Sogetsu Samurai Shodown
Fan Fiction
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Thunder and Redness
by Irene Trent
Homepage: Save the Sugar

Chapter 11

       "Truly something bad has happened to the young one," Masashige solemnly told her, "Haohmaru tried to stop him. . ." 
       "Stop who?" she asked. 
       "Zankuro," I spat that hateful name, "You know, that demon Shizumaru was concerned about. He came into the room and took Shizu-chan away, claiming him for his son. He was loony, purely loony!" 
       They looked at me with blank eyes. 
       "I-I really tried to stop him, but ultimately Shizumaru chose to go with Zankuro. I convinced him, but he didn't listen to me! And I'm going to take him back! I was the father! I mean, what kind of father would leave his son. . ." 
       "I see. . ." Masashige interrupted, scratching at the stubble on his chin. "That Zankuro character gives me a bad feeling somehow, and I really don't think that Shizumaru is safe with him." 
       "I know!" I exclaimed. I turned to Nakoruru, who listened with her eyes wide open. "I was so fearful that he would take you too!" 
       "Well, surprisingly he didn't. At least that is one good thing amidst all the misfortune we've been having. . ." 
       She placed her hand on her forehead and sighed. "This is not going to be easy." 
       The ocean hissed and curled up to the rocky shore, the white, foamy ends of the waves winding from side to side until they were sucked back into the water. The tide was unthreatening. I saw him running and playing in the surf under the fading purple sky, his clothes sodden and wet, pressed against his thin body and garlands of seaweed draped across his shoulder and in his hair and he would laugh and play and dive under the waves and beckon me to join him in his play, but one wave would be too high then crash down on him and it would swallow him whole like a slimy, green monster. 
       I shook the thoughts from my head. 
       I asked Nakoruru about her nightmares. 
       "They just keep getting worse and worse. . ." she moaned. 
       "You mean you've had them even before you were thrown off the boat?!" I exclaimed 
       "That doctor was right. He said I know too much. I could never tell him what." 
       "Well, good," Masashige said. "It would be best that we keep this private." 
       "Like anyone would believe it anyway," Kazuki mumbled, "I sure don't." 
       "Nakoruru?" I walked up to her. "Do you think that Amakusa knows everything about us. He seemed to know exactly what to say at the restaurant." 
       "My greatest fear is that he does," she sighed, "and everyday I fear that he'll come after me. Like in my nightmares-he chases me down long, endless halls, and if the halls have an end, I'm trapped behind a locked door. I have that one all the time. Sometimes I wonder where the lost souls go, and whether they can see us. Sometimes I think that Amakusa could see more than we thought when he was in Hell." 
       "Of course not," Charlotte said to console her, "He was trapped there under layers of earth. But you shouldn't worry. God has his ways of making everything orderly." 
       God?! I thought to myself. I wouldn't let him do my job-if ever he existed.

       We had traveled all day through the warm forests of Shikoku, far from civilization. The journey was less rugged and the heat wasn't as oppressive since the trees protected us. There was food there that we didn't have to pay for and water that wasn't salty. We picked berries and killed rabbits, which we ate that night for dinner. 
       "Well, at least if we stay here we won't completely starve," Kazuki remarked. 
       "This reminds me of home. . ." Cham Cham announced, "except I'm no royalty here." 
       "There is no royalty in nature. . ." Nakoruru replied. 
       Cham Cham glared when she wasn't looking. 
       By nightfall Kazuki helped us start a fire, for the night began to get cold. We were in the mountains again. Through the trees we could see many stars gleaming and glittering. There was no moon out and the night was dark, with the trees towering over us. The night was quiet, except for the crackling of the dying fire and the continuous gurgling of a nearby stream and the crickets. Yawning, we took the blankets and warm clothes which we-supposedly-borrowed from the dead at Gairyu Isle. 
       Sleep came at ease for everyone, as usual, but looking at the young girl, I knew hers would not be peaceful. It was the first night since Shizumaru had been gone. I looked out into the woods. It seemed to go on forever and ever in blackness. The wind blew and the leaves on the trees and bushes rustled. An owl hooted, its dark figure perched on a branch . It looked at me with two bright yellow eyes, and then it flew away into the night. The crickets suddenly seemed louder as their monotonous songs echoed from the trees. Another rustle of wind left shivers in my body. 
       I sat up, unable to fall asleep. The crickets were loud and the wind was cold. There were yellow animal eyes staring from the depths of the forest, watching us, watching us. . . 
       The wind blew again. It was as cold as death. But it didn't sound like wind. There was something else; the suspiration of the wind was layered with a voice. A high voice, its pitch inflected as the wind blew. I shivered, wrapping the blanket over my shawl for warmth during the cold night. 
       I heard it again. It seemed louder. My heart began to race in my chest as the eyes in the forest became brighter and brighter. The crickets, I tried to tell myself, it was only the crickets. 
       Again. The evanescent sound came. Calling. I listened closely to the haunting voice. 
       No. No, it couldn't have been. . . 
       It cried, frightened. It sounded like a little child. 
       A little child-Shizumaru. 
       Shizumaru! I jolted up. The wind howled louder, screaming into my ears. My name. Calling. . . 
       "Haohmaru. . ." I heard. 
       The wind, which had once been fleeting, was continuous. It screamed into my ears. It sounded like him. He was in trouble! In trouble! Where? 
       Deep into the forest, with those yellow, predatory eyes. My heart began to beat hard, painfully lobbing at my chest. Gripping at my sword, I followed the wind. 
       The high sound ripped through the air like a katana through rice paper into my ears. Calling. The rustle of the branches and leaves high above me began to whisper my name over and over and over again Haohmaru Haohmaru Haohmaru. . . 
       Shizumaru! I called quietly. How would I find him amidst those animal eyes? The forest was so deep. They watched me. 
       The crickets got louder and pounded in my ear their rhythmic, tedious notes. 
       I walked further into the darkness. The crickets were even louder those pests seemed to breed in numbers soon they would fill the forests. . . 
       Further. The wind howled. He was crying for me. I'm coming. 
       My heart walloped in my throat leaping and leaping, in time with the crickets who got louder and louder until they filled the air except for the wind, which screamed my name. . . 
       In long syllables he screamed, a baby calling for his mother. 
       The trees 
       The crickets 
       My heart 
       "SHIZUMARU!!!" I called back. I could hear my voice reverberate off the hollow trees. 
       The little, yellow eyes that stared back at me suddenly disappeared, with the rustling of leaves and the scamper of little feet. All darkness. They had all vanished. 
       All except one-one glinting amber eye shone bright through the darkness. 
       I knew that eye! 
       The wind nearly tore my ears apart with the screaming and the trees were rustling and rustling. He was going to die he was going to die I wanted to kill him. . . 
       I felt like running towards it and screaming, ready to kill. He had Shizumaru! The boy was in danger! I didn't know what to do! 
       My breathing hissed in my brain I was so scared and my heat beat in my throat the crickets-the crickets were so loud they pulsed and pulsed through my ears and I felt like my head was tearing apart and the rustling leaves were laughing at me standing there so scared that bastard I was going to kill him but I couldn't move I couldn't move- 
       The amber eye disappeared into the depths of the forest. The wind stopped screaming, and the crickets subdued their chirping. All I heard was the soft rolling of the stream and the hoot of an owl.

       When I awoke the next morning it was already warm, and I could feel the heat on my back. My face was covered in sweat and my body felt stiff and rigid, and I was thirsty. I felt dirty and grimy from lying on the ground. I felt like I was dying, but I knew that a nice bath in the stream would feel soothing on my achy muscles and clean the dirt and sweat which clung to my hair and skin. I ran my fingers through my hair and dirt poured to the ground and clumps of it were stuck to my clothing. Yawning, I stretched my sore arms, and I had to grab hold of a nearby tree branch to lift myself from the ground. When I walked I could barely bend my knees, and my legs were far from limber. 
       I looked all around the woods, with the sunlight glistening through the breaks in that large canopy of leaves above. The rays beamed down onto the brown forest floor, making yellow spots. It was barely light enough to see my shadow on the ground. What seemed to be endless darkness the night before was merely a vast forest where the tall trees grew close together. Beyond the trees I could see mountains tower over me, mighty and gray. I found a nice, secluded area in the stream, and I began to take off my clothes. I quickly washed the dirt off them and then I hanged them on a nearby bush. 
       The water was biting cold and it numbed me from the waist down. A chill ran through my body and I shuddered, my teeth chattering from the rush of cold, but after I had been in the water for a while, it felt cool and refreshing. I found a place where a small waterfall cascaded off a rock and I washed my hair there. It was cold too and I felt my head was shrinking because of it. I could feel the dirt sliding off my head and down my back. A slimy fish brushed up against my leg and I shuddered. On a nearby rock sat a congregation of green frogs with their throat sacs billowing and bellowing. 
       Years ago, when I was a young child, I would go into a garden with a huge pond. It belonged to a neighbor of ours. They had the most beautiful, cultivated garden with a red bridge that arched over the pond, and I would look down at the white and black and orange speckled gold fish, and I would chase frogs. There were all kinds: green ones, brown ones, tiny ones and huge, fat warty ones-those were the easiest to catch, but the green ones were harder to catch. I always prided myself in catching the green ones, for they were more beautiful, rare, and quick. 
       I watched the green frogs, yearning to catch them, but I sighed. Catching frogs was for children anyway. 
       There was a small disturbance in the water, and I felt small ripples lap up against me. It felt like there was someone else. I quickly turned around to see who it was. 
       I nearly choked when I saw her. She stood there before me, naked, rising from the clear water. I peered at her from behind a bush and watched. My ears felt like they were tingling and my mouth felt dry again. With my mouth hanging open, I couldn't help but watch her. My eyes followed every move she made. Her skin was soft and fair and her hair, still dry, was the color of the sun. The water made her eyes appear more blue than ever. I fixated on her body, which was dripping wet, and I saw the small droplets of water cling to her full breasts. It looked like she was covered in pearls. I watched her walk over to the little waterfall where I washed by hair. I saw her shudder from the coldness. She ran her fingers through her hair. Her stomach was flat, and when she lifted her arms to rinse her hair, I could see her ribs faintly poke from her waist. She seemed to really enjoy the cold water rolling down her back since she spent a while under that waterfall. I ducked down behind the bush and prayed that she didn't see me. 
       When she turned around, the sight was not so beautiful. Black and blue blotches covered her back. I winced in pain to look at them. Some of the bruises were yellow and purple, adding to the terrifically horrible display. Long, deep scars crossed her battered back. They looked like welts from a whip or something. There were so many of them. I had never seen so much damage done to human flesh. I placed my hand to my mouth, as Kei had done. How could someone destroy something as beautiful as she?! I wanted to know who did that to her, and damn whoever did. 
       She halfway turned her head to the bush. "Who's-who's there?" she asked, her voice quivering. She covered her breasts. 
       But she looked too quickly and saw my head peeking from the bush. She turned around to face me. Feeling defeated, I slowly emerged from my hiding place. 
       Her face quickly turned red. She uncrossed her arms and I could see her breasts again. The water felt frigid around me. I couldn't help but look at her. I didn't know what to say. 
       "H-Haohmaru?" she gasped. 
       I bowed, my teeth chattering. "I'm. . .I'm sorry. I didn't mean. . ." 
       "It's. . .it all right," she told me. Then she laughed a bit, "If my father could see this." 
       I laughed some too, imagining the look on the pious man's face. 
       Then there was silence. We looked at each other. I felt like we were children again, when we would play in the ocean naked-behind her father's back, of course. She didn't seem very cold-eyed and harsh. Everything about her seemed pure and innocent-until she turned around and I could see the damage on her back. 
       "Charlotte!" I heard Sieger cry from nearby. 
       "Oh!" she exclaimed, and rushed over to the bush where she hung her clothes. She quickly threw her gown over her head and ran from the stream. I hid behind the bush and stealthily clothed myself. I could hear them talking from where I was. 
       "Where were you?" he asked 
       "Oh-at the stream. I was getting a drink. I was thirsty." 
       "But your hair is wet, fraulein." 
       "Well, I bathed in the water. Sleeping on the ground is rather dirty." 
       "Have you seen Haohmaru?" 
       "Um, no. He's probably out. . .looking for berries." 
       He sighed, "The poor man's not been right after losing that child. He seems so troubled by something." 
       "He's had a hard life. Stopping Amakusa is very important to him." 
       "But why kill something that is already dead?" 
       She sighed, "He needs to regain his integrity that's been taken from him." 
       After I clothed myself, I walked on back to where I slept. I intercepted them. They were talking in that hushed way, with their heads close together. 
       "Haohmaru. . ." Sieger greeted. I bowed. "Good morning to you, Herr. It seems you've been bathing too." 
       I froze and conjured up some stupid story. "I-I was fishing. . .and I fell in the water." 
       She started laughing, "Oh, how silly. . ." 
       I was grateful that she could divert his mind. 
       "I knew a fellow back at home who did that. He leaned over a dock, drunk as a. . ." 
       I lost their conversation and walked on ahead of them.

       The next day, we continued on through the woods. The heat was pouring down on us like molten iron and it stung my back. Sweat poured from our foreheads and dribbled from our chins, and we were incredibly thirsty, for there wasn't a pond or stream in sight. I was very hungry, so hungry that I could feel my body feed on itself for nutrition. 
       "We aren't far from a village," Masashige said, nearly out of breath. "We can rest there-in an inn. They should have food as well." 
       "I am so thirsty!" Cham Cham whined. "I want to leave this place!" 
       "You can't." 
       "What do you mean I can't?!" 
       "The government won't allow anyone to leave without special permission, and it's highly doubtful that they would allow you. In fact, if they knew you were here, you would be executed." 
       "That's stupid!" 
       "It's for the good of the country. Foreigners disrupt the peace." 
       "Do think that there's a chance I could get out?"
       "Well, I guess that your best chance would be at Nagasaki." 
       "Nagasaki? Where's that?" 
       "Oh, it's a ways south from here." 
       "Then that's where I'm headed." 
       She turned around. Masashige trotted to catch up with her. 
       "You're going the wrong way. I advise you to stay with us. We know where we're going." 
       She angrily huffed and marched ahead of him. He shook his head. 
       For the time, I was glad that Shizumaru didn't have to experience this oppressive heat and hunger, yet what did I know. He could be going through far worse suffering. I wished that I knew where Zankuro lived so I could recover the child into safe arms. 
       "Hey, look over there!" Galford exclaimed. 
       He pointed to a run-down shack, right in the middle of the woods, secluded by trees. The wood was dark-brown and green and was falling apart. Weeds sprouted all around it, and the windows were not covered. They were empty, black squares. I felt like I was looking into nothingness. 
       "Well, I'll be damned! I wonder who lives there-and if they have anything to eat." 
       "If they can afford anything," Masashige told him. "We should go on and not burden him by demanding the little food that he has." 
       "But I'm so hungry!" Kazuki whined, clutching his stomach. "I'm going to die if I don't eat soon." 
       "I don't think that anyone lives there," Nakoruru said. "It looks abandoned." 
       "In that case we can rest here instead of spending our money on an inn," I proclaimed. 
       The all looked at me strangely. 
       "Spend the night in there?" Sieger asked. "There's something about it that makes me. . . uneasy. I sense-I sense something bad." 
       "He's right," Masashige said. 
       "Well, can we at least look inside?" Nakoruru asked. 
       "What's there to look at? It looks empty," Charlotte told her. 
       "But there might be food in there! I'm starving!" Kazuki exclaimed. 
       "Well. . .it's worth a look," I sighed. 
       Nakoruru and Kazuki followed me into the desolate place. It was dark inside save the sunlight which poured through the many cracks and holes. The wood was soft and eroded, and when I touched it, it felt soft; I could make a depression in it with my finger. The floor was dirty and we shuffled the dust around with our feet. I sneezed from the dirt and the fungus and hot air around me. There was no furniture in the little house, except for a table-a rather nice table-with a small glass of water on top of it. I could see the reflection of the glass on the shiny wood. 
       "Well, isn't that odd," Nakoruru proclaimed. "This whole place looks run-down except for that table." 
       But I didn't care about the table; the glass of water beckoned me. The sunlight dancing off the crystal glass, and forming a bright glare at the rim. The water inside sparkled. It seemed to cool, so pure, so clean. It begged me to drink it. Whoever lived here knew I was thirsty. 
       When I picked up the glass, Kazuki ran over to me. "Haohmaru, don't." 
       I glared at him. 
       "Ha! Boy, this is my water! I found it first!" 
       What I would have done for a glass of that cool water. 
       "Haohmaru. . ." 
       "You're not the only one who's thirsty!" 
       I shoved him away. 
       "Could you just listen to me?!" 
       "No. . ." 
       I slowly lifted the crystal glass to my lips. I was going to savor this water and thank whoever left me this sparkling jewel in a time of thirst. 
       All of a sudden, before even a drop reached my parched mouth, he pushed me and I stumbled towards the table. The crystal glass fell from my grip and shattered on the floor in myriad pieces. 
       "You fool!" I bellowed as I stood up. "What did you do that for?! Were you mad because I had the honor of drinking the water and you didn't?!" 
       "N-no," he seemed rather shocked, his eyes glued to the puddle on the floor, "I just. . ." 
       "You are going to pay for that, boy!" 
       I grabbed his collar and lifted him from the ground so he could meet my angry eyes. "I-I'm sorry. Please, put me down. If you would just listen. . ." 
       "Look!" Nakoruru exclaimed, her eyes fixated on the puddle of water. I gently put the boy down. He shook violently. 
       The water droplets, which were once scattered, began to collect into one massive puddle that expanded on the dirt floor. It was the clearest water I had ever seen, but as I watched, it didn't seem like water. The puddle slid towards us like a slimy slug, all collected into one giant accumulation. It began to thicken and grow taller and taller and taller until it reached the height of a man, the shapes of arms and legs and a head breaking through the liquid form. It was silver and getting thicker, and I could see my distorted reflection in the humanoid mass. I had never seen water do such a thing. 
       "Maybe there's some force of attraction between the water droplets. . ." Nakoruru nervously speculated. She inched closer to me. 
       Kazuki watched. 
       Through the silvery conglomerate gleamed two red eyes, pulsing angrily at the three of us. I took a step back from the water-creature. Flesh replaced his slick surface; the creature was becoming a man. 
       Clad in a blue, flowing shirt and black pants, he stood with great poise and stature before us, a sickle-shaped sword in his thin, yet pliable hand. His body was lean and lithe, yet very toned, and he had a strong jaw. I noticed that his hair-black, with a tint of indigo-was tied up in a knot, but if let down, it would be at least ankle-length. He had pursed lips on a soft face, with thin eyebrows and purple-red eyes. He had this smug look on his face, grimacing as he eyed us. Kazuki looked the young man straight in the eye, still shaking violently. 
       Nakoruru ran from the shack. 
       "Sogetsu. . ." he gasped, his voice broken. 
       I had thought that Kazuki would run to hug the brother that he thought he had lost, the brother whose disappearance had not allowed him to sleep peacefully at night. But the kid wasn't foolish. What stood before us could pass for a handsome man, but it was truly a monster. The air in the once hot and stifling shack took on a severe coldness and emptiness.

Chapter 12

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