Beiden Pass, Part Four
Tangen and Asami
Hidden Emperor, Chapter One
Hidden Emperor, Chapter Two
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Beiden Pass, Part Four
THE FINAL CHAPTER
So there I was, in the personal bivouac of Toturi the Black. Ginawa, Sanzo, Mikio, Morito Tokei, Dairya, Mirumuto Sukune, and Takuan had just drawn their katanas on me, we were miles away from the Crab camp, and of course Toku was to blame.
"Sanzo!" Dairya growled, "How DARE you bring a Crab into our camp like this! A spy!"
Suddenly Agetoki jumped in front of me and drew his own katana. "Garou is a friend and an ally!" he roared, "To destroy him you must come through me!"
"Yeah, me too!" Toku added, drawing his own tiny sword. I noticed his mom had written his name on the handle.
"Crab scum," Takuan spat.
"You're a Crab, Garou?" Sanzo remarked, astonished, "And you didn't tell me? You bastard!"
I gave Sanzo a level look.
"This is most unusual," Mikio said uncertainly, "Our new waiter and stable boy seems prepared to throw his life away for this Crab."
"I'd hate to kill Toku," Ginawa grunted, "He makes great coffee."
"You have three seconds to explain yourself, Yasuki," Morito Tokei said, holding a magic scroll and preparing to utter something dreadful.
"Um... I'm a spy," I said.
They all advanced a step.
"I'm a Crane spy," I explained quickly, "posing as a Yasuki."
"That's hardly honorable," Mikio spat.
"Neither was what you and Ginawa did with those geisha last night," Takuan added dryly.
Mikio didn't say anything.
"I will test him," Dairya snarled. Everybody looked at the one-eyed ronin. "If he is a true Kakita, then he will know the way of the duel." Dairya massaged the handle of his katana. "So I will test him."
I blinked. Dairya had a reputation as one of the greatest duelists in the Empire.
"Um. I don't have a sword," I said.
"Here, have mine," Ginawa said, smiling.
"Thanks," I said dryly.
"No prob," Ginawa replied, "Besides, you won't need it for long."
So I took the katana. Agetoki and Toku looked at me warily. "You sure about this, Garou?" Toku asked.
I thought for a second. I couldn't just let Agetoki and Toku get themselves killed battling Toturi's Army for me. I'd never be able to explain it to their moms. So I nodded and stepped into the improvised dueling circle Toturi's servants were hastily preparing. Dairya put away his katana and smiled grimly. I put Ginawa's blade on my belt, weighing it uneasily. I was used to using a tetsubo. Swords were just weird.
"Now," I heard Mikio remark, "We shall see if he fights like a Crane."
I picked up a handful of dirt and threw it in Dairya's good eye. He yelped and bent double, so I kicked him in the knee and clubbed him in the head with a rock. I ran like hell.
"He's a Crane, all right," Mikio nodded.
Agetoki kicked one of the legs of the bivouac down as we ran, dropping the billowing canvas cover on the lieutenants' heads. We split up and ran in different directions. I went east, Agetoki went west, I think Toku got stuck under the bivouac and lord knows where Sanzo went. Before I realized nobody was chasing me, I'd broken into a circle of bald men sitting about a fire, meditating. They all snapped awake with a start. "Um, excuse me," I said, "I didn't mean to bother you."
"Hi, Garou," said a voice, "What are you doing here?"
I turned to the sound of the voice. "Mitsu!" I exclaimed, "Togashi Mitsu!"
Mitsu sat on a rock among his bald tattooed brethren. "Yeah. They sent everybody else back to the school when they realized we were just lost but they let me stick around and sign up. Man, Kamoko was so pissed."
"I'll bet!" I said, "Why'd you join the army, Mitsu?"
Mitsu shrugged. "Benefits are good. School sucks. Besides," he leaned close and whispered the next, "They could use a guy like me. You should see some of these losers. I'll introduce you."
"Okay," I said.
Mitsu pointed out each of the tattooed dragons around the ring. "Agasha Heizo, Agasha Koishi, Togashi Rinjin, Togashi Mikoto, Togashi Yama..."
"Have a mountain token!" Yama said, offering me a bag with a smile. I made no move to take it. "A what?" I said, "What the hell would I do with that?"
Yama burst into tears. Mitsu looked a little annoyed. "Garou," he said quietly, "I realize a lot of these guys have goofy useless abilities and they don't get out much, but there's no reason to make them feel bad about it. They're my relatives."
"Sorry," I said, "Who's the guy with the glowing blue tree branch in his mouth?"
"Kama," Mitsu rolled his eyes and sighed, "Er... it's supposed to look like a lightning bolt. Don't tell him. He's sensitive about it."
"And the big ugly bald guy on the end?" I asked. "Uh, that's Hitomi," Mitsu said.
"That's a mean looking dude," I said, impressed, "I bet he's a pretty nasty guy!"
"Hey, why don't we move on..." Mitsu interrupted. He led me out of the clearing and through the camp.
"Hey, Garou," Mitsu remarked suddenly, "I just thought of something!"
"What is it, Mitsu?" I asked.
"You're a Crab!" he said as if he'd never noticed till now. Mitsu wasn't very bright. He was mostly a jock, and when he got an idea, bad things usually happened. "I am?" I said, trying to play dumb.
"You're the enemy!" he added.
"I am?" I said, reaching for Ginawa's katana.
"We have to get you out of here before they find you!" he added.
"We do." I said in total agreement.
"We do!" Mitsu repeated vehemently.
So, with Togashi Mitsu's misguided assistance, we were able to find a disguise, dress me up like an ashigaru, and sneak out of the camp. I kept Ginawa's katana, just in case. Ginawa was a resourceful guy; he'd find another one. Mitsu followed me a good distance into the pass, wished me luck, and went back to hang out with his freaky relatives. I sat on a rock and thought for a while.
"Garou!" said a voice from the bushes, "Thank the Fortunes you're alive!"
"Lot of thanks to you!" I said, tossing a rock at the bush.
"OW!" Sanzo yelled, standing and rubbing his forehead, "Sorry about that. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I was hoping they'd let me take you prisoner or something. Good ronin/Bad ronin sort of thing."
"Now is not the time to squabble amongst ourselves," Agetoki said, suddenly surging out of the shadows on his horse, "We have much work to do."
"What the?!?" Sanzo's eyes goggled, "How did you find your freaking horse? Where's Fury?"
"I could not risk bringing your horse, Sanzo," Agetoki replied.
"I think we've been over this."
"Tell me why," Sanzo demanded.
Agetoki growled. "We're NOT going to drag your idiotic blind horse through the most mountainous terrain in the Empire with the armies of Toturi and the Dragon hounding our every move. Especially now. The Crabs will be attacking any moment with their oni, goblins and Matsu knows what else. We'd best get out of the area before we're overwhelmed by our own troops."
"Good idea, Agetoki!" Sanzo said, "Let me get on your horse!"
"Sanzo's Army?" Agetoki said, raising a thick eyebrow, "I think you shall walk, my lord. It will do you good. I recommend running, actually, since I'll be right behind you."
"Got it," Sanzo said, not even trying to argue. He took off right then to get a good head start.
So the three of us tore through Beiden Pass at breakneck speed. I was hoping that maybe we could find the Crab camp again, sneak Mister Kuni out in the confusion, and head home, but at that point I'd settle for just getting out alive and that sure wasn't going to happen bottled up in the pass.
"Hey, where's Toku?" I asked finally, looking around.
"He decided to stay behind," Agetoki replied. "Why?" I asked.
"He has decided that he will follow Toturi," Agetoki replied, "He has decided that the ronin and his army stand for something that he believes in and that he wishes to be part of. He hopes to find honor and glory in their service."
"Wuss," Sanzo replied, "He should have come with us. He could have found plenty of honor and glory in Sukune's Army. The Crab are just as honorable as anyone."
A thunderous roar shook the earth, and a massive red and black scaled giant stepped into the pass.
"What is THAT?" Sanzo asked.
"I think that's an oni," I said.
"BUHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" the oni laughed, it's voice all darkness and razorblades, "PATHETIC MORTAL FOOLS! YOU SHALL BE THE FIRST TO FALL TO THE POWER OF HIDA YAKAMO!"
"I thought Yakamo had a beard," Sanzo observed.
The oni took a step toward us, his massive foot shaking the earth. He reached behind his back and drew a tremendous spiked club. "WHO WILL DIE FIRST?"
"I'm a Crab!" I shouted, "We were sent by Hida Sukune! My name's Yasuki Garou!"
"THE RATLING GUY?" he asked.
"Yeah, that's me," I said.
"THE ONE THAT WORKED ON THE WALL DURING THE COUP?"
"It was a summer job, yeah," I said.
"THE ONE WHO SENT THOSE RATLINGS TO PUT THAT INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH LAXATIVE IN ONI NO AKUMA'S OVALTINE?"
"Uh...." I grinned innocently, "No, that was some other Garou."
"Uh oh," I said as the oni advanced on us once more.
"Eh, it's just an oni," Agetoki said and he charged.
Agetoki galloped full speed on Yakamo, sword drawn. The oni took a backhand swipe with his free hand and walloped him off his saddle. Yakamo took another step toward me.
"Well, Sanzo?" I asked, "You ready to chase death with blind fury?"
"Sure," Sanzo said, "I'll go look for him." And he ran away.
Leaving me alone against Hida Yakamo, the Crab oni.
"PATHETIC FOOL!" the oni roared, "YOU CANNOT HURT ME!"
I feebly drew Ginawa's sword.
Everything went red.
Everything got clear again.
Ginawa's sword was dripping with black ichor. I was covered in black blood and gore. The Crab oni was laying against one wall with a huge slash across its chest, looking back at me fearfully. Agetoki and Sanzo were standing nearby, eyes wide.
"By the Seven Thunders!" Agetoki roared, "Garou, where did you get that Bloodsword?!?"
"Um... what?" I said numbly, "What happened?"
"You started screaming something in a language I didn't understand and you slashed the Crab Oni across the stomach."
"DON'T HURT ME," the oni whimpered.
"Oh," I said, staring at Ginawa's sword, "Maybe I should hang on to this."
"Let's get back to the Crab," Agetoki said.
"ANYBODY GOT A BAND-AID?" the oni asked as we walked away.
So we made our way back to the Crab camp. Luckily, we had no further oni encounters. We passed through the assorted ranks of growling Crab soldiers (which seemed rather more undead than usual) and met with Sukune, the real Yakamo, and Mister Kuni.
"Hi, Mister Kuni," I said.
"Hi, Garou," he said and his jaw fell off.
"Ew," Sanzo said, "Mister Kuni, are you okay?"
"Eh, I'll be all right," he said, stooping over and picking his jaw up, "Just got a little touch of the Taint. Too many oni summonings, I guess." He gave Sukune a grim look.
"It's all worth it, though," Sukune laughed, "The oni, Yakamo has already departed to engage the Dragon army! His power and skill are unmatched! By the time we arrive, we should have little left to do but to pick up the pieces."
"I hope you have a backup plan," Agetoki said.
Sukune just stared at him. "Why would we need one?" he asked, "Yakamo is invincible."
"Just in case," Agetoki said.
"As it happens, we do," Yakamo (the human one) said gruffly, "Show him, gimpy." "Don't call me gimpy," Sukune whined.
"Just show them," Yakamo growled.
Sukune walked over to a large pole nearby, covered in canvas. With a little grin, he pulled away the canvas, revealing a tall, purple war banner carved and painted all over with magical runes and sigils. It reeked of the Shadowlands Taint.
"What the heck is that?" Sanzo asked.
"The Terrible Standard of... um... Hida," Sukune smiled, "We just got it delivered this morning." He leaned back against the Standard and folded his arms proudly.
"Delivered from where?" I asked, staring at the Standard in horror. "Never you mind," Sukune said.
"How does it work?" Mister Kuni asked, finally having worked his jawbone back into his head.
"Easy, I got the manual right here," Sukune said, whipping out a large black book bound in odd looking leather, "All we have to do is make a human sacrifice and strap it to the banner. Hey, did you guys bring Toku with you?"
"No, why?" I asked.
"No reason," Sukune smiled faintly, "Guess we'll just have to capture a Dragon soldier." Sukune leaned his weight off the standard and stepped back to take a look at it. It wobbled and fell over on top of him with a crunch.
"GIMPY!" Yakamo yelled in horror.
That was it. This was just insane. I ran over and grabbed Mister Kuni's arm. "C'mon, Mister Kuni," I said, "Let's get back to the school."
"Good idea," Mister Kuni agreed.
So, amid the chaos and commotion as Yakamo and his men tried to haul the Terrible Standard of Hida off of Sukune the four of us ran out of the camp. We headed out of the South end of the Pass right as the battle started up and continued on to the Yasuki Territories, where we stayed with my family for the next couple days till the whole thing cleared up.
One morning I heard a knock on the door. It was Toku. He had brand new armor and a new sword and a big smile on his face. He told us all about the Battle of Beiden Pass. Turned out the Crabs lost. Apparently, the oni disappeared mysteriously right before the battle started and the Crab troops were in disarray after the sudden accidental death of Sukune. Toturi's men were a little sore about me beating up Dairya, but they said everything would be okay as long as I kept Ginawa's sword. That sounded like an odd request to me, but I didn't argue. Sanzo found out that his horse had been impounded in Toturi's basecamp, and he was free to come back and pick it up any time he was ready to apologize to Mirumuto Sukune for making up the whole "Sanzo's Army" thing. He just got a new horse. Togashi Mitsu had decided to drop out of school altogether and stick with Toturi's Army, which made Agetoki happy since he figured he finally had another chance at Kamoko. But by the time we got back to school, Kamoko had already started dating the Ninja Shapeshifter, who had turned himself into Agetoki. Toku decided that he wanted to be in Toturi's Army, too. But only part time, since he wanted to finish school and become an accountant like his dad.
As for me, I'd had enough of battle. It had been memorable, and in a sick way it had been fun, but once was enough for me. I was done with battles.
Until the Day of Thunder.
Tangen and Asami
---"R. Serena Wakefield"
Bad move there Serena.
Normally I wouldn't interfere in this sort of thing; I let other people make their own mistakes, relationship wise (breeds wisdom) but I think I gotta step in here. I know I usually save these stories for the L5R story list but I'm in the middle of the big Beiden Pass thing over there so I'll throw this up as an aside...
Let me tell you a thing or two about Bayushi Tangen.
It was back in my sophomore year at Hantei XXIII Public High School and Agetoki and Sanzo and Toku and me were all sitting in the cafeteria at lunch eating reheated rice pizza when Yogo Asami walks up. Now, I don't know if I mentioned this before but I was a good friend of Asami's and I had a pretty big crush on her at the time, too. She was cute and outgoing and she had that certain aura of trouble about her that I am inevitably drawn to.
So she says "Hey can I sit here?" and there aren't any empty chairs so I feel kind of stupid and I'm about to get up like a moron and give her mine.
But then Toku says, "Sure, Asami, I was just about to go to class."
"Lunch isn't over for twenty minutes, Toku," Sanzo said, crumpling up his little orange juice carton and throwing it at a trash can, missing by several feet.
"I know, but I have to go," he said, "Now."
Agetoki laughed. "You have Health class next, don't you?"
"Yes," Toku blushed.
"You have Miss Bayushi, don't you?" Agetoki prodded.
"Yes," Toku mumbled.
"Toku's hot for teacher," Agetoki sang.
"Leave me alone," Toku said, staring resolutely at the floor.
"Hey," Sanzo said, leaning back, "It's cool, Toku. Kachiko's pretty hot. (Sanzo was one of those guys who liked to call teachers by their first names - except Mister Kuni. NOBODY messed with him.) Besides, it's better than that time you had a crush on Hantei XXXVIII."
It looked like Toku was about to say something back, then thought better of it and just left. Asami took his seat.
"Hey, Agetoki," Asami said, "Isn't that Mitsu over there with Kamoko?"
Agetoki looked over. Mitsu and Kamoko were sitting at a table nearby (this is before Mitsu dropped out to join Toturi's Army). They were loudly discussing Mitsu's new tattoo. Kamoko flashed Agetoki a little smile, then studiously ignored him. Agetoki growled something under his breath that I won't repeat here and he left the cafeteria.
Asami sighed dramatically, drawing our attention back to her.
"What's wrong?" I asked like a doof.
She sighed again, frowning a little. "Oh that jerk Tangen again. He broke up with me a couple weeks ago you know cause he said he thought I could do better and I needed my space and how it wasn't me it was him and everything you know." The lack of commas is on purpose. She didn't even pause.
"Yeah, well, anyway," she went on, "I went out with Shiba Tetsu the other night cause I wanted to make Tangen jealous and they're good friends and everything and now I just know Tetsu's gonna tell all the other guys on the team and now Tangen will find out and oh I just don't know..." She collapsed over on the table.
"So?" Sanzo said, putting his feet on Agetoki's chair.
"So?" Asami said, looking up and giving him a mean look.
"So, you did it to get the dork jealous," Sanzo said, "You wanted him to know, that's why you did it. So he knows. What's the prob?"
"I went out with Tetsu!" Asami said, "What will Tangen say?"
"He dumped you, Asami," Sanzo said, "I doubt he'll really care."
Asami just scowled at him.
"You wanna go out this weekend?" Sanzo asked.
"Sure!" she smiled and I choked on my grape juice.
Okay, I realize what a stupid conversation that was. Now. Sure, Asami was a manipulative psycho and a confused girl looking for attention but at the time I was fifteen and all I could think about was how hot she looked in that little blue kimono.
I'll bet she looks REALLY hot now, what with the desert and all.
Nah, I'm over her.
Tangen, my point was Tangen. Sorry. Where was I?
So Tangen and Asami went out a couple more times (she went out with Sanzo just that one time and neither of them would ever talk about it or go near each other again). Asami had like this fatal attraction thing for Tangen. He kept dumping her and she kept coming back. He was a really weird, moody-artist sort of guy. He kept giving these terrible self-deprecating reasons for dumping her - HE wasn't good enough, SHE needed more time for school, his DOG was sick, (such a martyr) and Asami would always stalk off in a huff, complain to me about it at lunch the next day, and then go out with him again a week later.
Well, that's my Tangen experience. Take it how you will.
Keepin' it real...
Hidden Emperor, Chapter One
In my opinion, the whole thing was Sanzo's fault...
Here I was, kneedeep in mud, chasing a chicken across a rice paddie in the middle of a thunderstorm, a group of tattooed maniacs hunting for my blood and the army of Yoritomo coming up from behind...
Okay, maybe I should start earlier than that.
It was one year ago today. I hadn't seen my high school chums Toku, Agetoki, and Sanzo in quite some time. I decided to take some time off as the official Crab emissary to the Third Whisker Nezumi Tribe and go visit them in Otosan Uchi. (Toku was the Captain of the Imperial Guard now, believe it or not, and he got us all into the palace for half price.)
I remember the first night we were there. Toku said he could get us a personal audience with Toturi. I was so excited! Of course, the first time I'd met with Toturi had been a little disheartening, but I liked to think he had mellowed out since then. After all, he was Emperor now! Not to mention the greatest hero in the Empire.
So it was about ten o'clock at night when I knocked on the doors to the Imperial Chambers.
"Hey, Garou," said a voice from my left. It was Sanzo.
"Hi, buddy!" I said, happy to see him again after so long, "You finally got here!"
Sanzo shrugged. "My horse broke down and I had to call for a tow. So, we get to meet Toturi again!"
"Yup," I replied.
"Think he'll be slobbering drunk again?"
Before I could answer, the door opened, and the dour face of Takuan glared back. "Oh," he said, "Toku's friends. The mighty Lord Sanzo and... Kakita Garou."
"Hi," I said, hoping he had forgotten the Dairya incident.
"Hey, more people!" shouted a voice, "C'mon in! The party'sh jusht shtartin'!"
Takuan rolled his eyes and beckoned us inside. Sure enough, there was Toturi, slobbering drunk, a bottle of sake in one hand and a quill in the other. He was sitting around in his underwear with his pants on his head.
"Look!" he said, flapping the legs of the pants, "I'm a bunny!" He went back to scribbling on a piece of parchment.
Toku, who was sitting in a chair nearby, smiled weakly.
"That's Toturi?" I gasped.
"Well, yes," Takuan coughed at his hand, "In public, we usually manage to make him keep quiet, and he has very good advisors. We make most of his decisions for him. We never expected him to actually KILL Fu Leng, though. Now the moron's Emperor and we have to listen to him."
"I'm the Emperor!" Toturi exclaimed before doubling over and doing something dreadful in a vase. He went back to writing.
There was a knock at the door. Takuan opened it and in stepped the grim visage of Matsu Agetoki. His face was grim, and when he saw the Emperor, it just got grimmer.
"Yo, baby!" Toturi whistled, "You sure lookin' purty tonite!"
"How much has he had, Takuan?" Agetoki growled.
"That's his fifth bottle tonight," Takuan replied sadly.
"What are you writing there, sir?" Toku asked Toturi quietly.
"An Imperial decree!" Toturi proclaimed drunkenly, "New laws! Da charters for all de clans!"
We all just stared blankly.
"And the Clan of the Crab shall protect the Empire from the Shadowlands. And they shall ever walk sideways and clip their hands together like this." He made little crabby finger motions and scampered back and forth on the floor. Everyone stared at me.
"I am NOT doing that!" I said.
Toturi continued. "And the Clan of the Dragon shall be our philosophers. They shall carry the Tao, in small cookies, on slips of paper. And they shall suffix each of their statements with proclamations of lucky numbers and free soy sauce packets."
"Um..." Agetoki said.
"And the armies of the Unicorn shall be our magistrates. And they shall act like horsies. They shall say 'Neeiggghh neeeeiggghhhh, Ohhhhhh Wilburrrrrr!' and they shall eat oats."
"Glad I'm a ronin of a sudden," Sanzo said.
"And the Mantis shall have all the land we don't need. And they shall eat each other's heads after mating. I read that in a book." Toturi nodded sagely.
"I KNEW his choice of Toku as Captain of the Guard was a warning flag," Takuan said, shaking his head ruefully.
"And the Phoenix shall be our shugenja. They shall express their wisdom by running around and flapping their arms, optionally setting themselves on fire."
"What's wrong with him? What's he drinking?" I asked.
"Ran out of sake three hours ago," Takuan sighed, "He's on some sort of Zokujin rock-cleansing fluid now."
"And the Naga shall be the snakeys! Watch out for snakes!" Toturi cupped his hands over his mouth so that last part echoed, and we looked at each other blankly.
"And the Scorpions, them big fat nasty boys. Hee."
We waited. Apparently that was all he had to say there.
"And the Crane," he continued, "Shall be commanded by my power as Emperor to melt in water like cotton candy."
"I actually like that one," Agetoki said.
"And Toturi's Army," he continued, "Shall be hunted to the last man, until the vile ronin dog Toturi is executed for his crimes against Rokugan by my own hand. MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!"
Takuan and Toku exchanged worried glances. Toturi was now standing on the coffee table and gesticulating wildly with his proclamations.
"And the Lion! They shall be cute and cuddly and punctuate their sentences with 'snarf, snarf'"
"That's it," Agetoki snarled. He yanked the coffee table out form under Toturi the First, spilling him to the floor. He then jumped on his chest and punched him in the face till he stopped struggling.
"Ummm... he IS Emperor," Takuan said mildly, "I think you should probably stop beating on him."
"He's insane!" Agetoki retorted, "He's going to start another Clan War with this gibberish!"
"I hate to admit it, Matsu," Takuan replied, "But you're right. We'll have to have an intervention, try to clean him up, get him off the hard stuff, put him back on track."
"But how?" I asked, "He's the Emperor! It would be a disgrace to the Empire if we revealed this!"
"We'll HAVE to keep it secret," Toku said, "... somehow."
We were all quiet for a minute.
"Let's kidnap him," Sanzo said.
"What?" I replied, "That's stupid!"
"No, hear me out!" Sanzo replied, "We sneak out with Toturi, stash him at my place. I got some extra room. We clean him up, get him off the booze. In the meantime, Takuan takes over as regent and pretends that Toturi's been kidnapped! And when the T-man's all clean and sober, he'll appreciate what we did so much that he'll go along with it! We'll pretend that the Crab or the Lion did it."
"HEY!" me and Agetoki said simultaneously.
"Okay, you big babies," Sanzo said, "Then the Scorpion. Or something. Who cares. Not like they'll really get in any trouble for it, right? It'll just be like a month or so."
"Did you call him... the T-man?" Toku said, stunned.
"Silence, Toku," Takuan waved him off, "The big people are talking now. "This idea of yours, Sanzo. This could work... this could work...
and so it began...
TO BE CONTINUED
Yasuki Garou (Rich Wulf) Crab Clan Ratling Wrangler (missing) ABC Courtier
Hidden Emperor, Chapter Two
We had been up all night and nothing was working.
Toturi was still madly drunk, nearly unconscious, and freakishly insane. I sat on Sanzo's couch and rubbed my temples, trying to ease the headache out of them. In the background, the Emperor screamed something about how he would have us all assigned as Imperial Toilet Scrubbers for this, in between muffled blubbering as Matsu Agetoki repeatedly dunked his head in a barrel of ice water.
"Can't you get him to stop yelling like that?" Sanzo asked, "He's going to wake up my landlord."
Agetoki looked up, angry. His sleeves were rolled up to his shoulders and he was drenched by the Emperor's struggles, water dripping from his red mane.
"Do you want to do this?" Agetoki asked.
"Er... no.... that's okay." Sanzo said, going back to reading his newspaper.
It had been a week since we had engineered the "kidnapping" of Emperor Toturi, with Lieutenant Takuan's help. Toturi had descended deeper into his sake-induced psychosis of late, and had been planning to issue ridiculous edicts over the entire empire. Luckily, we managed to stop him at the last minute; Takuan rewrote the Clan Charters, and we dragged Toturi the First off to Sanzo's house to sober him up. Unfortunately, it wasn't working. I was beginning to think that it wasn't the alcohol, that the Emperor was just a genuine nut.
There was a sudden knock at the door. "Guys! It's me, Toku! Let me in!"
I got up and opened the door. Toku pushed in quickly, slamming it behind him. His face was sweaty and frightened, and his helmet was on crooked.
"Geez, Toku, what's up with you?" Sanzo asked. Agetoki only paused in his ministrations a moment before continuing dunking the Emperor's head.
"I just got back from the palace!" he said, "They are REALLY freaking out about the Emperor being kidnapped. They are NOT taking it well! I got here as soon as I could. They've been questioning everybody, and the Scorpions are getting most of the blame. So far, Takuan's covering for us, but I don't know for how long."
"I am the EMPEROR!" Toturi screamed, "I will have you all cleaning manicuring my big red Imperial blublublub..."
"Hmmm..." I said, "This isn't good. Especially with him making all that noise. We're all going to be executed for this."
"If we're lucky," Agetoki grunted, "Sanzo, this is the stupidest idea you've ever had."
"It was Toku's idea!" Sanzo retorted.
"WHAT?" Toku exclaimed.
There was another knock at the door.
Sanzo ran over to the peephole and looked through.
"Who is it?" I asked.
"The Emerald Champion," Sanzo replied, his face green.
There was another knock, more impatient.
"Everybody be real quiet," Sanzo whispered, hiding behind the couch, "We'll pretend nobody's here and maybe he'll go away."
"I AM EMPEROR BOOGEYPANTS THE FIRST!" Toturi screamed, spitting water, "I WILL PROCLAIM ALL THE GEISHA OF THE EMPIRE TO BE-- ut."
Agetoki had rammed Toturi's forehead into the table and quickly silenced him.
"Okay, that's just it. I heard that," said a voice from outside. We heard a loud -SHCHWINK!- sound and the door fell neatly in two pieces.
In walked Kakita Toshimoko, the Emerald Champion, his katana drawn and gleaming.
"Um... hi!" Agetoki said, quickly pulling a towel over Toturi's head, "You should have knocked!"
"Oh, shut up, Lion," Toshimoko spat. Then he blinked. "What is THAT?" Toshimoko asked tersely, pointing at Toturi.
"What is what?" I asked innocently.
"THAT, Crab!" Toshimoko pointed again, "The thing that looks like, oh, I don't know, THE EMPEROR."
"This?" Agetoki pointed at Toturi. "Er... it's an Imperial Paperweight, a lifelike representation of our Royal Highness. You like it?" Agetoki was NOT good at lying under the best of circumstances, and he nervously avoided eye contact with everyone.
"Bull," Toshimoko spat, "You guys kidnapped Toturi the First and that's all there is to it. I thought Toku was acting a little suspicious." The old man sneered and sheathed his katana with a quick motion. "Let me have a look at him."
Toshimoko crossed the room, absently unsheathing his wakizashi and throwing it behind him, pinning Sanzo to the wall by his sleeve as he tried to escape.
"I was just going to shut the door," Sanzo said weakly, trying to pull out the sword and failing.
Toshimoko grabbed the limp Emperor's wrist.
"Well, he's alive," the Champion said, "Barely." He leaned close and smelled Toturi's breath. "Egads! Zokujin rock cleaning fluid! Who gave him that?"
"Takuan said it was a gift from the Unicorns," I said.
"Just like them," he sighed. "That's powerful stuff. He'll be drunk for months."
"MONTHS!?!??!?" we all exclaimed.
"The Zokujin eat rocks, you understand," Toshimoko said, "It takes a lot more than just normal alcohol to get them dizzy. This is powerful, dangerous stuff. Hmm. You guys are lucky you got to him when you did."
"Months?" Toku said again, "Are you sure about this?"
Toshimoko gave Toku a cold look. "Never question me when it comes to alcohol, Toku."
Toku backed off.
"My landlord's gonna cheese when he sees this," Sanzo whined, looking at the cut door and marred wall. He still hadn't managed to free himself from Toshimoko's sword, and was apparently trying to figure out a way to slip out of his shirt and just leave it hanging there.
"Hmm," Toshimoko said, thinking a moment, " I guess that means we probably shouldn't execute all the Scorpion for kidnapping the Emperor, like I was about to do."
I choked. "Kill ALL of them???!?!?"
Toshimoko shrugged. "Just an idea we were tossing around. Anyway, I understand now why you boys did this. The Fortunes could only guess what would happen to Rokugan with an Emperor hopped up on Zokujin juice would do. But we have to get him out of Otosan Uchi. I know a place in the Unicorn lands.... friend of mine lives there. She could help. I could sneak us out tonight."
"WHAT ZEE HECK ARE YOU DOING TO MY APARTMENT????" shouted a voice.
We all turned. A small brown Naga stood in the doorway, staring in horror at the shredded door and the wakizashi nailed in the wall. His tail switched back and forth in irritation.
"Who's that?" Toshimoko asked coldly.
"Eh, it's just Kazaq, my landlord," Sanzo whined, picking up another shirt off the floor and putting it on.
"And WHAT eez THAT?!?!?" Kazaq pointed in horror at the semi-conscious, abused form of Toturi the First. "What zee heck are you boyz doing in here? I should call zee police!"
"I am the police," Toshimoko said.
Kazaq blinked, afraid. "You all crazy! I go get magistrates!" He turned and ran.
Agetoki was right after him. He jumped out into the street, tackled Kazaq, picked him up by his tail, and swung him back and forth, knocking him into the street over and over.
"That was violent," Toku said, "Agetoki, are you going to solve all of our problems by beating people unconscious?"
"Yes," Agetoki replied, glancing around to make sure nobody had seen him. "Garou, where can we put this guy that nobody will find him till he wakes up? Sanzo's place doesn't have a door anymore so that's out."
I stepped out of the door and looked around. "Hmmm..." I said, "You could put him in the alley over there by the tattoo shop."
"Will he be safe there?" Toku replied, "This is a pretty bad neighborhood?"
"Toku." I said, "What's gonna happen to him in a tattoo shop? Are they gonna take him inside and tattoo him or something? That's just silly."
So Agetoki dragged Kazaq off behind Kokujin's House of Tats. Toshimoko beckoned us all back into the apartment, snapping his wakizashi out of the wall with one hand and putting hit away.
"Listen, fellas," he said, his voice low. "Nobody can know about this. Takuan, me, you guys, nobody else. I'm sure that Kazaq isn't sure what he saw so don't worry about him. Other than that, the only person you should trust is this girl I'm sending you to meet. Her name is Iuchi Shahai, and she should be cool."
We all nodded, glad to have the Emerald Champions wisdom on our side.
"Now let's get you five the hell out of Otosan Uchi before anyone else discovers this..."
To be continued...
All artwork above created by Rich Wulf