Prodigal Prodigy VII

The night was lit by two lights: Lady Moon who looked down at the world and the glowing figure which moved about in the courtyard of Shiro Mirumoto.

Lady Moon moved slowly overhead as Masurao performed his kata's, dancing through the courtyard with deadly motions as if it was a dance in court. Masurao noticed his involuntary glow, but he dismissed it as a reaction from his tattoos to Lady Moon's mystical rays.

Some of the bushi's on guard duty watched Masurao's training, marveling at the speed, precision and strength of his unarmed attacks. Suddenly he stopped, stood still for a moment and continued with kaze-do and mizu-do kata's.

Just as he was working through his last kata a slight form entered the courtyard. As soon as it was a few feet away from Masurao he immediately stopped his exercise. She took a step forward and two orange orbs lit up as Masurao opened his eyes.

"Eisai-sama," Masurao asked, "what is the matter?" He looked into her dark eyes and found the answer. "My mother?" She nodded and he discovered what had happened. Someone kidnapped her?! And headed off into the mountains?" Again Eisai nodded and posed a question. This time Masurao nodded, "You have my word, I will bring her back safely."

* * *

Mori could not help but chuckle when he saw the ronin who had abducted the monk for him. She had been brought to him unscathed, the men, however, were bruised and battered and one had a broken arm.

Bound and blindfolded she stood defiantly before him when he asked her his questions.

"You are the mother of too, aren't you? Both were abandoned, without their parents they were raised. And now one has found you… I know who they are and that they have a powerful connection to the Element of Fire, too powerful for my station… But I wonder… who is their father? … Tell me!"

Fuyako laughed sarcastically, "Are you a simpleton? I will not tell you anything about my sons or their heritage!"

Mori's face reddened with anger and he said, "If you will not tell me, I will have to extract the information from you… Don't make me…"

"Do what," she yelled, "hurt me? I have felt you can't imagine and if you kill me you will never know!"

Mori slowly smiled, then burst into a fit of megalomanical laughter, when it subsided he said, "Oh, but I won't *kill* you… at least not until Masurao is dead. Your presence ensures that he will come to try and rescue you…"

"Are you done yet? I am getting a headache from hearing you ramble on and on…"

"Take her away! And gag her! Look out for her son. I will return after two days. If you capture him before that make sure that he does *not* escape." With those words Mori disappeared, leaving his men to fend for themselves.

* * *

Masurao had left immediately and went to search for any signs of his mother or her abductors in the mountains. Lady Moon had left him and Lord Yakamo was creeping through the sky. He was not an apt tracker and his connection to the Void served him little. He had to check every cave and other possible hiding places.

His ear caught a movement to his side, he looked in that direction and was nearly blinded by the sun. He could just make out a figure standing there. Masurao blinked while holding a hand above his eyes and looked again, but the figure was nowhere to be found this time.

Barely noticing the attack from behind, Masurao crouched just in time to avoid the blow. He lashed out with his leg to attempt and trip his attacker, but the assailant deftly jumped over the leg and landed a good distance away. Masurao stood and faced who- or whatever attacked him.

"You nearly had me there, young one," laughed the aging ise zumi whom Masurao faced. "Sorry to startle you like that, but I just wanted to see how good the ise zumi are trained these days."

"Y-you," Masurao stammered.

"Me," asked the man with a lopsided grin.

"You are…"

"Yes?"

"Togashi Mitsu!"

The old monk looked surprised and smiled, "So there is actually someone who knows who I was."

Masurao frowned, "Was?"

"I might still carry that name, but the man who I was is long forgotten."

"A man who allows himself to be forgotten is already lost, no longer a man, but a memory."

Mitsu sighed, "Perhaps you are right, young oe, but until I know what my destiny is, my place is here."

"But one cannot know one's own destiny," Masurao reasoned.

"I will recognize it when it presents itself, but I do not believe you have to time to argue about my destiny."

Masurao had nearly forgotten his goal because of the hero's sudden appearance. "You are right," he said with a sigh, "I should be on my way. Mitsu-sama, you wouldn't happen to have seen men come by?"

"You mean a band of blundering brutes carrying a struggling woman with great difficulty? Why yes, they went that way," Mitsu answered, pointing at the path they followed, "they've been roaming about for the past week."

Masurao looked at where the monk pointed and said, "Domo arigoto, Mitsu," when he looked back the monk was gone,"…-sama."

* * *

"Hey you guys! We got'im!"

"Got who?"

"The guy the boss said who would be comin'. He walked right past our hiding spot an' we jumped 'im."

"Good… Bind, gag and blindfold him, take his daisho and throw him in one corner or the other."

"Got it!"

* * *

Masurao awoke to darkness, his hands were bound, a piece of cloth was stuffed in his mouth and he was blindfolded. The fools had brought him right where he wanted to be, and it just cost him a slight bruise on the back of his head.

Concentrating he extended his senses and mentally explored the area: he was in a system of caves, but how large it was he could not sense. There was also someone nearby, sleeping.

Nimbly Masurao sprang onto his feet and cautiously made his way through the cave. He tried to be as silent as possible, but the guard noticed him… he had made a mistake! The guard was well awake and was getting up.

"Where do you think you're going, blind man?"
Thinking Masurao could not see him the guard approached and drew his tanto. When the guard had closed in enough, Masurao kicked the blade out of his hand and followed through with a kick against the man's face. The guard staggered backwards and tried to steady himself, but Masurao allowed him no respite and leapt at the man, landing two solid blows with his knees, breaking the guards jaw and knocking the air out of him. When the man's head hit the cave wall he lost consciousness.

Crouching Masurao cut his bonds with the tanto, removed the cloth from his mouth and took off his blindfold. His eyes quickly adjusted to the surroundings and his ears registered sounds somewhere else in the caverns. He set out to explore his prison.

* * *

"Hey, will you look at this! When I hold his katana it has little flames all over it!"

"You fool! You don't go about touching someone else's sword!"

"Like anybody else will know… No knowledge, no harm. And it's not as if he's going to stop us…"

Immediately after the first man finished his sentence his comrade cried out in pain, a tanto was sticking out of his leg. He fell to the ground grasping his wound. The other man turned with the katana in hand, ready to strike.

Masurao deftly kicked his sword out of the man's hand and grabbed it from the air. As soon as it was fully in his grasp the blade burst into flames, reflecting the power of Masurao's inner fire. He held the blade a feet from the man's face and demanded, "Tell me, where is my mother!? Where are my possessions?!"

The man was sweating with fear, and the proximity of the burning blade only made him sweat more. "Over… Over th-there," the man stammered as he pointed towards a small niche in the cave wall, "we stashed it there."

"And my mother?!"

The man swallowed hard and told Masurao how to find his mother.

* * *

"Easy mother, it is me, Masurao."

Masurao knelt beside his mother, she was tied up like he had been. Carefully he removed her bonds, gag and blindfold, but instead of a warm greeting, she yelled at him. "Masurao-kun, behind you!"

Masurao stood, turned around, his eyes widened and his mouth opened in surprise as he felt the wakizashi slide into his abdomen. He slumped to his knees, grabber his wound, then he lurched over trying to find support with his other hand. The form of the person who stabbed kicked Masurao, sending him rolling over the floor and stopping when he hit the cave wall.

"Nooooh!!" Fuyako screamed, tears ran down her cheeks as she felt her courage and hope fleeing her. "My son," she cried, "my son…"

"Your son is dead, woman! Now shut up!"
The large man landed a blow against her face with the back of his hand.
"And now that your son is dead, you are of no more use to us."
With a sordid smile the man approached her and smashed his fist in her face. She resisted, but the man's other hand pinned her to the ground. He landed three more blows on Fuyako and wiped sweat from his brow, "It's getting warm in here, I should not put so much effort into this." He lifted his fist for a final blow…

"I would appreciate it if you stopped that… NOW!"

The man turned around trembling and looked right into Masurao's ember eyes of fire. His entire body was wreathed in flames and radiated intense heat. He pulled the blade from his guts and threw it away, taking a step towards the man.

"Impossible… Th-that blow should've k-killed you!"

"Ignorant fool, the blood of Togashi protects me from harm, more harm than you inflicted… more than you could inflict."

With incredible speed Masurao charged the man and rained blows on him, in only moments of time he had subdued him. He bound, gagged and blindfolded the man and threw him in a corner of the cave. Again he knelt beside his mother, this time he called upon the power of the Void to heal his mother's wounds, though he could only heal her enough to put her out of death's reach. He then alleviated his own wound.

"I promise I will find the person who brought us here, mother," Masurao said as he took off his obi and folded it into a pillow for Fuyako. After he had gathered his daisho and scrolls Masurao set out to explore the system of caves.

* * *

After an hour Masurao had returned to where his mother lay. Except for the four men, the caverns were empty, but Masurao knew the mastermind would return for him. He sat down next to his mother's unconscious form and closed his eyes. He would need all the peace of mind and bodily fitness he could muster.

* * *

"Show me your stance!"

Masurao looked around to see who spoke to him. Suddenly a man appeared before him and said, "Well boy, I did not ask you… it was a demand."

Masurao shifted his foot slightly and then scrutinized the man; he was tall with broad shoulders and long, powerful, somewhat gangly arms, he bore a daisho and an air of incredible confidence… and then Masurao realized it: he knew who this was!

"You call that a stance," the man bellowed, "I've seen a peasant who was better than you! How can you even claim to know kenjutsu?!"

Masurao smiled as he replied, "Natural, natural, natural… As long as my opponent believes I cannot perform I am at an advantage and he will attack with folly, thus I will win."

The man's face broke into a smile, "So you figured it out? Not many recognize me as quick as you, but then again you are not like many people."

"Does this mean that I am a descendant of your line?"

"Your mother was the daughter of an Agasha and a Mirumoto, so you are of my blood as well."

"And my father," Masurao asked hopefully, "Do you happen to know him or anything about him?"

The man shook his head and said, "The quest for your father does not end with me, I'm afraid."

"Then I wonder why you've sought me out, surely not to just see my stance?"

The man laughed, "No, but you are about to face the greatest challenge of your life up until now, we thought a little help would do no harm."

Masurao looked confused, "We?"

"I am not the only ancestor that wishes to help you, there are a few others whom you should speak with."

As the ancestor finished his last sentence several other shimmering forms appeared. Masurao looked at all of them and realized he -knew- who they were. He did not so much recognize them as he did feel who they were. Mirumoto, Agasha and Togashi were among them, others were men like Togashi Kaze and Mirumoto Tokeru.

Masurao could barely contain the emotion that washed over him as he saw some of the greatest men in the history of his Clan, indeed in the history of Rokugan. Not knowing what to do he just stared at them… until he felt a large hand on his shoulder. Looking behind him Masurao saw the grand form of Togashi Hoshi.

"These men have come here to aid you, Masurao-san," Hoshi said, "hold them close during your ordeal and they will be with you."

One by one the ancestors approached Masurao and spoke to him a sentence or two of wisdom for him, then as each of them embraced him they disappeared and Masurao felt as if an emptiness he had never known was filled. Soon only Mirumoto, Agasha and Togashi remained. The swordsmaster approached first.

"When you fight I shall guide your blades. Stay just and pure and you will never fail." He put his hands on Masurao shoulders and slowly disappeared.

Agasha approached him next, "You are the last who is true to my teachings and my bloodline, as many betrayed my legacy and the rest diverted from my path, you remain the only true one. You will find difficult times come to you as the last of my line, but I have faith in you. Teach those who need to be taught and learn all you can and I will be with you." Agasha stepped forward and into Masurao, disappearing as well.

Finally Togashi approached. Masurao felt Hoshi's hand tighten ever so slightly. "From the day you were born my blood has been a part of you. You have been gifted with the ability to see things as they have been and to see what a great many more things truly are. Use this ability wisely and do not abuse the knowledge gained. You are destined to become a great man to a great many, though you will find the definition of a great man and the contents of the great many to be different than expected. You are a Dragon."

With those words Togashi disappeared into the skies. Masurao turned around and wanted to say something, but Hoshi's words cut him off. "I believe there is one last member of our Clan who has some words for you."

Wondering who it could be Masurao turned back and found himself looking into Hitomi's eyes. "M-my Lady… W-why," Masurao stammered.

"I am -your- Lady? I do not recall you serving me…"

"You allowed my mother to live and thus granted me life. I have never been able to thank you for that. Were the situation different I would have served you as I serve Hoshi-sama."

"Are you saying that you would do what I ask of you That you would never disobey me? Never betray me and simply and mindlessly follow my commands?"

"It is not a samurai's place to question his master, if he does the only option would be seppuku. A doubtful samurai is a dead samurai."

"A pity you were not born earlier," Hitomi said with a smile," I could have used someone like you."

"I am more than honored, my Lady," Masurao said as he bowed, "but Hoshi-sama said you had words for me?"

Hitomi sighed and nodded, "I want you to know strength. True strength does not come from a weapon, a strong arm, it does not come from a keen mind, a good strategy, not from powerful magic or nemunaranai. True strength comes from within, the rest is just one tool or another, you must believe in yourself before you can even gain an ounce of true strength. Take it from me, everything can fail you, in time, except your inner power, learn to trust on it and no one can ever truly beat you."

Masurao could barely nod in response before Hitomi was gone again. Hoshi spoke to him again, "Now that all these people have confided in you, you have a great burden to bear."

"What burden is that, Hoshi-sama?"

"To live up to your ancestors, of course."

Masurao shook his head, "No, I will not live to their whims, Hoshi-sama, I will strive to be a good man and to be myself. I honor my ancestors, but if who I am is not good enough for them, then they are not worthy of my attention. I cannot be them, but I can try to learn from their actions and teachings."

"Wise words, Masurao-san, you will surely make your father proud… But you must go now… your nemesis has arrived…"

* * *

Masurao opened his eyes and noticed that two large, iron doors had appeared in the cave wall. He stood and walked up to the door, putting his hand against the warm iron he inhaled deeply and pushed…

* * *

"The illustrious Togashi Masurao has arrived," am man sitting on a throne hewn from stone clapped his hands. "I had to come back earlier than I had wanted. Finding the fools I hired to be tricked and disabled and you in my stronghold."

"Who are you to meddle in my life," Masurao demanded with firm tone, "Who are you to kidnap my mother? Who gave you such rights?!"

The man stood and roared, "I am the Oracle of Fire! My power gives me the right! And who gives you the right to threaten my position!?"

"I do not wish to become an Oracle! I would have rather lived a life before I'd even consider it!"

"What you want," Mori spat, "does not matter anymore, for you are here and now, we will do battle. A battle of the mind and since you are but a mortal you will loose."

"Making that assumption means I've already won, I can not lose."

"YOUR PETTY SWORDSMAN TRICKS AND PHILOSOPHIES WON'T SAVE YOU NOW!!!"

"We shall see…"

* * *

Mori closed his eyes and envisioned the battlefield: a large crater filled with searing hot lava, he and his opponent stood among the lava on solid rock. The two concentrated and unleashed enormous blasts of fire at one another. Mori felt that he was stronger, he would beat Masurao and secure his position.

To Masurao there was only the Void, the Void and his opponent, both men took a dueling stance. After only a moment his opponent charged. Masurao managed to deflect the blow and the next one and the one following the other two, it was clear that his opponenet would try and win by brute force. Pivoting away from another attack he managed to land a blow on his opponent's back, but for all it did his katana could have been a bad bokken.

….

Mori felt little as Masurao was able to get a blast through his defenses, he immediately launched another volly against Masurao's next attack and the fires met in the middle … the blades clashed … a great explosion … Masurao knew he would not be able to stand against this onslaught of force much longer, but not even his two swords could keep him out of harm's reach forever … Mori suddenly saw a pause and launched a ball of fire at Masurao, hitting him square in the chest and sending him flying through the air … when he landed he dropped his katana and saw his opponent charging … Mori prepared a final bout of fire … his opponent neared and raised his sword for the final strike, but Masurao dodged the blow and a katana of fire sprang into life in his hand … his opponent must've been immolated by the blast, but as the dust clear Mori could not see him, realizing the mistake he had made he turned around and launced another volly of fiery bolts … Masurao's surprise attack hurt his opponent little and he attack again, deflecting the blows with his wakizashi and striking with his magical blade Masurao pressed the brute backwards … Mori had to take a few steps back from the power of Masurao's unsuspected attacks, perhaps this man was more of an adversary than he had thought him to be, no matter it would be over now … Masurao noticed his opponents arrogance growing and feigned a weakness … Mori blasted away … the attack came and Masurao feinted, leaving a gap in his opponent's defense, thrusting both blades at the brute he wounded him lethally … Mori saw his blast hit the intended spot, but Masurao had darted aside and attack with such fury that Mori could not withstand, he was struck and send into the lava … his opponent fell over and lay there, wounded, but not dying.

"Finish it, Masurao! Finish it," Mori demanded, "You have won, now end my existance and take my position as you had planned."

Masurao turned around and started to walk away when he said, "I came here to rescue my mother, she is safe from you now, there is no reason to kill you. I do NOT wish your position."

"You have defeated me! At least tell me how…"

"You made a wrong assumption, Mori, you are not fully immortal, Oracles do age and they can die, you were once mortal and that can never change, save by becoming a kami or fortune." Masurao walked away from Mori.

"You pretend to know so much," Mori spat, "but you can't safe yourself." He summoned all of his power and fired another blast at Masurao, who turned around in surprise… but nothing came.

"MORI," the voice was loud, echoing and joined by the crackle of a fire.

"Master," Mori stammered, "wh-what is it?"

"WHY DO YOU HUNT MY SONS?"

Both Mori and Masurao were surprised, Mori was finally hit by reality as Masurao was trying to figure out who it could be that spoke and called him his son.

"I did not know, Master, I did not know he was your son! Truly, I…"

"SILENCE! THAT YOU DID NOT KNOW IS NOT AN EXCUSE! YOU WERE NOT PUT IN THIS STATION OF POWER TO ABUSE IT!! REGARDLESS OF THE FACT THAT MASURAO IS MY SON, YOU HUNTED INNOCENT PEOPLE, YOU HAVE CAUSED UNNECESSARY DEATHS AND SHAMED MY TRUST…"

Mori fell to his knees and weeped, "I am sorry Master, could you ever forgive me?"

"I DO NOT HAVE TO, MY SON ALREADY HAS SHOWN MERCY TO YOU, I WILL FOLLOW HIS JUDGEMENT AND ALLOW YOU TO STAY AN ORACLE, BUT I HOPE THIS MAKES YOU REALIZE JUST HOW MORTAL YOU STILL ARE, I MAY HAVE INVESTED A PIECE OF MY ESSENCE IN YOU, BUT IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU A MINDLESS EXTENTION OF MYSELF, IF I WANTED IT TO BE THUS I WOULD NOT NEED MORTALS…"

"Yes, Master…" Mori could barely utter the words or he was gone, probably teleported away by his Master.

Masurao looked around confused, but could not see anything or anyone, hesitating he asked, "Who are you, Father?"

"YOU KNOW ME AS THE DRAGON OF FIRE, SON…"

[To be continued…]