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

Chapter 14

       "Redness?" she replied, "Redness. . ." 
       "Yes. Redness." I repeated 
       Her eyes narrowed in confusion. "You mean that you see nothing but red colors? I don't quite understand, Haohmaru." 
       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. . ." 
       "Is-is that what you feel, Haohmaru?" she asked me, cocking her head. Her eyes showed concern. She placed her hand on my cheek. 
       I couldn't 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. 
       Running her 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 father is." 
       "Father. . ." I sighed. 
       Fulfill your destiny Haohmaru fulfill your destiny Haohmaru 
       I remembered 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." 
       "But why?" 
       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 was dishonorable. 
       Why are you crying, Haohmaru-chan? 
       This mean boy hit me. . . 
       And what did you do about it? 
       I ran away and I cried. 
       A noble Samurai never cries. 
       But it hurt. 
       Of course it did-but you mustn't let your opponent know that. Show him that you are strong. 
       But he was bigger than me. 
       That is 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. 
       She placed 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. 
       "Please, Haohmaru, 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." 
       She chuckled, but I knew there was seriousness underlying it all. "Don't we all have that wish at one time or another." 
       I clenched 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. 
       I couldn't 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. 
       But despite 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 words: 
       You can't 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. 
       But without 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. 
       I continued 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. 
       Masashige did 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 the jacket. 
       "Charlotte," I whispered. 
       She walked over to me and leaned so my mouth could reach her ear. 
       "Your father is not here. . ." I whispered. That strange feeling came again, and I was glad that my body was under thick waters. 
       "No, Haohmaru, 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, isn't it?" 
       She nodded slowly. 
       "Here, you can wear this over your back." 
       I handed her the haori. 
       "But I will get it wet." 
       "It's been 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. 
       She gently stepped in the water and quickly withdrew her foot. 
       "Ooh! It's quite hot." 
       "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. 
       Slowly, without 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. 
       "Nothing like a day in a hot springs," his brother remarked to him. He merely nodded, but his eyes were still fixated on her. 
       Stop looking at 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." 
       "We're all 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." 
       Galford had 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. 
       "Galford," Nakoruru nudged softly. "Galford?" 
       He stirred 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." 
       "Really. ..well. . .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. 
       "You're always hungry!" Nakoruru joked, then turned her head and continued to head to the campsite. 
       "There are 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. 
       "Those are the kind you want to stay away from." 
       "Because they 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 said?" 
       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 brother?" 
       My heart jumped. "No-no I haven't. He's-he's probably still at the springs. That was where I saw him last." 
       He sighed. "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. 
       After Kazuki 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 rock. 
       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. 

Chapter 15

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