Giri – Part Two

By Yong Sung Su



It had been a week since the young samurai left Ryoko Owari.  Traveling on the worn dirt path he could not help but stare in awe of his surroundings.  The trees towered above him and the harmony of the forest could be heard drifting in the wind.  Occasionally he would see the musicians in the branches and he could not help but nod his head to them in respect.  Laughing to himself he swore the birds would return his bow and let out a shrill of acknowledgement. He could understand why many of his Clan would lead solitary lives.

Occasionally his thoughts would drift to the reason he has taken this journey. Being plagued by nightmares, his Sensei had banished him.  She told him not to return until his mind and body was once again whole.  While his nightmares still dominated him while he slept and left him in pain, he no longer feared them.  The forest offered him a haven and when he awoke, it would be there to greet him.  Perhaps his Sensei was right, this trip would do him well.  He wondered if Heaven’s Spire would be just as beautiful.  But alas, that was still a long distance away.

Lying down to sleep, he whispered a small prayer to the Kami.  Please allow me one night without the pain, just one night of peace.  Laying his head down on his hands the darkness took him.  This time the dream was different.  There was no storm, no thunder, and no dragon taunting him.  There was only darkness.  His eyes strained searching, but their only reward was pain and more of the darkness.  Did he find peace at last?  Did the Kami grant his prayers? Walking aimlessly he stumbled about.  For hours he walked.  There was no purpose; there was just the absence of light.

Devoid of the use of his eyes, his other senses took over.  The aroma of the air reeked of mold and fungus, a faint smell of decay.  The beating of his heart thumped and thumped growing louder till the sounds felt like hammers pounding in his mind.  Was this a new test?  Did I finally succumb to the madness?  As the questions flowed in his mind, his steps became labored.  Every step more difficult, as the floor grew stickier.

He fell into the black of the void, his feet entangled.  Crashing hard into wet sticky floor, letting a gasp of air escaped from his lungs.  For a moment he did not move.  Finally with apprehension and a bit of curiosity he felt for what had tripped him.  It was soft and ruffled, covered in a sticky liquid.  It held some warmth and then there was a slight thumping.  Unsteady taps from within, like a heartbeat. He fell back away from the object in horror. 

Was this a man?  Was he dying?  He tried to speak, but his voice held no words.  Then a fire of light erupted and the room was lit with a bluish haze.  Taking a moment for his eyes to focus, he peered down.  Shock crept up on his features.  It was a large bird, once white and magnificent, now covered in its own blood.  It still lived, but only with great difficulty.

A feeling of dread crept in his spine.  Slowly his eyes rose to source of the light, where once there was darkness.  A bluish flame twirled about and within he could see two eyes.  They were filled with hate and malice and they focused on the young samurai.  A sinister laugh erupted as it approached him.  He stumbled back retreating from the beast, but it was too fast and quickly it was on him.  At last he found his voice, only to hear a scream.





Tenryuu awoke with a silent scream.  He jumped frantically wiping the blood from his face.  No, it wasn’t blood.  It was just rain.  Barely a sprinkle, yet just enough to give relief from the midday sun.  Taking in a deep breath he looked about and a forced smile came to his lips.  The birds oblivious to his pain danced and sang in the sky.  It was just another bad dream.  Somehow he was not convinced.

Keeping his head down he continued his trek.  Slower and less enthusiastic his pace slowed.  His mind could not find release the horrifying images.  They were so real; he felt he could still smell the blood on his clothes.  So distracted he did not notice he was on a narrow bridge, nor did he notice the man on the other side.

“Sumimasen, samurai-san,” the man said, “is there anything of great interest on the ground?”

Tenryuu raised his head in surprise and noticed the man for the first time.  The samurai was a handsome man.  His lips held a thin smile as his hand brushed back his white dyed hair.  His light blue kimono shimmered in the slight breeze revealing the Mon of the Crane.  He looked down at Tenryuu with curiosity.

Seeing that the boy was startled he quickly spoke, ”This bridge is quite narrow and I believe I was here first.  So if you would not mind, please turn back so I may pass.”

Pride and anger flickered in the young samurai, but quickly they disappeared and he felt empty. “Hai, you are right.  I will turn back.”

He flicked his wrists with disdain. “I thought the Dragon Clan had more heart.  I see that I was mistaken.  Off with you.  I have no time for cowards.”

Tenryuu spun around anger clouding his face.  “I am no coward.  My blade will show you the true measure of my spirit.”

The Crane laughed, ”To first blood then.  The loser… you, shall jump into the stream and let the other pass.” 

“Hai,” Tenryuu agreed.

There they stood facing each other on a narrow plank that some called a bridge.  The Crane stood calm.  An air of confidence radiated as he viewed the younger samurai.  He saw the anger in the boy’s eyes, but they held no fire.  The younger samurai reacted to instinct not training or ambition.  He would not fight with all his heart. 

Irritation entered the calm state of the Crane and he moved with blinding speed. As fast as his blade was drawn it struck the face of the young dragon.  Blood coursed down between his eyes and he stumbled into the stream.  His sword still in its sheathe.

The Crane began to walk off then thought better of it.  “You will have a scar.  Do not ever again enter a duel with half a heart.”

Tenryuu offered no reply.  “There is no dishonor in losing.  You only dishonor yourself if you don’t learn from it.  Come, there is a village nearby.  We can share some sake and perhaps you can tell me when and where you left your heart.”

The Crane bowed, “I am Kakita Kojiro, will you join me Dragon-san?”

“Hai, I am Mirumoto Tenryuu,” he replied with a bow. “I will remember your lesson well.”




The two samurai traveled until dusk. Most of the trip was filled with Kojiro’s musings.  Mostly he spoke of himself.  His early life was spent as a poet, but that was not to last.  A blood feud with the Lion Clan left his brother dead.  Filled with the need for revenge he took up the sword and quickly rose in the ranks of the Kakita Iaijistu School.  They called him Little Swan, for he moved with graceful elegance and his blade spoke its own poetry.   In the end he got his revenge, but it brought him neither joy nor any peace.

Recently though all that has changed.  He met a beautiful samurai, Shiba Sakura.  She was like a budding flower in the morning sunshine.  She radiated with life and a gentleness that moved the older crane.  Happiness and peace was his once again his to own.  Even now she prepares for their wedding.  Soon they will be together.

Tenryuu found himself liking the older Crane.  Though he was boastful, he still had the heart of a poet.  His travels had taken from the Walls of Kaiu to the Silk Islands of the Mantis.  Each had their own stories to tell, of good men and bad.  His writings have also garnered him some fame among the kabuki theaters.  Though he never seen his stories performed, he heard they were well done.

They soon reached the village.  Most of the homes were made of straw and stone.  They had few luxuries.  Some would display bonsai plants and work their simple gardens, but most did not have the time.  From early dawn the villagers would go out to work the fields, only to return home late during the night.  The nights would be spent in spreading gossip and drinking sake.  It was a simple life, but few villagers would complain.  It was the order of things.

As they entered the village, the silence made them feel at unease.  It was too quiet.  The homes were dark and empty.  They should have returned from the field by now.   Kojiro looked around, his eyes filled with concern.  He passed a glance to Tenryuu.  Words were not spoken, but Tenryuu understood and shared his fears.  They searched the village for any signs of what happened to the villagers

Kojiro motioned Tenryuu over.  He found tracks leading away from the village and the fields.  The markings were many and some held blood.  Without a word they followed, hoping they were not too late.  They traveled for nearly an hour before they heard the voices.  They were loud and joyous.

The two samurai crept up to the edge of the clearing and saw the source of the voices.  There were ten men covered in filth and stank of old stench.  Among them laid a young girl, barely past her gempukku.  Her face still had remnants of ceremonial paint of marriage.  She was not long dead and her naked body was covered in bruises and blood. 

Tenryuu’s body trembled in anger.  Not at the bandits, but at himself.  How could he feel so sorry for himself when others suffer so much more?  While he came to this realization he noticed that two of the bandits no longer drew breath.

Kojiro flowed through the bandits his sword in hand.  Silently he cut through them.  The first bandit died with a smile, his head severed cleanly.  The second fell forward clutching at his intestines, his eyes in disbelief.   Seeing him in motion, Tenryuu could understand why he was known Chiisai Hakuchou, Little Swan.

One of the bandits tried to cut Kojiro from behind, but he did not count on the young dragon.  Tenryuu’s katana cleanly sliced through the bandit’s hands.  He gasped in pain only to choke as his jugular was sliced by the dragon’s second blade.  In but a moment the dragon and crane were back to back.  Their blades at ready.

The bandits circled them wearily.  They did not expect samurai, let alone well-trained ones here.  They were use to preying on the weak and helpless.  Looking at each other they counted their numbers.  Seven to two, they smiled at the odds.  Intelligence was not one of their virtues.  They charged the samurai, expecting to overcome them with their numbers.

Tenryuu met their charge surprising them.  At the last moment he took a step left and swung his katana up underneath the arms of the first bandit.  With a quick twirl around him his wakizashi dove deep into the back of the second.  The third bandit grabbed at the arms of the dragon, succeeding only for a moment as his nose shattered under the barrage of the dragon’s head.  The fourth bandit seeing the plight of his friends ran off in terror.

The crane held back as the bandits charged him.  At the last moment he moved feinting to the left.   As the bandit tried to adjust the crane stepped right, his blade cutting a gaping hole in the bandits stomach.  He then turned the blade and with a slight movement up and forward split the second’s face in two.  Slightly entangled in the second’s body, the third swung seeing an advantage.  The crane only smile as one of his hands thrust out grasping the bandit’s wrist.  With but a flicker the bandit flipped forward onto the ground and let out a scream as he saw his own blade come down into his chest.

Kojiro spun and saw Tenryuu running after the lone bandit.  He yelled, “Do not kill him!  He may know where the villagers are!”

Tenryuu ran after the bandit barely hearing the words of the crane.  The outlaw was not fast, but fear motivated him as he tore through the forest.  Through sheer will and blind luck he eluded his pursuer.  A sigh of relief left his lips as he escaped certain death.

It was as if the forest swallowed him whole. The bandit had escaped; the dragon samurai had failed.  Strangely he felt no anger, only disappointment.  There were no other survivors and the villagers were still missing.   Were they still alive?

His thoughts came to an end as a shrill scream pierced the night.  Running to the source of the scream he came upon a robed figure, its back turned to him wielding a bloody blade.  As he bent down the gold trim of his dark robes glistened in the moonlight.  He wiped the blade across what appeared to be a dead figure. 

Without turning he spoke, ”Good work samurai.  The bandits are all dead, the villagers can now live in peace.”

Slowly the figure turned around.  He brushed back his gray hair from his eyes and smile came to his lips.

Tenryuu stood in shock.  Somehow he recognized this man. There was something in those eyes.  The Dream!  The young samurai thoughts stopped abruptly as his chest caved in and he was flung back.  Struggling to look at the figure, he saw the dark man's hands dripping in blood.  Constricted in pain, the young samurai realized he could not move.

“Maho!” he choked out.

“Good for you!  You figured me out!” he cackled.  “But your discovery will be short lived.”

Tenryuu struggled but it was no use.  He saw the Maho-tsukai raise his blade and bring it down.  The young samurai blinked as a sharp clang was heard and sparks flew in his face.

The crane’s blade pushed back the startled blood sorcerer.  Slowly placing him between the two, he whispered with a smile, “I told you not to kill the bandit.  Oh well that is life.”

“Come Tsukai and feel the sting of Kojiroken no Hakuchou.”  His blade stood ready and shone in the moonlight.

The dark figure charged and their blade flashed with a brilliance.  Surprisingly the dark one fought with great skill and the crane faltered.  The bloody hands grasped the crane's face and bluish flames erupted engulfing the struggling samurai.  A muffled scream of pain left the tortured lips of the crane.

Tenryuu struggled against the invisible bonds that held him.  Frustration and anger overcame him.  The bonds were too strong and his friend was dying.  There was nothing he could do.

“Do not give in!  You are of the Dragon Clan, son of the Mirumoto!  Within you lie the secret of the Ise Zumi!  Unleash the Dragon!”  Yelled the familiar voice in his mind.

Tenryuu looked and saw the transparent image of the ancestor who guided him.  It has been too long since he last saw him, but his word held true.  His blood began to boil and heat scorched the skin on his back as if the white dragon tattoo tried to break.  His jade eyes started to glow and the loosened and gave way.  Letting out an inhuman yell, he jumped the length of the clearing and his blade skewered through the sorcerer.

The sorcerer screamed and threw off the samurai.  Stumbling back he looked at the dragon samurai in shock and fell dead.

Tenryuu wasted no time and ran to his companion. Lifting his head onto his lap, he could not help gape in horror. The crane's face was twisted in bloody scars from the fire.  The crane looked up at the dragon and a weak smile came to his lips.

“See you are already a better swordsman.  Just stick with me and no one can stop you.  That is besides myself.” He coughed out.

“Hai,” Tenryuu nodded.

“You must do me this one favor, Tenryuu-san.  Take my blade Kojiroken no Hakuchou,” he gasped, “no arguments your blade is broken.”

Tenryuu glanced down at his katana and saw it had shattered.

“And take this,” he handed him a jade carving, “it is for Sakura… let her know that I loved her.”

“Hai,” he took the gift.

“One last thing….  I see that you live with pain.  Do not let it control you.  Life is an adventure.  Do not watch it… Live it!”  And with that Kakita Kojiro died.

For a long time Tenryuu did not move. He sat in thought and remembered the man who lived with a love for life.  A man who saved his life at the cost of his own.  He was a hero.  He was a friend.

Tenryuu thoughts were interrupted with a crack of a branch.  Turning his head he saw a man approach.  He wore a straw hat and the robes of a monk.  On his breast there was the Mon of a Dragon.

“Tenryuu-san,” he bowed, “I have been searching for you.”

The young samurai got up and bowed to the newcomer.  “Why?”

“Mitsu-sama sent me to guide you to Heaven’s Spire.”

“How did he know that is where I traveled to?”

“Jodome-sama asked for Mitsu-sama’s aid.”

“I cannot go now… I have another duty to attend to,” Tenryuu’s eyes fell down to the crane.

“Hai, the villagers are already dead.  I saw their bodies.  I feared the worse, for signs of Maho were prevalent.”

“The Maho Tsukai is dead and I have a duty to attend to.  I must go to the lands of the Phoenix.  Then when my duty is over, I shall head to the Mountains for Heaven’s Spire.”

“But Tenryuu-san, Heaven’s Spire is not a physical location.  It is a journey within.  A journey I shall aid you in, no matter where it leads.”

“Domo Arigato.”

The new samurai bowed, “I am Mirumoto Nikkan.”

“The Sentinel?”  Tenryuu asked in awe.

“Just a friend and clansman.  Come we have much to do.”

End of Part Two