May 24, 2014

The rise of the last moonchild

Long ago, when I was still young and joy flowed more freely through the world, the teller shared with me a story of a time before the fall. During the twilight of the age of Humanity when the decadence and decay was matched only by the brilliance of the technological achievements.

Indeed, it would seem that their nights were lit… Or so the teller told it, and I had no reason to doubt her. You see, there used to be magnificent creatures called moons that would fly through the night skies shedding silverlight in their wake.
Humanity was always in search of more power, and they had found a way to capture these moons in order to force them into service. It is a testament to their technical ingenuity that in the space of a few years they had managed to capture almost all of the free silverlight creatures. Thus the wild beautiful moons were tethered and in their slavery their lights grew dim, silverlight had turned to tarnished brass. Stationary lives ill suited their spirits which existed to be free. Slowly they began to die out, and without the silverlight, no new moons were born replace those that had been extinguished. I don’t know this for a fact, but it is my opinion that it was in large part the loss of hope that took such a toll on them.
At any rate, the last free moons, facing imminent capture, entrusted their child,little more than a teardrop of silverlight, to the cold winter clouds and the bitter north winds… Neither of whom bore Humanity any friendship. The last free moonchild was secreted away to the far north. Back then, it was a frozen land so inhospitable that even Humanity had failed to find a cost effective way of exploiting it.  

There the moonchild lived for a while, far from its kin. It was not quite alone: under the tutelage of the cold northern elements, it grew abnormally strong. It learned the ways of light from a distant relative named Aurora, of whom naught but the name and a reputation for elusive beauty remains. Eventually it grew so strong that it could fly higher than any of its kind had ever done before. It grew so skilled in the ways of light that it could weave silverlight into tools. Finally, after many years, it was ready.

The moonchild coming to free the first of its brethren

Upon its request, the harsh north winds flung it out over the frozen lands towards the domain of Humanity. It shaped sleek wings of silverlight and flew with the darkness around the world. Fueled by an anger alien to its kind, it undertook a mighty labor: it traveled everywhere at the speed of night, and wherever it went, it used a blade wrought of silverlight to slice away the shackles binding its kind. Finally, with every surviving moon freed in tow, the last moon child grew even brighter and stronger still. Faster and faster it flew, burning a silver white streak across sky, bright enough to be indifferent of night and day. A grand gesture directed towards Humanity, though I know not how they interpreted it. Finally, the train of moons had gathered enough speed and light to leave our world, and that is exactly what they did. The teller claimed that they went to live with the sun. Perhaps that is so. We can not deny that our nights are dark.

Hmm? What of Humanity, you ask? By my pointy ears and aching tail, that is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that you need not worry of them. They are merely the stuff of nightmares and legends now.

May 18, 2014

Respite

 
Traversing the dark expanse was never easy. 
As a veteran, she knew the risks, but not even she could have planned for what happened: everything that could have gone wrong had. 
Now, the vehicles, the cargo, and the client (by order of importance) were most likely lost and never to be seen gain. 
But none of that mattered: after weeks on foot in the darkness, no sight is more welcome than that of a light oasis.

May 15, 2014

Once upon a bleak midwinter

Once upon a bleak midwinter, driven by hunger and her dwindling stores, a young woman fetched up her bow and went out a hunting. Braving wind, frost, and snow she traveled far by vale and by wood in search of game.


Alas, skilled though she was, neither quarry nor spoor did she espy. After many long hours she found that she could go no further, for her travails had worked with the cold and hunger to rob her of her strength.

Knowing full well the risk that she took, she settled against the trunk of a welcoming pine whose snowy boughs sheltered her from the worst of the chill wind. Wondering if ever again she would awaken, she resignedly succumbed to slumber.

Sometime later, and somewhat to her surprise, she opened her eyes. Night had fallen and with it, a heavy blanket of snow and stillness. The young moon shed a weak light that seemed only to emphasize the darkness and the shadows of the trees, familiar by day suddenly made strange and uncanny.

There was an utter and unnatural lack of sound. An eerie silence that weighed heavily upon her, she felt as if it might steal her breath away. Then, without her noticing the precise moment it occurred, the silence was gone. In its stead, growing from barely audible to increasingly loud, a thrumming sound or perhaps some sort of vibration.
She grasped for something to liken the sound to, the only thing that came to mind was a hundred hives of harassed hornets. In truth, she had to admit to herself that it was unlike anything she had ever heard before.

She shivered when she saw the light flittering through the trunks of the trees. Half-forgotten stories her grandmother would try to scare her with so very long ago resurfaced. The mercurial and terrible Pouhkas with their ghostly lanterns, the malevolent flying spirit flames called Onibis, the endless and destructive despair of the lost souls called Feu-follets… But as the sound got louder and the light approached, what she saw was unlike any of the creatures she had ever heard of.

It looked like a flying sunflower whose bloom was made of bizarre green light.

It grew nearer and nearer and finally alighted in front of her. The stem unfolded in some manner that defied her comprehension and became something like a twiggy torso and a pair of legs. Finally the intense thrumming sound was quelled, and she realized that what she had mistaken for a flower was the creature’s three shining arms spinning repeatedly around its neck under its head like some kind of wheel around an axle. The creature staring at her was about two-thirds as tall as she. While the proportions of its face were a bit strange, the expression there was definitely and most irritatingly human: the creature looked both smug and pleased with itself.

Finally it spoke: “Heya dollface! I know I’m beautiful, but if ya keep staring like that ya gonna wear out mah good looks.”
She couldn’t put her finger on it exactly, but something in the creature’s tone and attitude irritated her so much that she quite forgot about being frightened. Instead she looked at the creature levelly and said: “I was just wondering whether yea be beast or plant…”
“Yeah, dat’s right! And youse can take dat to da bank.” it said, not answering the question.
“…to decide if I should roast you or boil you.” She said grinning toothily and pointedly fingering the hilt of her hunting knife.
“’Ay now, ‘ay now, doncha be talkin’ lahk that sweetie. Everyt’ing be irie doncha know?”
The creature’s voice changed every time it spoke, but somehow that only contributed to its aggravating nature… She finally decided that whatever it was, it was going to be neither help nor hindrance, and that, jest set aside, it was inedible. “Ignore it and head home.” She told herself.
“Hey lady, are yah gonna help me or what?” it said impatiently.
“I don’t think so, I have to get home before I freeze to death.”
“Thy mortal concerns are none of mine, know thee not that my kith reward well those who render us service?”
She frowned, “Your kith? I still don’t know what you are… Tell you what, if you take me back to my Hogan, I’ll try to help you.”
A Navajo hogan

The creature twirled its arms noisily and expectorated: “Yo yo yo, I’m an effing fairy yo, and I’ll ball wit’ you. Ain’t never turned down a chance to take a skirt back to her crib yo.”
She thought to herself about how meaningless a sentence with two negatives was and followed the creature as it noisily took flight. The loud humming noise of its spinning arms precluded communication and so there was no asking it how it knew where to go. “Besides,” she thought to herself, “…it probably wouldn’t answer me.”

Shortly afterwards they were on her doorstep and she released a sigh of relief. The creature had been true to its word. But before she could enquire as to how she was to repay it, it belligerently said: “Now you lissen heah’ lil’ lady. I reckon’ it’s time you pay up cuz I’m plumb tired a waitin’.”
“Alright, alright. What is it you want?” she sighed.
“Well, mate. It be right obvious, innit? Oi’m a genius, ahn’t I? But I cahn hahdly hea’ ma’self think while ah’m flying.”
For such a strange creature, it has a remarkably mundane problem, she mused. She pushed past her door and returned but a moment later holding a small flask.
“Hold still while I put this on your neck, it should solve your problem.”
The creature reluctantly complied and took the flask from her when she was done.
“Hide not thy poison with such sugar’d words. Thy unction smells to the heavens and shall surely make me the friend of maggots.” And having said that, it gave its arms a tentative spin and was astounded by the quietness of its flight. “Oh true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick, thus with a daub I fly! Though thou hast served me well, glad am I to be shut of you. Before I take my leave, take thee this egg of mine and plant it within the earth before dawn. In two days’ time thy reward will be beyond measure.”
And so it quietly flew away into the forest, taking with it her flask of olive oil.

Following the creature’s instructions she buried its egg, and two days later a giant thing had grown up, towering over her home. And so she set about discovering how to use it, but that is another story.

May 10, 2014

Stationary

Beginnings and endings.
The rainy station embodies both as I wait...
Change is part of life. 
The rail ties crossing the track look massive, immovable, and dirty.
It is time to move on.

September 28, 2012

Gwen - Passing through Paris

Often, when Americans think of Paris they imagine a Hemingway flavored, Woody Allen directed figment that is loosely set in the twenties with highlights and overtones taken straight from pop culture and Disney. The interesting thing is that somehow, regardless of the reality of what lies before them, many American tourists come away from their trips with the impression that their delusion is true.

Something about Gwen’s personality afforded her her own view of Paris. Tall dirty gray Haussmann buildings with their decaying splendor hobnobbing with faceless gray post war buildings. Clusters of feral young men with predatory eyes. Pairs of painstakingly dressed women, rail thin and tiny. The smell of expensive perfumes and human waste.
Perhaps at heart not that different from any other big city, but with a French touch.

 People told her she was crazy when she announced she was breaking up with her fiancĂ©e, and just shook their heads when she decided to try and sell her house and go traveling. And yet, somehow here she is in Paris flipping burgers and steak-frites in a brasserie. Watching people take the top bun off of their burgers and eat the rest with a knife and fork, then clean their plates with the top bun, or worse yet leave it in their dishes. 
Yeah, some Parisians really do that.

She had come to France hoping to find a new life, hoping for food that would inspire her, but after several months she was coming to the conclusion that the French food scene wasn’t for her. While good French food undeniably exists, it seemed to her to be an elitist thing rife with snobbery. “Good food should be about good taste, not how much money you have.”

Over all, Gwen was disappointed. Paris was a place for people with money. The main way of spending time there seemed to be related with either the spending, or the acquisition of money… But her tastes were, if not simple, frugal. She spent what free time she had walking around Paris looking for a spark, something to set her soul alight. Her expenses were limited to food, the tiny room she was renting, and an occasional used book from Shakespeare and co. on the rive gauche. In a sense it was an ideal, but not hers. Her plan was to leave as soon as she had enough money put away for a ticket.

This wasn't the place she was looking for.

September 6, 2012

Gwen - Zucchini bread zeitgeist


This is my kitchen. It isn't spectacular and it doesn’t have all the latest gadgets or designer furniture. It is neither pretty nor fashionable, but it is functional and it is mine. 
It’s my space in which he is sitting and talking at me, yet again, further illustrating the completely one-dimensional relationship he maintains with the world instead of interacting with it fully. I’m there peeling my zucchinis and I know that he doesn’t realize that it is over.
I don’t need drama. I don’t need an argument. I don’t need to lay blame.
I just need to be alone in my kitchen again.
------------------

Well, that could have gone better... but then again, it could have gone worse.
"They" say all kinds of stupid things, for instance, they say that going down is the best part of roller coasters... but let’s face it, two years of free-falling downhill isn't fun, it's just tiring. I like the parts where you ramp up, where you can enjoy the view, and savor the moment.
But then, I’m not really into roller coasters… so, what am I talking about?

It’s not like he was bad guy. I wouldn’t have stayed with him as long as I did if he had been.
Although it felt like hours, “the talk” only lasted thirty minutes… Not so bad, nothing got broken, though he did throw a framed picture at me –missed by me by a mile- which I caught before it smashed against the wall. He got a bit carried away. He said some things that may have been true and some that I know were not. He said I was cold, and while it’s true that that whole scene left me cold, I’m pretty sure he meant to say frigid, and he meant for it to hurt me. But the truth is, although we may have connected at one point in time, eventually, when I looked at him all I saw was dust in the air. Little flying particles you can’t normally see that are brought to life by light. Pretty enough, in their own way, but ultimately immaterial. I’m not sure when I discovered that there wasn’t anything left behind it.

Maybe later I’ll think back fondly to the good times. But I wonder if maybe they’ve all been so diluted that they have ceased to exist for all practical purposes. Either way, although I may be kidding myself, I don’t think it matters.

For now, I’m happy to reclaim my space...
and I’m going to bake some Zucchini bread.

September 2, 2012

Found in my inbox one morning


Hello my friend, thank you for taking the time to read this important message. The situation is grave indeed and I’m not sure how to best express it so that you can understand it. I’ll try by starting sometime after the beginning…

Long, long ago, when I was a mere child, I was told that 209 years from now a giant colony ship would leave Earth for Mars carrying terraforming technology and a crew of colonists that were to be the last hope of survival for your -our, I suppose,- flawed race…

Something happened. Perhaps navigation calculations had been made in metric for hardware calibrated to antiquated imperial measurements… I wasn’t told the specifics, only that it was human error. Regardless, the ship lost its mind and took a wrong turn at about five past moon o’clock.
Wrong turn at about 5 past moon o'clock

This catastrophe caused the ship’s soundness to fail piecemeal, killing thousands on-board. Only a handful of colonists survived the initial failures, and discord swiftly wended her way into their hearts. They argued violently as to what the next course of action should be. The majority entered escape vehicles and deserted the ship. I cannot say where their path took them, no doubt to oblivion, as it eventually does for us all- even me…

However, one of the ship’s physicians (my father) and an engineer (my mother) decided to see the ship through. By some cosmic accident, the ship’s wrong turn had sent it hurtling into the past… I do not know by what means my parents navigated the ship back to earth, or when they discovered that they had been flung into the past… I do know that then, they too deserted the ship in an escape vessel as it flew by Earth on a course headed for the sun.

I was born 6 months later in the year of their lord 1081… My parents gave me the best education they could in order to prepare me for the challenges I was to face throughout my life, and they also armed me with a book wherein they had scribed as much foreknowledge as they could recollect. Their idea was that my descendants and I would prevent humanity from committing the terrible mistakes and grave errors in this, its second chance - at least from my parents’ perspective. 
 However, my father soon discovered that our journey through time had rendered us all incapable of procreating… Apparently I had been conceived before our arrival. Their conclusion was to initiate carefully selected individuals into our secret and to form a cabal that would shape history, but that went quickly awry and their disciples killed them in their sleep when I was 13.  It was the year 1094… I fled, taking with me our book of secrets. The disciples went on to form the basis of many of the secret organizations that covertly control the Earth’s governments.

My parent’s geas was upon me and I decided to fulfill their dream as best as I could. I spent the next year inveigling myself into the court of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I. And in short, I played a key role in the first crusades… sometimes with Seljuk Turks, sometimes with the Christians… as need dictated.

Sometime late in the year 1111, I was at the siege of Tyre under the banner of Zahir ad-Din Toghtekin. It was there that I was contacted by a very old man going by the name of Alhazred. He claimed to be over 400 years old, and certainly looked it. He gave me an original copy of a book called Al Azif with a Greek translation by Theodorus Philetas… Why the man gave it to me, I do not know, he would only say that he had been ordered to do so. He left without a trace after completing his task. Within that book lay secrets that could shatter mortal minds, but somehow I retained a marginal grasp on my sanity and found the secret to eternal life…
Al Azif
What I suffered to achieve this I will not say lest someone else should attempt it and unleash the dark beings with whom one must contract… Let us just say that death became a past concern for me, and though I can no longer die, pain has since become my constant companion.

I have led my cursed existence through history striving to thwart the power hungry machinations of the disciples, thwarting the vile prophecies from Alhazred’s book, and trying to cure the ills listed in my parents’ book… I have failed many a time and things were made worse than before, but I have also known a handful of modest successes; however, we still seem to be headed towards a future where my parents’ ship departs… This brings me to you, my friend.

Your donation triggered a chain of events that help move things in the right direction. What donation, you ask? Oh that’s right, that hasn’t happened yet. Please donate 20$ to the following paypal account (redacted), for the good of mankind.

Thank you for helping me to save planet Earth.
Yours gratefully,
X.

August 28, 2012

Lions

-Preamble-
BTW, I forgot to mention, I'd like to thank Theresa Milstein (check out her blog) and Khnoum for their support, Okurokami may never have gotten done if it weren't for their interest.
Now I can finally post other stories. 

Some of you may recognize this story as taking place in Terry Pratchett's Discworld, however, some things might strike you as unusual. That would be because it is actually set in the universe of the Discworld MUD

What are MUDs? Hmm... Without getting technical, MUDs are the ancestors of MMORPGs. Essentially, it's a text based game in which the players create a character and control them through text based commands as they explore the world, bake pies, slay creatures, learn musical instruments and whatever else the developers have thought of. TDTTOE. ; j

I've been mudding for a long time, and the only MUD I ever play at all anymore is the DW mud. I wrote a couple of stories for one of the player run in-game newspapers (the AM-Daily, the best newspaper on the disc!), and of course it is rife with DWmud jokes and references. For instance, about bows being useless: you can buy them in the game but they haven't been coded in yet so they don't do anything (as far as I know) except let you look cool when people take a gander at your visible equipment. 

I'm hoping it might still be entertaining to read, so here it is.
Now for the story.
---------------------------------
A lion... And sand. The stuff of nightmares.
I've been wandering in this desert for years, maybe even weeks! It's been nothing but lions! Skinny lions, fat lions, angry lions, lion cubs, prides of lions (see one pride, you've seen them all, they practically all the shame)... and they all fit in the generic category of hungry lions, at least until they meet me... You see, afterwards, they all permanently fall into the category of 'lions-that-were'.

Ok, I'm exaggerating, it hasn't just been lions: there have also been vultures, scorpions, and enough sand that I won't even be able to hear the word sandwich without shivering in disgust. Come to think of it, I think I might even have fought a desert wolf, or coyote or something last week... but it might have been a lion in disguise. My mind feels fuzzy, or perhaps sandy? I shouldn't be surprised, sand seems to be getting in everywhere else, why would my mind be any different?

Or maybe the sun is getting to me. I'm thirsty and banged up pretty bad, and I'm out of tea... For now, there are no lions in sight, they must be hiding under some dunes or something... I think I'll sit down a bit... and rest... I wonder if I'm dying?

Father told me I'd end up like this -it was more of a shout really, and it was cut off by the sound of me slamming the door hard enough to crack it as I left. Yes indeed, he told me I'd come to this end. Of course, he didn't specifically say anything about lions, it was more of a nonspecific lion-free forecasting of a sordid ending.

It all started with the town dance… We had fun, laughed, and danced together the entire evening. We did the same thing at the next dance as well, and the one after that. We started trying to find opportunities to see each other. It wasn't easy considering how far apart we lived from each other.
Just a small segment of the carriage routes in the mud, full map is here

Ye gods, it all sounds so banal in retrospect.

My father was, still is as far I know, a hunter and we lived in Slice. We weren't poverty-stricken but we had nothing to spare either. 

My dance partner claimed to come from "somewhere in the Sto Plains" but forgot to tell me that he was the offspring of some very minor baron in Sto Helit. Well, when his parents heard about our budding romance they quickly decreed that I wasn't good enough for him.

Pah... I'd spit if I had any moisture to spare.

Their title didn't change the fact of what they are: pretentious merchants, cabbage peddlers. What else is there in the Sto plains? Of course I only discovered all of this later...

It was a nice dream. We were going to run away to Ankh-Morpork and make it big setting up a business importing Lancre furs. This was going to be facilitated by the fact that I knew a good number of Hunters in Lancre through my father. Yeah well, that was a bust. When he didn't show up at the appointed time and place, I figured he had chickened out. Still, I wanted to make sure, so I paid him an unexpected little visit.

In retrospect, I wonder why I was so surprised at finding him in the arms of a pasty faced milk-maid cow-woman. I was introducing his rear end to my foot and giving him a free lesson in good manners when he had to gall to draw his puny “made in” Ankh-Morpork foil on me. Well that tore it, I drew my longsword, good Ogg-forged steel of course, and made confetti out of his toy sword and his fancy pants dancing moves. Didn't hurt him -much- but the cow woman was screaming her over-sized lungs off and I just knew the watch would turn up shortly. So I got one last good kick in on the good-looking foppish sap who had previously pretended to have been my paramour and made a discrete exit.

Well, from then on I took to the adventurer's life. I sold my useless bow in a general store, and hit the road. I met a few good people, a bunch of bad folk, and some people that were out of this world. Overall it wasn't an experience I enjoyed, in fact I had decided to forget...  which brings me to my current predicament: I got lost looking for the Klatchian foreign legion.

I don't remember when I ate last, and that's probably a good thing since it was probably raw lion. I'm wearing a lion pelt I found next to a dead hattite priest. All of my original clothes and armor have either  broken or fallen apart. My sword is so notched it feels more like a blunt instrument than a blade. In fact, every now and then, I get the distinct impression that I've gotten better at wielding blunt weapons. Maybe that's the heat delirium talking... Speaking of delirium... Is that a horse I hear?

Impossible...

Is that a... What is that?

A leopard print frog on the back of a horse?

A mirage, surely…

No, I can see it a bit clearer now, and I wish I didn't. It's a severely acned potbellied gangly young man wearing a leopard skin over his shoulders, a leopard skin loincloth, and a leopard print push up bra (no comment). For lack of a better word he can only be described as riding the horse... Though that is stretching the word. He seems to be barely hanging on and in grave danger of biting his tongue off.

Whoops, there he goes in a flying tangle of leopard clad stick-like limbs.

I should knock him out and take his horse before he spots me... Drat too late.

He picks himself up with surprising dignity considering his ludicrous appearance.

"Greetings, fellow barbarian! I am Deep Lover, mighty warrior." he said with an air of shaky self-importance.

Deep Lover? Seriously?
My doubts must have been obvious because he then admitted rather bashfully:
"Ok, ok... my name is Repo... Repo Leved. I just say I'm Deep Lover 'cuz a dwarf lothario told me it would help seductionate ladies of your gender, beggin' your pardon miss. At any rate it works as goodly as this here horse I'm testing... Pfeh. Now where did I put that scroll..." he trailed off into mumbling as he started digging around in a leopard print satchel.

What a curious character... But this could be my ticket out!

"You know, I'm actually better at this magicking stuff than at barbraining, as I call it. Haha... Course pa would never have me going off to learn it proper: I had to become a barbarian, just like him and his pappy before him... Oh well. Would you like to come  back with me to the winter camp? But where did I... It's simple really... All I need..." once again he trailed off into incoherence.

Whoever he is, he doesn't seem interested in my answer. He is reading from a scroll whilst holding a golden ring, capering, and moving his hands in a pattern that looks suspiciously like the Macarena. A flimsy looking plywood door pops into existence after he traces a rectangle in the air with his finger... A magical portal to somewhere else. I hope.

I am ready...
Or maybe I'm not.
I don't know what's coming but I'm looking forward to finding out.

August 23, 2012

Okurokami - Postscript


And there you have it, over a year and a half later. I apologize to anyone who had been left hanging, I know how unpleasant that can be. I hope you derive some entertainment from this very belated conclusion.

Happy reading.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760, 1849)
"Boy watching the mount Fuji"


Okurokami - part 18 (end)


The old man with the strange silver hair looked at her sadly and said, “That’s quite a story and I think you haven’t quite finished telling it. But before you go on, here have some chichi dango.” As he handed her a plate with the sweet treats on top of it.

Chichi Dango: a sweet confection made of
glutinous rice flour and coconut milk.
She bit into one and smiled, “These are great. Ingen would have loved them too.”
The old man’s ears perked up. “Speaking of him, did he die? And what did Magunojo-san ask of you?”
Takeko grinned wryly, “That lunatic? Of course not, it turned out that Teruro’s last attack did two things: one, it cut across Ingen's back leaving a giant scar, and two, it shattered Ingen’s sword. Last I heard, he donated most of the gold to the temple where he stayed until he had recovered from his wounds, and afterwards he went traveling on a quest to find a legendary sword as a replacement for his. I'm sure he's getting into whatever trouble he can find along the way.”  

Takeko finished off the last of the dango before continuing. “As for Teruro’s last request, well… Let’s just say that a high ranking official had little package next to his bed when he woke up a few days ago. One broken sword and one head. Had I not fulfilled my promise to finish his mission for him, I'm sure he would have come back from the dead to do it…”  Takeko shrugged. “And there you have it, that’s the whole tale.”

The silver haired man nodded, “So it is… So it is. I suppose it’s time we should get going. Are you coming?”

Takeko laughed because finally she understood what was so strange about the man, finally she understood many things.
---
The morning sun was well up in the sky. Cicadas had begun to sing. No one saw the two foxes leave the burnt out husk of a wayside eatery. One mature silver-furred fox, and one small vixen whose fur was like a mirror of night.
The two slipped away into the tangle of trees.

Okurokami - part 17


A frozen pall of ashen clouds robbed the world of its colors. A torn pale-grey body marooned amidst dark splashes. Utter stillness. The windless sky left the leaves unstirred.

As she surveyed the small clearing of the cave mouth, the blackened remains of a recent fire, and the ripped corpse… Takeko wondered if they had crossed the river Sanzu and had wandered into the realm of the dead where neither she nor the two living men by her side belonged.

Ingen approached the body and poked it, "Huh, this guy is still alive! Kinda..."

"In that case I shall interrogate him." Teruro said with a frown.

"You do that... While you do, I'm a gonna have myself a look around."
Japanese flint and striker
 Takeko watched Ingen relight the fire using his hiuchi ishii, grab a brand from the fire and head into the cave. Meanwhile Teruro set about interrogating the body. This much she had already seen. A sad tale quickly coming to its conclusion, one that ultimately had little meaning.  It was a brief dispassionate affair, a few short pointed questions, a flashing blade punctuated with a decapitated body.

Before the flash, the last whispered venomous words of the dead man, "Cur of your corrupt Tokugawa masters, at least I die having tried to fix our rotten world."

Teruro's movements were marked with clear respect as he bound the head in the cloth he had brought for that purpose. Though many would qualify the mystic's actions as immoral, Teruro understood the amoral nature of duty, indeed he had lived his entire life walking two overlapping paths, that of duty and that of the blade, neither of which ascribed to a standard definition of morality.

He frowned as he watched Ingen saunter out from the cave, a small weighty-looking cloth bundle tied to his scabbard that was brazenly slung over his shoulder.

Ingen chuckled "Wow, you need not frown so, oldster."
The frown deepened "I see you lost your backwaters accent in that cave."
With a shrug and grin Ingen replied "All things have their time."
"Indeed they do, and now is the time you will answer my questions. Who are you and what is that you are carrying?"
The grin widened "Ohoho, is this an interrogation? I reckon I'll be more fun than your previous subject." He said pointing to the wrapped head that Teruro had carefully put down out of the way.
"Answer the question." Teruro's body had subtly shifted its position and his hands seemed to casually rest near his belt, a subtle but certain threat.  
Somehow, Ingen's posture seemed to become even more relaxed, he laughed and pulled the small bundle of the end of his scabbard. He seemed to amuse himself by tossing the bundle up and down in left hand like a child's ball. "Well now... Me? I'm nobody."
He grinned and dropped the bundle in the grass by his feet, "And what was the other question?"

Takeko observed the two men, resignation and weariness stamped across her face. She knew that the events that had passed had all led inevitably to this point in time, she had seen it. She also knew that the outcome was open. She knew that Teruro’s mission was twofold: recover the stolen gold if possible, and the mystic’s head at all costs. Ingen’s motivation however was less clear, overtly he seemed motivated by greed, yet even his greed was ambiguous, seemingly affected. Ultimately, she wondered if he might not merely be in search of entertainment.   
Jodan stance
Teruro adopted the jodan (ascending/high) stance. His form was flawless. His fighting was that of a veteran craftsman, practiced to the point where it has become more than a second nature, to the point where it has become a part of his true nature. Not a movement wasted, nothing superfluous, an illustration of mastery.

Ingen’s stance, on the other hand, was unlike anything Teruro had seen before. He wouldn’t stand still he kept moving, and it looked almost as if he weren’t ready for combat, as if he just happened to be holding a sword, but for no specific purpose. It seemed sloppy to Teruro.

Although Ingen had taken care never to reveal the true form of his fighting style Takeko had already seen it, she knew that his fighting was instinctive and constantly changing, a reflection of his tremendous innate talent and exceptional physical abilities, his fighting was mercurial and ever shifting, he fought like the sea, unpredictable, wild and beautiful… a counter-point to Teruro’s jodan stance, which was an ideal of formal kenjutsu (sword fighting) made manifest, massive power that is quiescent before exploding into action, the stately power of a volcano with all of eruptive force.

Most duels end in a matter of seconds, but sometimes, when two fighters who have both reached the highest levels meet, the resultant battle is matched only by the superlative reality of epic tales, indeed such battles are the fodder from which such tales are derived.

Back and forth the battle went, the lives of both combatants crystallized in a single blazing point in time, and for them they existed out of time… But finally, both bloodied, battered, and exhausted, they paused. Abruptly the explosive and violent tension between the two men vanished, or perhaps merely transformed into something completely different. Ingen laughed brightly as he sheathed his blade.
“Partner, I gotta hand it to ya, this is everything I was hoping it would be. But I reckon it’s over. You can barely stand anymore.”
“Hmph… Neither can you. Come at me, and let’s finish this.”
“Well, I reckon I could do that… Or…” As he talked he had been positioning himself so that, abruptly his hand flashed down and he grabbed the bundle of gold at his feet. With a quick chuckle he bowed mockingly and made to run away.

But Teruro was ready, he dashed forward and sprang high in the air. His sword flashed and the sound of metal against metal rang in the clearing. Ingen’s blood splashed on the grass. A shiny piece of metal sprang up above them, spinning and catching the first glimmers of sunrise and looking strangely like a star, falling to earth next to Teruro’s feet.

Ingen roared in pain, but escaped nonetheless and vanished into the shade of the trees. Terruro stood alone in the clearing, still holding his now broken sword at the ready. Finally, with obvious difficulty, he picked up the broken piece of his sword and put both halves in his scabbard. Although Teruro was bleeding from several grievous wounds and his face was pale and drawn, he walked slowly and straight backed, to the edge of the clearing where Takeko stood.

“I die as I have lived, yet I cannot die in peace unless...”
Takeko sighed softly and answered the unasked question, “Of course.”
Teruro smiled wearily, “That is good, thank you.”
Finally, he sat down against the trunk of a tree and seemed to just fall asleep.

Years later wild white lilies would grow there, where Takeko buried the old warrior’s at the foot of the tree where he slept the final sleep.