Thunder and Redness
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lied on my back, my eyes wide open. The storm earlier subsided, and all
that remained was the soft drumming of the rain on the roof. Our room,
full of people, was now silent as death, although we tended to huddle together
that night. I sometimes wondered if I was the only living being left on
I felt someone
stir beside me, and I turned, allowing my head to form a new depression
in the bean-filled pillow. Charlotte lay rather close to me. When we were
children, she often sneaked out of her house on stormy nights, and I would
do the same, for the storms always scared us, and we would lie together.
I felt that warmth returning to me, with her one side of Shizumaru and
I on the other. I wanted to lie closer to her and have her soft arms wrapped
around me, her face buried into my chest. Her assertive, trim coats and
tall stance had disappeared as she lay before me, and she seemed rather
I nearly reached
out my arms to hold her until I remembered one night. It was a short time
before Amakusa came to Gairyu Isle, and there was a storm, and I was afraid.
Since there was a short distance between my home and Charlotte's home,
I dashed through the rain and quietly entered through their back door.
I woke her up and innocently crawled into her bed, and I removed my wet
clothes. The next morning her father had caught me. He told me over and
over that my sinful nature had rubbed off on Charlotte, and told me in
every way possible that I was some child of the Devil who knew early when
to sow his seeds. I was too young to know what he was talking about, but
he grabbed me by the skin of my upper back-as a cat carries its prey in
its mouth and thrust me outside. People saw me, and I was humiliated, and
he lashed me a couple of times. Then he sent me home to my parents, and
I remembered that my father had exchanged a few words with Serge.
are you awake?" she asked.
my eyes at her, wanting to spit in her blue eyes. All I saw in them was
coldness. I turned my head away from her so I couldn't see them.
me alone," I replied curtly.
couldn't see the hurt expression on her face either.
. ." she gently touched my shoulder. "Why are you like this? What has happened
during all those years?"
brushed her hand from my shoulder, and I wished that she would go away
so I wouldn't have to look into those icy, blue eyes. She was trying to
tempt me, I convinced myself. Yes, she was some tool of Amakusa to distract
me and lure me into some trap. I still lay with my back facing her, yet
I could still see those eyes bore into me, just as her father's did.
. .please talk to me. . ." she continued pleading, her confident voice
broken. It reminded me of shattered glass remains blowing in the wind:
high-pitched and frail. She was on the verge of sobbing.
For a moment
I wanted to cradle her in my arms. I did not want to see her cry, but I
had to remember that she was only there to haunt me. I could never love
someone who hated me; I would never care about someone who followed her
father's bigoted footsteps. As much as I resisted, I managed to turn my
nerves to steel and my heart to stone despite her pleas.
"I will not.
I am too tired, and I want to be left alone."
I never turned
to look back at her that night, and I fell asleep to the sounds of the
rain pelting the roof, in harmony with her soft sobs.
the middle of the night, I was awoken again by a loud crash of thunder.
The storm that had subsided that early evening had returned in full force.
But that was
not the only sound that I heard.
Shizumaru screamed, wildly running around in circles! "Zankuro! Zankuro!"
He threw himself
into my arms and clutched my robe for protection and buried his face in
what is it?" I yawned, still not fully awake.
of thunder startled me.
he cried. "Zankuro! I saw him, Haohmaru, I saw him!"
Shizumaru," I sighed, gently patting his back, "it was only a dream. Only
a dream. . ."
He pulled away
from me and gripped my shoulders, his large eyes full of fear.
"He was real!
I saw him! Please help me, Haohmaru, I saw him!" he screamed
frantically, "You must believe me!"
"You must be
more quiet or you will wake everyone else. Now where was it that you think
you saw him?"
"Over. . .over
there-outside the window. . ." he trembled.
I slowly turned
to look out the glass window, rheumy from the rain. It shattered from the
wailing winds and oppressive rain and crackling thunder; I thought that
in any minute it would break. A jagged bolt of lightning flashed in the
clouds, its brightness engulfing the dark room. It was followed by a loud
clamor of thunder, which reverberated through the room and caused the glass
in the window to vibrate again. Shizumaru instinctively put his hands to
his ears. He lay so close to me I could feel his heart pound against me
like a drum.
"I. . .I don't
see anything," I told him. "It was just a dream. See?"
I peered out
the window. There was another flash of lightning. All there was outside
were trees and the water, like a black pit of tar brewing in the storm.
"But. . .but
he was there, Haohmaru!" he shook me as he tried to convince me.
I saw a third
flash of lightning, and looking out the window, I saw a tall, shadowy form
right through the translucent window. It had these glowing eyes, much like
those of Amakusa's. My heart jumped. The figure approached slowly, heading
right towards the window. In his right hand was a long blade, and he lifted
it, as if he was going to slice through the window and cleave it into a
right; he was there.
I hissed. We knelt down on the soft tatami mats to hide from the entity,
and I placed my arm protectively over the child.
As I peered
behind me, out the foggy window, I could see the shadow moving closer,
raising its sword, ready to slice our throats. I knew it had hostile intentions,
and the child could sense it. At first it seemed like a horrible dream-the
darkness and lightning around me a blur. I had expected to wake up any
moment and find Shizumaru sleeping contently next to me, and I pinched
my arm to convince myself it was real.
what do we do?!" he cried. "We have to wake everyone else!"
He was right;
I should have awakened the others, but I ignored him. Shizumaru was my
child, and anything that wanted to hurt him would have to contend with
me first. I didn't need their help!
I whispered, taking charge of the situation, "Go hide somewhere, and stay
"Do as I say!"
fumbled through the darkness and hid behind a black lacquer screen, which
was intended for guests to dress in private. He depended on me.
stood right in front of the window, looking straight at me with muddy eyes.
I stood straight and tall, ready to face this thing, even though I was
had subsided, and all that was left of the storm were flickers of lightning
and the soft sound of raindrops, which sounded like a snake about to strike.
Amidst the noise I could hear me heart pound in my throat so hard I thought
it would leap right from my mouth. My right hand instinctively clenched
my katana, and my knees nearly gave out under me.
A flash of
silver cut through the heavy paper and wood of the shoji screen door near
the window. I jumped back, shaking all over, cold, clammy sweat across
my face. The mysterious stranger continued to cut through the shoji screen
with even slices. I remembered Father always had clean, precise slashes,
and this thing was not nearly as skilled as he. Not even an immortal being
could meet his skill.
When the screen
had been nearly decimated by the man's sword, which was longer than the
length of a woman, and a blade that was as thick as a small tree trunk.
I gasped at the size of that thing, and could only begin to imagine the
damage that it could do. I looked the shadow who stood in front of me.
He stood nearly a head taller than me and looked down on me as if I was
a stick on the ground. His raspy breath was as old as his skin, which had
lost its golden color and become sallow with age. He had thinning hair,
which was nearly down to his ankles, and atop his head was a gleaming dome
of flesh where hair had once been. He stood so close to me that I could
feel his stringy, gray hair fall down and touch me; I shuddered and bristled
away from the old man, yet he moved towards me; he was so close I could
smell his putrid breath.
"Who are you?"
I demanded with exterior bravery, fragile as an eggshell. "What do you
My speech was
stopped the moment he held the tine of his sword to my throat.
he said, and then slowly released the blade from my throat. The old man
began to pace around the room as he spoke. When he opened his mouth I saw
gnarled, yellow teeth, "You have something that belongs to me. . .a little
boy, a very special little boy. . ."
"I don't know
what you mean," I lied. "There are no children here."
me stories, Haohmaru!!" he nearly spit in my eye when he said my
name. "I know my Shizumaru is here; I can smell him!"
I questioned. "I can assure you, intruder, that there is no child here,
much less a child named Shizumaru."
my fear, and it resided in my gut for the moment.
to me, Haohmaru, I know he's here!"
you think that he is with me, of all people?" I asked, trying to sound
as composed as Hattori Hanzo once was.
"A man came-a
very helpful man-came to the asylum and visited me. I had been there for
years, not know why. . ." the tone of his voice lost its harshness and
faded to the soft, croaking sound of a dying old man, "and he helped me.
"I had lived there for years, and never remembered living freely in the
outside world. But then a man came, a mysterious man, who hid his face
behind a burgundy cloak. In a soothing voice he told me-told me exactly
what I couldn't remember, and the blankness in my mind had suddenly been
filled. . ."
I eyed the
large man suddenly becoming more vulnerable, and he seemed to shrink before
me with every word.
to the ground and knelt before me, his cloudy eyes pleading. His gaunt
hands were folded as if he was praying to me, and his old bones shook before
me. He looked pathetic indeed, and I couldn't help but pity that poor,
lost soul. But I stiffened quickly, knowing that he was the demon-Zankuro-that
Shizumaru feared in his dreams and haunted his young mind. His pleas were
a scam to take the child away from me and ruin him. I wanted to bash him
over the head with my scabbard while he humbled before me, but Father had
once told me that is was extremely dishonorable to hurt a man when he lacked
a fair chance.
"Who are you?"
. ." he bowed deeply, treating me with as much honor as if I was the emperor
himself. I wondered why he at first had put a sword to my neck, and then
bowed down to me with utmost respect.
"The man at
the asylum. . .told me that I had a lost son named Shizumaru, and I-I was
a terrible person. One day at a bar I had been drinking and talking to
my wife, and then this blackness took over my mind. . .and then I saw.
. .red. Everything was in red. I never remembered exactly what I did until
the man told me. I had lusted after her, and then I killed a few drunkards,
and then I raped her.
she had a son by me, and I remember the little boy. . .such a quiet baby.
But then shortly after his birth. . ." Zankuro began to shake, his breath
irregular sputtering, "The black swallowed me-and then the red came. I
had torched everything in site and slaughtered my wife and killed every
human who came in my path. . ."
to his tale, and my neck began to prickle. I remembered the blackness that
swallowed me up. And I remembered the red; oh, I knew about the redness
that felt like drowning in a sea of blood. My heart began to pound and
I gripped my chest to hold it in it was pounding so hard.
"Oh no. . ."
I caught myself whisper, as I glanced toward the screen, where Shizumaru
"What is it?"
shook my mind of the terrible thoughts. "Nothing at all," I simply stated.
"Your story sounds frightening. Who was this mystery man?"
"He never gave
me a name."
"Then how do
you know to trust him?"
down on his knees again, "Please, Haohmaru, I beg of you. I need this child.
Without him I have no reason to live. He is all I have. All I have. . ."
From the corner
of his desperate eye, a lone, glistening tear fell down his quivering cheek.
I stared in awe. Father told me that demons never cry. Was this the Zankuro
that Shizumaru feared? Were the names and rumor about the Demon Child true?
I knew they weren't. The boy had nothing to fear. But as much as he pled,
I would not let him have Shizumaru. He was my child, and I did whatever
I could to convince the man otherwise.
you are not stable enough to care for a child," I told him.
"The man at
the asylum told me that he knew you were no more stable than I." Zankuro
stated, shaking like an animal in my presence.
"How does he
know me?" I asked. "He knows nothing. He is just as loony as you!"
. .quite wise. . ."
I spat, "What would he know!"
I froze again,
and thought about the redness. Whenever I became angry I saw it. It made
me go crazy. It was some demon in my head, writhing around and making me
do twisted things.
"It is only
a matter of time before you go as crazy as I," he stated.
I drew in my
poked his head from behind the screen.
stay hidden!" I hissed.
But he ignored
me and began to walk towards Zankuro, zombie-like in the darkness.
"Ah, so I see
that Shizumaru is with you. . ." the old man rubbed his thumb and forefinger
across his bony chin and smirked. He knelt down so he could meet the child's
eyes. "Come closer, my boy. Come closer. . ."
As if in some
sort of trance, he slowly approached Zankuro.
"Yes. . .Shizu-chan.
I am your father. Come here, my son. . ."
twisted and turned and wrenched themselves inside out as I watched the
two slowly bond. I clenched my teeth, releasing a deep growl from my throat.
At first I wanted to rip the child from the arms of that loony old man,
but something held me back. I felt a light hand on the back of my shoulder.
I turned around.
She was standing
right behind me, her eyes red, dried streaks on her face from tears.
"Let him choose,"
she said hoarsely.
I glared at
her. "He's not going with that senile man! Shizumaru, come here!"
The child seemed
deaf to my words. I tried to plead for him to stay with me.
"He is evil,
Shizumaru! It is only an act! He will never be a father to you! Don't you
"Let him go, Haohmaru."
to exit the room from the door, hand in hand. I dashed over to the door
and stood in front of it so they couldn't get out. I wasn't going to let
him go with Zankuro. I spanned my arms wide across to block them from leaving.
"He's not going
with you!" I glared at Zankuro. "He hates you! He's been fearing
you since he can remember! He has nightmares about you!"
Haohmaru," he discarded me. "He seems quite content right now."
I bent down
to meet the child's eyes, "Shizu-chan, don't listen to him. He is evil,
and you know it."
just let him go. There is no use trying to fight," Charlotte told me. "He
wants to be with his real father."
understand!" I hissed at her, "He's ashamed to have this man as his father!
This man has given him a bad name!"
are other things you just don't understand. He seems to really love Shizumaru."
"Let it alone,
Charlotte!" I spat back.
Shizumaru began to leave, and immediately I ran to catch up with them.
"You have been
a good caretaker," Zankuro dryly complimented, "but Shizumaru belongs with
me now. . ."
I had tried to be father to that child, and I was merely a caretaker!
I mulled hateful word over and over in my head and then it festered and
then I began to see the red again I didn't know what to do the room was
beginning to spin around me and the shapes were becoming a blur. I did
recognize one shape. It was Charlotte. I looked at her standing in front
of me, the redness I saw mixing with her golden hair and her hair looked
orange like fire-like the fire in her father's eyes that day when I was
six. She tried to talk to me and her voice sounded distorted. Even she
became distorted along with all the shapes around me and then I saw her
father her scornful father. I wanted him to die I wanted him to pay for
what he had done to me and for helping Amakusa I wanted her to pay for
coming here and following me I wished she would leave me alone and stay
away from me and my affairs it made me want to pull at my hair I needed
some way to help me take the pain away but that didn't work and the pain
and the redness and the distorted shapes were still there what would I
do what would I do everything was blurry and I couldn't see I wanted to
bang my head against the wall once twice again and again and again. . .
onto the floor and the redness dissipated, and I found myself sobbing uncontrollably.
I felt arms wrap around me and they felt warm and comforting.
"It's all right.
. ." she held my face to her soft shoulder and stroked my hair, I felt
like I was five years old and this boy was mean to me and called me a runt
and my mother wrapped me in a blanket and sang to me to soothe the pain.
For the moment
I suspended my angry feelings to her and let her hold me. She smelled like
roses and her golden hair fell onto my face. . .
trying to reach out and grab me and strangle me it was coming it was coming
back for me I had to let it stop she was so much like her father it was
a trick a trick a trick and I was falling, falling, falling go away go
away I wish that it would just go I can't hurt her I can't hurt her
don't let me hurt her. . .
She let go
of me and it went away, leaving me breathing heavily, and she stood up
and helped me from the ground. My head was throbbing. I looked at her to
make sure that I didn't hurt her, and she seemed okay. The storm had broken
and the moonlight was showing through the windows when we got back out
of that dark hall into our room. She was too beautiful to hurt. I prayed
that I wouldn't.
We lied down
on the floor. She kept herself distant from me. She knew I would hurt her;
The night was
cold and the moonlight filtered through the window and turned the room
a cold, silvery color. It was high in the sky, watching from above. I wondered
if it had been as cold and lonely as I.
I had slept
the remainder of the night merely from exhaustion, and I woke up freezing,
even though it was mid-summer and the sun was shining through the window.
It hit me like
a rock; Shizumaru was gone-gone somewhere with Zankuro and I knew that
he was in danger. My companions asked me about his disappearance, and when
I told them what happened; they weren't a bit surprised, but they wondered
why they were never woken.
After a breakfast
that the innkeeper provided, we immediately decided afterwards to meet
Nakoruru at the doctor's office. My heart sunk deep within me thinking
about her there-a young girl, her only protection was some old, weary doctor.
If what had happened here happened. . .
"We have to
get there. Fast!" I stood up after devouring my breakfast.
so fast or else you'll get sick," Galford said, "You're making me nervous."
should be nervous," I bit back. "There is something dangerous around here,
and I'll be damned if it didn't attack her. After all, she saw everything.
He shut up;
at least he knew when to.
help but worry, worry, worry about Nakoruru all alone with that doctor
or Shizumaru alone with Zankuro. What if he came what if he came what if
he came? How would I stop him he was immortal he could do whatever he wanted.
Time was nothing to him he could just wait until we all died and then he
would take over all of Japan and ruin my father and every human and enslave
them and convert them to Christianity and steal all honor and glory and
turn this place into a wasteland and it was all up to me and I didn't know
how to stop it.
We packed our
belongings and started to leave the inn, and after meeting Nakoruru (if
she was even alive), we would continue on to Kyushu. As we moved further
south I always wondered if the oppressive air was merely the heat.
In a frenzy
we rushed over to the doctor's office, pushing through townspeople who
were bustling about early in the morning. They gave us angry glances as
we walked by, but we didn't care. The sun was hot on our backs. It was
so hot I nearly choked.
heavily with sweat down my forehead, and that doctor seemed to be on the
other corner of the earth.
I hope it's
not too late I hope it's not too late.
Near the seaside
we saw the small place, and it gave me some relief to find it still intact,
and not burned to the ground. After we'd made it past the main part of
the town, everything seemed quiet and the ocean hissed. Except for that,
it was dead quiet.
led the rest of my companions to the doctor's house to check on her and
knocked on the wooden door, the rap sounding rather hollow. Galford scratched
at his arm where the cast was while we waited.
After a tense
while, some of the brooding flooded as we saw the doctor open the door.
He bowed at us, but he had a solemn look on his face. I braced myself for
whatever bad news he had to bring. He seemed to stare at all of us and
silently beckoned us to enter his office. He offered us some rice and sake
to ease us.
"You seem rather
agitated. . ." he began, inquisitively placing his long fingers over his
chin. He cocked one of his wide, owl eyes at me.
I shrugged him off on behalf of us all, "We're just fine. . ."
"Well, it seems
like young Nakoruru isn't. . ."
The room became
dead silent and Sieger and Charlotte bent over in prayer, and I closed
my eyes. My mouth was dry.
it happened just as I feared it's my fault my fault why did I let her
come with me why I should have stopped her I should have stopped her I
knew it was going to happen I knew. . .
over her some while she slept, and she was tossing and turning and sweating.
My greatest fear is that she is developing pneumonia, since restless sleep
and high temperatures are signs, but for some reason I think that there
is some great trauma in her life."
fine to me," I said, "but is she alright?"
"I pray so.
. ." he sighed. "I confronted her about the nightmares, but she flatly
denied having any. She wouldn't admit them to me. . ." he looked over at
Galford. "Son, you should quit scratching your arm like that before you
get an infection."
and began tapping his foot on the ground. I tried my best to ignore him.
emerged from her sleeping quarters, a red blanket wrapped around her, when
she heard us. My breathing relaxed when I saw that she wasn't harmed. We
smiled at her and greeted, but she merely looked up at us with that look
in her eyes. She never smiled back. Her hair was limp and scraggly-looking.
We looked on her with concern.
having nightmares, as I have said. Perhaps she may be more willing to tell
them to you than to me. . ."
"She is ready
to go on, right?"
.but I think it would do her well to have one extra night's rest. . ."
"We have to
"Take it easy
on her. . ." he said. "She has been through a lot."
I bowed once
more to the kind, old man before we left, and he told us once again to
be careful and to make sure Nakoruru would be well-rested.
After the building
was near out of sight, she began to talk to us. Her voice was very fast
while she was speaking.
has gone wrong! I know it has! Where's Shizumaru?!"
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