The Last Kachiko Story
by John Wick
Yojiro stood before the stairway, his eyes full of worry.
"My Lady," he said, his voice catching in his throat. "I cannot recommend this course of action."
"I do not recall asking for your advice or recommendations, samurai." She placed the last item in her satchel and tied it to her obi.
He bowed low. "I apologize, Lady. I did not mean to offend." Then, he turned and looked at the stone stairway that led down to the cave that held the lake. She saw his breath, felt the cold air rushing up from the cave. He turned to look at her again. "If my Lady is certain-"
"I am." She stepped forward and he lowered his gaze. She reached forward, placing her fingertips on the lower side of his chin. "As certain as I was when I gave you your gift."
She lifted his chin so his gaze met her own. "You are not the young man you were then, Yojiro."
He shook his head. "No."
"'The Honest Scorpion', indeed." She paused, looking into his eyes. They were wet and full of pain. "You will lead them now, Yojiro-sama," she said. "They need men such as you."
Her words would have had more power had they a smile behind them, but her own fear forbid her such a luxury. She had no more smiles. Not even a false one to trick a soft-hearted Scorpion.
Instead, she let her lips give him a different gift. Soft, gentle and quick.
He trembled under the weight of it. Then, she turned - letting her fingertips trail
against his skin as she did - and left him behind at the top of the stairs.
* * *
Two memories she carried with her into that cave.
She first was something Yokuni said to her so long ago.
As she sat under that wall, staring up at the castle that held the mad god that was the Emperor, his voice fell down on her like a thunderbolt.
"You are Shosuro," it said. "It is in your blood."
She shook her head. "I do not understand."
"Blood is not corrupt. It is pure. Only the actions of men make blood unclean. Murder, maho. These things make blood unclean."
"The blood?" she asked.
"We are all the same, Lady Scorpion," it said. "We are all bound by the blood. One day, you will understand."
The second was something Hoturi said to her so long ago.
They were together, their bodies pressed close with the cool night air and the cool sheets against their skin. He told her the story of two lovers and how the boy was captured by a witch. The girl had to go into the forest and win him back.
"How did she do that," she asked him, looking into his deep, dark eyes.
He smiled. "The witch put a spell on him that made him appear to be things he was not. All the while she searched for him, he was right before her, calling out for her to touch him, to hold him."
She touched his face slightly. "Is that all?"
He shook his head. "It's not as easy as it seems. Would you reach out to touch a spider that can speak?"
She leaned forward and kissed him softly. "If he spoke with your voice, my lord, I would."
He laughed softly. "What if it was a kumo, using magic to make his voice sound like my own."
She kissed him again. "I would know the difference." She held his hair in his hand and asked him, "So, how does the story end?"
"She searches all night and never finds him. And he becomes a slave of the witch."
She frowned. "Silly girl. I would have saved you."
She held her closer, whispering into her ear. "I know you would."
* * *
Of course, when the time came, she couldn't.
* * *
The blue light of the lake glistened off the cave walls. She sat at the very edge, shivering. The cold air bit through her kimono, through her skin and muscles, straight down to her bones. She kept her teeth from chattering by chewing on small candies.
All my life I've avoided these, she thought to herself. She pulled another from her satchel, popped it in her mouth and chewed the taste out of the candy onto her tongue.
No reason to avoid them any longer.
After the bag was empty, she sighed and shrugged.
"Now is as good a time as any," she whispered.
She pulled a small knife from the satchel and threw away the sheath. She looked at the blade, looked at her right hand, then looked at the blue waters. She swallowed once. Ran her tongue along the top of her mouth. Felt her teeth begin to chatter again.
"Now," she whispered.
And ran the blade along her palm.
Only twice before had she felt the pain of a blade. She heard that the pain lessened with each experience. Another sensei trick, she supposed.
The cut felt like fire and she fell to the floor. Her knees hit the ground hard and she almost screamed. She threw the knife away and squeezed her wounded hand tight. The blood oozed through the wound, dripping on the ground. She squeezed tighter.
"Here I am, Shosuro," she whispered at the shadows of the cave.
"Come and get me."
She needed to wait only a moment.
Shadows began to shift around her, oozing as the blood did in her hand. She winced again at the pain as the chill of fear began to replace the chill of the air.
The shadow took no form, but swirled about her like a hungry mist.
I know you, it said.
"And I know you," she replied.
You are me, it said.
"And I am you," she replied.
Only one of us can be me, it said.
She shook her head. "How wrong you are."
She lifted her hand again and squeezed. This time, drops of her blood fell
into the still blue waters.
And something awoke.
"SHOSURO," the lake whispered.
The shadow winced like a wounded animal.
"SHOSURO," it whispered again and the shadow pulled away.
But Kachiko reached out with her bloody hand and grabbed it - and the shadow was colder than any cave could be. Colder than ice.
Colder even than the embrace of a mad god.
But she held on. Held tight.
"You are me," she said to the shadow. "And I am you."
NO! the shadow screamed. NO! NOT NOW!
Kachiko nodded. "Yes. Now."
"SHOSURO?" the lake asked, its voice confused.
The shadow twisted in her grasp, changing to a spider with a million legs and
million eyes and a million mandibles. But Kachiko held fast.
"I am you and you are me," she said. "We cannot harm each other."
Then, the shadow turned into a dragon with talons and teeth like razors.
Kachiko shook her head. "Fool yourself if you wish, but you cannot harm
We are one!"
"SHOSURO?" the lake begged. "SHOSURO COME BACK TO ME!"
She turned and took a step toward the lake. "Our lord calls for us, Lady. It is time you returned to the love you left behind so long ago."
"NO! NO! NO!" the shadow screamed.
Kachiko nodded. "Yes. It is time." Her left foot found the water and it pulled.
"SHOSURO!" it called out to them.
Kachiko took another step, the shadow screaming and pulling as she did. All darkness oozed with her, leaving the chamber full of brilliant blue light.
When she reached her hips, the shadow had taken a final form. that of a young woman.
Kachiko saw her face, now very serene. Very still.
"Please," it pleaded. "Please. We are one. I can give you anything."
She shook her head. "The one thing I want, you cannot give me," she said.
That was when the waters rushed up, high above her waist. It was cold, but it was warm. She slipped on the rocks below and fell to her knees, the shadow's hand still gripped in her own.
The blue of the lake was everywhere, drowning out all sensations. Kachiko was deafened by its thunder, blinded by its brilliance. It froze her skin and filled her mouth with the taste of sweet water and bitter sadness: a loneliness that spanned centuries.
"SHOSURO," the lake pleaded.
"Kachiko," another voice said.
She looked up. And he was standing on the shore.
She turned. The shadow was still in her grasp, screaming at the lake.
Kachiko turned back to the man at the edge of the lake.
"Speak my name again," she said.
The man smiled. "Kachiko," he said.
"Again," she demanded.
For a third time, he said her name.
Her lips trembled. She felt her eyes soften. Her grip, however, was fast.
As she looked upon him, for the first time since she knew she had to come down to this cave, she realized something that chilled her more than any shadow or kami ever could.
She opened her lips to say it, but her voice failed.
But he nodded. They both understood.
We will never be together again.
She knew then what had kept her alive during that journey into the land of flame, sand and heat. She knew what kept her alive when the ronin sliced her neck open, bleeding her near to death. She knew what kept her alive when her Clan was betrayed by those who had not the courage to face her. And she knew why she had the courage to come down to this lake and do what needed to be done.
It was the knowledge that one day, they would be together. Forever.
We will never be together again.
She looked at him as the waters rushed up to her chest. The shadow was smothered in the waters of the lake, but she did not let go. She watched him standing on the lake shore, his hands on his spear, his face bloodied with battle.
He fought his way through the gate, she thought. To be here. Here with me.
Just then, she found one last smile.
"You flinched," she said, tears rolling down her cheeks.
He smiled. That beautiful smile.
Then, the waters rushed over her head.
And there was nothing.