Master of Secrets
By Rich Wulf

The old man shivered as a bitter wind cut through the darkened alley. Pulling his baggy clothes tighter, he glanced both ways and knocked on the wall, his hand shook from the cold. With a metallic grating sound, one of the boards moved a two inches to the side. Within, there was only darkness. There was no answer, but the old man could feel eyes upon him.

"Mushroom," the old man said, hoping the password he had been given was correct.

For a long moment, there was no answer. Then a portion of the wall moved slowly aside. Within, the old man could see a tall man in dark red samurai armor, flanked on either side by burly peasant bodyguards. One held a pair of kama; the other had a shank of wood with a nail in the end.

"I do not recognize you," the samurai said in an oily voice. "What is your name?"

"Call me Shuha," the old man said.

"Who referred you to this place?" he asked.

"A friend," Shuha said, keeping his eyes on the ground.

"Who?" the samurai pressed. "Give me his name."

"I cannot say that," the old man laughed. "Surely in this place you know the value of a secret. I only came here for a drink, a smoke, and a good time. I heard that this place provides such things."

"It does," the samurai said, studying the old man carefully, "but why not just go to Teardrop Island?"

"Ah, but my friend told me the quality of the services here was much higher," Shuha answered. "And... aheh... I must admit I am no longer allowed on Teardrop Island. A difference of opinion with a samurai in the House of Foreign Stories."

"A difference of opinion?" the samurai asked.

"I told a Shinjo that his wife's face looked like his horse's, but not as pretty," the old man said. "He disagreed."

The samurai laughed. "How amusing," he said, relishing the idea of a peasant insulting a Unicorn. He stepped to one side, clearing the path to the door behind him.

The old man began to shuffle past when the samurai suddenly cleared his throat. Shuha looked back over one shoulder.

"Remove your hood," the samurai said, one hand resting on the hilt of his blade. "Show me your face."

Shuha turned, slowly and deliberately pulling back his hood. Long gray hair fell about his shoulders. His face was narrow and angular, with piercing eyes. The samurai's jaw dropped open in recognition.

That was all the old man needed. With a flick of his wrist a dagger appeared in his hand. He darted forward and slashed the samurai's throat before his blade had cleared its saya. Shuha seized the blade with his left hand and drew it free, spinning into a dueling stance with the sword low to one side.

The two guards shouted in alarm and leapt to the attack. Shuha slashed at the first man with his sword but fell back as the body collapsed toward him. The other lifted his kama to strike, then fell to his knees. With a look of confusion frozen on his face, he fell forward dead. Three shuriken were buried in the back of his skull.

"Thank you, Yudoka, but I could have handled them both," Shuha said, rising to his feet with a grunt.

"Of course, 'Shuha,'" came the reply. A tall man with a white porcelain mask appeared from the shadows of the alley. He carried a long spear in one hand, capped on either end with a wicked blade. He stood beside Shuha, eyes fixed on the door at the rear of the chamber.

"Did you bring my sword?" the old man asked.

"Churetsu is here, my lord," Yudoka said. He produced a sheathed katana from his voluminous robes, offering it to Shuha.

The old man threw the guard's sword aside and drew the new blade. Shuha smiled at the sword, so completely unexceptional in appearance or design. As the two men held their weapons ready, the door at the rear of the chamber burst open. A five samurai in blood red armor spilled out with bows and swords.

"Now, Koji," Shuha whispered. "It is time to end this. The first blow against the Shadowed Tower will be struck here."

An electric charge passed through the air around them. Behind Shuha and Yudoka a swirling portal yawned in midair a dozen feet wide, revealing a realm of swirling shadow. Eight Scorpion samurai with spears and swords leapt from the portal to flank Shuha and Yudoka. Each wore a white cloak that swirled in the winds generated by Koji's portal. Shuha grasped the shoulder of his thick robes and tore them away, dispelling the illusion that concealed his form. The old man now wore armor of brilliant red and deep brown. The mon emblazoned on his chest gave their attackers pause - the mon of Bayushi Yojiro, Champion of the Scorpion Clan.

Battle was joined. None said a word. No one shouted a defiant battle cry. The only sounds were those of men fighting and dying. In the streets beyond, none would ever know of this battle. Both sides were Scorpion, and Scorpion kept their secrets even in death. Yudoka had vanished, as Yojiro knew he would. No doubt the ninja had slipped unnoticed deeper into the rooms beyond. The true master of this place would be making his escape even now, but with Shosuro Yudoka on his heels there would be no safe refuge.

In such cramped quarters the battle was chaotic and confusing. Yojiro was thankful for Koji's foresight in equipping the attackers with white cloaks. Without them distinguishing friend from foe would have been impossible. A samurai in a scowling demon mempo charged Yojiro, naginata aimed at his chest. The Scorpion Champion swung Churetsu in a broad arc, faster than the eye could follow. The blade split the polearm in half lengthwise along the shaft, severing the man's hands. The samurai looked down in dumb shock as Yojiro swung again, taking his head from his shoulders. He kicked the corpse aside and looked for the next attacker. The scowl that split his features was as fearsome as any Scorpion mask. Finding his path to the door clear, he kicked it open and stepped through. The surviving six white-cloaked Scorpion appeared instantly at his side, ready to protect their lord.

The room was dimly lit with many low tables. The pungent smell of smoke and bitter sake filled the chamber. Here and there, scantily clothed women and men lingered in the shadows, eyeing the samurai fearlessly. Some were unafraid, sitting listlessly on the floor, staring blankly into space. One laughed when he saw Yojiro and the others.

The sight of a brothel, geisha house, or sake works was not unusual in Ryoko Owari. Such businesses were entirely legal with the proper permits, and most were clean and well maintained. This was not normal. The men and women here had glazed, mindless expressions. Their minds were no longer their own. In the shadows of the dark chamber the man continued to laugh uncontrollably, now hoarse and gasping for breath.

"Ignore them," Yojiro said to his men. "Let us find Yudoka, and attend to the master of this place."

They pressed on, moving toward the far end of the darkened chamber. Behind them, the maniac laughter was replaced by a strange, twisted chant. Realizing his mistake too late, Yojiro shouted a warning and threw himself to the ground. Only three of his guards moved quickly enough the other three were caught standing as the tsukai finished his spell. They did not even scream as the dark magic rendered them nothing more than ash grey skeletons; their bones clattered to the floor and became dust.

Yojiro and his three guards stood in a tight circle with weapons ready. Now the laughing peasant held a blade in his hand, dripping dark blood from the cut on his own arm. In the chamber around them the addled peasants staggered to their feet, drawing knives, clubs, and other improvised weapons.

"Master of Secrets," the tsukai said with a mocking laugh. His words echoed from the mouths of every peasant in unison. "You know nothing of us. These peasants - their minds, their souls, their bodies are mine. Will you strike down your own innocent subjects, or will you be slaughtered by your own pride?"

Yojiro sneered and drew a knife from his obi, hurling it at the blood sorcerer. The man only grinned; the air around him crackled and melted the dagger into nothing. "There is no third option, Master of Secrets," he said. "The Shadowed Tower makes the rules here, and even you must obey. You think that you have won, but your efforts will only bring about your own defeat."

The enslaved peasants lunged forward to attack. One leapt at Yojiro with a dagger; the Scorpion seized his wrist with his off hand and buried his knee in his stomach. Unaffected by the blow, the maddened peasant clawed at Yojiro's eyes with his fingers. Another man struck the Champion in the shoulder with a broken stool. They were all about him now, leering and drooling in mindless rage. Another bolt of dark energy swept past. Two more of Yojiro's guards were eradicated as well as some of the other peasants. The tsukai laughed maniacally.

"No more," Yojiro scowled. He swung Churetsu once. The celestial blade passed through his attackers with ease. Yojiro ignored the sickly sound of bodies hitting the floor and turned to find the tsukai again. The Champion's breath came in ragged gasps; old age was not agreeing with him today.

"Well now," the tsukai said, pacing the room with a small grin. "I may not even need to kill you. Time may do it for me."

Yojiro sneered and charged at the man, but something seized his ankle and made him fall forward hard. Glancing back, Yojiro could see one of the peasants clutching his shin guard firmly in one hand. The man had been cut in half at the waist but continued to leer madly. Some of the other dead peasants rose, their bodies suffused with the strength of undeath. The tsukai fired another sickly bolt at Yojiro's sole remaining guard, killing the man outright. With a triumphant smile, he looked down at the Master of Secrets.

"What now?" Yojiro said without fear. "Will you kill me as well?"

"That was never part of the plan," the tsukai said. He turned his dagger in one hand and, with a deft move, plunged it into his own chest.

A loud cry echoed in the rooms behind him, and the doors suddenly burst open. A band of samurai charged through the entrance, cleaving into the mob of undead peasants. Their armor was a brilliant green, and each wielded katana and wakizashi in unison. In moments the undead had been dispatched, and the leader of the samurai bowed deeply to the Scorpion Champion as he rose.

"Greetings, Yojiro-sama," the Dragon said. "I apologize that we arrived when we did. We came as swiftly as we received your message."

Yojiro showed no trace of confusion, though he had no idea what a Dragon would be doing here. He recognized the leader as Mirumoto Rosanjin, a young samurai recently appointed to Ryoko Owari as part of his family's continued efforts to draw their Scorpion allies into the Dragon's war with the Phoenix Clan. "Arigato, Rosanjin-san," Yojiro said carefully. "Your arrival was quite timely under the circumstances."

Rosanjin nodded sharply and turned to his men. "You three secure the alley outside," he ordered. "The rest of you, come with me to secure the inner chambers. Yogo Koji's force should be making their way from the eastern entrance; we will rendezvous with them there."

The Dragon moved with practiced speed and precision, leaving Yojiro in the chamber alone.

o

In the early days of his career, after his gempukku and during the years he served as a magistrate, Bayushi Yojiro never wore a mask. A high-collared kimono that covered the lower portion of his face had been his sole acknowledgment of his clan's tradition of duplicity and misdirection. He had always preferred to be seen as an "honest" Scorpion.

Then, with the death of Bayushi Kachiko, rule of the clan was thrust upon him. As Champion, he knew he could no longer spurn the traditions of his clan. He had adopted a mask, a fearsome demon mempo that obscured his features entirely. Whenever he appeared to his followers, Yojiro wore the mempo as well as a full suit of armor even in times of peace. The armor, he felt, stood as a reminder of his clan's true purpose. Warriors of shadow the Scorpion may be, but they were samurai all the same. Though they may have a different definition of honor than the other Great Clans, bushido was still crucial to the Way of the Scorpion. Without some sense of virtue to cling to, it would be all too easy to become lost on the path they walked.

As the years drew on, it became harder to remain such a symbol. He was not a young man, and the weight of the heavy armor often caused him great pain. Had it not been for Emperor Toturi's death, he might have retired to an advisory role and helped a successor learn the role of the Scorpion Champion. As things were, with the feud between Toturi's children, his continued service was all too necessary.

Today Yojiro was feeling his age more than most days. Deep in his chambers in Kyuden Bayushi, Yojiro prepared to meet with his advisors. Beneath his armor, his shoulders sagged. A throbbing pain nearly made his knees buckle. He pushed the weakness aside and finished lacing on his do. Pushing aside the shoji screen, he stepped into a small chamber that few knew of and only two others had ever seen. The walls were lined with swords, all nondescript and identical. Yojiro unerringly chose Churetsu from its place.

When the Fortune of Steel came to Rokugan decades ago and gifted the Clan Champion's with their Celestial swords, he explained their special powers to their intended wielders. Unlike the other Celestial Swords, Churetsu appeared completely average and mundane in every way. Even a shugenja's magic could not tell that it was any different from any other blade. Only the true Champion of the Scorpion could recognize Churetsu's true power - until the blade was wielded. The sword was one of the deadliest weapons in the Empire, able to cut through bone, flesh, and steel with ease.

Each night Yojiro returned the blade to this small chamber, a chamber that contained one hundred other swords just like Churetsu in appearance. Yojiro had commissioned Yogo Masuhiro, at the time the Yogo family daimyo, to work his family's potent ward magic upon the chamber. All the blades, save Churetsu, carried a subtle enchantment that served three purposes. First, the blades were kept free of dust. Second, the blades would randomly exchange places with one another each night. Third, any who touched a false Churetsu died in a paroxysm of pain. The ward master had placed a more complex spell on Churetsu itself, enchanting the blade so that it would return to this chamber upon Yojiro's death. When Yojiro died, any self-proclaimed successor would be allowed to enter this chamber and claim his Celestial blade.

If the successor was not worthy, he had best be very, very lucky.

The arrangement allowed Yojiro to name his successor secretly. Only he and his heir knew who the next true Champion of the Scorpion would be. This allowed his future successor to prepare for his role without worry of sycophants and hangers-on currying his favor or cluttering his path with obstacles long before he assumed his position. The next Champion of the Scorpion would forge his own path. While Yojiro knew that he had made his share of mistakes during his reign as Champion, he knew that his successor would not be one of them. Yojiro tucked Churetsu into his obi, drawing strength and courage from its presence. He straightened his shoulders, took a deep breath, and made his way to his audience chamber.

There, arranged around a low table, stood the most cunning and experienced minds the Scorpion had to offer, with a seat at the head reserved for Yojiro. The Scorpion Champion took his place, returned their respectful bows, and was seated.
To Yojiro's right sat Bayushi Kaukatsu, Imperial Chancellor. The man was almost single-handedly responsible for his clan's dominance of the Imperial Court in the last decade, and had been rightfully rewarded for his talent with his current title. Unfortunately, that title came with the dubious responsibility as serving as a go-between for Toturi's feuding heirs. So far Kaukatsu had managed to maintain his position without dragging his clan into the heir's conflict, a triumph as worthy of that of any master general.

To Yojiro's left sat Shosuro Yudoka. The ninja had discarded his usual mask, heavy robes, and spear for the elegant kimono and silken veil he wore as Shosuro family daimyo. Behind his veil, Yudoka's face was calm and expressionless, as it had been since their raid on the Shadowed Tower facility three days ago.

Beside Kaukatsu sat Yogo Koji, daimyo of the Yogo family. The shugenja was a small man with a ratlike face and long, droopy moustache. He smiled too much and had a pronounced facial tick, but such strange habits were not unusual for those who delved as deeply into his family's art as he. Koji was as talented at weaving wards as his father had been, and was an expert in hunting maho tsukai. His loyalty was unquestionable, and his magical power was extraordinary.

Beside Yudoka sat Soshi Uidori, daimyo of her family. Her face, what was visible of it behind her feathered half mask, showed extreme displeasure. Her magical studies at Shiro no Soshi consumed much of her time, and she did not appreciate being called away even for emergencies.

To Uidori's left sat Bayushi Paneki, Shireikan of the First Legion. The talented samurai was a decorated hero of the War of Spirits, and had won the support and trust of Toturi Tsudao during her recent campaign against the Tsuno. Paneki had arrived in Ryoko Owari only recently, with news that Tsudao had proclaimed herself Empress and established a new capital in Kyuden Seppun. Yojiro had not yet decided how to react to that turn of events, but Paneki had been quite clear in his desire that the Scorpion support her.

To Koji's right sat Shosuro Furuyari. Over three hundred years ago, Furuyari had been the most acclaimed playwright of his generation. During the Battle of Oblivion's Gate, Furuyari had been one of many spirits to pass back into the Empire and be given mortal flesh once more. While other spirits rallied to the banner of Hantei XVI, Furuyari had remained loyal to his clan. Even though this was not the Empire he knew, or the dynasty he served, he knew that the Scorpion's duty was to the Emperor. His knowledge of history and tactics were quite extraordinary for a playwright, and Yojiro often suspected that Furuyari had played a larger role in the governance of his clan during his lifetime than he claimed.

"I will get directly to the point," Yojiro said. "All of you know why you are here."

"The raid on the Shadowed Tower facility," Kaukatsu replied.

"A total failure," Yojiro said flatly.

"I beg your pardon, my lord, but I do not know what you mean," Koji replied quickly. "None of the Shadowed Tower agents escaped. We captured several of their samurai alive, and destroyed a large shipment of Tainted sake, rice, and medicinal herbs. Everything went more or less as we planned."

"More or less?" Paneki said sardonically.

"What of the Dragon Clan's involvement?" Uidori said sharply. "This was meant to be a strictly internal affair."

"The Dragon's involvement is a mystery," Yojiro said. "One of Yudoka's agents inspected Rosanjin's invitation and it appeared genuine. The Dragon now know of the Shadowed Tower, and they believe that I requested their aid in destroying one of their facilities. I cannot dispute what they know without casting even more suspicion on ourselves."

"Fortunate that they arrived when they did," Furuyari said. "The Dragon says that he saved your life."

"I am uncertain about that," Yojiro said. "One of their tsukai could easily have killed me, yet he did not. Instead he created a situation where my life would be in danger, then killed himself to prevent the possibility of his being taken alive. The Tower wanted the Dragon to be involved. They wanted me to be indebted to them. Agents of the Tower forged Rosanjin's invitation. They knew we would attack. That is why none of the prisoners knew anything that could help us. They were all expendable."

"How could they have known?" Paneki asked. "More important, why would they have bothered? It seems an unnecessarily complex and dangerous plan."

"Is it, Paneki-san?" Yojiro said. "Remember, they are Scorpion, like us. Some of what we do might seem strange to the eyes of outsiders.

"When Scorpion fight Scorpion, strange things are bound to happen," Yudoka added.

Yojiro nodded. "The Shadowed Tower existed in secret for a single purpose - to avoid my scrutiny. Now that I know of their existence, their anonymity serves no further purpose. Rather, they seek to use it as a weapon. They have revealed themselves to the Dragon because they wish me to appear weak, unable to deal with a minor revolt in the very heart of my territory. There are already many among the Dragon who do not appreciate how we dealt with Junnosuke. Now some of them will wonder if they made the right choice in allying with our clan, given its current leadership."

"With all respect, my lord, you made a mistake in accompanying your samurai to attack the facility," Kaukatsu said.

"Kaukatsu, you dare question your lord?" Furuyari said sharply.

"No he is correct," Yojiro said, holding out one hand. "I was arrogant. I hoped that my presence would shake our enemy's faith in their anonymity, let them know that they could not hide from me. Instead, they used my pride against me. For all I despise the Shadowed Tower, I must respect their cunning."

"My lord, you seem to be avoiding what I think is obvious," Paneki said. "If the Shadowed Tower knew when you planned to attack, knew that you would be there, and had time to plan the Dragon's involvement, then obviously there is a traitor in our midst."

"A possibility I feared from the beginning," Yojiro said, "but had I remained behind they might have hidden their hand even longer. When the guard recognized my face, I knew something was wrong; only a dozen men and women in the Empire still know my face, so the Master of the Shadowed Tower must have cautioned his guards to watch for me specifically. Now, the damage is done but the truth is also known. The Shadowed Tower's reach extends even into this cabinet."

Koji scowled across the table at Yudoka. "Where were you during the raid?" he asked. "You disappeared shortly after we went in."

Yudoka looked at Koji calmly. "I infiltrated the inner chambers while the guards were fighting outside. Within, I discovered many documents detailing Shadowed Tower trade routes, as well as the location of a large Shadowed Tower plantation."

"You did?" Koji said shrilly. "You did not report this earlier."

"Of course I did not," Yudoka said. "I burned everything."

Kaukatsu frowned. "Why would you do that?" he asked.

"Things did not add up in my mind. It was too perfect. I had realized it was a trap even then, but arrived too late to save my lord from the tsukai. The documents could have been forgeries. They would only have confused our investigations."

"You do not know that!" Koji snapped. "Those could have been very valuable to us! Foolish ninj-"

Yudoka slammed one hand on the table, silencing the room. "Call me a fool if you like, Koji," he whispered, "but if that last word escapes your lips all the power of Jigoku will not save you from me."

Koji was silent.

"No one is questioning your loyalty, Yudoka-sama," Furuyari interjected coolly. "If not for the combined talents of Bayushi Norachai and yourself we might not know of the Tower's existence even now."

"No accusations will be made without undeniable evidence or indisputable testimony," Yojiro said. "The Shadowed Tower's objective is to fracture the leadership of our clan and replace it with their own. I will not aid them in that task."

"And yet to ignore the fact that one of us is a traitor would be foolish," Uidori added with a sour grimace. "Surely you cannot continue to wage this war against them with a traitor in your midst."

"I do not intend to," Yojiro said. "As of now, you are all dismissed."

"What?" Paneki replied, surprised.

"You may continue to fight the Tower alone if you like," Yojiro said. "I certainly plan to. For the time being, your presence is more a hindrance than an aid. Good-bye."

Without another word, Yojiro rose, turn, and left the room. The assembled advisors stared at one another in shock.

o

Later that evening...

The Scorpion Champion stepped quietly through the ancestral shrine of Kyuden Bayushi, his heavy armor making no sound as he moved. The chambers were dark except for a single lamp near one of the small shrines. Shosuro Furuyari knelt there, head bowed in prayer, eyes closed in meditation. The Master of Secrets knelt beside him.

"Praying to ancestors, or praying to friends, spirit?" he asked.

"I did not hear you enter, my lord," Furuyari said with a small smile, "and I am spirit no longer. You know that I was rendered fully mortal via Phoenix magic."

"Yet you seem to age so much more slowly than me," the Scorpion Champion said. "Every year I feel older and you still look as young as when we met in the War of Spirits."

"My body was made young when I passed through the Gate," Furuyari said, "and the life of a playwright is a serene one. I do not have your responsibilities."

"Of course," he replied.

The two sat in silence for some time.

"Why did you do it, Furuyari?" the Scorpion Champion asked.

"Why did I do what?" he asked.

The Master of Secrets turned, demon mempo scowling at the playwright. "Why did you turn against me?"

"Impressive," Furuyari said. "I thought it would take you much longer to figure it out than you did."

"So you admit that you are the Master of the Shadowed Tower?" he said quietly. "You admit that you are behind this revolt against my leadership."

"Why should I not?" Furuyari asked. "The Tower is strong. It will stand without me. Meanwhile, you are weak. Brash. Headstrong. More like a Lion than a true Scorpion. I know that you have no proof of what I have done, so striking me down will only make you look worse in the eyes of your clan. Do with me as you will. I have already looked into the face of death, and I do not fear it."

"I do not know who you are."

"Why be so dramatic? " Furuyari chuckled. "Let it go, Yojiro. You've had your little victory. Now it is over. You think that you are a great leader, thrusting the Scorpion to the forefront of politics when we both know our place is where the true power lies - in the shadows. I know you too well, Yojiro, and I have put something into motion that you cannot stop. It does not matter that you know who I am."

"You are not listening. I do not know who you are."

Furuyari looked at Yojiro curiously.

"I did some research where Shosuro Furuyari is concerned," the Master of Secrets said. "In his day he was reclusive, with no friends and no family. After his death, rumors swirled that there was no true Furuyari, but that three moderately talented playwrights combined their talents under one pen name to gain greater fame. The Shosuro family did their best to quash the rumors, but a few traces of the truth remain... They are easy to find when your closest friend is a master ninja and also happens to have access to the Shosuro archives. There was never a Shosuro Furuyari."

"Ahhh, so that's it, is it?" Furuyari replied. "If you wish to know the truth, then know it. Let it chill your blood as you realize who leads this Shadowed Tower."

"Now who is being dramatic?" Yojiro interrupted.

"I have a right to be," Furuyari snapped. "You may rule the courts, but I ruled the Empire. I was Bayushi Atsuki, one of the three leaders of the Gozoku Alliance. Together with the Phoenix and Crane we toppled the Hantei's reign, made him nothing more than a puppet to dance for our pleasure. It was only Doji Raigu's arrogance that led us to lose our grasp, and I see that same arrogance in you, Yojiro. I have had seven centuries to think upon my mistakes, to learn what I could have done. With such time to perfect the arts of manipulation, pretending to be a nonexistent Shosuro was simplicity. My mother was a Shosuro and I have long admired the family. I am pleased to be a part of it, and find it ironic to have successfully pretended to belong to a family of impersonators for so long."

"The Gozoku were formed of the Crane, Phoenix, and Scorpion," the Scorpion Champion said.

"Yes," Furuyari said. "What of it?"

"Does the Shadowed Tower stop at the Scorpion?"

Furuyari chuckled. "You ask for too much, and do not give enough. Find out for yourself, if you are able." The playwright rose.

"I will see you in Traitor's Grove one day, Atsuki."

"I would say the same," he replied, "but only Scorpion belong in Traitor's Grove." Furuyari chuckled softly, turned, and exited the chamber.

The Master of Secrets knelt in silence for several minutes before Yudoka finally stepped from the shadows. He looked back slightly. "How was I?" he asked.

"I do not believe he suspected," Yudoka said.

The Scorpion Champion nodded and sighed. "That is something, at least."

"Yojiro was right to do this, you know that," Yudoka said. "You will do well, or he would not have selected you for this."

"It does not seem like him, to run from a battle."

"This is a battle he cannot win, and victory is worth more than his foolish pride," Yudoka said. "As Furuyari said, he knows Yojiro too well. Yojiro cannot beat him."

"But a false Champion in Yojiro's guise might."

"You are no false Champion," Yudoka said. "You are merely not Yojiro. Now we know who our enemy is... but he does not know who we are. He does not know if you are young or old, male or female, or even if you are Scorpion and so we have the advantage. With Koji's help, they will not learn the truth of your identity. Yojiro has chosen his successor well. Let them think that you are he, and we shall use that against them."

"This is a dangerous game, Yudoka."

"It is so," Yudoka said, "but when Scorpion fight Scorpion strange things are bound to happen. I will leave you to your thoughts."

With that, the master ninja receded into the shadows again, leaving the Master of Secrets alone in the shrine.

o

Glossary of Characters and Terms

Bayushi Kaukatsu - Imperial Chancellor, prominent courtier of the Scorpion Clan.

Bayushi Paneki - Shireikan of the First Legion, ally of Toturi Tsudao.

Bayushi Yojiro - The Master of Secrets, Champion of the Scorpion Clan.

Churetsu - The Celestial Sword of the Scorpion Clan, forged by the Fortune of Steel, Tsi Xing Guo.

Do - The chest plate of a suit of samurai armor.

Jigoku - The Realm of evil, home to oni (demons) and dark spirits.

Maho - Dark magic that often relies upon ritual bloodletting. Those who practice maho accumulate Taint.

Mirumoto Rosanjin - A samurai of the Dragon Clan.

Oblivion's Gate - An enormous passage to the spirit realms of the dead that opened several decades ago, causing many long-dead samurai to return in mortal bodies.

Ryoko Owari - The City of Lies, gem of the Scorpion provinces, now the largest city in the Empire.

Shadowed Tower - A secret organization within the Scorpion Clan that seeks to subvert the clan's current leadership. Some members have devised ways of practicing maho but forcing the accumulated Taint into enslaved peasants.

Shosuro Furuyari - A famous Scorpion playwright who returned through Oblivion's Gate.

Shosuro Yudoka - Daimyo of the Shosuro family, master of ninjutsu

Soshi Uidori - Daimyo of the Soshi family, a powerful shugenja.

Taint - A corruptive force that wells out of Jigoku, corrupting the body, mind, and soul of whomever it touches.

Toturi - Emperor of Rokugan, recently murdered.

Toturi Tsudao - Emperor Toturi's oldest legitimate child, commander of the First Legion, recently proclaimed herself Empress (though her siblings dispute this claim).

Tsukai - A practitioner of maho. Also called a maho-tsukai.

War of Spirits - A conflict between the mortals of Rokugan and the returned spirits from Oblivion's Gate.

Yogo Koji - Daimyo of the Yogo family, a powerful shugenja.