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A Samurai's Dreams
"Dedicated to Eva To. Thanks for reading my work!"
Ukyo bent down and tightened the brown leather strap of his sandal. He plucked out a jagged pebble that had gotten wedged between the strap and his foot and flung it back into the road.
The Dragon's Wing looked like a somewhat decent eating establishment, with clean floors and tables. Beautifully decorated lamps hung from the ceiling, shedding small circles of light on the floor.
A banner, that hung on a wood poll just above the door, advertised fine food and a bath house. A strange combination, but Ukyo thought it would be good to get the children cleaned up, as well as fed.
Outside the door, an elderly woman sat on a hewn wood stool and smoked a sweet smelling Jasmine root from her pipe. The purple hughed smoke, swirled around her wrinkled face, slightly distorting her features.
When the children found out that Ukyo intended to buy them a meal, they had become ecstatic, and very open. He found out that they were the children of a sailor who had not come back to port. Their mother had died of fever, leaving them to an abusive uncle.
The lead boy, Yoshi, discovered that he and his brother were to be sold to a blacksmith and their sister, Meio, was to be sold to a Pleasure House. They had escaped to Shotomin only to spend their time stealing what food they could to survive, and to wait for their missing father.
When the old woman saw them approach she smiled and stood. "Welcome Samurai. How may I be of service?"
Ukyo was about to answer when he felt a cough begin to work it's way up from his lungs. It was a burning sensation, as if his lungs had caught fire and were slowly burning up to his mouth and nose. He panicked. ‘No! Not right now! Not right now!!'
He forced it back and smiled. "Please take these children and give them baths and whatever food they want." He paused forcing the cough back again, but he knew it would not wait a third time. "I-I will return shortly."
The woman took the three children inside, and as soon as they were out of sight, Ukyo bolted down an empty ally.
He flung himself as far up the street as he could, before finally falling to his knees and grasping at his neck.
"Cough! Cough! Cough! Hurrrk!" The phlegm and blood, rushed into his mouth and out between his clenched teeth. His mouth burned with sour tasting acid as he vomited the crud from his lungs onto the street.
The horrible disease attacked his lungs, slowly trying to drown him in his own bodily fluids. He had been fighting it for more than a year, and it was beginning to win.
"Retch! Cough! Cough! Hurrrk! Cough!"
His lungs heaved, raging for only a few more heart beats, before it subsided, then stopped. His lungs burned molten fire and his wiry body shook.
Slowly but surely, the Samurai regained his legs, wobbling over to a rain barrel to dunking his head in.
The fire and rage of his diseased coughing was only quenched by the soothing cool darkness of the barrel. Bubbles swarmed around his face and eyes like small pearls, while long locks of his blue hair seemed to dance with a life of there own.
Ukyo sucked in the cool water, forcing it down his throat and washing out his mouth. He pulled his sopping head from the barrel and shook it violently.
He fought back the waves of nausea, while gasping for breath. "How much longer? How much longer must I suffer? I must have that flower! For me.......and for Kei." He bent his head back in desperation, feeling the drops of water slip down his face before falling to the ground.
Ukyo wrung out his hair, tossing it behind his head. He walked back down the ally and into the main street, looking for the Dragon's Wing.
He spotted the old woman sitting on her stool again and stood beside her. "How are the children?" He asked, trying hard to stop shaking.
She looked him over once, just to make sure this wet shivering man was the same one who had brought them in, then nodded her head.
"Mitso is tending to them now. They should be about done with their baths."
Ukyo pushed open the front door curtain, walking inside. He found a young man working the kitchen and called to him. "I need a bath as well, plus some food."
The young man, who was obviously a sailor because of his rich dark tan, whistled and from a door in the back of the kitchen a beautiful girl entered. She had on a flowing ornate kimono, with her midnight black hair loose around her shoulders, and a strikingly attractive face. She bowed to Ukyo and waited for him to follow her.
"Mitso will see you to the bath." The cook said, pointing his thumb at her as he tended to his rice.
Mitso, who could only be about eight-teen, escorted Ukyo to a back room. Quaffs of steam belched from square tubs in the floor, creating cloud like drifts in the room. A lamp hung on the far wall, casting only a dim light on the room and pools of hot water.
The floor was made of polished green stone that had become wet with condensation. Ukyo's feet made loud smacking noises as he walked across them.
In another room on the right, he could see the children being scrubbed and washed by another girl. She was desperately trying to remove the dirt from behind Meio's ears with a large brush.
Mitso began to undo Ukyo's sash, but he stopped her. "I will be fine." He said in a low voice, slightly blushing. She bowed, then brought him a brush and soap. She also placed a towel, foot talcum and some kind of hand oil at the edge of the tub, before she excused herself. He watched her leave, then chuckled. ‘I wonder what Kei would have thought of that?'
Tossing off his robes, Ukyo sunk beneath the hot water, and after a moment, pulled his head under as well. He began to clean himself diligently, all the while think of his mission ahead.
‘Two strangers should not be hard to find in close nit town like this. But still I must ask the right people. This bath and meal will surly lighten my purse. How will I purchase the information I need?"
As he sat back against the edge of the bath, pondering this question, he heard the giggling of the children in the next room. Yoshi was splashing water at his sister and brother Ryo, while they screamed and yelled, returning fire. The girl that had been washing them only sighed and stood in the corner of the room, well out of the childrens' firing range.
"Ugh, nasakenai!" He gasped, smacking his forehead. The children! They would know if any strangers had come to town, plus he was already paying them with something far better than money. Friendship and food.
He pulled himself from the water and began to dry off. Rubbing his hands and feet with the talcum and oil, he re-donned his robes and entered the kitchen.
Mitso had taken the young sailor's place at the fire and stirred soup in a large pot. The smell of noodles made Ukyo's stomach growl, yet his coughing fit had made him doubt his ability to keep down food.
He took a table and smiled as the children produced themselves, clean and freshly clothed, from the back room.
"Hello Ukyo." Meio said, fiddling with the sash of her new robe. "What do you think?"
He wondered where they had gotten the new cloths when he caught Mitso's eye from the kitchen. She was smiling warmly and winked at him. ‘A gift.' She seemed to say.
"You all look very nice. Please be seated and you can order."
The young sailor returned, bowed and asked what they would like. The children hesitated. Ryo risked a glance at Ukyo who bowed his head to answer the unspoken question.
The children squealed, ordering just about everything they could think of including five pieces of candy each. Ukyo still decided not to eat despite his growling stomach.
As soon as the hot plates hit the table, little hands grabbed up the food and shoved it into their mouths. Rice balls, fish, chicken, beef. It was all consumed in under an hour by the hungry children.
Ukyo smiled, crossing his arms. "Full?"
Yoshi grinned bobbing his head and wiping small rice flecks from around his mouth.
"Now, I was wondering if you three could do something for me?" They exchanged a glance then shook their heads. "Okay."
Ukyo rested his hands on the table as he spoke. Trying to get their undivided attention. "I'm looking for two strangers that should be in town. The American Ninja Galford and Basara the Executioner. Do you know them?"
Meio itched her freshly washed hair for a moment then her eyes brightened up! "Oh! I think I do! There was a strange man that came in on one of the ships today! He had golden hair and a wolf was following him! He was dressed like a Ninja!"
Ryo also shook his head. "And three men were killed by a laughing scarecrow man at the hotel on the edge of town. They tried to rob him and he cut them up with some whistling blade disk."
Ukyo grinned broadly. ‘These must be Galford and Basara. Now to only find them.'
"Do you know where they are now?" He asked, hoping for far too much.
Yoshi frowned. "I saw them both get rooms at the hotel this afternoon." He sighed, sadly bowing his head.
Ukyo easily noticed the gesture. "What's wrong child?"
"Now that you know what you want to know, your just going to leave us. Like every other grown up I've known."
He felt a guilty twang, as his heart went out to these poor children. Ukyo knew what it was to feel like you had no place in the world. He had not counted on what to do when with them after the meal. He desperately wanted to help them, but how?
He saw Mitso struggling to move the large soup pot that she had been cooking in, when he knew what to do. "Wait here."
Ukyo got up and headed to the kitchen. He took the pot, placed it on the ground and grabbed Mitso by the arm. He took her back into the now empty bath room, turned her to face him and spoke gravely.
"I will ask this but once. These poor children need a home and someone to care for them till their father returns." He pulled a purse full of gold and thrust it into her hand. "This will pay for the meal, bath and them for several months. Till they can learn to help you cook and run this restaurant. Please, take good care of them, as if they were your own."
Mitso only looked at him stunned. She had obviously never been asked to do anything like this before, and was totally caught off guard by his question. She quickly regained herself. "I-I will."
Returning to the front room, Ukyo took the children aside. "Thank you my little friends. You have helped me more than you know. Mitso will take care of you from now on. Mind her, listen to her, and help as best you can. You will no longer have to steal and you can still wait for your father."
Meio leapt for joy and wrapped her arms around his neck in a crushing hug. "Thank you thank you Ukyo!! We will, I promise we will!!"
He rose to his feet bowed to them and to Mitso, then left for the hotel at the edge of town. ‘Now my elusive comrades. It's time we got this show on the road.'
On the very boarder of Shotomin, where the beach begins to receded into dry land, the hotel that the children had told him about sat. It was shabby looking, but by far the best in port. It had no sign other than the words "Hotel" painted in big red letters by the door.
Ukyo stood outside for a moment not sure how he should feel. He was about to meet two men he knew nothing about, and join them on a the most unlikely quest ever devised. To kill a Demon. Was it possible?
‘Sounds just my style!' He trotted up the stairs, which made loud creaking noises, and pushed aside the front door curtain.
Inside were a few men, mostly sailors and the hotel owner, sitting on straw mats playing Hanafuda cards. Some smoked pipes, creating a choking cloud of rancid smoke that would only affect a standing man. The floor was in need of cleaning, and sad looking tattered lamps hung from walls, only barely cutting through the smoke screen to shed their light.
It was a small hotel, with only about twenty rooms, five on each side of the wall, two floors high. Each room had one bed and a window, nothing more.
The owner, a skinny, skeletal man, with a balding head, smiled a rotten tooth grin in Ukyo's direction and bid him enter.
"Welcome sir! How may I help you?"
Ukyo felt a small shiver of disgust when he looked at the wormy owner, yet he did not let that influence his manor.
"I'm looking for two strangers in town. One dressed like a Ninja, and the other who carries a whistling blade disk. Have you seen them? I was told they had rooms here."
The owner suddenly looked squeamish. He stood and tired to avert his eyes from Ukyo's locking gaze.
"Uh--I--no! I've not seen them! They are not here, so please be on your way!" He shuddered in fear trying to retreat into another room.
Ukyo grabbed him by the shoulder, then spun him around. "Why do I have the feeling that your lying to me." He drew the Drying Poll and brought the edge close to the owners face. "I don't like being lied to. Those who dare do it, end up dead," He jerked the blade back with a ‘'wush'' of air. "Or worse."
The owner gasped, turned white, and promptly fainted. The other men in the room stifled laughs, while pretending to still be playing their games.
Ukyo returned his sword and frowned. ‘Great. What now? I probably can learn nothing more here. It would be best to sit it out and wait till one of them returns.'
As he headed out the door, laughter from one of the rooms caught his attention. A curtain was lifted aside and the most gigantic man Ukyo had ever seen sauntered out. "So little man! Your looking for the two strangers in town eh?! Hahahah!"
The man was a Sumo, easily out weighing Ukyo ten times over. He was impressively built, yet had a happy warm face and pleasant demeanor. He was still dressed in his Sumo outfit, suggesting he had just returned from a match.
"Yes." Ukyo said slowly. "I seek these strangers. Do you know where they are?"
The sumo chuckled. "Hahaha, of course! Galford and Basara! They came this morning and reserved rooms. They are good men, although the one is a bit odd. You can find them at......"
He stopped short as the front door curtain was ripped from it's poll and five black clad men entered. They had Ninja uniforms on and carried very sharp looking Ninjatos. Each looked as if they were very use to killing with them.
"Where is he?! Where is the soon to be dead man, who killed my brother!!" The lead man, who wore a red sash around his forehead, stepped forward demanding to no one in particular. He had a huge curved scar that had closed his left eye, and gave his lip a permanent snarl.
Ukyo exchanged glances with the sumo, who quickly retreated into his room, dragging Ukyo with him.
"What the hell is going on?!" He hissed between his teeth, trying not to be audible to the men outside.
The sumo frowned. "They are the local thieves guild. One of the men you are looking for killed Nojan's brother. He will stop at nothing to get revenge."
Ukyo looked back out from the curtain at the men. They all had haughty looks on their faces, as if they were looking forward the killing this man.
"Come coward! I know you are here!! Come to me or I will kill everyone in this rats nest!"
As if to answer this challenge, the eerie sound of maddened laughter filled the room. "Your welcome to try! But you will have less luck than your pathetic brother did."
The sound of a whistle followed the voice, as a blurry figure jumped from the ceiling rafters to the floor. He landed neatly in the middle of the stunned thieves, followed by a wood framed disk, that sported three fang like blades.
Basara the Executioner was ready to play.
He caught the disk, which Ukyo could see was attached to his arm by a chain. He tightened the chain around his wrist and laughed again. "I don't like being robbed or followed. I'm afraid I will have to dispatch you for it. That is, unless you drop your swords and leave now."
The thieves exchanged glances then began to laugh. They took defensive stances and made ready to attack Basara. Moving slowly in a circle around him, they taunted the wiry man, poking at him with their swords. One thief, who obviously wanted the credit for the kill, leapt into the air and lunged at Basara.
"Sick ‘um Poppy!"
He suddenly stopped and plummeted to the floor face first. Stunned and shaken, nose starting to bleed, the man looked to see what had hindered his attack.
Grabbing hold of this pant leg, was a lone wolf. It carried a red scarf around it's neck and several impressive battle scars.
Following Basara's jumping stunt, one of the room's curtains flew open and a blue uniform clad Ninja flipped his way across the dirty floor to land next to the Executioner.
He drew his Ninjato and the wolf, snarling at the thieves, took it's place beside him. "Sorry boys, but the man is right. You goofed trying to jump him, now Poppy and I say your going down!"
The crowd of men that were only moments before engrossed in a card game, leapt to their feet and hastily made their way out of the hotel. One of them hoisted up the hotel owner and like a sack of bad apples, tossed him over his shoulder, before running outside.
This was Ukyo's cue. He excused himself from the Sumo's room and walked into the fray. He grabbed one of the thieves by the shoulder, tossing him violently aside. He fell to his knees in surprise, scrambling hard to get back up.
Calmly, slowly, Ukyo walked into the circle to take his place with the other two men.
"Hello, Galford, Basara. I am Ukyo Tachibana, and I've been looking for you. But before we talk, shall we take out the trash? I suddenly don't like the company here."
Both men looked at him in amazement, then smiled. "Welcome aboard Ukyo! The more the merrier!"
The fight had turned from one man outnumbered, to almost a fair fight. And the head thief didn't want to see that.
Nojan became furious. "That's it! You die! YOU ALL DIE!!!"
To be continued...