HIS FATHER'S SON
Author: CHARLES JONES
The gates of Kaiu Kabe loomed in the distance, ever watching,
ever vigilant. The sheer size of it, overwhelming, streching as far as the eye
could see both east and west. This was a place where death and life met in a
kaleidoscopic montage that was almost beautiful in its hideousness. A place
where samurai died by the hundreds, where goblins, oni, ogres, and other things
unspeakable attacked in waves of horror dragging good men to their deaths...or
worse. Most people would shun this place, most would turn away very much content
in finding a safe place to lay their head, and thus leaving the dangers of the
wall behind. Most people. Today, though, seemed to be an exception, for through
the grey haze of late afternoon a cloaked figure strode toward the Kaiu miracle,
and people do not approach this place without purpose.
After a few moments of long steps the figure made his way to a lone door in the side of the grand stronghold and whispered to himself in awe, "Truly it is a sight to behold," before knocking tentatively on the door's massive frame. For several moments there was no response, so the man knocked again, this time with more conviction.
Finally a small space in the door opened and he heard a harsh voice say, "State your business or leave."
"I come on a mission of honor, and I must speak to the warrior known as Hida Sinjin," said the visitor flatly.
"Honor in regards to what matter?" came the response.
"It is business that I wish only to speak with him about. Now do not ask again or I may be forced to take up a matter of honor with you,"
said the stranger with more than a little annoyance in his voice as he placed his hand on his daisho.
The guard's eyes shifted from the man he now recognized as a ronin to the obviously well worn sword resting in its saya that he had no desire to see used, especially not on him. "So be it," he said. "But be warned: The wall is no place for the weak at heart, even if you will only be here for a short time." He seemed to fumble for a moment retrieving something from a pocket or a pouch then he shoved the object through the small opening in the door. "Before I can let you in, however, you must take that and touch it to your forehead," he said, motioning to the small object.
The ronin moved his hand slowly to the object knowing now that he was being watched by far more warriors than just this one at the door, knowing also that if he failed this test he would be killed before he had a chance to speak. As he drew closer to the object he recognized it for what it was; pure jade, and he knew this "test" was to see if he possessed any of the taint that these warriors fought so hard to prevent from spreading.
"You do realize that if I were to fail your test," he said, picking up the jade and placing it on his forehead, "Then you failed in doing your job because I am on the north side of the wall, and last time I checked, the Shadowlands are that way." He said, pointing to the south. "Now if we are done with the formalities, please let me in." With that, he tossed the jade back through the opening it had come out of and waited for the door to open.
A short time later, the ronin heard the massive bolts that held the door in place being moved, and the door slowly creaked open. It was the first time that either of the men had truly seen the other, and the sentry saw something he did not expect, for he was a Crab, but not only that, he was a Hida (who are among the largest men in the whole of the Empire), yet this man stood a full head taller than he did, and almost had to stoop to walk through the door! As he took off his cloak, the guard could see that he wore only light bushi armor, and aside from the well-used daisho, he saw a masterfully crafted ono on the ronin's back. This, too, was well used, for it still had splatters of unwashed blood on it. Also, the guard noticed something...familiar. He couldn't quite place it, but he knew that he had seen this one before. There was just something about him. The final thing he noticed was that he seemed to be wrong in his initial assumption that this was a man. For although he was obviously well traveled and had been in combat many times he could not have seen more than seventeen winters.
"Do I know you, boy?" said the soldier letting his curiosity get the better of him.
"I doubt it," came the reply that seemed to be guarded and quick all at once.
"Then do I know your parents?" He asked, pressing a little harder.
The young ronin eyed the guard for a moment, almost seeming to threaten without words. Then he spoke, "I say again I come to settle a matter of honor with Hida Sinjin, and I will do just that. So please lead me to him, and then let me be on my way."
"Hai, my young friend, we will bring you to him during the changing of the guard on the wall where he is stationed. But we still have a few hours yet, so let us go and enjoy a meal before we go to meet Sinjin-san. Surely you have time for that," added the guard.
"Yes, I suppose that I do, but we cannot linger long for I must be in Crane lands before the sun sets tomorrow" replied the ronin.
The guard looked at him quizzically again still trying to place him, but this time he let his questions stay unasked. "By the way, Ronin, I am Hida Korujin, and I am a sergeant in lady O-Ushi's army. Do you mind if I at least know your name?"
The ronin once again looked at Korujin, this time with much less steel in his eyes. "I suppose I can tell you at least that. I am Kaminari-Wo."
"Well, Kaminari-Wo, let us go and eat. Maybe there you will lighten up and tell us your tale," Korujin said. "We will learn more about you yet."
"We shall see," Kaminari returned. "We shall see."
Slowly the two made their way down the twisting pathways toward the barracks for this section of the wall, and after a short time had passed, they found themselves in the dining room, built more for service than for style.
Korujin looked at Kaminari and said, "It's not much for looks, but it serves its purpose well. It holds 400 men for meals, and also does double duty as our center of command for this section."
Kaminari only smiled and sat at the table toward which Korujin was making his way. He then noticed that several Crab samurai had begun gathering around the table to see if this "boy" was worthy to be amongst them.
"Do not pay attention to them, for they are merely gauging you, and trying to figure out why you are here," Korujin said. "But just in case, I will talk to them."
"Brethren," spoke Korujin as he stood, "this is Kaminari-Wo, and he is here on a mission of honor to see our brother Hida Sinjin. Do not press matters with him for he is my guest, and insulting his honor will be like insulting mine."
"I think that should handle it" Korujin said with a wink as Kaminari just stared into the water that had been brought to him.
Kaminari then looked upon Korujin and said "Do you really want to know what my mission is Korujin-san?"
"Yes," he replied
"Then I will tell you..."
"Five days ago I came upon a village between Crane and Yasuki lands. While there I met a Doji Samurai-ko named Misha, and the samurai you know as Hida Mirushigi."
"Mirushigi is Sinjin's brother," was Korujin's reply, and he began to understand.
"Hai," replied Kaminari. "As we sat in a small geisha house, had tea and got to know each other, I began to like the two of them. Mirushigi, and I even agreed to accompany Misha on a journey to the lands of the Unicorn. But on the day we were to leave, a group of bandits attacked the village killing Mirushigi and breaking his sword." To add a morbid touch to his story he pulled the shattered remnants of a Kaiu blade from his carrying pouch.
Korujin looked at the shattered blade with sadness in his heart for it was very rare indeed to see a Kaiu blade fail its owner in combat."And what of the Crane?" Korujin said thinking that she had not upheld her part of the battle and thus a good Crab bushi had died.
"She was very swift" Came Kaminari's reply.
"Ha!" Barked Korujin "I knew all Cranes were spineless cowards. How dare she run. Did you take her head for her dishonor?"
"Ah Korujin-san, you misunderstand me. I meant her sword-arm was swift," said Kaminari. "She fought like a wild Lion and killed five of the bandits by herself."
"Then how many did the mighty Crab kill?" asked Korujin with a smile on his face convinced that even though death had overtaken a valiant and honorable warrior such as Hida Mirushigi, the bandits had paid a mighty price indeed.
"He killed five with his blade and two with his hands." was Kaminari's flat response.
Seven! The mighty Crab had outdone the Crane in battle once again, thought Korujin. Surely this would gain Sinjin's brother a place of honor among the shrines of his ancestors.
"So tell me did all of the bandits pay with blood?" Kurojin asked.
"Hai," Kaminari once again replied
"And how many were there in all? 15? 20?" Kurojin's curiosity wanted to see what the ronin had contributed to the battle.
Kaminari looked up from his water once again and locked gazes with the Crab sergeant. "There were forty Korujin-san, there were forty."
By the Kami! Forty! That meant that this warrior was formidable indeed for he had killed twenty-eight men on his own. For some reason it did not surprise Korujin, for it seemed as though he had known this warrior long before their meeting today. He had known on sight that this was no normal samurai.
"That makes your kill count twenty-eight ronin, greater than Crab and Crane combined," spoke Kurojin. "You must be a great warrior indeed."
"I only did what my honor demanded. Nothing more," answered Kaminari, and with that, he seemed to pull up his guard again, and go deeper into his own thoughts.
"Well, my friend, it looks as if dinner is ready. We will eat, and then we will be on our way" said Korujin eyeing his supper.
The meal passed without a single word being spoken between the two warriors. Korujin still had many questions to ask this young samurai about his past, but decided that they could wait. As the meal ended, Korujin looked to his young companion, and said, "I hope you enjoyed your meal, but now we must be on our way. Our post is a few hundred leagues down the wall, and we must not be late." As he walked away from Kaminari the warrior began to stand. Then as almost an afterthought Kurojin said, "Don't be fooled with the inactivity that has occurred since you have been here, and do not be lured into a sense of false security for we will be on the wall, at night, and you will see horrors that you have never seen."
"I know, and I am ready Korujin-san," he said as he narrowed his eyes and began to walk onto the threshold of hell, the top of Kaiu Kabe.
Some thirty samurai began the walk to the guard house where they held post on the Kaiu wall. It was dusk now, and the light of Amateratsu was slowly fading in the west.
"I've never heard it this quiet before," said the samurai who had taken up the point of the group.
"Yes I noticed that as well," said Korujin introspectively, as if in his mind he could conjure up the meaning of the unnatural silence.
All of a sudden the point man stopped, and pointed to the guard tower they were to man. He then began using some sort of sign language that Korujin seemed to understand.
"Bless the eyes of the Hiruma," said Kurojin with venom in his voice.
"What is it, Korujin?" Kaminari asked.
Kurojin looked at the boy with both awe and admiration, for he knew that he could have said that every Oni in the shadowlands had crawled its way out of the pit of he who is unnamed, and this one would not be afraid.
"There are three ogres in the tower, and the fighting is fierce," said Kurojin
"Then we shall kill them," declared Kaminari as he began walking toward the tower, not even bothering to unsheath his katana or ono.
"Is he crazy?!?!" came the question from the ranks.
"He will be killed!" someone exclaimed.
"He doesn't stand a chance." someone else said.
But the funny thing was that even as they were saying these things they were following him toward the tower, drawing their weapons, and shouting at the foul beasts inside.
As Kaminari approached one of the ogres took notice of him, and dropped the Crab samurai whose head he was trying to tear off and turn into a trophy of this victory on the wall. It studied this human thinking only a fool would approach a great ogre without a weapon, but a fool is a fool dead or alive, and the ogre was not going to damn his own good fortune. He began to advance on this puny human thinking it almost too easy, then the ogre noticed that the man had locked both of his fists together. "Ha" the ogre thought, realizing that the human actually meant to hit him. "This ought to be amusing." The ogre then stood right in front of Kaminari thinking himself impervious to any damage that even a mighty Crab could do with his bare hands. That was when it happened. With a cry of pure rage, Kaminari stepped into his axe-handle swing with all of the power his frame could bring to bear, and he struck the ogre right below the rib-cage cracking bone at the same time as knocking all of the air out of the great beast. The ogre looked at the warrior with complete disbelief doubling over as he tried to catch the breath that he had never before lost.
"DIE, FOUL DEMON!" Yelled Kaminari as he grabbed the ogre around the jaw, and the back of the head.
"DIE!" he screamed again as he snapped both of his arms taut driving the ogres head so hard that his neck broke with a loud wet "SNAP!"
"Die." he whispered in its tainted ear as the lights slowly left its dark eyes, and its foul life ended with a look of utter disbelief on its ugly face.
As this happened, all of the Crab bushi and the ogres that they were locked in mortal combat with stopped, and the battle came almost to a complete stop, as they all marvelled at the awesome strength it took to deliver such a blow.
Even Korujin, who had been trying to help those that were wounded while fighting off an ogre himself had slowed down enough to look in awe upon the events that had just transpired,
"By the fortunes!" he exclaimed, as he witnessed this feat of strength that was like nothing he had ever seen.
Now as Kaminari walked away from the newly dead ogre, he began to draw his ono and katana simultaneously, knowing that he would not get another shot like the last. He advanced on the ogre that seemed to be the leader, and pointed his katana at it.
"Monster," he said, "I challenge you. Accept and die, or run like a dog"
"Human," the ogre snarled, "That was my brother you killed, and for that I will feast upon your heart!!!!" it screamed, as it lunged at Kaminari.
Kaminari was ready for such a tactic however, and did not allow himself to be overwhelmed by the ogre's superior bulk. Instead, he shifted his weight slightly to the side, waited for the last second to move, and tripped the evil beast with his ono. The monster let out a growl of pure rage as it went sprawling to the ground, barely missing impaling itself on its own hideous blade.
As the monster lay on its back Kaminari did not see its hand reach out and grab his ankle until it was too late.
"Rakki yaro!!" he yelled as he went tumbling to the ground. Even though the fall did not prove fatal, he was now on even footing with the ogre. When he stood, the ogre was waiting for him.
"I will enjoy gutting you, samurai." Said the ogre as it pressed its attack swinging fiercely at Kaminari's head. Kaminari barely got up his katana in time to block the ogre's own.
"Not as much as I will enjoy spilling your black blood, foul one."
Kaminari spat back, swinging both his katana and ono with the fury of a tsunami.
For several moments they went back and forth like this with neither gaining the upper hand until Kaminari smiled, seeing an opening in his opponent's defenses, and drove two quick swipes with both blades across the ogre's waist in an "X" pattern. He then turned away and said, "So you die demon...so you die."
The ogre stood there for a moment with a puzzled look on its face. It then touched the area where Kaminari had cut, but no blood flowed.
"I am still here, samurai," it said, not exactly sure about what had just transpired, but it seemed as though nothing had happened at all. "I am still achhhakkk...." But this time it did not finish its taunt, and it soon realized that it was dead or would soon be. At that moment, dark blood spurted forth from its mouth, and it saw its own legs as its torso fell off at the point of Kaminari's perfect cut.
As the fighting ended, Kaminari looked over the bodies of the fallen, and even helped in their burning. He then went over to Korujin, and asked, "Which one of these is Hida Sinjin?"
"I am Hida Sinjin," came the reply from a wounded bushi being tended to. "Why do you seek me?"
"I am Kaminari-Wo, a ronin who fought by your brother's side at the time of his death, and I bring you his broken sword so that he may find peace with his ancestors."
Sinjin looked sad for a moment, then he took the sword from the ronin, for sadness has no place on the wall. "Thank you," he said, "You have done honor to my brother and my family. If you ever need my help, then I will be there as though you were my brother."
"You honor me with your offer." Kaminari said while bowing. "Now I must be off. I have duty in the Crane lands, and it can wait no longer. Goodbye, my Crab friends, perhaps I will return to serve with you on the wall again." Then he turned and walked back toward the door through which he first entered the great wall.
As Kaminari moved into the distance, Korujin thought of a time that he had fought beside another great warrior. A warrior with unequalled strength and courage, a warrior with a burning Jade hand, and then he remembered where he had seen this boy before. He had seen him in Hida Yakamo.........