Prodigal Prodigy IX
Way of the Lion
"My name is Togashi Masurao, I will accept your surrender and shall spare your troops."
Even though they were on the top of the hill, Maigo and rest could easily hear the man speak, perhaps it was magic, perhaps it was the wind blowing in their direction. Either way it meant little good.
"Hah! You are even more of a fool than I thought," Bougen laughed. "You have less than half of our numbers, the Matsu of the Lion's Pride would be more than a match for your men, Dragon."
"My men will not fight, since none of your troops will pass me."
Bougen's laughter grew even more boisterous, "You must have gone insane when they drew those figures on your scalp. You would not even stand against two of my men."
"Those two would be lucky to be alive if they got down here, " Masurao said without ever changing the tone of his voice.
"Oh, really? Then indulge me and tell me how you would make that happen…"
"I have dozens of archers and several shugenja positioned to the sides of the hill. You won't see them since we've hidden them well. The sand on all but the rear-side of the hill has been loosened, making a charge impossible. So, when your troops are stumbling down the hill, they will be targets for our archers and shugenja. Magic winds will turn away your archers' arrows. You stand no chance."
"We are Lion, even if your archers and shugenja manage to kill half of my troops, the other half will still obliterate you," Bougen replied, confident in the abilities and the pure strength of his forces.
"Not likely," Masurao said with a grin. "The rice fields you avoided? I see you know what I mean. They were hiding the other half of my forces and as we are speaking they are already coming from behind. You will be surrounded. You have done everything exactly as I anticipated."
On the hill Maigo was getting very worried. Now he knew what kind of trap they had been lured into. With a grim look on his face he nodded to the only shugenja that was in their midst and the woman immediately started her soft chants.
Bougen smiled. "Even if what you say is true, we shall beat you. Wisdom is no match for strength," with these words Bougen turned around and walked off.
"Wait," Masurao exclaimed, "I will not allow you to foolishly send your troops to be slaughtered! Fight me in single combat, not a duel, and if I win you shall retreat."
"And if I win? What will happen then, Dragon?" Bougen asked.
"Should you win, you will most likely order the attack and get your troops killed. My men don't need my leadership, my second will do just fine in following the plan."
Maigo frowned. Who was this man who was concerned for his enemies well-being? Were the circumstances different he would have liked to get to know this person. In any case he would be a better commander than Bougen.
Bougen, on the other hand, laughed arrogantly, trusting that his commands were heeded. "It will be a delight to fight you, Dragon, but I know that a duel is no different than single combat for someone versed in 'niten'. I will fight you, but on my terms."
Masurao shook his head, but then he heard a cry from the hill. In a burst of magic the six Matsu women, members of the Lion's Pride appeared around Masurao and charged. "Stay back," Masurao yelled to his troops.
Bougen charged with the women, all of them had to cover about ten yards before they would reach the Dragon commander, but even when the were half-way there he had not reached for his swords. In fact, he did not move at all until the were only a several feet away. Preparing to strike, Bougen watched in surprise as Masurao suddenly thrust his arms to his side with a loud 'NO!' Before they knew what hit them the women and Bougen were violently thrust back by a strange force.
As the attackers scrambled to their feet Masurao addressed them with a strict, commanding voice, "Stop this now or I will be forced to harm or even kill you!"
Bougen laughed. "If these petty tricks are all you've got, than we have nothing to fear!" he exclaimed and charged again.
* * *
"Maigo-san! This is not good! You must get Bougen to stop this!"
"Easy, Reikan, why are you saying these kind of things?" Maigo asked with a calming voice.
"That man, the Dragon commander. I know him! He is the one I told you of, he was the one who spared me."
Maigo sighed, Reikan had told him what truly happened, as far as any other was concerned Reikan conceded when he saw the Dragon's stance. Who was this man?
"What do we do, Maigo-san?"
"We do nothing, Reikan… Bougen chose to do this, it is his fight. His and the Matsu brash enough to follow him."
* * *
One of the women reached Masurao first. With a loud kiai she slashed at Masurao, but he easily side-stepped her attack and his open hand shot out and struck her neck. The young samurai slumped to the ground as she went unconscious from the sudden lack of blood flowing to her head.
Next came Bougen. His cut was far more controlled, but Masurao nimbly jumped over it, kicking Bougen in his face with his heel and landing with a back flip. He immediately kicked backwards, hitting another Matsu woman in her stomach and following through with a stabbing punch to her throat and disabling her.
Masurao caught the blade of the next attacker between his hands and disarmed the woman with a twist of his hands. She immediately continued to attack him with her bare hands. Her punches had strength, but lacked focus and so Masurao blocked them and then grabbed her arm, twisting it behind her back with only one hand and with his free hand he knocked her unconscious like the first.
The three remaining women hesitated and looked at their commander, who was more busy attending his broken nose than minding the fight at the moment. They looked back at Masurao, who at that moment drew his flaming swords, and at that moment even the Matsu women knew fear. They conceded.
Bougen, who had regained his sight through the tears of pain, spat some of his blood on the ground and yelled, "For this insult you will die, Dragon!"
Masurao just stared at him blankly and took a waiting stance. Bougen charged, but Masurao side-stepped and tripped the Lion, then lept back several yards. Bougen got up, screamed out his rage and charged again, but this time he launched himself into the air and brought his blade bearing down at Masurao. The tattooed samurai, however, caught the blade between his swords, locked it in between, lowered himself, raised his leg and rolled back, launching the Lion through the air once more. Bougen had the air knocked out of him, but he stood up almost immediately and hardly took the time to regain his breath before attacking once more.
"You are persistent, Lion, but this ends now," Masurao said as Bougen charged once more. Masurao knew he would not be tripped again and that he would not jump again, but what he would do, he did not know. Bougen did not halt his charge and just kept accelerating up until a few feet from Masurao, he suddenly spun around, turning himself in deadly, bladed whirlwind. Masurao was surprised at the Lion's wits, but blocked and parried each successive attacked, yet Bougen kept on coming and drove Masurao backwards.
Bougen's unrelenting attack did not leave him without focus, he was aware of the Dragon's every move and suddenly saw an opening, but he could not see it long enough to realize it was a feint. Bringing all of his force into the slash, he attacked the opening, only to strike air, he continued his spin uncontrolled past Masurao who made a single spin for himself and took Bougen's head with a clean cut.
The headless body made a few lazy, wobbly spins before finally loosing momentum and dropping to the ground. Masurao flicked the blood of his katana with the shiburi technique and sheathed his swords, then bowed to his fallen opponent.
Maigo and Reikan made their careful descent from the hill and approached Masurao, each bowing deeply. Maigo spoke, "I apologize for this unnecessary bloodshed, Masurao-san. Would the same words have reach my ears as commander, I would have sounded the retreat. I regret you could not save Bougen-san's life like you did Reikan's," and gestured towards the young Lion.
Masurao bowed to the men and said with a serious tone, "Yes, I regret this too. War is a dreadful thing. Wouldn't you agree, Reikan-san?"
The young samurai's head nodded at Masurao's words, but his eyes were fixed on Bougen's dead body.
"I will have the eta prepare Bougen's body for transportation, shall I have our shugenja tend to your wounded too? Then we will escort you to the border."
"I would be grateful if you prepared Bougen-san, but I think we shall tend to the Matsu women. Their pride is more dangerous than a Crane's words," Maigo said with a sigh.
Masurao smiled grimly, "May I inquire your name? I want to thank the one responsible for keeping the rest of your troops away from a foolish battle."
"I am Akodo Maigo."
"Then I thank you, Maigo-san," Masurao said with a bow and walked off to issue his orders.
* * *
"He was toying with us," Matsu Gekiko said with a soft voice, underlined with a deadly rage, as she rubbed her painful neck. "He should have killed us and give us a warrior's death, like Bougen, but he did not have the strength."
"His strength was greater than any of yours," Akodo Reikan said calmly, "not because he beat you, but because he spared you when could have easily taken your lives."
Gekiko threw the boy a looking seething with anger, but was surprised to find the gaze he returned to be even more unrelenting and swallowed the angry remark.
"My, where did you get such wisdom?" Maigo responded humoured.
Reikan did not say anything, but his eyes strayed to linger upon Masurao for moment.
"Ah, I see," Maigo muttered and led his horse to ride next to Masurao. Once there he looked at the ise zumi, amazed about the incredible detail of his tattoos. After a few moments he spoke, "Masurao-san, when you saw Reikan again, there was no malice in your voice or actions, but something more like happiness."
"You are very perceptive, Maigo-san. Indeed, I was happy to see Reikan again and in good health. I hit him quite hard the first time I 'met' him and hoped I didn't do any permanent damage. You see, I wasn't sure how he would respond to the attack, physically I mean. For all I knew I he could have had a weak constitution and be dead by now."
Maigo frowned and asked, "You really are adversed to taking life, are you not?"
"Usually, yes, but there are times when such things can not be avoided and other times when the cause is more than just," Masurao replied with a sigh. "I did not think you would be the type to take any joy in killing either."
"I did not mean to imply that I did like killing someone, but my upbringing as a Lion has left me with several prejudices and ways of thinking that are hard to ignore."
Masurao turned to looked at Maigo for a moment and asked with surprise, "You say that as if you are not a Lion at all."
Maigo shrug his shoulders, "As long as I can consciously remember, I have been a Lion, but I was found at the doors of my adoptive father's home. I was taken into the family and brought up as one of them."
Masurao raised an eyebrow, "Then you have no idea who your parents are? I mean your parents by birth?"
"No, I have never given it much thought," Maigo replied with an indifferent voice. "As far as I am concerned my parents were those that have adopted me."
Just as Masurao was about to ask why Maigo said 'were', Senkai rode up to them and said, "We have reached the border, Masurao-sama."
Maigo sighed. "Then I guess we shall say farewell to one another here, Masurao-san."
"I would rather say 'goodbye', Maigo-san. I am sure we shall meet each other again after this war ends. Perhaps next time we will be fighting aside each other, instead of against each other."
Maigo smiled heartily and bowed to Masurao, saying, "Then 'goodbye' it is, Masurao-san. I hope your wish will come true, for you truly are an interesting man." With those words Maigo turned his horse around and ordered his troops into Lion lands.
Masurao waited until he could no longer see the Lions and then ordered his troops to return to their duties.
* * *
That night Masurao was looking over several maps in his tent when he noticed a presence in his tent. When he looked behind him, he saw an unassuming man in monk's clothing.
"Ah, Masurao-san," the man said, "how did you fare?"
Masurao smiled and said on with a cynic, "Well, we had a 'victory' over the Lion."
"But you managed to spare practically all of them. Destiny caught up with Bougen, Masurao-san, it is not your fault."
"Perhaps," Masurao whispered, "But I could have saved him… If only I had known how…"
"What was that, Masurao-san?"
"Nothing, Hoshi-sama. Nothing important."
"Well, you've managed one Clan now, but our promise included the other seven clans and a few special 'others' as well," the disguised Hoshi said. "Your duty here is over, Senkai will take command."
"It shall be so, I will tell him now," Masurao said and was about to leave when Hoshi interrupted.
"You just did," he said and suddenly Hoshi took the form of Mirumoto Senkai.
Masurao grinned and left the tent, left the camp and started to travel south. A journey which take him across Rokugan and to each clan and to the 'others' Hoshi had spoken about. What the purpose of this journey was, Masurao could not yet fathom, but he would learn eventually.
[To be continued… Way of the Crab]