Samurai Spirits: End of an Era
by Nick Kimbrel
Homepage: The Dojo
Chapter 1 : Departure
Although it was nearing the end of summer, a violent, unnatural storm shook the heavens. Dark, ominous clouds circled the fiery sky as sharp, razor-like rain pelted the earth below. Huge, unnatural bolts of lightning split trees with the greatest of ease, toasting the earth below. New rivers arose, taking the place of once dry land. Towns were flooded. Crops, no matter how strong their grasp to the precious earth, were dislodged and carried away. The stone lanterns were long ago blown out due to the fierce wind, leaving the town in darkness. The town looked deserted. No soul dared to step foot outside on a day like this, but rather sought refuge in their homes. Every now and then, between the thunderous cracks of the storm, one could make out the faint cry of a child, or the distant whinny of a distressed horse. It was during this time that the bout was set to take place.
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Haohmaru and Genjuro, two students training under the great Caffeine Nicotine. When they were young, Nicotine taught an entire class of twenty-eight. Since then, however, his old age has limited him to only two students. His decision was not a difficult one. Nicotine was impressed with Haohmaru’s spirit, and his willingness to exercise not only his body, but his mind as well. Nicotine saw in Genjuro a boy with great potential. While not interested in improving his mind and spirit, Genjuro showed great determination in his quest to perfect his sword technique. Both of them have trained under Nicotine for many years now, from childhood to manhood. A few days back, Nicotine informed them that their time with him has come to an end. He felt they have learned all that he could teach them, and it was time for them to move on. He gave them both a cherished sword from his collection as a token for them to remember him by. Haohmaru’s, a magnificent katana with a flawless blade and an emerald green hilt. Genjuro’s, an equally beautiful katana with a deep red hilt. Both Haohmaru and Genjuro were extremely grateful for this gift, but were reluctant to accept. Nicotine insisted and at this time let them know that the next day they were to have one, final sparring match. That day was upon them.
Haohmaru waited in his traditional stance, wooden sword in hand. Looking across the dojo, he could see Genjuro’s fiery eyes with each crack of lightning. Although they had trained together for many years, Haohmaru and Genjuro held a deep hatred for each other. Haohmaru disliked the fact that Genjuro was only interested in improving his sword technique. Genjuro, on the other hand, hated Haohmaru because he felt he was the favored student of Nicotine. This was true, only because Haohmaru reminded Nicotine of his youthful years. Because of this hatred, both of them cherished any chance they had to fight each other. Outside, the storm grew worse. The thin, paper walls if the dojo were shaking violently. Because of the storm, the dojo was void of light, making it hard to see your opponent. Every once in a while, a flash of light followed by a thunderous crack would highlight every detail of the two warriors.
“Whenever you’re ready.” Said Haohmaru as he shifted his stance.
With this, Genjuro lowered the wooden sword and, with a bellow that mimicked the thunder outside, flew at Haohmaru letting loose a vicious slash. Haohmaru promptly deflected the oncoming sword and rolled to the side.
“You’re going to have to do better than that!” Said Haohmaru, with a grim smile on his face.
This enraged Genjuro, and, with the force of twice his previous slash, swung his sword violently as he turned to face his opponent. Catching Haohmaru by surprise, Genjuro’s sword caught his kimono, ripping it off his upper body. Off balance, Haohmaru stumbled backwards.
“How’s that?” Asked Genjuro with a smile on his face.
Blood began to leak out the cut that was across his chest. Not realizing he had been cut, Haohmaru regained his footing and charged with his sword at his side. Leaping into the air he swung his sword vertically, meeting nothing but open space. A flash of lightning showed the imposing figure of Genjuro standing just behind the crouched Haohmaru. Genjuro had rolled under his oncoming opponent and was now standing behind his unknowing victim. Rising his sword, Genjuro ripped the exposed skin on Haohmaru’s back, sending a crimson spray of blood into the face of Genjuro. Immediately afterwards, Genjuro brought his sword down and laid another deep gash into the back of Haohmaru. Limply falling to the ground, a puddle of blood began to form over the polished wood floor of the dojo. Struggling to get up, Haohmaru felt a sharp pain in his side, followed by the loss of breath. Genjuro had kicked Haohmaru in the side to prevent him from getting up. With his sword high over his head, Genjuro was set to deliver the finishing blow to his downed opponent. With the flash of another thunderous bolt of lightning, a staff flew through the air and struck the wooden sword from the hands of Genjuro.
“Enough, Genjuro!” Screeched Nicotine.
“Shut your mouth old man!” Hollered Genjuro, “I’m going to finish this weakling once and for all!”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort.” Said the old man, “This is a sparring match, not a fight to the death!”
“Protecting your favorite student once again. Eh, Nicotine? Well step aside, this is none of your concern!”
With that, Genjuro turned and located his fallen sword thanks to a flash of light provided by a monstrous bolt of lightning. Racing toward the object, Genjuro rolled, grabbed the sword, and was back in his stance in a matter of seconds. Breathing heavily, he faced in the general direction where the defeated Haohmaru would have laid. The room was dark. Genjuro squinted his eyes in an attempt to locate his prey. A flash of lightning lit the room. Haohmaru was gone. Slowly letting one hand ease off the hilt of the wooden sword, Genjuro walked forward to investigate the situation. A pool of blood lay where his opponent once did. Looking to his left, Genjuro saw a trail of blood leading out the ajar door of the dojo. The door swayed back and forth violently in the storm.
“Damn it.” Growled Genjuro as he threw the wooden sword into the puddle of Haohmaru’s blood.
Lifting his kimono over his shoulders, he walked to the swaying door. With a swift kick, the door flew off its hinges and went sliding through the muddy ground. With his eyes starring intently at the ground below him, Genjuro walked slowly out into the pelting rain.
The next morning, the effects of the storm were quite visible. The ground was still muddy, and trees lay in various poses here and there. Some of them still glowing red from their encounter with the vicious lightning. Adults littered the street, talking to each other and comparing damage. The children, however, ran up and down the muddy road, playing merrily as if nothing happened. In a small, musty room of the temple, Haohmaru lay on a straw mat. Beside him sat Nicotine, nursing his wounds. Haohmaru was already bandaged up, though they were already stained with blood and needed to be changed. Nicotine was disappointed with Genjuro. He was aware of the rivalry between the two, but Genjuro had gone too far. While deep in thought about the situation, Haohmaru sat up with a cry of horror.
“Easy, boy!” Said Nicotine in an attempt to calm the delirious Haohmaru.
“Where am I?” Asked Haohmaru, with sweat on his panic-stricken face.
“Why, your at the temple of course!” Said the old man with a slight chuckle.
“You don’t remember? You were defeated by Genjuro.”
“Oh, yeah.” Haohmaru put a hand on the wound on his chest, then fell back.
“That’s right. Get your sleep.” Said the old man, getting up to take his leave.
Haohmaru fell fast asleep.
It took several weeks for Haohmaru’s wounds to heal. In the mean time, he did various chores for the aging Nicotine and divulged in his studies. Haohmaru made the most of these uneventful days by meditating, in an attempt to make his mind, body, and soul function as one. Nicotine admired this, for he knew this was the true path to the way of the Samurai. A few days after the sparring incident, Nicotine went to inform Genjuro of Haohmaru’s condition when, to his surprise, Genjuro was no where to be found. His room was empty, except for the straw mat. Upon entering the room Nicotine caught a glimps of a shiny object lying against the far corner. There lay the red-hilted katana that Nicotine so generously gave him. This upset Nicotine, for it made him feel Genjuro did not respect the time and effort he gave him. Taking the katana and bringing it back to his room, he placed it in its former resting place. Just then, Haohmaru walked in.
“What’s that?” He asked, referring to the sword Nicotine was placing on the stand.
“Nothing of importance.” Said Nicotine with a disappointed look on his face.
Although he didn’t say, Haohmaru knew it was the sword he gave Genjuro. Seeing the pain in Nicotine’s eyes, he was reluctant to bring up the topic, but did anyway.
“I have my things packed.” He said in a timid voice, “I should be gone by tomorrow.”
Without turning around the old man said, “There’s no rush. Tonight we will have dinner together.”
Haohmaru nodded his head and, without hesitation, left the room. Nicotine, with his hands still on the red-hilted katana, bowed his head in deep thought.
Haohmaru was not necessarily looking forward to this evening. He was afraid of the emotions that would probably arise, and did not want to appear weak in front of his master. He decided to wear his most formal kimono because he felt the occasion called for it. When he arrived, Nicotine was already seated at the low table.
“You’re late.” Said Nicotine, not even looking up to meet Haohmaru.
“I’m sorry.” Said Haohmaru nervously, “I was getting dressed.”
Looking up to meet Haohmaru, Nicotine noticed his elegant kimono.
“Hmm, I see. Please, have a seat.” Said a smirking Nicotine.
While Haohmaru dressed in formal attire for the occasion, Nicotine felt no need for such elegance. He wore his usual blue and white kimono, now dirty and ragged from many years of use. Haohmaru realized this and his face turned red with embarrassment. At this time, a servant entered the room and poured sake for the two men. Haohmaru was thankful for the interruption because it took the attention off his kimono. A second servant entered and served them rice with pickles. Haohmaru, partial to the taste of sake, lifted the jar and gulped it until it was empty.
“Easy boy!” Said the old man, “There’s no rush. We’ve got the whole night ahead of us!”
“I’m sorry.” Said Haohmaru. Again turning red at the face.
Haohmaru could not understand it. They have had dinner together thousands of times. But they all included Genjuro, this was the first time they had shared dinner alone. And, on top of that, they both knew this would be the last dinner they shared together.
Clearing his throat, Nicotine asked, “So, what do you plan on doing after you leave tomorrow morning?”
“I figured I would travel to Osaka, practicing my technique on the way.”
“I see.” Said the old man, lifting the sake jar to his perched lips.
“Yes, I feel there is still much for me to learn, and see. There are also many people that I wish to challenge, when I feel that I’m ready.”
“Yes, yes. Every young samurai should have his share of opponents. That is, after all, the best way to go about making a name for yourself.”
“What about Genjuro?” Haohmaru blurted out without thinking. Nicotine had been trying to avoid the subject.
“What about him? Genjuro has many obstacles to overcome within himself before he can hope to master the way of the sword.” Nicotine said, obviously irritated.
“Do you think I will meet up with him on my travels?”
“Possibly. And if you do you can be assured a match will take place. You must improve your mind, as well as your technique if you wish to defeat him.”
This discouraged Haohmaru, for he had hoped that Nicotine would have praised him on his chances of defeating Genjuro. The rest of the night went along in the same manner. They talked about the past and how Nicotine selected him as one of his last deciples, and the future, pertaining to Haohmaru’s travels and how he should go about improving his technique. When they turned in for the night, several jars of sake had been disposed of, and they were both red-faced from it. Haohmaru had no problem sleeping.
Haohmaru was up at the crack of dawn. He grabbed his traveling bag and filled it with rice balls, an extra jar of sake, and the books that he was currently reading. Turning around, he noticed the katana Nicotine gave him leaning up against the wall. He picked it up, admiring it one last time, sheathed it then tied it onto his belt. Leaving his room, he had one of the servants fill his sake jar that was hanging from his side. Waiting for the servant to return, Haohmaru noticed Nicotine walking slowly toward him.
“All set to leave?” Asked Nicotine.
“Yes, just waiting for my sake.”
“Very well. Don’t forget this.” Nicotine handed a scroll over to Haohmaru, who immediately opened it. Inside, written in elegant characters, said:
I hearby swear that one Haohmaru has studied
under I, Caffeine Nicotine, in the Temple of Miyamoto
and has mastered the art of swordsmanship.
Caffeine Nicotine of the Temple of Miyamoto
Nodding approvingly, Haohmaru rolled up the scroll and placed it in his bag with the rest of his belongings. The servant returned with Haohmaru’s jar of sake. Haohmaru took the container and tied it to his belt opposite his sheathed sword. And, giving one last bow to his respectable mentor, headed off into the early morning mist in the direction of Osaka. Both Haohmaru and Nicotine knew they would probably never meet again, due to Nicotine’s old age.
“Goodbye, boy.” Whispered Nicotine just before Haohmaru disappeared into the mist, “Goodbye.”
Chapter 2 : A Companion