- One hundred days, since the war began,
- Our blades stood ready, to defend our land.
- Though we may die, we bravely fight,
- To prove our honor, and prove our might.
- The wind bodes ill, the bloodshed spread,
- Our enemies come, and our wrath they dread.
- We all shall fight, through tears and pain,
- And triumph beneath the heaven's domain.
- —Day 103, Second Great Samurai War
Chapter I: Chains of Atonement
The Land of Storms was an ominous one. Children never saw the sun, the blue skies. The elderly of the country have have only memories of its rare appearance. Rain poured down, flooding the already overflown rivers, and lighting struck down in series at a time. Gusts of winds pummeled through the land like a torrent in the seas, overwhelming all caught in its path. A single man sat beneath a towering tree, sitting down at the base of the tree. The drops of rain falling on his metal armor was like symphony of nature itself. The patters echoed one another as they collided with the man's metal helmet. He was born in this land. It was all he knew, all he had... but it was not what he wanted. Want, desire, possession... he no longer had a right to such things, save for the armor on his back, the helmet on his head, and the sword of his youth. For he was a ronin, a fallen samurai, a despised exile... The shame of his people, and a man without a purpose. The rain continued on, spiraling through the air as it was being carried by the unstoppable winds. As the ronin rested beneath the towering tree beside him, he stared up at the starless skies, pitch-black with the darkest clouds. The only light in the dark sky was from the repeated strikes of lighting.
Was it day, or was it night? Was it even noon? Nobody could tell by looking. The skies never changed. The land was always to be one of gloom. Even now, in his day, the ronin knew that despair had spread across the land. It was different from anything he'd lived through or experienced. Not even the tales of the most ancient ones could describe the feeling. The same feeling that had engulfed the land, and the world. It was like an aura felt by samurai. But it was not the grief of battle, for battle was something the ronin knew very well. It was something else, something greater. War had come to the Land of Storms. Who were they fighting? Was it an opposing country perhaps, or internal civil war? No, it was not that, it was grander. It was the samurai world. The nine nations had come to war. It was said that the greatest of samurai, the ones with a true warrior's spirit, could sense the coming tides of battles, even wars. It was not a thing describable with ink or markings, it was something inside, something every true warrior had.
The ronin closed his eyes as he gazed into the sky of black clouds, letting the rain drops fall in through his mask and dance upon his face. But even the little peace found by a lowly ronin could not dull his warrior's sense. There was someone watching him. In the shadows, among the trees, out of sight. The ronin was an exile, but he was a ronin nonetheless, and many samurai could not even tolerate their very existence. It wasn't something uncommon to him, but if his choice was to find death, he would have done it long ago. As a lighting bolt struck the ground, the ronin took to flight, speeding across the open plains. The marshy ground were thick and deep, but the men of the land were used to such terrain. The ronin glanced behind himself, catching the sight of several samurai behind him giving chase. How many were there? Five, seven, eight, ten? There were many, and anyone with a sensible mind could foresee that there'd be no merit in counting one's pursuers. However many there were, he would evade them. And if he could not, he would strike back with all that he was.
A samurai following behind the ronin pulled out his katana, forming a long blade of chakra around it. The samurai swung his blade downward, impacting it into the ground. A crescent-shaped projectile of chakra accelerated towards the ronin. The ronin pulled his katana from its sheath, and formed chakra around his blade in the shape of a naginata. Turning his face back toward his attackers, the ronin horizontally swept his katana towards his pursuers, releasing the chakra naginata formed around his sword. The chakra naginata ripped through the crescent shaped chakra aimed towards the ronin, splitting the projectile in two. The bottom half of the split crescent shaped chakra plummeted into the ground, crashing into the muddied earth. The top half flew toward the samurai following the ronin, who easily evaded the attack. The samurai in pursuit were not ordinary, they were skilled, experienced.
The ronin reached the end of the marshy plains, escaping into the woods on its other side. As he made efforts to conceal himself, he looked back towards the plains. Like he figured, the samurai followed, refusing to release their target. The samurai entered the woods shortly after the ronin. By this time, not a single samurai was without a construct of chakra formed over their katanas. The were walking about slowly. The stillness of the woods made it clear the ronin was hiding, but the samurai were not searching for him in the darkness. The ronin knew how the samurai tracked ronin, for when he was a samurai, he fought with the same method. They were trying to sense his chakra. The ronin knew how to hide his presence, but it was not perfect. As long as he lived, so would his chakra. A samurai walked passed the place the ronin had concealed himself. It was over now. Even if the samurai passed by, after being so close, it was impossible for him to not detect the ronin. The ronin silently pulled his katana back out of its sheath, and waited for the moment he knew would come.
As the samurai passed the ronin, he stopped in his steps. Sensing the ronin's chakra, the samurai proceeded to turn around, only to simultaneously find a lightning-channeled katana piercing through the chest plate of his armor. The samurai choked, with a spattering of blood escaping from his mouth and chest. As the samurai attempted to look further behind at his attacker, the ronin pushed his katana in further, and swung the blade upward, splitting the samurai in half from his upper torso through his head. It took only a moment's notice for the samurai to detect the ronin's chakra, and the disappearance of their ally's chakra. An axe-like formation of chakra swung through the woods, slicing through the trees in its path. The ronin jumped over the axe construct, and created an extended chakra blade. As the ronin was in the air, he swung his chakra blade down over a samurai, only to have his blow intercepted by two other spear-like chakra formations.
As the ronin came to the ground, a chakra blade came homing in at his neck. The ronin created another blade construct and cut through the opposing blade. As the samurai regained his balance, the ronin discharged his chakra blade at the samurai. Once again, a samurai came to the side of his ally, and created another chakra blade to intercepted it. By the time the chakra blade had dissipated, the ronin created a chakra mace, and slammed it down upon the two samurai. Their bodies were crushed and splintered under the chakra mace, being mashed into the ground beneath them. A chakra saw sliced through the ronin's mace construct, and the ronin was suddenly met by six chakra blades at his neck. He was beaten. It was a strange feeling, but he would have been glad to leave this world, if it was his time. One of the samurai, however, began walking towards the woods-turned-battlefield, staring at the three dead samurai in the area.
"You're skills are as sharp as ever." he said, removing his helmet to reveal a burned and scarred face. "Have you been honing your abilities all these years since your exile, or is the art of killing so natural to you?"
The ronin turned his head to look towards the man speaking to him. He didn't recognize him, and the ronin never forgot the faces of his people. Perhaps he was a defected samurai from another land, or perhaps he simply never met the samurai.
"What is it you want with me?" the ronin starkly said, "If it is my death you seek, take it and end this meaningless discussion."
The samurai simply glared at the ronin, "Your life is in my hands, and whether I take it or not is my decision. I will decide what is meaningless and what is not. Do not deceive yourself into believing that your status as a ronin means you should have no regard as to your place."
The ronin glared back at the samurai. He's seen the worst the samurai world could offer, and this man was not one who intimidated him. "I've tired of the samurai for years, and I've known my place for just as long. You waste my time—what is it you want with me?"
The samurai stared at the ronin for several moments. The ronin could tell that the samurai was a noble. He obviously wasn't accustomed to disrespect or having his orders ignored, as a samurai who'd risen through the ranks would have. But the scars of battle were upon him, and at the very least, proved that he was not one who simply barked orders. "Ronin samurai Hazai Kugosashi, I have been ordered by the Arashishogun to bring you to the shogunate."
Hazai Kugosashi. He'd not heard his name said by other in a long time. But hearing his name was something of a source of confusion. The Shoguns had no dealings with ronin, let alone calling an audience with one. And Hazai was no longer under the Shogun's control, nor did he respect or desire to concede with his orders. Of all people in the Land of Lightning, it was the face of the Arashishogun that Hazai hoped with all his might he'd never have to even look upon again.
"The law of the exiled ronin is that he is freed from the power of the Shogun, and bound to live as a man belonging to nothing. I have no intention of seeing the Arashishogun, so if you wish to take my life now, do so. I have nothing else to say to you."
"It is not an order, it is an offer. The Arashishogun would like to make a trade with you, ronin." the samurai said, with an obvious feeling of disgust in his tone.
"What it is that man possesses that he believes he can offer me?" said Hazai, mockingly.
"An offer of trade, ronin. The Land of Storms is currently at war with the other eight samurai nations. The world is split between four powers. The Arashishogun has called upon you to ask for your services in the war. In exchange, you will be sworn in as an honored samurai once more, redeemed from your ronin burden."
Hazai scoffed, laughing mockingly. "Then he has nothing to offer me at all. If you are to kill me otherwise, then be done with it. If not, then leave me."
"Before you choose death, the Arashishogun has sworn one final gift." the samurai said, staring Hazai directly in the eye, "After the war's end, should you survive, you will be granted independence as a samurai and a ronin. You will be free to disown yourself from the Land of Storms."
Hazai looked at the samurai venomously, almost as if he was trying to see the truth in the samurai's eyes. Hazai looked over at the empty forests, and back towards the plains, then looked back at the samurai. "Fine, it will be done. Take me before him."
Chapter II: The Samurai Exodus
"Fall back—now!" yelled a storm samurai, "Retreat to the boarder! Hold the line until our Kodenbushi reinforcement arrives!"
The Land of Dune Seas was not a place unfamiliar to the fields of war. For over three centuries, many battles have been waged within its boarders. Since the First Great Samurai War, the battles of the samurai world had ravaged the desert-land. Now, once more, war had come to the land yet again. During an assault on the Land of Volcanoes, the Land of Storms had combated the volcano samurai for over fifty days. Despite inferior numbers, the Land of Storms had fought the volcano samurai and come of standing, and now, the storm samurai were at the boarder of the Land of Dune Seas and the Land of Volcanoes. However, the samurai of the Land of Storms could not pass the boarder. Between their exhaustion from warring within the heart of the Land of Dune Seas, and the current standstill battling at the Land of Volcanoes' territory, the storm samurai were on the brink of imminent disaster. Unlike the volcano samurai, the samurai of the Land of Storms were highly unaccustomed to war in places of climatically-intense temperatures, and the wearied samurai were beginning to exhibit the toll they took.
Organizing the war effort behind the battlelines was Hazai Kugosashi, along with four other Seieibushi. The effects of battling on unfamiliar terrain and even worse conditions was not only unsurprising, but expected. From the beginning, Hazai knew it would happen. All the samurai did. To combat the volcano samurai upon the Land of Dune Seas and again on their homeland would be a mission impossible to survive. Hazai knew, as they all did, they were not expected to survive. His orders were simple; conquer the territory known as the Land of Dune Seas, infiltrate the Land of Volcanoes, navigate through the volcanic terrain until the boarder between the Land of Silver was reached. Once that was accomplished, Hazai was to occupy the Land of Tides, and use the land's positioning as a gateway to lay siege upon the Land of Echoes, their ultimate target. It was such an obvious fool's errand, even a child could comprehend that there was no possibility for success. In fact, the very nature of the mission made Hazai wonder why he was sent to lead the attack in the first place. The only thing perfectly clear was that the attack on the Land of Volcanoes, as well as the entire mission, was a distraction. Perhaps he was to be a martyr, or was designated by the Arashishogun to be a sacrifice meant for a greater goal.
Whatever the case, Hazai had no intention of embarking on a suicide mission and die for the sake of nothing. But he could not be a deserter, not anymore, not when so many lives were depending on him. The only thing he could do was accomplish his mission. The only question was, would he lead his men without direction from his superiors, or would he wait for the Kodenbushi that he and the other Seieibushi knew would never arrive? The Land of Storms was outnumbered by a ten to one margin. Surrounded by deserts and and by crags of volcanic land, the storm samurai were outmaneuvered in enemy territories far beyond their own. The obviousness of their conditions and circumstances were undeniable. Along with Hazai, the other Seieibushi all concurred; the battle was all but unwinnable, and they didn't stand a chance.
If he had it his way, he'd recall the samurai back to the Land of Storms, but as luck would have it, that was no longer an option. All of his thoughts led him to the same conclusion; Hazai and his battalion were abandoned. The Kodenbushi reported to be on his way would never come. After all, Hazai himself knew he'd never send on of the nation's single most powerful samurai on a suicide mission. As Hazai stood looking over the reports on the battlefront, Mashuda, his second-in-command, arrived.
"Kugosashi, I have a report from Washiki's reconnaissance force. He informed me it was urgent I read you its contents as soon as possible."
Hazai sighed deeply. He was troubled, so much so, he did not even attempt to hide or disguise it. "Read it to me. Any updates on the front lines is urgent."
Kugosashi opened a grayish-green scroll, and began reading its contents. "From Washiki Iraku, task commander of the 12 reconnaissance force; The volcano samurai are refusing to give ground. Our forces are holding out due to our entrenchment, although the losses of our side are outweighing our enemies..."
Mashuda paused for a moment as he reached the end of the report. Although his eyes were locked onto the scroll he was reading, he could tell it was disturbing Hazai. They were dying, albeit slowly. Anyone would be disturbed by such news. "Finally, we have received reports that the Land of Volcanoes is assembling a special task force to combat our own, and are planning a campaign to invade the Land of Storms. The numbers of their force is unknown, however, we do know they are being led by a Kodenbushi."
Hazai was silent for a few moments after hearing the report. After a while, he gave his orders to Mushuda