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PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 6:08 pm 
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The Weight of the Sword
by Barinellos
Status: Public :diamond:


Content Warning: Implied abuse, PTSD



Downpour
The patter of rain
and sunlight broken by clouds
The sky sighs softly.


Saigo set the pen aside and reread the verses he'd just written as the rain outside drummed a constant staccato beat on the tiled roof above. As the ink dried on the page, he could feel the mana bond strengthen and flow more smoothly to him, a reassuring presence from the fields outside. A single deep breath, humid and clean from fallen rain stuck in his memory, and he exhaled, letting the mana flow out with it. Placing the book with the pen, pages still open for the ink to finish drying, he frowned and looked up at the clock. It wouldn't be long now.



Leaning against the wall, sitting in the alcove of the window sill where he could watch the heavens weep, he lifted his katana to rest the hilt against his shoulder and turned towards the door. His patience was rewarded only a few hundred turns of the clock's gears later.



The hinges creaked loudly, and a large man bustled in, more concerned with getting out of the rain than anything else. With the door shut and coat shucked to the floor, he finally noticed Saigo sitting there staring at him calmly. He knew it should have been a shock, but Saigo didn't look like much. Not old, but no longer young, with rough woven baggy clothing, worn leather boots, and long travel frayed hair. A fairly innocuous figure at first glance. It was only the sword and tattoos up one arm that spoke of any danger. Until you caught his eyes, the chill ebony darkness there that spoke of a killer. Saigo's gaze locked with the man whose house he sat in, and the angry demands died on the other's lips, replaced by caution.



"What are you doing here?" he asked flatly, "And where is my wife?"



Saigo nodded, and motioned with his sword, pointing the hilt to the table. "Have a seat." Silence stretched between them until the man finally sat. "Your name is Reid, yes?" The man simply stared at him, a scowl on his brow, but once more Saigo's patience won out over the other's petulance. The man nodded under Saigo's implacable gaze.



"To answer your question Reid, I'm here to tell you a story." Saigo placed a boot on the table and leaned forward, resting an arm across his knee as his sword shifted against the other shoulder. "Even if you think you know the story, do not interrupt, please?"



Reid simply stared suspiciously at Saigo and for his part, he ignored him, leaning back to his previous posture, rearranging the sword so that it once again rested comfortably in easy reach.



"There was once a man and a woman, some time ago, and they were very much in love. They courted one another for many years, and were eventually married. They chose to move to the outskirts of the town where they lived, a place they could be alone and start a new life together. Their little cottage soon grew into a small farm, and the world might as well have stopped existing for all the notice they gave. They had their little place, just for themselves, where all they would need is each other.



"Then, one day, the lord of the land attacked a neighboring province and a call to arms went out to all who could hear. The wife pleaded, but the man ignored her and enlisted in the army. Perhaps he had dreams of patriotism or maybe he saw a way to provide better for his wife, but regardless, he left her to care for herself and play soldier. As a soldier, he learned just two things: To follow orders and to commit violence. What he lacked, what they failed to even attempt to teach him, was a code to live by or a way to balance the violence they had instilled in him.



"That, by the way, is why I hate soldiers. Too objective oriented, too concerned with ruthless obedience and the task at hand." Saigo shook his head and sneered. "But I digress."



"The soldier went to war and saw things he never had before, did things that he would never forget. Then one day... the war was over. He took his pay, found his way home, and hung up his sword." Reid's eyes strayed to the rack above the fireplace and the blade that hung there, its once shiny surface thick with dust and dulled by neglect.



"Only, though he was finished with the fighting, it was not finished with him. There were nights he did not sleep, days where his thoughts were lost elsewhere. He grew distant from his wife, and the further he drifted, the more she worried. To try to find some peace, the man turned to drinking, but that made everything far worse. Instead of being lost in the violence of the past, it found its way to the present and he lashed out at the only person that was there for him.



"This kept on for months, dragging on and on and taking a greater toll on both of them. He drank to forget his past and soon he drank to forget what he had done to his lovely wife. But for her part, fear began to replace love and when it became too much, she gathered her courage and suggested she should leave for a time. That began an argument that became a fight which ended when he nearly choked her to death.



"Days later, the woman happened to meet a stranger who, upon seeing what had been done to her, asked her to tell him this very story. She then asked him a favor, not knowing what else to do." Saigo stood and lowered his sword, staring down at the seated man. "She asked him to end the story for her. And now, one way or another, it's time to write that ending." Saigo said, hooking his sword through the sash at his waist.



"You're going to get your sword and come out to the garden so we can finish this."



"And if I refuse?" Reid spat at him. "What then?"



"I won't kill an unarmed man," Saigo shook his head and then let his cold stare meet Reid's once more, "it would be dishonorable to do so. But, I will make sure you can never lay a hand on your wife again regardless." Saigo pushed against the tsuba of his katana with his thumb, baring a finger's width of Madaran steel. "Yet, I don't think it will come to that. I think you're going to choose the sword."



"You'd think right." Reid scowled unpleasantly. He'd survived a war, countless atrocities, this would be no different, he thought. But those were thoughts born of alcoholic courage and the shock of betrayal. He had killed before, and with how he felt... what was one more time?



"I'll be outside. Take as long as you need." Saigo pushed past him and stepped outdoors. It had stopped raining at some point during his narration and moisture hung heavily on the plants outside, the dew edged green a vivid shock against the still gray sky. Saigo paced the sodden ground until he found a space large enough for two men to try to kill each other without any obstacles. This was hardly his first time doing something like this, but it all just seemed so... inauspicious. A man was about to die and it was more important to him that neither of them trip on some loose rock.



He shook his head and closed his eyes. It was the wrong frame of mind to do this in. His breathing slowed and evened, strong and purposeful. He silently recited the titles of his mana bonds and the energy tied to them began to flow, sinking into his aura and giving it weight, power surging off of him, formless and streaked ivory with the mana flowing around him. It swirled, like mist without direction until his will sharpened with a single word and it hardened into plates resting lightly against him.



Ethereal armor clad his body from shoulder to toe and he adjusted to its presence. Truthfully, he doubted if this would even be necessary, but he knew the effect it might have on Reid. In battle, there was no use holding back.



The other man soon came out carrying the heavy short sword from the wall and a battered shield, wearing his own mixed armor of bronze and leather. It looked like it didn't fit quite right, and Saigo wondered for a moment if it ever had. Armies were notorious for being frugal after all.



Shifting his stance as Reid neared, Saigo turned his body to the side. With one fluid pull, he drew his sword and it glowed with the reflection of his aura on one side and the wan light of the fading sun on the other. Lifting it, feeling the familiar weight resting comfortably, a memory of every sword he'd held and what it meant to be samurai.



Like the aura around him, it felt weightless in his hand.



The sword looked very heavy in Reid's. Too heavy.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


A single lantern burnt outside the cottage, a strange paper thing that Lyra didn't recognize, but knew what it meant all the same. Her steps, even emboldened by that knowledge, were hesitant, unsure what she wanted to find waiting for her in her home. Every step closer sent a quiver up her body and by the time her hand rested on the doorframe, she could hardly stand, shaking like a leaf in the wind. She leaned against the door, trusting it to hold her up for just one moment more as she said a silent prayer to the moon and turned the knob.



The traveler sat reading a thin book, hand bound by the looks of it. A small tea set rested on the table and steam rose from the cup in front of his as he read solemnly. And he was wearing one of Reid's shirts.



Lyra stepped inside, a rush of relief and fear washing over her as she entered.



"Is it..." she began and swallowed. "Is it done?"



"Yes." Saigo answered plainly, putting his book aside and pouring tea into the cup in front of the nearest seat to her. "You don't have to be afraid of him anymore."



She slowly sank into the seat and felt... a strange sense of loss. Of joy and fear and the emptiness where both should have been. She felt like she should be crying, but her tears were lost somewhere else for the moment. They would come, eventually, but for now she simply felt tired and alone.



Saigo watched the emotions play across her features, still marred by the bruises and cuts on her pale skin. His eyes wandered down to the angry red marks fading into darkness across her neck. He didn't bother offering her any solace, they would have been empty words considering the circumstances, but all the same he'd made the tea more for her than for himself. He looked back up and realized she'd been staring at him.



"Why are you wearing his shirt?" she asked in a small voice. "Did he hurt you?"



"No." Saigo answered, trying to keep the chuckle out of his voice at the concern in hers. It wasn't funny, not really, for a widow to ask that of her husband's killer. Except that it was, just a bit, when you'd lived the life he had. "Blood is too hard to get out of clothing, but it wasn't mine. Most of it was from when I was burying him anyways."



"You..." confusion played across her face and then she looked down.



"I couldn't leave you to do it. It wouldn't have been right." he answered to her unasked question. "Drink your tea."



She lifted the cup to her lips and drank, letting that activity fill the silence so that she didn't have to talk. Saigo let her as he began to gather his things and stow them in his pack. He'd not taken much out, but it kept him busy as well.



"Where?" Lyra finally asked in a stronger voice than he'd heard from her in the entire short time they'd known each other. He stood and pushed back his chair, holding his pack by its top as he nodded his head towards the door.



"It isn't far."



They both left the little cottage behind, stopping just long enough for Saigo to gather the lantern outside and carry it in front of them as they walked around the house, following the treeline further down and heading away from the dark bloodstains in the grass that only Saigo could see. Crickets chirped, and the quiet night sounds of the forest awakening was the only conversation to hear.



At length, Saigo stopped at a mound of freshly packed dirt where the roots of a tree parted around the ground. Marks carved into the tree in a language Lyra didn't know were the only indication her husband rested here. He didn't say anything, knowing he didn't have to.



"Do you think I'm a bad person?" she asked over the grave in a tiny voice, barely audible. "For what I've had you do?"



"Some would. Others wouldn't. Life is rarely so simple though. I don't think you're wrong to have asked me to do it. You're a victim." Saigo looked to the stars and frowned. "And so was he. The things that he did should have been put behind him, so that he could find some kind of peace... but he didn't know how. Instead he kept the sword when he should have thrown it away, and perhaps as a result, he never let any of that go." Saigo shook his head. "And now he is dead because he couldn't."



"Do not fall into the same mistake, miss. Move on with your life, as best you can. The price you promised to pay should help with that." He looked to her and held out his hand. In it, already nestled in his calloused palm was the man's wedding ring, glimmering in the moon's light. Wordlessly, but haltingly, the woman raised her hands to her chest and ran it over the matching ring. She bit her lip and then slowly, pulled the ring from her finger and placed it lightly next to its larger twin.



Saigo took the wedding rings and placed them deeply into a pocket, watching her as she looked up at the skies and let out one wavering sob, eyes still dry despite her emotions. She would grieve for the man she loved, but in truth, they both knew he'd never left the battlefields he'd gone to. Maybe she'd find happiness again one day, but Saigo had done his part and taken his payment. It was time to leave her to find her own path.



Slinging his pack over his shoulder, he left the widow to her freedom.



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