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    • Owlbear

    The long overdue results from this year’s Kotei season! In this installment, we deal with the majority of May’s results, with the remainder of May to come during this week, and the month of June next weekend.

     

     

    There Will Be Blood, Part 3A

    By Shawn Carman

     

    It was a somber day in the court of the ImperialCity. The Empress was not in attendance, and as such, the mood was somewhat different than the formal proceedings that so often dominated the day when she was present. The Imperial Chancellor had permitted the Phoenix petition to stage a day-long ceremony in honor of one of their heroes, a man who fell in battle with the plague of madness in the Colonies. The Phoenix had spared no expense in their memorial, employing not only the well-respected Shiba artisans, but hiring additional artisans from the Kakita and Kaiu families of the Crane and Crab, and even an impassioned storyteller from the Ikoma.

    Admittedly, when Otomo Demiyah had heard that the Phoenix were planning their tribute, she had been annoyed. To spend the majority of a day at court involved in such trifling affairs was tedious in the extreme, but she was surprised to discover that the Phoenix’s approach to the event was at the very least novel. There were different displays representing different incidents that had occurred since the mad dragon had risen to ascendance in the Colonies and its influence had drive hundreds or even thousands of samurai to madness. Demiyah considered such losses relatively unimportant, but she did admit to a certain curiosity to see exactly how many had succumbed. It was certainly the kind of question that would have ramifications later.

    Another acknowledgement that Demiyah would make, if only to herself, was that the Phoenix being remembered was an extremely interesting man. His name was, or had been, Asako Karachu. He had been one of the appointed subordinates of her kinsman, Otomo Suikihime. It appeared that, for whatever faults she might possess, Suikihime was an excellent judge of talent. When she had been deposed during the Imperial Legion’s siege of the SecondCity, Karachu had accompanied her out of the city despite that it would have been a very simple matter for him to have turned her over to the commander. Then, when the madness had grown to a fever pitch, he had been drawn into battles with several other samurai of prominence at the time. If the tales were to be believed, he had slain two Mantis samurai of the Yoritomo family, men named Tarao and Saigo, with nothing more than his bare hands.

    The tale became somewhat muddied after that. It seems that there were initial reports that Karachu had slain the commander of the Imperial Legion, Shinjo Kinto, and there was adequate testimony to support exactly that conclusion. Since that time, however, Kinto had resurfaced in numerous official reports. So it seemed that either the infectious madness had given rise to the reports in the first place, or perhaps it had been a duplicate of Shinjo Kinto that Karachu had slain. There were certainly ample reports of false versions of many men and women that had been received in the intervening weeks and months, and with what precious little was understood about P’an Ku, such things were not altogether surprising.

    Privately, Demiyah delighted in the fact that, after having defeated so many others, Karachu was defeated and brought low by a member of the Imperial families, having been defeated and spared by Seppun Jiramu. Was it not the most perfect parable to compare the Great Clans with the prestigious and superior Imperial families? It was a Seppun, of course, but the Otomo would never lower themselves to physical combat and the Miya were hardly suitable for such a thing, so a Seppun was an acceptable outcome. Demiyah smiled inwardly at the thought. It was a wonderful lesson that the Phoenix, and indeed all the Great Clans, needed to be reminded of from time to time. This time, she was pleased to see, the Phoenix had not overlooked the incident, and had in fact hired a puppeteer that the Otomo had sponsored from time to time to reproduce what little was known about the incident. It was a pity what had happened to Karachu afterwards, of course; he could have served as a much better ongoing example to the world, but this would suffice.

    Perhaps, the Otomo woman mused to herself, there was hope for the Great Clans after all.

     

    * * * * *

     

    Miya Masatsuko considered cautionary tales an important part of every samurai’s daily life. If one were to properly revere one’s ancestors, after all, then their deeds must not only be celebrated but their mistakes must be recognized and avoided. It was much like parenting, in her opinion; did her ancestors not wish for her to learn and make wiser choices than they had? She had always assumed so and would not consider any train of thought to the contrary. It was this philosophy of hers, one to which she adhered so rigorously, that led her to such concern over the present goings-on of court.

    The Mantis had hired a puppeteer that was presently engaging the court with a robust tale of the strength, courage, and prowess of a bushi named Yoritomo Kanaye. Masatsuko could not profess with any conviction that she had ever heard the man’s name before, but the events being represented were more of concern to her than anything else: if the puppeteer was to be believed, Kanaye had defeated and captured an oni, some foul demon known as Moetechi no Oni, and contained it in the name of the Mantis Clan.

    “Is it not glorious?” a young Moshi courtier asked her, noticing that she was observing the show. The man was grinning from ear to ear. “I have never heard of even the Crab accomplishing something as amazing as capturing an oni. Think of what could be learned!”

    Masatsuko considered holding her tongue, for her parents and superiors had often chastised her to be more diplomatic, but she did not feel this was a suitable occasion to do so. “Perhaps the Crab have never done so because the act itself is incredibly foolish and dangerous,” she said, struggling to keep her tone measured.

    The young man’s smile faltered. “It is not foolish to seek advantage for your clan,” he said carefully. “Kanaye-san was a great hero before he was callously murdered by the Phoenix. The Isawa fear the very idea of anyone gaining secrets that they themselves do not already possess.”

    “Or perhaps proximity to the demon either drove Kanaye to madness, or at least made him more susceptible to it,” the herald replied. “It is impossible for us to examine the truth of the matter when the only facts that we receive from the Colonies are so colored by the viewpoints of those who write the reports in the first place.”

    “Kanaye was a hero,” the Moshi repeated. “Anyone who slew him must have been corrupted and insane.”

    “Just as Moshi Umiko was a hero?” Masatsuko asked. “The Scorpion sang of her yesterday. She was a hero because she killed the monk Omigawa. Two nearly identical occurrences, and in both instances you automatically assume that the Mantis was in the right, despite the absence of testimony we have to base such assumptions on.”

    No trace of the man’s smile remained now, and the look in his eyes suggested that, if Masatsuko were not a member of the Imperial families, he would have dared to lambast her with every foul name he could imagine. But he refrained. “I suppose we all have different perspectives,” he said through clenched teeth as he left.

    He had no idea how different perspectives could be.

     

    * * * * *

     

    The atmosphere at TwinForksCity was always bright and pleasant, with virtually no trace of the war that had marred it only a few months past. The Crane worked to ensure that the city seemed an idyllic place for any clan to conduct their affairs, regardless of what those affairs might be; there was, however, a marked lack of Mantis Clan representatives and interests in the city.

    The Imperial families maintained significant holdings within the city, as was their wont when the Crane invested time and energy into developing a center of diplomacy. The Seppun in particular had several dozen representatives, and among them was a young maiden who was lauded even by the masters of the Kakita artisans as one of the greatest voices in a generation. Each day, the maiden sat in the city’s largest garden and sang, each song new and unique and accompanied by at least one Kakita-trained musician. Understandably, there was often a crowd that gathered to hear her melodies.

    Today, as was occasionally her custom, the maiden sang about something dark and unpleasant. Only a few days previously, she had sang of the victory and virtue of Utaku Sung-Ki when she defeated Bayushi Misaki. Today she sang again of Sung-Ki, but this time her battle was against something altogether different. Something terrible and dark.

    The maiden sang of Sung-Ki’s encounter with something that had once been a Crab warrior, something hulking and monstrous that was no more man than any oni or ogre. Its name was Hida Kaiji, and it was a foe the likes of which Sung-Ki had never experienced. The battle maiden did not shirk from her duty, however. She faced the beast with valor and honor, and in defiance of all reason, she emerged victorious against the thing that had once been a good and decent man. Perhaps, the song suggested, something of that man remained, for there was no other explanation for why Kaiji allowed Sung-Ki to end its life when it could have killed her. The people listening were pleased, and clapped politely when they believed the song was over, but there was another, darker verse, that claimed the dead Kaiji returned to life after Sung-Ki’s victorious departure.

    When the maiden’s song was done, she rose and left without speaking to others, which was unusual for her. The onlookers were perplexed, and many of them looked at the representatives of the Crab Clan among their ranks with questions in their expressions. The Crab offered no answers.

     

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