The Moonlit Corridor

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

Chapter 30 (v.1) - a stranger

Submitted: August 27, 2019

Reads: 26

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Submitted: August 27, 2019

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Thoughts of déjà vu ran through Ai’s mind as she raced after fleet-footed Kasumi. She was almost within reach of the little girl when she warned… “You had better stop, Tenshi. You’re making me go faster than I’m used to. I may stumble and land on top of you. I fall faster than you can run.”

Giggling as she stopped, she was almost knocked over as Ai collided with her.

“Why do you make me chase you every morning?” queried Ai, as she grabbed Kasumi and raised her off the ground.

“Because it’s fun,” Kasumi replied as Ai hugged her.

They had stopped at a place in the garden Kasumi favored as much as the carp pool beside the camellia trees. She liked them because their blossoms represented ‘constant love’. This part of the garden had only three trees, one of which was much smaller than the other two. They didn’t have colorful blossoms, but their leaves were bright red. The old groundskeeper told Kasumi that there were only two trees originally. They were lonely, and as they grew they fell in love, their limbs intermingled and from that union the third tree was born. Kasumi enjoyed sitting beneath the red canopy of leaves, having tea with Ai, and always remembered the gardener’s wonderful story. That, and the colorful leaves, made it a magical place.

Today, as they sat beneath the trees, Kasumi was quiet, almost reflective. “Why so silent, little one?” Ai asked

“I’m afraid…” she replied with head bowed.

“Afraid…why?”

“Because of what I did,” she said reluctantly.

“What did you do?”

I found a recipe for energy and to sharpen the mind in Mizaki san’s chamber. Most of the ingredients were there. I was worried about our nursemaid Aikiko. She’s old, always tired and forgetful. The rest of the herbs and plants I needed for the powder I found in the garden.”

“Kasumi chan! That could be poison.”

“I thought of that after I mixed it, so to make certain it was harmless I put it in Sanada san’s wine.”

“Oh my,” remarked Ai. “Don’t you realize that could be murder?”

“I didn’t put it in his wine because I thought it was poison, but to make certain it wasn’t.” she explained. “It was either test it on Sanada san or Aikiko’s old dog, and the dog had never done anyone any harm.”

Ai’s head was spinning.

“After he drank,” Kasumi continued, “Sanada san slept the whole day and woke up with a headache. He didn’t get any smarter though, because the very next day he was drinking wine again.”

Ai laughed, then realized she didn’t want Kasumi to think that what she did was acceptable… “You’re lucky this time, young lady. Promise me you’ll never do anything like that again.”

“I promise,” she demurely replied… “Will you tell others?”

“It will be our secret,” Ai promised.

At that moment, Ai had an ominous sense of danger. Distracted by Kasumi, she failed to notice Ichiban enter the garden. Looking his direction, she found him staring; ‘Lustfully…’ she thought, ‘the insolent savage’; she was on the verge of calling him that, but because of Kasumi she refrained. She defiantly returned his gaze. She was Mizaki’s daughter, trained in magic and martial arts, and firmly believed that Victory is for those who, even before the battle, have no thought of themselves. Indignation over-riding any doubt that might have entered her mind, she was determined to show him confidence, not fear.

“What is it?” She demanded.

Ichiban smirked as he leered… “Just admiring the garden…and the most beautiful flower in it.”

Ai was furious, but before she could protest, Kasumi spoke… “Just because you’re big you think you can bully others. If you don’t go away I shall tell Mizaki san.”

“What should I do then?” sneered Ichiban. “Run away and hide myself from that little man?”

Kasumi fumed, and tapping a foot impatiently declared… “I should think you would have better sense than to insult a wizard.”

“Enough!” Ai said angrily. “Have you taken to intimidating children now?”

Ichiban returned his attention to her. The two of them stared at one another, neither moving nor speaking. It seemed like ages to Ichiban, who was began to feel dizzy, then felt as if he was slipping into unconsciousness, and finally as though he was suspended in boundless space. His legs, tingling initially, went numb. His vision blurred, colors ran together to be replaced by blackness while his head swam. His thoughts were confused, frenzied and then…nothing…until he heard a voice calling, as if from a distance.

“What’s wrong with you?” someone was yelling.

Blinking, then rubbing his eyes, he shook his head to clear the cobwebs, then found himself looking at one of the guards appropriated to his command..

“What did you say?” asked Ichiban.

“Finally!” exclaimed the guard. “Ne-mut-te I-ru-no’ (Are you asleep)?”

The question angered the giant; it was the same thing Silence asked when he first met the pugilistic pixie.

“Na-ni (What)!?” roared the giant.

“I’ve been trying to get your attention for five minutes,” the man replied in a low, aggravation free voice.

“Where is the wizard’s daughter?” Ichiban asked.

“Why do you ask?”

“She was there,” said Ichiban while pointing a finger at the trees.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Sanada san sent me looking for you. We should have joined Aturo and Kanasawa to relieve the others at the front gate an hour ago.”

“That girl,” he mumbled. ‘Like her father. She must know some kind of oni magic.” Finally he snarled… “Let’s go!”

Walking behind the giant, the guardsman shook his head in dismay. A smile appeared on his face when he wondered if Ichiban’s height was affecting him, ‘the altitude’, he told himself, ‘must be making him dizzy’. That absurd idea almost caused him to laugh aloud, and perhaps he would have if not for fear of angering his superior.

 

Inside Sanada’s castle, Ai and Kasumi were having breakfast in the kitchen. An hour had passed since the incident in the garden, and Kasumi wondered… “Is the big man a statue now?”

Ai smiled, then laughed… “He’ll be fine. At least he should be. I’m not sure. I‘ve never done that to a person before. It’s something I learned from my mother when she was alive. I’ve only used it on animals.”

“On animals?”

“Hai,” replied Ai. “When I was much younger than you are now my mother used it on a ‘tora’ (tiger) that found me at play. My mother dumbfounded the tiger with her eyes, then grabbed me and ran. Later, from the castle wall, I saw that same tiger. It was fine, so I’m sure Ichiban will be okay, although he may have a headache.”

“Good,” proclaimed Kasumi. “He’s a bully and he scares me. I don’t like him!”

“You stay far away from him!” commanded Ai. The tone of her voice startled Kasumi. Noting her reaction, Ai smiled and calmly added… “I don’t like him either.”

They both laughed. Ai liked hearing Kasumi laugh. She considered the innocent laughter of children to be one of life’s pleasures, and couldn’t recall when she last heard laughter in Sanada’s castle, especially that of children. It was pleasant, and brought back memories long tucked away. Kasumi’s laugh made Ai feel young again, as young as she was before she discovered how harsh and unfair life can be.

 

Elsewhere and closer to their destination, the third day of their journey passed without incident. Sung Ji still felt as though he and Kenji were being followed. His sixth sense was a mystery, but he learned to respect his impressions, even if they seemed unfounded. It was, he firmly believed, precisely why he managed to live as long as he had.

“When do you plan to stop?”  Kenji whined.

Hearing his voice, the samurai paused his Arabian and turned to look for Tanaka. He was fifty feet behind, bouncing along on the tiny mule. Sung Ji avoided laughing, but couldn’t hide a smile as he watched the comical pair. Kenji, who had become overly sensitive about the animal, was not pleased. His temper flared every time he noticed even the hint of a smile on the Korean’s face if he thought it had something to do with the mule.

“Can’t you hear me?” cried Tanaka. “How much further do you intend to go?”

“A little further. We’ll stop at those rocks and tall trees ahead. It looks like a good place to rest, almost like a fortification.”

“Fortification? “Why do you say that,” stammered Tanaka as he halted the mule. “Do you still believe we’re being tracked?”

Kenji’s concern caused the samurai to chuckle.

“Doushite?” Tanaka asked. “Why? Why do you laugh?”

“Because you’re creating demons and monsters with your over active imagination. Stop thinking and pick up the pace. It would be nice if we could set up camp before darkness falls.”

“Darkness?’ repeated Kenji. “Why speak of darkness…” his voice trailed off as Sung Ji’s horse trotted onward. He laughed as Tanaka prodded the mule, the whole time mumbling and jabbering about ghosts and demons.

 

The sun had set, and Silence was close to catching up to the samurai, when her horse abruptly stopped in the center of a road that meandered through a grove of cedar trees. She tried to urge the animal on, but it resisted, snorted, and began to back up. Afraid the horse’s protests would alert the samurai, she relaxed and petting its mane, tried to calm the animal. At that moment, something compelled her to raise her head and doing so, she saw someone on the road just ahead… ‘A stranger’…she told herself. She could not see clearly, but something told her it was a woman. She dismounted, steadying her horse as her feet lightly touched ground. Leading the animal to a small tree beside the road she tethered it by the reins before returning her attention to the figure in white blocking her path. She had not moved. ‘As quiet as the grave,’ thought Silence. A feeling of dread came over her, but she was shinobi, trained to be fearless and boldly face the unknown.

She began to walk toward the girl, who appeared to be less than a hundred yards away. The seconds passed slowly as she advanced; too many seconds she told herself as she stopped. The girl had not moved, yet the space between them remained the same. She turned to look back at the horse and was shocked to find that she had walked at least sixty yards. She wondered if she had initially misjudged the distance as she continued walking, counting the steps as she moved forward. After covering twenty yards she stopped again. The girl in the road still appeared to be the almost a hundred yards away. Looking back, she could no longer see the horse. When she turned her attention once more to the direction she was heading she gasped in shock. The girl in white was less than twenty feet away from where she stood.

Silence couldn’t make out her features, but could see her more clearly. There was something around her neck, wafting as if in a breeze, but there was no wind. ‘A long scarf,’ thought Silence. That triggered her memory: the girl with the samurai and Tanaka in the mountain village wore a scarf. Silence blinked, and the girl was suddenly within arm’s length. She thought of stepping away, only to discover she could not move her legs, nor her body. Reaching for a weapon she found her upper limbs immobile. All she could to do was stare in wonderment at the stranger, who in turn eyed her curiously. For the first time since she was a child Silence felt completely helpless.  She found herself slowly becoming hypnotized by the subtle gyrations and movements of the scarf. Reaching out like twin, undulating arms with a life of their own the two ends of the scarf moved in unison toward her, each end lightly caressing the sides of her face. The girl in white smiled as she stepped forward, her face closer to Silence. The two were nose-to-nose, when the girl opened her eyes wide and suddenly blinked. At that moment the ninja girl’s legs gave way and she dropped to the ground.

Scrambling to her feet, relieved that she could finally move, she frantically looked about in all directions. There was no one to be seen. The girl in white had vanished. In that moment of realization she was aware of the quiet and stillness around her; there were no sounds of crickets or other nocturnal denizens. She stared into the blackness as the wind began to moan, blowing lightly, caressing her face…only the sound of the wind filled the silent dark. She began again to wonder if what she just experienced had actually happened. But she knew the encounter was real. Common sense and reason told her otherwise, but even her horse had sensed the stranger’s presence.

 ‘But how could she just vanish like that’, Silence wondered. Her thoughts ran back to the night she first saw the girl, walking just behind the samurai and old Tanaka. The two men moved a bit from side to side, navigating to avoid contact with others as they made their way to an inn, but the girl…she continued walking in a straight line, gliding past those coming from the opposite direction without colliding with them. Without touching them…as if they were not even there. The memory of that sight caused her to shutter. She recalled thinking perhaps the girl was a dancer. Her posture was erect, her back straight, she was supple and agile, her movements languid and graceful. Silence shivered, she knew that did not explain how the girl was able to pass through a crowd without moving left or right to avoid a collision.

Her mind returned to the present incident and she wondered if the girl somehow hypnotized her or tricked her mind. Was she ninja also? Perhaps the archer who slew the serpent? After inspecting the arrow she was certain it did not belong to any of Sensei Hawk’s children of the night.

Alone in the darkness, wrapped in the night wind, confused and shaken, she began to wonder if she was beginning to experience fear. If so, it was fear of the supernatural, of wraiths or devils. She didn’t dread the dark. As ninja she was taught to embrace it. But this girl in white, she was certain, was something not of this world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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