The Swordmaster
Floating Cloud: A Tribute to Kakita Rensei

The wind stirred the edges of the forest, shaking the leaves of the tall bamboo trees. A few, torn from their places, drifted to the well-trodden ground that marked the edge of the wooded shrine. Hidden in the shadow of the Phoenix borders, it had been carved long ago by some forgotten artisan, its small wooden roof and crude statue an enduring testament to the Fortune of Strength.

In the darkness of the structure rested a warrior, his body motionless in the shade of the Celestial's home. Kakita Koshin looked lazy at he stared blankly into the darkness of the simple roof, his body stretched out along the edge of the trampled earth. Behind his gray eyes, however, the sensei's mind was troubled, his slender hand brushing the edges of the katana resting at his side.

Its name was Ukigumo, the Blade of the Floating Cloud. Over a century of dirt and water had done no damage to the ancient sword of the Kakita, and the swordsman knew that he could easily see his reflection in the shining temper of the blade.

This was the sword of Kakita Rensei.

Word of the swordmaster's death had come by chance to him, carried to the distant edge of the Phoenix provinces on the tongues of courtiers and merchants. Since he had heard, the wanderer had been tired and sluggish, his student training himself while his trainer watched in a troubled silence that he seemed unable to shake.

Among the Crane, the name of Kakita Rensei was twice famous, his name among the greatest of the heroes of their clan. All those who attending the Kakita Academies knew the stories of the master of the sword, and few were the teachers who forgot to praise his name. He had fought with excellence, and served the Crane with honor, refusing a position as Master of the Academies to follow the yearning of his heart.

It was something Koshin had never been offered, but he knew that it would have been his choice.

After his return to the world of Rokugan, the swordmaster had continued to serve the Empire, fighting many times against the armies of the Hantei. Rensei's style had been brutal and effective, and there were few in all the Empire who would have claimed to have equaled the master's skill.

Now, the master had fallen, returned to death by an unknown hand.

Ukigumo flashed as it was drawn in an instant, a slanting piece of sunlight striking the wave-edged blade. Koshin was silent as he considered the sword in the darkness, wondering about the master's weapon that had somehow found his hands.

He would never be able to return it, now. He would never be able to stand in the presence of the iaijutsu master, never speak with him or be able to test himself against the true owner of the blade. That chance had been ruined in a moment…destroyed by the darkness, torn from his path.

Koshin sheathed the weapon, allowing himself one tiny sigh…

* * * *

Ujirou did not know why he had followed his sensei into the wilderness; he had been told to remain near the shrine and continue to practice his draw. The student had never betrayed his new sensei; but today something drove the young pupil, some feeling that he could not explain.

It was hidden in the ashen face of his master, and the curious way he gripped his sword.

But now, the little Daidoji almost wished that he had stayed behind and trained. The sword only made his hands ache and bleed as he worked it, but the forest tore at his arms and legs, ripping his black hakama and leaving thorns hidden the bottom of his thick zori. Koshin had been walking for more than two hours, and only now, at the edge of small pool of spring water, did the sensei stop to stand and consider his reflection in the silent waters.

"True samurai must keep constantly in mind, by day and by night, the fact that they must die." The words were familiar to Ujirou as the Daidoji hid himself in the brush to one side of the forest spring.

They were not the words of his master. They were the words of Kakita Rensei, the man that Ujirou had admired all his life as a true samurai…the man that he had always hoped to be.

His long hair hid Koshin's face from Ujirou, but the warrior's voice was somber and clear. "I have carried your sword since it was given to me, Rensei-dono," he said quietly, drawing his ancient katana slowly to his left hand. "Ukigumo has served me, protected me, on this long and winding road…"

The Daidoji boy felt his breath quicken, as he recognized the weapon for the first time. It's edge seemed poured from molten silver, and the tsuba shone in the clearing's light. He had always known that the sword was that of a true master…and now Ujirou knew the honored name.

"But it can never be mine," Koshin finished after a moment, his shoulders slumping as he did. The ronin's voice, once so proud and fearless, seemed sad now, and Ujirou could almost feel the ache that filled his form. "I had hoped to one day return it to you. To fight with you as I had always wished to…"

"Now you are gone."

Now, Ujirou felt his breath stop entirely. Kakita Rensei had returned from Oblivion's Gate to fight against the Lying Darkness and the Steel Chrysanthemum; his strength was a legend to the boy's family. Ujirou had hoped to meet the swordmaster after his training…to perform a kata in the presence of such a man.

Koshin moved to the edge of the water, holding the katana loosely in his hands. As the wind changed, the warrior's face shone with emotion, as he quietly sheathed the blade. Rolling the sageo about the sheath quietly, he knelt and placed the katana on the ground.

"This is my tribute to you, Rensei-dono," he said with a low bow, remaining for a single quiet moment before turning to walk away. "I will earn my own sword now." The wanderer walked back the way he had come without turning, passing within a few paces of his student's hidden form.

As the Daidoji stepped forward from the darkness, he realized what a treasure lay just before him. Ujirou stared at the blade, resting silently in the sunlight, his loyalty and his heart divided for a moment before the decision was made…

He had a long way to run, and quickly, if he was to beat his sensei home.

* * * *

It was nearly nightfall when the boy stepped into the clearing, his little body aching from the day. A small fire crackled in the falling darkness, and his sensei's slender back was silhouetted against its light. Raising his head at the sound of Ujirou's approach, Koshin's voice was tired.

"You took longer than expected. I would hate to think I was working you too har…"

The sensei's voice froze in his throat as he turned to face the boy. Ujirou's hair was tangled and disheveled, and his kimono was stained with water and mud from long hours walking along the forest trails. Only the shining weapon in his small hands remained immaculate, not a mark of dirt upon it as the boy placed it into his sensei's hands.

"It was meant to fight for people, sensei," the little Daidoji explained through teary eyes. Koshin saw every cut, every scrape that covered the small warrior, and knew that he looked upon the price paid by his student for the cleanliness of the ancient blade. "It is your sword too."

The Kakita closed his eyes, taking the gift from the tired, bleeding boy. Koshin looked down upon Ujirou with a long smile, rising and tucking Ukigumo away. The sensei's long hair slipped down over his shoulder, a dark contrast to his pale skin, "It is time for us to practice, Ujirou-san."

Despite his exhaustion, the young man's face was eager, his soul ready to match strikes with Rensei's blade…

* * * *

"Brave deeds may be forgotten; brave people never die."