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.

Keiteki gleamed 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 below.

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 the wars.

“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 of war.

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 uncertain.

“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 house.

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 and dancer.”

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…