Secrets on the Wind, Part 2
By Rich Wulf and Shawn Carman
Shinsei once said that even a mighty avalanche begins with a single pebble. These words echoed through Miya Gensaiken's thoughts. The young herald frowned in concern. Unable to come to an agreement, the Winds had agreed to at least attempt to convene Winter Court at Kyuden Miya. The divisions between the four siblings were already painfully clear. The Great Clans struggled with one another to curry the Winds' favor even as the Winds themselves struggled with one another to prove their worth.
The Winds were positioned equally around the vacant Steel Throne, though none would occupy it.
Toturi Tsudao - the Sword.
Hantei Naseru - the Anvil.
Akodo Kaneka - the Bastard.
Toturi Sezaru - the Wolf.
The emissaries of the Great Clans stood arranged about the Winds, speaking quietly among themselves. Gensaiken spent his time idly chatting with a minor emissary of the Tortoise Clan. He had been speaking to the man for over an hour, and had not heard a word. For one such as Gensaiken, distraction under the cover of focus was a simple enough trick. His true attention was focused upon the Winds - as, no doubt, was that of the rest of the court.
The assembled emissaries watched patiently, practiced eyes and lips
unreadable. The most prominent among the Great Clans sat nearest the Winds - Bayushi Paneki, Hida Kuroda, Ide Tadaji, Doji Tanitsu, Ikoma Otemi, Shiba Yoma, Mirumoto Uso, and Yoritomo Yoyonagi, a renowned poet of the Mantis. All of them Gensaiken knew by reputation if not by face. A few representatives of the Minor Clans were present as well, including Usagi Fuyuko, a newcomer to the court. Gensaiken watched the young Hare curiously. Her wit and charm had surprised the assembly since her arrival only days ago. Even the dour Crab had quickly warmed to the clever and inquisitive Hare. She had become a favorite of the Winds, and even now her beauty and grace turned the room to her whim.
Gensaiken was not quite so taken. He could sense there was definitely something sinister lurking just beneath the surface of her pleasant countenance and easy charm. It seemed the Winds had not noticed, occupied as they were with their private competition. Perhaps they simply did not care. Either way, Gensaiken feared the implications for the Empire.
"My Lords. My Lady," Fuyuko said, bowing deeply to the Steel Throne as she approached the Winds' communal dais. "I know that your time is precious and I am but an undeserving vassal of the Empire, but perhaps you would do me the great honor of indulging me. We have heard much talk of what virtues each clan finds most important in an Emperor, but what are your thoughts? Excusing my impertinence, it may be enlightening to find what traits the heirs themselves value most in a ruler.
Tsudao spoke first. "Compassion," she said. "Certainly we can all agree upon the need for peace."
"Tsudao, please," Naseru said with a dry chuckle. "Let us attempt to be realistic. Peace is an admirable dream, but it is only that - a dream. Peace is a commodity that men of action cannot afford. The reality is that men and women will always fight and kill one another. A true Emperor must recognize the fact that there will always be war, and that hiding from reality simply leaves one unprepared. A true Emperor uses the fortunes of war to bring prosperity and strength."
"War as a tool to strengthen the Empire?" Tsudao sneered. "You relish the death of innocents, brother?"
Naseru smiled. "Innocents? You misunderstand me, sister. I conserve my pity for the truly innocent, and have collected it in great quantities for to be sure I have not yet met a man or woman who was truly innocent. Present company excluded, of course." A light chuckle echoed through the court at Tsudao's expense.
Usagi Fuyuko arched an eyebrow and turned toward Kaneka.
"Naseru has a point, Tsudao," Akodo Kaneka said with a grim from. "Samurai are warriors. To pretend otherwise defies the Celestial Order. Everything has a purpose. We have ours. An Emperor's strongest virtue is courage."
"I understand your lust for battle, Kaneka, for your life has given you nothing else," Tsudao said. "I do not understand Naseru. His talk of war seems bold for one who has never seen battle."
"I have never seen the Fortunes nor the Kami either, my sister," Naseru returned with a calm smile. "Have you heard them? Have you seen them?"
Tsudao regarded her brother with stony silence.
"As I thought," he said. "So by your own logic, surely you must deny their existence. It must be difficult to lead one's life without faith. Do you not agree, brother Sezaru-san?"
Sezaru glanced up impatiently, eyes narrowing in surprise. He looked away again just as quickly, his face masked in disinterest. "These games are worthless. I thought you were seeking peace. You fools do nothing but snipe at one another."
Kaneka's brow furrowed as his hand strayed toward his sword. Sezaru turned and looked back at his brother calmly, with the patience of a coiled snake. Tsudao and Naseru still locked eyes with one another on the opposite side of the chamber. One false word. One false move, and Rokugan's hopes for peace would be destroyed, perhaps taking the life of a Wind with them.
"My lords," Miya Gensaiken said quickly, hoping to draw the Winds' wrath to himself and away from one another. "For such a complex issue, my lords and lady, you should consult the wisdom of those who have served the Empire since the war against Fu Leng." The nervous courtier stepped forward, nervous at the Winds' sudden attention. Bowing deeply, he said, "The Miya are brokers of peace, diplomats, builders. While all of the noble Winds speak truly, it is with Sezaru that we must agree. Courage, compassion, and wisdom are fine things, but they are nothing without faith. Only faith can move a mountain. The Isawa, the Kitsu, the Tamori have all taught him as much, and I respect their wisdom." Gensaiken turned to Usagi Fuyuko and smiled slightly. "Would your honorable father not agree, Usagi-san?"
Smiling sweetly Fuyuko replied "Oh yes, Gensaiken-san. He would indeed."
Miya Gensaiken nodded thoughtfully. "Interesting. The Usagi Fuyuko recorded in our heraldic registries is the child of a dishonored mother and an unknown father. She would not respond in such a manner, for to do so would bring even greater shame upon her father's name and the name of the Miya. Who might you truly be then, I wonder?"
A hateful snarl distorted Fuyuko's features. Her hand, now sprouting a full set of blackened claws, darted forth to rip and tear at Gensaiken's throat.
"No!" a blur of movement from the dais and Akodo Kaneka stood between the two, his blade flashing downward at incredible speed. Fuyuko shrieked as her severed hand fell to the floor. Her other hand lashed out and ripped at Kaneka's ceremonial armor, sending him sprawling to the floor.
A powerful grip clutched Gensaiken's shoulder. Pulling Gensaiken out of the creature's reach, Toturi Tsudao removed Gensaiken from the battle just as Naseru's fan deftly deflected the creature's next attack while ordering the dazed emissaries to flee with a harsh shout. Even as he did so, the soft sutra of the shugenja Sezaru could be heard above the crisp sound of Tsudao and Kaneka readying their steel.
Two burly Imperial Guards charged the beast from either side, but Fuyuko deftly ducked below one's strike while catching the other's blade in her remaining hand. A smooth flick of one hand sent both men across the room, impaled upon their own blades. Even as it turned from the carnage to attack again, a look of fear flickered in the creature's eyes. Now it faced Toturi Tsudao and Akodo Kaneka, the Sword and the Bastard. Each of the seasoned warriors easily avoided the creature's clumsy defenses. Kaneka's blow sliced Fuyuko across Fuyuko's midriff while Tsudao buried her own katana in the thing's skull.
The corpse disappeared almost instantly, belching forth a thick cloud of darkness that permeated the room, burning the eyes and nostrils of many of those present before Sezaru's Void magic dispelled all traces.
"Well met, my siblings," Naseru called out, no trace of concern in his voice. His calm tone did much to pacify the panicked assembly.
"Do not be so eager, little brother," remarked Sezaru coldly. "That was a Pekkle, a trickster oni. They are beasts of corruption and deception. There is no way to know if that cloud accomplished its purpose. It is possible that the true ramifications of this encounter are not yet known."
"This is pathetic," Kaneka literally spat on the floor. "The Imperial Court and we cannot keep one oni from our presence! I'll have no more to do with these foolish negotiations. Brothers. Sister. Contact me again once you have something to discuss." Akodo Kaneka turned and left the room.
A moment later, Hantei Naseru shook his head quietly, closed his tessen with a deft snap, and departed as well.
"And with that, there goes all hope of agreement, my brother," Tsudao said to Sezaru with a sigh.
"This meeting was not my idea, my sister," Sezaru replied.
Tsudao took a final look at her brother, then turned and exited as well. With her, the assembled courtiers began to depart as well. Soon, only Sezaru, his yojimbo Koshei, and Gensaiken remained.
"Miya Gensaiken-san," Sezaru said, "your insight may have
saved the Empire.
"I am not a man who is well used to courtly intrigue. I could certainly make good use of an attendant such as yourself, especially against the underhanded schemes of my brother, Naseru."
"I would be honored, Sezaru-sama," Gensaiken said, bowing deeply to the son of Toturi.
"Then follow me," Sezaru said. "I wish to depart this place at once. I have a mission to fulfill, and this farce of a Winter Court has been a great drain upon the time I have left. If the Horde dispatched one minion, they may have sent others. The Horde is never alone." Sezaru turned and exited the chamber, his yojimbo following closely, leaving Gensaiken alone.
The courtier paused, turned, and looked back at the Steel Throne. A black smear now stained the Steel Throne, the only remnant of the Pekkle oni's passing.
Gensaiken smiled at the sight. Pausing, he looked down at his hand. During the struggle, he had been cut upon his arm. Now a thin stream of clumped black blood trickled down his fingers. He quickly pulled his sleeve over his hand so that his new master would not see, and followed in the wake of Toturi Sezaru.
"You are right about one thing, my Lord," Gensaiken chuckled. "The Horde is never alone."
Shinsei once said that even a mighty avalanche begins with a single pebble.
But one can do so much more damage with two.