Characters: Jin and Mugen
Rating: R -- for very explicit sword violence, bad language, and a kiss.
Word Count: 5,996
Summary: Jin visits a shrine to pray for the dead while stopping in town to reforge his sword.
Disclaimer: I do not own nor make money off of Samurai Champloo
A/N: 合縁奇縁 aienkien -- "Uncannily good relationship made by fate from an unlikely joining of people." The title is from a Japanese "yojijukugo", just as the titles from the anime are. I just wanted to use the literal translation for the title as it actually, oddly enough, fits the piece better. This takes place after the end of the series. Yes... this is not a historically accurate piece.
This was quick-read by mysocalledhell, beta'ed by 2metaldog, and omega'ed by gogoangelgunboy. I'll admit that there's now stuff in this that none of the three have seen, so all the mistakes are my own.
This was also a kiriban for 10,000 hits on Y!Gallery for hartofthewud. Her prompts were: Floating Shrine, pearl netsuke, practicing katas, and a secret desire. It would be nice to have both Jin and Mugen, but if you want just one main chara, then Jin plz. and NC-17 or R, whichever seems best.
In the cool of pre-dawn, the protected bay waters around the Floating Itsukushima Shrine were mirror still. It looked as if there were a twin shrine in the water, another world that could hold all kinds of possibilities. Jin stood on the shore. The sky was dark, hinting of silver and light on the edge of the sea. The scent of salt, of the decay and life of the ocean, and the new morning breeze filled his lungs.
It had been three months since the three of them had parted ways at the crossroads just north of the ferry to Ikitsuki Island. Three months of wearing different clothing; carrying a stranger's soul; and looking for, finding, and using a place to reforge his broken sword. Three months of wondering when their strange fate would catch up with them again, would bring them together again.
It had not.
Before the Island, they'd only ever gone a few days, at most a week, before meeting up again in some fight, in some brothel or casino or gambling den. He still remembered the time Fuu had shown up, spilled from a silken sedan, unfurled from bolt of cloth to sprawl in the thrower's position. How she'd taken it all in at a glance, bared her arm, and thrown the dice, decided the fate of all present.
She'd always done that. Even with that stupid coin at the beginning, for all that she'd cheated on that throw, she'd brought them together.
Some part of his mind wondered if she was now dead, if that was why his wanderings didn't bring them back together again. If the only friends he'd ever had were now buried or burned in straw mats. He could hear Mugen snickering at the thought, Just bring the bastards on. Yes, that one was hard to kill.
For a moment the memory of what it was like to fight Mugen flowed through his mind like clean water washing open a choked gutter. The sheer focus, speed, and stretch well beyond what Jin could plan for made his heart beat faster, his breathing move just a little deeper. Fighting against Mugen had been nearly as good as fighting side-by-side with him, though neither had been as good as being sword brothers with the man.
The sun came up on the water, blazing and bright, with the promise of a sweltering August day. Other folks lined up at the entrance to the shrine, wanting to get their Oban prayers done for the day. An old woman, a cluster of young mothers with children like ducklings about their feet, three women of the flower and cloud world, their four inked guards, and three solders in Shogunate uniforms all waited quietly for the shrine gates to open with the first light of sun.
Jin had plenty of dead to pray for, never mind the missing living. As the gates to the Itsukushima Shrine opened, he walked across the bridge and composed his mind.
The old woman, one of the girls with a guard, and only one of the Shogun's soldiers all stopped at the spring of sweet water at the entrance. The rest of the people went on to the offering hall, rather than stop and purify themselves, perhaps they had no need. Water ran from a bamboo pipe that was nestled under one of the hand rails of the bridge.
Everyone allowed the old woman to go first. She took the dipper from the side of the man-made spring and filled it with water. She poured the water over each hand to wash them in the flow. Then she poured water into her hand to put to her mouth, which she used to rinse and spit into the sea. Her motions were decisive, firm, and purposeful.
Jin waited silently and studied the others. He noticed that the waiting soldier had a useful, balanced stance; but only looked to see what was in front of him. The young guard was lazy, off-balance, and he was too tightly focused on the girl, not the environment around them. On his obi hung a pouch of silk in shibori patterns of gold and blue. The drawstring was weighted with a freshwater pearl netsuke in the shape of a mermaid, monstrous mouth wide even as the flukes glistened with a hint of sleek scales. The girl had the beginnings of the grace that would be her lot in life, but her attention was directed at the boy, not the things or people about her.
Jin's eyes narrowed just a little at the wealth that the little netsuke indicated, the Yakuza in town were doing well indeed. Perhaps it wasn't just this one soldier that could only see what was right in front of him. The girl and her guard cleansed themselves. The girl smiled at the touch of water on her hands, and the young guard smiled at her. They spat into the sea together, and then walked on to the hall.
The soldier glanced down at Jin's daisho with no emblem or ensignia; and stepped up to the spring first, washing properly and not bending far before spitting into the waves. He moved on toward the offering hall. Now alone, Jin bowed over the cleansing water. The cool clarity of it soothed something within him even as it ran over his long fingers. He cupped his right hand, poured into it, and took a mouthful of the sweetness. He was tempted to swallow, as much of the water coming from the hills in this sea city was far from clean, but he followed convention, tradition, rinsed and spat his sins into the sea.
Cleansed, Jin moved on.
The offering hall glowed crimson and gold, and he heard quiet voices in the building. He left his shoes at the threshold on one of the provided shelves, alongside all the others. He bowed under the curtain.
People were already praying. Most silently, but the girls, now together again, giggled, and made the newcomer clap to catch the attention of the kami.
Jin threw a few copper into the offering bowl. He bowed twice deeply to the shrine, clapped twice, bowed once more, and then settled himself to pray.
He filled his mind with the motions of his body breathing, the muscles in his gut and back still ached after the cuts Kagetoki had given him. His shoulders and back ached from all the lifting and work he'd been doing at the blacksmith's. They were fitting sensations to offer the dead killer and his own dead and soon-to-be reborn blade. With his usual discipline Jin filled his mind with the dead. His parents first, vague memories from long ago of warmth, patience, and quiet discipline. He slowly let go of that warmth and filled his mind with Enshirou-shishou, the solid authority of the man which had directed so many of his days. His memory led to the recollection of all those Jin had killed. And then, like a curtain of rain blowing through and cleansing the thick air, were thoughts of Sara and her lost child.
Prayers for the dead. Jin was never quite sure what to pray for them. They were dead, some by his hand, others not. They were gone, no longer here. May what meets you across the shore be better than what was here. May you find a place to belong in your next life, or a Way to let it all go. May you find which pains make you stronger, or freedom from them all.
Duty done, he left, watching his own reflection in the water until the walkway ran out, and the walk to the blacksmith's was engrained, now. He simply walked, dodging dogs, children, and other people without much thought.
The dragon's breath of the forge greeted him as he stepped in the door. He was glad of his rough brown yakuta as he was instantly drenched in sweat, even as he went by the living quarters to drop his things off.
"Jin!" called Matagi. The squat man looked like a fire troll, and he cackled as he bounded towards Jin, voice loud in the din. "Today's the day, no? Time to see if the blade will take its edge."
"Hn." Jin voiced his agreement as he usually did. Matagi chuckled and whacked Jin on the back.
Jin stepped over to fill the hungry maw of the furnace. It was his main job, and better to do as early as possible when the day was still not too hot. There was metal in the crucibles and Matagi would be displeased if they solidified. His pay for the menial work was Matagi's permission to use the materials and tools of his trade.
When he was done with the fire, Jin sat down with his formed blade. The bevels were straight; the blade itself far straighter than he'd expected it to be. But it fit the forms he'd been shown to emulate. It was heavier than it had been. In order to incorporate the old metal he'd had Matagi go ahead and melt what he'd been able to find of the old blade. Matagi had refused to let him see when the blacksmith layered the old with the new, hard steel, but he'd told Jin that he'd put in the seven folds for luck and longevity. Matagi then made Jin forge the layered metal out into this straight and strange sword, after having spent weeks beating thick bars into thinner, longer ones for use by others. Jin had gone to bed so sore those days that he had dreamed of trying to sleep at his childhood dojo.
Now the new sword was beveled in width and thickness from just above the tang in both directions. Jin had already done the first heat treatments. The difficult one, the one where the edge could crack, was still to come; and Matagi had sworn that the sword would find its spine and bend properly when it was done. Jin cleaned it up, took the black scale off all the surfaces, and then used a file to gradually make the edge true from tip to the notches for the hand guards, time consuming work. When it was all straight he went to the tub of clay, and took the covers off, holding his breath against the initial stench.
Jin applied a layer of clay to the spine, thick on the spine and gradually thinning as he worked it toward the edge. He always stayed at least a pinky's width away from the edge, but worked the clay in a rolling wave along the side. He did it in a pleasing, random pattern, swells rippling down the length of the steel.
When the hot metal was quenched in water, the bare steel should harden more than that which was protected by the clay; leaving the edge hard and near white, the spine soft and dark. The softer spine would allow the sword to bend and not break with each strike. This was a different blade than the one he had before, though built on the bones of the old. Near the hilt, perhaps in memory of a painted symbol on a rooftop, Jin washed away two rings of clay, leaving a dot in the center of each ring. He didn't have to be entirely traditional.
For the first time in a long time Jin's lip quirked up at that thought.
"Hey! Coal!" Matagi yelled.
Jin nodded at Matagi and went back to work, shoveling more chunk coal into the furnace. The roaring mouth of it spat sparks and licked his skin with tongues of flame.
Sweat poured off Jin by the time he was done, and from the last few weeks' experience, he went immediately to the water trough and just lay in the water until he didn't feel like he was going to boil in his own skin. Then he drank from the spout until he could drink no more.
He panted there, wet through, and when he got out, the water on his skin helped him cool off more. The heat and humidity in August was oppressive. Away from the roar of the furnace and the hammering of the other workers, the thrum of the cicadas was omnipresent
"Lunch!!" Matagi capered through the work room, and everyone else followed more slowly. The lunches were plain, but it was food and Jin never needed that much to fill him up. The rice balls were good and salty, and the pickles strong enough to make eating interesting.
After lunch, everyone went to take their naps.
Jin lay on his mat until he heard snoring all around him. He picked up Kasumi-san's daisho from its stand and went out into the bamboo forest at the edge of town. Fuu had insisted that he take her father's soul. He had been dubious at first, as the soul of a samurai lured into a foreign religion could be suspect. Its nature could have been blunted by a god that had had himself killed for peace.
But the blades had proven excellent, well-made, heavier than his own, and a bit longer. The balance was neither too eager nor too reluctant, hanging exactly from his grip, whereas his old blade was balanced just a bit to the fore. He'd had to train with them, over and over, to retrain his reactions using them. He'd put aside his short blade, figuring that he should not part the pair. His strikes were slower, hitting deeper than he'd liked, but with work and the bamboo for targets, he'd found his distance again with these blades and where the fulcrum point was. Changes to his accustomed ways, but he would have to change again for his new blade, so he welcomed the chance.
Besides, Jin enjoyed doing kata.
He started with the stretching, remembering Mugen's constant obsession with flexing, bending, pulling at injuries, making sure that when they healed, they'd heal capable. He stretched, feeling the ache and pull against scar material through his whole body; pulling against a lifetime's worth of scars, never mind that his life was only twenty-one years long, they were plenty.
He bent his neck to all sides, rolled his shoulders in the round. Arms, forearms, wrists and hands were all flexed and rotated to their fullest extent, and then again as everything warmed and flowed properly. The stranger motions, that Mugen had shown him when they'd been healing so slowly on the Island, followed the standard stretches. They were twisting motions and balancing stances he couldn't do nearly as far or as well as the more flexible man, but he'd been making progress in the last few months.
Jin took his starting stance and then began a series of basic kata. First the single person kata, cuts to all the parts of the body, block positions for all angles, and basic evasions. Then, what would’ve normally been partnered kata, done in pairs; the seme, who took the side that learned the lesson being taught by the kata, and the uke, who made the motions the student needed to understand why they moved as they did. The Mujuushin school paired kata were secrets, so he rarely did more than one or two in a practice session, and even then he would only do one side of it. Just a seme or uke sequence rarely made as much sense, even to a well-practiced watcher, as both done together.
He missed having a partner for the more advanced kata. Jin suspected that there were no longer any other people alive that remembered all of them. Even he had lost some of the more obscure ones without someone to practice them against or teach. Mugen had had no patience for the regulated, steady movements, and Fuu... Jin just shook his head. For a samurai's daughter, she'd had remarkably little patience for a samurai lady's arts.
It was slow work, but work that Jin could lose himself in once his body warmed up and everything started to flow. Breath and motion were coordinated with all his limbs, balance, and the center of his body in order to stage each sequence solidly. All thought was driven from his mind as he walked his Path.
Running feet, shouts, and the ring of blades made Jin wonder, just for a split second, if it was Mugen come back – the way the sound of a fight always did. Then the young guard and the girl from the shrine stumbled into the shade of the bamboo forest, covered in sweat and gasping for air in the heat. Breathless shouts sounded nearby.
The girl's eyes went wide at finding him. The boy got his bloody sword up, hands shaking and in terrible position. There was a notch in the clean edge of the blade, and Jin winced at the damage -- the boy had been lucky to get himself and the girl away unharmed.
His eyes flicked toward the waving tops of bamboo. "You have a dozen following you. Would you care to hire me as your body guard?"
The boy blinked, the sword tip coming down uncertainly.
"I'd just require that pearl netsuke and five monme."
The girl's eyes went wide. "Just five mon for... a dozen deaths?"
Jin shrugged, "I don't need much." It would be plenty for the fittings for his sword.
The boy was busy with the strings of his pouch, hands shaking. At a shout of discovery, he cursed and cut the little, ugly figure off the strings. He dipped into the pouch for five silver coins that he placed in Jin's palm with the netsuke. His hands were soft.
"Just to let us get away, and then you are free of the contract," the boy said, formally with the tones and nuances of a Yakuza first son to a retainer. The girl squeaked and pulled at the boy's arm when she saw the colors of their pursuers clothing flashing through the stems. She nearly sent his pouch flying.
Jin gave a single nod.
He let the pursuers come to him. No point in exerting unduly in this heat, and the shade after the sun in the clearing around the glade would only help him as they would take an instant to adjust to the darkness.
The first two hadn't even drawn their swords when they drowned in a welter of their own blood. From darkest shadow, he swung hard and fast at the first man's throat, not so deep as to hit and stop at the spine; and on the momentum of the backstroke he lodged a stop thrust right above the collarbones of the second. A quick yank and the man fell. Jin made sure these, at least, couldn't warn the ones behind.
The rough voice was unexpected but deeply familiar. "Having fun without me, huh, four-eyes?"
Jin snorted, touched the bridge of his empty nose on reflex, it had been a while since he'd lost the glasses. He hadn't had the funds, yet, to replace them. Trust Mugen not to notice.
Four men came crashing in on them. Them. His blood beat faster as Mugen ran into his peripheral vision, swayed back with his unique grace to avoid a swing, and gutted the standing man like a pole-axed steer. Jin had to drag his gaze away as two tattooed men moved towards him. They looked a bit more like they knew what they were doing; so instead of letting them rush him at the same time, he went directly for the closer one, hands high for a strike to the head.
The first man reacted, committing to a traditional horizontal block with his blade; it left his belly wide open. Jin simply changed his angle, mid-strike, avoiding the other man's blade entirely. Belly cuts hit no bone, so Jin's blade came free easily for the second man. The falling body of the first even hid the motion of the blade from the second, and Jin went straight in beneath the sternum, popping the man's heart from under his ribs.
"Neatnik," Mugen scoffed. "Hey, you gonna loot 'em or what?"
"I need to finish my sword in town. So they must all die."
Mugen's eyes narrowed, but he nodded. There were dark smudges under those familiar eyes, the ever-present chin scruff rougher, but Mugen's hair was still curled in that wild mane.
Mugen shook his head. "Nah, good riddance."
"Hn." The cocky stance and tone told Jin that Mugen missed the scolding nuisance of a girl as much as he did.
He saw Mugen's head mirror his own motion as birds burst away a few yards off; then several cawed in sequence in the opposite direction, further away.
"I'll get Runnin' Boy." Mugen disappeared.
Jin didn't waste time either, and ran towards where the first set of birds had burst from cover; the urgency and heat of the fight overrode the heat of the day. He saw two men talking to each other, gesturing with bared blades. He went in swinging, using his momentum to gut one man, splattering the other with blood. The second man had backed himself into cover, surrounded on three sides by dozens of big stalks of bamboo. He grinned out at Jin, expecting him to balk at trying to swing through branches or wrist-sized stems.
Jin stepped sideways. The man frantically tried to maneuver his blade around, but Jin simply struck straight into the thicket, skewering him before he could free his blade of the obstructions. Jin went in and quickly finished him.
He looked up, saw more tops waving, and wondered how they could be so stupid as to keep advertising their position.
Jin found out why when he was attacked halfway to where he'd seen the movement. A rustle of leaves made him leap to the side, and he heard the unmistakable hiss of a blade cutting through air, felt the delicate tug as it severed a lock of his hair.
The world slowed, sharpened for Jin as he jumped, struck. The other dodged, blade swinging around, using the momentum of the dodge as a counter-weight, causing the blade to come at Jin even faster. He dropped and the blade whistled again, now overhead. He kept moving, borrowing one of Mugen's moves in a back flip that pulled him out of the man's charging strike distance. A glint in his peripheral vision caused him to yank violently to the other side, and this time, a line of fire traced along his arm. Not deep. His arm still moved to his volition, and he heard the thunk of his blade hitting bone. Shit.
Jin tugged just once, and when the body would not let go, he did. He rolled to the side away from the body attached to his sword; he felt the thud of something hitting the ground he'd been on. His attacker took too long a moment to swear, as Jin's wakizashi took him through the throat, silencing the curses.
The severed lock of Jin's hair touched the ground.
Jin's eyes swept the area. He sighed.
A body hit the ground in front of him, Mugen landing just after it on all fours, glancing up at Jin. "That should be it. Got the runner, too." And then. "Never seen you do that before."
Jin felt his cheeks warm as Mugen straightened and sauntered closer.
"Didn't know that stick up your ass could bend like that."
Jin watched as Mugen came in close, and he could smell the sour breath of one who was near starvation. They'd both smelled of it on the road a few times too often. "You need food, first." He knelt by the body even as he heard Mugen chuckle and felt the ghost of a touch that didn't quite land on his hair.
"Getting practical in our old age, are we?"
"Not really," Jin answered absentmindedly. The body had been an older man with a missing finger and a plethora of symbols tattooed on his skin. His throat had been cut from both sides, hitting vein and artery, so he'd died instantly. Not the work of some young, unpracticed guard, much less the soft hands of what was probably the boss' son.
"If you found a mob underling killed by an assassin's sword-work with the personal effects of the boss's son in his hand, what would you think?"
Mugen scratched the back of his head. "Bought by the next guy over and fucked when he handed over the prize."
"Hn." Jin pulled out the pearl netsuke. He broke the strings hanging off it, so that they were raveled, not cut, as if it had been pulled off the young man's pouch, and then wrapped the dead hand around it.
"That's a few meals there," Mugen observed before he moved off, efficiently stripping valuables off all the bodies scattered through the bamboo. Jin held the dead hand in place for several minutes until the fingers stayed curled around the object. It was a strangely intimate action.
In a few hours, the body would have a literal death's grip on the pearl netsuke.
Jin then went over to the body that held Kasumi-san's blade and managed to loosen it from the bone it was jammed in. He studied the blade uneasily; it had chosen a bad time to become stuck. He cleaned it and put it back in its scabbard as Mugen's footsteps approached again. Jin heard Mugen chewing; someone must have carried a snack with them when on the job.
"Pretty good haul." Mugen opened his hands to show silver and copper to make up nearly a whole ryo. The yakuza here were, indeed, well off.
"You have a plan?" Jin asked as they found a stream, left their stuff on the shore, waded in and washed off the worst of the blood. Mugen's clothing now clung to the curve of his ass, the sharpness of his hip, and the edge of his ribs. Jin's brown cotton yakuta was already smudged and patterned so the blood didn't show; wet, the cloth plastered against the new muscles he'd developed in the last few months. He could feel Mugen's eyes on him, and he looked up coolly.
Mugen smirked, a challenging glint in his eye. "A big-tit whore and as much sake as the dead guys'll buy me."
Jin nodded calmly, ignoring the challenge. "I should be able to heat-finish my sword tonight. That will buy me the time."
Mugen crowed. "So you're gonna quench your blade while I use mine!"
Jin gave an exasperated growl.
And then Mugen was on him, mouth sweet from the rice, but teeth and tongue battling with his mouth for dominance. Jin struck back, a hard, sharp nip across both of Mugen's lips. Then choosing the moment when Mugen had to open his teeth to clash with his, Jin's tongue darted into the amalgam of sweet rice, sour hunger, and that sea salt depth that had always been a part of Mugen.
The moan from Mugen sounded, as always, half-strangled, unwilling; and Jin simply delved deeper, even against clashing teeth, until the growling groan lowered further. Mugen's hands clenched on Jin's shoulders, and when the kiss broke Mugen swore, "You fucker, why the hell you want me to find another pox-ridden whore when we could..."
Jin put a finger on Mugen's lips and got it bit. He yelped and Mugen grinned at him in a way that made Jin's already hard cock twitch.
Mugen growled and wrapped his tongue around Jin's finger. Jin let slip a startled breath that made Mugen's grin even more unrepentant.
Jin explained with what patience he could gather. "I will not release until after the sword is made. It would spoil the energy of the soul itself if I were not celibate."
"Idiot pretend-priest, ice boy, fucking stick-up-your-ass prick." Mugen's swearing was almost a chant.
"You have the money for a whore. Go use it."
"An' what the fuck're you gonna do about this?"
The familiar, intimate touch up Jin's cock made him gasp; but he gritted his teeth and said, "Ignore it. It will go away–like you. I will meet you just before dawn. Matagi's."
The metal glowed hot, shedding light through the dark work area. Jin worked the bellows of the furnace; his energy had been high ever since he'd seen Mugen. Even without the nap everyone else had had, he was awake and aware, and his need drove him even late into the summer night.
Matagi had thrown the clay-covered sword into the furnace, and moved it about the inferno with a blackened, bent pair of tongs. Jin could see him singing full-blast against the flames, but only snatches of the song came through between the roar of the fire and the wheezing of the bellows. Jin's arms were starting to shake after pumping so much air onto the coals.
The metal had to get 'hot enough'. Matagi had spoken of the unique light when it was right, which was why they had to do it at night. The little, round man had talked about the life-loving stone that would no longer cling when the sword could bring death to others. But Jin had thought that just a story, a myth. The smith had shown him the ugly lump of black stone that clung to the blade to begin with. Each time they'd tested it Jin had had to pry it off with tongs that grew hot simply coming near the shaped bar of metal. Each successive test had made Jin more and more impatient.
Matagi made to bring the blade out again. Jin backed away from the bellows and let the man touch the glowing metal to the stone again. The lump lay on the hearth like a scornful lover.
Matagi roared nearly as loudly as the furnace, and plunged the glowing metal, still covered in the clay Jin had put on that afternoon, into the water barrel. On contact, the water exploded into steam, billowing up to the ceiling, spreading in all directions like some cloud spirit furious about being caught in a room. Gradually steam cleared to show the water boiling furiously about the intrusion.
Eventually the waters stilled. Matagi slapped Jin's fingers away as Jin reached for the tang and shouted, "You'll boil yer fingers off, idiot."
Slow steam rose lazily from the barrel, as Matagi reached in with the tongs to fish the sword out. It was now, miraculously, curved in the proper manner. The clay had cracked and broken, scrubbed off in the boiling, and where the blade was bared Jin could see the delicate cloud-edge of the hamon hanging in gentle waves like the smoke from a pipe, the boundary between the softer, darker metal and the keen, hard white. The little infinity sign at the base before the tang was cloudy and white against the dark metal. Mugen would be insufferable once he saw that.
Matagi found a thick rag and wrapped it one-handed about his fist before he grabbed the tang. The rag steamed where it touched the metal. He leaned forward into the furnace's light and nodded as he studied the surface.
He took it away from the furnace, and Jin trailed behind, feeling irritable and anxious for it all to be done. When they were far enough that speech was possible again, Matagi said, "Finish the temperin' in the oil. Give it an edge, and then test it. The edge seems solid so far, you need to boil it in the oil at least a couple of times, and then you'll be done. Heh... whoda thought some high 'n mighty samurai would boil his own sword in oil like some low-class cook boy?"
Jin fell asleep during the first soak. His own growing sense of urgency woke him up in time to feed the fire under the pot, and refill the incense clock. He used bamboo tongs to pull the hot blade from the oil to allow it to cool. When he could just handle it, he put it back into the oil pot. Another hour passed in a caught cat nap, another cooling period, and one last soak.
Jin knew that the proper creation of the edge for the weapon was an artistry all its own, but he wasn't sure he had the time. Using the roughest of the water stones, he went to work under what light he could find. He'd fixed dings and damage to his sword before, but had never established a first edge. The steel was good and hard, resisting even the harsh surface; but now Jin was grateful for all the shaping they'd done before the firing, the edge was in good shape.
Jin fell into the familiar rhythm of the maintenance work of any fighter's blade, and gradually the shaping grew more and more right. It was a different blade, a little longer, the bevels and angles of it were the ones he'd put into it when drawing it from the layered steel. He'd given it just a little less stiff a spine, a little more edge, perhaps a bit more like the way he was now. His in a new way.
Jin stopped at a functional edge, cleaning and oiling the new blade. He had finer stones in his kit for later, when he would polish it properly. He fixed the fittings on the tang, including his two-eyed tsuba from the old sword. He took thread for the hand grip braid, coiling it and shoving it into his inro. Jin didn't question that sense that he had to finish and finish quickly. The bare wooden handle would do in a fight for now.
With the fittings on, he put his right hand under the hand guard, and the sword balanced exactly within his hand without any additional counterweights or work. With both hands, he swung it through three strikes, and then he paused; in motion, the sword moved just that fraction more to the fore that couldn't be caught in static weights or measures, just as it had before.
Jin left five silver mon in the shop's register, for the materials he had taken. He took off and folded the brown working yukata by his rolled futon and put on the kimono that Fuu had given him when they'd parted. He put Kasumi-san's daisho in the back of his obi, and his new sword and old wakizashi into drawing position. He had a feeling the luck had run out on Kasumi-san's swords, and he trusted his instincts on those sorts of things.
Following those same instincts, he went to the door, the stars were still bright in the darkness to the west, toward the dark iron sea. The edge of the eastern sky brightened, and the fire of the sun spilled over the waters, tempering them into steel and bright silver. The sun came for the day; just as he knew that Mugen would come, be it karma, instinct, or a fuck he didn't have to pay for. Jin felt himself almost smile, hearing that last in that familiar growl; and then he heard that growl outside of his head.
"Damnit, girl, hold still... fucking noisy bitch..." Mugan laughed.
"Stop calling me names you smelly old pirate. What are you... where do you think... just Put. Me. Down. This. Instant! I can walk... I want to... Why don't you ever listen to me..."
At the familiar wail, Jin straightened; the sword shifted against his hip and he put a hand to it, feeling its balance. This was created by his will, made of fire, water, and earth, uniting and perfecting them. Tested, changed, grounded -- the ritual was now complete. He moved forward, through the door of the forge and out into the street.