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The Demon

By James Pope All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Adventure

A short Story

There was an unsavory tension in the air as the two swordsmen faced off. It was so thick the crowd of common folk surrounding them could taste the sourness in their mouths. The duel was taking place on a riverbank outside the village, whose inhabitants had all dropped what they were doing to come see these great men fight. They stood like sculptures, faces hard and expressionless, shining curved swords drawn and leveled.

One was the greatest samurai in the province, a tempered, seasoned master with three nasty scars on his face and not a single defeat to his name. The other was a stranger, a ronin whom almost nothing was known about, but his opponent had recognized his faded clothes and straw farmer's hat with the sword hanging from his hip. No farmer in the land of the rising sun ever wore a sword, so this could only be the man the stories told of. It was said he had never been touched with a blade, nor ever lost a duel. Some of the more outrageous rumors proclaimed he was a sorcerer, a spirit, or even a demon. The master wanted to put these theories to rest. He would further his already renowned name with the defeat of this mysterious man.

The stranger had asked many times, nearly to the point of begging for the scarred man to withdraw his challenge. He openly professed his own weakness and unworthiness of the master’s time, but the samurai refused to sheath his sword and so the stranger was forced to draw his own or be cut down.

Still they stood, each waiting for the other to make the first move. The stranger’s stance was insultingly sloppy, almost lazy. His feet were much too close together and so were his hands on the hilt, as if he didn’t know how to hold it. The master beckoned him with two fingers and an arrogant smirk, hoping to hook the man by his pride. The stranger remained stationary, no part of him twitching.

A soft breeze blew and the pink petals of the cherry blossom trees that lined the river floated across their battleground. One such petal drifted in front of the master. His sword flashed, swifter than the wingbeat of a fly, the motion near as small, slicing it into perfect halves. That was when the stranger struck. He reached into a pocket sewn inside the crossing folds of his weathered shirt and pulled out a wicked weapon from the West, making the audience cry out in fear.

It was a small, handheld thing, made of wood and ugly grey metal that did not shine like a sword. A short tube extended from the handle, under which was a small lever that the stranger's finger pulled. With a crack that made the villagers cover their ears and flee screaming, the black magic of the weapon was cast, opening a hole in the master samurai's chest. From it a dark bloodstain spread, soaking down the cloth of his gi. He gasped, wide eyed in surprise and fell in a heap on his side, never to rise again. The stranger then returned the weapon to its place inside his garments, sheathed his sword and walked off, listening to the shouts and curses of the few villagers who had not run away.

They called him coward, cheater and devil for his underhanded trick, for associating with those cretinous foreigners, but the stranger didn't care. He had seen enough of samurai honor when they butchered his parents, burned his home and cut away all the beauty from his sister’s face for simple pleasure. He had grown up hating them, watching them do whatever they pleased and finding no man who ever dared defy them, all the while desiring such a comfortable security. He wore a sword as they did only to scare off thieves and most others who would do him harm, as well as to hide his true protector. Never had he trained with it, not a day in his life, while the master had devoted all of his to the study, the perfection of his swordplay. But he was alive today and the master was not.

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