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[Episode] Crucible of Ambitions Empty [Episode] Crucible of Ambitions

This post has in-line assessment comments.Sat Nov 12, 2022 4:56 pm
Quest Request:

Shimotsuki Village, 10am
Unarmed Tavern

In most villages, the common room of the local inn is a rowdy place, filled to the brim with sailors and townsfolk all intent on song and laughter. Perhaps, alongside the fun, there are a few gangs of cloaked and "harmless" individuals nursing some drinks in the corner, the corners of their garb not quite hiding the cold shine of blades at their belts. Given that Shimotsuki Village's main claim to fame was blade craft, one might expect the dangers of a tavern to be heightened, for steel to lurker under and within every corner.

Not here, not in this village.

Nobody remembered the exact start of the tradition, but for as long as anyone could remember, one of the primary rules of Shimotsuki Village was that no weapons were to be carried inside the tavern, not even the simplest butter knife. You either left your armaments in the rusted and weathered barrel outside, or you left them at home. Even the cooks prepared the scant few dishes the tavern offered in a separate building, to not break this unspoken rule. And so, for lack of a better name, the swords-masters and smiths of Shimotsuki Village simply referred to this building as the "Unarmed Tavern": a place where all could go to be guaranteed safety.

These unspoken rules were a majority of the reason why it was a very grumpy Dras who fell into a chair opposite his prospective teacher, a tattered cloth parcel in his hand rather than one of his blades. The smith was insistent on the Unarmed Tavern as their choice of locale, and it was only at the door that Dras realized that he was forbidden from bringing in a few example weapons. While he did prepare other samples of his craft in case his blade craft alone wouldn't be enough to gain him an apprenticeship, they were not nearly as skillful or varied, knick-knacks, not showpieces.

" 'Ere it is Master Smith Bryant. Like y'all asked fer." Dras said bluntly, his thick fingers delicately unwrapping the treated cloth from the object contained within. As the layers of fabric fell away, they revealed a delicate flower, a bare few inches long and finely wrought in iron and copper so that each petal stood out sharply from the rest. Despite this beauty, Dras gave it a scathing glance, as if willing its disintegration with nothing but his thoughts alone. "Eet's not much, got interrupted in the tempering process and warped the stem of it here and here see?" Dras rumbled, indicating two slight imperfections in the metal, so small as to be barely perceptible.

"Got a few other pieces to show you too if yo-" Dras started, before Bryant shook his head slightly cutting him off.  "I don't think that will be necessary Mr. Feron. A smith's eye must be all-discerning after all, and this is good enough example of your 'work'." Bryant said, his voice almost gentle but for the barely-hidden disdain.

The man stood, and circled around the table, clapping a hand on Dras's shoulder. The two men were almost a study in opposites, where Dras was heavily-built and weathered, Bryant was almost untouched by the ravages of time, lean muscle barely making its self known through billowing silk garb. It was this ethereal presence that made Bryant's next words all the more infuriating. "While your technical skill is certainty impressive, don't get me wrong, it seems you lack the experience to truly reach the standard of quality I set for my smiths. I'm afraid I'll have to decline, though I will pass your name along to my fellows." Bryan said, giving Dras a consoling pat on the shoulder and raising an eyebrow
Good day!"

As the man sauntered out the door, it was all the smith could do not to bean his tankard at his head. Instead, Dras just took a deep draft, removing a notepad from his pocket covered with a long list of names. "Fuckin' prissy asshole." Dras muttered, scratching the third-to-last name out with a bit of pencil. He was running out of options, and fast.

Name : Asakura Doji
Epithet : Grave Danger
Age : 18
Height : 17'7
Weight : 1,777 lb
Species : Human-Giant-Oni Crossbred
Faction : Pirates
Crew : The Yokai Pirates
Ship : Gashadokuro, the Walking Castle
Crew Role : Captain | Blind Navigator
Bounty : [bel=r] 177,777,001
Quality Score : S
EXP Bonus : +0.20 (To all allies)
Shop Discount : 10%
Balance : [bel] 196,745,669
Posts : 258

[Episode] Crucible of Ambitions Empty Re: [Episode] Crucible of Ambitions

This post has in-line assessment comments.Tue Nov 15, 2022 2:30 am

Meanwhile, in the town square…

“Yoi-yoi-yoi! Jyeez, what’d I even do?!” It was rare for the brutish rōnin to meet an opposing force with his hands raised high, but the reputation of Shimotsuki village preceded itself: a settlement of swordsmen and smithies from which legends could be forged. This wasn’t going to be another backwater island of puny humans he could just push around.

“I don’t know boy, what were you planning to do? You’ve come here to our village at a dire crossroads, you’re rather lucky I ordered our bowmen to allow your approach,” from amongst the stirring populace, one voice of rational authority rang clear as a bell .

“I’m looking for my master! A man by the name of Nobunaga Mishima!” As was characteristic the oni answered honestly, the red-haired demon rarely concealed his intentions; there was little need for such deception for those strong enough to get what they want the good ol’ fashioned way.

Still, Doji couldn’t have anticipated the crowd’s response; he’d never met anybody other than his mother that even knew of Mishima, much less a crowd of those who went silent at his name. Many sensei amongst the crowd looked deferently towards their leader standing upon the crying platform.

“Heavens’ Fool?...” the white haired old-timer stroked his beard as the old epithet slipped his lips, “... I didn’t know he had taken another student, in fact I must say I can hardly believe such an obvious falsehood. What is your true purpose oni?” The man spoke as he glanced over towards a pair of archers, signaling they ready their bows.

“I’m not lying! My name is Asakura Doji! I’m not his student, but he is my master! His eldest disciple is the one who bestowed the title of student upon me!” The effette-faced monster cried out with earnest desperation in his voice.

The man upon the pedestal was one of Shimotsuki village’s elders, Shimada Shimura, a teacher of the sword style known as Mugai-ryū or “The School of Outer Nothingness.” A leader from one of the village’s harsher schools may have had the boy shot down on the spot, the oni was rather fortunate to be graced by the wise old man’s leadership, “So you must be Hanako’s boy eh? I suppose I can see some resemblance in the face but wow, your mother sure had interesting taste in men.”

A bit of murmuring and laughter permeated the crowd as Doji wore a confused and slightly discontented expression upon his face, “what’s that supposed to mean?”

A moment of awkward silence sat upon the crowd for a moment before Shimura spoke up again, “for the time being let us not concern ourselves with such trivial matters. Wait here with me while elders Kikuchiyo and Kyuzo fetch the remainder of our village’s men. I believe I may have an interesting proposition for you, Asakura-san.”

After the hotheaded elder and his stoic peer round up men from around town…

As the village’s elders returned to the pedestal the small-talk of young swordsmen died down to a reverent and dutiful silence. Along with a crisp and whistling breeze, once again Shimura broke the silence, “Welcome, all of you. With great shame, I must announce that the conditions of our struggle against the mountain bandits have not improved; and that in combination with this year’s meek harvest, our village’s stores of grain and berri alike have been all-but exhausted. We’ve heard that in a week’s time Akō Ryōma and his one-hundred rōnin  will ride upon our village, we shall have to ration until the day of the attack, and our village’s armory wears thin. It is for these reasons that we’ve gathered all men of fighting age as well as all smithies and apprentices, in the coming week we will train, garrison our settlement, use our remaining steel for the construction of armaments, and if possible enlist the help of those smaller communities surrounding us who too have been plagued by these brigands. We will be conducting trainings as a group, however I insist that each of you find a buddy to continue training between sessions, once we have concluded you can feel free to choose partners from amongst yourselves. Have I made myself clear, any questions?”

Post Word Count: 704
Total Word Count: 704

[Episode] Crucible of Ambitions Empty Re: [Episode] Crucible of Ambitions

This post has in-line assessment comments.Tue Nov 15, 2022 1:31 pm
A few minutes earlier....

"Are both of y'all ready?"

The referee, a squirrely little man, gave Dras and the man sitting across from each a glance, his beady eyes squinting, evaluating.

"Ready," Dras said simply, cracking his knuckles in preparation for the coming contest. While he wasn't exactly nervous about the duel, the surrounding crowd of tavern-goers made him a little antsy, he had never been that great with crowds.


"Annnnnnnnd begin!"

The referee's hands swung downwards, signaling the start of the contest. Dras's opponent's grip tightened to an almost painful degree, shoulders and biceps bulging with power. But no matter how hard he pushed back, Dras's arm did not falter, slowly and steadily pushing his own towards the sticky oak table, even as Dras watched another pair of contestants wrestle. "Winner, Dras B. Feron! He advances to the quarter-finals!"

Dras shrugged in reply to the cheers, taking a deep draft of his beer and stepping out into the brisk January morning for some fresh air. While the profit from the tournament would keep him in food and bedding for a few more days, the essential situation was unchanged. If he couldn't find work soon, then he would be forced to leave Shimotsuki Village, and return to making a living off forging plowshares and horseshoes. Dras's upper lip curled in contempt at the thought, he had been given the chance of a lifetime, a chance to break free from the fetters of his mundane life and become the person he always knew he could become.

Dras shoved those thoughts aside, thoughts of failure were unacceptable if he wished to succeed. He WOULD find a teacher, and that teacher WOULD help him gain the strength and skill to survive on the seas. He WOULD forge a legacy for himself, no matter the cost, it was the only way to drag both himself and his family from their poverty-stricken home. Dras would eat his sword before that dream, that TRUTH died.

"Well now, aren't you a strapping lad? Don't suppose you're looking for work in these...troubled times?"

A voice rang out across the dusty street, dragging Dras back to reality. Its owner, a hunched old man balanced against a tall wooden staff, hobbled towards him. Dras's eyes narrowed, something about this elder radiated danger in a way that disregarded differences in age and physicality. Dras bowed his head, "Greetings sor. I am looking fer work if yer offerin'. Bit down on my luck if I'm bein' honest."

The elder smiled, but said nothing, simply gesturing for Dras to follow in his wake. Dras retrieved his weapon from the barrel and ducked inside the tavern only long enough to withdrawl from the competition. Then, he would simply follow in the old man's wake..

In the town square.

"Wait here for a moment son. Elder Shimura speak in a moment once he is done with some unpleasantness.." Dras's companion wheezed, pointing his walking stick at the growing through of the young swordsman. Dras simply nodded, deftly moving through the crowd toward the front. The smith's desire to hear better, coincidentally placed him quite close to Doji once he emerged from the throng. Dras did a double-take upon seeing the huge man, since when did people get that big? He had heard legends of oni and giants, but he thought they were only that! The smith was fascinated, but Shimura's voice ringing out across the square forestalled his thoughts for the moment.

“Welcome, all of you. With great shame, I must announce that the conditions of our struggle against the mountain bandits have not improved; and that in combination with this year’s meek harvest, our village’s stores of grain and berri alike have been all-but exhausted. We’ve heard that in a week’s time Akō Ryōma and his one-hundred rōnin  will ride upon our village, we shall have to ration until the day of the attack, and our village’s armory wears thin. It is for these reasons that we’ve gathered all men of fighting age as well as all smithies and apprentices, in the coming week we will train, garrison our settlement, use our remaining steel for the construction of armaments, and if possible enlist the help of those smaller communities surrounding us who too have been plagued by these brigands. We will be conducting trainings as a group, however I insist that each of you find a buddy to continue training between sessions, once we have concluded you can feel free to choose partners from amongst yourselves. Have I made myself clear, any questions?”

Dras pondered the swordmaster's words for a moment, watching as the men around him quickly paired off. While this wasn't the work he had hoped for, such a siege was an excellent chance for him to get in good with the townsfolk, get a little networking going. It did of course involve the risk of severe bodily injury, but what was a little adventure without the mortal peril to go along with it? Better to see danger as opportunity, or at least that was his opinion

Dras then strolled over to Doji and tapped him on the....shin. The smith coughed, "Excuse me sor, would you be interested in 'buddying up'. Rest of these fellows seem to 'ave a stick shoved up their hindquarters." Dras rumbled, immediately attracting a host of sneers from those surrounding them. The smith didn't care however, if he was to go to battle, it was to be with the most dangerous looking fellow here.

Name : Asakura Doji
Epithet : Grave Danger
Age : 18
Height : 17'7
Weight : 1,777 lb
Species : Human-Giant-Oni Crossbred
Faction : Pirates
Crew : The Yokai Pirates
Ship : Gashadokuro, the Walking Castle
Crew Role : Captain | Blind Navigator
Bounty : [bel=r] 177,777,001
Quality Score : S
EXP Bonus : +0.20 (To all allies)
Shop Discount : 10%
Balance : [bel] 196,745,669
Posts : 258

[Episode] Crucible of Ambitions Empty Re: [Episode] Crucible of Ambitions

This post has in-line assessment comments.Thu Nov 17, 2022 7:43 am
Though normally the oni has a bad habit of assuming people are talking to him, were it not for the tap at his leg Doji wouldn’t have believed that somebody was asking him to partner up with him so quickly; even when he was still a normal-sized kid he’d always been picked last in the games of his village’s children, he had always an ill-tempered and weird-looking boy who few had the stones to approach. For a moment he stood in stunned silence, his face fixed into a bewildered expression.

“Eh? Wait what? Really?...” a wide grin sprawled across Doji’s face as he realized that the man standing beside his leg was being serious, “... Yahoo! Of Course! But man! You must be a little weird, eh? Normally y’all little folks don’t want anything to do with me!” With this happy proclamation the giant lad took a seat on the dirt below to speak at his newfound compatriot’s level.

Introducing himself simply the oni spoke to the black-haired smithy with an excited and curious tone, “my name's Asakura Doji, I’m a practitioner of Nitōryū and an aspiring disciple of Niten Ichi-ryū; I’ve traveled the seas for some time now, and I soon plan to depart for the Grand Line. Who are you, oh man who approaches monsters?” His light-hearted little joke accented his question alongside the passing of a pleasant breeze.

Mountainous Marauders

In this world is there any difference between the man who steals what he wants and the man who earns his keep? Is it not extracted from the same source? Some pillage the land, some pillage the labor of others; perhaps it is more honest, noble even, to face the man you wish to exploit and demand what is rightfully yours.

But what is rightfully yours?

That which you can take, that which you can subjugate and slaughter, all in this world that can be bent to your submission is your possession; this is the cold, hard fact that underpins all so-called “honorable” ways of combat. Without this motivation there would be no reason for men to wage war; even if there were enough resources in this world to satisfy the needs of all, there will always be a man who desires more for himself.

Akō Ryōma was one such man, a descendant of mountain bandits; he had always been treated as a monster by the common-folk, and so a monster he became. The wrathful warlord would not accept the place on the world that had been foisted upon him, he knew he was destined for greatness, that he was among the Conquerors who would compete for this world; his home island of Shimotsuki would be but one step along his path of domination.

“Ishikawa, did any escape?” The armored man turned curiously to his loyal lieutenant, had any citizens escaped from the tiny hamlet’s slaughter then the true nature of the bandits’ plans could be unraveled.

“Only one sir. A child fled into the woods and dove down a hill. If the brat didn’t die from the fall then I’m sure that the wolves shall attend to him,” the tall and pallid man, Saigo Ishikawa, had proved a valuable tool to his liege. But in the end, that’s all that the bladesmith was to his master: a tool.

“Very well. You know your responsibility should the runt prove troublesome to us,” Ryōma referred to his suggestion of seppuku with a ruthless and dutiful calm. A tool that no longer served its purpose was to be discarded, companionship was a frivolous exercise only engaged in by wide-eyed fools.

Friendship was a feeling that could only burgeon in the hearts of those blind to the world’s cruelty.

Post Word Count: 618
Total Word Count: 1,322

[Episode] Crucible of Ambitions Empty Re: [Episode] Crucible of Ambitions

This post has in-line assessment comments.Thu Nov 17, 2022 9:29 pm
"Of course, why wouldn't I want to be your pardner?" Dras asked honestly, furrowing his brow in confusion. While the blacksmith was quite confident in his strength, the stories he had heard growing up warned him against the folly of growing complacent in his strength. The coming battle was sure to be a brutal one, and the best way of ensuring his survival was to make sure that the man at his back was the strongest possible. If that meant he had to work with a monster, well, Dras could shelve his opinions for the greater good.


Waving the question away, Dras similarly took a seat before his massive companion, appreciating the gesture but feeling uncomfortable standing while Doji sat, even with their almost comical difference in height. "Pleasure to meetcha Mr. Doji. Name's Dras Feron, practitioner of..... scrapping I suppose." Dras replied, scratching at the back of his head, "Ain't got any fancy name fer it, but I'm capable in a fight dont'cha worry. I'm mostly just here to learn from the village smiths before movin' on to something better." Dras stated simply. In all honesty, he had no real idea of his plans after Shimotsuki Village. The broad strokes of his ambitions were there, but precisely which path he would take of those that lay before him was still unknown.

And so, surrounded by hostile glares and the hissing of suspicious whispers, Dras extended a hand towards the giant (his ally?)."Lookin' forward to working with you, Doji."

A few days later.

"And that's it for today! Those who have been instructed to stay afterward for remedial training, report to the front! Otherwise, you may return to your duty posts!"

Letting out a sigh of relief, Dras fell backward against a wooden bench at the edge of the training dojo, muscles screaming in protest at the motion. Despite his exhaustion, the smith still retrieved a clean cloth from an inner pocket, carefully wiping down Canghua and checking it for warping or scratches. The katana had been put through quite the wringer the last couple of days of training, maybe even more than Dras himself. He frowned, picking at a slight notch in the edge with a fingernail. Despite all of his painstaking work and the quality of the steel, Canghua was, in the end, nothing but a normal katana: impermanent and meant to be broken. Were Meito-smiths just more skilled than anyone else? Was that why their secrets eluded anyone in the Blues?

Feeling the characteristic shaking that signaled his training buddy's approach, Dras lifted his head. "Doji. Feel like getting in a few more rounds before I head to the smithy? Got a few more sequences I need to touch up on."

Desperate hunger. A fear so pressing that it rose up in her throat like bile. But most of all, a sorrow so deep that it brought tears to her eyes just feeling its existence. The child stumbled for a moment, tripping over a tree root and was sent sprawling into the undergrowth. She almost didn't get up, feeling the weight of the world settle on shoulders far too young to deserve it. The darkness knawing at the edges of her vision whispered sweetly to her, promising a sweet oblivion where she no longer had to hurt, no longer had to feel. The child wavered, then gritted her teeth, Mom and Dad gave her life to save me! Must..keep...running. Must....RUN!

With a herculean effort, the nine-year-old girl levered herself to her knees, then her feet, Blood flowed freely from her knees where she had scraped them on hard stone, and yet she took step after painful step. It was a testament to her will that, when the Shimotsuki Village patrol finally found her, the unconscious girl was not defeated, but standing, her weight braced against a tree.

Name : Asakura Doji
Epithet : Grave Danger
Age : 18
Height : 17'7
Weight : 1,777 lb
Species : Human-Giant-Oni Crossbred
Faction : Pirates
Crew : The Yokai Pirates
Ship : Gashadokuro, the Walking Castle
Crew Role : Captain | Blind Navigator
Bounty : [bel=r] 177,777,001
Quality Score : S
EXP Bonus : +0.20 (To all allies)
Shop Discount : 10%
Balance : [bel] 196,745,669
Posts : 258

[Episode] Crucible of Ambitions Empty Re: [Episode] Crucible of Ambitions

This post has in-line assessment comments.Sat Nov 19, 2022 4:41 am
“Wha-? Sure Dras!” Doji called out his answer from the midst of his bout, a slithering lick of flame threatening to singe the oni’s face; this fire was the attack of one of the pair’s newfound sparring partners: “Four-tail” Sensei Kuroki Tomoko, a young woman wise beyond her years and possessed of great mastery in the school of swordsmanship known as Kitsunebi-ryū, or Foxfire Style.

“Pay attention brat!” The white-haired woman let forth a geyser of pale blue flame as she caught her idiotic new student turning his back to her. 火柳一閃:青い (Karyū Issen: Aoi- Firework Slash: Blue), a weakened version of the school’s signature flaming slashes, but potent coming from the master’s blade nonetheless.

Maki Shiryō, or “Dead Souls' Kindling,” this black-hamon’d* blade’s bright crimson edge causes it to glimmer like the embers of a dying fire. This is one of the blades that, in dutiful service to its swordmaster, would defeat the red-haired giant known as Asakura Doji. It was a normal blade, no better than any other katana; but it was not the quality of the blade alone that made the warrior.

“焔裂き (Homura Saki- Flame Spirit)!” The oni’s puny rebuttal was no match for his opponent’s overwhelming attack, in that moment he was swept up in the wave of flame; once the azure embers dissipated the monster collapsed to his knees, his hair singed and his skin on the brink of burning, “Damn it…” the crude exclamation escaped his lips like a plume of smoke.

“Idiot! Never turn your attention away from an opponent! I could have killed you!” The fiery woman shouted to the kneeling monster, scowling over to him as though he were the most loathsome moron in the world.

“Yeah, but we’re just t-training right now Kuroki Sensei,” the oni spoke slowly and clumsily stumbled over his words, as though his brain had been fried.

“Tch, and we’re not going to get a goddamn thing out of you students if you keep looking at things like that…” the swordswoman snarled as she sheathed her blade, “... you’re dismissed. Do what you want Doji, come find me when you’re ready to take things seriously,” the teacher angrily stomped her way out of the dojo and slammed its sliding panel door behind her.

“Yeugh, what’s her deal?...” The oni grumbled over to Dras as he began to regain his bearings, “... how about you buddy? I’ve still got plenty of time to brush up with ya now. How’s your training going?” He asked, seeming almost jealous of the human smithy.

“I thought training with the fire-chick was gonna go great…” the oni spoke with an irritated tone to his voice, “...but even though she’s a fuckin’ psycho, I guess you gotta be a real calm person to make this shit work at all!” With this, the oni made another attempt at using the new sword school’s signature move: the firework slash, normally the user’s blade would be coated in flame; but for Doji, a bright flash of flame simply exploded from the end of his blade, causing his arm to fly backwards from the recoil. No sustained flame could be produced, the monster was impatient, and time was fast approaching.

Meanwhile, the patrol rushes to the young girl’s aid…

[npc=misc] “Find a doctor! Start a fire and boil some water! See if there’s any food we can give her! Damn…”[/npc] Haruto, a kindly warrior of the patrol, scooped the girl up in his arms as he gave his order, [npc=misc]“...we have to get her back to the village! She’s cold!”[/npc]

Hurriedly the men made their way back to the village, carrying the ailing child as quickly as they could; though the elders were reluctant to open the villages grain stores, but in the end the tie was broken by Master Shimura in favor of feeding her, much to the chagrin of those more practically minded, “... she has come from outside the village though she is dressed as a denizen of our island. To let a young girl perish such as this would be shameful in itself, not to mention her probable utility. Sit her next to the fire until she comes to, we shall have warm food and tea for her when she rouses.”

So the elders sat around the bonfire, as much to their chagrin, grunting and the faint sounds of explosions echoed out of the nearby dojo.

Post Word Count: 722
Total Word Count: 2,044

Katana Anatomy:
Name : Asakura Doji
Epithet : Grave Danger
Age : 18
Height : 17'7
Weight : 1,777 lb
Species : Human-Giant-Oni Crossbred
Faction : Pirates
Crew : The Yokai Pirates
Ship : Gashadokuro, the Walking Castle
Crew Role : Captain | Blind Navigator
Bounty : [bel=r] 177,777,001
Quality Score : S
EXP Bonus : +0.20 (To all allies)
Shop Discount : 10%
Balance : [bel] 196,745,669
Posts : 258

[Episode] Crucible of Ambitions Empty Re: [Episode] Crucible of Ambitions

This post has in-line assessment comments.Mon Jul 31, 2023 5:38 am
Inside the dojo, Dras and the oni’s training together proved fruitless, though he was a fine enough opponent, it wasn’t a matter of opposition that was holding Doji back; after all, how could his shortcomings be the fault of another?

“DAMN IT!” the monster roared as a pitiful shower of sparks sprinkled from his blade’s edge. Seeing red, he recognized that with much more frustration he would be a danger to his sparring partner.

“You should leave,” Doji spoke curtly, stifling his rage beneath a cold monotone.

The blacksmith was quick to heed the oni’s warning, cautiously sliding open the structure’s panel door before backing his way out and closing it with an awkward grin and wave. Dras was met by an unexpected figure as he made his way out, Tomoko sat at the edge of the porch, wisps of steam wafting up from a cup of tea.

“Still no luck with him, eh?” The sensei spoke softly, so as not to reveal herself to the monster lurking in her dojo. As the smithy sat beside her she slid him a cup of tea.

A simple pleasure, even in times of famine, the brew warmed the pair in the midst of the evening breeze. Dras spoke as he lowered the cup from his mouth, “he was surprised when I chose ‘im as my buddy. Now I can kind of see why…”

The village was completely dark save starlight, the pale glow of the moon, and a small fire in the town’s square. The pair sat just beyond the fire’s warmth, and for a moment they looked towards the crowd gathered around it; it was solemn to sit outside the group, but in a way it was freeing, despite the coming battle in this moment they were free of obligation.

“... he’s stubborn at least. Maybe he’ll brute force it by the time the bandits get here,” he spoke a bit flippantly, not seeming terribly optimistic in his forecast.

“This isn’t the sort of thing you can force…” she spoke back, furrowing her brow and drinking from her cup. The firebrand swordswoman exhaled a small cloud of steam before continuing, “... people believe that fire is a wild, rampaging thing, but you see it there don’t you? They’ve given it confines, and now they huddle around it like they were greeting an old friend. Flames are methodical things, it’s for that reason that we can control them; but you should know that better than I, eh?”

The swordswoman seemed wise to the nature of Dras’ profession, the fickleness of the forge’s coals, the glow of the unquenched blade, the flying of sparks from hammered metal. A blacksmith’s life was lived in the glow of the fire, it was their faithful companion in molding steel to their will.

“Hah. You’d think. Some of the geezers in this town are damn particular,” he thought back to the smithy at the Unarmed Tavern, even the smallest defects in his work had been enough to put the old man off.

“You’re telling me…” Tomoko seemed reluctant to elaborate, but steadied her nerves as she refilled her and Dras’ cups, “... you think makin’ the swords is bad, you should see how heated some of these old men get about how to use ‘em. Bastardization this, inferior technique, that; we’ve all devoted ourselves to our arts, and if there was an exact right way we’d all be using it at this point.”

“You’re lucky for that, with my work there is an exact way. You break the rules and the sword breaks.”

Dras’ bitter words sat stagnant in the air for a moment. The white-haired woman stared at him with deathly serious eyes for a moment.

“Hee…” she couldn’t contain herself any longer, “...hee-hee-eek-kee-kee-kee! You’re joking right?!”

The man sat aside her looked back perplexed.

“Oh my god you’re not kidding…” the woman choked back another fit of laughter before explaining her outburst, “... I ain’t sayin’ there’s no rules kid. When you break the rules your sword breaks? If we break the rules we get cut down the middle!”

“Hmm,” she made a good point.

“I’m saying there are different ways to follow the rules, you hone your craft your way! Try it, tomorrow when you and the rest of the hammerhands get to work, put your soul into it! Do things your way! Pull out every little trick you’ve learned and make somethin’ that none of those stubborn old men could!”

By nature she was a firebrand, whether it was the fury of her reprimands, or the spark of her jubilation, Tomoko’s emotions often boiled up to the surface and engulfed those around her; for some this was frightening, but in this moment the white-haired woman projected unwavering hope as her white hair glimmered beneath the pale light of the moon.

“Hey lady, where’s that speech when you’re teachin’ your student?” The oni made his presence known from the other side of the building’s thin wooden walls, he’d sat directly against the interior, and had been eavesdropping for as soon as he’d heard Tomoko’s voice start rising.

The pair on the porch sat in stunned silence as the oni on the inside’s forehead vein bulged with frustration. Still, he appreciated the sentiment behind her words as much as his ally, he was bashing his head up against the new sword-style trying to learn his master’s techniques as he’d learned from his mother; if he was to gain any mastery over Kitsunebi-ryū he would have to understand it for himself.

In the Fire’s Warmth…

The sounds of the people around her began to come into focus as the injured girl drifted back into consciousness, as her vision returned to her in clouds and shadows, she saw the silhouettes of sheaths and swords on the belts of those around her. She’d been captured by the rōnin that had slaughtered her village.

[npc=misc] I’d be better off dead, she thought to herself.[/npc]

Scared stiff, the little girl peered up at her captors from the bottom of her eyes, still pretending at unconsciousness; whatever her captor’s intentions were, it would be best to feign death until they wrote her off as a lost cause.

“The young lady seems to be waking up…” elder shimura spoke softly, his observation was keen, but the girl didn’t budge; in fact by his appraisal, she’d straightened up like a board as soon as he’d spoken these words, “... come now. You’re safe here little one.”

Apprehensively, Minako opened her eyes and got a better look at those who surrounded her.

[npc=misc] A bunch of old people? All those bandits were young men, though this settled her panic somewhat, she was still confused.[/npc]

[npc=misc]“Where am I?”[/npc] The child asked as she rose to a sitting position and huddled herself closer to the fire.

“Shimotsuki Village child, we heard of the first raids and our men have patrolled the trails connecting us to the island’s outer settlements since. We were lucky to have found you before Ryōma's men.”

[npc=misc]“Ryōma…”[/npc] she mumbled to herself, weighing her feelings and trying to remember exactly what had happened, the visage of the masked rider flashed in her mind; an armor-clad man wearing the mask of an oni, stained in the blood of her friends and family, [npc=misc]“... why couldn’t you save us from him?”[/npc]

The girl’s question sat in the air stagnant and unanswered as the embers behind her crackled. A number of the elders averted the girl’s accusatory gaze, hanging their heads in shame. Some amongst them had suggested sending aid, but their harvest had been meager, and were they to lose soldiers in a preliminary battle the village would almost certainly fall; some were beginning to reconsider the consequences of their pragmatism.

“I know not, child. You have only my deepest condolences…” the swordmaster’s tear-filled eyes glinted against the fire, but only a single teardrop spilled from his welling waters. Shimura was amongst the few elders who had voted in favor of sending help; he wondered if things would have played out differently had he and the rest of the village marched against the rōnin as soon as they’d learned of them, “ will be less than a week before they arrive. I promise we will avenge your people.”

The girl was silent, and stared back at her elder with a look of pure contempt. Another of the elders gathered around the fire set a small plate with a slice of bread and a cup of tea next to her; and for a moment her ire was settled upon the server before turning back to Shimura.

[npc=misc]“You’re a village of warriors and you can’t be bothered to defend the people who grew your food?!”[/npc]

The elder and the youth stared a moment, despite his typically serene demeanor, his eyes were filled with tear-stained rage. However in truth, he did not seem angry at the girl, it was almost as though he was looking through her; in that moment, the rage of Shimura and the survivor Minako washed over those around the fire.

“It was not my decision,” the elder spoke his subtle accusation plainly, his implication clear to his peers.

The little girl tore into her bread, viciously macerating and scarfing the food down, she angrily devoured the products of her village’s labor before downing her tea and turning in a huff towards the fire.

[npc=misc]“Leave me alone. Stupid bastards.”[/npc]

The villagers sat in stunned silence for a moment. It wasn’t common that they were met with such insolence, but perhaps the young girl was justified in her anger.

Against the Mountain Winds, Brigands March…

I’ll find that girl and put an end to that village, Ishikawa held to his duty as his, he would not fail to honor his new lord. Once the rōnin took control of Shimotsuki village, the rest of the small farming outposts that dotted the lands would submit to their rule easily; and once master Ryōma had established himself as the Shogun of the island he would be a Daimyo, and the 100 rōnin would be Samurai, they only had to fight one great battle and they would entitle themselves to the honors of the conqueror.

“Are you tired Ishikawa?” The fearsome leader spoke from behind his mask, looking down on his men from atop his umber steed.

He loomed above them like a deity, in truth this was his ambition: to be venerated above all others, Shimotsuki was just a stepping stone to launch the beginnings of his empire, the man’s heart hungered only for war and power, and he would attain his ambitions by any means necessary.

“Hardly. I slept poorly last evening, but this is inevitable; until the girl is dead I will not rest,” he spoke dutifully up to his lord.

“Fuku-ku-ku-ku…” the cruel man’s chuckle reverberated from behind his wooden mask, “... yes, that’s very good. I like that,” this was the fealty that Ryōma wished to see in his human tools, it mattered little to him whether his men obeyed him out of fear; so long as his servants were obedient, he would be content to reign over them as a fearsome god.

“Of course she has to die, should she escape and let the other hamlets know of our action we’ll have to slaughter the whole island,” the way that the would-be Shogun spoke made it seem as though this would not be an entirely unfavorable outcome; as though in a way, he simply craved the rush that would come from asserting his power over those weaker than him.

Meanwhile, the Sun Sets on Shimotsuki…

After another long and largely fruitless day of training, Doji departed from the dojo with his head hung in shame. He had made scarce progress, despite heeding the words of his teacher, the oni could not bend flames to his will; all he could manifest from his blades were mere sparks, like the sputterings of a firework made for a child.

As the demon walked down the streets, his mask and beads clattered at his hip, echoing out the image of a mostly barren street. Only a single silhouette was found amongst the vibrations, a small figure standing in the middle of the road, a young girl.

[npc=misc]“Oi…”[/npc] the child spoke up meekly to the creature, [npc=misc]“... are you rōnin?”[/npc] Her eyes fixated on the mask that hung from the monster’s belt, it looked like the one that the masked rider wore; it was pale white rather than red, but it was carved much the same.

“Eh?...” the red-haired oni was taken aback by the little girl’s question, he thought of the tarnished name of the Asakura clan, the name that he sought to restore, “... uh. I guess so. At least for now.”

Doji was blind to the hateful look that filled Minako’s eyes as she spoke her request with a deathly serious tone: [npc=misc]“Fight me then.”[/npc]

Since he’d grown past his adolescence he’d always had a soft spot for children, not knowing much better, he figured he’d entertain the kid, “Yoka-ka-ka-ka-ka-iii! Alright little girl, I’ll take it easy on ya!”

[npc=misc]“No need,”[/npc] Minako stated plainly, pulling out the wakizashi she’d stolen from the rusted barrel outside the town’s tavern; compared to her small frame the ceremonial dagger was almost proportioned like a proper katana, and she held it out in front of her as such.

As soon as Doji drew his sword the girl charged for the creature’s leg and slashed the monster across its leg, [npc=misc]“die! Die! Die!”[/npc] Minako screamed in fury, trying to kill the man she believed responsible for her family’s slaughter.

Her strikes fell weakly against the oni’s plated tabi, the one piece of armor he wore, just enough to keep ankle-biters like the child from hobbling him.

“Yo, uh…” Doji spoke down to the girl with a bit of concern as she continued trying to break his armor and cut him down, “... you’re not actually trying to ki–”

[npc=misc]“I’LL KILL YOU!!”[/npc] The little lady roared to the oni, holding her sword in both hands and pointing it up to his chest.

“Oy. Don’t do that,” as he spoke his simple, somewhat confused request, Doji swept her little sword up in his hook and hurled it towards the heavens.

The two sat in silence for about 10 seconds, after which the dagger came hurtling back down to earth, lodging itself in the roof of the nearby dojo.

The young girl looked back and forth for a moment, searching for anything she could use as a weapon, but she found no such luck; punching and biting would have to make do.

“Oy! Oy! Oy! Get off  me!” As he reprimanded the girl the oni tried to throw her off, he hoped a light shake would work as anything much harder would hurt her; but it was to no avail, the wild child dug her nails into his thick skin and managed to draw a bit of blood, she bit and punched him as she clung on like an enraged monkey.

“Yowch! Alright  Listen to me you little brat…” plucking the girl from his leg like an oversized tick, Doji hoisted Minako up by the hem of her shirt, “... what the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

[npc=misc]“YOU KILLED MY FAMILY!”[/npc] She screamed as she thrashed and tried to grab onto the oni’s arm.

“Huh? Wait, what? You’re not from Lvneel right?”

[npc=misc]“What?! No! We lived here!”[/npc]

“Then I’m pretty sure I didn’t kill any of your family members.”

The two sat in silence for a moment.

[npc=misc]“So you did kill somebody’s family?”[/npc]

“Not really, it’s not like I went out looking for a family to kill. I wouldn’t be surprised if I killed someone’s dad at some point or another though.”

Minako wasn’t exactly sure how to take this news. On one hand, the big guy seemed like he was speaking honestly and he probably hadn’t slaughtered her friends and family; on the other, she was currently dangling in the hands of a murderer.

The girl stopped thrashing against the monster before making a simple request, [npc=misc]“Can you put me down?...”[/npc]

The oni obliged, as the child seemed to have calmed down.

[npc=misc]“... you know it’s still wrong to do that right?”[/npc]

Doji rubbed his forehead in frustration; even when she wasn’t trying to outright kill him this girl was a pain in the ass.

“So what do you do if people keep chasing you down with spears and crossbows for being a monster? You ever dealt with that one runt?” He spoke his grievance harshly, he had a lot of patience for mothers and children; but as evidenced in his fruitless Kitsunebi-ryū training, the monster’s temper had clear limits.

“What, you’re telling me that you were just defending yourself?” Minako spoke with a skeptical tone.

“Depends. I do my best not to kill the innocent. I’m not opposed to shoving them around if they insist on getting in my way; a lot of them don’t seem to care for my, hmm, Ko-yai…” Doji coughed and considered his next words carefully so as not to set the brat on another tangent, imagining that graverobbing may be a sore subject for the recently orphaned girl, “... professions.”

[npc=misc]“Oh yeah? I’m so surprised that people wouldn’t approve of you being a RŌNIN!”[/npc] The girl spat out her condemnation before turning her nose up at the monster.

“What are you, 6? What would you know about matters of honor?” Doji spoke down with condescension to the child.

[npc=misc]“What are you stupid? I’m 12, and I know that honorless warriors like you came to our settlement, killed everybody there except for me, and burnt the whole place to the ground! That’s why you’re trying to learn from that stupid fire-lady right? So you can burn more people’s villages to the ground?!”[/npc] Minako didn’t trust a word coming out of the monster’s mouth, she could see his forked tongue, he was an honorless and duplicitous bastard.

“There are more ways to lose one’s honor than to slaughter the innocent.”

The girl turned on her heels and walked away from the monster before speaking her parting message, [npc=misc]“You know, Ko-ki-hi…”[/npc] Minako tittered a cruel little laugh to herself,  [npc=misc]“... what does it matter anyways? We’re all going to die, I can meet my parents in the afterlife, and all of you scumbag cowards can die in disgrace.”[/npc]

These words stung the oni to his core; the girl had not managed to wound him physically, but she had struck on his greatest anxiety: the fear that he would disgrace his family name and that the Asakura clan’s name would burn out like dying embers.

Several Days are Spent Hard at Work

The hammering of steel echoed throughout the village as the town’s smithies prepared weapons, armor, and munitions in preparation for the coming battle; each blade forged by the swordsmiths was a work of art, each set of armor was fitted to faithfully guard it’s wearer’s vitals,  each bow carefully strung, each of the hundreds of arrows made was finely fletched.

Still, the village’s able-bodied fighters numbered less than 70, and a number of them were growing old. Even in a village of swordsmen, most of the village’s inhabitants were civilians,  craftsmen, mothers, and children; in truth, the island’s reputation largely led outsides to make brief stays to train with the senseis, and most of the village’s children were trained in martial arts, but it was always the intention that most of their trainees would fly from the nest.

In their time of need, many students of the elders were nowhere to be found, and many among those present were too young to be sent into battle. They would have to rely on superior training and equipment to defeat the coming army, but in truth, they knew little of the skill of their opponents; they could be facing simple bandits, alternatively they could be met with warriors who could match, or even worse exceed their own abilities.

“So Dras, make anything you’re happy with?” In the evening, the sensei departed from her dojo to confer with her new friend; they’d had a pleasant conversation, and if everybody was going to be slaughtered in a few days then she figured she ought to foster the few bonds she had left.

“Hah, Tomoko! Yeah…” the guy said with a doofy grin, a stack of finely crafted blades piled on his workshop’s table, “... I took your advice! Here, I want you to have this,” sorting through his works, Dras pulled a katana whose shimmered orange, red, and blue like the embers of a fire.

“It’s forged with a mineral powder that should raise the melting temperature of the steel, I hope you can find a good use for it,” he said with a soft smile, rubbing his hand behind his head.

The swordswoman raised her hands to cover her face for a moment before peeking at the sword through her fingers, “Hee-hee-hee-eek-kee-kee-kee! It’s so cool! You really want me to have it?”

While Dras and Tomoko enjoyed the rest of their night, Doji was busy studying the blade.

His days of training had amounted to very little progress, his technique had grown from producing tiny sparks to creating brief flickers of flame, but he still couldn’t maintain the even temper necessary for a sustained flame. The day of destiny was fast approaching, he had only the reminder of the night and the following day, and then the bandits would be upon them.

In truth, Doji wasn’t all that worried for his own wellbeing, he’d met hordes of men in battle before and had always been able to best or escape them. Rather, it was the other people of the village he worried about: Dras, Tomoko, all the old geezers, even the bratty orphan girl; if the village fell, or even if the battle went poorly, they would all be slaughtered.

It was his duty to improve. But he could not burden the sleeping townspeople with the sounds of training and the brief flashes of flame he could conjure. The ghoul departed quickly from the village and headed for the hills.

This should be far enough… the crisp evening air swept across the grassy field, it would serve well as a training ground, …I’ll train until the sun rises, by morning I swear that I’ll master these flames.

The oni began cutting out a section of grass, leveling the area to prevent setting fire to the hillside; after taking his time with this task he steadied himself, and inhaled deeply, readying himself for a long night’s work.

He began by practicing the school’s Iaijutsu form, swiftly and decisively he drew his swords a badly beaten hook and one that had been ground down almost to its hilt. No flames were drawn from either of the swords, the oni looked apprehensively towards his third blade, I was hoping it wouldn’t have to come to this.

So she was right. You are an honorless killer.

The malicious taunting seemed to leak into Doji’s mind, radiating from the sword like a poisonous miasma. The first time he had drawn the sword it hungered for blood so vehemently that it insisted on feasting on his own.

I will sate your bloodlust on a mountain of the honorless.

I will never be satiated.

The oni took his sword’s insubordination as a challenge and clutched it at his waist ready to repeat the technique for which his hooks had failed him. As he loosed the blade from its sara a strange vision of visceral bloodshed flickered in Doji’s mind, in that moment the blind bastard was confronted with a perfect understanding of the violence that he’d inflicted upon the world; and in that moment the flame of his quickdraw technique ignited in explosive resplendence, for a moment the flame seemed as though it would finally adhere to the oni’s sword.

But the Muramasa had other plans; the fire that Doji had drawn from the ōdachi was a wild red-hot lash of savage enlightenment, and his relentless sword channeled this flame into a single concentrated point.

The explosion the oni had conjured from his blade’s end was sufficient to blast beyond the borders of the safe-zone he’d cleared for himself, a smoldering section of grass was instantly burned down to cinders. In blasting the brush the blade had revealed its next victim: a single enemy scout, clad in light armor and kneeled down amongst the brush; the wind quickly elucidated Doji to the opponent’s presence.

“Hey, who are you?”

Like a frightened prey animal the man stood perfectly still, darting his eyes from side to side. If he could escape and make it back to Ryōma's camp then he would be rewarded, and more importantly, he would survive his encounter with the horned devil that he’d stumbled upon scouting the outskirts of Shimotsuki.

Darting like a rabbit the rōnin began scrambling for his life, running down the hill as though fleeing from a bear.

Do it for your little “friends” boy. Tear it to pieces.

Muramasa had set its eyes upon the fresh meat, and it was as though the weapon drew its user into action as Doji charged forwards at the sword’s will; pouncing down on his pray the oni stuck his enemy through the chest, driving his sword through the man’s body and into the ground below.

As his sword drank from its victim Doji was met with the gorey vision of the scout’s still-beating heart seizing against the blade, looking for any way to survive.

Standing back to his full height, Doji put his foot on the dying man’s back and pulled the sword from its resting place. The grass below was stained by the pooling blood that spilled from scout’s body, as he gurgled up his last breath his chest exploded with blood; the Muramasa had all but exsanguinated the man.

What a horrid thing… the oni thought to himself with disdain for the weapon, though he could care less for this sacrifice to the cursed sword’s bloodlust, … If I offer you their whole army do you promise me you wont drink from the people of the village?

Will you give me all of them?

Doji was apprehensive in his answer, he knew that he was making a deal with a devil more cruel than himself.

Fine. I’ll let you kill them all, as soon as he and the sword reached their agreement Doji felt a chill run down his spine, and he knew that his weapon had made this arrangement with darker intentions.

The oni and the cursed blade continued to train until the break of dawn, each kata practiced through the sword was amplified but still, Doji could not master the flames of Kitsunebi-ryū. Rather, what emerged that night was a perverse mockery of the foxfire style, the rōnin had reached a level of composure that permitted him to create fire; but it was only in service of keeping the bloodthirsty blade under his control, and in their constant struggle for power the blade took the oni’s flames and concentrated them into explosive blasts. This Bastard Kitsunebi-ryū would become the bond that Doji and the Muramasa shared, the oni saw power in the brutal style, and the sword saw the potential for great bloodshed from its wielder.

At the end of this training session the giant collapsed into the smoldering wastes that he’d blasted out of the hillside. The Muramasa was pleasantly surprised that the oni would fall asleep on his sword, and accidentally cut himself a number of times as he thrashed about in the land of the dead; the oni’s blood was a delicious reward for a job well done.

Later that Day…

The oni woke up beneath the light of the afternoon sun, and standing from his crater, he began his trek back to Shimotsuki Village.

Doji’s sensei didn’t seem all that pleased with her student’s tardiness when he finally returned to the dojo, “where were you?” She inquired in an accusatory tone.

“Yoooohaaawn…” the oni let out a long yawn as he made his way towards the exterior training field, “... I was training. Come on out here.”

“That’s all the explanation I get? We couldn’t find you anywhere in town?!” The white haired woman shouted, as she, Dras, and a number of the other villagers had spent a substantial portion of the morning looking for Doji.

“None of you would’ve gotten any sleep. I needed some fresh air anyways. I’m sorry about this…” the oni drew the Muramasa from its sheath and ran his palm along it’s blade, allowing it to taste of its blood.

“What the hell is your problem?!” Her student was clearly out of his mind.

“... I apologize, it’s for the sake of fairness in our bout,” Doji spoke plainly, concealing the nature of his blood sacrifice: were he not to offer his own blood to the weapon it would feast on Tomoko’s.

As Doji doused his wound in sake and tied a small length of cloth around his hand to staunch the bleeding, his teacher readied herself and glared up at her idiotic student.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but let’s see it. Show me what you went off and scared us to learn,” walking onto the battlefield Tomoko readied herself for the beginning of her and the troll’s final training session.

“You ready?” The devil asked in a calm monotone, straining himself to hold back his weapon’s bloodlust.

“Aye. Let’s do this, Doji!” She drew her sword and wreathed it in fire as she charged towards her student.

But in an instant her flame was extinguished as a concussive blast threw her footing off and sent her stumbling backwards.

“What the hell was that?” As the smoke cleared Tomoko saw the oni standing unharmed with his blade tentatively pointed towards her.

“It’s like you said, right? Learn to do things your own way?” With this, Doji slashed towards his teacher, concentrating an explosive fireball at the end of the Muramasa.

She could hardly believe her eyes, the kid had finally managed to make a decent flame, but he’d taught himself to do it all wrong; his technique wasn’t that of the methodical and controlled flame, it was a volatile fulmination of pure destruction. Tomoko narrowly managed to cut the oni’s fireball before it could cause any more damage, throwing herself further away from the monster.

“Seen enough?” The oni had hardly moved from his spot, his bastard kata was almost the perfect counter to the traditional form. Doji stepped forwards with pride, he was content to end the training session and prepare himself for the coming battle; he knew that he would have to slaughter all 100 rōnin, and he believed now that he had the ability to do it.

“Hardly!” The sensei spat back towards her student; however, much to her opponent’s confusion, Tomoko spun around on her heels and held her new sword straight in front of her.

“Wait, what are you doing? I thought you said you wanted to keep fighting?”

“What did I tell you about turning your back on an opponent Doji?! Maybe you should be taking advantage of your moment to strike!”

“A swordsman’s shame are scars on our back, turn and face me lady!”

“Hee-hee-eek-kee-kee-kee! Okay!...” turning back towards her student, the blade that Dras had given her glinted orange and blue, illuminated brightly by a raging white flame, “... 白熱の蛇!! (Hakunetsu no Hebi- White-hot Serpent)”

The flame leapt from her blade, barreling towards the oni like a ray of divine judgment.

“業火清める!! (Gōka kiyomeru- Hellfire Purge)”

Meeting the lunging flame the Doji and the Murasama unleashed the technique that was the culmination of their training; a series of nine explosions ran the length of the blade, blasting the incoming fire sideways and throwing the rōnin backwards. The redirected flames of Tomoko’s attack flew sideways towards the dojo, blasting straight through the building’s wooden walls.

Doji was blind to the aftermath of his and his teacher’s clash, his sensei was not so fortunate.

“Wha–! No! My dojo!!” Tomoko threw her hands out in desperation towards the smoldering hole in her building’s wall.

The smoke from their bout was still clearing, she  was furious and she swore she would have her revenge. Charging up to Doji, the woman sheathed her blade began beating him with the pommel end of her sword cursing furiously at him all the while; the oni proved rather tolerant of his teacher’s beating, he was well aware of the necessity of venting one’s frustration.

The rest of the day in Shimotsuki Village passed uneventfully, warriors concluded their training regimens, smithies finished the last of their projects, all the townspeople ate a hearty meal, and slept anxiously through the night within warriors taking turns keeping watch at the town’s edge.

As the Village Below Prepares the War Camp is Settled

[npc=pirt]“Lord Ryōma! We’ve found the scout that went missing last night!”[/npc] One of the would-be Shogun’s footsoldiers hurried towards his liege and pointed towards the grisly scene. The lord was quick to investigate the site of his tool’s defeat.

“Hmm. Useless bastard…” he spoke quietly as he looked down disdainfully upon the charred and skewered body of the weapon that had failed him, “... something happened to the land here. It seems it was once a hilltop, but a good deal of it  appears to have been leveled.”

Ryōma surveyed the terrain, and looking down from the hill he could see the object of his desire: Shimotsuki Village, the first territory that he would capture in the name of his new Shogunate, “Men!...” the booming command of the rōnin leader resonated out from behind his mask, “...make camp here and be prepared to march on Shimotsuki in the morning! If any of you can find any indication of what happened to our fallen comrade and the blasted land here I assure you will be rewarded!”

With this, the bandit lord began planning tactics with his lieutenants, walking towards their wagons alongside the ever-loyal Ishikawa, “I suppose you’d best hope that the girl is taking up shelter in Shimotsuki eh?”

“I assure you that I will track the girl down even if she escape the village sir, I’ll make sure that she isn’t able to tell the other hamlets of what she saw,” he spoke nervously, it seemed impossible that the child could have escaped their grasp so handily and for so long; if he couldn’t take her head then he would owe Ryōma the honor of his own death in favor of dishonoring his lord’s name.

It was deduced by a number of the rōnin that something very large must have been responsible for the upheaval of the earth; as much was evident in some of the tracks that surrounded the scene, and lead down the hill they seemed like the footsteps of a giant. For informing their lord of this threat, these soldiers were ushered into the newly pitched strategy tent.

It was within these walls that Ryōma and his men devised their plan of attack; in light of the news of a giant amongst his opposition, the warleader ordered that his finest men be situated to engage the giant from a range and keep their distance on horseback; in the morning they would rain cannonfire down on the village before marching on it, most of the men would guard his ranged forces, and he would oversee the battle as a general and adapt strategically based on how quickly the opposition crumbled.

By dusk the 99 rōnin had set up their artillery, their camp, and many amongst them grew impatient for the impending slaughter. If only they could have known how gruesome the spectacle would truly be.

The Morning Almost Seemed Peaceful…

But the cannonballs that came flying from over the hill quickly dispelled this illusion. Shimotsuki’s walls were mercilessly bombarded, chunks of stone were sent cascading into the village, and a number of the houses on the edges of the town were blown into pieces in the first wave. What followed was a rain of arrows that would have been devastating had it fell on any targets.

The villagers had been evacuated to the center of town, and the fighting force surrounded them, ready to meet their opposition once they were in range. The outer buildings of the town were an unfortunate sacrifice that needed to be made for the sake of preserving lives. They would have to wait for the invading forces to draw nearer before they could launch a proper counteroffensive, and as wave after wave of projectiles crashed down on the village the warriors worried that they would be blown to pieces and pelted with arrows before they could even meet their foes in the field of battle.

Shimura looked to his old student, an impatient and ill-tempered young woman who could never have mastered his discipline; she had forsaken his training and left study under another master, his now deceased rival, Saito Kenjiro, master of Kitsunebi-ryū.

She caught the old man’s glance and furrowed her brow before hollering over, “whaddya want old man?!”

“Tomoko! I fear that your techniques may be our only answer to this harrying!”

Though the village people could fire back on the rōnin, they had the low ground and had far fewer archers; their counterattacks proved almost entirely futile, only managing to errantly wound the incoming footsoldiers.

“You know if what you’re thinking of doesn’t work I’ll die right? If any of those arrows get through I’m a pincushion,” she spat back matter-of-factly to the old man, hoping that he could think up a plan that wouldn’t result in her imminent demise.

“I believe in you Tomoko, he would too,” the girl had grown wiser in her time alone; but he was serious in his assessment of the situation, she was truly the village’s only hope.

“Tch. Fine. But if you all get shot up with flaming arrows, blame the old man,” the white-haired lady stepped forwards from the warriors’ ranks and began making her way towards the next volley of missiles.

Once she’d gotten some distance, she threw her legs into a wide stance and readied herself to draw her sword. As the arc of arrows blackened the sky above, Tomoko leapt into the air and drew her sword.

She invoked the spirit of her master as she threw her blade forth from its sheath with a torrent of heavenly white flames; for a moment to look up at the woman was like looking directly at the sun. The incoming wave of arrows was obscured behind a wall of raging fire.

While a lesser flame would have allowed the projectiles to pass through it and rain down on the warriors below wreathed in flame, the white flame conjured from Tomoko’s sword incinerated all it touched. Arrowheads fell meekly from the sky, clattering to the ground, still red-hot from their encounter with the swordswoman’s wall.

“What in the hell was that?...” Ryōma muttered quietly to himself, his trepidation rendered silent to his allies behind the shield of his mask, “... Men! Hold off on further arrow attacks and push the artillery forwards! We must kill whichever of them is able to use that technique or you’ll be met with those flames yourselves!”

Falling back to the earth, Tomoko looked back over her shoulder to Shimura, and her former master met her gaze proudly; she didn’t take too long to bask in the moment, her real master was dead, and there were more pressing matters at hand.

“Looked like they were wheeling the cannons forwards, any ideas now old man?”

Shimura and many of the other elders looked amongst themselves nervously, they were as good as sitting ducks.

“Here, why don’t we give ‘em another deterrent,” Doji spoke from amongst the town’s forces with a shit-eating grin, proudly walking forwards to tag-in for the woman who had been his cruel mentor.

“You got a lot of faith in yourself eh, kid?”

Further up the hill, the rōnin forces awaited their Shogun’s signal.

From atop his steed the oni masked warrior raised his hand and shouted his booming command, “FIRE!”

The wave of cannonfire was pointed straight for the middle of the shimotsuki forces ranks, but from this vantage the captain could see a single figure standing in wait of his attack: a large, horned humanoid with flowing red hair, a true oni, it seemed as though it was smiling up at him from its post. For a moment the mighty warrior’s blood ran cold, but he swore he would lead his men to victory, and either way he had come too far to turn back now.

One by one the cannons fired their payloads, the impact of their fire throwing the powerful instruments of death backwards on their sturdy wooden frames.

The cannonballs barrelled towards the Shimotsuki warriors like a rain of meteors.

Stepping up to the plate the oni took a deep breath before loosing his Muramasa from its sheath, he could not draw the blade until the precise moment he could attack and run forwards from the villagers; otherwise the blade would surely insist upon whetting its appetite before the enemy’s arrival. For this reason, while his master could afford to leap to the heavens, the oni would have to remain grounded to the earth.

“You should all back up a bit!” The oni spoke hurriedly back to the crowd, though in truth they had little time to react before witnessing what happened next…

Drawing his greatsword from its sheath and slashing the air inhumanly fast, it seemed for a moment as though nothing had happened.

As though the oni’s training was truly fruitless, that he had failed the village, and as though the warriors of Shimotsuki would be obliterated by the cannonballs careening down on them.

In an instant, nine concussive blasts could thundered throughout the courtyard, they were deafeningly loud and a wave of pressure shot through the air that would have grievously injured any of the other warriors were they unlucky enough to be standing any closer.

The cannonballs did not pass beyond the red-haired rōnin, in fact, they were turned back from where they came. Hurtling towards the hillside, and managing to errantly strike down one of Ryōma's footsoldiers.

“Well! My work here is done! See you all on the battlefield!” With a goofy grin on his face, Doji threw his full weight into a sprint towards the enemy lines.

He had to kill every last one of them before his allies even set foot on the battlefield. This was the only way he could stay the Muramasa’s bloodlust.

“Wha-what’s going on?!” the wannabe Shogun panicked as soon as he laid eyes on the monster barrelling towards him, before he could even give his men new orders it was upon them.

Ishikawa looked to his so-called “fearless leader,” he’d heard the man’s pathetic whimper of cowardice, and the astute man knew in that instant that his foolhardy leader’s war-effort had been doomed from the start. He began running for his life.

The oni and his cursed sword swept through the ranks of men like a hellish tornado of bloodshed, men were cut in half, thrown into the air and skewered, and run through on the blade as they attempted to flee from the rampaging monster. Though Doji was blind to the sheer extent of the bloodshed he unleashed, there was a witness.

Basking in the slaughter Minako was elated as she saw the oni lay waste to the men who had ruined her life. For a moment she was in heaven.

And then she saw him…

… she knew his face all too well, the purple-haired man who had come to her home that day and murdered her parents in front of her. The man she’d narrowly escaped as she’d leapt barefoot down into the brambly hillside adjacent her family’s home. She could have lived a normal life if it hadn’t been for him.

Ishikawa looked back down the hill and saw the blood-bathed child, as she stood in the wake of the demon’s rampage he could feel the hate radiating from her. If his lord managed to escape he was sure that the bastard would try to hold him to the arrangement; even if he now knew his lord to be a coward, it would be best if he could escape with her as hostage to offer Ryōma in case of his survival, if nothing else she could serve as a bargaining chip.

He simply smiled cruelly down at the girl, and began a brisk jog further back up the hill.

Minako was quick to follow, picking up a full-sized katana from one of the fallen corpses. A wild grin washed over the child’s face; she wouldn’t let the coward escape, she would avenge her parents, she would find peace in driving the demon that had ruined her life from the earth.

Meanwhile, Doji had wiped out almost the entirety of Ryōma’s frontlines, his troops had tried all they could to put an end to the beast’s onslaught; they’d even managed to get another cannon shot off at him, but the creature simply swatted the artillery fire back at its’ engineers.

The only rank of the rōnin forces that seemed to stand a chance against the monster were the mounted archers, riding up the hill and volleying down at the oni, Ryōma and his cavalry made their tactical retreat. In their waves of fire, they’d managed to shoot the horned-beast a number of times, but it didn’t seem to have any intentions of going down.

As they reached the top of the hill the cavalrymen watched on in horror as the last ranks of their foot soldiers were crushed beneath the demon’s assault. The disgraced bandit leader was surprised to see his lieutenant standing at the top of the hill as well, and was further surprised to see that he’d managed to get his hands on the blood-offering he’d promised.

A last vestige of honor for the both of them. Exchanging glances, in that moment Ishikawa and Ryōma, they were little better than thieves; but there could be honor amongst thieves.

At that moment, Minako pulled the sword from behind her back and ran it through the man’s neck; slumping to the ground the lieutenant gurgled and wheezed for mere moments before choking on his own blood.

[npc=misc]“FUCK YOU BASTARDS!”[/npc] The little girl roared up at the bandit lord.

Doji could hear the warriors of Shimotsuki approaching, and he’d had enough of being pelted with their little arrows. He’d killed every last soldier except those of the cavalry, and he had to end things quickly.

Leaping to the sky, the Oni careened down on the cavalrymen and threw a great explosion down from the edge of his Muramasa. It was too late to stop before he realized what he’d done, he heard the young girl’s defiant scream, she’d managed to meet the warlord face to face and slay one of his officers in front of his face. One little girl had shattered the honor of a supposed conqueror.


In an instant, 10 horses, the 10 remaining rōnin, and one innocent soul were blasted into a bloodstained crater. As the battle was concluded, Doji threw his sword down and tears welled in his unseeing eyes; he was sick with himself, and struggled not to throw up.

In the ensuing days spent in the recovery effort of Shimotsuki Village, it was remarked upon by many how fortunate they were to have not suffered a single casualty.

It was as if Minako, and as if the people of her village, never existed. At least to some.

Doji sailed away from the island with a heavy conscience; he had only begun to learn the discipline that would be necessary to preserve those around him as he carried the accursed burden. He would not allow the Muramasa to claim another innocent.

Perhaps the girl was right. To be Rōnin was to be honorless.

Post Word Count: 8027
Total Word Count: 10,071[/size][/color]
The Conqueror / Black Fist
Name : Gray
Epithet : "The Conqueror"; "Black Fist"
Age : 49
Height : 10'2" (310 cm)
Weight : 1043 lbs (473 kg)
Species : Cyborg Human
Faction : Pirate
World Position : Lurking Legend (Former Yonkou)
Crew : Black Fist Pirates (Destroyed)
Ship : Sangria's Vane (Destroyed)
Crew Role : Captain (Former)
Devil Fruit : Pressure-Pressure Fruit
Bounty : [ber=r] 5,000,000,000
EXP Bonus : +0.20 (to all allies)
Income Bonus : +0.20
Shop Discount : -30%
Balance : [bel] 25,000,000,000

Posts : 3841

[Episode] Crucible of Ambitions Empty Grading

This post has in-line assessment comments.Tue Nov 07, 2023 11:12 pm


Quality Score (Re)assessment: No


Asakura Doji:

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