Chapter 56: return

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

Reads: 41
Comments: 1

Several leagues south of Fire’s mountain home, a lone rider adjusted the scarf coiled about her neck, lifting it to cover the lower portion of her face, shielding nose and mouth from the late autumn chill. Her thoughts drifted back as she rode, back in time to a spring evening when her subtle movements were precisely timed with the whisper of the breeze in the sakura trees as she lightly landed on the tiled roof of the archer’s dojo. Her footfalls were as soft as falling leaves as she silently made her way across the surface of the roof and, pausing above an opened window, just as quietly lowered herself sufficiently enough to swing noiselessly through the rectangular portal and stealthily touch down upon the oaken planks of the training hall. Creeping cat-like through the darkness, she eventually passed through a wide archway that led to an equally wide corridor. Just ahead, like a beacon in the blackness, candlelight shown through the slightly ajar door of the caretaker’s quarters. Abruptly pausing there, and cautiously peering into the lit room, she let loose an alarmed gasp when suddenly a voice at her back broke the cemetery silence of the passageway; “So you’ve returned…”

It was Mistress Yui, her master’s sister, who always came and went as imperceptible as a ghost.

“Hai,” said Minori, just before complaining… “Why do you always do that?”

“Na-ni?” Yui replied. “Do what?”

“That…” she replied with a hint of frustration while motioning with her hands.

“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Yui. “You’re always trying to sneak up on me. Ever since my brother accepted you as his student many years ago.”

“It’s a challenge,” Minori declared, “and good practice.”

“Well for now you’ll have to do better than that. Perhaps you’ll succeed in surprising me, once I begin to lose my sense of hearing.”

“When will that be, you’re already past seventy.”

“It’s bad manners to speak of a woman’s age.”

“Go-mensei (I apologize),” said Minori as she humbly bowed, then continued… “I don’t understand, with your ‘dai-sha-dokyo’ (spiritual aspect of archery), why I’ve never seen you use the ‘yumi’ (bow).”

“I’ve no interest in kyudo,” she replied, “and no interest in being ‘iteh’ (an archer)…”


Minori’s memories were abruptly interrupted at that point, and she was ‘shocked’ out of her reverie by the echo of Fire’s frightened wail reverberating in her mind. Even as she pulled back on the reins to halt her tiny Mongolian horse, she realized what she heard was not an audible cry. It sounded rather, in her consciousness. She shivered as a cold chill ran up the length of her back, then shaking her head while speaking to herself, she remarked… “This is not good…”

 She wasn’t certain if she was referring to the inaudible scream, or her sixth sense, which was warning her of trouble ahead. Regardless, something told her that she should continue riding toward her present destination; the Shrine of Autumn Mists. Yui had recently told her that the nun who resided there was a close family friend. Minori was there when she ended Sensei Hawk’s lawless existence and left immediately afterward, never knowing the relationship that existed between her master’s family and Chiharu. At Yui’s request she was returning to introduce herself and explain why she eliminated Hawk. Just what the significance of the cry of alarm she sensed was she had no idea, but was compelled now more than ever to return to Chiharu’s mountain shrine.


At the moment, on Chiharu’s mountain, the afternoon rain had stopped, but Mifune remained motionless beneath the bamboo mat he found earlier in one of the storerooms. As he sat there brooding he bemoaned the fact he had postponed his responsibilities much too long, and then the rain came. He was inclined to put things off until the last possible moment, which always made it difficult to begin and complete things in a timely manner. When asked once why he did so he replied that it was his nature. This being one of those times, he knew he had himself to blame if he went hungry. Chiharu and Water warned him that any day that ended without his duties completed would be a day with no evening meal. The very thought made him hungry, and he imagined that his stomach would begin to grumble in protest at any moment.

Taking a break once the rain began required little effort. He easily found the bamboo mat that shielded him from the shower, but was now concerned that he lacked the time necessary to complete the tasks Water had assigned him before sunset. As he sat idle with those thoughts running rampant in his mind a smile formed on his face. He was obstinately proud of his laziness. On one occasion Ice asked him how he could do nothing when all those around him were working… “Do you want to be left behind?” she inquired. It was a nagging question for which he was still not able to find an adequate reply.

Chiharu at times called him ‘Helpless’, and more than once whacked him with a broom for failing to complete simple tasks. He recalled on one occasion she struck him on his head with her favorite bamboo short stick, which splintered on impact. He could still envision her disappointed expression as she stared forlornly at the damaged bamboo, like a child staring at a broken toy.

Bored by the reminiscence, his thoughts ran back to this morning. He had slept well the night before, but woke up tired and remained so all day. He watched the others as they busied themselves with their various individual duties and projects, rushing about as if going from one extremely important task to another. It all seemed pointless, yet he marveled at how they eagerly and energetically attended to their responsibilities. Actually, their activity wore him out. He tried to convince himself it really wasn’t his fault…but he knew better.

Momentarily, his attention was diverted from his thoughts when he saw a man he didn’t recognize, stumbling along with a heavy burden of oak planks. Obviously one of the villagers hired by Chiharu to help with construction projects Water had planned out.  The man paused as he passed by one of the many puddles of rainwater on the uneven cobblestone surface. He seemed fascinated by the puddle, suddenly giving it his undivided attention as he began to lean forward, eyes locked on the surface of the pool. Perhaps captivated by his own reflection thought Mifune, he seemed hypnotically enthralled by whatever it was he saw reflected there.

As he watched from beneath the bamboo mat, he was overcome by a sudden eerie sensation, as if something uncanny and disastrous was about to happen. An icy chill abruptly ran up his back, causing him to shudder uncontrollably. Now his total attention was on the villager as the man laid the wood on the ground and went to his knees. Bending forward and down, he placed his face just inches above the puddle. In the next instant, what appeared to be a hand reached upward from the rain puddle, grasped the workman by the throat and violently pulled him down. His head first, then body disappeared into the puddle, followed by his legs as they kicked and thrashed about. Mifune stifled a scream, blinked and then rubbed his incredulous eyes. What he just saw happened so quickly he wondered if he had imagined the whole thing. Too afraid to move initially, he finally worked up the courage to investigate. Rising up, he walked with a high degree of uncertainty, toward the rain puddle. Standing above it and looking downward he saw his own reflection and that of the sky above. Raising a foot above the water, he paused a moment, then gingerly lowered it until just touching the surface. Finally he lowered the foot all the way until it touched down on the cobblestones, less than half an inch below the surface. Mifune smiled, convinced his mind was playing tricks on him, and shaking his head he began to laugh, until he took a step and tripped over the oaken planks the workman had been carrying.

As he sat up, he shuttered, realizing that what he saw had indeed actually happened. Fast as possible he rose to his feet and backed quickly away from the puddle. He paused a moment as his frightened mind raced, then abruptly jumped and began running in the direction of the Shrine of Autumn Mists, fearfully looking back to make certain he wasn’t being followed by ghosts or demons.


Far from the Shrine of Autumn Mists, in the netherworld Asako was amusing and entertaining herself, creating a myriad of iridescent blue orbs around her that danced in the air like fireflies. At the precise moment Mifune witnessed the villager being dragged into the rain puddle, she became still, sensing a disturbance in the delicate balance between the spiritual and temporal planes. She sensed extreme evil; ancient, malignant and destructive. The source, she knew, was the mountain on which the shrine stood. The evil she felt was an immediate threat to Fire, Chiharu and everyone else there.

Asako felt an intense cold suddenly as her senses warned her that the peaceful existence Ahn Sung Ji had experienced since residing at her family home was threatened as well. The foreboding that weighed heavy on her caused her to shiver. Her beloved samurai was endangered…and more. She too was in danger. How she knew was a mystery even to her, and that perplexed her all the more. Her earthly life ended near Tsukimi when she fell from the cliff above the falls. She was now spirit, and believed herself to be impervious to anything on earth…immune at least to any temporal danger. But she sensed that this was different. This was a threat to her personally, and was something beyond even her heightened awareness and comprehension.


Submitted: September 02, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.


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I love how well tuned in to everything Asako is.

Tue, October 15th, 2019 6:53pm

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