Hell and Heaven are in the Hearts of Men
The Voice of Nothing
The Dragon Mountains
Picking her way down the mountain with careful steps, Togashi Umeko squinted against the snow swirling into her eyes. The words of Mirumoto Shigetoki, daimyo of the Mirumoto family, still burned in her ears; even after all these years, she was not accustomed to scolding.
“It is a time for change,” the aged daimyo intoned to the assembly, solemnly but firmly. “This includes our esteemed Togashi. As you have come up the mountain,” he said, looking around the room and carefully meeting every eye, “so now shall you find your way down it. Our Clan’s voice has too long been silent in the Empire; your esteemed presence shall give it weight.” Some of the more ascetic monks shifted ever so slightly at this, but the Mirumoto continued unflinchingly. “The rest of us nobly face the suspicions tossed at our Clan on a daily basis. As the soul of this Clan, Togashi’s own followers, it is time you added this to your…spiritual repertoire.” With those words, he rose, bowed slightly and swiftly, and strode out of the dojo, the brisk winter winds from the mountaintops streaming in through the open door. After a moment of contemplation, the monks began to rise, one by one, and follow his footsteps, some stopping to gather their few possessions, others navigating the mountain trails immediately, heading to the valleys below, and the whole of Rokugan beyond.
Leaping gracefully over a frozen creek, Umeko smiled to herself and murmured, “A boulder placed at the top of a precipice by the careful work of man tumbles down at the whim of nature.” She had become a Togashi through finding her way up the mountain path. Born of Scorpion and Unicorn parents, she had found neither lifestyle appealing and sought the trail to enlightenment in her early teen years. Her belief that enlightenment was to be found through seeking within and without had led her recently to observe and live among those practicing the mortal ambitions of the Empire. Part of her admitted this may just be her Unicorn father’s heritage, putting an itch in her feet to travel the world, but through countless hours of meditation and introspection while exercising, she realised she had found her Path, and followed it to learn more of more worldly samurai, not partaking of their actions, but simply observing. Thus, when the edict from Mirumoto Shigetoki was issued that morning, she was one who left almost immediately, with no reluctance, tumbling down from the precipice towards the heart of Rokugan: the capital city of Otosan Uchi.
As the grey, stormy skies began to darken into night, Umeko quietly thanked the Fortunes for the small village that suddenly presented itself just off the mountain path, sheltered by stony outcroppings and a grove of pine trees. She was readily given room and board for the night in exchange for blessing a girl that had been born just hours earlier, and settled into her evening meditation after a light meal and quick bath.
She dropped into trance with practiced ease, the Void giving her flashes of the murmurings within the minds of others around her; indistinct feelings, colours, emotions. When focusing, Umeko was able to occasionally find her way into the dreams of others, but never able to affect much of anything, or stay for very long. Being in another’s dream felt like balancing on one leg on the top of a high peak; exhilirating, to be sure, but constantly focusing on not being swept away by the larger forces around you. Besides, it felt a little invasive to be within the dreams of others, and she quickly left those she found too private, hoping they would not think much of a random Ise Zumi flashing through their subconscious mind. She would not exercise this skill she had cultivated at all had it not been for the request of a being far greater than Umeko herself.
She could still feel those black, pupilless eyes, the only sign of life being an occasional speck of a star—-was that a falling star?—-on the expressionless, genderless face. “Little Dragon,” the figure had said, a crown of stars on its head rotating slowly. “You can easily find Nothing, and yet you seek for Something. I hope that you will remember to find the Nothing where it connects the Somethings." It paused, considering. "Balanced as you are, however, perhaps you can perform a delicate dance that I cannot.” The figure plucked one of the stars from its crown, held Umeko by the chin, and placed it under her tongue in a smooth series of movement—-did it even move?—-before standing motionless again, unnaturally still. “Speak to them for me, Little Dragon. Tell the Somethings you find that the Nothing seeks them, too.”
Umeko had awoken suddenly, unafraid, her heart and breathing calm, but when she opened her mouth, the shell of some unknown seed had fallen into her hand, split perfectly in two.
The dream flitted across the surface of her contemplations before she easily tucked it back where it belonged. The small fire in the brazier in her room dwindled, then slowly died. Sitting cross-legged on the bare floor, she did not move except to take deep, even breaths, an expression of peaceful joy on her face. After the stars had traced their paths overhead for the night and the Sun followed to chase them away, she rose easily and resumed her journey. She knew her duty, and she would seek Something using Nothing wherever her travels took her.
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