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Reunion in Blood

~ Reunion in Blood ~
Feudal Japan, The 4th of March 1788, The Tokugawa Period
The mountains outside Kyoto


"The dead cannot speak," announced the highwayman in the mismatched armour. His shadowed eyes looked like holes in the moonlit surface of his features. "Give up your home and accept your ending peacefully."

Silence, except for the breaths that marked time's passing.

"I would rather die... with something you lack," rasped the large man that stood in the grass. Quietly, he produced the maliciously long blade of his dai-katana. The hempen edge of his conical sedge hat concealed his features. The breeze caressed the tall grass on the ridge and made the folds of his hermit clothing ripple while his stance contrasted in its stillness.

"Your death is my gain," the leader of he brigands said and began to move sideways around his prey. So did his seven companions - slowly encircling the man in rags. "Until tomorrow, when we reach Kyoto. Then, we will only be lacking a few women in our laps and a big jar of sake to wash down the meat your coin has purchased for us. For while you seem to not have a yen to your name, that sword will be easy enough to sell."

"You fail to see my point," the former samurai merely said with a slight twinge of his mouth. His light grey hair hung freely down the length of his back, stirring in the breeze. "Just like your confidence is misplaced, for you still need to remove it from my hands. Furthermore, I'd rather die with the little honour I have left - going down in the rain of your blood."

Harsh laughter answered the middle-aged man's words. He was standing in the middle of the circle now, and the only source of light was the pale moon. "You," chuckled the brigand leader - the only one standing face-to face with the hermit, "surely are brave for being alone in the mountains and having the ill luck to get our attention. Do you think you're some kind of hero, stranger? Heroes exist only in fool's tales."

Lowering his sword with his hands wrapped around the hilt, the answer came in brumal syllables. "I have lived through stories that would make you all weep in fear."

"Oh, a celebrity, are you?" the grey-eyed leader asked in ersatz astonishment. "What's your name?"

Turning his blade slightly, the moonlight sent a spectre across the leader's eyes. "I was known as She-do-katzu."

The Shadereaver.

Memory found them, and sharp intakes of breath and curses escaped the band of brigands. Several hissed ronin under their breaths.  They began to stare more closely at the outcast former retainer of the Shogun - the revered Tokugawa Ienari - that they had unknowingly stumbled upon. Meanwhile they all remembered the tales, the man turned towards the moon and reached up with his left hand.

"Now, I tread these mountains whilst wearing my real name." He removed his sedge hat. "Yet to you, I... am merely the face of your death."

The sight of what lay hidden behind the sedge hat was like a kick in the teeth to the brigands. They took a step back, faces suddenly white as snow. In the stark moonlight, each demonic and garish detail - the raw truth of of history that was the burned right side of the ronin's face - stood out clearly. The lidless eye glared at them - as white as the belly of a fish. His long silver-white hair grew only in patches on the charred side. "Who will be the first to die?"

The leader paused - his men uncertain what to do. After the initial shock had subsided, he attempted a smile. In his peculiar situation, he could not afford to baulk in front of his men. "Whoever you are, there are eight of us. Alone, you stand little chance to win. Lay down your blade and I might just let you live through this night."

The breeze that had rippled the fabric of the hermit's clothes died, and the heights grew quiet. Seconds stretched to infinity, and all that was heard was the breathing, the heartbeats and the soft creak of leather.

"You are mistaken, dead man," said the anchorite of the mountains, the hat falling from his fingers. "I am not alone."

Having seen a figure in the shadows, Takeo Noritada could but hope that the stranger was willing to lend him a hand. "Courage is fear when it has said its prayers," he mumbled, citing his family motto. It was a ritual - a point of focus for him. Just as he could not remember when he had last spoken those words, the man would not remember when he had taken the first step afterwards either. Everything moved at once.

Distance closed to no distance at all and blood gushed into the chill night.

Even though it was not, his movements may have seemed effortless and almost indifferent. In reality, his movements were an exactitude through practice and experience. Over the years - both in the Shogun's service as well as outside it - the man's skills with the sword had boiled down to the essential core. By now, there was no hesitation, no stray breaths, no error in balance and no room for mistakes. All unnecessary movements had been filtered away. Distilled into its pure and true art form, his swordsmanship allowed his blade to move exactly where it should go, without delay.

However, against that many opponents - and since he was out of practice - it might not be enough.

He could but pray that the onlooker in the shadows had a cause to assist him.

OOC Plot notes: Takeo is now a ronin, and the female or male partner that happens to appear from the shadows is his man/woman/servant/apprentice from 10 years earlier, whom - after Takeo's estates were burned to the ground and all the people living there put to the blade - might have went to a Ninja clan in order to train for the assassination of the Shogun. Takeo learned something he shouldn't and was therefore ordered to be shut up; this unbeknownst to the onlooker, whom is also unaware that Takeo is still alive.

Regarding the current Shogun: Tokugawa Ienari (to whom the male protagonist was a retainer/samurai for ten years earlier)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokugawa_Ienari

Notice the date I set for the post? 4th of March 1788? Look what happens on the 6th in the above link. I thought it would be cool if our protagonists were somehow responsible for the Great Fire of Kyoto. The Imperial Palace destroyed... Oh, and in our version of history, the Shogun might or might not die in the events... (see below for more notes in relation to this). I took the liberty to have Shogun starting his tenure a lot earlier, given that the page states that he ascended to his office 1786... The fire of Kyoto and the harem that the Shogun is famed for, along with the fact that this Shogun was adopted into the Tokugawa family, it all fell out in favour of a deeper storyline.

Also, here are a few other resources:

General info on the Edo period and the society:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo_period


Quote
    Shogun and emperor

    Despite the establishment of the shogunate, the emperor in Kyoto was still the legitimate ruler of Japan. Regardless of the political title of the emperor, the "shoguns of the Tokugawa family controlled Japan."[4] The administration (体制, taisei?) of Japan was a task given by the Imperial Court in Kyoto to the Tokugawa family, which they returned to the court in the Meiji Restoration.

    The shogunate appointed a liaison, the Kyoto Shoshidai (Shogun's Representative in Kyoto), to deal with the emperor, court and nobility.

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokugawa_shogunate

The female protagonist might have learned that the Shogun was visiting the Emperor together with his Shoshidai previous to the first scene (above), perhaps out to claim her own revenge without knowing that the male protagonist is alive.

Ninja info:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninja Suffice to say, by the time of our story, the Iga and Koga clans are gone, and now only small clans remain in seclusion, carrying on the legacy of their ancestors. Also, female ninja are often styled with the title Kunoichi (for reasons I do not know...).

A few helpful generators from Seventh Sanctum:
http://www.seventhsanctum.com/generate.php?Genname=maschool
http://www.seventhsanctum.com/generate.php?Genname=mamove


 
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