Chapter Thirteen: The Third Master
"Life is never so truly lived, as it is beneath the
The scent of the sea was strong in the bamboo thicket, as Koshin stepped out into the morning sun. Wind rippled through the trees above him, making them shudder and creak, but the air that surrounded Yorishi's house was strangely quiet and calm, as if nature itself held back its fury in quiet respect. The samurai breathed the cool air deeply, then set out to find where the Yoritomo had slipped off to before the sun had dawned.
It was hardly proper etiquette to leave a guest alone in the morning, but Koshin figured that Yorishi was anything but proper. For some reason, that too seemed somehow admirable.
Finding the large man was not difficult; Yorishi stood in a small clearing a few minutes walk from the house, whirling a chain weapon faster and faster, lashing out at trees and stones, pulverizing each target with frightening ease. Whether he saw or sensed the ronin, Koshin could not say, but the Mantis almost immediately lowered his manriki, letting it slowly wrap around his body with a final, lazy motion.
"You must sleep in fits, to awake so early. Or is it that you are still hungry to test your swords against my chains, young bushi?" As Yorishi spoke, his beard caught slightly in a wayward wind, matched perfectly by the ruffling of his short hair.
Koshin simply nodded, considering that hunger was the perfect way to describe his need for the duel.
As the samurai turned to better face Koshin, the ronin saw that the big man was already prepared for him. The manriki was twined about his large form like a coiled snake, and inside his kimono could be seen the tips of four tanto, two on each side. Yorishi leaned down to lift his final weapon, a three-sectioned staff, and a smile played upon his heavy face.
"I hope that neither of us regret this," the man said with sudden seriousness. "I expect you to bet your life."
Koshin nodded curtly, "Always."
The silence fell, as it always did, as the Mantis gripped the center portion of the staff in one hand, and one end in the other. He began to whirl the free section, slowly at first and then progressively faster, circling around to give his weapon more room between the bamboo stalks. Koshin kept his blades sheathed, his hands ready at any moment to draw.
Suddenly, one man moved. The Mantis crossed the uneven ground with unnatural ease, and as he closed the distance his body twisted suddenly, bringing the back of the staff forward with the same deadly grace. The motion was almost lazy, but the result could well have brought death.
Not drawing, Koshin leapt to his open side, hearing the bamboo behind him burst to pieces from the Mantis's attack. As the tree crashed to the ground between them, Yorishi lunged dangerously beneath the falling pillar, his staff snapping out towards Koshin's leg.
At last, the moment presented itself.
The swordsman drew and cut in one motion, striking the staff hard, driving it to the ground. The weapon slackened as it fell, as Yorishi released the pinned item and, twisting impossibly, drew a tanto in either hand. The air was suddenly filled with dust and broken wood, the dull thud of the crashing tree spoiling all Koshin's senses. The ronin gave ground quickly, trusting his other senses as he frantically shook clear his eyes.
Using both weapons with great ease, Yorishi stabbed at Koshin, forcing him to withdraw again and again. There was a solid chunk! as one blade buried itself into the next tree, and immediately the ronin attacked again, slicing down as the Yoritomo retreated, leaving his blade in the tree. Though his eyes watered from the chaff, Koshin made no move to lower his stance; Yorishi watched him closely, waiting for the next move.
"We seem to be matched!" Yorishi muttered as he drew out in his chain, whirling it quickly while holding it low, eager to keep some distance between himself and the sword blade.
Koshin nodded curtly, placing his free hand on his other ready blade. He saw the Yoritomo style now; it was not one of weapons, but of the twisting wave motions, which brought every attack to bear. Here he stood; winded, eyes burning…and he was happy.
The fight was all.
His legs snapping him forward, Koshin attacked. As he advanced, though, Yorishi's body seemed to shudder unnaturally, his breathing suddenly heavy and then rapid and weak. The ronin parried one lashing strike with his sword, then withdrew, giving ground and buying himself a half breath, "So this is the Yoritomo technique…"
The chain whipped forward once more, this time aimed at a low, entangling arc. Koshin leapt, and as he flew forward he heard the weapon wrap and bind about another small tree. But Yorishi moved quicker than the Crane's flight, drawing out another tanto and hurling it up at the ronin, straight towards his eye.
Move, his mind cried out again, but this time it was not desperation that reacted, but his determination, striking back with a will all its own.
Twisting his blade, Koshin parried the tiny sliver of steel, almost amazed himself as the two blades rang out against one another. His leap spoiled, the samurai landed just beyond Yorishi, the tanto clattering to the ground a few feet away. Seizing the sakaba in both hands, the ronin rushed forward, now only steps away from his goal.
Then, with a suddenness that shocked even Koshin, the big man jerked at the chain, knocking the samurai's legs from beneath him. The ronin hit the ground hard, feeling the tenderness from Horii's wounds surge through his body again. Koshin gritted back the anguish, focusing his spirit as the Mantis stabbed down with his last blade.
Yorishi called out a loud battle cry as the dagger fell, aiming his attack at the samurai's shoulder. Only now, at the moment of striking, did the sensei cease his dancing parry; only here could he be had.
Bringing his sakaba up suddenly, Koshin was faster than the Mantis for the first time, cracking Yorishi's thick jaw with the bottom of the blade's tsuka. The master reeled backwards from the blow, his attack spoiled and his senses jarred, and Koshin tumbled away, leaping to his feet as an acrobat in court.
If he did not finish with Yorishi now, Koshin knew, he might never have the chance again.
Lunging again with sakaba in both hands, Koshin sprung over the low manriki, still gripped tightly in the sensei's left hand. Yorishi righted himself quickly, but this time the Mantis was not fast enough.
As they passed, the sensei rippled again, but this time Koshin was not fooled.
The sound of the strike echoed through the quiet glade, ringing like temple bells, as Koshin turned to face the sensei. Yorishi stood hunched just as he had been when the cut had been made, only now he gripped his chest in silent pain.
"A skillful attack," Yorishi said with an anguished voice, his great form still shaking from Koshin's strike. Slowly, the man drew himself again to his full height, a brilliant slender welt showing on his chest, "I am fortunate that you carry sakaba rather than a true samurai blade."
The ronin stopped suddenly, looking down for a long moment at the weapon in his hand. After a brief reflection, Koshin nodded, sheathing his sword and running a hand through his hair, "I have never seen such use of so many weapons at once…it was impressive. Truly your reputation is deserved."
Yorishi nodded slightly, leaning down to collect his staff where it had fallen, "I did not think that someone relying on a simple sword could defeat me…that was my arrogance; your technique is skilled. There is something lacking in the spirit, perhaps, but nonetheless you are the victor."
"Still, I am trying to control that spirit again."
The big Mantis nodded again, rubbing the mark of his body thoughtfully, "You look too hard for answers. They will come to you, if you are patient and disciplined, and know your place in the world. Stay with me a while longer, to meditate on this battle, and perhaps you will find some of the answers that you seek."
"I would be honored, Master Yorishi." Koshin said, the sensation of joy for once lingering, and his life extending beyond the duel.
The embrace of the nothingness was stronger now, an enveloping darkness that did nothing to limit Koshin's vision. His breath was low, so low that he imagined that he was dead, that his body was finished and only spirit remained. It was a calming feeling, being in that realm beyond flesh and blood, and before his hands Koshin saw a shimmering blade.
"It belonged to my father," Yorishi's voice said from the darkness, just beyond Koshin's eyes.
Opening his eyes slowly, the ronin blinked. "Excuse me, Yorishi-sama?"
The old man was seated a few feet away, a withered sword in his weathered hands. The scabbard was fine, well polished wood, but the sword itself was far grander. Its tsuka and tsuba were simply made, and strangely enough they bore the images of cranes in flight, "It was my father's sword," the Mantis repeated, "but it was never my family's blade."
Drawing out the sword, Koshin almost cringed, seeing that the sword in Yorishi's hands was rusted; fine sheaths of coppery ruin encircled most of a now hidden blade. The Mantis saw the ronin's concern, and smiled softly, "My ancestors were not born samurai, Koshin…they were simple heimen, who gained their status within the clan through perseverance and skill."
"And that sword…?" Koshin asked, noticing the ancient etchings that seemed almost the same as a Kakita-forged blade. "Where did it come from?"
Yorishi smirked, "This sword was found by the people of the City of Lightning, and in turn passed to my father, who once served as an Imperial Magistrate of the city. Though Lord Yoritomo had no interest in the ruined blade, my father kept it with him always, promising that he would one day see the weapon restored…"
"…And now it is," he finished, pressing the blade into Koshin's hands.
Before the samurai could speak again, the sensei had risen from his seat within the dojo, moving over to where his matched kama rested. "I am a simple man, Koshin…that sword makes no music in these hands, no matter how truly I know it's motions. No, these are the weapons of a Mantis; I am proud of them. I am proud of who I am."
Rising from his seat at last, Koshin held the blade in a formal position, standing straight and tall. Somehow, the former Crane could not find it in his heart to follow the rules of etiquette; he simply bowed, low and long, thanking the sensei more eloquently than his clumsy words could have done.
"I am honored," he whispered at last.
"It is unfortunate," Yorishi said, rubbing his thick beard, "that you must hurry on. I hoped to talk a bit longer, considering your absurd notions on the Tao. "
Koshin smirked at the broad Mantis warrior, "Someday I hope to return, and we will finish our words…though stubborn men such as the two of us are not likely to change our minds."
Nodding as they walked down the hill to the main road, the Yoritomo sensei was all laughs and smiles. "Young men such as yourself," the man proclaimed, "should learn to be more in tune with life. All your searching for answers will afford you nothing, if you forget to play your part in the pattern of life." He was a wise man, Koshin realized, for all his coarseness and ribald humor.
"I am fortunate to have met you, Yorishi-sama," was all that the ronin could say when the time came.
So Koshin took his leave of Yoritomo Yorishi, leaving the retired samurai to contemplate the Inner Way. The big man stood by the road a moment longer, watching the samurai disappear down the road, his ancient blade in hand.
Hearing the sound of another traveler coming up the mountain road from the
village below, Yorishi smiled, turning back into the woods towards his retreat.
"So many people all the sudden," he observed sourly, "perhaps
Lord Aramasu should find us old men another island."
The Wind Whispers…