It was a rare day in Salas. The sky was as blue as ice, with thin clouds
trailing like cracks through the firmament. The temperature was warm, near eighty, with a cool breeze that was just enough
to stop any complaints about the heat. Which was a good thing, since a perfect day like this didn’t come around very
often. It wouldn’t do to curse it.
Wouldn’t do at all, Denroku thought.
Denroku Tsukamoto leaned heavily on the elegantly designed ivory railing of his balcony, sipping from a bland white
coffee mug as he looked down onto the street. It was midday, so there was little traffic on the dirt road roads leading off
from the intersection below, and Denroku enjoyed the pleasant weather in quiet solitude as he swished his drink. It was a
little too warm for coffee, but he continued to sip on the bitter beverage nonetheless. His friends and peers disliked the
fact that he had given up tea for the less refined drink. Denroku had always disliked tea, though.
Turning to peer over his shoulder, he looked into the darkened room leading off from the balcony, his expansive chamber
within the old verandah. He knew that he had to retreat into there in order to think clearly, as good as the weather was,
and grumbled bitterly as he poured the last half of his coffee over the side of the railing. Hearing no yelps of pain or surprise
from the street, his mood darkened even more so.
Moving out from the radiance of the sun and into his chamber, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dimmer lighting, Denroku
felt the age in his knees as they creaked silently under his body. He was getting old, yes, but not too old. Idly, he wondered
if he’d ever live to be “too old.”
The room was expansive, taking almost the entire top floor of the verandah, and furnished exquisitely. Crimson dragons
battled golden tigers to the death on the black walls, just as on his kimono. Paper lamps marked with his crest, the Cross of Tsukamoto, and spaced far enough apart to
leave brief periods of darkness between them.
The room was empty of any people save for himself. Usually, his finest swordsman and dear friend would have stood before
the wood-and-paper sliding doors of the chamber, but not this day. Hirono Misuya was on an important assignment, an assignment
which would grant to Denroku everything which he desired. Everything which he deserved...
Two months ago his brother Tatsuiyo, the leader of the Tsukamoto clan and one of the wealthiest men on this side of
the continent, had been killed. Assassinated, actually. Denroku did not admit
to the deed, but he also did not bother denying it either. His men knew, as Tatsuiya's men knew. Hirono had brought him Tatsuiya's
head, along with the promise of power and fortune.
Sadly, that wasn't how the other Daimyos of the area had seen it. According to them, Tatsuiyo's wife Yaegashi had the
rights to everything that her late husband had owned, and Denroku was entitled to nothing.
He was a fair man, and had always been attracted to his brother's lovely wife. And so, Yaegashi had been given fair
warning, and a choice; marry him and give him all the power which his brother had once held, or else face the death of both
her and her daughter.
Yaegashi never had been one to listen to reason. By refusing his proposal, she's left him with little choice in the
matter. He knew that she had learned things from her late husband, things that could spell Denroku and his entire clan’s
downfall if told to the wrong people. And so, Hirono had taken six men and left that very morning for Tatsuiyo’s old
house on the other side of town.
Denroku sat down and leaned back in his plush leather chair without shame for his expansive belly, sighing deeply.
With Yaegashi’s removal from the game, he had but one obstacle left in his path of climbing to the top of the continent’s
Daimyos and staying there; well, one major obstacle.
As he sat brooding in his darkened chamber, Denroku Tsukamoto pondered on what he was to do about Satoru Saka.
The black midnight sky hovered starless above the dark green fields outside of Salas, its velvet clouds roiling to
intercept any silver rays of light from the heavens, and casting the plains of long dark grass in shadow. The darkness seemed
to close in around the lone man making his way southward, even in these most open of surroundings.
Satoru Saka hated the dark. He knew what secrets it held, what bred and nestled in wait under the cover of the night.
He knew and felt them watching, their eyes always on him. He also knew that they would not dare reveal themselves. Not to
him. But that knowledge did not lift the burden from his shoulders as he walked
through the long grass.
Pausing in his cross-country trek, Satoru’s emerald eyes narrowed as they scanned the flat horizon. Beyond the
softly swaying blades of the field, slivers of golden light spilled through the gaps between the grass. Warmed to his soul
at the sight of home, he shifted the large bundle which hung over his shoulder and renewed his gait.
“Moneka,” he called as he neared the modest dwelling, golden wood with scarlet trim and a thatched-straw
roof, with a kanji meaning “Saka” mounted beside the door.
“Satoru?” came a call from behind the illuminated door. A woman’s silhouette appeared behind the
golden hued paper, and the door was slid aside to reveal Moneka Saka, his wife. She was clothed in a long crimson kimono with
yellow flower petals embroidered into the cloth, her fiery red hair up. Her ocean blue eyes found his own instantly, without
trouble or pause. Satoru had always been told that his vibrant green eyes outshone any attempts on behalf of the darkness
to conceal their glow.
“So you’ve come home, finally.” Though her voice was as stern as any disgruntled woman, Moneka’s
eyes betrayed the mirth behind her tone.
“I, uh… spotted this beauty on my journey home,” Satoru replied, tilting his head to indicate the
deerskin bundle slung over his shoulder, filled with venison. “I couldn’t pass it up. We’re running out
of meat, are we not?”
“So you carried the meat of a full-grown deer all the way across the Plains of Salas, arrived home a full day
later than expected, and dirtied your clothes to the point of being unrecognisable...are
you actually trying to get yourself killed, then?”
Satoru’s eyebrow raised. “By whom?” he asked innocently.
Shaking her head incredulously, Moneka finally parted her lips in a smile. “Come inside,” she sighed. “So
I may clean you up and see if my husband still exists under that filth.”
Hanging his head and slumping his shoulders in an exaggerated mockery
of shame, he slowly marched up the steps and plodded inside the doorway, allowing his fingers to loosen around the bundle
in his hand so it dropped to the floor with a heavy thud.
“Hush,” Moneka whispered, gently pulling him down by his earlobe so she could speak directly into his ear.
“Your son’s asleep.”
“My son’s asleep?” he hissed back, eyes wide in bewilderment.
“How long was I away, for things to have changed that much around here?”
“Infants do sleep, you know…”
“This is the first I’ve heard of it, as far as nighttime sleeping goes.”
“Well…” Moneka smiled. “I just put him to bed an hour ago.”
“Aha! Excellent strategy. Keep your child up half the night so that you may sleep peacefully for the remaining
“He was waiting for you, genius.” She poked the tip of his nose with her finger and giggled as he crossed
his eyes in response.
“He’ll thank me when he tastes the venison,” he stated, unslinging the strap of his six-foot nodachi sword from his shoulder and leaning
it against the wall. At his touch the blade radiated a faint crimson glow, losing the aura as his hand lifted from the hilt
“Honey, he’s only a baby,” Moneka told him, unstrapping his shoulder plates and carrying them to
the ready-prepared adjourning room to soak in the bath. “He can’t eat solids yet.”
Following her into the room while hopping on one foot, Satoru pulled off his sandals and tossed them into the corner.
He cringed and shot her a sidelong glance as his flying footwear knocked over a shelf of soaps, and smiled weakly as she crossed
her arms and shook her head, a quiet sigh escaping her lips.
“So, how did it go?” Her eyes brought Satoru back to seriousness. He tugged the band of hair tying his
hair back, letting it fall over his shoulders in dirty, blood red strands as he stroked the beard on his slender chin.
“I did what I set out to do,” he answered at length.
“But…it’s not that simple. I told you that it wouldn’t be.” Loosening his sash and sliding
his dusty white pants off, he tossed the leggings into the bath with his padded shoulder plates. A cloud of dirt billowed
up from the clothing as it sank in the deep sided tub, colouring the water a light brown. “A lot of very important people
“Let them be upset,” Moneka purred, running her slender fingers through his matted red mane. “As
long as they know that you’re no longer a sword-for-hire, you did all that you set out to do.”
“It’s not a good thing to have these types of men angry,” he sighed, ruffling his hair to expel another
cloud of dust. “I’m afraid that they may try to…persuade me to
reconsider my decision by coming after you and our child, or maybe Cid Kobori in town.”
“They know of your friendship with Cid?”
“They could. Their eyes are everywhere. They’re the Daimyos, hun. Money and power galore, and it’s
a fairly safe bet that they’ve been keeping tabs on me. Being a merc, I was always open to any offer, from anyone. My
former employers must have kept an eye out to make sure that their enemies didn’t hire me. I can protect you and the
child, but Cid’s miles away from here.” He looked up to her, his brow furrowed in concern, an expression completely
alien to his battle hardened features. It was a look which many thought impossible for the legendary Satoru Saka, but Moneka
knew the man much better than that.
“He is a warrior, like you,” she comforted him, tracing the scar overlapping his left eye with her fingertip.
“He was once a warrior,” he corrected her, closing his eye as her finger passed over his eyelid on its
path down the scar, resting on his cheek. “Now, he’s a simple sword smith.”
“Still, the skills must remain…”
“Even if they do, Cid is too old and his body too worn. His battle instincts as well as his muscles have been
softened by time. They would surely defeat him…” His emerald eyes opened again to look into her own, the empathy
there deeper than anything which the world knew he possessed. Satoru had never wanted to become a legend. He had never wanted
to become a killer. He was just, as they said, extremely good at it.
“What will you do?” She knew better than to think he would abandon a friend in need, any more than he would
abandon his own family.
“Tomorrow morning,” he hissed as he poured a barrel of steaming water over his head, “we’ll
set out for Salas.” Sweeping his long hair back out of his eyes, he wiped his face with a towel provided by Moneka as
he added, “We’ll stay with Cid for a few days, just to be sure. If the Daimyos decide to just let it go, we’ll
finally get the life we deserve; A life without killing, without bloodshed, without the burdens which weigh so heavily on
my shoulders. A life with our son, as a family.”
“You’ve dreamt of it for so long,” Moneka nodded. “If only the Daimyos see that they must allow
you to go. Without you fighting their battles things will get much more difficult for them, however they all must have known
that you would retire someday.”
“Every man needs a rest,” Satoru sighed. “But they don’t see me as a man. I am a sword, a weapon
to be pointed at their enemies. Now the sword says it is tired, that it must stop in mid-battle.” A frown creased his
features as he growled. “They would much rather I break in their hands than to let me go.”
Shaking his head, Satoru let out a deep sigh and sunk down to the floor to sit. The room’s lamps cast gleaming
orange sheens on his naked skin, defining clearly his sleek, finely honed muscles. Dozens of marks crisscrossed his lithe
frame, deep ruts carved into his very flesh. Some warriors thought of them as medallions, trophies of glory and victory, but
to Satoru they were scars. Scars which signified not only his own past pain, but the pain of those who had caused the wounds,
now dead by his hand.
“Did you have to kill?” The question wasn’t necessary. Moneka had seen the bloodstains on his clothing,
as well as the dim glow emitted by his nodachi’s blade. The blade was crafted from bloodmetal, and drew its strength
from the lifeblood of her husband’s enemies; the crimson light emitted by the weapon made it clear that it had been
used to spill blood recently. She knew that he would need to speak of the battles in order to relieve his guilt, just as she
knew that he could not bear to mention it of his own accord. Ad so she asked.
Satoru nodded slowly, his face concealed in shadow and his eyes closed in shame. “The Daimyos didn’t know
what to do when I was spotted approaching their territories without invite. Each of them assumed the same scenario; that I
had been hired by a rival to destroy them. Each of them reacted in the same fashion, sending their samurai to attack me in
“I tried to reason,” he explained in a shaking voice. “I tried to explain myself, but always were
my words lost among their cries of battle.” His hands curled into tight fists and trembled at the memories. “They
attacked, and I could not help myself. Despite my every wish to the contrary, my blade escaped its sheathe and felled them,
one after the other. Only after the blood of their comrades ran in small rivers through the dirt did my attackers falter,
and I nearly killed them all in a single stroke in their hesitation. But I finally regained control enough to voice my intentions
to them, and I thank the gods that they listened to me.”
His eyes opened again, wide and luminescent even in the deep pools of shadow masking his face. “Eight daimyos
I visited, the heads of the most powerful clans on the continent, and every time with the same results. Hundreds have died
by my hand, even in the last forty eight hours. Hundreds! All of their deaths could have been avoided, if only I had more
control. But the instant I heard the shouts of their voices, saw the flash of their blades, felt the fear in their hearts,
I was the hunter once more. And the hunter was all too happy to rend those men from this life and usher them into the next.”
“Shhh,” Moneka whispered, extending her arms to pull him to her breast as he quivered. The water clinging
to his skin soaked into her kimono and quickly cooled to an icy temperature, but still she held him, speaking soft comforting
words into his ear and stroking his long scarlet hair.
She knew how each new death by his blade tortured him, how every life he took left a scar upon his soul, and she could
clearly see the effects in his eyes. Satoru’s ghosts would haunt him for the rest of his life, but now at least he was
free of any additional weight on his spirit.
At least, that was what Moneka prayed was true. For if Satoru were to take even one more life, even in the defence
of his family or himself, she greatly feared that the results may finally take its ultimate toll. His ghosts would claim him,
and she would be left without a husband; her child, without a father.
As she did her best to sooth the troubled mind of her husband, Moneka offered a last silent prayer to the gods. Please, she begged. Please allow us to live
in peace. Please allow them to understand…
Finally, Denroku understood. Of course, he chided himself. The answer was so obvious that he felt himself a fool for
having missed it for so long. Satoru Saka wasn’t retiring, oh no. To do so would make absolutely no sense. He was the
best, still in his prime, and demanded the highest fees for service in all the continent. There was but one logical explanation,
to Tsukamoto’s capitalist mind.
He’s gone exclusive, Denroku fumed. He’s only working for one Daimyo now, and the rest of us are to believe that he is out of the picture. And then,
when we least expect it, he’ll show up on our doorsteps and wipe us out one house at a time.
He could get away with it, too. Denroku knew this as
well. Satoru was the strongest swordsman in the world, by most accounts. Entire houses had fallen before his wrath, and he
refused to pledge alliegence to any man, clan or cause.
“Not on the surface, anyway,” he muttered. But Saka wasn’t the only one who could keep secrets and
make invisible allies. Denroku had an ace up his sleeve which would top anything that any daimyo in the land – Satoru
by their side or no – could pull. The price was steep, but if played right the cost would be insignificant in the end.
A smug smile spread on his face as Denroku leaned back in his chair again, a low chuckle bubbling from between his
fat lips. Saka would soon find out that nobody who crossed the new Tsukamoto clan was invincible.
“Legends can die,” he grinned. “Legends do die.”
"Are we ready?" Satoru scratched his ribs idly as he stood in front of his family's house, wearing a crimson yukata
kimono overlaid with his golden-and-scarlet armour. His nodachi hung from his back, six feet long with a gleaming silver blade
and a hilt of onyx and crimson with emeralds embedded within, and a black-bladed dai katana hung from his golden sash. It
was next to impossible for one to find Satoru Saka unprotected, especially when on his way across country with his family.
"I think we... oh, hold on..." His wife Moneka appeared in the sliding doorway of the house, her hair done up tightly
in a black ball atop her head and her figure concealed in a blue-white kimono. "Did you grab the venison?"
"I did," he replied, motioning towards the horse. The great charger was also armoured in the same scarlet-gold armour
that he wore, and was a fantastic chestnut steed that had seen many battles. Its solid hide bore at least as many scars as
Satoru's own body did. On its sides there were hung several bags and pouches, one of them the deerskin bundle housing the
venison. "We won't be wanting for food along the way."
"Alright," she smiled. "Then I guess we're ready. I'll get the baby." She vanished from view once again, rushing back
into the house.
She seems really excited, he mused. But,
I suppose... How long has it been since she's left the house? Pondering the question a moment, he sighed. ...Too long. Feeling more than a little guilt for always being away, leaving her alone with the baby in the middle
of nowhere, Satoru cleansed his mind of it. He'd be home now. He'd make it up to her, now that he'd given up that life.
"Here he is," Moneka's voice drifted from beyond the doorway. She walked out with the child in her arms, Seroni Saka,
his son. Satoru's guilt gnawed at him again at the realization that he'd spent even less time with Seroni than with his wife.
The boy probably didn't even know who he was...
That will change, he assured himself, thrusting the thought from his mind.
Everything would change now. His life as a hired sword was over and done.
"Look sweetie," Moneka crooned, holding up her son's face for Satoru to see. Red hair as deep as blood covered the
child's head, and emerald eyes almost exactly akin to his own blinked innocently at him. The hardened warrior's heart melted
at the face ogling him with curiosity, his own face. "Doesn't he look just like his daddy?"
"Let his hair grow and put a beard on his chin, and he'd be able to pass himself off as me," Satoru agreed. "Well,
a slightly more rounded me..."
"It's just his baby fat," she giggled, nuzzling the baby's tummy as Seroni squealed in delight. "He'll grow out of
it. They all do." Holding the baby to him, she nodded. "Here. Hold him."
His eyes widened at the offering, before Satoru simply closed his eyes and shook his head. "No," he said. "I don't
deserve to. Not yet."
"What do you mean? He's your son."
"These hands are too stained with blood to hold such innocence," he sighed. "The stains have to fade before I allow
myself the privilege to hold Seroni in my arms. I'm sorry." He fell silent, eyes on the ground.
She looked at him, and could feel his pain in her heart. He was truly sorry for his sins, and would always be paying
for them... "Just don't wait too long," she whispered. "Lest he become too big for your arms to hold."
"I swear," he nodded, raising his eyes to hers. "The day will come when I will be fit hold my son."
"Sickenin'," grunted the beast spying on the two from thirty feet away, perched high in the leafy boughs of a tree.
Acute eyes and ears not of this world made the distance seem like nothing, and the bulky creature known as Vromset could make
out everything with startling clarity. He was a hunter, a spy, a fighter. He was also not human.
Growling low in his throat at the painstaking chore of waiting and observing, the impossibly muscled beast grasped
the branches around him with large four-fingered talons and squeezed. Veins popped out of his forehead at the frustrating
boredom. Vromset needed some action. His muscles ached from lack of use. His nose burned with the scent of his enemy. But
he had his orders. To disobey would be to cease to exist.
His thick lavender skin stretched taut over rock-solid muscles like corded steel, and his tree-trunk of a tail wrapped
around the bark of the tree he sat in as his yellow-brown eyes stared intently down his wolflike snout. The wind ruffled the
trees around him, tugging at the horse-mane-like brown fur on his head and neck and blowing down his horselike ears. Twin
horns sprouting from above each eye sloped backwards, huge and onxy, reaching halfway down his spine. Vromset was a daemon,
a creature borne from the pits and flames of the netherworld for the sole purpose of evil, and he embraced that role wholeheartedly.
He did as he was told, for he knew nothing else. However...
"If I hafta stay in this tree any longer, I'm gonna start sproutin' leaves," he growled, perturbed. "Why can't I just
"You will not kill him," a deep, icy voice like a frigid breeze over the artic tundra echoed in his ears. "You will
do anything but. Your role is to watch, study, and protect him. Make sure he is not harmed until the time comes. If he is..."
The voice ended it there, allowing Vromset to grasp the importance of not finding
out the answer.
"Yes, lord," the lavender-skinned spy responded with distaste. Sitting around making sure some human didn't croak didn't
sit well with him as making good use of his time, but he was bound to the telepathic words speaking into his mind. If he did
not perform his duty, the end would be swift, and some other being would be thrust into his role. Better to exist.
Finally, the targets got onto their horse and began to ride. Leaping from the constraining branches as early as possible
after the humans had departed, Vromset shook mightily and stretched. The rising sun cast deep shadows on his form, showing
clearly the dark markings covering his arms and back. The tribal markings were many and intricate, and told of his service
to the VIIIth Circle of the Netherworld, the circle named by men as the Inferno.
Crouching so low to the ground that he was forced to drop to all fours to avoid being seen by the marks, the Hound
of the Inferno began to follow the trail of the horse through the fields of tall grass.
"You had better hope that what you told me was the truth, mortal..." The same voice which had echoed through Vromset's
mind now reverberated off of dark brimstone walls, surrounding the cowering form who had thought himself alone in the darkness
until now. "Or else my time wasted will be paid for.. In a most unpleasant manner.."
"I-I've told you the truth," Denroku Tsukamoto stammered, his wide eyes darting around the sparsely lit chamber. The
only available light in the dank dungeon-like place was a pallid blue mist which seemed to illuminate the area in a dim glow.
"You'll get what you want from Satoru Saka. He's the greatest warrior on the planet!"
"Words I have heard before," the voice rasped from beyond the light, seeming to come from every direction at once.
"But sometimes people have odd views on greatness, and I become disappointed."
"I swear that you won't be let down," Denroku asserted, his voice coming out in almost a kind of plea. "There are none
others like him. He his a demon among men, unstoppable in battle."
"You had best pray that I agree," the walls replied simply. "Because if not, it will be you that pays for it..."
In the silence that ensued, Denroku returned to his hunched position on the filthy floor, his expensive gold and black
kimono soiled beyond repair and his pores clogged with the putrid stench of the dungeon. Why did he do this..? Squeezing his
eyes shut so tightly they ached, he clenched his pudgy fists and awaited more news.
The prices some people pay in order to accomplish their goals, he thought
bitterly. It will all be worth it.. it will.. Desperately, he tried to convince
himself of his own words as he huddled against the wall, slick with a cold liquid that he didn't dare dwell on. It would all
be worth it, yes... as long as Satoru was powerful enough. If he wasn't... Denroku held back a choked whimper at the mere
thought of the possibilities.
If Saka wasn't strong enough, Denroku would never leave this dungeon for the rest of eternity... if he was lucky...
"Here he comes," hissed Masatomo, turning to his partner Sohun as they both crouched in the tall grass of the Salas
Plains. "Signal the others, but for the love of god don't let Saka see you!"
With an eager nod, Sohun spun on his heel and slipped a small polished dagger from the folds of his soiled robes, tilting
it so that the rays of the sun overhead glinted off of its blade and over the waving grass to be witnessed by the other mercenaries
lurking in the plain. A flash of light came in response, confirmation of the signal.
"It's done," Sohun chirped, looking back to Masatomo with excitement in his wide, crystal blue eyes. The smile on his
face betrayed his inexperience, and Masatomo frowned and cuffed the boy on the back of his head to erase the giddy grin.
"This isn't a game, boy." His cyan eyes glared at the youth with a stern look of command as Masatomo growled the words,
each syllable bit off by his sharp yellowed teeth. "Don't be too eager, or else you won't be leaving here alive..."
"Is that a threat, sensei?" Sohun sneered, the smug smile of one who has
been pampered since birth and who knows how to get his way. "Because my father..."
"Your father is dead," the older mercenary cut him off nonchalantly. "I needn't worry about anything from him."
"Wha.. dead..?" His pompous grin vanishing as swiftly as his former eager
one, the boy blinked in confusion. "Liar. Why would you..."
"He died three days ago, according to the messenger," Masatomo continued as he turned to look at the approaching horse
and its passengers. "I wasn't going to tell you until after this business, but that was before I found out who we're up against."
"But how?" Sohun rasped, gripping the front of his robe. "How did he--"
"Satoru Saka," was his reply, spoken without even turning to the boy. "The very same man who rides towards our ambush
also rode towards your father's Daimyo three days ago, slaughtering the samurai guarding him including your father."
"That son of.." Blinking at a sudden thought, Sohun turned to him. "You're telling me this because you think it'll
help me fight better, I assume?"
"Not at all," Masatomo replied as he drew his katana from its engraved brown sheath. "I decided to tell you because
I don't think either of us will live past the coming battle. I can't very well tell you from beyond the grave." Silence engulfed
the two as they crouched in wait, the elder merc's words sinking into the younger's mind.
"Why are we here?" Sohun queried in a whisper slightly louder than that of his sword as it left its sheath. "Why do
we attack when you don't think we'll live?"
"I owed someone a favour," he answered with a dry chuckle. "And besides, nobody's actually immortal. We could get lucky
and win if our timing's right." After a brief pause, he added, "and like I said, noone lives forever. Get ready, boy. He's
almost upon us."
"Father.." Sohun whispered beside him, and tensed to wait at the ready in the tall waving grass.
“Are you getting numb?” Satoru asked, turning to speak to Momoko as they rode. “Should I stop so
you can stretch a bit? I know these long trips are hard on those who don’t often ride.”
“I’m fine,” she replied, yawning a bit as she spoke. In her arms, Seroni slept soundly. The child
had snored the entire trip away.
“You sure?” he pressed, looking into her eyes. “It’s been a long trip…”
Laughing, she shook her head. “You just want me to say yes so that you can eat while we rest.”
“Who? Me? Really, Momoko. Would I do such a thing?” He batted his eyelids, causing another bubbling laugh
to escape her lips, and shifted his gaze to the deerskin bundle resting behind Momoko on the horse’s back. His eyes
looked back to hers with a pleading look, begging her for the chance to stop.
“Alright, alright!” She laughed, and shook her head again in bewilderment. “ ‘Yes my love,
please do stop so that I may rest my bottom and stretch my legs.’ I swear, you are so childish sometimes that it should
be you in my arms right now instead of Seroni.”
“I’ll go with that,” he chuckled, pulling the reins to bring the steed to a stop. “I’ll
have to teach him to ride first though, so we can still go on…” Something caught his eye then, ahead in the tall
grass of the plain.
It was a sudden, brief flash visible through the green blades, not like the glare of a torch but rather comparable
to sunlight glinting off of a piece of glass or steel. Whatever it was, it was far from in place out in the middle of the
Reaching back behind him to catch Momoko from dismounting, he shook his head and stared intently at the spot where
the glare had originated. He heard her suck in a breath to question him, but then she paused and let the air from her lungs
without comment. She could read him better than anyone; she knew when he sensed danger.
“Stay on the horse,” he uttered softly, swinging his right leg up and over the steed’s back and dropping
to the grass silently. His blade was in his hand, the bloodmetal nodachi seemingly jumping of its own accord from its place
on his back to his fist, and vibrated ever-so-slightly. It could taste the blood that was about to be fed to it, and its steady
pulsing confirmed his suspicions about the danger ahead.
Was it the souls of the dead come to finally claim their revenge on him, now that he had finally chosen to settle down?
Had the eyes that he always felt upon his back finally drawn arms and come to confront him? Shaking his head, he sighed. Or
was it merely more poor souls all too eager to join the ranks of the men dead at his blade?
“Whoever or whatever is lurking out there, reveal yourselves.” His voice rang loud and clear across the
area, unobscured by the whistling of the breeze. “I know that you’re there. There’s no point in cowering
in the shadows like vermin.”
Any honourable foe would come into the open at those words, and so he waited. If by the count of ten nobody presented
themselves to him, he would hunt them down and show them no honour in return, slaughtering them where they crouched like dogs
before they knew of his presence. Such was the code that he lived by.
Ten heartbeats passed, and his eyes narrowed in irritation. Even hired mercenaries would have shown at the challenge.
Either they were cowards, or they believed that they could surround him while he waited. Well, the waiting was over.
“You’ve been given ample warning and opportunity,” Satoru announced. “Expect nothing from me
now but death. Nobody threatens my family or my person by slinking about through the fields and waiting for the chance to
stab me in the back!” Brandishing the six foot nodachi in front of him, he frowned deeply.
“Prepare to die.”
Still, there came no response.