They sent a servant to wake Koan and prepare him for their arrival ahead of them. They were let into the room by Uisako, Koan’s apprentice, and shown to a small table where Koan sat. They asked him about his meeting with Shiba Himitsu and he said that he stayed with him for about an hour. He was reluctant to talk about what they spoke about simply saying that it was a private matter and that Koan was also trying to turn Himitsu away from the duel. But after they mentioned the letter he agreed that he did indeed know about the meeting between Niban and Himitsu. He told them that it was a private matter between Niban and Himitsu.
“I don’t know much about it”. Koan begun sighting. “Niban has had something against Yoroshiku since the first moment he knew about her. But Niban’s like that. He has something against the Crane, the Unicorn and for all I know, the Phoenix. He doesn’t forgive past insults. But I know he wouldn’t lie. If he says he has something to say about the girl, then he’s telling the truth. I trust Niban, and I trust his word. Niban was supposed to arrive this morning, with information he wanted to bring forward. Himitsu was to sponsor that information, so the Phoenix would have to accept it as valid. I know they needed another witness – someone whose name they didn’t tell me. They were also very worried about one of the lords here at the palace. Niban never told me the name, but I overheard enough to know that “the daimyo” was going to be ready to kill them, when this information was released.”
He also said that, although Niban’s original plan was to give his evidence to Shiba Himitsu to present court, with Himitsu dead Niban would probably quickly return to the Village of the Nightingale. The group conceded in the wisdom in that action as they all agreed that bringing allegations against the Imperial Line would not be a healthy decision without proper backing. With no further questions for the ronin shugenja, and his continued suggestions of needing sleep, the group thanked him for his cooperation, bowed and left to report their findings to Hiruma Usigo.
They found him talking with Isawa Tomo, Mirumoto Daini and Asako Kagetsu while the eta twins, Tsuyuki and Tetsuya, finished examining the body. They questioned the old eta first to see what they had found it. The eta told them that they had determined that the wounds had been made by a small to medium sized blade (between a tanto and a wakisazshi) and the cut to the head had required someone of considerable strength or size to be able to perform the cut in a single blow. At that time Isawa Tomo and Asako Kagetsu pushed to have Akodo Ryuden formally charged with the murder of Shiba Himitsu. Mirumoto Daini looked to Hiruma Usigo and asked if he had any reason to doubt Ryuden’s guilt in this matter. Hiruma Usigo asked his new Yoriki their thoughts on the matter and if the testimony and evidence collected pointed to Akodo Ryuden’s unquestionable guilt. They looked at each other and told Usigo that the evidence did not clearly support Ryuden’s guilt. Hiruma Usigo turned to his companions and told them that he could not pass such judgment at that time. Mirumoto Daini looked at the gathered people and told Hiruma Usigo had two days to find the real killer. If no other suspect could be found Ryuden would be judged guilty at that time. Hiruma Usigo told his yoriki to get a few more hours of sleep and then begin the investigation in the morning.
The following morning the group awoke as usual and joined the morning feast. The court was buzzing about the murder. The representatives from various clans had wild varying theories on why Ryuden did it, or who else could have. Shosuro Shinriko noticed that the Scorpion were being surprisingly quiet about the whole thing. The other topic of discussion circulating around was the accusation about Yoroshiku’s bloodline. The Unicorn daimyo, Shinjo Gidayu, ardently defended her against anyone who questioned her Hantei bloodline. Isawa Uona, Isawa Tomo’s apprentice and the winner of the Setsuban festival, was also busy conducting an investigation into the murder of Shiba Himitsu and the yoriki saw her questioning a few people at court.
In the garden, Yoroshiku walked with many of the courtiers, as had been her custom in the days past. However, this time she had only her Hida and Kitsu maidservants, both of whom are trying very hard to put on pleasant smiles. Yoroshiku is so practiced, of course, that hers appeared genuine. Her handmaiden’s smiles, unfortunately, could use some work. When asked, they said that Kakita Nantoko is a gentle girl, and that the excitement had made her ill. She would be staying in her room for a few days.
Hida Kengetsu questioned the outer perimeter guards who patrolled the grounds and surrounding lands. He wanted to know if Niban had been spotted. One of the outer scouts informed him that they had spotted a man fitting Niban’s description speak with one of the traveling merchants who were assisting in keeping the winter court supplied. Niban then quickly turned around and rode, quite quickly, back towards the south east. Kengetsu cursed but thanked the man for his assistance. Upon returning to the palace he sent another letter to Isawa Tomo to see if he could have a meeting to speak about the murder investigation. It was quickly granted and Kengetsu was escorted to Isawa Tomo’s room. After the proper courtesies were performed Kengetsu questioned him about Shiba Himitsu’s allegations against Otomo Yoroshiku. Isawa Tomo told Kengetsu he did not know why Shiba Himitsu had bore such anger and hatred against Yoroshiku or the basis of his allegations against her bloodline. Himitsu had been a bastard (literally) and perhaps thought Otomo Yoroshiku mocked him somehow for it. Himitsu also would let his emotion overrule his reason when he drank sake. Kengetsu thanked him for his insight and information and quickly departed.
Kakita Hikaru also had an interesting conversation with an Isawa shugenja, Isawa Uona. The Phoenix shugenja approached Hikaru and took her aside for a quick conversation:
Have you ever served anyone other then your own daimyo? Uona smiled in a friendly manner. “I have. It is a difficult decision, when one loyalty comes in conflict with another.
“I once heard a fable about a dove in the same position. The dove believed in the Law above all else. When the lord of the Birds was accused of stealing seed from a farmer’s garden, the dove would have done anything to have cleared his Master’s name. But in doing so, he discovered that the young son of the Master of all Animals had been the one to steal the seed. But if this were discovered, all the animals would surely revolt against their leader.”
“So the dove was forced to decide. Where was his loyalty?” Uona smiled and bowed. “To the Emperor or to the Law? Ah, but I must go. There is still testimony to collect, and you have no time for silly fables. Good day, my friend.” Isawa Uona quickly bowed again and quickly moved off to another group standing nearby and commenced a conversation with them before Hikaru could question what she meant.
The group also requested Hiruma Usigo to speak with Otomo Yoroshiku and her handmaiden, Kakita Nantoko who Akodo Ryuden had supposedly spoken to that night of the murder, for Yoroshiku was far above their status. Hiruma Usigo also needed someone of higher status then himself to question someone of the Imperial line. He would need Doji Satsume’s permission and authority to question Otomo Yoroshiku and her handmaidens.
Akodo and Shinjo did their best to listen to what people had to say about the murder and the people involved. Shosuro sent several letters back and forth to the Scorpion delegation but they were unable to provide her with any specific information.
Finally that evening they were called to Hiruma Usigo’s room as no great feast was planned for the evening. The horrible events of the previous night, coupled with the continuing investigation, made festivities difficult. Once there they were served by Usigo’s personal attendant, Hiruma Arawa, a man they had seen often in Usigo’s company in the palace. Usigo offered them all tea, and then they sat on the terrace as Arawa served them all from a single pitcher of tea.
Usigo told them that he had found a poem among his writing utensils earlier in the day. He did not write it, nor does he know whose handwriting it was. As Arawa had never learned to write it could not his either. Usigo tells them that he had been away from his room nearly all day. He had overseen the eta twins clearing Himitsu’s room and then spent the rest of day with Mirumoto Daini and Asako Kagetsu. He had also spoken with Doji Satsume, the Emerald Champion, about questioning Otomo Yorishiku and her handmaidens. The Emerald Champion had told Usigo that he would meditate on the issue and inform him in the morning. Usigo took the poem from inside his kimono and handed it over to his new yoriki:
Three little kittens
And the Emperor’s Cat
Stares in the mirror
And sees two
As they discussed the note and its possible meaning Hiruma Usigo surprised them with another announcement. It seemed he had petitioned Doji Satsume to make them all Emerald Magistrates. The Empire needed a group of magistrates that could solve issues efficiently and without biases. Their journey with the Setsuban festival had proven their skill and stories of their skill had circulated around the Empire. Now with them showing their skill at court and investigation with this horrendous murder he could see no reason why not to elevate them together as Emerald Magistrates. He slowly began to talk quieter as he pondered the future of the Empire and his own clan, the Crab. Hiruma Usigo told Kengetsu that he felt that he represented the future of the Crab clan, a combination of strength of duty and arms with the sophistication that the Empire’s culture represented. As he said this he sighted and then suddenly slumped to the floor, dead.
The group immediately put their tea cups down, knowing the possible effects of poison and realizing that they had been served from the same pitcher. Shinriko immediately checked the pitcher for poison while Hikaru checked Usigo to see if she could revive him. Kengetsu and Akio ran out of the rooms; Kengetsu to find Hiruma Arawa and Akio to find a guard. Kengetsu had no luck in finding Arawa but Akio quickly found a guard patrolling and told him the situation and to get his superior. Shinriko found no poison in the pitcher but did find it in Usigo’s teacup. She identified it as a swift-acting toxin whose antidote was difficult and timely to create. There was nothing neither she nor Hikaru could do to save the old magistrate.
Few minutes later a group of bushi guards rushed in and instructed all of them to stay where the were. The yoriki tried to convince them to find Hiruma Arawa but the Dragon bushi paid them no heed as the foreign samurai had no authority over them. After a few more tense minutes Mirumoto Daini and Asako Kagetsu arrived along with the captain of the guard. Shinriko sincerely explained that her knowledge of medicinal plants had indentified a toxin that had been placed in only Usigo’s teacup and that the only person who could have done it was his attendant, Hiruma Arawa. Daini immediately dispatched his guards to find the attendant.
They were soon joined by Doji Satsume who had heard the news of the murder from the passing guards. He was joined by the eta twins, Tsuyuki and Tetsuya, who examined the body of Hiruma Usigo and after a few minutes came to the same conclusion presented by Shinriko. The twins were quite devastated as they had been in the service of Hiruma Usigo for almost two decades. A few minutes later a guard came back and reported that the body of Arawa had been found hidden in a firepit in an empty room of the castle. Doji Satsume dispatched the eta twins to go and examine the body. While they were gone he told the young group of samurai that Hiruma Usigo had nominated them to be elevetated to the status of Emerald Magistrates. Akio told the Emerald Champion that they knew this as it was the last thing that Usigo had been telling them right before he died. Doji Satsume nodded and was saddened to see Usigo die in such a way as he was to retire in the spring and had accepted this invitation to Winter Court simply because this was the area he had been designated to precede over for greater than a decade. Doji Satsume then told them he was elevating them all to temporary Emerald Magistrate status and if they could resolve these murders in an efficient fashion the appointment would become a permanent one. They bowed and accepted this great honor. He told them he would also be giving them the eta twins, Tsuyuki and Tetsuya, to use as they best saw fit and whose lives would be there responsibility. He was also taking under advisement of questioning Otomo Yoroshiku and her maids and would give his answer to their request in the morning. He then bid them good luck in their investigation and he, and the daimyos and guards, left them to their business.
A few minutes later, Tsuyuki and Tetsuya returned and informed them they had finished examining the body of Hiruma Arawa. The man had been killed with a garrote and had been stored in the fireplace for several hours. The group realized that they knew of only three ways that someone could take on the appearance of someone else so thoroughly; magic, Shadowland power or the trained ability of Shosuro Actors. Believing that Shadowland power was probably not the source here they decided to interview the Shosuro Acting troupe downstairs that even now, they knew, was preparing for the night’s show.
The Scorpion chambers were divided into two parts; one area is the receiving chamber, where there was warm sake resting in delicate sakizuki and painting rice walls brightened the austere chamber. The second was filled with costumes behind painted screens, elaborate Kabuki masks and the smell of greasepaint. The new investigators were met by a young Scorpion named Yogo Yasai, whose mask resembled a smiling fool’s face. When they ask to meet with Shosuro Tage, he lets them in, smiling behind his mask, and went to the second room to tell her they were there.
Shosuro Tage entered a few minutes later and offered the everyone sake and wine, which everyone declined, and sat on a cushion near the fire. She pointedly did not look into their eyes, or even in their general direction. The characters told her the story of what had just occurred and Shinriko explained that she did not feel that such an event was done by the Scorpion but they wanted to be thorough in their investigation. They could tell that Tage had decided to they were telling the truth…
“I see” Shosuro Tage murmured, lifting the sake cup to her lips. “So, you think that one of my actors may have killed honorable Hiruma-sama?” She smiled and sipped again. “You would be wrong. They say the Scropion use ninja- the object of many children’s tales – to gather information. What they do not say is that sometimes, even the finest actors lose themselves in their roles. A pity.”
“All of the troupe has been here, readying their costumes for tonight’s performance. We can all speak for each other in this, and no one was missing at any time. No, my friends, we did not kill wither Usigo or Himitsu, but I can show you who did. I know where they are hiding.”
“But first, some sake. Please.” Her assistant again offered each of the young samurai a glass. “Such a pleasant day for walking in the garden. The Imperial Princess herself spent the morning beneath the willows. She has three maids, neh? Three lovely attendants. But only two today. Only two. Tage paused and a faint smile crossed her lips.
“You must be certain, friends that you know whose name you must kill in order to save Lord Ryuden. I cannot help you with the decision. I can only tell you this: Your lord’s name can be cleared, at great cost. An innocent must be sacrificed. Are you prepared to pay that price?”
The new Magistrates all knew that even if Yoroshiku did not order her maid to commit the crime it wil appear that she did. The name of the Emperor will have been slandered, and Yoroshiku dishonored, at least in private. They also remembered Akodo Ryuden’s words:
“Yoroshiku is the niece of the Emperor. Any stain on her honor is a stain on the Emperor’s name. I would gladly die before I allowed any dishonor to be placed at the feet of the Hantei family. I would gladly die to protect her.”
Hida Kengetsu, unwilling to sacrifice a innocent man in such a way and not liking the concept that he was courting a murderer told Shosuro Tage that he wanted to know the true murderer’s whereabouts. The Scorpion acres asked if he was sure, as she looked at the distraught faces of his companions, but he answered that he was. She told him that the murderer was hiding in a room beneath the kitchens, used as a supplementary pantry. It was unstable, nearly collapsed, and had been fortified with a maze of tall shelves and stone pillars.
“There,” she said softly. “There you will find the true killer. But be wary. It has many faces and some of them may be your own. Tage set down her sake bowel with a faintly trembling hand. “If anyone asks, of course, I did not see you this evening.”
The magistrates agreed to the condition and bowed as she left though the balcony door. Now knowing the true location and identity of the murderer, and their knowledge witnessed by each of them in turn and by the Scorpion actors, will their honor demand that they apprehend the murderer and soil the name of the Emperor? Or will they find a way to still save honor but sacrifice an innocent man?