Recommended BG Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAPAgRR-ljI
Bayushi Yojiro, once the Champion of the Scorpion Clan, turned back to check on the litter being pulled by the horses to glance at the unconscious (and bound) body of Bayushi Ogura, rogue shugenja and Gozoku conspirator.
"He's alive?" he asked Nephthys, his companion on the journey.
It had been 2 days since they've left the City of Tsuma. They've stayed away from major roads and pushed on through night and day to reach the edges of the Crane borders, where fresh horses waited for them brought by Scorpion agents in secret.
"Yes," Nephthys assured him, sitting primly beside the unconscious form of her cousin. "I've treated the worst of the injuries he's received and the doses of medicine I gave him should be enough to prevent him from casting, but not enough to end him prematurely," her voice was quiet, almost like a whisper in the wind.
She wore no make up or mask, wearing an unadored kimono that didn't carry any mon. Even without the trappings of her station and the outrageous make-up, she was still quite beautiful in that exotic type of way. It was hard to deny the Senpet part of her lineage that showed in her high cheekbones, and full lips.
Yojiro nodded, "I imagine it must be difficult for you to see this from your cousin. Many would have just killed him and be done with it."
"I understand that my wants are outweighed by what the clan needs," Nephthys replied looking up at the older Scorpion, that self-same inscrutable smile. "And I understand that cousin dearest may have information you might need in regards to the Gozuku and that spell he has," her eyes narrrow.
"It's a terrible spell, but even I can not deny how that might be important."
"In the hands of the Yogo, it could be researched for a true cure. The nature of the taint has always been a mystery, and I'm certiain that Yogo Kenji will be most grateful for this addition to his studies."
He fell silent again for a while, as if judging something, "What do you think of your companions in Tsuma so far?"
A curious expression came to her face at the question. "Hmm…they all show great competence in what they do, I trust them enough to do what needs to be done," she gives another careful glance at Ogura before returning to look at Yojiro.
"I've seen Reiki and Hannei work the most, and they've proven they adapt well to any situation given," she adds. "Coordination is good between all of us, and though I don't always see them in action, the fact the job gets done speaks well for itself."
Her gaze becomes thoughtful. "I agree that spell needs to be studied…" she hesitated, there was something she wanted to ask, but wondered at the wisdom of it.
"Speak. You've something on your mind and I would rather hear of it then to let silence grant you a thousand false answers."
A look of slight surprise came to her features before Nephthys found herself smiling. "…I have some contacts in the Burning Sands that might help in studying the spell," she told him. "It is an option I want to offer. I always believed that tackling a solution in a different perspective might offer us answers that we might not realize."
"That is of course, if you trust me."
Nephthys was deliberate in not addressing Yojiro's name. You never know who could be listening in these parts and Yojiro was a legend not just to the Scorpion.
"Who would be interested in such a thing? The Taint is a phenomenon unique to Rokugan due to Fu Leng." Yojiro's voice betrayed his curiousity.
"The Qabal," Nephthys replied. "They're a brotherhood of scholars and sorcerrors and given Medinaat's position as a trade hub for several empires, it is something to note that they may have seen more diverse magic than most."
"I've heard of them, they were the ones who brought about Shinjo to endorse the Scorpion back to Rokugan after our exile. You know someone from the Qabal then? Do they have influence?"
"The Qabal unversity holds significant influence, as not only do they serve as part of the Caliph's court, they are also teachers," Nephthys nodded. "One can go to their university and study if one is willing to learn. Finding someone who might want to take a look of this spell is not hard."
Yojiro nodded, "Very well, I'll speak to Sunetra of it. If you have a contact that can help us with it, then let's not pass on the chance. This spell may well save lives… if used properly"
She nodded in agreement, deferring to her companion's decision before deciding to bring up another topic.
"There is one other curious concern I have," Nephthys began. "It's that Daidoji I had to get rid of… he moves like we do. The idea of a non-Scorpion sharing the same niche as we do… is disconcerting."
"It is, but I remember the words of a certain Ikoma friend of mine, Ikoma Sume once said, 'The problem with you Scorpion, is that you think that only you can be underhanded."
Yojiro smirked, "I've lived long enough to know that that's true. The Crane may be the face of honor, and the Lion the very image of Bushido, but cleverness and loyalty to a cause greater than that can lie in the heart of any person."
Nephthys gave that self same inscrutable smile. "That's an amusing answer," she would agree. "But it's not something I'd take to kindly. I want to believe the clans are capable of the things we do, and not something they picked up from the Gozoku."
She paused. "I wish I had time to observe him, unfortunately I had to finish things. Ogura was a bigger catch."
"There will be others." he said, "Once we get Ogura to confess the details we will be a very busy Clan indeed."
"Indeed," Nephthys returns to look over her cousin's "well being". She had to make sure he will be coherent enough to be interrogated at least.
- KYUDEN BAYUSHI -
It had been a long journey, and Nephthys, no matter how used she was to the rigors of travel felt a little weary. The herbal concoction that kept her cousin unconscious was a careful mix, and too much of it would kill him.
But finally they returned to Kyuden Bayushi, capital of the Scorpion lands. Sweeping curved roofs and scorpion-tail motifs were a common feature in the buildings, and there was an air of familiarity as she caught the scent of familiar za'atar spice mixes and grilled meats wafted from the roadside inns.
Scenting the spices brought a pang in her heart, and for a moment she felt melancholy fill her as memories of her time in Medinaat came unbidden.
It was with supreme effort to push them away, and focus on the task at hand.
There was much to be done after all.
They made their way to the castle itself, as servants backed away, getting ready to receive them. They'd barely dismounted from their horses when Nephthys spotted the familiar form of Yogo Koji, the Daimyo of the Yogo family as he made his way to greet them.
"Welcome back." he bowed, "I hope that the journey was not so dangerous?"
"The Fortunes favored us this time." Yojiro said as he looked at their precious cargo, "Sadly it seems that we have yet another secret to keep for the good of the clan."
Nephthys slid off the saddle, letting the servants take the horses ' reigns and bowed low to the Daimyou of the Yogo.
"This one, requires delicacy in handling given the amount of secrets he has…" she waited the servants to leave before reaching to lift the cover/hood used to obscure Ogura's visage. Just enough to allow Koji to spy his visage before setting the hood back down.
Koji's eye widened with surprise, "Very well, bring him inside. This can't possibly be good, can it?" She noted the tired, haunted look in his eyes. This was a man who had seen hell and lived to tell of it. It was no surprise then that nobody has ever heard him laugh.
"I'm afraid not," Nephthys replied quietly, helping haul her cousin inside. "He has…interesting information, good or bad..is something we won't know until he talks."
Ogura felt himself swimming awake. Slowly coming to, his vision was blurred and he couldn't keep his head up, "Muh…"
Koji looked at Nephthys, both were clad in drab brown kimono, in the basement of Kyuden Bayushi, where none of the screams would be heard. "Excellent technique." Koji mused, "I had not considered administering it as a vapor. I feel you and I will have a lot to discuss, Nephthys"
Nephthys tucked away the vial she used to rouse her cousin. She'd incline her heat at Koji, a small smile on her lips. "I'd be more than happy to discuss them with you, Koji-sama. Perhaps after this unfortunate business is done."
"Indeed." Koji said, turning his attentions to Ogura, "Now then, Ogura. You don't know where you are now, but I can assure you that this is a very unpleasant place. We are here to give you an option to turn on the Gozoku you worked for, and we may yet find a way to keep you alive."
Nephthys forced her face to remain serene but she did glance at Koji at that particular remark. Was he really serious keeping Ogura alive? It was a thought that was far too risky to allow.
Ogura was sapped of willpower, and the drugs in his system kept him complacent and forthright. Koji sighed, "There's a certain art towards drawing out information without a blade." he said, "Let's begin, shall we? Who do you work for?"
Ogura tensed, as if he was conditioned to resist such a command.
"You're a bright boy, but you're not smart enough to impress your father. This isn't your doing. You're no mastermind, just a lackey in a ladder leading to smarter people." Koji's tone was cutting, she saw Ogura's breathing quicken "Who do you work for?"
Nephthys decided to step in, an inscrutable smile on her lips as she beheld her cousin. The drugs were doing it's work but she could see him tense.
"Not a total failure," Nephthys argued lightly. "After all cousin dearest did find a cure of the Taint, didn't you? I saw you what you did to that eta. Quite impressive really." Her voice held a honeyed quality.
"You made it look so easy too, but it couldn't be that easy can't it?" The trick she knew was to get him to relax, and get him to start talking first. It didn't matter what it was about, it would be easier to lead him later.
Ogura growled, "Wouldn't you like to know?" he stared at her, before recognition dawned on him, "You… why are you here? You're supposed to be out there in Medinaat."
"Is this how you say hi? I was called home," Nephthys smiled, though hers was one laced with regret. "This was not the family reunion I envisioned honestly…" she stepped closer, the scent of her perfume was pleasant but alien.
"And you, why are you here?" she asked him, her smile becoming a bit mournful. "I had half expected you to be deep in your studies, perfecting your craft…. proving to uncle that your decision was the best! You were going to show them all."
"I developed the Bloodspeaker Method," he growled, "They crafted the theory, I perfected it, honed it. You know nothing of what I can do!"
Koji watched impassively, this was more than an interrogation… this was personal to Nephthys.
"I know you can be more!" Nephthys argued, this was her cousin, the boy she looked up to, who showed her tricks as a child to make her smile. "I know you to be a capable man. I know because you are my cousin. You are my blood. I grew up with you."
"You are more than just some Gozoku lap dog made to do their dirty work," she argued.
"What do you want?" Ogura collapsed, the life driven out of him at his miserable state, his understanding of where he was completed. He was helpless, physically now in addition to the state he'd always been in.
"Help me build your legacy," Nephthys begged him, her voice softer now, her hand resting against his cheek. "I refuse to let history leave you as some two bit villain…instead, I will take whatever you can give me to become the tool I will use to stab at the very heart of the Gozuku. The will pay for what they have done and I will take your research all of it, and ensure that people who see it will know it was your brilliance that made this possible."
"What you found, cousin, is a step closer to a cure of the Taint. Even if this empire will not recognize your achievements, I will make certain that the Qabal universities will see to your work."
He looked at her, "You've always been the clever one, haven't you, Mika-chan?" he said, "I know what you're trying to say. My life is forfeit, but my work can live on. Can the Scorpion bear to live with a cure for the Taint that has my name on it?"
Koji wanted to answer, but silenced himself. He was not about to take this moment away from Nephthys
"Since when has that stopped me?" Nephthys felt herself smile, for once feeling tears prick behind her eyes. It was supreme effort that she kept the tears at bay.
"Oh Ogura…you have missed so much," she sniffed. "The Scorpion have tolerated much of my scandalous gaijin ways, I'm certain a little more wouldn't hurt them any more than what I've been doing."
"You want the Method." he said, "Do you swear to me that it will be my legacy, cousin?" He hung there, lost in the possibility of it. Everything was taken from him, but should they cure the Taint… then his father would have to hear of him forever.
"Your method and the names who put you into this mess," Nephthys nodded. She can not speak for Rokugan but the Qabal will have his research with his name. She could promise that.
"And I swear the Qabal libraries will keep your name on your research and your tale," she looked at him, her voice softer for only him to hear. "…after all, they have to, once your nephew is old enough to read he'll want to read about you."
Ogura was stunned… a nephew? "I have but one name to give… Bayushi Atsuki. He yet lives again thanks to the war of the spirits."
"The Shadowed Tower." Koji's expression darkened.
"But he has taken the name and identity of another, Shosuro Furuyari."
Nephthys looked at Koji and Yojiro. "That..that is the name of a playwrite is it not?" she was alarmed to hear that a man like Atsuki should still live.
But you then you have the daughter of the first Isawa walking on this plane, so she supposed stranger things have happened.
"The Steel Chrysanthemum wasn't the only villain to make the most of the Spirit War." Ogura said, "I knew who he was, but he gave me the chance I needed. The same chance that I seem to have squandered now. Take the Method. I will have no use of it… but others have it. I have not given you an advantage cousin… but an obligation. The Method is known to the Gozoku now."
"You never make things easy for me, I'm glad to see that's not changed," Nephthys stood up. They have a name, and the method. "I'm certain Koji-sama will have more questions…I'll go make tea for all of us."
The night was long. Questions were answered, promises made, and in the end, a letter drafting his confession was finally procured. Ogura surrendered his name to a method that could cure the taint, in hopes that it could finally prove to be the missing link to save Rokugan from the insidious forces of the Shadowlands Taint.
Nephthys retired to her temporary quarters, well aware that her cousin, a product of a series of poor decisions, was languishing in the dungeons below.
Tomorrow was going to be a terrible day.
Nephthys stood from her futon, and knelt before her make-up kit, opening to reveal the plethora of dusts, and colorful powders, rogues and paints…and a mirror. She'd reach to touch a small pendant, hanging around her neck, before wordlessly pulling away the the chain that held it.
She brought it up to the light revealing the fact it contained a liquid in it, before turning to make tea. There was one last thing she would have to do.
Ogura sat quietly in his cell, looking up as the doors opened to reveal Nephthys there. "Is it time, cousin?" he asked.
He'd shaved, arranged his hair in a style that left him with some dignity. He knew that it was the end. To his credit he seemed to take it with sublime stoicism.
"No," she set down the tray between them, "Not for a few hours," she replied soundlessly settling to sit on the cold ground beside him.
"How did it come to this, cousin?" Ogura asked, "we've both grown up to be quite different from what they expected of us, haven't we?"
"Yes," she agreed, letting the tea steep and cool. "Life is strange, and Fate is fickle…" she felt herself smile a little.
"….do you want to hear more about your nephew?" she asked him.
"I do." he said, understanding that perhaps this is one of the last times that he'll be treated as a person. "What did you name him?"
"It's wordy…but his name is Suleiman al-Rashid bin Punjab," Nephthys smiled keeping her voice quiet. "A mouthful isn't it..? He's named after the legendary wise king. We…I have great hope for him. He's turning four now."
"You've done well to bounce back to that figure then considering you bore a child," Ogura scoffed at his own terrible attempt at humor, "May the kami watch over him then, and bless him with a life long and fruitful. May the light of Amaterasu guide him to greatness and Bayushi guide his thoughts and deeds."
Spoken like a true shugenja. Not some cackling power-mad sorceror from the Burning Sands, but a priest of the kami from the Soshi temples. A benediction to a first born.
Nephthys felt herself smile. "Baka, Ogura-niichan," there was a catch in her voice there, one she quickly forced it away even as she poured the tea.
"…Thank you," she spoke sincerely of his blessing to her son. "…You know, he took after you." she looked at Ogura. "He's young but the Sahir say he's shown some…talent in the arts of sorcery. I wouldn't be surprised if he can talk to kami too…"
A moment and she was drawn into a spiral of "what-have-beens" the "what-ifs" in her life. In that moment she had never felt so saddened, frustrated, wanting to cross those bars and shake him. But she also knew hate, the Gozoku will rue the day they touched her family.
She served him tea, gently pushing it past the bars toward him. "Drink, have tea with me. I promise there's no bugs in there unlike last time."
"You were a cruel playmate." he laughed, sipping it, "bugs… leaves taken from some random bush you'd stumbled upon in the gardens. Kami knows how often you could have accidentally killed me by serving me tea."
"You always had that weird face when you get surprised," Nephthys smiled, waiting for him to finish his tea and push the cup back toward her.
How ironic then that the tea she served was one laced with poison. Hemlock took time, and if she was careful he would simply pass looking like he had simply passed on his sleep. It would be painless, it would be merciful. He may have fallen in the likes of the Gozoku but it does not change the fact he was still her cousin.
"Arigatou." he finished his tea, returning the cup through the bars. "Thank you for this moment of peace. I will be ready when they come for me. I am ready for my fate."
Nephthys picked up the cup, placing it in the tray. She had barely sipped her own tea, even as she lifted her tray. "Know that you are in my thoughts," she spoke softly, before turning to leave.
Bayushi Ogura was a traitor to the clan, and a heretic to his faith. By all measures he was abhorrent and deserved every punishment and torture that could be dreamed of by the Clan of Secrets.
And yet he passed away peacefully in the hours leading to this scheduled execution.
Physicians claim his coward's heart failed him before he could muster the courage of a true samurai.
None of these words mattered to Nephthys. As she watched them take his body away for burning, she knew that his soul was free, and that the cycle of kharma would give him another chance.
Yet another secret that Nephthys chose keep in her heart.