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To Catch the Wind

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The light of the rising sun danced over the serene surface of the mountain lake.  Koi were plentiful here and their golden scales sparkled as they darted about just beneath the surface.  Wind observed them from his perch on the rock above, the twinkle in his eye matching that of the sun's glint.  His morning devotions done he swept back his unruly mass of hair.  The topknot had long been overtaken by a wavy black mass that was shot through with much gray.  Wind tied it with a short length of leather string and splashed cool water on an unkempt beard.  This will never do for a Samurai, he thought with a wry smile.  That was a long time ago.  He had served his lord with distinction and great loyalty.  It had been a bloody time that meant death to all who had stood against the assembled might of the clan.  But the machinations of the Imperial court were a different type of warfare, fought with slanderous words and whispered half truths instead of naked cold steel.  His lord was no match for those who curried favor with the ruling elite.

The fall of the clan was swift, and after learning of the stealthy amoral tactics of those to whom honor was a mere word, and witnessing first hand their bloody aftermath, the samurai he was became no more and Wind was born.

This secluded forest glade was enough, sword, painting, eating, sleep... It was enough.  But for the last, sometimes it was troubled and the dreams...were often persistent and could only be defeated by strong drink, even meditaion would not banish them.

Shouto could feel the majestic breeze coming over his limber frame, blowing his shoulder length rich brown hair off of his neck. The breeze came off of the mountain onto the small clearing in a forest where the young monk meditated. It cooled his darkly tanned skin, invigorating the young man and focusing his thoughts on the past few years and the dramatic turn his life had taken.

Shouto had grown up in a monastery, learning and diligently holding to the disciplines of his monks order. The Iron Fist, the name of the order which once held his awe and greatest respect. Strength, nobility, honor, humility, service. What a joke. The only thing his order cared for was power and money. Shouto grew up learning the sacred and respected art of the Tiger's Paw. Hand to hand fighting like nothing ever witnessed before, rivaling the best sword wielders. But he had learned it not to protect the weak, or uphold any righteous path, but to sell his warrior prowess to powerful lords as a common mercenary. That's what his order was reduced to, fighting prostitutes. Power hungry and greedy men rose through the ranks of the monastery and took the leadership by killing the great teacher Han Fei-Tzu. The order had suffered some economical problems with their oath of protecting the weak and fighting the corrupt. So men rose up to challenge Han Fei-Tzu and a thousand years of tradition and service upheld by their own ancestors. When those men revealed their ideas of a new order of mercenaries some left, some were killed. Shouto escaped, and now wandered the land helping those he could, and fighting corruption whenever it showed it's sniveling face to him. But what hurt the most was that so many stayed, so many left the rule of those evil men to continue. They didn't even question their evil ideas and quest for power and money! If they weren't brave enough to challenge so obviously a corrupt leadership, then they were not worthy to be called members of the Iron Fist. They were not deserving of that sacred and glorious name.

Shouto became very pained at these thoughts. It wasn't his body that ached...but his soul. He wished his friends would have listened to him, but they only wanted his voice to be silenced. But their fate was now their own. They had chosen their path and Shouto his. They would not meet again except on opposite sides of a battle field.

Looking up into the sun and beautiful sky Shouto felt hope. Hope that this world could be a better place, and that men could learn to live peaceful and righteous lives. Thinking of this lifted his spirit and put inside him a desire to move. To nowhere in particular, but hopefully somewhere he would be of use. So he picked up his few meager belongings and headed through the forest. In search of hope.

Fire glowing bright with orange. Screams echo off the crimson walls, stained all whilst a loud boisterous laugh permeates the screams of death. Men dressed in black as night tunics, "Demons!" they wear masks made of darkest basalt found only in territories owned by the Taira clan. A clan once thought eradicated by the Kamakura Daimyo.

Sweat beaded brow glistening in the morning light, Ruko awakens startled by this most lucid of dreams, he feels battered beat and burnt. His arms seem charred brimstone and burnt skin waft upon his nostrils. "Arrgh" he groans as he commits to his morning rituals. His skin like an executioners block harrowed, swarthy and sorrel. He grabs his Taichi, a most legendary weapon from a time before Katana were considered samurai, larger than a katana and worn at the hip cutting edge down. Where once was the crest of his family, the outside of the nakago, was now a scratched out mess of slivers and splinters. Alongside his blade was his koshigatana, known as a waist sword, both blades red like the east rising sun drenched and dripping coagulated blood drops, "kerploof" as they hit the floor. He can't help feel a lingering need to do something but what escapes his pox riddled face again as he leaves his swamp. 

The forest glade was not far from the lands of the 12 clans.  The natural barriers of tall mountains and deep valleys filled with dense forest isolated it from the bloody chaos of the war that raged among the clans.  The allegiances had blurred with the cause for battle long forgotten.  The land bore the scars of countless conflicts and lay marinated by the blood of innocents and seasoned with the powder of crushed bones.  Greedy overlords grew fat while refugees, rent from their homes and land by fire and sword, wandered the land like herds of prey stalked by stealthy predators.

Predators that walked on two feet.  Their fangs and claws were katana, naginta, spear and halberd.  These bandit groups, deserters and former conscripted soldiers mostly, lacked organization, but still the refugees didn't stand a chance.

Wind did what he could to help.  His name quickly became known, whispered with hate and fear by bandit and spoken with reverence and hope by the scattered nomads and refugees.  His true calling, his mission was far higher and had more purpose, but the time was not now.  It was not in him to sit and do nothing while the innocent were slaughtered.  So, he did what he could to help, aware that if he were to be destroyed the higher purpose would be lost and his pledge would be unfullfilled.

Wind walked the path of death.  This was his way and always would be.  He was comfortable with it.

Ripples can be discerned on the surface of a calm pond, even in the dark, if one is mindful.  The forest is not much different than a pond.  And so, Wind knew he had a visitor before he saw with his eyes or heard with his ears.  He sensed no ill will or malicious intent.

Closing his eyes and waiting for the visitor to emerge from the nearby forest, Wind closed his eyes and enjoyed the warm feeling of the morning sun on his face...

Walking into another small clearing, Shouto seemed to stumble upon another man in the forest. Shouto tensed suddenly at the appearance of the man. He knew that this man was a warrior, or at least once was. His graying hair made him a bit old, but appearances weren't always telling. The man seemed calm...and had his eyes closed. Shouto didn't know if the man knew him to be there, so he called out.

"Hello, my name is Shouto. What is a samurai like you doing here, in a forest well away from any clan?" Shouto called out as he raised one hand in greeting and brought the other one out to the left to show he meant no harm.


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