Hey all! It’s usually not my style to publish work on the weekends, but today is a special treat! I just completed a short story and entered it into a fiction competition! (There’s a scholarship at stake!) I’m super proud of it and extra excited. Since it’s already submitted, I figured I’d share it with you all! Enjoy!
If ever a man deserved to die, it was Warlord Ghuzo. Equal parts repugnant taste and refined charm, Ghuzo made his living squeezing pennies from peasant pockets. He dined on the suffering of others and slept on their worries.
By the time the Imperial Palace officially announced Ghuzo an enemy of the nation, the Warlord was nestled comfortably in retirement. He’d built a home on an island in the River Fury, accessible only by a single bridge. And, as was Ghuzo’s penchant for overdoing everything, he’d hired a deadly staff master from the mountains to guard this bridge.
Obeii Iso, the Giant of Jhekata.
A bounty was placed on Ghuzo’s head. So great was its price that champions flocked to the bridge from far and wide. One by one, they met Obeii Iso at the bridge. One by one, they were killed.
As champions died, the bounty rose. Each day that went by, another of Ghuzo’s goons burned a shop or raped a woman. Where the Warlord’s influence grew, so did a blackness in the hearts of the people. Hope seemed lost.
One day, a man by the name of Satori Satsu arrived in the capitol. He announced himself to the Emperor and claimed he would bring the Warlord Ghuzo to justice. The Emperor balked at Satsu. The swordsman came with no armor, no flag. He carried no important name or title.
Satori Satsu was no one.
Still, fights with Obeii at the bridge did bring spectators. In a morbid way, the fights distracted the people from their increasingly difficult lives. The Emperor granted Satsu permission to apprehend Ghuzo, and the swordsman accepted with a simple bow.
As was typical, people followed Satsu to the bridge. Many of them simply wanted to see a fight. Among them was a rickshaw driver who had convinced Satsu to ride rather than walk.
“After all,” the rickshaw driver had said, “you wouldn’t want your legs to be tired before a duel with Obeii Iso.”
The swordsman humbly accepted the ride and looked all too comfortable throughout the trip. Now and then, kids would gander at the man, all of them turning in disappointment. Satori Satsu was no great champion. His arms were small and his shoulders narrow. His hair was barely as long as his shoulders, and his chin could hardly grow a beard.
“How do you plan to beat him?” the rickshaw driver finally asked, unable to contain his curiosity.
Satsu smiled. It was a strange look for a swordsman. “I’m not worried about that.”
It was a brave thing to say.
Satsu said nothing else until they made the bridge. He paid the rickshaw driver the rest of his money and asked for a ride down when everything was over. Perplexed at being asked such a thing, the rickshaw driver agreed. He’d never been paid to ferry a dead body before. It was easy money.
Obeii Iso stood as huge as ever before the bridge. Two or three heads above every man present, the Giant of Jhekata had to bend over to address Satsu. The swordsman didn’t seem at all afraid to be within striking distance of Obeii’s legendary maple staff. It was said that not even Obeii knew how many lives it had ended.
“Please don’t tell me this is the best that’s left!” exclaimed Obeii. The very weight of his laughter heaved the ground beneath all present.
“Please let me pass,” Satsu said. His voice was clear and loud. He left no room for misinterpretation. Perhaps he was the champion to defeat the Giant.
Obeii grunted in confusion. In all the years champions had met him at the bridge, never had any of them asked nicely. Still, the request was impossible to fulfill. It was Ghuzo’s land, Ghuzo’s bridge. Ghuzo paid Obeii to protect them. The response was not difficult to imagine.
“Very well,” Satsu said. He backed away from Obeii only enough to draw his sword. His stance was not perfect. His blade did not gleam in the afternoon sun. No one gasped as he suddenly seemed larger. “Then I will make a way past you.”
Obeii snickered and readied his staff. “You would be a fool not to fear me.”
“Then I am a fool,” Satsu responded.
The swordsman charged at Obeii. His movements were too slow. Far too slow. Obeii beat the swordsman with a clever strike, then disarmed Satsu as he fell.
Satsu hit the ground clutching his ribs and gasping for air. A pathetic show.
No, Satori Satsu really was no great champion at all. Many of the villagers turned and left, shoulders slumped. Others pressed closer, hungry at the inevitability of bloodshed.
Obeii snapped Satsu’s sword over his knee and tossed the two halves in opposite directions. He wiped his bloodied hand on Satsu’s shirt and walked back to his place before the bridge.
“You’re no hero, boy,” Obeii said, stroking his beard, “and I’m no murderer. I’ll not kill an unarmed man. There’s no sport in it.”
Satsu rose. He brandished a dagger and waved it at Obeii, still favoring his side, obviously in pain.
“I’m no hero, but I am not unarmed,” Satsu sputtered.
He lunged with the dagger. In a flash, Obeii had cracked him across the head and plucked the dagger from Satsu’s limp fingers. The swordsman hit the ground again. Obeii tossed the dagger into the River Fury.
More villagers left. The rickshaw driver sat in his cart and frowned. There was no need for the fight to go on.
Still, Satsu worked his way to his feet, huffing for air. A large cut had opened over his eye and blood covered half of his face. The swordsman curled his fists nonetheless. He must have been a fool, indeed.
“Leave it be,” the rickshaw driver called. “You can’t beat him!”
“That’s not the point…” Satsu said, his voice hoarse and breath ragged.
The rickshaw driver was baffled. What was the point of continuing on? Why did Satsu want to die so badly? Clearly, Obeii had bested him.
As if to answer the rickshaw driver’s thoughts, Satsu spoke again. “Remember why we are here.”
Obeii was clearly furious by this point. He whipped up his staff and pointed its end at Satsu. “You’ve wasted enough of my time, little man. You are not crossing this bridge. I promise you this on my name: take one more step toward me and I will end your life.”
“Seems I’ll die today, then,” Satsu said. He nodded to himself, straightened out his face, and squared against Obeii.
Obeii shook his head. Satsu took his step.
The exchange was even faster than the first two. Obeii smashed his staff across Satsu’s face, busting open the swordsman’s nose. Satsu fell to the ground a third time.
Obeii grunted. His huge shadow loomed over Satsu’s helpless body, just as it had over hundreds of others. But Satsu didn’t plea like the rest. The little swordsman smiled, even as his eyes struggled to remain open. It gave Obeii pause.
He had to ask. “Why do you smile in the face of death? You’ve lost here.”
Satsu’s smile only widened. “If I had come here to best you, yes, I would have lost. But that is not why I came. I came to bring justice to a Warlord. I don’t have to be the one to cross this bridge, but someone must. And someone did.”
Satsu poked his chin behind Obeii. The Giant peered over his shoulder. He saw the villagers. They were across the bridge, on Ghuzo’s island, running into the forest beyond. One villager, the rickshaw driver, had just finished cutting through the bridge’s ropes with one half of Satsu’s broken sword.
The bridge splashed into the River Fury, useless.
Satsu, still on the ground, laughed weakly.
“Sometimes, if you focus too much on being the one to cross, you lose sight of why you needed to cross in the first place,” Satsu managed. “You asked why I smile. I do so in victory—not defeat.”
Obeii narrowed his eyes and raised his staff. It hovered for a moment, as if it held his arms rather than the other way around. “I promised to kill you. I must keep my word.”
Satsu simply nodded. His eyes had swollen shut, but Obeii imagined the swordsman would have closed them if he could. Satsu drew in a long, deep breath, and let it out slowly. Obeii ended Satsu’s life before the little swordsman finished his exhale.
After he buried Satsu’s body, Obeii returned to the mountains. He spent the rest of his days damming the River Fury with large, heavy rocks. One rock—he tried to tell himself—for every life he’d taken. Obeii never learned of Ghuzo’s fate, but he was sure the Warlord met a death he deserved. Such was true, he’d realized, for all evil men, no matter their size.
Justice always found its way.