- October 31, 2021
Raydorn: The Ronin of Charisma
Raydorn: The Ronin of Charisma is a group of short stories based in the same world as Raydorn: The War in the Black and Raydorn: The Valkyrie & the Frost. If you would like to read more from this world, check those out. Neona is a fictionalized island nation inspired by Japan, with other fictional nations inspired by other nations in those other stories.
For Wisdom, Forever More
“Tell me, warrior, you are samurai, are you not? The last samurai of Charisma?”
“No, me and my band, we have no master, we are Ronin.” That was the first time I was asked that question, or the first that I remember. “We are masterless warriors, swords of action in the name of our fallen master, immortals until the day we are slain.”
The Sage of Wisdom, Kashikoi, lives like a Shogun on the island of Neona. She is one of the three Immortal Sages, or I should say two currently.
Neona, a small and humble island, who depends little on outside countries, is home to a war that will never end between Wisdom and Rage. In the middle to keep the balance, lies Charisma and the action of heroism.
Action that drives conflict to its end.
Long ago, to keep balance between the forces of Wisdom and Rage, the Sage of Charisma sacrificed his life and split his soul into the swords of his samurai, thirteen to be exact. These thirteen warriors were each given a sword to uphold the balance. Thirteen samurai, made ronin, warriors without masters.
Ten of these ronin were of Neona, and three foreigners, carried by the ocean currents to the island from across the world, never to return home.
These thirteen warriors were gifted the Sage of Charisma’s immortality. They would never age as long as they held their swords as their own. They were also gifted an ability once afforded only to the three Immortal Sages.
The ability to take the life of a sage.
And so, the Sage of Wisdom asked me, “Are you here to take my life?”
It was such a strange question to ask warriors she invited to her minka, her personal home away from her palace. If we were here to kill her, we would not need to await her call, we would not have come by invitation.
Her guard didn’t see it that way. Her guard saw thirteen warriors, brave enough to wear little more than light leather, some even in plain white kimonos.
We didn’t twitch an inch when they unsheathed their swords.
I kneeled before her, in front of the Ronin who followed me, and didn’t reach for my own blade. If I did the Ronin would follow, and if the Ronin followed the rest would attack us. If they had attacked us, the Sage of Wisdom would have no one left to guard her.
I remember raising my head, the tip of my jingasa lifting with it, and seeing the Sage’s samurai standing guard through a small slit. She was the last samurai possibly, and she stood as the only one who could protect the Sage from the Ronin in her mist.
She held the katana just an inch out of its sheathe, but from it I knew so much. From how the light slid between the blinds and shined off its metal, I knew it was of the highest quality. It was likely an honored heirloom, not many of its like made anymore. So few smiths were capable of such a thing.
That sword itched to kill me, I could feel its call for my blood.
I answered the Sage’s question, as to whether we are here to kill her. “It depends on you.”
It was a warning, but the Sage’s samurai took it as a threat. “You dare threaten Lady Kashikoi?!” she yelled, and her youth boomed from under her helm. The rest of the guard unsheathed their swords, none as sharp or as worn as the samurai’s.
“Enough!” Lady Kashikoi ordered from behind her blind. The silk came down from the ceiling like a curtain, and it hid everything but her shadow. She stood from her seat and removed it. She removed her protection, her guard.
She was beautiful, stunning, not of our like.
Her hair caught my eyes, more so than her creamy skin or her the pink of her lips. Her hair flowed the length to her hips, straight without a hair out of place. It was strange, not for any reason I’ve said, but because it was green, a color unnatural, but looked nothing but natural on her head.
We were so different from each other, in the lives we pursued, in the way we stood, to the mere way we dressed. She wore a golden kimono, one-piece, one whole, a pillar against the rage that beat down upon our country.
I wore three pieces. Black over my legs, white over my torso, and bandage binding over my chest. I hid away to seem less like a person, and more like a warrior, to seem powerful. She exuded power without trying to seem like something she’s not…
She immediately made me feel like I was hiding something about myself when she had everything from her samurai that I had from the Ronin.
Respect, dignity, and loyalty without compromise.
Lady Kashikoi made me think that maybe I didn’t have to be a warrior to uphold my master’s design. In the many long years that I have used to fight in the name of Charisma, maybe it didn’t have to be so from the hilt end of a sword. She made me think that the two of us didn’t have to be so different until I realized what we desired was so different.
Lady Kashikoi took her first step, her feet silent against the grain of the wood, the sound silenced by her stocking.
“I asked the warriors of Charisma, my brother’s samurai to my home… to ask for your help, but you said you are no samurai, you are Ronin, masterless.” She walked a line behind her samurai, looking over the foreigners in our number. She did not look twice at the Neonan men and women of our number, but at the dark-skinned man, the pale woman, and the woman who appears in between. The foreigners caught her eye until she questioned me. “Who do you serve if you have no master?”
“Neona,” I answered her, “we Ronin fight for Neona, for balance in the country for our master who we could not save from death. We fight for no one else, we swore we would fight for no-”
I did not finish, for the Sage of Wisdom did not let me. She leaped from her higher step, and she crossed the distance to me. Few times have I been surprised by a Sage, and they were not good surprises.
This seemed like the first one.
My hand wanted to reach for my blade and slice her throat, but I was glad in that next moment that I did not.
Lady Kashikoi took my hands in hers and held them together. Her gesture was so warm and her eyes begged me to do something she had not asked me to do.
“What is your name?” she asked me.
I hesitated, caught off guard by her.
“Karisuma,” I answered her, “Karisuma Nokatana.”
“Karisuma, please hear me, I do not wish to be your master!” she damn near cried. “I wish for peace, for order in Neona, but I cannot do it.
“I am no warrior, and I command no armies, yet people ask me to protect them.
“I can rally Neona against Rage, I can rally them to raise their swords, but they have no one to lead them. I need someone to lead them.
“Please, for Neona, I beg you, do not pledge your sword to me, pledge it against Rage, against that which corrupts men’s souls and turns their hearts from their minds!
“I beg you, Ronin, pledge your sword against the burning blaze seeking to destroy all we hold dear, lead our people, protect them, overcome what I could never.
I knew not what she had truly intended for me and Neona at that moment, what she believed would be greatness. I knew only that no other leader I had met before would ever debase themselves to their knees to ask for help… to help their people. I knew of no man or woman who believed that joining their guest on their knees was an act of wisdom.
I knew that from that point, the Ronin of Charisma would pledge their swords to the fight against Gekido, the Sage of Rage, but my sword was pledged to her.
I made many mistakes of the heart.
In the swing of my sword, the katana named Paramoason, I made no mistakes.
Paramoason didn’t thirst for blood at that point, and neither did I. The Sage of Charisma would not have trained samurai who did. We were to be something more… heroic. He failed to teach most of us the art of Charisma, least of all me.
The Ronin of Charisma are no army, we are few, always have been. We could not turn back the army that followed Gekido in a head-on battle. Instead, we made sure that when our army met his, that ours was larger, healthier, and greater of confidence.
I knew which villages Gekido would protect, which he felt were safe, and then which of those I needed to slaughter and burn.
Slaughter is the only correct way to define what I did. No amount of honor, reason, or righteous grandstanding will change that.
They may have been on the side of Rage and its influence, but that did not stop me as I slaughtered for my side as they did for theirs. History may claim that my sword, and that of the best sword after my own, was used to win a heroic victory… but I know better…
I knew better.
The village of Gisei-sha was behind enemy lines, so Gekido thought it was safe. He made the mistake of not garrisoning it with too many warriors. It seemed like the perfect place to protect his storage of grain from his enemy.
For the most part, it was.
It was not the place to protect his grain from two Ronin and a samurai.
I had just sliced through another man’s throat as I was wondering why men yell as they swing their swords. I found that it signaled an oncoming attack.
Maybe it is because I do not need to breathe as I once did. I am an immortal who does not age, who doesn’t need to eat or drink, nor breath. Maybe it is because I have forgotten what it feels like to breathe air out of need, that I don’t understand why that boy screamed.
I remember better now, that it was no man whose throat I cut clean through, it was a boy.
The village was only beginning to burn then. Lady Kashikoi had lent me her sword, her samurai, and she was doing well. She could understand orders and tell time by the placement of the sun and moon in the sky.
Only those immediately around me and my fellow Ronin knew we were here, but more would know soon as they smelled the smoke. They left their homes to see my white kimono, stained in blood.
The last soldier of this small squad came to cut me down, stab me in the back, but of course, Nanto was there. I merely looked over my shoulder as a katana stabbed through the man’s heart.
Nanto pulled it out, twirling his one katana to fall back into rhythm and form with the other katana he held.
“You should never stab a man in the back, heh,” he said as he looked at me from under his jingasa. I arched my brow at the hypocrisy. “Lest it should happen to you?”
Nanto was from a faraway land, an escaped slave who was shipwrecked upon our master’s shores. The Sage of Charisma took him in and trained him. He was the only fool who took up mastering dual swords. If everyone was going to stare at him for his unusually dark skin, he’d give them another reason to look twice.
Dual-wielding two katanas is stupid. Yes, with proper arm strength, one can near replicate the stabbing of two hands with one, but never the blocking power. Nanto’s excuse was to always cut people down before they ever force him to block. I always told him that such a tactic would eventually lead to his death, but it seemed that was not a wise thing to say.
I did not acknowledge his sarcasm, nor his joke. I understood and still do that some can overcome the agony and darkness of taking the life of another with humor, but they always failed to understand that I am not one of them. Nanto was worse than that, he knew and didn’t care.
“Let’s go,” I ordered him, and I rested the back of Paramoason on my shoulder as I proceeded to run through the village, and Nanto took off after me.
“Slow down, Kari-pie,” he called to me, and I could hear the sound of him crossing his blades, the scratch of the metal. “They will all be dead by the end of the night.”
I noticed it then, his accent was heavy on the ‘g’ and a lot of the consonants. I liked it, it made killing sound as sinister as it truly was, and always has been.
The plan was to kill each and everyone who was in the way, to cut them down before they could scream and tell anyone where we were.
The last samurai had started a fire that could be heard burning even in the middle of the village. It was the perfect distraction to mask the screams of each man we cut down.
We ran up the side of hills where guards stood, covering yards faster than the quickest of hunting dogs.
By the time they heard the sound of our sandals I had stabbed my sword into one man’s mouth, through his spine, and then sliced the other’s throat with my next stroke.
At the same time, Nanto leaped from the top of a minka to plunge his swords down the spines of two men at once.
I stabbed another man through the stomach so I could roll over his back and cut the man behind him three times, silencing him through his lungs.
Nanto deflected the only man quick enough to pull out his sword.
Nanto slashed with both swords to push away our foes, and I came from the side to sever his hand with a slash. I kept running forward, letting Nanto cut him down before following me.
People started coming out to see the fire. They worried that the uneven ground below them would bring the fire towards the center. The uneven ground did allow Nanto and I to keep attacking them from above.
It was a group of people who came before the grain house, all worried about their storage of food.
We cut them down, men, women, children, and all. Slaughtered.
Nanto never said a thing, but his sword would not move if mine had not moved first. He never killed an innocent if I would not first.
“The leader should ask, only what he would do himself, and the same for her.” Yes, the same for Nanto, the same for me.
I remember the mother who held the hand of her daughter who was so fervently scared. She kept grabbing at her hand, crying to be held. Her mother was tired and never saw me coming.
I cut right through her, from her shoulder to her waist, and blood spurted right on the little girl. Blood fell on her kimono.
It was cute, it was red but not the same red as the blood. It stood out all the more to see such a thick and heavy crimson over the warmer, brighter version of the color. The girl watched her mother fall before she noticed the blood, and pulled her kimono from her chest to see.
The small thing that did not match.
With the next swing I made, her blood made it all match.
Then they started screaming, but it mattered little now. The fire burned and people were finally beginning to panic and scream all around. Now it was undeniably violence for the sake of violence, and I could not stop.
“Kari-pie,” Nanto muttered, only cutting down one man before stopping to watch.
It was sudden and subtle, the change. I had killed so many, one after the other, I hadn’t even considered that I needn’t to anymore. I could let the innocents run.
I hadn’t realized.
I swung my sword with both hands and moved my feet in tandem with my shoulders. I moved like a dancer and a savage.
In one moment I stepped forward, perfectly balanced on my toes as I stabbed my sword through a man’s chest. Then the next I wrenched it from his chest to sever another’s arm, all in a singular moment.
I stabbed behind me, I slashed to my side. I swung my sword and cut all down before they could run before they could hide.
I didn’t… I didn’t think of how they lacked weapons. I only thought that they were in the way.
I let Paramoason lead me. Blood lust isn’t always what people imagine it to be. It’s not always this unbridled rage, it can be subtle, it can creepover your mind like a veil and you don’t even feel it happening. Not until it’s too late.
Not until you’re all alone.
I didn’t know I was breathing hard, front foot planted, back foot on my toes, sword raised parallel to the ground. I didn’t know why I was breathing hard, I didn’t need to breathe, but my heart beat in my chest. I didn’t need to breathe, I did not need for such things, but my heart still beats so hard that the body didn’t know what else to do.
“Kari,” Nanto called my name, “what have you done?”
I looked around me, knee-deep in bodies, and found I did not know, nor understand. I looked at Paramoason, the Paramore Thorn, a blade I thought I knew and understood, a blade I loved.
Sometimes you break what you love, but other times what you love breaks you.
Paramoason was the only thing I knew I loved. It was the gift from my late master, my weapon as an eternal Ronin, and it led me. Sometimes the artist is not the painter but the paint, the mark of a bad artist.
I’m a terrible artist.
I am better at being honest. “I am keeping balance in Neona.”
“Are you keeping balance in yourself?”
Nanto’s lips did not move, the words did not come to form his lips, but I heard words speak to me nonetheless.
Those words came from the voice of Wisdom, greeting me upon my victory after I burned Gekido’s grain in Gisei-sha, and my other Ronin did the same around Neona.
The trip back was a blur, the trip back didn’t happen. I slaughtered people in Gisei-sha, burned their grain, and then I was standing in her doorway.
Nothing in between mattered.
“We always protect our country by killing, those who are our countrymen and those who are not,” I said.
“But since you did not keep yourself in balance, you will do so now, so it’s not that you must or that you must not,” she said, and from my daze, I realized she was right.
I heard her whistle, and I focused on her to see that she was gesturing me to her side. “I don’t bite, Karisuma, come closer.”
I don’t typically find myself in the bedroom of such a fair lady, especially without any guards. I didn’t back then either, and yet… logic dictates I shouldn’t have been the one intimidated, but I was. I was the warrior who just admitted to killing a half dozen villagers in my loss of reality, yet her eyes encapsulated me, drew me in, and declawed me.
I moved to her bedside, as it sat low to the ground yet held a canopy that hung high overhead. When I set Paramoason against the corner, it was like I was setting aside an extension of myself.
I’ve known true loyalty in my life, but never true, uncompromising love… except from the soul that lies in that sword. It is the one true extension of myself, it never leaves my side. Yet, when I set it aside to sit by Lady Kashikoi, it felt like it was being replaced by something else.
The moment I sat and crossed my legs beside her, I noticed just how much I could see of her in her evening gown. I noticed the way her hair framed her face and amplified the color of her skin. She was no goddess, but she was beyond mere mortals. Looking at her made me feel like one.
In the next moment when she touched me, I tensed up. It was strange, feeling her rubbing my shoulder, and then to feel her to kiss it. I barely heard her speak, she had to repeat her question.
“My Sword of Charisma, has this ever happened to you before?” she asked me, but I wasn’t quite she what she meant. My will being taken over by my sword, or being touched with affection.
I went with the response I would have given if she had not gifted me her touch.
“Only twice before,” I answered, and saw the markings of disappointment in her comforting smile. It was my mistake, but I had chosen stay that course. “When my life was most unbalanced, the sword challenged me to make me so. It took much trial and tribulation to control it.”
The Sage of Wisdom inched closer to me, turning her body to face towards the bed as she rested her head on my shoulder. Her cheek was so smooth, it was no wonder I allowed what came next to happen. It’s a wonder I could understand her as she spoke.
“Was the tribulation because you struggle with yourself,” she asked, “or because you struggle against the blade’s true wishes?”
I did not understand, in fact, the lady had me at a loss. I admitted, “I am not wise anymore than I am charismatic, sadly.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” she said, as she lifted her chin to sit on my shoulder, and slipped her hand right at the edge of my neck. I couldn’t make a move. My head buzzed as she spoke to me, as she told me, “I think you were wise in the art of war, I think that’s why Charisma chose you, who seems so uncharismatic.”
She spoke almost in a whisper as her words took hold of me, along with her sweet scent. “I think the sword fights against you because you defy your inner nature. Let it guide you through this war, and do not feel guilt for the lives it guides you towards taking. It must know something about them that you do not.”
I had never fathomed it, that the soul of Charisma could be guiding me, that the reason I felt these pangs and this loss of control was because the soul of my old master was trying to guide me towards righteousness and balance. Lady Kashikoi proved herself very wise with her words.
She proved herself wise once more when she took my chin in her right hand and my jingasa in her left. She took it off my head and the looped ponytail it sat on.
“You shouldn’t wear your hat inside,” she said as her hand came back to my hair, the two long strands framing my face, and pushed up the bangs between them. She was looking at me, into me in a way I had never been looked at before.
“You’re so beautiful,” the Lady told me. I did and didn’t believe her. I was nothing of the sort compared to her. I stand of blood and my skin was caked in it. My jingasa was the only thing that protected my face from most of the red silk.
Yet, who was I to question her beliefs.
Her hand moved down my shoulder, pushing down my kimono, revealing the art inked into my shoulder. She stopped, and she looked at me again and turned me towards her by the chin. “Can I kiss you?” she asked.
It had been so long since someone asked me that. It was so strange.
That was in her room, where Charisma and Wisdom were one.
Thum. Thum-thum-thum. Thump-thump-thum.
It was on the battlefield where Charisma met Rage, and I first met its armies. They were little to behold in anything but number.
I had surveyed them in their approach upon Lady Kashikoi’s lands. Gekido had aimed to wipe out the food she used to feed her people, similarly as I had done to his soldiers. But I refused to allow him to harm the innocents who followed the ways of Wisdom. I planned and I prepared the amateur armies of Wisdom at my back, I was ready.
But at the front I stood alone. The soldiers were not brave, they were followers of neither Charisma nor Rage.
I had not even all of the Ronin. Most were spread out across Neona, and Nanto was pushing his interests elsewhere.
I waited on the open field, waiting for the armies of Rage to come thundering over, with nothing but Paramoason in my hand. The armies lied waiting yards behind me, with apprehension and fear.
Nanto spent his time close to me but not. He spoke to the samurai again, but I knew not what he said.
Since I started spending time with Lady Kashikoi, he spent time with her samurai, and soon there formed a rift between us. He looked at me differently, he did not like the way I used my sword.
He felt my eyes piercing into him long enough to finally turn his attention to the coming slaughter that was upon us. The loss we stood to witness and the danger it posed to Lady Kashikoi was more important than his masculine interests in the last samurai.
He bid her farewell, and moved towards me embittered.
Nanto knew that I cared little for pleasantries and small talk. I found that to only be for Lady Kashikoi and her wisdom. For him, he would receive my clear questions and I would receive what he had to offer for answers.
“For what reason do you spend your time with that samurai?” I asked him. “What do you see?”
“Will, strength, and honor, something we have lacked in recent days, Kari-pie,” he replied.
I knew what he meant. The ‘we’ was me. Ever since I took the advice of the Sage of Wisdom and let my sword guide me, he had remained at an emotional distance.
I had no misgivings about calling him out on his feelings. “Do you? What is so dishonorable about letting my sword guide our way?”
Nanto walked to my side as I balanced my sword between myself in the ground. He tried to tell me, “You should not let your sword guide your life, it is a thing.” My eyes turned to him with a level of hate I had not experienced before, and something he had not ever seen in me.
“It holds a piece of our master’s soul,” I remember snapping at him. I remember deriding him for the insult he was paying our dead master. “It holds his very will, that which he has gifted to u… do not say anything of the such again.”
The sound of thundering hooves silenced him before I could.
“It is time,” I said.
“Prepare,” I told him, as the armies that pledged their loyalty to Lady Kashikoi grabbed their swords and came running to stand behind me. They were brave at first, until the armies of Rage came over the hill.
I thought they were savages. They were either covered in the furs of their kills, or they were not covered at all each time I encountered them.
They were all men before me then, bare-chested and calling out for blood. They called out for blood and I refused to believe I knew their language. If only I knew what they were saying.
From the front, there was a man in armor, a false samurai whose bannermen surrounded him with a flag, and followed him with pride. “It appears the general leads from the front,” I said to myself, “a tactical error.”
Nanto turned his back to me, readying for the coming slaughter, but he could not resist the chance to point out, “Do you not lead from the front?” My eyes shifted towards him again. “I think it’s pretty brave and courageous.”
“Of course you do, you seem to think the world of everyone but me of late.”
My candor seemed to have caught him off guard in that moment. He seemed to have regretted his joke, being caught in one of those moments where he must realize that I am very much listening when he speaks.
“It’s Karisuma Nokatana,” I corrected him, “if I am your general as you say, then refer to me with formal respect.” That silenced him, silenced him dead. He spoke in acceptance but there was no life behind his voice.
A death by words is a death by a thousand cuts. There is no adrenaline in the pain this death inflicts. There is only the pain to sit and wallow in. That’s the spite I was growing for him, the anger that was simmering… the rage.
As Lady Kashikoi had suggested, I followed the path my sword was leading me.
As the armies of Rage lined the horizon, their savage calls rang through the field that seemed endless and unparalleled in horror and beauty. The believers of Wisdom stood shaking and firm, I would not let them die this day, and I would not let them ruin this chance.
“Lead them away,” I told Nanto, and as it was planned I would face them alone. I had expected him to be by my side but I realized then that I did not want it that way.
Nanto yelled the words retreat, and without hesitation the followers of Wisdom ran as the army of Rage galloped forward to cut them all down. I wonder if it could be considered Wisdom to run from a fight that could not be won.
The last samurai, Lady Kashikoi’s samurai didn’t want to retreat, especially as she believed I was staying to die alone. I would not die without seeing Lady Kashikoi one last time.
But then the samurai left when Nanto bid her to, and I disliked her more in that moment.
Everyone was leaving me, abandoning me to what seemed like fate as the armies of Rage thundered on.
The general he cheered on his men as they watched us retreat in fear.
He matched my eyes and thought he had me beat, until he saw nothing in my eyes. Then he grew afraid, and when the armies were a hair away the slaughter began, me versus over a thousand.
I unsheathed my sword only an inch, and the soul of Charisma that lived inside it pulsed, turning the engraved words green and ready. The first man close enough chucked a spear at me, and in the same move, I deflected it, cut it in half, and then stabbed my sword into the ground.
In a pulse, when the first horse was so close to cutting me down, the land before me collapsed. Across the length of the horizon, and yards before me, the land revealed spikes.
The slaughter was bloody. I watched the general fall and die first.
Hundreds died in the first wave, falling the height of a man to their death, impaled along with their horses. Spikes went through their necks, their chests, and their heads, everywhere I looked they were dying.
Then horses fell and toppled over their brethren, crushing their riders and more underneath them. They became the simplest thing men could be, mounds of bloody flesh.
I turned my back to them as they perished. I tasted victory, killing so many without losing a single man.
I turned back so I could walk back to the bed of Lady Kashikoi, to be in her arms again. It was almost a reward for killing in her name. Her touch was addictive, and I longed to be enveloped in her arms, but I knew not how to ask for it.
I came to her like I had before, only without a summons. I had bathed for her but I still felt covered in blood and death. She was accepting of me anyway.
I entered, and her gown was down to show me all of her, so I proceeded to follow suit to her arms.
Even in the after throes, when she and I perspired and her hand had stopped its skilled pleasure, she still gifted me her hand.
She traced her finger down my back, moving it along the scales of the dragon head that stopped at the base of my spine. It’s skinny neck slithered up and around my spine as her finger did, and when it’s wings opened halfway, it did so over my shoulder blades.
But its wings were not scales, no, they were petals.
Petals encompassed my shoulder, down my right arm and to my hand. Even a few petals of a dangerous rose crept up my neck. Her finger stopped there, and moved to my chest.
I felt her reach around to every inch of me, as her lips gifted my ear with their touch.
“The Petal Serpent,” she whispered its name, “the Dragon that brings the spring. You give it greater beauty than it deserved.” She desired to hear me moan and she did. I moaned every word I struggled to say.
“You speak… too kindly. I do not bring anything… as magnificent as the spring,” and then she snapped at me.
“That’s not true… my lovely Ronin, my Sword of Charisma,” and she wanted me to swear it, I could tell by how one hand gripped my neck as the other the breast over my heart.
“No…” I whispered to her.
“You defy your Lady?” she asked, happy and not. I had defied her, excited her, and yet at the expense of the truth that was me.
“I have let my sword guide me, and it has shown me how violent I can be, how violent I truly am. I lose more of that which bonds me to my brothers and sisters with each battle. That is what the Paramore Thorn seems to want… what it desires from me.
“I am nothing more than fire and death, nothing compared to the Spring Dragon of Petals.”
The Sage of Wisdom gripped my chin, and turned my lips towards hers, but not to kiss. She wanted my eyes to match hers, to see in me things I could not.
“Do you know how the Petal Dragon brings forth the spring?” she asked. I knew the story, but also didn’t at the same time. I knew of how it used its hot breath, yet when she asked the look in her eye, she made me believe I was wrong. She made me believe that I didn’t really know the truth until she told it to me.
She left me breathless with a kiss, which ended with her telling me, “It burns away the old and weary of winter, leaving nothing in its wake. It makes us all struggle to build anew. Each time the flowers bloom, we are left us no foundation or peace. We are made to struggle through its flames, because the Dragon that brings the spring is not benevolent, it is strict and punishing.
“You are no such thing in the killing you must complete, you leave behind what we need,” she told me, “and do not let any foreigner pretending to be of our way, make you think any different. Do not let Nanto push you away from following your sword.”
Then she kissed me again, as she agreed and validated my ire. She kissed my grievances away, and helped me forget, for she knew exactly who troubled me.
As she kissed me I reached behind her head so that she would never stop, and I could feel her smile against my lips.
Of course, eventually she did stop. Eventually, I had to release her, for there was still killing to be done for her.
There was still killing to be done in the name of Wisdom, and I let my sword guide me.
I continued with my army of followers. Farmers who had never held a sword were instructed in the ways of iaidō and ninjutsu. Fisherman were taught to stalk warriors of rage in the night. Smiths who had known nothing but horseshoes and plows, made swords fit for the kings.
Lady Kashikoi did not force and poison her people with the ways of war like Lord Gekido did, but she would have to let me and the Ronin of Charisma do something of the like if she was ever going to win.
Nanto did not agree, he did not want to teach innocents the art of war. He felt that civilians were the people we fought for. He did not understand, and I thought him a fool for it.
If these people wanted to protect their Lady, keep their ways, and protect their lands, they had to fight for themselves. They could not sit and wait idly to be sacked, they needed to learn to fight for themselves.
I told him, “There is no grand castle the Sage of Wisdom is hiding warriors. Without this, without the swords and the training to protect themselves, they would die.”
And he turned his back to me, the foreign fool.
We had fought many battles, we had pushed Gekido’s forces back, but it was not enough. I needed to do this for Lady Kashikoi. I needed to give her new protectors, to keep her safe should I fall. I needed to make sure that when I met Lord Gekido, there were many willing and capable to replace me if he should kill me.
If I died in the coming battles, someone else will bring balance. Someone one would keep it, and Lady Kashikoi, safe.
So I trained them, and when we needed to go up against the armies of Rage we stood against them.
Upon the Field of the Burning Scorpion, the beast that stalked the lands for an eternal summer, I led the army of Wisdom against the army of Rage. The army that razes and the army that defends met where summer starts and ends on Neona. It was a flat open land surrounded by trees.
When we rushed to clashed swords, it was me who led from the front as Nanto had wanted, with him and his samurai at my side.
It was my sword that drew first blood. It was my sword that cut men from shoulder to waist.
My sword that disemboweled men, and removed them of their throats. My sword that removed heads from shoulders, and cut sword arms at the elbow.
It was my sword that painted the ground red, drawing the symbol of war and death a hundred times over.
It was the warriors I trained that did more than hold back the armies of Rage. It was the warriors I trained who drove Rage that much deeper into their lands. We would free the lands of Rage’s control soon enough.
It was none of my men, or even my Ronin who saved my life.
As my sword guided me towards the deaths of Lady Kashikoi’s enemies, it nearly let me be killed in. In my blur of death and blood, I found myself surrounded but undefeated. One by one, one slash, one thrust, one cut of the sword at a time, I killed man after man of Rage.
But one cut me. One cut my left arm, and then proceeded to cut me across my chest, as if he was trying to cut a straight line around me. The pain caught me off guard, staggering me. That was all an enemy needed to complete a kill.
The samurai saved me. The samurai plunged her sword into the man’s back before he could take his chance. Nanto’s little samurai… saved my life.
Then she proceeded to kill the next man.
And so did I.
It was a great shame that I kept to myself long after the battle over. I bore my shame and made no move to cover my wound. All the warriors of Wisdom and the Ronin of Charisma saw the line that cut across my body when my arm hung at my side. It wasn’t just warriors among the dead, it could have been their leader just as easily. It was an important lesson.
But when I went to see Lady Kashikoi, I was come over with a grave kind of shame I had never experienced before.
When she asked to meet me in her garden, to lie with her against her maple tree, I wanted to hide my wound from her. I did not want her to see it and worry for me, to see me as anything other than invincible. I did not want to know what doubt looked like in her eye. For once, the bandages around my chest were to protect my wounds.
I worried so much as she led me to her maple tree, a ghost with blue leaves, surrounded by falling petals of the spring. She helped me forget the stress when she took my jingasa off my head, and placed it on her own.
Lady Kashikoi was what I would call… cute… smiling and pretending to be me with my hat. Her smile and joy helped me to forget that wound that only recently ceased to bleed. Then she wanted to sit against the tree, and as always she would lay against me.
My bandages held, but it did not matter, for the moment I lied against her tree, she set her head against my wound and I stiffened against her touch. She knew something was wrong. I was usually anything but stiff when she touched me.
The Sage in all of her wisdom knew I hid a wound, and forbade me from hiding it. She did not gasp and she did not cry. She moved to my other side, kissed my lips, and kissed down my neck where she rested her head.
“I don’t hate many things, but to see you hurt…” she said, and I felt her pain in her words. The pain one feels for another they love… I remember this… when I watched my master, the Sage of Charisma, give his life for Neona. I remember the pain that riddled me after losing him, and now Lady Kashikoi feels the same for me.
I never wanted her to feel such pain for me. The war must come to an end, for her sake.
“I shall kill him on the battlefield,” I declared as my hand slid through her hair… as I felt her heartbeat skip, “and I shall wipe the Sage of Rage from the face of the earth.”
She lifted her head from my chest, to look deep into me as she did before. It was like she had seen something she had not seen before. I worried that I had made a mistake, that I had shown her something far too dark, and twisted, but she held my face in her hands and it did not feel as such.
“You… you truly are much like my brother, thinking that one death is the end, that one death is victory.”
“Would killing him not bring peace and balance?” I asked her. “Would not the death of Rage bring the balance my master… your brother wished for?”
“For a time, my Ronin,” she told me, as her body formed against mine. She whispered into my ear the truth of life. “But he would come back, he would be reincarnated. Just as Charisma’s blades accept new Ronin, Neona needs new Sages, and eventually, a new Sage of Rage.”
“That’s… that’s truly an unbearable thing to swallow.” It filled me with rage, my heart felt like a beating stone in my chest. It was as if it should not move, but yet it did without my permission.
Lady Kashikoi’s giggle soften the pain around my heart, and her words confused me more. “You truly make me feel like I am with my brother once again, yes, long have our souls known each other! I can sense him, my brother in you.”
Those were strange words that she said, and it made me wonder, it made me need to ask, “Brother?” Was I not what I thought to her?
“Well, not truly my brother,” she admitted, seeing the confusion and the growing pain in my face, but this pain she found amusing. She tapped my nose, making me feel so foolish. “In many instances he was like a brother to me, and in many others he was not. We had time to change our minds, back and forth. We do not age, but we are not gods, Karisuma. We Sages change so often.”
“Is… is that why I am here?” I asked her, having felt fear well up in me in a way I had not anticipated. A fear, a jealousy, a feeling of being used that was misplaced. I asked her, “Am I here because you wish to find him?” and expected an honest answer.
“No, Karisuma, my Sword of Charisma,” she said, my name sounding liked a blessing, even a legend as it flowed from her lips. “You are here with me because I wish to be with you, and no one else.”
It was immature of me to desire to hear those three words so strongly, but it made me feel content and confident in a way I should not have needed.
I tried to hide this, I tried to hide with humor. “Good, I would be quite jealous.”
My humorous deflect was obvious, but it made her smile anyway. “Would you?” she asked. “You’re usually quite good at hiding it, you hide your emotions like your sheathe does your sword.”
“Yes, I am good at that, aren’t I?” I was not good at it. I was not good at hiding my emotions, in fact, I was likely more obvious than any person she’s ever met.
She could read me like book, I was her favorite to open and close as she pleased, and it pleased her to do so until she thought she might not be able to do so again.
Never before a battle had Lady Kashikoi seen me off. She never said goodbye, because it could have been permanent. If there were going to be last words between us, it should have been more than goodbye. but having suffered a wound, and facing the finale of this war against Rage, she could not avoid the once selfish act she kept from herself.
Her armies were going to face off against the armies of Rage for the last time, win or lose. The Ronin of Charisma were going to face the Sage of Rage, and we would not all come back.
Lord Gekido could kill none of us, all of us, or even just me. Lady Kashikoi would have to wait and watch from afar in absolute agony. I believed that it would be the last time she would have to experience such fear.
I swore to the Dragon that brought the spring, and the Scorpion who’s fire brought the summer, that I would never let another her suffer another Gekido. I would hunt the Sage of Rage down after Gekido, and I would continue to do so until the earth was no more, or until Paramoason believed me no longer worthy.
Never again would I let someone bring fear to Lady Kashikoi’s heart.
Before I left her, I kneeled and offered her my blade as her own. She took it and gifted me her blessing with a kiss to its tip, and then she personally placed it back into its sheath.
I stood before her with all the Ronin of Charisma, and placed my fist over my chest along with them to bow. She kissed only me, without warning. She tasted sweet, and I could feel the fear in her heart that it could be the last.
When she stopped, she held her forehead against mine.
“Don’t die,” she told me.
And I promised her I wouldn’t.
The Ronin of Charisma followed me south, across half of Neona, to where the armies of Wisdom followed us, and the samurai followed Nanto.
At the end of the road was a capable warrior who had saved my life. Though Nanto and I had no longer been the duo we once were, she and him could have been for each other what Lady Kashikoi has been for me.
That is what I resigned myself to believe.
As the armies of Rage hid in Lord Gekido’s castle, I felt justified in my belief and even more in my endeavor.
They hid behind their walls like cockroaches while we sat outside. We could starve them out, but with only their army inside their walls they had enough food to wait out a siege. We didn’t have many siege weapons, none of quality.
We needed to get the gates opened, I knew of only one way, through the river that ran below and through the castle walls, but that was no easy task. It flowed from the east, down through the bottom third of Neona, and into the straight between Neona and the continent. Lord Gekido built his land atop of it hundreds of years ago, but the river has changed from when he first built it.
The River of the Viper, opposed to the River of the Crow up north, had eroded rock and stone so it was well below sea level. Now the cliffs were too high to jump into the water with the river being so low. Even though no Ronin can drown, we would have broken our legs in the fall and bled out with the flow of the river.
We could not enter the castle through the eastern side where the river flowed south towards the sea, the current was too strong, and we could not swim against it. We needed someplace that was built into the cliffside as the river eroded into its depths, and we had not the time to make one.
There was one establishment that held the requirements we needed. A brothel that fornicated to the pleasures of Rage. It had stood near the castle for hundreds of years along with many other establishments, but only the brothel kept on. If it had been anything else, they would have up and abandoned the property like their neighbors around them. If they were loyal and smart they would have destroyed any way down to the river, but they did not.
They believed that their carnal desires were an omnipresent need across the country, that it did not matter who was in control of the territory, there would always be patrons.
They were right, of course, but somehow I doubt they would have stayed had they known it would have cost them their lives.
I led an army with Nanto at my side to the door of the brothel, and we surrounded it. There was the sounds of lovemaking to be sure, but more than that, there were sounds that horrified men and shocked me. Pain-filled screams, animalistic howling, foul language, and above all, the strange squeaking sound of leather.
I kicked the door in, and we swarmed this place, seeking to bring about an end to whatever raw pleasures Rage partook in, but we were not ready for it.
We were not ready for the sadism and masochism that took place.
Harlots being savaged while strung from the banisters. Gigolos being sodomized as they were tied down and whacked with a crop. Beasts in leather masks, torturing patrons with clamps and hot wax.
The scariest of all were the whips and tools that resembled nothing more than weapons to me at the time. They all looked worn and used, like they had defiled dozens and would defile more.
The worst of it were the faces of enjoyment. They enjoyed the sacrilege, they enjoyed the pain, the imitation or reality of it. They called for more, they called their torturers and victims names like they were friends and pets. As if the insanity of it was the same as true passion and love.
The most insulting were those who were finished, those who coddled and massaged each others wounds as if they had not inflicted them on each other. It was as if they were depressed it was over and their abuser had to bring them back to the brink.
This was the kind of love that Rage supplied, the freedom such sacrilege sold themselves on. If this embodied the kind of freedoms Rage allowed, in that moment I was proud to be a slave to Wisdom.
Nanto stalled, he did not raise his sword, but I did, along with the army of Wisdom I trained. We killed them much like the villages who had chosen to store and protect Gekido’s grain, like the armies that deigned to conquer more land for Gekido’s rule, like all the rest who chose the ideals of Rage over Wisdom.
We killed them all, for not one was ashamed, not one thought themselves a victim. They all signed up for what they had experienced, and I would not allow one word of it to reach the ears of my fair Lady Kashikoi. That is what my sword led me to do, that is what it wanted, so I acted without pretense, just as she had instructed.
By the time we were done, we had forgotten what we came here for in the killing. We had to clean and cover up the abominations present in the establishment before we continued on. We had to rid the place of the stench.
When the rest of the Ronin of Charisma arrived, they only knew of what was here from the mouths of the soldiers who did the cleansing. Some seemed impressed, fewer cared. Only Nanto looked as if he were grieving.
For a long time I had never taken Nanto to be quite so sentimental. The moment I saw him grieving for the people who died in the brothel, I realized he never should have become a samurai of war, then a Ronin. He should have been a samurai of some other kind for our master, but he was dealt this poor hand. What I would have changed if I could.
When we set the brothel’s boats down into the river, the Ronin entered. We would invade the castle, kill as many as we could, and open the gates on the north, west, and south sides, and then light a great fire as the signal.
Then Lady Kashikoi’s samurai would lead the armies surrounding the castle to storm it, and the Ronin would move on to take Lord Gekido’s life.
I would take Lord Gekido’s life.
Even after the taking of the brothel, I found myself feeling something I never had before a battle as I sailed down the river with all the thirteen Ronin at my back. I felt excitement, for balance to be established, for the war to end, but more than that I was excited to finally meet Lord Gekido, the Sage of Rage face to face.
I was excited to wet Paramoason with his blood.
We timed our infiltration perfectly with when we could use the moonlight hitting the water to see, but when the eyes above us could not see the reflection.
As the river began to pass under the castle, the petals fell on us. They were red, except for the one that fell in my hand. That one was black, and looking back I see that it was most pertinent.
Lord Gekido was no fool. He knew that the only way for us to get into his castle was through the river and the land’s sewer. We Ronin needed to be quick, we needed to be deadly, we needed to be effective, and we were.
The moment the boat sailed into the pass, Nanto threw a knife at the rope that rang the bell on the surface, and cut it to the point of struggle for anyone who tried to pull it.
I leapt in immediately, and made sure none of the warriors guarding the river passage would get the chance to try.
I had cut down three by the time Nanto had killed his first, and we had killed half by the time the second group of our brethren came in behind us.
We could not stop there, we moved quickly up the stairs. We forwent footwear to mask our steps even more, and as the one who went first I slew each and every guard at their post. The black cardigan that I wore in place of white masked my presence well.
We reached the surface on the outer wall, with the castle looming over us to block our sight of the full moon. It mattered not, the shadow of Rage itself only helped our cause.
We split apart, five to raise the gates in the south, five to the west, and three to the north. I was one of the three, with Nanto and another of our brethren. We ran along the wall, and cut men down as if it were nothing.
However, it was here that our status of stealth could not continue, as swords could be heard clashing before we could reach the northern gate. Fires lit the sky and signalled across the castle grounds to the rest of Lord Gekido’s men.
When my group had to contend with those at the northern gate, they were waiting for us with bows, putting us at a severe disadvantage that only profound skill could save us from.
There are fewer things more difficult than deflecting an arrow. It’s a projectile that can cross yards in a single moment, and the point is barely thicker than a blade. The staff may be long, but if one is trying to cut it at the staff, you’re trying to cut it after it hits you.
To deflect them, one has to be quick, with the eyes of a hawk, and maintain a sense of timing above any living being that I know of.
More often than not, it is easier to dodge, far easier, but we did not have that luxury with more than one bowman against us, and one straight path to where we were going.
So for that we deflected arrows. We spread out, giving each other more room, so I ran faster. The first two arrows that came my way were poorly placed, shot together, and shot parallel to each other. I raised my blade before my face and they both snapped against it.
Nanto had the easiest time, one of the few times where his two lighter swords were superior. As slim as the difference is, having more to block with is best.
Our third wasn’t so lucky. She deflected one, and the second hit her in the shoulder. She kept running afterwards, but the moment that happened, the five bowman stopped aiming for me and Nanto and started aiming for her.
Nanto and I both tried to stop, our feet sliding, but all at once they took aim and shot her, except one.
She blocked one, and found herself riddled in arrows. She fell to her knees only for the last one to fly through her head.
There wasn’t a moment to grieve, for pain of any kind that did not take form in Rage. She was a warrior sister to me as all of the Ronin were, and in that moment I forsook Wisdom for Rage’s energizing embrace.
I heard the pull of the bow behind me, and I turned as it started flying. I was not aimless, my sword was well placed in a path I found through the awareness my senses gifted me.
I cut the arrow from its point to it’s tail, down the middle. The bowman had never seen anything of like before, and fear appropriately took root.
I ran full speed at the tower, a demon to them. Never let someone tell you that a bow or a sword are a warrior’s most powerful weapon.
A warrior’s most powerful weapon is fear. Fear keeps a man frozen in place when he could be shooting an arrow. Fear makes him hesitant in the face of a lesser foe or one at a disadvantage. Fear causes a man to see the edge of death as if it were a few feet in front of him, before it was even so close.
The moment I put fear into the bowmen they were dead men walking.
I ran as they hesitated and struggled to shoot an arrow as they had so easily done before. Before they meekly shot their first arrow, I jumped onto the edge of the perimeter wall, and then the wire that connected it to the bowman’s post.
The balance I showed running on string only embroiled them in fear, and with a final leap as half began to run away, they were truly dead.
The one arrow that shot true I deflected, the spark of its iron point hitting my sword lit a spark before my eye. The second before I landed on the bowman’s post, I swung my sword down through one man’s bow, and half his face.
I spun around him in a pirouette, and stabbed backwards, holding my sword in a reverse grip. I had stabbed him through his chest and under his bow.
I slashed my sword as I brought it before me, slicing another man’s throat. The fourth tried to hit me with his bow but his speed couldn’t cover the distance fast enough. When I swung my sword I cut his hands off as he brought his bow down. I charged him with my shoulder and then ran my sword through his head.
The last bowman thought he had a chance. He had his arrow and he pulled it back while my sword was still in his comrade’s head, but he forgot that I was not alone.
I did not, and let loose a look of death that made the bowman hesitate in his aim a millisecond longer.
Nanto ran his sword through the other man’s back and brought his other blade down through his shoulder.
The bowmen were dead but the job was not yet done. We turned around and each jumped from the bowman’s station to the wall, and then down upon soldiers manning the door. With a single chop each, we killed them, and then after a few more slices we killed the handful that surrounded them.
We heard the screams and yells of more soldiers close by, but there was still an army for us to let in. We risked our necks and our backs, both of us taking a side of the block that locked the door, and lifted.
It was not light, and it took more than a few seconds to even lift it halfway out of its hold, and when it was almost out Nanto’s own strength almost faltered.
The moment the block hit the ground we pushed the gate open, and we each unsheathed the one sword our master had given us. Together, we crossed them over our heads, and together they cast a green light that even the samurai could see through her thick helmet.
Within moments we heard the sounds of horses heading our way. The samurai in her green armor was first, sword raised, and the flag of Wisdom on her back. From the trees warriors began to flood in, and before they were halfway to the front gate, we could hear the sounds of horses and men storming the western and southern gates.
The Ronin had succeeded in our first task, and now we must head towards our most important.
I turned towards the castle, and did not think twice about whether Nanto would follow me. We had a mission and our brethren needed us. Yet, because he knew I had expected him to follow my lead, he had to tell me.
“I’ll catch up.”
I turned around and gave him the one-eyed glare through the cut in my jingasa, and he knew that to waste our time was abhorrent to me. We were so close to complete and utter victory, so close to ending it all, but he wanted to wait. I know why he wanted to wait.
For the samurai.
Well, if he wanted to put everything at risk, by all means I let him insult the rest of us. At that point, I had little faith in him to do what was right and appropriate. At that point, I considered taking his sword from him after the battle. It would have been the first time that would have happened.
I ran ahead before the army barreled in, and ran to the foot of the castle as did the other Ronin who knew their duty.
We set our minds to the task ahead. We weren’t sure what to expect of the Sage of Rage, an immortal that could be killed only by our swords. An immortal who had centuries of experience on us all, but at the same time…
For all we knew he could have went down with a single strike.
I ran the door down, and I cut down every man in my path. After one pirouette I found myself back to back with one of my brethren, and when I stepped up the stairs I was thrusting my sword alongside another. We work seamlessly, effortlessly, effectively up the castle. No one, warrior, servant, or between was spared. We cut throats and we severed heads. We made sure there were many bodies to bury that day, and with stealing glances between the death and violence, I saw the castle grounds.
I saw it all burning. It seemed that the land that embodied Rage would not be extinguished in anything but a visage of its own form.
By the time we stood at the top of the castle, the cardigans of the Ronin were red instead of black, including my own. Before the Sage of Rage, we were nine instead of thirteen, having lost three in our taking of the castle grounds, and one to foolish love, or whatever it was they felt.
Nine should have to be enough to vanquish the one. There were no others, I knew not how I knew that, except that Paramoason told me as such.
With a stroke of my sword that flowed green, I cut the door, and it fell away.
Just as when we met Lady Kashikoi, Lord Gekido hid behind a curtain, and there he showed a duality between Wisdom and Rage that I failed to see.
“Which of you is Kashikoi’s lover?” he asked.
They all traded glances behind me, wondering if I would be willing to make myself a target of his wrath. I had no qualms about it, as it should have given the others the chance to attack him as he raged against me.
I stepped forward with my sword, and corrected him. “I am her protector.”
“Protector?” he repeated, as if it were a joke. He stood up from behind the curtain, revealing his massive form in the shape of his shadow. “What protector slaughters a village of innocents to spite my grain? What protector puts swords in the hands of simple farmhands and children to battle an army who meant them no harm?
“You had to have come through the House of Red Petals to get here, did you spare them? No, I would bet the world you did not.” Gekido unsheathed his nodachi, a longer version of our katanas, and cut the curtain as he did so. He revealed the black samurai armor, and the red plates between. It was all to be a blur, no one to see and no one to get in the way.
“No, a protector would not do those things,” he said as he walked towards us, leaving a grand gap at the foot of his seat and us. “A lover would, a lover would forsake honor and all that is good for the smile of their curse. A protector would not, but a lover would.
“Karisuma, I do not blame you for what you have done out of love. You have done what so many have for centuries on end, what many more will do.
“For what is honor compared to her touch? It’s nothing truly, nothing at all.
“What I blame you for,” he said as his voice grew grave and threatening towards me above all the others, “is that you allowed that lying, manipulative bitch to sully the name of Charisma, through you. You were her blade against me, and you coated the blood of your sword over our brother’s flag. How your master must roll in his grave.”
I aimed my sword towards him, as the others around me followed suit. His words bounced off my skin for my exterior was my shield. The only thing that pierced through was how he named me.
He was right, I was more than Lady Kashikoi’s protector, I was her lover, and I would kill to see her smile.
“You shall have to ask him when you see him,” I told the Sage of Rage, “if the heavens would dare curse him with you.”
“I will you end, Karisuma for what you have done, I will avenge all the sins you have sown.”
He did not attack first, his Rage did not formulate into wrath. We attacked him first. It should have been his first tactical mistake, to allow himself to be surrounded and attacked by multiple enemies, all capable of killing him, but as was his ability, his sword grew.
It grew far longer than any other sword, and he seemed to stand a foot taller. Just as our swords shined green, his shined red. He shined red all over… and then he spilled it all over the floor.
We surrounded him, attacked him all at once but it was to no avail.
When he swung his long sword, the festering wave that followed caught my sister off guard. She aimed to block, but a fraction of Charisma’s power snapped and fell to the whole of Rage. It wrapped around her, slicing her biceps, and sent her into the wall where her back snapped against it.
Many of us were frozen as we saw the life leave her eyes, and our swords glow a thicker green light. The Sage of Rage held a blade that seemed to be entirely red, but ours just glowed. With the fraction of our master’s strength added to our own, Gekido realized that with each one of us he killed we would get stronger. It was in his interest to attack the best warriors first.
So he went after me.
He dashed forward with his sword and stabbed for my chest, aiming to run me through. My first instinct was to deflect, but Rage pulsed from his blade with a greater force than mine ever has.
Its winds cut through flesh, beginning a death of a thousand cuts. Then the force threw me towards the wall, aiming to break me as it did my sister-in-arms. My brother moved behind me to take my force to his chest, and then an injury to his back.
I was shocked as I stood against him that he had sacrificed himself like that. He muttered the words that would haunt me. “We will die so that you may win… make it worth it.”
That left me in a momentary stupor, and I was not broke from it until he pushed me to the side. By the time I rolled around back to my feet, Gekido had brought his sword through the shoulder of my brother. His sword stopped in his heart, and he swung it towards me as my sword’s glow thickened.
I ducked, but at the same time my brethren Ronin slid under and jumped over his blade. They attacked him together. She cut Gekido’s leg in her fall, and he cut Gekido’s rib in his rise. They tried to cut him down one piece at a time.
Gekido blocked and tried to attack them, but they could deflect the short swings he sent their way. I ran forward as two others joined me and we stabbed forward, three points into his chest, but barely an inch deep between us.
The Sage of Rage didn’t roar and barely growled as he swung his sword to counter. I had a brush with death when I ducked, the blade passing over my head. It was the burst of power that truly scared me.
Without a loss of control, without any signal of emotion or rage that we should be seeing, his power rang out. It blasted us back, one of my brethren losing his sword in the struggle.
I rolled across the ground, but before I could even react, Gekido was bringing his sword down on my brethren’s head, and then he swiped at me.
He cut my cheek, I barely reacted in time to block his sword.
This time his energy did not push me back, we came face to face. After killing three, bringing Ronin numbers to six, I could already match his sword strength, but it didn’t feel like it.
I felt like I was fighting a beast. The red power of rage flowed from him, and its winds sounded like the growls and snarls of a bear. His face was a man’s, but the dark mask of rage formed over everything but his eyes like a mask. He was a demon without any of the ferocious anger that drove them to lunacy.
He was supposed to embody all that fuels men to their harshest and uncontrolled impulses, yet he was more in control than most other warriors I’ve faced.
A brave Ronin jumped on his back and stabbed down with her sword, stabbing at his shoulder after he moved his head out of the way. He slashed to push me away and stabbed up through her shoulder.
I tried to do what I could, I slashed across his chest faster than he had anticipated but I only made him fling the Ronin off his sword instead of slamming her to her back. Her blood lined the floor, and it enraged me to see a fourth fall.
I attacked him with the rage I expected him to have. I made to remove his arm from his shoulder and he blocked after Paramoason tasted his blood. Before he could react I turned my sword to the back of his forearm, sinking into it before he slapped me to stagger me.
I did not stagger, I cut his arm deeper as he pulled it back, and in the same motion slashed at his demon mask, leaving a gash in it. That was the first time I saw his eyes flash with Rage, and the sight of it felt good.
He slashed with all his power, and when I blocked, I spun with it. Rage’s presence behind the blade cut my back, but I was able to bring my sword against his arm, where I drew almost as much blood as the last time.
Gekido finally roared like I wanted him to, and nearly sliced across my eye. He nicked my cardigan and knocked my jingasa off my head. When he brought his blade down I brought mine up.
The sound of Charisma meeting Rage sent waves throughout the room, and cracked the wooden floor below us. When it happened again, it did so with more vigor.
It was a match to swing and strike both faster and harder, him with the might of a full Sage, and me split between six. That power difference showed that he was not as skilled with the blade.
I was matching him strike for strike, so even after striking at my honor, he held no qualms using dirty tricks.
He slashed before my blade as he took a step back, but he was too far to hit me even if my sword was down, so I let it fall down, only for his power to hit me dead on.
My knees nearly buckled under my own hubris as he forced me back. The color red made sure to remind me of my mistake as blood ran over my right eye, where Gekido placed a quality cut.
Gekido took a running leap as I held my sword before me, blood blinding half the world. Two more Ronin came to my defense, they raised their swords in unison, crossing them as they blocked Gekido’s blade. A third aimed to cut his achilles tendon, but his foot moved in time so that her blade only nicked his armor.
The three then began slashing one right after the other, forcing him to walk backwards away from me, moving from left to right and back over his head to block the majority of their strikes.
A fourth, a sister, she came behind me, wrapping the cloth that once covered her shoulder around my cut, and then used that which protected her other shoulder to clean my forehead of the blood.
I could see with both eyes, and with a silent thanks I dashed forward into battle as he kicked the warrior behind him to the ground and he cut the man to his right from neck to thigh. The blood spray covered Gekido’s arm, and several drops hit me.
I dashed forward and sliced the top of his hand through his gauntlet. He slashed for my head in response, but I ducked, cut his upper thigh, and then sliced up into his abdomen, under his armor…
… but it was stuck.
I had the choice between stabbing forward and running him through with my blade, or pulling out and back to dodge the blow I knew was coming.
I ran him through, and pressed my sword into his stomach, and I heard Paramoason taste more blood than he knew what to do with.
At the same time, Gekido was swinging his sword down and it came down into my shoulder, getting caught on my collar bone as his strength failed to follow through.
I felt my own blood begin to drench my clothes, but I did not feel the pain. I only felt my right side begin to shake, and felt myself feel unbalanced. Being unbalanced meant being without foresight, and I was backhanded into letting go of my sword, and kicked back away from him.
My leg felt weak and I collapse to my knee, feeling the world spinning around me. I hear the footsteps of my sister-in-arms running to finish off Gekido. She leapt far higher and farther than any normal one could, but the Sage of Rage was still stronger. He caught her by the neck and ran his sword through her even as two of our brethren stabbed at his sides with their blades.
With blood flowing out of him, his hand was covered in it, and when that same hand coated his own blade with his blood, the red Rage around his weapon became inflamed. With one slash, he cut through my brother’s blade and his head. Then I had no brothers.
Then he turned and slashed my last sister across her stomach, then a second time across her neck, so that her skin was caked in her own blood more than any of the others. Then I had no sisters.
I was alone, without even my sword. I didn’t foresee this. I could not have foretold this strength and dexterity. The Ronin of Charisma were supposed to be able to keep the balance by eliminating the Sage of Rage, but this power… this strength.
I wondered if he might succumb to his wounds? He should not be able to heal from a strike from Charisma, but… I did not think I would live to find out… But in the moment before the end, I thought maybe this was the balance… for Rage and Charisma to consume each other, and leave only Wisdom alone to remain.
If that was to be, I was satisfied that I had dealt the blow no one may survive.
Gekido did not finish me off immediately. First, his hand went to my sword in his gut, and with a great many grunts of pain, and eyes bloodshot from it, he pulled it out and tossed it at my feet.
“I do not care if you have the strength to raise it,” the Sage of Rage said as he staggered, and struggled to remain on his feet, “but you will die with your sword in your hand. I will not kill you like you killed so many, defenseless and out of bloodlust.”
I looked at Paramoason, the blood on him so thick that I could not see the words etched into the blade. My hand grabbed the hilt, and I felt the deadly power that was half that of a Sage. If only my body was strong enough to wield, I was barely strong enough to hold up my sword.
As I struggled to stand, I struggled to understand his choices. “How do you know that I cannot continue fighting? How do you know that you have not gifted me the strength to defeat you?”
“I don’t,” the Sage of Rage said, proving himself lacking in Wisdom, “I simply care that I fight fairly, where you did not.”
The accusation… it was blasphemous. “I fight for love, for balance, the Wisdom and Charisma that you and you’re followers do not hold. I killed hedons, and I have killed you… that… that is honor.”
“Honor does not come from who the blade meets but from how it was swung,” he declared, and he raised his blade to finish me, “and I will prove that with you, a woman who killed me with the help of many, who slaughtered many who had the help of nothing.”
“Agree to disagree,” Nanto said before Gekido struck, blocking the blade. He threw it back with half the strength of a Sage, making Gekido stumble. He’s only holding one sword.
He couldn’t look at me when he said it, and it wouldn’t have meant anything. “I’m so sorry I’m late.” It did not matter how much pain lied behind his words, or how much he meant it, but he because of him, our brethren were dead.
“You will die sorry, for you did not die with the rest of us,” I told him. Words of hate did not come naturally to me. Sword strikes of hate did, and instead of saying more, I stood with this powerful blade in my hand, and a solemn promise, “If he doesn’t kill you when this is over, I will.”
Nanto saw me move weakly and stood closer to me as Gekido moved back. “Kari-pie, there is much you do not know, that you need to about-”
“Enough, enough words,” I silenced him, “too many words have been traded instead of blood. Too many words between enemies and friends. We can trade words when we are dead, from atop the dragon or below the Burning Scorpion’s sting.
“We are not here to trade words,” I said as I tighten my grip on my blade, and my stance so that for one more strike I would not shake, “we are here to trade blood.”
“Something I can agree with, solemnly,” Gekido said, and readied his blade, standing near death just like me.
Nanto looked back at me, and knew, there was nothing between us anymore, just this common enemy, this one last kill.
And so he stood away from me.
He slowly walked away, so that Gekido had an enemy on both sides, an enemy to kill him should he fell the other. We were a trinity of death, in a way. No matter which side fell the first, there would be more dead than living by the end of it, and there were no options where Gekido was the one who could live.
And Gekido knew this the best between the three of us. “The moment I run my sword through one of you, the other strike me down… yes?”
“Most likely,” Nanto answered him, sword at the ready.
“Are you both prepared to make the sacrifice?” he asked us both.
“We are,” I answered him.
“Then let us begin, Ronin.”
Nanto and I knew, that whichever of us attacked first, would be felled by Gekido’s swifter blade. But neither of us held any love for the other, or at least I thought. I would not die for him, but I believed that he would not die for me.
If he did not die for me, and I did not die for him, Gekido would take the chance to end us both. That would be the worst option, for him to live.
I told myself it would be better then, that if I were dying for Nanto, I would be dying for Kashikoi as well. I readied myself, for I believed Nanto never would, that he was no Ronin of Charisma anymore.
But he proved me wrong when he entered the battle with one sword.
His sword came for Gekido’s blood, and Gekido’s sword moved to slice through Nanto’s stomach. Nanto had ample chance with his skill and speed to transition from attacking into defending, but he didn’t.
He stabbed his sword forward, not taking the bait that the Sage thought he would. He held no sense of preservation, and ran his sword through Gekido as the Sage brought his sword nearly to his spine.
As they each choked on the blood filling their throats, Nanto called me to action, and with the little strength I had I ran forward and severed Lord Gekido’s hand from his wrist. He only hissed, and then they both collapsed.
Nanto onto his back, and Gekido to his knees. Gekido’s remaining hand went to Nanto’s sword, to pull it from his gut, but I held my sword to his throat. Even if he had the strength to lift it against me, I had no mercy for his pain.
His hand moved to hold his insides in, as he felt his life leaving him as if it were air leaving his lungs. I lifted my sword to his neck and raised him to his chin. “Now Rage, the corrupter, the violator,” I said, and my words trembled out slowly as I did so. “No longer will you fill people with sin and sacrilege, no longer will you take away their choice.”
“No!” he yelled at me, before grunting and yelling at the top of his lungs, screaming from the pain that comes with dying.
“Rage… rage is the very embodiment of choice! It makes you bare your soul in fury, righteous or wicked, rage makes you bear whole the truth you truly believe! The choice… aaagh… the choice you would make… if you were truly free… and unbound… by Wisdom’s second guessing and Charisma’s third restraints.”
I pressed my blade closer to his throat as I let him speak his sacrilege. I wanted him to die in pain on every level, for me, for my brothers and sisters, and for Lady Kashikoi. I wanted him to feel pain from his body to his soul.
I wanted him to know, that when he died, I would go on to deem his word synonymous with garbage. I paid him the ultimate insult to someone who believed in Rage so strongly. “You are a liar, and you will forever be known as such!”
“I am…” he grunted, as he pressed his neck against my blade, “the only one… telling the truth… I am the only one… making people live their truth, by their truth… for better or worse.”
“Enough,” I pushed with my blade.
His neck leaned back, as he waited for me to do it, to find the physical strength to end his life. “Well go on… you made up your mind… about me… before this fight even… started.”
In his end, Lord Gekido filled his body with the poisonous emotion that lead him to his death. He let the rage fuel around him, and tried to blow me away, but I stood firm with Paramoason.
“Finish me! And suffer when you find I was right. Finish me and be cursed!”
Even in death, the Sage of Rage could not take the chance to make his final words worthwhile or reflective. It was only more aggression and violence.
I thought that I might as well end his life how he lived, and plunged my sword into his throat, but as the blood spilled all over the ground, he still screamed in rage. I removed my sword, and then his head in secession.
I remember falling to my knees as his head rolled, and how when it stopped rolling it faced me, a permanent scream on his face.
“Kari-pie…” I heard Nanto speak, asking for me to come to him. I saw his hand reaching out for mine, hoping to tell me his last words. I turned and took one step over him. “Kari-”
I silenced him… with my sword through his heart, and up he looked at me, with horror and shock. Blood dripped from his mouth as he realized that it would not be evil that gifted him an honorable death, but me who gifts him a dishonorable discharge.
“You will not be given… the honor… of falling by the blade of an enemy… not like our brothers and sisters…” I leave my blade in his chest as I rest my hand on Gekido’s sword, and with great effort, with the last bit of strength our old master has given me, I pull it out. “You are no samurai… you are not Ronin, no longer!”
I tried to push my sword deeper into him, but his hand gripped my wrist. He stopped a quicker death at my hands as my strength failed with the loss of my own blood. “Kari…” he gasped, trying to have the last words I afforded Gekido as an opponent, but would not him as a betrayer.
“Don’t… trust… Wis…” He didn’t finish his sentence before his life came to an end, unable to gasp out his final words. It was over, I was alone.
I was finally alone.
I stood only with the support Paramoason gave me, and then the support I took from Gekido’s sword. Together I used them to march towards the balcony, where smoke rose from. The fires had grown strong, and ate away at Castle Rage.
The balcony that I had chosen to die on in peace was no more but a blind that I pulled down, and a sharp drop to the river rushing below the castle. But without the railing, without Gekido blinding me… it was an excellent view.
The castle burned and the sun hung over the horizon. The sun looked like it would set for me, for the final time.
It seemed so natural to rest before the end. If only death worked faster, I wouldn’t have lived to learn a greater rage than I already thought I knew.
Over the horizon, where the sun met the green hills, a line turned black.
That line slowly grew until it was a thick with flags. The flag was Wisdom’s blue, and it was the same that the samurai carried on her back.
The black line was all I knew until they followed the same path my army did, and stormed the castle as mine did. They were samurai dressed in black armor, and were dressed in armor far too close to Gekido, with the only difference being that they wore blue accents where his were red.
They stormed the castle walls, and then the sound of swords clashing, people yelling, and people screaming filled the air.
I knew not what was happening. I knew nothing of who this invader is, of who this new fighter is, and why they performed the sacrilege of flying Lady Kashikoi’s flag. All I believed is that I had not the strength to fight them, and not the strength to protect her if they came for her.
I felt overcome with fury and failure as I heard the sounds of the army I trained failing. I felt overcome as I heard this dark army chasing up the stairs. I felt overcome with grief as I believed I would not live long enough to see Lady Kashikoi again, and slay the pretenders to her flag.
And then they walked in.
They were no samurai, they were knights, foreign enemies, paid for with gold taken through blood. They were men from across the straight, from the continent, and if I had the strength I would have cut them down with ease, such warriors without honor.
They entered with their swords drawn and pointed at me as I pushed myself up against the wall. They cared not for my brethren on the ground, stepping on their remains and kicking them where they lay.
It enraged me and I raised my sword to them. “Leave them be…” but through their dark helms I could see nothing. Then it came without warning.
The knight came at me, but it was when his commander gave out her order, that I felt my heart sink. “Stop,” and in she stepped in.
Dressed in their black armor, with a green cape flowing around her chest and down her back, she walked in with her hair tied back, and contentment on her face.
“My Sword of Charisma,” Lady Kashikoi said, “you succeeded and survived,” then she stopped, and then she clapped, “bravo.”
There… was so much of me that couldn’t understand it. What was the delicate flower that I needed protect, doing wearing armor just as sinister as the Sage of Rage? The woman who got down to her knees to beg me to save her people was not the one standing in front of me, but it looked like her, it sounded like her, and by the river song, it smelled like her.
Yet, she danced over the bodies in the room like they were nothing. She had the same smile doing so as she did whenever I returned to her.
No, she seemed happier. I didn’t know the person before me.
It dawned on me what Nanto was trying say.
“Nanto was right, wasn’t he?” I asked her, as I realized that I was alone in a room surrounded by enemies with no way out.
Lady Kashikoi turned her head, wondering what exactly I had said. It was a challenge of my loyalties, as to whether it was strong enough that I would forgo deception.
I asked her, “Was Nanto right… when he said not to trust Wisdom?”
The Sage’s smile stayed as her eyes narrowed on me. “Oh, Karisuma, that was not the right thing to say.
I raised my sword to defend myself, but I was too weak to stop the knight from knocking Paramoason from my hands, cutting them and forcing my blade down from the castle in the process. Now I was left only with Gekido’s sword, one I could not lift.
“We’re going to have to find that now, you idiot,” the Sage of Wisdom snapped, like I had never seen. It was a vicious attack I couldn’t have pictured any day before.
Then the knight turned his sword to my throat, when she ordered, “Stop.”
I was so shocked, I thought maybe… maybe she was taking mercy on me, but she offered her hand with the other on her hip, and said, “You looked like you had something new on your tongue.” She mocked me for being her lover. I never felt words cut so deep.
“Why?” I asked, almost begged. Why was she doing this? Why the deception? I thought she… I thought-
“Because now no one can kill me,” Kashikoi said. She gestured the knight to remove his sword from my throat as I leaned against the wall for support. Then she gestured for another, and he gave her a weapon, a naginata lance.
“No Sage,” she repeated as she inspected the blade, turning her back to me, “no god,” she said as she twirled it, with one hand and then masterfully with two, “or Ronin,” and the naginata landed with its steel pointed at me.
“Wasn’t that your goal too?” she asked me, knowing full well that all I’ve wanted since I found myself in her bedroom was to ensure that no one could take her from me. That no one could kill her.
With the Sage of Rage dead, and all of my fellow Ronin the same, I saw that I had indeed gained what I had wanted, and so had she.
But as she told me, her peace is only temporary. So I asked her, “What are you going to do when he comes back…” and with a greater bravery, as I looked down the end of her weapon, “when the Ronin come back?”
“Oh Kari,” she laughed at me, and gestured to the dead around us, “the Ronin aren’t coming back. With all your swords, it never has to happen.
“As for Rage,” and she paused this time, I finally saw the vile smirk, that not even Rage held, “children are much easier to kill than Gekido, as I’m sure you know, they’re almost as easy to kill as you are right now.”
“Kashikoi, it doesn’t have to be this way-” I nearly begged her but she stopped me by pressing her blade to my neck. So dearly, as she was killing me, I so wanted to know. “Do you,” it hurt so much to have to ask, “truly feel nothing for me?”
Her smirk faltered for a moment. “No, I felt something…” She gave me a piece of myself back with those words, and then she ripped away. “I felt pity, for the woman who could not love herself.” She crushed my heart her hand.
Kashikoi placed her hand over her chest when she said, “As someone quite in love with herself, I can’t describe how bad I feel for you.”
Then she nicked me with the naginata to reach for Gekido’s sword, and I realized that all her words were a charade to get close. She saw her knight send my sword flying and then she feared losing Gekido’s.
She didn’t even respect my death, my questions… let alone my love.
She tried to grab Gekido’s sword, but I pulled it back, and its weight pulled me along with it.
And we began to fall.
Once she realized I was falling off the castle with the sword, she screamed and reach for me, “Nooo!” but she couldn’t have cared less whether I lived. She couldn’t have cared less for anything I had done for her. She only wanted things.
I heard her yelling throughout my fall, “Scour the river, bring me those swords!” before I even hit the water.
Failure is a bottomless pit. That I know and understand.
No matter how deep you may feel yourself sinking, it can always get worse. You can always sink deeper. You can sink for so many reasons. Hate, vengeance, stupidity…
Love… real or not I suppose.
I wonder what it would have felt like if she indeed loved me and still betrayed me. Would it hurt more to be betrayed by someone who held love for you, or someone who held no true love for you at all? Did it hurt me more to fall, or did it hurt Nanto more that I stabbed him in the heart?
I’m sure I am bound for a place where I will find out. The Dragon that brings the spring should now bring me to hell, where the Scorpion can torture me with its burning sting, where the Viper’s poison can hold me down, and where the Crow can pick the remains of my soul clean. I only hope that none of my brethren will come to experience the same hell as I will.
I will be dragged by the Dragon for my gullibility, I will be burned by the Scorpion for my wrath, I will be poisoned by the Viper for my betrayal, and I will be pecked by the Crow for my judgment.
The people I killed, the souls I murdered for living out Rage’s fantasy, the souls I condemned for not bowing to Wisdom’s forethought… it was all nonsense, I see that now. There’s no way one way to live, every one way that I have tried has led to ruin. There is no path of Wisdom, Rage, or Charisma that will lead us to glory. There is no healthy trinity to guide us on.
There is only this hell, and the water crushing my chest, trying to force its way into my lungs, forcing out my blood.
By the spirits that surround and judge my soul, it hurts. The River of the Viper poisons me already, it forces me to suffer! The hands of death grasp at me and wish to take me to meet the spirits who will judge me! They pull from the water, grasping me by the shoulders and forcing me to burn in the dragon’s light!
“Haaaahh!” I gasp as air pushes the water from my lungs. As I find myself dragged ashore, the light is neither blinding nor darkening over my eyes. What afterlife could be so between that-
“Lady Karisuma!” she yells, and I open my eyes to the helm of a samurai, beset by trees at the end of a forest, at the bank of the river. “We almost lost you,” the accursed fool tells me.
The damn fool.
“I was to die, ignorant samurai,” I snarl as she pulls me against the sand. I fight her grip and nearly tug myself free, all the while screaming to her of the death I was to have, of the death I owe Neona.
“I was to die!” I scream as I reach to grip her, until my violent struggles nearly tear out her eye. I am consumed by Rage, as Gekido would have it.
She has to throw me to the sand, and as she unsheathes her sword, I would aim to force her hand with vile words. “Do you understand you child?! I was damned for hell, and now I will suffer a slow death beyond-!”
“-what I… beyond what I… deserved…” I’m at a loss for the sight before me, the sword she plants in the sand.
“Paramoasan missed you,” the samurai tells me, as she removed her helmet and lets loose the blonde tangle of locks that I’m sure ensnared Nanto.
“Paramoa-son,” I correct her, as I behold the blade’s return. I am not to die.
I reach for its hilt until she pulls it back, and my hand sinks into sand. I look into this girl’s eyes and wonder if her brown irises are a reminder that the world is full of shit.
“I’ll carry it until you have the strength,” she says, as she sheathes it, and more easily wrests her hands under my shoulders.
“That sword is my strength,” I tell her.
“Swords are not strength, they are tools, things, they exert no energy, you exert energy through them.”
How did I find myself cursed in the company of a philosopher? Especially one with the arm strength of a samurai.
My shoulder burns as she lifts me and tears my open wound, and tries to lift me into a cart of hay. I would compliment her ability to deadlift me up and into the cart if I wasn’t preoccupied with making sure I don’t scream.
“Apologies, Lady Karisuma,” she says as she rests me in the soft hay, fit for a healthy horse.
She starts to take off her armor, no doubt because she would be quite inconspicuous in it, but I stop her with a finger. “That name you called me.”
“Yes, Lady Kari-”
“No, no, no… no. Never, ever call me that. I am no Lady.” Kashikoi was a lady.
“I cannot do that, Lady Karisuma.” I groan as she continues to change into a dark and drowned out kimono, fit for a commoner before hiding her armor under the hay.
It was when she laid down not one, but two swords, that it all started falling into place. She handed Paramoason to me and I cradled it in its new sheathe like a child would its stuffed dragon, but my eyes never left the second of the swords she set down for herself.
As she put on her own jingasa, I wished for words. “What is your name girl?” I asked her.
She looks back over her shoulder to smile at me, the interest that I take. She has a sweet smile for a child with a body count. “Inu,” she says, “Inu Amaterasu.”
“Inu,” I say, letting it roll off my tongue, “Inu…” She giggles as I repeat her name. “He gave you his Charisma sword before he came to fight Gekido, didn’t he?” I ask her, and her smile becomes a bit lessened.
She turns away, the only answer I need.
“Do not hide you feelings from me,” I tell her, “your feelings cannot lead you to a greater shame than mine have.”
“Oh, I don’t believe that is true, Lady Karisuma.”
“Nanto and all the other Ronin are dead because of my feelings, believe it.” She does not challenge me on such an account. Maybe she will prove to be an easier Ronin to train than Nanto was. She seems to listen better.
I look at Nanto’s sword, Karasu Nohone. That explains why it took him so long. Nanto chose a successor, gifted her his immortality, his place as a Ronin of Charisma. He was going to die no matter what. Truly, he, Gekido, and I were a trinity in death, or maybe not.
“So you wish to be a Ronin now?” I ask her. “You would give up being a samurai?”
“Hmm,” she mumbles with a shrug of her shoulders, “who says I must give up one to be the other? I have no rulebook to support this claim.”
Another jokester, Nanto truly wished to punish me in his death. I remind her, “Ronin do not have masters, and if you have saved me, neither do you anymore.”
“Hmmm,” she hums, as if she enjoys mocking me so, “who says a samurai cannot be masterless?”
“The very definition of the word.”
“And who are these people who decide this?”
“Well, who is society to say… maybe I say, that maybe a Ronin is just a samurai whose master is the land he serves? That sounds much better. Maybe a Ronin is not truly a Ronin after all, but truly a samurai.”
“No, because we do not serve anyone anymore,” I tell her, and I turn my head into the hay, hoping for rest from her nonsense.
I promise, “Never again,” will Ronin of Charisma serve a person again.
“Then what shall we serve?” Inu asks a logical, necessary question.
“Balance, and balance is not a thing you can serve, it is or it isn’t.” It is what I should have been fighting for all along, and now I will.
And the only way to achieve balance, is to remove my lover’s head.
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