Tachi of Ben Ten
Damage: 147 - 196
Combat Delay: 15
Vigor Cost: 15
Requirements for Use:
Minimum Level: 35
Must have completed The Ruins of Tou-Tou quest.
The Breaking of the Blade
by Bayuji Lai, monk of Hebian-To
I was in my second year of apprenticeship to Master Shiju of Shoushi when I became entangled in the legend of Ben Ten.
I remember it so well. It was a quiet summer afternoon and I was practicing my sword forms in the meditation courtyard of Shoushi, repeating the overhead sweep for the thousandth time. My follow-through and the angle of my leading arm are inadequate. Master Shiju had just given me a smart crack in the elbow with his staff, when a warrior appeared at the north gate, carrying a plain, but clearly well-forged tachi. It was a hot day, and I was pouring sweat from my exertions in the humid, swampy air of Shoushi. The stranger, however, seemed to show no discomfort at the heat, despite his black leather armor and black hood.
I watched as they greeted each other with furtive hand signs. The warrior bowed to me, and I could see his eyes sizing me up for a long time, judging me. He must have decided I was worthy of acknowledgement, or at least posed no threat, because he finally bowed to me, very quickly. I bowed back, politely, as Master Shiju had taught me.
Without any explanation, I was told to shoulder my traveling pack and follow along as they left Shoushi, heading southwest. I walked the customary three paces behind the Master and the stranger, and so only heard bits and pieces of their quiet conversation. As far as I could tell, the stranger's Master, an old friend or associate of Master Shiju, was dying and sought to dispose of a valuable possession.
We walked for a long time. Long enough for me to feel the fatigue of the journey, after almost a full day of weapon practice. I was grateful to walk three paces behind Master Shiju, because he surely would have been quite displeased with my lack of stamina. We walked into the mountains to the southwest of Shoushi, into the lands claimed by the friendly Lugian mountain lords. We passed a few of great grey warriors on our way into the highlands, each of whom nodded respectfully to my Master and to the stranger.
Finally, we came upon a very small gap between two peaks, well concealed by thick tree cover. Through the gap was a trail into a narrow valley, heavily forested with evergreens. At the far end of the valley, under the shadow of a mountain peak, sat a small hut in the deep forest. As I said, the entrance to the valley was well hidden, and I doubt that I could retrace my steps there. No doubt if I possessed more of the mental discipline Master Shiju preaches, I would have remembered better.
We stopped at the door and set our packs and weapons down outside. Master Shiju gave me a familiar hand signal: it was the signal that, for the ensuing meeting, I should be seen and not heard, not to speak unless spoken to. I nodded obediently. Satisfied, Master Shiju nodded to me and opened the door, beckoning me inside. The stranger remained outside, either to guard the door or to give us privacy with whatever mysterious person dwelled within.
When I stepped through the door, I saw that the hut's inside was just as humble as the outside. The only furnishings were a bedroll, a low table, a bookcase, and a stone cooking pit. A precious, perfect bonsai tree sat on the table. There was no fire in the cooking pit, but I saw a tea kettle and a pair of bowls sitting nearby.
In the dim light, it took me a moment to see that there was someone sitting on the bedroll. Once my eyes adjusted, I saw that the occupant of the hut was very old. Very old, and... probably a woman.
She sat huddled in blankets, with a bowl of tea clutched in her hands. From what little I could tell of her under the blankets, she probably had once been very tall. When she extended her arms in greeting and offered us bowls of tea, I could see that she still had the limbs and movements of a warrior... of a fellow devotee of the way of the tachi. As I accepted the bowl of tea from her with a silent nod of thanks, I dared to look into her eyes. In those eyes, I saw an unfathomable sadness and endless compassion - as if she bore the sufferings of the world on her aged shoulders.
Master Shiju and I drank our tea quietly. While Master and the old woman seemed to be having an entire conversation with subtle gestures and glances, I tried to puzzle out who this mysterious hermit might be. I had never heard mention of anyone like her in any of the Master's many war stories. I knew the Master's mother was long dead, slain in the early days before our people came under the protection of the lifestones when the Master himself had been a mere boy. I read the titles of the books in the bookshelf - ancient copies of the writings of Jojii and many of the legends of the Sho. Legends that are now long forgotten, lost in the endless wars our people have confronted on this troubled island... Lost as more of our people put aside the heritage we carried from Ispar to put together a united front with the Aluvians and the Gharu'n, and the Aun and the Lugians. Artifacts belonging to the Isparians we once were, not the Derethians we have become.
Finally, Master Shiju set down his bowl and nodded. The old woman nodded back, and reached behind her, into a pile of furs and cloth at the side of the bedroll. To my surprise, she drew out a long, thin, cloth-wrapped bundle. The cloth was the finest thing I had seen in the hut - it was dark, midnight blue, and had the sheen of old and fine silk. It was the sort of fabric I could imagine hanging in the magnificent temples of Chiran-Tou.
Of course, what was wrapped in the silk turned out to be even more wondrous. It was a tachi of unsurpassed beauty. The blade shone silver-blue, even in the poor light of the hut. The hand-guard was carved from platinum. A deep green jade jewel sat in the pommel, almost pulsing with light. A bright key hung from a tassel at the end of the pommel, as if the sword were a key to unlocking a great treasure, as well as a wondrous weapon.
Looking upon that tachi, I was suddenly struck with the knowledge of who this lonely old woman must be. Completely forgetting my Master's instructions, I whispered, 'Ben Ten.'
The woman's eyes widened in surprise and, perhaps, amusement. Then I felt a stinging crack as Master Shiju thumped me between the shoulder blades with his cane.
'Have you forgotten yourself, Bayuji?' Master Shiju hissed. 'You were told not to speak until spoken to!'
The old woman, Ben Ten, reached out and put a firm grip on Master Shiju's wrist. He dropped the cane and sat next to me, suddenly humbled. I found myself feeling uncomfortable and awkward, as if I were being exposed to things I should not know.
Finally, I heard the old woman speak. 'Master Shiju, please humor me and punish your student no more. He has brought joy to an old woman's heart. I forget the principle of Humility, because I enjoy knowing that this young one knows of me.'
She turned to me and, to my shock, spoke to me directly. 'It has been many years since our people came to this land. We have been through so much. We escaped the captivity of the Olthoi. We managed to fend for ourselves and settle a hostile land. We survived the days of the Hopeslayer's wrath, when the rivers ran red and the sky was black. We withstood the invasions of the walking wind and corrupted toad demons. We defeated the hateful designs of sorcerers and tyrants.'
She paused to take a sip of her tea, and set the tachi on the floor between us.
'The spirits tell me that greater perils lie ahead. Our people change. The more time they spend here, the less they remember of the ancient ways of Ispar, of the Four Stones and the Three Elders. The way of Jojii is scarcely remembered. The humble swordswoman who helped defend our first settlements has been forgotten. Except by a few well-trained apprentices,' she laughed.
'The spirits are withdrawing from this world,' she sighed. 'In time, I must leave with them, as well. So I have called my old friend, Master Shiju, who was once a tender and frightened child who needed protection from the Reedsharks near his home village, to see me one last time.'
At this, Master Shiju bowed deeply enough to touch his forehead to the dirt floor. I quickly dropped my own forehead to the floor and closed my eyes.
'I asked that Master Shiju come here, and bring his student, because I have tasks for you both. Please, raise yourselves up. I am not here for reverence, and, to be honest, it embarrasses me.'
We both looked up at her as she took the sword in both hands. She raised it in the air, so high over her head that its tip nearly touched the thatch roof of the hut, and brought it sweeping down on the stones of her hearth. There was a sound like the breaking of a thousand harp strings, and the sword shattered.
'No!' I cried, unable to restrain myself. I reached for the broken pieces of the wondrous, legendary Sword of Ben Ten.
'Sit back!' Ben Ten barked at me, and before I knew it, I was bowing on the floor again.
'It would seem, Master Shiju, that your student has forgotten the stones of Detachment and Discipline.'
Not daring to raise my eyes, I heard a long-suffering sigh come from my master beside me.
'Raise your eyes,' Ben Ten said. No longer did she seem the frail old woman. Now she was strong, full of purpose, and radiant in her authority.
Before her, she had arrayed the pieces of the broken sword. The blade was mostly intact. Next to it sat the platinum hand-guard, the piece of jade, the key on the tassel, and the sharp, narrow tang of the blade.
'The sword serves no more purpose to the people of Dereth. It will diminish and disappear, just as its guardian spirits have done,' Ben Ten intoned. 'And yet, in the wisdom of the Elders, the broken pieces of the sword will benefit those who are in need. Master Shiju, I would like for you to dispose of four of these pieces for me.'
Master Shiju nodded reverently. 'I owe you my life and more, Ben Ten. Just tell me what you would like me to do.'
She pointed at the key. 'The key will go to Baishi. A young woman who seeks spiritual fulfillment will find that the key opens up a long-forgotten chest of books in the back of her mother's shop, books full of the teachings of Jojii.'
She pointed at the tang of the blade. 'The tang will go to Tou Tou, where an aging archer who must defeat one last foe will find it makes a perfect arrowhead for his final shot.'
She pointed at the platinum hand-guard. 'The hand-guard will go to Lin, where a starving clothmaker with a broken loom will find that this carved metal fits just so into his device.'
She pointed at the piece of jade. 'The jade will go to Yanshi, where an orphaned brother and sister will be able to sell it, and provide for themselves in the absence of their parents.'
She pointed at the blade. 'The blade, Bayuji, will go with you. Take it with you, wherever you go, and think about all you have seen and heard today. Ask yourself what becomes of a blade with no handle. Think of all the things that the blade has slain, think of all the blood that the blade has shed. And remember the lessons of this blade in the coming darkness, when the spirits have abandoned us and Jojii is remembered no more.'
Reverently, I took the blade in my hands and bowed deeply again.
'The spirits are retreating. A reckoning is coming, between those who once owned this world and those who would own it now. The shadow will return and bring war, and other powers will rise to oppose it. They will sunder the land with their battle. But one day, when we all are dust and ash and our descendants will have to rebuild the world we made, the spirits will return. And the pieces of this sword will be brought forth at their command. Leave me now, please. I must meditate and finish my tea.'
Bowing and retreating, Master Shiju and I left the hut. I never saw Ben Ten again. But I do remember, with shame, the lessons that she taught me that day. Mindful of her last words to me, I have never raised my sword in anger, but only use it as a tool for teaching lessons of discipline and courage. And every night, I dream of the spirits fleeing our realm, in the face of the terrible destruction Ben Ten foretold.