The Adventure of the Nakunaru
Well, it's July 16th, which for some reason, puts me in a writing mood! I have the sneaking suspicion it's someone's birthday, so perhaps that's why. (Unless, of course, my memory is horribly faded, as I've remarked upon my senility before. ^_^)
This story is based upon the germ of an idea I had 'way back when. However, Natsumi commented that she was going to write a story that used some of the elements I'd planned on incorporating… so I let it slide… and the story never appeared… and I was getting ready to write it again… and then someone else actually *did* start writing a story that used some of the elements I'd planned on writing. So I left the story idea on the shelf because I didn't want to seem horribly derivative, and used the basic premise in its most general sense as a PBEM RPG, which was quite fun and very different from what I would have written on my own… in case some things look rather familiar to those who were kind enough to participate. ^_^
So, I guess I'll never know exactly how this story would have turned out had I written it when I originally wanted to, but this is how it looks now!
Enjoy, and Happy Birthday, Chris! :o)
An aerial photo, remarkably clear and crisp, was projected upon the oversized screen hanging on the wall. It showed a region quite given over to rice paddies and other agricultural pursuits, although there were still massive stretches of wooded areas and forest. There were occasional clearings, where isolated dwellings or tiny villages laid claim to the land. There was a thin blue ribbon, which was a river winding its way to the far-distant sea; there were several thinner brownish-gray ribbons, which were undoubtedly roads in various states of upkeep.
"Oi, I didn't think there was so much of Japan left unpaved," remarked Joker. His legs cramped from being folded under the conference table for too long, so he unfolded them and planted his heels firmly on the tabletop as a preemptive strike against aching joints. "Better keep this location a secret, ne?"
No one bothered to reply to his comment, although there was an exasperated "Huhhhh!" huffed under Mikoto's breath. Everyone knew that the sole reason that the area had been spared from the developers' predations, and the relentless spread of suburbia, was because ninety-five percent of the forestlands projected upon the screen were owned by the Kokom Corporation. Naturally, it was billed as a nature preserve, dedicated as a refuge for Japan's increasingly crowded indigenous wildlife; just as naturally, such an innocent, wholesome-sounding front for a much more practical purpose which held much more interest for Mori Kouran than did the red-crowned crane or the butterfly Fabriciana nerippe.
Kurei eyed him stonily for his unasked-for levity, then returned his gaze to the map flattened beneath two long panes of glass upon the table.
"Here is the scroll which was unearthed from the ancient site of the Hokage village," he said distantly. "It's perhaps four hundred years old—" his own eyes had easily marked the identifying characteristics of centuries past, and so he placed it with confidence "---but refers to some items much older than that, dating back to the days of the greatest madougu blacksmiths. It is part of an inventory, items which were hidden upon the invasion of the Oni. When he began his march, destroying the various ninja clans which he feared, the Hokage hid their madougu to prevent looting. While it is doubtful that any of the Oni's men would be able to tap into a fraction of the potential power available, my ancestors took no risks. Inventories such as these were drawn up to serve as a record of what was dispersed, and where. They were sealed inside jars, which were hidden in strategic locations. If there were survivors, or if the Hokage carried the day, they would be able to relocated the jars and retrieve their madougu. As it happened, there were no survivors."
He avoided looking at Raiha, whose face bore an imperturbable mask.
"But, Kurei-sama," said Mikoto, leaning forward and planting her elbows on the table, "What if the jars were found? Wasn't that a rather clumsy way to go about doing it?"
"The issue at hand isn't whether or not it was a wise decision. It was certainly a successful tactic, no matter how one looks at it--- seeing that the Oni's men never retrieved a one, and we've only been able to find a comparative handful of the number of madougu ever created, even though we know what we're looking for."
Mikoto nodded, but still didn't seem too impressed by the tactics of the ancient Hokage.
"Some of these madougu on this list have been discovered already… the Taishaku Kaiten being held by monks in a certain temple; the Fukyo Waon being hidden in a small cave near the river. Others are only minor, and are not of strategic enough importance to pursue at this point in time. One of them, however, has caught Mori Kouran's eye, and it is his command that we spare no expense or effort in locating it."
By now, all five of the Uruha gathered at the table were leaning forward, listening intently.
"There is one weapon called the Nakunaru, which allows the wielder to travel through time and space."
"Isn't that what—" began Neon, but Kurei spoke over her words.
"This madougu was known in my time. It was created by Akeno, the protégé of the great madougu blacksmith, Kaima. However, it was sealed away and never used, deemed too powerful and dangerous to be wielded lightly. The madougu is known to turn upon its master, if it does not deem its master worthy enough, and several deaths have been attributed to those who were too confident in their own elite abilities. Consequently, it was in disuse for many decades after its initial manufacture, too dangerous to use, but too precious to destroy. While it emulates the time travel spell which brought me to this time and place, it has the added bonus of not exacting a price from the user, such as cursing them with immortality. Presuming, of course, that the user is deemed worthy of the weapon by the weapon."
"Figures," said Joker, who was trying to read the scroll upside-down from his vantage point; his feet were planted on the floor. "Of course, Mori-han wants the dangerous one."
"So, what's the point of us being here?" asked Mikoto bluntly, gesturing to herself, Jisho, Joker, Neon, and Raiha. "Tell the archaeologists Mori's got on his payroll to go dig it up themselves. They can handle it. We're not here to do paperwork and research, y'know. If we were fit for office jobs, we'd have found a more conventional line of work to go into."
At this, the tiniest glimmer of a smile flickered across his lips. "Ah, you see, here's the interesting part. None of Aikano's other works have survived, to this point. However, Aikano was the protégé of Kaima, if you remember correctly. And it was Kaima who was responsible for your madougu… your Fukyo Waon, your Raijin, your Taishaku Kaiten, your Mikoto."
Jisho seemed as though he was about to ask why *he* was there, as the original manufacturer of his blades seemed to be quite the mystery, but then thought better of it. He was hardly thrilled at the idea of going out and joining the archaeologists, to dig around in the dirty and do who-knew-what. But it appeared to be a prestigious assignment, and he was loyal to Kurei. If Kurei needed his help in tracking this elusive madougu, Jisho would be there to aid him.
"It is my theory that there would be enough similarities between the manufacture techniques of master and student that perhaps the Nakunaru might react to the presence of your madougu. Perhaps you will sense the voices of your weapons, to which you each are best attuned to hear, and they will lead you to the correct spot. In addition, you have the added bonus of knowing full well about the nature of madougu. Our team of scientists, historians, and archaeologists, clever though they are, have not been burdened with the knowledge of the true nature of their work. While a drawback at some times, it is, in the end, a definite advantage."
"So, do we plan on hiking over every square kilometer on the map, waiting for the voices inside our heads to alert us?" inquired Joker casually. "Or is the scroll a little more specific?" He had given up on trying to read the cramped, hasty, faded writing upside-down.
"It is hidden in a shrine to Amaterasu," said Kurei calmly.
"Now, that's specific," said Mikoto, rolling her eyes. Amaterasu was probably one of the most popular goddesses in the Shinto pantheon.
Raiha coughed gently, then spoke up. "Kurei-sama, do you know--- from past experience--- to which shrine the scroll refers? For example, is this a temple shrine that is still intact? Is it a ruined shrine? Would it be a small, private shrine within someone's home?"
Kurei shook his head. He clicked once on the remote, and the projected image changed. Several red lines, green circles, and blue triangles were now superimposed over the aerial photograph.
"This blue triangle—" he indicated it with his laser pointer "—indicates the center of the archaeological excavations, the Field House. This is the nerve center for all of Kokom's work in the area. It is currently on the outskirts of what was once the Hokage village." This seemed to be a largeish area encompassed by a meandering red line in no discernable shape, off to one side. "These three villages here—" and he indicated three tiny modern-day villages mostly obscured by the tiny blue triangles "—existed even back in the day of the Hokage, though of course, not in their current form. Much of everything of significance was burned during the Oni's relentless march. However, it may be that there was a shrine to Amaterasu, perhaps a great shrine, which everyone in the area would immediately think of over all others, rendering specificity unnecessary."
"And you don't remember yourself?" asked Mikoto breezily.
Kurei gazed coldly at her. "My mother and I did not make a habit of temple-visiting, especially towards the end."
Mikoto didn't seem too ruffled by his ice.
"Well, it's not much to go on, and I'm not too impressed. Hopefully, the archaeologists are sitting on a giant piece of the puzzle, and they just don't know it. There's only one way to find out. Maybe we can get this over with, and get on to more important tasks."
"Important tasks are the ones I assign you to, Mikoto."
She opened her mouth to respond to that, but closed it with a snap. Perhaps it was better that way.
"You're all dismissed. Be ready to leave tomorrow. Eight o'clock."
He turned on his heel and left; the rest of the Uruha rose quickly and bowed acknowledgment. The door shut behind him, and the five crowded around for a good view of the map, right-side up this time.
"If we find it," grumbled Mikoto, under her breath, "I hope he tries to use it, and the thing gets him, too."
~ to be continued~