The Moonlit Corridor

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

Chapter 71 (v.1) - Terrible Trio

Submitted: September 05, 2019

Reads: 25

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Submitted: September 05, 2019

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Kwai had managed to sleep a couple of hours before awakening, stirred to consciousness by an uneasy impression of impending disaster. He had been dreaming, and a single imposing image remained in his mind; a large, fierce temple guardian he had seen when a young boy. He recalled the frightening sensation he felt when he first saw the guardian statues, and how intimidated he was by their appearance. His parents told him not to fear, that the guardian lions scared away evil spirits and demons. The guardians were tangible but inanimate, could be seen and touched but were no threat, whereas the timeless entity he now faced was. It was invisible, yet always near, lurking in the shadows. It was a malignant force, relentless in it’s pursuit of chaos.

Now, as Kwai tuned in to his inner feelings, he was certain the uneasiness that awakened him had something to do with the evil and its destructive purpose.

While Kwai was trying to make sense of things, the samurai, unable to relax or sleep, decided to take a walk in the brisk night air. When passing the women’s building he noticed someone sitting alone in the shadows on the front landing. On closer inspection he discovered… “Asuka chan…”

Instantly she turned to look his direction. “Sung Ji san,” she said nervously. “I didn’t hear your approach.”

“Forgive me,” he said with a smile, “it comes from the training. An enemy will never know a samurai is near until too late.”

“Am I an enemy?” she voiced apprehensively.

“Of course not,” he affirmed, “never. Why are you up and awake at such a late hour?”

There was a pause as random thoughts ran through her mind. She was worried about him; about all of her newfound friends at the mountain retreat, and was fearful over the mystic events of the last few days. That seemed like an appropriate reason, yet she feared he may look down on her if he thought she were afraid. But then she was even more fearful of revealing her heart. “It’s a bit overwhelming,” she finally said. “These new experiences…”

“Ah,” he said as he sat down beside her, “it’s no wonder.”

She was breathless and speechless all at once, suddenly being alone and beside him in what seemed a magic moment.

“At times,” he continued, “I find myself a bit confused. Commonplace threats are of little consequence, but even for a samurai the supernatural can be difficult to deal with. I must rely on Kwai and Chiharu for guidance and support. We’ve got them, our enchanted weapons and the girl, Bara. She seems to have an aura that repels evil.”

“Hai,” said Asuka affirmatively.

“Perhaps you should return to Tsukimi…” Sung Ji began.

“I won’t!” she snapped, then coyly bowed her head. “Go-men-sei…” she apologized.

“I truly admire your spirit,” he said with a grin. “There was a time in my life when I was fiercely independent, strong willed and impetuous…even a little rebellious.”

Asuka looked at him, flattered that he was revealing personal things about himself to her, and anxious to learn more.

“Once, when I was a teen, my master was giving a lesson on ego and ‘self’. He explained that of all things that make up an individual, ‘self’ is non-tangible. In essence it doesn’t exist, but is rather like a mirage; a reflection without substance. Although it determines how we behave or perceive things, it is not something we can touch or hold in our hands. He finished by saying that in his opinion, it did not exist. I considered his conclusion a few minutes, then asked that if that was the case, who are you and who am I? Quickly reaching for his bamboo, he shouted that he was the teacher with the stick and I was the target!”

Asuka laughed, which pleased Sung Ji. He disliked seeing a young maiden sad and burdened by events beyond her control.

“I’ve wondered for some time now,” Asuka spoke slowly, as if uncertain how to adequately convey her thoughts, “about the tune you play on your flute. You play it so well…the melody seems to carry your heart, as if you were playing for someone you love.”

They were interrupted then, by a sleepy-voiced archer standing at the door... “There you are,” said Minori. “I awoke to find myself alone in our room.”

“I couldn’t sleep,” said Asuka.

“Well, I can see you’re safe,” replied Minori, “and in good company.”

Asuka bowed her head again, thankful they couldn’t see her blush in the dark. The samurai was likewise thankful. Minori’s statement embarrassed him as well.

“I was just passing by…” he said defensively.

“I’ll be back inside in a moment,” interrupted Asuka.

“Take your time,” said Minori. “But you should get some rest. No telling what trials await us or what tomorrow may bring.”

There was a period of silence between them once Minori left. Finally the samurai stood… “Minori chan is right,” he said. “You should try to rest.”

“In a moment,” she promised, “after you’ve gone.”

“I’ll leave first then,” he offered. “Oyasu-mina-sai’ (Good night).”

“Hai. Oyasu-mina-sai,” she replied.

She watched forlornly as he walked away, momentarily swallowed by the velvet darkness. Neither of them were aware of the silent observer in the shadows nearby. Once the samurai was gone the watcher stealthily approached the unwary girl.

“You admire him…”

“Kwai sama…”shestammered. The sound of hisvoice startled her. She was embarrassed, but asked… “Is it that obvious?”

“To some,” he replied.

“Does he know?”

“Perhaps,” said Kwai. “Perhaps not. In spite of the fierce discipline of the samurai code, he has a kind heart. He loves all of us, each in a different way.”

Asuka smiled. She was physically close to the samurai, and thus was quite content. Still, she allowed herself to hope and dream from time to time. She knew that he was alone in life, and longed to be beside him. She believed that would give her all the happiness she needed in this world.

“The hour is late,” reasoned Kwai. “You should go inside. Minori was concerned about you. She may be lying awake waiting.”

“Hai,” she complied.

 

Meanwhile, returning to his room, Sung Ji decided on a detour through the tall bamboo. He loved the sound of the breeze rustling the slender leaves, and the creaking of the larger stalks as they swayed with the wind. But his enjoyment was abruptly cut short by an uneasy sensation. He paused as he felt he was no longer alone. He sensed he was being watched and his suspicions were confirmed when a dark figure stepped out from hiding. Although a shadow in the darkness, there was something familiar about the stranger blocking his way…something in the way he moved… ‘Could it be…’ he wondered.

Before he finished the thought, the stranger spoke… “We meet again…” said the stranger, before the samurai finished the thought.

“Impossible…” Sung Ji began.

“Impossible…” the man repeated, “and yet, here we are.” he continued as he drew his sword.

The samurai recovered quickly from the initial shock of facing a dead man. He knew Miyamoto was deceased, yet here he stood, sword in hand. Before either of them moved the scent of jasmine filled the night air and a heavy mist materialized over the ground that separated them. Miyamoto, rather than fearful, began to snicker, then laugh derisively. Asako appeared at that moment, fierce in countenance, but the outlaw only sneered.

“The one I serve is far more frightening than you,” he defiantly proclaimed. Then addressing the samurai he taunted… “I want that pretty locket back. Once I’ve killed you I’ll continue where I left off with that little tramp that protects you.”

“Your feeble attempts to anger me are futile,” said Sung Ji. “Are you going to babble or battle?”

He attacked then, but not as wildly as the samurai remembered from the encounter at the Moon Temple in China. He moved with a speed much more than was humanly possible, quickly covering the several feet of distance between them. Sung Ji easily managed to parry his sword, six times consecutively. Miyamoto stood down abruptly, as if confused and trying to decide what to do next. Without warning heswung his sword low, attackingthe samurai’s legs below the knees. Sung Jijumped above thelethal arc, lifting both knees simultaneously, and with his right leg kicked toward his assailant. The outlaw dodged the kick and as Sung Ji landed was already striking downward toward the samurai’s head. Asako speedily placed her near-transparent body between them and was shocked to find herself knocked aside by an invisible force created by a second swipe of Miyamoto’s sword. He raised it for another downwad strike while Sung Ji, distracted by concern for Asako, was unprepared to parry. Asako screamed in anger and glowed with a white brilliance, aiming a blast of brightness at the outlaw, temporarily blinding him. In that instant Sung Ji deflected his blade and struck him with the star sword, causing him to burst into a red and black cloud of burning ash.

Kwai, having left Asuka just moments ago, arrived an instant before Miyamoto vanished.

“I can’t believe it. That was…”

“Miyamoto,” the samurai finished his sentence. “Or rather one of those duplicates.”

“This thing we are dealing with evidently knows our innermost thoughts…and memories,” reasoned the shaman.

“You saw it…”

“Just before you struck him,” replied Kwai. “I recognized him from the Moon Temple.”

“He remarked; “We three have returned,” said Sung Ji. “Could he have been referring to his former partners, Ichiban and…”

“Sensei Hawk,” Kwai finished his thought.

“Dea,” Sung Ji responded, then as if it suddenly occurred to him, he asked… “What brought you here at this moment?”

“Coincidence,” said Kwai. “Happenstance, nothing more. What is it? Do

you think I’m one of them?”

“Of course not. There couldn’t possibly be more than one of you in this world. That would upset the balance of nature. You just have a habit of showing up when least expected.”

“Enough small talk. The girls may be in trouble,” ventured the shaman. “If Miyamoto came here exclusively for you, Ichiban may have gone for Silence, while Hawk may target Minori Chan. I’ll go to the shrine. You check the women’s barracks.”As he hurried on his way, Sung Ji thought about Asako. He was surprised to have actually seen her when she came to his aid moments ago. Perhaps because all her focus was on preventing the duplicate Miyamoto from killing him. There were so many mysteries he reasoned, and he could reflect on them later. Presently he needed to concentrate on the current situation, which meant getting to the women’s building as quickly as possible. As he picked up speed, Kwai was climbing the stairs leading to the Shrine of Autumn Mists.

The shaman managed to reach the top just after he heard a scream. It was Chiharu, and prompted by the sight of Ichiban standing over Silence, his double-edged sword raised in preparation for a downward death strike when an arrow from the dark pierced the center of his chest. His body exploded into a cloud of burning ash immediately, while the arrow sped on its’ flight, directly toward Kwai. The shaman released his grip on the hilt end of the magic tanto just in time to snatch the feathered barb from the air only inches from his face.

“That was close,” he murmured as Yu-tu, bow in hand, rushed from the shadows of the portico, followed by Water and Ice.

“Go-men-sei…” he began.

“No, no,” said Kwai. “No harm done. You saved the girl.”

“Ari-gatou,” Silence told him as she stood, aided by Chiharu and Jangmi.

“Things are getting out of hand,” said the nun as Kwai approached.

He told them about Sung Ji’s encounter with the duplicate Miyamoto… “The samurai should have arrived at the women’s building by now. It’s possible a duplicate of Hawk may have gone there for the archer.”

“That makes sense,” Jangmi surmised, “since it was she who eliminated him to begin with. ”

“We should hurry to the barracks,” said Silence. “Hawk was crafty when alive. His duplicate may be also. Sung Ji might need our help.”

“That won’t be necessary…”

They all turned the direction of the samurai’s voice, happy to see him as he arrived, flanked and followed by Storm,Minori, Night, Bara, Sky and

Asuka.

“Op-pah!” exclaimed Jangmi.

“Minori fearlessly faced the duplicate Hawk before I arrived,” the samurai continued.

“And finished him!” Sky enthusiastically added.

 “Her arrow struck him between the eyes as he attacked Sky,” said Asuka.

“All of youare safe,” Kwai said happily. “But it’s past time for us to bring the fight to the source of the threat.”

“I agree,” said Chiharu. “We’ve been talking, Water, Jangmi and I… We should gather inside the shrine and devise a plan.”

“Dea,” agreed the samurai. “We should put an end to this nightmare tonight.”


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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