Prodigal Prodigy VIII

--- LISTEN CAREFULLY, MY SON. YOUR MOTHER WILL BE STAYING WITH ME, IT IS THE LEAST I CAN DO TO REPAY HER FOR THE PAIN I HAVE CAUSED ---

Everybody Masurao encountered as he walked through the hallways of Shiro Mirumoto stepped aside. People were either taken back or amazed at the strange orange glow of his eyes. When they looked at them, the people would feel a strange sensation: it made the hairs on their neck rise, but it was not unpleasant. It was as if Masurao saw more than he did before.

--- I CAN NOT ASK ANY MORE, BUT BEFORE YOU LEAVE I MUST TELL YOU ONE MORE THING ---

The sensation left even old Nikkan stirred, and with amazement shining in his eyes the old sensei asked, "Masurao-san, what has happened to you? Your eyes… They shine with the light of… enlightenment?"

--- AS YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED, YOU HAVE GREAT POWER AND POTENTIAL, AS HAS YOUR SIBLING. YOU ARE ALIKE AND YET VERY MUCH APART ---

Masurao laughed heartily and looked down at Nikkan a moment before continuing to scan the surroundings with his new eyes. "No, my old friend. Not yet am I ready for that. I have seen… things that altered my perceptions, but I have not been Shinsei… yet." The large ise zumi flashed the old Mirumoto an enigmatic smile and headed out through the gates, into his new world.

--- I WILL TELL OF YOUR GREATEST POWER. IN TIME YOU WILL DISCOVER MORE ABOUT YOURSELF. THIS POWER WILL DWARF ALL OTHERS, THOUGH NOT IN RAW POWER. YOU CAN SEE THE DESTINY OF EVERYTHING YOU MEET, SEE IT AND THROUGH INTERVENING WITH THEIR LIVES, YOU CAN CHANGE IT ---

From the high parapets of Shiro Mirumoto two pairs of eyes followed Masurao as he left. One of them turned to the other and lingered there for a moment.

--- BE WARNED, HOWEVER, IF YOU CHANGE EVEN ONE PERSON'S DESTINY, IT NEVER STOPS WITH THAT ONE PERSON. IT'S LIKE THROWING A STONE IN A POND ---

"He went where neither you or I have been before," Hoshi answered his wife. "Though he only was gone several days to us, he might have experienced it as a longer period of time… What he has seen there, what he has learned there has changed him. Only time can tell what he shall do with what he has gained."

--- YOU MAY GO, BUT PLEASE KEEP WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED SECRET.

"I shall try father, but I am only human and thus I can never make such a promise, not even to you."

I KNOW ---

Eisai looked up at her husband again.

"I have faith in him too, but he -is- half human."

Eisai looked up accusingly and her face clearly told Hoshi 'so are you!'

"My point exactly. I should know…"

* * *

Several weeks later in Lion lands…

"Your chores are done, Keito, you can play with the other children now."

"Thank you, father!" yelled the young peasant boy as he charged off to play with his friends. He ran through town as fast as his young feet could carry him; he was headed towards the hill near the rice fields where he and the other kids played.

Reaching the top of the hill, Keito wanted to yell a greeting to his friends, but when he saw the scene there Keito came to an immediate halt and stared.

Atop the hill all of Keito's friends were standing in a half-circle, their attention focused on the strangest thing Keito had ever seen. Sitting before them, on a rock, was a man whose skin seemed painted with colors, whose head was bald and who seemed to be sleeping. Since his eyes were closed and he did not move, except for his steady and calm breaths.

Hours passed without any of the children moving or speaking and Lord Sun was ready to give away the day for Lady Moon's dark embrace. A few worried parents made their way up the hill to look for their children.

"What is going on here?" exclaimed a mother. "What are you doing, children?" It was then that she noticed the strange man. "Oh my," was all she could utter

"Take the children to the village, Kota," one of the men said firmly and the woman named Kota usehered the children away. The remaining parents moved closer to the strange man. Then it happened…

… Masurao opened his eyes and smiled warmly. "Greetings, I am Togashi Masurao, samurai of the Dragon Clan. I have come here to meditate. I shall repay you for my presence by helping you on the land and by teaching you and your children. I cannot give you material compensation, but am hoping you would allow me to stay."

The peasants were dumbfounded. They could not refuse a samurai, yet this man asked their permission and offered something in return. For several moments the peasants looked at one another, not knowing how to respond.

Finall the eldest among the men spoke, "Samurai-sama, we would be honored."

Masurao's smile broadened and he said, "Domo arigoto and, please, call me Masurao."

--- REMEMBER THIS: A STONE IN A POND ---

* * *

Years passed, Masurao helped the peasants with their harvests, taught them and protected them from any form of danger.

The War of Spirits came, but Masurao did not leave the village.

The War of Spirits ended and Masurao yet remained seated on his rock.

Then, seven days before the funeral, Masurao swallowed deeply and cried one firey tear as he looked through the eyes of a dying Legionaire and saw Toturi being killed by an Oni.

During all of these years people visited Masurao, they came for his wisdom, for his teachings or for his skills in martials arts.

But then came the remarkable spirit, a man who traveled and lived for his two swords. After he had left, Masurao decided that it was time: he would fullfil the promise he had made many years ago, he would go back to his home and lord. He would once again take up the reins of his own destiny.

* * *

Masurao strode calmly along the road, headed towards Dragon lands. Passers-by would never guess that the Dragon and the Lion were at war, seeing the lonely ise zumi traveling through Lion lands.

"You there, Dragon!" The yell came from a young voice. It came from behind, and was accompanied by the growing sound of trampling hoofs.

The large ise zumi turned around and watched an Akodo youth halt his horse, jump off and approach him. Masurao bowed and said, "Greetings, Akodo-sama. How are you on this fine day?"

"That is none of your concern, Dragon," the youth said, trying to sound firm. He was not yet a man, though he carried himself like one. "Our clans are at war, what is your business here? Spying perhaps?"

Masurao smiled, "No, young samurai, I am just traveling to get home. There is no malice in my intentions."

"Regardless of your intentions here, Dragon, I cannot let you go on. Once you get to Dragon lands you will join your clansmen and fight us!"

"That is a possibility, however, it is not in your power to stop me," Masurao said, his voice drained of all joy and mirth. It now sound even, confident. After those words Masurao turned around and took a step forward.

As his opponent walked away the young Lion's face reddened with anger. "Face me!" he yelled. "Face me in a duel, or be cut down from behind, like a coward!"

Slowly the young man reached for his sword, but he was not ready for Masurao's response. The tattooed samurai pivoted and spun around, pushing down the hilt of his sword and bringing up its saya so it struck the startled Lion between the ribs. The adolescent samurai fell to one knee as the air was forced out of his lungs.

The young man coughed and spat his rage-filled words. "You are nothing but a weakling with fancy tricks! You have no strength, no power!"

Masurao's mischievous grin returned and he looked the Lion cub right in his eyes. "Know that I could have killed you on this day. I could have simply drawn my sword during that maneuver and taken off your head. I could have killed you on this day, but I chose not to. Today your life was in my hands, but I gave it back to you. Think of this and you'll know true power: every man can kill, but the gift of life belongs to the powerful."

The boy blinked for some time, but before he could find the strength or presence of mind to react to Masurao's words, the ise zumi was no more than a colored dot on the horizon.

* * *

"Lord Uso, there's an ise zumi here to see you."

"Send him in," Uso snapped, "and let's get it over with."

The messenger left the tent and allowed Masurao entrance. Mirumoto Uso turned around and bowed, Masurao returned the greeting more deeply.

"What is it, Togashi? I have little time," Uso said with a map still in his hand. "War takes a lot of time."

"I shall not intrude on you for long, Uso-sama," Masurao said warmly," but Hoshi-sama sent me."

"Oh… So that was you? Well, then this won't take much time indeed. Hoshi assigned troops to you. I was reluctant, but he seems confident in your abilities as a leader. You will be considered a gunso and you must patrol the southwest border along the Oboreshinu Boekisho Kawa. Do you understand?"

"Hai, Uso-sama. It shall be done," Masurao said with a bow and left to perform his duty.

* * *

Mirumoto Senkai shifted nervously from one foot onto the other. He cleared his throat and said, "Our camp has been set up, sama, the guards are posted and our men are resting." He watched to see if his words created any response from the strange Togashi commander, but he seemed to be immersed in meditation. Either that or he was sleeping.

As Senkai was about to leave Masurao finally spoke up, "Good work, Senkai-san. May I have a word with you?"

"S-sure, sama… Why? Is something wrong?"

"Why don't you tell me that? You are not just nervous about being in my presence, but you are afraid. This is your first true battle, isn't it? And in a full-scale war too."

"No, sama! I am a samurai, I am not afraid," Senkai exclaimed resolutely.

Masurao laughed and opened his eyes. "Let me tell you something, Senkai. Only the foolish, the mad and the dead have no fears. Samurai are humans above all things and it is in our nature to know fear. We can't deny it. You should not be ashamed of your fears, fear is something that keeps us alert, stops us from doing foolish things and thus it keeps us alive. Fear is a samurai's companion, but never his master."

After a moment of reflection Senkai nodded. "Thank you, sama," he said, his voice sounding more confident than before, "I will not forget."

"The Lion have ravaged these lands, haven't they?"

"Yes, most of the fields in the surrounding area are ruined. It's truly horrific."

"Indeed. Tell the men that tomorrow we will help the peasants."

"Sama?"

But it was no use, Masurao closed his eyes again and seeing that Senkai left the tent.

* * *

Akodo Maigo lazily rode on his horse. He really didn't find this war interesting, even less so since he was assigned as a lieutenant to a gunso on patrol duty. He looked to his side and scrutinized his commander: the man was a fierce Matsu, named Bougen. He had a stocky build, but it belied his athletic and muscled body. He was said to be a sound tactician and he had several Matsu from the Lion's Pride assigned to him, quite an achievement, for a mere male.

Maigo was taken back from his thoughts by the sound of the approaching scout. The man rode up to Bougen and inclined his head in greeting.

"Report," Bougen grunted.

"There are several rice fieds ahead," the scout stated, "fields that were not there on the last patrol."

"Hmmm," was all that came from Bougen as he stroked the stubbles on his chin in thought. "We'll move east and around them," he finally said.

"Bougen-san," Maigo interrupted. "Why do that? We ruined most of their fields, we can't circumvent every new field. The peasants need food, the soldiers need food, so they build new fields."

The Matsu shot his lieutenant an angry gaze. "Perhaps you are not too versed in our clan's history, Maigo-san?" Bougen asked with a strict voice. "If you are, then surely you remember our defeat at the hands of a Crane army that hid their troops in rice fields. I will not take that chance."

Maigo frowned, Bougen had the tendency to let the past influence his actions in the present. "Very well, as you say."

The unit moved on to the east until the came upon a hill and they stopped.

"Why are we stopping, Bougen-san?" Maigo asked.

Bougen looked around with a frown, "This terrain has not been scouted, we are moving onto the hill so we can see the surrounding area better."

"But that's the job of a scout, Bougen-san," Maigo protested.

"I was once a scout, Maigo, and quite a bit better than the boy that's traveling with us," Bougen snapped.

"Reikan is very young, but by no means a bad scout, Bougen," Maigo exclaimed, he would not let this Matsu insult his young companion.

"Perhaps not, but at his age I was far more experienced, in both scouting and dueling…" Bougen's voice trailed off dangerously.

Maigo had to take several breaths to stop himself from screaming or even attacking the arrogant commander. "He faced a Dragon," he said evenly, "their technique is superior to any other if practiced well."

"Perhaps to yours or Reikan's, but not mine. Now, no more of this! We are going up that hill!"

Maigo decided not to say anything and to ride a few feet away from Bougen, he didn't want to get caught in the distinctive air of arrogance and get stained.

The Lions marched up the hill and when they were almost at the top Bougen halted them, he got of his horse and ascended the last few feet himself. When he reached the top he stopped dead in his tracks.

Maigo saw his commander halt abruptly and motioned the forces forward, they crested the hill and then they saw it too: below, at the other side of the hill was a unit of Dragons. Their commander was standing before them, waiting as if he was expecting them.

Bougen cursed and moved down the hill cautiously and with a little trouble as the ground on this side of the hill was quite loose. He approached the Dragon and exclaimed, "I heard the Dragon had capable tacticians, but if this is what you call an ambush…"

Back on the hill Maigo silently cursed, Bougen had most likely led them into a trap, but he did not know what the nature of the trap was yet, but he had a feeling the tattooed man would reveal it quickly…

[To be continued…]