Four Years Ago…
The sun slowly drifted in the horizon as a cool breeze broke through the unforgiving heat. It was a hot summer, hotter than what was seen in many seasons. Some believed it was a bad omen; others thought it was Lord Yakamo's way of causing discomfort to the children of Lady Hitomi.
None of this concerned Sung Su as he waited anxiously in the lush gardens of Shiro Tonbo. He wore the simple cotton garments that marked him as a student of the Hoshi order. Though relatively new to the order, he studied the Tao with a relish that made his masters proud.
The Hoshi had been good to his family. It was only a few months after the War of Spirits that they found his mother battered and pregnant. With little of her memory and being unable to decipher her origins, they took her and her unborn child within their monastery.
She raised Sung Su lovingly and instilled within him a love for the Tao and of stories of heroism. Her last gift to him before her death was Whispering Willow, a katana forged by his father out of love for her. He kept it with him at all time wrapped in a bundle, with a promise that one day he would be worthy enough to wield it.
The young student sighed as he reminisced. 'Enough thoughts of the past, it is time to think of the future,' he thought.
He glanced around the garden, his face marred with the grime of doing his daily chores. Being amongst such tranquility often brought within him a sense of peace, a time and place where no evil can harm him.
A mischievous grin broke on his face as the source of his eagerness entered the garden. It was Tonbo Xien Ziyi; her smile was radiant and filled with joy as she saw him lounging under the cherry blossom tree. Her hand raised beside her head as her finger brushed her long silken hair back revealing more of her smooth porcelain skin.
With eyes dark as midnight, she held him still. They were filled with innocence and purity of youth. Though her steps were short and restricted due to her tightly bound kimono, she moved gracefully towards him.
Her kimono was made of rich yellow silk from the isle of the mantis. It cost her family a small fortune, but her gempekku was a point of pride and they wanted the best for their daughter.
"Little brother," she smiled, "I am glad you are here."
Quickly he rose to his feet as he brushed off the dirt that clung to his clothes. With awkward formality he bowed, "As am I big sister. I had come to congratulate you. Though I have missed the ceremony, I did hear your haiku and it truly moved me."
"Domo arigato, I wrote it in hopes to inspire peace between the Dragon and Phoenix," she turned to face the pond and sighed, "but I fear that the wounds they bare are still too deep."
Sung Su nodded in agreement and let out a deep sigh. He crouched down deep as he fiddled with the gravel. Finding one that caught his interest he tossed it into the pond.
A look of melancholy came across her visage as she place her hand out just before her. After a brief moment a small dragonfly perched on her finger.
"So fragile… I wonder, had we not enough wars to last Rokugan several lifetimes?" she spoke softly bringing the dragonfly ever closer to her face, "If we can only drop our blades and harsh words, we could live in peace. I truly do fear what would happen when Toturi-sama leaves us for Tengoku."
"His children are wise and noble, I have no doubt a strong heir will be chosen to ascend the throne."
"Hai…" she agreed mutely.
Rubbing his baldhead he looked up thoughtfully, "As for the Dragon and Phoenix… nothing can be accomplished until one side forgive the other. Then and only then perhaps can their old bonds be reestablished."
"Could the Dragon forgive the Agasha? Or the Council of Masters the Dragon?"
"I admit I do not understand the anger in the Agasha leaving. I have always thought the Dragon was about choosing their own path. Those who left no longer felt the path of the Dragon was their own. Did not the Dragon gain strength from those who remained behind?"
"A sense of betrayal is a hurtful thing, Sung Su…" she spoke softly. With a gentle breath she sent the dragonfly off in flight.
"Hai," Sung Su replied as he closed his eyes. After a moment he
clapped his hands together, "well, enough of this depressing conversation.
I have good news!"
Xien Ziyi tilted her head towards the young student with interest, "Well what is it? Do not keep me in suspense."
"The master of the temple has been approached by Togashi Tenryuu," he said as he glanced side to side. He leaned in towards her, "It seems that he is in search for a student."
"Tenryuu?" she wondered, "the famous swordmaster? Why would he search for a student among the Hoshi?"
Sung Su shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows the mind of the ise zumi, but I have been chosen nevertheless. He is wise in the way of the Tao and I could learn much from him."
"Ah I am sure you're interested in what he knows of the Tao," teased Xien Ziyi, "and nothing of the way of the blade?"
"He has not taken a student in the way of the blade for over a decade. I will be content to learn what he wishes to teach me."
"I am glad for you little brother. When do you leave?"
The young student's face grew solemn, "I leave first thing in the morning."
"So soon? Well come then, I shall help you pack," she said heading off towards the temple of the Hoshi.
"I will miss you Xien Ziyi… Someday you will be proud of me… someday," he whispered to himself.
* * *
The cavern was a marvelous site to behold, the crystal ceiling led deep within carried Lord Yakamo's light illuminating it's numerous passages, one of which that led to the Tamori Gardens. The Dragon Shugenja would often come within to gain a deeper connection to the earth kami.
The gardens were well tended. A small underground creek flowed within the
large cavern with a lone land bridge, formed by the Tamori as its only access
across. Fed by the light of the crystals above the lush garden was filled
strange plants that many of the Dragon had never seen. Amongst the opulent green
plants were flowers of many colors to mirror that of the crystalline ceiling.
Tenryuu often came down here to aid in the garden's upkeep. Working here helped bring him solace and peace of mind. In many ways he felt the earth kami within talked to him. Today there was no peace or solace, only confusion.
Earlier in the day he felt at harmony. He was one with the blade and the elements. He had taken a step towards fulfilling the promise to his master. That all changed when she arrived, Tonbo Xien Ziyi.
"No… Hitomi Xien Ziyi," he thought to himself.
"I thought you would like to see the garden," he said as he pointed across the bridge, "It is different than the one I remember at Shiro Tonbo, but it does in some ways remind me of the past. And sometimes we would be visited by the enigmatic Zokujin."
The young dragon turned to face the Hitomi. At one time she would spend much of her waking hours in the gardens. It was her first love, besides poetry. As he looked at her now, he could not tell what she felt as her face remained impassive and barren.
Noticing the perplexed look on Tenryuu's face she spoke, her voice distant, "What bothers you, little brother?"
"It is nothing, big sister…" he said then turned away, "You just seem so different than what I remember."
"Time changes all things… mountains crumble, rivers dry, new paths are found."
"Hai… but I would never have expected you to turn to the way of the Hitomi. Their ways are rooted in violence and death."
Her eyes darkened as she grabbed Tenryuu, turning him to face her she said with a voice that pierced his soul, "You were not there when the Lions attacked us. The Dragon armies were gone, but we had hope as we depended on the power of the Phoenix to aid us. Instead… we were abandoned."
Pushing him away she faced off in the distance, "That day I tried to hide from the Lion's massacre. They found my child and me. At one moment I had a chance to kill one of them, but I could not. The way of death was against everything I believed."
"I am truly sorry," Tenryuu began to apologize.
Her hand rose to silence him. "They brutalized me that day… laughing at my weakness. My child, Tong Hi… not even a year old was killed in front of me. Their final act was to stab my own tanto into my throat. Then they left me to die."
Tenryuu as aghast as his own hatred within began boil. His lips began to quiver at her words. The fire within raged and the balance he strove to achieve broke under its might.
"I felt my breath leaving me. I tried to scream for vengeance, but all I saw was darkness overtake me. It was then I had my dream, a dark lady approached me."
"You are at a crossroad little one. Your child and husband waits for you, if you wish it you can join them now. If not, take my hand and I shall give you what you thirst for….", she whispered as if in a trance.
She shook her ahead breaking free from the bond that held her.
"I reached out and took her hand. It was cold as stone and covered in blood. At that time I woke up among the Hitomi. Lady Moon heard my prayers and gave me the power to take vengeance."
"Hai… against the Lion," he began.
"No," she interrupted as she clenched her fist, "the Lion were always our enemy and I shall relish in their death. No, my revenge is left for the Phoenix, our big uncle who betrayed us."
She strode past him as she entered the garden. Her head tilted down as if deep in thought. Her long hair strung across her face. For what seemed an eternity she stood there, quiet and unmoving. Then with blinding speed her hand flew out to the side.
Bringing in her hand she unclenched her close grip. Within was a young butterfly; its wings were golden yellow laced in red. It stood calmly upon her palm. Whether it was because of fear or sense of peace, Tenryuu could not tell. She brought it close to her face as she contemplated.
"Tell me little brother," her hollow voice whispered, "Why did you take your sensei's name?"
The young dragon walked beside her. For a moment he paused as he pondered over her question. Letting out a deep breath he spoke, "Tenryuu-sensei was very good to me. His giri was passed on to me as his student and his…"
His face turned to hers as he paused, "I hoped in taking his name I could do him honor and perhaps gain strength in the task he set before me."
"Then you have chosen the path of a hero. Your master judged people by their actions, not their allegiances or clan. You cannot let anger or rash judgments guide you." Her face drew close to his and he could smell her scent. Its subtle soft aroma surrounded him. He pulled away as he felt his face blush.
"You must lead through example little brother… do not let hatred overcome you." her voice trailed off. "Do not give me another reason to hate them so…"
"Hai… I shall try my best. What path do you take big sister?"
Xien Ziyi's face grew dark, as she stood straight. She glanced down at her hand as it clenched into a fist, a faint squish broke the serenity of the garden.
"I follow the path of the destroyer… I kill heroes."
The cold look on her face startled him as he took a step back. She opened her hand and the mangled body of the butterfly dropped among the flowers.
She turned from him as she began to leave the garden. Turning her head to the side her voice pleaded softly, "Little brother… please remember me as I was and not who I have become…"
For a moment the room was silent. Then she walked off with a tear in her eye.
To be continued