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Ring-of-sky
Spoiler warning!
This article contains spoilers.

The Ring of Sky will be the eighth and last book in the Five Rings saga of the Young Samurai Series.

It was released in August 2012.

Synopsis

Summer, 1615.

The port of Nagasaki is within reach, but the Shogun's samurai are closing in fast for the kill. So too is Jack's old school rival, Kazuki. Every road is blocked and every mountain pass guarded as Jack makes his final dash for safety.

But, with all of Japan hunting him, he's going to need a miracle to survive. And, even if he reaches the end of the road, will there be a ship bound for home? Or will he be burned at the stake first?

Plot

Having successfully escaped Pirate Island in the previous book, Jack and friends run into a tempest in the Seto Seas, which capsized their skiff after a brief struggle. Washed ashore, Jack quickly makes for a nearby cave to elude his pursuers. After surviving the incoming waves lashing into the cave, he manages to finally escape back onto dry land, where he would meet Benkei for the first time.

The two introduce themselves to each other before fleeing down the coastline, where Benkei mentions that they are presently on Kyushu Island, and says that their best chance of escape at the moment would be through the town of Beppu, a popular location known for its spas. They simultaneously dodge and weave through various obstacles while keeping track of the pursuing samurai patrol, before being finally cornered in an alley.

They both manage to lose the patrol, entering the Nine Hells of Beppu. A brief skirmish would ensue as both of them tried hard not to fall into any of the "pools of hell", until they finally run into "Tatsumaki Jigoku", the Tornado Hell. Recalling his experience during the gasshuku in The Way of Fire, Jack teaches Benkei the mantra to protect one's self from heat, and they make it through the walls of steam.

Afterwards Benkei questions Jack about his fighting abilities, and why the Shogun was so desperate to kill him, to which Jack answers. Thinking about his supposedly dead friends for a moment, Benkei breaks Jack out of his reverie by offering to be his guide to Nagasaki.

They then make their way to Yufuin, where along the way Benkei demonstrates to Jack his abilities as a conjuror. Once there, he tells Jack to keep a lookout for doshin or patrols, and gets to work in order to earn some money. As the crowd grew bigger and more funds poured in, Jack notices a doshin patrol arriving and whistles to Benkei, who looks up in alarm.

Immediately Jack is attacked by an unknown assailant behind him. They fight for a while before the assailant counters Jack;s wristlock and pins him to the ground. Stunned, Jack turns his face to look up at his attacker, who turns out to be Sensei Kyuzo,who is using the alias "Renzo".

Sensei Kyuzo, along with his lackeys, then bring Jack to the local bugyo's office, who is surprised that Sensei Kyuzo had managed to capture the gaijin samurai (but not Benkei). He charges Jack with the offence of illegal gambling and orders the punishment of yubitsume, which is the shortening of the little finger. To Jack's utter disbelief, Sensei Kyuzo severed his finger soon afterwards, and he was thrown into a cell, shaken by the experience.

Benkei then returns, revealing that he had stayed hidden all this while. He finds a kunai which Jack accepts. Jack then tells him that it is prudent he recover his belongings before they leave, with Benkei agreeing to wait for him until sunrise.

While approaching the private office of the bugyo, Sensei Kyuzo appears from a hidden alcove and stalks towards him. Holding up his bandaged hand as a sign of peace, Jack says that Kyuzo is supposed to be his sensei, and not his enemy, hence, why did he cut off his fingertip? He then further asks if Sensei Kyuzo has lost all respect for bushido.

Sensei Kyuzo retorts that since the Battle of Osaka, he had been forced to go on the run for fear of reprisal, and became a doshin, serving someone who isn't a true warrior at heart, emphasizing his loss of status. He then says that the capture of Jack will guarantee his redeem of status - to become a respected samurai once more.

Jack is shocked at his former teacher's vendetta being that of loss of face, then goes on to say that by turning him in, he has turned his back on bushido and betrayed Masamoto. Sensei Kyuzo says that he owes the legend no allegiance, since he surrendered and went into exile. Jack retorts the former claim, stating that Masamoto never surrendered, and if defeat was so shameful, Sensei Kyuzo should have committed seppuku himself.

Sensei Kyuzo cracks his knuckles and states that he has an old score to settle first. He then engages Jack in combat. He initially gains the upper hand, but Jack fights back with his ninjutsu skills, which Sensei Kyuzo has no answer for. He manages to right himself however, when the bugyo's Akita dog charges in. Jack dodges the animal, which goes on to bite Sensei Kyuzo. His taijutsu master then kills the dog before pouncing on Jack and executing Yoko Sankaku Jime, a triangular choke. On the verge of death, Jack grabs his kunai and stabs it into Sensei Kyuzo's leg, freeing him.

Sensei Kyuzo then goads Jack to kill him, but the latter knocks him unconscious instead, stating that he still respects his sensei. Gathering his belongings, he and Benkei then make good their escape.

They journey on for 7 days, reaching the Aso caldera, where upon a far ridge, Jack notices that they have company. Both of them run, utilizing the ninja technique of Dragon Breathing to sprint faster. Jack suggests that they run into the Aso peaks to lose their pursuers. They soon reach a narrow rope bridge when Oda Kazuki emerges from the fog. Soon, the rest of Kazuki's patrol emerge, those being Nobu, Hiroto, Goro and Raiden, Toru missing having drowned in The Ring of Water.

They trade barbs before Kazuki reveals that he has captured Sensei Kano as well, but spared Sensei Kyuzo as the latter was his favorite teacher.

Jack and Kazuki then engage each other, with Kazuki seizing the advantage owing to Jack's weakened grip. Juat as Kazuki aims for Jack's heart, Jack slashed his katana at a supporting rope on the bridge, causing it to collapse. Rammed repeatedly on the rock face, Jack barely manages to climb back up with encouragement from Benkei, before realizing that Kazuki had survived on the other side too.

After surviving the chasm, Jack and Benkei climed Naka-dake's summit and descended its far slopes, forcing Kazuki and his gang to find another way through. Taking a break, Benkei asks Jack the reason behind Kazuki's immense hatred for Jack. Jack answers that it was due to a foreigner having spread his disease to Kazuki's mother, killing her.. When Benkei snorts that Jack had nothing to do with this, he answers back that he wasn't just a gaijin - he was a gaijin samurai, and the first one, a disease that is to be wiped out, like how Shogun Kamakura and Sensei Kyuzo thought of him.

Benkei then says that samurai are arrogant, and that he never knew of his mother, but he never went around blaming samurai for this. Jack then asks Benkei about his mother, and he says that his real mother, a samurai, abandoned him, and his father was a lowly farmworker - he was their unwanted fruit.

Jack is amazed that Benkei seemed to be a samurai, but that is immediately shot down by Benkei, who says that he isn't a farmer too, and doesn't fit anywhere in society. He did however, survive to become a fine conjuror, and gives a mikan to Jack with a flick of his wrist. After eating the sweet fruit, the two resume their journey.

Making their way across a dirt track near a gorge, the two were forced to hide in a farmer's cart to avoid detection. Unfortunately, their cart would be inspected by an official and his samurai. Benkei is wounded by one of their spears, and Jack wipes off the blood on its tip, else they would be instantly discovered. After travelling some distance, Jack and a pale faced Benkei dismounted, only to have Kazuki's gang come dangerously close to them, and they were forced to run again into the forest.

Coming to a junction they were urged by an old man to hide inside his house for shelter, who then tends to Benkei's wounds and gives Jack food. He knows of Jack's identity, and introduces himself as Shiryu. Shiryu then insists that Jack stays until Benkei has recovered fully.

The next morning, Jack witnesses Shiryu practising calligraphy, learning the principle of "dochu no sei" (Stillness in Motion) in progress. He then invites Jack to try his hand out at it. After his first attempt, Shiryu commends Jack, saying that he has the samurai swordsman within him due to his decisiveness.

Checking on Benkei, the latter reveals that Shiryu is actually the most famous Shodo master in all of Kyushu. Soon, Jack decides that he needed to practice his swordplay, for the loss of his little finger caused his grip to weaken, and was a huge disadvantage against Kazuki.

Jack soon grows increasingly frustrated with how flawed his kata was, having lost the fine control he spent the past couple years in training. He starts to give up when Shiryu offers him assistance. When Jack questions how a Shodo master what he knows about the Way of The Sword, Shiryu simply smiles and replies "everything."

Shiryu then suggests Jack hold his sword like he would hold a brush. While unused to the new grip at first, Jack eventually gets his kata free flowing again, soon achieving the final move without a single mistake. As a bonus, Shiryu tells Jack he could even reverse the wakizashi in his grip to confuse opponents, to which Jack grins at the radical idea.

After learning more about the art of Shodo , Jack bids farewell to Shiryu and leaves his abode with Benkei. They soon encounter Junjun who is captured by a group of bandits. After Jack drives them off, a grateful Junjun tells the two about her kabuki troupe. Jack then notices that one of the bandits he fought managed to flee. Worried, they leave Junjun on her way and carry on, but do not go far when they are surrounded and trapped by the bandits' reinforcements, including their leader. To Jack's dismay, Junjun has also been recaptured.

The bandit leader snags Jack's Shizu blade and declares that he will perform tameshigiri on the three to prove if the legend of a Shizu blade's sharpness is true. Before he can do that, however,he is killed by an arrow to the throat. They turn to see a samurai clad in a blue suit of armor, methodically taking down the bandits one by one. After the outlaws are gone for good, the samurai reveals herself to be Akiko.

Characters

Characters in order of appearance. An asterisk * indicates a new character.

Be warned - SPOILERS ahead if you have not read the book!

Trivia

  • A very early draft synopsis of the book had Anjin listed as a character. Author Chris Bradford has confirmed that there was no such person in the final edition.
  • Oda Kazuki is the character on the cover. With that, he completes the Five Rings. (Soke in Earth, Ronin in Water, Akuma in Fire, Tatsumaki in Wind)
  • Finish Chapter 13 of the book and look very closely at Jack's left hand on the cover.

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