Sorrow’s Tear

Part IV

 

Some time ago…

Xien Ziyi rode at the back of the old wagon.  She huddled in the corner to escape the cold and to give her time to ponder past events.  The deaths of all those she held dear and her meeting with the kikage zumi remained foremost in her mind.

Her eyes clamped down tight as visions of her clan being cut down returned to haunt her for yet another time.  The foul stench of death that lingered upon the dead seemed to trail behind her, never to let her body forget even if her mind could. 

To survive such an endeavor was proof of the blessing of Lady Moon, so the kikage zumi told her, and the newly formed tattoos on her skin attested to it as well. 

A chance at vengeance, the promise held in her mind.

The Hitomi monks had attempted to show her the way of battle, but the memories terrified her.  Brought back in force as they would approach her, she would crumble and fall to the ground, frightened like a newborn babe.

They told her it would pass.  They would chastise her weakness.  They would shame her for failing the Lady.

At last in disgust they sent her off.  A family of three disposed of their land was headed south, and she was to travel with them.  Better to leave their sight, than to remind them of her weakness.

The travel was arduous, but the peddlers were kind to her.  At times she almost felt herself open up when the young boy would bring her flowers, or when his grandparents offered her food from their meager stores.

Almost.  Part of her felt that she did not deserve such kindness.

Early one day, as Lord Sun’s light had just cleared the horizon, the wagon came to an abrupt stop.  The commotion outside awoke Xien Ziyi from her nightmare.  Voices were rapid and panicked outside the wagon. 

Leaning outside the wagon, Xien Ziyi felt a snug at the back of her kimono as she was jerked outside and into the ground.  Pain and panic overcame her as the blunt end of a naginata struck her across her face.

Her body shook with fear as she glanced about.  Numerous men who smelled of sour sweat and dung surrounded them, while a couple more rummaged through the wagons with eyes filled greed.  One held a weapon at her, his scarred face daring her to fight back.  Another continued to yell at the family, asking where the treasure was hidden.  And the last watched the bandits’ ponies, confusion and some fear on his young face.

The boisterous bandit continued to interrogate the old man and woman.  Growing angrier and angrier with the answers he received he struck out, beating the old couple.

“Not again...  not again,” cried Xien Ziyi as she rocked back and forth.

Finally spitting upon the ground, the disgusted bandit drew his rusty blade.  Waving it in the air, he voiced his last warning.

Xien Ziyi’s eyes closed and the panic disappeared.  Before she could react she felt warm blood upon her hands as she ripped her hairpin from the throat of the bandit that guarded her.

As his weapon fell from his hands she grasped it and spun it about in a wide arc above her head, continuing the spin as she sunk low to the ground.

The bandit hovering over the old couple eyes widened in surprise as he saw his blade descend from above, his hand still upon its handle, but no longer attached to his arm.

Before he could turn he felt his legs buckle from beneath him as they no longer could support his weight.  His last vision as he crumbled to the ground was a blur of death coming towards him.

Xien Ziyi’s body continued to move of its own volition.   Her mind barely registered a thought as blood splattered about and screams of terror and surprise were silenced.

It seemed like eternity when she finally stopped.  Her clothing was thickly soaked in the blood of the bandits.  Before her stood a scared boy holding the ponies, his lips quivering in fear.

“P-please my lady, spare me,” he whimpered, “I had no choice… no one was suppose to get hurt… I swear.”

The woman turned around, her voice devoid of emotion.

“I believe you.” She said leaving the lifeless body behind her.

****

Two men stood watch over the wagon at a distance.  They both wore little to protect them from the elements, yet the chill of the morning did not seem to bother them.  Their bodies were covered in exotic tattoos that marked them as members of the ize zumi and kikage zumi order.

The smaller ize zumi was lithe and graceful.  His face was thoughtful as he watched the scene from afar.  The larger kikage zumi was stout and taut with muscles, and he grunted in satisfaction at the whirling melee.

The ise zumi knelt forward with his hand to his barren face. “For a moment I felt we would have to intercede.”

The kikage zumi shrugged, “The Lady had chosen her.  I had no doubt she was up to the challenge.”

The smaller man’s eyes fell to the ground and his voice held a tint of sadness, “I met her once long ago… she was such a gentle soul.  To hold so much violence… so much rage…”

“Restraint and abandon are two sides of the same coin,” the larger one said, looking at his friend, “We just saw the coin flipped.”

“You sent those bandits to their deaths… or worse yet, those people could have been hurt.”

“I fed the bandits information of possible wealth to be had,” the kikage enforcer sneered, “and she is one of us, that family was never truly in harm’s way.”

The larger tattooed man crossed his hands across his chest. “Besides, the bandits should feel lucky that I did not kill them. “

Turning once more to the carnage below he growled, “Then again, perhaps I was not so merciful after all.”

A deep bellowing laugh echoed as the winds howled by.

* * * *

Present time…

It was pure chance that Hitomi Xien Ziyi came across the strange tracks.  Her mind was preoccupied with the temporary peace that winter has brought between the two clans.  And as her mind wandered with boredom and frustration, she had diverged from her normal patrol.

She had traveled farther west than normal, and the terrain was rocky and difficult to pass.  The faint smell of blood permeated the area and carried across the slight breeze.   Upon closer inspection she found an abandoned camp… and small drops of blood not yet dried.

Suspicious, she dipped a bit of jade into the blood and a small amount of smoke came fore.    “The creature cannot be far…” she thought.

Traveling on the high ground among the jagged rocks, she came across the beast.  It was large, but remained hunched over.  Obviously in pain it traveled slowly, attempting to cover is tracks.

The Hitomi positioned herself for the attack when her eyes widened in surprise.  A blade protruded from the body of the beast.  It was cut deep and apparently in the bone.  The creature had attempted to splint the sword in to keep it from moving.

Xien Ziyi felt rage boil up, her normal calm breaking.  She recognized the blade… Whispering Willow.  It is Tenryuu’s blade.

She was already in the air yelling out a battle cry of rage.

The beast startled spun about to defend itself, awkwardly raising its blade to deflect her attack.

As her naginata clashed with its monstrous blade, she dropped the weapon ducking low with her metal hairpins in hand.  Thrusting forward she slammed the pins into the knee of the beast.

A grotesque yell escaped its lips.  Without pause her tanto was in hand as she continued to spin around the creature slashing at its hamstrings.

The beast fell forward with a resounding thud.

Wiping the blade across her kimono she walked towards the monster.

“I have questions creature… and you shall answer them.”

Wounded and in pain the beast turned its head towards her, its eyes filled with hate.

“I see you understand me, it may spare you some pain.”  Looking to the horizon as the moon rose, “Then again if I do not like your answers, you will wish that pain is all I offer.”

Turning to face the beast she readied her tanto, “Let us not keep the Lady waiting, she likes to watch.”

* * * * *

It was early in the morning when Nyugo came upon Xien Ziyi’s camp.  She was late on returning from her patrol and he was sent to find her.

Worry on his face turned to horror as he saw her soaked in blood.  She stood over a large bloody mass as she watched the sun rise.

“Xien Ziyi-san,” his voiced barely registered, “are you well?”

“Strange, this creature seemed to relish the pain,” came the soft voice, “almost welcoming it.”

Nyugo’s stomach knotted up when the bloody mass seem to take form.

Ignoring the samurai’s temporary weakness, she continued, “It was only when I told the beast that it would not die, but instead live in such a pitiful state did it give me the information that I desired.”

“T-this is madness…” Nyugo stammered, “This is not the way of the Dragon.  Even if it is against the denizen of the Shadowlands.”

The kikage zumi turned to face him, a blade in her hand.

“Whispering Willow,” his eyes narrowed, “but where is Tenryuu?”

“At Nisawa Pass,” she spoke, “Whether he still draws breath, I do not know.”

Placing the blade in her obi, she turned north. “But I intend to find out.”

“No,” he hesitated, “you must get information to the Kuni about this beast, and it is unlike any I have ever seen or heard of before.”

Her eyes narrowed with a slight hint of anger.  Nyugo could not help but step back under her glare.

He took in a deep breath.  “You will do your duty.  Besides I know the land better than you.  If he is alive, I will find him.”

Her eyes intensified and Nyugo’s hand slowly went towards his daisho.

She turned from him and headed towards the Dragon’s fortress.  “Very well, come and I shall let you know what I learned from the beast.”

 

To be continued