Thunder and Redness
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We could hear the earth pound above us, its intensity increasing. The masses of the Shimabara peasants and pious priests huddled together. Each person was silent, except for the muttering prayers and the occasional whimpers of young children. It seemed odd that these people refused to defend themselves against the attackers, but instead had spent many days building underground hiding places. So they would stay there anxiously, awaiting the climax of the thundering hooves and the relieving sound of it passing into the distance. Then they would climb up from their hiding place, and bemoan the damage done to their town.
"How come you don't fight these people?" I asked a brown-robed man, who held a book with a golden cross printed on it.
With his hand on my shoulder, he bowed his head and spoke softly, "God protects us."
The sound began to get fiercer and so intense that the rocks on the ceiling was beginning to crumble, and small pebbles rained on us. The man next to me began to pray, muttering to himself with his hands tightly clasped together.
More stones fell from the ceiling, and when I looked up, waves up dust entered my eyes. They stung and I coughed. Soon, all the others around me were coughing from the dirt that was being thrown around in the air. I saw a large rock, about the size of a fist, fall upon a woman's back. She was protecting her child.
I knew that even this underground sanctuary would not last forever, for the earth was already beginning to wear thin. I could see the walls tremble with every pound of the hooves, and despite the noise I could hear voices of men and broken glass. I could barely understand what they were saying, but they sounded hostile and angry. The urge to fight the attacker was burning inside me and I could feel my chest swell with anger. I did not know who the attacker was. Perhaps it was Amakusa. Looking at the stairs to the ground above, I wanted to bust through that door and fight them until not one of them was left standing.
"They are right above us," the brown-robed man stated, his voice so calm and soft.
It vexed me a lot. "Listen. . ." I said, approaching him and slightly shaking him, "You have to fight them! You can't hide forever. . ."
He seemed to ignore me and began speaking, his hands raised in the air.
"The Lord is our Shepherd, and we his sheep! He will protect us; and although these savages may pillage our town, it is them who will suffer. The Lord will make sure of it! Let us bow our heads. . ."
More rocks fell from the ceiling and crashed onto the floor. They were larger, heavier. Heavy enough to kill a person.
"We can't stay in here any longer!" I persisted, shaking the man.
But he didn't listen and continued to talk.
"Dear Lord, please watch over us and protect us from our enemies. Let your Almighty strength protect us and whisk them away. . ."
I noticed Charlotte, who also had her head bent. She had her hands folded and listened intently to the man's words. I could not stop eyeing the ceiling and noticing a large rock above her head, which quivered like a teardrop about to fall from an eye-
". . .And in the Book of the Lord. . ."
The sounds above us intensified and I could hear the men yelling.
"Burn these Christian heathens! Burn them to the ground! For Japan!"
". . .Isaiah said. . ."
The suspended rock finally fell loose. I yanked Charlotte away from its path, disrupting her peaceful silence. She yelped in surprise and quickly drew away as the stone slammed the ground with a deafening crash, shattering into black shards.
"That almost killed me," she sighed in relief.
One of the voices above sounded familiar. It was gruff and aggressive-the burly man Hidoshi! I could feel my chest begin to sink deep down into a blackness. My mouth became dry. They had come despite my warnings and attacked.
"I have to go up there!" I shouted. The people around me slightly turned their heads in my direction, and then back to the rambling man. "They are going to destroy this place."
"Haohmaru, you mustn't!"
". . .As the tongue of fire devours the stubble. . ."
I heard more breaking glass and obscenities from Hidoshi's thick voice. I had led them here! I knew it was my obligation to stop them. I could not let them do it I could not let them do it-
". . .so their root will be as rottenness. . ."
My ears suddenly pricked upon hearing the preacher's words. They sounded familiar, as if I had heard them before-
". . .and their blossom go up as dust. . ."
I tried to recount every sermon that Charlotte's father had given at the house. Certainly it sounded like something he would say, yet I didn't remember him saying that. So I thought and I thought-
". . .For they have rejected the law of the Lord. . ."
An image suddenly spread out before me, as if a tsunami had crashed upon me. I knew I was young when I heard the words, but I never heard them, I saw them-saw them on a small piece of white paper-in black letters remembering fire dust rotten yes I remember where the paper was next to Father's dead body tied to the dagger the dagger that hung by my belt. . .
I could not let this happen-
I bolted towards the trap door as if it were an escape into a divine kingdom, for I felt more torment under this unstable ground as it would eventually crumble beneath us. People yanked me back and screamed at me.
"Are you insane?! You are going to get us killed!"
"Keep calm, boy!"
"Wicked devil samurai, you can't escape!" shrieked a woman.
The note on white paper was still sharp in my mind. And then I remembered another note in black ink, with an ink mark scrawled across the page. Father's last words-
Fulfill your destiny destiny destiny hiding in a cave was not my destiny hiding and running I had to stop them now they were just like he was destroying and killing so I had to kill them back, defend with honor as Father had. . .
I felt more hands grabbing at my clothes and the gaping mouths of toothless peasants surrounded me.
"Let go of him!" Nakoruru cried, trying to pry them off of me.
There was more violent trembling, and more heavy rocks fell to the ground, knocking a few people out. I cringed.
"Haohmaru!" Charlotte called to me, rushing towards the herd. She too was trying to pull their dirty hands from my clothes. I could hear the seams rip over their shouting. "Hush! They will hear you from above. . ."
They did not seem to listen, and with my companions' and Charlotte's help, I was able to free myself from the mass of people. I ran over to her and grabbed her hand.
"Charlotte," I huffed, exasperated from the suffocation this cave was giving me, "you must hear me! We can't stay in here much longer. I must fight them. . ."
"You are right. . ." she sighed, not wanting to go to battle, but the sight of the falling ceiling was enough to change her mind.
"The cave is crumbling!" She called to the people, attempting to hush them, "We must get out of here!
"She is right," Masashige stated. "Look. . .when the walls cave in, they will have us trapped in a pit! There must be a way for escape! These people cannot fight on their own. Asura!" he called to the dark man, who was watching the chaos with quite a relaxed posture. It seemed strange, and I wondered why he was acting so. Perhaps he was confident God would save him-yet for some reason it irked me-as if he was relishing the destruction, "Asura!"
He jumped from whatever thoughts he was having, "Yes. . ." he replied.
"We must relocate the people before the ground caves in!" the ninja explained. "But where??"
"Further into the caverns," he replied. "The horses have passed there. The natives have built and extensive network of tunnels underground. They are used to this. . .Friar!" he called to the brown-robed man, "lead the people into the tunnels. Ask Kazuki-the red-haired man who can emit flames with his bare hands-to provide your light. But you must hurry. . ."
Kazuki and the Friar called towards the people to advance further into the dark cabins, while my companions and I remained under the falling rocks. "We are going to fight them!" I declared, "It was my fault to lead them here, and I must stop them! Sieger-bust through that door!"
The brawny German knight plowed his iron fist through the wood, which the townspeople had heavily bolted. The sound of the splintering wood echoed through the cave, and a bright orange light penetrated the darkness. "There! We are out!" he stated.
I rushed out to battle, my sword in the air. My father a told me that was how a Samurai should enter-fearless and fierce. My companions followed, their swords and weapons already unsheathed.
The destruction was immense. There was no church after we had risen. Instead, the wooden roof was burning to the ground and the white walls blackened. Colored glass-charred at the edges-were strewn across the hard floor, and the pews hand crumbled. I noticed Asura pick up a large wooden cross-the cross that had adorned the front of the church.
"The bastards. . ." he muttered, with clenched teeth. He gently let it fall from his hands.
I heard the soft pounding of hooves on the ground. Turning around, I saw the burly man amount his large, black horse. The large helmet he wore covered his eyes and cast a sharp shadow on his face. A small group of men stood behind him.
"So. . .Haohmaru-san. . ." he spat, severe discontent in his voice. He tightened the reins, "I see Watanabe was right! That you were a traitor all along! I'll bet you even serve the brute!"
I glared at him and clenched my fists, thinking about serving that devil. I didn't want to serve anyone!
"You will die for what you have done!" I growled, quickly unsheathing my blade and preparing to slice him in half.
"It is you who should die!" the man retorted, unsheathing his blade, "Look at what you have done! Betrayed your whole country and your lord. And yet you feel no shame? I should behead you right now! Seppuku is not a death for you!"
I took two wide steps towards him. I was not afraid. Father told me a samurai should never be afraid. I held my blade out, pointing to his throat.
"Ha! But you have disobeyed my orders, Hidoshi-san! Do you not remember me telling you to not cross that water until I told you? And yet you did it anyway. Disobeying orders is also punishable by death!"
All of a sudden, I felt no fear at all, but instead this feeling of pride swelled in my chest. I laughed from the fulfillment it seemed to give me-that I was better, that I was superior, and this man-a man who could destroy a whole town-was still answerable to me.
I laughed, rather loudly-somewhat hysterically. "So what are you going to do? Run back to your lord so he can tell you to kill yourself? You have much honor in you, I am sure that you would do it if he told you! So now what? I am your lord now and if I told you to kill yourself you would have to! So do it! Do it, Hidoshi-san-do it so you will not have to see the open mouths of panic or hear the screaming women or crying children or smell the burning wood! It is my order!"
Looking behind me, I noticed that my companions were eyeing me rather strangely. I felt a tinge of shame for my outburst-that my father told me emotion showed my weakness to my opponent. I sighed loudly.
"So then. . ." I continued, my voice calmer. I clenched the hilt of my sword. "I suppose the only way to settle this is a fight. Just you and I. . ."
He smirked, "Well, boy, it seems odd that you would fight your ally. If your father could have seen what you have become. A traitor to him and to your country. Have you forgotten that it was these heathen Christians that came and killed your father? That took away your dreams of become a great Samurai like your father? And now you've got the potential to live your father's dream-but you are trying to fight it. That seems rather strange, don't you think? You don't want to disappoint your father now, do you?"
I felt another tinge of shame, remembering the note by the floor and the words scrolling though my head Fulfill your destiny fulfill your destiny fulfill your destiny, Haohmaru. . .It was honorable for a Samurai to avenge the death of a loved one, yet something did not seem right. I hated the burning villages and the cowering faces and the blood and the screaming. And the fire that ate everything in its path. . .it was all the sameness, as if my life was one circle of fire and blood.
"I am sure if my father was alive, he would not want this!" I pointed to the decaying town, almost devoured by the flames. "This is how he died!"
Hidoshi drew his sword, which was much longer than mine. He gripped it with both his hands and I didn't even see him prepare to strike I just saw a flash of metal rush at me and I quickly parried with my sword. The force of it caused the metal to vibrate and I felt a strange, tingling that echoed throughout my bones.
I noticed my companions draw back in fear.
Except Asura, who pulled out of his scabbard a wide, thick sword that was double the length of my blade and still longer than Hidoshi's. Our mouths were gaped open in amazement.
"I really don't appreciate what you have done to this place! You prejudice should be ended immediately!"
With that, he swung his large sword at Hidoshi who leapt back. Surely nothing could block the force of that sword. It awed and even terrified me, for he did serve Amakusa.
Hidoshi whistled loudly and the thundering of more horses drew near, halting abruptly behind the burly man. He turned his head to the army-which was about ten mounted men-and glared at us: "Attack these traitors!"
"Get ready!" I called, "They are going to fight us!"
My companions drew their weapons, and Nakoruru carefully guided Shizumaru away. The child was crying and she tried to hush him, and his arm was pointed out to me, as if he'd never see me again.
All ten of the horses trampled ahead, and we evaded them as best we could. They had an advantage because they were above us. I commanded that we strike at the men so they would fall from the horses. I swung my blade at one of them who whisked past me and managed to slice off his head. His horse continued to ride off, his neck spraying blood.
"Good one, Haohmaru!" Galford remarked.
"Galford, watch out!" Nakoruru screamed from the distance, hovering over Shizumaru to protect him. He jumped away just in time as the warrior atop tried to spear at him from above.
"It's that Demon Child!" another warrior shouted and two horses thundered towards Nakoruru and Shizumaru.
"Stop!" Masashige tried to halt them. "They are innocent!"
But his words did not good as the horses approched. Nakoruru cried out to the gods to save her, while Shizumaru ceased his crying, anticipating death.
"No!" Galford cried and ran with all his might to catch up with the two horses. He kicked at the horses' shins and tried to stab at the men with a small dagger. One of the horses kicked him to the ground, but he managed to grasp the tail of one of the beasts, which flailed around in bewilderment, trying to kick him off. But he stayed on.
"Whoaaa!" the warrior on the horse called, trying to calm him.
"That gaijin! He's on your tail!" the other called. "I'll get him!"
He quickly tugged at the reins and stopped his horse and dismounted, running over to Galford with his sword. Nakoruru tightly clasped her hands together to watch, her eyes wide open.
Galford kicked at the man while trying to hang onto the horse, even though his broken arm was still healing. He took his dagger in one free hand and began piecing the man, jabbing into his shin until the man howled in pain, running off and holding his bleeding leg.
The man atop the horse was thrown off and the horse trampled off into the distance, neighing loudly, "You scoundrel!" he hissed, trying to slice at Galford, who dodged and parried as best as he could, but he was becoming weak. The pain in his arm made him grimace, but he kept trying until the pain in his arm caused him to give way. He fell to the ground and the warrior grinned, placing his foot atop Galford and prepared to slice; he was confident that he had all the time in the world for a perfect slice.
"Don't you dare!" Nakoruru cried, hurling her dagger at the man. It pierced his back and he bent back in pain, gagging and choking on the blood in his throat. He fell to the ground with a thud.
She ran over to Galford and helped him from the ground and lead him away to protection, for he was too weak to fight. "Thank you," he barely whispered.
"No, thank you. You saved our lives. That was very brave of you. . ."
The gazed at each other and their faces turned red.
The rest of us continued to fight off the horses and men, but as we started to kill them off, Hidoshi whistled and more men came. Luckily, they were not on horses but were very skilled with the sword.
Charlotte got into a struggle with one of them, trying to evade his blows and strike at him with her sword. It was long and thin and could pierce through a man. The sound of clanging swords resonated through my ears. They were both skilled, and she was very quick. I wanted to go over and help her-to finish off that threatening man. But she was taller than him and a gang of men were striking at me with swords. I immediately noticed when they were defenseless to attack and I struck their bodies with my blade, mercilessly slicing them in half.
"You would never strike a lady!" she cried to the attacker.
"Ha, but you're as big as a man!" he laughed.
With an angry thrust she drove her sword right into his stomach and quickly withdrew it. He fell and thick, red blood gushed from his dead body. She smirked, wiping her sword with a handkerchief, "I had warned him not to strike a lady. . ."
She walked away and sighed, "Forgive me, Lord, it was for you. . ."
Masashige and I were warding off more of the men, who approached in numbers, infesting the town like vermin. He watched behind me to see if any of them were planning a sneaky attack, and I watched his back. He skillfully sliced away at them, severing arms, heads, legs. We were too busy trying to fight them off than worry about the damage we were doing.
Sieger knocked out a good number of them with his brute strength, punching at them with his metal arm. He picked up dead bodies and hurled them at live warriors and then bashed their heads together. He fought like a barbarian, grunting while he crushed their necks with brute strength. Asura swung his mighty sword at oncoming attackers, slicing them into ribbons; they had no chance-but the large numbers of them made it difficult to get rid of them.
I was getting tired-about to keel over in exhaustion-from fighting Hidoshi. He was short and squat and slow, but much more skilled at the sword than I. I only knew how to defend myself, and was very fortunate that I had not let my guard down-just in a the blink of an eye-to allow him to cut through me. My arms ached and my movements became slower and my breath became short. I was sweating from the heat of the smoke.
"I will kill you for what you have done, traitor!" He rasped.
I was too tired to fight back, and more of his troops were gaining on me, noticing I was becoming weak. They were sneaking up on me from behind, but there was nothing I could do. All of a sudden I heard a loud splash of water. Hidoshi and I dropped our swords in amazement. Sogetsu had shot forth water from the palms of his hands; it was so forceful that the men drowned instantly and it got me drenched. It was a refreshing feeling, in this intense heat.
"Arigato!" I called to him. He bowed, continuing to ward off the enemies with his water.
Kazuki short forth balls of fire from his hands, knocking the men from their horses and destroying them in great numbers. He laughed at them, belting out in joy from his victorious powers. The two brothers had amazing gifts, which truly helped us defeat these masses. Hidoshi merely watched, his eyes wide with awe.
When the rest of the men were down-and he was the only one left-he crumbled to the ground, unsheathing his dagger, his face twisted in anguish.
"Lost I have lost. . ." he moaned, "Haohmaru you traitor-you are too strong-but somehow you will pay. . ."
We all stood around him, watching him thrust the dagger into his stomach; we didn't speak and turned and walk away.
Victory revived my tired bones, and when I looked at the looming towers of the building on the island, I was ready to run to it as fast as I could and kill the bastard-the reason that I had spent so many months traveling.
"Come, lets go on," Asura sighed, picking up his heavy sword.
"I thought you said that you could barely swing a sword, and that thing is huge!" Kazuki remarked.
"Independence is strength. . ." the dark man sighed, "but lets move on. There is someone waiting to see you."
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