The mountain where Hiko and Kenshin lived was a forested place. Large trees, mostly maples, oaks, and pines, spread their workman-like limbs wide over the ground, providing nearly total shade even when their limbs were bare. In fall, it is true, the trees provided a riot of color, but truth be told, in the winter and spring it was pretty boring to look at.

But there was one clearing on the far bank of the river that never ceased to astonish the young Kenshin, for in that clearing was one lone white plum tree, a haku baikou. He remembered when he found it that first spring with his new shishou. He had been exploring this relatively new territory during some rare time off from training when suddenly he caught a waft of a heady scent. He followed it through some rather nasty brambles and tangled underbrush until the most glorious site came into view—a small tree covered with the most beautiful white flowers. The tree, with its intoxicating scent, mesmerized him. Never had he seen anything like this, and it warmed his soul like nothing else.

All that spring, all that summer, all that fall Kenshin found himself coming back to this tree. It became his favorite place. Where else on this mountain could he find so much open sky? And so he would lean his back against the slender trunk and gaze at the clouds, imagining that they were rabbits or sake jugs or even the emperor's palace itself. At night it was the perfect place to star-gaze, and in this he could even claim to Hiko that he was actually doing some training. When winter came, though, Kenshin was disappointed to find that the tree and its clearing were nearly impossible to reach—it seemed to attract snow drifts that were just too deep for a boy of Kenshin's size to wade through. Oh well, it would just make the coming of spring that much more appreciated.

The spring that followed came with a vengeance. In fact, it was so violent that Hiko used it to teach Kenshin his methods of weather prediction. See that halo around the moon? Rain tomorrow. Notice how how hot it is today when it's only March? Watch out for a violent thunderstorm tomorrow. And he had been right. The winds had howled, the thunder shook even the tallest and strongest of the mighty oaks that surrounded their little hut.

Then the storm was gone and pleasant weather set in, and the first chance Kenshin got he took off for the little clearing on the far side of the river. It was a more difficult trek than normal, what with all the branches that had come down during the storm, but who cared? He was pretty sure that by now the tree would be in full bloom and he set his nose on high alert to catch that wonderful heady scent, but there was none. He knew he couldn't be lost, not after all the training he was getting on how not to get lost in the woods. And then the clearing came into view—the wide-open sky, the grass turning green, spring flowers popping up...

Kenshin stopped short, for death had come to this spot. The beautiful haku baikou tree, his gentle friend in the midst of the mountain, lay split in two, its once-beautiful blossoms browning in the afternoon sun. There had been one particularly explosive clap of thunder during the storm, he now remembered, the kind that rattled the teeth and sent one shooting out of one's futon—the kind that meant something had been struck by lightening. Now he knew what.

He walked over to his fallen friend and stroked its trunk and felt tears come to his eyes. Why was he crying for a tree, for heaven's sake? He sat on the ground next to it and looked up at the sky. He saw some wispy white clouds, of course, but no rabbits or sake jugs came to mind; they were just wispy clouds. And that's when he realized—it was that little haku baikou tree that had fueled his imagination, and now it was gone. He felt so powerless. No one, not even the mighty Hiko with his powerful sword, could have saved this tree from the wrath of nature. It was the will of the gods, and there was nothing a human could do to change that.

There was, however, one thing he could do. He walked back to the riverbank and collected several large stones and placed them at the base of the fallen tree. Then he went back to the hut and, seeing that Hiko was otherwise occupied in the forest with private business, quietly stole a small cup of sake from an open jug. He carefully carried it all the way back to the little clearing, not even spilling a drop, and poured it on the stones. No one should die without at least a little taste of sake, right?

Kenshin shook himself out of his reverie. There had been a violent thunderstorm the previous night, and a tall tree down the street from the dojo had been struck. In fact, charred pieces of it were scattered all over the courtyard. Good thing it wasn't a building that had been hit, he thought idly as he started cleaning up the mess, and at least it wasn't a haku baikou. To lose that scent twice in a lifetime was too much; to lose it a third time might break his heart for good.

R.I.P. Haku Baikou.

Our beloved Haku Baikou has been taken from us. Please go to this URL (take out the spaces) for more information: community . livejournal . com / battousai _ high / 54925 . html .