Thunder and Redness
Homepage: Save the Sugar
Another night fell, and my head and body ached so much I had lay in that small room all day. Sometime in the evening, the little doctor rolled out his own futon and slept in the room with me. He lay at a far corner of the room and snored loudly; it was a high, wheezing sound which was jarring my last nerves-that and my lack of sleep. There were no windows in the room, and I had no idea how late into the night it was; all I knew was that it was dark.
After hearing the doctor's snoring, I was tired of laying on that futon. I couldn't even rest on it because he kept me awake. In fact, I felt more awake than ever, and laying down made me more anxious. I began to think about Charlotte and wondered where they kept her. They couldn't have put her in that dungeon-that would be too obvious. Wherever she was, I had to find her, for I had ominous feelings about what they would do to her.
I sat up and looked around the room. Everything seemed quiet, save for the doctor's snoring. I knew I had to do something, but to go behind my lord's back and release her. That would be dishonorable, but not if he didn't know about it. I knew that the palace was heavily guarded; I saw Samurai everywhere, and I didn't have my sword. All I had were my fists. I figured that I was bigger than most of those guards, and if I saw them before they saw me I could attack them from behind, and they wouldn't have a way to defend themselves.
I quietly removed the covers so I wouldn't wake the doctor, and then I walked out slowly, taking each step with care. I slid open the shoji screen just a peek so I could see outside. To my left there was a guard, dressed in a dark red tunic and black pants. On his head was a wide-brimmed, conic-shaped hat, which concealed his face. He had a sword on his belt and in his right hand he held a spear. Every few seconds he looked in each direction. He was alone.
I waited patiently until his face was turned away from mine, and I slunk out from the room and gripped his neck with my hands. He gagged and sputtered until I twisted my hands to the right, waiting for his neck to snap.
He laid below me, his head in a contorted position and his eyes bulging. I figured that moving around the palace would be easier if I was disguised as a guard, so I stripped him of his clothing and dressed myself quickly and quietly, praying that another watchman didn't see me. I tied my long hair up and placed the hat over my head. Then I took his weapons.
I was in a long corridor somewhere in the palace-I didn't know where, so I snaked along. My back was to the wall, so no one could jump me from behind. I gripped my sword. My heart leapt when I saw two guards heading towards me. They were dressed the same as I, marching with the same stride and tempo and carrying their spears. I saw that they were talking towards the guard that I'd murdered.
"Psst!" I hissed, motioning for them to come over. "I saw something back the other way. A ninja or a robber. He was heavily armed."
"Hai," one of them replied and lead the other back in the other direction.
I rushed past the room, past the dead guard until I reached the other end of the hall, where I came to a dead end, so I rushed back-as quietly as possible-past the room where I slept-until I reached some stairs. I sneaked down them as slowly as possible, supporting myself on the banister. They led down to a lower level hall, which was dimly lit by torches that protruded from the wall. I noticed that there were more murals on this wall, except these had paintings of beautiful women. They didn't look like geisha, but more like prostitutes or consorts. I felt as if I were walking in a never-ending garden, where fat men in ornate clothing sat under shaded trees while women fondled them. The women were colorful kimonos and their hair was decorated with as many beads and hairpins as possible. Sometimes I wondered how they could hold their heads so high. They all seemed very content and mild, and tawdry at the same time-as if they were forcing themselves to appear pleasant. Their skin was as white as talcum powder with dabs of pink blush on their cheeks, and they had blood-stained lips.
I couldn't help but be entranced by all the colors and liveliness of the painting, but I knew that I had to find her. Somehow I knew that she was rather close. It seemed that this section of the palace was hidden-possibly even underground. The hall seemed narrower and there were less entrances. Perhaps she was hidden behind one. I could barely see, as the torches were dimming, and the wooden walls were dark and rich- the colors of black and red lacquer combined into a brownish, shiny wood. There were many life-size carvings on the walls, mostly of women.
One of them stood in front of me. I looked at her dainty hands, folded demurely in front of her, and she had her head cocked in a coy position-forever. Even though she was on a pedestal, she only came up to my chin. On the pedestal, near her feet, I saw a plate of gold. The words: Lady Tsunemoto Mariko were engraved-along with: honorable wife to Lord Tsunemoto: .born 1593 died 1634. She did not live very long.
As I walked down the hall I noticed more of these statues. They were all beautiful women, but engraved in gold-by their feet-was their life. They were all wives of the Tsunemoto daimyos; some even dated back to the 1400's.
I suddenly realized where I was-a tomb-a memorial to all the dead wives of the Tsunemotos. The hall went on for a little while-so far that darkness concealed the end of it. I tried to open one of the doors, but they were made of stone and sealed shut. It seemed odd that they would hide her in a tomb, so I fled the dark, brooding hall and when to look elsewhere for her.
As I was just about to ascend the staircase up where I was, I heard a voice behind me.
"You!" it hissed. It was a man's voice, and it sounded rather close.
For a moment my heart leapt in my throat and I stumbled, nearly falling backwards down the stairs. I gripped the railing to retain my balance.
"Why are you not on your post?"
I turned around. It was another guard, except he wore a gold tunic and black pants. I figured that he was a head guard.
I tried to search for the words to say, thinking of a possible excuse. Father told me that if a Samurai was caught out of position than his fate would be seppuku. I was not going to die here and bleed on the ground right in front of this guard. At least, not before I took care of Amakusa. I remember what I had told the other two guards, and hopefully this one would believe me as well.
"I-I was searching for someone. This guard walked by and-and told me that there was a ninja lurking around the palace-and that he was heavily armed. . ."
"I am that ninja. . ." his voice sounded. It was deep, yet it seemed familiar.
He began to raise his sword at me and just as he was about to cut me into ribbons I yelped: "Masashige??!"
"Haohmaru??!" he suddenly dropped his sword.
We looked at each other for a few seconds, our faces concealed by the hats. Then we removed them, and I saw the familiar face of the ninja. We both sighed in relief.
"You killed a head guard didn't you," I whispered.
"I choked him to death."
"That's how I killed mine. Why are you here?"
"Why are you?"
"I am looking for Charlotte. Why are you here?"
"This is important, Haohmaru. It's a secret that I don't want you to tell anybody, do you understand?"
From the inside of his tunic he unfurled a piece of paper and showed it to me:
Haohmaru-san has been feeling incredibly ill and has not slept well. I advise that you let him rest one more day, although I know that you will object, but he will not fight his best without any rest.
"I was searching for your quarters to wake you and tell you to feign illness, and then place this forged note by Tsunemoto's bed. Tsunemoto's plans for you are wrong, and I must have a day to get us all out of here."
I scratched my head. "Yes, I-I sensed something. I feel horrible going behind my Lord's back to rescue Charlotte. That is dishonorable, but I-well, I love her-and I feel like she's in danger."
"Then go, Haohmaru. She is in the consorts' quarters. When you find her, she will tell you why Tsunemoto is wrong. But hurry."
"Arigato!" I hissed, and headed up the stairs.
Consort's quarters. . .
I wondered why they would make a consort out of her. Wasn't it a noble position for a woman to be a consort? I had thought that they were going to punish her-possibly even execute her, and is seemed strange that she was placed in the consort's quarters. She was a white-skinned woman from a faraway land who had nothing Japanese about her at all, except that she spoke the language fluently. Any royal consort was a beautiful woman, and I remembered seeing them when I was a boy with their bright kimonos and red umbrellas and white faces. I could never imagine Charlotte as a consort, she was not dainty enough and her hair was not long enough and she was too tall. It just didn't seem right, and she would have refused to entertain men and serve them and dress her hair in pretty flowers and paint her face white. Her skin was white enough-the color of alabaster, but the fact that her as a consort did not make sense to me forced me to look for her harder. She could have been in more danger than I thought.
I didn't know where to find the consort's quarters; I couldn't even begin to find them. I reached the floor where my small room was and where the dead guard lay. I saw two guards pass again; they were probably different from the guards that I saw before. But they walked, together in strid, and their spears pointed upward. I scrambled to cover the dead body near me, and I kicked it to the side, behind the door of the small room, and stood straight and erect, as if the guard had been at that post the whole time. As they passed, I tried to stand as still as I possibly could-not making a sound. One of them took a quick glance at me, and then marched on. I sighed in relief.
I ran as quickly as I could down that hall until I reached the center of the palace, with high, vaulted ceilings and tiny opening which let in a sole ray of moonlight. The eerie silver glow concentrated on me. I began to feel that hollow loneliness-just like on that river boat and the moon was full-standing in the middle of that large, room, with a wall and floors that seemed to expand right before me. It appeared large and awing when I first walked though this place and saw the servants and guards hustling about. But then it felt incredibly empty, as if I were the last human being around. It was like a prison that I could never find my way out of, except larger.
After stopping in the middle of the main room and awing at its vastness, I walked on down a random hall that veered off to the left. I tried to walk like a guard, keeping my knees stiff and my head up, so no one would suspect anything. As I walked, I wondered what Masashige was doing, and if he had completed what he intended to do. Of course he had; he was an expert. I wasn't, and I knew that one wrong step could lead to doom. Sucking in my breath, I hoped that I did not get caught. Each time I stepped, I watched to make sure my foot hit the ground as quietly as possible.
This hall was a lot darker and there were no torches to light the way. The only light I went by was the steel moonlight. I saw white lanterns hanging from the ceiling and from door entrances, but they were not lit. As I walked through, I saw more paintings, more murals, more statues and carvings made of stone. I felt a slight breeze, even though I was indoors. It was a rush of ghostly coldness. I looked around for an open window but found none. I tried to shake the creepy feeling from my bones. The coldness had brought a scent with it-it was a beautiful scent, that smelled of flowers and gardens. Somehow that scent smelled familiar, and I closed my eyes and saw my mother.
Come, Haohmaru, it is time to go. . .
She was at eye level with me, adjusting every piece of cloth of my kimono. I was five years old-which was considered an unlucky year-and I had to go to the temple and pray. She looked very pretty and her leps were painted red and she wore a blue kimono with yellow flowers and a green obi. And she smelled like jasmine.
I opened my eyes again.
I knew that they were near, for the scent was coming from down the hall. It was the scent of women.
I followed the aroma further down the hall until I approached a dead end. There was a shoji screen there, with vases of pink and white flowers on both sides and a white lantern in front. The smell was extremely potent, making my note itch and my eyes water. It tasted bitter in my mouth, almost like poison.
I froze when I a guard standing on the right side of the entrance. It must have been an important room. I was face to face with him, but I couldn't see his face because the wide hat blocked his eyes. He couldn't see my face either. I stood at about eye level with him, but he didn't move. I had expected him to ask me why I was not on post and I could not conjure up an answer. And if Lord Tsunemoto found out. . .
In fact, the guard didn't even move. He just stood there, holding his spear. I wondered if he was waiting for me to attack, or if he was trying to intimidate me by standing there. I knew that Charlotte was in that room and I had to rescue her, but first I had to get past the guard. I would have to kill another one, so I unsheathed my blade and prepared to attack. Still, he didn't move or even cower. I raised my blade and closed my eyes, for the thought of his decapitated head on the ground sickened me. Just as I began to bring my blade upon his neck, I felt it knocked out of my hands and heard it as it hit the floor. The force of his parry caused me to stumble to the ground. I lay there, looking up at him and he seemed so tall. I was so shocked that I could not move, and I felt utter despair. The guard would unmask me and return me to Tsunemoto and then I would have to commit seppuku but if I committed seppuku then I wouldn't get to kill Amakusa and I would have lived and died an dishonorable man I Haohmaru son of Tomura Akira die dishonorably for failing my lord. . .
He had his spear still at my throat, and if he pushed any harder it would go right though me. His foot on my chest secured me to the ground. I closed my eyes as the guard reached his hand down to me, preparing to pull off my hat and reveal my dishonorable face. . .
The voice I heard was different than what I expected. It was a woman's voice, and she sounded more surprised than menacing.
I looked up.
She removed her hat and locks of gold hair spilled out and she bent down to where I was.
At first I felt as surprised as she must have, but then I felt a wave of warmth and relief rush through me.
"You-you too, Charlotte?"
She gently touched my cheekbone with her soft hands. "Yes. . ."
"I saw Masashige disguised as a guard as well. He is trying to get me out of battle by forging the doctor's note. . ."
She smiled and led me over to a dark corner of the hall where we were concealed. We sat down across from each other, rather close. "Haohmaru, why are you. . ." she hissed, rather loudly.
"Shh." I placed a hand to her lips. "I came here because I thought that you were in danger. I thought-I thought that they were going to execute you. I couldn't let that happen. But why are you here?"
She smiled. "Looking for you. I wanted to tell you that Lord Tsunemoto has plans for you that will cause much destruction. He does not know the ways of Amakusa the way we know him. He has only learned of Amakusa's immortal powers. And-and it hurts me to see you kill innocent people because they are of a different faith."
"That's awfully dangerous for you," I sighed.
"I am fully capable of doing it myself. I had to escape from the consort chambers before they made a prostitute of me."
"But why did he put you in the consort chambers?"
"He thought that I would learn some etiquette and lady-like manners. But I knew that they were going to subdue me sexually. I tried to convince the other women how wrong it was, but they considered it an honor. It nearly brought tears to my eyes."
"Masashige has an escape plan for you, but I must stay. I serve Lord Tsunemoto and I have to do what he says because it is the whole meaning of being a Samurai. I-I hope you understand."
Her eyes began to get wild, "No, Haohmaru, I don't understand. Because the man has a higher rank than you does not mean that he owns you. Sometimes those higher people are wrong and sometimes you might know what is right. You must follow what you think is right, because there are higher words than Lord Tsunemoto's."
She seemed shaky and frightened so I held her hand to calm her down. All of a sudden that strange feeling in my groin came again, and I gritted my teeth to try and fight it. She looked at me; her eyes were warm but had great concern at the same time. She always seemed to be concerned about me. I felt her place her hand atop mine. I looked straight at her, watching her eyes. She blinked a lot and I could hear her breaths because it was so quiet. They were short and fast. Her lips started to twitch again, and I could not take my eyes off of them. They seemed incredibly soft and smooth.
"Charlotte, you must leave, but I have to stay." I placed a hand on her shoulder. "Japan is not a place for you. . ."
"Haohmaru, there is no place for anybody, and the place for me is the place I choose, and that place is here-with you. . ." She gripped my hand incredibly hard-squeezing it, as if she was down on her knees and begging me for mercy.
I looked at her watery blue eyes, which had a dull sheen in the darkness, and then I began to think back to the day on Gairyu Isle, where I saw her coming through the mist in disguise, and when I saw her she looked just like her father and I wanted her to leave. I thought that she was a curse from Amakusa, and her intentions were evil. But when I looked at her again, she seemed so beautiful, and whenever she was near I felt comforted and warm. After she had came-after the conversation in the inn-the red rage that I saw had begun to diminish, and she had helped me fight it-fight it so I would leave her as well as myself unharmed. And if she did leave-would the redness return? And if so-would it overtake me?
I gripped her hand tight and sighed. "Charlotte, I don't know. . ."
Then I felt trapped-between the honor and glory of becoming a noble Samurai at last, extending the honorable Tomura name? But that would mean nothing because honorable Samurai were not controlled by rage and redness. And if the people saw it-if my Lord saw it-my life and those that lived before me would be shattered, and the dead would writhe in their graves forever and my father would feel so shamed that he'd wither away into black nothingness. As I held her hand-her warm, soft hand-I knew that I needed her to comfort me. Somehow I felt that she would lead to me defeat it, and if she was not there, then I would lose.
Everybody falls, Haohmaru-chan-both the emperor and the peasant, but the emperor falls into a deeper hole. . .
"Haohmaru. . ." she sighed, as if she had lost an important battle "just do what you think is right. I can only go so far. . ."
I thought that she was going to leave me, for her voice seemed to have a trace of bitterness in it.
I hate you Haohmaru
I couldn't let it happen again. She began to stand up and go somewhere-away from me. I could not let her or else the redness would take over, and I began to feel it-the very beginning of it-that pain in my chest slowly spreading. I could not let her go.
Just as she was about to walk away, I yanked her arm and pulled her to the ground. She yelped a bit. Strangely, she didn't try to pull away, and she had a shocked appearance on her face-her eyes wide open and her mouth tight. Her lips. I could not stop looking at them and I wanted to touch them and then that strange feeling in my groin came again-pulsing all throughout my body. I closed my eyes shut and moved my head forward-
Touching them sent sharp waves of chills through my body, their feeling so powerful that they left my lips numb.
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