Bayushi Shinkaze- Scorpion Shugenja

A Character for Legend of the Five Rings (tm)

Pincers and tail poise
Subtlety is his weapon
Scorpion is born

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Note: I wrote this as a series of little e-mail vignettes, so as to illustrate the character concept indirectly by fictional accounts at various points in his life.  All of these samples were simple surge writing, revised only when the GM made game mechanical points that required changes, so please do not judge them too harshly.

Makado, Brave Little Scorpion

The wet, heavy aroma of freshly steamed rice wafted from the kitchen.  Makado sat cross-legged, wrestling rice into his mouth.  His young hands still not masters of his chopsticks.  His fresh, innocent face was not unlike those carved into stone by the skilled craftsmen of the province.  He looked up questioningly at his mother, Tsukuno, with his liquid eyes and she stifled a laugh of maternal joy at his expression.

She reached forward and kissed the top of his shorn head, whispering softly, almost imperceptibly, "My little mouse."  The fine silk from her sanguine, silk veil tickled his forehead.  Makado blushed slightly and giggled, still uncertain how to handle affection with grace.

The pair was startled from their exchange by the gruff voice of Makado's father, Bayushi Takane, "Scorpions eat mice, my son will not be devoured by his own."  His large frame filled the door and his stony expression exemplified his bushido nature.  He was a commander of a small unit of samurai with which he patrolled the lands of the Scorpion.  When the call to arms went up, Takane was at the front rank, eager to prove himself yet again.  He did not acknowledge the faint "tsk" from his wife as she headed back into the kitchen.

"After Tsukuno had left, Takane's demeanor softened and he knelt down before his son.  "My son, your brothers are becoming fine warriors, proudly following in my footsteps.  Yet when I weep the tears are not joy, but regret.  While they hone their skills and work towards being fine warriors, they lack the subtlety that a true Scorpion needs.  It is a failing of mine that I have never developed such talents myself.  I have been enamored with honor and glory since I fought my first battle.  I know that my bushido life is a luxury that is afforded me by the actions of your uncle Ishime.

"He is the exemplar of what it means to be Bayushi.  He is a skilled swordsman but equally skilled in subterfuge, and his loyalty is beyond reproach.  His desire for honor and glory has not become a weakness as it has with me.  I am sending you to stay with your uncle so that he might teach you what it truly means to be Scorpion.

Makado clapped and smiled, for he had always liked Uncle Ishime.  His magic tricks never ceased to amaze him.

Makado, Brave Little Scorpion, Part 2

Ishime's eyes smiled as Makado pulled his tiny mask tight, once again rescuing it once again from complete collapse.  His uncle had welcomed little Makado into his home with quiet eagerness.

Ishime was Takane's elder brother and all of his children had grown up and embarked on their own lives.  He secretly yearned for the chance to train another young Bayushi and pass on his wisdom, but not too much, of course.  His wife, Hasika, was equally happy to have a child's presence in their home once again.

Ishime was not unlike his family's Daimyo in his choice of masks.  He wore a full mask that reflected the idealized face of a wise man.  It was a subtly elegant creation.  The rosewood complexion strikingly offset by the snow white Fu Manchu beard which he claimed was fashioned from the hair of a powerful Oni he helped slay.  Ishime was always a good story teller, though.  One could rarely separate fact from fiction from his words alone.

Hasika's mask was a distinct complement to his.  She wore a porcelain mask in the fashion of a Kabuki dancer's face.  Bone white except for the brilliant, bright red lips which parted ever so slightly to allow her whisper soft words to travel freely.

Years passed swiftly.  Ishime instructed Makado in remarkably subtle ways.  He learned of many things that he had come to know many samurai did not.

"Why do you learn these things Makado?  Is it to offset weakness?"

"No, uncle.  It is a responsibility others are too weak to bear."

Makado tried but failed to acquire his uncle's taste for eating live scorpions, but he did not fail to see the wisdom.

"Makado, why do I eat the scorpions?"

"Because you can Uncle."

"Hai, but moreso to demonstrate that I can."

After a long day of training in the woods and along the lake, Makado and Ishime stopped to rest.  The lazy, warm day drew any desire for consciousness from them and soon Makado was asleep.  He awoke to find a scorpion crawling up Ishime's chest toward his throat.  With speed that surprised himself, he snatched the scorpion away and crushed it.

Ishime startled him with the words of a fully conscious man, "What have you done Ishime?"

"I have killed a scorpion that was intent on killing you Uncle."

"Brave little Scorpion."

"To whom do you speak Uncle?"

Ishime's eyes smiled as he looked at his nephew, "Ah, Makado, you see the duality.  Let us discuss that.  The scorpion, tiny and weak, ascends it's daunting prey, armed with the means of killing.  It does not wander about looking for other prey, afraid of the consequences.  He seems brave to assault me and you are brave to stop him.  Yet he is not brave, for he 
does not do this out of a thoughtful disregard for the danger.  What does he embody?"

"Be loyal to your nature, Uncle?"

"Hai, my brave little Scorpion, but he is still just an insect, he does not comprehend his fellow scorpion.  It is not in his . . . nature.  First and foremost be loyal to those who are loyal to you.  You struck down a scorpion to save a Scorpion, may you always be so keen in your choice of which one to strike down.  Not all scorpions are Scorpions, little Makado.  But realize this, you still killed a scorpion when both could have lived.  You have a grateful uncle and a dead insect, when you might have had a grateful uncle and a deadly tool."

"I was wrong Uncle?"

"There is no answer just as there is no question, Makado.  Left alive, it may have sought out your throat next, you could not be sure.  The ultimate lesson is loyalty.  How you define loyalty is how you define your soul, brave little Scorpion.  Be sure your actions are one with your convictions, lest doubt distract you long enough for your scorpion's stinger to strike you."

"Yes uncle," answered Makado, unconvincingly.

Ishime tossed his hair and laughed, "Come Makado, enough philosophy, it's time I showed you how to do that magic trick as I promised."

Makado's eagerness betrayed his mature demeanor as he eagerly followed his uncle.

Makado, Brave Little Scorpion, Part 2

Makado had grown into a young man and mastered most of his uncle Ishime's "magic" tricks, in spite of Ishime.  He was now able to hide and obtain items with remarkable subtlety.  As the subtlety of his hands had developed, so had his mind.  He was learning to separate his face from his true feelings, to divorce emotion from action.

At his uncle's insistence, he had begun to drink Sake regularly, occasionally dabbling in shochu.  At first, he thought it was some reward or validation of his maturity.  He soon learned it was simply training.  When the sake flowed he needed to keep a clear head.  By
doing so, sake became a secret member of his daisho.  The welcome feint, the hidden disarm.  The tragic beauty is that he would never need to wield the weapon, for his victims would do it for him, committing sepukku of sorts with their will.

One evening, they had a guest.  Described only as "a cousin", the lean man was remarkably graceful and unassuming.  His sake cup made no sound at any time.  Actually, neither did he.  Makado followed Ishime's example and did not engage the man in conversation.  Instead, he sat quietly and watched the man as Ishime talked about Makado in the third person.

The faint reek of face paint, like that the actors at the theater wore, teased at his nose.  Was this man an actor?  Why such reservation for a common performer?

"Makado, perhaps you should return to your studies in your room?"  Said Ishime, startling him with the first words directed at him in over an hour.

"Hai, Uncle."

The next morning, his "cousin" was gone.  As he sat down to breakfast, his Uncle simply said, "Your cousin was never here, hai?"

"Hai, uncle."

A few days later, the local yoriki stopped by on his usual rounds.  It was tradition that Ishime offer him some sashimi and sake.  Today was no different.  Makado sat with them as they ate.  Small talk and gossip was exchanged.  Ishime seemed a little too practiced in the mundane conversation.  It was if both men were simply going through the motions.  The sake soon gave way to shochu.  Makado was feeling a little inebriated, but his tolerance served him well.   He was certain he could respond to any threats in spite of his condition.  The yoriki was less capable.  Of course, perhaps the yoriki was also simply appearing drunk just like him?

Makado noticed a slight nuance in the way that Ishime's hand moved as he handed the replenished sake cup back to the yoriki.  Did his uncle mean to poison the innocent man?

Makado did not betray his feelings, but rather sat still and calm.  The yoriki breathed and nodded deeply, the cup before him, cradled in both hands, "Ahh, just the right temperature.  You are such a gracious host, Ishime-sama."

Ishime nodded slightly, "You are a gracious guest, good yoriki."

With that, the yoriki drained the cup and set it down.  He became woozy and started to fall forward.

Ishime watched Makado throughout the occurrence, looking for the faintest response.  Seeing none, he whispered ever so softly, "You are my 'Little Scorpion' no more."

Makado, Young Scorpion

The Yoriki suddenly slumped in his chair, snoring loudly.  Makado looked to his uncle Ishime with practiced nonchalance, awaiting the answer to the obvious question.

"He seeks our cousin, Makado."

"That is not enough, Uncle Ishime, as you have told me.  Scorpion is the watchman for the Empire, this Yoriki watches over Scorpion.  Is his calling not higher?"

Ishime's demeanor remained calm, "He is not dead is he?"

Makado tried to gauge his Uncle's feeling, but was not successful.  He was not sure if his Uncle was being serious or if he had offended by questioning his judgment.  "What makes our cousin worthy of such interference, Uncle?"

"He is one of the purest assassins in the province."

"A . . .  pure assassin?"

"Yes, nephew, a pure assassin.  One that kills without hesitation those that require it."

"Exactly how can he be so sure who requires it?"

"He does not pretend to be able to make that judgment, he leaves that to his superiors, hence his purity."

"You speak of the assassin as though he had a loftier vocation than our good yoriki here."  Makado gestured to the heavily sleeping form beside him, extending an arm to steady it, lest it fall.

"Do not mistake purity for superiority.  Purity of thought can be as great a weakness as no thought at all.  Yet, both can be great strengths.  However, great men do not indulge in such extremes.  This humble yoriki makes decisions everyday that affect his station, family, and clan.  He can bring about the death, imprisonment, or freedom of his brethren with equal  impunity.  He is faced with unclear paths and he must decide which to walk.  No, young Makado, the yoriki steps onto the field of battle that is life.  The assassin skirts that field, choosing instead a life of much simpler decisions."

"Does the assassin not need to be proficient and quick of mind and body?"

"Yes, Makado, but the scorpion from which we take our name is swift and cunning indeed, yet I would never bow down to it nor kill on its behalf.  The assassin is like a katana.  If he is well made and used by a skilled wielder, his fierce beauty and grace are stunning.  Poorly made or poorly used, he is but a tool for butchery."

Makado hefts the sleeping yoriki and moves him to a pile of cushions, grunting slightly under the broad man's weight.

"Well, this yoriki is certainly not the most aware," chuckles Makado as he sets him down.

"Is he not, young Makado?  Or do you assume he was unaware he was about to be drugged?"

Makado, Scorpion Apprentice

The halibut was especially fresh and tasty today.  Perhaps it was simply the excitement in the air.  Ishime informed Makado just last night that representatives of the Soshi Shugenja school wished to test him for acceptance to their ranks.  Makado was excited more by the novelty than anything else.  He had learned to respect the subtle Bushi that made the Scorpion clan what it was.

Yet the Soshi Shugenja hid behind subtlety.  Their arrogance and frailty bothered him.  Yet the notion of learning the mysteries of magic intrigued him greatly.  There was motion before him and three men came to the table.  The central figure seemed to glide across the floor and move like the wind itself.  He was clad from head to toe in black silks.  On his left, a frail, jittery young man walked, the exemplar of Makado's prejudice.  On his right, a lean, silent Bushi.

Pleasantries were exchanged and they all partook of food.  After an hour, the central Soshi dismissed his retinue and Ishime took his leave.  The dark eyes of the man, who referred to himself as Sine, stared deep into Makado.

His voice was pervasive as if the room itself spoke to him, "You do not find us an impressive lot do you Makado?"

Makado was keenly aware of the mundane abilities of the Soshi, and heard rumor of some of their mind tricks as well.  "I would have expected a secret to be gleaned from me, great Shugenja, not a common truth."

The Soshi was seemingly unperturbed, "I often find it hard to decide which is a more fatal trait, ignorance or arrogance.  Of course, and ideal examination of this question could only be conducted with one possessing remarkable quantities of both, yes?"

Makado realized that the Soshi was being overly kind in his remark, but a hint of anger was allowed to escape with his words, though Makado never doubted it was intentional and measured.  "Forgive me Sine-sama, my tongue does not yet obey me as well as I would wish.  I am intrigued by the possibilities of magic.  It's potential mystery and beauty.  Most of all, I am intrigued by how it might make me a better Scorpion."

"Simple young Makado, but first, eat."

Suddenly Makado felt a great hunger for the sushi before him and began stuffing his mouth.

"Makado, why do you indulge so.  Did you not see that the last pieces were spoiled?"

Makado spewed the half-chewed pieces onto the plate, swishing sake in his mouth to remove the remaining foul taste.  Only to realize they were not in fact spoiled.  He had been tricked.

"Did you not enjoy the sweet fresh sushi, young Makado?"

Sine brought forth a scroll from his robes as he said this last thing.

Makado, letting his calm demeanor slip, angrily spit out, "A spell.  Very clever.  A quick minded Scorpion could accomplish a lot with such abilities.  Unless of course, he is cut down before he can use his precious scroll."

"Has your wise uncle not trained you in fighting?"

"I am no sickly shugenja, but alas, I am no Bushi."

"Nor would you want to be.  I can disarm, bewitch, or kill a Bushi as I see fit, and with little effort.  Spurn this test, and join the ranks of those that continue to live because I do not wish otherwise.  Your uncle arranged this test, not I.  He did not have a strong enough gift to join us, but it did not sour him on the opportunities that our training offers.  The Kami themselves will be your allies.  What more could you want boy?"

"A less fickle ally."

"That's were spells come in, my keen young Makado.  They are a tool beyond the ken of Bushi.  Our school has refined the magical arts of deception, manipulation of a man's thoughts, commanding the very air itself to serve you.  And that is but one of the elements.  The gift to take and preserve life, see beyond normal sight, hear what others cannot, pass like the wind through the trees.  All this and more is ours to command.  We do not need you Makado, we are offering you a chance to step out from the ranks of the Scorpion that know only a fragment of the great puzzle."

"Our ways are not for everyone.  Many find it hard to cope with the mysteries.  Many regret seeing beyond their little fragment of the tangled web.  I know your mind is strong, as is your air.  You would make a fine Bushi.  The choice resides with you."  His last words trailed off as he faded to almost nothing and wafted away like the steam from fresh rice.

A few moments later, Makado walked out onto the porch, dressed for travel, and carrying no weapons.

Sine looked to him and asked, "Have you no weapons young Makado?"

"Hai."  Makado answered curtly, clapping hands against his thighs and bowing slightly.  He then slid fluidly into an unusual stance, his hands in a stylized claw shape.  "The Scorpion must be subtle, must he not?  In a world of men who worship weapons not of their body, are these not the most subtle and effective pincers?  Besides, I might otherwise misplace my pincers while trying to find my tail at your renowned school, Sine-sama."

Sine looked intrigued, "Kaze-do?  You have been with the Dragon?"

Makado resumed a normal stance and answered, "To know the secrets of Dragon does not require his presence."  Makado did not wish to reveal his uncle's past affiliations with Dragon clan.  He had become more close mouthed after each story his uncle had told of elaborate machinations by his clansmen seeded by one small discovered secret, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

"Well spoken, young Scorpion.  Ishime has taught you discretion and, it seems, the gift of the Dragon's tongue."  Sine was expressionless, but his smile could be heard in his words as he turned to Ishime, his eyes flicking towards Makado.  "You were right Ishime, a most interesting pupil indeed."

Makado, Soshi Apprentice, Part 1

The novelty of travel soon wore off as Makado discovered his sandals were not well-suited to travel, even on the smoother surfaces of the Emperor's highways.  Although the toll taken on his tender feet was apparent to his companions, neither he nor they mentioned it.  Makado was determined not to show weakness.  He was not an exceptionally stoic man, in spite of what he might like to think, but the rebellious nature of his youthful age helped.

Before long, they reached, Ryoko Owari Toshi, Journey's End City.  The large number of teahouses and gambling dens made this place seem very much like the ideal place for a Scorpion to excel.  His group stopped at a well before entering the city proper.  By luck, a cobbler was nearby.

Makado held up his sandals as evidence, sighing as he spoke, "Sine-sama, although we will continue on, I believe this city's name holds true for my poor sandals.  I will be but a moment."  Makado walked lightly on the ground, his sore feet more apparent now.  Sine followed him into the store.

Various, unimpressive sandals adorned the racks of the store, many hanging at face height, creating a shifting maze of sorts.  Sine was behind Makado, moving silently.  Whether he was gliding or walking was unclear.  Makado finally found a pair of tabi socks with a durable looking sole.  He reached for them, only to find Sine's hand grasping them.

"Excellent choice, Makado, from what is displayed."  With that he shook the pair while looking at the shop keeper.

The merchant nodded silently and went into the back of the store.  He soon returned with a similar pair of tabi socks and handed them to Makado.  The pair fit very well and was quite comfortable in spite of Makado's injuries.  The quality of fit was enough to justify having Sine along, but the remarkable differences were apparent when Makado began to walk in them.  He had always been intuitively quiet in his motions, but with these tabi socks he was noticeably quieter.

Makado, thought out loud, "Hmm, now my shoes will no longer betray me.  Domo arigato Sine-sama."

Sine nodded to acknowledge his remark.  Makado moved towards the shop keeper to pay him but he waved him off.  Makado did not press the issue, knowing that he had very little money on him.  It was the first time he had seen such apparent generosity.  He thought to himself, "Perhaps being a Soshi Shugenja had hidden rewards in the lands of the Scorpion."

Sine answered the unasked question, "You reap the respect you earn."

The party did not stop to partake of the various pleasures available in the city, moving out almost immediately.  Just beyond the main city, they stopped for lunch at a small inn.  Makado noticed that the Bushi tested Sine's food for him.

Makado inquired, "Is this noble Bushi's life not as valuable as yours?"

Sine answered, smiling, "Why of course, young Makado, is he at some risk I am unaware of?"

"Well, not from me, but you must suspect some danger for him to test your food."

"True, but until a new poison is used on me, Muyashi has little to fear.  He can identify and survive all poisons known to me and a few that are not.  He takes a very active approach to . . . herbalism."

The rest of the trip went without incident.  The Emperor's highways were well patrolled and the Scorpion Clan's sections were no exception.  There was no fanfare when they began to ascend the mountain the school was housed at.  Sine occasionally allowed Makado to take the lead.  For the most part Makado did well, being sidetracked only rarely.  He did not complain, as he appreciated the security that comes from obfuscation and also understood that he was being given a small lesson in humility.

The party entered the castle and Makado was shown to a small room with a bed and tiny table.  He settled down to sleep.

Lessons began immediately.  The bulk of the day was consumed with meditation and chores.  His lessons seemed all too brief and they mainly concerned practicing the art of calligraphy and the Tao of Shinsei.  He spent hours transcribing passages of the Tao and taking dictation of higher ranking students.  This continued for three months, when he finally confronted a sensei.

"Sensei, I have quietly worked here, respectful of my need to participate in the maintenance of this mighty school, but when will I learn to be a shugenja?"

"You had but to ask young Makado, but you did have to ask."

The next day, lessons began with the Tao of Shinsei.  Instead of transcribing, discussions were the bulk of his training.  Many hours were spent exploring the full meaning of various passages and often that  goal was not reached before the next passage was brought up for

The afternoon sun was lulling Makado to sleep when a passage he had found particularly interesting was dropped in favor of a new one.  "Sensei, why do we not seek the full understanding of each passage?"

"Makado, that is a task we must address individually.  Your understanding will differ from others and it is the understanding that you arrive at that defines you, not the Tao itself."

"Sensei, why do so many of our brothers critique it so?"

"Makado, any discussion of the Tao is enlightening.  Those that are courageous enough to question a thing are most likely to eventually understand a thing."

"Hai, sensei, perhaps I should question you more then, eh?"

Makado's sensei only smiled.

Over the remainder of the year, he was trained in the lore of shugenja and his training in meditation became more formalized.

His second year was spent applying his lessons as a yoriki.  He was assigned to a Magistrate in his home province and was subsequently attached to another yoriki.  The time passed quickly as he enjoyed the opportunity to do something of use.

The yoriki he worked with, Bayushi Kenji, was a very good man.  He applied his wisdom to everything he did and rarely acted in haste.  He taught Makado how to observe details in a situation, how to piece clues together, and how to subtly extract information from people.  More importantly, Makado gained a sense of the common practices of the yoriki so that, like his uncle, he might operate in spite of them without having to violently oppose them.

With the dawn of his third year at the school, he was sent to a more advanced student to learn the fundamentals of magic.   He first learned how to sense the elements around him.  This was something that he had unwittingly already mastered, unaware that what he had sensed naturally was uncommon.

"Do you sense the strength of Iron in this stone, Makado?"

"Hai, sensei, does not everyone?"

His next lessons concerned communing with the Kami.  This also came surprisingly easy to him.  It was as if the Kami wished to speak to him, especially those of air.  He knew his Air was stronger than that of his fellow students, and so did they.  He had mastered the ability not to openly gloat about it though and his facade of humility made him a respected apprentice among his teachers and his peers.

Finally he was trained in conjuring elements.  This lesson progressed more slowly, at a pace more typical of the other students.  Makado was not too discouraged, though.  He had simply exceeded his latent talents and was now finally moving on to new abilities, which excited and encouraged him.  Finally, a challenge!

Makado's fourth year saw him manifesting the basic skills of a Shugenja and he was starting to really feel his powers grow.  With his performance and advanced understanding of the rings and the kami, he was allowed to continue his fundamental studies.  Within a few months he was able to counter the casting of spells targeted at him.  Again, his abilities with the ring of Air were significantly greater than his abilities with the other rings, but he planned to account for that weakness when his studies were finished.

By the middle of his fourth year, he was capable of casting a spell.  His first spell was chosen for him.  Way of Deception is what the sensei had labeled it.  It allowed him to mask his appearance.  He was not happy about being told which of the many spells he could learn.  There were so many wondrous spells to choose from and he wanted them all, of course.

"Why must I learn this spell sensei?"

"It is required of all of our students for we prefer that they can survive to learn others.  Such a spell can be more useful than all of the mystic bolts, flames, and shields of other rings, yes Makado?"

"Hai, sensei."

"I am glad you agree with me, but do you know why?"

"Yes sensei, when one no longer appears to be the target, then the attack can become inconsequential."

Much to his surprise, he was next instructed in a spell of healing, the Path to Inner Peace.  It was a spell of the water ring, so he was not as competent at it.  His frustration made him somewhat rebellious and he confronted his sensei.

"Why must I learn to heal now?  Is it really that important?"

"Hai, Makado, you neglect your other rings to greatly.  Besides, there is no easier path to acquiring loyalty than to save the life of another."

"<sigh> Hai, sensei."

After learning these spells, Makado was sent to work with Bayushi Kenji again.  Sine espoused wise use of spells and also was careful not to further compound a problem by training a wasteful and/or abusive Shugenja.

Kenji welcomed Makado's return.  He spent another year with Kenji.  He was sixteen now and quickly becoming wise about the world and his fellow man.  He found Path to Inner Peace to be remarkable useful.  As his sensei had predicted, he had won the good will of many peasants and samurai alike with it.  He put Way of Deception to good use, exploiting
it to allow him to infiltrate and observe.

For a few weeks he wondered if he should even return to the school, but he soon grew eager to learn more.   He felt he had explored the spells he had learned thus far rather thoroughly and he was thirsty for more opportunities to test his initiative with new magics.

When he returned to the school he did so by sneaking in with a band of merchants in a supply train.  He then played the part of a stowaway in the castle, allowing himself to be captured and revealing his identity only then to a breathless and aggravated Bayushi Muyashi.  Sine was thoroughly amused.

"It seems our young Makado is in need of more instruction.  Perhaps you will find your next spells more challenging.  The first challenge will be for you to pick your next spells, young Makado."

Makado smiled in spite of the vise grip of Muyashi on his neck, for he was eager to take an active role in selecting his future array of magical tools.

Makado, Soshi Apprentice, Part 2

Finally, Makado was allowed to choose a spell.  He labored long and hard over the decision.  It was not easy, for he had come to appreciate a multitude of possibilities with each spell.  He finally decided upon a spell which the Soshi called False Tongue.  The spell gave one the ability to to speak one thing to a person and another thing to everyone else.  His sensei was pleased with his choice.

"You choose with unusual wisdom and foresight Makado.  Most of our young students are more concerned with throwing balls of fire or laying low mighty Oni."

"Hai sensei.  I have encountered many more men than Oni, and all of them have been susceptible to well crafted speech.  I prefer the weapon that is more far reaching and retains its utility outside of combat.  Besides, with this spell I might more skillfully muster forces to fight such an Oni."

As his seventh year in the school, began, Makado started instruction in another spell of the Water ring, Forget.  Again, he was allowed to choose, although he suspected the freedom was extended based upon his last choice.  If nothing else, he could see the hidden value in a spell, rather than its obvious uses.  He was less adept with Forget because it was a Water spell, but that would change with time and training.

This time, it was Makado that requested to leave the school and practice the spells he had learned.  Sine seemed unsurprised, as if Makado was simply doing as expected.

He went to work with Kenji once again, but this time things were slightly different.  He was paid a visit and enlisted as an escort for a  caravan into the lands of the Crab clan.  He was simply told that he was needed there.

His time with the caravan was unusually boring.  There were no Shugenja and the Bushi he encountered seemed to be rather martial and close-mouthed.  The boredom was killed suddenly one night when a geisha informed him that he was to kill a Lion Bushi, Kitsu Iijima, and an apprentice Bloodspeaker, Miagi.  The first had killed one too many Scorpions and the latter had too many past ties to Scorpions.

Makado knew better than to inquire further.  This was his test as a Scorpion.  He knew he would rather not know the real reasons, if there were any.  He had expected his test to be foul and unwanted.  It would not be much of a test after all.

Through a series of artful manipulations of his magic and mundane skills, Makado allied himself with Miagi and then lead Iijima to his lair.  The Bushi had brought his Shugenja brother, Kitsu Gato, as expected.  Makado turned on Miagi, helping just enough to prevent his own death and insure Miagi's.  Both Iijima and Gato had survived, but was weak from his wounds and had spent all of his meager magics, being only an apprentice like Makado.

Makado knelt to assist Iijima with his wounds and killed him with a fatal nerve strike, as his uncle Ishime had taught him.  As Makado moved over to the helpless Gato, the mighty Lion Shugenja began crying and calling for help like some weak child.  Unfortunately, Makado had yoriki on hand that he had planned to call in a moment later.  He had incurred a minor obligation to the Hida family.  He felt he had gotten off cheap, as he was a Scorpion in the lands of the Crab, regardless of any kinship his yoriki experience might have engendered.

They moved in skillfully and quickly, their eyes searching for danger and details.  He was forced to restrain himself from killing Gato.  Instead he used a nerve pinch to paralyze him long enough to cast Forget upon him.  Then he set to healing the Shugenja's wounds with the yoriki as close witness to his acts.

Makado was not sure what went wrong.  Perhaps his Forget spell had failed in some way.  Perhaps the trauma of losing a brother is not so easy to wipe from one's mind.  Yet from that day on, Gato has held a deadly grudge.  Gato can not prove anything, even to himself, but he somehow knows that Makado was responsible for his brother's death.

Makado returned home with the caravan and then back to the school.  He was soul weary and a little harder when he arrived.  Sine was waiting at the door this time.

"Ah, Makado, you are young no more."

"The test was quite foul."

"I understand you pursued it with unexpected vigor."

"It was my test, would you expect any less?"

"No, Makado, of course not."

Soshi Initiate

Makado was eighteen years old, he was wiser, harder, he was ready to finish his lessons at the Soshi school. Makado had spent some time with Muyashi in the school's herb garden.  Under Muyashi's careful guidance, he began to intake small amounts of poison, in the hopes of acquiring immunity, as Muyashi had done with numerous toxins.  His body seemed to tolerate low doses of Jeruku Ropu best, so he started with that, taking small amounts in food drink and smoke.  The poison was renowned for a swift and unpleasant death, so he was quite cautious.  His latent tolerance grew quickly.

The last spell Makado learned before leaving was Command the Mind.  His sensei resisted at first, "Makado, such a spell used poorly will likely mean a swift end to your life.  Are you certain?"

"Sensei, I have demonstrated an understanding of subtlety.  I will likely not modify my approach based upon whether or not I have the spell, I will only use it to improve the chances of my plans working.  If I never use it as a crutch, there is little danger of it breaking under my weight."

"Hai, Makado, well spoken.  Try always to use your gift for words before resorting to this spell.  It is best reserved for the feeble minded when time is pressing."

"Hai, sensei."

Shortly after the conclusion of his studies, Muyashi declared him resistant to Jeruku Ropu.  He gave Makado a triple dose and inflicted only discomfort and sickness.  Makado was growing as a Scorpion in many ways.  Ironically, Makado was still able to drink Muyashi under the table.  The grim Bushi continued to fail to develop a tolerance for alcohol in spite of his best efforts.

Makado was not certain what to expect when he "graduated" from the school, earning his first rank and the formal title of Initiate.   Perhaps he had expected more than a quiet conversation with Sine.

"Makado, you have learned much.  You are now eighteen years of age and quite a skilled Initiate of Air.  Your progress has been good in spite of your eagerness and complementary to your talent.  Your latent gift for subtlety has been expanded with the magical skills you have acquired.  Return when you are ready for your gempukku.  Until then, I bid you well."

With that, a door that Makado had never before noticed opened in the rear of the room.  Outside, he could see the hedges that skirted the castle, but there was something odd about the appearance and he stopped before passing through.

He extended his senses and called up a kami of the doorway.  A cricket, apparently made of oak, sprang onto his shoulder.

"Good health friend."

"Good kami, where does this door lead?"


Makado remembered that spirits of the Earth could be overly laconic.  "Good kami, I see a place, but you say the door goes nowhere?"

"Door yes, doorway no."

Makado summoned a kami of air.  It confirmed a sense of danger, but could give no specific information.  Makado finally turned to Sine, who seemed to be smiling behind his mask.

"What is wrong young Initiate Makado, so you not wish to go?"

"Perhaps I will leave via the door I came in.  If nothing else, I know what dangers lurk there."

"Most likely you do not, for it has been out of your sight, yet you probably understand it better.  Often the choice is one of least danger for there is rarely a path with no danger, young Initiate.  Yet you choose wisely.  That doorway would have led you to pain and further delayed your departure from our school, assuming you survived it.  Step well young Makado,"  Makado recognized the reference to the Tao of Shinsei.

"Hai, sensei.  And I will also step lightly."

Makado spent the next six months wandering.  He spent a short time with Kenji, helping him with a few cases.  He moved on to his Uncle Ishime's house after a few weeks.  He spent a full month with Ishime.  They spent most of their days together, though they rarely said more than a handful of phrases.  Ishime seemed to sense his need for reflection.

Makado departed quietly and returned to his parents' home.  He only spent one week with Tsukuno and Takane.  They talked of old times and his upcoming ceremony.  He obtained the information on his siblings' location and left to visit them.

He journeyed to Bayushi palace to visit his two eldest brothers, Goushi  ("strong bull") and Kamishi ("divine arrow").  Goushi, the eldest, would intimidate even a Crab.  He had their father's breadth and twice his muscle mass.  He was a fierce Bushi, if not as subtle as most Scorpions.

Kamishi was a remarkably skilled archer.  He had even journeyed to the lands of Unicorn to learn their unusual approach to archery, known as "yomanri".  Kamishi was the polar opposite of Goushi.  Where Goushi was loud, Kamishi was quiet.  Where Goushi was a bold swordsman, Kamishi could kill before his target was scarcely aware of him.

They were united in their fraternal affection though.  Both were overly affectionate to Makado, proud of their little brother's growth.  The only damper was their obvious discomfort with his being a shugenja.  They had no close friends or family that were shugenja and it did make them somewhat uneasy.  Regardless, all three were sad and happy as Makado left Bayushi palace.

Makado finally stopped by to visit his sister, Shokukoro ("sensual heart").  She had become a Shosuro actor.  Although Takane had not objected, he had not endorsed the decision either.  Ultimately, he simply accepted it.  His sorrow seemed to stem from his perception that she was not serving her clan in a way that suited him.

If only he had known the truth.  After a month of close confidence and working among the troupe, Shokukoro confided to Makado that she was not simply an actor.

"Young brother, I am not unlike the cousin that visited you and Uncle Ishime."

Makado's face registered surprise and understanding in almost one breath.  Her dedication had seemed excessive, even for an actor.  It all made sense to him.  Her exceptional subtlety of speech and motion, her occasional flashes of grave commentary, the care with which she always took to face a doorway to any room she sat in.

"You trust me greatly big sister.  I am humbled.  Know that your trust is well placed.  You are my family.  Can there be any other greater loyalty?"

"I pray not Makado."

"Why me, sister?  Why not our brothers?"

"They are not true Scorpions, Makado, you are.  If my secret were divulged by you, I am confident it would be appropriate.  If one sought it without justification, I am confident you would deal with them appropriately, decisively, and skillfully.  Our dear brothers would get huffy and risk their lives in a duel or something as foolish.  Besides, I feel I can trust you the most."

"You had better pray you can."  Makado said grimly, then he broke into a smile and tickled his sister to the floor.

Amidst her laughter, she said in mock fear, "Oh, spare me mighty shugenja!"

Makado left his sister's troupe in good spirits.  He was complete, he had no doubts.  He was ready to come of age.  He was now an Initiate not only in title, but in thought and deed.  He headed towards the Soshi school, ready to claim his adulthood and his name.