Shattered Sunlight: Part Three
The villages near Shenkuu City were technically under the Emperor’s direct control. In reality, House Amoure ruled them, for the Emperor was too concerned with Shenkuu as a whole to bother with details. Vesper knew that. And he also knew that it was his duty, both as the Heir of House Amoure and as a Shenkuuri, to go to the villages and train militia.
That didn’t mean he had to like it.
At least there were some guards willing to train them while Vesper took a break and practiced on his own. Standing in the middle of the village’s town square, Vesper drew his sword. Ignoring the spectators, he began a kata. Strike and block and strike again, block and take a step forward with another strike... the pattern ran through his mind, smoothly translated into action without a pause. Vesper moved on reflex, mind free to watch the area around him.
The villagers lined the edges of the square, even when he began, but soon enough even the new militia were watching him, along with the guards. Vesper smiled, seeing their looks of awe. He moved more quickly than most, in the kata forms. The same focus that made him a dueler allowed him to do them without the thought that most needed. Cassie was another exception, though with her it was more the incredible awareness she had that allowed speed.
Thinking of Cassie, Vesper glanced up. She visited occasionally, traveling through all the nearby villages to help train the militia. Val kept her at the palace more often than not, saying that she had a different perspective than anyone else. Privately, Vesper thought that that was only half the reason. Changing the kata pattern, Vesper drew his second, shorter, sword. A harder art, and one that he didn’t use as often. But the patterns were beautiful, especially when done with a partner.
Then a roar overhead broke Vesper’s concentration. He froze, looking for the source. A shining metal capsule sped through the sky, smoke trailing from it. In a moment, Vesper registered what it was. “Send warning to the city,” he shouted, turning to the nearest guard who could fly. “The rest of you, prepare for battle. I don’t know where it’s going to hit, but it could be near us.”
The guard, a blue Lenny, took off. The villagers stayed put. Vesper sheathed his swords, letting the rasp of metal on metal ring through the square. “Move!”
They moved. Led by the guards, they gathered their weapons and formed ranks around the city. Vesper stayed where he was, watching the capsule move. He held off judgment on where it would land until he had to, but at last he swore under his breath and pulled out his katana. The capsule was headed straight for them. The militia had been training for eight months, but he still didn’t know how effective they’d be.
Vesper watched the capsule, waiting until it hit the ground – close to them, far too close – to begin moving, sword in hand, to the nearest militia. When he reached them, he nodded. They were staying still. Each of them held a spear, keeping the point up. “Wait here,” he said, running past them without explanation. He heard a chorus of voices saying “Yes, sir” behind him, but didn’t respond. What he was planning on doing was probably more suited to Cassie, he knew, but he couldn’t resist.
Cresting a hill, Vesper looked down at the capsule. Ten robots, all roughly shaped like Bori, were arrayed around it. Two mutants, a Techo and Grarrl each holding a laser weapon of some sort, were with them. Vesper smiled, holding his sword in both hands. His premise was simple: Hold off the robots until the militia was fully organized to defend the town, someone disobeyed orders and came up after him, or Shenkuu City sent reinforcements.
Out of those options, Vesper suspected the second was the most likely.
The mutants noticed him. Vesper heard their cries, watched as they ordered the robots up the hill to where he stood. The purple Kougra relaxed, taking slow, deep breaths. He had time. He had all the time in the world to prepare himself as the robots approached, slow as the cycle of the moon. The mutants held back, and the Kougra shook his head slightly. They were afraid of him, of the lone warrior who dared stand against their supposed might and their mobile heaps of metal.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Vesper spoke. “Remember,” he whispered, quoting words his masters had taught him. “One person can defeat ten others, if the ten are ill-trained or the one beautiful in battle. Remember that knowing the enemy can make the difference between victory and defeat.” He smiled, raising his voice. “And remember that battle is a dance.”
The hiss of moving parts neared, and he opened his eyes. The first of the Bori reached the top of the hill. Before it registered his movement, Vesper stepped forward, slicing cleanly through its blue and silver head. Sparks flew from its body as it fell to the ground, and Vesper stepped back, sword held relaxed and ready. “The way of the sword is like water,” he said, looking down the hill. “It flows smoothly and steadily, yet it can be still and calm or quick and roaring.”
He paused, cutting down two more of the robots in as many blows. “The way of the sword is not one of violence, but one of protection. Aggression is not violence. Anger is violence, when it is not controlled. Aggression is simply the art of taking away the initiative from one’s opponent.” Vesper strode into the midst of the remaining robots, side-stepping their blows and returning perfectly aimed ones of his own. “Taking the initiative from an opponent can take many forms, but the final art is that of destroying their spirit without a touch.”
Vesper sliced the final robot, turning to the mutants. “Remember that to touch the void is to touch the heart of nothingness, and to fight, you must touch that void with your thoughts. It provides a center from which to observe.” Releasing his sword with one hand, Vesper dove to the ground, rolling. “And without observation, you cannot win a battle.”
He spoke softly, but that his sword rested on the neck of the mutant Techo gave his words more weight. The blast of energy that had passed over his head as he rolled gave it even more. “Do you yield, or must I finish my blow?” Vesper asked, sword steady.
The Techo hissed, spiked tail twitching as he looked at the shining blade.
“Don’t you dare,” Vesper said, not turning. The Grarrl stopped. “If you shoot, you can be sure that your companion will take your shot, not me.”
With a grunt, the Grarrl dropped the giant mass of laser technology he’d been holding.
“Do you yield?” Vesper asked again, sword pressing into the Techo’s scaled neck.
The Techo glanced around, eyes moving but body staying still. At last, dropping the laser it held, he spoke, voice harsh. “I yield.”
“Good.” Vesper turned to the Grarrl, not yet moving his sword. “And you?”
Without a word, the Grarrl nodded.
Vesper smiled. “Come with me.”
Neither of the mutants argued as he walked back up the hill. They walked in front of him down the hill, heading for the assembled spears of the militia. As Vesper and the mutants approached, the spears wavered, uncertain. Vesper sighed. He’d need to fix that. They should be sure of themselves, even when their commander was walking straight for their weapons. It wasn’t like they had any chance of hurting him, after all.
With a flick of his sword, Vesper halted the mutants ten paces from the militia and addressed the guards that led them. “These two will be our guests until His Imperial Majesty makes some room for them in the palace.” He nodded at the mutants. “Try not to hurt them. They yielded to me without too much trouble, and I expect they will be considerate.” He stared at the mutants, eyes narrow. “Am I right?”
They both nodded hastily.
Vesper smiled slightly. “Take them to the guardhouse.”
Four guards stepped forward, two flanking each prisoner. Silently, the mutants followed the guards around the militia and into the town. Vesper watched them, noting how the militia edged away from the mutants and spears pointed towards them, not towards the front of their formation. Vesper stayed where he was, watching, until the mutants and their guards passed through the village gate.
“Spears forward,” he said quietly. The militia organized itself quickly, but not quickly enough. Vesper sighed. “Always have them forward, whatever ‘forward’ is designated as. Right now, it’s towards me. Now, explain to me why I can beat ten robots and force two mutants to surrender. Any ideas?”
Nobody said anything. The silence stretched on, until at last one of the militia muttered, “You’re Shenkuuri.”
“That’s some of it.” Vesper smiled. “Cassiel is Shenkuuri. Cassie would have destroyed them in less than half the time I took. Our teacher, though, he would’ve just waited at the top of the hill and let them destroy themselves. He would have become an immobile wall. I was water. Cassie is fire. There are so many different ways to fight. Yes, Shenkuuri training is part of it. But why I won?”
Vesper dropped his voice slightly. “I destroyed their will.” He turned and began walking away, towards the fallen capsule. “Think on that.”
To be continued...