by Daidoji Gisei

“I will not fail.”

<snickt> Daidoji Michinaga swept out his katana in a iai draw, mindful of any sign of hesitation or stickiness in the blade. Today he faced Hiruma Danjuro, and only perfection would do.

“I will not fail.” It was the motto of the Hida family, but Danjuro had made it his own in his years at the Daidoji Ryu. He had arrived determined to master anything and everything his Crane sensei could teach him, and had succeeded brilliantly.

<snickt> The draw was perfect—or was it? Michinaga frowned slightly, then re-sheathed the katana and dropped back into his dueling stance. <snickt>

The gift of a Tear and the valor of their samurai at Oblivion’s Gate had earned the Crane the grudging respect of the Crab, and the reign of the Splendid Emperor had seen tentative moves towards harmony between the two Clans. Danjuro had been part of those moves; one of a number of Crabs sent to study how the Crane waged war. The young man had absorbed Daidoji ways so well that Michinaga had begun to hope that someday there might be an alliance between the two Clans.

<snickt> And then Toturi had died, and Danjuro had gone home to his Clan. Had gone home, and accepted command of a unit sent to make war upon the Crane. <snickt>

Michinaga sheathed his blade, satisfied at last that it would not stutter out of its saya. He picked up his kabuto and carefully tied it on, tying it the way that showed you were not planning on taking it off again. Then he picked up his tessen and walked out of his tent.

He found his officers on a hillock overlooking the battle-field-to-be, clustered around the map table and talking softly among themselves. Michinaga joined the group, acknowledged their bows and rapped his fan on the table. “Where is he?” he asked.

His second, a Daidoji samurai-ko named Gisei, indicated a cluster of blue and gray markers on the map. “Our scouts report seeing his banner in the main body of the Crab force. Their scouts have already begun filtering into the valley; our skirmishers have met with some and report heavy casualties. I’ve sent runners to our archery commanders telling them to hold their fire until the signal.”

Michinaga grunted in reply. Gisei wasn’t who he would have chosen for this role—she was entirely too literary for his peace of mind—but she had combat experience and that would have to be good enough. The rest of his officers, like the soldiers they led, were too young to have seen action in the Spirit Wars, and the Crane had known peace since then. The Crab, on the other hand, enjoyed a ceaseless low-grade war in the Shadowlands, with the result that all of Danjuro’s men were well-drilled veterans.

The combination of Daidoji tactics and Crab might had proven devastating against the Crane. Danjuro had already met and destroyed two Crane legions when Michinaga had received a message from Lord Kurohito, ordering him to find Danjuro and stop him. Kurohito-dono hadn’t given any advice on how exactly Michinaga was to accomplish this, but then he didn’t have to. Crane Champions had been asking the impossible of the Daidoji since the family was founded, and the Daidoji obediently delivered it. Michinaga had gathered together every Crane bushi he could find in two days time and set out to find Danjuro.

Against another opponent, Michinaga thought, he could carry the day easily. Against anyone else he could have harassed and harried the enemy until the time was right for a killing blow. But Danjuro knew the rules of that game, and had no intention of playing it. Michinaga had had to think of something else.

“Are there any questions?” Michinaga asked. Silence. “Then let it begin. Gisei-san, you will need this,” he said, and handed her his tessen. She offered no polite refusals. It was not a gift.

* * * * * * * * * * *

The Crab force was a mass of dark blue and gray, looking like the unstoppable tide of the ocean. The Cranes, arrayed in lighter blue and silver, looked like a field of blooming flax shining in the sunlight.

Hiruma Danjuro strode forward, looking confident. “What is this?” he boomed out. “An old man and his grandchildren, out for a picnic!” A wave of laughter spread through the soldiers behind him.

Daidoji Michinaga walked out of the Crane lines. His voice was not as loud as Danjuro’s but it carried just as clearly. “I am Daidoji Michinaga! I marched with Daidoji Uji-sama to Volturnum, and goblins fell before me as grain falls at the harvest! I killed an ogre unaided, and led my bushi to victory against a Greater Uragirimono! When the armies of the Stone Crab ravaged the Asahina lands, it was I who cut down the leader of his personal guard! Face me if you dare, Hiruma Danjuro, because I am here to kill you!”

Danjuro’s posture didn’t change, and his tone remained insolent. “Daidoji-san, it is you who will die. Did I not study among the Crane? You know that I know what you are trying to do. Take your children and go—you can do nothing here but water the grass with your blood. Leave now, and I will allow you to fight for your mad lord on another day.”

“You studied among the Crane? Remind me, Hiruma-san, did you study with the bushi or the courtiers?” Danjuro twitched slightly at that, and Michinaga walked to the center of the field and waited. A moment later, Danjuro stalked out to join him.

The two men stared at each other for a moment, then they bowed and assumed their stances. While at the Daidoji Ryu Danjuro had been known for his prowess at iaijutsu, and Michinaga could see that his skill had not declined. The Hiruma’s stance was perfect, his control flawless.

Michinaga had never been known for his iaijutsu.

<snickt> Danjuro drew first, his katana sweeping smoothly out of his saya and tracing its fatal arc through his opponent. Michinaga’s draw was a beat slower, with his cut wilder and less deep.

The Daidoji crumpled like a doll, jaws locked tight against the pain clawing its way up his throat. “I told you,” Danjuro said over his own pain. He raised his blade to give the killing blow—

--and then abruptly collapsed, hands pressed against a wound that had suddenly blossomed into agony. From where he lay Michinaga could see the waxen look of the younger man’s skin and the sweat that had suddenly beaded on his face.

Danjuro’s eyes went to his opponent’s. “What…”he gasped, “what…” Michinaga didn’t reply, and in the silence the Hiruma evidently found the answer himself, for a look of betrayal momentarily replaced the pain on his face. “Sensei…how could you?”

Michinaga couldn’t speak, and couldn’t have answered even if he could. There wasn’t any words he could use to explain, except, maybe…he didn’t believe in failure, either.