Chapter 52: karma

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

Reads: 48

The swordsmen faced one another as if they were alone in the room. Following a nod of the head from Sensei Hawk a black clad ninja attacked the samurai from his right side. As he reached with his left hand for the hilt of his sword, a second man attacked from the left. The first jumped as he ran, and spinning, delivered a back heel kick to the samurai’s left arm, knocking the weapon from his grip. Turning away from the brunt of the attack, he spun in a circle while removing his cloak with his right hand, tossing it over the head of the second man. Continuing to spiral, he grasped his sword in the air with his the same hand and slashing downward dropped the man who had kicked him. The other just managed to remove the cloak from his head when Sung Ji’s sword came across his midsection. A second downward strike silenced him for all time. It happened so quickly, Sensei Hawk could only gasp, staring wide-eyed at the Korean.

“I suppose the thought never occurred to you,” Silence teased, “that he can use either hand equally.”

Hawk glared at her and then turned his attention again to the samurai.

“Why go against me?” he questioned. “The old ways are past since the fall of the empire. You’re a samurai without a master. Who do you serve?”

“Tradition,” declared Sung Ji, “and my teacher, even though he has left this world. I will follow his direction the remainder of my life.”

“Which may not be long. Generations pass and only wind and rock remain. Why not align your sword with mine,” tempted Hawk. “There is more wealth than you can imagine to be made…”

“Enough! I’ve no need of ill-gotten gains.”

“You’re a fool,” chided Hawk, “a useless wanderer and penniless beggar…a beggar with a sword.”

“There is a proverb in your country,” said Sung Ji, “that states…  ‘It is a beggar’s pride that he is not a thief’.”

“You dare teach me in my own house?” Hawk ranted. “Here and now, this night, you’ll die a penniless vagabond. And know this ‘Han kook saram’ (Korean person), anyone who enters this place uninvited and expects to leave alive is either a dreamer or a fool.”

“Allow me the privilege of ending his existence,” said Silence, “As it is, he may talk you to death. Too, it seems fitting. He taught me everything I know about the straight sword.”

“Perhaps,” proclaimed Hawk, “but I didn’t teach you everything I know.”

Water and Wind arrive just in time to hear Hawk’s boast. Water proclaims that collectively they know everything he knows and more… “We also know those things which Chiharu taught us in secret.”

At that moment one of Hawk’s men suddenly executed a turn back kick to the younger twin’s sword arm. She dropped the weapon as he grabbed her hair with one hand, preparing to strike her with the other. Reacting quickly she turned, bowing her head while removing one of her hoop earrings, which she looped around one his ears and with a twist, severed it from his head. Before it struck the floor, the ninja, screaming in anger and pain, released her.

“I see what you mean,” said Hawk. “Evidently Chiharu taught her that trick…”

“It was my own invention,” voiced Ice. “Chiharu taught me to use my intelligence.”

The one-eared ninja, backing away from Ice, almost ran into Fire, who adroitly stepped to one side and spinning, made two quicker-than-the-eye-could-follow movements with her curved blades. He ceased screaming then, as he fell silent and lifeless to the floor. Hawk’s remaining men cautiously backed away, moving deeper into the surrounding shadows.

“Too close to the Fire…one may get burned,” murmured Hawk, just as Jangmi and Sky entered the room. “It must be the weather,” he declared sarcastically, “flies are abuzz all around me.”

Jangmi, ignoring him, told the others to stand down; “After all,” she said while staring at Hawk, “it was he who ordered my death and crept into the shrine hoping to kill me in my sleep. It’s a shame that he, assuming he knows everything about this place, had no idea a secret room existed there.”

The revelation angered him and in his arrogance his devious mind began to plot a suitable punishment for Chiharu. 

“Just let me handle him,” Jangmi continued, two of her ten inch thorns in one hand, Chiharu’s beloved teacher’s sword in the other. “None of you girls should have the death of your master on your conscience, even if he is evil. Allow me to introduce him to eternity.”

“He was indirectly responsible for the death of my family, and hid the truth from me,” argued Silence. “I should be the one to put him out of our misery.”

“Or we,” added Ice, speaking for herself and her sister. “He killed our parents.”

Jangmi, however, insists: “Allow me,” she said with her head bowed in courtesy, “to take vengeance for you and release him from his guilt.”

Silence, with a nod of her head, agreed… “I-ke (Go)!”

Turning her attention to Sensei Hawk, Jangmi taunted… “You’re not human are you? Only pretending to be a person…”

Hawk stared at her contemptuously… “And you’re baka (a fool), aren’t you?” He said, hoping to anger her…  “And arrogant as well, like other Koreans I’ve met. I’ve sent many skilled fighters to their graves…in spite of any esoteric techniques they might have learned. Do you really believe you can defeat me?”

The samurai took a step toward Hawk at that moment, but stopped when Jangmi turned her head, eyes narrowed, to glance in his direction. Her intense gaze spoke volumes; she didn’t want him to interfere. Sung Ji turned his eyes toward Silence, who merely shook her head, as if to tell him to stay out of it.

 “Na-ni? Nothing to say?” asked Hawk. “You’ve all turned against me like mongrel dogs biting the hand that feeds them. So be it! I managed without you before coming to this mountain, and can do so from now on. It really doesn’t matter which of you inept people duel with me first,” he snorted contemptuously. “Not one of you will leave this place with your life!”

“Over-confidence suits you,” declared Jangmi. “Have you not heard it often precedes a fall? ‘Deru kui wa ka kisute’ (A protruding nail gets hammered down).”

Hawk attacked her then, screaming ferociously. She sidestepped his blade, while piercing his left shoulder with one of her rose tipped spikes. Hawk cursed, switching sword hands to remove the dart… “You resort to tricks,” he spit out the words. “Why not match me sword to sword. Fight with honor!”

“What does a reprobate like you know of honor? You’re a large man. I’m a small woman…” she parried. “My master taught me that when fighting an enemy the goal is survival.”

“You’re arrogant,” accused Hawk, “thinking you can win. I’ll make certain you suffer…”

“You can only say that because you’re still alive,” she declared, interrupting him.

Hawk, indignant, renewed the attack, only to find a second spike suddenly lodged in his left hip. He cried out in pain, but managed to slash at Jangmi as she struggled to regain balance after almost falling backward over one of the fallen children of the night. His sword struck her right thigh, causing her to grimace in pain. While he pulled the thorn from his hip Jangmi, blood issuing from her wound, assumed a defensive stance. At that moment one of the male ninjas attacked her from behind.

Sung Ji sped to her defense, switched sword hands again when the ninja struck his right wrist with a circular kick, knocking the weapon from his grip. He caught the sword by the hilt with his left hand, and in a blur of motion deflected the ninja’s blade and struck his body lethally, dropping him in a blink. Once done, he turned his attention to the contest between Jangmi and Hawk. It took all his self-control to keep out of the fray, but he was ready, at the first sign of real trouble, to finish what she had enthusiastically started. The fight was fierce and obviously a challenge for the weakened girl.

Just when it appeared she may need assistance, Hawk was distracted by a sudden, furtive movement in the shadows; a darker shadow that moved just enough into the half-light for him to perceive the girl in white. The same girl from his nightmares, her rose-colored scarf streaming behind her as if windblown, her face a mask of demonic rage. Frightened by her fearsome appearance, he was vulnerable. But before Jangmi could act, he reached beneath his obi, withdrew a smoke pellet and threw it forcefully to the floor. The thick fumes rose quickly, masking his hasty retreat. In the momentary confusion that followed, Sung Ji’s acute hearing detected a ‘whoosh’ sound, a dull ‘thud’, and a subdued cry of alarm. As the veil of smoke slowly subsided, those assembled stared in disbelief as Hawk haphazardly backed his way through the doorway into the room. He turned on unsteady legs, eyes wide in shock, a feather-tipped arrow protruding from his chest.  As he dropped limply to the floor, his body no longer blocked their view of the hall beyond the door. Standing there, serene and defiant, was… “Minori chan….” Silence slowly proclaimed.

Sensei Hawk, his face distorted by confusion and disbelief, lay mortally wounded. The last words he hears spoken are Minori’s as she lowered her ‘yumi’ (bow)… “Honestly,” she declared, “All of you talk too much. Now his blood will merge with that of the many victims and innocents he has killed.”

Unable to speak, as his head turned to one side, he could no longer see her. The last thing he saw before going unconscious was Asako, hovering in the shadows, her angelic features illuminated by the glowing circle of light he had seen in his dream, suspended just above the palm of her outstretched hand. Her face was expressionless, but her blue eyes revealed compassion. She knew his end came because of bad choices he made throughout his lawless life, and although the world would be a safer place without him, Asako felt only remorse and sadness. Gripped by a spirit of helplessness, like in the case of Miyamoto, she took no joy in Hawk’s demise. On the contrary, she felt the tragedy of it, accompanied by an almost physical sensation of frigidity, much like the cold she experienced when too near her burial site in the mountain forest near Tsukimi. Her last thought before he expired was… ‘the will of Heaven be done…’

Sensei Hawk’s final thoughts were of karma, the circle of light Asako held in her hand now having profound significance. It represented Heaven’s justice. His unlawful deeds brought him to this moment, and his untimely death…everything coming full circle and his evil, which he inflicted on others, coming back to him with a vengeance in the end.

The moment he closed his eyes forever, Chiharu entered the room, just as Jangmi turned to the remaining children of the night and, speaking with the voice of authority, warned…

“Regarding Sensei Hawk’s orders to eliminate the twins, Silence, Sung Ji and I…consider those orders annulled…void. Failing to do so, you forfeit your own lives.”

Having said that, she collapsed, her energy spent, her strength gone. Residue of the ninja poison still in her veins, the battle with Hawk and her weakened condition; all finally took their toll. Six of the seven sisters raced to her aid, while Chiharu directed them… “Take her to the shrine so I can nurse her wounds. She will recover,” said the nun with confidence. “She has a strong will to live.”

Silence, numbed from her experiences, just stood where she was, looking at Chiharu. When she turned her gaze to where Minori was standing she discovered the girl had disappeared. Asako meanwhile, invisible to everyone in the room, moved close to and behind the transfixed ninja girl, whispering… “Ne-mut-te i-ru-no (Are you asleep)?”

The question, audible only to Silence, startled her to wakefulness. Although obviously coming from directly behind her, the voice seemed to float up to her back as if coming from afar. Turning quickly she discovered no one there, although before turning she felt a presence. She did, however, hear Asako chan’s mischievous laughter as it faded away into the ether.

‘Ghostly humor…’ thought Silence, as she recalled having sarcastically asked Ichiban that same question as he haphazardly guarded the front gate of Sanada’s castle…“Ne-mut-te I-ru-no…”

Submitted: August 31, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.


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