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Even the samurai have teddy bears;
and even the teddy bears get drunk.

--wisdom of /usr/games/fortune


Ryoku-sensei told me not to venture to the far north unless I was prepared. He passed along, by way of sideways critiques of my swordsmanship, his wisdom about teddy bears and samurai. Foolishly, my ambition got the best of me, and I have been separated from my ambitions--I am the shell of a warrior you see today. I forsook my training with the katana and took up the gaijin playing cards in preparation for my quest; I was going to defeat the great samurai Tzu Do at that most difficult of card games, Mao. I left Ryoku's dojo--forgive me for my impudence, sensei!--and set out on my own with my steel and a deck of cards.

Clearheaded and cocky, I ventured east until I reached the sea, spending my nights playing solitaire and building my focus for the long nights ahead. When I found a village along the way, I would venture to the center at meal time, and ask loudly three times, "Who here can challenge me at playing cards?" Invariably, someone would present himself to defeat me. Naming a game I had never heard of, he would teach me the difficult rules, and I would teach him the rules of a game I had learned. I would bet him a day of my labor against a day of his training that I could win both games, and we would play. Often I would work in the village for a week before I mastered the game and won a day of training, but I always won eventually.

In this way I made it to the coast, and learned many things. I learned first the art of War, then the game of 21, then games of skill with similar themes. A region near the coast was populated only with players of the many games called Poker, of which I had heard but had never played. Three hermits I met in the mountains taught me feudalism, deriding me with insults and getting me drunk on sake. I worked for a month, each day fighting off a hangover, before I recovered and defeated them.

As I walked the coast to the north, eating fish from the sea and playing all the forms of solitaire I had learned to keep my mind sharp, I realized that I had still never been taught the rules of Mao. I had forgotten how to use my katana except to clean fish. I was a disgrace, but I saw myself through jade eyes and continued to far north, seeking out Tzu Do's hard-earned glory for my own.

When I arrived at his dojo, I found a circle of silent students in the courtyard, passing around cards. As I approached, one of them said, "Point of order," and all the cards were placed, facedown, on the stones. Introductions were made, and I asked what the rules were. The students laughed.

I demanded to speak to the master. They laughed, and one of them answered "He will only speak to you if you can defeat him at Mao." I told them I would be happy to defeat him, if they would tell me the rules. They laughed some more, and then one of them, completely serious, locked eyes with me.

"Do you want to be a slave here?"

"I have been enslaved in worse places."

"That is apparent from your looks."

"You dare insult me? I will defeat the master, and I will defeat all of you to show that I can."

"He will defeat you, as he defeated each of us, and he will take your most prized possession, and the price of losing a hand is a month of slavery. As for defeating us, we have spent the free moments of our slavery practicing the game as best we are able. You could not hope to defeat us."

I scoffed, and asked where I could find the master. They looked at me as one regards a child, and put away their cards. Two of them stood up and escorted me to the town in the valley. We entered the sake house and I knew Tzu Do on sight. He was drunk on sake and playing feudalism with three friends who were even more drunk, and it was clear that, although he had consumed much wine, he was winning. I allowed him the honor of a victory, watched each of the losers drink again to learn their shame. Curiously, instead of the winner's second taking the cards from the table and placing them in order, the man I knew to be Tzu Do collected them and placed them on a cushion next to him with a small stuffed bear that was soaked in rice wine. I approached his table, confident of my victory against this man and his drunken teddy bear.

"I am here to defeat you at Mao. Tell me the rules so we may play cards."

He laughed, and spoke quietly to the small stuffed bear on the cushion next to him. He paused, as though listening to an answer, and then fixed me with his gaze. He gestured for me to take a seat, dealt me and the two students their cards, and spoke. "A point of order--has this yokel been informed of the price of a game with the mighty Tzu Do?" One of the novices nodded. "Very well," he said, "end point of order.

The only rule of Mao that I can tell you is this one."

I was defeated. My ambitions caused me to curse, my cursing cost me valuable plays, and I never seemed quite able to catch up. Before I knew it, I had lost.

"I am sorry, sensei, it is clear that this is a game that cannot be won. You have cheated me!"
"Hold your tongue, or I will cut it out. You knew the price when you sat down, and now you will give Tzu Do your most valued possession."
"As I am a man of honor, I will give this to you, but I will win it back!" I handed him my katana. He looked at it for a moment, and laughed.
"It is clear to me that you don't value this sword, or you would have already defeated me in single combat! It is rusted, and smells of fish. Besides which, Tzu Do keeps the prizes he is given long after his slaves have earned their freedom." He threw it back to me.
I screamed in rage--"You can insult my card playing, you drunken swine, but I am Juruf'u, student of Ryoku, and I am a samurai!" I cut him down with my katana in a furious rage, and stood, breathing heavily.

The teddy bear spoke quietly in the bar's silence, and it seemed as though I saw myself from far above, clouds of dread circling me:

"You may be a student of Ryoku, but so was the man you just killed; he has been in my possession since Ryoku came to this place, with the rash ambition you show. I know your most prized possession, and I, Tzu Do, will take it now. I leave you with apathy. Given your fierce loyalty, I think you will serve me well, and I dare say you will never wager with a drunken teddy bear deity again! Fetch me more sake, foolish student!"

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