Thunder and Redness
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He had swelled so large that he was almost as high as the ceilings of the palace, and then we all just looked at him in awe, for we could not believe what he could make the body do, and were too frozen to wonder how he could do it. All we knew was that he was growing and becoming more formidable. We covered our heads with our hands, trying to guard ourselves from the falling debris. It was just like under the church in Shimabara, but these stones were larger and there was glass that flew about. Galford yelped in pain as one shard scratched him across the cheek.
Sogetsu held Charlotte protectively against him, trying to shield her from the falling ceiling. He looked up at the swirling mass of rubble above with his mouth wide open, praying that they would all miss.
"Get her out of there!" I called to him. "Sogetsu!"
He jumped up and ran towards the door, carrying her unconscious body and I held my breath, hoping that she would awaken and that nothing would kill her. When they arrived that the large, wooden doors, which had been thrown open by the shattering earth, they suddenly slammed shut and then Amakusa, almost as large as the mountain itself, released this loud, deep, cackle that seemed to outdo the loud rumbling in sound.
"You will never escape your fate!" he shouted, and then turned to me, "And now, Haohmaru, I will squash you, for who is the more important one now?! I am supreme! I am rising! RISING!"
All of a sudden his face began to change shape and its smooth, fleshy color had given away to a dark, green and it had the texture of the scales of a snake. It became sunken and revealed the outline of his skull. What was most shocking was his eyes, which became larger and more eminent, as their bright, gold color filled the room. And when he laughed, there were rose of crooked, razor-sharp teeth.
I could not move because my legs felt as if they were locked, as if I was dreaming it. I felt like a bug compared to him, and as his height surpassed the ceiling, I felt hopeless-as if I was being surrounded and choked by a black cloud. With one swipe of his hand he could take my life and Charlotte was still very unconscious and she was dying and then there was Shizumaru who was clinging to Nakoruru's waist and crying as if the world was going to end.
What could I do I could not do anything not at all he was massive and overwhelming and I very puny and even with my companions we were ants against the anthill and it only took one stroke just one and then that would be it-
I tried to remind myself that somehow-even if in the afterlife-he would pay for what he had done, but as he continued to swell somehow that faith became smaller and smaller because I never really knew what would happen to me after I died. Nobody knew. What if there was no afterlife? What if I died and then there was nothing but blackness-it was my final chance?
I did not want to find out.
"Haohmaru, watch out!" Nakoruru cried and then I jumped out of the way and broke my landing with my arm. He had been trying to grab me with his giant hand.
"To Hell with you!" Galford shouted, and armed his rifle and began shooting at the giant monster that loomed above us. He withdrew with the impact, but they merely rebounded from him as if he was made of steel and came back for us even faster than they flew out of the gun and then hit Galford right in the chest. He fell back, with three bloody holes in his body.
"Galford!" Nakoruru screamed and ran towards him. He seemed to be facing death, with blood seeping from his mouth. "No!"
She ripped of a segment of her haori and wrapped it around his wounds and his breathing was raspy and his eyes were trying to roll to the back of his head, but he resisted.
"Don't die. . ." she whimpered, her eyes glossy with tears. She was stroking his face. "Please try to stay alive. . ."
"You will burn for what you have done to us!" Kazuki rasped, his eyes glowing red and he thrust out his hands and shot forth a blazing ball of fire towards Amakusa.
"Pathetic boy. . ." he emitted a laugh from deep within his throat and then seemed to freeze the flame with his hands and then shot it back at Kazuki, who was engulfed in fire and he was screaming-screaming in pain. It was not right, for he was immune to fire just like at the hotel when he rescued Masashige. But he was burning and writhing around on the ground to quench the flames. He lay, barely conscious-with red, charred skin. He had been burned.
Masashige began to hurl all of his shuriken at the monstrosity, but he just captured them and hurled them right back at him. He was able to wield off most of them with his katana, but one scraped his across the side of his arm and then he screamed.
"You fiend!" he cried, nursing his arm, which spilled blood onto his hand.
"Ha! Have you fools not learned? That any attack that you try to perform on me will be returned upon you with more force? There is a golden rule-do on to others as you would do unto yourself!"
"You are a hypocrite!" Masashige shouted, "You despise God yet you accept his rules only when they pertain to your benefit??!"
"And God is not?!" he retorted, "that when his Son died to relieve us from our sins?? He forgot me! HE FORGOT ME!"
And then the palace was on its last foundations, and the walls were beginning to cave in from the trembling ground and the tension inside and suddenly there was an explosion-an explosion so great that the building had blown to pieces and the debris was circling us and pelting us, and the columns that held up the structure were falling and crashing into the ground. I closed my eyes and held my head, praying that none would fall on me-praying that Sogetsu was protecting Charlotte and also that Nakoruru was protecting Galford and Shizumaru and that all the others were not crushed under this weight.
My ears were ringing and my head was pounding from the intensity of the sound, and my limbs felt like old stalks. Weakly, I rose, trying to stay balanced on the violently trembling ground, and also my head was out of sorts. My eyes and nose were open to dust and extreme heat and I could barely breathe. Looking ahead of me, I noticed that there was a snake of bright orange heading towards me, and when I looked around me, it seemed as if the world had turned itself upside-down.
The ceiling had been destroyed-along with most of the palace-and it was reduced to a pile of rubble. I could see the ashen, red sky above me, clouded with smoke, and then I saw the large black cone in the distance-the source of the orange snake. It was snowing ash and I coughed as it entered my nose. And then I heard a whistling, which seemed very faint at first but then grew so loud it nearly burst my ears open, and then I heard a loud explosion and a burst of fire just an arm's length away from me. I jumped.
For a moment I felt as if I had died an awaken to a hellish land with that hellish devil still rising, immune to the bombardments of the volcano and he kept rising and laughing and rising and laughing.
I looked around to see if the others had survived. "Sogetsu?" I called and ran over to him.
Slowly, he rose his head, his long, smooth hair caked in ash. "Yes. . ." he replied weakly.
"How is she?" I was frantic, for she still did not move and her skin seemed a shade whiter than usual.
"Not good. . ." he shook his head, "I feel that her life is draining away quickly. How is my brother?"
"He's been burnt pretty bad, but he is still alive," I told him. "Please. . .take her somewhere safe-somewhere where he will never get her!"
I found myself grabbing his shoulders and my voice was urgent.
"I will take her underwater. . ." he told me, quickly shifting away from a screaming, fiery rock that fell from the sky. It exploded. "She will be safe there."
"Underwater?! I gasped, "She is not like you! She cannot breathe underwater!"
"It is the only place that the volcano will not hurt her. Plus it may cleanse her of the venom. . ."
"But-but the fissures!" I stuttered.
"Have no fear, Haohmaru," he stated, quietly but confidently. "I can see underwater. I will know where they are. And I can supply her with air. You must trust me! And hurry, for he is gaining on you!"
I hesitated for a moment, for the thought of her drowning had horrified me, but Sogetsu seemed trustful, so I nodded.
"Believe me. . ." he replied, "I want to kill this bastard just as much as you do. I will help in whatever way. . ."
And then, he scurried away, with her his arms, to the nearest body of water.
I heard another load approaching whistle and quickly dived out of the way.
My body scraped and caked with black dirt, I half-lay in the umbra of a large shadow,
and when I looked up I saw his large form towering above me at a height very similar to the mountain. My jaw became slack and felt locked in that position. I could not move, and even in the intense heat I was frozen. His arms had become visible when I looked under his sleeves and the flesh was elongating and stretching so much that there were holes and I could see the bone, but he didn't seem to feel any pain.
"Do you dare to fight me now, Haohmaru?" he boomed, looking down on me. I felt like a speck of dust that was just about to be blown into nothingness by massive winds.
Yet even though I felt insignificant compared to him, I closed my eyes and the first image I saw was that of my father, and he was looking down at me with the stern eyes that come with wisdom and his lips were moving, repeating the words that were on the note he gave me nineteen years ago and then the face disappeared and the words began to repeat themselves in the darkness-louder and louder-overcoming the sounds of the crumbling earth and whistling volcano bombs and they were pulsing just as hard as the ground itself-shaking, trembling so much that the sounds around me had dissolved and they were all that I could hear.
Another image began to take shape in the blackness and slowly the void was filled with blue-green waters and she was lying there, suspended, her arms folded across her chest as if she was lying in a coffin and her lids were closed shut and her skin was as pale as the moon on a still night and then the waters began to change into a red, viscous liquid just like blood and then I saw her enveloped.
"No!" I gasped, and jumped back out of the cloudy waters.
"No, you say?" he boomed, and then a deep laugh escaped his throat, "Does that mean that you are going to be a coward, Haohmaru?"
"NO!" I yelled loudly so his ear, which was so high up unto the ash and fire, could hear me.
The ground started to trembled harder and I could barely keep myself from stumbling. My knees were incredibly tired and begged not to support me, but I had to overpower my own self as well as try to overpower Amakusa, which had made it much harder than it was before.
"Try not to give in!" Masashige called, hiding from behind a rock to protect himself from the fiery rocks that fell from the sky. "If you need my help, call me. I understand. . .this is your battle. . ."
"It is just you and I, heathen Samurai boy!" Amakusa growled, "For all that you have done to me, I will end you once and for all! I will make sure you die the worst death possible!"
"If you dare kill me, you bastard. . ." I glowered back, shouting with all the air I had in my chest, "I will still be there! I will haunt you in the afterlife! You will never escape me!"
My throat felt hoarse and raw as I tried to yell over the high winds and thundering earth and the whistling rocks. It was so hard for me to have faith in the words that just came out of my mouth. I felt so disoriented from my exhaustion, and even remembering the journey that I had taken and how much I wanted this moment-to face him-to at least have the chance of fighting the man that murdered my father my father Tomura Akira the greatest warrior in the land-and my legs could not support me and I would have nearly allowed Amakusa to take over.
My eyelids were heavy, and suddenly the red, swirling mass of destruction seemed to fade and I saw my Father again.
It is not important to a true great Samurai whether he survives or prevails or wins, but that he fights with honor, even to the death. . .
And then I remembered Charlotte, who was dying at the bottom of the ocean. She could not stay there forever. And then there was Shizumaru, just an innocent child, hiding with Nakoruru behind a rock, and then Galford who lie wounded on the black sand with his own bullets in his chest. And then there was Cham Cham who was hanging from the tree and Kei who burned to death in the inn and Kazuki and Sogetsu-they had not deserved this either. He would merely ruin more innocent people like them-people like me when I was eight and I didn't know what was happening except there was fire and horses one day and they took my father with them.
And then the red water sprang at me, and it felt burning hot against my face-stinging like the bites of a thousand ants for just one sharp second, and then my skin began to ache and the ache spread everywhere and it was pulsating much harder than ever before and I was afraid that it would break my skin and all of my life would gush out of me along with the redness.
I could barely breath and my breath was forced and heavy I was afraid that I would explode before he even had the chance to kill me. I looked up at him-into those disgusting, muddy colored eyes and that rotting, pale-yellow flesh and the stench prevaded the entire area and enveloped me in its grossness and it was worsening that horrible pulsing and I felt that my chest was squeezing in on itself and that I was going to choke and that it would strangle me. I had to remember Charlotte and Shizumaru and Masashige and Nakoruru and Galford and Kazuki, Sogetsu, Cham Cham, Kei, and Sieger who gave his life for us and I just could not let him destroy them any longer. I had to let the dead rest in peace and the living live on without him adding on to their suffering.
I couldn't let him do it any longer and I wanted him to stop-to stop every movement and laugh and wither away but I had to face him and I didn't know how to for he was still there so powerful, so mighty. . .
I felt the earth tremble again, yet it jerked beneath my feet so hard that I was thrown to the ground. I landed on my back and for a moment my breath escaped me and I thought I was dying, but it quickly returned. And then there was a wave of the most intense head I had ever felt in my entire life-more heat the sun itself. It felt so thick that it was as if a bucket of magma had been poured down my back.
And then I heard a loud crackling noise that sounded like a thunderbolt that was right over my head, yet it was much louder and then I felt it pulsating in my ears along with the redness, which seemed to expand until everything was red-bright red. It was the only thing that I could see-
Was I dying? Was that what it was?
Suddenly I had the sensation that I was being dragged somewhere by something very forceful, and I knew that where this force was dragging me was a terrible place-one of the most terrible places imaginable. I had to resist.
Luckily I managed to grab a small tree-one of the sparse living plants that grew in this desolate area. I could barely keep my eyes open, and I could feel my grip loosening on that tree. And then I felt a force pull on my free arm; it was so strong that I felt that my arm would be torn off. When I turned my tired head, I looked down and saw below me a bottomless pit, and he was dangling from my arm, about to fall right into the flames.
"The earth has fissured!" Masashige cried, "Haohmaru, hold on tight!"
I could barely hear him over the exploding earth, and my eyes were fixed on Amakusa. He had shrunken in size, and was grabbing my arm, slick with sweat, looking back up at me and pleading for me to hang on to him.
"Let him fall into the flames where he belongs!" Masashige spit at him. He was pulling at my clothes, trying to pull me closer to the earth, "Let him go!"
But I could not stop looking at him. His eyes were wide, but they were not the color of amber, but they were a bright green, and then the rotting flesh was melting away, revealing pure, almost white skin underneath.
"Haohmaru. . ." he barely said, pulling tighter on my arm, his green eyes seemed to become larger and larger, begging for me to help him up. He must not have been immortal if he had feared falling into the flaming pit. I felt another force pull strongly at me, and I noticed that there was something in that pit that was trying to pull him down, tugging at him robes. I could not see whatever it was, but I knew it was there.
"Please, help me. . ." he cried, both of his arms gripping my one arm.
I could not stop looking at him, and all of a sudden I could not feel the forces pulling at me, and then the noises began to cease, and then I heard silence and saw only the hot, red, flames flicker beneath the surface. This was it. The moment that I had yearned for all my life. There he was , helpless and vulnerable and mortal. All I had to do was let go, and he would fall down into the pit where he belonged, and my father could rest in peace, and I would have fulfilled my destiny at last. . .
"Let him go or else he'll pull you under!" Nakoruru shouted in my ear, yet her voice seemed far and distant.
"I understand. . ." he gasped, looking up at me, his eyes not pleading, but the were closed-closed like the eyes of a man who had done something dishonorable, "I understand that-if you let me die. I-I have wronged you terribly-but before you release me into-into this-this Hell-I must tell you something. Must listen-that you must understand-that I too once felt wronged-my father died-he was burned at stake because he was foreign-and believed different things-and he told me-told me to avenge him-in God's name-to lead a rebellion-and to stop at nothing to find the man who was responsible for his death-Tomura Akira your father-I had completed his wish, and continued my revenge until my death-and I-I must tell you this-it is insatiable-this revenge-no matter what you do to destroy what has caused you pain-the more you hate it-the more that thing-burns into your soul forever-flooding your head-like a river of blood-so let me go, Haohmaru-for I have never escaped this Hell even on Earth-I brought it with me. . ."
I tried to allow myself to loosen the grip-to think of Father and his honor, but I could not do it. He was repenting, the fires of the pit fringing his robes. He was trying to warn me of something-to help me.
"This what you have been waiting for, Haohmaru. . ."
"He is lying," Masashige told me, "he will continue his destruction when he gets back up. He is tempting you, do not listen to a word that he says. . ."
I trembled, and the heat seemed more oppressive than ever. But I could not let him go. He seemed sincere. He was trying to help me. He knew about the redness-those awful feelings. I knew that if I was to drop him back into the cliff, then I would still hate him forever and the redness would still burn whenever I thought of him. I knew it would.
There was only one choice-to forgive him.
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