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Climb Mt. Fuji, O snail
“Come in, please”, said Odagiri Kei, in a trembling voice. Kurokouchi
Yumeji took off her sandals, entered the tea-room, walked past Kei without even
looking at her. She despised women like Kei whose lives were dedicated to
pleasing their husbands and giving them a male heir. She, Yumeji, would never
submit to a man, either for money or for love. Her sword at her side, she
equalled if not out passed any man.
She stopped and looked at her former comrade and senpai, Tachibana Ukyo. In
the middle of the empty room, he was kneeled at a small table, an unusually-long
sword besides him laid on the floor. It looked like a cane, ebony shade, simple
and refined. Though it was obvious he had lost weight and his skin had gone
ghost-pale, he was as handsome as ever. His hair was long and still had that
deep dark blue shine but he no longer wore the ponytail of the School of Divine
Inspiration. His eyes were closed and nothing on his face betrayed that he had
recognized her subtle jasmine perfume.
Before Kei slid the door shut, her eyes stopped staring at the floor to catch
a glimpse of Yumeji in her red and white kimono, standing in front of her
kneeled fiancé. She closed her eyes then the door.
Alone at last! Wouldn’t he look at her? So arrogant! She could just behead
him, it would be over! But that’s not the way... She sat down in front of him.
She laid her katana on the floor. He opened his eyes: o how beautiful! She had
almost forgotten; it had been for so long...
Not a word nevertheless.
She broke the silence: “My father’s favourite alumni... He loved you, you know. I’m sure he would have forgiven you for your...sin... I mean the way you had your little disease. When you leaved, he became the shadow of himself out of sadness. He almost died of it.
-So you had to finish him...
-Huh, how do you know? She said, stunned.
- I saw the wound: I pictured the blow. Perfect. He did not suffer... Merciful daughter...
She eased back, breathing in and long.
-Mercy has nothing to do with it. The Divine is perfect, so should we be. If our master goes astray from the Way because of… feelings, then he should be…dismissed.
-And what about the others, our friends...
There was no sadness in his voice, Yumeji knew it.
- Say “comrades”, please: you never had “friends”. Let’s say that, regardless of her skill and wisdom, they wouldn’t follow a woman.
-or a traitor, or an assassin....
A cloud passed before the sun, the room grew darker. An eastern wind howled like a lone wolf running amidst the bamboo trees that where doing a violent cracking sound. The light grew back as slowly as if someone had been removing a veil over the sleeping sun. The bamboo trees stopped fighting each other.
-It was a fair duel. We had a referee. I won. By Ippon.”
A shade of sadness in her eyes: the memory of her father or of her too easy victory?
-“As for our comrades, she continued, calm as if she was reciting a story that she was not a part of, some of them confronted me just after the duel. I killed them and chased the others throughout Japan. None of them is left...”
-Why? Because time has come to build a new School of Divine Inspiration. All our masters and companions turned out to be unworthy and sinful. And now, I’m here for you, “the perfect fruit” of my father’s tree”.
At this moment, Kei came in with the tea board. Trembling, she approached, by small steps. Yumeji saw her eyes injected with blood as if she had cried. She set the tea board on the table, handed a cup that Yumeji ignored. She was watching at Ukyo with eyes of madness, her hand close to her sword.
-“Look at you now. A sick poet, named after a mandarin orange, spitting blood and poems out. I could let time do its work; it’s not even a matter of years before you’re dead meat. But a rotten fruit can sometimes saw its seed. I can’t let it be. I guess you understand what it means”.
She stared at Kei and calmly added: “she’s doomed too”.
The cup fell from Kei’s hands and broke: her nerves had cracked. Ukyo held her hand, and gently looked at her. They did not need to talk to understand each other. She calmed down and served him, slowly, as if she could push back the end of the ceremonial. Ukyo let cool his tea, and closed his eyes back. The steam was warming up his face. After a moment, he took the cup, brought it to his lips and had a brief sip.
He heard the click of a drawing blade, felt the wind of the slash and the cup dividing in between his palms. The water spilt over the table. Kei’s strident scream stopped. Ukyo kept still, eyes shut and said:
-“Bravado... I taught you better”. Leaning on his sword, he stood up:
“time for your last lesson”.
* * * * * * * * * *
Two weeks ago.
Rumours ran fast across the country. Something had happen at the dojo of the
School of Divine Inspiration! A massacre! Some rumour said it was an attack by a
rival school from Iga, ninjas maybe. Another said that it was that hairy drunken
rônin wandering throughout Japan. A peasant was adamant it was a massive
suicide. An old monk had his interpretation: it was punishment from the Divine
Foot that stomped them, and that’s what happen to people who are selfish
towards those who dedicate their lives in prayers!
The only sure thing was that the sensei Kurokouchi was dead. So Ukyo set
off for the dojo, on the Mt. Fuji.
Climb Mount Fuji
But slowly, slowly...
Ukyo recited this haiku by Matsuo Bashô to give him courage and patience.
For walking up the long and rocky road was hard. It tortured his diseased lungs.
At each cough, a taste of blood was filling up his mouth. But the mountains
winds were so fresh and pure, bringing back memories, that the painful walk was
like going back in time...
He had just run away from his father’s house. An excellent sword-maker. A hard-working man. He died of it. Ukyo refused to end like that. Life outside promised to be hard and sad, but getting beaten by his stepmother had never been fun, anyway. So he left. The food was sparse. Had to steal apples and learn to kill swallows in mid-air with his staff. That was when he crossed paths with his master-to-be.
-“That was a beautiful move! Had you waited a little longer, you would have done less effort to kill that bird... It would have been a perfect blow.” Kurokouchi was already an aged-man, with peaceful eyes, an ever-present and subtle smile on his face.
-“How old are you?
-16, Ukyo replied.
-You are a bit old...and already rotten by practicing self-taught moves, but I can see potential. Do you want to be a samurai?
-I can teach you.
- My dojo serves three meals a day...
Ukyo bent down to the ground: I’d be honoured to be your disciple...”
Ukyo smiled: he was so into material things back then! “Remembrance is like
walking on a cloud: smoother the way but harder the fall!” bitterly thought
Ukyo, brutally brought back to reality by a horrible scent. It took him two days
to come to the dojo and the corpses where still there, slowly rotting. So high
in the mountain, there were no mosquitoes, at least. People had come, for some
of the dojo’s artefacts were destroyed and gone. Occasional thieves maybe.
They did not bother burying their good-willing victims. Ukyo covered his nose
with a handkerchief and went on, walking amidst the corpses. Some had two
wounds, others only one, mostly on their bellies and backs. No trace of a
rampaging attack. It seemed it was a single fighter for the slashes showed the
same cold-hearted perfect ness. A group of corpses formed a circle as if they
had tried trapping their opponent by outnumbering him... They failed.
He took off his large straw hat and entered the training room. He felt like
puking: a beheaded corpse was laid in the middle of it. There also were the
white and red referee flags. Ukyo searched with the eyes from left to right.
“It’s not here”. He saw a dried river of blood going out of the room. It
led to his mentor private quarters, once a forbidden place. It did not matter
any longer. Ukyo opened the door. There was the head. Kurokouchi’s eyes and
mouth where wide open. It was not pain but rather an expression of bitter
surprise frozen upon his face. The neck was neatly sectioned.
Under the head was the master’s diary. It was open and tainted with blood. Nevertheless, Ukyo could read: “Alas! My teachings created a demon! But under what form… O it breaks my heart! Doing evil with my lessons of divine understanding…”
“Still in his crazy theories” Ukyo whispered.
He kept on reading: “Maybe you will stop her, wherever you are… I
can’t... I feel so weak... O, Ukyo, you hated blood. She loves it. And she
hates you. Because of me... Maybe I had mistaken. Maybe she is the perfect
fruit. But the worm lies within...”
The head, the book, it was set by the murderess for him to see. “I shall
avenge you, crazy old man”, swore Ukyo.
On the road back home, he heard other rumours... One said that the Bakufu had someone enquiring, a one-eyed man, that did not have an atom of a clue about the events. “Shoulda sent a blind man instead!” people mocked...
Another rumour said that the murderer was after the surviving disciples of
* * * * * * * * * *
It took her off-guard. Ukyo was facing away from her, his long sword sheathed. Intimidation leads to victory. She knew he would rely on this. So Yumeji attacked first. Ukyo effortlessly blocked with his scabbard. She furiously pushed him back and jumped at him, swinging her sword. He could only dodge and hop back. She stopped suddenly, showed him his hair she had cut and said: “What lesson, senpai?”
She had learned sword-fighting watching him. How could it be else? He was the
best and “cutest” of the oldest class. Then he become in charge of hers. She
knew his moves, his rhythm.
The more the duel would last the more Ukyo’s strength would lessen. His lungs were already begging for air. He knew she would rely on this.
-“Only the strong survive” Yumeji said.
He had to put an end to this. He dove to her feet at lightning speed. Only bamboos were slashed. “Where is she?”
It was brief as a blink yet it felt like eternity to Ukyo: Yumeji seemed to be floating in the air, then headed back to the ground, both hands holding the sword ready to stab him. A true bird of prey! He rolled. That was close. He stood up but fell back on his knees. He could hardly breathe as blood was violently rising up his throat. Yumeji came close to him, kicked his sword and raised hers. “You have no strength left. The lesson’s over”. She stroke. Ukyo blocked the blade between his palms. He threw Yumeji away behind him. “I’m not out of energy: I can turn yours against you”.
He picked up his weapon and put one knee to the ground. He unsheathed his weapon midway. He raised the blade in front of his eyes so that he could see behind him. Yumeji was already back on her feet. The ache was also coming back. He turned around fast without standing up, blocked her blow and broke her blade. He slashed her in the legs. She screamed. He walked past her and thrust the long iaito deep through her body. Her screams turned mute.
-“So…you are…the perfect fruit, she gasped.
He shut his eyes to focus on her subtle jasmine perfume that was being swiped by the crude blood scent. He did not want to forget it. When there was not an atom of perfume left, he removed the blade. Blood sprayed from both sides of the wound. The screams started again. It was not pain this time but agony. Yumeji was bathing in a sea of blood.
-“Arrrgh… Do it! K-khoff!
-I’m done with you: that was the last lesson”.
-Ukyo cleaned and sheathed his sword.
-“Kill me…Hunggh-h-aah-arggh!!! K…k-kill me... Koff! You can’t…Buuhh…l-l-leave me…like thaaa-at?! Khhoff…khhhoaaf!!! G-grrrunt… hunggh… raaah, spit! C-come back!!! Blaaahhh…huh! Bas-tard! Bastaaaaaard…
-Unlike you, I don’t practice mercy…”