As Mei faced towards Yamagata castle, people were walking pass without glancing at her - making her feel invisible to the outside world. She not want to have her retainers with her when she followed Hiroshi to the hall, it was better to draw as little attention as possible without being noticed.
Mei was 2 years older than her brother, Hiroshi, at 22; but that didn't mean she was the most responsible one. Father and Hiroshi are both right - I am rash in my decisions; but that is me, I won't change for anyone who doesn't like it, she thought to herself. Hiroshi was the exact opposite to Mei. While Hiroshi was characteristic of yang - open, an extrovert, logical; Mei showed the signs of being yin - illogical, rash and always seeing the negative side in things.
Despite being opposite in personalities, she shared that same physical traits as her brother; her height and width were in proportion and they both showed prominent cheek bones and an oval face; characteristic from their father's side of lineage. It was the colour of their hair that distinguished them from each other: Mei inherited the dark brown colour from her mother's lineage and as typical, Hiroshi inherited the pitch black colour from his father.
The autumn sunlight was scattered by the tree leaves, forming an intricate network of shadows on the ground beneath. The sky was clear blue with the occasional cloud sauntering by and the sun, held in place, shining on the world below. Occasionally a breeze picked up and slightly rustled the trees, letting their leaves fall slowly and softly to the ground, being pushed in different directions by it. Colours of yellow, green, brown and dark purple littered the tree line as they led from the hall to Yamagata castle in the distance - its pale blue slate roofs topping the brilliant white stone walls making it a formidable fortress above the houses surrounding it.
Adjusting her kimono - a simple pale blue silk kimono without any decorations or embroidery covering it - Mei tucked her arms into their sleeves across her torso. Her hair was tied into a ponytail with a jasmine bracelet holding it in place and she wore no makeup; just black eyeliner.
Placing her feet into her zori sandals, Mei made her way down the straight path towards Yamagata castle, step-by-step the castle growing in size. People continued to walk by, carrying on with their business without hesitation. Old, and young, children and adults all walked by, talking and laughing while Mei walked alone with just her thoughts to accompany her, so Hiroshi will be leaving for Zenko temple in the next few days. It will take him at least three days to reach the temple; where he goes after that I don't know.
So caught up in her thoughts, Mei did not see an eldery man walking towards her. Before she realised what was happening, the elderly man bumped into her by accident.
"I'm so sorry my lady; I didn't mean to walk into you - I was day dreaming and wasn't looking where I was going." Said the elderly man in husky voice. He looked up at the trees and said, "The colours of leaves on the trees are so vibrant and beautiful during autumn."
With a sharp tone, Mei retorted, "Continue to day dream and bump into other people, and you might not see hanami next year in spring."
Surprise and shock flashed across the elderly man's face, before sternness took control, "Continue to speak to your elders in a sharp tone and you find yourself secluded without any friends. The stake that sticks up is the one that gets hammered down." The elderly man walked off grumbling to himself, leaving Mei surrounded in silence and brooding.
Some people nearby were watching the incident, murmuring to each other about what happened. Mei shot an angry look at the group as she walked by and they quickly dispersed, picking up their belongings and scattering off in different directions; all around her, normality resumed as if nothing happened.
The entrance to Yamagata castle was guarded by two armed guards wearing black armour with the Yamagata's clan symbol on their left chest. Each guard holding a pike and wearing a katana on their left hip. Mei walked passed them and into the grounds of the castle and the sounds of the blacksmiths working filled the air. Horses in the stables nearby whined and neighed, the sounds of chatter and shouts added to the chorus that formed the life rhythm of the castle.
Walking though the courtyard, Mei stepped onto the veranda opposite the entrance - stopping to take her zori sandals off - and headed through a doorway that led to the main castle, whilst gently lifting her kimono to let her walk faster in larger strides.
The wooden floor beneath her feet was cool and smooth with the reflections of people walking mirrored on the floor. Turn by turn, hallway by hallway, Mei eventually reached her room. Slowly, she opened the shoji and stepped into her room, closing the shoji behind her. The shoji to the garden outside was open and a cool breeze passed by.
Her room was ornately decorated, lacquerware were placed on shelves that were dotted around the room. Covered wardrobes split the room up, hiding vast items that Mei had accumulated over the years. The tatami mats placed in a symmetrical order were of beige colour, but on one of the dark green walls hung a scroll with Japanese characters - the paint strokes dancing across the beige paper, full of anger and yet showing beauty in the words: "Fear is greater than the danger." In the corner of the scroll was a red square that that was the signature of the philosopher who made the scroll for Mei.
Pulling out a writing desk with a brush and ink from one of the hidden wardrobes, Mei settled herself onto the hard tatami mats, and began to decorate the paper with bold, black strokes - holding the right sleeve of her kimono up to not smudge the ink. As the brush danced across the paper, Mei wrote;
The tora will leave the cave on the next full moon. Where it shall travel, will be south and will pay homage at Zenko temple.
Mei glanced up out towards the garden from her desk, the gravel neatly raked into parallel lines surrounding a large rock in the middle, dotted with green pieces of moss. I am committed now, there is no turning back, she told herself. Rolling the piece of paper up, she sealed it with wax and stamped an imprint of a heron into the molten wax. Once set, she got up from the writing desk and walked over to the veranda by the garden, bamboo wind chimes hung above the veranda and swayed with the wind; every so often colliding into each other - their wooden, hollow sound resonating out.
With a piece of red silk, Mei tied the paper scroll to the wind chimes and looked back out towards the garden. Events are happening too quick, but if I am to succeed, I have to act now or face Yomi in Yomo-no-kumi. The thought of Mei meeting Yomi in the underworld made her shudder, but she put the fear of the meeting aside and focused on the present.
She turned back facing her room and moved over to one of the hidden wardrobes, opening it up and picking up a white kabuki mask from a shelf. It felt light in her hand and two pieces of red ribbon fell from either side - a thin hole for a mouth and two angular holes for eyes made the mask appear empty and soulless; yet she knew that the stone pieces of the igo board were now set.
Whose move is next? She mulled to herself as she continued to weigh the kabuki mask in her hands.