Chapter Fourteen: Dark Eyes
"Mortal glory, mortal sins; each dust and ashes against
the True Path."
The footsteps were heavy and measured, crunching blades of grass with each deliberate motion. From his seat at the front of the simple house, Yorishi could already plot the approaching man's gait. Another intruder into his solitude by no means thrilled the Mantis, but with a small jug of sake beside him, Yorishi figured that he might as well not spend it all alone.
As the man came forward into view at last, the sensei's heart sank a little, recognizing the swish of a simple monk's robes as a sign that he would likely be drinking alone regardless, and so he began to pour.
Monks could be so foolish sometimes, the Yoritomo observed with a sip.
Coming at last into the presence of the reclining samurai, the monk was tall, nearly as tall as Koshin had been, and his body broader. Slung over his shoulder was a small traveling pack, the only thing that the man probably owned. Though his head was shaved, Yorishi thought that perhaps the man's face was too harsh for enlightenment, as his robes seemed stained with flecks of blood.
That stench, the smell of blood, followed him everywhere.
The monk bowed, clasping his hands together, "Honorable Yoritomo Yorishi-sama, I am Kutsu, a fellow on the path of enlightenment."
Rising from his seat slowly, the Mantis returned the bow, his eyes never leaving the man, "Welcome to my home, Kutsu-san. What has brought you out so far?"
For a moment, the man did not respond, and Yorishi was faced with the monk with demon eyes. Then, Kutsu cast a slow, mindful gaze about the clean, simple ground, searching for something without even attempting to hide his intentions, "I have come a long way searching for another wanderer, sensei. He is a ronin, carrying two swords…"
The monk's sudden stop came as Yorishi cast a look behind him, guiding Kutsu's eyes to the single sakaba that Koshin had left behind. "The ronin was here already," Yorishi said, guarding his tongue, "but he is gone now. You have just missed him, Kutsu-san."
"A pity," the monk said, his heavy free hand clenching suddenly. "Then I will not bother you anymore, Yorishi-sama, if you will simply answer me a question."
"Of course," the Mantis answered too harshly, wishing nothing more than to be free of the presence of such a dark man.
Yorishi blinked once, not understanding the monk's question. "'His name,' Kutsu-san?"
"The name of the ronin," Kutsu repeated, throwing down his traveling pack. "I have never met the man, this ronin of two swords, and I need his name. The only other man that might have told me died in Otosan Uchi during their duel; tell me sensei, or you will force me to take your secret for my own."
The Mantis smirked, feeling his own rage rising at the open threat, "You overrate yourself."
"Go fetch your weapons, old man," Kutsu spat, all semblance of respect gone from his voice. "I will show you where the truth lies."
Walking calmly out onto the front porch, Yorishi gripped his three section staff, and his trusty tanto were thrust into the sheaths on either side of the sensei's kimono. As he came back onto the front porch, the Mantis immediately noticed the heavy silence; that, and the fact that his opponent was nowhere to be seen.
Freezing his form, Yorishi glanced to either side, checking the ground where the monk's pack still lay. He had not fled; the retired samurai could feel the other man's presence in the air. With a slow, cautious step, the master made his way into the yard.
"I thought you to at least be a man of some honor," Yorishi said loudly, whirling one end of his staff in what seemed idle motion. "Come out here, monk, if you truly wish to test your skills."
But there was only silence, with not even the buzzing of insects to fill the hanging void.
Yorishi remained silent too, his staff silently whipping through the empty air. Inside the man's head was pounding. Wherever the monk had gone, he intended some sort of treachery; there was no sense other than the smell of blood around him.
Moving slowly around the small hut, the sensei began to search his home, eternally conscious of the constant silence that choked the land. As he came around to the rear of the house, Yorishi could feel the sweat on his wrinkled brow.
"No courage in him," he muttered to himself, barely a whisper. "Not one bit."
Somewhere, he could feel the dark one's eyes. They were not wary, not the cautious eyes of man. They were the eyes of a predator, which held no fear.
The distant waves, a hundred feet down, hung apart from the silence, almost amplifying it. Yorishi stood, solid and silent, centering his spirit for the attack that was sure to come.
All he needed do was be patient…patience was a soldier's ally. The ability to wait, to plan and prepare for the next battle; this was the thing that had made Yorishi's star rise within the clan. Now, with the smell of darkness all about him, the man's face was stern and cold, the rage of Osano-Wo burning at the edge of a full blaze.
All that was needed now was a target.
One blade of grass was the only warning, but it was more than Yorishi required. To his left, towards the thickest trees, Kutsu charged, his arms raised as he came forward, his long stride turning the distance between them to nothing. Yorishi whirled the staff, bringing it down with a fierce blow, aiming the thick wood for his attacker's head.
Kutsu stopped cold, lunging to one side even as the staff smashed the earth. His large, scarred hand flew back on Yorishi's own strike, the heavy punch smashing into the Mantis warrior's face, knocking him backwards and nearly making him fall.
But the old man was strong and fierce; whipping the staff again as he moved, Yorishi smashed the weapon against Kutsu's side, hearing a solid sound from the weapon's contact.
The big monk barely noticed, as he charged forward once more.
"Damn…" was all Yorishi managed, as the incredibly fluid man seized hold of his thick waist, hauling the sensei off of his feet. With iron muscles Kutsu began to crush his enemy, and Yorishi howled in pain as his ribs began to give way.
"You are weak," Kutsu choked through clenched teeth, "Too old to continue this path!" The master fought like a Lion, but his right arm and staff were pinned, and the limbs and shoulders of his enemy might have been granite, for all the damage Yorishi's arm could do. The wound Koshin had given him burned like white fire, and only Kutsu's grating voice forced itself through the pain.
"Be honored," the monk hissed, his face half-buried in Yorishi's thrashing form, "for your place upon my path!"
Seizing hold of his only free weapon, one of his tiny tanto, the Mantis roared a battle cry, driving the tiny blade deep into his enemy's body. The pain spoiled the attack, but the blade bit hard into Kutsu's shoulder, and the monk released Yorishi suddenly, almost throwing the older man to the ground.
Slowly, the Mantis rose, his staff still ready, though his chest ached from cracked ribs. Kutsu plucked the tanto from his body with impunity, studying the insignificant weapon for a moment before dropping it lightly to the ground, "A cowardly play, sensei."
Whirling the staff with more ferocity than he truly had left, Yorishi growled and smote the ground. "Strong words, from a man that ambushes his opponent! One more pass, and I'll teach you something."
"His name," Kutsu asked, his shoulder oozing black blood.
"Never!" Yorishi roared, lunging hard. Kutsu moved forward as well, the two passing one another in a ring of flesh and bone. Both men slid to a stop in the soft earth, Yorishi laughing hard, though the breath threatened to leave him.
Whirling his staff, the Mantis approached Kutsu, who stood tall, but his right arm was already purple, the bone almost broken by the master's strike, "You should not have agreed to our fight, monk…you barely brushed against me."
But Kutsu's eyes held nothing that resembled defeat. The monk only whispered the words, "Dim Mak."
"Once it begins its course, old one, it can only be stopped by the giver," Kutsu said smugly, his weakened arm suddenly rising again to a fighting stance.
"You lie," Yorishi snarled, already knowing in his heart that Kutsu had said the truth. The old master had heard many times of the old master Suana, who had mastered the dread technique; that this man could also do such a thing sent a shudder through the sensei's spine.
Kutsu smiled, seeing the stance slacken, "Give me his name, and I will remove the mark. There is time, and your death is not important to me. You have brought me a bit closer already; I think that you know nothing more I need." The lie hung in his throat, but most men would have wanted to believe.
Koshin, you stupid young man, Yorishi thought with a smirk, casting his eyes out into the lengthening darkness of afternoon. I hope that you have continued on your way. I hope that you grow stronger, and soon.
"Old man? Death, or the name?"
But Yorishi just laughed coarsely, "Threaten me with death, you unenlightened fool, you uneducated bastard, you stupid, skulking coward! You are ignorant, nothing more than a child with too much strength. A samurai, even a retired old geezer like me, has no worry of death!"
The Mantis leapt forward, bringing his staff crashing down at the monk, one last time.
As the weapon came, Kutsu bent with the blow, seizing and guiding the old man, throwing him roughly to the ground. Yorishi hissed in pain as his arm broke from the impact; his cracked ribs snapped, one slicing through the thin sac of his lung. As he rolled, the sensei tried to right himself, but there was no strength left for him to move.
Slowly, Kutsu lifted the old man by his torn kimono, holding his face close. Yorishi's beard was now stained with his own blood, but his eyes were still defiant, strong and unafraid.
"Your death is a small thing," Kutsu whispered, his black eyes dancing like fire, "But you have brought me closer to enlightenment, old man. I know that your kharma will be strong, in the next life. Perhaps then you will understand."
The Mantis choked one final word, but the sound was lost quickly, as Kutsu released his vanquished enemy, sending him falling from the cliff into the sea…
In the end, the silence lingered; silence, and the stench of blood. Kutsu's feet were quiet as he wound his way from the forest house, and on the doorstep, carefully folded, was a letter, pinned to the ground with a dead man's blade.
Know that this man died as a samurai, and that his death has aided a worthy soul in following the path of Enlightenment. May much honor come to his memory, and may his children celebrate his last battle.
Yoritomo Yorishi died at my hand; if any wish to seek retribution, then I await your challenges.
Kutsu of Tasagura