Chapter Five: Mizuki Mayura
Tanaka Mikai, age twelve, stood in front of the fifty-story high Hoshi Enterprise headquarters in downtown Tokyo. He took a deep breath and entered through the automatic doors.
"Who are you here to see?" asked the receptionist.
"The chairman," replied Mikai.
The receptionist smirked. "I'm sorry boy, the chairman is a very busy man. Is there anything I can help you with?"
"No, I must speak to the chairman."
"He has no time to talk to unimportant little kids. Now hurry home, your parents must be worried for you," said the receptionist.
"Let me speak to Kinomoto Fujishinto-san!" demanded Mikai, slamming his fist down on the counter in frustration.
"Guards, take this unruly child away!" called out the receptionist.
Mikai struggled against the iron strength of the guard towering over him. "Let go of me!"
At that moment, the path from the elevators cleared as Kinomoto Fujishinto, in a crisp gray suit and maroon tie, walked into the front lobby, accompanied by his son and secretary to each side, followed by his usual bodyguard escorts.
Yanking free from the guard's grip, Mikai ran forward. "Kinomoto-san!"
Kinomoto Fujishinto blinked and stared down at him. "Do I know you?"
"I'm Tanaka Mikai," he replied.
"Ah, you're Tanaka Keisuke's son," remarked Fujishinto. "You've grown a bit. What brings you here?"
"I came to speak to you regarding the bankruptcy of the Kinhoshi Electronics division, and my father's debt," said Mikai. "There must have been some accounting mistake. I reviewed all the figures and all the bank accounts and—"
"If you have any concerns, please write up a formal statement and file it through my secretary. I don't have time to deal with every single petty issue of every single division in the Hoshi Enterprise," replied Kinomoto Fujishinto.
"But you're the only person who can do anything! There is no time!" cried out Mikai. "My mother is ill and our house is facing foreclosure. You've done enough, haven't you? Can't you spare me my family?"
"I don't see how this is any of my problem," stated Fujishinto.
Mikai stared hard at the older man. "But he was your employee."
"In this world, you have to be prepared for everything at all times. It was irresponsible of Tanaka Keisuke to leave his family unprotected, and that is no fault of mine."
"Please." Biting his lips, Mikai collapsed onto his knees. He was trembling uncontrollably, but his voice was staid. "Please have mercy on us."
"You are creating an unnecessary fuss. There is nothing I can do," replied Fujishinto.
Mikai stared at the ground, palm on his knees. "Please, I beg you. Save my mother and little sister."
"Guards, escort this boy out!" Fujishinto said sharply. "You are creating a spectacle.
Two guards seized Mikai and dragged him towards the door.
"Please, Kinomoto-sama, please save my family!" Mikai cried out.
The guards flung him out on the streets. "Know your place, boy."
Mikai glared at the guard, who blocked him as Kinomoto Fujishinto walked towards the Mercedes Benz parked outside the building. Fujishinto's son whispered something into his father's ears and then walked towards Mikai.
"Tanaka Mikai-kun," Fujishika said. "My condolences for your father's untimely death."
He stared up at Fujishika warily. Even when he was younger, he had not trusted Kinomoto Fujishika's weasel-like features.
Kinomoto Fujishika watched Mikai with a thin smile. "There is a way you can save your family."
"How?" whispered Mikai.
"The Mirror of Truth," replied Fujishika. "In exchange for the Mirror, we will exempt your father's debts."
"Just for the Mirror?" Mikai blinked in disbelief.
"Get your mother to sign and stamp these papers," said Kinomoto Fujishika, his eyes gleaming behind his spectacles. "And we will release your family of your father's debts."
He lied. All adults are liars.
When I was twelve, I thought the world was a just place. I thought that effort paid off and that humans were compassionate. Back then, I was naïve. Forgive me, mother. At that time, I knew not what I did. It was the first time I knelt in front of another person and the last. I swore that I would never bow down in front of another human being and never have to ask anybody for help. There is nobody who can help me except for myself.
That is why I could no longer stay.
At age twelve, the world as I knew it was completely overturned. I knew that once I left that house that I grew up in, there was no turning back ever again. And I vowed on that day, Tanaka Mikai was no more.
The climb up Mount Kumatori was a long trek, especially for a tired and hungry boy. For a moment, Tanaka Mikai paused and stared up the winding path ahead of him. The peaks of the mountain were covered eerily in purple mist. He clutched the silver locket around his neck, the locket of his ancestor Mizuki Mayura, and then hoisted up his duffel bag and continued walking. An owl hooted and he could hear the cawing of the crows in the trees. Mikai had the sense he was trespassing upon holy ground as he came upon a shrine at the top of the mountain. Cautiously entering through the red-painted gateway, Mikai circled around the premise, wondering if he was in the right place. He was starting to have doubts that Mizuki Mayura really could help him. It was too late to be having doubts now. Somehow within the past several months, he had abandoned all logic and reason. Nothing could surprise him at this point.
Clearing his throat, he called out, "Is anyone there? Mayura-sama?" His voice echoed through the mountains. "This is Tanaka Mikai. I am here as you instructed."
He squinted his eyes through the hazy mist where he thought he saw the shape of a woman emerge from the temple. When the fog subsided, he could discern the figure of a woman dressed in the red and white garb of a miko. Her long straight auburn hair was loose around her pale face, and her step was so light it was almost as if she floated.
Mikai had only seen her once before as an apparition, but he quickly recognized Mizuki Mayura, the original owner of his locket and the Mirror of Truth. Her voice had a rich, ethereal quality. "So, you have finally come, my chosen successor."
His knees were knocking together, but he boldly stated, "Now, will you tell me why you have summoned me here?"
"For training of course." Mayura narrowed her cold gray eyes at the young boy. "You better be up for it because I am not very patient and do not accept weakness or stupidity."
"Training for what?" Mikai gulped.
"Mental, physical and spiritual training," Mayura replied.
"I see." That did not clear up any ambiguities for Mikai, but he merely nodded—he did not want to displease his future training master at such an early stage. She spoke in a tone as if she was used to being obeyed without question, as expected from a priestess.
"Until you complete your training course, you will not leave this mountain. You will eat, sleep and learn here. Your training will be complete when I deem I have taught you all you need to learn," Mayura stated. "I only have one rule. You follow all my orders and not argue back."
"I see." He dropped his bag to the ground. So much for junior high. So much for the National Junior Archery Competitions. It did not matter if he flunked out of school or won another trophy at this point. In fact, nothing mattered to him anymore. He had to save his mother and find out the mystery shrouded behind his ancestry. And where better to start than from this woman who claimed to be his great ancestor, who may only be a figment of his imagination or some vengeful demon ready to swallow his soul. Maybe a month ago, he would have laughed at anyone who believed in superstition or reincarnated souls. But now, he was ready to believe anything. Anything to get him out of the nightmare that his life had turned into.
"Do you agree to my terms, Tanaka Mikai?"
"Yes, I do. I am ready to begin." Mikai closed his eyes. He was ready to say goodbye to everything that he was accustomed to and start a new life. He bowed down to the ground, touching his forehead to the floor. "Please accept me as your student, Mayura-sama."
Mizuki Mayura placed a hand on his left shoulder. "Tanaka Mikai, on this day you have been accepted as the last student of Mizuki Mayura. Learn well so my mission on this earth will be accomplished."
Thus, Tanaka Mikai's grueling training at the Mount Kumatori shrine officially began, his only physical companion stray cats, odd woodland creatures and the humming cicadas. And a nonexistent being.
"Make yourself at home in the shrine. Use what you will. This is spiritual grounds. You can expect you won't find anybody coming along this way, so you will be completely on your own. You will have to learn to become self-sufficient," Mayura said briskly.
The first night at the shrine, Mikai curled up on the bare wooden floors of the temple using his bag as a pillow and his jacket as a blanket. Mikai figured ghosts did not have to sleep. Drafts of cold air sifted in through the sliding doors, and he could see little ants crawling along. A couple times, he thought he felt something small and furry brush against his legs.
He tried to pretend he was on a camp trip. His stomach rumbled. By now, his mother and sister would know that he was missing. Would they look for him? If Mayura hadn't sworn him to secrecy, he would have left a letter, a note, any message to let them know he was all right. Then, he recalled the cold glint in Kinomoto Fujishika's eyes that day he took away the Mirror of Truth. He doubted that Kinomoto Fujishika nor the Chairman of Hoshi Enterprise, Kinomoto Fujishinto, would keep their words. Because he had been keeping track of the family accounts since his father passed away, he knew that his family had enough savings to last them a year, give or take a couple months depending on how frugal they were. But medical bills were expensive, and the doctors had not yet found the cause for his mother's illness. He clutched the silver locket he had taken from his sister. The metal warmed in his hand.
Please be safe till I return, Miho…
The quickest way to complete training would be to put his all in training and not think about anything else. It was easy to lose track of time in the mountains, as if he had entered into another dimension without the prevalence of any mechanism to tell time such as computer, watch, digital clock, television, radio, all of which the shrine was devoid of. It was better this way, because Mikai could shut out the outside world and focus on the task at hand.
Besides, Mizuki Mayura allowed for little distractions anyway.
As a junior-level gold-medal archer, Tanaka Mikai believed he knew what it was like to have a disciplined training schedule. Yet, Mayura surpassed the severity of the strictest archery instructors he had met, and he had trained under former Olympiads. Despite her gentle ambiance, Mizuki Mayura was a hard master to serve, for she was sharp-tongued and relentless, unforgiving of mistakes and without praise.
"Humph, your archery skills are all right for a kid your age, I guess," scoffed Mayura after Mikai demonstrated to her the one thing he had complete confidence in, kyudo. "Well, that's it?"
"I'm the best archer in the prefecture and possibly the nation, in my division," Mikai stated stiffly.
"Well, your fundament archery skills aren't too shabby. But you tell me, can you hit the target if you were blindfolded?" Mayura smirked.
"Eh?" Mikai realized that humor was not a part of Mayura's vocabulary, that she meant everything she said.
Mayura held up a long narrow white piece of cloth with a sweet smile.
"W-what are you doing?" demanded Mikai as she pulled the cloth over his eyes.
Mikai spent the next week practicing hitting bull's eye, an X marked on a tree trunk, blindfolded—for what reason or purpose he did not know.
"You idiot—how many times do I have to tell you: you don't see with your eye. You see with your mind!" Mayura snapped, slapping his hand with a whip she had formed out of a birch branch.
"How can I see with my mind?" retorted Mikai, throwing down his bow and arrows in frustration.
"When you lose one sense, the other senses become heightened. Likewise, you need to awaken the sense that has been asleep in you for so long. The sixth sense, the ability to see without eyes, hear without ears, sense without touch. It's in your blood. You just need to trust yourself," Mayura asserted.
"I can't do it!" stated Mikai, yanking off the blindfold. "It doesn't make sense—how can I sense things without my five senses? That defies all logic."
"Are you giving up already?" Mayura's gray eyes were level, calm as if she already knew his answer. "Before you even learn how to save your mother?"
Picking up the bow one more time with trembling hands, Mikai slipped the blindfold back on. It was still early spring and quite chilly. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand and his stomach rumbled from hunger. Not the pleasant hunger right before you knew you were about to have a steaming hot dinner, but a deep, cavernous hunger from the bottom of your guts where you were hungry to the point your stomach ached. He was grimier than he had ever been before as there was no hot water in the mountains, and he had to make do with the ice cold spring water. He had never worn the same clothes for a week before, and his pants were tattered, his shoes worn out, and his blue sweater was no longer blue. He could not concentrate on the bull's eye when the emptiness in his stomach consumed his entire body. His stomach growled and he sneezed. He hoped he was not coming down with pneumonia. If I get sick here, there is no doctor nearby, no drugstore. If I die here, nobody will ever find my body.
"Concentrate. Is this all the discipline you have?" snapped Mayura, smacking him on the back of the head with her bow. "Your mind power has to learn the ability to transcend your simplistic bodily needs."
Mikai nodded. "I'm sorry. I'll concentrate." He took a deep breath in. The mountains smelled like wood and dirt. See without eyes. Hear without ears. Sense without touch. Ah, the winds are rustling through the leaves. I can hear the stream in the background. It is so still and silent here. But no, it's not silent—there are so many different sounds that I would never have noticed in the city. And this presence, this suffocating sense that something's there. It's like a flash of light—no, more like the ocean. Even when you close your eyes by the seaside, you can smell the ocean, hear the waves and feel its majesty. So, this must be the presence of Mayura-sama. I can't see, but I can feel it.
Strange. I can't see the target, but my arms remember what it feels like to hit the bull's eye. I must simply trust my arms. My body knows. He automatically drew back the arrow and released it with a snap of his wrist. There was a thud, and even without pulling off his blindfold, he knew he hit the target.
"Humph. Not bad. Took you long enough to get a sense of that. Now we can move on from the preliminary training to the real thing," Mayura stated, not before a small smile escaped from those firmly pressed lips, when she found that the boy was actually smiling for the first time he had reached the mountains.
"Wait, this was just the preliminary training?" Mikai asked, gulping, hunger subsided for the moment.
It was not long before Mikai found out what "the real thing" was. Mayura admittedly pushed him into training that should have been administered over the course of years into a cram course within several months, as there was no time, according to her. In the following weeks, Mikai learned that Mayura only had a beautiful face and calm demeanor. Great One and priestess or not, he knew the real truth—she was not only a Spartan instructor but also had an unexpected sadistic streak. And yet she claimed she had been the "nice" one of the Great Five.
"I refuse!" exclaimed Mikai, staring down at the base of the cliff, swallowing hard. The wind blew harder at the top of the cliff and his knees knocked together. "Do you want to kill me?"
"You won't die if you do it right," Mayura replied, unintentionally malicious. "I told you. You have to master Levitation if you want to learn anything else."
"What the heck is this Levitation?" Mikai demanded, stepping back from the cliff's edge. "All I know is that I certainly don't have a death wish!"
"Levitation is the ability to slow the pull of gravity by exerting force beneath your feet in order to lessen the impact of fall," Mayura replied. "You've seen martial artists do it. Though you should have a larger capacity with your ability to manipulate wind."
"Like flying or something?" Mikai scoffed. "Well, that's bull. I'm not jumping off the cliff—" Mayura simply poked Mikai's back with the edge of her hard wooden bow, sending him tumbling off the edge.
"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! I'm too young to die!" Mikai screamed. The wind howled by his ears as he fell straight down. I can't die yet! I simply can't! Miho, I have to see my sister again. Those violet eyes. Karin-senpai, where are you? Will I ever see you again? With this awakened desire to live inside him, Mikai suddenly felt more aware of his surroundings more than ever with the rush of blood into his head. Even as he was falling, he felt the wind repelling him. Become one with the wind. Like a bird of flight. And suddenly, the wind was no longer pushing him down, but enveloping him, cushioning his fall. Since he was naturally agile, Mikai was able to maneuver his body as he pleased midair and found footing on a ledge, by the steep precipice, using the force to propel him back up to the top of the cliff again with a surge of adrenaline rush.
"See, I told you you'd manage," stated Mayura as Mikai collapsed before her, sweating and heaving.
"You… nearly… killed me," Mikai groaned. "I never want to go through that again."
"Well, you're still alive."
"Crazy old woman. Sadist…" muttered Mikai.
And Mayura merely laughed.
Daybreak to sunset, all the hours when the sun was up was devoted to training. And the summer sun was long. Sunset meant mealtime, and Kai would prepare his meager dinner, most of the time some sort of gruel he concocted up in the big iron cast pot. There was no electricity or gas in the temple, so he cooked over firelight. Eventually, he learned how to conjure fire, the most rudimentary of spells, according to his mentor. He found it easiest to manipulate wind, and once he could control wind, he could control fire.
As he adjusted to his life at the shrine, he slowly forgot about the other world, the lifestyle he came from, and simply focused on living day to day. He slept on a straw pallet on the cold wooden floors of the rundown temple with only a thin blanket for cover. When he ran out of cup noodles, summer saw plentiful of fruits growing from the various trees. When he grew sick of fruits, he dug up various vegetables and roots from the ground which yielded an abundant crop. He learned to distinguish between the poisonous berries and the nonpoisonous ones the hard way—he spent one night heaving and vomiting into the bushes after he gobbled particularly poisonous red berries. Never had he cooked before, but he learned to boil up various roots and turnip in the big iron pot heated by fire from logs he had chopped with his very own hands. He ate not for taste but simply for the sake of survival. Sometimes, Mayura would take pity on him and point out wild mushrooms and herbs he could add to flavor his food; he got the impression when Mayura-sama had been human, she must have been a good cook. At one point, he abandoned utensils and began stuffing his face with his hands, like a savage beast.
When his clothes wore out from the strenuous training and life in the woods, he found in the temple closet coarse men's kimonos stored away and spare zori sandals. The clothes were a lot easier to move around in, and he felt completely transported back into 19th century. When his hair grew out, he used a strip of cloth to tie it back. He washed in the icy stream outside—there was nobody miles around, so it didn't matter. Every moment not spent sleeping and harvesting and preparing food to eat was spent in training. He no longer thought or worried, for every ounce of his energy was spent on survival.
While daytime was devoted to physical training, evenings consisted of many a lesson on spells and the theory of spiritual powers. Mikai had been a good student, but he admittedly almost preferred the arduous physical training to learning of theoretical magic which simply flew over his head; he had always been a concrete, rational, evidence-based thinker, and forcing himself to abandon all rules of physics and logic was difficult at first. Though Mayura was a Shinto priestess, she spent more time teaching him about the way of Tao, Confucianism, Buddhism and Western alchemic practices.
"Why do I have to learn this?" demanded Mikai, staring at the rows of Chinese text of I Ching, the Book of Changes—his classical Chinese reading skills were limited, and his eyes hurt from the flickering candle light, while his entire back was sore from sowing potatoes earlier that morning, and his head swirled from whirling around in the air during training.
"I can just teach you the magic," said Mayura. "But you are a logic-seeking person. That is why I am teaching you the foundation, the routes of magic. I am a Shinto priestess, and my father was a Shinto priest—the Mizuki family comes from a long line of Shinto onmyouji. My father was well-versed in divination and protection of humans against evil spirits. I too was skilled in onmyoudo."
"Are you going to teach me onmyoudo?" asked Mikai.
Mayura shook her head. "No, you're going to learn much beyond that. Magic shouldn't be by the book. You are a free spirit, so I hope one day you will learn to use your powers in a way befitting your personality."
"Were you an onmyouji?"
"I did learn the technique from my father. Onmyoudo is one of the rarer esoteric cosmologies that merges beliefs from many different sources, as it took elements from Chinese Taoism, the Five Elements, yin and yang, Buddhism and Indian astrology. Such a rare sort of syncretism can only be found in Japan." Mayura paused. "I think it is this concept that carried forth the shaped the Great Five though it was perhaps Sorcerer Clow Reed, who came after my time, who really perfected the synchronization."
"Synchronization?" repeated Mikai.
"Yes," said Mizuki Mayura, staring up at the crescent moon, speaking more to herself than to Mikai. "The curse of the Dark Ones may one day be broken when the powers of those descended from the Great Five reach synchronization."
None of what Mayura said made any sense to him. Yawning, Mikai tried to stare at the text again. He cared very little about magical theory or annals of Chinese philosophers long since dead or divination and astrology—Karin-senpai had been far more interested in that sort of stuff. Karin. It had been a long time since had thought of her. He wondered how she was doing. Maybe she had found her birth father already. All his life, he had been taught magic was an illusion, a trick of the eye. And yet, he had learned that there were things beyond what the eye could see and the mind could conceive of. It was strangely liberating to be told that everything he did not believe in existed. All the misfortunes that had befallen upon his family were perhaps not by chance. If there was a reason for everything, maybe then, he could find an answer to why such events had occurred.
Many a night, Mikai would be so exhausted from the daytime exercise and fall over on the bamboo wood floor, books tossed aside, arms and legs sprawled out, fast asleep. Then, he would hear a handful from Mayura the next day. But she never did wake him during the night, as if she felt pity for the young boy who had been caught in a web of intricacies laid before by his ancestors, long before he had been born.
Over the next months, Mikai completely mastered Levitation so that he could soar from branch to branch in the mountains with great ease, explore the other side of the mountain and move around with great speed and dexterity, mimicking almost the sense of flying. Never before had he felt so uninhibited and free. He also learned how to control his wield of the wind, bringing him voices and smells, a wider range of awareness of his surrounding, greater clairvoyance and a sudden gateway to a whole new physical, mental and spiritual state. He was not the naïve, haunted boy he was when he entered the mountains shortly after the death of his father. For the first time, he felt powerful and in control, one with nature, above worldly concerns. All he had to focus on was eating, sleeping and training. The only company he had was the wild animals, the birds, and the acerbic tongue of Mizuki Mayura, and it was liberating not to have to care about anybody else and not have to worry about etiquette, manners and consideration.
Mikai had always been a quick learner, and Mayura, while not the most patient person, was an unparallel teacher and a fair one at that.
"You've improved," remarked Mayura watching Mikai master a difficult move involving aerodynamic archery.
It was the first compliment that Mayura had given him, and Mikai blushed.
And a slight gentle look came over Mayura's eyes. "I used to have a little brother once. You remind me of him."
"Did you teach him as well?" asked Mikai.
"He didn't have much spiritual powers," said Mayura with a soft smile. "But he practiced hard and eventually became a better archer than me. You're in fact a direct descendent of Mizuki Keigo."
"I see," said Mikai. He felt a little disappointed learning that he was not a direct descendent of Mayura. I guess Mayura-sama never did marry then. Mayura-sama talked very little about herself, so it was strange thinking of her when she was living, what sort of life she had led, her family, her friends. There was an unapproachable air about Mizuki Mayura, and he did not know if this was because she was a Great One, or because she was simply a spirit, or because it was her actual presence.
"Mayura-sama. This locket, this was a gift from somebody special, right?" Mikai said, holding out his silver locket. It was a question he had wanted to ask for some time now.
Hesitantly, Mayura reached out and ran a finger over the engravings and the ruby set in the center of the locket.
"Yes, it was."
"May I ask who gave it to you?"
"If you have time for idle talk go and practice wind camouflage—you're still hopeless at controlling the elements. At this rate, you're not going to leave the mountains till you're an old teetering grandfather."
Mikai looked up at Mayura. He had forgotten that eventually, he would have to leave the mountains. He sighed. Strange enough, he liked it here at the temple. It was comforting and sheltered from the outside world. Here, he did not have to think about anything except himself. He did not have to worry about any other people, and he did not have feel any emotions or think about tomorrow. But one day, he would have to leave the mountains and face the real world again.
But he continued to ask question whenever he got a chance.
"Can you tell me more about the Great Five?" Mikai asked one day as he cracked open roasted chestnuts that he had picked from the ground around chestnut trees. He shivered—it was chillier at nightfall in the mountains. He had found a horse blanket in the shed and had wrapped it around his shoulders to ward off the wind. How long had he been in the mountains? Weeks? Months? Years?
"What do you want to know?" Mayura gazed at the boy who so resembled her younger brother—no Mikai was ten times harder working than her younger brother Keigo had ever been. Then again, Mikai would be considered a lot more mature than any boy his age. It was only times like this when he was relaxed, eating or sleeping, that he revealed that he was no more than a boy barely on the brink of adolescence. He was no longer the sallow, haunted, prep school poster boy he had been when he first came to the mountains, but he was healthily tanned, an inch or two taller, voice slightly deeper and blue-gray eyes somewhat more savage.
"I don't know. Your life back then. What you did as the Great Five. Anything. Who you were before you came to this shrine." Mikai looked up at the gentile woman who claimed to be his ancestor. She looked no older than her twenties. Was her physical appearance the visage she chose to show herself or a true representation of the age she passed away at?
Perhaps Mayura realized that the boy was lonely, that he craved for anything to take him away from his worries, his pain. Even though she had been harsh upon him since the beginning, he had not complained, not whined as a child might when put under such circumstances. In fact, she knew she had been pushing him to his utmost limit. Yet he did not reproach her nor despise her.
She began in her silvery voice, "Well, as you probably know, things were very different back towards the end of the Edo Era. Times were changing with Japan opening to the West, and we were a culture struggling to cling onto tradition when the west of the world was shifting and shifting. These mountains probably were the same, but everything else back then was different. Your town was not yet built and all this land was farmland where people lived in the same village they were born to all their life. Back then, there was just Amamiya Hayashi and me. Amamiya Hayashi was often called the greatest swordsman of Japan, which was an irony because he was probably the most peace-loving person I ever knew. He had green eyes, as green as the forest in the summer, and light brown hair that he wore unbound and short, unlike samurai of the time. He was from a notable samurai family, but he cared little from tradition and rituals and was quite the oddball. But he had a quiet yet ominous presence, for though he was a man of few words, his words were well-listened to."
"Did you… was he to you…" Mikai floundered, too embarrassed to finish his sentence.
Realizing that boy was stammering, Mayura replied, "No, not in that way. He was a close family friend—he used to visit our shrine in Kyoto, and he and Hayami were like brothers to me. Hayashi had the Second Sight, so there was something quite uncanny about him, sometimes. Then, there was Li Shulin—probably the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in my life—she was from Shanghai and it was said that legions of men cried of broken hearts because of her rejecting them. But she had quite a temper. The only one who could quite match her temper was Lord Landon Reed—he was from England. When I first saw him, with those blue eyes and long golden hair, I thought he must be an angel—that is until he started speaking. Those two eventually married and had a son. Their names may have been forgotten in the modern world, but their son's clearly wasn't— Clow Reed, greatest magician of the East and West."
"Ah, you've spoken of him before. But I've also heard that name before," said Mikai.
"Mother used to tell Miho and me when we were little that the evil sorcerer Clow Reed would come turn us into mice if we were naughty," he said with a nostalgic smile.
Mayura chuckled. "Clow Reed would cry crocodile tears at such a misrepresentation of his name."
"What was this person like?" Mikai asked, feeling somehow drawn to this mystical Clow Reed.
"I wonder. I was not around by the time he came to prominence. He grew up in England, but he eventually laid his roots in Japan." Mayura's voice trailed off as she gazed into the distance. "His legacy still remains in the form of the Clow Cards."
Mikai wondered what had happened in the time period between the Era of the Great Ones and the Era of the Sorcerer of the East and West. "Well, who was the fifth member?" asked Mikai.
"Oh… That would be Chang Ruichi. He joined us with his twin sister Risa. They were from up north, far, far from here."
If Mikai noticed a slight change of tone in Mayura's voice, he said nothing.
Chang Ruichi… The first time he had ever seen anything that resembled emotion in Mayura-sama's eyes. Was it resentment? No… It was more of a rueful, sad expression. And he noticed Mayura was careful not to voluntarily mention that name again.
As Mikai improved in mastering his spiritual power, his evening lessons became more enjoyable as well, because he became eager to learn about the theory behind the powers he possessed. Improving meant he was becoming stronger. Becoming stronger meant he was one step closer to finding a way to heal his mother. Because Mikai had completed the various texts that Mayura had assigned him, and he was showing active interest in learning, Mayura began to spend more time talking to him and explaining any questions he had regarding the texts he had read. It was these hours that Mikai looked most forward to in the day, when Mayura would talk about the adventures of the Great Five.
Mikai liked watching Mayura talk, the warm candlelight flickering over her face. When she talked about the past, her feature softened, and she almost seemed like a girl again, not much older than himself. He was under the impression that Mayura had passed away in her mid-twenties, not too long after the Great Five went their separate ways. Because it was a sensitive subject, he dared not ask about it too directly. "I wonder, why the Circle fell apart if the Great Five were such good friends," he remarked after chuckling over the entertaining story of how young Li Shulin had challenged Hayashi the lazy samurai to a duel over and over again, and Hayashi never once even unsheathed his sword. He had heard so many stories about the two, it was like they were his friends.
Mayura looked slightly sad again. "We all came from different backgrounds and had different powers and ideologies. Landon Reed from England brought knowledge of Western alchemic theory. He had such master of contract magic, perhaps the most scientific approach, and it was a good thing he had not fallen into a dark path, because he could have done much damage. Though he was short-tempered and easily angered, he had a heart of gold. Amamiya Hayashi was perhaps the opposite of Landon in terms of magical approach—his spiritual ability was the strongest of the group. Hayashi of the Third Eye, as he was called, wasn't bound by theory and regulations and went mostly by intuition. That is why his magic probably was the most flexible, because it could take on any shape and form. Nobody ever figure out how much he was holding back. Li Shulin of the infamous Li Clan of Shanghai—they later moved to Hong Kong—brought in her knowledge of the Five Elements and had the most rigid magic; she never picked up much of Landon's western spells, and her divination skills were limited. But she probably became the most successful and powerful of the group and is still recalled as the most venerated Great One of the Li Clan."
"And there was one more. Chang Ruichi-sama and his twin," Mikai said.
"They spent a part of their childhood on a merchant ship and were probably the best traveled out of us, except maybe Landon—they were born of a Japanese mother and a Chinese mercenary, and that is why Ruichi probably started off with the most fluid of powers, with a latent ability that none of us recognized in the beginning," Mayura said briskly. "Combining our forces, we became unprecedentedly empowered. And that also contributed to our downfall. "
"You said Clow Reed is the son of Li Shulin-sama and Lord Landon Reed, right?" Mikai asked. After hearing all the stories of Shulin and Landon's temper-tantrums at each other, he thoroughly believed they deserved each other.
"It's strange, I always thought Hayashi and Shulin would… Well, never mind that." Mayura looked away, as if she had mentioned something she would rather not have.
Mikai realized that the interrelationship between the Great Five was far more complicated than he had ever suspected. He had gradually deduced that the Dark One which had overturned the order of the Great Five was none other than Chang Ruichi, one time friend and ally of the other four. How could someone so close betray everyone?
"Enough questions for today," said Mayura, leaning her head forwards. "So who is this Karin?"
Mikai spewed out a mouthful of green tea. "Excuse me?"
"You were repeating her name in your sleep," remarked Mayura with a mischievous twinkle in her gray eyes. "Your girlfriend?"
Mikai blushed slightly and stammered, "No—no!"
"Oh. One-sided crush?" Mayura said a little more sympathetically. "Do you miss her?"
After all these months, before his eyes flashed an image of a girl with hair as golden as the sun and eyes a pale violet like wisteria swaying in the wind. "Ah, Karin-senpai… She disappeared one day without saying a word. I'll probably never see her again."
"It is a small world," remarked Mayura. "If you were meant to be, then your path would cross again. It's the inevitability of human relationships."
At that time, Mikai did not know what Mayura meant, and he left it at that.
Because Mikai had read most of the books that Mayura had provided him—after all, he had photographic memory—Mayura spent more evenings talking to him now about the past.
"We each had a patron animal. Amamiya Hayashi had a silver wolf. As you know, we Japanese revere wolves as being sacred gods. Because Li Shulin didn't want to be out-beaten by Hayashi, she called upon a dragon, the sacred creature heavenly creature worshipped by the Chinese who are said to be descendents of the dragon. Landon chose a white unicorn, known for their healing powers in the West."
"What was yours?" asked Mikai.
Mikai closed his eyes. He could see Mayura extend her arms and a brilliant white feathered bird perching on her slender fingers. "A bird."
"That's right. I captured a phoenix, or rather, the white phoenix captured me. Garada was his name." Mayura paused.
"What happened to Garada-sama?" Mikai asked, looking around the world, expecting the bird to fly out of a corner.
"Maybe he's found a new master," said Mayura with a pout. "Birds are fickle creatures, mind you, if you plan on taking on a familiar. I recommend a dog. Dogs are stupid and loyal to the point of idiocy."
"Who was the strongest of the five?" asked Mikai.
"We had our strengths and weaknesses. The Great Five were the most powerful fellowship of magicians in two centuries. We were powerful because we represented a bond of two culture of magic and a fusion of every sort of magic, the power of elements and the heavenly bodies, of light and dark, contract magic and clairvoyance. Together, we were absolute and undefeatable, and were strong because we were united and comrades. At one point, we sought to discover new types of magic in order to combine our powers and push the limits of sorcery."
Mikai blinked. "You can discover knew magic?"
"We were so powerful and being with each other magnified our powers to a point that we needed to safeguard our powers in order not to upset the equilibrium. It was initially Landon's idea. Both Western and Eastern magic like using focal objects and vesting power in a special item. So, we decided to vest our powers in a special item, sort of as a storage mechanism but also as a way that even after our death, a fragment of our powers will still remain. Landon chose a star sapphire ring that his mother had given him. Shulin naturally chose the Li Clan Five Force Sword. Hayashi was different and instead of a family heirloom, he chose a pendant that he always wore called the Eye of the Dragon. It's a mystical gem that has been handed down from generation to generation of the best swordsman of the nation. Some say it's a crystal, some say it's an uncarved diamond and others say it really is the eye of the dragon that the first warrior took as a token of his victory. As for myself, you can probably guess which item I chose."
"It was the Mirror of Truth, wasn't it?" said Mikai with a sinking feeling in his stomach.
"That is correct. The item I chose was the Mirror of Truth, a mystical mirror that is said to reflect not the physical appearance but the true reflection of the beholder. It is an item that was forged in Europe but came into the holds of the Mizuki shrine."
"And the Dark One? What did he choose?" asked Mikai.
"Ruichi… He was the last person to choose an item; he was the only one of us to create a new object. He obtained a ruby stone, with which he wrought ruby earrings. He kept one side and gave his sister Risa the other one." Mayura paused. "You asked how you can save your mother. Your mother is suffering from the remnants of one of the most sordid and darkest of dark forces unleashed by the Dark One. Some eight years before you were born, Amamiya Nadeshiko and Li Ryuuren sealed the Plague within their bodies. Their alliance were probably the greatest joining of powers since the Great Ones. But they were not strong enough. Mizuki Miara, also sealed a part of the Plague within her body."
Mikai stared up at the priestess, wide-eyed. "That's okaa-san's disease. The doctors did not know what it was."
"They wouldn't. It's incurable through modern medical science," replied Mayura.
"Then how? How will I cure my mother?"
"Nadeshiko and Ryuuren failed because they were not able to gather the descendents of the Great Five," said Mayura. "For the first time in over a century, the descendents of an Amamiya, Li, Mizuki and Chang had gathered in one spot, all save a Reed. And they only had three of the Five Force Treasures at that time, the sapphire ring, the Mirror and the Five Force Sword. For generations, the Li Clan had been fixated on gathering the Five Force Treasures. They have been eager to get hold of the Mirror of Truth from the Mizuki family for years. At that time, the Li Clan already had the sapphire ring, which Landon had given to Shulin when he proposed to her, and the Clan's centuries old sword. The Li Clan emerged as the strongest powerhouse of the East in the 20th century. The Amamiya pendant had long since disappeared and its whereabouts are not known to date. And the Dark Ones still had the ruby earrings. Thus, even though Ryuuren might perhaps be the strongest Chosen One of the Li Clan since Shulin and Nadeshiko had clairvoyance which comes along only once in a century, the best they could do was to temporarily seal the Plague within their bodies."
"What happened to them?" Mikai asked.
"They're both dead," replied Mayura. "Your mother was saved because she did not have to absorb a lot of the shock. But soon, the new Dark Ones will emerge. And you have to be prepared for that."
"You haven't called me here to help me find a way save my mother. You are preparing me for a battle, aren't you?" said Mikai quietly.
"Finding a way to defeat the Dark Ones is the way to save not only your mother but humanity," said Mayura. "I am providing you the skills to fight. What you do with the skills you have obtained is up to you."
"Nobody could defeat the Dark Ones in a century and a half," said Mikai. "When the greatest magicians of the world failed, what chance do I have against them?"
"Both you and your sister are far more powerful than your mother ever was," said Mayura.
"Miho-chan has powers as well?" Mikai asked.
"It's rare that both siblings have such a strong dominant spiritual power," said Mayura. "But the Mizukis come from a long line of great omyouji and priests from even before the Edo era. I think in your cases, you both draw upon different elements of power. Currently, a new Clow Card Mistress has been appointed as Clow Reed's successor. She may become more powerful than even Clow."
"Wow, I wonder what kind of great magician she must be," said Mikai. He pictured a grand and stately woman in the veins of the Great Five. Would she be as proud and beautiful as Shulin-sama? Or maybe gentle and compassionate like Mayura-sama. Or maybe a crooked and omnipotent female version of sorcerer Clow Reed.
"The Li Clan's new Chosen One is the youngest one in the history of the Clan, and he oddly enough has aligned himself with the Card Mistress rather than battle her out for the role of becoming the new Card Master. Another one of my descendents has also been watching over them. And there are rumors that Clow Reed himself has reincarnated himself."
"Clow Reed?" Mikai repeated. "Then why did he appoint a successor?"
"He must have had his reasons." Mayura glanced at him his narrowed eyes. "Then there's you."
"Why did you choose me?" asked Mikai.
"I have been watching out the mirror for a long time, waiting for the One."
"The One?" Mikai blinked.
"The Great Five, we were a crafty bunch," replied Mayura. "We were not just magicians; we were innovators. We were not content with just practicing magic; we were intent on stretching all bounds of magic and experimenting with what human limit is."
"The Five Treasures were one of your 'experiments,' I suppose?" asked Kai.
"Yes. It was an ultimate experiment to store power. Magicians from the days of Ancient Egypt have been using various items and amulets to store power and protect the user. But with the Five Treasures, we were able to trigger the treasures to have powers magnified in multitude when all five were gathered together. That effect was possible because of the pre-existing bond of us five magicians." Sometimes, when Mayura talked of yonder days, her gray eyes had a far off look, and a gentle smile came to her lips.
All this while, Mikai had thought Mayura to be a sad, lonely haunted person. But no, she was now because she was dead. But in life, she would have been proud but with humility, kind but merciless and vibrant because of the link with her friends. He thought just, once, he would have liked to see the Circle in its full glory, and Mayura as the teenage girl from Edo Japan.
One late autumn day when the mountains faded from a deep orange amber to a dull gray as the first chill settled over the summit, out of the blue, Mizuki Mayura declared, "I'm bored with you now. I've taught you everything you can learn, and there's nothing left for me to do for you."
"But I have so much more I need to learn—we're still in the middle of transmutations and onmyouji wards," Mikai protested. "And you haven't told me how to cure my mother's illness."
"You won't learn them here in these mountains," Mayura replied. "To cure your mother's illness, you will have to get the power of the Five Force Treasures."
"The Five Force Treasures?"
"Yes, the relics left behind by myself and my companions I told you about. Amamiya's diamond necklace, Shulin's sword, Landon's sapphire ring, and Ruichi's ruby earrings. You've already lost the first one… The Mizuki Mirror of Truth."
"But how am I supposed to find these lost treasures?" It was not that Mikai hadn't figured this out already. But he had grown used to life in the mountains in the shrine with Mayura.
"Go seek a man by the name of Reed."
"Who is he?"
"He will teach you the means of finding the Five Force Treasures," was Mayura's reply.
"You can't teach me that?"
"No, only he can."
"Reed… Is he related to the Great One Lord Landon Reed?" Mikai asked. A frown came over his brows. "This 'Reed' person, he's not another g-ghost?"
Mayura scowled. "For your information, I'm not a ghost, I'm an imprint of a memory. Once you leave, this physical body will disappear from the shrine forever because it has served its purpose. And I can also reassure you that Reed will be a solid, living human. He is a distant descendant of Lord Landon Reed's older brother. Knowing the Reed sadistic streak, I wish you the best with him."
"No one can be too bad after you," replied Mikai.
"Oh, you can only say that because you haven't met the rest of the bunch," Mayura stated with a chuckle. "As I keep remind you, I was actually the 'nice one,' of the group, believe it or not."
At this, Mikai smiled. Mayura's ash-gray eyes were filled with warmth as she gazed at the boy, a little taller, leaner, voice a shade deeper, slightly cracking, and a lot more confident than the hounded kid who had arrived at the shrine half a year ago.
Mayura blinked slowly. "Mikai, you once asked me why I chose you. I thought if it was you, you would understand the decision I chose to make long ago. The decision which changed the course of history forever."
"The silver locket," Mikai began slowly. "Ruichi-sama gave it to you, didn't he?"
For the first time, Mayura looked taken aback. "Yes. When Ruichi created his Five Force Treasure, he vested his power in a large ruby. He split that ruby stone into three stones. Two became the Dark One's ruby earrings. And the last stone, he set in a silver locket."
Mayura's words sank into Mikai. He reached to the chain and clasped the locket, with a gleaming pigeon's blood red ruby embedded in the center. It must have been hard enough for Hayashi-sama and the others to turn their backs and defeat a man that had once been such close friend. But Mayura had loved Ruichi. How much more painful must have it been for her to kill the man that she loved?
"Mikai, the path you take may be a lonely one," said Mayura, clasping his cheeks with her cold, clammy hands.
"But you will definitely find friends along the way who accept you as you are. And if you do, don't push them away. Because I believe in you, that you will make wiser choices than I have. I've taught you all I know not to walk my path but to carve your own. So don't despair and don't give into vengeance. If you remember that, I'm sure everything's going to turn out all right."
"Thank you Mayura-sama," he said, feeling a tightness in his throat.
"Thank me once you have accomplished what you have set out to do," Mayura replied, her long auburn hair whipping back even on the windless day. Even as she spoke her last words, her figure blurred into the purple mist, as heavy as that first day Mikai had arrived to the mountains.
And so, half a year after coming to the Mount Kumatori, Tanaka Mikai left with nothing on his back but the same duffel bag he had brought, and clothes now tattered and too tight on him. His hair was short again, shaggier since he had cut his hair that he had worn tied back with a knife without a mirror. But he left a changed person, one who had awakened to the powers within him. When he looked back again at the shrine, Mizuki Mayura was no longer there. He did not think he would see her again. Over the months, he had grown reliant on her companionship; her harshness concealed a tender, maternal gentility, and her eyes held wisdom and shadows unknown to those of the living. Had he had more time, he wished he could have learned the reason behind the sadness in her eyes.
But he had a more urgent task at hand. A man by the name of Reed was the key to finding the Five Force Treasures.
As he came closer and closer to the base of the mountain, he began to see more people. Old men hiking, some bikes.
Now, there were cars and convenience stores.
Voices. Electricity. The rumbling of the train on the tracks. Civilization.
The time that had paused while he was in the Mizuki Shrine was flowing again.
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Wish-chan: (April 10, 2012)
This chapter was completed years ago, but I think I withheld it because of possible spoilers. It's not a terribly eventful chapter, but it's an informative one, I believe. Mizuki Mayura is an interesting character, and I feel like she's one of the characters that is least known about of the Great Five before. So I'm glad to have a chance to explore her character.
There are so many back stories very clear in my mind that I think everyone will know about, but then I remember I haven't posted them up yet. This chapter explains why Kai knows a lot more about what's going on even if he doesn't show it oftentimes, since he's the only one who has been trained directly under a Great Five member. Syaoran knows a lot too, but what he knows is skewed with the Li Clan perspective hence it's biased. Eriol too holds his own biases as Clow Reed, though he doesn't talk about it (hence Kero-chan, Yue, Ruby Moon and Spinel-chan only know so much as what Clow Reed knows). Sakura's clueless not because she wants to be but because she knows pretty much what Kero-chan tells her (and Kero is an extension of Clow). Mayura of the Great Five probably was most like Tomoyo, an observer, hence her view is the least biased of the Great Five. But who knows.
Kaitou Magician is a character better left mysterious, in my opinion. But nonetheless, I am enjoying writing Tanaka Mikai's back story. Next chapter will be interesting though as a character I've been dying to introduce will finally appear. I also believe that starting from next chapter, the story is going to turn a little darker. But the real action would begin.
Mizuki Kai's popularity with readers always floors me. As I always say, he was the product of a writer's block. It's funny because I'm very empathetic with Tanaka Mikai but have not an ounce of sympathy for Kai and the stupid things he does.
Please check out the newest Young Kai and Kara fanart.
I've finally caught up with emails, and I promise I do get back to replying them eventually at hopeluvpeace [at] hotmail [dot] com. If you haven't already, check out the Yahoo New Trials Ring at groups [dot] yahoo [dot] com/group/newtrialsring. For the latest New Trials updates and other news, check out my blog at wishluv [dot] blogspot [dot] com and find my artwork at wishluv [dot]deviantart [dot] com. Thank you everybody for being so patient and continuing to support New Trials all these years.