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Dusk Tome 1: Blades of Honor
Episode I: Patient Vengeance
A vacant, bleak road stretched on before him in a serpent-like coil, twisting and turning throughout the wide landscape that surrounded him. From what he could see there was not a soul for miles. Isami usually traveled alone so he was used to the lack of company. The setting sun flushed the sky with an opaque orange glow, floating beside him with its fading warmth. As the last rays of daylight died away behind the hills a sudden rush of cold darkness swept over the land, plunging it swiftly into the calm night. The air gradually filled with the symphony of nature's sounds as the crickets chirped and the owls hooted, the tranquil sounds echoing clearly through the brisk night air.
Isami continued to walk beside the road in the newborn light of the moon, quickening his pace so that he would reach the next checkpoint sooner. Where he would be able to eat and rest at an inn.
Checkpoints were small encampments built mainly for security purposes. They were places where tolls were paid and people could rest, but their primary function was to keep criminals and fugitives from escaping the region by providing stations at regular intervals along the major roads and providential borders.
Although it was not only the frigid night air and dismal darkness that Isami wanted to avoid, but he also did not want any confrontation with the tengu, an alleged race of aberrant creatures that haunted ' yet some claimed were protecting ' the forests and mountains, usually traveling in the obscurity of the night. The tengu were beings of half-human half-goblin features that roved the lands of Japan, committing either mischievous or deadly troubles. They would occasionally trick or fool humans with their clever wit, or sometimes would set people on fire just for the fun of it. Not all of the tengu were evil though; some would help monasteries with errands or chores, and sometimes give riches to the poor. The people that witnessed some of their appearances had each claimed to see them differently. Some say they were large and bulky with their skin depicting a deep burgundy, while others claimed them to be short and black toned creatures with long protruding noses. Despite such variations in description, they always had the same detail of their skin being festooned with dozens of piercings and tribal tattoos. Although no one really knew the exact reason why they tended to be so ill behaved and violent, all of them agreed that they were a risk to be avoided at any cost. Although Isami was an experienced samurai, he too was afraid of the likes of the tengu and other such bizarre creatures. Their potentially voracious and bloodthirsty behaviors, as well as other creatures of the night, could rip any grown man in two.
As he neared the fortified checkpoint Isami saw dimly glowing security lanterns that hung by the gate of the checkpoint, to him they were faint beacons of salvation from the gloomy night, their pale flickering radiance a sign of hospitable beckoning. A long stone wall that attached to a large corroded iron gate stretched far out into the distance ending at the foot of a small mountain. The other end rolled over countless hills and valleys, eventually fading into the thick shade of a large forest. Having withstood the harsh test of time for many decades, the grimy wall portrayed pits and fissures that spread like ruthless vines across the rock. Rust stains formed long trickles of auburn that densely encrusted the aged metal bolts of the gate ending in misshapen splotches, its coarse looking texture contrasting with the smooth rain-beaten stone. A small wooden sign in front of the entrance bore the title Kagoshima Station scrawled on it in sloppy black ink. It hung casually from a crudely fashioned stake, nailed and hung from a slim iron wire, its base firmly lodged in a small black patch of hard packed dirt. Approaching the gateway, he saw that two nearly identically dressed men stood guard on either side of it.
'Sorry sir but we are ordered to look out for a recently escaped prisoner so I am going to need to see your papers.' stated the man on the left. He was taller and clearly higher in rank than the one next to him. His face was harsh and rough looking, illustrating many years on the battlefield with its numerous scars. Most of them were probably from one of the many civil wars that had tainted the newfound Meiji Era of Japan. A faint melancholy vibe saturated his words; his face so tense and hardened with stern, one could crack a nut on his forehead with ease. The other guard was seemingly a new recruit because of his contrastingly anxious and frail appearance. A white sash was wrapped around his waist like a belt, which sometimes was usually given to novice combatants before they were put on post. Pulling out a small booklet from a leather pouch at his side Isami gave it to the guard as he examined it thoroughly, his eyes fervently scanning the pages. For a fleeting moment, Isami almost saw a faint look of fulfillment linger on his face. 'So'Isami Uzutoro, it says here that you fought in the Satsuma Rebellion on the side opposing the government.' He said in a gravelly voice that rumbled from deep within his throat. He heaved a sigh, turning it into an echoing laugh.
Isami looked at the man puzzled. 'What's so amusing?' he asked in an offended tone. The novice guard did not seem to find anything funny either.
'I fought in that war too, you know, trying to keep those traitorous samurai from trying to overthrow the government.' He paused to grip his sword that was currently sheathed. 'Why they thought that they could beat the Imperial army is beyond me, and personally I would despise you just because of that. But it also says here that you are from the Konjouken sword school.' Withdrawing his katana and chucking the booklet aside, the man snarled a frown and raised his voice in emotion. 'My son was murdered by a gang of Konjouken fighters that were robbing him of his money.' His eyes narrowed and stared down Isami with penetrating anger. Before allowing Isami to reply he stepped forward and swung his katana up into the air and then downwards at him. Sidestepping this futile attack Isami withdrew the blade that was slung across his back with centrifugal force, bringing it to a halt a small distance from the guard's neck.
'I was not one of your son's murderers, whoever they may be,' said Isami. The other guard startled and confused scampered back into the small courtyard behind the wall. The man attempted to attack Isami again but he only brought the blade closer to his neck.
'Even if you aren't, if I were to kill you I would at least be able to take vengeance on the school by spilling your blood,' said the man in a harsh tone. 'I have waited such a long time to find one of the Konjou-ken students, its been ten years you know,' his voice started to become heavy with sorrow. 'If I cannot avenge him now than I will never get another chance again.'
'I am truly sorry for your son's death, but I was not even a student of theirs until seven years ago.' Isami vacated his blade and held it loosely by his side. The man quickly stood up straight and stepped backwards. 'Don't fight me, you may end up like your son too, don't do this to yourself.' The guard resumed an offensive stance again by bringing his blade up for another attack, a small film of sweat forming on his forehead.
'That is why I am fighting you right now, Isami-san, I am aware of the consequences of whether I win or I die. I have waited in solemn patience for all these years, standing at this post waiting for the day to come that I would finally meet with one of the Konjouken.' The man's face portrayed a merge of undeniable fortitude and focus. As they stood there in the hushed darkness, a light drizzle of rain began to fall from a solitary cluster of gray in the sky, a sure indication of an impending rainstorm. With their swords poised upward shimmering in the rain, the falling of droplets flung in a splatter off the steel of the blades in a hollow, tinny patter. 'I am fully prepared to meet him again in the afterlife if necessary, I have waited too long.' As he said this a loud surge reverberated through the atmosphere followed by a sudden ominous torrent of rain. The rain falling down his cheeks might as well have been tears.
The determined man began to run at Isami with full speed, and slashed at him with masterful accuracy. Yet, despite such skill, at times the cold steel would meet only the murky air with a hissing whistle. However, when their blades did clash in the downpour in flashes of muted silver, sharp metallic clangs ricocheted throughout the valley with such gusto it nearly drowned out the heavy beating of the rain. As their razor sharp edges grinded against each other, every so often the dull flashes of gray would be exchanged for a salvo of brilliant silver and sparks of red, which would erupt from the blades.
Then, they suddenly they stopped, a brief chance to catch their breath as they watched each other from behind a deep gray veil of rain. The sound of approaching footsteps echoed with the profound splashing of shallow puddles that they landed in. It seemed the scared guard had alerted the others in his cowardly escape to the courtyard. The guard noticed them running towards them and chuckled mockingly.
'I don't want to fight you, please stop this damn f' ' Isami attempted to speak his mind but the man interrupted him in a roar.
'I told you I cannot live at peace knowing that his soul is at rest if I can't avenge him here and now, I don't care who your are but you are of the Konjouken therefore you must receive the retribution for his death.' Every word he spoke was laden with the truthfulness of a man that sported great honor and dignity, his pride in his son had been broken and so had decided his new vengeful emotions would not be. He stood strong, his brawny legs planted firmly on the ground of determination. Isami intensively examined him from the shade of clouds that drifted overhead; a sense of disdain began to build up within him, the disdain for the murderer of the boy not the man. For the man he felt a sardonic mix of pity and irritation, he understood his motives yet he could not allow his life to be taken in the process, this man was allowing his thoughts of vengeance to consume him entirely. In a final desperate attempt to kill him the guard drove his sword through the air with all his might. He let out a powerful war cry, driven by foolish emotions that blinded him of proper thought and reason. Missing Isami's heart by inches it glided past his ribs, barely grazing his shoulder; in defense, Isami slew a large gash on the man's sternum in a swift upward motion. In an instant, his chest became reddened with a crimson mix of rain and blood.
He collapsed to the ground into a kneeling position and spoke with an incongruous, stoic voice, 'I'm coming Yamato''
As he dropped down and hit the ground with a thud, laying on the dampened soil in silence, Isami's world was cast into ' for the briefest moment ' a realm of unnatural, deathly stillness. It was a feeling that Isami had never felt before, at least not for a long time. It was as though all were sucked out of the world by some unknown and long hidden presence, leaving only a small sense of uncertainty in its wake.
Numbness shivered him to the soul.
As Isami's mind came plummeting back down to earth with the sudden sigh of the man's misty last breath, it, along with his troubled soul, was wisped peacefully off into the stormy night carried away by an invisible gust. Isami crouched down and closed the open eyes of the man in respect for his death. Isami looked up from the ground and gazed upon the fast approaching crowd of guards.
Episode II: Iron Indigo
Isami was brought inside the checkpoint in order to explain what had happened. The other guard confirmed his explanation; and they let him go, as it was self-defense. Paying the toll and by cooperating, he set things straight with the law enforcement. He set off the next morning resuming his long task of journeying to the port of Kagoshima at the southern shoreline. Where he would set off to the Ryukyu Islands and return to his birthplace of Naha city on Okinawa Island.
As the security checkpoint receded to a dot in the distance, Isami walked patiently along side of the road softly whistling a joyful tune. However, despite his efforts, he could not help but to reflect on the events of the day before, I have never heard of such a horrible crime committed by one of the Konjouken. I feel bad for that poor man; he seemed to have been greatly affected by his son's death. He looked up into the sky and then quickly back down again almost expecting to see the man's lost soul drifting somewhere overhead. Who could they be? And Yamato'? Perhaps I could find out more back in Naha. As he continued to walk down the dusty road, he noticed a small structure no bigger than a man standing in the field. Before he even approached it, Isami knew it as something familiar. Such creations were in fact tributes to the gods, or shrines, places of worship for travelers. He decided that he would speak some prayers to help the distressed man's soul in its passage to the afterlife.
He stopped and knelt carefully on the sodden grass before the small shrine. Now that he was closer, he could see that it was dedicated to the god of the moon, Tsukuyomi. It surface vividly polished to a brilliant shining gloss, the lucid colors of black and purple shone fantastically, surprisingly unscathed by nature's wrath. Engraved in the center of a gold triangle pointing upwards was the etched picture of a peculiar looking creature. On its forehead stood two short conical horns, under it two beady red eyes. Large claws, a wild nest of hair and a draping beard made up its appearance. It had an odd yet humanoid look to it despite such alien features. Isami was much acquainted with the looks of the tengu and so was sure that the creature was something else entirely, much more menacing than the tengu could ever look. He assumed it was there in order to keep such a creature at bay because such superstitions were common.
Not a few moments after the Isami finished the prayers he heard the soft patter of footsteps rustle a few feet next to him from within a dense forest. Opening his eyes and looking around he saw nothing until his gaze met with the unmoving, menacing red eyes of something ghastly. Yet, just as quickly as he had seen it, it disappeared. He searched the area for quite some time but found no one around. Although this gave him some satisfaction and relieved him a little, he still felt that the wicked eyes continued to study him from somewhere behind the deceitful shadows. Although it had not immediately occurred to him, Isami realize that they had looked suspiciously similar to the ones depicted on the marble of the shrine. He continued along the path and after some time disregarded the incident all together.
Now that he was only a few miles from the port city of Kagoshima, Isami could see people that were farming in rice fields and that children played gleefully in the bright sun. It was about the time of year when food would be harvested, a motivation for their frantic work. They wanted to gather the crops before winter's bitter harshness would sweep over the land, preventing any further farming until the next spring. The harvest moon was a sign of great importance to the farmers, a warning of the following frost.
The city's intricate sandstone entrance could be seen now, towering gracefully over the pasture in stony salutation. At the apex of the pointed entryway was the proudly displayed title of the city in a trim bold font, Kagoshima. Past it were hundreds of buildings that made up the city in clusters. As Isami paced through the flagstone roads, the peaceful sight that had enveloped the exterior of the city began to transform into a chaotic scene of loud noises and fast movements. Streets were full with the bustling jungle of crowds surrounding the many fish markets and novelty stores that dotted the city.
The reason there were so many people was that new shipments of overseas wares and goods had recently arrived in the port, not a few hours before Isami had arrived. Kagoshima was the heart of foreign trade and industrialization for all of southern Japan. Its location on the shoreline of Kyushu Island was a central traffic point for both nomad and professional tradesman alike. People sold their wares at great profits because of the vast number of people that passed through it daily, especially during shipment times like this.
The marketplace in the center of the town was an overflowing source of bedlam, people pushed and shoved past each other in a hurry to finish their daily errands and get the best products before they were sold. Rows and rows of busy stalls cluttered the streets in packed lines, hectic merchants and traders trying to keep up with growing demands.
As Isami passed through the chaotic center of the city, he reached the quieter, residential district where narrowly packed buildings stood identically next to each other, their shingled roofs whitewashed from years of heavy storms. The sudden change from loud to quiet somewhat unsettled Isami with the uncomfortable feeling that he had abruptly transported to a whole other place. Only the distant hubbub of the markets and the lapping waves at the shore pierced the calm atmosphere of the outskirts. A small border-wall stood structured flanking the seashore where waves crashed noisily against various jagged protrusions of rock. He walked through a large opening in the middle of the wall, its brick archway a gritty scarlet tint. He headed for the harbor, just out a bit from the town's edge. It was a vast port housing hundreds of ships and fishing boats. Countless plumes of steam and smoke stirred up the air in inky trails. Bobbing masts and steel chimneys cluttered the sea so much the horizon was nearly blotted out by the heaving steel colossi they were jutting off.
As Isami continued to search the port he finely found his quarry, a large ferry docked at a large wooden pier welcomed him with the vivid colors of pasty white and vibrant blue. Most of its hull was positioned deep in the briny water of the ocean, ready to set sail. Isami advanced towards the ironclad ship, on its side were the crudely painted words Iron Indigo. That must be the ship, to Naha. An unusual name though, he thought to himself. Next to the metal giant was a small shack-like booth where a slender and pallid man stood. His aged, ashen skin sheltered from the intense sun by the shadows of the stall. On the crown of his head was a small patch of baldness that acted like an island amidst a wispy sea of white hair. The wrinkles around his eyes showed a lifetime of good humor and short tempers. And under his crinkled, bulb-like nose was a solitary yellow stained tooth protruding from behind his lower lip. He eyed Isami from behind a pair of tarnished spectacles.
'Where you headed for?' his voice reflected his appearance, frail and humble. 'It's ten ryo for Shikoku and twelve for Ryukyu,' he continued.
'I am traveling to Naha city in Ryukyu,' he paused to retrieve some gold coins from his pouch. 'Here.' He handed him over twelve gold coins, and was given a ticket stub in exchange, which would allow him on the boat. 'Thank you,' he said with a smile as he started for the ship. The elderly man blurted something out, this time in a bolder voice.
'I heard some of the tengu and oni have wandered to Ryukyu now too, I'd be careful.' Isami, still walking, turned around halfway just enough to see the man give an ill-fated shake of his head. 'Good luck on your journey, samurai, you will definitely need it from what I've heard. Regardless of that blade of steel on your back' Isami, being too focused on reaching Naha, ignored the strange man's ramblings as he boarded the ferry, its hefty bulk bounding over the forceful waves beneath it
Episode III: Infinite Waters
Looking out from over the guardrail, Isami saw the vast barrenness called the Yellow Sea as it rolled short waves out into the infinity of the distance. The rail he was leaning on was rusted in thin shapeless patches that spotted the otherwise brightly polished white paint that masked the iron underneath. Under it, however, it was dirtied with an unknown, greasy brown residue that had the consistency of thick crude oil. The ship seemed well cleaned and maintained despite such imperfections. A salty moist breeze would sometimes gust past him in a swift flurry. Every now and then, he would see a flock of birds or a school of fish but other than that, only his old companion the sun was visible after the sight of Kyushu had disappeared. It had been approximately ten hours since departure, which meant that he was almost there. With the new technological revolution of steam-powered machinery running the world, nearly everything that was done by hand or nature before only took a fraction of the time. That meant that such journeys between lands by sea took mere days or even hours rather than weeks.
A tall woman, perhaps in her early twenties, stood a short distance away staring at Isami's kimono. Looking away from the waters Isami saw the woman, realizing she was looking at the emblem on the chest of his robe he spoke out. 'It's the insignia of the Konjouken, of Ryukyu.' Being both startled and embarrassed that he had seen her staring; the woman looked away but after a brief moment glanced back at him. For a moment, she seemed surprised by his words.
'It's just that I was trying to remember what dojo I had seen that from, I thought I recognized it. I'm sorry never mind.' She bowed a little and then turned around to walk away but instead decided to say what she intended to. 'My brother, you see, was killed by some students of that dojo. I didn't want to ask you because I wasn't sure how you would react.' She turned around again and looked at him with worry. Isami was both amazed and ashamed of having met this woman.
Is she the daughter of that man? He looked down in disgrace remembering what he had done the previous day. If this is true than Yamato must be her brother. 'Tell me,' he said looking up hesitantly. 'Was your brother'Y-Yamato?' he said with a certain stutter at the last word. She let out a slight gasp as he said this; she nodded her head in agreement.
'How do you know, were you one of them?' she questioned with the slightest trace of sorrow. Her gaze now full focused on Isami's eyes.
'No, I was not but your father, his',' Isami paused for a moment, ''his dying words were about Yamato, I thought he must be your brother.' He stopped again waiting for her to say something, but she did not. 'I-I'm so sorry I did not want to but he attacked me, I had to protect myself.'
Isami thought she would cry but she didn't, she just shook her head in disappointment and looked out to the sea, 'I knew this day would come eventually, he kept telling me he would never leave that post until he met with a Konjouken swordsman and had exacted revenge for Yamato's death.' She walked towards a set of wooden chairs that lined the wall and sat down. 'I am not angry with you, he was a foolish man always doing foolish things like that. His death was his own fault, unfortunately. You were just defending yourself.' Taking a deep breath, she leaned back onto the chair.
Isami was a compassionate man that had always felt obligated to do the right thing, and with this quality in mind, he spoke. 'The Konjouken dojo is where I am traveling now, actually. I may be able to find out who your brother's murderers were, if you would except my apology for'for what happened to your father, that is.' The woman let the faintest smile break through, despite her efforts to suppress it. 'I must if I am to reconcile for his unnecessary death.'
'Of course, it would mean so much to both me and him if you could look into it, after all you do belong to the school.' She stood up and waited for a reply.
'I will do my best once I get there.' He strode up to where she was sitting, 'I am Isami Uzutoro, and your name?'
'Sakura Sasaki, thank you Isami-sama,' she said. Just then, a sailor came running from the bow of the ship shouting out, his voice hysterical.
'A storm's approaching everyone get inside!' He waved his hands in the air frantically, ringing a bell that hung from the mast. The entire crew of the ship barreled out onto the deck prepping it for the furious storm to come. Only now did Isami and the woman notice the menacing turbulence of clouds rumbling in the distance, flashing with threatening colors of white and yellow. They ran inside the cabin along with the other passengers on order of one of the crew. They huddled inside where baggage and other items were stored. Isami clung to a broad wooden beam that stood in the middle of the room, its rough grain breaking off small splinters into his skin as his hands shifted, grazing it roughly. He braced himself against the large swells of water that threw the ship about. One woman in the corner of the compartment screamed as a sudden, huge crash jerked the ship with incredible force. The storm had approached must faster than the crew had even anticipated. Groups of men scrambled about the ship in a frenzied confusion, trying to make sure the ship endured the storm until it passed. The next thud against the ship was so forceful it seemed as though lighting had struck it. A sailor burst through the door, soaked to the bone in seawater and rain, wading in knee high water.
'We've hit some rocks and the ship's taking on water! We're sinking, abandon ship!' he cried as a torrent of water flooded the cabin almost instantly. What on earth is happening, how could the storm have approached so quickly, and in such force? The passengers poured out onto the deck even faster then the water that was filling the cabin.
The air outside was so thick with downpour one would scarcely be able to tell the difference from being in a body of water. The vicious storm lashed at his face blinding him with cold stings and unmerciful winds that nearly swept him off his feet. The ferocious storm gave birth to a gigantic wave that towered over the ship like a colossal of the sea, foaming at the mouth with the desire for the destruction of the ship. As it fell like a tree upon the ferry, Isami plunged into the deep before the ship splintered apart. His body was engulfed in the heaving darkness of the chaotic sea; the brackish water filled his nose and mouth, which stung worse than the battering of the rain before. He flailed about trying to reach the surface, trying to escape Susano's wrath, the god of storms. At last, after many desperate attempts, Isami broke the surface and emerged from the watery prison, back into the violent storm above. Dazzling streaks of lightning broke out across the sky like shattered glass, as deafening roars of thunder collided with the thrashing sounds of the sea. He desperately searched for something to hold onto. A large broken off section of the ship floated towards him, he bounded for it and clung on.
Although the chaos and confusion were more prevalent than the sounds and sights of the brutal storm, and a thick partition of fog blocked his view, Isami could barely make out the bobbing heads of many, scattered about the rippling sea. Despite frantic attempts to stay awake, he fell unconscious, still clinging to the floating wood.
Opening his eyes, Isami saw only brown, grainy darkness and felt the rough abrasion of something coarse. Lifting his head wearily, he saw that he had been face down on a sandy beach of some sort. He stood up slowly and brushed off the sand and brine that thickly caked his face and hands. Thirst parched his throat and salt withered his skin. A throbbing pain shot through his head accompanied by a blurred vision that dazed him and gnawing hunger pangs that cramped his stomach. After a short while he recuperated from the delirium and washed off the debris and sea salt that covered him. He wondered where the others had been marooned, was it this island? The next? Most of them were most likely dead by now though. The sun was just a hands-width above the horizon, meaning that it was roughly an hour until dusk.
Isami looked around at the large island he had beached, its coast spanned many miles into the distance in both directions. Tall palm trees that extended over the beach brought back nostalgic memories in Isami. He remembered how he would scale them with his friends playing in the trees for hours on end, and build sculptures from the tan sand of the Ryukyu beaches. However, the sand of this beach was not tan at all but a darker, russet color. Isami, with his hopes now receding, began to doubt if he was in the Pacific at all.
Episode IV: Fallen Soul
A dusty trail weaved through the tropical forest with unnerving length. Malformed rays of light peered through the foliage above, illuminating his path with shades of tinted yellows and browns. Although there was still daylight out, it seemed as though night had come early because of the lack of light that darkened the area in a veil of gray dimness. As Isami walked through the gloomy forest, he shouted out repeatedly, yet it seemed in vain when it echoed hopelessly without reply. Puddles on the ground were a subtle reminder of the vicious storm that had brewed the day before; scattered light shimmered in reflection on their grimy surfaces. With the approaching nighttime looming just over the horizon Isami, like before, hastily tried to find shelter should the night concoct more troubles than just storms or frigid weather.
A hundred or more paces down the trail Isami could see the flickering flames of a fire dance around the forest in a whirling ballet of orange and red. As Isami got closer, he could see that it burned at the center of a small, solitary clearing, and could begin hear the hot crackle and hiss of combustion that accompanied the alluring colors. Blocking a portion of the sparkling light of the fire was the distinct silhouette of something large and burly with a broad head and long curtains of matted black hair. Before Isami was even able to see the being's face he knew it the daitengu of the forest, a more wise and helpful creature than a regular tengu would ever be. He approached the fire with the utmost caution and passivity, not wanting to anger it. The creature turned around revealing its abnormal features of a merge between human, goblin and bird.
Before Isami had left to travel to Ryukyu, he had been with a yamabushi named Yamamoto, a warrior-priest that worshipped the tengu and their unlimited wisdom. He had told Isami all about them, how they lived, ate and behaved. Although despite all this learning of the tengu he had never seen one before except in the ink paintings on the walls of Yamamoto's monastery. The sight of the bizarre being somewhat frightened him, but he remained calm.
'Come sit down by my fire, human, the nights here can be quite unforgiving you know,' it said abruptly with a voice so deep and strident it nearly put out the fire with its rumbling vibrations. It turned back to the fire and stoked it with more wood that it snatched from a pile next to it. Isami still stood there unsure of the being's intentions. 'Well?' it said again, 'Don't worry I am not going to eat you, I have had quite enough food already. You can have some if your hungry,' it said pointing with long bony fingers to the meat above the flames. Isami, with his actions still slow with caution, sat down across from the daitengu onto a dry log that was seated a few feet from the fire, a half-eaten boar roasted above it on a wooden stake. He hesitantly took a portion of the meat but than quickly downed it ravenously. Now that the blazing red fire illuminated the area more clearly from the fresh timber, Isami could make out its deviant qualities more clearly.
Murky blue eyes stared back at him like two infinite oceans void of emotion. The trembling fire that reflected in them caused a radiating turbulence to stir up in the oceanic eyes. Skin pale and brown formed around the varying features of its body and face. A couple of metal studs pierced one of its bristled brows, it seemed to represent a sign of authority or power. A long nose grew out from the center of the ghoulish face; many assume they were once beaks. In addition to this was the avian quality of webbed supple wings that stretched between its arms and legs like a bat. Scattered veins spread like roots across the translucent skin of the wings, pumping in subtle violet pulsations. Although its presence was unsettling, Isami felt a small sense of humbleness and security seeping from the creature's words.
Legend says that the tengu were originally creatures of the wind and air, not the mountains and forest as they have become. This is where their name originated, tengu meaning 'heavenly dog'. A creature said to have been born from the vastness of space in the form of a meteor shooting across the skies. The 'heavens' is what they called it.
It spoke out again startling Isami from his examination. 'You seem lost,' It grumbled. 'I have not seen the likes of you anywhere around here, and I have lived longer than you could ever imagine. I have not even seen a samurai before either, people do not travel often to this bleak, desolate forest.' It stretched its lengthy limbs, slightly cramped from discomfort. Shadows around the forest began to lengthen and grow thicker with obscurity, the warm fire kept it and the fierce cold at bay.
'That'would make two of us,' said Isami slowly and with an impartial hesitation, a brief moment when he chewed the meat. For a moment, he forgot about it being a creature and felt as though he was speaking to a human. 'I have never seen a tengu before either, I have only heard of your kind from a friend of mine. Yamamoto is his name, He's a yamabushi of the mountains, perhaps you have heard of him?' he asked certain that this creature must know of the yamabushi, the warrior-priests that worshipped the tengu themselves. It seemed as though it looked at him with a stoic expression yet the confusion of light and darkness ' with the darkness overpowering the light as the wood burned away ' that warped across its face shrouded its features, making it difficult for Isami to tell.
'No,' it said throwing another cluster of firewood into the flames, the heat was a pleasant relief from the cold grip of the night. It helped dry his drenched cloths, if only a little bit. 'No, I have not heard of him, although I do know about the yamabushi. But never mind that, why are you here in this forest so late at night, or even at all?' it questioned leaning forward with eagerness to hear his explanation.
'I-I don't remember exactly I am still a bit dazed.' He looked down, deep into the fire trying to recall how exactly he had arrived at the island. Then like the wave that had broken the ship, it came crashing down on him in an instant. His mind flooded with the images of dazzling lightning and pounding rain. 'I was on a ship to Naha city.' Isami said, his voice distraught by the thought of all the passengers that must have perished at the sea's merciless stifles. 'A storm came and rose the sea to break the ship to pieces, a ferocious wave had crushed the hull. I awoke stranded at the beach a mile or two from here, I don't even know where I am.' Isami looked back to the daitengu who was now standing up towering seven or eight feet in the air, its black tangled hair merging with the whirling darkness around him. It seemed to have gotten up to stretch its cramped muscles further. He stood up as well meeting its gaze with drowsy eyes.
'Why don't you sleep here by the fire tonight, I will figure out something for you tomorrow morning. If you chose to stay, that is.' It suggested passively, tilting its head in anticipation.
Isami was still uncertain if its true nature was a helpful, benevolent one or an evil one; Yamamoto said they could almost never be told apart until the decisive moment. Yet Isami could not help but agree with the being's proposition, the exhaustion was too much for any human to tolerate. Sitting down onto the grainy soil, but this time closer to the fire, Isami lied down next to its radiating heat and closed his eyes as the creature sat back down and strengthened the flames with more fuel. His last thought before falling asleep was that he hoped he had made the right choice.
Although it was a bright and invigorating morning, the vibrant sun was not what awoke Isami but instead it was the lingering potent aroma of burnt ash and doused embers that had wafted from the fire pit. It floated through his nose, awaking him with a subtle stinging. Opening his eyes, he was nearly blinded with the sudden rupture of sunlight that filled his vision. Turning away from the glaring inferno of the sun, he surveyed the area with uncertain eyes, still wondering if he had made the right decision. Standing up with a rustle, he shook the dirt off himself, embracing the sunrise with a satisfied yawn. The honeyed singing of morning birds and pure clarity of the morning's peaceful qualities helped to release some of the stressful tension Isami was feeling inside, giving him the brief feeling of rapture despite the worries that plagued him. The air was thick with the familiar fragrances of damp trees sodden with the dew of early dawn, its heavy presence snuffed out the low drifting scents of the charred cavity that was once a blazing fire.
Isami checked to make sure his swords still clung to his back, he sighed in relief when he felt his hand pass over the heavy steel handles of the weapons. If his swords had been lost at sea or the creature had stolen them than he would have felt quite lost without them. They were given to him by his teacher, Fujimaru, as a gift for passing the school as the top student. He simply wanted to return to his true family at the Konjouken dojo where he had spent so much of his life. It was only three years ago, that day, yet to him it felt like decades; his patience was beginning to wear thin to a film-like width. In abrupt call back to the present, the daitengu came striding out noisily from the woods greeting him with a hearty grin.
'I see you're awake now.' It commented as it came to a halt at the edge of the clearing, dropping a load of wood onto the ground where piles more of it rested. Because the fire's bright red light had drowned out the other colors with its vividness the previous night, Isami hadn't been able to see the specific color of it's now visible dark tan-like skin which now was clearly visible. 'I have thought of a way to help you get to Okinawa if you are in such a hurry,' It came down from the edge and stopped a few feet from Isami, stretching out its lengthy wings with sudden recoil. They wavered in the morning breeze with a faint ripple. 'I can fly you there with these wings, you could hold onto my back as we traveled. It would only be a quarter day's trip to get there, especially in this weather,' it said thrusting its long skeletal thumb upwards. Isami looked at it puzzled and bewildered. Why would it be helping me like this, I still don't understand this creature, I believe I remember Yamamoto talking about them being once human... Ah, I can't recall what he had said, that storm knocked so much out of me. Is it truly trying to be kind? Or are its intentions more sinful than they appear?
'Why are you trying to help me? I don't understand.' Isami shook his head in disbelief. 'I thought most of you tengu were mischievous creatures of trickery and war, not kindness. Although I have heard of the daitengu being the responsible ones, I still just can't seem to recognize the reasons why.'
'It's because I have an obligation to uphold the honor and reputation of the tengu. Over time now we have been considered demons of a sort, yet we are not. However it is not just that'' It collapsed its wings to its side and folded them securely behind its back. ''It is the Oni that are the true demons of this world, not us. I too was a human once, but I had lived a corrupted life and now I must pay for it by living in between heaven and hell as the eternal protector of this forest.' As Isami peered deeply into the creatures face, he could almost see a human soul behind its monstrous qualities. Isami could tell it was truthful, despite its words being so unexpected for him.
After a long talk with the daitengu, Isami accepted its'his proposition to help and a few minutes later, they were ready to leave.
The air that high up was both thin and brisk, it roared in his ears as it rushed past with an endless persistence and with such fervor it nearly cast him off into the sky. Into the misty clouds of a perpetuate blue barrenness. As he clung to the beast's back, his hands wrapped around hiss thickly fur, he could feel his ironically low-tempo heartbeat thump within a barrel-like chest. For most of the time his lengthy wings would just glide through the air like a sharp knife, cutting an invisible path through the rushing winds, although on occasion giving an effortless flap to keep aloft.
The creature didn't say much; if he did then it was drowned out my the winds' endless howling.
Episode V: Roots of Corruption
-chan ' Honorific, usually refers to a small child, but can be a form of childlike affection between adults.
-dono ' Honorific, more respectful than -sama, along the lines of 'Milord So-and-So', it shows utmost respect.
-sama ' Honorific, more respectful than -san, it shows moderate respect.
-san ' Honorific, translation would be Mr. or Mrs., used much more extensively in Japanese than English, it shows some respect or acknowledgment (note: can be used to address enemies).
Sensei ' Teacher or master, translation is 'one-who-comes-before'.
Kimono ' A traditional Japanese robe worn by commoners and aristocrats alike, usually made from silk.
Ryo ' Type of Japanese currency, usually referring to an elliptical flat gold coin.
Seinan War (Satsuma Rebellion) ' A war that started in 1877 in Japan, it was an uprising of the samurai against the new reformed Meji government. The samurai of the people lost against the government's army despite being much larger in number. A sword-ban act was instated a little while after.
Dojo ' Martial arts training hall.
Edo ' Was renamed 'Tokyo' (east capital) after the Meiji restoration.
Honshu ' Japan's mainland.
Ezochi ' A large Japanese island bordering the north of Honshu, today it is known as Hokkaido.
Kyushu ' A large (south-western) Japanese island adjacent to Honshu (it's where the story starts).
Ryukyu Islands ' A series of small islands parallel to China's coastline but perpendicular to Japan, it is territory of Japan.
Shikoku ' A medium-size (southern) Japanese island adjacent to Honshu and Kyushu.
Yellow Sea ' The area of water in between Japan, China and the Ryukyu Islands. It is part of the Pacific Ocean.
Tengu ' A race of dog/human-like manifestations that vary extensively in appearance and personalities. Some can fly with kite-like wings while others cannot. Though their appearance differ from each individual, they always have the same mischievous and sometimes violent behavior but with varying degrees of severity and frequency. The daitengu are 'great tengu', these tengu usually are much kinder and wiser than the lesser tengu, which are typically the malevolent ones, the great protectors of forests and mountains.
Oni ' A race of demons that are always evil and violent, much more devilish than the lesser tengu.
Samurai ' The traditional warrior of Japan, a class highly ranked in the social order, although they do not really have much more privileges than those below them. They follow the Bushido code. Armor is usually not worn in order to increase speed; despite stereotypes, armor is typically only given to samurai in the military.
Yamabushi ' A warrior-priest that usually dwells in the mountains of Japan in an attempt to reach high level of asceticism, or simplicity/humbleness. This is done because they believe that it allows the practitioner to acquire spiritual, mystical, or supernatural powers gained through this ascetic lifestyle. They follow the path of shugendo, a religion heavily emphasized on asceticism and feats of endurance, which is a mix of Buddhist and Shinto beliefs. This, along with the help of a daitengu, is what gives Yamamoto his extraordinary endurance and stamina. The yamabushi are known to worship the tengu because of their mountain dwelling ways and vast amount of knowledge and wisdom.
Battojutsu ' A form of sword jutsu that focuses on the withdrawing of the blade and quick one-handed strikes.
Bushido ' Code of the samurai, taken very seriously. To them honor is more important than life.
Gohonhigo Yumi ' A Japanese bamboo long bow.
Katana ' A slender and long single edged sword made from hardened steel, very sharp. It is the principal weapon of Japanese warriors (a.k.a. 'Nihon-to', 'Sword-[of]-Japan').
Kama ' A war sickle with a medium-sized handle.
Kyujutsu ' 'Art of the bow', the art of wielding the yumi or 'bow'
Konjouken ' A form of sword jutsu meaning 'spirit-(of the)-sword', a fictional art.
-jutsu ' Japanese for 'art' or 'science', usually refers to fighting styles.
Nagamaki ' A weapon similar to the katana but it has a much longer handle and shorter blade, a spear-like sword.
Naginata ' A long pole weapon with a long semi-curved blade, invented and used extensively by the yamabushi.
Naginatajutsu ' The art of wielding the Naginata, an actual art.
Nodachi ' A sword identical to the katana but a longer handle and blade, requires great skill and strength to wield effectively (a.k.a. 'Daikatana', 'Great-Sword')
Taijutsu ' Traditional and powerful Japanese barehanded combat based on strikes and kicks, an actual art.
Suntetsu ' A small blade concealed on one's wrist, used for stealthy or quiet kills.
Touken-ryu ' A sword jutsu that focuses on violent sweeps and slashes, means 'cold steel-dragon', a fictional art.
Wakizashi ' The secondary weapon of the samurai. It is smaller in length than the katana; also know as the 'honor blade'.