Here’s chapter 15 of Samurai NOT.
Hope you like it.
Samurai NOT 15
“Faster. Tip the sword a little more,” Tadayoshi spoke in an emotionless voice. “Not that much. Faster.”
Ei had lost count of how many times she had heard those same instructions. She took a deep breath to contain her rage and regain her focus before raising the wooden sword again. Visualizing Tadayoshi with his annoying smug before her eyes, the girl swung her weapon to take out her frustration.
The move was simple. Raise the sword above the head with the blade side tilt down, redirect the blow and attack right away. Or at least Ei thought it was simple, but she hadn’t received any other comment besides ‘faster’ and ‘tip the sword a little more’ ever since she started.
Am I really not doing it right or is he just messing with me? She asked herself, tightening her grip on the handle. No, he’s not doing that. The girl believed her master wouldn’t fool around with her training. With a deep sigh, she let go her frustration and raised the sword again.
Ei repeated the move over and over. Until the wooden sword weight as much as a real one for her tired arms. When the bokken was too heavy for her to lift again, she brought it down and used it to support herself.
“Faster,” Tadayoshi repeated in the same emotionless voice.
Ei held her breath and bit her lips to control her rage. But when she turned and glared his back, she couldn’t contain anymore. “You’re not even looking!”
Tadayoshi was belly deep in the river, holding a wooden sword sideways, ready to draw from an invisible sheath. He barely seemed to breathe as he stared the water, completely still. He’s focused, Ei realized, watching him in silence. It almost seems like he’s part of the river.
Without warning, the swordsman slashed at the water, the sword moving so fast the girl barely saw the blur. A fish flew and fell on the ground, struggling for a moment until it stopped breathing. Tadayoshi didn’t even glance at the animal; he was already back to the same position, ready to draw again. After attacking the water three more times, he walked back to the riverbank.
“What are you doing?” Ei screamed and turned around when Tadayoshi came out of the water naked. I’ve never seen a naked man before, she thought, her face red. “Put on some clothes!”
“My bad,” Tadayoshi said, chuckling. “I’m dressed, so you can turn around. Now come here help me with these.”
Ei placed the wooden sword on her waist and turned slowly, checking if he was dressed. Her cheeks were still burning while she helped Tadayoshi bring the fishes near the fire he had made her set up before the training.
To Ei’s relief, Tadayoshi washed and tied his clothes on his sword and placed them near the fire to dry faster. Thank the goodness he did that. A few more days and the smell would be unbearable even for us.
The girl picked up four twigs strong enough she hadn’t used to feed the fire and skewered the fishes. She handed their food to Tadayoshi and he placed it carefully near the fire. In little time, the smell of roasting meat filled the air, and it made the girl’s stomach growl.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m hungry too. But we’re training until it’s ready.” Tadayoshi stood up, the wooden sword already in his hands
Ignoring her hunger, Ei cleaned the dirt from her clothes and stood up. She drew and readied herself with her sword before her. “Where did you get these swords, anyway?” she did the same question she had made earlier.
Ei felt much better when she woke. She didn’t remember her dream, but knew whatever it was, it made her feel better. With her determination brimming, she got out of bed ready to leave her weak and crying self behind. But when she found herself alone in their bedroom, she felt her enthusiasm evaporating.
Tadayoshi’s bed was empty except for a note written on a ripped piece of clothes. Ei was still learning how to read, and even though she had trouble understanding what he had written, she felt angry. City. Leave. River. Go. Despite the few words, she could feel him making fun of her and swore she would never tell him that she had to confirm what was written with someone else.
Ei left the city gates and headed to the river in a straight line. After washing her face, she looked around, but Tadayoshi wasn’t anywhere around. She waited, but after a few moments, she couldn’t stand still anymore and decided to train on her own. After warming up her body a bit, she closed her eyes.
First, she imagined a sword in her hands, her fingers tightly grasping the bamboo handle. She positioned the invisible weapon before her and then visualized the only movement she knew, however basic it was. After remembering all of Tadayoshi’s correction, Ei swung her arms. Even without a sword, this is tiresome, she thought, but didn’t stop to rest until she was out of breath.
With her arms tired and her breathing fast, Ei sat on the ground and watched the stream. With surprise, she followed the waters that went beyond as far as her eyes saw. So vast… The girl hugged herself before she realized. I’ve never… I’ve been surrounded by trees my whole life… But now I’m… free… Free to become strong and go anywhere… It was a strange sensation, but she didn’t dislike it. That’s kinda scary though… The opposite of everything I know… She bit her lips, but then a thin smile crossed her face. And this is something I chose myself.
The river was calm and its water so clear she could see the fish underneath. She hit the surface with her hand and the animals swam away right away. Smiling, she let loose her hair, feeling the pleasant breeze. Out of impulse, she took her sandals, pulled the hem of her clothes and dipped her legs in the river, scraping her toes on the bottom. On that hot summer day, the cool water was welcome.
Enjoying things like this… it doesn’t feel like I walked into the way of the sword, she thought, closing her eyes. The images still tormented her, but she didn’t wince this time. She forced herself to relief everything. Now I can face it without the urge to vomit… Tadayoshi did that because he had to. He’s not like those bandits, she said to herself.
Some fish nibbled on her feet and she chuckled. It tickles. Ei looked around. There was no sign of Tadayoshi nor anyone else. I’m completely alone right now. She looked around one more time. The fishes went away when she pulled her feet and undressed. Placing the clothes near the sandals, she entered the river.
It wasn’t as deep as it seemed; her feet touched the bottom with no problem. The girl dipped her head, drinking a little. The moment the water went down her throat, she realized how thirsty she was, and drank until she was satisfied. She raised her head and took a deep breath, enjoying the cold breeze.
The fishes swam around her, running away whenever she moved. She stayed still until the animals were close enough and tried to catch with her hands, but they were too fast. Damn it… it’s always like this, the girl thought and then laughed. Ever since I remember, I tried to do this, but to this day, I haven’t caught any.
Smiling and still trying to catch a fish, Ei moved away from the riverside. When her toes were barely touching the bottom, she took deep breaths and pulled her legs a bit. The stream started dragging her. Her breathing became rapid and she swam back until she could feel the ground with her feet. I know how to swim, but a river is too different from the creek where I learned.
With her breathing back to normal, Ei ran a hand at the bottom and picked up a few small rocks. She threw the biggest with all with all her strength. It bounced twice before sinking, but the others did neither. Instead, the stream dragged it and Ei watched until it disappeared from her sight.
Where does a river end? She had never given much thought about where the waters went, but she wondered now. Where the stream would bring me if I pull my legs and just let it drag me? Ei pulled one leg, barely grasping the bottom with the other foot. I think mom told me once. It ends at the ocean, a river so big there’s no end and the water tastes like salt. She squinted her eyes, trying to see beyond. Maybe someday I’ll see for myself this so-called ocean.
Ei closed her eyes and floated, waving her arms slowly to fight against the stream. This feels nice… While the warm water helped and healed her wounds, the cold water washed away her worries.
“I didn’t think you could swim,” a familiar voice spoke.
Even though Ei knew that voice belonged to Tadayoshi, she turned around right away. The swordsman stood near her clothes. He panted and sweated a little, and held a green kimono wrapped around something long. The girl swam back to the bank, but didn’t get out of the river. She hugged herself and kept half her face sunken, her body warming up despite the cold water.
It took a moment, but Tadayoshi finally saw her clothes. “Sorry for my rudeness,” he said in his joking tone. “If it’s not too much trouble, please wear this.”
The bundle in his hand became thinner when he unwrapped the clothes. He placed it on the ground, picked Ei’s and walked away.
Hesitating, she got near the bank again, without taking her eyes off Tadayoshi’s back. He didn’t turn nor look back, but even so, Ei wasn’t so keen in leaving the water with him still in her sight.
But the water only got colder and colder. She was already trembling by the time Tadayoshi was out of sight. Then, as fast as she could, she got out of the river and picked up the clothes. Though it was bigger than hers, it wasn’t that much loose.
“Are you done?” Tadayoshi came back, walking to her without waiting for an answer. He unwrapped the rest of the bundle, revealing two wooden swords and a small linen sack.
“Where did you get all this?”
Tadayoshi waved his hand and ignored the question, telling her to gather firewood. Ei felt her anger rising, but let it go with a sigh and did as bid.
It was a harder than she thought. Wherever she turned, there was only an open and empty area. The few trees nearby had only twigs around and Ei had to walk quite far. By the time she had gathered enough for a fire, she was tired, sweaty, and thinking about jumping into the river again.
Tadayoshi wore the same green kimono as Ei. He had washed their clothes, tied to the swords and stuck the weapons on the ground. They look like flags, the girl thought, setting up the firewood.
While the wind helped to dry the clothes, it also got in the way. The swordsman had too much trouble to light a simple spark. Ei had already set up the firewood and was almost falling asleep when he finally managed. He blew and the spark became a weak flame when he tossed it in the firewood.
“Stand up,” Tadayoshi said, throwing one of the wooden swords to her, almost hitting her on the head. “Watch closely.”
With the bokken before him, he stood in the basic position. With an unusual concentration, the swordsman raised his hands and tilted the sword at the same time, as if defending a blow from an invisible foe. Then, in the same motion, he spun the weapon above his head, striking the imaginary enemy. He repeated the move, now tilting the sword to on the other side. He did it again, this time slower, giving time to Ei memorize.
“Repeat this until your body can do it by reflex…”
“You’re too curious for your own good, you know that?” Tadayoshi let out a huge sigh and shook his head in disappointment. “If you really need to know, which you don’t, I borrowed all this… without the owner’s knowledge,” he muttered the last part with a smile. “But it doesn’t matter. What do you think about what the move?”
“It has both a defense and an attack,” Ei answered right away, a note of pride in her voice she couldn’t hide.
“Correct. But don’t get to happy. That’s obvious. The most important is to understand the meaning behind the move,” he said, and then attacked her the next instant.
From so much training, Ei raised the wooden sword out of reflex and blocked the blow, surprising even herself. She almost lost her balance when her weapon hit her own shoulder, but Tadayoshi’s sword slide on hers, and she was unharmed.
The blow was so weak and it still managed to throw me off a little. If it were a real sword… and if he was using all his strength… I’d survive, but I’d probably have a broken shoulder or at least lose my weapon… that would my death…
“This move’s good to fight against physically stronger opponents,” Tadayoshi said, bringing Ei’s mind back. “First you deflect the blow and attack. You got hurt because you’re thinking it’s two movements in one. It’s only one. You defend and use the same motion to attack. The speed is the secret. It’s the difference between life and death. So… faster.” He smiled and attacked her again and again.
They only stopped when the food was ready. Ei dropped the sword the moment Tadayoshi said it was over. I never knew my body could feel this much pain. Both her arms and legs were covered with bruises, thanks him getting faster and faster. Hey, you idiot master. Do you like beating kids? Is that it?
Since her arms refused to raise past her chest, the girl had to bring her head down to eat the food. “You didn’t have to hit that hard.” She found energy to complain between bites.
“I had. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be no meaning,” reply Tadayoshi, completely unscathed, already on his second fish. Even though his mouth was busy eating, the girl could sense his smile.
By the time Ei picked up her second fish and ate around the spine, she felt better. She was almost finishing when she felt the air getting heavier. A shiver ran through her body and her face lost its color. Her breathing became slow and deep. She knew the sensation. She couldn’t forget. It’s so much stronger than those warriors… it’s almost overflowing with hate, she thought, her throat drying. “Tadayoshi,” she managed to speak in a low voice.
“Stay calm.” He finished his food and stood up, looking in every direction for the source of such killing intent.
Without showing any fear or hurry, Tadayoshi untied their clothes and placed his sword on his waist. For a moment, he looked between Asahi and Ei, and then, with a heavy expression, he handed the weapon to the girl.
Ei gulped when she accepted the sword with a stiff nod. She tried putting it on her waist just like him, but her hands trembled too much. By the time she had managed to secure it, Tadayoshi had wrapped the wooden swords on the clothes and handed to her.
She barely managed to hold everything. Not that her arms hurt; she had forgotten her pain. Her arms felt numb. Despite not seeing the source, the killing intent got stronger. And it only grew. It’s like there’s a sword in my gut. I almost can’t breathe, Ei thought, the cold sweat running down her back. It was so strong the girl thought she would faint at any moment.
“Hide,” Tadayoshi whispered to her, his eyes fixed in a direction.
It took a while, but the girl finally could see a shadow walking towards them, getting bigger with each step. In mere moments, the sourced of the killing intent was within paces of them.
Ei almost fainted, but she managed to keep her conciseness.
The man was tall, so tall she had to look up to see his face. But with his back against the sun, all she could see was a shadow. He had his hair tied on the back of the head. He wore strange clothes; the top was white and the bottom blue. When she realized what it meant, she widened her eyes. Those are hakama, training clothes… Is he a samurai?
On the shadow’s waist, there was a pair of swords. A big and a small, a daishō… This man is a samurai, she knew.
The clouds blocked the sun for a moment, revealing his face. Ei would have screamed if her throat wasn’t dry. The shadow had no a human face. Red, hard, the eyes empty, with a nose shaped like a beak and the teeth long and sharp. A demon… Ei stopped breathing. No… it’s mask…
His voice was just above a whisper, but the urgency in it made her stop trembling. The last thing she saw before she ran was he stashing the knife inside his clothes. Barely holding their things, she looked around for somewhere she could hide but still see everything. I can’t miss his fight… It’s my duty as Tadayoshi’s disciple!
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