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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

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    Chapter 13
    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
    “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.

     
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  2. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member

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    Thanks for the chapter! It's nice to see the softer side of Tadayoshi. ^^ It appears that Ei has a full understanding of what she will go up against and is ready to accept the consequences of her decision. I'm glad that she has grown so much in these last two chapters.
     
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  3. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

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    Chapter 15
    “Faster. Tip the sword a little more,” Tadayoshi spoke in an emotionless voice. “Not that much. Faster.”

    Ei had lost count of how many times she had heard those same instructions. She took a deep breath to contain her rage and regain her focus before raising the wooden sword again. Visualizing Tadayoshi with his annoying smug before her eyes, the girl swung her weapon to take out her frustration.

    The move was simple. Raise the sword above the head with the blade side tilt down, redirect the blow and attack right away. Or at least Ei thought it was simple, but she hadn’t received any other comment besides ‘faster’ and ‘tip the sword a little more’ ever since she started.

    Am I really not doing it right or is he just messing with me? She asked herself, tightening her grip on the handle. No, he’s not doing that. The girl believed her master wouldn’t fool around with her training. With a deep sigh, she let go her frustration and raised the sword again.

    Ei repeated the move over and over. Until the wooden sword weight as much as a real one for her tired arms. When the bokken was too heavy for her to lift again, she brought it down and used it to support herself.

    “Faster,” Tadayoshi repeated in the same emotionless voice.

    Ei held her breath and bit her lips to control her rage. But when she turned and glared his back, she couldn’t contain anymore. “You’re not even looking!”

    Tadayoshi was belly deep in the river, holding a wooden sword sideways, ready to draw from an invisible sheath. He barely seemed to breathe as he stared the water, completely still. He’s focused, Ei realized, watching him in silence. It almost seems like he’s part of the river.

    Without warning, the swordsman slashed at the water, the sword moving so fast the girl barely saw the blur. A fish flew and fell on the ground, struggling for a moment until it stopped breathing. Tadayoshi didn’t even glance at the animal; he was already back to the same position, ready to draw again. After attacking the water three more times, he walked back to the riverbank.

    “What are you doing?” Ei screamed and turned around when Tadayoshi came out of the water naked. I’ve never seen a naked man before, she thought, her face red. “Put on some clothes!”

    “My bad,” Tadayoshi said, chuckling. “I’m dressed, so you can turn around. Now come here help me with these.”

    Ei placed the wooden sword on her waist and turned slowly, checking if he was dressed. Her cheeks were still burning while she helped Tadayoshi bring the fishes near the fire he had made her set up before the training.

    To Ei’s relief, Tadayoshi washed and tied his clothes on his sword and placed them near the fire to dry faster. Thank the goodness he did that. A few more days and the smell would be unbearable even for us.

    The girl picked up four twigs strong enough she hadn’t used to feed the fire and skewered the fishes. She handed their food to Tadayoshi and he placed it carefully near the fire. In little time, the smell of roasting meat filled the air, and it made the girl’s stomach growl.

    “Yeah, yeah, I’m hungry too. But we’re training until it’s ready.” Tadayoshi stood up, the wooden sword already in his hands

    Ignoring her hunger, Ei cleaned the dirt from her clothes and stood up. She drew and readied herself with her sword before her. “Where did you get these swords, anyway?” she did the same question she had made earlier.

    Ei felt much better when she woke. She didn’t remember her dream, but knew whatever it was, it made her feel better. With her determination brimming, she got out of bed ready to leave her weak and crying self behind. But when she found herself alone in their bedroom, she felt her enthusiasm evaporating.

    Tadayoshi’s bed was empty except for a note written on a ripped piece of clothes. Ei was still learning how to read, and even though she had trouble understanding what he had written, she felt angry. City. Leave. River. Go. Despite the few words, she could feel him making fun of her and swore she would never tell him that she had to confirm what was written with someone else.

    Ei left the city gates and headed to the river in a straight line. After washing her face, she looked around, but Tadayoshi wasn’t anywhere around. She waited, but after a few moments, she couldn’t stand still anymore and decided to train on her own. After warming up her body a bit, she closed her eyes.

    First, she imagined a sword in her hands, her fingers tightly grasping the bamboo handle. She positioned the invisible weapon before her and then visualized the only movement she knew, however basic it was. After remembering all of Tadayoshi’s correction, Ei swung her arms. Even without a sword, this is tiresome, she thought, but didn’t stop to rest until she was out of breath.

    With her arms tired and her breathing fast, Ei sat on the ground and watched the stream. With surprise, she followed the waters that went beyond as far as her eyes saw. So vast… The girl hugged herself before she realized. I’ve never… I’ve been surrounded by trees my whole lifeBut now I’m… freeFree to become strong and go anywhere… It was a strange sensation, but she didn’t dislike it. That’s kinda scary though… The opposite of everything I know… She bit her lips, but then a thin smile crossed her face. And this is something I chose myself.

    The river was calm and its water so clear she could see the fish underneath. She hit the surface with her hand and the animals swam away right away. Smiling, she let loose her hair, feeling the pleasant breeze. Out of impulse, she took her sandals, pulled the hem of her clothes and dipped her legs in the river, scraping her toes on the bottom. On that hot summer day, the cool water was welcome.

    Enjoying things like this… it doesn’t feel like I walked into the way of the sword, she thought, closing her eyes. The images still tormented her, but she didn’t wince this time. She forced herself to relief everything. Now I can face it without the urge to vomitTadayoshi did that because he had to. He’s not like those bandits, she said to herself.

    Some fish nibbled on her feet and she chuckled. It tickles. Ei looked around. There was no sign of Tadayoshi nor anyone else. I’m completely alone right now. She looked around one more time. The fishes went away when she pulled her feet and undressed. Placing the clothes near the sandals, she entered the river.

    It wasn’t as deep as it seemed; her feet touched the bottom with no problem. The girl dipped her head, drinking a little. The moment the water went down her throat, she realized how thirsty she was, and drank until she was satisfied. She raised her head and took a deep breath, enjoying the cold breeze.

    The fishes swam around her, running away whenever she moved. She stayed still until the animals were close enough and tried to catch with her hands, but they were too fast. Damn it… it’s always like this, the girl thought and then laughed. Ever since I remember, I tried to do this, but to this day, I haven’t caught any.

    Smiling and still trying to catch a fish, Ei moved away from the riverside. When her toes were barely touching the bottom, she took deep breaths and pulled her legs a bit. The stream started dragging her. Her breathing became rapid and she swam back until she could feel the ground with her feet. I know how to swim, but a river is too different from the creek where I learned.

    With her breathing back to normal, Ei ran a hand at the bottom and picked up a few small rocks. She threw the biggest with all with all her strength. It bounced twice before sinking, but the others did neither. Instead, the stream dragged it and Ei watched until it disappeared from her sight.

    Where does a river end? She had never given much thought about where the waters went, but she wondered now. Where the stream would bring me if I pull my legs and just let it drag me? Ei pulled one leg, barely grasping the bottom with the other foot. I think mom told me once. It ends at the ocean, a river so big there’s no end and the water tastes like salt. She squinted her eyes, trying to see beyond. Maybe someday I’ll see for myself this so-called ocean.

    Ei closed her eyes and floated, waving her arms slowly to fight against the stream. This feels nice… While the warm water helped and healed her wounds, the cold water washed away her worries.

    “I didn’t think you could swim,” a familiar voice spoke.

    Even though Ei knew that voice belonged to Tadayoshi, she turned around right away. The swordsman stood near her clothes. He panted and sweated a little, and held a green kimono wrapped around something long. The girl swam back to the bank, but didn’t get out of the river. She hugged herself and kept half her face sunken, her body warming up despite the cold water.

    It took a moment, but Tadayoshi finally saw her clothes. “Sorry for my rudeness,” he said in his joking tone. “If it’s not too much trouble, please wear this.”

    The bundle in his hand became thinner when he unwrapped the clothes. He placed it on the ground, picked Ei’s and walked away.

    Hesitating, she got near the bank again, without taking her eyes off Tadayoshi’s back. He didn’t turn nor look back, but even so, Ei wasn’t so keen in leaving the water with him still in her sight.

    But the water only got colder and colder. She was already trembling by the time Tadayoshi was out of sight. Then, as fast as she could, she got out of the river and picked up the clothes. Though it was bigger than hers, it wasn’t that much loose.

    “Are you done?” Tadayoshi came back, walking to her without waiting for an answer. He unwrapped the rest of the bundle, revealing two wooden swords and a small linen sack.

    “Where did you get all this?”

    Tadayoshi waved his hand and ignored the question, telling her to gather firewood. Ei felt her anger rising, but let it go with a sigh and did as bid.

    It was a harder than she thought. Wherever she turned, there was only an open and empty area. The few trees nearby had only twigs around and Ei had to walk quite far. By the time she had gathered enough for a fire, she was tired, sweaty, and thinking about jumping into the river again.

    Tadayoshi wore the same green kimono as Ei. He had washed their clothes, tied to the swords and stuck the weapons on the ground. They look like flags, the girl thought, setting up the firewood.

    While the wind helped to dry the clothes, it also got in the way. The swordsman had too much trouble to light a simple spark. Ei had already set up the firewood and was almost falling asleep when he finally managed. He blew and the spark became a weak flame when he tossed it in the firewood.

    “Stand up,” Tadayoshi said, throwing one of the wooden swords to her, almost hitting her on the head. “Watch closely.”

    With the bokken before him, he stood in the basic position. With an unusual concentration, the swordsman raised his hands and tilted the sword at the same time, as if defending a blow from an invisible foe. Then, in the same motion, he spun the weapon above his head, striking the imaginary enemy. He repeated the move, now tilting the sword to on the other side. He did it again, this time slower, giving time to Ei memorize.

    “Repeat this until your body can do it by reflex…”

    “You’re too curious for your own good, you know that?” Tadayoshi let out a huge sigh and shook his head in disappointment. “If you really need to know, which you don’t, I borrowed all this… without the owner’s knowledge,” he muttered the last part with a smile. “But it doesn’t matter. What do you think about what the move?”

    “It has both a defense and an attack,” Ei answered right away, a note of pride in her voice she couldn’t hide.

    “Correct. But don’t get to happy. That’s obvious. The most important is to understand the meaning behind the move,” he said, and then attacked her the next instant.

    From so much training, Ei raised the wooden sword out of reflex and blocked the blow, surprising even herself. She almost lost her balance when her weapon hit her own shoulder, but Tadayoshi’s sword slide on hers, and she was unharmed.

    The blow was so weak and it still managed to throw me off a little. If it were a real sword… and if he was using all his strength… I’d survive, but I’d probably have a broken shoulder or at least lose my weapon… that would my death…

    “This move’s good to fight against physically stronger opponents,” Tadayoshi said, bringing Ei’s mind back. “First you deflect the blow and attack. You got hurt because you’re thinking it’s two movements in one. It’s only one. You defend and use the same motion to attack. The speed is the secret. It’s the difference between life and death. So… faster.” He smiled and attacked her again and again.

    They only stopped when the food was ready. Ei dropped the sword the moment Tadayoshi said it was over. I never knew my body could feel this much pain. Both her arms and legs were covered with bruises, thanks him getting faster and faster. Hey, you idiot master. Do you like beating kids? Is that it?

    Since her arms refused to raise past her chest, the girl had to bring her head down to eat the food. “You didn’t have to hit that hard.” She found energy to complain between bites.

    “I had. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be no meaning,” reply Tadayoshi, completely unscathed, already on his second fish. Even though his mouth was busy eating, the girl could sense his smile.

    By the time Ei picked up her second fish and ate around the spine, she felt better. She was almost finishing when she felt the air getting heavier. A shiver ran through her body and her face lost its color. Her breathing became slow and deep. She knew the sensation. She couldn’t forget. It’s so much stronger than those warriors… it’s almost overflowing with hate, she thought, her throat drying. “Tadayoshi,” she managed to speak in a low voice.

    “Stay calm.” He finished his food and stood up, looking in every direction for the source of such killing intent.

    Without showing any fear or hurry, Tadayoshi untied their clothes and placed his sword on his waist. For a moment, he looked between Asahi and Ei, and then, with a heavy expression, he handed the weapon to the girl.

    Ei gulped when she accepted the sword with a stiff nod. She tried putting it on her waist just like him, but her hands trembled too much. By the time she had managed to secure it, Tadayoshi had wrapped the wooden swords on the clothes and handed to her.

    She barely managed to hold everything. Not that her arms hurt; she had forgotten her pain. Her arms felt numb. Despite not seeing the source, the killing intent got stronger. And it only grew. It’s like there’s a sword in my gut. I almost can’t breathe, Ei thought, the cold sweat running down her back. It was so strong the girl thought she would faint at any moment.

    “Hide,” Tadayoshi whispered to her, his eyes fixed in a direction.

    It took a while, but the girl finally could see a shadow walking towards them, getting bigger with each step. In mere moments, the sourced of the killing intent was within paces of them.

    Ei almost fainted, but she managed to keep her conciseness.

    The man was tall, so tall she had to look up to see his face. But with his back against the sun, all she could see was a shadow. He had his hair tied on the back of the head. He wore strange clothes; the top was white and the bottom blue. When she realized what it meant, she widened her eyes. Those are hakama, training clothesIs he a samurai?

    On the shadow’s waist, there was a pair of swords. A big and a small, a daishō… This man is a samurai, she knew.

    The clouds blocked the sun for a moment, revealing his face. Ei would have screamed if her throat wasn’t dry. The shadow had no a human face. Red, hard, the eyes empty, with a nose shaped like a beak and the teeth long and sharp. A demon… Ei stopped breathing. No… it’s mask

    “Eiko.”

    His voice was just above a whisper, but the urgency in it made her stop trembling. The last thing she saw before she ran was he stashing the knife inside his clothes. Barely holding their things, she looked around for somewhere she could hide but still see everything. I can’t miss his fight… It’s my duty as Tadayoshi’s disciple!

    --- Double Post Merged, Nov 26, 2017, Original Post Date: Nov 5, 2017 ---
    Chapter 16
    The samurai was close enough for Tadayoshi to distinguish his eyes. They’re familiar, thought the man who denies being a samurai. I’ve killed someone with those same eyes.

    “Are you Tadayoshi-dono?” he asked in a rough voice, as if he hadn’t used in a while. He stopped a few paces from the swordsman, his hand ready to draw his weapon.

    He’s outside my reach, Tadayoshi realized, putting his hand on his own sword. The swordsman observed his enemy, wrapping his fingers around the handle with more force than he wanted. If he’s just as strong as he looks, I’m in deep shit.

    The man wasn’t just tall; he was so large even his shadow covered Tadayoshi. He must compensate the lack of speed with brutal force. And with a sword like that, the swordsman thought, narrowing his eyes. The handle and the blade were the biggest he had ever seen. A Zanbatō, the horse-slaying sword… If he swings that with full forceIf I don’t lose concentration, he won’t be able to hit me. But if I make one mistake…

    “Yes, I am Tadayoshi.” Like you don’t know. There’s no way you have such killing intent if you weren’t sure who I am. “Is there anything you want from me?”

    “I want a fight for Asahi. That sword belongs to my family.”

    The sword? Family? Tadayoshi held the urge to look at where Ei was, where Asahi was. So that’s why his eyes are so familiar, the swordsman thought. I can’t see his face, but they do have the same presence… This samurai was bigger and more intimidating, but had the same aura as Konkawa Jirou, the samurai Tadayoshi had killed in Ei’s village.

    “I got the sword after defeating Konkawa in a fair fight. But if it belongs to your family, I’ll give it back.”

    With that much blood thirst, the sword is just an excuse for an honorable fight. Even if he wasn’t after revenge, a samurai would never accept the sword back without a fight, Tadayoshi thought, sighing in his mind. That’s why samurai are so bothersome.

    The man held took a deep breath and clenched his teeth. As I thought. He’s offended by my proposition. Tadayoshi closed his eyes, exhaled, and drew his sword. If this fight is just hard as with the brother…

    When Tadayoshi opened his eyes again, he didn’t see a samurai looking for revenge. He didn’t see a man thirst for a fight. All he could see was an enemy he had to kill if he wanted to survive another day.

    “Asahi belongs to my family,” the samurai said again in a low voice. Even so, it couldn’t contain all his rage. With his eyes fixed on Tadayoshi, he drew his sword. “And just like this sword, Yuuhi, they both belong to me now.”

    Asahi and Yuuhi… Sunrise and sunset… nice name for a pair of swords. Tadayoshi took the stance, glancing for a heartbeat at his katana before staring at his enemy. Did the old man give you a name too? He let out a dry chuckle. I can’t remember. But master was known as the strange samurai. I bet he never bothered to name his swords too.

    The samurai took a deep breath. “The name which I attend is Konkawa Ichirou,” he screamed at the swordsman, at the entire world. “Tadayoshi-dono, prepare to fight.” He said nothing more as he advanced with large steps, raising his sword above his head.

    He’s the older one? Tadayoshi wondered. But that was the last thing he thought before raising his defenses. In mere instants, the distance between them almost disappeared. He’s faster than he looks. Even so, he doesn’t come close to his brother’s speed.

    The way he moves his body, and this sound… Despite his speed, Konkawa’s movements were stiff, and there was a sound of metal jingling with each stride he took. What’s this sound? When the samurai was coming towards him and Ei, Tadayoshi had heard the same strange and faint sound. But now, as the enemy raced in his direction, it was much louder. He’s wearing an armor, he realized. What a rotten luck I have…

    The samurai would be within Tadayoshi’s sword reach with just a few paces. Ei must be watching, he knew. I told her to hide, but there’s no way my stupid disciple would miss this fight. Then I’ll her show how it’s done. In the blink of an eye, the swordsman jumped forward, almost zeroing the distance.

    The samurai widened his eyes behind the mask. But his surprise only lasted for a heartbeat; in the next moment, he swung down his weapon to where Tadayoshi’s head would be.

    His reactions are faster than I’d thought. The swordsman raised his own sword above his head and tilted the blade down, defending himself in the same way he had taught his disciple. You better be watching this, Ei.

    Tadayoshi realized his mistake the moment both blades collided. Despite the Zanbatō never touching him, the small gap between his arm and the sword vanished in a heartbeat, and he felt the enormous raw strength. What an absurd! I knew he’d be powerful, but this is too much for a human!

    Even if only lasted a heartbeat, even if he was safe from harm as the samurai’s blade slid on his weapon, Tadayoshi felt his body trembling. If I hadn’t surprised him, he’d have used all his force and I’d be thrown

    But even with this huge difference in brutal strength, I can’t hesitate. Before the blades parted, Tadayoshi jumped diagonally. Thought he was still within the samurai’s sword reach, when he wasn’t under that pressure anymore, his body stopped shaking. If I don’t take any chance, I’ll die, the swordsman thought, clenching the handle of his sword.

    I need to take him off guard and end this as fast as I can. Not wasting any moment, Tadayoshi turned around swinging his weapon the instant he landed, aiming at the enemy’s waist. Even if you have an armor, I know all the weak spots.

    The samurai noticed and jumped forward to escape the attack.

    Slow! The swordsman changed the direction of the blade. His new aim was the back of the right leg his enemy had used to impulse himself. The sword would hit the samurai’s ankle before he got away.

    For a brief instant, a strained smiled crossed Tadayoshi’s face when the sword reached its target. But when he didn’t feel nor hear the familiar sensation of metal slicing flesh, the smile vanished.

    The swordsman stood up facing the samurai with the weapon before him right away. Without taking his eyes off the enemy, he confirmed; the blade was clean. Shit…

    The samurai turned to his enemy, his sword before him, ready to attack again.

    Time stretched, and the world went silent as they faced each other, neither man taking the first step. He knows I’m faster, Tadayoshi thought, ignoring the sweat coming down his face, controlling his breathing. Even though he wants to kill me, he’s aware of his limitations and it’s waiting for me to make the first move… Shit… I’d rather fight against arrogant enemies.

    A breeze lifted the hem of the samurai’s clothes and Tadayoshi bit his lips when he saw underneath the hakama. Konkawa wasn’t just wearing an armor; he had a full set.

    “My bad luck continues to surprise me. To fight against someone prepared for war…” Despite his unpretentious words, Tadayoshi clenched the handle of his sword harder.

    He won’t rush and make a mistake… I have to create an opening. With a deep breath, the swordsman advanced the same way the samurai had. But there was one difference; the speed. With few steps, the enemy was within Tadayoshi’s reach.

    The samurai reacted by reflex, his sword going where the swordsman’s head would be.

    Tadayoshi didn’t change his path nor slow down. I need to avoid in the last instant, he thought, suppressing his instinct of getting away from that sword. It was harder than he imagined. He saw the blade moving towards him, he could feel all the strength behind that metal…

    The blade was before his eyes, but in the last moment, Tadayoshi moved out of the way. Without wasting any time, he attacked trice.

    The swordsman had never owned nor worn an armor. But his master had made his disciple memorize all the weak spots. Every one of Tadayoshi’s attacks were on the vulnerable places on a full armor; the elbow, the waist, and the thigh.

    Once again Tadayoshi didn’t feel his sword slicing flesh, only the sound of metal against metal and leather. Without showing any expression, he jumped backwards, putting some distance between them.

    With part of his clothes ruined, the samurai put the left hand inside the sleeve and undressed.

    Tadayoshi had no words. It wasn’t just a full armor; it was modified.

    The dou, the abdomen protector made from iron plates tied with leather strings, had more than the double the usual. The kusazuri, the crotch and hip protector tied to the dou with a leather belt, was also made with an absurd number of iron plates. The haidate, thigh protectors made from small iron plates, had plates spaced behind to protect the vulnerable spots left for movement. The suneate, shin protectors made from stretched slabs of iron attached directly to the mail tied to a cloth around the leg, had iron plates around the knees.

    Iron chains connected the haidate and the suneate, covering the knees. It compromised the movement, but offered more protection. On the arms, the samurai wore han kote, iron gauntlets that protected only the forearm, and the iron mail underneath, protecting the rest of the arm. The elbow, where should be the weakest part to not compromise the agility, was protected by chains connecting the han kote and the iron mail. The sode, the shoulder protector also made from iron plates, seemed to be the only part not modified.

    What’s that…? How can he move with that…? An armor should protect without compromising the agility… but that… How can he move wearing that? That thing is too heavy! Even with his massive strength, he shouldn’t be able to fight with that!

    Tadayoshi had no time to think. The samurai ran, shortening the distance the swordsman had gained. Despite changing the order, Konkawa’s attacks were the same; a vertical strike, a thrust and a side slash, each one with an absurd force behind it.

    I thought he was slow, but without that armor, he might be as fast as his brother, Tadayoshi thought, raising his sword. He blocked the first strikes, but then stopped and started avoiding the attack. I’ll get tired soon if I keep defending them all. His body was already feeling the toll of clashing the swords.

    Despite his simple attacks, the samurai did not create many openings, and the few Tadayoshi saw, were protected by the modified armor. This’ll turn into a fight of resistance… If he’s used to long fights wearing that, I’m in trouble…

    The swordsman avoided the unstoppable sequence of strikes as best as he could, but each time cost its toll. After some time, Tadayoshi was sweating and panting, and had to start blocking some of the attacks.

    Tadayoshi’s master was someone who never avoided a duel, especially an honorable one. According to Yasuhiro, the best way to find out about someone was through the blades. The swordsman knew that was true, though he only had experienced something like it few times. The last time was against his own master. Now, exchanging blows with Konkawa, Tadayoshi experienced once again.

    He does care about Asahi, but that’s nothing compared to what he feels for his brother. The sword’s just an excuse. He talked about honor, but all he wants is to avenge his younger brother. No… that’s not it… He mourns his brother more than he hates me…

    This fight will only end with one of us dead, Tadayoshi understood. And if I don’t find a way through his armor, it will be me.

    He’s getting faster… no… I’m the one who’s getting slower, Tadayoshi realized when he stopped the samurai’s sword for the third time in a row. I can’t let this drag any longer! Each moment the fight prolonged, the enemy’s monstrous physique made the difference and his advantage only grew. Whenever Tadayoshi gained some distance, his enemy narrowed it, not letting him rest. Shit! I have to create an opening!

    With a thrust, the samurai began a new sequence of attack.

    Instead of retreat, avoid or block, Tadayoshi took a step forward. I have to stop his rhythm! The swordsman lowered his weapon, shifted his body to the side and broke into his enemy’s territory.

    The tip of the samurai’s sword went by where his face was instants ago. Tadayoshi felt the blade a hair’s breadth from his ear but he didn’t blink nor stop. All in his mind was to finish the fight as fast as he could.

    Tadayoshi raised his sword, placing it between the samurai’s arms. He put all his strength into his attack, aiming at the enemy’s head. Just a little more and I’ll win! Tadayoshi could see his victory as his sword was getting closer to his target. Despite his empty expression, he couldn’t stop the triumph in his eyes.

    But before his sword reached its target, something heavy slammed against the side of his head.

    The samurai had to let go of the handle of the sword and hit Tadayoshi with his arm, the gauntlet hitting his the swordsman with all its weight.

    Using the impact, Tadayoshi managed to get some distance. With his head throbbing and a ringing in his ear, he raised his defenses right away. But as he stared at the samurai, he felt the familiar scent of blood and then half his vision went red. He placed a hand on his head and he confirmed. He was bleeding. And a lot.

    Shit… If I’d tried this before, I’d have won, Tadayoshi thought, breathing hard. A wave of pain went through his body. Shit… Another one of that and I’m done… Think! The head is the most vulnerable place, but he’s too tall and his defense is too high to get in close enough… I can only attack his arms and legs, but most attacks won’t make any difference on that damn armor…

    The samurai advanced again, and Tadayoshi could see the fear in those eyes behind that mask. Even though he managed to escape, he’s afraid. Now he wants to finish in the next move. So even he gets tired, he thought, chuckling despite his situation.

    The swordsman prepared himself, but then there were two enemies running towards him. Is he a ninja too? He thought for a moment, shaking his head, sensing another pang. I can’t believe the blow’s made me this crazy. If I lose my conscious now, I’m dead…I can’t die…not now… not yet!

    The image of his master dying crossed his hazed mind. Find a reason to live, Tadayoshi. Then the image changed. It was Ei, and she was doing something he had barely seeing her do ever since she met her; smile. I won’t die yet, he said to himself.

    Tadayoshi closed the red eye and took a deep breath to regain the control over his body. After the pain diminished enough for him to keep fighting, he placed the blood-drenched hand on the handle and lowered his sword. He was now defenseless.

    The samurai hesitated for an instant, but didn’t stop. When he was close enough, he placed every bit of his strength in the sword.

    The trust in his armor is too big, Tadayoshi thought, keeping his mind empty and the sword lowered despite his instincts.

    The samurai attacked and Tadayoshi moved backwards, already prepared for the next blow. As he expected, Konkawa used the same pattern, attacking with the thrust.

    It’s now or never, the swordsman told himself, squatting.

    The samurai’s sword and arms passed above Tadayoshi’s head. He looked up, searching desperately for his tiny target; the gap between the gauntlet and the chains at the elbow.

    Tadayoshi felt the surprise in his enemy, but he knew the samurai couldn’t react in time. Time seemed to move slower as the instants stretched. But if I miss this opportunity, I’ll die, he knew.

    When he finally found his target, he jumped up and raised his sword, putting all his weight behind it. The blade went between the chains and through the iron mail.

    For the first time in the fight, Tadayoshi finally felt his sword puncturing flesh and bone. Using what remained of his strengths, the swordsman pulled his weapon to the side, tearing out the samurai’s right arm and hitting the gauntlet from the other arm.

    The arm and the sword flew and fell on the ground near Tadayoshi and Ei’s still alive fire.

    The enemy’s screams filled Tadayoshi’s ear, silencing even the river.

    The samurai grabbed what was left of his arm and tried to stop the bleeding. Clenching down his jaws to stop his screams, he stared the swordsman.

    Tadayoshi could feel his hate in that stare. The samurai truly looked like a demon with the mask now. But a samurai without a sword is nothing more than a fangless and cornered beast, Tadayoshi thought, standing in the way of the sword and the owner.

    The samurai looked between Tadayoshi and his sword, but the only thing he could do was to run.

    I can’t let him get away, the swordsman thought, trying to gather what was left of his energies. He’ll be back… I know… he loved his brother too much… But even with just one arm, I’m not sure I can win again…

    Tadayoshi tried to chase his enemy, but his wounds wouldn’t let him. His vision lost focus and became blurred and his legs lost the rest of his strength. He thrust the sword into the ground and used it as support, taking deep breaths to keep his conscious. Damn it… that blow to my head… was worse… then I thought… He felt the urge, but couldn’t stop the vomit.

    With another deep breath, Tadayoshi managed to stop the dizziness. He took a hand from the sword and cleaned his mouth and the sweat and blood from his eyes. With some effort, he looked around, trying to find his enemy.

    The samurai was still running, but he hadn’t gotten far.

    So the wound and the exhaustion got to him too, Tadayoshi thought as he stared Konkawa’s back. I have to chase him, he told himself.

    The samurai was going towards a lonely tree near the river.

    The same tree Ei was hiding.

    Tadayoshi widened his good eye. No… no… no…

    The samurai had lost the fight, but he would at least get his family, his brother’s sword. He saw Ei carrying it… He won’t hesitate to kill her to get the sword. Tadayoshi couldn’t let it happen. I can’t lose someone… not again…

    Tadayoshi pulled his sword from the ground, but the blade didn’t budge at all. He closed his eye and ignored his exhaustion. Gathering what was left of his strength, he pulled.

    Little by little, the sword got out of the ground. But Tadayoshi had no energy left to lift it, let alone to run. Even so, he forced himself to take a step, and then another.

    But the samurai was too far from him, out of his reach. I’ll never get him in time, Tadayoshi thought, forcing his legs to move.

    Konkawa was almost at the tree and Tadayoshi had barely left his place.

    The samurai had reached the tree. He was underneath it, looking at the branches, looking for the girl, looking for the sword. Konkawa stopped, his eyes fixed at a branch.

    It was too far to Tadayoshi to see, but he knew the samurai had found his disciple.

    No! Tadayoshi screamed in his heart, too weak to use his voice.

    What happened next unfolded slowly before the swordsman’s eyes.

    Ei screamed and jumped from one of the tallest branches, the sword unsheathed in her hands.

    Tadayoshi felt his heart stopping and his body going cold. There was nothing he could do to save his her.

    The samurai looked in the direction of the sound. He took the remaining hand from the mangled arm and raised it.

    From that distance, Tadayoshi could not tell if the samurai was trying to protect himself or to reach out for Asahi. But then, the samurai was finally reunited with his brother sword.

    The tip of the blade pierced the palm of his hand. But with Ei’s entire weight behind it, the sword didn’t stop.

    The samurai fell backwards, but couldn’t change the direction of the attack. The sword went on and broke the mask, piercing him between the eyes.

    Tadayoshi finally dragged himself to the tree.

    Ei was still on top of the samurai, holding the sword as if her life depended on it. She put so much strength her hands were colorless. But the girl didn’t tremble. Nor showed any reaction.

    A living statue.

    Tadayoshi placed his hand over her cold fingers.

    But the girl didn’t notice her master besides her.

     
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  4. riki

    riki Storyteller

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    Epic battle! I really enjoyed the battle between Tadayoshi and the samurai. But that ending... Ei is such a badass. It looks like she wholeheartedly accepted the consequences for joining Tadayoshi.

    Can't wait for the next chapter~
     
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  5. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

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    Thanks. I really like writing this battle. It's one of my favorites.
    And the ending... I don't wanna spoil anything, so I won't say much. But Ei killed the samurai more out of fear.

    As always, thanks for reading
    --- Double Post Merged, Dec 17, 2017, Original Post Date: Nov 26, 2017 ---
    Chapter 17
    The girl didn’t know where she was, didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to feel.

    The world was empty; there was no sound, smell, warmth, nothing… it had lost everything.

    There was only a darkness embracing the girl.

    There was only a cold and numbing sensation filling her.

    Even so, she knew one thing; she could not let go of the sword, no matter what happened. She kept her eyes closed, her fingers squeezing the handle even tighter despite having no strength left.

    What… happened…?

    All the girl remembered was the samurai running towards her. He stopped at the foot of the tree and looked up, looking for something. For me, she thought at the time. No… I’m no one… he wants the sword…

    She drew the weapon and held with both hands. But she shook so much the metal rattling gave away her position.

    The samurai looked towards the sound and their eyes met.

    The girl lost control her breathing. With her head blank, before she realized, she screamed and jumped.

    And then… I…

    She stared into his eyes as the blade pierced his hand and face.

    She watched as the light faded from his eyes and the man’s soul left this world.

    I killed him…

    I killed someone…





    “Ei…”

    From somewhere far, a voice called her name. It was less than a whisper, so low the girl couldn’t tell if it was real or just her imagination. Without realizing, she put more strength into her fingers, so much it hurt. But she didn’t let go of the sword.

    Something touched her hand. It was so light it felt as if warm air enveloped her cold fingers.

    “Ei… Ei…”

    The voice called her name again, stronger this time. It was still a whisper to her ears, but she heard it; she wasn’t imagining.

    The air around her hands became warmer and heavier. As the warmth coursed through her fingers, driving away the numbness and cold, she felt them tingling. Little by little, the feeling came back. From her hands to the rest of the girl. But with it, came the shaking. And she couldn’t stop.

    The world was still empty and silent, but from amidst the darkness embracing her, a low sound reached the girl. She couldn’t tell where it came from, but that didn’t matter. To the girl, the sound was proof the world was still alive, that she was still alive.

    She focused on her breathing. With each breath, her body awoke from the numb sensation. Her fingers began to throb painfully. When it became unbearable, she opened her eyes.

    There was only blood before the girl. Her breathing became rapid and shallow. She tried to regain control over herself the way someone, someone important, had thought her.

    It took a while, but she realized the blood was not from her. The red-dyed fingers didn’t belong to her.

    “Ei… Ei… EIKO!”

    Someone was screaming by her side. Someone screaming her name, for her.

    The girl recognized that voice. It was familiar and comforting to her. She stared at the red hand again. Slowly, her eyes followed the arm and she to whom it belonged. She recognized that face, those eyes. They belonged to him, the someone important to her. Tadayoshi, her master.

    The darkness around her gained life once again. She almost lost consciousness when the world overwhelmed her senses. The sound of the river flooded her ears, the smell of wet earth penetrated her nostrils. The taste of blood filled her mouth. The cold wind made she shiver.

    She turned her master, looking for a safe place, for reassurance. Despite the fear in those eyes, despite not having his usual smile, that face still comforting to the girl.

    Ei woke from her stupor with a cry. She didn’t try to stop the tears and let all out, her voice echoing through the plains and the river.

    The moment she let go of the sword, the color returned to her fingers. With her hand still numb, she wrapped her arms around Tadayoshi and buried her face in his belly.

    Tadayoshi hugged her back and she cried even louder, her voice muffled on her master.

    Ei had no idea how much time had passed, but she didn’t care. All she wanted was to stay as she was with her master.

    The moment she felt him about to let her go, the girl hugged him with even more strength, holding on to his clothes.

    Without saying a word and with her arms around him, Tadayoshi took the sheath from her waist. Ei didn’t do anything to stop him. The next moment, she felt him pull the sword with some difficulty, swing, and sheath it.

    Then Tadayoshi put a hand on her head. She stopped crying.

    “Ei.” Despite being low and holding back his pain, his voice was firm. Still with her arms around him, she looked up at Tadayoshi. “Look at your hands.”

    Without understanding, she nodded and did as told. With her left hand still tugging his clothes, she looked at the other. Ei became paralyzed as she stared at her red fingers.

    When Tadayoshi had taken her hands from the sword, she saw the blood. But now she realized; her hands were soiled with blood too.

    At once she knew. It wasn’t hers. Nor Tadayoshi’s.

    It belonged to the samurai.

    The blood on her soiled hands belonged to the man first man Ei had killed in her life.

    The tremor overtook her as a feeling of emptiness filled her. Before she knew, before Tadayoshi could say anything, the girl raced to the river, dipping her arms inside the water. She washed and rubbed her hands with force, again and again. Until the blood was gone.

    Ei pulled her arms out of the water. There was no trace of the blood left; her hands were clean.

    But even if there was nothing there, she could still feel the blood, could still smell it, could still see the marks of invisible red. With her hands trembling even more, she thrust her arms into the water again. She rubbed, washed and scratched again and again. Her hands were raw and throbbing, but she didn’t stop.

    Until Tadayoshi grabbed her arm. She looked up to her master in tears. He let her go and placed a hand on her shoulder, turning her away from the river. The girl didn’t resist; she had no strength left for that.

    Tadayoshi took his hand from her shoulder and with difficulty, he sat on the riverbank next to her. He placed the scabbard on the side and showed her both hands. They were much redder than hers.

    She trembled and flinched, but didn’t avert her eyes. She forced herself to watch as he dipped one arm in the river and let the water wash away the blood. When it was clean, he pulled his hand and showed to her again.

    The water had washed most of the blood away, but there was still traces of red here and where. He lowered his hand and looked her in the eyes.

    “Eiko. You can clean as much as you want, but you’ll always have that blood on your hands.” Tadayoshi used the same firm voice that tried to hide how much pain he was suffering.

    Ei turned her palms and stared at her own hands, feeling them grow cold and her mind going numb. “I’ll always have blood on my hands…”

    “Yes. Always.” he said in a stronger voice, gently taking her trembling hand. She looked into his eyes, seeing the same Tadayoshi as ever. The one who protects and the one who kills. Her master. “You’ll always have that blood. The same way as I do.”

    This time the same words made her stop trembling. Ei stared at their hands. They couldn’t be more different. And yet, to the girl, they looked somehow similar now.

    Tadayoshi picked up the scabbard and used it as support to stand. “Do you remember the words I told you to never forget?”

    Ei hadn’t forgotten, but she could barely remember. But as she tried to remember, something appeared at the back of her mind. She tried speaking, but the memory was too muddled for her to say the same words. Clearing her mind the way her master had thought, she forced herself to relive the conversation.

    The Tadayoshi in her mind was speaking, but he lost the voice when he spoke the words she wanted. The mouth moved, but no sound came from him. She forced herself to relive it once more. This time, he spoke the words she wanted, though too low. The girl repeated the scene again and again until she heard Tadayoshi speaking and said at the same time.

    “Some live… some die… in the way of the sword…” she managed to whisper, her voice hurting her dry throat.

    With his face empty, her master nodded.

    Ei felt the words branding her soul like hot iron. No… more like a deep wound made from a sword… Just like the scar on her arm Tadayoshi had made, those words were part of her forever. Even if the girl wanted, she could never go back; she was someone who lived in the way of the sword now. And someday she would die in the same path.

    “I’ve killed many that deserved to die and many that didn’t. I don’t know which side the samurai belonged. He wanted to avenge his brother, but I felt more grief than hate from him.” Tadayoshi took a deep breath, wincing in pain. He leaned even more on the sword, the effort of speaking draining the rest of his strength. “There are times when we must fight, when we must survive no matter the cost. When it comes, we cannot grieve the lives we take. All we can do is learn and move on.”

    Tadayoshi closed the good eye and pressed the side of his head with the free hand, trying to stop the blood. He panted, and his face lost some of its color, but he showed a weak smile when he turned to Ei again.

    “That time is different for each one of us. I can’t teach it to you. No one can. You must learn that on your own. I just hope that when that time comes for you, you’ll wield your sword with no regrets and when you meet your mother, you won’t lower your head ashamed for the life you lived.”

    Even with her mind still numb, Ei understood. Deep within her soul, she feared that. To kill without care or regret. To become like the bandits that changed her life. She told herself she would never become that type of swordswoman, but the fear of losing herself in the sword was always there in her heart.

    Before she realized, there was a weak smile on her lips, to her own surprise. Ei truly hated the fact that Tadayoshi knew what was on her mind.

    The girl looked at her cleaned hands again. Even if I can’t see, they’re stained, soiled, red forever… I’ll have to carry these for the rest of my life. The thought didn’t seem as heavy as before. In her mind, she screamed the same thing she said when decided to follow Tadayoshi. I wanna be strong! I will be strong!

    She tried standing, but her knees cave in. With a deep breath, she forced herself to stand up anyway. Her master didn’t offer a hand. For a moment, Ei thought it was because he couldn’t, but she realized it wasn’t that and was grateful for her master once more. In this world, I need my own strength to stand, to survive, she told herself.

    --- Double Post Merged, Dec 24, 2017 ---
    Chapter 18
    “We should go back. It’s already this late…” Tadayoshi looked up. The moon and the stars shared the red sky timidly with the setting sun. Then he turned to her. “You need to clean yourself and change clothes first. I doubt anyone will let you go inside the town like this.”

    Besides the blood, Ei was covered with dirt, sweat, and leaves. Her clothes had small tears here and there and her arms and legs full of cuts and scratches. When did… ah… when I climbed the tree, she realized, letting out a weak chuckle. In the last night of the festival, when everyone will try to look their best, I look like this.

    Ignoring her strengthless body, Ei climbed the tree again, going to one of the lowest and largest branches, where she had left their belongings before rushing to the top. She jumped down, bent her knees when she landed and glanced at her master.

    Tadayoshi rested his back against the tree and supported himself with the sword. His face winced with each breath he took. He’s too focused on recovering his strength to pay attention to me, she thought before undressing and washing herself on the river.

    When she got out of the water, she dried her body with the clothes she wore until now and put on her old one. I’ve only had this clothes since yesterday, and I’m already thinking it’s old, she thought, chuckling.

    For a moment, Ei stared the green kimono. The idea of tossing it on the river cross her mind. She lifted her arm, but when was about to swing, she gave up. She lowered her hand and felt the fabric with her fingers. These clothes are proof that I… Without finishing the thought, she walked back to her master.

    Tadayoshi still rested against the tree. His face hadn’t recovered his normal color, but his breathing was normal and he didn’t wince as much. “Go back to the city. Take a warm bath. It’ll help you feel better,” he said in a strained voice. But even with all his pain, he showed a smile. “It’s best if I stay here. The guards will definitely find me suspicious and I’d rather avoid that. See if you can bring some food.”

    Ei nodded without a word. Tadayoshi closed his good eye and remained as he was, taking deep breaths.

    He’s strong. Ei believed in that. No, she knew that he was. Master was… is the disciple of Yasuhiro-sama, the strongest samurai… and yet he almost died today… Guess there are many strong people in this world… The girl looked at the sky and felt small. I need… I will become strong and fight alongside my master, she reaffirmed her determination, closing her fist.

    Ei started making her way back to the city, but halted and turned in the direction of the man she had killed. With her eyes closed, she bit her lips, took a deep breath and walked towards the cadaver.

    The samurai was still in the same position, the remaining hand covering his face. The blood had dried from where Ei had attacked him. She tried moving the arm, but with the armor, it was too heavy for her.

    Gathering all that was left of her strength, she managed to move just enough to take the rest of the mask. She did not know why, but she needed to see the face of the samurai, to burn the face of the first man she had killed in her mind. Even without life, there was something in those eyes. They’re the same as the samurai in my village…

    With a feeling of emptiness, Ei walked away from the samurai and headed back to the city.

    The sun was almost gone by the time she returned to Mino. The moment she entered the gates, she knew there was something different in the last day of Obon. The city felt much livelier than yesterday. There are even more people…

    Despite everyone making some room to avoid touching Ei, it didn’t make finding their lodging any easier. Even on the second day in the city, everything still seemed new to her. She didn’t recognize any house, no store, no table, and just walked in the general direction she remembered. By the time she reached the lodging, it was night.

    The place was almost empty; apart from a couple in charge, though they looked ready to leave, most guests had already left for the festival. Ei joined three of women who were late for the bath.

    Though the fire was almost gone, the water was still warm. Even on the hot night, it was a relief for her the girl. For a moment Ei thought of staying all night long enjoying the bath. But when she realized the other women had already finished, she reluctantly left the wooden tub.

    “Excuse me,” the young woman in charge said, bowing slightly to Ei when the girl was heading out.

    With just those words, Ei could feel the anger behind the forced courtesy. She wants to go to the festival with that man and I’m in the way.

    “Your… father,” the woman’s cheeks went red and she hid her smile with a hand, “left some clothes in your room earlier and asked me to help you with it.”

    For some reason, the woman’s attitude annoyed Ei, but she still followed her. In their bedroom, folded on top of the straw pile that was her bed, there was a yukata. Dark blue with cherry blossom petals embroidered. On top of the yukata, a vivid red obi and a pair of wooden sandals on the corner. Ei sat on the bed, admiring the clothes. For me…?

    With the woman’s help, Ei dressed the yukata. It was harder than she had imagined. The clothes were tight and hard to walk, but the real trouble was the obi. The bow was so complicated she didn’t believe anyone could do it by herself.

    The woman finished with a small comb with a flower as decoration. Though Ei’s hair had grown since she left her village, it was still short. But somehow the woman found a way to tie the wild and hard hair with the comb on the side of her head.

    “You look beautiful. Your father will certainly say so.”

    Despite the woman’s attitude, Ei could tell the compliment was honest, and her cheeks flushed. The girl followed the woman to the entrance, where the man was waiting. The three of them were the last ones in the inn. Ei thanked her again and left before the couple.

    The streets were almost deserted. Apart from the guards, few people still lingered within the city’s walls. Ei saw a group of three women and three men talking happily and followed them. One woman noticed the girl. She stared with a weird expression and then whispered to the other two, who turned their heads too.

    They kept glancing and whispering so much Ei grew tired. She put some distance between her and the group. When they were outside her view, the girl saw a bucket of water against fire in front of a house. With her curiosity growing, she made her way to it to check herself.

    For a moment she didn’t believe it was her face and blinked a few times. The face of a beautiful girl, with the hair tied on an elegant knot and dressed in clothes that matched, stared her back. Is this me…? Before she realized it, she smiled and felt satisfied with the women’s expression, though she didn’t know why.

    Still smiling, she followed the last people leaving the gates. Everyone headed the closest riverbank from the city. Ei turned to a different direction, going to where her master waited for her. It took almost twice the time to get there. She wasn’t used to the wooden sandals and the yukata didn’t allow large or quick strides.

    Tadayoshi was near the tree, watching the river with his arms crossed. Even from the distance, Ei could tell he had washed himself and put on a yukata too. A dark blue with no other detail.

    When she was close enough, he turned. Ei stopped for a moment, surprised at her master’s appearance. Tadayoshi didn’t look like someone who had a mortal fight hours earlier. The only vestige was the bandage underneath his wild black hair. When she realized the bandage was a piece of the green kimono, she laughed.

    Apart from the clothes, the true difference was on his waist. Now Tadayoshi had three swords. The one he got from his master on his left side and the other two on the right. Ei knew he had cleaned them. Even though he barely had let her use a real blade, he had thought her how to clean a sword.

    Somehow, it was comforting to her seeing him like that. I hope I can be like that too, she thought, stopping in front of him.

    “I was somewhat worried. I had no idea if pull off wearing good clothes,” he said, looking her from head to toe. Then he showed his playful smile. “But I’ll admit that I’m wrong. You clean up good. But let’s be honest. My taste in clothes is great.”

    “Thanks.” Ei wasn’t angry by his words. In fact, she was surprised by her laugh. It’s my stupid master’s way of saying I look good. “Where did you get these clothes?”

    “I borrowed,” he said in a voice rid of guilt, thought his face showed otherwise.

    It took some time, but Ei laughed when she remembered their conversation from that morning. It feels like it happens ages ago. “What’s that?”

    Near the foot of the tree, there was a square piece of wood, no bigger than his hand. In each corner there was a wooden shaft with paper rice connecting it all. On the center, there was a candle burning weakly.

    “Have you ever heard of Tooro Nagashi? It’s a tradition on the last day of the festival,” he said when she shook her head. Then he indicated the river with his chin. “Look.”

    Hundreds, perhaps thousands of tiny lights floated down the stream. They illuminated the river, shining like stars on the dark waters. Ei narrowed her eyes, trying to see what created such beauty. Lanterns, she realized, just like the one on Tadayoshi’s hand, though most were much more elegant.

    Some were big and round, so bright they seemed like a tiny suns. Others were small and shone looked like flowers. The lights were red, green, yellow… every color Ei knew running down the stream. A big red lantern distinguished from the others. The flame inside was so intense it out shunned the others around it. That must be the lord’s, she thought, watching the endless stream of lanterns. Will they all end on the sea too?

    “The spirits closed ones… those who came back to see their family and friends… they need a light to guide them back in safety…” Tadayoshi tried to speak as usual, but Ei could tell why he couldn’t.

    He’s thinking about Yasuhiro-sama. Ei glanced as her master's, who fought back his tears. Shaking his head, Tadayoshi handed the lantern to her. She stared into his eyes until he nodded.

    Ei took the lantern and they walked to the river together. Pulling the sleeves of her clothes, she knelt carefully and placed the lantern on the water, giving a little push. Their tiny and simple lantern joined with the others. She tried to keep track of it, but soon lost. Guess it’s impossible, she thought, a sad smile on her lips.

    As they watched the lanterns float down the river, a mist appeared above the water. It was so thin Ei wasn’t sure it was real, or the lights were tricking her eyes. Without getting denser, the mist started gathering around each lantern.

    Ei was still looking for theirs, and couldn’t believe when she found it.

    Above each light, the mist slowly acquired human shape. Above their lantern, a face appeared. But it wasn’t just any face; it was one she had known and loved her entire life.

    Mom… It shouldn’t be possible. She was dead. Ei knew that. And yet her mother’s face was there, almost visible. But her smile was just like she remembered. Silent tears fell from the girl’s eyes.

    She wasn’t sure if she was imagining or not, but that didn’t matter. To her, it was real. The spirits of beloved ones who weren’t in this world anymore came to visit once a year. Her mother was there, smiling at the girl once again.

    But she wasn’t alone.

    By her side, above the same lantern, there was a face of a man. His hair was short and just as messy. And despite the appearance of dignity, there was something wild, young, and strong on that old face.

    She looked up. Tadayoshi stared the river in tears, just like her.

    Ei didn’t have to ask. She knew whom the spirit was. Without a word, she held his hand and he squeezed back.

    They observed the lights and the spirits in silence, the stream taking away the people they loved once more.

    The End

    Afterword
    Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed the chapter.
    This chapters is the end of Part 2, Ei's arch.
    Part 3 should be coming around March or April.
    But until then, there'll be a little short story title "A tale of two brothers."

     
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  6. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member

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    Thanks for the story! Ei’s arch was very interesting and enjoyable to read. I like seeing how her character developed over time.

    Can’t wait to read the next arch!
     
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  7. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

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    Thanks for reading.
    And don't worry. I have something huge planned for Part 3.
    --- Double Post Merged, Feb 6, 2018, Original Post Date: Dec 24, 2017 ---
    Hi everyone. Here's the first chapter of the spinoff.
    It's a short story with quick chapters, but I think you'll like it.

    A Tale of Two Brothers 1
    No matter for how long he sat, the boy did not complain.

    No matter how much his legs throbbed, the boy did not complain.

    He barely noticed the pain and numbness for sitting in the same position for so long.

    Because he was too concentrated on burning everything in his memories. He made sure he would remember everything about this day forever.

    The day when his father would receive his greatest glory from the Lord himself.

    “I don’t know why he should be promoted,” a samurai whispered.

    “And to think a low samurai like him will receive those Muramasa swords from the Lord…” another samurai answered, his whisper low enough so only those close to him could hear. But his voice wasn’t so low enough to hide his jealousy.

    The boy was not bothered. He had already prepared himself for that. The people around him and his brother did not want them there. But he did not care. Because they were not the ones who invited them. It was the Lord himself.

    All those men seating in the long meeting room were important people. Great warriors, samurai of valor, nobles. They were people who led the country, who led the peasants, who protected them.

    They were the men he boy admired and wanted one day to stand on the same ground as them. Through my own merit, he thought, pressing his lips to hide his smile, closing his fist hard to stop the quivering of excitement.

    That’s why the boy wanted to remember every detail of this day forever. It wasn’t just his father’s greatest glory; it was what he envisioned for himself in the future. Every time he trained with his brother or alone, he saw himself in the same position as his father was right now.

    The moment the Lord entered the room, all the conversations stopped. Even the important samurai bowed their heads to the older man.

    After all the formalities were done, the ceremony began. The boy barely heard the rewards and titles the Lord’s retainer hand out. He was too excited for that.

    When the retainer called the boy’s father’s full name, the first time he had heard in a ceremony, everyone grew quiet. The silence was absolute. But it different than with the others. It wasn’t a silence of admiration for the lowly samurai who had managed to defeat a thousand soldiers with only 200.

    The boy saw it clearly. There was only contempt on the samurai’s eyes.

    But that didn’t matter at all to him.

    His father got up, walked towards the Lord and sat before him in the correct way. He placed both hands on the ground, and then lowered his head, so low his forehead was almost touched his fingers.

    The Lord told him to raise his head in his deep voice. He said their victory on the battlefield was only achieved because he managed to stop enemy’s reinforcements.

    The nobles and samurai acknowledged that fact, even if grudgingly.

    The boy pressed his lips harder to stop his urge to smile as he heard the whispers.

    Because even if his father was a low Lord and a samurai as well, and even had blood relations with the main family, he was the third son of a fourth son. He had rights to nothing, and no talent to compensate.

    To them, his father didn’t belong there. But even so, they had to acknowledge his deeds today.

    To their eyes, the reward the lowly samurai was about to receive was a waste. But he had earned those two swords.

    Asahi and Yuuhi. Sunrise and sunset, the boy had already memorized the names. Now it was hard to keep the smile out of his face. Even if he was still learning the letters, he had already learned how to write the swords’ names.

    With his head still lowered, the lowly samurai raised both hands. When the swords were given to him, the boy saw his father’s hands twitch, itching to close around the sheath.

    But his father didn’t do that. Instead, he said thank you in a voice full of emotion. With all the dignity he could muster, the lowly samurai rose and walked back to his seat between his sons.

    Other names were called, other rewards were given, but the boy only had eyes for the swords his father placed before himself.

    One day, one of those katana will be mine, the boy thought, not bothering to stop his imagination. He knew it would be his someday. His father had said so.

    One day, with Asahi or Yuuhi, I’ll make my name known throughout the land. I’ll travel this country and face the strongest warriors until I’m the best.

    But even so, the boy had promised himself he would work hard to be worthy of his father’s greatest glory.

    “Ichirou, Jirou,” the samurai said in a low voice after they left the main room. He held both swords in his hands. “One day they’ll belong to you. But only if you two are worthy of them. Not because of me. But because these swords were a gift from our Lord.”

    The eyes from them both shone. They nodded together.

    “We will, father,” the boys said at the same time, the excitement on their voices.

    The father smiled.

    “Which sword do you want, brother?” the boy asked to his older brother when someone called their father and they could speak freely.

    “You should be the one to choose,” Ichirou said, his smile somewhat sad. “You have more talent with a sword than I …”

    Jirou stretched out his arm to put a hand on his tall brother’s shoulder.

    “Even if people say that, you have your own talent as well. Your strength is something most would envy,” the young samurai said. “Remember this. You and I will both be great samurai one day. And since you’re the oldest, you’ll inherit father’s house and I’ll support you, brother.”

    Ichirou showed a bright smile.

    Jirou did the same. Someday I’ll make mine name known across the land. I’ll be the best samurai after Yasuhiro-sama, the boy promised himself.
     
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  8. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member

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    Good job :thumbs

    I see why the samurai is so intent on getting the sword back. It's nice to read another POV and understand why he was upset that Tadayoshi took his brother's sword away.

    Will we see other characters from their POVs?
     
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  9. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

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    Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.
    I wanted to show more about the enemies, but since I don't make a flashback like in shounen anime, I had to do this spinoff
    Yes, there'll be one more POV, but it'll take a while.
    --- Double Post Merged, Feb 10, 2018, Original Post Date: Feb 6, 2018 ---
    A Tale of Two Brothers 2
    No matter how many times he slashed and killed, Jirou felt empty. As the last bandit fell from his blade, he stared at his weapon tainted with blood.

    Is this how you fell, father? Did it feel this empty obeying the Lord? Killing this group of bandits is the same as dirtying my sword. They’re trash that don’t deserve to die at my, at a samurai’s hands.

    With one swing, he cleaned the blood from his blade and sheathed the sword. Is that why Yasuhiro-sama left his house? Because he felt there was something more for him? He turned to the leader he had killed. Killing them won’t bring honor to my name…

    They were not weak bandits. As time passed and the war came closer, they grew both in numbers and in infame. So much the new Lord, son of the previous one, sent a group of forty foot soldiers led by one of his generals to deal with them.

    When no one came back, the Lord offered a reward for killing the group. Jirou volunteered to lead the new group. He had no need for the money. Other than his daily necessities, he didn’t care for riches or luxury. But he wanted the honor of serving his Lord. The honor for saving the region from those bandits.

    But when the samurai got there, he realized there was little honor in killing those bandits. Because their only strength was their numbers. After Jirou broke that advantage, killing them all was just a matter of time.

    However, that didn’t make the samurai happy. He touched the hilt of his sword, of Asahi. Father, you always talked about how much honor there was in serving the Lord, but is that true? How much honor can a samurai gain by killing men like them? For how many years will I be soiling my sword with their blood?

    Without realizing, the samurai squeezed the handle of Asahi harder. Forgive me father but I’m unlike you. I see no honor in serving the new Lord… All I can see is my blade dulling… As he closed his eyes and thought, he heard something.

    Screams. But not of pain. Not of fear. Screams of joy.

    Opening his eyes, Jirou saw the people of the village running towards him. They cry and thanked him for defeating the bandits who had taken over their village. Then he realized something.

    For those peasants, he wasn’t just a samurai. He was their savior, someone who would be remembered for a long time.

    With a tiny smile, Jirou accepted their invitation and joined in the humble celebration. Guess there’s some honor in this too, right, father? Even if it’s unknown forever. He looked towards the bright sky.

    If I can breathe, I can fight. As long as I have a sword in my hands, I can carve my own path to honor. Isn’t that right, Yasuhiro-sama?

    Father, please, forgive my disrespect, but I think you’re wrong. Honor isn’t something you receive from others. Is something you earn for yourself.

    After many more thanks, the samurai and his soldiers left the village. He headed to his Lord’s stare to report the situation, but there was something different in him. He was no longer the same samurai who had left the fortress.

    I won’t hesitate anymore. I’ll use my blade the way I want. That’s is my samurai way.

    It was night by the time their arrived.

    “Jirou-sama!” The samurai heard someone screaming when the gates became visible. “Jirou-sama!”

    One of the servants ran towards the samurai’s horse. He stopped a few steps away from the animal and bowed to him in a hurry, barely breathing.

    “Jirou-sama, I have… terrible news…” the man tried to speak before recovering his breath. “Your father… Daigorou-sama… has been arrested… for betraying… our Lord!”

    Jirou felt the world going cold and numb.

    Father… arrested… for betrayal…
    --- Double Post Merged, Feb 13, 2018 ---
    A Tale of Two Brothers 3
    Father… Father… Jirou tried to think, but his mind could not for a thought.

    He turned to the servant, opening and closing his mouth, trying to find words.

    “How… why…” the samurai couldn’t form a question, his voice lost in his throat.

    “Your father, Daigorou-sama… disobeyed a direct order… from the Lord…” The man did not meet the samurai’s eyes. All he did was stare at the ground, his head down the entire time, his fist trembling.

    Jirou stopped breathing, the reins slipping through his fingers. Even if he couldn’t think, there was one thing the samurai knew; he needed to know the entire story. He needed to see his father.

    Father… He forgot everything. He forgot he should inform the Lord about his mission. He forgot about all the soldiers behind him. He could only think about his father.

    “Where is he?” Jirou finally managed to ask the servant.

    After the trembling man told him, Jirou got off his horse. He headed to where his father was, but the guards wouldn’t let him pass, blocking his path with their spears.

    The samurai blinked, vaguely noticing the weapons and the people standing in his way. When he realized what was happening, he looked at each soldier, his eyes growing empty.

    “I can kill the four of you before you could even think of attacking me,” he whispered in a cold voice.

    The guards exchanged looks with each other, hesitating under those words. Even if he was young, the samurai’s ability with a sword was known throughout the fortress. The soldiers knew his threat wasn’t empty. But even so, they stood their grounds and didn’t let him pass.

    “I would advise against that,” a deep voice said from the other side of the door. The next moment, the wooden door slid open, and a large man walked towards the samurai.

    The Lord’s advisor stood before Jirou with all his height, looking down on the younger man. Under those sharp eyes that seemed to look deep into one’s mind, the samurai faltered. It had been like that all his life.

    But even so, the samurai held his stare, not blinking once. Jirou made sure to keep his hand away from the handle of his sword, but his fingers trembled from the effort.

    The advisor noticed that and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “That will not help. It will only bring more shame to your father and the end of your life,” he said in a heavy voice.

    Jirou widened his eyes. Those were probably the only words that could make him stop to think about the consequences of his actions. He’s… right… This won’t help father… The samurai closed his eyes, pressed his lips and swallowed his rage. When he opened his eyes again, he managed to control his tone of voice.

    “You’re right, Muneakira-sama,” he said, bowing his head to the older warrior. “Then, could you please explain what is the situation. Why has my father been arrested for treason?”

    The advisor took a long time to answer. “Your father has disobeyed a direct order from our Lord,” he said, his voice indicating there was no need for more explanation.

    But there was something more. The samurai could tell.

    “What was the order my father disobeyed?”

    The advisor stared into his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he closed them. “Daigorou had strict orders not to attack a group of enemy’s troops. But when he realized they would trample a village in the way, he engaged the enemy.”

    The samurai couldn’t believe what he heard. “How can saving a village, saving lives, be considered treason?”

    “Thanks to your father’s action, the enemy became aware of our Lord’s plans. The main troops changed their path and we lost many warriors on the field.”

    “But—”

    “Your father will be committing seppuku tomorrow morning,” Muneakira-sama interrupted before the young samurai could finish his sentence.

    The word echoed for a long time in Jirou’s mind. As he understood the reality by that simple word, the world became dead. There was no sound, warmth, color, everything.

    Seppuku… my father… to keep his honor… will take his own life…

    The world not only died; it broke.

    The man the samurai admired the most. Even if he wasn’t the strongest, his father was someone who always believed in doing the right thing. Who believed honor and loyalty were above glory. Someone who would never lower his sword if he could save a life. Even if just one peasant, he would swing his blade.

    And that man would be taking his own life.
    --- Double Post Merged, Feb 17, 2018 at 9:13 PM ---
    A Tale of Two Brothers 4
    “Let… let me speak with my father,” the samurai said despite his dry throat. “Please…”

    The advisor shook his head. “I cannot let you. Orders from our Lord. And… Your father should have the last hours of his life for himself.”

    “Please… let me speak to him,” Jirou said with difficulty. It hurt to speak. Despite his numb body, Jirou knelt in dogeza, putting both hands on the floor and bowing his forehead until it touched his hands. He closed his eyes to stop his tears. “Please…”

    The older warrior kept his silence for a long time. The samurai knew he was putting the advisor in a difficult situation. Muneakira-sama wanted to help, but even so, he himself could not disobey a direct order.

    “I’ll allow,” another voice rang above Jirou’s head.

    The samurai raised his eyes in time to see the Lord. The guards and the advisor lined against the wall to make room for the man and bowed.

    Jirou kept his position, looking up at his Lord.

    “I’ll allow for you to speak to your father, Jirou,” the Lord repeated.

    “But my Lord—” one of the guards spoke, but was interrupted.

    “This isn’t about Daigorou’s betrayal. It’s not about a traitor. It’s about a son meeting with his father. What kind of man would I be if I didn’t allow at least that?”

    “Thank you… my… Lord…” Jirou managed to say without letting his tears escape. He kept kneeling until the Lord walked away. The advisor touched his shoulder and went after his superior without saying a word.

    “Father!” Jirou said the moment the guards let him enter the room.

    Daigorou was sitting on a cushion and writing something. He didn’t raise his head immediately. First, he finished writing, placed the brush down and pushed himself away from the little table. Only then he raised his eyes to see his son.

    “Jirou…” the older samurai said in a low voice. He smiled but then lowered his head, not meeting his son’s eyes.

    Jirou felt as if he had been stabbed with a sword. To see the man he admired like that hurt more than any defeat. “Please, father, don’t lower your head… not to me…”

    “But I must, my son,” he said in the same low and weak voice. “I have brought shame to myself, to our family, to you. How could I meet your eyes after what I have done?”

    Jirou was on the verge of crying. But he held the tears back. He had to. For his father.

    “How can saving innocent people be shameful?”

    “That I cannot say. Only the Heaven knows. Because for those hundred lives that I saved, I killed a thousand soldiers. Not just soldiers, they were people that I knew, my friends, your friends…”

    With those words, the samurai understood. His father wasn’t going to take his own life to protect his honor. He saved the village, but in order to pay for those that died, he would pay with his own life.

    The pain and the desire to cry tore the samurai on the inside, but he still kept firm. Because if his father wasn’t going to cry, neither would he. That would bring shame to the man he admired the most.

    “Father…”

    Both samurais stayed in quiet for a long time.

    “Where’s Asahi?” the older warrior asked, breaking the silence.

    “With the guards,” Jirou managed to answer despite his dry throat. “They wouldn’t let me in with it.”

    The samurai showed a sad smile and sighed. “Too bad. I wanted to see one of the greatest honor our family with my own eyes one last time.”

    Despite all his effort, the samurai couldn’t keep in him any longer. “Father…”

    “Please, don’t cry, son. I have brought this on myself. The only way to repay is with my own life… And besides, I will see your mother…” he showed the same sad smile.

    How can taking your own life make anything better? The samurai wanted to scream, but kept the words to himself with a great effort.

    “But you have done nothing wrong. So, please, never lower your head. And take care of your older brother. He might be big and strong, but he has a soft heart. I’m glad he found a great wife to make sure he doesn’t fall on the wrong path.”

    “Father, I—”

    “Thank you for being a great son, Jirou. You’ve been blessed with both skills and looks. I just wish I’d see you find a wife before this.” He smiled at Jirou, but it was the saddest smile the samurai had ever seen on his father. “Sorry for not being an honorable father that I wanted to be.”

    “No, father… Please… don’t say that… you have been a great father, so don’t… don’t…” Jirou lost his words due to his tears.

    For a long time, they both said nothing, only the cries of a son losing his father echoed inside the room.
     
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  10. riki

    riki Storyteller

    伝説メンバー / Densetsu / Legendary Member

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    Thanks for the update! After reading these chapters, I understand why Ichirou was so intent on retrieving the sword. I felt sorry for the dad because his actions saved the villagers but doomed him to death. Poor Jirou! Losing the one person he admires! :(
     
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  11. phmoura

    phmoura Registered User

    初心者/ Shoshinsha / Beginner

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    Thanks for the comment. I'm really glad I'm managing to portrait the feelings of the brothers in a good way.
    I was a little afraid it'd seem like one of those shounen flashbacks, only to make the audience "pity" the villain for a while
     
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