this case with any interference from above your station." Hatsu was startled by the senior Magistrate's forwardness, and Tetsugi finally said, "That will be all, Magistrate." He stood and bowed, "Continue the fine work, and please keep me informed." He handed Hatsu a card with his cellular phone and other methods of contacting him.
Hatsu narrowed his eyes at the numbers and electronic addresses, and said, "I will do so, sir." He paused a moment and added, "I don't see your office number on this. Are you going somewhere?"
Tetsugi nodded. "Hai, Dragon. That is all," He said, dismissing the Magistrate again. Hatsu took the hint and bowed, then left through the door. The older man smiled at Hatsu's exit, and chuckled at his thoughtlessness. Hatsu and most of Rokugan would know what he was up to soon enough, but Tetsugi would rather move discreetly as much as he could. Were he to show up unexpected in the garrisons of the Empire, then he could truly judge the worth of the soldiers there.
"Tetsugi, you have a call on line one, sir." Daiken's voice came over the speaker suddenly. "It's Bayushi Shiriko."
"Thank you, Daiken," Tetsugi said, then picked up the receiver. "Good afternoon, Shiriko-chan."
"Greetings, Magistrate," The Scorpion woman replied. In the background, many voices could be heard mumbling, and it sounded as if she were calling from a kitchen. "I have a small favor to ask, if you are able."
Tetsugi narrowed his eyes instinctively, and said, "What is it?"
"I would like a small detachment of your best men accompany me to the Scorpion Palace for my gempukku ceremony. I have... my reasons to suspect it will be necessary."
The Magistrate hesitated a moment, knowing full well that Shiriko would not ask for such help in any normal circumstances. "I will see what I can do, Shiriko. I may be able to accompany you myself until we reach your ancestral home."
"Yes, Magistrate, I was hoping you would try to fit me in your small tour of Rokugan." Shiriko said quietly, and Tetsugi could hear the mirth in her voice.
He laughed quietly and said, "I will try. Expect me to phone you this evening about the matter." She said a formal goodbye, and Tetsugi put down the phone.
Shiriko was going to make a fine Scorpion Daimyo.
Tetsugi was incensed.
The Magistrate looked around the street, where dozens of civilians, reporters, and other officers of the Emperor were milling around outside the smoking Phoenix Mercy Hospital. He looked again to the triage crew that were moving the wounded outside of the hospital, or taking them by ambulance to the other Phoenix establishments in Otosan Uchi. Tetsugi looked again to the window where the former Master of Fire had been quartered and sighed.
"I'll have my phone on, Haidan. Call me when this mess sorts out." The young detective nodded, and scurried off into the crowd. Tetsugi had been at the scene for 2 hours, coordinating the efforts of the fire fighters, the doctors, and his own officers.
He looked one more time to the burning window, and his eyes narrowed from behind his goggles. Something was terribly wrong. Kitsuki Hatsu had told him of the doctor's allegations of "tetsukansen" in the circuitry, just seconds before the hospital had erupted into chaos. It seemed as if Jigoku¹s doors had swung wide open, on the cue of his Emperor's declaration of war. Tetsugi's phone rang, and he quickly picked it, the words of Doji Meda trailing through his mind again.
"Tetsugi," He said flatly into the device.
"Magistrate, everything is ready."
"Thank you." Tetsugi said quickly, and ended the call. The Magistrate smiled and jumped onto his cycle. Now he would start destroying the threats to his Empire, one by one.
Alone, if he had to.
The large armored truck moved noisily down the empty street. It was nearly sundown, and the Imperial Mon on every side of the vehicle shone in the reflected light of Amaterasu. The two drivers seemed fairly bored; as one drove, the other worked out little designs on scratch paper.
"You ever hear the score on the Berserkers game?" The driver asked.
"Nu-uh..." Muttered the other.
Then there was a dull thump on the roof. Both men looked up stupidly, the one in the passenger seat reached for his gun... A moment too late as a large form came into view, upside-down, in the front windshield, and shot the man in the passenger side in the face.
"Shinsei!" Cried the other one, and jerked the wheel to the side. The truck groaned, and slammed the figure on the windshield to the left. He deftly kicked in the part he had shot and threw himself into the cab. The driver tried to pull out his gun, but his hand was shot, and the van skid out of control, slamming into the back of some building.
"Hi," said the man. "I'm Chobu." he reached over and pulled the gun from the driver. "You won't need this." he said, and pulled a small device from his pocket. "And you won't need the money in the back either. So I'll just keep it for you," Chobu laughed as he hit a button on the device, and the truck shook from a small explosion in the back.
"You should pay more attention," Chobu said brightly, as he slammed the stunned guard across the face with the gun. "I had enough time to put that explosive back there, climb over the top, fix my hair, check my wallet, load my gun, and enjoy the nice skyline before I even thought about taking this truck."
Ichiro Chobu opened up the passenger side door and strolled around to the back of the truck. He coughed a little, there was a lot of smoke coming from the back of the truck. Chobu muttered a few words, and the air spirits quickly blew the smoke away. He hopped into the cargo area of the truck.
A man in the dress of an Imperial Magistrate was the only thing in the back. No money. "Chobu, my name is-"
Chobu quickly trained both guns on the man, "What the hell is going on here!?" He yelled, completely confused.
"I'm here to ask a favor of you." The Magistrate said.
"A favor?" Came the slight chuckle, echoing in the truck. "Listen, old man, I've got two guns pointed at each of your eyes... if you have eyes under those stupid goggles. I don't believe you're in a position to ask for much." Chobu looked around for a second, then narrowed his eyes. "Wait a second. You just let me destroy your truck, kill one of your men and wound the other..." Chobu threw up his hands in frustration, and yelled, "What kind of freaking Magistrate are you!?" And stepped up to him, putting the guns directly up to his green goggles.
"I'm Tetsugi, Chobu. And I have answers you want." The Magistrate said, unflinching.
"Why did your father suddenly decide to shoot the Imperial Court? What is going on with all this chaos suddenly in the city? There's been rumors of Oni, Naga, and all sorts of badness all around." Tetsugi leaned forward, closer to Chobu's face, "You're a shugenja. You know something's not right with the dance of the elements."
Chobu paused a second, then smiled. "You're a ballsy one, aren't you, old man?"
Tetsugi only smiled.
"Allright." Chobu pulled his guns back and folded his arms. "Why me?"
"I know you're innocent," Tetsugi said, then quickly added, "Well, in the assault on the Emperor at least. And I need someone to work with me that has no love for the Emperor."
"That'd be me!" Chobu said brightly. "But why would you, the Imperial Advisor, all-knowing, loyal-to-the-Emperor Tetsugi want someone who didn't..."
Tetsugi smiled as a small understanding dawned on Chobu's face. "Yes, Chobu. You're thinking right."
The Badger shrugged. "Okay, then, I tell you what. I'm gonna do you a favor and help you out on this little fool's quest of yours...."
"There is glory in war only for the victorious! When you speak to our Emperor," The Lion samurai nearly shouted, and Tetsugi stopped himself from stepping back in response, "tell him that the armies of the Lion shall bring victory to Rokugan!"
Tetsugi regarded the fierce man for a second, then simply bowed, "Thank you, Matsu Gohei-san. Your army is indeed formidable, and your troops are disciplined beyond my highest expectations." Gohei's eyes shone with pride at the Magistrate's approval. "Keep your soldiers at full readiness at all times unless either the Emperor or myself say otherwise."
"Hai!" The Matsu barked, and bowed low to Tetsugi.
"Good day, Lion Daimyo."
Tetsugi walked out of the large office where Ichiro Chobu waited in a chair, trying his best not to make a scene. The Magistrate nodded to Chobu, and the Badger silently stood and walked with him outside the building. When Chobu finally saw no one was looking, he threw his arms wide and strained his neck and mouth in a silent scream. Tetsugi watched as he arched his back and acted like a madman howling at the moon for two full minutes. All without noise.
"Finished?" Tetsugi asked.
"Do... you know... how boring it is... in there?" Chobu panted, regaining his breath. "How hard can it be," he asked as they got into the back of an Imperial limo, "to just walk in, tell that idiot that his armies are indeed cool, and walk out, hmm?" The chauffeur raised an eyebrow at the younger man, and Tetsugi could see it in the rearview mirror.
"Shuttle depot, please," Tetsugi spoke to the driver, then raised the window between the passenger and front seat. "You obviously never deal with Lions," Tetsugi muttered, then pulled a suitcase out from under his seat. The Magistrate withdrew some files and a phone.
"And who the hell is Iuchi Fujinku?" Chobu grumbled, looking at the guest pass he wore that allowed him into Matsu Gohei's offices.
"That's you, now" Tetsugi said, dialing the phone, "How far do you think we'd get if it said 'Ichiro Chobu - Imperial Assassin'?"
Chobu narrowed his eyes at the Magistrate as he put the phone to his ear and smiled. "It'd be at least more entertaining."
Tetsugi ignored him and began listening to his voice mail. Chobu looked over at the Magistrate's papers. Several Imperial documents, letters to the Daimyos they would visit, some shuttle train tickets, and...
"Who's Bayushi Shiriko?" Chobu asked, eyeing the small package under the papers in the suitcase.
Tetsugi turned the phone off and sighed. "The Scorpion daimyo in two days. It's a gempukku present." Tetsugi looked out the window and closed his eyes. "Kitsuki Hatsu has a warrant for his arrest."
"Hatsu..." Chobu muttered, trying to remember, "Oh yah! He was one of the Magistrates that was around when my father snapped. Why's he under arrest?"
Tetsugi regarded the stocky man a second and said, "Conspiracy to kill the Emperor."
Chobu's face brightened, "Hey! He may not be such a bad guy after all. You say Tsuruchi Kyo signed the warrant?"
"I shoulda killed him when I had the chance."
"He's not working with you, is he?" Tetsugi asked, already knowing the answer.
"Hatsu? No..." Chobu said, then grinned evilly, "As a matter of fact, you are!" He laughed loudly, "This is hysterical! Someone is trying to undermine the law system of the Empire by placing false charges on some lower-rank Magistrate, but in truth, the Imperial Advisor, His Royal Insect's Personal Magistrate, is truly in league with his supposed stalker!" Chobu burst into fits of laughing again, falling over in his seat.
Tetsugi saw the humor, but did not want to encourage Chobu's annoying spectacle.
The Badger calmed down after awhile, then was serious again, "Speaking of my father, aren't we supposed to be doing something about that whole 'tetsukansen' thing? Y'know, possessed guards, maho in the machine, all of that?"
"We are." Tetsugi replied, pulling out another sheaf of papers and looking through them.
"That's odd," Chobu sighed, leaning back in his chair. "I thought we were heading to the Crab provinces." The Badger looked around. Perhaps he had made a mistake in joining up with the Magistrate.
"And then what?" Chobu asked, frustrated.
"And then we do some unofficial investigation."
Chobu looked over at Tetsugi, who was still reading over some papers. He thought he could see a faint trace of a smile over the Magistrate's face.
Perhaps this would be entertaining after all.
"Are you all right, my Lady?" A voice came from behind Shiriko. The young Scorpion was sitting before a great mirror in her chambers, holding a smooth, black mask in her hand.
"I am fine, Heiko," She replied quietly, realizing she had been staring at the mask in her hand for over five minutes without moving. Heiko, her servant for twelve years, began brushing her hair again. Shiriko looked at her servant, then back at the mask.
"That was your father's, you know," Heiko muttered as she brushed the think black hair.
Shiriko nodded absently, knowing full well it was a lie. Her father, Bayushi Dairyu, still held his mask. He would have never let such a possession into the hands of a man like her worthless uncle. She glanced at Heiko again, and wondered. Who knew her father was alive? Heiko was one of the family's most trusted servants at the time of his disappearance. Could her father have entrusted her with the secret?
Shiriko sighed and put the mask on the table before her. "I can brush myself, Heiko. Please bring me my kimono for the day."
Heiko stood, bowed, and hurried out. In the mirror, Shiriko saw another servant walk in and kneel behind her, holding a message. She took the paper and dismissed the servant. The future Scorpion Daimyo read the message, and shut her eyes. Who would dare? she thought to herself.
Heiko came into the room, and looked at her Lady. "Are you all right, Shiriko?" she asked, and rushed to her side. The older woman took Shiriko's hand and looked at her nervously. Heiko was more than a mere servant, and sometimes more like a mother to the young Bayushi.
"I am fine, Heiko." Shiriko said slowly, opening her eyes. "I have just been informed an old friend of mine is dead."
"I am sorry, my Lady." The servant said quietly, stroking Shiriko's hair.
"It's all right, Heiko," She replied, standing. "I'll dress myself today. Please prepare the guest quarters for Magistrate Tetsugi and his party." Heiko bowed and walked out again, leaving Shiriko to stare at the mask on her desk.
Later that evening, Bayushi Shiriko sat in a grand chamber, behind a very different desk. The young woman was working through requests, marriage agreements, land disputes, and other things she would have to handle on a daily basis as the new Daimyo. Shiriko sighed and looked up into the vaulted ceiling, then behind her through the great window showing the sunset.
Shiriko still found herself staring into the fading sun when she heard the door to her office creak open, and her secretary poked her head into the door.
"Your cousin is here to see you, my lady." She said.
"Oroki?" Shiriko replied, turning fully forward in her chair, placing all of the papers together. The secretary simply nodded. "Show him in."
The door closed, then opened fully again as Bayushi Oroki strode into the room. Shiriko's cousin wore his ever-present black coat and red mask, and seemed to float across the room to stand in front of her desk.
"Shiriko-chan. It has been too long." Oroki said, bowing low.
"Cousin Oroki. Please have a seat," Shiriko replied, motioning to the black padded chair in front of her great desk. Oroki sat and leaned back comfortably into the seat. Shiriko folded her hands in front of her on the desk, "I suspect this is not a social visit, cousin?"
He smiled under his mask. Under all the social outbursts and events, she did seem to know when to get to the heart of a matter. "I'm afraid not," he said, leaning forward. "I regret to say that there is a matter so urgent that I must handle it personally, and I most likely will not be able to attend your gempukku."
Shiriko raised an eyebrow. "So important you cannot tell your future daimyo?"
Oroki stiffened a little at the comment, a reminder and a slight insult at once. He bowed his head in deference, "Forgive me, my lady. I am accustomed to speaking to my Father as daimyo."
"It is understood."
"Shiriko-sama" He began slowly, "My men at the Labyrinth are being killed."
Shiriko leaned forward farther. "Killed?" She hissed, her eyes showing something between anger and anticipation. The young woman reached into some papers and handed a letter to Oroki, motioning for him to read it.
"Two of informants, appointed by your father, dead?" Oroki muttered in disbelief.
"Hai," She said curtly, "Do you believe these deaths are related, cousin?"
"It is very likely," He replied.
Shiriko stood, and turned to the great window behind her. The sun had fully set, and the splendor of Otosan Uchi's night skyline was fully visible, outlined by the last purple clouds of sunset.
"Bring me the ones who have done this," She said, not turning, "I will see them broken before me." She turned to her cousin. "You will bring me these people as a tribute to your new Daimyo, Oroki." Her voice was cold, and her eyes held nothing of the innocence and joy that Oroki had grown used to, "And we will make examples of those who would tempt the wrath of the Scorpion."
Bayushi Oroki stood, and bowed low. "Hai, Bayushi Shiriko-sama." He turned for the door, and allowed a great smile beneath his mask.
The next night, Shiriko, her guard, and Tetsugi's men reached Kyuden Bayushi. As the sun rose on the day Shiriko would be named the Champion of the Scorpion, Amaterasu¹s light fell upon the walls of Kyuden Bayushi, and spilled through a great window. The sunlight filled the room slowly, and Shiriko's meditating form could be seen, staring out onto the plains and mountains before her.
A simple parchment lay in front of her, the ink still slightly damp from the brush that was next to it. To Shiriko's right, a small altar to Bayushi burned with incense. The room's wooden floor was bare otherwise.
"Daughter." A voice echoed across the room.
Shiriko did not move. As the sunlight completely filled the room, she was able to see the black-clad form of her father in the corner. His black mask was over his face.
Bayushi Dairyu walked slowly to his daughter's side and looked down on her.
He will be seen! Shiriko thought to herself, but did not move.
"You have made your father proud." Dairyu began to walk around her, staring into the walls and out the window, and Shiriko knew he was seeing things how they used to be. "Your mother's spirit undoubtedly looks upon you from her rest with pride." Dairyu stopped walking, and came to stand in front of Shiriko.
"I have brought my gift for you," He whispered, and knelt down in front of her, so their eyes would be level. Dairyu removed his mask, and Shiriko saw again the wise gaze of her father. His angular face was marred by the long, jagged scar down a whitened eye.
"Eleven years ago to this day, my daughter..."
Dairyu stood in the empty warehouse, surveying the walls, the windows, and constantly eyeing the door. "Five minutes," he said quietly, checking his watch again. In the center of the warehouse floor, a large hold in the concrete was cut, allowing access to the sewers underneath.
The Scorpion's Highway.
Dairyu closed his eyes and muttered, "Go." From the deepest shadows, black-clad forms seemed to be created from the darkness itself, and moved to the hole with no sound. One by one the ninja climbed down the great ladder into the Highway, leaving Bayushi Dairyu alone with his apprehension. For the past three months, slowly at first, reports of missing agents had fallen to Dairyu. It had seemed random at first, until the Scorpion Champion had noticed that all the missing Scorpions had been traveling down the sewers to the same location.
A week ago, one body was recovered. Mangled nearly beyond identification, it was nearly just a hunk of twisted flesh and bone. When it was brought to the Soshi, they confirmed Dairyu's suspicions. The corpse reeked of the taint, and the saliva was identical to that of an ogre. The Scorpion Daimyo was not surprised that something from the Shadowlands existed. While the Crab and Phoenix had kept the Empire at large from knowing that Fu Leng's creatures were not quite extinct, the Scorpion were far from blind to the fact. What had surprised Dairyu was the fact that it seemed as if a lone Ogre had made its lair in a far removed area of the sewers.
Three days ago, Bayushi Dairyu was visited by an ancestor in his dreams, foretelling of a danger on the horizon. It spoke of a time of testing, preying upon Rokugan in it's time of blindness to both the future and the past.
Today, the Scorpion Champion had taken his personal guard to this entrance to the Highway on the word of that ancestor, who remained nameless. Dairyu glanced at his watch again, five minutes after he had dispatched his men, and it lit up as he had expected. The face of his chief Enforcer, Taigo, came into view on the tiny screen.
"We've found it, my lord." He whispered, and the picture moved to focus down the dank sewer tunnel to a far off point of light. A fire. Dairyu could make out several bones scattered around the area, and a large human-like figure hunched over the fire. The ogre.
Wordlessly, the black figures moved around the edges of the firelight, avoiding the notice of the beast until it was too late. The ogre never stood a chance as the ninja attacked with the speed of lightning. As a pair distracted it, two more sprang from behind it, slashing at the ogre's large legs right along the nerve points. It howled for less than a second as the fifth ninja descended from the ceiling, shoving bladed boots into its skull.
Taigo walked in front of the picture and said, "Done, sir. Do you want me to bring the body back to the Shosuro labs?"
"Yes," Dairyu replied, "Take your men-" Dairyu stopped as he felt a presence behind him. After a lifetime of training, Dairyu did not even need to feel the air move. He simply knew.
The Daimyo spun around and was face to face with something he thought existed only in a child's horror story. It was a beast of Fu Leng, ten feet tall, with skin that was black as the moonless night. Beyond that, it appeared as a twisted mockery of the Scorpion Champion, with piercing red eyes and the smile of Fu Leng himself.
"Dairyu..." it whispered. "You have killed my child..." the voice of the thing seemed to be borne on a coarse wind, and Dairyu felt cold just hearing it. "But we will forgive you. I understand that you wish only the safety of your own children."
"What are you?" Dairyu whispered, his eyes narrowing as he studied the thing with sick curiosity.
"I am your servant, should you wish..." It spoke softly.
"What do you mean?" Dairyu asked, but he already knew the answer. It was an Oni. An agent of the Dark God, or one of his pawns. It was asking Dairyu to bargain his soul for worldly power beyond his dreams. The Scorpion Champion knew enough about Jigoku and Fu Leng to understand at least that much. The mere fact that an Oni was standing before him, however, put all of that aside to the question of how. As far as the Master of Secrets knew, not even the Crab or Phoenix believed any Oni to have survived the war with Akuma.
"Sir?" Came the voice from Dairyu's watch, snapping him out of his wonder.
Dairyu smiled a little, and looked up at the Oni. "I'm sorry," he said, "I'm a little busy." Dairyu raised the watch to his face and said, "Take your men home. I've got something else to deal with,"
The Oni's eyes narrowed in confusion, "What do you mean..." It said in its hoarse, airy voice.
"I mean," Dairyu grumbled, "I'm busy, damnit!" as he pulled an ancient blade from under his coat and struck off the Oni's arm with it. It screamed and howled as it stumbled back.
"Never!" It screamed in disbelief, clutching the place where it had an arm five seconds ago. "No mortal weapon can harm me, human!"
"Bayushi was something a little more than mortal, demon," Dairyu said as he held Itsuwari, the Ancestral Sword of the Scorpion, to the Oni's throat.
The beast feinted to the side and Dairyu slashed out at it, catching the katana's tip across the Oni's chest. It spun and moved inside the reach of Itsuwari, and swung a great clawed hand at Dairyu, who could not move in time. The Champion rolled to the side, taking as little of the hit as he could, but one claw raked up his face, from his jaw up into his eye and up to his hair. The Scorpion bit his lower lip, stopping the scream in his throat.
Dairyu clutched the wounded with his free hand, and made a few quick slashes at the Oni, driving it back.
"You underestimate the power of my master, Scorpion," The Oni hissed and glared at Bayushi Dairyu. It leaned forward, ready to strike at the wounded Scorpion.
"Then we're even," Dairyu smiled. The Oni let loose a great bellow as it moved again, but Dairyu spun to the right, cutting the Oni's head off. As the body fell backwards into the dust, it seemed to lose shape, and blurred into pure shadow, disappearing into the air. As the Oni dissipated, Dairyu could see that a hooded figure dressed in silk robes of a Phoenix was standing about ten feet behind where the beast had been.
Dairyu, who was a bit more off guard than he liked, pointed the katana at the Phoenix and said, "Who are you?"
The Phoenix bowed low, then straightened, pulling back his hood. A man with long black hair and completely white eyes. "A healer," he said with a firm voice, and Dairyu felt his legs began to weaken. He pulled his hand away from his eye and saw that he was losing a lot of blood.
The Phoenix calmly walked over the Dairyu's side as he began to fall, and caught him. "Asako Sano," he whispered, then began to wave his hand over Dairyu's wound. "We have much to discuss..."
Shiriko's knees began to ache from the position she had been in for nearly twelve hours. From the corner of her eye, she saw her father pace back into view.
"Sano explained to me the return of the beasts of Fu Leng. He spoke of a time of testing, like the Day of Thunder so long ago. Sano told me he had been sent by the spirit of Shiba to guide me." He stopped and looked out the window. An hour past sunrise. "For the past ten years, he and I have traveled Rokugan and other places. We have built a network of shadows against the day his prophecies come to pass."
Dairyu walked to stand in front of his daughter again. "But most of all, I have studied that past of Rokugan. The history of this world." He pulled a large book out from his cloak. The covers were worn and stained, and Shiriko knew it was her father's journal. He placed it in front of Shiriko and bowed low.
"This is my gift to the Daimyo of the Scorpion. To my daughter. My gift is the truth."
With that, he walked out behind Shiriko.
The great hall was decorated in rival to even the greatest Doji festival. A large orchestra played in a corner, and several tables of a feast were laid out for the huge crowd that had gathered to see their new Daimyo coronated. As the ceremony itself drew to a close, the Daimyo of each of the Scorpion families came up and knelt before Shiriko.
Finally, Shiriko's uncle came to stand in front of her. Bayushi Kogeiru wordlessly pulled the Ancestral Sword from his obi and knelt, holding it above his bowed head to Shiriko. She looked down as she took the sword from her uncle, and Kogeiru looked to her with open relief in his eyes.
"With this, the blade of the First Scorpion," Shiriko said in a loud, clear voice, raising Itsuwari above her head, "I shall lead and defend this Clan with my every action and thought, even beyond my last breath." Saying that, she thought of her father, who had made the same promise, and kept it.
The crowd cheered, but Shiriko saw that many of them applauded out of ceremony and little else. As she placed the sword in its saya, then the saya in her obi, she vowed that no Scorpion would ever doubt the power of their family again.
As the evening came to a close, Shiriko saw to the comfortable housing of each of the nobles in the Clan, then politely excused herself from the great hall. Shiriko walked quietly down the halls of Kyuden Bayushi, reaching the stairs that led to the underground tunnels. The new Daimyo walked through the maze, until she reached a wooden door with light showing through the cracks in the doorway. Shiriko opened the door and slipped into the room.
In the center of the small room was a single lamp on a table. On one side sat Bayushi Oroki, wearing his black coat and scorpion mask. Shiriko knew her cousin was smiling beneath the thing, for opposite him was a large man, bound and gagged with fear in his eyes.
"This is the one?" Shiriko said simply.
Oroki nodded, "Hai, my lady. This is the man responsible for killing our agents."
"Release him from his bonds."
Oroki hesitated. He did not know what to expect from Shiriko, but this was something he had not even imagined.
"Now." Shiriko said, not taking her cold eyes off the man.
Oroki nodded and produced a small knife, slicing open the cords on the man, then removed his gag. The man did not know what to do, and looked around the room, a mixture of fear and anger on his face.
"Your name, filth." Shiriko said.
"Retsu." The man replied, narrowing his eyes in challenge to the Daimyo.
"Retsu." Shiriko repeated. "You have killed some of my men, Retsu. When you raise a hand against one Scorpion, you wound them all." The Scorpion Daimyo pulled a few ties on her dress, and the more restricting, frilly parts came off into a heap on the floor. "If you wish to break the Scorpion, you will have to break me." She said. Shiriko motioned for him to stand, "Do you think yourself able?"
Oroki watched the scene, transfixed. Was she going to kill the man with her bare hands? He had known his cousin was more than she let on, but this was far more than he had expected.
Retsu stood, crouched low, then charged Shiriko. The Scorpion nimbly ducked to the side, and with blinding speed, struck out at his ribs. She fell to the floor, rolled and stood behind him. "Again." She hissed.
Retsu attempted to raise his hands in a fighting stance, but found his right arm was numb. Without thinking, he leapt into the air and attempted to kick the woman in the face.
Again Shiriko did not flinch until the attack was fractions of an inch from her. She ducked low, spun on her heel and used her other foot to connect solidly with the base of Retsu's spine. The man fell to the ground in a heap, and slammed his useful arm on the ground.
He couldn't feel his legs.
"You have failed." Shiriko said, kicking him in the ribs hard enough to flip him over on his back, prone. "As you should have known you would," She raised her heel over his throat and said, "This is what is means to cross a Scorpion," She looked up to Oroki. "Oroki-san. Tell me, what will happen to this man?"
Oroki sat back in his chair and said, "We will send one of his hands to the man who employed him, and his body will burn with his home. His family will find reason to believe he was an agent of the exiled Yogo, and will perhaps commit seppuku."
"Take that knowledge with you to Jigoku, Retsu. Your ignorance has destroyed any link you may ever have with your family, and your name will be remembered with shame if it is not forgotten outright." With that, she dropped her heel on his windpipe, allowing him a slow death.
"That is all, cousin. I thank you," Shiriko said, after Retsu's twitching had stopped. Oroki stood and bowed.
Shiriko watched as he went to the door. "And Oroki," She said, "You and I both know what really happened in this room tonight."
Oroki stopped, his hand on the door. She knew he thought. She knew I had set all of this up as a test, but she played along anyway.
"It is good to know I have the trust of my cousin now," She said. "You may go."