The Swordmaster
Chapter Sixty-Five: The Path

"One must bow to offer aid to a fallen man."
- The Tao of Shinsei

The two of them stood upon the mountain as the sun brought light and fire to the world around them, their bodies like great towers as the wind passed silently by, seizing hold of tattered garments, tangling the short strands of the swordmaster's hair. Off to one side, Mirumoto Nikkan and Ujirou stood in mournful silence, both having pity in their hearts for reasons all their own.

Then the Dragon turned away and moved to the end of the plateau in a slow and limping gait, a bittersweet smile beneath tear-red eyes, "It is entirely too cold up here for a man with such old bones."

Kutsu's dark eyes flitted over to the student, the last observer, but Ujirou met his look with a stare that burned him with its venom and hate. As the Mirumoto sensei vanished down the hill and amidst the stones of the winding trail, Koshin caught the monk's glance even as they returned to deathless eyes.

"Ujirou-san, I am sure that Nikkan will need help making it down the mountain." The warrior touched his blades as he continued, "Go and help him; I will be with you in good time."

Despite his fear, his concern, and his hatred, Daidoji Ujirou bowed wordlessly to his teacher, turning and disappearing without a glance into the light of a now-blinding sun. Once the samurai had gone, Kutsu bowed his head, "I suppose that I owe you for that. Your student alone did not judge me from these bloody hands; his ignorance was something that I…appreciated."

"You do not have to do this. I heard what Nikkan said to you; we both know that your path is wrong."

The monk laughed at the idea; it was a bitter self-deprecating sound. "What your friend said does not matter, Koshin. I must see this to the end." He hesitated, "If I do not, then I am truly the murderer…the monster that you believe me to be."

Raising his killing hands as if to examine them the big man clenched and unclenched them, watching the motion as if he had never looked before. "If I turn away now, I betray every one of them, as much as you believe I betrayed the spirit of your friend so long ago. Their blood is written into by bones and soul, my every action…I cannot turn from those eyes."

"I will walk the path I have chosen," he finished curtly. "I will not be a coward, and I will not turn away!"

Koshin lowered himself into his stance with a understanding smile, offering his opponent a single bow, "Then prepare yourself, Kutsu. I am ready for you now."

At the end, there was no mourning, no need for words like "blame" or "hate." The two warriors stood against one another without malice, both free in the moment of the fight. As they moved, Kakita Koshin found something more; something neither he nor Kutsu had expected, but that both had hoped to see…

There was one strike.

The End