Hullo again,

OA here. I know I haven't been able to update "Between the Crossfire" as of lately, but I'm struggling to get through that chapter...
Might be released in a couple weeks or so, depending on how my high school schedule is.

I love Sword of the Stranger (movie) to death, and saw there wasn't that many fanfics for it. Welp, here was my inspiration. Probably a multi-chapter... Enjoy this, my watchers!

The Japanese translation of the title is: Kokoku (Homeland)


Setting is a few years after the movie ending:

The cozy village nestled within the fertile valleys of the mountainside was buzzing with an unusual excitement. Per usual, merchants screamed with their shrill voices over the hundreds of heads, hoping that their words would be caught through unfiltered ears that were too naive to recognize what was a scam or the real deal. Men and women mingled among the crowds, chatting with the old faces they spotted alongside the road and bade their goodbyes as they continue their calls of the day. Children frolicked in the warm sunlight and laughed at their foolish games in the mud.

A young adolescent and his companion strolled down the busy main streets of the village. The boy was near his 13th year and wore a simple peasant's vest and trousers and had a childish lock of his hair fastened together by a golden clasp. His eyes were the typical mainland's shade of dark brown, but it held an underlying spark of excitement and a boyish gleam.

His companion panted heavily, trotting beside the boy on four legs and giving an occasional whine as it picked up a delicious scent wafting over from the local vendors. Kotaro looked down at the beige colored shiba inu and gave it a brief ruffle on its head.

"You hungry, Tobimaru?" he asked.

Tobimaru barked in response, its short tail wagging viciously and its pink tongue lolling out from behind its canines.

He sighed, "I guess it can't be helped," and withdrew a leather purse with a drawstring.

After paying a stocky man selling steamed manjus for 2 ryos a bun, the young boy tore a piece of the snack and tossed the morsel into the air. With a skillful bound and a snap of his jaw, Tobimaru clamped his canines onto the soft shell of the manju and landed softly on his four paws.

"Good boy!"

The dog barked in appreciation and gnawed on the food as the duo continued their trek down the main street. The sun covered the town in its rays of comfort, setting the sky into a beautiful array of oranges and pale yellows of the twilight. Kotaro munched on his bun with an air of content as he began to reminiscent his days as an infant watching the evening skies during the Ming Dynasty, before his parents' passing.

Suddenly a loud cry came from the intersection in front of them, followed by a string of curses. A young woman burst from the inside of the crowd at the intersection, nearly stumbling over her feet while trying to keep the folds of her kimono shut. She gasped aloud as she skidded in front of Kotaro

"Watch out!"

They suddenly collided into each other, both of them fell down into a dusty heap. The discarded bun flew out of Kotaro's hand and was caught by his gluttonous companion.

The young boy's mind ceased to function at the feel of 2 small valleys on top of his chest. Kotaro blushed a scarlet red at the woman's boldness and her moans of pain of colliding into him. Her chestnut colored hair had partially come loose out of the high coil of hair at the top of her head; while her mouth, as the vivid shade of blood, parted as she drew a breath.

With the position they were in and the woman's mewls, it turned heads and looked almost enticing to commit the sin itself. The woman's kimono and her nagajuban colored layers had almost hiked up to the tops of her thighs, exposing creamy pale skin that contrasted from the white paint that was plastered to her face. For crying out loud, he was only a blooming teenager and a naive one to top it off.

"G-Ger off of m-me," he stuttered.

"E-excuse me?"

"I said," Kotaro muttered through clenched teeth, "get off of me."

The woman gasped and sat up immediately, nearly crushing the air from Kotaro's lungs.

"I am terribly sorry," she apologized, covering her gaping mouth with her sleeve, a common courtesy of a well-trained Japanese woman, "I didn't notice where I was going and-"

"You whore! Give back my money!"

Kotaro turned his head to look behind the woman and spotted a man barreling his way through the crowd. He had the looks of a spoiled rich man, with the way his flabby cheeks and his round chin wobble back and forth, and was bare naked with only his hakamas on. Behind him, two of his samurai bodyguards hastily followed, their hands readying on the handles of their katanas.

He turned back his attention to the kimono woman who was sitting on him, and narrowed his eyes. Her face had twisted into sheer terror, eyes widening underneath her dark painted eyelids. The hands that had been weakly grasping the folds of her kimono were now clutching it even tighter, the knuckles turning a deathly shade of white. With no doubt, Kotaro deduced, this woman wouldn't even stand the first sight of the man undressing his bottoms.

"Time to go, Tobimaru!" Kotaro cried and managed to squirm free from underneath the kimono woman. His companion barked in response and began to sprint down the street.

Kotaro grabbed the kimono woman's long sleeve and gave it a sharp pull. She gave an "eep" at the sudden action and was suddenly hauled up onto her wobbling feet. Her teary brown eyes met Kotaro's serious gaze.

"Run."

~.~.~.~.~.~

"Are you sure this is the right way?" the scrawny merchant demanded, hauling a heavy wagon of wares.

His bodyguard, a tall Japanese native of peasant decent, lifted the conical hat off his head to take a good look at his client.

The client was a budding merchant who probably had no experience through the rugged paths of the mountainside, and preferred to get money through the big cities in central Nippon and travel the main roads. He was dressed in ordinary merchant class clothes, with a budding beard sporting from his chin that had been recently blackening for the past few years. He seemed to be of early middle-aged, probably single and unsettled, seeing how he was slightly grumpy and had not found a nice town to set up a general store.

The bodyguard sighed, readjusting his hat over his head and continued up the path without answering the merchant.

It had been a long morning since the duo had started their journey, starting from the humble mountain village in the vicious morning summer heat. And it was only getting hotter as the minutes of the mid-day passed on. Mosquitoes and other mountain insects began to buzz around their sweaty foreheads and the wares in the wagon, attracted by the body odor and the sweet fruit.

The merchant sputtered at his bodyguard's disregard this is question. "Hey! Don't ignore me, you stupid-!"

"If we manage to clear the forest path by mid-day," the bodyguard calmly stated, not bothering to acknowledge the merchant's fuming, "then we should be able to see the town's rice paddies from here. Should be about an hour's walk down the rice paddies."

His client narrowed his eyes in suspicion at his hired bodyguard's response, scrutinizing from behind as if he was expecting some sort of surprise attack from the ronin; or what the merchant had assumed from the way how the man walked and the sword dangling from his hip. The bodyguard's hair was tied as a low ponytail at the tip of his neck, the strands a shade of black and... was that a tinge of red?

Somehow, the merchant could sense that there was something more into this man, but for the time being, no questions would be asked.

The ronin suddenly stopped. Meanwhile, the merchant collided harshly against his bodyguard's back. He rubbed his hurt nose and glared at the bodyguard's back.

"What? What the hell was that-!"

The merchant's mouth was stopped by an open hand and the bodyguard's finger over his lips.

"Shush."

From around them, the forest became an eerie silence, the critters had ceased all movements and the trees holding their breath. The mid-morning sun shined down on them, filtered through the dense foliage to only allow a few streams of light. Their surroundings became dark from the canopies as they waited.

In a split-second, the sound of swift human footsteps was heard, thudding lightly against the forest floor.

The merchant quivered in fright, remembering why he had taken the effort and time to buy the bodyguard for 10 ryo in the first place. He found himself grasping the cloth of the ronin's coat and couldn't help but feel panic rise-up in his chest.

Meanwhile, the ronin sighed apathetically and readied himself in a low stance. His calloused hand fingered the katana's handle, feeling the adrenaline pump through his veins.

"Looks like we have company."


Please R&R people!

It makes my day wonderful to see reviews, or see criticism/remarks about the story plot as of far~

Have a good day! -OA