A Father's Blessing
(a Prodigal Prodigy-story)

Masurao strode casually down the road, headed in the direction of the lands of the Crane Clan. In the distance he could see a powder blue spot settle in front of the sake house next to the road. A smile appeared on his face and he continued towards the sake house.

Kakita Kenshuko took a seat on the bench outside, stretching her legs she took a deep breath and sighed. The walk from the city hadn't been that long, but she wasn't used to depend on her feet to travel for days on end. She looked down the road in the direction she was headed. A man was walking towards the sake house, she could already make out that his head was shaven and his body colored strangely.
'An ise zumi,' she thought, 'maybe he can help me.' She smiled at herself, knowing that he would probably confuse her with his riddles and questions. She decided to just close her eyes, lean back and rest a little.

"Good day, Kakita-sama."

Kenshuko opened one eye and saw that it was the ise zumi who greated her. Too tired to stand and bow, Kenshuko just nodded and responded, "Good day, monk-san." The man's slight chuckle made Kenshuko open both her eyes, and only now did she see that the man bore a daisho, among other things.

"Pardon me, Togashi-sama, I had not recognized you as a samurai," Kenshuko said in a guilty tone as she was about to stand and bow.

"Don't trouble yourself for me, stay seated," the man's voice was friendly and amused, "unless, of course, you would be offended if I'd join you on the bench."

"No, please, sit down. I would not mind some company after my lonely travel." Kenshuko straightened herself and made some room for the man to sit.

"But surely you must take some comfort in the fact that your ancestors watch over you and your family thinks of you?" Masurao seated himself on the bench and leaned back.

Kenshuko sighed, "My family is not something I want to think about at the moment." Her voice sounded unsure, almost ashamed.

"But surely your father must love you very much?"

Kenshuko gasped, "What do you know about my father?!" She stood and looked at the man accusingly.

Masurao stared at Kenshuko with his orange orbs, she looked right back at him and felt as if he looked through her and into her soul. "I did not say anything about knowing your father."

"You are right," Kenshuko said with yet another sigh, "I am sorry. I have stopped too long already, I should continue my journey."

"If it is no burden and you wouldn't mind, maybe I could travel with you?"

Kenshuko looked at the tattooed man confused, "I would not mind, but I am not headed in the direction you were going."

"Neither am I," Masurao replied with a big grin on his face.

Kenshuko now looked at him as if he were mad, but then smiled, shrugged, nodded and said, "Then I don't see a problem…" 'Yet,' she thought.

* * *

They had journeyed for several hours and Lord Sun was at his highest point. Kenshuko wiped a trickle of sweat from her brow, wishing that Yakamo's rays would give her some respite, but what could she - a Crane - expect from a Crab? She looked at the tattooed man next to her, he didn't seem to be bothered by the heat at all. She felt her stomach stirr, and knew she had not eaten enough. Her muscles ached, and she knew she had not rested enough. Her mouth was dry, and she knew she had not drunk enough. Her knees buckled underneath her, and she knew she would faint.

* * *

"Welcome back, Kenshuko-san."

The first thing Kenshuko became aware of was the incredible softness in which she was imbedded. The second was the fact that someone was massaging her feet. She opened her eyes and saw the man's friendly smile. In a late reaction she pulled her feet away from him and looked away. "This… This is not… not appropriate," she stammered.

Masurao laughed warmly and said, "I might carry a daisho, but I was raised a monk. As a monk I was taught to help those in need, and right now you are in need. Don't worry, I know what I am doing."

Kenshuko glanced at him and visibly relaxed, "Very well… But what happened?" She looked around and saw that it was almost evening, she was lying alongside the road on a soft 'bed' of grass, leaves… and silk?!

"The combination of Yakamo's rays, your fatigue and the fact that you had eaten very little made you succumb to exhaustion. You must've traveled for at least a week. I have given you some food and water and treated your muscles."

As the man continued the massage Kenshuko tried to take a better look at her 'bed'. She spotted a piece of silk indeed! She picked at it a bit and discovered that it was a kimono of considerable quality. She looked up at the tattooed man.

"Don't mind that, it was a gift and I never wear such things anymore." Masurao smiled and looked at the young woman on the 'bed'. Her voice was troubled, weighed down by some burden, but her face and eyes told him very little of her troubles. But what her features hid, the Void unveiled. He thought he recognized something about her when he first looked at her, but when their eyes locked in that gaze he knew who she was.

"Your goal must be an important one, for you to exhaust yourself so, Kenshuko-san."

Kenshuko's eyes widened at hearing him say her name, she only now realized that he had used it before. "Who are you!? You seem to know my name, and maybe even more! I don't know anything more about you than what I see, and you are even massaging my feet!?"

"How is your purpose not like this situation?" Masurao could see the confusion in her eyes. "Do you even know who it is you are pursuing?"

Kenshuko's face reddened and she said with a firm, loud tone, "Of course I do! Now I demand to know your name, ise zumi!" She reached for her swords ever so slightly, but Masurao's smile never wavered and it made her reconsider.

"My name is Togashi Masurao, until a little while ago I was known as the Wise Man of the Rock."

"That was you," Kenshuko asked, "I was thinking of paying you a visit, but it seems you are no longer at your rock… What is it that you know of me, Masurao-san? You seem to know much more than one would guess from looking at you."

Masurao nodded and replied, "I know of you, your quest, your mother and perhaps even something about your father."

"That cannot be! You cannot know anything about my mother! I have never seen you in our house before!" Kenshuko was near tears, but knew how to keep them at bay.

"I have never seen the Moon or Sun in person either, but I know of them as well. There are other ways of knowing than you might know of, Kenshuko-san. Maybe you should tell me why you want to find your father so badly?"

Kenshuko looked at Masurao, she gathered her resolve and said, "I have never truly known him. I wish to speak to him."

"And after you've spoken? Will you kill him?"

"How… No! You cannot comprehend this! You said you were raised a monk, what do you know about loyalty and honor!?" Tears now flowed over her face freely, let loose by the words of the tattooed man.

"I was raised a monk, but I have always been a samurai, Kenshuko-san. You have left on this journey without considering the consequences well. In following your father's footsteps you have become more like him than you might know."
"How… How so?" Her sobbing did not prevent her from speaking clearly. She was a strong woman, she would learn.

"Did you not left the Clan on a quest, like your father? Have you not left behind your duties? Have you not left behind those whom you love to pursue a goal you thought to be honorable? Your father is like you in these ways, but you did not consider how your clansmen might think of it. He has no clansmen at the moment, only family. I do not know what caused you to hunt your father, but I know one thing: he has never betrayed his family."

Kenshuko was unable to speak, sorrow filled her heart and tears her eyes. She grabbed Masurao and cried on his shoulder. He was truly surprised by her action, but did not stop her, instead he comforted her and said, "Do not cry, no harm has been done…"

* * *

"You are right, monk! The harm has yet to come… to you two!"
During their conversation a band of brigands had sneaked up on Masurao and Kenshuko. Masurao turned slowly to face the men, whispering to Kenshuko to stay down.

"It would advise you to move on. There is nothing here for you to gain and much to loose." Masurao's voice was firm and commanding now. As he looked at each of the eight brigands in turn, he knew they would not back away, they had been hungry for too long to pass a chance on gaining some food and wealth.

Almost in chorus the bandits laughed, a boisterous sound. The one who appeared to be the leader spoke again, "And what would you do? You are one man and we are eight. Give up your wealth and food and we might consider letting you go unharmed."

Kenshuko watched the scene with dread, hoping that her companion knew what he was doing. She watched as Masurao inhaled deeply and she felt as if he was somehow drawing all the warmth from the surroundings towards himself. Kenshuko exhaled and a her breath was visible, she looked at it and back at Masurao who was chanting now.

The brigands looked at each other, then at their leader when their opponent started chanting and things went cold. Their leader nodded and they advanced, blades drawn and voices shouting. But they did not reach Masurao.

With a powerful kiai Masurao thrust his opened hands forwards as if pushing against an invisible wall and immediately flames burst from his body in a half circle, burning the thugs and knocking them back through the air.

Kenshuko felt a warm breeze rush past her as Masurao released all the heat again and she saw the brigands fly throught the air. When they hit the ground they scrambled to their feet and ran away as quick and sudden as they had appeared.

Masurao turned around and looked at Kenshuko with a lopsided grin on his face. She could not help but smile back, though a bit wryly. He kneeled next to her again and asked, "Are you ok?"

"A bit shaken, but fine," she replied, "Would you mind explaining what you did just there? I thought you were a samurai-monk, that looked more like a shugenja's spell."

"Let's just say that my father left me with a strange legacy." Masurao's look turned sad at the mention of his father.

Kenshuko looked a bit shocked when she saw the sadness and quickly said, "I did not mean to hurt your feelings. Please accept my apologies."

Masurao shook his head, "I would trade my legacy at any time to have a father like yours. One I can meet, talk to and learn from. I have met my father once in my entire life. I have a brother whom I also met only once. My mother died a long time ago, and I did meet her only one time. You are lucky that you knew your mother, that you have a father who you can learn to know and that you have family that loves and cares about you. I only have myself and memories, my own memories and those of others. Sometimes, I don't even know which are my own and which are not, I live lifes that are not my own. But it is my destiny and I shall not walk away from it." After these words Masurao looked away, shed a single tear and then looked back at Kenshuko.

Kenshuko swallowed, she had never known anyone other than her mother to be so open and honest to her, she was near tears again but found the voice to speak, "How… how do you know it is not my destiny to… to kill my father?"

Masurao looked at her strangely and chuckled, his mood changed visibly, and he said, "Even if it was your destiny to try and kill your father, it is not his to die by your sword. We did not meet by coincidence. I chose to meet you. As I did choose to meet your father."

Kenshuko's mouth fell open and her eyes widened in shock, "You… you met my father? What is he like? Is he truly a hero? Or… something else?"

Masurao's look saddened again and he sad, "I could tell you tales and stories about your father, I could tell you my experiences with him and those of a hundred others, but whatever I will tell you it isn't the truth you are looking for. Only you can make the decision of what you think of him, and only when you have met him. And you shall."

"Can't you help me find him? I don't where to look for him now." Kenshuko's voice was desperate, she had never been so close to find her father, and this man seemed to know almost everything.

"I could, but the time has not yet come for you to meet him," Masurao said as he stood, "Follow his story, talk to the people who met him and then you shall find him." He looked up at the evening sky and sighed, "I must leave you for now. When you find him, tell your father that if he needs my help, I will be in the lands of the Dragon and when he gets there, I shall find him. I need to go there and honor an agreement I made long ago. This goes for you as well."
Kenshuko sniffed away a sob and a tear and replied, "I understand. I will not forget your words, Masurao-sama."

The tattooed men laughed, "Then don't forget to eat, drink and rest enough, buy yourself a jingasa… And don't call me sama."

"Yosh," Kenshuko grunted comically.

"Then I bid you farewell, wish a good journey and hope we meet again, Kenshuko…-san," Masurao bowed and walked down the road, back from where they had come.

"Goodbye, Masurao-san," Kenshuko whispered. Surprisingly he turned his head and grinned a last time after those words, as if he heard them. She sighed and sat up to get her sandals on again. A faint glitter caught her eyes and as she looked to her side she saw something shining in the moonlight next to her 'bed'. She picked it up and examined it: a tear-shaped, flame-like orange crystal, and it had been lying near the spot where Masurao had sat. Carefully she wrapped in a piece of silk and slipped it in her pouch. She then continued to strap on her sandals and stood to continue her journey, but another curiosity caught her eyes. The kimono she had been lying on was colored red and black and when she pulled it from underneath the leaves she could easily make out the gold scorpion that was embroidered on the silk. 'It must be worth at least several koku,' she thought, 'why would he leave it behind?' Thinking Masurao had forgotten it, she put the kimono in her pack, slung it over her shoulder and continued her journey.