Hiro entered the courtyard in almost total darkness. Thick clouds blanketed the night sky, hiding the light of the moon and stars. The only source of illumination were the braziers lit by the three guards, who were huddled around one of the larger fires. As he walked by the sentries Hiro noticed the strong smell of alcohol and knew they were deep into their cup. Normally he would have given them a scolding, followed by a flogging for this dereliction of duty but tonight he had other things on his mind. Steadily he walked towards the tall pole in the centre of the courtyard, his mood as dark as the night.

At the base of the pole was planted a sword. Single bladed and slightly curved, the sword was relatively short, no longer than Hiro’s forearm but the blade was nearly as thick as his waist. It was a heavy, brutal weapon, completely lacking in aesthetic beauty. However there was no doubting its lethal functionality. Some rumours even claimed that it could cleave through a horse’s head in a single stroke and Hiro could well believe it, for he had witnessed the sword in action. Tearing his gaze from the blade his eyes travelled up the pole, until he reached the top where the head of the sword’s master hung.

Hiro’s mind wondered back to when the man had died. It had been hard death, his body riddled with bullets, yet he wielded his great sword with peerless skill, swinging it around his body in deadly arcs, littering the ground with severed limbs and mangled corpses. Soldiers from the world’s eight most powerful nations closed in, bayonets and swords stabbing into the already dying body but still he fought on, as if by will-power alone he could defy fate. Finally after what felt like an eternity the man stumbled, his many wounds finally taking effect. His enemies sensing victory surged forward.

With a might roar the man swung once more, beheading four men. This final blow was too much for the man and he lost his balance, falling face first into the blood soaked mud, his sword flying from his grip. Hiro lost sight of the man for a moment as the soldiers piled into the fallen warrior, like a pack of wolves on a downed bear. Hiro let out a war-cry and lead his soldiers forward, forming a wedge that pushed its way through the mass on men. Hiro reached the fallen man and ordered his men to form a circle, shielding him from the vengeful soldiers. Looking down Hiro thought the man was dead but miraculously after a moment the man twitched.

Slowly, painfully the man got his hands underneath himself and pushed. Hiro was sorely tempted to aid the brave warrior but knew this was something the man had to do on his own. Struggling like someone trapped beneath a mountain, the man slowly pushed himself to his knees and lifting his head met Hiro’s gaze. Hiro was awed as he saw the pride in those eyes. They were the eyes on a noble warrior, defeated but unbowed. Looking into them Hiro saw the true meaning of bushido. The man’s gaze dropped to the ground and following the line of sight, Hiro saw the man’s blade.

Picking the sword up Hiro placed it into the man’s hand. The man met his gaze once again and nodded in thanks. Hiro lifted his Katana high, determined to give the mighty warrior the most honourable of deaths. Drawing in a final the breath the man croaked his last words:

“Smiling I face the blade. With pride I go join my nation’s heroes.”

Then the man closed his eyes and Hiro’s sword fell.

Hiro dragged mind back to the present. It rankled his sense of honour to see the warrior’s body defiled this way and he made up his mind to petition his superiors, to allow him to give the man a dignified burial. The sound of bodies falling to the ground came from behind and Hiro swung round to see the guards slump down. Instincts honed from a lifetime spent on the battlefield told him to turn back to the pole and he did so just in time to see something metal flying through the air, to slice apart the hair that the head was dangling from. Hiro lunged intending the catch the falling head.

As Hiro’s fingers closed around the head’s hair he was surprised to find another hand there. Looking up he saw the face of a man in his early thirties, clean shaven and gaunt. Hiro struck out with his free hand and his fist met the stranger’s own. Hiro was shocked by the blow, for despite his frail face the man was incredible powerful. However Hiro was also a master martial artist and matched the man’s strength. Both of them were sent hurtling back, the severed head spinning through the air as they both lost their grips.

The head landed on a table and rolled along its surface, stopping just at the table’s edge balancing precariously above a small fire. Hiro sprinted towards the head but found his way barred by the intruder. Swift as the wind the man launched a series of blisteringly fast strikes, each blow backed by awesome strength. Hiro backed away, parrying desperately as he went. Anger rose in him at being forced to retreat and Hiro used it to fuel his counter attack. His hands and feet, conditioned by decades of training, struck with bone shattering force. Yet despite the tremendous power of the blows, they were not slow, striking with eye blurring speed.

With panther like grace the man avoided Hiro’s barrage of blows, his body swaying like a willow tree. Hiro’s anger turned to amazement as he observed the man’s footwork. They seemed completely random, almost like the staggering walk of a drunk but the man’s balance was perfect and not a single step was misplaced. Hiro felt like he was trying to hit a shadow. A feral grin spread across Hiro’s lips as he found what every Samurai sought, a supreme artist to face and defeat. The fight continued for several punishing minutes, with Hiro drawing on every shred of his considerable skill.

His muscles felt like they were on fire as fatigue started creeping up on him and Hiro started to wonder how long he could keep this up. His opponent’s technique showed no signs of tiring, as he continued to move with the same precision and grace but Hiro saw a thin layer of sweat on the man’s face. Striking fast Hiro sent a right backhanded chop across the man’s neck, then followed with a left hand finger jab to the eyes. The man stepped away from the first and deflected the latter, before launching three lightning fast palm strikes. Hiro backed away quickly and slammed into the table the severed head was lying on.

Hiro leapt as the head toppled towards the fire. Lashing out with his right foot he kicked the brazier away, just as the intruder jumped onto the table and caught the falling head by the hair. Looking up Hiro locked gazes with the man and something passed between them, instantly both men knew that they were not enemy. Dropping his arms to his side Hiro spoke in Chinese:

“I am truly astonished that a nation as weak as China, could produce such warriors as you and our departed friends.”

“I am also honoured to meet a true Samurai.” answered the man in Japanese.

Hiro was shocked at discovering the man spoke his native tongue but kept his expression calm as he replied:

“Honourable sir, I applaud the bravery of your act. However you have killed my men. I cannot ignore that crime”

“I merely slipped a sedative into their drink. They will awaken at dawn with nothing worst than a headache.”

Hiro smiled then turned and walked towards the pole. Reaching down he drew the great sword. As expected it was incredibly heavy but perfectly balanced. Holding the blade in a reverse grip Hiro presented it to the man:

“Sasaki Hiro, at your service.”

The man accepted the sword with his free hand:

“Huo Yuanjia,at yours.” he replied.


Yuanjia bowed three times to the wooden tomb-marker. On its surface was carved the words “Here lies Great Sword Wang Wu”. Hiro had told him where Wang Wu’s body was, then together they had buried it, along with the man’s head and mighty blade. The Samurai had left immediately afterwards and Yuanjia felt most fortunate to have met him. From childhood he had heard stories of the legendary warriors from Japan, told to him by his teacher and having met Hiro he had not been disappointed. He wished every foreigner that came to China were as honourable as him.

Looking at the grave Yuanjia also wished that everyone of his own countrymen were as honourable as this fallen warrior. With a heavy sigh Yuanjia turned and walked into the night.