Shizumaru Samurai Shodown
Fan Fiction
--The website dedicated to all Samurai Spirits fans--~ver5.0~
Thunder and Redness
by Irene Trent
Homepage: Save the Sugar

Chapter 4

       We traveled down the Shinano river for about a week before we reached Nagano. The journey was unpleasant, and by the time we reached the town, I was so weary from rowing. Hanzo helped some, but I was confined to most of the labor. I would have done anything to find that bastard and throw him the ocean with bloodthirsty sharks! The water was difficult to row through, for it was murky and thick, and we traveled slow and steady through the muck. We saw vipers writhe through the river, awaiting a fresh bite. The nights were eerie and frightening, especially to the girls. They never spoke much at all, and Nakoruru continued to sulk near the back of the boat. 
       By the time we reached the inn, we were covered in mosquito bites, and we itched like the devil. A man brought tea and rice to our room, and we devoured it, for we hadn't had a good meal since the night in Niigata. I ordered some warm sake, for I had a craving for the rice wine. Hanzo warned me to watch my drinking, but I didn't care. We changed into dry robes after supper, for the room attendant sent us some clothes after he saw the pathetic state we were in. The next day, bright and early, we would set out to find Kei to see if she had seen Ukyo lately. 
       The time we rested at the inn was a rather awkward time for us. Since harsh traveling had occupied our minds, we hadn't much to talk about, but there we sat. We hardly knew each other, and I could tell by then that there would be many personal conflicts hindering our journey. Cham Cham especially added to the tension. I wasn't very fond of that girl, for she was so childish, even for someone of fifteen. I saw the way she behaved compared to Nakoruru, and Nakoruru seemed like a saint. Cham Cham was rude, demanding, and possessive, and making it incredibly difficult to restrain myself; I just wanted to slit her throat and I wanted to curse Galford for dragging her along. 
       "Just what are we here for?!" she demanded me. 
       I wasn't going to let some child speak to me like that. "We are here on a mission. And if you aren't contented, then you should have stayed in Niigata." 
       "What mission?" 
       "A priest has resurrected an evil spirit, and the evil spirit lives inside the priest. We are here because the priest's former lover lives here, and we believe somehow the priest is here." 
       She gave me this dumbfounded look, and then released this shrill laugh. I glared at her. "That is so silly!" 
       "Then why did you come?!" I interrogated, anger boiling. 
       "Because. . .because. . ." 
       "Well?!" I had her tongue-tied. 
       "Because I wanted to go with Galford!" she sputtered. 
       I nodded, trying to avoid any more spats with her. If I didn't, I swore I would have killed her. It perplexed me that a girl so headstrong would endure this discomfort for someone else. And poor Nakoruru! She found a new place to brood, by a window, and rolled up in a ball, looking away. The poor girl looked so sad I couldn't stand it anymore; I had to comfort her. Hanzo and I both decided we needed to speak to her, for he noticed right away her problem. We told Galford and Cham Cham to take a walk around town for awhile. 
       When they left, we approached her. She turned and looked at us, but didn't say anything. Her large, brown eyes showed disappointment, and when I looked closer, I could see a tint of green. A tear dropped from eye. 
       "We've noticed that you have been rather aloof," Hanzo told her. "Is something wrong?" 
       Of course, we knew the answer. 
       She was reluctant to speak at first, but felt that she could trust us. "I. . .I. . .am love with the foreign man, Galford. . ." 
       "Ahhh. . ." Hanzo said, "They say that love and hate are polar opposites, but they are the same. Nothing can hurt more than love. Love can be very hateful. . ." 
       "It's. . .it's as if I am doomed. . ." she sighed. 
       Her ordeal took me back to the day my father was dead, and Charlotte wanted me to come to France with her, and when I refused, she told me that she hated me. I had loved Charlotte, but how could someone who I thought loved me could hate me? Love was the reason that I avoided any personal relations with people. 
       "Nakoruru. I didn't run away into the woods just because of my past. I. . .I knew a foreign girl when I was real little, and her father was a missionary for Amakusa, but despite that, I still loved her as a sister. When Amakusa killed my parents, she offered for me to come and live in her country, but when I declined, she said she hated me. . ." 
       Nakoruru eyed me strangely. "But. . .but how does this relate to my love for Galford?" 
       "I think that Haohmaru is trying to share his experience with love, and how much it can hurt. . ." 
       She sighed yet again. "He's. . .he's not the first. I've fallen in love with many within my tribe, but it seems that they are the property of other girls. Sometimes, I feel as if I am some odd stitch, stray from the rest of the quilt. I receive more love from animals than from humans. Animals can't hurt you. . ." 
       "Just because they are the "property" of other girls, that doesn't mean that you cannot win their love," I told her. Then, I thought Father. "My father once told me that you can achieve anything if you strive for it. You must defend your honor, Nakoruru. Don't let these other girls deprive you of it, and if you truly want Galford to love you, then you must prove that you are more honorable. Don't let others get in your way. . .believe me. . .don't. . ." 
       She and Hanzo continued to discuss the issue of love, but my mind was in another realm. I though about what I had just said to her, and then I realized that my saying and my actions contradicted. I knew, from my father, contradictions were a major flaw; they were not honorable. It was hypocritical what I had said. How could I, determined to become an honorable warrior, tell this aspiring young lady those things when I myself was impeded by my anger. Whatever I said was empty, and that frustrated me even more. My rage against Amakusa returned, and I too sulked, my arms folded tightly across my chest. I could not stand to wait any longer! 
       In order to deal with my rage, I decided to evacuate the inn. I wanted to leave before my anger tried to manipulate me, and I would have outlashed at Hanzo or the brooding Nakoruru. I told the both of them that I would be going for a walk and I'd return just after evening. I noticed that Nagano was a busy city at night. I saw many people around, and a large group of colorfully dressed people congregated in front of the town theater. They were waiting to see Senryo Kyoshiro perform. He was a very talented Kabuki actor; he had been a budding figure when my father was alive, and then became a renown actor. I, however, had no interest in theater, so I wandered around the town, looking for something to divert my mind from Amakusa. 
       I saw a small fish and bread market nearby, which was run by an obese vendor. The fish, especially the salmon. Salmon was one of my favorite meals, and it smelled incredibly delicious. The large slabs hanging from the racks made my mouth water, and since I hadn't eaten any dinner, I decided to purchase some a slab with what was left of my father's money. I walked over as if the salmon had cast some spell over me, dragging it towards it. Its scent seemed to grab my nose and carry me over. 
       "How are you this evening, sir," the fat man greeted. I bowed. He was acting overly kind to me, for he noticed I had money. 
       "I am fine." 
       "So, will you be seeing the play tonight?" he asked, attempting light conversation. 
       "Ahhh. . .but I heard that Kyoshiro Senryo is starring! You shouldn't miss out on such an event. . ." 
       "I'll live. . ." I sighed, my eyes fixed on that appetizing slab of salmon. 
       "And what will you be buying, sir?" 
       "I would like that slab of salmon up there, in the middle. . ." 
       "My pleasure," the man grinned, taking the blushing morsel from the rack. "That will be two gold coins, please." 
       I rummaged around in my bag of money, and handed the man six coins. As he greedily counted the money, I heard a child's voice shout about the bustling of the crowd: 
       "Hey, freak!" 
       I immediately whirled around; for some reason, I though that the child was referring to me, but as I looked closer, I saw a group of about four of five pre-pubescent children gathered around a small, meek little boy. They circled him, laughing at him and taunting him. The child trembled in their presence. People walked by the poor waif, taking no notice of the brutal treatment that I saw. 
       "Excuse me," I asked the vendor. "There's a child over there who is being victimized by other children. Why doesn't anybody do anything about it?" 
       The man looked around, and then saw the bullies and the child right next to the playhouse. "Oh. . ." he replied casually, shaking his head. "That is the demon child. That miserable little wretch stands on the streets, begging for food. Ha! Of course, I wouldn't give the urchin a crumb of bread, much less a loaf. Those kids are trying to teach him a lesson!" 
       I looked closer at the child, and it was obvious that he lacked a home, and had not a coin to pay for a good meal. He seemed so small and malnourished, and dirty. His hair was scraggly, and his clothes were torn from the cruel children. All his had on him was a blue umbrella. If I was that child, I would have bashed them over the head with it, but the poor child seemed to weak to even carry it. As I looked even closer at the boyÑthe poor, hopeless boy without a family, and spat on by society, he reminded me of myself. I too was like the child. I was never starving, but at that moment I could feel the torment that child was feeling. It brought me back to my last days at Gairyu Isle, with Charlotte's father standing over me, cursing me. I just couldn't let a child like that--even a demon child who couldn't control his fateÑsuffer in poverty and isolation. The more I saw those heartless children scorn him, the more I wanted to stop it. I knew Father wouldn't let happen. 
       After purchasing my salmon and a loaf of bread, I confidently strided over to the scene. Taking care of a mob of bratty, little kids would be no problem at all. Looking at their sneers, their insults, their faces made me want to kick them in the head and teach them a lesson! Before I decided to scold the bullies, I decided-to watch the scene for a short while. 
       "Demon child! Demon child! Nobody likes you! Demon child! Demon child!" one bully jeered. 
       "Yeah!" another, rather pudgy one, added. "That kid's a retarded freak! And he stinks because he hasn't ever had a bath!" 
       The kid pinched his nose, and the others did the same. Lousy followers! 
       "Eeeeww!" they squealed. 
       The child never fought back; he just stood there and let these unyielding people deride him. But one of them, who seemed to be the leader of that petty party, said something that really angered me. After more scrutinizing comments from the bullies, the small child began to cry. 
       "Awww, look," she mocked, pretending to rub her eyes, "he's crying. What's the matter, scared Zankuro's gonna get you?" 
       With that, the child fell to the ground, cowering in a ball against a wall. 
       "M-make him leave. . ." he kept repeating, looking away from his tormentors and to the sky. 
       The kids roared with laughter, pointing their fingers at him. The boy still lay, with his legs tucked tightly under his chin; he trembled violently. I saw genuine fear in his eyes, and, at that moment, decided that their taunting had gone too far. 
       "Excuse me," I declared. The bullies turned around to face me, with defiant sneers on their faces. "Just what do you think that you are doing to this poor boy here?!" 
       "He's an evil demon child, and we're trying to stop him before he hurts anyone!" the leader proudly declared. 
       "Yeah!" another added, "My mother told me to stay away from him because he's evil." 
       "Well, then," I retorted, "Why don't you listen to your mother and stay away from him, huh?!" 
       "Because we're trying to teach him to not be bad!" a younger bully spoke up. 
       "Why don't you just leave him alone!" I told them. 
       The stood there, their arms crossed over their chest. 
       "Leave him alone!" 
       They didn't budge. Obviously, these kids didn't acknowledge my authority, so I did the only thing I could to get them to leave. 
       "I SAID LEAVE HIM ALONE!!!!!" I bellowed as loud as possible. 
       The kids bolted away, running back out into the crowd. The little boy still lay crouched in a ball next to the wall. I slowly walked over to him and extended my hand in order to help him off the ground. His hand felt so small and bony in mine, and I was afraid that I would crush it. I looked into his face, caked and dull with grime; however, his large, brown eyes lustered from his tears. 
       "Do you. . .do you think that I am a demon?" he whispered to me, as if asking the question was shameful. 
       "No. . .you don't look like a demon. You don't sound like a demon, and you don't smell like a demon; you just smell like you need a bath. You look rather hungry." 
       I offered the child a piece of bread. He gratefully took it and inhaled it. "What. . .what is your name?" he asked, very timidly. 
       I bowed to him. "I am Haohmaru." 
       The little waif was a bit hesitant to speak, but he quietly told me his name. "I--I am Shizumaru," he bowed. We stood in silence for a short while, then he asked me: "Haohmaru. . . will you--you be my father?" 
       I looked down into his obscure eyes; they seemed so pitiful, so sad, so wanting. Even though I was on a rather dangerous mission, it was not in my heart, bitter as it was, to refuse the child's offer. I knew that this miserable urchin could have been me, and I wanted to know more about the boy. I wanted to give him something that was taken from me: my father. Even this poor wretch deserved a father. 
       I decided that it was near time to return to the inn, so I asked the child if he would stay with us. "Come," I led him. Yet, he still seemed hesitant, as if he thought that I would abandon him to the streets as his former parents did. And, knowing from my experience, I couldn't blame him. But I would not abandon this child and ruin his life! I would not! "You can stay with me, and you can have a nice, warm bath." 
       Shizumaru slowly followed me back, but he cowered behind me when he saw the strangers in the room. He clung to my clothing and looked up at me. "Haohmaru. . .will they be mean to me?" 
       I shook my head kindly. Nakoruru, who had given up her grievances for the moment, eagerly approached the newcomer. She bent down to greet him, for he was quite small. 
       "Hello, little one. What is your name?" 
       He started to bite his nails, which had become ragged from the dirty habit, for he was nervous. He clung to me tighter. "Tell her your name," I told him, as gently as I could. "She means no harm." 
       "My name. . .is Shizumaru," he replied, in a small whisper. 
       "It's nice to meet you, Shizumaru," she smiled at him. 
       "Oh, my! What an adorable little boy!" Cham Cham squealed. She ran over to the poor kid and tousled his hair. That razzed him quite a bit, and he hid behind me, clutching my belt. Of course, with her wild clothing and extroverted personality, she was a rather frightening sight to a small child. 
       After introducing Shizumaru to Hanzo and Galford, I led him to bathroom, where a tub full of warm water waited for him. I remembered the early days of my childhood when my father would bathe me; I always felt so warm and secure during those times. It was a large wooden basin, and I slid open the top, which retained the heat in the water. Shizumaru stripped his clothes. The child was malnourished and underdeveloped. Bruises and small cuts covered his sallow skin, and he was so thin that his ribs and spine jutted from him like rigid mountain ranges. I looked at his face, and his large eyes were sunken. His head was disproportional with his body; it was unusually large due to malnourishment. I placed him in the tub, and the water came nearly up to his chin. I took a cup and poured water over his head to purge the grime from his body. Shizumaru winced a bit, for he probably hadn't felt pure water before. 
       I decided that Hanzo, Nakoruru, and the others were out of sight, and it would be a good time to try and talk to the child. "How old are you?" I asked him, attempting to start a conversation with a simple question. 
       "I'm almost eight," he whispered, but he looked only five. The child needed food, nourishment, and love in order for him to grow. Never could any child thrive the way he had; Shizumaru seemed special, as if there was some force in him that never grew weak and allowed him to die. "I want to big and tall and strong as the mountains. . ." he said mystically, looking up at the ceiling, "then maybe I can be brave and beat Zankuro. . ." 
       I started to rub the dirt from his skin with a rag, while talking to him. "Who is this Zankuro character?" I asked him curiously. 
       "He's. . .he's an evil, evil, demon. And he's big and scary! Sometimes. . .during stormy nights. . .he'll come and try to get me, and I then I run and run down the streets until he goes away. And the people in the village think that I am crazy. Everyone thinks that Zankuro is my father, and that is why they call me the demon child. . ." 
       His talk of Zankuro provoked a fear inside of me. What if this demon that he spoke of was real? Then there would be a whole other entity that I'd have to deal with, but unfortunately there was only one issue I had to burden my back, and then there was a chance for a confrontation with another. I gently scrubbed his bruised back while mulling over this new issue. 
       "You shouldn't listen to what they think," I consoled him, but with a bitter tone, for the thought of Charlotte's father came into my mind. "Don't let them define who you are. I've been called a demon before, but I know I am not." 
       "Yes. . ." the child sighed, "But--but it could be true that Zankuro is my father. . ." 
       "Well, it's not written in stone." 
       "I just wish that I knew who I was. I wish that I knew who my father was. . ." 
       I poured some more water over his head and wrung the dirt from his hair. His state was pathetic indeed. I felt at that moment that even though I hadn't made my father proud by becoming a warrior, I could be as good as father to this boy as he was to me. Shizumaru deserved to know what it felt like to have a true father, and I knew that I only could communicate with him. I had experienced what he had, and I would help him defeat Zankuro.

Chapter 5

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