Meguri Kyoza and his student Kai sat cross-legged on the floor of the dojo, each alone with his thoughts as they meditated.
A waste, thought Meguri bitterly. How long had he trained the boy? He had sensed something about Mikagami Tokiya long before they had officially become master and student. There had been this indescribable aura surrounding him, loudly proclaiming Mikagami to be the perfect candidate to succeed Meguri himself as the master of Hyomon Ken. It was visible to all who had the eyes to see. Also of interest was that Mikagami's family possessed the Ensui, a relic of ages past. It had been made centuries ago by the Hokage ninja, and had the unique power to manipulate water in all its forms. The combination of these two factors pleased Meguri far beyond his wildest dreams. Surely, this was fate.
But Mikagami hadn't taken the lessons seriously. Yes, he was learning swordsmanship. But he was blissfully oblivious to the bigger and better plans Meguri had for him. Just master the stupid stick, thought Meguri bitterly, day after day. Mikagami's skills with the wooden sword were tolerable. His talent exceeded that of Meguri's other students, despite his age. Was he six at the time? Seven? Meguri couldn't remember. But Hyomon Ken was merely a pipe dream until Mikagami made progress, and everything beyond that was a mirage on the horizon.
But how much more was possible!
It was a physical pain to Meguri to see such talent lying just under the surface… yet somehow, Mikagami was unable to tap into it. He lacked incentive to plumb the depths of his being, to withdraw from this vast reserve of inner power. He lacked a motivation to train. Going to the dojo to practice was merely an after-school activity. His body was there, but his heart was at home with his sister. His body would be diligently repeating the moves shown to him, but his mind would be wondering how much longer before he got to go home to `nee-chan. How he loved his sister!
Meguri had been quite proud of himself when he had struck upon the plan. It wasn't particularly difficult to arrange. He had the resources for this kind of thing… it was simple to find a few lackeys who would go over to the Mikagami house. They would laugh cruelly and terrify the children. They would ask for the Ensui, but make sure not to take it. And when after this had been stamped upon Mikagami's memory, they would kill his sister and leave.
How Mikagami had changed after that! His sister had been the only family he had left. His parents had died earlier. Yes, it was sad. Mifuyu had been a sweet, kind, gentle, loving girl. But there were lots of sweet, kind, gentle, loving girls in the world. One less wouldn't matter. Especially since this was one less distraction for
Mikagami. Now, without such superfluous things to distract him, he could finally dedicate himself heart and soul and mind towards mastering his innate powers. He could finally fulfill the destiny which Meguri had marked him for.
It had succeeded, beyond Meguri's wildest dreams. Mikagami had thrown himself into his studies with new dedication. He remembered how weak he had been, unable to protect his sister from her killers. He wanted to change that. He wanted to grow strong and powerful so that someday, if he ever met them, he could take his revenge. Somehow, he was under the impression that would satisfy his sister's soul…that it would clear her memory and let her rest in peace.
Silly boy, thought Meguri with grim satisfaction, as he had stood at one end of the dojo, watching his young pupil grow stronger and stronger every day. I'm the one responsible for her death…and when you get past this petty idea of revenge, you'll be glad things turned out this way. What a weakling you would have been without this! What a waste of talent! Someday, you'll realize that her death was worth it. And that day, you'll secretly thank her killers.
It had only been a matter of months before the young Mikagami had progressed past his wooden sword and moved on towards real ones. And not considerably long after that, Meguri had decided it was time to teach him the true powers of the Ensui.
Mikagami had watched in awe as Meguri had formed its blade from a large basin of water. He had ardently watched as his master demonstrated a few of its powers. He had eagerly accepted the Ensui, knowing that with such a perfect weapon, he could easily achieve his vengeance. Mikagami always had such a stoic face and manner, yet Meguri could effortlessly tell what he was thinking. He had mentally sighed at that time. Mikagami's sister had been dead for over a year by now… why wouldn't he forget about his revenge?
The next several years had passed all-too-quickly. Mikagami ate, slept, and practiced at the dojo, leaving only to go to school. His entire focus was on mastering Hyomon Ken. Meguri was even somewhat in awe of his student, although he was careful not to betray that fact. It was somewhat unsettling to notice that Mikagami had grown much more skilled much more quickly than he had. By the time he was sixteen, the student matched the master and there was nothing left to teach him.
And Meguri was torn.
Mikagami had mastered the sword. Good. Mikagami had mastered Hyomon Ken. Wonderful. The little boy had grown into a strong young man, with great skill and concentration. His mind could be called brilliant, and though he lacked social skills, those would not be necessary for what Meguri had planned for him.
The group he was thinking about was infamous for not being the most warmhearted.
Mori Kouran was a great friend of Meguri's, and the two had spent considerable amounts of time together, discussing business, the status of the underworld, how to preserve Mori's influence. His adopted son, Kurei, would be a perfect tool. Kurei, it seemed, had traveled four hundred years through time and had the power of
summoning Flame. It was easy for Meguri to accept this as fact… Meguri, too, had considerable knowledge concerning the Hokage madougu.
"We can create a group," said Meguri one day, "Answerable to Kurei-san… but you should be the one to handpick the members, to ensure their loyalty to you. This group should be specially trained in the use of madougu. I understand you've been busily collecting them for many years, especially after Kurei-san's arrival. Between Kurei-san and myself, I believe we can train a good number of individuals. Suppose, out of that one large group, you choose eight or ten to become an `inner circle' of sorts. This inner circle will be the strongest of the strong, the most talented of the group. They will be specially connected to you and Kurei-san, although mostly to you."
Mori had liked the idea. "Ten sounds like a good number," he had said. "So we can call it the Jyushinshuu… and you, Meguri-san, shall be its leader."
Meguri had expected nothing less. But he smiled humbly and accepted the position.
However, the Jyushinshuu's vacancies were not all filled at once. And not all of them were filled as Meguri and Mori had planned. Kurei had insisted upon depositing a man by the name of Jisho into one of the first spots. It seemed that Jisho was a friend of his… if Kurei could be said to have friends. By the same token, Kurei had allowed Raiha into this circle, and Raiha had brought in Neon, who had once been Mori's maid. Meguri and Mori had been considerably upset by this, but the girl showed promise. Still, her loyalties were questionable. Was she loyal to Mori, as she was supposed to be—or was her heart with Kurei? With Raiha, no one could tell, but they kept an eye on those three for quite a while.
Mori had brought in a girl by the name of Mikoto. She was cruel and twisted and heartless—a girl after Meguri's own heart. A wonderful example of what Uruha should be.
Mori had also brought in Rassen, who was almost impossible to read. Still, he didn't seem like he would turn against Mori.
Someone named Joker had been accepted. Meguri wasn't quite sure whose side he was on… still, he was an asset, and undeniably talented with his weapon which he already had. And so he was allowed in.
Genjuro had been recruited by Kurei, yet his loyalties were obviously not with the Flame master. Perfect…
Meguri was never quite sure how Noroi had been brought into things. Nori, after all, was only a mask animating a dead body. Yet Noroi's strength was undeniable, and as he passed the tests, he was marked as Jyushinshuu.
And one of those spots… one of them had been reserved all these years. It had been reserved for Mikagami. On the day when he released Mikagami from his tutelage, he would tell him about this glorious Uruha. And how he had a spot specially reserved for him. Because now… now this Mikagami was the equal to the leader of the Jyushinshuu, and he should take his rightful spot as the sole inheritor of the Hyomon Ken… as Meguri's trusted right-hand man… as the swift sword of
vengeance on behalf of Kurei and Mori.
And yet then… as Mikagami had knelt before Meguri, the master knew that Mikagami wouldn't accept this idea.
He was still obsessed with his revenge.
Idiot pupil! he thought angrily, while speaking calmly of how there was nothing left for Mikagami to learn from him. Don't you see… you have such a brilliant future with us. Yet you've been obsessing over your sister for the last eight, nine years? If you can't get over that, there's no way you can be in the Uruha. You're supposed to kill who we tell you to, not try to track a trail which has been cold for all these years . If we let you into the Uruha, you'll find out about what really happened… and then what? Will you be so shocked, you'll be useless? Why have I wasted this time with you?
But he had asked Mikagami anyways. "Do you plan on continuing your quest for revenge?"
And Mikagami had nodded. "Yes," he had said, his voice cold. So he had mastered Hyomon Ken. Was that all there was to it? He had been convinced it would allow him to avenge his sister… yet why did she remain unavenged?
Mikagami could have been vocalizing his thoughts, Meguri could read them so clearly.
And so Meguri had lifted the Ensui, pressing his thumb against the edge. Some of his blood welled into the blade, darkening the crystal-clear water.
"Then if that is your destiny, your future shall be tainted with blood," he had said. And Mikagami had accepted that.
Meguri knew Mikagami had been thinking of the blood of his sister's enemies.
Meguri had been thinking of the blood of Mikagami.
Kai was a student of Meguri's at the time, although he had never met Mikagami. Ever since Mikagami had taken on Hyomon Ken, he had trained separately from the others. It wouldn't do to broadcast the existence of such techniques… such weapons… such powers.
Kai, too, showed great promise. Not as much as Mikagami… but he could be molded into an assassin. Into a good one. Depending on how readily Kai took to this new discipline, Kai might even have potential as Uruha. And so the experiment began.
Kai had taken immediately to Hyomon Ken. He trained day in and day out, growing more and more powerful. He was unquestionably loyal to Meguri. He also had the benefit of being self-motivated. No need to kill Kai's sister…
Kai had been accepted into the Uruha, and then filled the spot which had been once Mikagami's for the asking. The Jyushinshuu was now complete.
Meguri broke off his thoughts abruptly, and gazed at his student. Not quite as good as Mikagami… yet he certainly had a chance against him. "Kai-san," said Meguri, breaking the silence in the dojo.
Kai looked up at his former master.
"At the Urabutousatsujin, you shall fight against Mikagami-san. His weakness is his sister… his ten-year lust for revenge. If you pass yourself off as Mifuyu-san's murderer, he will be too blinded by rage to fight properly. And then you shall kill him."
Kai nodded his acceptance and returned to his meditation.
Meguri studied his hands. What a waste, he thought again to himself. But what was wrong should soon be corrected.