by Mark Patraw
Homepage: Mark's Art Page
Silence. All the talking, laughter and movement died when he entered; it always did. Even the candles and flickering orange lanterns would probably dwindle into nothingness if they had the power to do so. He could never decide whether this response to his presence pleased or infuriated him, nor did he really care one way or the other.
He scanned the room slowly, his dark eyes moved but his head did not follow. Just faces. Nobody he knew; worthless little people living out their worthless little lives. The patrons of the establishment lowered their gazes when his eyes met theirs, but not before he saw the fear dancing in them.
Genjuro smiled thinly. I don't know any of you, but you most certainly have heard of me…
His predator eyes finally found the person he knew to be the mistress of this third-rate house of ill repute. She was a plump woman, and getting on in years as well if the sagging lines on here bloated face meant anything. Genjuro often wondered why hags like her didn't throw themselves into the river… She blanched under his piercing glare, but still she knew her duty and bowed.
"What can I do for you, M…Master Kibagami?"
Master? My, aren't we moving up in the world now? Yes, she had heard of him, and it was obvious that she was going to go to great lengths to keep him happy. Stupid cow! The only thing that will make me happy is sinking my blade into your fat belly!
He fished around in the worn pouch at his right side and brought out a handful of dirty coins. He threw them on the ground deliberately so that she would have to crawl to collect them, which she did. They jingled harshly on the wooden floor. Fumbling around on all fours like that, she really did resemble an animal.
"Food and sake. Now. And entertainment…later." He commanded, tonelessly.
"As you wish." She puffed, chasing the money here and there. A scrawny young man, one of the prostitutes nestled in his lap, got in her way, and she roughly shoved him aside with her unconcealed greed. "Yuki! Get our honorable guest what he requested, and be quick about it! I'm quite certain that you will enjoy your stay here at the House of Nine Spirals, Master Kibagami."
The woman in question, Yuki, jumped out of the man's lap, much to his displeasure, and silently disappeared behind a dirty tapestry. Ugh, Genjuro grimaced as he seated himself against the nearest wall, another ugly one. There had better be some decent whores here, or else I'll find other ways to amuse myself. He studied the other prostitutes, but he was not impressed. They were all fairly old, facing retirement no doubt. But this was not necessarily bad after all; experience did have its advantages.
Genjuro inspected his blade, and satisfied with its condition, drove it into the floor in front of him. Assuming that this action implied that he meant no harm, everyone visibly relaxed. Fools. I could have this blade in my hand again and your heads at my feet before you could scream. Bah! They're not worth even the most fleeting of your thoughts, Genjuro. You'd be doing them too big a favor by slaying the whole lot, here and now.
He sighed, and dug threw his pockets and withdrew one of his few possessions - a deck of playing cards. They were old and well used, but they were his and they had been with him for a long time. Once, they had been very nice, but now the colors were faded and the edges torn. Slowly, he shuffled them, enjoying the familiar, feathery touch of the cards as they passed through his hands. Dimly, he could here Yuki preparing his meal somewhere in the backrooms. He was hungry, but tonight he had the patience to wait. He studied the women again, trying to decide which would be the least unpleasant to spend the evening with.
Someone was coming.
He could hear the soft footsteps as they approached. There were two pairs of them. Probably nothing, but one could never tell. Bad luck had a way of finding Genjuro.
He continued to shuffle his cards, but his legs were poised to spring for his blade is the situation warranted it.
A man entered first, he was covered head to toe in a black cloak with the hood pulled down over his face. His boots thumped solidly as he passed. Genjuro smiled. You, I know. Your disguise doesn't fool me, foreign scum.
The man was followed by a short, petite woman; she too wore a black cloak, but her face was unconcealed. Genjuro forgot about the women of the House of Nine Spirals, she was beautiful. He had seen a face like that before, but where?
"Hey, boy! I heard you and your dog had some ugly puppies together!" Genjuro called after the cloaked male. He stopped in his steps. Genjuro smiled a wicked smile; it looked like he was going to have some fun after all.
The man he knew to be Galford slowly turned around and returned Genjuro's smile from underneath his cowl.
"Yes, yes we did. They were so ugly; all I could do was drown them. But my dog still can't get over you, Genjuro, you're the best lover she ever had. Or at least, that's what Poppy tells me."
Genjuro's smile faded into a scowl. Looks like you've gotten some balls since last we met, boy. And where was that damn dog? Dead, hopefully. Genjuro had never seen him without it.
"Who's the girl, foreign rat? Did you finally find somebody desperate and homely enough to be your wench?" He sneered.
"Well, I did my best, Genjuro. I don't have the money to buy my women every night like you do."
The old anger boiled up in Genjuro's veins again, but still he did not move. There was something unusual about him… What was it? He carried himself differently, that much was clear, but there was something else…
"Please, no fighting here, Honorable Sirs. If you must battle, please do it outside." The lady of the house gushed as she maneuvered herself in between the two men.
"This man has insulted my honor, woman. Now stand aside. He will be dead momentarily, and then I want my meal, so it had best be ready." Genjuro snarled at the hag, she immediately wilted and vanished.
Galford cocked his head slightly and his grin broadened. He folded his arms in front of his chest mockingly.
"I think you should wait for you meal silently, Genjuro. You don't want to anger me. Besides, it wouldn't do to die on an empty stomach, now would it?"
Galford's female companion gripped his shoulder anxiously and Genjuro could tell she was trying to dissuade him from fighting. Genjuro was not a man to miss opportunities. With Galford's attention momentarily distracted by the woman, he made a sudden dive for his blade, pulled it free, and rolled to his feet.
"Time to die, boy. Don't worry, I'll take good care of your little friend after you've gone to the Pureland."
"And I, Genjuro, will enjoy your meal while you bleed to death in the dust."
That was it. All rational thought was gone. The world went red and Genjuro leapt forward, blade ready, as his rage overtook him.
There was a flash, and the dull sound of metal passing metal. And then a humming noise that ended as soon as it had begun.
Genjuro fell to the floor, the smoking, black stumps of his wrists clutched to his chest. His gleaming sword clattered next to him, his pale hands still attached to the hilt.
Some of the women screamed and fled, as did many of the men. Cowards, every last one of them, Genjuro hated them all. He expected pain, but his wrists were only numb. He stared dumbly at his severed hands lying on the floor. Those weren't really his, were they? He could see the dirt caked under his long fingernails.
Genjuro looked up at his adversary. How? How had he done this to him?
Galford mouthed a silent "oops" and smiled. Genjuro couldn't be sure, but for a moment, he could have swore he saw blue light dance underneath that hood…
"Oh, geez. Sorry about that, but I'm used to fighting with people a little more skillful than you."
The rage welled up in Genjuro again, but there wasn't much he could do about it, which only made him angrier. At least the blood lust dulled the pain that was beginning to take form.
Galford sunk down to one knee and studied Genjuro from behind his ebon hood.
"It wasn't supposed to happen like this, was it? I can sympathize with you, Genjuro my friend, I really can. I was in the same situation not too long ago.
Well, almost, I still had my hands."
Genjuro snarled. He'd never killed someone without his hands before, but he was going to give it his best try.
"Uh, uh…that's not a good idea. You've already lost your hands, are you so eager to lose your head as well?" Galford gripped his shoulder to restrain him, and Genjuro's body instinctively jerked away when he felt that touch. There was an audible snap and his shoulder tingled. What the hell was going on?
"You know…I was going to kill you just now, Genjuro, but it occurred to me that I like you better this way. I think you have a bright future ahead of you as a handless beggar."
He wanted to lunge forward and rip that smile off of his face with his teeth, but he didn't dare. Genjuro was beaten, and he knew it. Everything, all his training, was useless to him now. In a very real sense he has been castrated. Death and the blade were his life, and he could not deal one without the other. No. Death did not require hands to wield it, but will. And Genjuro had no shortage of that.
A mirthless smile touched Genjuro's lips.
"Yes, maybe you're right."
You'll get yours, boy. Not tonight, maybe not tomorrow, but soon. Sparing my life was the last mistake you'll ever make.
Shamefully, Genjuro pulled himself to his feet, and hid his stumps inside the folds of his clothing. The humility almost killed him, but he would not submit. I want to die… NO! You are Kibagami Genjuro! You will not die like this. YOU WILL NOT!
He stared at the others. They weren't afraid of him anymore. They looked on him with a mixture of stupidity and mirth on their faces. You'll learn to fear me again, all of you will…
"Hey, don't forget your sword, Genjuro! You'll probably want to sell it so you can eat…" Galford picked up his blade without any respect, and shook his dead hands from its handle. Then, he gently tucked it into Genjuro's sash, as you would for a child. With an impish chuckle, he kicked both of the dead hands, so much like pale, pink spiders, out the door.
"Sayonara, Kibagami! Thanks for buying me dinner! Good luck in your new life as a cripple!"
Genjuro said nothing; he held his head high and walked out into the cold night air. Already schemes of revenge were turning over in his mind like a dead body in the grip of the sea. When the House of Nine Spirals had passed out of sight, he had the beginnings of a plan. A few minutes later a smile parted Genjuro's lips, and he began to whistle a love song.
Now, he remembered who that girl had reminded him of. That Ainu witch with the eagle. The resemblance was close, but not perfect. A cousin perhaps? No matter, a sweet wind was blowing, and revenge was its name. His sword would serve him yet…
"You shouldn't have let him live, Galford."
"No? I thought you didn't want me to kill anybody anymore, Kiko?"
"But you did kill him. A samurai who cannot wield his blade is worse than dead."
"Bah! Women! You're all the same! You say one thing, but mean another entirely. I give up!"
Galford grinned. He was in a good mood. Kibagami had done much to relieve his pent up stress. Gently, he reached over and caressed Kiko's chin with his thumb and studied her tender pink lips, a ghost of a smile played there. Ah, my little Kiko. So like Nakoruru, but so different. You don't hate me, but actually love me. Strange but true, I didn't believe you at first, but now…
"I'm sorry. You're right. I promised to be good, but…well, sometimes I just can't help it, Kiko."
"Will you be requiring the company of one of my girls tonight, honored guest?" The lady of the house rudely interrupted his reverie.
Damn! And I was just about to be romantic too!
"As you can see, I am already in the company of a young woman, and one far more appealing than the gutter trash you have to offer!!!" He growled dangerously, pulling his hood up so she could see his eyes.
It had the desired effect, she gasped, her eyes rolled up in their sockets, and she fainted. Several of her working girls rushed to her aid.
"Where's that food? By all that's holy, a man can starve to death in this place…"
At last, a timid young girl appeared with two bowls of stew and a bottle of rice wine. Galford's stomach growled as the aroma reached his nostrils.
"Ah! Much better. Now I can think." He tipped the girl handsomely and dug into his food in earnest. Yum, yum!
Kiko stared at him in mock horror. Oops! And she had tried so hard to teach him some manners…
"Sawry." He mumbled around a mouthful of meat and noodles.
She giggled and everything was alright again.
They ate silently for a while. The women of the house had finally succeeded in resurrecting their mistress. The fat old woman sat in the corner farthest from Kiko and Galford, fanning herself and slipping him evil looks. Ask me if I care, Galford thought to himself. Ordinarily, I'd walk over there and cook myself some bacon, but thanks to Kiko, I'm more civilized now…well almost.
"Yes, Kiko my love?"
"You never answered my question earlier. What are we doing here?"
"Oh, I'm waiting for somebody."
"That somebody is here." The voice startled Kiko, but not Galford. He knew Ruoh had been standing off to the side of them for some time. In fact, he had witnessed the little Genjuro incident. Good. That would convince him that Galford was not someone who liked to be screwed with.
"It's about time, Ruoh. Of course, it's not easy to sneak out of the Iga fortress, or so I hear."
"True. But I know a way, a secret way. And that is why you need me, is it not?" Ruoh smiled and started to sit down opposite of Kiko, until he saw Galford's barely perceptible frown. Quickly, he changed his position.
"It is indeed. The only question that remains is what do you want out of the deal, Ruoh? Selling out your ninja buddies is suicide, if they find out that is."
"They won't find out, I'll make sure of that. As for what I want, I want Hanzo. Dead. Then I can take over the Iga. He's too strong for me. But you, you can defeat him easily with your powers."
Galford could see the hunger dancing in Ruoh's eyes. Yuck. Why kill for greed and power? It was such a waste. But killing for fun, now that was something different.
"All right, you get me into fortress Iga, Ruoh, and I'll take care of Hanzo. Then Galford and his little friends are mine, agreed?"
"Excellent!" He smiled at Kiko, but she didn't return the gesture. She hung her head and picked half-heartedly at her food.
Galford's good humor vanished. He had done it again… I'll make it up to you, Kiko, I promise. No more killing after this. No more. After the other Galford is gone, I won't need to kill anymore.
Inside his head, a scratchy little voice laughed at him.
Oh, you'll keep killing Galford. You'll kill again, and again, you'll want to stop, but you won't be able to, and you'll even kill her some day. That's all your good for. Zap! Poof! Crispy, crunchy, black people.
But the voice wouldn't shut up, it got louder and louder until it drowned out everything else. It was the voice of the storm, the lightning, calling him. Burn. Fire. Death. He pretended to listen to what Ruoh was telling him about his devious plans, and he tried to feel concern for Kiko's feelings, but it was all a sham. He couldn't ignore the voice because it was the real Galford, and it spoke the truth.
Thunder rumbled in the sky outside, but Galford didn't hear it, because he was already there. In the storm, waiting, waiting for the lightning to strike. The lightning.
The thunder rumbled, and Kiko's head shot up instantly to study Galford. He had brought the storm; she knew it. Ruoh was still whispering his dark plans, but Galford wasn't listening. She could tell. That blue light was playing out from under his black cloak, and his lips were twitching. He's staring, but he isn't seeing anything. No. He sees the lightning, the lightning dancing in his eyes.
She remembered the poem about lightning her uncle had written a few years before he had died.
The burning tree thrashing
Fire of the gods
He's going to kill you, Kiko.
You know that.
Just like mama….
But I love him. I shouldn't, I should hate him, but I can't help it.
Maybe my love can change him.
You don't believe that do you?
The storm will rip your love to pieces.
How can your love stand against the power of the lightning?
I don't know.
I don't know.
But it must.
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