June 25, 2017
All the cherry blossoms were in bloom, but what was really astounding was that they had all bloomed overnight on the same night. It was called the Red Night, and that night only one child was born in the whole realm of Tsutano. The proud parents were a master gardener, Jyuko Zennyo, and his wife, Amita.
40 Years before the Awakening
At fifteen years of age, Teien had developed exceptional talent at two seemingly opposite skills: martial arts and horticulture. While still technically a journeyman under his master gardener father, Teien was widely called upon to help nurse crops back to health or splice new breeds of fruit bearing trees to produce exquisite new tastes sometimes before his father.
It was this agricultural gifting that led directly to his learning of martial arts. Even though all children are trained from a young age at hand-to-hand combat and defense, Teien took these studies very seriously. The other children took his knack with plants as an excuse to bully this string bean child. By this time an uneasy truce existed between him and the other teenagers, but it had taken several black eyes and bruises to establish this quasi-peace.
30 Years before the Awakening
The tournament had been grueling for the twenty-five year old, but her smile made it worthwhile. Tanrei was the daughter of the local lord whose hand in marriage had been the prize. The tournament had been designed as a deterrent for Teien to continue his pursuit of Tanrei. Her father couldn’t bear to think of her marrying a lowly gardener no matter how talented he was at his craft. His daughter deserved a warrior. Little did he know that he would be the final instrument necessary to craft this “flower boy” into a warrior with the strength of an ironroot.
20 Years before the Awakening
Commanding and training the lord’s personal guard was both an honor and a curse. Teien was kept away from his enchanting wife for long hours which was particularly hard now that she had given birth to their first child, a son named Junan. However, finally being on Tanrei’s father’s good side after producing a direct heir for him was a blessing for his family. A time of hard work and peace reigned.
10 Years before the Awakening
The nightmare came again. The wound was too fresh. In the dream, the palace still burned after the revolt. While the lord’s personal guard stood their ground and took five men for every one of them, in the end it was General Keito’s fault for allowing the invading army of Sedai Hogosha through, but that didn’t stop Teien for being shamed by the bitter loss. Trying to rebuild his life with his family in hiding as a gardener felt dishonorable, but Tanrei was with child. Teien would make any sacrifice to keep his family safe. His daughter, Nayami, was born that winter.
1 Year before the Awakening
The old man had collapsed on Teien’s front step. He looked like a wildling who had lived off the land for his whole life. His speech was of an ancient dialect, and Teien was only able to make out a few words as the old man forced a nearly petrified wooden staff into Teien’s hand. “Wind of the tree…Inari…Find life…He awakens.” As Teien grasped the staff and felt the perfect balance, a wind arose rustling the plants and all the flowers bloomed around him.
Mt. Juto erupted violently spewing lava, ash, and noxious gas high into the heavens. The Ryuhito had not seen an eruption like this in all of recorded history. Those who lived nearest the base of the volcano were swept up in the tide of molten slag. Those who were near enough to see the mountain but not in immediate danger reported seeing what looked light a shaft of red light shoot forth into the dense smoke. Some claimed it was the glow of the lava coming up, but everyone knew no glow would have lit through the smoke and gas like that. Within hours the people were calling it the Red Day.
Teien and his family lived close enough to see the red light. Looking up from his gardening work, the staff in his hand seemed to tremble a bit as he noticed the rubicund glow in the sky.
“Father, I can’t…,” began his son before collapsing. Teien rushed to Junan’s side calling for his wife, “Tanrei! Tanrei!” Tanrei and their daughter, Nayami, came out of the house wiping their hands on their aprons from doing the cooking for the day. Concern flew to Tanrei’s eyes when she saw her son collapsed.
“He can’t get his breath!” Teien said frantically while trying to help his son sit up and slapping him on the back.
“Teien Zennyo!” came a commanding voice from the front step. Turning to look, Teien saw several armed samurai. “You will come with us,” the leader ordered drawing his katana.
“My son! Help my son!” Teien cried cradling his boy closer. The leader of the samurai paused to look at the warrior to his right. A quiet signal seemed to pass between them.
“This is your son, blood of your blood?” the leader inquired.
“Yes! Of course! Can you help him?” Teien asked. Junan’s skin was beginning to turn blue, and he began small convulsions.
“He must come with us. If he does, we can save him, but he must come with us now and forever,” came the reply.
“Are you crazy? I can’t send away my son. Help him!” roared Teien. “If you can help him, you WILL help him.” He stood up from his son and gripped the staff. If he had to fight a whole kingdom, he would save his son.
“Teien! No! Please, sir, help my son. Spare his life!” Tanrei pled.
“Only if he comes with us now.”
Tanrei put a restraining hand on her husband. “We have no time. Look at our son.” Indeed, Junan had stopped moving and was even bluer than before.
“Take him,” said Teien in a hushed tone. “But only if you SAVE…HIM…NOW!”
“Do not follow, or I cannot guarantee your son’s safety,” said the lead samurai who sheathed his sword and quickly strode to the boy. He placed his hand on Junan’s chest and bowed his head. A blue light slowly gathered about the samurai’s torso and traveled down his arm into the boy. Water began to bead on Junan’s blue skin and then absorb into his body. His skin tone looked more like a cool glow of blue reflected off a holiday lantern than the blue of oxygen deprivation. Suddenly, Junan jerked up straight into a sitting position while taking in rushed gulps of breath.
“Junan!” said Teien as he took a step closer to his son, but another samurai blocked his way.
“Remember, your son belong with us now. Do not follow,” said the commander who withdrew his hand from Junan’s chest. He stood up, slung the unconscious 20-year old over his shoulder, and began to head out the front gate. The other samurai had drawn their swords sensing the tension in the boy’s father and eyeing his ironroot staff.
The commander turned to look at Teien who looked ready to attack. “Believe it or not, your son will be well-treated, cared for, and trained. However, time and secrecy are of the essence. I don’t envy you being a father myself, but I know where my duty lies. I also know who you are and of your disgrace. If you value the lives of the rest of your family, you will grieve your loss privately and then move on with life. The world turns faster than you know.”
“I’ll find you, and I’ll save my son. This I vow,” replied Teien through gritted teeth.
“Unlikely, but what is one more broken vow to a man of your stature?” The commander nodded to his men as they backed away from the house.
At that point, Junan began to awake. He groggily looked around and weakly let out, “Father?” Realizing he was being taken by strangers, he cried out, “Father!” and started to fight back. The commander’s lieutenant struck the boy on the head with the butt of his sword knocking him out at which point Teien lunged toward his son with his staff spinning violently in his hands.
The battle began in earnest. Several of the samurai, including the leader, moved off hurriedly with Junan, but four had hung back to stop Teien’s pursuit. Teien may have eventually taken all four, but the outcome of the battle was decided in another way. In the midst of the chaotic melee, none of them heard the strong drafts of wind getting louder each time. Teien heard his wife and daughter scream, but could hardly spare them a glance as he was pressed on all sides. It was the next scream that got his attention.
“UUUUHHHHHRRRRRROOOORRRR!” came a deep guttural roar. It sounded as if a great bear had growled from the depths of an echoing stone labyrinth. A searing heat hit Teien’s body before he saw the flame begin to encompass him. The staff in his hand glowed green, and Teien was flung backwards into his garden nearly 400 feet away. Flames engulfed the samurai and small tongues even reached his house setting it on fire. The last thing Teien saw before passing out was a huge serpentine beast the color of blood soaring away towards the village.