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Dragonball Xz: Episode 75 by The dark TRUNKS

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Down the Well-Worn Road

He was old, older than Elijah had remembered. Sitting in the cramped room, with only the light of the fire to illuminate the surroundings, the venerable swordsmith looked more like a mountain than a man. Deep creases lined his face; his fingers had become fat and stubby; his eyes were watery and glossy-blue; his flat face was stark, hairless, stern. He eyed the samurai acutely.

His nose burned; his face twitched. Elijah ran two fingers along his chin, feeling how long his beard had grown. Too long, he knew. It wasn’t supposed to get like this. In one fluid motion, he reached behind him and handed the swordsmith the blade. The scabbard was wrought of onyx and silver and jade and gold, interwoven in the delicate rich patterning the Masamune brothers were famous for. It felt odd giving the man this blade now. More than two decades ago, it had been the other way around.

Master Jakuto ran a shaking finger across the face of the scabbard. “Clearsight,” he murmured. “I never thought I’d live to see it again. Have you kept it in good condition?”

“I have used it only sparingly.”

“Good, good,” the man said, sighing. “A fine blade, this is. I remember when we forged it… all those years ago…” His eyes were brimming with tears. The room was getting smokey. Elijah’s beard itched. “Nine months it took. Twelve smiths… I worked on the forging of the metal itself, but others crafted the hilt, the edge, the scabbard…” He furrowed his brow. “I don’t remember any of their names. Strange, isn’t it? I should. I knew them, I know I did. They helped me forge one of the legendary samurai blades in this world…”

“It’s fine,” Elijah whispered. “They don’t matter anyways. I’m here to discuss something else.”

“When Clearsight was complete, I presented it to my brother,” Master Jakuto continued, ignoring Elijah, “and he – he didn’t even care! He didn’t have a swordsman’s eye! Ah, but he should’ve been able to appreciate the beauty of it, at least,” he shook his head.

“You know he wouldn’t have. He wasn’t in the business.”

“Of course, but still…” The words hung in the air, mixing with the smoke. Around them, on all sides, were stacks of papers and scrolls. Tables and chairs were covered in bits of metal, scabbards, and occasionally an unsheathed sword. None matched Elijah’s, the samurai knew. And none would, ever again. It was a mess. The bamboo floor was hard. The rug they were sitting on was as ancient as the man sitting before Elijah. On it, a dragon was locked in single combat with a tiger. Elijah remembered coming here as a child to get his sword and seeing that rug for the first time. The sight of it had tickled something inside him that day, something that still made him lightheaded when he thought about it. And here he was, in this room again.

The swordsmith set Elijah’s blade aside and grasped two bowls from the table, presenting them to his onlooker. “Sake,” he grunted, shaking the broad-faced, thin bowl with an ink-and-emerald patterning of a frog sitting on a lilypad. “Or tea.” He shook the other bowl, a roughly-made, broad-faced lump of white clay with a ragged image of a blushing hydrangea on its face. The bowl’s face was bent and its rim uneven, and Elijah reached for it.

“What kind?”

“Green tea. Usucha-grade. Locally-made.”

Elijah brought the cup to his lips, feeling the warmth of vapor kiss him. He did not drink tea often. In fact, he avoided drinking it as much as he could. This was mere politeness. He knew what caffeine was, what it could do to a body. He had been instructed from an early age to avoid all poisons and drugs, to keep his body as healthy and formidable as possible. He was a samurai, a trained, disciplined warrior… or he was supposed to be. The samurai brought the bowl to his mouth and drank. He felt it at once, the adrenaline spreading through his body like corruption. He swallowed a second gulp. Master Jakuto had already downed his entire cup. The bowl with the lilypad sat empty on the table, surrounded by scrolls and sealing wax.

“There have been legendary blades throughout all of time, make no mistake. The ancient masters crafted some truly exquisite works of art. They’re all lost now. We had only stories and paintings to go off of. We used a wall scroll of the great golden blade of the legendary samurai general Ahakine as the basis for Clearsight, for example.”

Elijah sipped his tea. He clenched and unclenched his sword hand before scratching his nose. “How does Clearsight compare?”

“Oho, your katana is a fine blade, don’t get me wrong. I am proud of it. But it’s nothing compared to what our ancestors could accomplish. It’s not just the skill in the metalwork, no. Their swordsmanship, Elijah… The samurai in the legendary times were much better at making battle than we are. They transcended the barbarity of mortality… and created art. Poetry, I believe. When two great masters of the katana dueled, it was as if the world sang with them. Their elegance… not a move wasted… we cannot compare to them, today.”

Elijah felt heat rising in his cheeks. “I am the greatest living samurai,” he stated plainly. It was the simple truth. “Are you saying I could not match them?”

“It would be as if you were fighting against untrained children. You would never lose to them. And the masters of old… they would never lose to you.”

“I have trained my entire life, given everything I have to the samurai code of honor,” Elijah said, his voice rising. Suddenly, he felt like protecting his pride, felt like reminding this man that he was, in fact, worth something. “I think I’d be able to–”

“You wouldn’t, trust me.”

“Have you seen any of them fight?”

“No, they were dead hundreds of years before I was born.”

“I thought so.”

“Heh?!” the man laughed, reaching for the sake bottle and pouring himself another shot. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Elijah sipped his tea. “I have not come here to chat about how you think I am but a child playing with sticks compared to the samurai masters of old. I have come for more important business.”

“Yes, I assumed as much. You wouldn’t return to actually say goodbye to me, would you?”

Elijah stared at the man’s foggy blue eyes and blinked, feeling the smoke in his eyelids. “It’s not that, sir. I-I’m sorry if you wanted me to pay respects…”

“Oh, no. Don’t worry about me. I’m not dying,” the man replied, swallowing his sake and pouring a third glass. “Yet we samurai are a dying breed. Our kind cannot go on. You said you trained your last group recently… how many of them became samurai?”


“One.” The word hung heavily in the air. “I remember making more than one katana for your latest batch of students,” the man said unblinkingly.

Elijah nodded and bowed his head. He didn’t want to talk about that.

“Two generations,” Master Jakuto continued. “That’s how long I’d give it before the samurai are extinct.”

“Don’t be so pessimistic.”

“I’m not. I’m a realist. And the realist in me is thankful he got to be a part of the last generation of samurai, before we vanished into oblivion. Kami only knows how I’d make a living if I was born now.”

There were a few drops of tea left at the bottom of the bowl, but they were colored by the darkness of the rose-tinted ink. Elijah set the bowl on the table, hoping the man would think it empty, or better yet, not even notice it. “I am here for Makare’s blade,” Elijah said at last. “I was hoping you would know where it is.”


“The very same.”

“What happened to him?”

Elijah’s eyes flared with annoyance. “You know what happened. My only pupil who survived the samurai trials killed him in a duel.”

“That he did.” The swordsmith leaned back and scratched his chin, thinking. “Makare… he was special. Once in a lifetime kind of warrior. We made his blade like we made yours. It took twelve of us nine months of nonstop work. But his didn’t come out as good as yours. It was more brittle, sharper, and it didn’t feel quite as good in the hand as Clearsight did. Chill of Midnight he named it. An apt name… and a foolish name. I heard after we gave him the blade, he stripped it of its ornamentation.”

“He did. It looks like a normal katana now. He used it often. I’m sure its condition is poor.”

“The blade is just like its master, we used to say. One becomes the other, and the other becomes the one. Makare was feral and brutish, and his blade was bare and savage. I would think the two influenced one another, before the end. Before your student killed him. That is stunning, really. I can’t believe a mere student could kill a man of that calibre.”

“He’s dead. That cannot be changed. He fell from the way; he was not a samurai in the end.” Elijah phrased his words carefully, so as to not offend the old man. “But his blade remained. I should have taken it when I could have, but I didn’t. I don’t know what happened to it since then. I returned to where Makare died not a week ago, and found nothing. I was hoping you knew where it had gone, master.”

Master Jakuto looked at Elijah with a curious glance, then downed another shot of sake. “Do you remember Minamogi? He was a student in the same class as you and Makare.”

“He did not become a samurai like us.”

“Yeah, but he never gave up his hope of becoming a samurai after he washed out. He stole a katana, trained in our ways of combat, even captured and tortured one of my fellow smiths to learn the secrets of our kind. But he is no samurai. Like a painted flower, he was never the real thing.”

“All of this I already know,” replied the samurai.

Annoyance bloomed on Master Jakuto’s face. “Let me finish! As I was saying, Minamogi was a man who once had a dream of being a samurai. Like you, and many others, he held that desire deeply in his heart, until it consumed him. He obsessed over it, trying his best to become the warrior he dreamed he should have been. Yet unlike you, Elijah, he failed. You take for granted how easily you passed all of the tests, but for others, that was hardly the case. They worked their entire lives to become samurai, while you succeeded with indifference. That bred animosity, I’m sure.”

“I killed more than a few of them.”

“I am not surprised. But Minamogi is your target. He has the blade. I have known this for more than three months. My eyes are not so blind… not yet, anyways. He was careless and boasted of his new treasure, and word leaked out near these parts. I have known for a while now. It has left a bitter taste in my mouth, that a man not worthy of that blade now wields it.”

“Where is he?”

“In a cave, due east. At the base of the mountain. Don’t bother getting the name, half the locals don’t even know it. Just follow the road. You won’t miss it.”

“And you’re sure he has Makare’s blade?”

“I am sure he claims he has it. If he actually does… well, that is for you to decide, Elijah.”

Elijah stood suddenly. Master Jakuto took another gulp of sake and hissed out a sigh.

“He has guards. Some do not use swords, but guns. You would be wise to take the blade from him in the night, while everyone’s sleeping. I don’t think you can outduel all of them.”

The samurai snatched up Clearsight and slung it over his shoulder. He turned from the swordsmith. “If they are no true samurai, it will not be a problem.”

“They are men, Elijah,” Master Jakuto cautioned. “And men, especially when cornered, are vicious creatures.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you for the tea.”

Elijah cracked his neck and stepped out of the hovel, out into the fading light of the day. He would never be back here, he knew. He would never see the man who forged Clearsight again. Jakuto had made Elijah into who he was; he had melded the boy into the samurai, as he had melded the tamahagane steel into a deadly weapon. Yet, Elijah did not feel sorrow, nor did he feel joy.

Caffeine coursed through his veins. His heart was beating like it was on its last gasp.

The swings swayed in the wind, their rusty chains rattling across the dead earth. Weeds grew in cities, sprouting up between the holes in the metal floor of the merry-go-round. The tallest slide was worn and twisted, its plastic faded to a midnight blue; the shorter slide had long-since collapsed and been swallowed by foxtails. The sun fried the air from an angry orange sky. Elijah had not been out here more than a few minutes, and already he was beginning to sweat through his robes.

The heat felt nice in a way. The sun was beginning to fall behind the horizon, though, so he knew he didn’t have much more light. He made his way down the desolate road with great haste. There was no one else around; it was as if the samurai was wandering through a graveyard. Decaying cherry trees lined the road ahead, their branches twisted and reaching up towards the sky as if in prayer for water. Old cherry blossoms, pink and wilted, lay on the dirt path all around. There was no fruit.

The mountain was in the distance, sprouting up from horizon like the angry, crooked tooth of a slumbering giant. Red it was, and no trees grew upon it. A single cloud drifted overhead, mocking the heat. In his heart, Elijah wanted to make for the coast, to return to his home. But he had to press onwards. Wiping his brow, he lowered his shoulder, grabbed his scabbard, and began to run, his sandals clicking off the hard dirt ground with every step. A dust cloud formed behind him. He sprinted past the weeds and yellow grass, past the tumbleweeds and abandoned mattresses by the side of the road, past a leaning sign that said ‘Beware!’ and had a painted imp on its octagonal face, past a broken-down truck that looked as if it had been there for longer than Elijah had walked the Earth. He never saw another person. There had been a town here once, somewhere around here. Yet, as the samurai peered about, he didn’t even see abandoned buildings. It was as if he was running through the barren wilderness, in a place where man had never set foot before. But he had been down this road in the past, in the days before he had been a samurai. Elijah knew there had once been life here.

It did not take long for Elijah to reach the mountain. Covered in sweat and breathing hard, he stopped and stared, holding his sword hilt. He was strong for a man his age, but he was just a man. Already tired, he didn’t know if he had the strength to cut his way through a host of foes. The sun was setting; the air was cooling. The crickets were beginning to make music. A falcon was circling above, on the side of the mountain, searching for prey. Its screech echoed down to Elijah and gave him comfort.

There were several parked hovercars in front of the entrance to the cave. It was not hard to miss. The bandits were not hiding. They wouldn’t be expecting anyone to come out here looking for them. They had left no guards, no cameras, no gate. Their entrance was open for the world, in all of its hubris. The last thing they should expect would be a samurai sneaking in to kill them all. He grasped the hilt tighter, clenched his jaw, felt the caffeine in his veins, and ran into the darkness.

Soft as a cave spider Elijah moved. He didn’t know how many there were, how skilled they were. He couldn’t let them know he was here until he was sure he could defeat them. Ahead, he heard voices, and soon torchlight alerted him to where his quarry was. Crouching behind a column of stalagmites, Elijah saw two men in dark suits, their pistols holstered, their attention on a set of crates before them. They each had a strange insignia above the left breast of their uniforms – three rows of two blood-red tears descending diagonally away from their bodies on a black shield. Elijah slid his katana out of its scabbard silently. When he was sure the two were both preoccupied with their work, he darted forward and sliced their throats.

It was easy work. These were simple grunts, or guards perhaps. Their weapons were guns, not swords, however. And that worried Elijah. He stood a better chance against swordsmen. He looked over the crates the men were inspecting and found rows of dark bags with white powder in them. Moving onward, Elijah heard voices coming from another chamber. This time, when he entered, he saw a tall, unshaven man whom he instantly recognized as Minamogi chatting with a woman in a dark suit – the same kind as the two men Elijah had killed moments before – with short purple hair and a pistol in her hands.

“50,000,000 zeni,” she was saying. “That’s the new rate.

“It was 30,000,000 last time,” Minamogi observed coolly.

“Yeah, what’s changed?” one of his underlings asked. Elijah could see there were five other men in the room, all wearing light leather armor. They had short swords and scimitars sheathed by their sides. These were the bandits. Who they were dealing with, the people with the guns, Elijah did not know.

“That’s the new rate,” the woman repeated, her voice as firm as bamboo. “Take it or leave it. That’s what we’re offering.”

“We’ll pay 30,000,000.” Minamogi stated. “Not a zeni more.”

“I’m not interested.”

“You are.” Minamogi drew his blade and pointed it at the woman, holding the edge to her throat. Elijah saw the sheen of it in the torchlight. He recognized the tamahagane steel, and it took his breath away. “If you want to get out of this cave, you’ll take the 30,000,000.”

The woman looked uncomfortable, but not afraid. She had a pistol in her hand, but she chose not to point it at the not-quite-a-samurai. “Are you threatening me?” she laughed. “Really? After all we’ve been through?”

Minamogi was fuming, his eyes were bloodshot, and he was sweating profusely, Elijah could tell. “The snow’s mine. I’m not leaving here without it! Now, are you going to give it to us, or are we gonna have to take it?”

The woman whistled. No response came. Elijah was covered in a cold shiver. His heart was beating fast and hard. He swore, cursing himself for being so polite. He knew the woman was calling her two soldiers to come help her. They wouldn’t be coming. When they didn’t, a look of worry finally appeared on her face. She kept glancing at the tunnel where Elijah crouched, and he could see the desperation in her eyes.

“Calling for backup?” Minamogi laughed. “You want to kill us, don’t you?”

“N-no…” she swore.

One of the men clapped his hands and licked his lips. “I say slit her throat.”

“Cut her to pieces, boss!”

“Rip ‘er ta shreds!”

Minamogi lowered his blade. The purple-haired woman let out a sigh of relief and stepped away from the feral bandits, holding her pistol tight to her chest. “What’s wrong with you?!” she roared at the bandit chief, but he wasn’t looking at her. Beyond her, his eyes stared. “Hey, Minamogi!” The man wouldn’t reply. The woman spun around, to see what he was seeing, and that was when she first beheld Elijah, the former Daimyo of the Iboinoshishi Samurai School. Clearsight was in his hand. The woman’s eyes grew wide and she bolted off down a side tunnel.

“I looked for you in Makare’s army,” Elijah spoke softly, descending the rocky hill to the bandit’s den.

“I was not there,” Minamogi answered.

“You’d be dead if he had been!” one bandit sneered, brown-toothed and cocksure.

“Yet you have Makare’s blade,” Elijah noted. “Tell me, Minamogi, how the weapon of a great samurai lord came into your possession.”

“This is my blade! It has always been mine.”

“When we were children, you were expelled from the samurai academy because you couldn’t grip a katana properly. You cut bamboo unevenly. You were too wild.”

“They feared what they didn’t understand,” the man boasted. “I have grown to surpass anyone in that academy. I am the true samurai.”

“No,” spoke the samurai as he reached the group of six. “Don’t you understand, Minamogi? The samurai are all dead or gone. You’re just a ghost.”

Minamogi smirked. “Is that so? In that case, you have no hope of beating me.”

“That blade belongs to a samurai. It is not yours to disgrace.”

“But Elijah, I thought you said the samurai were dead.”

“Most of us are.”

Minamogi raised Makare’s katana and pointed it at Elijah. “And soon all of you will be.”

The bandits drew their blades and likewise pointed them at Elijah. A few moved around behind him until he was fully surrounded.

“No,” Elijah said sadly. “Soon I’ll be the only one left.”

They came at him like wolves, undisciplined and hungry. He parried their blows with grace and authority, quickly spinning around the three behind him, forcing all six in front of him. Elijah took out the first two bandits who charged him, cutting the first one across the windpipe and the spilling the second one’s belly out onto the rocky floor. Four charged him in unison, Minamogi urging his group on. Elijah quickly realized the tall man was his only threat. He slew one bandit who got a little too close, cutting his nose and much of his forehead off. Blood flew; men screamed and shouted and died.

They pressed Elijah up against a wall and spread out, Minamogi in the middle, his two remaining lackeys on either side. Elijah looked at his options and knew he had none. If he went right, Minamogi would slice him. If he went left, Minamogi would slice him. If he went for the bandit chief, the other two would take him from either side. He thought of the samurai lords of legend, the warriors who had inspired entire generations of samurai, including his. They had been true masters. They had been able to kill anyone they wanted. They were samurai; they could not be beaten. Master Jakuto thought Elijah was nothing compared to them. Well, if he died here, the old swordsmith would be right. Elijah felt his heart beating in his ears. He lunged forward.

The man on Elijah’s right did not expect this. The samurai came right at him. Yet before he hit the man, the samurai spun about, parried the bandit’s blow, grabbed the man by the shoulders, and threw him at Minamogi. The bandit chief was already swinging his blade forward when his underling came flying into it. Elijah rolled around the bigger man as he fumbled with his stuck sword, and easily slew the last remaining bandit in a quick exchange of steel that left the man without either of his hands and a gaping hole in his neck.

Elijah twirled his blade, shaking the blood off of it, and faced Minamogi again. This time it was the bandit whose back was to the wall. He grinned and scratched his beard, admiring Makare’s blade in the torchlight. “Nice and light,” he noted. “Suited for a quick strike.”

“It will cut anything,” Elijah replied. “But that kind of indiscriminate butchery was suited for its master, not you. You don’t understand how to use such a blade. You are no samurai.”

“Am I not?” Minamogi replied angrily. “And what exactly makes a samurai? If Makare was one, how am I not?!”

“Let me show you, sir.”

Elijah stepped forward, twirling Clearsight in a dizzying blur of silver. Minamogi tried to parry, but he could not. Elijah cut the man seven times across his chest, each one a light scratch, but deep enough to cause blood to well up under the bandit’s leather armor. Then, the samurai stepped back and lowered his blade into a defensive stance.

“Bastard! I’ll have your blade too!” Minamogi roared, feeling his wounds.

Elijah nodded somberly. “You will.”

Their blades met above the dead and dying bodies, parrying sparks and whistling through the air with such speed that a normal man would not be able to tell what was going on. Elijah had dueled against Makare many times. Clearsight had fought Chill of Midnight more than once; and never had it felt like this. Never had his foe been this clumsy and so out of his element. It felt wrong. Elijah felt like he was losing what he remembered of Makare, of their duels. He needed to end it. The showiness of it, the fun of battling, the feeling of being a samurai… it had all disappeared. Now he just wanted it to end. Minamogi thrust the blade forward and feigned slicing upwards before slicing downwards. Elijah saw that coming; the big man’s posture had given away his strategy long before he had enacted it. Elijah caught the blade with his own, and their hilts clashed, locking together. Then, he lowered his hilt and dropped it inwards towards Minamogi’s chest. Minamogi was now stuck – he could not slice down, and he could not break free. Elijah kicked the man’s feet out from under him.

Minamogi dropped Makare’s blade and fumbled at Elijah desperately, trying to take Clearsight from him, perhaps. But that would never happen. Clearsight had been with Elijah since he had been a boy… since he had been younger than even Yajirobe had when he had received his katana. Clearsight was part of Elijah, an extension of his arm. It would never be taken by a mere bandit.

And so it was not. Elijah knocked the man’s hands away, cutting them severely, and stabbed Minamogi in the heart. The big bandit coughed up blood and began to convulse. Elijah stood up and stepped away to watch his former schoolmate take his last breath. But Minamogi would not die so easily. He stumbled to his feet, clutching at his wound, and grabbed Makare’s blade. His hands were slick with blood. He was trembling. He was sweating. His beady eyes were bloodshot and wide as the purple-haired woman’s had been. He stared at Elijah with disgust, and charged. Elijah knew this was why Minamogi had never completed his training in the academy. He was too rash, too hasty, too overcome by emotion. Elijah sidestepped the bandit and snapped his blade back. He felt it connect with Minamogi’s neck before effortlessly slicing through his muscles and tendons and spinal cord.

With a dull thud, Minamogi’s body and detached head hit the floor.

Sighing and cracking his neck again, Elijah bent down to pick up Makare’s katana. He wiped the blood from it and held it up to his own. There was no comparison, he knew. His was better; it was more beautiful, more balanced, more nuanced in its sharpness. Makare’s was all brute force. He had tried to make it ugly, but it wasn’t. It was a legendary blade, a sword worthy of song and tale. Makare’s songs and tales were long finished, though. Elijah sheathed the sword in its plain scabbard and slung it over his shoulder.

He briefly considered taking Minamogi’s head with him, but stopped himself when he remembered that the man had not been a true samurai, or even that much of a challenge. It was amazing to Elijah how easily the tall man had gone down. The training Elijah had received in the academy after Minamogi’s dismissal must have been quite beneficial. Or maybe Elijah was just that much more talented than his peers. He didn’t know. He didn’t care. The samurai were all gone except him. There was no one else to appreciate his talent. Soon, he too would be gone, and only stories and legends of him would persist. Makare would exist as long as Chill of Midnight did. Perhaps Elijah would last just as long in his own sword.

He was wondering if Yajirobe would remember him, or tell anyone about him, when he heard footsteps coming from down the tunnel. There appeared the woman with the purple hair. In a moment, realization washed over her as she took in the carnage of the room – the bodies, the blood, and the one man who had survived it all. Then, she raised her pistol and shot him.

Three bullets hit: one ripped through his left shoulder, one grazed him just above that wound on the side of his neck, and the third took him in the lower stomach. Elijah’s blood spurted out. He groaned and dropped his swords, falling forward. The woman was already running back towards the cave’s entrance. He would not be able to catch her.

On his hands and knees, Elijah coughed up blood, feeling the waves of pain radiate around his wounds. He knew he had to get out of there soon if he wanted to survive. He tried to stand, but failed, falling over. His heart was beating like a mad rabbit. The pain was too much. He collapsed, and closed his eyes, feeling the blood trickling out of his body.

The last of the samurai he was, and just like so many before him, he was going to be finished by a gun. He was better than most samurai, the best of his generation, probably the the most skilled with a blade in hundreds of years, and yet even he could not deal with guns. The time of the samurai was over, he knew.

Makare had died. Naigo had died. Kumo had died. All of his childhood friends were dead; even most of the failed recruits from the academy were dead. All of his students were dead or disappeared, save for Yajirobe. Elijah let out a hard breath and moaned in pain.

Yajirobe was his legacy.

Elijah had trained the last samurai in the world. And then suddenly, his heartbeat faded, and Elijah felt at peace. A sense of numbness covered him, and he felt a sense of ease. For the first time in a long time, he felt tranquil.

Then the pain in his shoulder and belly roared up again. Yajirobe had known; the boy had seen it in Elijah’s face when he had returned from slaying Makare. He felt guilty for what he had done to Yajirobe, for what he had put the boy through, but he couldn’t help it. Things hadn’t gone as he had hoped, and to this day, he still felt a suffocating sense of loss over what had happened.

His heart was beating again, now with such force that it felt like it was about to burst from his rib cage. Elijah opened his eyes and stood up. He looked at the blades in front of him, remembering Makare. He thought of all they had been through, the trials, the blood and sweat and death, and knew he had been through worse. Was he just getting old? Tired? He didn’t know. He had almost given up and become like them.

Not anymore. Elijah stood. He felt weak, felt tired, but he wanted to live. He knew that. The samurai slung the katanas over his shoulder and stumbled out of the cave, ignoring the pain and chuckling to himself. “If only Makare could see me now,” he declared, “he’d wonder why it was me, not him, who lasted till the end.”

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