Part One of Chapter One
By Kamara Sagara
............Their purpose was her mockery. Even as they—the transient red ribbons and the woven white lines—were conducted to encase her knuckles, they conspired to spiral in such a way as they, not her, desired. The white lines draped in a new skin with vows of fortitude, but the cloth grated at her flesh, yielding fresh red ribbons, morphing sun-painted skin to a hue one with them.
............Docile gray eyes drowsily studied the overlapping ribbons and lines. In a sense she couldn’t know, she was enthralled by their blatant contrast and archaic ceremony. The puzzle dwelled in their symbiosis. One relied on the other to subsist by necessitation. The other would wane with the absence of the first. Each were buttress to the other, yet still no less parasite.
............The red ribbons were like sin: they could be diluted until there was no discernable nature, but they would never be fully expunged. The mind perceives with less limits than the eyes, her tired gray eyes, for all they would gaze. A mind could envy eyes their ignorance. If all things were less tangled with the knowledge of the absolute…
............It seemed as if it was still night and time had allotted the duties of a minute to an hour. The sky was black as the innards of a cavern, brimming with ageless candles that had yet to be in want of wax. Beneath the dark expanse, the air was frigid to a near hostile extent.
............Ascending from a cot with zombie-like grace, her eyes remained veiled under thin husks of skin. Tremulous hands clothed her in the only male garb she was allowed, formerly possessions of the kindly swine herder. He had been executed the week prior for espionage and had no further need for them. The attire was a simple white long-sleeved tunic and tattered beige trousers, which hung on her like the shag of a buffalo. Her feet were bare, clothed in white ribbons and lines like her arms. Lastly came the head-wrap, the cloth-made dungeon, obscuring every onyx wisp of her hair.
............A smile flitted across her face as she folded the cuff of the trousers up several inches. With patient quietude, she drifted from her shared room as the other servants slumbered in worlds of their mind’s surmise. Gray eyes were yet unopened in corridors that had forgotten light, not to know it again for hours, as she passed through the several levels of the palace.
............Corporeal shackles were dispelled. She was a buoyant shadow, an imp of the wind! Arms sketched tilted cartwheels in the air on her meander. Pulsings in her stomach disrupted her haphazard rhythm, withering her whimsy. Mortality was reborn in the being known as Moharo.
............Doubled over for a while, she inhaled of her bygone brother at her lung’s decree. It was sickly ecstasy that spurred her onward in movements graceful yet untrained. It was not a dance, though she was dancing, and in her mind she called it one. She could not dance by day. It was a forbidden mode of expression, a sin not as abhorrent as hers. But there was asylum in darkness, in silence, and no eyes to hinder her.
............When Moharo had finally descended to the kitchen, she had little time to prepare before the sun’s reluctant advent into the world. Her heart nearly arrested in her chest when she noticed the forewarning illumination of the sky. There was almost no time remaining.
............She rushed to prepare that day’s first meal, darting about the kitchen, allocating herself no more time for dreaming.\ After many near mishaps, the sound of strident footfalls perforated her ears. She beseeched the lesser deity Inue to hear her and beget adequacy in her product. Not a moment later, the morning porridge was heated and the dried fruits were re-hydrated in a saccharine sauce to top it. The coffee wasn’t burned and the bread had risen like the torso of a portly man by a breath. It was a meal for a couple hundred, though less than half that number would effortlessly consume it while outside the palace walls the villagers would survive on a fraction of the normal portion.
............The mammoth wooden door swung open with a groan. The head chef Dakatsu squeezed through the opening, daily scowl in place on round flushed cheeks. Gray eyes darted to him before sinking meekly to the floor as she bowed to him to demonstrate her respect. The gesture was not returned.
............“What a miserable job. I almost expected more from you, until I realized who it was that I was expecting it of,” he declared to her as if she was the vilest creature the earth had ever spawned. “If this is the best you can do then I might have to get another breakfast assistant. Miserable. You aren’t suited for work at all. Such a lazy wench you are.”
............“Gomen, Dakatsu-san. I had meant to do better. I won’t disappoint you again, sir,” Moharo replied trying to suppress the smile that quirked her lips. The verbal reprieve was a chorus of accolades to her ears. The lack of bodily punishment served as testament to her labor.
............“Hmph. Of course you will. You aren’t capable of anything but disappointment. I don’t know what crime I am guilty of to disserve such foolish help. The all-powerful Genbu himself couldn’t fix you.”
............Dakatsu nudged her aside as he fiddled with various modifications that were camouflaged by the girl’s own work. She fell into place besides him as the foodstuffs were set atop bronze platters. The other serving staff gradually entered the kitchen while they worked, ignoring the girl as if she really was no more than shadow. When all the food had been delivered to the dining hall, she was dismissed with a nod. She bowed and was gone.
............Dashing through the main doors and further, she arrived at the soldiers’ barracks just as the summoning horn blared. Even as she slowed to a steady pace, her spirit lifted and her face firmly shuttered. Shoulders reinforced themselves while posture drooped in a demure fashion. The day was already brighter despite the enforced clouds she would face. What a peculiar life she had.
............Irregular, jutting rocks surrounded the outskirts of the clearing. The rigid, black masses shielded the barracks from the harsh winds. Tent flaps of bland canvas were pushed aside by warriors garbed in teal uniform. Flashes of white emerged from swords slashed through the air. Hefty limbs stretched and flexed like the branches of a tree liberated from inanimation.
............Moharo joined in the morning ritual, despite lacking both customary garb and weapon. Her sinewy form danced yet again, in a far more lethal dance, but with a splendor attributed for that aspect alone and all its accouterments. In masked rapture, she dodged envisioned strikes and dealt her own to the invisible adversary. Her forte was death and the precision with which she wielded it.
............Another unseen attack was met with immediate retribution. She was toying with the opponent, using her imagination to its threshold to envision the most brutal and devastating of attacks. Each that came to her was denied.
............After dozens of fruitless attempts, she tired of the game and prepared to finish her adversary. Upon the delivering of the final blow to the momentarily exposed jugular…
............“Moharo! Enough with this nonsense. Morning practice was finished nearly ten minutes ago. Get your lazy *** into formation,” commanded Shibuya, Captain of the 9th Division. He was a man of average stature with astounding agility, considering his corpulence. Short blond locks, a beard engulfing the lower portion of his face, and a relentless azure eye, the other covered by a black patch, were his identifying features. He was less flexible than a mountain and twice as jagged.
............“Hai, Shibuya-sama. Gomen nasai for my error.”
............“Alright, damn brat. Get in line.”
............Bowing hastily, Moharo rushed toward her position, furthest left and furthest back. The nearby soldiers rolled their eyes and would have liked to glare at the tardy female but their trepidation of their captain kept them rigid, forward facing. There were fifty in the division—forty second lieutenants, nine lieutenants, and Moharo. She had no rank, for she was not a soldier, though she had the duties and skills of one. She was a tool, a weapon to be used until rusted, lost, or broken. An object at the command of the imperial army of the Waru Territory.
............Captain Shibuya strode to the head of the division with a purposeful leisurely pace. An azure stare, observed every shift and fidget that disturbed the meticulous arrangement of the formation. Impassive facades, rigid stances: evidence of superior warriors. The best warriors in Waru, perhaps in the entirety of the world because they were not perfect, but able to use their flaws to their advantage. The mark of a true warrior.
............Shibuya faced the men and the tool with calculated disapproval in his stare. They couldn’t be aware of his pleasure. Their egos were like greedy lords: devouring all that was obtainable with a stark lack of mercy.
............“Soldiers, I hope you had enough rest last night for on this final day of your training—kami help us—you will be pushed farther than you could believe possible. Then we enter the war,” he shouted, pausing as the fools actually cheered, “If I could have anything at this moment, anything, I would want more time. You, as a division and as individual warriors, are not ready. Failure is the end that shall greet you in this trial, but do not think on that. We have lost our sovereignty, our dignity, and many lives. You have only your own to lose, but death is certain without the aide of war.
............Those of you who are the least prepared, the worst in our nation’s history in fact, will fail regardless of the general outcome of the war. You will die in vain, serving as no more than damned pawns in this wretched game. A fate most bitter...and deserved.”
............Several eyes flickered to Moharo. They were noted with a vexed smirk of knowing. Their eyes had strayed like headless chickens and snorts issued from their flared nostrils, but hers never faltered.
............“There are others of you who will fight and remain true to your obligations to your country and your people. However, your names will not last even into the following decade. You may die or even live, but no one will ever give a damn.
............‘The last of you—such a minimal number that it is absurd to call you a division—will surpass the common platforms on which you have been placed. Your actions will determine the future of your families, your people, and this pitiful division.
............‘Perhaps it is not expected of you. Perhaps you do not even believe you are capable of such honor and have allowed the sentiments of others to distort your own. But regardless of this general sentiment, you must overcome all obstacles or else this war is more pointless than I believe it to be.”
............The silence after his final word had been spoken resounded in every ear. Frothing, energy coalesced in the rocky clearing like a prelude to a volcanic eruption. Time was stagnant, watching from its perch beyond human perception.
............“What the hell are you just standing there for? Get to your training exercises, you useless lackwits!” His echoing voice was a catalyst to practiced chaos.
............The lieutenants organized the training exercises. A trio had arranged for a group to utilize battle strategies to defeat a larger group, under the command of another trio. Their success relied on their use of the terrain and knowledge to overwhelm the larger force. The last three lieutenants had the remaining subordinates practicing basic combat techniques. Some were sparring in groups or one on one. The rest practiced alone.
............Fed up with a simple invisible opponent, Moharo began a harsher training method. On her command, her fists barreled one after the other into a larger mass of rock. Under the pressure of her knuckles, the black chipped away. Fragments pattered the ground in front of her feet solid rain in a steady beat. The red ribbons returned, dripping down from her fists in conjunction with the black fragments, orchestrating a melody known only to a certain few.
............After her fists had met the rock a couple hundred instances, she stopped to prevent the mangling of her hands. Then she substituted kicks for punches. The melody of the black fragments and red ribbons recommenced. A bloody torrent inundating the earth.
............A horn blared over the encampment. Soldiers instantaneously ceased their exercises. Swords were sheathed. Grimy brows were swabbed. Laughs were had to conceal their communal fatigue. It was as if they had not been pummeling one another into a mass of black and blue, a mere moment prior. The camaraderie of warriors.
............Gray eyes watched them depart one after another until the vicinity was clear of the living, save for one. Hands encased in dehydrated red ribbons and soiled white lines raised a weapon abandoned on the ground. One hour until they returned.
Part TWO of Chapter One (UNEDITED)
By Kamara Sagara
............A languid breeze swept through the streets of Kaburi erasing footprint after dusty footprint. On the main road, the clay Ikotsu Tavern remained open every day until just before the first rays of the sun reached over the distant dunes of sand. It was a shabby, desolate haunt for the worst scoundrels of the village to unwind. They would gossip like old women on black-market dealings and the latest member of the hit list.
............Through its woven entrance-mat, jeers and laughter effused like tendrils of coagulated smoke that reached up to seize the stars. Inside, people of random levels of hygiene consumed as much liquor, rice, and cactus as their stomachs would allow, then demanded seconds.
............Two barmaids managed the tavern under the vigilant eye of the owner. One was a matured woman with a flirty smile, known around as Kaidori. Her graying blond locks did little to distract from her infinitesimal skirt and limber thighs. She was a puppeteer of men, and any women that preferred those of the same gender.
............Her fellow barmaid was a good-natured hellion. She was a redheaded enigma to Kaburi, having emerged unaccompanied from the untraveled Hibashira Desert in the east.
............When the girl, twelve at the time, had staggered through the gates, nearly a corpse of dehydrated flesh, no one knew what to make of it. Her clothes were tattered and filthy. There had been a look in her eyes—strange orbs of molten gold—that should only belong in the eyes of a hunted beast.
............Her origin and past were unknown to her. She knew only her given name.
............“Such a strange child. A demon, perchance.”
............“Yes, an apparition from hell.”
............“Should we summon the priest to expel it?”
............ “If he hasn’t had his poison yet. Elsewise who knows what the old scoundrel might do.”
............“Nonsense, he could exorcise while drunk or in sleep.”
............“This is lunacy. She is just a girl. Tell us child, what is your name?”
............“Katana. I am Katana,” she murmured before departing from consciousness.
............Rumors had circulated about the outsider. She was an orphan whose parents had been victims to the Sickness. She was a child mercenary who orchestrated the death of a ******* noble and his ***** mother. She was not of human birth at all, but was descended from fire itself to burn and weave around the mortals of Kaburi.
............The villagers had been hesitant to accept her into their village, but with the urging of an aging barmaid, she was permitted to settle. Her lodging and sustenance was guaranteed, as long as she earned it.
............Seven years had passed, fading that day from the memory of all but her. Katana had attained adulthood, but bypassed maturity on the way. She was brash and unpredictable and the entertainment of the patrons of Ikotsu.
............“Kamara, table four needs more sake. Get to it whelp!”
............Flitting through the small circular tables, the redhead served with a courteous remark and a smile that weighed like stones on her face. The smile was unceasing as she took orders, fed and watered the patrons, and scrubbed vehemently at the disarray the customers abandoned. No one was aware of anything of her aside from her bounteous bosom, youthful backside and…
............“*******! Remove your dirty paws damnit!”
...her fist barreling towards them as they prayed to the deities for their faces to resemble their original forms afterwards. No one was spared.
............“Oi onna, top me off once more why doncha, eh? I need more sake in me,” a squash-faced man bellowed from across the room.
............Grimacing, she appeared, donning her smile. Her wrist cocked to bestow a liberal smidgen of second-rate sake from the flask. The leer was dismissed with ease, though she desired nothing more than to swat it from his face like a bothersome fly.
............“Is that it, sir?” Katana ground out.
............The squash-faced man considered this, not aware of the redhead’s nose scrunching at his stench. “Ie, onna. I think you should be more friendly.”
............“Hai, friendly,” he affirmed.
............Shaking her head, Katana expressed her remorse that she just couldn’t. Bowing, she spun about, but was caught. Her wrist was confined by a hand with fish fingers.
............“What is it, sir?”
............“You will be friendlier, unless you want me to break this pretty little wrist of yours. You don’t want that to happen to it, do you now? It would be a sorry thing, onna, don’t you think? You have very pretty wrists, you do.”
............Gomen, but it is you that will regret it if you don’t get your slimy hand off of me,” the redhead spat.
............“Are you threatening me, onna?”
............“Call it a friendly warning from a violent person wants to kick your ***.”
............“I’ve had enough of this. You will not refuse me!”
............Fish fingers constricted. Golden orbs narrowed. Squash-face man charged. Girl stiffened.
............The scuffle traversed the length of the bar. Tables capsized while patrons egged them on. Punches flew like knives. There was a snap, an feeble whimper, and a combatant was rendered spastic on the earthen floor.
............“Is that enough for you?”
............“You little *****! You will regret this!”
............“Oh really. Gomen, but I said you would be the one to regret it if you did not release me. I couldn’t have been any clearer,” she stated, “And if you ever dig up the guts to touch me ever again, I warn you that you will not get back whatever part of your body that you touch me with. And I will nail it on my wall and laugh and laugh at your stupid appendage while you whine your stupid head off until I decide to end your stupid life—”[/COLOR]