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 Shaman's Shogun AU

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Wiseshaman

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PostSubject: Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Nineteen 'There is no choice'   Sun Apr 01, 2018 11:13 pm

And now for the next piece of Rayek's saga, where we get a glimpse at Rayek's past...

Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Nineteen 'There is no choice'


They walked the rest of the night without incident or encounter. Most, if not all, of the people in the nearby region were too occupied running toward the burning Yamashiro. No one stopped, or even noticed, the group of four samurai, a little girl, and a stone-faced elf as it wound its way down the dark road, away from the enormous fire. Rayek kept his head forward refusing eye contact with any who passed and yet keeping a constant vigil on everyone who passed them. He knew the old man and woman who just walked by were farmers, barely growing enough to keep themselves fed, and the two young ‘ladies’ that shuffled past a few moments ago were not the kind you let your okosan know of. The only time anyone gave the group unease were five very rough looking Wokou, or bandits, that were sitting and eating Onigiri along side the road. Kureel knew their ilk, what with their unkempt hair, dressed in dirty Kimons and worn Obi’s. The Wokou were brazen thieves, dogs who only came out at night. There was an especially large one who was the obvious leader, covered in ragged furs of different animals, with matted beard and head hair from never bathing. Kureel took one look at him and moved to the other side of Hoykar, putting himself between the trash and the mistress as they walked slowly past.

No one say anything. Kahvi sent from the dark by the side of the road.

The ninja didn’t walk the road in plain sight choosing to stay hidden in the shadows, keeping their presence unknown. The samurai though, the remaining four of the Chosen Eight, did not share that strategy. It was beneath Kureel to hide. He would face the enemy, even death, in the light like an honorable bushi. Little Leila though was not as strong or brave as Kureel, and when she saw the large Wokou leader, with his green teeth, smile at her she panicked. She called out to her hero when she knew better.

“Rayek-san!”

“Mistress!” Hoykar snapped, squeezing her hand to make her quiet.

All at once everyone stopped, because Rayek stopped. On that road, in the dark where the moonlight only illuminated that which wanted to be seen, the Wokou leader and the Sōke locked eyes. From under his hat, Rayek eyed the human hard while the Wokou Leader looked back, neither blinking. The Leader put his hand on something in the grass, a weapon probably, while Rayek put his left hand on the tsuka of the Dotanuki, gripping it hard making the Ito or lacing creak. The tension grew thicker as everyone waited for something to happen, for one side to make to the fist move.

If they attack we’ll take the two on the left, you four take the two on the right…leave the big one for the Sōke. Kahvi sent again.

Little Leila trembled watching it all with fear filled eyes. She knew this was her fault, if she had just kept quiet they would be gone by now. She squeezed Hoykar’s hand hard and closed her eyes, wishing to see her mother again, to feel her father hold her again, and to call out to Ten Span from the walls with the wind whipping her hair. Oh, how she wished for that.

The two warriors never moved in their quiet face off, each taking stock of the other, before the Wokou Leader abruptly picked up his hand, empty. Whatever it was in the grass he was reaching for stayed there, for the moment. He smiled still, green rotting teeth showing, as he took a bite of the rice ball. Rayek showed no emotion as he turned back to the road and began to walk away, leaving the Wokou to their meal. The others followed, but Kahvi wasn’t ready to leave the bandits behind to their backs.

Skot, stay here and watch them. If anyone of them gets the idea to follow warn us.

Hai

Rayek gave no indication if he approved or disapproved of the kunoichi’s plan. It wouldn’t have mattered if he did or did not anyway. Kahvi gave the order, Skot was her clansmen, and he followed her not Rayek-san. So, the elf stayed behind blending into the black of the dark as the group proceeded on its way. By morning, they had come to the edge of a small stream, waist deep to most running cold with the spring thaw of the nearby mountains. Almost at once all decided it was worth the price of stinging cold to wash the smoke and dirt of burnt Yamashiro from their skin and hair.

Hoykar, as did the others except for Chot who chose to sleep, stripped down and then helped Leila with her obi and kimono. The kunoichi, Kahvi and Krim, went farther down the bank to have some privacy but not far enough to be out of sight. Hoykar carried his charge just a few feet into the stream, just far enough and deep enough for her to stand up to her waist. Leila gasped three times as the cold bit into her flesh and her teeth started to chatter. Hoykar pulled a small bar of soap from somewhere and started to wash Leila, getting rid of the black smudges and dirt on her face and neck. She wondered where her keeper got the soap, but then realized this was Hoykar, and that he probably carried it with him everywhere. Leila looked over to Kahvi and Krim, stared at their bodies for a long moment, and then looked down to hers.

“Hoyyyykkkkaaar-sssan?” She stuttered.

“Mistress?” He replied washing her fast as he could.

“Will I get as big as Kahvi-san?”

“Excuse me mistress?”

“If I were to get that big, I would probably fall over all the time.” She stuttered as the cold water rolled down her back.

Hoykar looked at his charge utterly confused then over to where she had been staring. It was suddenly evident what she meant by being ‘big’. The samurai blushed as red as a kabu or beet while shaking his head.

“Mistress, please, wash your legs.” He pleaded handing over the soap.

Leila gave a small giggle at her keeper’s red cheeks. It wasn’t really fun teasing Hoykar like that, it was far too easy. Yet she loved him of the Chosen Eight the most. Of them all, he seemed the only one who wanted her around. He was kind and sweet, everything a true samurai was not, but he was deadly with a blade. So, it was a simple choice for her mother to make in choosing him as her personal guard. His patience with her knew no bounds, and Leila smiled as she remembered trying to find just how far she could push the gentle samurai. She stood on one leg, leaning up against Hoykar, while holding her other leg up and washing. It was during this acrobatic feat that she spotted Rayek standing off by himself, in a deep pool, the water almost to his chest. He stood perfectly still, calm and unaffected by the cold.

“What is Rayek-san doing Hoykar-san?”

The guard looked over and then whispered finishing up his bath. “He is meditating mistress, calming his inner self and his chakra.”

“Oh,” Leila stuttered.

“Hoykar, take the mistress out of the water and get her wrapped up. The last thing we need is for you to get her sick!” Kureel spat.

“Hai,” Hoykar responded finishing up Leila’s bath by washing out her long hair.

Away from them all, seeking the peace and serenity of the stream, Rayek meditated on his inner being. He concentrated on the blue ball of energy at his center, but it wasn’t enough to calm his mind. Seeing the Wokou on the side of the road, going eye to eye with the leader, brought back memories, images and pictures that he had let out even though to that fateful day in his father’s dojo was painful.


His father had been dead now for one year. He died at the hands of Taro Shibahara and his Yanagi-ryu style with a wakizashi. His father had never seen the master before and Shibahara was no fool. The master of the Yanagi style held his small sword in check, held back, not letting Ingen see his attack. The two stood staring at each other for what seemed a lifetime before they both struck at the same instance, both drawing their swords with slashes so fast the eyes of those gathered could not follow. It was only after the initial clash, the single clang of metal on metal, before the counter strikes were executed that Rayek watched his father die. Ingen was just a shade slower, not more than a quick breath, but it was all Shibahara needed to drive the small sword into the Sōke’s chest.

Ingen stepped back on unsteady legs, turned to his son with a bloody spot on his haori, and whispered low to Rayek. “It is your house now my son…fly like the birds.” Then the former Sōke collapsed to the ground dead.

And now Rayek looked at his father’s sword in its ceremonial stand in his room, knew what awaited him in his dojo. He was no court monkey, not one to sit at the Shogun’s side drinking and laughing, which is why he was never there. Rayek refused to go to any of the Oban, even refused to attend the passing of the mantle of Shogun to Lord Madcoil when that occurred. It was because of this refusal that it was easy for the Yagyu to start the secrets about him, the whispered rumors that eventually led to this day. The order to shut down the school, the decree he die by seppuku or another’s hand, and the twisting of his students’ minds, betraying him.

He knew what had to be done, what he must do now. He picked up the Dotanuki with a firm hand, slid it into his Obi sash, and left his room for the dojo.

He could hear them inside as he approached the shoji screens, hear them waiting for him to enter, all twenty of his students in the small space, waiting to kill him on orders from Lord Madcoil. Yet Rayek never thought about not walking into the dojo. He never considered running away as he looked down to see all the Geta sandals of his students by the opening of the entrance. This would be the last time he would see them there he thought as he slid the screen open to look inside his dojo.

The students moved back instantly, like frightened children. They’re tabi socks scraping on the tatami mats as they moved into position. Rayek just took off his sandals outside the door before entering, closing the door as respect demanded. They were all there he noted, and not a one standing with him.

“Please Sōke, do not make us kill you.” One student said from his left.

It was Choei-san, a student who had not even been at the school for one year. Rayek only stared back and spoke low. “I will not make you do anything Choei-san. What happens this day will be your choice, and yours alone.”

“Do you deny the ihai was in your personal shrine Rayek-san?” Another student growled.

It was Akihiro, a fiery human who was new to the school also, and one who lacked the calm to truly master Suiouryu Katori Shintō-ryū. The ihai, or funeral tablet, was nothing more than a decorated small piece of carved wood with the emblem of a loved one in small stand. It was placed in small family shrines, or in the large shrines found in towns, and used as a way to honor, to show respect for ancestors who had passed, a way to keep them in thought and mind. He had one for his father Ingen in his shrine, and his father had one for his father and mother. There were tablets for friends lost in battle and Ingen even made ones for those he killed in duels, as a way to appease his soul for having to take a life. Yet, this time, the funeral tablet was used not to honor but to condemn. On its face was the emblem of the new Shogun. It was considered a death wish for Lord Madcoil, a wish from the Sōke. It had been found by Akihiro and the other students, and it was the last piece needed to seal Rayek’s fate.

The Sōke spoke low again, calm as a summer breeze. “I do not deny the ihai was in my shrine Akihiro, but I was not the one who put it there.”

“Who then do you claim would commit such an act? Who but you, one has never hidden his true feelings toward our Lord, would be low enough to commit such an effrontery?” Akihiro spat.

“Please Sōke, do not dishonor yourself anymore.” Choei-san pleaded.

Rayek paid no attention to the whining human as he locked eyes with Akihiro. “It is true that my feelings toward Lord Madcoil are less than favorable. I hold him in no regard, but I have kept my honor. I have not lied to deceive or committed this despicable act. There is one among you though who has. One who has secretly allied with the Yagyu.”

“The Yagyu?” Akihiro gasped confused.

“Hai,” Rayek said with a small nod.

“Please Sōke! Do not do this! Leave this world with your honor!” Choei begged.

Again, Rayek ignored his pupil, still staring at the brash ball of fire Akihiro. “Who else has been rumored to seek a higher position in the Shogun’s court? Who else would use such heinous methods to win the favor of Lord Madcoil? Shijima himself has done all of this from the shadows, orchestrated and manipulated and deceived to steal that which he could not have honorably!”

“Sōke Please!” Choei-san wailed.

“It does not matter Sōke!” A deep voice called from the back. Rayek did not need to see who said it, but he knew the words belonged to his oldest student.

Gisaku-san strode through the mass of twitching bodies, all with hands resting on their tsuka’s, which surrounded the Sōke to stand at the front, with Choei to one side and Akihiro to the other. He was tall and barrel chested, a human with long brown hair that was tied back into a pony tail. His face was lean and today filled with a sad purpose.

“It is as Gisaku-san speaks, you accuse another clan and their leader Rayek, but you have no proof? You are the liar Sōke! You are the one without honor.” Akihiro accused.

“Am I Akihiro-san. I have not lied to you, deceived you to garner favor. No, that was not me but Choei-san!” Rayek growled suddenly, turning finally to look at the student.

“What?” The human cried stepping back in fear.

“Sōke, you accuse your most devoted student? You are a fool!!” Akihiro spat.

“How could you think I would be against you my Sōke?” Choei whispered in pain.

“You are not what you seem Choei-san. You said you came directly here from the south, from the Daimyo who has charge of Yamaguchi prefecture. Yet, I have heard you talk of the court at the Shogun as if you had been there, recently. You say you trained with Kagetsugu-san in the Kashima Shin-Ryu style, but I see through you here in the dojo when you train. Your steps, your use of the katana, it all shows Choei. You have been trained in Yagyu Shinkage-ryu! Who taught you, Shijima himself? Was it the old one who ordered you to put the ihai in my shrine?” Rayek growled accusingly.

A gasp went through the students. Akihiro stepped back looking at his fellow student in disbelief along with the others. The only one who seemed unfazed by the accusation was the one who was who looked saddened the most by what was happening. Gisaku only shook his head while speaking though.

“It does not matter Sōke, like I said. You have no proof other than what you say. You have no witness to Choei-san’s deception. A rider was dispatched for Lord Madcoil and his Advisor yesterday, after we discovered the ihai in your shrine. By this evening the order to have you commit seppuku will be signed.” Gisaku said with a deep sigh.

Rayek only nodded understanding it all. It was too late to go back and try to escape the trap that was around him now. He had already made the choice, his past was lost and only today remained to him, the road of the wanderer lay ahead for Rayek the Sōke.

“We all here are loyal to Lord Madcoil, bound to the Shogun through our lives and our oaths Sōke. If you wish, I will be your second for seppuku, but I cannot turn my back on my Lord or his laws. We must act with the Shogun.” Gisaku-san added.

The Sōke only shook his head speaking calmly once again. “I will not willingly hand my life over to the Yagyu. As long as I live, the treachery of Shijima will be his legacy. I will wander this land aimlessly, taking the life of those who try to take mine, and I will see the Yagyu destroyed before I meet my father.”

Gisaku only nodded and drew his katana slowly, the hiss of the metal sliding out of the tsuka echoing in the dojo. Rayek nodded in return and drew the Dotunaki. The other students followed suit as Choei-san stepped back trying to distance himself from the Sōke as much as possible. His task was done, and it was time to leave.

All stood at the ready. Rayek looked at his one-time students, watching them closely to see which would move first. Gisaku-san slowly brought his sword overhead in a forward posture. He would be the first to attack the Sōke thought.

“You are an honorable teacher Rayek-san.” Gisaku-san offered.

Rayek nodded slowly, bringing up the Dotunaki eye level, the blade going from right to left. They stood at the ready again, waiting.


“The next time you chose a guard, try to find one that does not snore so loudly.” The leader of the Wokou laughed as Chot bounced from being tossed to the ground next to an unconscious Skot.

Kureel seethed with anger, as did Krim, but Kahvi only sighed looking down at her clansmen with a grin. “I told you eating too much rice would make you sleepy.”

“I was hungry,” was all Chot replied standing back up.

“What do you want?” Kureel spat at the bandits.

“You all ready have our things, there is nothing else to take!” Reevol added.

“Oh, but there’s always more to take,” one of the Wokou hissed like a snake. He was small with ratty hair and broken teeth. He eyed Leila, and she shivered at his black eyes, until Hoykar turned her away.

“Much more,” a third Wokou grinned. He looked at Krim who only smiled back.

“Touch me and I’ll cut off your hand.”

“With what, you have no weapons!” The bandit laughed.

“I still have my teeth!” Krim replied snapping them together.

“Give us the little one and we’ll leave you your things,” the small snake hissed again.

“No!” Hoykar growled. Reevol and Kureel stepped in front also forming a barrier to the bandits.

The Wokou all laughed, even the leader, until a voice hard and calm cut through them. They spun to see Rayek walking up slowly, eyeing the scene with cold eyes. He, unlike the others, was fully clothed with his Dotunaki in his sash. It seems Rayek didn’t trust Chot as much as the others. It gave pause to the Wokou as he moved past.

“The child is mine, she gave me her life in exchange for my help and I am not ready to let her go.”

The laughter and arrogance from having the upper hand flew from the Wokou as they watched the Sōke carefully. The leader reached for the weapon at his side that was surely what he reached for in the grass earlier. Rayek recognized it as a Kyotsu-shoge, a sickle on three-foot wooden handle and attached to the end was eight feet of heavy chain, and a large ring at the end of the chain. It was not a simple weapon to learn, and from the looks of it, well taken care of.

“Is that a Dotunaki?” The Wokou who had teased Krim asked.

“It is, isn’t it?’ The snake one hissed.

“You give us the sword and we’ll let you go.” The first one added.

Rayek slowly pulled the sword out of his Obi and held it in one outstretched hand by the scabbard in front of him. “Is this what you seek Ronin?”

The four Wokou broke out in laughter, but the leader just stared back at Rayek with an angry glare. After a moment, the other four bandits quieted feeling lost, and in the silence the leader finally spoke.

“The Dotunaki, it was a gift was it not?”

“You were once a samurai, were you not?” Rayek responded with a question.

“You were a samurai? You nev- “the bandit who teased Krim started when a filthy hand from the leader filled his mouth. The fingers wrapped around the top part of his jaw while the thumb hooked into the bottom.

“I was once a man of honor. I was once important to this world. I will be again, or I swear I will rip your head apart.”

The bandit just gagged and nodded until his leader set him free. Rayek watched it already sensing what was coming.

“I want the Dotunaki.” The leader stated.

“You may have my father’s sword when you take it from dead hand.” Rayek said calmly.

“That I am willing to do,”

The last made Leila shiver, and it wasn’t from the cold water.


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Wiseshaman

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PostSubject: Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Twenty 'Subterfuge'   Wed Apr 04, 2018 10:38 am

And now for the next piece of Rayek's saga, where we finally meet the Lord Shogun Madcoil...

Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Twenty 'Subterfuge'

It took a second for Shiro to reply, a very long second.

“We were beset by a number of unknown ninja last night my lord. They killed Lord Nobunaga and his advisor. We are searching the hills for any sign of them as we speak my Lord Shogun.”

Madcoil leaned in throwing a dark shadow across Shiro, a deep cold dark that made the Yagyu Lord tremble. The deep voice growled from behind the mask. “I see you were injured too Lord Shiro, but that is not what concerns me. Why you are even here, that is what tasks my mind now. Why are you here Lord Shiro?”

“We learned Lord Nobunaga was the one who had the elf female kidnapped from Rayek-san. We came as soon as we could to secure her for you my lord.” Shiro answered followed by a hard swallow.

“And you felt Lord Nobunaga was in some danger from her? Did your ‘kind’ heart feel the need to keep him safe?” The Shogun hissed.

“We,” Shiro started then stopped to lick his lips before continuing on, “we knew of Lord Nobunaga’s history my Lord Shogun. He would have damaged her, maybe even have killed her.”

“So, you came to protect her?”

“No, my Lord Shogun, we came to protect you.” Shiro responded quickly.

“And why do I need protection from an elf Lord Shiro? Do you have some information you have failed to tell me about this female?” Madcoil snarled.

Up on the wall, with his head still bent toward the ground, Shijima felt the whole plan going to pot. His fool of a son wasn’t able to save the clan. That exit plan was looking to be his only option at the moment.

But then Shiro responded quickly, and positively.

“We are the Yagyu Lord Shogun, your personal guard and protector. If there is any possible threat to you, we are honor bound to stop it. We have been told the elf has the eye of Rayek-san, but he could be using her as well. We wanted to make sure he was not here, using her as bait for a nefarious purpose Lord Shogun. We were going to bring her to you.”

“Bring her to me? You personally, Lord of the Yagyu, would have delivered her to me?” Madcoil replied with a raised eyebrow.

“Hai my Lord Shogun, to make sure all was safe. We did not know you would come here to see this elf. We are fortunate to arrive first and take charge for you my Lord Shogun.” Shiro answered.

The courtyard grew quiet as the Shogun chewed on the statement. Then the silence was broken by a laugh, an evil maniacal one that sent more shivers down Shiro’s spine and caused one of the guards on the wall to look up. As soon as his gaze fell on the Shogun he gasped, not from fear but a well-placed arrow striking his chest piercing his heart. He fell on the spot dead as the samurai who fired the arrow from his Hankyu bow lowered his arm looking to where he loosed his weapon. All the samurai on horse back were now at the ready, eyes searching the crowd for anyone else that moved.

Lord Madcoil watched with excited eyes, and gasping breath, as his warriors drew blood. He turned to the Lord of the Yagyu, who was still bowing, and smiled, behind his mask. “I think protecting me was not your most pressing concern Lord Shiro. I think you were worried Lord Nobunaga may have garnered some favor meant for you.”

“No, my Lord Shogun, we were simply fulfilling our oath to you.” Shiro stated fervently, almost pleading.

The Shogun only smiled knowing it was better to be feared than respected when it came to the Yagyu. “Take me to Lord Nobugnaga’s body. I wish to see it.”

“Hai, my Lord Shogun.” Shiro answered turning and heading into the castle.

The Captain screamed out another order and the men in the courtyard returned to normal, some catching a glimpse of the Shogun as he ducked to enter the castle. Shijima also caught a wisp of the Shogun’s before he was gone, but unlike the other men who were impressed by Madcoil’s size he was worried. His son still wasn’t through this yet.


The worker came into the forge, looking around to make sure there wasn’t another eye watching him. He crossed over to Taikan’s side and whispered something in the troll’s ear, which elicited an immediate response. The smith looked to the worker with a shocked expression, scanned his shop, then turned back to the man and whispered a response. The human nodded and left, checking both left and right before exiting the small shop. Taikan turned and called to one of his assistants barking out another order before disappearing to the back room.

Seppen slept comfortably under the blanket with Higuma-san on her small chest, his furry head bobbing up and down with each breath. Shenshen sat up slowly while keeping her small friend covered, making sure not to disturb her. She moved quietly away from the cushion, sliding on the floor noiselessly. Sleep would not come to her and she didn’t want it too.

Shenshen needed to get away. Her heart started to race with panic. She had to get away before Redlance and Giryu took her to Rayek. She had to slip away. She couldn’t go back to see him, no matter what she wanted. She couldn’t go back no matter what her heart wanted. Shenshen had decided to steal away from these helpful souls and disappear from the Abode, never to be found.

She had it all planned, hastily, but thought out…or so she assumed.

“Is there a problem Shenshen-san?” Redlance whispered.

“Redlance-san,” She hissed with a start, “you are awake!”

“Hai, you woke me.”

“I am sorry honorable one. I was…I…” Shenshen whispered letting the last die off.

She heard him slide close, felt his side touch hers and the contact was like a salve to her bruised soul. She wanted it to be Rayek-san, wanted it to be his side she felt, but that wasn’t possible, couldn’t be possible.

“What troubles you Shenshen-san?” Redlance asked.

“Do not take me back Redlance-san, leave me here.” She whispered so low it was barely audible as she leaned closer to him.

He leaned in closer feeling she needed the comfort, the contact. “I will not leave you here Shenshen-san. Even if I were not bound by my word I would not leave you here.”

“But you must…I do not wish to go back…I cannot go back…”

“Do you not wish to see Leetah-san? You have searched for her for so long and now you are so close.”

“Please,” Shenshen begged clutching at his arm and putting her head on his shoulder, “I would give anything to see and hear my onee-chan again, but there is too much danger to do that.”

“There is danger in walking the road between villages these days Shenshen. These are dangerous times, but to reunite family, to be one, it is worth risking, eh?” Redlance remarked.

Shenshen squeezed his arm, felt him reach over and take her hands in one of his, and finally opened her heart to let out the fear. “They will use me to kill him. The Shogun, Lord Shijima, all of them! He will come for me and they will kill him.”

“Hai that is the plan they are following.”

“I will not let them use me honorable one. You must leave me here, let me disappear. Let me go so I cannot be used to hurt him, I cannot be used to hurt him.” Shenshen pleaded while trembling.

“Shenshen,” Redlance whispered squeezing her hands, “if you left now it would certainly kill Rayek-san. He would die trying to find you.”

“What?”

“Do you not know how you have sent Rayek-san down a path he was never prepared to walk. All his life the Sōke has only known Suiouryu Katori Shintō-ryū. There was nothing else but the perfection of his father’s martial art to him, until you appeared Shenshen-san. He has opened his heart to you and you were taken away which has pained him, but when he learns you left of your own choice…that would hurt so much more.”

“But I could not live knowing I had a hand in his death.”

“Then live knowing you had a hand in showing him another way to see the world, live knowing you opened his heart to something else then the way of the sword.” Redlance offered.

“Do you think I really opened his heart?” Shenshen whispered feeling sleep creep up on her tired body. With her worry now gone the night’s events finally started to drag her down into the rest she needed.

“I think Rayek-san would fight Lord Madcoil to the death to see you safe Shenshen. I think he is out there right now fighting to find you.”

Shenshen yawned feeling her body fall gracefully into the dark of slumber. She was able to get one last word out before she was lost. “I wish I could tell him I was safe with you.”

He didn’t respond. He just let her drift off, felt her hands on his arm relax as her breathing slowed to deep relaxing inhales. She had finally given in when she felt safe Redlance thought. He was content to leave her leaning against him sleeping, but his ears picked up the sound of approaching feet. He gently laid her back into the cushions next to Seppen, smiled when she put her arm across the child. The small girl rolled and snuggled into Shenshen with a smile born of warmth and love. The Iga ninja moved to the door and was out not disturbing a soul sleeping.

Redlance met Taikan on the stairs mid way to the bottom, a grave look on the troll’s face telling him there was worry. “What is it Taikan-san?”

“You have more to think about now monk. A nakama (colleague) stopped in, a worker in the castle who managed to escape the events of last night. He told me Nobunaga is dead.”

The words struck Redlance like a well thrown bo-shuriken. He looked at the troll and whispered in disbelief. “Lord Nobunaga is dead.”

“It seems he found himself in between someone and something very important.” Taikan remarked.

The ninja leaned against the rail thinking before speaking. “The village will be the first place the Shogun will start to look. It will be the first place Shijima will have his spies set out looking for us.”

“I would guess you have until the mid-day meal before Shijima has his eyes out. At nightfall the gates will be locked by Lord Madcoil. The village will be a cell by tomorrow at sunrise.” Taikan pointed out.

“Escape will be hard, evasion will be needed.” Redlance whispered still thinking.

“So, you will be leaving soon?” The troll asked.

“No, the others need to rest. Sleep is more important right now for Shenshen-san and Giryu. We will leave after mid-day.”

“You would risk Shijima but not the Shogun?” Taikin asked with a smile.

“I am prepared for either, even both at the same moment, but facing just one and fate favors me.” Redlance said with a grin.

“I have a request monk, one for using the room.” Taikan asked quickly.

“Hai, what may I help you with?”

“When you leave I wish for you to carry something for me.”

“What honorable smith?” Redlance asked with a curious look.

“That is not for you to know now. I will give it to you, and when you are one day away you may look. Will you do this for me?”

The Ninja looked at the smith for a moment contemplating the request, and then nodded in acceptance. Taikan nodded back and turned leaving Redlance alone on the stairs. The ninja waited a moment longer before heading back to the room, a hundred questions buzzing in his head like fireflies. One though stood out like a large candle.

What was Taikan giving him to carry out of the village?


Lord Madcoil looked down at the body of Nobunaga with a hard stare. No one moved in what used to be the personal quarters of the now dead lord. After seeing the guard outside felled by a single arrow no one dared breathe too loud. The Shogun walked around the body, which was covered by a sheet to the man’s chin, once before turning to his Captain.

“Captain, take off the shroud. I wish to see the wound.” The Shogun grunted.

The Captain, who led the Shogun’s procession into the castle, nodded then stepped forward and knelt by the side of the body. He folded the sheet back to expose the small slit on the front of Nobunaga’s chest. The Shogun stared at the small wound for a moment then shook his head to the side. His captain took the motion for its meaning and turned Nobunaga on his side, the body being stiff as a board was a little awkward to move for the Captain. As soon the former Lord’s back was off the ground the Shogun kneeled to examine the wound there, which was also a slit, but was surrounded by an oval bruise, the same size as say a tsuba from a katana. Madcoil nodded his head and the Captain put the body back down and covered it with the sheet.

“These men,” Madcoil pointed with his free hand to the six bodies on the floor beside Nobunaga and his advisor, “are they the ninja who almost completed this daring raid?”

“Hai my Lord Shogun. We put the bodies in the same room, so you could see them easier.” Shiro responded with a nod.

“Very good Shiro, thinking ahead is the sign of a formidable opponent. Your father has planned this well.” Madcoil sneered kneeling by the dead ninja.

Shiro didn’t respond, only nodded as his father had instructed. To verbally spar with the Shogun was out of the question. To do it with Lord Madcoil was a sure death wish. He watched carefully as the Shogun looked over each body, examined their hands closely while the Captain held the sheet back. Finally, when they had finished with the last one, Madcoil stood and looked at the Lord of Yagyu.

“Did the ninja carry swords?”

This was unexpected Shiro thought. His father had told him there might be questions, more than likely would be questions, but not one like this. He took a moment before answering.

“Yes, my Lord Shogun, the ninja were found with shurikens and ninja-tos’.”

“A ninja-to, a sword with a ‘square’ hand guard, that is what you found on them?” Madcoil asked, the words dripping with disdain from the mask over his face.

“Hai my Lord Shogun.” Shiro answered confused.

“It seems Lord Nobunaga was stabbed from behind by a katana with a circular tsuba. The ninja’s must have switched swords just before they died.”

Shiro swallowed hard. He spoke calmly while the whole time his mind screamed this was the end. His head was to be cut clean from his neck. “They must have my Lord Shogun.”

The room paused for a moment. Everyone seemed to be looking at the Shogun as he eyed Shiro. Then the large human titled back his head and laughed deep and hard. No one else moved or made a sound as the Shogun got himself under control and turned to his Captain.

“Remember this Captain, ambition is an aphrodisiac in the right quantity. Too little and it leaves you wanting…”

The Captain smiled and nodded as Madcoil switched to Shiro and growled deep from his chest, the rumble like that of a great cat. “And too much is a poison that will kill.”

“Hai my Lord Shogun!” The Captain yelled.

Shiro nodded understanding the meaning, that this ambition would be tolerated just for now and go no further or higher in his house, as Madcoil spoke. “Where is the elf female Shiro-san? I take it you know who took her and where she is by now?”

“We have all the trails on the mountain under our eyes my Lord Shogun and the town at the foothills is filled with our spies. We will have the elf by nightfall!” Shiro spoke with a fast nod.

“Good, I have a small squad of my soldiers watching the same town Lord Shiro.”

“You do my Lord Shogun?” Shiro asked close to whining.

“Hai, did you not think of doing that for me as well Lord Shiro?” Madcoil teased, like a cat with a fat mouse.

Shiro swallowed hard again and only shook his head…hoping to keep it.


Taikan walked to the back room where his ‘guest’ had finished resting. He carried a long velvet pouch tied at the top, middle, and end. It was the thing he wanted the monk to take away from his forge, the last of his past, the last of his old life. He knocked on the door and entered after being greeted. The food he had brought up was gone, all the rice and braised meat and vegetables, all eaten.

“Konnichiwa.” The occupants said with a bow of their heads.

“Konnichiwa.’ Taikan returned.

“How is the news honorable smith?” Redlance asked.

Taikan sat on the floor like the others laying the velvet pouch across his lap. “Shijima’s spies have arrived and they patrol the streets, but they are not alone.”

“Who else is here Taikan-san?” Giryu asked playing with Higuma-san and Seppen.

“The Shogun’s soldiers, they have the two roads out of town watched. Anyone leaving is searched and identified. They are looking for Shenshen-san. They are asking if anyone has seen her.”

Redlance nodded his head as the room was quiet from the news. Shenshen was about to tell him to leave her and flee. She was not worth the lives of Silverfox, Seppen, or Giryu, yet before she could open her mouth he spoke up stopping her.

“We are not leaving you Shenshen-san.”

“But how will you escape when they are looking for me?” Shenshen pleaded.

“They will not see you, or they will and just not know it is you.” Redlance grinned.

Shenshen and Taikan both showed looks of confusion while Silverfox and Giryu smiled knowing exactly what they’re sempai was referring to.

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PostSubject: Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Twenty-One ‘The Past’    Fri Apr 06, 2018 10:05 pm

And now for the next piece of Rayek's saga, where the duel commences...


Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Twenty-One ‘The Past’

The two walked out into the open field, step for step, eyes locked on each other. Rayek and the Wokou had agreed to a duel, no seconds were needed to ensure an honorable fight between them would take place, the bandit promised the Sōke. The Leader allowed the elves to dress to prove this, all their possessions with the exception of weapons returned in exchange for the duel. Even though both knew the other would not attack before the order was given to commence, they looked hard for any weakness or move that would give them an advantage while they prepared for the clash. The Wokou had all ready gained one advantage over the Sōke, the use of a real weapon. Rayek had agreed to use a branch from a tree hastily cut into the crude shape of a katana instead of his Dotanuki. It would be laughable the Wokou leader thought, taking a step in the knee-deep grass, to defend one’s self with a chunk of wood. But then he realized the Sōke needed no weapon to kill him. He would need to strike hard and fast to kill Rayek, the Wokou leader strategized, hard and fast.

The feel of the wet grass on the Leader’s feet, his ankles, helped to bring back memories longed locked away, when the Sōke asked for his name, that just set the lock free of the recollection.

“What is your name Wokou?”

“Seizo Fukumoto of the Haga clan.” The Wokou leader spoke.

If a lightning bolt had streaked down from the sky and slammed into the ground, it would not have had the same effect. Rayek stopped walking instantly at the sound of the name, one eyebrow raising high on his forehead. The four remaining samurai of the Taka Clan’s Chosen Eight eyed the Wokou with shock. The ninja looked at each other with a mix of surprise, and gleeful curiosity. Even the other bandits gasped in surprise at the name. Only little Leila-chan was lost having no clue what the name or the clan meant. She tugged on Hoykar’s haori sleeve, jerking it hard as she whispered.

“Who is he Hoykar-san?”

Hoykar picked her up as she clutched at Rayek’s large battle sword. “Seizo Fukumoto was a samurai for the Haga Clan, the protector of its mistress, Lady Mariko, much like I am with you.”

“Who is the Haga clan?”

“They no longer exist mistress,” Reevol whispered licking his lips, “the whole clan disappeared one the night at the order of the Shogun.”

“All of them, killed?” Leila-chan exclaimed with a gasp.

“No mistress, only the clan leader and Lady Mariko, both killed by one samurai, one Seizo Fukumoto.” Kureel explained watching the duel unfold.


Ginsaku came at him with a downward cut. Rayek, his sword now pointed at the floor, brought the Dotanuki up slamming the mune, or spine of the blade, up against his former student’s left arm with a loud bone crunching crack. Ginsaku let out a scream as his arm broke and flew out of the way exposing his chest and midsection. Yet the Sōke didn’t attack. He instead spun to his right, slapping another slash aside from another student, and then with a hard-cross cut, he swung back and finished Ginsaku, a blow that sent the student skidding across the mat in a heap. The second student barely had time recover before Rayek cut him too, a deep gash across the chest.

A third tried to attack with a quick feint, but Rayek simply dodged it and countered with a quick stab that punched through the student’s chest. As he dropped dead, the Sōke stepped back into a defensive posture watching his former pupils closely.

“You do not have to do this…you can leave and live.”

The students though moved slowly in a circle trying to cut off his escape.

They didn’t understand.

He was not trying to escape.



“He killed them, both, his mistress and leader?” Leila whispered to Hoykar.

“He was the only left alive in the room mistress, or so the story goes. It is only assumed he was the one who killed them.” Hoykar whispered.

“Please Hoykar,” Kureel spat, “he was the only one left because he killed them!”

Leila watched Hoykar only nod. He wouldn’t fight Kureel-san Leila noted. He loved the elf with all his heart she knew, and if all he ever was to receive from Kureel was his wrath then that would be enough for Hoykar. It was too much for little Leila though.

“Tell me the story Hoykar?”

“It is not worth telling mistress.” Kureel cut in.

“I was not asking you.” Leila spat back at Kureel, the venom in her voice dripping.

Hoykar only hushed her though as Chot spoke up after taking a bite of his endless supply of Oni Giri. “The Haga Clan was a large, powerful group to the south little one. Some say the next Shogun would have come from them, before it all ended in a bloody mess. The Lady Mariko was the first to be killed followed by her husband. Their young son was never found. It has been told the samurai Seizo Fukumoto killed them, brought down his own clan, because of his love for the Lady Mariko, which was not returned.”

“He loved her…and killed her?” Leila asked with shock.

“Some say she spurned his love and that drove him into a rage. I believe what the others say though.” Chot answered.

“What ‘others’? There is only the truth.” Reevol spat.

“Well,” Kahvi smiled, “it seems we know more truth than you samurai.”

Out on the field the two combatants strode to the spot where they would meet. Rayek simply turned to Seizo and took a neutral stance. He held the rough wooden sword in his hands by his right ear; his left foot was forward with most of his weight on his back right foot. The Sōke was a perfect line to the bandit, who pulled the Kusarigama out of his belt holding the looped eight-foot chain and wooden handle of the sickle in his left hand and the weighted end in his right.

 
The floor of the dojo was slick with blood.

Another student charged and Rayek defended himself with a quick counter strike, letting the human miss before stepping past him, slashing the student across the back. The cut was enough to relieve the student of his life.

Rayek kept his sword pointed in front of him as another student, and another, came for him. None had delivered a blow necessary to kill him or stop him. He had two bad cuts, one on his side and the other on his leg, but the Sōke was too skilled for them. The only chance for the students to succeed was to attack as one, so many swords coming at Rayek that he couldn’t defend them all.

They didn’t use the tactic though.

They came at him one at a time, one after the other, and he countered each attack with a blow of his own.

He slashed the first across the face and blocked the strike of the second before turning his wrist over and cutting the arm of the student. The Sōke watched as the student stumbled away from him with a useless limb, the spot taken by two of the few remaining students.

They came at him in pairs…and they were driven back.



“The leader of the Haga clan, one Sakuma Otaki, was not noble. What we, the ninja, discovered was that his lust was his own downfall.” Kahvi whispered while looking out at the field.

A moment of silence passed as the grass on the field bent from a gentle wind, and a bird chirped from the woods. It might have been serene and peaceful if not for the duel that was about to happen, or the story of the Haga clan being told, which had more than just little Leila intrigued.

“Go on!” The Wokou with the weasel face spat, eager for Kahvi to continue.

The kunoichi only smiled reveling in the attention, a look that made Chot uneasy as most of the time it meant he would have to risk his neck. “Sakuma-san had many interests in life, most with female companionship, and as such he kept a flock of concubines. I guess the love of one lady was not enough for Sakuma-san. They say he had one young mistress in particular who he loved more than anything.”

“Even more than Lady Mariko?” Leila gasped.

“Mistress!” Hoykar hissed hugging his charge.

“Yes, even more then the beautiful Lady Mariko. Sakuma-san loved this one concubine so much he even gave into her evil plan. He removed the son he had with Mariko-san and replaced him with her daughter.”

“You lie!” Reevol exclaimed abruptly.

“That is not possible! There can be no female clan leaders!” Kureel spat an instant later.

“It can be if Sakuma-san kept Lady Mariko away, visiting far flung places in the prefecture. As long as she was away she never suspected.” Krim pointed out.

“I lead my clan samurai, but yes, there can be no visible female Clan Lords. But when lust is involved, well, there is no rule that will not be broken.” Kahvi added.

The group fell silent again at the stop of the story as the two combatants stared at each other. All at once Seizo let go of the coiled chain, letting the metal rings fall to the grass while at the same time his right hand began to twirl the weighted end. It made a small whine at first, the air screaming past the spinning metal rings. Seizo lowered himself into an attack posture raising the kama and sickle above his head.

It would begin soon Rayek thought.


The dojo was quiet with the exception of the moaning of the wounded. The smell of blood and death were everywhere. Rayek looked down at the last two, the last of his students, the last two who attacked. One was dead. The other would live, but a samurai with a severe limp was no bushi. The Sōke grimaced against the pain in his arm as he pulled a small piece of paper from his robe top, a Nuguigami, and cleaned the Dotanuki. He replaced the sword into its Saya and walked for the door.

It was over…his past life…the dojo…it was all lost to him. Now there was only the road of the wanderer. As he stepped out of the entrance and onto the steps he spotted one last student. One who had stayed out of the fight he started.

“Choei-san!”

The human turned with a look of horror on his face. He started to walk backwards as Rayek walked after him calling out to the world.

“Are you running back to Shijima-san you dog? Are you running back to hide?”

“How…so many…how?” Choei whimpered.

“Run back to Shijima-san dog! Run back and tell him I live! Rayek still lives and I will be the Yagyu’s bane from this day on. I will be the reminder of his treachery!” Rayek spat taking a quick step forward, ignoring the pain in his leg.

“How do you live?” Choei screamed before running for the gate.

“You tell Shijima I will meet him one day. I will meet him, and I will avenge my life on him!” Rayek yelled one last time.

He watched the dog Choei run for the fence and disappear past it. Rayek looked around one last time, one last memory, before leaving. He picked up a pack he had made before confronting the students, the bag filled with some rice cakes and money. Down the road he found a smith who cauterized the two wounds with hot rods.

It was last anyone ever saw of Rayek in the village.



“What happened to the little boy?” The weasel Wokou asked. His eyes never strayed from the duel, but his curiosity with the Haga story would not be sated.

“No one knows. He just disappeared, taken from this world.” Krim whispered.

“No,” Leila whined as a tear ran down her cheek.

“But how did they pass a girl off as boy?” Reevol snapped.

“They cut her hair like his, dressed her like him, and the servants were all sworn on pain of death not to reveal the secret. It worked for some time.” Kahvi explained.

“So how was the secret revealed?” Hoykar asked missing the nod from Leila as she watched the duel.

“Lady Mariko decided to surprise her husband and come home early. She wrote him and told him a small white lie, that she would travel to a small village and see if everyone was content. When she arrived at the palace no one stopped her from going to see her precious son…” Kahvi spoke letting the last die on the wind.

“What? What happened?” The weasel asked quickly as the duel started.

Out on the field, Seizo lashed out first sending the large weight attached to the end of the chain right for Rayek’s face. The Sōke dodged it easily as the Wokou snatched it back and sent the weight at him again. Rayek dodged this attack too, sliding just to the side while using the wooden sword to keep the lead ball from hitting him. It wasn’t the right technique the Sōke thought. Seizo was a master of the Kusarigama. These were just small nips, small thrusts to see where he would go.

The real attack would come soon, Rayek assumed gripping his wooden sword firmly but not to tightly.


He walked into the room with shaky legs. It was hot, stifling, and each breath was forced, yet Seizo Fukumoto did it. He had entered the personal room of his Leader, one Sakuma Otaki, a bloody tanto in one hand and a parchment in the other. There, along one wall on a small raised dais, they both sat working on some Calligraphy, the Clan Lord and his ‘son’ and their Advisor. They were dressed in rich looking Kimono and bright Obi sashes. The two guards, on either side of the pair, turned to see him with surprised looks as the First Advisor spoke up.

“Seizo Fukumoto, you are not invited or allowed here. What are you doing?”

“I have come to speak with Sakuma-san. I have come to deliver a message from Lady Mariko.” Seizo countered, walking to the center of the room.

“She can deliver the message herself Seizo-san if she wishes. You are not needed now.” Sakuma spoke up while never taking his eyes of the parchment or his ‘son’.

“No, she cannot Sakuma-san. She is dead now, chosen the right of seppuku instead of living with shame.” Seizo replied coldly tossing the tanto to the floor in front of the dais.

The two guards gasped from the news, but the Advisor kept calm as he rose from his seiza and approached the tanto. “Lady Mariko is dead?”

“Hai,” Seizo responded.

“From what shame? What do you know Seizo Fukumoto?” The Advisor demanded.

“He knows nothing Fist Advisor. His own feelings for my wife blind him!” Sakuma called out still not looking up from his ‘son’ or the parchment.

Seizo held out the parchment and spoke coldly. “I have the confession of your concubine Hanako-san my ‘Leader’. I have her words on this parchment telling how she conspired with you to remove the rightful heir to the head of the Haga Clan! She wrote it out as a way to make sure you kept your word!”

“What?” The Advisor yelped taking the parchment from Seizo’s hand.

Trembling hands fought with the folds, but after a moment the parchment was open and the Advisor read it in terror. He looked over to his clan leader mumbling and spitting words that seemed to come from someone else.

“What have you done?”

“That parchment in your hands, it is nothing! You know nothing Seizo Fukumoto!” Sakuma exclaimed in anger, finally looking up from his Calligraphy.

“You have destroyed the Clan!” Seizo screamed.

“Is it true my Lord? Have you done this…horrid act?” The Advisor wailed.

The clan lord only laughed at the samurai. “The whelp that Lady Mariko gave me was unworthy to lead. He was weak. Eiko-chan here, she is strong and will lead us!”

“We cannot be led by a female! The Lord of the Haga must be of pure blood! You mean to destroy us by putting her, an inferior, at our head?” The Advisor countered.

“We are doomed!” One of the guards muttered.

“We are the Haga and I lead! We will not be destroyed! Eiko-chan fooled all of you, even you my trusted Advisor. She will be my heir, and Lady Hanako will be my wife. And the Clan Haga will be at the Shogun’s Side for all time!”

The room fell into silence at the confession, but then Seizo laughed just like Sakuma-san had a moment ago. Everyone turned to him, even little Eiko-chan looked up with a confused expression.

“What could be so funny Seizo-san?” The other guard demanded.

“Only that Lady Mariko extracted her own revenge before taking the path of honor.”

“What did she do?” The Advisor whispered with fear.

“She poisoned the afternoon tea that Hanako-san always drinks. There will be no happy marriage my lord. There will be no more nights with her.”

The men in the room gasped again. Sakuma-san’s expression changed from gloating to shock then to anger. He gasped for breath screaming out an order to his guards.

“Kill Seizo Fukumoto! Kill Him Now! I Demand it!!”

No one moved though. The guards only looked on in confusion, from Seizo to the Advisor and back. When the samurai was still breathing Sakuma leapt up pointing and screaming like a mad man. He demanded that Seizo be killed.

And still the guards refused the order. Two servants stepped into the room at the sound of the screaming and blocked a fleeing Eiko-Chan as she ran from the dais and her enraged father. Sakuma stepped down too, still pointing and still demanding the death of the belligerent samurai. He took one more step before Seizo struck, drawing his sword and slicing the Lord of the Haga clan with a death blow across the chest. The two servants screamed and fled the room with the child as the Advisor and the guards looked on.

“We are doomed…” The one guard whispered again.

“No, the Haga clan will go on, it must go on.” The Advisor countered.

“How? Everyone is dead!” The other guard pointed out.

“You will tell all that I killed them both. You will tell them at the court how I took the life of the Lord of the Haga, that his son disappeared, and of my love Lady Mariko’s death. I will take the blame for her acts, the dishonor I will bear for her. Sakuma-san’s dishonor will follow him for eternity.” Seizo whispered.

The two guards turned to their Advisor, the new Lord of the Haga, for a sign. They watched in stun silence as he nodded and spoke. “This may save us Seizo Fukumoto. Your sacrifice may save our clan.”

But Seizo only shook his head, dropping his katana to the floor where it made a loud ring on impact. “It is not my sacrifice Advisor…and this will not save the clan.”

The guards and the Advisor watched as Seizo Fukumoto left the room and started down a road of infamy.



“She killed her rival with poisoned tea then committed seppuku while Seizo confronted the Lord. After the samurai killed him he left never to be heard from again. The child of Sakuma-san and Hanako-san was given to monks in a monastery and lost in that religious world. Just as Seizo predicted, the Haga Clan was ended by the Shogun.” Kahvi finished.

No one spoke. If it was from the tragic end of the story of the Haga Clan or from the duel, it didn’t matter to the kunoichi. She watched as Rayek dodged two small strikes and then seemingly fell for the real attack.

Seizo watched the Sōke dodge the two small strikes and lashed out with a real one. He let the weight fly out in a wider arc this time and it caught the Sōke perfectly. With one quick twist of his wrist Seizo seized the wooden sword with his chain, the metal links and weight wrapping around it three times. Instantly Rayek pulled back tightening the hold of the chain on his weapon.

The Wokou smiled as he knew there were only two outcomes to this now. The wooden sword would break and snap off, or he would pull it right out of the Sōke’s grasp. Seizo smiled and jumped forward whipping the chain intending to break the wooden sword of the Sōke and leave him defenseless. Yet, Rayek jumped back with him keeping the chain taught thus nullifying the whip of the chain. Seizo pulled back on the chain keeping Rayek’s sword under control. He gave the chain a pull, feeling the Sōke pull back, a small tug-of-war happening between them. Then again, Seizo jumped forward whipping the chain trying to pull Rayek’s wooden sword out of his hands.

It didn’t happen this time either.

As soon he jumped forward and whipped the chain Rayek mimicked the move dropping the tip of the sword. In a blink, the two spinning circles in the chain slammed into each other, and the chain dropped to the grass full of slack. Seizo barely had a chance to move as the Sōke took control and charged, whipping the loose chain with his own attack. All at once the tables were turned as the Wokou fought to keep control of his weapon while the Sōke closed in with a rush.

The chain whipped and spun wildly, ripping out of Seizo’s hand and control.

Up and then down.

Right and then left.

It was impossible to stop the chain whips, and even lowering his weight, his arms, which should have stopped the chain from moving did not work. Seizo moved to his right, fighting the chain as it struck against his hands and the wooden handle of the Kusarigama. He could see the Sōke coming for him, the wooden sword going back for a slash. Seizo stopped dodging and raised his weapon to block the attack…

But Rayek was already set for the defensive move.

The Sōke slammed his foot down on the chain, the part by the Wokou’s foot, and the move brought the wooden handle of the Kama down with a jerk exposing Seizo’s head and neck in an instant. The others watching gasped as Rayek struck, the crude wooden sword coming across the Wokou’s neck and snapping in half from the force. The blow was perfect, right across the large vein in the neck, popping it under the skin. The Wokou’s spine, which carries the chakra energy, the very essence of life, broke from the force of the slash. Seizo Fukumoto was dead before he hit the ground in a lump.

Leila and Hoykar gasped again as the Wokou fell lifeless. Rayek stood over the body for a moment then dropped the broken wooden sword by Seizo’s body. He calmly walked over to the group, staring at the other Wokou who looked confused and scared at the moment.

“Seizo died with honor, do not waste that. Give my companions their belongings.”

The weasel only nodded and began to drop katana’s and other various tools of the ninja that were unrecognizable from a sack. After he finished emptying the bag the small Wokou slinked back by the others, behind the one who hissed like a snake.

Kureel and Reevol slipped their swords back in their Obi’s as did Hoykar while Leila handed Rayek his Dotanuki. The group quickly finished getting arranged as the Wokou hissed.

“What becomes of us?”

The Sōke turned and looked back as the group moved off down the trail. “Bury Seizo then find an honorable a path with your life.”

“An honorable path?” The snake hissed.

“Like work?” The weasel yelped.

“Hai, and do not follow us or we will send you to join your leader.” Kureel snapped walking away with the group.

The Wokou looked at each other in fear and shock.

“Work? I do not like to work…it hurts!” The weasel whined.

“Neither do I.” The snake hissed looking over to his fallen leader.

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PostSubject: Re: Shaman's Shogun AU   Fri Apr 06, 2018 10:52 pm

Last one was I bloody one! Shocked

Still love it! ... and little Leila Smile

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PostSubject: Re: Shaman's Shogun AU   Fri Apr 20, 2018 11:34 am

It was a bloody one, wasn't it Embala...let's just hope Rayek can keep his head as he goes about this journey!

And now for the next piece of the saga, where the Iga Ninja escapes...


Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Twenty-Two The Getaway

The small village at the foothills of Nobunaga’s Mountain was a peaceful retreat where farming was the major bounty of the inhabitants. Small fields tilled by the farmers to feed their own families surrounded the few buildings that made up the center square of the village while farther out were the large rice fields that were kept by the farmers at the direction of the Daimyo, Nobunaga. The rice, and what was taken from similar fields in other villages, was sold to the major cities and towns bringing in enough of a profit for Nobunaga that he kept the taxes small on his fiefdom. The small village had never seen war or attack being so close the Daimyo’s castle, and seemed to exist out of time and the caste effect of the Abode

That was till this day…

Now unknown faces popped up at every corner it seemed, strangers examining everyone as they passed, eyes scanning for someone in the crowd. These new visitors wore no insignia or marker for a clan. And it was if they just appeared out of the morning mist, just taking up spots around the village and fields like ghosts. Then at mid-day the soldiers for the Shogun, Lord Madcoil’s personal guard, appeared setting up posts at the three roads out of the village, identifying any who entered and denying egress to any who tried to leave. The small village had become a prison, trapping all inside and any who came in.

At the building that housed the forge of the smith Taikan, the troll worked diligently bending metal and fixing a rake for a villager. He stopped long enough to answer the questions from the Shogun’s soldiers, but then went back to work as the same men searched his building. He heated the metal bar that held the rake’s tines while listening to the men go through each room of his home, even the back room. Soon, after he started to mend the handle of the rake by melding the two broken pieces, he watched as the soldiers left the forge and his home. He gave a nod to the last one who nodded back. They were gone, his friend the Iga Ninja and his companions, and Taikan could only hope for the best for them from this point on.


“You do not need to endanger your personal guard my Lord Shogun. We of the Yagyu will gladly fulfill any request you have of us my Lord Shogun!”

The eagerness of Shiro to volunteer his clan to guard the village was easy to see, but also was the reason for reservation. He had come to take the elf mistress, to take control of her for one purpose, and it was not to turn her over to Lord Madcoil. It was more than obvious that she was the key to Shijima, the real Lord of the Yagyu, and his plan of bringing an end to the Sōke Rayek. The old one would use her, like a carrot to a Zwoot, to draw Rayek out and bring the elf to him. He would use Shenshen to bring an end to the only one who could hurt him and the Yagyu.

But even Shijima wasn’t prepared for the appearance of the ninja who stole her from them, one of the last of the mythic Iga clan.

Madcoil turned to Shiro and behind the mengu, or facemask, one of his eyebrows raised in a surprised look, or humorous. It was never easy to determine which road the Shogun would chose. “It is unusual for the Lord of the Yagyu to worry for the safety of my guard Lord Shiro. Is this elf mistress so dangerous as to warrant an entire army to take her?”

“No, my Lord Shogun,” Shiro countered quickly, “but there is the ninja who took her. He is the one I worry about.”

Madcoil walked over to Shiro, erect and confrontational it seemed as his heavy steps shook the room. “And why should I trust your men Lord Shiro? The ninja slipped past them already, spirited away the elf before you could take control of her, for me of course, right Lord Shiro?”

“Hai,” Shiro snapped in response.

The Captain of the Shogun’s guard watched with a small cold smile as his master walked right up to the Lord of the Yagyu, towering over him. It was usually at this point that Lord Madcoil let his prey fall into the trap. He had seen this done before, so many times he had lost count, but every time was memorable. Poor Lord Shiro, about to discover his neck may not be strong enough to hold his head anymore.

“Do not think I am naïve to your plans Lord Shiro, or those of your father Shijima-san. I am the Shogun and I see all with my many-colored eyes. I see the footsteps of your ninja’s Lord Shiro, the ones who died trying to get the elf. I see your otosan (father) and his need to cover the dark history of his clan’s rise in my court.”

There were two answers dancing in Shiro’s head that he could use. One, deny it all and try to convince Lord Madcoil that they were his try allies. He could convince the Shogun that without the help of the Yagyu his throne would be threatened. His reign would come to an end.

Or two…

“Hai,”

The word was quick and low, just above a whisper. One could almost see the smile that crossed Lord Madcoil’s face at the admission.

“Maybe you are your father’s son Lord Shiro.”

“Hai,” Shiro-san said low again.

The room went silent as the smile on the Captain’s face disappeared. He was disappointed, truly. He wanted to see if Shiro’s neck could hold his head. The Shogun suddenly laughed. A cold loud jubilation that made Shiro’s skin crawl and the walls almost shake. When he was done, the room quieted, and everyone hung on the edge of a cliff waiting for his word.

“I once saw a man draw a fish from a lake, one after the other, using only his hand. He used no net or pole or weapon. I asked him how he caught these fish, what power did he have over the fish? The man only looked at me and said calmly ‘I only give them an honorable way to die’.”

The room was silent again as the story from Madcoil circulated around the room. The Shogun noted all the confused facers and laughed hard and loud again. When the walls fell silent he called to his Captain with his booming voice.

“Captain, enlighten Lord Shiro and the others.”

“Our great Lord Shogun has enacted a grand scheme. He has instructed all Daimyo’s and officials of his rule to start spreading the word the elf Shenshen has been executed and her body cremated according to the decree of the great Shogun Madcoil. When the news reaches the Sōke he will inevitably try to avenge her.”

Shiro gasped at the plan. Madcoil’s eyebrow rose again as he spoke. “You see, Lord of the Yagyu, why chase a prey you can have come to you. Like those fish, I will give the Sōke an honorable way to die.”

It was grand Shiro thought, and it was exactly what his father was going to do, use the elf to draw Rayek to him, only they hadn’t planned on lying. He was so lost in his realization he barely noticed Madcoil step up and growl deep. “And before he dies, I will ask Rayek questions about his past Lord Shiro. Questions that I have wanted to know for some time, questions about the Yagyu’s hatred of him and his school.”

The last part, Shiro understood all of it without help.


The afternoon sun was passing in and out of clouds, and with each time it went behind a bank, the guards by the road at the entrance to the village issued silent prayers for their good fortune. The few people who had entered were checked and then told to find a suitable corner to sit and wait because they were not leaving until the Shogun gave word they could. No one argued with the soldiers.

No one wanted to die.

But there weren’t enough people coming in to the village to keep the guards occupied, and after word was passed no one could leave, all the ones inside stopped coming back up the road. With nothing to do except stand in place the three humans grew tired, hot, and extremely testy. They were devising a way to have some fun with a stray dog they had captured. One wanted to throw darts at it, another suggested tying one of its legs to a tree and another to a Zwoot and then seeing how long the limb would stay attached. The third was starting to come up with his own devilish idea for the canine when they saw the three shambling mounds walking up. The trio was dressed in worn robes, and there wasn’t a piece of exposed skin due to bandages covering it all. The only thing visible on the lead one, who was bigger then the other two, was a right eye that was obvious an elf’s large orb. The two behind had their faces covered by bandages and the low cowls of the robes they wore, using two walking sticks to tap out and warn them of the road ahead. The leader of the guards approached the leader of the trio as the other two guards moved toward the last two.

“No one is allowed to leave the village. Turn and go back to where ever you came from.”

“Oh, honorable one,” the leader of the trio remarked with his right eye wide starring at the guards, “we cannot go back to the village. We have been cast out; the others will not let us stay.”

“It does not matter what the others want!” One of the guards snapped looking at the last member of the trio with hard eye, searching the walking bandage up and down from a distance.

“No one is to leave!” The other guard piped up doing the same as his counterpart with the second in line for the trio.

“Why did the others in the village cast you out?” The leader of the guards asked.

“We have the rotting disease honorable one. It spreads to easy and they are afraid if we stay we will make everyone sick.” The leader of the trio offered.

With a single gasp all three guards jumped back at the mention of the rotting disease. The two checking out the last two of the trio took an extra step as the leader spat. “You have the rotting disease.”

“Hai honorable one,” the second one said with a pleasant female voice, “we contracted the disease and now we are cursed with it. There is a temple just a short distance from here where we want to go.”

“The rotting disease...” The last of the guards mumbled looking down at his hands with a look of terror.

“How fast does it spread?” The second guard asked his leader who just snapped back.

“I do not know you fool!”

“It started as a sneeze honorable one. Before I knew it most of my face was lost.” The last of the trio spoke up, the voice also a female.

“Lost your face!” The last guard yelped looking up from his hands finally.

“Hai honorable ones, the disease has turned us to beggars. We have been traveling to a temple that will take us in and make out final days easy.” The leader of the trio explained.

“Send them away, send them way before we all die!” The second guard hissed.

“I cannot, the Shogun’s orders!” The leader of the guard spat.

The stray dog suddenly barked making the guards jump, and then it sneezed loudly. The last guard stepped back even farther slipping into hysterics almost as fast. “The dog has the disease now!”

The leader of the guards yelled trying to get him and his soldiers under control. “The dog does not- “

The second of the trio suddenly sneezed and the last guard felt something wet hit his face, something small like spittle from a sneeze. His face went ashen and a low moan escaped his lips as he froze in terror. The leader of the trio shuffled on unsteady legs reaching back for his companion and speaking.

“Oh, please imouto-san, be careful! The last time you did that you lost your lower lip.”

“WHAT?!” The last guard wailed stepping back even more.

“SEND THEM AWAY!” The second guard screamed at his leader.

The leader was lost. He had to obey his Lord Shogun, but this was the rotting disease, the rotting disease! He looked at the shambling trio, and then back to his men, and then back to the trio. The last guard let out a scream as he felt his skin suddenly crawl making them all jump a bit. The leader of the guards turned to the leader of the infected and growled coldly.

“Go! Get out, and take the stray dog with you!”

“Arigatou gozaimasu honorable one!” The leader of the infected cried stepping toward the guards.

“STAY AWAY YOU FOOL!! JUST GO!!!” The leader of the guards wailed stepping back and away.

“Hai, we are going honorable one!” The leader said shuffling away. The other two fell in line and all three disappeared up the trail with the dog following behind.

The leader turned to say something, but his men were lost in machinations. The last one was washing off his face and hands, saying a prayer to keep his skin. The second was wiping his hands off on his armor in a stupefied state.


The other road out of the village was in the same state. When the old misshapenly man came shuffling up, creeping along on old legs, the soldiers just stood and waited. He wore old and worn robes, a ripped pair of hakama pants, and a kimono that hid a good-sized hump on his left shoulder. The leader sighed noting this was so damn-

Then the smell touched his nose, the rankest, most offending odor that could ever be assaulted him.

He looked away gasping for air, as did his men, as the old one approached, and the closer he got the worse the smell got. One of the guards stepped back gagging while the others coughed and wiped away tears.

“Oh, did he roll in every dung pile in the village!” One of the guards whispered.

“You cannot pass old one…” The leader started but then stopped coughing so bad he couldn’t carry on.

“I am sorry honorable ones. I am old and my hump, the villagers will not let me stay?” The old man said with a cracked voice.

The leader stepped back trying, searching, for some fresh air. One of his men began to vomit behind a bush as he spoke. ” You are not allo-“

He coughed trying to breath, trying to keep his stomach down, as the old man shuffled over while speaking. “Is there something wrong honorable ones?”

The leader was about to scream ‘Yes, you stink so bad I am getting sick’ when his stomach actually turned over with a flop. Then the leader was just pointing, ordering the old one to get out before they all died. All he wanted was air, fresh air to breath!

“Domo Arigato honorable ones!” The old man nodded heading up the trail.

Even with the old man gone, the air around the soldiers still smelled so foul they could barely stand it. The stench was in their clothes, and their mouths it seemed. The men held cloth’s dipped in water to their mouths and noses trying to hold back the smell. Later, after the air had cleared, they were so glad about the smell being gone they forget to mention the old man’s passing.


The Captain listened intently to the message from the Advisor. Shiro watched just as intently, wishing he could hear the words. His frazzled nerves could barely handle another surprise and all he wanted was a moment to feel calm. The Captain nodded, then approached the Shogun, and Shiro could only wait. He tried to build up his strength, his nerves for what was coming.

When the Shogun huffed in anger it didn’t help.

Madcoil turned and looked at Shiro with an obvious sneer from above the face guard. “I think one of my faithful Lord’s is about to have a very bad night.”

“Which Daimyo my Lord?” Shiro asked quickly, a little too quickly.

“Do you wish to save this one too Lord Shiro? Maybe this one you can keep from getting stabbed in the back?” Madcoil growled

Shiro only shook his head and kept quiet from the stinging remarks. Lord Madcoil waited a moment letting everyone hang on his words again before speaking. “Lord Tadayoshi’s castle was burned to the ground last night by some ninja’s who had returned to find a companion. He was able to escape, but it seems his charge, the child of Lord Voll and Mistress Winnowill has not been found.”

The news was like a slap. Shiro had to force his mind to work through the words, see it from all sides. The child was the only reason Lord Voll and Mistress Winnowill were staying quiet in captivity. As long Leila-chan was in the hands of Lord Madcoil he could have rule over those two, over the witch Winnowill and her powers. But with her gone…or dead…

As soon as Mistress Winnowill hears the news someone would be in a lot of trouble, and a lot pain.


They sat calmly on a set of large boulders just off the trail, waiting and listening as the afternoon crept along. All the bandages had been removed and packed away, along with the worn robes, and hidden in a small hole under some trees with a pile of dirt beside waiting to be covered. Shenshen was nervous but held her emotions in, as did Silverfox and Giryu. She could hear a song bird up in the trees calling for her lover, singing out a tune that drifted on the breeze. She smiled thinking of Rayek and imagined herself singing out for him and hearing his call in return.

What she heard though was the soft approach of her rescuer. She still couldn’t hear his footsteps through the forest. She heard him talking to a little girl who was giggling as she answered his questions instead.

“Oh, I think you will make a better Kunoichi then your okasan Silverfox.”

“Will I be as good as otosan?” Seppen asked eagerly.

“You will be the greatest ninja ever my little snowflake.” Giryu spoke up greeting Redlance as he walked up.

“Was she any trouble Sempai?” Silverfox asked walking over.

The little girl rode on the Iga ninja’s back in a rigged harness, just past his left shoulder, still holding tight to her teddy bear with a big smile. “I was perfectly still just like Sempai said to be. I breathed through my mouth with the cloth with the potion that Sempai made so I didn’t get sick.”

“She was perfect Silverfox-san, and we had our secret guardian?” Redlance teased.

“Higuma-san?” Shenshen asked all ready guessing who the secret guardian was.

Seppen roared like a brown bear as Silverfox pulled her from the harness and held her close reveling in the feel of daughter. Redlance mimicked the roar while tickling Seppen making her laugh loud. Shenshen smiled at the sound, and even giggled herself at it. Innocence was so short lived these days, one could not help but be swayed when it came from a little girl’s laugh. Giryu took a small pack from Redlance and added it to the hole that held the other robes. As he covered it Redlance turned toward Shenshen and spoke with some passion.

“Are you ready to go and see your sister Shenshen-san?”

“Hai, I wish to see my sister greatly!” She responded with an uncharacteristic pop.

“I think she may out run us Sempai.” Giryu teased walking back.

“That I may honorable Giryu-san.” Shenshen said with a smile feeling Redlance take her hand helping her up.


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PostSubject: Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Twenty-Three - Bargains   Tue Apr 24, 2018 4:03 pm

And now for the next piece of the saga, deals and bargains are finally struck...


Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Twenty-Three Bargains

“What is your plan Rayek-san?” Leila-chan asked trying to keep up with the Sōke, who seemed to be walking a little faster each time she spoke.

Mi-so yotsu(34) Chot sent to Khavi and his other ninja brethren.

“Shhh!” The female leader of the ninjas hissed with a smile. She had to admit, she was enjoying the show just a bit.

There was no answer to her question, so Leila waited just a moment or two before asking it again, just like she had been doing all day. “What do you plan on doing when we reach our castle Rayek-san?”

Mi-so Itsutsu(35) Chot sent again causing Krim and Skot to giggle.

Leila shot a dark glare over her shoulder at the pair, a look she had learned to mimic from her mother quite well, and for a slim moment both stopped. Skot actually felt a shiver run down his spine form the look, from the arrows coming from the irises. Leila smiled feeling a sense of confidence that she put the two in their place when a tree suddenly appeared right in the middle of the trail, a very stout tree wearing hakama pants. Her head bounced off it as she grabbed onto the trunk to keep from falling flat. When she looked up she realized the tree was the Sōke, his muscled leg not budging at all, and he was staring down at her.

And his glare sent a shiver running down her spine.

Everyone had a shiver run down their spine as Rayek eyed the child hard enough to make Hoykar panic and grab her up off the ground in his arms. “We are sorry Sōke. We will be quiet.”

Rayek looked from the child to the samurai with the same glare then turned to walk away without as much as a word. He took one step with his back to the group when little Leila’s voice called out with a demanding tone.

“I want to know what you’re planning!”

“Mistress!” Hoykar gasped in surprise…and a little fear.

The trail was deathly silent as the Sōke stopped, froze in mid-step. You could almost hear his teeth grind together as his jaw clenched so tight the muscles in his neck stood out like large bamboo stalks. Kureel, also noticing the veins and muscles on the side of the Sōke’s neck, quickly stepped forward in front of Hoykar as Rayek turned to them. If angry had a more frightening look than what the Sōke wore it might have struck them all dead with stopped hearts. Even Leila drew back at his eyes.

I think he’s going to kill all three of them. Chot sent making Skot suddenly snort.

Seems even the Sōke has a breaking point. Krim replied.

Kahvi paid little attention to her genin, they were the last thing on her mind at the moment. No, she was studying Rayek and his every little twitch and flutter. She was looking for any sign that would give away a technique, any simple movement that would give her a chance to dodge his attack, to live in case the worst were to happen. She didn’t have one preconceived notion the Sōke was on her side, or if it came to it he would throw himself in front of a spear for her. This ‘relationship’ was nothing more than mutual gain for both, a means to an end. The Sōke gets his Shenshen and she gets the Little Palace.

So, the ninja watched carefully. She eyed his feet, his legs, hands, even his chest with how it rose and fell with each breath. But when Kahvi’s eyes scanned upward to the face of the Sōke, she saw him looking back at her, his gold orbs scanning her in return.

Seems trust was something they both lacked.

“The mistress did not mean to bother you Rayek-san. She has always been a very inquisitive little girl.” Hoykar laughed nervously.

The Sōke just held up his left hand though and spoke coldly. “If I tell you a story will that stop all the questions?”

The Sōke is going- Skot sent in shock.

to tell a story! Krim finished for him in just as much shock.

I bet it will scare the child to death, or bore us entirely! Chot spat.

The offer immediately placated the little girl as she nodded her head enthusiastically. “Hai!”

“Not another word?”

“Hai!”

“Not another sound?”

“Hai!”

“You will be quiet until we camp, which will not be long?”

“Hai!”

Rayek lowered his left hand and nodded just slightly happy with the terms of the agreement. At least he coul-

“Who is the story about Rayek-san?” Leila asked quickly.

This time Krim and Skot could barely contain their mirth as they watched the smoke billow from the Sōke’s ears. Kahvi watched Hoykar take a small step back as Rayek just grumbled and continued on up the darkening trail.

“Mistress, please!” Hoykar whispered with a shake of his head.

“What?” Leila asked back shrugging her shoulders.


The advisor stood behind and to the right of his lord, watching the three elves in the fading sunlight on the small island in the middle of the large pond on Taiso’s Yamashiro. The news he brought to his lord’s attention unsettled Taiso, set his eyes squinting with thought as the small brown elf laughed at the other two.

“What will you tell Mistress Winnowill about her daughter my Lord?” The advisor asked with a whisper.

“The truth,” Taiso responded without hesitation, “she and Lord Voll deserve no less from me.”

“But my Lord….”

“What are you worried for Tsuyoshi?”

“My lord, what we found in the Shogun’s letters, about Mistress Winnowill and her powers?”

Taiso smiled with a raised eyebrow. “Are you worried she will bewitch me Tsuyoshi? Do you think she will control me like some Bunraku?”

“No, my Lord,” the advisor spoke with a shake of his head, “but it was written that she can hurt a man with just her touch. She could even kill a man.”

“As can I Tsuyoshi, as can you too.” Lord Taiso remarked walking toward the group of elves with his usual confident stride. His personal guard and his advisor flanked him as he approached his ‘guests’.

As soon as Voll saw the Daimyo he gathered himself and rose from his seiza to greet the man as etiquette required. Leetah and Winnowill remained sitting as the Lord of the former Taka clan spoke. “Konbanwa Lord Taiso.”

“Konbanwa Lord Voll, did you have a pleasant day?”

“Your hospitality and the use of your Kaiyu-shiki (Strolling Garden) made the day very pleasant Lord Taiso.” Voll said with a bow of his head. Leetah and Winnowill followed suit.

“I am pleased to hear your kind words Lord Voll, but I am afraid that my presence is not one of happiness. It is with a heavy heart that I come to you with terrible news.” Lord Taiso stated calmly.

The pleasant mood changed instantly, and it only took a blink of one’s eye for Winnowill to deduce what news the Daimyo spoke of. “It is little Leila-chan, is it not?”

Lord Taiso looked at her and held nothing back when he told her his news. “My spies reported that Lord Tadayoshi’s Yamashiro was burned to the ground last night. There are stories it was an attack by a group of ninjas’ retrieving a brother, but some are saying it was done by the Sōke, Rayek-san.”

Leetah looked away at the ground at the mention on the name. She had heard only stories of the great Kengou (sword master) and his prowess, and those tales didn’t match to someone burning down a castle…injuring and hurting all those innocent people. She was still lost in her emotions, thoughts, when Voll’s voice broke her trance. Leetah could hear, feel the fear in the elf’s words, it was something that would linger in her thoughts for many days to come.

“Is he the one who was holding my daughter captive?”

“We can assume that now.”

“What do you mean Lord Taiso?” Winnowill asked with a cold tone, her eyes filled with anger and fear.

“My spies over-heard some discussions about a young child, an elf with flowing white hair and an active spirit, by some soldiers.”

At just the mention of flowing white hair Winnowill knew it was Leila, and the active spirit, that information wasn’t necessary. She put her hand to her lips, forced herself to breath, and began to hate Tadayoshi. Winnowill found it easy to do, surprisingly so, and she knew it wasn’t from the pain of being locked away in the dark by those she thought loved her. No, this was fresh and powerful and raging. This was more than what the dark had managed to build in her, so much more. This was her child.

Her flesh.

Her whole word.

They had taken everything from her, and the anger and the rage wanted revenge. She simply sat seething though as the guard who was at Lord Taiso’s side moved closer to Lord Voll as the elf’s knees buckled slightly with the weight of all the news.

“Did she escape Lord Taiso? Was she…” was all Voll could manage.

“My spies do not know Lord Voll. The castle was still too hot to search.” Taiso answered.

They had taken it all Winnowill thought, taken it and…

“Then…she might be alive?” Voll asked clinging to the small bit of hope that his precious Leila was alive, clutched at it like a piece of wood floating in a tempest.

But Winnowill wasn’t listening to her husband, feeling his hope. She was lost in her anger, the acidic taste in her mouth as she breathed deep. She didn’t see the guard step away from her husband’s side toward her. She didn’t see the look of concern in his eyes for the beautiful Taka mistress. There was only the red haze of the rage and when she felt the hand touch her arm she lashed out uncontrollably.

“YOU TOOK HER! YOU TOOK HER FROM ME!!”

The Taka mistress moved like a black snake, so fast the guard barely made a move to defend himself. She grabbed his arm and used all her power, all her strength, and all of it backed by the fury in her body. All at once the guard screamed out as his body erupted with so much pain it stiffened with the agony. He fell back away from her but Winnowill refused to let go and only surged in her attack on him. She screamed like a harpy as Leetah felt a hand grab her shoulder and pull her back to safety. The healer looked up to see Lord Taiso had put himself in between her and the crazed Taka mistress.

“YOU TOOK HER!! YOU TOOK MY LEILA-CHAN!!”

The guard stopped moving, stopped screaming out. Leetah grabbed a handful of Lord Taiso’s haori and watched on in horror. She saw Voll spring in suddenly, grabbing his wife’s hands and pulling them off the guard. She gasped as Winnowill turned her attack on her husband sending the pain from her touch into him with the same force as the guard. The Lord of the Taka grimaced from his wife’s powerful attack, but refused to let her go, and reached out in a send to her, reached out to pull her back.

STOP IT WINNOWILL! STOP IT!!

YOU TOOK HER! Winnowill screamed in a send pushing the voice from her head.

NO! SHE IS STILL WITH US!! SEARCH YOUR HEART AND YOU WILL SEE!

Then images began to flood her mind breaking through the red haze, one after the other, pictures telling her and reminding Winnowill of her family. Some were of her and her husband, the early days when love had first come to them and touched their hearts ever so slightly. The days when her heart leapt and awakened at the sound of his voice and her soul yearned for his touch and caress. The rage began to falter, fade as more and more images came to her and calmed her. There was the day he carried her away from the dark, away from the pit, her hero…her love.

Our little Leila is still with us my wife…she is still alive.

And at the sound of her name, out of the dying rage, she appeared to Winnowill, her little Leila-chan. The day she was born, how Leila looked up to her mother and smiled so sweetly it made her cry. Winnowill saw the times she held her little kiseki(miracle) while watching the hawks fly above her and her husband as they stood in their own garden. She heard her daughter tell her she loved her.

And the rage finally stopped, replaced by a sudden crushing sorrow.

The Taka mistress looked around lost for a moment, confused as to what had happened until she saw the guard lying still on the ground. She turned back to Voll and fell into his arms seeking solace, safety from the flood of emotions. Lord Taiso watched with a keen eye, marking and remembering all as Leetah ran from her spot behind him to the guard. He looked from the Taka mistress to the healer, watched Leetah ‘heal’ the young man who had simply been hurt for nothing more than caring. He marveled at how Leetah-san ran her hands along the guard’s head, how a warm glow enveloped his face and the expression of pain eased. And when the guard awoke from her touch and looked around in disbelief, Taiso understood the difference between the two.

They both could heal, and he assumed both could hurt.

It was nothing more than a matter of choice. Two paths walked by two different people, both heading to the same place. The Daimyo turned to leave when a voice stopped him.

“Your offer from before Lord Taiso, is it still open?”

He shifted and looked back to see Lord Voll holding his wife and Leetah staring at them both. “Hai, it was never closed to you Lord Voll.”

“Then I accept. I will stand by you, with you, if you agree to help us to rescue our daughter.”

The Daimyo looked at the Taka Lord with a raised eyebrow studying the offer, thinking of all the sides to the puzzle when Winnowill spoke. “We will stand with you my Lord, if you make Madcoil pay for the hurt he has inflicted on us, on my family.”

“Are you seeking revenge Mistress Winnowill?”

“I want restoration of my family…of our honor!”

He could still see the rage in her eyes. It was there, tucked away and hidden from them again, but he could see it. A wise man would tell them no and walk away. A wise man would choose the path that kept the monster that mistress Winnowill harbored as far away as possible.

But Taiso was a compassionate man and a scholar.

He only nodded before turning to walk away with his advisor in tow. Winnowill leaned into her husband’s arms and whispered into his neck gently. “She is alive…she is alive.”

Leetah sat by the side of the guard who was still too weak to stand and looked into the eyes of the Taka mistress. She could see the rage too, and even though a small instinctive part of her said to run, a larger more compassionate part said to stay. Before this was all over Winnowill may need her help.


She had waited patiently. She had kept quiet while the others started a small fire, cooked a small meal, and got ready for the night. She had stayed out everyone’s way and done it without having to be asked or ordered. Leila decided she deserved the story. She decided she had earned it. Leila looked over at the Sōke as he sat in seiza with his eyes closed by the trunk of a large tree.

“Rayek-san, will you tell me your story now?” She asked sliding off the small bed roll she would share with Hoykar.

The others stopped at the sound of her voice, at the question. Leila had a sense they were all watching them, but it didn’t bother her at all. She kind of liked being the center of attention. The Sōke opened one eye, his right, and stared at her for a moment.

“So, you think you have fulfilled our bargain to hear the story?”

“Hai. I have been quiet, as much as I could, and I stayed out of the way while everyone built the fire. I helped Hoykar-san pick up the wood for the fire. I think I have worked for the story, but do you think I have?”

Rayek eyed her a moment longer, long enough that Leila panicked thinking he would say no, but then the Sōke proved her wrong. He moved from seiza to sitting cross-legged with the Dotunaki across his lap.

“Have you ever heard the story of Akihiro and Oichi?”

Leila turned her whole body to face him, the excitement she felt showed with the vigorous shake of her head. “No, who were Akihiro and Oichi?”

“It is a story of love little one.” Kahvi called out.

“If you could call it that,” Chot sighed taking a bite of a rice ball.

“A love story Sōke?” Leila said with a happy chirp.

She felt Hoykar’s hand on her back and she spun to look at him as he answered her question. “It depends on what you think love is mistress.”

“Love is what otosan and okosan feel for each other. It is what they feel for me Hoykar-san, and what I feel for them!” Leila answered smugly, as if she didn’t know what love meant.

The elf didn’t respond right away, only looked to Kureel with longing and pain before whispering. “There are different sides to love my little mistress.”

She didn’t hear her guardian speak so fascinated was Leila with Rayek and the upcoming story of love. She smiled, sat cross legged, and waited as patiently as she could. The Sōke took a breath and before he started he looked around noticing every eye was on him, waiting for the story to begin.

The center of attention…strange, but he kind of liked it.

“The story Akihiro and Oichi begins many years ago, before you were born to the Abode Leila-chan…”


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PostSubject: Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Twenty-Four - ‘The Great Dark’   Thu May 03, 2018 12:02 pm

And now for the next piece of the saga, the story of a doomed pair...

Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Twenty-Four - ‘The Great Dark’

The sun burned low in the sky, beginning to sink below the treetops, lengthening the shadows thrown by the forest. It was the perfect time for story telling, the best time to recite a fable by a small camp fire, just before heavy eye lids closed, and weary bodies rested. Little girls and boys lived for this time of the day, waiting impatiently while doing their chores, and Leila-chan was no exception. She tried to sit perfectly still next to Hoykar, who held her close to keep her warm, but it was impossible. She shook her foot, tapped her fingers, even wiggled after Hoykar told her to stop. Well at least she had stopped talking when Rayek-san had told her too Leila thought…well mostly.

“Is it really a love story Rayek-san?” She blurted before she realized.

The Sōke smiled wryly while Chot answered the child’s question. “Love is a fool’s paradise little one, mark my words. It has dragged more men and women to their death than the Shogun.”

Leila gasped in shock from the statement but Khavi was the one who retorted her clansman’s view. “And what do you know of love Chot?”

“He knows he loves Oni-giri.” Skot joked.

“A fish may be the only one who would love him.” Krim added.

Chot only smiled and pulled a rice ball from the folds of his robes and smiled. “That’s because I know it will not leave me for another or call me names.”

As everyone laughed Leila huffed with frustration and turned back to Rayek. “You believe in love do you not honorable Sōke?”

“I believe you want to hear about Akihiro and Oichi.” The Sōke answered dodging the question.

“Hai, please tell me the story!” She practically yelled drawing a smile from Khavi and an admonishment from Hoykar.

“Mistress, please.”

Rayek leaned in and took a deep breath. “Once long ago, before the war that brought about the first Shogun, there was a beautiful mistress named Oichi. She was a human who was so beautiful she rivaled even the elves. Her black hair gleamed with the light of the moon and her skin was white and smooth like a perfect pearl. Oichi was the first daughter of Minamoto no Yoritomo, a powerful Daimyo, and as such was bound to her father’s wishes as to who she should marry.”

“I’m the first daughter of otosan and okosan Hoykar, will I have to marry who they say?” Leila asked with worry.

“No mistress, elves do not practice such ways. We have recognition and our hearts to guide us.” The samurai replied with a warm smile.

“Good!” Leila spat looking back to the Sōke who sighed and continued on disregarding the interruption.

“Minamoto was a kind and devoted father to the young Oichi, but soon after entering into the war against the Taira clan for control of the Shogunate he came to a dreaded decision. To win the war, and become Shogun, Minamoto needed a strong ally, a Daimyo with an army as formidable as his. He needed the help of just one lord to the north, who was also being sought after by the Taira clan. He needed the army of Moriyoshi Go-Daigo if he wanted to become Shogun, and the price was high. Minamoto offered the lord of the Go-Daigo clan his daughter in marriage, his most prized possession, in return for the lord’s loyalty at the time of war.”

“He gave away his daughter?” Leila gasped.

“Hai little one, and to a man who had no need for a young wife or the very taste for love. Moriyoshi Go-Daigo had only one purpose in his life, one desire, and it was not Oichi.” Khavi answered.

“What did he want?” Leila whispered.

“Power…land…what most any greedy Daimyo wants.” Krim replied leaning up against a tree.

“Oh, my precious Oni-Giri, you would never give me away would you.” Chot whispered to the rice ball in his hand before taking a bite.

“But why did he give Oichi to Moriyoshi if he did not love her?” Leila whined just a little.

Rayek shook his head and tried to explain the way of the world to the child. “The marriage gave Minamoto more men to win the war and it raised the position of Moriyoshi giving him more land and more power. Love was never thought of in the joining.”

“That is so sad…did Lord Moriyoshi treat her better once they were together.”

The Sōke looked at Leila and shook his head before continuing on.


Oichi was used to being alone. Such was her life. She lived by herself in a castle far from her husband Moriyoshi, who was fighting alongside her father to win the Shogunate, with just a few guards and workers to keep her company. Oichci knew her husband held no love for her, no want or desire, that she was simply a path to greater stature in the world. Her duty as the first daughter was to do her father wishes and he had asked her to marry the Go-Daigo Lord to form a strong alliance. She did this without question.

It was her duty.

She spent her days performing the Tea Ceremony or writing calligraphy or walking in the expansive garden thinking of her father and mother. She went into the small village and spent time with the villagers enjoying their company and generosity. Oichi never longed for her husband because truthfully, she did not love Moriyoshi. She was content to live alone assuming love would never once touch her heart or her quiet life.

Then one morning while walking in the garden, after eating a small meal, Oichi felt her stomach begin to hurt and before she could cry out for help fainted by the edge of a small Koi pond. One of the workers found her and she was taken inside the castle out of the morning sun.


“What was wrong Rayek-san?” Leila asked with huge worry filled eyes.

“She was poisoned Leila-chan.” The Sōke replied with a raised eyebrow,

The child gasped as Chot looked at his rice ball and smiled. “You would never poison me, would you my precious Oni-Giri.”

Does he always talk to his food? Krim sent with a grin.

I will start to worry when the Oni-Giri talks back. Skot remarked making her snort briefly.

“Who poisoned Oichi Rayek-san?” Leila continued on ignoring Chot.

“No one knows little one,” Khavi said from her spot, “or at least no one admitted to it.”

“Maybe it was Shijima-san!” Reevol laughed.

The mention of the name, of the ghost leader of the Yagyu, made Leila shiver just a bit, until she turned to see the look in Rayek’s eyes. The anger she saw there almost matched her mother’s when she was truly upset, almost.

“Wha-what-happ-happened next Sōke?” Leila stammered with a whisper as Hoykar hugged her close to stop the sudden shivers.

Rayek looked at the child and his gold eyes softened suddenly as he spoke.


The workers fetched the healer form the village immediately, an old human who seemed more Sen(hermit) then healer. He had a long white beard he stroked as he looked over the stricken mistress. The healer mumbled and twitched as he ran his hand just barely above the perfectly still body of Oichi. After a moment he stood and exited the room walking to the side of the Captain of the small guard unit.

They spoke in low tones, almost whispering.

The Mistress had been poisoned.

The healer knew the poison, knew it too well.

Oichi was dying very slowly.

It was not known who did it or how but there was a chance to cure.

A cure the Captain asked…where?

A day’s ride to the south, to the center of the Ko Da-ku.

The Captain hissed at the name, the ‘Great Dark. A vast swamp that swallowed men and elf and beast alike. What could be there to save the mistress?

A powerful mahoutsukai(witch). She would know the location of a special black mushroom that when boiled would counter the poison.

Who to send, the Captain wondered, who to take such a perilous risk.

Only the strongest could survive the Ko Da-ku. He had to send his strongest warriors, all of them if need be to save Oichi.

No, the Captain resisted. Whoever poisoned the mistress might wait until the small group left and then attack. The castle would fall. No, he could not send his strongest.

Who then? Someone had to ride soon if the mistress was to have a chance to live.

And then, from behind the pair, a small voice spoke. I will ride to the Ko Da-ku. I will ride for my mistress.



“Akihiro-san!” Leila chirped happily.

“Hai mistress, it was Akihiro-san.” Hoykar laughed hugging her.

“Was he a strong samurai like Kureel-san or like you Rayek-san?” Leila asked quickly.

“He was not like us at all mistress. Akihiro-san was barely older than Oichi, who was young herself. He was no samurai and barely a bushi!” Kureel pointed out.

Leila turned back to Rayek who nodded and spoke using his gold eyes to pull the child back to the story. “Akihiro was also barely old enough to wield his Yari (spear) or Wakazashi, but he chose to go to great swamp to save Oichi.”

“Because he was brave?”

Rayek shook his head and continued on.


When everyone had gone from the room, when it was just the mistress lying still in her bed, he stepped in quietly and approached. He knelt by her and simply stared at the pale face that even slack with sweat and grimaced with pain took his breath away.  Akihiro had never told anyone of his true feelings for his mistress. He kept his heart’s desire known to none. He had loved Oichi-san from the moment he saw her, would never desire another Akihiro knew. And yet he also knew he would never be able to say how he felt for her. She was the wife of a Warlord, a Daimyo, and as such beyond his simple station. Oichi was the sun, the beautiful sparrow that floated on the afternoon breeze while he was the simple ant who built the mound.

Akihiro heard his Captain enter the room and only stood.

Are you ready to leave Akihiro?

Hai.

Masanari is ready to go.  

Hai.

You must be back in two days Akihiro or she will be beyond any help.

Will Lord Moriyoshi come?

No Akihiro, there is only the Ko Da-ku. There is only you and Masanari.

Then I will return with the mushroom for Oichi-san.

The Captain simply nodded and left after Akihiro. Neither noticed her eyes open. The small guard, the one that would stare at her in the gardens…he was doing something…for her?

Masanari was the oldest bushi in the small guard unit. The Niô Dô chest piece and skirt barely fit him anymore and his Katana bounced off his hip with a loud pop with every step of the horse threatening to break the old man. Akihiro’s armor was not much better, but the pair rode for the swamp in a hard gallop. The only two the Captain could spare pushed their mounts as hard as they dared till at mid of night they saw the Ko Da-ku.


“Was it scary, the great swamp?” Leila whispered.

“During the day it was scary little one. At night, it was evil.” Skot whispered low with wide eyes.

In the growing dark a bird called out for its mate causing Leila to jump. She did it again as Chot suddenly spoke. “They say the swamp was once a great lake and its waters would heal any who drank from it. A large village sat on its shores with its people eating the fish and drinking the water.”

“Heal?” The child repeated leaning hard into Hoykar.

“Hai, but then the water began to ‘change’. It started to make the people sick in the village and kill the fish. The land all around the lake began to grow wild, out of control, blocking every ray of sun light. The village and the trails around the lake were wiped away. Dangerous beast ran among the twisted trees and brush that grew in the now desolate ground dragging away anyone who came too close. The Ko Da-ku became a pit little one that seemed to moan and cry with its own misery.”

“HoyyyyKarrrrr…” Leila stammered shivering from fear.

“Stop it! You are scaring her!” Hoykar snapped glaring at Chot, who shrugged and looked to his rice ball.

“Did I scare you my sweet? I am sorry if I did for you are my sweet one.”

The child wrinkled her nose at the ninja before looking to Rayek. “Was it as bad as Chot-san said?’

“The swamp was once a place of beauty Leila, and it did change. When Akihiro and Masanari saw the Ko Da-ku for the first time, from a hill that overlooked the horrible place, it was in the light of the moon. The sight was enough to freeze Masanari’s blood, but not Akihiro. He gave no pause except to see where he would enter the swamp.”


The pair moved carefully past the gnarled and bloated black trunks of the trees that marked the furthest edge of the Ko Da-ku, into the dark as a low moan drifted on the non-existent breeze. The ghost of the swamp was calling. The horses would not enter the Ko Da-ku, fighting their riders as they were kicked an urged forward. Akihiro dropped from his horse and tethered it before walking into the swamp with his companion just behind and instantly both were blind almost. The dark was thick, covering them and absorbing any light, even the small candle Masanari tried to use. This must be what it is like to be buried alive Masanari whispered. The ground was slimy and gave with each step they took. A stench rose from each step also, but neither Akihiro nor Masanari wavered. And through the rest of the night they moved carefully, stopping and waiting as the sounds of large animals passed by. The creatures it seemed were just as blind as they were. One came so close to them Masanari swore he could smell its hot vile breath.

And as the sun rose Akihiro and Masanari came to the center of the swamp, its heart, and where the mahoutsukai was said to be. The healer told them that she would be there, and that they could not trust her. The swamp had turned her against anything good, right. The mahoutsukai was now as evil and corrupt as the land. Yet, as they stopped in the ever shrouded dark of the Ko Da-ku they could smell fresh water. Akihiro was the first to discover the small pond of what used to be the grand lake, the only ‘pure’ thing around them. Masanari wondered aloud if they could drink the water and before Akihiro could speak an old cracked voice cackled to them.

Why have you come to my home?


Akihiro saw her. He saw the mass he thought was a bush move just to their right. What might have been human at one time was now lost as a bent and marred being turned to them, its skin cracking and popping like aged wood, like one of the misshaped trees that circled them. The eyes glowed blue green surrounded by aged wrinkled facial skin, the fingers were nubs, and what looked like moss grew directly off its back, along with other fungus and leaves, straight to the ground throwing off more of the blue-green aura. There was no hair, only the moss and mushrooms, right up to the forehead. The mahoutsukai had been turned like the healer said, turned into a piece of the swamp itself.

Masanari spat a prayer for their survival, their deliverance, in broken words.

Akihiro held his spear with the point down, but at the ready, as he spoke calmly.


We have come for the black mushroom to cure our mistress who has been poisoned. Tell us where to find it mahoutsukai.

The black mushroom cannot be taken from the swamp young warrior.

Why witch?

Because the black mushroom is the Ko Da-ku.

What?

Hai, young warrior. The black mushroom is the swamp and she will not let you take it.

Then something moved behind them, snarling and dangerous.

Masanari screamed.

The mahoutsukai cackled.

Akihiro brought his spear point up ready to fight.

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PostSubject: Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Twenty-Five - ‘What is love to you?’   Mon May 14, 2018 10:16 am

And now for the next piece of the saga, the rest of the love story...


Rayek the Watarimono (Wanderer) – Part Twenty-Five ‘What is love to you?’


“No!”

Little Leila-Chan gasped from shock and fear. She trembled at the words from Rayek-san. She could see the witch all grown over with moss and vegetation, slowly over the years becoming part of the swamp. What she couldn’t see, imagine, was the great beast that now threatened Akihiro and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to. Leila gripped Hoykar’s hand with all the strength she could muster while her eyes were locked onto the Sōke. It wasn’t lost on the royal keeper.

“I think we should stop Rayek-san, our mistress is getting scared.”

“No!” Leila-chan exclaimed.

“Hai, I think our mistress is frightened by your tale honorable Sōke.” Kahvi remarked with a hard smile.

“No, No, NO!” Leila wailed practically.

“Mistress!” Hoykar snapped.

“I am sorry Hoykar-san,” Leila apologized staring into her keeper’s eyes before turning back to the Sōke, “but please Rayek-san, please continue the story.”

“Are you sure little one?” He asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Hai, I want to hear the part about love.” Leila answered with a smile.

“Oh, so the part where Akihiro was attacked, it does not bother you?”

“No Rayek-san, I am not scared.” She responded by not just nodding slowly but also digging deeper into Hoykar’s arms.

It was a lie. Little Leila was scared enough to not sleep a wink this night. Yet she had pleaded with him to continue so Rayek took a breath and spoke low forging ahead with the old tale.


The witch cackled loud…

The trees swayed as if brought to life by the laughter, limbs and branches coming to life from the noise…

A paw larger than a human’s head hit Akihiro in the chest cutting into his Niô Dô armor…

The mahoutsukai’s evil laugh was not loud enough to silence the beast’s thundering roar or the screams from Masanari. It came at the warriors from the tress, not blinding fast but ominous and overwhelming, breaking limbs and whole saplings with its massive body. It attacked the old samurai, slamming into Masanari and driving him to the ground in a single powerful move as Akihiro rolled into the small pond of pure water. The water was cold and surprisingly clear. His mouth filled with it and he swallowed gasping for air as Akihiro gained his feet.

Masanari wailed in pain as the beast rent him. It might have been a Kuma or bear at one time, but the swamp was changing it too. Moss, branches like those of the trees, and mushrooms replaced its hair and skin leaving only the great maw recognizable to Akihiro. It tore at Masanari until the old man finally stopped screaming leaving the swamp in a still silence for a moment.

The witch turned then, her glowing eyes boring into Akihiro questioning. What will you do now young warrior to defeat the Ko-Daku when it is more than you can see? When the swamp is more than you could think of or imagine? What will you do young warrior when the Ko-Daku comes for you?

Sounds, approaching from everywhere, surrounded Akihiro and he saw many other things.  What looked like a cat and another like a snake and finally some shambling thing that walked like a man. They all were all covered in the moss, glowing with an aura like the witch, and all coming for him. Even the trees moved with their black limbs reaching for him across the water, reaching to drag him to their bloated trunks.

Akihiro shifted his feet in the pond bottom, once the heart of the grand lake, and swung his spear around him in a circle meaning to keep the things and limbs at bay. With a loud pop he brought the haft to his hip with a snap. The spinning movement of the Yari threw water from the pond outward off the blade and onto the witch and the animals and the trees with a visible splash.

All at once, as soon as the water touched them, their bodies began to hiss and burn. The witch screamed grabbing her cheek while the bear howled and the cat bit at the moss that smoked on its side trying to stop the pain. The human screamed and fell back into the trees that were also burning where they were struck.

The water…it hurts you because you cannot corrupt it. The heart, it is still strong…still good.

Hai, young warrior, the heart is still good and pure, but all can be turned dark when there is no light to feed from.

Then I shall bring light back to the heart mahoutsukai.

And Akihiro attacked, dipping the blade of his spear into the water with a single motion and then lifting it with another snap of the haft, throwing water onto the cat and snake and trees. As the animals wailed Akihiro leapt at the witch coming out of the pond with a gush of water thrusting, his spear into her chest with all his might

The sound of wood being splintered made a loud crack…

The mahoutsukai screamed in pain and the swamp screamed with her…


Rayek looked down into the widest set of his eyes he had ever seen, eyes wide with fear and undying curiosity. Leila sat there with her mouth wide open waiting on the next word. He wasn’t even sure if she was breathing and neither was Hoykar.

“Mistress, breath!”

Little Leila blinked, and her expression changed from curious and frightened to anger after a moment. She looked at the Sōke with indignation and frustration while speaking. “What happened?”

“To who?” Chot teased the child turning away from his Oni-Giri.

“To The Witch!” Leila exclaimed with a yell.

Kahvi was lost for a moment. This couldn’t be Rayek-san, the Sōke. He was being…friendly. He was being light. He was, well, he wasn’t the stone heart of a few days ago. He only grinned as Leila spoke excitedly.

“Did Akihiro-san destroy the witch?”

“Hai, and even though her skin had long turned to bark like a tree he was able to pierce her heart with his spear.”

“Did he get the masshuru-mu(mushroom) from her?” Leila asked leaning in toward the Sōke.

The crickets and grasshoppers started their nightly singing calling out to each other with shrill chirps as Rayek leaned in closer to Leila answering her. “He found the mushroom inside of the mahoutsukai, run through by the very point of his spear.”

“Inside the witch?” Leila moaned in shock.

“Hai little one, and as the mahoutsukai fell the Ko Da-ku also fell with her.” Skot added.

“What?”

“Hai mistress, with the death of the witch the darkness around the swamp was lifted. Sunlight broke through the trees bringing life back to the grand lake.” Hoykar smiled.

“The trees which had been twisted from the dark magic of the witch grew green again and the land became fertile and bore food. The animals who had been corrupted returned back to their natural forms and the water was pure once more restoring the village and its people. Akihiro returned to the castle with the mushroom and Oichi was healed.” Rayek continued.

“And they lived together like otosan and okosan?”

The Sōke licked his lips and spoke low, soothing knowing what to come was not what Leila would expect or want. “No Leila-chan, he was not there when Oichi woke.”


When she awoke Oichi did not recognize her room at first, or her helper. After a moment though it came back to her, the afternoon when she drank the tea brought to her by the new servant she did not remember. The memory of the pain in her stomach shortly after that by the small Carp pond was the last image in Oichi’s mind till now. She looked to her servant and spoke with a dry voice.

What happened to me?

The servant gave her a small cup of tea to drink as she told her mistress about being poisoned and how the healer from the village used the black mushroom from the Ko Da-Ku to heal her. As the servant finished Oichi looked at her in astonishment. Who had ridden into the Great Dark for her she asked

Akihiro-san mistress, with Masanari-san, but the old one did not come back. Only the young warrior was able to return.

Akihiro-san? The name suddenly invoked one last image in Oichi, of the young bushi standing over her as she lay in bed. Did he say something to me? Did he leave me something here with me before leaving?

Where is Akihiro-san Oichi asked her servant with concern.

He is not at the castle mistress.

Where is he?

Akihiro-san was sent to the war, as a replacement mistress upon his return. He has been gone for two days.

To the war? Gone for two days? He is no longer here?

No mistress, but before he left he asked me to leave this for you. He did not want the Captain to know.

Oichi then realized the image she remembered was of Akihiro, not before going to the Great Dark, but before leaving for the war. The servant held out a small square of fabric in one hand while carefully unwrapping what was in it with the other. When Oichi saw the object nestled safely in the fold of the cloth she could only gasp at its beauty.

A large, single, perfectly formed Pearl that glowed blue like the sky.






The look of utter shock, of disappointment on Leila-Chan’s face made Rayek wonder if she was going to be all right. She just stared at him for a moment before spinning to her keeper and crying. “He did not stay with her!”

“No mistress,” Hoykar said shaking his head and frowning, “he was ordered to leave by the Captain. Akihiro-san was honorable and followed the order.”

“But…but…why?” Leila stammered upset.

“I think the Captain was looking after Akihiro and Oichi. By his actions, the Captain kept them honorable and safe.” Rayek explained.

“But…they should have stayed together. That is the way love stories are honorable Sōke. They always stay together.” Leila countered.

“Not all love stories Mistress, some are more, complicated. Love cannot cross certain boundaries mistress, it cannot go some places.” Hoykar tried to explain.

Little Leila though was too stubborn to listen as she crossed her arms across her chest and pouted with a hard-set jaw. “No, they should be like okosan and otosan! Akihiro and Oichi should be together!”

“She cannot Mistress, she is not allowed.”

“I told you little one, this is no love story.” Chot told Leila before biting into his rice ball.

Krim eyed the ninja hard before speaking. “Do not listen to an elf with a rock for a head and a heart Leila-chan. Let Rayek-san finish the story and then decide if this was not a true story of love.”

Leila looked at her then back to Rayek, arms still crossed on her chest and a sour look on her face. “Will you finish the story honorable one?”

The Sōke nodded and set to finish the story as the moon began to rise above the trees and the woods came alive with the night animals. “Akihiro went to fight in his Daimyo’s army, for Moriyoshi Go-Daigo, and he fought well. When the war was won and Minamoto no Yoritomo became the Shogunate he gave Akihiro-san the title of samurai and a piece of land in a village as reward for saving his daughter. Akihiro left the Daimyo’s army and became a humble carpenter in that village. There he stayed, working in quiet and solace, taking in apprentices to teach. He never talked of Oichi, or the Ko Da-ku to the villagers choosing to simply be Akihiro.”

“Awww-“Leila cried before Rayek held up a finger stopping her moan of disappointment.

“Oichi-san recovered from the poison, though it had done its work. She could not stay outside in the sun in her garden for long and she was too weak to bear a child for Lord Moriyoshi. Still, she was happy because she left her small castle to follow her husband to the Shogun’s court where she was to be around her father every day. They lived at the castle as the seasons passed and the cherry blossoms grew. Oichi was the proper wife to her husband even though she knew he did not love her, even when he was killed by a rival in an attack Oichi mourned him.”

“Lord Moriyoshi was killed?” Leila asked looking to Hoykar.

“Hai, by a lower noble named Tokumi looking to increase his power and position with the Shogun. Oichi and Lord Moriyoshi were traveling back to the Court when they were beset by a group of Ronin. All in Lord Moriyoshi’s guard were killed, all the servants and travelers.”

“No!” Leila cried with worry.

“All but Oichi-san.” Kureel said with a smile.

The words were glorious to Leila as she sighed and smiled at Rayek-san. “She was safe?”

“Hai, Oichi was safe. The Ronin left only her alive, no one else, and by doing so sealed their fate. Once she arrived at the Shogun’s Yamashiro she told him all she knew describing the crest on the Haori of the samurai. She was not sure why the Ronin let her be, but they did. The Shogun knew who also wore that crest and he did not spare Tokumi for his actions. The lower noble tried to flee, but the Shogun’s decree was carried out a day later.”

In the dark, just past the light of the small campfire, a night bird made a call then stopped as if waiting for Rayek to continue. “After the proper amount of time had passed for Oichi to mourn her husband she went to her okosan to make a request. She did not wish to marry again but wanted to join a temple away from the court and live out her days in gentle prayer and rest. Oichi knew she would not live much longer, the poison from those earlier days finally wearing down her body, and her only wish was to finish her life in quiet. Her otosan granted the request and she left the court never to return. On the way to the temple Oichi made one stop, to see someone she had wanted to see for so long.”

Now, just a brief instant after being relieved that Oichi was alive, Leila was struck numb with what the Sōke said. She could barely breathe as the first tear rolled down her cheek falling onto Hoykar’s hand.

“No, she cannot die…Akihiro…no!” Leila whispered.

The Sōke only shook his head continuing with the story. She would understand at the end, all who heard the story of Akihiro and Oichi did.



The setting sun looked beautiful to Akihiro, but not as beautiful as the guest who sat in his garden under the shade of a colorful Washi-wa, or paper parasol. Even after all this time Oichi was still so beautiful to him. Her black hair still gleamed, but now with a touch of grey at the temples. Her face looked tired yet striking enough to stop his heart when she looked at him. Akihiro sat in seiza by a small Carp pond he had made as he spoke to Oichi.

I am honored for your visit Mistress.

Why do you still call me that Akihiro-san?

You will always be the Mistress to me Oichi-san.

She only smiled and nodded then reached into the sleeve of her kimono retrieving an old square of worn cloth. The bright colors had long since faded, but as the folds were turned back the contents began to glow. It was something Akihiro had not seen since leaving for the war so long ago.

Please Akihiro, tell me about the pearl. Tell me where you found it, why you left it with me.

The witch of the swamp, she was a Kitsune, a Fox spirit. The pearl is it magic, its soul, and was a gift to me for releasing it from the swamp. It had become a prisoner of the darkness, trapped and forced to carry the black mushroom. The Kitsune told me before dying that the pearl would protect me from harm and I knew then who should have it. That is why I left it for you Mistress, to look over you when I could not.

You left it for me, to protect me?

Hai, I will always be your humble protector Mistress he whispered looking at the setting sun.

So that is why the samurai for Tokumi-san did not kill me.

Hai, Mistress.

The sun dipped lower in the evening sky as Oichi spoke. Why have you not married Akihiro? Why are you alone still?

I am not alone Mistress and I do not wish to be married. I have the village and I am happy with my life.

I am sorry Akihiro.

For what Mistress?

That you have waited for so long…so long for…

Do you think I have wasted my life Mistress?

Hai

No Mistress, I am fortunate to have found what I longed for. Some men never find what I have known all this time.

And what is that Akihiro?

A content heart.

She only nodded not wanting to argue or disturb him. He was still young looking to her, that boy who watched her so closely at the castle. She saw past the hardened face and graying hair of the aging man and saw the young bushi who had risked his life for her so long ago. A boy who had brought light to darkness in the Ko Da-Ku. Oichi was not sure why but she felt peace now, like a stone had been lifted from her soul, so she reached down and took the pearl from the cloth and reached over taking Akihiro’s hand in hers. The rough skin of the carpenter contrasted against the white soft skin of her hand as she turned his palm up and placed the pearl there.

No Mistress, the pearl is to protect you.

No Akihiro, I wish to protect you the way you have protected me.

But Mistress-

Will you deny me my last wish my eiyuu(Hero)?

There were no words he could say, not now or ever. Akihiro nodded and slowly closed his fingers around the pearl as Oichi spoke. You have ever been my protector Akihiro, even when you left the Yamashiro so long ago, but now it is my turn to protect you. I cannot return the devotion you showed me Akihiro, not now in my state. I cannot say what you long to hear. I can only give you the pearl and know it will keep you safe when I am gone my eiyuu.

She would not live long. He could see it in her eyes, her face. Akihiro nodded again and then both sat and watched the sunset in quiet. Oichi left shortly after and he carried on wiping away a tear.



As he finished Rayek could see Leila understood what he had told her, the meaning of the story, but accepting the ending was a step she was not ready to take. The tears were still falling, but from being sad or just mad about the story he was not sure. The Sōke decided to let her keeper take the tentative step of seeing if she was truly all right.

“Mistress?”

“That was no love story Rayek-san.” Leila spat eyeing the Sōke with angry eyes.

Hoykar and Kureel had seen that look before, on her mother, and it was never a good thing to have it directed at you. Rayek though just seemingly ignored it with a sigh and asked a question of her.

“What is love to you little one?”

The question had been asked of them all at one time or another and each could say a different answer. It was the point he was making, and Leila answered just as he thought she would, as any child would.

“If you love someone you want to stay with them forever, like otosan and okosan.”

“Hai, and you love your otosan and okosan, you want to stay with them, right?”

“Hai, forever!”

“But what if one day a handsome elf, a strong samurai, comes to see your father and you feel love for him and he does for you. What will you do then Leila-chan?”

For a moment it looked like she would say something foolish, like she would never leave her father and mother, but then Leila actually thought about the question. What would she do that day? Would she know what to do? She looked to Hoykar with a puzzled expression as Chot called out.

“Love is waste of life little one. It is a folly, a fool’s errand that only leads no-where.”

“And you say this from experience or knowledge?” Kahvi asked sarcastically.

“Both,” Chot replied sitting up and looking to Leila-chan, “listen well little one, love is a banquet with rotted food. It’s a puzzle that has no answer. It is a sickness of the head that makes men weak and women crazed. Stay away for love. It is no good for anyone.”

“Bah,” Krim countered shaking her head, “you know as much about love as you do about bathing. Love is a feeling, a desire, and like any feeling can be held in place if need be.”

“Tell that to the Taka Mistress. She had escaped and then came back to her husband. What did love do for her except put her in a cell?” Chot responded.

“The mistress did her duty, as a wife and to the Clan!” Reevol joined in.

“She would have done been better to have stayed away. Winnowill did not save her husband that day. Madcoil had no intention of killing him.” Kahvi grumbled laying down on her blanket and getting ready for sleep.

“Does this make Chot right?” Skot whispered to Krim but loud enough for all to hear.

An uneasy silence fell on the camp, like a giant rock. Everyone could barely stand the thought of the lowly ninja being, of all things, right. Even Chot was scared by it for a moment, and then Leila broke the silence.

“What is love to you Rayek-san?”

The Sōke looked at her, his golden eyes sparkling in the fire, and spoke to her as if she were the only one there. “My okosan told me the story of Oichi and Akihiro. She asked me the same question and I told her love was not as important as Suiouryu Katori Shintō-ryū. She then told me a part of the story few ever hear.”

“What part?” Leila asked.

Rayek looked up to see all the eyes focused on him again. It was obvious they had not heard this piece either. “Oichi-san died the next spring, just after the cherry blossoms turned the world white with all their petals. A messenger was sent to Akihiro with a letter informing him of her passing, one last goodbye. The villagers were confused as to who their beloved carpenter mourned for so long. The village knew he had no wife, no children, and no one could remember anyone he would miss so.”

“Then they were even more confused the next spring, when just before the cherry blossoms bloomed again, Akihiro left for a trip. He told no one where he was going or when he would be coming back. He simply left one morning and returned sometime later. He did this every spring, a pilgrimage to somewhere only he knew of.”

Leila smiled already deducing where Akihiro was going every spring. “He went to see Oichi-san.”

“Hai, every spring the priest at the temple would see him appear. He was quiet, polite, and never asked for a thing from anyone. The stranger never spoke to the priest except to greet one of them. All he ever wanted it seemed was to sit by Oichi’s shrine and watch a sunset in silence. The stranger was always there with the blossoms, never missing a spring.”

“How is that for love Chot?” Krim whispered.

“It makes one’s feet hurt from walking.”

“Bah, go eat your rice!”

The Sōke let the two ninja finish before he continued. “Then one spring the stranger failed to arrive when the cherry blossoms bloomed. The priest looked to each other and wondered if something had happened to him. They were sad these priest as they had grown accustomed to seeing the old one.”

“Was Akihiro dead?” Leila asked with a whisper.

“Hai, he died in his sleep as he lived in life, quietly. When his apprentice went to check on his master the human made a discovery that shocked the village.”

“What?” Skot blurted out causing Krim to elbow him hard to keep quiet.

“There was two of everything in his house,” Rayek answered the ninja yet looking deep into Leila’s eyes, “one for a husband and one for a wife. There were two beds in the bedroom, two chests to keep clothes in. There was table with two chairs, two rice bowls and two sets of chopsticks in the kitchen. Everywhere there was a two, a house built for a wife that would never come.”

Even as Leila covered her mouth at the revelation Chot was casting his own opinion to the group. “See, love makes you mad! I have no need of it.”

“What you need is a bath!” Kahvi laughed hard.

Everyone laughed, except for Leila who still was curious of the Sōke. “Do you think Akihiro was mad Rayek-san?”

“No Leila, he was not mad. Akihiro married no one because his heart was filled with love for only Oichi. Is it not the same for your otosan and okosan?”

“Hai,” Leila laughed loudly, “they love each other very much. They fell in love when okosan rescued otosan.”

“And that is what Akihiro felt for Oichi, what she felt for him but could never say until that very afternoon. They did love each other, no matter the space that was placed between them. So, did you like the story?”

“Hai, very much! Arigatou gozaimasu Rayek-san!”

“Good, now go to sleep. Tomorrow we have far to travel.” Rayek ordered sling back to where he leaned up against the trunk of a tree just out of the light of the campfire.

“Hai!” Lelia yawned settling back into Hoykar’s arms. He wrapped his Haori around her and soon both were asleep.

Everyone fell fast asleep with the exception of the Sōke.

Rayek watched the moon for some time wondering to himself. Would he be able to sit and watch a sunset with Shenshen like Oichi and Akihiro? Would Shenshen want to?

Was he ready to open his heart and let her in?

All questions he would have to ask once he found her…and he would find her.[/i]

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Dubbed Streaking ADD Cowboy of Awesome Sagas by KindredSoul and nibblet
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