Part One – By Yong Sung Su
It was a terrifying storm. The rain poured down with a fury and the thunder echoed in madness. Lightning flashed, indiscriminately striking out like an angry serpent. The gales thrashed about constantly changing directions, letting out a howl that strangely sounded like laughter. Within its heart stood a lone samurai. His green and gold kimono, moving violently in the wind, proudly displayed the Mon of the Dragon Clan.
Within his hands he held his daisho at ready, displaying
his training in Niten, the two swords of heaven.
Lightning struck shattering the ledge from which the
samurai stood and he plummeted to the ravine below.
He crashed hard into the shallow stream and he felt his ribs crack from
the impact. His bones aching in
pain he stood wearily, his jade eyes trying to stay open as the rain pelted his
face. He felt alone for the first
time in his life. Always before he
felt a presence watching him, guiding him.
But now it was gone. He was
alone and afraid.
At once he gasped in pain.
Dropping his blades into the stream his hands reached for his face.
A primal yell left his lips and he doubled over falling to his knees.
His kimono erupted in flames and from within the smoke a serpentine white
creature emerged. What was once his
tattoo of birth continue to grow and pull free from the bondage that was his
flesh, leaving blood in its wake.
It continued to grow and twist until it surrounded the
young samurai, encompassing all that he viewed.
The dragon’s scales were radiant and white. Its whiskers, long and
majestic, flowed gently among the harsh winds.
Its eyes were like jade and they peered into the fallen samurai’s soul.
Nothing could be hidden from such a being; he was naked to its judgment.
After what seemed to be an eternity the dragon spoke.
Its voice was loud and thunderous, muting out even the violence of the
storm. Every part of the samurai
trembled at its onslaught. Though it spoke clearly, he could not understand what
the creature was trying to say. Its
bestial face grew more agitated and its voice grew impossibly louder.
The pain grew and his mind seemed to shrink into madness, a welcomed
madness. Then there was silence and
he was awake.
The young samurai rose up from his futon. Every pore in his body covered in sweat as the night air chilled the room. Taking in deep breaths he concentrated. Focusing his energy to his Hara as the Togashi monks taught him when he was younger, he was able to steady the beat of his heart. Feeling the calm overtake him, he tried to make sense of his dreams that has haunted him for the last month. Was he going mad? Were the Fortunes angry with him? Was he cursed? Whatever it was he had to find out soon. Or else he truly will go mad.
Approaching the dojo, Ichinori sighed with excitement. It
had been several weeks since his last visit and he felt he was long past due in
paying respect to his sensei. The duties of a Yoriki had kept him busy and time
often seemed very scarce for the young and weary samurai.
He was not overly ambitious, but being a magistrate was an honorable and
respected position. His superiors already speak well of him.
Perhaps, he surmised, his current investigation will prove his worth and
lead to his promotion.
Shaking his head he let all thoughts of work leave his
mind. Finally reaching the dojo a
small smile crept on his face. He
always forgot how peaceful and serene he felt here.
A low wall mirrored within by cherry blossoms surrounded the dojo.
Just inside the Torii arch he could see the small pond and just beyond
that the entrance to the dojo.
Reaching the Torii arch he began the custom he was all too
familiar with. He cleansed his
hands using the clear spring water that flowed into the basin and then clapped
twice to awaken the spirits. Bowing low he thanked the local spirits for their
blessings. Entering his eyes
wandered around courtyard taking in its simplicity and beauty. And there she was, beautiful and elegant, his sensei.
Playing the bamboo flute, she sat at the doorway.
Its haunting tune carried across like the wind and she was like a
delicate flower moving to its voice. She
seemed so timid and fragile, but very few would mistake her for being harmless.
Her skill with the blade was well known throughout Rokugan and not even
the foolish would contemplate challenging Kitsuki Jodome.
He approached her slowly and knelt, waiting for her to
finish her tune. As the melody
faded to an end, he bowed low.
“Konnichiwa, Sensei-sama,” he said with reverence.
Placing the flute to her side, a soft smile came upon her
face. “Konnichiwa Ichinori-san,
it has been too long,” she said bowing in return.
“Hai, I humbly apologize for not coming sooner.
My time is scarce these days.”
She nodded in understanding. “We live in the present and
you are here now. Your company
always brings me pleasure. Please come in and have some tea.”
“Hai, I would like that very much.”
They entered the dojo.
Served by many of the new students, they reminisced of old times.
Gradually the conversation drifted to present and he told her of his
current investigation. Though she was trained in the way of the sword, she was
a Kitsuke, and their legendary ability of observation was well known. She proved
to be no exception as she gave him new insights to explore.
As the night crept upon them Ichinori’s mind began to
wander. His thoughts soon drifted
to his old friend Tenryuu. He met
Tenryuu just past a year ago. It
was in the dojo and Tenryuu was a new student.
He was young and seemingly untrained.
Yet he held his blades like one who was born to them. Ichinori was at first jealous of the little boy.
He saw much promise in him and his position threatened.
After the match, a much more humble Ichinori took a liking to the boy.
Though he was quiet and withdrawn, he could see that the jade eyes of the
boy were not filled with arrogance or pride, but instead filled with life and
Noticing the far off look, Jodome smiled, “Tenryuu is
paying his respects at the shrine of the Seven Fortunes. He should be back shortly.”
Ichinori let out a sigh, “I am afraid I must go now,
Sensei-sama. I perhaps already
stayed to long. Please let
Tenryuu-san know I wish him well.”
“Of course Ichinori-san.
May the Fortunes guide your heart.”
“Domo Arigato.” And with a bow he left into the night.
A young samurai stood at the Shrine of Seven Fortunes, his
heart and body wracked in fatigue. He
had prayed the whole day hoping that it would cleanse him of his nightmares, but
he knew in his heart that the ordeal was far from over. With daylight quickly
fading he headed home.
Save for the melody of the chirping crickets, the dojo
stood quiet and empty. Heading to
the practice area and drew his swords. They
hung at his sides and he stood unmoving. With
a start his blades flashed, moving with fluidity and purpose, striking at the
imaginary enemies. As the kata
winded down, a look of frustration creased his face.
Though the form looked flawless, he knew it was far from
it. He overextended his strikes and
left openings that any skilled swordsman would have exploited.
His concentration was lacking and it showed.
He waited almost expecting harsh criticisms, but none came.
The spirit that guided him was not here.
He had not felt its presence since the dreams began. He snorted in disgust. Had
he failed his guardian as well?
A small but subtle noise came from behind him.
Startled he spun with swords in hand.
Instantly he felt off balanced and with a crack hit the ground.
Peering up he saw his own blade at his throat.
At the other end of the blade he saw a familiar smile.
He got up and bowed, accepting back his sword.
He knew she was a great swordsman, yet he could not help but feel a bit
humiliated that it was taken so easily. He
swore that it would never happen again.
“Your thoughts are scattered, Tenryuu-san.
Do your dreams still haunt you?”
“They are nothing more than dreams, sensei.” He said
defensive than he had planned.
Her eyes lightened, “Do you think you can hide such an
obvious thing? Perhaps the Kitsuki
family has been overrated in their ability of observation?
Or perhaps you think yourself a scorpion, enamored in its secrets?
No, it is plain to see even to those who no longer have eyes.”
“Sensei-sama…. I met no disrespect.
I just did not wish to burden you with such trivial matters.”
A gentle laugh left her lips and for a moment he felt some
relief. “A burden shared is a burden lightened. Explain to me what haunts you while you sleep and perhaps we
can find an answer to this riddle.”
proceeded to tell her of his dreams. Of
being lost in the storm and of the great dragon that spoke to him with words he
could not understand. The feeling
of helplessness as the pain overwhelmed him, night after night.
She listened to every word.
Though her face showed no trace of movement or concentration, she heard
every nuance. Saw every gesture he
made no matter how small. In but a
small moment she knew more about the pain he felt than even he could realize.
After he finished. She paused for but a moment as if in thought.
“I have heard of something like this happening before.
I suspect your case is very similar.
You shall leave tonight.”
In shock he barely whispered, “To where, Sensei?”
“Travel to Heaven’s Spire, I believe you shall find
your answers there.”
“But only the ise zumi go there… it is haunted.” He said, then felt ashamed. Before he came to the dojo the ise zumi were very kind to him. In many ways his only friends.
To be continued…..