by Tari Gwaemir
Tetsu gets his first sword.
It was the way the oval hilt fit into the grip of his hands, the way he could hear the quiet hum of the blade through air, the way the katana balanced perfectly as he lifted it above his head. And more subtly, he stood taller when he held the sword, his back and neck slowly stretching, his head higher, his shoulders back, until he was no longer a short, forgettable boy.
With each kata, he marveled at his body moving smoothly almost in spite of himself--he was never so graceful outside the dojo--as his feet slid and pushed off the wooden floor in harmony with every strike. He thought of the flow of ink from a calligraphy brush tracing a character in one quick motion, one flick of the wrist in the burst of inspiration after meditation. He turned, breathed, and found center.
"It's beautiful, isn't it," Souji said, standing at the entrance, his own katana sheathed in his right hand.
Tetsu stared at the fascinating, bright steel before him and nodded. Souji smiled, as he came into the dojo, his feet gliding, his eyes laughing, and asked, "May I?" A finger traced lightly along the edge of the open blade, leaving a thin line of red.
The boy's eyes widened. "It's so sharp."
"It needs to be," Souji replied, his voice as kind as ever, but strangely saddened.
Tetsu's grip loosened, and the katana swung down and out of center. He took a sliding step forward. Souji, still smiling, adjusted the tip to point at his throat. "Remember to clean the blade when you're finished," he said and turned to leave.
"Un," Tetsu muttered, looking away. As the door slid shut behind Souji's back, he lifted the sword again. He stepped back and began the drill again, his shoulders suddenly stiff. The stomp of his feet echoed in the room, the hum of the blade grew shrill. He felt smaller and younger than ever.
He stopped, breathed, and kneeled. He wiped the blade gingerly and sheathed it. He bowed as he exited the dojo.
"You were right. I'm not ready," he said, his fingers curling against empty air.
"You will be, someday," Souji told him reassuringly.
"Will it always be so," he hesitated, "beautiful?"
There was no answer.
He tried again, "Will it--"
"Yes," and the voice was sad once more, "always."