Thunder and Redness
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I brought Watanabe-san and his troops back to our rest site and my comrades were a bit surprised to see him. But he was more surprised to see them, huddled up together, their faces worn and hungry.
"You are a traitor, Haohmaru-san!" he bellowed.
The words startled me. I thought that I had befriended me, and I could help him learn about Amakusa. My heart beat fast and the blood ran up to the tips of my ears.
"T-Traitor? W-Why?" my voice sounded weak and feminine next to the commanding Samurai.
"You consort with gaijin, that's why! They are not to be tolerated here; anyone that would allow the heart of a gaijin to beat is a traitor to our country!"
"They mean no harm, general, they. . ."
"They are ALL bad! They ruin the politics of this country! They are killing it! How dare you have the audacity to say you are the son of Tomura Akira! Such a man despised Christians-all Christians!"
It boiled in me. Father hated only two-her father and Amakusa! The rest he had killed because it was his duty to his Lord.
"My father lived next door to a family of Christians for years and allowed them to live!" I spat back.
"Do not try and speak up to me, man! You are just some beggar-probably a ronin criminal!"
"Who is this man, Haohmaru?" Nakoruru questioned.
"I am none of your concern, girl!" he shouted
She shriveled away.
"General Watanabe," I answered. "He is fighting for the bakufu in a civil war against rebelling Christians. This man needs our help very badly. . ." I glared at him, "but refuses to take it."
"How? Why does he need help?"
"The island is in chaos because of Amakusa. He knows it is-just not what is entirely behind it."
"Giving the history on this 'Amakusa' figure will not help me in the least," he stated. "I need his locations and his battle motives, not his life story!"
"Well, you don't know who you're dealing with!" Nakoruru shouted.
"Nakoruru hold your tongue!" I shouted.
She didn't respond and continued to speak to Watanabe, who sat impatiently on his brown horse.
"I know why he is here and how he got here and I believe that if you want to help this country, General, than you better understand that. Just listen to us! Why can't you give us a chance? You can't just assume we are trying to ruin your country just because some of us are gaijin! In fact, you don't even know why you we are here!"
"No girl will speak to me with that tone!" Watanabe shouted, losing his composure.
She sighed and sat down on the ground, knowing that the man would never change his attitude.
"I can assure you, General, that Haohmaru brought you to us only to help," Masashige said, a little more calmly. "Amakusa is more than alive. He is immortal."
"Immortal?!" Watanabe scoffed. "You will say anything, won't you?! Do you have any more lies you wish to tell me?"
"But it's true," the Ninja said. "A follower of Amakusa resurrected him and Amakusa's spirit assumed his body. . ."
He was cut short by the general's coarse laughter-his head bent as far back as it could go and his mouth wide open. The troops behind him snickered as well. We glared at him.
"Foolishness, pure foolishness!" he said over and over again.
After he regained his seriousness he glared back at us. "You are all nonsense and a disgrace to this country! Troops! Arrest these fraudulent barbarians!"
With their superior weapons and more of them, Watanabe and his troops managed to subdue us and lead us to a grand, towering pagoda on the coast of Southern Kyushu. I saw more generals like Watanabe lead hundreds of Samurai into battle, wearing durable armor and flaunting red flags. from the front gate, their horses thundering beyond. They marched us a long way through heat, but they provided us with barely enough food and water to last us; it was merely some rice gruel and stale water. We all longed for a feast besides rice and berries and water. Before they locked us in their prison they confiscated all of our weapons-our swords, rifles, and weapons. I strongly resisted when they tried to take my Fugu Blade, but one of the Samurai belted me with the blunt end of his katana and the pain was so breathtaking that I couldn't speak.
The palace stood tall on a rocky crag that distended into a bay and we were locked in a basement below where it was hot and stuffy, with one single window overlooking the water. Even though we were below we still had a grand view and could smell the salt of the sea and hear it crash gently against the rocks along with the seagulls. . .
"Look beyond there to those rocks," Masashige whispered to me, poking his head through the window. I peered through and saw the islands.
"That is where he is," he continued. "That is where he waits for us."
"Silence!" Watanabe boomed.
Not one breath was uttered by any of us.
"I hope that you are grateful that I spared your lives," he paced back and forth, "for the time being. . ." he grinned slowly. "You will remain here until my Lord feels ready to speak with you. As you know with all the wars his mind is preoccupied with other issues rather than to hear foolish gibberish about Amakusa. You will pick one of your people to speak with him and your lives will depend on how well this person can persuade him to believe you. If he believes you, then you will live and you will be released. But if not. . .you will be executed."
Without another word he stiffly walked out. We stared at each other without anything to say.
I looked out that window at those islands again. We had come so close, traveled for weeks through oppressive heat and stinging rain and steep mountains, only to be locked in a cellar with one view, taunting us. I would not die like that, rotting in a cellar. I was the son of Tomura Akira, more noble than General Watanabe, and here I was locked away. Lord Tsunemoto would merely forget about us and let us rot. Why should they feed us? We were prisoners. And furthermore how could any of us persuade that daimyo? They had their minds set to not believe us. My whole life-as well as my death-was based on the opinion of some man. My whole fate and reason for being could be decided with a few words.
I curled up in a ball and stared out of the window, looking out at the seaside and thinking of home and imagining my last day there-fire horses screaming blood over and over and over again. . .
I didn't want to die like this.
That evening the weather was clear and the silver light of the moon spilled though the tiny window. My eyes felt dry and red. I wanted to go to sleep but I just couldn't. My body was tired, but my mind and eyes weren't. All I wanted to do was stare outside that window. Father had a whole other life destined for me, and I knew that it wasn't this one.
I yawned and lay my head down on an empty sack of flour that was stored down there.
Just before I was about to sleep she tapped my shoulder.
"I am so concerned about you. . ."
"Why should you be?" I answered, looking straight ahead. Her body felt warm next to mine. She ran her soft hands through my hair.
"Because I love you."
"You thought I was a jealous monster."
"I did. But I forgive you. Forgiving is something that you should learn. Then perhaps you wouldn't be so angry. We are human and we make mistakes."
"You can't forgive everybody," I growled, thinking of Amakusa murdering my father and Watanabe for locking me in here and taking all the meaning away from my life. "How can you forgive them for locking us in here, or those that kill your father?"
"I can either be very angry or else I can. . ."
"It's a Christianity issue, isn't it?" I asked.
I sighed. "Nobody seems to understand how much I want to kill Amakusa. I can't die without honor. How can I forget and pardon those who steal from me? If I do I will be forgetting that I must defend my honor and my Father. You said that 'we are human and we all make mistakes', but they don't make any mistakes. They know exactly what evil they are doing beforehand."
She stroked my face, which was rough and beginning to form stubble. Her hand felt soft against my skin, and the rhythmic movements of her hand and her soft voice somehow brought me into some peace.
"Killing one man will not define your life, Haohmaru. You're putting yourself in a dangerous situation. And what if you do kill Amakusa and live through all this? Someone else will do something terrible to you."
"I have an insatiable lust for honor," I said, my eyelids heavy.
"But why? There are other things that are more important in life than your status. You are not your father. . ."
I jolted awake. And it returned, rushing on me and drowning me again.
I gripped her shoulders tightly and shook her. "My father is important to me! If your father was half as good as mine you would be the same way! And yours is not dead!"
It faded away as I felt a new pain in my wrists. She was gripping them tightly, trying to keep my hands away from her.
"This is not an issue about fathers!" she hissed at me, her eyes ablaze. "It's about you! You-you are a dead man, Haohmaru! You died along with your father."
I was confused that she would say something that absurd. Then I looked at her again, and there was no confusion in her face; her eyes were serious and stern. Somehow she was able to subdue me to where I could not argue back much less speak another word, leaving me in the ghostly silence of the night. Her head turned away from me as she lay on the ground to fall asleep, not wanting to speak one more word to me and leave her words echoing in my mind. And that was all I heard that night, save for the sea hissing softly. You are a dean man dead man dead man-dead?
The late morning sun filtered through that tiny window in one concentrated beam of heat, and that beam fell right on my face. I awoke to a burning sensation on my face and an more achy body than before. Then, even before my eyes had fully opened, I felt a shadow block that light and then it was easier to see. As the warm darkness of sleep receded I noticed that there were tall, towering figures above me. My heart leapt because I'd thought they were going to torture me or execute me, but then I heard some laughter-familiar laughter from my companions.
I sat up and looked around and realized that I was in a wooden prison below the palace. They were all standing around me-every single one of them-and laughing. I looked around more, trying to see what was so funny in that dungeon. Near the beam of the window I saw tiny dust particles suspending in the air. Just looking at them made me sneeze. And then they laughed harder.
"What-what is it?" I asked, baffled. "What is so funny?"
They were looking at me and roaring and pointed at me.
"You-you are covered in flour!" Nakoruru spurted out from her laughter. "You look like a snow rabbit!"
I looked down and noticed the bag of flour I had fallen asleep on. When I shook my head I noticed a white cloud slowly descending from me. I flushed a bit and tried to seek water to wash it off.
Sogetsu walked over to me and a spurt of water shot forth from his hand. Before its sudden coldness chilled me I was amazed by his power.
"Thanks." I told him.
He nodded. "I hope that cleans you off." His voice was expressionless and quiet.
As the day progressed and became hotter the cool water was refreshing. Later, at assumedly early afternoon, Watanabe and another attendant with a tray of rice cups, two pitchers, and tiny sake cups entered the room. He carried the tray around to each of us and we took one cup of rice and a small cup and left the two pitchers with us.
"There's sake?" I inquired, quite enthralled. For prisoners they sure did treat us well. Masashige poured me a glass and I took a sip. The warm beverage felt heavenly down my throat, but then I winced; it had a bitter aftertaste. But it was still sake.
"I hope that you can make this last until evening," Watanabe stated, his voice commanding, "because you will get only two rations a day: one in the morning and one in the evening. And don't be expecting sake every day, as that is a 'welcoming gift'."
He sneered at me.
"And furthermore, any misconduct from any of you-and it can be as little as one person-and your rations will be cut. Do you understand?"
"Oh, and by the way, it seems that our Lord is quite intrigued by your tale about Amakusa. Some good fortune I have for you. Lord Tsunemoto is very desperate for information, and he said he would consider any. No, no don't get too excited. I said consider. And don't forget to choose your representative."
Right as he was about to turn away to leave another voice called from behind him. General Watanabe turned his back to talk to the other man; his large frame obstructed my seeing the stranger, but I could hear what they were saying.
"It appears we have another prisoner on our hands," the stranger stated.
"So I see." Watanabe replied. "He's quite young. A bit scrawny. He must have done something terrible. I'll bet he's one of those Christian peasant children who hassles our own children."
"Actually no. There is a strange air around here and the people are getting superstitious."
"Superstitious? About what?"
"That new man-Amakusa, I believe-that the Christians support. Apparently he is more powerful than we think. People say that he even has affiliations with demons."
"Demons? That Amakusa-he's just a troublemaker. Tomorrow I am sending my armies to that palace on the islands and we'll arrest him, hopefully stopping these wars."
"I'll keep you in my thoughts," the stranger sighed, "but this little urchin seems like a cute kid, but the people are insisting that he be put away. He came from the palace-Amakusa's palace. Apparently he's-he's a demon child."
Demon child! I knew who it was! But I couldn't speak up. I was a prisoner. They'd whip us or starve us or possibly even execute us just because I shout in joy to see that he was alive. My heart stopped and I couldn't breathe I was so overjoyed.
"Well, just leave him in here with these fools. They think that Amakusa is immortal and all-powerful," he laughed a bit. "Because there are gaijin and they are worshipping him."
"Well, it sure seems as if he is. His power is growing."
They turned and walked out the door, talking. They left him standing there, dirty, forlorn, and helpless-just like the day I found him. He stood still and bewildered for a few seconds. Then a bright smile illuminated his dirty face and he ran towards me.
"Haohmaru!" he cried and hugged me.
I enjoyed seeing the light in his eyes, which seemed especially bright since his face was covered in dirt. I wrapped by arms around the boy very carefully. He had felt more gaunt since the last time that I saw him and I feared I would crush him. I wanted to hug him tightly-so tight that not even a demon could wrench him away from me.
"Shizumaru," I called, my voice shaky from the surprise. "How-how did you. . ."
We let go of each other and he looked at all of us, his face beaming; we sat around watching the little child, and he stood before us, overjoyed to see familiar faces. Then we became silent and waited for him to speak.
"How did you escape?" Nakoruru asked, "I thought that Zankuro kidnapped you."
"But he wasn't really Zankuro though," the child explained. "He wasn't even a demon because I know it when there is a demon around."
"But then why did you run to him that night in the inn?" I asked him.
"Because I thought that he would be my father and he was not a demon so I didn't know, but he really wasn't my father."
"And how did you find that out?"
"There was one day I called for him because I was afraid of Amakusa and he didn't remember my name or anything. Nothing. . ."
"That's odd. . ." Nakoruru commented.
"Yeah, and then Amakusa killed him. Because he couldn't remember anything. That Zankuro served Amakusa and it was Amakusa who told him that he was Zankuro, my father. But he really wasn't. He couldn't even remember his own name. I don't know why. . ."
"He came from an asylum," I told him. "A place where they lock up loony people. The man was so loony he couldn't remember anything. He had probably never been to your village."
Shizumaru's eyes became glossy. He began to sniffle. "Sometimes, even when I was with him, I still feared that demon like always. And then when I close my eyes I have dreams and all I see is fire and nothing else but fire. . .I just want to know why I am the way I am. . ."
I held the boy, who had broken into tears, in my arms and gently patted his back.
"There are some questions that can never be answered," I sighed. "That is the only answer I can give. And there are some things that are never meant to be known."
"But why?" he asked, his eyes pleading.
"I will not lie to you. I do not know, and if I did I would tell you."
"You mustn't worry, child, it is all behind you." Charlotte consoled. "It's never a good thing to dwell on the past, you know. It will make you a sour person."
"But I just want to know where I came from," the child started to wail.
I looked at Charlotte, searching her face for answers. She seemed to do the same with me.
"You had a mother and father once, but they may have vanished somewhere. There's a chance that you may see them again," she stated.
"Not a chance," I sighed. "Don't tell the child things that will never happen."
"But you don't know that."
"Wait a minute. . ." Kazuki exclaimed, "I have the same dreams. . .the dreams about fire."
"Yes it's true," Sogetsu spoke. "Our village was burned down too. Kazuki never knew our mother and father. I was four years old-old enough to remember, but Kazuki was a baby. We have dreams of fire all the time."
"But what does that mean?" I asked.
"It means that he may have special gifts from the kami," he replied. "Fortunately I know why my brother and I are the way we are, but I don't know why. When I was four, some bandits came to our village and burned it to the ground. My brother and I both have recurring dreams of fire-lots and lots of fire blazing everywhere-and then extreme blackness, as if we were dying. And then a light comes-very bright and warm-and fulfills us. . ."
"I have that same dream! There's this lights and it surrounds me and it feels so tingly!" Shizumaru exclaimed in joy, knowing that he wasn't the only one who felt lost.
"You have a gift then-a power of some sort." Kazuki told him.
"I don't know. But it's good to realize it at a young age so you know how to use it. I guess the only way for you to find out is to ask yourself what sets you apart from other children."
Shizumaru began to bite his nails and his eyes grew wide in terror. His body began to shake uncontrollably as if he had a tic. He covered his ears and began to scream.
"NO! NO! NO! NO! It's true! It's true! Please don't let it be!"
The rest of us jolted back at his screams, which were loud and shrill. Every one of us covered our ears and winced. We couldn't help but watch him go through his spasm; we were all concerned. Kazuki turned towards me with a troubled look on his face.
"What did I say?" he asked.
I merely shrugged.
"Is he alright?"
I nodded. "Sometimes he has these spasms. The kid's been thought a lot."
Charlotte walked over to him and knelt to meet his eye level. She placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him. Nearly immediately the child hushed as if he was in his mother's arms. "Shizumaru, what is the matter? Will you tell me?" She spoke warm and soft to him; her voice soothed the entire room.
He sniffled and rubbed the excess mucus from his nose and wiped is on his clothing. The desolate air of the dungeon again fell silent and waited for his response.
"It's true, it's true," he sobbed, "it's true what they've been telling me ever since I can remember. . ."
"What?" she asked, very concerned.
"That I-that I-that I am-the demon child," he stuttered the response.
"But why? I don't understand? You are such a sweet child."
"Because they thought that this demon Zankuro possessed my father and made him evil and that he was the one who burned the town down. People made up stories about it, like this one preacher-this Christian preacher whose face I could never see because he always wore this black robe. The-the most I did see of his face was this glowing, golden eye-like a wolf or an owl in the forest at night. He-he looked like that man at the dock right before the big storm. . ."
I could see why he had been so frightened of the man at the dock. "So that Christian man was spreading rumors about you?"
He nodded sadly.
I remembered the golden eye! The eye! That eye in the forest that night! And the man who stood behind that oak tree as the inn burned to the ground with Kei's body he had a golden eye and so did the guy in the restaurant and what Nakoruru had said when she told me of the ressurection But his eyes--oh, his eyes were hideous! One eye remained normal, but his other eye, amber in color. . .
He was behind it! Everything bad was because of him. I could feel myself choking on my breath I was so desperate to break free of this prison and stop him. . .
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