[Found on pinterest]
Age will weigh on a man far faster than he imagines it will. In all the years since he was banished from Oyashima, Mochizuki Shinobu toiled away building a new fortune. A fortune that was far smaller than he ever managed to accrue in the many decades of his long career before. The dark and bitter emotions of his consistent failures in life, and the betrayal of one he considered a brother weighed on him heavier than the years of his life. In this ripe age, where death is calling, Shinobu dreamed of having achieved so much more. Stealing away in the night, Shinobu acquires a vessel and a small team to accompany him on a voyage far away. It’s now, as he stares off into the misty horizon of the ocean, that he thinks back on his life.
Shinobu was raised as a peasant boy under his farmer parents. They were content to live a life of ‘just enough’, but he had aspirations for a far grander existence. At a young age of sixteen he was sent away - though his parents were content, they hadn’t the intention to keep him around. No, he was a troublesome boy for them. So he stepped out into the cruel, cold world to make something of himself.
What followed were some of the hardest years of his life, yet he was strong enough to persevere. Strong enough to make ends meet, lay out his possessions, and trade. For that’s what he was good at, though it was looked down upon in his society - a man should build his own trade, not thrive on the hard work of others. Yet here he was, a young man, merchanting to make a living. Grabbing whatever he could get his hands on, and through the power of persuasion, selling it for profit. These long years passed by, and eventually he made something for himself. A general trade store. He found himself a woman, Tsukasa, that he would fall in love with and eventually marry. Truly life was working out, albeit with great difficulty, yet still he was unsatisfied. Shinobu set out from his ancestral home to make a great legacy of himself, and barely getting by was no different than life on the farm. This frustrated him, for as hard as he worked, he could make no progress. He was only really a mediocre trader, and it seemed he hit his limits.
Then along came what would become his closest friend, a young man by the name of Yamashita Natsu. For at this point Shinobu was in his thirties, and this man seemed only in his twenties. Even so, Natsu appeared to have a power of persuasion and trade that exceeded his own, and for that reason Shinobu took him under his wing. It wasn’t long before Natsu’s skills were made apparent, nor was it long before Natsu became Shinobu’s peer - business partners, so to speak. Through Natsu’s guidance, Shinobu’s fortune grew exponentially. Together they thrived, and in the years to come Shinobu would realize the greatness he had always desired. For all the coin he made, he could not hope to spend it all if he tried for all his life. He’d go on to have a family of his own, three sons. They would one day go on to live great lives of their own, or so Shinobu hoped.
Days pass and Shinobu’s vessel lands in Oyashima. He wastes no time trying to make contacts in the capitol, concealing his presence and yet finding no old friends that would be willing to help him. Long taken out by his most despised rival - the man that gave him everything, only to take it away when it suited him best. In the market, in broad daylight, Shinobu was overcome by a mob. A mob that rushed out like a wave from all the alleys around him. No one stopped them. Far from peasants, the men in this mob were armed, and did away with Shinobu’s guards. Civilians looked away, continued their business, or hid in their homes, and Shinobu was dragged away screaming. The old man dropped his cane gifted by his grandson, the cherry-blossom-carved designs on its shaft, left behind on the streets to be stepped upon and lost forever.
Shinobu wasn’t particularly suited for the high life. He was never educated formally, never shown the ways of a nobler sort. He was only a peasant, after all, and even worse: a merchant - a man that makes his living off others’ hard work. The important men he now dealt with were hard to cooperate with, and he’d often lose his temper. Beyond his temperament, Shinobu couldn’t handle the intricacy of large trade deals, or managing a business larger than the ‘ma and pa’ shop he made on his own.
Master Yamashita Natsu, now an up and coming prodigy, and new leader of his clan, had conversely had no troubles adjusting to the high stress world they now found themselves in. Rather, he thrived in it. It wouldn’t take long before Natsu’s patience for Shinobu had run thin. Following the proposal of a new trade deal, Shinobu was cut out. Through legal loopholes and extensive court hearings, Shinobu’s assets were eventually transferred over to Yamashita Natsu. Overnight, Shinobu lost everything.
The grand life he dreamed of, of being seen as a wizened man of substantial worth in society, had collapsed all around him. The wealth he spent decades building was gone, his closest friend, who he thought of as a brother, betrayed him. Fearing the worst, Shinobu used his last connections in Oyashima to hire a guard and vessel, and sail away with his family.
Then the assassins struck. In the night as Shinobu and Tsukasa made their way through the country to the coast, they were surrounded by thugs dressed like peasants, but wielding expensive weapons. In the chaos, Tsukasa was slain - the assassins disemboweled her and let the blood spray. She crumpled in a heap, and the last thing Shinobu cared about was finally lost. Then Shinobu’s guards arrived and were able to fend them off - though not before Shinobu received a grievous wound to his hip. Unable to wait for his sons, Shinobu, broken, sailed for a new world: alone.
In the time he spent in the new lands, Arcas, and eventually Almaris, Shinobu toiled away building a small fortune, only to have it lost by the circumstances of these lands. Here he made friends, such as ‘Master Quavinir’, as Shinobu would’ve called him. Even more, he found old family and friends - being Solomon Takezo and the Matsuda clan, at first sent to assassinate him, but later moved to be allies again. As their clans had once been.
Years passed and yet he was unable to return home, to reclaim all that was taken from him. The years passed by and eventually Shinobu was overcome by age. He no longer had the strength to take it back. His life was wasted, his efforts squandered. Despair overcame him, and in these days he fell into dark connections, making deals with malevolent entities. However, the truth of his past never ceased to be laid bare and bleeding in his mind and heart. Eventually, despite the young ones’ willingness to do it for him, he decided he must go back home himself. Even without the strength to win, he knew he had to go. He knew that it was his responsibility to bear.
Seeing the young Matsuda Saiko with a family of her own, finally happy, made him proud. As if all that was lost was not truly lost, if only barely, because someone he knew and cared for was still going on. To an extent he could say the same for his grandson Solomon, though he showed signs of the same flaws and troubles he had in his time. Still, he had hope for him.
So he set sail alone, just as he had the first time he fled Oyashima after the death of his wife. This time, however, he was going back. Back to Oyashima. To face his sins, and his failures - to take responsibility and accept his dim fate.
“Welcome home, Shinobu-san.”
A deep voice echoes from the corners of this shadowy place. The dark corners of Oyashima. Where exactly this is, Shinobu isn’t sure. Though he recognizes this voice. Yamashita Natsu. Tied and bound, there’s nothing he could do but wait in that shack. Then the master of the clan appears, bearing all of his ceremonial garb.
“I’m sorry to see you like this. I’m sure neither of us planned to meet in this way.”
“Oho…” Shinobu chuckles his characteristic chuckle, though it is quiet. Beaten. “It looks like you did.”
“Untie him. Let us have a proper chat. We all know he isn’t long for this world. It’s only right that we do.”
With this command, Shinobu is untied by two of the men that took him here. Shinobu falls to his knees, unable to keep his balance as he is shoved out of his chair without the aid of his cane. Then Yamashita Natsu, bearing his Mengu, stares into the old man’s eyes. Unlike Shinobu, Natsu still seems strong and young. He grabs Shinobu’s arm, and begins pulling him to his feet.
“There’s nothing left to say.” Shinobu replies.
Then Shinobu pulls a blade from his robe and swipes. Natsu sees it coming. He grabs Shinobu’s wrist and squeezes. Shinobu cannot resist in his feeble age, and releases the blade. Even so, a deep, irrevocable fury burns in the old man’s eyes as he stares back into his old friend’s face.
“What happened to those dreams of yours? Did they bring you here? To me? What use were they, when you weren’t worthy enough to fulfill them?” Master Yamashita asks.
Taking the blade, the Fukumen Oni, Master Yamashita Natsu, plunges it into the depths of Mochizuki Shinobu’s throat, then leaves him there. Left to gurgle on his own blood, and die. An old man unfulfilled. His spirit was strong, but his potential wasn’t enough. The tragedy of dreams too ambitious.
To endure: Persist ceaselessly.
Stealth, or to conceal: Hide away, or perhaps even delude oneself or others.
Mochizuki: “Full Moon”, or its components, “desire, wish”, and “moon”.
Is it the right thing, then, to persist in the pursuit of one’s desires and dreams? Even if you must delude yourself into believing they are possible?
[[If you enjoyed that at all, here's the follow-up I did a while back as well:]]