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Jun. 22nd, 2007 | 12:51 pm
location: Work
mood: creative
music: Saliva
posted by: verbena76 in l5r_fanfiction

This fiction was inspired by my Saturday game, I think it's fairly self-explanatory.  I hope you enjoy!
The fifth day of the month of Hida, early winter
The third year in the reign of Hantei XVI, 591 by the Isawa Calendar
          Hiruma Kiriyo’s head pounded with exhaustion as the last of the Dragon “guests” finally departed, trialing after their main army. Her father, Lord Hiruma Osojo-sama, had once again sequestered himself in meditation, and had handed the task of overseeing the Dragon’s departure to her. While she welcomed the chance to prove her dedication to the Crab and her father, she had to admit silently that after pulling the night duty before, she was looking forward to sleeping. Yasuki Kageki could run the place for a few hours without anything falling apart.
          “Lady Kiriyo-sama?” A tentative voice to her left dashed that hope.
          Kiriyo suppressed a sigh and turned. Her chief assistant, a heimin man named Turo, bowed low just out of arm’s reach. No fool he, she thought to herself as she grunted for him to report; Turo had served her for two years and was long accustomed to her moods and occasional monosyllabic conversations. She also knew that if he was bringing something to her attention now, it was actually important.
          “My apologies, my lady,” Turo began softly, “but Shosuro Anei-sama has requested a private meeting with you at her estate today; she stressed that the matter was both important and time-sensitive.” When she raised an eyebrow at the request, he hastily added, “I wouldn’t trouble you with this my lady, not until you’ve had some sleep, but more then one credible source confirms that Anei-sama spoke at length with your father just before his meditations – and that Mirumoto Musashi-sama remained and guarded your father throughout the night.”
          Although Kiriyo kept her features devoid of emotion like a proper samurai, inside her mind was churning. “Understood. You did right by passing this on immediately, Turo-san,” she added as she stifled a yawn. Unfortunately, if I’m to match wits with a Scorpion in her home, I’ll need those wits fresh. Please inform Lady Anei-san that I will join her tonight, after dinner.”
          “Understood, my lady,” Turo formally bowed. “Sleep well.” He scurried off to discharge her task, and Kiriyo permitted herself a small smile and a silent thanks to the Fortunes for providing her with such a capable, discreet servant. Stifling another yawn, she headed into the castle and up to her private chambers. Within twenty minutes, she was fast asleep. 
          Turo was waiting patiently when she stepped out of her room several hours later; he was kneeling between her two ashigaru guards. “My lady,” he said formally, as he always did whenever she saw him. He waited patiently until her acknowledgement, and then continued, “Lady Shosuro-sama says she is looking forward to speaking to you after dinner, my lady.” 
          Kiriyo nodded. “How soon until dinner?” she asked.
          Without missing a beat, Turo replied, “Whenever you say it is, my lady.”
          Kiriyo winced. “I overslept?”
          Turo bowed. “Only by a quarter-hour, my lady.” 
          Kiriyo relaxed a little at that; Turo knew he had permission to wake her after a half-hour. “Very well. I will bathe, and then we shall eat.”
          Turo bowed again. “Your bath is already drawn, my lady,” he said, and once again Kiriyo offered silent thanks.
          The night air was chilly, but Kiriyo welcomed that. Winter was here, but so far they had escaped any bizarre snowfalls. She felt better, having bathed and eaten, although the kimono she wore lacked the comforting weight of her well-worn armor. While Kiriyo disdained most feminine fashion as impractical when at any moment you might have to fight for your life, certain concessions did have to be made when visiting another samurai’s home, even one technically sworn to your service. Kiriyo had donned a dark blue kimono with gray trim, and Turo had expertly tied her red obi in an attractive but easy to release bow. Light makeup had been tastefully applied to her face, and her short hair was neatly combed. 
          Behind her Turo walked, followed by her two bodyguards. Up ahead, a single lantern blazed, marking the entrance to the Scorpion’s estate. The single ashigaru guarding the front gate bowed low when she approached. “You are expected, my lady. Ogo will guide you to Lady Anei-sama. You may keep your honor, my lady,” he hastily added when Kiriyo moved to place her katana by the door. 
          Kiriyo nodded as the house servant appeared at the door. “Very well. Lead on, Ogo-san.” In truth, Kiriyo knew both the guard and Ogo well, since they all served her father, but decorum had to be maintained, even when at the mouth of Jigoku. Especially at the mouth of Jigoku.
          Ogo bowed low and escorted Kiriyo deeper into the house. She was surprised at the changes already made to the estate; this house used to be the home of Hiruma Chikiro, whose son Kiriyo had played with when they were both children. Yet, despite knowing this house very well, Kiriyo was vaguely disturbed to see it painted dark red and black. The minimal light only accentuated the sinister feel, which Kiriyo presumed was the point.
          Ogo stopped by the screen leading to the main room, knelt, and slid it open an inch. “I can go no farther, my lady Kiriyo-sama,” she said softly as she bowed very low. “Only you may enter.”
          Kiriyo raised an inquisitive eyebrow, but nodded. Her bodyguards took up position outside the door while Turo glided away with Ogo. Kiriyo slid open the screen a little further and stepped inside. The main room was lit only by two candles, and Kiriyo could smell unfamiliar incense, some sort of jasmine. Shosuro Anei was sitting lotus-style, her back to Kiriyo, between the two candles. 
          Kiriyo frowned at the odd behavior, and decided to skip the flowery language. “You asked to see me?” she said bluntly.
         Anei did not turn, but she did laugh softly. “Thank the Fortunes for Crab straightforwardness,” the Scorpion mused. “Similarly, I dislike useless words.”
          Kiriyo’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, and she could see that Anei wore a kimono as well, but she didn’t appear to have her swords. Then Kiriyo noticed a dark lump on the ground next to Anei, and swiftly realized it was her mempo. “I assume,” she said carefully, “that you are not facing me but are unmasked is a Scorpion custom?”
          “Partially,” Anei replied.  “It is… difficult to explain to a non-Scorpion, but it indicates a desire to discuss a potentially… complicated subject. One that I have already discussed with your father.”
          Kiriyo suppressed a sigh and decided to continue with ‘Crab straightforwardness’. “What do you want?”
          “Do you remember your twin sister?”
          Kiriyo froze, and suppressed the urge to reach for her katana. “My sister died of a fever when we were both very young,” she replied coldly. 
          “Where was she?”
          “Excuse me?” Kiriyo replied, trying to keep the anger out of her voice.
          Anei either didn’t notice or didn’t care. “Where was your sister when she died?”
          “Away, I think. I don’t remember.” Kiriyo frowned.
          Anei nodded. “Lord Osojo-sama didn’t tell you because he didn’t want you to embark on a useless blood feud, but your sister died in Scorpion lands. She had been sent there as a hostage involving a skirmish between our Clans twenty years ago. You were both only three.”
          Hot anger flared in Kiriyo, but she held her tongue and tamped down on her rage. Her father knew her well, she would have gone charging off if she’d known earlier. “Why are you telling me this?” she managed to say without spitting the words between her teeth.
          Anei didn’t respond, but she rolled to her feet soundlessly, and then turned to face Kiriyo. Kiriyo’s breath caught in her throat when she saw Anei’s naked face…
          … A face that was identical to her own.
          “I told your father yesterday,” Anei said, her voice soft, “he had no prior knowledge, I swear to you.  Mirumoto Musashi-san and Satsue-san also found out yesterday, Musashi-san because he was standing next to your father and Satsue-san because he would have eventually figured it out; he remembers us from when he served here in his previous life. I will be seeing Kuni Kateru-sama tomorrow to allow him to verify no magic is at work, and that I am Lord Osojo-sama’s daughter. I wanted to see you before that, though, and tell you myself.” 
          Kiriyo choked back her anger, her frustration, and her sadness, and did the only thing a truly honorable samurai could do in this circumstances.
          She knelt.
          “Uhm…. what are you doing?” Anei asked, genuine confusion coloring her tone.
          Kiriyo did not look up. “You are the older sister,” she said, striving to keep her voice even. Her mouth tasted of bitter ashes as she uttered those words.
          Anei sucked in her breath so sharply that Kiriyo looked up reflexively, and saw the utter horror in her sister’s eyes. “No!” Anei snapped. “Get up. Don’t you understand? I said your sister died in Scorpion lands, and that is the truth.” She turned away as Kiriyo stood up. “I am what is left,” she said so softly that Kiriyo wasn’t sure if she was speaking to her or herself. 
          “You are older,” Kiriyo reminded her gently. “By two minutes, if I recall Father’s stories, but you’re still older. Thus, you inherit Tani Owari when he steps down.”
          Anei looked over her shoulder, and Kiriyo suppressed a shudder at the eeriness of it. Surprisingly, she noted that Anei’s features seemed slightly smoother then hers, no doubt a byproduct of different training. “I mean no offense to you or to your Clan, Kiriyo-sama, but my first act upon ascending to daimyo of Tani Owari would be to drink myself to death and leave you in command.” She shuddered. “I assure you, I have no designs on your estate whatsoever. Besides,” she said hopefully, “perhaps Father was cunning enough to actually send the younger sister instead. You might be the older one after all.”
          Kiriyo just looked at Anei and raised an eyebrow. 
          Anei sighed. “It was worth a shot.” Kiriyo snorted in reply, and Anei smiled wanly. “With a Lion spy running around, Father and I believe openly revealing my heritage would be unwise. Besides I serve best in the shadows, another reason why I would never want Father’s throne. But if it comes to it, I will gladly openly renounce my claim and not stand in your way.” 
          Kiriyo nodded. “I thank you for that,” she replied honestly. “I’d almost forgotten about the spy, to be honest. I don’t think it’s Taki, since she came later, but anything is possible.”
          Anei shook her head. “It’s definitely not Akodo Taki-san. Like you said, Esu was operating here before Taki arrived, and I believe that Taki rejected Esu’s blind attempts to recruit her. Taki isn’t on the best of terms with her Clan.”
          “That seems to be a common trend around here,” Kiriyo pointed out.
          This time, it was Anei who bit back a reply, and she chuckled instead. “Point taken.” She turned and looked out a window. “Leave Esu to me and to Father, he’s already initiated a few countermeasures against him. Or her.” She frowned. “Father says he believes Esu is female.”
          Kiriyo shrugged. “I trust his instincts.” 
          Anei looked back and smiled slightly. “Strangely enough, I do too, and I’ve only been here a few days.” Then her tone shifted in something more hesitant. “There is one other thing I would talk with you about, please.”
          “What?” Kiriyo asked, guardedly. Now was not the time for further surprises.
          Anei started to look away, but visibly forced herself to look at Kiriyo. “We are women of two Clans, Sister,” she said quietly. 
          Kiriyo blinked. “You are, yes,” she replied. “You were born of the Crab but raised by the Scorpion. I was not.”
          Anei winced. “Not entirely,” she said gently. “Hear me out, but please let me finish what I have to say, alright?” Kiriyo narrowed her eyes but nodded. Anei continued, “Hiruma Hoteki did not die eight years ago. She actually died almost twenty-five years ago. Our mother killed her and took her place as part of a Scorpion plot during that war. Our mother was a Scorpion; she’s the one who died eight years ago.
          “I can see the question on your face, Sister. No, our mother didn’t betray Crab secrets to the Scorpion.” Anei broke off and smiled wanly. “Father’s damnable gift of inspiring intense loyalty is a trait any Scorpion would give his sword arm to possess. It even worked on Mother. She revealed everything to him and offered her life to cleanse the stain, he refused. The Scorpion tried to recall her, and when she refused, they sent someone down here to blackmail her. That also failed, and the Scorpion informed Father. He said he already knew and threw the Scorpion out of Tani Owari.” She turned away. This was after the Scorpion had maneuvered the Crab into a hostage exchange, you see,” she said so softly Kiriyo had to strain to hear. “The Scorpion already had me, and was using me as the blackmail against our mother. When our parents refused, the Scorpion claimed I had died because of a fever, and then raised me as one of their own. 
          “Our mother was born a Scorpion, but she died a Crab. That is the truth.” Anei turned back to Kiriyo, and Kiriyo noticed the unshed tears in her older sister’s eyes. “I must beg a favor of you, Kiriyo-sama. All I’ve heard growing up was how weak Mother was for leaving the Clan. I grew up hating her, reviling her. Please – tell me what she was like. What she was really like. I know your memories are now suspect, but I tell you truthfully, by the time of her death she was Hiruma Hoteki, in spirit if not in body. Please.”
          Kiriyo nodded slowly as she joined her sister by the window. “It’s a good thing I’m a night person,” she mused, “as this will take a while. You don’t happen to have any tea, do you?” Anei smiled, and retrieved a tea set from a nearby shelf. And then the sisters talked very late into the night.

Cross-posted to my journal verbena76 and the game journal l5r_tob.

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