“Yu” by Matt Dalen

Dedications:

Thanks to the Ricepaper Group, especially Daidoji Gisei-san and Moto Maratai-san, without whom it would have been a much worse story.


The tiny piece of flint remained steady in the tweezers.  Tamori Shosei peered through a rough lens, trying to fit the flint into its slot in the small device on the table before him.  The flint had to be positioned just right for the adhesive to hold.  This was a delicate task, as placing the flint wrong would mean that it would break off easily when struck against the rough steel plate on the other finger of the glove, to create a spark.  The device was a gaijin invention, used for lighting explosives in combat.  Shosei slowly maneuvered the flint into contact with the fitting, and muttered a quick spell to harden the adhesive.  As he released the tweezers, he breathed a sigh of relief.

          “Shosei!”  The alchemist jumped.  He turned around to see the form of Hida Keitko framed in the door of his tent.  He was obviously mad.  “Need I remind you, Tamori-san, that you have patrol duty tonight?”

          Shosei looked at him, surprised.  “It’s sundown already?”  He pushed back the flap of his tent and peered up at the night sky.  The only evidence of daylight remaining was a dim red glow on the horizon.  He bowed to Keitko.  Gomenesai, Keitko-sama.  I got caught up in work, and did not notice the time.  Putting on the newly repaired glove, he headed out on patrol.

          Hiruma Masu was already waiting on top of the ten-foot tall wooden barricade which surrounded the camp.  Shoseis group had been stationed at one of the garrisons along the border between Crab and Shadowlands-held land.  It was a small garrison, only seventy-five samurai strong.  Unfortunately, the majority of the original Jade Hand members were stationed elsewhere.  Masu and Keitko were the only ones whom Shosei knew well.

          Ah, our wayward shugenja returns!  Masu grinned.  I hope you didnt get lost trying to find the wall.

          The Dragon grinned back.  Sorry, Masu.  I guess I got caught up in something.  But I do have my flints back.

          Good.  Word is, there have been sightings of troops moving.  Daigotsu may be planning a raid.

          Shosei nodded and peered out into the night.  The air was cold this far south, and he regretted not wearing something warmer, as his kimono didn’t provide much protection from the elements despite being fireproof and extremely durable.  He shivered as his eyes scanned the woods for any sign of movement.

          Several hours passed before anything happened.  “Shosei.”  At the sound, the Dragon started.  He had nearly forgotten Hiruma Masus presence.  “Do you see something out there?”  Masu pointed out beyond the torchlight.  “I thought I saw movement.”

          Shosei watched the forest intently.  The reflection of Lady Moons light off of something metal caught his eye.  “Armor!” he hissed.  “Wake the camp.”

          Masu began shouting, awakening the camp.  The attackers, their presence betrayed, started running towards the fortifications.  Shosei could make out about forty of the Lost, as well as something much larger moving behind them.  As he watched, a huge oni emerged from the forest.  Twice as tall as a man, the oni had a vaguely feline shape, but it was covered with heavy scales.

          Waiting until the oni reached a certain point, Shosei released a small fire spell.  Almost immediately, the oil-soaked ground beneath the oni erupted into flames, bathing the area in a reddish light.  Several of the Lost were engulfed in the inferno, but the oni seemed unharmed.  Cursing, Shosei began drawing out small, explosive potions from his pouches and lobbing them at the Lost storming the embankment.

          All of this only took a few seconds.  Archers were just starting to appear on the barricade.  Shosei saw their leader, Tsuruchi Arihyoshi, place an arrow right between the eyes of the oni, but it bounced off of the hard plating there.  Masu drew out a small bow.  He flashed a quick grin as he aimed for what appeared to be a fallen Crane.

          Despite their best efforts, the oni reached the gate and quickly ripped it apart.  The Lost poured into the compound, engaging the samurai who had gathered there.   Masu discarded his bow, useless at this distance, and rushed into the fray.  Almost in slow motion, Shosei saw him charge the oni, his tetsubo drawn, rushing right into the oni’s backhanded claw.  Masu went flying, falling at the base of the wall.

          Meanwhile, Shosei had been drawing explosives out of his kimono and lobbing them at the oni.  Exploding on contact, there was no visible effect, other than making the oni mad.  The oni roared and charged at Shosei, who leapt from the wall and began running away from the camp, throwing the occasional burning potion at his pursuer.

          “Why… won’t… you… die?”  growled Shosei, looking over his shoulder.  He reached into his kimono.  “Bloody… only one left.  Gotta make it count.”  Drawing the last explosive out, he muttered a quick spell.  Sliding to a stop, he turned to face the oni.  “Come and get it, you bastard!”  Shosei leapt at the oni, almost running up its bulk.  The oni roared in confusion and its claws dug into Shosei’s side.  Grimacing from the pain, Shosei grabbed hold of the demon’s mane with his left hand, bracing himself as he shoved his right hand down the throat of the beast.  As the teeth clamped down on his arm, he smiled viciously and growled, “Who’s the big man now?”  With a flick of Shoseis fingers, the magically enhanced explosive went off, and the alchemist’s world went black.

***

Shosei awoke slowly.  He could feel something binding his side, where the oni had wounded him.  Groggily, he opened his eyes to look up at a wooden ceiling.  He tried to sit up, but the pain was too much, and he cried out as his head collapsed back onto the pillow.  Turning his head, he could see that he was in a small room, lying on the floor.  A small statue stood at the far side of the room, but he could not make out who it was supposed to be.  He tried moving his arms, but they appeared to be held to his sides.  Someone had obviously bound his wounds.  Using a quick murmured spell, he probed the wound in his side, left by the onis claws.  It did not appear to be infected or tainted, although there was a lot of damage. 

          Outside the door, Shosei was able to make out low voices approaching.  The door opened, and a large-muscled monk entered, followed by Hiruma Masu, on crutches.  The Crab grinned.

          “So, you’ve awakened!  Looks like I win the pool… most of the camp felt sure you wouldn’t wake up for another day.”  He worked his way over to Shosei’s side.  “How are you feeling?”

          “I’ve felt better.  Where am I?”  Shosei asked, eying the monk with curiosity.

          “You managed to lead that oni halfway to Kyuden Hida.  Since many of our medical supplies were lost in the attack, we brought those wounded the worst to a nearby shrine to Kisada, Fortune of Persistence.  You’ve been asleep the last three days.”  Masu’s smile faded.  “We lost several good samurai, Shosei.”

          Shosei nodded his assent.  How many did we lose? he asked the Hiruma.

          There were fifteen verified deaths, and another seven were badly injured, including you.  Which means that weve lost about one third of our fighting force.  Keitko-sama has sent word to the main encampment, so we should receive reinforcements soon.

          Shosei was silent.  With fifteen samurai dead, they had lost one fifth of the force in the small garrison.  He was about to say something when the monk interrupted him.

          Im sorry, Tamori-sama, but I need to change your dressings.  Hiruma-sama, if you would wait outside?  Masu nodded and maneuvered himself out of the room, closing the sliding door behind him.  The monk turned to Shosei.  Your left arm should be mostly healed by now, but the wound in your side will take a long time to heal.  Ill unbind your arm, but you will not be able to get up for several weeks yet.

          What about my right arm?  How badly was it hurt? Shosei asked.

          The monk looked at him for a moment, then spoke.  Your right arm was beyond repair.  It was lost to the shoulder. 

          The alchemists face turned grim.  Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he had known.  The odds of his arm recovering from an oni bite and an explosion of that size had been low.

          The monk, having finished dressing his wounds, got up to leave.  It would be best if you slept.  Ill send in some food for you later.  Shosei just looked at him as he left.

          For a long time, Shosei sat there, staring at the place where his arm had used to be, bemused.  It had always been a possiblity, that he would be severely injured, but he had never seriously given it any consideration.  When he had given it thought, he had always just assumed that he would die suddenly, and that would be that.  He could handle dying.  Once he died, he would head to Yomi, and that would be that.  But to live without an arm, especially his primary arm, was almost too much.

          For as long as Shosei could remember, alchemy had been his life.  Being somewhat less than proficient at the magical arts, he had made use of his innate intelligence to learn all he could about the way the world worked.  But alchemy required a steady hand.  With one hand, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to do the detailed work needed. 

The more he thought about it, the more Shosei grew convinced that his life as it had been was over.  Never again would he be on the front lines, fighting the ones who had been responsible for his fathers death.  He would have to leave the Jade Hand, as there would be no place for him there anymore.  All of his friends would look down on him, as half a man.

His thoughts were interrupted by the entrance of Hiruma Masu.  The Crab limped his way over to a chair and sat down.

How are you feeling? he asked.  Were all worried about you.

Shosei lay back.  How do you think Im feeling?  Ive just lost my arm and my future is hopeless.  Ive become utterly useless.

Masu grimaced.  I can only imagine what youre going through.  If I had lost my arm, I dont know what I would do.  But theres always hope…

You dont know anything, Shosei whispered, and theres no way that you could know what Ive gone through.  Just… just… leave me alone.  He turned over, facing away from the scout.

Masu sighed.  Very well.  Youll be better eventually, youll see.  He walked out, leaving Shosei to his brooding.

***

The wound in Shoseis side had faded to merely a very nasty scar in the last several weeks.  He was now able to move freely, and had rejoined his fellows at the garrison.  He had grown moody and taciturn since the fight, however, and most of the camp began to avoid him.  The alchemist spent most of his time just lying in his tent, staring at the ceiling and sleeping.

Shosei!  Hida Keitko walked into the tent and sat down.  What the hell do you think youre doing?

Shosei started.  Sitting up in his cot, he turned to glare at the commander.  What does it look like Im doing?  Im sleeping!  Now if youll leave me alone…

Keitko shook his head.  Shosei, you have to get yourself together.  Youre a samurai, damnit.  I dont care what youve been through, just get the hell up and do your job.

You dont understand! Shosei shouted, half standing up.  How can I do my job when I only have one arm?  Im useless!  I cant fight with one arm, and Im only a mediocre shugenja at best.  I cant do any kind of detail work any more.  Ive tried working with my left hand, and I just make a mess of things.  Youre better off finding someone else.  He sank back onto the cot, as if the tirade had worn him out.

Look.  Youve been through a lot.  I can only imagine how hard it is on you to lose your arm.  But I know you youre resourceful.  If anyone can find a way to deal, you can.  So youre clumsy with your left arm?  So what?  Retrain yourself.  Its up to you to teach yourself how to use your arm.  Im sure, between your magic and your tenacity, that youll be back in fighting shape in no time.

You dont understand.  None of you do.  I cant… Im useless.  Just let me be.  Shosei lay back onto his cot, facing away from the Crab.

Very well, if you want to wallow in self-pity, thats your prerogative.  Sleep all you want.  I dont care.  Come back here when youre ready to face up to things like a samurai.  Keitko got up and walked out of the tent.

For a long time, Shosei just lay there, thinking about what Keitko had said.  Finally, he came to a decision.  Getting up, he went off in search of the commander.

Keitko was just finishing the daily drills.  As Shosei walked up, the Crab looked at him.  So, youve decided to come out of your tent?  Have you finally decided that life is worth living again?

Shosei nodded.  As I am, Im useless to you, and am a liability.  I need to train a lot more before I can get back into shape.  Therefore, Im taking a leave of absence.  I plan to return home, where I can get help from the shugenja of the Tamori.  My cousin Chieko, especially, is versed in the healing arts.  I will return once I am able to fight again.  Goodbye, and thank you, Keitko-sama.  The shugenja bowed.

Very well.  We will all hope for your return.  He slapped Shosei on his good shoulder.  Good luck, my friend.

Shosei bowed again, and walked back to his tent.  For the first time in a while, he felt a small grain of hope.  He wasnt completely convinced that he could still be useful, but he was past the worst depression.  He was still a samurai, and with Togashis blessing, he would still find some way to serve the Empire.

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