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By the woodland stream, the strange young Scorpion in Crane armour and the old blind samurai tell you their stories…

Hotasu's Tale

 It must not be thought, Matsu-san, that I am not a Scorpion. My loyalty is to Bayushis house and the Scorpion banner, and my sword is ever at the service of that dynasty. A man, however, is not a dynasty. If I must raise my sword against my daimyo to save my daimyos house, I shall do it.

 In the 31st Year of the imperious and divine Hantei the 38th, the hand of my cousin Sugai was broken by his rival Tsujite. My uncle, Suko, arranged for a Crane named Bayishamon to teach me in the way of the sword, so that I might serve house and Clan as a duellist. Bayishamon taught me the secrets of the Kakita techniques - but he also taught me to live with honour. The Scorpion have a role to play in the Empire, we are the Emperors spies and assassins and watchers of the dark - but it is wrong for us to delight in this. I watched my uncle trick samurai into destroying themselves. I followed my father, Hotai, as he slew rivals while they were sleeping.

 Then came the rebellion, Shojus coup. The Great Traitor rose up against the Son of Heaven. My first thought was to sell my life dearly, to show the Empire that one Scorpion was still loyal to the Jade Throne... but that is my dilemma.

 I am loyal to the Jade Throne. I am a samurai of the Empire... but I am also loyal to the Scorpion Clan, who are in rebellion against the Jade Throne. Giri binds me both ways.

 I sought counsel from Bayishamon-sensei... and though him, I met Zatoichi.
The older samurai, who had been dozing in the late spring sun, wakes with a start – or so it seems. You begin to wonder how much of the old man’s foolishness is real, and how much is an act. Is he really a confused old wanderer, or is that just a feint? Was he really sleeping, or was he listening and observing?

Zatoichi's Tale

 Eh, yes. You might not think it to look at me, but I was once a brash young duellist. There is a streak of fire and passion in the most bloodless Crane, and I was far from that. Ah, the days of youth, dalliances in the water world, dalliances in the courtly world with samurai who were too slow, too slow the lot of them... good years, those, the years past. I would live them again if I could.

 I wander. I wander from my wanderings, eh? To cut a long story - nay, an epic poem that shamefully goes unwritten - short (for cutting things is what I do best), I fell prey to a disease in my twenty-ninth winter, and was left blind. As you can doubtless imagine, that was something of a blow. Being blind is something of a handicap when one is trying to bend away from a flashing blade.

I left the Kakita school and went to a monastery for five years. I hoped to leave the sword behind, but it was in my blood. The prayers and chants were mangled by my lips, and I meditate best performing katas, not sitting in a cold temple. And I look awful with a bald head.

Anyway, the monks suggested I find enlightenment in the sword. Their training gave me enough ki-sensing to get around. I learned to pay attention to other things. I survived. Eventually, I wandered south. I had never been south before.

Then Shoju and Kisada made everything go wrong. I expected to be hunted down, but apparently five years in a monastery makes you a forgotten man. Hotasu found me a few weeks ago.

The old man falls silent, and Hotasu takes up the tale again.

Zatoichi-sama and I do not agree on many things. I wish to save the Scorpion from destruction, but he does not.

Zatoichi interrupts.

The penalty for rebellion is death. You know that. However, Otosan Uchi was not built in a day. This war must end first, then we will see about the Scorpion.

Hotasu nods, then continues.

The Daidoji are the only samurai in the southlands loyal to the Hantei. They hold the coast. While the Daidoji stand, Kisada cannot advance far. The Iron Crane are a knife inside his guard. The Daidoji must fall, else the Loyalists can send armies by sea, surrounding the minor clans and threatening the heart of the Scorpion provinces.

The centre of the Daidoji fortifications is Garden Under Shadow City, and Shiro Daidoji above it. While the city stands, the Daidoji endure. I tell you nothing you do not already know.

The chief advantage of Kisada is that he is ready for a war, whereas only the Lion armies are ready in the north. The Unicorn refuse to send aid. The Crane armies are mostly either watching the Lion border, or in the south. The Phoenix are pacifists. The Dragon - who knows? For this first summer, Kisada has the greater army. Once the full might of the Empire is mobilised, though, the Shogunate will be outnumbered and outclassed. If the Daidoji ports are still open then, Kisada has lost.

This, then, is the strike of the matter. For Kisada to survive, Shiro no Daidoji must fall by midsummer.

We are here to ensure it does not.