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    • Owlbear

    The final, long overdue installment of the series depicting the results of the 2013 Kotei Series.

     

    There Will Be Blood, Part 4

    By Shawn Carman

    Edited by Fred Wan

     

    Only a few days ago, the mood in the SecondCity had been one of jubilation, whether genuine or forced it did not matter. Now, the festival celebrating the return of Otomo Suikihime, the ‘rightful’ Imperial Governor of the Colonies, was at an end, and the mood of the city had soured quickly. At least it seemed sour to Ide Hinobu, but he recognized that he was something of an anomaly: he was a man of court who cared little for the trifling of politics and gossip that were so pervasive in that atmosphere. It seemed the decent thing to do in the wake of the Governor’s festival would be to wait a few days before taking up whatever scandalous rumor was circulating, but no, that was not to be.

    The topic of discussion for the day was that of the monk named Aranai, something of a sensation in recent months throughout the Colonies. During the months of madness that had disrupted virtually every aspect of the land, few individuals had been as far-traveled and more heavily involved in the violent confrontations that had characterized what some poets were already calling the Age of Madness. Hinobu found the term slightly offensive, given that it was measured in months. Calling anything less than at least a few years in duration an ‘age’ seemed ridiculous to him, but that was likely his mother’s scholarly influence shaping his thoughts.

    From what could be told of the events during P’an Ku’s influence over the Colonies, it seemed that Aranai, formerly a member of the Mantis Clan, had done everything in her power to stem the tide of fractious samurai seeking blood against one another for no immediately obvious reason. The stories that were told of the monk hinted at the fact that she had saved countless lives by intercepting many warriors who were intent upon visiting madness-fueled rage upon other clans or, sometimes, their own clan. Countless tales had been told of Aranai’s valor and wisdom, sponsored by many different clans. Just this week, Hinobu had seen artisans sponsored by no less than three different groups, in this case the Phoenix, Unicorn, and Imperial families, displaying a number of different forms, including dance, song, oratory, and even puppetry, which was undergoing something of a renaissance of late.

    The tale of Aranai’s victory over the Dragon priestess Tamori Tamoko, a victory earned by bringing Tamoko to the realization of her folly and getting her to stand down, was one that was particularly popular in the SecondCity. Even the Dragon seemed fond of the story, despite that it did not paint them in a particularly pleasant light, but Tamori Tamoko herself had spoken at length within the city about Aranai and how grateful she was to the monk for her intervention. Unfortunately, the tale turned a bit darker after that, for it was not long after her defeat of Tamoko that Aranai faced and defeated an allegedly disturbed Scorpion samurai named Yogo Katsuta. Katsuta did not relent as Tamoko did, either as a result of his inability to face the truth of his condition or because of his increased martial threat. Regardless of whether or not it was self-defense, Aranai killed the man, although accounts indicated she was remorseful over such an act.

    Regardless of whatever had happened with Katsuta, Hinobu understood that Aranai’s next encounter had been with someone completely unlike her previous opponents. The man’s name was Asako Karachu, and he was celebrated among many Phoenix within the Colonies as a hero; likewise he was beloved by those loyal to Suikihime for his devotion to her in his position as Defender of the SecondCity. Karachu’s actions were themselves inscrutable, and indications were that he had encountered a demon of some familiarity during his travels throughout the Colonies, an entity the Crab had tentatively identified as Ki no Oni. For reasons unknown, Karachu had spared the demon’s life, and this apparently signaled to Aranai that his madness was insurmountable in its intensity. The two had fought, and Karachu, whose exploits rivaled that of Aranai, had perished in the fighting.

    To say that the opinion of those within the SecondCity had turned against Aranai was a significant understatement, in Hinobu’s estimation. Karachu’s death had been a tremendous blow to many, and some among those who had been calling Aranai the “warlord” of the Colonies were now calling for her blood. Word had arrived in the city that the monk had surrendered herself to two magistrates without incident, and they were expected to arrive in the city in a matter of days. What fate awaited her, Hinobu was not certain. Before, when Iweko Shibatsu or Kuni Renyu had been overseeing the city, things would have been much clearer, but Otomo Suikihime was well known for her mercurial tendencies. It was impossible to predict what might happen.

    Hinobu thought that, no matter what happened, the next few days would be highly interesting.

     

    * * * * *

     

    Bayushi Makubesu sipped at his tea and sighed contentedly at the plate of food that was being placed before him in the center of the table. He glanced across the table at his far surlier companion, then rolled his eyes in exasperation. “You cannot possibly tell me that this is not the most succulent looking sushi you have seen since leaving the Empire proper.”

    His companion said nothing, but continued staring blankly at the Scorpion.

    “I mean no offense, of course,” Makubesu continued. “I am quite certain that the fish your people harvest on the coastline, particularly at Kalani’s Landing, but I suspect the chefs we have here in the Second City are significantly better trained than whomever you have preparing the meals there.”

    The other man said nothing for a moment, then smirked slightly. “You might be surprised what a skillful peasant can accomplish without any of your celebrated training academies. Sometimes simple can be superior.”

    “Finally,” Makubesu said, his tone one of mock relief. “I have not heard you speak in four days’ time. I was beginning to think that you do not enjoy my company at all.”

    Tsuruchi Isas could not mask his contempt. “I have been detained here, in this lavish embassy, against my will and for reasons that I have not been made privy to. I find my stay as your ‘guest’ quite unacceptable.”

    “As I have said,” Makubesu said, “I cannot reveal the reason for your… detainment… at this time. Hopefully very soon, but not at the moment. Your family is not wont to pursue political matters, of course, so you will simply have to accept my word in this matter.”

    “Yes, because you have demonstrated that you are so exceptionally trustworthy.”

    Makubesu’s eyes narrowed. “You need to be careful,” he said conspiratorially. “The Scorpion have a number of different methods at their disposal. Have you ever met a man named Shosuro Nishu?”

    The archer thought for a moment, then shook his head. “I do not think so.”

    “No one has,” Makubesu said. “No one who has lived, that is. Hida Osote met him recently. You may have heard of that.”

    “The veteran sensei?” Isas said. “Am I to believe his death was an assassination?”

    Makubesu looked surprised. “I said no such thing. Now, please eat.”

     

    * * * * *

     

    The entirety of Journey’s End Keep was in mourning. The great hero of the Colonies, the valiant battle maiden Utaku Sung-Ki, had fallen to the blade of another. Even with the plague of madness ended, the venom that it had engendered between members of different clans did not abate with it. The keep’s audience chamber, far less populated than the courts of the SecondCity to the south but still one of the Unicorn Clan’s largest within the Colonies, was now adorned with a painting of the death of Sung-Ki at the hands of the villainous Matsu Yoshito. The Lion delegation had objected to the portrayal of their kinsman, and the lord of the manner had informed them that they could take their leave if they found it offensive. The Lion had withdrawn to the SecondCity, and it remained to be seen if they would return, and if so under what circumstances.

    Shinjo Tae-Hung could not help but feel that his homecoming was trivial in the face of such a tragic loss. He had been out in the field for a very long time, and word had only reached him of Sung-Ki’s death a short time ago. He had apprehended a Mantis, one he suspected of numerous criminal activities despite his claim of magistrate status. The Mantis, Yoritomo Hama, had in his possession documents that seemed to indicate he was affiliated in some way with the Lion Yoshito, and may have passed on information concerning Sung-Ki’s whereabouts to the obviously vengeful Lion. The apprehension had done little to assuage Tae-Hung’s anger of Sung-Ki’s death. A Scorpion puppeteer followed him through the streets with his prisoner, acting out some manner of strange conflict between a hastily constructed puppet bearing Shinjo colors and one bearing the Mantis colors. Tae-Hung sent him on his way with a snarl.

    This was no day for merriment.

     

    * * * * *

     

    Kuni Renyu threw the scroll back toward the messenger who had brought it, causing the man to take a half-step backwards and make a strangled squeaking sound of alarm. “What in the name of Jigoku is this nonsense?” Renyu demanded forcefully. “Kaiu Esumi has been detained by some… some Mantis?”

    “Ah… yes, my lord,” the messenger replied.

    “Who is this Yoritomo Akuhiko?” Renyu pushed. “I have never heard the name.”

    “I was not familiar with the name either,” the messenger admitted. “I believe that Akuhiko-san was one of the attendants of the so-called Second City Winter Court?”

    “A delegate of Winter Court is holding one of my vassals?” Renyu said, his voice rising in volume. “How did we come by this information? Have the Mantis demanded ransom or something equally vulgar?”

    “Ah, no, my lord, nothing of the sort,” the messenger replied. “I… ah… I first discovered the matter when a Spider was singing about it at court, and I investigated to find out if… if…” the man’s voice trailed off as he saw Renyu’s countenance growing darker.

    “A Spider?” the Crab lord bellowed. “A Spider sang about it in court?” The Kuni lord roared in articulately and began raking things off his desk, hurling them across the room.

    The messenger fled, all reason having abandoned him.

     

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