The next morning was much like a repeat of the morning before. Muzashi and Ayane left the inn and proceeded to the teahouse where they both got their breakfast and a cup of tea. The early morning air was crisp and sent shivers down Ayane, not necessarily from the cold but the feel of the air as she inhaled it. It was a reminder of the autumn, as well as a reminder of what little time they really had left.
Ayane could not tell whether or not Muzashi was panicked as much as she was, since he was a master at keeping his thoughts and emotions hidden behind a blank face that offered no sort of hint as to what was within his mind. Ayane however couldn't help but look disappointed that morning, and as before Muzashi was very quick to pick up on it.
"Don't worry", he reassured her. "We'll find one today, I'm sure."
The worried look on Ayane's face wouldn't go away however. "I'm just so worried about how much time we have left", she admitted. "If finding just one of these samurai is this hard, we may not have time to find three more after him."
"It always takes longer to find the first", Muzashi stated. "When you have one, then it's that bit easier to help convince the next one, and then the one after that. Trust me; we will not take too much longer on this."
Ayane looked at him with her worried expression. "Are you sure?" she asked.
Muzashi just gave a smiling nod of his head in response before he once again went back to his noodles.
Ayane slowly sipped the piping-hot tea while she closed her eyes. She liked doing it when she drank tea as it helped to calm her down and helped to release her mind so it could better concentrate on the thoughts within. Have faith in Muzashi, she said to herself in her head. Just remember back to that night and everything will be better.
She still remembered it, the two thugs and Muzashi. There was so much that confused her about the samurai. He was so kind and cheerful with her and everybody around him, yet he could inspire a terror which was unlike anything she could comprehend. What was his past, she wondered. He must have come from some sort of family, so who were they? Where did he learn his skills? Why did he wander as a rōnin? Surely he could easily find good employment somewhere with his strength and experience.
Her thoughts snapped back to reality however when Muzashi said her name. She looked to him, who wore an amused smirk on his face. "Now that we've finished our breakfast", he reminded her, "it's time for us once again to continue our search."
Ayane couldn't help but give a small moan of disapproval.
The morning went through with the exact same results as the day before. Ayane found a few samurai who were interested and agreed to come in and meet Muzashi. As soon as they came in though, as usual, Muzashi would give them The Glare as she called it and would send them out of the teahouse. Ayane would then once again be forced to walk out onto the street and find more samurai.
It was into the early afternoon after lunch that Ayane began to realize something. It was first one samurai who simply walked past her, refusing to meet eyes with her no matter what she said. It was more than just mere disrespect like samurai usually showed to common folk like herself however. It was as though she had some stigma like a leper and that he had wanted her not to exist.
This had confused her, but she became even more confused when another samurai did it to her as well, then another. It was not until she looked and saw one samurai talking to another that the realization had finally clued in on her. Since they had been doing it for some time now, Muzashi's strength of his ki was becoming more and more well known. Word was spreading and now less and less samurai were willing to go in and see him. Muzashi really was weeding out the weak.
This wasn't necessarily good however. Ayane was now finding it increasingly harder to find samurai that would be willing to go inside to try and meet Muzashi. Before when she could get up to ten samurai in an hour to see Muzashi, now she was averaging five or six samurai an hour if she was lucky. The sun was moving down the western horizon, and she was now worried that finding the second samurai may be impossible.
As dusk was approaching however, a large man came walking down the street. He was a good six feet tall, which was large when compared to most people. He had a full beard and sideburns that seemed to frame his strong jaw and stern face while his hair was long and hung down wildly. He had an earthy-brown kimono with black hakama while he wore a few pieces of armour which included a breastplate, gauntlets and shin guards. The most notable thing though was the long sword in a sheath that hung from his back, but what really made it unique to Ayane was that it seemed to have what looked like a second grip under the hilt that was about a foot long while the blade was four feet long.
The man moved with a confidence in his stride which Ayane had seen many samurai walk with before, and that thought made her wonder whether or not this man really would be any different from the others before. The one thing she did have to admit was that, compared to the others and even Muzashi, he certainly did seem as though he was more professional. If she was going to try anyone, this man was the one.
Ayane stepped in front of the man, who much to her surprise stopped and stood in front of her. She looked up at him while he looked down on her, staring at her. Ayane was speechless as she took in the sight of the man before her, who for her seemed to radiate power. She managed to snap out of her state of being awestruck and gave a bow to him.
The man just gave a nod of his head to show he acknowledged it. "What is it that you have to say to me?" he asked plainly. His voice was deep and gruff, one that demanded a person to get straight to the point.
"My master, Yagata Muzashi, is looking for strong samurai such as yourself", Ayane said fluidly from repetition. "He would like to meet you in the teahouse just on the other side of the street, if you would please."
The man didn't say anything for a second, and Ayane wondered if he was going to turn it down. Then he answered, "Very well then. Show me to your master."
Ayane led the way across the street with the large man behind her. She tried to walk as calmly as she could, but the apprehension of the coming encounter had her on edge. Could the ki, the very soul of the man, be able to stand up to Muzashi? Or would he simply fail as so many had before him? Ayane held open the sheet which acted as the door, and the man gave a small nod of his head in appreciation as he stood in. Despite his appearance, she thought, he is actually pretty good for a samurai.
Ayane pointed to where Muzashi was sitting in the corner, and as soon as they locked eyes she could tell that Muzashi had began projecting his ki on the man. Ayane expected that the man would begin to have the shakes of trepidation and panic as he locked eyes with Muzashi.
There was not a shiver that ran down his whole body.
Ayane's eyes couldn't help but widen a bit in surprise. She moved around to get a better look at the man's face, and she saw and could feel that the man was giving the Glare right back at Muzashi. She couldn't necessarily grip it herself, but she could imagine the two wills clash against one another, trying to gain superiority.
It seemed to go on ten, fifteen, twenty seconds of silence. Finally after thirty seconds of neither saying a word, the large man asked, "What is the meaning of this?"
Muzashi's stern face broke into a smile and he gave a nod of his head to the man. "Please forgive me for that. As I am sure my servant has told you, I am looking only for the best of samurai, and that was how I was proving the mettle of those who answered. You have done very well. Would you please come down and sit with me so we may speak?"
The large man still seemed weary of completely trusting Muzashi, but he walked over to the table and sat down after removing his sheathed sword from his back and putting it down by his right side. Muzashi gave a wave of his hand for Ayane to also come over and join them. She sat down on Muzashi's right side in between the two samurai.
"First off," Muzashi started, "in case she didn't tell you, I am Yagata Muzashi, formerly of the Dragon Clan." Ayane's head perked at him at interest, since this was the first time she had heard him mention which clan it was that he had come from. Perhaps I will find out more with each samurai we find, she wondered to herself.
"I am Akira Kedata of the Horse Clan", he replied with a small bow as he said. Muzashi seemed surprised for a second, and then gave a slight snicker. Kedata's eyes narrowed for a send and asked, "What's funny?"
"I mean no insult", Muzashi said holding his hands up as though surrendering. "I just found it ironic how one of the Horse Clan uses the zanbatō, the horse-slaying sword."
When Kedata heard that, even he couldn't help but give a slight snicker. "I see what you mean", he said amused. "I find the nodachi not...versatile enough, especially when you fight in closed spaces. The zanbatō allows more with the ricasso beneath the hilt, if you know what I mean."
Muzashi nodded his head. "It's why I never took up the nodachi myself even though we were trained with it in my school."
"I understand you requested me for more than small chatter", Kedata said to get the topic back to the point.
Muzashi nodded in response and took a breath, as though preparing his words. "To begin with", he started, "Ayane here is not actually my servant. She comes from a small village across the inlet and she is looking for samurai. You see, pirates raided her village last autumn and took their food while also slaughtering those who resisted. The coming winter only worsened the situation as more people died from starvation and the cold. While the village has recovered somewhat, they will have no chance of surviving should the pirates come again. They cannot spare much, the best being meals and lodging for us. In return, they would ask for our protection."
Kedata listened intently the whole time, slowly nodding his head as he acknowledged everything Muzashi said as he spoke. When finally Muzashi finished speaking, he frowned and crossed his arms. While Ayane at first worried he had been offended, she realized that he was actually thinking.
"How many pirates are we going to be fighting?" he asked.
"Fifty are expected to arrive", Muzashi answered.
"And how many more samurai are you trying to find?"
"If you would join us, only three more."
Kedata nodded his head as he seemed to add those facts to some equation in his head he was trying to sort out. Finally he answered.
"I for one really care no interest in helping farmers who cannot even afford to pay me", he said slowly. "However, I have not had a true test of my strength or my steel for some time. My arm grows soft and my discipline relaxed. Fifty against five is a good challenge, and I for one would not want to miss it." Kedata gave a bow to Muzashi as he said, "my sword is yours for this battle."
Ayane was overcome with absolute joy at the response. Her head dropped to the floor as she repeatedly thanked him again and again. Kedata gave a wry smile and turned to Muzashi. "She really is desperate", he commented.
Muzashi nodded his head. "She has risked much for this, and what could come with failure is an even greater risk."