Ryoshi

I awoke with flames
dancing in my peripheral vision. The air itself felt singed. Ash covered my
face and the ruins of what was once my village were charred and blackened. The
cherry blossom trees, which were so magnificent, had been reduced to mere stumps.
I slowly lifted myself to my feet, I felt groggy, as if I had been hit in the
head with a heavy object. I had to find him, I had to, the fate of the clan
depended on it. I gasped, Akira’s forge had been reduced to rubble and the old man himself had gone.

“ As you all know by
now, Akira has been kidnapped by another clan. We have found out that he has
been taken by the wind clan, and is being held in the palace of the wind . I
need not tell you how important it is that we get him back.” The elder drew a
shaky breath. “He has blessed our clan for many years with his magical weapons.
If the other clans abuse his power there is no knowing how much danger the moon
clan could be in.” At the mention of this, all the members of the audience gave a sharp
intake of breath. “He will leave tomorrow morning. Meeting Adjourned.” I wasn’t
surprised by my task, I had been taught to feel little emotion by Akira, I was a hardened warrior who had no use for feelings.

Later
when the golden sun had dipped behind the emerald pine trees. A slab of deer was roasting over the
fire when the gravity of the situation hit me. The fate of my clan depended on
me, if the wind clan tortured Akira into making them weapons, the earth clan would be overcome by our mortal enemies. There would be much bloodshed, but they
would triumph. I was fighting alone. I thought about all that Akira had taught me about suppressing my emotions. The man was a genius and a master of his craft and this is why I
the clan was so intent on getting him back. 

I had been hiking for hours
now, without rest, and I was nearing the border of the earth and wind Clan. However
as I reached the top of the final valley between the two lands, I heard a crack.
I immediately whipped around to see five wind clan assassins, distinguishable
by their clan symbol on their kimono, less than ten meters away. For
a split second the closest one and I locked eyes, then he had an arrow embedded
between his eyes. The others had just enough time to see their fellow clan
members die. I wondered how they had they had found me in the first place and
how they had got so close.

Later when the golden sun had dipped behind the emerald pine
trees, I had made a campfire and had stalked, shot, and skinned a deer. I was a
slab of deer roasting over the fire when the gravity of the situation hit me. The
fate of my clan depended on me, if the wind clan tortured Akira into making
them weapons, the earth clan would be overcome by our mortal enemies. There
would be much bloodshed, but they would triumph. I was fighting alone. I thought
about all that Akira had taught me about suppressing my emotions. I growled to
myself, ‘Don’t be weak, warriors don’t feel.’ I put my head on the soft grass
and my eyes slid shut.

The next morning, I passed into Wind clan Territory. It was
easy to sneak past the portly guards they had deployed at the checkpoints. I was
not far from my goal of the emperor’s palace when a I saw a tall figure standing
in the middle of the road ahead. When I neared the figure, I stopped. “I am the Silver
prince, I have patrolled this area looking for a worthy opponent for centuries.
My journey has been long but finally I have my prize. I challenge you to a
duel.”

“I accept.” The words left my mouth before I could stop
them. We both bowed to each other, took a few steps back and began. He jabbed,
I blocked, he swung, I deflected, he was swift, elegant, and aggressive. He cut,
I parried, I was on the back foot and needed to change that, and fast. However,
he had a weakness, they all did, I just had to find it. While thinking about this,
my concentration lapsed for a moment, his steel Katana sliced my cheek open.
Hot blood poured down my face. However, this moment of pain sharpened my mind
and revealed to me the weakness of the silver prince. His weakness was that he
was too aggressive, the whole time I had been defending while he attacked me. I
decided to test my theory by instead of parrying, slashing. My opponent was
caught off guard, leaving his chest completely open. I wasted no time in
plunging my Tachi into his chest. When I had removed it, the silver prince called out “Wait; you will need this for your quest. To obtain
what you seek, you need what you try so hard not to have.” I turned to face him
one last time and continued walking.

I was now less than a day away from the palace of the wind.
I had thought over strategy and had planned it down to the finest detail. I
would have to take out all the guards on the wall first. Then scale the wall into
the palace gardens, silently killing any guards remaining. Then I would climb
the tallest tower, the cloud spire, of the magnificent building and find Akira
imprisoned. I would then set him free by using my bow to shoot his handcuffs
and we would escape by rappelling down the side of the great spire. After I had
gone through the plan once more, anxiety stabbed at me once more, ‘what if I
fail,’ ‘what if I can’t do it.’ I shook these feeble thought out of my head and
recited what Akira had told me “warriors don’t feel.”

The next evening, in the cover of my Shozoku (cloak) I swiftly
buried two arrows into each of the necks of the sentry guards that patrolled
the palace walls. Without a sound, I shimmied up the side of the wall and returned the arrows to my quiver. I leaped off the wall and rolled onto
the lush lawn. Immediately, I let fly three more arrows into the chests of my
enemies. Having scanned the nearby area for any more threats, I slipped into
the palace and made my way to the cloud spire. I climbed for what felt like
hours, checking for enemies around every turn. The thought of failure kept me
going. I slew more and more until finally, I reached Akira’s prison. I retrieved
a key from a nearby corpse and opened the door to see the kneeling figure of
Akira. You could see his bones through his papery skin, his hair had been
shaved and he was incredibly skinny. “Is it really you, or are my eyes
deceiving me,” he croaked, “Thank the Kami you are here, I didn’t have much longer left.” ” We must go, and fast,” I replied.

Before Akira could reply I knocked an arrow and shot it. It
soared into the handcuffs and ricochet into a wall. ‘How could this be,’ I
thought ‘my arrows can slice through anything.’ “You fool,” Akira exploded “I
was going to warn you that any contact with the material your arrowheads are
made of will immediately alert the guards. Now they know you are coming. You
ignorant boy.” “What have I done,” I whispered. “Of all the years I have taught
you, you have never listened. You have killed us both with your idiocy. You do
not deserve your bow. You have never truly earned it.” I hacked at the cuffs
with my Tachi, I stabbed them. I pulled and pulled but to no avail. I could hear men running up the stairs. After I had tried everything, I began
to cry. Hot, bitter tears rolled down my cheeks. ‘What am I doing.’ I thought
to myself, ‘I’m pathetic.’ But one of the tears fell onto the metal. It hissed
and crackled as the water came into contact with it. Then one by one each of
the locks cracked open and finally, the cuffs fell undone. Numb with shock, I
fired my grappling hook out the window and Akira latched onto me. We sailed out
of the window and dashed out of the city.

Now I am an old man with a long white beard. My hunting days
are long behind me. Only now do I realise what made those handcuffs open. The
Silver Prince’s words are still ringing in my ears. “You need what you try so
hard not to have.” 

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