The Fall Of The Hamurai – Part 1 – Blossoms In The Wind

Kusai sat on the steps of the temple, leaning on the hilt of her sword. The cool spring breeze carried flurries of delicate cherry blossoms from high up in the temple orchard, swirling across the wide stairs and lazily down the hill, to where the farmers were tending the rice terraces and leading lines of Dusk Beetles to the pastures ready for the onset of summer. Kusai sighed and was content in that moment; behind her, up the hundred or so steps, sat the imposing Aghtai Pagoda. Her master, Gutoa, would be holding court and giving the attendants a hard time for the slightest error in their strict morning routine while quietly laughing to himself.

All these things made Kusai smile as her eyes roved over the valley that stretched away from the holy hill and out into a wide, glittering harbour. It was their home. Years of hard work had raised it up from barren land and swampy paddies on the sloping sides of a derelict mound of hard clay, to a green and pleasant land in which thousands of people lived comfortably; protected by the swords of the temple-dwellers. The hundred “Hamurai” as they were being called in the provinces, were formed by the wisdom of Gutoa, who had wandered the lands for over fifty years; both defending the weak and bringing justice to tyrants.

Kusai was his first student – Long ago, she followed a trail of destruction for three weeks as he systematically dismantled a fierce bandit ring that was terrorizing a group of villages. It’s leader was a Ferret named Kai-Lang; A legendary warrior whose very presence struck fear into even the twenty-foot tall Tanuki of the mountains. Gutoa fought with Lang for hours after easily dashing his elite bodyguard to the four winds. A silent village had greeted her and a trail of bodies led to a ransacked tavern, the battered door hanging off it’s iron hinges. Cold yellow light of many buckled lanterns spilled faintly out onto the blood-stained porch. Kusai entered and found her prospective master unconscious and barely breathing, his gnarled claws still wrapped around the handle of the bandit-king’s wickedly curved blade which protruded from the matted fur of the ferret’s belly.

She carried him out into the night after picking him bodily up and wresting the crimson knife from his grasp, replacing it with the shattered remains of his own sword which he reflexively clutched to his chest. Rain washed his enemy’s copious blood away but a worrying amount remained as many wounds ran thickly all over the old hamster’s bent frame. Kusai could hardly believe this little rodent, seemingly so frail, had carved such a swath of destruction in his diminutive wake. She looked around, counting twelve bodies in the village square and terrified eyes peering from every window and behind every door.

The people slowly came out; they were mice, hamsters, voles and shrews. All beetle herders, petty craftsmen or grain farmers. Yelling was heard as the apparent tavern keeper grabbed some local men and began hauling bodies out. It was then that the crowd came together. Kusai could hear them whispering: “Could it really be Gutoa the hero?”, while she stood holding this drooping warrior under his arm. Out of it all an old female vole rushed up dragging a litter: a triangular frame of wood meant to carry the injured. She laid the litter beside Gutoa and shouted around, scolding the onlookers for allowing their saviour to stand there, letting his life’s blood drain into the gutters.

Fifteen days passed without him regaining consciousness. The old vole, who was skilled in medicine and whose name was Juki, plied her healing trade as best she knew but the prognosis looked dire. Kusai never left his side, only pacing back and forth from the small straw bed to the door. It rained constantly upon the enormous pile of offerings that the villagers had presented to Gutoa and of which she picked modestly to sustain herself, refusing all the food Juki prepared, instead feeding the thin vegetable broth slowly and carefully to Gutoa, one laborious mouthful at a time.

On the sixteenth night, Kusai could only stare mournfully out into the stormy scene which reflected the tear stains trailing down the fur of her cheeks. A creaking caused her ears to pivot back and her head followed. Over the last two weeks, Gutoa had moved very little, only shifting convulsively from one ragged wound to another. This time however, her eyes widened as they locked onto his. Gutoa, inimitable master of the sword, who had looked so tiny and impossibly frail now held her in an iron grip with those dark eyes. Pain wracked his face, but he was back.

“I have become too old it seems…to go galavanting around the countryside…you followed me all this way, I know…and you became my student the minute I entered that tavern. I will never fight again, but you will.”

Kusai slowly padded across the straw mats and bent to his side, she grasped his outstretched paw, it trembled.

“Master Gutoa, I should not have doubted that you would return to us, but I did. I am sorry.”

The old hamster batted weakly at her paw.

“Fool girl, I am not some immortal spirit…Just good at what I do…it was you who saved my life. We shall rebuild this place…The infestation that plagues these lands shall be driven out by your sword…You will teach me how much good I can do when I trust in others…I have been a fool to wait this long to train an apprentice. Now, I shall sleep the sleep of the living and not the dead. Tomorrow we change the world.”

Kusai opened her eyes to the blossoms floating on the wind, fresh tears streaming down her face as she looked out once again into the valley. She took in the sweet smells of the place that would soon be shattered by what was coming. Ten years had passed, new dangers had arisen, and a shadow loomed over them all.

To be continued.

Rock And A Hard Place – A SciFi Story – Writing Prompt Inspired.

Chief Science Officer Vlarg’s heavy steps resounded on the metal grating of the gangway as she marched hurriedly out onto the main viewing platform. Director Gulurk stood, tentacles held behind her back, looking out from the faint green force bubble which surrounded the criss-cross of scaffolding upon which the platform lay. The stars, which were also tinged green, reflected mystically in her large and beautiful eye. As Vlarg approached, she could see an imperceptible movement in the director’s stance; a flick of her eye downward and across towards her, a carefully hidden flinch that brought her back from whatever far-reaching thought she was previously absorbed in. Gulurk was known for remaining impassive to a fault. Vlarg had always wondered whether her taciturn nature was due to the fact that she was a carefully trained politician who had also served as part of the governmental special forces, or as Vlarg had always suspected: that she held deep and personal secrets hidden far beneath her icy surface.

Vlarg came to a halt a few metres from the director and a heavy silence drew down like a curtain between them. Doubtless the director knew that whenever the Chief Science Officer sought her out, the news was never good and the small data crystal burning a metaphorical hole in Vlarg’s coiled tentacle proved that instinct correct. After letting Vlarg fidget with respectful anxiety for a few minutes, Gulurk finally rounded, and looking through her with a bored expression, she spoke.

“Yes, Chief Science Officer Vlarg?” A tentacle absentmindedly probed into one of the many pockets of her dark long-coat and pulled from it a small silver box.

“I beg your pardon Director, your adjutant was extremely vocal about your wish for solitude – as she always is, but this really could not wait.” Vlarg then brought up the small reddish crystal, its inner glow mingled with the sickly shimmering light around them, dulling the colour of the stone so it appeared to Vlarg like a clot of worry. The director’s gaze flicked impatiently between it and the silver box but it took vlarg a long time to talk; the director was not a person you wanted to give bad news to.

Despite this the director patiently waited, slowly and carefully opening the silver box, then taking a small pinch of a dark substance from within it she touched the fine powder to her nose and instinctively inhaled, her eye never leaving the small crystal.

“You’re going to tell me that the Shudnok have been spotted on The Moon, correct?”

Vlarg’s mouth fell open. “How did you…?”

Without a trace of amusement, the director smiled and closed the little box with a sharp snik. “I have known for weeks. A fleet is on its way from home to deal with them.”

Vlarg was dumbfounded. “You never told me. Why? People have died, Gulurk, we think they have been sabotaging our research. We think they are preparing an invasion force!”

Gulurk laughed condescendingly. “It matters not. This endeavour, though officially sanctioned on paper as a scientific and fact-finding mission about the strange and primitive lifeforms on earth, has always had a much more important, or rather, political goal. The Council are aware of the unique nature of the human species – as you know, they are incredibly warlike, so much so that they rival even the Gahok.”

Vlarg shuddered inwardly at the mention of their species’ greatest enemy. The Dzarr had warred with the Gahok for many centuries and they were a source of almost genetic revulsion amongst their people. The director took note of the shudder and pressed on.

“Yes, indeed, even with the Shudnok on your back doorstep you still react to the great enemy; well so do the council. There are a great many empires among the advanced races in the galaxy. Some of them would work together to better understand the million mysteries recounted by the ancient archivists. Others, like the near-sighted Shudnok, would enact petty campagns of conquest in an attempt to further their immediate goals. Eventually though, all will be consumed by the unquenchable fire of the Gahok hatred for all non-Gahok life.”

Vlarg looked down in confusion and helplessness at the little crystal which, instead of epitomising all her worst fears as a scientist, now represented only another faceless line of data – fully accounted for by the council and their godlike artificial intelligences. She looked up at Gulurk, who was still smiling mirthlessly and anger flashed in her eye as she held out the crystal accusingly. “I have worked tirelessly for days to ensure that all of our data was intact, that the reports my teams have gathered were sound, that I wasn’t going to feed you incorrect information. All because I thought our departments were inseparable and that your time and attention was worth the effort. I thought we trusted each other, and what we were doing here was important; but yet again the political class shows its colours. We’re all just cogs in the machine to you, eh Gulurk?”

The director, who would by rights have been entirely justified in imprisoning the Chief Science Officer for the outburst, merely turned her back and sighed. Vlarg dropped the crystal and stamped on it; a flash of angry red light shone like a beacon for a second. “What has all this to do with the humans? You owe me that much atleast.”

Gulurk wheeled around, now it was her turn for anger. “I owe you nothing. The lives of everyone aboard this station are my responsibility – if you were unable to use your judgement to bring this to me immediately, despite your reservations about my temperament, then that is your affair. I should never have told you, but my affection for you and your hard work over the years tempers the typical demeanour of my office. Have more respect.”

Vlarg withered under the baleful gaze of this creature, who she now realised was entirely alien to her, even though they shared the same mother. “As for the humans; they are a candle in the dark. You can see even now they war amongst themselves – they have only just put flame to chemical powder, creating even the most primitive firearms and yet tens of thousands of them die yearly in pursuit of petty conquest. It never stops and it will never stop with them. Unless they are brought into the galactic community when they are ready.”

Vlarg, though cowed by her sister, could not suppress the rebel inside. “Sounds just like the council to use non-Dzarr lives as a tool to preserve Dzarr supremacy”

Gulurk turned away again. “You know nothing of these matters, they are greater than either of us. Content yourself with your studies sister, now leave me before the arrival of Supremacy Commander Harlorq. The fleet shall rendezvous here before they scour the surface and root out the Shudnok. You would do well to forget all you learned here.”

Director Gulurk said nothing more and did not turn towards her sister again. Vlarg had no other option than to return to the station; the weight of her own obscurity in the face of the Dzarr empire, her own people, would follow her to the end of her days. She would never truly understand the importance of her work on that small base on that small moon.

END

This story was inspired by a writing prompt found on reddit!