Thunder and Redness
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next morning, very early, we set out into town to visit Kei. Hanzo and
I asked a couple of townspeople of the location of her house and we followed
their directions. They said that she lived deep in the woods, and was a
town recluse, for after Ukyo left she hid from society. We took a break
to eat in town, and I bought Shizumaru a cup of rice and a pastry to eat.
The walk was rather exhausting for the young boy; I carried him on my back
for much of it. By evening, we reached Kei's residence, and the forest
was dark and haunting. Tall trees ominously towered above it. It was a
small home with a faint light glowing from the inside.
must be it," I declared, even though I wasn't entirely sure that it was
her home. "Only one of us should go to the door, or else we'd frighten
her. I'll go."
"Are you sure,
Haohmaru?" Hanzo asked.
I nodded, showing him that I had the confidence to approach her.
I slowly walked
to the door and lightly knocked on it. Holding my breath, I waited for
her to open the door. I wondered what kind of woman she would be, and how
she would react to me. After a short while, I heard the soft patter of
feet near the door. Slowly, as if she thought that I would jump out and
kill her, she slid open the door. I noticed that her hand trembled and
her fists were balled; right away I could tell that she'd recently experienced
some sort of trauma. She poked her head out the door, protecting herself
from it. "Yes?" she answered, rather tentatively. "Who. . .are you?"
I bowed politely
to her, but I was so anxious. I wanted to find out what she knew about
Ukyo or Amakusa.
"My name is
Haohmaru," I told her, "Are you Kei?"
"Yes. . .what
"I need to
ask you some questions?"
I asked her about Ukyo, I could tell that he had already visited her. All
of a sudden, Cham Cham jumped out from behind a bush, startling both of
us. "Is it her?" she asked.
"Yes. . ."
I told her.
All the others
came out from their hiding places. Kei's eyed widened. "Who-who are those
people? Are they sent by him? Are you working with him?" Her words
"No," I told
her. "But who is the him that you are referring to?"
She began to
tremble, her dark eyes frozen in fear. I saw her try to cover her face
with her hands to hide her tears.
I tried my
best to console her. "We are not evil. We just need to ask you some questions."
.come in. . ." she told us, her voice broken. I beckoned for the others
to follow me. We removed our shoes and knelt on the tatami mats.
As a walked
in I saw one of the most horrifying messes I'd ever seen. There were porcelain
glasses strewn across the floor. A table was broken in half. The thick,
white paper on the shoji screens was torn. The remains of silk paintings
were ripped to shreds. I saw scraps of her clothing on the floor as well,
along with her jewelry. Some of the tatami mats were stained with blood.
The one lighted candle cast eerie shadows in the messy home. All of us
looked around in awe. Shizumaru especially had a troubled expression on
his face. He gripped my hand tightly for protection.
. .what happened?" he gasped.
back, "I don't know, Shizumaru. . .I don't know. . ."
Kei tried her
best to conceal her anxiety by turning her back to us. She seemed so small
and helpless as she shook.
"I'm. . .I'm
sorry about the mess. . ." her voice became more broken as she spoke. "I
would have prepared some hot tea. . .but all my china is broken. Please,
take a seat. . ."
All of us sat
in a circle, facing each other. I looked at her. Worry lines creased her
face, and under her eyes were tired bags of skin. Her long hair hung limply
down her back. She was a mature woman, but not near being elderly, but
her constant quivering made her seem so much older. Kei wore a dark gray
kimono with little white flowers and black obi. Despite her anxiety, she
sat quite formally, with her tiny hands in her lap. She was a dainty woman,
frail as a rose, and she looked at all of us with darting eyes.
is it you were going to ask me?" she asked, bracing herself for it.
"You had a
lover, named Tachibana Ukyo, did you not?" I asked.
yet more, putting her little hand to her mouth. "Y-yes. . .y-yes. . .how
do you know about me?"
"I once knew
Ukyo," Hanzo told her, "I used to work for Amakusa, but I left when his
evil deeds went too far. . ."
"And they did
indeed, didn't they?" Kei's timid voice rose, but it was still broken.
"They did! That man has done something to my Ukyo. . .he has done
something to him. . .and I don't know what. . ."
"Have you seen
did!" she exclaimed, covering her mouth. "I-I saw him just the other night.
When I was bathing. . .he came back. Oh-oh, I was so happy to see him,
for-for I hadn't seen him in years, and when he returned, I was so filled
with joy! Oh, but that didn't last long; I found out what he had
done to him. He has made him evil. The man that returned two nights ago
was not Ukyo, but he looked like him, but it just wasn't him. . ." her
voice trailed, and she exploded into tears. Hanzo walked over to her and
gently put his arm on her shoulder.
"It will be
okay. . ." he gently told her, "We will help you however we can. . ."
onto his hand, her face contorted from desperation, "But what happened?
Please. . .I need to know! Do you? Do you know? What has happened
"I know," Nakoruru
spoke. "I saw with my own eyes what happened. Ukyo tried to resurrect Amakusa's
dead soul, and-and he succeeded. Ukyo. . .died in the process of resurrection,
but he was brought back to life when Amakusa's soul possessed him. Who
you saw the other night was not Ukyo, but it was Amakusa, who is using
your lover's body as a means of doing his evil deeds."
"Oh. . .if
only he hadn't listened to that-that demon! Then this wouldn't have
happened. That man has ruined me! Ruined me!!"
anguished brought back my rage at Amakusa. He not only ruined my life,
but this poor, innocent woman's life by misleading her lover!
"I want to
kill him! I hope he rots and dies!!" she started to scream.
blame her at all, but I wanted to be the one to kill him. I was
the only one who would kill him!!
he say anything to you?" I asked, anxious for information.
"Y-yes. . ."
she replied. "He-he asked me to join him as his Queen of Darkness, but
I refused, for I knew that it wasn't him. And then when I refused, he went
mad. He called me a betrayer and destroyed all my things. I was afraid
that he would kill me on the spot, but-but he said that he would come for
"He's not going
to come for you later. . .he's going to come for all of us. . ."
Hanzo told her, a dark tone in his voice.
that he was dead! I thought his evil would be gone forever, but
no! I will do anything to bring Ukyo back! Anything!"
"We don't know
how to exterminate Amakusa," Nakoruru said, "That's what we are trying
to find out."
"And we better!"
I added, clenching my teeth, anger brewing.
." she begged me, "Please, sir. Let me go along with you."
I looked at
the desperation in her eyes with great consideration, but I couldn't let
this frail soul go on that rugged journey. She would get hurt; she'd just
be one more woman we'd have to protect. But ultimately, it would be me
who would stop Amakusa. It was only right.
"No, I'm afraid
you can't," I told her, sighing. "It would be too dangerous for you. .
"What do you
mean too dangerous?!" she snapped at me. "As if I am not already
in danger?! I'll--I'll tell you this much: that if you don't let me go
with you, I will follow you! I will not sit here a broken
. ." Hanzo told me, "Let her go."
"But she won't
survive. . ."
"Just let her
go," he looked at her, placing his hand on her shoulder. "She might be
able to help us."
fight with him, so I ultimately let Kei assist us on our journey.
be enough room on my boat, though," Galford protested.
don't you throw your little tag-along off," I eyed Cham Cham. She gave
me a snooty glare. Often I had fantasies of throwing her overboard into
the dark seas into a swarm of sharks, but nature had her own way of dealing
with haughtiness. I saw Nakoruru smile out of the corner of my eye. "Besides,
there is enough room for ten of us in that boat."
That kept him
. ." Kei told us, rather quietly. "I will be sure to stay out of your way
as much as possible."
"You will not
be in our way," Hanzo consoled her.
us the rest of the night in her home because we consented to let her come
with us. I warned her that there would be some discomfort, especially when
she told us that Amakusa was headed down to his retreat, Amakusa Jo, which
was all the way at the southern tip of Kyushu. I wasn't exactly sure how
far away we were, but I knew it was far enough. She packed a suitcase for
herself, and offered some of her clothes to Nakoruru, for they were about
the same size. She was also kind enough to spare me some of Ukyo's clothes
that he left.
None of us
slept well that night, especially Shizumaru. The child claimed that he
had felt a strong presence of a demon, and was convinced that Zankuro was
nearby. If he was right, we were fortunate that he didn't attack. He clung
to me the entire night for protection. Galford and Cham Cham itched all
night from the tatami mats, for they were not used to them. My own brooding
kept me awake. Kei's anxiety never allowed her to sleep, and Hanzo stood
next to her, comforting her. Watching them, I immediately saw his true
motives for wanting her to come with us.
We woke up
early the next morning, groggy, tired, and starving. I felt like my brain
was swollen inside my head, and my eyes drooped, burdened by my issues.
Shizumaru couldn't take the lack of sleep, and he became nauseous and vomited
clear, bilious liquid, for we hadn't eaten in hours. I had a pounding headache,
but even that wouldn't stop me. We were leaving. Galford and I heaved the
boat into the river, for we were the strongest. Hanzo escorted Kei into
the boat. It rocked back and forth as we climbed in. I ended up rowing,
with Hanzo as my navigator.
. ." Shizumaru whined, clinging to my arm.
nearby town down the river," Hanzo told us. "We'll get something to eat
"But I want
something now. . ." the child whined.
"Yes, but you're
going to have to wait. . . " I told him, "But we will be eating soon."
to sail down the Shinano river, until it came to a muddy end; however,
we were in luck that the small town of Saku was nearby. Shizumaru had fallen
asleep in my lap, for his weakness exhausted him. I knew I had to stop
and get the child food; we all needed food. The bump that the boat made
against the mucky bank roused those who had slept. I slapped a mosquito
from my arm and wiped the sweat from my brow. I stood up on the shore,
and I felt as if my legs were going to give under me. My arms were incredibly
sore from rowing, and they felt like they would just fall off. All our
appearances were hampered by the late summer sun; our hair was matted down
to our faces. Cham Cham especially was disgusted with her condition. She
wore me out describing how she was a Inca princess from Venezuela and had
to look beautiful. I had no patience for one's vanity; I just wanted to
"It looks like
the river has ended here," Hanzo remarked. He sighed, "But I'm afraid to
say that we haven't made any progress. I am not very familiar with the
southern part of the Shinano. But it seems as if the river went east instead
of southwest and took us into Saku. . ."
I wanted to
strangle him. I boiled with rage, looking at poor Shizumaru, who was famished.
"You-you should have known where you were going!" I growled, desiring
to smash his face with my fist. "This child will die if we don't
get him food! You have wasted my energy and my time, Ninja!"
settle down. . .I apologize. . ." "Apologize, huh?!" I sneered, grabbing
the handle of my blade. I drew my sword and pointed it at him, ready to
slash his throat. "You have some motive, don't you. You probably still
work for Amakusa! You just want to throw us off track and give him time
to do his evil deeds!"
"That is not
true, Haohmaru. . .just put your sword down. . .easy, easy. . .it will
take longer to get food if we have a spar."
I slowly withdrew
my sword, the ire subsiding. Once again, he was right, and I felt like
a naive child. I slid it back into my sheath and we continued on foot to
the dim lights of the small town. I carried Shizumaru on by back, even
though I was weary, but he was wearier than I. Hanzo and Nakoruru helped
carry Kei's suitcases. Saku was a tiny little mountain town, with only
a few homes, a shrine, and a small eating house. It had a hospitable appearance,
and the aromas of ginger and fresh fish wafted through the air, tickling
our senses. Shizumaru climbed off my back and ran towards the door.
Food! Haohmaru, look! Food!"
It was the
first sign of energy I had seen from the child that day. The rest of us
followed him and eagerly awaited a nice dinner and a nice jug of warm sake.
We removed our shoes and the hostess set us down at a large table. She
brought us all warm tea and cups of rice. The lighting inside the restaurant
was pleasant, and some musicians played samisens and Koto, giving it a
placid ambiance. It soothed my anger, along with the fresh herbs of the
wa," she greeted us, bowing. "You are in luck, for came at a nice time.
We are having entertainment tonight. The geisha Shie Mikoto will be performing
very soon. Enjoy your meal."
She bowed and
left to attend to her business.
"Wow, a geisha.
I had always wanted to meet one," Nakoruru declared.
I looked over
at Galford and Cham Cham, who struggled with eating their rice. They had
no clue how to use chopsticks, and they were picking it up and eating it
with their fingers.
heard of forks here?" Galford asked.
"What's a fork?"
"It's a small,
metal utensil with three tines at the end used to pick up food," I told
her. I remember using a fork when I ate dinner at Charlotte's house, and
I taught her how to use chopsticks, but I wasn't about to teach those two
fools how. I rested my head in my hands, for I was weary and tired; I barely
had the strength to eat my rice and drink my tea. I watched them eat in
disgust. Soon after, the waitress brought out rice cakes, sashimi, sushi,
and noodles. We greedily ate our food and awaited the geisha Shie Mikoto.
shortly after our food did, dressed elegantly in a green kimono, with pink
cherry blossom prints and a blue obi, tied with a golden rope. In her tiny,
alabaster hands she held light paper fans. Her face also was painted white,
with blood red lips and red make-up that ascended from her eyelid to her
brow, accentuating its perfect arch. Blushing pinkness streaked her cheeks,
and her dark eyes were thickly lined in black. Her hair was done up very
ornately, fastened with a golden comb and decorated with tiny white flowers.
I thought she was very beautiful and I was entranced by the way she moved
gracefully in time to the airy sounds of the flute. She swayed her body
and moved her willowy arms to the melody. Her eloquence and beauty had
in fact silenced the whole restaurant; even little Shizumaru was impressed
by her. I could not take my eyes off of her. For some odd reason it seemed
as if she was watching me the entire time. She had relieved me of all my
anger and concerns, as if she had godly power to revoke them for just that
short while. I felt like a senseless animal, wanting to grab her and take
her away, but then I remembered that she was a geisha, and geisha were
forbidden any relationship.
When she finished
her number, she folded her hands in front of her and bowed as we clapped
loudly for her stunning performance. Once again, my feelings of burden
returned, and I remembered that I was on an important quest. There could
be no time wasted spent swooning over some woman I could never have. Then
her second dance begun. . .
Yet I knew
she was watching me; I could feel it! She looked directly into my
eyes, yet she seemed rather sad. The soulful music of the flute changed
from smooth and peaceful to a more choppy number. It seemed anxious and
foreboding. Shie began to tremble violently and flung her hands in the
air, tossing her folding fans up. She flung herself on the ground. Watching
her, it seemed as if she were communicating that something terrible would
happen. Still, I was fixated on her. Then, she gracefully arose and slowly
walked over to me. As I looked in her eyes, they appeared desperate, as
if she were imploring something. Her gaze petrified me. She looked up at
me and fell prostrate before me and cupped my--my--hand in hers.
It felt cold. I noticed that a tear fell from the corner of her almond
eye. She then let go and walked over the fans that she had thrown and picked
them up. The drums pounded harder and quicker. She floundered her hands
through the air, swiping at it as if she were trying to kill some odious
fly with the fans. Once again, she fell to the floor, yet then remained
there. The music ended abruptly.
took another bow, and the audience roared with applause. I, however, was
still awed by her performance, but I clapped loudly like the others. After
taking another bow, she left the eating house, her dainty little feet gracing
the floor. She turned her head once more, looking at me, before she departed.
We then returned
to our meal, discussing her act.
"Wow, she was
amazing, wasn't she!" Hanzo remarked.
I nodded emphatically,
yet I was still frozen. . .
a cloudy look in his eyes. "I'll say. . ."
Cham Cham glared
"She was very
expressive," Nakoruru commented. "I think that she was trying to communicate
some sort of message to you, Haohmaru. . .
"Yes. . ."
I replied, staring off.
"She sure was
beautiful. . ." Kei said, wistfully. "I remember when I was that young.
are," Hanzo told her. "Your skin may age; that is inevitable, but your
spirit will never. But it is your choice whether to keep it burning or
smother it. . ."
All of a sudden,
a tall, dark, cloaked figure confidently entered the restaurant, startling
all of us. It was followed by a piercing blast of cold air. Shizumaru took
one look at it and buried his face in my chest and shuddered violently,
knowing that the entity was evil. I could feel the air and room press hard
on my shoulders; its intensity nearly choked me. Nakoruru, I saw, was nearly
crushed by its pressure. Kei placed her hands over her mouth, her customary
display of dire fear. The hostess, unsure of what to make of it, simply
bowed and greeted to the shadowed man.
wa. . ." she greeted tentatively.
its arm and shoved her to the ground. The guests in the restaurant gasped
and fled the building, except for us. We watched it. I was ready to confront
that thing. After the rest of the people abandoned the eating house, it
removed the long, black cloak. He had long, slick-backed, ebony hair and
highly arched eyebrows. His oblong face was pale and colorless, with hollow
cheekbones. He had glaring, amber eyes, which froze us with his cold stare.
Tall and thin, he was dressed rather regally, like a daimyo, with a long,
purple kimono tied with a black sash at the waist. A burgundy cape was
draped over his bony shoulders, and it loitered behind him like the slimy
trail of a slug. Slowly, he strode over to our table, his eyes fixated
and placed a rigid hand on my shoulder. It felt as if the chill of ten
thousand winters was rushing through me. He grinned, a very twisted grin,
contorting his face into a hideous mask of pure evil. But this demon was
not wearing any mask. . .
"Ah. . .Haohmaru-san.
. ." he leered. "Look at you're a young man now-so much like your father.
of the restaurant was dissipating into a red void of extreme anger. I fixated
my glare on him, rasping heavily. I knew who he was! I knew
it was him! I knew it was!!
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