A Final Duel
A Story of the Samurai
By Brent Morgan
“Some people spend their entire life searching for their destiny. Destiny is not life…destiny is the one moment within life, when you look into the eyes of the world, and know that you cannot fail. Search your whole life for that one moment, and you will find your victory.”
- Kakita Koshin
Has it really been almost a thousand years?
A thousand years, and yet it seems like nothing has changed.
I know the same smells, the same breath fills my lungs…
Have we really changed at all?
Rising from his seat before the simple shrine, Koshin cast
a long glance over the empty plain that formed the valley.
The sun beat down upon the withered grasses, stirring them constantly
with gentle breezes that bore no moisture from the sea.
The world hung in a bitter heat, but the samurai’s face showed no sense
of sweat or discomfort.
The Kakita searched the empty valley, grey eyes flickering
between the keen stare of a hawk and the empty gaze of a tainted shadow. “I
think that he will come today…”
Not raising his eyes more than an inch, the other man
continued his prayers. Dressed in a
pale, faded kimono of gold, and wearing a daisho with handles of threaded green
silk, the man continued his silent prayer as the Crane duelist watched the empty
“We cannot remain here much longer,” Nikkan said at
long last. “The Goju’s taint…”
“…Is very strong.” Koshin’s hand drifted to the
simple crystal amulet that hung from his neck.
For a moment of weakness, the muscles tensed, as if he was to tear the
medallion from his body. Where the
sun could not draw sweat, the torment of the Shadow’s touch did.
Another moment and the duelist let his hand drop.
His short, brown hair caught the wind, making it lash across his face.
Nikkan let his gaze drop again, turning back to the simple, elegant
painting that the Mirumoto forever kept tucked into his simple obi…a gift of
friendship from another Crane.
“But there is something more powerful than the
The samurai did not understand all of Koshin, did not see
the obsession that Koshin had with his swords.
But whatever it was that drove him, the Crane still sat before the shrine
in the Valley of the Two Generals, fighting both the embrace if the darkness and
any words to move him. Seven days
he had waiting, each night offering a simple prayer to the Fortune of Thunder
“Bring me the opponent that I have searched for…”
Now, as the sun began to slowly fall from her zenith, the
Crane sat down on the dusty earth before the shrine, drawing out the first of
the three swords that he carried with him always. Watching him as he moved, Nikkan remembered the grace and
elegance that he saw in the holy men in the houses of the Tao.
First was the Kakita sword, Akaruikaze.
Shining in the sunlight, the katana was a masterpiece, and Nikkan could
feel the harmony within it, almost see the spirit of the blade. “What does
that sword mean to you, Koshin-san?”
He was silent for a moment, his eyes shifting between
sharpness and nothingness. Finally,
the Crane raised his head, his fingers running slowly over the pale blue saya.
“This sword was given to me by Toshimoko-sama, as a gift.
It represents what he saw in me. He
believed in me…in my honor and my strength…”
Next, came the sword that Koshin called simply Keiteki.
It was a slender, almost straight bladed katana, its saya and handle
forged of copper and steel. The
Crane never spoke much of is past, but the Mirumoto knew a great deal about the
“It was your mother’s sword…”
Koshin nodded, touching the five rings that shone brightly
on the tsuba. “She was one of
your family…my father said when she died, and I was given it, that I would try
my entire life to make myself worthy of it.
This is my challenge, Nikkan…this is why I fight, I think.”
Nodding, the Mirumoto raised his eyes.
In the distance, came a figure. A
lone pinnacle amidst the dancing grass, he wore a simple kimono, green and
banded in golden edges. On the
man’s head was a woven kasa, concealing his face, but not the fact that
he carried a samurai’s daisho.
“Stay here, in the shade.” Koshin stood, tucking his
swords into his obi while checking his simple Crane wakizashi at the same time.
“He has come too far to be flustered by your presence, Nikkan-san.”
Not that a man the Kakita thought to be his greatest
challenge would be bothered by anything so trivial as another samurai.
A simple, quiet lie, to hide the simple fact that he might die.
Stepping out into the sunlight beyond the temple, Kakita
Koshin began walking through the wavering grass. Nikkan sat in the shadows, his eyes sharp beneath his woven
monk hat of simple straw. Years
later, the Mirumoto would put to pen this day, and of his companion, he would
write only, “No one lives without a purpose in life…creation, domination,
justice or revenge. Koshin’s
purpose, in the end, was the sword.”
“Nothing more, and nothing less.”
* * *
The two met on the field, both standing quiet for a moment.
The two seemed to be considering one another, searching for a kind of
skill or power that the body or the eyes could not hide.
They were both tall and slender, but it was there that the similarity
Dressed in his pale silver and blue kimono, and a simple
hakama along with it, Koshin looked almost bored as he stood and waited.
Rubbing a knot in his shoulder, the Crane smiled crookedly, speaking to
his opponent in soft words that Nikkan could not catch.
Undoing his chinstrap, the other man tossed the bucket hat
aside. Beneath it was a handsome
face, older than the Crane, but not so old that the two could not have been
brothers, and close. Dark hair hung
down on either side of a calm, controlled face, restrained by a simple band of
golden cloth. Nikkan smiled from
the shadows, recognizing the man in an instant.
He was family, a fellow Mirumoto sworn to the path of the
Dragon Clan. Forged in the fires of
battle and the wisdom of the mountains, the man was one of the finest of
warriors, a shining dragon guiding him along the path of destiny.
Hitching up his sleeves, the newcomer answered Koshin’s
unheard question, the edges of the tattoo now revealed on his arms and chest as
the wind took hold of his clothes. “I am Mirumoto Tenryuu.”
The Crane nodded. “Your reputation precedes you,
Mirumoto-san…” The samurai’s voice trailed off, as if Koshin’s mind had
wavered again. Finally, he
continued, his hands still resting gently on his blades. “I am Kakita Koshin,
and I would be honored to face you in single combat.”
The other man nodded, his slender face twisting into a
slight smile. “Ah, so you are the Ni-ken no Tsuru…you too have a
reputation that men of our duties know.” Loosening the blades that he wore,
the Mirumoto took his stance, a stance that set Nikkan’s skin alive.
It was one of the five stances of Niten, one for each element of
Ancient techniques of the sword, performed before him with
almost perfect motion. They flowed
into one another, making the words “beginning” and “end” as meaningless
as if they had been spoken of the kharmic bonds.
Nikkan had not seen Tenryuu in years, but the man’s skill
had increased greatly…perhaps fourfold.
Stepping back into his own unique stance, Koshin’s chest
began to move, breath rapid and then slow.
It was a special stance, born from his father’s mind.
The Crane called it Tsubame-Teiru Sutansu, but against a man as
skilled as Tenryuu, the stance would not be enough.
The two men were too close, both in tenacity and skill.
There would be no sudden strike here, no match of mere
speed and strength of arm. Nikkan
could feel the two men, sense their inner strength, drawn out of their fragile
bodies from the well of their souls. Their
chi swelled, filled the valley and sent the observer’s hair a bristle.
It was not the spirit of destruction, not the power that Nikkan knew so
well in these dark times.
This was the power of a deeper understanding; of two men
that respected the sword, and understood that it could do more than end life.
For that moment, as the two men stood facing one another, separated only
by the force of their souls, Nikkan finally understood why Koshin had fought so
hard to remain here, even at the cost of his soul.
Here was the True Duel, the duel that had always eluded the
Crane. There was no malice in these
faces, no hatred or pride to embitter the blades. Here, in the embrace of the two ancient souls that drove
Koshin’s hands to the swords, he could find the real power…both in himself,
and in the swords that he bore.
Here, there was truth.
Then, the moment of enlightenment ended. The two souls became one, four blades flashed against the heavens. Nikkan’s eyes watched with silence and awe, his keen mind for once not knowing what the outcome would be…
* * *
What happened in that instant, Nikkan’s eyes could not
have followed. Steel raced forth
from either side, ringing out as the weapons kissed with naked blades.
Koshin and Tenryuu flowed past one another, each pivoting quickly with
Holding his blades low with inverted handles, like long
wings, Koshin smiled slightly. A
tiny cut, no larger than a single stroke of a paintbrush, appeared along his
throat. It had been almost a
deathblow, missed by a mere inch, and the crystal amulet slipped to the ground,
as if only then understanding that it had been cut cleanly away.
Tenryuu’s wakizashi was extended in readiness, and Nikkan
could see from his place in the darkness that the Mirumoto’s cheek bled from
his own slight wound. Relaxing his
muscles slightly, Tenryuu took a step back, his dark hair caught up in the wind.
Though he was still fully in control, the excitement in his voice was
evident, even against the rising wind.
“Are we finished here, Koshin-san? To strike again, both of us would die…”
For a second Koshin simply watched his opponent’s sword,
watched as a single drop of his own blood slid down the folded blade.
The blade did not part the drop, but instead left it to slide back to the
earth beneath their feet. The dry
earth accepted Koshin’s blood, drank it down and then was silent again.
Then the Crane took his stance again, blades down to his sides, and bared
to the world.
“What is death to us, Tenryuu? I might live many years more if I walk away…but they will
be empty, unless we see this to the end.” There was no resignation in his
eyes, nothing that said that Koshin thought that he would die.
There was only honor, and the grey tint of steel.
Raising his swords again to heaven, the samurai saluted his
opponent. “You are seeking the True Path, Kakita Koshin.
I hope that we will help one another to find it.”
From the darkness, Nikkan could only sit in silence, his
eyes watching as the two readied themselves again by tapping into their own
silent powers, while his mind held to the fallen bit of crystal, and the price,
should Koshin’s strength fail him now.
His back to the western sky, the Mirumoto’s blades
flickered as he took the final stance. Tenryuu
was not smiling; his face was calm as sleep and death.
Looking towards the Mirumoto, then back to his hidden
companion and the shadowed shrine, Koshin’s eyes began to slip away.
Raising Akaruikaze in a salute of his own, the young man smiled
again, fighting back the Shadow’s power with everything that he held dear.
Now they met again, swords striking from one soul to
another. The two moved swiftly
against any weakness, each blade crossing another blade, every step matching
itself, without fail, until at last Tenryuu’s blade descended, the katana
known as Kojiro-ken no Hakachou falling onto Keiteki, ringing out
in the emptiness of the valley.
His eyes slipping deeper into shadow, the Crane pressed on,
time defeating him even as he drove Tenryuu back. The Mirumoto was older; he had slain his first enemy when
Koshin had been only finishing his training.
He was more experienced, more calm and controlled.
But here, with the spirit of the pure strike before him, Tenryuu was
forced to give ground, forced to fall away.
But even as he retreated, the Dragon would not fall before
the swords of the Crane. Tenryuu
was a mountain, formed from discipline and patience and skill, and against a
mountain even Koshin could not find a place that might bleed.
Finally, sitting in the shade of the shrine, Nikkan
understood. Here, with memories
more dancing forms than lessons and his mind cleared, the Crane could finally
embrace the purest stroke that a samurai could find only against his greatest
challenge, a true and equal adversary. Tenryuu
fought on before him, his tenacity and patience holding back the death upon
At last the Mirumoto would retreat no more; standing close
in the thick grass he countered, driving his wakizashi back towards Koshin’s
heart. The Kakita slid forward, Akaruikaze
crossing over his adversary’s chest, forcing Tenryuu to turn his own
swords in order to press the katana away.
The katana in Koshin’s hands crossed over his opponent
many times; this was the technique that he had called the Butuo Kaminari
Batsu, born from the mind that had known both Kakita’s and Mirumoto’s
ways. With progressive, erratic
speed, the swords continued onward, forcing Tenryuu to move quicker and quicker,
barely escaping each shining blade with a parry or lightning dodge.
Then, in a breath, less than an instant, the Kakita changed
his attack. Akaruikaze
flashed forward, touching against Tenryuu’s sword and pushing onward, its
speed sliding it through the Mirumoto’s blade.
It might have been enough, just barely enough for a fatal blow to break
that unwavering defense, but at that moment the harmonies were broken,
shattering cleanly in the steel of Koshin’s blade.
Leaping back as the sword snapped, the Mirumoto kept his swords ready, ragged breaths coming unbidden as the Crane rose from his stance and looked upon the ruined blade. Standing in silence the two men looked towards one another, both of them waiting for a sign that only the other could give…
* * *
Fold passed over fold, as Koshin bound the broken sword in
a shroud of pale blue silk. Wrapping
it again, the samurai tied off the parcel with a tiny piece of thread, leaving
it and the saya resting in the darkness of the shrine.
Rising and returning the crystal to its place across his chest, the
Kakita looked towards the western mountains, towards the setting sun, where
Tenryuu had gone.
Rising and tucking his own swords away, Nikkan said simply.
“It is time to go.”
Leaving the sword, Koshin began to walk north, back towards
the mountains where his only hope for salvation lay. When asked about the Kakita blade, Koshin smiled, his eyes a
paler kind of grey. “I told you already…Akaruikaze was a guide,
Nikkan…that is why Toshimoko gave it to me, to guide me.”
“Now, I am certain it will find its way home, and become
a new dawn. I know that there are
other people that will need such a guide.”
“Then you have found the end of your path?”
Tenryuu was gone already; the Dragon’s path had taken him
south, towards Volturnum or towards some other challenge that neither man could
have foreseen. To them, it was
merely another challenge that the Mirumoto had before him. Still, the Kakita raised his eyes towards the empty weaves of
grasses, a smile, for once devoid of sourness or sarcasm.
“I have found a beginning, at last.
The Way of the Sword is never ending.
Tenryuu-san gave me what no one else could have…” Looking towards the
broken sword with a slightly sad look, the Crane turned and started walking, his
companion to his side.
“…He showed me truth.
Every other time that I drew the sword, there was always a lie haunting
it, always keeping me from finding my full potential. Why I fought, who I was really fighting against…those
simple questions tortured me so many times.”
But no longer.
“We fight for glory, riches, and what we often mistake
for truth and honor. We rise and
fall from grace, and our honor is tested time and time again. The duel is my strength, Nikkan.
The duel is where my heart is, where my soul cannot be touched by
darkness. There, I am not lured by
lies or half-truths.”
“In the duel,” Nikkan whispered to the empty plains,
“You see yourself as you truly are.”
Koshin nodded a final time. “And one day, I will not be afraid when I see the truth.”
“The lonely sword sings
Seeking truth in the darkness
Yet still the snow falls.”
- Mirumoto Nikkan