Chapter 1.

The autumn sunlight passed through the gaps between the leaves on the trees; beams of sunlight entered the large hall, casting long shadows on the  dark brown wooden floor.  Huge wooden columns stood on either side of the hall, holding up the immense roof to shelter those who needed it, high above the heights of humans and towards the heavens.

The smell of lavender incense meandered its way through the hall, occasionally being pushed off its path by a slight breeze that travelled by.  Lit candles were clustered down at one end of the hall, slightly illuminating the large golden statue of Buddha.  The lights flickered and waved as the breeze pushed itself pass, but neither one of the candles gave up its existence to the wind.

A man dressed in a black kimono and black hakama sat in front of the large statue of Buddha, his shadow cast upon the wooden floor by the sunlight, strong and dark in its appearance.  The face of Buddha merely looked down towards the entrance of the hall, its head slightly inclined and its eyes closed as if shielding itself from the bright light that failed at entering the hall.

Outside the sounds of birds and the rustling movement of trees could be heard, the sound gently ebbing with the flow of the wind, gently making itself known in the hall.

Hiroshi stood at the entrance of the hall, wearing a grey hakama and a pale green haori with the clan's symbol embroidered in gold on his left chest - three vertical lines crossed with one horzontal line, the symbol for his clan's name.  He was average in height and his width was proportional to his height; he was neither large nor thin, but well built for his age and his hair was tied up in the traditional Samurai ways as a top knot.  Years of training had built his body up, given that it was overseen by Musashi Matsumoto - the infamous swords master - and was never taken lightly.

Taking his zori sandals off, Hiroshi entered the large hall.  He choose his steps carefully, with both dignity and pride - after all, he was the heir to Yamagata clan.  As he walked down the hall, he could feel the impending gaze of the Buddha statue push down on him, the smoothness of the wood floor under his tobi socks made him fell like he was gliding over the surface.  Column by column came and passed, the walls surrounding the hall were bare, grey colouring covered them.

The smell of the incense became stronger until he stood behind the man dressed in black, his pitch black hair tied into a top knot.  He carefully knelt down and bowing his head to the floor, said, "You called for me father, Take Yamagata-sama.  I am here."  Time slowed down for Hiroshi; waiting for his father to acknowledge his presence, and all the while keeping his head bowed to the floor.

The man dressed in black stirred and said in a smooth, gentle voice, without turning, "Sit next to me Hiroshi; sit next to me in front of Buddha."  Hiroshi sat back up and hesitantly moved to the right of his father, sitting down slowly whilst adjusting his hakama.

In front of him, rows upon rows of candles were lit, the incense stick gently burning away as the thin wisp of smoke rose from its ashes.  The presence of the Buddha statue was more immense than ever, years of battling against the elements had smoothed the surface of the statue, but still its eyes looked ahead.

Silence remained a companion for the two of them, until Hiroshi's father spoke, "Hiroshi, this war between our clan and the Yamaguchi has gone on far enough.  It has to end.  Nearly a thousand years have passed since the Yamaguchi Clan invaded our territories in search of the Seal of Dragons.  Our people and the yamaguchi's people - they have all suffered from this war."  Silence waded back in.

Hiroshi sat there, still staring at the statue of Buddha, the coldness of the wooden floor seeping towards his skin.  He sighed before replying, "I'm aware of this father.  I have always asked your permission to take the Yamagata army and push the Yamaguchi back all the way to Hagi Castle - but I have always listened to your reason why not to do that."  

Hiroshi paused before continuing, "But the only real way to end this war is to find the Seal of Dragons.  Prophecies spoken by the monks say the war will end when the person finds the Seal of Dragons and will unite the lands together... Yet no-one knows where it is."

"I have thought a great deal about this Hiroshi", replied Take, "and I have reached a decision that I do not take lightly, but I fear more people will die in vain if we do not stop this war."

Confusion ran across Hiroshi's face, "What do you mean?"

"I have decided to send you, in search of the Seal of Dragons.  I am getting old, even if I found the Seal of Dragons, I will be too old be the Emperor of Japan.  The people need someone younger."

"This is absurd father.  If you die while I am away, who will take over?  Mei?  She rushes into decisions without thinking, just like you are doing now." Replied Hiroshi, fear and confusion welling up inside.

Take took a deep breathe and exhaled slowly, "Do you honestly think I will let Mei take the clan?  No - she is rash in her judgement as you have said; it will be your Uncle Uro who will hold the clan if I die...  Should you return."

Relief appeared to Hiroshi, at least he has agreed with me about Mei.  If she did take over the clan, everyone would be doomed, he thought to himself.  "Uncle Uro is a good choice, father."  Replied Hiroshi.

"Uro has served with me for a long time by my side, he knows how to run the clan." Spoke Take, his words ladened with assurance.  Silence danced its way back towards the two and enveloped them in a cocoon.

Eventually, the sounds of the trees and the birds outside broke into the hall and pushed silence out of its way.

"I suggest you head towards Nagano and see the Priest at Zenko temple, Hiroshi - he has a few of the original scriptures of the Prophecies that may help you with your search."

Hiroshi knew Zenko temple well, he use to visit there when he was younger with his mother, as the priest of the temple was his mother's brother.

"Of course father.  It would good to see Moto again after all these years."  Said Hiroshi, memories of Zenko temple flooding his mind - nostalgia filling his body.

"Take whatever you need with you, Hiroshi.  I will make sure the treasury gives you enough coins for the journey.  But remember this, even in our own territory, people align themselves with Iso Yamaguchi.  Trust no-one and always seek sanctuary in a temple - the monks will help those in need, not those looking for a fight."  Hiroshi's fathers words were heavy as he listened to them and he knew what his father meant - the temple monks were also trained as warriors, ready to be called if their Lord asked them.

As Hiroshi got up, Take turned to look at him, his eyes showing what Hiroshi felt - fear, anguish and acceptance.  It felt to Hiroshi that his father knew he would not live to see Hiroshi return, if Hiroshi returned at all, but that Take accepted it, burdening himself with worry and anguish.

"I will return, father, I promise that, with the Seal of Dragons."  Whispered Hiroshi, his voice slightly quivering with sadness.  He began walking back towards the hall entrance, the sunlight trying to inch closer towards the hall and the sounds of the outside world flooding his ears.

But little did he know that there were prying ears within the hall as well; just as Hiroshi left, Mei stepped out from behind one of the columns near the entrance.  She had heard everything and she knew that her plans had to be put into action earlier than she expected.

Never mind though, she thought to herself, once father has gone, I will have to deal with Uro as well, as she chuckled to herself, walking back towards Yamagata Castle.

The End

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