A Story of the
Age of Man
“All things fall before the blade of time…live your life, so that when your time comes, you can return the gifts of the world to it with joy, and move onward to forge new destinies.”
- Kakita Koshin
The chamber of crystal was silent, now.
For a thousand years, it had held the memories and futures of a Thunder,
a person tainted by the creature, the entity known only as the Living Darkness.
Now, in the silence of the tunnels beneath the castle of the Dragon Clan,
the doors were silent and sealed, and nothing but the shining of crystal against
torchlight filled the halls.
Above the walls of the Mirumoto castle, Nikkan sat in one
of the many watchtowers, his thoughts a jumble of emotions and old adventures.
The samurai’s kasa had been
pulled low, as if sleeping, but anyone that could see his firm grip upon the
ancient sword in his hands would have known better.
dully, even in the shade of the tower, the symbols of the five elements upon the
tsuba flashing for an instant. The
sword was alive, filled with strength and conviction.
Even now, Nikkan could feel the harmony inside the blade.
“I will miss you, my friend.”
Climbing down with the Crane’s sword thrust into his obi,
the Sentinel raised his hat, casting a long gaze around the castle.
Few samurai had remained; their duty was to guard the lands against
bandits and interlopers, while the armies of the Dragon fought the Shadow.
A new sun blazed in the heavens above Nikkan, and the samurai could not
help but smile as he began walking down the mountain path towards the village
To the heimin
and eta of the village, the dawn of a
sun reborn was the end of the Shadow. They
worked again with a renewed strength, and smiles filled many faces again.
Nikkan said nothing, knowing better than to think that the Goju had
fallen so swiftly.
Even here, he knew that some heart, somewhere, held a
darkness deep within.
Slipping his shoes off and setting his wakizashi, Nigami,
and the katana aside, Nikkan stepped into the geisha house, casting a long gaze
about the room. There were no
patrons at this hour; only little Chinbei, cleaning the common room with a zeal
that seemed beyond an eight year old girl.
“Where is Taehime-chan, little bug?” Nikkan smiled as
he spoke, spooking the child completely. She
turned, her bright little face filled with a smile, knowing that the Dragon
usually brought some sort of little joke or toy when he came to call.
Bowing quick and low, Chinbei spoke quickly, as children
tend to do when given an opening. “Taehime is in her room, Nikkan-sama!
Should I go fetch her?” The samurai nodded, and the little girl was off
with her kimono swishing as she ran.
While he waited, Nikkan took a seat outside the house,
warming himself in the light of the sun and watching as the world continued to
move. Chinbei returned quickly,
breathing hard from the exertion. She
said that Taehime would be out in a moment, but the Dragon knew better.
Geisha, Taehime in particular, knew to take their time when preparing to
greet a samurai.
Even a simple friend, like Nikkan.
Eventually the shoji screen slid open behind him, and
Nikkan rose as Taehime bowed to him. She
was a beautiful girl, her hair dyed white in the style of the Crane.
Dressed in a silken kimono of flowers and birds, the girl’s form was
closely veiled, and Nikkan smiled as he felt his cheeks flush red.
“Is it not a bit early for a samurai to have finished his
duties, Nikkan-sama?” Taehime was always quite formal, and led him to sit in
the house and talk in private. While
he sat, the little girl brought tea, pouring it in silence that was quite
different from her noise minutes earlier.
Once the girl had gone, Nikkan spoke, his voice even and
prepared. “Taehime, I have come on business.”
Immediately, the geisha’s body stiffened slightly, a
reaction that years of training in politeness could not conceal from sharp eyes.
She knew what was coming, no doubt; women often seemed to sense such
things. “What has happened, Nikkan-sama?”
“Koshin will not come to visit again.” The words were
empty, devoid of explanation or an attempt to do so.
The Mirumoto rose instantly, picking up his hat and placing it back onto
his head. Taehime rose, a confused
look in her eyes.
“He is dead, then?” Death was not uncommon, especially
since the Naga had come to make war. Taehime
might have been prepared to hear the Dragon say “yes,” but she was
completely unprepared for the words that he spoke instead.
Nikkan frowned. “He may as well be, to us, Taehime.
That is all that I can say, by my honor.”
From the recesses of his frayed, simple kimono, Nikkan drew
a folded package the size of his hand, setting the parcel before the girl.
“Koshin swore me to see this to you, before his time came.” With that, the
Dragon was gone, sliding the shoji shut behind him with a heavy sigh.
* * *
As he walked through the village and back towards the
mountain keep, Nikkan thought back to the days before the wars.
It was difficult to remember such happy things, sometimes…the mind
became preoccupied with danger and death, and forgot such things existed before
“Before the wars…” Nikkan whispered.
It was almost unthinkable now, an Empire devoid of conflict and
bloodshed. People like Nikkan had
grown up during the Clan Wars; he knew that Koshin had first killed monsters
beside his father at the Asahina Temples. Peace
was a difficult thing to cultivate in such a world that now held so many minds
Stepping through the open gates, the Mirumoto walked into
the garden of stones, a place where the Kakita had practiced every day that he
had stayed within the house of the Dragon.
In the afternoon light, it seemed almost as if the Crane was still here;
the whistling of wind and blade was evident.
Yet it was only the sound of discipline and training…the
katana in Nikkan’s obi was silent now, a weapon used for more than war.
It had strengthened the spirit when weak, and guided the honor, when
“There has been enough death in the world to last us this
age already,” the Dragon spat. Drawing
Nigami from its sheath, Nikkan
glanced down at the tainted blade. Black
as midnight with a single shining ruby eye, the sword was a monster in itself;
it thrived on the blood that Nikkan had always denied it.
Still, while weapons such as the wakizashi existed in the
world, for good or for evil, they would only serve for war, and never for peace.
Though it had been the blade of his ancestor, Nikkan was not Ryoshi, and
did not believe in leaving such evil in the world.
Setting the blade in the arms of the first Agasha’s
statue, Nikkan drew out Keiteki.
The sword shown in the light of the setting sun, and cascaded to the
earth with a shattering thunderclap.
Hearing the sound of snapping steel, the guards of the
Mirumoto came running, their katana drawn and ready to battle against the
Shadow. Instead, they found a
broken wakizashi, and their Sentinel, retying his hat and sliding the katana
back into its saya.
“Let it be remade,” Nikkan said as he stepped past
them. “Let it become peace.”
Upon that day, the Sentinel of the Dragon set the blade of
his friend aside, and forever forswore to raise a sword, save for in defense of
his lord and his honor. He went
then to the houses of the Kitsuki, to finish his training, to learn to search
for the truth that the future, and peace, would need.
Around him, the Age of Man began to shudder, and darkness began to fall…
It was two months later, when the Mirumoto came down from
his mountain again, this time with a shaven head and wearing only a plain
wakizashi in defense. Chinbei cried
out when she saw Nikkan, waving and taking his hand as they stepped into the
Fireflies flicked around the windows as evening fell, and
the monk removed his battered hat and took a seat.
The house was more full now, with the return of the armies.
In the aftermath of the horrors, those men who had returned wished only
to relax, and forget what they could of the Shadowlands.
Taken back to his private room, the young man sat, rubbing
his head as he waited. Eventually,
Taehime came to see him, stepping into the room with a graceful ease.
Immediately, Nikkan’s eyes arched high, as it was not impossible to
miss the geisha’s slightly swollen abdomen.
“You are with child, Taehime-chan?” Nikkan did not know
what to make of this, or whether such a young and beautiful girl would be
pleased with a child so soon in her life. But
beneath her white face was a soft smile, and the geisha took a seat as Nikkan
sipped his tea.
“I hoped to see you again, Nikkan…though I did not know
that you had retired to a monastery.” She was grinning at his head, and the
Mirumoto could only laugh back. He
had always prided himself on his hair; it kept his head quite warm, which was
more than his sensei could have claimed.
Setting his tea upon the floor, the monk nodded. “Life
moves each of us in our own time, Taehime.
I have had enough of death, even in the service of good, and so I have
chosen to serve my people a new way.” He had always been wise, but here,
sitting comfortably before her, the Dragon seemed to finally have understood
something deeply profound.
“I will be leaving soon,” Taehime said at length.
She drew out the large parcel that Koshin had sent to her, lying it
before the monk. Within the folds
glimmered golden koku…more money than Nikkan had seen in years, and beside
that was a simply folded paper. Nikkan
smiled, remembering how little the Crane had cared for money.
“Unless it can
save a life, I have seen koku bring nothing but trouble and pain, Nikkan.”
Nikkan sipped his tea. “You will be missed here, Taehime…I
would not want you to think that you must go.
If you want, the Dragon will always be your friends.” His voice was sad
now, but hidden slightly behind the subtle gestures of the tea.
“I am going to travel to the Kakita provinces, Nikkan.
Koshin’s letter says that I may join the Academy, with the help of his
sister.” To join the Kakita Academy was more than a simple girl such as
Taehime could hope for; Nikkan smiled at her good fortune with a simple nod.
Setting his tea down and allowing her to refill it, the
young man nodded. “This is an opportunity that cannot be missed, then.”
Throughout the night, the two of them stayed and laughed,
playing at a game of Go and then idly comparing poems about the moon and the
stars. It would be the final time
for the two to play this game amongst themselves in all their lives, and Nikkan
lingered until almost dawn.
“I must be off, Taehime-san.” Nikkan replaced his hat
with a smile. “I hope to hear from you again, once you are a most famous poet
Smiling from her place in the door of the geisha house,
Taehime’s makeup was stained with tears.
She watched as the monk replaced his sandals, lifted his walking stick
from the ground, and bowed low to her. As
their eyes met for a final time, Nikkan asked, at last.
“Whose child is it, Taehime?”
The girl smiled sadly. “A man that is dead to us both.”
There is no such thing as an ending.
Such a thing is an impossibility. The
world changes and turns with each breath that we take, and destiny molds itself
to our choices. Each day, each
child is born anew, and must decide how they shall live in the embrace of the
heaven and earth. We live and die,
and are reborn again, always searching for an answer that stands so elusive.
Live life. In
this alone, the truth may be found. Let
the sun grace your body, and feel the wind across your face.
Then, when change comes, and the wind is cold and bitter, you shall know,
and the world shall be your friend, and show you the way.
Remember the flash of the blade, as the sword is drawn.
Remember the touch of a hand, resting against your own.
These are the moments that are so easily lost, against the pleasure of
triumph or the bitterness of war. Never
lose them, for they are your heart, and your soul.
Live each day with honor, with dignity, and with
compassion. Be loving, take risks,
and be willing to make sacrifices for your beliefs.
In that way, good people will change the world.
An Age Begins…