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Chapter One – The Fugitive
Even the way I sit cross-legged on the floor is a lie. Head tilted forward, eyes half shut, I sit on the heal of my left foot. My gaze focused on the candle flame, a saffron mained ballerina twirls around her soot blackened pool. Her azure skirt bellowing, and waining with the slight shift in the currents of my breath. What drives some to madness and others to self-discovery I quiet the internal dialog as I slow my breathing and empty my mind. Images flow thru my mind’s eye without attachment, time slows and then stops. All of my senses fully open and acute as the pit of my stomach and the hair on the back of my neck informs me I am not alone. The image of a train dropping from an opening vortex above my head, along with the whistle of razor sharp steel whipping towards my neck. I wait until the intention pushes me out of the way. The force of malice rolling me backward over my left shoulder as I draw my soul from its home of black lacquered wood and slice up horizontally in one velvet movement.
My attacker crumples as the katana cleanly melts a path through muscle, bone, and tendon. Mouth open his head lays in the spreading ruby pool even as the ring of steel upon hardwood floor echoes. Death has come once again and left satisfying his hunger with his servant rather than his target. My tiny dancer has also left, extinguished by a drop of crimson splashed upon her skirt. I raise and perform chiburi, the ritual cut removing gore from my brilliantly polished katana automatically. As practiced thousands of times, my soul returns home to be cleaned properly later, while reflecting on this last attempt upon my life.
For the last three years, I have survived attempt upon attempt for retribution of an offense against a man I have never met. His daughter, my lover the cause for my status as fugitive. Thirteen times, I have dodged death with one cut and one kill as the hunter has become the hunted. I know that in order to end this chase I must kill once more. I must extinguish the flame of a living legend, the teacher of my teacher. One of the most respected and greatest masters of Kobujutsu, ancient warrior arts, must have the veil of life’s illusion removed from his eyes. In order to explain my current dilemma and enigma I must start at the beginning. My recruitment by the Cadre, training in the ancient craft of the shadow warrior assassin, and my work killing people for political and financial gain. I am a civil servant working in the darkness delivering a message with no return address.
One day a hungry old man entered a small village and noticed a sign proclaiming the name of a local Iaido school.
Knowing that it was customary for a dojo’s Sensei to accept all challenges the old man decided upon a very dangerous plan. If he could entice the Sensei into a duel and be defeated but not killed, he would then by tradition be offered food and drink, as well as a place to sleep for the night.
Summoning up all of his courage the old man approached the dojo and then walking boldly in he proclaimed his intention to challenge the Sensei to a duel. In response a senior student stepped forward, introduced himself, and said that his Sensei was at home resting but that he would gladly accept the challenge in his place. The old man refused and instead asked that a student be sent to the Sensei’s home to tell him of the challenge.
Upon hearing his students report of the events that had just taken place the Sensei immediately put on his swords and hurried to the dojo. When the Sensei arrived he and the old man politely bowed to each other and in turn introduced themselves, after which the old man re-issued his challenge, but explained that it was not his intention to challenge for ownership of the dojo as was sometimes the case, this duel was merely to be a test of each man’s skill with a sword. The Sensei accepted and because of the nature of the challenge and they agreed to fight using only wooden bokken (practice swords) so that if a customary fatal cut was made neither man would be killed.
The old man in truth had no skill at all with a sword, he was simply seeking a meal and a place to rest and this plan had seemed to offer the best prospect for success and so as he stood facing the dojo’s Sensei across the tatami mat he just held the wooden sword very casually at his side. The Sensei upon observing how open the old man was to an attack and how unbelievably foolish his defensive posture appeared, suddenly began to believe that this duel might not have been such a good idea after all. Slowly in his mind he began to wonder about the old man’s skill and in turn he began to doubt himself and his own chances for victory.
He knew, however, that his own reputation and that of his dojo was at stake and so he took an aggressive posture. For what seemed a very long time the two men just stood there facing one another, neither of them made even the slightest move. The old man for his part could not understand what was taking so long, but he knew he had no choice in the matter; all he could do was wait for the Sensei to attack and claim his victory. The Sensei on the other hand had by now thoroughly convinced himself that he did indeed face a true Iaido master, but even so he knew that he must do something very soon and so he started to move towards the old man, determined to press home his attack with all of his skill even though he felt sure now that he had no chance of winning.
The old man seeing the look on the Sensei’s face and sensing that he was about to be attacked in full force quickly dropped his sword and falling to his knees he broke down and confessed that he in fact had no skill at all with the sword, going on to explain that he had not eaten in days and that he had hoped merely to survive the challenge and then be offered a meal and a place to sleep for the night. Upon hearing this Sensei was suddenly overcome with the realization that by allowing his own doubts to fill his mind and by fantasizing about his opponents abilities he had almost defeated himself.
He decided then and there to change the name of his sword style to “Mu Nen Ryu” – The School of No Thought.
Sometimes the biggest obstacles and threats exist only in your mind, only because you give them power. Perception is colored by emotion, reality and perception are often very different things.