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Commission completed by Sanju Nivangune. Interior illustration of Clover and Fae's chameleon dragon 'Storm Rider'.
Sanju will also be producing this in colour as a digitally painted book cover.

Clover's katana, back story:

    “Here…!” shouted the woman, halting her.
She flicked something to the girl, the yellow of gold caught the candle light as it spun through the air.
    “… A whore should be paid for her time!” the woman said loudly, for all to hear, as the girl caught the coin.
    The samurai laughed, along with many others, and caught her by the arm. His free hand pulled open the kimono again, but a punch jarred him on his feet.

    The girl slipped free of his grasp and she faced him in a fighters stance, one fist cocked back, with knuckles reddening but ready to deliver a second blow.
    Such an insult could not go unpunished, a mere stage actress striking a samurai, but the theatres crowded confines were too cramped for easy use of his katana’s long blade. Instead, in a flowing movement, he drew the shorter of the two blades, the wakizashi, with its blade a mere foot and a half in length. He drew in a decapitating cut, a powerful, horizontal, swinging of the blade. However, she was no longer stationary, she ducked beneath the swing and very unscientifically, thrust a hand into his crotch and grabbed a handful of what she discovered there. She twisted and then pulled, but all the time she was squeezing his balls until he dropped the blade with a barely audible cry.
    “A grope for a grope, my lord, but touch me again and you will be carrying them home in your pocket!”
    She hurried away.

     In her small changing room, the girl hurriedly stripped naked and tugged at her hair piece. Now in the light, her eyes were an extraordinary blue, flecked with steely grey.
The silky black wig came away and she cast it carelessly aside.
   Atop her head sat golden hair, already curled about her head and secured with pins, as un-Japanese as the eyes and blonde tuft of fleece between her legs.
    At 5’4” she was a little tall for a Japanese woman of the 17th century but in truth she, and her sisters, were only half Japanese. Her mother had been a geisha and her father a tall Russian soldier, a general, born in St Petersburg where people were more Scandinavian than Slavic or Asian. To him she owed her eyes, hair and looks. They had been a curse, an undisguisable badge of difference in a racially intolerant society.
     With practiced haste she clad herself in the true dress of her calling, and of course, it had nothing to do with song and dance.
     She donned a black cotton shinobi shozoku, hard wearing tunic and leggings, and wrapped a tenugui, a turban-like scarf, about her head and face. The loose end spiralled down and around her torso to secure the cotton leggings about her waist. The tenugui both preserved a ninja’s anonymity and served as a climbing rope, if required. Finally, she slipped on ankle length, soft leather boots called the tabi, they had split toes with which to better grip an unfurled tenugui, or a rope.
     She was concealing weapons about her person, knives and shuriken, the four pointed throwing stars, when Osana entered.

    “Koruba, I have just received word that the guild wish you, and your sisters, to be detained.”
     Kuroba, or ‘Clover’, in the Western tongue, bowed respectfully but did not take her eyes off him.
   “Shimumura san, is that why you are here, to restrain me?”
    His face was still painted as that of a terrifying demon but his eyes were gentle. He had taken the triplets into his company as a favour to their dying mother, a woman he had once loved. He had also been the nearest thing to a true father that the girls had ever known.
   “No, of course not, and of course you had already departed by the time word reached me.”
    First, he tossed her a small leather purse, it clinked with the sound of coin, and then, with both hands and great formality, he presented her with a long item wrapped in black velvet, fastened closed by gold cord.
   “Your mother spent all of her savings on this gift for your father, General Krasnov, and he carried it into battle during his country’s war with Sweden. When he died, during the Siege of Pskov, it was found in his hand, and it had served him well, for his body was surrounded by a dozen enemy dead.”

   She took it from him, unwrapping it carefully as he continued speaking.
   “His wife received the sword after his death and ordered it melted down, knowing from whom it had come, but his faithful manservant rescued it and returned it to your mother.”
    Her father had departed before she was born, and had been killed before her first birthday. This was the first time she had touched anything of his, and she drew the blade reverently.
    The blade differed from any other she had held, the metal contained chichi, dark lines that followed the grain in the steel above the hamon, those lightning patterns created by the hardening process.
    She held her breath on seeing those lines; one particular master swordsmith marked his blades in this way, although later smiths endeavoured to emulate the effect. That particular swordsmith rarely signed his blades, and indeed she could see no signature in the light of the room’s single candle, but there was one sure way of determining his handiwork.

Clover blew out the candle and crossed to the window, holding the blade in the moonlight that shone through. 
Tiny points of light sparkled in the steel, not randomly, but in a matrix of the swordsmith’s design, created by embedding marsenite crystals.
nable to contain her amazement, her hands trembled.
    There are two legendary master sword makers in Japan, the borderline psychotic, Sengo Muramasa, and Goro Nyudo Masamune. Muramasa’s blades were favoured by killers and despots, but would turn on their owners at the slightest opportunity, or so it was said. Masamune’s swords, on the other hand, were revered as weapons of honour, sparkling with the holy light of stars and swifter than a moonbeam.
    “It is a Masamune,” she gasped.
    “Your mother was dying and this was the only thing she had left of value,” explained Osana. “She bid me sell it in order to pay for your upkeep, but I could not bring myself to do so, not even in the lean times.”
The kashira, or butt cap, was not original, it was not of the Japanese style, either. The butt cap depicted a sturgeon in the talons of a fish eagle in flight, the Krasnov family crest. It was gold though, and of the exact same weight as the ornate lead original it had replaced, because that was required for the sword’s perfect balance.
    The katana’s Saya and Ito, scabbard and the binding on the grip, were a subtly blended jade and aquamarine.
    Aside from the colouring, which reminded Clover of the eyes of the woman in red and gold slippers, it was a thing of beauty.

“You must hurry,” he said. “Whatever your trouble is with the guild, I wish you luck.”
   She felt a tear well up and pulled the tenugui clear of her mouth in order to kiss him on the cheek, wishing that she could have time for a proper farewell, but that was not to be. In all probability, this would be their final meeting.
   Clover reached into a place of concealment behind the dresser, withdrawing her own pair of blades, a katana and a wakizashiWithout pause, she offered her old sword to Osana.
   “Old for new, and may it serve you it has served me.”
   “Where will you go?” he asked with concern in his tone.
   “We have somewhere, just temporary, but it is not safe for you to know more.”
    Time was short and now she must indeed go.
   “Goodbye, Shimumura san.”
   “The Gods protect you always, Kuroba.”
    Opening the small window, she slipped out into the night.

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Submitted on
September 18, 2016
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Mature Content


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