The Daimyo of Dust – a flash steampunk story

Kato crept along the forest path, katana gripped between white-knuckled fingers. A single beam of sunlight pierced the gloom and drew his eye to gears that gleamed amid the flattened grass.

The sign he had sought. A piece of the Daimyo of Dust.

He held up one hand.

The other samurai stopped. The only sound was a single heron, calling out from the nearby river.

Kato pointed at the gears, then at more lying beyond them. His comrades gathered around.

The Daimyo might not bleed as men did, but this was surely a sign. He was damaged from their last fight, vulnerable, weak. Ukon’s life had been well spent if it gave them victory now.

One cautious step at a time, they followed the trail of gears toward a clearing. As they approached, they heard an erratic clatter, the dying noises of a broken machine.

At Kato’s signal, the warriors fanned out. Swords drawn, they approached the clearing from every side. If they were quick and careful, they might defeat the mechanical warrior and earn the pardon the emperor had promised, their past failures forgotten. If not, it was more noble to die in battle than on their own blades.

The leaves parted to reveal a figure lying in the clearing, his back to Kato. Armoured plates bound together by the elaborate agemaki bow. A broad helmet with crests down its sloped sides. Leg guards and sandals drawn in close. All made of metal, unlike the leather and lacquer Kato wore. All edged with the rust from which the Daimyo drew his name.

The rattling of gears emerged from inside that armour.

At Kato’s signal, the warband advanced, blades drawn. The Daimyo might be damaged, but he could still be a deadly opponent. They moved like coiled springs, ready to burst into action if he made the slightest move.

Across from Kato, Yoshiaki frowned. Suddenly, he lengthened his stride, approaching the armoured body. He touched the helmet with the tip of his katana. It rolled back, revealing empty air.

Kato hurried to join Yoshiaki. He picked up the armour and a machine slid out – something simple, clockwork powered, its gears rattling noisily as it fell to the ground.

There was a soft, wet noise.

Only then did he noticed the smell of blood.

Kato looked up, past Yoshiaki, to the edge of the clearing.

A machine stood there, shaped like a man but made of pistons, gears, and levers. Deprived of his outer layer of armour, the Daimyo of Dust stood exposed, his oiled innards visible for all the world to see.

There was blood on his katana. Two of Kato’s comrades lay headless at his feet, another a dozen yards away.

“You were damaged,” Kato said. “Bleeding.”

The Daimyo opened his hand, scattering loose gears in the grass. Gears that had no place inside his body.

“I need all my components,” he said. “I do not understand how you can bleed and yet still walk. But I only needed to understand that you do.”

His blade gleamed as he raised it.

Kato and Yoshiaki braced themselves, standing side by side one last time. At Edo, a dozen samurai had failed to destroy the Daimyo of Dust. Now they were only two.

At least it would be a noble end.

* * *

 

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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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Coming in May – Artifacts: Lost Tales #1

Exciting news – I’m finally a comic writer!

Back in 2013 I entered the Top Cow Talent Hunt, in which I was a runner up. Off the back of this, I wrote a short script for Top Cow set in feudal Japan, which after much excited waiting on my part is finally coming out in May.

‘One Man’, a samurai-era story featuring the magical Bloodsword, features in Artifacts: Lost Tales #1, released on 6 May. You can see a few more details here, though you have to scroll down the page to find it.

I’m really excited to get my hands on this. I haven’t seen the art yet, and it’s going to be awesome to see someone else’s talent bring my ideas to life.

If you’re into comics then please consider pre-ordering Lost Tales at your local shop – pre-orders make a big difference to how many copies of a comic get onto the shelves, and so how many people can buy it that way.

Yay comics! (I’m a little excited)