ADA Ninjaz — The Origin (pt. 8)
948 A.D. — Rural Ninava, Lakontey Province
The spoon swung wide through the air as it missed its mark completely. Iwaro’s years of training had finally paid off, she had finally missed! The mix of surprise and joy confused him. He had dreamt of this moment for so long yet didn’t really know how to celebrate, and that became his downfall.
Ida had used the momentum of the failed swing to turn on her heel, her frizzy, short red hair bouncing under her simple white linen hat. She spun a beautiful three-sixty pirouette with her eyes closed, letting her instincts do the aiming. In her grip the spoon seemed like a magical wand blessing its surroundings. She hit a bullseye worthy of a county fair first prize.
“I told you a million and one times, no writing before dinner! You spend a bit of time with your children or so help me…” she furiously waved the wooden weapon of her proficiency in his face as he held his forehead, howling in pain, “oh youuuu…you and your drinking and writing gibberish… ufffff! Come play with the kids!”
The three giggling children, four, five and six years old, stood by the door with one head above the other and ran off as soon as Iwaro stumbled up to leave and join them. Ida stormed out of the bedroom and, with her red crowned head up high and ample bosom out, she seemed like the proudest and plumpest of chickens. Iwaro smiled through the pain as he looked up at her through his fingers.
From afar, Iwaro heard something that made his smile quickly vanish. He could see that through his window and down the street, a group of empire guards were promptly making their way in the direction of his home. Iwaro hurried over to his desk and took all the papers, rolls and writing material he had and stuffed it all into a box that he hid under the floorboards.
The neighbor peeked out of his window, a small grin still twisting his face in malice. Iwaro turned, panting from the exertion of having to hide everything and from a smidge of fear. He heard Ida open the door, “Hello? How may I help you dear gentlem… AHHH!”. Their feet stomped about as they tipped furniture over and broke whatever they could find. They quickly made their way to the room he was in, despite Ida’s screeching protests.
Unfortunately for Iwaro, he hadn’t seen that single piece of paper, that small floating page that had come loose from the bundle of thoughts and ideas he had scribbled down and stuffed into the box to hide away. It had danced through the air just outside of his peripheral vision and landed gently in the corner of the room, snuggled between an armoire, the wall and darkness.
— — — — — — — —
Sweating profusely, having toiled day and night since the samurai’s visit with little to no sleep, Tsukuyomi hammered away at the katana. He would submerge the red-hot metal into water, filling the workshop with thick clouds of moisture that mingled with his sweat, place it back in the fire, take it out, hammer and repeat. He worked like machines that did not yet exist in the human collective imagination. There was no time for thought, only work if he was to have any hope of keeping the samurai’s execution sword at bay.
The blue ore had molded well into the grooves of the katana. Although the only section of the work-in-progress that seemed to be affected by the heat was the metal amalgam of the main structure, the blue veins that wrapped around the sword from hilt to tip had fused to the rest as if it was meant to be. The forced experiment was proving a success, and although his stomach still churned with the fear of the ticking clock that counted down to his potential demise, this alleviated his doubts sufficiently to not give up. The blue pulsating veins that crawled over the sword made it seem almost alive. As the hours flew by, his hatred for the sword and the situation that had brought its commission about slowly turned into awe. Something had possessed him and he was surprised at his own accomplishment. This was slowly turning out to be his magnum opus, he could strangely feel it. And he enjoyed and despised that feeling.
The sun had already peaked over the mountain ranges and the late morning rays had warmed the air, which made the heat even more unbearable inside the workshop. The blacksmith swung down with his hammer.
Tsukuyomi barely heard the first scream over the clinking of the metal. He paused for a moment and pricked his ears.
He dropped the katana and hammer and ran outside. Mizuki had come back from the village, running.
“My love, you shouldn’t be running! You have to rest! Please go inside, lay down and get some r…”
— — — — — — — —
Iwaro was kneeling on a large platform in the town’s center that was usually used for the empire’s announcements, fair events and the like. Today, however, it was adorned with a line of eight imperial guards with the samurai standing front and center next to Iwaro, who was kneeling and shackled to the stage. The square was packed, the whole town had come and the few that hadn’t were slowly trickling into the crowd from the sidestreets. The samurai held a piece of paper out into the air high above his head to give a bit more grandeur to the spectacle and read out loud.
“…and as the colonial hegemony precariously balances on the sandy foundations of a small hand-picked and untested grouping of imperial lords, so it shall sink into remembrance at the first wave of our revolutionary rain, washing the Ninavian soil that has been so insulted with the blood of the truly free, the Ninavian populace…” He looked down at Iwaro and, low enough for only him to hear, “I have to say, I’m quite impressed,” then louder again for all of the town to hear, “and it keeps going on and on. Does anyone here enjoy and agree with this miner’s ramblings?”
The townsfolk mostly looked away or down at their feet to avoid any chance of eye contact with the samurai. A young boy, perhaps fifteen, lifted his hand. His mother quickly grabbed his wrist and yanked it down to his side just in time to be missed by the samurai’s eyes as he scanned the townsfolk.
“I thought so,” he kept searching in the crowd, as if for someone specific. His eyes skimmed over Ida and her three young children. Like a mother-goose, she had her wide arms over them as the four of them wallowed at the horror show being played out in front of them. The youngest screamed “papa!” but was quickly silenced by Ida’s hand, though she couldn’t completely muffle his wails. The samurai growled at them in disgust.
“This…. “writer”… not only insults me, my countrymen, my guards, and OUR glorious Emperor Murakami, but all of you! A thief in plain sight! For he has stolen a valuable object that was part of this region. He thought he could keep it to himself. Fortunately he was found out thanks to the proud and dutiful vigilance of a neighbor,” the samurai pointed at Iwaro and Ida’s neighbor, who bowed his head in shame as the townsfolk and Ida stared at him with pure hatred in their eyes, “truly a man of the highest principle and an asset to the empire. Thank you,” said the samurai as the man ran off, out of the town square. Before getting far, someone stuck out their leg to trip him. He got up slowly, wiping his bleeding nose, and left, crying.
The samurai stood next to Iwaro and was handed his ōdachi, a long and beautiful sword, which he swung up into the air as the crowd gasped. He looked down at the man on his knees before him.
Iwaro stared ahead, seeming unfazed by the ordeal. He actually seemed to have a smile on his face.
“Any last words, miner? I’ll grant you that.”
Iwaro looked at his wife and kids and for a long moment just stared at them with a warm smile. He then breathed in… “FREEDOM FOR NINAVAAAAAAAAA!”
The crowd grew completely silent. Nothing could be heard but the fluttering of wings as some birds flew overhead. The samurai began to laugh.
“You amuse me, miner. Here I was about to cut your head off, but your writing, your passion, it really astonishes me. How could I ever pluck such eloquence from this earth without any mercy?” The crowd began to murmur. Ida, mouth agape, watched on as the samurai handed his sword back to the guard and walked a few steps away from Iwaro and towards the crowd. “Release him,” another guard obeyed the samurai post-haste and removed the chains that held Iwaro down on his knees. He was then picked up and stood in front of the town, next to the samurai.
The samurai went on, arms wide and welcoming, but still searching the crowd, “His Glorious Emperor can be kind, and so can I.”
He finally saw what he was waiting for. Tsukuyomi entered the square with Mizuki by his side. Both winded. Iwaro saw him, grinned and waved.
“Mercy it is!” shouted the samurai. The crowd cheered and celebrated the heaven’s for the much loved Iwaro, as did Ida and her children.
The samurai flicked his hand. Iwaro smiled at his wife and began to shout “I love you so much!”, but the ōdachi cut the sentence short.
The crowd went silent, the air stood still in all their lungs… except for Ida’s prolonged, gut-wrenching scream.
A few tears began to slowly roll down Tsukuyomi’s face as he stared, frozen in horror.
— — — — — — — —
The sun was fading below the horizon. The workshop had been dark for a while already as the forest had extended its cold shadows over the small building for the better part of the last hour. Tsukuyomi hammered as his sweat and tears mixed and trickled off of his nose, blistering and evaporating off of the katana’s heated surface. He hammered faster and faster as he altered from hammering the katana to directly hitting the anvil.
He struck down, swing after swing, blinded by the tears and fury. He couldn’t see the sparks of blue that shot out from the contact of the hammer on the anvil. He wouldn’t have cared anyway. With his last swing, he smashed the wooden stool that was next to him as he expelled all his anger in one long shout.
Mizuki stood at the door, too frightened to say anything.
“I hadn’t seen you there,” panted Tsukuyomi.
“I just brought you something to eat, you haven’t had anything since yesterday,” she said.
“I’m not hungry.”
“You have to eat som…”
“I’M NOT HUNGRY!”
Mizuki took a step back. He had never raised his voice at her, let alone scream like the madman that stood in front of her.
“You have to stop and take a rest. This isn’t helping anyone…”
“Not helping anyone?! It’s helping us stay alive! Or are you blind?” shouted Tsukuyomi.
“If I can help in any way…”
“Are you serious? Haven’t you helped enough!? It’s because of your signature and not reading the dates to me that I’m stuck here working like an animal. We were out of the eyes of the empire until we didn’t deliver what you signed. And that led them straight to Iwaro too. So no, you can’t help in any way and I would actually BEG to keep your helping hands to yourself!” saliva had frothed at the edges of the blacksmith’s mouth. He puffed air in and out of his flaring nostrils like a bull ready to strike.
Mizuki, tears welling in her eyes, took a step closer and raised her hand as if to grasp at the man she seemed to be losing, “Tsuku, love, that’s not fair, I asked you…”
“Nothing is fair Mizuki! Life isn’t fair. Who we are, who we are pushed and molded to become, none of it is fair. If things were fair then I’d be creating things that actually meant something more than death,” he began to cry, “Ida and her children would have a husband and father, I’d have my friend back. We’d have a child.” He broke down and fell on all fours. Mizuki rushed to him, already weeping herself.
“We still could Tsuku, we could still make it work if we took care and I rested, and we…” Mizuki shrieked as Tsukuyomi pushed her aside and she fell on her behind.
Tsukuyomi stood up, “can’t you see Mizuki, we’re cursed. Give up, it’ll be easier. Whatever you have inside you, it’ll fail like always.” He walked back to the anvil like a ghost through the aether, grabbed the katana and kept hammering.
Mizuki was left on the floor crying her soul out as she clutched the ground.
“Give up if you wish, but I won’t!” she screamed at him. “Not for me, not for you, and not for our future child!” she ran to the door and stopped before exiting. She turned to Tsukuyomi and was about to say something before letting her tears take over again and running off toward their home.
Tsukuyomi’s face would not betray any emotion, but his eyes were like open damns to what was truly happening inside of him. Tears streamed out of his unblinking eyes and fell in rivers down his face. He kept working on the katana.