"I heared you are leaving us tomorrow after the Chrysanthemum Festival, is it true Okugi-san?" Okugi looked at the old Scorpion courtier, for a moment he thought he saw true sadness in his eyes, but it quickly disappeared. "Yes, Taberu-san, I might endanger all the lives her if I stay. Something or someone is after me and I don't want to face it here." Shosuro Taberu looked at Okugi intently, from the moment he came to court he had befriended Okugi, Okugi had somehow picked up some of Taberu's tricks and used them masterfully. During the past years they had become friends and Okugi knew he was lucky with a friend like Taberu, he had proven his loyalty in supporting the older man several times. Though many people acknowledged Okugi's brilliance, they couldn't see the use of helping a Scorpion like he did. Finally Taberu spoke, "It is your choice, my friend. Tomorrow you will receive gifts from the people in court, I will not be one of them. I will give you my gift right now, though it is not really a material gift I present it to you as this brooch. It present your loyalty and trust towards me and showing it will grant you the help of my Clan, should you need it." Taberu reached into the folds of his kimono and pulled out a small, wooden box, saying, "And don't even think about the etiquette, we are beyond that." "I thank you from my heart, Taberu-san," Okugi said as he accepted the gift, he opened the box and found a masterfully carved brooch, it was made out of gold, in the form of a Scorpion and it had a diamond stinger, "I will treasure it always."
Toturi walked through the gardens alone, and as he came up to the place he was supposed to meet Okugi he found him in conversation with the Scorpion courtier Taberu. Though he didn't despise Taberu, Toturi thought it odd to see him with Okugi, especially after the things Okugi had supposedly seen. But the Scorpion stood and walked away just as Toturi arrived, the Emperor walked up to Okugi and just saw him putting a small box in the folds of his obi. Okugi stood and kneeled to the Emperor, "Otennoo-sama." After he stood up again, Toturi stared hard into Okugi's eyes, for a moment he saw a flash of what he could see in his wife's eyes, but disregarded it and said in a austere voice, "You wanted to tell me something? About what you have seen in your 'journey'? Something about the Coupe?" Toturi's voice wasn't pleasant, after Kaede had told him Okugi wanted to meet and talk about what happened during the Coupe, Toturi had been shaken. If Okugi had really seen many things, he could've seen how Toturi struck Shoju in the back, this fear welled up again every time Toturi thought of Shoju and his own cowardly act. Okugi countered the Emperor's glare with a friendly, compassionate look of his own and the only thing he did was putting his hand on the Emperor's shoulder and say: "I would have done the same." The Emperor was too confused to even notice the blatant disregard for etiquette Okugi showed by casually touching the Emperor. Okugi walked off as Toturi stood stunned on his feet, slowly, taking minutes, a smile formed on Toturi's face and he walked back into the palace to attend to daily court.
* * *
"Those despicable mortal wretches… I wish I could do without
them!" The man slammed his fist on his stone dais again. "Don't forget
that you're not fully immortal, doushi…" The second voice was like the
softest whisper on the wind. A low growl escaped the man's throat.
"She is right, why do you act so spiteful, you are our kindred spirit…" The third voice came by like a flow of water. "Bah," the man spat, "I am no kindred spirit to you! If I were than you would understand this!" The earth rumbled as the last voice spoke, "Mitori, Mitori… What has happened to make you so vengeful?" The man's anger rose and his eyes burst with flames, "This is none of your business," he screamed, "It is not your position that is threatened!! It is not you who might be discarded without thought!!" The first voice again, "Why do you think that you will be discarded? You can not have seen such…" "No one, save the Celestial Dragons, can see their own destiny. We Oracles are no exception to that rule," the second voice continued. Again the earth shook, "If they were to take your place, don't you think they would have been taken to the Celestial Heavens to grow up?" The man laughed cynically, "You don't know anything, you will know should this happen to you! Begone! Leave me to my plans! I will destroy these would-be usurpers before they can even begin to form a threat!" The first voice filled the air again, slowly softening until it was gone, "You are a brash fool…" The second voice flowed passed into the distance until it too was no longer audible, "Your master will not appreciate you doing this…" Finally a distant rumble as the last voice spoke, "You might not be fully immortal, but you are no mortal either… Destiny favors the mortal man… Think on that before you try to kill them…"
The man was alone again, he clenched his fists and tried to regain his
composure as he softly said to himself, "I see I will have to find more
assets to complete this task."
And somewhere a head turned away…
* * *
Okugi was back in court and was listening to the different conversations as best he could. He was used to people looking surprised at his appearance, but today the court had something new to talk about: Okugi was wearing his daisho. In all the years he had been at Otusan Uchi he had never once worn his daisho, but today he did. People speculated why he suddenly chose to go about armed, they jested he had seen the need for them in a vision, they joked that he simply wanted to flaunt before he left, but only Okugi knew why he wore the swords: they comforted him.
The only thing left to him of his former family, the daisho had always taken a special spot in his life. Whenever he needed confidence, to be reassured or spiritual support, he would hold the swords. This was usually in private, or with Mekura present, but none had actually seen him with his swords. He never had any need to use them, which he didn't find troubling, the swords were powerful nemuranai apart, even more so when both were wielded. Their special properties made them some of the most deadly weapons in Rokugan if wielded by Okugi, but he had not used them yet.
As he paced through the Assembly he noticed a pair of eyes looking at him, turning around he saw who it was. Tsudao, Toturi's oldest child and only daughter, was looking at him from beside the Throne. She stared at him, eyes full amazement and curiosity, the question 'How does he look like behind that mask?' was nearly painted on her face. Smiling behind his jade mask, Okugi sized up the little girl. She was young, but very gifted with weapons, she was training with the best Akodo sensei and apparently a real prodigy… like Okugi. He looked at her little kimono and the tanto tucked into her obi, she wasn't allowed to carry a katana yet, but was able to convince Toturi to let her carry a tanto, with a little help of her mother. Okugi was about to walk over to her and talk with her when a man came racing into the room.
"You!" The man pointed at a girl sitting nex to Shosuru Taberu.
"You," he screamed on the top of his lungs, "you are supposed to
be my wife! What are you doing here?! I was disgraced when nobody showed up for
the wedding!" He took a few steps towards the girl, but stopped as Taberu
stood and said, "Kyuban-san, you must have misunderstood our intentions.
There was never supposed to be a wedding."
Okugi looked at the man as his face turned red with anger and he continued, though with a calmed voice, "Her brother had given her my hand! He is her daimyo!"
Taberu's eyes widened as if surprised and Okugi knew he must have smiled behind his mask. Shaking his head Taberu replied, "You are right Kyuban-san, her brother is now her daimyo." The Unicorn's eyes brightened, but Taberu continued, "but when he gave her hand to you his father was still the official daimyo. This marriage is false and cannot continue."
Okugi watched the man's rage build and he nearly screamed again, "I will
not accept such a plot! That girl must defend her honor or die for mine!"
The girl gasped as well as some of the courtiers present, Utaku Kyuban was known
to be a powerful dueler, his style was ruthless but very efficient. Taberu
nodded and said with a sigh, "Very well, but this girl is under my
protection… I choose Okugi to defend our honor."
Okugi turned to look at the old courtier, whose eyes shun with cunning, he should have suspected it. After bowing to Taberu, Okugi spoke up, "Is there anyone who would lend me a sword? The katana in my saya is a powerful nemunarai and I do not wish an unfair advantage."
"You will use mine."
The entire Assembly gasped some courtiers sat back down because they seemed
unable to handle the shock. Even Taberu and Okugi were amazed. Toturi had stood
from his throne and offered his sword to Okugi, the Unicorn eyed Okugi
jealously. Okugi walked up to the throne and bowed deeply, accepting the sword
and the great honor. He looked to his right and said, "Tsudao-sama, would
you bestow me the honor of holding my swords while I use this one?"
The girl nodded and Okugi removed his daisho from his obi and gave it to the girl, he turned around and tucked Toturi's katana in his obi. He knew it wasn't the katana the Emperor would wear to battle, but even for an ornamental sword it was perfectly balanced and forged.
The Unicorn and Okugi proceeded to move out of the Imperial Assembly, closing
the doors behind them. Everybody in court held their breath as all was silent,
seconds went by. In the hallway Okugi faced the Unicorn, hands on the hilt of
their swords and facing each other they took position several feet from each
other. Okugi took a deep breath and looked at his opponent, he looked and knew
he would win, he looked and he knew that he could do nothing else but win, he
looked and knew the man would die, if he let him live it would be all the more
painful. Suddenly the Unicorn burst forward and let out a powerful kiai,
charging Okugi. In his mind Okugi sighed, at the same time he sidestepped his
opponent and brought the sword from its saya, slashing through the Unicorn at
his waist. He bowed to the dead Unicorn as he flicked the blood of his sword and
When the doors opened the Assembly started to breath again as Okugi stepped through the doors. He walked up to the Emperor, bowed to him and returned his sword, bowed to Tsudao and retrieved his own, then bowed to Taberu and the young woman at his side. Servants were already cleaning up the mess the duel had left, when the courtiers just started to congratulate Okugi. When everybody had said their wishes Okugi spoke once again, "As all of you well know tomorrow is the Chrysanthemum Festival, what some of you might not know is that I have chosen to leave the Imperial Court and Otosan Uchi to travel. I am going to search for my parents, but most importantly I am leaving to assure your safety as well as mine. I will say my goodbyes tomorrow after the festival, here, in the Imperial Assembly.
* * *
The Chrysanthemum Festival went by without any interruption. Okugi enjoyed himself and entertained people with some minor magical displays, but mostly he operated as the main show for one little girl. Tsudao followed Okugi everywhere, hoping to see him 'perform' again. Even when he went back to his quarters to prepare for his farewell ceremony. He allowed her to come with him, leaving her small retinue at his door. Mekura made some tea as Okugi started to tie his long hair in a strange topknot.
"What are you doing, Okugi-san?" Tsudao young and light voice rang
through his quarters. Okugi smiled, "I am making a topknot."
"But why? I think your hair is nicer when it is long."
"I am afraid that I will cut off my hair, Tsudao-sama."
Tsudao's little eyes widened and her mout fell open, "But… But," she gasped, "Why are you doing that?"
"I grew in a monestary, I let my hair grow when I went to train with the Dragon Clan, but I only let it grow this long during my stay here. Tonight I will leave, you know this, but I will also show everybody my identity. If you want I will show you first."
"Please, Okugi-san. I am very curious."
"Ok, but don't be startled."
Okugi finished his topknot and then proceeded to cut of his hair of with a few swift strokes of his wakizashi. Tsudao almost winced as if in pain when she saw the hair fall to the ground. Mekura just entered with the tea and set it unto a table nearby, before moving back to her chamber. Okugi turned around and looked at Tsudao as he slowly removed his mask. To his comfort she only smiled amazed.
* * *
Later that evening many members of the Imperial Assembly gathered to say goodbye to Okugi, though few were really his friends, many had grown to respect him during his time at the court, especially the last few days. On his way to the Assembly Okugi was met by an aged Unicorn, he knew the man to be Ide Tadaji, a prominent diplomat of the Unicorn. Bowing to Okugi Tadaji spoke, "I must apologize for the event with Kyuban-san, his behavior was unredeemable." Okugi returned the bow, "Let us not speak of it, Tadaji-san. He died defending his honor, may the Kami watch over his soul." Tadaji nodded gratefully and together they headed for the Assembly.
Okugi stood amidst the assembled people wearing his mask and a hood, as usual
they eyed him, but for different reasons than usual. When no one came through
the doors, they were closed and the Emperor and Empress rose from their seats,
Toturi spoke: "We are gathered here to say goodbye to Okugi-san, a man that
has been in our midst for several years. During these years I most of us have
come to respect Okugi-san and some of us even became friends with him."
Looking at each other courtiers nodded as they realized the Emperor was
referring to himself a little as well. The Emperor sat down, having given his
gift through his words, 'this man walks with the favor of the Emperor' would be
the translation to trained ears. Empress Kaede stepped forward and Okugi
kneeled, Tsudao ran up to her side and embraced a fold of her mother's elaborate
kimono, Kaede spoke. "Okugi-san, I thank you for your presence, it has
pleased me to have you here and my daughter told me she shares the same
sentiments. Some days ago you requested that your servant be sent to Phoenix
lands, I have reviewed her and you were right, she has the ishiken-do and will
be trained just as I was, to become a Void Shugenja." The few Phoenix
present were amazed, but remained silent, Kaede continued, "But I hereby
grant you the same privilege, if you want to you can receive training to become
an Ishiken yourself." A few of the Phoenix present fainted at this
response, while Okugi could only stammer a barely audible 'Thank you Kaede-sama'.
"Please sit, Okugi-san." It was Tsudao who asked him to sit up, so she could look at him. "I know it isn't much but I would like to give you my tanto." She took the dagger from her obi and held it out to Okugi.
"But Tsudao-sama, I cannot accept the blade you carry so cherrishingly."
The girl frowned but then remember the rules of etiquette.
"Oh, but I insist, you should take it."
"I am afraid that I am not worthy of such a gift, you should keep it for you defense."
"I have the entire Imperial Legion to protect me and best of all my father."
"Then I have no choice but to accept your gift, Tsudao-sama," Okugi said laughingly.
After Tsudao had given her gift the representatives of the Clans present proceeded to give their gifts. Doji Shoriko presented him with a copy of Kakita's 'the Sword' from the Crane Clan. Ide Tadaji give him a Unicorn steed and his sincere apologies from the Unicorn Clan. The Scorpion girl whose life he saved presented Okugi with a delicate fan, embroidered with a Scorpion. A Dragon who was present for the festival told Okugi that his gift would await in the Dragon lands. The Phoenix told that had a gift in mind similar to that of Empress Kaede but they would agree on hers. The Crab gave Okugi a sake set, a bottle of the finest sake from Yasuki lands and a masterfully crafted mempo. The Lion presented a copy of Akodo's 'Leadership'.
After all the etiquette and gifts Okugi addressed the assembled crowd, "Honorable friends, you have all given me so much, in return I will gave you something you probably have craved a long time." Okugi looked at Tsudao and saw her smile knowingly. He bowed his head, removed his mask and untied his obi, he put his daisho and the obi on the ground, and while he stood he removed his kimono and showed the court his true face.
Before them stood an entirely new Okugi, he was tall as they knew him, but
also muscular, his face was handsome, and his features strong. The only thing
the assembled people weren't prepared for were the colorful tattoos covering
Okugi's body. Around his waist a snake circled its tail, its head rose up to the
middle of Okugi's chest, and behind the snake was a rolling ocean, with waves
rolling and clashing. A falcon spread its wings over Okugi's face, and the top
of a pine tree graced his now bald head, with its trunk firmly on Okugi's strong
back, next to the tree was a elegant and gracious Crane spreading its beautiful
wings. A Dragon whirled across Okugi's right arm, roaring above the ocean on his
chest, and his left arm provided the stable branch for a Chameleon to sit upon.
"Yes, I have these magical tattoos, but I was born with them. At a young age they were nothing more than a swirling pattern of unrecognizable colors, but now they are what you can see. As it seems obvious that these tattoos would only be given to a Dragon Clan ise zumi, I will seek out their lands first, hoping to find more about my past."
That night Okugi set out for the Dragon lands on his new Utaku steed, laden with gifts and hope. Leaving behind Otosan Uchi, the Imperial Court, its intrigues and a crying girl.
* * *
"This is distressing news, Maigo-san. And you think that these fake
Crane were after you?"
Maigo bowed to his lord, "Yes, Ginawa-sama, I have no proof, but I many reasons to believe so."
Ginawa stroked his chin, "I see… And how again did you dispatch these bandits?"
Maigo hesitated, "I… I am not sure, I closed my eyes and when I opened them again they were dead. But I felt that it was I how did this. I just don't know how."
Ginawa nodded solemnly, "Hmm… I will make sure this matter is investigated, but what is more important is that you learn to control whatever power you possess. It sounds like magic to me, and no one knows more about strange magics than the Phoenix do. I will arrange for you to go there and hopefully they can learn you to control your power… and maybe even increase it."
Maigo was given a new steed and a scroll bearing a message from Ginawa to the Phoenix. That same night he set out for the Phoenix lands, leaving behind him the lands that were his home since his birth, the family that adopted him, their problems and a curious daimyo.
[To be continued]