Yuudai: 雄大 juːdæɪː Great, manly; hero
Yuuto: 優翔 juːtɔː Gentle, superior; [to] soar, fly
It’s all in the name.
Aspect: Background – “Black Sheep”
The Kaiyu estate upheld family and honour, and every new addition to the household was given a name that reflected the reputation of the Kaiyu. Kaiyu Yuudai, the eldest son, was no exception; a boy of seventeen, with the entire estate as his inheritance. He was born into the privileged, and the privileged are established for life.
Yuudai was in the middle of his weekly orienteering class with his father. Their route took them through the nearby forest and would last at least another hour. Yuudai was already bored; he knew this forest well and could easily navigate it without a map. He cringed to himself when he remembered what else was to come that day: mathematics lessons until dinner, and then another high-profile soiree. His whole life encompassed elements to prepare him for his role in the Kaiyu household, once he came of age. Yuudai was not yet sure, however, if it was worth it.
Suddenly he broke out of his train of thought when he heard what sounded like shouting coming from off the main path, near the base of a steep hillock. Yuudai insisted that he and his father investigate.
“You’re hearing things,” his father replied. “It is probably just a bird.”
“It sounded more like a person.” Kaiyu Akihiro shrugged indifferently.
“Then it must be a child playing in the pauper huts.” Yuudai hated the term ‘pauper huts’. Kaiyu Akihiro started his horse off again along the main path, but Yuudai had already decided he was going to come back for another look around.
The next morning, Yuudai headed to the forest alone very early. After a more thorough search, he heard someone coming. Thinking it was his father, he hid from sight. However, it was in fact a young girl around his own age. He watched her enter a seemingly invisible opening in the rock which no one could possibly notice unless they knew where it was beforehand.
He followed shortly afterwards through the concealed entrance, which opened up into a large cavern. Torchlight danced off the red sandstone walls in glorious harmony with the silhouette of the girl Yuudai had seen just a moment ago. Gazing at her once again, she was positioned on a raised platform in the centre of the cavern, performing seemingly flawless acrobatics for someone of her age and build. Yuudai, feeling cocky, attempted to sneak up on her. Unfortunately a small piece of driftwood crackled underfoot and immediately he felt a curled fist whack him between the ribs. Yuudai’s knees buckled and he fell to the floor.
“What are you doing here?” the girl barked. “This is top secret! None of you Kaiyu are welcome here!” Yuudai moaned and squirmed on the floor, attempting to get up again.
“Not bad for a girl. Do you always greet a gentleman this way?”
“HA! Gentleman?” she laughed. “Bit small for a gentleman aren’t we! Here, catch!”
Yuudai looked up to see a blade heading straight for between his eyes. Without even having the time to think, he vaulted himself off the floor and clumsily landed a foot away from where the knife now lay in the soft soil.
“Are you crazy?!” Yuudai screamed. “That could have killed me!”
“That was the idea,” the girl replied coldly, before drawing a short wakizashi.
“Do you even know how to use that thing?” Yuudai asked her, still dumbfounded by the situation.
“If you are a gentleman, then fight me like a gentleman. We Jianghu are merciful, after all.” She tossed Yuudai another sheathed wakizashi. Reluctantly he drew it, keeping a close eye on her.
“You are one of the Jianghu?”
She launched herself forward and he barely managed to block her strike, once again landing on the soft floor. His fencing training suddenly engaged in his brain and he nimbly rolled away and stood up in a ready stance – his left hand behind his back and his right hand pointing the wakizashi in front of him. It felt light and balanced in his hand; his hand-me-down fencing swords were nothing like the craftsmanship of this new blade. Now Yuudai’s confidence was growing, he tried to address his attacker once again.
“If you are one of the Jianghu then we are not so different. I may be one of the Kaiyu but I don’t exactly enjoy it.”
The girl performed an uppercut with her blade, and once again the torchlight danced on the red sandstone. This time Yuudai was ready for it and he swept an arc through the air with his own sword. A clang sounded in the cavern and echoed off the walls.
“How could you not enjoy it?” the girl replied angrily. “You have everything. Food, shelter, servants, soft beds… We have none of those things and all thanks to his Most Benevolent Excellency!” Her wakizashi did a quick swipe towards Yuudai’s shoulders, but just in time he veered himself backwards. He backed away even further, intending to put an end to the fight. The girl, however, had no such intention.
“You Kaiyu will not stand in our way while we take what is rightfully ours!”
“I have no intention of standing in your way!” Yuuto shouted. “And stop calling me Kaiyu! My name is Yuudai!” His adversary stopped in her tracks with a puzzled look on her face.
“Yuuto sounds better to me,” she replied with an apathetic look.
As if that’s so important right now! Yuudai thought, but he played along.
“But that’s not my name! My name is Yuudai!”
“Really? So did you name yourself, or did one of your family members decide that name would be fitting for you?” Yuudai was speechless. “If you are a Jianghu, you name yourself. If you have no intention of standing in our way, you are not a true Kaiyu.” The girl sheathed her wakizashi while Yuudai looked at her further.
“What did you name yourself, then?”
“Shizu.” Yuudai laughed.
“But you’re not silent, or else I wouldn’t have heard you.”
“Your father didn’t hear me,” Shizu replied. Yuudai once again said nothing. “You are not like the other Kaiyu. You don’t go running to your mother at the first sign of danger. You seek to know the truth.” Shizu outstretched her hand. “I can show you the truth, Yuuto.” This time, the way she addressed him was poetic and soothing, even if it was not his name. For a split second two silhouettes on the red sandstone were joined and at a standstill as he inhaled deeply, and took her hand.
Aspect: Inciting Incident – “Careless Talk Costs Lives”
Five months passed.
Once again the silhouettes danced on the red sandstone, but they were always joined in some mystical fashion. Yuuto and Shizu were practising their weekly sparring, although this was a much more passionate art than fencing. It spoke to Yuuto much more, and he had improved greatly since the first time he had entered the Jianghu cavern.
Yuuto’s mindset had changed as well. No longer was he caught up in the frivolity of the Kaiyu life as much as his family intended him to be, which concerned them. It was only until he returned home that evening when it became apparent where his father was waiting for him.
Yuuto’s father Kaiyu Akihiro was sitting in his evening armchair, smoking one of his favourite brands of cigar, but once he heard Yuuto enter the house, he drew a breath so harshly that the butt of the cigar resembled a hot poker.
“Been out again, have we Yuudai?” Kaiyu Akihiro questioned while still seated in his evening armchair. Yuuto entered the room, and the heat of the fireplace hit his cold skin. “You look cold, son. Come, sit by the fire for a while and tell me what you have done today.” Yuuto could hear something strange in his father’s tone of voice, and didn’t like it.
“I was practising my fencing again. You know how passionate I am about fighting,” Yuuto claimed.
“Ah yes, you seem to do a lot of that nowadays which is all well and good, but I fear that you are lagging behind in your studies.” Yuuto suddenly tensed up and thought he should make amends.
“Yes, father, I will go and study now,” he said, getting up to leave. But Kaiyu Akihiro stopped him.
“Wait! Hold on, boy!” he replied with a laugh that cut through Yuuto’s heart. “Let me see this sword of yours. It will be interesting to see which one you have shined to the most.” Yuuto’s heart felt split in two, and a hot bead of sweat trailed past his temple.
“I will show you later, father… after my studying.” Kaiyu Akihiro was not convinced, and his mask of sincerity was suddenly removed to reveal a much darker underside.
“Kaiyu Yuudai – you would not disobey your father now, would you?” Slowly, Yuuto opened his bag where he kept his weapon, and revealed his trusted wakizashi. Kaiyu Akihiro took it and studied it for a moment.
“This is not a family weapon. Where did you get this blade?” Yuuto quickly stuttered an answer.
“I bought it myself. From the market.” Kaiyu Akihiro gave Yuuto an unsettling leer.
“If you bought it at the market, how much did it cost?” Again, Yuuto had to think on his feet.
“1200.” Kaiyu Akihiro’s leer did not change.
“Don’t lie to me, Yuudai. Such a blade is far superior to that price. I have never seen you with this sword. If you bought this from a market you would not hesitate to show us all. You are hiding something from me.”
“Someone gave this to you. Who?”
“Really…” Kaiyu Akihiro pulled the blade out of its sheath and examined the underside of the guard. Strange writing was inscribed there, and Yuuto’s father widened. “This is a Jianghu sword. You have been associating with the Jianghu!”
At that, Kaiyu Akihiro called two of his male servants.
“Take Kaiyu Yuudai to the cellar and make sure he doesn’t leave,” he stated as he pulled on his coat.
“Sir?” one of the servants questioned.
“Do as I say!” Yuuto’s father cried. “Or do you want to be kept down there as well?” His voice calmed again to a soothing voice, like the soothing voice of an assassin before the blade enters your heart. “When you’re done with that, get my horse.” He turned to his son once again. “Then we’ll really see whether you got this sword from a market.”
Aspect: Belief – “Nobility is a Virtue, Not a Privilege.”
Night had fallen, and the cellar was even darker than by day. Yuuto was shivering on the cold stone floor as he pulled his knees up to his chest. The last words his father spoke were playing over and over in his mind. Initially he was frightened for himself, as to what his father would do to him when he had absolute proof of his association with the Jianghu. However, he was suddenly reminded of that fateful day in the forest – what if his father also remembered, and had gone to investigate? Yuuto’s thoughts turned to Shizu, and suddenly he was scared for her. Up until now, he had always thought of her as a great warrior, but while she possessed speed and finesse, Kaiyu Akihiro possessed rage and strength in numbers. He was also a renowned marksman.
Flashbacks of his confrontation with Shizu were playing through in his head, but then it stopped at that split second Shizu had uttered his new name – “Yuuto”, gentleness and soaring in flight. It suited him far more than the name given to him at birth, “Yuudai” meaning “great hero”. He did not intend to be great, nor be a hero, and Shizu had uncovered this true feeling Yuuto possessed.
He had to do something.
Yuuto glanced behind him into the other side of the cellar where an iron gate stood. Originally it was to transport wine up to the cellar without using the rest of the house as a thoroughfare, but it had not been used for at least several months. A rusty padlock bolted to the bars, however, prevented him from leaving. Yuuto acted quickly, jumping to his feet and then kneeling down next to the gate. He outstretched his hand through the bars and picked up the nearest stone. Yuuto pondered for a moment if there was a quiet way to bust the padlock open, but concluded there was none. With all his might he pounded the shackle, and the noise echoed round the cellar. The servants were bound to hear, and he was right. After a few more hits Yuuto heard footsteps coming from the door up to the basement. Not wanting to waste any more time, he smashed the padlock once more with the stone, and the shackle split in two. The door to the basement was now being unlocked, but Yuuto had already grabbed an oil lamp hanging on the wall.
Without looking back, he pulled open the gate and disappeared down the passageway.
The lantern shook in his hand as Yuuto sprinted through the darkness. The tunnel carried on in a near straight-line for about a mile, until a blast of cold sea air hit him in the face. Yuuto had come out near the edge of the farmland, adjacent to the end of the main estate driveway. He bounded across the open fields to the forest, hoping with all his heart that he was not too late.
Upon reaching the cave, Yuuto realised that Shizu had gone, but a clumsy disturbance in the sand confirmed that Kaiyu Akihiro had also been there. Footprints led towards the back, and sure enough was another entrance. Once again Yuuto was back outside, but his surroundings were no longer familiar to him. Rolling hills were stretched out before him as the forest snaked across the landscape further away to the north. The stars were now strewn across the never-ending sky, with the pale moon hanging among them. Yuuto’s lamp gave out a much warmer light in contrast, but in the distance at the bottom of the slope something glowed warmer still.
As he moved closer, the sounds of voices danced around him on the air. He could not quite make them out, but he sensed fear and dread. But soon as he got closer still, his senses engulfed him like the flames that engulfed the houses ahead. He dashed down the hill and he could now make out figures dancing in the flame. Some were on foot; others were on horseback. The voices – no, screams – were getting much louder, piercing the bellowing frequencies of the spreading fires. Hooves thundered on the ash-strewn soil causing dust to fly everywhere, while their riders bore blue satin garments that imitated waves in the wind – garments that looked extremely familiar to Yuuto. He looked at his own silk tunic in complete disdain before sprinting forward once again.
He had to find Shizu.
Yuuto saw a horse rear up with a loud whinny as a blade flashed past its vision. It came from someone on the ground, but the horse’s owner retaliated by drawing a pistol and firing a warning shot in the air. The horse seemed more used to the sound of a gunshot but the villagers certainly were not, and a unison scream erupted in fright. Yuuto, however, was too frightened to scream. His eyes were now fixed on the figure who fired the gun, and was now addressing the people he had so senselessly attacked. For just a split second, Yuuto was able to see the man’s facial features as the sparks from the pistol illuminated it, but it was long enough to reveal that the one leading the attack on this village was his own father.
“Now listen to me you Jianghu scum, I am Kaiyu Akihiro and you are treading far too close to my estate. I will give you one chance to leave this place, as long as you surrender the wielder of this wakishizu to me.” As Akihiro’s speech pierced the hearts of the weary throng, he presented Yuuto’s sword and held it above him like his own trophy. Yuuto scowled at the thought of his father using his own weapon as an ultimatum, but before he could react, a familiar face emerged out of the crowd.
Her hair was dishevelled and her eyes weary as the warm light lured her into view. Akihiro did not react, but merely lowered his gaze towards her. Shizu remained silent and submissive as Akihiro slowly drew Yuuto’s blade out of its sheath, but worst of all, Shizu was unarmed. An incoherent cry erupted from the crowd in protest, but Shizu did not flinch.
“Look around, my dear, for this rather impressive blade of yours has caused all of this destruction upon your people. And you have tainted my eldest son, Kaiyu Yuudai, the rightful heir to my estate. But I am the one to seal your fate, Jianghu.”
Shizu smiled weakly and muttered, “His name is Yuuto.”
Akihiro swung the wakizashi in a seamless arc, slicing into Shizu’s neck. Drops of blood escaped the now gaping fleshwound, but her eyes did not leave Akihiro’s gaze. The blood began to cascade down her neck and she dropped to the floor.
Her silhouette had ended its final dance.
Yuuto released an agonising scream, turning Akihiro’s attention from the Jianghu. His followers also turned, and Yuuto’s father smiled.
“Now Yuudai, you see what happens when you disobey your father,” he stated as the wakizashi glinted red. “Turn around and go home, and I will deal with you when I return.”
Yuuto clenched his teeth so hard his jawbone ached; he had no intention of backing down.
“Nobility is a virtue – not a privilege.” The words spat out through his teeth like spitting embers. Yuuto’s father lazily tossed the blade away and it landed in the nearby grass.
“Virtue gets you nowhere in a society run by the privileged!” On his final word Akihiro fired his pistol in the air once again, and two of his followers jolted their horses into action, causing them to gallop towards Yuuto. Yuuto proceeded to run straight towards them, intending to get to Shizu. He headed round so he was in line with the left rider, but as it came up to meet him a burly arm from atop the horse wrapped round his torso. Yuuto instinctively sunk his teeth into the satin garment and the rider cried out in pain, his weight shifting to one side in response. Without being able to balance himself again and Yuuto still ripping into the man’s arm, he finally lost grip on his horse and Yuuto, hitting the ground below with a thud. Yuuto had caught one leg in the nearest stirrup while desperately clinging onto the horse’s main. The animal was still galloping but was now out of control, wild and unpredictable. Yuuto attempted to get a better grip on the reigns, and with all his might pulled himself up. Once he was level, he reared the horse to a halt and turned it around to face his father.
Kaiyu Akihiro had also pivoted round to face his son. A glint of rage could be seen in his eyes as he readied his pistol once again. Akihiro charged but this time Yuuto remained stationary, waiting until his father was close enough. Then without warning he stood up on the saddle and leapt towards his father, throwing him off his horse. The gun also flew through the air, landing several feet away from them both. The grass felt cool compared to the searing heat from the burning houses, but Yuuto could feel his father’s hot breath in his ear. Akihiro wrestled Yuuto off him in order to retrieve his pistol, but Yuuto spotted his blade first and darted towards it like a magnet. Quickly he readied it as Akihiro, united with his weapon once again, marched back towards his son.
“How does it feel to know that dealt your friend the killing blow? That is her blood upon your sword. I doubt you would have the guts to use it against your own father.” Yuuto desperately tried not to focus on his father’s words, and instead kept eye contact.
“I doubted you would have the guts to kill your own son, but now I am not so sure.” Akihiro snarled.
“You are no son of mine.”
As Akihiro drew his pistol up to meet his son’s eyes, he let out a bellow of pain, dropping his gun. He gripped his ankle where a throwing dagger was now deeply embedded in his flesh and toppled to the floor. Yuuto looked at him briefly before running over to where Shizu lay.
Upon seeing her body, Yuuto nearly retched, but he mustered himself to cradle her head in his hands.
“You will die like the rest of them!” Akihiro shouted, and two more of his bodyguards rushed towards the Jianghu. Someone grabbed Yuuto’s wrist, tearing him away from Shizu.
“Take one of the horses and go. We will take the rest of them.” Yuuto gazed in horror at the Jianghu.
“But you’ll die!”
“There is nothing left for us now, but you belong with the rest of our clan. Look to Kausau City. There you will be welcomed by our brothers and sisters.” As Akihiro’s men closed the gap, Yuuto realised he was running out of options. Without another word, he bounded off towards the first horse as his protector rallied whomever was left to his side. Yuuto clambered onto the horse, tucked his wakizashi into his belt and rode off into the night, not once looking back.
Aspect: Trouble – ‘Not Everything Can Be Undone’
As the cries faded into silence behind him and the fires dimmed, Yuuto pressed on. So many emotions flooded through him and so many memories flashed before him: his father’s words, the blazing fires, but most of all, the sound of Shizu’s head leaving her body. Yuuto winced and his vision blurred as tears welled in his eyes. He turned to look at the sea on his left; the wind had settled to a gentle breeze. A strange calmness then flooded Yuuto’s mind. The coolness of the night air created a state of complete emotionless. He could think incredibly clearly and all his senses seemed amplified. While his heart wanted to bring back Shiza, he knew now that not everything could be undone. But the undoing would not redeem Yuuto’s predicament – it would be his actions from then on that would determine his fate. He thought back to his family, to his father, and the rest of the Jianghu who saved his life. He could never go back home. Kausao City would become his home.