Thunder and Redness
Homepage: Save the Sugar
By the time the battle with Hidoshi had ended, it was nearly evening, and my arms and back were sore from the fighting. I saw my companions rubbing their arms and necks and wounds, their faces puffing with exhaustion. All around me I heard sighs, moans, and whispered exclamations of their pain.
When I looked up at the sky, there was not a star, and the moon was blood-red and veiled by the clouds of dust and ash. The whole sky appeared overcast with a reddish haze, and, after the fire (some buildings were still burning), it appeared especially red-the color of rusted iron. When I looked towards Unzen-san, I noticed some bright orange lava still cooling. I coughed when some ash entered my mouth and my eyes watered from the smoke. The people of Shimabara moaned and lamented the destruction, especially the church.
"They have never destroyed the church before," Asura remarked, with flat anger. "There has been raids, but not like this-not like this. . ."
He looked over at me, with an expression that was solemn, but somewhat contempt. I didn't know what he was indignant about, so I avoided his eyes, those black eyes that reflected the red sky so well.
But I asked him a question, a question that had made me curious.
"Why haven't you killed me yet? Don't you serve him?"
"Yes. . ." he responded quietly.
"And then you defend us? You could have killed us all-right in that inn-but you didn't."
Slowly, he placed his forefinger on his chin, and looked me directly in the eye. I could see the bright lava from the mountain gleaming.
"Haohmaru, it is not my duty to kill you. Amakusa knows you are coming. . ."
"But why are you here?" I asked.
"To make sure that you would come, and to lead you. . ."
I scratched my head, wondering why Amakusa would want to make sure. All this way-and we almost failed. The infested swamps, our tired feet, our aching bellies, and the storms and the fires and the deaths-he would spite us like that! To watch us suffer it all, and then "make sure" we got there. I could feel my chest compressing again-so bad that it was hurting and I could barely breathe.
It came again, and then the sky and the moon and the ocean and everything appeared brighter, deeper, richer. It nearly startled me and the air began to thicken, as if I was trying to breathe in a sea of blood-
How could he have done this to me I can see him in that building on that island that I can see yes I can see with my own eyes his head thrown back and his mouth wide open in laughter loud laughter so loud it rang though my ears louder louder it was all I could hear I think I am going to-
I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder, and it slowly went away. The pain in my chest began to disappear, and the air didn't seem quite as heavy, and the color of the sky seemed more subtle. She was holding my hand, her blue eye watching me with that look of concern.
"Haohmaru, are you feeling right?" she asked, her voice soft.
I nodded, the world appeared less unseemly. She had saved me again.
"Hai. . ." I said slowly, breathing out heavily.
"You seem rather tired," she remarked, taking my hand in hers. "Don't worry-you can rest on the boat. . ."
I closed my eyes and let her lead me with the rest of the crowd, feeling her warm body closer, feeling comforted by her. I could not look at the palace on the island, for the feelings would return to me again.
Shizumaru ran up to me, and I lifted him up with my arm that didn't ache. The tired child wrapped his arms around my neck and rested his head on my shoulder, breathing slowly. The sound was, along with Charlotte's presence, very soothing.
"You will kill him right?" the boy asked, his voice muffled into my shoulder.
"I hope so. . ." I sighed.
Suddenly, my muscles became tense and my breathing became shallow. I could not take my eyes off the palace. It seemed to grow right in front of my eyes, and these two pointed spires at the top were so high I could not see where they ended and the sky began. They looked like two large, gnarly black trees against the gray skies, and then I saw the pagoda, watching endless stacks of roof rise and rise and rise. It never seemed to cease. I could feel the air become thicker again, yet even though it was extremely hot, I felt a chill in the air-an uncomfortable chill that bore straight into my bones and made my spine shudder.
"Are you feeling right, Haohmaru?" Masashige asked.
I sighed, looking away from the ominous structure and at the Ninja. My breathing slowed and I wiped the sweat from my brow.
"Hai. . ." I replied.
"You seem quite nervous. . ."
"I have been waiting years for this. I cannot fail my father, and I cannot live with failure."
"Well, we are here to help you when you need us," Charlotte said, "although I understand that you would rather kill Amakusa on your own."
I noticed Asura slightly turn his head in my direction and then slowly turn away. He always seemed to be silent. . .watching. I could never understand what he would say or do.
Looking ahead, I saw nothing but black choppy waters, a few island crags, Unzen-san, and Amakusa's palace still far in the distance. So we drifted off. . .
A sudden thud jolted me from my sleep. I slowly opened my eyes and looked around me. Everything seemed strange and blurred and red and black all over. The boat had scraped the black shores.
"We are here," Asura stated solemnly, trying the boat to a wooden post.
Sluggishly, we stepped off the boat onto the murky coast, our feet sinking into the yielding land as it sucked us in. My feet felt heavy and leaden and sloppy in the muck. When I looked up at the sky, I noticed it was early dawn, and the sun was just beginning to rise. Its warmth felt nice on my cold, chattering bones; I hoped it was a good sign.
Then I felt the ground tremor a bit, and a cold wind suddenly whipped through me. The sunlight had disappeared behind a cloud that was blacker than coal. Some thunder rumbled in the distance.
"Looks like we're in for some weather. . ." Asura remarked, and glanced at me again, as if he knew the way I felt when the weather was bad.
When I looked ahead, I saw that Amakusa's palace was closer than ever before. We were on the island, which was so desolate no bird flew and no fish swam nearby. I heard a couple of crows and the loud whistling of the wind, and that was all. The palace sat high upon a rock with a flattened peak. It looked nothing like the castles I had seen. The front was made of sand-colored stone and instead of shoji screens there were doors, with a covered gate leading to the main door. The windows were arched and were made of glass, but they were very small. Two spires jutted from the front of the palace and then the rest of the building looked just like the castles I was familiar with-the pagodas piled as high as the sky.
"It's bigger than I remember. . ." Masashige gasped.
I looked around and saw all my companions stare at the castle, looking up with their mouths gaped open. It towered above us and cast a large, dark shadow. Even though it was early in the morning, it was still very dark, and ash fell from the remains of Unzen-san's last eruption. More cold wind blew on my face and made my skin feel taut on my bones. I was sore from the battle with Hidoshi, and I had just enough energy for one last battle.
"Come," Asura stated, beckoning for us to follow him.
He led us up a steep, rocky hill. Black dirt caked my feet and ash covered my face and hair, causing me to wheeze and cough. Except for the castle, this place was the most desolate and remote and backwards place I had ever seen. I never even saw a sprout of green or a bug on the ground. Even that day, when I saw Gairyu Isle for the last time, and everything was dead, there was still not as much death as this island. From every cold wind that blew against me, I knew that at least on of us was going to die.
I felt like my chest was about to explode from this steep walk and I was so exhausted. I carried Shizumaru on my back, for he was too tired to move much less climb this steep hill. He fell asleep, and his light frame suddenly felt like lead. When we finally reached the top of the hill, I nearly dropped the poor boy. He slid off my shoulders, and Charlotte helped support his stumbling body.
Looking ahead of me, I saw this arcade of wooden arches that seemed endless, but I saw a wooden door at the end of it all. I felt so short of breath because we were higher up, and these gray, transparent clouds of mist drifted in and out of the columns. It was colder up here. Much colder.
Slowly, we walked down the covered pathway to the doors, the mist creating a haze; we could hardly see ahead of ourselves. For a moment, I felt the ground tremor. It made my heart leap into my throat, but then I regained myself. I could have been easily startled at this time. I looked down at my hand, which tightly clutched my sword. It was shaking, rather violently. I hoped that no one noticed.
My mouth felt dry, and my heart was pounding against my chest-so hard that I feared it would leap out. I tried to keep my chattering teeth as silent as possible. I felt so cold, yet an active volcano was just near. We were in the most warmest area in Japan. They would notice that it-and perhaps he would notice it too.
Behind those doors-those large, towering wooden doors-I would find my destiny-the destiny my father had told me to seek. I knew he was waiting there for me. I wondered for a moment if he was as nervous as I-if his teeth chattered and his body shook. Those engravings on the thick doors made me jump again. They were demons that jutted out of the wood, preparing to bite off my head, and then there were gaunt men that were eaten alive by these scrawny demons, their faces twisted with agony. Those gruesome pictures covered the whole door.
I could hear my father's voice echo inside my head yet again. It seemed so difficult, as if I were to fail him yet again, for Amakusa seemed so powerful in his large palace and wooden doors and immortal soul. But I could not let him win. Then what would be my purpose? My father's only son-a failure? I gritted my teeth, almost knowing that I was going to fail him. For a moment I wanted to turn back, to run back to the forests where I hid but I couldn't after all this way. I just couldn't.
Those two doors were twice my height and loomed above me, with their twisted gruesome sculptures of maimed bodies and screaming people in the clutches of demons. There was only a short space between my hand and the golden, ring-shaped doorknob. Just a short space.
"Go ahead," I heard a deep voice say. It nearly made me jump out of my tabi socks. I turned around and saw it was Asura. "Open it. . ."
Slowly, I raised my hand and touched the golden doorknob, and I could see my arm shaking violently. I grimaced at its touch, which felt as cold as ice, sending a wave of fear that spread through me. Gripping the doorknob, I pulled the heavy door open, yet it didn't feel as heavy as it seemed. It seemed light and yielding. He had been expecting me.
I heard a rumble of thunder above.
"Go in," Asura commanded.
Ahead of me I saw only darkness, for the building was poorly lit. I looked back at my companions, and their faces seemed frozen in fear, waiting for me to lead them in. I could not run away. Slowly, I walked in, feeling blind and tense because I didn't know what was going to befall me. I could feel Asura's dark presence behind me, leading me in.
All of a sudden I heard a heavy thud and the clicking of metal, and then I saw that I was in total darkness.
The doors began to rattle and I could hear her voice, muffled from the heavy wood.
"Haohmaru!" she kept calling my name and rattling the door. Her fists were pounding, and I could hear the buzz of my companions outside. I wanted to rush to the door, for I feared that something terrible would happen to them.
But before I could turn my head, the room lit up so fast as if it was consumed by fire. Two large torches at the sides of the walls blazed with a cold, blue flame and then I saw I was surrounded by a circle of thin candles that were as high as my knees. The flames flickered ominously, and I saw the eerie shadows they cast on Asura's hard face. I looked around me and saw that the ceiling was high and the floor was made of a cold tile, where the black tiles formed intricate designs.
And then I saw him, levitated, his body glowing with a white aura that pulsated. His arms were extended outwards, as if trying to welcome me. It seemed odd, but I could still see that terrible grin that I hated, causing the skin on his face to appear taut, and his amber eyes glowed so furiously in the dark light that I could not see his pupils. He nearly blinded me.
"Do not worry about her," he stated, his voice deep and booming, echoing off the walls. His grin spread wider, "I knew you would come. . ."
"Truly!" I cried back, "Leave her alone. . ."
"It is not her I want-it is you. It is your death! You will pay for the damage your father has done to me! I am trapped in decaying flesh because of you!"
"You bastard!" I seethed, "You will never kill me."
I tried to sound intimidating. I could net let him see me afraid.
He laughed, its loudness resonating throughout the large chamber. "I am very surprised-after I had tried to wreak my vengeance on you when you were just a child and I killed your father and ruined your life-that you haven't wanted me to kill you sooner. . ."
I tried to swallow it, but it was gushing forth from inside me and I tried to hold it down. I wanted to kill him.
"I loathe you. . ." his words were slow and boiling with hate, "I can't stand the sight of you. I hate you for making me sin! For making me kill your father!" He was screaming now, and I heard a window shatter, "I thought that I was doing what God wanted me to do but instead he placed me in Hell to burn! And now that I live in darkness to kill you is no longer a sin, for what is sin when you live in darkness! You're father was a great man for his country," I could hear him scoff, "and everybody glorified him. But you, Haohmaru-you are a nobody. . ."
"And I have you to thank for that!" I screamed back, nearly screeching like a madwoman.
He grinned again and rubbed his thin, bony hands together. A laughter built in his throat.
"Indeed, but it is not I that have ruined you. You ruined yourself. Your father fed you words that you were going to grow up and be a great Samurai just like him-that you were going to train hard and lead your master to countless victories, but you have something inhibiting you. Surely you have the skills, but there is still something defective with you. . ."
"LIES!" I cried out, shattering another window.
"It is rather impolite to break furniture in a guest's home. . ."
"I will kill you for what you did, you bastard! You have ruined me! You ruin everything you touch with those disgusting hands! You deserve to burn in Hell and STAY there!"
"Haohmaru, you father wanted nothing more than a son who would take his place as a great and honorable man-to continue his legacy. But even as a baby you would cry and you were destructive. You could never control your frustrations when you did not learn right away. You could not even cope with your own father's death and you ran away. You did not attend his funeral. . ."
"I will not listen to this!" I shouted, covering my ears. I felt like I was going to explode, as if it were creeping up from my groin and into my chest.
"You are a failure! A failure! And your father was foolish to not realize it! He is ashamed of you! He would have never wanted you for a son after seeing you now! And I hate him! I hate him for persecuting my people and those who were the outsiders-for being a whore to those filthy daimyos and spilling the blood of the innocent! And you are what is left of him, and I will destroy you-and we can burn in Hell together for all I care. . ."
He laughed a despicable laugh that filled my ears, and it was pulsating inside me, trying to release itself but I couldn't let it. Not yet. . .
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