A conversation between two Champions yields insight into the nature and present status of their clans.
By Seth Mason
Edited by Fred Wan
It was not the custom of the Scorpion Clan Champion to travel in such small company on formal functions, but this particular meeting was somewhat outside the norm for even Bayushi Nitoshi. The prosperous and large village of Odashi rested in a midpoint between the lands of the Crab and Scorpion Clans, and Nitoshi was bound by both honor and tradition to attend a meeting once a year at this location. Given the unassuming village and the out of the way location, few would guess that this rendezvous was of critical importance to the continued security of his clan.
Odashi itself was once a small, unknown village that housed a great many ronin and peasants. It was under the purview of the Hare Clan at some point, but as the Minor Clan’s power waxed and waned, it eventually was suggested by the Imperial Advisor at the time (a man known only as Susumu then) that perhaps another, stronger claim could be made on it. The Crab, Scorpion, and Mantis entered into a lengthy – and briefly violent – contest to convince the Imperial family it should be theirs.
In the end, the Crab had prevailed. Since that time, the village served as a major trade hub between the Scorpion and Crab. Shortly after Odashi became a holding of the Yasuki family, the Scorpion and Crab entered into a formal alliance over the management and security of what was known as the Second Pit. After that, the little village became a critical point in trade and travel between the suddenly close allies. The agreement, signed by Hida Reiha and Bayushi Miyako, was known as the Treaty of Odashi. While the Crab and Scorpion were not actively hostile at the time, it effectively ensured the two clans would probably never enter into any armed conflict against each other so long as it was held up by both parties.
The Treaty held one unusual stipulation, however. Each year, at a time agreed on by the current Champions, the leaders of the Crab and Scorpion clans would meet in Odashi to review the treaty and ensure it was still feasible. Both Champions who signed it originally knew the agreement would never make the clans true allies. It instead codified the reality of their situation – the Scorpion’s survival and the Crab’s duty were possibly intertwined forever now. Therefore, each year, both Champions would look at the treaty once more to ensure it reflected the necessity – and only the necessity – of the alliance. Should the situation change in any way, the treaty could be abandoned then and there.
Nitoshi, like many Bayushi lords before him, preferred to not to let others know he had no further use for them until it was to his advantage to do so. However, the Second Pit was something that not even the Scorpion Champion could convince others was a minor problem. And both the Crab and Scorpion knew the Scorpion would likely never be able to handle it alone, despite what they told others. And while the image of Scorpion lands burning and trampled by demons did not exactly lack appeal for the Crab, the idea of such abominations running rampant in the heart of the Empire was unacceptable to them. Therefore, either party withdrawing from the treaty was a serious matter to be discussed and negotiated… or it would be an acknowledgement of a fact that had changed, such as the Pit closing. Treachery, in this case, was simply too costly when compared to the truth.
And so, Bayushi Nitoshi waved away the few personal guards he had brought with him to the only large estate in Odashi. He walked up the path of smooth stone towards the exquisite home – Nitoshi had been told it was the personal estate of the first major Yasuki noble to have lived there – and heard a noise he was not precisely familiar with.
The low thunk of metal sinking into wood carried across the flat, open lawns of the estate as the Champion walked around to the back of the building.
There, the Champion of the Crab Clan, Hida Kisada, stood in a ready stance, lightly armored and tightly clothed beneath the protection. Nitoshi reflected on the fact the Champion was nicknamed after his great grandfather – a man known as the Great Bear – but he was hardly little. He hurled a small hand axe towards one of several wooden poles set up across the wide, grassy field. Thunk.
“Good afternoon, my friend,” Nitoshi said, raising his hand up in a greeting the Crab often used.
“Hello, Nitoshi-san,” Kisada replied darkly, reaching down for another axe. “There is sake. It is next to the papers. The Yasuki send it as a sign of the Crab’s gratitude.”
The Bayushi daimyo shook his head. “There is little to thank me for. It is not any favor I am doing for you by being here. I am here to uphold an agreement my mother made in good faith and that is in my own best interests to maintain.” He strode to where there were several chairs and a low table arranged. Sake – Nitoshi assumed it was likely chilled – sat next to the yellowed and curled documents that held the original treaty.
The papers brought to them were presented out of tradition. Neither man had need to read them again at this point.
“How is your brother, Kisada-san?” Nitoshi asked, folding his hands together in his kimono. “If my information is correct, the Colonies would have heard of the Empress’ edict that Renyu was to be interim Governor just before the riots began.”
“Renyu will be fine,” the Crab Champion said, looking at the weapon in his hand. “He is a Crab. More importantly, he is my brother and twice as stubborn as our mother. If he has to subdue every rioter personally, I have faith he could do so.”
The Scorpion nodded. “I am sure your faith is not misplaced, my friend,” he said. “However, it may help you to know that my agents in the SecondCity are utterly devoted to the alliance between our clans. Even before the riot, I am sure we both understood Renyu had made… certain enemies. My offer still stands. It would be of benefit to us both.”
There was silence as Kisada weighed the axe in his hand a little, looking as if he were considering something. “You are a murderer, Nitoshi-san,” the Crab finally said, frowning. “It is a reality I have had to make peace with for the sake of the Empire. If we were the Dragon, or the Crane… perhaps even the Unicorn… I would attempt to avoid the truth, believing your nature is somehow balanced against some sort of morality. Or that the stories are overstated. But they are not, are they?”
To that, Nitoshi simply looked away, making a vague motion with his hand.
“My great grandfather was a man who was known for a single compromise. One that cost the Crab and Empire dearly, even though he believed it was for the greater good. It defined his life as a mortal.” The large man looked back at the target and grunted. “I had to decide if I was doing the same thing. But you’re just a man, Bayushi Nitoshi. You’re not Fu Leng, despite what some courtiers might think. I could choke ten men like you to death before I had my morning meal, and think little of it.” Kisada grinned a little to himself, and added, “I suppose if it came to that, and I got close enough to do so, though, you aren’t half the ally I hope you are.”
The smile faded quickly. “Dress yourself in black and eliminate your foes in the darkness all you like. I’ll have none of it for myself,” Kisada grunted.
“An interesting perspective,” The Scorpion said, gazing over the home behind them both. “You are willing to accept what we do, but you condemn it. However, your actions protect us, so that we might indulge such practices again and again. It makes little sense for you to refuse to avail yourself of the full extent of our alliance, in such a case.”
“I understand you like stories, Nitoshi-san. I have one for you.”
The Scorpion Champion paused – only for a fraction of a second – and nodded. “I never took you for one to enjoy recounting stories, Lord Hida. Except for matters of dismembering inhuman enemies and such, I suppose.”
“The Crab enjoy oddities,” Kisada said, throwing the axe at another target this time. “The Yasuki who built this? He was, apparently, a complete coward.”
Nitoshi looked at Kisada and then to the practice dummies in the field. “Do you take some sort of satisfaction in using his field for military practice, then?” the Scorpion asked.
“Hah,” Kisada grunted. It was not exactly a joyful noise. “Yasuki Damenahashi built these himself, and drilled with a yumi every morning. He apparently believed that, with enough training, his reflexes would eventually overcome his cowardice.” The large man looked over to the targets again, and a slight smile spread onto his features. “He was a merchant and, apparently, something of an underhanded dealer. But, in the end, he was still Crab.”
“How did he die?” Nitoshi asked.
“Dismembered by cultists,” Kisada replied, shrugging. “Apparently,” he added, picking up another axe, “they didn’t give him a chance to grab his bow. He probably should have learned more than one weapon.”
“It is difficult to say if Damenahashi was to be commended for attempting to learn how to fight properly, or if he should be remembered for failing to properly value his true strengths,” Kisada motioned around the estate as he spoke the last. “This estate, like its former master, and this village, serve the Crab well.”
Sitting down, the Scorpion Champion said nothing, realizing that Kisada had some point to his story. Nitoshi poured himself some of the chilled drink as the other man did, in fact, continue.
“We all serve, in whatever way we must, Nitoshi-san. That is the way of the Crab. Do you not agree?”
“I would say little else about the Crab, my friend.”
Kisada looked back to Nitoshi quickly, and said quietly, “We are not friends.”
The Scorpion raised an eyebrow as he sipped, then shrugged. “True, I suppose. But there is no other word for the arrangement between us.”
“Hold up the cup, Nitoshi-san,” Kisada said, reaching for an axe.
Bayushi Nitoshi was not a man unused to being threatened. But, he realized in that moment, he was quite unused to feeling threatened. Slowly, with a look of interest on his face, the Scorpion held the cup up at about chest level, to the side.
“In front of you. It is important to me.”
Nitoshi moved the cup in front of his chest.
Kisada flipped the axe into his hand, readying it for a throw. “Now, Nitoshi-san. You have allowed me to command you to do something, my intent clear. It is not my right to command you. Why do you comply?”
“I have no reason to think you’ll harm me, and I have every reason to believe I am going to be extremely enlightened by whatever brutal but insightful metaphor you are about to unveil.”
The Crab quickly moved his wrist, sending the axe hurling through the air towards Nitoshi. It split the cup that remained on the table with a ringing noise, then sank into the wood of the table.
Nitoshi had not so much as flinched.
“Trust,” Kisada said, walking towards the table. “That is the word I believe you are looking for. People believe it is a concept wholly alien to the Scorpion – something to be exploited but never actually enacted. I am fortunate to have learned better.”
“I take it you are willing to maintain the Treaty of Odashi, then?” Nitoshi said blandly, setting his cup down.
“I am saying that this alliance has moved beyond what our mothers envisioned, Nitoshi. We have a new generation of Crab and Scorpion who know nothing other than the way things are now – Crab and Scorpion shedding blood shoulder to shoulder. Kuni and Yogo scholars working together to contain the madness of Jigoku’s influence. Hiruma and Bayushi scouts sharing techniques. Soshi and Yasuki diplomats clearing obstacles for one another in the courts rather than causing them. They are friends, Nitoshi-san.”
“And yet,” Nitoshi nodded, “We cannot be.”
“I can only trust you out of your self interest. I would never say you are a good man, Nitoshi, but you are an excellent daimyo. You would endure a great deal to ensure the continued prosperity of your family and clan. In that, we are much alike.”
“You have a great many reasons to distrust me, Kisada-san, even in the face of that truth. Do you think that the Scorpion are not so able to both protect their self interests and also make pawns or puppets of our allies?” Nitoshi took another sip, considering the cup as he spoke further, “You have learned far too much in your time to believe otherwise.”
“Everyone knows the story of the scorpion and the frog,” Kisada said.
Nitoshi rolled his eyes. “I tire of it, but yes.”
“You are an excellent manipulator of hearts and truth, Nitoshi-san. But you are unable to make me forget certain realities, Nitoshi-san. Here, you cannot swim.”
After a moment of silence, Nitoshi leaned back. “Is this where the Heavens enact a great irony, and the Scorpion are now extorted?”
Kisada shook his head, “No, Lord Bayushi. I simply wanted to make sure we understood the terms of the Treaty of Odashi.” The Champion of the Crab Clan stood, and his hard features softened for a moment. “Though we are not friends, as I have said, our clans perhaps are. As a friend, I would repeat my offer to you…”
Nitoshi narrowed his eyes slightly and looked away. “I realize your offer is made with no other intention but to help, but no. I must refuse again. The matter of the Disgrace is for the Scorpion alone. Even now.”
Kisada nodded. “So be it,” he said, returning to his usual demeanor. “The treaty is thus upheld, then.”
The Champion of the Scorpion Clan stood, looking at the axe in the table. “It is as it is meant to be,” he reflected. “The Crab and Scorpion were once strong allies, at the dawn of the Empire. They bled together against the armies of Fu Leng. The Scorpion eventually chose to break with the Crab so that Hida’s clan would not be associated with men and women who were so vilified by the Empire.” Were Nitoshi’s face uncovered, it was likely there would be a look of disgust plain upon it. “Such… sentiment ruined what might have been the most powerful partnership in Rokugan. I would like to see what might have been.”
The Scorpion wrenched the axe from the table, chuckling slightly to himself. “I am not one to be amused easily, Kisada-san. Perhaps I may keep this, as a reminder of today?”
Kisada looked at the other man curiously. “And what has happened today?”
Nitoshi reached up and removed his mask, smiling a thin, almost disturbing smile at the other Champion. “Today, Lord Hida, I believe we have truly reached an understanding.”
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