By Rich Wulf
Togashi Satsu's last commands to Matsuo repeated in the young ise zumi's mind.
"Take Chieko from here, Matsuo, as swiftly as you can. Fail, and Kokujin triumphs."
Togashi Matsuo kicked open the gates of Shiro Heichi and stepped out onto the mountain road. Tamori Chieko hung limply in his arms, her face pale from loss of blood. The earth all around was littered with the corpses of Kokujin's tattooed bakemono. Further down the road, he could hear bestial shrieks of pain and the clash of steel. He moved quietly toward the sounds of combat, pausing as he peered around the turn in the pass.
There, dozens of tattooed goblins and a handful of tattooed men swarmed toward the narrowest point in the pass. Before them stood Mirumoto Rosanjin, two swords high, cutting down all who dared face him. Back in their homeland, Rosanjin was grand master of the Iron Mountain dojo. The swordsmanship he displayed today made it obvious that was no empty title. No enemy yet had seriously injured him, though his armor was painted in the red and black blood of his enemies. His battle cry was defiant, but Matsuo could tell that the swordmaster's blows were becoming slower, his breath more labored. Soon, the impossible odds would overwhelm even Rosanjin.
Matsuo paused only for a moment as he considered helping Rosanjin in his fight. No. He could not. Chieko's life depended on him, and his duty to Lord Satsu was foremost. The tattoo on Matsuo's chest shifted into the shape of a centipede. Matsuo felt strength and energy flood through his limbs. The world appeared to slow down. He ran in the opposite direction of Rosanjin, into the rough mountains. The path was less sure, but he would not have to worry about running through Kokujin's horde or possibly even being accidentally cut down by Rosanjin himself in the midst of his battle fury. Matsuo stopped at the edge of a high cliff, searching around desperately for any ledge or path he could take.
The earth began to shake violently under Matsuo's feet. He fell to his knees to keep from losing balance and dropping Chieko. A loud rumble echoed from deep within the mountains, followed by an impossibly loud crack. Matsuo looked back to see the peak of the mountain behind Shiro Heichi split in two. A column of black energy erupted from the earth between the two halves, stretching into the sky. A wet, rasping roar resounded across the mountains.
"What is happening?" Matsuo whispered, staring in confusion as pale, rubbery tentacles began to snake out of the black column.
"We do not have much time," Chieko whispered. "You must take me from here." Matsuo looked at her, surprised that she was still conscious. Her eyes had closed again. Her head lolled against his chest.
The earth gave another heave. Cracks began to spread through the stone beneath Matsuo's feet. A jagged outcropping of stone was the nearest safe surface, but the leap was farther than any Matsuo had tried before. With a quick prayer to the Fortunes, he gathered his strength and leapt into the void.
Hitomi Hogai lay in the darkness and groaned. His head throbbed violently, and his back felt even worse. He leaned on one arm and brushed the dust and rubble from his chest, then searched around for any sign of where he was. The ruddy glow of blazing fire lit the caverns all around. A gurgling roar echoed from somewhere far above. Hogai peered over the edge of the ledge where he had fallen. The chasm dropped away an impossible distance. Far below the volcanic blood of the earth oozed past in a fiery river. Hogai's nose burned with the smell of sulfur. He quickly sat back on his ledge, covering his nose and mouth as he searched around for any other way out.
"Satsu?" Hogai called out. "Mitsu? Are you there?"
"I am here," replied Togashi Satsu's voice. The son of Hoshi crouched in a small niche a few feet higher on the fissure wall. His arms were folded across his shoulders, holding one of his grandfather's swords in each hand. His head was bowed as if in prayer or meditation.
"Are you injured, Satsu-sama?" Hogai asked.
"I am well," Satsu replied. His voice was deeper than normal.
Stronger. Above them, the gurgling roar echoed again.
"What is that noise?" Hogai asked. He braced himself against the wall with one hand as the mountain shook. "It sounds like a demon!"
"A spawn of the First Oni," Satsu answered.
"Spawn?" Hogai replied.
"I thought you were once a Crab, Hogai," Satsu said.
"I only killed oni," Hogai replied. "I left studying them to the Kuni."
Satsu nodded. "Oni do not truly exist in the mortal realm," he explained. "They can exist only in the more abstract Spirit Realms, such as Tengoku and Jigoku. Those that steal or are given the name of an inhabitant of the mortal realm can create spawn, lesser versions of themselves, to wreak havoc in this realm. This demon carries Fu Leng's name. His blood is poison. His touch melts flesh and bone. He is unstoppable."
"Then let us talk no further," Hogai said. "Let us climb out of this pit and take the battle to the demon! Let Kokujin unleash all the minions of Jigoku against us, he will not defeat the Dragon Clan!" Hogai looked all around for any safe way of climbing up the pit, finding none.
"Do not act rashly, Hogai," Satsu said, peering up the chasm. "I need a moment to gather my strength. We cannot face the First Oni's spawn before we are ready. Even when we are ready, it will be difficult."
Another deafening roar shook the mountain. Hogai looked up, then back at Satsu. "If that creature is just the spawn, I would hate to see the true demon."
Satsu shook his head. "The true First Oni marches with Fu Leng's army against the forces of Heaven. It would not come here even if it could. Even so, its spawn is deadly enough. After Fu Leng was banished eleven centuries ago, the First Oni was too weak to send its spawn into this realm. Each time it tried, the Shakoki Dogu fought it back. For over a thousand years there has been a balance between the demon and the spirit of the mountains, preventing either from overcoming the other. Now that has changed… Kokujin has used the Anvil of Despair to give the demon a feast of blood and death and pave its resurrection."
"Kokujin is more insane than we imagined," Hogai said.
"This is no random act of destruction," Satsu said. "I think that Kokujin has made a deal with the First Oni. Once it has fully entered our world, the oni will allow Kokujin to enter the Celestial Heavens."
"Where the gods and Fortunes will strike him down!" Hogai said with a snarl.
"Do not underestimate Kokujin," Satsu replied. "As mad as he may be, he does not act with out a plan. It was Kokujin's destiny, long ago, to become a vessel for the power of a god. Perhaps he plans to fulfill that destiny yet, but on his own terms."
Hogai looked up at Satsu curiously. "Why did you not tell us any of this before, Satsu-sama?"
Satsu looked down at Hogai. His eyes now glowed with a powerful golden light. His tattoos moved and shifted across his body. "Because I did not know before," he replied.
"What has happened to you, my lord?" Hogai asked, his voice full of awe.
"My grandfather is with us," Satsu replied, or seemed to. As soon as he spoke, the words left Hogai's mind, leaving only impressions of what was said. "His wisdom and his power wax and wane with need, but our need has seldom been greater." Satsu knelt and closed his eyes in deep concentration. "I want you to take something to Togashi Mitsu," he said.
"Hai," Hogai said. "What is-" Hogai broke of the question with a startled shout as Satsu stepped out onto the open air. Hogai tried to shout a warning, but when he saw what happened next the words froze in his throat.
The First Oni was unlike anything Mitsu had ever seen, and for a man who had seen and done as much as Togashi Mitsu that was quite a sentiment. Its body shifted and transformed by the moment, liquid flesh churning and boiling into new shapes, seemingly at random. In one instant it was a mass of seething tentacles and a meaty head topped with a crown of eyes on thin stalks. The next moment it took the shape of an enormous grey skinned giant, long horns curling from its temple. The demon pulled itself slowly, laboriously from the sinister black column of energy that had birthed it. The creature roared in pain and anger, as if the process of entering the mortal realm pained it.
The creature's appearance had broken the mountain in two and shattered the dungeon where the Dragon warriors had confronted Kokujin. Now only a single stone platform remained of Shiro Heichi's dungeon. Kokujin stood at the center, looming over the Anvil of Despair, black swords clutched in either fist. Mitsu stood to one side, staring up at the demon in shock. Kaelung stood at Mitsu's back, axe gripped in both hands as he watched Kokujin warily.
The First Oni's enormous grotesque head turned down to face the three tattooed men. A single eye peeled upon on its bloody forehead, glaring down at the men. Its milky green iris focused on Kokujin.
"Attack!" Kokujin shouted, pointing his swords at Mitsu and Kaelung.
The creature's eye turned toward Mitsu and Kaelung. A large boil erupted on its throat, vomiting a gangly arm ending in a clawed hand. Mitsu cart-wheeled to one side as the hand slashed at them. Kaelung leapt under the arm, diving past just as the palm struck stone. A loud hiss echoed as the demon rested its hand on the platform for a moment. When it lifted the appendage, a handprint of melted earth and stone was left behind.
"By the Thunders," Mitsu swore, rolling to his feet and looking up at the demon in awe. "Kaelung, how do we fight such a thing?"
"Not by talking!" Kaelung returned, striking the demon's hand blindly with his axe as it pulled away. The edge of the blade cracked against its rubbery skin. A wide, fanged mouth opened on its torso near where it disappeared into the portal, and a slippery black tongue whipped at Kaelung viciously. The sohei held up his axe to deflect the blow; the tentacle tore the shaft in half. The demon's hand reached toward Kaelung again, clawed fingers spread wide.
"No!" Kokujin shouted to the demon, causing the hand to pause mere feet from Kaelung. "Do not kill that one. Just take him out of the fight."
Kaelung tried to duck aside but was too slow. The demon's hand closed and absently backhanded Kaelung, knocking the sohei from the platform. Kaelung tumbled into the chasm with an angry curse. He swung the bladed half of his broken axe in a single, mighty blow as he fell, burying the blade in the stone and halting his fall.
"Kaelung!" Mitsu shouted, looking down at the sohei.
"Find a way to stop the damned demon!" Kaelung shouted back.
Mitsu nodded. He turned to face Kokujin, fists held ready in a Kaze-do stance.
Kokujin only smiled, laying the blade of his katana across his shoulders. Behind him, the First Oni's spawn writhed and twisted. "Mitsu," Kokujin said, pointing at Mitsu with his wakizashi. "Now that one you can kill."
The demon shrieked and extended a dozen barbed claws toward Mitsu. Mitsu leapt into the air, coughing out a cloud of flame as he did to try to burn the demon's appendages away. He flipped backward off the edge of the platform, catching the lip with one hand as the oni's limbs shot past overhead. Mitsu pulled one arm over the side and looked up at Kokujin's smiling face. The First Oni's hooked claws, serrated limbs, and pockmarked eyestalks surrounded him on all sides, all moving inexorably toward Mitsu.
"By the Fortunes," Mitsu whispered.
"The Fortunes are not listening, Togashi Mitsu," Kokujin's mocking voice answered. "The armies of Jigoku wage their war against the Fortunes as we speak. How can the armies of heaven save a few pathetic mortals when they cannot even guard their own borders? The time of the old gods is done. The time of the Empire is done. Now tell me where your friend has taken Tamori Chieko."
"Chieko?" Mitsu said, sneering up at the dark tattooed man as he crawled over the lip of the platform. "Why do you care?"
"Tell me, Mitsu!" Kokujin roared. "If you do not, the First Oni will cast you into a realm of such pain that you will need seven lifetimes to contain it all. However, if you help me, I may yet be merciful. Soon, I will be a god. You cannot tell me that you do not wish to stand beside a god once more." Kokujin leered down at Mitsu.
"Never," Mitsu said, rising into a Kaze-do stance again.
Kokujin sighed. "There is no reason for such obstinacy," he said, waving his wakizashi in irritation. "Our war is done, Mitsu. Togashi would not stop me. Hitomi could not stop me. Hoshi did not care, and Satsu was too weak. I have won. The Dragon Clan is defeated."
"You heard him, Kokujin," a deep voice said from behind Mitsu. He said 'Never.'"
Kokujin looked up, past Mitsu, and his face went pale. Even the First Oni's writhing limbs drew back for a moment as a golden light shone through the crater. Mitsu looked back over his shoulder, careful not to let Kokujin out of his sight. Hovering in the air behind him was lean, serpentine dragon, wreathed in golden flame. Its eyes were familiar.
"Satsu!" Mitsu exclaimed.
"You claim the power of heaven cannot help mortals," Satsu roared defiantly. "Are you so confident now, Kokujin?" With that, the dragon reared back its head and breathed a column of pure white flame. The fire washed over the First Oni's flailing limbs, making the demon cried out in pain. The hooked claws, thorny tentacles, and meaty arms all reached toward the new threat, but Satsu darted away as swiftly as a fish in water. His fire did little more than burn the First Oni's skin, but the unfamiliar sensation of pain was an offense it could not ignore.
"Fight, Mitsu!" Satsu roared, soaring as he ducked and wove through the air. "I shall hold back the demon as long as I can."
"Idiot demon!" Kokujin shouted, backing warily away from Mitsu. "Ignore Satsu! This is a Dragon trick!"
The First Oni did not obey Kokujin's command, focusing on the shimmering serpent and the painful celestial fire it spat forth again and again. The mountain shook as the First Oni became enraged. Gouts of flame erupted from the chasm below. The sky crackled with red lightning. The mountain began to fracture and crumble away around them, though the platform where Kokujin and Mitsu stood remained intact.
"Mitsu!" Hitomi Hogai shouted, climbing over the edge of the platform.
"Hogai, help Kaelung!" Mitsu shouted back, ducking to one side just as Kokujin's blades cleaved the air where he stood.
"Hai!" Hogai shouted, turning to run toward where Kaelung still hung from the wall. "Oh!" He paused for a moment and drew something from his obi. "Mitsu take these!" Hogai hurled something into the air and then leapt from the platform toward Kaelung.
Mitsu dodged another attack from Kokujin and caught whatever it was that Hogai had thrown. He rolled, turned, and came up to face Kokujin wielding Togashi's golden daisho.
Kokujin's eyes narrowed as he faced Mitsu. Above them, the First Oni battled Satsu in the form of a fiery dragon. Below them, the earth spat molten rock in fiery rage. Around them there was nothing but the void. Kokujin drew up his ebony blades and faced Mitsu in a daisho stance.
"Perfect," the mad tattooed man said with a sinister grin.
"Jianzhen!" Matsuo shouted from the crest of a rapidly crumbling mountain. "Jianzhen, where are you?"
Matsuo looked down with a fearful eye. The mountains around Shiro Heichi were swiftly decaying. For a while it felt almost as if the earthquakes were chasing him, hunting him on his mad dash to safety. Now the ground was slightly more stable, though he could see the demon from here. It continued to draw more and more of its mass through the black portal, filling the sky with its gruesome body. A sleek, flaming dragon swam through the air around it, dodging the demon's violent blows and drawing its wrath. Matsuo wondered where the dragon had come from, but did not question it. Any ally was a welcome one.
"Jianzhen!" he shouted again, his voice ringing out across the mountains. As she appeared, the mountains ceased to shake around them.
"I am here, Dragon," Jianzhen said, appearing from nothing with a scowl. Her face was pale and bleak.
"Jianzhen, you must help me," Matsuo begged, falling to his knees and setting Chieko gently on the ground. "She is badly injured. Your magic may still save her!"
"Help you?" Jianzhen said, incredulous. Her hands knotted into fists. "What have your kinsmen done in Shiro Heichi?" she demanded. "You failed to destroy the Anvil of Despair as you promised and now the First Oni has regained a foothold in this realm! You have doomed us all, Matsuo! Why should I help you? Why should I help this girl?"
"I must not die," Chieko whispered. "I must not die…"
Jianzhen looked down at Chieko, and her dark eyes widened. She stared at Matsuo in disbelief. "What happened to this girl? There is a deep wound in her soul, as if part of it has been cut away."
"She was chained to the Anvil of Despair," Matsuo said. "Kokujin used her blood to forge his blades."
"So her soul is part of his dark creation now," Jianzhen said. "A cruel fate, but there is little I can do. The Anvil of Despair is fueled by the power of the First Oni itself. No magic can heal that."
"No magic you have," Matsuo answered, "but what of the Shakoki Dogu? They have opposed that demon for centuries. Did they not save your clan from a similar fate?"
"You do not know what you ask, Matsuo-san," Jianzhen said, her face grave. "My clan lives a walking death. Better you should kill her, and let her pass into Yomi. If she comes with me, half her soul will remain lost to Kokujin's swords, and the other will wander the shadows with my clan."
Chieko sat up. Her eyes were clear despite the pain. "But with the Shakoki Dogu, I will remain free," she said. "Perhaps if I am even a bit free, I can bring some peace to the souls entirely trapped in Kokujin's swords… Perhaps one day they can be free."
"Very well, then," Heichi Jianzhen said. Tiny stone figures appeared from the earth and stone around her, as if they had always been there. Matsuo looked down at Chieko a final time.
"You have done well, Matsuo," she whispered. "Now there may yet be hope…"
"For the souls in Kokujin's swords?" he asked.
"Yes," Chieko said. "And for the soul that wields them..."
It was then that Matsuo realized one of the stone figures was staring up at him blankly, as if irritated by his presence. Matsuo bowed to the creatures and backed away, leaving the servants of the Shakoki Dogu to their work.
Togashi Mitsu had a reputation for a sly tongue and a strange sense of humor, even in the direst of circumstances. Kokujin, likewise, seldom let a fight pass by without taking the opportunity to taunt and mock his opponent. Now, when the two tattooed men faced one another, neither said a word.
Gold and ebon swords rang against one another, showering sparks into the void. Dark eyes fixed in implacable hatred. Each blow was a perfect combination of strength and skill, but each was dodged or turned aside by the other. Kokujin and Mitsu, the two mightiest of the tamashii were perfect equals.
As the battle drew on, the First Oni's rage drew greater. The creature's swollen body now blotted out the sky. Satsu continued to dart and plummet through the air around it, though the growing demon gave him less room to maneuver with each passing moment. The mountains continued to shake and crumble around them. Mitsu wondered if that was due to the oni or the anger of the Shakoki Dogu, the earth spirit that had kept the demon in check for so many centuries.
Mitsu dodged away from Kokujin's katana and lifted his blades to deflect a blow from the madman's wakizashi. Suddenly, Kokujin shouted in pain and rolled backward. A bright streak of blood streamed down Kokujin's arm. Kaelung's shattered axe now lay on the ground at Mitsu's feet. Mitsu glanced up to see Kaelung and Hogai standing on a rapidly crumbling ledge. Kaelung shouted something to Mitsu, but he could not hear above the chaos around them.
It was then that Mitsu realized that the forces that had shattered the castle and tore Shiro Heichi in two had still not touched the platform where he and Kokujin fought. It was a perfect column of solid stone in the midst of chaos. It was impossible. And there, in the center of the platform, sat the Anvil of Despair.
Kokujin sneered up at Mitsu, the wound on his arm already healing. A worried look crossed his face. "What are you planning, Mitsu?" Kokujin demanded. "Whatever it is, give it up and fight me!"
Mitsu was not listening. Kokujin was only stalling for time; that was clear now. Mitsu sheathed Togashi's daisho and charged past Kokujin. With a mighty heave, he lifted the Anvil of Despair above his head and ran toward the edge of the platform.
"No!" Kokujin roared, diving toward Mitsu with his swords raised.
Mitsu ducked to the side as Kokujin's wakizashi carved a deep wound across his back. He spun in a complex whirlwind maneuver, striking Kokujin in the chest with the pointed end of the Anvil. The dark tattooed man shrieked in pain as the mass of the anvil continued to carry him forward, over the edge and into the depths of the chasm. Mitsu slumped to one knee, looking over the side to see where Kokujin had fallen.
Then another mighty quake shook the mountains. The impossible column that had held the Anvil of Despair now shattered like a twig in a hurricane.
Togashi Mitsu plummeted into the depths of the earth.
"Mitsu!" Hogai shouted as he watched the platform where he stood dissolve into nothing.
"Stop gaping and run, you lout!" Kaelung shouted, kicking Hogai in the side.
Hogai shook his head numbly and lurched to his feet, following Kaelung as the sohei rapidly scaled his way up the jagged cliff face. The mountains had begun to shake even more violently, with gouts of fire and molten rock spurting from the chasm below with every moment. For one thousand years the First Oni and the Shakoki Dogu had faced one another in these mountains, in perfect balance. Kokujin's rituals upon the Anvil of Despair had disrupted that balance, barring the Shakoki Dogu from entering this part of the mountains.
Now the Anvil was gone, and the ancient mountain spirit had returned with terrible vengeance. Spires of pure rock erupted from the earth, clawing into the sky and piercing the First Oni's swollen body. Poisonous ichor spurted from the creature's wounds, leaving deep grooves on the stone below. Volcanoes erupted from the bare earth in reply, showering the demon spawn in molten earth. Jagged lightning streaked downward, raking the mountains at the demon's command. Two ancient and powerful spirits had chosen the Twilight Mountains as their battleground, and it was all a mortal could do to flee or die in the onslaught.
Kaelung and Hogai climbed out of the vast crater that now lay where Shiro Heichi had once stood. The stones were littered with the remains of Kokujin's tattooed bakemono and corrupted ise zumi. Another violent seizure ripped through the mountains as they began to run, causing Hogai to trip and fall forward in the loose gravel.
"Damn it, Hitomi," Kaelung growled, reaching back and yanking Hogai to his feet by one arm. "I thought you were from around here."
"I am," Hogai said, "but when I lived here the mountains did not move so much!"
Kaelung scowled and started running again. Hogai fell in line behind him, looking around desperately for any sign of other survivors. He nearly tripped over Kaelung as the sohei paused, one hand held out in warning.
"Do you hear that?" Kaelung said, eyes narrowing.
Hogai opened his mouth to reply, but then another weak cry came from nearby. Kaelung ran to the edge of a gaping fissure and looked down. A slow sneer spread across his face.
"What is it?" Hogai asked. "One of Kokujin's followers?"
"No," Kaelung replied. "Worse."
Hogai looked over the edge of the fissure. Mirumoto Rosanjin stood on a ledge below them, a ledge that became narrower with each passing moment.
"Rosanjin-sama!" Hogai shouted. He looked back at Kaelung. "We must save him."
Kaelung laughed. "Are you serious?"
"Hogai, don't listen to him!" Rosanjin shouted from below. "The man is a criminal!"
Hogai scowled at Kaelung and turned back to the fissure. He leaned over the edge as far as he dared and extended a hand toward Rosanjin. The swordmaster nearly grasped Hogai's hand before the ledge beneath his feet crumbled, spilling him several spans deeper into the pit. Hogai looked back toward Kaelung desperately. Before he could ask for aid the sohei was already moving. Grasping one of Hogai's forearms, Kaelung leapt into the pit and extended his hand toward Rosanjin. The bushi eyed Kaelung warily. The rock beneath Rosanjin's feet continued to break apart. The swordmaster slipped a few more inches.
"Swallow your pride, Rosanjin! This is no way for a samurai to die!" Kaelung snapped. "Take my hand!"
Rosanjin grimaced and accepted Kaelung's hand. With a powerful bellow, Hogai dragged the two men out of the pit onto the slightly more stable road. Rosanjin steadied his blades on his belt and eyed Kaelung suspiciously. The swordmaster and sohei locked gazes for a long moment, and then Rosanjin relaxed his stance.
"I may have misjudged you, Kaelung," Rosanjin said slowly.
"Not really," Kaelung replied. He struck Rosanjin across the face with the broken haft of his axe. The swordmaster flew back several feet and landed in an unmoving heap.
Hogai looked up at Kaelung in shock. "Why did you do that?" he demanded.
"You are strong, Hitomi Hogai," Kaelung replied, "but I doubt you can keep up with me while carrying someone Rosanjin's size. Good luck to you, Hitomi-san. We may meet one another again." The tattoo of an inky black centipede coiled up out of Kaelung's collar around his neck, and Kaelung was gone.
Hogai muttered irritably under his breath, threw Rosanjin over one shoulder, and kept running.
The sun had set, casting the horizon in the eerie half-light that gave the mountains their name. Smoke still rose from the crater that had once been Shiro Heichi. Huge spires of stone still stuck up from the earth, piercing the bloated corpse of the First Oni's spawn. After hours of combat against the Shakoki Dogu, the black portal had finally closed, leaving the demon's bloated remnants hanging in the air. The First Oni had abandoned his attempt to enter the mortal realm, for now. Satsu had not been seen since he had taken the form of the dragon and entered combat with the demon. All was strangely silent.
On a mountain peak not far from the crater stood Matsuo, Hogai, and Rosanjin. They had watched the battleground in mournful silence since their escape. Finally, Rosanjin gave voice to the words none of them wanted to hear.
"Perhaps they are dead."
"I cannot believe that," Matsuo said.
"Of course you can't," Rosanjin replied. "It is a Togashi's duty to see what cannot be seen, to believe in the impossible. It is a Mirumoto's duty to drag you back to reality when you are wrong."
"But you forget, Rosanjin," said a deep voice. "The reason the Togashi believe the impossible is because the impossible happens more frequently than you think." Togashi Satsu climbed over the edge of the mountain before them. He was human once again. His body was covered in fine grey dust but he was healthy and whole. His eyes still glowed golden, but the light was fainter now.
"Satsu-sama!" Hogai exclaimed, falling into a deep bow. "I am glad to see you alive."
Matsuo and Rosanjin bowed as well. Rosanjin's face darkened with shame as he looked up at Satsu. "My lord, I apologize for doubting you," he said, his voice thick.
"You, like all of us, have proven yourself today, Mirumoto Rosanjin," Satsu replied, looking back at the smoking crater. "There is no need for forgiveness."
"Lord Satsu, what of Kokujin?" Matsuo asked. "Could he have survived?"
Satsu looked back at Matsuo, his face grim. "The fact that you can ask that question is an answer in itself," he said. "For now, it is enough that his mad plans have been broken."
"And what of Togashi Mitsu?" Hogai asked.
"Mitsu?" Satsu replied. "He is a legend among legends. If he has died today, he has died as a hero. If he has not, then who can say when we will see him again? Even with Togashi's guidance, I cannot say for sure." Satsu straightened the golden daisho at his hip and made his way down the rough mountain path, an enigmatic smile painted upon his face.
The four began their long journey back to the lands of the Dragon Clan.