The Moonlit Corridor

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1) - prey

Submitted: August 21, 2019

Reads: 890

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Submitted: August 21, 2019

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‘Those who honor the dead, have no need to fear the dark…’

 

 

The somber silence of the forest was suddenly shattered by the shrill, piercing scream of a young girl. The frightened, heart-wrenching sound brought Ahn Sung Ji back to the moment, diverting his attention from the ground at his feet. Rising quickly, he mounted his black Arabian horse and set out in the direction of the plaintive cry… “Seems as if it came from the precipice…” he muttered as the horse, impatient for the chase, reared up on its hind legs, neighed loudly and bounded forward with the speed and agility of a large cat.

Less than a mile ahead the dying echo of the scream was followed by the crashing sounds of a trio of burly men cascading headlong through the woodland brush. As they approached a steep slope north of the cliff side, one of them tripped over the twisted, exposed roots of a large tree. Falling abruptly forward, he slammed into the back of the bulky man in front of him. Both lost balance, rolled head over heels down the embankment and ended up sprawled like discarded rag dolls on the damp moss covered ground.

The lead man, Miyamoto, looked back quickly and began cursing. “Idiots!” he hissed impatiently through clenched teeth as he scrambled back down the sloping wall of the gorge. “Get up! Keep moving! You’ve heard that cursed horse of his. He’ll be at our backs in no time!”

Both men stood, one of them unsteadily, and followed their bearded leader into the darkness, up the opposite side of the ravine and once more into the dubious shelter of the trees. A myriad of stars winked indifferently above in the blackness of the night sky, while the solitary luminescence of a half moon guided their reckless steps.

“The ‘Left Hand of God’…” said one of the two who had fallen. “That swordsman is relentless…a maniac!”

“He has earned that name…never lost a contest…survived every battle,” declared his comrade, just before stumbling over a large stone.

“Watch where you’re stepping!” snarled his companion.

“I can’t see a thing in this darkness,” The other complained, “what do you expect?”

“Quiet!” snapped Miyamoto. “Shut your mouth! That Korean has the ears of a lynx and the eyes of a hawk. He’ll have no trouble finding us in the dark, especially with your yapping. Just keep your tongues still and your feet moving!”

“If not for that girl…” moaned the complainer. “It’s your fault we stopped back there, wasting time…”

Before he could finish speaking Miyamoto turned and delivered a well-placed punch to his midsection.

“I told you to shut your mouth!” he snapped as the man dropped to his knees.

Breathing laboriously, the portly outlaw who lost his balance at the ravine wailed; “I can’t take another step…I need rest!”

“You’ll be resting in the grave if that samurai catches up with us,” warned Miyamoto as he grabbed an arm of the man he had struck. Still gasping for breath as he was pulled to his feet, while glaring contemptuously at his leader, he asked… “Why don’t we confront him? There are three of us.”

“Better to face a hungry tiger,” said Miyamoto. “Just keep your mouths shut and your legs moving like I commanded!”

Begrudgingly they followed their impatient leader, all the while murmuring curses imperceptibly beneath bated breath.

Just moments behind the fugitives, Sung Ji, relentless and determined, proceeded with extreme caution, listening intently to every sound detectable amid the chirping of the crickets. The exposed blade of the razor sharp sword he held in his left hand glistened in the velvet darkness, subtly reflecting the dim lunar light.

His present resolve to overtake the evasive trio was fueled by the girl’s mournful scream, and the grim discovery earlier of the body of a woodsman they had slain in the forest. ‘I should have confronted them this afternoon in Tsukimi…’ he thought regretfully. ‘If I had, that man would still be alive…and the girl… Those animals seem to be leaving a trail of death in their wake…’

Even contemplating what he should have done, he knew one reason forallowing them to escape earlier was to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. Miyamoto and his men were known for taking hostages if cornered. Too, he wanted to instill in them the same fear and helplessness their victims experienced before their demise. But, he reasoned, there was also a selfish motive upon which he based his decision; he enjoyed the thrill of the chase. Therefore he blamed himself for any harm they caused since leaving the village. He thought about the woodsman…and the girl’s anguished cry. He had no idea who she was, whether or not she was a victim or captive of those killers, or why she screamed. He would know in due time, he told himself, the moment he caught up with Miyamoto.

Rolling thunder suddenly echoed in the distance, heralding the coming of a spring storm. Looking skyward, he saw a heavy cloudbank on the horizon, revealed momentarily by a flash of lightning, its crooked tentacles spreading across the heavens. Dense black clouds soon billowed above, wind-blown and drifting in the night sky like a dark canopy, hiding the stars and slowly veiling the sparse light of the moon. Fireflies disappeared into the darkness and dense shadows of the trees as the next blast of thunder caused the ground to tremble, sending vibrations up the horse’s body and along Sung Ji’s spine. ‘Even Heaven vents its discontent’, he thought as he steadied the Arabian, and abruptly ceased his advance. The thunder sounded anew, diminished, and the sky was silent.

Motionless now, the samurai was all the more aware of the sudden stillness that had settled over the forest. ‘The quiet before the storm’, he thought. It was eerie, the crickets ceased chirping, and there was no wind to stir the trees. In that haunting quiet his acute sense of hearing detected the hushed whispers of frightened men in the shadows of the rocks and brush ahead. ‘They’ve stopped fleeing’, he told himself, ‘now they want to oppose me. Are they that eager to perish…’ he wondered as he noiselessly slid from the saddle.

Once his feet touched ground he tapped the horse’s left flank with the side of his blade, prompting the animal to move slowly forward. The silence was broken abruptly when the tumultuous sky thundered anew, much louder now as the storm rapidly approached. In the seconds that followed the only audible sound was the muffled trotting of the Arabian’s hoofs. “Chung, chung ee (slowly)…” whispered Sung Ji as the horse disappeared into the dark.

Meanwhile, waiting in ambush beside the path, two of the agitated fugitives were quickly losing patience and bravado. “Easy does it,” whispered one of them to his portly partner. “He’s coming this way.”

“How have we come to this?” whined the other, his voice quivering in fear.

“Quiet…” said his companion, glaring at him, “he’ll hear that babbling tongue of yours.”

The pair, weapons ready, had chosen to hide in the rocks along the narrow path through the trees. Miyamoto, with sword in hand, strategically crouched behind the thick underbrush on the opposite side. He had decided that if he were forced to flee, he could lose himself in the trees, while his men would have their escape blocked by boulders.

Momentarily the horse emerged from the deeper shadows, moving slowly along the path. Although perceived, he was still shrouded in darkness, and near invisible to the armed assailants. As it passed within a few feet of the hidden pair, the lighter and more agile of the two leaped from hiding, intending to tackle and knock Sung Ji off the horse’s back. Instead, he grabbed empty air as he slid across the vacant saddle and landed aground with a dull thud on the opposite side of the startled animal. The horse reared up and bolted forward as the second man emerged, shocked to find his comrade sprawled face down and stunned from the fall.

A sudden blast of thunder sounded, followed by an intensely bright flash of lightning that revealed the samurai’s silhouette in the center of the path just twelve feet from his would-be killers. In an instant Sung Ji closed the distance, his blade cutting a deadly arc in the air, dropping one of the assassins. A second motion of the sword cut short the startled cry of the other who managed to half rise before falling lifeless beside his companion. In the next moment intense winds suddenly arose as the dark clouds above released torrential rain on the somber forest below, masking the sound of Miyamoto’s frenzied retreat.

The samurai stood motionless in the downpour, contemplating pursuit, but reasoned that the surviving outlaw was alone. Had he imagined otherwise, he would already be on his trail. Reluctantly he decided to give way to the storm, preferring for the moment to retrace his steps and solve the mystery of the scream.

“Heaven’s will be done,” he murmured as he flicked the blood from his blade and re-sheathed the sword. Swearing an oath, he spoke aloud as the storm raged… “Run to earth’s end if you must, Miyamoto. Vengeance cries out for Justice. Regardless of time or distance, your evil deeds will not go unpunished!” 

 


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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