• Chapter 4

    Hidariude woke up in a rustic room with no memory of how he got there. He was wearing a white shirt with black pants, and his left arm now appeared metallic, the synthetic skin covering having been removed somehow. He had no memory of how he got those clothes or what happened to his arm, the last thing he remembered was being on the space shuttle...

    Before he could further contemplate his whereabouts, he heard a ruckus outside the room, familiar voices screaming and yelling at eachother and someone or something bouncing off the walls. When he stepped out, he found two familiar faces. "Kichiku! What happened?"

    "The girl just woke up and tore out of here like a wild animal."

    "WHAT?! Is it safe out there? We have to find Keisei!" Hidariude was curious about the area, but didn't have time to ask anything more than "Which way did she go?" Outside of the house was a vast forest. They tried to follow the path of least resistance assuming Kesiei would as well. Every now and then Hidariude would catch a glimpse of Keisei's tail, his relief at catching up to her soon being replaced by the frustration of her changing direction and slipping away. After a while Keisei realized she wouldn't escape on the ground and leapt up to the trees. She underestimated Hidariude who jumped up to join her in the tree tops. However she was faster and eventually got away from him. Just as she appeared to be free, she came to a clearing, with no more trees to jump to. The next tree was meters away and covered in pink flowers. An old man stood between her and the tree.

    The man continued to face the tree as he spoke, "Isn't this cherry tree beautiful? Indeed, nothing compares to a cherry blossom. However it's beauty is fragile and fleeting, only a slight breeze is required to cast the petals to the wind and it is no more. Following the flower is the fruit, similarly sweet in it's own way, yet not so celebrated in itself. From this tiny berry comes the seed from which will grow a new tree. And so despite it's meek apearance, it is mightier than the blossom, yet both come from the same place. Beautiful cherry, are you the flower or the fruit?" With these words the man simply walked away.

    A downhearted Hidariude returned to the house alone. Inside Kichiku was cleaning up the mess Kesei made while the boy helped. "I lost her. So, now, what did I miss, how did we get here? And where is here?"

    "The shuttle crashed in the lake." Kichiku explained, "I recognized it as it fell from the sky and swam in to investigate it. I wasn't sure if there would be surviviors so I swam in to check. I found you and... Keisei was it?" Hidariude nodded. "You were both unconcious so I brought you back here to wake up. I took you out of your wet clothes and put you in some dry ones. After I dried her off, I dressed her in a kimono and left her to rest. She just woke up and went crazy, and I didn't want to hurt her so I didn't use full force. I think I underestimated her."

    "Do you have any idea what happened to my arm?"

    "No, the skin turned out to be a lot more fragile than it looked and it was gone by the time I found you. Is the arm still working?"

    Hidariude flexed his fingers. "Yeah."

    "Well, then I wouldn't worry about that. I'll get some tea. Douji will you help me?"

    Hidariude remembered his other question, "Where are we?"

    The old man entered the house. "The shrine of the Golden Dragon, or what's left of it. My name is Ryu and this is my home, as it was when I was young. Please allow me to explain, this shrine was founded as a fusion of many japanese cultural groups. Long ago, the Shaolin monks came from China, bringing their message of Buddhism. At first this clashed with the native religion of Shinto and the monks fought samurai and ninja who were loyal to their homeland. Both sides had great fighters and the feud went nowhere. Then a monk and a miko found eachother here on this mountain. The monk did not want to hurt the miko, so he sat with her and drank tea instead, attempting a diplomatic approach. He compared their conflict with the story of the Monkey King. He finished his tale with a mention of how a horse became one of Buddha's eight golden dragons. The miko lit up when she heard of a golden dragon for the shinto also believed in a golden dragon, a master of the four elements, himself representing the void between. As both revered a golden dragon they found common ground. Soon they laughed as they found both were devout pacifists who only practiced martial arts for defense, not aggression. In honor of their peace making they gathered their followers here to build a shrine to the symbol of shared spirituality and philosophy. Ever since, kung fu, kenjutsu, and other martial arts have been practiced here under a philosophy that having strength and using it wisely are two seperate disciplines, but must be practiced together to maintain a greater balance.

    "Two decades ago, we were approached to train a new generation that would bring about a new era. My brothers could see that those who approached us were lacking the wisdom critical to our philosophy, but I was a fool believing that I could change things alone, and I took the opportunity to teach beyond this mountain. In my absence, my brothers were slaughtered. For four years I have stayed here to hold vigil for my brothers souls. But then fortune smiled upon me. Douji knew to come to his sifu and led Kichiku here, and now you. My old students have returned to me to complete their training, and perhaps there is a way to restore balance and set things right, maybe even restore our glorious legacy. Please say you will train with me."

    Keisei crept in the door. Without even looking at her Ryu smiled and said "Ah, beautiful cherry, are you the fruit after all?"