Chapter Fifty-Five: Family
"We will bring victory home."
- Togashi Yokuni
It took Koshin two weeks to reach the edge of the Mirumoto mountains; the sensei set a winding path, twisting through ruined hamlets and broken roads. In some places they moved with wet cloth pressed against their faces in comfort, and in some places they did not move at all.
These were not the same lands that the Kakita remembered; where he turned, there were no villages, and where he walked, there were no roads. The wrath of the mountains had done much to change the lands of the Dragon Clan, but at the end of the long trail the Fortunes finally relinquished, bringing the two tired samurai to the edge of a large, spacious home.
The grounds were untended and simply decorated, a simple trail leading up to doors more like a temple than a home. Koshin walked towards the large house with a strange sense of wonder; he had never fully expected to live long enough to return to his companion's home.
"We are so high up," Ujirou let out in awe, staring over the edge of the tall hill and into the valley, seeing the small snake that was in fact a twisting road. "Even the Doji Cliffs are not this high."
Koshin nodded idly, stepping up the stairs to the door. Nikkan had never clung so closely to formality, but even so, a respected sensei was to be treated with honor at all times. Ringing the large temple bell, the ronin considered the nearby cliff side intently, wondering whether the mountains had spared his tiny pool.
Each ring pealed like a pure breath in the thin air of the Dragon lands. The doors opened to reveal a small servant, more a boy than a man, who bowed with proper respect to the two tattered, tired swordsmen.
"My master is awaiting you, Kakita Koshin-dono, Daidoji Ujirou-sama."
Ujirou glanced at his sensei in confusion, but for his part, the wanderer did not seem even slightly surprised.
Mirumoto Nikkan was not at all what Ujirou had expected; the man's head was shaved like a monk despite his daisho, and beneath his golden kimono his muscles were small and unused. As the two friends greeted one another warmly in the large, empty dojo, the Daidoji wondered what to make of the small Mirumoto monk…was this truly the same man that his sensei had praised so highly?
"And this is Daidoji Ujirou," the man said at length to Koshin, moving past the swordsman to bow to his apprentice with a long, wrinkled grin. "From your look, I expect that you expected more. Your sensei is too forgiving in his descriptions; I am simply an old man who thinks too much and speaks too little."
The boy found the monk's grin infectious, and lost his composure in a smile of his own.
Nikkan tucked his arms behind his body and started from the dojo, leaving Ujirou to follow the two men as Koshin fell in to his side. The two men spoke like old friends, joking about many things, ranging from the mountains to the quality of the ronin's clothes. As they sat down to eat, the Mirumoto dispelled formality with a long sweep of his kimono, inviting them to dine in peace without the burdens of proper guests.
"After all," he said with a grin, "from the look of the two of you, playing at formalities would waste too much time. I have some clothes for both of you, Koshin, ready and waiting in your rooms."
The ronin smiled, "You were prepared for this, then?"
Taking a hearty sip of his sake, the Mirumoto nodded, "When I heard that you had entered the mountains, Koshin, I hoped that you would be coming this way. Kutsu passed this way a week ago," the man said more seriously. "He said to be ready for you to come and fight."
The warrior nodded seriously, glancing over to Ujirou's food-filled face. "Ujirou here is something of a friend to Master Kutsu, Nikkan…I wish that you could have convinced him to stay here."
Arching one thin eyebrow the small monk nodded, lowering his cup with a smaller, knowing grin. "I wish that I could have convinced him of many things, Koshin, but I am certain that you are fully aware of how stubborn he can be."
"I think that Ujirou would enjoy some time in the bath now, Koshin; I have had the water warmed and prepared." Nikkan's eyes were ever sharp as he spoke each word loud and clearly, inflections of a trained Kitsuki drawing the meaning to his words.
Koshin took a bite of his fine, soft noodles with great joy, and then nodded, his eyes matching the sharpness of his friend. "I think that would be for the best."
The wind that filled the Dragon Mountains never changed; even the rumble of the mountains did little to dispel the biting cold. Where below the air was still warm, it was cold enough that Koshin could very nearly see his breath. Nikkan did not seem concerned beside him, despite the growing shivers that crept into the ronin's bones.
"I need to ask you to find some people for me, Nikkan." Koshin made no attempt to keep his voice calm or even; no doubt the Dragon could guess what was to come. "Togashi Masurao and Mirumoto Tenryuu."
"Finding Masurao will not be so difficult, Koshin, though I must admit that I am surprised. Few people in the Empire have had the opportunity to speak with him," the Dragon arched one eyebrow. "I suppose that you are hoping for a fight?"
Koshin did not change his expression, "I want to ask him a question, Nikkan…Masurao is Masurao. He will choose whether or not to fight to fight me again."
The Dragon stepped out onto the stone terrace, taking a long look into Hitomi's light, "And Tenryuu? Will you offer him the same choice?"
"Tenryuu would not have it that way. He will fight."
A moment after the words left him, Koshin knew that they were wrong. Nikkan was looking at him with a tiny, crooked smile, his own voice warm and gentle as the two were bathed in the gleam of the moon, "Time can change a lot of things, my friend…I am sure that you are aware of that. What Tenryuu and you shared was one duel in a lifetime; do not expect him to remain as he was."
The wanderer nodded. "I know, Nikkan…but I have to see that for myself."
For a moment, the wind was the only sound between the two friends, as Koshin considered the duel so long ago. He had never considered that Tenryuu had been anything but stronger than he was. The weight of the years was still so light upon Koshin's shoulders…to someone who had lived through the turmoil of the waking world, how could it ever be the same?
"Has Kenshuko come to see you, Nikkan?"
The monk shook his head, "No, but I have received letters from family visiting the Kakita, and I am not surprised that you mentioned her."
Koshin nodded, not finding the heart for a word.
"She will find what she is looking for in you sooner or later, Koshin; I know that as well as you." With that, the Dragon pulled his kimono closer to his small body and stepped back into the light of his home, "Why don't you get some sleep tonight, Koshin? There is little more that we can accomplish before dawn."
Nikkan turned, watching in silence as Koshin uncoiled the soiled bandage from his muscular right arm. As the wrap fell to the ground, the ronin extended his arm to better offer a view to his friend, revealing a long unhealed wound.
"Have you ever seen a wound like this before, Nikkan?"
Taking hold of the arm with the gentleness of a physician, the Mirumoto extended and probed the wound with noticeable curiosity. As it moved, the cut continued to bleed like a fresh cut, the edges of the skin long dead from the passage of time. After a long stare, Nikkan released his friend's arm, his eyes serious as Koshin rebound the cut.
"I have never seen such a wound, Koshin. It will require the aid of the Tamori to heal." The monk folded his arms with a smile. "It is time to tell me the whole story, Koshin."
The man smiled, "Have you ever heard of a sword called Saishuuheiki?"
It would prove to be a long night after all…
The sword was named Keiteki; a guide to enlightenment by the path of the blade. It was a slender bit of folded metal, barely curving from the long edge to the hilt, the whole weapon forged of a strange alloy of copper and steel. Even in the darkness, the plain hilt seemed to sparkle, shining as a testimony to the light of the hidden edge.
It was a sword of honor and courage, and shared the power of both.
Created by the monks of the Temple of Thunder, the sword was given as a gift to Mirumoto Miyu during the year ten eighty-two, an honor for her wisdom and virtue on service to the guardians of the shrine. The samurai-ko carried the blade throughout her journeys, bringing it in the end to a match fated to change many things.
After her duel with Kakita Tsanu, Miyu was married the iaijutsu master in the following summer, bringing with her Keiteki to the lands of the Crane.
Long years had passed since that day of union, the bond of pure lines of Kakita and Mirumoto blood. Miyu had died of a prolonged illness, passing in the ninth year of her only son. During the Day of Thunder, Tsanu joined his beloved in the journeys beyond. Keiteki was given as a gift to their eldest child, Kakita Koshin, who continued to carry the sword for many years…
Now, the blade slept in the dojo of the Mirumoto sensei, its edge untested, untouched by any hand. The ronin could almost feel Keiteki waiting, calling out to him to test himself with the strength of such a blade.
With a steady hand, Koshin removed the sword from its resting-place, tucking it gently into his obi, adjusting to the weight of the light katana on his hip. The swordsman smiled as he ran his hand along the gentle silk of the blade's long handle, comfortable in the familiar touch of his mother's sword.
Like lightning, the blades sang to life, whirling unhindered through the dojo's silent air. Koshin turned, pivoted and twisted with total abandon, giving himself over the glory of the sword. Form faded and turned to nothingness, his hands given over to each stroke of the blade.
The strikes were the Butuo Kaminari Batsu, the Dancing Thunder Strikes. Over and over the technique twisted and whirled; its speed smooth and yet erratic, its aim racing yet poised. This was the one technique that Koshin had not attempted since his long journey…a move that required perfect focus, dedication to only the path and the Void.
At the end the two swords rang like thunder, coming together with a clean, perfect strike.
"Now Tenryuu…now I am ready for you."
Seek the Truth…