"Mistress! Mistress! Please, Kaede-sama!"
From her place by the pond Kaede turned her head towards the yells and what she saw surprised her; Mekura was running towards her and yelling at the height of her voice. As she wondered why Mekura was so upset, she also wondered how she had found her and how she could run around without bumping into people and tripping over things, surely she didn't know the palace as well as that. Mekura came to halt just in front of Kaede, panting and sweating she was fighting for air to speak, Kaede looked up at her and she found something in Mekura's eyes, something strange and at the same time strangely familiar, a sparkle of the Void she had only seen in a few others, including her younger brother Ningen. "What is wrong, Mekura," Kaede asked, "why are you so upset?" Just as she wanted to speak, Mekura stood perfectly still for a moment as she remembered that she had forgotten to bow, she did so quickly, but deeply and spoke. "Mistress, it's Okugi-san! He went to sleep last night, but hasn't awoken and doesn't respond to my calling and prodding." Kaede gave Mekura a surprised look and asked, "Well, some people can sleep very deep, I don't see why you are so upset about this?" Mekura shook her head and replied, "No, no! Okugi-san usually never sleeps! And if he ever does he is up before first light! It isn't natural for him to sleep at all, please Mistress, trust me!" Mekura pleaded Kaede with her eyes and words and finally Kaede nodded, "Very well, take me to him," she said, "I will see what I can do." Immediately serving girls crowded around Kaede to help her stand and together they all went to Okugi's quarters.
* * *
" Blood!" With that one word Maigo was off his horse and onto his opponents. Not even their sheer number scared Maigo and before the bulk of the group had reached him, five of the ronin lay on the ground, bleeding out their last life. Maigo was surrounded , yet none of the ronin could touch him, so it took them the better part of a minute to die to the last man. During the moments the fight lasted Maigo could feel the fire of his soul well up and scream to be released, when he had killed the men he thought he'd released his anger, but still the sensation lingered. He took several deep breaths, flicked the blood off his katana and sheathed it, the fire died out slowly and when he finally felt in control again he got back up his horse and headed back to his daimyo's residence.
"How were things along the road, Maigo?"
Kneeling in front of his daimyo and adoptive father, Akodo Gentaru, Maigo was giving him the report of his guard duty. "All was quiet for but one skirmish." 'And a dream,´ Maigo said and thought, "On my way back I encountered twenty-some ronin bandits, but they were dispatched easily." Gentaru nodded in approval, "You could have been my true son, Maigo, though I might have treated you harshly, it was because I knew you had greatness in you where others had none, know that you are as dear to me as my own progeny." Maigo was caught by surprise, he never thought his adoptive father would say this, but as a good samurai he nodded and kept his feelings to himself, knowing his 'father' would appreciate it more this way. "That will be all, Maigo-san. You may leave." Maigo stood bowed to his father with respect and left the audience chamber. Upon leaving the chamber he immediately headed for his daimyo's chief shugenja's quarters. Arriving at the shoji door he kneeled and said, "Kitsu Senkensha-san, are you there?" The shoji panel slid open and a servant let Maigo into the room saying, "the master will see you in a moment, samurai-sama." After showing Maigo a seat the servant bowed and left the room.
"What is it you want from me, Maigo-san?" The Kitsu shugenja had taken place opposite to Maigo after he'd waited a few minutes, Senkensha was an old, but well respected man, he was powerful in the ways of the kami and an apt strategist too. His frail and old form gave no credit to the strong man he once was, but still his posture was that of a proud and true Lion. Maigo didn't know how to begin, but tried anyway, "During my duties I had a strange dream. A peasant sneaked up to me and insulted me, I killed him, but he stood again the next moment, I killed him again and checked his breath, but this time he grabbed me by the throat and threatened to kill me He said, 'I am coming for you! For you AND the other of the blood! Though your powers might just be a spark now, that spark will become a flame, a flame turns into a fire and the fire ends in an inferno. But I will be the firestorm that burns you away before you reach your full potential! Remember this and live in fear!' That's what he said! It's still fresh in my memory. Can you tell me what it he or it was? Perhaps some spirit? And it also knew my name "
After 'hmmm-ing' and stroking his beard for a minute or two, Senkensha looked Maigo directly in the eyes and said, "I am afraid that I can conclude little more than you have, Maigo-san. It does seem that you have somehow earned the wrath of a powerful ghost. I am sorry, but I cannot help you " Both men bowed to each other, Maigo a little deeper, and stood, Maigo left the shugenja's quarters and the old priest went back to whatever he was working on. Still unsure what to do, Maigo decided that he couldn't do anything about the matter right now and headed for the dojo, hoping to vent some of his anger during training.
* * *
"He's traveling " Mekura gave Kaede a confused look and said, "Travelling? I don't understand Kaede-sama, how can he travel while his body is still?" Kaede smiled ensuring and answered, "He travels through the Void, what he sees I do not know, where he is or where he'll go I cannot say, but he is not in any danger from this. When his travels are done he will wake up again." Mekura let out a relieved sigh, "Thanks," she replied, "I will watch him to see to it that he is ok." Kaede stood and walked towards the door, as she slid the shoji aside she turned her head and asked, "Mekura, how did you find me? You are blind, aren't you? How could you run through the palace without stumbling into anyone or anything?" Again Mekura sighed and she turned her head in Kaede's direction, their eyes locked and when Kaede saw what was in Mekura's eyes she no longer needed an answer, all she said was, "I see " Kaede left Mekura alone with Okugi and headed back to talk to her husband.
"Ah, Kaede-chan! Where were you? I thought we'd meet here earlier?" Toturi smiled as he saw his wife and joked, "Or did you forget our 'meeting'?" Kaede returned the smile and said, "No, husband, something came up. Mekura came to me running and yelling that something was wrong with Okugi." As soon as Okugi's name left Kaede's lips Toturi's face grew hard, "What's wrong with him then," he asked sternly. Kaede sighed at her husband's harsh response and answered, "He's travelling through the Void, that's the only way how I can explain it. He's probably having visions again, but if they are about the past or future or something else, I cannot say." Toturi nodded and after a few breaths his face lightened again and he said, "Let us talk about other things, shall we? About our children perhaps?"
* * *
"Maigo-san, come quickly, Maigo-san!"
Maigo stopped his kata and turned to look at the entrance of the dojo, standing there was one of his younger 'brothers'. "What's wrong Toshidama," Maigo asked, "Why are you so upset?" The boy looked haunted and replied, almost screaming, "There's a group of Crane who came here looking for father! They are with him now! They didn't seem to come here for a friendly cup of tea! Please, Maigo-san, go and look if you can help father!" Maigo sheathed his sword and was running towards the keep within seconds. When he arrived at the courtyard there was a battle going on, about 30 Crane were fighting against only 10 house guards and already were there 7 of samurai of his clan dead or dying, among them his father. When he saw the scene Maigo immediately felt the fire building inside him, but this time he was intent on forcing it down. "You murderers," Maigo screamed at Crane with rage in his voice, "You killed my father and for that I will kill you!" Maigo was about to reach for his sword when he felt an immense heat surrounding him, as he look at his hand he saw that it was covered in flames, flames which didn't seem to hurt him at all. He realized that he was somehow releasing his inner fire to create this effect. He looked back up at the Crane and by now the other house guards had fallen too, the Crane samurai, however, were afraid to attack him, hesistant they approached as Maigo closed his eyes.
Maigo opened his eyes only moments later, looking around he saw that all the Crane were dead, their bodies blacked and skin peeled off as if they were burnt alive. However the bodies of his fallen comrades and his father were left untouched, Maigo no longer felt the fire within him and he no longer was on fire himself. He immediately entered the keep and gathered everybody he could find in the courtyard, he sent several samurai to gather up everyone who were outside the keep. When everyone was gathered it became apparent that the fight had only been in the courtyard, and the guards and the daimyo were the only ones to have fallen. As Maigo surveyed the people gathered he noticed that his older brother wasn't there, sighing with relief Maigo remembered he was visiting a friend of father's and should be back tomorrow. At least Maigo wouldn't have to take up the duty of his fallen father. He was about to reassure the crowd when someone yelled, "These are no Cranes! They were merely dressed that way! Look! They bear no mon and their clothing and armor is not up to Crane standards!"
It took Maigo only a few paces to reach the man who had said so, Maigo checked the bodies for himself, without touching them, and concluded the same. "Get magistrates over here! This must be solved!" He turned toward one of his younger brothers and said, "You see to it things run smoothly until your brother arrives, he will be daimyo from now on. I will go to Akodo Ginawa-sama and report this, it is important he must now of this." With that Maigo headed for the stables and left on a horse towards the castle of the Akodo Clan daimyo, Akodo Ginawa. On his way he couldn't shake the thought that it was no coincidence that ronin, dressed as Crane, struck at this time, and that it was somehow connected to the ronin who had assaulted him on his way back home a few nights ago.
* * *
Mekura, are you there?"
Okugi had been sleeping four whole days and nights, but now he was awake again, though disoriented. "Okugi-san, you are awake again! Oh, thank the Kami, you are with us again! Where have you been, Okugi-san? Mistress Kaede told me you were travelling?" Okugi smiled as he regained his senses and tried to sit upright, but feeling how heavy his head was he decided to stay down. "I have seen the past," Okugi answered, "Numerous events that changed history, most were of recent history, from the Scorpion Clan Coupe up until now But How long have I been asleep?" "Four days, Okugi-san," Mekura said, "Four days and four nights." Okugi sighed, then said, "That means the Chrysanthemum Festival is in only two days "
Mekura nodded, "Hai, Okugi-san, I believe preparations are already underway."
Okugi sighed deeply, "Could you ask if Kaede-sama would pay me a visit, there are things I'd like to discuss with her and I will arrange my departure too." Mekura merely nodded and went out to find Kaede.
"How are you feeling, Okugi-san?" Kaede was sitting
next to him wearing a warming smile on her face. "Better,
Kaede-sama," Okugi replied, "much better, though my
head is still heavy and my soul weary from its journey. By your
looks I guess that you want to know what I've seen. Well, said
simply I have relived the past, practically every major event
from the Scorpion Coupe up until now, and I experienced it all as
if I was there. But I asked you to come here for another reason
" Kaede didn't say anything, she gave Okugi an
interested look as she waited for him to continue.
"You know that I saw a Dragon. It told me that there was danger coming for me and that I could decide to wait it out or face it somewhere else. I do not want to endanger any life beyond my own and so I have decided to leave the palace and to travel the lands. I hope to find whoever haunts me and find a peaceful solution. I wish to take my leave two days from now, at the end of the Chrysantemum Festival, but before I go I would like to ask you a favor "
* * *
"You did what?!" The words echoed through the cave
several times before fading.
"But but I thought that this would be the best way to get his attention " The man was cowering in fear before his leader as he continued, "I thought that you wanted it like this, master." The other man sighed angry and yelled, "Give people a little space to act in and immediately they act as if they were Shinsei himself! Damn you, you fool! I do not pay you to disobey orders. When I make a plan I do not account for your 'thinking' to interrupt! Understood?" The little man could hardly bring himself to speak, but managed a mumbled 'Yes, master' before scampering away.
The larger man slammed his fist into the makeshift dais of stone full force, without feeling any pain. "Damn those fools," he grumbled to himself, "Because of their stupidity both of them will now reach their full potential too early. One of them was hard enough It is only that I need underlings to do such menial tasks, else I would have killed them all I know I shouldn't have used ronin like them "
[To be continued]