By Brent Morgan
- Kakita Kaori
Looking across the dancing waves of tall grass, Miyu tried
for the tenth time to trace the image of the setting sun onto her paper.
The brush moved slowly today, as if it no longer wished to answer her
summons. After a moment of
irritation, the young woman tossed the paper over her shoulder, letting the wind
cast it into the dust by the temple’s door.
The old man’s voice startled Miyu, as Tomo lifted the
crumpled work from the floor. “Another masterpiece created already, little
Rising from her seat in the grass, Miyu’s face blazed in
embarrassment. “Hello, Master Tomo-sama.” As she bowed, the slender girl’s
long ponytail nearly brushed the ground, and her cheeks still flamed as the old
shugenja’s fingers delicately opened the discarded paper.
“It is wonderful work.”
Miyu shook her head fiercely. “I cannot paint anymore,
Master Tomo! Ever since my sister
left for the Shadowlands, I just cannot!” Her cheeks were even more livid now,
at the idea of pouring her heart out to an old man whom she barely knew.
Airei had always said that she was a crybaby, and her
brother had always been forced to defend her from “mean old Airei.”
Right now, Miyu would have taken the words of either one.
The shugenja smiled, sending a thousand wrinkles rippling
over his careworn visage. Holding
the paper as if it was a cherished treasure, the man placed it back into the
girl’s small hands. Miyu was
shaking slightly under Tomo’s eyes, and turning her eyes away so that he could
not continue to stare at her so intently.
After what seemed like an eternity, the old man spoke
again. “Well Miyu-chan, you will
not have any more time to tell yourself that you are losing your talent.”
Looking over at the picture in her hands, the shugenja smirked again.
“Tamako-sama wishes to speak with you, child.”
Blinking, the artisan looked up at the old man, “What?”
* * *
Asahina Tamako sat in the darkness of the
temple, his eyes watching the girl’s nervous fidgeting with great interest.
She was not a strong girl, but nor was she weak.
He knew that her father, Kakita Tsuna, had taught all of his children
something of the sword, but Tamako knew better than to think that was why the
Fortunes had chosen her. There was
something deeper in her...a power that went beyond the body, and into the soul.
He hoped that it would be enough.
“Miyu-san, there is no reason to be nervous.
Have some tea, and be at peace.”
Taking a bit of his own advice, the shugenja sipped his tea
with great delicacy. After a moment
of silence, Tamako began speaking, his voice measured and calm.
“Miyu-san, I have brought you here to ask a
question…what would you do, for the good of the Crane?”
The artisan blinked in a moment of confusion at the
question, but her voice was strong, even in the presence of a man that obviously
intimidated her more than a bit. “I have always tried to do my best for the
clan, Master Tamako-sama. Whatever
the Crane ask, my brother, my sister and I have done.”
The shugenja nodded, turning away from Miyu and lifting an
object, wrapped in pale blue silk and tied with a silver cord, from the darkened
rear of the temple. His slender
fingers held it with great care, and Miyu could not help but remember how a
mother held her child.
Placing it into the girl’s small hands, Tamako smiled
slightly. “The Crane have need of you, Miyu.”
Drawing the silk away carefully, the artisan looked upon
perhaps the most beautiful item she had ever seen, even more wonderful than the
Kakita-forged sword Akaruikaze, which
her brother carried. The wakizashi
was the blue of a spring sky, and the silver bands near the edges of the handle
held pearls and bits of jade. Shining
even in the dim temple, the weapon was as beautiful as the dawn itself.
“What do you want me to do with this, Master Tamako?”
Miyu held the sword tightly, not knowing what more to say.
She was not a warrior; her fits of epilepsy had decided that long ago,
and Miyu knew that only a warrior had a right to carry such a treasure.
“He will need this blade, Miyu-san…and the stars have
told me that you must take it to him.”
Miyu blinked again, not understanding at all.
In idle action, as Tamako continued to watch her, Miyu drew the blade out
from its saya, just an inch.
Her eyes opened wider, and her breath caught in her throat as she saw the
substance of the blade.
“You will take this to Kuwanan-sama, Miyu.
He will need it, before the battle is ended.”
Words failed her. Her
mind screamed a thousand questions, and a hundred thousand reasons why she
should not go into the Shadowlands. But
all of those words fell away as the shugenja’s pinched eyes watched her, and
the dim light grew weaker still. Instead,
Miyu slipped the blade back into its saya,
and she rose from the temple floor.
“I will take this to Lord Kuwanan, Master Tamako-sama.
On my honor, I will…”
Or die trying.
* * *
The samurai was sitting on the outer wall when the shugenja
found him. Tomo said nothing at
first, but instead took a seat next to the tired-looking warrior.
Though he did not react in the least to the old man’s presence, the
samurai’s black eyes followed every movement, and his keen ears caught every
swish of the silken robes.
“It is a good night, is it not, Asai-san?”
Those flashing eyes still did not move, as if the samurai
was worried that the grasses beyond the temple would rise up and attack at any
moment. Daidoji Asai had learned
well the virtue of being observant; it had saved his life many times.
Eventually, the man spoke, his careworn hands clutching the
wall edge tightly. “It is too cold for my tastes, Master Tomo…why did you
seek me out to discuss such things?”
“I have a question to ask of you, Asai-san…”
The samurai knew well of the Asahina and their ways of
speaking in riddles. But Asai had
been until recently a general, a warrior in command of other warriors, and he
too knew how to defeat those that would speak in cryptic words. “Whatever you
wish, Master Tomo.”
The old shugenja had brought with him a servant; as the two
men sipped at their tea, Tomo spoke again, watching the Daidoji’s face
intently as he did. “What would you do, for the good of the Crane?”
Most men would have shown some kind of shock at having
their honor called into question, but Asai was too schooled in war to let his
emotions show. Instead, the Daidoji
sipped his tea in silence for a moment, knowing better than to let his mind race
Finally, in a somber tone, Asai spoke. “Whatever the
Crane have ever asked of me, I have done, Tomo-sama…except to kill anyone that
is not my enemy. Even for the
Crane, I would not do that.”
“Not even to save his soul?” Asked the shugenja, his
wrinkled face empty of emotion.
Asai knew too well what he was talking about.
Even with all of the jade and the amulets of protection of the Asahina,
the Crane could not protect everyone in the face of the Taint.
Though at times the Daidoji warrior felt regrets at not being permitted
to follow his lord, there was not a day that he was sad at being spared the duty
of “giving final mercy.”
“I would spare them that…” Asai’s shining eyes
turned at last, staring at the shugenja. They
were filled only with conviction, not having any resignation or hate. “For my
clan, for my honor, Tomo…I would give them peace.”
Nodding, the shugenja returned his tea to the waiting
acolyte. After the young man had
vanished, the shugenja turned to face the samurai. “Then will you perform what
we need of you, now?”
“Hai, Master Tomo.”
In the days that would follow, filled with danger and
hardship, Daidoji Asai would question many things.
His strength, his sanity, and his ability to carry out this mission
alone. All this and many more
things he would question, but the Daidoji would never question his promise to
* * *
Standing quietly in the shadows just on the edge of the
torchlight where Tamako had told her to remain, Miyu fidgeted as the shugenja
spoke with yojimbo after yojimbo,
judging each samurai by some kind of test that the artisan could not fathom.
After each one, the Asahina bowed deeply, but each one he sent away.
The wakizashi rested in Miyu’s obi. The
weapon was perfectly balanced and forged, and yet she could not help but think
that it had grown heavier since she had first held it.
Since she had learned of its purpose and the journey that
she must make.
And if Tamako did not soon find what he was searching for,
it seems that she was destined to walk the path alone.
The thought chilled Miyu to the bone, even so much that she did not
notice at first that the next bushi had entered the room.
Bowing low before the Asahina, the man introduced himself
simply as Daidoji Asai. He was not
what Miyu expected of a Daidoji. Of
medium height, the samurai’s face was weathered, making him look older than he
really was. Dressed in a plain
kimono and hakama and wearing no weapons save for his daisho,
the samurai was far from Miyu’s imagined protector.
Yet his sharp eyes were the only ones that noticed her in
the darkness, and even when he fully faced the daimyo
with a slight swish of black hair, the man’s attention remained firmly on the
girl in the darkness.
After a moment of quiet muttering between the samurai and
the shugenja, Tamako nodded to Asai with a smile.
The Daidoji stood silent, as if carved of some harsh breed of rock, even
when the shugenja turned to call Miyu to the floor.
For several moments, the young girl stood, face flushed,
before the samurai. Asai looked her
skinny form over, head to toe, his eyes flickering like the torches to his side.
Though his face never wavered, she could sense the doubt, now that Tamako
had told him what he must do.
Still, in the end, the samurai turned back to the Asahina,
telling him what he would need for the long ride.
Miyu knew nothing of such things, of rations or horses or the other
strange items that the Daidoji requested, but the shugenja only nodded sagely,
as if Asai’s words showed great wisdom.
Once Asai had left the room, Tamako dismissed the
attendants and walked with Miyu into the garden.
Kneeling to examine a delicate chrysanthemum, the shugenja spoke without
looking up at the artist. “What do you think of Daidoji Asai, Miyu-san?”
“He frightens me.” Miyu had thought for a moment of
saying something braver, but her mother had told her that the greatest courage
is in revealing the truth. “His eyes are very sharp, and the way he looked at
me scared me, Master Tamako-sama.”
nodded, his thin face seeing the worry in Miyu’s eyes.
Tamako knew how much he was placing on the girl’s shoulders…had he
not seen this in his visions, he would have questioned the reasons to send a
lone samurai and a young girl into the Shadowlands, when all the Clans fought in
vain to defeat the evil.
But Shinsei’s wisdom had guided him this far, and Tamako
would not refuse it now.
“Asai is a man that has suffered much, Miyu-san.
He has fought many battles, killed many men…it is only right that you
be afraid of him.” The shugenja smiled slightly, watching as Miyu idly
sketched a figure of a budding iris blossom.
“But his is a man of great honor, Miyu-san.
I would not have chosen him, if I did not believe that to be so.”
Nodding almost to herself, the girl crumpled up the paper
and tucked it into her kimono. As
she turned from the garden, Tamako spoke to her again. “Remember, Miyu-san, to
sleep well tonight.” He left the words unsaid, but still they chilled the
Tomorrow you ride to the Shadowlands.
* * *
Dressed once more in his plain, worn armor, Asai stood in
the temple of his ancestors, his head bowed low to the floor.
As the samurai whispered to the spirits that could no longer hear his
words, he drew strength from the deeds of his past, just as the heroes of his
past were drawing strength from his belief in them.
Then, as if some great weight had been lifted, Asai rose,
binding back his dark hair with a band of white cloth.
Reaching down to lift his yari from
where it lay, the Daidoji raised the weapon so that the shaft was directly
before his eyes, then swept it down in a samurai salute.
“I will not fail you.”
Stepping out into the morning light that seemed to still
rule over the lands of the Asahina, the samurai checked over his horse for a
final time. There was no need; the
Asahina neglected nothing, but Asai trusted few men now, in the wake of the
The pieces of jade, the rations and the water, all of it
was as he had wished it. A quiver
of arrows, their edges of crystal and jade, had also been placed on the pack,
lying beside the same dai-kyu the
Daidoji had carried since his youth.
Everything was ready, and something more.
Glancing over towards the nearby Asahina daimyo,
Asai held up the small potion. Inside
its crystal vial, a soft blue liquid shimmered in the light, and Asai would have
sworn that it was made of liquid gems.
Tamako only smiled to him, then turned back to speak to the
As Miyu came up to him, the Daidoji frowned slightly.
He did not understand Tamako’s reasons, for it was obvious that this
girl was not a samurai-ko in any sense of the word.
Though she wore her swords with relative ease, her armor was poorly tied,
and she carried neither a helmet nor any other weapons.
Still, if he could manage it, neither of them would need to
grip their swords.
“Are you prepared, Miyu-san?”
The girl was probably more than ten years younger than Asai,
and he knew by now how to recognize fear. But
she nodded, gripping an article wrapped tightly in blue silk, tucked deep within
her obi. “I am grateful for your help, Asai-sama.”
Mounting up his horse, the Daidoji laid his yari across his
saddle. “You may call me simply Asai, Miyu-san.
I do not need pleasantries.”
Flushing red (it was quickly becoming her usual pallor),
the artisan nodded in her slightly tilted armor. “Of course, Asai-san.”
Turning his horse towards the south, the Daidoji offered a
final glance towards the Asahina, now mere spots against the walls of the
temples. As he rode ahead of her,
the samurai spoke, breaking the silence that had suddenly fallen. “They never
told me what this quest will accomplish, Miyu-san.
Will you tell me?”
It was not the voice of a nosy man, or an enemy probing for
secrets. She knew that the samurai
was asking for one simple reason: if she died, he needed to know.
Biting her lips as she began trembling slightly, the girl
gripped tighter to her horse’s reins. “We are doing what our clan asks of
us, Asai…we are going to help our Champion defeat the darkness.”
Nodding almost to himself, the Daidoji felt the strength in
his heart rising, a strength that he had not felt in many days.
Reining his horse around to look at the girl, the samurai smiled
“For the honor of the Crane, I will not let anything harm
you, Miyu. I will be at your side,
from beginning until the end.”
Miyu nodded to the bushi,
her face calm in the light of Asai’s courage. “Thank you, Asai-san…”
Thank you for everything that you are willing to lose.
* * *
The Shadowlands were silent.
Asai sat in the darkness, his bow resting beside him, and
his katana ready besides. The
samurai watched over the desolate wastes, their colors washed clean by the
moonlight. The small fire of the
campsite threatened to die upon him at any moment, but the Daidoji made no move
to tend to it.
If he needed any light, Asai knew that the moon would bring
it to him.
Beside him sat Miyu, her pale head tilted beside a large
stone in sleep. The girl’s armor
was scratched and worn, as were the clothes of her yojimbo,
and the dust of the long ride clung to all of them.
The horses, placed further in the darkness of the camp’s hidden
position, were nervous and skittish, but remained too tired to move very far.
All in all, Asai reasoned, they were tired and worn, but
had ridden deeper into the Shadowlands than anyone that he had ever spoken to,
without seeing a single thing.
There were signs of the monsters, of course…this was
their land, and the Oni sometimes chose to remind the Crab of that.
The samurai had tried to turn Miyu away, but the girl’s eyes had seen
too much, nonetheless. The great
burnt spots of ground, the corpses of samurai, rent to shreds by mighty
claws…all of it, her eyes had seen, now.
Never again would Miyu write poetry of love and triumph;
never again would she sing of happy things.
Of the Clans, there were only the distant forms of fire and
dust. There was no sound.
There were no runners, no men returning to the Walls for reserves.
There were no reserves to send. The
Empire fought for its heart and its soul, and it did so with every samurai whose
blade could be raised.
Again, Asai watched the darkness, his callused hands moving
slowly to lift the bow from where it lay. Miyu
moved slightly, her tired eyes opening wide with sudden fear.
The artisan said nothing, made no sound to reveal them, however, as the
Daidoji crept to the edge of the hillside, his shining eyes gazing deeply into
the shadowed valley below.
Somewhere in the darkness of the valley floor, shadows
moved. The creatures of the
Shadowlands, formless against the darkness cast over them by the hills beyond,
crept through their homeland, unchallenged and unafraid.
They were searching for something, Asai knew.
They were searching for a little girl, who carried something that they
wished to destroy.
Asai did not know why the wakizashi was important; it was
not his duty to ask. But as the
shapes of three massive ogres stepped from the valley darkness and onto the foot
of the hill, the samurai was ready to do his duty, regardless of what shadows
stood in his way.
“You must remain here, in the darkness, Lady Miyu-san.”
His words were a harsh whisper, and they left no room for any challenge.
Miyu felt her hands shaking, but they gripped tightly her
own blade. “I will, Asai-san. I
Knowing better than to face the monsters with the girl so
close, the samurai crept through the darkness, moving south along the rocky
slope. He made little sound as he
did so, and the ogres, their horrid faces will teeth and horns, could only turn
about in agitation as pebbles slipped from stone.
Pulling from his quiver an arrow of jade, the Daidoji rose
like the sun atop a mighty boulder. One
of the ogres saw him, and it shattered the silence with a thunderous roar.
The arrow flashed forth without hesitation and the roar died in the birth
of a shriek of pain.
As the first monster gripped its ruined eye, the other two
began to move quickly towards their enemy, but the Daidoji was already gone.
From the darkness, arrows came, the running form of the
samurai always beyond the mighty hands and clubs of the ogres.
As the night pressed on and Miyu watched from their hidden lair, Asai’s
mind wove a brilliant path, pulling the ogres away from their prey.
Standing in the center of the valley once again, the two
remaining ogres drew deep breaths from massive chests, their huge forms each
bearing three arrows rising towards the sky like strange plants born of
corruption and pain.
They had not been prepared for the Daidoji; the samurai was
too swift, too clever in his movements. From
the darkness his deception defeated them; Asai had removed their strength,
denied them the use of their numbers.
Against the flight of the samurai’s arrows, they were
nothing more than targets, blood and bone rather than paper and wood.
Another arrow came, striking the first beast in the neck.
The monster tried to roar, but life’s blood and breath were denied it,
and the creature died in silence, its talons digging into the blackened ground
as the final moments ran away.
“Coward!” Called the ogre into the darkness that had
borne the arrow. The creature knew
little of the meaning behind the word, but it was grown crafty in watching the
humans in their walls and armies, and knew that of this word they were afraid.
Stepping from the darkness, Asai stood, staring at the ogre
as the thing smiled an evil grin. His
yari was in his hand now, a slender bit of steel and wood against the ogre’s
High above the two warriors, Miyu felt her heart catch as
the Daidoji raised his weapon. Against
the dark hide of the ogre, Asai was a small thing in the moonlight, and his fine
armor seemed like little protection against the huge tetsubo that the ogre had
Her hands were shaking quickly now, and though Miyu bit
into her lip with enough strength to draw blood from it, she could not quell the
feeling, born of her own desperation and fear.
But Daidoji Asai was a samurai…there was no place in his
heart for desperation or fear. He
filled his mind with courage and control, leaving his trouble worn face placid,
and his breath quiet against the monster’s roars and angry rage.
This was not to be a duel of honor and skill; not a match
between a master and a master. The
ogre fought with strength and fury, and the Daidoji with patience and control.
He moved and twisted, forcing the ogre to turn its massive blows, like
forcing a river’s course to change. His
slender spear turned aside the crushing blows with great talent, and waited for
an opening to be arranged.
Sooner or later, the ogre would make a mistake, Asai knew,
and when it did, the blade would taste its enemy’s blood at last.
Finally, the yari struck, snapping in two at it pierced the
thick chest of the onrushing ogre. Falling
back and drawing his katana, Asai continued to strike and retreat, his blade
moving with the speed of a dancing snake. In
a few moments, the creature of the Shadowlands lay dead before the samurai of
Rokugan, and Asai called up to Miyu, knowing better than to remain in the valley
No answer came from the darkened cliff, and the Daidoji’s
heart froze. It was at that moment
that he saw the ogre’s body revealed in the light of the moon, as the face
For even Asai could not have known of the mind of the
Shadow, and he could not protect Miyu from the deepest concealed of blades…
“You have nothing left to fight for, now.”
The ninja gripped Miyu tightly around, formless fingers of
blood holding tightly to the terrified girl’s shaking form.
She stood at the gates of death even now, only a swift blade away from
her final rest. Only one thing
remained to hold the Goju’s hand, one final person whose death remained.
Stepping under the overhang with katana drawn, the
Daidoji’s weathered visage did not widen at seeing the artisan held in the
Shadow’s embrace. His shining
eyes remained calm in the darkness, as dead as the ninja’s own pale eyes.
Raising his blade for the fatal descent, the ninja watched
the samurai’s face. Asai waited,
his hands ready and loose around his blade.
A smile appeared on the face of the ninja, as the face
became Uji, became Kuwanan…as the ninja became as the Crane.
“You have lost, samurai.
You will be the next to die.”
Miyu’s hands were shaking madly now, and she could no
longer hear the Goju’s whispered words. But
still the hands gripped the pale blue sword in the darkness, as if she knew all
too well of the price that their failure might bring.
“We will not fail, ninja.”
Awaking to her guardian’s voice, Miyu’s brow tensed as
she gripped the shining blade. With
a strength and speed created from Asai’s strength, the wakizashi moved.
Movement was a blur, as the ninja blade fell and the yojimbo
lunged. Miyu’s body crashed to
the ground in a constant shudder and a single valiant slash as the Goju shrieked
and Asai grunted in pain.
Thrust through his shoulder was the ninja’s sword, and in
the Daidoji’s other hand stood his family’s katana, its ancient blade thrust
into the Goju’s heart, black blood dripping as the tip remained buried in the
stone beyond the enemy.
Leaving his sword in the dying ninja and the stone of the
Shadowlands, Asai moved to hold the Kakita.
Miyu was shaking badly now, and the Daidoji knew little of what he could
do to stop the course of the affliction. In
the end, she awoke in his arms, coughing and retching, the form of the faceless
creature still resting on the Crane’s blade.
“I owe you my life, Asai-san…thank you.”
For once, a smile crept over that impassive face, as the
Daidoji retrieved his sword and wiped clean the blood from the blade.
His shoulder ached and bled badly, but Asai merely watched as the
Kakita’s gentle hands cleaned and bound the wound, her fingers probing the
body’s energy, and driving away the pain.
“I made you a promise,” He said as Miyu finished her
work. “Now we must move quickly, before anything else comes to the smell of my
As they packed up their few belongings, the samurai and the
artisan looked towards the coming dawn for a single time, before turning their
weary horses toward the south, where Volturnum lay.
Somewhere in that bleak landscape was Kuwanan, and Miyu knew that she
must fulfill her own promise to the Asahina.
* * *
The winds brought the first warning to the Daidoji that
they had neared the raging battle. As
Miyu sniffed the air with a questioning look, she turned to face the samurai.
“What is that smell?”
Asai frowned. “It is blood, Miyu…it is human blood.”
The artisan gripped her katana tightly, but no matter how
strong her spirit might have been, it could not have been ready for the sight
that the two Crane beheld upon cresting the final hill in their long, dark
Asai’s eyes had seen pain before.
He had fought against the Lion; he had fought bandits and monsters
before. But as he looked down into
the valley, upon the ravaged armies as they tore at each other’s hearts, even
the Daidoji paled.
Miyu’s face went white, but she could find no strength,
no breath to scream.
Samurai and shugenja fought valiantly against the horde.
Never had Asai seen such a battle, where monsters and men fought against
each other with such horror, ripping apart bodies with blades and teeth and
claws. He smelled the stench of
burning flesh, and watched the dark creatures feed.
It was the grim spectacle of had been the Day of Thunder.
If it was not worse…
The Kakita girl’s hand touched his hand gently, and Asai
ripped his eyes away from the carnage. Following
Miyu’s eyes, the Daidoji could now see the swords of the Crane, flashing
valiantly against the writhing darkness.
“They are across the field…” Miyu’s voice was
filled with despair, at the sight of a thousand of her nightmares barring the
path to her goal. “We must get to them.”
Recovering his courage with a grim determination, Asai
stiffened in his saddle. His
shining eyes followed the row of hills to the west, circling along behind the
legions of the Lion and the Crab, “Then we will go around them.”
So they began the final leg of the dangerous mission, the
Daidoji weaving their way around rocks and gullies, lying hidden as Oni and
goblins crept by. It was slow
going, and dangerous too, for the only path that could shield them from dark
eyes carried the artisan and samurai even closer to their enemy’s waiting
By nightfall, the two lay hidden in the darkness, a lone
finger of the black army separating them from the armies of the Crane.
As Miyu rested and fought the urge to allow her spasms to grow any worse,
Asai crept slowly towards the raging enemies, trying to find a final path.
The Daidoji returned moments later, his face ashen. “The
army has turned to the West.”
Miyu looked up in confusion.
The Daidoji explained the situation frankly; he had never possessed any
talent for colorful words. “There is no way to go around them now, Miyu…we
must either wait and hope that the Oni move their forces again, or fight our way
“We must find another way,” the artisan said simply.
His eyes betrayed him even before he spoke the words.
“There is no other way.”
As the whisper struck her, the last bit of strength slipped
away from Miyu. Her newly sunken
cheeks, her half-starved and dirty form; none of this had hurt her spirit in the
least. But when Asai said that they
must fight through the darkness, the little girl’s courage shattered.
She was only fourteen years old; she still had a right to
cry. But when she wrapped her arms
around Asai’s neck and continued to weep quietly, the Daidoji was thrust into
foreign land. He knew nothing of
tears…he had not cried when his brother had died in the Civil War, nor when
news came of the death of his sister.
Asai understood pain well, but he did not understand her
tears. She could not be afraid to
die, truly…he knew that she would not have come this far if she was.
“I am sorry, Asai…I am still such a little baby…”
Removing himself from her arms, the Daidoji looked into her
eyes. He had seen the eyes of men
who were afraid…even Lion and Crab had regrets, and the Crane of the civil war
certainly did. Miyu was not afraid
to die here…rather, the artist was afraid that some things would be left
“You will finish your quest, Kakita Miyu.
We all do what we must do, and you and I, we must not fail.”
Drawing his katana from its sheath, Asai stared at the
ancient blade. It represented
everything that his family believed in. Honor.
Miyu looked into the shining blade too, though what she saw was only a
reflection, of an honor that was all her own.
“Please help me,” Asai whispered, though only in the
voice of his mind. “Help me to
stand on my own. I know that you
are still here, father.”
“Help me to do my duty.
Help me to serve my clan.”
“Not yet,” Miyu said, reaching into her pack of meager
belongings. She rummaged for a
moment before removing a brush from the ruined furoshiki,
and then the artisan pressed it into against the bushi’s forehead.
The brush moved slowly, delicately, and Asai saw calmness fill the girl
where despair had ruled a moment ago.
Withdrawing her brush, Miyu smiled weakly. “That is all
that I can give you, Asai.”
Holding his sword, the Daidoji nodded, the symbol of
protection shining crimson in the darkness of the night, “Together, Miyu, we
will finish this.”
* * *
He was one man, and she was one woman.
One man and one woman, against a thousand monsters, or more.
In his hands were a single sword, one blade against a thousand talons and
claws. As the Daidoji came forward,
there was confusion at the enemy coming from behind their legions, but confusion
was not fear.
And Asai knew that soon, the confusion would be gone, and
his enemy would replace it with hatred and blood.
Hatred for the samurai that assailed them…leaving the running figure of
a small Kakita little more than a glance before the battle.
Turning to face the girl, the Daidoji nodded to her through
the splattered blood. “Your way
is clear, now, Miyu-san! Remember
me, when the time comes!”
She knew better than to argue.
Rather, the girl hesitated for a moment, her eyes shining as they took in
everything that was Asai. No words
were spoken, no time was wasted.
Then she was gone.
The katana screamed, its keen edge slicing through the
misshapen forms of goblins and stabbing deep into ogre flesh.
Asai was screaming a battle cry, adding his own breed of chaos to the
horde. Off balance and unprepared,
the samurai was a lone terror, though his fervor died abruptly as an Oni’s
talon ripped through his side, breaking through flesh and armor, sinew and bone.
Crashing to the black earth, Asai’s bright eyes turned to
face the monster. It towered over
him, a horrible creature of steel and stone.
Flaring eyes of fire looked down upon the samurai and a mouth of teeth
and blood worked itself into an evil smile.
Gripping his katana firmly in his right hand, the Daidoji
looked up into the eyes of his own death, and his brow furrowed in concentration
for the task at hand. In his other
hand was the crystalline vial of the Asahina, its liquid still shining like the
“I am ready.”
* * *
Running through the ruined ranks of the samurai, Miyu tried
not to think. Her thin legs moved
quickly, dodging past lines of spearmen and goblins crashing in to one another
with blades raised. No one paid any
attention to the small girl running through the field; each mind was set towards
saving their own life.
After what seemed like an eternity of running and dodging,
Miyu crashed to the ground surrounded by the kenshinzen
of the Crane. Pulling her to her
feet, one of the samurai finally spoke to her, his thin face covered with dirt
and grime, and his white hair singed as if by fire.
“What are you doing here, sister?”
Looking up at the samurai, Miyu tried to explain herself.
She was going too fast for the man, however, and he turned back to the
front lines as he answered her. “Stay with me, child!
This is no place for you. We
can finish your duty later.”
Duty…Miyu blinked as she looked out into the field.
The Kakita had no idea where Asai was, now, but nonetheless the artisan
turned back to the samurai, “I need your help!
I left my yojimbo out
The swordsman looked at her, “You can’t go back out
there! If anyone is there, then
he’s dead already!”
Shaking her head with conviction, Miyu turned back towards
the field, “I know he’s still alive!” With that, she was dashing off
through the battlefield, leaving the shouts of the kenshinzen
fading behind her. As Miyu dashed
back into the bloody chaos, there was only one thought with her.
Hold on, Asai-san. Hold
As she stepped back onto the front lines, Miyu finally drew
her katana from its sheath. The
blade bit deeply into a gibbering thing’s shoulder, forcing the four-legged
beast to withdraw with a hissing howl. The
artisan held her sword tightly as her eyes moved about the entire field,
shouting at the top of her voice against the roar of the field.
Eventually, like the turning of the ocean’s tide, the
armies dragged each other into a different part of the valley, leaving
stragglers and the wounded still battling around the artisan.
By now, tears stung Miyu’s eyes, and the gore of five different enemies
bloodied her sword.
“Asai…” The words died in her throat, as she saw the
shining blade lying on the dirty ground.
Laying in the dirt, the yojimbo’s
body was silent, his hand extended towards the katana.
Slowly, Miyu lifted the sword from the ground, reaching out and slipping
the simple handle into his weathered hand.
As she did, the hand moved, and Miyu retreated with a yell.
She could not take this, not see him rise from death to fight again…
Pulling himself up, Asai did indeed look almost like he was
dead. But the samurai was alive and
breathing ragged breaths, barely alive, as Miyu half pulled his heavy form with
its ruined armor to his feet.
“Didn’t I send you to finish something…?” His sharp
eyes looked at her, but his dry lips had worked themselves into a smile.
Smiling weakly as she pulled him up to a standing position,
the artisan shook her head. “Remember that you are my yojimbo,
Asai-san…I think that I am the one supposed to be in command.” Her hands
were trembling slightly, but her slender muscles still held the Daidoji strong.
As they turned from the blasted heath, the weary duo was greeted by a lone kenshinzen. Frowning at the little girl, the slender man helped to hold Asai up. “All the samurai in Rokugan come here to fight, and we are humbled by the courage of a little girl.”
As they helped the Daidoji back through the carnage to the
tents of the Crane, the artisan could not help but smile.
After all, how often could a simple artist know the joy of preserving a
life, and at the same time complete her mission to the Crane?
* * *
Kneeling before the Doji Lord, Miyu could not help but feel
the dryness in her own mouth. His
eyes were sharp and harsh to look upon, and in his armor he seemed like one of
the Fortunes, a being from beyond, returned to do battle.
“…And so I did as Master Tamako-sama commanded, Lord
Kuwanan. I have brought you this
Nodding without a word, the samurai accepted the beautiful
gift. Drawing the short sword from
its saya, the man’s sharp eyes
looked upon the shining reflections of the blade.
Carved from a single piece of jade, the wakizashi shone with runes of
crystal in the symbols of honor and duty.
“He said that you would need it, Kuwanan-sama, before you
Looking on the blade, Kuwanan nodded.
He spoke at last, his voice commanding and ready, but nothing in it was
the resignation that the Kakita might have expected. “You have done your duty
in bringing me this, Miyu-san. Know
that I will do mine.”
“I will see that you are taken safely beyond the valley,
Kakita-san…the Daidoji will find the two of you a way.” With that, Kuwanan
dismissed her, leaving him to sit in the darkness of the tent, and regard the
glimmer of the blade.
Stepping into the dirty, bloody world beyond the tent, Miyu
could not help but smirk a little as she saw Asai waiting.
The shugenja had tended to his many wounds, but the bruises still made
his face seem a bit more monster than man.
Beside the Daidoji stood the kenshinzo,
Doji Kijiro. The man was cleaner
now, and tucked into his armor were three small pieces of jade, gifts from the
artisan and the shugenja of the Crane. She
had given out every piece that they could spare, along with shimmering crystals
sent along just the same.
It was all that they had been able to carry, but even all
this would not be enough.
“Are you returning home now, Miyu-san?” Kijiro’s
handsome face and voice made the girl blush slightly, and she smiled as he
pressed a scroll into his hand.
“It is for my wife,” the Doji explained with a bitter
face. “I know that I can trust you.”
Nodding, the girl walked over to the waiting samurai.
Looking with a crooked smile to Asai’s face, the girl lifted her ruined
pack. “I am ready if you are, Asai-san.”
The yojimbo nodded
simply, his hands resting on his blade.
Later, as they stood on the top of the hills and looked
upon the carnage for a final time, Miyu turned to face the Daidoji, “Do you
think that they will make it, Asai?”
Holding onto his horse’s reins, the samurai nodded, his
face grim. “The Shadow thinks that they have nothing to fight for.
We have lost a great deal, but they will win.
Each thing that the enemy takes from us makes what remains more precious,
“That is why we will win.”
The Road to Volturnum Continues…