land of the crane: the shrine, part 2

"Aaaaah! A spirit!" Fukasu screamed.

"Aaaaah! An oni!" the spirit of the monk screamed. Fukasu turned and ran out of the shrine at the same time that the sprit turned and fled back into the altar. After a moment, Fukasu poked her head around the corner, and the spirit stuck his head out of the altar. Kakeru rolled his eyes, and decided it was time to intervene.

"Oh venerable master," Kakeru addressed the spirit, "we are but humble travelers, sent by our honorable lord, Kurosawa, to deliver an offering to the great Hizuru."

The spirit eyed Fukasu suspiciously, but re-emerged from his altar, "What business do you have here?"

Fukasu shivered and decided that she'd had quite enough of spirits, so she fluttered up to the roof to wait.

"Kadonomaro-shihan," Takashi said as he bowed deeply to the spirit of the founder of his monastery, "I am a student at the Temple of Thunder and Lightning, and I've been selected to represent our temple on this journey. So I have come to ask for your blessing."

"Ah," Kadonomaro nodded, "so you are not the ones who have defiled my shrine."

"Oh, no, no, not at all," Kakeru assured him.

"Hmmm, very well," the spirit grumbled. He looked around at the three travelers for a moment, and then grumbled again, "That does not change the fact, though, that my eternal resting place has suddenly become a swamp."

"Perhaps, venerable master," said Kakeru, "If we can figure out how to restore your shrine to its former state, you would see fit to grant us your blessing." He smiled reassuringly, though he had no idea whether or not they would be able to accomplish what he had just offered.

"Mmmm, yes, I would certainly offer you my blessing if you were to accomplish that," Kadonomaro replied.

"Shihan, can you tell us when this happened?" Takashi asked.

The old spirit closed his eyes and concentrated for a moment. Time becomes an unimportant concept to immortal spirits, and they often have great difficultly translating their experience into terms mortals can understand. "I believe it happened about a month ago," he offered.

"Thank you, shihan," said Takashi.

"We will do everything in our power to restore the sanctity of your shrine, venerable master," said Kakeru as he bowed deeply. The spirit nodded and then floated back into the altar.

Only when the spirit of the old monk was out of sight did Musashi allow himself to react. I don't like spirits, he thought to himself as he shivered visibly. Fu-chan had the right idea.

The four heroes regrouped outside of the shrine. Though night was rapidly approaching, they set off downstream, illuminated only by the golden glow of the setting sun. Tromping through the swampy muck proved to be both dirty and exhausting, though, so when Kakeru misjudged the solidity of a patch of ground and fell into a waist-deep pit of mud, the group decided to call it a night. Takashi, Fukasu, and Musashi found relatively dry places to curl up, while Kakeru decided to climb the hill and fetch Yagi and the wagon.

The next morning, everyone woke up damp, muddy, and covered in mosquito bites. Kakeru rejoined his three companions in the valley, and the four intrepid heroes pressed on. After an hour or so of slopping through the muck and pushing through the reeds, the party finally arrived at the cause of the backed-up stream: a dam built from bamboo, lashed together with rope, and sealed with pitch. The dam wasn't particularly large; it stood no higher than Musashi's waist and stretched only a hundred feet from end to end, but it was big enough to block off the stream.

Beyond the dam, lay, presumably, the reason the obstruction was built in the first place: a small, thatched-roof house that was not much bigger than Kadonomaro's shrine. Takashi hopped over the bamboo obstruction and headed toward the house. The rest of the party followed, but stopped short when a strange figure appeared from the opposite side of the house.

A samurai, or, at least, someone wearing black ōyoroi[1] armor and bearing a katana, began walking slowly toward them. Every inch of the figure was hidden under armor of some sort. Even the face was concealed from view by a black mask.

Kakeru stepped out in front of the group and began to speak, "Honorable sir, we are but humble travelers. We have come from the shrine of Kadonomaro, just upstream, and are concerned about this dam that you've built." The figure paused while Kakeru spoke, but then began advancing once he stopped.

Takashi decided that waiting was futile, so he leapt into action; he sprinted across the dry ground and threw a roundhouse kick at the samurai's torso. Musashi charged, his hand on the hilt of his katana, muscles tensing, waiting for just the right moment. To his friends, it seemed like he waited forever; he was mere inches from the black-clad figure when he planted his feet and transferred his momentum into a massive swing that slammed into the figure's chest.

The figure made no sound as it swung at Musashi. Fortunately for the young samurai, his own haramaki[2] deflected the blow. Fortunately for Fukasu, the figure's swing left a small seam under his left arm exposed, and she took full advantage of the opening. She drew her ninja-tō and plunged it directly into the seam, which resulted in the figure stopping in place with a loud "klunk." Fukasu withdrew her blade and looked at her companions with a puzzled expression, "Klunk?"

[1] This heavy, boxy suit is the archetypical samurai armor. It is constructed of leather and steel scales laced together, which hang from the shoulders. A full suit also includes kote, leg guards known as suneate, armored tabi, and a helmet, known as kabuto.

[2] This medium weight armor is constructed of leather and steel scales laced to a leather plate. It is intended for mass production, though, and is, thus, more bulky than the domaru armor on which its design is based.