The Moonlit Corridor

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

Chapter 31 (v.1) - the castle

Submitted: August 27, 2019

Reads: 22

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Submitted: August 27, 2019

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She was uncertain where she was. It was night and she was standing at the edge of a steep cliff. Far below, a pool of water reflected the light of the full moon high above. She couldn’t recall how she came to be here, but she knew why she had come, and why she was standing precariously close to the edge. She was tired of being swept along by the strong currents of a demanding life, and wondered if she should take a final step forward and end the torment once and for all on the jagged rocks below.

Her dismal reverie was suddenly interrupted by the melodious sound of a girl’s voice, resonating from directly behind her… “You can’t die now…”

Startled, she turned to see the vague silhouette of a longhaired girl, her features cloaked in darkness while her white clothing reflected the lunar light.

She found herself asking… “Why?”

“There is something you must do.”

“What must I do?”

“I can’t tell you. I can only say you cannot die now. There is something you must do.”

She turned once more toward the edge, then back to the silhouette. She was gone. Out of the dark she heard the girl’s disembodied voice resonate as if in a cavern… “There is something you must do…”

Silence awoke then, shivering and drenched in sweat. She trembled as the aftermath of the dream tenaciously hung on. Breathing deeply, she fought to clear her mind. ‘Enough’ she told herself. This mission had for her become a turning point. She finally had enough of the life Sensei Hawk had fashioned for her and her ‘sisters’.

 

By the end of the fourth day of their journey, Sung Ji and Kenji paused atop a knoll overlooking the small village at the base of the hill upon which stood Sanada’s castle. It was immense, well fortified and foreboding in appearance. The samurai had noticed that the closer they came to where they were now there was something out of place…something different about the area. There were banners flying above the treetops in various locations and crows-nest lookout posts in some of the larger trees.  Apparently Sanada had many individuals on his payroll, not only within the village, but outlying areas as well. Sung Ji imagined that a traveler passing through, even if having no idea where exactly they were, would without a doubt know they were in a place of significant importance.Precisely the type of place one would expect to find a would-be demigod, living in wealth and splendor while the inhabitants of the nearby village and farms lived a laborious life of poverty.

“That is Sanada’s stronghold,” the samurai heard Tanaka ominously declare.

“I assumed so,” he replied.

“Do you have a plan?” the old man asked.

“Outside of rescuing your granddaughter, not really. I usually go with the flow. But judging from the appearance of that place, this will require some serious thought.”

“I’m not certain Kasumi is still in the castle,” said Kenji, “If Sanada believes I’m dead, she may already be in that geisha house. I’ve heard that place is a haven for troublemakers and is operated by an infamous woman, Madam Snow. I can’t imagine Kasumi in a more horrible place. It would be much worse than that despot’s castle. At least there a housemaid or the magician’s daughter would care for her. But that geisha house…”

“Then,” surmised the Korean, “we will begin with Madame Snow.”

 

On an adjacent hilltop, hidden by trees, Silence observed the unwary pair. She had decided she would neither complete her mission nor return to the subservience of Sensei Hawk. Presently she had no plan, outside of saving little Kasumi from Sanada. She could not, in good conscience, allow an evil man like Sanada to live. Gaining entrance to his castle would be simple, but getting out may be troublesome, trying to protect Kasumi in the process. She thought about Mizaki and Ai chan, uncertain if they would suffer at the hands of Sanada’s hirelings. Silence had seen the wizard’s daughter practicing with the naginata. The way Ai moved indicated she was well trained in the fighting arts, not just in the long-staffed, single blade naginata. Most likely she could hold her own if it came to it.

The only threat that gave Silence pause for concern was Ichiban. She wasn’t sure if Ai could handle the giant, but if it were her, the thought actually inspired her. She had no fear of him, and relished the idea of a contest with such a large, formidable and ruthless opponent. It would allow her the opportunity to test and hone her fighting skills.

Her thoughts were abruptly interrupted by an uneasy sensation; she sensed she was being observed. ‘From where…’ she wondered as she scanned the brush and neighboring hills. As her gaze passed over a cluster of pine trees she quickly turned her eyes back to where she thought she saw a dark silhouette. ‘Nothing…’ she reasoned, ‘just my imagination’.

She mounted her Mongolian then, under the watchful eyes of the bow-master’s disciple. Amid the pines, Minori smiled as the ninja girl descended the hill; ‘She is good…’ thought the archer. She knew she would have to be careful if she expected the ninja to lead her to Sensei Hawk’. But then Minori was well trained in stealth, and capable of silently approaching her prey undetected, be it animal or human.

As twilight approached, a brooding Sanada was drinking more than his share of wine, impatient for the news of Kenji Tanaka and Ahn Sung Ji’s demise. “Protected by Heaven,” Sanada said scornfully. It was what Mizaki said, but the samurai was a man of blood, reasoned the despot. “Is that really possible?”  he wondered aloud, “Would Heaven protect such a man?”

Anger welled up inside him as he thought about Mizaki, and wondered why he could not, with all his magic, eliminate the samurai. The more Sanada thought about it, the more frustrated he became, and he was tempted to throw another wineglass against the wall. But doing so he would only hurt himself; the glasses were expensive, and could only be found occasionally, when ships from other lands brought them to his island country to trade for silk.

 

Meanwhile, Silence was steadily approaching the castle. Ichiban was on guard duty, along with the three failures that had accompanied him to Tsukimi to execute Kenji Tanaka. As she neared the gate, Ichiban, who had been leaning against the wall, stood straight up the moment he saw her. Seeing her Mongolian slowly trot toward them, he felt a sense of relief, imagining she had successfully completed her mission. Although he wanted to avenge Miyamoto, if it came to actually facing the Left Hand of God, he had a healthy fear of both his sword and his reputation.

When aware of her arrival, Ichiban’s underlings turned their attention toward the petite girl. Obviously stirred by desire, they didn’t just look, but leered at her.

‘Fools!’ thought the giant.

Reaching the gates she pulled back on the reins, bringing her Mongolian to a halt. Deftly dismounting, she ignored the lustful ogling of Ichiban’s men as her steel-gray eyes turned upward toward those of the giant. He lowered his eyes, fearful of looking too long into hers. Silence was pleased. She knew she still had the upper hand; she was in control.

“Is that old man dead?” he asked.

No reply.

“What about the samurai?” Ichiban inquired. “Did you kill him?”

Again, there was only silence.

Ichiban fumed. “Why don’t you answer me?” he asked, raising his voice.

His companions moved back away from the girl, fear beginning to distort their faces as their hands reached for their sword hilts.

Silence turned her eyes toward them. They backed up another pace or two as the girl, raising her own voice loudly as she returned her gaze to Ichiban declared sternly; “I don’t answer to retainers or underlings!”

Out of habit the giant moved a hand toward his sword and Silence immediately assumed a defensive stance.

Ichiban’s mood and mannerism changed almost as quickly as the ninja girl moved… “Very well,” he said. “Let her pass!”

That brought a smile to her face…that and the sound of chain link armor clanking with the shaking of the unsteady legs of the guardsmen.

Silence stepped forward, stopping directly in front of Ichiban, who towered over the five foot, two inch girl. Standing statue still, she kept her eyes forward, as if he didn’t exist. Reluctantly, as if it pained him to give ground, especially to a woman, he stepped aside, allowing her just enough room to pass. One perfectly formed shoulder brushed his sword belt as she walked by. She stopped, turning her head slightly his direction, but not her eyes. Sensing her ire, he quickly took another step to the side, fearful of having insulted her. Momentarily, it seemed an eon to Ichiban, she turned her face toward the gate and walked on.

“Wah!” exclaimed one of the guards, still tense and stunned from witnessing what he considered was an extremely tense moment.

“Quiet!” bellowed the giant. “Light the torches! Darkness is upon us.” 

At that moment a retainer came to the front gate to inform Ichiban that Sanada wanted to see him immediately.

“Fine!” he said sarcastically. “I’m on my way…on the heels of that girl.”

“What girl?”

“The ninja,” snarled Ichiban. “Certainly you just passed her coming here.”

“I saw no one.”

“Never mind,” said Ichiban, “she’s half the time invisible anyway. Proceed…”

As he followed the retainer, Ichiban’s contemplated his present situation. He didn’t trust Sanada, and knew that his benefit was directly related to his ability of keeping the madman pleased, which was difficult for someone as irresponsible as himself. Finally, having lost patience with the whole affair, he decided that Sanada’s plans were no longer important to him and he began making evil plans of his own. 


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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