The Gozoku
Chapter Thirteen: Where Shinsei Stood

"The Vain Enemy is defeated by humility."
- Mirumoto's "Niten"


It was a beautiful temple, its eves trimmed with the delicate etching of silver and gold. Hantei Kusada smiled as he watched the construction from his place beneath the rear garden's trees. In a few weeks, the work would be finished, and the Temple at Ryu Izumi would be officially dedicated to the Brotherhood of Shinsei.

It was an idle gesture, he realized, but one that the Gozoku always allowed. As long as Kusada played his games with monks and temples, they would allow him…but that freedom afforded him little more than a game. The Brotherhood could hardly stand against the three Champions…

It pained him, but Kusada almost thought that it was better this way.

Still, it was what he could do to cultivate support among the people that the Gozoku did not notice; someday, far in the future, the Hantei knew that he would need the support of true friends. At the moment, each move seemed like only a phantom gesture, but the Doji had trained him, and so he continued to look ahead.

The sound of footsteps alerted the Emperor of the newcomer, followed by the movement of the nearby, nervous Seppun. Kusada smiled as one of the monks came down from the temple, his grey robes battered from work and his face filling up with a wide smile.

"Lord Kusada," the monk said with a deep bow.

The Emperor smiled. "Gaman."

The Master of the Four Temples looked little like his predecessor; Gaman had been a member of the Brotherhood since his youth, and it still amazed him how far above his mundane life his path seemed to lead. After thirty years, the monk was much the same as he had been then: a humble servant, to Shinsei and the Hantei.

"It is a fine day to have you visit the temple, lord," the older monk said with his usual dignified smile. "The workers have done great things, and you may dedicate the temple with the first winter snows."

Kusada nodded, glancing about as if searching for someone he fully expected to be there.

"Do you want to give me a tour of the temple, Gaman?"

The monk arched an eyebrow, but then bowed to the whim of the Hantei.

* * *

In truth the Ryu Izumi Temple was little more than a twisting maze of small hallways and tight ceilings; the designs had been as the Emperor commanded, but it made it difficult for the monk to conduct Kusada's "tours." As the two men strolled unaccompanied through the length of the structure, Gaman remained dutifully quiet…

It was here that he attended to the soul of his lord.

"It seems that another winter is upon us already," Kusada said after a moment, his smooth hands reaching up to brush some of the chiseled stone. "It has not really been so long since we started, but it seems like it has been a long time."

He touched the edge of his golden robe. "It feels…rather mundane."

Gaman lost his smile, his rough, scarred hands reaching up to feel the same piece of stone. "It does feel quite…ordinary," he commented warmly. "There is a certain solace to be found in the nature of stone."

"I do not think that I like the touch of the mundane," Kusada said to the monk with a sad little smile, his long black hair trailing out as he moved. "Maybe it is just something about life that I need to learn to accept… like cold weather…."

"Coarse robes," Gaman added with a smile.

Kusada found himself chuckling, shaking his head at the older man. The Emperor's eyes met his companion's gaze for a moment, and it seemed that Gaman looked into him, as if a fishermen searching a deep pool. When he spoke, it shook the Hantei back to reality:

"There is something that I think you should see."

Gaman led the Lord of Rokugan to a small garden in the center of the temple, bowing his way past a few of the craftsmen as they moved. Kusada thought he saw something strange in the glances that the men offered him, but those thoughts vanished as the two men stepped out into the sun.

Legend told that Shinsei had awoken the water spirits of the spring as an example of his philosophies, and to the present day a slender trickle of water slipped out from between three well-worn stones. Now ringed with a walkway and a few places for worshippers to burn incense, the humble place brought a deep contentment to the Emperor's mind.

"Beautiful," Kusada said softly.

"But not easy," Gaman replied. "The sculptors and painters suffered for months to decorate these few steps of open walkway, my lord; it was a challenge to leave an untouched shrine. One of their apprentices asked me if we might uproot one of the stones, to better set the path…"

Kusada remained quiet for a long time. "What did you tell him?"

"That the appreciation of beauty is the beginning of enlightenment."

"Did he understand?" The Emperor asked.

Gaman just smiled. "Do you?"

* * *

It was normal for Chikuma to have trouble sleeping: she tossed and turned almost constantly, tormented by dreams that she could not recall. As such, it was not strange that the Imperial Advisor found herself standing in the moonlight overlooking the Hantei's gardens…though it was curious, when she realized that she was not alone.

Hantei Kusada stood dressed in the thick, simple kimono to ward off the chill of the night, his long black hair spilling down behind him as he watched the garden through quiet eyes. The courtier had almost not noticed his presence, and quickly smoothed her robes and hair.

"You could not sleep, my lord?"

The Emperor nodded his head somewhat absently, glancing at the Gozoku from the corner of his eyes. "I am surprised to see you here, Chikuma…I did not know that you had trouble sleeping as well."

For some reason, the Kakita's heart went out to him; something pained the Hantei greatly, though she was not certain what it could be. Her slender fingers pushed back her long white hair to hide it behind her small ear. "I have many troubles these days, Lord Kusada…but I do not think that mine pain me as yours seem to touch you."

"Is that so?" he asked her softly, watching the wind stir the gardens of the night.

"I was just considering the nature of beauty," Kusada said after a moment, looking over at his warden and aide. Chikuma blushed slightly as he watched her, his eyes sliding over her pale skin and large green eyes.

The Kakita wished that she had a fan to hide behind; even her hated namesake would do. "Beauty, my lord?"

He nodded, seeming so serious as he looked out on the falling leaves. "I am surrounded by it, Chikuma. Beauty, elegance and perfect poise. They are my trappings," he said with a glance at his fine robes, "even when any real semblance of power or dignity in gone."

She sensed a fight, but the Emperor just continued his lament, "I have never appreciated it, for what I could see. I do not understand the allure of beauty," he stepped closer to her, seeming to once again examine her form. "I do not understand why I appreciate these things as I do."

Chikuma stepped back and hesitated; this was not like Kusada to waste his time on idle philosophy. She knew that he hated what the Gozoku had done to him, and so he kept himself busy with the support of artists and the dedications of shrines. For a moment, she worried that he had formed some foolish plan for personal power…but then she saw that sadness, filling up his eyes.

Hantei Kusada truly did not understand.

The Crane bowed her head slightly, wondering if the words that she spoke really had any place still in her soul. "'Say not that honor is the child of boldness, nor believe that death alone can pay its price: it is not to a single action that honor is due, but to the life that enfolds it.'"

"Lady Doji," he said softly. "I know those words well."

"Then you do understand, my Emperor. Honor does not live in the moment," she said, "but in seeing the love and determination in its creation. That is where your appreciation should lie, Lord Kusada."

He nodded. "But we are discussing beauty, not honor."

"Honor is beauty, Lord Kusada…they are one and the same."

She smiled at him, in her sad little way. Kusada looked at the Imperial Advisor as she turned away, and saw something new within her, glimpsed a little bit of the pain that she felt with each life that she helped her lord to destroy. At that moment, the Hantei nodded with a fresh conviction.

Beauty could not grow from the things the Gozoku had created; as he watched the Imperial Advisor leave him, the Emperor knew that he could not watch such things die.

The following morning he commissioned a new temple, but turned his thoughts to greater things.

* * *

Bayushi Atsuki sat with his back turned to the Imperial Advisor, his brush tracing line after delicate line. The Scorpion Champion remained silent for a long time before speaking, permitting the silence to do what it could to unnerve his ally's pawn.

"I am told that you spoke with Kusada last night," he said without turning from his place. Chikuma wondered whether or not the older man was wearing his mask this morning; like most Bayushi, he made it a point not to reveal his face. "You discussed…beauty, of all things."

"The Emperor was disheartened…"

Atsuki cut her off with a cold snap, "As he should always be."

Chikuma did not show her surprise, but from his chuckle the Master of Secrets still sensed it in the air. Atsuki's slender fingers lifted a white cloth from his desk, calmly cleaning his brush as a duelist wiped the blood from a blade. "Hantei Kusada opposed us from the beginning, Black Fan. He is not like his father…he will never be a willing pawn. Kusada is the Gozoku's enemy…"

"Our enemy," he finished with a sneer.

"Your enemy," the Imperial Advisor corrected with a challenging stare. Chikuma's hand drifted down to her obi, touching the edges of her courtier's fan. Atsuki did not turn from his place, but the samurai ceased cleaning his paints. She watched, tensely, as those pale, faded hands settled lightly on the edges of the artist's desk.

Three breaths passed between them, before one dared another word.

"How long have you doubted our dream, Chikuma? Do you serve the Empire, or the Emerald Throne?"

She hesitated, surprised at the Scorpion's sadness and calm. "I will always serve Rokugan, Lord Atsuki."

"We will see, Black Fan. In good time."

Autumn Has Come…