L5R - Chasing the Winds - A Winter Court 5 Sequel Fic

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Thu Jun 29, 2017 12:18 am

The stables of Shiro Moto were large and lavish. They took up the entire ground floor of the tenshukaku, leaving only leaving only a small entry for people to ascend the stairs to the Great Hall above. Inside, the accommodations for the steeds were better than for some samurai.
Harun walked past the stalls, some of them had bronze played on the doors showing the horse’s name and lineage. Some of them were Rokugan ponies, most were gaijin-bred horses, but towering over all of them were the famous Utaku steeds.
This is where Harun found Isanko. Janisha was talking to her when Harun came in. The girl turned and made a small bow.
“I wanted to see the Utaku steeds,” she said to Harun. “But joshu said we may not ride them.”
Harun gave a small smile and bow. “Moshi-sama speaks true, Isanko-san. But if you have seen the shiotome in battle as I have, you might see why.”
Isanko looked up at him seriously. “Have you ridden with them, Harun-san?”
Harun nodded. “They are something to behold, nothing can stop them.” He leaned over and said something in a low voice. “I’ll let you know a secret, Isanko, my mother was one of the Utaku.”
“She was?” Isanko asked. “But, why are you a Crane then?”
She doesn’t miss anything, that girl
, thought Harun, but I can’t lie to her.
“She had to do something important for the war with the Onyx,” Harun explained. “But she made sure I was looked after first.”
Isanko nodded solemnly, accepting this.
At that moment, Majid walked in, leading his horse.
“I see that I am the only one ready,” he said, looking between them all.
Majid was prepared to help Janisha and Isanko, but they had their own horses and had more than a little experience with them. Even Isanko, who had her own horse, Kiki.
Soon enough, they were riding across the steppes. Isanko rode between Janisha and Majid with Harun on the end next to Janisha. Isanko chatted to Majid, asking the Moto all sorts of questions.
“She is a bright girl and a credit to your guidance, Moshi-sama,” Harun said.
Janisha smiled softly to herself, like a mother when he child is praised. “I can’t take credit for her mind, only the cultivating of it.” She looked at Isanko. “I have an obligation to her mother, but I never imagined it would be like this.”
“Does she know much about her…heritage?” Harun asked.
Janisha nodded. “Some, she comes with questions from time to time and I answer them. No doubt they will grow as she does.”
Harun stared at her. “But…she’s so young…”
“The sooner we have truths revealed to us, the more time we have to deal with it, do you agree?”
Harun was torn, part of him wanted to agree with Janisha. He had been denied the truth about his true parents for most of his life. Would things be different if he had grown up with the knowledge? Would he be different?
“I’m not sure if I can agree, Moshi-sama,” said Harun. “I was told the truth about my parents only months ago. I could have been told it earlier, but was I ready to know? Was I ready for that burden?”
“And what if it had been given to you, piece by piece, over time, rather than all once like a heavy load?”
Harun considered this. “I was already seen as different at the Kakita Academy. I don’t think I needed another reason to feel like I didn’t belong.”
Janisha smiled. “Fair enough, a dark legacy is not easy to deal with either way.”
He looked at Janisha. “How much do you know?”
Janisha looked him directly in the eye. “I knew your father, Harun, and what he died for.”
Harun stared back at her, his eyes wide with surprise. But he had no time to say anything. Isanko said something to Janisha and then as the light was fading, it was time to go in.
Harun was still thinking about it when they got back to the stables, but he managed to hide it from Majid so he wouldn’t be asked any questions. When they made their farewells, Majid made his excuses and Harun walked alone back to his yurt.
I knew your father…and what he died for…
All Harun knew what that his father, Nakura, had done something that the Scorpion Clan saw fit to challenge him to a duel to the death. Harun didn’t know what it was, but he was pretty sure that Janisha did.

That evening there was a festive mood that infected the camp. From his yurt, Harun could hear the music and chanting, smell the grilled meat over the fires. Smiling, he headed towards them.
Gathered around a few campfires, the Unicorn celebrated. Grilling meat and flatbread over the fire, playing instruments, passing around bowls of kumis. They saw Harun and immediately welcomed him to their fire, and when he joined them he saw he wasn’t the only non-Unicorn there.
Across from him he saw Daigotsu Yukari, sitting between to Moto who were teaching her a rousing drinking song. And a few down from her was Ikoma Sesuke, the yojimbo with Zetsubou. He was tuning a shamisen, but took a long draught of kumis when the bowl was passed to him.
It was relacing, and a sort of pre-empt to the feast that was the follow the next evening. The sky was clear and the moon was almost at his fullest, the cold air contrasting with the warmth of the fire
One of the Moto began to play a strange instrument, almost like a shamisen but he held it between his knees and ran a bow of horse hair along the body, working the neck with his fingers. Majid later told him it was a morin khur.
The sound it made was unlike anything Harun had heard, it had a low drone that he could feel deep inside himself. At first it played a low beat, but then it grew faster and faster. Harun felt his feet starting to starting to tap.
Then the Ikoma started playing the shamisen, the tune was light, lilting and quick. One of the female Moto got to her feet, the man braids of her hair swinging as she swayed to the music. She tapped her feet on the snow, then started to spin around and around, everyone clapping and shouting encouragement as she spun.
As the song reached a climax, she jumped up and spun in the air, coming to land on one knee with her arms stretched out to the applause of everyone. Harun joined in, then the Moto woman met his eyes and stepped towards him. There was laughter.
“Oh no!” Harun protested when he realised what was going on. “No, no, no!”
He was pulled to his feet and led into the circle of people.
“What’s wrong, Niwa no Moto?” Majid’s voice could be heard over the others.
Harun made a face, he’d show Majid.
The music began again. At first, he imitated the Moto, bending his knees and swaying side to side on the balls of his feet to the beat. He extended his arms as the Moto extended his arms as the Moto extended her, moving them softly as he swayed on the spot, He had a quick look around and saw Yukari dancing with one of the Moto, clearly enjoying herself but protesting she wasn’t drunk enough to dance yet.
The music grew faster, they started spinning around and around. Harun tried to imitate the Moto’s footwork, but in the end, gave up and just let the music carry him. There was no form, no grace like in the courtly dances of the Crane, this was primal, it almost seemed to go right down to his bones. Everything was a blur as they went around and around until Harun fell to his knees, his head spinning.
Some of the Unicorn came forward, clapping them in the back. One of them put a full bowl of kumis to his lips, forcing him to drink it all. He choked on it a little, some of it running out of his mouth and down his chin. When it was pulled away empty, there came a cheer.
Majid put a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll make a Unicorn out of you yet, Niwa no Moto.”
Across the fire, he could see Yukari talking with one of the Moto. They were surprisingly close, talking about something. The Moto went in to touch her but Yukari slapped his hand away, striking his cheek for good measure and then leaving him.
Another man may have been insulted, perhaps even challenging her to a duel. But this Moto, he looked impressed, stroking his cheek where Yukari’s hand had struck him.

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Sun Jul 09, 2017 10:22 pm

Little update before the big one

The next morning, Harun was coming out of the shiro with Kouta when they saw the Unicorn with shovels some distance away in a clearing between the yurts. Digging, it looked like.
Kouta gave a snigger. “I didn’t think they actually dug ditches.”
Harun ignored him and walked over to them. They were digging a ditch, or a fire pit to be exact. Harun had seen them when he was with the Khol, the meat carcasses cooking on spits and the Unicorn coming back and hacking off pieces with their knives. But he hadn’t seen on this big before.
There were other signs of preparation for the evening feast. Small tables stacked on the ground, next to them were a large number of rolled up carpets and a big pile of cushions. There were also some servants with big vats of kumis, taking it to a large tent for storage.
And outside the camp, he could see animals being led to a screened area. Being led by eta. Harun shuddered as he realised what was being done behind that screen. He still hadn’t tried the red met yet, and now he wasn’t sure he would.
“I hope that head of your is ready, Harun.”
Harun turned to greet Majid. “I’m ready for most things, as you know by now Majid.” He looked around at the people. “But I think there’s a few who aren’t ready for what will happen.”
Majid laughed. “Well, this isn’t for them! They just happen to be here!”
Harun laughed with him. “It never is, is it?”
Majid nodded, Harun finally understood.

That night the clearing was transformed in a way Harun couldn’t quite believe. Above their heads were lanterns made of different coloured glass, hanging from chains on steel poles. In other places there were torches on stands, providing heat as well as light.
There was music, the low drone of the khoomei throat singers along with strains of the morin khur, shamisen, drums and flutes. There was dancing of many different kinds, the traditional and proper Rokugani court dances, the scintillating and beguiling dances from the Burning Sands and the athletic, boisterous acrobatic dances of the Moto.
And there was the food. A number of spits of meat turning on the red-hot coals of the massive fire pit. The air was pungent with the smell of meat and spices.
In the middle of it all, he found Kouta, looking hopelessly lost. He seemed visibly relieved to find Harun.
“I take it all back, what I said about this being just another court,” he said. “All of this, it’s just so…loud…and brash and…”
“Gaijin?” Harun suggested.
They both laughed.
“A lot of this was new to me when I first come,” Harun reminded Kouta. “Now, it’s hard to imagine leaving.”
Kouta looked at him in surprise. “You’d take this over a proper Crane court?”
‘I don’t know,” Harun admitted. “But I do know that I’d take the brutal honesty of a Unicorn rather than the polite lies of a Crane.”
“I see your point,” Kouta conceded.
The feast was yet to begin properly, so Harun and Kouta walked around to see what they could see. And some of it was a little surprising. Kousuda, three-deep in a crowd of Ide traders all talking at once. Ikoma Sesuke, deep in conversation with some of the musicians until they decided to set whatever dispute they had by seeing who was the better player. Yukari, faring off some stout Moto men drinking kumis in one draught and gaining their respect. Zetsubou, sitting opposite a Moto death priest, a shogi board between them and a crowd around them taking bets.
By the fire pit he saw Isanko, trailing a long silk ribbon and admiring how it caught the firelight. Nearby was Janisha, talking with Majid.
This is going to be an interesting night, Harun thought.

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Mon Jul 10, 2017 5:04 am

Later on, they were seated on cushions at the small tables and the food and drink was served. Harun refused the meat but he noticed that Kousuda, who was seated next to him, took a generous portion. Harun had come to like the flatbread and hummus and thankfully there were a few dishes that he recognised.
On Harun’s other side was Zetsubou, who Harun noticed wasn’t eating much.
From around the circle of gathered guests, Harun could see the other Clans and further along was Lord Chinua, far at the other end were the musicians. They played a light lilting tune, the singing not as alien as Unicorn music normally was.
The night was cold, their breath coming out in clouds. But with the heat of the torches behind them and the sake and kumis being poured, they hardly felt it. Kousuda was talking to Kouta, patiently explaining what things were and answering questions, so Harun turned to Zetsubou.
“Your clan-mate, Ikoma Sesuke, seems to be enjoying himself,” said Harun. From where they were sitting they could see him drinking heartily with the Moto musicians.
“He wanted to come, volunteered,” said Zetsubou. “I do hope things don’t go too badly, he may be the ones who needs protecting.”
“Oh, I think that trouble may start in another quarter,” Harun said, nodding to the Arashi and Yoritomo exchanging death glares across the circle. “When I heard they were both invited here, I was wondering if it was a mistake or by design.”
Zetsubou shrugged. “With the Mantis, anything is possible.
“Even a pirate becoming a monk?”
Harun smiled. “Even that.”
A servant leaned down behind Harun. “Excuse me, Kakita-sama, but Lord Moto would like to speak with you.”
Harun excused himself to Zetsubou and made his way towards Chinua. He made a formal bow to the Unicorn Champion.
“I must compliment you on the spectacle the Unicorn put on, my lord,” Harun said. “It is unlike anything that I have seen.”
“That would mean more if you had seen more things, Harun,” said Chinua with a slight grin.
“That is true, my lord,” Harun conceded, grinning himself.
Chinua motioned him to sit. “I see you have made some concessions to your kin,” he said, nodding to the fur trimmed cloak Harun was wearing.
“Practicalities,” Harun said. “The winters here, I am told, are unlike what I am used to.”
“They are, but the summers are something to see too,” Chinua.
“I hope to see those as well, my lord,” said Harun.
“Perhaps you will,” Chinua said.
Any answer Harun may have had was cut off by a cacophony of sound from the musicians, accompanied by the arrival of women entering the circle wearing long purple robes. The crowd applauded loudly as they took their places and drew their swords. Holding in place, waiting for the signal. One of them, Harun realised, was Asuna.
They then began to dance, a familiar, delicate style typical of a Rokugani court dance. But with the swords it was something else, the kenshibu, the dance of the sword.
The arranged themselves in lines and started to sway, their swords moving just out of sync, the blades catching the firelight as they gently swayed to the music.
Like blades of grass, Harun realised, the land as it used to be.
They then broke formation, dancing in a light skipping way, like riding, their swords extended out from them, glinting in the firelight. They then formed a long line and one after another performed a kata, Strength through Purity, perfect technique and timing.
The Utaku then scattered, most of them retreating to the edges of the circle leaving all but five in the middle. One of them was Asuna. Together, they performed the 100 years of Steel Kata series. The Empire Stands on its Edge, The World is Empty, Victory of the River and finally, Standing on the Heavens. Perfect discipline and timing, Harun’s sensei Kakita Kenshin would have been impressed with their execution of what was a technique perfected by the Kakita.
But that wasn’t what Harun was thinking. He watched Asuna in the firelight, she had poise and grace worthy of a dancer of the Imperial Court.
“They are something to watch, aren’t they?” said Chinua.
Harun nodded. Indeed she was.

Some hours later, Harun went to the edge of the camp, away from the heat of the fires the cool night air was refreshing. From the looks of it, he wasn’t the only one seeking respite.
Standing over by one of yurts was Daigotsu Yukari. Her arms were folded against her chest, her chin was raised defiantly, but she was listening to the Moto samurai who was talking to her. The same one she had struck the evening before. They didn’t seem to notice Harun, or anyone for that matter.
With a small smile to himself, Harun left them. But before he was out of earshot he heard Yukari laugh.
He sat back down between Kousuda and Zetsubou just as the music was starting again, faster and more exciting than before. Several dancers entered the circle and started leaping about. They wore long dark robes with hoods pulled up over their faces. Then, at a crash of drums and gongs, they fell to the ground and the torches were doused, plunging the camp into darkness. In the middle of the circle the dancers huddled together.
All was silent, then a lone voice started singing, a woman, her voice was high and slow, beautiful and solemn. There was then a flash of light then a dragon of fire soared above their heads, suspended on poles carried below, shining with flames.
There was a gasp when it appeared, Harun heard Zetsubou sigh with admiration.
The Fire Dragon circled the group of seated dancers as the woman continued to sing, her voice soaring to great heights and full of hope and promise. As the Fire Dragon passed the dancers, each of them dropped their hoods, revealing a mask of a different colour. One was green, the next purple, then blue, orange and the last was silver.
“This is the Dance of the Seals,” Kousuda explained. “Each one of the dancers is one of the seals, ready to be found and closed.”
Harun nodded. He knew of the story but not of many of the details, and he was curious to see what the Unicorn would do with it.
With a final swoop, the Fire Dragon exploded into flames, disappearing just as the torches about the camp flared to life again, flooding the camp with light. The music picked up pace, the dancers scattered, drawing their hoods back over their heads, all but the one in the purple mask. He stood in the centre, completely still, while more dancers circled in on him, hiding him from view. Then the dancers turned to fight each other, not quite fighting but no quite dancing, their movements were in sync, striding back and forward to the drumbeat.
There were loud thunderclaps, with clouds of smoke, representing the guns of the Daidoji that had fought in the battle.
Then a woman appeared, dressed in the pure white robes of a peasant. One her head was a sugegusa conical hat, in one hand she carried a spear.
“Hikahime,” murmured Kousuda, more to himself than to Harun. He looked at his uncle, had he known her?
The dancer who was Hikahime closed in on the fighting dancers, her spear ready, as she came close they parted to envelope her, hiding her from sight. The dancers whirled around in a haphazard way, the drums beating loud and fast. Then the dancers dropped to the ground and only two were dancing, the one in the purple mask and Hikahime. The masked one touched Hikahime’s chest, leaving a blood-red mark there. She looked down at it, then nodded as if she accepted it.
The dancers around them rose and hid them again. They then pulled out blue scarves, trailing like the waves if the sea. The crowd then parting to reveal a dancer in the gold robes of a Lion. He wore a gold mask with bright orange hair coming from it, moving with him as he did, shining bright in the firelight.
Kousuda leaned close, looking not at Harun but passed him at Zetsubou.
Zetsubou blushed and looked down.
Harun gasped. “That is you? You were at the Second Seal?”
Zetsubou nodded.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
But Zetsubou did not answer.
The Zetsubou dancer moved in a very traditional Rokugani way, every step, every gesture was clearly practiced until perfect. His hands moved in a ritualised way, as if he were casting spells, the other dancers changing their movement patterns in response to his gestures.
The other dancers swirled about, waving their scarves and turning with high kicks to show the churning of the sea. They then hoisted someone up above their heads, the dancer with the blue mask. The Zetsubou dancer made an elaborate gesture and the masked dancer was passed over the heads of the other dancers to stand beside Zetsubou.
The two touched hands as the other dancers circled around them, coming closer and closer until they disappeared.
“What was it really like?” Harun asked Zetsubou.
“Nothing like that,” he answered, and that was all Zetsubou would say about it.
The drums sounded again, the dancers dropped their scarves and started to fight each other again. They collected together tightly in a pack. Three dancers carefully circled the pack, approaching it from the rear and reached inside pulled someone out. The one who emerged wore a green mask.
“This was in Shinomen Forest,” Kousuda explained to Harun. “Before that, we thought it would be the last one but they found out that there were two more.” He nodded at Zetsubou. “Zetsubou was there for that one too, from what I have heard they would not have succeeded without him.”
Harun again looked at Zetsubou, what else did he not know about him?
He turned back to the dance. The music grew louder, the dancers wilder, the fighting fiercer. They carried long red ribbons, holding them above their heads in a scarlet fury.
Out of the crowd emerged a figure in the Lion mask, like the one the Zetsubou dancer had worn, but this one carried a sword and seemed to strut about rather than dance. Harun didn’t need Kousuda to tell him who that was meant to be. It was Akodo Kano, he had been Shogun of the Empire before Utaku Chikara.
Another figure emerged from the crowd of dancers. He wore white samurai robes, had long white hair and a white mask with horns on the forehead. There was a gasp from the crowd when he emerged. Daigotsu Kanpeki.
Between them, in a circle of dancers that fought fiercely, stood a dancer in an orange mask, completely still in the middle of a fury of activity. Kano and Kanpeki tried to fight through the crowd to get to the masked dancer, but it fought against them, like a rising tide. They couldn’t win, the crowd pushed against them and brought them down, going down on the ground themselves. The only one standing was the one in the orange mask. He made a bow and then pulled the hood back over his mask and joined the others in dance as they rose to their feet.
Great crows, held aloft on poles, circled the dancers. They came to rest just before one of them, they flew off again just as the dancer pulled back his hood to reveal his silver mask.
“What happened there?” Harun asked Kousuda.
“I remember it, it was very strange,” Kousuda said. “There was a ronin name Miataru who found out the location of the last seal, from Kenku in Sakkaku, the Realm of Mischief. We don’t know how he did it, and his mind was mostly gone, but it never would have been found without him.”
Harun nodded, watching the dancers as he listened. They were doing a riding, skipping motion now, like on horseback, making a great circle. There was a big cheer from the Unicorn when they appeared. They went right past Harun, one of them wore the black and white face paint of the Moto priests. Was that one meant to be Majid? Then he realised with a start it wasn’t someone playing Majid, it was Majid, playing himself in the part he had played in the closing of the Fifth Seal. Harun laughed, that was just like Majid to do that.
Majid approached the masked dancer, the two of them circling each other carefully. Around them the others danced wildly, even more than they had before. They circled faster and faster, finally coming to a stop when the drums sounded long and loud and finished.
There was wild applause from everyone as the dancers took their bows, wild whoops of cheering for the ones in the masks. Harun joined in heartily, he had never seen anything quite like that and was sure he wouldn’t again.

Once the applause had died down, it was clear that the formal proceedings of the feast were over. Lord Chinua took his leave, as did a few guests.
“So, what was it really like then?” Harun asked Zetsubou.
Zetsubou thought a moment. “It’s hard to describe if you weren’t there,” he said. “It was confusing and difficult, hardly as simple as what we just saw there.”
“That’s the nature of stories,” Kousuda interjected. “But that dancer Zetsubou wasn’t bad, ne?”
Harun laughed, so did Zetsubou.
“Believe me, Harun,” said Zetsubou. “There are things they leave out of the official histories, and usually for good reasons.” He stood up. “I think I am feasted-out tonight, mina-san I bid you goodnight.” He bowed to Kousuda but motioned for Harun to walk with him.
When they got away from the noise of the feast, Zetsubou stopped. He came close to Harun and spoke in a low voice.
“Harun, there’s something I want to tell you,” he said. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but I don’t think I can honourably keep it to myself.” He took a breath as if to steel himself. “Since we last spoke, I have seen your mother.”
Harun stared at him in surprise. “You mean—”
Zetsubou nodded. “Yes, Yamada wanted to be found which is how I came to speak to her. Most of it was about the ritual to cleanse the land, we had to make sure that the Black hand wouldn’t interfere.” He paused again. “But I told her I had seen you.” He looked at Harun, his lion eyes warm and compassionate. “I…had hoped that I could bring you to see her while you were here, but she refused.”
“What?” demanded Harun. “She’s my mother, why would she not want to see me?”
Zetsubou gave Harun a sad smile. “Your mother is doing something very difficult but necessary, Harun. She wants to spare you the pain of that burden, she always has.”
Harun’s heart sank, Zetsubou touched his shoulder gently.
“Harun, please don’t ever think she doesn’t care for you,” said Zetsubou. “She was very happy to hear what I told her about you, and how like her you are.”
Harun brightened a little at this. “Really?”
Zetsubou nodded. ”You have her compassion, Harun, her courage,” he said. “And something more, her search for purpose, to serve something greater than yourself.
Harun found he couldn’t say anything. “Thank you for that, Zetsubou,” he said. “Do you think I will ever see her?”
“Yes,” said Zetsubou emphatically. “I know things are supposed to happen in their proper time and not before. And I know because…she told me.”
Harun made a bow. “Thank you again, Zetsubou.”
Harun went back to the feast once Zetsubou had gone, but he didn’t get there. Asuna found him first.
“I saw you sitting with Lord Chinua, Harun,” she said. “I saw you watch me, I saw your face. Have you anything to say?”
Harun gave his best courtly smile. “Other than to compliment you on your dancing, Asuna-san?”
Asuna smiled back at him. “You know, in all the time that I have known you, I don’t think I have heard you speak earnestly. It’s almost as if you play a part, Harun.”
“Are you accusing me of being an actor, Asuna?” Harun asked.
“No,” she said, frowning at him. “I want to really know who you are, Harun, not what you show yourself as.”
“You do?” Harun asked, he looked at her carefully.
His mind went back to what Majid to him before Shiro Moto, how he had said Harun looked good together. He had dismissed it at the time, but the temptation to stay was never far from his thoughts.
“I would like that,” said Harun. He offered her his hand to her, she took it. His duellists hand enclosing her warrior’s one.
Where would this go? Harun wasn’t sure, but wherever it did go he would probably have to make a choice at some stage and hope it was the right one.

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Wed Jul 19, 2017 4:43 am

The days of court passed quickly with the varied activities to pass the time. Harun put a good amount of time in the dojo, as well as riding. There were also the official events that were hosted by the Unicorn or one of the other clans. The Crane and Dragon hosted a iaijutsu tournament, the Crab and Lion hosted a display of marital prowess. These weren’t as widely attended as the wrestling or horsemanship tests that the Unicorn put on, but they had a sizable audience.
Harun thought he would do well in the iaijutsu tournament, then realised during his first duel how hopelessly outmatched he was. Daigotsu Yukari ended up taking the prize and explained at length to anyone who cared to hear over kumis and sake that the only one who had managed to beat her in a duel was now the Emerald Champion.
He wasn’t part of the official Crane delegation, so Harun wasn’t expected to be in the Great Hall for court or be part of any of the official meetings. Then he started getting invitations. Apparently, a number of people wanted to meet with the son of the Emerald Champion.
One invitation troubled him, it was from the Scorpion delegation. It was written perfectly nicely, the translucent paper scented with lavender. There was something about it that troubled them, he knew there was a connection with the Scorpion and his birth father’s death but he couldn’t think of any way to politely get out of meeting them. After all, he had accepted other invitations.
Harun dressed carefully for the meeting, taking a gift he had purchased from one of the Ide trader carts. It was a beautiful stone, an opal he had been told, it sparked with shades of red, green, yellow and blue depending on how the light hit it. He carried it in a small box, lined with silk.
At the door of the Scorpion’s yurt, Harun was met by Bayushi Yoshu. He was a man in his thirties whore wore his long black hair loose in a sheen down his back. He wore a scarlet kimono with a black obi and a mask of sheer black silk that his eyes.
The mask annoyed Harun, but it would be extremely rude to call any attention or make any remark on it, but he couldn’t help but look at it.
“Very fine indeed, I thank you Kakita-san,” said Yushi, complimenting the gift Harun had given him after the customary offerings and refusals. “Please, sit down. I believe this is as fine as any gem I have seen in Medinaat al-Salaam. Have you been there, Kakita-san?”
Harun shook his head. “I have not, but my uncle Kakita Kousuda has told me of its many wonders.”
“Trust me,” said Yushi, pouring tea. “No description could ever do it justice. Of course, since I spent much of my formative years there, I am not exactly unbiased.”
“I suppose we can all say that about our homes, Bayushi-san,” said Harun diplomatically.
“Quite so, quite so,” said Yushi gushingly. “One hears such rumours when one is at court, and I could not help but ask about the ones concerning you.”
“I try not to put any truth into rumours, Bayushi-san,” said Harun. “But feel free to ask.”
“I have heard something about your true parentage,” said Yushi, smiling at Harun in a way that made the Kakita’s skin crawl. “Is it true that despite your Crane ways, you are of Unicorn blood?”
Harun smiled back at him, hoping to catch the Baysuhi off-guard. “That’s hardly a secret with a complexion such as mine,” he said, extending his brown hands for Yushi to see. “Yes, my mother was of the Unicorn, an Utaku battle maiden. I am told that her father was a Moto, which explains my rather unconventional appearance.”
Yushi laughed dryly. “I have found that conventions to be different depending on the context one finds oneself in, don’t you agree?”
The visit went on, the Scorpion was perfectly polite and only spoke of trivialities. When a decent amount of time had passed, Harun rose and started thanking Yushi for his hospitality. Yushi walked him to the door of the yurt.
“I did enjoy meeting you very much, Kakita-san,” he said. “I do hope that you follow the fine example of your illustrious father when he met his fate.”
Harun was caught off-guard a moment, he looked at Yushi. The Bayushi’s smile was not kind or warm, it was cold and carried the meaning his words did not.
“You are very kind for saying so, Bayushi-san,” said Harun, his tone barely polite.
Harun’s thoughts were in a whirl when he left the yurt. Yushi’s words were like a careful dagger executed with perfect elegance and precision. He knew exactly what he meant, he was talking about his true father, Yasuki Nakura who had met his death at the hands of the Scorpion.
What did it mean? Was it a threat? And there was still so much he didn’t know about what had happened, was it possible that the Scorpions held a grudge against him for simply being his father’s son?
I knew your father, Harun…and what he died for.
Moshi Janisha, he could trust her. She had made that clear very early on. He had to see her, and soon.

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Tue Jul 25, 2017 8:21 am

Lady Haihime and her entourage were housed on the third level of the tenshukaku. At the doors to their chambers, Harun presented his chop to the guards and said he wished to see Moshi Janisha.
He waited, starting to wonder if he was going to be sent on his way with a cup of tea, then he was admitted. He was shown into a large room, furnished in a rather foreign style with brightly coloured carpets and tapestries. The wall opposite opened out onto a balcony where he could see the wide plains below with the vast encampment. Seated at the table looking over books were Janisha and Isanko. They rose to their feet when Harun entered.
“Moshi-sama, Isanko-san,” said Harun, bowing. “I do hope I haven’t interrupted you in anything.”
“No, not at all, Harun-san,” said Janisha. “We were about to have some tea. Would you join us?”
“With pleasure,” said Harun.
The table was cleared and tea was served. Isanko served the tea, showing more poise and grace than could be expected for a girl her age. With another bow, Harun presented the gift he had brought, a small bird wrought in blue-green glass. They went through the customary offering and refusals, Isanko at last taking the small bird and admiring how it caught the sunlight.
Harun took a sip of his tea. “I went past where they are setting up outside for the storytelling this evening. Will you be attending?”
“For a time,” said Janisha. “We are not exactly here to enjoy ourselves.” She smiled at Isanko. “You have been here for much longer, Harun, what has it been like for you? It must be so different from Crane lands.”
“It is different,” said Harun. “Wilder, rougher, but somehow more honest.” He took another sip of tea. “I will tell you something. I was up here before, during the reconstruction of the tenshukaku. Of course, the ones who have skills were doing the actual building. I was carrying loads up and down the stairs.”
“Really?” Isanko looked at Harun sceptically. “Carrying burdens…like a peasant?”
Harun smiled. “When you have the Unicorn Champion himself pushing wheelbarrows, there isn’t much that is beneath you.”
Isanko laughed. “Was Majid carrying loads and pushing wheelbarrows too?”
Harun shook his head. “Majid is far more talented than I could ever be. He was helping reconstruct the walls.”
Isanko frowned. “With his hands?”
“With the Void,” Harun said. “Majid is an ishi, I have seen him perform his spells. They are subtle, but powerful.”
“I thought only the Phoenix could be ishi,” said Isanko.
Janisha smiled. “That’s what they would have you believe, Isanko-chan.”
They finished their tea just as the door opened. A white-haired man in the subdued garments of a ronin entered. It took a moment, then Harun remembered he had seen the ronin on the day court had begun. He didn’t know who he was then and knew even less now. Now, Harun noticed something. The ronin’s left hand had been horribly scarred many years ago, perhaps by fire, and had not healed completely.
Harun got to his feet while Janisha made the introductions.
“Harun-san, this is Kumo, attendant to Lady Haihime,” Janisha said. “Kumo, this is Kakita Harun, son of Kakita Karasu.”
Kumo made a low bow as befitting a ronin meeting a clan samurai. But he said nothing at all, barely even looking at Harun. His On perfect and as blank as paper.
This Kumo hasn’t always been a ronin, thought Harun, he’s important, or he wouldn’t be here. But who is he really?
“Kumo,” said Janisha, her voice cutting into Harun’s thoughts. “Could you take Isanko down to the dojo? I have already spoken with the sensei there, they should know what to do.”
“Must I, joshu?” Isanko asked.
“Yes,” said Janisha firmly.
The girl stood and made a bow in farewell to Harun.
“I will see you at the storytelling tonight, Isanko-san,” said Harun, making a bow as she left.
Kumo ushered her out of the room and closed the door.
“Moshi-sama, may I ask who is Kumo exactly?” Harun asked as they took their seats. “He is a ronin, is he not?”
“Please, Harun, call me Janisha,” she said as refilled the teapot. “Kumo is…an advisor, he provides very valuable information to protect Lady Haihime and Isanko.” She looked at Harun. “If you are wondering if Kumo is more than he appears to be, he is. But his secrets are not mine to tell.” She poured Harun another cup of tea. “You have come to know about your own secrets, am I right?”
Harun nodded.
“What do you know?” Janisha asked, her voice perfectly calm.
“My father, Karasu, told me mostly about my mother Utaku Yamada,” Harun said. “About the duel, how my mother gave me up so she could be with the Black Hand.”
“And what of your father, Yasuki Nakura?” Janisha asked. “What do you know of him?”
“Very little, other than how he died,” said Harun. “There is a lot that I don’t know.” He paused, considering how to continue. “This morning, I was with Bayushi Yushi, from the Scorpion delegation. He made it clear that the Scorpion have not forgotten about it.”
Janisha frowned, she looked seriously concerned. “Tell me what he said. Everything.”
Harun did so, there wasn’t much to tell. When he was done, Janisha was silent for a long time.
“Well, there is one thing that is sure,” said Janisha at last. “Word of your true parentage is going to follow you once you leave Shiro Moto, the Scorpion will see to that.”
“I think I could live with it if I knew the truth,” said Harun. “Janisha-sama, you knew why my father Nakura died. Tell me, what was it that he did that the Scorpion see as so heinous? What was it that even now they don’t see his death as enough to pay for it?”
“Treachery,” Janisha answered. “Not his, but that of another. Of Yoritomo Aramasu.”
Harun stared at her. He wasn’t sure what he expected to hear, but not that. “I have heard of him, and some of his story.”
“Some, but not all,” said Janisha. She poured more tea and proceeded to tell him the whole story.
Aramasu had been born a Scorpion, a Bayushi. But he had always felt rejected by his clan so he in turn had rejected them. After proving himself in battle, Aramasu had been adopted into the Mantis Clan by Yoritomo himself. He had fought beside the Clan Champion at Oblivion’s Gate, then taking up the mantle of Champion himself when Yoritomo fell. Much later, Aramasu had been assassinated by the Scorpion.
“And this,” Janisha said, “is where your father Nakura comes in.” She took up her tale again. “The Scorpion intended Aramasu’s ashes for Traitor’s Grove, to be bound in agony like all who had betrayed the Scorpion. But the ashes were stolen, and before the Scorpion could take them back, Nakura found out their location and told the Mantis.” Janisha was quiet for a moment. “Years later, on the day after he and your mother were married, he came to her aid from the insults and attacks of the Scorpion up on the dais before the Emperor. He straight-out said what he knew to the entire court and said he should have sent an army to retrieve them.” Janisha took a deep breath. “That was when Soshi Kazusa, head of the Scorpion Delegation, challenged him to a duel to the death.”
Harun took a deep breath, taking it all in. My mother and father, their lives together ending when it had barely begun.
“Janisha-sama, thank you,” said Harun. “I know the rest.” He looked down at his hands. “The Scorpion aren’t letting this rest.”
Janisha nodded. “We all knew this then, Harun. Yamada was the only one with enough courage to come out into the open and say it. Perverting the sacred traditions of duelling, declaring they would force their own will onto Heaven’s if things did not go their way.” She paused, her tone getting colder, more serious. “From what I have heard from the actions of the Black Hand, many have been cut down because of this. Including Kazusa.”
So, his death was avenged, thought Harun, with a little satisfaction, I think I know whose blade I hope it was.
“Harun, I know this is a little difficult to hear,” said Janisha. “You’ve just come of age, and already the legacy of your parents has been thrust upon you.” She gave him an encouraging smile. “Just remember, most do not see Nakura’s death as the Scorpion do. The Mantis see him as a hero, helping to restore the honour of the clan. You are not alone in this. As Nakura’s son, you will always have friends among the Mantis. And there are others who will stand by you.”
“Janisha…I…” Harun was a little overcome by this. “Thank you, I did not expect the day I encountered enemies would also be the day I encountered friends.”
“Court isn’t over yet, Harun,” Janisha said. “Not by a long shot."

There were a few hours of daylight left, so Harun made the most of them and went riding. Janisha had given him a lot to think about.
His father Nakura, she had said he was a hero to the Mantis but a traitor to the Scorpion. How could anyone be so hated and yet so venerated?
Harun recalled the lectures he had had on bushido back at the Kakita Academy. Doji Yuriko’s voice echoing across the courtyard as he told them how the virtues of bushido were universal to all samurai.
It has seemed so straightforward at the time, but in the face of what he knew now it was almost too simple. How could one account for what his father had done, choosing a path that was right but had great personal cost? Or his mother, abandoning all her duties to serve a much darker but necessary one?
There must be something that I am missing, thought Harun as he rode, an answer, it’s somewhere, it has to be.
So deep in thought he was, he didn’t notice Asuna approach him until she was almost right in front of him. He looked up and smiled as she approached him, scattering snow in the crimson and purple twilight.
“You have something on your mind, Harun?” Asuna asked after they exchanged greetings.
Harun nodded. “I have found out some things, about my parents,” he said. “I came out here for answers, but the more I learn the more questions I have about myself.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, you don’t want to hear about that.”
“No, I do,” she said, coming closer. “Tell me.”
So, as they rode side by side, Harun told her everything. About his parents, the duel, the Black Hand. And about his own concerns. She was quiet was a moment, Harun was a little worried.
“Harun, I’m glad you told me,” she said. “I want to hear your thoughts, you keep them so deep inside you. Like a well of secrets.”
Harun gave her a small smile. “I don’t think I even know all of my secrets.”
“But why should you let something like that change you?” Asuna asked. “You are only now finding out about this, they haven’t made you who you are.”
“In some ways, they have,” said Harun.
“Yes, but how much?” Asuna asked him. “Harun, since we first met I have wanted to see you as you are. All these other things you are talking about, they don’t matter to me. Why should they to you?”
Harun opened his mouth to protest, then stopped. Perhaps she was right, these things had happened in the past and there was very little he could do about them. Why not just leave them behind him?
And what was here now in front of him? Asuna, she knew all he was and didn’t care.
He brought his horse to a halt, so did Asuna beside him.
He looked at Asuna, the light of the setting son reflecting off her dark hair. She was strong, she was honest and she accepted him. He couldn’t deny that he felt some sort of attraction to her. Not on the heights of love he felt for Arahime, something smaller, subtler.
Perhaps…perhaps this was something he could build a life on?
Asuna leaned over and kissed him. Gently, tenderly. She grabbed his shoulder, pulling him closer.
Harun was caught by surprise, but he didn’t fight it. He closed his eyes, enjoying her closeness, her touch.
When it was over, they looked at each other for a long moment in the dying light of the setting sun. Harun wanted to speak, but didn’t know what to say.

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Wed Jul 26, 2017 9:07 am

The storytelling had started when Harun arrived. He found a seat in the circle next to Majid just as Yoritomo Takara was the middle of one of the many Midori the Monk tales, this one of Midori’s perilous journey to the far land of Meranae. Harun had heard it before, but Takara had added few embellishments to tale.
As the story drew to an end, Harun kept scanning the crowd for Asuna. Was she there? They hadn’t really spoken on the way back. The kiss, what had happened between them.
He didn’t regret it, but avoided thinking about Arahime. Somehow, it made him feel uncomfortable.
Takara finished talking to some applause and Majid got to his feet. He then waited for quiet and began his story. Majid’s voice was strong and clear, and the tale was told with great gusto and passion. It was, to Harun’s surprise, a love story.

Once there was a powerful Warlord, he had many mounted samurai under his command. The lands he had conquered stretched over many rivers, steppes and mountains under the light of the Jade Sun. In his youth, the Warlord had conquered these lands at the head of his army, but now he was old he wished to pass them on to his only child. His daughter, whom he loved with a gentleness that quickly turned to anger to any who harmed her. She was his most precious treasure, and named as such.

A small murmur went through the Unicorn, almost a sigh. Across the circle, he saw Kousuda explaining something to Kouta. He clearly knew what Majid meant, but Harun could only resolve to ask Majid later.
Majid again took up his tale.

When it came time for the Warlord to choose a husband for his daughter. He approached the Lord of the Mountains. A pact was made between the two that the Son of the Mountains would marry the Warlord’s Daughter.
And for a time, they were happy, the love between them as true and pure as the most precious pearl. But their marriage was not to be. For the Warlord’s Daughter would not live in the mountains, and the Son of the Mountains would not live in the steppes. Their love, still so true, could not survive this trial and their betrothal was broken.
Years past, the Warlord’s Daughter now led her father’s army. The Son of the Mountains protected the wise men of the mountains as his father had done.
Then the day came when the Warlord’s Daughter was betrayed by one who in compassion she had trusted. The traitor wounded her grievously, not just with steel but the dreaded taint of Jigoku.
This was done to end her life, curse her and the army that she led. But the pure spirit of the Warlord’s Daughter won out, at a terrible cost. Her body, slowly but surely, was being encased in crystal. Until there came a day when she was completely composed.
And there she remains, in a great castle, trapped in crystal until the one that can free her arrives.

There was subdued applause for Majid as he took a bow and sat down. As Ikoma Sasuke started a story, Harun asked Majid about his story.
“Yes, some of it is true and there is more of it, a lot more,” Majid said, his voice serious. “I will tell you of it later, but not now.”
He had no choice but to be satisfied with this, so he turned his attention back to the stories, and to the sake and kumis that was being passed around.
There were many stories Harun heard that night. Some of them fantastic tales, others that were clearly gleaned from experiences in the war.
As Daigotsu Yukari finished her story, Harun stood up and began his own.
Like Majid’s story there was a lot more to it than what he would tell and some parts of it were even true.
As he began to speak, he scanned the crowd, finally seeing Asuna. Their eyes met, and then it was it no one there and he was telling the story just to her.

Once there was a princess who lived in a castle by an immense forest, she was beautiful, kind, gentle and a friend to all animals. One fine spring day, she sat in a forest glade, the birds and animals who claimed her as friend surrounding her.
Then from the woods came a low bark, then a fox emerged from the trees. The birds and animals pressed against the princess, scared of what the fox might do.
“Have no fear,” said she, “for I will let nothing harm you.”
She walked out to the fox, meeting its eyes. The fox shrank back at her approach.
“Come, friend,” said she to the fox, “no one will harm you.”
The fox walked up to her with a whimper, one of its front paws was bleeding from a wound.
The princess’s heart was full of compassion. She knelt down and took the fox’s paw into her hands, a single tear fell from her eyes like a precious jewel and fell upon the fox’s paw. She then took her scarf, blue as the sky and of the finest of silks, and bandaged up his paw.
The fox then looked up at her, its golden eyes seeming to lock within her. Then the fox turned and went into the woods.
Years later, when it came time for the princess to marry, her brother the prince consulted a wise old monk from the mountains. For word of his sister’s beauty had spread far and wide in his lands and he wished to avoid any slight towards any samurai who did not win the princess’s hand in marriage.
The old monk arrived. He met the princess, he met the princess and then he sat for many days and nights and meditated. At last, he spoke.
“The princess must choose whom she had already chosen.”
This puzzled the prince, but he resolved to remember the monk’s wisdom all the same.
The day came when the prince gathered all the samurai that served him. He declared to them that the one who would marry his sister would be the one she had chosen.
Many young samurai had gathered in the prince’s castle. Many of noble birth, some with vast lands and some with more humble holdings but no less illustrious lineage.
But one samurai who was there looked as if he had no lands or lineage. In fact, he was a ronin, the clothing he wore thread bare and worn. His hair was red and long and wild, his eyes golden.
But when the princess saw him, she noticed something else. In his hand he held a scarf of soft blue silk. The princess and the ronin met eyes and each recognised the other.

Harun then took a bow as they applauded him and then sat back down. Majid clapped him on the shoulder.
“I didn’t take you for a sentimental sort,” he said.
“I think there is more I need to tell you, too,” said Harun.

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Sun Jul 30, 2017 9:25 pm

The next morning, Harun walked with Majid up on the walls of Shiro Moto. Majid, as promised, told Harun the real version of the story he had told last night. The Warlord, Majid explained, was the former Champion of the Unicorn Moto Chen. His only daughter, Naleesh, was Champion after him. She had been shot by the Spider with a tainted arrow.
“In a way, it was a double betrayal,” Majid told Harun. “Lady Naleesh, was the only Clan Champion who saw Kanpeki as samurai. But it was she who he tried to kill, and it was the lands of the Unicorn that were first overrun by the Onyx.”
They walked on in silence for a few moments.
“So, Lady Naleesh is trapped in crystal?” Harun asked. “How did that happen?”
“We are not sure,” Majid said. “But we have an idea. Lady Naleesh was the reincarnated soul of Shinjo-no-kami. The crystal, perhaps, was a way to protect her from being consumed by the taint. I saw her myself when I was at Journey’s End keep not too summers ago. She is still there, quite unchanged. There is now writing on the crystal, we think it might say what we need to do to free her. That is, if we could read it.”
“You can’t?” Harun asked.
Majid shook his head. “The writing is unlike anything the Unicorn have seen, and we have consulted many old texts as well sages and scholars. None have succeeded, I was merely the latest to fail.”
Harun looked out onto the snowy plains beyond the walls of Shiro Moto. The soul of a kami, trapped in crystal. It seemed too awful.
“Did What about the Son of the Mountains?” Harun asked. “Does he exist?”
Majid gave a sad smile. “That is Mirumoto Shikei, the former Champion of the Dragon Clan. The dispute between them over their marriage was very sad. The match was made when things were very different. The Togashi family were still the ruling family of the Dragon. And Moto Taigo was expected to succeed his father Chagatai Khan as champion. But then, everything changed.”
Harun nodded, he knew what had changed. The kami Togashi ascended to Tengoku, Chagatai had made his march on Toshi Ranbo.
“Did Lord Shikei ever marry?” Harun asked.
“No,” said Majid. “You could say he remained true to her memory, true to each other perhaps. Lord Shikei probably has another name now, he has retired to the High House of Light far to the north.”
“Oh,” Harun said, a little disappointing. “I was hoping for…”
“For a happy ending?” Majid teased. “We don’t get those in real life, Niwa no Moto. At least, not without sacrifice.”
Harun nodded solemnly, they walked along the walls in silence for a few moments, passing the sentries. From high on the walls, Harun had a good view inside the walls of the Shiro and the people inside. A few were enjoying the mild winter day. Harun saw his Uncle Kousuda, coming out of the tenshukaku, deep in thought. He crossed the courtyard and went in to the Shrine to Hikahime.
“I’ve been a few things, Harun,” said Majid, with a slight grin. “About you and a certain shiotome.” His voice was perfectly casual, but he noticed how uncomfortable Harun looked, so he pressed on. “I know we have spoken about this before…but can you just answer one question for me: has something changed?”
“Well, you could say that,” said Harun. “I’ve learned some things recently, about my father Yasuki Nakura. There’s a long grudge that the Scorpion have against him and I was caught unaware.” He told Majid the whole sordid story he had heard from Janisha. “So, I started to think how things could to be different…” He hesitated, as if saying the words made them permanent. “…if I stayed.”
“You are considering it?” Majid asked, his voice was hushed as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He put a gentle hand on Harun’s shoulder. “You would be welcome among the Unicorn, Harun, know that.”
“Thank you,” said Harun, returning the smile. “But that’s not all I am thinking. Out here, I would be away from everything away the courts and any danger of my parent’s legacy endangering others.”
Majid nodded. “Have you thought of what you will leave behind?
Harun winced. Father will understand, so will mother. But Arahime…that will be hardest of all, he thought. I’ll keep my promise to her, and I’ll explain everything, I hope she will understand… Then he stopped. He looked at Majid. “It’s as if…I’ve already decided.”
“Harun,” said Majid, coming close to him. “This is a big decision, it will change everything about your life. You have time while you are here to make it, use it well.”
“Thank you, Majid,” said Harun.
“I will respect you either way, remember that,” promised Majid.
Harun nodded. Below he could see Kousuda coming out of the shrine, talking with the monk Gimu. Then he remembered something, Kousuda had left the Unicorn Clan behind when he had married Kyoumi. If anyone knew about the decision Harun was considering, it was Kousuda.
Kousuda broke off his conversation with Gimu and started to leave the Shiro.
“Thank you again, Majid, for your help,” said Harun. “But there is someone I simply must speak to.”
“Of course,” Majid said.
Harun made his way down the stairs and followed Kousuda.

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Thu Aug 03, 2017 8:25 am

Kousuda was almost back at the yurt when Harun caught up with him. The former Ide was deep in thought and didn’t see Harun until he was right next to him.
“Ah, Harun,” said Kousuda with a smile. “It’s been a few days since we’ve spoken. I did like your story last night. Quite a few embellishments from the original.”
Harun gave a small smile. “I didn’t think they would appreciate what actually happened.”
Kousuda returned his smile. “People never do.” They arrived at the yurt. “I am not sure where Kouta is, but do you have time to stay for tea?”
“Of course,” said Harun. This was what he had wanted anyway.
Inside the yurt, Kousuda set about getting tea ready. The tea was a light blend of matcha with the delicate flavours of jasmine and camomile. With it was daifuku that carried the mark of the Imperial Treasurer, Doji Arami. It was still, as Harun remembered, very good.
“How have the negotiations been progressing for the Crane?” Harun asked. “Majid keeps telling me how different a Moto court is, but I thought some things wouldn’t change that much.”
“Well, there is more jerky,” admitted Kousuda. “A lot of it is securing trade to Medinaat al-Salaam. Spices, linen, perfume, glass, ostrich feathers…you know, the necessities.”
Harun laughed.
“Were it not for the war I would go out there, take Kyoumi with me,” said Kousuda. “She has always wanted to see the Burning Sands, and I know I could get a better deal myself.”
“Does this include your ‘other duties’, oji-san?” Harun asked a little wickedly. Kousuda’s errands for the Daidoji that had him travelling for long periods. And they weren’t supposed to talk about it.
“No, and I wouldn’t tell you if it was,” said Kousuda with a laugh. “Harun, did I tell you that I met your mother out there. She saved my life, twice actually.”
“No,” tell me,” said Harun, listening eagerly.
“The first time was also how I first met her,” said Kousuda. “It was out in the desert, she saved me from a griffin The second was in Medinaat al-Salaam and she said it was my own fault. I got too close to a pistol duel that went badly.”
“What?” Harun looked at him in surprise. “Did you…get hit?”
Kousuda nodded. “The duellist fired wildly into the crowd. I wasn’t the only one wounded.”
“I can’t imagine something like happening in an iaijutsu duel,” Harun said. “The consequences…”
“That’s what Yamada said,” said Kousuda. “It was one of the few things we disagreed on. But that wasn’t the last time she was to save me from my own folly.”
Harun took a sip of tea, perhaps now was the time to broach the subject.
“Uncle Kousuda,” Harun said. “There is something I wanted to ask you.”
“You sound very serious,” said Kousuda. “Ask, and I will answer…if I can.”
“What was it that decided you when you left the Unicorn clan to marry into the Crane?” Harun asked. “Did you worry about who and what you’d leave behind.”
Kousuda stroked his beard as he considered Harun’s question. “Can I ask what brought this up?”
“Moshi Janisha-sama told me about my father, Nakura,” Harun answered. “Why the Scorpion wanted him dead, and why they still haven’t forgotten.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t want this to be a problem for anyone anymore. And if I stayed here…”
“Then it wouldn’t be,” said Kousuda. He shook his head sadly. “Oh Harun, please don’t think you have to bear this alone.”
“But why should I burden anyone else with it?” Harun asked. “Out here with the Unicorn, it won’t be an issue any more. It will all be over.”
“Is this truly what you wish,” Kousuda.
“Yes, it is,” said Harun.
“I am also assuming you have found a way to do this,” said Kousuda. He poured them both some more tea. “Well, I will try to answer your question.” He took a sip of tea. “Now, let’s see…Was I concerned about who and what I was leaving behind to join the Crane? Not particularly. My immediate family were all dead, slain by the Onyx. My betrothed, slain by the Onyx.” He put down his teacup. “Sure, I had friends within the Unicorn, but no serious attachments. I didn’t even have a house and land anymore, they were destroyed by the Onyx. Though,” he smiled a little, at a memory. “I suppose I had brought some of it to court with me.”
Harun smiled as well. He knew the story of Kousuda’s gift of the painting to the Emperor. And once, years ago, he had even seen it.
“As for deciding to leave,” Kousuda continued, “it was hardly a choice. There was love, of course. There was Duty, our marriage binding a treaty between the Unicorn and the Crane. There was a chance to do more, to help the Crane fight against the Onyx. There was a future, with friends, family and opportunity.” He looked into his tea cup, then back up at Harun. His voice took on a more serious tone. “Harun, I feel as if this isn’t what you are looking for. I had nothing to lose, everything to gain. You, Harun, seem to be in the opposite position, just as your mother was. You know the tale from several perspectives by now. I can offer you another perspective on the matter: my own. Or, perhaps you would prefer insight regarding your current predicament.”
Harun thought about this, letting Kousuda’s words fall over him like water. And it seemed to quell the whirling thoughts in his mind, let them slow down and find a place to rest. Not to decide, bot yet, but at last to examine what was there.
“I think,” Harun said carefully, “I would like to hear your perspective on it, oji-san.”
Kousuda gave a sigh and took a sip of tea. “It was a tragic situation, much of how it came about you know so I won’t repeat it. What I will tell you,” Kousuda said, “is my own part in it, and how I tried to stop it.”
“You tried to stop it?” Harun asked.
“Yes, and I failed,” said Kousuda. He began his story. “Shosuro Megumi, she came to see me. She was one of the Scorpions that had come with the Unicorn to Shiro Mirumoto from the Burning Sands. Her daughter was Soshi Kazusa, the one who had challenged Nakura. Megumi spoke with me, an Ide and one who would be soon be marrying into another clan. She reminded me of the political implications of Yamada championing Nakura, that it would be seen as supporting Nakura's actions against the Scorpion, regardless if she won or lost, and that it would sully Scorpion-Unicorn relations. That even if victorious, her life, Nakura's life, and eventually your life would be would become examples of misfortune. Not so much as a threat, but that certain individuals of her clan might take this duty upon themselves.” He looked directly at Harun. “And from what you have just told me, this is what some of the Scorpion have done.”
Harun nodded.
“Harun, I will say this again: do not ever think you are alone in this,” Kousuda said. He then continued his story. “I entreated with Moto Chinua-ue to do something. He did not have the heart to deny the newly wed Yamada the right to represent her husband. I entreated with Nakura. He respectfully deferred to Yamada and Chinua's decisions. I entreated with Yamada, though she of course felt obligated to champion Nakura. And thus, nothing happened. The day of the duel came. Many members of court gathered to watch. Kazusa was known to be quite a skilled duellist, having defeated even Karasu I believe. Earlier, Yamada had told me that her strategy relied on surviving the first cut.” Kousuda winced a little. “Things were definitely not looking great. And then…well... she tried to disqualify the duel with what I had told her; that there was no winning in this matter. Of what I had relayed from the Scorpion. Some of the more honourable members simply left. The duel's officiator, the Mirumoto dojo sensei, he was furious. I entreated with Nakura one last time.” He was silent a moment. “And even now…I don't know if it was my words or Yamada's actions, or…” He looked at Harun. “It could have even have been you, Yamada told Nakura she was pregnant with you that morning.” He was quiet again. “But in the end, he stepped forward and renounced his right of champion. You know the rest.”
Harun looked down into his tea cup. His mind went back to last spring when he had been at Shiro Mirumoto. When he had stood in the duelling ring where his father Nakura had died. But there had been nothing there, nothing to mark where his life had changed so much before it had even begun.
But the question is, Harun though, what to do now?
“Harun,” said Kousuda, his voice cutting into Harun’s thoughts. “If you are thinking of leaving the Crane to join the Unicorn, do it for the right reason. Your mother did everything to make sure that her actions and Nakura’s actions would not be a burden on you. Karasu, myself and Kyoumi will make sure of that. We are your family, Yamada made sure you had one just as she did.”
Harun nodded in gratitude. “Thank you, oji-san,” he said. “What you’ve said, it has made things a lot clearer to me. Majid said I should take the time I have.”
Kousuda smiled. “Majid knows a lot more than what he says.”
“I know,” agreed Majid. “I think he enjoys it.”
“Indeed,” said Kousuda.
As they finished their tea, they heard the shouts of an argument coming from outside. Curious, Harun went to the door of the yurt just in time to see a bearded long-haired Moto sailing through the air and landing in the snow just in front of the yurt where the Lion were staying.
“What the?” Harun stepped out of the yurt, followed closely by Kousuda. He looked at the Moto, lying in the snow, then around to where he coulod have come from.
Kousuda laughed. “That’s Moto Kaidu,” he explained. “He has been coming around here for a number of nights, I guess now he has made his intentions known to Daigotsu Yukari. And Yukari,” he looked in the direction of the Spider Clan’s yurt,” has just given him her answer.”
Harun noticed that the door flap of the Spider yurt swayed a little, as if someone had just been there.
Moto Kaidu got to his feet and dusted the snow off. He smiled, he wasn’t angry, more like a little amused. He walked off, making a gracious bow at his audience as he left.
“Is there anyway of figuring the Moto out?” Harun asked.
“If there is,” Kousuda answered, “I have yet to learn it.”

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Fri Aug 04, 2017 5:41 am

In the Dojo of the Centre the next day, Harun and Kouta stood opposite each other on the tatami mat. Each had a practice bokken in his hand. Together, in perfect unison, they ran through the basic katas of the Kakita school just as they had at the academy. Each a mirror of the other.
They then came to a stop, their bokkens coming to a stop and crossing over with a clash. They then stood their silently for a moment, eyes locked.
Finally, Kouta spoke. “You’re off-form,” he accused.
“Off-form?” Harun frowned mockingly. “I’ll remind you, that it in the first round of the Iaijutsu tournament that was right here, that it was you who came off second-best.”
Kouta laughed. “Well, we could have a re-match, if you wish.”
“I do,” said Harun.
They took up their positions on the tatami mat, a few people stopped what they were doing and started to watch.
Harun took up the stance of Void, the position was familiar and reassuring. He looked Kouta up and down. Because they had trained together, Harun knew his flaws and strengths fairly well.
Then, after a long silent moment that seemed far longer, they struck. The two of them moving light lightning, striking at the same moment, the two bokkens clattering together with a crack.
In the silence that followed, came a laugh. They both turned to see Asuna.
“What’s so funny?” Harun demanded.
Asuna shook her head. “It’s hard to explain,” she told them.
Kouta politely excused himself after this, and shooting a lot back at Harun before he left the dojo.
“I wanted to talk to you,” said Harun, they walked together. “I have been thinking about…” His voice trailed off, looking at Asuna.
“Yes,” said Asuna with a smile. “So have I.” They walked along in silence for a few moments until they got to a quiet corner. “Tell me at least one thing, that this isn’t one of your courtly Crane games.”
“It’s not,” Harun said.
“Then what is it?” Asuna asked.
“I’m not sure,” Harun confessed. “But it has had me thinking. About the future…about…us?”
Us?” Asuna repeated. “Will there be an us?”
Harun looked her in the eyes. “Do you want there to be?”
“Do you?” Asuna countered.
Harun didn’t answer.
“Listen to me,” said Asuna, anger rising in her voice. “I think that we have a future together, Harun. I think that we could build a life together. Marriage, family. And it’s all there, I am offering it to you, all you need to do is take it.”
“I think there is more to it than that,” Harun said quietly.
“You would,” retorted Asuna, storming off.
Harun watched her go. It was so tempting to just go with it, so much easier. But Kousuda was right, if he was to do this it had to be for the right reasons.
So, he didn’t follow her. Instead, he sat on one of the tatami mats and watched people practice. Across the film he could see Yukari sparring with what appeared to be Moto Kaidu.
No, that can’t be right, Harun thought, she had him sprawling in the snow yesterday.
But it was. Harun watched the as two fought fiercely, with more than a few spectators. Yukari then knocked Kaidu to the ground with a mighty blow. The people cheered, but then something curious happened. Yukari stepped forward and helped Kaidu up, leaning close and speaking to him so that only he would hear. He looked at her in surprise as the crowd fell silent, but Yukari gave only shrug as if it were no consequence.
The people gathered around Kaidu, clapping him on the back and congratulating him. But Kaidu only had eyes for Yukari herself, watching her leave the dojo.

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Sun Aug 06, 2017 8:49 pm

Might as well put this up now. I'm currently writing the next chapter but my current priority is my game I'm running. Players sort of painted themselves into a corner


Two days passed without Harun seeing Asuna. Usually it was not hard to find her, or for Asuna to find him. But after the first day, he went to the Utaku camp looking for her. But when he asked about her, he was told she was not there and offered a cup of tea.
A third day passed with no word from her, and Harun started to worry. How badly had things gone? He had been honest with her as she had wanted, but was that too much? Should he write to her and apologise? She might dismiss it as one of his courtly Crane games. He went riding, hoping to see her but he didn’t. Dejected, he returned to the Shiro.
He was put his horse back in the stables and was just leaving the tenshukaku when he heard someone call out to him.
He looked around and saw Isanko calling to him. With her was a tall man who wore a fine silk kimono in the pale blue of the Crane. This could only be Doji Sorei, Isanko’s father and Haihime’s husband.
Harun approached them and made a low bow to the Crane kuge while Isanko made the introductions. Again, Harun marvelled at the poise and grace she showed for her age, and when Doji Sorei spoke it was clear where she had acquired it from.
With his perfect white hair and flowing delicate silks, Doji Sorei looked as if he would be more suited to the artisanal halls of Kyuden Doji or the Imperial Palace than the rough, horsey court of Shiro Moto. Yet Sorei had the curious ability to not only stand out in what seemed to be an unlikely place for him, but also looked as if her belonged there. As if somehow there were no place that he would not fit in.
“I was most fascinated by your contribution to the storytelling, Kakita-san,” said Sorei.
Harun made a slight bow in thanks. “Your words of praise mean much to me, Doji-sama,” he said. “Although my efforts were hardly compared with the more experienced storytellers. My art is with the sword, not with words.”
“I liked the story,” interjected Isanko. “But I prefer true stories.”
Sorei gave a little laugh. “I see you have taken your mothers words to heart, Isanko-chan,” he said. “Sometimes there is not much beauty in the truth.”
“How are you finding your accommodations here, Doji-sama?” Harun asked. “I myself found it rather difficult when I when I first arrived.”
“Yes, but you have adapted well,” said Sorei. “A commendable trait to have. However, I must confess that after a number of years in foreign lands, it is pleasing to see familiar ways again.”
“You did say you didn’t like the tea,” Isanko said. “You told mother that the Unicorn must use it to make their saddles.
“Yes, I did say that,” said Sorei with another laugh.
“I must agree with you on that,” said Harun with a smile.
Coming out of the tenshukaku was the ronin Kumo. He didn’t speak, didn’t approach but he did catch Sorei’s eye.
“Forgive me, Kakita-san, but I must my excuses,” Sorei said. “Duty waits, no matter where one finds oneself. It was a pleasure to meet you.”
“And you,” said Harun, bowing to Sorei and giving a small smile to Isanko.
The two walked off, soon Sorei and Kumo were deep in conversation as they made their way inside the tenshukaku.
Harun went back to his yurt. There was still no sign of Asuna. But at dusk, a letter arrived. He quickly tore it open, but it was not from her. The letter bore the mon of the Spider Clan.
The translucent white paper was delicately scented with vanilla. Accompanying it was a white carnation. The characters were carefully written, as if the writer paid close attention.

To Kakita Harun-san, Topaz Champion and son of the Emerald Champion Kakita Karasu-ue from Doji Sorei, husband of Haihime,


I very much enjoyed our conversation earlier today and wish to invite you to dine my wife Haihime and myself tomorrow evening. My wife also expresses a wish to meet you. Apparently, she has some acquaintance with your Unicorn mother.
I very much look forward to the honour of your company should you wish to join us.


Doji Sorei

A formal dinner with a Doji kuge and Kanpeki’s daughter. This was hardly a situation Harun expected to find himself in at the Moto court. He promptly penned a reply in acceptance and sent it off.
From his conversation earlier that day and the letter, Harun was beginning to form an impression of Doji Sorei. But of Haihime he knew very little. She kept mainly to herself and wasn’t seen at many of the events at court. Majid had seen her riding a few times, but that was about it.
But she knew my mother, Harun remembered, Moto Chinua said that they had been friends.
And that alone made Harun take more an interest.
At least at a formal dinner, Harun was in familiar territory. He knew what to do. All students at the Kakita Academy were versed in etiquette, how to prepare for and behave at formal events, the giving of gifts and making conversation. Harun visited one of the merchants to purchase appropriate gifts. He made sure his formal attire was ready. He bathed and trimmed his beard.
The next evening, Harun went in to the walls of Shiro Moto in his formal attire and ran into Majid who was coming out. The Moto’s hair was wild and loose, he wore only a leather tunic that was open at chest and had the arms free. The contrast between them couldn’t have been greater.
Majid laughed. “Where are you going all Craned up like that?”
“Dinner, I’ve been invited by Doji Sorei and Lady Haihime,” Harun answered.
“A formal Crane dinner, that’s one scorpion pit I will gladly forgo,” said Majid. “Listen, the Khan wishes to see us before we leave for the ritual.”
“It’s that soon?” Harun asked.
“Yes, days away,” said Harun. “He did suggest this evening, but I think he will change his mind when I tell him you are otherwise engaged.” He made a mock bow. “Until then, Niwa no Moto.”

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Sat Aug 12, 2017 10:45 pm

Harun ascended to the third floor of the tenshukaku and knocked on the door to the guest quarters. Opening the door for him was Isanko. She stepped back to allow him to enter.
“Good evening, Kakita-san,” Isanko said, making a formal bow. She wore a furisode of pale pink, it was decorated with many small spiders flying free on criss-crossing gossamer threads. Her white hair was lacquered into an elaborate formal style with a kanzashi bira-bira ornament just above her forehead that tinkled as she moved.
“Good evening, Isanko-san,” said Harun, returning the bow.
“We are most pleased to have you as our guest this evening,” she said, the words were spoken well if a little forced, as if she was reciting lines.
Inside, Isanko’s parents stood side by side. Sorei’s attire was of delicate silk of such a pale blue that it was almost white. Perhaps, a tribute to his wife’s clan. He offered Harun a bow.
Standing next to him was Kanpeki’s daughter, the Princess of Ashes, Haihime. She cut a striking figure. Not because of her clothes, her kimono and obi were of fine white silk but were plain to the point of being austere, her white hair styled simply without ornamentation. And it was not because of any grace or refinement in her face, Haihime’s features were not along the lines of conventional beauty. It was the sheer determination that seemed to radiate from her very being. The sheer force of her personality that imposed itself upon all in her presence. In her grey eyes, there was a fire and fierceness akin to a wild animal. But tamed, restrained, bridled and put to use.
Had Harun been expecting a woman with the grace and elegance of a courtier? If he was, he would find her quite different. Beneath that kimono, Haihime had the physique of an experienced warrior, with the scars to match.
Isanko formally introduced Harun to her parents, Haihime took this time to size Harun up.
“A pleasure to meet you, Haihime-sama,” said Harun, bowing low. “I have heard much about you.”
“Good or bad?” Haihime asked. “What you would have heard will depend on who you will have spoken to.”
“Good,” said Harun, a little taken aback by her abruptness. “Moto Chinua-ue told me that you knew my mother, Utaku Yamada.”
“Mmmm, yes,” said Haihime, her face looking a little more guarded.
The moment was a little awkward, but Harun saved it presenting the gifts he had brought. A fan decorated with some maxims of wisdom for Haihime, a box of some of the tea he had gotten from Kousuda for Sorei. The ritual of offerings and refusals of the gifts seemed to lighten the mood a little.
They then went to the table. Like most of the furniture in Shiro Moto, it was gaijin in origin, the top decorated with brightly coloured tiles. They all sat down on elaborately embroidered cushions and in the centre of the table some candles floated in an elaborately patterned glass bowl.
The first course was simple, aburaage parcels containing seasoned rice.
“There is something most curious that I wish to ask you, Kakita-san,” said Sorei, serving sake. “You won the Topaz Championship, quite a commendable achievement, but instead of seeking some high position you elect to go on your wandering year. May I ask why? It is, after all, quite unusual.”
“It is, Doji-sama,” said Harun. “But then, I am not exactly a ‘usual’ Crane.”
Sorei laughed gently, but Haihime followed this up with a question.
“Is that difficult?” Haihime asked. There was no concern in her voice, only curiosity.
“It was,” Harun admitted. “When I began my training at the Kakita Academy, I was met with some resistance.”
“From the sensei?” Isanko asked.
“No, from the other students,” said Harun. A memory flashed before his eyes if Hayate knocking him into a fishpond. “But I persevered, proving myself and things changed for the better.”
“yes, adversity builds strength, builds character,” said Haihime with a satisfied nod, catching her daughter’s eye.
Isanko looked down at the table, her on falling into place across her face.
The next course was brought out. As was tradition in a Rokugani kaiseki, it was sashimi. But this was sashimi that Harun had not seen before, both the flavour and texture were not familiar to him. Still, it was rather pleasant, Though Harun noticed Sorei only ate rice.
Later, Harun was dot discover that the sashimi he had eaten had not come from an unfamiliar fish, but rather was the meat of a lamb.
“Doji-sama, you said that you had recently returned from foreign lands,” said Harun/ “You must be one of the few Crane that can say so.”
“That may be true, but I hope it will not remain so,” said Sorei. “Perhaps one day you yourself will visit Zogeku as we have.”
“I hope so, I have heard much about the place from my Uncle Kousuda,” said Harun. “But I am most interested to hear of your experiences.”
Sorei made a slight motion towards his wife to see if she wished to speak. When it was clear that she did not, Sorei continued himself.
“We stayed some time with the Unicorn at Journey’s End Keep,” said Sorei. “Quite a few Unicorn travelled back with us from there. They certainly have made an impression in the years they have been there. It is curious mixture of both the old and the new.”
“I rather liked the Second City,” interjected Haihime. “So much of it is ruined.”
“Yes,” said Sorei. “We spent a very interesting afternoon navigating the temple district in the most unbearable heat.” He met Haihime’s eye, sharing the memory. Haihime gave a small smile.
“Doji Mushari, the Crane Ambassador, had a difficult task of bringing things to order,” Sorei continued. “But he is capable and up to the task.”
Haihime gave a sniff of disdain. “Herding all those tigers of the Summer Court.”
Sorei smiled. “Yes, perhaps I will just say that the distance between Rokugan and Zogeku had somewhat affected the virtues of decorum and courtesy.”
“You need not go too far for that,” said Harun. He nodded to the window where they could see down to outside the walls of the Shiro. Some Unicorn were wrestling bare-chested in the snow to a large and encouraging crowd.
Doji Sorei averted his eyes, placing a hand over his face so Harun couldn’t see him blushing scarlet. Haihime laugh, a real laugh that changed her whole face and seemed to take away some of her sternness and seriousness.
“I knew it was not a mistake to come here,” she said. “There is something so refreshingly honest about the Unicorn. None of the games, and they are not afraid to be themselves.”
Harun nodded. “I completely agree,” he said.
“Your mother once told me, Kakita-san, that the less you say in court, the less someone else can say against you,” said Haihime, she paused thoughtfully, remembering. “That must have been that winter in Otosan Uchi after you were born. I have not seen her since, and I miss her company.”
“Tell me how you knew her,” Harun said.
“Well, I don’t think she even wanted to know me first,” Haihime said. “But, we kept seeing each other and I was curious about her and the Unicorn, they were so different from what I knew. She didn’t tell me anything at first, but then she came to me and apologised.”
“Apologised?” Harun raised an eyebrow in surprise.
“Yes, she said she had misjudged me,” Haihime said. “She was not the only one to do that, but she was one of the few who spoke so plainly about it, and I liked that.” She paused, remembering, her face softening a little. “After that, we went riding a few times, the Mirumoto sensei tested me against her in the dojo. That was memorable. And we had quite a few talks about bushido, as she understood it.” She looked at Harun. “I spoke with one of the Akodo samurai there about it, I forget his name, but for all the traditions of his clan he couldn’t make what he said interesting. Or relevant.”
“Was it that the duel that my mother faced that made it more relevant?” Harun asked.
Haihime nodded. “To stand up and defend another’s life with your own? It seemed a lot more real when it was actually going to happen.”
“It is the duty of every samurai,” Haihime-sama,” said Harun solemnly.
“So, I have been told,” said Haihime.
The servants brought the next course. Orange-coloured chicken with rice and mint leaves. The chicken gave off a pungent smell of spices. There was also a plate of flatbread as well as small bowls of green sauce placed near each other their place settings.
“Is this something from Zogeku?” Harun asked.
“Yes, they call it tandoori,” said Sorei. “It is a little like yakitori.”
Harun noticed Sorei didn’t eat much, but Haihime and Isanko did not show such hesitation.
Perhaps he is not very hungry, thought Harun. He tried a piece, not knowing what to expect.
He was met immediately by a sensation of heat, like a fire lit inside his mouth. Tears well in the corner of his yes and it was a struggle to keep his face straight. He swallowed quickly hoping that would help. It didn’t.
He tried some sake, it didn’t do anything to douse the flames.
Isanko met Harun’s eyes silently across the table. There was a flicker across her face as if she was trying to supress a laugh. She nodded to the small bowl of green sauce at Harun’s place setting. He saw Sorei tear off a piece of bread and dip it in the sauce. Harun did the same, the sauce was sour and flavoured with mint, but it provided the cooling effect he needed.
When he looked up he met Haihime’s eyes. She had watched the whole thing with barely veiled curiosity. Then she went back to her meal.
Had he passed some sort of test? Harun wasn’t sure, and he wasn’t sure if he measured up in her eyes or even how she was measuring him.

“I’m not sure I would like it,” said Kouta, when they practiced in the dojo the next day, “Dinner with Kanpeki’s daughter, now that sounds more an ordeal than some fiery foreign food.”
“It didn’t take me long to see that Lady Haihime is not her father,” said Harun.
“Then what is she like?” Kouta asked.
Harun paused mid-kata. “I am not sure I do know,” he said. “She has a formidable presence, that is apparent at first glance. And I know she doesn’t have patience for court games and trickery. But here husband…”
“…is a consummate Doji,” finished Kouta. “I have heard my father speak of him. Perhaps next time I will pay attention.”
They practiced in silence for a few minutes. “One thing I can tell you,” said Kouta. “Her daughter Isanko is to be betrothed to the Emperor’s oldest son.”
“Kisteki?” Harun asked. They had known him from the Kakita Academy. He and Arahime’s brother Masarugi were inseparable.
“It’s all arranged,” said Kouta. “My father got it from Chancellor Ide Meiryo. It should be at the Imperial court next winter, wherever that will be.”
Harun’s thoughts whirled as they practiced. So Isanko was the future Empress of Rokugan, and she was clearly being groomed for it. She was only nine years old. Did she know of what was in front of her? Knowing Haihime, Isanko probably did.

Harun still had not heard from Asuna, and it was not for a lack of trying. The Utaku camp knew him by sight now and he didn’t even have to speak before they turned him away.
Finally, in desperation, Harun wrote a letter. None of the flowery prose he had been taught at the Kakita Academy would be of any use here. What Asuna appreciated most of all was frankness.


It has been quite a few days since we have spoken. I wish to convey my sincerest apologies for any slight or insult that my words have actions have caused you.
I know I have expressed myself badly, but I have come to care for you as a friend and perhaps even a potential life companion.
However, I also wish to be honest with you and not deceive you in any way about any potential future we have together. I decision to marry you, to join your clan and family and to leave my own is not one that I take lightly. Mainly, because I do not wish for any unhappiness for you for the world.
I would very much like to see you again, though I understand completely if you do not. I very much enjoyed our time together and I wish you only happiness for the future.
But please, I very much wish to speak with you.


Kakita Harun

The letter was written on plain white paper with no scents or ornaments whatsoever. His words would speak for her much better than any Crane frippery. He entrusted the letter to a shiotome at the Utaku camp and left without asking to see her.
What happened next was entirely in Asuna’s hands.

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Wed Aug 16, 2017 9:32 am

The night was cool but not cold, no snow had fallen that day so it was not much to clear the courtyard so people could sit around the stage. There was food and drink available, a little more traditional since it was the Scorpion hosting. A gong then sounded and everyone then began to take seats on the cushions around the stage.
Harun took a seat in front of the stage with the official guests, next to him was Kouta and a few places down he could see Isanko sitting with Sorei and Janisha. Haihime was nowhere to be seen, but this seemed only a small surprise to Harun. He had heard a little about the play that the Scorpion were to put on. Sozoku, it was called, a mungen or ghost play. And it’s subject, the death of Kanpeki. So Harun hardly blamed her if she wanted to avoid people’s stares.
A hush fell over the crowd as the chorus, musicians and stage hands took up their places on the stage. The flutist and drummer began to play, and the chorus joined in with low moans and shouts. Then at the end of the bridge that connected to the back of the stage, the striped curtain was raised and the play began.
Emerging slowly and deliberately onto the bridge was a female figure. Her mask was of white and plain apart from her red lips, she had long black hair that cascade down her back and in front of her shoulders. Her clothing was in the exaggerated, oversized style of noh, a red furisode with a black obi and haori jacket. In one hand, emerging from the overly large sleeve she held a folded fan.
She was the waki, Harun knew, the traveller who would set the world of the play for the audience.
Harun had seen a fair few noh plays in his time at the Kakita Academy. He had even acted as a stagehand in one production the artisan students were putting on. And he knew well the decorum expected by an audience. That decorum was shattered by the wild applause and cheering of the Unicorn.
Kouta turned to Harun, scandalised. “Even when they like something civilised, they can’t even like it in a civilised way.”
Harun laughed quietly to himself, his smile hidden in his beard. He had been shocked by the outburst, but at least he had had prior warning.
The noise died down and the waki proceeded slowly across the bridge to the centre of the stage. There she stood stiffly and began to sing in the elongated and stilted way of noh.
“I am Kaiko, a daughter of Bayushi,” she sang, holding her fan out from her body so that her long sleeve draped down rom her side and almost touched the floor. “I come to this shrine, far from my homeland to honour my ancestors.”
She sang about her and the Scorpion Clan’s exile in the “land of sand and jewels” which was far from Rokugan and where the “voices of the kami were faint”. She sang of the journey of the Scorpion across the Burning Sands, driven into exile like their ancestors had been. And she sang of her father, Bayushi Nitoshi the Poison Mask, and of the Scorpion left behind.
“Forced they were, to take up the taint of Jigoku,” she sang. “Slaves to madness, slaves to corruption. Such sacrifice, they waited until the time to emerge and act.”
She then opened her fan and began to dance, slowly, stiffly. The drumbeats steady and slow as Kaiko moved. She opened her fan and extended it out from her, turning it in her hands as she turned. Then, at a loud drumbeat she froze.
“What is that I see?” She slowly turned on the spot and turned to look at the bridge as the curtain at the end lifted and a figure in black and red could be seen in the shadows. “Out of the shadows I see a face. Is this the face of my father?” She sang, then turned back to face the audience, looking down so her mask looked sad. “Years since I have seen him, he died before I could glimpse his face once more. Is this my grief that I see him? Or is this his spirit who has not found rest?”
Kaiko moved to the front corner of the stage and knelt beside the pillar. She kept her fan raised, hiding the lower half of her face.
Then from backstage, the shite or protagonist emerged to the ecstatic delight of the Unicorn in the audience. The shite wore several layers of clothing in black and red patterned with scorpions. In one hand he carried a folded fan. His hair was long, black and wild. He wore a mask, but it only covered the lower half of his face.
The Poison Mask, Harun realised. It could only be the former Champion of the Scorpion, Bayushi Nitoshi.
He moved along the bridge and to the stage to the playing of the music and the chanting of the chorus. Slowly, deliberately he moved onto the stage and froze there as the music stopped. For a moment, they stood there in silence.
“Daughter, it has been years since I have glimpsed your face,” Nitoshi sang, his voice low and droning beneath his mask. “I walk in torment; my spirit will not rest. I come to you to confess my failure.”
“Your failure?” Kaiko asked.
“My failure,” repeated Nitoshi.
He began to sing about his time in the Onyx Empire, close to the Onyx Throne and always waiting, waiting for right time to strike. Seeing those corrupted by the taint around them. And then, when finally acting to kill Kanpeki, he had failed.
“Father, tell me how you have acted,” said Kaiko. “Tell me how you failed. Tell me how you died.”
There came a shout from the chorus and a loud single drumbeat. Nitoshi moved to the other pillar at the front of the stage and dropped to one knee. Two stagehands carried out a small dais and placed it at the back of the stage in front of the musicians.
The drumbeats then picked up pace, the flute trilled and the chorus chanted and sand. They sang of the Onyx Empire, of the taint, the corruption and the treachery that lay at its heart. They sang of the calamities that had swept Rokugan. Of war, famine, rebellion and pestilence. Of the blighting of the land and the viciousness of the oni hordes that ravaged the land.
And then, as the drumbeats grew faster and faster, the curtain was raised. And Kanpeki emerged.
There was boos and hisses from the Unicorn when he appeared. Harun almost felt like joining in, but he noticed Kouta disapproved.
Kanpeki wore a horned mask of stark, shining white with wild white hair that stuck out in all directions and cascaded down his back. He wore a number of layers of black, purple and silver clothing decorated with patterns of spiders. He moved slowly across the bridge as was tradition. But once he was onstage, Kanpeki immediately went into a fast -paced dance to the rapid drumbeat.
He turned on the spot, moving his arms so his long sleeves swayed and turned, he turned again, whipping his head around faster so his hair flew out from him. It was impressive dancing, some of the best Harun had seen. And yet, he found himself smiling with amusement.
“What?” Kouta asked, seeing Harun grinning. “What is so funny?”
“Imagine if that was the real Kanpeki,” Harun said, “and he really danced like that.”
Kouta found it hard to keep a straight face.
Harun looked along the crowd to where Isanko was sitting. She was watching the play with an unreadable expression, turning and asking Janisha and her father a question.
What does she think? Harun wondered. After all, that is her grandfather up there…
Kanpeki stopped in his dancing and stepped back onto the dais, sitting down on a stood that was brought by the stagehands. He began to sing of the Onyx Empire itself, his “image of perfection” and “triumph of Jigoku”. The chorus joined in with chants and wails, repeating some of his words.
Then, when the song ended and after a long silence, Nitoshi started forward. He began to dance, the chorus chanting and the drums beating loud and fast. Nitoshi extended his closed fan out. Stroking it with his other hand.
"He acts now with the poison...the poison..." chanted the chorus.
He then brought the fan up high as he closed in on Kanpeki, the drums beating faster and faster.
“This I do,” he said, “for the souls of the children of Bayushi.”
At a loud dramatic drumbeat, Kanpeki reached out and caught the fan. A shocked gasp ran through the audience, and it wasn’t just the Unicorn.
“No,” Kanpeki said, his deep voice clear and loud. “This is your failure, I knew you would betray me.”
With loud shouts and rapid drums, Kanpeki brought the fan down on Nitoshi. Nitoshi collapsed to his knees, raising his hands above his head so his long sleeves hid his face.
There was another drumbeat and shout and the lights were doused, plunging the stage into darkness. Kanpeki quickly left the stage, the stage hands carrying the dais close behind him.
When the lights were lit again, Nitoshi was standing in the middle of the stage. He looked down, his long fringe hiding much of his face. Kaiko rose from her kneeling position and approached her father.
Nitoshi threw out an arm, so his long sleeve hid his face.
“You cannot look upon me,” he said. “You know my failure. My failure that caused Kanpeki to turn on our clan. Many died for my failure, I do not wish that for you, my daughter.”
"But father, you did not fail," she said. There was a moment of silence the. She spoke again. "The poison, it did not kill Kanpeki, but it weakened him. It prepared the way for me to inherit your burden."
She moved her fan to her side to uncover her face. There was a long silence while they stood their frozen on the stage.
“Fortunes be praised I have such a daughter,” Nitoshi said.
He uncovered his face and moved his hand to one side, a stage hand put a spear into it. It was decorated with black, white and red tassels.
“My daughter, I bequeath this to you so you will succeed,” he sang, holding the spear high above his head. “The Spear of Emma-O.”
“The Spear of Emma-O,” the chorus echoed.
“The Spear of Emma-O,” repeated Nitoshi. “I bequeath to you, so you will succeed where I did not.”
Kaiko knelt and there was a loud shout and clash of drums as Nitoshi gave the spear to her. Kaiko held the spear out and bowed low with her forehead touching the floor. There was a final shout and the strike of a drum and the play was over.
It was traditional when the actors left the stage for them to be applauded with the appropriate restraint. The Unicorn showed no such restraint, applauding loudly and cheering heartily. Harun joined and, when he looked beside him, Kouta did too.

Once the play was finished, the crowd began to disperse. Some left to return to the camp, some stayed for the food and the music and dancing that was starting up.
Harun scanned the crowd for Majid. They were supposed to meet with Chinua afterwards. He came across Isanko though, standing with her father and Janisha. She saw Harun and waved to him, so he went to her.
“Did you like the play?” Harun asked. He nodded in greeting to Sorei and Janisha as they talked.
“I did,” Isanko said. “But why didn’t they show what really happened?”
Harun smiled. “They never do, Isanko-san,” he said. “They want to tell a good story.”
“Well, I don’t agree with it,” Isanko said. “Father was telling me that the playwright never lived to see it performed.”
“That’s very sad,” Harun said.
“Yes, it is,” said Janisha, suddenly joining their conversation. “Good to see you, Harun, but it is time we all retired for the evening.”
Harun bid them goodnight and they quickly left before he could ask any questions. Had Janisha looked a little worried there? Harun wasn’t sure, and he didn’t have much time to wonder before Majid found him.
“So, Niwa no Moto, do you like the play?” he said.
“I did, and I know the Unicorn did as well,” Harun laughed.
They walked into the tenshukaku together.

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Sun Aug 20, 2017 10:44 pm

The Khan’s loft on the top floor of the tenshukaku afforded a beautiful view from the balcony. Below the great plains of the Field of the Winds in the moonlight, the many lights of the campfires glinting like little stars.
Moto Chinua’s chambers themselves were rather austere, the furnishings and décor were relatively simple compared to the gaudiness shown in the Great Hall. The walls had a few captured war banners, one of which Majid told him later was the Dark Moto Daigoro’s.
In pride of place on a pedestal draped in purple silk was an exotic-looking katana that had a hilt that resembled a Unicorn horn. This was Enginoshi, the Celestial Sword of the Unicorn, gifted to the first Moto Gaheris by Lord Sun. Majid told Harun afterwards, as well as the tradition that every Khan since the first Gaheris had eschewed using it in favour of a scimitar. Moto Naleesh, Majid told Harun, had given Engnoshi to Chinua before the crystal had completely encased her.
Chinua was dictating to a scribe when Majid and Harun arrived. The scribe was quickly dismissed.
“Harun, Majid, please,” Chinua said, inviting them to sit with him at the table.
Tea was brought with the customary bowl of jerky. Chinua pored it himself, holding his hands stiffly to hide how they shook.
“So, Harun,” said Chinua, taking some of the jerky. “What do you think of my court?”
“I think, the Unicorn put on a grand show, my lord,” said Harun. “And I think that those who have not experienced it will be deprived. I certainly will remember my time here.”
“Anything particularly?” Chinua asked.
“Well…” Memories danced before Harun’s eyes. Asuna dancing with her blade…the alien yet comforting sounds of the throat singers…the Moto wrestling bare-chested in the snow…”I think, perhaps what I will remember most is seeing such honesty and candour in celebration. The Crane aim for perfection and honour tradition, but the Unicorn…they are not afraid to be who they are.”
Majid nodded in agreement.
“Is this who you are Harun?” Chinua asked. “Do you wish to stay here? To join us in taking back our ancestral lands as your mother would have?”
Harun was silent a moment. He should have known such a question was coming. Chinua could even have gotten Majid to try and convince him to stay. He still hadn’t answered the question for himself yet, but what could he tell the Champion of the Unicorn?
“I know that that is not all of who I am,” Harun said carefully. “But I also know whichever way I choose, to stay here or to leave, there will always be a part of me that will regret not choosing the other.” He paused again. “That, my lord, is the only answer I can give you right now.”
Forever afterwards, Harun would wonder what Chinua was thinking then. Did Chinua accept what Harun had said? Did he accept Harun’s honesty? Harun wasn’t sure then and thought long about it afterwards.
They talked of other things then, Chinua was jovial and didn’t mention the subject at all. But Harun couldn’t feel that he had disappointed Chinua in some way. Disappointed him as his mother Yamada had done before him.
My mother had to do what she had to do, Harun thought, and so do I.

The night had turned cold when Harun was making his way back to his yurt. An icy wind fluttered the flags and walls of the tents. The warmth inside his own yurt was comforting. Harun removed his cloak and came face to face with Asuna.
He startled. “Asuna…I”
She put a single finger to his lips. With her hair in braids and her eyes wide and star-like she looked like a young girl.
“Harun, forgive me,” she said, her voice was soft and low.
“Of course,” he said.
She took his hand.

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Tue Aug 22, 2017 10:02 pm

Harun woke the next morning in a daze. Had it really happened? Were her gentle kisses, her soft touch, her warm embrace a dream? He only had to turn to see Asuna there sleeping beside him, her naked shoulder just visible above the fur felts and woollen blankets. He smiled at her, not daring to move in case he woke her. She looked so innocent, so vulnerable as she slept.
The night before she had shown a different side to herself. A gentleness and tenderness he didn’t know she possessed. Things would change, of that much he was sure but of how he could only guess. Whether he stayed or left, he had tasted paradise, and nothing would be the same after that.
A thought, unbidden, came into his mind. What about Arahime? But he dismissed the thought, Arahime was far away from here.
Asuna turned, opening her eyes and smiling at Harun. She reached out a hand to gently touch his face.
“You surprise me, Asuna,” Harun teased. “I didn’t know battle maidens could be so gentle.”
She smiled again. “There is no war inside here, Harun. Just us. This where we can truly be ourselves wherever we are.” She looked longingly at him for a long moment. “This is the life I offer you.”
Harun looked at her, after last night he knew her in a way he had not known anyone else. “You’re proposing again? Even after all that I have said to you?”
Asuna nodded. “I didn’t think it would be right not to after we did.” She sat up, pulled the furs up to her chest. Her hair was a tangle of braids around her face. She looked so beautiful and wild. “I need to ask you something,” she said seriously. “I think I know why you have been so…hesitant. Is…is there someone else?”
Harun couldn’t lie to her. He nodded.
Asuna’s face was an expressionless mask. “Tell me about her.”
So Harun told Asuna about Arahime. Who she was, what it was like, what it was like to grow up at the Kakita Academy with her. Smiled as he spoke of her, described her, almost forgetting that Asuna was there.
“You love her,” said Asuna simply. Harun started to object but she shook her head. “You love her, Harun. You can’t let her go, that’s why you won’t say yes to me.” Her voice trailed off, wrought with emotion.
“Asuna…no…” Harun reached for her, but she turned away from him and pushed him back.
“I was hoping that you cared enough for me if not to forget her, but to at least look past her to what I was offering you.” She turned to him, her face cold with fury. “You know it’s not going to happen, Harun. She’s Crane and she’s kuge. She’s never going to marry you, she’s nothing more than a commodity to her clan. She is going to be traded away like a sack of rice.”
“I know,” said Harun, “and yet…”
“And yet, you continue in this foolishness,” said Asuna. She stood up and began to put on her clothes. “I am offering you life that is your own, Harun. A life free with the people of your blood. But that isn’t enough for you, is it?”
“Asuna, I’m sorry,” Harun said. “I can’t be any less than what I am.”
She scowled at him. “And while you are sitting here dithering, the rest of us have a war to fight.”
She left the yurt, cold with anger. Harun let her go.

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Wed Aug 23, 2017 7:28 am

Several days passed which were fortunately busy so Harun didn’t have time to think too much about what had happened with him and Asuna. There was another feast under the stars, this time the dancing a lot more informal spontaneous. There was also a “poetry evening” in one of the chomchog tents that involved copious amounts of kave and hashish.
Several times, Harun saw Asuna, but she would walk away before he could get any closer. Of Chinua, he saw nor heard nothing.
With Majid there seemed to be no change, what thoughts he had he kept to himself.
Then one morning, just as the remaining days of court were getting into single figures, a letter arrived at Harun’s yurt. It was on purple paper with the mons of the Unicorn and Moto on it. Harun read it, dropped it in shock, then read it again.

The Unicorn Clan would be honoured to request the presence of Kakita Harun at the wedding of Moto Kaidu to Daigotsu Yukari.

There followed details of the ceremony to be at the Shrine of Hikahime three days from now with a celebration to follow.
This wasn’t a complete surprise to Harun, he had seen Moto Kaidu playing court to Yukari who had not been completely reluctant to receive him. But marriage? Was Yukari joining the Moto family?
Yukari’s own words on the night that he met her came back to him. If I were you and I’d have the chance to stay here, I’d take it.
If this was the case, then then it was strange to be marrying to another clan. Harun knew the Spider Clan rarely did this, they were not a big clan so people generally married in. He said as much to Majid when they went riding later that day.
“Yes, from what I heard of the negotiations this came up several times,” Majid said. “Kaidu is my mother’s brother, he told me that the Khan wants to strengthen the Unicorn’s ties with the Spider, so some Moto are going to marry into the Spider.” He perked up a little. “And, he’s asked me to officiate as well as help with the Capturing.”
Harun looked at Majid with alarm. The Moto laughed.
“It’s a Unicorn tradition going back to our days of wandering,” Majid explained. “A Unicorn captures his bride on horseback and then they ride to the shrine to be wed.”
Harun laughed as well. “The Utaku do this too?”
“No, with the Utaku is the other way around,” Majid said. “You know, they still talk at Shiro Mirumoto about your mother Yamada’s wedding? It would be hard to forget a cavalcade of Unicorn in full regalia riding down the mountain. The Khan rode with her as well.”
Harun smiled, though he wished he had known that when he had been at Shiro Mirumoto.
“So, will we be seeing something of the like?” Harun asked.
Majid nodded. “But much bigger, the Moto will be out in force but there aren’t that many Spider to give chase. So, you’ll have to help with that.”
“Give chase?” Harun asked.
Majid laughed again. “Surely, you don’t think she will give up without a fight?”

On the day of the wedding. Harun turned up at the guest camp in his formal attire, leading his horse. There was a festive mood around the camp. There were some drinks being served, people stood around in festive clothing. But the bride was nowhere to be seen.
Kousuda came over to greet Harun, the former Ide wore a purple obi with his Crane attire. Harun laughed to see it and Kousuda grinned back at me.
“I see you have dressed for the occasion,” said Harun. “Majid told me what to expect, but to me it sounds an awful lot like kidnapping.”
Kousuda laughed. “I was there when your mother “kidnapped” your father,” he said. “He went easily, I doubt Yukari will.”
“Did this happen at your wedding?” Harun asked, taking a drink.
Kousuda shook his head. “Kyoumi thought it rather shocking, Yamada and I had a laugh about it though.” He stroked his beard absently. “Not everyone shares the Unicorn’s sense of humour.”
At the sound of thundering hooves, they turned to look.
“I think,” said Kousuda, putting down his cup, “that this comedy is about to begin.”
The Moto rode into the camp in a mass, Kaidu in the lead with Moto Tengri beside him. Kaidu was dressed in a sleeveless leather deel that left his arms bare and revealed a lot of his chest. He wore a purple obi tied at one side patterned in gold with gaijin designs, attached to it was his scimitar.
He leapt from his horse and bounded towards the tents.
“I have come for the bride,” he announced.
Kousuda stepped into his path, holding his fan as one would a sword. Smiling widely with amusement. “What sort of uncivilised boor are you invading our camp with your unruly horde.” His tone was loud and mocking, he knew his part and he played it well. “Be gone with you, I say!” He brandished his fan like he was cutting with a blade.
The Moto laughed at Kousuda’s defiance, then laughed harder when Kaidu pushed Kousuda aside as if he was of no consequence. Kousuda landed hard in the snow, laughing as he got to his feet.
Kaidu looked from tent to tent as an invading brigand might. Then from one yurt, the flap moved and Yukari emerged. She wore a white kimono patterned with spider webs.
“You came for me?” Yukari spat, her voice loud and scornful. “What makes you think I will come with you willingly?” She turned with a sniff and went back into the yurt.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Kaidu bellowed, striding into the tent after her.
There were sounds of a scuffle, shouting and the breaking of china, then Kaidu came out with his arms firmly about his bride, pinning her arms firmly to her sides. She fought his grip, cursing and shouting as he half-dragged, half-carried her to his horse.
“Daigotsu’s black bones, you’re a real brute!” Yukari shouted.
“I’m sorry Yukari,” shouted Harun over the laughter. “We are just too overwhelmed by this vicious Moto horse!”
Kaidu let Yukari go and she turned around and punched him square in the eye. A great cheer went up through the crowd as Kaidu staggered back, stunned.
“This fair maiden is wild and untamed!” declared Kaidu. “A fine prize of war!” He grabbed Yukari and threw her over his shoulder.
“I’ll show you fair maiden!” Yukari shouted, kicking and punching him as he tried to keep hold of her.
Kaidu only laughed, putting her on the saddle and gently helping her put her feet in the stirrups. The Moto then started to move off and everyone else started to saddle up.
“We will not let this stand!” Kousuda shouted, shaking his fist in mock outrage. “You have stolen a rare and delicate flower from our midst and this will be answered for.”
Kaidu only laughed, turning his horse and leading the Moto horse off. Kousuda mounted his horse and led their group off in pursuit, Harun and all the rest following.
The Moto cut a full gallop once out on the open plains, Kousuda leading the group behind them. Harun rounded their group to get to the front to ride beside Kousuda. Kousuda glanced across at him, Harun grinned back. It was like when he and Kyoumi used to visit at the Kakita Academy. They would go riding, Kyoumi riding her horse sedately and carefully, Kousuda and Harun steadily racing until Arahime galloped ahead.
The rounded the walls of Shiro Moto, people were gathered up on the walls and waving to them as they passed. Gradually, as they rounded the final corner and approached the gate, the Moto slowed so that the two groups of riders intermingled. Making his way through the crowd, Harun could see Kaidu and Yukari riding ahead. He was whispering something in her ear, and she was laughing.

The ceremony in the shrine of Hikahime was surprisingly traditional. The only difference was that instead of cups of sake, Kaidu and Yukari passed cups of kumis between them. Majid presided over the ceremony, wearing the white robes of the Moto priests, with none of his usual jokes. Finally, as Majid was saying the final prayers, the Zogeku delegates who were Yukari’s attendants assisted her taking off the white outer kimono, revealing the red one underneath.
Majid then tied the red cord between them, symbolising their new union. Kaidu smiled down at his new wide, now Moto Yukari. Yukari gave a tight smile, half her gaze on the door to the shrine. She was happy, but was also looking towards the door as if she couldn’t wait for the ceremony to be over.
The newlyweds were then escorted on horseback back to the camp where the celebrations were beginning. Plenty of meat, music and kumis. Once the horses were put away, the party was in full swing. Kumis, sake and shochu were passed around, they danced around the fires to the beat of drums, moaning along with the throat singers.
Dizzy from the music and dancing, Harun even tried some of the meat from the grill. A lot of the evening was blurry, but there were a few things he remembered that day. Kouta, arm wrestling with the Moto. Zetsubou, under the influence shochu, explaining in elaborate detail why the Lion clans wear yellow. A very giggly and wobbly Yukari being escorted back to her tent by her new husband, who was back at the party a moment later for another round of drinking.
Harun found himself lying on a pile of cushions, looking up at the night sky. The next thing he knew it was morning. His hair and beard were covered with frost that had fallen during the night. The sun was shining, the sky was perfectly clear.

Majid intercepted Harun as she was staggering back to his tent for more sleep. The Moto was walking along with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. Harun glared at him. How could he look so sprightly now?
“Don’t worry, I’m not staying,” Majid said reassuringly. “But I’m telling you now that we will be leaving tomorrow to head west. Me, you and Zetsubou.”
“It’s time?” asked Harun.
Majid nodded. “At dawn, two days from now we will attempt to cleanse the land. And we hope that the heavens will favour us.”

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Fri Aug 25, 2017 8:22 am

Okay, feel I just have to say this.

Tonight, someone dies. :(


Harun was silent more a long time, trying to find the words to express what had happened. He could feel his emotion rising, overcoming him. He took a long sip of tea and a few deep breaths.
“My apologies, sensei,” said Harun. “This part of what happened, it’s difficult to talk about. I’m not doing much credit to all the court training we were given.”
Kenshin nodded silently.
Harun cleared his throat, took another sip of tea and continued.
“We rode west for most of the day, following the river,” said Harun. “There were just the three of us, and a few guards.”
“Was there still threat from the Onyx?” Kenshin asked.
Harun shook his head. “Not really, but there weren’t not about to risk everything when we were so close.” He took another sip of tea. “The Unicorn had been making aids all winter, in preparation for pushing on further west in the spring. But it would all be for nothing if Majid and Zetsubou failed…”

They arrived at the place as the sun was setting, Harun could see the light fading across the endless plains. Harun stood there a moment, enjoying the atmosphere. At least, until Majid told him to stop dawdling and help set up the camp.
Between them and the guards there were four yurts. Two for the people and two for the horses Zetsubou helped them set them up before going down to river while Majid and Harun saw to the food. Rice as well as chicken skewers cooked over the fire with flatbread and hummus. When it was ready they all sat down sat around the fire, eating what they could which wasn’t much. The guards spoke, but for Majid, Harun and Zetsubou tension hanging over them was palpable and there was little talk.
When it too cold to remain outside, Harun and Zetsubou went into the yurt and Majid went to see to the horses. Harun pulled his cloak close around him, sitting close to the porcelain brazier next to Zetsubou who was deep in thought.
“Harun,” said Zetsubou at last, “I’ve wanted to tell you for some time how grateful I am to have you here.”
“Thank you, Zetsubou,” said Harun.
“I think you know by now how much danger we could be in,” said Zetsubou.
“Danger of failing?” Harun asked.
“No, I don’t think we will fail,” said Zetsubou, shaking his head. “The danger is to us, or rather to Majid and myself.” He looked at Harun. “It’s hard to explain, but you need to be ready to act.”
“To do what, Zetsubou?” Harun asked, a little worried.
“To kill me,” Zetsubou said quietly.
Harun looked at Zetsubou in shock. “Surely…”
“Harun,” said Zetsubou seriously, “Majid and I have discussed this many times once we knew what we needed to do. We aren’t talking about a blood sacrifice, this isn’t blood magic. But strange things do happen during powerful magic rituals. I might…not be myself, something might happen to me.” He looked at Harun solemnly. “I need you to promise me you will kill me before that happens…”
“Harun, promise me!”
Harun bowed his head. “I promise.”
“Thank you,” said Zetsubou with a nod. “There is one more thing that I need to say to you, in the event of my death—“
“In the event of my death,” Zetsubou repeated patiently, “I have prepared papers back in my tent for you to carry out. My instructions are clear. I also want you to go and see my brother, Akodo Kibo in Shiro sano Ken Haya in Lion Lands. He will need friends and I know it will help him to see you.”
Harun felt a little sick talking to Zetsubou about this, plans for his death. But a samurai must always be ready for his death.
“I promise,” Harun said. “What about your family?”
“Majid will see to that,” Zetsubou said quietly. “We have known each other for years, since the second seal. It will be better coming from him.”
Harun nodded gravely. “I hope that neither of us have to do any of this.”
“So do I,” said Zetsubou. “But as Akodo-no-kami said, we all must be ready for our deaths.”

The evening might have been pretty dour had Majid not returned then and livened things up. They passed around some sake, played shogi—Majid even gave Harun a quick lesson. Majid then got out a set of pipes and began to play, a lilting airy tune that was rather soothing.
Afterwards, when Majid was asleep. Harun and Zetsubou sat at the tent door watching the snow fall, they were rugged up warm and the porcelain heater was that their backs. Zetsubou was silent, pensive.
“Harun,” Zetsubou said after a long silence, “is it true that you are considering staying here in Unicorn lands? Perhaps becoming a Unicorn yourself?”
“It is, or rather was,” said Harun.
“Was? You have decided to leave?”
“Not exactly,” said Harun. He told Zetsubou the whole story, delicately skipping over the parts with Asuna and hoping that Zetsubou understood what he was implying.
“Harun,” Zetsubou said when he had finished. “Have I told you what you mother wanted out of her life? What drove her?”
Harun shook his head.
“There were many things,” Zetsubou said. “She wanted the happiness of a family that had been taken from her, wanted to return home, to the steppes of the Unicorn plains…but she gave all those up those after you were born for a different purpose, so that you and others could have those things…and others.” He looked at Harun. “Something tells me that you are looking for a purpose, is this true?”
Harun nodded.
“Have you found it yet?” Zetsubou asked, his lion eyes shining with understanding and kindness.
“No,” said Harun, “I am starting to wonder if I ever will.”
“Your purpose may end up finding you, Harun,” said Zetsubou. “And it may not be something that you like.”
Harun nodded, staying nothing, staring out at the snow.

They retired to bed after that, getting a few hours of sleep and then rising several hours before the dawn. Harun dressed warmly in his wool and fur cloak, Majid and Zetsubou in their shugenja robes. Zetsubou in yellow and brown, Majid in white with black void mons on his shoulders with the colourful beaded necklace and rings he always wore. He also painted his face white, with black on his mouth, cheeks and around his eyes.
The last time Harun saw Majid like this, it was before the attack on Shiro Moto.
We prepare out bodies for death, he had said at the time. He met Majid’s eyes, the Moto nodded seriously.
It was time.

They headed out of the camp and down to the river, the guards had been instructed to keep their distance.
The Firefly River was a ribbon of silver in the early morning twilight. Just beside it was a torii archway and in front of that, further up on the riverbank were a few stones piled high into a small column.
It’s a shrine, Harun realised, but he saw nothing to signify who it was to.
Majid went up to the stone platform and begun to lay out a few things while Zetsubou went down to the archway. Not sure what to do, Harun went over to Majid. The Moto was laying out spell scrolls, but also there was a small round box in white jade, inlaid with crystal and ivory and engraved with symbols of the elements. Harun wondered what that was, but Majid and Zetsubou seemed to be busy so he waited.
“All is ready,” said Majid to himself, he then turned to see Zetsubou coming towards them. “Well?”
Zetsubou nodded. “We can begin,” he said.
“Good,” said Majid with a nod. “There is just one more thing.” He turned to Harun. “I’ll need your amulet.”
Harun looked questioning at him.
“It’s for your protection,” said Majid. “Trust me.”
He reached inside his clothing for the amethyst talisman. Karasu had given it to him last spring. Given to him for safekeeping by his mother, given to her by Zetsubou. Engraved on it were the mons of the Crab and Unicorn clans. He looped it over his head and handed it to Majid.
Majid held it in one hand and muttered a few words, moving his hands. Then he handed it back to Harun.
“It’s a meishodo now,” Majid said. “It will protect you if you need it.”
He put it back on, concealing it beneath his clothing, the seriousness in Majid’s voice was worrying. Zetsubou was far more reassuring.
“Harun, what we are going to do now is open a door into Yomi, to the realm of the blessed ancestors,” he said. “You will hear and see things, the shryo, the souls of the ancestors, we will petition to help us cleanse the lands.”
“This,” said Majid, indicating the jade box, “is how we hope to succeed. It took me years to create it. Inside is the light of Tengoku, which is what will cleanse the land.”
Harun nodded. “Will it work?”
Majid and Zetsubou exchanged a concerned glance.
“We have hope,” said Zetsubou.
They all stood in front of the platform, Zetsubou in the middle and Harun and Majid either side. Zetsubou took up a spell scroll and began to read it, saying the words to open the door into Yomi.
“Blessed Ancestors, we seek your wise guidance,” he said. “Come among us, so that we may hear your wisdom.”
A soft, warm wind began to blow and Harun thought he could smell…fresh grass was it. Fresh grass, like spring. Beneath the spans of the torii arch, a gentle light began to appear. Then, with a bright burst of light, they could see through the arch to another place. Full of light, and green, with the sound of the wind through grass and of birds singing.
Majid and Harun helped Zetsubou to a sitting position, his back against the stone pillar. The Akodo’s face was deep in concentration as he opened the portal. From the archway, there was a flicker of light. Majid looked over at it.
“Someone has come through,” he said to Harun.
They heard a voice, coming like birdsong on a breeze, bursting with joy and love.
“Harun, my son!”
Harun looked up, a short figure was coming—no running—towards him. His features a blur of light and colour, not identifiable, but Harun thought he knew.
The shryo smiled, his features coming into focus. He was short, shorter than Harun. He wore a kimono patterned with blue and purple circles. He had a beard, small and fine compared to Harun’s. But what Harun noticed most of all were his, not just shining with the joy of seeing him, Harun recognised them as his own.
“I’ve waited so long,” said Nakura. He reached forward, but his hands passed right through Harun’s. “To see you, to speak with you…oh my son.” He laughed, looking Harun up and down. “You sure take after your mother’s people, but we only ever talked about having girls.” He grinned. “And nothing about you being a Crane.”
“Father, I…” Harun was choked up with emotion. He never imagined this would ever happen, at least, not while he was still alive. What does one say to the spirit of one’s dead father?”
Someone else emerged from the archway. A woman. She wore the lamellar armour as was worn by the samurai at the dawn of the empire, but she had no daisho, instead carrying a spear wearing the conical hat of an ashigaru.
“What’s all this, Nakura?” she asked impatiently. “This can all wait, there’s work to be done.” She then turned to Harun. “And I think I know who you are. If your mother had followed my advice, you wouldn’t be here.”
Harun almost laughed, which somehow seemed very inappropriate. He had an idea who she was, but Majid certainly knew. He went into a deep bow and motioned for Harun to do the same.
“Hikahime-no-fortune,” said Majid solemnly. “We are honoured by your presence and aid in this sacred task.”
“Never mind that,” Hikahime said, dismissing their formalities. “We know why you are here, we all do.”
“All?” Harun repeated.
Some more shryo emerged from the archway. A wild-looking, bearded Moto clad in leather and fur; a young Crane woman who carried a splendid daisho, and wore the robes of a kenshinzen; and finally some true Kitsu.
The Kitsu looked most strange. they was covered in golden fur, yet wore armour like a samurai. They had the face, mane, paws and claws of a lion, yet they walked upright like a man and carried a spear.
Harun took a quick look back at Zetsubou for his reaction. There was a lot of strain on his face as he clearly was in a lot of pain from keeping the portal, but he did look pleased and even a little surprised.
More came out, many, many more. Some wearing the same lamellar armour Hikahime wore. They crowded out of the torii arch, standing around before them with many more behind them. Their spirit forms emitting soft light. The Blessed Ancestors of Yomi, all there to provide aid.
One of the Kitsu approached them. Majid and Harun bowed low.
“Honoured Kitsu and shryo of the Blessed Guard,” said Majid, his voice solemn and clear. “We petition you to aid us to gain Tengoku’s Favour once more. We wish to cleanse the land of the taint and restore harmony.” He bowed again, holding the small jade box in his hands. “We offer this, made of all that is pure and sacred that will serve as a means to heal the lands.”
The Kitsu was silent for a long moment, then nodded. “This acceptable,” he said, his deep and growling. “But know this as well: this is but a first step in restoring the harmony between Tengoku and Ningen-do. For this to be finished, more must be done. All of the kami must return home, the line of Hantei must be reconciled with the line of Iweko, and there must be balance between the Dragons of Jade and Obsidian.” He looked between Harun and Majid. “All of this must happen, and it must happen in its own time. Do you understand this?”
Harun and Majid nodded. Zetsubou made a movement that could have been a nod.
Before anyone could say anything more, Nakura immediately stepped forward. “Harun, you can’t stay here,” said Nakura. “I know out here you are pulled towards the life your mother and I wanted for you, but there is much for you to do, my son.”
“I understand, father,” said Harun.
“You better,” said Hikahime from somewhere behind him. “How are you going to fight for the Legion way out here? How are you going to take Toshi Ranbo?”
The Kitsu turned and looked at the rising sun. “It is time,” he said. “The offering must be made.”
Majid nodded and motioned for Harun to stand beside Zetsubou. The atmosphere grew tense, that was enough for Harun to realise that now came the danger. He looked down at Zetsubou, he was pale, sweat was pouring down him, obviously in a lot of pain to keep the door open. But when Majid looked his way, Zetsubou nodded to proceed.
Majid held out the jade box with one hand, with his other he touched each of the rings on his fingers and each of the colourful beads of the necklace he wore.
The very air grew thick and seemed to twist and ripple before Harun’s eyes. Harun’s vision blurred, he began to feel heavy and lightheaded, as if he were about to faint. The jade box in Majid’s hand began to shine with soft light.
The shryo, the Kitsu, knelt down where they stood and bowed their heads in prayer. Behind them, Harun could see rows and rows kneeling down. He remained standing, ready, so did Majid and Kitsu in front of him. He began to speak.
“Yomi has always stood to guide the mortals of Ningen-Do and to protect Tengoku from the taint of Jigoku,” he said, leading them in prayer. “Now, we lend our strength for Tengoku’s light to cleanse the land.”
The box shined even more brightly, almost blindingly so. The Kitsu reached out, and took it. There came a great burst of tiny white lights from the box, like a thousand shooting stars rising up from the box and flying up high over their heads.
Then Zetsubou screamed in pain, his shrieks akin to an animal in a fire, a lost soul in torment.
“It’s the Void!” Majid shouted to Harun. “His body, it can’t take the energy needed to complete the ritual. Harun, you have to…”
I promised him, thought Harun, unsheathing his katana. He raised it above his head before he struck down Zetsubou, giving him mercy from the pain.
But Zetsubou held out a hand, his screams subsided but he was clearly in pain.
“What’s going on?” Harun asked Majid.
“The poor fool,” Majid said. “He has to finish it, we can’t stop it.”
Harun took a quick look towards the portal. The shryo were still kneeling and praying, the tiny stars rising from the box and then falling like silver rain from the sky.
Zetsubou gave another cry, this one much quieter and far more heartbreaking. He was in pain, probably dying. Was the ritual finished? Would the land be cleansed?
Harun looked at Majid. Majid nodded. Harun raised his katana again, ready to do his duty.
“No!” shouted the Kitsu, his voice like thunder. He lunged forward and grabbed Zetsubou’s shoulder. “You have served well, brother, but your duty is now at an end. Rest now.” The Kitsu grabbed Zetsubou’s hand, pulling him forward so hard that Zetsubou was slumped face down his red hair brilliant against the white of the snow. And pulled Zetsubou’s spirit from his body.
“Zetsubou!” Harun dropped his katana rushed over to him. Kneeling beside him, grabbing him, turning him over, shaking him. Zetsubou’s eyes were closed as if he was sleeping, he looked peaceful, without pain. “No, no!”
He looked up. Zetsubou was standing there, above his own body that was lying in Harun’s arms.
“No, it can’t happen,” pleased Harun.
Zetsubou smiled sadly. “We all knew it would end like this. Even your mother. Even you.”
He then turned to join the skyro who welcomed him among their number. Then little by little, after bowing and acknowledging Harun and Majid, they started to fade away.
Tears flowed down Harun’s cheeks. This was not supposed to happen. Zetsubou was so good, so kind. He had a wife, children, a home they were all happy in.
He looked up again. It was his father, smiling down at him with pride. He put a hand on Harun’s shoulder, and for the briefest of moments, Harun felt his father’s touch. “The sun is rising, we can’t stay. I am proud of you, my son. You have honour that I never had in my life.”
“You honour me, father,” said Harun through his tears. There was so much more he wanted to say, but there wasn’t time. “Will I see you again?”
“Nakura nodded. “There is much before that, Harun, that you must do. Good thing you have your mother’s courage.”
“Father!” He reached out as Nakura’s spirit faded away with the rising sun. He closed his eyes, trying to quell the anguish in his heart.
Then he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was warm, it was alive.
“This is how he wanted it, Harun,” said Majid. “And this is how it must be.”
“But…” Harun’s voice broke with emotion.
“Yes, I know,” said Majid. “But us, the living, we must carry on.”

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Sat Aug 26, 2017 9:09 am

Not an update, just Majid in his shugenja gear with the meishodo


Posts: 176
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Sun Aug 27, 2017 9:39 am

They broke camp and left the same day, making steady progress towards Shiro Moto. The mood was sombre. Harun rode in the lead, Majid behind him leading Zetsubou’s horse, riderless. Zetsubou’s body had been secured safely in one of the ox carts, wrapped in blankets.
Snow started to fall and an icy wind picked up as they rode west, which didn’t help the mood. Harun was grateful when Shiro Moto came in sight.
As they proceeded through the camp, the riderless horse did not go unnoticed. A few people questioned them, but they didn’t stop, not until they reached the guest camp. A few people came out to meet them when they arrived, Kousuda, Kouta, Hokori. But they stopped, shocked.
Kousuda looked stricken. “Harun, is it…”
Harun nodded gravely.
Majid carried Zetsubou’s body to the yurt that the Lion delegation shared. Ikoma Sesuke, his yojimbo, came out, his face grave. He bowed his head as Zetsubou was carried past.
Kousuda started to walk towards him, but Harun rode off. He couldn’t face anyone, not tonight.

Harun passed a fretful night with little sleep. And when he did sleep, his dreams were troubled. He saw Zetsubou, sprawled out on the snow, lifeless. He saw Majid, his black and white face paint looking terrifying in the dawn light. And he saw his father, his face vanishing before Harun’s eyes.
He woke with the grey dawn and dressed, pulling the hood of his cloak over heads head when he went outside into the whirling snow. Fighting through the icy wind, he sought shelter within the walls of the shiro.
Inside the walls there was a little less wind, but there were few people about that day. The few that were heading for the tenshukaku or the tea house.
Then he saw a lamp, a circle of light in the whirling snow. It was Gimu the monk, he looked indifferent to the weather, heading into the shrine as if it were any other day.
Hikahime…he looked up to see name written on nobori flags outside the shrine, fluttering furiously in the wind.
Harun went in. Inside, Gimu was making tea on a small brazier. He looked up.
“Ah, Kakita-sama, will you join me?”
“I don’t mean to intrude, Gimu-san,” said Harun.
“Nonsense, the weather is called and your presence is no intrusion,” said the monk.
“Then I will join you,” said Harun, sitting on the bare stone next to Gimu. The warmth of the brazier felt good. So did the tea which Gimu gave to him in plain earthenware cups. Strong and robust, like the Moto made it.
“I’m worried that there’s something wrong, drinking tea inside a shrine,” said Harun.
“If it was, this one doubts that she would mind,” said Gimu, nodding to the scroll of Hikahime hanging on the wall above the prayer sticks.
Harun managed a small smile, remembering what she had said to him. How are you going to fight for the Legion way out here? she had said. How are you going to take Toshi Ranbo? Such big pronouncements, he hardly felt equal to them.
“Did you know her, Gimu-san?” Harun asked, then remembered that such questions to a monk were rather impertinent. “My apologies, it’s just that…I met her yesterday, just before Zetsubou died.”
“No apologies are needed, Kakita-sama,” said Gimu. “This one has known someone who has met her.” He smiled wistfully. “Knew her very well, he did.” He cleared his throat. “Tell me what happened.”
Harun told the monk everything, far more than he had intended. But it felt good to talk about it. Made it more real and easier to deal with.
Gimu listened patiently, filling Harun’s cup up. “That is quite a tale, Kakita-sama,” he said. “You came here on one wind, it appears that you will leave on another.”
Harun nodded, sipping his tea. “It seems right, now, to leave,” he said. “I think I needed to hear it, but I didn’t think it would come from the shryo of my father.” He looked down into his cup. “I could have belonged out here, far away from everything.”
“Duty,” said Gimu with a nod. “Duty is, not chosen. And sometimes in a way we don’t like.”
“Zetsubou said that,” said Harun with a sad smile. “His duty…” He choked up…”
“He knew his duty, Kakita-sama,” said Gimu. “And now you know yours, you would do the same no doubt.”
Harun nodded, it was instilled in every samurai. To be an instrument of your lord’s will, to be ready to die.
“Fighting with the legion,” said Gimu, looking at Hikahime’s picture. “You will do well, Kakita-sama. She knew best.”

Gimu’s words were a balm to Harun. He found he could look forward, as Zetsubou would have wanted. The weather broke, grew miler. Harun was able to go riding with Majid. They didn’t speak much, the silence served as solace to both of them.
As the weather grew milder, the thaws began. And with the thaws came the first new shoots of spring green. Harun smiled through his tears. They had succeeded, the lands had been cleaned and Zetsubou’s death had not been in vain. The Kitsune and Morishita between them made the garden inside the shiro courtyard grow with maple trees, fir and a cherry blossom.
It would not be long until they left now, court was winding up. He had managed to talk with Kousuda and Kouta about the ritual, but they were busy finalising the treaties with the Unicorn and Crane and had little time.
“Come around on the last night,” Kousuda said. “We can talk before we leave.”
There were a few things to be attended to before that. He went to the Utaku camp and asked after Asuna. When he arrived, he was told she wasn’t there.
Harun sighed, he should have expected this.
“Please convey my good wishes for her future,” said Harun. “And my apologies. I treated her badly, she deserves much better. And give her this.” He gave the Utaku a small sprig of maple, taken from the new tree.
Maple for great blessings, Harun thought as he walked away, sometimes the Crane know how to say difficult things without words.
He turned to look back just before he was out of sight. He could see her, peering out of one of the yurts. They met eyes for a brief moment, he made a slight bow towards her and then walked away.

The next morning a low mist hung over Shiro Moto, Harun was on his way to the dojo when he saw something that caused him to stop. Gimu, coming out of the walls of the Shiro, holding a lamp. On his other side he was supporting someone. Tall, bearded, and with a limp.
Chinua, Harun realised. Should he approach?
Moto Tengri came out, leading Chinua’s horse. He and Gimu helped Chinua to mount. They talked, no longer than a moment, then Gimu and Tengri bowed low.
“Kuirichitai,” said Majid’s voice. He came to stand beside Harun. “The last ride.”
Chinua rode off, disappearing into the morning mist. He did not look back.

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Mon Aug 28, 2017 3:50 am

The last days of court brought a lot of last minute activity. Packing to be done, farewells to be said. Last kumis passed around and dances around the fire.
Harun knew he had to leave, but he was sorry to.
One day, he promised himself, I will bring Arahime out here. She had as much Unicorn blood as I do, she will understand.
One who was not leaving, and was quite happy not to be was Yukari. Now Moto Yukari, she would be joining the Khol alongside her husband and stepdaughter.
“So, it’s going to be you rides to conquer the Unicorn lands,” Harun teased.
Yukari gave him a friendly punch on the arm. She had fully embraced wearing the bare-armed leather tunics of the Moto and had tied her hair back in many braids. “As long as I get to ride and fight and drink kumis,” she said. “You’re an idiot for not staying, must have been that father of yours.”
“Well, it was the Crane one at least,” said Harun.
“You’re a damn fool for leaving, Harun,” she said. “But you’re as stubborn as your mother, so I will miss having you around.”
Isanko and Janisha came to Harun’s yurt for tea. The girl was enthralled to finally be inside one, and listened intently as Harun told the story of the ritual. And of Zetsubou’s death.
“I liked him,” she said simply. “He was kind to me, and had kind eyes.”
Janisha had one more thing to reveal about Harun’s father Nakura.
“There was something else that he promised, but he never managed to do,” she said. “Kitsune Mori was destroyed by the Kaiu during the war. Nakura made a vow before the entire Imperial Court that he would devote his retirement to its recovery and see that his heirs did as well.”
“And that’s me,” said Harun. “That is, if I have any heirs or live to see retirement.”
“You are the last of your bloodline, Harun,” said Janisha. “You need to make sure that happens.”
When Isanko and Janisha left, Harun promised Isanko that he would write and visit when he could. And again, he marvelled that one day that that nine year old girl would one day be Empress of Rokugan.
Perhaps another story for those heirs I don’t have yet, he thought.

On the last evening Harun went over to the guest camp, walking past the Lion yurt where he knew Zetsubou’s body was. He entered the Crane yurt where Kousuda received him.
“Harun, it was good of you to come,” said Kousuda, shaking hands warmly. “I must apologise, the end of any court is always a rush to get things done.”
“No need, oji-san,” said Harun. “We all have our duty.”
“Indeed,” agreed Kousuda, noting Harun’s seriousness.
They sat down, Kousuda provided generous but simple fare. Miso soup, yakitori chicken skewers, steamed nikumun buns filled with miso-flavoured rice. And finally, tea and daifuku.
“I thought you would have wanted to have meat on the last night,” said Harun.
Kousuda chuckled. “I got a supply of jerky that should tide me over for a while, but don’t tell anyone. Did you manage to try some at all?”
“Yes, at Yukari’s wedding,” said Harun. “It seems so silly now, such a small thing after what has happened.” He looked into his cup. “I suppose you know now what has happened.”
Kousuda nodded gravely. “Majid told me, he said you were with Zetsubou,” he said. “That must have been difficult, Harun.”
“I was spared from…doing it myself,” said Harun. “Zetsubou had asked me, but I think was better.” He took a sip of tea. “He asked me to go to Lion lands. Take his body, see his brother.”
“Majid also said that you saw Hikahime-no-fortune and your father Nakura,” said Kousuda.
“Yes,” said Harun. “I didn’t expect that at all, it seems so strange…people have told me about him, but to meet him myself…”
“Treasure it, Harun,” said Kousuda. “But don’t let it hold you back.”
“I won’t, oji-san,” said Harun. “And yes, I did see Hikahime-no-fortune. You knew her, didn’t you?”
“I did,” said Kousuda with a nod. “And I am very happy you have as well. I worked with her at the Winter Court at Shiro Mirumoto. So did your mother, Doji Arami-sama and Zetsubou’s brother Akodo Kibo. They drafted the treaties that secured the Shogunate and the Last Legion, what became the Emerald Legions.”
“The Shogunate?” Harun asked. “You mean, Akodo Kano?”
Kousuda nodded.
“But why?” Harun asked, incredulously.
“Politics,” answered Kousuda simply. “You understand what it was like then, Harun. It was a time of chaos and famine. The Onyx had taken much of the empire but there were those who had risen up to strike back. One of those was Akodo Kano, the other was the Last Legion. It’s unthinkable now that anything like this could happen, but the thing is they already had. We were fighting for our own survival, and so many were starving. So we had to use the tools we were given. That meant compromise, and that meant Kano.”
“Did you know then what could happen?” Harun said. “That Kano would rebel?”
“We knew it was a distinct possibility,” said Kousuda. “But again, we needed him and had to support him to get the Legion legitimised. Your mother spent a long night with Hikahime, putting all sorts of restrictions of what Kano could and couldn’t do. And to further safeguard things we, or rather your mother, put forward Karasu’s name to be Emerald Champion.”
“He told me about that,” said Harun. “It was the day after my father was killed, but she still stood in front of the whole court and put his name forward.”
Kousuda nodded. “She also saved Hikahime’s life, I supposed she didn’t tell you that when you saw her yourself.”
Harun shook his head.
“There was some sort of incident with the Onyx, one of their yojimbo had tried to assassinate the Jade Champion,” Kousuda said. “Hikahime just happened to be there and saved the Jade Champion’s life, killing the assassin. Then she was on trial because she killed him with a katana.” Kousuda took a sip of tea and then continued. “I remember, your mother was frantic, if Hikahime died there was a fair chance that the Legion would rebel. She eventually got us into the trial, before the Emperor himself.”
Harun’s eyebrows shot up. “Before the Emperor? How?”
“Through Chinua, I think,” Kousuda said. “But when we were there, we hardly had to say anything at all. Lord Mirumoto Shikei, he was Champion of the Dragon Clan then, basically said everything we had come to much better and with far more authority. So we just let him and sat there watching the show. Between Lord Shikei and the treaty, which had backdated the Legion to always being Imperial, Hikahime was set free.” He gave a small smile. “Yamada had never been to a court before, the Utaku avoid the courts. Yet with her as delegation head, we accomplished all our goals. She saw to her duties to the Unicorn clan, and to you…but she lost everything she gained for herself.”
“Zetsubou told me that she wanted to return home,” Harun said. “Now that I have been here, I understand why.”
“I do hope,” said Kousuda sadly, “that one day, when it is all over with Michio and the Black Hand, that she will.”

Before he left the guest camp, Harun went in to the Lion yurt. Zetsubou was lying on a futon, wrapped up with a blanket, his eyes closed and his face peaceful as if he were sleeping.
Majid was also there.
“I thought I might find you here,” said Harun. “I guess this is where we part?”
“Not yet, not that easily,” said Majid. “You will see me at Shiro sano Ken Haya, no dount the Lion will turn out in force for the funeral of one of their heroes.”
Harun looked down at Zetsubou’s peaceful face. “I hope so, his sacrifice shouldn’t be forgotten.”
We will remember,” said Majid. “And we can make sure that Zetsubou is not forgotten, by telling everyone about him. How he lived, how he died. Then they will know too and can tell others.”
“Zetsubou would not have liked that,” Harun said slyly.
“Well, we can’t always get what we want,” said Majid. “And we certainly can’t control how we are remembered.” He handed Harun a satchel full of letters. “Better for you to do that than me, I’m going to look very out of place in Lion lands. Not, that that won’t stop meeting you there.”

And so the next day, when the sky was clear and the first signs of grass were beginning to appear through the snow, Harun left Unicorn lands. He travelled with Ikoma Sesuke, the Lion riding in the ox cart where Zetsubou’s body was secured.
They went east, following the river. At Sesuke’s request, they stopped at the place where Zetsubou had died. The torii arch and stone platform were still sanding. It was perfectly peaceful with no sign at all of what had happened there.
The next day they continued on, crossing the river near Kaeru Toshi and entering the lands of the Lion Clan.

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Sat Sep 02, 2017 10:52 pm

Much of the Lion lands had been overrun by the Onyx hordes, but there were signs of recovery and repair. It took them a few days of heading north to get to Shiro sano Ken Haya—the Castle of the Swift Sword. They rested in inns when they could and beneath the wagon when they couldn’t.
They arrived at the castle in the early afternoon, Shiro sano Ken Haya was impressive and size and majesty. Its tall white walls, the many different buildings, towers and yellow flags flurring in the wind. It was a sight to see. On the battlements, they could see sentries on patrol and alert. So alert that a party of bushi came out to meet them.
They questioned Harun, but when they showed a little Zetsubou had written in the event of this, stamped with his chop, things were less tense. It not only got their attention, but a full escort to the castle.
Once inside, the Kitsu took custody of Zetsubou’s body. Sesuke went with them and Harun was shown to guest quarters. He knew he probably should bathe and rest, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to relax until he had done what he had come to do. He asked a servant where he might find Akodo Kibo.

Harun was directed to the senseis’ chambers, small spartan rooms not far from the Swift Sword Dojo. Most of them were unoccupied as classes were currently in session, but lounging in the doorway of one of the rooms was a lioness. It was massive, with golden fur, powerful paws and sharp claws. It reminded Harun a little of the Kitsu he had seen at the ritual. It was sleeping, its head between its outstretched paws like a temple guardian.
Had it seen him? Was it the right room? Harun tried to peep inside to see if the room was occupied, but a noren door curtain blocked it out.
A woman’s voice hissed at him in a loud whisper. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
Harun quickly turned, his hand instinctively going to his daisho. He was face to face with a young woman not that much older than he was. She wore the yellow kimono of the Lion Clan with the mons of the Akodo family and the Matsu beast master school in brown. And on her face, was the fury of a protective lioness.
Fortunately, Harun was able to able to rely on his court training. It gave you a script when you didn’t know what to say.
“I am Kakita Harun, Akodo-san,” he said, bowing a little deeper than perhaps was warranted. “I have come from Shiro Moto bearing the missives from Akodo Zetsubou-sama, Sodan Senzo and Jade Magistrate.”
“What?” asked the woman, the lioness at their feet made a low growl, so for his own sake Harun decided to explain more.
“I come on Akodo Zetsubou-sama’s instructions to bring you these,” he said, holding out the satchel to her.
“That’s impossible, he is dead,” she said coldly.
“I know, Akodo-san,” Harun said, looking into her eyes so she could see he was in earnest. “I was with him when he died.”
She looked him up and down, looking from the satchel to him and back again. “You just arrived with his body, didn’t you?”
Harun nodded.
She looked at him again, confused. “What did you say your name was again?”
“Kakita Harun, Akodo-san,” he said. “I am the son of Kakita Karasu.”
There was a flash of recognition and surprise that went over her face. “Wait…no,” she said. “You’re Utaku Yamada’s son, aren’t you?”
Now it was Harun’s turn to be surprised. “Yes…how did you know?”’
“My father knew your mother, he knew her very well. He told me about her, and you,” she said, all the anger and hostility disappearing from her. “My apologies, I am Akodo Miraiko, daughter of Akodo Kinbo.”
“I am honoured to meet you, Akodo Miraiko-san,” said Harun with a bow. “It is your father I have come to see.”
“My father cannot see anyone, Kakita-san,” said Miraiko defensively. “He has been taken ill and needs rest to recover, kami-willing.”
“Nevertheless,” said Harun, a hint of steel entering his voice. “I am honour-bound to see him.”
The two samurai stared at each other, like duellists who had reached an impasse that neither were willing to concede.
We can bend of we can break, thought Harun.
Fortunately, they didn’t need to do either. There was a stir inside the room, a low voice calling out. The lioness in the doorway rose to its feet, looking up at Miraiko.
She closed her eyes and sighed deeply. “Wait here,” she said, going inside.
Harun peered around the curtain. He could see Miraiko kneeling beside a futon, leaning over and speaking softly to someone lying on it. What surprised Harun was the gentleness she showed, a complete contrast to the barely restrained hostility she had shown to him.
She returned, speaking to Harun in a low tone. “He says you can come in,” she said, sounding reluctant. “But not for long, not now.”
“I understand,” Harun said, following her inside.
Harun wasn’t sure what to expect to see when he entered the room. He had gotten to know Zetsubou well in his time at Shiro Moto, but the Sodan Senzo had not spoken of his brother. Would he see something like Zetsubou’s red hair and Lion eyes? Judging by his daughter, it was unlikely.
Lying in that bed was a man that seemed to be in his forties, but looked much older. There were lines on his face, and grey in his hair. But these were from the stress of battle, the grief of losing men. Not age, not time. And there were the scars, far too many that should have been on a man still living.
But that wasn’t all there was there, there was also the illness Miraiko had spoken of. There was a weakness in his right hand so that Miraiko had to help him left a cup to his mouth. When he spoke, the words seemed thick as if effort was needed to form them.
Harun wanted to cry. He remembered Kibo, a little, he had been one of his father’s staff officers. And, he remembered now, he had led a handpicked squad of bushi on dangerous missions, the Golden Company.
Such a mighty lion, brought so low.
Harun knelt beside the futon and bowed low from the waist.
“I am honoured that you were able to see me, Akodo-sama,” he said. “I have come on the instructions of your brother, Akodo Zetsubou-sama.”
“Harun…” said Kibo, his voice was weak and low. “You were with…Zetsubou.”
“Yes,” said Harun, “I was with him when he died.
Miraiko flashed Harun a vicious look.
Oh no, thought Harun, she hasn’t told him…
“No need to…tell me,” Kibo said. “I knew, and I knew…you would come.”
“He said it would you to see me,” Harun said. “You knew my mother, and he said you would need friends.”
Kibo sighed. “Yamada…” His eyes glazed over. “Perhaps it’s…best she isn’t here.” He started coughing, Miraiko helped him drink some more water.
“Father, you need to rest, I am sure this can all wait until the morning,” she said.
“Of course,” said Harun, he put down the satchel. “I will leave these here. Thank you again for seeing me, Akodo-sama.”
“No…” said Kibo. “Thank you, Harun.”

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