Hi everyone. Bringing what is probably the only release in September, here’s Samurai NOT 12.
Before you read, I must tell you something. I think is the best chapter I’ve written so far. I really loved it. Hope you enjoy as much as I do.
Samurai NOT 12
Ei stopped breathing. The room spun before her eyes and she lost her strength. Her numb fingers let go of Tadayoshi’s clothes and her legs cave in.
The swordsman grabbed her by the arm before she fell on the floor. Her legs couldn’t support her weight, but he kept her standing. “Breathe.”
Ei barely heard him, but did as told, forcing herself to breathe so fast she almost fainted again. When the room stopped spinning, she raised her head with difficulty and looked him in the eyes. “Why…?” though it hurt her throat, she managed to ask in a croaked voice.
Tadayoshi stared her back for a long time with an empty expression. Then, for the first time, he averted his gaze. Ei forced herself to keep her eyes on him. Even without turning her head, she could tell the swordsman was observing the corpses.
“I tried to avoid but… it ended up this way,” he said, turning back to her without changing his expression.
Ei never saw his eyes so cold; there was nothing of the warmth that comforted her so many times. But when he squatted so their heads were at the same height, a strange light shone in those dark pupils.
“Listen, Ei. This is my world, the world you chose. You’ll face this situation many times in the future, so remember this. ‘Some live and some die in the way of the sword’.”
The words echoed in the girl’s mind for a long time. She opened and closed her mouth several times, but when she realized she had no idea what to say, what to think, she simply stood there under Tadayoshi’s hard gaze, unsure how much time had passed.
With a firm yet gentle hand on Ei’s back, Tadayoshi led the girl to the back of the kitchen. Her legs were stiff and she tripped a few times in the short walk, but he always held her. When they reached the corner, he drew his sword and swung upwards, cutting the wooden ceiling with one slash.
Even with her mind still numbed, Ei looked up out of reflex, her eyes pausing at what Tadayoshi wanted to show her. It took a moment, but when the girl realized what it was, she widened her eyes, fell to her knees, puked and lost her consciousness.
When she came back to her senses, Ei was back in the main room, lying on the table as far as she could from Scar. She sat up and slowly raised her eyes, staring the ceiling, imagining what could be behind the wood. Her body trembled at once and Ei hugged her legs and rested her forehead on the knees, trying hard to push those images away from her mind.
But it was impossible. No matter how much her head throbbed, she couldn’t stop seeing the sickening images it over and over again. The sight of human legs, arms, and hands hanging on hooks had burned itself on her eyes.
Ei felt sick once more, but her stomach was too empty to puke again. Cold sweat came down her neck, along with a shiver. Even if it was just one quick glance, she could never forget, could never stop seeing it. The pieces had different sizes and sliced in different places, but they were too similar to each other. All were rough, big, covered in bruises, scratches, scars, calluses, cuts and some even lacked fingers or toes.
She knew what those marks and scars meant. Bandits, thieves and killers… She faced her palm, closing and opening her fist, feeling the tiny calluses and blisters she had on the hand and fingers. Before she noticed, she trembled again and buried her face on her knees.
The girl heard Tadayoshi calling her from somewhere far away, but she did not stop trembling. She heard him coming closer, but did not look in his direction. She sensed him sitting by her side, but did not raise her head. She felt his cold touch on her shoulder, but did not react.
Tadayoshi sat by her side for a long time without saying anything, waiting until her trembling ceased. “Drink this,” he said when she finally raised her eyes.
Ei looked at it for a while until she figured it out was a cup of water. “I’m not thirsty,” she lied with a dry hoarse.
“I didn’t ask.” He held the firm expression.
Lowering her eyes, Ei brought the cup to her lips. The first drops were a relief to her dry throat and she could no longer take her thirst, drinking the rest of the cup in one gulp. Before she finished, Tadayoshi picked up a wooden bucket with water from the well and placed it on the table. Ei tossed the cup and turned the bucket over her mouth, choking and spilling water all over herself.
“I think they’ve being doing that for a while, judging by the objects I found,” he said when she placed the bucket on the table with a heavy thud, her breathing hard. “Only picking those who would be making the world a favor by disappearing.”
Against her will, the images of the owner and the twins smiling filled her head. Then it changed to the human parts hanging in the gap between floors. Ei fought another urge to vomit. “Why…?” she asked in a feeble voice, without enough strength to raise her head and look at him.
“While you were talking with the twins, the owner told me a bit about them. She said bandits killed her husband, son, granddaughter and daughter-in-law a few years ago. The twins managed to kill them somehow. I believe they started doing… that to lowlifes afterwards.”
Ei trembled and kept quiet, waiting for Tadayoshi to go on. But when he said nothing, she raised her head a little. The swordsman stared at nothing, his eyes empty as he rubbed his hands.
As if waking up, he shook his head and ran a hand over his black hair. “Last night, bandits showed up in the middle of the night and took everything they had. The owner and the twins were desperate, so much they had to target even people like us. You didn’t notice, but the owner kept asking a lot of question about us. Where were we from, if we had family or someone waiting in the city…”
The twins did the same thing with me… and I told them everything, she realized with a thug in her heart. Tadayoshi kept quiet and then let out a laugh. Not his normal one, full of joy. But a hollow and cold one that made Ei shiver.
“What kind of destiny is this? Had we arrived yesterday, this would’ve never had to happen…”
“Destiny?” This time it was Ei who let out the hollow laugh. “If there is such thing, it’s nothing but the gods’ cruel jokes.”
“The gods… I wished I could blame them.” He turned to her with a blank expression. No… it’s not… blank. There’s… something… She tried figuring out, but thinking hurt her head. “After you were drugged, I tried to pretend nothing was wrong, that you were just tired and fainted. But the twin with the scar, he… when he realized I hadn’t touched the drink, he charged at me with a short sword. Before I noticed, I had killed him. The other came at me too… Then the woman she…” he trailed off, leaving the sentence in the air.
Ei felt the room grow still. Even if Tadayoshi didn’t say, she could figure out what happened. After seeing the only family she had left dead, the owner had taken her own life. The gods’ cruel jokes indeed, she thought. To her surprise, Ei didn’t feel sick as she imagined the scene. In fact, she felt nothing. Just one day… if Tadayoshi had arrived a day later in my village, I’d not be here either…
“I can’t judge them, or anyone. I won’t tell you if they were good or bad people that deserved to die. That’s up to you to decide. They have blood on their hands, just as I do. Despair can twist a person and make them do terrible things. I’ll say it again, Eiko. I can’t judge anyone, but I won’t give my life for anyone either. I’ll not grieve their deaths. It was us or them.”
He left her sitting on the bench. Ei rested her head on the wall, concentrating on breathing as the numbness slowly faded. After a while, Tadayoshi handed her a wood bucket fill with water and a piece of cloth. She accepted it out of reflex, but then looked between the objects and his face, trying to understand what he wanted.
With a faint trace of the Tadayoshi she was used to, the swordsman sighed and pointed to the bucket. Still without understanding, she looked at the water, seeing her reflection. Is that… me? She barely believed as she saw her own state.
Her appearance reflected how she felt; awful. Her eyes seemed dead and hollow, her face pale, almost sickly, her hair more ruffled than usual and her cheek covered with blood from behind her ear to her chin.
Ei watched her reflection touch its face, feeling the sticky and the dried blood with the tip of her fingers. Suddenly she clutched hard the cloth, dipped it in the water and rubbed it on her cheek. Again and again. Even when her face was cleaned, she didn’t stop. Tadayoshi walked around the house, but she paid no heed to him, too concentrated on cleaning her face. She only stopped when the swordsman grabbed her wrist.
She tried to get rid of him for a moment, but gave up. With effort, Ei opened her stiff fingers and let the cloth fall on the floor. She looked at the water, now dyed red. Her face was clean of blood, but it wasn’t back to its normal color. There was large red spot on her cheek and when she touched it, it was warm.
Tadayoshi offered a cup of water with his free hand.
The moment her lips touched the cup, Ei felt her throat dry again and drank it all in one gulp. Before she could ask for more, Tadayoshi handed her another bucket with water. She filled and drank the cup until she was full and could no longer drink. Tossing the cup away, she cleaned the moist from her mouth with the back of the hand.
Ei picked up the bucket with both hands and turned the leftover water on her head. As the cold water soaked her hair and clothes, she breathed in and out slowly, feeling her fatigue being washed away. She threw the bucket aside and ran both hands over her face and hair.
A cold breeze came from the window. Ei closed her fists to endure the shivering. It worked, but only for a moment. With her clothes drenched and sticking to her body, she felt another cold breeze. The girl trembled, and it didn’t matter if she squeezed so hard the hand lost its color, the shiver would not stop.
Tadayoshi grabbed her hand. Ei felt the warmth from his touch, but didn’t look in his direction. He squeezed tighter and then she slowly raised her head, staring into his eyes, trying to see what else lied behind them. There was something there, something that frightened her. But those eyes still belong to the man she trusted.
“Better sit down,” he said in a low but strong voice.
Ei nodded grateful; her legs weren’t strong enough yet. She watched Tadayoshi collecting every useful object he could find. Soon he had a pile of clothes, money and weapons on one of the benches near the entrance. The pile only grew, but she couldn’t bear to see anymore and closed her eyes. That pile only reminded the kindness and smiles were fake.
But there was one thing closing her eyes couldn’t help. No matter how far away she sat, it was impossible to ignore the faint smell of blood and death filling the room. She cleared her mind and tried not think about the source, but the stench only got stronger. With a sigh of defeat, she opened her eyes and glanced at the young man dead on top of the table on the other side of the room.
When Ei woke, those eyes seemed just as empty as the face to her, but there was something different from afar. He looks a little surprised… Was it because he realized Tadayoshi knew about the drugs? She kept staring, trying to get an answer she knew she would never get. It’s so different from mom… Despite all the pain, she died protecting her daughter and left this world relieved knowing Ei was alive.
Sensing the tears, she looked away from the dead and her eyes rested the sword next to her. Tadayoshi, Ei realized as she reached for the weapon. But halfway to it, her fingers twitched and she pulled the arm back, holding her hand with the other on her chest. Will I be able to hold, to draw a sword again? Will I ever be able to use it on someone? To take a life? Ei didn’t know and was afraid to know. She felt cold and empty, as if her enthusiasm had never existed.
With a loud thud, Tadayoshi tossed the pile of useful objects in a bag he had found and tied the swords on it. He walked to her, picked up the wakizashi but didn’t tie with the others. He held it in his hands, staring Ei in complete silence with those dark eyes that seemed to look into her soul.
Ei held her stare, trying once again to see what lied beyond those eyes. And she finally realized what it was. Though the girl trusted in those eyes, she could see something sharp and dangerous. A sword… In order to survive, Tadayoshi would swing that sword without hesitating. He lived in blood and death, and that sent a shiver through her soul.
Is that what I want to become?
The images what happened while she was unconscious flooded her eyes, each vision slashing her mind like a blade. The room spun and Ei felt sick again. Is that the world I wanna live?
No… no… Her throbbed so hard it hurt, but she would never forget her desire. What she wished was to be strong, to never feel weak and helpless again, to protect people. Yes… to protect… Ei relived that moment where she screamed to everyone she knew, to her whole world; I wanna to be strong! Slowly the room quieted and she looked at Tadayoshi again.
Without showing any hint of emotion, the swordsman placed some clothes on the table and left the inn, the noren hanging by the entrance swaying behind him.
Ei looked at her own clothes, drenched with water and soiled with blood and vomit. There’s no way I can travel like this. With a sinking feeling, she realized what Tadayoshi’s clothes meant. It’s up to me to deide. If she wanted, she could keep her clothes and go back to her village. Everyone would be so happy, she thought with a smile. The girl enjoyed the idea of seeing Dai-jii, Sumire and everyone else for a moment. But with a shake of her head, their faces disappeared.
Gathering her strength, Ei forced herself up. Even if her legs were still wobbling, she was standing on her own. Without hesitating, she undressed, tossed the old clothes aside and put on the new ones.
Each step she took required her attention, but she went after Tadayoshi. It didn’t matter the visions in her head, nor the fear lurking in the back of her mind. In the end, he was still the man she trusted. The only difference now was that she knew another part of him, one that would survive no matter the cost.
Tadayoshi was a few steps outside the inn, facing the plains with his back towards the entrance. When he heard her, he held her sword to his side in silence without turning his head.
She walked until she was a few steps behind and accepted the weapon. Ei stared at her sword for a moment before putting it on her waist without speaking nor looking at Tadayoshi. There was no need for words. Not anymore.