The Dragonhunter

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The local magistrate eyed Hida Soryu with grave suspicion. Hida Soryu scratched his stubbly face and looked away as if irritated when the magistrate spoke. "A dragon has been terrorizing the local village. We can offer you a substantial reward to drive it away. The Daimyo has offered a gold Koban to the warrior brave enough to stop the dragon's destruction." Hida Soryu put his hands on his hips, and glared contemptuously at the magistrate as if he were a fool. "Arrows will not pierce the dragon's hide" he said. "If you can offer magic it is better than fighting with my bare hands." "Then what of your Dragonsword" the magistrate retorted sarcastically. Ah, that is for your throat" Hida Soryu shot back, "for those that decide they cannot keep their part of the bargain". The magistrate turned red faced with anger at the remarks and mumbled for a Shugenja to prepare a potion for Hida Soryu before dismissing him. It was several days ride from the village before Hida Soryu discovered the beast's tracks in soft sand near a riverbed descending from a rocky canyon. He dismounted from his horse and searched for a path to traverse the steep canyon walls. The lair must be above he thought to himself.

Hida Soryu knelt beside the large tracks, half filled with pools of water from the river. His throat was dry so he drank from the river, then stared into the pool, lost in contemplation. A vision of his father appeared in the ripples of the pool. Words filled his ears. "You might wait an eternity for another man to give you honor. A Dragon will give you his honor...if you survive." It was several hours hike to the crest of the canyon. He hacked at the brush impeding his progress, and hauled himself up over the steep rocky faces. The sun beat down mercilessly, and he wiped the sweat from his brow. Sun bleached bones crunched beneath his feet. He scouted the area and found a steep precipice leading to a cave on a ledge hundreds of feet below. He was near the lair. He started to scale down by rope, but slipped and fell. The rope burned his hands and loosened rocks clattered noisily to the ledge below. He could hear the beast roar in anger and his heart pounded as he struggled to regain his grip. The Dragon's head emerged from the cave entrance. His long neck twisted upwards, searching for the intruder disturbing him. The furious beast caught sight of Hida Soryu dangling precariously above and lunged upwards, claws flailing. Hida Soryu reached for his Dragonsword but as he removed it from its Saya the beast lunged again knocking it from his grip and slashing his arm. He winced with pain, and recited an ancient prayer. There seemed to be little hope. Suddenly he remembered the potion that the Shugenja had given him. He reached inside his silk vest and drank from the vial. The beast below seemed not to see him. It was as if he had dissappeared! The Dragon looked wildly about in confusion, trying to pick up the intruder's scent. Seeing nothing the Dragon backed quickly into his cave where the narrow walls offered more protection. Descending quickly down the rope, Hida Soryu reached the ledge below and retrieved his sword. He turned towards the cave and approached the entrance cautiously. Light penetrated the passage for only a short distance. He could hear the beast's heavy breathing coming from the darkness beyond. Hida Soryu's arm throbbed with pain, blood trickling down where the Dragon had wounded him. He peered intently into the murky blackness, focusing his mind on his task instead of his pain. Swiftly and silently he moved, drawing his sword in a sweeping arc in one fluid motion. The sword pierced the Dragon who bellowed hideously. Surprised, the Dragon lashed out violently, twisting and writhing pain. Hida Soryu thrusted with his sword again. Even though his arm was weakenened, he concentrated, focusing tremendous force from his wrists. The Dragonsword sank deep into the convulsing beast, taking it's life force. Hida Soryu emerged wearily from the cave. He looked upwards wondering to himself where he would find the strength to climb back up the cliff face. Pt. II Injured and stranded on the ledge, the situation again looked hopeless. However, the Samurai philosophy did not depend on hope, so he focused on the immediate, and bandaged his arm. He had enough provisions for several days and decided to take shelter in the cave entrance for the night. It would be a few days till his strength returned and he could then scale the cliff wall. The sheer cliff wall offered few footholds, and his arm still burned with pain whenever he slipped. Grasping the rope, he was able to ease his climb upwards. The average man would never have managed the perilous climb upwards, which took Hida Soryu several hours. Upon his return to the village, the magistrate had prepared a ceremony in his honor. He was presented with a gold Koban in front of the awestruck villagers. The crafty magistrate merely wished to make himself look honorable though, and secretly schemed to rid himself of Hida Soryu. Having just honored the man, he would hardly be suspect for his demise. Hida Soryu knew he had collected his reward a little too easily and wondered to himself what the wily magistrate was up to. He knew if he was ambushed upon leaving the village that the magistrate would not be implicated in the plot. Hida Soryu could only wait for his next move, for the time being. Hida Soryu headed out of the village a few days later. The sun had just risen over the misty hills and morning dew settled the dusty road. A cool morning breeze rolled in and the air smelled fresh and sweet. Following the road into the hills, he had travelled only a few hours when several figures emerged from the dawn mists. "Stand aside" Hida Soryu shouted to them, "or shall we duel then?" Appearing to accept the challenge one of the assassins pulled his sword from the saya and advanced. He kept a wary eye on the other two figures, one of whom quickly brandished a pistol tucked in his obi, the other darting quickly back into the bushes to encircle him. The swordsman closed quickly, slicing high with a wicked No-Dachi. With an expert's touch he deflected Hida Soryu's parry and struck with force and blinding speed yet a second time. Steel clashed against steel. Anticipating his rival's next move, Hida Soryu sidestepped the swordsman's thrust. Reeling from Hida Soryu's surprise undercut, he crashed heavily to the ground, dust rising from the road. A shot rang out, just narrowly missing and whizzing by. The third assailant rushed out of the brush behind Hida Soryu while the other calmly reloaded his pistol with efficient speed. Hida Soryu parried the first blow, then slammed the butt of his sword handle into the man's jaw. He stumbled backwards groggily, too dazed to feel the final blow. Reloaded pistol in one hand, sword in the other the third duelist advanced. His eyes burned with vengeance. Hida Soryu glared at his adversary , the brief moment seeming like an eternity. The pistol belched smoke and the powder flash broke the silence. Ringing blades of steel clashed. The assassin's feint arced towards him dangerously. Spinning back, Hida Soryu counterattacked. His blade struck quick. The man crumpled over, almost not comprehending his own fate, his final gaze one of shock. Hida Soryu headed back towards the village. It was time, he decided, to confront the magistrate. To be continued...

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