The Gates of Xerpius
A Ferocious Samurai Warrior
Gen grew up in a prosperous city called Gethor. In Gethor he was the oldest son of a family of samurai. In Gethor there were five major families who ruled the city. The Mirvine, the Neldor, the Firi, the Borel, and the Mindine.
Gen’s father, Mornain, served the Mindine family. From his second year until his sixteenth year he was trained in the art of the sword. His father trained him with a wooden stick, polished and lacquered to sturdiness. When he was seven his hands were already calloused from years of striking a stuffed dummy with the wooden sword. When he turned ten he graduated to a simple iron blade, and was assigned to the cities police force, he was a little young, but boys from samurai families were generally regarded as more mature than others.
For six years he served in the police force, honing his skills against the cities criminals.
When he was sixteen The Neldor family sacked the Mindine families residence. It was an unprecedented attack that broke the political bonds that had held the city in peace for years. Gen had been assigned to protect the Lady Kara, she was only six years old. Gen had tried his best, but the Lady was lost to the Neldor families mercenaries.
When the smoke cleared Gen found that his entire family had been killed defending the Mindine castle from the attack. No one could defend him. The Mindine family considered executing him for his failure but they decided that banishing him from all he knew, with the knowledge of his immense failure instead.
The sun’s rays pierce the branches above like so many daggers stabbing in, the beams of light dashing themselves against the ground, little spotlights all throughout the forest with pollen briefly breezing past them, these specks of flower dust striking up a bright golden collar and then passing into oblivion.
“Focus!” yelled his father.
Rin looked forward, his father suddenly coming into focus. There he was, his pointed ears poking out through his long black hair, his brown eyes squinting slightly. Rin looked downward, just ahead of his father was a large stump, the remains of a tree. Resting on it was a small wooden log, pointed up toward the sky. Rin felt the axe, heaving in his hands, too big for his small child’s grasp.
“Chop.” his father said.
Rin walked up to the stump. He looked at the axe, it’s sharpened blade was glinting in the sunlight. As he looked back at the log he felt the air tighten around him, he could feel his father’s gaze like the sun on his neck. Rin put the axe forward above the log, he let the tip rest atop it as he readied his hands on the axe’s handle. Slowly he raised the axe, his arms so frail he had to lean backward bending his left leg to get it over his head. He struggled to keep the axe lifted as he looked back down at the log, he could feel the axe above his head, listing about, to weighty for him to keep steady.
Then with a heave he brought it down. He closed his eyes before the axe struck and he felt the handle suddenly rattle against his hands stinging slightly. When he looked up he saw the axe imbedded in the stump, only about a half inch, and to the left the small log was still standing.
“Wrong Rin, do it again.” his father said.
Rin looked up, sweat brimming on his brow, “How?”
“This is not something that can be explained, it simply must be done,” his father said.
Rin wiped his forehead, wiped his hands on his shirt and then placed his hands on the axe again. Lifting it once more, this time letting the axe stay above his head for a moment longer while he attempted to aim. Then he brought it down once again, He kept his eyes open to see, the axe chipped the side of the log and it flew off to the side before the axe once again embedded into the stump.
Rin left the axe, and picked up the log, examining it. There was a cut barely visible on the edge, but not the gash he had wanted. He placed the log back on the stump.
Once again the axe lifted, once again it came down. This time he closed his eyes again, something about the blade being so suddenly bright in the sunlight scared him. He missed again, the log stubbornly clinging to the stump.
Again and again he drilled, sometimes hitting the log but never cutting it right down the middle. Deep gashes began to form along the sides, and sometimes even on the top. The stump showed several large cuts all across it. Each time felt a bit better though, lifting the axe was an easier procedure, bringing it down he came to expect the glint of the blade in the sunlight, or the sudden jarring of his hands.
His father never left, he stood completely still in the sunlight, watching Gin as he pulled the axe out of the stump again and again, never saying a word. After every swing Gin expected his father to yell, “Stop!” but he never did. Instead the drilling wore on for hours, hours passed until noon turned to evening and a red-purple hew took over the sky.
Gin once again brought down the axe, this time he watched as it came fell upon the log, cutting a deep gash down it’s center but not quite splitting it. Gin panted, his muscles straining, his entire body covered in sweat, he looked at his hands, red sores were bleeding all over them, the handle of axe was red with his blood. He reached out once again, his hands wrapping around the handle and stinging from the touch. He shook the axe slightly and the log fell from it onto the stump, landing perfectly straight. Gin felt anger suddenly welling up inside of him, why couldn’t he do this?
He raised the axe up haphazardly, the blade whirling above his head, with a cry he brought it down. The jarring of the handle hurt so much he yelled and released the axe. He looked at the log, standing still even with the deep gash down its center, the axe rammed into the stump next to it. Gin suddenly collapsed, his legs shaking, he fell forward catching himself with his palms.
As dirt clung to his sensitive bleeding skin Gin began to cry, his tears welling up and falling with thick thumps onto the ground below.
His father moved close and kneeled down next to him. His father said, “Gin, you cannot cry, a samurai never shows his emotions.”
“I’m no samurai though father, I’m nothing, not royal, not skilled, not honorable, nothing.” Gin said, his tears warm on his dirty face.
His father grasped his shoulder, “But don’t you understand boy? You will be a samurai, this is the beginning of your training.”
To the right, where the ceiling met the wall, there were windows. Outside was a cool autumn day where the overcast sky drowned the land below in a dismal grey light. Four panels of light streamed in, casting themselves against the matts that made up the dojo floor.
They were all in a line, nine of them, all around the same age, just children. They were kneeling, their backs perfectly straight, their breath so slow it was practically non-existent.
Master Pi’me was standing in front of them, his hands clasped behind his back, his eyes were all black with no whites, his face was set in a constant grimace of disgust. He looked down at his pupils as they meditated, still as they were so full of inherent concentration it was impossible to tell what was going on in his head.
Pi’me turned around, his feet padding softly against the ground, the pupils took in the sound and let it touch their consciousness, like a bird flitting around and open cage before darting out once again. They heard the sound of wood stirring against wood, a slight jarring so very quiet yet magnified by the silence in the room. Then they heard the patting of feet again. Pi’me knew they would be stirring with anticipation, for in his right hand, fixed between his fingers, he held to wooden boken, wooden sparring swords. He listened to each of their breaths, gauging the focus of each pupil based on the rapidity of their breathing.
Pi’me let out a satisfied hum and a smirk crossed his lips. “Gin and Toshira!” he called.
Gin and Toshira both lifted, breaking away from their meditation as they did. In one smooth motion, a swipe of his arm, he threw both the wooden swords in the direction of both his pupils. Toshira diffused the force of the pitch by gently clasping the handle and the ‘blade’ of the weapon and raising his arms slightly above him, then he walked forward. Gin’s hand shot out and caught the sword with a smack of wood on flesh.
“Don’t grip the sword by the blade!” yelled Pi’me.
“It’s not a sword…” Gin mumbled as he followed Toshira toward the center of the room.
They took their places across from one another. Toshira’s lips curled in a languid, self assured smirk, he held the wooden sword between his elbow and his hip, his whole torso slightly cocked to the side. Gin gripped the boken tightly and pushed it in front of him, signaling he was ready. Toshira’s smirk widened slightly as he mirrored the same position. Gin glared directly into Toshira’s eyes but the other boy made no attempt to return the gaze, his face was unreadable.
“Begin,” said Pi’me.
Gin bent his knees, leaning forward before springing up with a stab at Toshira’s curled lip. Toshira seemingly melted away from Gin’s vision for a moment then a jolt of pain erupted from his shoulder as Toshira’s boken settled into the base of his neck. The force of the blow forced Gin’s onto his knees. From behind Gin heard stifled giggles from his fellow pupils. He promised himself he would find them later.
Pi’me said, “Gin, are you ready to give in.”
Of course not. thought Gin. “No Sensei,” he said curtly.
Gin got up and readied his boken. Toshira let out a slight laugh before taking his stance.
This time when Pi’me called Gin stepped forward, swinging as if for a downward strike but mid-swing adjusting for a sweeping horizontal strike. There was whoosh of air as Toshira jumped back, narrowly avoiding the blow. Toshira was quick to react, he stepped forward readying for a vertical strike to Gin’s exposed head. Gin had little time to react so he bent slightly as the boken came down which bought him just enough time to absorb the blow with his own weapon.
Toshira grimaced as he poured all of his energy into forcing Gin down to the ground but Gin’s muscles rippled underneath his robes. All of those years of helping in the fields and chopping wood had not, as it seemed, been for nothing. Now it was Gin’s turn to smile but just as he began Toshira changed his grip, placing his hands further up the hilt, then he ducked down slightly while flicking his wrists upward, sending the lower part of the hilt underneath Gin’s blade and forcing it up. Gin backed up as his guard was broken.
Toshira whipped the boken around his head and slashed at Gin’s ribs. Gin stabbed the air where the blow was coming, there was a clack as the wooden implements met once again. Gin turned the momentum of the swipe up and over his head, leaving Toshira open. Gin rushed forward with another swing toward Toshira’s face, but once again Toshira dodged to the left.
Anticipating this, Gin thrust his boken back behind him to guard from the incoming strike to his exposed back. Sure enough there was another clack as Toshira’s counter attack was narrowly blocked. Gin turned and jumped back, as did Toshira. Both of them were breathing hard.
Gin took his stance once again. Toshira’s smirk returned as he took a different pose. This time he held the boken at his hip, the ‘sharp’ part of the blade pointed down and the sword jutting out behind him. Gin didn’t recognize the stance, it wasn’t part of any standard sparring they’d done so far. But he gathered from the way in which it left Toshira exposed that it was meant to give an impression of weakness, meant to goad the enemy into attacking.
Suddenly Gin remembered a conversation he’d had with his father when he was only eight years old.
His father was explaining to him the basic rules of swordplay, Gin was holding his first boken, a two and half foot one carved out a sturdy oak, it was covered in knots and bumps but was lacquered to a beautiful sheen. His father was gripping his arms, forcing him into certain positions, fixing his posture, bending his knees.
“Now in swordplay there are two very basic styles,” his father was saying, “there is offense, and defense. Offense on the purest level is the art of attacking, sending your enemy into disarray with vicious and constant swipes. Offense requires the utmost in training, one must know how to best employ different movements and one must also constantly practice to perfect each one.”
“Defense is altogether different though, where offense requires knowledge on types of blows, defense is based around the art of the stance. When you take a stance you are doing many things. Firstly, you are readying for battle, secondly, you are signaling to your opponent several things, your weaknesses, your strengths, even small details like where you’ve trained or who taught you.”
“Wow,” said Gin, “But what if I don’t want my enemy to know my strengths and weaknesses.”
“And therein lies the heart of all battle on a small scale and large one. Deception. The stance may signal to your opponent these things but he may only know the stance, he does not know how you will employ it. Do you understand the difference?”
“So your opponent will attack with an expectation for how you will respond, but you will already have expected the attack because you trust that your stance has deceived them into pursuing only one course of action.”
“So wait,” said Gin, “I can influence the way in which my enemy moves.”
“When you become a strong enough Samurai, yes, you will be able to know how your enemy will respond to every stance and every movement. Now offense and defense must be employed equally, think of a stance to be the base of a tree, for instance, with your feed wide apart you have a greater range of movement and so therefore can brace against blows better, with a your feet closer together you can move around faster but are less sturdy.”
“Now if the feet and legs are the base, what then are the branches?”
“Yes! Good my son. Now the branches in a tree often twist in various shapes and forms, so can your arms. From experience in battles you will be able to know the best way in which to hold your arms. And just as there are branches from the tree, there are even smaller branches that jut out from those branches. These are the smallest of details, where you hold the hilt, the way you twist at your hips, flicks of the wrists, length of the arms. All of these things are important to a samurai.”
“You must learn to read your enemies stance just as one sees a tree, then you will know them, and you can guess the way in which they will bend to you. Being a good samurai means knowing the way in which your enemy bends to the wind, and the way in which you bend to the wind. Like a snake coiling up you anticipate your moment and then strike.”
Now stairing at Toshira, Gin tried to read his new pose. His arms were positioned to his right. like a tree close to the coast who’s branches have been blown to one side by the constant winds. Any attacks to his left side would be easily guarded against, anticipated even. Gin began to circle Toshira and the other boy responded in kind. Gin knew if he let the stillness take over Toshira might attack while he was reading his stance. If he attacked Toshira’s right side then the boy would only be able to strike preemptively, Toshira was holding the boken to close to effectively block. This stance wasn’t meant to provide for easy blocking, it was a stance meant to disguise both Toshira’s motives as the movement of his boken couldn’t be easily read behind his back, and also meant to disguise the minimum distance that Gin could allow before Toshira could strike at him.
Toshira began to draw closer, no doubt tiring of the circling and willing to spur Gin into attacking. Gin slowly raised his boken forward in front of him while circling, the movement was to slow to be an attack but fast enough to break Toshira’s advance for a moment. Now with his boken Gin could measure the striking distance, the problem with the pose was that it was easily readable, if he broke for an attack one could easily prepare for defense. So Gin withdrew the boken once again, then as Toshira padded forward he thrust the boken out again forcing Toshira back as if Gin had swung a torch in his direction. Then Gin lowered once again, and this time as Toshira made his advance, Gin continued to circle but made no attempt to back away.
The next moments happened incredibly quick. Toshira raised his blade ever so slightly, Gin rushed to Toshira’s right and swung his boken at Toshira’s neck. Then Toshira ducked under the blow, another whoosh of air as Gin was left exposed. Gin rose up with a upward blow at Gin’s chin. Gin broke off to the left narrowly avoiding the blow and brought his boken down on Toshira’s left shoulder. But Toshira was already spinning around, his sword coming around to hit Gin’s side, but the blow was easily dodged as Gin leaned back. Toshira pressed the attack, raising up and stabbing forward toward Gin’s neck.
Gin leaned back so far he felt himself falling as Toshira’s boken flew forward just above his face. Gin ducked under Toshira’s body and using his boken as a crutch spun away from Toshira. Toshira quickly regained balance and leaned back, preparing for a mighty stab and roaring as he burst forward.
Gin didn’t think, he only reacted. He saw the boken fly past his face and felt himself raise his own above his head. Then as Toshira lost his balance Gin felt his own boken come down upon the back of his neck. He saw Toshira’s head bend back and felt bone giving way underneath his blade as easy as tree bark to his axe.
Then it was over. Toshira lay in a heap, his whole body quivering from head to toe as he began to sieze on the ground, froth gathered around the corners of his mouth, and his eyes rolled back behind his eyelids. Despite his victory Gin just stood there, his boken held in the same position, as he watched Toshira, top of the class, best swordsmen, apprentice of honor, Toshira choke on his own tongue and die.