L5R - The Duty of War - A Post Winter Court 5 story

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Mon Sep 24, 2018 8:25 am

For the first time since his arrival at Kyuden Hida, Harun entered the castle dojo. And just like everywhere else he had been, Harun’s very appearance caused a sensation. People stared, people whispered to each other. Some with approval and some with suspicion.
The attention still irritated Harun, but he was beginning to get used to it. He just acknowledged their stares with a nod and found an empty corner to train in. But he wasn’t to be alone for long.
Harun was just going through basic katas when a Crab bushi approached him. He looked barely older than Harun. “Kakita-chui?”
Harun stopped and looked at him. “Yes?”
“I bring a request from Hida Nasu-sama,” he said, gesturing to where some more Crab bushi were gathered. “He asks that he might spar with you.”
Harun frowned, looking back over to where the Crab were. Hida Nasu…he was sure that was the Crab Champion’s son.
I guess it wouldn’t hurt, he thought.
“Tell Hida Nasu-sama that I accept his invitation and will be over directly,” said Harun.
The Crab bowed and ran back. Harun quickly went through a few exercises, making sure he was ready before following him.
Again, Harun caused a stir. The Crane and Dragon who were training together stopping to stare. Harun ignored them.
The Crab were sparring with each other, it looked rough but there was control there. Each knowing exactly how hard to hit. And this was critical, an injury in the dojo could mean one less man on the wall. At Harun’s approach, the tallest of them held up a hand and they all fell still. Harun bowed, as was appropriate to the son of a Clan Champion, but Nasu’s bow was deeper.
“Kakita-chui,” said Nasu. He was a few years older than Harun, and while Harun had always been tall but Nasu stood a head taller. “Your reputation precedes you.”
“Hida-sama,” said Harun. “I accept your request, though now I have seen your form, I would wager you favour fire over air.”
Nasu laughed. “If I could kill Jigoku spawn as you did, then my duty would be easier.”
“Perhaps,” replied Harun with a shrug. “Fortunes favoured me that day, next time I may not be so lucky.”
“Why so modest, Kakita-chui?” Nasu asked. “Not even my own father can claim fame to killing an Onyx general as you have.”
“Well…” Harun looked over their heads at the Crane and Dragon who were watching. “There is that, I just saw an enemy I could kill and act accordingly.”
Nasu nodded in agreement. “Some would say you talk like a Crab, Kakita-Chui.”
Harun shrugged. “Well, if it means acknowledgment of the lives I saved by acting as I did…then I’ll wear it.”
Nasu laughed, the rest of the Crab joining in with him. Harun joined with them, even when he saw the Crane and Dragon leaving the dojo. “I think I am going to like you, Kakita-chui,” Nasu said. “But not as much as I’ll enjoy you seeing you flat on the dojo floor here.”
“I’d like to see you try,” said Harun with a grin.
They picked up practice swords and began to circle each other.
“How many duels have you had?” Nasu asked.
“And won?”
“Three. You?”
“One,” answered Nasu. “That last one was Shimekiri, right?”
Harun nodded, they continued to circle.
“I heard the Crane call him the finest duellist since Kakita,” said Nasu. “What does that make you then?”
“The man who killed him,” Harun replied.
“Lets see some of that form now, then,” said Nasu.
They came at each other with their bokkens, Nasu’s attack was strong and Harun was doing his best to stay out of his way.
Find an opening, find an opening, Harun said to himself. He twisted out of the way of one of Nasu’s blows, it narrowly grazing him, then came up behind the Hida and giving him a gentle touch.
“My point,” said Harun, grinning a little.
“Not bad, there Kakita,” said Nasu, acknowledging Harun’s victory. “But you and I both know a little spar in the dojo is nothing compared to a real fight against the enemy.”
“Give me ten good men, and I’ll show you a real fight,” said Harun. “I’m not one of your sheltered, fragile Cranes that traipses from court to court. “He fingered the scars on his face where his beard hadn’t grown back. “These aren’t from duels.”
Nasu looked back at him with some admiration. “Seeing war for what it is, if the other clans see that, then perhaps something good came out of this war.”
Harun shrugged. “If only.”

Back where the Legion guests were quartered, there was a little activity. They were standing outside the rooms, Koharu was talking to the others. In her hands was a white box. She went to Harun as he approached.
“These have just come, Harun,” she said. “Yours should be in your room.”
“What is it?” Harun asked. “A gift?”
Koharu nodded, she opened her box. “Daifuku,” she said, putting one in her mouth. “It’s…very good,” she managed to say through a mouthful.
Harun went to his room, there was no box waiting for him and try as he might he could not find one.
Daifuku… He went to the doorway, and it hit him. On those boxes was the mon of the Imperial Treasurer, Doji Arami. He knew it, as it had been on other boxes that contained daifuku when Harun was growing up, often coming when Arami himself visited…
Harun sat back down on his bed, burning with anger.
It didn’t matter at all that there was no box for him, to think so was stupid and childish. And it certainly didn’t matter that there was one for all of the Imperial Legions guests except for him.
It didn’t matter, at all. Because none of them mattered, and he would show them one way or another.

Harun was troubled by dreams again that night. This time he was back at Toshi Ranbo, back on the ship heading into the city. He could hear the thunk, thunk, thunk of the bodies hitting the hull. These got louder and more frequent. Then he heard the voices, the shouting and the moaning of the dead.
They then started to climb up the sides, swarming onto the deck as a mass. Their sinewy, wet arms, their soulless black eyes. They seemed, unstoppable, no matter what they did, no matter what they threw at them.
Harun felt himself taken up by them, his arms pinned to his sides by the mass of stinking, thrashing bodies. He was pulled over the side of the ship and down into the black water below…
Harun sat up in his bed, cold with sweat, gasping for air, gasping for air. This was not the first nightmare he had had since Toshi Ranbo, but it was the first since he had come to Kyuden Hida. It was perhaps fortunate that the thick stone walls were as good as keeping horrors in as out.
The narrow slit window showed the cold, grey light of morning. Within minutes, Harun was awake and dressing, hoping a walk would clear the cobwebs from his head.
The castle was quiet this early, but not silent. The servants were of course awake, as well as early rising bushi on their way to the dojo. Harun almost went there himself, but then turned away at the last minute. He had overheard someone talk about the secret tunnels out of the castle, of which there were a few in case of evacuation. One apparently went right through the cliff and ended on the beach below. So, he decided to find it.

Harun headed down deeper into the castle, heading down several stairs. But it seemed impossible to find, in the end he had to ask a guard on duty where to find it. The door was heavy and they had no problem letting him through. Behind the door the tunnel was steep, stairs cut into the rock, Harun’s footsteps echoed loudly as he walked down. Then he heard it, the soft sighs of the sea. He smelled the smell of salt and his pace quickened.
He emerged from behind a boulder onto a shingled beach. In front of him stretched Earthquake Fish Bay, the winter wind whipping up the waves into white peaks. Harun removed his socks and sandals and stood in the water, it was cold but it was good. He stood there for a while, letting the wind play with his hair and enjoying the feel of the salt spray.
So quiet, so peacefully…was that somebody crying?
Harun looked up the beach, he could see what looked like a young girl sitting on the beach. Brown clothing, red hair.
Can it be?
Harun walked towards the girl, spraying water as he walked which wet his hakama, but he didn’t care. Was it her? As he neared she seemed to calm, sitting quietly watching the waves.
The girl blinked at him in amazement. “Harun?”
Harun smiled. “Koneko, it is so good to see you. I’m sorry, I had to come when I saw you…but I can go away if you prefer.”
“No, no,” said Koneko, her cheeks colouring slightly. She wiped her face with her sleeve then stood up and bowed. “I…thought I was alone, you just surprised me.”
Harun smiled at her reassuringly. He had met Akodo Koneko a year previously when he had come with the Ishiken Moto Majid to her father Zetsubou’s house in the middle of the night. She was…about thirteen now, perhaps. And had always been warm towards Harun, drawn in a way sheltered young girls were to confident young men.
“How is your family?” Harun asked.
“They are well,” said Koneko, beginning to recover. “My brother Kibo began his training in the dojo in the spring, he swears he will be wielding real steel by next summer.”
Harun laughed.
“My cousin Miraiko is here, at Kyuden Hida with mother,” continues Koneko. “She was…not happy about missing Toshi Ranbo.”
Harun nods. “I spoke with her husband Hanamasu before the battle, he said much the same to me,” he said. “How are you faring in your studies?”
“Adequately, I suppose,” said Koneko, she looked uncomfortable.
Harun looked out to sea, giving her the space if she wished to confide in him.
“I have…” Koneko blinked away tears. “I have found it difficult without father.” She shuddered, as if confessing a weakness.
“Your father was one of the best men I knew,” said Harun. “He gave himself completely to everything he did. The fact you miss him speaks very highly of him.”
Koneko nodded. “I know, it is just…have you ever wondered if the path you have been set on is the right one?”
“Yes, more than once,” said Harun.
“And what did you do?” Koneko asked.
“I found the right path,” said Harun. “Or…tried to.”
Koneko looked at him. “What do you mean?”
Harun shook his head. “Nothing.” He did not wish to burden her.
“No,” Koneko insisted. “I shared a confidence, now it is your turn.”
Harun smiled. “I guess it is only fair.” He sat down on the pebble beach and invited her to sit next to him. “I’m not sure if you know, but at the ritual where…where your father died…he called many shryo to aid.” Harun picked up a pebble and examined it in his hands. “One of those was Hikahime-no-Fortune, the other was my own father.”
“Your father…?” Koneko considered. “Wait…this was the man who was married to your mother Yamada?”
Harun nodded. “Well, they spoke to me before they departed. Told me I could not stay in Unicorn lands. That I would join the Legion and…” He let the stone fly from his fingers. “…take Toshi Ranbo.”
“A…a prophecy?” Koneko asked.
“Of a sort,” said Harun. “That more or less resolved me to return, such a thing cannot be ignored.”
“Quite,” agreed Koneko.
“But since then, I have been wondering…did they know of this? If they did, how much? And why didn’t they tell me more?” He looked down at the ocean again. “I thought I saw a way forward, at least then. But did they see the real path?”
“They may have,” Koneko says. “But telling you more could have prevented what needed to happen.”
“What do you mean?” Harun asked.
“Well, what you did to Shimekiri,” said Koneko. “I heard Uncle Kibo and Miraiko arguing about it,” she added quickly. “Had you known what you had to do, you may have acted differently. Had a different destiny, taken a different path. You may have been told exactly what you needed to know to set you on the path you needed to be on.”
Harun smiled. “That sounds very wise, Koneko.”
“It does,” she agreed, looking up at him. “I should probably listen to it myself.”

They later walked up the tunnel together back into the castle. When they got to the door, Koneko stopped.
“Harun, I…I wish to ask you of something,” she said, starting to blush again.
“Anything to help,” said Harun agreeably.
“I know mother wishes to see you, will you call upon her where the Lion Clan are quartered?” Koneko asked. “Miraiko is in charge and probably has prevented such things, but mother wont refuse if you come yourself.”
“I will,” promised Harun.
She blushed again, quickly excusing herself and going back inside.
So young, so innocent, Harun thought, so good that she has not changed…

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Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Tue Sep 25, 2018 8:57 am

The Crab Clan hosted the official banquet that night. In the past, the Imperial Court would have held multiple banquets, but this had long gone out of favour in times of famine and war.
The largest of the barracks was given over to the occasion, the rather tasteful decorations suggested there was another hand at work. Harun entered with the Legion guests, a few of them looking to Harun for cues. What he noticed was the people who were not there. The Emperor and Empress were not, nor were they expected to be, but he did not see Kyoumi or Kousuda either.
His father Karasu was there though, and next to him Doji Arami. Harun quickly paid his respects and was intending to sit with the others from the Legion, but Hida Nasu, who sat on his father’s right, indicated Harun should sit on his left. There was no real way to refuse such an invitation, so with a depreciating look at Koharu, Harun went to sit with the Crab Champion’s son.
Karasu watched this with interest from where he sat. He didn’t like it, but there was nothing to be done about it and it was logical given how the Crab wished to honour Harun. And it followed from there that Harun would feel drawn to them. But he still didn’t like it.
Several musicians who were vying for the Turquoise Championship entertained the group with an eclectic selection of music. The food and drink began to be served. The individual tastes of the different clans were considered, but the majority was the greasy, fried fare that the Crab usually favoured. Karasu didn’t mind, in his years living out of a tent on campaign one could not afford to be picky, but it amused him to see Arami picking at it with some suspicion.
Harun seemed to be enjoying himself far more, Karasu noticed, speaking not just with the Champion’s son but the Champion himself. As the evening went on and the drink began to flow a little more freely, the occasion got more informal and people began to move around a lot more. Karasu saw Hida Nasu introduce Harun to a girl he said was his cousin.
Karasu frowned. They have plans, all right, he thought, taking what they can and who from the rest of us.
He said this to Arami later when they were going back to their quarters.
“I am sure there are those among us who would resist such assimilation,” said Arami smoothly. “But for some, perhaps it could be seen as desirable.”
Karasu stared at him, of course Arami was talking about Harun.
“Of course, not all infractions are seen as they are deserved to be,” continued Arami. “There are those who see them as…virtues.” He threw out the word with disgust, as if it tasted bad.
This was a step too far for Karasu. He led Arami onto one of the balconies so they could talk privately. “Arami,” he said. “We have known each other for many years so I trust you know to keep such remarks to yourself.”
“I can only call the tune as I hear it,” said Arami flatly.
“Then I trust you to at least not repeat them,” said Karasu, an edge entering his voice.
“But I am not wrong,” said Arami. He turned to face Karasu directly. “It has been nearly a month since…this outrage, and you have not acted as you should. People are beginning to wonder…and to doubt.”
“Then they are wrong,” said Karasu firmly. “I have acted, and accordingly to fit Harun’s digressions. He has been removed from command, and he will no longer permitted to continue his training at the Kakita Academy.”
“And yet here he is!” Arami rebuked, extending a hand out as if presenting to an audience. “Granted a rare honour before the entire Imperial Court for a disgrace that should at the very least had him making the three cuts. Which had he rectitude to do of his own accord, would have spared this disgrace.” His glare to Karasu was icy cold. “The fact he did not may speak of the virtues he has…and those he was raised with.”
Karasu’s gaze was fire to Arami’s ice. “We may be friends, Arami, but you would do well to tread carefully. Especially on issues which you have no right at all to question.”
“I have the right of every Crane which loathes to see the sacred traditions of my ancestors brought into disrepute,” said Arami. “Were he my son—”
“But he is not, nor will he ever be!” Karasu interrupted, his face reddening with anger. “I am his father, I know just how far to push him. To do more I may lose him forever.”
“That does not sound completely unpleasant,” said Arami smoothly. “If your son wishes to ingratiate himself with the Crab Clan, then let him join them. Arranging this should be the least of your duties as his father.”
He left then, leaving Karasu to contemplate this.
The cold air seemed to dull the hot words in Karasu’s heart. He had seen Harun around the last few days, and had heard reports. Still, he felt like he didn’t know his own son. Harun’s stubbornness, his indifference, his refusal to see how badly he had erred.
Perhaps, Arami is right, thought Karasu.
When he got back to his room, Karasu immediately went to the desk and began to write. When it was done, he bade a servant to deliver it in the morning. To Doji Nashikyo, the nakodo that was among the Crane party.
Harun was an adult now, and with the war ending there could be no delaying the duty Karasu had as his father. And Karasu had no doubt the Crane would welcome such a solution.

Several days after the banquet, the Lion Clan presented their petition to the Imperial Court. This was more a report on the cleansing of the taint from the lands, but it was also to honour Akodo Zetsubou’s sacrifice.
Zetsubou’s widow, Akodo Nikako, played a leading role in the petition. She spoke modestly of Zetsubou’s life and character, adding that the site of his death in Unicorn lands had become a place of pilgrimage for the Lion Clan.
Harun stood with them as it was presented, feeling a little out of place and quite conscious of Akodo Miraiko’s glares directed at him. He had been at first reluctant to even turn up today, let alone stand with the delegation and speak, but his tea with Nikako had convinced him.
“You are the only one who witnessed it…save Majid who was unable to come,” she had said. “My husband’s story needs to be told, and you are the best to help with that.”
The petition was already well-received by the court even before Harun spoke, his words only added to it. He said his piece as faithfully an honestly as he should, even earning some admiring looks from the Crane clan as they listened.
On the dais, Kyoumi seemed to be listening to words spoken from behind the screen. Then she came forward to speak. “The Son of Heaven acknowledges the petition regarding Akodo Zetsubou-no-shryo,” she said, her voice a clear monotone as it always was when she spoke as the Voice of the Emperor. “When Heaven reveals more of its will on this, it will be known to all.”
Afterwards, when they were outside and the court had been dismissed for the day, Miraiko approached Harun.
“Kakita-chui, I…wish to show my thanks for your help in this,” she said.
“This was a duty performed gladly, Akodo-san, and I am thankful to have been of help,” said Harun, bowing.
The Lion woman gave a tight smile. “My husband spoke to me how you met before Toshi Ranbo,” she said.
“That we did, and while we did not fight together, I know he fought bravely,” said Harun. “I trust your family is well?”
“Yes, they are,” said Miraiko shortly, with a nod.
Harun nodded in return, clearly Miraiko wanted to be rid of him despite how she felt. So, he went to take his leave.
“No, please.” Miraiko waved him back, removing something from her clothing. “My father bade me give you this.”
“Give him my thanks,” said Harun, bowing and accepting the letter. “If it is not too much trouble, you could convey my reply to him?”
“Yes, of course,” said Miraiko absently.
She went back over to where the rest of her family was, Harun lingered no further and went back to his room.
He quickly changed out of his court clothes, putting the letter away to read later on after he had a dojo session. But there was another letter waiting for him. It carried the seal of the Crane on it, and next to it a tiny green vase with a sprig of pine and a snowdrop.
Harun quickly opened the letter.

To the Honourable Kakita Harun, son of Kakita Karasu-no-kimi, Chui of the Imperial Legions,


Spring follows winter as a
Ground lies fallow after battle.
Seeds grow in the silence.

Would it be agreeable for you to call upon me tomorrow afternoon? Your father has suggested that it would be opportune if we were to meet over tea.

Doji Nashikyo

The words so innocent, devoid of meaning just on paper, but they had the effect of a chill entering Harun’s heart. He sat down, his legs buckling from the shock of what he knew the letter meant. Doji Nashikyo was of course the nakodo who was at court with the Crane delegation. A request to meet her would mean only one thing. Marriage.
Harun felt nervous.

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Sat Sep 29, 2018 8:53 am

The next afternoon, Harun dressed carefully. Everyday he had been at Kyuden Hida he was scrutinised, but seeing the nakodo he knew this would be like nothing else he had experienced. Everything about him would be examined. Would it be enough? Would the gift he had obtained be seen worthy?
He took it out and looked at it again. It was a painting, in the traditional Crane style, showing the return of the Unicorn to Rokugan.
The Crane, they have already judged me, thought Harun angrily as he rolled the painting back up, and this is probably how they plan to be rid of me.
He closed his hand into a fist.
If they wish to know me, then let them know me…

Harun made his way through the castle to where the Crane were quartered. A servant told him the right room, but the sound of his name made him stop in the doorway.
He turned around and saw who is was. A girl of about ten years old wearing delicate grey silks with white hair in braids. The daughter of Haihime and Daigotsu Kanpeki’s granddaughter.
“Isanko-chan,” said Harun with a smile. He made a bow. “I was beginning to wonder when I would see you.”
“You could have asked,” she said, grinning. “Is it true they call you the gaijin Crane?”
That name, given to him by Shimekiri, had followed Harun from Toshi Ranbo. It was no surprise that it was being repeated here.
“I am called many things,” said Harun good naturedly.
He looked past Isanko to see two men coming closer. Of course, this was her father Doji Sorei and her protector the ronin Kumo.
“You are quite famous now,” said Isanko. “And important.”
“Well, one day you could be,” Harun suggested. He bowed as Doji Sorei went to stand behind his daughter. “Doji-sama, a pleasure to see you and your daughter are well.”
“Likewise,” said Sorei cordially.
“I trust your wife, the Lady Haihime, is also well?” Harun asked, ignoring Sorei’s aloofness.
“My wife does as she always has,” said Sorei, he put a protective hand on his daughter. “I do hope you excuse us,Kakita-chui we have a prior engagement and cannot dally here.”
Harun made another bow. “Of course.”
“Please come to see us,” Isanko said earnestly.
Harun looked over at Sorei’s impassive face. The Doji seemed reluctant, but not overly so. “I’ll do my best,” he promised.
As Sorei conducted his daughter away, the ronin Kumo turned slightly. What happened next was not what Harun expected. The ronin bowed.
“Kakita-chui,” he said, then turning to walk back with his charges.
Harun stared at him. Just what was this ronin’s game? And who was he?

The room where Doji Nashikyo received him made Harun feel as if he had left Kyuden Hida and was at the estate of some notable in Crane lands. One of the stone walls was covered with a tapestry, from the other hung a scroll painted with flowers and birds. A table was in front of the scroll with cushions around it, an arrangement of irises and bamboo in the centre in a vase.
Harun made a bow. “Thank you for inviting me, Doji-sama,” he said. He presented gift for the appropriate offerings and refusals and then was invited to sit.
Nashikyo sat across from him pouring tea. Harun guessed she was about middle aged, been in the trade for a number of years. Her kimono and its various accents were up to the latest fashion, her hair and make up in the understated style that many older Crane women seemed to favour.
“I suppose…” Harun said. “I am not the first to meet you in this way.”
“Nor are you the last, Kakita-chui,” Nashikyo said. “When the snow lies deep in the winter, no one knows how many new shoots will rise when it thaws.”
Harun sipped his tea, his face perfectly bland. If Nashikyo wished to know him, then let her make the effort.
“This is your first time attending the Imperial Court, is it not?” Nashikyo asked, offering him a wagashi cake which were shaped like little flower buds.
“Yes,” answered Harun, accepting a cake.
“And yet,” remarked Nashikyo, “I have not seen you at many of the events. The Winding Water Banquet, for instance, is quite the chance to make the acquaintance of many at court.”
Harun took a sip of his tea, placing his cup back carefully. “Given the current…mood around my actions at Toshi Ranbo, I thought it…prudent to avoid such an event,” he said. “From what I understand about the…nature of the banquet, the sake tends to loosen tongues. I wish to…avoid such embarrassment.”
“But you did choose to distinguish yourself just yesterday before the entire Imperial Court,” said Nashikyo. “You spoke quite eloquently too.”
“That was a personal obligation,” said Harun. “I was a friend of Zetsubou-no-shryo and I was with him when he died. I owe it to his memory to make sure his sacrifice is known to all.”
“So, you value personal obligations quite highly, Kakita-chui?” Nashikyo asked.
“Very much,” said Harun. “I suppose even more now since the time I spent with the Legion. You very much depend on the man next to you.”
“Does it matter who this man is?” Nashikyo asked.
“Only that his sword is not claimed by Jigoku and that he can stand and fight beside,” said Harun.
“So, birth, training, tradition…surely these matter more?” Nashikyo pressed.
“They matter,” said Harun, his voice hardening. “But forgive me, Doji-sama, you have not fought on the field of battle where all that can save your life is a friendly blade beside you. I have.”
Nashikyo poured more tea. “You speak with such experience for one so young, Kakita-chui. You are almost eighteen winters gone?”
Harun nodded. “Perhaps I am simply the product of the times I was brought up in. I became what I needed to be.”
“There are other paths,” insisted Nashikyo. “Higher ones, ones more worthy.”
These words had to come from his father, and may be the reason why Karasu wasn’t there at all.
“There are,” agreed Harun, placing his tea cup down.
“You chose not to do this,” said Nashikyo. “To break with tradition, may I ask why?”
“To save the lives of those who would have died that day,” Harun answered. “That was my purpose.”
“But that was not the result,” said Nashikyo.
Harun shrugged. “So it seems.”
“You may offer seed to the wind, Kakita-chui,” said Nashikyo. “But no matter where it falls, it still must leave your hand.”
“But still the seed will sprout,” countered Harun. “Is this not true?”
“Not always,” said Nashikyo. She looked at the vase between them. “I enjoy irises, but if I were to plant them on a public road I would not see many blooms.”
Harun drank down his tea in one draught, the scalding pain seemed to fit his mood. “I am not gardener, Doji-sama, but I thought iris came from bulbs, not seeds.”
“You are right,” the nakodo said coldly. “You are no gardener.” She sipped her tea, her voice took on a different turn. “I know you have been reticent to attend the events of court, Kakita-chui, but I have heard that the art exhibition of the Turquoise Championship contestants will be particularly fine.”
“It is?” Harun asked.
“Indeed,” said Nashikyo. “If you were to attend, Kakita-chui, you may find it to your advantage.”
“I will consider it, Doji-sama,” said Harun.

Harun immediately went to the dojo after leaving the nakodo, not even bothering to change out of his court clothes. The place was quiet aside from the students, which suited Harun fine.
He picked up a bokken and immediately went into the Ten Thousand Days kenjutsu drill, and at a furious pace. Once he was done, he went to it again, and again. And again. Sweat stains started to form under his arms as well as roll down his face, his breathing started to become laboured. But he continued, pushed past the limits of his endurance. The wooden practice sword a blur in front of him.
Sweat started to pour down his hands, making the handle slippery. He made another lunge and it slipped from his fingers, falling to the tatami mat.
He heard a laugh. “I thought it was supposed to be the other way around.”
Harun turned to see Hida Nasu. He bowed. “Hida-sama.”
“Kakita-chui.” Nasu bowed in reply. “That was how it went, wasn’t it? The baka dropped his katana, and then you attacked?”
“Yes, it was, Hida-sama.” said Harun. “The jade augmented ball entered his shoulder, stopping his first strike. That was the plan. Dropping his katana…that was just luck.”
Nasu tilted his head, looking at Harun curiously. “You are an odd one, Kakita-chui,” he said. “I have known bushi who have done less than you, and they never leave you in doubt of their exploits. Something you I haven’t seen you do.”
“Perhaps it’s because I don’t need to,” said Harun. “All people have to do is look at me, they know what I have done and they have already made up their minds.”
“There is more to it than that, I think,” said Nasu.
Harun grinned. “You are more perceptive than I gave you credit for, Hida-sama. To be honest, I have never wanted to distinguish myself for the sake of it, I stood out already.” He held out his hands, emphasising their darker tinge. “People have always stared and whispered, so I wanted to prove that I was more than what they thought of me.”
“Well,” said Nasu with a chuckle. “You did that.”
“Yes,” agreed Harun.
“You know what they’re calling you?” Nasu asked. “The Gaijin Crane.”
“I have heard,” said Harun quietly.
Nasu took a step closer to him. “Kakita-chui, if you are looking for the Crane to give you what you deserve, you are not going to get it. But there are others who will.”
“The Crab?” Harun asked.
“Yes,” conceded Nasu. “And others. I know if it came to it, I would be honoured to fight beside you.”
“Thank you, Hida-sama,” said Harun. “I’m…not sure what to say.”
“You don’t need to say anything, you have done more than enough,” said Nasu. He picked up a bokken, grinning at Harun. “Let’s see if I can have you on the mat this time, neh? And it’s Nasu.”

Harun went back to his room feeling more battered than he had been since he had left Toshi Ranbo. But he felt good. Alive. Exhilarated. But he was looking forward to a hot bath and a quiet evening. Perhaps a few games of Fortunes and Winds with Koharu.
But when he arrived back where the Legion guests were quartered, he saw Koharu speaking with a familiar figure. White hair, burn scars on his face, subdued clothing. It was Kumo.
Kumo turned and bowed deeply when Harun approached. “Kakita-chui, I had hoped to find you here. I wanted to personally express my appreciation for your handling of that bothersome bird. He was quite the irritating problem.”
Harun returned Kumo’s bow. “You mean Shimekiri?”
Kumo nodded.
Harun had no heard Kumo speak at length before, and there was a quality to the older man’s voice that Harun did not expect of a ronin. A certain polish and fluidity, like silk, almost as if he had training as a courtier. And a confidence, almost an arrogance, as if he was not cowed at all by being a simple ronin in the Imperial Court.
“Indeed,” said Kumo. “The methods you used, it shows an incisiveness that I would not expect from someone of your age…or background.”
Harun wasn’t sure why Kumo’s smile made him feel uncomfortable, but it did. “There are some who would not agree with your assessment.”
“And there are some who would,” countered Kumo. He reached into his clothing and then pulled out a coin. Harun didn’t recognise it but could see it was made of gold.
“This but a small token,” said Kumo, offering the coin. “But I promise, it does have quite a story behind it.”
“Something such as this clearly has more value to yourself than to me” said Harun coldly. “I cannot accept.” Kumo’s familiarity irritated him.
“Its value is what makes it worthy of one such as yourself,” said Kumo, his words flowing like warm honey. “Please, accept with my complements.”
“And this is why I loathe to part you from it,” said Harun. “Its value and significance are known to you, not to me.”
Kumo gave a dry laugh. “Such knowledge is hardly privileged, Kakita-chui,” he said. “If you were to ask, say your aunt Kakita Kyoumi-sama, I am sure you will discover more. I believe Kakita-sama takes an interest in such things.”
Now that threw Harun. What would Kyoumi know of a coin that by all appearances was of gaijin origin? And how did a ronin know that she would? As much as Harun was curious, these were not questions he was prepared to ask Kumo. The only thing then was to accept the gift and hope Kyoumi would be forthcoming with him.
“Then I accept, Kumo-san,” Harun said.
Kumo placed the coin in Harun’s hand with a bow. “I will take up no more of your time, Kakita-chui,” he said, leaving quickly.
Harun examined the coin. He was right, it was gaijin, but more than that he didn’t know. It had strange markings on it Harun couldn’t decipher.
“That is what he gave you?” Koharu came out of her room.
Harun nodded.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” Harun answered.

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Mon Oct 01, 2018 7:06 am

Harun knew that going to speak Kyoumi would be easier for him than others, which is probably why the ronin Kumo approached him. But he knew he needed to be careful, as much as he didn’t agree with the Crane Clan’s opinion on him, he didn’t want it to reflect badly on her.
Fortunately, the art exhibition made such things easier.
The art exhibition was to be held in one of the large courtyard of the castle. Usually this was where Crab bushi trained and drilled, but today scaffolding had been erected to hang the art works on, paintings and tapestries, and stands to display sculpture and ceramic ware. There was work in many different styles from many different artists from all over the empire. And between the paintings were poems on pieces of coloured paper, mostly haiku and tanka but Harun saw at least one Unicorn travel poem.
There were also musicians, seated on cushions and chairs with their instruments, spread out strategically so the music would not intermingle.
The crowd was getting rather large, Harun was determined to enjoy himself despite the cold looks and raised fans he got from people. But it was also fairly easy to see who was there while also keeping his distance.
There was Doji Teruhime, the Crane Champion’s daughter, she was surrounded by a veritable coterie. She didn’t even look in Harun’s direction. He also saw the Mantis Champion, Yoritomo Kagawa in conversation with Isawa Koyo who, judging by his stony face, clearly wished to be elsewhere.
But he could not see Kyoumi, not yet anyway. He turned his attention to a painting of green fields and a winding river, the serenity broken by an invading army of Onyx charging in from one side.
“Quite the contrast, is it not?” said a voice beside him.
Harun turned to see Doji Nashikyo. He didn’t realise before how short she was, coming up to his shoulder.
“It is a contrast,” said Harun, bowing. “It is a pleasure to see you again, Doji-sama.”
Nashikyo nodded slightly. She had an air of efficiency about her, as it she wished to do her duty to Harun as quickly as possible and be done with it.
“Kakita-chui, I was wondering if you could enlighten me about something.” She nodded to a Unicorn sitting on a stool near by playing a stringed instrument with a bow. “Can you tell me the name of that instrument? Surely you know given your background.”
Harun frowned, he knew exactly what she meant by his ‘background’. “It is called a morin khuur, Doji-sama,” he said. “It is similar to a shamisen, but I believe horse hair is used for the strings instead of silk.”
“Most interesting,” said Nashikyo. “I thank you, Kakita-chui.”
In front of the musician was a young woman, she wore a simple kimono and obi in the colours of Crab Clan. She then turned her head and Harun recognised her. That was Nasu’s cousin, the Hiruma Daimyo’s daughter and heir. What was her name? Nasu had introduced them at the banquet. Yosoko, that was it.
“The sound is not to everyone’s taste,” continued Nashikyo. “But I suppose it is enjoyed by some.”
“Yes, yes it is,” said Harun, still examining Yosoko.
So, this is the woman I am going to marry…
She was tall, but not taller than he was. Not unattractive, but of course nothing compared to the stunning beauty of Crane women. She was strong, from what Nasu had told him, and knew her way around a sword and bow.
Ever since Nashikyo had suggested the art exhibition Harun knew something like this could happen. The tradition of the hidden “first look” the omai, was still maintained among the Crane. Harun had hoped seeing his intended would stir something in him. But when he looked at the woman who had been chosen for him to marry and he felt…nothing for her.
But then Nasu’s words came back to him. Among the Crab Harun would have the respect and recognition he would never get for the Crane. The Crab had already shown this with giving him the honour of having his name in their Hall of Ancestors. This was further proof of that, a very illustrious match. Close ties to the Champion’s family. The prospect that one of his own children would one day be Daimyo of a Great Clan family…
Perhaps, she improves on further acquaintance, Harun thought.
“Tell me, what do you think of the music, Kakita-chui?” Nashikyo asked.
“It is…unusual but I find it pleasing,” said Harun. “But did you know the Unicorn usually have a throat singer accompany a morin khuur?”
“Oh?” Nashikyo looked at him with interest.
“Yes, alone I think the music is good but somewhat wanting,” said Harun. “But together with the khoomei singer…it is a harmony that can stir the heart.”
Nashikyo nods. “Quite,” she said. “You must excuse me, Kakita-chui.”
Harun bowed. “Of course, Doji-sama.”
He turned his attention back to the painting though it swam before his eyes. He had just seen his future before him and all the feeling he could summon was a grudging acceptance.
Oh Arahime-chan, how I miss you…
“Harun? Is there something wrong?”
Akodo Koneko approached him. She had done her hair in a new style, pulled back from her usual braids with waves from her forehead framing her face.
“Not with you, Koneko-chan,” Harun said, summoning a smile. “I did not see you after the Lion petition.”
“Mother had me watch from the gallery,” she said. “I did try to find you after, but Miraiko said you had gone.” She examined Harun’s face. “Harun…you look sad. If there is something wrong you can tell me. Let me help you as you helped me.”
Harun knew he could not lie to her. “I suppose everyone will know soon enough,” said Harun. “The Crane woman I was just speaking to was a nakodo, and she just showed me the woman I would be marrying.”
“Marry? Oh.” Koneko’s face fell.
Harun nodded. “It is a little hard for me to take as well,” he said. “Somehow I always thought it would all happen differently.”
Koneko nodded quickly. “I…I think we all do,” she said. “Harun, could you excuse me? I’m not feeling very well.”
She left before Harun could say anything else.
Harun blinked. Had he said something to upset her?
But before he could think about this further, Kyoumi finally came into view. She was talking to Susumu Shibatsu, the Spider Clan Champion and the Emperor’s brother. He was surprisingly limber for a man of his advancing years. They stopped before a porcelain sculpture on a stand showing a Crab bushi riding a carp.
Harun stood a discreet distance away looking something else. Green dragons circling around the rim of a gold vase. Waiting for either of them to walk away.
Then, not twenty steps away he saw someone else. Crown Prince Kiseki, looking a great deal more mature than when Harun had seen him at Shiro sano Kakita last year. And accompanying him, in the impassive stance of a yojimbo, was Harun’s father Karasu.
For what seemed like an age, Karasu and Harun locked eyes. Neither of them made any sign to each other, or attempted to say any words. They had not spoken since Otosan Uchi. Harun expected to see coldness from his father, but that was not what he saw. He saw sadness, disappointment.
The moment passed, the both averted their eyes. The prince was now speaking to a Crane girl, and behind her appeared to be her mother.
Harun stared. This meeting was staged and cannot be a coincidence, he thought, but…isn’t he supposed to marry Isanko? What does this mean now?
Shibatsu bowed and walked away. Harun quickly approached Kyoumi, standing opposite her with the sculpture between them. “Oba-sama,” he said, making a bow.
Kyoumi gave him a brief nod, but as the Voice of the Emperor there was little she could do to acknowledge Harun in public. Harun decided to be as brief as he could.
“I was given this, I was told you would know more about it.” Harun handed her the coin.
Kyoumi examined the coin. She was very still. “Where did you get this?”
“It was given to me, by—”
“No,” Kyoumi interrupted, she secreted the coin inside one of her sleeves and raised her fan. “You need to bring to me the one who gave it to you.”
“You know more about this?” Harun asked.
“Later,” she said softly, signalling with her fan that Harun should go.
Harun left her, a million questions circling his mind. Kumo was right, Kyoumi did seem to recognise the coin. But why? And how did Kumo know she would. And honestly, who was Kumo anyway?
He looked for where his father had been, but he had gone.

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Mon Oct 01, 2018 9:09 am

Later that day, Harun walked with Hida Nasu on the walls around Kyuden Hida. They walked among the bushi that were on duty who acknowledged them as they passed. Nasu seemed to know many of them personally and it did please them to be known.
Harun was growing to like Nasu’s company, but that wasn’t the only reason he was here. If he was to be marrying into the Crab, then he knew he better know Kyuden Hida more as he might be staying here given Shiro Hiruma was still in enemy hands.
“Hida-sama?” Harun asked when they were finally alone.
“Nasu, please,” said the Crab.
“Sorry, Nasu-sama, I wish to ask you something,” said Harun.
“Go ahead,” said Nasu.
“Did you have much to do with my betrothal?” asked Harun.
“I…guess you don’t know,” said Harun. “Well, it looks like I might be marrying your cousin.”
Harun nodded.
Nasu grinned. “This is wonderful news. Yosoko is a great girl and you should be very happy, and a welcome addition to the Crab.”
Harun smiled. “Thank you, Nasu-sama. I only found out today, nothing has been settled yet.”
“From what you have told me, Harun, the Crane is eager to be rid of you,” said Nasu.
Harun nodded sadly.
“Well, to answer your question, I haven’t had anything to do with it. But Yosoko has asked about you,” said Nasu.
“What did you tell her?” Harun asked.
“What would I tell her? That you have a different pair of chopsticks for each meal. That you…” He grinned. “That you spend three hours each morning shaping your beard.”
“That is hardly fair,” Harun argued. “I only need two.”
They both laughed. If this was what being a Crab was going to be like, Harun was all for it.
“There is something I wanted to ask you Harun, but since you are joining the Crab I think it’s more important,” said Nasu. “I’ll be leaving for the Wall in a few days with fresh troops. I’d like if you were to come with me.”
Harun looked at him in surprise. “Me? See the Wall?”
Nasu nodded.
“I would be honoured, Nasu,” said Harun. “I accept.”
“Good then,” said Nasu, pleased.
Harun looked to where he could see the Wall on the horizon. “Is it really as big as they say it is?”
“Bigger,” said Nasu. “They say no one forgets their first time.”
They both laughed again.
“So, we will be gone for three days, maybe four,” said Nasu. They started walking again, Nasu taking heavy, confident strides. “And we get the chance be dazzled by your golden Crane armour.”
Harun’s voice caught in his throat. “Actually…I no longer have it.”
“What?!?” Nasu stopped and looked at Harun, a look of complete shock on his face. “What do you mean you no longer have your armour? Was it stolen?”
“No, but…” Harun could feel his cheeks burn with embarrassment. “At Toshi Ranbo my father took it from me. He said after what I did…that I no longer deserved to wear it.”
Nasu approached Harun. He gently put a hand on Harun’s shoulder. “I had no idea that it was this bad. To deprive a samurai of his armour…”
Harun nodded. “I am sorry, I had hoped to see the wall with you.”
Nasu pointed an accusing finger at Harun. “Don’t you dare apologise for what you have done, Harun. Ever! It is disgusting how they are treating you.”
Harun gave a weak smile.
Nasu started walking again. “Don’t worry about the armour, I’ll fix it,” he said. “Maybe it would be good for you to get away from here for a few days.”
“I can’t disagree,” said Harun.

Harun looked for Koneko for the rest of the day but she wasn’t to be found. He even went and asked for her where the Lion were quartered but they didn’t know either. So the next day he went through the tunnel and went down to the beach. Perhaps she would be there.
The wind was intense down on the beach, whipping up the waves into a fury. Harun looked around but Koneko wasn’t in sight. He walked up the beach looking for her, still not seeing her. Could she be in those caves up ahead?
As he neared the caves he could see light coming from inside one, so he went inside. The opening was narrow, but he could see it opened up further in. He could see a figure, kneeling before several flickering candles that surrounded a small statue. It was a man, bare skin to his waste, broad-shouldered. Burn marks down one side of his body. White hair.
Harun knew he should have left then, but this could be his once chance to find out more about Kumo. Slowly, carefully, he went closer.
Kumo was speaking, but he couldn’t make out the words. Harun tried to get nearer, hear what he was saying. One step…two steps...
Then Kumo turned. His face a mask of fury. His pale skin was golden in the candle light. His right arm red…with blood. “What are you doing here, boy?”
“What are you doing?” Harun drew his sword. “You will stop this now and come with me!” He didn’t know much about magic, but he knew blood meant maho.
Kumo laughed. It was raucous and mocking…sort of reminiscent of how Shimekiri had sounded before Harun had killed him. “Look, you fool!” He pointed to the statue of Shahai, the Fortune of Blood where he had been kneeling moments before. “You are just like your mother Yamada, charging in with your sword without knowing.”
Harun froze. “How do you know my mother?”
Kumo laughed again. “It is hardly a secret. And I knew you for her son as soon as I saw you.” He grinned, cold and mocking like a skull. “You think I was always a ronin? I was there when your father Yasuki Nakura was killed. Yamada, covered in his blood after he did the only decent thing in his life.” Kumo shook his head. “Pathetic.”
“You’re wrong,” Harun said, his hands firmly on his sword. “My father was a brave man who died to save my mother, and me! I will not listen to your lies!”
“Lies? Ha! Why should I make up a story when the truth is far, far more interesting?” Kumo challenged. “Ask Janisha, ask Kyoumi. Or better yet…ask that man who you call father. They are the ones who lied to you.”
“That’s not true!” Harun shouted. But his arguments felt weak, flat.
“That duel your father got your mother into was entirely of his own making. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut about the ashes, then nothing would have happened. Couldn’t even do that, and your mother—fool she was—stood by him.” He looked at Harun coldly. “The best thing Nakura could do was walk into that sword.”
Nakura’s own words came back to him. You have honour that I never had in my life… you have your mother’s courage…
“I won’t believe it!”
Kumo continued as if Harun had not spoken. “I did have to give Yamada credit though, that revenge she had for your father’s death I did not think her capable of. Even with the help of those Black Hand fanatics.” He grinned. “You know that shiny armour you wore at Toshi Ranbo? Well, the one who made is courted your mother. And then she murdered him, and his wife.” He laughed again. "She killed Shogun Kano too, did you know that? Cut off his head and wrapped his guts around a pole. And they say the Spider are barbarians..."
“You know it, don’t you? That’s why she abandoned you! She left you, her only child so she could carve a path of blood through Rokugan with Shiba Michio. And the fact that you, her only son, committed the biggest outrage since Kakita picked up a sword fits so well. I was there when she condemned the Crane for using gaijin weaponry.”
Harun raised his sword and prepared to strike. Kumo did not move.
“Going to kill me, are you? Well, you probably could, your blade is quicker than hers was. But do you really know what you are doing?”
“Killing a nameless ronin that no one will miss,” Harun said coldly.
“Kill me, and you doom Rokugan,” Kumo said. “I will see the line of Hantei restored by any means necessary. I have worked for nearly twenty years for this and I will not fail! And I will not let you, Kyoumi or anyone else stop me.”
“I cannot let you pass,” said Harun, his voice as sharp as his blade.
“Still trying to be the hero,” said Kumo with a laugh. “If you want to do the right thing, you will let me pass. And you will take me to Kyoumi, she will make you see sense even if you cannot.”
Harun didn’t move.
“You were there for the prophecy,” said Kumo. “You know what must happen.”
He was right, Harun remembered the words of the Kitsu….the line of Hantei must be reconciled with the line of Iweko…
And Kumo was the agent to make that happen.
Harun sheathed his sword. “This doesn’t mean I trust you.”
“Of course,” said Kumo. “You know where to find me.” He went back inside the cave.
Harun left the cave, kicking up stones as he walked. Kumo’s words, what he had said, they couldn’t be true. But…then the ronin had no reason to lie to Harun.
Harun kept walking.

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Sat Oct 06, 2018 9:25 am

Harun received word from Nikako that Koneko had been found, but that she did not wish to see anyone. All Harun could do was convey his apologies and good wishes to her mother. He still did not know what he had done or said that had upset her so.
He received word from Kyoumi as well, unmarked but for a small bird painted in the corner. It said that she would be in the rock garden tomorrow afternoon. Harun made sure the information was passed on to Kumo. He didn’t like it at all, but he had no choice.
The Hida War College which operated out of the Kyuden Hida dojo hosted a tournament of sword displays. Each contestant would show a display of skill or strength against an opponent, the winner decided by a team of judges. Each of the Great Clans submitted a candidate, and the guests from the Imperial Legions had been given that right as well. Harun had been quickly settled to represent the Legion, given encouragement to “Show them all up”.
The Master Sensei of the Hida War College, Hida Sato, was judging and he had invited Doji Teruhime and the Taisa of the First Legion Katsura Hisato to judge with him.
Harun sat with the combatants and watched with some eagerness for his turn. Akodo Miraiko was representing the Lion Clan, but her demonstration with paper targets paled in skill next to her opponent Kakita Yashiro. The Kakita had done a rather beautiful display of slicing paper cranes in half after they were scattered in the air. Harun had seen Yashiro around the castle, usually in the company of Doji Teruhime so they hadn’t spoken.
No doubt that’s Teruhime’s doing, Harun thought, staring across at her, and I wouldn’t past her to spread about the “gaijin Crane” name.
It came to Harun’s turn, and by accident or design he faced Hida Nasu. The two bowed and the judges motioned for Nasu to go first.
Nasu called for rolled tatami mats to be brought. A row of four were lined up close together, and then another row and another. Three rows of rolled tatami mats.
Nasu drew his katana and went into a wide swing, with one slash he sliced off the tops of the mats making an upward diagonal cut. All of them, but one which was only nicked slightly with the edge of his sword. The Hida came back for it though, cutting off the top and giving the rest of them another shaving. Nasu bowed to the applause to the audience and Harun joined in.
When Nasu stepped to the side, Harun began his own display. From inside one of his sleeves he took out an apple. He then threw the apple into the air then drew his sword and sliced the apple in two as it fell through the air.
Impressive, but not amazing. While the audience gave respectable applause while Harun sheathed his sword and picked up the pieces. He then took a bite of one of the apple halves and then tossed it into the air. In a flash of steel, Harun drew his sword again, skewering the apple on the tip of his sword on the very space where Harun had bitten into it.
He bowed to the much warmer applause of the audience, then sat down and cleaned his blade.
Harun faced off against a Mantis next, progressing to the finals which was of course against Kakita Yashiro. They bowed to the judges and Yashiro went first. He was calm and didn’t seem to notice Harun at all, perfectly in the moment. This just infuriated Harun.
Look at him, Harun seethed, he just wants to show me up in front of everyone. Especially Teruhime. But I’ll show him.
A small candle was put in front of Yashiro. The candle was lit. Yoshiro stood in front of the candle silently for a moment, then drew his katana. There was a flash of movement as he cut towards the candle, cutting off the tip and resting it on the point of his sword for all to see. And it was still lit.
There was enthusiastic applause for Yashiro, especially from the Crane. Harun stood there very still, cold with anger.
It had to be deliberate, the trick with the candle. His father Karasu was known from it, taking the top of a still lit candle and using it to light a fire to make tea or light a lantern. Harun closed his fist as the anger built up inside him like a fire. This was an insult, and all part of the Crane’s plan to further embarrass him.
I’ll show them, Harun thought as he took up his position for his display.
He signalled motioned for Koharu to stand across from him with her bow. Harun stood still, his hand on the hilt of his sword, ready to spring into action.
I’ll show them, thought Harun, the anger bubbling away, I’ll show them all, they’ll have to respect me now after this…
Koharu fitted an arrow to her bow and made the shot. Harun drew his sword, the blade slicing through the air as he attempted to split it…and missed. In his anger he had gotten the timing wrong, the arrow going over his blade and planting itself in a wooden pillar.
Harun stared at it. I missed, how could I miss? He felt cold all over.
He took his bow with as much grace as he could muster, acknowledging Yashiro’s victory. But he had to stand there while Yashiro was congratulated.
And then, when he was sure he didn’t need to be there a moment longer, Harun left.

The next afternoon, Harun went to the rock garden near where the Imperials and Chosen were quartered with Kumo. The two did not exchange any words beyond exchanging greetings. Kumo being affable and pleasant certainly did not help Harun’s mood.
Kyoumi was sitting on a stone bench at one side of the rock garden. Her attire was slightly more simpler than Harun had seen her wearing on the dais, easier to move in but still fitting her status as Voice of the Emperor. She carried a pale blue parasol decorated with birds and flowers, not just protection from the winter sun but giving some measure of privacy.
Harun went over to her and introduced Kumo. The ronin made a low bow, but Harun noticed something. A curious exchange between them beyond the formalities and courtesies.
They know each other, Harun realised, This…this is impossible!
“Thank you, Harun-kun,” said Kyoumi. Her tone indicated that he was dismissed, but her fan signalled that she didn’t want him to leave. So he went some distance away, sitting on another stone bench sitting across from two women who were playing go.
Harun watched them, though he couldn’t hear what was being said the exchange between them was interesting. Kyoumi was still, quietly listening while Kumo was far more animated, angry even. When Kyoumi shook her head, this only seemed to make things worse. Kumo gesticulated wildly, his voice rising in volume so Harun could hear what was being said.
“…I swear, if you do not arrange this marriage I’ll take matters into my own hands. I’ll take both of them and leave Rokugan, you can watch your Empire burn just as I watched mine…”
He spoke with such viciousness that Harun stood, his hand on his katana.
You ronin scum…how dare you!
“…you need Haihime to finish this, Yuhumi will never stop fighting you…”
Harun’s face was hard. Should have killed you when I had the chance…
Kyoumi looked up, looking at Harun directly in the eyes. That was enough for Harun to stop, and with a slight shake of her head he sat back down.
He stared openly now at Kumo, not bothering to hide the revulsion for the ronin.
When Kyoumi spoke her voice was calm, and not only did Kumo calm down, he looked pleased. He stayed just long enough to get a confirmation from her, and as soon as she nodded he bowed and left.
Harun quickly came up beside Kyoumi. “Should I…”
Kyoumi shook her head. “Let him go, he got what he came for,” she said, her voice having a slight edge to it.
Harun looked at her in surprise. But whatever came over Kyoumi had passed and she was herself again.
“Come, let us have some tea,” Kyoumi said, leading Harun inside. “I have been wanting to talk to you.”

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Tue Oct 09, 2018 5:17 am

The cold stone chamber was as stoic as any of the Crab, large and cold. The new Voice had found a way of making it her own, however. Along one wall hung two long scrolls, each completed with perfect calligraphy. One held the single word: "History". The other, a different word: "Tomorrow." By each delicate ikebana stood, the soft, silver buds of the willow, and the gnarled bark of the oak. Interestingly by there also lay a single, impossibly out of season, silk flower.
A low table was set before the Voice, arranged with tea in a simple porcelain pot. She gestured Harun forward.
He paused for a moment to really look at her before entering. Her delicate hands, her hair heavily streaked with grey, the face impassive and cool with makeup that made it impossible to determine her actual age. He remembered once, long ago, when she taught him and Arahime to swim, splashing and laughing in the shallow waves of the ocean. It seemed forever ago.
Maybe it was.
Harun slid into place across the table.
He watched her make the tea, a million questions going through his mind. Who was Kumo? How did Kyoumi know him? Was he trustworthy? If he wasn’t, why did Kyoumi just give him what he wanted? If he was then was he right about all those things he said about Harun’s birth parents? And if he was right why had Harun been lied to?
Harun felt his anger rising. It was bad enough how he was being treated by the Crane, but the prospect that those closest to him had lied to him was almost too much to bear. This was his heritage, a part of his own identity and to find out it was based on deception...
He sat there silently, watching Kyoumi serve the tea. She said she had wanted to talk to him. Well, he wasn’t going to stop her. But he would get answers.
Kyoumi pours the tea slowly, deliberately, not surrendering to haste. As Harun's anger grew, she watched him, moving slowly through the parts of the tea ceremony. It was all Harun could do to hold his temper, but he managed to follow the ancient ritual, even if his heart pounded in his chest with questions she was not answering.
But finally, as the first cups were ritually drained, the Voice of the Emperor spoke. "I sat where you do, Harun-kun. Eighteen years ago, at my first winter court. A thousand eager questions on the tip of my tongue, struggling to hold them all in. The Princess of Ashes across from me, the tea poured by the Lord of the Emerald Spider. Sometimes, no action is better. Sometimes questions are better answered with silence than speech. This is one of those times. Do you know who she is, the Princess of Ash? Haihime?"
Harun nodded. “She is Kanpeki’s daughter.”
"Yes. Born of the blood of the Hantei." Kyoumi takes another sip of tea. "Save for her daughter, the last, perhaps, of the direct Line."
A long silence stretched out between them, a silence Kyoumi allowed to fill with all of Harun's impatience. "What of your enemy? You fight with the Legions. Do you know who you fight? What do you know of Yuhmi?"
“He is in charge of the Onyx, took over when Kanpeki died,” says Harun. “We thought he was at Toshi Ranbo, but he’d fled.”
Harun looked at his teacup. What does this have to do with anything?
"He is an Oni Lord," the fragile-looking Kakita said without the slightest waver. "Created from the severed arm of Daigotsu, and granted the name of Hantei. Pierced and reforged with the blade of the Hantei, and empowered with the Tao of Fu Leng. From the reports we received over the years, he has sipped power from the souls of the Empire like a giant insect, until, bloated and swollen, he was the one who finally claimed the life of the weakened and mad Daigotsu Kanpeki, bringing all under its own control."
She paused, but her stormy grey eyes were locked on Harun's, unblinking. "No weapon, no magic, not even those of gaijin pepper, can touch him. Jigoku has extended its hand over him. No matter how many times we defeat his minions, he will return, and draw up the armies of hell with him to wage war on the Empire. There is none that can harm him. Save one."
Harun looked up. “Haihime?” What Kumo said...is that what he meant?
"Yes." Her sonorous voice was impassive. "This war will never end until Yuhmi is slain, by a true Hantei heir. There is no other."
Harun looked at her. “Is that what Kumo said?” He asked. “Why would you trust him at all?”
He watched her answer carefully, this was but the first step of what he wanted to know.
"This is what Kumo has said. But this is also what those in thrall to the darkness we have captured and tortured to find answers have said. This is what the assassins that have been sent to slay him and survived have said. This is what the Scorpion traitors who turned on him and failed have said. We know this because it is true."
She gave the softest of sighs. "I would never trust Kumo. I know who—and what—he is. But that does not make him wrong."
As she spoke, the light in the room dimmed and Harun could feel a chill breeze blow across the back of his neck. It stirred the Voice's hair, but her face remained still.
Harun started at her, his mouth open in shock. “What? But...how? He can’t be right...because if he is...”
Harun took deep breaths in and out to stop from flying into a rage.
How could you? All of you, lying to me when all I ever wanted was the truth...
She seemed to address his thought before he spoke it. "No. We did not lie. But you did not know all the truths you sought. But you are an adult now. And I am here and willing to answer. Ask plain and I will answer."
Her tone was soothing, but filled with authority, and her gr3y eyes watched him, unblinking.
The words came fast out of Harun’s mouth. “Why did my father die? Why was he in that duel at all? Why did he let the Scorpion kill him?” He took a deep breath. “I was told he was a hero, saving my mother’s life and mine. Are you saying that that is not what happened?”
If Kyoumi is surprised at the line of questioning, she does not show it. But she does not soften the blows her words have to offer either.
"Your birth father died because he placed himself firmly between the Scorpion and their chosen vengeance. Then in a moment of rashness, boasted of this fact before the very Throne of Heaven. Rather than flee, when the Scorpion swore he would pay for their humiliation, he, and your mother, thought they could hang their hopes, their futures, on the Traditions of Kakita, not realizing that the Scorpion had long before abandoned all such pretence. As so many have since."
Kyoumi's expression did not change.
"In a moment of clarity, there, at the end, he realized he could not allow you and your mother to suffer or die for his mistake. Not when his own life would be enough. He chose to take the final blow of the duellist’s blade himself rather than let her be his champion."
The traditions of Kakita... That smarted, but Harun brushed it aside.
”Why wasn’t I told this before?” Harun asked, his voice a little calmer but still angry. “I met his spirit right before Zetsubou died, and I didn’t know the whole story. But he thought I did.”
The Voice tilted her head and allowed her eyes to soften with compassion. "At first, it was because we initially believed there was a chance that even Nakura's death would be insufficient to sate the Scorpion's thirst for vengeance. And that even the home of the Emerald Champion could not protect you. Later? Because you might seek vengeance of your own, ignorant as you were if what vengeance your mother had claimed. And if we had told you of what she had done, you would have to have grown up bearing a burden no child should have to bear. That which you carried was heavy enough. We could protect you from this. For a little time."
“Vengeance? From my mother?” Harun turned cold. “That’s true as well?”
"Yes." There was a stiffness there, like a shut door with something terrible behind it.
Normally Harun would accept this, but not now. “Tell me.”
Kyoumi folded her hands in her lap and gazed through Harun as if to some dark memory long past. "She was only a girl. A gilded viper. Raised by the Onyx Scorpion to be a weapon of the courts, but not by her own choosing, no more than it was a choice for any of them. I had felt the sting of her words before in the court, and carried my shame, as had others; she was gifted with a wicked tongue. But they were only words still, intended to provoke and confuse, placed by her lord's command. It was her words that provoked Nakura to make his rash boast."
She paused, eyes fixed on the distance.
"But in the end, she had managed to escape. Betrayed Kanpeki, stirred the Scorpion Lord Nitoshi into action. Married a skilled smith. She fled to Otosan Uchi to make for herself a new nest far from corruption's touch. Over time, with her husband's affection, she began to shake off the call and, somehow, out of that twisted darkness make a path for herself towards a light, however dim."
Kyoumi's voice softened, hinting at a distant grief. "I found them. After. The Silent Maiden had peeled their faces off with a knife. Him first. Tied this little viper up and made her watch while she flayed him alive. Then she killed her, piece by piece, still screaming."
Kyoumi's eyes went directly to Harun's, locking him into place. "The Scorpion was my cousin."
Harun turned pale. This was a side of Kyoumi he had never seen. He shuddered.
“I am sorry, I should not have asked.” He felt rather small. “Kumo...we spoke on the beach. He told me very gladly all I didn’t know. He used the truth as a weapon, and one that I have used to attack you.”
Kyoumi waved her hand dismissively. "That is what he is. His name is...was...Susumu Ketsueki. A high ranking follower of Kanpeki and a priest of Shahai. Once, long ago. But he had more loyalty to the blood of the Hantei than to the one destroyed his family and tortured him into something...other. He swore his life to serve the true Hantei line, and when Haihime was found, he found a way out of the trap Kanpeki had placed him in. Only a fool would underestimate his power, or the lengths he would go to get what he desired, for he would gladly see the Empire in ashes if it meant that she would rule over them. But he is willing to help bring an end to this madness and allow this age to die so that a new Empire may be born, as long as it bears the blood of the Hantei at its head."
Kyoumi picked up her cup of tea. "Haihime’s husband, Sorei-san has watched and cared for the child with great loyalty, compassion, and duty every moment of her life. She is untainted and her spirit is pure. This sacrifice will yet be another the Crane will make to see this through. After everything else that has been sacrificed, it is a small enough thing."
“You mean the marriage?” Harun asked. “Isanko and Prince Kiseki? Is that what Kumo wanted?” He picked up his teacup and let it warm his hands.
"Yes.” Kyoumi answered. “And on your life, you must let no one know who it was that sought this."
Harun nodded without hesitation. “I promise,” he said. He had another thought. “Is that what happens now, Oba-san? Does it matter anymore how we do the things we do as long as they’re done?”
He hadn’t had the chance to talk with her about Shimekiri yet. He had hoped that if she was not sympathetic then she would at least listen to him more than his father Karasu had.
It may have been trick of the wavering light, but for a moment the breezes that drifted through the room and Kyoumi looked...old. She sighed.
"Oh, my poor boy," she answered, great pity in her voice. "Does it matter how we do things as long as they are done? We are the Crane. It is our place to choose what matters in this world. And, despite everything, all the wars and the bloodshed and horror, we, your parents, have tried to hold onto making the 'How' matter. Tried to keep showing that how you do things does matter. If it does not, then what place is there for honour? For sincerity and courtesy and bushido itself? What place is there for art and beauty, when the 'How' no longer matters? What place is there for Samurai? We are nothing but thugs with swords if the 'How' does not matter."
She brushed an elegant finger around the lip of her cup. "It is because of our failure that you ask this question. Because we have had to slip, and slip, and give up little pieces of that "How" to try to defeat an evil that makes the very earth scream in agony. We have tried to bring that into alignment with the Heavens. Show that the ‘How’ does matter, and that we only needed to update the traditions to grant new meaning. But our efforts were not enough. Not if our own children cannot see why the 'How' matters."
Again, she looked into Harun's dark eyes with her piercing eyes of stormy grey.
"If you are Crane, it is up to you to create the Empire we live in. Do you truly want to live in an Empire where 'How we do things' does not matter? Where what matters is only that they get done?"
“No, no I don’t,” said Harun. “But I have seen things that make me question it. I fought alongside ronin, heimin, people I trusted not because of what they were but because they who they were and what they could do. I saw my friend die, cut to pieces in front of my eyes while people stood by and let it happen.” He took a sip of tea to compose himself. “Many more Crane would have died that day for no reason at all. But I stopped it, I saved them. And no one cares.”
"Tell me of that day," Kyoumi said, lifting her tea to her lips.
Harun took a sip of tea and began his tale. “Takano Unit, we were to be one of the first into the city on the Mantis boats,” Harun began. “Father was there to see us off. It was raining.” He took a breath. “We were all there on the deck with the Mantis when we saw the Phoenix’s wave. It looked...beautiful. But then we got inside the city and saw the destruction it had wrought, saw the...the bodies. And heard them, slamming against the side of the boat.”
He closed his eyes. He could still hear them sometimes, especially in his nightmares.
“When we landed had to fight for every scrap of ground,” he continued. “There were some Dragon bushi, something happened to them, I still don’t know. We had to kill them, and they might have killed us had the Crane not arrived.” He paused. “Had Kakita Isamu-sama not arrived.” He smiled sadly. “My friend, Doji Kouta was with him.” He took a sip of tea, composing himself. “We fought our way through the palace itself then, it was dark and confusing. But we made it to the throne room, and there was Shimekiri, sitting on the throne itself grinning at us like a madman. Isamu-sama, he had told me earlier not to interfere. He went up on the dais and challenged Shimekiri...”
Harun paused again. Blinking, remembering. It was as if he had forgotten Kyoumi was there at all. “He was the first victim. Isamu, he was so good, so skilled...but it wasn’t enough. Shimekiri took his head and threw it off the dais. “Kouta was next, no one stopped him. No one even tried and he never had a chance, the poor fool.” He ran his hands over his face. His anger rising again. “I had to do something, I had to. Someone had to stop Shimekiri, for good. No one was really trying. All I had to do look at Daidoji Akemi. I had seen what she could do with her gaijin powder weapon, if I could just get her to throw off his first strike...I knew I had just one chance. I do hope nothing has happened to her.” He took another sip of tea. “But I knew if I killed him that would be the end. If I killed him, no one else would need to die that day. And if he killed me...well I was ready for that.”
He was quiet again for a moment. “I still couldn’t believe when it worked, when I had him, when I had the chance to end him and avenge all the deaths he had caused.” He looked up at Kyoumi. “But when it was done...all they cared about was how I did it, not the fact that he was dead. That was what they were trying to do. What else did they want from me?”
Kyoumi listened closely to Harun's words. "It is difficult to stand aside. To watch others die in your place when you think there must be some way you can help. You are not the first to feel this way, Harun. And you were gifted with a way to help, even though you knew when you did it that that was not the plan, that that was not your orders. The deaths of Isamu, of Kou. They must have felt useless. Meaningless. Perhaps you even still feel that way. Do you? Do you feel their deaths were devoid of meaning? Do you know why they made the choices they made?"
“Kouta and Isamu-sama were willing to sacrifice themselves,” said Harun. “But their deaths didn’t change anything, they didn’t have impact. Shimekiri was still there without a scratch on him after.”
"Did you see Doji Uchisuke and Kakita Hotsume? They were in the room with you."
Kyoumi's voice was calm and reasoned. The names, two of the finest Kenshinzen the Kakita school had to offer.
“No, I didn’t,” said Harun. “There were lots of people in the throne room, they probably saw me though.”
A slight dip of her head. "They were there to observe Isamu and Kouta. Fifty senpai of the Kakita Academy had travelled to have the honour of facing Shimekiri. All of them expected to die, if only to wear him down piece by piece. But, one of them, or Uchisuke or Hotsume, once they had observed his techniques, worn him down, and been blessed by the blessings of the Kami thanks to the Asahina...they would have killed Shimekiri. They were there to give their lives to redeem the Kakita Dueling Academy. To show that, in spite of all adversity and the corruptions of Jigoku, the Heavens really would bless the path of Kakita. That justice could be found on the edge of a sword, wielded by the pure of heart."
She quietly took a sip of her tea. "The fundamental belief in the Way of the Sword, that the world can fall into black and white at the will of the Heavens. This belief you have studied since that first day you and Arahime..." Her voice caught just a tiny bit. "were tested for the Dojo... this belief has saved thousands of lives. Ended thousands of blood-feuds. Stopped battles before they had begun. Isamu and Kouta and Uchisuke and Hotsume and the rest...and Karasu, they could not allow the Empire to believe that a creature like Shimekiri would be the final word for Kakita's Way. The Pure of Heart had to be victorious. So people would, once he was gone, have a way to believe in Iaijutsu again. To believe in us."
Harun knew Kyoumi was right, he had been raised with these values, not just learned them at the dojo. The lives saved, the justice done by the blade of a Kakita. That mattered, that still had to matter. But... “But...but...I killed him,” said Harun, he still felt strongly about what he did but no longer angry. “Does that mean nothing?”
Kyoumi looked at the boy...man...steadily. "More would have died, to wear the Blood Crane down. More lives lost on his blade. What they will do with their lives...that is up to them. But their lives are not 'Nothing.' "
He still looks so young. Like Kousuda. Younger.
"Beyond that? What was sacrificed for you to complete your plan? The son of the Emerald Champion, the Topaz Champion, an officer of the Imperial Legion, Kakita-trained all his life...used a gaijin-pepper weapon during a false duel to defeat an enemy he challenged. An enemy that had just been declared the finest duellist since Kakita. He did this before the eyes of members of every clan, the Imperial Legions. What does that mean before the clans?" Her face softened in pity, and she reached out a hand towards him. "My poor Harun. You are still Crane. What do you think it means?"
Karasu’s words from Toshi Ranbo came back to him.
Twelve hundred years...you threw it all away in one moment...How many others do you think will try and do what you did?
He was wrong, Kyoumi was wrong...they had to be. All those centuries, all that tradition, all the sweat and steel and blood...it still had to mean something. If it all could be thrown away by so easily, how much did it matter at all?
“No, no I won’t believe it,” he said. Quickly, firmly, as if saying the worse would dismiss all doubts including his own. “What I did...what I had to do to kill Shimekiri I am not proud of. They won’t throw twelve hundred years of Iaijutsu tradition all away because of me. They can’t.”
Kyoumi spreads her hands. "The avalanche has already started; It is too late for the pebbles to vote. But...there is hope. It might yet be redeemed, but those stories are beyond us now."
Harun shook his head. “Respectfully, Oba-san, I disagree.” He took a sip of tea. “Besides, I’m not going to be in the clan much longer to provide further embarrassment by my mere presence. You know about my betrothal?”
Perfect control, her voice cool. The Voice of the Emperor. "I had heard there were inquiries."
Harun looked up, curious about her change in tone. “Well, the first meeting is tomorrow, the Hiruma Daimyo and his daughter, father, the Nakodo everyone...they all seem very determined to have it all over and done with,” he said, looking into his teacup. “So, I will be not returning north with you, I am staying here. Hopefully that will be enough.” He didn’t sound happy about it at all, had resigned himself to the inevitable. And he of course couldn’t tell her how he really felt. That him marrying another was somehow the ending of all hope that Arahime might be found alive. That he could have a future with her.
"And so life goes on." She inclined her head. "I wish you well, always, Harun-kun."
A gentle dismissal, but a dismissal none the less.
Harun finished his tea. He felt as if they were on opposite sides of a great chasm. Harun wanted to reach across, find the words to heal that rift. But there were none.

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Sun Oct 14, 2018 10:26 pm

The small desk in Karasu’s room was covered with paper. Letters, reports, missives, petitions…he went through them, some just required him to read, others the use of his seal. Many of them were concerning the fate of Toshi Ranbo, almost as soon as it had been taken by the Legions the age-old dispute over who would control it was renewed by the Lion and the Crane.
Currently, the Imperial Legions were there for the winter. But a decision would need to be made, and soon.
He sighed, turning now to a letter Kyoumi had sent him earlier. It was short, but with minimal effort other than a few choice words and thinking on her feet, Kyoumi had managed to save the Empire. Again. Pinning all of their hopes on a former Spider turned ronin, Kanpeki’s daughter and the former Mantis Champion was not something he liked. But did they have a choice?
Daigotsu and Shahai’s great granddaughter marrying Crown Prince Kiseki was not something that sat well with him. But that was the price they had to pay for ending the war.
Karasu frowned, putting the letter down. Ends before means, I sound just like Harun…
The fact that Harun had been used as an intermediary was not something Karasu liked. He hoped the young man knew what he was getting into, but perhaps it was best if he didn’t.
There was a tap on the door and it opened. Karasu didn’t move, thinking it was perhaps a servant. But when the person who entered did not move or speak, Karasu turned around.
“Hitomi!” he rose to greet her. “When did you arrive?”
“Earlier,” she said, her tone strangely short.
“You never fail to surprise me,” said Karasu with a smile. “Come, sit. Have you eaten? Would you like some tea?”
“Perhaps later,” said Hitomi. Again the shortness in tone. “I came as soon as I got your letter, I knew I had to be here. For Harun.”
“Yes, the first meeting with the Nakodo and the Hiruma Daimyo is tomorrow,” said Karasu. “I am glad you are here.”
“I am here to support our son,” said Hitomi angrily. “Something that seems you have been unable to do. How could you, Karasu? Throwing Harun away to the Crab like that! I thought you would no better, it is no different to what the Phoenix did to me.”
“I am not throwing him away,” argued Karasu. “His actions at Toshi Ranbo put me in an impossible position. Besides, he wants to go. Every time I hear about him he’s been with the Crab Champion’s son.”
“He is leaving because he was driven there by you,” Hitomi said. “You are making a mistake.”
“The mistake is of his own making, Hitomi,” Karasu fired back. “You are starting to sound just like him! By defending him you defend his actions, and you place yourself against the Crane Clan.”
“For killing an enemy that we all wanted killed?” Hitomi asked.
“For destroying the traditions of Iaijutsu,” said Karasu. “Of course, I don’t expect you to understand…”
“No, I don’t,” rebuked Hitomi hotly. “I know about traditions, Karasu. The Phoenix had them, you remember? The Elemental Council, a tradition handed down from the Tribe of Isawa, whose every word we hung on? The Shiba, paralysed to do anything because of tradition? Well, those traditions not only strangled us, but destroyed the Phoenix itself. Destroyed our lands and people with a devastating war. Brought about the wrath of Lord Moon himself and his instrument.” Her eyes were like twin fires, blazing him with her anger. “Do you know what sort of future the Phoenix has now? The desire to change, to learn from past mistakes and not repeat them. Yet here we are, talking about tradition as if it had some value over what needed to be done.”
Karasu blared back at her, cold ice to her fire. “You are hardly a glowing endorsement for the Phoenix yourself,” he pointed out. “The traditions of Kakita have stood for twelve hundred years. I see no reason for them to be changed.”
Hitomi made a noise showing her disgust. “Do not tell me that things have not changed in twelve hundred years,” she said. “Or that things will not continue to change. I know you still have your mother’s gaijin pistol even if you have not fired it in years.”
“Do not equate my actions with his,” said Karasu coldly.
“I am not,” said Hitomi. “But this has hardly come out of nowhere, hasn’t it? We knew, all of us knew, by allowing in gaijin weapons, we were opening up to forces we could not control. By having them at all we were inviting change, and if we think we can just return to the way things were then we are utter fools.”
“Don’t remind me,” said Karasu. He sighed. “Hitomi, I hear you even if I don’t agree with you. But as far as Harun is concerned my hands are tied. The Daimyos want to make an example of him. This marriage…it could be good for him. The Crab already respect him and will grant him a great honour. The Crane fully support it and Harun could deal with much worse.”
“Such as?” Hitomi asked.
Karasu shrugged. “Exile? At least if he is here we may be able to see him sometimes.”
“Will he want to see us after this?” Hitomi asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Karasu with another sigh. “It is like I don’t even know him anymore.”
“Perhaps we are seeing his true self,” Hitomi suggested. “If what you say is true and Harun’s marriage must happen then we must do it in the right way. He cannot think that we are abandoning him..”
“I wholeheartedly agree,” said Karasu.

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Tue Nov 06, 2018 2:55 am

The next morning, Harun finished up a good session in the Hida dojo. He was beginning to get more acceptance with the other bushi that trained in the dojo. So, it was not just the Crab he sparred with, but a few from the Unicorn, Lion and Mantis Clans. Still, the Crane refused even to acknowledge him, Kakita Yashiro maintaining that aloofness as if Harun didn’t exist.
He tried to not let it bother him too much.
Just as he was leaving, someone came inside. It was Hitomi.
“Mother?” Harun put down the bokken he was holding and went up to her. “I didn’t know you were coming to court.”
“I would not have missed being at such an important occasion for you,” said Hitomi
“Oh yes, that,” said Harun flatly.
“You don’t sound very happy, my son,” observed Hitomi. She beckoned him to walk with her out of the dojo. “Don’t think for a moment you have to rush into this.”
“I am not being given much of a choice in this,” said Harun sullenly. “Maybe it is better for everyone if I just left the clan.”
“I am talking about you, not everyone,” said Hitomi gently.
Harun smiled a little at this. “Well, thank you mother, but you may be one of the few Crane who thinks this.”
“I see no reason to not to put you and your happiness first,” said Hitomi warmly.
Harun smiled again, but it made him feel a little uneasy. They walked along in silence for a while.
“Tell me about Toshi Ranbo,” Hitomi said.
“Father hasn’t told you?” Harun asked.
“He has, but I wish to hear it from you,” she said.
So, he told her. Harun had told that many people by now what had happened that he was starting to get a little tired of the telling. But somehow repeating the story to Hitomi was helpful, a cleansing in a way.
“You showed remarkable courage there, Harun,” Hitomi said when he was done. “Not many would have would have done what you did.”
“You talk as if that is a good thing,” said Harun stiffly.
“And you do not think it is?” Hitomi asked.
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Harun answered a little resentfully.
“Harun, if you truly do not want this marriage, I can put a stop to it,” she said.
“What about father?” Harun asked.
“Don’t worry about him,” said Harun. “Your happiness is more important to me.”
Harun nodded. “Thank you, but…if this is what remaining in the clan is going to be like then maybe it is better if I leave.”
He walked off, Hitomi let him go.

Several hours later, Harun was dressed in his court close and sitting having tea in Doji Nashikyo’s sitting room. He sat on his father’s right while Hitomi sat on Karasu’s left, Nashikyo sat on Harun’s right at the end of the table.
On the opposite side sat Hiruma Saito, Daimyo of the Hiruma family and next to him his daughter and heir Yosoko. The contrast between him and Karasu was quite marked, the two men could not be more different. Karasu, tall and elegant in his sky blue hitatare formal kimono with the white cord trim and emerald green obi. Saito was slightly shorter and leaner, he wore simple deep blue juban and hakama, his status as Daimyo of a Great Clan family shown with the gold-trimmed jinbaori he wore.
Doji Nashikyo served tea served tea from a teapot painted with scenes of mountains and trees, each cup was shaped like a flower and in a different colour. Harun drank some of his tea, something to do since he was not expected to speak at all during this meeting. He listened to the conversation, but most of his attention was focused on Yosoko who sat opposite him.
My future wife…
Nasu had told Harun that Yosoko was a few years older than him, but she did not look it. The way she sat was more indicative of a shy girl unused to social settings. She kept her head down and her hands in her sleeves, not touching her tea. Her hairstyle and dress was in the same subdued style as when Harun had seen her at the art exhibition, but there were little details he had not noticed then. The pale blue flower made of folded kimono fabric that nested in her dark hair. The pale yellow obijime around her waist that contrasted with the dark grey of her obi. The delicate sandalwood fan that was tucked under her obi, a silken teal tassel bright against the grey.
Sandalwood? Harun thought. Just like my mother’s, aren’t they very rare?
This shyness that she showed didn’t tally with what Nasu had told him of her, or what little Harun knew himself. Apparently she was no shrinking violet. Capable with the tetsubo, blade and bow, she had been part of scouting missions beyond the wall and had even led one herself.
But there was something else that could be the reason why she was acting this way. Nasu had told Harun that Yosoko had had three older brothers that had died. She had never been expected to succeed her father as Daimyo, and yet here she was.
She has had to step up, that’s not easy, thought Harun.
Karasu talked to Saito, talking about Harun’s time in the Legion. Harun tried to drown it out. This was the closest he had been to his father in weeks, and yet he felt more farther away from him than ever. Karasu did not even look in Harun’s direction, his on perfect.
Harun tried to look for some sot of sign from Hitomi, but she gave him no indication either.
He turned his attention back to Yosoko, but she still she had not looked up. What was she like? How did she feel about their upcoming marriage?
He found the enforced silence paralysing, it was like he was trapped in a nightmare where no one would speak to him or even look at him.
And this is my life they are deciding right here, he thought, feeling his anger rise, this is where they sell me off like a bag of rice…
Harun reached out for his teacup, bumping it with his hand and causing it to clatter against the tabletop. Everyone turned to look at Harun who felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment. But there was a brief moment where he caught Yosoko’s eye, and saw she felt as trapped by this as he was.
It’s okay, he said to her silently, we are in this together…

The next day, Harun left Kyuden Hida in the pouring rain and headed for the Wall. The fifty bushi that Hida Nasu was taking to the wall set a strong pace that Harun was able to keep up with at first but was more difficult as the day went on.
It had been only two months since Toshi Ranbo, two months since he had been with the Legion. Was he that much out of training?
Harun had attracted a little attention, but while he was in the armour Nasu had arranged for him to wear he had a certain amount of anonymity. Like wearing a second skin. He liked it.
The rainclouds were low and thick so their view of the wall on the horizon was hidden. Thick clouds, grey and…black? Was there some sort of fire?
They kept on, spending the night at Shiro Kakeguchi and then heading on in the morning into the rain. It seemed even worse than the day before. Cold, hard and relentless and it would not cease until Harun would return to Kyuden Hida five days later. He had dealt with such hardships in the Legion. Long marches, training at dawn, rides through the night and through the rain. But this was something else, it soaked his purple wool and four coat and drops started creeping in under his armour, next to his skin. It wasn’t pleasant.
The Crab didn’t notice the rain at all. They marched on regardless. So Harun tried to make it look as if it didn’t bother him.
That afternoon they began to see more of the Wall as it emerged through the clouds. A long strip of grey, solid and unbroken. As they headed south, it got taller, and taller. And, though it didn’t seem possible, taller still. Rising above the rows of buildings of the villages that ran parallel to it. Grey against the black smoky clouds that seemed to emanate from somewhere below.
Rising, and continuing to ride as they headed towards it. Impossibly tall. It seemed incredible that it could have been built by mere men. Permanent, impregnable.
And yet…Harun knew that it had fallen at least once in his life time. That the Crab had been beaten back to it, bloody and at the edge of defeat. And they had held on, and survived, despite everything.
When the got to the edge of the village, Harun could not help but stop and look up.
“You stand there long enough with your mouth open, rain is going to fall in,” said Nasu.
Harun blinked, still in awe. “It’s beyond anything I ever imagined.”
Nasu nodded.
“Men built that thing?” Harun asked in amazement.
Nasu nodded again. “That’s all that ever stands between Rokugan and the hordes of the Shadowlands,” he said. “Stone and the blood and steel of the Crab.”
Harun looked along, thinking. “Hard to get up there?”
“Easier than it has been,” said Nasu.
He nodded to the long rope hung up on poles that seemed to run parallel to the wall. Harun looked closer at it, the rope moved. How was that possible? He asked Nasu.
“All in good time,” Nasu reassured him, leading Harun along the dirty, smoky main street of the village. “There’s a great many things you will see here that you’ll find hard to explain up north.”
Harun nodded in agreement. “It seems a different world.”
Nasu grinned. “Welcome to the wall.”

The smoke and the pouring rain hid a lot, and it added to the overall grim atmosphere. The street was full of Crab bushi. All heavily armoured, and most of them male. A sea of blue and grey that Harun almost seamlessly slipped into.
Buildings of stone and wood lined either side of the street. Barracks, mess halls, houses and some places that seemed more inclined towards entertainment and drinking. Some of them back onto the very Wall itself.
Dividing the street was the rope line, still moving and every now and again Harun could see the wheeled poles pass accompanied by a very strange metallic noise. Harun wanted to get closer to see what it was, but the rest wanted to keep moving forward.
They then went into one of the barracks, the stone building even plainer than what Harun had seen at Kyuden Hida. Merely rolled futons in rows against the stone wall with an iron strongbox for possessions. When Harun got to his, he saw something carved in the stone wall. Names.
Hida Yasu….Hida Noriya…Hiruma Kaigen… Harun ran his fingers along the markings. Who were these people? But Harun didn’t have time to consider this long as everyone started leaving.
“You coming, Harun?” Nasu asked.
“Where are we going?” Harun asked him.
“Training,” said Nasu. “Then…up.”
Harun went with them simply because he didn’t want to get left behind.

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Wed Nov 07, 2018 7:26 pm

They trained in an open courtyard behind the barracks. In the pouring rain. In full armour. Drills, tests of strength and endurance. And at such a pace that it was all Harun could do to keep up. Not even training with the Legion had been this gruelling. When moved onto defensive formations, Harun stepped out, leaning against the wall to get his breath back. The Hida bushi knew them as naturally as breathing, moving flawlessly as Nasu called them out, each one finding his proper place.
It’s like leaves falling in the wind, Harun thought, it’s almost beautiful.
When they were done, everyone moved on straight away. No breathers, nothing. Harun went with them, trying to not show his energy was beginning to flag.
But Nasu seemed to notice. “You need to go back yet?”
Harun shook his head. “If they don’t get a break, I don’t.”
Nasu gave a nod but didn’t say anything.
When they crossed over to the other side of the main street, they passed under the rope. Firmly secured to the ground was something that looked like an iron ladder. It ran directly beneath the moving rope, continuing on to the left and to the right parallel to the wall. Had still had no idea what this was or what it was for, but he got no answers from the Crab. They just stepped over it as if it were of no consequence and kept walking.
Once on the other side, they went right up to the wall in an opening between two buildings. Two ropes hung from the top of the wall and reached all the way down to the bottom. Tied to one looked like some sort of weight. Tied to the other was a large iron cage, large enough to fit several people. It descended slowly, being pulled down by two burly Crab, the cage swaying slightly as it came down. And there were people inside.
Harun stood next to Nasu as the cage came down. The cage doors opened and quickly they all drew as far back as they could as the people inside came out. Harun was wondering what was going on, and then he realised why.
The people who came out of the cage were clearly tainted. Pale, thin, some even with pustules and boils. Five of them in total. Harun took a deep breath in. He had seen Taint before, not just the ones he had killed with the Legion but samurai who had been infected. This was dealt with quietly to not affect morale. But these Crab bushi had weapons, they were walking about openly.
Harun looked quickly at Nasu. They met eyes. Nasu shrugged.
The Tainted bushi passed, they started to get into the cage. Harun went with them, jammed tight and close among the Crab. The cage doors clanged shut and were bolted, then it started to ascend.
Harun felt it sway as it went up, it felt strange, he didn’t like it. He stole a quick glance at the other Crab in the cage, they were letting it bother them. Harun tried to look like it didn’t bother him.
The cage went higher and higher still, it started getting very windy and cold. They were able to see more of the village spread out before the village spread out before them, the steel of the “ladders” dividing it in two. Then, with a clanking mechanical noise, he saw what looked like a small wagon moving along it trailing several wagons behind it in a train. Each of them had poles with wheels on top that connected them to the moving rope above.
Harun stared. The Crab had this hidden in plane sight down here? What would the other clans think? What would the Crane? The Lion? It did seem a terribly efficient way to move supplies over along distance though.
As long as you keep building those iron ladders…
Nasu saw him staring. He grinned proudly. “It’s a marvel, isn’t it? The Kaiu line.”
“How does it move?” Harun asked.
“There.” Nasu nodded to a building where smoke was belching out. “There’s a mechanism in there.”
So that’s what causing all the smoke…is it worth it?
The cage stopped with a jerk and the doors at the back were unbolted and opened. Harun was at the back, his initial view of what was ahead was blocked.
The crowd parted and Harun stepped out onto the wall.
Harun had seen the ruins of Toshi Ranbo, saw the bodies lying in the water as the boats went into the city. He had seen those Dragon bushi outside the palace go completely and utterly insane that he was forced to cut them down. He had seen the gates of Yomi opened with the many, many Blessed Ancestors passing through. He had seen Zetsubou’s spirit ripped from his body. Harun had seen the blackness and madness in Shimekiri’s eyes before he had taken the tainted samurai’s head.
Harun thought he had seen things. Horrible things. Incredible things. But nothing could have prepared him for his first look upon the Shadowlands.
It had a vastness like the sea, a darkness like a moonless night, a ferocity like a raging fire. It was all of these things…and none of them. It had a presence that could be felt, like heat or cold. Malevolent, sinister. A presence that could not be ignored or turned away from. It was barren, hopelessly barren and empty with no hope of actual life. Yet things did live there, things that never rested and were never not a threat.
And there was a stench that seemed to get inside his very skin. Of decay. Of corruption. Of death.
He had grown up with the Crab standing strong against the Shadowlands. Despite everything, that defiance continued, unchanged in the face of everything the forces of Jigoku threw at them. But as Harun stood her on the Wall itself, he felt incredibly vulnerable. Only a very small part of something much bigger that stood in defiance of darkness because someone had to.
Nasu came up behind him. “Can you see it?” He pointed to the southwest.
Harun looked where the Crab bushi pointed. He thought he could see the outlines of a fortress, but the shadows were playing tricks on him so he couldn’t be sure.
“Shiro Hiruma,” said Nasu. “Lost before our time, but ours to take back.”
“Ours?” Harun looked at Nasu.
Nasu chuckled. “In time, you need to be ready before you get on that side of the Wall.”
“I want to,” said Harun, almost eagerly. He wanted to prove himself.
“I know,” said Nasu. “Let’s see do your duty to my cousin first.”

Harun’s nightmares returned that night with a furious intensity. Perhaps seeing the Shadowlands for the first time, or just their mere proximity.
He found himself in the throne room in Otosan Uchi, the golden screen hiding the Emperor from view. Kyoumi, his father, Arami and all the members of the court watching an Otomo making a dry, droning speech.
Harun looked around, distracted and bored but he knew he couldn’t leave.
But then the screen pulled back to reveal not the Emperor, but Daigotsu Shimekiri. Sitting on the Emperor’s Golden Throne, his face a mask of face paint and blood, grinning like a madman.
But there was no reaction, no one even turned from watching the Otomo.
Can’t they see him? Harun looked around frantically. To his father, to Kyoumi, to the Seppun guards who just stood there as if hypnotised.
I’ll have to do this myself, he quickly ran towards the throne, drawing his sword as he moved, how many times do I have to kill this baka…
The Seppun quickly turned on him, drawing their weapons. His father was among them, drawing people behind him as he drew the Emerald Blade.
No! No! Can’t they see what is going on? Harun fought them off but there were so many. They kept coming, and coming. He fought them all.
Arahime appeared in the purest white, she seemed to shine with light. She carried a sword red with blood.
“Arahime, look, we have to kill him!” Harun pleased. “Help me! Please!”
Arahime shook her head, she looked very grave. They all stopped and look at her. “You are the one who has ruined everything Harun,” she said. Her voice cold and hard. “I have to fix it.”
She then plunged her katana into his chest.
Harun woke up in a pool of sweat, gasping, his heartbeat thudding in his ears. His chest stung and itched where Arahime had stabbed him.
And then he realised he wasn’t alone, every Crab in the barracks was in a ring around them. And next to him was Nasu, who was holding out a piece of jade to him.
Harun blinked. “What? But you know me!”
Nasu’s face was like stone. “Take it.”
Every eye was on Harun as he took that Jade. He held it out open in his hand so they could see there was no reaction.
They all then dispersed.
Harun stared at Nasu. “They thought I was….”
Nasu shrugged. “We all do it, Harun, no exceptions.”

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Sun Nov 11, 2018 8:41 am

The food in the mess hall was hearty and served in large portions. Noodles, rice with everything fried and greasy and topped with bonito and broth. And eaten quickly with little regard for mess or appearances.
Harun found he could not eat much, not just from the table manners of his table mates but the nightmares of Arahime had left his stomach unsettled. He could still see her, her eyes alight with cold fury, shining in white light like a star.
He looked around at the crowded mess hall. What would Arahime think of this place? Would she even be here?
He shrugged. Thinking of her hurt, but not thinking of her was worse. And there she was, her face staring at him in his nightmares.

Nasu said he had duties that morning, so Harun went off on his own. He still wasn’t quite sure what to make of life at the Wall. The strength and courage of the Crab he had to admire, but the fact that Nasu was able to shrug off things that were quite shocking didn’t sit quite well with Harun.
Just outside the barracks there was a large stone with many markings all over it. Harun noticed that the Crab passed it slowly, touching it almost reverently. Harun went closer, it was full of names.
Hida Suru…Kaiu Urei…Hida Dosan…Hida Senshin…Hiruma Kabuo… And more, many, many more.
Who were these people? These had to be deaths, the names of the fallen.
And then, as Harun continued to walk through the village, he began to see more of them. Little niches carved into the wall with names, more names. Chipped into the side of buildings, on rocks and shrines and even into the wall itself.
He paused near one, seeing a group of Crab bushi standing quietly while one of them inscribed a name. They were silent, reverent, and then repeated the name. Loudly, confidently, as if by saying it they banished any doubts or negativity. Harun moved on, not wanting to disturb them.
Later in the day, when he saw Nasu Harun asked him about the names.
“Yes, they are the names of the dead,” Nasu confirmed. “When the Onyx War was at its worst and we lived on the Wall itself, we lost so many. So many sacrifices…you know something of that of course.”
Harun nodded. “They need to be remembered.”
“They do, but this is a bit more than that,” Nasu explained. “We keep their names here to protect them, so hopefully don’t meet them in battle later.”
They walked on in silence for a moment, Harun reflected on the Crab’s words. Living on the wall. “How bad did it get?”
Nasu’s face darkened. “You don’t want to know.”
“Nasu, you know I wouldn’t think less of you or…”
Nasu shook his head. “It’s not that,” he said. “It’s…it’s hard to explain to someone who wasn’t there.”
“Tell me,” said Harun.
Nasu stopped, frowning. “Might be better if I showed you. Come on.”
He took Harun inside the wall, guided him around trap doors and hazards until they came to a solid iron door. The door had several heavy locks and it was also inlaid with jade. Harun helped Nasu unfasten them, both of them pulling the massive door back to reveal…another door even more sturdy than the last. Once this was open, Harun followed Nasu inside. The Crab moved slowly, like he was approaching a shrine.
Inside the room was small and cold, there were no windows.
Nasu quickly lit a lantern, and it was then Harun saw it. The walls were covered with markings, covering the lower half of the wall. Harun went closer, getting down on one knee to examine. Most of it was pictures, large bushi with weapons fighting oni and tainted samurai, charging into battle. Crudely made, as if those who had done it were not very good with either ink or charcoal.
Or…children… Harun shuddered.
Nasu got down next to Harun. “This is where I grew up. The ones who stand on the Wall now, this room was the first wall we knew. This and others like it.” He gently touched a rough drawing of the Jade Sun. “The first thing I remember was how important it was to survive, to stay alive so that I could one day to stand on the wall with my father and grandfather. To fight by the side of those who protected us.” His face clouded over. “I survived, there were many who did not.” He looked at Harun. “Did you know Harun I had an older brother?”
Harun shook his head.
“Yoshida, he was badly wounded. I saw him afterwards,” said Nasu. “The next day he was gone, he walked out into the Shadowlands just as our grandfather had, so resources could not be wasted on a man who could no longer fight. The Shadowlands weren’t our only enemy then. The other was hunger, the older we got the more we knew about it.
Harun nodded. He knew something about this, growing up in the years of famine in the Crane lands. The children eating separately from the adults, the adults making excuses until the children were old enough to see through them. The journeys they made during those times under heavy guard, seeing the lean faces of the peasants as they passed them on the roads. And then there was that time when his family was travelling with Doji Arami and the village they had sought shelter from a storm in had no food to offer them. Arami insisted that they share what food they had with the peasants.
“The Crane suffered, we all did during the famine,” said Harun, trying to help but knowing his words were hollow.
“No, not like this,” insisted Nasu. “We had to fight everyday for our very survival, so that there were others to keep fighting to replace the ones that fell. And to fight the ones that go back up. No one gets this, no one wants to. If they did, they would be here.”
“I am here Nasu, I can tell them,” said Harun. “And you are here too, you did survive.”
Nasu touched Harun’s arm gently. “Thank you.”
Harun got to his feet, trying to imagine what it was like to grow up here. To never leave these walls, to see the sun… Harun understood Nasu’s reverence, this place was a shrine to the strength of the Crab. To their survival…but at what cost?

Yet there was more to life at the Wall than there appeared to be. Even there Harun could see little glimmers of colour amid the gloom and the grey.
Like the geisha who would walk the main street of the Wall village in the evenings. Their make up garish and colourful, their kimonos bright with their obis fastened at the front. Attendants lit their way with lanterns and protected them with parasols.
Harun watched them go by, not sure what to think. In Crane lands, ‘ladies’ such as these would not have paraded about so openly or received so open a welcome.
Then there was the kabuki play, one even Harun knew, the Thousand Cherry Blossoms. It was rough, no costumes and what little music there was hastily learned by the shamisen player and drummer. The actors roles were chosen from small scraps of paper drawn out of a helmet. Harun found the whole thing quite bizarre, but did manage to laugh in a few places and tried to appreciate it for what it was.
The actors and a good portion of the audience adjourned to the sake house after the performance, including Harun amongst their numbers. They were honest, straightforward accepting Harun wholeheartedly. But he could not help but think back to that morning when he had been surrounded by a ring of Crab ready to act if he had failed the Test of Jade.
The Crab had survived, but what had they turned into? And was it something Harun wanted to be a part of?

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Tue Nov 13, 2018 4:10 am

Two days later, Harun was back at Kyuden Hida having tea with his Aunt Momoibura and his cousins. He told her about his trip to the Wall, honestly including his own mixed feelings.
Momoibura smiled reassuringly. “I think that can be expected on your first trip, Harun,” she said. “The Wall is important, but unlike anything else in Rokugan. The longer you are here, the more you will understand.”
“The rooms where the children were kept,” said Harun. “I had no idea it was that bad during the war.”
Momoibura nodded. “That is why we cannot forget,” she said gravely. “And make sure others know.” She looked around at her daughters who nodded in agreement.
“I agree completely,” said Harun.
“Then that is a good start,” said Momoibura approvingly. “Now, tell me all your news, Harun. What do you think of Yosoko-sama? Is anything settled for your marriage?”
“Not yet, but there’s no reason to not think it is not going ahead,” said Harun, wishing his heart didn’t feel heavy when he said the words. “As for Yosoko…well as we are proceeding the traditional way we have hardly spoken and I do not know her at all.” A thought occurred to him. “Perhaps you could answer something for me, do you know about the fan she carries with the teal tassel?”
“I am sure it is just a pretty fan,” said Momoibura, a little too quickly.
“But mother, you know Yoritomo Aramaki gave it to her,” said his cousin Mineko.
Momoibura frowned at her daughter.
“But it’s true!” The girl insisted. “I heard it from Saeki who heard it from Honoka. They are very…Oh!” She finally caught her mother’s meaning and was quiet.
“I didn’t mean to pry,” said Harun, trying to salvage the situation. “You see…I found a similar fan with my mother possessions, perhaps given to her by my father.”
Momoibura smiled and poured more tea. “You must tell me as soon as everything for your wedding is arranged,” she said, gesturing to the kimono on racks around her. “We need to make sure you are properly attired.”
“I will,” Harun promised, picking up his teacup. Her kindness did a little to take away the growing gnawing feeling in Harun’s stomach, not much, but a little.

The Imperial Court began to wane towards a close. The winter had been mild, bringing thoughts of the coming spring.
Kakita Kyoumi had been on the panel of judges that, after much deliberation, had rewarded Ikoma Sayuri the title of Turquoise Champion for her painting. The piece had been a brilliant compromise of the traditional Rokugani style with elements of the bolder, more fluid and recent methods. Hopefully, Sayuri’s tenure as Turquoise Champion would inspire other artisans.
But “compromise” seemed to be a recurring theme, as Kyoumi reflected when she and Kousuda had tea with Empress Iweko Ayameko.
Kyoumi was quite familiar with the Empress, not just through her role as the Voice but before when Kyoumi had been an aide to her predecessor Hida Kozan and had deftly managed to prevent the coup of the former Shogun of the Empire Akodo Kano. The Empress had been seen less in public in her declining years, but this didn’t mean she was not involved with the world. A former Hida, she always favoured pragmatism.
But Kyoumi had come to her today with something that was not only controversial, but that she has deep personal misgivings about. Crown Prince Iweko Kiseki’s marriage to Isanko, Haihime’s daughter and Daigotsu Kanpeki’s granddaughter. A bargain she had made as the cost for not doing so was too high.
So over tea, while seated next to her husband, Kyoumi outlined her plan and her reasons for it, leaving nothing out. The prophecy of the Kitsu, Susumu Ketsueki’s very real threats to the entire Empire and the girl Isanko herself whom Kyoumi hoped would benefit greatly educated by the Crane.
The Empress listened patiently, open but perhaps a little sceptical. When Kyoumi was done, her questions were correct.
“May I ask you this, Kakita-san?” A year ago, the idea of my older son’s marriage was brought up with similar outcomes, this…alliance with the Spider. I let myself be convinced for the Crane to provide alternatives, which they have. Can you tell me what has changed?”
Kyoumi took a careful sip of tea. “The path we travel has not changed, Your Highness, but we see it clearer now and we see the critical juncture we are at. And while the path we must take is not one we thought we would, we must take it or lose everything we have fought for.”
“This appears to be little different to blackmail,” sniffed Ayameko. “And we are giving into it.”
Kyoumi’s face was a cool mask. “That thought has also occurred to me, Your Highness.”
Ayameko considered this, coming to some sort of agreement with herself. “Tell me about the girl. Whom does she favour?”
“Her father, Doji Sorei-san,” said Kyoumi, her voice warming a little. “This is as we had hoped when the Crane first made the match between him and Lady Haihime. He appears to have had most of the raising of her, her spirit is strong, pure and free of taint.”
“She is still quite young, is she not?” Ayameko asked.
Kyoumi nodded. “This is where the Crane hope to influence her character for the better. She will be trained by the Doji, protected, and when she comes of age she will be ready.”
“You speak with much confidence, Kakita-san,” noted Ayameko.
“I have followed her progress for a number of years, Your Highness, through her father,” said Kyoumi. “Isanko is a bright girl, charming, very easy to like.”
“What of her mother?” Ayameko asked.
“Lady Haihime has never sought power nor the attentions of others,” said Kyoumi. “Her role with her daughter’s future will be minimal and discreet…assuming she survives her duty to kill Yuhimi no Oni.”
“Such a mother, to distance herself from her child so easily,” said Ayameko, almost sadly.
“Lady Haihime is no ordinary woman, Your Highness,” said Kyoumi. “And her daughter is not one either.”
“I must meet this girl for myself,” said Ayameko.
“I can arrange it,” said Kyoumi, bowing.
More tea was poured. The tension in the room seemed to dispel somewhat.
“It is good that you asked to see me today, Kakita-san, as I had been meaning to speak to you,” said Ayameko, looking at them both as an attendant filled their cups. “To speak to both of you.”
Kousuda made a smile and bow at being recognised.
“It concerns your older son, Kakita Masarugi-san,” continued Ayameko. “From what I understand, he and my older son have been quite close, Masarugi-san being an influence of good on the Prince.”
“You are most kind to say so, Your Highness” said Kousuda.
“They both make their gempukku in the spring,” said Ayameko. “Following this, Kiseki will be making a tour of Rokugan, visiting the lands of all the Great Clans. It is my wish that Masarugi-san should accompany him.”
Kousuda and Kyoumi were stunned by this. Their son, Masarugi to be a companion and confident of the future Emperor of Rokugan. A great honour, and a way to completely secure his future and that of their family.
They both bowed. “I thank you, Your Highness,” said Kousuda. “I am sure that Masarugi will be worthy of the trust placed in him and will serve faithfully.”
“Of course, we all wish the best for our children,” said Ayameko, a little warmness in her voice beneath the formality. “May I ask, have you had any more news of your daughter? What happened to her was cruel and tragic and you have served faithfully despite of it.”
“Nothing further, Your Highness,” said Kousuda. “I do hope to leave for Zogeku in the spring to get answers for myself.”
“Please let me know if you have any difficulties,” said Ayameko.
“I will,” promised Kousuda. “And thank you.”

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Tue Nov 13, 2018 8:06 am

Being back at court was an odd experience for Harun, coming back from the Wall where the threat was visible and pleasant back to court where so much was about pretence and appearance. And he was constantly reminded where he wasn’t welcome, especially in the dojo. He knew the stories that were circulated about him, probably by the Crane.
The Koten ceremony was a welcome relief, it was a full day’s ride northeast from Kyuden Hida. And with several people as well as Harun to be honoured, they made quite a party, banners of the Crab, Dragon and Mantis Clans flying freely. The Crab and Mantis Champions riding as well.
But no Phoenix, Harun noticed, and he didn’t see his father’s banner there either. That hurt.
He rode with Koharu and Katsura Hisato and talked with other things, trying to ignore the pain.
Koten, the Crab Hall of Ancestors, was an austere stone temple nestled between two mountains. Here it was that the heroes of the Crab were honoured, their stories told and kept alive. The fact that the Crab were inviting samurai from other clans to be commemorated there was exceptional.
They arrived at nightfall, making camp outside and rising early the next day to gather inside.
Inside Koten was dark and cold, a chill that seemed to penetrate the skin. Like at the Wall, the walls here were inscribed with names. But there were more, many more that went back many years. There were also statues. Kisada, the Fortune of Persistence standing with his great grandson of the same name and his daughter, Hida O-Ushi that continued his line.
Harun felt decidedly small, what had he done compared to legends such as these? The fact that his name was to be included within these walls?
They are recognising it though, which is more than the Crane would ever do…
Harun sighed.
Nasu came up beside him, grinning proudly. “Impressive, aren’t they?”
Harun nodded. “The one on the left is your grandfather?”
“Yes,” said Nasu, his voice lowering a little. “He was trained by Kisada no Fortune after he returned from Yomi, trained here even. But no one knew even then what the Crab would face…”
Harun nodded again, preferring not to answer.
“They’re getting started,” Nasu said.
Harun went with him where the crowd had formed around one of the inscribed walls. A wall where there was room for more names to be added. In front of it stood Hida Katashi, Champion of the Crab, towering above most people in the room. Beside him was a small, wizened bald monk. Hito, Nasu explained, the Keeper of Lore.
“We have come here to day honour not words, but deeds. The deeds of those who have been seen to be worthy to have their names inscribed in these hallowed halls. Those deeds we will hear of today. Step forward to be honoured…Kakita Harun-Chui.”
All eyes were on Harun as he made his way forward, the crowd parted to make a path to where the Crab Champion stood. Harun bowed low. “I am honoured that you think to deem me worthy to stand amongst these giants.”
Katashi indicated that Harun rise and stand beside him. “Your story, Kakita-Chui, will be repeated down the ages for those who wish to hear it.”
The monk began to speak, his voice taking on a ritualistic cadence as he repeated the story of Harun’s life. He knew everything, beginning even before Harun was born with his birth father Nakura’s sacrifice. Harun’s adoption, his training at the Kakita Academy, the Topaz Championship, the battle of Shiro Moto, entering the Imperial Legions, Shimekiri….
It was complete, and accurate, but all wrong. The details were accurate, but Harun knew that they had been like the Crab were making them to be.
But he had to be silent, to stand and wait for the finish. He scanned the crowd, trying to spot people he knew. Nasu, Hisato, Koharu, Moshi Janisha standing close to the Mantis Champion…and at the back of the crowd Harun saw his father Karasu.
His heart leapt with joy. Father…he came!
Did this mean Harun was forgiven? No, that was impossible, but surely his coming meant something.
When Harun’s story was done, his name was solemnly inscribed on the wall. Harun watched it rather hollowly, somehow it meant even less now. He was quickly congratulated by well-wishers, excusing himself as he made his way through the crowd in search of his father. When he wasn’t to be found, Harun quickly went outside just in time to see Karasu mounting his horse.
Karasu stopped, turned to look as Harun went up to him.
“You…you came,” Harun said, breathless. “Thank you.”
Karasu’s face was a closed mask. “I came because this meant something to you, Harun, not to approve of what you have done.”
“I know father,” said Harun, feeling like he was a little boy again. “But this…it means nothing compared to a word from you.”
Karasu frowned. “Well, you know how to get that.”
He rode off, Harun's heart was heavy as he watched his father ride away. Would this gulf between them ever be healed?

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Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Thu Nov 15, 2018 1:29 am

There was a festive air in the camp that night, especially from the Mantis and the Crab that seemed to wish to outdo each other in drinking. Harun was invited to be a part of it, but felt a little separate, as if he wasn’t enjoying himself. All he had in his mind was the image of his father Karasu, riding away.
Yoritomo Sano, whose name had gone up on the wall after Harun’s, did his best to make Harun feel welcome and Harun was already familiar with most of the Mantis delegation. All but one of them were friendly towards Harun, and the he caught the name of the one who wasn’t: Yoritomo Aramaki.
Aramaki…he gave Yosoko that fan… Harun remembered, no wonder he doesn’t want to talk to me…
When Harun was sure he wouldn’t be missed, he left. Intending to turn in when Janisha saw him. She walked up to him.
“This is different to when I last saw you at Shiro Moto, Harun,” she said after they exchanged greetings.
“Yes, well a lot has happened in a year, Moshi-sama,” said Harun.
“Indeed,” said Janisha said with a nod. “Walk with me a little, with you?”
They left the raucous drinking party, heading behind the row of tents to where it was quiet.
“You distinguished yourself at Toshi Rambo, quite markedly,” said Janisha. “It is all you hoped?”
“No,” said Harun. “If I could just have killed Shimekiri without…everything else, I would have.” He sighed. “Everyone is just taking it the wrong way. The Crane see me as a disgrace…the Crab welcome me as a hero…”
“And what is it you see yourself as?” Janisha asked.
“I don’t know,” Harun answered. “I thought I did, now I am not so sure.”
“You cannot always control the consequences of your actions Harun,” said Janisha. “Perhaps it is better that way.” A small smile appeared on her face. “Do you know the story of how I became Mantis Champion?”
“No, but I have been curious,” said Harun.
“Years ago, at the court at Shiro Mirumoto, I was attempting to heal the rift between the Mantis from Rokugan and Zogeku,” she said. “There were two factions, and I managed to get the leaders to sit down together. Yoritomo Ichido from Rokugan, and Warlord Arashi from Zogeku. While this was going on, there was a contest where people competed to become the next Mantis Champion, the right to wield Yoritomo’s Kama…your Uncle Kousuda was one of the ones who competed.”
“Uncle Kousuda?” Harun looked at her.
“He was there right up until your mother Yamada forbade him to continue,” said Janisha. “So I got the two sides together, and that was when Ichido won the contest…and then he passed the kama to me.” She smiled again. “And there I was Mantis Champion, with Yoritomo’s Kama, something I had never had the ambition to have or thought I had the right to.”
“Perhaps that was why it was right for you to have it,” suggested Harun. “From what I know, you did great things for the Mantis.”
“Thank you,” said Janisha.
Someone called Janisha’s name, they both turned to see the Mantis Champion, Yoritomo Ogura. Beside him was a boy of about fourteen,
“My husband and my son Jiyu,” said Janisha, her veneer of formality slipped a little.
Harun nodded. “I should go,” he said.
“Harun,” Janisha said, stopping him as he walked away. Her voice more serious. “This may be the last time I see you, I wish you well in your life.”
“Thank you, Moshi-sama,” said Harun, bowing and then leaving.
But before he was out of sight, he turned to see Janisha embrace her son.

It could have been anywhere. The cabin of a ship on the high seas…in the restored Toshi no Gohei…or in Zogeku, with its wild beauty beside the river.
But it was in this tent, among the others that were encamped in the shadow of Koten, that Janisha sat with her family for what would be the last time. They all knew, even Jiyu, and though this hung over them like a shadow they tried to make the best of it. Tried to make this last time be a good memory.
But it was difficult.
Janisha looked at Jiyu, her only son and the only thing that could not be taken away from her. Her duties to Shahai as the Oracle of blood had demanded much of her, had even had forced her to be parted from him to serve at Haihime’s side. But Jiyu was her legacy, her hope for the future and for the Mantis Clan. One day he would win the right to wield Yortomo’s Kama, just as she had and just as his father Ogura had done.
Jiyu strongly favoured his father, which was understandable as Ogura had had most of the raising him. Daring, already quite skilled in combat. He would make his gempukku in a year or two. Janisha wished she would be around to see it.
Jiyu knew what was going on, had accepted it as best he could. But that didn’t mean he liked it. He sat there sullenly, silently, until he could no more.
“It’s not fair!” He shouted, glaring at his mother accusingly. “All my life you were always away and I hardly saw you, and now you are back you are going away…to die.” His glare was like fire. “Don’t you care? Don’t you care what happens to us? To the Mantis?”
“Jiyu!” warned Ogura. “Don’t you dare speak to your mother like that!”
“Why not? I meant everything I said!” Jiyu argued. “And it’s not as if I will get another chance to!”
Ogura glared back at his son.
“No, Jiyu, you are right,” said Janisha, her voice rising a little with anger. “It isn’t fair at all on you. You didn’t ask for this, you didn’t ask to be born into this.”
“I was hoping you returning to Rokugan meant it was all going to be over,” said Jiyu. “That we could be a family…somehow.”
“And you have every right to want that, my son,” said Janisha. “And you will have it, one day when I have done what I need to do to make it happen.”
“Why does it have to be you, mother?” Jiyu asked. “Can’t it be someone else?”
“You say I should ask another to accept this burden to spare myself?” Janisha asked. “You will be a samurai soon, Jiyu, and you know that this is wrong.”
Jiyu shook his head, throwing off her touch and storming out of the tent.
“Jiyu! Get back here and apologise!” Ogura demanded. “Jiyu!”
“Let him go for now,” said Janisha with a sigh.
They talked for a while over the remains of the meal Jiyu had abandoned. Sharing experiences, memories. The test of skill that Ogura had won in order to marry Janisha. Rebuilding the Mantis Isles after the disasters and deaths that had plagued them. They were happy years even, short years but still happy. It was when Jiyu had been born, it was when they all stood together to craft a future for the Mantis.
And then she had had to leave, called away by her obligations as Shahai’s oracle.
“You have passed it on, the Oracle?” Ogura asked.
Janisha nodded. “Soshi Kenshio is her name,” she said. “I am not sure where she is now, but the power was fading. Everything is waning.”
“What about Teru?” asked Ogura.
Teru had been a Shosuro infiltrator that had been with Janisha virtually unnoticed for many years. Ready to kill her if she displayed any hint of the Shadowlands taint.
“Teru is with her,” said Janisha. “He was sworn to the Oracle, not to me.”
Ogura nodded. “So, I suppose this is it then?”
“Just about,” said Janisha, her voice pained.
They both turned as someone came into the tent. It was Jiyu, red-faced and embarrassed. And limping a little “Mother, I wish to say sorry for my words earlier.” He bowed.
Janisha went up to him. “You come up with all of that on your own?”
“Some,” admitted Jiyu with a shrug. “Some of it was Sano, he said he’d thump me again if I disrespected you.”
Janisha put her hands on her son’s shoulders. He’s going to be as tall as his father one day, she thought with a little pain. “My son, there’s nothing wrong with what you feel. One day you’ll understand why it was me who had to act.” She looked down at him. “The future still needs people to make it happen.”

Janisha stayed up into the night, writing the letter to her son that he would read when he came of age. So much to tell him, to explain, words she wanted him to carry and remember. But it seemed as if words were not enough to convey how she felt.
She carefully sealed the letter, Ogura would hold it in trust until then.
She then laid down a blank piece of paper, much larger. She stared at its emptiness, her brush hovering over its surface. Once, years ago, at the Imperial Court she had given a set of paintings to the Emperor. Three of what would be a set of five. The fourth one she had done later and sent it on as promised, a painting of the Valley of the Centipede, home of the Moshi family. The final one she knew would be painted when she left Rokugan.
She put her brush to paper and started it. It was time.

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Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Thu Nov 15, 2018 8:17 am

Harun’s second betrothal meeting took place in the rock garden at Kyuden Hida. Cushions were set out for both parties on both sides of a table with the nakodo Doji Nashikyo down one end. Harun sat to the right of his father, across the table from Hiruma Yosoko.
He was silent, his face was still as his mother and father spoke with the Hiruma Daimyo, his tea sitting untouched on the table before him. If this meeting went as he expected it to, if it went well then the formal terms of his marriage could be settled. The wedding day could be set.
He looked over at Yosoko, she was looking down again, looking as removed from the whole affair as she was. What was she thinking? What was she really like?
Harun picked up his teacup and drained it. At the other end of the table, Nashikyo caught his eye as she poured more tea.
“Kakita Harun-san, why not take Hiruma Yosoko-san for a turn about the garden?” Nashikyo suggested.
This too was part of the tradition. Obediently, Harun got to his feet and walked off with Yosoko. They walked for a while in silence, each not knowing what to say.
“Nasu said that you have been to the Wall,” said Yosoko. “How did you find it?
Harun considered his words. “Different,” answered Harun.
“You are being polite,” said Yosoko.
Harun shrugged. “Crane habits, I guess.”
Yosoko smiled a little. “Don’t apologise, I rather like it,” she said. “It is…different from what I usually see.” They continued to walk. “But you’re not much of a Crane as you are something else, are you Kakita-san?”
“That is true, my birth mother was an Utaku battlemaiden, my father a Yasuki,” Harun said.
“Where is it that you belong then?” Yosoko asked.
He shrugged again. “I am not sure, I don’t think I have ever been.”
“You could belong here,” Yosoko suggested.
“That is true,” Harun said. “We must take what fate and the Fortunes throw at us, I suppose.”
Yosoko nodded, opening her fan. The sandalwood was painted with scenes of waves, the teal tassel rested on the back of her hand.
Harun drew in closer to her, his voice low. “I…I know who gave you the fan, Hiruma-san.”
Yosoko’s eyes widened, she stopped. “I…how do you know?”
“You care for him, don’t you?” Harun asked. “That’s why you always carry it.”
She didn’t respond.
“It’s all right,” said Harun reassuringly. “You can tell me.”
They walked on in silence for a few moments. “Yes, his name is Yoritomo Aramaki,” Yosoko said. “He’s been bringing us supplies on his ship for a while. He…” Her voice grew very small. “He wanted me to marry him, until…”
“Until I came along,” Harun finished glumly.
Yosoko nodded. They walked on in silence.
“I…cared deeply for someone,” said Harun. “Then she went away, and then she died.”
“You carry her with you, still,” observed Yosoko.
Harun looked at her. “Is it that obvious?”
“Only from another who knows what to look for,” said Yosoko.
Harun made a smile, he looked over at the table where the negotiations were still taking place. “What do make of all of this? Of…us?”
Yosoko bowed her head. “We both have a duty to our families,” she said. “Nothing else matters, not even what we want.”
“I agree,” said Harun.
He looked at her up and down, it seemed as if they were both at the same point, hearts pledged to others, hands pledged to each other. That was often the way often the way of marriage in Rokugan, for people like them. Then why was it so hard to accept?

Later that evening, Harun went through the chest of his mother’s things in his room. The letter she had written to him, the letters between her and his father Nakura. The fan he was sure his father had given her. He opened it out, painted in white on the purple silk, a horse leaping over a carp.
With all his heart, Harun wished he could place it in Arahime’s hands on their wedding day. See it tucked into her obi as they pledged their vows to each other. But she was gone from him, gone forever.
He closed the fan and put it away.

Harun dreamed that night he was back at the Kakita Academy. He walked through it, his sandals echoing through the empty halls. But he could not see anyone nor hear anyone. No one in the gardens, in the outer courtyard, in the dormitories, in the dining room, the main dojo…all empty.
Where is everyone? Harun wondered. Have they been evacuated? Is that what has happened again?
Was there an Onyx army about to attack the castle? That was what had happened when he and Arahime had been evacuated as children. His father had taken charge of that, making sure the children were safe in Otosan Uchi from the advancing horde.
But Harun couldn’t hear anything but the sound of his own footsteps. Then he stopped, there was someone else walking around. He ran towards the sound, it was coming from near the sensei’s quarters.
When he got there, he saw a peasant with a broom sweeping away leaves that had blown in from outside. When he saw Harun, he stopped sweeping and bowed low.
“Forgive me, samurai-sama,” said the peasant. “But you will not find anyone here.”
“Where have they gone?” Harun asked. “Has everyone been evacuated?”
The peasant looked at him confusedly. “Evacuated? No, no one comes here anymore, no one has for a long time. Not since the samurai stopped duelling.”
Harun stared at him, aghast. “What?! But…but why?”
The peasant shrugged. “Well, I guess they found better weapons. Easier, no need to spend years learning how to swing a sword.”
“No, no, that can’t be!” Harun shouted, looking in all of the rooms. Hoping to find someone, anyone to tell him this wasn’t true.
He came at last into the Master Sensei Kakita Kenshin’s room. The table was set for tea, two cups and the teapot between, as it had been the night Harun had come back from Unicorn lands. And to one side of the table was Kenshin’s daisho on its stand. They were beautiful in their blue and gold, the swords of a Kenshinzen. But they were sheathed, and covered in dust. As if they had not been touched for some time.
An explosion hit the castle walls, he ran to the window and saw two immense armies facing off against each other. One Lion, one Crane, not fighting with swords and spears but with exploding weapons of gaijin powder.
Harun recoiled in horror, falling to his knees.
Did I do this? Did I cause this? No! No! He held his head in his hands.
He woke up in a pool of his own sweat. Gasping and staring at the ceiling. His heartbeat pounding in his ears. Had he cried out? Had anyone heard him. He hoped not.

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Fri Nov 16, 2018 8:58 pm

Alone in the dojo, Harun’s bokken was a blur as he went through his exercises. Katas, stances, lunges, feints…again, again and again. But wasn’t enough, not nearly enough to dispel his nightmare. The empty academy, the traditions of Kakita abandoned.
It couldn’t happen, it couldn’t, it couldn’t… he refused to admit it.
He stopped, chest heaving, sweat dripping off him. He took a deep calming breath, then noticed he was no longer alone. Quite a few bushi had arrived to train. Crab, Lion, Unicorn, Dragon, a Phoenix…and the Crane.
Harun raised his bokken again, going into another kata. And then he heard the words.
“There he goes again, the gaijin Crane.”
Harun whirled around to see who it was, it came from behind him. It had to come from the Crane. They all stared at him, a row of pale blue.
Harun’s anger flared. Would he or wouldn’t he? He decided he would.
He strode towards them, his anger rising like an oncoming storm. He faced them. “Which of you was it?” He stared them down. “Which of you wishes to face the gaijin Crane, eh?” He slid his sword slightly out of its saya, exposing the blade. “Come on! Step up!”
Kakita Yashiro stepped forward. “I will.” His face was still, his voice calm.
Harun glowered. “Fine,” he spat. “We will settle it now which of us is better.”
Yashiro nodded. “Blades, to the first blood.”
A ring formed around the two Kakita, the Crane and Dragon on Yashiro’s side, the Crab and Unicorn on Harun’s. The Crab shouted insults at the Crane as Harun prepared.
“He’s a pissant, Harun,” said Nasu. “Wipe that smug look off his face.”
Harun looked at Nasu in surprise, frowning. He then went into the middle of the circle where Yashiro was waiting. The Phoenix bushi, Shiba Jintao, had been chosen to officiate. He checked their swords and called for silence.
Harun and Yashiro took up their stances. They stared each other down, their hands ready to draw. Waiting for the moment to strike.
And then the tension broke. Behind Harun, Nasu gave a laugh. “Doesn’t matter if you don’t strike first, Harun, you can always shoot him after.”
Harun quickly turned, looking at Nasu in horror.
He doesn’t mean that, surely? He looked at Nasu, grinning at Harun, laughing with the other Crab at his own joke. Oh Kami, he does!
Karasu’s words at Toshi Ranbo came back to him. You had to go in and be the hero, didn’t you?...How many others do you think will try and do as what you did? Kyoumi’s words, My poor Harun, you are still Crane. What do you think it means? Shimekiri’s cold black eyes, mocking him in his madness before his death, Enjoy your victory.
The empty halls of the Kakita Academy, the traditions of Kakita, of duelling, the beauty and wonder of the Kenshinzen…all abandoned because of him. For his actions.
It was like a shard of ice had pierced his heart. What have I done? What have I done?
Yashiro looked between Harun and the Shiba. He looked confused.
Harun’s thoughts faced. I have done this, I have to end this now, I have to end this right.
Harun bowed, lower than he needed to so he could show his deference. “I concede,” he said. “You are the better samurai, Kakita Yashiro-sama.”
Yashiro looked down at Harun coolly, he betrayed no emotion. “I accept,” he said.
Harun left the dojo, leaving the stunned silence of everyone behind, and went in search of his father. He had to face what he did like a samurai.

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Sat Nov 17, 2018 7:57 am

Harun’s thoughts whirled like a storm as he headed to his father’s quarters.
They were right…all of them…father, Kyoumi, Arami…even Doji Teruhime…how could they live with me doing this? How could I live with myself? I have been so very blind.
Karasu wasn’t there when Harun arrived, but the ronin Saigou took one look at Harun and went in search of him, telling Harun to wait inside.
Harun sat in seiza in the middle of the floor, waiting, his heart pounding in his ears. His head was bowed, looking at the floor. When he heard his father enter, Harun immediately threw himself on the floor, his face on the tatami. He did not look up as his father crossed the room.
There was a long silence in which neither of them spoke. Harun took a deep breath, but he did not dare move.
Karasu looked down at his son, prostrating himself before him. A samurai awaiting judgement, like many others had before him.
“Harun, you have something to say?” Karasu asked. His voice was careful and controlled.
Harun rose slightly, still keeping his head bowed. “Father, through my own actions I have committed a most grievous disgrace on the Crane Clan. I have disgraced you, I have disgraced the Imperial Legions, I have disgraced the our family and the traditions of iaijutsu.” Harun took a deep breath, keeping his voice even. “I was wrong, I disobeyed orders, I used gaijin weapons in a duel. I thought I was justified at the time, thought I was saving people but the truth is…” His voice faltered a little. “The truth is, I was afraid for my friends, for you. And I let that fear guide my actions.” He closed his eyes. “I do not deserve the honours that the Crab are bestowing on me.” He took another deep breath. “If you so wish, I will perform the three cuts to atone for the shame to our family.”
He prostrated himself again, awaiting his father’s decision.
Karasu looked down at him. He knew that no one would question if he granted Harun’s seppuku. Some had called for it, some had said it was even too late.
But Karasu could not do it. Harun was his son, and while his actions were in excusable Karasu knew that they were brought about by his actions. He had to accept that. They all had to accept that.
“Harun, get up,” said Karasu.
Harun dared look up, confusion on his face. “Father?”
“It is not my wish that you perform the three cuts,” said Karasu. “You have acknowledged you fault in this, that was my wish, and that is enough. I forgive you.”
“But…the others…” Harun’s words caught in his throat. “Don’t they want…”
“Leave that to me,” Karasu said firmly.
Harun bowed. “I am grateful for your mercy.”
“See that you continue to prove worthy of it,” said Karasu.
Harun nodded, but he foresaw a snag. “I will but…the Crab will not see it this way, even after I marry into them. If it is still your wish…”
“No,” said Karasu, with a grateful sigh. Harun would have done his duty and gone ahead with the marriage, but Karasu could spare him that “It will not go ahead, you need concern yourself with it no longer.”
Harun felt as if a great weight had been lifted off his chest. “Thank you…father.”
“You know what has to happen now, don’t you Harun?” Karasu asked. “There can be no more Legion, no more Kakita Academy. You will be found a posting as befitting your actions. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” said Harun.
“You may go,” said Karasu.
I had such hopes for him, Karasu thought as Harun left, but now, it is good that he has come home.

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Sat Nov 17, 2018 9:24 pm

That evening, Karasu accompanied Empress Iweko Ayameko and her son Crown Prince Iweko Kiseki to the Hida Dojo. Karasu wore the Emerald Armour and carried the Emerald Blade, but his role was purely ceremonial.
The dojo was empty when they arrived, save for the Master Sensei Hida Senchou. Senchou was tall as Crab often were, and wore only deep blue hakama pants even thought the evening was rather chilly. On his bare upper body, Kiseki could see how his service on the wall had marked him. Ugly scars, to his side, his chest and arms and most of them had not healed cleanly.
Kiseki thought the Crab sensei’s state of undress was rather inappropriate, but as his mother had explained the lands of the Crab were a different world to what he was used to. One of the many different worlds that made up Rokugan, and he would need to know them all if he was to succeed his father as Emperor.
The Prince and the Hida exchanged bows, the former giving the latter the briefest of courtesies. Senchou did not even seem to notice.
“My mother said that you had something to teach me, Hida-san,” said Kiseki, sounding rather sceptical.
“That depends, Your Highness,” said Senchou. “Are you prepared to learn?”
Kiseki narrowed his eyes. “I am here, surely that counts for something.”
“Words matter little here, my Prince, and nor do intentions,” said Senchou. “You must let your weapon speak for you, this is the only language the Shadowlands understand.”
“I am destined for other duties, what need have I of this?” Kiseki asked loftily.
“You begrudge the Crab their ancestral duty when all would gladly die for you?” Senchou challenged. “Or the Esteemed Empress, your mother? She began her training here, in this dojo. Would you begrudge them?”
“No,” said Kiseki quickly.
Senchou gave a chuckle. “I thought so.” He reached down to pick up the wooden sword that lay at his feet. He tossed it to Kiseki who easily caught it. “This is your first lesson. Hit me, if you can.”
Kiseki dropped into a fighting stance and lunged at the Hida sensei, his form an excellent example of the Kakita form, as smooth as a flowing river. But Senchou was too quick for him, surprisingly agile for his huge size. The Prince attacked him, but the Hida moved in a blur, moving just out of the reach of the bokken. Kiseki concentrated, attempting to anticipate the Crab’s moves, finally striking him on the shoulder.
Kiseki laughed. “I did it!”
So pleased with himself, Kiseki dropped his guard. Senchou took this as an opportunity to disarm him, taking the bokken and then using it to knock the Prince’s feet out from under him. Kiseki sprawled on the floor, Senchou pointed the tip at his throat.
“What good is your first strike, my Prince, if you do not have your sword.”
Kiseki stared at it, incensed at the Hida’s trickery but also impressed.
“Never let your guard down,” said Senchou. “Not in the dojo, not on the battlefield or in the palaces. That is your first lesson.”
“Yes…sensei,” answered Kiseki.
Senchou lowered the wooden sword, letting Kiseki get to his feet.
“Once you are a man, my Prince, you will come to me,” said Senchou. “We will have a lot to do.”
Kiseki bowed, not just a courtesy but one of a student acknowledging the lesson of a teacher. This seemed to amuse Senchou somewhat, he returned the bow and left.
The doors to the dojo opened and Kiseki turned to look. Inside came two people. Doji Sorei, resplendent in his pale blue hitatare, with his daughter Isanko. The girl wore a pale pink furisode with a blue obi and violets in her white hair.
The pair made their bows to the Empress and Prince. Kiseki looked at the girl curiously, then glanced at his mother. Ayameko nodded. Kiseki went forward to greet Isanko.
And on the upper level of the dojo, three figures observed the exchange. Haihime, daughter of Daigotsu Kanpeki; Moshi Janisha, the former Oracle of Blood; and Kumo, once Susumu Ketsueki and High Priest of Shahai. Everything they had worked towards culminated in this moment, what was to be the joining of the Hantei and Iweko bloodlines. A curious meeting of dark ambitions, divine prophecies to give Rokugan the future it needed.
But this is also where their duties ended. Yuhumi no Oni, who carried the bloodline of two gods, was still in the Shinomen Mori. He had to be stopped at all costs or he would rise again.
Kumo looked at Janisha and Haihime. Who would have thought we would be the heroes of this story?
They then departed, the final battle ahead of them.

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Sat Nov 17, 2018 10:19 pm

After he returned from the dojo, Karasu sat on a bench near the rock garden. Some of the dark clouds that hung over them all were beginning to clear. Prince Kiseki’s betrothal to Isanko would be announced to the Imperial Court in the morning, the marriage to take place once Isanko had come of age. Toshi Ranbo would be administered by the Crab Clan until the city was declared free of taint. And then there was Harun…
Karasu sighed.
Someone entered the courtyard, he looked up to see it was Doji Arami on his way to bed. On seeing Karasu, Arami approached.
“There have been rumours that your son left a confrontation in the dojo,” said Arami. “I hope this means that he has come to his senses.”
“He has,” said Karasu.
“Of course, he will take the proper course of action following this?” Arami asked.
“No,” said Karasu. “Harun offered his seppuku, I refused him.”
Arami looked at him, the shock of Karasu’s words competing with his desire to keep his composure.
Karasu sighed. “Sit down, Arami,” he said. “I know what you want to say, I have been hearing nothing but it ever since Toshi Rambo. It is not as simple as you might think.”
Arami sat down on the bench. “How can it not be?” He asked, sounding a little miffed.
“Because of us,” Karasu answered. “You were there all those years ago when we begged the throne for the use of gaijin weapons to war against the Onyx. We compromised our culture, our ideals, our values for survival. Those choices led us to here, we need to accept that and the consequences that came of it.”
Arami considered this. “That doesn’t excuse what Harun has done.”
“No, it doesn’t, and he knows this as well,” said Karasu. “What matters is what we do now, the way forward for Rokugan. For Iaijutsu. For our culture, our traditions and our future. Will you help me?”
“I would be glad to,” said Arami.
A silent moment passed between them. The animosity between the two friends was healed.
“I always considered that you did far more to save Rokugan than I did, Arami,” said Karasu.
“You are very kind to say so,” said Arami.
“I am not being kind,” said Karasu. “I am being honest.”

Posts: 176
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Wed Nov 21, 2018 7:15 am

The walls of Kyuden Hida seemed an unlikely place for the Susumu Shibatsu to take a leisurely stroll, but he was there with a purpose.
Kakita Harun had made himself scarce since that display in the dojo. He had not been seen in the dojo since, and rarer still around the castle. Shibatsu sought him out on the walls, and his search had not been in vain. There he could see the Kakita bushi, trying to extricate himself from some Crab who were clearly admirers of how he had dispatched of Daigotsu Shimekiri.
Shibatsu approached, his black silken court robes swishing as he walked. He went up behind Harun and made a light cough. “Pardon me.”
Harun turned around. “Lord Shibatsu.”
The three young men bowed.
Shibatsu made a gesture with his fan towards Harun. “Friends, a moment to speak with the son of the Emerald Champion alone.”
The Crab drew back, Shibatsu moved off and with his fan signalled for Harun to follow. They walked along in silence for a few minutes, Harun seemed relived to no longer be with the Crab but wasn’t sure what to make of the Emperor’s own brother and Champion of the Spider Clan seeking out his company.
Shibatsu had followed Harun’s career with some interest in the last few years, which had not been hard given the young man’s prominence. The Crane had sought to tame him, with all his wildness and his gaijin blood. Had they succeeded? Shibatsu wasn’t sure it would be an altogether bad thing if they did not.
Shibatsu came to a stop, the Kaiu Wall was visible to the south. Harun stood next to him, his eyes on the horizon, waiting for Shibatsu to speak.
“The Crab bushi are quite interested in your accomplishments in Toshi Ranbo, Kakita Harun,” said Shibatsu. “You seem to have made an impression.”
Harun seemed to stiffen at Shibatsu’s words. ““I did what I had to do, My Lord. I do not take pride in it.”
“You removed quite the long-term embarrassment, both to your clan and to the Iweko, from what I have heard,” said the Lord of the Spider, continuing to stare at the distant wall. “You did as we all must.”
I know he has been there and seen the Crab's ‘creations’, thought Shibatsu, he knows how far we can go to ‘do what we must.’
Harun didn’t reply, so Shibatsu continued to speak. “I find dealing with the Crab has historically been tedious. Their valour and sacrifice is of course worthy of praise and reward. And yet their disdain for honour and right behaviour stymies the effort to reward them. To do so would make it seem that their disdain itself is being rewarded. Don’t you think?”
Harun shifted awkwardly. “I…do not consider myself in a good position to judge.”
Shibatsu motioned with his fan to the Kakita mon on Harun’s clothing. “Perhaps not yourself, but is it not the Crane’s duty to judge what is and is not worthy? To develop and advance the culture of the Empire?”
“I suppose,” said Harun, still sounding awkward.
Shibatsu smiled, trying to sound reassuring. “Well. The Crane and the Crab have their duties. My duties offer me a certain...latitude...in rewarding those who are worthy of reward, even if proper face requires their deeds be rightly condemned.”
Harun looked troubled, unsure if he should speak and he was about to when Shibatsu continued.
“I do hope you find your assignment to Seawatch Castle pleasant, Harun-san. The ocean can be beautiful in the spring.”
Harun’s eyes widened but he didn’t answer.
He didn’t know, Shibatsu realised. Aloud, he said, “But if you find your time there taxing, or if there is anything else that you might wish for, please do not hesitate to write to me. Some duties are a pleasure.”
Harun’s voice was careful and controlled, clearly he was again looking for a way to escape. “I am very grateful, Lord Shibatsu. “ He bowed low. “I will obey my father’s orders gladly, if that is where he sends me. But I am grateful for the kindness of your offer anyway.”
Shibatsu smiled as it he expected this answer. He closed his fan and tucked it into his obi. “Another day then. For now...I think I shall go get some kave. Enjoy the view, Chui.”
As Shibatsu walked away, he could not resist a backward glance.
He refuses now, but when the quiet of Seawatch gets to him, he will remember.

On his way back to his room, Harun was confronted by someone else. This time it was far more welcome, Akodo Koneko. Her red hair was in braids and she had small pink flowers in her hair. And she was smiling, which was certainly an improvement on when Harun had last seen her.
“It is good to see you looking so well, Koneko,” he said. “I had hoped to see you before court ended.”
“Mother was saying your betrothal fell through,” said Koneko, her golden eyes a little serious. “I am sorry.”
Harun shrugged. “These things happen,” he said. “From what I hear, Yosoko and Aramaki are very happy.”
Koneko giggled. “I didn’t see the wedding but I didn’t need to. Mantis and Crab can get very loud with the celebrating.”
Harun nodded. “I have heard similar stories from my parents wedding.”
Koneko looked as if she were to say something, but then changed her mind and said something else instead. “I…I heard you were at the wall. What was it like?”
“You seem very informed about my comings and goings,” Harun teased.
Koneko blushed deeply.
“Yes, I was at the Wall for a few days with the Crab Champion’s son. It was…harsh, but the Crab are dedicated in their duty. They have to be, they protect us all.”
Koneko nodded, again she looked as if she was working up the courage to say something, but decided not to. “Can I ask what is next for you, then? Will you be returning to the Legion in the north?”
“No,” said Harun. “Because of what I have done, the shame and disgrace I have brought to my clan and to my family, I won’t be. I will be staying in the south, I have been assigned to Seawatch Castle.”
Koneko’s eyes widened in surprise. “So…you are not returning north?”
Harun shook his head. “I am sorry.”
Koneko’s face fell. Harun sighed, he was sure now that Koneko had felt something for him—or imagined she did—ever since he had come into her house with Majid that fateful spring night. There was a simplicity and pureness about her that was charming and that was unmarked by the tragic passing of her father Zetsubou. He hated to hurt her, but he owed her honesty.
“Koneko, I like you, you are very kind but there is something that you need to hear,” said Harun. “I do not think that there is a future for us as you see it. I am not good for you and I will not bring my shame into your family.”
“But…but…in a few years it could all change,” Koneko protested. “I will be of age, this will all quiet down, I promise.”
“You don’t know that,” said Harun. “I would hate to see you treated as I am, it wouldn’t be fair. Besides, your cousin would never allow it, nor would your uncle.”
“Mother would!” Koneko argued. “She and father married when everyone was against it, including Uncle Kibo. If they could do it, so can we!”
“Koneko, you need to listen to me,” Harun pleaded. “What you are talking about is just not possible. Please, do not make me say things that will hurt you.”
Koneko’s face crumpled, wiping her face on her sleeve. “Is…is there someone else.”
“There was, but it doesn’t matter,” said Harun.
“Tell me,” said Koneko, her voice wavering.
“She died,” said Harun. “I loved her…but never told her. I don’t think I could care for anyone else like I still do for her, and that wouldn’t be fair to you.”
Koneko’s eyes were red and swollen from her tears. Harun was touched, of all the things that were going on in the world it was reassuring to see girls like her still swayed by the impulses of their own hearts. So normal.
“Koneko, you hate me today, and you probably will tomorrow,” said Harun. “But you will have better days than this, days when you will look back and see this differently. And soon, I hope.”
“It doesn’t feel this way,” said Koneko.
“I know,” said Harun. “But one day, you will.”

In the days before Harun left, there were a few things still to take care of. He witnessed Koharu and Katsura Hisato swearing their swords and their lives to the Crab Champion. Harun stood at the back, hoping the tall Crab bushi in front of him were enough to conceal him. Nasu sat on the dais at his father’s right hand, he did not appear to see Harun.
Harun also went to see his aunt and cousins. Momoibura was sad about his leaving, but did her best to not show it. He let her keep his father’s shamisen though, it was far better for it to stay in the family. Though it was nice to hear it played one last time.
The night before he left, Harun packed up his possessions. The chest with his mother’s things would of course be going with him to Seawatch. He looked through the letters again before putting them away. The one from his mother, the ones between his mother and his father, the one from Arahime…and another letter on yellow paper that had not been opened. It carried the seal of the Lion Clan.
Of course, it’s from Akodo Kibo. Harun had not read it. He broke the seal. A flower fell out, a pressed white chrysanthemum.
Harun picked it up. Truth? He held it as he read the letter.

Kakita Harun,

News has come to me of our victory at Toshi Ranbo, a long-awaited milestone. These things always come at a cost, and news of your deeds have spread wide with even wider reactions from the empire at large.

I realize that many may have spoken or not spoken to you about what occurred there in that room. But remember this, Akodo-no-Kami wrote that Honour is not determined by what others think of you, but of what you think about yourself. It is your Honour that carries this burden, not mine and not theirs. Would I have done it exactly the same way? No, but my few changes in timing may not have resulted in the same outcome.

These are interesting times. Times of consequence and change. Many things that my generation did merely to survive will have their price paid by your generation just as my generation paid for the survival of my parents’ generation. We are all connected in this way.

There is no taking back that which has been done. There is only accepting our mistakes as part of who and what we are and striving to be better for it. I know this better than many, but such is a story for other times.

Although, your mother did the same sort of thing, you know. Threw out duelling tradition to do what she thought was right. Risked everything, even you, to do so. It would seem that you're more like her than you know.

In Honour and sacrifice for our Empire,

Akodo Kibo

Harun put the letter down, the words were ones he needed to hear but he wasn’t sure of he would have seen that before. Even but a few days before.
… “Honour is not determined by what others think of you, but of what you think about yourself”…And what I thought of myself has changed. How could I have been so selfish?
Harun folded the letter carefully, putting the flower back inside, then put it in the chest with the others. He then locked the chest.
There was a tap on the door, Harun went to open it. It was Hida Nasu. Harun bowed.
“Hida-sama, I wasn’t expecting to see you,” said Harun.
Nasu dismissed Harun’s concerns with a wave. “Come on now, surely we are passed all that.”
Harun let him in, closing the door behind him. They sat on the stone floor across from each other.“I got my posting, Nasu,” said Harun. “Seawatch, I leave tomorrow.”
Nasu made a rude noise. “What a waste of your talents!”
Harun shrugged. “Perhaps, but it is what I deserve after what I did.”
“What you did was no different from any Crab would he find himself in your position,” said Nasu.
“I know,” said Harun, meeting his eyes directly.
Nasu was the first to look away. “I still don’t understand,” he said. “How you have been treated by the Crane—by your own father—is shameful. The Crab were ready to welcome you with open arms, even into my own family. Why? Why did you reject us?”
“I did this because how he do things matters,” Harun explained. “I forgot for a while why this was important, you reminded me.”
“That was not my intention,” said Nasu. “You should know I didn’t mean anything by that.”
“It doesn’t matter whether you did or not, the fact you said it matters,” Harun said.
Nasu shook his head. “I don’t get you.”
“I didn’t think you would,” said Harun.
Nasu stood. “I should go,” he said, heading for the door. “May the Fortunes favour you, Harun.”
Harun watched him leave. He never will understand, he thought, but maybe it is best that he doesn’t.

That night, Harun dined with his parents. Hitomi was pleased that Harun and Karasu were talking, but there was still the distance between father and son. The gulf had narrowed, and they could reach across and speak to each other, but it still remained. Harun didn’t mind at all, he considered it an improvement and possibly even more than he deserved.
“You might find Seawatch rather quiet after the Legion,” said Karasu. “Much has been damaged from the tsunami from the Seals, and the war delayed a lot of repairs. Hopefully that will change.”
“Good,” said Hitomi approvingly. “The war has been going on for so long, I am not sure many remember what peace is like.”
“I suppose I will find out for myself soon enough,” said Harun. “It might even be good.”
“You might, at first,” said Karasu.
Afterwards, Karasu gave Harun back his armour. Harun checked it over, making sure it was ready for him to wear the next day. He looked at the helmet last of all, the golden crane spreading its wings against the blue. He looked at his father.
“My mother Yamada, she killed the man who made this, didn’t she?”
Karasu nodded, not at surprised that Harun knew this. “She did,” he said gravely. “He gave her armour too…which she relinquished before she left.”
“How do you reconcile what she has done with who she is?” Harun asked.
“I don’t,” said Karasu. “Because I know she has no illusions about what she is doing for Shiba Michio, and why. And I know that once this is all over, once the Jade Hand appears, that she will answer for them.”
Harun looked down at the helmet again. “Will I ever see her before that happens?”
“I don’t know, that is entirely up to her,” said Karasu. “But I do know this: if you truly need her, Harun, she will find you.”
Harun didn’t find this completely reassuring. He put the helmet away.
The next day, Harun left Kyuden Hida in the cold dawn. He looked back and he saw two figures on the battlements, one in green with dark hair, one in blue with white. Isanko and Prince Kiseki. Prince Kiseki stood still, as if he did not even see Harun. But Isanko waved. Harun smiled and returned her wave.
He rode down the road, getting to the gates and then looked back. But they had gone.

That evening, as the Imperial Court made ready to return north to Otosan Uchi, three Crane continued a tradition that they had observed for many years. Kakita Kyoumi, Kakita Karasu and Doji Arami gathered for tea. Much had intervened, marriages, children the war…but they had done their best to maintain the tradition.
Kyoumi presided over the tea. In each of the cups was a tea bulb, when hot water was poured in the bulb opened up like a flower in bloom.
Arami looked at it, smiling. “I have not seen these for a long time,” said Arami. “Where did you get them?”
“Yasuki Koji,” said Kyoumi. “He had hoped that they could entice me to tell him where his sister is. You remember Yamase?.”
Arami nodded.
Karasu examined the cup carefully. The set was familiar. It was a translucent blue, it had to be the tea set he had in his tent, until he had broken it the night Toshi Ranbo was taken. The pieces had been put back together, with gold powder in the cracks. He looked over at Kyoumi and smiled.
“How did you do it?” he asked
Kyoumi only smiled in return. “I have had it for a while,” she said. “I was waiting for the right moment. It is yours of course.”
Karasu put the cup down. “Harun left this morning,” he said. “I thought it best to keep it quiet. On his own he is faster and can get well ahead of the main train.”
“You will be at Tsuma this spring?” Kyoumi asked.
Karasu nodded. “I am needed at the Topaz Championship for Prince Kiseki’s gempukku. Will Kousuda be there?”
“I am not sure,” said Kyoumi. “It depends when the Crane delegation leaves for the Summer Court in Zogeku, he wants to go with them.”
“If there is anyone who can get answers from them, it is Kousuda,” said Karasu with confidence. “Hopefully we don’t have to take action, the last thing we need is a war so soon after this one.”
“You think it could happen?” Arami asked.
“I refuse to rule out any possibility,” Karasu replied.
Arami nodded, managing to look calm as he sipped his tea.
“There are reasons to look forward,” said Kyoumi hopefully. “Good reason.”
“Thanks to you, cousin,” said Karasu.
“Thanks to all of us,” said Kyoumi.

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