L5R - Chasing the Winds - A Winter Court 5 Sequel Fic

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Utaku_Yamada
Hohei
Posts: 79
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Mon Sep 11, 2017 10:30 pm

Sorry for the lack of update, these past few days have been very busy. Things should quiet down after the weekend though





Shiro sano Ken Hayai was the ruling seat of the Kitsu family, built on the bones of the first five of the Kitsu race. However, it was the Akodo family that administered the castle and province, allowing the Kitsu family to fully dedicate themselves to their higher purpose as the guardians of the souls of the Lion Clan. And this was well needed, as the castle was in a strategic location for the deployment of the Lion armies.
It was also the location of the largest and most prestigious Akodo dojo as well as the Akodo War College. Many renowned samurai had both trained and taught within its walls.
Harun heard a lot of this and more when he went up onto the walls and found Akodo Takara, the same one that he had bested in the last round of the Topaz Championship the previous spring. It felt good to be up there, in the open air and to talk about more normal things.
“I’ve been stationed here since then,” he told Harun. “But things will be moving once the summer begins, once the mustering.”
“You’re going to see some action?” Harun asked.
Takara nodded with a smile. “You told me you wanted to get in the Emerald Legion, perhaps we will see each other.”
“Perhaps,” said Harun, returning his nod.
Things were moving, always moving. Spring was arriving, and after that summer, the season of war.

The next morning a note was sent to Harun’s room. So, after a wash, and a light meal, Harun went to Akodo Kibo’s office. The room was small and sparsely furnished, but it did have a window that looked out onto the courtyard garden below. In front of it in a small vase on a small table was an ikebana arrangement: a small snowdrop, a white chrysanthemum and a small yellow daffodil.
Kibo was seated behind the desk, propped up by kyusoku armrests. He looked slightly more alert than when Harun had seen him the previous day. Though there still the weakness in his right hand, apparent when he put down his calligraphy brush.
“Harun-san, please, come-in,” he said, gesturing him to sit opposite. He sounded a little more confident today, but there was still the effort, the deliberateness.
The surroundings reminded Harun very much of the Kakita Academy, like when he was summoned to the Master Sensei Kenshin’s office for discipline. Tradition surrounded them, unchanged no matter who occupied this room.
And this was actually a little curious.
How, amongst all this, did his mother Yamada fit? He knew the Unicorn had traditions, but they were their own and they also favoured practicality. Harun doubted that many Lion would agree with that.
And then there was Zetsubou, different again. It was a tangle.
Harun had many questions, but he knew that he would be the one providing the answers. At least, right now.
Tea was brought, Kibo poured with his left hand, and with a little difficulty.
“I have heard a little…about you,” the Lion said. “Kakita Academy…Topaz Champion. You…bested one of my students.”
“Akodo Takara?” Harun said, “Yes, I was talking to her earlier.”
“That must have taken…some skill,” Kibo said. “Perhaps I should see for myself before you leave. Miraiko could…certainly use some ‘humbling’.”
“Did you spar with my mother, Akodo-sama?” Harun asked.
Kibo nodded, sipping his tea with a little difficulty, but with more success than the previous day. “It was the day before court began,” he said. “Each of us had beaten twice…and in the final round we both refused to give in and…my bokken broke.” He smiled a little, remembering. “It sort of symbolised…the conflict between us. Two samurai unwilling to yield, but one of us had to.”
“Do you mean the Legion?” Harun asked. “Akodo Kano?”
Kibo frowned at the mention of the name. “ Yes, Kano,” he said quietly. “We had plans…frightening ones. But we weren’t the only ones with those…” He looked off into space. “Now the Legion…it might not still have existed now without Yamada…but how she did it, isn’t really a model for a courtier.” He managed a small smile. “Your father, Kakita Karasu, did he tell you of Hikahime-no-fortune?”
Harun smiled. “He said,” he said, then added. “And, I met her.”
Kibo stared at him. “Was this…with Zetsubou?”
Harun nodded again. “She is in the Blessed Guard,” he said. “But she wasn’t one for veneration.”
“That sounds like her,” said Kibo, nodding.
For a moment there was a silence between them, but Harun knew what needed to be said.
“I was with Zetsubou when…when he died,” Harun said. “Though, that is hardly the best way to say what happened.”
“Tell me,” said Kibo.
Harun told him, relating the best he could what had happened. He knew what we would say would pale in comparison to anything Majid said when he eventually arrived. Harun kept his eyes averted for the most part, but every so often he stole or look at the Lion sensei’s face. But it was blank, unreadable.
When Harun was finished, Kibo was silent for a long time. ”Thank you, Harun-san,” Kino said at last.
“No thanks are necessary, Akodo-sama,” said Harun. “I am only performing a duty as promised.”
“Yes…you have,” said Kibo. “But…that is not all…you have done.”
He looked tired now, tired and old. Harun politely excused himself, Kibo dismissed him with a nod. A servant came in to the room as Harun left.

Utaku_Yamada
Hohei
Posts: 79
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Wed Sep 20, 2017 4:44 am

Sorry about the long delay with updates, here is something rather substantial

-------


That afternoon, Harun found a quiet place not far from the Swift Sword Dojo to practice. The air had turned cool, but after a few rounds of drills with a bokken, he had warmed up.
He then put aside the bokken and unsheathed his katana. He held his blade in front of his face, keeping it still while he concentrated on his breathing. Then, he sank into the centre stance, still familiar as always but somehow it felt a little different, and had been ever since the ritual. It somehow felt even easier to go into, and he felt even more in control.
Then, with perfect grace and execution, he went into the technique, the Way of the Crane. He smiled, pleased with his mastery of it. Perhaps, when he returned to the Kakita Academy, Kenshin-sensei would say he was ready to learn the next technique.
One step closer to be a kenshinzen, Harun thought. He knew it had been his father Karasu’s dearest wish to be a kenshinzen, but this had been dashed when he had been called to assume the office of Emerald Champion.
Perhaps I will succeed where he did not, thought Harun, father would be so proud…
“Kakita-san?”
Harun turned around. Ikoma Sesuke was approaching. Harun quickly sheathed his sword.
“Ikoma-san, it is good to see you,” said Harun with a bow.
“My apologies, I didn’t wish to disturb you,” Sesuke said, bowing in return. “But I have wanted to speak with you.”
“Feel free,” Harun said. “I am at your disposal.”
They walked around the courtyard.
“As you can imagine, there has been more than a little curiosity about how Akodo Zetsubou-shyro died,” he said. “I am not sure if you know of this but he is…was, a fairly prominent figure in the Lion Clan. Not just what you know of him, being Jade Magistrate and with the seals, but he was of the true Kitsu bloodline.” They walked around in silence for a few minutes. “I am getting questions about it, and I am already getting more than I can answer. And there will be more, from the Kitsu and Akodo leadership as well as the Ikoma Omoidasu from the Hall of Scribes. Particularly,” he added, looking at Harun, “as the plans for his funeral are beginning to be made.”
Harun nodded. “I can only hope that will be worthy of the sacrifice that he made.”
“Oh, it will,” said Sesuke reassuringly. “The Lion venerate their heroes, you can be sure of that. But I wanted to ask if you would oblige me in something.”
“Of course,” said Harun. “Anything I can do to help.”
“I want you to tell of your account of Akodo Zetsubou-no-shryo’s death,” said Sesuke. “What you told me. What you spoke about, the ritual itself, the shryo and the Kitsu coming out of the torii arch…everything.”
“I will, of course,” promised Harun. “But should you not also ask Moto Majid as well? He knows far more about what happened than I do. And he knew Zetsubou-shryo for far longer, they worked together on the ritual.”
“I see your point, but I think would be better coming from you, Kakita-san,” said Sesuke. “You are a Kakita and a Crane, Topaz Champion and son of the Emerald Champion. Moto Majid may be an Ishiken…but he is also a Unicorn. And relations between them and the Lion…have not been the best, particularly since Kaeru Toshi.”
Which I had a hand in, Harun remembered. Out loud, he said. “If they want to hear the whole story, they need to talk to him,” insisted Harun. “Perhaps I can convince them to listen to him.”
“If you say that, Kakita-san,” you may be able to,” said Sesuke.

They went the next afternoon, Sesuke taking Harun to a different part of the castle. It was a little different from where the dojo was. Much quieter.
And much older, noticed Harun.
They went past to the entrance to a temple which Sesuke said led to the Shrine of the First Five Kitsu. The ones who had married the daughters of Akodo-no-kami and had founded the Kitsu family.
He led Harun into the tenshukaku which was opposite of the temple, and then up onto the third floor to a small reception room. Two men were already seated inside on cushions side by side. They rose to their feet when Harun and Sesuke entered.
Sesuke introduced them: Ikoma Akira, Omodasu from the Ikoma Hall of Scribes and Akodo Kichirou, karo to the Champion of the Lion Clan, Akodo Ashida.
“Sesuke-san has been telling us how you were with Akodo Zetsubou-no-shryo when he gave his life to cleanse the taint,” said Akodo Kichirou, bowing. He was a tall man, at least fifty at Harun’s guess but toned and taught like a whip. His face was hard, stern but not unpleasant and an eyepatch covered where his left eye had been.
“Was it Zetsubou-no-shryo’s wish that you were to tell of this?” Ikoma Akira asked. “Is that why you were asked to witness the ritual?” He was different again. Younger, shorter than Kichirou and stocky. The calligraphy brush he held looked as if it would snap like a twig in his grip.
“I’m not sure,” confessed Harun. “but I will gladly fulfil this duty now, anything to make sure his memory is preserved.”
They made small talk, the Lion asking Harun polite questions about his travels and his time in Unicorn lands as well as the Topaz Championship the previous spring. They seemed very informed about Harun and seemed to be stalling for some reason.
Harun didn’t have long to wonder why though, a young woman entered the room. She didn’t appear to be much older than Harun, she wore a simple brown and yellow shugenja’s robe with the mon of the Kistu family on it, her dark hair was styled simply in a knot at the back of her head and her brown eyes had a slightly gold tint to them.
Like Zetsubou, thought Harun.
Everyone turned towards and bowed low, Sesuke introduced Harun to her: Kitsu Yukiko, Damiyo of the Kitsu family.
“Thank you for coming, Kakita-san,” she said to Harun, giving him a small but kind smile, then turning to the others. “My apologies for the delay, mina-san, shall we begin?”
They took their seats on the cushions, a servant brought tea for them then retreated. Akira posed with his paper, ink and brush and nodded to Yukiko.
Yukiko turned to Harun. “When you are ready, Kakita-san.”
Harun told them what had happened. He began with his promise the night before, then on to the ritual itself with the shryo and Kitsu coming out of the torii archway. When he got to Zetsubou’s death itself, again Harun found it difficult to speak of. Yukiko was patient though, giving Harun the time he needed to speak and asking questions at appropriate moments.
When Harun was done, there was quiet for a long moment. Harun finished his tea while Akira took down the last of his notes. Yukiko sat in silent contemplation for a moment, her head bowed as if in prayer.
Finally, she spoke. “Thank you once again, Kakita-san,” she said. “Your words will no doubt help with the commemoration of Zetsubou-no-shryo’s memory.”
“That is my sincerest hope, Kitsu-sama,” said Harun. “But there is one request that I would make of you, if I would be so bold.”
“Oh?” she said, a little surprised. “Go on, then.”
Harun could hear some sounds of protest from the Lion, but he pressed on.
“I consider my account to be incomplete and rather ignorant compared to one that that Moto Majid would give you,” said Harun. “I strongly urge you, Kitsu-sama, to speak with him when he arrives.”
Akodo Kichirou cleared his throat. “Surely, Kitsu-sama, this is not…”
Yukiko held up a hand to silence him. “Thank you, Kichirou-san,” she said, then turning to Harun. “I will be most interested to meet Moto Majid, Kakita-san, if you could arrange it.”
“Of course, Kitsu-san,” said Harun, bowing. “It would be my pleasure.”
Yukiko looked a little sad. “Zetsubou-no-shryo once told me something of him before he left,” she said. “I think it is time that we met.”

Harun was walking back to his room and he passed one of the courtyard that divided the Swift Sword Dojo from the living and guest quarters. Seated on a bench, rugged up against the chill of the evening was Kibo with his daughter Miraiko. They sat talking, completely oblivious to anything else around them, including Harun, seeming in some sort of disagreement.
Harun tried to leave quietly, then something made him stop. A man approached them, holding a bundle in his arms which he handed to Miraiko.
A baby, Harun realised, she’s a mother.
The young man who was presumably Miraiko’s husband, stood over her, a hand protectively on his wife’s shoulder. A look passed between him and Kibo. Then there was a nod of acknowledgement, of agreement.
Harun left then, no longer wishing to be a party to such a private family moment. But still, he wondered.

Utaku_Yamada
Hohei
Posts: 79
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Mon Sep 25, 2017 8:51 am

Majid arrived three days later, travelling on horseback accompanying the cart that Zetsubou’s wife Akodo Nikako travelled in with the small children. Akodo Koneko rode as well, her red hair catching the light of the sun as the part rode into Shiro sano Ken Hayai, shadowed by the escorts that Majid had arranged for their journey.
They weren’t the only ones on the road either, Akodo Ashida, Champion of the Lion Clan arrived the same afternoon with a full military escort. Many of them joining the large encampment that encircled the castle that seemed to be growing by the day.
There was more than a little confusion in the main courtyard of the castle with so many arriving at once, but it wasn’t hard for Harun to spot Majid. Not just because he was the only one in purple in a sea of yellow and brown, not just because his dark, bearded face stood out amongst the paler, sleanshaven ones, but because the Lion were giving him a wide berth.
If Majid noticed it, he didn’t let it bother him. He approached Harun, giving him a broad smile and a warm handshake in full view of the Lion that surrounded them.
And if Majid didn’t care, Harun didn’t either.
Across the courtyard, Harun could see Kibo and Miraiko greeting the rest of their family. There was a happy if sombre mood over the group. Harun wanted to leave then, not intrude on a family moment. Koneko looked over to him and they met eyes. She gave him a smile then exchanged a few words with her mother and headed towards them.
“Kakita-sama,” she said, making a bow.
Majid laughed, breaking in before Harun could respond. “There’s no need for such formality, Koneko-chan,” he said.
“I know,” she said, blushing slightly when she caught Harun’s eye again. “But then, it’s this place, it’s as if…”
“I know,” Harun said, smiling reassuringly. Being constantly surrounded by the traditions of the Lion had had an effect on him as well. “It is good to see you Koneko-san.”
Koneko gave a sad smile and looked down. “Mother said to invite you to dine us tonight.”
“Thank you,” said Harun, “but we wouldn’t want to intrude on your family.”
Koneko’s face fell.
“Of course we will be there,” said Majid in a loud voice, giving Koneko a broad smile. “You go and tell her we will be there.”
Koneko gave a nod then headed back, looking over her shoulder back at Harun. Harun smiled back at her, but his stomach was turning uncomfortable knots, Koneko was a nice girl, but Harun knew his future lay elsewhere.

Utaku_Yamada
Hohei
Posts: 79
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Wed Sep 27, 2017 8:28 am

Harun and Majid went riding after that, taking advantage of the light. The Plains of Bloodied Honour had nothing on the vastness of the steppes of the Unicorn lands. But to be in the saddle, riding free with the wind in his hair…there was nothing like it.
Majid grinned when he looked over at Harun. “Not enjoying your garden, Niwa no Moto?” He laughed. “You are the one who wanted to go back to it.”
“Not for long,” said Harun as they slowed their horses to a walk. “I’ll be heading for the Emerald Legions soon after I get back.”
“And that girl of yours?” Majid teased.
“Arahime,” Harun said, his heart leapt to say her name. “I’ll be seeing her first, I promised.” He turned to Majid. “What about you, Majid? I assume there is little that could be done to stop you moving.”
Majid laughed again. “You would think so,” he said. “The Khan told me in no uncertain terms that the next thing for me was to marry. It’s been put off for a number of years, and it will all happen when I return to Shiro Moto.”
Majid, settling down and marrying, Harun thought, it’s almost comical.
“Well, I wish you many blessings then,” said Harun warmly.
“Thank you,” Majid said.
They rode on in silence for a few more minutes.
“Majid, there is something I wanted to ask you,” said Harun. “Zetsubou asked me to see to his brother, Kibo, have you met him?”
“I saw him earlier,” said Majid. “He did not look well.”
“He has been that way since the ritual,” said Harun. “Would you be able to help him?”
Majid was silent for a long moment. “I might not be able to do anything,” said Majid. “But I can try.”
“Thank you,” said Harun.
As they turned back towards the shiro, a cool wind blew in towards their faces. And then snow started to fall. First in small flakes, then bigger and more numerous.
Majid laughed. “Well, this is going to change things a little.”
Harun laughed, leaning back and letting the snowflakes fall on his face.

The snow didn’t pass, it intensified. By evening, it was beginning to pile up a little in the courtyards. Some of the younger dojo students started to throw it around at each other. Harun passed them on the way to dinner, he could see little Kobo there playing with his younger brother Waito.
Harun walked up to them, they didn’t notice him but as he was wearing his purple and white cloak they probably didn’t recognised him, so he dropped the hood.
Kibo showed his little brother how to make a snowball, then dropped it when he saw Harun.
“Harun!” Kibo said, running towards him. “You look like a Moto! Majid said you fought with them, and you were in a duel.”
“I was,” said Harun, smiling gently at Waito who was hiding behind his older brother. “How do you like the Akodo dojo?”
“I haven’t seen much,” said Kibo. “But Miraiko has promised to take us around tomorrow, see the students practice and spar.” He gave a sad smile, reaching back to grab his brother’s hand.
Harun gave the boys a warm, friendly smile that he hoped was comforting.
So young, and to lose their father…
“Kibo…Waito…” Koneko came out of one of the buildings, then stopped in surprise when she saw Harun.
“I am expected, remember?” said Harun.
“Oh yes,” she said, signalling for the others to follow her. “Everyone is here.”

Utaku_Yamada
Hohei
Posts: 79
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Wed Oct 04, 2017 8:58 am

Update here, and we finally meet the Lion Champion.

****

The meals that Harun had shared with the Lion as their guests had been solemn, formal affairs. What he went to that evening was somewhere between that and the family dinners he remembered from Shiro Yogashi, before he had left for the Kakita Academy. There was an air of familiarity about, though somewhat subdued, restrained. Probably by the seriousness of what had gathered them all together.
The room they were in was near one of the outer walls of the castle, high up with a courtyard just outside. They sat at several tables that were pushed together to make one long one, the adults at one end and the children at the other with Harun and Koneko opposite each other in the middle.
Everything was as expected while they were eating, even the children sat quietly in their places. But between courses, things were a little more casual, even among some of the adults. Majid was pulled by the children to their end of the table so he could tell one of their favourite stories. Harun then found himself sitting next to Miraiko’s husband, Akodo Harumasa. He was a rather quiet, unassuming young man, a poet and had been born into the Matsu family. He was quite articulate and knowledgeable about the lore of the Lion clan, answering Harun’s questions about the history of the castle.
When the meal was finished and the hour grew late, the children were led out. And the women took out the babies—Miraiko’s son Bengo and Nikako’s youngest Saburo. Harun looked around and saw Majid and Kibo were talking intently at one end of the table, though of what Harun could only guess.
When Miraiko, Nikako and Koneko returned, sake was served. Somehow the later hour made the mood more subdued. Harun asked Kibo about the war.
“I have not been…involved for…some years,” he said. “But I still hear things, and I’m asked things.” He took a sip of sake, holding the cup carefully. “No doubt, there will be a push again to move on Toshi Ranbo. Perhaps even before the Legions are properly ready.”
“They would do that?” Harun asked.
Kibo and Miraiko exchanged a look across the table.
“If it came to it,” Kibo said with a nod.
“You can’t always be ready when you need to be,” said Miraiko, a little too loftily.
“I think a more interesting question is what will happen to it in the future,” said Majid thoughtfully.
“Well, it…should be the capital…again,” said Kibo with conviction.
“The Crane won’t like that,” Harun pointed out.
“The Crane will have to settle for what they get,” said Miraiko stoutly.
Harun stared back at her.
Kibo shook his head. “We wanted you…to be…spared all this, “ he said to his daughter. “And you Harun, Koneko, Harumasa…this was an…inheritance that we did not…want to pass on.”
Harun nodded, his father Karasu had said those same words to him once.
“There still is the future,” Koneko said in a small voice. “Father always spoke of it, as if…he knew he would not be there to see it.”
Nikako smiled comfortingly at her daughter.
Majid refilled their sake cups. “The let us drink to that,” he said solemnly, holding his cup up in a toast. “To the future, and those who will help forge it. Ganbei.”

Harun was invited to another meeting with the Lion leadership. Majid got one as well, and harun knew this as they shared a room now due to the influx of people arriving for the funeral.
“I do thank you for doing this, Harun,” said Majid. “But I am not sure the Lion Champion will be as amiable.”
“The Lion Champion?” Harun looked at the invitation again. Majid was right, it was for a private audience with the Lion Champion and who knew how many others.
“Surely, you brought your court manners with you, Majid?” Harun teased.
“I seem to have put them with my other horse,” said Majid.
Harun swatted him with the piece of paper.

The wind was strong and cold, blowing the falling snow into their faces that even the hoods of their cloaks couldn’t block out. It was a relief to get into the tenshukaku, but as they climbed higher they could feel and hear the wind rattle and shake the building.
They were shown to the damiyo’s private audience chamber, right up near the top of the tenshukaku. The room was plain, austere and no sign of the status of its occupant. The only decorations: an ikebana arrangement of bamboo and white chrysanthemums and on the far wall a tattered war banner from some long ago Akodo legion.
Akodo Ashida, Champion of the Lion Clan, Damiyo of the Akodo family, was seated on a cushion at the far end of the room beneath the tattered war banner. He was a tall man, in his mid-thirties and his brown and gold kataginu he wore above his kimono made his broad shoulders only look broader. His hair, in a perfect topknot, was greying at the temples and he had a long scar along his chin to his left cheek. His brown eyes were sharp, not missing anything.
Harun couldn’t recall if Ashida was the second or third Lion Champion Kano. But from what Harun had heard about Ashida around the castle in the last few days, he was seen as a shrewd and effective leader.
Ashida regarded Harun with a nod of acknowledgment when he entered, looking up from the document he was reading. Majid got slightly less than that, though the Moto seemed to expect such behaviour. They took their seats on cushions in front of Ashida.
Kitsu Yukiko, who was seated at Ashida’s right, was a little more welcoming.
Next to enter was Ikoma Akira, his scribe’s kit under his arm. He nodded to Harun as he came in, taking his seat at the side of the proceedings.
And finally, in came Nikako with her daughter Koneko. The latter seemed a bit nervous to be included, but her mother’s support did help. As did seeing Harun there.
When they were seated, Ashida put down the document he was reading and cleared his throat.
“From what I understand,” said Ashida, completely without preamble, “this gathering was brought about by no small intervention by you, Kakita Harun-san.”
Harun bowed his head. “I cannot take credit for the decisions of yourself and those who serve you, my lord,” he said. “My only wish was for the truth of Akodo Zetsubou-shryo’s deeds be known. And the best way to do that was to speak with one who worked closely with him: Moto Majid, whom we both called friend.”
Ashida gave a nod of approval. He then held up the document he had been reading and looked at Majid. “I have read the account given to us by Kakita-san,” said Ashida. “But I wish to clarify with you, Moto-san, is one fact that seemed to allude Kakita-san here.”
“I will explain anything that is within my capability to do so, Akodo-ue,” said Majid.
“Then tell me, how is it that Zetsubou-shryo died,” said Ashida. His voice was raised, not in anger but more impatience.
Majid hesitated. “Perhaps that would be best answered by someone more familiar with the ways of the Kitsu,” he said, glancing at Yukiko hopefully.
“I am asking you, Moto-san,” said Ashida.
Majid raised his eyebrows. “Well, he began a little uncertainly. “The Kitsu’s actions that day appeared to be one of mercy.”
“Appeared to be?” Ashida queried.
“Forgive me, Akodo-ue,” Majid said patiently. “But I am hardly an expert on this matter, as I explained.”
“Of course, continue,” said Ashida with a nod.
“This act of mercy was for Zetsubou-shryo, but perhaps for Harun and myself as well, to be spared from killing him,” said Majid, his voice calm and controlled. “When it came for the time for the cleansing to be performed, to unleash and hand over the Light of Tengoku, Zetsubou was in a lot of pain. This was from the amount of Void that was needed to perform the cleansing, which he was not physically prepared for.” Majid looked up directly at Ashida. “His death was imminent, and would have been very painful had the Kitsu not intervened. His spirot was torn from him by the Kitsu, torn both from his body and the plane of Ningen-do.”
“You are certain of this?” Ashida asked.
“I am,” said Majid confidently. “How it was done, I do not know. What this means for Zetsubou’s soul in the Spirit Realms, I do not know. But I do know his spirit is free, with no taint or curse that is attached to it. And not just from what I had seen myself, but from what I have been told by those closest to him.” He nodded to Nikako and Koneko.
“What is this?” Ashida asked in surprise.
“Majid-san speaks true, Akodo-ue,” said Nikako. “Shortly after his death, my husband’s spirit came to our home. He spoke with me and our children before departing.”
Yukiko smiled kindly in response to this, even Ashida looked a little touched.
Majid then pulled out two scroll cases, they were made of brightly coloured cloth decorated in a gaijin style and looked very out of place in this austere room. He pushed one forward, offering it to Ashida.
“Contained in here is a full account of Zetsubou-shryo’s deeds involving the Light of Tengoku ritual. This is from both observation as well as related to me by him. I offer this to the Lion Clan on behalf of the Unicorn Clan, as well as passage and a guide to the site where this all took place.”
After the ritual refusals and offerings, Ashida accepted the scroll. The second scroll Ashida offered to Nikako and Koneko.
“I offer this to you, to your family and to your heirs,” said Majid. “Not only on behalf of the Unicorn Clan, but of my own wish that Zetsubou-shryo’s sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

Hours later, the four of them walked out of the meeting together. Nikako turned to Majid and Harun.
“I cannot thank you enough, both of you,” she said. “Your words stirred far more than mine would have.”
“I doubt that very much, Akodo-san,” said Harun modestly. “Words from the heart are far more sincere.”
Koneko smiled at hearing this, but she was quickly whisked away by her mother before she could say anything.
“Harun, can you do something for me?” Majid asked when they were alone. “Never put me in a den of Lions like that again.”
Harun only laughed.

That night, Harun walked around the castle. The more time he passed in this place, the harder he found it to put his mind at rest. The funeral was tomorrow, and soon after that he would be on his war home.
Providing the weather breaks, Harun thought, looking at the snow that continued to fall thick and fast.
He walked out onto the battlements, pulling the hood of his cloak over his head. There was someone else there, cloaked like him, standing out near the edge with their back to Harun. They hadn’t seen him.
He turned to go, wanting to leave whoever it was in peace.
“No, wait.”
Harun stopped. The figure approached him, and when they came close. Harun could see it was Nikako, Zetsubou’s wife and now widow.
“My apologies, Akodo-san,” Harun said, making a bow. “I did not wish to disturb you.”
“You weren’t,” she said. “I wanted to speak with you anyway, Harun. There is no need to be so formal.”
Her voice was friendly and her smile warm, but Harun could see something else. Her eyes were red and puffy, he could see a wet glistening on her face that he knew wasn’t from snow. Were those tears? Had she been crying?
“I only wish to fulfil my duty, Nikako-san,” he said. “I had the privilege of being called friend by Zetsubou, the least I can do is follow his wishes.”
“You are doing more than that, Harun,” she said. “You have been looking forward to the future, just as Zetsubou would have done.” She looked at him, her eyes big and dark. “Like your mother Yamada.”
“Did you know her?” Harun asked.
“A little,” Nikako said. “I was at her wedding, and we met a few times over that winter.” She reached into her cloak and pulled out a fan. She opened it, showing him the kanji character for air on it. “Several of the ladies of court purchased one of a set of fans, your mother was one of them. We pledged to protect each other, thought the sisterhood of the fan.” She paused. “I am not sure if Yamada still carries hers, but that was before everything happened.”
Harun nodded, knowing exactly what she meant.
“How much do you know?” Nikako asked.
“Everything, more or less,” Harun said. “Zetsubou told me a lot, as did others. Zetsubou even tried to have my mother meet me while I was in Unicorn lands, but she would not agree to it.”
Nikako nodded. “It will happen one day, Harun,” she said reassuringly. “Everything has its proper time.” Her voice saddening a little. “That happens to al

Utaku_Yamada
Hohei
Posts: 79
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Sat Oct 07, 2017 7:42 am

The day of Zetsubou’s funeral dawned clear and bright. The last of the snow had fallen during the night and the sky was blue and cloudless.
Harun woke early, he breakfasted with Majid in their room. The mood was sombre and even Majid was not inclined to talk. Then then changed. Majid into his white shugenja robes, without the face paint, and his hair was tamed into a traditional topknot. All Harun had were his best clothes, but the pale blue was not really proper mourning attire.
After all, I didn’t expect to attend a funeral, he thought, does anyone?
Then there came a soft knock on the door. Harun opened it and outside was a servant holding a white cloth bundle.
“Akodo Kibo-sama sent me with this gift for you, Kakita-sama,” said the servant, bowing low before departing.
Harun closed the door and unfolded the bundle. It was a white over-kimono. Completely plain and of silk so fine that Harun could see the outline of his hand through the fabric.
He put it on, smoothing down the creases. He would have to thank Kibo later. Not today, but before he left for home.
Home, the thought almost made Harun smile, and he had been only gone a year.
Majid cleared his throat and nodded towards the door. It was time.

They all gathered in the largest courtyard pf the castle, one where the Lion troops would train and drill. In the middle of the courtyard a pile of wood had been gathered and stacked—the funeral pyre—and the forming crowd encircled it.
Harun and Majid took up places behind some of the mourners, close enough to show their attachments to Zetsubou but far enough so they wouldn’t cause offence to the Lion. Harun looked around, he couldn’t see the family yet but Akodo Ashida and his retinue were gathered not far from where they stood.
Then came the sound of a drum beat, slow and steady almost like the beating of a heart. What talk that was going on lulled to silence and all turned to see the large palanquin approaching. It was unpainted, of raw wood and white curtains hiding the inside where Zetsubou’s body was. It was carried aloft by eta and behind them, walked the family.
The crowd parted to let them through, and in the crush of people the ones in the funeral procession were almost hidden from sight. But Harun could see Nikako and Koneko and the rest of the children, Kibo, leaning on his daughter’s arm with her husband close behind. There were others Harun couldn’t identify that followed, but more than one had red hair.
The eta who carried the palanquin hoisted it atop the pyre and disappeared. The family stayed in the inner circle, close to where Akodo Ashida was and—as Harun could see—Kitsu Yukiko. Ashida and Yukio bowed solemnly, to the palanquin and then to the family, with everyone bowing after them.
All of this was in complete silence, save the constant steady rhythm of the drumbeat. This stopped when Kitsu Yukiko stepped out into the centre of the circle and began to speak. And as she spoke, the voices of the omoidasu were raised, wailing their grief on behalf of everyone else there.
Yukiko’s voice was strong and clear, and carried to all who were present. She spoke of Zetsubou’s life, his youth and training as a Sodan Senzo and then on to his deeds in his adulthood. His summoning of the Fire Dragon at the Imperial Winter Court at Shiro Mirumoto, his tireless work with the locating and closing of the seals between Ningen-do and Jigoku, and of course, his cleansing of the taint from the Unicorn lands.
“Great deeds are the making of a great hero of the Lion Clan,” said Yukiko. “But that was not all Zetsubou was. Those who were honoured enough to know him knew him also for his compassion and humility, his loyalty, his courage and his devotion to his family and friends. His passing, taken by one of the ancient Kitsu with whom he shares blood with, leaves us all with a fine example of bushido to follow. To us all, to his family, and perhaps most of all to his children.” She turned to look at them, at the front of the crowd so they could be seen with Sabruro in his mother’s arms. Yukiko’s voice softened as she named them. “Koneko, Kibo, Waito and Saburo, your father’s shryo will guide the Lion Clan through the troubled times that we face ahead. May his sacrifice inspire you.”
Yukiko then turned towards the pyre, bowing her head and saying the requisite prayers for Zetsubou’s soul to be judged righteously by Emma-O in Meido so that he could pass on to Yomi. When the prayer was done, she was handed a burning torch, which she handed to Koneko. The girl bowed her head and approached to funeral pyre, pushing the torch into the tinder so the pyre caught.
Harun brushed a hair from his face, touching his cheek to find it was wet with tears. He bowed his head as well, hoping no one would see them. The omoidasu wailed and cried as the fire climbed higher and then consumed Zetsubou’s body.
Zetsubou is already there, probably, thought Harun, in Yomi, with my father, waiting for the others that will follow.

When the pyre had burned out the family began the ceremony of removing the bones and placing them in the urn. Harun left, along with a number of others. It was heading towards the late afternoon, the clear weather still held so there was every chance he could leave tomorrow or the next day at the latest.
Home, he thought with a secret smile, and Arahime…to see her again…
He walked up to the battlements, where he had been the night before. The wind was brisk and fresh, it was invigorating. Not long after that, Majid joined him there. The Moto freed his hair from the topknot, letting it fly free.
“At last, that damn thing was giving me a headache,” he said, breathing a sigh of relief. He leaned on the railing with a sigh. “Being confined to one spot, its not something for the likes of us, Niwa no Moto.”
“Speak for yourself,” said Harun. “I’m not planning on staying a day longer than I have to. I’m heading home as soon as I can.”
“Well, you’ll have to stay a few more days than you intend,” said Majid. “As will we all. I was talking to one of the sentries, according to him the snow is deep and would be up to a horse’s knees. There will be no travelling in that, at least not until a good thaw.”
Harun looked at Majid in astonishment.
“And if we were to get more late snow,” continued Majid. “We could be stuck here even longer.” He then turned to Harun. “What’s wrong, Niwa no Moto? Did the stallion you bought turn out to be a gelding? You can’t change the way things are.”
“But, I promised,” said Harun, sounding a little like a child. “Arahime…the Topaz Championship could be any day now. I can’t miss seeing her…”
“Well, it looks like you could be fashionably late, if you are lucky,” said Majid. “You’re not the only one disappointed, I saw a bunch of sour faces from the senior students in the Akodo dojo yesterday that intended to go.” He patted Harun on the shoulder in a friendly way. “Cheer up, that girl of yours is hardly going to leave without seeing you.”
Harun gave a mute nod, watching Majid as he walked away. Tears stinging his eyes, Harun turned east. Towards the Crane lands, towards home, towards Arahime.
“Arahime, I’m so sorry,” he whispered into the wind. Hoping for some miracle his words would be carried to her.

Utaku_Yamada
Hohei
Posts: 79
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Sat Oct 07, 2017 5:32 pm

Just a heads up to my readers, the end of the story is in sight! Thank you for staying with me on this incredible journey and I hope you'll continue to read The Duty of War when it starts getting written. In it we see Harun in the Emerald Legion, the taking of Toshi Ranbo as well as the next Imperial Winter Court at Kyuden Hida. We also find out what it was that caused Harun to be exiled to Seawatch Castle.

Utaku_Yamada
Hohei
Posts: 79
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Wed Oct 11, 2017 9:48 pm

It turned cool as afternoon turned to evening, Harun wandered the coridoors in a daze. Hardly anyone was around, they seemed all indoors for one reason or another.
Harun made his way to the Swift Sword Dojo. The main building was empty as everyone was at the evening meal. He turned to leave, intending to continue wandering when something he saw made him stop.
Sitting on one of the benches in the dojo courtyard, was young Kibo. He sat there with his head down, wrapping his arms around himself as if he was cold. Harun went over to him.
“Kibo, what are you doing out here?” Harun asked, he took off his purple cloak and wrapped it around the boy’s shoulders. “Come on inside, your mother will be worried about you.”
Kibo shook his head, wiping his eyes and and nose with his sleeve. “I don’t want to be there,” he said, sniffing. “Everyone is pretending, no one is being sad and everyone wants to be.”
“Theyre not really…pretending, Kibo,” said Harun. “It’s…how you deal with sad things, so you can get on with what needs to be done. Controlling youtr emotions is how you get through difficult times, and to do difficult things.”
“Is that bad then?” Kibo asked. “That I can’t control my emotions?”
“No, no,” said Harun gently. “No more than its bad for your little brother Sabruro to not be able to walk. He will learn to walk eventually, and you will learn to control your emotions when you begin your training.”
This seemed to comfort the boy somewhat. They sat silently together for a while.
“Harun? Can I ask you something?”
“Of course.”
“Were…you with my father when he died?”
A pause. “Yes, I was.”
“What happened?”
A memory flashed before Harun’s eyes…Zetsubou in pain…screaming…falling face down into the snow…his limp body in Harun’s arms. He couldn’t tell that to an eight eyar old boy, but he couldn’t lie either.
“He was very brave,” said Harun. “There was danger, and we wanted to stop but he told us not to. Majid said he saved a lot of people.”
“Did he have to die?” Kibo asked, his gold-flecked eyes wide with emotion.
“I don’t know,” Harun answered honestly. “But, that is something all samurai must be prepared to do, to do their duty.”
Kibo nodded mutely, pulling the purple cloak closer around him. He looked very small inside its voluminous folds.
“Kibo?” A red-haired boy of about ten stepped out of the shadows holding a paper lantern. “Your mother is worried, I’ve been sent to fetch you.”
“You better go,” said Harun, helping the boy to his feet.
The cloak was still around Kibo’s shoulders. Kibo stopped and started to take it odd.
“No, keep it on its cold,” said Harun. “Find me tomorrow and give it back then.
“Can I watch you train?” Kibo asked.
“Of course,” said Harun. “But you better come early.”
“Kibo!” The red-haired boy called impatiently.
“Coming Kasai,” said Kibo, following him off.
The redhaired boy was one that Harun had seen in the funeral procession. But there was something familiar about him, more than his red hair and lion eyes. Harun dismissed it, heading inside. He needed a hot meal.

The next morning, Harun practiced in one of the courtyards of the castle. The courtyard had been swept of snow that morning, so he had no difficulty keeping his feet as he ran through the basic katas and stances, his katana warm and familiar in his hands.
Kibo sat in a bench a short distance away, enraptured. And he had plenty to see in that courtyard as it was not only Harun who was training there. There were Akodo bushi of course, as well as Matsu bushi and Ikoma bushi a significant number training in unison in several rows.
There were also two Mirumoto bushi who had come for the funeral, practicing with a sword in each hand.
When Harun was done, he brought his sword down vertically in front of him, blade pointing down. He was calm, his eyes down, his mind at peace. Then he felt a tug on his sleeve.
“Yes?” asked Harun, looking down at Kibo.
“Cab you show me?” The boy asked. “Your lightning draw?”
“I can,” said Harun. “But it works better with an opponent.”
Kibo looked around. “Miraiko is over there,” he said, pointing. “I’ll ask her.” And he ran off before Harun could stop him.
Harun felt a little uneasy, he had wanted to spar with Miraiko but wasn’t this was the best way to do it. When he saw Kibo coming back with Miraiko, he did his best to keep a straight face.
“Akodo-san,” said Harun, nodding in greeting.
“My cousin spoke of something that sounded like an iaijutsu duel,” said Miraiko. “I have to say, my school is not as renowed for its skill with the iai as your is, but I am most interested in testing my blade against yours.”
“If that is your wish,” said Harun.
There was a flurry of movement as the courtyard was cleared and the other bushi formed a ring around them. Kibo was at the front, right at the centre where he could see everything. Harun hid a smile, it reminded him of himself at the same age, watching his father Karasu practice at the Shiro Yogashi dojo, his blade cutting through the air with the grace of a bird in flight.
Harun and Miraiko took up their positions, hands at the ready to draw, staring each other in the eyes. The courtyard was completely silent, as if all there were collectively holding their breaths.
Them came a flurry, a flash, the sharp tang of steel on steel. The blades were drawn, rippling bright in the sunlight. Harun’s blade was fast, his blade had scratched Miraiko’s chin, a small line of blood dripping from it. Miraiko herself had barely time to draw her own blade.
The was a smattering of polite applause, Miraiko sheathed her sword and bowed in acknowledgment of Harun’s victory. But she did not take her eyes of Harun.
“My apologies for the wound,” said Harun.
“It will be something to remember you by,” said Miraiko, wiping the blood away. “You have beaten me with air, let us see how you fare with fire.”
She turned and nodded to one of the Akodo bushi who handed her two wooden bokken.
Harun sheathed his sword. “I accept,” he said, taking up one of the bokkens.
They took up fighting stances again, facing each other with the bokkens lowered but ready. There was a bit more excitement with the crowd that surrounded them. They circled each other for a few minutes, like war cats in a fighting pit. Then they attacked, both bokkens coming towards each other and clashing. Harun got in first but Miraiko blocked him with her bokken. Harun could feel her strength behind her block.
It’s strength against speed then, he thought, Fine, I’ll show her speed then.
He lowered his bokken, aiming for her legs but when she went to defend he went in high, turning the other way and tapping her arm with his bokken.
“Your point,” he conceded.
They took up fighting positions, then went again. This time, Harun went high but Miraiko was ready this time. She aimed her bokken at Harun’s chest, whacking him hard across the ribs and knocking him back.
“Your point,” Harun said, grasping for breath.
When they took up their places for the third round, Harun could feel the energy of the crowd that surrounded them. And he thought he saw a smile on Miraiko’s face.
This time, when the bokkens clashed together, neither one was willing to give in. Harun’s arms ached, but he held his hands firm, maintaining his grip on the bokken. So did Miraiko, groaning with the effort of it. But it was Harun’s strength that gave out, as did his weapon. The bokken splintering with a loud crack, the shattered remains falling to the ground.
Harun looked down at it.
Break, don’t bend, he remembered, who had said that?
Harun bowed in acquiescence of Miraiko’s victory.
As Miraiko received the congratulations of the other bushi, Harun saw two people on the other side of the courtyard, watching them. Kibo and Majid. Kibo gave a nod of approval then walked off, leaning on a staff.

Utaku_Yamada
Hohei
Posts: 79
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Wed Oct 11, 2017 10:50 pm

Later on, Majid and Harun walked the battlements. Something to do since they couldn’t go riding. It was a poor substitute, but it was something.
Majid explained he had tried to help Kibo, to heal what ailed him with what he knew of the Void. But Majid couldn’t.
“I did what I could to help, but the damage is permanent,” said Majid. “There are some wounds that go too deep, there are some wounds that cannot be healed.”
Harun nodded mutely.
“Just don’t tell Miraiko what happened,” said Majid. “I don’t think she approves of me.”
“I could say the same,” said Harun. “I only just gave her a scratch on her face just now.”
Majid laughed. “I’m sure she could do with the humbling.

The days that passed were frustrating. Harun practiced as much as he could, both in preparation of returning to the academy and to take his mind off things, but this only helped a little. Everyday he waited for the snow to thaw, and he could head home.
Fortunately, he wasn’t idle all the time. He watched the graduation at the Swift Sword Dojo, first a tournament and then the new samurai swearing their allegiance to Akodo Ashida.
And a few days after that, young Kibo entered the dojo as a student. Harun and Majid stood with the family as they watched the boy being tested with others his age. Young Kibo smiled with pride when he was accepted, but when he thought no one was looking, Harun saw sadness on his face. He knew what it meant.
The night before Harun left the castle, he was invited for tea in Kibo’s rooms. Harun found the old Lion at his desk, dictating to a scribe who was silently dismissed. Tea was served.
Harun noticed that Kibo looked a little better than when he had first met him. It was not as difficult for him to hold his tea cup, and his words were not as hesitant or halting. But as Majid had said, the damage was still there and some wounds simply went too deep.
They talked for hours over many things, the war, comparing the dojo of the Akodo and Kakita. Harun felt at ease, despite his urge to keep the formality up in a way he did not do with someone like Majid.
Then, at a break in the conversation, Harun remembered a question that had occurred to him when he had first arrived.
He poured more tea.
“There is something I wanted to ask you, Akodo-sama,” said Harun. “Though I do hope my question is not impertinent.”
“Of course, Harun,” said Kibo with a nod.
“In the year I have spent travelling, I have come to know something of my mother and of the Unicorn where she came from,” said Harun. “But, given what I know of tradition from my own upbringing, there is something that I have been wondering. How is it that my mother and yourself became friends?”
Harun saw an expression on Kibo’s face that could have been a smile, but it disappeared so quickly that Harun thought he had imagined it.
“Well, I suppose it…was a little unlikely,” said Kibo dryly. “But given the time and the…circumstances, more unlikely things have…happened.”
“Like a peasant general?” Harun suggested.
“I suppose,” Kibo agreed. He looked thoughtful for a moment. “With your mother, it didn’t start out so well…we were both so stubborn, so determined that we were right. And…we were, but neither of us wanted to give way.”
“To bend or to break?” Harun asked, remembering his spar with Miraiko.
Kibo nodded. “I think, in the end…it was what we had in common that helped us work together. Our own devotion to duty, honour. But it was something else that…made us friends, sharing our pain over those we had lost. She seemed to have a better way of carrying it than I did, most of the time, but she had been carrying it for far longer.” Kibo sighed. “Zetsubou and I spoke to her, right before we all left Shiro Mirumoto. She told us…of her joining Shiba Michio, the terrible duty she had promised to carry out.” He looked down. “The task she has is…one no one would envy, and I don’t think there is anyone else I would rather have do it.” He looked at Harun. “The sad part is, the one who has lost the most in this is you, Harun. All you have to know your mother by is we who knew her.”
“I don’t see it that way,” said Harun. “Not anymore. I can’t. Zetsubou and my father Karasu told me that she wanted me to still have the life that she had planned with my father Nakura, what she could no longer give me herself. Knowing that does help a little,].”
Kibo nodded. “And her duty with the Obsidian Hand will end, when the Jade Sun chooses her hand,” he said. “And then, I don’t think there could be anything that could stop her from seeing you.”

When Harun got back to his room, he found Majid had been waiting up for him. He got to his feet with a smile and handed Harun a scroll.
“Don’t worry about all those Crane gift things,” Majid said. “This isn’t really from me, it’s from Chinua but it wasn’t finished before he…left. I’m just handing it over.”
“Well, thank you anyway,” said Harun. He unrolled the scroll as Majid seemed as curious about it as he was.He
It was a koseki, a family scroll that showed Harun’s Unicorn lineage. There was his name, with his birth parents and the date of their marriage. Then the date of his father Nakura’s death.
Only eight days married, realised Harun, they didn’t have much time at all.
His mother’s parents came next, Utaku Fumiko and Moto Harun. Listed there were their other daughters, Akane, Masuyo and Thane. All of them killed when then Onyx conquered the Unicorn lands.
He followed his grandmother Fumiko’s line, all Utaku shiotome, then he found something odd.
Daidoji? He looked closer.
“Who would have thought that?” Harun said, pointing at the scroll. One of my ancestors was Daidoji Urei, he married Utaku Yumiko.” He gave a wry smile. “I guess they can’t accuse me of having no Crane blood now.”
“Or, or just means you belong more in that garden,” Majid teased. He looked down at the scroll, seeing something of interest. “There is something else here too.” He pointed to a name. “Moto Chiban, he is your great grandfather. And,” Majid said, “he is mine too.”
“What?” Harun stared at Majid in astonishment.
Majid laughed. “Chiban was one of the Moto who swore allegiance to Shinjo-no-kami and followed her out of the desert along with the first Gaheris.” He shook his head. “I knew there could have been something like that with you, simply by the look of you. But, I guess that makes us family now.”
And, like family, Majid embraced him warmly.
After Majid went to bed, Harun sat up reading the scroll, trying to remember the names. What thing to take home with him. What a thing to show Arahime.

And in the morning, it came time for the final farewells. They all came out, Kibo, Nikako, Miraiko and all the children, wishing Harun and Majid well and making promises to write. Kibo seemed to be holding back tears and Koneko was strangely quiet.
Then on the road, Majid and Harun rode together one last time. Finally, the came to a fork in the road. Majid was to head west to Unicorn lands, Harun to head east.
“This is where we part, Niwa no Moto,” said Majid. “I hope that girl of yours knows what she is getting in you, and that you bring her to the steppes one day.”
“I will,” Harun promised. “And thank you, Majid, for everything.”
They embraced one final time. “I don’t do farewells,” said Majid. “So, let us just leave it until we meet again.”
Harun nodded. He watched Majid go, urging his horse fast as he headed west. Then he headed towards the east. Towards home.

Utaku_Yamada
Hohei
Posts: 79
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 6:01 pm

Sat Oct 14, 2017 7:51 am

Final chapter, guys. Thanks for reading!

“There is not much more to tell, sensei,” Harun told Kenshin. “I rode as fast as I could back, I made up time. Hoping to at least make the final day of the Topaz Championship. But I didn’t, and here I am.”
“Indeed you are,” said Kenshin. He poured more tea for them both, emptying the pot. “From what you have told me, Harun, you found a lot of things out there. Friendship, duty, the past…but which of these was for you?”
“Duty, sensei,” Harun answered promptly. “When I was out there on the steppes of the plains of the Unicorn, part of me did belong there. But that’s not all who I am. I had to return, all that I am, the lessons I have learned were here, and it was my duty to return and serve those who had helped and taught me.”
Kenshin nodded with approval. “And then?”
“Well, I guess there is the Emerald Legion after this,” Harun said. “Perhaps that is what im meant to do, my dharma. It was, after all, the shryo of my father who told me.”
Kenshin nodded again. What awaited harun next, he could only guess. All he knew was that what ever destiny Harun had, it would not be ordinary.

That night Harun slept deeply, and later than he ever had as an academy student. He roused himself quickly, his muscles aching from the hard riding he had been doing. There was only one remedy for that he knew. Practice first, and then a hot bath. So he dressed and set off for the dojo.
It was a little strange going back in to the dojo. So familiar, but he also felt a little removed from the place. He was no longer a student, but a guest. A visiting Kakita duellist like the ones he had seen growing up in the place.
He went to the part of the doji that was usually reserved for guests, walking past a class of senior students being taught by sensei Kenshin. Among them he could see Arahime’s brother Masarugi and Prince Iweko Kiseki. Both of them would be making their gempukku next spring.
As always, Harun found training in the dojo familiar and comforting. But here, in the Kakita academy, it was even more. Here he was surrounded by memories. And through them all, he saw Arahime. Arahime who was on a ship heading south to a warm, foreign land.
The hour struck, a soft bell sounding indicating the end of classes. Harun paid it no mind, finishing one kata before going into another. When he was done he felt at peace, light and free like a soft wind rippling the grass on the steppes.
Then he looked around and saw he wasn’t alone. The class had finished, and many of the students had gathered around to watch him. They bowed, the acknowledgement of a student to a full samurai. Harun acknowledged their bow with one of his own. But there was an air of formality, and a little awkwardness. He didn’t like it much.
But that only lasted a moment, then the circle around Harun broke up and everyone started talking. Some left, some started asking Harun questions about his travels. He tried to answer them all. Yes, he had fought in the battle at Shiro Moto. No, he hadn’t killed any Dark Moto. And no, the Unicorn did not eat raw meat and he certainly hadn’t had any.
Harun was talking with Masarugi and Kiseki about the Topaz Championship. Specifically, about Arahime’s duels, trying to get as much details as he could. They were still talking when Kenshin approached.
The boys acknowledged the sensei with a bow, then leaving Harun alone with him.
Kenshin gave Harun and nod and then stepped back. Harun knew what this was. He formally bowed to Kenshin, and began to demonstrate how he had improved in his year away from the academy. First, his basic katas and stances, then his iaijutsu draw, and finally some kenjutsu strikes against some rolled tatami mats.
Kenshin watched all this silently, his face an imperceptible mask. When Harun was done, Kenshin gave a nod of approval. So small, but with so much to a student. Harun’s heart soared when he saw that. But he kept calm and waited to see what happened next.
Another rolled tatami mat was brought.
“Two cuts,” Kenshin said.
Harun bowed. He then reached out to touch the rolled tatami mat with the tip of his sword, measuring the length. Then he struck, cutting the mat in two in the middle, his blade arcing upwards in a diagonal cut, the severed piece going up with the momentum of his sword. He cut the severed half in two, bringing his sword down to slice the falling half. And then, because he could, he cut one of the halves in two again.
Kenshin had asked for two cuts, Harun had given him three.
Kenshin smiled.

Later that same day, Harun went to the academy’s ancestral shrine. As he had when he had still been a student, Harun repeated the prayers he had been taught. Humbling asking the ancestors to guide him and to inspire him to act honourable and be worthy of their guidance.
But somehow it was more real now, after seeing the shryo walk out of Yomi. After seeing his father.
When he left the shrine he went back to his room, packing up his things so he could leave in the morning at first light. Something fell out of his bag, he picked it up. It was a little figurine of a horse at full gallop, carefully carved from white wood.
Asuna…
“Harun?”
He turned to see his little sister Sakimi standing in the doorway. He his the little horse inside his sleeve.
“Are you leaving tomorrow?” she asked. “Going so soon?”
“Yes, Sakimi-chan,” said Harun. “I’m heading home, father should be there.”
“And, you’ll ride out with him?” Sakimi asked cautiously. “To the war?”
Harun nodded. Sakimi wrapped her arms around Harun’s legs. Harun squatted down so they were eye to eye.
“You’ll come and see me?” Sakimi asked.
“I’ll try,” Harun promised.
“You’ll stay safe?” she pleaded. “You’ll come back?”
“I’ll do my best,” he promised.
She smiled. He reached into his sleeve and pulled out the horse. He put it in her hand.
“A shiotome gave me this,” he told her. “Keep it safe.”

The next morning, Harun rode out of the gates of Shiro sano Kakita. The sun was warm, the air was clear, the wind was fresh with the promise of spring.
He looked to the south, where Arahime had gone. When would she return? Would she return? He didn’t know. All he had to do was follow the path laid before he him.
He rode south. The road to Otosan Uchi. The road to Shiro Yogashi. The road home.

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