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The old shōgun was taking tea with the most powerful of his daimyōs. Sakuraichi Ujio was a man in his early forties who was the most passionate about the country, the least likely of his daimyōs to challenge him for personal gain. He was sincere, spoke little and had a severe countenance. Sometimes Souji felt that in his old age, their differences in personality were incompatible, but the old man used to be just as hard and unyielding as Sakuraichi, so he made it work. He was proud that this man would be the next shōgun.

I should tell him, he thought. Yes, today. Right now.

“The tea is very good,” he said, smiling as he gestured with the small ceramic. He glanced over to where Yoshi sat, his grey goatee long enough to be visible below the base of his own ceramic from which he was sipping. He nodded in agreement. “It is very good.”

The daimyō wasn’t drinking his tea. “Only the finest for my esteemed guest.” Normally he would have clapped his hands together and bowed ever so slightly, but today he only nodded. Unusual, the old Souji thought.

“Are you worried, my friend?” he asked Sakuraichi.

“Not worried,” the dour daimyō replied. “I’m saddened.”

Souji frowned. “What do you mean?”

“The state of our country is in decline. It has been for many years now. The Emperor has little of the same power the former rulers of our nation had and the other daimyōs are fat and lazy, unwilling to do what must be done—all but a select few. If Xai Qi attacked us tomorrow, we would not be able to repel their advance into our lands.”

The old shōgun was taken aback. He didn’t understand. Sakuraichi never spoke like this before. Never uttered so much as a hint of similar sentiment to him within all the time they had known each other.

“These are very heavy words,” Souji said. “Tell me what is on your mind, my friend.”

Yoshi said nothing. The Shōgun and his daimyō were speaking now. The old samurai would say nothing unless addressed directly, despite the fact Souji allowed him to speak his mind when they were at home. Usually.

“I’m talking about the Emperor and his father before him. They have opened this land to our enemies and now we are paying the price for this foolishness.”

Souji flinched. “Foolishness? You dare call the edicts of our glorious emperor ‘foolish’?”

“Yes,” Sakuraichi said. “He is a fool. His father invites the world into our nation and expects what? Peace and harmony of abundance? These foreigners have been making inroads into every fabric of our society with their customs and religions, their politics—even their ways of thinking.”

Souji couldn’t believe what he was hearing. These were all good things—they enriched the country, made it wealthy, and best of all, there was peace without the need for constant in-fighting. “I thought you were different,” Souji. He felt his face flush, his ears throbbing as he said those words through his teeth. “It seems I was wrong. You are wholly of the old cloth, a warmongering daimyō.”

“I am what this country needs me to be, Ikeda Souji.” Sakuraichi, perfectly composed until now, clenched his hands, which had been lying flat on his thighs, a measure of respect and peace. But now… fists, an altogether opposite gesture.

The old shōgun wanted to spit, but he would not. Instead he narrowed his eyes. “Why are you telling me this?”

“You know of what I really speak, Ikeda. You are the shōgun. These things don’t escape your notice. Our streets are teeming with them. They’re everywhere, in every city, spreading their corruptions while our own people shrink. We’re losing influence in our own nation. I recently heard talk in the Emperor’s court that Daimyō Shoujo was making jokes about how we should allow foreigners to become samurai!”

“I do not think that—“

“Preposterous,” Sakuraichi interrupted. “How long will it be until it would actually make sense to allow them to become samurai? And then what next? Daimyōs? Emperors? We’re losing our country, Ikeda. It begins with the crossing of small rivers, but then we make new boundaries, ones we would have never dreamed of contemplating before—I don’t know why I’m explaining myself—do you have the mind of a child, or a feeble old man?!”

Souji flinched, drew in a sharp breath and stared Sakuraichi down for a moment. He felt as though he had fallen from a horse, that he was winded and dizzy. He had no other course but to stand and leave. He got up a little too fast, causing his knee to smart with the old wound. “I will not take this from you, Daimyō Sakuraichi!” He pointed a meaty finger at the man. “Apologize at once, or I will have you stripped of your station!”

The daimyō stood, and by this time the old shōgun could see the shadows of a dozen men behind the washi, waiting in the courtyard. “It is time things changed in this country. I will not sit while everything is ruined.”

Souji recognized the distinct figure of a samurai with his hand on his katana hilt, ready to draw his blade with a death slash.

“Yoshi!” he screamed, drawing his own blade.

The door opened and Sakuraichi’s samurai rushed into the room. The daimyō didn’t even deign to back away as they fought for their lives.

It was over in a second. The old shōgun lay on the tatami mats, his hot life-blood pouring out of him. He heard voices. The daimyō walking away as he gave orders to one of his subordinates. Yoshi was somewhere, but the old man couldn’t move enough to look for him. Where was he?

Souji had to warn the Emperor. He had to warn someone! But as his vision dimmed, he cared less about that. He knew he would be dead in moments.

As he drifted away, the only thing he could think of was Mitsue. She had been a good wife. And there was Naoki, his daughter. So beautiful. Would they be safe?

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About the author

LambentTyto

Bio: "I’m a businessman. My family has a seat in the Dwarven Merchants Guild. Merchants buy and sell goods. Businessmen buy and sell stores. In my spare time, I manage a spy network. And occasionally, I write books."--Varric Tethras

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Wakiagaru is complete.
The Reconnoiters is complete.
More stories on the way.

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