I have cast the last of my pebbles behind, fossilized memories, to help me find my way.
I want to go back because ahead of me lies only a web of weakness, poverty, and bone dry bottles converging to the point of my death. But looking back, the pebbles I have cast behind me have bloomed into flowers of ash that are being carried away with by a sad breeze.
There is nothing behind me and nothing ahead as I walk through my war torn mind.
My present is only the blade’s edge, one that I walk until I reach the point that will pierce me and end the battles.
I know where the next step on this path will lead me... ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ingen had gone pale… and he laughed nervously as Takeko carefully folded the cloth and returned it to its container.
Teruro was hovering beside him doing his best to hide his curiosity, “So you actually saw something in there?”
Looking pale and unusually thoughtful, Ingen replied, “I saw my end… I reckon it shouldn’t have surprised me, all things considered. Have you looked into that thing?”
Teruro nodded and shrugged, “Yes, I have. I see only my reflection…”
Ingen grabbed a bottle of sake and emptied it neatly down his throat, “Hey Takeko, what the hell did I just see? Was that the future? Can it be changed?”
She shrugged in response, “You saw the truth… As far as I know no truth is absolute.”
“I would like to know is how this helps us…” Teruro asked mildy.
“Well, it has shown that Ingen can, to some extent, be trusted: he hasn’t lost his mind…”
"Gee thanks... By the way, I saw were we need to go next... It's about days walk from here. So lets get some sleep, or finish drinking… Better yet, let’s finish drinking and then get some sleep.”
Teruro looked at Takeko who merely nodded and rolled back up into her covers saying, “Don’t get too drunk Ingen. We’re setting out at first light in the morning.”
He only responded with a drunken snore as the last bottle of sake slipped from his fingers.
Teruro sighed and started cleaning his sword by the fire’s light.
October 13, 2010
The food had all been eaten and the central fire-pit was casting its warm glow in the hut’s single room. Takeko was rolled up in her blanket and looked asleep in the dark corner where she was using her pack as a pillow: she had decided she wasn’t interested in listening to Teruro interrogate Ingen over postprandial drinks.
“Alright, lets recap…Firstly, you have foregone love, life, and probably sanity in the single-minded pursuit of mastery in the way of the blade?” Teruro asked.
“Well, you done said it a lot prettier than I did, and the bit about my sanity is still up for grabs, I reckon.” Ingen replied with a smile.
“Hrmph… Moving on. So you travel across the country fighting all comers and supposedly never lose. You recently went to challenge the famed martial artist Aonori Matsukaze, but you found him crazed and broken with grief in a deserted house cradling the long dead corpse of his wife against his emaciated chest. You buried the wife and set out to nurse the man back to health and sanity so that you could fight him and possibly kill him-You’re an odd person you know that?”
“Aonori seemed to have gotten better under your care, at least enough to ask you to find the mystic Taizan no Seimei who, he claimed, could help him. You thought nothing of it and fetched the mystic. Then you had ‘one too many’ and fell asleep while the mystic was tending to Toshimasu… When you woke up you found neither mystic nor martial artist, and the wife’s tomb had been desecrated. You’ve been chasing Taizan no Seimei since… Do you really expect us to believe that?”
Ingen smiled and shrugged, “Believe me or not, that’s my story.”
Teruro frowned in concentration, “Ok, moving on… What happened here, what were you doing here?”
“Well, what you’d expect, I guess… I heard that Taizan was after some book that Portuguese had, and that the Portuguese where gonna dock here… so I was heading on over here when I first bumped into y’all. When I got here yesterday, the villagers had been shot dead with them foreign weapons. Taizan and the Portuguese captain were shouting at each other on the beach. The onmyoji [mystic] was saying how he took exception to their killing the villagers, and I reckon the Portuguese didn’t take to that way of thinking, so they tried to shoot Taizan... He took offense at being shot at, so called up that there spook -the one y'all just saw. The Portuguese tried to shoot it but it didn’t pay their bullets no mind, no sir it just walked right through and caved the captain’s head in with his golden club. That done put the fear into them foreigners and they piled into their row boats and tried to escape back to their ship. But the wraith could walk on water. It chased them down and killed them one by one, and then went on to continue its work on the ship.”
Teruro looked pensively at the fire and poured himself a fresh saucer of sake from the small ceramic jar heating in the sand next to the fire. He muttered half to himself, "Hmm... that was a yokai that spawns from anger and resentment, and feeds of fear... She must have no fear." He took a sip and asked, “So what were you doing while this was happening?”
“Well, at first I wanted to hear what they were arguing about… But when the fighting broke out, I tried to follow Taizan but he just went to captain’s body, picked what I’m guessing was the book from off the corpse, and vanished. I looked around for a while and couldn’t find him, so I came back and everything was quiet. I had just finished up burying the villagers and when I noticed y’all out in the bay rowing to the ship… I tried ta holler, but y’all couldn’t hear me so I reckoned I make some dinner and wait for y’all to get back.”
“Hmmm… I see. This raises a number of questions…
Ingen grinned, “Lemme guess… You wanna know who told me about the Portuguese bein’ here, right?”
“Well, it happened like this, a few weeks back I met a Tokugawa shinobi, a real head-case you know? Anyways.. He’s the one who told me.” Ingen chuckled softly to himself.
Teruro frowned, “I imagine he didn’t merely volunteer this information. Shinobi are notoriously tight lipped with their secrets…”
Ingen grinned and shrugged, “Well, I reckon it wasn’t as simple as all that… He kinda attacked me screaming that he would “vanquish” me in the name of “justice”… As I said, that redhead was loopy. An ok fighter, but nothing to write home about… The dog that fought with him, on the other hand, was tricky. Anyways, after roughing them up a bit… I managed to convince him I was on his side…”
Teruro quirked an inquisitive eyebrow.
Ingen shrugged, “I guess it was my not killing him that convinced him, and the fact that there dog of his took a right liking to me once the fighting was over. I get along well with critters, see. They’re wild the way I am. Ya know? The fellah said a man loved by beasts can’t be evil, or something. So that’s when we got ta jawing.”
Teruro looked skeptical and said “Well Takeko, what do you think? You aren’t actually sleeping right?”
Takeko sighed theatrically and sat up, “I wish I were, but you two just won’t quieten down. I could be dreaming about eating umeboshi.. I had a dream about that once… I was on an island that was actually giant umeboshi, and I had an endless supply of...”
Teruro coughed pointedly.
Takeko’s eyes refocused as she came back from her sweet (or sour, considering the umeboshi quotient involved) recollection. “Yes, anyways, I’ve seen lovers fence words and get to the point quicker than the two of you...”
Ingen grinned and Teruro frowned…
“I don’t think Ingen’s telling us everything, but then why should he… I do think he could be useful, even more so considering we have no idea where to go next.” Takeko nodded as if coming to a decision and pulled the lacquer box from her pack. “Let’s have him look into the cloth and find out what he's made of.”