Silver Dragon - The book of freedom

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Chapter 2 - Help from the unlawful

With a quiet tap, the cap of a bottle fell onto the old wooden bar top. Such a small, meaningless sound was enough to bring peace to the samurai’s mind. He sighed. His deep, blue eyes calmly staring into his glass as the golden liquid poured inside, sloshing against the transparent walls of it.

His right, bare palm dropped a couple of silver coins on the bar top, letting them spin around audibly before they went into silence, just to be violently grabbed by the bartender.

“That much for a single glass? You must be generous.” The bartender’s deep, tired voice flowed into Asai’s ears with such ease despite the tavern being a rather noisy place.

“I’ll be staying the night.” He replied arrogantly, side-eyeing the three men walking in through the squeaky wooden door. Their faces covered in fresh bruises and scars from a rather painful looking fight. He would almost feel bad for them, but they were obviously troublemakers. And a group like this meant only one thing for the tavern. Just a few drinks and..

“It’s not a motel.” The same deep voice broke Asai out of his inner monologue, making him abruptly turn his head to face the bartender’s.

“You got to have space in the back. I won’t cause any problems.”

His wounded, shaky right hand grabbed into the glass before he knocked it back in a swift movement, feeling the liquid enter his throat with a slight, pleasant burn to it. Just the taste he was longing for during his time away from Fujitama. It made his upper lip twitch up in a smug grin. This was gonna be a wonderful night.

One of the scarred men slammed his fist on the counter, letting a few silver coins slide out of it as he made an order of three glases of sake. He obviously wasn’t in a good mood tonight, unlike Asai, who decided to spark up a conversation.

“Tough day, huh. What happened to ya’ll?” The samurai’s blue eyes drifted across the man’s face, scanning his rather impressive marks of battle.

A quiet, dramatic sigh uttered into the air before the man answered him.

- “None of your business, son.”

Asai just grinned, pulling and playing with his nerves like a harp.

- “Perhaps it is. Fujitama’s guard was always known for surprising bandits with beatings and sending them out with packed bags the other day.”

The bartender quietly poured more alcohol into the warrior’s glass, watching the situation unfold.

“It might be your last night around here. Better not have any unsolved debts with the bartender.”

At this point the man’s companions were wildly eyeing Asai. His dirt-covered weapons were leaned against the stool the samurai was sitting on, alongside his right gauntlet and mask, while the rest of his armor, despite being dirty and ridden with scratches after his last battle, shined magnificently, dancing with the tavern’s lights. The golden crest of his kabuto standing tall in the air, representing the clan Asai pledged allegiance to.

Another glass of Sake entered his throat while he waited for the supposed bandit’s response. The man meanwhile was buried in contemplation, wondering whether to defend his honor and start yet another bar fight, or simply walk away and leave the obviously bored, and slightly tipsy samurai to his own. He seemed to choose something inbetween, speaking up in a nervous attempt to turn the conversation around.

- “What about you? Those are the pride of a samurai, and you left them dirty and sheathed on the dirty floor of a trashy tavern.” He took notice of Asai’s swords, which truly weren’t in the best condition right now.

- “You will never understand the art of a real battle. You seem like the type to harass travelers across the country, not someone to lecture me about the samurai code.”

- “You seem to think pretty high of yourself for a murderer. I hope you’re just passing by, looking for a challenge perhaps. The village will chew you up and spit you back onto the tracks you came here by.”

Things were getting heated, one could choke on the tension flowing through the air. Asai did his best to remain calm. He really was hoping that he’d spend the night somewhere in the tavern’s storage.

- “I was raised here.” A short answer left Asai’s lips. He already knew it was a bad idea to start trouble with whatever shady individuals Fujitama might have in stock for him, but the bandit just kept talking.

- “And what brought you back? Your kind isn’t so welcome here anymore, expecially now with Fuse Rai’s passing.” a short pause cut through their conversation before the man spoke up again.

- “He was the last warrior to leave Fujitama. And now you made an appearance, flashing your affiliations around. The crest really catches people’s eyes. You know?”

Asai had no idea how to answer at this point. The fact that this punk dropped his mentor’s name so easily made him think that he was a local, but what would a man like this do in such a calm, deserted village? He took another swig, letting the glass empty into his throat before speaking to the bartender.

“So what about the room? I’m paying extra.” The samurai completely ditched the conversation, leaving the bandit to his own anger, which was boiling inside of him, flowing through his veins like a lake of hot lava, while his temper was like a volcano ready to erupt.

And so it did. His arm launched towards Asai’s shoulder, and his steel grip squeezed the metal shoulder plate before pushing it. Such a sudden encounter was nothing but a spark between two elements; Asai’s calm and the bandit’s unbearable anger, and he was obviously the type to get angered easily.

Creaking of wood echoed through the tavern as many chairs slid away from their tables, some even falling onto the floor. Everyone stood up to watch the fight escalate; it seems that events like this were a norm in this tavern.

“Answer me, samurai!” His voice containing so much desperation. One would even call it pathetic, but nobody was smart enough to look past the man’s anger. He stood there, while Asai didn’t move an inch from his stool.

A drop of sweat glistened with the tavern’s lights while rolling down the samurai’s forehead. He finally spoke up, his voice raspy and sharp as if he was gonna cough up a cloud of smoke, and bite it to spice his words up.

“Sit down, scumbag!” Without even noticing, he rised his voice at the man. The whole tavern shivered in excitement as action unfolded infront of them. Fujitama was lacking something like this.

As for the bandit’s two companions, they blended in with the crowd, standing there with their arms crossed - hands hidden under dirty, grey capes.

The clink of metal echoed around the tavern as the man hit Asai again. His actions were pointless, a bare fist would never penetrate the samurai’s armor, yet it angered him, bringing him closer to the edge, the cliff above a crimson sea of his own anger.

The stool fell onto the ground, knocking the samurai’s arsenal over, but he didn’t care. He stood there with his gaze fixed on the man’s eyes, but they didn’t have much time for getting familiar with eachother. The bandit quickly kicked his leg up, waving it just by Asai’s face in a dodged attempt to hit him.

Making a rather impressive roll, Asai grabbed his sheathed weapons and pulled the wakizashi out. The decorated blade of his weapon starting to dance with the whistling wind as the samurai swinged it around. It really didn’t take long for the first cut to be made.

A stream of thick, hot blood dripped down the bandit’s nose, angering him even more. His hand quickly reached for a weapon just like Asai’s; a short, decorative sword with black and gold motives to it. The wakizashi, a weapon mostly meant for samurai to use during close combat, laying in the dirty hands of who seemed to be a bandit.

The samurai was just about to connect the next strike before a woman barged into the tavern.

Her beautiful, angelic voice echoed through the interior and ringed in the two hot headed warriors’ ears. For a weird, unknown reason, Asai could easily recognise the tone of her voice, yet couldn’t connect it to anyone he knew.

“Asai Suehisa!” his full name was spoken for everyone in the tavern to hear, visibly confusing the warrior. His eyes traveled across his opponent’s body, just to witness the bandit calmly hide his own weapon. He seemed intimidated by the woman, quickly backing off, away from the samurai. Yet his dirty lips moved in a quiet whisper.

“You are a dead man, warrior.” Those sharp words just made Asai smirk at his opponent nonchalantly before turning around. Before him stood a beautiful, tall woman. Her full lips twisting into a heartful smile shortly after her golden eyes met the samurai’s gaze.

“Asai Suehisa...” She called for him once again, this time a bit of doubt barely heard in her tone. As if she just saw an angel coming down from the clouds, something she waited for for oh so long that its coming became something unbelievable to her.

- “You’ve changed alot since the last time I looked you in the eye.” The little tavern’s customers began leaving one by one, as if they were scared or intimidated of the woman’s presence, the pressure increasing in their subconsciousess with each word that left her lips. Even the thugs that were about to start a regular bar fight left.

- “So did you.” Asai replied calmly, as if he was trying to ease up the tention tightly knotted around the air.

- “I... Never expected to hear your voice again, ‘warrior’. Your people were convinced you fought your last battle already.” The beauty went quiet for a short while, which stretched out for unbelievably long. Something like hours for the confused Samurai.

“This is a pleasant surprise, though.”

With that last sentence, she turned around. The gazes of everyone who dared to stay inside followed her curved body out of the building, along with the warrior’s step. Asai went after this girl like a puppy who really missed his owner. Seems like those two know eachother from way-back.

It was almost sunrise outside already, and neither of them could tell why the time around them passed by so fast, while every spoken word stretched out for centuries. Their eyes never met again, yet Asai trusted this girl with his life, blindly following her to one of the biggest, most beautiful buildings in Fujitama; something like a small, comfy palace of sorts.

As the doors slammed closed behind them, she finally spoke up. Her soft, musical tone now turning into a memory, replaced by a disturbed shout.

- “Chasing thieves around taverns? Breaking havoc around the village?! You didn’t turn out to be a man of your word, did you?” Asai was left startled, standing in the middle of the hall for a while before his companion turned around, making his lip quiver while he spoke.

- “I’m only following the emperor’s orders, my majesty.”

- “And the orders being what? Come back to Fujitama and try to turn the whole village upside down in as little time as you can?!” She laughed at him in a mocking, aggressive manner.

- “I was told to investigate Fuse Rai’s death, my majesty. I never stepped away from my own path or the samurai code.” His voice obviously cracked and shook all the time, not making his words that much convincing.

Upon hearing the name of one of Fujitama’s mentors, the woman trembled. Her gaze turning even colder now as she looked down onto the warrior.

“My.. My father died of old age.”

Silence filled the room once again, she took a longer pause before speaking her mind again.

“I want you gone by the next sunrise. Report back to the emperor and leave the village’s territory as soon as possible, or I’ll call for the guards.”

- “You can’t make me leave the premises of my own birth place, my majesty. No matter the manpower you have, I’m gonna fulfill the emperor’s order and whatever personal business I might have here. This includes your father’s passing as well, Suga.”

Her eyebrow twitched furiously as the Samurai called her by her name. Suga Rai stood there petrified for a second before walking towards the warrior.

- “You’ve already wasted all of my patience, Suehisa. If I want you gone, you’re gonna be gone. No matter whether you leave peacefully or get carried out of our territory by my men.

You’re not my father’s only student, remember that.” With the last word, her cold gaze peered over the Samurai’s shoulder, yet not allowing herself to lose eye contact for too long, she quickly turned back to Asai.

- “Your men? You mean those two scumbags you paid off to get rid of me?” He smirked.

- “Two?” This was a question Asai would never expect, so casual yet said with such a... Malicious intent. Were there more of them? Perhaps Fuse Rai’s daughter never ordered the ninjas in the first place..?

The answer to his worries was now standing right behind him. In the form of a fully armored, way taller and bulkier Samurai.

His opponent’s armor shined in the lights of the dimly lit palace, kept together by decorative pieces of moss green rope and silk. Ontop of his helmet was the same crest Asai represented his clan with. The green samurai’s face was hidden by an almost pitch black mask, without a proper grimace or further decorations.

Suga Rai spoke again, quite shortly this time.

“As I said. Your people believe you fought your last battle, and I’d never want to disappoint them.”

Asai quickly turned around, paying no mind to fujitama’s new mentor, and instead focusing on reflecting a wakizashi slash with his right gauntlet. His fist already so shattered that he couldn’t imagine holding a sword properly, not even thinking about the possibility of having to fight off another well-trained Samurai.

His opponent laughed audibly at Asai’s poor attempt to gain the uppet hand before launching a kick into his groin, that being enough to knock the startled samurai, who actually managed to quickly dispatch his own sword, down onto the carpeted floor.

He had to fight Suga’s goon on the ground, desperately deflecting his attacks. The sound of metal blades slamming against eachother constantly made his ears ring. He had to put a stop to this unfair encounter, and so he did; launching his boot into the green-armored man’s ankle and making him lose balance, enough for Asai to strike at his thigh, just for his blade to get blown back with oh so much ease.

Although, that proved to be enough for the two warriors to create a bit of distance between eachother. As Asai noticed, their armors were pretty much identical, which tilted to his advantage in finding bigger gaps in his opponent’s protection. He striked mercilessly, attempting to connect a hit strong enough to kill the other samurai with ease, slicing him in half; just like they were both trained to.

As his blade flew towards the green samurai’s underarm, another cling of metal echoed throughout the hall. Their swords met once again, pushing into eachother in a short wrestle between who will take the upper hand and be able to land their slash.

To the woman’s joy, Asai was the one to give up first; quickly retracting his sword and instead going for another blind hit to startle his opponent. The impact of his sword constantly hitting either his opponent’s hard armor or blade didn’t go well with the unbearable pain in his right hand, but backing up from the duel would mean only one thing - death.

Or so he thought, until the boot of another, almost identical green samurai kissed the back of his armor, making Asai lose balance and fall, with his head right under Suga Rai’s heel.

“How does it feel, Asai? Knowing that you’re gonna lose your life in such a pathetic way. Laying on the ground like a dying dog, right under your enemies.”

She giggled in a taunting way, the two identical samurai laughing along with her. Asai felt betrayed. By his mentor, brothers, childhood friends and even the great emperor, yet his beautiful mask hid all of his emotions efficiently.

One of the samurai bent down to swiftly pull Asai’s katana out, holding the sword in his hand and passing it to Suga in a hurry.

The woman grabbed it, speaking once again.

“Stripped off your dignity, reputation, and now your beloved weapon. Everyone had higher hopes for you when my father trained you at the emperor’s orders.

Such a promising warrior. You always outshined everyone in the village, even the two brothers. And now look at you, you’re laying by their feet afraid to say a word to the new masters of your own fate.”

Her heel pushed into his helmet even harder, she was tilting his head around under her foot however she wanted to, humiliating him infront of his past rivals, the two Fu brothers.

Determined to at least prove her majesty wrong before he meets the end of his journey, Asai spoke up; loud and clear enough for everyone in the room to hear.

“I will never be afraid of someone like you. If it wasn’t for your father’s reputation in the empire, you would be working on a field right now.”

His speech followed by his own helmet getting kicked off his head swiftly, and his mask being removed to show the face of a true, proud warrior. He wasn’t afraid of death anymore, even though he should feel ashamed of passing like this. Asai calmly closed his eyes, feeling one of the Fu brothers’ blades poke against a gap in his armor as he took aim. It was only a matter of seconds before the sword slammed down and pierced Asai through.

Although the doors of Suga Rai’s palace slammed open out of the sudden. The silhouette of a tall man walked through the hall quickly, the clinking of metal heard with each step he took. The stranger was fearless and confident, or perhaps stupid enough to believe he had any chance against two excellently trained samurai.

The Fu brothers quickly left Asai behind, defeated under the still calm and oh so cold eye of Fuse Rai’s daughter.

Their footsteps echoed around as they ran by eachother in a beautiful sync, as if they were sharing a single mind together.

Each step they took building the action up more and more before an arrow flew into the left brother’s unarmoured thigh, making him drop to the ground like an armor-clad sack of useless potatoes. And as his beloved brother looked back at him, he met such a terrible, disappointing fate.

His life flashed before his eyes as they both focused on the arrow flying right into his head, just to slam in and break through his clay mask, then his skull, and finally giving his brain a long kiss goodbye. He joined his brother on the cold floor, laying lifelessly in a puddle of his own crimson blood, his life seeping out of the very center of the samurai’s forehead.

The first brother stared at a whole upcoming offbranch of their bloodline end abruptly. The shock coming through his mind didn’t even let him collect his thoughts enough to scream - he just stared, stared as the last few drops of blood stream down his brother’s face and join the disgusting puddle on the ground. His eyes teared up underneath the mask, just to meet the stranger’s shoe as it flew towards his head, knocking the samurai out cold.

“W-who are you?! G-guards! Guards!” Her majesty desperately called out, yet no one came. Stepping off Asai’s head, she made a lousy run for it, and for her surprise, no arrows or daggers flew out after her when she ran out of her residence.

The stranger stared down at Asai in silence, waiting for the defeated warrior to push himself up.

When Asai looked up, he finally got to take a good look at who seemed to be his saviour.

The ronin’s pitch black armor created a bulky, powerful feeling to it, its color also blending in with the cloth Asai’s saviour wore underneath it, helping hide the gaps in it. Instead of the usual Katana and Wakizashi duo the samurai often use, the ronin had two beautiful katanas hanging by his waist in a black leather holster. His shoulders clad in a soft, silky cape.

Throughout his time as a warrior, Asai mostly heard stories about the real ronin; exiled or simply unemployed samurai who choose to forge their own path instead of working for their clans, trained in many unusual branches of combat, not required to abide any codes or rules.

While some said they’re outlaws, Asai always viewed the ronin as free, powerful men, yet had a feeling of disgust building up in his stomach everytime he heard the word pop up in a conversation. He was trained and taught to hate whoever his employers tell him to hate, and his whole life as Fuse Rai’s apprentice and then a samurai was based on that.

As he looked up to stare right into the ronin’s eyes, he noticed the shadow his iconic conical hat was throwing onto them, making the independent warrior look even more menacing than one could imagine.

- “I’m not sure where should I start.” The samurai slowly pushed himself up onto his own two feet, still shaking on his legs after the past few eventful days. He has barely caught any sleep since leaving the empire’s main territory, and even the greatest warriors need to rest sometimes.

The calmness in his voice would surprise many; he spoke to the stranger like to an old friend coming over after a nostalgia-filled night.

- “We’ll have plenty of time to go through it all, brother.” The ronin replied with equal softness in his voice, scanning the samurai with his eyes as he grabbed his own weapon off the ground, sheathing it. Asai’s armor wasn’t in the best condition, especially compared to his companion’s protection.

Yet there was no time to pay any mind to it, as his saviour kicked his feet into motion, Asai did the same; leaving the residence without a hurry, leaving the Fu brothers and whatever other mysteries those dimly light halls might hold behind themselves.

Horses grunted outside of the building after they saw the ronin exit, but the even number of them startled Asai a bit.

- “Where’s your friend?” He side-eyed the second horse after his companion saddled up.

- “Standing right infront of me. Mount up, samurai. We need to help you get back on your feet before you can even think of finishing any personal business around here.”

A cheerful, honest smile figured on Asai’s face underneath the cracked clay mask. For the first time in days, in fact. Many thoughts raced through the samurai’s head at the moment, but for some weird reason, only one thing was for sure; this stranger is the only person he can really count on now.

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