SCI-FI FANTASY SATURDAY!
I will be posting a first draft of, hopefully, two chapters a week, and I will probably resume The Action Society posts next month. Enjoy and PLEASE comment.
EPISODE 1: THE SUPPER INTERRUPTED
The mud squelched underfoot of the straw boots of an odd couple. Rain had swept down across the mountains of Toza, flooding the rivers so that clay washed over everything and even swallowed the main road. On either side were the once green fields, flooded with water, so that it almost seemed like the road was winding through a shallow lake. They air was a chill with a winter rain’s mist, hanging in the air like tight sheets of frost, that melted as soon as they hit the two men. The only sound was the disgusting squish and pop of their steps as their footing sank into the mud and they pulled their feet up before they got bogged down. The two had walked under these unpleasant circumstances for hours and they did not say a word to each other. They walked side by side; with the largest of the pair waiting for the other to catch up, if he got ahead of his traveling companion.
As the two walked, up ahead they could see the road rising up as it came to some houses on either side. The houses were also risen up, on hard packed earth, stone, or wood; they were little islands against the tide of the flood waters. Smoke drifted through the wet haze, from the little openings at the mouths of the houses, between where the walls met the roof, and disappeared into the clouds above. The sound of a barking dog could be heard by the two men but it quickly stopped. The smaller of the two could have sworn he saw a little face peak out at them from over a gate before quickly ducking back down. The little hamlet was certainly alive but most definitely subdued by the harsh turn of the weather.
The smaller figure led the way toward the largest building they could see. Above the door was a glass plate, chipped, with red symbols written on it. The larger figure paused as soon as he spotted the plate and his companion looked back. He grabbed his arm and pulled him to the front door. Drawing his attention away from the door, the larger figure watched as his companion called out, they waiting to see if anyone was in the home. Surely enough, after a couple of moments, they could hear doors sliding around inside. After a patient pause, the front door was pulled aside and, standing in the foyer, was a small middle aged man. He was balding on the top of his head and had a frowning face. He looked as if he was quite fat, not so long ago, but had recently been forced to lose weight. The villager gave a small bow and looked at the two figures.
In front, was the smaller of the two travelers was a young man with a scar across his right cheek. His wild hair was tied back in a knot so that it made a dark halo at the end of the knot. He had a serious brow over a pair of almond colored eyes that shown on his pale face. His eyes were sharp and seemed like they could cut anyone with a stern glance. His serious face was accented by thin black mustache under a slender nose and just under his thin lips was a strip of wild hair that was just long enough to come off his chin. He was of a rather slight stature, made even more obvious by his attire. He wore a large straw rain coat and round straw hat, dark blue kimono with a white crane pattern on them, blue and white striped trousers, and a pair of straw boots. Fairly mundane clothing, but the eyes of the middle aged man were drawn to the beautiful sword hand and scabbard at the young man’s hip. The scabbard had a black sheen to it and little circular grooves carved into it. He saw that in some of the grooves were red metal beads with a black smoke cross painted onto them. The sword was shorter than the katana’s he saw the samurais wear when they came into town and yet, he could tell this was no commoner’s sword and the owner was no commoner.
Standing behind the owner of the sword was the largest man that the village had ever seen in his life. The swordsman’s height just barely came to the bottom of his companion’s chest. Furthermore, the larger stranger was as wide at the front foot to the villager’s home and had a large belly. He was more impressive than the largest sumo he had seen on a trip to Tozachi city. A large head sat at the top of a pair of shoulders that sloped down into muscular arms and two hands that were each as big as four of the villager’s own hands. His skin was tanner than any farmer the village had seen from the south and his eyelids were dark. They framed his golden eyes, like topaz, that glinted and seemed to be trying to solve a difficult puzzle. A friendly smile seemed to constantly pull at the edge of his large mouth, some stray whiskers that hung tightly to his face, and leading to his thick sideburns. His hair was wild and the villager couldn’t quite make out what color the tied back nest of hair was in this light. At first, it appeared just as dark as his companions, but it was as if, from the roots, his hair changed from black to brown to a copper and even white tone. He also wore a large straw rain cloak and in his hands, he held a hat similar to his companion’s round straw hat but cast in iron. It looked somewhat like a large cooking wok without the handles. He wore a faded blue kimono over his trousers, a large studded belt, with copper domes, wrapped around his waist. Tucked into his belt was a black club with copper studs on it, a large drinking gourd, and strapped across his back was a daikyu bow. They each carried a traveling bag across their backs that looked as if it carried their entire lives.
The villager seemed impressed, as he bowed even lower, “Good evening. I am the village head, Godo. Sirs, may I be of assistance to you this evening? Perhaps you are looking for somewhere to stay the night and rest your weary feet?”
The swordsman gave a small bow and introduced them, “Good evening. I am Kuroihi Takezou and this is my friend, Hachiyama-san.” The giant bowed all the way at the waist before returning to cast a shadow over the doorway. “We would have much appreciation to stay at your home for the evening if it is not too much trouble. The conditions by the road would not afford us to make camp. How much would it cost to stay the night?”
“Nothing, nothing at all.” Godo stepped back, “Please come in. It would be my honor to entertain you for the evening.”
“Are you sure?” Takezou asked.
“Yes sir, yes sir. I won’t hear of it.” Godo replied, “As the village head, it is my privilege and duty to entertain guests to the Asa-Mura.”
Takezou thanked Godo and paused just outside the door, crouching down, to unstrap his boots and place them just inside the door. He stepped inside and also peeled the muddy two-toed socks from his feet with a relieved sigh. Hachiyama did the same, though it seemed to take him longer to work out the knots of his bootstraps with his thick fingers. He sidled under the door, his head just barely tapping the ceiling, he bent at waist, just a bit, before crouching down to peel his socks from his feet. Godo seemed impatient because the moment they finished he led them into a room and set them a table. The two travelers sat down, cross-legged at one end of the large table, as Godo went to go prepare them a meal.
The two sat in relaxed silence. Hachiyama closed his eyes after setting his travel bag, rain coat, and hat aside. Takezou did the same but did some leg stretches as they waited. The house was warmed by a wood stove in the next room, the kitchen, and the two were relieved to feel their toes slowly regain warmth and revive from wet numbness. Godo returned after a short time and sat across from them. His wife and two maids came in a little time later and laid out several large dishes. Hachiyama grinned at the sight of the delicious food, setting his drinking gourd by his knee, and doing a little bow.
“Your wife’s cooking looks as lovely as it smells,” Hachiyama chuckled and gave Godo a nod.
Godo was surprised by the voice that came out of the giant’s mouth. It was not the voice of a simpleton. It was slow, deliberate, deep, but soft and poetic. It was like the sigh of a summer breeze.
The guests began eating the meal set before them with little shyness. Takezou ate with proper etiquette, though he scooped himself a sizeable portion. Hachiyama on the other hand, piled food onto his plate, and scooped up into his mouth with an almost glutinous zeal. After getting their fill of food and wine, the two companions thanked their host again. Hachiyama stood up and gave a little bow. He asked Godo if he and his wife would enjoy a song.
“After such a wonderful meal and given this dower weather, it might brighten your spirits.” Takezou suggested.
Hachiyama did not have any instruments. He simply took a deep breath and began to sing a folk song. It was about winter rain and a young family who loses their crops. It was a song that Godo and his wife had heard sung before but never so beautifully. By the end, the wife’s face was with tears and the hosts thanked Hachiyama for his performance. He gave a deep bow and smiled at them, “It is my honor to entertain you.”
The middle-aged couple explained that they could have the dining room for the night and brought them some cots. It was still a little early for bed but the two were tired. The couple left their guests to rest. Hachiyama lay out on his cot, sipping some sake from his gourd, and watching Takezou perform some balance exercises.
“We got lucky finding such generous hosts, eh Takezou?” Hachiyama asked, softly. Takezou did not pause as he practiced reaching for his sword.
“Takezou?” Hachiyama repeated.
The swordsman did not cease his practice but answered his companion. “Yes. Though, I am not sure. Such generosity when the rest of the village, well” Takezou paused, “you saw it, didn’t you?”
“The village?” Hachiyama asked.
“Yes, the village.” Takezou sat down beside his lounging friend, “No one came out to investigate the strangers.”
“Perhaps they were busy?” Hachiyama suggested.
“I do not think so. Their crops are flooded and well, no offense my friend, but your appearance does draw some attention.” Takezou countered.
Hachiyama shifted uncomfortably, “I see.”
“Perhaps they’re having troubles?” Takezou yawned.
“Perhaps,” Hachiyama echoed, just as a scream cut through the night air. The large man sat bolt right up and Takezou opened a nearby shudder to peek outside. Hachiyama walked over to the sliding door leading to the room but Godo opened it first.
He was trembling, “Sirs, I have some business to take care of outside. I beg you stay inside. This is of no concern to you.” He shut the door and left the two inside without another word.
Hachiyama looked over at Takezou, “Do you see anything?”
“No.” The swordsman answered.
More louds voice and the sounds of horses clopping down the road could be heard. The sound of a wailing woman could be heard and men shouting. Takezou turned from the window, “C’mon.”
Hachiyama followed him outside, where they could see a group of peasants in a crowd in front of a nearby house. A woman was crouched on the ground, holding a lifeless body of a man to her. Standing by the crowd was a group of men in ramshackle armor, wielding spears and other weapons, and standing between the woman and the armored men was Godo. A tall man in all black, on a black horse, was shouting at Godo. The village head was cowering, and seemed to be trying to calm the shouting man down.
The two travelers quickly walked toward the ruckus. As they got closer, the man on the black horse looked toward them, “Who’re these people, Godo?”
Before Godo could explain, Takezou spoke up in a clear authoritative voice, “I am Takezou Kurohi. What is the trouble here?
The man in black, wearing the garb of a monk, sneered, “Takezou Kurohi?” He poked Godo with the end of his spear, ignoring the two travelers, “Who’re they?”
“Strangers! G-guests!” Godo tried to explain, “Please, I will pay you. Just leave us be.”
“No.” The man on the black horse snarled, “One of your peasants got in the way and attacked one of my men.”
“You killed him,” Godo gestured to the dead man lying in the lap of the wailing woman, “You man got his revenge. Just please, leave us be.” He got on his hands and knees, begging.
“No. We need to teach you little peasants a lesson, Godo. And for starters,” He swung his spear and the villagers screamed out, but it was too late. The man on the black horse stuck Godo in the back and then again. He pulled his spear up, “I recommend you two strangers leave.”
Takezou glared at the man on the black horse, “No.”
“No?” The man on the black horse laughed, “Why does it matter to you, kensei?”
“That man was our gracious host and you cut him down. You also insulted my name.”
Takezou spat, “What is your name?”
“Why the hell does it matter to you?” He asked.
“You killed Godo.” Hachiyama interrupted, pulling his club from his belt, the man looking him over with a sneer.
“What of it?” He spat.
“Hey,” Takezou snapped, “I asked you for your name.”
“Satō Takeshi,” the man in black answered, “Why do you care?” His men were growing restless, the villagers watching in fear from where they stood crowded around the young woman and her dead husband.
“Because,”Takezou put his hand on the base of his sword, “I challenge you to a duel. If I win, you leave the villagers alone. If I lose, we leave and never come back.”
“No,” the man in black threw up his spear, “Get ‘em.” A half-dozen bandits rushed forward, while the others chased after the villagers. As soon as the bandits got within a few steps of Takezou he cut them down. His sword in one hand and the scabbard in the other, the latter used a shield and club, the men each fell into the mud. The weapons and bodies of the six men broken by swift blows, the swordsman fought his way toward where the leader had retreated behind his men with silent determination. Meanwhile, Hachiyama was chasing after the bandits that went toward the villagers and their homes.
Some let out a piteous scream before falling crushed in the mud by a blow from his club and others never saw it coming, sinking to their knees, and remaining silent forever more. Hachiyama shouted, “Get inside!” to the villagers, Takezou fending off more men, as the giant took a spear to his back. He let out a rather small grunt of pain, before turning around on his attacker, and knocking him through the air with a swing. He heard a child cry out for help, turned, and made his way toward a bandit who had thrown an old man to the ground next to a little boy. The bandit was just about to lay the killing blow on the helpless grandfather when he spotted the club-wielding menace charging down on him. He grabbed the child and held him as a human shield. Hachiyama paused, “Wait, don’t hurt the child.”
The bandit sneered, walking toward Hachiyama, a knife to the child’s throat, “Then put down your weapon.”
Hachiyama looked down at his club for a moment. He knew if he did not surrender the child would die but if he did he would die and the bandit might kill the child anyway. Trembling, just about to throw down his weapon and surrender, the bandit let out a painful groan, and sunk to the ground. The child escaped his grasp, as the old man stood behind the downed bandit, holding up a shovel above his head. He shouted to the other villagers, “Come outside and help! Help the big guy!”
The big guy let out a battle cry and turned to the next unlucky foe. Meanwhile, Takezou had nearly caught up with Satō, when the bandit leading priest spotted him. He whistled and retreated up the road. The remaining men ran after him or anyway they could retreat. Takezou kicked the mud, dried his sword on his sleeve, and put it away. The villagers were collecting the dead, some celebrating and other’s mourning. Takezou just stared at the forested mountain the bandits had fled to. Hachiyama made his way to the place where his companion stood so disappointedly, “He got away?”
“I am sorry. We did good though. They won’t be back for a while, right?” Hachiyama asked and Takezou nodded again. Over two dozen of the bandits had been cut down by Takezou, smashed by Hachiyama, or bamboo speared by the villagers. Takezou turned around, slowly, and looked at the bodies piles up along the road. He took a breath and walked back toward the center of the village. Hachiyama followed close behind, resting his club on his shoulder, as they found the largest group of people.
“Where is the town elder?” Takezou asked a nearby man.
The grandfather that Hachiyama had saved answered, “He is up in the temple. Come with me. He will want to thank you.”
The three of them and some other villages made their way off a little side road and toward an old temple. A huge stone pillar stood out front, with the names of thousands of gods carved into it, as a spiritual marker of the important of the place. Hachiyama did a little respectful nod to the stone when the other villagers bowed. Then the grandfather led them up inside the temple. Coming out from a little side room, was an ancient man, milky grey eyes and shaking, came out, “These are the two men who fought off the bandits?”
“Yes, Elder Gi,” The grandfather explained, “Hachiyama-san and Takezou-san.” Hachiyama and Takezou looked a little surprised that the old man already knew that they had just helped fight off bandits and that the villagers all already seemed to know their names.
Elder Gi chuckled, “News travels fast in Asa-mura.” He gave them a bow, as did the other villagers, “I want to thank the both of you for doing that for us. We are not worthy of such generosity from two talented warriors.”
“You do us too much honor,” Hachiyama countered, shaking his head, “It is the duty of those with power to defend good people from those who abuse it.”
The elder smiled and coughed, “Such kind words. We peasants rarely get such charity, you see. We are lucky you came along.”
“What are you going to do now that your town head has been killed?” Takezou asked the elder who sighed.
“Do not allow that death to weigh your hearts down too heavily with sorrow. Godo was not a very bad man, but he was a coward and louse. Any kindness he may have shown was probably just to win a favor from you or your allies.” Elder Gi sighed, bitterly, “He is the reason we got into this trouble in the first place. He kowtowed to the bandits too quickly and gave them too many concessions. Perhaps, now that he is dead, that will get the attention of the samurai or Lord Tosa.”
“Perhaps so,” Takezou sighed, “But perhaps not.” The swordsman looked about the temple, pacing a little, before stopping. He had made a decision, “We will go to Tosachi and tell the samurai there of this business.”
“Oh honored ones that would be so generous.” Elder Gi said.
“It is but a small task,” Takezou waived the compliment, “We are going to Tosachi to meet a friend of Hachiyama and it would be my honor to defend this village as my own.”
Hachiyama nodded, “We will get rid of the bad men.”
The elder braced himself against the grandfather, “Thank you. You need not trouble yourselves,” he sounded very impressed, “But if you would help us through this crisis I will make sure that your names are put in our prayers for months to come.”
“Thank you.” Hachiyama bowed to the Shintō priest, bowing deeply, and Takezou did the same. After some more pleasantries, they quickly made their leave, taking some of the horses from the dead bandits, telling the villagers they would sell the horses and bring back some rice for their stock. They left the next morning, the sun breaking through the thick clouds, creating a halo effect that made it appear as if a dark circle had broken through the clouds as they made their way over the last hill of the village.
Hachiyama hummed softly and broke into a cheerful song.