Shoji, the Seeker, crossed his blade with Tsuchiya, the Usurper. Their clashing steel was as the conflict between their lords and masters in a microcosm.
“It is my lord’s right!” cried Shoji. “He alone can use the power of the Ryūsei for the good of all!”
“It is no one’s right!” returned Tsuchiya. “No one can master the Ryūsei’s power! That is why it was hidden away. Your master will destroy himself and others in his madness!”
Tsuchiya’s passion was his undoing. As he spoke those words, Shoji maneuvered his way into a commanding position. The Seeker’s next attack bypassed his opponent’s defenses, striking at a vulnerable shoulder point in his armor. Shoji rammed the blade home; Tsuchiya cried out once, sank to his knees, and was silent.
“An honorable pose in death, at least,” grunted Shoji, flustered with the rush and thrill of battle. He cleaned his sword and sheathed it. He approached the altar, the tiny shrine to the Ryūsei, that his efforts had uncovered despite the deaths of his men. “How do I open it?” he demanded.
Moriko, the Guide, was the only member of either party to have survived. “There is no secret,” she said. “Anyone who has made it this far against all comers has earned the right to bear the Ryūsei and its power.”
Without acknowledging the Guide’s words, Shoji reverently took hold of the altar and lifted it. In a hollow within, wrapped in a dirty rag, was a small statue of purest crystal: a woman carved in the old Asuka period style. He whispered the command word that his lord had taught him, asking only that the Ryūsei, the granter or wishes and the remaker of the world, glow from within. In that glow, Shoji would see his master’s design fulfilled–and his own.
The statuette remained stubbornly dim before the Seeker, its blank crystalline eyes ciphers. Shoji spoke the word again, uttering the same command, to no avail. “I don’t understand,” he said, his eyes fixed on his prize. Guide, what is the meaning of-”
Shoji, the Seeker, was cut off in mid-word. Moriko, the Guide, had approached him from behind and slipped her long dagger into the same weak spot that had doomed Tsuchiya not moments ago. “Shh,” said the Guide in a comforting tone. “It will all be over in a moment.”
It was the custom of Moriko and her family to serve as guides for those foolish enough to seek the Ryūsei in their lands, and to waylay and murder them for their valuables. It had been a delicate balancing act, but anyone coming across the bodies would assume that the men had killed each other over a worthless counterfeit bauble.
As Shoji, the Seeker, rattled his final breath, the Guide turned him around and lowered him, face-up, to the ground. As his vision began to fade, the Seeker saw something that caused his hard features to soften with wonder.
The eyes of Moriko, the Guide, were aglow with an inner light unbeknownst to her. The Ryūsei had obeyed its command, and the Seeker was now expiring in the arms of his prize–a hiding place so secure that none after he would ever stumble upon it.
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