Plume

Stuff i think about when i think about stuff.

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1. Introduction

 

Era of Emperor Ono Sol Tempo

 

Year 560

 

In a small forest clearing a group of bandits sits cross legged around a camp fire. Each nursing either a cup of Saki or their swords and daggers. They laugh, shout and pour all of the unpleasantness from their brains onto each other. They pronounce each word with the smack of the lips a spray of spittle. The head of the group, the man sat on a rock over looking them, the man who’s picture is around the cities of the country of Medie. He has a long beard and biceps that seem to swell from the flickering light licking at his form. A scar sweeping across his nose, cheek to cheek, grins out.

 

“Tonight.” He says. “Tonight. We all go to sleep bandits. We go to sleep outlaws. We go to sleep with no money and no home. Tomorrow. When we take the village to the east. Tomorrow, we will have our own world. Our own rules. No longer will we be outlaws.” This is met with cheers which he promptly silences with a wave of his hand. “We will be quick. Kill them men. Raise the children as the next generation of bandits. And the women. Well, i have no need to tell you that”. At the moment he said this, a young girl in the town is sleeping, as he stresses the word ‘that’ a shiver runs down her spine, like the edge of a sword running lightly down it.

 

A hand goes up. The leader looks to the man. He is the slowest of the group. He was picked up a few towns back after being exiled. He wasn’t a bad sort, he just didn’t know his own strength. He had no name, so they called him Muscle.

 

“Sir. Will they have animals?” Muscle has a fixation on animals. He loved them. However he wasn’t able to hug them without crushing their bodies in his powerful arms. He doesn’t use a sword. No one trusts him with one.

 

The leader smiles. “Yes. And if not then i shall get some for you, a reward, for all of your hard work.” He says this in a soothing voice. As much as he sees Muscle as a subordinate, no one doubts that he could kill half them men here.

 

They go one speaking. Laughing. Drinking. Some of them play fight, some fight for real. But it never carries onto the next day. Or, should i say, it wouldn’t carry on to the next day. Hey would never get the chance.

 

The forest they are camping in has been said to hold a spirit. A vengeful spirit. Anyone who has seen it says its like a dragon, a dragon that breathes slashes of a blade, and has unimaginable speed. It snarls like a beast. The dragon has only been in the forest for three weeks. No one is sure why or how. All they know now is that from time to time you find dismembered criminals and bandits. Sometimes their bodies are in trees, birds nesting in their rib cages, sometimes they are intact with nothing but a small cut just above their eye being the cause of death. All that is seen is a brief flash. Sometimes guards are sent in to look for the beast. No such thing is found. Some people say it is a person. The thing they call the dragon is neither of these things.

 

If the leader thought he heard a small tapping, he would have been correct. A stooped figure, looking like an old man, cloaked and hooded, is limping his way to the clearing. He drags on foot and if you looked close, with a keen eye, you would see that it is curved in on itself, it is calloused and seems to be broken, if it was no sign of pain is ever shown. He seems to be leaning heavily on a walking stick. A Nodachi is the real name for it. A samurai sword, not a rare thing to see, but to be used in such a way, by such an odd stranger.

 

When the figure reaches the clearing they stare. The bandits are unsure of how to proceed. They don’t know how they should respond, they begin to laugh. The leader gets up from his seat. He approaches the old man.

 

“My my look what we have here.” The man stops. “What are you up to, you shouldn’t be round here old timer, we are all very dangerous people.” They all laugh. The man doesn’t stir. Their leader draws his sword and lets it sparkle in the fire light. “Run, or, limp away not old man. Save me the trouble of bloodying my sword.”

 

The man looks up. He reveals a face that is by all accounts beautiful. He is a young man. Not looking a day over the age of eighteen, but his hands are withered and aged. The hands are of a man in his late forties. The eyes of something far more ancient. The lips pressed together or something holding back a ferocious bite. The hands once resting on the sword are now gripping it. His thumb lifts the blade slightly from the scabbard revealing a small slither of almost liquid metal. Scratched into the blade is the signature of a lotus flower with a human heart in its bud. It is the insignia of a sword master who is long dead, forgotten.

 

“Ah, a young man. Looking to join us? We don’t take new comers-“ No one saw it. It was like two pictures. Before, they both stand there. The second the young man has his sword out and is holding it out stretched to his left. The leader laughs. A second later his guts spill out onto the floor. Hitting the bare feet of the young man who turns to all of them.

 

He holds the sword in one hand, and the scabbard in the other. He is leaning to one side. His brown eyes wide. Blood flecked on his face. He holds both arms out, like wings. He placed on foot in front of the other. A perfect stance. He is waiting for someone to get up, to attack. His eyes dare them.

 

Muscles makes the mistake of getting up. He is angry. Even he knows that the leader is dead. He runs at the young man. He sends a fist towards the young man’s face and with an effortless movement the stance becomes an attack, the scabbard pointing forward knocking in muscles teeth but not stopping there, the force of the struck hitting the back of his throat, then his spine, smashing the bone into shards. He dies instantly. The young man wrenches the scabbard out of his mouth.

 

What follows is a horrific massacre. Bandits running, all trying to land a hit o the young man. Not a single slither of steel hitting his body. His own sword sending sparks with each parry and strike. Gashes and welds, blunt trauma and impalement. In three days when the bodies are found no one will be recognised amongst the lumps of viscera.

 

He moves like a dancer. Each movement is purposeful. Not a wasted twitch of the arm. No insecurities. He doesn’t look around. He looks ahead. His grace is that of water in a brook, each cut sent his way he just runs past, he flows around the battle field, his sword swooping, sometimes around his enemies, sometimes parrying, sometimes cutting away. Men loose legs and arms as a result of one fluid movement.

 

A man with a hatchet tried to sneak upon the young man from behind while he dispatches two other men. The young man turns on the disfigured foot like a dancer would, his sword grazes just close enough to the man’s face to slice his eyes, blinding him. With his other hand the young dragon sends the scabbard into the bandits skull. The way he duels with both parts of the sword is a rarely seen technique. It is old, and out of fashion. People prefer to duel wield, people find very little use for blunt instruments nowadays. Not when you can cut away at someone.

 

Three bandits each wielding swords run at him. Each ready to stab. Each ready to take revenge for their fallen brothers. The young dragon ducks down low to the floor, stretching his legs far and sends the scabbard at the central bandits leg, he snaps it sending him to the floor. His feet off the floor, his form is perfect. Then springing up with a slice of his sword he brings the heads from the remaining two bandits heads. A shower of petal shaped spurts of blood rains down on him.

 

The survivor, a young man, younger even than the face of the dragon has given up. He has no sword. No defence. He is knelt down. Surrendered. The Dragon approaches. He speaks.

 

“You will not fight?” A gravelly voice asks. The lone bandit shakes his head. Is entire body shivering. “Then you will go.” The dragon says. “And tell of this. Tell the emperor. Tell him to send his best, to send his hand to come and fetch me. Tell him that if not, i will come to them, and destroy everything they have.” The words are frightening. In the position he is in, the bandit doesn’t doubt the ability of this fighter. After watching the graceful display he believes the dragon can do anything. “But i cannot leave you unscathed. No one will believe that this happened unless you bear my mark.”

 

The mark of the dragon is a burn.

The mark of the dragon is seen on at least one of his victims.

The mark of the dragon is more frightening than any death.

 

He puts his sword out. The tip finding the flame of the campfire. It glows red, as this happens the seconds drain. He dragon places his good foot on the chest of the small bandit, he balances on the bad on, inverted. He doesn’t shake. He is expressionless. He carves the features of a dragon into the small bandits face. Eyes, nose, mouth teeth. The screams and shaking don’t make the drawing any less intricate. The heat cauterizes the wound. The mark of the dragon isn’t about bleeding. It isn’t about hate. It is a message. A signature. It is something that only the emperors hand, the leader of the samurai guard, will understand. The boy runs to the village. His instructions simple. Spread the message of the dragon.

 

The man, the dragon, the beast. He is none of these things. He is broken. He looks around himself. Blood dripping from him. He kneels down and sheaths his sword. He seems to pray. For maybe ten minutes. Then he gets back up he walks away. The darkness of the forest being his cover. He waits for his next prey. He waits until he gets his desire.

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