The Cheater

There was an unsavory tension in the air as the two swordsmen faced off, so thick the crowd of peasants surrounding them could taste the sourness in their mouths. The duel was taking place on a riverbank outside the village and its inhabitants had all dropped what they were doing to come see these great men fight. There they stood, faces hard and expressionless, shining curved swords drawn and leveled.

One was the greatest samurai in the province, with three nasty scars on his face and not a single defeat. The other was a stranger, a ronin whom almost nothing was known about, but his opponent had recognized the faded clothes and farmer's hat with the sword hanging from his hip. No farmer in the land of the rising sun ever wore a sword, so this man could only be the one the stories told of. It was said that he had never been touched with a blade, nor ever lost a duel and the master wanted to put that theory to rest. He would further his already renowned name with the defeat of this mysterious man.

The stranger had asked many times, nearly to the point of begging for the scarred man to withdraw his challenge. He openly professed his own weakness and unworthiness of the master's time, but the master refused to sheath his sword and so the stranger was forced to draw his own or be cut down.

There they stood, each waiting for the other to make the first move. The stranger beckoned the master with two fingers and an arrogant smirk, hoping to hook the man by his pride. The master stood still, not a part of him twitching. A soft breeze blew and the pink petals of the cherry blossom trees that lined the river floated across their battleground. One petal floated in front of the master and his sword flashed, faster than the wingbeat of a fly, cutting it into perfect halves. That was when the stranger struck. He reached into a pocket sewn inside the crossing folds of his shirt and pulled out a wicked weapon from the west, making the audience gasp.

It was a small, handheld thing, made of wood and ugly grey metal that did not shine like a sword. A short tube extended from the handle, under which was a small lever that the stranger's finger pulled. With a bang that made the villagers cover their ears and flee in terror, the black magic of the weapon was cast, opening a hole in the master samurai's chest. From it a dark bloodstain spread, pouring down the cloth of his Gi. The man gasped, wide eyed in surprise and fell over, dead. The stranger then returned the weapon to its place inside his garments, sheathed his sword and walked off, listening to the shouts and curses of the villagers who had not run away.

They called him a coward, a cheater and a devil for his underhanded trick, for associating with those cretinous foreigners, but the stranger didn't care. He had seen enough of Samurai honor when they butchered his parents, burned his home and cut away all the beauty from his sweet sister's face. He had grown up hating their way as he watched them do whatever they pleased and also finding that no man ever dared defy them. He wore a sword as they did only to scare off most of those who would do him harm, and to hide his true protector. Never had he trained with it, not a day in his life, while the master had devoted all of his days to the study, the perfection of his swordplay. But he was alive and the master was dead and at the end of the day, that was all that mattered.