land of the crane: temple of thunder and lightning

On the first day of Utsuki, 337 Ito, Year of the Fire Crane, the three heroes reached the Temple of Thunder and Lightning. A stout stone wall nearly twenty feet tall enclosed the monastery, leaving the iron lightning rod on top of the temple's pagoda the only thing visible from the road. Kakeru maneuvered the cart up to the temple's massive wooden doors, and the three heroes hopped out.

While Kakeru and Fukasu looked at each other expectantly, Musashi walked right up to the doors and knocked loudly. Then, they waited. After five minutes, he knocked again. He could hear the sound of the knocking echoing beyond the doors, and looked back at his friends with satisfaction.

After ten minutes with no answer, Musashi began pounding on the door with the scabbard of his katana. After a minute of extremely loud pounding, he was rewarded with the sound of a creaky door opening somewhere beyond, the sound of footfalls on stone echoing from inside the compound, and then, a few seconds later, the sound of the door being unbarred.

The door swung open only far enough to allow the monk on the other side to poke his bald head through. He looked suspiciously at Musashi, then directed his gaze toward Kakeru. After a moment of examination, he turned to look at Fukasu, and his eyes opened wide in surprise.

"Oni!" he screamed, and promptly slammed the door shut. The party could hear the bar slide back into place, the sound of running, and then the creaky door being slammed shut.

"Well, then," Kakeru grumbled.

Fukasu sighed and hung her head.

Musashi clenched his fists and took a step back. "Is this how you treat the representatives of your lord?" he yelled with all his power. "Is this how you treat a samurai?" He fumed for a few moments before returning to pounding on the door.

After less than a minute, they heard the sounds of the creaky door opening once again. Footsteps followed, and again the sound of the door being unbarred. This time, it was thrown fully open, revealing a very old monk in saffron robes. "My deepest apologies, Kurosawa-sama," he said, bowing very deeply, "I assure you that the young man who insulted you will be properly disciplined." He gestured for the group to enter, "Please come inside, I have been expecting you."

Musashi looked at Fukasu. She was silent for a moment, and then shrugged. "Thank you sensei," she said, bowing, "It would be our honor."

The old monk smiled and bowed once again, "I am Sanjiro, the kanju[1] of this monastery." Inside the stone walls lay a complex of wooden buildings, which Sanjiro deftly navigated the party through. He led to them to the back of the complex, to a large building which possessed a roof that reminded Fukasu of a lotus blossom unfolding.

"The students are engaged in their morning exercises," Sanjiro said as he opened the door for the party. An echoing cacophony of ki shouts, barked instructions, and occasional yelps of pain greeted them as they stepped inside. Hundreds of monks were engaged in various forms of physical activity: in one corner, several lines of monks threw punches and kicks in unison; in another, pairs of monks practiced throwing each other on the ground in various, painful-looking ways; other monks practiced sparring, grappling, tumbling, and balancing throughout the building.

As the group walked past the students, Fukasu noticed them staring and heard whispers of "oni" filter through their ranks. For a few seconds, she contemplated doing nothing, but then she turned to look at them, opened her mouth wide, and exhaled a cloud of steam. The whispers stopped, and she smiled to herself. Ha!

After leading the party to the center of the room, the kanju motioned for the party to sit. "So," he began, "I understand that you are making the pilgrimage to Hizuru?"

"That's correct," Musashi said brusquely. "We require you to..."

"Ahem," Kakeru interrupted. Musashi looked sidelong at him, but said nothing, "Sensei, it would be a great honor for the Kurosawa clan if you would send a representative of your temple to accompany us."

"Yes, of course," the old monk smiled, "The fate of the Kurosawa clan is our fate as well. It would be a great honor for the temple to have someone accompany you."

"Thank you, Sanjiro-sensei."

I wonder who I should send, Sanjiro thought to himself as he looked around the dojo. Toji? No – he's too good a practice dummy. Miho? No, too cute. Kazuko? Too industrious. Riku? Tomoe? Koyo? No, no, no. Who then? Who can I afford to lose for several months, he thought, then looked at the three teenagers sitting in front of him, or permanently? He mentally ran through the roster of his adepts for a few moments before settling on one name. Ah yes, he smiled to himself, yes, he'll do... He turned and motioned to one of the young monks standing nearby.

"Yes sensei?" the monk said, bowing deeply.

"Bring me Takashi."

[1] Head abbot of a monastery