L5R - The Great Dusk

The Chain of Dogs, Chapter Two, Part 3

The officers of the 13th begin their journey south to Kudo and then on to Zakyo Toshi, stopping off first at Valiant Daidoji Keep. There, Tokaji’s past begins to catch up to him and just because he is protected from his enemies does it mean that everyone around him is equally protected.

I’m not going to lie to you, there may be bears involved.

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Blowing Off Steam

[In time to the song from the soundtrack, “Prelude”]

In- notch, draw – hale, ex- aim, release – hale.

In- notch, draw – hale, ex- aim, release – hale.

In- notch, draw – hale, ex- aim, release – hale.

In a steady, unbroken pattern, Yoshita lodged her arrows into the straw dummy of the practice dojo. The sound of tips anchoring in the thick wood behind the targets matched the careful rhythm of her breathing, creating a slow drum beat to ground the rhythm of her breathing.

Anyone who had heard of the Tsuruchi archer’s legendary speed might be surprised to learn that the exercise she performed was a fundamental. It was true that the Tsuruchi’s first lesson is “a fast archer is a dead archer”, but the second had everything to do with training to be so intuitively accurate that once in the field, hitting a target was like breathing. An accurate shot had to become so sub-concious that by the time a student left the dojo, the archer remained barely cognicent that she controlled the arrow’s direction, but instead firmly believed the adage, “the arrow knows the way” so she could concentrate on speed, selection of targets, and hidden opportunities.

For Yoshita, the exercise was a meditation. However, today it was mired with emotions other than calm. Each thud of the arrow was the name of someone she had disappointed:

thunk Yoshi

thunk Mother

thunk Tonbo

Yoshita could feel the draw had stretched and would soon need replacing, but stubbornly continued; she would not break her pace.

thunk Raiko

thunk Ryoga

thunk Masu

thunk Father…

SNAP ...The Captain

[To the song, “Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight]

Yoshita felt the bowstring snap but did not bother to do more than slightly turn her head away from the worse of the whip-lash. A fine streak of crimson appeared on her cheek. She spared a chastising self-smirk for her own stubbornness.

The samurai-ko walked to the low table at the edge of the room and made use of the shallow bowl of water and strips of cloth left there. Cleaning her face took less of her attention than the ritual of restringing her bow.

The actual replacement of the string she could do in a mater of moments as she had many times out in the wilderness, but it was a treat to be able to take her time with it now. Turning the utilitarian need into a precise process brought Yoshita a much needed sense of calm and control.

Heaving a sigh that she would never allow herself to utter in front of anyone but her closest kin, she walked to retrieve her arrows. As she pulled them out one by one, remembering which one she had linked to each name, she felt as though she was plucking up the broken pieces, and by sliding them back into her quiver, as if she was accepting each one.

“This is just the beginning, you know. I will just have to do better.” she thought to herself. And with that she lined up again as far as the room would her allow her to be from the targets and with careful precision, fired them all, again, this time much faster.

By the 8th repetition of the entire exercise, Yoshita had finally broken a sweat and felt that she had at least come to terms with her failures. Doubt would serve no purpose, and lead only to more failure. Thus, like dead-weight on a ship, it must be shed in other to weather the inbound storm. She would only keep the lessons and oaths, and discard the rest. That’s what her father would have had to do… to keep going for his family, to move on from his past as a pirate, to leave Raiko’s mother… surely he couldn’t have known…

Snatching up her wakazashi from the stand she had carefully placed it on, and with a quick prayer to her father’s spirit, she left the dojo determined to practice riding that smelly beast they called a horse…

 

     Heichi Masu was grimacing, the thin brush held between his prominent teeth. With an audible release of air, he forced himself forward, closer to the edge of his bed and the small table placed there. In the dim orange of the candlelight, he observed the ink, the parchment, and the empty bowl that his Gunso, Toritaka Mitsuru, would no doubt be along shortly to collect.
     With a grunt, he removed the brush from his mouth and put it to paper.

Raiko-san e

As of this writing, our contingent is situated in Keoru Mura, though tomorrow we will depart for Daidoji Yukan-se. After several more stops, we will arrive at Kudo, and then finally Zakyo Toshi itself. If you have not arrived at Kyuden Ashinagabachi by the time this letter finds you, you should shortly. Every passing day shall serve to drive us further apart. The weather has, at least, been merciful.

As we move forward, I will not be traveling by horse; I’ll be carted along instead like some docile farm animal, though less useful. What transpired is difficult to explain, and more difficult to believe. I was, in short, assaulted by a bear-spirit from the realm of animals. It, and others of its kind, crossed into our realm in search of Kitsune Tokaji, and my skin became the canvas upon which it carved its message to the Fox.

Even more strangely, I was rescued by a wandering monk of great power, whose sudden presence I found to be suspicious if not serendipitous. We spoke briefly afterwards; he urged me to adopt a merciful attitude toward our Fox friend, but I would not. He also claimed to know nothing of this “craftsman” I mentioned to you earlier, though he made indications that he knew of the ore that had been stolen from my clan.

Nonetheless, it must be stated that both “the craftsman” and “the wanderer” appeared roughly around the same time; that they both spoke in riddles and raised more questions than they answered; that they both hid behind their robes; that they both were able to recognize me and both had messages for me; that they both knew, most damningly of all, about the iron missing from the Twilight Mountains.

Similarly, Kitsune-san assured me that he knew nothing of that strange craftsman, but confessed that he had met the monk and had even been given a message for me – a message he recalled only when I made it a point to broach the subject. Worse, he was brusque when confronted, and Yoritomo-san defended him with insulting and barbed language; it would have been disappointing even were I not in blinding agony.

The conflicting stories, the claims of ignorance, the riddles and vagaries – it was all too much for me, I suppose, because I quickly went to work, telling myself that I must thwart threats to the Minor Clan Alliance. But I was, in truth, also enraged; my spirit had been hijacked by a fury that, instead of being uncontrolled, was in fact very calm and calculated. This worries me more than anything else.

I felt this way before, at the Test of the Emerald Champion, while I skewered my Scorpion opponent. I am not at all proud to confess these things, Raiko-san, but I must remain earnest, especially with you. I am concerned less by the thought of a treasonous Chui, frankly, than I am by the thought of being incorrect in these matters. What if the monk was simply trying to help? What if Kitsune-san was honest when he spoke of his ignorance of those threats that we now face? What if there are no important connections between the angry spirits and the ghosts I have met? Do I wish that I were still in my homelands because I cannot trust that, when the time comes, I shall do the right thing? Do I have the power to look within? Can I forgive, and maintain perspective?

I am determined to avoid becoming the broken, bitter man that my father is; and yet, I feel lately as though I am better able to understand the crushing forces which can drive a man like him to despair. We are insects, and just beyond what we can see lie the mechanics we cannot hope to comprehend. I am being pulled this way and that and there is simply no appropriate response. Perhaps I am less an insect than a nail, waiting to be hammered; I am oblivious to my fate, and my flame can be snuffed out at any time by the politically powerful, or those who’re able to warp and twist the world around them with but a thought.

Would that you were here, my friend; you would speak to me with sincerity and without malice. You would not be willing to manipulate me. Instead, that same machinery I mentioned looked into you, and you were humbled and ruined by its designs. And now I await a similar fate, knowing that were I to send you this correspondence, that you may never read it, because you are suffering.

If there were something that I could do, a pilgrimage I could undertake in order to truly assist you, I would do it without hesitation. But no. I am alone in this foreign place.

Anato no tomo,
Heichi Masu
     The Boar swallowed hard, considering his letter for a moment – considering its contents. Slowly, he shifted his hand so that the letter hung above the flame. It was soon ablaze. Heichi Masu allowed for it to drop from his fingers and into the empty bowl.

 

[Your best yet, Masu!]

 

Nice work, Masu-san.

Pity its not going to get much better any time soon.

 

[Thanks for the kind words, lady and germ! The real question now is whether or not Heichi can snap out of his sickness-a mixture of pride and ennui-and get his groove back…]

 

[Also, apparently I discovered how to use a ‘strikethru’ entirely by accident!]

 

[Oh yes, I know that ti’s only going to get way, way, worse. We will look back on these days fondly as “more innocent times” when our problems were mere simple internal struggles where we still knew what was right…]

 

Jamie is of coarse exaggerating, you see Jamie is being optimistic about the situation. In reality it is far worse. Enjoy everybody, oh and Jamie…what do you want?

 

“Welcome home, Raijinko…”

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Shameful_Thomas

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