Dragon Clans Bk. 02 Pt. 06byVjax©
An early frost had turned the Japanese landscape coppery brown as the Kawasaki BK117 helicopter sped over the low mountains heading out of Tokyo. The land was rugged, but held an inherent mystery that Michael found intriguing. It was a stark contrast to the emerald greens and deep browns that Michael had just left behind in England.
Three helicopters now wound their way northwest from Tokyo toward Sado Island in the Niigata Prefecture. A few of Onji's people had met them when they had landed.
"Nigel-San, Millie-San! It is good to see you both, again," said Katsimoto, Onji's lieutenant and heir as he greeted them on the tarmac while performing a deep bow.
"We were all very saddened to hear of Ian's death, he was a good man and a venerable leader for the clans, he will be greatly missed."
Returning the bow Millie answered Katsimoto in a soft, emotional tone.
"We thank you Katsimoto-San. Ian always loved coming here, he thought of it as his second home. Your master has always been one of our most trusted allies and friends, we are honored to be able to introduce you and Onji-San to the next leader of our clan."
Stepping to the side, Millie gestured for Michael to come up.
"Katsimoto-San, it is my honor to present Mr. Michael Dan, Liege of Clan Aoife."
Michael had noted that Millie's bow to Katsimoto was of equal depth to the one Katsimoto had given her, having a small idea of how such things went, Michael made sure to bow just a bit lower than Katsimoto, offering the man, for now, a higher status than himself.
Katsimoto regarded the American for a moment after the introductions had been made. Tall and broad chested, a face that showed the beginnings of laugh lines around the eyes, a kind face that, under the proper circumstance could, he thought, display the spectrum of emotions at a glance. In a word, Michael seemed to him: formidable.
Stepping closer Katsimoto extended his hand.
"Mr. Dane, it is a pleasure to meet you, I only wish the circumstances were different."
Michael felt the subtle pressure of the handshake, understood what the hardened calluses on his hand, ones that matched his own, meant.
"I am honored by your welcome, Ian was taken much too soon for any of our tastes, it is my deepest wish that in time and with the help of yourself and your Clan, I may hope to one day be a fitting replacement."
Katsimoto let slip a slight smile as the handshake broke. 'Yes, he will do.'
"Come, Onji-San is anxious to see you all, there is much to discuss and little time."
Waves pounded relentlessly against the craggy windswept cliffs below Sotokaifu point. The north China Sea seemingly waging war against this northern tip of Sado Island.
Onji stood stoically on the ancient ramparts of his clans ancestral home, the waves eroding the powerful cliffs slowly, over millennia, just as the future eroded away the past behind him.
He felt the minute changes in power, felt them shift and swell for a moment before realigning into their steady cadence, the heartbeat of the power which lay within the chosen.
"Michael has landed, his feet tread across the earth, here."
Onji's quiet statement was lost to the wind which howled up and over the cliff beneath the citadel.
Turning away from the battle of rock and water which played out endlessly beneath him, he regarded Sin-Cho.
Her stance was one of quiet contemplation, strong but open. Her ebon black hair flowed down from her face in gentle waves of onyx silk. At five foot two she was considered tall ... but that, just as the hair and her emerald green eyes, were traits that the young woman shared with her long passed matriarch. A wistful, somewhat sad smile played over his lips as he regarded her. Sin had seen it often since that day several months ago when this stranger had showed up in the night and spirited her away from that monster Chan.
Onji's one word answer as he turned and walked back toward the castle was common. He was not one for conversation or for doing anything without the utmost economy. She had never known anyone whose action in both word and deed were more compact but also conveyed such deep meaning.
Falling into stride beside him she answered.
"Katsimoto-San called, he has picked up the visitors and shall be returning within the hour."
Onji nodded his head slightly and continued into the castle.
As they walked the long halls of the castle heading toward the helipad on the opposite side of the compound, Sin was intrigued to finally meet the man that had caused so much activity here at the castle over the past few days.
Three helicopters stood abreast on the sprawling lawn before Sado Castle, their turbines winding down, the low-slung propellers gently freewheeling to a stop.
Michael, Tera and Valerie stepped out of the middle chopper, following Katsimoto. They were flanked by Sims and Elise.
Michael felt a subtle jolt upon placing his feet back on the earth. As if he had, for an instant, been out of sync with the place. The feeling passed almost as soon as it began. Michael shook off the odd feeling, and took in what he deemed the masterpiece before him.
The castle stood in the foreground. It was graceful in its minimalist architecture. The delicate but solid nature of the main tower, and the way it looked perfectly natural surrounded by the obviously well planned gardens, gave Michael a tranquil feeling. Pulling Valerie and Tera closer to him, they looked at him to find a happy grin on his face.
His almost reverent tone did not surprise either of them. Both had had several experiences with Michael's fascination with architecture that moved him.
So caught up in the rich details of the place was he, that he was startled back to the moment, when he found Millie in front of him.
"Michael, I would like you to meet Onji Matsuda."
The man before him looked to be in his mid fifties, close cropped steel gray hair, a sturdy frame, a quiet demeanor that belied a depth of emotion.
Michael bowed deeply, upon straightening he found Onji standing closer with his hand outstretched.
"It is good to finally meet you Michael-San. Ian kept me updated on your progress. It is a great shame that it was not his destiny to see you take his place. He always knew that you would be a formidable leader of the clans."
Michael took the offered hand. At the contact there was a gentle acknowledgement of one another's power. Onji's energy felt fluid, it ebbed and flowed like the tides, containing the potential for both serenity and chaos. It was very different than his own fiery energy form, born of Aoife's ancient blood.
"It is a pleasure to meet you Onji-San, It is my hope and intention to wear the mantle Ian has passed on with honor. I look forward to our clans working together to meet the trials that are to come."
Michael broke the handshake and gave Onji another bow.
"Come, we will get you settled into your rooms."
Onji motioned to his people to collect everyone's bags from the helicopters as he turned, walking toward the castle with Michael at his side.
"Your home is amazing, Onji-San. My chosen profession is architecture, and I don't think I have ever seen a more cohesive mixture of styles from so many different eras."
Enjoying the rare opportunity to share the details of his clans' home, Onji fell right into it's telling.
"Sado Island has a unique history. This fortress was built surrounding an earlier temple complex in the early 16th century, during the Azuchi-Momoyama period."
Onji spoke as they made their way to the gracefully angled stonework base of the wall which rose thirty feet before the striking white wood walls started their climb toward the sky.
"The island was a place of banishment for those of various dynasties, who had fallen out of favor, but were too important or too cowardly to find an honorable death. Starting in the 8th century, with the poet Asomi Oyu whose lyrical criticisms of the emperor were frowned upon, through the early 17th century, a banishment to Sado was just one step above death."
"The governorship was not the most prized posting. However, over the centuries, those who lived here made small additions. For as long as the histories go back, our clan has lived and thrived in what can be a paradise, or a hell, here in our little corner of the world. Surrounded on all sides by the sea, our clan has grown and prospered with the eternal ebb and flow that imbues this place with it's own special energy."
Michael noted the quiet reverence with which Onji spoke of his home, he remembered Ian taking on a similar tone whenever he spoke of Nogardshire.
"I look forward to exploring the mysteries it holds, Onji-San."
The older man nodded as they entered the fortress. Onji also looked forward to Michael becoming intimately familiar with this unique place. Now that he had met the man he knew without a doubt that Ian had chosen well, and wisely.
"Onji has the same quiet but powerful demeanor as Ian."
Tera commented as they unpacked their bags in the room Onji had provided.
Facing the inside of the fortress courtyard, the long wide balcony under the slopping pagoda style roof provided a spectacular view of the Heian era temple that lay at the heart of the compound.
"Onji and Ian were good friends for as long as I can remember. We came and spent a summer here a year after my parents died. Onji has always been quiet, but when he speaks it always seems to carry a weight to it."
Michael listened to Tera and Valerie chat as he stood at the balcony reveling in the elegant simple lines of this tranquil place.
'You feel his naturally calm nature.'
Michael smiled as Aoife's smoky sensual voice entered his consciousness.
'Ryujin has always been the calm one of us, the thinker. His passions run deep but getting to those depths takes time and patience. A tactician at heart with a love of carefully laid plans that may take decades or centuries to see fruition. He is also the keeper of our kinds greatest treasure, our history, and our art. The souls of our forebears reside within his gentle but powerful aspect. The transition from the great race that we were, to the power behind the thrones that we are now, was easiest for him. His council is always well considered and I find time spent with him to be the most calming of balms.'
Michael felt a slight shift, as if the wind had changed direction, and found a warm thermal of air to blow lightly against his skin.
'I thank you for your kind assessment matriarch, I find your company and council to be equally comforting and considered.'
This new voice was very different than Aoife's, it had cool comfort that offered ease, with an understanding that said ease could easily and expediently change to something far more dire, should the need arise.
'It is a pleasure to meet you young one, I am Ryujin, patriarch of this place and my clan. Long have both my own clan and the others watched your progress. I am intrigued to see what twists life surely has in store for you.'
Michael could feel Aoife's consciousness tickling at the back of his mind, there was a playful warning there as to how to deal with Ryujin but he could not discern her exact intent. He smiled to himself, not surprised that another test had begun so soon.
'Life has a way of finding the chinks in everyone's armor. I am sure that whatever the future may hold, I will be the better for whatever experiences the universe deems necessary to supply.'
Ryujin's deep chuckle was something that Michael felt physically, as if a deep tremor passed through his body.
'Enjoy your time here Michael, soon you and I shall meet to share what insights life has provided to us, I find myself looking forward to it.'
'As do I Ryujin.'
Michael's final words faded as he felt Ryujin recede from his mind. With a gentle brush of her warm consciousness, Aoife too took her leave as well.
Valerie's hand curling around his waist brought Michael back from his internal dialog.
"Come on, we don't want to be late for dinner."
With a smile he pulled her too him, giving her a scorching kiss that left Valerie breathing heavily as it broke.
Gathering Tera to his other side, he walked through the open Shoji door. Michael looking forward to whatever the future might hold.
Katsimoto sat at the security desk reviewing the latest intel with Nigel, when Sin-Cho entered the room. Nigel noted the slight smile that came to Katsimoto's face as he saw her.
"I am sorry to interrupt, Katsimoto-San, I did not know you were busy."
Sin-Cho turned to leave as Nigel regarded Katsimoto with a knowing look.
"That's not necessary, we were just finishing up."
Nigel stood up, stretching his back which had a good size kink in it after the time spent on the plane.
"I think a walk before dinner is in order."
Katsimoto and Sin-Cho both gave Nigel a small bow as he left the room.
"So what do you think of him?"
Sin-Cho moved closer to Katsimoto, her hand coming to rest lightly on his shoulder.
Katsimoto smiled before placing a gentle kiss on her lips.
"Michael is unique, very different from Ian. Where Ian's chi was subtly strong, Michaels is very ... present. You cannot miss the fact that there is something dangerously powerful residing within him. I get the sense that he is still trying to find balance, but that is part of the nature of his visit."
Katsimoto knew that Onji had told Sin-Cho very little about the true power of the clan. Her rescue from Lo-Chan was explained as a debt of honor borne by the clan in the name of his grandfather.
Sin-Cho placed her arms around Katsimoto's neck, pulling him close while burying her head in his neck. The last few months had been a whirlwind. Being rescued by Onji and Katsimoto had provided her with a new lease on life. She was wary of anything or anyone who could shake her newfound peace.
Sensing her trepidation, Katsimoto wound his hands into her long silk like hair and pulled her closer.
"Not to worry little one, the universe was born in chaos, it is its natural state, we strive to understand that which cannot be understood. Life works out the way it will, we can only do our best, uphold our honor and find the joys as they come along the path we travel."
From that first night in the dark, when Katsimoto had found her in the locked and guarded room that Lo-Chan kept her in. He always had a way to calm her, to make her fear recede. She had never known anyone who she trusted or, in the secret part of her soul, loved ... more.
"We should go, dinner will be starting soon, Onji requested that we both attend."
With another gentle kiss Katsimoto uncurled the young woman from his neck and with a reassuring arm around her waist, lead her from the room. Both of them were reveling in his gentle but strong hand upon her.
"Sado is famous for our Saké."
Katsimoto smiled as he filled first Onji's then Michael's small cups.
"The estate is amazing, I had a chance to take a walk around this afternoon. When you are looking for it you can see where the additions were made over the centuries but they were done with such subtlety and care that the whole becomes more than its parts."
Michael had enjoyed his hour walk around the grounds, the ancient wood beams holding up delicate tile roofs, the large open rooms that were laid out symmetrically, defined by their tatami size.
The dinning room was large but sedate, a traditional low table with cushions on the tatami mats made eating a seemingly more intimate event.
Valerie sat to Michaels left Tera on his right. Nigel and Millie flanked Onji while Katsimoto, Sin-Cho, Sims and Elise rounded out the dinner guests.
"Heard you had a bit of trouble with Lo-Chan."
Nigel's low comment to Onji was overheard by all at the table. Michael noted that Sin-Cho tensed at it and that Katsimoto's hand disappeared under the table, obviously in a show of comfort to the young woman.
Wanting to change the subject, as it was obviously something which caused his host stress, Michael asked about the clan's business interests.
"Millie provided me with a brief summary of your clans holdings, I found it interesting that you have a fairly large defense division."
Onji regarded Michael for a moment, pleased at this change of subject. With a brief nod of recognition to Michael he responded.
"After the war Japan was almost totally demilitarized as part of the peace settlement. It was a very hard transition for many, so used to a militaristic nationalist ethos. Those ways went underground. Ways were found around the rules, as they always are. We focused on small arms, personal security technology, and next generation non-lethal weapons."
"It is difficult for a culture as ancient as ours to have something so defining stripped away. It is an impossibility actually, the martial spirit lived on and today is on the rise again, thankfully without expansionist tendencies. Japan is at a pivotal point in its long history, we are an economic power but that power is also coveted by those to the west of us. As all people must, we must be ever vigilant to ensure our continued safety and prosperity."
Michael could hear and see the obvious love Onji had for his country and her people. Michael wondered if Onji's ties to the clans and his love of Japan ever were at odds.
'A question for another day, ' Michael thought as dinner was served.
"There is something going on between Katsimoto and Sin-Cho."
Tera commented to Michael and Valerie who were still in the over sized shower as she dried her legs. From behind the opaque glass Michael answered as his hands roamed freely over Valerie's soap slick curves.
"I would think they are lovers, but there is more too it than that. Katsimoto is very protective of her and she pulls heavily on his strength to bolster her own. There is a story there but I think it comes with a lot of stress for them and for Onji."
"When Nigel brought up the incident in China the three of them visibly tensed. If they want us to know then they will tell us, no use in trying to pry it out of them."
Michael kissed Valerie neck as he stepped out of the shower.
Grabbing Tera's towel he spun her around and started drying her back.
"I will at least ask Nigel what he knows, the more information we have the better able we will be to avoid asking the wrong questions later."
Tera's eyes closed as Michael drew the towel over her shoulders, down the small of her back to her ass.
Michael noted how Tera tensed as he lowered the towel. It had been a few days since any of them had the opportunity to indulge and their passions were running a bit high.
Stepping back Michael ran the towel quickly over his own body before leaving the bathroom.
Crossing the four tatami mats on the floor he stood naked on the balcony. A cool breeze prickling his skin as he looked out over the fortress' courtyard. The central fixture within it, was a reflecting pool in front of the old temple. Rectangular in shape it captured the dark silhouettes of the angled fortress roof on the other side of the courtyard, back lit by an almost full moon.
Michael reached out with his senses, not looking for anything in particular but curious as to what such an ancient place would hold, what shadows of former warlords and exiles would still permeate the indelible oiled oak and stone that made up the deep foundations of the place.
Warm hands curling around his waist brought Michael prematurely back from quiet contemplations.
"Come to bed Michael."
Valerie's whispered statement was sealed with warm lips at his neck.
Tera's more urgent command was accompanied by the nip of her teeth on his shoulder.
Michael allowed his mates to pull him to the low bed on the floor, content in that moment to simply add his own fleeting signature to the aura that surrounded the fortress.