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
The Crane bowed, “I am Kakita Kojiro, will you join me
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
The young samurai got up and bowed to the newcomer.
“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
“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.”
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