A soft green light filtered through Hitsujikai’s eyelashes as he slowly awoke from what seemed like a very long and very deep slumber. As he focused his sight, he was able to make out the shapes of the leaves in the trees above him and the fading daylight behind them. He now became aware that he was lying on his back on the forest floor, the forest near his home, the forest he was running through as he was fleeing for his life. “How long have I been lying here?” “What happened to my pursuers?” His head was throbbing.
Hitsujikai slowly and gingerly rolled over onto his side in preparation to sitting up when he suddenly gasped and reeled his head back. Just inches from his face, there was what looked like a huge black worm moving surprisingly fast among the dead leaves and pine needles. Looking more closely, he saw that it wasn’t a worm at all. This creature seemed to have hundreds of legs that moved in a wave of motion, carrying the beast so fluidly it almost seemed like it was floating.
He slowly sat up and continued to observe the creature. The thing had stopped moving forward and was now biting into a large moldy leaf. Hitsujikai studied it intently. He had heard of giant centipedes that lived in habitats like this and had heard that they were poisonous and dangerous to men but this didn’t seem to fit the description.
This creature was cylindrical with a round head and tail and was a very shiny black color. As its body moved, he could see some lines of dark red separating the many segments of what looked like armor plating along its length.
Hitsujikai continued to watch as the giant worm-like creature finished eating the decaying leaf and then proceeded on its way, probably to find more to eat. At this point he remembered why he was in this forest in the first place. He had been picking mushrooms for a special meal his grandmother was going to prepare in celebration of his sisters birthday party. His sister! Panic suddenly set in and Hitsujikai leaped to his feet. The quick motion brought on a wave of pain and he grabbed the back of his head and felt a large lump and sticky fluid he guessed to be drying blood. A quick look at his hand and it was confirmed. The ones chasing him must have caught up and struck him down. Perhaps they thought he had been killed.
Once he felt stable enough to walk, he immediately began looking for his younger sister Mitsuko but also keeping his eye out for the ones who struck him down. He feared to call out her name since he had no idea how long he was lying there and they might still be close by. He frantically ran from tree to tree scanning the leaves and brush for any signs. He started recognizing the area and began to head toward their village, still checking the ground for his sister or for any signs of danger or any clues. As he got closer to the edge of the forest, he felt both a slight relief that he did not find her hurt or dead and a new fear that maybe she had instead been abducted by them.
Carefully, Hitsujikai crept out of the forest and began heading toward home. After clearing the first and tallest hill, he stopped and looked to the horizon and noticed black smoke rising to the sky in the distance. This was in the direction of his village. Before he realized what he was doing he was in a full out sprint and having shed all remaining fear of enemies, was crossing a large open field in full view. The bag of mushrooms he had picked earlier was slapping on his thigh as he ran. He ran until his muscles and lungs burned and his vision became blurry.
He turned the sharp left at the temple and onto the main road into town and then skidded to a halt, nearly slamming into a small group of people. They were pulling a wooden cart full of singed and still-smoking items. He stood there looking at them waiting for his vision to become clear again and soon noticed that they were his neighbors from across the road. They were bloodied and bruised and had been weeping and their tears had left black smudges streaking down their faces. He then noticed that there were only three of the eight here, the grandfather, the youngest girl and a cousin.
“Oh Hitsujikai” the young girl cried “where were you, where have you been?” “They killed so many and they burned everything down, they destroyed our village and our lives!” She was sobbing uncontrollably as they continued on their way with what was left of their possessions.
Hitsujikai turned and quickly continued home, passing the devastated smoking ruins of what used to be his town. As he got closer to his home, he saw the windows had been shattered and glass was everywhere, the roof was also smoking and obviously charred. He ran up to his front door, put his hand on the handle and paused. He had a terrible feeling about what he would see inside and he almost couldn’t get himself to proceed. Finally stepping inside, his worst fears instantly became all too real. He dropped to the floor sobbing. There lie Hitsujikai’s grandmother and grandfather sprawled out on the floor in awkward poses and with blood pooled around their bodies. His grandmother was wearing her favorite apron and one hand was grasping her kitchen knife she had used to prepare the family’s every meal. There was dried blood on the edge. His grandfather was lying face down and on top of his old spear from back when he served in the army a lifetime ago. The haft was cut in two and he grasped a half in each hand. Later, when Hitsujikai rolled him over, he saw a long deep gash from his groin all the way to his chin, he must have tried to block an upward sword strike with that old spear.
Once Hitsujikai could pull himself together enough to stand, he started calling and searching for Mitsuko. Practically the whole back half of the house was burnt badly and areas of the walls and roof were still smoldering. He searched in every room and every closet and under every piece of furniture but found no sign of her. She must have been taken in the forest or else she became lost trying to find him or her way back home or maybe she was still hiding somewhere. He quickly gathered up whatever belongings of his that weren’t burnt and whatever bits of food were remaining and a box of his grandfather’s important possessions that was hidden under a loose floorboard. He stuffed all these things in a sack and then stood in the main room staring again at his loved ones. He said a prayer, cried some more, left a npte for his sister in case she came back to the house, and then left.
Hitsujikai fled to the only other place he knew of that there would be a relative of his. An uncle that he hadn’t seen in many years lived in a village about five days away. His trip wound up taking longer since he got lost a few times and had to backtrack. All the while he was traveling; he couldn’t stop thinking of his family, especially his missing sister. Where was she? He also thought of how much he would miss the daily sword lessons with his grandfather. He loved them so much and had learned an enormous amount from the best swordsman he had even known.
Hitsujikai carefully placed his swords down near the katana-kake, and then removed his armor one piece at a time, laying them on the table for cleaning. He had bested three foes during the last battle and luckily managed to avoid any serious injury. As always, he carried the guilt of killing another human with him from the battlefield. He had no choice but to fight for his village; he would not let anyone do again to him and those he loved what they did all those years ago. He detested violence and killing but it was literally a case of survival for his village. The opposing army was driven to fight by their cruel emperor, although it was rumored that the real evil behind the throne, so to speak, was the wicked Empress. Who really knows, rumors are many and unreliable. He saw in their faces that they did not fight out of hatred for him or his fellow soldiers but they fought for the same reason he did, because they had to. Everyone he knew told him he had to fight and that it wasn’t his fault and that his God would forgive him as long as his heart and his cause were true. This didn’t help to console him when his blade pierced their flesh and they fell at his feet.
He had been caring for his uncle who had just recently turned seventy-five and had also been taking care of the orphaned son of one of those slaughtered from his old village. His uncle was now sleeping soundly and his adopted son was staying with the neighbors while he was away. Hitsujikai never gave up looking for his sister, searching far and wide for years and asking everyone who was willing to listen but it had all been in vain. He knew no more about what had happened to her that day then he knew then. She would have been eighteen this year.
After he cleaned his armor and his swords he placed them where they belonged and went to get something to eat and brew some much needed tea. In the cupboard, he reached up for the jar of his favorite Oolong tea but because he was so tired, he fumbled the jar and the loose tea fell out and scattered all over the floor. Sighing, he put the jar back on the shelf and bent down to sweep what he could into his hand. Crouching down there he noticed something under the bottom shelf, a box. He finished sweeping up the tea leaves, put them back in the jar and picked up the box; it was his grandfather’s important possessions he had brought from his childhood house. He had forgotten about it since he arrived here but now quickly felt a spurt of energy and curiosity. He forgot about the food and the tea and placed the box on the table, pulled up a chair and opened the box.
Hitsujikai looked through the documents and items, mostly letters from Grandmother while he was on tour and many, many military awards and citations and medals. Grandfather never boasted about his service or about his skills and accomplishments in the sword arts. He was the most humble man he knew. Hours went by as Hitsujikai looked carefully over every item in the box, which was now all spread out over the table top. Before he began to place the items back in the box, he noticed something strange. There was an outline in the bottom of the box. After closer inspection, he discovered that there was a false bottom and if pressed on one side, it lifted on the other. Hitsujikai quickly opened the flap and looked inside. There was a scroll, an ancient looking scroll tied with a red and black silk ribbon. He gently removed the ribbon and unrolled the scroll.
大やすで打刀拵 – Daiyasudeuchigatanakoshirae. This sword was crafted by the Gods themselves as a tool for the just and compassionate to wield. Dai Yasude was made in the image of the Giant Millipede, which plays an important part of the eco system of our forests.
The Giant Millipede feeds on the dead and decaying plant matter along the forest floor, helping to clear away the dead while making a new and clean path for the birth of new life.
The hamon on this blade represents the Millipede with its many segments and many legs. The tsuka also mimics the curves and segments of the creature’s body. The menuki are complementary of the overall theme of this sword. The dead leaf signifies the past. It also represents the food source of the millipede. Dai Yasude feeds on the dead and decaying or in this case, the past lives and by doing so provides space for the rebirth of the new souls.
The mushrooms represent the spirit or soul and are also known to signify rebirth. It is said that if an honorable warrior is felled with this sword in the hands of the just and compassionate, he will be given the opportunity to be reborn into a new life in the future. Those fighting with malice will not receive this gift. The wielder must be the chosen one, the one capable of deciding who are deserving and the one capable and willing to be the guide for their souls as they pass from one life to the next.
The blade was forged by the Gods and the koshirae created by the most loyal followers of this cause. The construction took ages and many incantations and blessings were bestowed upon it. Under the mushroom menuki a piece of parchment with the sacred characters for Spirit/Soul written on it was placed. Under the leaf, the word for Rebirth/Resurrection. In the hands of the Chosen shepherd, this sword will take life but with the exchange of a new one so that the one struck down will have the chance to be reborn into a more peaceful life.
More to this story coming soon