Alright, by this point I think you all know the drill with the disclaimer that's been at the beginning of the first ten chapters. So we'll skip that bit. We'll also skip the bit about why I'm not using standard Publishing Industry formatting. Okay, so I know I told you all that this chapter was going to be called Sakura, bit of a change in plans. The story kind of took me in a different direction and I found that something other than what I expected became the focus of the chapter. Sorry, this one is called Stewardship now. With that said, all that's left for me to say is, enjoy.
Mind, Soul, and Body:
Book One: Shadows of the Past
Chapter Twelve: Steward
By Corlock Striker
May 19, 2001 Larchmont, NY -
Jake's question was innocent enough, "Um, how are you guys going to get to all these places?" The question hung in the air, an accusation of failure. Ryo dropped his head, and sank back onto the arm of the chair Jess was sitting in. White Blaze placed a paw in his lap. Ryo had no idea how they were going to get to these locations all over the world.
At least the gears seemed to be spinning in Toma's head, "Nasté, Jessica, do either of you know if we're still within the bounds of Odin's time stasis?"
Jessica answered, in enough control of herself to speak, "We are. The stasis engulfs the entirety of the tri-state area. Better yet, we're the only living souls within the stasis."
Toma let out a defeated sigh.
Seiji gave him a puzzled look, "Why would that matter?"
"If we're inside the time stasis then we're stuck here. It's impossible to just walk out of one. Only way to bring it down is for Odin to dispel it, or for us to beat him. If Kayura were here, then maybe we'd have a shot, but without her. Well, we're up a creek without a paddle."
"Oh," Seiji's simple response.
Jess untangled herself from him, though she allowed his arm to remain around her shoulders. "We don't need Kayura. I can open the gates we'll need."
Toma's eyes darted over to her, "You're sure about this Jessica? Summoning the gates is no easy task."
The young woman nodded, iron in her voice, "Kayura taught me how. In case we needed another person capable of it. Plus she left the Staff of the Ancients with me. She said it would of more use to me than to her. I can do it."
Toma nodded, "Alright, I'd say we're in business then. How many times in a row can you open them?"
Jessica frowned, "I think I can do six. It'll be at my upper limits, but I should be able to. I'll let Ryo know if I'm feeling up to it after five."
Toma nodded, "Where should we go to open the first one?"
Jessica looked over her shoulder, through the double doors at the end of living room, "Sad's backyard should suffice. It's small, but I think it's large enough."
Ryo nodded, "Alright, let's get going." He directed his gaze to the three boys, "You're going to have to come with us to the nether realm. I want you to stay near Jess, you'll be safer that way. Same goes for you, Nasté." He scratched at his chin, "You three might want to see if you can scrounge up any sort of weapons. Just in case."
Oliver and Luke laughed, "Weapons? At Sad's house? No problem." The others looked at them askance, including Jake. The two pulled Jake along with them and disappeared. Ryo heard them go down a flight of stairs. Sad's house must have a basement, then he heard another door open. A few seconds later it opened again. He heard them rummaging around. Not five minutes after they had left the three returned.
Oliver had a small sledge hammer. The wooden handle was rather short, maybe twenty three centimeters, and the head probably didn't weigh more than two and half kilograms, judging by its size. Still, even that would do a fair amount of damage. Jake had a small hatchet, the handle about twice as long as the hammer's, the head maybe thirteen centimeters long, with maybe an eight centimeter blade. Not exactly a war axe, but at least it looked sharp and well maintained. Luke carried the strangest implement, it was all metal with a molded rubber grip. The shaft was about one and half times as long as the hatchet's, and it ended in a steel cylinder maybe five to eight centimeters long with a two to three centimeter diameter, the cylinder capped with maybe a centimeter or two of rubber.
Ryo stood and walked over to Luke, taking the thing from him. The thing had a decent weight to it, maybe one and a half to two and a half kilograms. The longer shaft would give it a bit more punch than the hammer, even if it was lighter. The way the molded rubber directed your grip, it was meant to be held like a golf club. It wasn't unmanageable nor uncomfortable to hold it upright like a mace. Plus, it seemed sturdy enough. He gave the thing an appraising look then handed it back to Luke, "What the hell is that?"
Luke and Oliver grinned, Luke answerd, "Sad's parents are pretty avid golfers. It's meant to help train your swing. You're supposed to bring it back with your normal back swing, and then let it fall and guide you naturally through a proper swing. The heavy weight is meant to assist with that. But I'd say it could do a fair amount of damage if swung at someone."
Ryo nodded, "I'd have to agree. There anything else in this house that Nasté could use?"
Oliver and Luke looked at each other and frowned. Oliver answered, "No, not really. Sad has a sword that he bought in Italy, but it's not sharp and definitely meant to be decorative, not functional. The blade is all wobbly in the hilt." He scratched his head, squinting, "I mean, I guess there's that metal pole. It's probably about the proper length for a staff. It's like an eighth of an inch in diameter though, and not very heavy. Eh, there are maybe some broom sticks in the garage. Oh, there's also the pick axe. The haft alone is heavy."
Luke's eyes lit up, "Oh, there's also that cleaver hanging up in the kitchen!"
Oliver snapped his fingers, "Yeah, and there are shotguns and rifles in the house somewhere!" His shoulders drooped, "But Sad says there's no ammunition in the house. Well, none for the guns they have anyway."
Ryo looked at the two arching an eyebrow, considering, "About how big is an eighth of an inch?"
Toma answered, "Almost exactly three millimeters."
Ryo waved his head back and forth, debating in silence, "It's not much, but it's better than nothing. Get a broom stick if you can find one. Otherwise, get the pole. A broom stick would be preferred." Oliver rushed off.
Nasté spoke up, "Ryo, I don't even know how to use a staff!"
Ryo and the other Troopers smirked. Shu answered, "Nasté, the staff is quite possibly the easiest weapon to learn. You don't need much training to use it competently." Oliver returned as Shu finished, with a wooden broom stick, one end scored like a screw. Shu said to the boy, "Toss that over, would you?" Oliver tossed it, the shaft vertical in the air. Shu snatched it and refrained from giving it a flourish. Instead he held it with two hands, his hands about shoulder width apart. "You hold it like this. Then you use the middle and ends to block, the middle is best. You can use both your arms to absorb the impact of the blow in the middle." He raised the staff above his head, holding it horizontally, "Over head block." He dropped it down in front of him, then turned it vertical, his left hand over his right, pushing it out past his right side, "Right side block." Then he reversed the action, "Left side block."
He held it horizontally in front of him again and dropped it below his waist, "Low line block." Sliding his right hand up towards his left, he held the staff at a slight angle, the upper end coming toward his left shoulder, "Left side low line block. This uses the low end of the staff, not it's strongest point, but still effective." He mirrored that action, "Right side low line block. Same thing." He held it horizontally in front of himself just below his shoulders, elbows at his sides. He thrust outward with his right hand, "Right attack."
He brought his right arm back, and thrust out with his left arm, "Left attack. You can vary the line of attack by holding the staff at various angles. You can also block diagonal slashes in the same manner. Hold it at an angle and thrust the staff out past your body, though the side blocks I showed you before will also work, but they'll make use of the ends of the staff. As I said before, they aren't as good for blocking as the middle of the staff." He held the pole in one hand, leaning on it, "That's all you need to know to use a staff effectively. All the twirling, that's mostly for show. Some of it's good for feinting. You don't need that to protect yourself, though. You got it?"
Nasté nodded. Shu handed her the broom stick.
Oliver smacked his forehead, "I forgot about the hunting knives!"
Ryo's head snapped over, "How many?"
Oliver scratched his chin, "Four or five, I think."
"Grab all of them."
Oliver ran upstairs and returned with four sheathed knives. Ryo took them from him, he set them down on a table next to the couch. One of the knives had a horn handle with the initials SSS carved into it. Definitely an expensive knife, likely with a high quality blade. He picked it up, the sheath held a sharpening stone in a pocket. Ryo unfastened the leather strap holding the knife in place. He drew it, the blade was about 13 cm long and about two centimeters wide at it's thickest point, curving to a point, the back of the blade straight. He tested the edge by running the pad of his thumb across it. The edge was exceptionally sharp. He looked more carefully at the blade, not a speck of rust. He sheathed it and set it down, separate from the other three.
"That one belonged to Sad's grandfather, if I remember right." Oliver.
Ryo nodded engrossed in his inspection. He picked up a second knife. This one had banded leather wrapped around the handle. Not as extravagant as the horn handle, just functional. This sheath had a sharpening stone in a pocket as well. He unfastened the catch and drew it. The blade was a twin to the first. He tested the edge, just as sharp, no rust. Whoever was caring for these knives knew what they were doing. He sheathed it, fastened the clasp, and set it down with the horn handled one.
"That one was Sad's dad's, I think." Oliver again.
Another polite nod, Ryo barely registering what the boy said. He picked up the third knife, the handle similar to the second one, though a different shade of brown. The sheath had the initials RSS on it in gold. A sharpening stone mounted on the sheath again. He unfastened the catch and drew the knife. The blade had the same dimensions as the others. He tested the edge, not even close to dull and free of rust as well. He had to meet whoever was caring for these knives. Even the leather sheaths showed little sign of wear. The caregiver had to be oiling them regularly. He sheathed this knife and set it down with the other two.
"RSS, that'd be Sad's Uncle Bob. His father's brother." Oliver once more.
Ryo gave the same nod. He picked up the forth knife. This sheath was different, no pocket for a sharpening stone, the leather was thinner than that of the other sheathes and covered the blade and all but about maybe one and a half centimeters of the handle. There was a design carved into the sheath that made him think of Eskimos. He drew the knife. This blade was about seven and a half centimeters, maybe a little longer, and maybe a little more than a centimeter wide at it's thickest, curving to a point, the back of the blade straight. Again the edge was remarkably sharp and free of rust. He sheathed the knife, setting it down with the rest.
"Sad isn't sure who's knife that was. His dad didn't give him a clear answer, or something. He thinks it was his grandfather's, maybe. A souvenir, or something." Oliver, yet again.
Ryo nodded and picked up the smaller knife, the one with the carved leather sheath. He handed it to Nasté. "That one's for you, as a last resort. Stick with the staff as much as possible." He looked at the three boys. He handed the knife with the initials RSS to Jake, he was Mike's friend, so it seemed fitting to give him Sad's uncle's knife. He looked at Luke and Oliver, then back at the knives. The one with the horn handle was the crown jewel of the collection, that should go to Sad's closest friend he supposed, at least of the ones here. He picked it up and handed it to Oliver. He gave the last knife, Sad's father's, to Luke.
He looked at the three boys, "Again, these are meant as a last resort. A back up in case you can't use the other weapons you found. You need to get in fairly close to use any of your weapons, but you need to get closer with the knives and they won't do as much damage. Remember that, it'll keep you alive if you need to use any of the weapons. I sincerely hope you don't." He included Nasté in that statement, glancing at her.
He turned to Jess, he hoped she was up for this, not just saying so. "Jess, you certainly picked a good house to bring us to. Sad's got quite the arsenal." The other Troopers let out a short chuckle. "Alright, let's get down to business. We need to find our friends."
Oliver spoke, "I'll go unlock the back door." He hurried off disappearing through a much smaller arched entry way off the front hall, to the right of the living room, and turned to his left, ducking around a corner. The others followed. The smaller entry way led into a very small hall, a door on the right hand wall. The hall forced them to turn left, just after the entry way, directly under the stairs to the second floor was another door, directly across the hall from that was an open door. Ryo glanced inside as he passed, it looked like a home office. Built in computer desks ran along both of the longer walls with a great deal of bookshelves, all packed with books, above the desk on the right. Directly in front of him was another opened door, he stepped through it into the kitchen.
There was a double door cabinet on his left and a counter to his right, a sink a meter away in the counter. After the sink the counter resumed until it stopped at a wall. After the cabinet on his left was a swinging door, standing open. It lead to the dinning room. On the other side of the door was the fridge, an ancient sub-zero. Past the fridge a counter top ran along the wall, with cabinets above it all the way to the far wall, only about two or three meters beyond the fridge. The counter and cabinets then ran along the far wall for maybe four meters, the upper cabinets stopping for a window, the counter interrupted by a double basin sink. Across from the fridge was an island, a four burner range with a griddle in the middle of the burners with a vent above it in the middle of the island, across from the sink and flush against that edge of the island. The counter continued to the right of the sink, as did the upper cabinets on the other side of the window. Cabinets and counter continued on for another four meters or so before they ended. He walked down the aisle on the side of the kitchen farthest from the double basin sink.
The island ended when both counters ended. An oven was built into the wall on his right with a microwave above it, both looked about as old as the fridge. Then cabinets continued on on the other side of the oven, no counter any more. Just past the end of the island leaving an aisle to walk through was a dark wood kitchen table, the surface planed by hand. The cabinets came to an end and the kitchen opened up into a slightly wider space. It almost seemed like a new room, though it lacked a wall separating it from the kitchen. A pocket door to his right leading back into the home office. On the other side of the kitchen table, allowing enough space for people to sit on that side of the table was a blue fabric covered couch.
In front of the couch sat a dark wooden coffee table, at either end of the coffee table were arm chairs. In the far corner of this new room was a built in wall unit with a CRT type television. It didn't look too old, probably one of the last of that type built before the advent of plasma TVs. In the middle of the far wall was a tiny windowed alcove, a wooden card table nestled against the deepest wall of it. A little past the pocket door on his right was a set of double doors that opened onto a stone patio and the back yard. One of the doors open, Oliver stood on the patio shifting his weight from foot to foot.
Ryo stepped onto the patio and looked around. Directly in front of him, slightly to the left was a large oval table, to his right a Weber grill. In the far right corner of the cozy yard was a rock garden, rocks bordering on small boulders marking the perimeter and raising the level of the garden. A dogwood tree was planted in the rock garden, in the actual corner of the property, within a second ring of the large rocks on the second level. Another of the large rocks behind the tree against the fence marking the right side bounds of house's lot. He turned to his left, facing the back street, a privacy hedge rang along that edge of the property, a wrought iron fence behind it. A wrought iron gate stood between the end of the hedge and the outer perimeter of the rock garden. The gate opened onto a set of stairs which must lead to the back street. Between the hedge and the patio was a narrow expanse of grass.
A chain link fence rang along the left bound of the property, a thick layer of ivy growing up the far side. Small bushes lining Sad's side, a slightly larger bush in the left corner of the property. There might be a path down the left side of the house, but Ryo couldn't tell for sure. A rather thick bush grew up against the house to the left of the patio, trimmed to stay below the level of the windows of the alcove that jutted out from the house. The patio rimmed with a slate topped bench, broken occasionally to allow access to the yard.
To his right was a set of wicker patio furniture just outside the door that led into the living room, a couch, an armchair, a rocking chair and a narrow coffee table. There was a side yard running along that side of the house it connected with the front yard. Bushes lining a stone wall along the property line which gave way to small evergreen trees. Bushes also ran along the right side of the house. He couldn't make out what was beyond the evergreens.
Jess stepped onto the patio, the Staff of the Ancients jingling in her grip. She looked around and frowned at the narrow band of grass. She composed herself, knuckles whitening around the staff. She stepped to the edge of the patio past the oval table. She stood in the center of a wide opening in the perimeter bench. She held the staff in front of her in two hands and banged the end against the grass, setting the rings to jingling. They rang out for far longer than they should have. Jess closed her eyes, banged the staff against the ground once more, the rings jingling again for far too long.
Her eyes snapped open and she flung her arms out to her sides, the staff in her right hand. The ground rumbled. A red torii gate rose from the ground, against the privacy hedge. Jess lowered her arms, the staff's rings jingling slightly as the end hit the ground, this time for a normal interval. She sighed, looking over her shoulder, her black eyes catching his. She smiled in triumph. She looked to the others and nodded, "Well, then, shall we continue?" Without waiting for an answer she turned to the gate and nodded. The double doors swung outwards, unable to open fully, the gap was still wide enough for five people to pass through abreast. Jessica stepped onto the grass and through the gate. Ryo hurried after her. He heard five others follow. A brief pause before three more sets of footsteps hurried through the gate.
Once the three teenagers stepped through and into the netherworld the gate swung shut. They were in the courtyard of Arago's former castle. Jessica gave him a shy smile, "I thought this would be a safe place for us to wait for you to return." Ryo nodded. Jessica produced five slips of paper with a series of kanji on them. The kanji obviously drawn with a brush. Ryo took the offered slip of paper and arched an eyebrow. She handed a slip to the other four Troopers as well. "When you have found the one you are seeking, return to the place where the gate left you. Rip the paper. I will know to open a gate for you again." The five of them nodded. Jessica walked passed him, holding his gaze before a flush came to her face and she looked away. She stood in front of the torii gate they just came through. "Toma?"
The archer stepped forward.
Jessica nodded to him, "It'd probably be a good idea to put on your armor now."
Toma smirked, "Yes, mom." Pulling out his orb, he bounced it on his palm once before grasping it in his right hand. He spread his legs a little bit wider than his shoulders, threw his right arm out in front and grasped his right wrist. He called out, "Armament: Heavens!" He was engulfed in a flash of light, an instant later he was in a relaxed stance next to Jess clad in his armor. His bow, a little taller than he was clasped loosely in his right hand, one end resting on the ground. In the Japanese manner the grip of the bow was offset from the center. He nodded to Jessica.
She turned to face the gate, banging the staff once, the ringing hung in the air. Closing her eyes she repeated the gesture, the new ring mingling with the lingering sounds of the first, which should have ended. Her eyes flew open and she flung her arms out to the side, then she let them drop and motioned with her left hand for Toma to proceed. He stepped towards the gate. It swung outwards of its own accord, revealing a busy Tokyo street. The occupants of the street frozen in shock as they stared at the gate in front of them. Toma waved to his friends over his shoulder and stepped through. Ryo noticed the clouds in the sky beginning to grow dark as the doors swung shut. No surprise there. Toma knew to expect company.
Jessica leaned lightly against the staff. Ryo cast a worried glance at her back. As he did, she looked over her shoulder, giving him a small smile. Had she felt his gaze? She raised her left hand, signaling she was fine. "Give me a minute or two please Seiji. Then I will send you on your way as well."
"Of course, take your time." Nasté moved to Seiji's side, giving him a hug. He wrapped his arms around her, planting a kiss on her forehead. He leaned down and whispered into her ear. She nodded and smiled, then let go of him. Both their hands trailing along each others arm as she stepped away. A final squeeze of their fingers before she was beyond his reach. Seiji pulled the orb from his pocket, giving it a mournful stare. He took the same stance as Toma and called out, "Armament: Nimbus!" He too was engulfed in a flash of light and when it faded he was in his armor. He leaned lightly against his nodatchi, the sword only slightly shorter than him. The pommel, blade and scabbard of his new sword far more traditional than that of his first.
Jessica put her weight firmly upon her two feet and repeated the procedure she had gone through twice already. When she finished, Seiji stepped toward the gate and the doors swung outward onto a white landscape, snow swirling in the air. All save Seiji found themselves shivering from the winds that blew through the gate. It was night wherever Seiji was going. Though there were clouds in the sky they seemed to grow thicker as Seiji stepped through the gate. The doors swung shut behind him.
Jessica leaned more heavily upon the staff after the doors shut. Her left hand shot up stopping him before he even took a step. She turned to Shu, "Ready yourself Shu. I will send you on your way in just a minute."
Shu gave her a worried glance as she turned her face back towards the gate. After only a seconds pause he took out his armor orb and assumed that familiar stance. He called out, "Armament: Stone!" A flash of light and he too stood in his armor, leaning easily against his staff. His new one hand no blades or spikes and was not segmented. It was a simple staff, capped in metal spheres. He stood silently as Jessica recovered, not giving the slightest sign of impatience.
A minute later Jessica stood without the staff and once more went through the ritual. Shu stepped towards the gate, turning to give them all his large grin and a thumbs up. A blast of dry, scorching, sand filled wind greeted them as the gate opened on the Sahara, Shu put his left forearm across his face to shield his eyes. Leaning into the wind, he stepped through the gate. A large snow capped mountain visible not too far away. As the gate swung shut, Ryo once more noticed dark clouds gathering in the sky.
When the doors clanged shut, Jessica let out a heavy sigh and leaned upon the staff once more, this time her shoulders slumping. Ryo managed to take a single step before she raised her left hand to stop him. She turned to Shin, "Ready yourself, Shin. I need only a minute."
Shin nodded, casting a glance containing far more worry than Shu's her way. He looked over his shoulder to Ryo, asking if he should stop her.
Jessica seemed to know his thoughts, "Shin, I said I will be fine. I would know better than Ryo, don't you think? Now ready yourself." Her voice was iron, she would allow no argument.
Shin gave him a guilty look and produced his orb. Reluctantly he assumed that all too familiar stance. He called out, driving away his hesitation, "Armament: Torrent!" Another flash of light and he was in his armor. He stood uneasily, the butt of his yari planted on the ground. The three blades of his new yari curved in the stereotypical Japanese manner. Like his old one, hinges allowed the outer blades allowed to swing in towards the center blade, creating a deadly claw.
Perhaps two minutes later, Jessica pushed against the staff to get back on her feet. She repeated the ritual and motioned for Shin to proceed, already she was using the staff for support. Shin cast a worried glance her way and hesitated. Jessica snapped at him, "I said GO!" Shin gave her a wide eyed stare and hurried towards the gate. The doors swung outward. They were greeted to a wide expanse of green. It looked like a field of grass, though there were no blades waving in the wind. Instead it gave the appearance of grass flowing like waves. As Shin stepped through the gate dark clouds gathered in the sky.
The gate swung closed with a resounding crash and Jess's knees gave out. She caught herself upon the staff before hitting the ground. She hung suspended by her grip on the staff halfway to the ground. This time Ryo strode over to her. She wouldn't have been able to stop his advance had she tried. She didn't. Stopping next to her he grabbed her left arm and ducked under it, laying it across his shoulders. His left hand grasping hers, he held her arm in place. Stretching his right arm across her back, he tucked his hand under her arm, supporting her. He rose, bringing Jessica to a standing position. He was supporting almost all of her weight, the staff only keeping her from pulling him too far to the right. He glared at her, "That's it. You can't do that again. You're taking a rest."
She gave him an indignant look, "Of course I..."
He cut her off, as he turned them towards the castle, anger plain in his voice, "No, you can't! That's final. You can barely stand. You'll need more than a few minutes rest before you can even try to lift the staff, let alone open a gate. I can wait to go fetch whoever I'm going for. The others will need you well rested if there's to be any chance of you bringing them back."
Jessica smiled, "Alright, Ryo, you win. I'll rest." She was only just managing to place one foot in front of the other as Ryo stormed towards the castle. Her right arm hung limp at her side, the staff trailing along, threatening to trip them both.
He snorted, "It's a miracle! She listened to reason!" Seeing the danger the staff was presenting, Ryo took it from her, holding it in his right hand, ensuring it didn't kill them. That would have been a laugh, a Samurai Trooper done in by the Staff of the Ancients.
Nasté and the three boys stared after the two of them trying not to laugh.
Jessica chuckled raising her right hand weakly to pat his left cheek a few times, "Ah, Ryo, I do love that you wear your heart on your sleeve. But you need to learn to master your emotions, or they will master you." Keeping her hand on his cheek, she pulled her head up to his face. She planted a soft kiss on his cheek.
"Don't think that's going to help your cause, Jessica. You are still resting for a few hours, at least. And that's only if one of the others calls for you. Otherwise, it'll be six to eight."
She smiled and laughed, "I had no such illusions, Ryo. You take far too good care of me."
His gaze softened, as did his tone, "Well, someone has to. You don't do a very good job of it."
She smiled, "I know. Thank you."
He carried her into the castle and found a room for her to rest, then they waited.
I'd appreciate any feedback anyone is willing to give. Just contact me by e-mail or through the site. My only request is that you put something in the subject line about your e-mail being in response to my Ronin fanfic. I get a lot of spam, and I tend to delete mail from SNs I do not recognize. If you put something about your e-mail being about my writing, I won't delete it and then I will respond to you; if you don't do that I can't guarantee anything. My e-mail address is in my profile.
Okay, so Chapter 13 is definitely called Sakura, I promise.
Thanks for reading.
- Corlock Striker