“An Uneasy Peace” by Yasuki Saketu

The three of them hiked through the unending swamp.  They walked through the Tainted wilderness up to their knees in muck, anticipating every step leading them into an invisible pit. A Crab, a Crane and a Scorpion, this group would draw eyes anywhere else in the empire, but so close to the Shadowlands every eye is on where one-steps, not odd sights.


So Hiruma, the crane asked, weve been walking several hours, perhaps you could tell us when we are going to reach this castle of yours?


Hiruma Nitao sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, a trait he had learned from a Yasuki friend of his. The Citadel is not far Crane-san, possibly an hour, no more. There, he thought, a bit short, and he hadnt used the Cranes family name, but he wouldnt have to deal with these two soon. He had been told to bring them to the Citadel of the Hiruma and to protect them while near the Shadowlands, no questions asked. With both of his wards being very court minded, they couldnt introduce themselves without his asking or a more formal introduction by a third party. Since he couldnt ask questions, he couldnt ask them their names. Although he didnt enjoy having to spend the next day or two babysitting, he did enjoy not using their names. It seemed to annoy both of his wards to no end. He looked back at the two of them.


They were both obviously courtesans, judging by the way they handled themselves while walking through the mud, picking up their feet as if the next step they took would be somewhere dry and firm. Their clothing was made of fine silks, even when the outfit-designs they wore were obviously made for travel, a fact that seemed to annoy them to no end. They walked with grace, admittedly, but not the grace of a warrior or a duelist. It was the contrived grace of the court that these two walked with. Their style was that of fanciful dressings and slight words. The scorpion was carrying a small fan that he used every once in a while to cool himself. The crane seemed to be an endless talker, as if every breath had to make noise of some type. His hair was up, in what was probably the fashion of the courts these days.


Not for the first time during their trip did Nitao wonder what these two wanted all the way out in Crab territory. One sees very few people of any clan out here, other than Crab, and those few were usually Phoenix, attempting to research some of the mundane aspects of the plant or animal life on the edge of the Shadowlands.


Something interrupted Nitaos musings. Nitao couldnt put his finger on it, but it made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He could tell the other two had felt it also; the slight break in the crane’s voice, the shift of the scorpion’s weight. Those two hadn’t stopped acting in the same manner since they left the wall. Their sudden change of mood might tip off whoever was out there. The sudden stillness in the air, that was what had changed. Something new had entered the area other than his little group. Nitao couldn’t quite tell which way it came from. He began to finger the hilt of his dagger hoping for some sign of what was out there; a smell, a sound, he would even be thankful for a glimpse of what had created the sudden stillness.


With a small wave of his hand, he directed the other two forward, hoping that whatever it was that was out there hadnt already anticipated the direction he was going. He took small short steps, shuffling around the razor-grass, trying to make as little noise as possible. The courtiers were also moving, even less sure of themselves. The Crane had slowly brought his voice down to a whisper and the scorpion was making even less noise than he was before, a surprisingly smart move by the two.

Now that Nitao could see that they were capable of following him in relative silence, he focused his attention on the path ahead, or what remained of it since the last time the horde attacked from the north. He looked for anything fresh in the hopes of noticing a clue on what was in the area. All he saw were old Oni tracks of varied size, goblin prints, and even one heel print from what looked like a Hida family boot. Nothing there would tip him of as to what he was up

against, and with the dead weight of two non-combatants following him he would need all the extra insight to his opponent as possible. Then he heard it, one shuffle that didnt sound in place, out of instinct he drew his boot knife and threw. The intermingling of squeals let him know two things. One: the thing that he had sensed was a goblin, and two: the crane was still alive.


He leaped across the razor-grass to in the direction that the sound came from. Drawing his belt knife in mid-air his eyes quickly searched the grass in front of him as he landed, his thoughts were confirmed with the sight of a large goblin with a knife sticking out of its shoulder. The goblin spotted him to, and circled out of his path to avoid catching the full brunt of a leaping swing. Oh great, Nitao thought, a smart one. Nitao took a swipe at him with his knife anyway, trying to hamstring it so that he wouldnt have to run after it. No luck. The goblin jumped, or stumbled, at just the right time to avoid Nitaos blow. Realizing that surprise was no longer on his

side, the goblin started running. Nitao was about to start after it when he remembered his wards, and realized that he couldnt go without leaving his post as their protector. He watched as the goblin ran threw the brush, with his dagger still in its shoulder.


As the goblin ran behind one of the tainted trees, Nitao heard a sick thump. Did the thing run into something? Was something more dangerous behind the tree? He was about to decide whether to check or to run when a large shirtless man with a goblin over one shoulder and a hammer over the other came around from the corner. The huge brand on his chest told Nitao all he needed to know, this man was a member of the damned. The man looked up directly at Nitao, then nodded. Nitao only nodded back, knowing that speaking with any member of the damned too soon after combat may lead to him asking Nitao to be his second in seppuku; that was when the call of the Shadowlands was strongest.


The man looked at Nitao, then looked passed him. The mans eyes grew only slightly in size, but told Nitao that there was danger behind him. Nitaos mind quickly raced to his wards. He whipped around, drawing a second dagger from his other boot and throwing as he caught sight of a VERY large shadow in his peripheral vision.


His dagger flew inches above the ear of the scorpion directly into the large yellow pus ridden eye of the ogre behind him. Nitao was surprised to find the scorpion did not panic, instead he turned and threw what Nitao had thought was a regular fan into the ogres face. The ogre, surprised by the readiness of his prey and the pain of a dagger and bladed fan in his face, threw his head back to let out a howl. He wasnt given a chance, as a small dart about the size of a piece of grass flew into the ogres unprotected throat. The only thing the ogre managed to get out was a sick sounding growl.


Nitao saw that the ogre had reassessed the situation, and it quickly threw its club at what looked like the most dangerous opponent, Nitao. The club hit Nitao in the chest. He heard two or three different ribs crack and was sure that there were more he couldnt hear. Then the ogre ran the other direction. Nitao would have ran after it, but had several reasons not to. First, he saw the man from the legion of the Damned was already running after it, second, he was already injured, and third, his wards.


Nitao concentrated on his breathing the rest of the way to the citadel; the rib injuries causing enough pain to make him think twice about it. The crane and scorpion continued as they had been for the last few hours, acting like complete idiots, but now Nitao was on to them. They had broken their cover as bumbling courtiers, and now Nitao was very curious as to the reasons for the cover in the first place. He had fought against enough Scorpion to know that this scorpion was a student of the Honors Lesson Dojo, Nitao would have bet ten shards of jade on that. They all used their left hands when fighting, but this scorpion had used a very unique, and precise, heel plant turn to throw his fan, so unique that he had only seen the scorpion of the Honors Lesson use it.


The Crane, on the other hand, he had no ideas as to school of training. He hadnt seen the crane throw the dart that silenced the ogre, but Nitao knew that it had come from the crane. The crane’s hair was now down, and flowing around his waist indicating where the dart had come from.  Maybe he was a Daidoji, Nitao thought, it would be nice if he were one of the Iron Cranes. More likely he was a Kakita. Though the Kakita family normally detested anything that resembled long strenuous bouts of activity, preferring actions that only take one movement (such as snoring, which could be deadly for a Hiruma). So the mystery of the cranes school of training remained unguessed at. No use think of their backgrounds when one is well on his way to not breathing, thought Nitao. He continued down the path to the Citadel, His wards following behind him.


When Nitao reached the Citadel the gate was closed and fully barricaded, as Nitao expected. Since the retaking of the home of the Hiruma family the gates had been opened very few times, and then only to ambush the newest wave that the Shadowlands sent at them. When they asked to be let in the sentries on top of the wall let a rope down for the small group to climb up on. Though eager to get inside Nitao let the other two climb the rope first, dreading the stabs of pain that his ribs were going to force him to endure. The scorpion was the first, reaching the top of the wall with speed and ease that very few could manage. Nitao realized that the scorpion had let his faade of incapability drop when they had finally reached the citadel. He had most likely realized that Nitao had already guessed that they were not what they appeared to be. The crane went next. His climb, while not as graceful or fast as his companions, let Nitao know that the crane had also let his faade drop. Then came Nitaos turn


Nitao grasped the rope in his hand and wrapped it around his arm. One breath. Two. Then as he reached his third breath he began to pull himself up the rope. The stabbing pain in his sides, which he had almost managed to ignore while breathing, became flaring infernos of pain. He managed to climb to the halfway point when the pain became so intense his eyes would no longer focus on the top of the wall. Its still there he said to himself, just climb the rope. Every time his hand reached up he could feel popping in his chest. The pain started to give him tunnel vision. He just needed a few more feet. It felt like an eternity between each move up the rope. His vision started to go completely black. Just a little more. His muscles were beginning to give way. Kisada, please help me. Nitao looked up to see a shining figure reaching down to him before he blacked out.


It felt like waves over his body, warm surf lapping up at him from the sea. Nitao opened his eyes to see another set of eyes staring down at him.


There you are, nasty set of breaks you had there, but now its all taken care of. Its a miracle you got to the top of the wall in the state you were in I think someone has some fortunes to thank.


Nitaos eyes couldnt focus. He tried to sit up, but could only manage to lift his head about two inches off the pad he was on. When he realized that his head was flopping around like it had thirty pounds of dead weight on it, he let it sink back onto the pad. The man who was looking down at him turned and went out of Nitaos vision, Dont mind the dizziness, it goes away after a few minutes. I suppose its the lack of kami in the area. I really wish the phoenix would let us know how they heal without draining the body, but it probably wouldnt work out here anyway, requires too many kami, I think. All five types in one way or another. I had the opportunity to see them heal someone like that once, right before I was posted here. Which reminds me, normally the sentries would brief you on the location of things in the castle and who you should report to, but since you went unconscious, I have the unique honor of welcoming you to the Citadel. The Shrine to Bishamon is located in the west courtyard and is undergoing reconstruction after the last wave. The shrine to the fortune of persistence is located in the infirmary. Thats here. I was told that you dont have to report to anyone and your wards have been given rooms and  instructions for their stay.


Nitao was beginning to take in his surroundings. He was lying down on one of the pads of the infirmary in the Citadel, the man leaning over him was one of the Kunis devoted to healing. Nitao noticed one more thing; something was missing. His belt dagger, the two knifes he usually carried at his back, and his boot daggers were gone. This made him feel strangely naked.


My Knives. Nitao said.


Oh yes here we are. The now smiling Kuni withdrew the knives from a drawer under Nitaos pad, you dont see many knives of this quality around here, most of the men prefer tetsubos or dia-tsuchis. The edge is excellent, can I ask you who made them?




Oh, a trade secret? Well then I wont ask. Its just that, well the edges are jaded, and Ive never seen a jade edged blade before, not even on the larger more expensive katanas some of the men have hidden away. From what I hear it is incredibly hard to accomplish, taking years of study in both forging and- Hey where are you going?!


Nitao had started across the room toward the door that lead outside, Am I fit to go?


Well The now less smiling Kuni said.


Alright. Nitao stepped out of the door.


Come back some time! Well talk! the Kuni shouted after him.


Nitao felt a pang of sympathy for the medic. He definitely understood the Kunis want for talk. Most of the people in the infirmary either died there, or, the moment they were better, went back the walls. It was almost as lonely an existence as a Hiruma scout, and far more infuriating. All those people you are trying to help right in front of you, and you get to talk with people about as mush as a scout in the depths of the Shadowlands.


Luckily for Nitao, He wasnt very talkative to begin with.


He headed though the winding passages of the citadel toward the central courtyard, He was expected to keep an eye on his wards until they left the Citadel, and the central courtyard was the best place to look. While walking, he noticed very few bushi standing around. He thought the Citadel must be anticipating another wave, and deployed extra troops to the walls to  compensate. The stone walls rushed by him as he jogged down the halls. As his path led him closer to the central courtyard. He realized that the bushi missing from the halls were not on the walls. They were surrounding the courtyard. The courtyard was filled with a couple hundred bushi normally, now there was near a thousand crammed in to the small space. The majority of the crowd was regular bushi, without a samurai background. Most were armored in great armor, knowing the next wave of goblins or Oni could come at any time. The only way to pick out a samurai was the small family mons on their armors. The berserkers were easy to pick out because of their lack of armor, and were scattered among everyone else. In the center of the crowd of samurai and bushi, one of his wards was arguing quite loudly with one of the armored bushi, and, somewhat uncharacteristically, the bushi was standing there and arguing back. Nitao couldnt make out the words until he was right over the courtyard.


His ward was the first he was able to make out, wants you back home right now!


Well she can wait until my duty is done here! Ive made my decision and Im not going back! The bushi shouted.


His ward shouted right back, using the same tone that the bushi had used You’re coming back whether you like it or not, I am not here to baby you like she does! If you wont come back willingly then I will force you!


And how do you propose you do that? We arent brothers anymore! When I made my oath to the crab, it released me from all former obligations. You hold no sway over me! the bushi said decisively.


At this point, his wards face turned very serene and almost gleeful. You are almost right brother, He reached into the folds of his robes and drew out a small scroll, he opened it and began to read. By order of the Crane and Crab Clan Champions, Daidoji Matoa will have the right to announce one duel of his choosing within the crab lands, this duel may not be refused. The aforementioned shall set the terms of this duel and the loser shall comply with all stipulations.


The crane, after a short pause, continued. This time to the assembled crabs, I am Daidoji Matoa, I challenge this man, Daidoji Kurama or Hiruma Kurama, whatever he chooses to call himself. My terms, If I win he returns with me to the crane lands and swears fealty to the crane. If he wins, he may do as he wishes.


By this time Nitao had made his way to the front of the crowd, he could see the frustration on the face of the crab bushi, Kurama. Kurama stood were he was for the time it takes to draw two breaths, then said in a much softer tone than he had been using when Nitao entered the courtyard. I see Mother has called in a few favors


Then for a short time they simply stood in the courtyard sizing each other up. Nitao watched as they both assessed the others abilities. Although Nitao did not have an eye for duel match-ups, he was fairly sure that Kurama was the more skilled of the two. By the look on Kuramas face, that was apparently what he thought as wall.


Kurama the spoke, Brother, I know that you are not as skilled as I am in Iaijutsu, do not force me to kill you to prove my point.


Brother, where did you learn your tactics? If you cannot defeat your opponent, then force him to join you.


Speak plainly, Matoa.


Have you spent so much time with these honorless cows that you cannot see of what I speak. This comment drew very heated reactions from the assembled crowd, and judging by the look on Matoa face, it was exactly what he had expected. Nitao was infuriated. This man was being protected by his clan from who knows how many threats, and he sits there in the center of a circle of crab and insults them, Nitao was starting to wish he hadnt protected his wards from

that ogre


Then something in Nitaos mind clicked. His duty was to protect his wards. He now knew why Matoa wasnt worried about his brother beating him in a duel. He wasnt worried because Nitao was his stand in. Because of crab tradition one of them would have to concede so that both may better do their duty. The look on Kuramas face told Nitao that Kurama had come to a similar conclusion, and now he scanned the crowd for the one who he was going to fight. Nitao cut his search short by walking forward out of the crowd. Suddenly the courtyard became much quieter. Several of the Samurai around the circle had realized what was happening and started whispering back into the ranks. After a few moments the entire courtyard was dead silent.


Nitao now sized up his soon to be opponent, and realized that he was totally outclassed. Kurama had the grace and skill of an experienced duelist, and, like most crab, Nitao knew that he shouldnt be in one. He didnt stand a chance, and Kurama could see it too.


Then Kurama said something that Nitao couldnt understand, Duel of fans, one year, in Takas Square at the Yasuki Palace. Kurama glanced at his brother. Is this will be acceptable for you?


Matoa face shone with pleasure, Sorry brother, he announced for the whole crowd, But the terms and stipulations are mine to chose, not yours. Kurama whole body reacted in shock, a few in the crowd started to murmur.


An old one-armed crab near Nitao whispered to one of the bushi beside him, He cant do that. The challenger always gets to choose the time and style. Now Nitao realized what Kurama had been trying to do, find a duel that neither had to shirk their duties for so that he didnt have to concede.


Now it seemed that he wouldnt have the chance.  What about the rights of the challenged?! Kurama stated, Will you break the rules of dueling just to make me squirm?


The rights of the challenged have not been broken, I simply get to make all of the choices for you, unless you want to go against the will of your champion?


Matoa sneered in satisfaction; he had obviously waited for this moment for a long time.


Kurama snatched the scroll that Matoa had drawn from his robes. He looked at it searching for something, after several moments, he gave up. Very clever wording, brother. Not many would notice that interpretation of the words. Who scribed this?


Matoa was slightly taken aback, I did. He then glared at his brother, Do you find anything wrong with it?  He sneered.


No, I was just going to say that in a few years you may surpass mother in political finesse, Kurama said this very calmly, a incredible change from the screaming bushi a few minutes ago. I wish you could have seen things my way, brother.


Matoas face became an unreadable mask. How could one see this as anything but treachery. You have been a stain on the family honor your entire life, and now I get the chance to prove it.


Matoa turned again to the crowd, In recognition of the crab tradition of conceding duels if they interfere with ones duty, I announce that this duel will take place today. You shall all be witness to it. Matoa turned to Kurama again, but this time included Nitao in the conversation. I heard that the Hiruma had a school of knife duelists and requested one as my Yojimbo for this excursion. I must say I had little hopes of finding any talent for dueling in these gorillas, but my Yojimbo has already proven capable of handling himself. A duel of knifes. Today. In the central courtyard of the Citadel. The winner will be decided when one of the combatants goes unconscious.


Kurama turned again to his brother, I concede to the better man, I am no knife fighter.


Matoas voice became honey, Oh brother, you have already said how much superior you are to me at Iaijutsu. Conceding now would be ludicrous. You cannot back out of this with your honor intact.


Nitao opened his mouth to say that he would concede to the better man, but then Matoa turned on him, You will not concede, you are mine until we leave this place. I have already arranged it with your superiors.  If you choose to go against me it will only end up with both you and Kurama committing sepukku. You wouldnt want that, would you? this was all said in one of the most disgustingly sweet and courtly voices he had ever heard.


Nitao began to sweat. He may have a chance now, but it was only slim. The Hiruma School that Matoa mentioned was surely his, but he had made the mistake of thinking it was a dueling school. He had been taught the Way of the Knife, where your life begins and ends on the razor edge of that blade. He was taught how to eat with a knife, sleep while holding a knife, fight

with a knife, and hide a knife on his body. For all these things the knife was a tool; not a weapon as a bow might be, or his soul, as his katana might be. He survived in the Shadowlands because of his knives, but he had never dueled with a knife. It was possible, but it would be more of a Sumao match than an Iaijutsu duel.


As Nitao switched his vision back to Kurama, his head swooned slightly. He realized that he was still under the effects of the Kunis healing spell. This could be a hindrance and a boon. He wouldnt be able to focus on his opponent for very long before starting to feel lightheaded and would probably blackout much sooner than normal, but his movements and attacks would be less predictable, and therefore more effective.


Matoa spoke again to the assembled crowd, Will one of the witnesses please volunteer as the referee for this match? An old battle-scarred Hiruma samurai stepped forward. He nodded at Matao and sat at the edge of the crowd.


We can begin anytime your ready, Kurama. Matao said.


Nitao stepped farther toward the center of the courtyard. He faced the old Hiruma and bowed as he would during his sparring matches when he was first learning the Way of the Knife. Kurama was now searching his body for a knife, and seemed to be having trouble finding one. Nitao stepped toward Kurama. He drew one of the daggers sheathed at his back and extended it, hilt first, toward Kurama. Take it.


Kurama looked up surprised, I cannot accept it from the man Im about to duel.


Nitao almost rolled his eyes, Look, your not a crane anymore so stop refusing gifts.


Nitao threw the dagger at the ground in front of Kurama and turned around to walk back to his place. When he turned back around, Kurama had pulled the dagger out of the ground.  “Thank you.


Feh, Nitao shrugged.


The old Hiruma raised his arm. Nitao drew his Belt Knife and gripped it hard with an underhand grip. He took a defensive stance with his weapon hand next to his ear and his off-hand extended forward like a shield. In a knife fight, you could take a hit in the arm and still fight, but if you take a hit in the stomach you can count on dying in the next few days. Kurama observed his stance for a moment then took a stance similar to his. So, he learns quickly, thought

Nitao. I wonder if its quick enough. The old Hirumas hand dropped. Nitao quickly changed his stance. He dropped his knife hand down to his belt and in front of him. Kurama watched him for any aggressive action. Nitao made a convincing feint of an underhand slash, just to test Kurama. Kuramas back leg buckled, and his whole body rolled over backward. He landed on his feet in a

stance that looked somewhat reminiscent of the reversed Kaiu wall stance, with the left foot forward and at a right angle to the right. He definitely learned quickly. The space between the two fighters had widened significantly. They began to circle each other. Nitao could feel the dizziness begin to set in. He didnt have much time. Nitao lunged at Kuramas Knife hand. Kurama brought his knife hand back and began an attack of his own. Nitao had expected this and grabbed Kuramas knife hand with his off hand. Knowing he was trapped, Kurama desperately grasped for

Nitaos knife hand, and caught it. Now both of them were stuck, they couldnt attack each other because of the others off-hand, and they couldnt let go of the others knife hand without fear

of being stabbed. They were at a stalemate.


Perhaps it was the dizziness cause by his recent healing, or maybe Bishamon had whispered in his ear during the fight, but after a few moments of this Nitao threw his front foot forward. It wrapped around Kuramas foot and the increased weight threw both of

them off balance. Somehow Kurama managed to push himself out from under Nitao before they landed, and both landed on their sides. Nitao heard a very familiar crunch from his left side. The pain of the newly broken ribs flared up, causing Nitao to gasp as tunnel vision began to set in again. Nitao had one chance, he dropped the knife he was carrying in his right hand and caught it in his left. He grasped down hard and realized that he was holding the blade of the knife, not the handle. No time to question. No time to feel the pain. He brought the handle up into Kuramas chin as he blacked out.


Nitao woke to the familiar feel of warm surf. His head swam and felt like dead weight. He felt that if he were to open his eyes right now he would puke. Then he heard the voices. He could barely hear them. First the Kuni medics voice. Hes already been in here once today, I think he should stay, for his own safety. I had a brother once who-


He was interrupted by a gravelly cracked voice, You have told me this story several time already kuni-sama. Although entertaining, Im sure you have much to do after that last wave.


Not as much as you think. It was only a couple hundred goblins and an ogre. That wonderful Toritaka samurai took care of the ogre very quickly and the goblins simply ran after that. Most of the wounded are the ones who were caught outside when the wave came. With a little luck, we wont have lost any of the men today. Now theres something the thank the Kami for. As they spoke, their words grew clearer. Close to the end they grew so loud that they began to hurt Nitaos ears. He groaned.


My, this one bounces back quickly, hes hardly been here for thirty minutes and hes already coming around. the voice of the Kuni was pounding in his ears. I suppose you are right I do have to go. One of the injured has requested two vials of antitoxin and you know how long those take to find. I hope you come down again soon, Miagora-san.


You do me entirely to much honor, Venek-sama. That gravel voice grated his eardrums. He could taste bile in his throat, the pounding of the sounds in his head was causing his stomach to reject what little it had. Nitao forced his stomach to keep its contents. After a few minutes, Nitao began to open his eyes. The face of the damned he had met on the way here greeted his awakening. So you’re finally awake. The man said, looking down at him with blue eyes. Nitao couldnt respond yet, his stomach was still rebelling against him and speaking would probably let his stomach win the fight.


I should introduce myself. I am Hiruma Miagora, former student of the Way of the Knife. He showed his wrist. A faded tattoo of a simple carving knife was printed on his skin. I came down here to return this to you. He placed the dagger Nitao had thrown into the eye of the ogre next to Nitao. Nitao saw the palm of Miagoras hand as he withdrew it. His entire hand had been burnt and scarred by the jade in the dagger. No doubt Miagora had been in pain bringing the dagger here. Miagora spoke again, It is a very impressive knife. I would have brought it to

you sooner, but you left the infirmary so quickly that after Venek-sama had told me you had awaken, you were already in the courtyard.


Nitaos senses seemed to be returning to normal again.


Miagoras voice didnt hurt his ears anymore and he could focus on the ceiling again. His stomach was finally settling down enough for him to speak. Kurama his stomach turned again in a surprise assault on his throat, trying to push its way up. He barely managed to stifle it. Nitao decided that speaking wasnt a good idea just yet.


Miagora spoke again, If your wondering the results of the duel you were in Ill tell you. Kurama is still alive, but was knocked cold by that hit in the chin you dealt him. Quite a hard hit, you broke his jaw. It was at that moment that the alarms went off on the walls. After the wave had hit, your referee said that the duel had hindered both of your abilities to preform your duty. He declared the duel null and void. That crane, Matoa, had a fit. He threatened the referee with interfering with the results and demanded to see his superior to request his sepukku. The referee said that if Matoa did that, he would survive his own sepukku to see the cranes face cut off of his head. The crane hasnt spoken a word since. Venek said that you should stay here for the night, the blood loss from you hand bleeding was extreme and you will need plenty of water and bedrest. Miagora stood up. From Nitaos perspective, he looked much more like one of the bear sized Hida than a Hiruma Knife Fighter. I will see you in the morning. Ask Venek about his encounter with a Unicorn Battle Maiden, he loves telling that one. Miagora headed for the door.


The sun rose over the citadel to great a light fog, the sentries were changing the guard and the walls of Hiruma Castle were covered in dew. Miagora was outside of the infirmary, waiting for Nitao to come out. The morning bring new beauty, thought Miagora, as he watched the sun climb over the horizon. Today would be a good day to die. He reprimanded himself for  thinking such things, though he knew he couldnt help it. Ever since he had contracted the taint and joined the legion that was all he could think about. It was what the ritual did to him. Instead of the taint seducing him to go into the Shadowlands it caused him to want for his own death. It was different for every member, but most ended up wanting his or her own death in some way or another.


Miagora looked up to see Matoa walking down one of the hallways towards the infirmary. Well, if the dawn brings beauty then so must it bring ugliness.  When Matoa reached the entrance of the infirmary, Miagora spoke first. May I ask what the guests of the Citadel are doing wandering the walls so early in the morning?


Matoa sneered a moment before he looked at Miagora, when he did take a full look at the Member of the Damned, he took a quick step back and shuttered. They let you out to walk without a leash. So what is it your business what I am doing?


Just curious.


I am collecting my Yojimbo and leaving. I wish to never see these filthy lands again. Does that answer your question?




They both stood there for several minute in silence before the Kuni medic, Venek, came out the doorway. He look startled at the amount of people outside his door, but recovered quickly. Hello gentlemen. Are you here for my skills? I cant see any-


Matoa interupted him mid-sentence. The one you call Nitao. I need him.


Veneks slight smile dropped off completely, Im afraid he died in the night, along with your brother Hiruma Kurama. Not sure why. They seemed to be on their way to a full recovery.


Then I will go and request a new Yojimbo from your captain, where is-.


Maigora spoke in a very firm and calm voice, I have already spoken with the captain this morning. He expected you might want a new Yojimbo. I have been given permission to offer you my services until you reach the edge of the crab lands.


Matoas eyes grew very wide at the prospect of having a tainted Yojimbo. I respectfully decline your offer, Im sure-.


Maigora interrupted Matoa again. I will tell the captain that you have declined his offer for a Yojimbo. Im sure he will be happy that you have realize that he cant spare anyone as a diplomatic escort. He thanks you for your rationality in this matter.


Matoa was stunned. He was silent for a few moments then, Your superiors will hear of this.


Im sure they will.  With that, Matoa left the infirmary for the wall, where his scorpion companion waited for him. They conferred for a time before they climbed the rope one of the sentries had let down for them. Miagora glanced at Venek. Venek nodded, and the two proceeded into the infirmary. On one of the beds lay a sleeping Nitao, beside him, sitting against the wall was Kurama.


You were right, Venek said. He didnt even question the fact that you were dead.


Kurama spoke, Well Scorpions poison is very effective if its unexpected.


How did you know that your brother would try to kill you?


Kurama paused for a very long time. One day when we were children, we went playing in a plum tree. I said that he shouldnt be so critical of people outside of our clan and he pushed me off. I lay there with a leg broken in two different places, and he climbs out of the tree and leaves me there. When I get home, he has convinced our mother that it was my fault for climbing to high into the tree. He looked up at Venek and Miagora. I dont know if you understand, but from that moment I knew that if I ever went too far out of line, that my brother would try to kill me.


Miagora spoke up, Well, he thinks your dead now, so you shouldnt be bothered by them again. Kurama shook his head, Dont count on it. He stood and walked to one of the windows over looking the courtyard. From that point he watched the sun rise the rest of the way over the Citadel.

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