(This was my submission for my Advanced Test of Wisdom exam; at Dyrra's urging, I've put it up here in case other people would be interested in reading it. The terms with asterixes next to them are explained at the bottom.)
Everything begins somewhere.
Sunlight bathed the streets of the Kuroshin jōkamachi* in a golden glow, glinting off the smooth cobbles and flickering from the glass windows of the various modern buildings scattered amongst the traditional architecture. Kuroshin was a town of contrasts; old Kyataran buildings built of wood and bamboo squatted alongside glistening constructs of metal and glass, introduced to the town after the return of the Keibatsu to prominence and their subsequent mission to modernize Kyataru.
A large billboard stood to one side of the road, towering over the surrounding buildings. Its surface was adorned by a tattered copy of the ill-fated ‘Become History’ advertisement that had been spread around Kyataru some years before; dialectal variations in the south of Shuuyoujo** had led to many people taking offense to being told to ‘Die Somewhere Else’. The advert remained as a symbol of amusement for Kuroshin’s residents, with the mistranslated slogan having become a regularly-used term of mockery.
Glancing up at the billboard, Manji chuckled darkly at the thought before tugging the sugegasa*** down to shield his eyes from the sun and his face from the eyes of those he passed. He’d decided to be as incognito as possible for this excursion to one of Kuroshin’s more insalubrious drinking houses, in order to stop the populace from being forced to get down on their knees whenever he passed. The strict caste system on Kyataru meant that no commoners were allowed to show him anything approaching a lack of respect, since he could legally have them killed for doing so and would not face any repercussions. In addition, commoners were supposed to prostrate themselves on the ground while he passed, only getting up once he had gone.
What a stupid idea. I know I’m better than them all, I don’t need them bowing and bobbing to prove it. Tugging on the lapels of the plain black kimono he was wearing, Manji sighed inwardly before his right hand went back into the garment, his left hand resting lightly on the hilt of the katana thrust through his belt. He’d left his lightsaber back at the castle; the people of Kuroshin did not know that the Keibatsu were Dark Jedi, and he’d like to avoid any awkward questions to that effect. Besides, two swords were more than enough for him to deal with any trouble he might face.
Since coming back to Kyataru the previous year, he’d had to deal with several challenges from various other Kyataran warriors who wanted to test the strength of the Keibatsu. In every case, Manji had made mincemeat of them, without even using the Force- his training with the other Keibatsu and the other Dark Jedi of Naga Sadow had made him substantially stronger and faster than any Kyataran warrior.
For now, Manji was enjoying the sunshine and the feeling of freedom. He’d been cooped up in the castle keep for several days, and while he had come to accept that he had certain duties as the second son of the Keibatsu, he still looked for opportunities to escape. His footsteps took him through one of the picturesque gardens dotted around the Kuroshin jōkamachi, cherry blossom trees scattering their flowers across the surface of a small lake. For a moment the Epis paused on the bridge across the lake to breathe in the aroma of the blossom, a smile lighting up his scarred face.
“[Keibatsu! Turn and face your death!]****”
The smile vanished as Manji turned to see three men confronting him, their blades drawn. One stood slightly in front of the other two, his expression angry, dark hair pulled up into a neat queue on the top of his head. Pushing his hat back, the Epis stared at them noncommittally, his left hand still resting on the hilt of his blade. Seemingly angered even more by the lack of response, the leader stepped forward.
“[Aren’t you going to ask why we want you dead?]”
Manji’s smile widened into a grin.
“[Why would I do that? You seem to have made your minds up already. Let’s just get this over with, shall we?]”
A vein began to throb in the leader’s forehead. Suddenly an angry response burst from his lips.
“[You dogs killed my father! He stood by his lord Nagahide ‘til the end, and you butchered him!]”
“[Your father, what was his name?]”
“[Sakamoto Asakusa. I am Sakamoto Asanobu.]”
“[I remember... he was a good fighter. He died with honour.”] Manji’s face hardened as he continued, staring at the man before him. “[Nevertheless... Nagahide was a worm, a cowardly worm. He paid the Jedi to destroy my family and then took control of Kyataru after we were gone. Your father chose the wrong man to side with.]”
Asanobu’s face twisted slightly in surprise. Then he seemed to reach a resolution, his own face hardening.
“[Regardless- because of you, I am rōnin*****. You have taken everything from me- now I will take everything from you!]”
Asanobu snapped into a stance, raising his blade above his head. The rōnin clutched the hilt tightly as he let out a shout, dashing forwards to attack the Epis. To the eyes of the other men, Manji barely seemed to move; one moment he was leaning back against the railing of the bridge nonchalantly, the next he was several steps closer to them with his blade drawn. Behind Manji, the leader staggered slightly, his mouth open in surprise. Suddenly, shockingly, blood burst from the leader’s stomach and he fell heavily to the ground, his entrails writhing out of the wound across his stomach. The two remaining warriors looked at each other in shock, then both charged at once, their cries combining both desperation and determination.
Dodging their first wild strikes, Manji moved calmly back across the gardens, his face locked into a slight sneer. As one of the assailants dived forwards to try and skewer the Epis, Manji leapt to one side, his blade whirling round in a tight circle that opened up a huge gash down the man’s back. As he fell heavily to the floor, Manji knocked aside a slash and thrust his blade through the remaining man’s heart.
Withdrawing his sword, Manji whipped it round to shake free the excess blood and wiped the blade on the sleeve of one of his attackers before sheathing it. Shaking his head as he pulled his hat back on, Manji moved away from the park, standing contemptuously on the bodies of the men who’d tried to kill him.
“Now, I really need a karkin’ drink.”
Ignoring the shocked gasps of the commoners who stared at his bloodstained clothing, Manji let his mind wander over the encounter.
Hrn. Why do I get the feeling that as long as I stay on Kyataru people like that will be trying to kill me? Maybe I should head back to Tarthos and let my retainers take care of things here... after the example we made of Nagahide, I doubt anybody will try and take control of the planet from us. Plus, I haven’t been back in a while... I wonder how things are going?
The sounds of chaos echoed from inside the Weeping Moon, one of Kuroshin’s less reputable bars. As Manji stood outside, he heard breaking furniture and people shouting. A grin split the Epis’ face at the prospect of a good old-fashioned bar brawl, his thirst temporarily evaporating. Pulling the hat down slightly, Manji pushed through the divided curtain hanging in the doorway of the bar- and walked into a scene of carnage.
Splinters of wood lay across the floor, broken chairs lying in corners of the room. Behind the bar, a rather chubby man dressed in a soiled kimono cowered in fear, covering his head with his hands. In the centre of the room, a knot of people were beating each other up, seemingly with little concern for who had attacked who first. Grinning widely, Manji dived into the scrum, fists flailing.
Punching one scraggly-haired man in the face so hard that he flew back into another man, both of them slumping back against the wall, Manji turned to plant his boot in the crotch of a third man, cackling loudly. Behind him, a short red-haired girl had waded into the mêlée with a length of wood, and was beating up everybody she could reach.
Suddenly, Manji was knocked off balance as one man fled from the range of the red-haired girl’s stick, colliding with him heavily. The hat slipped from his face, revealing his scarred visage to everybody in the room. Shocked gasps echoed around the bar, and everyone still conscious quickly flattened themselves to the floor, their faces pressed against the matting firmly.
The only exception was the red-haired girl. Oblivious to the reaction of the people around her, she shouted at them angrily.
“If you’re going to cause trouble, you can get the frell out!”
Suddenly she turned, to see Manji still standing, looking at her in amusement. Instinct guided her hand as she drew the stick back, aiming a swipe at the Epis’ head. Ducking beneath the blow, Manji thrust a fist into her stomach, the wood dropping from her fingers. Balling her own hands into fists, the girl staggered backwards, aiming a punch at the Keibatsu that came nowhere near hitting. Slapping her fist down, Manji stepped in and planted another blow in the girl’s ribs that hurled her to the floor. She twitched slightly then seemed to lie still as Manji straightened up.
There. She’s not stupid enough to get back up from- oh...
His thought process was rudely interrupted as the girl coughed and struggled up, staggering to her feet, swaying slightly as she stared at him hatefully. His good eye widening, Manji barked out a laugh.
“My word, you are determined!”
Ignoring him, the girl dived forwards, throwing a flurry of punches at his face and chest. Every strike was smacked aside by Manji’s hands before he sidestepped the last punch and grabbed her arm, twisting sideways and hurling the girl to the floor.
She landed heavily, but as Manji continued to hold her arm tightly, she snarled angrily and thrust her hand out towards him almost without thinking. An invisible blow smacked against the Epis’ chest, causing Manji’s eyebrow to twitch upwards in surprise.
She can use the Force?
“Let go of my karkin’ arm, you worthless scumsucker!”
Something twitched in the Epis’ mind as he looked down at the girl- a memory. He’d been just like her once- untrained, unable to properly use his powers. He’d been lucky to find someone, lucky to find the Brotherhood. There was no guarantee that she’d be so lucky.
Suddenly, the Keibatsu made a decision. Reaching down, he yanked the girl to her feet. Another punch cannoned into her ribs before he tossed her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and turned towards the door of the bar.
“What’s your name, girl?”
Struggling weakly, dazed from the impact of the last punch, the girl tried to pummel the Epis weakly as she responded.
“Why does it matter to you?”
“Because I’m going to take you somewhere where you can learn to control those powers of yours.”
“Who the hell do you think you are?! You're ugly and your breath smells like bantha farts, you nerf-herding son of a rancor!”
Grinning widely and happily as the girl continued to struggle and shout at him, Manji began to whistle as he walked down the street with her over his shoulder, his thoughts elsewhere.
This girl amuses me. She’s like I used to be- she doesn’t take shavit from anyone and she’s nice and angry. I can take her to get trained, and I can check up on the old Cathedral. Tarthos shouldn’t have changed too much since I was last there...
Ignoring the stares and shocked gasps of the commoners still crowding the streets, Manji headed back towards the castle.
Kar Alabrek Cathedral
One week later
Gazing around at the polished floors of the Ragnos Cathedral, Manji felt a wave of nostalgia pass through him. Grey-clad apprentices scuttled across the marble of the main hall carrying piles of scrolls, sparing merely a glance for the curiously-dressed newcomer.
I’ve been away for too long. I’d forgotten how much like home this place feels.
Striding down the hallway into the heart of the Cathedral, Manji grinned as a door slid open to reveal his Kyataran-styled quarters, combining the traditional style of his homeland with all the modern conveniences that the Cathedral offered- computer systems and hygiene facilities in particular. Moving over to a low desk and kneeling in front of it, he tapped a few keys, a hologram flickering into life above the wooden surface.
“How’re you settling in over there, Dyrra?”
The shimmering blue image of the red-haired girl grimaced at him, her face sullen.
“They’ve been telling me I have to follow orders. I do not approve.”
A chuckle spilt from Manji’s throat as he leant forwards.
“Girl, you’ll follow whatever orders you’re given. Especially if they’re from me. Got it? Or I’ll kick your arse again.”
Tapping the keys set into the desk, Manji shut off the hologram, overriding Dyrra’s angry response. Then he sat back on his haunches, letting out a long sigh of pleasure.
“Yep, it sure is good to be back.”
* Kyataran term for ‘castle-town’.
** The main landmass of Kyataru and the country over which the Keibatsu hold dominance.
*** Conical hat made of bamboo.
**** Translated from the Kyataran.
***** Lit. ‘man of the wave’- a Kyataran warrior without a master, one of the outcasts of the Kyataran caste system.