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Samurai Spirits: End of an Era
A small boy lay on his stomach, gazing out over a sea of golden hills. Below him laid a massive field of wheat, one that has served as his playground throughout his entire childhood. With his head resting on his hands, the boy kicked his feet without a worry in the world. Draped around him was an old, dirty kimono that supposedly belonged to his father. Although far too large for his small, thin frame, he wore it constantly as he cut down imaginary enemies with a stick while sprinting through the wheat field. Suddenly bursting out in giggles, the small boy clutched his stomach in an attempt to locate the cause of his laughter. While the boy searched frantically, a small frog leaped from his kimono and made a desperate attempt to flee from his captor. Mistaking the frog's actions as an eagerness play, the boy hopped to his feet and raced toward his friend.
Genjuro was up early the next morning. He was in an unusually good mood this morning, mainly because of his encounter with the drunken samurai the night before. Reaching for his pipe and tobacco box, he caught a glimpse of the small dojo that resided almost directly across from his room. It was still dark out and there appeared to be no activity in or around the dojo. He remembered the student that was accepting challenges and decided to get a few hours of practice in before presenting himself at the dojo. After taking a few puffs of his pipe, he set it on a small table next to the window and picked up his katana. Pulling his kimono over his shoulders, he left the room and exited the inn. The early morning breeze felt good against his skin and the air was already moistened from the morning dew. He decided that he would train in the forest that he passed through before arriving at the town. Lowering his head, he walked slowly in the direction of his training area.
It was now high noon and the small village was restless with news of a demon samurai that kills for the sheer joy of it. Outside the small drinking establishment, two men were now removing the two coffins from the old mans porch. Not far from there gathered a large group of villagers.
"I'm telling you!" Screeched the old man, "He lopped off their heads without so much as a flinch!"
Waving his arms around frantically, the old man had no problem embellishing the story in order to get a better reaction from the crowd.
"He had deep crimson hair. And was so unbelievably large that he could barely fit into my place of business!" Said the old man, reaching out his arms to give a visual representation of Genjuro's height, "I knew he was trouble when I first laid my eyes on him."
Not a single villager discredited the man, and most of the women resorted to weeping in their arms at the mere thought of the demon warrior. Even the men showed a look of concern as they put their arms around their loved ones.
"If he ever comes back…" Hollered out a man from the rear of the crowd, "Hyosuke will take care of him!"
The man hoped this bit of information would rally the crowd, but only a few other individuals voiced their approval. The majority feared for Hyosuke's life. If the old man spoke the truth, Hyosuke would surely fall at the hands of this bloodthirsty warrior. Just as the crowd began to precipitate, a lone samurai with his katana resting up against his shoulder emerged from the adjacent forest.
"There he is!" Screeched the old man, pointing his shaky hand in the direction of Genjuro.
The crowd grew silent as the samurai passed. All but a few were disappointed with the physique of this "demon warrior", for they had imagined some twenty foot monster, but they did not dare voice their opinions. Genjuro passed the crowd without raising his head. As he approached the dojo he could here the whispering of the villagers. He approached the gate with high hopes. He couldn't imagine a farm boy from such a small town defeating the likes of him. Ringing the bell, he awaited a response. Almost immediately a small boy came running down the steps toward the gate.
"H…hello sir." Said the boy, bowing deeply.
"I wish to duel the senior student Otaguro Hyosuke, the one accepting challenges."
The boy heard about the "demon samurai" and a grim look passed over his face.
"Y…yes, of course. One m…moment please." With this, he turned and raced up the stone path and into the dojo.
"Hmm." Said Genjuro, clicking his tongue.
Inside the dojo, the boy approached the aging Toda Seigen. Seigen was a mountain of a man in his younger years, towering over the majority of his opponents. This intimidating factor gave him the edge in most duels, an edge he did not necessarily need. He based his entire school of swordsmanship on the importance of intimidation. He always said that if your opponent were intimidated he would not perform at his full potential. With this in mind, he preferred to teach students that were larger than the average man. Otaguro Hyosuke was no exception. Standing at an even six foot, he was extremely tall for people of that era. While not as bulky as Seigen, he was light footed and had a natural ability with the sword. Bowing before his sensei, the boy gave him the news.
"Is that so?" Replied Seigen, getting to his feet, "Where is he now?"
"Still at the gate sensei." Said the boy, still staring at the floor.
"Where are your manners boy?" Hollered Seigen, "Let him in at once!"
Without a reply the boy once again raced toward the gate.
"The sensei is waiting inside." Groaned the boy, struggling to open the gate.
Closing the gate behind him, the boy led Genjuro up the steps and into the dojo.
Inside an adjoining room of the main hall sat the student Hyosuke.
"Hyosuke." Said Seigen, entering the room.
"Yes sensei?" Replied Hyosuke, rising to meet his master's eyes.
"A man has arrived that wishes to challenge you, he is not from these parts." Said Seigen.
Although he tried to hide his worried face, Seigen's shaking hand and slight stutter revealed his true feelings. He continued.
"He already decapitated two ronin that were enjoying themselves at the old man's place on the outskirts of town."
"I see." Said Hyosuke, walking over to the wall where his katana was resting, "Then I must be extra cautious with this one."
"I would advise that we postpone this bout for a later date."
"What?" Said Hyosuke, obviously irritated, "Is this the confidence you have in your best student?"
"It's not that." Stumbled Seigen, "It's just…well."
"I'm off." Interrupted Hyosuke, taking his leave.
Genjuro was kneeling in the center of the main hall of the dojo. He expected to be greeted by Hyosuke himself and was now growing impatient. Just then the student entered.
"My apologies for keeping you waiting." Said Hyosuke, bowing.
"It's quite alright." Said Genjuro, getting to his feet, "Shall we?"
"May I interest you in some tea, or sake?" Asked Hyosuke.
"I'm fine." Replied Genjuro, growing more impatient with each passing second.
Genjuro began walking away from the student and removed his sword from its scabbard, indicating that he was ready for the upcoming duel. Turning to face his opponent, he tossed the scabbard aside. Hyosuke recognized Genjuro's eagerness to duel and turned to face the small Buddha statue in the corner of the dojo, bowed deeply, then turned to face his opponent. He bowed towards Genjuro in the same manner he did the statue. Genjuro replied with a slight nod of his head. Seigen and the small boy stood at the entrance of the main hall, both deeply concerned for Hyosuke. Taking his stance, the student signaled that he was ready.
Genjuro slowly lowered his sword and began sprinting toward his opponent. The sight of Genjuro's eyes struck fear into the student's heart, and he couldn't help shifting his stance in preparation for the upcoming clash. It was at this time Hyosuke realized that he would fall by the sword of this man. Nearing his opponent, Genjuro viciously slashed at the shins of Hyosuke. Taken completely by surprise, Hyosuke had little choice but to jump over his opponent. He did so in a rather clumsy manner and landed just behind Genjuro. Seeing a glimpse of victory, the student timidly slashed his sword across the body of Genjuro.
"Shit!" Growled Genjuro, stammering away from his opponent.
Clutching his right arm, blood began to pour profusely from a deep gash across his bicep. Hyosuke was breathing heavily. He had angered the beast. He should have disposed of him while he had the chance. Roaring with anger, Genjuro unleashed a fury of wild, unarticulated attacks on the now fearful Hyosuke. Each one was deflected as Hyosuke stumbled back with each oncoming blow. Realizing that this was getting him nowhere, Genjuro took a few steps back and let out a booming roar that seemed to shake the paper walls of the dojo. Raising his sword high over his head, Genjuro let loose a slash that ripped through the air and across his opponent, shredding his kimono to an almost non-existent state. Ten feet away Hyosuke's sword plunged into the wooden floor of the dojo. The small boy's eyes welled up with tears as Hyosuke slumped to his knees.
"Brother!" Screamed the boy, racing toward the fallen Hyosuke.
Walking away from the scene, Genjuro picked up his scabbard and slowly walked toward the entrance. Even as he collapsed onto his stomach, Hyosuke's eyes remained fixed on the man that had just cut him down. Stopping before Seigen, Genjuro looked up to see the old man's eyes closed in deep prayer. Without a word he walked through the large door and down the stone steps. The crowed began to chatter amongst themselves as the injured Genjuro approached them.
"It can't be!" Said one man, "Not Hyosuke…"
Genjuro pulled open the gate with his good arm and pushed himself through the crowd. The sun was still high in the sky as Genjuro left the town of Otsu and across a grassy plain. It was Seigen's own teachings that won Genjuro the match. Hyosuke was so intimidated by Genjuro's fury that he was unable to recall that which he had studied all those years. Genjuro knew this, and so did Seigen, who now made preparations for his student's burial.
Chapter 5 : Colliding Forces