Journals of a Tactician - Katsuo's History
Often, when I look back at my life, it seems like an endless quest for acceptance.
Such is the lot of those bearing the Itsunari family name. It is not a right but a priviledge, as centuries of history and tradition are to be respected, and one bearing such a gift has the responsibility to make certain the name returns to our ancestors unsullied. After all, like my father used to teach us as children, this name is merely borrowed, not owned.
I still wear the Itsunari name. I have fought too hard to honour it to give up on it now. Many many of my family in Lookshy would frown at me for this affront. But from now on, I let the ancestors be the judges of my behavior.
Even from birth, my very existence was an improbability. The stars did not shine favorably on my coming to this world, and the deities deemd fit to ask for a tribute for my newborn existence. The childbirth was an extremely difficult one, and before my first week, my mother paid the price of my arrival with her own life, weakend by the nightmarish labor.
As a result, I was a sickly, weak infant, and most of those around me half believed I would die before my first aniversary. Later, when I saw the way my father looked at me sometimes, I wonder if he would have prefered it this way...
I clung to life with all my might, and as I reached my second year, my father remarried. I was the second of his children, but his expectations regarding my potential was not very high. His remarriage would ensure that other, healthier children would come and uphold the prestigious namesake we were all born into. Nevertheless, when I reached the proper age, I was sent to receive the same training as my older sibling and all of my peers. Decorum and the threat of a loss of face demanded I be subjected to the same instruction, sickly or not.
Millitary training was an incredibly difficult ordeal for me. My physical limits were always reched long before any of my fellow student's, and I knew how much of a source of shame it was. To add to my dismay, I failed to see the Dragons grant me their blessings, like they did so often in my family - my elder brother, my father, my uncles and cousins, many of them were Children of the Dragons, strong in the elements of earth and fire. But not me. The Dragons ignored my pleas, instead choosing to see me struggling to get by while so many were graced with better chances.
It was then, after the exhausting regimen drained me day after day, that the realization came to me: I was a liability to my family, producer of great warriors and leaders of men for generations on end. I was a source of shame and disappointment, and unless I managed to find some redeeming value in myself before training was over, I would be unable to go back to the family residence, weighed down by guilt and shame.
It dawned on me then. Even though I was weak and frail, and my reflexes somewhat duller than my peers, my mind was intact, spared the debiliating treatment given to my body. I could understand the abstract concepts of combat perfectly, and even though I lacked the ability to execute it perfectly, I knew I had the capacity to outsmart or outmaneuver opponents. On top of that, I found I had an affinity with the quieter studies we were assigned, and I was becoming particularly fond of research and written works.
From then on, it was decided that to offset any setbacks I suffered because of my physical limitations, I would become a tactician. And, by my ancestor's good name, I was ready to become the best of them.
Fortunately for me, I did not lack the necessary ressources in order to learn the intricacies of tactics, as Lookshy does not lack competent instructors and treaties for those wishing to learn the arts of war. This way, I was at least saving face for my family somewhat, pushing to reach the rank of strategos in the Seventh Legion and fullfill my abilities in that place I was carving for myself. Of course, there was the shameful thought of being placed behind the battle lines in order to exert my duties, but I knew it was something that had to be done in order for me to be of any use.
And my goal I did attain, with much effort and stubborness - all of the hardships bore their fruit, as I was praised for my ability to plan and anticipate, as well as organize and manage ressources to achieve necessary goals. I was awarded the rank of strategos at age 19, getting recognition for my insights into the arts of strategies and tactics. But even that rank did not please my father, who believed that a leader should be waging war in the midsts of the battlefield, and not behind their men like a coward. I somehow agreed with the notion, using my rank to be an advisor and a counselor, the shadow helping the great leaders shine in victory.
And this status quo would remain for five more years, until an unexpected event threw the delicate balance of my fillial relations into chaos. My elder brother, Daichi, heir to the family and bearer of our ancestral sword, fell in battle while commanding for his unit. My father bore the pain and grief in silence, as he so often did, accompanied at all times by his wife as he struggled to maintain an strong, emotionless figure.
But I knew of his inner strife, as it was the same as mine. I was the second son, and now his eldest son still alive. By right of blood, I was to become the bearer of Shinju, our revered ancestral sword. Of course, I would not truly be able to use the sword in battle, as the white jade daiklave would not choose me, one who did not possess the blessings of the Dragons, as a true wearer. I was the inherit the sword, yes, but it would be only be to honor tradition, and would be an ornamental choice at best. I knew this to be profundly displeasing to my father, as he knew the ancestral sword would rest at my belt, undrawn and unused until my time passed and another, worthier bearer was to be chosen.
I resented my fate then, a fate that once again seemed to bring my faults and shortcomings to the forefrotn instead of highlighting my strengths and accomplishments. I wished I was a younger son, inconsequential and ignored, unbound to this position where I had to face my father's disappointed gaze too often.
As I would soon understand, however, my family was a resourceful one, and was willing to take drastic actions in order to insure their honorable lineage to remain true. When I was summoned by my father one late winter morning, I shuddered at the idea of facing him once again, feeling so small and insignificant against his implacable gaze. I was expecting the ceremony granting me the precious family heirloom to be difficult and completely devoid of pride or happiness. I did not, however, predict what would come next.
My father awaited for me outside, accompanied by my other siblings and his important officials. All of them were dressed in ceremonial battle garb, and I could already spot the family sword resting upon its stand, and the many eyes resting upon me. I felt, in this moment, that something was amiss, and that it was not a simple ceremony to grant me the sword - my father had something else in mind, and I was about to find out in an implacable, irreversible way.
As I walked across the area they set in my absence, my heart racing in my chest in anticipation of what would happen, I realized that I was not alone to stand in the circle of family and servants. In front of me was my uncle, Noritsune, with whom I used to spar occasionally as a child. He was dressed in an ornate warrior's kimono, his trusted sword at his side and his eyes not leaving mine, his body straight and proud. In view of this spectacle, when my father uttered the words that would follow, I was somehow not surprised anymore.
"Shinju goes to our family by right of blood. The heir to our line will carry the symbol of our family with him, and with it will carry the resposibilities that follow, but also the guidance of all the ancestors that carried the sword in battle." My father paused for a moment then, and I suspected it was at the memory of my brother, fallen only recently and not mourned enough. "As the head of the family, however, it is my duty to ensure that our family heirloom to be in the hands of someone competent enough." I swallowed hard then, and I felt like the circle of soldiers and dignitaries was closing in on me to choke me down.
"As such, Katsuo, my second-born and now my eldest child, you will be tested for your worthiness to hold the symbol of our strength. Acting for me will be Noritsune, my brother and most trusted retainer. You are to fight him, Katsuo, and prove your worth to all assembled here. Should you succeed, you will carry the honor and strength of the family with you at all times, and no one will ever question your right again. Should you fail... Noritsune will become the bearer of Shinju until one of your siblings is old enough to hold the sword and become heir to the family."
My father had exposed both outcomes, but there was no question here as to what the outcome of this would be. Noritsune was a seasoned veteran and a fearsome warrior, and I was... well, I was me. I turned to my father then, and I considered conceding the match and handing the heirloom to my uncle immediately, but my father's steel gaze forbade it. I was to fight, if only for decorum, to prove that this decision of granting the sword to someone else was indeed in the best interest of the family.
It is with a heart full of grief that I turned to face my uncle, bowing hesitantly and drawing my own sword, struggling with my desire to leave this place that had no love for me, and would humiliate me once more before it was through with me. Noritsune bowed back to me, and a split second later he was on me, his blade threatening to impale me with a lightning-quick strike. Forcing myself to recall my lessons, I stepped aside and parried, bolstered slightly by this small success. The blows then succeeded in a flowing pattern, a quick exchange that always left me one half breath behind and on the defensive, and my uncle gaining ground with each move. To my great surprise, in taht very moment, I realized I was starting to be able to recognize the patterns in Noritsune's attacks. I was starting to discern how he was flowing one move into the next, how his footwork was forcing me to move in ways I would be at a disadvantage. I was seeing his fast, precise attacks as one would view the moving of pieces across a chess board, each independant strike a part of the greater whole, seeking to lure me out and leave me defenseless.
I cursed inwardly at my physical limitations, at this damned body that would not allow me to counter the moves I was understanding so clearly now, to take advantage of the openings I was starting to discern so clearly. For this short moment of clarity, it was as if I understood how Noritsune thought, and I also understood how I could take advantage of every mistake he would make, even the simplest ones. All I needed was for an opening to happen at the right moment, so I could force my body to exploit it, force the physical aspect of my being to execute what my mind was screaming inside of me.
Th moment I awaited came, as Noritsune sought to take me down with a downward slash, which I managed to sidestep only becasue I was able to anticipate it's trajectory from the position of our bodies. The fact I managed to get out of the way surprised my uncle, and I intended to use this fact as my moment to strike. I countered almost immediately, using the momentum of my sidestep to power a thrust of my blade, aimed for Noritsune's right shoulder.
Time seemed to hold still for a moment as I put every once of my power into this one blow. As I pushed the blade forward, I could read new emotions in my uncle's eyes - surprise, yes, but also respect, and something else. Admiration? I supose I will never know for sure. But one thing I do know - he knew, in taht moment, that I was capable of reading his moves, his steps, his strokes, as if I was studying an old scroll of troop movements. He knew, and the knowledge of this filled me with a newfound pride in my abilities.
The feeling was awfully short lived, however, aborted almost as soon as it surfaced. For all my knowledge, for all my anticipation, for all my understanding, my body was still unable to carry out my mind's wish. Should I had been slightly faster or slightly stronger, my attack would have been successful. I knew it, and Noritsune knew it, and I suspect my father also knew, although he would probably not admit to it. Instead, Noritsune managed to twirl and avoid the blow, which now left him with the advantage. Despair filled me, and a screamed of rage and frustration welled inside me, but was stuck in my throat. I could only watch, witness to my own failure. As i turned my head slightly I caught glimpse of my uncle's eyes, and I knew, at that moment, that he regretted what he was about to do - but, for a serving member of the Itsunari family, there was no escaping duty, save in exile or death.
I hardly felt the pain at first. I suppose, looking back, that the surreal of the scene prevented me from experiencing the full sensation as I saw the strike. Noritsune's sword came as fast as a striking cobra, a precise, unforgiving slash that bit into the flesh of my right arm. I watched, powerless, as the blade cleaved skin, bone and tendon, as it continued on its path until the resistance was gone and it could continue its graceful arc towards the ground. My right arm, still holding my sword, slowly dropped to the ground - soiling the grass with my very own blood pooling and forming patterns reminescent of monarch butterflies in flight. I felt my footing slip, and I took a step back to prevent my body from collapsing at the sight and the pain that was slowly creeping out and reaching the rest of my body.
My eyes widened, and my trembling left hand reached for the remains of what once was my sword-arm, grasping only a mangled, bloody stump where my elbow used to be. Nobody flinched. Not even once. The only movement was my own, breathing heavily to try to grasp what had just happened, as my mind was struggling to escape the reality of the moment, and all taht was lost along with my bloodied limb.
Never again would I have a place here. I had lost my ability to fight, and my right to be a member of this family, of this world. Everything I had struggled to accomplish would soon be washed away by the loss of my ability to bear a sword again. All of my training, all of my knowledge, all of my understanding of the flows of battle... All gone to waste becasue I was born in the wrong body, in the wrong family...
My soul screamed in pain and grief and this time, the scream reached my throat and soared through the midday air. I fell to my kness, the hoarse shout of my protest ringing in my temples and my ears, all the anger and frustration my being managed to express channeled through this ultimate cry of despair. And, it that very moment, something changed in me. A door was unlocked. Something filled my spirit, and it sung, a song both soothing and deafening at once.
All around me, autums leaves began to fall, mirroring all the shades of the sun at twilight, dancing around my kneeling form in a protective aura. I heard the sound of the dusk breeze, getting louder every passing second, as the leaves continued their dance towards the ground. The earth behind me cracked and burst in a crimson and orange burst. A great barred door, adorned with multiple complicated locks and engraved with an all-knowing, all-seeing eye arose from the burst, standing behind me like a towering protector. In front of the gate, surrounded by the falling autumn leaves, a proud silver fox stood, an ornate golden ring of keys held in his mouth, the guardian to the locked door of knowledge.
They recoiled then, awed by the display and the only possible explanation for it - I had been Chosen. And as the realization slowly dawned on me, the voice reverbated through my very being, fearsome and soothing.
Weep not for your loss, for your cunning mind is your sharpest blade on this day.
For better of worse, I was now an Anathema.
My mind still racing to understand everything it meant, I barely caught what happened next. I heard my father hissing in realization of what I had become. I heard his retainers and my very siblings reach for their weapons. The moment seemed to last forever, until I heard him give his irrevocable order to Noritsune. "Anathema... My son is now lost to a demon - Noritsune, free him from this confine."
There was no hesitation in my uncle's movement, even though I could already see the regret and sorrow in his eyes. I barely had time to raise to my feet before he rushed me, pushing my battered body backwards and breaking the circle of assembled people. I strived to fight exhaustion and pain in order to fight back, writhing the best I could in order to save myself. He brought his face close to my ear, and I had trouble concealing my surprise when I heard him whisper. "For the love of the dragons, boy, stand still! I'm trying to save your life."
I realized, then, what his intention was. He was pushing me towards the cliff hanging above the nearby river. I grapsed the brunt of his plan and played along, all the while trying to pretend I was giving a genuine opposition to Noritsune. He stood in front of me, his sword drawn, and took on a battle stance. "When I strike," he hissed quickly before anyone could get close to us, "fall back. And fortunes be with you, boy. You're going to need it." I did not answer, nor acknowledge my uncle's ultimate gift. He shouted and twisted his blade in an upward slash, barely missing me on purpose to give the illusion of a coup de grace. As I felt the blade almost touch my torso, I let myself fall back, plummeting down the cliff and into the raging waters below.
I do not know how long I was taken away by the currents, teetering on the edge of consciousness and sleep, half mad from the shock and the loss of blood. I kept seeing the same visions when I passed out, the same images dancing in my mind. A place of power - a Manse. An object, blurry and lacking detail, the color of white gold. The feverish state I was in made it difficult for me to differentiate between dream and reality, truth and fiction. Like this I drited for what seemed to be an eternity, unable to find the strength to pull myself out of the currents.
The following tale of my rescue, of my meeting with Sakajima Asami, and our subsequent rise and fall, is one that would be best told elsewhere, through her own writings, words scribed in the journal she keeps since we left together. Her words convey the events that led us here much better than I can render them justice, and I would rather reacall this event as vividly as possible, as shameful as it was. Asasmi is writing her thought in he journal as we speak, and I cannot help but smile at the thought of having her by my side at all times.
Having followed my feverish dream of before and found the Manse called the Eye of Perception and its most valued treasure, a prosthetic arm made of orichalcum - crafted by some unknown Twilight Caste Solar at an unamed point of history - we continue on, together, united for better or worse in the face of the threats that would take us down.