True Ronin Option 2 (+10 xp)
Tsubasa is a young woman on the cusp of her youth, a long eighteen winters to her name that places her among the age of majority in the wide empire of Rokugan. It is clear though at a glance that her life has not been one without hardship from the way the dirt seems to cling to her clothes and sun-kissed skin, her hands whilst delicate bear the clear callouses of hard labour and many hours spent with a blade in her hands. Strangely it seems to do little to dull the fire in her large and innocent seeming eyes of soft brown hue.
Her face is likewise touched by a strange mix of soft youthfulness and a life lived in hard experience with the simple if forgettable beauty of it marred by little signs of ever growing stress and of nights spent from time to time without food or drink. Still, there is the making of a handsome woman there that is only starting to find herself. In body, she is still possessed of the waif like figure of a younger woman but such is made confusing by the sureness of each motion... the way in which she moves and holds herself radiating a certain confidence that one might expect from a samurai-ko of the great clans rather than this dirty ronin girl with no lord or obligations that the eye can easily pick out.
Perhaps the most shocking fact of her appearance is the exquisite, masterful quality of craftsmanship that shows in her daisho. It's every edge and detail seeming sublime in it's perfection. Strangely though rather than the gentle curve common to such iconic weapons... the blade remains painfully straight until the very upper edge where it carefully curves and tempers into a lethal point. In essence, more Tsurugi than Katana.
Perhaps the greatest lesson that can be drawn from the life of Tsubasa is the simple value of persistence and optimism. For any who know her, or of her, can see that through this sheer desire to continue onwards, to make life better for herself and her sister has made it so that she thrives in hardship. It has made it so that even in the worst of times she is there and ready with a smile and some bit of advice to inspire and there to lend a hand to push onwards.
All the things that she has gone without for most of her life.
It was early in her life, on the cusp of her twelfth birthday when her sister Megumi was still only a tender youth of 6 years old, that the bandits came to their farm. That the crops were set ablaze and her mother and father taken from them both by callous and uncaring blades... all while they hid beneath the floor boards of their little farm stead. It was by miracle of chance if not divine that both girls managed to escape the burning once home before smoke and fire proved the death of them in that little crawl space. They looked on as everything they knew crumbled to nothing with tears in her eyes... Megumi's own out of raw emotion whilst something in her older sister seemed to strain beneath the weight but ultimately held.
It was a strength found in the grim realization of a hostile world that pushed the girl upon the path she's walked ever since. She knew in her mind that vengeance would solve nothing even as her heart cried impotently for it. She took her sister's hand then and pulled her close to share the warmth and make the world seem safe and sane again.
With little recourse, the young girls fled to one of the nearest villages. Her sister wept often in those days but Tsubasa tried hard to keep hope strong in them both, always seeming ready to laugh and joke.
It was in those times that she learned to cook, to fish, and thanks to a kindly monk, to heal. All the while she was ignorant of that kind monk, that strange monk, watching she and her sister with those odd almost bird like eyes of his. He watched them both grow, watched them struggle, and more often then not bothered them in his own way with probing riddles whilst the seemingly relentless Tsubasa continued to serve and slave on her sister's behalf. Such brought it's own rewards though as Megumi's health began to improve and with it Tsubasa's persistent optimism grew.
After all, it was the way of life to often improve. It was also a sad reality that it was often the way of life to worsen just as often. Crime had grown rampant in the town as war loomed ever greater on the horizon... it was such that on her way to their hovel one evening from her duties at Itagi-sama's home that she was set upon by thieves. With little to her name, Tsubasa could only plea but that hardly seemed to matter to them. It was in that instant as Kichirou-san watched from his perch that he noted the resolute nature of the young woman... her words were not panicked, fearful perhaps, but not without reason or control.
He descended then when the first of the thugs moved to strike her and caught the hand with the razor tip of his blade.
For Tsubasa, the following seconds were hard to track as chaos seemed to erupt and blood splashed upon the stones. Given her upbringing and her past she had little idea of how to process the moment and so it came almost naturally to simply scream but it was with more force of will then she knew she possessed that the girl clamped down on such a reaction and merely pressed herself flat against the wall at her back and tried to stay out of the way as blades whirled and lives ended.
Time blurred and she later found herself wrapped in a blanket and settled upon her sparsely padded cot staring with wide eyes at the Kenku with utter shock writ clean across her face. Things all seemed to move so fast then as he spoke of taking her under his wing and held out a hand complete with wicked seeming talons. Somehow she had impressed this creature of myth... She didn't have an idea how nor did she feel at all worthy but she reached out and took it with a shaking apprehension. She didn't fear him but still the bird man unsettled her with his alien mind, thoughts, and insights.
Megumi's reaction was perhaps more adverse when she wandered sleepily from her room to see this avian thing towering over her sister. The scream she let out was met with a startled caw of the Kenku as his hand closed reflexively about Tsubasa's drawing blood and earning a startled yelp. Despite the pain the young woman couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of all this, it seemed all a dream and nightmare gone so strangely as to provoke even disbelief in her own mind.
It took time to calm her still ailing sister but when she did she was able to explain to one degree or another just what this might mean for the both of them... It was a shot at a life beyond servitude to ungrateful merchants and samurai. So it was that a week later the two sisters found themselves on the road once more... travelling with their avian companion to the place he called home.
She never suspected that she and her sister had crossed from the world of Nigen-do into a place more suited to the Kenku's tastes... the world of tricksters, Sakkaku. It never dawned on her either that not once did they see a single other human but saw many strange things treat with their master... but such was a single drop of strangeness in a vast sea of it... and in those mountains it was not so inconceivable that they might never see another man or woman.
The next 3 years of her life would be spent there, split between caring for her sister and training with the venerable Kichirou-sensei in the arts passed down among the warriors of the Kenku. Naturally, she needed a blade first and thus he laboured, with Tsubasa's help, for many nights to craft a blade suited to the young woman.The resultant blade was named Sukoshikeiryouka, Little Lightening, by Kichirou-sensei. It was perhaps one of the most beautiful things that Tsubasa had ever laid her eyes upon. It was simply elegant, free of unnecessary adornments... a refined tool and weapon.
That night she took to her training with passion and bright eyes, bearing everything with good humour. It was perhaps this and her natural talent that surprised her sensei even as he was forced to be cruel and unbending as he instructed her in the arts of his ancient people, gave her these dearly treasured secrets of the past. Through it all she never once complained seeming to take it all in stride even as the bruises and scratches grew with each passing day.
In the evenings, she would cook and look after her sister, who while still weak, seemed to grow stronger in the tranquillity of her Sensei's home... and when time allowed she would sit with Kichirou-sensei and study the written history of Rokugan, slowly struggling as she learned to read... a skill that even her parents had lacked. Life seemed idyllic in those days but Tsubasa knew all too well that it would end one day... and when that day came she greeted it with a bright smile and warm affection for the Kenku who had done so much for her.
Of course, her sensei had one last favor for her but it was one that would form a lasting bond with a samurai she would hardly know. It was through his influences and respect that she was sponsored into the Topaz Championship by the Phoenix Clan. The announcement of this to her came as a shock. She trained much harder in those coming days and when the day came they traveled with her strange master and several of the young Phoenix that the Clan had chosen for this honor. They all looked upon her with mingled disdain and curiosity but gave both she, her sister, and their sensei a wide berth. Whether out of respect, distaste, or fear was beyond her meager people skills to know.
All she knew was this wasn't her place but so long as her sensei and sister were near she felt invincible.
Of course, she was no courtier nor no erudite scholar nor anything beyond a natural talent for art so it was that many of these events left her feeling embarrassed, an utter idiot in the face of these noble born samurai that she had been surrounded. It was in the physical and martially minded events though that she shone unexpectedly. With sheer lucky she managed to place respectably in sumai... in the weapons contests she was a force to be reckoned with. Her strange style of sword play stealing the breath from the audience with it's brutal elegance and grace with just a hint of natural showmanship. More shocking perhaps was how naturally the delicate art of the tea ceremony came to this strange ronin girl. For Kyujutsu, though, proved a disaster to her where she won only a single one of her challenges... her inexperience in the art of the bow was telling but no creature was perfect. Her play in the horsemanship competition proved similar for a brief moment before through some stroke of ill fortune the mount of her Moto opponent mistepped and shattered it's leg with an heart rending whinny of pain. She impressed even more when she rushed to her fallen opponent's side and worked to address the wounds of both horse and rider.
Throughout the course of the tournament, she made friends and enemies yet not a one of the later seemed to lay a hand on her. That insufferable luck that touched her existence always seeming to let her wriggle out of harms way. She was truly the black horse competitor but not a single one of the judges or samurai thought she would go far in the Iaijutsu tournament that formed the heart of the Championship.
Perhaps the defining moment though is when she stood against one of the Dragon clan competitors, Mirumoto Yaibarashi, the two were in great contrast to each other. Through out he had enjoyed the favor of judge and odds but such things often had a way of breeding surprise and strange twists of fate. The announcement of their pairing brought excited murmurs through the crowd. What hope, after all, could the upstart ronin girl have against a practitioner of Niten? None... or so they thought.
It was an utter shock when the girl's eyes flashed open after many moments and silence, fractions of a second before her opponent had begun to move, and struck with the strange straight edge of her blade in a lightening quick slash along the horizontal drawing a thin, bleeding line across the chest and shoulder of her opponent. It had happened so quickly, so precisely that many hadn't registered what had just happened. The proclamation of one of the more keen eyed judges brought the crowd into a mix of furious and delighted uproar as this strange ronin girl was pushed into the next bracket. Tsubasa couldn't miss the hate she had inspired in the Mirumoto through this victory of hers.
It came as little surprise then when this girl had continued to impress and shock her way all the way into the finals. Even students of the Dojo had fallen before her blade and been removed, much to their shame, from competition. Her luck ran its course in the final matches of the tournament when she went up against the pride of the Kakita Dojo, Kakita Kazue. It took three attempts at their match before a satisfactory conclusion was derived... it was magnificent to watch as the first ended in simultaneous strikes... the second resulted in both gracefully twirling out of the way of the others blades but yet another kharmic strike... It was finally in the third attempt that the superior technique of the Kakita won out be a mere fraction of a second, drawing a painful line across her forearm.
Tsubasa felt no hard feelings on the matter as she smiled brightly to the other woman and bowed with a laughing congratulation. It was that good grace that surprised the crowd and made her a brief favorite for the rest of the Championship's festivities. Her performance most impressed her sponsors though and thus they arranged a contract for her to serve as Yojimbo to one of their travelling shugenja...
Of course, the happiness of the moment was short lived as her sister fell ill once more and nearly perished if not for the efforts of her sensei, her own knowledge of medicine, and the aid of Asahina Iwao.
It had proved a frightening time for the young ronin woman as she realized she might lose the only remaining blood relative she had left. She vowed then to find someway to help her little sister grow strong and free of the many ill humors that fell upon her even as they were both forced to travel.... Tsubasa found though that sea air often seemed to help Megumi improve and stay strong. She began to keep such observations in a journal even as she fulfilled her duties and obligations to the Phoenix, her sister never far from her and only parting when it was a truly dangerous place they might walk.