|· Portal||Help Search Members Calendar|
|Welcome Guest ( Log In | Register )||Resend Validation Email|
|Welcome to The Lost Citadel. We hope you enjoy your visit.|
You're currently viewing our forum as a guest. This means you are limited to certain areas of the board and there are some features you can't use. If you join our community, you'll be able to access member-only sections, and use many member-only features such as customizing your profile, sending personal messages, and voting in polls. Registration is simple, fast, and completely free.
Join our community!
If you're already a member please log in to your account to access all of our features:
|Pages: (3) 1 2  ( Go to first unread post )|
Posted: Jan 11 2010, 02:05 AM
Member No.: 4
Joined: 13-May 09
Nah, the thought process didn't come off as heavy-handed. To me, it seemed to flow logically without going overboard. There wasn't an instance where I got bored or distracted and had to re-read something, and I find that to be the best way to check for long-windedness.
The fights were also interesting, though I find the soul-searching segments to be more interesting. I can't think of any specific changes I'd suggest making to the combat; I think it's just a case of the non-action sequences controlling the experience, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
His struggle with using a new weapon made sense. It was a pretty good representation of what it's like to try a new weapon after becoming very proficient with something different.
I sincerely doubt that reading could be a misuse of time. There's always something to be learned. Even if the work is a piece of garbage, it contains examples of what doesn't work. But I've yet to come across something like that here.
Keep it up!
Posted: Jan 13 2011, 12:29 PM
Ten times smarterer...!
Member No.: 3
Joined: 12-May 09
Content warning: general violence. Some debate of life and death matters.
Short terminology reminder:
A bokken is a wooden practice sword.
A sash is basically a cloth belt.
A zanbato is a type of great sword. It translates as anti-horse sword or horse-cutting saber.
As mentioned in the text, this chapter takes place about 1 year after chapter 2. The 'midchapter' takes place several years after chapter 3. Yeah, confusing.
The sword before him lay cut in two. He sat cross-legged with his hands together, his meditative gaze resting on the shafts of birch. Silence and contemplation hovered in the air about him. Even in his stillness the warrior appeared mighty and unassailable. His eyes were sleepless but piercing. His hands were rough and calloused from the grip of a sword. Though still young he had endured a hard and troubled life. The destroyed blade was a testament to that.
It was a bodacious weapon: a four and a half foot long bokken fashioned from the heart of an old tree. Such an unusually long and heavy sword had taken months for him to master. It had taken him far along his journey, striking down many opponents and saving his life many times, but that time had come to an end. Broken, the sword could take him no further.
Darkness pervaded the room, dulling his senses. A dim light cast off from candles, throwing shadows on the walls. The smoke of incense hung heavily in the air, making his vision ever more hazy, the pungent fragrance overtaking his sense of smell. But he did not need to see. He could sense everything in his meditation.
It was a small wooden hut hidden away on the side of a mountain. He had climbed for days to reach it. On the walls were lined every manner of blade: long swords, short swords, daggers, halberds, spears, lances, and other pole-arms. There were dozens and dozens of them, every one of them in pristine shape, their fine polish reflecting back the dull orange glow of the candlelight.
The man who forged these weapons sat across from Kaze. He sat upright with his eyes closed, the side of his jaw resting on the knuckles of his right hand. The man must have been three or four times Kaze's age, but he was enormous in terms of stature and strength. His arms and hands were built like the trunks of trees, becoming this way from a lifetime of forging weapons.
He was a man thought only to exist in myth and rumor: a sage hidden away on a mountain--one who forged steel as a form of study and meditation. Rather than texts and writings, this sage had buried himself in weapons and war, committing a lifetime to understanding their nature.
Kaze sought out this man in a time of desperation, but the sage did not stir from Kaze's entrance into his abode. The young warrior dared not to disturb the sage from his rest and merely seated himself silently before the other man. He was running out of time, but acting without etiquette could ruin everything. Kaze was not brazen enough to barge into the sanctuary of a man who had renounced the world and withdrawn into meditation to make demands. They sat like this for two days and two nights, the sage never opening his eyes, and Kaze never stirring from his own meditation.
"You have come looking for a weapon...." The sage at last broke his silence, only able to state the obvious, still not opening his eyes to speak. Kaze answered back with a sincere silence, not denying the truth. "There are no swords here for you," he droned distantly. "Go back home where you belong and leave me be."
At first the young man did not move, but he quickly bowed down and pressed his forehead into the matting. His tone was strong and urgent. "Forgive my intrusion, master sage. Please, I beg that you loan me a weapon. I don't even ask to keep it. I will do whatever I can to compensate you for your trouble."
The sage began to lose his patience. "I said to go home, boy! These are not toys for a child!"
Kaze gave a startling counter, his head still down. "There is no home to return to! Now please, I beg you again for a weapon. Any piece of steel will do. There is little time left, but I cannot leave here without what I have come to find."
"And why would your bokken not do? It could easily be replaced."
"This opponent is too strong. It would not be enough to defend myself."
"Oh!" the sage cried out mockingly, "And what will you do with a sword? Will you kill this opponent to save yourself?" Kaze only grimaced, not knowing how to answer. The sage continued in a harsh voice, "You seem to be in no immediate danger. Why not flee and avoid your trouble altogether?"
Kaze sat up and answered gravely. "This is something I must explain if you would allow me the chance." The sage did not object, wanting to hear why this young man before him was so stubborn. Kaze started, "It was not long ago...."
It had been an entire year since Kaze was outcast from his village. He wandered from place to place finding mercenary work or odd jobs to support himself. Keeping a low profile, he never found himself in any great predicament, but still trained hard with his long bokken to keep his skills sharp. His life lacked direction, his days not being particularly fulfilling, but that mattered little since Kaze rarely ever stepped back to think about ephemeral matters such as happiness.
His work was done, and with no particular attachment to this town, he pulled together what little he had to resume a time of journeying. He carried his bokken in his left hand and kept a small knapsack tied around his back, and he still kept the old broken short sword tucked into his sash. The young man paid for his lodgings and left wordlessly, having no one to say farewell to.
Kaze traveled north on a path through a bamboo forest that would eventually lead through a mountain pass. It was a common road that many traveled, and Kaze would find other people on it from time to time. Travelers going the opposite way stayed out of his way. Those coming the same way would pass him up or fall behind as Kaze kept going at his own pace. He kept to himself, not bothering anyone else.
Still, Kaze found it strange that there was a man some way behind him that seemed to be keeping pace with him. The man wore a black overcoat and a reed hat, keeping his head low. Kaze noticed right away that the man carried two swords, apparently being a swordsman of some notable rank. Kaze tested his conjecture, subtly increasing his pace, slowing down, or even stopping to rest. The man always stayed at least within eyesight.
When afternoon came, and the man was a few paces behind, Kaze stopped upon coming to a small clearing. He looked over his shoulder calmly and met eyes with the other man who had stopped at Kaze's sudden attention.
"Pardon my rudeness, but I can't seem to shake the feeling that you are following me. Is there something I can do for you, or am I merely being presumptuous?"
He was quiet for a long time, but eventually gave a small chuckle. The other man slowly removed his reed hat and met eyes with Kaze again. He was a middle-aged man with narrow eyes, his long black hair slicked back, coming down to his shoulders. It was also apparent that he had the appearance of someone who drank heavily. "Do you remember me, boy?"
Kaze furled his brows. "I can't say that I do." He was never good with faces.
An ominous wind began to blow through the bamboo forest, stirring the branches to a wavelike rush of soft rattling. "I am Master Shimada of the Red Mist Blossom school. I've been looking for you."
"The Mist Blossom school fell out of favor with Lord Tanda and nearly came to ruin. The school never fully regained the recognition it once had," Kaze recalled matter-of-factly.
Shimada's head tilted to the side as he pried coldly, "And why do you suppose that happened?"
Kaze's eyes narrowed a bit. "Lord Tanda contracted the Marusawa school to train his troops, dropping his previous agreements with the Red Mist Blossom school." He was quiet for a moment. "I don't understand how this has much to do with me, however. These sorts of politics are really above me."
"You know very well who's responsible. Master Marusawa's trickery and pompousness defaced my school, and he had me ousted from the Lord's castle!"
The gears of Kaze's memory began to turn. "Yes, I remember now. We were young, but Ichiro and I went with the master to visit Lord Tanda's estate. The Mist Blossom school had challenged our master to a friendly exhibition of each of the school's techniques. When Master Marusawa had you checked, you lost your temper and attacked him. He defended himself but lost on purpose and forfeited the match to you. It was very obvious to everyone he did that to curb your temper. He could have just struck you down instead."
"The arrogance of that man!" Shimada raged. "He treated me like a child! Any respectable master of a school would have finished that fight. Not only did Marusawa disrespect me, but he turned all of my allies against me. I've been longing to settle matters with him ever since!"
Kaze did not really know if what the late master had done was for the best, but he had little control over what had happened. "I'm sorry to say that the master has already passed on to the next life. I don't think you will have that second chance."
"Why do you think I've been looking for you instead, boy? Everyone's heard what happened to the Marusawa school," Shimada said wryly, "but I think you will make a worthy substitute." The other man's left hand moved to grasp his long sword by the neck of its scabbard.
Kaze took a step back out of caution, his own grip tightening over the bokken his in left hand. He already knew the situation was unfair, but he had defeated many others wielding real swords with this wooden blade. Master Shimada, however, was not a swordsman to take lightly, and it was likely that Kaze would not come out of a scuffle alive. Still, Kaze knew this could be avoided altogether.
"Fighting me would be far beneath you, Master Shimada. I am just a vagrant who was outcast from the Marusawa clan, an unworthy opponent for a master like you. And since then the Marusawa clan has fallen apart. This combat is no longer necessary. Your clan will gain no honor from beating down a fallen school."
Shimada stuck up his chin defiantly. "Oh, I beg to differ. There are rumors, boy, that you were supposed to succeed your late master. But little Ichiro inherited the school anyhow, despite his failing sword arm." Kaze's eyes widened to hear that such things were known to outsiders. Shimada continued, "So, if I can't challenge the master, I'll take down his best student instead!"
He pulled his long sword out from his sash and freed the blade from its scabbard using his thumb. Kaze held out his right hand to placate the other man. "Stop, Shimada! You don't have to do this!"
"I've waited too long," he cried. "No more talk!" He punctuated his words by drawing his blade from its scabbard and slashing at Kaze in a single motion.
Kaze back stepped to avoid the blow and similarly turned and twisted to avoid the swipes that followed. Shimada slashed at Kaze freely with one arm, his left holding onto his scabbard still in case he needed to block or parry. It was the signature style for Red Mist Blossom practitioners. When Kaze gained some distance he once again urged the master to stop his attack, but it was evident he had stopped listening.
Shimada lunged forward and made a powerful downswing, but Kaze stepped around to the master's open right side. In a flash, Kaze's right hand shot out to grasp his bokken by the handle and lashed out in a sudden horizontal swing. Kaze hoped to strike his opponent in the back of the head to knock him out, but the old master was wily and ducked underneath the blow. Shimada countered with his own slash having evaded Kaze's opening move, but his opponent hopped out of the way again.
The pace of their combat suddenly broke as the two faced each other again. Shimada laughed a bit to himself, satisfied he could finally have his way. Kaze readied his long bokken, regretful that things had escalated this far. He clearly held a range advantage, but Master Shimada was quick and crafty. To further complicate matters, he used his scabbard as an off-hand weapon, and getting through his defense could prove difficult.
Master Shimada engaged the melee again. He was tricky, attacking with both the sword and its scabbard. Kaze parried off the attacks, being careful that his wooden sword only met with the flat of Shimada's steel one. Shimada made a sideways slash at his opponent's ribs, but Kaze suddenly brought up the tip of his weapon and deflected Shimada's attack upward, breaking his stance completely.
Kaze brought the sword back down onto Shimada, but the wood blade met with Shimada's scabbard instead and slid harmlessly to the side. Relentless, Kaze thrust twice before sweeping the long blade across with a spinning backhand strike. Master Shimada sidestepped the jabs and backed out of the way from the sweep, beginning to lose ground. The younger swordsman made a curt downswing and Shimada brought his sword up to block, but it was just a feint. Kaze's bokken suddenly spun the other direction around its center of balance and now came from underneath.
The master stopped the blow with his scabbard and then hopped over the fast leg sweep that Kaze had connected into. In an amazing feat of agility, still in midair from his hop, Shimada stabbed down at Kaze with all his might. Kaze pitched right and the blade plunged into the earth instead. Having missed his attack and being upside-down, Shimada used his sword as a pole-vault and somersaulted over Kaze's head. Kaze swung for Shimada's sword to knock it out from beneath him, but Shimada had already pulled it free from the ground and landed on his feet.
Kaze charged in to continue his assault, but Shimada was suddenly in his face, catching him off guard. "Too slow!!" Like a demon he whipped his blade down and cut Kaze bokken in two. Before the separated piece could even hit the ground Shimada brought up his knee and slammed it into Kaze's gut, knocking the wind out of him, and shoved him backward with the fist clenching his sword.
Kaze fell to the ground, being attacked again before he could even recover, and rolled out of the way as Shimada tried to stab him. As he quickly got to his feet Kaze instinctively reached for the short sword in his sash and drew it out, still holding the remaining stub of his bokken in his left hand. He stood ready with a weapon in each hand, his breathing labored and heavy.
Shimada turned around to face Kaze again, and they stared each other down, Shimada dominating and Kaze cornered and exhausted. The two did not move for a long time, but the master suddenly relaxed his sword grip and started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Kaze urged, in no laughing mood.
The master recognized this style of using two short swords. It was rare, even among Marusawa style practitioners, and it was the technique Master Marusawa used in their battle all those years ago. Shimada laughed again looking at Kaze's weapons: a bokken cut short in one hand and a short sword with a broken blade in the other.
He cocked his head to the side and prodded his opponent. "You really think a second broken weapon will save you?" Kaze answered with silence, fully intent on finishing the fight. Shimada turned away and laughed again, "This is silly...." He sheathed his longsword back into its scabbard.
"You started this!!" Kaze spat angrily.
Shimada replied mockingly, "Yeah, but you look completely pathetic like that. Beating down an opponent who is practically unarmed is too beneath me. And besides, that was some of the most fun I've had in years. It'd be a shame to kill you too quickly!" He gave Kaze a menacing smile. Kaze was silent but shot back a deathly glare. If looks could kill....
"Don't worry, boy, I intend on finishing this fight. I just want more of a challenge from you."
Kaze still stood fiercely, not dropping his guard. "And how might that be arranged?"
"How about you get yourself a real sword? I don't really care how.... Just don't wear out my patience."
The young swordsman's eyes narrowed. "And what's to keep me from running away?"
"Nothing as far as I know. But don't think that I won't give up taking revenge against the Marusawa school." Shimada seemed awfully relaxed, looking down at his nails, but he suddenly looked up snidely. "You know, before I ever found you, I paid a visit to the Marusawa dojo. It's a shame little Ichiro can't use a sword anymore, but I suppose if you won't challenge me, then that worthless cripple will have to do...."
The hairs on Kaze's neck stood on end, his eyes wide. "You wouldn't!!"
Shimada sneered. "That all depends on you."
"You would murder a man who can't defend himself?!"
"I lost all my self-respect a long time ago," Shimada admitted with a wry smile. "Now you go find yourself some steel," he said, slipping his longsword back into his sash. "Don't come waving around a stick at me again if you want to live." Shimada began to trod back towards town, and with his back turned to Kaze, he called, "Come find me here before the full moon if you want your brother to live. I'll be looking forward to it."
Kaze growled, stopping himself from charging after Shimada right then. He knew he would die if he did. Sheathing his short sword and collecting the pieces of his bokken, Kaze raced off in the other direction in search of a solution.
"There are no smiths in town," Kaze continued. "Even if I had the choice I have never earned enough to purchase a real sword. Otherwise I would not be using this makeshift weapon to get by on. I sought help on the road through the bamboo forest, but did not find many samurai. Those that I met were unsympathetic and shooed me away. I often considered stealing a weapon, but did not want to risk having to fight to get away. I've always been a lousy criminal. And it frightened me to think of how many people I would have to kill to save Ichiro this one time."
"And how many will you kill to save him?" the sage scolded.
"...One." Kaze answered coldly.
"Why must you go so far to protect him?"
"He is my master's son," Kaze replied readily. "He is the sole heir to that legacy."
"Is he not the one who cast you out from your home? Why not let him fend for himself?" The sage was puzzled by his guest.
"I never blamed Ichiro for what happened. Some part of me does feel responsible. And I cannot bring myself to sit idly by knowing that there are wolves out there lusting for his blood."
"How have you reasoned that you must slay the master of the Red Mist Blossom school?"
"As you heard I have tried by best to persuade him, but he has become a mad dog who has made himself into an enemy of ours. I do not wish death upon him, but it cannot be helped."
The sage seemed to grow increasingly frustrated in his conversation with Kaze. "And why does your master's son deserve to live any more than your opponent? He is the leader of a clan, and surely he has a family that waits for him."
Kaze became distant. "I don't know.... Ichiro at least is important to me. I have decided to protect him."
"Foolish!!" the sage shouted. "Who are you to decide who lives and dies? Do you know best? Does holding a sword in your hand make you god? You are just a brat! Though you strike down your enemies right and left, day and night, you know nothing of life and death!!" Kaze had expected the criticism, but the words did not hurt any less. He did not argue back.
The old sage huffed, crossing his arms, unable to look at the young fool in front of him. Their tension was thick, and they did not speak again at length. Kaze suffered in his silence, but he endured the sage's anger and did not leave.
Running a heavy hand over his tired eyes, the sage addressed his guest again. "There is one more option. Surely you must have considered it...."
"Yes," Kaze answered truthfully. "I can allow Shimada to kill me. His threat on Ichiro's life will be lifted, and he will go home to his family having restored his school's honor." The sage looked somewhat pleased to find hear this wisdom. Kaze continued, "I have considered this, and cannot argue that it is not the best solution. I can trade the life of an outcast to spare my master's son and the master of the Mist Blossom school."
"What will you do?" the sage asked sternly.
"I am still unsure. I know I am worth little, but when the moment comes, I do not know if I will have the dignity to commit. A selfish part of me wants to live, and it wants Ichiro to live as well, but I know Shimada must die for that to happen. Still, the only thing I know for sure is that Shimada will not kill me without a proper fight to satisfy him. Regardless of what happens, I will still need a weapon to face him."
A slow nod came from the sage who appreciated Kaze's reasoning. "How long before the moon becomes full?" He asked at last.
"Perhaps in ten days or less," Kaze answered.
"So I see.... However, I still have no swords here for you. The many weapons you see that adorn my walls were crafted through my meditation. They are divine instruments never meant to taste blood. You would not have the understanding to wield them." Kaze readied himself for disappointment before the sage finished, "I will just have to forge a new one that suits you."
Kaze was startled. "Can it be done in time?"
"Don't take me lightly, boy," the sage scolded. "I already have the materials here. We have to prepare ourselves." Kaze bowed over and over to express his gratitude, but this just annoyed the sage who waved him off. "Let's get started right away."
By then it was daybreak and the sage had Kaze prepare a meal and fetch water and firewood as he prepped his tools inside the hut. The first day the sage spent purifying himself before he began his practice. He asked that Kaze not disturb him during his work, so the young swordsman took the opportunity to train and refocus himself.
The sage entered a trance-like state, working through the night, never stopping to rest or eat. In the first three days he folded and hammered until he formed the general shape of the sword. The metal was his canvas. Polishing the blade took considerably more work, lasting four days. Sharpening the diamond-hard edge consumed the next two days. During the last afternoon the sword was fitted with a wood handle bound with silk tethers. Time would allow no further refinement, so the sage called for Kaze who came to inspect the newborn sword.
Kaze was aghast when he first laid eyes upon the sword. It was a zanba, a weapon designed to cut down a horseman and his steed in one blow. The handle was one and a half feet long, and the blade itself was four feet long. The blade was very broad, adding a significant weight to the weapon. There was no cross-guard on the weapon, but there was a protruding lip where the handle and blade were separated. While it was sharpened masterfully, the blade's polish was unrefined, just barely smooth enough to pass through flesh. The sword looked enormous and barbaric like something an ogre might wield.
The young man was bewildered. How would he properly wield something so large and heavy? Even still, he was shocked that it was forged in a period of only ten days by a single man. He guessed that under normal circumstances a weapon like this would take a team of smiths and specialists two entire seasons to complete.
He ran a gentle hand down the weapon's length before picking it up. The zanba was almost impossible to wield even after all the training Kaze had done with his heavy long bokken. Extending the blade to its full reach took considerable effort.
"Why did you make a weapon like this for me?" Kaze stammered.
"When one wields a sword, one must take upon himself a certain responsibility. If you should kill, you will do so with the utmost difficulty. Taking a life is not easily done. This is the burden that this sword embodies. I want you to carry it with you to always remember that."
"You are harsh on me, but I understand your reasoning," Kaze agreed with a small smile.
"It has a mostly iron core encased in a hardened steel," the sage began to explain. "There was no time to fit a proper cross-guard, so I abandoned the idea of having one entirely. There are only three levels of polish on the blade. I would have done seven, but there was no time for such improvement."
"I can see that. It is very impressive, still."
"It is not beautiful, but it will kill a master swordsman," the sage confirmed. Kaze's blood ran cold at the frankness of that being said.
"Thank you for this sword," the young man bowed, "and for your wisdom as well."
The sage waved him off, reclining his heavy form into his seat. "It is too dark now to travel. Train with your new sword for the night and seek out your opponent when the sun has risen." Kaze agreed, taking the zanba away into the courtyard to practice by torchlight.
It was much like using his old bokken, just longer, and considerably heavier. He went through the many basics, going over strategies and circumstances in his head. Unlike his bokken he would have to readjust to performing blocks and parries with the sides of the blade rather than the edge. Kaze worried most over the agile Shimada getting past his guard. Next he focused on finding the weapon's center of balance and practiced centering his movements around that point. The sword became much easier to wield from thereon, but he still wished there were more time to adjust. That much would have to do.
When morning came Kaze was ready to depart. He looked over his shoulder to the sage and asked, "How shall I repay you for this favor?"
"Just take that sword with you and settle matters. Know the burden of carrying such a weapon. That much will do," the old sage answered simply. Kaze gave a firm nod, and was suddenly tossed a small trinket from the sage. It was a small dagger with a fine polish and a lacquered scabbard. He looked up, questioning the unexpected gift.
"You ought to stop carrying around that broken short sword," the sage answered curtly. "It's embarrassing to know you will have left a master bladesmith with that still on you." Kaze pulled Ichiro's short sword out from his sash, staring at it at length, and tucked the new dagger into his shirt. With a grateful wave, he hurried down the side of the mountain.
Kaze hopped and slid down the slopes, practically letting gravity take him down the mountain and merely using his feet to push him forward. He kept his balance skillfully, the zanba in his left hand wrapped in a protective silk cloth, riding the loose waves of gravel towards the mountain's base. His descent down the mountain was a snap compared to the grueling climb he had made days earlier. As he hit where the mountain met with the bamboo forest he broke into a full run towards the town where he hoped Shimada was still waiting.
He dashed through the forest, the tall bamboo stalks rushing by as green blurs. He hopped over rocks and pushed past travelling strangers in his way. When Kaze happened upon the clearing where he previously dueled Shimada, he came to a grinding halt, the fallen slivers of bamboo leaves bunching up before his feet. The master of the Mist Blossom school was already there waiting for him. He was leaning against one of the bamboo stalks, arms crossed, appearing to almost be asleep.
Shimada did not look up but addressed Kaze's arrival all the same. "Sorry to surprise you like this, boy. You might not have expected me so early."
Kaze breathed heavily from his full-on sprint, but he quickly recovered. "It's past the deadline. Why are you waiting here for me?" Kaze was thinking he would have to race Shimada to his old village and cut him off before he reached Ichiro.
Shimada laughed a bit with a sheepish grin. "I'm embarrassed to admit it, but that duel we had was some of the best fun I've had in years. Cutting down that cripple brother of yours would not be any fun in comparison, so I decided to wait a bit to see if you would catch up."
Kaze held the zanba forth and drove its point into the ground causing the earth to shudder with a metal clang. "I have brought this steel with your name on it. You knew you could not be cut in our previous melee. Do you still think it fun now that you wager with your life?"
"Oh, even more so! I'm a gamblin' man," Shimada answered with a most depraved smile.
"We will see how much fun you are having when this sword cleaves you in twain," Kaze assured him.
Shimada whistled appreciatively. "That's quite a big sword you've got there. I thought you were slow before, but this will just be ridiculous."
"I'm sure you would like the opportunity to see, but I will give you another chance to reconsider and withdraw your threats. No one has to die today."
He pulled his weight off the tree and drew his longsword, scabbard and all, out from his sash. "No deal. I'll send you to see your old master, boy, and there you can ask him why you weren't good enough to win today. Tell him Master Shimada of the Red Mist Blossom school sent you."
"That is unfortunate," Kaze said coldly, "but in my stead I will send you to my master where you can offer him an apology." He loosened the silk cloth and freed the zanba from its confines, the long flowing fabric falling quietly to the earth. Kaze readied the mighty blade in a stance, the mere motion of its massive blade seeming to stir the wind around it.
Shimada flicked his thumb and freed his longsword from the neck of its scabbard. "I hope you're ready."
He dashed in with the scabbard raised over his head, simultaneously drawing the blade out and slashing downward mightily at his opponent. Kaze sidestepped the attack and retaliated with a swipe at Shimada's left side. He managed to stop the blade with his scabbard and pushed it back. Before Kaze could recover and lift the zanba again Shimada had already made a slash aimed at his face. He instinctively bent backwards and watched as the tip of Shimada's sword whipped past just inches from his nose.
Kaze countered with a quick poke that cut open the front of Shimada's shirt, and the man backed off in alarm. He inspected the cut incredulously.
"My auntie sewed this for me!" Shimada charged at Kaze with his sword and tried to force his way through his opponent's block.
Strained from holding back his opponent's weapon, Kaze humored Shimada, "I'm sure she doesn't appreciate you picking fights and getting it all cut up!" He punctuated his words by pushing back the other man and swiping at him. Shimada parried the blow lightly but Kaze was already on him again.
He swung down on Shimada who managed to deflect the zanba to the side so it did not come down on his head. Kaze followed into a far-reaching stab that missed and went under Shimada's right arm, so he quickly tried to invert and lift the blade to sever his opponent's arm completely. Shimada pulled his arm away in time, but he was open to the roundhouse kick that hit him square in the chest. He stumbled back with the wind knocked out of him and Kaze soon came after him again.
Kaze came in for a stab but Shimada unexpectedly stepped forward before the blow could connect and locked Kaze's sword arm with his left hand and scabbard. With his right hand Shimada pulled Kaze's shoulder down as his knee came up and slammed into Kaze's stomach once, and then a second time. When Shimada's knee came up again Kaze caught it in his left arm and with all his might lifted his opponent up and threw him backward causing him to crash violently into the ground.
For a moment they both staggered from the tremendous pain from the other's attacks before coming to their senses again. Kaze knew he was quickly becoming exhausted, his arms burning terribly from handling the weight of the zanba. He retreated off of the beaten road and into the thick of the bamboo forest, never turning his back to Shimada who soon came chasing after him. They eyed each other fiercely as the green stalks rushed by between them, watching for any opening to be had.
As Kaze came to a stop Shimada leaped at him and came down with a sweeping diagonal slash. Kaze rolled underneath the attack and continued his retreat as his opponent's blade sliced cleanly through three bamboo trees. Shimada caught up quickly and attacked with a wide horizontal cut, missing his opponent who dodged but felling four more trees. The tops of the trees slowly fell but came down on top of Kaze who had to push past them to retreat further.
Intuitively Shimada saw this as a ploy to slow down his opponent. He cut down two more bamboo stalks, but Kaze escaped nearly unimpeded. With another attempt his opponent did the unexpected and cut through the trees falling down on him. Using another swipe Kaze cut the stalks into smaller segments, and with a swift kick launched one of them Shimada's way.
Shimada struck the bamboo missile aside with his scabbard, but he quickly discovered it was just a distraction for his opponent to gain an opening. Kaze unleashed a full-force two-handed swing at Shimada's side. It was too late to avoid it, so all he was able to do was raise to scabbard to attempt a block. The massive zanba smashed directly into the scabbard's center and crushed it, driving forward into Shimada's left. The brutal attack caused Shimada to bowl over completely, his destroyed scabbard barely saving him from being cut in half.
He staggered back onto this feet, discovering a light cut on his left arm. Shimada glanced at the smashed piece of wood in his hand that was once his scabbard before discarding it entirely. He retaliated with an assault of his own, controlling his blade now with both hands. The attacks came more quickly and hit harder than before.
The best Kaze could do was keep the zanba between him and Shimada to stop his opponent's attacks from connecting. Shimada beat down on his opponent who did his best to defend himself. He slashed and stabbed with every cut imaginable, but Kaze blocked and deflected every one of them. Kaze's movements became slower and slower, so Shimada kept beating down on him hoping to eventually overwhelm him.
Unexpectedly Kaze spun away from one of Shimada's slashes and countered with a long-reaching stab aimed at Shimada's face. He was barely able to deflect the zanba's point away with his cross-guard as the motion of Kaze's stab continued and the entire edge of the zanba's blade grinded past Shimada's guard. When the base of their swords met Shimada pushed Kaze back and readied himself again. To his surprise the zanba had cut a deep notch into his sword's cross-guard, basically sawing its way into the softer metal as it grinded past.
Shimada began assaulting Kaze with several horizontal slashes, connecting one to the other by reversing direction as soon as the previous was done. Kaze blocked the slashes handily but unexpectedly lowered his sword and stopped Shimada's last attack cold with the brace of his left arm. Reaching under Shimada's sword and putting his right arm on other side of the weapon, Kaze uncrossed his arms and snapped the blade in two. Shimada fell backwards after Kaze's break, incredulous that his weapon was destroyed. The melee was over with Shimada being disarmed.
With his opponent disabled, Kaze slouched over, panting from fatigue. The braces on Kaze's arms were inlaid with iron bars. He had not gone on so long with a wooden sword to not take some sort of precaution against steel blades. It was an ace up his sleeve that often saved his life.
As Kaze recovered he stood up tall and looked down at Shimada. "You're beaten, Shimada. Go home quietly and I will forget everything that has happened. No one will die today."
The master of the Mist Blossom school still had not gotten to his feet, too bewildered to move. Kaze relaxed his guard, finally allowing himself to revel in the fact that he had come out of the situation without sacrificing any lives. Glancing one last time at his defeated opponent, Kaze lowered his sword and began trudging back to the road, careful to be easy on his aching muscles.
However, his brief respite was interrupted by an angry shout. "Don't turn your back on me, boy!!" Just as Kaze turns around a razor sharp blur flies past his face and a spurt of blood erupts from his cheek. It was Master Shimada who had slashed him with his wakizashi, his broken longsword's companion sword. Kaze barely registered what had happened as his hands moved on their own and deflected another slash from Shimada.
The master's onslaught came furiously. Kaze was able to step away from the wakizashi's shorter reach, but he struggled to keep up with the smaller blade's speed. Kaze blocked another hit, but the short blade slipped around his guard and cut him in his side. He desperately swung at his opponent to fend him off, but Shimada simply ducked under the attack and slashed into Kaze's left arm. Shimada's weapon was short enough to slip around Kaze's guard, but Kaze's zanba was too long do the same. With the extreme disparity between their weapons there was a disadvantage that threatened to end Kaze altogether.
Kaze tried to retaliate but Shimada predicted his attacks and avoided them easily. He knew by now that Kaze's heavy weapon only allowed him to thrust and swing down or horizontally with any level of ease. With his speed advantage Shimada would quickly wear out his opponent.
"You're too slow, boy! You're too weak to handle that sword!!"
The next slash came too quickly for the zanba so Kaze blocked with his brace instead. He knew that his opponent's words were true. He was too slow and too predictable. Kaze's arms and legs were numb from fighting so long, the fatigue of handling a heavy weapon and the shock of constant sword clashes wracking his nerves. Though he could no longer feel his body it kept moving whether by Kaze's will or by its own. It was impossible to know which.
Like this Shimada and Kaze began trading blows, moving too quickly to fight consciously but moving merely by instinct. They parried and countered back and forth, their adrenaline making the moment stretch in time beyond comprehension. Kaze began to feel an inner rage stir in the back of his mind.
Is this the fastest you can go?! Is that all the skill you have?! You will die in shame, and your master's name will be forever lost! Kill, Kaze! Fight, Kaze! FIIIIIIGHT!!
The two swordsmen raged onward with unknowable speed and stamina, Kaze's blocks subtly increasing in speed, Shimada's sword being pushed back further little by little. The air was fraught with the cacophony of blades colliding and deflecting one another when the two swordsmen suddenly attacked simultaneously, Shimada slashing down, and Kaze stepping back and lifting his blade up, and all became still and silent.
Neither man moved, Shimada's blade set low, Kaze's blade raised high, their combat having come to an end.
Master Shimada began to lean slightly before he fell forward and crumpled to the ground, already dead. Kaze's blade had sliced upward into his chest and through his head, killing him instantly. Thick ribbons of blood began to stream out of his unmoving body.
Kaze collapsed to his knees, his arms becoming like lead so his knuckles dropped into his lap. The zanba fell out of grasp and plunged to the earth. He groaned agonizingly, all the muscles in his body so burned and swollen they threatened to burst out of his skin. He breathed heavily but his lungs felt no relief. His mind was a blur and his vision faded. At last he slumped to the side and lost consciousness.
He awoke the next afternoon, his face half-buried in the foliage. He could not move yet, but his eyes were open. Not quite awake, his eyes stared vacantly ahead at Shimada's corpse. Kaze stayed like this until he could find the will to move. Both this body and mind responded slowly. He got up gingerly to not overtax his failing muscles. He sat still until he could remember where he was.
The young swordsman agonizingly picked up his sword by its handle but found he had not the strength to lift it, leaning his weight on it to support himself instead. He stood over Shimada for a long time, contemplating to himself, before turning away and trudging towards the old road, using the sword as a makeshift cane.
Painfully he moved forward, step by step, his weight carried by his weapon. He did not know if he had the strength to go on any longer, but all his body let him do was trudge on without feeling.
Kaze was not quite all together yet, but part of him was relieved, and another part knew he had lived only to suffer that much longer. He strongly regretted that he had lost himself in the heat of battle, forgetting to act on his previous judgments. Was it for the best that Shimada was slain and Ichiro was safe? Should he have given his life to save the other two? He still did not know which was correct. All Kaze knew was that had lost control, and he felt a terrible emptiness inside.
The sage rose from his meditation that night. His thoughts wandered back to the lost soul that was his guest the time before, his first guest in many long years. Since the boy left the sage had been using his story as a focus of his contemplations: How does one choose one life over another? The sage had similarly explored such complex predicaments in his many years of reflection and meditation. For such a young individual to carry that weight alone would be unbearable. He did not expect to ever see Kaze again, but he still wondered what became of him. The sage suddenly scolded himself for becoming sentimental.
Still, he understood that Kaze was a rare individual. Many swordsmen slay their enemies thoughtlessly, even telling themselves that such considerations cloud their judgment and misguide their hands. The wicked will know justice. The good will be saved. The sage knew that claiming to save lives as one takes them was a delusion of many warriors, and ultimately, those championing these ideals will be dissatisfied with their ideals as they stain their hands with the blood of many.
It was the very reason he had given up his own sword and retreated into a life of solitude. His consideration made him unsuited to be a swordsman. There was no place for goodness or kindness in the heat of battle. Perhaps Kaze, too, is one too kind to live his life with a sword by his side.
|Pages: (3) 1 2 |