Cost of a cast DBZ poster … $13.00
Cost of a DBZ video … $20.00
Cost of an internet connection to fuel DBZ obsession … $17.00/mth
Cost of claiming ownership of DBZ and its various characters … a copyright infringement lawsuit.
There are some things money can buy. For everything else there is disclaimers, used by fanatic writers from every genre, and for those whose love affair with a subject doesn't end with the original.
Beware: violence, bloodshed, bad characterisation, mediocre witticisms, swearing and various other things that you shouldn't be reading are enclosed within. May also be offensive to anyone who has studied, or knows anything about feudal Japan, or Japanese culture.
She was enveloped by a sensation she thought lost to her forever: warmth, blissful warmth. After that debilitating cold, it was wonderful. The howl of the untamed wind was now a fading memory, lost in the all-encompassing silence. The lead weight that overwhelmed her limbs earlier had melted away, making her body feel as light as a feather. The wonders of Arcadia and Shangri la could not compare to the sense of peace, security and warmth she was now experiencing. There was no pain, just two strong arms twined about her middle and a warm solid body pressed against her back. She must not have made it, she decided, the cold and strain had been too much. It was too vivid to be a dream, even more profound than her visions. She must have died, there was no where else she could be but in heaven.
"Not quite," a low rumbling chuckle responded to her thoughts, the threads of the laughter flowed through her.
"You have reached the start of your goal," it continued. "You have much to do. There is still much you don't know about your mission and what your place is in it."
"But I do," she sighed back, not knowing whether she had spoken the words or merely thought them. "My place is here with you. You're what is missing in my life, this connection and sense of peace. Can you say that you want to leave?" The presence chuckled again, the sound enough to send a wave of equanimity through her. The tone was in no way sarcastic or superior, but an acknowledgement of the truth of her words.
"There is something to what you said, but this is not real. This place is a temporary sanctuary, made only for the here and now, a resting stop where we can see the truth beyond the physical form. In time this will fade and we will return to the outside world. The need for life is far too potent for beings like us. The passions that drive us will never be content with this, as peaceful as it is." He explained with an easy, happy manner, as if he were discussing the weather on a summer day. He did have a point though. She had thrived on adventure and exploration for as long as she could remember.
"Well, since you seem to know all the answers, maybe you could provide me with more than a cryptic hint?" She shot back, as much malice in her voice as there had been in his. Her question inspired a sigh through his being, the sensation flowing into her own and in response she lit up with a smirk.
"If I were to do that, then your journey would be for not. You must find your goal, no matter what form it hides in, in this time and your own. I can see because as Bayoken is your guide, so too am I, and as you seek so do I, my way is as fraught with as many pit falls as your own. Only here can I see what is the true weight of our fate, the destiny we must forge by our own strength for those who will come after us." He replied, amusement flickering in his voice, the message growing more serious as he talked of the future. At the last few words though, the heavy weight of a hand caressed at her middle and she blinked in shock, Goku's comments about a healthy baby coming back to haunt her. What did all of this have to do with her mission, either here or back in her own time?
"Answer me two more questions then, will I ever return home, and are you there as well?" A solemn pause was his initial reply, weighing the consequences of his words before sighing through her, a shiver passing through her at the gesture.
"Yes, you will go back, only when you have completed the task that brought you here. You must be ready to do it all again, though the goal in your time will be far more trying than what you find here. There your ultimate goal is far more elusive, the road will be a far longer one, but fate chose you for a reason." No, her mind cried out, no more pain or hardship, it wasn't worth it.
"Is the lives of the people of Hazumi not enough for your sacrifice, or the people of Earth not worthy of your notice? There are miseries far worse than the cold you just walked through, or the trials that will be coming. In the end it is a small price to pay for saving us all from the jaws of the demon himself." About to reply and defend her honour by informing the entity the great trials she had already made for the earth, he stopped her with a curt 'silence'. The body behind her was as taut as a bowstring before he finally calmed and started to gently stroke her belly. Bulma relaxed against him, but not before shooting off her own light cuff in retaliation.
"Our time is at an end but know that your task is still immense, and your journey has just begun." All this time she had kept her eyes shut, experiencing the sensations through the pulse of her body as her five senses here woefully ill equipped to take everything in. The last of his word had not yet echoed in her brain when she forced her eyes opened, willing herself to see her charge, the man whose life was intertwined with her own. Bright, white light flooded her sight and she shut her eyes tight against the harsh rays, before opening them slowly to adjust her sight to the scene around her.
Like some nightmare, or complete juxtaposition from one extreme to another, she found herself gazing out into Heru Oni's lavish main hall. Time had eroded her memory of the place. The beauty of the tapestries, high ceilings and black marble floors looked all the more luxurious after a week of hard living on the open road. One glance into the diminutive tyrant's face gave her more than adequate reminder of what the palace's elegance masked, and why, at every mention of his name a volt of fear passed through her.
The fleeting state of peace she had found was now thrown asunder. Her goal had been there before her, at least a great clue as to what she was exactly looking for, but such a simple victory was not meant to be. A hard road lay ahead of her once again. The fates or powers guiding her forward were warning her of a new set of dangers that would inevitably come. In a moment of reflection, she wondered if this was what Bayoken felt every time he saw the future. No, she reminded herself, this was not the future, merely the present. This was a warning to her of danger, not of the consequences of her every thought and deed. In any case, she wasn't given the opportunity to debate on it, the players before her were carrying on with their little performance, not caring whether she was ready or not.
The scene was different now, the room was still the height of luxury and elegance, by the various weapons that decorated the walls were gone, replaced by models and maps, the trappings of ceremony and ancestorial worship replaced by those of brutal, calculated war. Back and forth, attendants, messengers, and dozens of servants ran about, strengthening the administrative arm of the war machine. At the centre of this maelstrom of activity was Heru Oni, the demonic katana strapped across his back. The aura of blood lust hovering around both master and sword was tangible in the air, as the unfortunate man in black, kneeling before him was aware of.
"Escaped! What do you mean escaped? I pay your leader quite handsomely to dispense with those tasks that I will not dirty my own hands with. I demand the best and now you are telling me that he has failed, that the seer and his merry band have escaped not once but twice? Not only is Kamen a failure, but he is too cowardly to face me and admit these facts in person, choosing instead to hide like a dog with its tail between its legs and send his fleas to answer in his stead."
"Lord Oni … " The young black garbed man began, raising up his gaze and voice to defend his leader's name.
"Silence, you little worm. You breathe by my courtesy and if it is my will that kindness can be taken away. I don't care to hear excuses. I want results! So, tell me at least where you last located them and where your fearless leader hides. It will only be a matter of time before I find him, and it bodes better for you if I do not have to use many resources to do it. As ill considered your actions are, they will not save him from my wrath." Every word was articulated with a calm, even tone, his manner befitting the master of a palace. Underlying it all was the aura of evil and madness as the master and the sword spoke as one. Whether it was some demonic force or the lust for power, it turned Bulma's blood to ice, and no doubt did the same for the young man.
"I was not part of the second raiding party. When they escaped into the Shinpi-teki forest after the first attack in Ijou, we were ordered to guard any route back to Hazumi from the cottage they had escaped to. Kamen-sama himself and his two best lieutenants went in, but even with the three of them we were unable to recover the seer and the others, and the Yami clan has nothing to show for our efforts but the corpses of Sadisuto and Kirimi. They were able to injury the seer before the other three, a girl and two other warriors struck and ultimately fled. We believe they are now into the Shinsei mountains but we were unable to properly search as a late season blizzard claimed the only pass. Kamen-sama is heading back to our Hora in the west to regroup and collect a larger force. He has given his personal pledge to kill the girl who claims to be the great water spirit, Oni-sama. The girl has incurred his wrath, not just for seeing his face but for scarring him across the cheek, and by his honour she will not live to see the next full moon …." Through the black figure's tale, Heru Oni's expression had remained neutral, completely void of emotion but for a flicker of anger when he had learned of Bayoken being wounded. At the very end though, his eyes gleamed over with amusement and he laughed out, his humour hardly contained by his short frame. He snickered out to himself between chuckles, the words 'ninja's honour' and 'pretentious' passed his lips before he composed himself, gazing sternly at the messenger.
"Quite an amusing little tale, though you need work on the beginning. Your ending was most interesting, it is nice to know that Kamen has no honour when it comes to killing or stealing from any he pleases, nor breaking a verbal vow, but he will … eventually go to the four corners of Honshu because one chit saw his face. Still, you have given me all I need, and in gratitude," he replied, bending down to grab a leather purse filled with coin.
"Here is your reward." And with that he threw the bag at the young man as greedy, deft hands grasped the bag of moneys out of the air and clutched it close to his chest. The display of greed pleased Heru Oni, as a smirk was plastered across his pale, lovely face, the grin growing broader as he stood to his full height and stepped over to the ninja who quickly knelt to the Daimyo.
"And for informing me that Kamen has deliberately disobeyed my orders and possibly killed my one chance at immortality…" It all happened in the blink of an eye, too late did the naïve boy realise the danger he was in. He barely lifted his head when a flash of tempered steel whizzed across Bulma's sight. There was hardly a sound of the impact when the blade struck skin, just the hiss as the sword cut the air and a sickening thud as the young man's head hit the ground, followed a moment later by his torso.
"That is your reward." Heru Oni's voice was like his sword, nothing more than a low hiss, the sound as smooth as silk as it cut through the air. His expression was just as grim until he wiped the blade against the boy's back. Returning to his seat, a slow, easy grin spread across his face, the look causing a shudder through Bulma's non-existent form.
"Guards," the blasting tenor yelled out sharply, two guards dressed in black armour rushed in, both bowing in reverence to their lord before briefly glancing over at the decapitated body.
"You," he pointed to the elder of the guards, standing just in front of his younger counterpart. Send for the eta to get in here and remove that from my sight, and sent for a monk to purify the hall. Who knows what he was carrying. Make sure the corpse handlers burn the body but save the head." As quickly as the order was dispatched, the guard bowed again, and with a disgusted grimace on his face preparing to descend into the dungeons and call upon the services of the spiritually unclean eta to dispose of the dead body.
"After that, assemble an armed escort to go to Hora to return what's left of their comrade, and with a message for Kamen. Sutairasu, take down a message." In the excitement of the confrontation between two 'warriors', she had forgotten about the various servants and assistants. All around the room, against the walls and about the furniture they stood with their eyes all downcast as they trembled in fear. No matter how many years one served such a master, the reality of such violence must be hard to watch. There by the grace of Heru go I she recited to herself. It must be the mantra of all who served him. From the tiny sea of faces one lone figure, no more than forty years of age, carrying a scroll and brush, stepped forward. He was the idea image of a bookish man, short of stature, an inch shorter than his master with a bony pale face and squinting eyes. He carried the aura of a stereotypical academic about him. All that was needed was a tweed sport coat with leather patches instead of a kimono to make the transformation complete. Situating himself at the table with an ink block by his side, he dared to meet his master's eyes and nod that he was ready to take down the tyrant's every word.
"'Hiding will not save you from my grasp nor will sending me worthless children lessen the weight of your ineptitude, as the enclosed gift should demonstrate. You were specifically told to spare the seer. He is the only one I want and if he dies from his injuries, I can assure you that your death will soon follow. Leave off your hunt for the girl and her companions, the task will be put in more capable hands and as such, you are ordered back to Hazumi. Your mission will be to disrupt any communication between Senzai and the rest of the country, attack any military envoy and create chaos amongst the populace, hopefully you will not fail at this duty'. No need to have it signed, I believe the personal touch is aptly conveyed with the head, and the well armed samurai, now, if you would." He closed off, finally turning his full attention to the older guard that stood before him as the scholarly Sutairasu handed him the scroll. Taking the formal dismissal given to him, the silent guard, no more than thirty-five years of age, bowed as low as he were able and left the younger man to his fate.
The young man appeared hardly strong enough to wield the weapon on his back and the fear at his helplessness was evident. Not once did he stare up into Heru Oni's face, his shuddering visible even to her. But then, she noted, everyone else in the room held the same frightened rabbit expression, and all of them, with the exception of Sutairasu, were under thirty years of age. The Daimyo must go through hired help very quickly, or he purged his household anyone with a tie to his father, the occupants of the room were probably fearful enough for their lives, and none wished to share in the ninja's fate.
"Don't look so frightened, boy, yours is so simple a task, a eunuch could do it. Send for the captain of my private guard. I have a job from him." Scarcely waiting for his master to dismiss him, the young man ran, giving the necessary respect before he was down the hall, rushing like the devil was on his heels. Within a few minutes, the rest of the entourage followed, leaving only Oni and his sword, the still unsheathed blade glinting red with the blood that could not be removed a simple buffing, the fluid filling the tiny crevices that spelt out the inscription. Taking his thumb, he trailed down the flat side from top to hilt, the appendage as red as the sword on the first pass, and not pausing in his movement, he raised it to his mouth and sucked finger clean. He might have repeated the ritual if he was not interrupted by a knock at the door. The sword was quickly replaced in his scabbard while Heru Oni flushed with embarrassment at having nearly been caught in the act, until pride and arrogance swept over him, forcing him to compose himself and return to his raised seat. Had the situation been less macabre, Bulma might have laughed at the display, instead she waited nervously for whoever was now behind that door and what they would suffer for their ill timing.
"Enter." Oni called out, his voice as always was neutral and devoid of emotion. The command was followed as the door swung open and all Bulma's fear vanished, at least her fear for the person now entering the hall. At that first glance, her non -existent eyes went wide with shock. He was huge, easily towering over the diminutive warrior, his features sharp and frozen in a sadistic glare. The only major difference between the two men appeared to be their height and the overall skin tone, for the larger man was lightly tanned. After that it was only in the elegance of dress, and the way the larger man bowed low to his leader that separated servant from master. They were two peas in a pod she realised, his loyalty was not an issue of price, and he would not make the same mistakes as Kamen did.
"Ah, Captain Miruku, prompt as always I see. It is good to know that I have someone that I can count on. Good help is just so hard to find, and since the incompetent ninjas have proven unable to follow my orders, I leave you and your men with their task. I've sent through orders for the Yami to continue their raids in Hazumi, but it seems that Daimyo Bahoriki has begun to seek help with shouts of ninja savagery, and whispering about my own involvement. So far he's begun to ally himself to a few of Fuyu's traditional enemies, and has made his cause popular in both the Shogun's court and with the former Emperor's advisors. Supreme confidence in the ability of a peasant can only last for so long, even a desperate father's faith can wane. Bahoriki is not just relying on his seer alone with the fate of his people. My informants tell me that he has written to nearly every Daimyo and traditionalist faction in the Imperial courts, to anyone that might give him an ear and the possibility of aid, and wisely, he has turned to my enemies. The Emperor can only deny his advisors and the Daimyo for so long and when they meet, I have no doubt that my position and sway with the Emperor will be put under scrutiny. They mean to clip my wings, Captain, both politically and militarily. I may be stripped of the ceremonial power over the army, and more importantly, my control over ward lands may be taken away. Do you understand my predicament? I cannot allow this to continue any further. It must be stopped, and my best option is to destroy the Ho rule and claim Hazumi for myself while I still officially have the power to do so. Kamen will be laying the groundwork for my plan, if he wishes to see the next dawn."
"Do you wish for my men and I to assist the ninja? As you stated, it is a very important task, it may not be safe in the hands of one who has already shown such great incompetence." The imposing warrior asked his master, his mouth tightening into a sneer as he mentioned the Yami leader but he was careful to keep his expression controlled and his tone respectful. As strong as he appeared to be, even Captain Miruku feared Heru Oni's rage.
"That will not be necessary, Miruku. As worthless as the ninja is, his task is only to cause trouble for Bahoriki, something I'm sure even he could not mess up. I need to put forth the image that the threat against Hazumi is nothing more than wandering ronin or that Bahoriki has gained the ire of a ninja clan. Your presence or any sign of my involvement would lend credence to Bahoriki's claims and my enemies will come to his aid. Already my opponents gain the Shogun's ear with tales of the Fuyu threat, if word spread that I was planning to invade Hazumi, the Shogun could sway the Emperor to act against me. My hold over Senpaku is tenuous, the voices of his advisors are strong and if they sounded with that of the Shogun's, my position within the Imperial court will be in jeopardy. No, Captain, your task is far more important, and deadly, since your prey has already claimed several of Kamen's clan." A snort followed that last statement, as the giant smirked at his rival's failure. Collecting his wits about him, the Captain bowed, displaying his understanding and acceptance of the mission that was now being placed on his shoulders.
"Hazumi’s sovereignty depends completely on the Ho family dynasty. As soon as their line is dead, control of the province and thereby the South of Honshu, reverts to the Emperor and myself. Once Bahoriki is out of my way, the push against me in court will have no head, and I can once again establish my control over the Emperor." Seeing the first signs of confusion on the large assassin’s face, the small tyrant granted him leave to speak.
"You wish then for us to dispose of the Daimyo, Lord Oni?"
"No, Miruku," Oni purred back, speaking like a father crooning to a child. "You and your men will take care of the son."
"But, Great Daimyo, you can’t honestly mean the lost ‘Prince’, he was killed as a babe, surely you don’t mean to waste us on such a pointless mission?"
"Are you questioning my decision?" Though Oni’s tone or manner had not changed, his eyes burned with such rage that the warrior cowered before his younger, shorter companion. Miruku could not even look at his lord but he began to apologise and beg for mercy, all no doubt in the hopes of keeping his head. Oni watched his underling’s grovelling happily until his anger was appeased and the glint of murderous rage left his eyes.
"As I was trying to say, the Daimyo’s end is near. Age and the cyanide poisoning has made him far weaker than normal. I doubt nothing but hope and determination are keeping him alive now; hope that his son still lives and will return and his own determination to see that day. I want his every hope dashed and his will broken and as long as there is a chance that Buhogechi may return, than I cannot defeat him completely." Walking over to a beautiful map of Honshu that now decorated the whitewashed walls, Heru Oni traced out a meandering path from Senzai to Shinpi-teki forest and beyond.
"The boy is not dead, of that I am almost positive. The Seer would not have sent him away if his fate were to die young. No, the ‘Prince’ is hidden somewhere, somewhere that not even my spies could breach. As long as the boy draws breath, he is a threat to me, so your mission is to see that he doesn’t. I need you to follow Bahoriki's seer, the seer is the key to everything. He, two other samurai and a beautiful woman were last spotted heading into the Shinsei Mountains." The tyrant paused as he spoke the name of the sacred mountain range, his eyes going wide in realisation as he whispered the name again. Neither man moved or spoke until Heru Oni's face tensed into a snarl and he screamed at the top of his lungs, his kiai ripping through Bulma like a bullet. For a full minute, the pale Daimyo yelled, his words alternating between curses, non-sense and a single name … Seidou.
"My Lord, is something wrong?" The stunned samurai asked as his master finally calmed himself, though Heru Oni's face was still flush with anger. The Daimyo only glared at his guard as he slowed his breathing and smoothed back his hair and robes. When he finally spoke, the tyrant's voice was harsh and loud, full of anger. Combined with the fire of murder and revenge that burned in those soulless black eyes, Bulma shook with fear at the mortal demon before her.
"Just the answer to a decades old riddle, and a new assignment for you, one far more dangerous than I had anticipated. I know where the seer is and why, and he could destroy everything. He has taken sanctuary in a place even you would be hard pressed to overcome, even with your squad. They are beyond my grasp now but when they return to Hazumi, you must strike. Watch for them by the any roads heading south from the Shinsei Mountains, and wait; they will come. Bayoken has gone to Seidou, hoping no doubt that the sohei will help him, he may even have entrusted the fate of the young Buhogechi to the monks. In any event, you will kill them all but the Seer. Bayoken must come to me alive and unharmed. If Buhogechi is with them you will bring him here as well, alive but unharmed will be up to you and your men. It will be my pleasure to chop off that bastard’s head and stick it on a spike." The Captain listened with a neutral expression on his face, though his eyes flickered with indignation at his master's lack of confidence in his abilities. As much as the claim stung his pride, the captain valued his life more. To challenge or question Heru Oni was instant death, and he for one wanted to live to fight another day.
"I understand and obey, my Lord. There is but one question, what shall we do with the rest of Bayoken’s band?" The Daimyo smirked at this, knowing how much his captain loved his work. Even by his own standards, Miruku made torture a form of art.
"Let no one escape or be able to talk about our presence again, whether you take their tongues or their lives is your own decision. As for this mystical, spirit girl, your men can look at her as a bonus." Although she had no form, Bulma shuddered in fear at the sadistic pleasure Heru Oni took and ordering their deaths and Miruku took in imagining the deed.
"Thank you, oh supreme Daimyo and Lord of all Fuyu. Your generosity knows no bounds." Since the captain had first walked into the room, he was a source of fear for Bulma. His size, strength and physical similarities, not to mention the look of sadistic glee at the promise of blood shed and rape made her blood run cold in her veins. He was a favourite henchman for a reason. Miruku was more than an underling of his master, but a follower with an passion for cruelty, violence and terror.
With a deep low bow of almost reverent admiration to his Daimyo, Miruku was dismissed to prepare for his new mission.
"And Captain," Oni spoke once more as he returned to his seat, his eyes not leaving the dozens of maps and communications that littered the top of the ornate table. At the sound of his master’s voice, Miruku spurn on his heel and waited patiently for Oni’s final command.
"Do not fail me." With a deep heaving gasp, Bulma’s once heavy eyes snapped opened and her oxygen deprived lungs screamed out for breath. The final images of her nightmare, or vision, or whatever it was, hung in her mind. One was that of sadistic anticipation on the giant warrior’s face as he set out on his mission of chaos, torture and death. Even that, as horrible as it had been, was nothing to the look on Heru’s face. Unlike his underling, there was no look of anticipation, hatred, or sadistic joy on Oni’s face. The Hiyayaka’s expression was dead, his eyes blank of all emotion. They were cold, lifeless and truly evil.
The pair’s parting words echoed through her head as the human figures morphed into hideous, demonic beasts and their voices cracked and changed, turning into a growling, screaming wail that roared in her ears. She tried to scream out but she had no voice, tried to flee but her body was without strength and her mind and senses were not under her control. The fates deemed that this was her curse or key in the great drama and it seemed that nothing short of divine intervention would stop it.
Kami, she cried to herself, praying to the protecting deity of the Earth, make it stop. Make it stop!
With one flicker of her eyelids, it did.
Blinking to clear the haze from her vision, she gasped in surprise at her surroundings and the sudden, unexpected feeling of peace that swept over her. All of the tension and anxiety in her body unconsciously melted away, relaxing her into a state similar to the first dream she had experienced. Finally, she was safe, but where she was and how she had gotten there was still a mystery.
Wherever it was, it and she were warm and dry, a small miracle in itself after the blizzard. Her senses and intuition told her it was a small cave, probably one often used for shelter. A fire built from wood and hay burned brightly in the centre of the cavern, casting shadows upon the far wall. The images flickered and flitted about, resembling the demonic creatures from the end of her vision. The roar and crackling of the fire resembled the unholy scream that still sent shivers down her spine.
Concentrating on the light and warmth of the fire, it wasn't long before her sphere of curiosity shifted from the blaze to the cave and the unanswered question of where it was and how she had arrived there. Through the sharp smell of smoke and the heavy musty scent of the cave, another odour of human origin touched her noise, especially since it was all around her. It was an unmistakable scent to her nose, one she had learned of during her travels with Goku, her relationship with Yamcha, her current situation as travel companion to Kouketsu and his father. She was wrapped in the robes of a man, a nice smelling man, and by the size of the cloth, her benefactor was a good deal larger than herself.
Her mind didn't dwell on that as two more realisations struck, the first was that she was only wearing a light camisole under the make-shift blankets. The second, and more shocking, was the presence of another body lying behind her, far enough that there was no physical contact, close enough she could feel the push of his breath against her cheek. The last fleeting memory of a dark, powerful young man emerging from the white world to save her. In her delirium, she pictured him as a prince in pauper clothing, or a monk, she noted, wrapping the warm thick material tighter around her body.
Caught between her curiosity and anxiety, her natural inquisitiveness won out as she slowly turned around to face her rescuer. Even in the low light she could still make out his hard features set in the tranquillity of sleep. He was a man who was still a boy in many ways. Her eyes studied and mapped his face, indulging in his unconscious state as he obviously did when he removed her outer garments. It wasn't long though before her own gaze lowered to his half naked form and a heavy blush stained her cheeks. The man was completely naked from the waist up, and from the top of the thighs down, only a small white loincloth covered his body from her view. And what a body, her earlier observation of a warrior's build had not been a dream either. He could give Yamcha a run for his money, Bulma remarked before she blushed again, fighting off her sudden need to giggle like a school girl. What is the matter with you, Bulma girl, she scolded herself. She should have been concentrating on completely her mission and getting home, not staring like an idiot at some unconscious man, even if he was gorgeous. Still, when an opportunity like this presented itself, Bulma Briefs was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Besides, what did one little look hurt?
Tracing out the contours of the man's large chest, wide shoulders, and powerful arms with her eyes, she fought back the desire to touch the warm skin of the perfect form in front of her. As Bulma allowed her eyes to go further, over his abs, stopping for a moment over the loincloth, she wondered whom this man was that would come out into a raging blizzard to save her. How did he know that she was out there and where he could find her? Most nagging to her mind was the question of why she felt so safe … with …
She didn't even get to finish her thought before her eyes went wide in shock and she instinctively reared back, causing the robe to flare back behind her. Her eyes fixed on the still sleeping man, it took a strong whiff of smoke to force her focus from her rescuer to the fire, and more importantly, the edge of her robe that was now alight.
"Ahhh." Bulma cry broke the silence of the cave, echoing off the walls, as she frantically began rolling about, trying to smother her burning clothes. Extinguishing the flames, she turned away from the fire again and found herself staring straight into the blackest eyes she had ever beheld. A deep blush tinted her cheeks as she remembered the liberties she took earlier with this man. The steady, penetrating ebony gaze that seemed to see into her didn't help matters either.
Struck by a sudden bout of bashfulness, the normally proud, no-nonsense businesswoman lowered her gaze to the floor, avoiding his body completely. It took a full minute before she could sort out everything in her head, the dozens of questions and emotions that were floating in her head since she had first woken up. In the end, one phrase dominated all other thoughts in her head.
"Thank you." Bulma finally said; for what particular service, she couldn't say but she knew that she owed much to this man, more than she could repay. Glancing back to see his reaction to her words, she held back a little gasp of amazement at the sight. The penetrating stare had disappeared, or lessened in any case, as his eyes clouded with confusion and shame, while his high cheeks were dyed a distinctive pink blush. He finally bowed his head in recognition of her words but said nothing in reply.
Maybe he was a mute, she wondered, trying to remember those last few moments in the snow before she lost consciousness. Through the howl of the winds and the frost in her blood she had heard him speak, one word repeated three times: Amateras. Surely, he didn’t think she was the greatest goddess of all heaven, Bulma wondered, her vanity delighted at the thought. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time she had been mistaken for a deity in this world. She was following in the goddess’ footsteps, ended up in a cave, and like Amateras, the outside world was beckoning to her. First things first though, she would have to find her own clothes and discover as much as she could from her taciturn guide.
Stretching out her cramped limbs, Bulma leaped to her feet, or at least tried to until gravity and her unstable legs sent her falling back into the dirt. Or at least she would have if a part of arms hadn’t snatched her in mid fall. Chancing a glimpse at her rescuer’s face, she couldn’t help but blush herself as she felt the whole length of him against her. He certainly was strong, and fast, her silent knight in no armour.
"You are not yet recovered, Otome no yuki." He whispered into her ear with that low, rumbling tone; so he wasn’t so silent after all. Unsure of whether she should thank him again, or correct him to her proper name, she did neither as her desire for answers ultimately won out.
"My legs might not be back to normal, but my brain is working in over drive and full of questions that need answers. Now, if you could show me where you’ve hidden my clothes, we would both do much better to be in our own garments." Bulma proclaimed, though her libido was yelling at her to not mess up a good thing. Even her rational side had to admit, the man’s body was very nice, and wonderfully warm. It wasn’t long before her own cheeks were painted red with embarrassment at her frank assessment of the man and her own reaction to him.
Whether he noticed her shame or not, the young man became a silent sentinel once more, loosening his grip around her small form. With her hand in his, he led her to her now dried clothes and, before she could even asked, pointed out a small alcove in which she could change in privacy. Not wasting any time, Bulma walked hurriedly into the shadowy corner, the reflection of the fire light off the walls her only source of illumination as she slowly removed the stranger’s thick robe. Unconsciously, she took a sniff of the thick, course material, a little smile spreading across her face at the man’s earthy, musky smell. Now that she had the freedom to study the stranger and his garment she took full advantage, holding up the robe for further inspection.
The material was thick, sturdy, and plain, no crests of ornaments decorated the large garment, nor prints or silks. If clothes were the measure of a man, this one was obviously poor, a lowly servant perhaps. Who ever he was, he knew the mountains like she knew the labyrinth hallways of Capsule Corp.
Taking a peak around the shadowed corner, she scrutinized the young man with a cool, analytical eye. Like the material of his clothing, he looked sturdy and strong, but definitely not plain. His life must be a strenuous one for him to have the amazing physique she had guiltily examined earlier. The calluses on his hands and feet spoke of hard work and discipline, the set of his jaw and intensity in his eyes of an inner strength and stubbornness. Add to that the gracefulness and ease with which he caught her and she would bet her life he was a warrior; she’d had enough experience around them to know. Yet he did not seem like any warrior she knew of, from this time era especially. From his clothing it would seem he had no living, and inspecting his half naked body and the surrounding cave, he didn’t seem to carry any weapon. Then, she remembered as her eyes settled on the backs of his thighs, there was …
She was still lost in her thoughts when he suddenly rose to his feet and turned in her direction, only her quick instincts save her from being caught as she huddled in the back of the small alcove. Her cheeks burned red with embarrassment as she thought of what and where she had just been staring at and she buried her hand into his robe. She was almost ready to smack herself as she dropped the garment to the ground and quickly slipped on her own now dry clothes. Her eyes downcast, she finally left the protection of the alcove, handing the young man his robe before she walked over to the fire and sat in front of it, giving him the same privacy as he got dressed. Forcing her attention at the dancing flames and away from her previous thoughts, she relaxed minutely when he entered her periphery vision, now fully clothed.
"The storm has finally stopped. So, unless you feel the need to rest some more we should be off. There are only a few hours of daylight left and there is not enough fuel to keep the fire going through the night so we should leave soon." He said to her, his voice soft but with a hint of insistence. Whether it was the thought of facing the mountain pass again, or the realisation that she would be doing it with this virtual stranger, the floodgate finally snapped.
"I’ve been a good sport about all of this and while I owe you my life for saving me, I still demand some answers. What is this place? Where are we? Where are we going? How did you find me in the snow? How did you know where to look? Where are my companions? Kami, what am I doing here?" The dozens of question that had been assaulted her brain finally poured out, almost faster than her mouth could form the words. She knew now that the man must think her crazy, though maybe he was himself. It dawned on her that he had not asked her any questions since she had awoken. Didn’t he wonder who she was and why she was in that blizzard?
Trusting that her strength was more or less back, and her curiosity boiling over, she rose to her feet and confronted her rescuer, examining his face for any clues to the answers she sought. Again she was surprised as a soft blush stained his cheeks and his dark, penetrating eyes widened in confusion.
"I’m afraid I do not have the sort of answers you are seeking. I must confess that I was just as shocked when I found you as you were when you awoke just now."
"Yes, I would believe that." Bulma replied, distinctly remembering his reaction when he first saw her in the snow. Again he blushed, perhaps hoping that she would forget his lapse. The young woman could only grin at his discomfort; it wasn’t often that a good-looking mysterious stranger confused her with the greatest deity in the heavens.
"But how did you know how to find me? How did you know I was out there?" At this he paled, and Bulma could see the gears of thought whirling through his head, trying to find an explanation.
"I was sent." He finally replied before turning back to stamp down the fire, effectively ending any more questions she might have in that area. He was sent, what does that mean, Bulma asked herself, wondering at the unusual wording. She had hoped at first that Bayoken and Kouketsu had survived and sent a rescue party out. If that were case, why didn’t he just tell her so? From the sounds of it though, he didn’t know who or what he had been sent to find, so how did whoever send him know? Damn it, Bulma moaned, pinching the bridge of her nose, all this insanity was giving her a splitting headache.
It wasn’t until he had finished his task and set aside the salvageable pieces of kindling before she dared asked him a question he could hopefully answer left cryptically.
"Where are we going?"
"If we leave soon, to somewhere warm, safe, and full of the answers you are seeking." He replied, a slow, easy smile spreading across his firm jaw as he passed her burning curiosities on to others. Cheeky devil, she replied to herself, not knowing whether to frown or smirk in reply to his comment. Cute or not, it still didn’t tell her what she wanted to know.
The man, on the other hand, had taken her silence as acceptance and was now lightly pulling her from the safety of the cave into the cold, harsh white world of the Shinsei mountains. In the far off distance to the south she could see the green sea of the Shinpi-teki forest and true to his word, the sun was deep in the west. There was only a few hours of sunlight left, and as the cold winds from the north blew through the pass, she knew wherever their final destination, it would be a cold and arduous journey. Speaking of which…
"Hey, wait up." She called out to the stranger who was now on the move, walking northwards with his hood up to shield him against the icy wind. Thankful for her now dry leggings and thick robes, she was soon at his side, wrapping her own clothing around her to keep out the cold.
"Listen, I know you don’t want to answer or tell me anything. Kami, it’s like a game to everyone in this time." She growled, momentarily getting off topic. "But please, can you just enlighten me on two matters, without any hidden meanings or half answers?" Stopping in his steady progress for a moment, the young man’s face grew grim and he nodded his consent.
"Don’t worry, these two should, hopefully be simple. I just want to know where you are taking me, and what is the name of the person that I owe my life to." Something in her honest, heartfelt plea touched him and he smiled, nodding again as he raised his arm and pointed towards the north-east.
"We are going home, at least to mine. The path is not too bad, as long as we keep going we will make it there in an hour. Come, Amateras, we must start walking, Seidou awaits." Seidou, that was where they were headed in the first place. Maybe Bayoken and the others made it? At least she was headed in the right direction, of course anywhere warm, dry, and with the promise of protection and information sounded like Shangri La to her.
"You honour me greatly, sir, but I am not the legendary goddess. My name is Bulma, and if I may say, you did not give me the name of the man to whom I am in such debt." This time he didn’t stop or slow, but his grim expression softened and his eyes seemed to glow with warmth, even in the bitter chill. He smiled once more and whispered her name several times, training his lips and tongue to pronounce the unusual moniker.
"You owe me no oath or debt, Bulma, but you have my oath and promise of protection until you have found your way. This I swear on my life, as my name is Jitsu."
When Bayoken first spoke to her of the monastery of Seidou, she had pictured a simple, ancient stone and wooden structure perched in the cliffs, a site of peace, prayer and deep meditation. How wrong she was.
"That’s Seidou?" She whispered to herself, as she got her first good look at the massive complex of buildings, gardens, and streets, all surrounded by a five foot thick, ten foot high wall, constructed of solid rock. Her earlier nightmare … vision from the palace of the Hiyayaka’s Lord and Heru Oni’s reaction now made a great deal of sense. Seidou wasn’t a monastery, it was a fortress.
It was nestled a deep verdant valley, with snow capped peaks on its north and south side, and a powerful glacial river running from west to east. Every bit as foreboding and formidable as the mountain range which it called home, the site looked like something from another world. This, this was Jitsu’s home?
The pair walked on in silence, as they had since leaving the cave. Bulma’s eyes darted to and fro, taking in majesty of the mountains, and then that of Seidou while Jitsu’s gaze never wavered from his path. With every step they took towards their destination though, Bulma began to tense. What if they would not allow her in? Jitsu said he would vouch for her, but what if his word, the word of … whatever he was, wasn’t enough? What would she have to tell them, about her mission and how she came to this world? Kami, they could send her out and back into to snow. What was she going to do now?
"Halt." A loud, blustery voice cried out from the main watch tower, breaking the previous silence. Bulma stopped dead in her tracks as a contingent of guards positioned on the outer most parapet appeared, aiming their giant Kyujutsu bows at the pair, and from what Bulma could see, they meant to use them.
"You are trespassing on the land of Seidou. State your name and purpose or my guards will open fire." The same thunderous voice yelled out to them, as a huge, hairy man appeared on top of the main wall.
"One cannot trespass in one’s own home, Sawagu-sempai and my purpose is Bikan-san and Kagayaku-sama’s. They sent me on this journey." Bikan-san? Kagayaku-sama? Who were they? How did they know about her? Whoever they were, their names were enough to silence the boisterous red robed captain of the guards, though it did nothing to remove the threatening arrows pointed at them.
"What about her?" The moustachioed warrior yelled back, his gaze shifting from Jitsu to herself.
"She is my purpose." Jitsu answered back calmly, his words as cryptic with the sohei captain as it was with her it seemed. It seemed that Sawagu-sempai had an even shorter fuse than she did.
"What is that supposed to mean! Damn you, boy, what is the matter with you? You’ve always been strange, but to show outright insolence? This is the final straw. If you think that I’m letting that, that thing," the warrior yelled out, earning a less than ladylike snarl from ‘the thing’. "Through this gate then you must be going crazy. You know Gaman-san and Roukou-san’s orders, no one is allowed to enter without direct authorisation from …" The elder sohei didn’t get to finish his tirade though, as another familiar and highly excited voice yelled out across the mountain valley.
"Bulma-sama! Bulma-sama, you made it!" Kouketsu yelled out from the watchtower as he suddenly appeared next to the now red faced Sawagu, though the young warrior didn’t notice the older man’s state, or that he was the cause of it. Not wasting any time, the Kouketsu yelled down to the guards on the parapet before he climbed down the walls of the ancient stone sentinel above the main entrance to greet her in person. He wasn’t the only one, Bulma noticed, as the crowd gathering just inside the massive stone archway. Among the gathered, her eyes found the silent giant, Juukou, standing tall and aloof from the smiling group, but to Bulma’s dismay Bayoken was not present. Kami, he couldn’t have … Her thoughts were soon cut off as a pair of steely arms wrapped around her and she was lifted off her feet and twirled about by an excited Kouketsu.
"Bulma-sama, oh thank the gods you survived. After the rockslide in the mountain pass, we lost sight of you. I wanted to go back and look for you, but Tousan was so weak. Juukou said we had to go forward or we would all die and Tousan said that you would be all right, that someone would be coming for you. I don’t care what you say, Bulma-sama, there is definitely something about you. The spirits are with you, they have to be." Speaking almost too fast for Bulma to catch everything, she smiled down at her friend who finally put her down. It took several moments before her head stopped spinning and she could walk in a straight line and tell Kouketsu about her miraculous return from the ‘dead’. Looking over to where Jitsu was just standing, she was amazed to find that her rescuer had disappeared. A glance through the crowd confirmed it. The young, handsome enigma had vanished without a trace.
"Come on, Bulma-sama, you have to see this place. Isn’t it amazing? Tousan and Juukou didn’t tell us that it was a fortress, well actually it’s a village that built up around the monastery. And it’s full of warriors, I’ve already met a ton of them. You’ve already met Sawagu-san, he’s the captain of the sohei guards, a little caught up in himself and his position but he’s really nice." Kouketsu rattled on, though Bulma was only half listening, her attention focussed on the ‘village’ of Seidou. The view from the mountains didn’t do the place justice.
Built of several metres of strong stones, and several layers of defence, it was more than just a simple fortress, it was a living, vibrant settlement. Once she passed through the massive, ornate archway, she was in another world, from the desolation of the mountains to a garden, full of life, colour and people. Banners of red, green, blue, yellow and purple, painted with family crests, and animals and symbols of good fortune decorated the front of every home and abode on the main street. Trees, from giant hornbeams to white and lavender lilac bushes, grew throughout the small village. And for course, there were people everywhere, young and old, and every shape and size. The streets overflowed with people, from older monks, to the red robed sohei guards, to young smiths and craftsmen, to women, young and old with dozens of smiling children. The air was filled with the smell of flowers, grass, incense, smoke and cooking food. Her ears rang with the voices of dozens of people, laughing, singing, speaking, living. Struck in wonder at this symphony for the senses, she was in complete disbelief. This was a monastery?
"Juukou said it wasn’t always like this." Kouketsu replied to her question before she could even ask it. "It was originally just a small monastery, a group of very powerful but honourable Shinto monks, but over the years it has expanded. With wars, famines and unrest, people have come to the monastery for sanctuary, until a village grew up around it. Isn’t it amazing, Bulma-sama?"
"Amazing isn’t the word for it." She replied under her breath, still trying to take it all in.
"Hey, Kouketsu. Are you going to introduce us to your friend? If you had told us that she was this beautiful, every warrior in Seidou would have searched the whole mountain range for her." A new voice called out to her young friend and she blushed at the group of mostly young men who were gathered near the front entrance, waiting to meet her.
Most of them were young, ranging from men in their thirties and forties to young boys at the cusp of manhood. The one who had spoken so openly though was in between, possibly mid-twenties and roguishly handsome. He, like almost every man she had seen from Seidou, possessed a warrior’s build and grace. Add to that his long, unruly black hair, deep black eyes, sharp masculine face and confident smirk, and even she had to admit he was definitely a fine-looking man. Just the sort of guy you went from in your youth, Bulma girl, her conscious reminded her, and you know how well that has turned out.
"Bulma-sama, I want you to meet some of our new friends. This is Yonare," Kouketsu said, as the young charmer bowed slightly, a wicked smirk spread across his face as his gaze bore into her own. "And Kikoku." Kouketsu continued, his voice breaking Bulma’s focus on Yonare as she was greeted by another young fighter. Though he possessed the carriage and physique of a warrior, the second man was a good deal shorter than his friend, with a shock of black hair. Yet there was an aura of kindness and a flash of intelligence in the younger man’s eyes and she couldn’t help but smile and return this Kikoku’s bow.
"It’s good to see that you made it, Show girl." Juukou’s deep voice remarked with a hint of a chuckle in his voice as he used that hated name. "Bayoken told us you would but I didn’t know how it was possible, it was only luck that we made it out alive. Well, luck and my uncle’s uncanny abilities. He sent two of his best sohei out to find us, how that man knew we were coming I’ll never know. That does beg the question, how did you survive through the blizzard?" At Juukou’s question, every ear in the little gathering perked up, interested to hear the tale as well; it wasn’t every day a person returned from the dead. After hearing a snippet of the other’s rescue, the young man’s words made more sense, but somehow she couldn’t speak of what happened. There were just too many questions, too many uncertainties and a very big mystery looming before her. Suddenly, she needed to talk to Bayoken. She was sure that he would understand, or at least he might have some answers to her questions.
"It was just like you said, a good deal of luck and your uncle’s forethought. He must have sent someone to find me, but they disappeared as soon as we arrived." Before anyone could ask her any more though, she quickly shifted gears, hoping they would forget her previous statements.
"Kouketsu, what happened to your Tousan?" The normally cheerful warrior tensed at the question, only to relax and give a slight grin.
"It was a close thing, Bulma-sama. He passed out just as we arrived and it was only the help of Tegatai-san and Chiitsu-san that we made it in time. Kagayaku-sama and Bikan-san took him into the inner sanctuary of the monastery to recover. They said that he would be fine and just needed some rest. I would have gone with them but Kagayaku-sama told me to wait for you, that we could see Tousan when you arrived. I honestly can’t tell you what was more exciting, seeing you alive, or knowing that Tousan would be all right because you had come back to us, Bulma-sama." For her part, Bulma could only pause in shock. As if this little drama couldn’t get any weirder, she moaned to herself. Not knowing what to make of this new development, along with the puzzle that was Jitsu, she simply let fate, and Kouketsu, lead her where they may, which was currently towards the monastery.
"Don’t worry." A shy, but pleasant voice said to her right. Glancing over, she found herself smiling down at Kouketsu’s short new acquaintance, Kikoku, if she remembered correctly.
"You will like Kagayaku-sama and Bikan-san, they are the leaders of the holy monks and nuns of Seidou. Most of us are indebted to them for their acts of kindness and compassion and have chosen to either take holy vows under them or live under their protection. They are the reason Seidou has become such a beautiful place. Kouketsu told us these tales about hordes of ninja and an evil Daimyo, but you don’t have to fear. As long as you are within these walls, you’ll be safe."
"Thank you." Bulma replied, liking the smaller warrior even more. This last comment stuck in her head though as she remembered her dream in the cave about Heru Oni, his death sqaud, his reaction to the name of Seidou, and the tyrant’s final command to his samurai. They may be safe within these walls, but that safety was at best temporary. Now she realised that while her trip here had been an adventure, her real journey had not yet begun.
She could hardly believe that the pale, bandage figure was the man who had saved her life, heck controlled it, since she had arrived in this time. Kouketsu said that his father was in bad shape, but she had not expected this. It had been difficult when the attending nun said that he was too weak to see them all at once. After seeing Kouketsu nearly at the breaking point after his visit, she could hardly look at the once healthy, paternal figure who had become her rock in these troubled times.
"I knew you would make it through, Show Girl," Bayoken said, his voice nothing but a whisper now and his tone was rougher than she could ever remember it. "And none the worse for wear I see. Though that is more than I can say for myself. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that you were a creature of the heavens. The spirits are truly looking out for you, Bulma-san." Had another soul been in the room she might have stayed strong, but it was only her and this man who had become a surrogate father to her during her travels in that small medical room. The strain of it all became too much at that moment as a few stray tears streaked across her cheeks.
"Please forgive me, Bayoken-san. This is entirely my fault. If I hadn’t insisted that we flee to Seidou, had thought of something else, you would not be in this state and we might …" She was soon cut off as a large finger pressed into her lips.
"Hush child, you couldn’t have known and you did what you thought was best. The fact that such an obstacle was in our way and we still made it is a sign that fate deemed we should be here. I dare not think of what might have happened to us if we had veered from this course." At that his eyes almost seemed to glaze over, causing Bulma to wonder if he was seeing that possible fate. It dawned on her then that this truly might have been the best or possibly only road open to them. At least they were all alive and safe, as opposed to the alternative.
"What everyone has told you is right, Show Girl. Seidou is like a fortress, as long as you are within its wall, you are safe from the outside world." Bayoken replied, addressing the concern he saw in her eyes.
"Yes, and I can see why. Even Heru Oni fears this place, the sohei here must be very powerful."
"Not just the sohei, child, it’s much more than that. Much has to do with Kagayaku-sama, it’s why I …" Whatever treatments they were giving to the older warrior had obviously begun to tire him out, as his eyes grew heavy and his speech began to slur, all signs of the oncoming of sleep.
"Bikan-san’s brew, wouldn’t have made it … if not for their … magic. When I’m better … child, we will talk … about your … dream, and the … ho." In all her time with him, Bulma knew not to question him on a matter such as this. Maybe it was the medication that had loosened his tongue, or knowledge of what was to come, but Bulma didn’t question it. Mostly due to the fact that the samurai had fallen asleep.
"We will talk later." She finally replied back as she curved his huge hand into her smaller one and brushed his knuckles against her cheek. Releasing his hand from her grip, she pulled the blanket over his bandaged torso and kissed him on the forehead before she left him to sleep.
Waiting until he was settled, Bulma blew out the bedside candle and quickly left, but found herself momentarily blinded as she walked from the previously brightly lit sick room into the now dark and empty hallway. It was much later in the day than she had imagined, as she caught the last lingering rays of light from the setting sun as it slipped beneath the horizon. So, Amateras, you’re returning to your cave, to wait for when the other gods call you forth again, Bulma replied to herself. She could still remember her mother telling her that ancient legend, one of the many that her mother told her. Or maybe it was Jitsu and his reference that brought that particular myth to her mind. Either way, it was hardly worth debating over, especially when her stomach started to grumble indignantly, reminding her that she had not filled it since the day before. Must be time for dinner, which would explain where Kouketsu and the others were. Thoughts of good, hot food filled her head, causing her empty stomach to rumble in response, as she retraced her steps in the hopes of finding her way to a kitchen or dining room.
"Will your father be all right?" A mysterious voice asked behind her. Bulma almost jumped a foot in her surprise, only to turn and find herself face to face with her enigmatic and elusive rescuer. Kami, where had he come from? How long had he been waiting there?
"He’s not my father, not in blood in any case." She stated, searching the dark hallway for any signs of Kouketsu and the novice sohei that she had met earlier. They were, unfortunately, no where to be found. The corridor was empty save for herself and shadowy Jitsu.
"Then he is the father of your husband?" Jitsu’s deep, baritone echoed off the stone walls again, and this time Bulma actually shivered at the sound. What was it about him that got to her? So caught up in the sound of his voice, it took her brain a few moments to comprehend his question and smile at the underlying tone of his query.
"Kouketsu is not my husband either, in name, spirit, or any other bond. Like his father, he’s like a brother without blood, just a very sweet, considerate friend." At that answer, the unusual monk relaxed infinitesimally and Bulma marvelled at the change that wrought. There was so much mystery in his face, even to the question of his age. In sleep, he looked almost boyish, but during the march to Seidou, he was like a general leading his troops, very much a mature man. And right before her very eyes, he seemed to go from old and haunted to young and alive with just the sound of her voice.
"How did you come to be here?" His voice broke the silence again, though, from his soft, almost absent tone, Bulma was unsure if his question was directed at her or himself.
"Fate." Bulma replied back, though she didn’t know whether the answer was for him or herself either. "It brought me to this place, to this state. It’s been guiding my footsteps since I arrived though for what purpose I do not know."
"Isn’t that true of all of us?" Jitsu remarked, his voice now harsh, almost business like as he seemed to melt into the shadows again. "Can’t we all say that we are prisoners of our fate, of some path that is beyond our understanding?"
"Yes, and no." Bulma countered back, her own experiences during this journey showing her both. To her retort, Jitsu did not replied and the young woman wondered anew about this young man, this mass of questions and contradictions.
"Can I ask you a question?" The young woman’s hesitant voice broke the uncomfortable silence after Jitsu’s outburst.
"You are already have, numerous times."
"But will you answer? Honestly? For some reason that is the one thing I’ve been unable to get." Bulma countered and a smile spread across her face when the young man nodded his consent.
"I do require the same agreement in return. For in all my years here, I have never seen the fuss that preceded your coming." Quid pro quo? Well it was only fair, and with that she quickly accepted.
"I’m not even sure how to beginning: how, why, who? How did you know that I was out there and who sent you, and how did they know? You said at the entrance that someone named Kagayaku-sama sent you, did Bayoken and the others tell you that I was out there?" Somehow she knew the answer to the last question, but she needed it confirmed. No one had mentioned it outright, perhaps it was an issue of secrecy in the village, but she realised that maybe Bayoken wasn’t the only one with such far reaching sight.
"Well you already know who sent me, and that was why I went. As for how they knew, you must ask them yourself. They told me only that something of great importance was coming upon us and that I must greet it. I did not know where I would find it or what it would be, Bikan-san merely pointed me in the direction of the south-west pass and told me to hurry." While it didn’t truly answer her question, it was a start.
"Why do they call you ‘Show Girl’?" His voice broke through her internal musings and she blushed at the sound of her nickname. Looking up into his dark, curious eyes, she blushed even harder and tried to keep her voice from cracking with laughter.
"It was a name given to me by a powerful man in the south, a great lord of a beautiful land. Much like yourself, others have given me a mission. It’s something I don’t completely understand, but somehow I was destined for this quest, and that name has now become part of it." Like a child, his serious eyes seemed to shine with wonder as she spoke. She could only imagine his reaction if she revealed her supposed spiritual origins.
"Where did you go after we arrived at the entrance? You were there one moment and gone the next, why did you leave?" Unless … He did assume Kouketsu was her husband, could it be that he thought Kouketsu would take offence to his presence? Whether it was embarrassment or thoughts of self-preservation, it seemed he was as willing to talk about the reason for his disappearance as she was about her ‘Show Girl’ moniker.
"Kagayaku-sama told me to report back to him as soon as I had returned, and since you seemed very well attended to, I saw no need to further burden you with my presence." It was almost on the tip of her tongue to inquire further at his barely veiled anger bubbled over. Did he consider her some kind of burden, or that she thought so little of his bravery? ‘Attended to’, what did that even mean? As if sensing her confusion, he tried to change the subject as quickly as possible.
"What were you doing in that pass? Talk amongst the novices and trainee sohei has gone crazy with tales of ninjas and warlords, courtesy of your friend. Does it have something to do with this mission of yours?" Kami, how could she even begin to explain this one, especially when she didn’t quite know herself.
"Well, I’m not sure what kind of crazy tales Kouketsu has been telling, but part of what he said is true. We, Bayoken, Kouketsu and I, have been attacked twice by ninja, the second time resulting in the terrible injuries that Kouketsu’s father now bears. Either by great luck, or ‘fate’ that we’ve been able to escape both times with our lives, though the second time, we were nearly surrounded. A passage through the Shinsei Mountains seemed to be the only way out. Strangely enough, we were headed here when the storm came upon us and we were separated." A hint of incredulity passed by his features and even Bulma had to admit that the story sounded farfetched. If she had lived through it, she might have thought it not more than a tall tale.
"And this is part of your mission?" He pressed her further.
"More like an occupational hazard." She quipped back, only to see his face go blank at her modern reference. "They aren’t so much a part of it, but an obstacle from reaching it." Though he nodded, she highly doubted that he understood what she meant. She was luckily spared further elaboration as he stood in silence, waiting for her next burning question.
Bulma’s mind could not give up his last question, or rather the subject of it. For the first time since they had left Juukou’s home and trekked into the mountains, she was actually at peace, or at least safe. Yet with every question, even the mention of the word, ‘Show Girl’, the old fear was coming back, clawing through her stomach and making her head ache. Maybe it was the impotence of the situation that she was in, the fact that everyone seemed to understand what was happening but her or the rumbling of her stomach that had shortened her patience. She felt so tired of living with this mission, dealing with occupational hazards of ninjas with vendettas and nightmare visions. More than anything, she wanted to make them stop, just for one night, to have just one night of peace. So like a mother bear protecting her cubs, she focussed her anger on the man who was reminding her of her pain. Foremost in her mind was at the gate, when he left her without a word, the sting of his abandonment still tender.
"Why are you here? I mean here now. Why, after you saw that I was attended to, have you bother to seek me out again? Especially now, stalking me in a dark, abandoned hallway. You can talk to me in the darkness but you can’t face me in the light of day?" As soon as the words were out of her mouth she regretted them. While she couldn’t deny that he was unusual, quiet, reserved, almost anti-social, he had saved her life at the possible cost of his own to go out into that storm, and given over his clothing to keep her from dying of hypothermia. To accuse him of something underhanded, especially when his curiosity was no different from her own gave her a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"No, wait. I’m sorry, that came out wrong. I…" She didn’t get to finish her apology before something warm and heavy was pushed into her outstretched hands. Though the light was dim, she recognised the ornate pattern immediately. It was the ho dagger Bahoriki gave to her.
"I found it in the snow next to you and forgot to give it back." He replied, his eyes cold and unreadable and her guilt almost threatened to choke her. More than anything she wanted to apologise and explain herself but his stare kept her silent and at a distance. All signs of that kind young man who had mistaken her for a deity were gone. About to try again, she was caught off-guard by a set of footsteps that were fast approaching. Turning her head to confront the intruder, when she turned back, she found her rescuer had disappeared again, though this time she couldn’t blame him. The dagger still clutched in her hand, she traced out the beautiful inlaid pattern of the magnificent ho as she berated herself for her mouth. Her parents always said it would get her into trouble.
"There you are." A voice behind her remarked. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she recognised it at the handsome roguish Yonare, the young charmer who had flirted with her on the way to the monastery. As soon as he opened his mouth, she knew what he was, of course the fact that he discussed it constantly helped as well. A trainee with the sohei, he was one of the dozens of orphans who found their way to Seidou, raised under the watchful eye of Bikan-san and the other nuns. Several times he had informed her about his great battles, and how his fellow trainees had voted him head of their division.
"I’m sorry we left you, but we didn’t know how long you would be and everyone was getting hungry. We’re all in the dining hall right now, if you’d like to join us. Kouketsu’s telling everyone about your encounter with the ninja, and everyone wants to meet the mysterious ‘Show girl’." As low as her spirits were, her stomach couldn’t keep down a hungry gurgle at the sound of food.
"I’ll take that as a yes." Yonare replied with a chuckle, as he presented his arm to her in order to escort her to the dining hall. Tentatively taking the offered arm, she looked into the young man’s beaming face and smiled back, though the result was forced.
"It sounded like you were talking to someone when I was coming. Dare I ask who and what it was about?" He asked casually, and Bulma swore that she could feel Jitsu’s eyes burning into her back.
"It was Ji… an acquaintance, they had something of mine and we returning it. If you don’t mind though, please, no more questions tonight. I’ve had my fill of them."
"All right trainees, break off into pairs and practice your sword work. Some of you have gotten too lax lately, but remember, a true warrior fights face to face with his opponent, with honour. And, if Juukou-san will humour me, I may show a few of you how deadly a truly skilled samurai can be. Now get going, and Yonare, I want you to work with our young samurai. Any son of Bayoken must be a great warrior indeed, it’ll be a good challenge for you." An old but still sharp voice yelled out, his commanding tone leaving no room for argument. Soon the sparse training yard at the far end of monastery grounds was filled with the clank of swords and the kiai and grunts as the students paired off. Most were decent, handling the razor sharp blades with skill, though it was apparent that they did not often use swords. Even from the distance that she sat, Bulma could pick out a weak side or openings in the trainees’ defence. So too did the old sohei master, who would poke or rap his students with his walking stick whenever he spotted a vulnerable spot.
"Ooh, look at Yonare and Kouketsu. They’re amazing." A female voice rang out and Bulma glanced over at the low wall that separated the training yard from the nunnery gardens and found a row of heads peaking over at the practice. Hidden by the ivy and the overhanging trees, half the novices and the older orphan girls giggled and chatted over a favourite fighter or a secret crush among the trainees.
Glancing back over the wall, Bulma’s eyes quickly picked up the match that was drawing such a commotion on this side of the wall. She could easily see why. Both men had stripped down to their bare chests, fighting each other like madmen, each sporting a grin worthy of the Cheshire cat. Compared to the awkward movements of the younger novice sohei, Kouketsu and Yonare moved with amazing nimbleness and grace, as if they were engaged in some beautiful, deadly dance. It wasn’t long before most of the other pairs had stopped their own fights to watch the display by the sohei and samurai, earning them a swift wallop from the annoyed instructor.
"Serves that pervert Rookoo right if no one pays attention to him. He’s the one that ordered Yonare and that samurai to fight in the first place, and I’m sure it was an attempt to show off." One indignant blonde haired novice sneered at the bald master currently berating his students, most of who were still ignoring him in favour of watching the ongoing match.
"What do you have against Master Rookoo anyway? If it weren’t for him and Master Gaman, we could be living in a brothel or worse. They’ve trained all the sohei in Seidou that ensure our safety. Do you want to defend that wall against Kami-knows what?" Another voice piped up.
"Are you kidding? We all know Hagekori would jump at the chance, she’s just like her brother. Makes me wonder why she has such a crush on that midget." One of the older orphan girls teased and several females laughed along. Not one to get involved with such spats, Bulma was about to interrupt, or at least compliment the young novice on her taste. The night earlier Kikoku had raised her spirits with his lovely singing voice and wit and that had gone far to endear her towards the small monk. He was also, Bulma noting, one of the best fighters of the novice sohei, making up for his short stature with a tremendous amount of heart. Her input, in the end, was completely unnecessary as the blond female gave an angry growl and a hush fell over the other women.
"Is there something wrong, girls?" A soft, sweet voice asked, and every woman, Bulma included, looked around at the lovely young nun. Garbed in a plain hemp robe, with a shroud over her head and an attractive face dominated by two bright, innocent brown eyes, she looked the picture of kindness and tranquillity. And every girl against the wall seemed to tense and hold their breath as her eyes passed over them.
"I know how much you enjoy watching the boys, but we have a lot of work to do if we want the garden ready for the summer. Bikan-san said it will be a hard winter so we’ll need all the food we can get." The nun continued in a soft, almost motherly manner, completely oblivious to the army like stance of the young woman in front of her.
"Yes, Sashii-san." The ‘soldiers’ replied back, their own voices as soft and gentle as their unlikely drill sergeant.
"That’s good, because I don’t want to tell Bikan-san that you have been watching the boys instead of working but I may just hav …ah…ah…AACHOO!" Never before had Bulma ever seen such a mass exodus as every girl at the wall, except for herself, ran. Before the nun had even finished her sneeze they had all scattered throughout the garden, working like their lives depended on it.
"Oh, I’m terribly sorry about that. I don’t know what came over me but you know what it is like in the spring." The young woman remarked to Bulma, the tone in her voice the very picture of innocence, even as her eyes shone with mischief. Flashing Bulma a conspiratory wink, the blue haired woman couldn’t help but smile and wink back before the two women burst into giggles.
"You must forgive me, it’s an old trick that one of the older sisters once taught me. I have them so conditioned that even a hint of a sneeze gets them running. Can’t have them gawking at the young sohei all day." The sweet nun replied, wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes. Walking up to the wall, Sashii-san took a peek herself at the training exercises and Bulma followed her gaze. The match between Kouketsu and Yonare was coming to end, and not in the young sohei’s favour. Kouketsu’s eyes shone cold as he knocked the sword from his opponent’s hands and level his own blade at Yonare’s neck.
"Master Rookoo is wiser than Hagekori believes, though he is still an old hentai. Yonare is one of the best young warriors under Rookoo-san and Gaman-san’s tutelage, but he is getting cockier by the day. This was a warning for the young man to remember that there are other fighters far better than himself. From the looks of it, Yonare is realising this." Glancing over at her perceptive companion, she watched as the young sohei bowed to the victor and picked up his sword, his manner confident even as his posture and eyes were tense and brooding.
"Are you the one that they call ‘Show Girl’?" Sashii-san asked, her tone shifting from matter of fact to one full of curiosity and a healthy dose of awe. Still embarrassed by her fame among the residents of the monastery, she simply nodded though her gaze didn’t leave the training yard.
Luckily for her, Sashii-san was more considerate than the novice sohei the night before and left it at that. The two women sat in companionable silence as a second, much older group came out on to the training yard, all of them greeting Juukou with friendly calls and slaps on the back. Before long one of the three men, a bald sohei standing almost as tall as Juukou himself, began the same practice as the students, though with far more skill than even Yonare and Kouketsu could claim. Throughout matches, Rookoo-san shouted out points of interest to the ever-watchful trainees while the pair fought tooth and nail, sporting the same grins as their younger counterparts.
About to start conversation with the sweet nun, she turned to find the lovely young woman watching the match with the same intensity as her young charges earlier. Her attention was fixed on the older sohei while those expressive brown eyes shone with admiration and great affection. So, it seemed that the girls weren’t the only ones with crushes, Bulma chuckled to herself. It wasn’t long before the pair changed to the other men, one a giant with a shock of red hair and icy blue eyes, the other was a young dark haired man her own height with a slim build and the same penetrating eyes. Even at the distance she was at, Bulma backed away from the Goliath. Her eyes must have betrayed her shock at the unusual match up as Sashii came back and chuckled at Bulma’s expression.
"Don’t worry. Master Rookoo knows what he’s doing. Those two are cousins, Seigon-san," she replied, pointing to the silent giant. "And Hagekori’s brother, Nukeme. You should not let appearances fool you, nor immense obstacles defeat you, those are what this lesson is all about. Despite his disadvantage, Nukeme is by far the more cunning and deadly swordsman."
"Even more so than your own warrior." Bulma remarked, and the holy woman blushed furiously.
"Tegatai-san is a great swordsman and a great leader. When it is Sawagu-san’s time to step down as head of the sohei guard, it is believed that Gaman-san will name him as new captain." The blue haired woman smiled at her companion as Sashii-san spoke with such admiration for her silent hero.
"He is a great, wonderful man, but he is not for me. My work is my life, as it is for everyone else here. It is so strange to watch many of the young orphans that I loved and raised out on that field today. They were all so young, so eager to become warriors. And to think, he decided not to take that path." Her words seemed to die off as the young woman’s gaze moved from the barren training yard to a lush walled garden at the far side of the monastery.
"Who?" Her curiosity finally got the better of her, and Sashii-san waved her down from the wall. Walking through the garden, Sashii began her story.
"Many years, decades really, Master Gaman brought a young boy he had found during his travels to the orphanage. Kami, he was so head-strong, so wilful, stubborn and arrogant. Within his first week here he had climbed over that wall and demanded to be trained with the sohei; he even defeated Sawagu-san at swordplay. I was just an orphan here myself, I don’t remember much about him. The next time he went over the wall, he faced Master Rookoo and was defeated, badly. A few days after I heard he was taken to Kagayaku-sama and I’ve never seen him again."
"What happened to him?" Bulma asked, her attention now peeked. She would bet anything that the boy Sashii-san spoke of was the youthful incarnation of the man she now had to find.
"He is gone, left long ago. There is nothing left of that boy." Had this news been told to her by anyone else, in any other way, Bulma would have screamed and cursed at the fates for sending her on what was amounting to a wild goose chase.
"Has never picked up a sword since." Sashii-san whispered and it was at that moment that Bulma realised where they were, or more precisely who they were looking at. So caught up in the old tale, the normally observant woman was surprised to find herself on the other side of the garden, near the far side of the monastery. From over the garden wall, she could just see three figures meditating by a peaceful koi pond. Two were old men, former warriors from their builds, who had taken up the quiet, more contemplative life as monks. What truly caught Bulma’s attention was the third man, one younger and still in his prime. Like a thief in the night, the blue-haired woman took advantage of his meditation and stared at him as she done the first time they had met.
Though they had spent much of the previous day together, she did not get a chance to look at him. The cave had been far too dark to allow a true examination, neither could she stare at him during their trek through the mountains. As for last night, she shuddered with the memory, of seeing the hurt and anger on his face. This time though, his features were calm and serene, and her breath almost caught in her throat at how beautiful he now looked.
"Do you see something of interest?" A strange, gravelled voice asked, breaking through her internal musings. Stunned by the sound, she quickly whirled around and came face to face with the shortest and most unsightly little gnome she had ever seen. The little person stood less than four feet, with silvery grey, small eyes and a wrinkled face. Unsure how, Bulma knew that it was a she, a very intimidating, assertive she at that, even if there was less than four feet and ninety pounds of her.
Embarrassed at the fact that she had been caught staring at Jitsu again, the blue haired woman searched about for Sashii-san in the hopes of justifying herself. The sweet young nun was no where to be found, the whole section of the garden was deserted but for the old crone and Bulma. Caught under that penetrating, eerily perceptive gaze, the younger woman racked her brain for an explanation for her whereabouts and behaviour but her words came out as garbled mush. After the phrase ‘Sashii-san was telling a tale’ the older woman raised her hand and silenced Bulma.
"Do not fear so, Briefs-sama, I sent Sashii-san back to her chores, which probably means she is back at the far wall, watching her sohei champion with the other girls. You are not in any trouble, the gardens are open to everyone, be they great warriors, orphaned children or spirit guides." The nun finally remarked, her serious eyes twinkling in amusement. For her part, Bulma almost groaned. Just what she needed, another person looking for the great ‘Show Girl’. The woman even called her –sama, just as Kouketsu …
"How did you know my family name?"
"Bayoken-san spoke of you often," the crone remarked, though Bulma highly doubted that the seer was her only source of information. "He could not have been more correct about your origins if you had come from Amateras’ realm." The nun then paused, as if lost in thought and her eyes clouded over in contemplation. "So mysterious is the will of the gods." She whispered as she stared right at Bulma, or rather, through the blue haired woman, and even the ivy covered wall and into the koi garden.
"Who are you?" Bulma asked, tired with riddles, seers and the will of the gods.
"I am Bikan." My purpose is that of Bikan-san … they sent me. "It is a pleasure to finally meet you, ‘Show Girl’." You will like … Bikan-san, indebted … for their acts of kindness and compassion. "I have heard of your many exploits, the whole nunnery and orphanage is a buzz with tales of your adventures." Bikan-san’s brew … magic. As the crone spoke, Bulma could hardly concentrate on the woman’s words. All she could think of was what she had seen and been told, of the strange tales now made clear as Bulma looked into that thoughtful, knowing gaze.
"Heard of my exploits?" Bulma remarked as a knowing smile appeared on her face, one which was reflected back to her on Bikan-san’s wizened countenance. In that instant, the blue haired woman felt at ease with the nun. At her words, the crone smirked, and that sharp gaze travelled over to the far garden wall, the one that separated the orphanage grounds from the trailing yard.
"Oh yes, I’ve heard many tales of the mystic spirit guide and battles against the very demons of the underworld, mostly originating from our young samurai. The boy truly is remarkable, a better swordsman or more loyal warrior you will not find, unless it is his father."
"He is well, by the way," the aged crone replied, easily reading Bulma’s next question before she could ask it. "His condition is stable now, and he is resting comfortably, though it took several doses of sleeping draughts. He’s as stubborn as a mule, especially when it comes to his visions, or rather the completion of one. I truly must say, when he first spoke of you I did not believe him."
"Then you know of ‘my great quest’?" The young woman asked, hoping to confirm her lingering suspicions. Bikan only smiled in reply, the gesture wiping away all doubts in Bulma’s mind.
"You were sent to find the lost ‘Prince’ Buhogechi, and in Hazumi’s time of greatest need, he will save his people from despair." All through the aged crone’s speech, Bulma attention shifted over to the lush, koi garden as a triumphant smile spread across her face.
"Do not celebrate too quickly a victory that you have not yet won." Bikan warned, startling the young woman out of her reverie. "You did not listen wisely to Sashii-san’s story, hearing only what you wanted to hear. You think your quest is over; it has not yet begun." It struck her then, all the questions and uncertainties were answered. Kami, she was a fool for not having realised it before. He knew. Bayoken always knew where Buhogechi was, maybe even helped the boy to the monastery’s doorstep. For a week she suffered on the back of that stubborn nag, sleeping on anything from small, uncomfortable inn pallets to the cold, hard ground. She had nearly been raped, killed by ninja and died in a blizzard, and why?
"He had to make sure that you were ready." Bikan replied once more, eerily answering Bulma’s question before it had left her mouth. "You had to understand how dangerous it truly was, what you were up against, and most importantly, what would happen if you failed. The fate of many rests in your hands. He has to be ready to face his demons and overcome them, and you must help him."
"And how do you know that it’s me? He … he hates me. After last night he will not trust or listen to me. I was so mean to him." The blue haired woman asked, before her apprehension got the best of her. Mentally preparing herself for another warning or a berating for her ‘selfishness’, she was caught off guard as the older woman began to laugh.
"If only you knew, child, the power you hold over him. Not listen to you? He would follow you to the ends of the earth. Already he has shown more interest in you than anyone else I have ever seen. He had all but taken a vow of silence, but from only one day of knowing you, he has revealed more of himself than in the last twenty years at least. No matter how hard the task may be, I cannot think of anyone else who could accomplish it." How could she not succeed, with such support behind her, Bulma thought.
"The only question now is how do I get him to come with me when the time comes?" The blue haired woman murmured to herself, her entire focus on the koi garden and the young man meditating within it.
"Simple," Bikan replied. "When you leave, he will follow of his own free will." Glancing over her shoulder, she found herself alone, the aged nun vanishing as mysteriously as she had appeared.
Like Kouketsu, it took only a day for Bulma to become a part of the strange family that was the people of Seidou. In truth it was hard not to, as it seemed that most of the young sohei had already accepted her as soon as she had walked through the monastery gates, thanks to Kouketsu. It wasn’t long before the orphans and the many young nuns also followed suit, until everyone bowed in respect when she walked past. The displays of awe were, to say the least, unsettling, but it gave her an opportunity to stop the use of that ‘show girl’ moniker.
With such openness and kindness towards her, it wasn’t long before Bulma adopted the routine of the monastery, rising at dawn to take a small breakfast in the dining hall, normally in the company of Kouketsu and his rapid growing legion of friends, allies and sparing partners. After that it was work in the main gardens with the orphans and nuns, with a mid-morning break to watch the training exercises, much like on that first morning. That too seemed to be a tradition, as the young women and boys cheered for their favourite warrior or spoke of a day when they would join Master Rookoo. Many a verbal battle did she have to break up between the spirited orphans, usually between the headstrong Hagekori and one of the other girls. That too, Sashii-san had informed her, had become something of a ritual lately, especially since Hagekori had taken a fancy to the young sohei, Kikoku.
Even though she had lived in the monastery for less than a week, it was quickly becoming a home to her. Given the chance, she might have forgotten it all, her mission, Heru Oni, the people of Hazumi, even her life in her own time, traded it all for the peace of Seidou. She spent many an afternoon in the village market, or enjoying the beautiful gardens, though not a day went by that she didn’t end up near that ivy covered wall, watching Jitsu meditate by the koi pond. It was those times, with the sun beating down on her face and the brisk wind in her hair, that she felt most at peace, but her overactive mind could not stay quiet for long. With every visit she made to the koi garden, Bikan-san’s warning were at the back of her mind, coming to the front when she visited Bayoken in his sickbed.
That too, in its own way, became a part of her routine, as she and Kouketsu, sometimes in the company of Juukou, would visit the ailing samurai after the evening meal. The startling change in his condition from near death to recovery to the peak of health only confirmed Bulma’s suspicions about the strange, otherworldly power of the monastery and some of its inhabitants.
"I told you, Bulma-san, that there was something magical about this place and Bikan-san’s handiwork with medicines. Though it seems you’ve learned that yourself, firsthand." Bayoken replied to her, during a solitary visit she made to the sick ward on the fourth day. Not bothering to ask how he knew of the meeting, she merely nodded, hoping to discuss Bikan-san’s revelations with the seer. Bayoken, it seemed, did not.
"We will be departing soon," he proclaimed, all playfulness now gone from his face. For her part, Bulma felt a weight in her stomach and a constriction in her throat at the thought of leaving Seidou. It had become a home. She belonged here.
"Do not let the magic of this place being to get hold of you, Bulma-san, this is not a place for you. The spirits and powers that watch over the monastery are strong. They protect the innocent and those in need of peace and guidance. It is why … why I chose it for my recuperation but you must remember the mission. This place is a temporary sanctuary, a resting stop only for the here and now. You were not meant for this, ‘show girl’, life is far too potent in you to be content as a nun of Seidou. Just as he is not truly content with the life of a monk." An icy spike of trepidation shot through Bulma. Though the last part was hardly more than a whisper, she heard the rest of his statement as clear as a bell, and immediately recognised where she had heard those words before. Kami, did Bayoken’s ability reach beyond space and time, to the very centre of a person’s thoughts and soul?
"Besides, our time here will soon be at an end, hopefully as soon as I can get out of this infernal bed. The time of Hazumi’s greatest need is close at hand and we will need you, ‘show girl’. You know of what I speak." Nodding her understanding, Bulma couldn’t help but fold her hands with apprehension at the mission ahead of her and the obstacles that stood in her way.
"Heru Oni is stepping up his efforts against Bahoriki. The Yami have been sent to terrorise the people of Hazumi instead of us." The blue haired woman said, recounting part of the vision that had turned her blood cold. Even now, in the safety of Seidou, the memory of it still had the power to make her shudder.
"There is something else coming for us when we leave this place, worse than the Yami. I saw death in Kamen’s eyes, but when I looked into Heru Oni’s and this new menace, I saw Hell itself." So caught up in her thoughts, Bulma didn’t even move when Bayoken laid his heavy hand on her shoulder.
"They want you alive. He has a use for you, a terrible purpose for your sight. You are his means to immortality. Kami help us all if he is ever successful for the earth itself will be in peril." The young woman kept going. Now that the floodgate had opened, she couldn’t keep back the rising tide of fear and anxiety. Caught up in a trance, Bulma recounted every horrible warning from that vision.
"He also knows about Buhogechi, not only that he is alive but where you hid the young Prince all those years ago. When Oni’s squad of assassins strikes, they will try to take you and Buhogechi alive. You he wants to exploit, use your sight to further his conquest. Oh Kami, he means to use Jitsu as a sacrifice to the sword, a soul to feed the demon inside of it." Not even realising her slip, Bulma seemed to go cold and for a moment she was in that dream again, seeing the light fight against the darkness. It was only the sound of Bayoken calling her name that snapped her out of it, the look on the older man’s face full of empathy and concern as he gathered her into a warm hug. Accepting the silent comfort he was offering, Bulma buried her head into his chest as she began to tremble with the memory of her visions.
Though she had only known this man for a short time, she felt safe, his embrace felt familiar, almost like Sonkun’s strong bear hugs. At the thought of her oldest friend, Bulma felt a smile tugging at her lips. She always thought that Goku’s kindness transcending the violence of his Saiyajin blood, the bump on his head or his human upbringing to something deeper and older, inside his very soul. With a man like this as his father, she could see where it came from.
"I would not have another suffer with the sight for all the wealth of Japan." He murmured into her hair when she relaxed, his voice soft and full of understanding. In truth, he understood better than anyone else what she was dealing with.
"If not for Kagayaku-sama, it would have driven me mad, seeing what none but the gods and spirits are meant to see. The coincidences of your every thought and action. The death and suffering of everyone you love and destruction of everything you hold dear. " He remarked, more to himself than to her as his whole body seemed to tense. Normally tight-lipped about this sight, she wondered if he ever spoke about the truth that only he could see, ever released the burden that had been placed on his shoulders. Yes, she realised, but only to two others, the only other two that could see beyond merely the here and the now. Whenever he was in great need or peril, his path brought him to this place, a mystical sanctuary removed from the outside world. It was here that he first learned to control and harness his curse, no doubt meditating in that koi pond garden just like Jitsu.
"That’s why you sent him here, isn’t it? This is the only place where he would be safe from Heru Oni …"
"And from himself." Bayoken smiled as he released her, pleased that she had now figured out the whole puzzle. "Given the choice between leaving the boy to become a spoiled tyrant, or handing him over to the Fuyu and condemning him to a living nightmare, I chose a third. In my younger, wilder days as a ronin, fate brought me to Seidou and under the tutelage of Kagayaku-sama. He took a cursed, half-mad shell of a man and gave me enlightenment and purpose; he gave me hope…"
"And at your most desperate moment, your old sensei came to mind again, a hope in a hopeless situation." Bulma interjected, grinning as the normally stoic, composed Bayoken nodded with a sheepish expression on his face.
"The fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves, or in my case, it was less fate guiding my hand than my own instincts. It was also my extreme luck that the monks at Seidou were willing to take him in, though Rookoo-san still has not completely forgiven me." The elder samurai remarked, smirking with the memory. Remembering Sashii’s story about the young Buhogechi, she could understand the old sohei’s anger at being saddled with the headstrong heir.
"I’ve been told that the boy has become something of a pariah, practically living the life of a hermit. The boy is now looking at taking vows of silence and isolation and he already lives a very simple existence. Kagayaku-sama says he has never found a man more devoted to enlightenment and peace, but is living it for all the wrong reasons. For all of his efforts, Jitsu does not truly belong here, and for that reason tries even harder to remain and live a life unsuited for him. So tell me, ‘show girl’, what do you think of him?" How many times had she gone over this question in her head over the last few days as she spent those hours watching him in that garden. He was an enigma to her, now even more so after hearing this insight into the complex man.
Buhogechi. How often had she imaged what he would be like? What would the arrogant spoiled child be like after twenty years in obscurity? Not in her wildest dreams could she conceive what she ultimately found. Even after several days the truth hadn’t completely sunk in. Yet there was no denying it, she had seen it with her own eyes, the mark of the Ho tattooed on his back of his thigh. It was the same symbol as the majestic bird on her dagger, one so sacred, she remembered Ichirui saying, it was found on every male member of royal house. As soon as she first awoke in his arms, she knew he was something special, even before she caught sight of the mark. For all that it was Buhogechi that she was searching for, what she found was someone and something very different … Jitsu.
In the time she spent with him, both speaking and watching him, Jitsu seemed the polar opposite to the brash, headstrong heir in Kouketsu’s story. Often, during meals or when she was walking through the village with Yonare, she wanted to ask about Jitsu, what they knew about him as a warrior and a comrade. When the name passed her lips, Yonare looked at her as if she was mad, or playing a joke, then proceeded to malign Bulma’s rescuer as a coward and embarrassment to the order. After the combustible reaction from the young sohei, Bulma had kept her opinions to her on the subject, but now that Bayoken was asking her, she couldn’t keep back her thoughts and curiosities.
"He’s definitely unusual, and not a lover of crowds at all. In the four days we’ve been here, I have never seen him in the dining hall, the main gardens, or the training yard. The only place he seems to go is to the koi garden to meditate with two older men, and even then, he doesn’t engage in any conversation either before or after his afternoon meditation. None of the young sohei even acknowledge his presence, some think him nothing but a coward. The only ones willing to speak about him were Sashii-san and Bikan-san, but even their accounts were short and sketchy." Bulma finally replied, speaking her mind until Bayoken raised his hand to silence her.
"I didn’t want to know what others think of him, or his particular habits, but what you think of him, Bulma-san. He will ultimately be your charge. You will mould him for the task before him. I ask you again, what do you think of him?" Leaving off any calculated or refined answer, she let the thoughts and feelings she had experienced since waking up in Jitsu’s arms tumble from her lips.
"Warm." She started out, remembering the warmth he had provided her against the horrible chill of the blizzard.
"Generous," recalling how he had given her his clothes to cover her.
"Strong," as her thoughts turned to when he caught her at the moment her legs gave out, holding her as if she weighed nothing.
"Mischievous." She could hardly keep back a grin, her mind flashing with his quick non-answers to her and the sohei captain’s questions.
"Determined, loyal." Her tone sobered, as did her countenance, when she thought of how he came to her in blizzard with nothing but his superior’s word to guide him. He showed much the same resolve when he led her through the mountain pass. As for his loyalty, her ears still tingled and her heart felt light as she heard his oath to her, his promise to keep her safe.
"And innocent." She finished with, her once clear voice now hardly over a whisper. Caught in the memory of Jitsu’s cold eyes and gruff tone as she berated and dismissed him, she frowned at her own short temper. "Your friend is right, he appears to the world as a pariah and anti-social, except with me. He doesn’t mind my presence at all, or at least he didn’t until I snapped at him. One thing is true though, he has no problem talking. The two times we talked he was questioning and teasing me as bad as you at your worst." That one earned a good-hearted chuckle from the bed-ridden Bayoken and she couldn’t help but join him.
"There is no overabundance of pride in him either," she continued, remembering some of Yonare’s comments about the mysterious monk. "But he is proud and strong inside, possessing a greater fortitude than anyone I’ve met during this journey. Barring one possible exception." She remarked, winning her another contented smile from the samurai.
"Anyone who would brave such a storm to save another’s life, at the risk of his own, is a good man, worthy of respect." She finished, glad that she had gotten that off her chest, and pleased that she had not gone into some of the deeper emotions that had come over when she thought of her rescuer. It was hard enough to sort out all the facts and riddles without starting in on feelings.
"The fact that he mistook you for the goddess of the sun had nothing to do with it then?" Bayoken asked, seeing through her like sunlight through a paper screen and Bulma couldn’t help but blush in response.
"Do not be so embarrassed. You deserve the praise, and you certainly won’t get it from my love-struck son or a grizzled, old man like me. Know also that you have just proven to me that you are the only person capable to the trial ahead of you. For just as I had to make sure you were ready for this challenge, you have to ensure that your Jitsu will be ready to take on his. He has a heavy burden to bear as Buhogechi, and with that name will come the responsibility of the prophecy. The sword and its master will soon begin their reign of terror, already an army is being assembled and plans are being made in the great shiro of Fuyu. It will not be long before their strike. You know of what I speak. Hazumi will be just the first target. Once he has control of the province, he will use its wealth and position to conquer all of the south, until all of Honshu is under his heel. This cannot happen, ‘Show girl’, Heru Oni cannot succeed." Nodding in complete agreement, Bulma could not help but feel a spike of dread at Bayoken’s prediction. The analytical part of her mind flitted through all she had seen and heard about the Hiyayaka as she came to a difficult conclusion.
For all Bahoriki’s influence, might and promises, Hazumi was no match for the forces of Fuyu. Heru Oni had a giant military machine, no less threatening today as it was when Ko Ori first demanded Buhogechi as his ward.
"It will take more than one man to defeat a force of that magnitude. You’ll need an army, and a miracle." As the words left her mouth, a smirk worthy of the Saiyajin Prince himself spread across Bayoken’s washed out face.
"Leave the army to me," he proclaimed proudly. "The miracle, ‘Show girl’, is up to you."
So life at Seidou continued for Bulma, as she became one with its people in routine. Bayoken’s words, though, were never far from her thoughts, either was her mission, especially when she would secretly watch her charge. Still, they were just words, just abstract thought until one evening, five days later.
The waxing moon was already rising in the east, and nearly the entire company of sohei and trainees were gathered in the main dinning area. Tonight was not like any other night though, the evening meal had long ago been served, as the normally raucous room was hushed as every eye was trained to the front of the hall. There stood five figures, all older warrior, two still in their fighting prime. Each was well known and respected by the sohei, but it was one of the oldest men that commanded the attention of the young warriors. Though age and injury had stooped and slowed him, it had not dulled his mind nor lessened the reverence the younger generation held for him.
"That’s Master Gaman." Kikoku whispered to her, giving her a name for the face she had often seen in the koi garden with Jitsu. She had heard much about this grizzled old warrior, a great fighter in his time, before he came to Seidou and took up the life of a monk. He and the current trainer of the sohei, Rookoo-san, had led the main guard for almost forty years, she had been told, and had never been defeated in battle.
"For fifty years, the Shinsei mountains have protected the monastery of Seidou and its inhabitants from the outside world. Since that time, Seidou has grown and expanded from a commune of monks, to a nunnery and orphanage, and now to a thriving village, a self-sustained sanctuary, a home. Our order had developed with the principles of peace and enlightenment and gave birth to this community where people can live freely without fear of tyranny. This freedom comes at the cost of eternal vigilance.
"From warlords who coveted our homes, to Daimyo who want to control the mountain passes, we have pushed them all back. With the discipline of meditation and prayer, we adapted and adopted the disciplines of warfare and the mastery of weapons. As a community, both the monastery and village have grown strong, to the point that we are now a land isolated, without a care for the world beyond the mountain. But this cannot remain so. There is a world outside Shinsei and it is suffering as we once suffered.
"As you know, four travellers came to our door almost ten days ago. They came from a land far in the south, with a story beyond belief, of spirit guides, ninja and a power mad Daimyo bent on conquering the whole of Honshu. Yet, this story is one we cannot ignore, and their plight is not just theirs; it is ours as well. I know the evil they speak of, as I know the man that speaks it. Bayoken-san is a good friend to Seidou, as is Juukou-san. Both of them speak with truth and wisdom and I trust them as I trust Rookoo-san and Kagayaku-sama. They came here for sanctuary, but is there not more we could offer?" Gaman-san asked to the crowd. The previous wrapped audience now began to crack, as one or two of the trainees started whispering amongst themselves. The seeds of interest that Kouketsu and his stories had first planted were now being to sprout under the elder sohei’s skilful handing.
"Their cause is just and their quest great," The old monk continued and the entire hall grew quiet once more. "Can we stand by and watch this evil perpetrate?" Again he paused for a moment, and the damn of vehemence began to crack. This time sohei both young and old began to whisper, the sound growing louder and still others joined in. Before her eyes, the voices of half a dozen grew to two and three dozens, the whispers becoming normal speech, then just below shouts. Before it could get much farther into outright dissidence, the crowd was silenced by a sharp command by the captain of the guard. The hall grew quiet again, though still humming with excitement, as all eyes and ears returned to the aged warrior.
"After many discussions on this matter between Kagayaku-sama, Rookoo-san, Bayoken-san, Juukou-san, Sewagu-san and I, we have reached a consensus. When you came into the order, you all took an oath of service, to defend Seidou and all it represents: the principles of peace and enlightenment. And while your primary oath is to Seidou, you all have the responsibility to help those in need, and fight evil wherever it exists. It is with these higher principles in mind we are offering you a choice. If any of you wish it, you can join Bayoken-san and the others on the their mission." The words were hardly out of Gaman-san’s mouth before the previously provoked crowd seemed to explode in cries of ‘yes’. On their feet, most of Kouketsu’s friends and allies in the young ranks were surging towards the older warriors at the front, pledging themselves to the mission. In the lead was Kouketsu himself, followed by the ever confident Yonare and the wise-cracking Kikoku.
Though the older, full-ranked sohei were more subdued, they seemed no less eager in their support. Already, four of their ranks, all of whom she had watched during training exercises, had joined their younger counterparts. The young pups remembered their manners and parted to the side for their elders and superiors. Bowing low before their own sensei and leaders, they formally pledged themselves to help in anyway they could. As reserved as the men seemed to be, even Bulma couldn’t miss the gleam of excitement in their eyes, a mirror reflection of the one in the trainees.
The gleam, it seemed, was contagious, as Bayoken own black eyes shone with elation. Bulma couldn’t help but smile herself as others, both young and established sohei made pledges of support, the ranks of the willing swelling to twenty-six. A fine battalion, she noted but not an army.
"Great. We’re fighting against a demon and all we have on our side are children and old has-beens." Juukou drooled from his position next to Bayoken as he looked over the new recruits. Only the joking glint in his eyes betrayed his irritated veneer.
"Oh, you don’t have to worry about us, old man," one of the full ranked sohei replied back. "If anyone is going to embarrass us, it’ll probably be you. Assuming the trainees don’t beat you to it that is. If you wanted a truly unstoppable force, you should try recruiting in the orphanage. My little sister alone could send the enemy fleeing in the opposite direction." At that the whole company of sohei laughed and Bulma couldn’t help but join in. Faced with the choice of Kamen’s wrath or Hagekori’s, she would take her chances with the ninja.
"Maybe you should bring the girl, Nukeme. If she is anything like you, I’m sure she is a force to be reckoned with." Bayoken remarked, showing a hint of his wit before his more serious side took over.
"The time for such pleasantries will soon be at an end. Tomorrow morning I want every volunteer to be ready to fight, because you will. This isn’t a mission for the weak and both Juukou-san and I reserve the right to test your metal. If either of us think you don’t have what it takes then you will not come with us, it’s as simple as that. Though I trust Master Rookoo and Gaman’s tutelage, I am not leading anyone out that isn’t ready to go. This will be a difficult battle against an evil that most of you cannot imagine. So, if any one decides that they are not ready," he said to the willing group before he looked pointed at the larger crowd of warriors. "Or, if any of the fighters here decided to take up our cause, take this night to examine your conscience and make your decision." Ending it at that, the company slowly began to file out of the dining room. Some where headed to their rooms, or to finish up forgotten chores or even speak to a friend or two about everything they had witnessed that night. It wasn’t long before nearly the whole hall was empty, only the five leaders, Bulma, Kouketsu, Yonare and Kikoku left.
"You should get some rest as well, boy. You did very well." Bayoken said to his son as he smirked at his son. "If any of the trainees you’ve befriended have half the loyalty or dedication that you do, I’m sure they will give their superiors a run for their money." As stoic as Bayoken usually acted towards his youngest son, he couldn’t hide the fatherly affection in either his countenance or voice. With a look that bordered on hero worship, Kouketsu nodded his reply and began to leave with his two friends at his side. Thinking that the trio could escort her to the nunnery, she got up from her seat and started walking towards the main doors.
"No rest for you though, ‘Show Girl’. There is still one matter we must discuss." The gruff old voice called out and Bulma stopped in her tracks as did Yonare. From the stubborn set of his jaw, Bulma knew he was showing his intent to go wherever she went, or in this case, stay when she was called. It was an endearing gesture, but bothersome all the same.
Like Kouketsu, Bulma had made several friends amongst the young sohei in training, particular with their dashing captain. Though he was close to her in age, with the roguish looks and suave charm that had appealed to her in her youth, she felt no romantic attachment or feelings for him. He was too much of a boy, she realised, one who could only view her as a fragile female instead of the grown, intelligent, adventurous woman she was.
"Is there anything wrong, trainee?" Juukou’s voice again echoed through the hall and Yonare tensed under the scrutiny of the five other men. Whatever explanation or excuse he was about to give was nipped in the bud with a curt dismissal from Bayoken, telling him to get to sleep and prepare for the day ahead. His desire for honour overcame his stubbornness and the young man left Bulma to her fate.
"He is loyal, but proud and arrogant. He could be a great warrior if he can live by the former and sacrifice the latter." She heard Bayoken whisper behind her.
"Pride is a difficult trait to master," another, unfamiliar yet calming voice replied. "Especially when the price of humility is so high. While I fear for Yonare’s temper, his better qualities will ultimately show through. When you need him, Bayoken-san, he will be there." There was something about that voice, the gentle, low timbre like a father consoling a son as he spoke with such assurance. In many ways it was like Bayoken’s, when he spoke with after the future with such confidence because he had witnessed it, knew the outcome and saw a way. Yet this speaker was different, as he spoke with absolute belief in the future, a future he too could see with his own eyes.
‘If not for Kagayaku-sama, it would have driven me mad, seeing what none but the gods and spirits are meant to see.’
Turning around to face the quintet, she immediately focussed on the older man in the centre, the last speaker, the head of the entire monastery and the spiritual guide for all of Seidou: Kagayaku. Like all the others in the group, he had the build of a trained fighter, and no doubt was a deadly fighter in his youth. Though he clutched at a wooden cane for support, age had not diminished his looks or his demeanour. He could have been a dead ringer for his nephew. The sharp, dark features that she recognised on Juukou were perfectly cast on Kagayaku. Yet, there was something softer in the older man’s looks. His features were kinder, wiser and his countenance far less demonic than the giant warrior. He looked at ease in his monk’s robes, as he looked at ease all those afternoons meditating in the koi garden with Jitsu.
"You honour us with your presence, Bulma-san." Kagayaku said, bowing his head in greeting before he raised his eyes to hers and she was lost in his gaze. She found herself unable to look away from his black eyes, the power of them holding her breathless. They were so deep, so black, and knowing; even stronger than Bayoken at his worse. It wasn’t until he blinked that the spell of his stare was broken and she realised she was gawking at him. Blushing with embarrassment, she quickly returned the bow and his greeting.
"It is I who am honoured, Kagayaku-sama. If it wasn’t for you, I would have died in the mountain pass, instead of standing before you."
"You thank the wrong person, Bulma-san. I did not brave the elements in search of you, merely pointed your rescuer in the right direction." The elder monk replied, blushing himself at her words of thanks. With that single gesture, Bulma instantly liked the man as he endeared himself to her. The puzzle of Seidou suddenly seemed crystal clear as she smiled back at the older man. There was something about him, almost an aura or power, that permeated the whole monastery, the whole town. She could also understand Heru Oni’s fear of both the place and its head monk, and she fought back a smirk of satisfaction. The smirk was quick to fade as she realised that the rest of the group was staring at her, one set of eyes that seemed to gaze intently and, more importantly, was fixed on her chest.
"Well, if you aren’t the prettiest thing," the normally booming voice of Rookoo-san remarked softly, his eyes didn’t rise above her neck. He didn’t say another word, but then he didn’t need to, the trickle of blood from his nose said more than enough.
After spending many of her adolescent years with lechers like Master Roshi and Oolong, she could recognise the signs of a hentai when she saw one. Many things had changed since she had been a rowdy teenager though, not the least of which was developing a greater sense of self-respect and a shorter fuse when it came to being leered at. All questions of proper respect and social restraints were thrown aside when she saw the small drop of drool forming at the corner of the older man’s mouth. About to tear a strip the size of the Shinsei mountains off the old eechi, she stopped short, her attention focussed on something behind the old man.
For a moment she thought it could have been a trick of the light, or her overactive imagination creating monsters in the shadows. The low growl that graced her ears wasn’t a trick or imagined though, as her eyes scanned the darkness for the source of the sound. It was at that moment that the wind fluttered one of the long curtains, filling the room with the pale moonlight. Still shrouded in the shadows, his eyes caught the light and seemed to shine in the dark with a glare of anger at the old hentai currently mooning over her.
"Jitsu." She whispered, but the young man’s never shifted from Rookoo-san, though the old sohei must have caught her words as he spun around and went pale at the hard look on Jitsu’s face. Whatever the younger generation thought of the mysterious man, Rookoo-san obviously didn’t feel so complacent and he backed away from her and closer to the men now staring at the new arrival. With the realisation that he was now the centre of attention, Jitsu calmed and his expression became neutral but the image of his anger at her discomfort was burned into Bulma’s mind.
"You missed all the excitement my boy. Thinking of enlisting to fight for Hazumi?" Gaman-san asked to the latecomer, breaking the awkward silence of Jitsu entrance. At Gaman-san’s question, the younger man tensed even more and his eyes quickly darted over everyone in the room, landing on hers before slowly sliding to Kagayaku-sama’s.
"I am sorry to disturb your talks," the young man finally said, though Bulma hardly recognised the tone. Gone was the confident, teasing and strong timbre he had always used with her, his words like his body seemed stiff and awkward. "I heard the cries and remembered that you had called a meeting of the sohei. My curiosity got the better of me, Kagayaku-sama. I will spend tomorrow in meditation on it."
It occurred to Bulma the change in his manner, the boy was nervous and embarrassed beyond belief, more so than when he woke up with only a loincloth around his hips. Whether it was forgetting the meeting, or being caught, he seemed to shift uncomfortably in front of all of their gazes. For the second time he scanned over ever face, this time looking long enough to take in more than just a precursory expression. This time his focus centred not on herself, or the head monk but the grim faced Bayoken, who returned Jitsu’s stare with a hard, uncompromising one of his own. The tension between the two men began to engulf the room, everyone waiting in nervous anticipation for when the conflict moved from stares to words, or to fists.
"It is late," Kagayaku-sama said, the calm tone in his voice belying the wary glint of his eyes. Everyone but the two antagonists turned and nodded. Some, like Rookoo-san and Gaman-san, started to leave, the situation far too explosive now for their liking. Juukou was not so apprehensive, as he gave a withering glare at Jitsu then turned to confront his old comrade. Slapping his hand on Bayoken’s shoulder, he leaned in close and whispered something to his fellow bushi. Said too low to be heard, it had a positive affect as Bayoken began to relax, even Jitsu followed suit. Whatever miracle Juukou had performed, he didn’t wait around to see the full effects as he turned away from the pair and walked towards her.
"It was good to see you again, Juukou." Kagayaku-sama remarked, smiling up at his intimidating nephew and the grunt he gave as a reply.
"You have grown strong, like a true warrior should. Rookoo-san told me that you have been helping with our novice sohei, training them in all manner of combat. There is a leader in you, Juukou, maybe when the time is right, you can take my place here. You would make a fine monk." The last part was spoken with such honesty and credence that Bulma didn’t know whether to laugh or shake her head in disbelief. Juukou didn’t think the matter funny, muttering a few choice words under his breath about ‘senile old men’ and ‘running the monastery into the ground’ before he turned and left.
Thinking she should leave as well, she was stopped by Kagayaku-sama’s hand on her elbow. With his gentle but firm grip, the old monk led her towards the last two men in the room who were staring intently at her.
"The moment has come, Brief-sama. Your mission begins now." He whispered into her ear before he released his grip.
"Please forgive me, Kagayaku-sama, for the intrusion and my actions. I don’t know what came over me." Jitsu said as his eyes focussed on his sensei, bowing in respect at his superior. His eyes glowed with shame at his actions as well as great admiration for the old man beside her. It struck Bulma like a punch in the stomach. The look on Jitsu face was one a son gave to his father, Kagayaku is the only father he has ever known. How could she ask him, tell him to leave his only home?
"There is no need to apologise, my boy. You have every right to be here, just as much as anyone else. And when the time comes, it will be your right to leave us." The old master replied, his look mirroring the young man’s. The emotion is not one sided, she realised. Kami, who would this hurt more, she wondered, the young boy losing the only father’s he has ever known or the father who knew this day would come.
Though it was on the tip of the man’s tongue to ask what he meant, the young man stayed silent, whether from respect or fear she did not know.
"What did you think of Master Gaman’s speech, boy?" Bayoken finally asked, his voice as stern and rough as his glare from before. About to snarl back, Jitsu held the reply, his eyes moving to her once more, his expression one of admiration as well. He won’t say anything to Bayoken, because he knew of her affection for the older man, Bulma realised.
"I have no thoughts, or feelings on the matter, sir. Seidou is my home and Kagayaku-sama is my sensei, and I will not abandon either for the glory and bloodshed of your great quest." Jitsu replied resolutely, his earlier disdain for Bayoken coming to the forefront once more. For his part, the great seer growled low in his throat, obviously annoyed by the younger man’s blasé attitude. Thinking that a worse confrontation would break out, Bulma knew she had to step in, the time for her mission had truly come.
"You have no care for the lives and well-being of a whole province of people?" She questioned, surprising the two men. Even with the intense stares of all three men on her, she continued, nothing stopping her from this course of action.
"I do not know this land of yours, its people, its leader. Your fight is not mine, and even if it was … I cannot." At the last he seemed to whisper, his face going stark white and his entire body as taut as a stretched bowstring.
Ignoring the other two men in the room, Bulma focussed completely on Jitsu. Her charge Bayoken had called him, her quest. At the time of greatest strife and darkest fear the heir will return, the prophecy said, guided by the great water spirit. Even as her mind railed against it, reminding her that she was not this spirit guide and this was not her fight, she knew she could not deny it now. She didn’t know when, but the quest was now hers and she could not fail. Looking into Jitsu’s deep, black eyes, she smiled at the resemblance between him and the great Daimyo, Bahoriki. It was at that moment that she resigned herself to her fate, accepted completely the mantle of responsibility placed upon her shoulder in that cavernous hall. If it took every ounce of strength she possessed, she would reunite the boy with his father and save the land that had embraced her so. Approaching him with a gentle but determined look, she took his large hand in hers and began her own great campaign.
"Is that your only impediment, that you do not know what our cause is? You did not know who I was but you braved the freezing cold to save my life, and brought me to safety." She began, and his expression softened as he gazed intently at her.
"That was different," he finally whispered, but his cheeks bloomed with embarrassment at her praise.
"Why, because Kagayaku-sama asked, and you went without question. But it was more than just his words that kept you walking through that blizzard and made you take me to the cave. There is goodness in you, a kind and noble heart buried in there. It must care for the plight of others, even if you don’t let it show. You obviously care very much for Seidou and its people, and you would do whatever you could to help keep it safe." Hoping she hadn’t overstepped her bounds or pushed him too far, she was catch off guard as he crack a small smirk. She didn’t even have to turn around to know that Bayoken and Kagayaku were sporting the same expression.
"You presume much, Bulma-san. What makes you think that I would go to such trouble for this place, or any for that matter?" Jitsu replied, the sharp wit he used to banter with her in their first encounter slowly coming out.
"I think not." Bulma bit back, losing herself in the verbal tennis match. It reminded her of the battle of wills she often engaged in in her our time. After learning the ropes in the high stakes corporate world of Capsule Corp. and sharpening her skills with her many mental battles with Vegeta, she relished the challenge Jitsu was becoming. Unlike Gaman-san’s appeal to raw emotion, she knew that she would need both reason and passion to win her charge over to her cause.
"When you led me to Seidou, you told me that it was a safe place, that it was your home. While I’ve only been here for ten days, I can see why you care for it so. This is a special place and it holds something precious, peace and security. After travelling throughout this land, I can tell you that those two entities are scarce indeed." With every word she spoke, his eyes darkened and his smirk grew larger. She almost smirked back as she waited for his reply.
"Even if what you say is true, why would any of my feelings transfer over to a place I don’t know?"
"You wouldn’t," she quipped back, knocking her opponent off-guard.
"No more than Juukou-san, the other sohei or I. If I must make a confession, I would say that Hazumi is not my land, and when I was first recruited as its ‘Show Girl’," Bulma remarked, tossing a pointed look at the silent Bayoken behind her. "I had no reason to take up this task, in truth I railed against it, hated it and was angry beyond belief about the whole thing. Why did I have to take up this quest? It wasn’t my land, my people, even my time, why should I care? Why should I suffer a week on the back of a nag, bad food, hard beds and the very real possibility of being killed?" She paused for dramatic affect and looked over at her captive audience.
"If I didn’t fight, who would? If I didn’t stand up, face the darkness, why would anyone else? The people of Hazumi are no different than the people of Seidou, would you grant one peace and leave the other to misery?"
"They are not my people." He said, his voice harsh and growing in volume. Her words were having a great impact now, and he was fighting her tooth and nail. It was on the tip of her tongue to contradict him and reveal the truth. Kami, how she wanted to. It was so hard not to shout back that he was wrong, that they were his people and they needed him. Yet, the rational part of her mind prevailed.
He wasn’t ready to hear everything. It would be hard enough to get him to come with them, let alone shoulder him such a burden. If Heru Oni conquers Hazumi, there will be no end to his power, and no limits to the suffering he would reap upon the whole of Japan. The demon has to be stopped, and only the young man before her could achieve that feat. When the time came, she would make sure he was ready.
"They will be if you do not help us. Today it is the people of Senzai, tomorrow Heru Oni could very well be banging down the outer gates of Seidou. He will take possession of Hazumi, either by force or through his influence with the Emperor. Once he has the resources, not to mention control over such a strategic point, he will be unstoppable." As analytical and systematic as she tried to be with her arguments, she could not keep her emotions or voice in check over this. Her visions would not let her.
"Maybe you should have given the speech instead of Gaman-san." He said with a curt tone of voice, addressing her now heartfelt appeal with barely repressed disdain. "The way most of the sohei look at you, you could have enlisted them all without saying a word. Your efforts are wasted on me, Bulma-san, you should go back to Yonare, lead him into victory with your words and affection." As impassive as his tone was, he was not so dispassionate about his own words.
He knew of her friendship with Yonare, and by the sounds of it, knew about Yonare’s more than brotherly affection for her. For that matter, he thought that sentiment was shared by more than just the novice sohei. How could he know of such things unless, unless he had been watching her as she had him? ‘You should have given the speech instead of Gaman-san’. How long had he been standing there before he made his presence known, snarling at Rookoo-san for being such a lecher towards her? The look on his eyes when he finally revealed himself, like he would have challenged Rookoo-san for her. Whatever connection, either affection or friendship, she felt when they had first met was not one sided.
"Yonare doesn’t need me, he needs only the promise of death and glory to lead him. I want you, Jitsu-san, to come with us, to help us and to forgive me. I spoke out of rashness and fear that night, and I took my anger out on you, when I should have done so on our enemy. Soon I will get the chance to face my demons, and I want you with me when I do." His resistance was toppling then, he had only a few pillars left before he would agree. Kami, a large part of him already wanted to.
"I … I cannot. My place is here."
"No, Jitsu," Kagayaku-sama said, the sudden sound of his voice surprising both of them. She had forgotten the pair were even in the room.
"Unlike the sohei, you have made no vows to Seidou or to a life of service. Even as you embraced this life and our ways, a part of you could never accept this life. I always knew it was wrong to push you into making that choice. This life was not meant for you. I knew that from the first moment you came under my charge and I believe you know it now." What must it be like to have everything you believed yourself to be ripped apart? Though he was perfectly stoic and detached on the outside, he couldn’t hide his emotions. There was fear in his eyes, uncertainty and shame.
"You are wrong, Kagayaku-sensei, I have made one vow. I gave it to you and in twenty years I have never wavered from it. How can I follow them?" A vow made twenty years ago, just after he arrived. Could it have been a vow of secrecy, in fear of the Oni clan and what they would do if they found him? How could it be that he didn’t know who he was or his mission in life? About to interrupt the exchange between the pupil and his master she was stopped by the appearance of a hand on her shoulder.
"He doesn’t know," Bayoken whispered in her ear. "And now is not the time to reveal such things. He is not ready yet." How though, how could he not know his past, that he is Buhogechi, she wanted to cry out but reason kept her silent.
"The vow you made was as a child, Jitsu, and you have lived by it faithfully for all these years. Since that time you have never made another, until you met this woman." Kagayaku said, looking over at her and Jitsu followed, his own expression softening.
"Ten days ago, you made a vow to this woman, one to protect her until she had found her way." For the second time in as many weeks, Bulma’s mouth fell open in shock. About to yell out again at how he could know what had been said between her and Jitsu, Bayoken against stayed her hand.
Jitsu, on the other hand, didn’t even flinch when Kagayaku spoke. After a moment or so he nodded, not arguing the point at all. He has grown up with Kagayaku, she thought to herself and knows the monk’s abilities. It was like when she first met Kouketsu, not questioning her presence or purpose, just knowing that she was supposed to be there because his father told him so. Growing up in the eye, they just accepted the hurricane around them.
"That first vow, my boy, was made at the start of your time with me; now that time has come to an end. You have made a new vow as a man, to protect this young woman, and it is this oath that you must follow now. If you do that as faithfully as you did the first, you will find your true path. You know this to be so, otherwise, you would not have made it." It fell then, the last prop of his case, with Kagayaku’s words. Like the novice sohei in one of their training sessions, he bowed to her and Kagayaku, the two victors over him in mental combat.
"You should go to sleep, Jitsu-san," Bayoken remarked, taking charge of this newest recruit. "You may be following our ‘Show Girl’, but I want to see what you are made of, what your master has taught you for all these years." Paling at the thought of training with the other warriors, the young man looked first to his old teacher and then to her. She could read his desperation like words on a page and noted now that Yonare’s dislike of Jitsu was reciprocated.
"Come at dawn to the koi garden, and I will see you there. You have signed yourself up to a greater challenge than you know, Jitsu-san, but don’t worry, you have your spirit guide to help you." Smiling at her own ridiculous title, she nodded in agreement and it was enough to calm him and he consented to Bayoken’s terms. With his immediate future decided, the young man bowed his fair-wells and left, three sets of eyes watching him go. For two or three minutes they waited, none of them moving a muscle.
"He really doesn’t know." Bulma finally said, breaking the suffocating silence. She didn’t offer any further explanation and neither man needed it.
"Not since he was five years old, the last time he was Buhogechi." Kagayaku replied. "When he came to us he was a wild thing, so proud and arrogant, so headstrong and stubborn. What affection he held for others, mostly his father, was already being coloured by his own selfishness. Bikan-san tells me that Sashii-san told you about his journey over the wall to challenge the novice sohei at the time. He beat many of them. His skills with a sword truly were unmatched. We feared what he would do if he wasn’t stopped. If he couldn’t be brought under control, it would have been no better than if he was sent to the court of Fuyu. After the first month we took the only course of action still left open to us. He had lost his home, his father we had nothing left but to attack his pride." Bulma fought back a few tears as she heard the tale, her mind trying to picture the boy that Kagayaku was describing but she could only see a younger version of Jitsu. Unbelievably, she could also see Vegeta.
She could see the similarities between the two men. In truth, the young Buhogechi could have been a kodomo version of Vegeta, the pride of his people, with a strong, demanding father, servants to do his bidding and an impossible birthright. Just like the young Daimyo heir, his life was destroyed by the whim of a tyrant. She shuddered when she thought of the life Vegeta must have led under Freeza’s thumb. Had Buhogechi’s life been different, he could have ended up the Saiyajin Prince.
"Rookoo-san volunteered for the task, and a part of me thinks he truly enjoyed it. The next time Buhogechi climbed over the wall, Rookoo was waiting. The boy might have been strong, and a great fighter, but he did not have the skills or experience of a full-ranked sohei. Rookoo defeated him, first disarming him then besting the heir in hand to hand combat. Both he and Gaman-san hoped that it would be the end, that after the harsh lesson he would straighten up." Again, she could almost picture the scene, the cocky boy against his older opponent. Her heart wrenched at the thought of a five year old child, even one as spoiled as Buhogechi, beaten to such a state, battered not only physically but mentally. The picture Kagayaku’s words painted reminded her again of her Saiyajin houseguest.
After the horror that was Namek, Gohan and Krillin told her about the battle against the Ginyu and Freeza. She had no doubt there had been a great deal of history between the Saiyajin and Freeza and the alien death squad. Living in that den of vipers, especially at such a young age, it would warp the mind, destroy the heart and toughen the will. If it was one thing she knew about Vegeta, he had a diamond hard determination. When he put his mind to something, nothing could dent it. Not a week went by without him mumbling about how he will ‘defeat Kakkarott once and for all’.
"It didn’t work, did it?" Bulma replied, the puzzle pieces fitting together. Defeats, especially humiliating ones only inspired more rage, more hate and much determination to succeed.
"He was half conscious when they dragged him from the training field and he still fought tooth and nail. Our efforts were for not, if anything it made him angrier, until he and Paragi hatched a plan to escape." Now that got her attention.
"Who …" She was about to ask, but Kagayaku had already anticipated her question, as he continued with his story.
"A young boy, no more than four years old, an orphan in a raid, probably by the Yami clan of ninjas during Koni Ori’s reign of terror. His parents were merchants from Katei, a seaport town in the Hazumi province. They were travelling through the Shinpi-teki forest when they were attacked. Only the boy survived, though he was silent and withdrawn from everyone, everyone that is, except Buhogechi.
"The second Paragi saw the son of his Daimyo, he followed the boy around like a shadow. Maybe it was the connection to his home and parents, but from that moment on, Paragi was a devoted subject of the young Daimyo heir. Buhogechi, for the most part, treated Paragi like he did everyone, though at the time, I suspected that he liked the younger boy’s affection. It was a connection to his home and his rank, a subject that understood that the blood of great warriors and rulers flowed through his veins.
"After the incident, Buhogechi was convinced that he could not live in Seidou, and he convinced Paragi of the same thing. Whether he agreed or not, the younger boy could not and would not disobey his Daimyo and the two of them made plans to returned to Hazumi by foot. They left one evening, sneaking out through one of the windows with a length of rope taken from the main armoury. It wasn’t until the next day that we found them, or what was left of the pair." Bulma fought back the bile that was rising in her throat, her mind playing out several horrible endings to the tale. After her encounter with Kamen and her visions of the warriors in the employ of Heru Oni, she could only imagine what kind of torture the two boys had faced.
"What happened? What it ninja, or Ori’s troops?" She asked, the desire to know the history of her charge winning out. She was thoroughly confused when Kagayaku shook his head, his eyes cloudy over with the memory of that day.
"It was the late afternoon when we found them at the edge of Shinpi-teki, where they had made camp that night. I will never forget the scene as long as I live." He then paused, holding both Bulma and Bayoken in gut-wrenching suspense.
"Buhogechi was sitting against a tree, his eyes trained on a mound of blanket that was surrounded by a circle of rocks. He didn’t even hear anyone coming he was so intent on the mound, his eyes were red with tears, his face pale, his expression full of sadness and confusion. It wasn’t until I peaked under the blankets that I understood. Paragi was dead from a single stab wound in the stomach; it must have been excruciating. Next to the boy was the Ho family sword, Buhogechi’s most prised possession, red with blood." She had held back before, when she heard about what the young heir had suffered, she had held back her emotions. When Kagayaku described the scene, she could imagine the tiny cold body and the helpless young boy who was party to the whole thing and a single tear escaped.
"Not understanding what had happened, I went over to Buhogechi, walked in front of the boy and said his name repeatedly but he was in a trance. It wasn’t until I picked him up and shook him, nearly screaming his name that he answered with a snarl of his own. He told me to never speak that name again, for it was cursed, the name of a demon. Only a demon could kill his own liegeman, the very person he was supposed to protect. Then he asked me if Paragi was okay, saying that he had been so cold, he was trying to keep him warm with the blankets but he didn’t think it was enough."
"Gods, how did it happen? How could it…" Bulma blurted out, another tear sliding down her cheek.
"I don’t know, child, maybe I’m not meant to. All I know was that a terrible accident had occurred and it changed Buhogechi forever. Do you know why the Ho family have such loyal subjects, Bulma-san?" Shaking her head to the negative, Bayoken took over where Kagayaku ended.
"Their commitment to their followers and people, undying loyalty and a sense of obligation to any under their charge. To think, of all the lessons his father drilled into his head, that was the one that stuck." The samurai answered, understanding the heartbreaking story.
"When everything was taken from him, there was only tradition left. With Paragi, Buhogechi was able to reclaim part of who he was to the point that he transferred that commitment and loyalty his father had instilled onto his only liegeman. When Paragi died and by his own hand, it was like he had betrayed his father, betrayed everything and everyone he held dear. The boy didn’t just lose his friend and comrade, he lost his pride, his sense of self, his very name." ‘He doesn’t know’, Bayoken told her, the words incredulous to her ears. As Kagayaku told his story the piece began to fit. Sashii-san was right, there truly was nothing left of that boy.
"We were on our way back to Seidou when he finally asked me the question I knew was coming. Part of me dreaded it. What would happen to the boy and to your mission, Bayoken, if I told him what I wanted to tell him? It may have been selfish of me, but at the time it was all I could think of to save him. When he asked me what his name was, who he was I told him that he was an orphan of merchant parents and gave him Paragi’s life. The name I just blurted out, for I knew it would destroy him if I revealed that he was the very demon he now professed to hate. Maybe it was wrong of me. Perhaps I should have told him the truth, but here was the boy’s chance to start anew, to learn a new way and overcome the path of pride and arrogance that was poised to destroy him.
"After I told him his new name and life, he seemed to calm, as if he now had a place in the world. Fearing associating with those who knew him in the orphanage as Buhogechi, he was moved to the monk’s quarters, given a small cell and taught the ways of enlightenment. I instilled new lessons, of kindness and compassion, building on the moral foundations that still existed inside of him from the years under his father. A month after his return, he knelt before me in the koi garden and made a vow to me, one that he has not broken in twenty years."
"What is it?" Bulma asked, her curiosity unable to hold out. If it was one of service she could only hope he would be willing to transfer it from one group to another.
"That is the most ironic thing," Kagayaku replied, his eyes studying the plain wooden floor beneath their feet. "But it was a promise that he had with his whole heart. I don’t know whether it was due to Paragi’s death, or the fear of his own persona, but it has been his central belief for twenty years. Who would have thought, the heir to Bahoriki’s throne, a son of the warriors of Hazumi and greatest swordsman of his line and he took a vow of pacifism. From that day to this, he has never picked up a sword, never raised his hand again another person or physical injured another soul."
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