Written by Nick Spangler (Jiro's player)
A different scent in his room awakens Ryojiro from the comfort of a dream. It is subtle, but there is no mistaking that someone is watching him sleep. His body is still. Relaxed, unmoving, his mind focused on his next few actions. His sword is four paces away to the wall, a table two paces away to block anyone moving toward him, a small pillow beneath him that would open in enough time to roll from his mat. He waits for his next breath to move.
“I didn’t mean to wake you from your sleep, Jiro-kun. You were so peaceful. You must find the road more comforting than our old house.” The voice comes from every corner, but Jiro has long since learned Satsu’s tricks. “I’ve come to collect you for your brother. He is in need of you.”
Jiro goes no further than the first part of his plan. He throws his pillow at the farthest corner where Satsu catches it with a laugh.
“We should leave now; the future will not wait for us. I’ve packed your things. You need only dress yourself.” The voice sings whisper-quiet in the dark. “I would have taken the liberty, but, well…”
Jiro can hear her smirk. Old anxieties well up, but after years of practice, he would know immediately if Satsu has touched him in his sleep.
His clothes already laid out, Jiro begins to undress. His skin is hot and uncomfortable from a hidden gaze. “Satsu-chan, please, look away while I dress.”
“You know I’m not looking.”
Layer after layer, piece after piece, Jiro finishes dressing with his entire effort on modesty. He could arrange things later, but Satsu’s invisible gaze grows ever more present along with the perfume, which has now come into focus. Memories of childhood have found their way out from the cracks between sleep, drawing Jiro’s mind away from the present. He notices Satsu’s hand around his waist too late to stop it, and spins face-to-face with the geisha. With his sister.
“I missed you Jiro-kun.” The words are whispered an inch from his face.
Satsu has always been beautiful in ways many have described as heavenly or unearthly. Sent to Jiro’s father at the age of 9 for reasons that, despite his best efforts, Jiro could never uncover. Not officially, anyway, but Jiro knows for what if not why. To most, anything unusual is unwelcome, and for that reason Satsu was outcast to the edge of the empire, where the unusual and unwelcome made their home.
Jiro’s mind drifts back to the present. He pulls away, eyes downcast.
“Yes, well. If we are in a such a hurry then we should go. Lead the way.”
A small chuckle.
“We’ll have plenty of time to catch up on the way.” Satsu leaves with Jiro a safe five steps behind.
As they move down the hall, she removes the black mask and gloves, tightens her kimono, and falls into character. “But only after you, Jiro-kun. It would look ever so odd if I was leading, hmm? We have a cart waiting for us at the north edge of town. I’ve already informed Lord Akodo that you’ve been summoned home.”
Satsu has been raised and educated in court affairs, but forbidden to learn at any school. This was probably for the best, as Satsu gave it no attention and, somehow, less care. This wasn’t for any lack of intelligence; she would master the basics of the lessons she was taught, only to find that lessons were to be repeated and repeated for nuance and hidden understanding, and then her mind would wander to the next interesting thing it could consume. She would flit from one new world to the next: poetry, song, dancing, acting, stealing, swordsmanship. It didn’t matter what it was so long as it was different and new.
The joy of seeing the world new with each day is what originally enthralled Jiro. Years of experience have taught him that power would blind him time and time again. He turns his lessons to interrogation as they ride from town. It's best to start subtle and outlast her game.
Once Beiden is behind them, Jiro ventures, “How are my brother and father?”
“Not well. They are in hiding with the rest of the town. It’s…” Satsu noticeably searches for the right word to tell him, afraid to say too much, “...a bit more than I can explain right now. There is a crisis with bandits all across the forest. Towns are set ablaze, and everyone within them killed. You...you should know that Manjuro and his son Sanjuro are dead.”
Jiro catches the hook to keep him interested. So he rides in silence for a time, unable to process the loss of his lord. Of his best friend.
“How did they die?”
Satsu lets no tells slip.
“A ronin who calls himself Musha Naga-killer attacked Mori castle town. Jun told me everyone was killed. Some sacrificed in a ritual. Others...I don’t know. He wouldn’t talk much to me about it. And don’t use your tricks on me; I don’t know any more than that. I don’t think I want to know. But the castle was looted of all its scrolls.”
Jiro refuses the urge to feel guilty. “I understand.” A feint. “How have you been?”
“Very well. I’ve found stable employment in Garden Under Shadow City. Most people are above touching foreign scrolls and books, so it pays well. Nothing a snoop like you needs to worry about. Boring work for boring scribes.”
Jiro doesn’t let the obvious connections slip.
“I am sure such boring work for the Crane meant an awkward introduction to my Lord Akodo.” He notices the changes to how Satsu hides apprehension, and looks for his next answer.
“He is very gracious and understanding. It was good to meet him. I don’t get to meet many Lion, especially Akodo.”
“I am sure. It is good to know you’re staying out of trouble, at least. Is that why Jun sent you to retrieve me?” Jiro bookends his comment with a chuckle.
The dodge does not go unnoticed. “I imagine it’s because everyone else is so busy." A pause. "We shall take the left road here. I am told the road along the forest's edge is more dangerous. I don’t think we are prepared for bandits.”
Jiro teases from the lies and misdirections that they’re following specific instructions on how to avoid notice. He does not know who would be interested in their movements, but figures it must have to do with whatever Satsu has told Akodo. He thinks twice before prying that piece of news from her, trusting Lord Akodo to tell him anything he has the business to know.
He spends the next several hours in sulking silence listening to Satsu sing, unhappy he is left with questions he cannot yet answer, until it is finally interrupted by her turning the questioning back on him.
“So, what has that Akodo had you doing the last few months? You never told me why Manjuro sent you to him.”
“I have not been confided the plans of an Emerald Magistrate. There is no more I could tell you. I should ask you; you’re certainly more familiar with what Lord Manjuro or Lord Akodo would want with me there.”
The laughter ringing from Satsu seems genuine, and probably loud enough to have warranted attention if that is what they're avoiding. “Your jokes were never very good. I didn’t know Manjuro, and I don’t see any Akodo in the Garden.”
“But you send the Akodo scrolls they’ve been trying to acquire for centuries. And you've worked for Lord Manjuro since you were 10.” Jiro is already moving to assuage his sister’s anger. “No– no disrespect! He was proud of how loyal you were. He needed me for my eyes, but would have been lost without your wits. He told me everything, and said it was because I would see anything he tried to hide anyway, but this is still a mystery to me.”
Satsu lets this settle long enough to be uncomfortable. “So, nothing so far has led you to figure it out?” A desperate move against Jiro’s pride; one he wouldn’t have fallen for in years. ”You?”
“Maho. There seems to be something calculating and lurking just beyond sight. There is work I’ve witnessed that cannot be from some lone wild man who knows a vile secret or two. These forces are political, and connected, and everywhere we’ve been. I would guess there’s a conspiracy, a powerful pact or sect that has command of vast resources and connections...one that knows sorceries thought long-since destroyed. I did not need to be told; only to witness what has unfolded.”
“That sort of tale would be believed in no court, you know.”
Jiro continues only when he’s confident that Satsu’s flat tone means the game is over; she is as lost as he is.
“I do. Which is probably why I have seen trustworthy and resourceful people being moved and brought together under indirect instruction. People with unique skills being asked to serve without knowing why. So I am not yet asking to be believed. I am only following yet another mysterious summons.”
“This one is not mysterious.” Satsu’s guard drops even lower. “The same bandits that threaten our home are the same that struck down Lord Manjuro. Jun knows that he needs you right now, and I know you need to be a part of killing them–”
“– I do not need to be a part of killing anybody.” Jiro doesn’t wait for her to finish.
“But you’re good at killing criminals.” The teasing undertone returns to her voice. Satsu must have ventured onto territory she is prepared for. “I’ve heard about what you did to those yakuza, and everyone knows about that maho-tsukai. You should let Jun teach you. He could have convinced our father if you let him.”
“I do not see a Rokugan so desperate that is needs even me drawing a sword to defend it.”
Satsu admonishes him, sounding more worried than Jiro could ever recall hearing.
“Then after you've seen what I have seen, we can have this discussion again.”