Saga of Hanzo: The Tale Of Fire
The Tale of Fire
Sweat caused Hanzo’s noragi to cling to his chest as he sat in the oppressive heat of the forge, waiting for the strange Tora, Artificer Nakamatsu, to finish whatever it was he was doing. The air was thick with sulfur-smoke and the stench of burnt metal. Without warning, loud bangs would erupt erratically through the village. Most were followed by cheers, but some had been followed by shouts of alarm and villagers rushing to a well at the center of the village for buckets of water. Hanzo had disguised himself as a peddler, acquiring a cart filled with raw ore before heading up Getsu. After asking around, he finally wound up in this strange place, filled with oversized pieces of armor being hoisted with pulley and rope, near Getsu’s snowy peak.
Artificer Nakamatsu was the first name on the list she had given him. He was to teach Hanzo the ways of fire. Nakamatsu had not been what the ninja was anticipating. The artificer was wiry by any clan’s standards, let alone the Tora, who pride themselves on strength of body. He wore only a simple cloth wrap around his groin and backside, as well as a soot and sweat-stained kerchief on his head. Nakamatsu’s chest, arms, and upper thighs were heavily tattooed with depictions of Tiger and Fire and marred by countless burn scars from his work at the forge. The artificer had a thin beard, longer at the chin, and large eyes that darted back and forth over his work constantly.
“Not what you expected, eh Cub Killer?” Nakamatsu asked Hanzo, not looking up from his work.
“Cub Killer” was one of Hanzo’s many unflattering names among the clans of Kagejima, this one a particular favorite of the Tora. Some years back, a young Tora chunin, all bravado and swagger, had challenged Hanzo outside of a mountain inn on the snowy face of Getsu. Hanzo accepted with some reluctance and made short work of the Tora youth. The Tora youth would not relent, despite being soundly beaten, and eventually Hanzo had been forced to deliver an injury that would immobilize the youth, if only for a time. Sadly, that night the weather took a turn for the worse. A snow storm forced the inhabitants of the inn to shelter there for a week. In that time, with little medical attention, the wound the young chunin received had spoiled. She died on the fourth day, and the Tora had blamed Hanzo ever since.
“Too often is fire revered for its blaze, its ferocity!” Nakamatsu continued, still toiling away. “They think that to control fire, all you need do is steer the destructive force of the raging flames. They do not know the story of First Artificer Mifune. Will you hear the tale, Cub Killer?”
“Long Ago, when Tora was young, there was a great madoushi among Tiger’s children named Mifune. Her command of fire was only rivaled by her sound council, and the Tora prospered under her for generations,” Nakamatsu reached back absently, feeling behind him for a small hammer just out of reach.
Hanzo wanted the tale to continue so he nudged the hammer with his foot, pushing it into the artificer’s reach. Nakamatsu nodded his thanks before continuing.
“As is the way of all things, Mifune grew old and tired,” Nakamatsu returned to the tale and his work. “She had seen the other clans begin to use oni against the Tora. So great was the power of Tora under Mifune that the other tribes needed these powerful kami to have a chance at opposing them. Mifune decided she would ask Tiger to fight for Tora. Mifune knew she could not make the journey alone at her age. She needed someone to pass along the secrets of artificing too, so she sent out word to all of the Tora villages, saying she would take an apprentice.”
“Word of the apprenticeship spread like wildfire. Mifune was beloved by all of the Tora, and it would bring honor to any village if one of their number were to be selected as her apprentice. A great tournament was held in her honor. The villages of Tora sent their best and brightest. Such a tournament had never been seen among Tiger’s clan. The combat was fierce and it was said that Tiger came down from Getsu to watch his children prove themselves. When it was over, Mifune had selected her apprentice.”
“Her selection was not the winner,” Hanzo said matter-of-factly.
Nakamatsu looked up from his work for the first time, his wide eyes seeming to view Hanzo in a new light. “Why would you think such a thing, Cub Killer?” Nakamatsu asked before returning to his work.
“Mifune and her apprentice would go before Tiger. Tora is strong and proud, but Tiger is stronger, prouder,” Hanzo answered. “Above all, her apprentice would need humility. A trait in short supply among Tora. Yet, humility is easily taught by defeat.”
Nakamatsu snickered at Hanzo’s jab at the Tora, but continued with his tale.
“You are correct. She took as her apprentice the madoushi that finished second. She taught him the ways of the artificer, the secrets of the forge and the powder. Mifune knew that she should not go before Tiger without a gift. She discovered the Kitsune clan held one of Tiger’s kami children captive. This spirit was not as strong as Tiger’s other children, delighting in cunning and discovery, with little use for ferocity. Mifune tasked her apprentice with freeing the captive spirit and convincing it to return with him.”
“But when Mifune’s apprentice had freed the spirit, it did not want to return. It had been captive too long, and needed to be free to again discover. Yet Mifune’s apprentice was clever. He spoke to the spirit of his newly learned artificer skills. He showed the spirit the flash powder, and told the spirit of the famed Tora forges. The spirit was intrigued, and told Mifune’s apprentice it would return home with him.”
“Mifune knew the time had come for herself, her apprentice, and the spirit, to go before Tiger at the top of Getsu. Old age had all but overtaken Mifune, and as she gathered her meager belongings, she knew this trip would be her last. Word of her trip spread to other clans, and many sought to finally defeat Tora’s greatest leader before she reached the mountaintop. Theirs was a trip wrought with peril and combat.”
“Atop Getsu, Mifune, her apprentice, and the kami stood before Tiger and asked him to join Tora, as the oni of the other clans had been joined. Mifune offered the gifts of his kami child’s freedom, the cunning of her apprentice, and the strength of their battle to reach the top of Getsu to Tiger. Yet Tiger would not concede to fight for Tora, being too proud. Mifune had anticipated Tiger’s response, and asked instead if he would allow the newly freed kami to fight with Tora? At this Tiger laughed, asking Mifune why Tora would want to fight alongside his weakest kami child?”
“Mifune answered Tiger saying, “Great Tiger, Tora has ways to make this kami stronger. Let our forges strengthen his fur, let our steel be his claws.” ”
“Tiger was intrigued by Mifune’s offer. He told her to show him of what she spoke. Mifune and her apprentice created a forge atop Getsu. There they built a mighty suit of armor and a great blade, working into their creations all her secrets of her artificing. Tiger was pleased with the artificer’s creation and called forth the kami Mifune’s apprentice had freed. With a great roar, Tiger savaged the kami with his mighty claws, shattering the spirit into hundreds of flame-red gems.”
“Tiger then spoke to Mifune saying, “Take what was weak, and now make it strong. Take one of the gems before you and place it within your creation. Artificer Mifune, know that you have pleased Tiger with your service to Tora. But now you grow weak, and there is no place for weakness with Tiger. Give of your remaining strength to your creation and clan Tora will forever be mighty.”
“Mifune knew what Tiger asked of her. That night she bid farewell to her apprentice before spending the evening forging some of her essence into each of the gems Tiger had made, until at last there was only one left, the one within her creation. Near to death, Mifune took the last gem within the chest of her iron-armored behemoth in shaking hands and gave to it her last breath. Tiger was so impressed with Mifune’s final act of strength and sacrifice that he carried her body to a sacred resting place deep within Getsu, to be forever warmed by the fires of Kagejima.”
“When Mifune’s apprentice returned to clan Tora, behind him stomped a giant of strong and deadly form, carrying a load of flame-red stones. Mifune’s apprentice set up his forge within this very village all those years ago, and from that day hence, we, the Artificers of Tora have created the vessels of our oni and the custodians of flame-stones that power them. It is the Artificers that keep the tale of Mifune and her sacrifice alive.”
“We Artificers know the true power of fire, Cub Killer,” Nakamatsu said as he stood from his forge. “For even among our oni, beings of strength and ferocity, their true power is but a small stone within. Sometimes it is the smallest fires that have the greatest strength. Fire can destroy when it rages, but as the coals of the forge, it can shape and create. As the embers of the hearth, it can give warmth, and sustain life. It is only when one truly understands this, that they may gain mastery of fire.”
The artificer handed Hanzo a charm of simple iron, etched with the symbols of fire and mountain. Set in the center was a small flame-red stone that seemed to pulse with a gentle light. “Tell her grace the Tora have fulfilled their obligation to her, and to you, Cub Killer.”
Hanzo wrapped the charm around his scabbard before bowing to Nakamatsu and taking his leave of the sweltering forge.
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