[IWAKUTSUKI] KORIN-HEN (KORIN EPISODE)

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Paorou-sama, Nov 30, 2012.

  1. Two years ago.



    The Moon of Iwaku shone over a small village at the foot of mount Moudan. (望壇 "hope-shrine")

    It is but one of many small villages that dot the large Rofurei (露風霊 - "Dew-wind-spirit") mountain range.

    The same mountain range that served as the natural barrier separating the Rokkaku and Amano fiefs.

    *CLANG* *CLANG*

    The sound of steel striking steel echoed through the night.

    The darkness illuminated by small, bright light in this village of Museioka (无声丘 "silent hill").

    In a small hermitage, two figures worked in front of a great fire.

    The air was searing hot with each blast of the furnace.

    *CLANG* *CLANG*

    The figure of a young man, whose features were obscured by grime and soot.

    He strikes the iron with vigor, a hidden excitement.

    *CLANG* *CLANG*

    The figure of an older woman, watching him intently and guiding his hands.

    Against the flames, she stands silent and cold.

    *CLANG* *CLANG*

    A long, folded blade of red-hot steel.

    "Now, bring it into the water," The woman spoke.

    Smoke filled the room, as red was cooled into a dull silver.

    "For whom did I forge this blade, mother?" the young man asks the woman, proud of his own work.

    He brings up the sword, seeing the word 'sora' (空 "sky") engraved upon the blade.

    The same kanji reflected a different meaning in the woman's eyes.

    "I wonder who, indeed," she spoke.

    "You have always wanted to become a blacksmith, and I have taught you to become one. You have created countless farming tools and spades. Yet, you would always complain that you never get to forge swords for the samurai."

    The woman continued, melancholy in her voice.

    "But you make such beautiful swords, mother. I just wanted to become like you," he said proudly.

    He held the blade of 'Sora' in a cloth, cradling it like a child.

    The grain in the steel sparkled, reflecting the forge's flames.

    Like stars twinkling in the evening sky.

    "I can continue to do this for you, mother! We can move out of here into the city, and become famous." He continued, smiling brightly.

    His mother simply stared at him, sadness in her eyes.

    "Son, 'Sora' is your blade.
    Your blade, never to be given to anyone else.
    Your blade, yours and yours alone."

    The man looked at her, dumbfounded.

    "While your sword shines with a thousand beautiful lights, it is meant to leave a thousand bloody wounds."

    Asuno Kazehime left her son alone after giving him this statement.

    「千光。。。 千傷。。。」
    "senkou... senkizu..."
    (thousand-lights, thousand-wounds)​


    Kourin uttered those words, pondering the meaning behind them.

    'Sora' glimmered red, reflecting the fire of its birth.




    曰月 光輪一編
    (iwakutsuki korin itsu-hen)
    Iwaku-moon Halo-Episode






    Early morning.


    The sun shone brightly over the village of Museioka.

    Farmers had begun to tend to their fields.

    Mothers had begun to prepare their family's meals.

    Merchants had begun to peddle their wares.

    At the smithy, a young man had begun his repairs on a broken shovel.

    A young smith with chiseled, handsome features.

    Beauty hidden and marred by soot and grime.

    He took to his forge with a single-minded focus, unaware of the village girls who would constantly pass by every morning to watch him work.

    'How manly!' they would excitedly mutter among themselves, giggling at the expense of the unwitting lad.


    This popular young blacksmith was Asuno Kourin. (明日野 光輪 Tomorrow-field Halo)


    At this time of the morning, a beautiful lady would appear from the shadows of the Kazehime smithery, mostly to shoo away the girls who had surrounded her son.

    An older woman, whose delicate features were hidden in the heavy apron and scarred hands of the blacksmith.

    "Good morning, mother," Kourin said nonchalantly, still absorbed in his work.


    His mother was the village blacksmith, named Asuno Kazehime. (明日野 風姫 tomorrow-field wind-princess)


    "Those girls..! Anyway, Kourin, you should take responsibility for your popularity! You're old enough to marry, you know," she nagged him.

    "When we get ourselves a nice house in the city, I'll consider that," Kourin answered, continuing to hammer away at the spade.

    "As it is, I'm married to my work," he said finally.

    Kazehime watched her son with a look of nostalgia.

    "You're just like him," she muttered to herself.

    "Hm?" Kourin reacted to her muttering.

    "Nothing! That's enough work for you!" She suddenly shouted at him.

    "It's a nice, sunny day, and you're in here hammering! Let me do that," she said, pushing Kourin away.

    "Whu- the day just started! I'm no longer a kid! What do you want me to do all day!?" Asuno exclaimed, surprised.

    "Go get some food from the teahouse, I don't feel like cooking today," Kazehime answered back.

    His mother smiled sheepishly as she deftly took the hammer from Kourin's hands.

    "Tch," Kourin clicked his tongue.

    His mother was a very stubborn woman; once in a while, she had episodes like this.

    Resigned to his fate, he walked into the house to change his clothes and wash his face.

    Their house was nothing special - It was a modest single-room home, with an expansive backyard for their cooking and bathing.

    It also had a single room as the second floor - rare for peasants at the time.

    Not to mention their smithy next door.

    Kourin ascended the old wooden stairs, which creaked slightly with his every step.

    This was their 4-tatami bedroom, shared between him and his mother.

    As he went to their drawers, he saw a familiar white folded kimono in the corner of the room.


    It was a reminder of the man named Asuno Jyuzo. (明日野 傑曽 Tomorrow-field "I am exceptionally great")


    Adorning his father's kimono was the Amano family crest.

    Jyuzo was a samurai of the Amano clan, a man renown for his skill with the sword.

    The same man who left him and his mother in this village, never to return.

    A father whose face he had never seen.

    Without the distracting fire of the furnace, or the incessant hammering of steel, Kourin was left with dark thoughts.


    If he was samurai, why were they left in this village without a fief to their name?

    If he was samurai, why were they treated like peasants?

    If he was samurai... Where was he now?


    *CLANG* *CLANG*


    The rhythmic din of hammering outside broke his thoughts.

    Kourin sighed and continued changing his clothes.

    His mother was a female blacksmith who produced amazing work.

    Asuno Kazehime was a rarity; an exotic flower whose beauty matched her skill.

    With her smithing, they were able to eke out a living in this tiny village.

    What got them through hard times, however, was not her pots or pans.

    Korin looked at the sword he had placed next to his bed, the katana named 'Sora'.

    She had tried to hide the fact that she had forged swords when he was younger.

    Her scarred hands, which had been subjected to fires much hotter than those needed for the forging of farm tools.

    He remembered countless sleepless nights, when he would hear her hammer through the night.

    She would complete a process which normally took multiple blacksmiths to achieve.

    All because of Asuno Jyuzo's disappearance.

    Korin took his blade, which had been kept in but a humble wooden handle with no handguard, and a featureless wooden scabbard.

    For him, it was not yet a sword; it was right now a blade at rest.

    He remembered the night when he confronted his mother, asking her why she had to do such work alone.


    "... while swords may shine with a thousand lights, all they leave is a thousand wounds. That is my burden."


    To this day, he never truly understood that statement.

    He had stubbornly forced his mother to teach him, so he could help her forge her swords.

    Korin looked at his own scar, a large burn on his left hand.

    A scar from when he begged his mother to teach him how to forge swords.

    To prove his commitment, he took a still-hot stick of iron from the furnace, and held it as it burned his flesh.


    "Please temper me, like this steel."


    With that, his mother assented, and he helped her in the smithy ever since.

    That was their livelihood up until now.



    What they did for the past few nights, however, was different.



    "Why did I forge you, Sora? What does she mean by 'My blade, never to be given to anyone else'... 'My blade, mine and mine alone'?"

    Korin had wanted to sell this blade, perhaps make it a beautiful, proper nihontou (japanese sword) before doing so.

    If he made this sale, perhaps he could perform the smithing on his own from now on.

    So that his mother could rest from her lifetime of toil.

    So that she would not suffer any more burns and injuries.


    Korin took the sword, and decided to bring it to the village market.

    He also made sure to take the back door, because he didn't want to get nagged on the way out.

    Behind their house was a forest-path that served as a shortcut to the township below.

    It was a green, grassy path that cut through the woods, hardly used by anyone other than him and his mother.

    Korin walked through the verdant greenery, thinking about how to sell Sora.

    "What would be its selling point? It's beautiful indeed, but..."

    Korin remembered the looming tensions between the Amano and the Rokkaku - especially with the weakening of the Gaburi shogunate.


    He pulled out the blade, holding it aloft in the middle of the forest.

    A ray of light fell upon the blade, reflecting a portion of the sky upon its surface.

    The wavy grain upon the sword sparkled like a sparkling river.

    After pondering for a while, Korin suddenly took a stance.


    He knew how to cut with a sword.


    Otherwise, there was no one else who would test these swords.

    Before Korin volunteered to help in the smithy, his mother had been doing such things on her own.

    Now, he does all the sword testing for her.

    He cut with a style he learned from his mother.


    Korin swung.


    His strike was quick, almost invisible.

    The blade was reduced to a flash of light.

    A faint whistle could be heard as it cut through the wind in an instant.


    In one stroke, he had felled a bush of tall grass.


    The green leaves scattered in unison, falling in all directions.

    In the midst of this clamor, he quietly held the sword to his face, examining its surface.

    Not a grain or leaf had been left upon its mirror sheen.

    Its clarity made the spilled plant sap upon its edge all the more visible.


    "Clear like a cloudless sky in the daytime,
    Sparkling like the stars in the night sky.
    That is the blade Sora. ('Sky')"


    He mused poetically.

    "That's it."

    Quickly and carefully, Korin wiped the blade with a white cloth, and smoothly placed it back in its scabbard.


    He continued through the forest quietly, hearing only the sound of birds chirping in the distance.

    Eventually, the sounds became more faint, as he came upon an open field.

    It was a rice paddy, with narrow dirt paths bordering muddy plots.


    This was the farm of their 'neighbors', the Ransu family.


    He walked along a dirt-path, watching the old man work alone.

    The old man turned to see him, and waved.

    "Good morning, Korin. How's your mother?" Old man Ransu yelled.

    "She took over the hammering, told me to do some chores in the town." Korin yelled back.

    "Oh, you're going to sell that sword?" The old man pointed out.

    Korin instinctively hid it behind his back, but answered anyway.

    "Yes."

    The old man nodded, and went back to his work.

    As Korin approached the other end of the field, the old man spoke again.


    "Your mother is a wonderful woman, eh? Such skill in creating those swords... with the beauty to match."

    Korin stopped, and respectfully answered, "Yes, sir."

    "Your father, too... it's a shame, really. Such is the way of samurai, I guess..." The old man rambled on.

    Korin would rather not talk about such things, and leave the old man to his field.

    But it was rude to do so, and he was trying to be respectful to his neighbor.


    "...Speaking of samurai... I hear there's some Amano samurai in town," Ransu suddenly pointed out.


    Amano - the same clan his father served.

    Korin gripped Sora tightly, thinking that this was an opportunity for some closure.

    "Thank you for this information, old man. They sound like just the people who would buy my sword."

    The young man bowed and left.

    "Oh, no problem, young Korin. Take care of your mother, okay?" The old man said as he left.


    The Ransu farm was just outside the village center, a busy place where merchants and farmers hawked their wares.

    Unlike the farms, and the smithy situated further towards the mountain, this place was full of activity.

    Korin walked through the many farmers noisily selling their vegetables.

    He passed a merchant from Aruki, his stall bedecked in finery and lacquered boxes.


    "Young man, perhaps you are interested in a beautiful kimono - a gift for your lover!"


    The merchant called his attention.

    Korin saw the floral-themed Kimono hung upon bamboo hangers.

    He stared at a pink one with chrysanthemums, a yellow one with red camellias, and a light blue kimono with a variety of flowers as its design.

    He imagined Kazehime, wearing these, rather than her heavy blacksmith's apron.


    "Later, perhaps. I'll get back to you on that offer."


    He turned away, continuing his search for the Amano Samurai.


    In his search, he passed by some monks from the nearby Koenjubara (古槐薔薇 old-wisteria-rose) temple.

    They were solemn figures dressed in ornately designed robes, designs that made them appear to be winged.

    Each of them carried an effigy of Amano 7th, 'the slayer-saint', wearing a helmet shaped like a pyramid, wielding a great nodachi.

    Korin heard about him - he was the slayer of Isabera, (伊佐倍良 country-assist-"good times") the legendary oni-warlord.

    Isabera was the scourge of Iwaku, spawn of the evil goddess Daiana, and leader of an undead nui-bo (縫墓 stitched-grave) horde.

    For monks of such an esteemed Oomaku sect to be here, there must be an Amano emissary present.


    Everything about today seemed to push him towards a destiny.

    Finally, he would get the answers to the questions that plagued him all his life.

    Perhaps he could even get a chance to bring him and his mother out of this small village.


    He rushed towards the village Elder's estate, situated near the village entrance.

    It was a decently large Samurai's estate, one that also served as the village's makeshift meeting hall.

    Museioka-mura was one of Amano's many fiefs; The elder was one of their many vassals.

    Korin reached the front gate, where a cohort of Amano samurai and their horses had been stationed.

    They wore kimonos of whites, grays and light blues.

    Their chestplate armor and helmets were similarly colored, giving them an airy, 'heavenly' look.

    Contrasted to that however, the Amano Samurai posted at the gate had grim, serious looks on their faces.

    They were tenshi-sha, the warrior messengers of the Amano.


    Harbingers of justice from the heavens.



    The young man dusted himself off and walked towards the gate, meekly bowing his head.

    A particularly burly armored Samurai, standing guard, turned to him with a grunt.

    "Hnn!?"

    Reacting to Korin's sword, the Samurai took a stance, gripping the handle of his own sheathed katana.

    The sword, which hung at his waist, clicked noisily.

    "What business do you have here?" The samurai then asked gruffly.

    Korin resumed his downcast gaze, and bowed.

    "Esteemed samurai, I am but a humble blacksmith who hopes to sell this blade."

    "Your name, blacksmith?" The samurai asked curtly.

    "Asuno... Asuno Korin, sir."

    "Your school?" He continued.

    "... Asuno, sir."

    "Despite all the swords I have seen, I have not heard this name before," The samurai responded.


    'He never heard of the name: Asuno'.


    Korin was dejected.

    If even the Amano had no answers...

    Who was his father, really?

    His hope of restitution vanished.


    "B-but I assure you, sir, the craftsmanship is top-class..." Korin said, trying to be enthusiastic.

    Then he cleared his throat, and recited the poem he had made up prior.


    "Clear like a cloudless sky in the daytime,
    Sparkling like the stars in the night sky.
    That is the blade Sora. ('Sky')"


    The samurai raised an eyebrow and beckoned for the sword.

    The young blacksmith held out the sword in its shirasaya. (the "resting-sheathe" - an almost featureless wooden scabbard and handle.)

    The samurai slackened his grip on his own katana, examining the sheathed blade.

    "... Without even a proper battle-saya, huh." (scabbard/sheathe)

    "I-I could have one made... it will take a few days, sir."

    The burly samurai slightly unsheathed the sword and saw the golden kanji engraved near the tang of the blade.

    The mere act of revealing part of the blade made it sparkle beneath the sun.


    "I see. It is a beautiful sword, indeed."


    The samurai took but one glance at the blade, then spoke once more.


    "... But we have no need of it."


    He closed it suddenly, and gave it back.

    Korin watched, surprised.

    "B-but why...? You said it was beautiful, sir."

    The samurai turned to his partner.

    "What do you say about all this?" he grunted.

    "It is magnificent indeed, but I have no use for it either," The other one replied.

    "There you have it," the samurai said.

    The young man froze.

    "What is wrong with the sword, sir? H-have you tested it? It can cut, I assure you!"

    He said, almost raising his voice.


    Korin was cut off when he heard a distinctive metallic click.


    The samurai had slightly pulled forward his katana, essentially freeing it from his sheathe.

    It was an aggressive gesture, one Korin knew that could be fatal.

    "... And what kind of blacksmith are you!? You can't even figure out a simple thing!" The samurai shouted.

    Korin quickly fully bowed on the ground, groveling.

    He despised this gesture, but that was the law of the land.

    They were samurai, he was a mere peasant; to disrespect them was death.

    "I'm sorry, sir. Please forgive my imprudence," he weakly pleaded.

    "We are about to go to war! It is no place for pleasantries, or aesthetics." the samurai yelled at Korin.

    Korin flinched as the samurai continued his lecture.

    "If I had let you done as you wish, you would have wasted the time of our great clan leader with such foolishness! The fate of all of Iwaku rests on the time he spends, and you would present him with this toy of a sword...!"

    The young man was sure he was about to get struck out of anger, but no such blow came.

    Korin then heard the calmer voice of the other guard.


    "Blacksmith, We're done here. You may leave."


    Korin got back up on his feet, and saw the two samurai discussing heatedly about what had just happened.

    As soon as he felt their gaze fall upon him, he averted his eyes quickly and left hurriedly.

    The Blacksmith grit his teeth angrily as he walked down the street.


    He was frustrated.


    He was angry that all his hopes were dashed in a few minutes.

    Was his father being a samurai of the Amano a lie?

    What was so bad about Sora!?

    Why were they allowed to do such things to him?

    Just because they're samurai...!

    More questions, and still no answers.


    More frustrations.


    Korin tried to gather his thoughts, when he remembered.

    "... go get some food from the teahouse..."

    His reason for coming to town: his mother's chores.

    Korin sighed.

    Perhaps he really should just listen to his mother.

    Find a nice girl, marry her, have children and make pots and pans for the rest of his life.

    He resigned himself to such idle thoughts as he reached the teahouse.


    The teahouse was a simple, but wide open-air structure, with most of the space dedicated to the customers' tables.

    The kitchen was a small room in the back, where the store's owner, Satoshi and his wife Rumi, worked.

    For what seemed to be a busy day outside, the teahouse was quite vacant.

    Korin only saw one other customer: a heavily cloaked man in a wide brimmed hat quietly enjoying his tea and confectioneries.

    Inwardly, he felt relieved that at least he would have his purchase done quickly.

    The young Asuno walked up to the counter and called for Satoshi.

    "Oooh, Young master Asuno! What brings you in here, so early in the day?" The middle-aged man asked excitedly.

    "Mother won't be cooking today, so we'll have some of your riceballs as usual," Korin answered.

    "Ohhh, that's no good! no good! Just rice all day? I'll throw in some sweet-bean-cake for you and your mother!" Satoshi said, hurriedly running to the back.

    Korin wanted to stop the man, but it was too late.

    He simply sighed and decided to sit down at a table, to wait for his order.

    In the kitchen, Korin heard the couple arguing - most likely about the free sweet-bean-cake.

    "..."

    He really didn't want them anyway.


    "How enviable! To live in such a community, and get free museioka-wagashi* during this season..."
    (*Silent hill confectionery)


    Korin turned to look at the source of the masculine, nasal voice.

    It was the other customer, whose face was obscured by the shadow of his wide-brimmed hat.

    He wore a bulky, heavy, gray cloak.

    It was dusty from travel, and hid a bluish kimono within.

    Korin noted his dirty travel-sandals, which consisted of countless straps made of sturdy straw and leather.

    The stranger's hands were smooth and fair, however.

    His fingers delicately toyed with the red-bean-cake on his plate.


    "Greetings, traveler. I am glad you enjoy our hospitality," Korin greeted the man.

    "... And though it may seem strange to you, I am not overtly fond of our village's confectionery," he continued.

    It was a red-colored cake made of mashed beans and flour, with a large mint leaf stabbed into the top.

    Supposedly it was made in honor of Amano the Seventh's slaying of Izabera - his great sword stabbed into the bloody torso of the demon.

    That imagery alone turned Korin off the whole deal.

    "Well, perhaps I can take that burden off your hands. That is, if you don't mind... Mr. Samurai," The stranger said, in an amused tone.

    "Oh, sure- wait, me, samurai?" Korin asked, bewildered.

    "I see you carrying a katana, or am I mistaken?" The stranger asked.


    "Oh, this? I'm not a samurai, I just-"


    Korin was cut off when a rowdy group of men walked into the teahouse.

    They looked like a bunch of vagrant ronin, with tattered kimonos and dirty sandals.

    Of course, they all had swords worn on their sashes.

    The men swaggered and cursed their way toward the counter, leaving Korin and the traveler speechless.

    The leader of the group, a man wearing a faded gray kimono, slammed his fist on the counter.


    "Oi, you bastards, service!"


    Satoshi came out of the kitchen hurriedly, bowing.

    "Er uh, oh, yes, sirs. What would you like?" He meekly asked.

    "Tea," was the curt reply.

    "Erh, for how many, sirs?" Another question.

    "One... two... three... four.... five." The leader counted everyone in his group.

    "O, okay, we will serve five cups-"

    "KETTLES." The group leader interrupted.

    "f-five kettles... that will be 50 coins, sir!"


    Korin saw the thug slam the table again and quickly grab Satoshi by his collar.

    The young blacksmith instinctively gripped his sword, Sora.

    The leader yelled at the trembling tea owner.

    "What kind of fetid provincial teahouse is this? Not even an '...is that all,sir?' You call this dog-offal 'service'!?"

    "I-i-is that all, sir?" Satoshi meekly bleated.

    "...Don't you know who I am? charging ME 50 coins!?" He yelled.

    The leader then combed his hair back with his fingers, and scowled.


    "I'm THE-FUCKING-AMANO-JUUZO. I'm the head of the strongest fuckin' clan in all of Iwaku."


    I was struck dumb by that very statement.

    Next to me, the stranger laughed out loud.

    I began to worry for his life.


    "You little turd! What's so funny!?"

    One of the 'Amano' clansmen kicked over a chair and walked towards the traveler, rattling his katana.

    The traveler shook his head, and wiped a tear from his eye.

    "Oh, I'm sorry, it's just that I thought Amano Juuzo would be, you know..."

    As he paused, two more thugs surrounded him.


    "... The kind of person who'd take a bath."


    "You little bitch!"

    "You dissin' the boss, huh?"

    "Die!"


    In that instant, 3 katana were drawn.



    In a single flowing motion, two blades shot out of the traveler's sides.

    They stabbed two thugs in the gut, before they could even completely free their swords from their scabbards.

    Then they sliced upward, cutting open the two thugs' torsos with a spattering of blood.

    The blades crossed in mid-air, deflecting the last thug's vertical cut by catching it in between.

    Korin saw this all achieved in a single stroke.


    It was so quick and precise that it bewildered even the thugs, two of which were now bleeding on the floor.


    The traveler's arms were outstretched, holding back the single blade of his opponent.

    His twin swords had strange, braided, sickly-green ropes dangling from each of their pommels, like an animal's rotting tail.

    He smiled at his opponent, who was trying to break the blade-lock by pushing his down harder with his single sword.

    "Ah, this is exactly why one must never play with their food. I have so much regrets."

    His head motioned sadly to the small table between them.

    "Hunh!?"

    The thug brought his eyes down to see a single uneaten red-bean-cake being hurled, along with the rest of the table, into his gut.


    *CRASH!*


    Korin watched this spectacle unfold with awe, holding Sora tightly the entire time.

    What amazing sword technique!

    Was this how samurai fought?

    I have never seen it firsthand before.


    He thought to himself excitedly.


    However, as the third thug fell over, he saw a 4th figure behind the traveler.

    Another ronin, his sword already held over his head with both hands, one step away from a fatal strike.


    Korin acted immediately, almost purely on instinct.

    Otherwise, this strange swordsman would die!


    Thoughts like 'I have never cut a man before' or 'this is a crime' briefly crossed his mind.

    But he subconsciously experienced the desperation of the battlefield.

    Kill or be killed - such doubts quickly became meaningless in the face of this glaring decision.

    Instead, he imagined the ronin's arms as two sticks, falling in unison.

    In his mind, he drew a single line to cut through both of them.

    His hands drew the blade, and a faint whistle was heard in a single instant.


    After a flash of light, the blade 'Sora' was slick with blood.


    There were multiple thuds heard afterwards.

    One for each hand.

    Another for the sword.

    And last, for the screaming man, whose wrists had become fountains of red.


    I - I did it! Korin thought to himself excitedly.

    But the thought of spilling blood slightly sickened him - he had never seen this much in person.

    It almost pained him to think about it.

    His only consolation was that Sora worked.

    He looked at his sword, covered in blood - no longer innocent and pure.

    ... But it glimmered beautifully in such seductively sinister crimson.

    "Yeesh, Watch where you spray all that," the traveler said, his cloak and hat stained from all the crimson ichor.

    This snapped Korin back to reality.


    Another loud thud, this time from the kitchen.


    "Satoshi! What in Oomaku's name is going on out here!?"


    It was Satoshi's wife, Rumi, a middle-aged woman who had the body and youthfulness of a twelve year old boy.

    "Rumi, I told you to stay in the kitchen, dear!" Satoshi squealed.

    His wife turned to see the bloody mess, and screamed.

    Suddenly she felt a pressure behind her back.

    "You fuckers!"

    Rumi was quickly lifted up by 'Amano Juuzo', and carried out through the kitchen door.

    "Rumiiiii!" Satoshi screamed, powerless.

    Korin bolted after the man, leaving the teahouse.

    "I'll get her back!" he yelled at Satoshi.


    Left with the thugs, the traveler with two swords walked up to the relatively unharmed goon under the flipped table.

    The goon, now recovered from the impact earlier, was desperately tried to get back on his feet.

    He was quickly stopped when two swords were stabbed into the wooden floor, their blades crossing over his neck.


    "You claim to be Amano when the real Amano are just around the corner, You ruin a perfectly nice wagashi joint, you take a little old lady hostage, and worse of all..."


    The traveler took off his hat, revealing a youthful, boyish face, lips curled in a smug grin.

    He threw the bloody cloak on the floor, revealing a regal, light-blue kimono of shiny silk.


    "Oh... you are... a lord samurai..." Satoshi stared, jaws agape.

    He bowed in reverence.


    On the young man's kimono was the family crest of Amano.


    "... You do all this foolishness in front of me," the Amano swordsman said finally.


    The thug whimpered as the young man moved closer.

    The Amano quickly reclaimed his swords, beheading his victim in the process.


    「死刑執行の方法 - 大端 (オオハシ)」
    "Executioning technique - the large end (Oohashi). "





    Outside, 'Amano Juuzo' ran down the street, only to be blocked by the curious crowd of passersby who had heard screaming from the teahouse.

    "Heelp! This man is crazy!" Rumi yelled.

    Korin quickly caught up to them, and immediately took a stance with his sheathed 'Sora'.

    "Stop this, you!" Korin yelled.

    'Juuzo' suddenly held Rumi in front of him with his left hand, and held out his sword with the other.

    "Shit! Don't come any closer, or I'll slit this woman's throat!" the fake Amano exclaimed.

    Rumi screamed as she was jerked around with a katana to her neck.

    "For a samurai, that's cowardly!" Korin spat.

    "Screw you and your bullshit honor! That stuffy crap is exactly why I became a ronin!" The false Amano shouted, hiding behind Rumi as Korin walked around him.

    "Fight me fairly! Don't you have any faith in your skill with the sword!?" Korin shouted back.

    The fake Amano Juuzo grit his teeth.

    "You bastard! I'll show you why I should have become head of Amano! They said I was shit with the sword, but I ain't!"

    He threw aside Rumi, who quickly scampered into the crowd.

    The ronin held his sword over his right shoulder.


    Korin immediately prepared to draw Sora with an Iaijutsu maneuver.

    "Fine! It's a duel, fucker!"

    Both of them circled each other slowly, planning and anticipating their next movement.



    In truth, Korin was nervous and afraid.

    He had never been in a fight before - everything until now was target practice.

    Logs, grass, old straw mats, sticks, fruit...

    A man's arms.

    The thought of spilling blood sickened him.

    But there was a strange allure that crept up at the back of his head as he thought of cutting.

    A fight meant that there was a chance of being hurt, of being killed.

    He knew not how to parry or to avoid blows, as he was only told to cut.

    So if his opponent struck first, he would most likely be killed.

    That truth scared him.

    But, he thought, that if he cut first and ended the fight, he wouldn't need to worry about dodging or parrying.

    That possibility was exhilarating.

    A single cut, a single wound.

    With that, he ends the fight.


    Both of them had stood for a few seconds, neither moving an inch.

    "What's your real name, warrior?" Korin asked, maintaining his draw-cut stance.

    After a short pause, the ronin finally assented.

    "... tch. Zabasatsu (挫場札)," he said gruffly.

    "You?" he asked back.

    "A-Asuno.. Korin." Korin answered nervously.

    ... to declare one's name in battle, despite not being samurai...

    It was a good feeling; he felt empowered.



    "Wait, Asuno?" Zabasatsu asked, surprised.



    "Y-yes...?" Korin replied.

    Could it be...

    That he knew something?

    He was a ronin who used to be from the Amano.

    Perhaps he knew about Jyuzo?

    In all of today's events, this was the single silver lining.



    "Asuno... Kourin...! Oh, Asuno Kourin, son of Amano Juuzo!"

    A smile formed on Korin's lips, a hopeful smile.

    A smirk formed on Zabasatsu' face, a mocking smirk.



    "You're his bastard son!"



    "...eh!?"

    Korin's eyes widened in shock.

    In front of all these people, a truth he was not prepared to hear, was revealed to the world.

    He was... an illegitimate son?



    "You're one of Amano Juuzo's bastards!"


    That was a lie.


    "How could I ever forget that he had pretended to be 'Asuno Jyuzo' and hid away in this shitty village!"


    That was a lie!


    "When I was part of the cohort that found out this shameful secret, they ordered me to commit seppuku - to make sure no one else will ever know!!"


    That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie! That was a lie!


    "Oh, but none of that matters now-" Zabasatsu was cut off mid-sentence.



    "- Because I'll kill you!" Korin's voice, filled with rage, carried throughout his sprint.


    "Nuh!?" his opponent was surprised by this sudden outrage.


    Quickly, Zabasatsu brought up his blade over his head.

    "Kaminari! (thunder!)"

    And brought it down quickly, in a swift vertical cut.


    However, Korin saw him differently.

    All he saw were two sturdy sticks, holding up a log, upon which there was a broken bucket.

    Two-tree branches were falling off from the side of the log, a broom tied between them.

    Zabasatsu, reduced to an inanimate object.


    Korin shouted and swung forth Sora with all his might.




    The flash of a single draw-cut.

    A quick, faint whistle.

    The single slash reducing the two sturdy sticks to splinters.

    Then, a second faint whistle.

    As the log buckled forward, Korin tore off the right tree branch from the log with a second swing.

    There was a wet impact as it was severed from the log.

    Its release sent the broom flying into the air.

    Then Korin hacked,
    and hacked,
    and hacked,
    and hacked at the fallen log as it rolled upon the ground.


    "ENOUGH!"


    ... the broom landed with a metallic clang, and Korin was awoken by a ghastly scream.


    Korin held the dripping wet Sora above him, like a butcher's cleaver.

    Below him, the bloody mess that was Zabasatsu screamed until he could only gurgle blood.

    His legs had large gashes at the thighs, a torrent of blood coursing from the wounds.

    His right arm, completely severed at the elbow.

    His body was covered in a thousand wounds.


    Korin reeled back in horror at what he had done.

    The young man dropped his sword, and stepped back.

    Sora fell upon the ground, sparkling sinisterly and reflecting a sickly crimson glimmer.

    Around him were the villagers, watching him silently.

    He could discern only shock and terror from their faces.


    N-no... I... I did not mean to...

    That was what it meant to kill with a sword.

    A cut given, a wound recieved.

    A flash of light, and the spilling of blood.


    He wanted to vomit as he saw the mess before him.

    He closed his eyes, but the image would assault his mind.

    He lost the power in his legs and doubled over.

    He inhaled deeply, suddenly at a loss of breath.

    As he kept his eyes on the brown earth below, a blackish-red trickle crept up from the direction of his fallen opponent.



    Then, at the edge of his vision, a great, white figure emerged.

    It was flanked by streams colored like the sky.


    He looked up to see a majestic warrior in the distance, sitting on a white horse.

    Before him were at least twenty footmen, all of them Samurai in full yoroi-armor, bearing flags of blues and whites.

    The sky-colored flags bore the crest of heaven.


    天野
    Amano.​


    "Kh... Your... father..." Zabasatsu said with his last breaths.


    An older man, whose handsome, chiseled features in youth were somehow preserved despite his age.

    He had an elegant, proud grace about him, like a heavenly being in human flesh.

    His gaze was fierce, like a predator tracking its prey.

    At his side, though sheathed, was an ornate sword, popular throughout the land - "Ramottou". (Naked-fierce-sword)


    That was, without a doubt...


    Amano Juuzo (天野 十三).



    "You, the peasant with the sword!"

    His voice was baritone, in a way one would expect from a masculine disembodied god.

    "Stand up."

    The command of a deep voice, as if coming from the heavens.



    Korin meekly bowed, and he muttered back,

    "Yes, sir!"


    "Murderer. You even have the gall to commit an atrocious crime in the presence of the Amano."

    His tone was fearsome, and it felt like the world itself hated Korin.

    Korin could only keep quiet - after all, it was true.

    The laws of the land forbade peasants from wielding katana in the first place.


    Because killing was a right reserved for samurai.


    Korin knew that now, the lord of the Amano held his life in the balance.

    That he could end it at once.

    He would end it at once.

    After all, Korin brutally slaughtered a man in public.

    He hung his head.


    How could he have done this?

    He wanted to save people - he wanted to do something.

    What made him act in such a way?

    If he did not act, someone else would have died.

    Was it the evil of his sword, Sora?

    It glimmered darkly, seductively as he cast his gaze upon its bloodstained edge.

    But he reminded himself that it was just a sword.

    His anger and frustration?

    He had given in to anger - his frustration of everything.

    The uncertainty of his existence, the reason for all his suffering.

    What would become of him?

    What would become of his mother?

    He wanted to have a reason.

    He wanted to blame someone.



    He wanted justification.



    Before him was the man - the man who Zabasatsu claimed to be his father.

    The head of the Amano, a great samurai known throughout the land.

    A man who abandoned him and his mother.

    Amano Juuzo's rigid figures suddenly moved again, and he spoke.


    "... Where did you learn such impeccable swordsmanship?"


    Korin was quiet.

    Was that swordsmanship?

    All he did was cut the things in front of him, until they fell to shreds.


    "Such precise, quick movements. A single-minded focus. The ability to destroy, to slay in an instant."


    He just killed someone out of anger.

    He was no samurai.

    Was Amano mocking him?

    Just kill him, end this foolish life.

    But then - he wouldn't be satisfied with such an end.

    His mother's gentle smile flashed in his mind.

    Korin was frustrated, seeds of hatred for this man grew within him.


    "No answer, peasant?"


    He hung his head.

    Death was inevitable.

    To this man, he was nothing more than a criminal.

    Without even a look of compassion, Korin would die by his men's hands.


    Unless...

    He took Sora, and cut him first.


    Kill this man who was his life's curse.

    He was to blame for everything.

    It became clear to Korin - that without a doubt, all of his... his mother's suffering came from this man.



    "It is a shame."



    Amano Juuzo raised his hand, and several samurai drew their swords.

    Korin motioned towards Sora.

    The Amano Samurai ran toward him, yelling.

    They were harbingers of death, justice from heaven.

    He simply needed to cut through them.

    He gripped his sword as they took to the air, falling upon him in unison.



    Just one stroke...!


    A flash of light, and the sharp sound of impact from the clash of swords.


    Korin opened his eyes, feeling only the sensation of holding 'Sora' in his hands.

    The sky stretched out in front of him, clouds drifting lightly in the sky.

    How he wished to be like them, light and without burden.

    How they could do as they pleased without a care in the world.

    Perhaps - he would become one now.


    *THUD.*


    Korin fell to the ground, feeling a pain in his chest.

    He remembered his mother - how she had hid the fact that she made swords.

    Was this the burden she spoke of?

    The frustrations of a blacksmith.

    Was he not ready yet?

    It felt as if all light had left his heart, leaving a thousand wounds.




    Yet, still - the meaning of his mother's words would elude him.





    "Oioioi! He's not so great a swordsman; he'd be dead if I was not around."



    Two blades, with sickly green ropes hanging from the pommel.

    They were held up high, deflecting four swords at once.

    A young man in a shiny, silk kimono.

    Long sandals dirty from long travel.

    His face, contorted in a smug smirk.


    The armored Amano samurai quickly withdrew their blades, and sheathed them.

    They bowed to this young man, as if he were a prince.

    The 'savior' quickly turned to face the fallen Korin.


    "Stand up, Mr. Samurai. It shouldn't hurt so much, since I merely pushed you down... with my foot."


    Korin blinked in disbelief, as he saw the traveler from before pull him up to his feet.

    On his savior's breast was the family crest of the Amano.

    The young man who saved him was smiling mischievously, like a fearless, perhaps crazy, hero from legend.



    "Hashirou. What is the meaning of this?"



    The Amano family head spoke, surprise apparent in his voice.

    His brows were just slightly furrowed, his emotions well checked.


    "This man saved my life, father. The man he killed was a bandit masquerading as you, and causing trouble."


    Father?

    Korin's eyes widened as he realized who this 'Hashirou' was.

    This young man was the eldest scion of the Amano family, the esteemed tactician Amano Hashiro. (天野 走郎)

    He quickly shot a glance back to the older Amano Juuzo, who simply had a face of disappointment.


    "He should have spoken sooner. I would have killed him anyway, for disrespecting the Amano..."


    Korin felt only resentment for this man.

    If not for Hashiro... he would've been killed... or he would have killed.

    He was aiming for both.


    "But he saved your life, and his cause was just - for that we can spare him."


    A mixture of surprise and relief washed over Korin.

    After making such a statement, Juuzo turned to the far off distance.

    His men sheathed their swords and began to march down the path, passing by Korin and Hashiro.

    Hashiro snickered and turned to Korin.


    "Ya got off pretty clean. Now we're even."


    Korin nodded blankly.

    Then he quickly bowed, realizing his stature.

    Without a doubt, Hashiro was his savior, his patron.

    "Th-thank you, lord Hashiro. I, I have only this sword to give as proof of my gratitude."

    Hashiro shook his head.

    "I don't want anything from you. We're even, remember? You don't need to do anything good for me anymore."


    Yet, he cupped his chin and examined the sword anyway.

    Even covered in blood and filth, Sora's outline was clear, and it sparkled crimson, reflecting the sunlight.

    It was slim, light, and thin, a razor-edged beauty.

    Near its tang was the kanji for sky, engraved wih a golden metal.

    "... Besides, this sword - I think it's something only you can use."

    Hashiro said, his hand on his chin.

    This again.

    Was his sword really so terrible?


    As Korin was about to sulk, he realized that Juuzo was now next to them, his gaze piercing through the young man's very soul.


    "That's a beautiful sword, one that fits your technique - It is not something Hashiro nor I would wield."


    Korin was quiet.

    He realized quickly that it was only this man who had praised him all day.


    "Tell me your name, vagrant," He then asked the blacksmith.

    Though Korin thought it had been resolved earlier, Juuzo ordered him to answer anyway.


    "I am Asuno... Asuno Kourin."

    He finally relented.



    Both Hashiro and Juuzo's expressions quickly changed.



    Korin did not realize it quickly, but Juuzo's eyes became sorrowful, regretful.

    This great man, who had shown almost no emotion earlier, who was willing to kill him without a second thought...

    ... Now regarded him with a pained expression of guilt.


    "I see, no wonder... that sword is her creation... I... I'm sorry..."


    Korin was surprised.

    Could it be...?


    "... for earlier, I mean. You saved my son, after all."


    His son.

    Hashiro was his real son.

    You're one of his bastards!"

    A painful question formed right after this thought - one he was afraid to ask.

    Juuzo turned away, but he was clearly troubled.

    This was his chance for answers, his chance to make everything right.

    Korin mustered up the courage to speak.


    "Excuse me, lord. If you would permit me to ask...!"


    Juuzo stopped, turning back toward him with a serious expression.


    "I... is it true... what Zabasatsu had said... about Asuno Jyuzo..."


    Those two names struck a chord in Amano Juuzo, and he appeared distressed.

    There was a pained silence between the two, before Juuzo spoke once more.

    The end to a lie, finally the truth would show itself to Korin.


    "If you wish to know the answer, come to my castle in Aruki. If you bear that sword, I will welcome you at any time."


    There was regret.

    Korin could hear the sadness in his voice.

    ... But that single statement moved him with so much emotion.

    Korin worked hard to contain it all.

    He bowed, and in his loudest voice, he yelled,

    "Thank you, Lord! Thank you very much for your graciousness!"


    There was a short silence, before Juuzo spoke once again.

    "How is your mother?"

    "She is fine," Kourin said quietly.


    "... Please send her my regards, then."


    With that, Amano Juuzo trotted away, his parade of samurai marching off towards the next town.


    Korin was filled with so many mixed emotions, but the positive ones pervaded.

    He excitedly turned to meet Hashiro's gaze.

    It was no longer a smug, mischievous look.

    It had become a cold stare that filled Korin with dread.

    But Korin disregarded the feeling - it was rude for him to even consider this of his savior.

    He was the key to him having fulfilled even some small part of his life.


    "Thank you, sir. I swear I'll pay you back for everything!" He said, excitedly bowing repeatedly.


    Hashiro simply turned away, scowling.


    "Be quiet! I told you that we're even. I don't owe you anything and I don't want anything from you."


    His tone was icy, devoid of the humor it had earlier.

    Korin felt uneasy as he lifted his gaze to see Hashiro simply walking away.

    His hero had left without even saying goodbye...


    ... Because Hashiro had no intention of saying his farewells just yet.

    "Tch, to think I was saved by him, then saved him." He muttered angrily.

    His retainer handed him the reigns of his brown horse, and he mounted it.

    Asuno of all people... such irony.

    Very well.

    Then, that life I saved shall become a living hell.


    The Amano scion smirked, and he snickered to himself.




    Korin was left behind, now with more questions in his head.

    Did that mean - I could become a samurai?

    Could I perhaps have found a way out of this village?

    Why did my hero Hashiro suddenly regard me coldly?

    Why did Amano Juuzo pretend to be Asuno Jyuzo?


    None of this mattered, because he felt that destiny was urging him on, just as it saved him today.


    He looked at his beautiful sword, Sora, as it glimmered crimson with the sun's rays.

    "He called you beautiful... he said my swordplay was incredible..!"

    He thought happily, as he cleaned his blade.

    Indeed, this sword was not to be sold - it was his and his alone - 'because only he could use it'.

    Now cleaned, it reflected the clear blue sky upon its mirror sheen.


    He had to go home and tell his mother all about it!

    About how he figured out who his father really was.

    About how he'd been invited to his castle in Aruki.

    Overjoyed, he made the decision to go to Aruki, to become part of the great Amano clan!


    It was then that Korin felt a cold sweat.

    He had forgotten something very important.





    He went to the messy Tea house, where several thugs lay dead in a bloody mess.

    Rumi was yelling at the street cleaners and undertakers who were taking away their bodies.

    "Sorry about your order, Korin. But as you can see, we're closed for the day," Satoshi said glumly.


    The young blacksmith fell to his knees, all energy drained from his body.

    He almost wept, knowing that when he went home...

    ... there'd be hell to pay.


    光輪一編 END
    (KOURIN ITSUHEN END)
    End of Kourin, Episode One
     
  2. OH MY GOD, I LOVE THIS.

    It's a good mix of themes!