Master Yoshikawa's Cog Army

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There had been rumours for years, but no one thought there was any truth in them. Master Yoshikawa was dead. Lying in a stream somewhere, no doubt, his corpse nibbled by fish. We had been sent into the Western regions to chase fairy tales. Or so we thought.

Pairs of red circles floated in the dark mist of the forest, growing larger and larger as the minutes wore on.

I gripped the hilt of my sword more tightly. To my left, Soetsu pulled back his lips and bared his teeth towards the on-comers. To my right, Matsuta squinted, peering into the gloom with cautious concentration.

"Devils?" Matsuta whispered.

That's when we heard them. Under the crack and groan of moving samurai armour was another sound, a strange hissing and panting like hot air from a kettle.

Joji was the first to understand. "The machines of the foreign devils. The rumours are true. Master Yoshikawa has built a cog army to march against the Emperor."

Soetsu spit on the forest floor. "Then Master Yoshikawa will die and all his devils with him."

I counted the pairs of red circles floating in the mist at almost twice our height. "Fifteen of them to our seven. Good odds."

Soetsu spit again.

The upward curve of the horns on their helmets materialised, as did the clouds of white emitting from their steam-driven bodies, adding to the thickness of the fog. The ground under the tree roots and leaves trembled like an earthquake approaching.

I addressed Akira, our youngest. "Go. Return to the Emperor and tell him: the unthinkable has happened."

"But-"

"I absolve you of the dishonour of survival. Stay back and flee when we are dead."

"How does one kill machines?" asked Matsuta.

"Slice their pipes, smash their cogs. That's what stops the tray-nz." Joji stumbled over the foreign word. "They have no ancestors. They are without assistance."

The first of the cog samurai stepped fully into view. Its green armour glistened in the moonlight and its padding was a tight skirt of tubes and pipes. Under its helmet, the two glowing red circles swivelled towards us. It reached for its sword with a ticking of gears that sounded like bones breaking.

I felt the cold fist of fear grip my heart for the first time since such emotions were beaten out of me by my master. I ripped it out by its roots and threw it into the sky. We were samurai, death was our friend.

"FOR THE EMPEROR!" screamed Soetsu and rushed the devil machine, just as a second one emerged into sight.

We all followed him.

My last action -- as I was flung through the air by a massive, hissing arm -- was to pray that young Akira had abandoned us. I thought on the blissful honour that would be bestowed on our families for our bravery.

And then I slammed into a tree trunk, and was released from my earthly duty forever. 


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