The Moonlit Corridor

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

Chapter 16 (v.1) - evil designs

Submitted: August 23, 2019

Reads: 16

Comments: 1

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Submitted: August 23, 2019

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Exhaustion finally took its toll on a bedraggled Miyamoto. He slept through the dawn of the new day and the eventual arrival of Kwai’s wagon at the Moon Temple. Physically spent from too little sleep in the last seventy-two hours, his usually keen sense of hearing failed to detect either the creaking wheels of the wagon or the hoof falls of the horses.

On the wagon, Sung Ji sat beside the shaman, as the blacksmith’s horse followed behind, tethered by leather reins. While the sun shone the productive pair toiled at their work as Miyamoto slept on, blundering through one troubled dream after another, completely oblivious to the wide-awake world around him. He was still asleep at twilight, when Asako appeared from that empty space between the netherworld and this one, revealing her transparent, spectral form. Miyamoto’s frightened horse sensed her coming before she arrived, its ears perked up before its distended eyes locked onto the materializing shape of the specter. Animals have a keen sense of danger and of things uncanny or otherworldly. Twisting and pulling against its reins the agitated horse managed to break loose from it bonds and quickly depart in a cloud of dust while the fatigued outlaw snoozed. He did so until nightfall, when awakened by the creaking sound of Kwai’s wagon as it passed beneath the Torii beyond the Temple gate.

The shaman was departing for home, while the samurai was staying behind to complete a small task. Peeping from his hiding place, Miyamoto watched as Sung Ji, standing at the gate, bid farewell to his mentor.

“Safe journey,” said the samurai.

Kwai turned and nodded, then cried back; “Don’t toil all night,” he advised. “Get some rest. We’ll finish the work tomorrow, then you can return to your quest.”

“Dea,” Sung Ji cried out. “Chiang’s patience will not endure forever.”

Kwai grinned as he turned his gaze back to the road, raising an arm and waving his hand as the wagon disappeared around the bend. Once he was out of sight, the samurai closed and secured the Temple gates.

 

“Perfect,” hissed the outlaw. With Kwai out of the way it would be much easier to carry out his nefarious plan.  Deciding to wait until Sung Ji was asleep, Miyamoto went to the tree where he had tied his stolen horse. The animal was gone, but the leather pouch he had secured to the saddle was lying on the ground beneath the tree. Inside the bag was a double-edged dagger with a fourteen-inch blade. He planned to use it on the samurai, once he was asleep. He favored the weapon and had carried it for three years, ever since he took it from the body of Asako’s father. Miyamoto had never taken a life with that blade, but longed to do so. He placed it in his belt, then inspected the ground where the horse had been tied. He could just barely make out the animal’s tracks in the failing light but could judge from the deep impression of the hoof prints that the beast had struggled to free itself.

There was no use bewailing what was lost, but the outlaw did: “Wonderful!” he complained sarcastically. “I’ve slept away the daylight hours and lost another horse as well. What next,” he wondered aloud as he silently hoped the samurai had brought the blacksmith’s horse. That would be fitting he reasoned. After all, he had stolen the horse to begin with, and although it feared crossing the toll bridge it didn’t matter since Miyamoto planned to go deeper into China. It was a perfect plan, he decided, as his shoulders and upper body trembled and shook with his evil, mischievous laughter.

 

His plotting was suddenly interrupted by the echoing sound of distant thunder. The sky above was clear, but in the distance it was threatening. Dark clouds on the horizon, outlined by a flash of lightning, gave a subtle hint of what was to come as the thunder sounded once again. Distracted by the heavy bass resonance he found himself thinking of another time and place; ‘was it two or three years ago…’ he wondered. The thunder, and the fresh, clean smell of the coming rain stirred his memory. It was a night much like this one he recalled, back in his homeland. He and two followers were in retreat, running from the samurai. Only he escaped his left-handed blade that night, but this time it would be different. Miyamoto reached for and caressed the handle of the double-sided dagger he planned to stab Sung Ji with. ‘A fitting end,’ he reasoned, ‘and a chance to balance the scales…a good night for revenge.’ Sadly, he had no consideration for Asako chan’s father, nor for Asako, who died trying to escape from him and his men.

Now, while the treacherous outlaw schemed, he had no idea that there was another who sought balance, in the form of retribution rather than revenge. Asako, in her dark nether space, sensing his evil intention, was stirred to an emotional apex. She wanted to warn the samurai, but as a novice ghost she had no knowledge of how to communicate with those still living. If she allowed herself to be seen, the reaction of others was always extreme fright, especially when she materialized suddenly out of thin air. She was confused and not quite certain what to do, but fiercely determined to protect Sung Ji.

Darkness settled over the Moon Temple and from his hiding place the devious Miyamoto could clearly see candlelight emanating dimly through the rice paper of one of the windows of the main building. The candle burned for what seemed an eternity to the outlaw, but eventually his predatory patience was rewarded. The light was extinguished, but still he waited, allowing his prey to slip into a deep sleep. Assassination, he had learned through experience, was most effective when the victim was completely unaware.

Rolling thunder sounded anew, not so distant this time as the storm steadily approached. Lightning flashed brightly as the moon and stars were slowly hidden by the dark billowing clouds that rushed across the heavens, driven by the intensifying winds. ‘Good’, thought Miyamoto, they would perhaps block Heaven’s view as he carried out his cowardly plan. He welcomed the storm. The thunder, wind and rain would disguise his furtive movements and any noise he may make in the process. In that case he imagined eliminating the samurai would be a simple task after all, and there would be no one to know. 

Finally deciding to move, he stood up but paused before taking a step as his mind was suddenly flooded with terrifying images of the many men and women he had slain. He ‘saw’ himself committing those deeds as if viewing the events as an observer, and the last victim he saw was Asako’s father, followed by Asako’s frightened expression as he attempted to molest her. As abruptly as they came, the images stopped.

“What was that…?” he thought aloud, but there was no reply. He had no way of knowing that it was because Asako was straining her consciousness to devise a way to foil his evil plan. Miyamoto would not have imagined that an unhappy, wandering ghost had entered the mix. Even his recent experience on the toll bridge he attributed to having consumed too much wine and the rest he blamed on nightmares and lack of sleep. He would never assume that as he planned his evil deed, Asako was searching for a way to prevent it from happening.

Eventually shaking off his feelings of dread, he left his hiding place, scaled the temple wall and noiselessly approached the building where the samurai slept. Sung Ji was peacefully dreaming of floating on clouds, carried along on the musical notes of an old Japanese melody. Stirred to wakefulness, the dream became vapor, yet he still could hear the lilting sound of a flute drifting into the room. It was the same haunting tune he had heard on the bridge, accompanied by the smell of jasmine. The melodious notes were coming from the front courtyard, in unison with the rustling of the wind-stirred bamboo just outside the windows of the room.

Animated by curiosity, Sung Ji rose from the makeshift palette and made his way in the dark through the main hall to the corridor leading to the front door. Miyamoto, meanwhile, was creeping along the outer wall of the Temple, stealthily making his way to the steps of the front portico. The wind was gradually increasing, and the fresh smell of the coming rain permeated the air. The outlaw didn’t hear the pleasing melody of Asako’s flute, nor did he detect the sweet smell of jasmine. Such pleasantries were not meant for him. In the past, when he did smell jasmine, it was an overpowering, pungent odor that only sickened him.

Inside the Temple, Sung Ji had reached the door and began to unlatch the lock that secured it. The sound alerted Miyamoto who quickly concealed himself in the shrubs and shadows on one side of the portico, his back pressed against the cold stonewall of the building. ‘So be it…’ he thought. Whether the samurai was asleep or awake, either way he planned to plant the woodsman’s dagger between his shoulder blades. As he impatiently waited, cold sweat beads of apprehension formed on his forehead and he slowly became aware of the overpowering odor of jasmine… ‘In this wind?’ he wondered. But there was no time for reflection as the Temple door began to swing outward, ancient hinges creaking as if in audible resistance to being forced into reluctant movement. As Sung Ji stepped out, Miyamoto silently cursed. He clenched the dagger in one hand, but his assassin’s sword was still in the scabbard secured to his belt. He feared drawing it now as the sound would most certainly alert the already wide awake samurai.

The night wind caressed Sung Ji’s face as he stood just outside the doorway. The moon, hidden by clouds, offered no light in the darkness. Thunder sounded again as the samurai, looking for the flute player, stepped down onto the portico, slowly turning his back to Miyamoto’s hiding place. As the outlaw began to move, the sudden increased volume of the flute resonated from directly behind Sung Ji. Turning abruptly he saw the assassin coming from the shadows, dagger in hand, and managed to move strategically to avoid the attack. While doing so he reached for his own dagger as he tripped Miyamoto, who landed face down on the portico.

Grasping the hilt of his sword as he rose, Miyamoto pulled the weapon from its scabbard and turning, cut a waist high arc in the air, driving the samurai back. Sung Ji out-maneuvered two or three more clumsy ill-timed slices or thrusts. The fierceness and suddenness of the assaults however, worked to Miyamoto’s advantage. Sung Ji was driven to the end of the portico, one foot going off the landing, causing him to lose balance. As he fell backward to the ground, the outlaw’s sword connected twice, cutting a wide slash across his forehead, and another on his upper right arm. As he was falling Sung Ji managed to deliver a thrusting front kick to Miyamoto’s stomach. The kick lacked sufficient power, but coupled with the outlaw’s forward rush it did knock him back two or three feet, leaving him momentarily stunned.

Sung Ji meanwhile, struck the ground rolling and managed to spring to his feet just as Miyamoto renewed his assault. Avoiding the attack with a strategic step to one side the samurai parried a sword strike with his dagger, then used it to slash across the outlaw’s forehead. Almost blinded by the blood from his own head wound, Sung Ji quickly wiped across his eyes just as thunder rumbled overhead and the dark clouds released a sudden torrent of rain.

Wounded now, and angered by his plans gone awry, Miyamoto wiped blood from his eyes as Sung Ji stood his ground silently awaiting his next move. While doing so, his mind drifted back three years in time. Like Miyamoto earlier, the rain reminded him of another time and place; the night in the forest on the mountain near the village of Tsukimi. He was close to apprehending the outlaw then, who managed to escape during a sudden downpour.

The Korean’s reverie was interrupted abruptly as Miyamoto, screaming loudly and swinging his sword, launched another attack, thrusting with his dagger as Sung Ji parried the sword. Miyamoto managed to stab him superficially in his right side with the dagger, after which the samurai quickly executed a left leg outside crescent kick to the outlaw’s left hand, knocking the sword from his grip. A right roundhouse kick to the other hand disarmed him of the dagger. With the same leg, Sung Ji drew back, coiled and struck Miyamoto’s body with a powerful side thrust kick. The impact of the kick fractured three ribs and brought the outlaw to his knees. Grabbing a handful of mud, he slung it in the samurai’s face. Momentarily blinded, he failed to see the outlaw rise up with a large bamboo stick in his hands. Swinging wildly he struck the samurai, knocking him off his feet. Miyamoto dropped the bamboo, grabbed a large rock and raising it high tried to bring it down on his opponent’s head. Sung Ji rolled to one side to avoid the attack, then cried out in pain as the rock crashed down onto his right hand, pulverizing the bones. He executed another outside crescent kick while on his back, striking Miyamoto’s hand and knocking the rock free. With a forward heel kick he struck Miyamoto’s right knee, driving him back in pain.  Standing quickly, Sung Ji jumped and with a well-placed side kick knocked the outlaw flat on his back. Wincing in pain and gasping for breath, the samurai awaited his next move.

Both men were weary and wounded, their own blood and the rain interfering with their vision. Miyamoto made an unsuccessful effort to stand, then dropped to his knees and bending forward with bowed head, placed both hands on the saturated ground to support his weight, apparently on the verge of giving up. Sung Ji eyed him suspiciously, uncertain if he was indeed worn out or just playing at defeat. After a few minutes the samurai turned, stepped up onto the portico and walked toward the Temple door, planning to get leather straps to bind the bandit.

At that precise moment, Miyamoto, who had been pretending, reached for the sword he had dropped, rose quietly and crept forward, the blade raised overhead. The moment he placed a foot on the portico, his attention was suddenly drawn to the red-hued mist that abruptly materialized on the landing. The samurai was oblivious as the assassin’s terrified, distended eyes were fixed on the ghostly figure whose angelic face morphed into a demonic visage, red eyes blazing. A hellish scream issued forth from the specter’s fanged mouth, frightening and causing the killer to lose balance. His foot slipped on the wet, rain-drenched beams and falling backward, he landed with a dull thud, alerting Sung Ji.

The samurai turned quickly, shocked to see him lying on the ground at the base of the landing, his back arched upward, face to the sky, the sword still clutched in his hands. The outlaw’s body quivered and shook, then went limp as he lay motionless, his wide-staring eyes no longer able to see. Approaching cautiously, Sung Ji discovered he had fallen backward onto the very dagger he intended to kill him with; the one stolen from Asako’s father.

The rain stopped at that moment, clouds speedily drifted away and the moon’s light illuminated the Temple grounds. A bright glint caught Sung Ji’s attention; the moon’s reflection on a silver locket around Miyamoto’s neck. Reaching down, he undid the clasp and removed the necklace. Inside the locket was a hand-painted portrait of a beautiful woman. It triggered something buried deep in his memory. He recalled that while at the burial of the woodsman and his daughter, he overheard two women talking about what a shame it was that although a man from Tsukimi discovered the girl’s body, no one found the silver locket she had worn since her mother’s death. She treasured it as it was a gift from her father and contained a portrait of her mother he painted after she died. “Asako chan was never seen without the locket…” one of the women remarked.

‘Could it be that locket…?’ he wondered. Perhaps it was connected to the haunting; a major piece of the puzzle. He was eager to sort it out, but his enthusiasm to solve the riddle was outweighed by the fatigue quickly taking its toll. That, and the intensifying pain from his injuries, brought him back to the moment. Now more than anything else, he needed rest. He looked once more at the locket, just before painfully limping toward the front entrance of the Temple.

 


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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