◈ A Dream
The dream came to Ichi once more. A dream of valleys, of rugged people surviving through hunting and gathering, of a ground that was rough and gray. In her waking life she knew this to be the Ryuta region, in her dreams she knew it as home.
The Oeki Clan had a small settlement, no more than 30 or so families. Their settlement hugged the banks of the Turina river. The tightly packed huts opened up around a small but humble village hall. This is where the chief of the clan and his family call their home, as well as where issues pertaining to the village take place. In the dreams, she sits in the halls with the man who she presumes is her father.
The dream races through time, showing glimpses of times of happiness. Her father consoling her after the death of a pet, his training methods to improve her sword play. His voice calls out the name ‘Ichi’ and she instantly turns around, seeing his intimidating figure crack a smile as he throws a snowball towards her. She dodges out of the way but as her feet touch the floor she's back in the village hall, next to her father presiding over a small war council. Talks of peace have seemingly broken down, and the strategy on how to engage one of the northern clans has begun. Talks of calling for help from the Sonan clan across the river peak interest, as a man is instantly dispatched to call for their aid. A plan is decided to ambush the enemy in the valley, with the Sonan, if they heed the call for aid to attack from the bottom of the valley. Ichi’s father taps her shoulder, and together, they rode out to battle.
The dream focuses solely on Ichi’s perspective. While time was speeding by before, the dream now slows down. The villagers charged, engaging first with Kunai, and when up close the shortswords made easy work of the enemy's light armored back lines. The dream focuses a second on the face of Ichi’s first kill, the look of pain and suffering on his face burning into the memory of the young girl, but there was no time to dwell on that as she continued to battle. Each kill after the first meant little. There was no focus on their faces, no slowdown of the dream. Then almost as quickly as the battle started, Ichi finds herself cheering the success of the conflict.
The Sonan didn’t come to the Oeki’s aid, yet that didn’t matter. Their victory was a swift one, and together the village celebrated. Ichi sits on the roof of the village hall, looking over the celebrations with a smile. She finishes her cup, and lies back staring up at the sky. This day was a good day, Ichi thought to herself, as the clouds rolled over the midnight sky.
The dream ends, and the girl wakes up once again with a smile on her face. She touches the shortsword next to her, the kunai on her belt. A deep sigh pierces the early morning calm. She turns to face another day in a land she knows is not home. The dream offers a moment of comfort, as Ichi struggles to adapt to another day on the western continent, longing to return home.
Summer was always a difficult time in the southern valleys of the Ryuta region. The barren lands were near lifeless at the best of times, but in summer the area was prone to severe droughts. The Oeki clan had one small well that served them sufficiently during the droughts, but they were never comfortable during the summer. They hoped that they could manage long enough for the rains to once again wash over the region.
Ichi would eventually take over the clan from her father who was the chieftain. She took her duties seriously, and would often be seen sitting on top of the valley, just observing their lands. Since her first battle, she realized that knowing the land better than your enemy was essential to victory. Her father would often sit with her, explaining different locations, their strategic strengths and weaknesses, as well as telling her some of the battles he had faced there. She learned everything from her father, and if he asked she would often recall his words, as well as adding astute observations of her own.
During the following spring, the Sonan clan were starting to posture over several areas of the Oeki’s territory. Diplomatic missions of the Oeki clan were often met with hostilities from the Sonan, and even a meeting between their chieftains could not resolve the issue peacefully. War was looking inevitable.
The summer that followed however was one of the hottest the clans had ever experienced. Just standing outside was an exhausting experience, let alone fighting. The war had seemingly halted before it truly began, but the tension was still there. Both groups were fighting for their survival in the scorching heat.
One day Ichi was sitting under the shade of a rock as a drop of rain landed on the tip of her nose. Could this finally be the relief from the horrendous heat? Ichi jumped onto her horse and rode down to the river, hoping to see a trickle of water on the river bed.
As she arrived, she discovered a woman who had collapsed on the other side of the river. Ichi ran over to help, picked her up onto her horse and took her back to the Oeki clan's settlement. There, the people of the village took care of the woman. They gave her water, applied ointments to her sunburn and nursed her to health. When the woman awoke, she told how she was from the Sonan tribe, and was banished for breaking various laws of her clan. The chieftain allowed Ichi to pass judgment on the woman. Ichi took pity on her, and offered her a seat at the table to break bread. That day, she would not be an enemy of the Oeki clan.
By the time the scorching heat subsided, the Sonan woman had recovered and was starting to help out around the settlement. She took responsibilities in preparing meals, gathering the sparse herbs and teaching the chieftain various aspects of Sonan culture.
One night the woman woke Ichi from her slumber. “I have something to show you” she whispered to Ichi. The two exited the hut, and went to the training yard. There the Sonan woman picked up a beautiful ‘Sah Chakram,’ a large ring that wraps around the body with an incredibly sharp out edge. The ornate work on the inside of this ring glistened with a dull glow in the pale moonlight exposing the intricate decoration. The blade itself seemed to reflect the moonlight in a near mystical way. Ichi was bewitched by its beauty, and as the Sonan woman showed how it was used, she was completely taken by the skill needed to wield such a weapon.
“The ring symbolizes the cyclical nature of life. All things begin and end the same way. Yet we are not down from this realization, we relish it as the ring also symbolizes acceptance.” The Sonan woman began to show Ichi the basics of wielding the weapon.
Every day Ichi trained with the Sah Chakram. She picked up the basics relatively easily, but the more advanced techniques and becoming dangerous with the weapon were much longer processes. Ichi’s father was originally apprehensive of Ichi learning the weapon, but eventually grew to accept her daughter's interest. Things were going well in the settlement, at least for a time.
During this time, the Sonan were brooding. They suffered during the heatwave, and without underground reservoirs, their jealousy over the Oeki’s lands grew stronger. Their clan was much smaller than the Oeki clan, and they knew they couldn't take them head on. Yet their scouts discovered that a banished member of their ranks had integrated into the Oeki clan, and although banished, they knew that her ties to the Sonan were strong. In secret, the Sonan woman was contacted and agreed to betray the clan that saved her life. By betraying the Oeki, the Sonan agreed to release the woman from her ties to the clan for good.
As the sun was setting over the valley, Ichi fell into a deep slumber. When she woke up, she was surrounded by flames. Quickly, she picked up her short sword and burst out of the hut to find chaos. The usually composed Oeki clan was caught completely unaware. The confusion made many of the warriors easy pickings for the Sonan warriors, yet Ichi fought. Yet she felt sluggish, her arms ached with each swing of the sword, each dodge felt like a close miss. Ichi realized that the Sonan woman had put something in the water, and that was why many of the Oeki were still sleeping, and those who were awake seemed weakened. Ichi needed to escape, and a few of those who were composed managed to put up enough of a fight for her to escape into the woods.
For days, Ichi lived with the realization that she may have been the only survivor from the clan. The children she grew up with, the men and women who raised her, her own father, all seemed lost to her. She wept tears for what should have been a happy life, and vowed to return later to the village to inspect the ashes of her life.
The day she returned she walked amongst the ashes of houses. Her mind's eye recalled happy and fond memories of each charcoal beam. The bodies lay burned, slayed, or mutilated. These haunting images galvanized her resolve to get revenge against the Sonan woman who repaid her mercy with slaughter. She searched her old home and discovered the Sah Chakram that she trained with, the one the woman gave her. Upon the ashes of her childhood, in a low voice she swore to her father in his grave:
“My vengeance shall be dealt with the Sah Chakram. Till the moon shines dark and the world is stained in red, I shall seek out those who ripped my life from me and end theirs.”