Thunder and Redness
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she replied, "Redness. . ."
Her eyes narrowed
in confusion. "You mean that you see nothing but red colors? I don't quite
I sighed. "It's
sort of like that. It's like-like when something makes you so angry-and
first it feels like your chest is rotting until you get this empty feeling
in your heart, but it still hurts and aches and aches; you try to breathe
real heavily so you can fill that empty pain with something. And when you
look at the world, you just can't see things quite right; people appear
mean-everything, even things that are not alive-make you so outraged and
you don't know why at the time. And then that emptiness disappears, and
your chest starts to ache uncontrollably. It feels like there is some monstrous
demon that is eating away at and wrenching your insides, and it makes you
want run and do crazy things-obscene things that you wouldn't dream of
doing in a content state of mind. You get this feeling like you want to
scream as loud as you can-like you want to beat your chest like an ape
and scream the anger out of you.
"But then it
comes. Your chest starts aching more and more and more-incredible pain.
Your heart starts to beat faster and you breathe faster-seething, angry
breaths. And everything around you becomes more strange and they all start
to come together into this uniform mass-as if everything was paint mixed
together in one large vat and your face was dunked in it. And then it drips
down slowly, tainting everything I see until that mass is all one color-red.
It is all red and you feel like you are drowning in a pool of blood, and
your chest is heaving because the redness floods you and chokes you. And
you cannot think because all the thoughts and memories in your head run
together like a scroll that never ends. . ."
what you feel, Haohmaru?" she asked me, cocking her head. Her eyes showed
concern. She placed her hand on my cheek.
understand such compassion; it just didn't seem human at all. Usually people
left you alone to fight while they pursued selfish interests. But she
didn't, despite her family background. I wondered why she showed concern
for me-for me. And why should she care? But I knew that before I told her
about the redness she would listen. When I looked into her eyes, they were
not icy blue anymore. They seemed warmer and kinder, and her kindness seemed
to flood me it was so overwhelming. She was so beautiful and kind I could
barely look at her-and she was being kind to me.
I closed my
eyes and shed a tear and it rolled down her hand. Immediately I tried to
choke it back, remembering that a man should never cry. She drew me in
closer and I felt incredible warmth all around me.
pale hands through my dark hair, she said, "You are very lost, Haohmaru.
You are very lost."
"Yes. I know
you don't want to hear this, but when there is adversity, I always turn
to God. You shouldn't listen to what my father says-that God is menacing
and punishing, for in fact He is the complete opposite. He is very forgiving
of your sins if you truly repent and He is understanding; He helps me through
my troubles and gives me comfort. And I know that even if I will never
see my family again-He will always be there to watch over me. He won't
let me suffer alone-to fend adversity alone with only my selfish heart
to guide me-I am not saying you are selfish, Haohmaru-but you mustn't
feel so lost. I'm sure that even if God isn't watching over you, than your
." I sighed.
your destiny Haohmaru fulfill your destiny Haohmaru
that day, the day I first met Masashige and Nakoruru, and I looked at myself
in the pond-I had a scruffy face with long, messy hair draping over it.
My clothes were ragged and torn. I still wore two blades that dangled from
my belt, just as Father wore his. I walked into town with the Fugu Blade
and Amakusa's murderous dagger. Only a noble warrior could wear his sword
and dagger. I was far from noble. I was a coward-heresy against Bushido-every
thing Father was. Each day I woke up and carried those swords by my side
I dishonored him.
I shook my
head, "He wouldn't watch over me."
Pent up shame
that was growing inside me began to spill over. I tried to choke it back,
but it came anyway. But I let it come-in front of a woman. I hung my head
abjectly, letting my long hair cover the tears that streamed down my face.
I couldn't let her see, even though she had already seen me cry. Even that
you crying, Haohmaru-chan?
boy hit me. . .
did you do about it?
I ran away
and I cried.
Samurai never cries.
But it hurt.
it did-but you mustn't let your opponent know that. Show him that you are
But he was
bigger than me.
of no import. Never weaken yourself to others, my son, and strength of
mind and character will always exceed brute strength. . .
Why would he
help me? Father wanted me to rely on my own strength-not anybody else's
but mine. Not even God's.
a soft hand on my shoulder. "What is the matter?"
I shook my
head. She would never understand she wouldn't. She had her God. And I always
wished that Father would return to Earth and train me to be the greatest
most noblest warrior in the land. But he was far away, in an uncharted
world behind the clouds and trees and seaside, as if they were just a curtain
that concealed the world of all the dead souls. Of course when I looked
around I saw the sky, the trees and the mountains, but they could see through
it all from their side. They could choose what they wanted to could see
every action and every nuance and discover every thought. They could see
to the core of every living being on Earth. Surely after Father had seen
me-the face in the pond-he would shut his eyes to me and drift farther
and farther behind the known world and into his New World.
you must tell me. I am worried." She pleaded.
"It is nothing.
. ." I said, hoarse from my crying.
"Did I say
anything to upset you? It was about God, wasn't it?"
"No," I looked
up. "There are just some things that I wished never happened."
but I knew there was seriousness underlying it all. "Don't we all have
that wish at one time or another."
my fist, as if this conversation was reinforcing into my head that Father
was dead Father was dead, dead, dead please don't let it come here no
not now not now.
I bit my lower
lip hard, sinking my teeth so hard into my own flesh that I broke it and
the blood flowed soft and peacefully. It tasted sweet on my tongue-soothing
me. . .
I exhaled deeply;
it had passed. I held my head, trying to control it.
"Your lip is
bleeding," she said softly and brushed the blood away with her fingers.
"So it is.
"Oh, I am so
worried about you," she restated, stroking my face.
I didn't know
what to say. I wanted to tell her that it would be fine, but she was too
intelligent to believe me.
We met outside
that inn early that morning. I wanted to continue with the journey, and
I feared the money supply was rapidly deteriorating. We had come so close
to reaching Kyushu. Masashige said it was a jungle of an island. He had
seen the palace, had been behind its doors. When we asked him what it looked
like on the inside, he told us that he could not remember anything but
darkness, and that he'd succeeded in shutting it away from his memory.
The summers in Japan were hot and humid, and during the late summer in
the south it was nearly unbearable. All day we traveled on foot down the
coast of Shikoku for three day until we reached the small, port town. We
had just enough money to rent a boat that would take us to Kyushu-the island
where he was-and on that island I would either regain my honor or remain
the failure that I was; I would commit seppuku if I lost.
Then we sailed
across the strait that would take us there. The boat was large enough for
all of us, and there was a captain who directed us to Beppu, a town with
hot springs. We decided to rest there for a day, letting the warm waters
soak our tired muscles. I looked into the skies before the trip and they
were clear. Luckily they remained clear, but I saw a gray line looming
on the horizon, as far as I could see. Nobody else noticed it. After smooth
sailing, the captain helped us carry our belongings off the boat and onto
the shore. He had a friendly smile, even though his teeth were crooked,
and his voice was pleasant-very unlike the dockhand in Wakayama. Bowing,
he told us to keep the kami with us and returned to his boat. Certainly
we would need the kami; perhaps they knew how to kill an immortal.
wait to reach Beppu and sit in the hot springs. My muscles were sore and
my feet felt achy and swollen. It had been a hard summer journey-months
of walking and sailing. It was late summer, and as I looked at the trees,
I could see tints of gold-but not much; autumn hesitated to come in the
south. I knew that my birthday was nearing, and I would be twenty-six years
old. My life was nearly half over. The years away from home melted together
into one large chunk of blackness-a life without meaning or purpose. But
I had meaning now. Ever since Nakoruru told me that Amakusa had risen-such
dreadful enlightenment-that late spring day, I felt as if I could see things
the way they were. Along the way I looked at myself in a pond. It was a
still, humid day, and the man that stared back at me was sharp. He was
a man who knew what he had to do-a man of determination, and not a man
of sloth. Yet that time that I had hidden would haunt me to the grave.
I felt an emptiness in my chest because of it, as if I was some wooden
doll that looked like a great Samurai wearing his long and short swords
but had nothing on the inside. I realized the emptiness that I felt I did
not know then, and I drowned in it, seeking the hand of the wrong figure-the
puppet doll pulled by the wrong strings.
But it was
a nice though-a place to hibernate from the chaos of the outer world-the
people and all the complications that came with it. I wanted to live simply
away from all humans, and with the serenity of nature, I had achieved some
peace and quiet in the environment around me-the silence of soft winds
through the trees and the continuous chirping of little tree-birds. There
was nothing concealed. Nature never had a second motive. It never conspired
against me or led me to believe something false. Everyday there were fish
in the stream for me to eat and berries on the bushes. The gnats were undoubtedly
nature's most dependable creature; every time around dusk there would be
plenty of those pests buzzing around. I never saw bears out of hibernation
in cold winter or snow in the summer.
all of that I still was not at peace. When I hunted for food I walked by
the pond, refusing to see the reflection. I looked so much like father,
yet so much like that demon. I had Father's noble appearance, but I became
what the latter had intended me to be.
My mind shifted
to riding down the Kino river from Gairyu Isle on a boat. I overheard a
conversation between Sieger and Shizumaru, and I'd never forget the child's
never escape evil, no matter what. Even if you try, it will still find
you. And even if you escape from something evil. . .what happens afterward
will be trapped forever inside your head.
The inner torment
was trapped inside me. He knew it. When I was around my comrades I played
the role of a great leader. I wanted to be seen as my father had been seen.
After he became too old for combat, he became the chief Samurai of Gairyu
Isle. He was only forty. The people bowed in his presence. He was tall
and commanding and showed no weakness. He taught me to be the same, when
I became a great Samurai. I could not let any feelings bleed through my
skin, because any-including anger-showed weakness. Father knew that I was
sensitive to pain. . .that change invoked wild emotions; that was why he
never killed Charlotte's family. Serge and Jean were the only people in
Gairyu Isle that never bowed to my Father. The first day those barbarians
arrived in Japan I met her in the gardens of my home. My parents didn't
try to stop my friendship with her, but they didn't seem happy with it.
They accepted it with a frown, but were civil. Father knew that hurting
the barbarian neighbors would give me inner torment-a formidable impediment
to achieving honorable status.
his protection what else was I to face but torment? I wished that things
were different. If I could walk through a forest-leading troops of ashigaru
and Samurai as a noble general-and see a clear pond, what would I see?
Would I have been noble or have used my father's name in vain-a corrupt
and greedy man? But there I was-a gruff-looking man, perhaps cleaner than
before the journey, but most certainly it was not a face of honor. I remembered
Father too well-so well that he was right with me all along. Certainly,
if I could see him again, I would have to give him my gravest apologies.
I would be damned if such an honorable man as he would speak a word to
me-even if I was his son.
to walk. Beppu was getting close-those warm, hot springs. . .
For once I
had given up thinking about Father-for a while. When I glanced back, I
noticed that Charlotte was walking close to my side. She smiled at me,
but she still had that worried look on her face. Then I noticed Sogetsu,
who had hardly spoken a word, walking straight behind Charlotte, his cold-looking,
unnatural purple eyes upon her. He had his arms behind his back and a small
smile on his face. Whether it was kind or not, it seemed chilling and cold.
I wondered why he was staring at her all that time; it seemed like he was
always staring at her. Why? I asked myself. She's a gaijin. Her hair
is yellow. How many do you see in Japan? But he never even looked at
Galford or Sieger or Cham Cham, and they were gaijin. In fact, he hardly
acknowledged anyone, save for maybe a few spoken words to his brother.
Why Charlotte? Why?
She was a beautiful
woman. When I watched her walk, her strides were long and graceful. When
I looked at her I got this pulsing feeling in my loins like a did that
one night, and then I'd tie my haori around my waist. I wasn't the only
one that thought she was beautiful. And then there was Galford who tried
hopelessly to flirt with her. . .
I looked over
at him again and I caught his eyes. They glinted icy -blue. Was he glaring
at me? I quickly turned my head, trying to convince myself that I was over-reading
the man. But he had just been purged of the evil of Amakusa. I had hit
him on the head and it disappeared. But what if it was only for a while?
What if there was still some evil left in him?
We reached Beppu
during the evening. It was warm and humid there, but not as unbearably
hot as in the daytime. Immediately when I saw the green, steaming waters
I threw off my clothes. My mother told me that nakedness was nothing to
be ashamed of-that it was only human flesh that each human had. I had seen
her naked. I had seen my father naked.
the same. For a man in his mid-thirties he was well in shape. His body
was small and tight and sinewy-probably not one pinch of fat. He sat down
next to me in the boiling waters, which felt hot at first but then felt
nice. Galford and Nakoruru looked at each other with awkward glances and
then began to take their clothes off slowly. Kazuki followed them and dived
into the water. Apparently he could stand high heat. He motioned for his
brother to come in. The man stood there very silently, with his hands behind
his back, watching her. She watched the rest of us undress, her hand clutching
over to me and leaned so my mouth could reach her ear.
is not here. . ." I whispered. That strange feeling came again, and I was
glad that my body was under thick waters.
it's not that. . ."
My mind went
back to the day at the pond with the waterfall. I saw her naked. She turned
around. What would the others think?
"It's the bruises,
can wear this over your back."
I handed her
"But I will
get it wet."
through a lot. . ."
She was hesitant
at first, but she took of her clothes very carefully, trying to conceal
her battered back. I looked beyond her and noticed Sogetsu leaning against
a nearby tree. He was already naked, with a thin, snaky body. He had that
look on his face, and I knew that he was watching her, his index finger
curled under his chin. I noticed that his manhood was rigid and pointing
in the air. He must feel the way I do. He must get those feelings when
he sees her. As intent as he seemed, I feared that he did not miss
the bruises on her back.
stepped in the water and quickly withdrew her foot.
"Once you get
used to it it's fine," I told her, taking her hand and leading it into
the water. She sucked in her breath while trying to adjust to the heat
of the water. She sat down next to me, rather close.
"Come on in,
Sogetsu!" his brother called.
a word, the man crept up to the surface of the water and oozed himself
in, facing across from us and relaxing in the pond.
a day in a hot springs," his brother remarked to him. He merely nodded,
but his eyes were still fixated on her.
On a far side
of the springs, in a rather secluded area, were Nakoruru and Galford, sitting
very close to one another. Cham Cham had left us, knowing that Galford
had found better love. She stormed off into the forest. We advised her
to stay for her own good, but I relished the thought of her running into
real trouble; it would serve her right, the stupid girl.
"This is quite
warm. . ." Charlotte sighed. I noticed that she was nuzzling me, and I
felt strange for a short while, but then grew to like it; between her and
the hot springs, comforting warmth enveloped me.
Later, all of
us were gathered in a circle, still in the hot springs. It was early evening,
and the sky was dark purple with sparse, bright stars scattered among the
majestic air above us. There were a few gray clouds, which hid a large,
sleepy-eyed, crescent moon. The crickets had begun to sound, and they didn't
seem as loud next to the bubbling of a spring.
"I heard that
you could boil an egg in one of these," Kazuki said.
"Well, I feel
like I'm fermenting right here. Look at my hands," Nakoruru lifted her
hands from the water, white and covered with tiny crevasses. "It's like
I'm some old woman."
going to shrivel up if we stay in here too long," Masashige chuckled. I
hardly ever saw the man smile, and when he did, it was as if I were looking
at a stranger. "Perhaps we better set up camp."
gotten too relaxed from the heat and fell asleep, his head bent back on
a moss-covered rock with a mouth wide open, releasing soft snores.
Nakoruru nudged softly. "Galford?"
softly, his eyelids fluttering. His mouth stretched to its full extent
as a yawn escaped him.
"Huh?" he muttered,
his eyes half open.
"We are going
to set up camp."
. .this was too good to last. . ."
She bent down
and helped his exhausted body from the springs. He stumbled to his feet.
They retrieved their clothes which hung on a bush and put them back on;
they stuck to their wet skins. He put his arm loosely around her waist
as they began to walk back toward the campsite, and she lay her head on
his shoulder. They appeared as if they were not a part of this world at
all; no force at all could touch them. They were ghosts of timeless love.
"I sure am
hungry," Kazuki moaned.
hungry!" Nakoruru joked, then turned her head and continued to head to
some berries over there on some of those bushes," Masashige told her, referring
to a row of low, shrubby bushes, fecund with large, dark-purple berries.
"I am pretty sure they aren't poisonous, although there is this one kind
of berry that makes you see these strange shapes and colors. . ."
"It is this
kind?" Kazuki asked eagerly.
the kind you want to stay away from."
poison your mind."
"Well, I don't
think I want to eat some berries anymore. I want meat. What I would do
for a nice pink salmon or some raw rabbit meat."
"It's too late
to hunt. . ." I yawned, ready to lie down. "But you can if you want to.
Just remember to return in the morning."
"But I am too
tired to hunt but too hungry to go to sleep. Life sure is complicated,
Haohmaru," he sighed.
"Hai," I nodded.
"Why don't you go on to bed. You're still young."
"Hey, is it
true that there are berries that make you see strange colors-like Masashige
I laughed and
shook my head. The boy was so youthful even at seventeen-so simple, yet
he felt like everything was a test; everything around him was challenging
him, and he had to overcome it. I didn't understand what he was trying
to prove or who he was trying to impress, but the boy had a audacious component
in him. He wanted to be the hero-the brave one. Often I worried about him
getting into trouble. When I was an adolescent I did what I did to survive.
I had found out that he and his brother were orphaned at a very young age,
like I was, and they too did what they had to survive. But he had to do
more. Was survival enough to him? Were his fire powers enough to him?
We began to
walk back towards the campsite, where Masashige was setting up. Kazuki's
head quickly turned in all directions, a bit worried. "Hey, Haohmaru?"
"Have you seen
My heart jumped.
"No-no I haven't. He's-he's probably still at the springs. That was where
I saw him last."
"Well, you're probably right. After all, he's been through a lot."
"He sure has,"
I agreed. "Well, I guess it's getting late. The moon is high in the sky.
Masashige's about done setting up."
He paused for
a moment, with that worried look on his face, and then bowed. "Komban wa,"
he replied, uneasiness in his voice, and trotted down the campsite, where
all of the others had gone to bed. I watched his bright, red hair disappear
into the night and prayed for the kami to watch over him.
departed I stood alone in a small clearing of the forest, the moonlight
casting an eerie silver glow on the trees. It reminded me of Sogetsu and
his icy eyes-Sogetsu! He was still at the springs. I had to find
him, to see just what that creep had up his sleeve. And Charlotte! She
hadn't gone back to the campsite with me, meaning that she was alone with
him! Gripping my scabbard, I marched softly back towards the boiling water's
of the springs. There was a large rock nearby surrounded by scraggly bushes-a
great place to hide. I was no Ninja, but I tried my best to avoid crunching
on any dead leaves as I dashed behind that rock.
I peered my
head around. The water seemed more still, and ghastly clouds of steam loomed
above it. I felt quite concealed behind the rock. A great owl hooted from
a branch above repeatedly after short amounts of time. When I looked over,
I tried to make it so my eyes were just barely over the hoary, moss-covered
They were both
alone in that small body of water, sitting across from each other. Her
back was turned to me, but I could see his face clearly. She was still
wearing my haori and clutching it over her breasts; he was stark naked.
I knew they were talking; she had that compassionate look on her face-like
how she looked that night when we lie in bed together. Sogetsu was up to
something; I knew it! Slanting my brows, I quietly craned my head
closer to the springs to I could hear just what they were saying.
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