Somewhere in Japan, 1789...
His arms burned like fire. He had been fighting for no more than five minutes, but already he felt his heart would explode in his chest. His opponent’s sword was a blur in the air around him, a dozen small cuts pouring their blood from all over his body. His sword lashed out, almost on its own, driven by the instincts of a body taken to the brink of desperation. To his complete surprise, he felt the sword bite, and the blur behind the enemy sword danced back out of his reach.
It revealed itself to be a young looking girl, dressed in peasant clothes. A look of surprise had taken root on her face, and even in his exhausted state, Macleod found time to admire her beauty. A delicate, yet full mouth drawn in a slight expression of surprise, a small button nose, her hair framed her face and hung loosely on her shoulders, having come undone in the loose ponytail she had worn it in when the battle had begun. Her hair at first seemed to be dark brown, but when the rays of the sun caught hold of it, they showed it to have vibrant streaks of deep red running through it.
She was far from buxom, with a lithe and muscular build, but there was something undeniably feminine about her, despite the fact that she wore a blue tunic Duncan recognized as being meant for men.
Most of all however, he was drawn to her eyes. Her eyes were dark, as were those of every native of the island, but magnificently expressive. When he had first seen her, standing alongside the road to Kyoto, she had a beautiful smile stretching across her face as she watched a family of monkeys playing in the trees. Her eyes had made the smile look just as at home on her face as the look of anger and resignation when he finally stepped close enough for them to both feel the buzz of another immortal’s presence.
She stood now, inspecting the small but freely bleeding cut on her left bicep, apparently no longer interested in Duncan. He was happy to let her wait, still struggling to catch his breath, and tried to think of a way to survive this encounter. He was about to open his mouth to speak to her, the first time she had allowed him to do so, when she suddenly turned to him instead, an unreadable look on her face.
She said something in Japanese, perhaps more to herself than to Duncan, who had as of yet only learned the very basics of the language, and he shook his head, not understanding. Suddenly, she was right in front of him, her fist pressing against his stomach. He frowned at the sight of her hand, she seemed to be holding the pommel of her sword, but where was… the… blade… oh. His arms dropped limply from their high-guard position, dropping his katana, at the same time that his legs buckled beneath him.
She held onto her own katana, using his own bodyweight to pull the blade free of his abdomen. As he lay on the ground, a strange weakness spread from the wound through to the rest of his body. He looked up at her, waiting for the killing blow, but it did not seem to be coming. She was staring down at him, looking more tired and resigned than Duncan thought any person should have to. Though she was perhaps about to take his head and end his existence, Duncan couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
She spoke to him then, her English heavily accented, but quite good; “Will you rise again like the others, Gaijin
? Truly, I did not know that the demons would curse outsiders as they would curse my own people, and me.”
She knelt down next to him then, but still kept herself just out of reach, and continued, “I believed I would be cast from Heaven for my sins, but it seems I, like you, am destined to never even reach it.”
Duncan stared at her in shock, my God, he thought, nobody ever told her what she is, nobody ever taught her about the Game! He summoned what strength he still had in his body, and drew himself up onto his elbows, turning to look her directly in the eyes. She watched him warily as he spoke, “I have met many people like us, those who cannot grow old and die, all across this vast world. And I have learnt one thing I hope you will find out for yourself; we are all as cursed, or blessed, as we believe ourselves to be.”
She stared at him for some time, her face still unreadable, and Duncan hoped she finished her thoughts quickly before he fainted from the blood-loss. He decided she needed some prodding, “Lass, if you spare me, if you do not take my head, I will teach you all I know of the outside world, and our…condition. I promise I will not betray you, I swear this on the honor of my clan. In return, I ask only that you teach me some of that fancy sword-work.”
She looked surprised then, and a few seconds later the smile which he saw the first time from afar bloomed across her face. Up close it was even lovelier. Any thoughts of a future possible romance fled from him however, as she bent and easily picked him up from the ground. She was much stronger than she seemed, but Duncan had no time to feel intimidated as the incredible pain from the gaping wound in his stomach hit. He felt her grunt as she threw him over her shoulder, her soft hair brushing across his face.
As everything went black, and death claimed him temporarily, Duncan caught the scent of autumn in the air.