A Treatise on the Mysterious
Nature of the Dragon Clan
By Isawa Kaede, Adept of Void
You have asked me to tell you of my three months with the Dragon Clan. I can only say that I have less understanding of the Dragon than when I first began to climb the long road that winds up to their mountain passes. I will not blunt the purpose of this paper with minutia, but speak directly on my observations.
I have held many conversations with the shugenja of the Agasha family, and they may be best summed up with the single conversation I had with Agasha Tamori. It was a dark night, a cold night, yet somehow, I felt as if droplets of summer sunshine were always upon me. I could only assume it was some sort of elemental effect, but I could not see nor sense its origin.
We drank and ate as a wild wind whipped outside the warm chamber. I was asking questions and Tamori was giving answers. I knew of the Togashi and Shinsei story, so I began there.
“I understand there are many interpretations of the tale,” I said.
“Yes,” he answered.
I waited for him to continue, but apparently, he needed some prodding. “Well, what do you think of the story?”
“Shinsei only speaks three words to Togashi, and what I think he meant is not important. Togashi knows what he meant.”
“I raised an eyebrow at him. “Did he?”
Tamori’s nod was somber. “Yes.”
I sipped more sake and resumed. “If you have no thoughts on the story, what are the thoughts of your kinsmen?”
“Their thoughts are their own. Speaking for another man is the same as speaking a lie.”
“I see,” I said and tried a different tactic. “What of the collected volume of Shinsei’s wisdom? Do you use it in your lessons with your students?”
“We prescribe no path to our students. We let them choose their own.”
I knew that speaking with Dragons was like walking through a maze, but all I could find were dead ends. I learned much about mazes when I was a girl, and I decided to attack this maze the same way. I would solve it from the inside out.
“You spent a winter with us two years ago, Tamori. What do you think of our Phoenix training methods?”
“The student will always rise to the teacher’s level of expectation,” he said and sipped more sake.
“What do you expect of your own students?”
“Only what they are capable of,” he said and slipped a slice of pickled cucumber onto his chopsticks.
I fought down a growl of frustration. If I allowed him that, I would lose all hopes of gaining his confidence. I felt he was testing me in some way, and that I was doing poorly. I decided to try again.
“Tamori-san,” I said with a very level tone, “You spent those winter months with us, and you were a very gracious guest. I hope we were gracious hosts.”
“Yes. Yes you were.”
“Did you learn anything while you stayed with us?”
“Yes. Yes I did.”
“What did you learn?”
“What did you learn?”
For the first time, I caught a glimpse of a smile on his lips as he answered me.
“Patience,” he said and swallowed the cucumber.
That singular dinner conversation speaks much of my three months with the Dragons. However, what is truly difficult to articulate with the clumsy tool of words are the lessons I learned by watching them.
There was one evening in particular that comes to mind. I was watching a tattooed man – whose name I never managed to learn – standing on a ledge, looking down at the mountain range far below us. I did not want to disturb him, so I watched him from afar. I watched his perfect stance, his perfect posture, his perfect stillness. His skin glistened in the light, and many times I had to blink my eyes, for I swear I saw the tattooed dragons that crept across his back shift in the light.
Suddenly, he called to me. Without moving a muscle, he called to me and asked me to join him on the ledge. I moved forward, wrapping my kimono about me to keep out the chilly wind. He smiled and I saw the tattoos of his face stretch.
“You are the Phoenix?” he said.
“You have come to understand our ways.”
I nodded. “As best as I can.”
He looked away from the ledge and looked at me. “You cannot understand us. You will never understand us.”
His words were not cruel. They were spoken with a hint of sadness.
“You cannot understand us until you have been where we have been. Until you are willing to go where we go.”
I asked him, “And where have you been?”
His smile never faltered. “I cannot tell you any more than you can tell me where you have been. You could tell me the names and the places, but can you tell me the tastes? Can you tell me the sweet scents? Can you tell me the fear, the exhilaration, the pain, the joy, the anguish? Can you truly?”
I only blinked. “No, I suppose I cannot.”
He shook his head. “No. Not unless you lived it yourself. You cannot tell me. Not any more than I can tell you.”
I nodded. “Then I suppose you cannot tell me where you are going?”
He shook his head. “No. I cannot tell you.”
Suddenly, his eyes began to gleam with a mad laughter and his grin turned into a wide, toothy smile. “But I can show you.”
And with that, he leapt out into the air and fell. I screamed and ran to the edge and saw him plummet into the mists that twirled about the mountain tops. All the while that he fell, I heard his laughter, echoing off the mountainsides, and his voice calling out my name, urging me to follow….