Thunder and Redness
Homepage: Save the Sugar
"Please Haohmaru. . ." he begged, choking and coughing from the flames, "I-I don't want to go back there. . ."
The unknown forces from inside the chasm were pulling me in farther, and I was gripping on to that small tree with just my sweaty fingers.
"Hold-hold on. . ." I replied, trying to pull myself upward.
"Drop him!" Masashige commanded, "Look at what he has done!"
With the little strength I had left, I tried to hoist both myself and Amakusa from the pit. My hair was distracting me and blowing all around me and sticking to my sweaty face. The heat was unbearable and I felt as if I was drowning in it, just like Charlotte was-
I glared at him, slowly letting go of my hand, "You tried to kill her!"
"No!" he cried back, "I cannot go back. I am sorry. Truly sorry."
I noticed that a small tear had fallen from the corner of his eye.
"I am humbly sorry for everything!" I shouted, choking on his sobs and the smoke, "I am sorry for murdering Cham Cham who did not deserve to die, for I only did it to frighten you away-I-I am sorry for spreading the rumors about Shizumaru and ruining his childhood, and-and grateful that-that you have saved him from them-I am sorry for burning the inn and killing Kei-and for ruining her and it burns almost as much as-as these flames-to think she had to die in sadness-and I am sorry for murdering your father-out of vengeance-and hate."
He was sputtering on and on, and the winds were howling stronger and the volcanic bombs showering on the earth, and the trees were ablaze.
"Please forgive me for it-for harming Galford and Charlotte and Kazuki-and Sieger."
I noticed that he had stopped looking at me, but seemed to be staring straight up, with glossy eyes and an ashen face.
"Please forgive me. . ." his words were hardly louder than a whisper.
I could not stand to see him-even him-suffer. And I had never known that he had suffered like me-oppressed by Tokugawa and Lord Tsunemoto and all the other lords-as I had been oppressed by Charlotte's father-and how Shizumaru had been oppressed by the rumors-rumors which he created. Perhaps he was right-that redness fed in a cycle that was never-ending, and it seemed the whole world was drenched in it. I sighed-and I somehow knew that even if I had let him fall back into the pit-to have time to formulate his evil ideas-that he would rise again. I had thought he was dead for the longest time. . .but he returned.
"I forgive you. . ." I barely whispered, for I felt even too weak to think. "Just-hold on."
So with all my strength I tried to pull myself further onto the earth, for half my body was dangling over the edge of the pit, but all of a sudden I felt this tinge of coolness; it was not like had been placing my hand into a hot pit of spewing lava, but into a fresh spring of cool water., and slowly I felt this light coolness spread throughout my arm and then down my back. I looked down at Amakusa, and I saw that his feet were slowly dissipating, turning to ash, but the ash seemed to have a certain luster to it-like amethyst. And rather rapidly, he started to disappear into ashes.
"What's-what's happening. . ." he asked in awe, looking straight above me into the sky.
And his ashes began to gleam, nearly blinding me with their light as bright as stars.
"He's turning to dust. . ." Masashige gasped, his mouth slowly curling in a grin.
His eyes turned to bright blue, even bluer than the sky, and illuminated the fiery pit so much that even the lava itself seemed a bluish color, and it started to cool, turning to icy rocks. And he continued to fall away as ashes, which were moving up from the pit and into the sky. When I looked up, I could not see where the disappeared, but they continued to travel upward until I could not see them anymore.
"Thank you. . ." his whispered to me, his voice sounded light and airy, "you have true honor. What a destiny. . ."
And then the last of his body had melted into ashes, and I watched weakly as he ascended upward, and his eyes still gleamed from inside the pit-now a blinding white-brighter than lightning. And then they too turned into ash and ascended with the rest of him, and I lay on my back, my body firm on the ground, and watched them travel until I could not see them anymore. But they never seemed to leave the sight of my eyes, and instead seemed fixed in the sky like two bright stars, gleaming back at me.
And then I heard the earth thunder beneath me. Slowly turning my head, I saw the rocks and dirt move in on that fire pit from both sides, sealing it shut, and through the cracks, I noticed one small bit of lustrous, purplish dust barely manage to escape before the chasm closed.
In exhaustion, I fell into a deep, warm sleep.
I awoke, feeling very warm and comfortable, enveloped in something soft and yielding. Where I was, I did not want to leave. I heard a muddle of voices around me, and when I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was a large lantern over my head. The room was bright and full of people.
"He's waking!" I heard a voice shout.
I looked around me and saw a small crowd of people. Most of them were not familiar to me, but those standing closest to me were my comrades. Masashige stood proud and noble, seeming yet more composed and content than Hattori Hanzo could ever be. Nakoruru stood next to him, her hands folded across. She too seemed very pensive. Shizumaru was kneeling right next to my bed with the soft blankets, looking curiously at me. I patted the child on the head and he smiled.
"You saved us, Haohmaru," he said, smiling. "All the demons are gone!"
I saw Kazuki, whose skin was renewed from the burns, and then Galford stood next to him with a bandage across his chest. Sogetsu stood next to his brother with a rather expressionless face, yet I knew that he was proud of what he had done. They were all bruised and scratched and cut, in tattered clothing. Their hairs were astray and their skin was covered in ash.
"Haohmaru!" I heard her call me, and she tore through the crowd of people and ran towards me.
"Charlotte. . ." I replied, very weakly. I was exhausted, and a wave of relief washed over me. "You're alive!"
She reached over to embrace me, and I felt that her body was still wet and her hair was matted and soaked, dripping water onto my shoulder. I slowly hugged her, not wanting to let her go, fearing that there would be danger. But that suspicion immediately passed as quickly as it came. She smelled of the ocean, lulling me back to my home, to the days of running down the sea coast and flying kites, chasing gulls and playfully wrestling rough waters. It seemed so vivid. Her embrace was warm, as if I was in the arms of my own mother.
"Fetch them some soup," I heard the mousy innkeeper command one of the maids, "And please make haste before they catch cold. And tell the cooks to make a feast! This is an occasion to celebrate!"
A small maid bowed and hustled to the kitchen.
I slowly sat up, and then I placed my hand on her soft cheek. "I thought he had killed you. I was afraid you were going to die. . ."
"No. You saved us," she replied, her blue eyes penetrating me with warmth, "You had the right will to not drop him in the pit."
"You have no idea how many you have liberated," I heard a deep voice. Asura stood on my right side and bowed, "The people in this town strongly believe that he will not return. And I had always believed it. . .the first time that I had seen you. Perhaps I had baffled you with my motives, but that is because I had been keeping something.
"It is true that I had served Amakusa, yet the moment I entangled myself in his motives, I knew that what he was doing was beyond revenge-it was pure evil. He had confided his motives in me, and he was going to take over the entire town, lusting for supreme rule and manipulation. And I knew soon enough that I too would become his slave if I did not try and stop him. Yet I was weak, Haohmaru, for I knew that if he had found out was I was thinking. . ."
"That day, when I intercepted you and your army, and you needed a boat, my order was to assassinate you. But Amakusa had told me about you-and how threatened he was, and the moment I saw you, I had so much faith that you would be the one to stop him. And when the Tsunemoto's armies raided the town, I just knew that you would have the courage to stop them. I fear death, Haohmaru. And I knew that supporting Amakusa would result in death, but I also knew that opposing him would result in death too. I was just as confused as you were, but I knew that you would decide what would happen to him."
"My father told me I had a destiny," I spoke, not directing my speech to anyone, but looking aimlessly at a flickering candle, "but it took me years to realize it. It was when Nakoruru came to me and told me that I had a second chance. I had always thought it was to become a great warrior like himself. . ."
"But instead it was to save the world," Kazuki chuckled, "And you never achieved great warrior status."
He mocked the last three words, standing overly upright and speaking in an over-dignified, haughty manner.
I saw some inn maids roll in carts of food, emitting steam. They served me the same meal that we ate the last time we stayed there. I devoured the hot food and savored the warm feeling it gave to my stomach. I had forgotten the pleasure of a good meal, and I ate as if I had not eaten in years. The battle was exhausting.
"How come your skin is not charred, Kazuki?" I asked. "You were writhing in pain when he burned you."
"Well, that fire does not burn the flesh," he replied, shoving a large piece of meat in his mouth, "it burns the mind. I really love this food! It is great, and I am starving!"
"Me too," I bowed.
"So what are you going to do now?" Nakoruru asked me, "Are you going to become a great legendary Samurai like your father? I am sure that you will fulfill an honorary position for what you've done."
A vision of grand palaces and golden robes entered my mind, but quickly fleeted. All I could remember was the rigid and demanding orders of the daimyo, and that they had tried to confine Charlotte. Watching her standing next to me, smiling warmly at me, I knew that I would never see her if I became what my father wanted me to become. I had already told her once before that I was going to become a great warrior. I wasn't going to say it to her again, for I was not ignorant enough to fail twice.
"I don't know right now," I told her.
Later, during the evening, Charlotte and I took a stroll down the beaches of Shimabara. The sand was wet and warm, soothing my bare feet. She was wearing a flowing robe, and allowing the mild breezes of the night to dry her hair. It moved it all around her face, rustling it. It moved like fire. She swept it away from her face with her hand.
The noise from festivities was far in the distance. I heard music playing and flutes fluting and drums drumming, and then there was a lot of shouting and chatter. I heard a few fireworks snap in the air, giving bright colors to the sand. Large red lanterns gleamed like small, red specks from where we were walking.
"So now what?" I asked, moving some stray hairs away from my face.
She turned to me and chuckled a bit, "Oh, Haohmaru, I do not know. Perhaps-probably-I will have to return to France. . ."
"No!" I gasped, holding onto her arm like a small child. "Please-you must stay here with me."
She sighed, embracing my hand in hers. "I just don't know if I can live here. You understand that us foreigners are forbidden here. If they found out about me, they would export me. . .or possibly kill me."
"I would not let that happen," I told her, "We could live in secret, where they would never find us. And besides, when you return to France, where are you going to go? Back to you parents?"
She looked past me and far out into the ocean, "I do miss my mother. . ."
"And your father?"
There was a long pause, and only the cadence of the sea was heard.
"No. . ." she chuckled, but it sounded awkward, "It is hard for me to not love my own father, but I must be honest-I don't. In fact, I hate him, for I can see him right now, towering over me and telling me that I have sinned and broken the commandment to honor my father. I don't know if he really loved me."
"He thinks everything is a sin," I told her, "but you are not sinful. You are the kindest person I have ever met. We all think that, but your father does not want to see that so he can feel powerful over you."
"I don't know if I could return to him," she sighed, "for he would demand an explanation. And if he knew of Marcel-and what he did to me-then he would banish me from his home. And that I had gone here, and met you. I would be a fire of sin indeed. But I have wondered about my mother, and I know that she misses me and worries for me. I am sure that it has been so long now that they believe that I am dead."
"If you must return, you must," I told her, though I wanted to hold her hand tightly and not let her escape.
"What about you, Haohmaru? Now that Amakusa is out of your way, what is there to stop you from becoming the great warrior that your father dreamed you would be? It is what you have always wanted, no?"
"I am afraid you might hate me," I sighed.
"I respect your choices. I am not a child anymore."
"Besides. . .I do not think that is the path I want to take. I think there was another destiny that was in the stars for me that I never knew about. And when I think about all that I wanted before-it just doesn't seem as great as how I had thought."
"Becoming a Samurai?" she asked, "But isn't that a great honor?"
I shook my head. For some reason, I the thought of men bowing to me and women lusting for me and glorious, armed battles following me did not appear enough. They seemed small and minute, like little peas in a bowl of noodles, and just eating peas would not be very filling.
"I wonder what is going to happen to the others?" Charlotte looked up at the stars.
"They will probably return to what they had done before," I sighed, "Possibly start families. Or return to their old families. Just live the way that had been living. Perhaps I should do the same. . ."
My colleagues and I had separated very shortly after the festivities of Shimabara, but we had urged each other to correspond with each other, though it was very difficult because many of them were constantly changing locations. There were many days that I missed their company, for the world felt awfully vast without them crowding around me. Often when I looked in my garden pond and saw my face, there were glimpses of how I was before-rugged, crude, and irrational. I tried to shun these images from my vision, but some days the guilt crept up in me. I had wished that I had treated them with more respect-that I had not been so mordant and rude. I had also wished that I could have spoken more intimately with them. I had hardly exchanged words with Galford. He seemed to be a descent man, even though he was a gaijin. Perhaps I should have been more sympathetic to Kazuki, who sulked madly until his brother was found. And Sogetsu-I had exchanged more blows with him than words-because I had misread him. I had forgiven him in the end, but I chide myself frequently about that fight.
I had received a letter from Nakoruru about five years after the battle. Her letter was rather joyful, except for the passing away of her grandmother. She had moved back to her Ainu village, very near where I had met her, and she lived with her younger sister and mother. They had told her that there was no harm done to them, and that Amakusa's threats to hurt her family were never put to action. Galford had also moved into their village, and they had embraced him. She remarked that they were rather fascinated with his golden hair and foreign weapons, and the elders of the Ainu village were very impressed with her courage at Shimabara that they approved their marriage. They had two daughters, both with American names Emily and Ruth. It was strange for me to picture her with children. She seemed so young and adventurous, and I just could not picture her settling down with children, but I was curious to see how she had developed, and what her children were like.
Kazuki also wrote me a letter that he and his brother had moved to Kyoto. He told me that the news of Amakusa's defeat had been spread all across Honshu, and that the daimyo of the surrounding province offered them land. He had recognized their super abilities and agreed to train them as his personal Ninja. Both of the brothers had met young women and married them, but I did not hear of any children. Their homes did not go without a warm hearth or a drop of water to drink.
My last letter was from Masashige. He delivered the letter to me personally as he was passing by. He was in his Ninja attire, but I still recognized him. Without saying a word, he had left as quickly as he slipped the letter into my hands. The letter was very short and mysterious:
Haohmaru. . .
I hope all is well with you. I live boundlessly, and am not planning to start a family. You will never know my location, for I could be in the far northern forests, the bubbling springs of Beppu, or watching you from your window. Nonetheless, I will be watching out for you-as I always had.
I quickly folded the letter and conserved it. Sometimes at night I would hear a rustle in the bushes or a soft pattering of feet on the sea shore or a black shadow flash across the shoji screen. I had to remind myself it was only him.
I kept all my letters, and attempted to have a continuous correspondence with them, but after many years had passed, they dissolved in to their own lives, and I into my own.
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