It was one of those days of rememberance. I left my new wilderness home, with bandana still across my mouth heading towards Buya. Heavy with thought, I walked down the streets thinking of the past. Today marked the 10th year since the death of him. As I looked upon my only token of rememberance, I couldn’t help but to grip the hilt of my sword as I took a deep sigh and continued to walk. Slowly but surely, I came upon the home of Tildaor Matsumoto. My old teacher, mentor, father I never had. Wooden planks blocked the windows, door, and holes in the sides while the vegitation creeped out from between the cracks of the walls. I closed my eyes and slowly walked in.
Looking around the dark room, I glimpsed around thinking of all the happy times I had here learning. The broken bookshelves that lined up against the dismal fireplace. The old chair that was now lying down now in pieces. The rusted swords now lying on the floor. The smell of wet wood in the air. It certainly changed a bit. I went to his bed and sat down trying not to let grievance overcome me, when my foot caught upon a nail sticking out from the floorboard. Puzzled, I looked and it seemed that the wooden plank seemed to be moveable. I reached down to remove the nails and lifted up the wooden plank to find an empty hole. Strange, I never knew Tildaor to be the sneaky and hiding kind. I reached my hand down to pull out an old scroll. With anticipation coming over me, I slowly opened it to reveal an old story written with his penmanship! I smiled and laughed, almost in tears! My memory of Tildaor was not of a writer at all! This must be a rare thing for him to write such a thing! Trying to calm down, I slowly read.
“I’ll always remember his stories that he told at the local tavern of how his experiments were coming. We used to call him the Architect of Death, because of all the crazy ways he came up with to impale, slice, carve, bludgeon, and just really bleed a man. He even made jokes about how to kill someone! As twisted as he may be, he was nonetheless an artist of the smithing hammer. I remember one night he told the story of a new way to make a sword. Revolutionary he called it! A sword tempered and made without the slightest of flames! Of course we always laughed it off, thinking it was some kind of joke, but the man insisted it was possible. But I was always curious as to the possibility of it actually being true. Perhaps I’ll find out one day, something that I always wanted.”
I leaned back against the bed, with my head slamming against the wall. A sword made from no flame? That couldn’t be true! But then again, could it? Sitting there, I felt like this could be an opportunity to fulfill one of the wishes from the man that practically saved my life from a jail sentence, or even death. Perhaps even visit the old home of my mentor. Meet his family. Find out how he lived his life. Things that I always wanted to know but never found out. “That’s it! I’m heading to Ilbon!” I screamed out. I guess the bed didn’t like that idea, and it suddenly fell from under me. I jumped up, dusted myself off, and walked out the door.
The dock was busy that day. The sailors and captains looking for a cheap fare was overwhelming, but I had a little gold in my pocket to aid in their troubles. I remember setting foot on that boat just to see the smirks of the drunken hands hired to aid in the boat’s sailing. I laughed as I shown the edge of my blade, and their smiles turned into a very serious look. Simple folk they were. Always peaceful when confronted with superior firepower. As the ship set sail, I looked to the coast for a reminder. A reminder that I’ll see this glorious land when I came back.
The air grew into a small white cloud in front of me when
I step foot onto the docks of the city of Nami in the province of Omi.
As I looked to the markets that lined the piers with fisherman and sailors bringing in their daily load to sell to the people of the town, the air seemed to smell of snow. Bringing my coat closer to me, I asked some locals for some direction out of the town, to which they pointed to the east. Looks like Oda was a day ride away.
As I reached the city of Oda, a smile came across my face. How exciting it was going to be to meet the family and friends of the man that practically saved my life! I gotten off my horse and looked for some locals that could possibly point me to the home of Tildaor. Everyone I talked to. Everyone thought I was crazy. They never heard of that man! Shocked and starting to get worried, I wandered around the town looking. Seeking. I could start to feel my heart starting to become heavy.
…that was until I walked into the tavern. I walked up to the keeper there and ordered a bottle of their finest sake when from the corner of my eyes, I spotted a few old men playing some g’oh on a table in the corner. As I walked over to them, they seemed to appear very skittish. Puzzling I thought. I walked up and introduced myself as they remained silent and nodded their heads. As I asked for the whereabouts of one named Tildaor, their eyes seemed to grow larger. “Tildaor? That old fool? He’s still alive?! I remember the time that he said he thrusted his sword clear through 3 golden bars without a scratch brought upon his blade!” Of course I had to laugh about this. I knew that he possessed the strength to do this, but to hear the disbelief of these gentlemen was a sign that I was in the right place. The old man, named Yoshiaku as he revealed to me after a few drinks, kept recalling the stories he had with Tildaor when they were school chums some odd 50 years ago.
Hours went by, and I was practically was crying from all the hilarious stories that I heard. I never pictured my mentor as a cat-caller, that’s for sure. After the lull settled back over, I told them the news of Tildaor’s death nearly 10 years ago. Their heads bowed in respect, while I told them my story. How Tildaor took me in from being a pretty thief on the streets of Buya. I placed my sword upon the table, and said that this was my only heirloom left of him. When I asked to where I could find his old home. Any of his friends and family. Yoshiaku said “The home? Son, he has no other living family left. Their home was burned to the ground during a lightning storm 4 years ago.”
All that. For nothing. I sighed and headed for the door, but before I left, I realized that the scroll was still in my pocket. I walked back over to the table and asked if Yoshiaku knew anything about it. He read it and started laughing! “Nakatu?! That old fool! I remember his stories, all the crazy things he tried to experiment on. Crazy he was, but no less of an artist. His weaponry were beautiful! But, age seemed to catch the best of him. His mind wanders too much nowadays.” I asked to where I could find him, to which he pointed out the door to the south passage through the hills. I smiled and offered to buy the next round of drink, to which they obviously said yes to. Sake lovers.
As I rode slowly through the upward path around the mountains, it was quite serene. This land was certainly beautiful, with it’s forests and trees. Up in the distance was a sign of smoke, and I knew that was getting close. There was something else though. Maybe it was the steady first snowfall of the season, but I knew that either I was either going to be really lucky, or really disappointed. I found out later it was both.
I approached the small hut, and wondered if he would of course be home. As I stepped up to the wooden door and gave a sharp knock, and from the creaking of the door, I saw him.
“Granddaughter! It’s so good to see you!”
“Yea! I remember the time when you stood here with your mother! My how you’ve grown!”
“I’m sorry sir..but I’m not your family. I’m actually here…wait, are you Nakatu?”
The man looked puzzled. For the longest time, he stared at me. Not in that confused look either that people have when they don’t recognize what’s going on around them. More of a “who in the hell do you think you are” kind of look. Seemed that I was right.
Nakatu walked inside his house and picked up random objects. Books. Ceramic cups. Hot coals. Whatever he wanted that he felt would do the most damage or whichever was closest. As I ran away from his maelstorm of objects aimed at my eyes, the only thing I could hear was Nakatu screaming “Get away from me thief! I have no time for your tales!” Hiding behind a tree, I ducked down to see what Nakatu would do next. He just slammed the door behind him. Typical old man.
As I stood there in front of that blasted hut, I’ll admit that my anger got the best of me. So, in retaliation against that anger, I did what I usually do. Practice my Kenjutsu. Withdrawing my sword from it’s wooden cage, I began swinging. Thrusting. Varying my stances. Move like water. Stand like mountain. Swing as if you’re wind. What I didn’t realize was Nakatu watching me the entire time from his window.
I stopped midway through my Kata no Munashii maneuver, with my sword over my head. From the corner of my eye, I saw Nakatu moving slowly through the snow towards me. The snow fell across his weathered face like raindrops falling from a leaf. Stopping right in front of me, he whispered. “You must be Nepaethe.”
I was shocked! How could this crazy old man even know who the hell I was?! “11 years ago, I received word from a man named Tildaor, my cousin so to speak. It was so nice to hear from him after all that time. He told me of how he picked up a small child from a future of starvation and violence and started to teach him our family art. I’m glad that you were his successor.” He looked up at the sword still hanging over my head. “Ah, I wonder when I would gaze upon Decaying Vitality again. It was Tildaor’s father that presented that to him, from which he received from the Shogun for serving his time. Too bad that Tildaor can’t enjoy it’s company any longer.”
I sheathed my sword and together we walked into his home. Sitting down to a nice cup of tea, I presented the scroll to Nakatu. He opened and read it. “Ah..so that is what brings you to me. You know, I shouldn’t have ever wrote him that letter. His obsession of weapons seemed to rub off on you. No matter. I was meaning to make him a sword of my own soon enough anyways. Maybe you’ll do.” He smiled. Nakatu went on to explain to begin the process, he needed two bars of the finest steel in the province, but he was too old to go seeking it. I nodded and stood up, grabbing my sword in hand and told Nakatu to give me a day. I set off back to the village.
As I walked back into the tavern in the village, I laughed! Seems the old sake lovers live there at that table! They waved me over. It was then when I was walking, I noticed the noble looking fellow in bright red sitting with a man with a pair of dice. Yoshiaku and Akira looked over and whispered. “That man is one of the richest ’round these parts. He goes by the name “Cricket” here. Not sure why.” I asked what he does, and he stated that he was the owner of an iron mine west of these parts. Sounds like a plan to me.
I walked up to this man who had an obvious obsession with red cloth just as the other man got up with a very sad on his face. I smiled and introduced myself and asked him if he by chance had two steel bars for sale. “Sit down my friend, because today is lucky! I do have the bars you seek, but perhaps you’d like to play a little game for ’em? The game is simple young’un! You roll two dice and the first one to roll either a seven or eleven wins! How’s that? What’s yer ante?”
I nodded and looked into my pouch for some gold to bet with, and noticed that it was empty.
How? Then it came back to me in a flash as I turned to see Yoshiaku and his friends smile at me with cups in the air. Damn sake lovers. “How’s about…my horse outside for the ante?” Cricket turned around to look and smiled. “Done. Your roll.” I picked up the dice and threw ’em across the table. A four and a two. Six. Cricket smiled and picked ’em up..kissing his hand before he let it go. A six and a five. Eleven. There went my ride. I replied with “Oh well…see anything else that you like?” “Hmm. I feel a little guilty…that’s a nice coat by the way.” I smiled and set the coat between us just as I picked up the dice and rolled again. Double fives make ten. Cricket laughed and rolled. Four and three?! How is he so lucky??
“Ya know, I’m going to keep taking everything you put up. I haven’t lost yet! How do you think I wear such fine clothes? A witty smile? The ladies love me! Now let’s see…my my! What a lovely old rusty bread cutter we have there! That’ll make a great wedding present to my new son-in-law that I hate!” I held my tongue, which was tough for me by now. How dare he call my heirloom a simple piece of metal like that! Swallowing my pride, I looked him straight in the eye. “Fine, let’s up the stakes. If you win, you take the sword, and everything I have right now. I’ll walk out of here naked if I must. …but if I win…I take your metal bars and I take your coin purse. Cricket looked at me and laughed. “Done kid. One roll until tears. Let’s get it over with.” I picked up the dice and without even moving my eyes off Cricket, I tossed ’em up into the air. As they hit the wooden table and started to roll around, I kept my lock upon him. As I watched his expression grow worse and worse, my smile gotten bigger and bigger. I grabbed my sword as he slowly reached down to place the metal bars and his coin purse on the table. I smiled and threw his coin purse behind me, which ironically landed on Yoshiaku’s table, which of course led to a shout of “Woo! Sake!” I nodded and said “Enjoy your horse and coat…”
When I reached Nakatu’s hut once again, he walked up and smiled as I handed him the metal bars and we walked inside from the winter air. As we sat down, Nakatu looked at me with a very serious look. “Even though you are the pupil of Tildaor, what I’m about to make for you still is a secret to everyone but myself. It will take one week, but during that time, you are of course welcome to stay here.”
I’m surprised at how clever he really was. Nakatu only went during the middle of the night to work, usually while I was asleep. On the night of the fifth night, I was awaken by the sound of the hammer upon anvil. Quietly, I sneaked out into the outdoors and out to the hut where Nakatu kept his smithing tools. From the poor light of the lantern shining through the cracks of the wood, I could only glimpse Nakatu pounding away on the steel, stopping every so often to pick up a handful of snow and ice to place it on the steel and what I saw to be that he was pounding that into the steel. That was enough guilty pleasure for me.
On the night of the seventh night, I was awoken from my slumber by Nakatu. “Come!” I got my shoes and went outside. “Stand over there.” he said pointing to the middle of the field. As I stood there waiting for Nakatu, I was excited, but very cold. All of a sudden, a cold blast of wind came over me. And another. And another! What the hell was going on?! I turned around to see Nakatu a distance away swinging what seemed to be a dark blue blade!
As he walked over, he presented the blade to me hilt first so I could examine this artistic marvel. Bringing it up before my eyes, I noticed writing written on the blade near the guard. Trying to squint my eyes due to lack of light in the middle of the night, the text read in Ilbonese. “It says Shikkyaku no Kita Kaze. You’ll know that as ‘The Northern Wind’. Meet Zephyrfall, a blade that’s one of a kind. I’m actually surprised that it held up from the beating I gave to it! The metal is imbuned with all the elements of the winter chill. Each swing of it’s blade brings the chill of a winter night in it’s wake.” Nakatu smiled and handed me the sheath. “Use it well Nepaethe, as I’m sure Tildaor would be proud right now.” I nodded and bowed to the artist.
I left for the port when the sun rose. Awaiting to come back home, I looked at the dawn of a new day and smiled. It’s not everyday that you get to see a wonder as rare and as beautiful as what was given to me the previous night. Then again, I knew at the bottom of my heart that I fulfilled the purpose that I set out to do. As I saw the birds fly overhead, I whispered a short prayer to the heavens resting Tildaor’s peace. With two swords at my side, I walked. Awaiting what the next adventure would hold for me….