Eyes See The Heart
Kitsuki Saibankan surveyed the carnage before him. He carefully stepped through the victims all around him and tried to avoid any and all contact. He'd rather not even breath the air around him, afraid that it would make him unclean. He had to dart away from a few; they moved and nearly made contact with him: a last twitch to torment Saibankan, it seemed. Finally he saw a possibility to escape and hurried to get away. A few more steps and he could leave all this behind. A few more moments and he would be safe. Soon. A few more feet and…
Saibankan stopped and turned around. 'Foiled,' he thought and walked back into the carnage.
Saibankan really hated Imperial Court.
* * *
"Ikoma Tanuko, was it not?" Saibankan feigned an honest smile and bowed quickly.
The Lion courtier's eyes shun with excitement and her smile was sincere, but a bit too eager. "You know my name, Saibankan-sama?"
"I have seen your lovely visage grace court many times, Tanuko-san." Actually he happened to catch her name just now. He was a Kitsuki: was it not his duty to do so? He smiled absent-minded at his train of thoughts.
Tanuko misinterpreted the smile, believing it was meant for her. "You are complimenting me too much, Saibankan-sama. I am but a humble aide."
Those words instilled fear in Saibankan. "Aide? To who?"
"Why, to you, of course!" Tanuko beamed, obviously she thought of this as a tremendous honor. "I have been assigned as yoriki to you, sama."
Saibankan's world crumbled around him. He thought that he had made it quite clear: he'd work with monks, other Dragon, a Seppun, Miya or Otomo, perhaps a Crane Kenshinzen, a Unicorn he might endure… But not an Ikoma! What would she do? Tell stories and recite history, no doubt. Saibankan sighed. "What about the war between our Clans?"
The assembled crowd grew silent. Those who were familiar with Saibankan smiled; the knew he'd always find something to dissuade someone assigned to him, that or he made they would dislike him very much.
"Serving the justice of the Empire is more important to me," Tanuko replied. "Besides, I believe we were only aiding our allies."
"By destroying the Dragonfly?"
Tanuko's eyes widened a bit, she didn't expect this man to get personal, but she had heard of his reputation. "Can you prove that?"
Saibankan frowned. The girl was persistant, he'd give her that. "There were many Mirumoto, Tamori and Tonbo present who can attest to that."
"But I thought the Kitsuki valued evidence above all?"
Courtiers smiled behind their fans and Saibankan wished he was away from court. He'd prefer the battlefield to this senseless bickering. "So the Fortress of the Dragonfly just happened to topple over and crush many Tonbo, Mirumoto and Tamori underneath it?"
"Natural disasters do occur at times, Saibankan-sama."
"So a stray tornado littered the bodies of Akodo and Isawa around the Fortress, which fell to an earthquake?"
"Wouldn't that be splendid? That would mean we're not at war and that there's no reason for you not to accept me!" Tanuko smiled victoriously.
"No need for war to convince me of that, you've already done that yourself."
"Oh? How then? Did I give you a reason not to accept me?"
"You assume too much, such as that I do not have a say in this." Saibankan considered this the end of the conversation and walked out of court.
For a moment all Tanuko could do was stand and blink, but then she quickly followed Saibankan.
* * *
Saibankan sighed. When would she get off his back? "What do you want," he growled.
"Have I done something to earn you ire? Why don't you want a yoriki?" Tanuko tried to sound careful and calm.
"Let me tell you something: I am not the perfect magistrate! I don't even want to be an Emerald Magistrate!"
Tanuko could not believe what she just heard: this man was a living legend among the magistrates of Rokugan, and he did not like it? "Wh-what do you mean? You are one of the greatest magistrates of recent history! You fought to get recognition for your methods! Crane or Scorpion: none could win in debate, except by ridiculing you! They were wrong! Weaklings and fools!"
Saibankan smiled wryly. "I see you know your history well. But I was referring to my duties as an Emerald Magistrate. I assume you know my lives' history?"
"You died at the hands of the Lying Darkness, but returned to fight as one of the Heroes of Rokugan. Am I right?"
"Yes, but afterwards Toturi awarded me the position of Emerald Magistrate. How could I refuse the Emperor? In the beginning it was interesting, fun even, but I felt as if my wings were clipped. But, one should remember the honor of such a position! Bah!"
Tanuko remained silent, what could she say? She noticed, all of a sudden, a faint glow! "You are still a spirit," she exclaimed with a high-pitched voice.
"What's so strange about that?"
"But… But you don't glow! Spirits glow! I've seen them before."
"Not necessarily so. All it requires is mental discipline. As long as my composure remains I do not glow. It takes a bit of training."
"Why didn't you choose to become human?"
"That's none of your concern. But if you wish to learn, I suggest you stay close to me. You might even learn a few other things."
Slowly a smile crept onto Tanuko's face, she nodded fervently and said, with little hidden joy, "Thank you very much, Saibankan-sama!"
"One rule, Tanuko-san," Saibankan said sternly, "do NOT call me sama. I hate that."
* * *
"Remind me why we are here again, Tanuko-san," Saibankan asked rubbing his temples.
"We are here to make sure that…"
"Wrong! We are here because they don't want me anywhere near my Clan's lands. They hate me."
"What do you mean by that?" Tanuko was confused by this new bit of insight into Saibankan's knowledge of matters.
"Some people high up don't want me anywhere near our war."
"Isn't it because your loyalty lies with the Empire now, rather than just with your Clan?"
"That's their excuse too. But there is another reason. Imagine what would happen if a man from the past would get involved in this war? They fear my impact on morale. They fear that I might inspire them too much."
"That's ridiculous! What could one man do to win a war?" Tanuko looked as if she would not believe Saibankan's claims.
"When ten thousand warriors clash with arms and fire, it is always a single warrior's actions that make the difference."
Tanuko frowned. "That sounds familiar. Where did I hear that before?"
Saibankan slowly turned his head around to look at Tanuko with his mouth open. For a few moments he just stared in silence, but when he found his voice again he said, "By the Kami! You are telling me that you do not know the Tao of Shinsei?"
Tanuko nodded her head in shameful acknowledgement.
Saibankan just shook his. "You are lucky, I have a copy of the New Tao with me, which you will read if you want to stay with me."
"As you wish, but should we not see to the Otomo and his family?"
"I guess we have made him wait long enough. Let's go and get him his escort… Escort duty… Bah!"
* * *
"Who are those men, Saibankan-san? They wear no mon. Do you suppose that they are bandits?"
"Perhaps," Saibankan answered and looked at Tanuko. "Wait here."
As Saibankan rode off Tanuko sighed and readied herself to command the bushi to aid her tutor.
"Who are you," Saibankan demanded. "Who are you and why are you blocking the road?"
"We are here to make a profit."
"Profit? Out of what?"
"Out of you, lonely Dragon."
Saibankan smiled, turned his horse around and started to ride back to his charge.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"Anywhere away from you, you dishonorable, stinking, fleebag of a worthless excuse for a man! Now clear the road."
The bandit screamed in rage and charged at Saibankan, but he was off his horse and on the ground before the bandit was even near him. Saibankan drew his swords and engaged his attacker, meeting him halfway along his charge. The man was dead after one cut, his head severed by Saibankan's sword.
As the other bandits ran off Saibankan took the reins of his horse and walked back towards Tanuko. She looked shaken, but not deeply stirred. "Next time when someone attacks me: give the order."
"Y-yes, Saibankan-san. My apologies."
"No time for those, let's get our esteemed protegée to Otosan Uchi."
* * *
"Saibankan-san, what are you doing?"
"Playing go," grunted an uninterested Saibankan.
Tanuko looked around confused. "Against whom?"
"Myself," he grunted again and gestured to a small chest to his side. "Want to play a game of shogi against yourself? The Otomo has showered me with gifts, but these I actually like."
Tanuko smiled to herself, figuring that Saibankan truly did like those. She took a breath and prepared herself. She cleared her throat and said, "We've been given another assignment, Saibankan-san."
Saibankan rubbed his hand over his face and asked, "What is it this time?"
"We are to check up on the Kaeru's conducts at Toshi sano Kanemochi Kaeru."
Saibankan sighed, "A long journey far from my homelands."
"Each journey starts with a single step."
Tanuko smiled. "I have been reading up on 'things', as you suggested."
"So I see, so I see…"
* * *
"Saibankan! Saibankan! Get out here, quickly!"
Saibankan ran out of his room into the hallway and looked around. Tanuko was standing in the entrance to the room where their guide slept. He ran to her and looked into the room.
"I heard her scream, and when I got here she was already dead. The killer jumped out of the window."
Saibankan looked through the room, at the body and ran to the window and looked down. He then turned around and said with a confident grin, "It's all right. A magistrate must've caught the killer by now."
Tanuko frowned, "Do you really think so?"
"Oh, I am quite sure of it. Let's get back to sleep."
"What! There's a dead woman here! Or have you forgotten?"
"No, of course not, I had noticed that. The local magistrates will handle it. After all it's not our duty here."
Tanuko's face flushed red with anger. "How can you say such things. You… you imbecile!"
"I think you should get back to calling me sama again. This is getting to personal for me."
Clenching her fists Tanuko yelled, "This is exactly why they don't want you to do anything important!"
"And so you try to frame me? To help 'them' and their vile plans?"
Tanuko's eyes widened and she tried to speak, but Saibankan cut her off with his own words.
"Oh yes! I know what you are onto. Framing me to make name for yourself! Did you really believe I would not notice anything?"
"H-ho-how," was all Tanuko could say.
"By the Celestial Heavens, you really have no idea how the Kitsuki's Method works, do you? You were sincere enough at first, a bit eager perhaps, but sincere. But then you discovered your peers were right, you started to plot my downfall… and your promotion."
"But, but… I'm not…"
"One of them? Don't lie, I know when people lie to me. They told you about me, but you had to see it with your own eyes. So you arranged to become my yoriki. You feigned ignorance and inexperience, but you made a mistake: you quoted from the True Tao, from the half that is missing and not included in the New Tao, which I gave to you."
Tanuko just grunted.
"And then there's the poor boy who fell to your ambition. You could've at least hired true bandits instead of ordering those Matsu… Surprised? I'll have you know that I can recognize even the most bland Shiba in the dark, during a full moon at a hundred paces. Such is the way of the Kitsuki, Tanuko."
"And now this poor woman. She was killed at least fifteen minutes ago, the pool of blood is too large for any shorter period. And the foliage below the window is undisturbed."
"You are overlooking one thing, Dragon: I planned this and a contingency plan! I have a weapon and you don't."
With those words Tanuko drew her tanto and lunged at Saibankan. He sidestepped her attack and she wanted to step back for another attack, but felt her knees buckle.
Saibankan pushed her back and she gasped at the realization of the fact that he had stabbed her with a tanto of his own. "I am sorry, Tanuko-chan, but the Otomo was very fond of magical trinkets: he also gave me this tanto that draws itself." He saw her stagger back helplessly and said, "I never overlook anything," a tear rolling down his cheek, "poor Tanuko-chan."
* * *
Saibankan had returned to the familiar carnage. Though he had considered to go to the Leaping Place several times today, he realized that he had grown attached and accustomed to the carnage… Perhaps he could come to love this battlefield just as much as the other…
… but not very likely. Not in this lifetime.
[To be continued]