With a thoughtful smile, Kenko ducked through the archway that led to The Master’s inner sanctum. He always loved being summoned to this particular part of the Temple, his joy at walking through the lush grasses that carpeted the floor of Master Akari’s wooded retreat reinvigorated the young monk after travelling so far and so fast over the last few days. Small woodland creatures rushed to greet him, chittering away before darting back through the gnarled boughs of the ancient trees surrounding the clearing, presumably to inform the Master of Kenko’s arrival. The tranquility of the moment brought a much needed balm to his turbulent thoughts.
|Kenko, the North Tree|
Kenko reached a familiar patch of soft heather and kneeled down to wait, eyes closed he reached out with his Ki, tapping into the natural spirit energy that flowed so freely around the glade. The young monk, drew upon the strength of the earth to soothe his soul and calm his mind in order to provide the Master with a coherent and detailed report. The Ki flowed through and around him, giving him clarity and focus as well as a sense of inner peace and slowly but surely his physical body began to relax as well. Only when Kenko had reached a state of inner calm was his meditation brought to an end, interrupted by the measured voice of the Master as he slowly made his way into the clearing.
“You have returned from your foray into the hills young Kenko, you have much to report no doubt.” Master Akari padded across the glade, the diminutive Tanuki leaned heavily on his ancient staff despite his famed agility, the mantle of responsibility for the Temple initiates and young monks weighing on him in the absence of Ekusa. “Do you require refreshment or rest before you tell me of the woes that clearly mar your face?”
|Master Akari, the Tanuki|
Kenko smiled ruefully at the canny Master who had so easily pierced, what he had thought to be a calm, collected expression - nothing was hidden from Akari! “I’m fine Master, but I have seen terrible things in the lands of the Hill tribes, a darkness gathers and we must act fast if we are to maintain the balance of the Isles.” Kenko blurted the last in a rush of words as if he meant to jump up and race out to meet the darkness head on. Looking over at the venerable monk, seeing the wisdom and patience glittering in his dark ringed eyes, Kenko calmed some and continued. “The playthings of Yurei have been spotted, Master. They gather in the shadows before descending on the most isolated villages and sweeping away the living, disrupting the flow of the sacred Ki and blighting the land.” Again Kenko could feel his voice rising in pitch, angry and frightened in equal measure of the wanton destruction of the balance. Once again he looked over at the Master and drew upon his strength, his calm and thoughtful gaze steadying the usually unflappable monk.
“What do the ancient ones do young one? Have the Tengu descended from their eyries to check the spread of the foul Cult, do they now protect the tribes who worship them and look on them as faithful allies?” The Tanuki glided across the clearing until he stood in front of the steadfast monk, gently cupping his chin and peering into his eyes as if to read his mind. “No, they do not!” He exclaimed, “The birds cannot rouse themselves from their isolation, even for the sake of their allies, this is troubling, very troubling.”
Kenko swallowed hard, he was not surprised that the Master had deduced the majority of his report, stories of Akari’s intuition and power run rampant through the dorms of the younger initiates and he had grown up with the stories of the Master’s supposed mind reading, but there was more and Kenko knew that the implications were grave. However Akari wasn't finished yet as he carefully watched the minuscule movements in the monk's face, deducing the greater worry that seemed to be building up in the young man like a geyser ready to erupt. “Ah I see pupil, they are headed for conduits, are they not?” The Tanuki nodded his furry head slowly as the full horror of the report played out in his mind's eye. The conduits, three loci of power that channeled vast flows of spirit energy and maintained the balance. If the cultists were to alter the flow, they would gain tremendous power and at the same time reduce the ability of their enemies to respond to their attacks. By the blessed Kamis they needed to protect the conduits and return the darkness back to the shadows.
Kenko lifted his head to regard the pondering Akari and raised a question that was troubling him. “Who can we send to stop the abominations Master. Riku, Yumi and Kira are accompanying Master Po on the diplomatic mission to Ryu and Master Ekusa has taken Seiji and most of the others to protect the fisher folk from the Jung raids on the coast. We two alone cannot face the Yurei worshippers and hope to win.”
Master Akari stared back at the young monk, his soft, intelligent Tanuki eyes glittering with mischief and power. “Kenko, my most promising student, you are young but were younger still when you first fought those that would disrupt the balance, were you not?” Kenko sat back on his heels at the question, the Master surely couldn’t be serious? They were just children, no more than initiates really. “Yes Kenko them, children yes but strong and more importantly pure and innocent. The filthy Yurei are evil and of the supernatural world, so must be opposed by the purity of the natural one.” Akari paced slowly forward and tapped sharply three times on a particularly vivid green patch of moss with his staff. “The children are accompanied by their animal companions, Aiko’s Guardian is most protective of his little charge” Kenko nodded as he pictured the 500lb silver backed mountain gorilla standing over the young girl it had chosen to bond so strongly with. “Koji’s macaques will be useful too” continued the Tanuki as he strolled passed Kenko, just as the earth beneath his feet began to rumble.
Kenko stumbled back as the moss patch began to pulse and then erupted in a flurry of raw earth and rocks, slowly forming into the rough simian like shape of a minor Earth Kami. Kenko shook his head in wonder at the power and majesty of the blessed avatar, as he heard the chittering laughter of the Master “besides who said I don't have a trick or two myself, young student”
to be continued, with the first battle....