Chapter Fifty-Seven: The Ninth Master
"The lonely sword sings / seeking truth in the darkness /
yet still the snow falls."
- Mirumoto Nikkan
The two of them stood in the dawning of the moonlight, their forms like statues in the chill of the silent night. Above the pair the stars seemed to dance and whirl, as if the growing power below had awakened hearts long ago dead. Koshin's eyes shone like twin fires in the darkness, while there grew a subtler radiance from the edges of the black dragon concealed on Tenryuu's form.
Then, with a fluidness that shocked the ronin back to reality, Tenryuu pivoted and was upon him, both swords roaring out and into a deadly overhand strike. Koshin retreated as he drew and analyzed in a single moment, his blades and mind responding as he darted like a bird in flight.
Drawing both swords to strike overhead; this is the Double Kiriotoshi Technique of the Mirumoto Ryu. This technique is used to break through the opponent's weapon and carry through into the head.
Koshin pivoted and parried with Ukigumo without hesitation, meeting strength with strength, spoiling the daisho's ability to sunder and destroy. As he moved, however, the ronin felt the wakizashi fall short of his blade as Tenryuu pivoted, thrusting the blade at his enemy's heart.
This is the variant of the Double Kiriotoshi, the ronin's mind spoke in haste, the Falling Iai Goshi!
Keiteki flashed as its owner retreated, slashing out to lock with the shorter, faster Mirumoto sword. Tenryuu lowered his head and charged his opponent with arms extended, but this time it was his opponent who lunged first with a low knee-level slash which forced the Niten Master to parry, falling backwards and giving Koshin a momentary pause.
Age had hardly touched his opponent, and Tenryuu's moves were more polished than before. Like a flowing wave, the Mirumoto warrior rushed forward, attacking with two horizontal crossing cuts.
Koshin smiled, stepping forward into the twin strikes. This is an attack that few can perform correctly; the twin blades of the Crossing Moon Cuts. The trick is to meet the daisho in the center, where they can be parried as one…
Falling into a crouch, Koshin's second sword flashed towards Tenryuu's stomach, as his swords locked against Keiteki's copper-steel blade. As if anticipating the move, the master slashed both swords down and forward, passing over his enemy's tsuba, cutting towards the ronin's head.
Both katana slammed down in the same instant, and both men rose without a grunt or word. Koshin had avoided death, but Tenryuu's black blade had opened his kimono up at the shoulder, while his own blade had slashed the Mirumoto master's hakama lightly along the side.
He has gotten even faster, the wanderer told himself as the two again studied one another, the winds of the mountain stirring loose strands of his hair. Probably even faster than me.
"Your moves are even better than I expected," Koshin admitted as he touched the kimono just where the two pieces of cloth had been sliced in two. His eyes narrowed, "Even I did not know that you would be this strong, Tenryuu-san."
The man's voice was cold and distant, though he did smile at his wound. "I always knew that you would return…even before all of the stories that I heard, I knew. I have fought more the forty duels in my life, Koshin…but for some reason, yours was clearest in my mind."
"It has been a lifetime…but I could never forget."
For one breath, the two men lowered their weapons, taking a moment to examine one another in the light of the shining moon. Upon closer inspection, Koshin noticed that more than a few wrinkles had crept onto the ageless face on his old nemesis…lines that were the mark of the same worries and fears that Kaori had told him of months ago.
Pain that came from living life…pain that had made Tenryuu strong.
Koshin sheathed his swords, then turned, facing his opponent in a low, forward stance, "One more time and then we will finish this, Tenryuu."
The Dragon slowly sheathed his daisho, working a kink from his shoulder and then readying himself for the strike. The ronin could see his opponent, sizing him up again, trusting none of the assumptions that his warrior's mind had recorded in the initial moments of their fight.
Little tricks will not work against him, Koshin told himself with a smile, letting his right foot slide forward, narrowing the distance between his enemy to less than a full draw. If he was going to beat Tenryuu, then he would have to do the very thing that had cost him the duel twenty five years ago. He would have to stand one on one with the heart of the Dragon, head to head against all of the fury and passion and technique that Tenryuu had been holding back, these long and turbulent years.
This time, he would not fail.
"You are an incredible warrior, Tenryuu," Koshin said, letting his soul open up, filling it with the strength of the Void. "I am sure that you know that I will have to fight without holding anything back." As Sayo-no-Unchi begin to rise about him, the ronin's hair caught in the rising wind, revealing his calm grey eyes.
Eyes that widened, ever so slightly, when he saw that the power of Emptiness filled Tenryuu as well…
"Sayo-no-Unchi," Tenryuu said with a little smile, stepping back a bit to consider his opponent with a quiet, meaningful stare. "I should not be surprised that you found the key to a secret that so many never knew was real…and yet…" the Dragon's voice trailed off into the rising wind that lashed the plateau of the mountain, throwing stones and gravel far into the air.
"Koshin!" the Mirumoto master said loudly, almost shaking the swordsman from the Void. "I have a question for you. The power of Sayo-no-Unchi works by reflecting the fear and hatred of your opponent back upon him, his own emotions making him unable to use his death lust against you. But when this same emptiness hurls itself against one another, who can say what will come of such a fight?"
The ronin felt the chill of the air around him; he remembered the impotence Mori had felt against the power of the Void. "I do not know what will come of this fight, Tenryuu," he admitted freely, "but it is time that we find out. I will hold nothing back."
Tenryuu smiled. "Then show me now."
Both swords slashed through the air with a furious roar, their cutting edges ringing against one another as both men threw their bodies in behind the strike. Tenryuu pushed as Koshin sprung, as the two powers smashed against each other, both putting everything into their strongest attacks.
Turning hard to his left side, the Dragon turned and slashed at his enemy with his wakizashi, his slash aiming at Koshin's waist, too fast for the wanderer to draw his own blade.
Placing his free hand on the hilt of Ukigumo Koshin shoved the sword down at a stiff angle, using the steel to lock both the deadly swords. The Mirumoto lunged, thrusting up with the hilt of his black katana's long hilt, smashing his opponent's nose so hard that Koshin immediately saw blackness at the edges of his vision, and stumbled backwards as the Dragon slashed forward with the short sword one more time.
Falling to one knee Koshin hit hard enough to dodge the slash of Tenryuu's wakizashi, drawing Keiteki with his reverse hand, bringing the hilt up to lock his copper tsuba with the falling edge of the Dragon's blade. Charging back to his feet, the ronin thrust his left foot forward, tangling his opponent's stance, forcing him to retreat.
Except that Mirumoto Tenryuu did not retreat. With hardly a half-foot between them, the samurai's swords thrust with his katana as he crossed his slash with his fastest swing. Koshin's twin swords whirled like dancing banners as they rushed out to match him, and then the night froze as all four blades sliced through living flesh.
Both men froze in a moment of pain and shock, their eyes sliding down, following the cold, unnatural sensation of metal buried in folds of flesh that was their own. Tenryuu's swords had stabbed through Koshin's hip and slashed his left shoulder almost to the bone, while Ukigumo had torn through the Mirumoto's torso under his arm, and Keiteki into his collar along the right side.
A few drops of dark blood splattered the ground as the two men returned to consider one another, their breaths both coming in fractured, labored breaths.
"One more…strike," Koshin hissed, feeling the sudden sensation of his strength slipping away.
Tenryuu shuddered despite himself, but smiled as he answered with a nod. With a twist of their blades, both heroes of the past freed their weapons and whirled, pivoting to build up power, in readiness for this final pass…
Something had changed in the air, Nikkan realized as the Tamori continued their chanting, drawing all the spirits to the steel that would become Ujirou's swords. As the monk turned, he noticed that the boy had also sensed that something had happened in the last moment, and had lifted his head from his prayers with worried eyes.
Beside him, the shugenja lifted his head with a solemn smile, facing the Mirumoto sensei, his voice restrained and calm, "Master Nikkan-sama, the spirits have agreed. They are prepared…"
The monk rose with a long bow, his calm face fully hiding the worries that crept into his mind. "We will leave you to finish the ritual in silence then, Kumatsu-san. I know that the kami with show you what remains of the way."
"You will not be disappointed," the young shugenja responded with a smile, starting the final session of his praying as the two stepped out of the main manor room.
Ujirou was looking down at the floor, but even so his voice was crisp and clear, "Are you concerned about my sensei too, Nikkan-sensei?"
"For a moment I was," the Mirumoto monk admitted with a smile, adjusting his fine daisho as he motioned for a servant to bring the two some water to drink. "But then I remembered who it was that I was so concerned about, Ujirou-san, and how little good it would do."
"Whatever happens, Ujirou, you have an oath to fulfill to your sensei," the monk finished, taking a long sip of cool water and enjoying the warmth of the house in the night. "If you have so much energy as to worry about his safety, then I suggest that you use it to train."
"One day, sooner or later, Kakita Koshin will be gone, Ujirou, and you will be his testament, his mark on the world of men."
Casting a long glance towards the old man's wrinkled smile, the Daidoji
turned silently to move towards the large training dojo, hoping with all of his
heart that his sensei's time had not yet come. His hand closed upon the bokken
with a nervous shudder, as the student felt the frigid sensation of death upon
The Time is Now.