Of Men and Mice
As the blade left its saya it made a singing sound, though the cut was not yet perfect, the sound was. Again and again the blade was drawn, and each time it hummed its tune, and each time the cut improved ever so slightly. Perhaps it would become a perfect cut soon.
The sun set in the distance and the blade was sheathed for the final time today. It was carried back into its new home and laid to rest, waiting to be used again in the new morning.
* * *
The Nezumi village was immersed in chaos as the Ratlings fought for their lifes against a band of Ogre raiders. The old gathered the young and guided them to safety, while the able-bodied fought of the Ogres.
One of the Ogres drove an elderly Ratling and several younger ones into a corner and lifted his club to crush the quivering Nezumi.
A whizzing sound and the Ogre cried out, letting his club go. A jade-tipped arrow was lodged in the creature's shoulder. Enraged it ripped out the source of its pain and turned around to see who shot him and to crush it. At the edge of the village a tall figure in great armor stood, daikyu in hand. The Ogre took the club in his other hand and charged. The figure dropped his bow and waited.
Fifty yards distance. -Two breaths…-
Forty yards. Three breaths…-
Thirty yards. -Four breaths…-
Twenty yards. -Five breaths…-
Ten yards. -Six breaths…-
No distance. -Seven breaths, one strike…-
The Ogre slumped to his knees, again he had dropped his weapon and again he clutched the source of his pain and was enraged, but with his intestines spilled on the ground he could do little.
The armored figure stood motionless, his sword still in the air at the end of its arc, his face turned downward at the dying Ogre. The figure watched the Ogre die and stepped over the body into town, striding purposefully towards the next Ogre who would get in his way…
* * *
This day was a sad day, the Daughter of the Great Bear had died, and today was her funeral. Many samurai of many Clans were present, but many Ratlings had come for the ceremony as well.
Or'rum'tikir had never actually met O-Ushi, but his mentor had told him of her heroic actions and those of the rest of her family. His mentor was Rik'tik'tichek, a Ratling who had become a member of the Crab Clan through his heroic deeds. Through all of his life Or'rum'tikir had used those people as his examples and his inspiration. One day he hoped to be able to join the samurai of the Crab and fight against the Shadowlands together.
But not today, this day was a day of mourning and many of the Nezumi present had gathered in some woods nearby. There one of the Rememberers would tell the stories of Hida O-Ushi and her family, the others would listen and perhaps tell some of their own related stories. Or'rum'tikir would listen, as he kept his mentor's stories and lessons for himself, he wasn't much of a storyteller either, but he could remember each and every lesson by heart.
* * *
"The Crab-crab always been good for Nezumi! Again today! One-one come and save village from ooh-grrs! Wearing big-big armor and mighty sword-sword. He kill-kill all big ones and save-save us all," a Grasping Paw Nezumi exclaimed.
"Who say-say he Crab? Maybe other Clan-clan he from," a Tattered Ear youngster asked.
"Only Crab-crab come to villages, no other Clan come-come so far! Who else safe-safe us?"
"We-we save ourselves! Strong-strong and smart-smart enough, why not proof to Crab-crab," shouted another Tattered Ear Nezumi, known as Yoee'trr. His remark only earned him a loud clicking and chittering of disrespect. Amidst all the ruckus Or'rum'tikir sat silently, eyes closed and thoughts somewhere else, until…
"Or'rum'tikir! You-you learn from Rik'tik'tichek, you good-good warrior! What you think-think? Was it Crab-crab who saved us or someone else-else," asked the Grasping Paw.
Or'rum'tikir remaind silent and didn't move.
"Oh, come-come. Speak something! If you not tell-tell your thoughts, maybe you tell story-story from Rik'tik'tichek," the younger Nezumi nagged.
Yoee'trr grinned and laughed, "Leave-leave him. He think he mighty-mighty sa-moo-rai! He mad-dee-tay-teeng!"
The whole group burst into laughter at Yoee'trr's remark and the clicking and chittering resumed. Or'rum'tikir slowly stood and walked off… he was going home.
* * *
"Hey, you there! Ratling," Hida Hio called out to the large Nezumi that was walking in the distance, he jogged towards him in a steady rhythm. "You are Or'rum'tikir, right? Student of Rik'tik'tichek?"
Or'rum'tikir slowly turned, it seemed this day was not granting him much peace. "Yes, Hio-san-san. What is it you would want-want from me?"
Hio lifted an eyebrow, this Ratling did not only speak very well, he used etiquette, these creatures would not stop to amaze him. As seriousness settled over his face again he said, "I heard some Ratlings talking about an Ogre raid on a Grasping Paw village and someone in armor who came to save them."
"Do you know anything about this mysterious figure?"
"Nezumi great storytellers, they make up-up a lot of things. He was-was probably just a Nezumi in armor-armor. They like to make-make heroes out of everybody."
"I see… Well, that was quite informative…" Hida Hio turned heel and jogged back to Kyuden Hida.
Or'rum'tikir shook his head and continued on his way, soon they might understand, perhaps soon…
* * *
Hida Chousen scanned the terrain, at the horizon he could see the fires of the Crane encampment, burning brightly and lighting the night sky. He and his men, about fifty strong Hida samurai would try and retake Yasuki Hanko. Kuroda-sama had not given the task to him without reason. The village name meant 'Yasuki Defiance', it was a symbol of the Crab's Yasuki family defiance of the Crane, but it had been captured by both sides several times now. Chousen meant challenge or defiance, Kuroda reasoned that if anyone could defeat the Crane and hold the village for the Crab it would be him.
The Crane currently in the camp had been there for two weeks, they were tired and had gotten little sleep because of constant skirmishes with the Crab. Reinforcements would arrive tonight and then the others would get a good night's rest.
That's what the Crane would believe. But Chousen and his man were given orders to stop the reinforcements from reaching the camp at all cost. He had ordered his luitenant, Kaiu Make, a capable samurai and trained in the usual 'arts' of the Kaiu as well, to prepare a 'surprise' for the Crane reinforcements. By morning they would all be dead.
* * *
The new day dawned and the Crab faced the Crane forces. They were outnumbered three to one, but Chousen's men were still fit and their wits had not been dulled. The Crane general strode forward and stopped in front of his army, "I am Daidoji Daitan, I was the man who captured Yasuki Hanko and killed Toritaka Usume."
Chousen did the same and shouted, "I am Hida Chousen, I am your challenge and defiance, it is my blade that will recapture Yasuki Hanko."
The Crane smiled, his eyes revealing the intention of a trick, "If that is so, I will accept your challenge, Chousen-san. Face me." The Daidoji took a few paces forward and fell into his dueling stance.
Swearing to himself Chousen cursed his folly, he should've known better than to use the word challenge with a Crane. As a general he had some knowledge of the art of the fast draw, but never enough to defeat a Crane. If he did not win this duel it would've been for naught. *Why did he not think realize that they would try this tactic?! They always did!*
The shout carried over the field, echoing strangely. From nearby bushes a tall figure in great armor strode, though he carried no mon, the colors of his armor were Crab. The figure wore a daisho and a strange mempo, it made him look like a dragon-like creature or an animal-headed oni, one way or the other, it had its intended effect. The figure strode towards the Crane general and stopped at two paces distance.
"Y-you will not win this battle easily, Crane-ne. If it is a iaijutsu duel-l you want, I will give it-t to you-ou." The man's voice was confident even through his strange stutter.
Daitan laughed, "If you strike like you speak, you have no chance! Very well, if it is death you seek, it is death you will get!" The Daidoji took his stance again and waited for his opponent to do the same. But the armored man didn't.
Confused the Crane waited for him to take his stance. -Three breaths…-
Daitan narrowed his eyes and readied himself for the strike. -Five breaths…-
As sweat slowly descend his brow and his heart beat audibly in his chest, Daitan made the first move. -Seven breaths…-
Before Daitan's blade could leave its saya properly his opponent had closed the distance between them and made his cut. -One strike…-
As the blade left its saya it made a singing sound, the Kaiu Sword went through the Crane, slicing through him from his right hip to his left collar bone. The armored figure stood motionless, his sword still in the air at the end of its arc, his face turned downward at the dying Crane. The figure watched the Crane die and stepped over the body striding purposefully towards the next Crane who would get in his way, while the Crab let out a fierce kiai and charged past him to attack the Crane.
* * *
Hida Chousen and his men had won the day, all thanks to the help of the stranger, after the battle he had approached the armored men and addressed him, "You saved us today, domo arigoto. We could not have won without you. But who are you? What is your name?"
The figure shook his head and spoke from behind his mempo, "Y-you do not want-t to know, Crab-b." The figure bowed and turned around, walking away slowly.
Chousen sighed, he had really wanted to get to know this man better. As he watched him walk away he noticed a strange twitching on the man's back. "Wait a minute…" he muttered to himself. He ran after the anonymous duelist, deftly sidestepping the bodies and making little sound, Chousen thanked himself for training with the Hiruma a few years. As he neared the man he drew his sword and sliced at a back piece of the man's armor. It fell off and revealed something unexpected: a Ratling's tail.
"What!? You are a Ratling?"
Or'rum'tikir whirled, his secret had come out! It had all been for nothing!
"How did you get that armor? Where did you get that daisho? How did you learn to fight a iaijutsu duel!?"
The Nezumi sighed, "It matters not-not, Chousen-san. My secret is-is revealed, I have no honor left-left. If you-you will allow me, I shall-shall commit seppuku to wash away the stain-stain on your honor." Or'rum'tikir no longer tried to hide the typical Ratling repeating of words. He drew the wakizashi at his side and was about to unfasten his armor when Chousen stopped him.
"Commit seppuku!? And lose a perfectly good fighter and duelist!? I think not! You practically won the battle for us. You must've known this village is pretty important to us, I am sure I can talk to Kuroda-sama. To see to it you get the reward you deserve. But let us retire to the village now, we must organize our defense and in the meantime you can tell me your story."
* * *
"I can figure out how you got that armor," Chousen said, swallowing another cup of sake, "but what about the rest? Your daisho? That mempo?"
Or'rum'tikir smiled as he started his tale, to a Crab he would gladly share his tales. "You, of course-course, know about the Spirit Wars. Not all the spirit-spirits were helping the Emperor of Yesterday. When Or'rum'tikir was young-young… I mean, when-when I was young I found-found a spirit hiding in the Shinomen Forest-forest. A strange-strange one, he. Son of both Crab-crab and Dragon-dragon, he told me, he had trained with Dragon-dragon, but died as a Crab-crab. Already I had learned from-from Rik'tik'tichek-sensei and wanted to become member of Crab-crab, like him, too. I asked spirit if he-he would teach me. Yes-yes, he said, but only if I would help-help him to commit seppuku-puku afterwards. He taught-taught me to use katana-tana and wakizashi-zashi and told me how to fast-fast draw. He taught-taught me little, but told-told me to find knowledge-ledge in books, then I helped him take-take his life."
Chousen didn't notice that his mouth had been opened all the time, when he did he quickly down another cup of sake and said, "Please continue, I'd like to hear more."
Or'rum'tikir nodded, "I was in luck-luck, Rik'tik'tichek-sensei and spirit taught me how to read-read your book and how to speak-speak well. I learned long-long and hard-hard, read much-much from books I got from Grasping Paw friends. That is how I learned your-your ways. The daisho-sho was a gift from dead-dead spirit. I found armor in deeper Shadowlands when-when searching for shaman. I think it is remnant-nant of fight against Shadow. It kept clean-clean by jade and magic, well it was-was dusty a little. Took it home-home with me and had it cleaned good-good and repaired. Shamans put in new jade-jade and repaired magic too. Earned honorable name-name for finding shaman in deep-deep Shadowlands. No longer Or'rum'kir, but now Or'rum'tikir!"
"You read books?" This time Chousen dropped not only his jaw, but his sake cup as well.
"Yes-yes," Or'rum'tikir said with a grin, "read about Mirumoto-moto and his 'Niten', read Kakita-kita talking about sword, also read Akodo-kodo's book and book about strategy-tegy written by Sun-sun Tao-ao… The books were hard-hard to understand, but Rik'tik'tichek-sensei taught me about tactics-tics, he told me that he was great Crab tactician-tician once. I hoped that I could once-once follow where he had gone-gone before."
Chousen smiled, "Yes, I have heard about Rik'tik'tichek, he was very good at defending against the Shadowlands attacks, against everything actually." Chousen's look become serious, "Or'rum'tikir, you wear a samurai's armor, wield a samurai's daisho and told me that you had people steal books for you. Such offenses get a man killed… But you are no man-man! You are Nezumi and I'll be damned if I don't at least try to safe your life from execution, you safed mine and it's the least I can do!" Chousen slapped the Ratling on the back and laughed heartily, "We can surely use a good tactician to defend us against the Crane or the Shadowlands… though I don't know which is worse!"
--A hero is born--