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Aug. 19th, 2005 | 11:05 am
posted by: silax in l5r_fanfiction
I'm pretty new to LJ, so if I screw this up, please forgive.
Title: Between a Demon and an Anvil
Summary: This story was written as an attempt at a backstory for a young samurai child before his gempukku who would later grow into a ronin.
Between a Demon and an Anvil
The child of Hida Ryoushi and Shosuro Mayakashi was welcome to train at any of the elite academies of both the Crab and the Scorpion clans. Sensei from around these two great clans wished to admit Ryoushi’s only child. It was believed that the child would prove to be one of the finest new samurai simply because of the prestige his father held. This of course made the proud parents very happy. While Mayakashi wished to send the child back to her homeland and have the boy raised in the way of the Scorpion, his father would hear none of it. His duties beyond the Kaui Wall forced him to be away often and if the child left Crab lands entirely, he would never see him. And with the dangers that lurked in the Shadowlands, each trip meant the father might not see his son again.
This was the life they lived and the life they loved. It was a life of duty and honor. Of loyalty and bushido. It was thus decided that the boy would attend the dojo known simply as Daishiki’s Anvil. Although by all accounts, there was nothing simple about the training regimen of the Hida training academy. Its walls were built on the Wall in an effort to bring training to the Crab frontlines. It was renowned for producing some of the finest warriors ever to defend the Empire. Ryoushi himself had trained at the school – his name etched on the walls within the hallowed halls alongside the names of legendary samurai.
The child was only six when he was sent to begin his instruction. As the first, and only, child of the pair, they called him simply "Ichiro." However at the Academy, there were many such students who were the first born from their respective families. It was customary for each child to take a new, temporary name, reflective of his time at the school. His teachers gave him the name "Hantaa," which means hunter for the role his father fulfilled within the clan. Of course, it had yet to be determined what place in the clan Hantaa would step into. His studies would help forge him into the samurai he would become.
These were very exciting times for Ryoushi. Mayakashi worried incessantly about the safety of her child. Living within the lands of the Crab, she had been exposed to the dangers of the Shadowlands on a regular basis – at least, more regular than in other areas of the Empire. Studying at Daishiki’s Anvil would place him at the frontlines of the war with the Shadowlands. The life, and death, of her son would be in the hands of the finest instructors within the land, and the Kami. She prayed constantly.
A loud snap reverberated through the classroom as a threshing rod smacked against the wrist of Hantaa pulling him back to the moment. "Are you with us, young Hantaa or have you dreamed yourself to the Heavens?" A few muffled chuckles appeared at this as Hantaa blushed in embarrassment.
"Forgive me, sensei," he said. "I am listening."
The familiar frown of disapproval etched itself upon the face of Hida Tenaka. "We were reciting the names of our ancestors, Hantaa." Tenaka said. "How far back do you know your lineage?"
Hantaa smiled as he eagerly began to recite the names of his honored ancestors. He continued on for some time, taking the entire class back with him to the time the great Kami walked the earth, and although he could not trace his origins directly to Hida, he could get awfully close. He beamed to his sensei once completed.
"Very good Hantaa. It is important that we know and honor our ancestors. They have loaned us their good names with the condition that we return it in the same condition we receive it."
"Hai, sensei, " Hantaa said bowing slightly to his master.
Tenaka directed his attention to one of the other children in the class and continued the lesson with the next student reciting his lineage. Hantaa’s mind drifted away from the classroom again as he looked at the window towards the Kaiu Wall. He would find his destiny on that Wall someday, a destiny he could not wait to grow up and discover. He knew his father wished him to become a great demon hunter; an expert at weapons and of hunting. His mother on the other hand was softer. While Ryoushi taught the boy swordsmanship whenever he had a spare moment, his mother instructed him on the art of Rokugan hoping to influence him along a safer path.
Hantaa smiled to himself. Neither of his parents were here. This was his first chance to discover who he really was; who he was meant to become. He longed for the opportunity to prove himself. At a young six years old, he suffered no illusions that he could stand the Wall now, so he turned his attention back to the present and focused on his lessons. The instructors here would teach him what it means to be samurai. That was their job. His was to learn them all.
The days became weeks and the weeks turned into months. Hantaa found it difficult being away from home for so long. Deep within the darkness of the dead of night when no one else was awake to hear him, he cried for the days of the past. His silent tears would stain his pillow and each morning he would awake swearing that he would become stronger. The strong samurai of the Emperor do not cry at their misfortune. They take their lot in life and did so without complaint. This was a lesson he struggled to learn. Sacrifice.
The instructors had the children during the days teaching them a variety of subjects. In the mornings, they learned the history of the Empire and the Crab clan. In the afternoons, they studied battlefield tactics and learned from the victories and defeats of the past. As they learned in history, there was no shortage of battles to study. The Spirit Wars were just ended, so they spent a bit of time studying the tactics of one of the Hida’s greatest generals, who incidentally also studied at Daishiki’s Anvil, Hida Tsudeo. And between all the book-learning, the children were in the courtyard practicing the art of being samurai or exerting themselves in exercise.
One of the first lessons the Crab instilled in their students was the need for stamina. When a bushi stands the Wall, there are no rules. The Shadowlands do not attack during the day and rest at night like a mortal army might. Sometimes the battles drag out for days at a time sapping the very strength from a warrior. There was a reason why Crab samurai were larger than most other clans in Rokugan; they worked hard at it.
The instructors enjoyed changing the routine on the students all the time, constantly changing expectations. One favorite exercise was the swinging of a boken in rhythmic succession for hours on end. The practice would continue to the point of muscle exhaustion and the practice sword dropped from numb fingers. It became common practice for the students to make a game out of their misery. Whoever could maintain their grip on the bokken longest was the winner. However, the victor usually just won a night of agony as every muscle screamed in agony.
Pure strength was not the only virtue required for standing the Wall. Running was a favorite past time for the instructors. Instead of playing games of Go, much of the downtime was spent running laps around the perimeter of the dojo.
While the physical exercises were a necessary part of his life, Hantaa much preferred the expansion of his mind. He was aware from the beginning of his training that he did not possess the same hardiness of many of the other trainees. In truth, he struggled with all the curriculum. At night, he worried that he would not live up to the high expectations his father had for him. Some times he wondered if his mother was right and he should just focus on artistic pursuits.
The decisions of the battlefield and the choices the gunsos were required to make in a split second seemed foreign to the young Hantaa. So many souls were destroyed in a mere matter of seconds, others irrevocably destroyed. Many times, these losses were for nothing more than reclaiming some piece of land, or a crazy man’s lust for power. Hantaa appreciated the skill such stratagems required, but to rule over the lives of so many from such a great distance seemed an impossibly cold thing. Admittedly, his instructors believed he had a natural gift for strategy. He had a knack for seeing things where others did not. When pressed on what inspired him to his victories, he had no answer. He acted only on his instincts.
This history of the Empire was interesting, but did little to inspire the young samurai-to-be. He could appreciate the lessons as we must all know where we come from before being able to know the path set out in front of us. So much book-learning was required that it made his head spin at times.
Not all of the lessons were focused on books. A Crab samurai was well equipped when standing post. Most Hida bushi lived in their heavy armor, so the students practiced getting the armor on and off as well as simple maintenance. And this Hantaa enjoyed more than most of the studies. The pieces of a suit of armor fit together in perfect harmony when constructed properly and well-maintained. It made sense.
Occasionally, lessons would be interrupted by life on the Wall. One of the benefits of studying at Daishiki’s Anvil was that the students were immersed in the reality of life as a Crab. From time to time, the students were required to leave the world of books and theory behind and take up the mantle of responsibility of the Crab clan. Daily life had the students marked with colored arm bands in order to allow the senior samurai to know when they were dealing with un-tested students.
The assignments normally rotated from the different groups of kids in order to give the students a taste of all the roles that comprise the life of a samurai on the Kaui Wall. Today, a horde of goblins were assaulting this section of the Wall, throwing themselves at it with reckless abandon, sacrificing themselves hoping to breach the defenses. Hantaa was assigned as a courier who was running messages between the gunsos placed at the different stations keeping each other appraised of the overall situation of the battle. He had just delivered one such missive to Hida Mariko when all hell broke loose.
They were standing off the top of the battlements, down on a lower level. Mariko was reviewing the contents of the message she had just received when the tenor of the battle overhead changed. She turned to face the top of the Wall and noticed a stream of goblins jumping from ladders onto the battlements. Her samurai worked on plugging the gap, but they were being overwhelmed. She turned and faced the young Hantaa, "Go and alert Tenaka and tell him we need reinforcements at once!" Without waiting to see the salute she received, Mariko charged up the stairs, her tetsubo grasped firmly in both hands. Before even arriving at the top, her giant weapon was bludgeoning the smaller demons into oblivion.
For each goblin that fell in the ensuing onslaught, 2 more took their place. The weight of their advance pushed the Crab soldiers back from the frontlines. They struggled to regain control. The black ichor of the Shadowlands creatures intermingled with the crimson of the loyal warriors of the Wall. Hantaa broke his gaze from the Wall and turned to run to deliver his message. Before he could take two steps, he heard the telltale sound of goblin laughter behind him. In a flash of insight, he leaped forward towards the ground, arms splayed out to absorb the fall. He felt the cold brush of wind as a small sword passed within inches of his back passing through the space he occupied just seconds before.
Using the momentum of his throw, he rolled into a ball and came up in a low crouch and spun on his heels to face his attackers. A small retinue of 6 goblins had rushed past the few remaining samurai on the Wall. They were brandishing a variety of weapons, none of which were very high quality, but that did nothing to place Hantaa at ease. They were still more than capable of rending the flesh from his bones. In his most intimidating voice he said, "I’m not afraid of you."
Out of all the samurai the goblin faced thus far, none were smaller than they, except for the human in front of them. They all laughed, some knocking each other to the ground as they slapped each other on the back. "You should be little one. No matter, you will taste good either way. Nothing like man flesh," the ugly one in the lead said, blood dripping from the edge of his sword.
Hantaa started backing slowly away. He refused to take his eyes of the array of enemies in front of him, but internally he was screaming for a weapon – anything he could use to defend himself. As the fates would have it, nothing was nearby. The goblins began their advance.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl as Hantaa watched his opponents close the distance. The lead goblin launched a strike aimed at his head, but Hantaa kicked his legs out from underneath himself and fell backwards, his hands planting on the ground, he kicked out connecting with the small demon with both feet. The goblin snarled as he crashed to the ground. The next beast rushed in and Hantaa flattened himself and rolled to the left. The goblin’s mace slammed into the paving stones where he had been. Hantaa lunged back to his feet as another foe raced in. He stepped forward and to the right. The goblin’s swing was unable to connect as Hantaa closed the distance destroying the power in the attack. The goblin’s forearm pounded into Hantaa’s shoulder. The blow was powerful and Hantaa was certain a black bruise would develop there tomorrow. The young boy lunged at the stunned goblin and connected a right hook against its jaw.
Hantaa took a few quick steps back and threw his hand up in a gesture of halting. However, the gesture was not directed at the goblins, but something beyond them. He called out in a commanding voice, "No, remain on the Wall. Defend the Wall!" The six goblins turned to see what force had come down the wall to confront them. What they saw was nothing. The battle continued to rage high on the battlements, but no one had come down to confront them. With a scream of rage, they turned towards their little toy, but when they looked back Hantaa was gone.
The boy moved as fast as his little legs would carry him. He stopped at the first bushi he found and directed them to the Wall describing the dire situation and the breach before continuing on his mission. He found Tenaka and apprised him of the situation. Before the end of the day, the position on the Wall was reclaimed and the goblins defeated.
Once the wounded were properly tended to and the demons cleaned from the Wall, things returned to a semblance of normalcy within the walls of Daishiki’s Anvil. Hida Tenaka gathered the students in the central courtyard with a stranger to his left. All could tell at once from the clothes the newcomer wore that he was a shugenja of the Kuni family. Tenaka’s voice boomed over all those assembled and carried over the Wall to the Shadowlands beyond, where the assembled minions of Fu Leng heard his cries. "Today the Crab proved once more that the forces of the Emperor cannot be defeated by the darkness!" With that, Tenaka thrust his arm into the air and pumped it. His effort was immediately rewarded with cheers from all the children.
"Samurai and students alike rose up against the tyranny of the Shadowlands. You should all be proud of the duty you performed here today." The sensei was rewarded with more cheers. For many of the students, this was their first real taste of what life as a Crab on the Wall was like. Looking around, Hantaa noticed several of the faces he had come to know in recent months were not present. Some were injured and being tended to at the infirmary. However, not all survived the ordeal. The unfortunate were having their bodies prepared for a journey to their respective homes where they would be honored in a final celebration of their lives, and deathes.
Tenaka lowered his voice for his next words. "Not only must we fight our enemy on the other side of this Wall, but we must be ever vigilant within our own ranks." He paused, looking over the assembled gathering. "The Taint of the Shadowlands is a very real thing. Come forward one by one and prove you have not been touched by the evil One."
The children filed forward in practiced rows. One by one, they approved Tenaka and bowed deeply. Their sensei returned the gesture as the shugenja next to him touch each child with a small piece of jade. The power of jade held much sway over the forces of Fu Leng. It was said that just the touch of jade was enough to burn the forces of the Shadowlands. This made each piece of jade extremely valuable, which brought a sense of gravity to the entire procession. As each child passed by, the shugenja looked long at them and studied the reaction of the body with the jade before nodding and sending the student on his or her way. For all this, Tenaka remained silent.
Hantaa was situated in the back of the assembly and was one of the last to make his way to the front. "I understand you faced down a group of goblins, Hantaa," Tenaka said.
"Tell me about what happened." While Tenaka spoke, the shugenja was pressing the piece of jade to Hantaa’s forehead. The boy frowned. None of the other students had the jade applied in such a fashion.
"Several of the goblins had breached the defenses and rushed passed the bushi on the Wall," Hantaa related. "They accosted me on my way to deliver a message from Mariko."
"Did they not attack you? I see no injuries and you have not reported any wounds to the doctors."
Hantaa nodded once. "They did attack me though I suffered little damage." He rolled one of the sleeves on his hakama up to show the large bruise which had already begun to form. "This was the worst I received." The shugenja had removed the jade from his skin and had begun chanting some words of power under his breath. Hantaa continued, "I managed to avoid their clumsy assault and finally tricked them into thinking samurai were behind them."
Hantaa hung his head, a burst of red shame gracing his face. "As soon as their backs were turned, I ran and delivered my message."
Tenaka starred down at the little boy and said, "Why do you seem upset to recount this tale, Hantaa?"
"Sensei, I failed in my duties. I should have destroyed those demons where they stood, but I knew I was not yet strong enough to do so. I struck one on the jaw, but it barely felt it."
Tenaka shook his head. "You have studied the tenets of bushido, but you still have much to learn." The wise sensei reached out his hand and gave a reassuring squeeze to Hantaa’s shoulder. "A samurai must know when to fight, but he must also know when to retreat. You did well." Tenaka looked to the shugenja who nodded once. "Go and rejoin your classmates."
"Hai, sensei." Hantaa moved smartly away from the front of the courtyard and retook his position in the ranks. He watched intensely the rest of the line as the samurai children took their turn with the jade and the shugenja for any instance that was similar to the tests applied to him. There were none. He did not have the time to ponder the meaning of this before being dismissed and order to get some rest.
That night, Hantaa fell asleep in his bed worn beyond all comprehension, his body totally fatigued. Once his head hit the pillow, he forgot all about his encounter with the jade and the mysterious shugenja.