Chapter 2 – Moriya

September 23rd, 1854 – A Village Near Kyoto

"Happy birthday, Moriya!" shouted the two small children, a boy and a girl, in unison with the dignified looking older man standing next to them. The target of their congratulations blushed, embarrassed by the attention. Minakata Moriya looked at his master and surrogate father, Gaisei, and the two bratty little children that both he and Gaisei considered family, Kaede and Yuki, and smiled. Indeed, it was his 13th birthday today. Looking at his surrogate family, he thought back to how he had come to this….

Moriya's parents had died of cholera when he was five and he had lived with his Uncle and Aunt for two years. He had begun his instruction in the art of the sword when he was seven, as was customary for most samurai children. While his uncle's family was not wealthy, they still wished the best for their children and nephew. When a ronin named Yamaga Benosuke passed by, the family eagerly jumped at the chance to hire a master of Ono-ha Itto-ryu to train the young men of the clan. Quiet and reserved, Moriya rarely spoke and did not interact much with others. His family had feared that the death of his parents had unhinged the young man, leaving him devoid of his wits. With a bokken in hand, Moriya quickly dispelled any such rumors, showing a fierce talent for the blade.

Moriya learned the basics of Kenjutsu with amazing speed. Within a year, the young boy of eight could defeat any other swordsman in training in the area, and could give most of the adult samurai a run for their money. By the age of nine, the only man within twenty miles who could best him with a sword was his own master, and even those sparring sessions were intense and drawn out. Over the course of these two years, it also became clear why Yamaga Benosuke had been a ronin, rather than a respected master of Ono-ha Itto-ryu with a dojo of his own. In short, the man was a violent drunkard. When sober, he was a man of grace and composure, a master of etiquette and a strict adherent to bushido, and a swordsman of amazing skill. When drunk, which was much of the time, the man was sloppy and rude, quick to anger, and eager to fight – and still possessed of amazing skill. There were rumors that he had been banished from home for killing another man while drunk, and then refusing to commit seppuku. Even so, his services were valued by the Minakata clan, and for the most part they kept him under control, and he had not yet wounded anyone seriously. Finally, one day, the inevitable occurred.

March 1851 – Minakata Village, near Kyoto

Even through the sound of pouring rain and the occasional thunder, the traveling swordsman heard the sounds of a loud drunkard from within the teahouse. Stopping under the awning over the entrance, Gaisei brushed the water off his cloak and folded up his bamboo umbrella. Adjusting the massive, nearly yard-long straight edged sword worn in a baldric over his back, the wild looking man stepped into the common room. "Welcome, welcome!" called out the proprietress as she stepped out of the kitchen, greeting Gaisei as if he were a frequent customer. Ushering him to a small table, she pulled up a cushion for him and poured him a cup of tea. "And what would you like this evening, honored customer?" she asked, assuming that any man with a sword like that would probably have money to spare. Smiling Gaisei sipped the tea, and looked at the menu hung on bamboo tiles from the wall. "Please, some hot sake, and some dango." Nodding, the proprietress clapped her hands and left. As Gaisei sat sipping his tea, he couldn't help but look at the other only customer currently in the teahouse – a well dressed man with a katana propped up against the wall by his side, who was currently chugging sake from a pitcher as if it were water, and holding a pretty waitress by the waist.

Finishing his drink, Benosuke looked at the newcomer through his slightly alcohol blurred eyes. "Hey, you. Swordsman. What are you lookin' at?" he slurred. Gaisei shook his head. "Nothing." Suddenly angered, Benosuke surged upright. "Nothing? Are you calling me, Yamaga Benosuke, master of Ono-ha Itto-ryu kenjutsu, nothing!" Gaisei, taken aback, shook his head. "I am sorry, I meant no offense." Nodding, satisfied, Benosuke slumped down again. Yawning, he stretched, and then took another look at Gaisei, and smirked. "Hey, what's with the big sword?" Gaisei frowned. "It is my weapon. What do you mean, 'what's with it?'"? Benosuke shook his head. "No, seriously… who carries a no-dachi like that anymore? They've been outdated for centuries, or weren't you told?" Chuckling, he refilled his sake cup and downed it, before continuing. "Do you fancy yourself another Sasaki Kojiroh, or something? Tell me you don't call yourself Ganryu."

Gaisei forced a smile on his face. "No, no. My name is Gaisei." Ignoring him, Benosuke continued. "If you're Ganryu, well, I guess it's fated that we duel – after all, I am Benosuke, which was Musashi Miyamoto's name, after all. Perhaps we are fated rivals!" Suddenly standing upright, Benosuke picked up his katana and drew it. Drawing back his foot, he kicked a basket of onigiri on the table, sending the rice balls flying up. Dropping his scabbard, he grasped his katana in both hands and whipped it through the air with consummate skill, bisecting all three rice balls. Finishing his performance, he slowly sat seiza, cleaned the sword with a napkin on the table, and then resheathed it. He looked quite dignified for a moment, before again slumping back and letting a drunken grin fill his face.

Observing Benosuke's skill, Gaisei calmly nodded to himself. The man obviously was very skilled, even in his drunken state, and it would be best to not cause trouble. Turning his gaze away, he waited for his sake and glazed balls of mochi to arrive. Feeling belligerent and confident after his display, however, Benosuke would not let it die. "Hey, Ganryu. Didn't you see my display of prowess? Aren't you afraid?" Laughing uproariously, Benosuke slammed back another cup of sake, then stood up and walked over to Gaisei's table as the waitresses backed away, worried that a fight was about to break out. "Oi! Are you ignoring me, Ganryu?" Looking calmly into Benosuke's face, Gaisei shook his head. "No. I just didn't feel there was a response necessary." Unsure as to what to say, Benosuke shook his head and waved the girls over. "Ha. You're an interesting one, Ganryu, with your darning pole. What school do you practice?"

"Kassatsu Itto ryu. It's an old but obscure school, I am the only practitioner after my master's death many years ago." replied Gaisei, drawing the kanji out on the table in a small puddle of spilled sake. "The Life or Death Single Sword style? I've never heard of that branch of the Itto school." mused Benosuke, in a curious voice. "We are not related to the Itto school founded by Ito sensei. The Itto in our name refers only to the fact that we focus on using a single sword. We only use one blade, never both. As you can see, I am not wearing the daisho – I do not have a wakizashi or kodachi or any other blade. My style can be practiced with a katana as well, but even then, we never use the wakizashi."

Benosuke nodded. "That's interesting. All the Itto-ryu schools use a single sword, of course, but I've never heard of a complete disregard for the use of shorter shoto swords. Does your style encompass any other weapons?" Warming up to the subject, Gaisei nodded. "Yes, we also have a naginata form and several unarmed forms. That is all, however, unlike your Ono-ha ryu." Benosuke nodded again. "Of course you know that Ono-ha ryu is built around kiriotoshi – to allow the opponent to attack, and then to strike forward, overriding his sword and striking his arms, then finishing him. What are the techniques of your style like?"

Gaisei frowned, unsure of how much he should share. "Perhaps the ultimate origin of our style lies simply in one concept – strike like lightning. My style is built heavily on maneuverability in combat, combined with strong strikes. We almost never thrust, unlike Tennen Rishin Ryu. Unlike most Itto-ryu, our style is very aggressive, rather than reactionary. Of course, because we use the no-dachi, there are many strong overhead chops, but we also use wide, sweeping slashes. Battoujutsu is also a strong component of our ryu – in general, Kassatsu Itto Ryu attempts to strike with great strength and blinding speed, destroying the opponent as quickly as possible. Compared to Ono-ha ryu, it is a vulgar and uncultured style, and is not truly suitable for a samurai – but for a kendoka like myself, it fits perfectly."

Laughing at Gaisei's description of his style, Benosuke clapped the man on the shoulder. "I like you, Ganryu, I really do. Let's drink together, eh!" Waving the waitress over, he ordered several more bottles of sake, and the two men talked about swordsmanship and inconsequential details late into the night. Finally, hours later, they staggered out of the teahouse into the rain. "Eh, Ganryu, where are you spending the night? Why don't you come back to my place?" Burping, Gaisei shook his head. "No, I couldn't impose. I'll find an inn." Shaking his head, Benosuke grabbed Gaisei by the sleeve. "No, I insist." Looking around, feeling the water soak into him, Gaisei reluctantly nodded. "Very well, then."

The next morning, Gaisei woke up lying on a strange mat in a strange room. Groaning, he stood up slowly, wincing at his hangover. Looking around to make sure nobody was observe, he quietly tapped into the power of Seiryuu, allowing a quick surge of lightning to flow through his body, burning away the alcohol. Refreshed, he sat down, and chuckled. His style was based on striking like lightning, indeed. While everything he had told Benosuke was true, he had left out the true core of the Kassatsu Itto Ryu – striking with the power of Seiryuu. That was why there was only one master of the style at a time – only one man could truly harness the power of the style's techniques, the guardian of Seiryuu. Although the style was still deadly and a match for any other without the holy lightning; the addition of the abilities of a guardian of Seiryuu made the style nearly undefeatable by mortal swordsmanship.

Standing up, Gaisei stretched, then left the room, looking for Benosuke. Walking through the halls, he was struck by the quality of the home he was walking through. While not extravagantly furnished, the place felt harmoniously built and well laid out. This was obviously the home of a fairly wealthy samurai family, although one from the countryside and probably relatively insignificant overall, without much influence in Edo. As he continued, looking around for signs of people, he heard the rapid clacking of wood on wood. His interest piqued, he moved toward the source of the sound, until he arrived at a dojo to find a young boy with red hair engaged in a sparring session with a young man. The boy looked to be about ten, and the man about twenty. Both were wearing the heavy padded armguards used in Itto ryu training. The man stood in the classic kiriotoshi stance, waiting for the boy to attack – who did, striking like lightning. The man barely reacted in time, striking from the side and knocking the boy's sword out of the way, chopping down onto the armguards. However, rather than merely accepting the blow, the boy quickly stepped back and then in again, striking the man's counter attack out of the way and slamming his practice sword into the man's wrists instead.

Gaisei let out a low whistle and slowly clapped. The boy was remarkable – he couldn't have been more than ten years old, but he was skilled enough to defeat the fundamental attack of one of the oldest and highly regarded schools of swordsmanship by using itself against it. Turning, the boy and the man regarded Gaisei with curiosity. "Who are you?" demanded the man in a rough tone of voice. Gaisei raised his hands in a peaceful gesture. "My name is Gaisei, a wandering swordsman. I met Yamaga-sensei at a teahouse last night, and he was kind enough to offer me a place to sleep. I was just looking for him, but the sounds of your sparring attracted me, and I could not help but be impressed by the young master's prowess." The man's harsh face softened slightly, and he smiled ruefully. "Ah, Yamaga-sensei. Well, I suppose if you are his guest, it is alright. I apologize for my rudeness. Please, allow me to introduce myself. I am Minakata Saemon, and this is my cousin, Minakata Moriya. It is a pleasure to meet you, Gaisei-san." Gaisei shook his head, waving the honorific away. "Just Gaisei, please. I am not a samurai, and not worthy of being called –san."

Looking at Moriya, who had yet to speak, Gaisei nodded thoughtfully. "You are very skilled, young man. Is Yamaga-sensei your only teacher?" From behind him, the aforementioned man replied, "Yes, I am, and I am proud to have him as a student." Turning, Gaisei smiled. Benosuke grinned back, then looked over Gaisei's shoulder at his two students. "Saemon, how is Moriya's counter technique developing?" Saemon shrugged sheepishly. "I'm not fast enough to keep up with him. He's been destroying my kirotoshi every time." Yamaga smiled. Turning back to Gaisei, he shook his head. "Moriya is a genius with the sword. Even I can barely defeat him, and only because I've had more experience, and he's still only 9 years old. By the time he turns 13, I doubt there will be any orthodox swordsman in Japan who will be able to touch him – he will have to seek out men such as yourself for a challenge."

At this, Moriya's interest was finally piqued, and he showed some interest in the stranger rather than merely waiting for him to stop interrupting his practice. "You're a good swordsman?" he asked, very bluntly. Gaisei frowned at the boy's rudeness. "I am a swordsman, yes. Whether I'm good or not is for others to judge." Moriya smiled, slowly. "Fight with me." Benosuke frowned. "Moriya! You should be more polite. Courtesy is as important to a samurai as swordsmanship." Gaisei simply grinned. "Oh, it's quite alright, Yamaga-sensei. I'm interested in trying the boy out myself." Benosuke shook his head. "Very well, then. I don't think we have any wooden swords large enough to substitute for your no-dachi, though." Gaisei shrugged. "A normal bokken will be sufficient."

Gaisei squared off against the boy, holding his bokken loosely in his right hand. Tapping the wooden sword against his thigh, he examined Moriya's stance. Moriya was standing in a fairly standard kenjutsu stance, appropriate for kirotoshi – stable and well balanced, allowing the swordsman to run forward or backstep with almost equal ease. Moriya held his bokken in both hands, extended forward at a 45 degree angle from his body, ready to counter Gaisei's attacks. Gaisei nodded. "As I explained to Yamaga-sensei last night, Kassatsu Itto Ryu's philosophy is to strike like lightning – with great speed, and with power. The style is not suitable to everybody – you must both be light on your feet and capable of acting quickly, but also sturdy enough to put force behind your blows and to have a strong enough body to absorb the stresses of using the technique. This is the most basic blow of Kassatsu Itto Ryu." As he spoke, he reared back slightly, grasping his bokken in both hands, raising the wooden sword above his head, and slamming forward in an very fast downward chop with the full force of his body behind it. Moriya reacted instantly, attacking forward and from the left to deflect Gaisei's sword away and strike at his wrists. However, as he made impact with Gaisei's sword, he was stunned to find the moment of the blow great enough that he was unable to turn it aside, and Gaisei's sword smashed down into his shoulder with enough force to crack bone if it were not for their padding.

As soon as he finished the strike, Gaisei pulled back with great speed, returning to his neutral stance without giving Moriya any time to strike back. "You'll note the forward step and my grasp on the hilt are designed to add power to the blow. By contracting your shoulder muscles in a specific way, you can add even more strength to the blow and make it easy to pull back quickly without overextending yourself. The strain on your tendons is immense, but if your body is capable of it, you can end many battles with this one strike alone."

Nodding, Yamaga and Saemon could not help but be impressed by the simple power of Gaisei's attack. Simple and uncomplicated, it was beautifully executed and was obviously the strike of a master swordsman. Moriya nodded, absorbing the information. Gaisei continued. "The second basic strike of Kassatsu Itto Ryu is the horizontal slash." Stepping in, Gaisei brought up his sword with blinding speed, slashing from right to left, then back from left to right, alternately hitting Moriya's left and right arms. "These strikes lack power, but are made with great speed. They are meant to bleed the enemy, injuring their arms and slowing down their own attacks and reactions. The horizontal motion and high angle of attack makes them nearly impossible to knock to the side, and they are also very difficult to chop down with a vertical strike. Both blows must be parried separately."

Smiling, Gaisei bowed to Moriya, then walked over to the racks of wooden swords and replaced his bokken. Stripping off his sparring gear, he turned and looked at Moriya again. "You're very impressive, boy. Not many men are fast enough to try kirotoshi on the forward chop. With a few more years, some muscle, and training, you yourself could be a master of Kassatsu Itto Ryu. In fact, I've never met a better candidate to become my successor." Turning and bowing to Yamaga, Gaisei shook his head ruefully. "I have no intention of stealing your most prized pupil, however. I wish you luck with Moriya, and I have no doubt he will become a famed swordsman. Now, with that, I hope you will allow me to take my leave. I'm a man of the road, and it beckons." Despite Yamaga's protests, Gaisei collected his few belongings, and set out.

Later that afternoon, Gaisei sat on a rock near the side of the road, eating several buns stuffed with bean jam that he purchased at a roadside stand. As he enjoyed his meal, he was shocked to suddenly see the unmistakable form of Minakata Moriya walking down the road, oversized looking daisho thrust through his belt and a pack slung over his shoulder. Moriya saw Gaisei, and approached. Stopping about a yard short, the boy dropped his back and fell to his knees in a supplicatory posture. "Gaisei-san, please take me as your student!" Surprised, Gaisei broke out in an involuntary laugh. "Moriya-kun, what are you saying? You already have an excellent teacher. You're a samurai, studying with a wandering swordsman is out of the question." Moriya shook his head. "Gaisei-san, I have never met anybody as skilled as you. Yamaga-sensei is an excellent teacher, but I have already learned all he has to offer. All that remains to me is to gain muscle mass and experience. You, however… there is much more that I can learn from you, I can feel it. You yourself said that I was a good candidate to be your successor! Please, teach me!"

Gaisei scratched his chin. It was true, he would like nothing more than to accept the young man as his student, and train a new master of Kassatsu Itto Ryu. He was already over 35, and while Genbu no Okina was still going strong at 115, being the guardian of a turtle god was not the same as being the guardian of Seiryuu the dragon. On the other hand, he didn't want to steal Moriya away. Nodding, he came to a decision. "I can't just accept you as a student out of the blue, you know. Come, let's go back to your home. If your parents and Yamaga-sensei agree to apprentice you to me, then I will take you as my student. Otherwise, come seek me out when you are an adult, and we will see." Realizing that he would not get a better offer, Moriya reluctantly agreed, and the two began the trip back to Minakata village.

They arrived back at Moriya's home shortly after dusk. Moriya was quickly spirited away by his cousin Saemon, and Gaisei was brought into a sitting room to meet with Moriya's uncle, an imposing man about the same age as Gaisei. The two men sat across a small table and spent several moments studying each other. Finally, Minakata Satoshi spoke first. "First, I must apologize for Moriya's rudeness." Gaisei shook his head. "It's alright. The boy is enthusiastic about his swordsmanship, it's hard to fault him for that." Satoshi nodded. "Yes. Moriya's one talent and passion is the sword. He's a very quiet, reclusive child, otherwise." Sipping from a cup of tea a servant had brought in, Satoshi nodded again. "Moriya's father was my younger brother, Akira. He, too, was an excellent swordsman. Ultimately, though, he was too poor, and he and his wife died of cholera when Moriya was five. My wife and I have raised him since then as if he were our own son, and we have always tried to provide the best for him."

Turning away, Satoshi regarded a painting of a pastoral scene mounted on a wall. "Still, he is not my own son, and his status is diminished because of that. I would like more for Moriya than for him to go to Edo or Kyoto some day and become a member of some daimyo's personal guard, which is what he seems to be destined for today. However, the life of a wandering swordsman does not seem to be a better alternative." Gaisei nodded, and finally spoke. "Moriya's talent for the sword is amazing. To think he is only nine years old… his potential is almost endless. I do not wish to insult Yamaga-sensei or yourself, but I am confident that in the entire world, there is only one man who is my match with a blade – a man named Kagami Orinosuke. His son is also an excellent swordsman, but he is still young, and he has not come into his true power yet." Gaisei turned to look at the painting as well. "Kassatsu Itto Ryu has many secrets that go beyond mere sword technique, and the true inheritor of the style will learn all of them. I promise that if Moriya becomes my student, I will make him a true master of the style."

Satoshi nodded. "Still, I am reluctant to let the boy go. I know that if I keep him here, he will only become angry and bored, and resentful that we have held him back. However, I hope that you can appreciate that this is a difficult decision." Turning, Satoshi finished his cup of tea. "Also, I have no desire to insult Yamaga-sensei. Even if he is incapable of bringing Moriya to his full potential, he is still an excellent swordsman and a good instructor, and he has improved the fighting capability of my men greatly." Nodding, Satoshi arrived at a decision. "I am sorry, but I do not think I can allow Moriya to go with you at this time. Perhaps in several years…. However, if you are interested, I would be happy to hire you as a sword instructor. You could stay here and teach Moriya." Gaisei shook his head. "Unfortunately, I am not able to settle down. I make a pilgrimage to Mt. Fuji every five years, and I sell my services to certain causes across Japan. I thank you for your kind offer, but I will respectfully have to decline." Satoshi clapped Gaisei on the shoulder. "I understand. Still, you are welcome here any time, and I hope you will spend the night. Good luck with your travels, Gaisei-san, and keep my offer in mind."

Their discussion concluded, Satoshi left to inform Moriya of his decision. Brooding, Gaisei decided to head to the teahouse he and Benosuke had been at the previous night, hoping to make a decent night of it before he returned to the road in the morning. As he approached the place, he heard the sounds of a woman screaming and the crashing of breaking plates inside. Rushing in, he drew his sword, worried that bandits or robbers might be attacking the establishment. Instead, he found a drunk Benosuke rampaging inside, smashing plates and generally frightening the staff and the owner. Turning to see Gaisei, an ugly look spread across his face.

"Ganryu! You're back. Well, it seems the historical duel between Musashi and Sasaki might be repeated – Benosuke vs. Ganryu again, eh?" His face hardening, Yamaga continued on in an angry voice. "Bastard. I drink with you, introduce you to my employers, offer you a place to stay for the night, and what thanks do I get? You try to steal my student, and then you try to steal my job! Hmph, serves me right for trusting a scruffy traveler anyway." Repressing his anger, Gaisei shook his head. "I had no intention of doing any of that, Yamaga." At this denial, Yamaga became even angrier. "Don't lie to me, Gaisei! You bastard, you'll pay for this!" Bursting forward into a charge, Yamaga jumped over a small table and slashed at Gaisei's wrists in a diagonal cut. Gaisei parried the blow with his no-dachi, and snapped out in a pair of quick horizontal slashes trying to cut but not severly wound Yamaga. Even drunk, however, Yamaga's reactions were still good, and he quickly stepped back, deflecting both slashes. On the second parry, Yamaga turned with the force of the blow, moving to Gaisei's side and attacking. "Got you!"

Gaisei shook his head, and his form seemed to blur as he moved back to nearly the other side of the room in the blink of an eye. Pulling the sheath off of his back, he held it in his left hand as he sheathed his sword. Keeping it in a ready posture, he looked Yamaga in the eye as he settled into a battoujutsu stance. "Don't do this, Yamaga. I like you, I don't want to have to kill you." This proclamation only infuriated Yamaga further, and the master of Ono-ha Itto Ryu again charged forward, sword low, ready to bring it up in an upward slash designed to gut Gaisei. "Die!" he screamed, angling for the killing blow. Shaking his head sadly, Gaisei waited until the man was a about six feet away, and then leaned forward and drew his sword, using the curve of the sheathe to add speed and force, extending his arm fully, turning the draw into an incredibly forward slash at chest level with the no-dachi striking at full range. Yamaga didn't even have time to scream as the sharp sword bit into his neck, decapitating him in a fountain of spraying blood.

The two waitresses huddled in the corner fainted, and the proprietress's face turned an ashen white as she fell to her knees. Gaisei flicked the blood off his blade. Wiping it clean on Yamaga's clothes, he slowly sheathed his massive sword and slung it on his back again. Looing up at the proprietress, he smiled sadly. "He was trying to kill me. You saw and heard him… I didn't have much choice." Realizing that Gaisei was not going to kill her, she let out a deep breath and nodded. "Yes." Gaisei looked at Yamaga's body, and shook his head again. Now what was he going to tell Minakata Satoshi? Looking at the proprietress, he came to a decision. "I'll stay here with the body. You should go get Minakata-san." Grateful for an opportunity to get away from the bloodbath that her teahouse had become, she scrambled to her feet and rushed out the door.

Sitting down, Gaisei bitterly poured himself a cup of sake from one of the bottles Yamaga hadn't smashed and sipped at it. When Minakata Satoshi arrived shortly after, Gaisei stood up and quickly bowed. "Minakata-san." Satoshi looked at the scene and shook his head. "I knew Yamaga had a poor temper when he drank, but I never anticipated something like this would happen." Sighing, he shook his head. "It is a good thing that he was merely a hired ronin and not a formal retainer of the clan – if the latter had been true, the situation would be much more complex." Sitting down, he buried his face in his hands and breathed deeply. "Gaisei, it would be best if you left as soon as possible. I realize the situation is not your fault, but it would be best if you were not here in the morning." Gaisei nodded. At that moment, Moriya burst into the teahouse, his face flushed from the exertion of running there from home. Looking at Yamaga's dead body, he looked at Gaisei and shook his head. "Moriya! What are you doing here!" exclaimed Satoshi in angry surprise.

Moriya turned to his uncle, took a deep breath, and kneeled. "Uncle, please, let me go with Gaisei-san." Satoshi's face darkened, and he angrily shook his head. "This decision has already been made. You are a son of a samurai, the road is not the place for you!" Moriya shook his head and spoke with a rare burst of passion. "Is a samurai's soul not his sword? Now that Yamaga-sensei is dead, there is nothing left for me here. I appreciate the care you have shown me for the past four and a half years, but you and I both know that I have no future here. I have nothing except the blade, and I will do anything to attain perfection with it. Please, let me go with Gaisei-san." Satoshi stood up, agitated and angry. Seeing his condition, Gaisei spoke. "Satoshi-san, let the boy come. He's right, you know. Without a teacher, he'll just grow unhappy here, and it would be a crime to waste his potential like that." Shaking his head angrily, Satoshi slammed his fist into the wall. Turning to Moriya, he nodded. "Very well, then, if you want to disgrace yourself by becoming a wanderer, then go. You are not in the line of succession to the leadership of the clan, so it is no great loss." Laughing bitterly, the head of the Minakata clan walked out of the teahouse. "Go, Moriya. Find the perfection of the sword that you want. I hope you will be happy."

Moriya stood there, at a loss to what had just happened. Perhaps his uncle cared for him out of more than just duty. Even so… he put all other thoughts out of his hand and turned to Gaisei. Kneeling, he bowed to his new master. "Master… thank you." Patting the boy on the head, Gaisei nodded. "Get your things. We leave immediately." Moriya nodded, and ran off to collect his few belongings, and the swords that had been his father's. Returning shortly after, back on his back and daisho thrust through his belt, he nodded to Gaisei, indicating he was ready to begin. Gaisei looked at the boy with approval, but the daisho caught his eye. "The first tenet of Kassatsu Itto Ryu is the use of a single sword. Leave your wakizashi behind – you will not be using it again." Moriya frowned. "But these swords are all I have left of my parents." Gaisei shook his head. "Even more reason to leave the wakizashi behind. You must strengthen yourself in both body and spirit. Leave the shoto behind, as a mark of the transition from Minakata Moriya, member of the Minakata clan, samurai of the Ono-ha Itto Ryu, to Minakata Moriya, wandering swordsman of Kassatsu Itto Ryu. You are not a samurai any more, boy. You are now merely a swordsman, like me." Nodding his acceptance, Moriya removed the shorter blade from his belt, and gently placed it on a table. "The proprietress will bring this back to my uncle. Shall we go, then, master?"

September 23rd, 1854 – A Village Near Kyoto

"Moriya! Are you listening?" shouted Gaisei. Moriya started out of his musings of the past, and nodded. Walking forward, he touseled Kaede's hair and sat down to enjoy the western style cake that Gaisei had purchased in Kyoto for this event. A lot had happened in the past three and a half years. Gaisei had shown him the techniques of Kassatsu Itto Ryu, and he had soaked them up like a sponge does water. Merging some of the fundamentals of what he had learned from the Ono-ha Ryu with Gaisei's teaching, his skill had grown in leaps and bounds. As he traveled freely across the countryside with Gaisei, he had also grown to understand more of life itself. While still a quiet and reserved boy who was poor with words and spoke only rarely, he loved his little family dearly. Gaisei had shown him a degree of caring that he had never quite received from his uncle and aunt – while they did love him, in their own way, he was still their nephew. Gaisei planned to make Moriya his successor, and had accepted him as his own son.

Then, the day they had found Yuki and Kaede on the streets of Kyoto a year ago also stood out in his mind. The two of them had heard a piercing scream from an alley, and when they rushed into investigate they had found 8 year old Yuki holding a makeshift spear, defending her and 7 year old Kaede from a yakuza gangster looking for children for a brothel. Moriya had made quick work of the yakuza – his first kill. He still remembered the way the man's blood spilled across the snow, but it no longer disturbed him. The two children had no family of their own, they had been orphans who had found each other on the street and become friends for their own protection. Seeing potential in the spunky girl and her strong willed friend, Gaisei had adopted the two of them. In the past few months, he had begun training Kaede in the sword and Yuki in the naginata, and both had shown a great deal of natural talent for the weapons. Indeed, Moriya saw a lot of himself in Kaede – with the right training, one day Kaede might even be a match for him. For now, he looked fondly at his little family and enjoyed his cake, and thought about refinements to his techniques he could try on Gaisei tomorrow.

Author's notes:

If you thought there were some similarities between Moriya's past and that of Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin, then you aren't mistaken. The character of Moriya borrows from both Kenshin and his master, Hiko Seijuro, so references to his parents dying of Cholera were deliberate.

Ono-ha Itto-ryu is a real kenjutsu style still practiced today. In the 1850's, it was taught by two families, one of which was the Yamaga clan. Kirotoshi is really a fundamental technique of the school, although it's far more complex than I'm really able to comprehend.

If you were confused by Yamaga's referring to Gaisei as Ganryu, then you should read up on the life of Miyamoto Musashi, possibly the greatest swordsman to have ever lived. Musashi was also known as Benosuke, which is where I got Yamaga's first name. Gaisei's carrying a large no-dachi is a reference to Sasaki Kojiroh, Musashi's greatest rival, who also carried a very long straight no-dachi he called the darning pole. Sasaki's nickname was Ganryu.