The Field of Red Flowers
Ren's Records 3
7. My grandfather used to tell me: Luck favours the bold… But also the patient.
The day before we set out we held a meeting, the seven samurai, lady Otori, and the servants who where to accompany us. The purpose of the meeting appeared to simply be to have a forum to make sure that we were all on the same page, as such. During the meeting my lord Takeda asked me regarding whether or not Sakura could be taught by him. At the time I declined. I was unsure of the effects that her imbalanced Chi would have on negative emotions. The meeting concluded, and I went towards the sickbed, where I had been staying since that night… Sakura came after me. She asked me why… I couldn’t give her a proper answer. Part of me didn’t trust that she would understand that I was trying to protect her. Therefor, in my rashness… I said something rude about my lord and master. There was trust in what I said, however I said it very incorrectly… Ryuji does not govern him fighting through hatred and anger… However, his blade moves… Without regret, without compassion. Perhaps his blade, much like my own, has a will that we can choose whether or not follow? That was not a night of which I could sleep through… I regretted my words to Sakura, and attempted to figure out a better way of reaching out to her… Nothing came to mind. I was also upset at her… While, I am one to hold a grudge, I seem to be forgiving her. At least in part.
The very next day we set out… On horse back… I had dreaded this to be the case. Yamato, in his infinite wisdom and kindess, had prepared a saddle often used by those who are crippled. While humiliating, I saw purpose in this function… However, getting out of the saddle is not something I could’ve done in a hurry, so I declined the fine saddle. And with that we set off. I had planed to remain in the rear near the servants. Though, I do not know that I could’ve kept up with the vanguard had I tried… Possibly. But at the end of the day, my physical capability was still lowered. So I remained in the rear, with Ryoichi. As has been made clear previously in these records, I did not like this man. However, as he too was made uncomfortable with these traveling arrangements, we were able to break the ice, and converse under civil terms. He also seemed quite knowledgable about horses, and he taught me a great deal about them. Which made me realize that the horse is not a thing, it is a living breathing animal, and perhaps the reason why riding is so cumbersome for me is that it senses my anxiety…? Either way, his words did appear to help. The horse seemed much less… Twitchy, after I had began petting it, and dealing with it, as Ryoichi instructed. This made me slightly more at ease, however I still cannot fathom why people prefer this form of transportation!
We camped on the road some half a day away from Peach Blossom Mountain, in the woods. Sakura and her servants had broken off from the camp. After I finished my conversation with Ryuji, were he asked me about my decision to not allow him to train Sakura. Again, I was unsure myself… I told him him about the theories of the Akatsuki… I presented them as if they were facts. Chi is tied to ones emotional state… But is it really true that Chi can alter these emotions? It is something that has always frightened me. That regardless of what my will is, that my Chi could draw me to kill a man, whom I had no reason to kill. I was also uneasy due to not being able to perceive Chi… Not being able to see what is happening within Sakura frightened me. I had gone through Chi-negation, however this Chi… Power Up, for the lack of a better word, came due to my mastery, in a way… Looking back, Sakura would normally have perished, and I would have lost my Chi capability… But, due to my own mastery of Chi, that did not happen. There are too many unknowns, I cannot let her advance any further until I know what is going on…
After my talk with Ryuji, I went to speak to Sakura. She had that look in her eyes… A look that resembled my own and Haruka’s… Our master tried to keep the teachings of the Pinnacle Chi from us, said it was too dangerous. But we were adamant… Seeing her determined face made me question my motives… Was I really hesitant because of her imbalance? Because of worry for what might happen to her? Either way, I decided to let her prove herself. I told her to come at me. No weapons, simply her own fighting spirit. I wasn’t looking for capability… I was trying to read her heart. Why was she truly trying to learn to fight? Does she know what it means to fight? To take a life? Doubtful… Her movements speak to fear, desire to prove herself, and to stubbornness. While these are not negative features, and features that most likely most great fighters carry to one degree or an other, but she appears too eager in her ways. Perhaps I am wrong to doubt her? Perhaps in allow her to be taught, she may be able to learn these things. Though, a part of me dreads what would happen if she would not learn… Am I being too melodramatic, perhaps? Ryuji interrupted us. Again he shares words of wisdom with me… But I barely I listen. Too proud, or simply too stubborn myself. We turn in for the evening.
We set off in the early morning again. And we make it to the little village that is next to the bridge. We learn of a Kappa that is terrorizing the inhabitants. I have heard of Kappas, but it is not a creature I am very familiar with. I knew that Ryuji would stay and help, if there was time… But I asked myself, what I would do if he did not. Both the nature of my blade, as well as my own nature would have tried to keep me here. Would I have abandoned my lord and master to help these people? I cannot say. However, as precautions we set up a guard rotation. Abe and Ryoichi had the late night shift. I would switch with Abe. However, before that I woke up hearing trouble… I charged out into the night, and found Ryoichi… But Abe was nowhere to be seen. I focused my senses, and heard something dropping, and Abe grunting. I dashed over there, with the lantern I had brought. I found him, and he was lying on the ground, it was obvious that he was in immense pain… Though the wounds I could see seemed superficial. I hung the lantern on a branch, and peered my senses… I could hear the Kappa, but even my darkness adept eyes could not spot it. I followed its movements through the underbrush. It did… Something, that sounded like a spit… But it was more intense, and more… More. Difficult to explain. Either way, a jet stream of water was shooting towards the lantern. I raised my blade, and covered the lantern. I threw a kunai after it. It dodged, but ran away. Ryoichi had earlier left to get back up. He returned, and we were able to bring Abe back to the hut we were staying in.
Apparently, the reason that Abe was writhing in pain was that the Kappa had used a cheap shot on him. The Akatsuki practices a technique that administers pain in that area. We did not practice it on one an other… But the men often said that myself and Haruka were lucky. And looking at Abe now, I can sort of understand what they meant… Not much sleeping was done for the rest of the night. And myself and Ryuji went out to investigate the area in the morning. As we were about to step out the door, we found three fishes on the ground outside. Presumably left there by the Kappa. They were quickly labeled gifts. Though, I was not so sure. Either way, we went out to the, now, clearing that the Kappa had dragged Abe through. He would not find his belt or his bow. However, we went to the beach where the Kappy had gone, according to my hearing from the night. Takeda made an attempt to call our the Kappa.
We waited for what seemed like minutes for the Kappa to appear. And it did. It peeked out of the water. A bowl atop a green face. Human, yet not human. We tried negotiation. It simply wanted its baby back. Apparently, the baby had gone missing. He threatened to say that he would make more babies. I attempted a subtle lie, I tried to convince it to stop its attacks, and that we would save his child from the bad men that he had mentioned from the east. Though, I made two errors with this… I misunderstood his words, he had stopped the bad men from the east, they had not taken his child. And second, I underestimated his resolve. That isn’t like me… Anyone could easily read the simplicity of his intentions. Even so, I missed it. And a fight broke out. Ryuji pulled the creature of the water. And I attempted to attack it, but I failed. The creature attempted to attack Ryuji… I did not attempt to stop it. I hesitated. Which caused Ryuji to be bitten. Ryuji managed to crush the bowl of the creature, thus killing it. I felt so useless, I could barely do more then watch as the two fought tooth and nail. We returned and Ryuji’s wound was cleaned out. It was infected. I failed, completely. After this whole affair was finished, we left the village. Carrying Abe on a stretcher, as he was in no condition to walk.
We took turns between myself, Ryoichi, and the hunter/guide we had brought. We travel as far as we can during the day. But as night falls we camp. I was uneasy… I couldn’t gather my thoughts. Even now in retrospect, I couldn’t say what I was thinking. Ryuji came up to me. I barely remember what we spoke about… All I can remember is how relieved I felt afterwards. Ryuji often has this effect on me. He has a way of reducing your worries into a little box, and throwing it into the river… To use a poorly constructed euphemism. Afterwards Sakura came up to me. We spoke about regarding her training. And I finally agreed. I had realized that I relied too much on Chi, and that in order to let her advance, and in order for myself to advance, there was one thing I had to realize. This may take time, Sakura… But I’ll get there. I started out showing her a few simple defensive maneuvers that I had learned during my days a Ronin. She seemed pleased.
The next day we set off, and Abe was well enough to ride. We rode for some time, until it started raining. The rain was very cumbersome. Especially for Yamamoto… For as wise and strong as he is, he is still an old man. We rode on. After a while, Yamamoto stammered out that it should not be far, around the bend perhaps. Ryuji set out to check it out on Satsuko. We were indeed close… He returned and with news of the closeness most of the party started going at a faster pace. I remained in my pace, to not let the servants get too far behind us.
We finally reached the fabled hot springs! I hopped off my horse, and breathed in the bliss of letting my poor thighs rest for a bit. The servants take care of the horses, and the rest of us get into the hot springs. The servants joined us before long. And Kiyo began to comb my hair again… I do not envy her, my hair must be frilly as hell itself. It always feels good, though. Lady Asai and Sakura seemed very used to being taken care of my servants… I am as of yet very unaccustomed to it. When Kiyo, Aiko, and Minako were finished they began giggling and combing each others hair. I thought it looked fun… But Lady Asai seemed to point out that their behavior, while understandable, is not something Ladies should partake in. I can see how those of noble stature should not, though it looked as if they were having fun together. Satsuko had joined the men on the other side. Something that Sakura took great offense with. While I can understand that there are those who hold very strictly to these unwritten rules, I was taught different. In the Akatsuki, there was no difference between the genders. How those who partook in seduction were trained differed. However, when it came to bathing and such, there was no splitting. Even so, Sakura managed to convince Satsuko to get over to our side. Much to Ryoichi’s dismay, I can imagine. Speaking of Satsuko… If not for the fact that my, ehm, small frame is perfect for the type of movement and for stealthy actions that I do, I’d probably be jealous. Sakura tried to tell Satsuko about her misdemeanor, at least in humans eyes. Satsuko did not understand, and in the confusion back and forth I let slip that Satsuko and Ryuji had shared bed. I do not know why I did this, perhaps going from cold to heat has a bigger impact on me then I believed. Either way. The hunter/guide got up to see about sleeping arrangements. He came back running, saying that a lantern was lit. As no one had actually been in there, this was peculiar.
Myself and Ryuji went up to check it out. And we check out the room. No lantern was lit. Ryuji had Yamamoto brought there to rest, while myself wearing my underwear and Lady Asai’s towel, and the hunter/guide explored the interior. We found the other rooms, we should be able to fit everyone with ease. Further into the building, we found a dining room… Where we could smell cooked food. The smell came from the kitchen. And as we got there, we noticed that smoke was coming from a pot on the fireplace. I went up to it, and picked up the lid… It was cool. And there was nothing in the pot… And the smoke was gone. I closed to pot and hurried back to Ryuji. This place was haunted… Ryuji seemed to not be very troubled by this. I will trust in my lord and masters judgement, but I will keep an open eye. The last time I fought a spirit, I ended up in this pitiful state… Can I truly survive an other encounter?
8. My mother loved ghost stories. She used to say that: “They make my heart raise, and I feel at one with myself.” I never quite understood it, but as much as I hated ghost stories, and as much of a scaredy cat I am for them. I listened to them, because I knew she loved it.
Myself and lord Takeda took the watch. I was on edge. I tried to block out the creaking and shifting of this old building, but before long every little thing made me jump. My hearing is a blessing and a curse… It makes me unable to miss anything, but because I hear things so well, I can distinguish between them. The one noise I heard that I categorized as out of place was a swishing sound from outside, that sounded exactly as if someone wearing a cloak or a kimono passed quickly and silently outside. I carefully looked out to see something turn at the corner. My training told me to simply swiftly hurry after, but my already strung up nerves forced me to bring a lantern. I walked down the hall, and again my ears sharpened and the rain on the roof seemed louder then ever. I lost track of where I was visually, as I was focusing on the sounds around me… And WHAM! The door opened… Probably much gentler than I imagined… from where the men were sleeping. Ryuji peeked out… I thought I was gonna faint then and there. He said he was gonna go with me… I felt so relieved. He also awoke one of the other men to keep watch… Why didn’t I think of that? I went back and woke Satsuko up, and asked to keep watch while I was gone. And with that we traversed after the movement I saw.
As we closed in on the dining room, we heard the horses rear in the distance. There was heavy rain outside, and we were exactly not dressed for a cold rainy night… Both of us sporting fundoshi, and my previous feelings of fear made it very obvious that I was only wearing a thin sheet of bandages on my upper chest area. Even so, Ryuji rushed out to handle the horses, while I continued to follow the movement. I heard something that sounded like… Sweeping, and the same time as we heard the horse rearing, we also heard a thud… As if someone dropped something wooden. I entered to dining room, and noticed that half the floor had been swept, and a broom was lying in the middle of the room… The unswept part of the room was undisturbed, so I quickly deduced where the… What ever it was that was sweeping… went. I followed swiftly and silently, using my ninja training to not disturb the floor myself. I followed it all the way to what I could only assume to be the shrine maiden rooms. I left my lantern a bit away, and relied on my dark adept eyes. I snuck in, and saw and felt incense. It may not have been the freshest of incense, but it was incense none the less. I continued in for a bit, and found a couple of rooms… Probably the sleeping quarters of the shrine maidens. As I entered one of the rooms, I felt… Something brushing behind me. I reacted by jumping up and grabbed onto the roof. I was contemplating doing that earlier, however I was unsure if I could due to my condition. But, being scared in doing it worked, it would seem. I dropped down, and instinctively drew my blade… The shield activated. It lit up the room. But in the split second that my eyes were unusable for the flash, the thing disappeared. And a shrine maiden miko fell to the floor. I picked up it, and went back towards the others… I had had enough with being alone! I met up with Kazuo and Ryuji. Apparently there had been a fire among the horses, and two were missing. Ryuji ordered Kazuo to keep an eye at the horses, and I offered him the miko, but Ryuji protested. It had completely slipped my mind that miko’s were regarded as sacred. My grandfather taught me this when I was a mere child, after all. We went back to the rooms. Were I found lady Asai awake. But no Satsuko. Lady Asai did know where she had gone. I reported to Ryuji. No one else was missing.
We gathered up in the room were Yamamoto was resting, I kept my sword shining to have some light. While the light is a bit erie, it is still soothing somehow. We concluded that splitting up was the best. Two sword saints, two groups. One group watching over old man Yamamoto, and the other out on the hunt for the spirits. An other thing we concluded, was that they did not actually seem hostile… They seemed to wish to keep us here, but also to serve us. I reflected on my attack, and it seemed more likely that the miko was trying to take me out of the shrine maiden rooms, which would make sense. Anyway, I was grouped with Abe and Ryoichi to look after Yamamoto, while Sakura and lady Asai volunteered to go with Ryuji to hunt for the spirits. Sakura had seemed uneasy and as if she was containing her freak out, but hearing her speak was soothing… Though, I don’t know what I feel about her assisting in finding a spirit… Though, Ryuji lady Asai is with her, so I can trust that she will not be hurt.
Ryoichi began lighting the lanterns, while I sat in the opening of the door meditating. I sharpened my senses as much as condition would allow, and simply waited, while making small talk with Ryoichi. I would have preferred not to be disturbed, but speaking to something soothed my own nerves, and I could tell that Ryoichi needed it as well. Not long passed before I heard something… Again I was nearly scared witless. But it was Yamamoto who woke up mumbling about tea. And right he was… I smelt a whiff of tea in the air. I said that I would go check it out, and left Ryoichi in charge. He objected, saying that he would go with me, but I told him to stay, so he did. I neared the onsen and before I got there I heard Ryuji… He has this amazing ability to say really stupid, silly, and downright ridiculous things… And still sound like the manliest, most trustworthy, and confident man… It was also made a bit silly, as it appeared that he was speaking to the house itself. But I quickly realized that it wasn’t silly at all… He stood there, proud and strong… And n-naked… My face blushed ever so slightly, he is indeed a man. As awkward as it was, the lantern wearing a cloak that he was speaking to made movements I interpreted as possibly threatening, so I dashed up next to my lord and master, and was about to draw my blade… But he stopped me, and continued speaking. I simply sat down… Turned away from him, and waited. When he finished something incredible happened… Lots of things from inside the building started moving towards us… It all lined up around Ryuji… And bowed to him. Only Takeda Ryuji can make an entire building his subject… Ryoichi was screaming, but I told him to calm down. And the Lantern-head brought Yamamoto his tea. Sakura and Lady Asai was in the bath with Ryuji… Something I did not quite understand, this was his plan? It is hard to argue with the results, but… I guess it makes sense, seeing as the spirits were simply trying to serve us. I gave lady Asai a glance of thanking for covering Sakura’s eyes. While myself and lady Asai are already warriors, and adults, we can recognize the need sometimes ignore certain… things around us to focus on the important matters at hand… Sakura is still young… Even so, we returned to old man Yamamoto, who seemed very pleased to receive tea… Even if it was, and I quote, «an ungodly hour».
Not long before we heard a howling in the woods… It sounded… Different… I was fairly certain that it was Satsuko, but it sounded… Sad, somehow. Almost whimpering. Myself and lord Takeda dashed out into the cold rain, to find a beat up Satsuko appearing at the edge of the forrest, with the horses. She looked shaken. I summoned up all of my courage, and took the horses off her, and brought them to Kazuo. We inquired as to where she was, and what happened to her. She said that she met a «friend»… And that she left to find Ryuji’s horses, as they were important to him. She had scratch marks and bruises. But most oddly was appeared to be a bite wound in her mouth. I am no expert at viewing battle wounds, but she did seem to have won, at least not staggeringly. And as we went back towards the onsen, we heard an other howl, this time triumphant… Satsuko made little reaction, aside from walking faster… Was that fear? Is Satsuko capable of fear? I asked her she would like me to clean her wounds, but after a bit of misunderstanding and thoughtlessness from my part, we decided to simply soak in the onsen instead. While there, I attempted to inquire about what had happened in the woods. It appeared to be someone she used to… Belong to?… Who was not forgiving in her choice to not belong to him anymore. She tried to brush it off as her problem, and not ours. If lord Takeda has taught me anything, it is that joining forces means joining problems as well. I asserted myself as hers and Takeda’s protector, she appeared relieved. Thought it is difficult to tell with Satsuko, as her reactions are very different from what I am trained to spot. She had caught on that sleeping with Takeda would be inappropriate tonight, so she asked if she could sleep with me. I put on my underwear, and we returned to women’s room. Lady Asai was watching over Sakura and the servants as they slept soundly. After such a scary experience, it was nice to see that Sakura could sleep soundly… The same goes for Aiko, Minako, and Kiyo. I spoke to lady Asai, she seemed a bit worked up the ordeal as well, but I told her to sleep… And so she did. I went into my futon, and Satsuko laid down next to me… Pressing her body very tight to my own. In my past I had slept this close to Haruka many a time, but this feeling was very different… My heart pounded, my breathing got deeper… I had never felt something like it before. I took a deep breath, realigned my Chi, and went to sleep…