by Keith Lim
Isn’t it just perfect? His form and stance? That one cut?
The wife of the best duellist in crane lands whispered to their guest.
Whilst the morning was indeed beautiful, the tea refreshing, the mochi delectable, he had seen perfect. This wasn’t it. It was close…. But it missed something.
The gathered audience in the dojo watched as the Kakita blade-master sheathe his blade once more.
The host glanced upon the guest, seeing through the polite smile. His eyes… his eyes told him that the guest had disapproved of his perfect kata. The very kata that he practiced until perfection. A single decisive cut. The flashing blade, it was called for all that any onlooker would see of the duellist’s movement was the shine of his perfect blade. By that time, the duel was over. Kakita himself was famous for such a strike. This was what made the dojo the best in all of Rokugan.
Yet this Pheonix shugenja, a scholar nonetheless, had been unimpressed with his kata. It shouldn’t have bothered the master duellist, but it did.
His gaze fixated upon his guest… the students glanced around, unaware as to what displeased the master duellist so.
The quiet shuffle of feet and rustle of clothes was all that was heard as the twelve students rapidly left the dojo and awaited outside.
The blade flashed, a shocked gasp escaped the lips of his wife, the envy of any man in Rokugan. The blade stopped a hair’s breadth from the Yamamoto’s throat.- He who had faced the judgement of Emma-O before, didn’t even blink.
Yamamoto looked up at the blade. His eyes aflame as the kami danced round them.
You think you are better than I? Doji Tenkawa demanded of his guest. Pride in his voice. The kind of pride hard won from countless hours of practice and numerous duels won. Pride that was well earned.
No. Your humble guest does not.
Liar! I see it in your eyes!
The blade stood unwavering at the man’s throat.
I cannot say where or what I have seen in my short life, Doji sama. But permit the kami to show you what I am not allowed to say.
The kami? What can they show me? …. Disarmed and intrigued, Tenkawa sheathed his katana and nodded.
Kami of fire, keepers of knowledge. Grant upon this one the gift of knowledge of his ancestors.
Isawa Yamamoto’s eyes shone and a tiny candle flame of kami danced out into existence. It followed his outstretched hand, dancing merrily. Burning nothing. It moved hypnotically toward the master duellist. As it reached the shugenja’s fingertips, it jumped into the eyes of the duellist.
Doji Tenkawa blinked. He wasn’t in the dojo. It was spring… the cherry blossoms were so beautiful…. A hand grasped his. It was warm… familiar…. He looked up, seeing a familiar face, framed by long silvery white hair. The name escaped him for now, but wisdom shone from his eyes. The man guided the duellist’s hand. Drawing the blade with spectacular speed and sheathing it within a heartbeat. His opponent, a bird headed creature…. A tengoku… fell
He blinked again. The curtain drawn away as the fire kami finished its job. There was a collective gasp from outside and his wife. The students must have been watching through the windows…. But at what?
The training dummy fell spectacularly with a crash.
My gift to you, my honourable host. The tea was delightful. Isawa Yamamoto bowed.
Doji Tenkawa stood there, puzzled. His eyes glancing around, trying to decipher what had happened. His gaze fell upon that of a portrait. The founder of the dojo and teachings. The very same portrait that hung from many crane dojos in rokugan. There was no mistaking it now. Angular features, long silvery white hair…
Isawa Yamamoto smiled. That was how he remembered seeing it…. One strike, three cuts.
Doji Tenkawa nodded. Yamamoto was right. He nodded his approval at the gift he had received. He was close to perfecting the kata. It wasn’t as perfect as he once thought.