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Old July 12th, 2010, 3:48 am
Yoshimi25  Female.gif Yoshimi25 is offline
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This is a short story that features my character, Ohsiro Ren, from my series, Koden:

The shadows of the late afternoon stretched across the grey sky, growing noticeably darker in the area that Ren suspected was her destination. She had heard in the village at the base of the mountain that the locals won't go near this place. They told her it was evil, that it was haunted, that it was full of angry ghosts waiting to steal your soul. They warned her that she would not return.

At this point, Ren was ready to believe it.

She paused for a moment, shaded her eyes with her hand, and stared intensely at a fixed point about a quarter of a ri ahead of her. Already the air in the mountain forest was becoming ominous, reacting on her every nerve, reaching down and pulling up her every fear, overcoming her with the feeling of wanting to turn around and run as fast as she could.

Ren narrowed her eyes and said a single word aloud: "good."

Oshiro Ren stood only five feet tall. Her long ebony hair was pulled up on both sides of her head into twin square buns, wrapped tight and held in place by purple silk ribbons. The rest of her hair had been plaited and fell down her back. The hairstyle was a bit childish, making her look younger than she was - which, if truth be told, was the reason she choose such a style. Her purple tunic was coarse cotton with a curved striped pattern accenting the neckline and a boarder around the hem. Her trousers, made of rough black silk, were belted at the waist. They had originally been designed to fit a man, so Ren had modified them by tying them off at the ankles, which created a billowing effect on her legs. On her feet were simple straw sandals. The overall effect was not something outstanding, but something about her usually caused people to look twice.

Ren had been on the largest of the Ryu-kyu Islands for two months; this journey up the dense mountain jungle had begun just after sunrise. She carried with her only a few meager necessities and, her prize, The Staff of Ages. Quelling her rising fear, Ren steadied her nerves and began to trek forward.

Finally the dense trees broke into a clearing and before her stood a humble temple silhouetted in the setting sun. Ren drew in a deep breath and slowly released it. "I made it," she breathed. Then her spine stiffened as she felt eyes boring into her back. Slowly, almost unrealistically, she turned around. The sight she saw was one that she would carry in her memories forever.

A woman stood behind her. Her long silver hair was unbound, flowing loosely around her shoulders like a waterfall, her grey eyes flashing with anger. Her tunic was knee-length, made of brown spun cotton, plain, an obi tied at her waist. Her feet were bare. Her back was straight, her shoulders squared, arms loosely at her side, knees unlocked, and one leg raised just slightly to the ball of the foot.

A kamae stance, Ren thought instantly. If I move wrong, she will attack.

The woman raised her chin just slightly, looking down at Ren. "Nuu sou ga?" She demanded in Hogen. Ren's mouth opened, but no sound came out. This woman radiated sheer power and sheer terror. For the first time in a long time Ren felt small and helpless.

"Nuu sou ga?" This time the tone was softer, sterner, and meant business. If Ren did not respond, this woman would attack. Ren's grip tightened on the Staff of Ages and she shifted her left foot ever so slightly - a move undetectable by most. The woman noticed it and narrowed her eyes.

With an action of sheer swiftness Ren threw herself prostrate on the ground, forehead touching the dirt. "Guburii sabura, Chura-sai," Ren said quickly in perfect Hogen, then added, "shinshi."

The woman, who's name was Chura, was taken aback, but recovered quickly. "You have a foreign look about you," she said, "yet you speak Hogen. Are you from the mainland?"

"Uun, Shinshi," Ren responded. Well, either way, it was close enough.

"I take it by the way you keep calling me shinshi you've come to be my disciple."

"Uun, Shinshi" Ren repeated, confirming the woman's statement.

"Get up, child," Chura ordered with a sneer, "and go back to where you came from. I don't take on students." With that statement she swept passed Ren and headed towards the temple. Ren scrambled to her feet, turned, and called out,

"Chura-sai! Shinshi! Wait!!"

Chura paused in mid-step, her back still towards Ren, and said in a level tone, "I told you to go away."

"Please," Ren called back, lowering her eyes respectfully, even though Chura could not see her. Chura made no response but continued toward her temple until she vanished inside. Ren stared at the empty space for a few seconds, then gracefully sat down in seiza, to wait.

Chura was an old woman, though her exact age was unknown. She was reputed to be one of the last of four great natural sorceresses, skilled not only in fighting but the use of powerful, ancient magic. According to legend, the skills were passed down from the early days of the world when magic was still raw and powerful. It was whispered that practitioners of this magic could move forward and back through time, space, and dimensions, raise the dead, purify demons, even kill the gods. Though diminutive amounts of those skills still abound, mostly among holy men, modern practitioners were weak compared to the ancient skills.

There were, even among the four, forbidden spells - things they couldn't speak or teach as they would bring death to the user. As the legend goes, the last Four decided that all such skills would die with them, never to surface on the world again. Chura was the youngest, and the last of the four.
She could sense that the young girl was still out there, and suspected that it was the skills in magic that she sought. How, Chura wondered, had that girl known about her, Chura, when even the villagers she had lived near for the last forty years did not even know her true nature? She was also a small bit impressed with the girl's fortitude - regardless of the Intimidation Spell Chura had cast around her temple to keep people away, this small slip of a girl had pressed forward. And faced her. Chura also darkly noted that the child was carrying The Staff of Ages, which was last known to be in the possession of Enma-daio. It wasn't the fact that Enma-daio might have told the child about Chura that bothered her...it was the fact that the child might be on familiar enough terms with Enma-daio for him to speak of Chura that concerned her. If that child had faced down Enma-daio and walked away with the Staff of Ages, she might indeed prove to be a worthy student - if Chura would decide to take her on.

Morning broke and Chura noted the child still sat, unmoving. Chura ignored her and went about her daily routine. Chura duly noted that the child neither moved nor spoke. This went on for three days. Finally Chura had had enough. On the forth morning she approached the child and loomed over her.

"Get up," Chura barked. Ren immediately stood up. "You haven't moved in four days," Chura noted. "You must be stiff."

"Uun, Shinshi," Ren gave an affirmative reply.

Chura's eyes narrowed. "How do you know about me?"

"A friend told me," Ren replied automatically.

"Did that same friend give you that staff?"

"Uun, Shinshi."

Chura drew her hand back and struck Ren across her face. Ren kept her eyes respectfully lowered, but they began to burn with resentment. "Liar!" Chura accused. "Do you mean to stand before me and tell me that your friend is Enma-daio?"

"Uun, Shinshi."

Chura's eyes narrowed further and she leaned closer until she was mere inches away from Ren's face. "Come at me with everything you've got," she said levelly.

Years of daily training had kept Ren limber, in spite having sat on her legs for the past four days she still moved with an impressive amount of speed. Quickly Ren latched onto Chura's tunic and dropped to the ground in one fluid motion, catapulting Chura over her, throwing her back. Chura twisted in mid-air, landing nimbly on her feet. Ren rolled up the other side and sprung to her feet again, her stance wide, her staff ready.

Ren took the end of the Staff and swung it in the air, starting with the east gate, half-circle to the west gate, then completing the move with a full east to west circle. Chura smiled, recognizing the technique. She extended her arms forward and down until they were directly seated over her hara, and formed a diamond shape with her thumb and middle fingers. The energy created by Ren's waza with the staff was drawn into Chura's own spell, fading out on the wind.

Chura threw back her head and laughed at Ren's puzzled look. Then she grinned unpleasantly. "Child...would you like your Chi back?"

The next thing Ren knew she was blown full force across the clearing and landed on the other side of the temple. She had just enough time to tuck and land on her shoulder, but still rolled across the ground a few spins until she came to a stop. Ren was on her feet again instantly, but it was too late - Chura was pulling her up by her shirt, bringing Ren's face level with the Sorceress.

"You're weak," Chura spat, "but you intrigue me. I'll give you one test. If you pass, you can become my disciple. If you fail, I get your life."

Ren blinked. "Agreed," she ground out.

"In my temple there is a room in which I house the Uyannu no Iin, the Forbidden Scrolls. Steal those from under my nose and I'll become your Shinshi and teach you everything I know. However, if I catch you, your head will decorate a pike outside my temple."

Ren blinked again. "Agreed," she repeated.

Chura threw back her head and laughed again, then tossed Ren aside as if she were nothing more than a tunic to be laundered. Ren sat where she landed, and watched Chura walk back inside.

Was she serious, Ren thought. Steal. Enter her temple, locate and steal a set of forbidden scrolls without the old lady detecting her presence? Although Ren had heard of Chura, it was clear that Chura...had never heard of Ren. Ren rose up, brushed the dirt off her clothes, and walked just a few feet into the forest surrounding the temple. Then she turned, faced back towards the temple, and sat down to think.

Ren knew that Chura selected this task because she had the ability to detect the movement of chi. She also suspected that if she tried to use the Staff of Ages to create a dimensional portal, Chura would sense that as well. Still, Chura couldn't watch from every direction, and most likely would feel safe in going to sleep since any movement Ren made would wake her up. The key would be to strike immediately, since the sorceress would expect an assault after dark.

Ren leaned the Staff against the tree and charged the spot with her own chi. Then, suppressing the rest, she sprung up into the trees, ran nimbly along the branches, then dropped soundless on the roof of the temple.

Its ironic, Ren thought, that the first skills you learn are always the ones you fall back to. As a young child, Ren had been quite the accomplished thief, and it was amazing how her skills in thievery always changed the entire course of her life. From an orphan of war picking the pocket of the man who eventually became her adopted father to a dutiful daughter who stole to save her father's honor. This time, it would gain her a powerful teacher.

Ren knew she'd only have minutes to act before Chura realized Ren's chi wasn't moving. Sprinting noiselessly along the roof to the edge, Ren paused long enough above a window to listen. She could hear Chura moving about, but not in that particular room. She gripped the tiles, gave them a test, checked to see if the window was open - which it was- then flipped herself carefully over the roof and into the window. She eased herself into a soundless landing and froze, waiting to hear which direction Chura was going. No movement. Ren eased the door back and peered out into the long hall. Empty. She took note of the dust on the floor, and nimbly scaled the walls and braced herself across the ceiling beams. Using them as well as her hands and feet, she moved down the hall overhead so that she didn't leave footprints in the dust.

Once at the end of the hall, Ren dropped down in the shadows, hoping it would conceal her footprints long enough. Then she surveyed the interior of the temple. It was dark, and looked as if it only had one occupant. Ren noticed that several doors looked as if they got more use than others - these were probably the rooms Chura lived in. The scrolls would be somewhere that Chura hadn't entered in months....maybe years. Sticking to the shadows and easing her way along, Ren searched for just such a room. She also hear Chura stirring. She guessed that Chura was most likely going about her routine, since she would feel no need to guard the scrolls or watch where she thought Ren was.

Suddenly a door flew open and Chura stormed out. Ren sank back into the shadows and watched as the Sorceress made a beeline for the entrance to the temple. She knows I've tricked her, Ren thought. Chura turned from the entrance and walked swiftly to the far end of the temple, going around dusty turns and through several doors.

When Chura reached the interior of the temple, where the dojo was located, she scanned the shelves and sighed with relief that the scrolls were still there. Chura turned, put her hands on her hips, and gave some consideration to what Ren might be up to.

I can't sense that child's chi, Chura thought, except for that one spot. Why hasn't she moved from that spot? Is she still there, waiting for the fall of night, or has she managed to trick me? Chura focused again. Her eyes flew open. She could sense the child's chi, but it was together with the chi of the Staff of Ages. Somehow that child had transferred some of her energy to the staff and left it in the woods. Which means....Chura turned around to reassure herself that the scrolls were still there....

And they were gone.

"It was a bit of a disadvantage, Shinshi," Ren said to Chura later. "I am a highly skilled thief."

Chura laughed. "You could steal from the Gods themselves," she remarked. Ren carefully kept her face blank, revealing nothing. The sorceress then gave Ren a curious look. "How old are you?"

"How old do I look?"

"Twelve. Get rid of that ridiculous hair style. And get plenty of sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a rough day for you."


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