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They had arrived without warning at the apex of the sun’s ascent into the sky, three shadows from whom even the mist receded, flickers of sunlight twinkled among the mist and fell like countless petals from a tattered flower, casting them in an ethereal, almost otherworldly glow. “People of Japan,” spoke the tallest figure, an aged man of skin and bone whose eyes sunk much too deeply into his skull, “we come as vassals of the future, bringers of Godhood and infinity.”
From where Kame stood among a huddle of samurai wives who had been chatting beside the well just moments ago, their light was faint. She sifted deeper into the mass of spectators who had gathered around the mysterious trio with bewilderment evident in her features, mindful not to brush against the numerous samurai gathered, but quick to push herself to the front of the crowd. “What in the world?” she muttered beneath her breath, squinting to behold what might as well have been an apparition.
“History foretold of great warriors born to this village in a time of strife. Unrivaled geniuses in the art of swordsmanship, they perished before their time, struck down by the vengeful hand of God above,” said the man, and suddenly his eyes sparked with fury. “We’ve come to correct this grave injustice.”
Never in her life had Kame heard such nonsensical trite. It was to be expected of foreigners, she supposed, whose skin and eyes revealed their European descent, but an uneasiness in the back of Kame’s mind tried to warn her of their magnitude. Not only were they foreign to this country, she realized as she clenched her fists. They were foreign to this time line and all of humanity.
“One of you shall know eternal honor- what it is to walk this earth with impunity, free of wicked God’s judgment.” He turned to look at the young man at his side. Though youthful and handsome behind the frames of his glasses and robes of white and red, a sadness far too great for words seemed to weigh on his every muscle. His frown was one of acceptance. “One of you,” he said, and the young man beside him unraveled a sack he had held onto with heavy hands, “shall become immortal.”
The cloth fell to his feet, and Kame found herself quite enamored by the weapon he revealed. It gleamed with all the brilliance of the sun, its polished silver more reflective than the clearest waters, spanning the length of at least four feet. It was a sword of almost unearthly beauty, far different from the blades the samurai wielded. Lacking the lithe and curvacious form of a katana but compensating for it with girth, the sword ran a straight line from hilt to tip, giving the impression of incredible weight. On its fuller was engraved a single word. “Justice,” read Kame in a whisper.
“The sword of justice seeks its master.” The young man handed the sword to the third member of their group, a girl with eyes as lifeless as her companion, she was dressed in colorful garb befitting an especially striking priestess. “Only a man of immense strength and fortitude may wield this sword in battle. We will lay it to rest in the clutches of stone, and whomever draws forth the sword of justice will be deemed its true master, and shall take upon himself the blessing of eternal life.” The man’s features soon turned grave. “However... all who try to draw the blade and fail will be driven to madness by the infinite knowledge it imbues. Such madness invites an almost instantaneous death.” As if on cue, the three turned to walk away in unison. “You have been warned.”
But a day had passed since the immortals made their offer. They had taken residence in a temple long abandoned by the local Shintoists, keeping an eye on the so-called sword of justice. Word had it that the old man who had spoken to them all was gone, leaving only his dead-eyed retainers in his place. “Fools,” said Kame, swinging the sword of her late husband by the light of paper lanterns, away from the prying eyes of the public in the privacy of her own home. “Immortality... what nonsense is that?”
Already the samurai of the village had flocked to the temple in droves, determined either to draw the sword and gain everlasting life, or to slay the blasphemers who had driven their village to the brink of chaos.
None of them had returned.
“I can’t believe how many we’ve lost,” said a maiden by the name of Tsuru on the second day, the cup she held trembling in her hands. “Kame, you don’t think my husband would...?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Kame’s words were firm, and she sipped at her tea to quell the anger rising in the back of her throat. “He may be rash at times, but he’s wiser than to trust the ravings of those foreign lunatics.”
“...yes.” Tsuru smiled. Her hands steadied themselves, and she looked to Kame as though were a beacon of justice in a world gone mad. “Thank you, Kame.”
Day three had come and gone, and the village only grew bleaker with each passing hour. Widows had locked themselves in their homes and dabbed at their eyes with the garments their husbands once wore. It horrified Kame to learn that some of the women had taken their own lives in honor of their fallen husbands, as she had never felt such an obligation when her own husband perished in battle over half a decade ago. He had even died honorably, which is more than could be said for the immortality-seekers. “Fools...” Kame muttered once more as she beheld the blood trickling beneath the doorway of a neighboring house. Still, her breath was labored, and she cringed in spite of herself.
The fourth day marked the final straw for Kame. Tsuru had sought her comfort in the earliest hours of the morning, throwing herself into Kame’s arms and weeping with all the grace of a child, sniffling against her shoulder and gasping desperately for air between sobs that shook her entire body to its core. “Why?!” Tsuru screamed, her voice wavering with the erratic contractions of her lungs, “what am I going to do without him, Kame?!”
Kame had been absolutely dumbstruck by her dearest friend’s heartache, her senses numb to everything but Tsuru’s blubbering and the fingers which dug into her back. There was not anything she could think to say. More than anything, she realized, justice had abandoned their little village, and it had no corporeality with which to right this wrong. Someone had to act on its behalf. “I’ll abide this terror no longer!” said Kame, her voice brimming with determination and fury. Tsuru tore herself from Kame’s chest and looked up at her with quivering lips, wiping her eyes on the back of her wrist. “What good are these samurai if they leave their women to suffer the brunt of their foolhardiness?! They claim to maintain peace and virtue among the people, and yet they’re content to die so selfishly for something as stupid as immortality! What good is a man who allows his beloved to shed tears?!”
“K-Kame....” Tsuru took a long sniff, her voice coming out in a stutter. “What... what are you intending to do?”
“Something no man has had the guts to do,” said Kame, taking a step back from her friend and flashing her the glint of resolve in her eyes. “I’m going to make sure no woman ever has to shed such sorrowful tears. Not ever again.”
They had stared at her with disbelief when she had walked the path up to the abandoned temple. The few men who remained with their lives intact had grumbled insults to one another as they beheld Kame’s determination, while the widows of the fallen samurai looked upon her with a mix of grief for the past and hope for the future.
Her thirst for justice fueled her rage, and with it she slammed open the temple’s doors and stepped boldly onto a hallowed ground on which countless lives had been lost in only a matter of days. Not a hint of hesitation or fear lingered in all her mind as she made her way past the shambles of once great statues. The sword lay at the farthest end of the temple, its hilt pointing straight up towards the heavens, and its blade trapped firmly in stone. Kame scoffed at the sight. It seemed she and the sword were left in solitude, its dead-eyed guardians no where to be seen.
She made her way to the sword’s altar, her every step a defiant slam of her sandals to the earth below, a warning to any who doubted her conviction. As she reached her hand out to grip the sword’s hilt, however, a force knocked her from her feet and sent her tumbling to the ground, leaving her to lie with her elbows and knees pinning whomever had thrown her off balance. “Who do you think you are?!” she said, but her enraged tone faded to a growl as she beheld the girl she had trapped beneath her.
“Kame... you can’t draw that sword!” she said. It was the girl who had stood at the side of the aged man, who had held the sword of justice in her arms and stared at the world with the eyes of a corpse. “I’m begging you!”
“What are you talking about?” asked Kame, staring down her nose at the girl she had once dismissed as mad. Somehow her voice had convinced Kame of her humanity. “I won’t stand idly by while my people sacrifice themselves for the impossible! I’ll draw that sword, even if it drains my last ounce of strength! There’s no way I can fail!”
“That’s exactly right...” said the girl, and her voice was but a breath. “You won’t fail. I saw it from the moment I entered this village. You’re the only one this sword will accept as its master. You’re the only one whose sense of justice shames even God above.”
“If you knew, why did you allow the samurai to sacrifice themselves?!”
“Because... I didn’t want you to suffer!” Tears welled up in the girl’s eyes, and a choked little sob escaped her. “Death is a fairer fate than the path this sword offers. If you take the burden of all the world’s injustices upon your heart, your life will be endless and filled with agony... just as mine is....” Her tears spilled over in streams, soaking her face and trickling to the ground below, sobbing as gracelessly as Tsuru had. “P-please... I don’t... I don’t want you to throw your life away!”
The room was silent but for the wailing of the girl below. Kame found herself as speechless as she had been when she had cradled Tsuru in her arms. Heaviness weighing on her limbs and twisting her chest in guilt, she slowly got to her feet, leaving the girl below to lie on the ground alone. “You ask me to abide not only the death of my own people, but myself as well. To turn a blind eye to the endless suffering of an innocent girl such as yourself.” She turned her back on the sobbing girl, approaching the sword once more. “But how can I act so selfishly when the epitome of all the world’s injustice lies before me, tears spilling from her eyes? How can I leave you to suffer alone?”
The girl parted her lips to speak, but nothing escaped her but gasps for air. With a motion as swift as the cut of a blade, the sword slipped from its prison of stone and into Kame’s hands with a gleam that blinded her to what she thought to be heaven’s light. A weightless feeling overtook her body and left her levitating just inches above the floor, the sword of justice pointing itself to the sky of its own accord, the grievance of every injustice ever suffered by the innocent crashing down on the skin just above her heart, branding her with the symbol of infinity on her chest.
She crashed to the ground with eyes wide to the suffering of the world. The force with which her feet met the ground might as well have broken every bone in her body, but pain was beyond her immortal flesh, and she stepped down from the altar without a flinch in her stride.“Kame....” said the girl, bringing a hand to her face to wipe away dried tears. She limped to her feet and stared with awe at the light before her. “No... Justice....”
“Yes... that’s my name now.” A smile curled on her lips, and the look on her face was one of tranquility. It assured the girl before her that she was no longer alone. The sword dragged behind Justice as she made her way back to the temple’s doors with a serenity unknown to any mortal, elation in her heart as she prepared to look upon her village and announce that she had put an end to the evil that had plagued them and culminated in the sacrifice of their proud samurai.
But as she parted the doors and prepared to speak to the gathered villagers, her eyes met with horror, and the weight of justice in her heart impaled her with the force of a dozen swords. There was no life to be seen in all the village, only smoldering ruins and piles of ashes.
And as Justice fell to her knees and stared upon the wreckage of a fate she had longed so desperately to reverse, a single voice was heard among the ashes. It was the raspy voice of the young man who had revealed the sword of justice to a baffled crowd. “There’s no such thing as justice in our world.”