Doji Sakura Tells A Tale: How a sword came to be, and how poison can actually be a cure.


Tale One – Hour of the Horse: "Onikirimaru, the Demon's Hand"

Bayushi Karyudo quietly knocked at his friend's door at the inn, and found Doji Sakura sitting on her futon, polishing and cleaning the fine blade of her katana. "You should be resting." he said, with but a hint of reproach "Tomorrow, we resume our investigations in search of the Mahoshin, and if you do not rest, your ribs will never heal."

The samurai-ko grimaced in pain, but continued to meticulously dab the metal of the sword: "I know, Karyudo-kun, but I'm in too much pain to sleep… so, I do something useful instead. My blade has cut the flesh of undead creatures but a few minutes ago – it cries out to be purified from their taint."

Nodding, Karyudo sat by her: yes, he understood what that meant – he too was a samurai, he too knew that a sword was more than just your weapon – after a while, it became an extension of yourself, it became a part of your soul – and life and death hung on its edge.

He observed the katana being cleaned: "I have never seen a blade such as yours… the metal is tinged red – most unusual. And the habaki-saya… it's magnificent. Have the Kami blessed your sword?"

Doji Sakura raised the blade to eye-level, then looked down the length of the blade's thin edge "Not that I am aware of, no… but there is a tale – a tale that speaks of this sword's origins, and of how it earned this reddish hue – and it most certainly had magic in it. My father told it to me when I was but a wee girl."

Karyudo raised a brow "Well, I'm not going anywhere… and we still have a few hours left until diner time. How are your storytelling skills faring?"

The other smiled: "Not the best in the Empire, but I think I can entertain you for a while."

"Then please do."

---

Four samurai were sitting around a table inside an elegant dining room. All of them were Crane samurai: Doji Daisuke was the lord of the valley, a tall man of fearsome deeds in battle; Asahina Amano was his sorcerer and mentor, and was known for his tranquil manner and mighty Arts; Daidoji Hiro, was the wolf of war, whose scarred hands could easily fell an enemy as could delight any woman with their tender caresses; and lastly, the mighty swordsmith, Kakita Itto, as capable with the hammer as he was with the sword. As soon as the servants carried the last drinking cup from the room, Hiro leapt to his feet, "Fifteen warriors, my lord. With fifteen warriors, I will drive this creature out of the face of the Empire and into the Shadowlands Pit that spawned it!"

"Now, Hiro," Daisuke said, "we've tried such strategy before. I fear that the oni is too strong, and it will only result in a useless slaughter of our men."

"What do you suggest then, Daisuke-sama?" Hiro said. "We cannot just sit idly and watch -- while this situation has become dangerous to us, it is becoming unbearable for the peasants. The creature hunts and kills them mercilessly, laying waste to the crops with naught but its foul touch."

Amano cleared his throat, causing the entire room to fall silent without the need of uttering the slightest word: "Although I agree with young Hiro's desire to quench this problem quickly," he said, "it need not be done with more warfare. After all, it seems that no weapon crafted by man can harm the creature – I have heard that any blade that strikes the Oni, or anything that the monster touches immediately falls apart, corroded by its taint. I suggest other means. If we manage to call for the aid of the Phoenix clan, I'm sure that their magic will be powerful enough to destroy it."

"No, no," Daisuke said, shaking his head. "It is true that we must protect our own, but we have very little time to go and call for help, and I do not wish to resort to asking for favours to the other clans. We will leave with our families, and lead them somewhere safe, then, we will ask the Clan Champion for reinforcements and return to deal with the problem"

"We must not!" Itto raised his voice slightly. "We cannot just abandon the farmers to their fate. I need time... give me time to study the creature and the weapons its poisoned touch destroyed. Maybe I could forge a sword--"

"My good crafter," Amano said softly in his deep and outwordly voice, "you are one of the best swordsmiths in the Empire, but not even you have the knowledge of how to forge a sword that could destroy an Oni – such blades demand both the favour of the Kami and powerful magics woven into it. Fu Leng blessed his Oni children with immunity to men's weapons."

---

Several hours and a fruitless debate later, Itto was riding home, distracted by his thoughts of how to deal with the monster, when a shadow suddenly leapt at him from the woods. His horse, feeling the evil threat, reared and threw its rider off the saddle, then fled, neighing in fear. The samurai rolled on the earth, trying to break his fall, and used the momentum to fall back onto his feet. In front of him stood a huge creature, a monster gleaming under the light of the waxing moon. Its skin seemed to be made of steel, but the metal had an evil, dark tint to it: it was the Oni. It spread its hands, and huge razor-sharp talons reflected the white light of the Lady Moon.

The samurai gave a step back, his hand searching for the comforting weight of his katana. He assumed a defensive stance, and waited. What few in Kojinoryu knew was that in his youth, like his father and his grandfather before him, Itto had been the Crane Clan Daimyo's swordtester: it was him who had cut through the bodies of hundreds of criminals to test the purity and perfection of the blades forged by his father, who, after leaving the place of swordtester to him, had became a master swordsmith. For generations, their branch of the Kakita family had done so: they learned to test, and then they learned to create. Now, Itto was but a swordsmith, but he still remembered how to kill with but one strike.

The oni lunged forward, its claws slicing the air, but the samurai sidestepped it, and the gleam of his katana was visible in the night only for a second or so. The strike had been so swift that not even the taint of the monster managed to corrupt the blade completely before it sliced one of the creature's razor-tipped hands off.

Certainly not used to find such terrible opposition, much less to being wounded, the oni ran away in panic, clutching the bloodless metal stump where his left hand used to be, and cursing the samurai with a terrible and ancient voice "Damn you, fleshling! Damn you! I will be back for my hand! Seven days and seven nights I shall wait, and after seven days and nights, I will claim back what is mine, and then I will come for you!"

It was then that an idea started to blossom in Itto's mind: if it was true that poison was often used to cure other poisons, and if the creature's metal body could destroy any other metal, then wasn't it possible that a weapon made of the same metal the oni was made of could slay him?

He leaned towards the severed hand.

---

Itto's strong body was not normally bothered by the summer night's chill, but the dark, icy presence of the oni's metal hand pierced him like an arrow. Yet, he grabbed the hand by the stump. His horse had fled in panic when the Oni had attacked, so Itto had to walk back home – it was then he felt that the metal had begun to numb the fingers of his left hand – and then, the cold began to burn. The metal was imbued with such a fierce hatred for children of Lady Amateratsu that Itto's left hand had lost all feeling, and the skin was being slowly consumed by the cold fire. As he arrived home, his eldest daughter and goldsmith, Ai; and Seichirou, his youngest son, who was being trained to be the next swordtester, were waiting for him and followed him quietly to the forge. Itto threw the iron hand into the furnace and turned to his children, "With arsenic, silver, hammer and tong, I will drive the taint from this iron. With your help, I can make this lump of evil metal dream. We will make a weapon of the likes no-one has never seen before – a destroyer of Onis."

His children bowed their heads, asking no questions.

"Wrap my hands, Ai, and then ready your silver. Your art will give this weapon its soul. I will beat out the cadence of the Kami on this bit of Shadowland marrow and bend it to our will. And you, Seichirou, you will yield it and deliver justice with this blade when it is ready."

So Itto set to work. While the metal hand heated, he took his damaged katana, corroded in half by the monster's poison, and began to pound it with his hammer: "This sword died facing the oni. Now, it will relive in a new form to seek its revenge. Too much of its metal disappeared, so its new form will be that of a companion to the katana, a wakizashi. Alone, it will be known as Mamono, the female ice devil. Together, they will be known as Onikirimaru, the Demon Slayer."

---

Two days pass.

---

The Oni's hand was finally ready to be forged: Itto removed the heated metal from the forge, then pounded it with his hammer. All the while, flinders of the devil iron flew onto his hands and blinded his eyes. But onward he stayed his will and hands, and the metal changed. He alloyed it with coke and arsenic and, finally, his own blood – flowing from his wounds, down his mighty arms, and poured in torrents from the handle of his hammer.

In the meantime, Ai had crafted two habaki-sayas, the blade protection: one made to resemble a flame, the other a wave – and they rested waiting for the time when they would envelop the bottom of the two blades. Now, she was aiding her father creating the terrible blade: wherever Itto's hammer struck, soon followed a rivulet of silver, but the searing silver and the evil in the metal blistered Ai's lovely hands, eating them away slowly. And still Itto kept the cadence of his mighty heart with his hammer - even as it melted away, even after the flinders of the metal took his eyes away, not one of his blows failed.

Itto stood by the anvil - it had been blasted into slag from his blows – and looked at the glowing fiery blade that he now held with his thongs. He approached the tempering pool, and when he plunged the blade, the pool spewed a blast of vapour so strong that no one managed to stand on their feet.

Seichirou was first to reach the pool, and he drew the blade out from its watery depths. It was perfectly balanced, its surface decorated with red streams of blood, and it held no taint or hatred. It was Akuma, the male demon of fire, and his father's final work and masterpiece.

He set the golden habaki-sayas and the guards into place, and then finished assembling the two blades, wrapping the silken cords on the swords' handles into place.

---

The night had fallen and five more days had passed.

---

It was then he heard a terrible and ancient voice calling him out. The voice called for his father, but Seichirou knew that this task was now his responsibility. He stepped out, with both blades tucked in his obi belt.

As he drew Mamono out of its sheath, the monster snarled in fury, recognizing the new form of the blade that had wounded him. But when Seichirou drew Akuma, the monster could tell at once what the blade was and what the blade meant. And for the first time in his entire evil existence, the oni knew fear, and, gripped by an insane terror, fled.

With but a strike, Seichirou tested the newborn blade on the fleeing creature.

And it was the finest blade his father had ever created.

---

"Then what?"

"Then what what?"

The Scorpion made an impatient sound: "You know… what happened then?"

Sakura smiled, put her cleaning tools away, and set the blade back into its sheath: "I do not know."

"WHAT?"

The Doji's smile widened "I really don't. However, I can tell you that my uncle was a master swordsmith, and that his son, my cousin, is a swordtester."

"That's a lousy ending for such a glorious tale." Karyudo grumbled.

"Well, maybe I should tell you another tale, and with a more… pleasing ending." Sakura's smile was extremely amused.

"Indeed you should, Sakura-chan."

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