The Moonlit Corridor

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

Chapter 77 (v.1) - homecoming

Submitted: September 10, 2019

Reads: 11

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Submitted: September 10, 2019

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The dense mists of early morning had lifted, gradually evaporating with the slow rising of the sun, making visibility clear but the pleasant spring weather was overshadowed by an air of tragedy as the somber caravan of silent riders traversed the tree-lined roadway leading to Tsukimi. Beneath the canopy of green, sprouting buds, Asuka chan fought inwardly to control the grief that weighed heavily on her weary heart and soul.

This day marked her homecoming, and should have been a joyful occasion, but it was tempered by mourning for a lost love. As she rode, astride Ahn Sung Ji’s black Arabian, she held the bridle in one hand and the urn containing his ashes firmly in the other. Kwai and Chiharu rode either side of the girl, followed by Silence, Wind, Water, Storm, Jangmi, Fire, Ice, Sky, Minori, Night, Bara, Kaji and the children of the night. They were all attired in white, their traditional choice for mourning.

Not far from their destination, the pall of silence that accompanied them was broken by Chiharu when she noticed someone just ahead… “Do you see that?” she asked Kwai. “Why is there an elderly woman with a cane standing in the middle of the road?”

The shaman raised a hand to his forehead to shield his eyes from the sun, then squinted to see better before he replied… “You have good vision.”

Asuka raised her bowed head to look.

“That is Sayaka sama,” she said slowly, as if wondering how and why the blind woman would be on the outskirts of Tsukimi by herself. “She is physically blind, but possesses spiritual powers that allow her to see things others cannot.”

They continued to ride forward, eventually halting within a few of feet of the aged woman.

“You’ve finally returned,” said the woman as she leaned forward on her walking stick.

“Sayaka sama…” voiced Asuka questionably,

Shifting her weight, she continued… “But not alone,” she continued, shifting her weight. “I sense our visitor from China; the mystic, Kwai sama.”

“You’re very receptive,” said the shaman.

Sayaka smiled. “I sense another, like the two of us, advanced in age but younger than I…”

“She is Chiharu,” said Kwai. “A priestess from the Shrine of Autumn Mists.”

“Ah…a place of wonderment…” mused Sayaka. She paused then, stood more erect and stretched her neck as she turned her head slightly to one side, as if attempting to detect something with her ears. “There is a special one with you,” she said thoughtfully. “She is young, but has great powers that are only beginning to surface. She is touched by Heaven."

“She is called Bara,” said Kwai.

“A delicate rose…” reasoned the old woman. “I have never felt such an abundance of psychic energy in one place.”

Then, in spite of her blindness she turned her face directly toward Asuka.

“You’ve returned,” she repeated. “But it is no longer just you…”

“I carry the samurai’s ashes…” the girl began.

“Not that,” interrupted Sayaka. “You are no longer just the innkeeper’s youngest daughter. The samurai’s protector brought you back from the brink before you crossed over to the other side. She left part of her spirit essence with you.”

“Hai,” replied Asuka as she lowered her head. “But it is a shame really, that she could not protect him when he rescued me.”

“She could not,” revealed Sayaka, “not at that time. She could not interfere with what was preordained. It had nothing to do with her. His time in this world had expired. It was his destiny to leave at that hour, on that day.”

Asuka was speechless.

Sayaka smiled… “She’s left enough of herself behind, deep within you. Can you not sense her heart?”

“Hai,” Asuka replied. “I sense that she…suffers.”

“She has no idea where he is,” revealed Sayaka. “She knows something has happened that cannot be changed. And for the first time since she became aware of him she doesn’t know where he is, so she suffers.”

A brief moment of silence followed, broken finally by a sudden, vagrant breeze that moaned as it stirred the trees and gently lifted the white, lace veil covering Asuka chan’s head.

“We should be moving on,” said Kwai.

“Hai,” Chiharu agreed, then ordered Kaji to come forward. “Help Sayaka sama onto your saddle,” she commanded. “You lead the horse on foot.”

“Hai,” he replied.

A little more than a mile away, in Tsukimi Jun Fujiki bounced along on the back of his old mule as the animal trotted quickly through the open-air market place, causing a minor distraction. As he passed by a vegetable stand the man behind the table shouted… “Fujiki san, where are you off to in such a hurry.”

“To the Jade Teahouse,” he yelled back. “Toshiro‘s youngest daughter is returning. She’s just outside the village.”

The news caused a curious stir among some of the merchants and electrified others.

“Asuka?” said an elderly woman. “She’s returned? Heaven be thanked.”

It was common knowledge that young Asuka chan had run off following the Left Hand of God on his most recent adventure, and the incident had been the talk of the town for some time. Within moments several of the marketplace vendors and shoppers alike set out for the Jade Teahouse following after Fujiki san’s mule.

Thirty minutes later, Toshiro and his older daughters, Midori and Mariko, flanked by patrons and friends stood in the street outside the Jade Teahouse, gaping in awe at the procession of white clad riders followed by merchants and curious villagers, all seemingly led by the innkeeper’s youngest daughter.

“Asuka chan…” voiced Midori quietly. In her mind she had an image of her youngest sibling before she left home to join the samurai on his quest; an image of a happy, carefree girl, full of energy and excitement with eyes that shined as bright as any star. But now, reasoned Midori, she has returned as a woman, apparently ravaged by heartache.

“Sister,” said Mariko meekly, “has she become a priestess?”

Midori, speechless, didn’t reply. Mariko took a step forward, only to be stopped by her father. Momentarily Asuka reined the samurai’s Arabian to a halt. For a brief moment she simply stared at her father, her head lowered in humility. The moment she had seen him and her sisters, the tears she had been holding back began to run unbidden down her pale cheeks. She fought bravely to control them and her emotions as she spoke with an unsteady voice… “Oto-san’ (Father)…go men sei’ (I apologize)…”

He fought against the impulse to rush forward as he advanced, reaching out to grasp the Arabian’s mouthpiece to steady the horse so his distraught daughter could dismount. She stubbornly held onto the white-lace covered urn that contained the samurai’s remains as she swung one leg over the saddle and awkwardly lowered herself to the ground. While doing so the wind caught the veil covering her head, causing the fabric to drop, exposing her close-cropped hair. His eyes betrayed the shock he felt upon seeing that, but Toshiro held his tongue. Mariko chan, however, lacked the maturity, tact and self-control of her father.

“Sister,” she exclaimed. “Have you become a nun?”

“Mariko!” chided Midori.

Mariko chan went silent as she glanced in confusion at Midori, then Asuka and back to Midori again.

“Later,” said Toshiro. “We will discuss it later.”

He was aware, as was Midori, that the cutting of one’s hair was symbolic and usually done during times of mourning or extreme sadness as an outward, physical expression of grief and loss. They likewise knew the significance of wearing white, and since Asuka chan was attired in white, riding the samurai’s horse and he nowhere to be seen, it was all too obvious to them that they were his ashes within the covered urn she desperately clung to.

“Asuka chan, you needn’t say another word,” Toshiro spoke as he reached out his arms to embrace her. “I can see the pain in your eyes… I am your father…I feel your pain in my heart.”

 

Later, after Toshiro and his eldest daughters prepared rooms at the Jade Teahouse inn for members of the funeral party, and the children of the night were given rooms at the Inn across the street, Kenji Tanaka and his granddaughter Kasumi chan arrived shortly before twilight. Soon afterward Mazaki san and his daughter Ai chan arrived. Silence had sent Mifune and Hu-noz respectively to inform them of the samurai’s demise, and to bring them to Tsukimi if they wished to attend the burial service on Toshima’s mountain. A few days before, Asuka had asked Chiharu to send someone to inform Asako’s aunt Ryoko and uncle Junichi about the accident. Silence had previously disclosed that Sung Ji told her the mountain forest was a place he sincerely felt had become his home. Thus it was decided, and approved by Ryoko, that his remains would be interred beside Asako’s in the gravesite beneath the twin-tree she loved so much.

 

Long after all had retired for the night, in their room, Mariko awoke to find her younger sister sitting at the window, gazing out into the night. For just a moment she considered closing her eyes and allow her sibling to have her solitude, but she was deeply concerned. She feared Asuka could easily slip into a quagmire of depression. “Asuka chan,” she spoke quietly. “Can’t you sleep?”

Without taking her eyes from the window, Asuka took a few seconds to reply… “Sleep has become quite illusive. I haven’t slept much in the last seven days.”

“You’ve had a traumatic experience…” said Mariko.

“Hai,” Asuka confirmed. “All that I’ve done was with a stout heart with no thought of the outcome but with a willingness to accept whatever came of it. What troubles me now is that suddenly I can’t feel her. It’s all so confusing. Before he died, I could sense her…and since…but not now. It’s as if she has gone…”

“She?” questioned Mariko.

“Asako.”

Mariko stared at her younger sister without a clue as to how she should respond. She found herself blaming Asuka’s reply on fatigue and confusion due to shock or grief. Finally she declared… “You’re talking about the woodcutter’s daughter…”

“Hai.”

“In this enlightened age, are you superstitious?” Mariko asked.

“Not at all,” Asuka replied indifferently, as if the conversation was beginning to bore her.

“You’re scaring me…” Mariko began.

“There is nothing to fear,” Asuka proclaimed as a matter of fact. “In that cavern…I was almost gone but she brought me back. I was seriously damaged but she mended me. Hers is a compassionate spirit with an intense capacity to love.”

“But the samurai died while protecting you,” said Mariko. “She may have a grudge…”

“Impossible!” Asuka interrupted. “Haven’t you been listening?”

Mariko was speechless.“I still have feelings for him,” Asuka continued, “but since she shared my body, reanimating me with her life-spark, I understand her feelings for him. Her love is sincere, undemanding and innocent…like mine. I know he loved her, and I know he loved me too…perhaps differently, yes, but enough that he sacrificed his life to preserve mine. He will always be my first love. I will always love him, but I believe they are meant to be together for eternity. Their love is two hearts in perfect harmony. I accept that, and Asako knows it. I am in no danger from her.”

“You were able to sense all of that?”

“Hai,” Asuka replied.

“And now?” Mariko wondered.

“I can’t sense her…perhaps because Sung Ji is gone. She may finally be resting in peace.”

Her words trailed off, as if she was lost in thought. Mariko shuddered. Talk of ghosts and spirits always made her uneasy. Finally she advised Asuka… “You should try to rest. Tomorrow is the funeral. You’ll need all your strength. It will be a busy day.”

Elsewhere, Minori was tossed between remorse and restlessness as she sat brooding on the wooden landing in front of the Jade Teahouse. Within minutes Jangmi came out, followed moments later by Silence. The three weary girls sat together on the front steps, speaking from the heart their feelings since the death of the samurai. Unable to sleep, each were struggling with their own troublesome thoughts and emotions. Minori blamed herself for Sung Ji’s death, since it was she who slew Hawk to begin with. Jangmi argued that it could just as easily be her fault since she was fighting him sword to sword before he used smoke pellets and attempted to escape. The result being that he was preoccupied and never noticed the archer, so Jangmi decided the evil took revenge on her by causing the accident that took the samurai’s life.

“And it could be me…” ventured Silence. “I wanted to duel with him but conceded when Jangmi insisted so fervently.”

“In any event, that man was way beyond evil, and because of him that thing was resurrected,” said Jangmi. “Had he not been stopped, there is no telling how much more damage and suffering he would have caused.”

“She’s right,” said a man’s voice from the shadows.

The three startled girls turned his direction to see Kwai moving toward them. “Kwai sama,” said Minori. “You move about as discreetly as my old master.”

“As imperceptive as mist,” added Jangmi.

“Don’t tell me you were too restless to sleep,” said Silence.

“Much has happened these last few months,” he replied, “and I’ve lost someone I considered a son. It’s been difficult resting peacefully. Perhaps in time…” he didn’t finish the sentence. After a pause he said that… “Time is the great healer.”

“You’ve been here all the while?” Minori inquired. “You’ve heard all we’ve spoken?”

“I’ve been here since the moment I arrived,” said Kwai. “At any rate, I believe you’re all suffering from too much pride.”

“Pride?” questioned Jangmi.

“What’s happened to Sung Ji has nothing to do with you,” he declared, then mentioned the foreboding the samurai had when they arrived at Chiharu’s mountain.

“I recall,” said Silence. “That was why he hesitated the moment we were in sight of the place.”

“Exactly,” said Kwai. “The samurai’s death was simply fate, which might have been altered had he not came to the Shrine of Autumn Mists, or attempted to save Asuka. Either way, it was his choice to do so.”

“If ordained by Heaven,” mused Silence, “it will happen regardless of what one does.”

“Precisely,” agreed Kwai. “The tapestry of time will eventually reveal one’s place in the scheme of things. Each of us has a beginning, and each has an end.”

“Then…” Minori asked, “you believe there is an end?”

“In relation to this temporal world,” he elaborated, “yes. And yet…as in nature; ‘life’ doesn’t end with the bare limbs of winter, but is renewed with the new buds of spring. What the caterpillar calls the end, the butterfly calls the beginning. Like Asako before him, the samurai has returned to the source of all things. Although his physical body became inanimate, an empty shell, his spirit endures and has merged with the flow of eternity.”

“Ai-o,” Jangmi sighed. “There are so many mysteries. It gives me a headache.”

“We will all have headaches if we don’t get some rest,” reasoned Kwai.

“Hai,” they agreed unison.


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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