Skytales: A Blade Unforged, A Samurai's Tale
Seek out evil and bring it forth to justice.
My name is Allaine Gensai Yagyu. I am what the Akaviri refer to as a samurai. They were the warrior-nobles of the Akaviri. Though Redguard by birth, I am Nibenese by upbringing. All I know is that I was found wandering as but a boy of five summers by the man who would become my father and mentor.
On and off the battlefield, show courage in all you do
It was he, Jubei Yagyu, who found me and took me in. Alongside his wife, Tomoe, they trained me in both the ways of war, and of the spirit. To the samurai, mastery of the blade and bow is just as important as being a master of the quill, for a samurai one must be both warrior and poet.
To those in need, treat them with compassion as you would wish to be treated.
As far back as I can remember, if I wasn’t drilling with Mother or Father in the way to properly wield a katana or yumi, the Akaviri term for a tall, thin bow, or other such martial training, then the other was instructing me in how to gracefully construct poetry. It was often difficult, but challenges strengthen us.
Whether they be noble or commoner, treat your fellow man with respect
Now I am a man grown. In two months, on the third day of Sun’s Dawn shall be my twenty-second summer since my birth. Though I have the training and skills, I must pass one last trial. First, I must forge my own katana, and string my own yumi, then I must go into what my grandfather informed me was known as the Gate of Death. It is an old cave, and located within is an old temple constructed by the Tsacei when they settled in this land, dedicated to the Akaviri former creator goddess turned goddess of the dead, Izanami. My blade has been forged, and named, Arashihocho, or Storm-Cleaver, for when I was forging this blade, it happened to be during a lightning storm. My bow has been strung, and my arrows fletched.
In all you do, show integrity
The night wind howls as I steel my nerves. The cave mouth looms over me like the jagged maw of a beast. I take a deep breath, my chest rising and falling. My armor, fashioned in the Akaviri style, painted jet black, with a light gold leaf trim, the colors of Father’s Clan. My offhand sword, as is tradition, was a gift from Mother, as a way of showing the Old and New as one. Before undertaking the Gate of Death, a parent will pass on one of their blades to their offspring as a rite of passage. So, here I stand.
Always carry yourself with honor or else you will bring shame to you and your ancestors
The earthen ground crunches beneath my tsuranuki, as I enter the cave. A fading chill brushes up against me, but I wave it off. I must not show fear. Fear is the mindkiller. From what my family members and friends have said the trial seems to be different for everyone. Some face their innermost fears, such as the ghosts of fallen ancestors decrying them as failures or that they may become little more than a bloodthirsty manslayer, while others may clash with phantasmal beasts. I do not know what adversary I may face, but I am as ready as I'll ever be.
Unless they carry themselves with evil intent, always show loyalty to your lord or lady.
My twin blades jostle against each other as I descend deeper and deeper into the cave’s depths. The way is lit only by spaced out sconces holding orbs of Mage Light, which flicker like fireflies, illuminating portions of the cave in a pale ghostly light. I rest my hand upon the pommel of Storm-Cleaver’s hilt, my eyes and ears on a swivel, searching for any hidden dangers.
No matter what may assail you, always show self-control
After what felt like hours, I came upon the temple. It had been well cared for over the centuries. The vermillion tiled outcrop of the roof was still visible, even in the low light. The pale wattle and daub walls, placed a short, smooth stone foundation, still looked well preserved. A portion of the cave, whether naturally carved out or by Tsacei hands, housed the temple. The exit of the tunnel I had ventured into was marked by shime, strips of white paper the Akaviri would use to mark sacred places, tied to crimson posts on either sides of the opening.
As I passed by the shime, my mahogany eyes locked onto a figure kneeling right before the entrance to the temple. He was, like me, a Redguard. His Akaviri armor was jet black. He wore no helmet. His raven hair was closely shaved to his head, like some Imperial soldiers wear their hair. “I know why you have come, young samurai.” His baritone voice echoed through the cavern, as he slowly stood, and turned to face me. Alongside his trimmed hair, his beard was well kept stubble, like well grazed grass. In his calloused hands he bore a nagamaki, the Akaviri equivalent to a greatsword or polearm in many ways, as it featured a longer blade and hilt, and was, unlike a normal katana, unwieldy at best to wield in one hand. “You have to come to undertake the Gate of Death, is that right?.” He slowly drew his blade, the hissing of steel echoing as he slid it from his sheathe, gripping it in two hands in the seigan no kamae, the upright neutral stance, neither focusing on offense like the raised blade jodan no kamae, or defense like lowered blade hidari gedan no kamae. I nodded, unsheathing my own blades, holding them in a X across me, allowing me to attack while also keeping my guard up, not a conventional stance, but it has served me across my years of training.
I locked eyes with the stranger, and took a deep breath. “I am Allaine Gensai, of the Yagyu Clan.” I call out. In a duel between two samurai, it is custom to announce your name, Clan, and, if possible, any notable kills you’ve attained.
A small smile grace’s my opponent’s face. Even though I was more than sure that my opponent was some sort of phantom conjured by the Gate, he seemed more flesh than spirit. He didn’t appear as the off white/pale blue I’ve seen from other spectres, though I’ve heard tale Akaviri ghosts tend to be a bit different. “The Yagyu Clan eh? It has been some time since one of your birth has graced these cavernous walls. Even longer since I have faced a young ra who shares the blood of Yokuda.” Ra, the Yoku term for warrior. “Very well, I am Yasuke, retainer to Queen Afsar.” My eyes widened, I had heard of this Yasuke in the histories of Queen Afsar. Supposedly he had been a slave in one of the underground fighting pits. He had led a small revolt after Queen Afsar’s forces led a raid on his master’s compound. He had apparantly saved the life of the commander of the raid, a relation to Queen Afsar, and had then signed up to be a part of her anti-slavery forces. Through years of diligent service, he became one of the personal guards of Queen Afsar, training in the arts of the Samurai by her Master-At-Arms, Okami Chotan. He became known as the Obsidian Samurai. Though, after Queen Afsar’s death, he vanishes from the history books.
A smile of my own forms on my face. “It will be an honor to face the Obsidian Samurai of the great Queen Afsar of the Blood-Forged Peace.” I bow my head slightly, as he does the same, a sign of respect. No more words are to be said, for now, we shall let our blades do the talking. I shift my foot, readying myself.
Before my foot had even come to rest, Yasuke was upon me. His blade was caught between mine. I grit my teeth, and pushed forward, sending him back. Storm-Cleaver struck out, Mother’s blade kept raised to act as a defense. Yasuke’s nagamaki flew forward, turning my blade so that, while it may have cut him, it was not a mortal wound. Immediately I brought Storm-Cleaver back, as he went for another blow.
My blades rang out against his as I parried him blow for blow, making his blade glance off my armor or swords. His strikes were as swift as an autumn gale, and as hard as the crack of thunder. We went back and forth, him striking, I parrying, then countering. Sweat poured down our faces, our chests heaving. Eventually, he disarmed me of Mother’s blade, swatting it aside when I tried for a rising strike from below. I groaned in pain as the flat of his blade crashed against the pommel of the blade, and hand. The aged sword went flying, clattering against the stony floor some feet away. He smirked, “An attempted attack from below while I was occupied striking at you from above. Clever, good. One must use all one can on the battlefield to achieve victory.”
I shook my aching hand, gripped Storm-Cleaver in both hands, and took a deep breath. In the Way of the Samurai, there were a multitude of swordsmanship schools, and knowledge to be gained from them. The sword thrives in the gap between life and death, the path of inner peace leads you to enlightenment through meditation. Father often said. One must remain calm on the battlefield. If one lets the fires of bloodlust consume them, then they become sloppy, make mistakes, become nothing more than a murderous beast who would be easily cut down by one who maintains self-control. That was one of the virtues of Bushido, the ancient Code of the Samurai. As our eyes locked once more, our breasts heaving, hearts pounding, we both knew it. Like duels in the past, one strike could determine life or death. We knew that our next move, whether mine or Yasuke’s, would be our last. I brought my blade forward, cutting edge upward. One arm was extended outward, palm resting against the top of my blade. The Hidari Katate Hirazuki, a technique developed by one of vice captains of the Shinsengumi, the police corps of Emperor Hira. The blade would be parallel to the ground, held close to the shoulder. It would be followed by a quick, extensive thrust, which could be altered into a side slash. I focused, drowning out all but my blade, and my opponent. Yasuke had taken up the stance of the Sandanzuki, the “Three Piece Thrust” technique concocted by one of the Shinsengumi’s captains, said to be able to slice at one’s neck, and both shoulders, with one strike.
Our feet shifted, as we charged one another, screaming out a defiant battle cry. Time seemed to slow, if not outright freeze as we drew near. It is said, when one is in a life-or-death situation, the brain causes one to experience events in slow motion. Whether this is in an attempt to save its host, or to allow them a few more moments of life, I do not know. What I did know, and Yasuke knew, was that one of us was about to die.
These are the Virtues of Bushido, the Way of the Samurai.
We crashed together for a brief moment, then slid past, our blades outstretched. A sharp feeling of pain, for a moment, had me fearing I had been the one slain. However, a glance at where the pain had originated from found a cut grazing my chest, right above my heart. I turned as I heard a groan, and saw Yasuke fall to his knees, a thin hole visible in his armor, all the way through to his chest.
Yasuke laughed, like one who had found a sense of relief, even as he coughed, and crimson blood stained his lips. Ghosts don’t bleed. He turned his head, “Figured it out, have you, pup?” he chuckled, his chest rising and falling in haggard breaths. “I am no shade. I made an oath to blessed Tu’Whacca that I would not accept the sweet embrace of death, till I found it at the hands of a worthy warrior of Yokudan blood. So, I was banished from death, till one day, one such as you could grant me the death worthy of a warrior.” He reached to his waist, and pulled out a small dagger, intricately carved. “Now, allow me to die as a Samurai.” he said, unsheathing it.
Harakiri, ritual suicide. If a Samurai fell in battle, if they were not struck down by a foe, he or she must then commit suicide, so that they could at least die by the blade. More often than not, a second, known as a Kaishakunin, would be there to decapitate them, both as a way to insure they died by the sword, as they lived, but also to prevent them from suffering further agony and suffering. I nodded, as I made my way over, Storm-Cleaver bared.
“Thank you, young ra. Thank you for doing this old warrior one last favor.” Yasuke said, raising the knife to cut into his abdomen. “'awah , ya malikat almajidat 'afsr. 'awh , 'aslafuna alkarama. laqad jit limuqabalatik fi 'aqsaa shawaty.” He then plunged the knife deep into his gut, groaning as he twisted it. As tradition, our eyes were locked together as my blade descended, and his head fell to the earthen ground with a dull thud. After countless millennia, Yasuke had found absolution in death.
I gently wiped Storm-Cleaver of his blood with a cloth I kept tucked in my belt, gingerly sliding Storm-Cleaver back into its sheath. “May Tu’Whacca welcome you, brother-of-the-blade.” I whispered, and turned, going over, and retrieving Mother’s blade, carefully sheathing it as well.
I then strolled back over, and carefully grabbed ahold of Yasuke’s head. There was a nearby pump for water, and a bucket, which I used to tenderly clean Yasuke’s head. He deserved to be honored at least in this way. I then set it before his still cooling cadaver, saying a small prayer for his soul. I then noticed his nagamaki had been embedded in the ground nearby after his death. Slowly, I picked it up, now noticing the beautiful inlay on the blade. It read, in the ancient Akaviri script, Tatakai de shi. Shi to heiwa no naka de. “In Battle, Death. In Death, peace.” I whispered, picking up the sheath and returning the blade to its container.
Hefting the longer blade, I made my way back to Yasuke’s body, intending that it should lay to rest with the bearer who had wielded it for countless years, countless battles. As I was about to lay it across his chest, a chill ran up my spine. “Hold, young ra.” Yasuke’s voice rang out. I looked around, perhaps his ghost lingered here. “I have not the spiritual power to manifest as more than just my voice, apologies.” I nodded, standing upright. “My blade is yours now, as is the right of the victor to claim the sword of the slain.” I looked at the nagamaki held in my two hands. The sheath was as black as his armor was, the blade crimson.. It bore little adornment, save the strand of red thread at the top, as well as the crest of Afsar, two winged scimitars in a x layered atop a wolf’s head. I had read, often, a Samurai would take the weapon of their foe, if they were able to, as a spoil of war.
I stepped back, and carefully holstered the nagamaki on my back, between my yumi and quiver. “What is its name?” I asked the ethereal presence of Yasuke. If I ever had to use it, I did not wish to just call it the nagamaki of Yasuke or the like. When one bonds with their blade, they realize a blade is more than a tool, a weapon, it is an extension of themselves.
“Its name is Fushigiri,” Undying Slayer “I named it so after my first kill with it. A rogue Withered Hand had summoned forth foul ghouls to assault a village I was aiding Vice Minister Aten in taxing.” I could almost feel an air of nostalgia radiating from his ethereal voice. “I struck down many abominations that day. I have faith you will bring further glory to Fushigir, young Allaine of the Yagyu. Mayhaps one day, when your time upon this mortal plane comes to an end, we can have a rematch.” He chuckled, his laughter echoing across the cave.
“I look forward to it. May Tu’Whacca watch over you till then, noble Yasuke.” I clasped my hands together, and bowed to the darkness.
Taking one last look at Yasuke’s corpse, I saluted him. That done with, I turned, and made my way out of the cavern, head raised, my trial complete.
I did not look back.