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 3: UNCLE
Hideki laughed heartily, “Now tell me that ain’t some of the best booze you’ve ever had, Takezou-san!”
“I am not sure I want to taste it,” Takezou sniffed bowl of brown frothy liquid with a grimace, “It smells like piss.”
“Oh come on, Takezou!” Hideki chirped before draining another bowl.
Takezou, Hideki and Hachiyama sat cross-legged, around a short round table, in the Red Octopus’s restaurant. The table was littered with stacks of bowls, plates and cups, mostly the result of Hachiyama and Hideki gorging themselves, on the coin of the latter, with another seemingly endless feast of bad food and good drink. Takezou had the pleasure of watching his two companions repeat the ritual several times over the week that he had spent in town. The first couple of times he had joined them in the revelry, listening as they told stories about their youth; from stealing food off the plates of samurai to tricking other shysters out of their ill-gotten money. He was not surprised to discover they were both street urchins from a town near the Eight Mountains. He had even been grateful for Hideki’s gracious generosity; the “Lucky Rabbit” going so far as to provide them with a new fitting of clothes, a warm room at the inn, and even taking them to a weapon smith to have their weapons repaired and getting a custom fit of light, but effective armor for him to wear next to they ran into trouble. Yet, a week of drinking, eating and playing games had started to wear on his patience.
“What is this foreign stuff called again, Hideki-kun?” Hachiyama asked as he slurped down his bowl with expert gluttony.
“Beer, all the way from beyond the Red Sea,” Hideki explained, “The drink of gaijin kings!”
“Foreigners drink this stuff?” Hideki leered at the yellow-brown liquid.
“Mhm,” Hideki rubbed his belly, “You can’t trust your eyes and nose with this stuff, Takezou-san. Ya gotta trust your stomach. A stomach filled with beer leaves you warm and happy.”
Takezou took a sip of the drink and swallowed with a grimace. He set the bowl down and took a swig from his wineskin of water, to rinse out his mouth, before spitting down into an empty bowl with a clearing of his throat. He looked up from the bowl to Hideki, “We need to find out something about that Sato Takeshi.”
“Sato Takeshi?” Hideki looked confused.
“The Rider in Black, Hideki-kun,” Hachiyama answered, as he set down an emptied bowl.
“Right, right, right,” Hideki mocked them, “Why do you need to find out about this Rider in Black guy? He’s not your problem, right? You gave his boys a licking. They won’t bother that village again for at least a season.”
“And if he does bother them again, big deal!” He slammed down his empty bowl with a sigh, “Rural folk like that are what’s wrong with the Empire; too coward and weak. They’re all depended on local samurai for help. It’s against nature. You gotta either learn how to fight or learn how to flee. Living like they do, like shepherd-less sheep being harassed by wolves, that ain’t the way to live; better to be free or dead than live like that!”
Hachiyama frowned at Hideki’s rant, “Little brother, there is a third option, right? You can get someone else to fight for you?”
“Bah!” Hideki clasped his right bicep with his left hand and made a fist, “People that beg real men for help like that’re parasites.”
“And I suppose being a cheating rat is so much better?” Hachiyama grumbled at the red-headed drunk, “Using sorcery isn’t luck.”
“Don’t call me that!” Hideki hissed, cheeks red and hair on end, “You know I hate being call that.”
“And calm down, alright,” Hideki poured Hachiyama another bowl of beer, “Drink up, buddy.” As Hachiyama accepted another drink from their host, Takezou found his patience was on the razor’s edge; sitting around like this was not getting him anywhere. He reached over the table, grabbed Hideki by his collar, and pulled him across the little table so they were face to face.
“Regardless of what you think we gave the villagers are word,” Takezou glared right into those shiny gold eyes, each pupil like a fat droplet of lamp oil, “Isn’t that right, Hachiyama?”
“We gave them our word, Hideki-kun,” Hachiyama sighed, “Rule six of the Code. Keep all your promises and-“
“Break no oaths,” Hideki sighed, as if he had heard that rule more than he cared to hear it,
“Alright, alright. Look, if you would let go of me and compose yourself, I can help you out. Okay, Takezou-san?”
Takezou released Hideki, who sat back, closed his eyes, and pulled his smoking pipe from where it was hooked over one of his rather prodigious ears. He snapped his fingers and the pipe lit. He took a long draught of the pungent smoke before peeking out from under his thick red eyebrows, “Now, you need information, right?”
“Yes for the fiftieth time, yes,” Takezou exclaimed.
“Well, you need to find yourself the yakuza,” Hideki explained, “Though that can be tricky. These guys don’t like to be looked for, especially by outsiders. That and I ain’t exactly on friendly terms with them.”
“As they say about high-rollers; they end up rolled up in a quilt at the bottom of the river,” Hideki tapped the side of his nose before continuing, “But I can tell ya what to look for. Just don’t tell them I sent ya.”
“The best gang for information is probably gonna be the gang that operates under the Red Dogs.” He explained, “The Red Dogs are easy enough to find. You just look out for a bunch of guys, loud and swaggering, dressed in all red, and probably got their hair shaved into stupid looking mohawks.”
“Like those guys, Hideki-kun? Hideki-kun?” When Hachiyama and Takezou looked back from the crowd of swaggering guys in red, Hideki was gone, and all that was left was a pile of his clothes. Takezou frowned and was about to inquire what kind of sorcery was that when Hachiyama stood up and shouted, “Excuse me.”
The four yakuza turned and stared at them for a moment. They were all fairly greasy, with their hair shaved on the sides leaving a strip down the middle, and each wearing red prominently in their clothes. They all had several scars on their faces, the youngest one of them looked as if he had just gotten in a fight with a fat knot on the side of his head, and the oldest looking fellow of the bunch had red tattoos covering his forearms. The oldest one even had the gall to carry a sword. Takezou looked up from the sword and into the eyes of the oldest, standing up, placing his hand nonchalantly on the handle of his own blade. The older yakuza seemed to recognize Takezou and spoke up, “What do you want?”
“Information,” Hachiyama said with a rather cold tone, “We need information.”
The yakuza seemed to choose to ignore the giant, probably for fear of showing some sign of being intimidated, so their leader instead continued to speak directly to Takezou.
“You’re the Black Sun swordsman, right?” He asked, “The one who cut down the Lord’s son?”
Takezou’s looked the man in the eyes and nodded, “Yes.”
The three subordinates of the elder yakuza seemed to take a fuller notice and respect for Takezou. The older yakuza smiled, “Pretty impressive. That kid was a loud mouth. Good riddance,” He spat on the floor, and then gave a little nod before introducing himself, “The name’s Red Gacha of the Red Dogs.”
Takezou seemed a little off-put by the other’s casual approval of the Lord’s son but decided to ignore it, “Nice to make your acquaintance, Gacha-san.”
“Just call me Gacha,” He chuckled, “I don’t deserve none of that san-sama crap. Now, how can we be of assistance, Mister Black Sun?”
Takezou frowned before he explained, “As my companion, Hachiyama was saying, we need information.”
“Oh yeah? What kind of information? A pretty girl’s home address or the lineage of some servant or something?” Gacha chuckled, “We got plenty of information like that lying around but then again you could figure that out from looking at the town register. What the hell kind of information would you need from us low-lifes?”
“Information about a low-life, Gacha-san,” Takezou stressed the last syllable to irritate Gacha’s ear, “Information about a man by the name of Sato Takeshi. A bandit camped out somewhere near the village of Asa-mura; about a week south of here.”
Gacha whispered over his shoulder to his companions before looking back at Takezou with a hungry smile, a single gold tooth gleaning from between his thin lips, “I can say we’ve heard of the guy. Heck, and he ain’t no friend of ours, so it is possible we’d be willing to barter his story, for a price.”
“How much?” Takezou asked, without hesitation.
“Whoa! Slow down A little hasty there, hm?” Gacha grinned, “What he do to get under your skin? Kill your family? Steal your girl?”
“He insulted my honor and he owes me his life,” Takezou answered matter-o-factly.
“So, you two boys are engaged in the romance of the blades?” Gacha chuckled, “Can’t blame ya. Real nasty piece of work, this guy is, I’d want his head on my mantle if he crossed me.”
“Now, about payment,” Gacha rubbed the knuckle of his left hand, where his pinky finger was notably absent, “It’s question of how much but what. We ain’t so much in the need of money as we are in the need of muscle.”
“We are not thugs.” Hachiyama interjected.
“And we ain’t about charity,” Gacha replied, looked up at Hacihyama, and then back down at Takezou, “So, how about it Mr. Black Sun? You and your buddy want this information, right? You scratch the Red Dog’s back and he barks.”
“What would you need us to do?” Takezou asked, relaxing his posture, and sitting back down.
Gacha chuckled, and sat down at an empty, his men standing around the table, posing in a way that they seemed to believe was impressive, as their boss explained, “We got a problem in the Entertainment District. Ya see there have always been two gangs in the District; us Red Dogs and the Blue Roosters.” He picked at his nose with his ring finger before wiping it on his sleeve.
“Then, about a year ago, the Yoshida goons show up and claim to be security. Our gangs can’t even go to war without the Yoshida goons getting involved and arresting half our boys. It’s a shame. They’ve taken half the fun out of being yakuza. We used to rumble with the Roosters at least every other week, if it wasn’t raining,” Gacha sighed nostalgically.
“But that ain’t all. These Yoshida guys say that they’re guards but they’re worse than the crooks they claim to be fightin’, see? They’ve taken control over half the businesses and are buying us out. Heck, the only reason we still got the Red Octopus is because Old Ma who owns the joint was the Chief’s second wife, see?” Gacha took a sip from an unfinished glass left of the table before he said, “We need you to put the fear in them. You’ve got clout and a name. We just need ya to rough up some of their boys and let them know it’s on the, “He paused, “What’s the word Chief said last night, Curly?”
The young gang member spoke up, “Behest?”
“That’s it! You just gotta let them Yoshida goons know you’re working on the behest of the Red Dogs and for them to stay out of our turf. Ya think ya can handle that?”
Takezou sighed, “I suppose, but understand that this is just to get the information. We are not muscle for hire.”
“Of course, of course,” Gacha brushed off the allegation.
“And,” Hachiyama seemed to step out of the periphery with surprising stealth for such a big man, “if we get double crossed or if the information is no good, your boss better have a hundred guys like you ready to back him up.” The giant made sure to lift his hands and crack his fat knuckles, making a sound like the crushing of iron.
“Alright, alright, yeesh.” Gacha shook his head, “We get the picture. You’ll see. The information is good.”
The Red Dogs then took their leave. Hachiyama sat back down for a moment and emptied Hideki’s bottle of beer. He took a long sigh and rubbed his belly, as Takezou looked over at his companion, “You don’t think you went a little overboard with your threats? Maybe you’ve had enough to drink.”
Hachiyama exhaled, looking down at Takezou, his face a little ruddy, “Maybe, maybe.”
Takezou looked over at the pile of clothes that Hideki had left sitting in the chair next to Hachiyama, “Where you reckon the Lucky Rabbit got off to?”
They heard a muffled sound from under the table, “Clothes, please?”
Hachiyama reached down and slid the clothes down to a hand reaching out from under the edge of the table. After a moment, Hideki climbed up with a sigh, “You didn’t have to drink the rest of the beer, brother.”
“Sorry, Hideki-kun,” Hachiyama shrugged.
“Where did you just go?” Takezou asked, glaring at Hideki suspiciously, “And why did you leave your clothes?”
“Ah, right,” Hideki laughed, nervously, “Hachiyama didn’t tell ya about me being a magician, then? I’m a master of parlor tricks and a part-time sorcerer.” He explained, with a playful grin, as he told Takezou, “I saw those Red Dogs walking over and, considering they don’t like my face, I decided to become invisible and take my leave.”
“Why did you leave your clothes behind, then?” Takezou inquired.
Hideki chuckled, “Oh that?” He set his pipe back over the crook of his ear, “My Invisibility trick ain’t exactly perfect. I can make myself invisible but not my clothes. I wish I could show you some other time but,” He stood up, “It sounds like you boys have a date with some Yoshida goons.”
“Oh come on, Hideki-kun!” Hachiyama stood up, “You should help us out. You know this city better than either of us.”
Takezou stood up as well, glaring suspiciously at Hideki, “And I bet some of your tricks could come in real handy.”
“Fellas, please,” Hideki shook his head, “I’m clearly a lover, not a fighter. You two should go ahead and make your way over to the docks. Yoshida has a bunch of warehouses there, so all you gotta do is pick one and put the scare into them. Should be easy, right? Then, you just come back here and you can make your way back to Ata-mura with a cart full of rice.”
“Asa-mura,” Takezou corrected.
Hideki bowed, apologetically, “Right. Now, I’ll tell ya what,” He backed up toward the door, “How about I go take my rich self and buy you guys a cart full of rice, my treat. I’ll even pay for the ox. The cart’ll be waiting here when ya get back.”
“Oh, thank you, Hideki-kun,” Hachiyama grinned, “You’ve been so generous.”
“Don’t mention it! That’s what friends are for! See you later.” And Hideki slipped out of the door and out of ear shot. Takezou sighed, lead Hachiyama out, and toward the exit of the Red Octopus. As they left the inn, Takezou gave his grinning companion a couple of curious glances before, finally, asking him the question tearing at his insides.
“Hachiyama-san, why do you make that face?” Takezou asked.
Hachiyama stopped and looked down at Takezou, “What face?”
“That face!”Takezou groaned, “That dense, clueless, childish face. That big overly satisfied and stupid grin.”
“Oh,” Hachiyama just smiled wider, “This face?”
“Yes, that face.” Takezou rubbed his chin, “You make it all the time.”
“Well, I suppose I’ve used it as long as I can remember,” Hachiyama replied with a shrug, “Do you really think it looks stupid?”
“Are you serious?” Takezou allowed himself a little laugh, “You look like you are constantly in a dream-like state. Like one of those sweeping monks you see walking around with a broom all the time.”
Hachiyama just chuckled softly in his chest and sighed, “Hm, maybe you’ve got me there,” Hachiyama flashed him a devious smirk, and repeated, “Maybe you’ve got me there.”
Takezou paused as he witnessed another one of those worrying moments he had experienced with Hachiyama. That was a threatening smirk. It was a smirk that told the swordsman that he shouldn’t concern himself with Hachiyama’s stupid smile. He had experienced several moments like this since he started traveling with the giant— moments where a dangerous fury, like the manic fury he exhibited in battle, emerged but most of the time Hachiyama’s presence was more reassuring and friendly than most people he had ever met. It was more than a little puzzling. A scream broke his thoughts and he looked up from the ground.
Hachiyama had guided their path down a back ally and he had stopped to watch a scene unfold. Two men were dragging a girl out of an old shop. The men were dressed in the same armor they had seen on the bushi at the gate. They were Yoshida men. The girl was struggling as she was dragged barefoot into the alley and screaming for help. Before Takezou could react, Hachiyama was already in the path of the two men, and looming over them.
“What the hell do you want, pal?” One of the club-wielding thugs asked Hachiyama, “Can’t you see were in the middle of something here??”
“What did the girl do?” Hachiyama asked, blocking their path with his expansive frame, and stopping them in their tracks. The girl struggled, as one of the thugstried to gag her, and the other kept his attention on their human obstacle.
“It isn’t your business, fatso.” The guard sneered.
Hachiyama placed his right foot back and reached for his club, but before he could swing his tetsubo or the thugs noticed Hachiyama’s hand on the grip, Takezou had stepped between the guard and his companion. Takezou patted Hachiyama’s arm to make him lower his weapon before he did something they might regret.
“Perhaps, it is our business?” Takezou commented and the thug seemed to recognize him.
“Wait! Aren’t you that Black Sun swordsmen?” The Yoshida thug asked with a tone of fear in his throat.
“Yes, the very same swordsmen.” He introduced himself with a small bow before entreating the thug, “Now, my companion, had a question about what business you had with this girl?”
“I, well,” The guard stammered before getting a grip on himself, “This girl owes a debt to Lord Yoshida and we’re here to make sure she pays it.”
“Lord Yoshida?” Takezou raised a brow, surprised by that level of reverence they used to when mentioning their boss before asking, “And how does Lord Yoshida plan to have this debt paid?”
“Look at her,” the other guard pushed the girl forward so Takezou could get a better look at her, “She’s a doll. We’re gonna put her to work in the brothel. A pretty, young whore like this will make us a fortune back in a year. I can’t wait to get a p-”
“No.” Hachiyama interrupted the thug.
“What business of this is yours?” The other thug demanded.
“She is my niece,” Hachiyama said as matter of factly as if he had just stated that the sky is above them.
The two thugs and Takezou looked up at the giant as he made the ridiculous claim. One the guards laughed nervously, “I don’t really see the resemblance?”
“Release the girl,” Hachiyama demanded.
“Or what?” The Yoshida thug sneered.
Takezou let out a wince as he saw the thug fold in on himself like an accordion as he was crushed by the devastating blow of Hachiyama’s tetsubo. He quickly rolled out of the way, as the other thug let out a horrified scream, and scrambled back from his dead companion. Takezou grabbed the girl and spun her out of the way into the shop she had been dragged out of before Hachiyama turned his weapon raised to the other thug.
The Yoshida thug screamed for help and begged for mercy. As his companions began pouring into the alley, it was too late for him. Hachiyama had already swatted him aside like an insect with his studded tetsubo club. The other guards stood for a moment in horror as they looked at the devastated bodies of their two comrades. As Hachiyama turned his drunken and furious gaze toward the thugs entering the alley, they let out a battle cry, and charged him with their spears.
Hachiyama must have taken a half-dozen spears to his torso, arms and legs as they stuck him with their weapons. Hachiyama staggered a few of them with a blow from his weapon to the side of their ranks, but he was desperately wounded. As Hachiyama stumbled and nearly fell to one knee, Takezou was upon the remaining thugs with a fury of blows that fell silently on their stunned targets.
Takezou stood over the last living guard, sword to his throat, and spoke softly, “Tell Lord Yoshida that the girl is with The Black Sun swordsman and that he should keep his hands out of the Entertainment District. Understand?”
The thug nodded, trembling in mortal fear, as he was allowed to scramble to his feet and escape the bloody scene of the alley. Takezou slid his sword back into its sheath and turned to look at Hachiyama. The giant was breathing heavily, leaning against the wall of the shop, as the girl watched them from the doorway of her shop cautiously. Takezou moved to pull one of the spears from Hachiyama’s leg, but the pain and loss of blood was too much. He watched Hachiyama collapse to the ground and shouted to the girl, “Quick! Help me move him before those guards return!”
Takezou wasn’t sure how he and the girl moved Hachiyama, but they managed to drag him down a couple of alleys and into the front door of some old woman’s hut. The girl explained the woman was a doctor and would be able to help. As Takezou stood there, panting and sweating from the physical effort of moving his companion, he began to feel his sweat soak into his clothes— except it was more than sweat. He looked down and saw a red stain slowly forming on his kimono around a puncture wound to his ribs.
He stumbled into Hachiyama’s body and collapsed to the floor. Everything went black.
LATER THIS WEEK, THE SWORDSMAN'S APPRENTICE