Thunder and Redness
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With steady motions and a lack of strain on his face, Asura slowly oared the small boat through the waters. He looked around at all of us, with emotionless, black eyes, trying to know us better without words, but by precise observations.
Or waiting for us to speak first.
"So tell us, Asura," Nakoruru began, "what brings you here?"
"Many things. . ." he sighed, continuing to paddle the boat. "I don't wonder why I am here. I just am; it is the only place I can live."
"But why?" she inquired further, leaning closer to him. "Are you a Christian?"
He shook his head silently. "I have no faith-perhaps only survival."
"You must feel very lost," Charlotte sighed.
"Not here. I have never felt more at home here than with these humble people-or alone in these dark forests which are behind us. You see, the people in Shimabara live so much differently. They don't have the gold coins or the silk or any riches to live for-the very things that cause the nobility to hate them."
"But what about you?" Kazuki asked. "You don't seem like a peasant."
"He seems European, like a dark count or something," Galford added. "I've read some books about characters that look like you."
"There is a lot of European influence on the town," Masashige said, looking outward. For a moment he sighed, looking out to the islands. Then he turned his head back to the conversation.
Asura nodded. "This is one of the few places where they can stay. After Xavier came, they have continued to live here. Many of them were shipwrecked and can't return home. This is one of the only places they can go and not be burned.
"The Japanese think these Christian peasant people are evil, and must be destroyed, like that fat man in your troop. They think that these people are overrunning their country, and disrupting the peace. But that is merely hiding what they really believe. They ignore these people, who break their backs to feed that slug Tsunemoto. But what Tsunemoto doesn't know is these people work better, knowing that a higher being appreciates their effort. . .
"I didn't come from here, but I remember my grandfather was a general for the Shogun himself. A samurai never fears death, they always told me. But I did. I knew what samurai did when they failed. Knowing that I would have to take my life for a fallacy itself made me not want to live. I remember the training it took to become one of these great soldiers, and having my father tell me that my life would be nothing but to serve my Lord-to give everything to him.
"I am not built to become a great soldier, and I knew it. I was never swift enough and there was never enough strength in my arms to swing a sword. I knew I was going to fail-but I didn't. I disappeared, wandering all over this country, until I came here."
Asura seemed rooted in this town-this island on the coast of the murky waters. I wouldn't ever want to live there. Yet I wondered why he would flee a life of nobility-that he would fear death. Death was something every person had to face, wasn't it? I had always wanted to live the life of the honorable warrior-to take the place of my father-even if it meant I would have to die in battle or perhaps commit seppuku; after all, allowed to die by seppuku was a greater honor than any other death.
"But what do you do here?" I asked. "If you aren't a Christian or any other faith, why should they accept you here?"
"I serve someone," he replied.
He eyes veered off towards that large, towering pagoda across the ocean, surrounded by dark clouds and falling ash. A flicker of lightning appeared from deep inside the smoky ring. My hands began to shake slowly, attempting to grab the hilt of my sword. Before he told us I knew he was another traitor-a trap, trying to kill us all once and for all, and I would never avenge my Father and he would die a man murdered. . .
I quickly rose, causing the small boat to sway back and forth. Some of my companions became indignant with me, gripping the sides of the boat.
"I should have known!" I rasped, quickly unsheathing my sword. I held it tightly in the air, waiting for the man to move. He stood, sedentary, cloaked in black, his deep eyes staring back at me. All I could see was my wrenched, angry face staring back..
The others tugged at my hair and my clothing, trying to restrain me. They pulled me back down into the boat. I huffed angrily.
"So you. . .so you work for Amakusa?" Nakoruru asked, fear in her voice.
"Hai. . ." he nodded his head once. "I am a messenger for him. I travel across Shimabara and the surrounding land, watching the people, noticing what they are doing. And then I tell him."
"You might be able to help us," Masashige stated. "But why would you serve someone as evil as he? He rapes innocent women and orphans children. He killed the great Tomura Akira, Haohmaru's father."
"He killed Akira for the same reason that you are here to kill him-vengeance." Asura stated, his voice deep and muffled from behind the cape. "He was human once too. His vengeance is so intense that it cannot be contained in the underworld."
"But he was ressurected!" Nakoruru exclaimed. "I saw it with my own eyes! I'm surprised he hasn't killed me yet-and my family-I don't know. . ."
"Indeed. A priest called him forth from the ground, stirring his anger and hate so much that the ground could not hold him in. And he has taken the body of the priest."
"But if you could help us," I glared suspiciously at the dark stranger, "how do we kill Amakusa?"
He looked at me with his expressionless, black eyes. "We only have one life, Haohmaru."
The boat beat on through the black sludge, the trip in silence. Shizumaru lay across Charlotte's lap and lay his head on mine, slowly breathing. One of his arms dangled and moved with each swell of the sea. Kazuki with at the back of the boat, slouching down as far as possible. He placed his arms over the sides to balance himself and looked ahead at the lit town ahead. His brother peered down into the opaque water, almost ready to dive in.
Although it was hard to tell from the dark skies, I knew that evening was approaching. It had been a long journey that day, and each person in the boat was tired, save for Asura, who continued to move the oars, his face showing no exhaustion or strain. By the time the stern of the boat gently collided with the black shores of Shimabara, it was well into the evening. I could see the moon in the sky, veiled red from the skies.
We stumbled from the boat, for earth felt too stable for our feet, accustomed to the undulating movements of the ocean. Asura watched us step off the boat, aiding those who were dizzy. He tied the boat to a wooden post with a thick rope, his movements gracefully aggressive. Wiping his hands, he turned to us, noticing our bewildered appearances and our weary, ashen bodies. My back ached from the heavy armor I wore.
"Come," he beckoned to us, "we'll rest here for a night. Shimabara is a friendly town."
After regaining our posture, we trod through Shimabara. It was somewhat larger than Gairyu Isle, and it had a large red lighthouse which stood much taller than the one at my home. Other than that, nearly everything displayed utter poverty. There was one main road on which we walked, with an array of shops on either side. Most of the vendors were old, toothless people wearing brown, ragged tunics with rough faces caked with soot. They shouted at one another, trying to catch the attention of the passers-by. I heard the clang of the sword-smith's hammer, the beating of silk cloth, and the sound of children running in the streets, chasing a chicken. I noticed Shizumaru watching them, a slight smile on his face. One of the boys asked him to play, but I had to slightly shove him ahead, making it easier to resist.
I eyed a frail, old woman sitting on a stool next to a flower shop, noticing her sunken face. Her hands shook, trying to hold her walking stick. Her only ornate item was a large cross on a string of beads, which dangled from her neck. She had just enough energy to give me a meager, half-toothed smile. There were more people, wearing only loincloths and tattered rags, for it was the only clothing they had. Their hands trembled, holding cups and pleading the townspeople for alms. Upon passing a small chapel, I noticed a whole cluster of them.
It was a small white building that resembled a white block with a sloping brown roof. At the top was a small cross and along the sides were colored windows with Christian figures. It was the first church I had ever seen. The building seemed foreign, except there were shoji screens at the entrance. Walking towards it was a group of black clad women with white veils, each one carrying a small, leather book. I noticed that some of them were white-skinned and some were Japanese. One of them looked at me. She had blue eyes just like Charlotte with a wisp of brown hair peeking out from her veil. Her face seemed solemn and serious.
"Komban wa, Good Sisters," Asura bowed.
They smiled formally and bowed their heads. "Good evening to you, Asura, and God Bless," replied one of the older women.
All of a sudden, I heard a loud, clanging sound which resonated throughout the entire town. Its ring startled me and I immediately placed my hands over my ears.
"The bells for evening mass," Asura stated. "Come, let's retreat to the inn."
Our resting place was more like a small home-only a couple of stories tall. There was no shoji screen in the front, but a small door that swung open on a hinge, with glass, latticed windows. The door slightly squeaked when Asura opened it, and a rush of musty air surrounded me. I nearly choked from its thickness.
There was a small foyer with a wooden floor, covered by a matted rug. There were no tatami mats, but we removed our shoes anyway and placed them under a coat rack. Asura removed his cloak and placed it on one of the hooks. I could see his entire face. He had a small beak of a nose and full lips.
At the end of the small foyer, next to a rickety flight of stairs was a large, mahogany desk lit by a single candle. The grandness of the table dwarfed the little innkeeper, who sat straight up with his hands gently folded over the desk, covered with scattered papers. He had a mouse-like face-a low jaw and a tiny nose and large ears that reached from his brow to the tip of his chin. Behind the desk was a large cross with a nude, bearded man in the middle. The head was downcast and his wrists were bleeding. I remembered seeing the same thing at Charlotte's house and feared that one day her father would do that to me.
"Can I help you, sir?" the mousy man asked in a squeaky voice.
"Yes. . ." Asura replied, "A room for ten, please."
"We do have a suite, but I don't know if it will be able to fit you all. I will let you have the room for free. . ." he stammered.
"Thank you. I appreciate your gratitude, yet I can't. . ."
He dropped four gold coins into the shaky hands of the innkeeper, who gratefully put them in his trouser pocket for safekeeping.
"Thank you, kind man. . ." he slowly stood from his chair and walked slowly up the stairs. We followed. The stairs were as old as they sounded, and they seemed to sway back and forth as we walked. The wood seemed old and eroded; each step I took, I feared that my foot would fall through. I wanted to grasp the railing for support, yet even that seemed unstable. There was a place where the banister was close to splintering in two.
The hall that he led us down was small and narrow, and the wood continued to creak beneath our feet, and with twenty feet, the floor formed an orchestra of different squeaking sounds. I noticed Sogetsu's long hair hand brushed a cobweb and-with a disgusted look on his face-tried to brush the sticky threads from his hair.
We stopped at the end of the corridor to a small, wooden door with a tarnished, gold handle. Bowing, the little man opened the door, which made a sonorous creak.
"Your room. Do enjoy your stays. I will send the maid for a nice supper, for you look weary."
With that, he left and slowly walked down the stairs. We could hear them writhe under his tiny feet.
The room was a bit nicer and had a clean air to it. There was a large window overlooking the town, for this was one of the higher buildings in Shimabara. I saw the market, the white church-the bells had sounded again, and soon after I saw the people leave, walking slowly out the shoji screen and onto the narrow dusty road. People bowed and shook hands. There were more people like Charlotte and Sieger and Galford, with golden hair and blue eyes. The people seemed nicely dressed and walked with a rigid formality, yet with placid friendliness towards each other. Then the small group scattered and they went their separate ways.
"Well, I can't wait until the maid comes," Galford stated, dropping himself on a chair. "I am starving. Hope the food is decent. It's awfully nice to see some Europeans. Perhaps they have a good steak."
"Ahh. . .it almost seems like home," Sieger remarked, "Perhaps they can prepare a large mug of ale, although, I am acquiring a taste for sake."
Shizumaru tugged at my haori. "I like this place better, can we stay?" he asked.
I patted the child's back, "For a while. . ." I replied.
"It does seem like a nice town," Charlotte said. "A Christian haven. The church seems nice, although the poverty here saddens me."
"That is because they are taxed so heavily," Asura replied. "The empire loathes them. So they only get poorer."
After a short while there was a knock on the door. Kazuki, who was closest, answered it. A small, black-clad woman with a beaded cross necklace greeted him with a large tray of steak, bread, vegetables, pastries, and a jug of wine.
"Smells delicious," Galford remarked.
Kazuki bowed and gently placed the tray on a low table as to not topple anything. Masashige and I tried to keep the whole group from grabbing unfair portions of food. I cut the steak with a small, silver knife and held the juicy meat down with a fork. I remembered using these utensils with Charlotte's family, yet it had been so long and seemed so distance that I was rather clumsy. There were no chopsticks-only knives, forks, and spoons. Those unfamiliar to them stared blankly at them.
"I have never seen something like this before," Nakoruru remarked, holding the tined object closer to her face.
"It's a fork," Galford replied, smiling.
She chuckled, rather quietly. "A fork? That is the oddest name I have ever heard. But how do you use one?"
"Much simpler than chopsticks," he laughed. He cut a bit of his steak with the knife and jabbed it with his fork. He placed the morsel close to her mouth and she took a bite.
More laughter and red faces.
I served a plate for Charlotte, who took it gracefully. She and I sat in a corner of the room, a bit isolated from the rest of them.
"I see you have been practicing your use of forks and knives," she remarked, her mouth curving to form a sly grin.
"And you with chopsticks," I replied, giving her a friendly smile-but my comment was sincere. I saw she never had trouble using them.
"After returning from Japan, I took a pair with me and would use them at the dinner table. My father would get so angry at me, probably because he could never figure it out."
"Huh. . ." I remarked, a small laugh escaping my throat. "He was a stupid man."
She nodded her head and looked down at her plate. "He's merely ignorant," she replied, looking up at me. "You know, I don't really miss him. I miss my mother terrible, but-in fact-I don't think I even loved him. I just remember saying that and behaving the way he wanted me to."
"If he was my father I wouldn't love him," I said, a mouth full of food.
"He's a hard man to love, I will tell you that."
I looked up at her, watching her slowly eat her dinner. Every now and then I caught her looking back at me, her blue eyes glinting. I merely smiled, and she smiled back and gently took my hand.
"I really love you, Haohmaru," she said, her eyes staring straight into mine. Her voice was just above a whisper-too soft for anyone else in the room to hear.
My heart beat very forcefully against my chest, and I could feel hot blood rush through my ears. I placed my hand atop hers very softy; it was a bit shaky. Then my grip became slightly stronger so her hand was secure in mine. The food that I just ate began to churn in my stomach and that strange feeling emerged in my groin. I knew exactly what to say to her-and I truly meant it-yet it seemed strange. I knew what to say. . .
"I-I. . ."
All of a sudden, I felt a quivering sensation all around me. The plates and glasses tinkled slightly. I knew that I was nervous sometimes when I was near her, so I looked down at my hands. The dish that I held seemed to vibrate quickly and I placed it on the floor. It shook more and I saw it totter around, walloping like a fish out of water. Then I felt a deep blackness within my chest, knowing something terrible was about to happen.
"What's-what's going on?" Galford inquired, looking alertly up from his plate.
"I-I don't like this. . ." Nakoruru remarked, her voice just as shaky as the ground below. She inched closer to Galford.
The trembling became more violent, I could feel the building slightly sway. Glasses tipped over and wine bled on the floor. The food was scattered all over the room.
"Looks like we've got an earthquake. . ." Masashige said, his voice rather calm. Then his eyes widened, "The mountain! We must find shelter!"
I felt Shizumaru cling to my arm and bury his face on my shoulder. "Haohmaru, something really bad is going to happen."
"It may just be a slight tremor," I patted the child's back, but I knew that it would be more. There was no reason to try and convince both of us otherwise.
The loud bells of the church startled me, but they sounded different from the quick, cheerful bells that called the Christians to church. Instead they sounded low and each ring occurred a short time later, in that same dark tone.
Asura quickly rose. "Come. . ." he remarked, his arms toward the door, "We must flee. We are under attack. . ."
Immediately each person in the room jumped to their feet and quickly walked out the door, their steps scuttling nervously across the old wood.. The group crowded its massive size through the small portals, each person pushing and shoving one another. No one wanted to be the one behind-the straggler who would be first to get nipped from behind; no one wanted to be in the front either-they would be the first to go down.
Instinctively, I grabbed Shizumaru's hand tightly so I would not lose him in the crowd. I placed my other hand on Charlotte slight waist to protect her. It felt odd for me to lean over her since she was somewhat taller. As the other guests poured from their rooms, the narrow hallway became more crowded, and when we approached the stairs, there was a build up of jumpy people, dying to get down. They quivered just as much as the ground did. I noticed that the maid stood behind the mass, ushering the guests. She gripped the beaded cross necklace with her thin hand and began muttering to herself.
The stairs were swaying violently as the people hurried down them. Asura led the crowd, calling for them to hurry. Mothers gripped the hands of their children and the husbands had their hands around their wives' waists-the way I was protecting Charlotte and Shizumaru. It was difficult to make haste down the stairs, for many people fear having their foot bust through. All of a sudden, there was a splintering of wood. I noticed that Sieger had stepped right through the papery old step. He apologized in German. At the bottom floor, the mousy innkeeper stood at the side of the main door, making sure no one was left behind.
"May God save you all!" he cried, his fists tightly clenched.
After exiting the door, the crowd scattered in the outside. They were in a frenzy; some were screaming and wildly flailing their arms. Some dropped to their knees and looked up to the sky with open arms, crying for God's mercy. Other s held beaded crossed and muttered to themselves like the maid, scuttling towards the white building.
"To the church! To the church!" Asura called, beckoning those disoriented people to follow him. "Hurry! Make haste before they come!"
The bell continued to clang its low notes, and the masses of people started rushing towards the white building.
"Asura!" I called, "There is hardly enough room in there! They will break the walls!"
"Don't worry!" he hollered from a distance, leading a lost boy with curly yellow hair towards the church. "Just enter!"
I lead Charlotte and Shizumaru into the small, white building. It was teeming with peasants. I could smell a mix of sweat and dirt within the tiny church. The floor was open and covered with tatami mats. At the end of the room was a low table covered in a white cloth. The stained glass windows created a rainbow of colors upon the walls.
Near the table, I noticed two middle-aged men in brown robes with short hair cut just below the scalp. They moved it slowly and removed a large tatami mat. Under the mat was a trap door, leading to an underground hiding place. The monks pointed their fingers at it so people would know where to go.
"Down there!" I called to my companions as I led them to the door.
There was a set of steep, narrow steps leading into the chamber, and it was incredibly dark.
"Kazuki, give this place some light," Masashige ordered.
"Stand back!" the young man commanded and his fist burst into flames. I looked around me and saw a vast network of tunnels which spanned into complete blackness. Some of the stone walls had old, chipped away paintings of young shepherds and their flocks, white-robed people with golden winds, and that familiar face of the bearded man who always seemed so kind. I saw him again, nailed to a wooden cross in one of the paintings, much like that cross that hung on the wall in Charlotte's house.
One of the black-clad women with the white veils looked at Kazuki, her large brown eyes incredibly wide.
"He is a servant of the Lord, sent to protect us," she proclaimed. "It is His fire which will burn the offenders!"
When all of my companions entered the underground sanctuary, we huddled together for protection-amidst the crying multitude. With Charlotte and Shizumaru by my side, I hoped that the enemy would leave. If they didn't-I would fight them-as Father would have done.
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