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2005 Samurai Fiction Entry

Wielder of the Prophecy

By R. Pavez

Legends were always the stuff of exaggeration, and the truth without fail, always a different story. Within the village courthouse Magistrate Honto contemplated this with amusement despite his grief.  The man before him giggling like a euphoric maniac, proved this beyond the shadow of any doubt.

In all his time as magistrate for the village of Mizu, he had never met someone like this: He was corpulent with rounded shoulders, wearing on his thick head a stubby nose and narrow, beady eyes granting him a porcine appearance and his light but unharmonious voice, was like the shrill squeal of wounded swine. He certainly did not project the image his victims had described.

 This was not what the magistrate had expected. Yet he was, by all accounts, the leader of a gang of bandits terrorizing the highways of Kyushu. Of course, these were trying times, the empire was fighting a losing war against Korea, and someone like this might find the lack of a strong police force advantageous.

Magistrate Honto looked away from the man to his confiscated weapon. The sword before him was like none he had ever encountered in his life. It was the long sword carried by samurai in the battlefield. Not necessarily their first choice of weapon, they carried it as a symbol of their lineage. The magistrate himself could trace his own back four generations. Yet his did not compare to the craftsmanship of the masterpiece he presently examined.

The scabbard was of typical rosewood but contained a mysterious pattern in the wood grain like a fire swirling in an endless infernal miasma. Unsheathed, the blade reflected the courthouse lanterns, expelling a momentarily blinding light like that of an ocean sunrise. The metal’s curvature was delicate, imitating the graceful yield of wheat blades in a light spring breeze. The clover shaped hand-guard told a story with an intricate forged tracing of flame-expelling birds.

The usual design of dragons had been overlooked in favor of these strange creatures with wings outspread and heads turned to the heavens, spitting fire from their beaks. They were like falcons ablaze. The handle carried the same alien glyphs of burning fauna over the lacing.

Upon inspecting the blade, the magistrate realized that this weapon had never experienced a single moment of conflict. The initiated sword, despite repairs, always bore the usual nicks and gouges in the flesh of the steel alloy. This sword had never been drawn, more so it appeared to have never been tested for efficiency, which was tested on the corpses of executed criminals. Only by joining it to flesh could a Samurai know if the newly crafted weapon was of quality.

Yet this weapon was not new. The magistrate recognized it as the work of Sengo Muramasa a master sword smith that lived during the fourteenth century. In all that time this weapon had never been tested? Why? The development of this crime was evolving to stranger and stranger levels. The magistrate’s analytic nature was piqued.

Like the folds in an origami paper, every crime consists of details, one preceding the other etc. To understand an act one must undo the facts like the folds and read from beginning to end inevitably revealing the concealed purpose.

The magistrate was patient he would come to recognize the folds within this design eventually. And so he read on: The outlaw’s entire appearance was a contradiction to his manners. He was filthy and smelled unwashed like the foreign barbarians but spoke with the stilted tones of a samurai. When forced to bow he bent at the proper angle and went no further unlike peasants feigning respect for fear.

As he contemplated a detail resurfaced in the magistrate’s memory, like a missed fold, and now he believed he recognized this character. Yes, the useless son of a once powerful now deceased lord. But he would need proof.

Sitting rod-straight, dressed in his crisp police uniform, concealing not a single emotion past the calm of his square, broad jawed face. The magistrate’s serious demeanor gradually wiped away the petulant smile from the fool until he turned his eyes down to the matting in discomfort.

A shadow slithered fast on the floor towards him; the outlaw looked up and was struck dead center in the forehead by something hurled through the air. He stared crossed-eyed at the magistrate with a mixture of indignation and pain.

The magistrate sat where he was motionless while speaking, “ An experienced swordsman would have sensed that.” 

“Attacking without a fair warning is not the way of a brave warrior.” The outlaw joked with a trembling voice looking down at the antique Muramasa that had just been thrown at him.

The magistrate answered with words true and sure like arrows from an archer’s bow “War is not fair!”

The outlaw slid away on his ample backside from the weapon appreciating the man in front of him with contempt and suspicion.

“His magistrate must certainly be popular with the villagers.” The outlaw giggled nervously.

“Stupid jokes will not delay the inevitable.” The magistrate answered.

With a squeal the outlaw inquired, “ What is that?”

“The truth.” The magistrate spoke and for the first time since the beginning of the interrogation he smiled and it unsettled the outlaw who winced as if one of his bruises had just been prodded.

“Your child name was Saburo, that is the name always given to a third son. You are the son of the late Lord Hi. The Hi clan was loyal to the Christian effort.”

Offended the outlaw shrieked, “ The past is nothing. I am no longer the person of those times and my name is not Saburo! I do not go by a child’s nickname!”

Amused to have perturbed the outlaw, magistrate Honto spoke while pointing to the sword, “That is a Muramasa.”

“My father granted his three sons gifts. This was a year before he died, he may have possessed a presentiment of his death, hence his generosity. Both of my brothers received many lands but what did I get?” The outlaw nodded to the magnificently crafted weapon.

“You must have been terribly upset.” The magistrate assumed.

“I was given nothing else by my father.” The outlaw confessed, laughing with renewed gusto. “ Despite his pride in my brothers they were not like him and our clan lost to the late Nobunaga. The possessions of my dear brothers were confiscated right before they were put to death. I was allowed to live; Nobunaga’s advisor’s believed it bad luck to kill a lunatic, which they thought me to be.”

“ I don’t blame them.” The magistrate whispered.

The outlaw continued, “ The sword and I are connected by destiny. It has brought me to the station I enjoy.”

“What is that? Lord of thieves?” The magistrate asked.

“A lord nonetheless” the wild haired, unshaven man claimed slapping his chest, “Every man must attain it however he can. My brothers inherited more than I but they lost more than they expected. Myself on the other hand inherited so little, survived Nobunaga’s assault, and became famous.”

“Notorious.” The magistrate corrected, “There is a difference.”

“I am the greatest among the Hi clan for I am still here. I have eternal life.” Squealed the outlaw.

The magistrate asked,  “ What?”

The outlaw squealed, “My father explained that it was more than a mere weapon but a prophecy. I thought it was just the mad talk of an old panicked man.  ”

Magistrate Honto looked down to the sword admiring its immaculate design and intricate embossing. Paper lanterns were being lit as the sky darkened. The voice of the pounding surf came to him from the shore it was like the tired sigh of a god, finished with divine work.

“Now I have come to understand that I am the prophecy.” Continued the outlaw.

The magistrate asked, “You? How?”

“I am to rule the world with this sword. After receiving the sword, look what I have achieved. I am invincible!” The outlaw screeched.

The magistrate suddenly felt very old contemplating this fetid vermin clad in tattered robes and his involvement with his own personal tragedy.

“Nothing in this world can harm you, because of this sword?” The magistrate asked.

“I am the prophecy.” The outlaw answered coolly.

“Then you must not regret what you have done as a criminal?” the magistrate asked.

“Why would I?” The outlaw asked. “Right and wrong have no meaning… When you have eternity.”

“There was a young woman who died because of your gang. Shortly before your capture.” The magistrate began controlling his rage.

"I remember her.” The outlaw admitted. “The dimwit fought, managed to free herself from my men and ran.”

“One of your men shot her in the back with a pistol.” The magistrate added.

“It happens.” The outlaw responded without interest.

The magistrate countered, “That was unnecessary, you could have recaptured her.”

The outlaw tensed his brow while bringing his ample chins to his chest giving him the appearance of an offended pig, “A reputation must be upheld. One of them manages to successfully defy you and then it’s all work.”

“The young woman was pregnant.” The magistrate added.

“Means nothing.” The outlaw answered.

Magistrate Honto motioned for his men to raise the prisoner to his feet.

“She was the wife of my only son; in his grief he took his life. Now I have no family.” The magistrate informed his prisoner with the calm of a monk explaining the scriptures of Buddha to a child.

The outlaw smiled.

Magistrate Honto spoke with lethal finality. “Your sword has never been tested for quality.”

As the outlaw was taken away, Magistrate Honto told one of his men, “Get me the sword smith.”

*             *             *

The following evening: outside the fishing village.

A ring of torches lit the sword testing grounds, their orange tongues of flame licking the cold, dark night. From the branch of a nearby pine perched a crow watching the dancing shadows of the ground with its tar-black, reptilian eyes.

The outlaw remained calm while bound tightly to a blood-covered bamboo-harness fashioned in the shape of an X. Magistrate Honto stood in front of his prisoner holding his own sword within its scabbard. In two swift motions he expertly unsheathed the blade pointing it away from himself and the outlaw. The outlaw began laughing hysterically as though a mere child with a feather confronted him. The magistrate tossed the scabbard to one of his officers while raising the weapon above his head. He stared into the outlaw’s eyes finding them devoid of fear.

The blade touched skin and swiftly the magistrate pulled on the sword removing the outlaw’s right arm above the bicep. Blood jettisoned from the cut in a brown cloud and the wounded man was lost in laughter. The crowd of police winced at the man’s reaction. From the clean wound the flow of blood slowed to a trickle and the less experienced men backed away with whispered accusations of ‘Kami’ under their breaths.    

“You see, magistrate? I have eternal life!” The outlaw laughed between fits of coughing.

 “The arteries and veins of your upper arm are made to constrict upon damage so that you cannot bleed to death. If you were true bushi, you would know this.” The magistrate answered. “ That is your first mistake.”

One of the magistrate’s men presented him the strange Muramasa blade while the others brought an anvil. After unsheathing the weapon the magistrate placed it on the anvil’s soot-black surface. From within his robes the magistrate produced a small hammer that he raised above his head and brought down upon the blade smashing it to countless pieces. The outlaw screamed in agony as if the sword were part of him.

“That was your second.” The magistrate declared.

He raised his sword for a second time and now the outlaw begged for his life. A curve of brilliant light swept downwards and the outlaw’s intestines splashed to the snow-covered ground leaving dark and violent starbursts of blood and fecal matter. While breathing in the rich scent of his own mutilation the outlaw screamed in shock at this nameless agony.

One of the policemen approached the dying man with a long object wrapped in cloth. It was unwrapped and the outlaw saw through shock hazed eyes the true Muramasa undamaged and beautiful as ever.

The magistrate spoke his wisdom while blood dripped off his sword, “Your success in crime was blind luck. Only a shallow fool would misinterpret this weapon’s purpose. Your faith in it was superficial. You were looking at it for strength, instead of looking to it.” 

From the shadows, dancing between the magistrate and his men, rose amorphous shapes; they screamed in distress as though mocking the outlaw’s pain. No one but he saw them and they approached reaching out with flailing limbs and the outlaw understood, all too well, their intention.

“But I have eternal life!” He protested with disbelief hearing dim laughter from the magistrate and his men: mere echoes from the other end of eternity.

The magistrate had watched the man die with the experienced patience of a doctor awaiting the result of his prescription. Finally the outlaw’s eyes dimmed and his chin struck his chest making his teeth click. The outlaw’s soul was gone now; off to someplace that still remained an enigma to the living.

A low, hissing voice spoke from the corpse “The third son was wrong, he was neither the prophecy nor its catalyst.”

The magistrate found himself looking into the most malevolent pair of eyes he had ever seen. Twin rings of a brilliant yellow, full of evil life, stared back.

“And you have come all the way from whatever stink hole you call home to let me know this?” Magistrate Honto asked calmly while the other men screamed and ran in fear as they witnessed the outlaw’s dead body return to life.

The demonic voice giggled “ Such disrespect in the presence of divinity?”

“You speak too highly of yourself.” The magistrate answered sounding bored.

“I am a messenger.” The voice growled, “Hear the prophecy!”

The magistrate raised the Muramasa this time; reflecting the torch-fires it shone bright like a thin crescent of Heaven amidst the dark. “ I know what you are, the Christians refer to your kind as demons. Speak quickly I am about to end this.”

“No! You begin this.” The thing smiled grotesquely with lips drawing back like those of a feral dog then with the high, sweet voice of a child it chanted, “For two centuries the doors will remain closed. The lords will grow fat with arrogance and awaken the sleeping giant who will burn the sisters. Know their names they mark the fall of your empire: Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

A third blow and off went the cadaver’s head shutting out the demon that had peered into this world through the outlaw’s body. Wiping the blade clean with a cloth the magistrate turned away from the body while secretly praising Muramasa on his genius. The blade seemed to suck flesh into its edge.

The magistrate mounted his steed and left the testing grounds taking the main road back to his fishing village. From the grounds came the squawk of a crow, happily feasting on the eyes of a dead man. Hearing the dark bird, the magistrate had one final thought: life is a joke and beyond this realm someone is laughing.

Osaka Castle winter of 1597

 Hideyoshi Toyotomi, unifier and absolute ruler of Japan, sat impatiently while observing the two foreigners in front of him. Like a rolling boulder he was possessed of one unyielding purpose: To crush all obstacles in his path. Thus he was not pleased to wait as the foreigners examined the Muramasa in front of them.

The first was a Jesuit, dressed in opulent jet-black silk robes; the second was a Franciscan donning a rough wool cowl and sandals.

The Tokai (absolute ruler) tolerated each for his own reason: The Jesuit had been one of the best connections the Tokai could have had in regards to obtaining the necessary firearms for his continuing invasion of Korea but now, unknown to the Jesuit, the Dutch held that privilege. The Franciscan, strangely enough, was an expert on Japanese sword history. The Jesuit had recommended him; because of this the Taiko figured he would tolerate the Jesuit just a while longer.

The Tokai felt distrust of the Franciscan who looked like nothing more than a street beggar in his humble robes.     

Finally unable to endure the anticipation he interrupted the Franciscan’s concentration, “You know this weapon is then?”

The Jesuit, for the umpteenth time, bowed unable to reply, looking like a mute struggling to sing. Finally the Franciscan raised his eyes to him while removing the spectacles that rode low on his large barbarian’s nose. 

“It was reported the outlaw had commented this weapon was a prophecy and held the gift of eternal life?” The Franciscan questioned in fluent Japanese while nodding sadly like a man who must endure a horrible fact.

The Taiko did not answer but looked to the bowing Jesuit.

“Have you ever heard of the Phoenix, my lord?” the Franciscan stared at the Taiko with ageless, intelligent eyes.

“No!” He answered while looking to the Jesuit avoiding that penetrating gaze.

“It is a mythical bird which symbolizes resurrection, it burns itself when it begins to die but remerges from its own ashes new.” The Franciscan said.

The Tokai addressed the Franciscan directly “How did the master know of this myth?”

The Franciscan answered, “It would be impossible. Christianity was introduced to your land in the year 1542 and master Muramasa passed away 41 years before that.”

The Jesuit shot an accusatory glance to the Franciscan as if trying to halt this upsetting lesson but his effort went ignored.

“There is a prophet in our religion who is represented by this animal.” The Franciscan spoke watching the Taiko for understanding.

There was none from the Taiko.

“The Christ.” Answered the Franciscan then to himself whispered “The secret of eternal life is within.”

The Franciscan reached for the sword’s handle and was answered with drawn blades from the Taiko’s guards. He assured them of his peaceful intentions with a soft shake of his old head; the Taiko ordered his guards to stand down.

With a trembling finger the Franciscan pressed the phoenix ornament on the handle as though it were a button. A light noise emitted from the sword and the metal butt cap at the handle’s end released and with it slid out a compartment as long as the handle itself.

The Franciscan retrieved an object from within the compartment about nine inches long, slender and made of iron. The moment he set it down on the floor for inspection it discharged a crimson fluid that pooled around it. The Franciscan bent down taking a quick sniff and said quietly to the Jesuit in Spanish ‘sangre’.  The Jesuit clutched at the rosary around his neck, crossed himself and prayed.

The Taiko screamed, “What is that?”

Shaking his head in disbelief the Franciscan answered, “ I believe this may be one of the nails of the crucifixion.”

“Why is it bleeding?” the Taiko asked in shock.

“ I think it may be a sign… A warning.” the Franciscan hypothesized.

 “A warning? Am I being threatened?” The Taiko grunted in displeasure.

“No my lord!” the Jesuit assured the Taiko as if he were the expert.

The Franciscan explained. “In Macao there was a church where statues of the saints shed tears of blood. Soon after there was a storm, many died.”

“You believe a storm is my future?” the Taiko laughed.

The Franciscan gave no opinion but agreed while thinking, “A storm of fire.”

“This is ended.” The Tokai grunted. “ I will hear no more Christian nonsense.

“Of course my Lord. Enough of this!” The Jesuit bowed while practically drooling at the spike on the floor “We will take this nuisance off your hands.”

“No.” The Tokai interrupted “All of this is ended.”

“Surely you can’t mean that we are to leave.” The Jesuit protested slack jawed with disbelief.

It gave the Tokai great pleasure to upset the Christian.

“Yes I do?” The Tokai answered merrily, “And the Muramasa stays here in the land where it was made.”

“But what of our agreement?” The Jesuit caught himself not wanting to reveal his dark business with the Tokai.

“Your services are no longer required. A ship is waiting to take you to the Philippines.” The Taiko motioned for his guards to escort the two priests out of his castle.

Lord Toyotomi held the sheathed Muramasa admiring its design and as the foreigners were removed he declared to no one in particular, “ Greatness can only be wielded by those meant for it.”

The Franciscan heard and thought to himself “And you are most certainly meant for it. You most certainly will be the wielder of the prophecy… and its victim.”