Kazuki 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 7

       Nakoruru alighted next, yet she clung to the rope, shaking all over. When they swung her over, she at first refused to let go of the first rope, and it took a few tried before she finally realized that she had no choice. Cham Cham, however, did not climb down the ropes, but instead chose to climb onto to the branch of a nearby tree. In the jungle, she had learned to move gracefully through trees in order to find food. Galford bravely climbed down the rope, yet it was more difficult to heave him over to the second rope. It was only Hanzo who was doing the work, and I noticed Kei peering down at me desperately from the window. All of a sudden the advancing flames had caught onto the rope that the guest provided us.
       "Galford, hurry! The rope's on fire!" Nakoruru cried, deeply desiring that her attraction make it down securely.
       I looked up and saw the sweat on Hanzo's face as he desperately tried to swing the rope, but agility was more of his strength, and not force. And then I looked at Kei, who didn't place her hands over her mouth, but instead hung her head as if already anticipating their funeral. I sighed wistfully with her, holding poor Shizumaru close.
       Galford finally gave up and dropped from our makeshift rope onto the ground. He landed strangely on his arm, and I could hear him cry in pain as he landed, along with the loud pop of his bone. Nakoruru and Cham Cham desperately ran to aid him; I knew the seeds for a squabble had been sown. All who were left up in that building were Hanzo and Kei.
       "It's your turn now, Kei," the Ninja told her. "Climb down!"
       She turned away from him towards the fire, "It's no use. . ." she replied. Although she was soft-spoken, I could still hear her from down on the ground. "Look at us. . .the inn is burning to the ground. . ."
       I heard the wood snap under the intense power and heat of the flames, and the building nearly collapsed as the flames engulfed it. "Come on!" I cried up, "You better reach the ground before the building does!"
       I tensely balled my fists as I waited for them to descend.
       "You go ahead, Hanzo. . ." she sighed wistfully. "I cannot live like this anymore. . ."
       "You must live!" his cried to her, trying to emulate her to come down.
       "No, Hanzo. . .look at me! I have no place in this world! I am an old, betrayed woman! A fool, that's what! How can I live this life?!"
       "You are still young! Your aging flesh means nothing! It is only your melancholy spirit making you feel aged!"
       She turned to him, "I am nothing but weak and frail! I loved foolishly! Why should I be some weak woman to burden you? To tie you down?! It is my fault, Hanzo, that Ukyo turned to Amakusa!"
       He gripped her shoulders tightly and held her. I watched nervously as the flames grew rapidly.
       "It is not your fault! That was his decision!"
       She let go and gripped his shoulders tightly, her eyes blazing with the fire, "It was! It was! If I wasn't there, he could have happily had his paramours without sinning!"
       He was so frantic to knock her out of that mindset he shook her. "Listen to me! Ukyo should have loved you and only you! It is not your wrongdoing!"
       She brashly pulled from his embrace and walked towards the fire. "Just go, Hattori Hanzo! Just go. . ."
       "I will not go without you, Kei! I won't let you die alone!"
       I could see the man sigh, and a glistening tear ran down his soot-covered cheek, leaving a clean, golden streak among the ashes on his face. His laments were broken from coughing; he broke down from the oppressive smoke, his forehead gleaming with sweat from the deadly flares. We kept crying for him to come down, for I knew that such a clever man as he could manage a narrow escape even at that point. But instead, after our throats were raw from calling to them, we hung our heads in sorrow as he crumbled helplessly out of sight.
       But in seconds the red-headed guest who threw us the rope dashed towards the building and climbed with all his strength. I watched in awe as he strafed to climb the rope as fast as he could, but was he so desperate that he couldn't see the flickering flames slowly creeping down the rope. Alas! He ascended through the flames up to the window, as if they didn't burn his hand at all, and with great, nearly superhuman agility did he jump over to our windowÑright into the flames.
       "Are you insane?!!" I shouted up to him.
       But he didn't answer. In fact, he ignored me and walked right through the flames which had nearly encompassed the entire room. For a few seconds he disappeared into the room. At that moment, I had no idea of what to think. Was the man insane to do that, or just an overly-gallant martyr. Or did he really have the strength to withstand the heat of the fire. . .
       The red-haired guest leaped gracefully out of the window and onto the tree, carrying Hanzo on his back. Hurriedly he came down from the tree to the ground. He set him on the soft grass below. When I looked at the young man, I expected to see boiling blisters and blackened skin, but to my surprise he was unscathed. I ran over to him. "Where's. . .where's Kei?!" I interrogated.
       He sighed, "The. . .the poor woman couldn't survive. I saw her choke on her last breaths, and. . .and then I just knew. . .that the flames had taken her life, and he. . .was barely alive at all."
       At that moment I had done exactly what she had done: place my hands over my mouth. She, that poor, sweet woman, had bitterly suffered years all the way to her end! I shed a few tears myself after the shock had subsided, but then remembered that she had left to a much better place, where no evil or corruption could lay a hand on her. . .where nobody was ever betrayed. . .
       I glanced over to the burning inn, completely surrounded by the bellowing flames. The wood building finally surrendered itself to them and foundered to the ground; the sound of the snapping wood nearly splintered my ears. As it fell, it nearly shook the ground. I eyed the inflaming rubble, knowing that Kei's sweet and mortal flesh was rotting and charring within it. The merciless inferno destroyed all in could, and did not even care that it was killing something beautiful. I looked over at Hanzo, his skin caked with ashes and dried, crusted blood. All my companions crowded around him with great concern. One weak arm reached out to the building. He cried, although very weakly, her name. The Ninja seemed a different man to me as he lie there. After all, it was the first time that I saw him lose to emotion, and his once-composed features writhed in pain. It hurt to see him suffer so, for I knew that looking into his lost eyes he had felt the anguish I had that day long ago on Gairyu Isle. . .
       Then I looked over to the large oak tree where Cham Cham, the guest, and Hanzo, had made their escape. The air soon began to feel thick and heavy. Leaning on it, I saw a tall man cloaked in a burgundy cape. His skin was drawn tight against his face, yet it was covered with wrinkles. His jet-black hair was slicked away from his face. He turned to me, carefully placing a bony hand on his chin, his tight, thin lips slowly curled into a smile--a grin. . .and his amber eyes glowed brightly from the dark corner. . .
       I brewed with anger and hate looking at him! All of the catastrophe--all of it-- was because of him! It was his fault that Kei had to suffer and die, to endure betrayal. He had taken everything from her!! Her lover and her body as well! Just as he had taken everything from me!!!
       "You BASTARD!!!" I cried.
       I impulsively ran towards the tree, flailing my sword in the air. I felt like an animal, a ravenous beast on the hunt. The redness flooded into my brain and I ran and I ran closer to that oak tree where that demon stood. I wanted to tear him up with my father's sword for what he had done to him I wanted to kill him kill him. He stood there with his face in that twisted grin of his, contorting into all these shapes begging for me to come and kill him so I ran and I ran and I ran--
       But all of a sudden, something impeded me, and I fell to the ground. I bust my chin on a stone, and the sharp pain suddenly jolted me from my rage. Blood smeared my clothes and the rock. I staggered up and cupped my chin, which dripped with warm blood. Then the air began to feel cold and empty. I looked up at the tree where I saw him standing, and he was gone!! Gone!!
       Nakoruru ran and caught up to me. "It's no use. . ." she sighed, nearly out of breath.
       "Did you see him?!" I cried. "He was. . .he was right next to that tree!"
       "No. . .I didn't. You must have been seeing things. . .except for that tree root you tripped over."
       "You didn't?! Don't you see, Nakoruru?!" I grabbed her shoulders and shook her. "It was him that set fire to this place! It was him who killed Kei!"
       "I think you're seeing things," she sighed, leading me back to where Hanzo was laying. "Come. . .we've got to get out of here. . ."
       I walked Ìover to him, kneeling down. He was still suffering, yet he stopped his shaking and crying. Quickly he returned to his composed state and stood up, gripping his blade, the only thing he had left on him. Fortunately, I still had the Fugu Blade. I rubbed my sore chin as I looked closer, and I saw that even though he retained his placid expression, glints of inexplicable agony lay in his cryptic eyes. Immediately he had to pretend that nothing had happened, but, from my own encounters with suffering, I knew it would eat at him like a canker-worm.
       "I think he's going to be okay. . ." declared the guest. I shook my head at his ignorance.
       "Thank you for your courtesy. . ." Hanzo expressed formally he bowed to the red-head.
       I eyed the young man with strange curiosity. His youthful skin had not a burn or boil on it, yet he had walked right through the fire, and his wild, bright-red hair--even his eyes had a reddish tint to them! He was smaller than I, and he had t ½he supple muscles and limber build of a young man. Hanging from his belt was a short sword. I inquired him of his name.
       He bowed, "I am Kazama Kazuki."
       Looking at him, I noticed that behind his odd features, he was a handsome adolescent. He wore an orange gi with black pants, which were decorated with designs of flames on the hems. For a moment I had become suspicious; was he the one who set fire to the inn? But I could tell that he seemed benevolent, and he also helped us escape. He was an uncanny character!
       Kazuki laughed, yet it was not a cruel cackle or a spiteful jeer. He seemed sociable. "Well, I know why you are here; that was why I spared your lives, well. . .except for the young lady. I. . . I was too late. But I don't know your names."
       We introduced ourselves. As boyishly charming as he appeared, I was surprised that Nakoruru didn't take a liking to him; however, Cham Cham suddenly forgot about Galford and flung herself at him.
       "I am Cham Cham," the girl put on a ostentatious smile and inched right up to him. "I come from far, far away. And you seem like such a strong man. . ."
       I observed Nakoruru trying to stifle the laughter, for the girl was so foolish. She lie her head on his shoulder and gripped his arms. The poor boy flinched and grit his teeth, as if he were undergoing pure torture. "Ummm. . .thank you. . ." he tried his best to force out something polite. Out of the corner of my eye Galford glowered at Kazuki. At moments like that, I felt blessed that I never entangled myself in any youthful fancies.
       When Cham Cham had removed herself from him, I asked him about his skin. "How could you have walked right through the fire, yet there doesn't seem to be a mark on you. Why is that?"
       He gathered all of us together, the expression on his face becoming shadowy. "There is something that I must tell you."
       We all became silent as he began to speak, for we were quite mystified by this stranger.
       "I know why you are here. I know that you are looking for someone. And this person, well, I wouldn't call him a person, but, I am looking for this same demon as you. I saw you at a restaurant in Saku. . ."
       "So you were following us?!" My suspicious side took over.
       He seemed terrified and backed away. His eyes darted around nervously. "Well. . .I mean no harm. I tracked you here because I am in desperate need of your help. You see, my brother, Sogetsu, has been captured, and it wasn't until the incident at the restaurant that I figured who was the perpetrator who kidnapped my brother. I felt fortunate to have seen you. . .and the demon at the restaurant. I found out that you are on a quest to stop him, and for some reason. . .I know that he has my brother!"
       Galford furrowed his eyebrows, "But what would he want with your brother?"
       "You see. . .my brother and I. . .we were inundated by the kami. . .special powers. My brother, he had the power of mizu, of water. I have the powers of fire. We can do extraordinary things that humans cannot do, yet we are mortal. I suspect that his powers have something to do with his kidnapping, but I must find him! Please, I beg of you. . ."
       "You are more than welcome to come!" Cham Cham interjected.
       "So, you have special powers of fire?" I asked. "And is that why you were able to walk through the fire without burning yourself?"
       "Hai," he nodded. "I am immune to fire, because fire is but an extension of me. I walk through fire, I can make fire. . .I can even be fire."
       Their eyes widened in amazement. Especially Shizumaru's.
       I, however, was skeptical. He could be some kid playing a prank on us. . .or something worse. . .
       "Prove it to me," I demanded, folding my arms across my chest.
       He boldly stepped up to me, as if he were eager for a challenge. "Gladly."
       Kazuki raised both of his arms to the sooty gray air and closed his eyes. His hands balled into tight fists and began to turn a shade of red. The hues became brighter and brighter; soon his hands were glowing like lava. Clear, yellow flames began to dance around his fists, and then all of a sudden, they swelled to enormous size and shot off into the air quicker than a comet and never returned.
       "There. . ." he stated.
       "Wow. . .how did you do that?!" Galford asked, wonderment in his eyes.
       "I just have to think very hard, focusing on the heat of the fire and the flames spreading across my arm. . ."
       "Hey!" the foreigner exclaimed eagerly. "You said that you could be fire? Show me!"
       "My pleasure. . ." the young man reveled in our attention.
       He folded his arms across his chest and placed his knees close together. In just a fraction of a second his body vanished and transformed into a flaming entity. It was inhuman, as if he were some omnipotent god who stood before us. Variations of yellow, red, white, and orange danced before us; their brilliance shone in our eyes, and nearly blinded us. Then, quicker then a blink of the eye, the flame vanished, as if the air has just sucked him into nothingness.
       "Over here!" a bantering voice proclaimed behind us.
       We whirled our heads around, and there he stood, his arms crosses. He grinned at me. "I guess I'm not the evil fraud you thought I was. After all, I only saved your skins. . ."
       I sighed. "Very impressive, young man."
       He ran up to me and eyed me with a grave look. "Please. I. . .I would do anything to go with you, even for the mere chance that the demon you're after was the one who took my brother!"
       The poor boy was nearly on his knees, his countenance desperate. I didn't have the words to say to him, and I still just couldn't believe that he was benevolent. As far as I was concerned, all humans were turncoats. But he wasnÕt entirely human either. . .
       "Let me. . .discuss it with my colleagues." I told him.
       We gathered in a circle. "Do you think that we should let him travel with us?"
       "Yes! Yes, most definitely!" Cham Cham exclaimed.
       "We are not going to decide based on blind passion," I glared at her.
       "He seems like a nice person," Nakoruru added, "not harmful. He needs our help."
       Hanzo looked over at him, anxiously waiting by a nearby tree. "He possessed superhuman powers. He could be useful in our fighting Amakusa, since obviously our mortal prowesses cannot match up. . ."
       "Now wait!" I interjected. "We don't need some kid to defeat Amakusa. I am going to be the one. . .the only one who will defeat him! The key to his defeat lies in my sword, that once belonged to my father. And damned if I let someone else do it. . ."
       "Well, your father sure helped us in that fire," Hanzo retorted, somewhat morose. He hadn't seemed right since. "As virtuous a Samurai as your father. . . would he have let her die? Kazuki saved us, not your father."
       I wanted to spit in his eye. If he wanted to be bitter, than I could throw it back at him a thousand-fold! "Well. . .I cut the hole through the wall so we could escape. And he knows it too!!"
       "Perhaps your own father is a traitor. . ."
       I foamed at the mouth I was so raged! The milieu of the rubble around us became distorted, and I could see the Ninja taunting me, just begging me to attack him. I saw his face he was there everywhere laughing and jeering and laughing and jeering with that grin and those amber eyes and I couldn't stand it any longer and I had to stop I had to I wanted to bash his face in I was the beast again even at my angriest I was the submissive pet who came at its master's beck and call why, why, why was I the puppet his strings were pulling where was Father what would he have done I wanted Amakusa to die, die, die I wanted to bash his head in I wanted to hit anything that moved and everything became red again and it throbbed inside I wanted him to die, die, die! My teeth clenched my nostrils flaring my fists balled, I lunged towards him.
       The pain of him whacking me on the side with his scabbard substituted for my anger, and it lighted away. I lie on the ground, moaning in pain while I clutched my ribs. He towered above me, bringing me back to the first time I met him. Looking up at him, I saw that his dark eyes, which had before been placid, drowned me like thick, pools of tar.
       "You will never learn, will you, Haohmaru. . ." he never raised his voice, yet he scorned me with great disdain. "You hurt yourself more than our foe does. Foolishness, pure foolishness. And I will tell you this. If your father's spirit is in that sword as you say, he wouldn't aid you one bit. What kind of man, especially someone as honorable as your father, would want to help a brash oaf such as yourself? And why would he help those who support your folly?"
       Coldly, he turned away from me. Shizumaru slowly walked over to me and placed a hand on my shoulder. "Haohmaru. . .why do you let them control you? Why?"
       I held the boy close to me, "I. . .I don't know. I just don't know. . ."
       "We are in danger," Nakoruru exhaled, with grave severity.
       Shizumaru drew back, as if he too could experience her fear.
       "Look at us. . ." she groaned. "We are beating on our own comrades. Hanzo was right. The way I see we're headed, we will destroy ourselves before he does. He wants to see us hurt each other! He wants to see us ruin ourselves! He knows our weaknesses and will play us like pawns until we go mad! And he won't lift a finger to do it! Damn! It would sure be easier for him! Are we going to sit here and squabble, giving him the power, or are we going to band together and support each other? And even if he does end us, we would have died in honor! Isn't that what being a Samurai is all about, Haohmaru? Isn't that what your father taught you?"
       I hung my head.
       "I am sorry," Hanzo bowed, "I. . .I don't know what came over me. I just don't. . ."
       Kazuki approached us with an inquiring look on his face. "Well. . .are you going to let me travel with you?"
       I looked at Hanzo, who stared bleakly at the rubble which had once been this in. The remainder of the flames scavenged the pile, looking for fresh bits of wood that had yet to be blackened.
       I nodded.
       He didn't even stop to bow. "Oh, thank you! Thank you!" he cried.
       Cham Cham smiled.
       "Well, Haohmaru," Galford stated, with a look of disbelief in his blue eyes. "Our new comrade is allowed to join us, but how are we going to get anywhere. My boat--and most of our clothes--are gone. . ."
       Hanzo rejoined us, "The land should be pretty flat from here, if we stay close to the coast. We're going to have to travel the rest of the way by foot."
       "But what about Shizumaru?" I asked. "What if it is too rough for him."
       "We will make more frequent breaks. Never will we drag on like we did that night."
       "But. . .but how far is it?" Cham Cham asked.
       "As far as it takes us. . ." Hanzo sighed. "We must continue to go south. . ."
       He walked towards the woods without speaking another word. He did indeed seem an entirely different person, as if some strange entity had possessed his body. Trying to avoid his sullenness, I looked toward the sky. Already the faint orange glow of the dawn loomed ahead, reminding me of the faint glow that morning fifteen years ago.

       After a cool morning walk through the woods, we reached the coast. The only stop that we made was to a doctor to mend Galford's broken arm. It had been years since I'd awoken to the soft hiss of the waves, the aroma of seasalt, and the cries of the gulls, whose silhouettes appeared in the bright, blue sky. The sun had been obscured by the clouds, yet its gleaming rays poked through the holes in the sky and kissed the water. It shimmered as the gentle waves cascaded to the shore, but further out they crashed violently with the rocks and thrashed about small fishing boats. I saw that the inlet was nearly surrounded by the land. The coast was flat and steady. Shizumaru took off his sandals and splashed playfully in the ocean, as I used to do when I was near his age. The breeze wafted in and out our worn and limp clothes. It was cool and strong, the kind that Father and I would fly kites in. Almost immediately I was taken aback to my home. In fact, some of the area seemed somewhat familiar to me.
       "Nice day by the seaside. . ." Kazuki remarked to me. "I find it quite relaxing."
       "It is. . ." I sighed, looking out the towards the horizon.
       "You know, I've always wondered if there's an end to it, and if there is, what could lie on the other side of the water? They say that there are barbarians and Mongols on the other side of the island, but over that ocean. . ."
       "I. . .I don't know." I sighed. "But I have seen people from some land over the ocean. Some land where their skin is white as snow, and their hair is the color of a wheat-field on a summer day. Like Galford, for instance. Why do you ask?"
       "Well, I was just curious. . ."
       "You are a lot better off not knowing of those people. . ." I huffed, thinking about all the pain that those foreigners--those gaijin--have caused me. "That is why the government keeps them out."
       But then, as I looked towards my left, on a distant promontory, obscured by ghostly, gray mist, was the familiar black and white striped lighthouse, except the bright radiance that had once beamed so brightly through the fog was dead.
       The sight of it made my heart leap into my throat, and my mouth became dry. The last time I had seen that lighthouse it had been glowing, penetrating the eerie mist with its warm light, but there it was, perched upon that high rock like a crow on top of a grave. On that clear day at the seaside, there was only one dark cloud, which hovered directly over the lighthouse. It made me wonder if the sun had ever shone on that lonely isle after Father had died; if not, I wouldn't have been surprised. I noticed a couple of white gulls aimlessly soaring through the blue sky, and when they flew too close to the tower, they gracefully veered away back into the sunlight. Not even wandering birds would rest there, for how could a place like that accommodate any living creature? But at one time it did; at one time a great man had brought honor to that land, but as the haze loomed, it appeared as if nature and the gods had forgotten him, and doomed his earthly home to clouds, which enveloped its glory. Yet though there was no warm light at the top of the lighthouse, the desolate coast seemed to beckon to me somehow.
       Little Shizumaru ran up to me. "This place looks awful lonely, doesn't it, Haohmaru?"
       I nodded, my eyes still fixed on that beacon.
       "What are you looking at?" he inquired.
       "Just. . .looking ahead," I replied quietly. "It's. . .it's still a ways to go."
       "You have bad feelings, don't you."
       "Bad feelings?"
       "Yes. Bad feelings. Like when your stomach ties in knots and your heart beats real fast, like there's something really bad going to happen."
       I sighed, "No, it's not that. I am just thinking about some things right now."
       "What things?"
       "Certain things."
       "But what?"
       "Just things." I stated plainly.
       "Thinking is bad, Haohmaru," the child looked up at me, with a solemn expression on his tiny, round face.
       He confused me. At first, I thought that the child was just saying random phrases, but I came to learn that he was many times more perceptive than he appeared. "But why?" I asked him.
       "Because when good happens, why should you think about it? You are happy and take what good comes to you. But the minute you ask yourself questions about why any good happened, you waste it by thinking about it. And I know that in this world good does not last forever. And then the bad that you are so afraid of comes. I don't like to think."
       "Why not?"
       "Because it hurts my head."
       "You're just a child. You don't need to think."
       "I don't have any choice. I know that I am not like most children, who live safely with mothers and fathers. They know they'll eat and not sleep in the cold and the rain. They know that demons don't exist. . ."
       "As you said, Shizumaru, good certainly doesn't last forever. I remember when I used to be one of those children. . ."
       "But what happened?"
       "Do you see that lighthouse over there, way, way far away?" I pointed to the west.
       He scratched his head and shook it. "I can't see very far. . ."
       I sighed and bent down, allowing him to climb onto my shoulders. We walked, with his legs astride my neck and dangling over my shoulders. "Do you see it now? It looks really small from here, like a black thing."
       He scanned the area for a second. "Oh! There it is!" he exclaimed. "There are sure a lot of clouds around it!"
       "Yes," I told him, "There are a lot."
       "But why doesn't it shine?"
       I sighed, releasing every bit of air inside of me, and became wistful, "It used to, though. Where that lighthouse is, Shizumaru. . .I used to live when I was a young child."
       "You did?" he asked. "But. . .but why did you move?"
       "My father used to be one of the best Samurai in the land. When I was a boy, there was this daimyo, named Amakusa, who worshipped a religion called Christianity, which was from other countries. Anything foreign was against the law, and Amakusa would lead these rebellions against the government. My father would help drive them out and stop them, and he did a very good job. Such a good job that Amakusa began to hate him. Really hate him. So one day, early in the morning, Amakusa sent his army into the town, and they threw torches at all the houses and burned them to the ground. Except mine. Amakusa sent Ninja to personally kill my mother and father. I was spared because I was not in the house. But I. . .I was informed of it, and I. . .I was so devastated that I left, and I ran away. Far, far away, so. . .Amakusa wouldn't find me. . ."
       "Oh, so that's the Amakusa you keep talking about!" he exclaimed. "Do you want to kill him for killing your father?"
       "An eye for an eye," I responded gruffly, gritting my teeth in anger, "A soul for a soul."
       "Was he the guy in the restaurant?" he inquired.
       I nodded.
       "He was scary, Haohmaru. He's a demon! He seemed awfully powerful!"
       "He is, " I growled.
       "Are all these people here to help you?"
       "They try to, but they don't seem to realize that I can do this on my own."
       "You should let them help you." he told me.
       I huffed, discarding his advice.

       We continued to walk down the coast, and night was beginning to approach; the sky was a cerulean and salmon blanket, dotted with small, downy clouds. They seemed so high. The first evening stars, bright enough to compete with the purple haze of the setting sun. The vigor of the sea softened and kissed the shore with its delicate foam. The gulls began to flee towards their sanctuaries, calling their last calls into the vastness. As we walked, all that I noticed was that the lighthouse, still concealed by the fog, came closer and closer.
       I decided that we stop at a relatively flat and dry area of the shore to set up camp. We gathered some rocks, driftwood, and debris to make a fire. The rocks were placed in a small circle, with the brittle sticks in the middle. Kazuki shot forth a flame from his hand and ignited our campfire, encircled by the stones. By late dusk, we now had a warm bonfire, despite the chills of the night. It blazed up from the rocks, high into the air, and made these crackling sounds as it decomposed our makeshift kindling. We gathered round in a circle, and I wound up sitting with Shizumaru on one side of me and Nakoruru on the other. The golden light formed distinct points of light and shadow on my companion's faces; it made them appear ominous, especially when the firelight flickered.
       Cham Cham and Galford, who were excellent fishers, swam out to sea and fished upon a rock. They brought back a variety of fish and shrimp and lobsters, and we cooked them in the fire. Their sweet smells filled the air, making us salivate. We placed the meat close to the fire with sticks , but not close enough to burn them. When it was done, we placed it on some old cloth and I divided it up with my sword. There was plenty of food for all of us, and we dove into it like savages.
       All of us except Hanzo, who ate his rather slowly. His head hung down, and he never looked a one of us in the eye. In fact, he had not spoken a word to us, except to guide us. When he walked though, he kept a considerable distance from the group. I felt strange, for when we traveled, he usually walked at the from with Nakoruru and I. The scars and blisters from the fire at the inn were beginning to heal. I never asked him what was troubling him, for I knew exactly what it was. Cham Cham was ignorant enough to not see what hurt him, and she asked. He quietly walked away, telling her that he didn't feel like talking. She dismissed him as rude; what an ironic situation.
       After we finished our ravenous dining, we stayed gathered around the protective hearth and chatted about the day and the journey. Kazuki engaged in conversation with Galford, learning about just what was over that ocean. Cham Cham squeezed into the middle, attempting to get as close to both of them as she can. Galford, who seemed to enjoy most anyone's company, didn't mind at all, but Kazuki slinked away from her before she could climb all over him. Shizumaru ran to the ocean and played. But Hanzo just left us, and solemnly walked away towards the sea and stopped right where the water came to the shore. He stood with his back towards us and his arms folded.
       That left Nakoruru and I alone. She turned to me, trying not to look at Cham Cham's nauseating flirtatious habits. That look of concern spread across her face.
       She leaned toward me and whispered: "Haohmaru. . .I think that there is something seriously wrong with Hanzo."
       I nodded. "Yes. . .it was a traumatic experience for him. Hopefully, knowing the stoic that he is, he'll recover."
       "Yes, but he just hasn't seemed right ever since. I fear that there is something much more that just the loss. He. . .he really loved her, didn't he?"
       "Of course. He was willing to sacrifice his life for her. He'd been an honorable man. . .until now."
       She sighed and shook her head. "If Amakusa could see him, he would gloat and wallow in his sorrow. He knows not only how to destroy lives, but the minds of those he lets survive suffer. Hanzo is so important to us. We can't let him live like this."
       "But. . .but what should we do?" I asked.
       "Talk to him. He'll listen to you."
       "You want me to talk to him? Nakoruru, I couldn't speak to him. His diplomacy shames me!"
       "Please. . ." she implored.
       "Alright. . ." I sighed.
       I rose and tentatively walked over to where he stood. Even though he was rather small, he seemed intimidating when he stood up straight, still as a stone. He was dressed in full black.I felt a cold breeze blow at me and ruffle my hair. The red scarf around his neck flapped around behind him, make. He looked like a dragon, who must dare not be disturbed. I gulped and tried to put on the stoical mask that he once displayed, although I trembled inside. I clutched at my belt, as Shizumaru often did. I tried to tell myself that he was just another human being, but ever since I'd met him, he had seemed just one step down from godliness. But as I saw him there, with his arms tucked across his chest, he did indeed have the emotions that I never saw. Yet I was still nervous.
       "Hanzo?" I asked, my voice softened in fear.
       "Please do not address me so. . ." he stated quietly, yet very articulate.
       I merely stared at him in awe, unknowing of what he meant by that.
       "Hanzo-sama?" I asked, hoping that he demanded a formal approach.
       "I said don't address me so." he replied, a more vexatious tone in his voice.
       I was still puzzled by his behavior, but I knew that something was very wrong.
       "Hanzo, what is the meaning of---"
       "I told you not to call me that!" he sputtered, losing control and balling his fists.
       "But why? That's your name, isn't it?!" I asked, equally as frustrated.
       He released a long sigh, "No it is not. . ."


Chapter 8

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