Links to Chapters one and two:
1. A Dark, Stormy Night...
2. Enter: The Grim
“Ruthless as ever, I see…”
“Don’t waste my time.” Grim growled. “You called me here, so get on with it.”
“As you know, I’m having some trouble quelling this uprising.” The Daimyo said. “It seems they’ve amassed a large number of skilled shinobi. It’s just enough to make my life difficult, so you’re here to put it to an end…”
“You know my fee; I presume you’ve already procured it?”
“Yes, there’s quite a feast ready for you upon completion.”
“Hmmm…he’s here, not nearby, but he’s with them.” Grim seemed to be talking to himself for the most part. “I’ll kill him for free…”
Grim smiled, turning to look at the bewildered lord. “My nemesis, he’s close, closer than he’s ever been for nearly fifteen years…”
“Wait…you mean Toshiro? I thought he was dead! Don’t tell me he’s working with...”
“Dead, why would he be dead, not even I could match him in combat…until now, he’s gone soft, while I’ve grown stronger…” For a moment the figure cloaked in darkness seemed as lost in thought as his body was lost in the many layers of black fabric. “If he has joined the rebellion you’d already have known. He won’t do anything to expose himself, he’s a coward now, only knows how to run away…”
“I suppose you’re right, but stay on your guard…”
The lord of the castle paused; Grim had turned to look at him in displeasure. His glowing eyes burrowing deep into the man’s soul; it wasn’t a wise choice to ever tell him his business like that. Despite the many candles all around, the entire room seemed to darken. Seconds later, the figure vanished; he stayed just long enough to put fear in the feudal lord.
It took a while to recover; looking directly into those eyes is enough to make the bravest of warriors weak in the knee. Some claim that it’s a genjutsu which causes fear, while others say it’s because they’re the eyes of a shinigami.
“No, p-please…I didn’t…spare me!” The troop leader begged as Toshiro tightened his grip.
“Then tell me what I want to know!”
“Lord Osamu…of clan Takeo…he rules these lands!”
He had heard that name before, but only in hushed tones. His memory on it was vague, but it seemed like the clan was almost divided because of Osamu. For now, this wasn’t important, though. The real issue was that he had traveled this far to escape the clutches of his past, only to end up in a land ruled by a member of the Takeo.
“Heh, I guess he finally ran out of air…” Toshiro smirked, noticing that the faint cries on the bottom of the body pile had died off. “Maybe in the next life he’ll learn some manners. As for you…”
“Daddy!” Yama and Yuji came running outside towards him. “We knew you’d beat those bad men!”
Mai instinctively stopped them, grabbing both by the waist to hold them back. She was still in shock, and looking at Toshiro like he was a gentle man turned monster, but she still had enough sense to protect the children. The father looked at his two boys; then his gaze drifted to his bloodied hands and once again back to the kids. He was killer, trained to do only one thing, it wasn’t like there was some switch to turn it off. Once his hands found his enemy, there was only one thing he could do.
The boys glanced over at the heap of corpses as blood began to pour out of it. It was like some sick art designed by a madman. Several were mutilated beyond recognition; others had bone protruding from snapped limbs. It didn’t take the kids long to realize they were all dead. Mai covered their eyes from the gruesome scene, and then looked at their father again; half scolding, half sympathetic. She didn’t care that he had killed those men; in fact she was almost grateful, but the manner in which it was done, and the act of doing so practically in front of his children, was just too much.
Toshiro finally took his stare off of Yama and Yuji to direct it at the officer in his clutches, but caught the young girl’s expression for a second. Without any words, she told him to think about his next move carefully. The troop leader was in tears, having been begging for mercy the entire time, but only just now could he hear it.
“I promise! I’ll leave and never come back! I swear! Please just let me go!” The man cried out.
He was starting to snap out of it, his blank stare was more a look of shock as he stepped back to look at the scene from the kid’s point of view. Finally he spoke, softly; not the cruel tone he used a moment ago, but one of remorse. Some of these soldiers may have deserved it, but that didn’t mean it was right to toss their lives away like trash either.
“Run…start running…go as far from here as you possibly can…” He said, slowly loosening his grip on the man.
The moment he was free, the officer bolted through the gathering crowd of onlookers who parted to let him pass. Toshiro was somewhat stunned, holding the palms of his hands open, studying the drying blood on them. Now it was the anger he had just felt earlier that was the most bothersome. It was the same anger he had back at the farm that night, the same anger he had before finding a wife and starting a family. Now she was gone, and the anger was back; he thought the children would keep it in check, but it isn’t the same without her.
As the memory of his beloved flooded into his mind, he collapsed, dropping to his knees. Her hair brushed across his face, suddenly filling his nostrils with her scent. It was like he could reach out and touch her; but these were only shadows in his mind. She was the one that saved him, the one that made him whole and chased the nightmares away. Suddenly, his greatest fear was realized, he couldn’t remember her name.
It had to be somewhere; it wasn’t like it could simply vanish. Toshiro had repressed it from the pain of losing her, only now realizing that he had forgotten it. Everything around him seemed to fade away as he tried to remember her. Her face was turned from him as she stood on the edge of a cliff; the sun was shining, the grass was sparkling green from fresh dew. She was holding a flower in her hands, her white dress flowing in the ocean breeze as she faced it. He kept running towards her, calling out, calling her name, but he couldn’t hear his own voice.
“What was her name?” He asked under his breath.
She just kept staring off to sea, as if waiting for something. Every step he took closer, it seemed like she was that much further away, as if he was standing still, no matter how hard he ran. Still she was motionless, only her hair moved, but her face was still hidden. One by one, pedals broke from the daisy she held, carried off by the wind; it was as if a thousand were on that one flower.
“What was her name?...”
Over and over his feet pounded into the grassy terrain; over and over he yelled. Neither were his words given voice, or his legs making progress. Why couldn’t she hear him? Why wouldn’t she just turn to look? Why couldn’t he see her face? Why couldn’t he just remember her name? The wind began swirling around her, and nowhere else. Daisy pedals enveloped her in a spiral of beauty before floating away along the ridge.
“What…was her name?”
Tears began streaming down the sides of Toshiro’s face, though his expression remained as blank as his mind. Mai was taking the children inside despite their pleas to go to their father. She looked up and saw Kenji at the window; her brother was focusing intently on the warrior still motionless in the street. Going inside and telling the kids to not worry, he stopped her, lightly grabbing her arm.
“Who is he? How do you know this man?” He asked, not taking his eyes off the swordsman; the young man wasn’t coughing anymore and seemed healthier somehow.
She looked down slightly. “Just someone I met in the market earlier. He helped me, and asked if there was a place to stay in town. His children were hungry so I fed them. That’s it…”
“Does he know?” Kenji asked, this time turning to look at his sister.
“Why would I tell him, and why would he even care?”
Toshiro’s arms were spread with his hands palm up. He was looking at the sky as if to ask it who he even was now. Without her, he might as well have been lost. Time had slowed to a crawl for him. He noticed the people gathered about were leaving, but their speed was almost lethargic. Images of her kept flashing in his mind, but still her face was obscured.
Emptiness was seeping into his heart; at this point he didn’t realize he was still alive. The past that was sealed away for years had now been released. He could remember his days as a genin; even remember his parents; worst of all the decade spent hiding and running from the Takeo clan, his own family. Everything was rushing into his head all at once. He even remembered the time as a child when he saved a little girl from some bullies.
His eye’s suddenly widened, that was the first. That was the first time; that was when he became a monster. He was seven, and some older kids were picking on a girl his age or younger. They had just become genin, and their sensei was well known for cruelty. They had been taught to not show sympathy, and to inflict pain on those that were weak. He was just standing there watching them tease her, not being able to help.
Then suddenly one of the kids hit her. He never knew what happened after that until just now; all he knew was that he woke up in bed the next morning. Now he could remember…it was a blaze of pure anger. He may have even killed one of those boys, but what struck him the most was the look on the little girl’s face. It was the same look he saw in Mai: sympathy, gratitude…and fear.
It was the same now as it was the first time; a burst of rage that consumed him; exploding and blinding. It was his love that took this away; she was enough to seal it. She freed him from the monster. He now remembered everything, every detail of his entire life, except for her. Why couldn’t he remember her? What did she look like? …What was her name?
“He’s dangerous, ya’ know…” Kenji warned his sister as she stepped outside.
She looked at Toshiro and felt a small fraction of his pain. “I don’t think so…” she said, slightly turning back before going out to him.
The young lady approached him. His arms were now down to his side and he was staring off into the mountains far away. She crouched beside him; then lifted a hand to put on his shoulder. She stopped hesitantly, being cautious.
“Toshiro?” She said softly, trying her best not to jolt him.
There was no response. Having announced her presence, she then felt it was safe to touch him. It was like dealing with a wild beast, only this animal had a human heart. A heart that was obviously shattered to pieces. She placed her hand on him, as if that might snap him out of it, but still he didn’t move. Mai was slightly startled when Kenji reached for her wrist.
“Leave him be, sis.”
She couldn’t help but feel sorry for the man, but let her brother lead her back to the house anyway.
“I think I know who he is…” Kenji said as they started back.
“Don’t you remember father’s stories?”
“Yes, but what does that have to do with…” She started to ask.
“You don’t remember about the boy that killed his own squad members and was being hunt down for years? They never caught him.”
“You don’t think…”
“Who else would belong to the Takeo and be willing to fight like that for people like us?” Kenji stopped to look at the pile of bodies, already there were some flies that had found it. “They never caught him, he always got away; but dad said once that he felt like the man they were chasing wasn’t the monster he was made out to be. Before his last mission nearly six years ago, he said that there was some woman who was traveling with the fugitive.”
“Right, he was easier to track because she slowed him down.”
“Father wasn’t himself that day; I don’t think he wanted it to end like that.”
“What do you mean?” Mai asked.
“I’m saying, I think our father did something to help them escape; it’s just a theory. I don’t think he died like they said he did.”
Kenji couldn’t take his eyes off the bodies, despite being as grotesque as they were. Mai had turned to go inside, it was getting late, and the sun was setting.
“That’s right, I knew your father…”