The Greatest Teacher

By Al Kristopher



The sky was gray with clouds and the fields were gold with wheat. Crickets and grasshoppers whistled and chirped amidst the tall stalks, a few of them hopping around at times. There were a few trees dotted here and there, but for the most part, the entire world was covered in gold and gray, with the still heavens above and the glowing earth below. There was a little bit of wind that blew in from the east, tickling the grain a little as it danced across the grayish-gold world, and it would have blown forever if it hadn't ran into a wanderer.

Silvery hair and a blue kimono flapped in the breeze, but the man himself did not show any signs of slowing. He welcomed the refreshing, lukewarm breeze as a friend--a "fair weather" friend, one could say. He was, in fact, much like the wind, this traveler. He had a two-piece kimono, blue for his chest and white for his legs, and silvery hair tied up in a tail. His eyes were shut in concentration, and on his right hip, there hung a weapon. The man stopped for nothing, least of all the breeze that sailed past him, and continued to walk until he found his destination.

Suddenly, the stalks of wheat began to rustle, and from out of the bowels of topaz earth came a small score of marauders, each one of them armed. There were five in all, dressed crudely and unshaven, and a few lacked teeth, and one lacked an eye, and the rest were either missing a limb or a finger or some hair, and not a one of them was physically ordinary. They all glared at the traveler hungrily, a few drew weapons prematurely, yet the silvery-haired man stood still. He would stop only because it was impolite to walk past a person.

"Well well, looky what we ave' ere=91!" snickered one of the men. "A reggilar ol' grampa, all alone by hisself in the middle'a nowhere! Hahahahaha!!"


The silvery-haired man said nothing.


"Ey! Ain'tchoo gonna say nothin'?" barked the bandit. Silence. The other four growled, and inched closer to the silent man. "Ey, old' on there, mates! Ow' do we know that e's even got any money on im'?"

"If it is material possession you seek, I have none," said the silvery-haired man suddenly. His voice was as calm and exciting as the skies above him, and just as emotionless too. The bandits snorted a little and took another step forward.

"Oh, so e' can talk, eh? Well, then, give us all yer money ere', and we'll letcha go about your business!" The other thieves laughed a little, but the silent man didn't even make a move.

"I have a different proposition," he said. "Let me pass, and I let you live."

"WHY YOU LITTLE...!!!!" In a violent rage, the bandit that had done most of the talking lunged forth with his knife, intent on slashing the silvery-haired man to shreds. He was sprinting fast, and his knife was aimed directly at the other man's heart, but in two more seconds, he would be dead on the ground.

It had happened so fast that no eye could have seen it. One moment, the man was dashing madly, and the next, he was dead. In the stillness of the moment, only the heads of wheat and the swordsman's cloak and hair billowed in the gentle breeze. Nobody else moved.

Finally, the initial shock wore off, and the other four bandits leaped forth to avenge their fallen leader. The swordsman kept his eyes closed and gently fingered his sword......


Swipe! Cleave! Slash! Cut! Hack! Slam! Slice! Swish!


The only sound that was heard next was the quiet click of a blade being secured into its sheath, and the crickets singing in the background. Three of the bandits were dead, their clothed torn to ribbons, while the last one had wisely stayed behind. He gawked at the horrific scene, and couldn't bring himself to do anything except groan softly at the surprise of it all. Slowly, the swordsman turned towards the last bandit standing, and with one word, he sent the poor man scampering.


And so, the swordsman continued his journey...




Long past dull skies and shimmering fields, the swordsman made his way into a village, and into this village did he make his way into a small tavern, wherein he then proceeded past the drinkers and diners towards the bar. He came in without a word, and if he had not been dressed so peculiarly, he would not have been so noticed.

"Hot tea, please," he said to the tender. The barkeep grunted and made a face at the silver-haired man, but found himself shrugging and pouring the man a drink. The swordsman thanked him and quietly took a sip, earning the stern gaze of more than a few drunks in the place. Although he was doing nothing wrong, the swordsman was already becoming a target for scorn, just by sitting there. One of the more drunk men approached him, placing a large hand on his shoulder.

"Hey! Yeah, you! Wise guy! We don't take kindly to tea-drinkin' sissies!" The swordsman didn't satisfy the man with a response; he merely continued to drink his hot tea, waiting quietly in the corner. It is not usually a good idea to ignore angry or drunk people, and this man's anger was especially great.

"Hey! Don'tcha hear me talkin' to you?!" he bellowed. The swordsman merely sipped at his tea.

"I will only say this once," he said calmly. "Leave me in peace or I shall leave you in pieces."

"Say what?" bellowed the drunk. "Wha'dja say? Huh? Speak up, grampa!" The swordsman merely sat and continued to ignore the taunting that the drunk was giving him, and even though he knew that the encounter would lead off to a fight, he still tried to pacify things. Suddenly, with a jerk, the swordsman was yanked out of his seat and fell to the floor, and every unsober mind in the room began to laugh. The silvery-haired man slowly rose to his feet, salvaged his dignity, and brushed the dust from his clothes.

"Awwww, whassa mattah, huh?" sang the drunks. "Did gwampy-wampy faww down an' go boom?? AAAA hahahahahahahaha!!!" The swordsman sighed, and turned around to face the drunks. Even with them laughing at him, he still commanded a powerful and lethal presence, one of which--if the drunks recognized him--they would have instantly fled the bar as fast as humanly possible.

"I demand an apology," said the swordsman calmly. "I have done nothing wrong."

"Nothing except bein' a sissy ol' fool!" chortled the drunks. They erupted in a vicious laughter, and a few stepped forth to beat the silver-haired man even more. As the small gang of intoxicated men approached him, the swordsman opened his eyes, hugged the hilt of his sword with his fingers......


Swipe! Cleave! Slash! Cut! Hack! Slam! Slice! Swish!


......and in only two seconds, everyone that was previously harassing the man was now flat on the floor, stone dead. In the sudden silence, the swordsman went back to his stool and resumed drinking the rest of the tea, which had unfortunately grown cold during his brief absence. The man next to him whistled in amazement.

"You have some business to discuss," said the swordsman calmly. The man that had just whistled shook his head.

"Do you always do that sorta stuff, Genshu?" At the sound of the name Genshu, everyone in the bar let out a gasp, and in an instant, gave the swordsman and his new client an understanding amount of space to breathe. No drunk would be bothering him again in that place.

"...Only when provoked," replied the stoic swordsman. His client nodded his head quietly.

"...I see." His voice lowered again, and the shorter, younger man went straight to business. "...There's a vicious criminal on the loose, and I want you to make him disappear. He lives in City-State territory, somewhere around Kyaro town. The pay is thirty-thousand potch if you bring him to me alive."

"Double it," said Genshu, finishing off his tea.

"That's the price if you bring him in to me dead," noted his client. Genshu sighed, stood out of his stool, and bowed.

"I accept your assignment," he said. "What does this man look like?"

"Here's a sketch," sighed Genshu's client, showing the swordsman a rough drawing of the target. Genshu discreetly tucked the picture in his cloak, said his thanks, and left as quietly as he came.



If I do not use my skills for profit, then they will simply go to waste.

Genshu, I must rebuke your decision. What you are doing is a disgrace to our family name!

No. I am honoring our name by using these skills that father gave me. This sword, his sword, has a power within it, and so do I, and if I do not use that power, then I will be no better than a coward.

I agree that you should use what father gave you... but for profit?

Yes... how else would you expect me to make a living? The sword is the only thing I know.

Please, brother... do not disgrace father's name any more, or you will one day live to regret it.




Genshu stood, meditating in silence as he sailed across the lake. The waves were calm and docile, and a good wind was blowing his small boat towards Highland territory. The skies were gray, as always, though little rain seemed to come out of them. Genshu wore a conical straw hat to protect his eyes from the sun, but since there was no sun, he used the shady device to conceal his identity a little. After all, his face was a famous one.

He was now currently in pursuit of the "vicious criminal" mentioned to him by the man in the bar, and he had to sail this far to get there. Kyaro was quite some distance away from where he had last been, though it was but a single step in comparison to his hometown. But Genshu was a very patient person, and besides, the wind was very strong, and the waves were starting to rock in his favor, and the dark landscape before him was very beautiful in a haunting sense, so he decided to enjoy this moment.



Genshu docked in the first harbor he found, and sold his boat to the first merchant. Genshu was what many people would call a traveling assassin: he wandered from place to place, selling his skills to anyone with enough money, and left as soon as all job offers were over. Yes, he was using his skills in a dishonorable way, but Genshu had long ago decided to live his life in the way he chose, and to not go down any other paths. He had gotten this far by himself; should he not go further?

From the small pier, Genshu walked the distance to Kyaro town. He had to go through several mountain passes: through rocky grounds, across steep chasms, over wooden bridges, and past tiny clusters of greenery that lived stubborn lives in the empty rocks. When his feet once again found fertile soil, Genshu still had many more leagues of grassy plains to cross over. A swordsman walking across endless fields of whispering grass might have been romantic if the skies weren't so bland, and if Genshu wasn't about to do something so disgraceful. He killed for money; that alone would bring shame to most families.

Genshu was a patient and deliberate man, and he made it to Kyaro with no trouble at all. It had taken him a little over a week to get from the bar to the town, but Genshu had all the time in the world. One way or another, Death would claim everybody, and Genshu had prepared his own soul ages ago. There were no guards standing at the gates, so he entered unseen and unannounced.





Kyaro town was relatively quiet for the middle of the day, so Genshu's presence there went unknown. The less people that knew that he was around, the better. Genshu walked down the long cobblestone road that split the town into two sections, and on his left and his right, there was a row of buildings and gardens. Genshu had memorized what his attacker looked like during his journey, so he would be able to find the man easily--if he was still in the town. If not, Genshu would pick up a clue, wipe the dust off his feet, and move on.

No noise came from the city, except for Genshu's feet stepping lightly across the stone road, and a slow brook in the distance. He came to a bridge and crossed it halfway before stopping. In the middle of this bridge, looking over the side, was the very man that Genshu was looking for. The swordsman almost smiled with relief, but chose instead to use that energy on something more useful, like removing his sword from his sheath. The only time other people saw the weapon was when Genshu displayed it on purpose; it was invisible in combat.

"Excuse me," said the silver-haired man, and the person looking over the side of the bridge turned around slightly. "I believe that I have been searching for you for a very long time, and now that I have found you, it is time to end my business." With his naked sword visible for all the world to see, there was no sugarcoating what Genshu had in mind, nor was there any beating around the bush. Genshu's code bade him to take every approach in a quick and straightforward manner; anything else would be wasted time and energy. Slowly, the man turned around completely, and faced Genshu, though he did not reveal his face.

"So set are you on killing me," he said, "...and without even knowing my crime."

"Your crimes are not my concern," said Genshu, holding his sword loosely. "I am being paid to put an end to your life. That is all I need to know."

"Such barbarism is unbecoming," said the man with a click of his tongue. "Do you really hold such little value to human life?"

"No more than you do." A pause.

"Killers are themselves killed in the end," said the man, in an obvious attempt to escape. Genshu countered brilliantly.

"Death reaches everyone in time. My soul is prepared, but I cannot vouch for you."

"Then, do what you came here to do," sighed the man with a wave of his hand, and he only saw Genshu move a little bit before the sword ran through his belly. Genshu pulled the weapon out so quickly that no blood washed on it, and without another word, took the man by the collar and began to search for a wheelbarrow so he could cart the dead man back to where his client was. After all, to travel all that way without any proof of the man's death would be a waste.

But as Genshu lifted the dead man up, part of his clothes and his hat fell away, revealing a man who was definitely not the person Genshu had been looking for. No, when the man's clothes fell away, Genshu's eyes bulged open in horror, and his mouth hung open wide, and his fair skin turned ashen as he realized what he had done.




The man he had just killed had been his own brother.


"What have I done?!" hissed Genshu shockingly. The swordsman fell to his knees, his body so overcome with surprise that it could no longer support his frame. Genshu's hands went for his brother's body--sure enough, it was him all right. Genshu actually began to weep and gnash his teeth as he realized just how horrible a crime he had committed, and a ghastly memory played in his head, over and over again.

Please, brother... do not disgrace father's name any more, or you will one day live to regret it.

"I cannot believe this!" exclaimed Genshu. "Are you saying that you disguised yourself as my enemy... just to show me the error of my ways?!" Genshu quivered sickly, and was so grief-stricken that all he could do was scream. In a sudden fit, he threw his sword away, and buried his head in his brother's bosom in a vain effort to gain forgiveness.


Brother... you have learned a very painful lesson this day... But please, remember that I did this not out of hatred, but out of desperation. I could not dissuade you from your path with my words, and I could not convince you away from your thoughts with my reasoning, so I did the only thing I could, and used my own life to steer you away from such dishonor. You have done your last heinous act, Genshu, but now it is time for you to end your selfish quest, to pick up father's blade one more time, and to use it as he--and myself--meant you to.

Please, brother... This is my last request to you...


"Great spirits of the other world..." Genshu whispered a shaky thanks to the winds that had carried his brother's final thoughts to him, and slowly, quietly, Genshu drew up to his full height, went over and picked up his sword, and placed it back in its sheath. Then, with the streets still empty, he took his brother's body and threw it into the river below the bridge, and watched as he was washed away.

"I understand now," said the swordsman, kneeling in abject humiliation. "Brother, I now understand the fault of my ways. If I can ever be forgiven for my crimes, then please, brother... please bless me as I rededicate my life, and watch over me as I walk the path of honor, and dignity, and righteousness. I will do as you would have it; not just for your sake, or for father's, but for the sake of all those that I have killed. Fare well, brother, and for what it is worth to you now, I thank you for what you have taught me." After spending a few more seconds on his knees, Genshu rose once again and left Kyaro town.




As he walked away, the gray skies above opened up, and then it began to rain.


The End