ADA Ninjaz — The Origin (pt. 2)
913 A.D. — Rural Ninava
“Tsukuyomi! You silly little boy. What did you do this time?” shouted Hanabira as she took him from the arms of the man that brought him to the farm. He was the town’s blacksmith, a man with ashen hair and leathery tanned skin, still in his working clothes, covered in soot and hints of blood. Mizuki, twelve years old, just one younger than Tsukuyomi, stood next to him. Hanabira unwrapped the dark-red stained cloth bandage around her son’s head and gasped. She immediately ran off, muttering “Oh my boy! Oh my boy! Oh my boy!” like a mantra, and quickly returned with a homemade salve of herbs and oils. She applied it thickly on the boy’s crescent moon shaped gash that ran bloodied along the back of his head, surrounded by his short dark hair. Tsukuyomi looked up at her, still dazed. No wrinkles yet betraying her thirty-eight years of age. She looked angelic to him.
“Who did this?”, Hanabira said to the blacksmith with anguish.
“I have no idea ma’am, I was just working when I heard…”
“He fell from a wall! I was with him. It was an accident. Right Mr. Blacksmith?”, Mizuki nodded at the man.
“But there was no walls where I…”
“Yes there was,” Mizuki smiled at the blacksmith and kept nodding quickly. Fortunately for her, Hanabira was too preoccupied to notice the obvious fabrication.
“Right, right, yes, the wall…”
Hanabira ran inside “Water, I need water! And a bandage! And more salve!” The clattering inside the house was loud enough to startle some nearby birds into flight.
Tsukuyomi softly grabbed Mizuki’s hand. “You saw it too, right?” Tsukuyomi’s eyes glazed over with a twinge of fear as he remembered.
— — — — — — — —
Close to the center of the town of Lakontey, the blacksmith hammered away at his next creation, beads of sweat collecting on his forehead right below his ashen hair. Sparks filling the air, they shone in Tsukuyomi’s eyes, who was huddled behind some crates, only his eyes and his dirty fingernails peaking over.
“Look what I got you!” Mizuki whispered loudly, startling Tsukuyomi enough to make him jolt.
“By the gods, you’re like a ninja, can’t you be less sneaky sometimes?”
She reached out and handed him a small metal wire with a huge grin on her face. “Here, I saw you take some the other day, you can have this one too.”
“You could get in trouble, you shouldn’t do that for me. Put it back. Plus, what do I need that for? I don’t want it,” he turned to face the blacksmith at work, trying to hide his true interest in the metal.
Mizuki pouted. As Tsukuyomi concentrated on the blacksmith and his work, following every heave and swing of the hammer, Mizuki slowly positioned the wire under his nose, and into one of his nostrils.
“Ah! Fine, fine! Give it,” Tsukuyomi grabbed the wire out of her hand and put it away in his robe as she giggled maliciously.
“Next time a girl gives you a gift, you should just take it. Plus, I know you want to do that someday,” she looked at the blacksmith and rested her head next to Tsukuyomi’s to join in watching the spectacle, “you have to start somewhere. Maybe that little wire helps.”
Tsukuyomi tried to hide his smile and seem like he was ignoring her. They both quietly watched the blacksmith at work. The hammer falling in a mesmerising rhythm. Sparks flying. Everything was bathed in the orangish glow that spilled out of the furnace. It took him a moment or two to realize that another source of light, aside from the bright midday sun, was slowly growing in intensity behind him. He only noticed the blue shimmer when Mizuki, mouth agape, tapped his shoulder. He began to turn when a loud crack filled the air and he felt a white hot numbing pain in the back of his head. Everything turned pitch black.
— — — — — — — —
Hanabira continued to scold Tsukuyomi for being so brazenly reckless, still taking her time to care for the wound with as much love as she could muster.
Arcan, a tall, burly man, sweat gleaming off his face and bare arms, walked back from the field, holding his farming tools in separate satchels over his shoulder. The tools seemed as dirt covered as his own hands, but the rest of his clothes were cleaner than one would expect.
“If an infection doesn’t kill you, your father sure will…” Hanabira whispered just loud enough for her son to hear. Both Tsukuyomi and Hanabira set themselves on the ground in a more respectful manner to Arcan’s arrival after his long day of work. Arcan stopped for a moment and looked down at Tsukuyomi’s wound. He hesitated for a moment, but held his composure, his lips the only thing betraying his wish to say something. He continued towards the entrance to the house, dropping his farm tools at the door, “Leave, artisan.”
“Yes sir,” the blacksmith quickly bowed and scurried away. Mizuki followed suit.
“Mizuki,” the deep voice stopped her in her tracks as she watched the blacksmith make his escape. The long pause made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, “would you like to stay for dinner?”
“No, thank you sir,” she began to inch away, “I have to get back home,” her pace quickened, “my parents will kill me.” She stopped for a moment, turned around and bowed, “But thank you!” She ran off at full speed.
As this happened, Hanabira escorted Tsukuyomi into the house and turned back to her husband who was tending to the tools, “How did it go?”
Arcan paused and took a long moment before replying, “It’s not enough. It won’t be. This is the third year in a row.” He went on tending to the dirt on the tools.
“I’m sure things will look up,” she tried to convince herself, “maybe next we…”
“There might not be a next…”, he shouted, then lowered his voice, “…there might not be a next year if the Emperor or his damned lackies decide this is our last year. What they expect, they must get. And if they don’t…”
— — — — — — — —
In the evening, just after sunset, Tsukuyomi was laying in his small bed on the floor. In his hands, inches from his face, he held the thin metal wire that Mizuki had given him. He bent and folded it with a delicate care into what seemed to be the rough figure of a girl.
“Tsuku, honey, come help me please.” As he heard his mother, he quickly hid the small wire sculpture in a gap in the wall of his room. He placed it next to other wire sculptures of small animals and flowers and pushed the loose slab of wood to cover the gap.
“Going mama,” just before getting up, he gingerly touched the painful cut on the back of his head, tracing the crescent moon shaped red stain on the bandage from tip to tip.
— — — — — — — —
Only a few oil lamps and the soft streaks of moonlight lit the room. It was a humble home, but well kept.
“How are you feeling son? You gave your mother quite a scare this afternoon,” Arcan kept eating, as he talked. Calmly, composed, without even making eye contact.
“Much better papa,” Tsuku lied.
“Did you finish your chores for today before going to see Mizuki?”
The spoon Arcan was taking to his mouth stopped in mid-air. He set it down. “ Funny, I had not seen you in the field the whole day.”
“I was just… it took me a while to…”
“Just… tell me the truth. For once. Did you spend the whole day at the blacksmith’s again?”
“I…”, the boy searched his mind for any path to escape his father’s questioning.
Arcan’s tone became softer, “I don’t want to keep you from your friend. But you have to understand, there is no choice any more in our duties. If we don’t finish our tasks, it could mean the end for this farm. The seasons are becoming shorter and the Empire is expecting more and more from us Ninavians. I need your help. And you need to learn. When I’m not around anymore, you must take my place. Both for the family and by decree of the Empire.”
“I just thought… maybe I could become a blacksmith someday.”
Arcan slammed his open palm on the tabletop with such force that all the bowls and cups on it lifted at least an inch from the surface, shocking both his son and wife. “Our family has worked for generations to nurture this farm and not have to live off simple merchantry or artisanry!” He noticed the fear in the eyes of his wife and son. Bringing his voice down a little, but maintaining his firm tone, he continued “And as our only son you have to take this farm after we’re gone. Besides, we don’t have much of a choice…” he hesitated, his words obviously hurting him, “Emperor Daigo is turning less and less lenient as the years pass…” he bowed his head and squeezed his hands, holding back the tears with all his strength. The burn scars along his forearms were a bright contrast to his tanned skin. He saw Tsukuyomi looking at them and lowered the sleeves of his clothes. He took a deep breath. “We all have our place and it’s our duty to keep desire at bay for the good of all.” Hanabira held his hand. “For the good of the family.”
948 A.D. — Rural Ninava
Kneeling in front of two small boulders, Tsukuyomi placed a small bronze sculpture of a flower amongst the other miniature sculptures hidden in the parted grass. He caressed the names that were etched on the stones, “Hanabira” and “Arcan”. He then slid his fingers across the scar on the back of his head. As he heard Mizuki’s footsteps, he hurriedly covered the bronze sculptures with the grass that surrounded them.
“Are you ready to head back home?” Mizuki rests a delicate porcelain white hand on his shoulder.
With a simple sigh, Tsukuyomi nodded and got up. Mizuki wrapped her arms around one of his and held him, letting him take his time to say goodbye before leaving.
“I’m so afraid we’ll be the end of their line,” says Tsukuyomi.
“We’ll try again.”
“An eighth time? Maybe the gods are telling us something. Maybe it’s just not meant to be. Maybe I did something wrong along the way. I should have listened to him.”
Mizuki lowered her eyes, trying to hide the tears that had suddenly welled up from the pain of having to accept the possibility. As he saw this, Tsukuyomi wrapped his large arm around her and held her closer.
“You’re right,” Tsukuyomi caressed her cheek, “even if the gods dislike me, I’m sure they love you. Maybe our time will come.” He smiled at her. “Also… trying is fun…” Mizuki laughed and slapped his shoulder.
“It’s getting dark, we have to go.” Mizuki pulled softly on his arm and they both headed in the direction of the Lakontey mountains. “I loved that new flower you made by the way.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Tsukuyomi coughed.
She squeezed his arm.
— — — — — — — —
As they were reaching their homestead, dusk turning to night, they saw torches moving around their home. Tsukuyomi instinctively nudged Mizuki and placed her behind him. The men holding torches, eight in total, began to walk towards them. Four men stood in line on either side of the couple along the edges of the dirt road. Tsukuyomi slowly reached for the wakizashi, the short glistening sword, hidden on his back.
“So now you’re the one who decides when to take time off from your duty to our divine Emperor Murakami?” The voice was both mocking and furious. The samurai came into the light of the torches, eating from the contents of a basket of breads and other edibles he held in his arm. Tsukuyomi quickly prostrated on the ground.
“Your honored bushi.”
Mizuki stayed standing, defiant. Tsukuyomi pulled on her clothes and whispered, “Please love. Please.” She prostrated slowly.
“You Ninavian’s. I would have wiped you off the face of the earth instead of trying to instill our way on your dirty culture. Like teaching a dog… well… how to write,” the samurai flicked his hand and one of the men with the torches rolled out a small scroll and an inked brush and laid them in front of Tsukuyomi. “If you’d be so kind as to read this and confirm what you promised the Empire,” the samurai stood, waiting motionless. Tsukuyomi burned with hatred as he lay there prostrated, knowing his shame was public. A few tense moments passed.
Mizuki broke her prostration and went to the scroll, glancing over it quickly.
“You signed it for him didn’t you. Did you even realize that the date specified was today?” the samurai watched with indifference as a look of horror crossed Mizuki’s face.
“The next batch of swords and armor the Emperor’s army ordered you to build. Where is it?”
Tsukuyomi hesitated for a moment, “I will have it for you in a few weeks, your honored…” the katana swung so quick the blacksmith didn’t even have time to flich. A few hairs fell to the ground next to his eyes. A small streak of blood dripped down his forehead. As he touched the back of his head, the blacksmith could feel the new shallow cut on his old scar.
“Like teaching a dog how to write. You Ninavian’s are impossible.” The samurai stood between the pair and dropped the basket of food, letting everything roll out on the dirt. He whispered to Mizuki, but loud enough for everyone to hear. “You had a bright future and you left your family for a man that left farming to become a dirty blacksmith, and an illiterate one at that. I’m ashamed for you.” He took a few steps. “Also, if you ever take more than a second to get down on the ground in front of me again, I’ll use you for katana practice.” He turned to the blacksmith. “You have one week, Kajiya. And don’t forget my katana. That blue ore… what was it that you called it?”
“I…” Tsukuyomi hesitated.
The samurai cuts him off as if he wasn’t even there, “I’ve been dreaming about it. It’s the strangest thing. Ever since I laid eyes on its blue sheen. There’s something special about it,” the samurai composed himself after a moment of being lost in a daydream. “You have a week. And even then, I still haven’t decided what to do with you or your estate. The contract was merely a formality. You had orders. You didn’t comply. That’s a pity. But I am here as the law. And as the law I will crush you as you deserve.”
He walked away into the night, the eight torch-bearing men following. Tsukuyomi gripped the earth and squeezed two clamps as hard as he could as he looked up at Mizuki. She didn’t have the courage to look back at him, only being able to say “I’m sorry” almost inaudibly. The blacksmith’s eyes focused past her, into his workshop, into the darkness. From a small box, a soft light radiated blue.