A Tale of Rokugan
"I will never forget that day, when I began to understand…I remembered my master's warnings about the dangers of knowledge, but now that I know these things, I have no choice but to share. The Crab are cowards. The Crane are flawed. The Dragon are mad. The Lion are weak. The Phoenix are murderers. The Scorpion are failures. The Unicorn are unjust."
I cannot help but smile, "These are the easiest of my truths to bear."
* * * * *
Seppun Negauru was a fine servant to the Empire; in his thirty-seven years, he had seen to the duties of the Emperor many times. His still-youthful face bore long lines built from worry, and beneath his golden kimono, his body was overstrained and drawn. These were the prices one man paid for an Empire; scars that did not show and that Negauru was proud to bear.
He was Seppun, first servant to the Emperor. He was a hatamoto, a trusted advisor in the Imperial City itself. He was an honorable swordsman, a righteous commander…and today, he was afraid.
"What will become of the Empire, Negauru-sama?" asked his advisor, following him from one end of the open window as he walked. She was a young Scorpion by the name of Ikeniko. "The Emperor is slain, the lines of succession uncertain."
Turning his head with a smile, the tall courtier smiled a sad smile, his trained face hiding what it could of his own worries and tears, "Despite your nature, I invite you to have faith in them, Ikeniko-san; the Empire will not fail." He reminded himself that Ikeniko was a young girl, still uncertain in matters of duty and honor…that was why he had taken to her.
Even a Scorpion should know what the Empire's heart was.
Beneath her strange wooden mask, the girl smiled and bowed, her long ponytail swishing over a thin shoulder, "As you say, Negauru-sama."
Going against protocol, the elder man drew his arm around the Scorpion and drew her to the window, pointing down to the huge funeral procession with a bitter smile, his voice choked despite the samurai's eternal control.
"Look down there, at their faces, Ikeniko," he said to her, making certain to watch where she settled her gaze. The Champions of the Eight Great Clans stood like solemn statues, each bearing the great burden that Negauru felt with the loss of his noble lord. "They are the seeds of honor and justice that Toturi has sown in all of us."
Beneath her mask, the Scorpion smiled at her superior.
"Trust them not to fail."
* * * * *
Negauru strode through the halls with his heart secretly aching, wondering if he was already beginning to show his age. All around him, the lesser courtiers grew silent, their keen eyes catching motions in his stride, his eyes, his hands. The Seppun did his best to avoid the other duties of the Court; his grim eyes were settled upon one man.
Bayushi Kaukatsu sat in the gardens of the Imperial City calmly, a superior smirk filling his handsome face. From his place sitting alone in the shade of a fine cherry tree, the Scorpion looked up with well rehearsed surprise, his honeyed voice both compelling and sincere, "Negauru-san, you honor me with your visit. I hope that your journey to the Test of the Emerald Champion…"
"No games," Negauru said coarsely, barely holding back his rage. Behind him, young Ineniko had caught up with her master, hesitating on the end of the conversation with clearly shown fear. "I want you to stop this, Kaukatsu. For the Empire, stop it now."
The Scorpion's face melted into confusion, but Negauru could see the danger Kaukatsu left in his eyes, "I am afraid that I do not understand your request, my friend. Perhaps you could make it more clear."
Negauru tried to calm himself, suddenly hating the eternal sincerity and the games. The Seppun drew closer to Kaukatsu than the Scorpion appreciated, his voice lowered into a hissing whispered tone. "The Empire is in flames, Kaukatsu…the Four Winds oppose one another at every turn! And now, what you have done at the Test…"
"The Test," Kaukatsu answered firmly, "was unfortunate, but fair. Hachi-sama was indeed…"
"No games!" the Seppun heard himself hiss like an oni, nearly seizing hold of the courtier's fine robes. The eyes the peasants and samurai that had implored him for aid haunted Negauru, their worries and darkest fears reflected in the uncaring images of the Scorpion's eyes. "The Emerald Champion was a last hope for peace, Kaukatsu…one that you and yours have destroyed!"
Ineniko stepped forward to draw back her superior, but before she could, Kaukatsu's cold voice caused the young diplomat to freeze in mid-motion. "The Empire can protect itself, Negauru…I suggest you do the same."
This, Negauru would consider later, was where his dreams began to die.
* * * * *
Two weeks later, Negauru paced the same balcony, letters littering the floor. His house was in a state of disarray and worried silence, his feet sliding back and forth near the edge of the window's guard.
"Read them again, Ineniko."
The Scorpion girl started to say something, but his voice made her stop. "Read them all."
Ineniko bowed from her seat, unfolding the first letter that lay near. "The Crab can offer you no aid at this time, honored Seppun. We fight for the Empire and for those lands that are ours by right, and find our resources choked thin. Once we have dealt with these, the Crab will be honored to serve."
"They are afraid," Negauru muttered hoarsely, all elegance long gone from his voice. The Crab knew that they would be funded by the Seppun for Negauru's hopes of bringing some measure of peace and justice, but words like 'peace and justice' were too tenuous for the brave Crab to chance during such a dangerous war. "Read the next one."
The girl cleared her throat deeply, lifting the next broken promise from the ground. "Honored Minister. In our passion to aid the people of the Empire in their plight, we of the Crane have given much of our strength to the Emerald Champion that he may continue to serve with honor and strength. We will endeavor to send you the aid that you requested, once our rightful claims have been seen through."
"They are as greedy and corrupt as the Yasuki that they lust after…why can a Crane never simply say, 'No?' Read on."
The cascade of letters continued, written from many Great and Minor places, in many smooth and elegant hands. Wherever Negauru reached out for help, the answers were similar. The Dragon were embattled and homeless, yet still found time to write letters filled with philosophy and empty thoughts. The Lion were too committed to their honorable allies to care for the turmoil of their Empire. The Phoenix were concerned with the murders of their enemies. The Unicorn were building their armies in secrecy for some kind of bid for personal glory…and the Scorpion simply did not care.
Rokugan was burning around him, Negauru realized, staring at the chipped, faded walls of Otosan Uchi.
The tragedy was that no one cared.
* * * * *
"Kaneka has seized the Yasuki Lands, claiming them by the virtue of a geisha's blood. Tsudao refuses to leave her precious Legions and be more than another general in a country filled with warriors. Naseru sows dissent even as the Shadowlands moves against us, and Sezaru…who knows of what he does…"
Bayushi Ineniko frowned from her place in the shadows, the sight of the sprawling city filling up her eyes. In the past week, the woman had not given the Seppun a moment's peace, haunting his footsteps like a lost dog.
"You fear that I will take my own life, don't you?"
She did not say anything; they had no more use for words. The Seppun had indeed become more erratic lately; his work suffered, as did the sorry state of his home. A thousand letters might have served as the material for his screens, but instead their shining mons simply littered the ground.
O-Ushi. Kurohito. Hoshi. Nimuro. Tsukune. Yojiro. Chagatai.
"They are the seeds of honor and justice…" Negauru whispered sadly, knowing that the Scorpion girl would hear.
With a hand that was steady for the first time in recent memory, the Seppun's hand settled on his sword…
* * * * *
"You know the rest. I killed her; her and then seven more that came to speak with me."
I smile, "I know you think that I am mad. You and your bushido…my bushido, it condemns me, I am sure. But I am a samurai, and I have planned this death well. I will die as a failure to this Golden Empire, my name stricken and my heritage hidden away. This is the death that I wished for; not one of words, but one of truth. I do not wish to be remembered by this corrupted failure of a land."
"You seemed worried that I am right…but do not worry…" I look up for the executioner, knowing my time is near.
"They will remind you I am mad."