Chapter 13 Spoiler The view didn’t seem as impressive as in the night, but it was still beautiful. Beyond the river, Ei saw the plains stretching and turning into a forest as far as her eyes could see. It looks the same, but it feels different from the one back home, she thought for a moment but put the idea aside right away. Though it was an odd feeling to her, as if she looked down on the entire world, Ei had no desire, nor time, to waste thinking about such things. Tadayoshi didn’t care, nor glanced around. He was already heading to the city and she had to struggle after him. Their destination wasn’t so easy to spot in the morning. Without the flickering lights shining against the dark, the city looked so small it hardly seemed any different from a common village. But that didn’t bother Ei anymore. The city had long lost its initial wonder to the girl. The real problem was the distance. Will we really get there today? Ei didn’t know how much truth the owner’s words had, but she wasn’t lying when she said the city was farther than it looked. According to her, they wouldn’t get there before midday. That time had come and gone, the scorching sun above their heads in the cloudless sky as they walked the plains, but the city barely seemed any closer. It might not be so bad if he said anything, Ei thought, glancing at Tadayoshi’s back. He had not spoken a word ever since they left the inn. And since neither she had anything to say, the journey felt much longer. Her guilt didn’t help either. She knew their slow progress was her fault; he had to slow down to match her speed. The sun was starting to touch the horizon when they could finally see the outer wall. Ei sweat, panted, her back ached and her legs throbbed. But at the sight of the city that went beyond her sight, she forgot how exhausted she felt. They joined the short line to enter and were through the gates. Ei simply stared with her mouth hanging open. So many houses and shops she couldn’t count all. Most had two floors, but some had three and a few seemed so huge it made the inn look small. Between the buildings, the streets and alleys teemed with life. The girl had never seen so many people in one place, not even when the soldiers came to collect and escort the taxes. In her village, everyone dressed almost the same. Here, men and women wore colorful and loose clothes. They chatted, bought food from tables along the houses and fanned themselves with paper fans, uchiwa, as they walked around the city. She wanted to check the foods on the tables, but just walking without bumping into anyone required her attention. As she did her best to not step on any foot, she noticed something weird. Despite the crowd and interesting things to see, some glanced at them more than once. A few whispered between them when they saw Tadayoshi and her. An old man even came towards them, his face red and eyes teary, until a muscled man stopped him and pulled him away. Only when no one met her eyes, Ei realized. The people didn’t look at them; they looked at the weapon. She pulled her sword closer out of reflex. “I should’ve remembered,” said Tadayoshi, more to himself than to Ei. He glanced around and entered the closest alley. Even there was full, but they could walk without attracting everyone’s attention. “Why everyone’s looking at us?” She waited for him to say the rest, but when she realized he wouldn’t say, she asked. “Swords aren’t—” A man bumped hard into Tadayoshi’s shoulder. The swordsman turned his head and the bald man stared back with the one eye he had left. For a few long moments, Ei held her breath, waiting for the fight to start. But when the man looked at the sword on Tadayoshi’s waist, the girl realized the swordsman’s hand wasn’t on the handle. Of course… there’s no way Tadayoshi would fight for something this stupid, she thought with a thin smile. When the man finally walked away without saying anything, the girl breathed in relief. The swordsman sighed, rolled his eyes and ran a hand on his face. He muttered something that sounded a lot like idiot and turned back to her. “Swords aren’t… welcome at this time.” “Why?” Ei frowned. I know the… dangers of a weapon in the wrong hands, but without it, the city, the people are defenseless, she thought, but didn’t voice it. “This festival is to honor the ancestors and those who are no longer here,” he said and the girl understood. Ei looked down at the weapon on her waist. A sword can protect, but it can also kill. People who lost close ones to the violence wouldn’t want the reminder, she thought, glancing around. They weren’t the only ones carrying blades, but unlike her and Tadayoshi, they covered with a cloth or anything to keep the scabbard and the handle out of sight. The soldiers patrolling the streets didn’t cover their weapons. The people trust them, she realized. Unlike us, strangers. “Don’t you have anything to cover the swords?” Tadayoshi showed a wry smile as he glanced his bag and Ei understood. If he takes out the clothes from the inn… With a sigh, she realized the only thing they could do was ignore the stares. As they walked around the town, different smells filled the girl’s nose and she finally saw what was on the wooden tables along the streets. So many food, she thought, trying to remember the names. Dango, a type of dumpling made of rice flour; manjuu, a sweet filled with red bean; udon, a noodle made from wheat flour and served in small wooden bowls; yakitori, skewered pieces of roasted birds, and much more. Her stomach growled in response. She covered her belly, but still heard Tadayoshi’s laugh and didn’t look up. “We need money first.” Tadayoshi asked something to a woman on one of the tables, but Ei didn’t hear; she was too busy paying attention to an old man. He talked and moved his hand. Before him there was a wooden box displaying a plaque with a drawing of a samurai and a small but terrifying demonic shadow. Kamishibai! Ei remembered. One of the merchants that visited her village once a year liked telling stories to the kids after he finished his business. He carried a box just like this old man, but he had more drawings, changing the plaques to fit the scene. Though the merchant was more energetic, the old man was much better. Even adults stopped to watch him. The old man was telling the tale about Yasuhiro-sama fighting the tiny devil. She knew the story; it was one of Dai-jii’ favorites. Even so, Ei came a bit closer without realizing her smile. “When everyone had lost hope of defeating the tiny devil, Yasuhiro-sama appeared.” The old man grew quieter to make the tension grow. Ei got closer, waiting for the climax, but then Tadayoshi called her. She walked to him, but kept her head on the old man. She watched for as long as she could, but then a hand pulled her by the collar. Tadayoshi had turned in the alley and she didn’t realize. “Don’t lower your guard.” The girl bit her lips, sighed, fixed her clothes and followed the swordsman. Somehow walking both against and with the flow at the same time, they joined a line outside a store near the main street. People talked to a boy standing at the entrance and he would go inside and come back with nails, hammers and other small tools. As the boy went in and out and the line walked, Ei heard the constant and rhythmic hammering coming from inside the blacksmith shop. The boy looked just bored as she was when it was their turn and didn’t even look them in the eye. “Selling,” Tadayoshi said the boy could speak. He showed a little surprise as he looked at the swords, but had the same bored expression when he entered the shop. A moment later, the boy came back and told them to go inside, already attending the next customer. The hammering was even louder inside. Ei felt the sound vibrating through her, but just as she was growing accustomed, it stopped. A few moments later, the door on the back of the shop opened with a heavy thud and a man walked to them, cleaning his hands on the leather apron, the sweat coming down his brow. “Selling what?” he asked in a low grunt. Tadayoshi untied the swords from the backpack and held his hand before Ei. The girl looked between the hand and the swordsman. A moment later, she understood, and didn’t protest or say anything against. Feeling nothing but an emptiness, she pulled the weapon from her waist and handed to him without looking him in the eyes. “Selling this.” The blacksmith pulled a bit one of the swords from its sheath. He hummed as he examined the blade with one eye. “The metal isn’t the best,” he said in the same low grunt. “They’re all like this.” Tadayoshi half drew the wakizashi and showed to the blacksmith Ei stopped listening to their conversation. The walls covered with the blacksmith’s work seemed more interesting to her. Shovels, hoes, sickles, hammers and other tools, the metal shining and the handle without any chips. To barge up the price, I bet. Even so, she got so close she could see her own blurred reflection. It’s the first time I see polished tools, she realized with some surprise. In her village, they only had old ones and when they needed new ones, they always bought used ones. The boy kept coming in and out as Ei walked around the store. Even something so everyday has its beauty, she thought with a small smile. But when she saw the tool resting above the back door, the smile disappeared. A sword. Naked and reflecting the light to display all its beauty and the blacksmith ability, so imposing its presence erased the others tools from the girl’s sight. So polished she could see herself. Not a blurred reflection; she could see her eyes, could see herself on the blade, terrified. The light cast by the fire danced and the sharp edge seemed drenched in blood. The girl quivered as the image of the old woman smiling appear in her mind. A faceless shadow grabbed the owner’s arm, made her hold a knife and guided her hand to her own heart. The owner fell still smiling. Scar appeared out of nowhere and walked through the shadow. He stepped over his grandma’s cadaver and offered Ei some tea. He smiled and moved his mouth, but no sound came from those lips. Then the shadow gained form again, took the blade from the woman’s hand and drove into Scar’s throat. Without ever stop smiling, his body fell forward on top of the girl. Ei screamed, pushed the body away and managed to get out under the cadaver. When she raised her head, the faceless shadow was inches away from her, staring her in the eyes with empty sockets. The next instant, those sockets became dark eyes she recognized. When she closed her fist, there was a sword in her hand. Without thinking, without freezing, she slashed at the shadow and tried to run, but her foot slipped on the blood soaked earth. She dragged herself through the mud and blood without looking. But as she drew distance from the shadow, she felt many hands grabbing her legs, the fingers digging so deep she thought her bones would break. When she turned her head, she saw the owner and the twins holding her ankles, pulling her. She tried kicking them, but it made no difference. They pulled harder, and then Ei felt the bites in her legs. She used all the air in her lungs, but she had no voice to scream. She ignored the pain, her hands trying to find anything to grab. But she found nothing except blood. The dead pulled her into the red ground. Ei was struggling for air as she drowned in blood. The shadow stood before her, offering a hand. Ei raised her head and saw a face she knew; Tadayoshi. For a moment, she smiled in relief and raised her arm to take the hand, but when she looked into his eyes, they were the empty and cold ones. The deaths he caused doesn’t bother him… Her hand trembled. That not what I want. All I want is to be strong, to save the weak… to save my mom… A loud voice brought her back to the blacksmith’s shop. She shook her head and cleaned the tears, but no matter how hard she shut her eyes, she could still see the images. The room spun and she felt sick. Ei saw Tadayoshi looking at her with a worried expression, but all she could see was the shadow. Her breathing became rapid and shallow. Her heart thumped painfully. With her mind black, she could think of one thing; she had to get away from there, from that sword hanging on the wall… from the shadow… The people waiting in line complained when she pushed her way out, but she barely heard them. All she could hear was Tadayoshi’s shouts, but she ignored him. All she did was run. She had no idea where, but she had to get away from everybody. But each alley she turned, she found people. Her legs shook and throbbed, but she didn’t stop, bumping into people along the way. They pushed her, complained or cursed her, but Ei nor heard nor cared. So many people, she thought, the pain in her chest growing. Each breath she took was painful, but she didn’t stop. It made no difference. No matter where she went, where she ran, she was trapped by people and houses. She couldn’t breathe anymore. Her head became dizzy, her sight blurred and she vomited. Someone talked to her from far away, but she couldn’t understand a word. Then, with a strange feeling, she vaguely realized the person was screaming at her. Ei cleaned her mouth with the back of her and raised her head with difficulty. There a man complaining and showing his clothes to her. Ei looked at where he pointed, where she had vomited. Somewhere in her mind, she knew she had to apologize, but her mouth didn’t work at the same speed. She had forgotten how to speak. The man raised his arm and closed his fist. He’s gonna hit me… She had to react. She knew she had to react, but her body refused to listen to her. Her mind was too hazed to think, and she simply closed her eyes. But nothing happened. A heartbeat later, Ei opened her eyes. There was a shadow holding the man’s fist. She tried looking past the man to see who held his fist, but the person was against the light, the face hidden by shadows. Her savior said something she didn’t understand, but she could feel the threatening tone. The man walked away grunting something and Ei finally saw who saved her. She lowered her head, too ashamed to look meet Tadayoshi’s eyes. Tadayoshi placed a hand on her shoulder. Only when the warmth coursed from his fingers to her, she realized how cold she was. That gentle touch took her out from the stupor. Despite how sick she felt, a meager smile crossed her lips. Every time I need him, he’s there. She would never say to him, but even with all the doubts in her mind, she thanked him from the bottom of her heart. Even now, she was grateful to him. But when she looked into his eyes… they’re not the same, she forced herself to think. They aren’t those cold and empty eyes. --- Double Post Merged, Oct 15, 2017, Original Post Date: Oct 1, 2017 --- Chapter 14 Spoiler “We need to find a place for tonight first,” Tadayoshi said, looking around. As the sun disappeared and the fire lights illuminated the city, the streets were more crowded. “I don’t wanna sleep without four walls around me.” The swordsman led the girl through the crowd as if he knew where he was going, but soon Ei realized he was just walking at random. But she was too weak to complain and just let herself be dragged as they searched for a place. It didn’t matter where they went, they only heard full or no rooms, sometimes even before they could ask. As they walked around, Ei felt her hunger overcoming her nausea. When her stomach rumbled loudly, she could no longer ignore. Without making fun, laughing or even making a comment, Tadayoshi bought food. At first the girl nibbled on the food, but each bite became bigger and she filled her belly for the first time in weeks. The moon and the stars were already shining against the cloudless sky when they found finally an inn with a room on the outskirts of the city. Is this really a room? It’s more like a deposit, Ei thought as she sat on the straw pile that was her bed. The room they had found was so small it was hard to believe more than three adults could sleep without hitting each other with the slight movement. Whatever. It’s enough for us. Ei massaged her throbbing shoulders. As her energy and mood got better, Tadayoshi made her carried the bag halfway the search for a room. Though it was lighter without the swords, it was still heavy for the girl. With her exhaustion hitting her, she lied on the bed. Her mind drifted into sleep and the images that haunted her the entire day came back in full. She opened her eyes and sat up. The girl sweated and grabbed her shirt, her heart thumping painfully in her chest. Her breathing was shallow and rapid and the more she tried to inhale, the more she was out of air. Her head became dizzy and fought an urge to vomit. Will I… always see them… those images… whenever I close my eyes? Even with the warmth coming through the window, she trembled. Ei hugged herself and stared at Tadayoshi’s back. Despite everything, little by little, her breathing and heart went back to normal. “She didn’t believe you…” When breathing wasn’t painful, Ei asked with difficulty. She didn’t care much, just wanted to take her mind off the images. He turned to her with a puzzled look. “The woman on the entrance. She didn’t believe our story. Better change it from now on. “You could’ve helped. But no, you’d rather correct me like that,” he said, shaking his head with his usual mocking expression. Though Ei would never admit, seeing that side of him after everything brought more relief than she would have liked. “We don’t look alike. Who’d be stupid enough to believe we’re father and daughter? And your name—” “No. There’s no way I’ll hide my name,” he said abruptly. His expression became hard so fast it scarred the girl. Tadayoshi looked at her and sighed as the lines in his face softened. “It’s… it was the first thing my master gave to me. It means… loyalty.” ‘They call me a man without loyalty, but that’s a lie!’ Ei widened her eyes as she remembered his words. So that’s why he reacted like that. She had no idea what to say and kept quiet for a while. Even so, the girl couldn’t hide her tiny smile. I learned something new about him. “About our story… I know it’s hard to believe someone so young such as myself would have a kid your age, but we could’ve fooled that woman. I mean, no one would believe you’re fourteen. Even now I still have my doubts. Actually I thought you were a boy when we met,” he said in a lighter tone to break the awkward silence. Ei snorted, but when she was about to reply, a loud drum echoed. Only now she realized the noise from outside was growing louder. She stood up and looked through the window. The few people she could see were dressed fancier than earlier and were all heading in the same direction. “Hey. We’ll check the festival after,” Tadayoshi said. When she turned, he threw her a cloth he took from the bag. Ei caught it and turned it around, trying to figure out the meaning of it. “You stink too much, so go take a bath. I’d like one too, but one look at this,” he had a sad smile as he touched the left side of his belly, where his scar was, “and we’ll be in trouble.” Ei nodded, barely listening to him as she tried to look at the street again. When she breathed, she sensed an awful smell and realized it came from her. The mix of sweat, vomit, and dirt clung to her new clothes, making it look as bad as her old ones. What was worst was that now she had noticed, her smell was all she could sense now. Using the cloth to block her nose, Ei stepped out of their room. Where’s the bath? She stood in the hallway, looking in both directions. When she thought of asking the lady in the entrance, two women came out of the room at the end of the hallway, carrying cloths just like the one Ei had. The girl followed them, waiting to ask where the bath was. However, the women never gave her a chance. They talked about what clothes to wear or how to tie their hair without stopping. As Ei was about to give up, they turned into a short hallway with a tiny opening at the end. Hearing the noise of water, Ei entered with the women. An old woman greeted them and gave a basin filled with water each. Ei accepted and thanked, but she had no idea what to do. Glancing the women by the corner of her eyes, she watched the women undress, wrap their clothes on the cloth, walk to a corner of the room and wash themselves. Ei did the same. She sat with the basin and cloth on a stool on the opposite corner and finally, after weeks on the forest, she cleaned herself. I’ll never go this long without washing myself right, she thought as she scrubbed herself. The hardest was her hair. No matter how much she washed the dirt and sweat out of it, it was still hard and wild. When she finished, she looked around. It wasn’t just her and the two women she followed. There were others, along with a few older ladies and girls younger than Ei. Most did like her, cleaning themselves with the basin, but others were on the wooden bathtubs above a stone platform with a fire under to keep the water hot. In her village, everyone washed themselves on the deepest part of the creek. But Ei remembered when the grownups had brought a tub like that from the fortress. They were excited, saying it was much better than just washing on the water. It became popular, but soon everyone gave up. Not only there were many people for the bath, it was a hassle gathering all the extra wood for the fire. Ei turned over the rest of the cold water in the basin over her head. Her scratches stung a little, but she ignored and went to the tub. When she was about to step in, she hesitated. If I let myself relax, will I see it? She gulped and shook her head. I’m going to be strong. I can’t be afraid of… that forever, she told herself and entered the same bathtub as the women she had followed. The hot, almost scalding, water stung her wounds at once. She bit her lips but as she became used to it, she relaxed. It’s like the water’s entering me and burning away the pain. Almost like it’s washing my problems away, she thought dreamily, feeling lighter and lighter. She closed her eyes and lost track of time, but a loud bang brought her back. One of the kids had dropped the basin on the floor. With some surprise, Ei realized the women were already gone. She got out, untied her clothes and dried herself with the cloth. But when she picked the clothes, she felt dejected to wear it again. Tadayoshi was still in the room. He was almost in the same position, resting his head the wall, using the light from outside to read a book. Ei stared at Yasuhiro-sama’ diary, feeling the anger grow inside her. She never thought she would ever hate something related to the hero she looked up. Tadayoshi used that diary to teach her how to read and write. Though she was very interested in learning both, her progress was laughable and she put it off whenever she could. The swordsman was so focused in the diary it took him longer than normal to realize she was back. Without looking at her, Tadayoshi closed the book, put it inside his clothes and stood up. He wrapped his sword and Asahi with a cloth, hung them on his waist and led the girl outside without a word. The streets were more crowded and louder. Even without the tables, they still had trouble walking around without bumping into anyone. At least they’re not glaring at him anymore, she thought, following Tadayoshi closely. It felt as if the entire world was there to enjoy the festival. Now the difference between them and the rest was screaming at them. People didn’t wear simple clothes anymore; instead they wore beautiful and elegant yukata. Ei never cared much for clothes or her appearance, but she looked around with envy The men wore simpler colors; mostly black, dark blue and dark green, and only a few had any pattern or emblems. The women, on the other hand, dressed in a myriad of colors. There were bright green and blue, peach, shades of red, yellow. And most had patterns of a variety of flowers sewn on it. So beautiful, she thought, almost losing track of Tadayoshi when she stopped to admire. The clothes weren’t the only difference from earlier. There were paper lanterns on the doors and across the streets, the winds swaying the lights so bright it shunned the moon and the stars. The yellow and red glow illuminated the ground and the people like tiny suns. A day within the night, she thought, smiling broadly. From somewhere far the sound of a drum echoed through the city. It was only one at first, but soon others joined and then the night was vibrating with the hypnotic sound. Everyone squashed themselves to create a hallway in the middle of the streets. Ei was almost pushed inside a house, but a hand grabbed hers and pulled. She meant to thank Tadayoshi, but when she realized people didn’t squash him because of his smell, she laughed. At least we go something good out of it, she thought, watching his annoyed expression. Thanks to his smell, they had a perfect view of the street. A group of young women came dancing in two rows came from the opposite direction of the drums. Their clothes were even more elegant, with flowers patterns and real flowers matching on their hairs. Their movement and claps matched the rhythm of the drums as they walked down the street. They lowered their hands as if planting something, turned around and clapped. The people watched smiling or talking happily with their friends or clapping. Some kids even tried imitating the dance, but most couldn’t do it right. Some kids even fell, getting some laughs out of the crowd. Even so, the women never stopped dancing. When the last dancers passed by them, the crowd followed. They ended up in a large space with a huge bonfire at the center and the group of drummers around it. The flames were so high it looked as if orange fingers were reaching for the stars. Even from a distance, Ei could feel the intense heat emanating from the fire. The dancers formed two circles around the drummers, dancing in opposite directions. The drums beats became faster and the dancers kept up. Suddenly the sound died and the girls stopped at the same time, their hands raised towards the sky. For a moment, the only sound was the fire, and then, as if waking from a dream, the spectators burst in claps. Ei and Tadayoshi joining them a heartbeat later. The men on the drums stood up and, together with the dancers, bowed in every direction. After more applause, the crowd scattered slowly. The people either grouped with their friends and family or went to their homes or rooms, everyone talking about the festival. They headed back to their room too, but Ei barely paid attention where she was going. She couldn’t stop seeing the dance, dancers, drums and the fire all over again. I’ve seen something like that, she thought. The dance, in a few parts, reminded the girl a bit of the dance they did during some rituals, though the difference in quality was obvious. I doubt anyone back home can dance like that. Before she knew it, they were back in their room. Tadayoshi placed one sword against the wall and pushed his straw to the corner near the window. “I don’t like sleeping so exposed,” he answered before Ei could even ask. Tadayoshi laid in his bed, Ei didn’t. Now that the excitement from the festival faded, she was once again tired. All she did was stared at her bed, afraid to close her eyes and relive everything all over again. But the exhaustion was too much and she laid down too. She turned and stared at Tadayoshi’s back. From the way he moved, she knew he was still awake. “This festival is to tribute the dead, right?” she asked, both to keep her mind filled and to satisfy her curiosity. “Why is it so… lively? I mean, the music and dance and all the fun…” I could never do that… when I think of mom… “I asked the same question to Hikari-sama,” he said in a tired voice. For some reason, Ei felt he was smiling as his memories came back. “One day, a disciple of Buddha used his powers to look at the soul of his dead mother. Instead of peace, he found out she was suffering a lot in the afterlife, so he begged for his master’s help. When the disciple finally saved his mother, he was so happy he started dancing. Because of that story, people believed dancing would help the souls of those who aren’t around anymore.” That’s… interesting, Ei considered after a while. If it was me, I guess I’d be happy too. But that would be for ancestors or people who are gone for a long time. When the death is still close… She started closing her eyes, but she fought and forced them open. “You’re afraid.” It wasn’t a question. Even with his back turned, Tadayoshi could tell exactly what she felt. Without complaining nor sighing, he sat up and turned to her. She sat too, but out of instinct, Ei avoided looking into his eyes. What I’ll find? I don’t wanna see those cold and empty eyes… not in him. Not ever again, she thought, closing her fist to stop the trembling. “You’re afraid of me,” he whispered. There was no joke in his tone. He was facing her fears with the same serious way when he spoke about his master. Still without looking at him, she nodded once. “You fear you’ll be weak forever just because you couldn’t do anything against that warrior yesterday. You’re scared of what happened at that inn, of what you saw this morning. But mostly you’re terrified of taking a life the same way I do.” She tried saying yes, but she had no voice. She closed her eyes and barely nodded. She heard him sighed. “I’ll bet you’re also scared of wasting the precious time of this great swordsman, aren’t you?” His joke and smile caught her off guard. Before she realized it, Ei couldn’t help but chuckle. She shook her head and ran a hand over her face. “The only thing great about is your ego,” Ei said. This idiot knows me so well he can make me better with just one stupid joke, she thought. “In a rare moment, you’re right. Yesterday I… was paralyzed by fear… I felt weak… useless… and today…” She quivered and hugged herself. Say it! Say it! Don’t be afraid now. She felt the tears coming down, but still forced herself to speak. “Today, that… I-I wanna… be strong… but not that. I don’t wanna be someone who… who can kill others so easily…” Like you. She kept those words to herself. Ei trembled so much she lost her voice. He said nothing, letting her cry her to heart’s desire, but she could still feel his eyes on her. “Not killing someone doesn’t make you weak,” he said in a low voice when her tears stopped. “The same way killing doesn’t make one strong. It’s easier to draw a sword than to sheath it. I killed yesterday and will kill again. Whenever I have to, as many times as it takes to survive. I won’t die regretting like my master.” Before Ei could stop herself, she raised her head and met his eyes. Behind them, along with the sword he had, there was an intense flame burning. She had never seen him this serious. Not even when he spoke of Yasuhiro-sama. “I’ll teach you how to use a sword, but I’ll never tell you when to use it. You’ll choose that by yourself. Lives will be at stake whenever you draw your sword. Remember what I said before? Some live and some die in the way of the sword. Never forget these words, Eiko.” Only her mother called her that way. His words echoed through her, calming her fears and stopping the quivers. But what warmed her, what made her soul lighter, what shone a light at the dark shadow that lurked within her mind was his eyes. When the relief spread, she lied on the straw and almost drifted into sleep. “I tried to let them live,” Tadayoshi said quickly, as if to get it out of him. “But when the twin with the scar ran towards you, I lost control of myself.” She turned to him, but when she noticed his slow and rhythmic breathing, she knew he was already sleeping now. With a smile, she closed her eyes. Ei found herself in an empty and dark room. She ran and ran, but her surroundings never changed. Her knees cave in and she fell hard on the floor. She screamed in pain, but no voice came out. Panting and sweating, she tried standing up, but her legs and arms had no strength. She heard something far away coming in her direction. Footsteps, she realized, panicking. It was faint at first, but the sound got louder. She tried moving, dragging herself, anything. Then the steps were finally by her side. Two feet appeared into her sight. Ei raised her head and saw a shadow. When the shadow leaned closer, she saw Tadayoshi’s face He offered her a hand. Ei hesitated, but then she heard more footsteps. Another Tadayoshi. This one was normal, the way she knew him, with no shadow covering part of his face. Both swordsmen stood side by side and then merged into one. The new Tadayoshi wasn’t different; he was the same man she trusted, with both dark and light inside him. He offered his hand again, half his face smiling, the other half a somber façade. Ei didn’t hesitate this time, taking Tadayoshi’s hand, the hand of her master.