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Chapter 14 - Three Strikes[]

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5/28/3023 - Interlude: Tamashī no doku ("Poison for the Soul"), part I

The richly decorated Pagoda (for Luthien Officers) emerged like a black and red pillar from the green hills within the Imperial City. Its apparent height equal only by Unity Palace ensuring it was regularly used as a landmark by those giving directions as the Complex’s mazelike roads were built for aesthetic rather than practical reasons. Three men sat down at a stone Go table, each polished piece sparkled under the clear sky like gemstones.

“Your move, Isoroku-san.”

He paused for a moment taking three short breaths before going for the jugular. His companions stared at the board before realizing they were only two moves from defeat. “Well played.”
“Tai-Sho Conti and I played every day while I was in the Fifth (Sword of Light).”
“Palmer Conti, the prodigal Pagoda Officer.”
“We have a reputation. How we manage it is our choice.”

Isoroku felt his hair tingle and his subconscious heard the armed men approaching him, every Kurita in the palace developed a sixth sense if they wanted to stay ahead of the pack. He watched his companion’s faces blanch as two armed Otomo in black and gold, not just because of one’s skin and the other’s hair approached him from behind. “Magnus, Yasuke, is it two already?”
“No Isoroku, still slightly past eleven. We have been asked to escort you to the Palace.”
“On what business?”
“Private, I suppose. We didn’t get briefed.”
“I see. Very well.
Thank you for the game, Shinju.
Nolan. Enjoy the rest of your day.”

With a slight bow his opponents took up positions opposite each other as they reset the board and continued practicing. Isoroku positioned himself slightly ahead of his sparring partners as they sped through the Imperial City’s gardens and orchards toward the Imperial Palace.

Coordinator Takashi Kurita looked ghostly pale but managed to dominate the presence of the four men from atop the Chrysanthemum Throne with every gesture and move of his brow. The throne room was blanketed in a smothering silence without the cavalcade of Kuri, courtiers, and Otomo that normally filled its serpentine chambers. Magnus and Yasuke kept a comfortable distance from Isoroku who stood exposed to his uncle’s silent evaluation beneath a ruby skylight. They grew visibly more uncomfortable as Takashi refused to address them for agonizing minutes.

“Isoroku-san, do you know why I have summoned you?”
“I do not, Coordinator. Please enlighten me?”

Takashi stood up from his throne, descended the dais and the Otomo backed away from the pair.
“Last night someone living in this palace poisoned me, almost killing me.”

A gasp erupted from the three men, but Takashi silenced them with a wave of his hand.
“The assailant was captured before they could commit suicide and has confessed to their crimes.
What shall I do with them?”

“Who was it, Coordinator?”
“Does that matter, Isoroku? Are they not a traitor for trying to kill me?”

Dumbfounded, Isoroku paused before giving his response, “You are correct, Coordinator. The crime of treason should be met with summary execution regardless of whomever committed it.”

“Normally, I would have summarily executed them myself however their poison has temporarily robbed me of my strength.” Takashi Kurita unsteadily offered Isoroku his sword. “So, you must do it nephew.”

“You want me to kill this traitor with your sword?”
“Yes. Are you even listening?”

“Apologies Coordinator, I was not expecting to execute someone today.”
“If you are to be even considered as my heir rather than my vagabond son you must be ready for anything at all times.”

Isoroku accepted the ceremonial, but still deadly sword and drew it. For the first time he saw the whorls of acid etched Damascus steel which had been reforged multiple times over seven centuries up close in his twenty-seven years. He tucked the sheathed blade to his belt and took a moment to tie his sleeves back. “Are you ready, Isoroku?”

“I am.”

“Good.” Takashi looked toward the wings of the Throne Room, “Hideyoshi, bring forth the traitor that dared to poison her Coordinator and not save any for herself.”

Another Otomo soldier stood behind a woman in black who even hobbled by shackles carried herself with same regal grace and poise that attracted Minamoto Kurita to her. Her beauty was faded, skin alabaster white where not bruised, contrasting sharply with her tangled black hair.

All three were equally stunned as Haruko Kurita stepped atop the dais before being forced to her knees before Takashi and Isoroku.

Mother.”, said Isoroku

“Why would you do this mother?”

Kareena attempted to rise but was held firm by Oda Hideyoshi. “You are the proper heir to the Draconis Combine, Isoroku. Theodore is a weak brat, spoiled by his mother. I raised you to be a Samurai like your father.” She looked over toward Magnus and Yasuke who nervously put their hands around the Nambu’s jutting from their cavalry holsters like Isoroku’s Katana.

“Hurry, Son!
Those men are your friends.

Draw your sword.

Strike Takashi down without hesitation!
Become the new Coordinator before they can even react and they will follow you.

Even Theodore wouldn’t oppose you.
Fates know he yearns to do the same for suffering under his own father’s cruelty.
He would have you even execute your own mother for him.”

“Did you poison Takashi?”

“My only regret is underestimating the dose required.”

“Takashi took us in after my father died and raised me as his own son.
This isn’t what he would have wanted.”

“What he may have felt matters not.
Your father is dead!
You live for now but do you think even if you do kill me that Takashi won’t do the same to you?”

He drew the ancient Katana whose mirrored finish caught the ruby light from above. An audible gasp rose from the assembled Otomo as Isoroku held it outward like a sword aflame. “Only one way to find out.”

Kareena Kurita’s head dropped to the dais with a squelch as Isoroku let out a mighty kiai overcoming for moment the crushing silence of the throne room. He cleaned off the blood with a handkerchief careful to look away from his handiwork. Isoroku took a knee, presented the sheathed blade to Coordinator Takashi Kurita accepted the sword and handed it off to Hideyoshi, before pulling Isoroku out from the pooling blood.

Takashi looked at Kareena and Hideyoshi who stood ready to strike down Isoroku if it was asked of him.

“I am sorry to have put you through that, son.

You may think me cruel to have put you through it and I have been difficult with both of you. However, the burden of being Coordinator is not for the faint hearted or squeamish. The only joy I take in this is that only one life needed to be sacrificed for the Draconis Combine. Not that it wasn’t mine.

It was your choice, Isoroku. Kareena wasn’t wrong. You had the option and I would have understood.

If Jasmine had done the same to me and I asked Theodore to do the same. I am certain he would have struck me down before killing himself in grief.

You have done your duty at the cost of your comfort. That makes you a true Samurai Isoroku.
When we grieve her loss and bury her ashes tomorrow.

Remember her as she was before, not as she is before us.”

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