Campaign of the Month: June 2012
Kumori - Journal Entry 2
Kumori sat cross-legged on a ragged blanket, Satori bared in his hands. The sword’s blade glittered red and gold in the flickering light of the brazier that burned nearby, and Kumori examined its edge with a keen eye while listening to Dusky speak of her gods. The Halfling’s voice was high and musical even at the near-whisper in which she spoke out of consideration of their companions, who lay around them sleeping. The bushi listened to her intently, but his eyes never moved from the sword. He had examined Satori like this every day for twelve years, and though the weapon’s peerless edge had never been nicked, nor the mirror-like polish so much as scratched, his gaze remained as intent as ever.
Dusky recognized prayer when she saw it, and took no offense. She spoke of the beginning of the World as taught by the Church, of the Womb and the Tree, of the Five Races, of the spirits and the fall of the fiends into Hell. Kumori listened, his brow knitting occasionally in thought. He watched the play of the firelight on Satori’s hamon, every ripple of the blade’s patterning as rote as a sutra to his eye, but still surprising in its liveliness. He plucked an oiled tatter of silk from a pouch, and ran it slowly down the blade, wiping away smudges of blood from battle the day before, smudges almost imperceptible to anyone who didn’t know the sword as he did. In his mind’s eye he saw Kador flung into Hell, a burning star smote from the heavens. Dusky murmured of the creation of the dragons, and Kumori nodded, almost imperceptibly, for even under the tyranny of the Great Wheel dragons were beings of unimaginable might, generals and emissaries of Heaven. He listened, and let the words flow into himself, making of himself an empty vessel as his teachers long ago in the monastery at Retto-Nyorai had taught him along with his lessons in the sword.
Dusky explained the Five Gifts, and noted that for the first time his gaze left Satori’s edge. Only for a moment, but he looked directly at her, and she saw something change in his eyes. She paused. “Does that bother you, Kumori?”
He studiously did not look at her again. “Bother is a strange word; no, not bother. But it does make me think.” He quickly and almost reflexively finished cleaning Satori, and turned to Dusky when he had sheathed the sword. “I mean no offense, but I would think on these things before you tell me more.” Understanding, Dusky stood.
“I’ll keep watch. You sleep.” He nodded, slightly bemused by the protective tone in the small woman’s voice. He lay down, shut his eyes, and was asleep almost instantly.
He dreamt of a great dragon, a sinuous beast long as a galleon, but with wings, as the westerners depicted such spirits. He stood on the dragon’s head as it soared through a boundless heaven of puffy clouds over a wide, indigo sea far below. He carried Satori bared in his right hand, and clutched a banner in his left. The banner bore a sutra written in Kaidanese, but it read “Hail to the Divine Maker and the the Fourteen Compassionate Boddhisattvas!” Before him, he saw the slopes of sacred Mt. Haikan rising from the glittering sea, and a voice called out to him, “Truth knows no nation; faith, no barrier.” He looked up, and saw Terak coursing through the sky beside him, but though he knew it to be Terak, the god wore a do laced in crimson, and carried no axe, but a great no-dachi. From his back flew eight sashimono, and a flock of doves followed behind him.
“You are Terak, but you are Hachimantaro.” Kumori spoke in a mere whisper, but the god heard and nodded.
“Just as the Maker is the Maker, but also the Enlightened One.” The god of warriors pointed with the greatsword in his hand toward Kaidan, and now Kumori stood on the summit of Mt. Haikan, looking down over the dark forests and deep, shadowed valleys of his homeland. Hachiman/Terak stood beside him, and spoke again, his voice as the crash of the ocean upon sea cliffs. “This is a glimpse of the truth, and of the future, Sonoda Kumori. But so, too, is this.”
Light died. The sighing of the wind fled, replaced by an oppressive stillness. As his eyes adjusted, Kumori saw figures all around him, forms made up of half-shadow in the shape of armored men. He raised Satori, and light like the sunrise burned from the katana’s blade. In that radiance, he saw a host of skeletal bushi, wearing half-rotten armor and closing slowly in on him with pitted, broken weapons. He thrust the banner into the dirt at his feet, prayed to the Enlightened One to accept his spirit, and cried out his name. Not Kumori, not the shadow-name he’d taken when he’d left his wife and child behind, but his full, true name as scion of Minamoto and heir of the hero Yoshitsune. He sought within the throng of the dead even as he struck, looking for a sign of a worthy opponent, but the skeletons bore no marks of distinction, wore the armor of peasant levies. Behind them, however, at the cry of his own name, Kumori felt eyes upon himself.
With the clarity possible only in a dream, he saw through the ranks of the dead a samurai in ornate, brilliantly laced armor with a skull for a face and balefire for eyes. The figure looked into his soul, and Kumori knew this was the malevolent intelligence behind the horde. He knew, too, that Satori was the ghost-samurai’s bane, and that despite his army and despite the fear he struck in Kumori’s heart, the ghost feared him just as much or more. As he cleft his way through the horde of shambling ashigaru Kumori cried out the name of his enemy, making it half a war-cry and half a curse. “Kiyomori!”
“Taira Kiyomori, I am coming for you! Know that no ocean will stop me! No obstacle will stand before me! Send any army you like, Kiyomori, I will cut and I will cut and I will cut again, until they all lie split at my feet like so much lumber! I will reach you, Kiyomori, and when I do I will shatter the Great Wheel itself and send you howling into the deepest Hell imaginable!”
He awoke with a start. The fire had burned out in the brazier, and the first morning’s light seeped through the chinks in the panels of the wall. For a moment he feared he may have cried out in his sleep, but his companions said nothing to confirm his fear. He rose, and donned his armor, and joined his companions in a cold meal.
The Geisha had been beautiful. Even in death, there was still a macabre hint of that beauty left in the limbs that lay scattered about the room like parts of a festival doll. The servants were near-mindless with fear, of course, as they always were around the Seii-tai Shogun, so they could not appreciate it, but Kiyomori did. The contrast of her porcelain skin with the spreading pool of her crimson blood was particularly striking.
It was a lamentable lapse, of course. He had been lulled by the woman’s song into the closest thing to a dream-state he ever experience anymore, and he had another vision of the Lantern-Bearer. This time the truculent fool had even gone so far as to spit defiance! Even thinking on it made him clench his withered fists in rage. The woman, of course, had paid the price. Ah, well, the Wheel would benefit her; she would be reborn this time as a noble somewhere in the realm. So Kiyomori’s lapse had been a karmic gift, really. He told himself that as he watched the shell-shocked servants carry the pieces of the body out of the audience chamber and sop up the blood that was beginning to seep through the floorboards.
It was a gift, really. Just as the Minamoto’s death would be a gift for Taira Kiyomori, Seii-tai Shogun of Kaidan. For the shinobi of Kurosagi would find him, and slay him, and the prophecy of Yoshitsune’s heir would die with him. So he told himself, and tried to ignore the fear that fluttered for just a moment in the pit of his mummified stomach…