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REWRITE! - Not a rock, I'm just Ruth
All Me, no apologies
just_ruth
just_ruth
REWRITE!
It Lives - It Liiiiiiives!


The Legend

In the long ago when the world began the great Dragon roamed through the stars causing havoc in its wake. Worlds burned and suns were devoured. The gods sent the Hunter; he who even now strides through the sky each night, ever guarding against the demons and monsters of the dark between the stars.

The Hunter struck down the Dragon and its body fell into the sea at the place where the sun rises. Some of the pieces, the largest being the head and jaws, with Lake Hitomi as its eye, pointed north and west towards the mainland. Some of the pieces, one the long strip of the tail, pointed south to the myriad islands where the Iliki roam in their double-hulled sail ships. In the middle fell the Dragon’s heart forming the smallest island even now called Kokoro.

The old gods brought to this land the people who live here - nobles and farmers, monks, priests and fishermen and all the others who make up our society. The people called the islands Doryuu for the Earth Dragon. The days of the Beginning were long and golden, when legends and magic roamed through the islands. Some say the magic never was, other say it faded away and still others say that dragons, shape-shifters and immortals are still with us, we have just lost the ability to see them.

Prophecies were spoken in these times and many were written down. Many concerned a time when Doryuu would be part of a much larger world that just its islands.

Then came the darkness of the time before the Emperor – a time of warlords battling for supremacy. Many were the dangers in those days of chaos, dangers both from within and from without. In these times heroes arose . . . sometimes from where they were least expected.


THE HONOR OF A DOG


Snake yawned and scrubbed one hand through the short brush of his hair as he leaned on the bar of the Fourth Post Inn. While it still functioned as a stable for the messengers of the ruling nobles, the Inn was become the center of the village and more renowned for its rice beer than for its riders. All Snake could see of his partner was his backside as he crouched among the dice players. Not that he minded, he could look at Sai’s bright red backside all night if he wanted to and he usually did. Sai wore red cotton pants that were bright enough for a Miko with a haori that had an incredibly gaudy fan pattern. His girlishly long hair pulled into a hip-length tail and his worn, patched clothes helped to make him look harmless. Sai was not harmless with a dice cup in his hands.

Snake could rest his chin comfortably on top of his head. Snake was just as lean as Sai, but his father had been a ship-wrecked mariner from a foreign land; in addition to his unusual height, Snake had brown hair, eyes that were a mix of brown and green and his skin was a lighter shade of tawny gold that was prone to freckle in the summer sun. Snake’s pants were dusty brown. He wore only a tiger-striped vest over his chest to show off his bold muscles and his brown hair stuck up in spikes above his red hair band. He could trick the dice almost as well as Sai, but he preferred to show off by wrestling the local champions. He also kept off the bullies and the annoyed losers.

It was the hour of the Rabbit, that hour just after sunset where “men decided if they were Rabbits or Tigers” as the old saying went, meaning they either headed back to their wives or stayed out for drinking and gambling.

The little tables of the bar had been stacked against the walls. The men knelt on a great square of white canvas in the center of the room. Sai rattled the cup loudly. “Hi-hi-ho! Odd or Even? High or Low? Place your bets!” he chanted. Coins pattered on the canvas.

“Hi-hi-ho! Everyone ready? Here we go!” The dice rolled across the surface. “Five and Five, even and high, if you’ve lost, you now know why!” he chanted.

“It’s a cheat!” one of the losers jumped to his feet.

Snake finished his rice beer and stood behind Sai.

“Now, now, don’t get all excited. After all, they were your dice, friend,” drawled Sai.

“You did something to them!” shouted the man.

“What did I do?” Sai asked. “I made an honest throw. Anyone say otherwise?”

“His dice usually fall with an odd number,” said another gambler.

“Really?” Sai looked at the commentator with smirking astonishment. “Are you saying they were loaded?”

With a yell, the loser launched himself across the canvas for Sai’s throat. Sai pitched the dice into the man’s face and pulled the forked weapon that was his namesake from his sleeve. He grabbed the gambler by the collar and placed the point of the sai against his throat.

“Now, let’s all be civilized, shall we?” he asked.

Snake shifted his weight and looked from one grim face to another. “They thought they could fleece us, Sai.”

“Well, weren’t they surprised,” Sai remarked. He gave the gambler a shove that knocked him on his back.

“Kill them!” screamed the man.

“Oh, turtle eggs,” groaned Snake.

*********

“Put me down!” Sai shouted as he bounced against Snake’s back. Things had quickly turned ugly after Sai exposed the loaded dice. Snake had decided the wisest course of action was to throw Sai over his shoulder and run. “Put me down! I can run! I . . .” He looked back at the bar. “It’s on fire! Snake! Did you set the Post Inn on fire?”

“I didn’t mean to!” Snake grabbed the post of the dock to get his balance.

“Put me down!”

Snake set his partner back on his feet. “Now what?” he asked.

“We keep running,” Sai sputtered. “You set the Inn on fire, that’s going to piss the whole town off.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Snake muttered.

“Stop whining, I _know_ it wasn’t your fault.”

A yelling mob surged out of the darkness.

“Jump!” Sai yelled, elbowing Snake in the ribs. The two men dove into the sea. The mob stamped and swore up and down the dock for what seemed like hours. In a small pocket under the water-level walk way, Sai and Snake drew shallow breaths and waited. Sai could hear Snake’s teeth starting to chatter when the last noise faded away. He left Snake waiting and swam to peek out.

The two commandeered a row boat and headed out into the dark water.

“D-do you know where we’re going?” Snake demanded, shivering.

“Just row, we should hit a current soon.” Sai squeezed water out of his braid. He checked his purse. It wasn’t as full as it had been, but it wasn’t lean either.

“And then what?”

Sai got ready to snap at Snake to just shut up and row when they heard a distinctive sound.

_Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom._

“A rowing cadence?” Sai stood up to try and see better in the murk.

The prow of the dragon ship, the head and neck of a ferocious dragon, came roaring from the gloom.

“Jump!” Sai shouted for the second time that night as the serpentine figure head crashed into their rowboat.

Not long after finding themselves in the water, they were hauled from the sea and dragged across the deck

Sai rolled to his knees, coughing. Snake folded his arms across his chest and shivered. They leaned on each other, trying to get their bearings. Besides the sailors on the deck, there were other men clearly in fighting equipment surrounding them.

A young man sat on a chair in front of the main cabin. He wore a dragon patterned kimono and a cold expression on his handsome face.

“Who are you?” he asked.

Sai bowed from his knees. “Just a pair of humble gamblers, Lord. We-er had a little trouble in the town and had to leave. We are grateful for your rescue and hospitality. ”

“Huh,” said Dragon Robe disdainfully.

“Master,” one of the sailors who was better dressed than the others, bowed to Dragon Robe. “The look out reports a fire in the town.”

“A little trouble?” Dragon Robe looked at Sai.

“A minor misunderstanding that got quite out of hand, not by any fault of ours I do assure you, Lord,” Sai flinched inwardly and knew he was babbling. The last thing he and Snake needed was to be flung into the sea again.

“Huh,” said Dragon Robe again.

“Goraku!” called one of the fighting men. “That fellow from the sea is as big as you.”

The large man in question came to the front of the group, looked at Snake and spat on the deck. “I can take him.” He was broader than Snake, but not as tall. His eyes glared from under thick eyebrows.

Snake eyed the scowling Goraku He shrugged. “Maybe you can, but I don’t want to fight you.”

Goraku seemed to consider that a moment. “No,” he finally said. “I want to fight _you_”

There were whoops of delight.

“Well,” said Dragon Robe, “perhaps you should prove yourselves worthy of my hospitality. If the big man can throw Goraku, he can stay. If he does not. . .” The Lord shrugged.

“This is _your_ fault,” Snake grumbled as he stripped down to his fundoshi.

Sai swallowed nervously as the expressionless sailors paced off the circle and brought a rope to mark the perimeter. While they was doing this, the young men were exchanging bets. He thought he recognized some of the names as being from the noble families of the island of Sebone. He rubbed Snake’s back, as much to stop his shivering as Snake’s.

Goraku’s torso was covered with tattoos; demonic faces leered in the dancing amber light of ship torches. Sai whistled. This man was no ordinary retainer! Dragon Robe wasn’t getting excited over the coming bout, he was sitting back with a small, coldly satisfied smile. _Who are you?_ Sai wondered.

Snake was licking his lips nervously, shifting his weight as he felt out the wooden boards beneath him. He could read nothing in the big man’s face and that worried him. He concentrated on the man’s dark eyes. They circled. Goraku was trying to make Snake face the torches. He must have been thinking the wavering light would trick Snake’s eyes to his opponent’s movements.

Snake refused to be caught. Goraku charged. Snake dodged and tripped him, sending him face first to the deck. He came back up yelling in rage. Snake side-stepped and Goraku careened into the audience. Laughing and whooping, they pushed him back into the ring.

Snake closed and grabbed Goraku around the waist.

Goraku wrapped his arms around him and trying to heave him off his feet. They grunted and circled, each trying to shove the other off balance.

“Don’t _dance_ with him, you ass!” screamed one of the audience.

“Break his back!”

Goraku roared and lifted Snake into the air. Snake wrapped his legs around Goraku’s torso. The wrestler was startled and overbalanced. He fell forward. Snake rolled with the fall, throwing Goraku over his head. Goraku landed on his back with a painful thud and Snake continued up to his feet.

“Get up!” Dragon Robe’s icy voice cut over the audience.

Goraku shook his head as he got up. He looked at Snake more warily. Snake backed away.

“I don’t want to fight you,” he repeated.

“You’re a coward,” Goraku snarled.

“Yes, I am,” Snake agreed.

“Fight him!” shouted one of the audience, trying to shove Snake back into the ring.

“You fight him!” Snake threw the young man into the ring and backed off.

Dragon Robe watched him with narrowed eyes. “Goraku, enough,” he said. He frowned at Snake at moment. “Captain,” he didn’t even turn his head. “Get this man something to eat and put him to work as part of your crew.”

He now focused on Sai

Sai jingled his purse with a wide, disarming grin. “As I have said, Lord, I’m just a wandering gambler, a thing of rags and patches. Dice are my tools of trade, would you like to take my money?”

“No,” Dragon Robe gave the same small, satisfied smile, “You seem to have a ready tongue. You will be my guest in my cabin and I will ask you some questions. I am sure you will have answers.”

Sai felt a chill that had nothing to do with the wet and the night air.
*******

The main hall had been closed off from the chilling autumn wind. The assorted nobles and councillors were dressed in their thicker, warmer robes of state. Lord Uchida no Yemon of Hidarashi Island straightened on the dias where the nineteen year old had been slumping in boredom as the various reports from his newly-acquired domain were droned by his chief councillors. His mother, the Lady Takaharu, had finally stopped hissing at him from behind her phoenix decorated paper screen to sit up. He had just heard something interesting. “Burned down the Fourth Post Inn?” he repeated.

“Yes, my lord,” said the Chief Councillor of the Right, an older man who had served under the young Lord’s father. “A rider came with the news this morning.”

“What is being done to hunt these bandits?” the Lord demanded.

“In all fairness, Lord, it seems to have been an accident. We should send word to the magistrate of the Fifth-Post Inn’s territory,” the Chief Councillor of the Left checked his notes. “Turtle Rock is the name of the village it operates from.”

The Post Inns were the idea of his father. There were twelve of them around the coast of the island and it meant that Lord Uchida could get a message to his retainers within a day. All Post Inns had to keep three horses ready at all times.

“I remember that Inn,” Uchida scowled. “That was where that dreadful woman stole my dog!”

Two years ago, he had gone hunting in the area and the year-old sesame-colored Shiba pup had been injured by their prey, a wild pig. Uchida had ordered the animal destroyed. The ugly old woman who cooked and cleaned for the Fifth Post Inn begged to be allowed to try and save it. Uchida magnanimously allowed her to have the dog. The following year he had returned to find it cured and had demanded its return. Shiba dogs were for the nobles to hunt with, after all.

The dog bit him. It had clearly switched its allegiance to the woman of the Fifth Post Inn.

Someone coughed. Uchida glared to his left. Seated in front of a screen with a mountain scape was his older brother Tsume. Tsume was six months older than Yemon, being the son of a concubine, the councillors declared him ineligible to inherit the title Yemon now held. His mother kept telling him not to trust Tsume, but sometimes Yemon envied his half-brother’s freedom from the obligations of being the Lord of the island.

Tsume spoke now; his voice calm, “the dog was merely grateful to its rescuer.”

“Yes, of course,” Uchida drawled. “The honor of a dog can be bought for a bone.”

Tsume barely flinched; knowing the comment was aimed at him.

Lady Takaharu groaned behind her screen. “You fool,” she whispered. “Don’t antagonize him!”

Uchida snorted. Tsume would never dare to touch him.

“The bandits, my lord,” the Chief Councillor of the Right began gently. “Warning the Inn?”

“Yes, of course,” Lord Uchida sat back. “Order the magistrate of Turtle Rock to apprehend these criminals at once.”

Tsume’s clenched jaw made him look like Yemon’s father when the former Lord had disapproved of what his heir was doing. “The men of that territory will be out with the fishing fleet, there will be only women and children to defend the village.”

There was a brief uncomfortable silence and the councillors all looked everywhere but at the Lord or his brother. Yemon felt his face grow hot.

“How dare you!” He roared. “Very well, since you are so concerned, _you_ may go and rescue those so-important women and children and apprehend the bandits that burned down the Fourth Post Inn!”

Tsume bowed from his knees.

Lord Uchida scowled at everyone. “Enough, you bore me,” he snapped at the councillors. “Well, brother, if you’re so anxious about those fishermen’s families, hadn’t you better get going?”

Tsume bowed again and respectfully backed out of the chamber.

“Someone get me some tea,” Uchida snapped. His mother sighed behind the screen and Yemon wondered what he’d done wrong _now._

*******


Tsume sighed as he chose an armored shirt of lacquered metal plaques from the castle armory to supplement his swords and knife. “I wish Yemon saw that I am _not_ his enemy.”

“He is still learning his power,” said his tutor, Machi, as he adjusted the straps. “Of course, if he stops listening to his mother and starts listening to people with sense; he may become a good ruler.”

“And if he does not?” asked a soft, dry voice. A white-haired man in black slipped out of the shadows of a connecting hallway.

“Shinobi Master Hisoka,” acknowledged Tsume with a bow. “It will not be my problem if he does not. It will be the problem of the Council and the Chief Councillors.”

Master Hisoka inclined his head at the answer. “Well put, Lord Tsume.”

He shook his head. “No Lord, just Uchida no Tsume.”

Master Hisoka inclined his head again. Machi and Tsume headed for the stables. The older man turned to the shadows.

“Follow them,” he said quietly. “There are those around Lord Uchida who would eliminate his competition. That must not be allowed to happen.”

A shadow slipped from among the others and moved silently away. Hisoka sighed softly.

“Two sons can be a curse, Hisoka,” said the late Lord Uchida as the two old friends sat having tea. “Especially two as closely born as Tsume and Yemon.”

“The Council has already picked Yemon,” Hisoka poured the fragrant brew into the delicate porcelain cups.

“They have,” he nodded, “yet I worry. May I ask you a favor old friend? Will you watch from the shadows as you do best and watch over my sons?”

“You shall watch them yourself for many years to come, old friend,” Hisoka nodded. “Yet, I shall promise you this small service gladly.”

_Truly,_ thought Hisoka, _the future is written on the sand. Who would have expected the river fever to strike you so strongly, my dear friend, when you had always been so healthy? I made sure your body was examined by those who would know and there was no poison in your system._

_So I watch your sons, old friend, and I hope I do not have to choose between them._


*********

The sea and sky were a hazy grey under the clouded sky of an autumn dawn. It was not raining, but a steady cold misty drizzle that would penetrate any number of kimono layers and eat to the bone. A small woman in a brown and green kimono with a black sash climbed the pile of rocks that looked like a giant turtle, a Shiba dog at her side. She looked out to the horizon as she had been for the last two weeks since the fishing fleet was late in returning. The sesame-colored, curly-tailed dog voiced a warbling query. She bent and scratched between his pricked ears. He did not like the wet and was letting her know about it.

“No sign of the fleet, yet, Goma-chan,” she said. She sent it off to play and run on the beach. She could see no signs of a storm, but the sky was only grey and any birds were keeping themselves somewhere warm and dry.

Goma-chan came running back, his right hind leg only dotting on the ground from an old injury, with something in his mouth. She laughed, no matter where or when they walked, Goma-chan always brought her something.

“Give,” she ordered. He dropped the shell into her hand. “Thank you, Goma-chan,” she petted the dog, who lolled his tongue and laughed. She had never seen a shell like it. It was tapered from a knobby spiral and was marked with thin stripes of purple on a sandy-cream. “This is very pretty, Goma-chan.”

Goma-chan stiffened, his ears erect and then growled. She turned her head and could just make out the faint cadence of a drum, coming closer.

“Goma-chan,” she climbed down from the rocks. “We had better tell Kane-san.”

**********

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Comments
lil_1337 From: lil_1337 Date: November 14th, 2006 12:57 am (UTC) (Link)
This is flowing much better with the scenes in this order. It follows a more linear path. I'm glad it lives and can't wait to see what comes next.
just_ruth From: just_ruth Date: November 14th, 2006 02:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I let it sit for Saturday and Sunday, then put on my editing hat (what has been called my "hostile and unfriendly to new writers hat")
and looked at it like I would a fan fic.

"If you wanted the story to be about A and B, why did you start with C?"

lil_1337 From: lil_1337 Date: November 14th, 2006 03:15 am (UTC) (Link)
It worked. Fiction is fiction regardless of who you are writing it about.
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