A new chapter of Samurai NOT
Samurai NOT 28
26… 27… 38… 39… Ei lost count of how many times she had hit the trunk with the ax.
After a moment trying to remember, she gave up counting. Then, at some unknown number, the girl had struck enough, and the tree fell with a loud and dry thump.
Her arms throbbed and the bandages around her hands were red with blood from the wound. Ei ignored the pain, cleaned the handle and turned to the next tree, hitting another trunk, now without bothering to count.
The girl had no idea how much firewood they needed, but she knew she had more than enough. Even so, that didn’t stop Ei from striking the tree with the ax again and again. The distraction, and even the pain, were welcome. She didn’t want to stay still even for a moment. Whenever she wasn’t doing anything, the pain in her heart overwhelmed her.
After they had cried together, the priest told her to rest, but Ei couldn’t. She couldn’t stay inside the temple. She had to do something and left. The girl walked at random, accompany by her pain that pierced her like her sword nonstop.
When Ei came to herself, she realized she was in the clearing where the fight had happened. Her breathing became slow and deep as she looked at the beast-made trail. There at the end, she saw the massive dead body, undisturbed by nature or the villagers.
Before she realized it, her feet brought her closer to the best. From afar it was big, from close, it was monstrous. No one in the right mind would fight something like this… It’s stupid, she knew. Master’s an idiot… master… why did you have to fight this thing…?
Ei looked up the grey sky and cried.
She had no idea for how long, but when the tears dried, she forced herself to stare at the beast again. Ei had no idea why, but she wanted to see the Oni.
The body was covered with hundreds of small wounds. Each and every one was superficial and barely caused any real damage to the beast. But they were proof her master was an incredible swordsman and that his blade could cut anything.
His sword… Only then she remembered her master’s blade.
The remains were in the same place, piercing the back of the demon’s head. Ei sat before the head, place both feet on the Oni’s face and pulled the handle with all her strength. The weapon didn’t even budge.
She closed her eyes, concentrated, and pulled. Nothing. But she tried again and again, until her hands were raw. The blade didn’t budge at all.
But Ei didn’t give up. The sword was a shadow of the great weapon it once was. A shadow that did not serve to fight and had no value. Even so, it belonged to two great swordsmen.
With a rock, she circled the beast and hit the tip of the broken blade. With the first few strikes, Ei felt the weapon moving a bit. It was barely anything, but it made her hit harder and faster. Until she was striking both the blade and the beast’s head, soaking the rock with that dark blood.
Thanks to her raw hands, the stone slipped through her fingers and she struck her hand on the tip of the blade. Though the wound was deep, Ei didn’t scream. It didn’t hurt as much as it should.
She unwrapped the bandages from her leg and covered the wound. Then she picked up the rock and hit the weapon again. She only stopped when the sword was buried on the back of the head.
Tossing the rock aside, Ei ran around the beast and sat before the face. Despite her wounds, she pulled the sword again.
The girl had no idea how long it took, but she finally managed to pull the blade free.
The sword, once beautiful and shiny, was now ugly and mangled.
Even so, Ei could still sense her master’s soul when she hugged the broken weapon.
By the time she got back, it was already night. The priest asked nor said nothing, not even when he saw the new scabbard on her waist. He just hugged her. But when he realized the stare of her hands, he took her inside right away.
Ei sat on the corner with her head down as the priest treated her wounds. Though she didn’t notice, it wasn’t just her hands; her feet bled as well. She was walking around the forest with her bare feet.
But that pain was nothing compared to what the girl felt when she saw the coat covering Tadayoshi. Even so, she couldn’t help but thank the priest in her mind.
“Eiko-chan…” a voice brought her back to reality. It took a moment for her to stop cutting the tree and turn to Ryuu-sensei. “We have enough.”
Only now Ei noticed she had cut enough trees to make another small clearing. Nodding absentmindedly, she cut the trunks into smaller pieces with the priest’s help. Despite wanting to do it all by herself, Ryuu-sensei insisted on helping. Only then the girl remembered she wasn’t the only one grieving.
By the stories Tadayoshi told her, they met thanks to their respective masters. Ryuu-sensei was the disciple of some priest in some temple and in one Yasuhiro-sama’ travels to visit an old friend, the swordsman and priest became friends.
They know… knew each other for a long time… much more than me, the disciple thought as they carried everything to the pile of logs before the temple.
Ryuu-sensei organized the smaller pieces of wood while Ei spreads the dry leaves around Tadayoshi’s body.
It was the priest suggestion to burn the swordsman’s body.
At first, Ei didn’t want. But the idea of bury her master on that mountain made her insides burn. This mountain doesn’t deserve to be master’s resting place…
So they went with Ryuu-sensei’ suggestion.
Ei wanted to burn the temple as well, but the priest was firmly against it. According to him, the villagers would need a place to perform their rituals, even if it wasn’t the real temple.
She didn’t care at all, but he said Tadayoshi wouldn’t do something like that. The disciple wasn’t so sure her master wouldn’t but kept quiet. Though she knew a lot about her master, there were many times when he surprised her and even seemed another person.
I never knew about this either, Ei thought, clutching the small books inside her clothes. One she had seen many times. Tadayoshi used Yasuhiro-sama’ diary to teach her how to read. She even flipped through a few times, but it never interested her.
Like everyone, she held the samurai as a legend. Looking into that could ruin her ideal. Tadayoshi knew about that and laughed everything, saying the old man was like the tales, but people had embellished much of his deeds.
But the other book… All this time by her master’s side, Ei had never seen that book. After hesitating, the priest handed her before they went to sleep. Uninterested, the girl flipped through and read the first pages. When she realized what it was, she shut the book close, the tears rolling down her cheeks.
The disciple recognized her master awful handwrite. Ei couldn’t sleep and spent the entire night holding the book, thinking if she wanted to read or not. In the end, she decided she wasn’t ready, and just watched the sun rise while hugging the diary.
“Kaguya-sama!” Ryuu-sensei screamed suddenly. The priest placed the last firewood around Tadayoshi and turned.
Ei turned around slowly. She didn’t sense none of the four our people walked towards them. Or they’re really good in hiding their presence or I’m too distracted… Staring the newcomers, the swordswoman considered the latter to be true.
The three men had nothing special about them. At first glance, the only thing Ei noticed about them was their age. One as older of the group, and the other two were around Ryuu-sensei’ age. They’re priests too, she knew by their clothes the same as her teacher’s.
Looking past the men, Ei focused on the woman of the group. The swordswoman could tell she was completely different from the rest. She’s strong… Kaguya, was it? The name was familiar, though Ei couldn’t remember ever meeting someone like her.
The woman was tall, and despite the heavy clothes, Ei could tell she was slender. Her face was delicate and feminine, but at the same time, it had something fierce on it. That’s the face of someone you shouldn’t mess around.
Though her clothes looked like peasant’s clothes, the beautiful long black hair tied on the side with an elegant pin told the girl the priestess was a noble. But I’ve never met a noble, Ei thought, still trying to figure out where she knew the name.
“What are you doing here, my lady?” Ryuu-sensei asked, dropping to his knee and lowering his head.
“One of my oldest friends died. Of course, I’d come,” she said in a low voice.
The woman walked towards the priest, placed a hand on his shoulder forced him to stand up. When they looked at each other, she hugged him and they both cried. It took a while for Kaguya to let him go.
“Tai would’ve come too, but he received an urgent message from the capital.” She clicked her tongue and pressed her lips.
Ah… she’s Ryuu-sensei’s superior or something like that… Ei finally remembered where she had heard the name. The only place she knew where the people had that much hate of the capital was the temple where the swordswoman met Ryuu-sensei. It was when Tadayoshi decided to stop chasing the rumors for a while.
Kaguya… Ei had never met her in person, but Ryuu-sensei mentioned her name many times during their lessons. The priest admired and always spoke with a great respect for the priestess, the Miko, from his temple. She and her husband, Tai. From the little Ei remembered, they were both known was Sousei, the twin stars, of the east.
“Where’s the Oni?” the woman asked in a low voice.
The mention of the demon brought Ei’s attention back. The girl clutched the third handle on her waist so hard the wound throbbed.
Ryuu-sensei looked between Kaguya and the other priests, and then his eyes lingered at the swordswoman.
“Eiko-chan, could you please take Kaguya-sama to the remains?”
The girl nodded without looking at the woman. As she finished placing the dry leaves, the priest took from his clothes a small wooden box with four pieces of paper on each side. The papers had symbols written in black ink.
One of the younger priests took the box and put it away on his bag with great care. Then he began making questioning Ryuu-sensei.
Ei barely paid any attention. Her mind on the box, now out of sight. She had seen it before, but, at the time, had no interest.
The priest only left the temple and his friend’s side once. He came back as fast as he could, out of breath and sweating, clutching the box with both hands. Though Ei didn’t ask, he told her it was the amulet the old leader used.
Ei knew at once it was more than just that. The priest hated the sight of violence and death, and yet he overcame his weakness and went to that place to get a simple amulet.
“I met Tadayoshi when he came to the temple with Yasuhiro-sama.” Half the way to the demon, the priestess started talking conversation in a distant voice. Ei had to strain her hears to listen, even though the woman was by her side. “The samurai always complained to my master about his indiscipline disciple and how much trouble it was to train him.”
She knew Tadayoshi too, Ei thought. Now that she paid more attention, the girl realized the woman’s voice wasn’t distant. It was nostalgic. When she looked up, the priestess’ eyes were watering.
“How… how was he…?” Ei was surprised by her own question. But now she realized how little she knew about her master. It’s not only Ryuu-sensei who mourns…
Kaguya showed a gentle smile. “Despite all the complaints from Yasuhiro-sama, Tadayoshi looked like a shy kid.”
“Shy…?” Ei had never associated that word with her master. The idea was so strange she ended up chuckling a little.
“It’s true. He wasn’t used to being around kids his age. We invited him to play with us, but he stayed by Yasuhiro-sama’ side the entire time. We thought he was just a too serious disciple…”
“That doesn’t sound like Tadayoshi…” Despite knowing how much the swordsman admired the samurai, it was hard for Ei to imagine Tadayoshi being a good disciple to remain at his master’s side the entire time.
“But then, while the samurai was taking with our master…” Kaguya laughed a little. “When the conversation was over, Tadayoshi attacked Yasuhiro-sama with the wooden sword.”
Ei couldn’t help but chuckle. Despite the way her master talked about his own master, she could imagine it happening without any trouble. “What happened next?”
“Yasuhiro-sama avoided the attack still sitting. Then he grabbed Tadayoshi’s arm threw him out the door. It was fun watch Tadayoshi roll in the yard and stand up screaming.”
Ei laughed. For the first time in days, she laughed as she imagined the scene.
“Wish I could’ve seen that…”
“Unfortunately it’s not all laughs. After that, Tai ended up liking Tadayoshi and they became friends. That night they stole ceremonial sake and drank it all to celebrate their new friendship.” Kaguya sighed and shook her head. “I’ve never seen our master so furious. Yasuhiro-sama only laughed and made them run around the temple as punishment. At the same time, he encouraged them as loud as he could with the drums.”
Her master wasn’t exactly weak with alcohol, but in the few times he drank, he exaggerated and couldn’t do anything the other day. My head’s exploding, he used to say most of the times. Ei had no trouble imagining a young version of her master trying to run around a temple after a night drinking alcohol with the sound of drums exploding inside his head.
“After that day, whenever Yasuhiro-sama brought his disciple, the head priest store all the ceremonial sake in a room and locked it,” Kaguya said in a nostalgic voice. “With time, Tadayoshi became friends with all the kids in the temple too. But he was a sore loser. Tadayoshi didn’t like brag about his strength even though he was the disciple of Yasuhiro-sama. But whenever Tai defeated him, he had an excuse. The worst one was that he was tired after the journey, despite sleeping in one of the best guests’ rooms.”
That’s the master I know. Stupid and unpredictable, Ei thought, smiling. He was much stronger than she, but whenever she managed to get close to hitting him, he said it was luck and she shouldn’t be too happy about it.
As they headed the real temple, they grew quiet.
“I have to thank you, Eiko,” Kaguya said after a while.
Ei looked up. The smile the priestess had as they talked about Tadayoshi was gone. Kaguya’s expression was back to the delicate and fierce façade.
“The last time I talked to him, he was a different person. There was no trace of that stupid and happy kid. He had become someone filled with anger, hate, grief, and pain. Tadayoshi both loved and hated Yasuhiro-sama, and could only think about his revenge. He even ignored his master’s last wish. And never learned the truth about Inori.”
The priestess could no longer hold her tears. As she cried, she smiled hugged and hugged the girl. Even though she was a stranger, Ei hugged the woman back.
“Tai managed to beat some sense into him but Tadayoshi still lived for his revenge. Until he met you, Eiko,” she said in a heavy voice. “He went from someone almost consumed by his hatred to someone who was willing to put his life on the line for others. Thank you, Eiko. Thank you for saving my friend from himself.”
Ei put more strength into her arms, burying her face on the woman’s heavy clothes. After a long time, the priestess let her go and cleaned her tears. The girl did the same and they continued walking to the temple.
They reached the clearing where the fight had occurred, and Ei pointed to where the beast’s and the villagers’ bodies were without looking. When Kaguya and the priests left her alone, the girl bit her lips and raised her head.
I’m not the only one who’ll miss master… I’m not the only one who’ll remember Tadayoshi… As she looked at the grey sky, the girl let the tears roll down. This time crying made her feel a little better. After she cleaned her face, she walked towards the end of the beast-made path.
The younger priest, the one with a thin beard and short hair, walked around the clearing murmuring something all the time. He was so focused on his job he almost bumped into the girl when he passed by her.
Ei had no idea how, but Kaguya and the older priest had turned the demon’s body around. There was a thin layer of ice on the Oni’s body. The priestess circled the body, so focused it seemed the rest of the world was forgotten.
The man had trouble looking beyond the dead villagers. But he forced himself to look away and tried to get the priestess attention.
“Kaguya-sama! Kaguya-sama!” The woman finally looked at him. Ei sat with her back against a tree and stared the beast, listening to their conversation with little interest. “Do you think they made a mistake, Kaguya-sama? Or perhaps they lost some of the records. There have been many fires on the capital… we don’t know when this demon was sealed here…”
Kaguya still stared the beast as if it was the most interesting thing in the world.
“I doubt it. By our records, this temple is less than thirty years. There’s no way they lost that much information in such little time. It only means they’re hiding something from us. Again! If we complain, they’ll use the fires again as an excuse!” She hit a tree with a closed fist. The air got colder as she closed her eyes. She let out an angry sigh, the fog forming before her mouth.
The young priest came running to them.
“I got everything,” he said in a nervous voice.
“Good. Let’s go back to Ryuu,” Kaguya said, turning around.
The sun had almost set on the horizon by the time they got back. Ryuu-sensei had finished the preparations and now stood near Tadayoshi body. He was so distracted he didn’t notice the group. The other priest, who stood a few steps behind warming himself near a fire, said something to Ryuu-sensei, who finally seemed to awake.
The half-moon shone weakly on the gray dark sky and the stars came and went behind the clouds. Despite barely knowing, Ei was glad Kaguya was there. It was comforting to know that despite all the hate around him, Tadayoshi had friends.
But Ei didn’t share the same feeling with the other priests. None of them seemed to mourn Tadayoshi’s death. All they did was stare at the body with empty expressions. The girl knew it was childish of her, but she wanted them to go away right now. But she held it in.
Ryuu-sensei spoke something while moving his hands in strange gestures, but he couldn’t keep going; he was crying too much. Kaguya patted him on the back and then stepped forwards, continuing on his place.
Is that some kind of ritual? Ei wondered. It was different from what they did in her village. Despite not understanding anything, it seemed beautiful and she liked it. She had no idea if it was something special for the priests, but to her, was different, just like her master.
The young bearded priest picked up a piece of wood with a cloth wrapped around the end, touched the fire and handed to Ryuu-sensei when it was lit. He was still crying and could barely hold the torch.
Kaguya offered a hand and the priest handed it to her. She took a step forward and stood before Tadayoshi for a moment. Then turned to Ei, calling her silently.
The girl took the torch and stared at her master.
Ei wanted to say something but had no idea from where to start. There was so much. She wanted to thank him for everything. Say what her master meant and would mean forever. Perhaps Tadayoshi himself had no idea how much important he was to her.
Even if the world hated him, he was the person she loved the most.
Ei wanted to thank the heavens for giving her the courage to talk to a stranger dress in rags that carried a sword. She wanted to thank the Gods for changing her destiny. But she also wanted to curse them for taking him from her too soon.
Ei wanted to say all that but knew she could never express her feelings properly.
The only thing she could do was to live carrying the memory of her master. Tadayoshi taught her for a little over a year, but she would never forget him. In this short time, he molded her into what she was today. Everything was carved into her heart, into her soul, into her sword.
Ei knew what she had to do. She would live through his teachings. As long as she lived, her master would always be alive.
When we meet again in a very, very long time, I’ll look him in the eyes with my head held high and thank him for everything.
As the disciple stared her master, somehow he seemed different. His face was paler and the body more rigid, but his expression wasn’t the same.
No… it’s the same… With a queer jolt, she realized she was the one who was different. The meager hope she carried that he would just wake up at any time was gone completely.
Ei knew her master would never open his eyes again. The same way as her mother would never come back, Tadayoshi was somewhere far, far away from her.
With the tears rolling down her cheeks, she stood a few paces from her master and whispered so only he could hear. “Goodbye, master. Thank you for everything.” And then she lowered the torch.
The flames devoured the dry wood and leafs slowly, the sound of fire crackling growing.
Ei stood where she was, basking on the warm. Kaguya placed a hand on her shoulder and pulled the girl back.
Soon the flames burned intently, but Tadayoshi’s expression hadn’t changed, still peaceful, still ignoring the fire.
As she watched the flames, Ei cried and clutched her master’s diary inside her clothes. They were together for over a year, but she never thought their time would be so little. She believed they would be together forever. Because of that, she never bothered to learn everything about him. She had lost her chance.
I’m a failure as a disciple, the girl thought.
But she knew how she could change that.
“I… I wanna go… with you…” the girl’s voice failed due to the tears, but her decision was firm. She didn’t turn to Kaguya, her eyes fixed on the flames. But she could feel the woman’s gaze on her. The swordswoman knew it was hard for the priestess to take her.
“It’s gonna be a harder life than the one with Tadayoshi,” Kaguya spoke at last after a long time. “What killed your master could end up killing you too. I don’t want to see people dying because of that.”
She’s trying to keep me out of her world… Then the girl realized. She thinks I’m out for revenge… She’s trying to protect me, to prevent the same thing that happened with master…
But that’s not it…
Tadayoshi was her goal. As his disciple, she only followed him on his journey. But now her master had left her without a path.
No… that’s wrong… I’m the one who should find my own path… I wanna a reason to go on. She had to find a way to tell that to the priestess.
The disciple clutched the third weapon on her waist, the handle of what was left of Tadayoshi’s sword. But then she let it go and wrapped her hand around the handle of her own sword.
“Master told me once and I never forgot. He said he’d teach me how to use a sword, but I should decide when to use it on my own.”
She finally looked Kaguya in the eyes. The priestess stared back. The crackling wood and the fire were the only sounds in the clearing.
“I want to use my sword to make a difference in this world.”
Kaguya flashed a tiny smile and closed her eyes. “Tadayoshi raised a great disciple.”
When the priestess opened her eyes again, the girl could swear there was something familiar in them. It’s the same eyes Tadayoshi had me when I screamed I wanted to be strong, when he accepted me… Those are the eyes of someone who knows the dangers ahead but respect the other’s determination.
Eiko didn’t smile back. The path ahead of her was probably much harder and more dangerous than the way of the sword. She had no idea if she would survive, but she knew she had to keep going forward. In a world where Tadayoshi was no longer.
Thanks for reading.
This marks the end of Part 3. But Ei still has her story to be told.
I should be releasing Part 4 in April. And I’ll try to post two chapters per month.
Until then, check out my other stories.