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Original Work Samurai NOT

Discussion in 'Fanfics and Stories' started by phmoura, Sep 25, 2016.

  1. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

    Jun 16, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Hi everyone.
    I'm rewriting an old story and I'd like your opinion
    Samurai NOT
    By his master's request, Tadayoshi destroyed the life he had. Now he looks for the reason.

    Genre: Action, Historical, Comedy

    Table of Content.
    Chapter 1
    Tadayoshi could hear. He heard leaves blowing in the wind, the waters of a small stream, birds flying. But the sound reaching his ears weren’t from the forest. He knew what it was right away. Had heard his entire life. The low sound of metal clanking. The sound of a sword.

    The sun shone brightly and the rays passing through the treetops created a beautiful scene. But the man wasn’t paying much attention. He walked leisurely on a small path in the forest, but two shadows followed him, hidden between the trees. Or at least they believed, since Tadayoshi noticed them immediately.

    He wasn't worried enough to stop though. He wanted to meet someone. It didn't matter whom they were, or their intentions. It had been a long time since he talked to someone, unless if he counted those after his head. If it were they, they’d have already attacked by now, thought Tadayoshi.

    “Stop!” one of the shadow screamed and two men jumped from their pathetic hideout, blocking Tadayoshi’s path.

    The smaller one had two front teeth missing. The other had a scar on his cheek and the raised tip of his nose made him look like a very ugly pig. The swords on their hands were too shabby to pose any threat; small scratches on the surface, chipped along the edge and rust had begun its work.

    Their appearance and the pathetic weapons would make Tadayoshi laugh, but the twisted and somewhat desperate expressions made him uneasy. A cornered man is a dangerous enemy his master had taught him.

    “Give everything you have!”

    The man almost laughed, all the apprehension leaving him. It was the last thing he expected. Do I look like someone who has anything of value? Me? His clothes were proof of that; a very baggy one-piece kimono made for a man three times his size. It was so torn and patched up with pieces whose colors didn’t match, with pink, green and flowers stamps, you couldn’t tell the original color.

    Even so, they’re trying to rob me. Now Tadayoshi could barely keep himself from laughing. He raised his right arm and stared clothes intently, as if making a deep and serious self-evaluation of his state.

    “Thank you very much. You two made my day,” he said, making an exaggerated curtsy to hide his smile. “Wherever I go people treat me as last class citizen. But you guys consider me important enough to have something of value. Thank you!”

    The bandits exchange looks. From the dirty and dust, it seemed they have being hiding between trees ever since the sun was up, waiting for someone and rob their money and valuables. But the path through the forest wasn’t much used, and since war started approaching the region, travelers rarely chose this path.

    “What’s that?” The smaller one pointed his sword to the man’s left hand.

    Tadayoshi’s hand was on the shoulder, as if massaging the neck. Looking closer, you could see a sash, and tied to the other end, a discrete package on his back. Like his clothes, the cloth wrapping was in the same shabby state, and most wouldn’t notice. Not these desperate bandits though.

    “This?” The man slowly held the long and thin object before them. With one hand, he pulled a bit of the almost torn cloth and revealed the handle of a katana. “Just a memento of my old life,” he said, his smile disappearing at the same time.

    “A samurai! Brother, let’s go!” The fear in his voice and the tremor in his body made the man chuckle. He was even trembling a little bit.

    I can’t blame them, Tadayoshi knew the reason. The only samurai around probably either worked for the local lords or were ronin, the samurai without a lord. Either case, the bandits weren’t stupid enough to mess with those who had mastered the sword.

    “No, no, no,” the man replied, shaking his head, the smile back on his lips. “I’m a lot of things, but samurai isn’t one of them.”

    Tadayoshi wanted to calm them and maybe keep the conversation going. But seeing the bandits exchange looks, he knew he had failed. Do I look too calm for someone being robbed? He wondered.

    Suddenly a smile almost as ugly as he appeared across the older one’s lips. Tadayoshi’s words didn’t contain any lies, and the well-accustomed ears of the bandits picked up on that. The man could almost see his mind working. He knew nothing about swords; the one he and his brother used were garbage. However, everyone knew a real katana was worth more money many would ever have.

    The greed of such wealth spoke louder than their good sense. Someone travelling alone in these days was an idiot. Unless the person knew how to protect himself. Carry a weapon was their number one rule. But this man, not only appeared weak, with his idiotic face, said he wasn’t a samurai, which the bandit judge to be true. The fear of a ronin disappeared immediately. Scar looked at his brother again and nodded his head. The younger one gulped and agreed.

    I’m guessing we’re done talking, Tadayoshi thought, sighing.

    “Then you can give us that sword.” The bandits circled the man, each one going in different directions, brandishing the piece of metal few would call a sword. When they were on opposite sides of the man, they pointed their weapons towards Tadayoshi and ran at the same time.

    All this time, from the time the bandits jumped from their hideout, to the moment they were at his side, the man hadn’t moved. Even when they ran, Tadayoshi was a stone. But when the swords were about to reach him, he gave a quick step backward.

    The bandits almost cut themselves trying to avoid each other, but couldn’t stop the collision. Tangled and without balance, they could do nothing while the man, laughing, pushed them with his foot. Still together, they fell without putting up any resistance.

    Tadayoshi waited until they to get out of the entanglement of arms and legs, anger in their faces. When they finally got out and stood up, the smaller one ran towards the man with his weapon above the head, summoning all his strength to attack his victim.

    The sword made such a big and slow arch the man only had to tap the side of the bandit’s piece of metal with his still sheathed katana, easily changing the trajectory of the attack. The blade dug on the ground and Tadayoshi kicked it lightly, breaking it into several small pieces.

    “The sword really did seem third rate, but to break with a little kick…” he was genuinely surprised.

    He crouched and picked up the biggest piece, analyzing it while the bandit backed away in fear without standing up. His brother grabbed him by collar, forced him up and handed his sword. But Scar wasn’t unarmed for long. He pulled a knife from inside his kimono.

    Tadayoshi dropped the piece of metal and stood up, the smile gone completely. became more alert and stood up, dropping the piece of metal on the ground. With the smaller blade, the bandit seemed more dangerous. The weapon he’s used to, he realized, the instinct to draw his own sword growing.

    Again the bandits went to his opposite sides, preparing another attack. But there was something different this time. Both didn’t run at together. The bandit with the knife didn’t move and his brother did everything to get Tadayoshi’s attention. Scar’s waiting me to focus on the other.

    The younger charged and stretched his arms, attacking with the same thrust as before. The momentum was too big and all the man had to do was hit the sword with his sheathed katana. The bandit lost his balance and fell again. But now Tadayoshi had no time to laugh. The moment his attention shifted to his brother, Scan rushed, much more confident with that blade than with the sword. He used the knife with a terrifying precision, each stab powerful and aimed at a vital point.

    How many people this man robbed or killed with these abilities for a few coins? The man thought, dodging each attack. Knowing it could get dangerous when the younger got up, he had to think something. Tadayoshi watched the stabs, analyzing the patterns and looking for the quickest chance to end this.

    The bandit attacked again, this time aiming for left side near the abdomen, where Tadayoshi’s scar was. His instinct acted for him before he realized. The man advanced, avoided the stab and grabbed the bandit’s hand, twisting it hard, almost turning the hand backwards. With another quick move, the man put the bandit’s arm at his back, Scar’s face twisting in rage, his screams echoing through the forest. The bandit dropped the knife, but Tadayoshi didn’t let him go

    The younger one finally stood up and charged in blind rage. The man spun and put his brother between them, turning the bandit into a shield. Tooth couldn’t stop the attack, but managed, if barely, to change the arch. The blade almost took the brother’s ear and struck the ground hard. This time without the need of a kick, the sword shattered. The man finally released the hand and the bandit fell on his brother, rubbing his wrist.

    Finally Tadayoshi let the bandit go and he fell on top of his brother, rubbing his fist. It’s over, the man thought, but when he released Scar, his baggy kimono fell, revealing his scar for a heartbeat. He quickly pulled his clothes, trying to conceal it.

    Shit! Did they see it? I finally managed to mislead the idiots after my head, pretending to go north. If theses idiots saw it, I won’t have a moment of peace. Tadayoshi had troubled to hold his instinct, his right hand trembling a bit, looking for the handle of his sword. He needed all his self-control not to kill them right away.

    The bandits exchanged looks, stood up and ran. I must kill them. He was ready to draw his sword. “Liar! You’re a samurai!” They screamed, their voices already fading. Their faces were full of terror when they turned their head to check if he was following them.

    They didn’t find out…? When Tadayoshi realized that, he almost laughed in relief, all the tension leaving his body.

    “I said I’m not…” He to the bandits’ back, but their silhouettes already were two indistinct shadows. The man picked the knife and waited, giving them some distance and finally went on the same path.

    It wasn’t long before he felt hungry. I shouldn’t have played with them, Tadayoshi thought, his eyes scanned the trees looking for fruits. He saw none and couldn’t postpone any longer. Since morning, he hadn’t eaten anything.

    Getting out of the road and walking between the trees, Tadayoshi looked carefully at the branches until he found what he wanted; a tall tree with delicious-looking peaches. The knife in his hand flew, hitting a fruit. When it fell, he saw juice flowing from where the knife hit. It’s very ripe. He threw the knife again and again, until he had so many peaches he couldn’t hold in one arm.

    Looking around, he found a comfortable-looking patch of soft earth covered with leaves. Tadayoshi sat, chose the biggest peach and gave a generous bite. It was delicious. Juice was still falling from his mouth when ate the second. One by one, he ate all the peaches until he was satisfied for the first time in weeks.

    Tadayoshi was ready to stand up and go back to the path, but his eyes became heavy and his conscious started going away slowly. No… I can’t sleep now, he thought, shaking his head. He took a deep breath and forced his mind to work. From the last map he saw from this province, there were two castles and a couple of fortress in the region, which he avoided with all his strength. There were a few village around here as well, but he didn’t know if they were close or not. It’s better to rest now… there could be more bandits on the road.

    He gathered enough leaves to fill the small space between the tree’s roots. The man rested his head on the fluffy pile and watched the tiny piece of sky he could see. With his mind fading away, he placed a hand on his belly and the sword at his side, holding the handle with the other hand. This is nice… He never expected to find something like this in the middle of the forest, especially with his recent luck.

    Two days ago, a downpour caught him. The weather was clear but in just one instant, it seemed the fury of the gods was falling on the world, on him. He sought shelter under a tree, trying to get a little bit less wet. In the end, it made no difference and he was walking naked for half a day.

    When his clothes finally were dry, he went look for food and got stuck in a bush, which did the favor of ripping his kimono a little more. Luckily it didn’t rip his clothes completely, so he needn’t to walk around the way he was born until the next village.

    And today’s pathetic robbery attempt. At least he was still laughing with that, unlike the other ones. But there was something a little nostalgic. It felt a lifetime ago now, but his life changed when a few idiots try to rob the sword he had.

    Thank the Gods those bandits didn’t find who I am. I went to a lot of trouble to fool everyone. I don’t want to look over my shoulder even when nature calls.

    A few weeks ago, a shinobi attacked while Tadayoshi was defecating. There wasn’t even time to finished what he had already started. Fighting with his manhood expose wasn’t an experience he would like to repeat. The shinobi was aiming his weakest point all the time and almost got close with his kunai.

    Even with his mind almost drifting away, even while enjoying the unexpected resting place, Tadayoshi was aware of his surroundings. He heard when someone step on a leave. It could be just an animal, it could be nothing, but the man was alert at once. He remained with his eyes closed and his face relaxed, but sharpened his senses to the maximum.

    A man…? No… the presence is too small. A child… trying to sneak up. There’s no killing intent or similar though… Let’s see what he wants.

    “Don’t you know it’s dangerous approach strangers?” Still with his eyes closed, Tadayoshi spoke just above a whisper when the child was close enough.

    He was expecting to scare the child at least. He appeared to be sleeping, and talking so suddenly would caught anyone off guard. But the child didn’t change at all. There was nothing, no so much as a reaction. That surprised him. And made him suspicious. There’s something odd.

    “You’re a thief.” It wasn’t a question and the voice had no emotion.
    Chapter 2
    Tadayoshi sat up slowly and turned toward the voice, all his sleepiness gone. He was right; it was a child.

    Smaller than others, though the clothes were the same. Simple and worn out by daily use, the color was already fading due sunlight. The sleeves and hem were shorter than it should, not covering entirely the arms and legs, tanned by the sun. Probably from working on the fields, Tadayoshi decided.

    The kid had a short black hair tied in the back with two loose strands and a bang covering his forehead, but unlike his clothes suggested, the kid’s face was rather delicate, and the eyes…

    Tadayoshi almost stood up when he noticed the child’s eyes. His stare had something... Then he finally realized. The kid’s expression was empty. The face of someone who knew sorrow and suffering. Something common in these times, the man thought. If it weren’t for Kaguya and Taichi, I’d be the same right now, Tadayoshi knew.

    “No, no. I’m no thief,” he said, standing up slowly, trying not startling the child. “But don’t worry. I took care of them.” He flashed the same smile he had used with the bandits, though with a different meaning. It was the same as nothing.

    The child stood there, staring the man he accused. “You’re a thief,” the child said again, the voice in the same emotionless tone. “Those peaches weren’t yours.”

    The man looked the kernels near his foot. “I found them on this tree,” he pointed up, “so I assumed they belong to the nature.”

    “Wrong. They belongs to my village.” The boy’s stare went to the same thing that caught the bandit’s attention; the katana. His eyes lingering on the handle for a while, a sort of glow awakening behind them. “A samurai must repay everything he received. You’ll do a job for my village.”

    It’s not even a request, Tadayoshi thought, chuckling for a heartbeat. He stopped smiling almost right away. To demand something from a stranger, especially one with a sword. That’s a bold brat… or maybe he’s too desperate…

    “First of all, I’m not a samurai,” Tadayoshi complained. He was accustomed by now, but it bothered him even so, and he denied every time. I’m not like my master. “I don’t owe you or your village anything, but maybe I can help you.” Beats sleeping out in the open again. And it’d be great if I could get some clothes.

    Still with his empty expression, the boy nodded and turned around, walking back to the main path. Turning his back to a stranger… Tadayoshi followed at some distance, trying to sense any presence nearby.

    “What’s this job anyway?” Walking this long with someone in silence was tedious. The first time someone doesn’t run or attack me in weeks turns out to be a quiet brat… “I’m Tadayoshi by the way,” he added, remembering he hadn’t introduced himself nor knew the kid’s name.

    “Protect my village,” he said curtly.

    Tadayoshi held his impulse to sigh. So it was something like that…

    The swordsman expected more, but the boy kept his silence again. The man could tell the kid wanted to say more, and he would if Tadayoshi asked. Something made him wait without saying a word though. This kids needs to say on his own, he realized and waited.

    “My village was attacked…” the boy spoke after a long while. Though his voice remained the same tone, Tadayoshi noticed the kid’s breathing slowed down. He’s suppressing his emotions… The boy took a deep breath and said, “We fought back and made them go away, but they’ll come back. Today or tomorrow.”

    They said nothing more as they got back to the main path. The kid went on the same direction Tadayoshi was going before his pause. The path divided at some point, but the boy went straight ahead without hesitating. The swordsman glanced the other path, his eyes going to the footprints erased by nature. He could tell they were recent, and it made him uneasy.

    Could be those bandits Did they run to their hideout… or the nearby fortress? Without realizing, his hand was over his scar. Tadayoshi pulled his clothes closer the most he could without ripping.

    Even though the village wasn’t far, it took them a long time to get there. The child’s steps didn’t compare to his, but the only thing Tadayoshi could do was match his. By the time they arrived, the sun had begun to set on the horizon and the villagers had already lit a few torches.

    It was the same as others villages; small houses, a few bigger constructions, probably the harvest and tool shed and where they held their meetings. At the back, the fields stretched until the surrounding forest. If it not for the burned houses near the entrance, there would have nothing standing out of other villages. A few had some walls remains, but the fire had consumed most houses in that area. There was still some soot on the floor.

    It was a big fire, Tadayoshi thought, avoiding the piles of burnt wood. Was that supposed to be a barrier or something? He realized something else. The women and children worked on the fields, planting the rice seedlings. He had seen the rice-planting ritual a few times, but what he saw now was the opposite. There was nothing resembling the festivities. There was no dancing or singing for the inadama, the spirit that dwells within the rice. The expression of the men around the field said it all; no one in the village was in the mood for a festival. They only stood there around the field. No, they're protecting, the swordsman realized.

    The boy ignored the burnt houses and went on, answering the few villagers’ greetings with curt a nod, never stopping. Nobody greeted Tadayoshi. Instead, they stopped their chores and whatever expression they had turned into a suspicious glare when they saw him. That’s… a warm welcome, the man though. At least it’s better than usual. Tadayoshi looked around again. It’s like they’ve given up…

    They stopped in front of the second biggest construction in the village, almost at the center. Tadayoshi could hear shouts coming from inside, but even concentrating his hearing, it was hard to understand what they were saying. Without taking his sandals, the kid opened the door and stared the swordsman.

    Tadayoshi shook his head and didn’t move at all. There’s no way I’ll jump in the middle of that… especially with a sword, he told himself. The kid turned his back and entered the house.

    The room was crowded. A few people were standing up, but most men and women were sitting on opposite sides with their back turned to the door. The few faces Tadayoshi saw cried, but he what he sensed it was beyond sadness. Frustration and hate.

    The only one who seemed calm was the old man sitting at wall opposite to the entrance. The chief, Tadayoshi assumed. With the eyes closed, it was impossible for the swordsman to know what went behind the serene expression.

    “So what we’re gonna do?” a young man shouted to the old man and then he looked around, looking for support. No one answered. Everyone turned their head, avoiding meeting the man’s eyes.

    “I found someone to help,the boy announced. Though he spoke on a normal tone, no one heed him any attention.

    “We want us to fight?” a voice echoed among the villagers.

    “We’ll just die,” a woman said and many mumbled agreeing.

    “So we’re just giving up?” The young man shouted again. Only now, as he turned in every direction desperate for any support, Tadayoshi noticed he had a bandage over one eye.

    “I found someone who can help,the boy said again when the silence took over the room. Little by little, the eyes of everyone turned to him. “A samurai.”

    The silence only grew as reaction. The men and women stared the boy and then exchanged looks between them, never noticing the man sighing at the door. I’m not a samurai. The young man with the bandages bit his lips.

    “Ei… we appreciate, but we can’t…”

    “Who’d help us?”

    “Trusting an outsider…”

    The number of murmur grew so much it was hard to identify who was speaking. They’re right, boy. I don’t know what happened here, but is best to survive than to throw away your life in a meaningless fight…

    “We’re giving up?” Ei said above the voices. Though he said the same thing as the young man with the bandages, the boy had no desperation in his voice, and the words hit the villagers like a katana.

    Even under the eyes of everyone, he shows no emotion… that boy’s a lot like me back then, Tadayoshi thought, tightening the grip around his sword. What happened to him?

    “Of course not!” Bandages was shouting again. “We sent someone to ask our lord… he should be back soon. Until the soldiers arrive, we should—”

    “The lord’s never done anything!” a woman interrupted Bandages. “Our homes burn and we die because of his enemies!”

    A few cried in silence while others pressed their lips and looked at the floor. But the boy never changed his expression, his eyes unwavering. It’s almost like a permanent mask, Tadayoshi thought, staring the Ei’s face. He observed as the mood got heavier and heavier, and the uneasiness filled the room, the time stretching. The swordsman realized no one in there would break it, not even Bandages.

    The sun had set and the stars shone in the sky when a shout throughout the village broke the silence. Tadayoshi unconsciously tightened the grip on his sword and turned around, stepping aside. The villagers who weren’t on the meeting held torches around something.

    Everyone in the house rushed outside, still not noticing the man with the katana at the door. The old man was the last one. Little by little the others gave passage to him, opening a path to the center of the commotion; a lone rider. The only difference between him and the villagers was the wood axe on his waist.

    The rider was talking with nearest him, but the moment he saw the chief, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Dai-jii,” he said in a heavy voice, looking at the ground. “I couldn’t even talk with the lord. He was too busy,” he spat the word, pressing the bridles so hard his knuckles were white. “The only who talked to me was the advisor. He said they couldn’t send any soldiers right now because there is a risk of invasion, but he’d try sending someone to investigate when he could…”

    As the rider pressed his lips, the villagers looked at the ground, covering their faces. A few turned to chief, their eyes full of terror and begging for any hope. Try sending someone it’s the same as nothing right now, Tadayoshi knew, and he suspected the reason. If there were a risk of invasion, most lords would abandon any town or village to defend themselves. Though this village was too far to receive any quick aid, even in safe times.

    The power around here belongs to two fortress, Tadayoshi recalled. The important one is near the border… which makes the most probable target. The other fortress belonged to a small noble with no importance. Both lords answered to the Matsudaira clan. This village belong to which lord? Dealing with minor bandits shouldn’t need too many soldiers… Or this lord’s in a pinch, or there’s something else…

    “What we’re gonna do?” an old man spoke to the chief, holding his sleeve. “We can’t abandon our homes…

    “We need to fight!”

    “We got no weapon…”

    “We have weapons,” someone said. Silence took over as everyone turned to the speaker. It was Ei

    Tadayoshi widened his eyes when he saw. It’s not only the lack of desperation that sets him apart from Bandages, he realized. Ei’s eyes weren’t empty; they burned with determination. He, like countless other, was someone who knew deep pain and sorrow, but hadn’t given up. Such determination… something rare these days, and in someone so young

    “We have the swords they left behind. And we have a samurai.” For the first time the villagers noticed Tadayoshi’s presence. “We’re not giving up our home.”

    “Ei-chan… who’s this man?” a woman said, pulling the boy closer. “We don’t know who he is. Besides, relying on strangers…”

    “He could be with them…”

    “That’s right…”

    Everyone turned towards him almost at the same time. I need to do something before it gets out of hand, he thought, clearing his throat. “The name which I attend is Tadayoshi. I’m travelling and ended up in this area.” A nervous smile appeared across his face. Hope this crowd’s different from the last one. “In the woods, this kid made a request and brought me here. As I need rest and food for my journey, I would appreciate if you allowed me to stay here.” With no reaction, Tadayoshi decided to make a bet. “May I see the weapons left behind?”

    Now they reacted, whispering between themselves. The murmur made him nervous. Damn it! If you got something to say, then say it! Tadayoshi wanted to scream, but held his silence. This won’t help me. The swordsman took a deep breath and looked directly to the chief, their eyes meeting each other.

    The villagers turned to their leader one by one. The old man ignored them, his stare never leaving Tadayoshi. The chief’s clear eyes reminded him his master. The swordsman almost flinched, but he managed to hold off his instinct to look away and stared back.

    After long time, the old man nodded and someone in the crowd ran and came back holding three sheaths. Two long, like his own, but the third was smaller. Ei didn’t hesitate handing the weapons to Tadayoshi. The swordsman suspected the kid would have stayed by his side the entire time if not for a woman pulling him away.

    Aware each movement he made frightened the villagers, Tadayoshi picked up one of the long sword and unsheathed slowly. It still scared them; the nearby ones backed away and some even pushed the others to get out of range. At least stay still with those torches, he thought, sighing. The swordsman turned his attention to the blade, analyzing each detail of the sword without engraves nor ornaments.

    It’s a well-crafted sword, though the metal isn’t the best. Even under the torch light, Tadayoshi could tell. The curved of the tip is just right and the curvature in general is decent. It made him unease. Would normal bandits get ahold of this? Made by someone who knew what they were doing, but didn’t bother to do their best. There’s no comparison with the bandits’ this morning. He balanced the sword on his left hand. The weight distribution is too good… Someone could sell for a good price. That made him even more suspicious. Tadayoshi stared the handle. They cleaned it, but there’s still traces of blood… The swordsman sheathed the sword and picked up the other katana, reaching the same analysis. The same with the wakizashi.

    The villagers watched the stranger looking the weapons in dead silence. When Tadayoshi stood up, they backed away a bit, and when he offered the weapons back, no one dared to move. Only Ei stepped forward, staring him without saying a word as he got the weapons back.

    “I think this village is in deeper trouble than you believe,” Tadayoshi said to the chief. “Whoever made theses swords knew what they were doing. The balance, the sharpness, the weigh, everything has it quality. Though the metal isn’t the best, it's unlikely commons bandits would possess swords like these. Probably made in a castle forge… or a fortress.”

    His words were a final blow. If some still had any hope, it was gone, replaced by the growing terror. Even Bandages’ face tightened. “Why should we listen to you? You could be with them!” he screamed. A few mutters joined him and it made Bandages more confident. “You’re trying to make us give up without a fight!” A few more voices joined him now, and some villagers even moved to stand side by side with him.

    Tadayoshi ignored them again and turned to the chief. The old man’s face didn’t change, his eyes clear as before. Almost as if my words just confirmed something he already knew…

    “We should talk in private,” said the chief, ignoring the pleas and protests.

    Tadayoshi followed the old man, focusing on his back. Soon they were back to the same house the villagers were before the lone rider arrived. The chief took off his sandals, walked to the same place he was before and sat down.

    The swordsman took off his sandals as well, taking his time to not ruin the rest of it. He was about to sit down when he stopped himself. Damn… it’s hard to remember all those idiot etiquette, master. Even though you never care much yourself, he complained in his head, waiting until the chief invited him to sit.

    Now close enough, Tadayoshi could see the chief seemed near his fifties, perhaps more. And the fear for the village’s future makes him look older. His hair was almost all gray, the black disappearing in the little he had left. Though he had no visible scars, the fatigue of someone who had worked hard all his life showed in his wrinkled face.

    “I’m Daisuke and I’m this village chief.” Just talking seemed to tire him. He took a deep breath and stared into Tadayoshi’s eyes.

    The brown eyes had a familiar deepness that bothered Tadayoshi. This old man’s reminds my master too much. The swordsman moved a little, pretending to adjust his position. It was uncomfortable be under that stare for so long. He’s looking for lies…

    “Excuse this old man, but who are you?” the chief asked bluntly. “I don’t think you’re someone dangerous, since Ei-chan knows how to judge people. Are you a samurai?”

    Even though he brought a complete stranger to his home, he’s suspicious. Maybe this village still has a chance. “I’m not a samurai.” It was the first thing he said after considering his words. Sometimes it surprised him how much he hated the misunderstanding. His master and his sons were. He wasn’t. “After eating some peaches, that kid called me a thief saying the fruits belonged to this village and I should repay,” Tadayoshi said. After a moment, he decided to tell the truth. “I only went along because I need some decent rest.”

    The chief kept quiet. Tadayoshi opened his mouth, but bit his lips the next instant, holding his impulse to say anything else. I… can’t risk my life. Not now, not here. Not for people who means nothing to me. Against his will, his master's voice echoed in his mind, using the same tone when he was serious. ‘Do what you think is right, live how you believe is right! You learn with mistakes. Regrets you carry.’

    Shut up… you’re not here anymore…

    Tadayoshi closed his eyes and breathed slowly, regaining control of his emotions. It took some time for the voice to go away. “Daisuke… dono” he added, remembering the etiquette, “I’m afraid I cannot offer any help. I’m only one man.” A thin smile appeared on his lips. Master would never say he’s only one man.

    The old man stared back, his expression the same. The only change was in his eyes. For a brief moment, there was a light in them, but it soon vanished, as if never existed. Daisuke-dono wouldn’t cling to any false hope.

    “It is better this way,” the old man finally spoke. “If they believed you might help us, it would stir them to fight… and die…”

    “I’m… sorry…” Tadayoshi said, looking away. I must keep my mouth shut, he told himself. “All I ask is for some food and shelter. And all I can pay is this, but I’m not sure you want…” He took the knife from inside his clothes and held the blade by the tip, offering the handle to the chief.

    The old man held his breath and stared the weapon, his eyes shining again. For a moment, Daisuke-dono’ hand trembled and went for the blade, but then he pulled back before he touched it. “We can offer some food and shelter, but put that away… please,” the chief said, looking away.

    Tadayoshi did as bid, putting the blade back to where it was. What a tremendous willpower… he wants to fight, he wants to protect his home, and yet he choose the path of survival, and not as a coward. Guess that kid’s determination isn’t so surprising…

    Daisuke-dono gestured and Tadayoshi stood up. The chief took his time to do the same. The swordsman thought of offering a hand for an instant, but dismissed the idea. He’s too much like my master.

    The house had a window and three doors. Daisuke-dono went to the door opposite to the window. Standing a respectful distance from the chief, Tadayoshi spied the woman cooking inside the kitchen. She fill two wooden bowl with the food, but when the picked up a third one, she stopped. Suddenly she trembled, dropped the bowl and covered her face with both hands.

    Daisuke-dono said nothing as waited until the woman finished crying. She cleaned her face and turned around. More tears threatened to fall when she looked at the chief, but then her eyes widened when she saw the stranger standing behind the old man. “Sumire, don’t worry. This is our guest, Tadayoshi-sama, and he’s gonna eat with us,” he said in a low voice. The woman nodded her head, but the fear never left her eyes.

    That’s more like it, Tadayoshi thought, holding back an awkward smile. Someone using honorific with me is weird enough, let alone ‘sama’. Even when he was younger and travelled with his master, everyone treated him as a servant, never as disciple. The way Sumire-dono glanced at him while filling another bowl with millet actually made him more comfort. But when the silent tears fell again, the swordsman looked away and pressed his lips.

    Tadayoshi helped moving a table crammed in the kitchen to the main room. Sumire-dono brought the bowls and three plates with a fish each. Soon the only sound was them eating. This is awkward… this must be one of the most silent meals I ever had. Might as well be eating in the woods again… At least the nature’s sounds are better than this.

    They finished without saying a word. Sumire-dono left the house as quickly as she could after taking the bowl and plates to the kitchen, never looking at the swordsman. Daisuke-dono said Tadayoshi could sleep in the main room and said if he wanted, he could get some straw so he wouldn’t need to sleep directly on the floor. Then the chief was gone to check the village.

    Tadayoshi gathered some straw and after an instant wondering where to put it, he choose the corner opposite to the main entrance. And I thought I had lost this habit, he thought, a meager smile appearing on his lips. When he was a kid, whenever he slept inside a house or a stable or anywhere with walls, he always chose one of the corners, as to never let his back opened. It took some time for me to grow out of that, even after master found me…

    With his eyes becoming heavier, the straw pile seemed too tempting to postpone, but even after he laid down his head, something at the back of his mind bothered him. When he heard the chief and his wife outside, Tadayoshi stood up and stepped out.

    For a moment the old man narrowed his eyes as he stared the man blocking their path to their own house. He moved as to stand between the swordsman and Sumire-dono and she grabbed her husband’s sleeve.

    “I know it’s not my business, but could you please tell me what happened here?” he asked in a low voice. “And also… to that kid…” Tadayoshi voiced what he truly wanted to know.

    Daisuke-dono’ face froze under the torch light. He looked at his wife and nodded, his neck so stiff if barely moved. She gulped and walked past the swordsman, her eyes crying again.

    When they were alone, the old man looked back to Tadayoshi. His eyes lost focus, but soon any trace of emotion disappeared, his face unreadable. No, it’s not unreadable… Though he’s hiding his pain, it hurts him the most, the swordsman realized. I don’t think he wants to share anything with a complete stranger. Tadayoshi knew that, but waited in silence anyway.

    “Two days ago… we were preparing for the rice-planting ritual,” he started speaking in a heavy voice. “Six bandits came and said the village was theirs now and… and if we still wanted to live, we had to leave…” Daisuke-dono couldn’t hold anymore and the tears fell. He never tried hiding with his hand nor looking away.

    Tadayoshi noticed one thing. Despite the tears, the old man never let out a cry. This man’s already beyond his limits but he’s still trying everything he can to make sure his friends and families survives, realized Tadayoshi.

    It took some time for Daisuke-dono’ tears stopped. He cleaned his face and went on. “No one accepted, but some raced to the toolshed looking for anything to fight back. The bandits set nearby houses in fire before anyone could do anything.” He closed his eyes and took many deep breaths. “Ei-chan was helping with the ritual and raced home, but one of the bandit grabbed that kid by the hair and threatened with a sword the moment Aiko got out of the burning house. When she saw her kid in danger, she jump at the bandit’s back. His companion pulled her and killed her. My grandkid was the first back from the shed and attacked right away.” He started crying again, but didn’t stop this time. “Others followed and they managed to kill three, but we had already lost too many. The bandits set more houses on fire to scare us, but we were beyond fear at the time. We threw rocks and they gave up, running away, but they said they’d be back. We ran to put out the fire, but it had grown too big. If it wasn’t for the rain…”
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2016
  2. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member


    Sep 12, 2008
    Likes Received:
    United States
    It's pretty good so far. The fight scenes were very detailed that I can visualize what happened.
  3. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

    Jun 16, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Thanks for reading =)
    Hope you enjoy the second chapter
    --- Double Post Merged, Nov 6, 2016, Original Post Date: Oct 9, 2016 ---
    Chapter 3
    So that what’s happened, Tadayoshi thought as he lied on the straw, staring the ceiling. That kid lost his mother, but hasn’t given himself to despair or wishes for revenge. Only a flame of determination remained… He smiled. Just seeing someone like that was worth come here.

    The swordsman closed his eyes, but despite his tiredness, sleep did not come. It wasn’t the low cry coming from the chief’s room, but the image of the boy’s eyes in his mind. Scratching his head, he looked inside his clothes for one of his few possessions to distract himself.

    Tadayoshi had five things at the moment. One was the bandit’s knife he acquired today. Two he stole in the last city he passed as he fled after they found out his identity. And the others were part of his old life.

    Both once belonged to his master and to Tadayoshi, the sword and his master’s diary were just as important.

    The little book was so old and worn and Tadayoshi had read so much he fear the pages might fall or the ink might fade. Even so, he read it whenever he couldn’t sleep, and every time he could hear his master's voice. And for those brief moments, the swordsman felt the old samurai was by his side once again, and that his death wasn’t true.

    His master was known among nobles and peasants alike, and most considered him a legend. Those close to him said he could be considered a grown child. Whenever Tadayoshi remember how different the image was, the swordsman couldn’t help but laugh.

    To him, his master was someone hasty, always ready for a fight… no, duel, as he called, and loved to annoy arrogant people, especially nobles who thought too highly of themselves. However, in the most unexpected occasions, the samurai was a calm person who analyzing everything before acting.

    His handwriting reflected that. Where he wrote about his travels and adventures, it was almost illegible, as if his master had written still in the heat of battle. But where he wrote about his own masters, his family, the future or Tadayoshi, or as he used to call, the brat, the handwriting was calm and beautiful and somehow it felt gentle.

    When the nights were peaceful, and Tadayoshi didn’t need to worry if he would wake up with his head or not, the swordsman cried while reading.

    The reason Tadayoshi read and reread the small diary was simple; to find any clue that might lead to the motives behind his master’s last request. The old samurai didn’t write what had happened, nor where it happened. Nothing but vague information before the fight. Nevertheless, Tadayoshi believed he had missed some detail, some description, anything.

    So once again he read and reread, but found nothing. Damn it… Tadayoshi thought, putting the diary away as the exhaustion came back. Taking deep breaths, he gave up and try sleep in the warm summer night.

    Sumire-dono woke up to prepare the food next morning. Though it wasn’t necessary, she tried to be as quiet as she could so she wouldn’t disturb the stranger in her house. Or maybe she doesn’t wanna talk to me, Tadayoshi realized. Despite keeping his eyes closed, he had awaken at first sign of movement in the room.

    He wasn’t sure how much time passed, but at some point Daisuke-dono came from his room as well. The swordsman remained as he was as the old man joined his wife in the kitchen. By the sounds, they ate their meal there.

    Tadayoshi still didn’t move, concentrating on his hearing. For a moment, all he could hear was them eating, and he believed the meal would be silent like last night, but Sumire-dono broke the silence.

    “Should we wake him?” she asked, keeping her voice down even in the other room.

    “No,” the old man answered curtly. “He’ll be going soon. Let him sleep.”

    “Are you really not asking his help?” Even through the wall, Tadayoshi felt the anguish in her voice. “I know he’ll if you say something.”

    Tsk, am I that easy to read? Tadayoshi thought, breathing deep to silence the voice in his head that sounded a lot like his master. Better leave as soon as I can.

    “I don’t even know who he is. For all I know he could be with the bandits.”

    “If you believe that, he wouldn’t be here.” Sumire-dono waited, letting her words sink in.

    Daisuke-dono sighed. “You’re right. Even so, I won’t ask him.”

    “Why not?” Sumire-dono raised her voice. “With him here, we might not lose as many…”

    Not lose as many…” The leader chuckled with his voice so hollow it made the swordsman turned his head towards the kitchen. Daisuke-dono stayed in silence for a while. “You’re right. If I ask him, it might change our fate. Those who want to fight will accept even a stranger’s help and we could keep living here as always,” he said, his voice almost dreamy now. “But I’m a coward. I’d rather give this home, this village and anything else if it meant not losing anyone else.”

    Sumire-dono said nothing else, but Tadayoshi heard a low cry. She knows the chief’s right. Even if you win, you’d still lose too much, the swordsman knew as well. The old man chose to live and that’s why he won’t ask for my help. Tadayoshi couldn’t help but admire. Daisuke-dono reminded him his master too much.

    Tadayoshi heard the kitchen’s door opening, steps and then the main door opening and closing. The only thing that broke the silence was the low cry still coming from the kitchen. After a moment, the sound ceased and the swordsman felt Sumire-dono approaching him.

    Did she find out I was listening? Tadayoshi remained still, waiting. He didn’t believe the woman had discovered, but, even though he would be leaving soon, he didn’t want the old man finding out he had eavesdropped their talk. Tadayoshi breathed slowly as to keep the motion of someone sleeping.

    The woman never said anything. Instead, the swordsman heard a faint sound of wood on wood and then she too left the house. Only he was finally alone he stopped pretending and turned around. What he heard was Sumire-dono putting on the floor a couple hashi and bowl with millet and an egg on the top.

    The sun shone as bright as yesterday and it seemed unlikely something terrible could happen in this village today. The villagers’ expressions said otherwise thought. Women and children worked on the fields planting the rice seedlings, but from time to time, most stopped what they were doing and raised their heads, looking around. Only after confirming there was nothing strange, they resumed their job.

    Boys and men stood around the fields again, armed with wooden axes, shovels, pickaxes, small scythes, nata and any other tool they could use as weapon. In the center of the field, as if leading the villagers, stood Bandages and two others holding the swords. While the other two seemed statues expect for turning their heads as if expecting the bandits to appear out of nowhere, Bandages swung the katana with exaggerated movements.

    Is he practicing...? The swordsman kept watching, but after only few moments, he sighed. From Bandages’ movements, and the way he held the sword, Tadayoshi could tell the villager had never held a weapon before, let alone used one to kill a person.

    I know what you’re feeling. I know how terrible it is to lose everything you know in a blink of eye, Tadayoshi thought, holding his sword tighter. And I know how frustrating it is to feel helpless and not able to do anything at all. But a last minute train won’t make you a warrior, even if your life and the lives of your loved ones on the line. Can’t you understand what Daisuke-dono wants? He want you all to live! Tadayoshi wanted to say, wanted to scream. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. The words of an outsider wouldn’t make a difference, nor had any place there.

    Tadayoshi closed his eyes and slowed his breathing. He trying thinking of something that might persuade the villagers to listen to the old man. But a frustrated laughed escaped his lips almost right away. If their leader can’t, what could I do? Daisuke-dono’ face appeared in the swordsman’s mind, along with his words this morning. Tadayoshi pressed his lips, ignoring the growing wish to help this village. Then the image changed to the boy staring the swordsman with those eyes full of determination.

    I need to leave now, Tadayoshi told himself, shaking his head.

    Just like yesterday, he thought as he headed towards forest. The villagers who weren’t protecting the fields turned their heads when the swordsman was in sight. No… it’s not completely like yesterday. The villagers didn’t stop their choirs to glare at him, though they still watch his every move, some either bluntly staring him and others glancing when they thought he wasn’t paying attention.

    Daisuke-dono was talking with an old woman, but when Tadayoshi was within sight, she stopped and glared him, her eyes watering. Ah, so it’s that… the swordsman realized. The villagers were indeed staring him, but more than him, it was his sword.

    The chief looked the swordsman in the eyes and then turned back to the woman, saying something Tadayoshi couldn’t hear. From that look, he finally understood. Those against resisting the bandits probably are blaming me for that, he thought, turning towards the field. From here, he could still see Bandages training.

    Tired of the stares, Tadayoshi walked as fast as he could without running towards the forest. The shortest path to one of the exit lead him behind a house near the edge of the village. With the shadow provided by the house, the empty space until the first trees was pleasant. Tadayoshi rested his back on the wall and enjoyed the breeze… until the picture of the houses burning invaded his mind.

    It doesn’t look like anything bad happened here, he thought, looking round. But the image stayed in his mind. Then it changed to the chief holding his stomach, blood spewing from the wound, but his face never showed any fear. Sorry old man, but if that’s your fate, I can’t change it. I can’t change it, Tadayoshi said to himself over and over, until the image vanished. But it never did. Instead, it changed to the boy, Ei, staring some faceless laughing shadow, his eyes shining with the same intensity he showed the swordsman.

    Forcing himself to move, Tadayoshi walked towards the trees, leaving the village behind him. With every step he took, he turned his head and pressed his lips, but still kept going. Shit! He screamed in his head.

    Tadayoshi looked at his katana, at his master’s old sword, the samurai’s face filling the swordsman head. Shit! He shook his head and then looked around. He was at some sort of clearing and then he snorted. I can’t believe I’m thinking about training right now.

    Training, something he neglected for a time. How could I train when people are after my head? Despite being true, Tadayoshi himself knew it was just an excuse. His master was diligent and trained almost every day. ‘Don’t let your mind go dull and your sword rust’, he liked to say, mostly to his younger son and to Tadayoshi. Reminding of them made the swordsman laugh for a heartbeat.

    Yeah, you really were that kind of person, master. Not that you needed any more training, Tadayoshi thought, a smile appearing on his lips. I should’ve listen more to your words, master. I wished I could be more like you. Guess I’ll never be… As regret filled him, he realized something. Is that why I hate when people call me samurai? He wondered. He had never given much thought beyond the dislike. I really wish you were here, master…

    Cleaning the tears, he placed his katana against a tree. My sword is fine, thank you, he thought, remembering his master’s worlds once again. Despite not drawing it for days— something he was thankful for—there was no reason to train his skills today. Thanks for that, master. For some reason, old memories jumped in the swordsman’ head and his body shivered.

    What he needed to train was his body. Guess running and fleeing isn’t enough for a swordsman. And so he started one of the few trainings without a sword his master had taught that he could remember at the moment.

    Even though the trees blocked almost everything, Tadayoshi could see the sun above him when he stopped. It’s already this late, he thought, sitting on the ground and resting his back against a tree. Despite planning only to clear his head, he ended up training for more than he wanted. What a waste of energy. He rested his head on the tree as well, closing his eyes and breathing slowly.

    Tadayoshi turned in the direction of the village. From here, he could still see a house. I’m sorry, Daisuke-dono. Your destiny belongs to you. Hope you can make the rest see your side.

    You can come out now,” he said, opening his eyes. The moment he spoke, a branch shook and then Ei stepped out from his hiding place. This time the swordsman didn’t smile. He just watched as the boy stared him with the same unwavering eyes as Tadayoshi’s images. “I won’t say I’m sorry for not helping your village.”

    The boy’s face never changed, keeping the same empty expression as he walked towards the swordsman. The boy held out his palm when he was close enough.

    Tadayoshi stared the peaches, but his hand never moved. Is he trying to convince me? The swordsman stared into the boy’s eyes and understood right away. He already knows I won’t help, he thought, accepting the fruits and taking a bite from the biggest one. What he wants are answers.

    “What it takes to be strong?” the child asked. Despite his low voice, it never faltered, and his eyes glowed a bit more stronger.

    The urge to laugh last only a heartbeat, dying inside him so quick it never escape his lips. Tadayoshi had asked the same thing to his master when he was younger. He also remembered the samurai threw back the question, and Tadayoshi’s answer made the old man laugh.

    But there was nothing funny about that question today. Because no matter how much determination he had, Ei was only a kid looking for something to grab. The swordsman knew his answer would influence the boy’s life. If he survives, that is. Tadayoshi knew that very well, so he closed his eyes and thought.

    After a long time, he opened them. In the end, he had to be honest. The question had as many answers as people in the world. And each one must find his or her own answer, right, master?

    “What it means to be strong?” Tadayoshi decided to imitate his master, despite how annoying made him. Putting his feelings aside, he stared the boy, watching his reaction. The question was more complex than it appeared. It was a test, one that annoyed Tadayoshi a lot. The answer reveals who the person is, the swordsman heard his master’s voice whispering in his mind.

    “Strong is to be capable of doing something when there’s something wrong!” Ei answered, his voice rising for the first time. “Be strong isn’t cry because you can’t do anything while you see your mom die!” Despite his firm voice, Tadayoshi saw the boy’s eyes trembling and tears forming.

    Tadayoshi sighed. How long has he thought about that? “Then I’m not strong,” the swordsman said. “I think no one in the world is by your definition.” It wasn’t what Ei expected, and his opened mouth and widened eyes revealed that. Tadayoshi took a deep breath and looked up at the sky. “My master died in front of me and I couldn’t do anything but cry.” He never realized his fist was trembling, closed so hard around the katana his knuckles were white.

    Ei had no reaction for Tadayoshi’s words. Despite his expression once again back to the empty façade, his eyes betrayed him; the boy was about to break.

    Guess I was too honest… Tadayoshi looked between Ei and his sword. “Maybe I can’t make you stronger, but I can try,” he said, raising his katana and offering the handle to the boy.

    Ei widened his eyes. For a moment, everything was still in the clearing. Tadayoshi could almost hear the boy’s heart beating faster as sweat ran down his brow. He extended his arms slowly, as if they weighed more than they should. His hand was almost around the handle…

    “Who don’t wanna die, leave!” a scream echoed form the village.
    --- Double Post Merged, Nov 13, 2016 ---
    Chapter 4
    The voice had barely died when Tadayoshi turned his head. Ei was already racing back to the village. The swordsman stood up, picked up his sword and placed the scabbard in one of the holes in his clothes near the waist, tying with the sash.

    He looked between the boy’s back, already reaching the house, and his sword. He closed his eyes and let out a sigh. I’m gonna regret this, he thought and went after Ei.

    Staying out of sight, Tadayoshi observed the situation. It seemed everyone had gathered at the center of the village. There was no one on the fields anymore; the woman, children and elderly clustered near Daisuke-dono’ house. A few cried, but most watched in silence, their faces either full of fear or empty. The ones who given up already, Tadayoshi thought, looking for Ei. The boy was there, pushing his way to the front, but Sumire-dono held him.

    The eleven riders were across them. The bandits wore no armor nor any other kind of protection. If their horses weren’t so groomed and the saddles well made, they might have passed for common thieves, Tadayoshi knew. Their weapons as well. Like the swords he analyzed the day before, the ones the bandits carried now were simple, but they all had a certain quality. And against the tools the villagers had, those sharp spears, katana and even that wood axe looks like weapons of soldiers.

    Only one rider was different. Though he stood behind the group trying to make his presence unnoticed, his dark green silk cloak gave him away. Tadayoshi couldn’t see his face covered by the hood, but he could see the katana on his waist. A samurai, the swordsman knew, his hand tightening around the handle of his own sword.

    The rest of the villagers stood between the two groups, led by Bandages and the two others that held the swords. Tadayoshi recognized some; the messenger was there. The old man who grabbed Daisuke-dono’ sleeve as well, along with few women from the fields and some others. But those who choose to fight barely reached twenty people.

    You lost the only advantage you had, Tadayoshi thought. And that’s not all. Even from this distance the swordsman could tell; anger had driven them this far, but now it left them. Even Bandages trembled in fear and cleaned the sweat from his hand on his clothes. Say you’ll fight is easy, but when the time comes… A weapon isn’t the same as courage. Tadayoshi closed his eyes. Listen to Daisuke-dono’ wish and live, once again he wanted to scream.

    “What? Gonna resist?” one of the bandits mocked and his companions laughed.

    “Got courage, but it ain’t gonna be like last time,” another one said. “If don’t wanna die, leave our village.”

    “This village is ours!” Bandages screamed. “We’re not giving up without a fight.” The ones by his side agreed. Those words seemed to fuel them with courage; most stopped trembling and some even lost the fear in their faces.

    “No!” Daisuke-dono’ voice echoed. He was among the women, children and elderly, but the villagers opened path to him. “We won’t fight! We’ll…” he closed his eyes and bit his lips, but the tears still fell, “we’ll leave this village.” Despite the pain in his face, his voice was firm.

    The right decision, Tadayoshi agreed in his mind, nodding his head without realizing. It’s not courage to fight when the outcome is so obvious. The people are more important than the houses. The villagers murmured agreeing, even some of those who chose to fight.

    Bandages looked around, staring their faces and then looked at the leader. “We’re not abandoning our homes that easily, Dai-jii! We have to avenge our friends and family!” the young man screamed and turned to face the bandits.

    Damn… a bit more and Daisuke-dono would’ve convince them, the swordsman thought, sighing.

    A bandit missing part of his right ear rode to the villagers. Bandages grabbed the handle with both hands and raised the sword, but his arms trembled so much fighting would be impossible. The thief hit Bandages’ sword with his own weapon, disarming the young man with just one blow. The katana flew and hit the side of a house while Bandages watched it with his mouth hanging open.

    The villagers stood their ground, but when two more bandits, a bald one and the other with a scar on across his forehead, rode to join their companion, one villager threw his shovel away and ran. It didn’t take long for the rest to follow and then only Bandages remained. While staring the bandits, he took a step back, but his legs trembled so much a rock was enough to make him lose his balance, and he fell backwards.

    “Where’s all that courage now?” the bald bandit said, drawing his katana and stabbing the villager on the shoulder. Bandages screams died under the bandits’ laughter.

    “Stop! We’re already losing our homes!” Daisuke-dono shouted above the scream and laughs. He went down his knees and made his forehead meet the ground. “Please, don’t take any more from us. We already lost so much…”

    The bandits’ laughter grew louder with the old man’s supplications and tears. Sumire-dono cried so much now Ei finally managed to shake off from the woman. He raced, stopped ahead of the leader and stared the bandits.

    “Hey…” The bandit with the scar stopped laughing and stared Ei, narrowing his eyes. “Ain’t that woman’s brat?”

    Bald never took his eyes from the boy. Not even when he pulled his sword from Bandages’ shoulder, drawing more screams and blood, but this time none of the bandits laughed. One of villagers, the one who was holding the wakizashi, raced to Bandages and dragged him to the others.

    Sumire-dono finally realized Ei wasn’t next to her anymore and looked around, the tears flying everywhere. When the woman saw the boy, she raced to him and hugged him, turning herself into a shield.

    When Scar dismounted, the villagers raced to join Sumire-dono and Ei. Bald and Ear blocked their path with the horses, swinging their weapons to anyone who tried bypassing them. Scar grabbed the woman’s hair and pulled hard. Her screams filled the village, but he didn’t stop. When Sumire-dono couldn’t stand the pain anymore, her arms lost strength and he yanked Ei from her.

    Scar stared the boy, his eyes wide and full of bloodlust, almost a mad man’s stare. “It’s your fault my brother died!” he spat the words on Ei’s face.

    The child didn’t change his expression, staring the bandit back, his eyes showing only determination.

    Everyone could only watch in silence as Scar raised his spear, his breathing irregular and short, a wild smile on his face. Before his hand came down, something flew and hit him on the side of head. A prickle of blood ran down his cheek as the pebble bounced a few times on the ground with everyone’s eye on it. Scar cleaned the blood and then turned his head, looking for who had thrown it.

    The villagers moved in closer together, hiding the culprit. The fear had left their faces as if never existed. They all stared Scar, Bald and Ear with eyes almost as strong as the boy’s. “Let me through,” a voice echoed among them, “let me through!” Someone pushed their way to the front.

    Daisuke-dono never looked so old, never looked so frail. Even so, he raised his chin, not backing down. Scar threw Ei aside and walked towards him. Sumire-dono grabbed the boy again.

    “I told we’re abandoning ours homes!” Daisuke-dono screamed. “We will leave!”

    The bandit attacked him twice with the butt of the spear. Once on the leader’s stomach and the other on the head. The villagers rushed to him, but Bald and Ear swung their weapons, drawing blood from a few and contained the rest.

    Daisuke-dono fell to his knees, but bit down his lips hard to hold the scream. The old man took a deep breath and stood up. With blood covering half his face, the chief stared the bandit with his one good eye.

    For a moment, no one dared moving or saying anything. If not for the villagers’ cry, there would be only silence. Scar raised his spear once again, but Daisuke-dono did not tremble nor beg for his life. All the old man did was close his eye and wait for death with his head held high.

    But it never came. As silence overtook the village, the chief finally opened his eye. Not even the bandit was paying him any attention anymore. Scar had turned his head around, looking at someone who held the butt of the spear behind him.

    The man who denies being a samurai stared Scar in the eyes without any hint of emotion on his face.

    The bandit opened his mouth and then closed it, narrowing his eyes. Tadayoshi could almost see Scar’s mind working. Though my clothes are this bad, I don’t look like them, but he can tell I’m no reinforcement. Not me and not this soon, the swordsman thought. After a heartbeat, Scar smiled and his eyes grew wide. Now he realizes I’m only a traveler with no connection to this village, but stupid enough to get involved.

    Before Scar moved, Tadayoshi glanced the others. Bald and Ear were too stunned to do anything right away. Even the villagers seemed paralyzed. I’m just one man, but they’re wary, the swordsman realized it. If they’re afraid to repeat the same mistake, I can use it… though it’d better if they underestimated me.

    The others bandits remained where they were, some turning their heads to the man behind them. Tadayoshi still couldn’t see the face of the man in the silk cloak, but his stance above the horse had changed a little. He’s interested, Tadayoshi could tell, despite the samurai not showing any killing intent.

    The swordsman glanced at the villagers and then the chief. Ei was the only one to realized, widening his eyes and moving as quiet as he could. Tadayoshi smiled and turned to Scar.

    “Tell me something,” he spoke slowly, giving time for Ei to drag Daisuke-dono away. It took a moment, but the rest of the villagers finally understood and helped the boy and the old man. The bandits didn’t even notice. “Why are you attacking this village?”

    Though Tadayoshi talked casually to pretend as if keeping his grip on the spear wasn’t much effort, he was already sweating and his arm throbbing. If I’m gonna save this damn village full of idiots, I need to put some fear into them first, he thought, his fingers white from the strength.

    “Why?” Though it was a simple question, Scar seemed confused “Because we want… because we can! They’re weak and We’re strong!”

    “Strong?” Tadayoshi repeated the word loudly, looking to the other bandits. He turned back to Scar and leaned in closer. “Show me,” the swordsman whispered with a smug.

    The bandit had no reaction for an instant. It’s now. Tadayoshi knew he had to be fast and precise. Before anyone could move, the swordsman struck the spear with his free arm, breaking the weapon in two. Ignoring the sudden pain, he stabbed the bandit’s back near the heart with the sharp piece in his hand.

    Scar staggered and turned to face his the swordsman. He managed to pull the piece of wood from his back, tearing off a bit of flesh and cloth, the blood spilling on the ground. He placed a hand on the wound, trying in vain to stop the bleeding. As he coughed blood, staining the earth before Tadayoshi’s feet red, his eyes lost the light. The bandit fell forward and died with his face buried on the ground.

    His companions reacted, screaming and charging towards Tadayoshi. Only the man in the silk cloak remained where he was, a little more interested in the swordsman now. Thank the heavens for that, Tadayoshi though, concentrating on the enemies before him. Calm and precision will scare them.

    Taking a deep breath, he picked the rest of the spear and threw, hitting Bald right on the chest. The bandit fell, but he didn’t let go of the reins, and his horse turned, knocking Ear. Two down, Tadayoshi thought, turning around to face the others riding towards him.

    It was stupid to fight mounted enemies on foot, even with a plan. Tadayoshi knew that, but from the way they rode, the swordsman could tell his opponents were amateurs without any kind of combat training on horse. Betting his life and the villagers’ on it, he picked larges rocks and threw on the animals.

    One of the horses stopped, neighing and raising its front paws. The rider fell backwards and two bandits behind him didn’t react in time. They all crashed, men and animals falling together. Even with all the screams, Tadayoshi heard bones breaking under the weight of the horses, but the bandits’ voice were soon lost under the animals’ protests. Four to go.

    The closest one tried to run him over, but the swordsman dodged. Before the bandit could use his weapon, he grabbed the reins and jumped sideways, using all his weight to pull it. The horse turned sharply and headed towards the villagers. They ran out of the way as fast as they could and the animal crashed into a house. The horse fell on the rider and the bandit stopped moving at all.

    His breathing was short and quick, but Tadayoshi had no to think and turned to the other three. A bandit with a dirty beard didn’t make the same mistake, attacking with his spear instead of trying running the swordsman over. Tadayoshi was counting on that, barely realizing the smile on his lips. I guess my luck isn’t so bad after all, he thought, reading his stance, both arms aligned.

    When the weapon was within reach, he dodged the attack and grabbed the spear, using all his strength to knock the rider off the horse. Dirty Beard fell and before he got up, Tadayoshi stabbed him on the neck, the tip of the spear piercing the ground.

    The two that remained stopped and exchanged looks. They turned around, but they were so clumsy one fell and the animal went away. The other almost fell as well, but he managed to keep on the horse and rode back to the forest. The bandit stood up and ran after his horse.

    If his breathing wasn’t irregular, and his arms didn’t weigh more than it should, Tadayoshi would have laughed. When the bandits passed by the cloaked man, the swordsman saw a bit of the samurai’s face. He’s smiling, Tadayoshi noticed, a shiver running throughout his body. He slowed down his breathing and watched the man’s reaction.

    Still on his horse, the cloaked man rode towards Tadayoshi and when he was close enough, dismounted. The samurai’s bloodlust was so intense it made the swordsman shiver.

    So my luck is rotten after all, Tadayoshi thought, his hand around the handle of his katana.
    --- Double Post Merged, Nov 20, 2016 ---
    Chapter 5
    “I’m thankful,” the samurai said, bowing his head to Tadayoshi. “I believed today I had the ungrateful job of supervising some thugs killing innocent peoples and perhaps burn a few houses. However, thanks to you, I won’t see any meaningless bloodshed.” Despite his words, his voice always had a friendly and cheerful tone. But the bloodlust emanating from him didn’t decrease at all. “But above all, I will be able to appreciate an interesting fight.”

    The samurai’s eyes never left the swordsman, not even as he led his horse to a house and tied the saddles. He’s more cautious than he shows, Tadayoshi noticed, his hand itching to draw the katana. Calm down, he said to himself, taking deep breaths. I need to gain some time first.

    The samurai took his cloak, folded it a couple times and put it on the saddle. A young man, no more than a few years older than Tadayoshi, with waist-length black hair tied on the back of the head. The blue and black hakama, samurai clothes, confirmed Tadayoshi’s suspicions. With his scar-free face, delicate features and recent shave beard, he almost seemed someone out of a hero’s tale.

    But he’s not a hero. Despite his appearance, Tadayoshi could sense it. He’s a samurai, and a strong one too. It wasn’t just the enemy’s bloodlust and calm behavior that made the swordsman wary. The scabbard on the samurai’s waist worried him as well; wood dyed with a vivid red and a gold dragon painted. When he draw the katana, Tadayoshi couldn’t help but close his eyes, pressed his lips and curse his luck again.

    The silence grew more still; the villagers were too paralyzed to make any sound. Even the swordsman had trouble finding words. The samurai’s katana wasn’t just unlike the ones left behind. It was a high quality sword. The polished blade reflected the sunlight, the edge so sharp it shimmered slightly. Almost as if looking for a victim… Hope it’s not me, Tadayoshi thought, a hollow laugh echoing in his mind. He stared the blade again, and gulped. With my luck, that’s a Muramasa sword too.

    With deep breaths, Tadayoshi took his scabbard from the hole on his clothes. The difference between his and the samurai’s were blatant. The swordsman’s had seen better times; the wood was worn and chipped in several places, and the color had already faded, while the samurai’s shone red. But when Tadayoshi drew the katana for the first time in days, everyone could tell. It was a high quality blade as well.

    “Your presence confirms my suspicions,” Tadayoshi said, throwing the scabbard away and circling his enemy. The samurai did the same, always keeping the same distance from the swordsman. “Your lord betrayed his superior and plans to destroy this village to open path to the fortress. Am I right?” Despite hating that kind of people, he tried keeping his voice calm.

    I shouldn’t piss him off. At least not right now. I need to buy as much time as I can. “It must be awful serve a disgusting lord. I don’t why you haven’t yet committed seppuku to preserve your honor and those other craps only samurai give a damn.” The words escaped his lips before he could stop himself. Shit… me and my big mouth, Tadayoshi thought, trying and failing to suppress his smile.

    The samurai’s face twisted in rage for an instant. He closed his eyes, pressed his lips and took a deep breath. “The words of a mere ronin will not affect me. But I do advise you to not dare speak ill about my lord.”

    Tadayoshi clicked his tongue. He didn’t fall for my provocation. Either he’s as composed as he looks or he’s used to this kind of fight… Let’s test him some more. “A ronin?” he repeated the word in the most annoying way he could. “I don’t remember being someone’s dog to be called a ronin.”

    Even if the samurai managed keeping his face expressionless, the mocking was too much for him. He jumped forward and covered the distance between them in a heartbeat, aiming his sword at Tadayoshi’s neck.

    Fast! Even expecting, the samurai’s speed surprised him, but the swordsman still reacted in time. Tadayoshi raised his sword and blocked the strike, the metal shrieking. Without giving time for his opponent counter, he spun his left leg, aiming the kick at the samurai’s ribs. For a moment, he felt his foot connecting, but before it hit in full, the enemy jumped to the opposite side, reducing the impact. Shit…

    “You do, in fact, have some skill to keep up with that mouth of yours,” the samurai said, smiling. “Please, show me how far it goes.”

    He resumed his attacks, each one powerful, precise and aimed at Tadayoshi’s vital points. But unlike the bandit from the other day, the samurai’s didn’t leave opening to counter. Diagonal left. Right side. A thrust at the face. A vertical cut.

    Tadayoshi defended them all, but it had taken its toll. “So my luck is rotten after all,” Tadayoshi said, defending a blow aimed at his head, almost out of breath. He jumped backward to gain some distance and time to rest. “You’re too strong. I never thought I’d find someone like you here. If someone had told me, I’d turned the other way.” He kept talking to gain more time.

    For the first time, the samurai didn’t follow him, nor prepared any attack. Instead, he sheathed his katana. “I can say the same. You are a worthy opponent, so I shall not disgrace myself any longer and present myself properly. The name which I answer is Konkawa Jirou Yoshitada.”

    Tadayoshi clicked his tongue again. He’s giving me his full name… “Thanks for the manners,” he said in a dried voice. The swordsman readied his stance and took deep breaths. “I’m just Tadayoshi.”

    “It shall be a pleasure fighting against you, Tadayoshi-dono.” Konkawa made a reverence.

    Don’t you mean killing me? The samurai thought, bracing himself.

    The moment he finished his reverence and raised his head, the samurai ran. Even with his katana still sheathed, he was faster than before. When the distance between them disappeared, Konkawa drew his sword, aiming Tadayoshi’s right side.

    Iai? Shit! I won’t make in time! Tadayoshi moved his sword to a defense position and jumped to the opposite side, trying to avoid the attack. But the strike was too powerful, too fast and he reacted instants too late. Though he managed to defend it, the swordsman couldn’t stop the attack completely, and the blade reached his body. The wound wasn’t deep, but it bleed.

    Gritting his teeth and ignoring the pain, Tadayoshi raised his defenses again, ready for the next attack… but there was nothing. The samurai had stopped moving. All Konkawa was doing was stare the swordsman, his eyes wide, his face losing some of its color. “That scar… the name…”

    Tadayoshi followed the samurai's sight, realizing almost right away what had made the enemy stop attacking. He closed his eyes and regretted. The blow not only had wounded the swordsman, but it also had been too much for his clothes; the slash had destroyed the right side of his kimono and exposed his stomach. His hand moved to cover it by reflex, but it was too late. Everyone had already seen the six scars, three vertical and three horizontal, crossing each other.

    He could almost feel the samurai’s mind working; first, his eyes widened when he understood. Then rage overtook his face. It was only for an instant though; Konkawa managed to suppress it. And then a smile crossed his lips. A dark one, full of contempt, hate and killing intent.

    He almost looks like a predator finding the most delicious prey in the world, Tadayoshi thought, a bitter smile on his own lips. But he had no time for that; the swordsman knew what would come next. He wiped the blood from his fingers on the clothes and placed his hand back to the handle.

    “The Gods must be by my side," Konkawa said.

    Whether the words were to him or to the heavens, Tadayoshi wasn’t sure. But despite the happiness in his voice, the samurai never showed any opening in his defenses. Shit even like that, he doesn't drop his guard, Tadayoshi thought, biting his lips.

    "To present me with the chance to regain my family’s honor by killing you, a man so despicable and without a shred of honor or loyalty." Any trace of happiness had disappeared, replaced by a hate so strong the samurai didn't try to hide. "Someone who would kill his own master, someone who killed the great Yasuhiro-sama!”

    The silence became heavier. The villagers hadn’t made any sound for a while, too stunned watching the fight that was deciding their future. But after the samurai said the words, the atmosphere changed.

    Even without looking, Tadayoshi could sense it. I’m risking my life to save them and they look at me with those eyes, the swordsman thought when he glance at the villagers, the anger filling him. Something had changed in their faces. When the fight started, they were full of dread, but there was some hope in them. Hope that he, a complete stranger, could and would save them. But now it was gone, first replaced by confusion and then hatred.

    It’s always like this, Tadayoshi thought, full of regret. When people found who I am and what I’ve done… He closed his eyes and breathed out through his nose. I should let them to their luck, the thought crossed his mind, and then he snorted. Too bad there’s no chance he’d let me walk away, the swordsman knew and turned his attention back to the samurai.

    Konkawa placed a hand on the handle of his katana and leaned his body forward, but remained where he was. He’s looking for an opening, Tadayoshi realized and made sure his defenses had none.

    Neither of them moved, one waiting for the other. Shit… I shouldn’t have wasted that much time with those bandits, Tadayoshi thought, his muscles in pain, his arms heavy and the sweat running down his face and back. His katana never felt this heavy before, but even so, it didn’t tremble at all.

    He had no idea how much time had passed. All Tadayoshi knew was that the enemy before his eyes had changed. This samurai doesn’t just want to kill me because of his mission, nor for the reward or fame. It’s not even to regain his honor. This man truly hates me.

    Hate wasn’t unfamiliar to Tadayoshi; he knew ever since he was a kid. But after his master found and raised him, the swordsman had forgotten. The last time I saw eyes like his was on that day… when master… when I…

    The samurai ran, so fast he covered the distance between them before Tadayoshi realized it. When he was close enough, Konkawa drew his sword, faster than before. And stronger!

    Even raising his sword, Tadayoshi couldn’t defend. The katana reached him again, deeper this time. But the samurai didn’t attack again. Instead, he passed by the swordsman and went on. He sheathed his sword, halted and turned around, running again and attacking Tadayoshi right away.

    The swordsman managed to defend this time, but before he could counter or even think about anything else, the samurai was already gone, only to turn around and attack again.

    Konkawa never stopped, sheathing his sword and preparing the next blow with an incredible speed. Over and over, each time his attacks a bit stronger and faster.

    Tadayoshi could barely keep up and raise his defenses in time. Before long, the swordsman body was covered with wounds. Thanks to his reflexes, they were superficial, but they bled so much the samurai’s sword was tainted red. My blood’s making his draws faster, Tadayoshi realized, trying to ignore the pain. It was impossible; just breathing hurt.

    Before starting his next attack, the samurai once again stared straight into Tadayoshi’s eyes, watching the swordsman’s defense and adjusting accordingly…

    And then Tadayoshi finally saw his weakness.

    Konkawa attacked and was gone, but this time Tadayoshi spun and went after him. In a heartbeat, the swordsman was right before his enemy, his sword aiming at the head.

    The samurai had already stopped and prepared his next strike, but when he saw Tadayoshi, he drew his sword and blocked the attack with ease.

    But the swordsman was already expecting that. He passed by the samurai and spun, putting his back against Konkawa’s back.

    Now, Tadayoshi thought. While pushing his back against the samurai’s, he threw his katana to the left hand and put all his weight on the same side almost at the same time.

    The samurai reacted an instant later, turning around to the opposite side. “Urgh…” he grunted and stopped. Blood drenched his clothes and dripped on the ground. Konkawa’s hand left the sword and went to his back, his fingers closing around Tadayoshi’s hand and the knife the swordsman held.

    “Your eyes are good. Too good in fact,” Tadayoshi said, still back to back, pushing the blade deeper. Even so, the samurai did not scream. “Every time you attacked, you stared me in the eyes. I knew you’d see when I threw the sword, but you’d never see this tiny knife.” Tadayoshi pulled the blade.

    Konkawa fell to his knees, his hand clutching the wound. But as he coughed blood, even he realized it was fatal. The samurai lost some of his color, his breathing slowed down and his face twisted in pain, but he still refused to fall on the ground.

    As he cleaned the knife with a piece of his ruined kimono, Tadayoshi walked until he was face to face with the dying man. “Is your master the lord of the fortress east of here? Did he betray his liege lord?”

    The samurai coughed more blood, but the pain disappeared from his face, and he stated Tadayoshi with all the dignity he could muster. “I may have lost the fight and…” his breathing became shallow, “and my life is about to end… but I won’t disgrace my family and became a traitor.” He took a deep breath. “I will die as my father, a samurai!” he managed to scream, staring into Tadayoshi’s eyes.

    The swordsman looked at the samurai with an empty face. “I knew you’d answer something like this,” he said and put the knife back into his clothes. “But I was curious. Then at least answer me this. What’s the name of your katana?”

    It wasn’t what the samurai expected, his eyes widening. He understood what Tadayoshi meant a moment later and bit his lips. His body lost the rest of his strength and Konkawa fell backwards.

    “Please forgive me, father. The sword you loved will be tainted by traitor,” the samurai said to the skies and then turned to Tadayoshi, crying. “If you have any decency in you, do not dishonor Asahi with your hands.”

    He’s more angry by the sword than dying, Tadayoshi thought as he stared the fallen enemy and then the swordsman realized. “Can you move?” The samurai raised his left hand with difficulty. “I can do it for you,” Tadayoshi said, his eyes empty.

    The samurai closed his eyes and shook his head. With his left hand, he drew the tanto on his waist and placed it above his abdomen. Taking deep breaths, he stabbed himself, gritting his teeth to hold the scream. Even if his arm trembled, he slid the small blade slowly, opening his stomach from one side to the other, the blood tainting his clothes and the ground.

    Konkawa’s arm became limp, the tanto slipping from his fingers. Even if his chest stopped moving and he lost the little color he had left, the samurai died without letting go of his katana.
    --- Double Post Merged, Dec 4, 2016 ---
    Chapter 6
    Silence filled the village as everyone watched the dead samurai.

    “That was an interesting fight,” a voice echoed, startling the villagers. Everyone turned towards the voice.

    I didn’t feel their presence at all, Tadayoshi realized, picking up his scabbard and putting it on the same place as before, his eyes never leaving the five newcomers. Since they’re not threatening or killing anyone, it means they’re reinforcements. The swordsman swung his sword to clean the blood from the blade, but didn’t sheath it. If they know who I am, I’m in deep shit. I can barely keep standing, let alone run away. Just holding the sword strained his arm. I need to take control of the situation, he thought, hiding his scar with the free hand.

    “Are you the reinforcements from the castle?” the swordsman asked the obvious question first, watching their reactions. There was none. Shit, Tadayoshi cursed in his mind, clicking his tongue. “Did you manage to capture the bandits?”

    In response, two of the five mounted men opened path and a third soldier rode between them, pulling the reins of a horse. Even from this distance, Tadayoshi recognized the bandits that fled, tied back to back.

    The group rode to the center of the village. Tadayoshi kept still, waiting until they were near enough for him to distinguish them. Four wore light armors, but despite their hard appearances, none attracted more attention than the man riding in the back. Thought he didn’t appear to be old man—probably around his thirty—his bald head and the burn-scar on the forehead gave him an important presence. His beard compensated the lack of hair. Though Tadayoshi had seen longer beards, he had never seen one so thick it hid the neck entirely.

    He’s strong, Tadayoshi could feel. Stronger than the samurai. Before he realized it, his breathing was slow and his fingers white around the handle of his sword.

    “Sadasada-sama!” someone among the villagers screamed, pushing his way to them. Messenger kneeled before the rider, bowing his head so low his forehead almost touched the ground. I think I heard that name before, Tadayoshi thought, trying to remember as he watched the man give orders to the soldiers.

    “He’s… Matsudaira-sama’… advisor…” Tadayoshi turned when he heard the chief’s voice. Just breathing seemed to tire Daisuke-dono, but despite his appearance, with bandages around his head and holding his side, the old man’s eyes never seemed so strong to the swordsman. “He must… have come… to help…”

    They should’ve come earlier and fight instead of me, Tadayoshi wanted to complain, but held his tongue. “I think they have all the evidence they need. There’s no reason for me to stay here any longer.” Despite his words, he was exhausted, and the thought of leaving right now pained his body. But I can’t stay here with them around.

    “We can’t… let our… savior…leave like this,” the chief said, his face wincing from the pain. “I know you… only asked for… the swords… as payment… but we… I can’t…”

    “Asahi is worth more than enough, believe me,” Tadayoshi said, staring the katana, still on the samurai’s hand. Even if it’s not a muramasa blade, I can make a lot of money with it.

    “Are you this village chief?” Sadasada had finished giving his orders and approached them. Tadayoshi faced him, but turned his scar away from the advisor as discreetly as he could.

    “Yes… I am…” Daisuke-dono tried bending his knees with the help from Messenger, but the advisor waved his hand.

    “There’s no need for that,” the advisor said in his thunderous voice. The chief’s face softened with relief and the old man pulled himself up using Messenger’s arm as support. “I suspected something was wrong. The troops’ movement were too strange and after I heard the news of the attack on this village, I knew I was right. I asked Matsudaira-sama and he sent me.

    “What… do you… think they… wanted… Sadasada…sama?”

    “Either make a path to our castle or lure us and attack us at there.”

    Daisuke-dono’ body trembled and his breathing became slower. His knees gave in, but before he fell, Messenger held him with both arms. No wonder. This entire village faced destruction just as a plan for the war, Tadayoshi thought.

    “What is… going to… happen… now?”

    “We have enough evidence now to arrest the traitor now. He might try to weasel his way out, but since Konkawa served him, he can hardly deny,” Sadasada said, looking the samurai. Then he turned to Tadayoshi.

    The swordsman stared back, forgetting to breathe for a moment. He squeezed the handle of his sword, but using all his concentration, he managed to suppress his killing. “I’m glad to hear that,” Tadayoshi said with a forced smile on his face. “Now this village is finally at peace and I can go back to my journey.”

    “Yes… we can… move… on…” Daisuke-dono covered his face, but it didn’t manage to hide his tears.

    “Are you the Tadayoshi?” Sadasada asked in a low voice, his eyes on the hand covering the scar.

    Tadayoshi squeezed his hand by reflex, but he lowered after an instant. His mind went red. I can kill him before he could reach for his sword, but there’s no way I can kill all the others. Not in this state, he thought, his eyes looking for the soldiers. Before he noticed, the soldiers were looking back at him, and the village became still. Then Tadayoshi realized it; his killing intent was so strong even the villagers could sense it to some point. He turned back to the advisor.

    Sadasada was staring him, his deep eyes fixated on the swordsman, almost as if waiting to see what he would do.

    Breathing hard, Tadayoshi sheathed his sword. I couldn’t kill him, he realized it. “I am,” he said, almost defiantly. No matter the situation, I won’t hide this name, he said to himself.

    Sadasada held his breath. Tadayoshi kept the stare, not blinking once. Keeping his face without any emotion, the advisor breathed out through his nose and turned around, riding to his soldiers.

    Tadayoshi watched as the adviser talked with the soldiers. The five looked at him. For a moment the swordsman grabbed the handle of his sword, but before he drew, the soldiers turned around and started their orders.

    He’s letting me go, the swordsman realized, looking at the advisor’s back. With a sigh of relief, he let go of his sword and at the same time, a sudden pain overtook his body. Using the rest of his strength, he dragged himself to the samurai.

    Konkawa’s body had lost the rest of its color. His lips were blue and his cheeks white, the veins showing up lightly. He laid motionless on the ground, his open eyes cold and empty, but he hadn’t let go off his katana yet.

    With some effort, Tadayoshi managed to open the rigid fingers and take the sword from the hand. Even dead he won’t let go of Asahi. The swordsman stared the samurai before closing his eyes with the free hand and then standing up. Raising the katana against the setting sun, Tadayoshi turned the blade, staring the dry blood. My blood, he thought with a strange calm as he cleaned it with a piece of cloth ripped from Konkawa’s hakama.

    As Tadayoshi picked up the scabbard and sheathed his new sword, a neighing of pain reached his ears. A few bandits, though unconscious, seemed still to be breathing under the animals. The more the two soldiers tried making the horses stand up, the more it protested, the screams neighing filling the village. The soldiers finally realized some of the paws were broken and exchanged glances. Even the animals knew what was coming when the soldiers drew their weapons, but couldn’t do anything as the blade sliced the throats. The bandits finally seemed to wake, but soon they too stop moving when the soldiers moved to them.

    Turning his head around, Tadayoshi saw Bandages racing towards the advisor. He asked something the swordsman couldn’t hear, but then Sadasada glanced at him for a second. “We will be back tomorrow morning,” he said loud enough for everyone to hear him.

    The message couldn’t be more clear to Tadayoshi; don’t be here.

    At least I can rest, he thought, the relief over flooding him. Tadayoshi took a look at his state. Though his wounds were superficial, some still bleed, drenching the rest of his clothes red. Traveling like this is gonna attract some attention…

    When he moved his arm to clean some of the blood, the kimono couldn’t take it anymore and ripped the rest and now only the bottom remained. His sandals were on the same state, falling apart with the first step. Sighing, he threw it away.

    “Tadayoshi-sama.” Sumire-dono approached him with Ei by her side. I’m so tired I didn’t realize they were near. “Let’s… take care of your wounds first,” she said in a low voice, still not looking him in the eyes.

    Is it because she can’t bear to look my wounds… or something else? Tadayoshi wondered, scratching his scar as he followed the woman.

    I never thought walking could be this awful, he thought as he dragged himself to the chief’s house, his feet feeling the small and painful rocks on the ground. Tadayoshi had to force each step, making the short distance take longer than it should. When they finally arrived, the swordsman ignored the pain all over his body and sat on the ground, massaging his feet until the pain became more bearable.

    The boy was alone in the main room, staring at nothing when Tadayoshi entered. Ei turned his head at the same time and now looked the swordsman. His eyes… Though there was something there, the boy’s eyes were dull and unfocused.

    He lost his determination, and now has no idea what to do, Tadayoshi realized as he placed the sword where he slept and sat down. If not for me, maybe he’d live the rest of his life with it. Or perhaps he’d died if the soldiers didn’t arrive in time. The swordsman shook his head. It doesn’t matter. What matters now is that Ei will have to live in a world without someone important… Just like me…

    The silence only broke when Sumire-dono came from the kitchen with a wooden bucket filled with water. It was so hot Tadayoshi could see the steam coming from it and almost imagined the heat only by watching.

    The chief’s wife dipped the cloth she had in her hand on the water and cleaned the biggest wounds first. Though she hesitated to touch him, she still did her job. Each time she passed the cloth, he felt a sting of pain and his face frowned.

    “A hot spring would be perfect right now,” he said, more to distract himself than to change the mood. If she’s scared of me, that’s her problem, he thought, closing his eyes.

    “I’ll do it.” Ei spoke for the first time. Tadayoshi watched him with one eye as the chief’s wife stopped and then handed the cloth to the boy.

    “After you finish cleaning, put this on the wounds.”

    The swordsman winced when she showed a small wooden bowl filled with plants. In his first experience with it, his friend, whom had started his studies, used the wrong herbs. Tadayoshi had a skin rash for days.

    “These plants grow around here and since it’s good for wounds and scratches, we always have a lot,” Sumire-dono said when she saw Tadayoshi looking at the bowl, misunderstanding his stare, and then returned to the kitchen.

    The boy dipped the cloth and cleaned the wounds in silence. Tadayoshi felt Ei hesitating from time to time, though he knew it was different from the chief’s wife. He needs to talk… no, he wants to, but has no idea how to start, the swordsman realized it. With a tiny smile, he decided to give a little push.

    “Luck the rest was weak. If there was another one like the samurai, I’d be dead now.” The boy didn’t react, the silence broken only by the sound of water. “But if there was another samurai, those peaches wouldn’t be enough.”

    The boy kept quiet, concentrated on his task. He dipped the cloth and cleaned his wound, but when he cleaned the same place again and again, Tadayoshi realized his mind was somewhere else. This child needs to find the words on his own, he said to himself, and he too remained quiet, waiting the moment Ei would finally talk.

    “Thanks… for saving us…” Even now he tried keeping his emotion out of his tone, but his voice was too heavy.

    “There’s no reason to hold. There are times when we must cry,” Tadayoshi said to the boy, reminding his master’s words. “Or it will be harder for the pain to ease someday. Believe me.”

    For a moment, Tadayoshi thought the boy would kept his emotions to himself, but then he felt the boy’s hands trembled on his back. Soon Ei couldn’t hold the tear any longer and rested his head on the swordsman’s shoulder.

    He blinked, not knowing what to do. But when the words echoed in his mind, the swordsman patted the boy on the head. This is what I’m supposed to do to comfort someone, right, Inori? Tadayoshi remembered, the tears also falling from his eyes. Hope this is enough.

    Sumire-dono opened the door, but when she saw the scene, she returned to the kitchen almost at the same time. The swordsman saw her teary eyes and sad smile on the woman’s lips. Guess this boy’s been holding in since his mom died.

    It took some time for Ei to finish crying. Before Tadayoshi said anything, the boy cleaned his face with both hand. Trying to hide the embarrassment now, the swordsman thought, but said nothing. After sniffing for a couple times, Ei resumed cleaning the wounds in silence again, but now it was different.

    Ei left the house to dump the water, now cold and red. The swordsman contemplated his body, observing his new scars. At least they won’t leave a mark like this, he thought with his hand on his old one, his eyes going empty.

    The sound of door opening brought Tadayoshi’s mind back. Ei returned, but not alone. The chief was with him, along with the Messenger holding the three swords Tadayoshi had asked for payment. The young man placed them in a corner, gave the chief a hard look and then stared Tadayoshi for an instant before leaving.

    He doesn’t care that I saved them. The moment they found out who I am, I stopped being the outsider who was fighting for them and became the assassin who betrayed and killed everyone’s hero, Tadayoshi thought. I didn’t fight for them, I didn’t fight for them, he said to himself, trying to suppress his anger. Breathing hard through his nose, he turned to Daisuke-dono.

    With his head bandaged, the old man seemed more fragile than ever, as if some of his remaining years were taken. But his eyes were as clear as ever, as if the weight had been lifted from his soul. The sight managed to make the swordsman sighed and let go of his anger. That’s right… I didn’t fight for them.

    Ei sat behind Tadayoshi, putting the empty bucket aside and grabbing the bowl with the herbs. Picking up a piece of wood with a rounded top, the boy crunched the plants until there was only a green paste. Even the smell is awful, he though, and his face showed his feelings. The boy looked into his eyes and ignored him, sticking two fingers in the bowl. Without skimping, he placed it almost all on each wound carefully, hesitating for a moment on the scar.

    Trying to take his mind of the paste, Tadayoshi turned to Daisuke-dono. The chief watched the scene with the same unreadable expression as earlier, but Tadayoshi realized there was something else. When Ei finished, he went to the kitchen and didn’t return, conforming the swordsman suspicious.

    “There’s no reason to hold back. Not after everything,” Tadayoshi said, opening his arms and showing his wounds covered by the paste.

    The chief opened his mouth and then closed it, pressing his lips hard. “Sadasada-sama has returned to the castle. He doesn’t believe there will be any more attacks, but he left three soldiers to protect us…” Daisuke-dono reported the situation, but Tadayoshi noted he avoided looking him directly in the eyes.

    “He said that if I was still here, he wouldn’t let me go, right? He made it quite clear when he said he’d be back here tomorrow morning like that.

    The old man opened his mouth, but then closed it right away again, his eyes fixed on the floor.

    “There’s no reason to worry yourself, Daisuke-dono. I’ll be gone before he’s back. I’m kinda used to leave places in a hurry,” Tadayoshi said and a hollow laugh escaped from his lips. Used to be a pariah again isn’t something to be proud, he thought. “Actually, it’s better this way, since I’ve got some time to prepare. Last time, I had to flee naked and with a mob after my head. At least I managed grab this kimono on the way out.”

    He laughed again to break the uncomfortable mood. The chief did appear to relax a little, but he still avoided looking Tadayoshi in the eyes.

    The rumors… the truth about me must’ve reached even a small village like this, he thought, his eyes glancing at his sword. With my master’s fame, and a reward like that on me, I’ll be surprised if the whole damn country doesn’t know already.

    Daisuke-dono opened his mouth again, but when Tadayoshi turned back to him, he closed it. After taking a deep breath, the chief finally looked the swordsman in the eye. “Tadayoshi…sama… why… why did you help us?”

    Tadayoshi ran a hand on his face. He didn’t have to think of a reason; he already knew. But to say it aloud… damn old man, you really are like my master. “It was because of you, Daisuke-dono. And that boy.” Part of him wanted to help, even though the other part would rather turn around and be safe. But since the chief was doing everything he could to avoid the fight, Tadayoshi would hear his will. It was the right choice. They had no chance of winning. “It’s stupid to fight when you’d lose everything. But you weren’t thinking of saving yourself. You were willing to sacrifice your life so others could live. I think… I think the worlds still needs people like you.”

    The chief kept his mouth shut, staring the swordsman, the silence almost unbearable to Tadayoshi. He was the one avoiding meeting Daisuke-dono’ eyes now. Before any of them could break the silence, Sumire-dono came from the kitchen, sparing the two men.

    Ei helped setting up the food—fish with millet again—on the table. The four of them sat down and just like yesterday, the only sound was the chewing, the clothes rustling, and the hashi touching the bowls.

    No wonder no one’s in the mood to celebrate, Tadayoshi thought, bringing the hashi to his mouth. He glanced at Ei, Sumire-dono and Daisuke-dono; though they focused on the meal, their eyes were unfocused and empty. They might be alive and safe now, but the cost was too much.

    After Sumire-dono and Ei cleared the table, sleep hit Tadayoshi with full force. He yawned and turned to the corner where his straw bed was until the morning. Before the swordsman could ask the chief, he, his wife and Ei left the house.

    The trio walked alone at first, but soon others joined them. Tadayoshi immediately knew he shouldn’t be here, but he still followed them, always keeping a distance and walking under the shadows. The entire village gathered around a small area near the edge the fields.

    The ground’s too soft there… It wasn’t random; Tadayoshi counted fifteen different patches of earth different from the rest. GravesSince they don’t have to abandon their homes, they’re paying respect for the dead, he realized. Keeping to the shadows, the swordsman strained his eyes. There was a small pile of rocks on each grave, and on the center, a wooden board with nothing but a bird carved.

    Ei was in front of a grave on the corner. Tadayoshi knew right away. His mother. The boy wasn’t alone. Two women, a young man and three children were by his side. They cried and try to comfort Ei, but even from this distance, the swordsman could see his mind wasn’t there.

    On the other side, the chief and his wife were crying in front of their son’s grave. After a long time, Daisuke-dono tried to say something through the tears.

    Tadayoshi didn’t hear what he said, nor saw beyond that. I’m a stranger, an outsider… hated, he said to himself, his hand on the scar. I don’t belong, my presence is an insult. No one realized he was there. And no one will. Even if nobody looked backwards, he backed away in silence.

    He gathered the straw and placed in on the same corner. Making a big pile for a pillow, he rested his head. When he was about to close his eyes, the advisor’s words echoed in his mind. We will be back tomorrow morninghe’ll let me leave, but it doesn’t mean they won’t chase me. In the worst case, he’ll be here before dawn and I’ll have to fight.

    Forcing himself up, he sat on the straw and searched his possessions. With the linen sack in his hand, he picked his swords, the old and the new. Looking between the katana, he chose his old one.

    I fought, but since I was in the defensive for the most part, I doubt it’ll take much, he thought, unsheathing. He held the sword in his front with the left hand, the sharp edge turned away from him. Before he could stop it, he chuckled. I guess all that nagging was worth it, master. Maintaining the katana was one of the non-fighting lessons his master insisted.

    With the free hand, he opened the bag and took a small sheet of nuguigami, a paper made from rice. Holding between his thumb and index finger, he slid it from the guard to tip, cleaning the blade of the fight’s remains and old oil from the scabbard. Repeating the process twice, the katana was clean. He held it upwards, turning around a couple times. It’s not enough.

    From the sack, he took an even smaller one. Inside there was a white powder and an uchiko, a small silk ball tight around a wooden shaft. With the uchiko, he tapped both sides of the sword, covering the blade with a thin layer of powder. Using another sheet of nuguigami, he removed the layer. When he was done, he raised the sword again, looking under the moonlight passing through the window. Like new, he thought, a smile on his lips.

    Sheathing his sword, Tadayoshi picked his new one. The moment he unsheathed, he couldn’t stop himself from staring the blade again. Thought it didn’t shine like before, it was still breathtaking to him. Even if you whipped the blood, it doesn’t mean it’s clean, his voice master woke him from the trance. I know, I know. If it’s not properly treated, a blade will die… and I won’t make any money, he said to himself, a meager smile on his lips. It’ll be a shame to sell this…

    Shaking his head, Tadayoshi looked for the mekugi, the peg that held the tsuka, the handle. Once he found, he grabbed a thin piece of wood inside the sack and hit it a few times. Without the peg, the handle easily came out. Applying a little more strength, he took the fuchi, the collar, the tsuba, the hand guard, and the seppa, the washer.

    The katana now was at its most naked form. But even like this, it’s a tool for killing. Checking the base, he saw the dirty and snorted. For someone who cared a lot for the katana, you sure didn’t clean it properly in a while, Konkawa.

    Repeating the process he did before, Tadayoshi cleaned Asahi entirely and piece by piece, he reassembled the katana. When he finished, the swordsman in him couldn’t contain his smile; it’s more beautiful than ever!

    I should clean the others too. But when he looked at the linen sack, he gave up the idea. I’m almost without paper and powder. Since I don’t know when I’ll get near a town and a blacksmith, better save it.

    Tadayoshi placed everything back where it were. The sleep had left him now, but when he heard movements through the windows, he laid down and kept still. He didn’t know how much time had passed, but he would rather like to give the chief and his wife more privacy.
    --- Double Post Merged, Dec 11, 2016 ---
    Chapter 7
    The sun had barely risen when Tadayoshi opened his eyes. Still lying on his straw bed, he expended his senses. When the swordsman confirmed he was alone inside the room, he sat up.

    His body throbbed and the green paste, now dry and hard, made each movement hurt a little. Tadayoshi winced, but ignored the pain. I don’t have time to waste. The advisor could be back any moment now… and with more soldiers, he thought, removing the paste with his hand. And it’s best to leave before the villagers wake up anyway. This way I can put my hands on some clothes.

    While cleaning himself as best he could, Tadayoshi turned around, but when he saw the bowl of food next to his bed, his hands stopped. I was so tired I missed someone passing by me, he realized, a smile crossing his face. But it disappeared right away when he pressed his lips. Even if the chief and his wife were quiet, I should’ve noticed. They wouldn’t harm me, but if it happened elsewhere… Taking a deep breath, he mentally thanked for the food and ate it.

    “We haven’t thanked you properly for saving us.”

    Tadayoshi turned the moment he heard the chief’s voice coming from the door. When he saw Daisuke-dono, Sumire-dono and Ei entering the house, a meager smile appeared on the swordsman’s lips. How exhausted am I to miss three people? He said nothing as the trio walked to him.

    Both Daisuke-dono and Sumire-dono had red eyes. Ei, on the other hand, had dark circles around his. “Thank you very much,” the chief and his wife spoke together. The boy only stared at him, but he bowed along with the couple.

    “There’s no need for that,” Tadayoshi said, looking away. “I told you I fought for my own reasons.”

    “You saved us. And because of that, I wished we had more than this to give,” Daisuke-dono said and then looked at his wife.

    Sumire-dono handed Tadayoshi two wrappings. One he could tell what it was by the smell; food. It can last for a few days, more if I rationed, he thought, judging by the weight. Ever since he began his journey, the swordsman never had any provision, and always had to look for food when his body needed.

    The second wrapping was soft and light. Clothes, Tadayoshi realized, his eyes widening. He placed the food with his swords and unwrapped the package. The two-piece kimono was simple, but it was clean and most importantly, in a good state. Comparing to my rags, these are clothes of a lord. There was even underwear, sandals, socks and a sash.

    “They belonged to our son…” Sumire-dono had a sad smile, the tears threatening to fall from her eyes. Tadayoshi opened his mouth, but then closed it, pressing his lips. “It’s all right,” she added, looking him in the eyes for the first time. “You deserve more than this.”

    I never thought accepting clothes would make me feel guiltier than if I stole, he thought, heading to change in the chief’s room. The black bottom matched the dark blue top, and it fit almost perfectly, the top a bit loose. I guess their son was a bit bigger than me, he noted, tying with the sash.

    “They look good on you,” Sumire-dono complemented him. Thought her cheeks were wet and her eyes even redder, the smile was genuine, making his guilt feeling vanish a bit.

    While Tadayoshi gathered his possessions, he could feel the boy staring him. I know what’s in your head. And I won’t say anything, he said to himself. That’s your decision. I won’t help you make it.

    The swordsman placed the katana and Asahi on his left side and the wakizashi on the right, tying on his waist with the sash. The diary and the knife went inside his kimono and using his old clothes, he wrapped together the food, the sack and the other the other two weapons he got as payment.

    Turning to the chief and his wife, he made an exaggerated movement, showing his new possessions. “Thank you for all this.” I think it’s the first time I have so much to carry, he thought, smiling.

    “No… This is the least we can do…” Daisuke-dono avoided his eyes. “I’m sorry for—”

    “I said there’s no problem,” Tadayoshi interrupted the chief, tired of that subject. “I don’t fight for reward of for glory.” My name’s so ruined there’ll never be any glory in my future. I’ll go down in history as the man who killed Yasuhiro, he thought, a sad smile on his lips. The swordsman looked at Ei, who still hadn’t said a word, and then back to the couple. “Actually, it’s best if I leave soon. I don’t want to bring trouble to the village.” Or to give time to someone think the rewards is too much to let it go, the words popped in his head, but he kept it to himself.

    Daisuke-dono sighed in relief and Tadayoshi couldn’t help but smile. So he’s really one of the few who can look past my name and reputation. The chief, together with his wife, knelt and placed both hands on the floor, lowering his head.

    “There’s no need for dogeza! That much formality to someone as me…” Tadayoshi trailed off, looking away. Even master felt awkward in his situations… With a heavy sigh, he looked at the couple. “Maybe our path shall cross again,” he said, holding his sudden urge to laugh. I finally got to use one of master’s sentences.

    The chief and Sumire-dono made another reverence, but Tadayoshi barely paid them attention, putting on the new sandals and leaving the house. I lost too much time already…

    From the corner of his eyes, Tadayoshi saw Ei following him with the same empty expression. The boy opened and closed his mouth, but the swordsman didn’t slow down. Many villagers stopped their chores to watch him, but none said anything nor tried to stop him, so Tadayoshi ignored them.

    Ei still hadn’t said a word, but when they were almost near the village’s entrance, he halted completely. Without stopping, Tadayoshi turned his head. The boy stared one of the ruined houses, but his eyes saw beyond the scorched wood.

    So the memories will keep you here? Tadayoshi wondered, remembering their conversation. Guess your determination isn’t that strong now… too bad, he thought, sighing. Wait… Did I want a disciple because of my master’s words… or because maybe I could leave something to my name?

    Tadayoshi was already in the forest when he heard hurried steps. The swordsman suppress his smile before turning around.

    Ei panted heavily. He placed both hand on the knees recover his breath, but never took his eyes from Tadayoshi.

    The swordsman stared him in the eyes with the same serious expression he had during the fight, the desire to smile gone.

    The boy opened his mouth, but under the swordsman’s eyes, his lips trembled and no voice came from him. Ei lowered his head. “I… I…”

    “What do you want?” Tadayoshi asked in a low voice.

    Ei became still and suddenly raised his head, looking Tadayoshi in the eyes. “I wanna be strong!” he screamed with all he had. “I don’t just wanna cry and do nothing ever again! I want you to make me strong!” Ei panted even more now, but he didn’t blink

    With his face expressionless, Tadayoshi closed his eyes. “It’s not easy. Do you have the courage and determination to after something like that?” He opened his eyes, leaving his words in the air.

    “I want to change,” Ei said, without hesitation this time. “I don’t want be someone who can only depend on others! I want to be strong, want to be a samurai!” Ei’s eyes had the mysterious spark that caught Tadayoshi’s attention back.

    His determination is stronger now, the swordsman thought, pressing his lips to hold the smile.

    His last memories with his master came back to his mind. Though part of him always imagined what would be like to train a disciple, and put him through everything he suffered, Tadayoshi had never considered for real.

    I shouldn’t be the successor of the style. I’m just kid master found on the streets. Kenshin should have been the one chosen, since Iori is in the middle of finding himself… Thinking of his old life made him lost himself in memories.

    Tadayoshi shook his head to dismiss the nostalgia. Maybe a disciple wouldn’t be so bad, he thought.

    “I don’t know what lies ahead my path. It’s dangerous and you could die,” he said, turning around and walking, the smile back to his face. “Since I’m no master, I hope a weak brat like you won’t die with my trainings. And most important, I’m not a samurai.”

    The boy ran to keep up with him. When he was at Tadayoshi’s side, the swordsman held the wrapping with food and the swords on his front. Ei turned his arms and trembled under the weight.

    “Careful brat. A sword is heavier than you think,” Tadayoshi said, suddenly serious.

    “My name… isn’t brat,” the boy said, struggling to keep up with the extra weight. “It’s… Eiko…”

    “Eiko, huh? A rather feminine name…” Tadayoshi widened his eyes when he finally understood. “ You’re a girl?”

    With difficult, she balanced the wrapping in one hand and pulled the string holding her hair with the other. When she looked up at him, she showed something Tadayoshi hadn’t seen the girl doing once since they met; a smile.

    Thanks for reading Samurai NOT Part 1

    A long time ago, this was supposed to be just a short story, but it expanded in my head and now it's much more than just a short story.

    Part 2 is written, but it will take a while for me to translate into English

    See you in Part 2
    Darky and riki like this.
  4. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member


    Sep 12, 2008
    Likes Received:
    United States
    How long is your story?

    Keep up the good work! I've enjoyed reading it. :thumbs
  5. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

    Jun 16, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Thanks =)

    Samurai NOT has 5 parts.
    Without translating and rewriting, part 2 and 3 are already bigger than part 1.
    Hope the readers will stick to it =)
    WithYouInSpirit and riki like this.
  6. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member


    Sep 12, 2008
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    United States
    Don't worry; I will :amuse
    Darky, phmoura and WithYouInSpirit like this.
  7. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

    Jun 16, 2013
    Likes Received:
    After a long time, I finally start bringing Samurai NOT part 2
    Hope you enjoy it

    Tadayoshi turned the sword around slowly, showing Ei both sides of the blade, so polished the girl could see her reflection. “Are you ready?”

    Ei forced herself to take her eyes from the sword and held her breath when she saw his face. There was nothing of the usual Tadayoshi right now.

    “Are you ready?” he asked again.

    With a deep breath, she raised her right arm and closed her hand so hard her knuckles lost its color. Even so, she still trembled. This is the first step, Eiko, she said to herself, trying to calm her heart. But when Tadayoshi put the cold metal against her skin, her breathing became heavy. She needed all her willpower to not pull the arm back.

    “Are you afraid? Ei held her impulse to say no. He’ll know… She managed to nod a bit. “Good,” he said and, without warning, pulled the sword.

    Even though she knew what was coming, Ei screamed. She bit down her lips, but her voice still echoed through the trees. It only lasted an instant, but the pain didn’t fade, even after Tadayoshi cleaned the blood, put the yellowish past Ei prepared beforehand and wrapped with a cloth.

    “Remember this pain, Ei,” he said, looking her in the eyes. “I’ll teach you how to use a sword, but you’ll decide when to use it. But no matter if you become a samurai or bandit, never forget the pain of a blade.”

    Ei was still staring her arm by the time Tadayoshi cleaned the blood and sheathed the sword. She closed and opened her fist slowly, feeling the pain. “I’ll never forget.”

    “Good.” He a smile and in an instant the seriousness was gone from his face, and the Tadayoshi from the last few weeks was back. He went to the tree where their belongings were and when he came back, he handed a sword to Ei by the handle.

    I took a moment for Ei to accept the weapon. She looked with disbelief between the sword and the man. “Are you serious?”

    “Of course.” Tadayoshi tilted his head. “When have I ever joked about your training?” he asked, his face full of innocence, while hers reddened.

    “From the beginning!” She couldn’t hold her rage any longer and screamed all the frustration she felt over the past weeks. “Ever since we left my village, I’ve only been carrying everything and exercising! I kept my mouth shut and did what you said, but now, when you finally said I was gonna train with a sword, not only you cut me, you give me this?” Ei waved the weapon at the man’s face. Instead of Asahi, safely away on his waist, Tadayoshi had given her the smallest sword, the wakizashi. “I want the real katana!”

    Tadayoshi kept a serious face, but after a moment, he placed a hand on the mouth, trying and failing to conceal his laugh. When he couldn’t hold it any longer, he laughed, and, in the silence around them, his voice stirring the nearest birds.

    It only made her angrier. “What’s so funny?”

    It took him some time to calm down enough and answer. “I was just thinking we’re alike. I did almost the same thing with my master.” He cleaned the tears in the corner of his eyes. “Fine. Unlike the old man, I will explain you the reason. But before that, could you try not to scream like that again? Those chasing me probably already know I passed by your village and should be close. They don’t need more help.”

    His words didn’t help to calm the girl’s anger. She urged to say the people she loved and knew her entire life wouldn’t betray the person who saved them and if his whereabouts were known, it was the soldiers’ fault. But Ei swelled down her feelings; the glares Tadayoshi received on the day they left were engraved in her memory. Apart from Dai-jii and Sumire, none had any gratitude in them.

    They stayed in silence for a long time. “Do you know why we didn’t take a horse back in your village?” he asked suddenly.

    Despite her anger, Ei looked at him. She had complained about it once or twice when her body was exhausted from the exercises and Tadayoshi still made she carried everything. He alleged they couldn’t stop just because she was a bit tired, saying they couldn’t waste time and should get as far as they could from the village. Then a horse would’ve helped, she thought, her anger rising again. “Don’t know.”

    “Aside from the trouble of taking care of an animal and even ignoring the fact that it makes us easier to track, you’re in bad shape and your stamina is awful. Everything so far was to improve them a bit. You’re still far from using a sword, but soon we’ll be out of the woods.” He looked ahead, seeing something between the trees Ei didn’t. “If you’re with me, you need to know how to use a sword. That’s why you’ll train with the wakizashi,” he finished in the smuggest face he had.

    “Actually, you should be thankful to train with a real blade. When the old man found me, I was already used to swords but he still made me use a wooden sword.” Tadayoshi eyes unfocused for a bit.

    Nostalgia? Ei wondered. He gets like this whenever he talks about Yasuhiro-sama… Whatever Tadayoshi felt, he dismissed with a shake of his head and waved his hand, as if shooing a dog.

    “Now go train like I showed you.”

    Even with the rage still bubbling, her desire to finally train with a sword was bigger. Despite complaining, the wakizashi was a real blade. A real weapon. Though she would never tell Tadayoshi, Ei had played samurai with her friends using sticks as swords and had imagined being one. Until now, it was only a kid’s dream, but ever since she watched Tadayoshi’s fight and chose to go with him, the desire was within her reach, and only grew.

    Ei slowly unsheathed the sword a bit, just to hear the sound of metal and catch a glimpse of the blade. Though it was dull and she couldn’t see herself reflected on it, there was still some beauty to the girl. Barely containing her smile, she sheathed the weapon and placed it between the sash and clothes on her left, just like Tadayoshi.

    “Are you a complete idiot?” Tadayoshi screamed out of nowhere.

    Ei raised her head, her nostrils flaring, but the seriousness in his face took her aback. She looked for something she was doing wrong and found nothing. She turned back to him with her expression a mix of confusion and angry. Is he mocking me again? “What?”

    “Don’t put the sword on your waist.” She had no reaction as she tried to understand another one of his stupid jokes. “I’m serious. You’ve never touched a weapon and I’ve seen people cut themselves and even lose a finger or two sheathing a sword. Until you’re ready, don’t put the sheath on your waist.”

    Ei had no idea if he was serious or not, but without ever taking her eyes from Tadayoshi, she did as told, drawing the sword and resting the sheath against a tree.

    “Good. But you don’t need to try killing me with your eyes. Nor point the weapon to me.”

    Breathing deep, she focused her attention on the sword, holding it before her just like Tadayoshi had shown. The basic stance where you can either defend or attack, according to him.

    But no matter how simple and basic the stance was, to Ei, it was special. My first step, she thought, pressing her lips to hide her smile. She closed her eyes and remembered every detail of the movement she could. How Tadayoshi swung the sword, how his back was, how his hands were on the handle, how he moved his body…

    When she opened her eyes, she raised both arms above her head and brought the sword down with a quick swing. There was no sound of metal cutting the air like Tadayoshi, but even so, she did nothing to stop her lips from curving into a smile.

    “Not entirely awful,” Tadayoshi said. “Keep your hands a little more apart and try not to move your hips too much.”

    Ei nodded and moved her left hand down, clutching the end of the handle, and the other up, touching the sword guard. Breathing in and out slowly, she did the movement again.

    “Less awful. Now turn around and keep doing until you can’t raise your arms anymore.

    “Why do I have to turn around?” she snapped, her irritation creeping back to the surface before she realized.

    Tadayoshi sighed and closed his eyes. “In this little time we know each other, you changed so much. You used to just do whatever I told you, but now you keep questioning everything.” He placed a hand on the forehead and shook his head in a fake disappointment. “You know you’ll get distracted if you watch me. Now turn,” he said slowly, as if talking to a child, and then he made a small circle with his finger.

    Ei held her immediate answer. She knew she couldn’t retort his words. During her exercises, he trained too. The problem was when she stopped to rest a bit and ended up watching him for a long time without realizing. Though she would never tell him, the sight of Tadayoshi swinging the sword was amazing.

    Gritting her teeth, she turned around and raised the sword again. The excitement beamed on her face as she swung the weapon down once more, this time with Tadayoshi’s latest instruction in mind. She did again and again, until her arms trembled just from holding the small sword. Panting and with no strength to raise the wakizashi again, she glanced at Tadayoshi.

    He ran in a queer way, going from one side of the clearing to the other with large steps. It’s like he’s jumping forwards, she thought. In few instants Tadayoshi covered the distant, turned with a quick spin and redid the steps, each time getting a bit faster.

    “What are you doing?” She couldn’t hold her curiosity anymore.

    “Can’t you tell?” Tadayoshi stopped breathless and cleaned the sweat from his face. “You’ve seen it before.”

    Ei closed her eyes and searched her memories, but there was no need to go much far. If she had seen it before, it could only be in the only sword fight she had seen in her life. She had observed every detail, burning everything into her heart. The memories were still fresh, but she didn’t remember anything close to what Tadayoshi did.

    “I’ll admit my speed isn’t anywhere near his,” he added after a while.

    With that in mind, Ei relived the fight once more. The memory finally came back, and she opened her eyes excited. “The samurai’s technique!”

    “It took a while but you got it right. Now go back to your exercise,” Tadayoshi said before resuming his own training. He went from one side to the other twice and stopped again when he realized Ei still stared him. “Just say it.”

    He soon had learned once she got like this, interested in something, she would stop whatever she was doing and only got back when her curiosity was satisfied. Tadayoshi had complained about this more than once.

    “Is that okay? I mean, adding something to the style just like this?”

    From what she had heard through stories, the sword style was important to a samurai. Even if Tadayoshi denied being one, his master was. According to tales her mother and Dai-jii used to tell the kids, Yasuhiro-sama challenged and was challenged many times, always for the title of the strongest style. Would he change his master style like this?

    “This is gonna take some time…” Tadayoshi complained. “This sword style in particular is more flexible. The old man did not learn from anyone, not even from his father. He forged it when young and traveling the provinces. He met several masters, dueled against many warriors and faced powerful opponents, learning with each fight.”

    Ei had noticed when he spoke about his master, most times Tadayoshi smiled, just like he did now, even if he himself didn’t realize. Even if he sometimes acts weird when Yasuhiro-sama’ name comes up, I can tell he loves him… The rumors about him killing his master must be lies… I’m sure, she thought, trying to push away the shadow of doubt in her mind.

    “He realized what’s important isn’t the style, but the warrior himself. The way the old man fought focused on that and he ended up naming that Ittou Isshin. You can’t read yet, but learn this now. It’s written like this.” Tadayoshi moved his finger on the ground, writing ‘一剣一心’. “It means One Sword, One Heart. According to master, the style has techniques, but doesn’t depend only on them. What do you think?

    Ei stared at the words on the ground, the fatigue forgotten as she stood still, concentrating on Tadayoshi’s words. He had been making this kind of questions ever since he started teaching her. Most of her answers left him with an annoying smile on his lips and she embarrassed afterward.

    “If the style doesn’t depend only on techniques, it means it can learn from everything. So the limit is the swordsman himself…?” she answered with some hesitation after a while. He stared her with a blank expression. “Ah! Experience is more important than training!” She added before she could stop herself.

    “When master asked me this, I thought and thought but no matter what, I couldn’t come up with an answer. I even attacked him out of anger. But you came up with a good answer. Congratulations.” Tadayoshi clapped, but when noticed Ei’ cheeks reddening, he stopped. “He liked to say ‘techniques are important to make your body remember the movements. But when you’re in a fight, with your life on the sword, you react before you can even think’.”

    Though he smiled again, this time there was no happiness behind it. His eyes lost focus as he fell silence for a long time. Ei kept quiet and let him enjoy the memories, though she still had many questions.

    “The style’s name doesn’t mean one sword for one person,” Tadayoshi spoke again. This time it was Ei who smiled. It was her next question. He stood up and drew his sword. “It means you pour your heart, your soul into your weapon and it becomes part of you. Everything you learn, everything you experienced, your entire being will reflect on the katana. That was how master created the Ittou Isshin style.”

    Tadayoshi stared her, silently asking if she was satisfied. Ei always liked samurai stories, but never had given too much thought about the sword style besides what the stories told. With her curiosity satisfied, she stood up, ready to train again.

    Ei dropped the sword and fell to her knees the moment she heard Tadayoshi saying the training was over. She reached out for her weapon, but her arms refused to obey. She gave in and lay down. Never thought the ground could feel so good and soft

    Still belly down, she turned her head, trying to see the sky from the corner of her eye. Through the treetops, Ei could still see the sun, but the moon and the stars shared the sky. It’s been this long…?

    Ei felt exhausted. She had never felt like this in her life, not even after working all day in the rice fields. All in her mind was sleep right there. Even her hunger wasn’t a problem; she doubted she could eat anyway. She closed her eyes, letting her mind drift into sleep…

    Until Tadayoshi cleared his throat, bringing her back. Grudgingly, Ei turned her head and stared at him still laying down. He panted and sweated almost as much as she did, and yet somehow he seemed full of energy. How can this idiot still be moving around? I can’t even eat!

    “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

    Since the first day, no matter how tired she was, Tadayoshi made her collect firewood. It was part of her exercises, according to him, and today was no exception. Ei forced herself to sit down and then stand up. Her legs barely endure her own weight, each step taking an immense effort.

    She didn’t have to walk far from the clearing though. There was plenty of firewood around and in no time, she had enough for a decent fire. She considered getting more for the next morning, but her body didn’t allow.

    It took more time to come back than it should, the extra weight slowing her down too much. When she finally dragged her body back to the clearing, the sun had set and Tadayoshi wasn’t around. Ei dropped the firewood near their belongings and picked up her sword. With great effort, she managed to sheath the wakizashi.

    Despite her exhaustion, Ei had almost finished setting the firewood by the time Tadayoshi came back. It was also her everyday task.

    “That was fast.” Tadayoshi had a smile when he dropped the fruits near her and started working on the fire. Soon he had a flaming piece of wood, holding sideways with the tip of his fingers with caution.

    He’s always like this near fires, Ei thought while the flames engulfed the firewood, the fire crackling happily.

    Before she realized, Ei got closer to the fire. Not because of the cold; the summer nights were warm and the trees blocked most winds. Despite the heat, she didn’t want to be far from the light. Even though it was almost full moon, it hid behind the clouds, and the few rays of light that came through died at the treetops. Right now, the fire was the only light keeping the darkness from embracing her completely.

    She wasn’t afraid of the dark. In fact, Ei was proud of being one of the few kids who played until dark, even when most were too scared. Her mother used to complain a lot. But that was in her home, in her village. She had never been this far from everything she knew. I miss home…

    The thought of running back had crossed her mind more than once. To see the faces of Dai-jii, Sumire, Kenta and all her friends. But she had made a promise to herself. Never she wanted to feel helpless again.

    I’ll be strong, she reminded herself once again. That is why she decided to follow Tadayoshi. The man who denied being a samurai could fulfill her wish. But even with her determination, Ei sat a bit closer to the fire.

    Lost in thought, it took her a while to notice what Tadayoshi offered. On one hand, he held two peaches without saying anything. The first time he joked asking if he would have to save a village for the peaches again. Though he had collected more, he saved some fruits for the next morning, just like always.

    He said he didn’t like looking for food when he woke, but Ei knew there was something else. The swordsman had some kind of hurry, though he said he had nowhere to go whenever she asked.

    On the other hand, Tadayoshi offered one of two the last rice balls. Sumire had made enough to last two weeks at the most, but since they rationed, it had last this long, though they were stale. So we’re gonna have only fruits from now on, she thought, accepting her share.

    They tried hunting a few times. To her surprise, Tadayoshi knew how to cook a bit, but he hated the extra work. Ei had also complained about the taste and since her culinary capacities were near non-existing, neither of them suggested hunting again.

    In her defense, Ei had said she almost never cooked at home. Her mother loved teaching her, or at least she tried. But after many disastrous attempts, she gave up and said they would only try again when Ei was older.

    The memory felt like a sword in her heart and she hugged her knees. Ei avoided those thoughts, but whenever she was exhausted, the feelings rushed back. She would never forget her mother, nor her old life. But ever since Ei said goodbye to everything, she wouldn’t cry again. That is what she promised herself.

    Dai-jii, Sumire and her cousin, Kenta, the last family she had left, wouldn’t let her go with Tadayoshi, even if he was the man they owed their lives. We’re safe now, they said. There won’t be any more problems and thanks to our Lord, we’re gonna live in peace. They tried everything to keep her from leaving.

    But she knew that peace was a lie. Could be bandits or even their lord’s enemies again, but they could lose everything and everyone in mere instants. She didn’t want that. She wanted more. They knew there was no way to stop her, so they forced her to swear she would run away and come back home at the first sign of danger. Ei did promise, but deep in her heart she aware she would never keep that promise. But at times like this, when the memories were stronger, her will faltered.

    Trying to push the sadness and homesickness away, Ei devoured her food in few bites. It was enough for her body, but it did not bring her any ease. She turned to Tadayoshi, looking for a few words of comfort.

    In the few weeks they knew each other, Ei soon learned he liked to tease. She became the target of his jokes and sarcasm. But, in the right moments, he listened to her and made her feel better. Ei was starting to rely on him in that area more than she was willing to admit.

    Tadayoshi had already finished his food and was now getting ready to sleep. He tossed around a few times on the ground until he found a comfortable position. Soon his chest moved up and down slowly.

    “I’m impressed you’re still up. I thought you’d faint after today’s training.”

    Ei was surprised and then chuckled. One of the things she envied about him was the fact that he could fall asleep fast anywhere. She, on the other hand, spent too much time tossing around until her conscience drifted away. But like he had done many times, he would listen to her.

    “Just say it. I’m tired too,” he said, yawning.

    There was so much Ei had no idea where to start. Even though she trusted him, she barely knew anything about him. Apart from their time together, what she knew were the rumors that had reached even her small and isolated village. Even though she refused to believe, the samurai’s words still echoed in her mind.

    Ei wanted to ask, but was hard. Though most times Tadayoshi smiled when something related to Yasuhiro-sama came up, the few times he didn’t smile frightened her. His face became dark and terrifying and Ei could only see pain in his eyes. She tried to ignore all this time, but the shadow was always there, deep within her mind, growing whenever she least expected.

    She opened and closed her mouth several times, trying to find the right words. “I never thought you would have trouble saying something,” he said.

    Ei took a deep breath. She had to know the truth. “Did you…” She almost lost her voice, but she forced herself to say it. “…kill Yasuhiro-sama?”

    For a moment Ei wasn’t sure he heard her. Not because of the sound of the fire, nor the sounds of the forest. It was because she barely whispered. But a heartbeat later, she knew he had. Though she couldn’t see his face, she felt he was wide-awake now.

    Tadayoshi stood still for a long time before finally sitting down and turning to her. He picked up a twig and feed it to the fire, but his expression was empty as he stared the flames. “What do you know about my master?” He wasn’t accusing her, nor was he defensive. He wasn’t even angry. He was just asking.

    Ei wasn’t sure if it was the fire playing tricks, but his face became darker. “Everyone in my village knows about Yasuhiro-sama. I think everyone in the country knows.”

    She remembered occasional travelers and even soldiers who came to collect taxes talking about Yasuhiro-sama. Some claimed they even knew him personally. She never believed them though.

    “We grew up listening to the tales about him. We only know him through the stories, but he’s… he was like a hero to us… When we heard he was dead, it was like we’d lost someone close.” Ei remembered that day. A few grown-ups had gone to the castle to buy tools and returned with the news. “They said Yasuhiro-sama was betrayed by his disciple, who killed him when he was wounded because…” Ei trailed off when she saw Tadayoshi’s face becoming even darker.

    “Go on,” he whispered. “I’d like to know what you heard.”

    Ei gulped and looked down, afraid to look his face. Somehow the air grew colder despite the fire and the girl shivered. “Some say yo… the disciple did that because he wanted Inori-sama. But Yasuhiro-sama didn’t allow. His daughter was promised to the son of the emperor himself. When yo…the disciple heard that, he took the opportunity and after he killed Yasuhiro-sama, he went to Inori-sama’ room and…”

    She couldn’t bring herself to say the rest. How can I say he forced himself on her and got her pregnant? The look on Tadayoshi’s face was too much for her. She had seen a similar expression only once; after the samurai revealed his name during the fight and everyone looked at him full of hate. But even then, it wasn’t like this, she thought.

    “I knew the rumors were bad, but this…”

    They stayed in silence for a long time. She tried to think of something to change the mood.

    “My favorite story is the one where Yasuhiro-sama invades the castle and saves Kouhime-sama. And the one where he defeats an entire ninja village alone. Dai-jii liked telling the one where he gave all his money and belongings apart from his sword to help a villa…” Ei lost the words again when she saw Tadayoshi’ face beaming with a smile.

    “Those stories were… let’s say slightly changed.” His smile widened with his laugh. “The old man didn’t invade that castle, he was invited. And what he did to Hikari-sama was technically kidnapping, depending on the point of view. About the money thing… he hated talking about that, but his wife would tell anyone who’d listen. He actually gambled with a kid and lost for real.”

    Ei couldn’t help but smile too. But slowly his laughed died and the smile vanished. His face became dark again and the air, heavy. For a long time, the sound of fire was the only thing breaking the silence in the clearing. Tadayoshi stopped staring at the flames and looked her straight in the eyes.

    “It’s true I killed my master,” he whispered. “But it wasn’t because I wanted. And Inori…sama… there’s no way I’d hurt her…” Tadayoshi covered his face to hide the tears. After a long time, he lowered his hand. “They call me the man without loyalty, but that’s a lie. Everything I am is thanks to master! I’d rather die than betray him!” he finished, breathing hard.

    There was a strange intensity in his eyes, but Ei could not find any lies in them. She was flooded with relief and breathed. Only now she realized she held her breath ever since Tadayoshi looked into her eyes.

    “If I tell you what really happened, you’d never believe. I promise I’ll tell you someday.” The heavy mood was gone and the next moment he was back to his comfortable position. “Go to sleep. You need to recover your energy. There’s a long road before you start training for real.”

    It took a while for her to understand his words. When she did, a spark of anger crossed her face. “Then what I did today? Wasn’t that a technique?”

    “No.” He sneered. “That was just basic.” And he went to sleep.

    Ei took a deep breath and let go of her angry. Then she noticed something unexpected. She felt calm. The bond between them hadn’t changed. No… it did change, she realized with a tiny smile. It’s stronger.

    Along with another wave of relief, came the sleepiness, hitting her like a sword. Ei could barely keep her eyes open now. She tried moving, but her body didn’t respond right away. Sit in the same place for so long left her legs aching. With difficulty, she stood up and shook them a bit.

    Now it was her turn to find a comfortable patch of ground. She found none. Giving up, she simply laid down near the fire. However, despite her tiredness, sleep didn’t come right away.

    For some reason her mind was restless. Once again she envied Tadayoshi’s ability to sleep anywhere anytime. Thinking about him, Ei turned and stared his back. He wasn’t big nor muscular, nevertheless, he seemed huge to her. She finally slept.
    riki likes this.
  8. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member


    Sep 12, 2008
    Likes Received:
    United States
    Thanks for the update!

    I love the relationship between Tadayoshi and Ei. Their dynamic was very entertaining. I imagine Tadayoshi to be a fun-cracking teacher while Ei as the annoyed but admiring student.

    Can't wait to find out the real story of what happened to Tadayoshi's teacher. I'm sure it's something that no one will expect.
  9. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

    Jun 16, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Thanks. I really like writing their interaction.
    I think you'll be satisfied with Tadayoshi's past. Thankfully there won't have such hiatus from this now on.
    --- Double Post Merged, Jul 30, 2017, Original Post Date: Jun 25, 2017 ---
    Chapter 09
    “Faster,” Tadayoshi said, observing Ei with a blank expression. ‘Faster’ had been his only instruction for a while now.

    Ei’s arms ached, but she still gritted her teeth and forced herself over the limit. The arch of the small sword became a bit faster for a while. “I can’t anymore!” she screamed and dug the weapon into the ground, using it as support. She tried to breathe, but even that pained her.

    “Well… for your second time, it’s less awful.” It was the only thing Tadayoshi said before throwing her scabbard and walk away without giving her any time to rest. “Let’s go already.”

    Ei barely managed to get sheath. She glared at his back, but she knew it was useless, so she focused her anger and what was left of her strength on the sword. The blade barely moved, but it was enough for her to go after Tadayoshi, leaving a thin trail on the ground behind her.

    Each breath was a sharp stab, but still Ei forced herself to walk. Even with Tadayoshi walking at his normal pace, she couldn’t shorten the distance between them. With her entire attention on moving her legs, she didn’t notice that he had halted, nor that he offered some fruits. When she finally noticed, she devoured it all in few bites and choked. He didn’t wait.

    Ei finally managed to catch up with him after she recovered. Only then, under Tadayoshi’s silent and hard stare, she finally realized. I’m a complete idiot, she thought, looking away in shame. She couldn’t bear to meet his eyes.

    It didn’t matter if she was exhausted and her arms heavy. It didn’t matter if she was in a hurry to catch him. He didn’t have to say; Ei knew how foolishness and dangerous it was to run with a naked blade.

    Cursing herself and vowing she would never do something this stupid again, Ei sheathed the wakizashi. She was about to place the scabbard on her waist when Tadayoshi’s voice echoing in her mind. Since it was one of his few moments where he was serious about her training, the words carved into her. She walked next to him, carrying the weapon with both hands.

    “Be careful,” he said, glancing down at her.

    Ei sighed in relief, but didn’t smile. She had planned to carry the wakizashi in her hands until they stopped as punishment, even with her arms already numb. But instead of happy, his words made her nervous.

    The sword on her waist felt somehow strange. She glanced up at Tadayoshi, half expecting some stupid joke or at least a comment. But he wasn’t paying attention to her anymore. He looked forward, his face strained and his eyes narrowed. In the short time she knew him, she had seen that expression only once; during the fight against the samurai.

    “What’s wrong?” she asked, her hand going for the handle of the sword.

    Tadayoshi stopped and stretched his arm, making her stop as well. Ei looked for any sign of danger and her eyes went to the end of the road. Even from this distance, she could tell there were fewer trees until they stopped. The end of the forest, she thought, pressing her lips and holding her breath without realizing.

    “Can you feel anything?” Tadayoshi asked, looking at her. For a heartbeat, Ei thought he was talking about her feelings. But she understood what he meant and shook her head. “Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing.”

    Ei did as told. Her senses heightened and the sounds of the forest flooded her ears. She heard the rustle of leaves, the waters from a nearby creek, the birds on branches chirping, other animals running, crawling… Nothing strange to her, who played in the woods her entire life.

    Without her notice, a small smile crept on her lips. Even if she was far from home, the familiar sounds comforted her. She cleared her mind, exhaled and inhaled deeper this time. Now she smelled wet earth, a dead animal, fruits, flowers… nothing that would make Tadayoshi cautious.

    She took another breath, and the same smells came to her. Only this time, she thought she noticed something different. It was almost nothing, but was still there. “The air… there’s something… heavier…?”

    The moment she spoke, Ei blushed. Even to her, it sounded stupid. But Tadayoshi wasn’t laughing, nor holding one. He wasn’t even looking at her anymore. For some reason, that saddened her a bit.

    “Good.” He patted her on the head a little too roughly and then handed her their baggage. “You’re starting to sense. Now hide.”

    Ei pressed her lips to hide her smile and did as told. But she wasn’t just going to hide. She couldn’t. It can only enemies, she knew. It was the only other thing could make Tadayoshi serious. And she had to see, had to learn, no matter whom the enemy was. The same way Ei had carved the fight against the samurai into her heart, she would carve this too. Then one day I’ll fight by his side, she thought, not suppressing her smile now.

    After confirming Ei was out of sight, Tadayoshi headed to the edge of the forest.

    She tried to keep up between the trees without taking her eyes from him. But even for her, it wasn’t easy. In these parts, the trees didn’t grow together, but she had to pay attention to avoid the roots or the lower branches.

    When Ei lost sight of him, she panicked and ran. She tripped, cut herself on the cheek and bruised her knees. Ignoring the pain, she cleaned the blood and raced to the edge of the forest. Still hidden among the trees, Ei looked for Tadayoshi.

    He was almost at the last trees, but he stopped and looked at her. He was confirming I’m safe, she realized as he left the forest. Is the enemy that strong? Anxious, she moved closer to the exit. Now she could see what was happening beyond the trees.

    It wasn’t just one enemy. Five people were outside the forest. Are they waiting for us? No, not us… I’m nobody, Ei thought. They can only be waiting for the man who killed Yasuhiro-sama. If that’s true… She bit her lips and pressed her fingers against the tree.

    If the men were really expecting him, it meant Tadayoshi was right. Someone from the castle might have spread the news about him, but only someone from her village could have told their direction. She didn’t tell him the whispers about keeping Tadayoshi in the village until the soldiers came back; she herself wanted to forget.

    Hate is stronger than gratitude, Tadayoshi had said to her. As if that was how he felt… Maybe it’s because he feels that way about his master… Ei shook her head, trying to keep those feelings away. I believe him! I believe him! He didn’t kill Yasuhiro-sama because he wanted!

    Turning her focus on the five men, this time Ei observed every detail about them. Just like he taught. A shiver coursed through her body. With scars covering their faces and arms, Ei could only think of them as scary. The bandits…

    The five man reminded her the bandits that almost destroyed her village, that almost killed her, that killed her mother. No! Ei screamed in her mind, hugging herself to stop the trembling. She knew if she thought about her mother now, she would cry. I can’t cry… I… I won’t cry…

    Ei cleaned her eyes, gritted her teeth and forced herself to look at them once again. Two sat on the ground, sharpening their weapons; two were standing on guard. Each one had one sword on their waist. The only one different was the man sitting on a flat rock under a lonely tree shading him from the sun. He carried two swords, a big and a small one. Daishō… Tadayoshi had spoken about it. Normally those who carried the set of katana and wakizashi were a samurai.

    That man looked nothing like Jirou though. While Jirou looked like a hero from a story, almost how she envisioned Yasuhiro-sama, that samurai reminded her the Demon Samurai, a character from a children’s story Dai-jii loved to tell to scare the kids.

    His face was hard and his hair filthy, as if not washed for weeks. How long they’ve been waiting here? Maybe ever since we left my village… The rest of fruits and animal’s bones scattered around the tree confirmed that.

    Now she realized they didn’t look like those bandits at all. Even from afar, a beginner like Ei could feel. They did have a similar fierce, hardened by battles aura. But there was a difference. These men weren’t bandits; they were real warriors.

    The moment Tadayoshi was in sight, the men on guard stopped talking and stared the newcomer. Those sharpening their swords jumped to their feet and the samurai stood up with his weapon in hand. Without any gesture, the others formed a semicircle around Tadayoshi, blocking the escapes routes except for the way back to the forest.

    Are they leaving room for a fight one-on-one? Then Tadayoshi was right. The people after him were close, she thought grimly.

    Tadayoshi didn’t react. He kept walking towards the samurai at the same pace, his face indicating nothing. What are you doing, you idiot? Why aren’t drawing your sword? Ei wanted to shout at him when she saw him yawning and rubbing his neck with the right hand. Then she noticed his left hand sliding to the handle of his sword discreetly. A moment later she realized; with two steps, any of them would be within Tadayoshi’s reach.

    “Can I help you?” he asked, looking one by one with an empty expression.

    “The honor for your head will be enough.” The moment the samurai finished speaking, they all attacked.

    Tadayoshi didn’t waste time, moving at the same instant. He went towards the man on the samurai’s left. The warrior swung his sword, but Tadayoshi avoided with ease and slammed his shoulder hard on the enemy’s chest.

    The warrior lost his breath and Tadayoshi grabbed his hands. With an amazing speed, he attacked the leader with his man’s own sword.

    Too fast for him, the samurai couldn’t avoid nor deflect the attack and the blade pierced his stomach. The surprise on his face lasted only a heartbeat. It turned into shock and then into pain. He dropped his sword and fell with his hands around the wound, squirming and grunting until he fell silent.

    Ei knew nothing about the world of the sword. But she was sure of one thing; Tadayoshi was strong. Very strong. Even though she knew that, she still watched with her eyes shining. He killed that samurai in instants… She didn’t notice, but she couldn’t stop smiling. One day I’ll be strong like that and fight by his side.

    The other three men hesitated as the earth drank the samurai’s blood. Their faces screamed their thoughts; even if they were strong, their leader had died too easily. But they didn’t give up and charged the next moment.

    In the brief instant they took their eyes off their target, they never noticed what had happened. Tadayoshi still held the man’s sword, but with his free hand, he had pulled the small knife and carved into the enemy’s heart. The warrior widened his eyes, not believing, as his clothes drenched in blood.

    Circling the dying man, Tadayoshi threw him at the two furthest away. One managed to avoid his companion, but the other wasn’t so fast. The dead body hit him in full and he collapsed under it.

    Without looking to see the result, Tadayoshi drew his own sword and slashed the closest one across the throat. Even before the warrior fell, the swordsman had already turned to face the remaining enemies.

    The only one still standing didn’t hesitate; he didn’t even glance at his companions on the ground as he swung his sword. But, even to Ei’s, his attack was slow. Tadayoshi’s katana leapt up, met the enemy’s and redirected the blow towards the ground. Taking advantage of the momentum, Tadayoshi drove the knife into the warrior’s throat.

    The last enemy finally got out underneath the dead body and stood up with his sword ready. But when he saw only Tadayoshi standing and all his companions dead, he threw his weapon aside and ran towards the forest.

    Ei had obeyed Tadayoshi and stayed hidden. But, mesmerized by the fight and her need to see everything, she had gotten closer without realizing. And now the only survivor was running towards her.

    Her mind froze. Ei knew they didn’t even look alike, but all she could see was the bandit who killed her mother running towards her. No… no… She took a step back, and then another. And another. Until something blocked her path. Her breathing became shallow and fast. Her entire body trembled. Afraid to look, she used her hand and almost cried in relief when she realized it was only a tree.

    She pulled her sweaty hand back and bumped on her sword. Even in that state, she had a vague idea what to do. I need to draw… I need to defend myself… I need… to kill… Her fingers closed around the handle, but she didn’t draw the weapon. She couldn’t. She trembled so much it was impossible.

    The warrior was almost at the forest but hadn’t noticed her presence. He was too busy looking over his shoulder to see if his Tadayoshi followed him.

    Tadayoshi was still in the same place, swinging his sword to clean the blood. After he sheathed his katana, he began collecting the weapon of the dead, not noticing the man running towards Ei.

    The warrior stumbled on a root and fell right before the girl’s feet.

    Out of reflex, out of fear, Ei drew her sword.

    She tried to swing the blade down, but her hands didn’t obey her. The metal clanked so much it killed all the others sounds. The man raised his head and stared her, his eyes filling with terror.

    Ei could see herself reflected in those eyes. She, holding a sword, about take a life, to kill someone. Everything went cold. Her breathing became faster and her heart thumped louder. In the blink of an eye, she was deaf to everything except her own gasps and her heart.

    The moment stretched, and Ei did not move. All she could do was stare the man. Everything seemed still for an eternity. Only when the faint sound of Tadayoshi’s hurried steps reached Ei, time moved again.

    The man looked over his shoulder, stood up and ran, ignoring the petrified Ei.

    Tadayoshi panted and moved his mouth, but nothing came out. Ei knew he was saying something, but to her, he had no voice. No… I’m the one who can’t hear, she thought vaguely. Only when he grabbed her hand and squeezed hard, she looked up at him and finally heard his voice. “Are you okay?”

    Those black and deep eyes soothed her and she lowered her sword, her breathing slowly returning to normal. She realized her hands were numb and cold and she did nothing when he took the weapon from her.

    Tadayoshi removed the scabbard from her waist, sheathed the sword and held in her front without a word. Ei accepted it, but lowered her head, too ashamed to look him in the eye. She waited for him to say something, anything. Even a joke would make her feel better.

    But all he did was grab the baggage she didn’t remember dropping and leave the forest. Wiping the tears threatening to fall, she followed him without placing the scabbard on her waist.

    I thought I’d got stronger. That everything would be different with a sword but… I haven’t changed anything… I’m still the same weak kid who can’t do anything, Ei thought, squeezing the scabbard.

    Tadayoshi’s back seemed even bigger than last night. You should stop wasting your time with me. I’m weak, I can’t do anything… I’m just a little village girl who can only tremble when she’s afraid…

    She missed her home, she missed Dai-jii, and Sumire, her cousin and all the others. And she missed her mother the most. Mom… This time Ei did nothing to stop the tears, letting them fall in silence.
    riki likes this.
  10. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member


    Sep 12, 2008
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    Thanks for the chapter! I love how realistic Ei's reaction when it dawned on her that she has the power to kill someone, which petrifies her, as well as realizing how homesick she is.

    The fight scene was amazing as well. No wonder Ei admires Tadayoshi as a master swordsman.

    Can't wair for the next chapter!
  11. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

    Jun 16, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Thanks. Reading your comments always makes me happy.
    Showing how Ei feels is the best part about changing the POV. I really like telling how heavy is the path through the eyes of someone who's not used to that world.
    --- Double Post Merged, Aug 13, 2017, Original Post Date: Jul 30, 2017 ---
    Chapter 10
    “Look, Ei. That’s our destination. The city of Mino.” Tadayoshi’s voice came from somewhere far.

    The girl wiped her tears before raising her head. To her surprise, it was already night. The starry sky shone intently alongside the moon, without any clouds to block its beauty. But what left her without words was the sight before her eyes. I’ve never seen anything like this, she thought in amazement.

    From the top of the hill they stood, Ei could see everything. Here, the trees were few and scarce, giving room to a large and empty plains stretching in every direction. It was the first time she saw an empty space so wide. Even the fields back home seem small…

    Squinting her eyes, she could see the glimpse of a slim river cutting the land. To her, it seemed no wider than the creek near her village, but even she knew if she could see from this distance, it was no creek. Dai-jii used to tell stories about rivers so wide you couldn’t see the other side, with waters so deep you couldn’t touch the ground and underneath the surface lies spirits, demons and gods that would pull you to the bottom if you showed any disrespect or got distracted. She wasn’t sure if that was one of those, but even if it wasn’t, Ei doubted she could swim across.

    “What’s that?” In the middle of the darkness on the plains, many tiny lights shone like fallen stars burning on the earth.

    “Our unfortunate destination, the city of Mino.”

    A city… Even with Tadayoshi’s bitterness, the word swept the worries from her mind, giving room to her curiosity. She grew up hearing about cities, temples and castles and dreamt of visiting those amazing places full of people and life. Ei always begged to go with the grownups when they went to the castle, but her mother never let her go. How can anyone live in a place where you don’t know everyone’s name? she wondered, squinting her eyes trying to see more. Even if she didn’t like everyone in her village, Ei knew everyone’s names. But a city is different.

    Until now, Ei could only dream of visiting those places. Now it was so close she could barely control her enthusiasm. She was about to ask if they could go to Mino immediately, but gave up when she saw Tadayoshi’s expression. He refused to travel at night, saying that with people after him, he needed to rest whenever he could.

    In a heartbeat, her excitement gave place to fatigue. Ei observed the surroundings again, this time looking for a place that could offer some protection to them. Even a few trees together will be enough, she thought, hugging herself when a cold wind swept by her. Downhill, there was a light she didn’t notice before. Actually, there were many lonely lights here and there on the plains. Houses, she realized.

    “How about that place?” she pointed to the closest light.

    “Maybe…” I can’t blame him for hesitating, she thought. In fact, she understood. They had barely left the forest and were attacked. It’s not hard to imagine more enemies nearby waiting. “Pay attention and be ready to hide,” he said at the end.

    Though it was the closest light, it was still far. By the time the house was close enough for her to see it in full, Ei panted so hard and her legs throbbed so much she had to grab Tadayoshi’s arm to keep standing. The building was twice the size of her village’s shed, the biggest building she had ever known. Judging by the height, she thought it had at least three floors. “Is this a fortress?” she asked in wonder.

    “It’s so tiny it’d be the world’s smallest fortress.” Tadayoshi snorted. “At my side, chances are you won’t see any fortress or castles up close if we’re lucky enough, but hear me. There are some so tall you have to raise your head to see the top. And there are temples so huge it seems endless and if you get lost, they may never found you ever again,” he said, serious. Then he laughed at her astonishment.

    “I-I don’t believe it,” she said when she recovered. Even using all her imagination, it was hard to believe such places existed. I bet it’s just another one of his jokes, she thought bitterly. Is it that fun mocking me ‘cause I know nothing?

    “Fine. Don’t believe me. Someday you might see it for yourself,” he said with an air of superiority. “But to be fair, it’s a very well made building. Whoever built it was skillful.”

    “You’ve got good eyes, lad,” a voice spoke from inside the house. A moment later, two young men came out, carrying two wooden boxes each. Ei tensed and held her breath, but almost at the same time, she felt Tadayoshi’s hand on her shoulder.

    The two men looked at each other and then turned to Ei and Tadayoshi at the same time with identical smiles. “Going to Mino?” one asked.

    “Actually we’re—” Tadayoshi started, but was interrupted.

    “What’s the matter, lad? Don’t be shy.”

    “Yeah, no need for that. If you need a place to rest, then look no further.”

    “It’s not safe to travel at night.”

    “With so many people going to Mino right now, the area can be quite dangerous.”

    “We don’t have any money,” Tadayoshi almost shouted, spitting the words out before he was interrupted again.

    “What? You’re worried about that?” The most talkative one handed the boxes to the other, walked towards Tadayoshi and slapped him energetically on the back. Ei noticed the swordsman’s knees bend with the force. “We don’t charge much, and granny accept pretty much everything, so you can use those pretty swords as payment,” he said with a wider smile and another round of slaps. Then he turned to Ei. “Besides, there’s no way we’d leave such cute girl travel at night.”

    Still wary, she let go of the handle of the sword. Up close, Ei realized that not only the men were equally large, tall, and strong; they were identical, except for a huge and deep scar from above the right eye to the left cheek. That must’ve hurt, she thought. They looked at best five years older than Tadayoshi, and yet they treated him like a kid. It was satisfying to Ei seeing this. How do you like it when you’re treated like a child?

    Tadayoshi answered with a stiff nod without looking the man in the eye. He looked so uncomfortable Ei had trouble holding her urge to sneer at him. So that’s one of his weakness, she realized, biting her lips to hide her smile. He can’t deal with kindness. Suddenly she stopped smiling. It’s because he’s surrounded by violence…

    The slapping and smiling man led them inside while the other placed the boxes somewhere around the back. The house was simple and organized. The main room was big and above a wooden deck that took one side of the room, there were a few long tables, enough for four people to sit on each side. Each seat had a cushion so the visitors wouldn’t sit on the wood. On the other half directly on the earth, rows of small benches fill the room from the front to the back. The back wall had two openings and judging by the strong smell coming from the one on the left, it seemed to be a kitchen.

    Ei realized the house was a lodging. She had heard about those too. Though most visitors that came to her village were traders or soldiers collecting taxes and didn’t stay long, most kids liked hearing their stories. The idea of living in a place where many people visited and hear stories from all over the country seemed fascinating to the girl.

    An old woman came from the kitchen, cleaning her hand with a cloth. When she saw the newcomers, her eyes went to their swords and narrowed, but she recovered quickly enough. “Welcome to our humble inn. Please, have a seat,” she said with a deep bow and a gentle smile. She returned to the kitchen and came back a few moments later holding a wooden tray with two steaming cups of tea. “Please, accept some tea.”

    Ei reached her hand for it, but Tadayoshi touched her shoulder before she could get near the cup. “I don’t know if we can accept it,” he said, scratching his cheek with an awkward smile. He untied two of the swords he had and showed to the woman. “All I can pay is this…”

    Only now Ei realized how many swords Tadayoshi carried. Two from my village and more six from today… not counting the two on his waist. You look more like a weapons dealer than a swordsman, she thought with a weak smile. Before she would have eyed the blades full of desire; now she felt undeserving of them. The girl from this morning would have begged for one of the katana, but now she couldn’t even look at them. Even her small sword seemed too much for her.

    The woman observed the weapons in silence, fear crossing her eyes for an instant. She only raised her head when a noise came from the entrance. The other twin came in and gave his grandma a curt nod, but Ei noticed he wasn’t smiling anymore. The twins disappeared into the kitchen and the old woman turned back to Tadayoshi, the lines on her face stiffen.

    “It’s more than enough,” she said with a strained smile. “I think it’s more than we can offer at the moment.”

    Ei sighed in relief and smiled. Thank the heavens she accepted us. For a moment I thought she’d tell us to get out. Well, I couldn’t blame them if they did. Even if we don’t look like, we could be bandits. Especially with him carrying so many swords.

    “This week was too busy. Living near the city is like this. So many travelers coming from all over the region to celebrate the festival,” the old woman went on, resting the cups of tea on the table before them. “There was a day it was so crowded we had to refuse clients, can you believe that? But some insisted, saying they’d come from so far they didn’t mind sleeping on the floor right here. Today was the busiest. The travelers simply wouldn’t stop coming. We even ran out of food.” She rested a hand on her cheek and sighed. “Too bad they’ll have a tough time getting a room today. The first night of the festival is the most crowded. I tried telling them that, but everyone wanted to be inside the walls today…”

    The way she talked reminded Ei of Sumire. It was comforting to know there were people like her outside her village. As the girl accepted the tea, she sniggered because of Tadayoshi. He listened to the old woman with an awkward smiled, drinking when he didn’t know how to respond.

    “Granny, we’ve got some food left for them,” Scar peered his head out of the kitchen and interrupted.

    Ei’s face beamed with a smile. It was hard to believe they actually had some luck. Ever since I decided to go with him, I’ve had nothing but bad luck, she thought. The word festival had peeked her interest, but it had become harder and harder to pay attention when she fought against exhaustion and hunger at the same time.

    With a surprised expression as if she had forgotten, the owner apologized for making them stand for so long and led them to the cushions seats. They took off their sandals. While Tadayoshi placed almost all the swords on the floor; his own and Asahi he rested standing against the wall. Ei placed her the same way he did and then sat on the cushion.

    She almost dozed off when she leaned her back on the wall. It’s so comfortable… Just a little bit won’t matter, she thought, closing her eyes for a moment. Suddenly she shook her head, fighting against sleep. She couldn’t sleep, not now, so she focused on the tea to drive away the drowsiness.

    Even though it was still summer, the night was cold, and the steaming tea didn’t seem a bad choice, though it did burn her tongue a little. Ei blew the drink and in few sips, the cup was empty. Tadayoshi chuckled and offered his half-drank tea. She eyed it for a moment, but since she was more thirsty than suspicious, she accepted, blowing it the same way she did with hers.

    “So you two heading to Mino too?” the woman asked when Ei had finished the tea. The twin without scar came to take the cups back to the kitchen.

    “Yes. We’ve been traveling for a while and we need to rest,” Tadayoshi sounded sincere for once. But Ei noticed that, despite his smile, he seemed just as tired as she. “I had no idea it was the time of the festival.”

    The truth in disguise, Ei realized at once, paying close attention to him. Even nice people can get you in trouble due to a poorly told lie. Believe me, he had told her. She thought he was joking, or tricking her or just exaggerating, the same way he talked about having people out for his head. But that was before. Now, after this morning, Ei was more troubled than surprised to realize what he said was true.

    “Here.” Scar came from the kitchen after some time, holding a tray with two small bowls of millet and two plates with one fish each. “Enjoy the meal,” he said, flashing a wide grin.

    “I’m sorry for being so little, samurai-sama.” The owner bowed her head to Tadayoshi. “It’s all that’s left after today’s rush.”

    “No, this is more than enough,” Tadayoshi said quickly. “And I’m not a samu—”

    “Thank you very much,” Ei interrupted him, smiling to the old woman, trying to make her less uncomfortable. “It’s more than we have in weeks.”

    “It’s not my fault if I can’t meet your high standards,” Tadayoshi replied her jest with a smile. He picked up the chopsticks and brought his hands together as if praying. “Thank you for the food.”

    Before Ei could do the same, the smell of the cooked fish filled her nose and her stomach protested. Only now she realized how hungry she was. She had been walking since midday and those fruits seemed so long ago now it felt as if she hadn’t eaten at all today.

    She was paying too much attention to her food to fully listen to Tadayoshi’s conversation, hearing only bits here and there, “…traveling for long,” he was saying. “Our village was attacked and we’re seeking refuge in Mino. We were not alone, but it’s too dangerous. This morning five people died…”

    The woman clasped a cheek with a hand and shook her head. “It’s more dangerous than we thought. Lots like you came around these days. Fleeing to the city to try a better life. Too bad most can’t.” She sighed. “Last time we were there, it was a mess. That’s why we’ll celebrate the festival here this year.”

    Ei raised her eyes and pricked her ears when she heard the word festival. With her hungry partially satisfied, she was once again interested in the topic. What festival are they talking about? It’s not the harvest. It’s too soon for that.

    The woman must have thought the girl was worried and quickly added. “Don’t worry. There shouldn’t have any problem during the festival. You have no idea how many soldiers the lord hired,” she said with a reassuring smiled.

    It’s more likely Tadayoshi who’ll cause trouble than the other way around, Ei thought, laughing with her own thought and then choking. The woman came to her side and rubbed her back until she was better. The girl lowered her head to hide her red face and her smile.

    She thought the owner reminded Sumire, but that smile and kindness were just like her mother’s. But thinking about her mother didn’t sadden her for the first time. A meal this talkative felt like back in her village. Tadayoshi could hold a conversation if there was a topic, but sometimes the meals were too silent. Maybe he spent too much time eating alone, she realized.

    When they finished eating, Tadayoshi kept talking with the woman while Ei heard the twins’ talking about their dream. “I’ll be like out dad. He was a constructor, you see, and he built this house and many others in the area,” the one without scar boasted. His pride for the father was matched by the smile he had. “He was so good even Oda-sama recognized his abilities and hired him to help repairing the city.”

    “You lack a man’s dream, little brother,” Scar said, shaking his head in an all-knowing way. “I wanna be a samurai.” He moved his hands around as if holding a sword. Ei laughed, remembering her cousin who used to say the same thing, and even played the way with a stick. “Me, my sword and a hundred enemies in a fight to the death. People fear the war. But one day it’ll come, so instead of living in fear, I say let fight!” He jumped, slashed at invisible foes and then sheathed the invisible sword on his waist with an exaggerated move.

    Now that Ei had begun training, even if barely, she could tell how awkward those moves seemed. She smiled and laughed, but hoped Tadayoshi hadn’t noticed her red cheeks. Did I look like that too?

    But as the twins kept bickering, her smile vanished and laugh died. I thought like that… Glimpses from earlier crossed her mind; she holding her sword, trembling so much she couldn’t move at all. Though it was only for a heartbeat, it was enough to make her feel smaller and weaker than she already was.

    When she chose to follow Tadayoshi, she knew it wouldn’t be easy. She hadn’t wished otherwise. But even in those first nights when only carried their baggage, she imagined herself defeating many enemies just like him. But she never saw herself killing anyone. It was childish, she knew and this morning proved she was nothing but a child dreaming.

    Ei thought her determination would be enough to get her through anything, but now the picture she imagined had changed. Now she only saw herself standing before the fallen enemy, her hands trembling too much to do anything. The warrior became a shadow and then stood up, charging at her with a sword, but her mother jumped out of nowhere, the weapon slicing her in half…

    “Stop that, you two! “You’re scaring her,” the woman said, bringing Ei back to the inn. She gave Scar a long and hard look and the twins went back to the kitchen. Ei turned to her and nodded her head. “It’s best if you two go sleep now. Mino is farther than it looks. Even if you leave at dawn, you won’t get there before midday.”

    “Agree,” Tadayoshi said, yawning.

    Ei glanced at him. It was the first time she saw him comfortable around other people.

    “Here.” Scar came back holding a tray.

    The cups weren’t steaming this time, and Ei only realized it wasn’t tea when he got closer. From the strong smell she could tell the transparent liquid was sake. Though she never drank it, she didn’t care much for it. Every time someone brought back some from the castle, the grownups acted weird. Even her mother.

    “As a sorry for earlier,” Scar said, placing the drinks on the table.

    “I really don’t know how to thank you for all this kindness,” Tadayoshi accepted the drink, bowing his head again. “I don’t think you can handle,” he added with a smile when Ei made for the cup.

    “Hm…” the owner turned from the drink to Ei. “I think there’s some amazake left.” Scar was about to take the cup, but Ei got to it first.

    “I’ve drunk before, I can handle,” she lied on impulse. It was true the grownups acted weird, but many times they had more courage and said things they wouldn’t dare if not drunk, like her cousin who confessed to the girl he liked and now was married to her. Maybe I need some of this courage too.

    “Are you sure? It may be too strong for you. Best stick with amazake,” Tadayoshi eyed her with his eyebrow raised too much, his smile too sly. “It has a bit of alcohol in it, but even little kids like you can drink it during special occasions,” Tadayoshi answered Ei’s unspoken question, talking down to her.

    I already know, she thought cheekily. After the harvest, Dai-jii would make some with part of the left over rice. It had a funny taste that left her lightheaded and with her tongue a bit numb, but since it was the only grownup thing the kids were allowed to do, she and her friends drank it happily. “I can handle,” she said, staring him back without blinking.

    Tadayoshi smile. “Then…” he raised his cup and left it hanging in the air, waiting for her.

    Ei mimicked him and they clinked their cups lightly. Before she brought to her mouth, she sniffed it. It was just like the same smell the adults had and that alone made her dizzy. Even without drinking, she knew it was indeed too strong for her. But I can’t back down now. Not after what I said…

    With everyone watching her, she took a sip. She kept the drink in her mouth for a heartbeat, and then she swallowed it. Her throat burned and she coughed. It had a funny taste. Her mind became hazed, but still she took another sip, coughing less this time. And then another sip, and one more, until the cup was empty. Almost immediately a warmth spread throughout her body and she smiled.

    For a moment, everything seemed still and then the room blurred and sleep overwhelmed her. The cup became heavy as her sword. Even raising her eyes to see Tadayoshi was hard.

    He looked back at her. He had an empty expression. I thought he’d be making fun of me… When he placed down his cup, Ei realized he hadn’t touched his drink at all. Why, she wondered, looking at his face again.

    The last thing Ei saw before her eyes shut against her will was Tadayoshi hard and tense expression. Why you’re making that face, she wanted to ask, but she knew there was no way she could fight against sleep this time

    With her heart tightening, Ei laid down right there on the table and everything went black.

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  12. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member


    Sep 12, 2008
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    Ei is so adorable with her naivety :wtf

    The innkeeper and her sons seem suspicious to me. I think they know who Tadayoshi and Ei are and planned to capture them. Most likely, they drugged the drink, but Tadayoshi was cautious enough not to drink it.
    phmoura likes this.
  13. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

    Jun 16, 2013
    Likes Received:
    I never thought anyone would say Ei's cute, hahahaha
    --- Double Post Merged, Aug 27, 2017, Original Post Date: Aug 14, 2017 ---
    Chapter 11
    What’s… this?

    The smell filled her, so strong and familiar. Her head hurt, her mind dizzy and slow and her body numb. Even so, Ei knew what the smell was. It wasn’t just familiar; it brought painful memories. And yet she could not remember the name.

    She tried opening her eyes, but it was impossible; the eyelids weighed too much. Just like the rest of her body. Kanashibari…? It was stupid, she knew, but it was the first thing that crossed her mind.

    To scare the kids, Dai-jii used to say that if they misbehaved, a yokai would visit and leave them paralyzed when they woke up. If you wake up, that is, he used to say with a wicked laugh.

    Her mother used to tell a different story. According to her, it was just a lonely ghost who liked to play pranks on kids like him and would do no harm. Though Ei didn’t believe in either stories, she liked Dai-jii’ version a lot more.

    The smell became stronger, stirring her hazed mind. Still she couldn’t remember the name, which only made her more anxious. Little by little, she felt her body awakening as the numbness left, but no part of her moved. Trying to calm herself down, Ei took a deep breath.

    There was something wrong in the air, something heavy and cold that sent a shiver through her body. Death… Ei knew what the smell was now. Blood…

    She tried moving her body, her hand, or anything, but nothing obeyed her. Fear flooded her and her breathing became rapid and shallow.

    I can’t… I-I have to calm down, she thought through her panic. Remember Tadayoshi’s words. She took deep breaths. The smell became stronger, but she ignored, focusing all the strength she had in opening her eyes. Little by little, her eyelids moved, but she regretted in the same instant. A pair of eyes stared her back, inches away from her face. If she could, she would have screamed.

    Ignoring her instincts, she didn’t close her eyes. It took a while, but she finally recognized the mark across that face. The twin with the scar lied over the table by her side. She tried speaking, but her throat was too dry to speak. The best she managed was a murmur. But Scar had no reaction, his face with the same expression all the time.

    Ei knew it, but chose to ignore everything and believe it was just a stupid joke, just like Tadayoshi’s jokes. Did he ask Scar to do this? Yeah, it does seem like something that idiot swordsman would do. A prank like this, she forced herself to think. But as time passed, she could no longer ignore the fact that Scar didn’t move at all. His expression, his eyes, everything was the same; pale, empty, cold… dead.

    Her breathing became shallower and faster. She tried to get away from the corpse, but her body barely moved. Only her fingers twitched. Ei focused on her hand and managed to place one palm on the table. Using all the strength she had at the moment, Ei pushed herself up. Halfway up her arm cave in, her hand slipped and she slammed her chin hard on the table. The pain was so much she almost fainted.

    With her vision seeing double, she ignored the pain, focused her eyes and saw why she slipped. Something red and sticky covered the table… blood! She screamed, but her voice was stuck in her throat.

    Her breathing stopped, her legs didn’t obey her, her body ached and her head was heavy. Even so, there was only one thing in Ei’s mind; she had to get away from the dead body, from the smell, from the blood. She forced her legs and hands to push herself up again. She had no idea how, but she managed to stand up, even if her entire body protested in pain.

    Tadayoshi… Tadayoshi… With the image of the swordsman in her mind, Ei fought to keep her consciousness and managed to drag herself along the wall. She had no idea where to go, but she had to find him. In her haste, she never noticed the smell of blood becoming stronger as she headed towards the kitchen.

    When Ei finally noticed, her body shivered and sweated and she almost lost all strength again. She grabbed the wall with one hand and the table with the other. I… can’t run away… not anymore…

    She tried gulping, but her throat was too dry for that. If… If I wanna go where Tadayoshi is… Ei knew she would regret, but she also knew she had to reach out her trembling hand and pull that curtain.

    It was worse than she imagined. The owner, who treated them so kindly, who had such gentle smile, was lying on top of something, staring at the ceiling with her eyes wide open, her face full of terror. The something underneath her was the other twin.

    Ei’s legs lost all strength and she fell hard on the floor. Her knees never throbbed so much, but even so, she ignored the pain and tried to control her herself. If she lost her consciousness right now, she might die like them.

    If you’re in a bad situation, you must calm down and check everything, Tadayoshi’s voice whispered in her head. Yes… I remember that… If I can’t run away, I’ve got to at least figure out what’s going on, or, in his words, see how deep the shit is. Those words made her laugh at the time. Now, despite everything and before she realized it, they made her cracked a tiny nervous smile.

    I chose to look behind the curtain, she thought, reaffirming her decision. With a deep breath, she forced herself to look at the corpses. The owner and the twin’s expression were the same; full of pain, sorrow, and terror. Ei believed she was familiar with death by now, that even if she wasn’t ready to take a life, she wouldn’t just be paralyzed before death.

    But she wasn’t ready to see the people who were alive when she closed her eyes in such state, and puked. The smell mixed in the air with the stench of blood and food. She almost puked again, but somehow kept it in. After cleaning her mouth, she dragged herself closer to them.

    The owner still clutched the blade that pierced her heart. From the wound, the blood drenched her clothes and spread across the floor and her grandson. It’s… too small… to be a weapon, Ei thought, holding down another urge to vomit. With difficulty, she found out it was a kitchen knife and a grim idea crossed her head. Did she kill herself… or die trying stopping the knife?

    What killed the twin wasn’t so easy to find with his grandma on top of him. He lay on the floor sideways with his clothes dyed red, but there was no visible wound or slash. It’s not his blood? After pushing the owner away, Ei finally managed to find it. Underneath all the blood, there was a tiny stab wound at his throat. From the size, it was a knife. They both died with one attack each…

    Before she realized it, she trembled and hugged herself, but she didn’t cry. Tadayoshi… she tried calling, but she still had no voice to call the man she trusted. Without strength to stand, she backed away as fast as she could, until something blocked her path. For half a heartbeat Ei prayed it was the wall, but even without looking she could tell it was a person.

    She stopped breathing and her mind froze. My sword… my sword… Her trembling hand answered and went to her waist. But her heart sank when she realized there was nothing there. Where’s… my weapon? Without it, I can’t do anything! Without it, I’m just a kid!

    Then the image of the fallen warrior and her unable to do anything crossed her mind. Even if I had my sword, what could I do…? The thought felt like a stab in her gut. “Tada…yoshi…” it was only a whisper, but she finally had found her voice.

    “I’m here,” the voice came from above her.

    Ei turned her head, looked up and saw the man who denied being a samurai blocking her path. Along with the relief came the tears and she did nothing to stop them.

    Tadayoshi said nothing as he patted her head until she was empty. After she cleaned her face, he offered a hand. Ei grabbed it and he pulled her up, but her legs could barely support her weight and she had to hold his arm tight to keep standing.

    “What…happened…?” her throat was too dry and her voice was nothing more than a hoarse.

    Tadayoshi stared at her, his dark eyes pale and empty. “I’m sorry, I didn’t want you to see this…”

    Ei felt the room growing cold and closed her eyes. She tried breathing, but it was hard and she grabbed her chest. When the pain was finally gone, she slowly opened her eyes and saw Tadayoshi holding a vaguely familiar small knife.

    “What…?” Though was clean, the bit of red on the handle was unmistakable. Blood. “You…?”

    Tadayoshi looked her in the eyes. “I killed them.”
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  14. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member


    Sep 12, 2008
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    Thanks for the chapter! I really enjoy reading Ei's thoughts as she investigated what happened while she was asleep.

    I'm sure that Ei is confused by Tadayoshi's actions, but knowing him, he has a good reason. ^^
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  15. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

    Jun 16, 2013
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    Chapter 12
    Ei stopped breathing. The room spun before her eyes and she lost her strength. Her numb fingers let go of Tadayoshi’s clothes and her legs cave in.

    The swordsman grabbed her by the arm before she fell on the floor. Her legs couldn’t support her weight, but he kept her standing. “Breathe.”

    Ei barely heard him, but did as told, forcing herself to breathe so fast she almost fainted again. When the room stopped spinning, she raised her head with difficulty and looked him in the eyes. “Why…?” though it hurt her throat, she managed to ask in a croaked voice.

    Tadayoshi stared her back for a long time with an empty expression. Then, for the first time, he averted his gaze. Ei forced herself to keep her eyes on him. Even without turning her head, she could tell the swordsman was observing the corpses.

    “I tried to avoid but… it ended up this way,” he said, turning back to her without changing his expression.

    Ei never saw his eyes so cold; there was nothing of the warmth that comforted her so many times. But when he squatted so their heads were at the same height, a strange light shone in those dark pupils.

    “Listen, Ei. This is my world, the world you chose. You’ll face this situation many times in the future, so remember this. ‘Some live and some die in the way of the sword’.”

    The words echoed in the girl’s mind for a long time. She opened and closed her mouth several times, but when she realized she had no idea what to say, what to think, she simply stood there under Tadayoshi’s hard gaze, unsure how much time had passed.

    With a firm yet gentle hand on Ei’s back, Tadayoshi led the girl to the back of the kitchen. Her legs were stiff and she tripped a few times in the short walk, but he always held her. When they reached the corner, he drew his sword and swung upwards, cutting the wooden ceiling with one slash.

    Even with her mind still numbed, Ei looked up out of reflex, her eyes pausing at what Tadayoshi wanted to show her. It took a moment, but when the girl realized what it was, she widened her eyes, fell to her knees, puked and lost her consciousness.

    When she came back to her senses, Ei was back in the main room, lying on the table as far as she could from Scar. She sat up and slowly raised her eyes, staring the ceiling, imagining what could be behind the wood. Her body trembled at once and Ei hugged her legs and rested her forehead on the knees, trying hard to push those images away from her mind.

    But it was impossible. No matter how much her head throbbed, she couldn’t stop seeing the sickening images it over and over again. The sight of human legs, arms, and hands hanging on hooks had burned itself on her eyes.

    Ei felt sick once more, but her stomach was too empty to puke again. Cold sweat came down her neck, along with a shiver. Even if it was just one quick glance, she could never forget, could never stop seeing it. The pieces had different sizes and sliced in different places, but they were too similar to each other. All were rough, big, covered in bruises, scratches, scars, calluses, cuts and some even lacked fingers or toes.

    She knew what those marks and scars meant. Bandits, thieves and killers… She faced her palm, closing and opening her fist, feeling the tiny calluses and blisters she had on the hand and fingers. Before she noticed, she trembled again and buried her face on her knees.

    “…i… Ei…”

    The girl heard Tadayoshi calling her from somewhere far away, but she did not stop trembling. She heard him coming closer, but did not look in his direction. She sensed him sitting by her side, but did not raise her head. She felt his cold touch on her shoulder, but did not react.

    Tadayoshi sat by her side for a long time without saying anything, waiting until her trembling ceased. “Drink this,” he said when she finally raised her eyes.

    Ei looked at it for a while until she figured it out was a cup of water. “I’m not thirsty,” she lied with a dry hoarse.

    “I didn’t ask.” He held the firm expression.

    Lowering her eyes, Ei brought the cup to her lips. The first drops were a relief to her dry throat and she could no longer take her thirst, drinking the rest of the cup in one gulp. Before she finished, Tadayoshi picked up a wooden bucket with water from the well and placed it on the table. Ei tossed the cup and turned the bucket over her mouth, choking and spilling water all over herself.

    “I think they’ve being doing that for a while, judging by the objects I found,” he said when she placed the bucket on the table with a heavy thud, her breathing hard. “Only picking those who would be making the world a favor by disappearing.”

    Against her will, the images of the owner and the twins smiling filled her head. Then it changed to the human parts hanging in the gap between floors. Ei fought another urge to vomit. “Why…?” she asked in a feeble voice, without enough strength to raise her head and look at him.

    “While you were talking with the twins, the owner told me a bit about them. She said bandits killed her husband, son, granddaughter and daughter-in-law a few years ago. The twins managed to kill them somehow. I believe they started doing… that to lowlifes afterwards.”

    Ei trembled and kept quiet, waiting for Tadayoshi to go on. But when he said nothing, she raised her head a little. The swordsman stared at nothing, his eyes empty as he rubbed his hands.

    As if waking up, he shook his head and ran a hand over his black hair. “Last night, bandits showed up in the middle of the night and took everything they had. The owner and the twins were desperate, so much they had to target even people like us. You didn’t notice, but the owner kept asking a lot of question about us. Where were we from, if we had family or someone waiting in the city…”

    The twins did the same thing with me… and I told them everything, she realized with a thug in her heart. Tadayoshi kept quiet and then let out a laugh. Not his normal one, full of joy. But a hollow and cold one that made Ei shiver.

    “What kind of destiny is this? Had we arrived yesterday, this would’ve never had to happen…”

    “Destiny?” This time it was Ei who let out the hollow laugh. “If there is such thing, it’s nothing but the gods’ cruel jokes.”

    “The gods… I wished I could blame them.” He turned to her with a blank expression. No… it’s not… blank. There’s… something… She tried figuring out, but thinking hurt her head. “After you were drugged, I tried to pretend nothing was wrong, that you were just tired and fainted. But the twin with the scar, he… when he realized I hadn’t touched the drink, he charged at me with a short sword. Before I noticed, I had killed him. The other came at me too… Then the woman she…” he trailed off, leaving the sentence in the air.

    Ei felt the room grow still. Even if Tadayoshi didn’t say, she could figure out what happened. After seeing the only family she had left dead, the owner had taken her own life. The gods’ cruel jokes indeed, she thought. To her surprise, Ei didn’t feel sick as she imagined the scene. In fact, she felt nothing. Just one day… if Tadayoshi had arrived a day later in my village, I’d not be here either…

    “I can’t judge them, or anyone. I won’t tell you if they were good or bad people that deserved to die. That’s up to you to decide. They have blood on their hands, just as I do. Despair can twist a person and make them do terrible things. I’ll say it again, Eiko. I can’t judge anyone, but I won’t give my life for anyone either. I’ll not grieve their deaths. It was us or them.”

    He left her sitting on the bench. Ei rested her head on the wall, concentrating on breathing as the numbness slowly faded. After a while, Tadayoshi handed her a wood bucket fill with water and a piece of cloth. She accepted it out of reflex, but then looked between the objects and his face, trying to understand what he wanted.

    With a faint trace of the Tadayoshi she was used to, the swordsman sighed and pointed to the bucket. Still without understanding, she looked at the water, seeing her reflection. Is that… me? She barely believed as she saw her own state.

    Her appearance reflected how she felt; awful. Her eyes seemed dead and hollow, her face pale, almost sickly, her hair more ruffled than usual and her cheek covered with blood from behind her ear to her chin.

    Ei watched her reflection touch its face, feeling the sticky and the dried blood with the tip of her fingers. Suddenly she clutched hard the cloth, dipped it in the water and rubbed it on her cheek. Again and again. Even when her face was cleaned, she didn’t stop. Tadayoshi walked around the house, but she paid no heed to him, too concentrated on cleaning her face. She only stopped when the swordsman grabbed her wrist.

    She tried to get rid of him for a moment, but gave up. With effort, Ei opened her stiff fingers and let the cloth fall on the floor. She looked at the water, now dyed red. Her face was clean of blood, but it wasn’t back to its normal color. There was large red spot on her cheek and when she touched it, it was warm.

    Tadayoshi offered a cup of water with his free hand.

    The moment her lips touched the cup, Ei felt her throat dry again and drank it all in one gulp. Before she could ask for more, Tadayoshi handed her another bucket with water. She filled and drank the cup until she was full and could no longer drink. Tossing the cup away, she cleaned the moist from her mouth with the back of the hand.

    Ei picked up the bucket with both hands and turned the leftover water on her head. As the cold water soaked her hair and clothes, she breathed in and out slowly, feeling her fatigue being washed away. She threw the bucket aside and ran both hands over her face and hair.

    A cold breeze came from the window. Ei closed her fists to endure the shivering. It worked, but only for a moment. With her clothes drenched and sticking to her body, she felt another cold breeze. The girl trembled, and it didn’t matter if she squeezed so hard the hand lost its color, the shiver would not stop.

    Tadayoshi grabbed her hand. Ei felt the warmth from his touch, but didn’t look in his direction. He squeezed tighter and then she slowly raised her head, staring into his eyes, trying to see what else lied behind them. There was something there, something that frightened her. But those eyes still belong to the man she trusted.

    “Better sit down,” he said in a low but strong voice.

    Ei nodded grateful; her legs weren’t strong enough yet. She watched Tadayoshi collecting every useful object he could find. Soon he had a pile of clothes, money and weapons on one of the benches near the entrance. The pile only grew, but she couldn’t bear to see anymore and closed her eyes. That pile only reminded the kindness and smiles were fake.

    But there was one thing closing her eyes couldn’t help. No matter how far away she sat, it was impossible to ignore the faint smell of blood and death filling the room. She cleared her mind and tried not think about the source, but the stench only got stronger. With a sigh of defeat, she opened her eyes and glanced at the young man dead on top of the table on the other side of the room.

    When Ei woke, those eyes seemed just as empty as the face to her, but there was something different from afar. He looks a little surprised… Was it because he realized Tadayoshi knew about the drugs? She kept staring, trying to get an answer she knew she would never get. It’s so different from mom… Despite all the pain, she died protecting her daughter and left this world relieved knowing Ei was alive.

    Sensing the tears, she looked away from the dead and her eyes rested the sword next to her. Tadayoshi, Ei realized as she reached for the weapon. But halfway to it, her fingers twitched and she pulled the arm back, holding her hand with the other on her chest. Will I be able to hold, to draw a sword again? Will I ever be able to use it on someone? To take a life? Ei didn’t know and was afraid to know. She felt cold and empty, as if her enthusiasm had never existed.

    With a loud thud, Tadayoshi tossed the pile of useful objects in a bag he had found and tied the swords on it. He walked to her, picked up the wakizashi but didn’t tie with the others. He held it in his hands, staring Ei in complete silence with those dark eyes that seemed to look into her soul.

    Ei held her stare, trying once again to see what lied beyond those eyes. And she finally realized what it was. Though the girl trusted in those eyes, she could see something sharp and dangerous. A sword… In order to survive, Tadayoshi would swing that sword without hesitating. He lived in blood and death, and that sent a shiver through her soul.

    Is that what I want to become?

    The images what happened while she was unconscious flooded her eyes, each vision slashing her mind like a blade. The room spun and Ei felt sick again. Is that the world I wanna live?

    No… no… Her throbbed so hard it hurt, but she would never forget her desire. What she wished was to be strong, to never feel weak and helpless again, to protect people. Yes… to protect… Ei relived that moment where she screamed to everyone she knew, to her whole world; I wanna to be strong! Slowly the room quieted and she looked at Tadayoshi again.

    Without showing any hint of emotion, the swordsman placed some clothes on the table and left the inn, the noren hanging by the entrance swaying behind him.

    Ei looked at her own clothes, drenched with water and soiled with blood and vomit. There’s no way I can travel like this. With a sinking feeling, she realized what Tadayoshi’s clothes meant. It’s up to me to deide. If she wanted, she could keep her clothes and go back to her village. Everyone would be so happy, she thought with a smile. The girl enjoyed the idea of seeing Dai-jii, Sumire and everyone else for a moment. But with a shake of her head, their faces disappeared.

    Gathering her strength, Ei forced herself up. Even if her legs were still wobbling, she was standing on her own. Without hesitating, she undressed, tossed the old clothes aside and put on the new ones.

    Each step she took required her attention, but she went after Tadayoshi. It didn’t matter the visions in her head, nor the fear lurking in the back of her mind. In the end, he was still the man she trusted. The only difference now was that she knew another part of him, one that would survive no matter the cost.

    Tadayoshi was a few steps outside the inn, facing the plains with his back towards the entrance. When he heard her, he held her sword to his side in silence without turning his head.

    She walked until she was a few steps behind and accepted the weapon. Ei stared at her sword for a moment before putting it on her waist without speaking nor looking at Tadayoshi. There was no need for words. Not anymore.

    New cover
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  16. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member


    Sep 12, 2008
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    I enjoy reading Ei's character development in this chapter. She realized what the consequences of her choice are and accepted them. It helps that she has a patient and understanding teacher in Tadayoshi. It looks like Ei has grown a lot with this experience.

    I pity the innkeeper and her sons. Their grief has transformed them into the very monster they despise. Hopefully, they'll find peace in the afterlife.

    That's a cool cover. Did you make it yourself? Where are you publishing your stories btw?
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  17. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

    Jun 16, 2013
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    I'm really glad you enjoyed reading Ei's development.
    To be honest, I think this is one of the best chapters I've ever written.
    Her choices will haunt her forever.

    Thanks. I got the kanji on the net, but the rest was me.
    Besides here, I publish in my website, Royal Road and wattpad. All my stories are in those places. The ones I wouldn't put it here, ahahha
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  18. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member


    Sep 12, 2008
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    Is it all right if I post a link to your site on my website? ^^
  19. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

    Jun 16, 2013
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    Sure, no problem.
    What the link to your website?
  20. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member


    Sep 12, 2008
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