This is the first sea voyage that might prove informative, Takuma thinks as he sits in front of the Nezumi, who gratefully accepts the offered sweet bean roll.
“Thank you-you for your hospitality Ki’rr’itch,” says Takuma in the Nezumi tounge. “This is a long trip-trip to the Shadowlands, and it is good to have agreeable company.”
“You-you bring nice sweets-sweets,” replies Ki’rr’itch. “Do you tell-tell stories-stories?”
“Not well, but I can-can try. What-what do you want to hear?”
“Well-well, where to begin,” Takuma starts, “I lost-lost my way when I was a youngling.”
“Lost-lost your way-way? How long-long were you lost?”
“Ah, I have-have started the story-story badly,” Takuma continues. “I lost-lost myself in this dream,” he says as he waves his arms. “I use to know-know my way, but then I became lost-lost.” Takuma sighs, “I was born in a family-family, but now I walk as ronin-ronin.”
“I-I know that name-name. They call-call you wave man-man, but you-you do not sail.”
“No, I-I do not sail, but I-I drift in this dream-dream. As I-I said, I-I was born into a family, and dream-dreamed as children do of becoming-coming a great warrior-warrior, a hero-hero. My family sent me-me to a school for warrior-warriors, but I-I failed.“ He pauses, while Ki’rr’itch looks expectantly.
“I-I am a shugenja, one-one who speaks with spirit-spirits, but I-I was raised in a land-land where the spirit-spirit’s voices were silenced. When I-I went to school, I-I started to hear their voices. I-I was confused, scared-scared. I-I thought I-I heard the voices of my-my ancestor-ancestors, now I-I do not know. They urged me-me to leave the school to discover the Kami-Kami.”
“Kami-Kami, I know this name-name. These are-are the spirit-spirits you-you spoke about. You-you must be powerful indeed.”
“I-I have learned that power is-is many things, but never what you-you expect,” as Takuma speaks, Ki’rr’itch nods. “My-my power came with a price, my-my family.”
“A heavy-heavy price to be-be cast out of one-one’s tribe.”
“Yes, it is a heavy-heavy price. As wave-man must-must, I-I wandered coming into my-my power. I-I then tried to come home-home, and in doing, I-I dishonored my-my family. One-one of my-my family took pity, and gave me-me name-name, the name-name I-I carry now.”
“A good-good story so far, but is-is there more?”
“Yes-Yes there is more-more, but it does-does bring pain in the remember-remembering.” He waves off Ki’rr’itch, “it does me-me good-good to talk about yesterday.” With another sigh, Takuma continues, “From home, I-I again wandered the wave of this dream. I-I remembered the lessons of honor, and tried to live an honorable life-life, but in this I-I fail-failed.”
“We-We hear of honor, but still do not understand what You-You mean by honor.”
“I-I am not one-one to teach honor, but I-I will try to tell you-you so that the Nezumi will remember.” Takuma closes his eyes, “I-I am not skilled to teach you-you the history of our-our culture, and most would say that I know nothing of honor, but I-I will teach you-you what I-I can.”
“To the Rokugani, honor is-is life. The Nezumi-Nezumi have traditions, ways of do-doing things that change little from generation to generation. So to do the Rokugani. The first part of honor is-is to adhere to these traditions. For example, truth is-is important to Rokugani, to be-be caught in a lie is dishonorable. To tell-tell the truth, even when it-it could hurt you-you, is-is highly honorable. Society-society determines whether you-your actions are honorable, and society can be capricious. One-one who is-is already see-seen as honorable and does such an act will-will be seen as more honorable. One-one who is-is see-seen as dishonorable, well, their-their actions are-are often ignored. I-I tried to always act-act as I-I was supposed to, act-acting as honorable samuri do. Where they-they were congratulated, I-I was ignored. It made me-me bitter, angry. Even those I-I travel with have-have done this.” Takuma bows his head for a few minutes, “but one-one must find work to live.”
“I-I sought to fit in, to act as I-I was supposed to; I-I desired to be see-seen as honorable, and that was my error. It is not only my-my error though, even some of those who-who travel with me-me are afraid-afraid of losing their-their honor. The samurai-samurai known as Kakita-Kakita Senji-Senji always look-looks down on me as a dishonorable rouge. If I-I act in a way that society-society will see as dishonorable, but will see-see the successful conclusion of the mission, I-I am condemned by him. He-he does not do this to teach-teach, but because society will see-see him-him as dishonorable. His-his fear of losing face, losing honor, is greater than his-his desire to complete his-his task. This is why I-I say-say that honor in the eye of society is capricious.”
“I-I have grown, and walk-walked down darker paths.” Shaking his head, “no-no, not the darkness of the shadow-shadowlands, but the dark-darkness inside.” He again closes his eyes, “failure seem-seems to be the destiny-destiny of my-my dream, my-my life. In the eyes of society-society, I-I was stripped of all honor that had come to me-me. I-I then was laid bare to last child-child of the Kami, the servant of the moon-moon. He-he showed me-me the errors of my life-life, and ask-asked me to serve him-him. I-I admit that I-I have felt temptation as I-I seem destined to be a failed cast out. He-he offered me the one-one thing I-I still desire, accept-acceptance. But…”
“I-I do not understand this temp-temptation. I-I know the word, but I-I do not know what-what you mean. It may-may be that I-I do not know you-your pain. It must be-be from when you-you were cast away.”
“Yes Ki’rr’itch. It is the pain of have-having no family. You asked about honor, and not my-my pain.” Takuma takes a deep breath, slowly letting it go, “As I-I have say-said, while society-society may judge one-one’s actions as honorable or not-not, the eye-eyes of other-others is not-not honor.”
Takuma shakes his head, “I-I am not sure how-how to explain what-what I-I feel-feel.” After breathing deeply to steady himself, Takuma continues, “what I-I come to realize is that honor is-is right action.” Again, he shakes his head, “that mean-means nothing.” He looks directly into Ki’rr’itch’s eyes, “If your tribe-tribe’s younglings were threat-threatened, what would-would you-you do?”
“I-I would defend them-them with all I-I had.”
“Even if it-it meant you-your death?”
“That is right-right action, doing what-what needs to be done with-without thought of one-one’s self. Sometimes the act-action can be-be see-seen as cruel, but it-it still need-needs to be-be done!” Takuma thinks for a moment, “if you-you found a Hida warrior wander-wandering the Shadow-shadowlands, and it was clear that taint was taking him-him, would you let him-him continue to wander, or would you-you put him-him out of his-his misery?”
“Exactly. It is-is dangerous to let them live-live, and better to let them-them leave this dream-dream before the taint-taint takes them-them fully.” As Ki’rr’itch nods agreement, Takuma continue, “but I-I have seen those who-who are given power who-who have turned their backs on entire villages who-who fall to the taint. Instead of granting release-release from this dream before they-they become corrupt, they-they were worried about how-how society-society would view them-them. Society-society praise-praised them, but I-I was reviled for do-doing what was right-right. As I say-said, the eye and judge-judgment of society-society is capricious. Yes-yes, I-I am still-still bitter about not-not being recognized for do-doing what is right.” Takuma again shakes his head.
“This honor-honor does not-not sound good. It sound-sounds like it would be bad-bad.”
“I-I am doing a bad-bad job. The view-view of society-society can be bad-bad, especially when someone-one is praised who-who does not-not deserve it. But honor is more-more than what society-society judges. At least that is-is what I-I now think.”
“Once I was-was on a mission that took me-me to a small village near the blasted plains of Otosan-Uchi. There are-are people who-who live there, but their-their life is as difficult as that within the shadow-shadowlands. No one-one in many yesterdays has help-helped them. Even this mission was-was not to help-help them, it was-was for two men to play a game-game in peace.”
“After the game, those who-who traveled with me-me left. I-I stayed. Why? It was right to help-help these people. So, I-I made this place my home-home. When I-I came upon other lost samurai, ronin-ronin, I-I invited them to come live-live in the village. I-I began to construct a shrine-shrine to the kami-kami and fortune-fortunes. Across the land, I-I came across weapon-weapons, katana, wakizashi, and others. All of these weapon-weapons were abandon-abandoned after battles and left to rust.” Shaking his head, “these weapon-weapons are special to Rokugani, they-they are strong symbol-symbols within the dream. Yet they were left, and I-I am sure those who left the weapon-weapons to rust were seen as honor-honorable,” he spits the last words out with disgust. “Every time I-I found these weapons, I-I recovered them, sometimes into the hundreds, and brought these weapon-weapons to the village. There I-I asked the kami to repair the weapons, to reforge them.” Laughing, “in a way, I-I have been work-working to build an army-army of ronin. In my-my travels, I-I have convinced over twenty ronin and bandits to join me-me in the village, and I-I have enough weapon-weapons to equip an army-army. Now I-I wonder why-why?”
He bends his head and closes his eyes, “I-I would like to stop for now-now. Could you tell me-me the story-story of your-yourself and tribe?”
Takuma listens to learn, but also to distract himself from the dark thoughts that have been brought up. That night he tries to meditate, but his concentration breaks with thoughts dredged up during his conversation with Ki’rr’itch.
I am lost. I lost my way when I left the Kakita dojo, when I listened to what I thought were my ancestors. Maybe they were, but the advice was not good. Another time, another place, my leaving to learn how to speak with the kami may have been right, but not now. I have wandered, and I am not sure any longer what honor is, what bushido is. I have seen other samurai be seen as the pinnacle of honor, when their hearts are filled with desire, fear and regret. I accept my desires and my regrets, I see them, I acknowledge them. I see my hatred, and understand my bitterness. Laughing slightly, he consider, I could take my own life, but to what purpose? Will it purge the dishonor to my family? No. Can it purge the soul of one who did not have the will to stand against last child of the Kami? Can it purge the soul of one who is seen as nothing but an honorless dog? Why do I see it as cowardice to go that route? I must find myself again, that which I lost when I left the dojo. In the city of the void, I saw the action that would have led to honor for my father, the action I did not see in my confusion. I realize that it was my choice, and the choice was made. But do I wish to live trying to do good, not seeking honor, but doing what is right, or do I lose myself to the moon? I have prayed to the moon, even carving images of the obsidian dragon, ready to dedicate a shrine in his honor, but is that who I am? Is it the dream I once had, or is it perversion of what I was? That is what I must find at this crossroads.
Takuma’s sleep is disturbed, and tosses and turns throughout the night, troubled by dreams perverted. The next day, he awakens and goes to meet Ki’rr’itch again. “Are you-you free to talk-talk?”
“Yes-Yes. I-I wanted to talk-talk with you again. I-I wanted to know-know more about you.”
“I-I did not know-know my-my life would be interesting,” says Takuma as he looks down in shame. “Since you-you ask, what do you-you want to know-know.”
“Your-your adventures!” So Takuma talked about his adventures. While not a storyteller, he told of what he had seen in Rokugan. He held little back from Ki’rr’itch, telling him the good and bad. Toward mid-day, Takuma grew tired. Ki’rr’itch saw this and asked, “do you want a story?”
“Actually Ki’rr’itch, I-I would like to ask you-you something. Ask-ask for your-your help. I-I have lost-lost my dream-dream. The Nezumi-Nezumi know the dream-dream, and I have heard that remember-rememberers can walk in the dream of your-your lost city.” He pauses, considering once more what he is about to ask. “Can you help me to walk though dreams? Can you help me to find my dream lost yesterday? I heard from my father that the Nezumi know how to give a new name to a person. I want to seek my dream and find my true name.”
Ki’rr’itch thinks upon Takuma’s words, then says, “I-I do not-not know how one-one can lose their dream-dream. We-we are the dream-dream, but You-You of Rokugan live separate from dream-dream. You-you say I-I can walk in the City-City of the Nezumi-Nezumi, but I-I am always-always walking there. I-I do not-not know how you-you live such divided lives-lives.” He considers again, “you-you are friend-friend, and I-I see pain in your-your eyes. You-you will-will sleep here-here tonight. Now, let us-us tell story-stories.”
That night, Takuma returned to Ki’rr’itch. After telling more stories, Takuma laid down near the hull of the ship. Snorting, Ki’rr’itch said, “you must sleep in the middle of the Nezumi”. I asked for this, thought Takuma as he moved into the middle of the room.
Sleep came with difficulty. Even though ronin, Takuma was Rokugani. Sleep so close to others was uncomfortable, and though he liked the Nezumi, he never thought he would be sleeping so close to so many. Eventually, the rocking of the ship and exhaustion took hold, and Takuma fell asleep.
The view is beautiful, thought Takuma as he looked from the high stairs. Before him stood the statues of two Fu Lions, both seeming to look at him. From behind, a chitterling voice asks, “where are we?”
Looking around, Takuma sees Ki’rr’itch, and realizes that the Nezumi rememberer was true to his word. Looking again, he realizes that this was not the place he remembered, but a dream of that place. “We are at the steps leading into the Shrine of Shinsei. One of the most sacred sites of Rokugan. I came here with companions to find a monk who could help the Emperor.”
“Why are we here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Takuma friend, you came to search for your dream, to be one with it. A clue to your dream must be in this place. What happened here?”
“We passed though many tests to get to this place, to stand before the Shrine of Shinsei. These statues though were the guardians of the Shrine. Only those of honor could pass. Two of our group were judged worthy, the others were not. I looked at them, for in my heart I knew I was unworthy.”
“How did they know you were unworthy?”
I never thought of that. Takuma becomes lost in thought, and then turns to the statues. “How do you know if one is worthy?”
Rumbling, the statues stand, and look to Takuma. With growling voices, “the soul of one who stands in the light of Bushido are worthy!”
“What does it mean to stand in the light of Bushido?”
“If you do not know, then you do not stand in the Light of Bushido!” With that, they return to their guardian posture.
“This is what I speak of Ki’rr’itch. It is the message I constantly hear, you know what honor is if you or honorable. It is meaningless. How does one learn honor? How is honor given to the young? How is one to learn honor if their elders show no honor?”
“You study the teachings of Shinsei ronin,” says a voice from behind him. Turning, Takuma sees the figure of a young man.
“I remember you, the young monk in training whose master was prepared to give you to the Obsidian Dragon. Your name was Koi.”
Ko looks at Takuma. “Am I ronin? Is that how you remember Koi?”
“Your master was too proud. He told people that spirits could lie, or distract, but he took his own vision as divine truth.”
“But it was Divine Truth.”
Considering his response, Takuma replies, “yes it was, but was it a truth he would have accepted? His remorse after your death was real.”
“So, if he had known that the vision came from the Obsidian Dragon, he would not have performed the ritual. You may be right about him, but what would you do?”
“I convinced those that I was with to stop the rite. They did not want to kill you, had grown attached to you.”
“That was not the question ronin. What would you do?”
Takuma looks around him, the fog lifting to reveal the blasted plains of Otosan Uchi, with the monks enacting the rite. Koi stands in the middle with the shadowy figure of a monk. “What would you do ronin?” The misty form of the Obsidian Dragon wafts up toward Koi, encircling him in its coils.
“I would not stop the process.”
“Even if it would give the Obsidian Dragon an Oracle?”
“The Obsidian Dragon has had an Oracle in Rokugan before. Shosuro Maru was the first.”
The coils of the dragon continue to constrict around Koi as Takuma answers. “The Obsidian Dragon was born to balance the interventions of the Jade Dragon. It is the balance of the Jade Dragon.”
“Why does virtue need vice ronin?”
Looking to the heavens, seeing the image of a dragon within the stars, an image he has seen before, Takuma looks to Koi, “that is the way of the heavens, and of men’s hearts. Where there is sun, there is moon; day to night; virtue and vice. It’s too simple to say that there can be no virtue without vice. Virtue and Vice exist side by side in men’s heart.”
“Then, did my master do what was right?”
Takuma looks with confusion at Koi, who looks down. When he raises his head, the voice of the Obsidian Dragon comes from the boys mouth, “RONIN, you said that you follow right action, but what is that? Did the monk do what was right?”
“For the wrong reasons…”
“BUT DID HE DO WHAT WAS RIGHT?”
“I don’t know.”
“YOU DO KNOW THE ANSWER RONIN! YOU HAVE ALREADY SAID IT!”
“Yes, it was right to bring you into an oracle.”
The dream oracle smiles.
Turning away in shame, Takuma once again sees Koi. “Why do you feel ashamed ronin? Do you so relish in your sin?”
“It seems wrong to bring the Oracle of Vice into the world.”
“But you have already voiced that the Obsidian Dragon has a place in Tengoku, and thus in the celestial wheel.”
“Yes, I did, but I see it as wrong.”
“What would the code of Bushido say?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why do you constantly tell yourself that you do not know?”
“Because I feel unworthy.”
“Speak from your heart ronin. What would Bushido say?”
Takuma looks to Koi, growing confusion on his face. “Bushido are the seven virtues. The Jade Dragon is the embodiment of virtue. How can Bushido allow for vice?”
“Will virtuous ignore vice?”
Bitterly, Takuma replies, “the virtuous have condemned what they see as my vices.”
“No ronin, can the virtuous ignore the vice within themselves?”
“The human heart holds both virtue and vice,” replies Takuma in a whisper. “To become virtuous, a samurai must face their vice, must name it. They must have the courage to do this.”
“Can a virtuous man become blinded to his vices?”
Takuma looks to Koi, “yes. Your master was an example. He so desired to be loved by the people, to be seen as a savior, the one who restored the blasted plains that he ignored the truth of what he was about.”
“Yet his action was right.”
“Yes. It served the celestial wheel. It was his secret hidden vice that allowed the Obsidian Dragon entrance.”
“But isn’t the reason important?”
“Is not the reason vice?”
Takuma considers this in silence, no response coming.
“Ronin, why do you work in the village of Iechi Muro?”
“I no longer know.”
“Then you must first discover why you remained in this village when the Go masters left.”
Takuma wakes with a start. Ki’rr’itch hands Takuma water saying, “you-you remained in you-your dream-dream for a long time. Did you discover you-yourself?”
“I-I have started the journey-journey, but it-it is not-not over.”
“You-you have been-been shown the way-way in. When ready-ready, you-your journey will-will continue.”
Takuma’s thoughts were in turmoil as he left Crab lands, making his way back to Iechi Muro. Why do I return to Iechi Muro?, was that kept forcing its way into his mind. The people needed someone, was his only reply. Why did I feel that I was worth of aiding them? I didn’t, but none of the clan samurai were going to do it. They were going to leave ‘these peasants’ to their fate. Yet, does not compassion and duty dictate a different course? The people of Iechi Muro did what is expected; they worked the land, as best they could; they lived, they loved, they did their duty without thought of reward or assistant. Yet, is it not our duty to aid those beneath us, as well as above us? As Koi said, the answers are within the teachings of Sensei, but that is one study I have neglected.
As he walked toward Iechi Muro, he thought of all he had done in the village. While the shrine was cleaned and fixed before the Go Masters’ arrival, it still needed more work. Carving new statues, creating calligraphy banners, and furthering the repairs, all of this has been done. Meili, the blacksmith’s daughter, helped to keep the shrine clean, even oiling the new figures I carved. While I spent the money I had earned, or stolen, on the shrine, I also bought rice and grain for the village. I also importuned the aid of the kami to help make their fields more fruitful. I have even tried to find ways of correcting the blight of the Kuni’s cleansing of the land. On my journeys, I have been able to buy dirt, blessed by monks. This earth was brought to the fields of Iechi Muro, and into the blighted lands, in an attempt to enlist the aid of Earth Kami. I have brought wind chimes, seeds, seedlings and water, all blessed by monks. Then there were the embers I tenderly brought from the fires that burn in temples and shrines, and the incense crafted by monks of various temples. Though sorely distressed in life, I have even gotten the people of Iechi Muro to celebrate the great festivals, and even create some to thank the Kami for all their blessings, which at times are weak at best. But why did I do this? In my heart I know I did this because it needed to be done. I have to admit though that there were selfish motives. I thought that this might show me worthy of my family, but as I continued, this became less of a motivation. Meili, she shows me the worth of what I have done; she knows me better than most, and her honest appreciation is always welcome. I know when I return, she will have food and a bath ready for me, though both are extravagant luxuries.
Then there are the ronin. What was I thinking? It was anger. I wanted to build an army to fight the evil of I saw in the clan samurai. I wanted to give them a home, something to do other than highway banditry. And then the weapons! Those recovered when we left the shrine of Sensei, those from the mass graves of the ronin village in Lion Lands. All across the lands, I have found daisho that were left to rot in the earth, something that seems not only wrong, but evil. To condemn the dead in such a way. How much time have I spent asking the Kami to repair these ill tended weapons? I’ve even asked the Kami to rework the blades, removing the imperfections crafted into them by weak willed smiths. I thought in my anger that it was to arm a force to stand against the evil within the clans, to support the last child of the Kami, but was that truly the reason. I no longer know.
Looking up, Takuma saw the ronnin Ashago, one of those whom Takuma had invited to Iechi Muro.
“Greetings Ashago! How fair you, it seems that you were able to acquire the earth.”
Leading the ox drawn cart, “yes, and more than expected. Upon hearing the reason, the monks were willing to help. They gave us double of what I asked.”
When I first met Ashago, he was living as a bandit. He was not very good a banditry, and would most likely have starved. Why is he so excited about this earth? It is not Koku, but he is excited. Is it true that a Samurai is only whole when he has a duty? Have I given this to him?
“One of the monks also gave me this,” Ashago withdrew a small figurine. “It is Kenro-ji-jin, the fortune of soil. He said that it would bring blessings to the fields.”
“Yes, it just might.”
“Forgive Takuma, but you seem distant. Has something happened.”
“I met someone wise, who asked me a question that I have yet to answer.” He smiles to Ashago, “but that is not important now. Your success will help the village. We must celebrate when we return.”
As they approached the village, Takuma’s thoughts wandered to the ronin he had recruited. I asked them to give up their former lives for a life with hardships. Not all were up to the task, even if they might have joined an army. They took the money promised and left. Some, like Ashago, stayed. They protect the village, and go off for supplies, soil, and water. A few have even become proficient in pleading the case of the village. Sooner or later, what we are doing will attract attention; I pray to the kami and fortunes that it will be later.
Word spread before them that Takuma and Ashago had returned. The villagers and ronin were waiting in the village square as they approached, each eager to report on the events that had transpired since Takuma had left. Jokichi, the innkeeper and head man, reigned in the villagers say, “we are glad that you have safely returned Takuma-sama.” Though he hated it, he could not get Jokichi to stop calling him sama, so he impartially accepted. “Iechi and Tsiecin,” two of the ronin, “intercepted a group of bandits who sought to steal our grain.” They both nodded. “They offered the ronin the peace you have extended to all ronin, but three did not accept. Their remains were burned, and their graves await blessing.” Jokichi bows his head for a moment, “but there is good news as well. The cow you brought has given birth to a fine calf. It is the first such birth in all of our memories.”
“Then this is doubly a time to celebrate. Come, let us eat and give thanks to Hujokuko for this joyous event and Ashago’s success. See, he has brought more earth for our fields.”
As always, Meili had a bath ready when he returned. As the others prepared, Takuma and Ashago relaxed and washed the dirt of the road from themselves.
Takuma ate at the celebration, but his mind was on other things. “You seem troubled sama,” said Meili. “Come, dance with the others.” She always knew how to lighten Takuma’s heart, and the dancing helped take his mind from the darker thoughts. Afterwards, Takuma took his leave, going to the shrine to pray and meditate.
In the morning, Takuma saw to some of the necessities of the village, and then proceeded to the edge of the blasted lands with a bucket of the fresh earth that Ashago had brought. The only way to bring health back to the fields is to appease the Kami’s fear of this place. Focusing himself, he addressed the Earth Kami within the bucket. “Beloved brothers, I thank you for your presence. I have brought you hear to awaken the earth around here.” He then explained what he had done, of the furrows he had dug by hand, filling with fresh earth. How he had spoken to the kami, keeping them strong with his words and power. He showed them other fresh patches of earth where the Kami were still strong. He eased their concern, and with reverence added the fresh earth to what was already there. In fifty years, I may be able to reclaim three hand lengths of earth. Why do I do this? Day after day, why do I work with the earth kami to correct the harm done by the Kuni? I know why they cleansed the land, but the cost is so great. It has stolen so much from the people that live at the edge, people who have nowhere else to go. Why do I do this? Because it must be done. Koi’s mentor tried to heal this place. The reasons may be questionable, but still he attempted. Something that the Clan shugenja have not done. Oh, the Kuni claim that there is no way, but they put their energy into the fight they are destined to wage; they are not healers. Yet all believe their word. Why do I do this? Because I believe it can be done. What I do now may not work in the end, but there is a way. I know in my heart that there is a way. I may not be the one who figures it out, but at least I am trying with all that I have.
That night, while sitting in meditation, his mind drifted to his time in the shadow lands. “You seem to have found your next clue friend Takuma.” Turning, he is momentarily shocked to see Ki’rr’itch. “You found your way back as I knew you would. Whether you know it or not, you are part of this place Takuma, and your searching brought you here for a reason.”
Looking around, he saw the practice gardens of Master Kakita Momoru’s Dojo in Samui Kaze Toshi. He was looking at his last day there, when the presence of the Kami distracted him so much that he could not concentrate on the lessons. “This is where I lost myself Ki’rr’itch.”
The scene was filled with students and Master Kakita Momoru, and it was easy to see the shame and confusion on the face of the young Tiger who would become Takuma. “How did you lose yourself young Takuma.”
“I fled from this place is secret, in shame.”
“Why?” said another voice.
Turning, Takuma came face to face with Master Kakita Momoru. The anger and disappointment was barely concealed by his On. “Why did you bring shame upon my house and upon your family?”
“I was afraid?”
“Of what? Of being blessed to hear the Kami?”
“I wanted to be a swordsman. It is what my father wanted.”
“Your desires are unimportant student. Would your father have been unhappy to know that his seed had produced a shugenja?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then why did you leave.”
“I didn’t want to be a shugenja.”
“So you turned your back on the will of the celestial heavens!”
I never thought of it like that, but how could it have been different?
With a glimpse of compassion, Master Kakita Momoru looked to Takuma, “you could have come to me. You could have explained what was happening. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t suspect that you were hearing the kami.”
“I saw that once, while looking into the Font of the Void. I didn’t have the will to change what had once occurred.”
“It would have been wrong to change it, for you have learned nothing from what had occurred, what is going to occur.”
Confused, Takuma looked at the dream of his former teacher. “Takuma, you are who you are because of your choices. Your life would be different if you changed the past, but would it have been better? Would you stayed to help the people of Iechi Muro, or would you have left as the other clan Samurai? Would you have offered assistance to other ronin? Would Ashago have died in a ditch if you had changed your past?”
He’s right, I have only thought of myself, my shame, my pain.
“Do not change the past Takuma, but look to who you are now,” said his teacher. “Cast away your pain.”
Takuma looked at his teacher, and considered his pain. What is it that tears at my heart? He thought about it as the dreaming sun began to set. As day became night, Takuma took his Daisho and placed it at the feet of his teacher. “I broke my soul in an attempt to be something that the Celestial Heavens deemed was not my path. I pierced my heart on a blade forged on my own selfishness.” Master Kakita picked up the blades and bowed. Takuma watched as he walked toward the sunset.
Takuma awoke as the first rays of the sun streamed into the shrine. Though drowsy, he got up and looked at the sunrise, enthralled by the colors of the land. He felt light, as if a burden was taken from him. He didn’t even realize that his Daisho was not with him until someone commented that he was not wearing his wakisashi. “It is where it should be my friend,” and thinking to himself, it was a childhood dream. It is fitting that the blades remain where they were forged.
That day, he worked as he had never before. The lightness brought a joy to his daily duties that he had never known before. Around midday, Meili brought a lunch to Takuma who worked at the edge of the blight. “Meili,” Takuma asked at her approach, “why do you take such pains to see to my needs?”
“It offers me no pains Takuma-sama to bring you lunch.”
“It is an honor to serve one who has done so much for our village Takuma-sama.”
As she looked up, Takuma realized that he had never really seen her before. She is beautiful, and in her simple answer, she speaks with more wisdom than I have ever had.
He accepts the cup of offered tea, and sits and thinks upon his life in Iechi Muro. Meili has been a part of his life ever since he first came to the village. She worked beside him as he cleared the shrine. Once his thoughts of that time were only to condemn the arrogant Samurai who would not help, but now he was grateful to have had the time with someone of simple joys.
For the next few days, he talked to the Kami of the fields and to those who were helping in the blighted land. His work though had taken on a different tone. There was no urgency, and no pompous ceremony; no thought of a great plan, or a noble conclusion. He simply talked to the Earth Kami about the land, and why he started this path. He neither implored nor commanded the kami’s aid, but talked as an equal to those who could work to heal the land. During the day, he met with the ronin, helped them come up with schedules of when to scout and guard, when to work out, and find ways to keep busy. The villagers also needed direction, and he worked with them as well, looking over the reports of the fields, and looking at the rice and grain supplies. Takuma realized from all these talks that he would have to look beyond himself. No matter the reason, he had placed himself in a position where he had to look out for these people. There was no arrogance in his thought, just the cold hard reality that these people did indeed look to him. Following that was the realization that he had to make sure that there would be enough food
That night, he worked on a letter to one in the Shosuro family whom he knew. He had built a relationship with the Scorpion, and they were the only family that could help him now. Shosuro Sanzo had travelled with Takuma before, and of all people, only Takuma knew the true heart of Shosuro Sanzo. Of all Scorpions Takuma had met, Sanzo’s mask was the most deceptive, and he owed Takuma.
That night, he loaded a cart with many of the blade that he had recovered and repaired with the aid of Earth kami. He covered them with a tarp, and then covered that with bags of soil and grain. In the morning, he approached Ashago with a mission.
“Ashago, lead this cart to the scorpion lands, and carry this letter to a blind Scorpion Samurai named Shosuro Sanzo. Take Takei and Ryoko with you as guards, and Surma to tend to the ox and cart. On your way back, as always, bring fresh soil and water. Shosuro Sanzo will also give you something to bring back to me.” Without question, Ashago carried out the order. For a moment, that one act frightened Takuma. Would Ashago do anything I asked without question? Have I ever acted as nobly?
Not only did Sanzo owe Takuma, but he had gained favors from the Shosuro and the Bayushi. They would be able to sell the swords, and give a fair price in return, minus their cut. Still, it would be more than Takuma could get. Kakita Senji would have a fit if he knew what I was doing here, but then again, he was willing to let these swords lie disgraced in the earth until they rusted away. I wonder what he would think if his blades were treated in that manner?
Later in mediation, he continued to look at his actions. Is it virtue or vice that I would sell these swords? My head would be forfeit if the Emerald Magistrates knew, but is it wrong?
“Why did you do it then,” said a voice.
Turning, Takuma once again saw the form of Ki’rr’itch. “I see my journey continues,” commented Takuma.
“Yes. You must have needed to return here as it seems you need to understand something you have done. Is this the village you spoke of?”
Looking around, Takuma could see the dream impression of the shrine and the village. “Yes, and it is fitting, as my questions arise from this place.”
“And what are these questions?”
“I have realized that my place is here Ki’rr’itch. That my decisions have linked my fate with this place, and without realizing, I have become a leader to these people. It is not a place I am use to filling, nor something I thought of.”
“Takuma, I am leader to my people, and see it as a great responsibility, but from your words, you seem to take it as a burden.”
“Perhaps. What concerns me now is that those of this village do what I say with no question, even though I have questions as to my actions.”
“Is that not what your people crave? Duty you call it. They want direction. It is not that they cannot live without it, but you of Rokugan thrive when you have a duty to perform. It is not for the people to question that is for the leaders.”
“This must be what my uncle meant when he spoke of the burdens of leadership. Though I have found joy from the clarity I have found here, it has brought these questions and burdens upon me.”
“Then leave,” said another voice. “If the burden is so great, pack your bags and leave.” The figure spoke from outside of the shrine, an area cloaked in shadow.
“My presence has affected these people, and if I leave, they will flounder.”
The laugh was cold, “arrogance!”
“Arrogance or truth,” said Takuma, who bristled at the insult.
“Would not another rise to take your place? Ashago? Would not he take over? He could lead them to ruin or victory; either way, it would no longer be up to you.”
Takuma just stared at the shadowy figure.
“I am right, am I not.”
Takuma bowed his head in agreement.
“Then why do you stay, and do not say that you don’t know.”
“Because I have a purpose in this village.”
“And that is what you have desired this whole time.”
“Yes,” was all that Takuma could say.
“But in this act, do you not also do what is right?” said another voice. The speaker stood in the light, his form ablaze with the rising sun.
“Yes, it is right to show compassion and help them find duty.”
“But it has come from your vices,” said the shadowy form.
“And yet it becomes virtue.”
Takuma then noticed that to each figure, there was a sinewy shadow of a dragons tail. “I know you both,” he said.
From the shadows strode forth a figure with the appearance of Takuma, but with the complexion of Jade, while from the light emerged a figure the twin of Takuma but with the coloration of Obsidian.
“Yes,” they both said in unison, “you know us, for we are always in you.”
“The seed of virtue is in vice, and the seed of vice is always in virtue,” said Takuma.
“We are in the hearts of all men, both at the same time.”
“Though one may choose virtue, sin lingers on the edge of the heart, and can result in the foulest actions imaginable” said the Obsidian Takuma.
“And even the acts of the most vile heart can create great virtue,” said the Jade Takuma.
“Your problem Takuma,” both said in unison, “is that you think too much about virtue and vice.”
Takuma looked at them in shock. “What do you mean?”
“No matter their rank, all who lead must make decisions for their people. Some are burdened by these decisions, because they fear the regret that will come if their decision is flawed. Remember the Lion who came to rule over Khihuchi Muro? He wanted to be loved by his people, and every decision was molded by that desire. He agonizes over decisions that could affect his popularity, even if the decision is right.”
“The burden of leadership is for those who lead only with their desires. Thus has there been war waged by the Crab,” said Jade Takuma.
“But a leader who holds no desire cannot lead. They can serve, but never lead. It is the leader’s desire to do the best for his people that makes a ruler truly great,” said the Obsidian Takuma.
“It is your decision whether to be ruled by Jade or Obsidian Takuma,” they said together, “but you cannot rule with just one of us. That is the balance of the celestial heavens.”
Takuma looked into his face of Jade and Obsidian. “You are both within me.” He bows to his Obsidian form, “I acknowledge that you are within me, and that I must see each of my desires in clarity. Likewise, my fears I must acknowledge if I am ever to step past them. And stepping past is what must be done to regret.” He turns and walks from Obsidian to Jade. “Bushido is our guide. This I have seen on the faces of the people of Iechi Muro. Ashago’s devotion to new found duty, as well as Meili’s dedicated service to myself. Compassion that led me to help those of Iechi Muro and the ronin who now live there. Now I must show courage to step away from my fears, and become a leader for these people. Your light will guide me, and I must always remain open to the wisdom you reveal in even simple actions.”
Turning from the Jade form, he moves between the two. “I accept both of you in my life.” Turning toward Jade, “I will look to the sun before me for direction, and acknowledge the moon behind me for the wisdom, seen with clarity, found within my sins.” With that, Takuma sits to meditate.
“Then accept your place Samurai,” said the two figures as they faded away.
He heard his ratling friend say, as if far away, “I believe you have found what you sought friend Takuma. You have now walked in your dreams, and forever will the veil between the worlds be thin for you. Whenever you have questions, you can find your answers here.”
Takuma awoke as dawn approached. Focused and centered, he started the day. Soon there would be another request for his services, one that would take him from Iechi Muro, but which would bring Koku to the village. First though, there were things that needed to be done. Plans to be made as winter approached, buildings to be repairs, and all the mundane things which Takuma realized he enjoyed. As he gathered himself to rise, he noticed that upon the altar was a daisho. It looked like the one he lost within the realm of Yume-Do, but it was different. Picking up the Katana, he saw the hilt now seemed carved of stone. On one side was a depiction of the sun and Jade dragon carved of jade. The other side showed the moon and Obsidian dragon carved into obsidian. The veil was truly thin to loose and then recover blades, and for those blades to be changed by the realm of dreams. Perhaps he has spent too much time wandering the roads of Dream. Still, there were other things to do than think about his journeys through Yume-Do and what consequences may come from them. There were preperations to be made.
Toward the evening, he went to the home of Tange, the blacksmith, for a private word. “Tange. Since I first came here, I have felt connected to the village and its people. Since that first visit, I have tried to help when and where I could.”
“You have done great things here Takuma-sama.”
For the first time, he did not try to correct Tange, or even show humility that was near falsehood. “I have done what was needed to help the people of Iechi Muro, nothing more. But I have come to you for another reason.”
“I am ronin Tange. There is no true place for me within the Clans, but I have a place here. I wish to make Iechi Muro my true home. There is one within this town that has worked to take me, and recently I have seen just how much this has helped me. I have come to ask for the hand of Meili in marriage.”