The Swordmaster
Chapter Fifty-Nine: Nature of the Beast

"Nature does not recognize good and evil."
- The Tao of Shinsei

Most the passers-by assumed that the girl was crazy, shouting up into the boughs of a small and youthful tree. Her long hair was tangled and wrapped up from long weeks of travel, and her pale blue kimono was grimy from the day. Despite all that, a deep if ignoble beauty shown through as the samurai woman continued crying through the leaves into the heavens, the chuckling of the nearby monk more unsettling than it was serene.

In the shadow of the small wooden inn, Togashi Masurao reclined himself with a subtle chuckle, a glimmer showing through on his golden eyes. Before him, the samurai-ko turned to face him with a face dabbed in sweat and heavy annoyance, her voice clipped and filled with rage.

"Explain to me again how this is going to help me decide about my father, Masurao!" Kenshuko was now far beyond politeness and courtesy, and the monk's stifled laughter only made her more annoyed. Above her, the pitiful meow of a lonely, stranded young cat slipped down to reach the both of them, and the Crane looked back up to glare at the tiny beast.

The tattooed samurai merely smiled, placing his daisho at his side. For the last three hours, the girl had been locked in combat with the small creature, and so far, she had accomplished nothing more than scaring the cat onto a higher limb.

"Your father is not so unlike that cat when it comes to you, I think," he said with another warm smile. "Except that he might be quicker to climb a tree."

Kenshuko snarled, "Come down, neko!"

Masurao shook his head, "You will never get him down that way, Kenshuko-san…you might as well cut the tree down with your blade."

The girl shrugged her shoulders in defeat, her whole body seeming to release a heavy sigh. She had happened on Masurao, who had been resting on a bench, only a half-day ago. Now she was wishing that she had not noticed those fire-born eyes. "I have tried everything, Masurao. I quit."

"Try just a little longer, Kenshuko-san," the warrior-monk told her, his voice a horrible mixture of meekness and command. The samurai-ko's eyes narrowed into slits, and for a moment, even the son of Fire knew some fear.

Then, like a dutiful student, the girl returned to her feline cooing, feeling like an idiot as she attempted to imitate a purr…


Nikkan's home was never so loud as to be called an "uproar," but with their master preparing for a departure, the servants moved with conviction and force. Ujirou was sent dodging for his life on numerous occasions, nearly being bumped by so many people that he had no idea of whose apologies that he had to accept with his bows.

Eventually, the young swordsman stepped out to where his sensei was already waiting, and again the Daidoji was uncertain about his sight. This morning Koshin had finally been free to wash and have his bedraggled hair tended; the effect of a shock to the student, as his sensei straightened his kimono, his long braid dancing as he moved.

Without the scratches, wounds and stubble, Kakita Koshin was quite a noble and dignified-looking man.

"You have been staring at me ever since we woke up, Ujirou," his sensei said with a smile. "Does it surprise you so much that I was once a respectable samurai?"

"Hai, Koshin-sensei," the boy answered honestly as he adjusted his new pair of shining katana, catching a sour glance as the older man also moved to check his ready blades. Both swords flashed their silver tsuba at their owner in the sunlight, fresh wooden sheaths hiding the glint of the blades.

Blades that he had by now wholly memorized, practicing with the weapons by the night's gentle light.

By that time, Nikkan was almost upon the two of them, a walking stick in his wrinkled hands as he limped toward his companions, a battered old kasa pressed over his brow. "I do not remember you ever being called 'respectable' by anyone, Koshin," the monk commented idly as the servant handed out food and some light provisions, "though I do remember some of their other choice words."

The handsome warrior only smiled, his eyes looking somewhere to the west and far away, "I am sure that they meant it in the finest meaning…though 'ignoble fool' has few such ways."

"Ujirou-san," Nikkan said with a smile, "I believe that I forgot something inside. Could you bring me the bag setting beside the dojo's daisho stand. Without a word, the boy bowed and dashed back into the house with impressive speed, obviously eager to be once more upon the road.

"'Forgot something,' Nikkan?" Koshin asked with a guarded smile. "That is not like you at all."

"Not all of us have eternity's blessings…forgive a man for growing old." The samurai-monk smirked as he accepted the small, simple bag from Ujirou, tucking it into his obi with a suddenly serious, quiet move.

"Thank you, Ujirou-san."

The old Mirumoto smiled, digging his staff into the ground. Behind him, the servants waved goodbye to the guests and their master, as the monk opened up their journey with a flourish and a bow. As the three fell into a uniform gait they moved slowly down to the trails along the mountains, Nikkan whistling loudly, and Koshin humming just out of tune.

"How many days will it take to reach the outskirts of Heibeisu, Nikkan?" Koshin asked after a few minutes of walking. "I do not remember ever travelling this part of your lands."

Nikkan chuckled, "I think that Kutsu will not grow so bored in the next few days, Koshin. Considering that you have the intention of talking to the monk rather than engaging him, I am surprised to hear you as eager as if this were a fight."

"Reasoning with Kutsu," the swordsman responded, "is assured to be quite a fight."

Despite the laughter, the young man was quiet, his mind turning itself over and over, wondering what purpose Nikkan could have with a bag of rough and broken stones…


"I give up for real this time," Kenshuko exclaimed in weary exhaustion, her body sliding down along the length of the tree to take a defeated, slumping seat. Almost instantly, Masurao was standing beside her, catching the gaze of a tired soldier half-hidden behind disheveled hair. "The cat just won't move."

Before the ise zumi could answer there came the sound of scrabbling paws in motion, as a grey cat landed gently on the mass of hair on the girl's weary head. Those orange eyes flashed as Masurao took a seat beside her, watching as the samurai-ko removed the purring creature with both hands.

"So the moment that you act naturally," he said with a smile, "it is the nature of the beast to do the same."

Kenshuko rolled her eyes at the Dragon idly, delicately rubbing the area behind the young beast's ears. As the cat purred, she shook her head despite herself. "I guess that I should not fault you for climbing that tree in the first place, neko, even if it did waste almost the whole day. It's only right that you would be afrai…d."

That instant, as enlightenment dawned upon her, Togashi Masurao received a look so dark and baleful that he could do nothing, save break out in a nervous grin. Still holding the cat, Kenshuko propped herself up on one shoulder, staring into those orange fires until they hurt her eyes.

"You tricked me, Masurao-san," she said with a sigh and a bitter smile. "You said that this would help me to decide about my father, but instead you just explained to me why he is the way he is. This does not help me."

Masurao smiled innocently, "I would suggest otherwise, Kenshuko-san. Understanding why your father acts like he does is at the very heart of this little discussion…and you are trying to choose how to face him with a nervous heart."

"The next time that you meet with him, Kenshuko, I would implore you act the same. Kakita Koshin is a man who responds heavily to the strength of people's emotions," he said warmly. "As a fellow bushi and your father, you owe him judgement by an even and ready soul."

"You seem to take my father's side with great conviction," the samurai-ko responded glumly. "Strange, since you have only met him once."

"A long time ago," the Dragon freely admitted. "Even so, I saw something special, some new potential in his soul."

"So you think that I should forgive him?"

The Togashi warrior sighed and leaned back to lay down with his long, marked arms folded beneath him, that same, lazy smile emblazoned tightly on his face. "I am not someone that can claim to have a great knowledge of the world of children and fathers, Kenshuko-san, but what I told you before still remains. You are more like your father than either of you have noticed."

"It is that what is causing you this pain. But even if you feel that I have not managed to alleviate the situation, our friendly cat has not been useless in his tree."

Recognizing some subtle meaning behind his words, the samurai-ko leaned forward, her move disturbing the slumbering feline, though it made no attempt to escape or move. "What are you talking about, Masurao-san? I am afraid that I don't understand…"

"Well, it did keep you here all day."

While they had been talking, several travelers had passed by their side. And while both of the samurai had been deeply engrossed in their conversation, this group of three drew the Crane's sudden attention, a sudden realization catching her blue-grey eyes.

Standing beside her sensei and little Ujirou stood a tall, handsome young warrior, the weight of long years buried in his grey eyes. Koshin's grey and gold kimono caught the wind as his perfect braid bobbed behind him as he froze.

"Kenshuko-san," Masurao said from somewhere close behind her. "You need to relax. I believe that you're strangling the cat."

The Night Begins…