The Legend of Kujaku:
By Anon Writer
Ikoma Rina paused for only a moment as she entered the room, her eyes sweeping over the assembled courtiers until they rested upon the young woman she had been seeking. Doji-san! she called out, her lips pulling back in a practiced smile as the small woman turned to greet her with a perfect bow.
Ikoma-sama, Jinhana replied, her expression one of genuine pleasure. I did not expect someone of your status to attend a court such as this, but it warms my heart to see you once again. How is your husband, if I might ask?
Still breathing, Rina grinned as she allowed her eyes to wander across the room. Or at least he was the last I had heard. I assume your fianc is well?
Jinhanas cheeks flushed slightly as she lifted a lace fan to her lips. Hai, Ikoma-sama. The last letter I received from Ryushi-san indicated that he was being rotated back into the reserve troops after sustaining a minor injury. It was nothing serious, she quickly added, sensing Rinas feigned concern, but he will be returning home just the same.
I am sure that Daidoji-san served his Clan to the best of his ability. Rina allowed her words to hang between them for a moment before gesturing towards a red-haired woman standing near the opposite side of the room. Tell me, is that the peacock girl?
Jinhana raised her fan a bit higher, covering her lips as she took a sudden interest in a nearby arrangement of flowers. It was fairly obvious which one of the guests Rina was referring to, as there was but a single woman standing near the only peacock in the room, and neither human nor peacock was particularly discrete.
The woman was dressed in a charcoal grey kimono, which only seemed to accentuate the bright red hair that spilled down her shoulders in a cascade of impossible color. Its color hinted at Kitsu blood in her veins, or, at the very least, many bottles of red dye in her room. Unlike the other Scorpion in the room, she had completely forgone the use of a mask, leaving her sleepy, distant features exposed for all to see.
The Scorpions attention was focused completely upon the peacock at her feet, which had been dressed up like a samurai, complete with a small hat and a tiny daisho. The peacock was, much to the amazement of a few nearby courtiers, repeatedly bouncing a kemari ball up and down off the top of its head in an act of surprising skill. With each bounce, the woman clapped her hands in childish joy and counted off the number of successful bounces; so far, the peacock was up to an impressive twenty seven.
Do you mean Yogo Shuuko, Ikoma-sama? Jinhana asked curiously, her attention still upon the fascinating flower arrangement. I believe Yogo-san mentioned that the peacock is acting as her yojimbo while she attends court.
The only sign of Rina’s surprise was a slight twitch in her left eye. A peacock yojimbo, you say? She glanced briefly towards the Scorpion and her athletic pet, which was still bouncing the ball on its tiny head. I fear that I might have fallen behind, Doji-san. Is this some new trend, or is Yogo-san simply having a bit of a laugh at our expense?
Her tone made it clear which of the two possibilities she thought most likely.
Oh, nothing like that, Jinhana replied as she turned her attention back to Rina. Yogo-san is something of a special woman, and also a shugenja, so her ways oftentimes seem strange to those of us without her understanding of the world.
Rina tilted her head a bit to the side as she studied the red haired woman. After a minute, she frowned in disapproval. She acts like someone on opium.
Ikoma-sama! Jinhanas fan snapped open as she shielded her shocked expression. Yogo Shuuko is a guest of this court. Surely you are not suggesting that the Crane would invite an opium addict to their court?
No, of course not, Rina replied as she resisted the urge to roll her eyes. I was merely complimenting her acting skills, which are clearly so well-practiced to have created such an illusion. She favored the young Crane with a warm smile. I would never insult your Clan in such a blatant manner, Doji-sama.
Jinhanas expression softened as she lowered her fan and returned the Ikomas smile. My apologies for being so defensive.
Think nothing of it, Doji-san. But perhaps I should offer my compliments to Yogo-san in person? Rinas smile took on a slightly predatory aspect. Would you be so kind as to introduce me?
Somehow, Jinhana managed to avoid flinching at the suggestion. Yogo-san is a very busy woman, Ikoma-sama, she replied, her voice serene despite the warning bells that were ringing at the back of her mind. Surely you would rather meet Asahina Beniha-sama, would you not? I hear that she is in the castle, and it would not take.
Nonsense, Rina said, waiving the offer aside with her fan. I am interested in meeting this woman, if only to discuss her obvious Lion ancestry. That she is a shugenja with such an obvious sign of Kitsu blood only makes her more intriguing. She raised one eyebrow slightly. I would consider it a personal favor, Doji-san.
Jinhana put on the appearance of consideration as her mind raced to find a way to deflect the Ikoma woman’s interest from the Scorpion. None of the other courtiers had ever turned down the chance to speak with the Asahina daimyo. After another moment, she repressed a sigh and put on her best courtiers face for Rina.
Right this way, Ikoma-sama.
By the time that Doji Jinhana and Ikoma Rina had made their way across the court – and made all the polite conversation that came with such movement – the Scorpions peacock had given up on its game of kemari. Instead, Shuuko herself was tossing the small ball into the air, and then hopping upwards in an attempt to bounce it off the top of her head. Her kemari skills were somewhat lacking, in the sense that they were completely nonexistent, but this did not seem to stop her from sending one ball after another bouncing off in some random direction.
Fortunately, the Daidoji guards had been previously instructed to keep an eye on the red-haired Scorpion, and were able to catch most of the balls before they rolled off into the small groups of courtiers pretending not to watch the spectacle. Unfortunately, the Daidoji had also been previously instructed to give Shuuko whatever she wanted in order to keep her from speaking with the other guests, and each recovered ball was handed back to the unhinged woman with a resigned sigh before it was sent, once more, careening off the top of her head.
The peacock, for its part, did what it could to head-bop the uncontrolled balls in the general direction of the Daidoji guards, but it was somewhat hampered in this by its lack of height.
Yogo-san, Jinhana called after a moment, drawing Shuukos attention towards her. My apologies for interrupting your game, but Ikoma Rina was interested in making your acquaintance.
Shuuko stared blankly at Jinhana for a long moment, and then tossed the kemari ball she was holding into the air.
It is a pleasure to meet you, Yogo-sama, Rina replied, her smile becoming slightly strained as the ball bounced off the top of her head. I must admit, I have never before seen a Scorpion about in public without a mask, let alone in court.
Shuuko nodded, her face never quite losing its distant expression. The bees buzz about their gardens without great languor or diligence, but in the end even the purple moon must shine down its music onto the washing waters.
Rina blinked in surprise; she had understood the words that the girl had said, but they did not fit together in any pattern recognizable to a sane mind. That’s a koan, is it not?
The Scorpion grinned widely, in a way that Rina found slightly uncomfortable. The cactus king commands his sunshine jars to fill with overwhelming exuberance. Shuuko was once a mighty duck in the cactus court, but her feathers turned to honey and she melted into a landscape of flowers.
Rina glanced sideways to Jinhana, who was hiding most of her face behind her spread fan. Forcing herself to smile, the Ikoma took a deep breath and turned back towards the mad Scorpion. I suppose I shall leave you to that, Yogo-san. I would not want to keep you from Peacock, Shuuko replied, her voice suddenly deadly serious.
Yes, from your peacock, Rina replied as she took a step backwards and made a small bow to the other woman. It was very interesting to meet you.
The red-haired woman looked down at the peacock by her side, and poked it in the side of the head with her finger. The peacock glanced upwards with a slightly annoyed look and side-stepped away from the girl, which only caused her to take another step towards the bird to poke it again.
Rina watched the girl in morbid fascination for a few more moments before snapping open her fan and taking a step closer to Jinhana. What in Akodos name was that? she hissed, all sense of etiquette momentarily discarded. That woman is madder than a Togashi on liquid void!
Jinhana fanned herself nervously as she shielded her lips with her fan. Her father is a very wealthy merchant with the Consortium, she explained in a hushed voice. Apparently a rival threatened Shuuko-sans life as a means of forcing him to go along with a business deal, and to protect her he called in some favors and had her sent here.
But why would you let her into court? Rina motioned towards Shuuko with her fan; one of the Daidoji guards had interceded between her and the peacock, and was now being repeatedly poked in its place.
Its a long story, Jinhana sighed. If youll excuse me? I dont believe the guards have been trained to deal with this sort of thing.
Rina gave her a slight bow and then watched as the Crane hurried forward to calm down the Scorpion girl, who seemed to have escalated her assault upon the guards from simple poking to painful jabbing. Her attention, however, was soon drawn away from the travesty by a scratching sound at her feet.
Standing there was the peacock, which was looking up at her with a strange expression in its glassy black eyes.
Umm can I help you, peacock-sama? she asked, feeling a bit foolish to be talking with a bird in court.
The peacock, for its part, squawked loudly as its tail feathers snapped open, knocking a nearby courtier to the ground as they caught him in the neck and causing another to jump in surprise, splattering tea all over his companions.
As the peacock began to hop up and down in what was no doubt some sort of mating dance, Rina buried her face in her hand and rubbed at her temples. It would have been tolerable, perhaps, something to laugh about afterwards, were it not for the words that Shuuko shouted out across the stunned court.
Nooooo! Not that one! Kujaku-sama doesnt know how many other peacocks Ikoma-sama has been with!
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