A new chapter of Samurai NOT
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Samurai NOT 44
Hidden among the leaves of the trees, Tadayoshi had been waiting for his chance since the sun had risen. Though no one could see him, he could see everything, and so far there was no opportunity for him to sneak into the temple.
It’s like they don’t ever rest, the swordsman thought, tired and hungry. He fought the urge to close his eyes. Even if he desperately needed, he couldn’t rest. Not there.
So the whole day he stayed on top of the tree, waiting. Only when night came he had the chance to enter the temple without anyone seeing him. Without the moon and the stars in the sky, it was a complete darkness, saved by the torches still lit in the temple.
Tadayoshi sneaked into the courtyard, moved past the few guards patrolling, and went to the couple’s room. Standing before the door, he tried to sense if there was anyone in the room.
“Come in,” a voice came from inside the room before he had the chance to check.
When he recognized the voice, Tadayoshi entered without hesitating.
His first reaction was to smile at his friend. But it was impossible to read Taichi’s expression in the dark. As the silence stretched, Tadayoshi felt the cold sweat rolling down his neck. What if he doesn’t believe me and thinks I killed the old man because I wanted?
No… He’d believe me if I talk about the demon… I’m sure he will…
Even so, Tadayoshi he couldn’t bring himself to say anything and the awkward silence went on.
“When Masa informed me you were coming, I couldn’t believe,” Taichi said at last.
Tadayoshi couldn’t detect anything in his friend’s voice either.
“I… have nowhere else to go…” It was the only thing Tadayoshi thought.
“And unfortunately I cannot let you stay here for long, my friend,” said the priest in a grave. When he walked towards the swordsman, his face became visible in the light from the fire. Only now Tadayoshi saw the pained expression Taichi had. “Even Masa can’t fool Kenshin for much longeg. He’ll come checking here soon.”
Tadayoshi knew that. But he didn’t care. His friend didn’t have and think of him an ungrateful monster like all the others.
“I don’t plan to stay long. All I need is a safe place and some time to rest.”
“Is that all?” The priest looking the swordsman in the eyes.
“No. I wanna find out the truth.”
Taichi remained in silence for a while.
“What are you gonna do once you find out the truth?”
“I… I… don’t know… But I need to know…”
Once again it was impossible to read the priest’s expression.
“There’s a small old temple in the woods north of here. We haven’t used it in a long time, but it’s still in good condition. You can hide there for the night.”
“Thanks,” Tadayoshi said before leaving the room.
Once he sneaked past the guards again, he raced north. Just as his friend said, there was a temple in the middle of the woods. Though there was dust and some branches grew against the roof, it was still in one piece.
He said it was small, but this is bigger than a villager’s house, the swordsman thought as he closed the door.
The temple was simply one large empty room. If he wanted, Tadayoshi could even swing his master’s sword. He knew better though. I can’t make any noise. Taichi said they didn’t use this temple anymore, but if anyone realizes there’s someone here…
For the same reason, he didn’t risk lighting a fire despite the cold.
Even exhausted from the last few weeks, sleep didn’t come easy to him. And Tadayoshi knew the reason at once. Four walls protect me, but they also trap me… If by any chance I get surrounded…
Only when he chose the corner away and staring at the door he fell asleep. Even then, his master’s sword was within reach, and he was ready to react to the slightest noise. Despite his wariness, he managed to fall asleep. The only sound that woke him came when the sun was up.
Did someone come to check the temple? Tadayoshi stood alert, his fingers closing around the handle of his sword. Pretending he was asleep, he waited for the person to enter. It’s not Taichi, he realized without opening his eyes.
When the person was within his sword’s reach, Tadayoshi drew it, holding against the person’s neck.
Whomever it was, screamed, fell to the floor and raised his arms. “It’s me, Tadayoshi!”
“Ryuu?” It took a moment for him to recognize his friend. Only then he sheathed his sword. As he stood up, he offered the hand to the priest. “What are you doing here?”
“What else? I came to see you. Kaguya-sama told me this morning you were here.” Ryuu accepted the hand and with the swordsman’s help, he stood up. “I didn’t think you’d scare me like that…”
“Sorry… It’s just that, after everything, I…”
“I know the situation…” The priest’s eyes widened, and he was holding back his tears. “Yasuhiro-sama is… and you’re accused…”
Ryuu couldn’t stop crying.
Tadayoshi watched his friend, struggling to hold his own tears.
“He wasn’t the only one who passed away…
“The head priest… he also died a couple weeks ago,” Ryuu said after he stopped crying.
Tadayoshi had no idea what to say. To Ryuu, Taichi, and Kaguya, the head priest was the same as the old man was to him.
“I’m sorry, Ryuu… I heard he was hurt, but I didn’t think… Can’t believe he and the old man are no longer around…”
Tadayoshi lowered his head, taking a deep breath.
“Everything here is in chaos… Taichi-sama and Kaguya-sama are taking over as the head priests, but it’s too much for them… Especially after…”
Tadayoshi said nothing.
The world has changed… Now we have to take over their mission… Maybe that’s what happened to them when they were young too…
The swordsman tightened his grip around the handle of his master’s sword, feeling the blade even heavier.
“We can’t stop… We need to keep going… That’s what the head priest said before he…” Ryuu wiped the tears. “Kaguya-sama asked me to bring you clothes and food. There’s a little creek east of here. You can wash yourself there. Taichi-sama said he’ll come to see you after sunset.”
Ryuu turned to the door but looked back at Tadayoshi.
“Thanks for everything. Don’t worry about it. I know you can’t stay here. If you do, people will notice your absence.”
The priest opened, but then closed his mouth, flashing a sad smile. After a quick goodbye, he left the temple and Tadayoshi was alone.
The swordsman punched the wall to the temple, trying to ease some of his anger and pain. It made no difference. The head priest is dead too? Was it the same demon…? What the hell happened? Did Ryuu, Taichi, and Kaguya know about this?
There was a place where he might get his answers. But he still hadn’t read his master’s diary. He couldn’t even open it. Whenever he thought about the little book, he got angry and scared of what he could find.
When his hand was throbbing from punching the wall, he stopped. After eating the dried meat and the fruits, he washed himself in the creek. Though he became accustomed after weeks on the run, only now he realized much he stank.
That’s probably why Taichi sent me to this place, he thought, cracking a weak smile that soon vanished when cleaned himself with the icy water.
When he returned to the temple, cleaned and with his stomach full after weeks, he felt sleepy again. He lied in the same way as during the night, but it was a restless rest. The leaves rustling with the wind were enough to make him alert.
By sunset, Tadayoshi had recovered most of his energy. He sensed as Taichi walked towards the temple. He doesn’t even bother to hide, he thought, picking up his sword and standing up.
The priest entered the temple without hesitation. Holding a wooden staff in one hand, he hugged Tadayoshi with the free arm. “I didn’t say it yesterday, but I’m happy to see you alive.”
It was so sudden it surprised the swordsman. When he recovered, he hugged his friend back. Even the simple gesture felt great.
Kaguya came in after her husband. She also hugged the swordsman, wrapping both arms tight around him. “I’m sorry for Yasuhiro-sama,” the priestess said in a low voice.
“And I’m sorry for the head priest.”
“Thank you. But now is not the time to grieve.” Kaguya wiped his tears. “You do know the truth about Yasuhiro-sama’s death, don’t you?”
“Yes… He was possessed by a… by a demon,” Tadayoshi forced himself to say. Even now, after seeing that curse, those words and symbols and fighting against that strange being that took over his master for a moment, it was hard to believe.
“Yes. He and the head priest died because of the same demon,” said Taichi in a somber voice. “They fought that same demon decades ago. After a hard battle, master sealed it, but it somehow escaped. He and Yasuhiro-sama went to take care of him once again… They… won, but master was badly injured and didn’t resist… and Yasuhiro-sama was possessed… I sealed the demon inside him, but it was too late… The demon had poisoned Yasuhiro-sama’s soul and there was nothing else I could’ve done…”
“Why ask me to kill him…?” Tadayoshi said, not hiding his anger.
The priests looked at the swordsman in silence.
“I don’t know why Yasuhiro-sama asked you to do it, but I think he couldn’t take his own life… The demon was too stronger by then,” Kaguya said. “I think that, if Yasuhiro-sama tried to take his own life, the demon would’ve taken over…”
“It’s pointless to discussing this now,” Taichi interrupted. “Tadayoshi, the demon didn’t die.”
The words echoed in the small temple for a long time.
“The demon isn’t dead. After what happened, we performed the rituals on Yasuhiro-sama’s body. There was nothing there. The demon managed to escape before the end.”
Tadayoshi had trouble understanding the words.
“You mean after I killed my master, destroyed my life as his last wish, the demon escaped?” The anger rose within him. “What I did was for nothing…?”
Kaguya looked away in tears, but Taichi stared at him.
“You spared your master a fate he didn’t want,” the priest said and the swordsman snorted. “And you can still help.”
“Help? The only thing I’m gonna do is hunt this demon. It’ll be the last thing I do with my life.”
Taichi narrowed his eyes. “You want to sacrifice yourself? Throw your life away?”
“I already did,” Tadayoshi said, his voice full of rage.
“Don’t do it, my friend. Your sword can be useful to us.”
“Useful for what? My master is dead! My life is over! I… I’ll never be with Inori again!” he shouted. “I have nothing left but to hunt this demon! All because the old man had to ask me!”
There was a heavy silence in the temple.
Tadayoshi headed to the door, but the priest stood in his way. “Move.”
Tadayoshi stared Taichi in the eyes. The priest held the gaze.
“How will you find the demon? How you’ll recognize him? He can possess anyone. Don’t be stupid.”
“Doesn’t matter. Get out of the way, Tai!”
Before the swordsman moved, the priest placed a hand on his chest and shoved him.
“Calm down, you idiot. What good will it do to you get yourself killed? Think about it for a moment!”
“My life means nothing! That’s why the old man asked me to kill him! He wanted to die as a samurai, that’s why he asked me, someone who could be discarded, to fight him! That’s what I am. Trash to be discarded!”
Kaguya didn’t hold back the tears.
“That’s not true, Tadayoshi. Yasuhiro-sama loved him as a son! You know that! If he asked you to do this, he had a reason.”
“What reason, Kaguya? He is no longer here to answer!”
“Do you hate him that much?” The priest asked in a low voice.
Tadayoshi bit his lip and looked away.
“Get out of the way, Tai. I won’t ask again.”
The swordsman stared at the priest, the silence filling the temple.
Taichi pressed the staff against Tadayoshi’s chest. Without taking his eyes from the swordsman, he tossed his friend a wooden sword from his waist.
The moment Tadayoshi took the sword, the priest swung the staff.
They had fought countless times whenever Tadayoshi accompanied his master to the temple. And it was the first time Tadayoshi had seen his friend so aggressive. Each blow was heavy and contained the emotions that were locked away until now.
He’s using me to blow off his anger!
The idea only made him even angrier. Putting all his strength, Tadayoshi swung the wooden sword.
The priest defended with ease, redirecting the blow to the ground. Using the momentum, he swung and attacked the swordsman with the other end of the staff.
Tadayoshi felt his ribs screaming in pain, but he ignored it. Holding the staff with one hand, he aimed his sword at his friend’s neck.
Before the weapon could reach its target, the priest lowered his head and advanced, pushing Tadayoshi against the wall.
He jumped back and spun the staff over his head, stopping in his usual fighting stance.
“What are you waiting for? Aren’t you gonna somehow find the demon and kill it? You can’t even wipe his ass with this!” he shouted.
Tadayoshi’s anger grew even more. With his blood boiling, he charged at the priest without any concern about his defense.
Each attack was fierce, the sound of the wood striking wood filling the small temple. But no matter how much strength he put behind the attacks, none of them even touched the priest.
All blows were blocked or redirected to the ground. Like always, Taichi was untouchable.
Even so, Tadayoshi didn’t stop.
With a deep breath, he made the motion of sheathing his sword and leapt forward. When the priest was within his weapon’s reach, he drew the wooden sword as fast as he could.
Taichi was ready to redirect the blow, but then he realized; Tadayoshi hadn’t drawn the sword with the right hand, but with the left. The difference was small. Only a little change in the sword’s reach. But it made up with speed, which was enough to catch the priest off guard.
For the first time in his life, Tadayoshi had landed a hard hit on his friend. However, he knew there was nothing to be happy though. The next instant, Taichi’s staff struck him in the ribs again, sending him against the wall.
With pain all over his body, Tadayoshi remained on the floor.
“I see you’ve calmed down.” Taichi lowered his weapon, though his eyes never left the swordsman. “Don’t pretend to be hate Yasuhiro-sama. You’re not that kind of person.”
“We need to stick together, Tadayoshi. We need to help each other, especially now,” Kaguya said, kneeling beside him. “Please stay here at least until tomorrow.”
After leaving some food, the priests left.
Tadayoshi’s head was too heavy to think. All he did was eat the food and sleep while facing the door.
What can I do? Master is dead… Kenshin hates me… and Inori… I can’t be with her ever again…
What he wanted the most was to embrace the woman he loved once again. To sleep in her arms or holding her.
But when he woke, he found himself alone and cold.
Before the sun rose completely, Tadayoshi felt the presence of three people. Taichi, Kaguya, and Ryuu.
“How are you doing?” The priestess asked in a kind voice.
“In pain,” Tadayoshi muttered, rubbing his shoulder. That got a smile from his friend.
“Better than not feeling anything.”
“After a good night sleep, you must’ve calmed down enough,” Taichi said with a smirk. “Have you considered what you’re going to do or do you need me to beat you again?”
Tadayoshi stared at his friend.
“I’m gonna look for the demon who possessed the old man. I think that’s the only thing I can do now.”
“I can’t stay here. You said that yourself, Taichi. Kenshin will show up eventually. I don’t want to bring any more trouble for you. You already have a lot.”
That got a laugh from his friend.
“I’d like to help, but…”
“You can. Send information about the demon. Even if it are just rumors, send me. I think Masa will know where to find me.”
After eating the food they brought, Tadayoshi took his master’s sword and the diary, the only possessions he had.
After embracing the only friends he had left, Tadayoshi set off in search of his revenge.
Thanks for reading.
Hope you enjoyed the last chapter of part 4
It’ll be a few weeks until Part 5, which will be short end give closure to Ei and Tadayoshi
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