The Brass Samurai – a flash steampunk story

Picture by Indi Samarajiva via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by Indi Samarajiva via Flickr Creative Commons

That autumn I dug harder than I ever had before. There were more Oni in the hills than at any time in my life, their cackling echoing through the night. I did not have my father’s skill at the forge, but I was strong for a woman. I could dig pits outside the village and fill them with his iron spikes, trying to trap some of the monsters as they came out of the hills.

It was that or let them devour the harvest. Demons or no demons, I did not intend to starve.

Frustration seized me as my shovel clanged on something solid in the mud. Rocks meant harder digging and heavier lifting.

But this clang was different, and as I brushed away the dirt I realised why. Instead of a rock I had found a brass tube, which was in turn connected to a barrel like torso, topped off with the helmet of a samurai. We were used to finding fragments of such things, remnants of steam warriors fallen in the War of Clouds, but this was the first time I had found one whole.

My father beamed when he saw what I had. He knew automata from his days in the city, before he met my mother.

“Now we are safe,” he announced as he stoked his forge. “I will make him live again.”

*

Leaves were falling in their thousands by the time father beat the dents from the samurai and made his boiler burn once more. He was magnificent, tall and proud despite his scratches and scars. Seeing him, I almost felt hope.

But soon would come the Screaming Wind, and the Oni would be upon us. When I saw how feeble our defences were, and heard their cackling chorus in the night, I wept with fear.

Half the village watched as the last green leaf curled up in the orchard. A gust of wind caught it, jerked it once, twice, three times, and snatched it from the branch.

With a vast screeching, the Oni came. Hundreds of them, their eyes blazing and their teeth flashing, horns protruding from their bulbous heads. They leapt and danced their way out of the hills, heading for our village.

As the first of them reached the fields, the samurai emerged. His armour was tarnished, his helmet dulled with age, but his blade had a fresh edge thanks to my father. Steam poured from his back as he strode out to face the Oni.

We pitiful humans retreated safely behind our walls. The Oni could only enter buildings that held no food, and we had taken care to keep our homes clear. We would not die no

w, even if the samurai failed. Instead we would wait for our empty bellies to devour us.

Fail he might, for all the strength and skill of his blows. He cut down a dozen Oni in turn, darkening the soil with black blood. But then two of them latched onto his arm, while three more grabbed him around the waist. He disappeared beneath a heap of monsters.

That magnificent steam man had shown more courage than any of us. Now he would die, and soon we would too.

I grabbed my shovel and made for the door.

“Katsume!” my father exclaimed. “What madness is this?”

I did not answer, but rushed out into the fields. Screaming from the top of my lungs, I charged into the mass of Oni, caving in the face of one with my shovel blade, knocking two more aside as they stood in my way. I leapt at those on the samurai, battering them away from his arm, freeing his blade to do its deadly work.

Back to back we stood, the brass samurai and I, fighting off the frenzied beasts. Soon my arms were more weary than they had ever been from digging, my palms rubbed raw. But still I fought on, the steam that poured out behind me a reminder of the strength one person could have.

At last the throng dwindled. Only a score of Oni remained. Exhausted, I lifted my weapon to face them.

Lifted it too high. An Oni came in under my defences and sank its teeth into my arm. There was a crunch, a flash of agonising pain, and where my hand had been blood poured from the stump.

I slumped to my knees, cold and faint. The samurai turned to stand over me, slicing my attacker in half, fending off the Oni that gazed at me with hungry eyes. I could already hear others battering at his back.

As my mind spun and the world went black, I heard footsteps and shouts.

*

I looked down at the body of the brass samurai. His head was a mangled mess, his torso stooped protectively over where I had been. He had saved me, becoming my armour as the villagers chased down the last Oni.

My father wept over the stump of my wrist, but I did not. Instead I looked down at the brass samurai’s hand, still clutching his sword. He had given us the inner steel to fight. Perhaps he could give me something more.

* * *

 

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Swallowing Lies – a Flash Friday story

‘Lying is an art,’ Falling Leaf said, pouring from the small earthenware teapot. ‘I do not go to such lengths for those I despise.’

Aoandon’s clawed blue fingers reached across the low table and closed around her teacup. Her lips parted, revealing a flash of teeth as sharp as her horns. Falling Leaf shuddered and fought down the instinct to flee. After all the pains and preparations to reach this point, she could not give up now.

‘Lying is as much my realm as any other story,’ Aoandon said. ‘It would help you little today.’

Falling Leaf straightened the folds of her second best kimono.

‘Is something wrong with the tea?’ she asked, noticing that the oni had not yet taken a drink.

‘Lying is one thing,’ Aoandon said. ‘Poisoning another. A matriarch will do much to rid her village of a menace.’

Falling Leaf inclined her head.

‘You are wise,’ she said. ‘My tea is just the same as yours.’

6122637004_a4aa714592_zShe took a sip from her own small cup. This was the finest tea she had, the freshest young leaves from the tip of the bush, harvested and dried under moonlight. But today even this tasted bitter.

She drained her cup and poured another. The oni smiled, drank, and held her cup out for another serving.

‘What does it benefit you to haunt us?’ Falling Leaf asked. ‘To traumatise children, frighten old people to death, make men so scared that they will not go into the fields for the harvest?’

Aoandon smiled. In any other face that smile would have been a thing of grace and beauty, but it sent a shiver through Falling Leaf.

‘Your people’s fear is to me as rice or fish or fine tea,’ Aoandon said. ‘It sustains me. It invigorates me. It makes my life worthwhile.’

‘You lived in the shadows for so long,’ Falling Leaf said. ‘Showing yourself in only in the moments after ghost stories had ended, feeding off the fear of those moments. Is that not enough?’

‘Barely.’ Aoandon held out her empty cup again. ‘And one can never have too much. Your people told so many stories, so many lies, I no longer needed to hide from the light. Would you stay in others’ shadows, given the choice?’

‘I raised seven children.’ Falling Leaf filled her own cup too, enjoyed the soft scent of the steam. ‘One of them is head man, as his father was before him.’

‘Half truths are still truths, but I am the devourer of stories, I see through the gaps. You are trapped, just as you have always been. You come here reluctantly, the village’s pet story teller sent to bargain with a demon. But all you really want is out. Please, deny any of it – I will know if you are lying.’

Falling Leaf looked down at her own trembling hands. The creature knew her better than her husband had, better than her children did, better than she had even known herself for many years. All that time forcing herself to be good and diligent, until it was too late to follow the craving for freedom she finally recognised. Until she was as scared of her own broken heart as of the oni that plagued her people.

She looked up, tears running from her eyes.

‘This is good tea,’ Aoandon said, reaching out and pouring for herself. ‘But you cannot have hoped to persuade me with just tea. So tell me, why should I seek out the life that you yourself cannot accept? What words can possibly persuade me?’

‘None,’ Falling Leaf whispered.

‘And what lies could possibly trick me?’

‘None.’

‘So you see, I am going nowhere.’ Aoandon tilted back her head, raised the teapot and poured its contents straight down her throat. The finest tea in the village, gone in five long gulps. She slammed it down on the table so hard that the pot cracked. ‘Delicious.’

With a click and a small thud the teapot fell in two, spilling damp green leaves onto the pale wood of the table. Tiny black berries stood out amidst the debris. Aoandon stared at them, her face crumpling in outrage and then fear.

‘The fruit of the drifting tree,’ Falling Leaf said. The trembling had spread to her whole body now. ‘I traded my best kimono for them.’

‘These will kill me,’ Aoandon said. She jerked to her feet, staggered and fell shaking to one knee. Her terror finally made that blue face beautiful. ‘But you… It will kill you too.’

‘Yes.’ The tears had turned to blood now, and Falling Leaf’s vision was fading.

‘Your people asked you to do this?’ Aoandon’s words were turning into a rasping wheeze. ‘Yet you would die for them?’

‘They did not ask me,’ Falling Leaf said. ‘They never would.’ The world was black now. She lay down. The floor was soft and warm. ‘I told them I had come to make peace.’

 

* * *

This story is part of Flash Friday, as started by Lisa Walker England. It was inspired by a writing prompt suggested by Paige Reiring, and I learned about the antagonist from this cool post.

If you liked this story then you might also enjoy my collection By Sword, Stave or Stylus, available now on Amazon and Smashwords.

 

Picture by David Offf via Flickr Creative Commons.