The Life-Giving Sword
Part Four: Different Dreams
"The true warrior must hold the ability to give and
take life in the greatest of virtues…"
- The Kouryo no Ken
That morning there was only the sounds of the sand and the ocean, mingling with one another in their usual, timeless way. From the shade of the old fishing hut Taishu awoke, raising herself slowly into a sitting position to look out at the rising sun from across the pale blue sea.
"I think perhaps…that I will die today," she told the morning, gazing out across the unknown ocean with cold, uncaring eyes.
It had been like this ever since Gesshin had come for her all those weeks ago; Taishu had not lingered to try and explain things to the Mantis, and had fled from their islands to the coast in secret, stealing and killing for whatever she had need.
It was not much of a life, but she had survived.
But the wounds of Koshindou and his master could not be escaped so easily; the ronin's rough hands slipped beneath her faded kimono, checking the deep scars that she guessed would never fully heal.
She would die here, Taishu knew as she looked up once more.
Goseki Gesshin gaze gave her that same answer, his right hand ready upon his sword…
Stepping backwards slowly Gesshin watched Taishu step forward slowly, gauging her strength and stamina by the way she lifted her stolen Yoritomo sword. Beneath loose pieces of black hair his eyes tracked her as she took a stance before the sea.
"You lied to me, Taishu," the ronin said darkly. "Everything that you told me about the Kouryo no Ken was a lie."
"Of course it was, Gesshin. Were you worthy of the sword that you carry, you would have expected nothing less of me."
He ignored her outburst and just smiled, watching the clumsy nature with which Taishu prepared her sword. "Some kind of warrior's compassion, Taishu? The code of bushido, or some ancient swordsman's rules?"
"When you live as we do," she told him evenly, "that code is all that we have."
Gesshin shook his head, disgusted by the passion in Taishu's words. "The sword is like anything else we have, Taishu: a tool, used to bring death. It has no spirit," he said, holding up his sheathed katana, "no life and no honor of its own. It is nothing."
"And once I have proven that to you," he finished curtly, "I will show Daidoji Koshindou as well."
Before Taishu could answer there came the sound of footsteps, small and light upon the sand. Gesshin turned, following Taishu's gaze.
"If you want to prove yourself to me, Gesshin," Daidoji Koshindou told the ronin evenly, "then now is the time."
"Twice you have spared her from death, boy," Gesshin said mockingly to Koshindou, stepping away from Taishu to face him, his arms spread wide with a drawn sword. "I was going to finish what the Swordmaster began, but if you wish it, she is yours to kill."
"I don't want her life," the small boy said, not looking at the samurai-ko. "I never did. I don't want to take your life either, Gesshin."
The ronin's eyes grew deadly. "Then why come all this way?"
"You told me you knew how I fought and killed, Gesshin. I wanted to know if those words meant…what I thought they did." He looked towards Taishu, who silently waited for his next words.
"Only two people have ever seen me fight with the intent to kill, Gesshin."
He nodded. "And so you traced the rumors of Taishu here."
Koshindou nodded. "I want you to swear an oath that you will never harm another person, Gesshin. After that, we are finished here."
The ronin's arms lowered, and his posture became stiff and cold. Gesshin stared at his opponent for a long moment, searching for something in Koshindou's eyes. When he did not find it, he said, "I would never swear such a thing, especially to a boy that was no match for me only a week ago."
"You hesitated," Koshindou replied coldly. "I will not."
Gesshin smiled, his feet now awash with the rising tide. Koshindou followed the ronin as he retreated, moving until they both stood amidst the darting waves. "This was never about me, or the Kouryo no Ken, was it Gesshin? This was a matter of your ambition, nothing more."
"So, you finally saw the truth of it, Koshindou?"
"You knew that Kenshuko's wedding would draw many nobles from several clans; you hoped to gain fealty, by demonstrating the skills of your sword." Koshindou took a stance, his determination still showing in his voice. "That was why you felt it was safe to use the techniques that you did."
Gesshin's sword began to shudder, though Koshindou did not try and turn away. "Honor comes second to effectiveness, Koshindou. Even the Kakita would have been impressed by an assassin such as me."
"But you failed," the boy said, looking down as the morning sunlight scattered from both sword and sea.
"But not today."
Light crested and ebbed from the surface of Gesshin's katana, so bright against the ocean waters that even Taishu could not track the ronin's gait. She glanced towards the Daidoji, but Koshindou remained stalwart: like a statue he just waited, one hand reaching for his sword.
"It is time to finish with this, Koshindou," Gesshin said from beyond the shining weapon.
"Do not hesitate this time," was the final reply.
When Gesshin's sword flew it was unstoppable; Koshindou did not even try. Drawing Mizugetsuei the boy struck the air between them, his own blade's mirrored finish shattering the wave of light. Gesshin cried out in shock and surprise as Koshindou pivoted…
All things ended with the sound of steel piercing flesh in an instant. Gesshin's sword lost its brilliance, and Taishu's eyes cleared.
The ronin stood extended, his blade resting lightly against Koshindou's body, its mere presence slicing the fine silk in two. To one side, the small samurai stood as if frozen, his second sword thrust deeply into his opponent's side. "You hesitated," he said quietly as he looked down upon Gesshin's katana, and then slowly pulled Natsugusa free.
Goseki Gesshin's face worked itself into a look of hatred, and then he crashed to the ground…
"I was more than he deserved to me given," Taishu commented coldly as Gesshin's pyre began to die. "He was a bully and a coward, Koshindou. Honoring him would have meant nothing in Gesshin's eyes."
"You said something to him about 'warrior's compassion,'" the boy said as he watched the blaze with mournful eyes.
Taishu just turned away with a silent nod.
"It is called Katsu-Jin-Ken, Taishu," Koshindou said without turning. "The Life-Giving Sword. Gesshin refused to understand it, but that does not make it less real. The sword is what you make of it…"
"How can you believe that," she demanded, "when you can see the blood on your own hands?"
"When I guessed that you had survived, I felt as though it had lifted a burden upon me," Koshindou told her, ignoring the last licks of fire as he laid Gesshin's sheathed katana upon the ash. "I thought that your survival somehow eased the weight of my swords…that it somehow made me pure again…"
"But I was wrong. The ability of the sword to kill is not a burden. It is a responsibility, which I should have accepted from the beginning of this path. I owe it to myself to use these blades for what I believe in, Taishu." Koshindou looked back towards the ronin and smiled a smile that betrayed no regrets.
"I think you deserve that too, Yotsu Taishu. Good luck to you."
The woman crossed her arms in thought as she looked at the boy, but Koshindou just bowed and started off on his way. Taishu watched him for a long time, until he was almost lost in the horizon. She glanced down at Gesshin's katana, now covered by wind-blown sand.
The ronin started after the young samurai, wondering where his road would
lead her next.