The last Samurai

Samurai's last stand

The year is 1868, Sasakahara rice fields, the final battle which will determine our fate as samurai and quench my acquaintances thirst for revenge has begun. I am Yuushi Matsumura, a samurai, and a second in command of the rebel army and closest friend to its leader. Akimoto my dear friend has, on his path to take revenge on those who wronged him, become a great leader of the few remaining samurai fighting to retain there proper place in Japanese society. The Meiji government has uprooted the emperor and taken control of the Japanese islands. In an attempt to achieve complete control, the Meiji has outlawed the samurai and the carrying of swords is now illegal save for the government army. In an attempt to return to the old ways we few remaining samurai under the leadership of Akimoto, have banded together and formed an opposition force to bring down this evil government and restore Japan to the ways our ancestors intended. This day we have gathered in the great rice field of Sasakahara, our army lies in wait atop a small hill opposite the Meiji army. As I look across the field I cannot help but feel, despair. They, the government army are armed with muzzle loading rifles, swords and cannons. Others and we the samurai are armed with nothing more than our swords and some farming equipment. My despair only grows greater as samurai upon samurai are sent out into the field and slain by the ranged weapons of the enemy. Our only chance to inflict any significant casualties is to strike when the soldiers are reloading. The hundreds of leveled plains that make up this field are, as always this time of year, flooded with water. Throughout the rice field, the once clear water know runs red with the blood of dead and dying samurai, the bodies of horses and other animals alike, litter and cover the battle field like the leaves cover the ground on a late autumn day. If not for the overwhelming disadvantage the guns pose, I am certain in a battle of honor and swordsmanship that we would be victorious. As I sit upon this hill under a large cherry tree, overlooking the entire battlefield, I feel a deep sense of inevitable doom. Thus, I feel that before all is lost I must do something, that this day and the days leading up to it, might be remembered. I must write a story in which Akimoto's rise to power and my experiences will be documented for the future peoples of Japan to read, that they might remember us not as criminals but as the last surviving members of a great and powerful culture. That the people of Japan might remember us as the last samurai. My story will begin with the events surrounding Akimoto's transformation from a docile samurai in training, to the revenge engorged warrior he is today. The story will tell of me and my recently deceased brother's part in this transformation and the long Journey we together endured. Through experiencing most of these events and through the gathering of information, I begin Adauchi, the story of revenge:
The year is 1866; feudal Japan remains under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which is dissipating. Murderers, pirates, and bandits are many and the age of the samurai is quickly coming to an end. A small band of foreigners trained in the martial arts and in the way of the samurai has established a small community in the Edo province. Our story follows the quest of three such samurai, a young man, Akimoto, and two of his closest friends, Mihashi and Yuushi. Together these three embark on an epic journey through the land of Japan that Akimoto might take revenge on a group of Japanese gangsters who call themselves the Deruku Deragonsu, or Dark Dragons. They are highly trained in the deadliest of martial arts, and are responsible for the death of Akimoto's love, Nasaki Hashimoto. Three heroes, one great undertaking, one possible outcome. ADAUCHI!

Chapter 1: Death of a dream, birth of a passion September 9, 1866 Sendai settlement, Edo province

The sun began to descend behind the Fukushima foothills; the sky became a blanket of colors that covered the lush green land. As the sky slowly began to darken, the streets of Sendai were bustling with merchants trying to get in their last few sales before the evening closing of their shops, the smell of sushi and fried rice dishes perforated the air. The Merchants sold all assortments of merchandise, Fusama's Poultry Plus stand sold chickens, turkeys, and birds of every kind, Oshigawa's Dry Goods sold rice, beans, and most items you could get from a general store, only cheaper, and Chinatsu's Domestic Delights that mainly sold dogs and cats for human consumption. Sendai was a small settlement of less than a thousand men, women, and children. Sendai was cramped with shoin style buildings so close together a single misused match could easily decimate the entire settlement. The people of Sendai were not wealthy and were forced to resort to living in, and running there shops from a single building which most times already housed Three of Four additional families. Sendai was located on the outskirts of The Edo province, established just eighteen years prior in 1848 by a group of venturing Christian American immigrants. The immigrants settled in Japan and conformed to most of the Japanese ways of life except that they taught of Jesus and Christianity, which was illegal, instead of Buddhism. The immigrants lived in Japan for a year until the Shogun forced them to leave because of their foreign teachings. While in Japan many of the immigrants had children, their offspring thus being natural born in Japan were forced to stay and were raised by government employed Japanese foster parents. The streets were wet and muddy from the heavy rainfall that had fallen the night before, Nasaki was wearing straw-sewn sandals and they did little to protect her feet from the poor road conditions. Nasaki Hashimoto was a Young slender eighteen-year-old Japanese-American, the daughter of one of the long forgotten foreigners. She had golden brown hair that she always kept up in a bun, she always wore a beautiful sky-blue silk kimono with a butterfly design on the back, a gift from Akimoto, and her appearance could only be described as perfection. Nasaki was an aspiring poet and wanted nothing more than to one day write her wedding vows into a beautiful poem, her wish was to come true in just four days for she was to marry her love, Akimoto, who had been her best friend since childhood. Nasaki stopped by a nearby sword smith shop so she could wipe the mud from her sandals. She had been in the market quarter all day looking for different items that would be necessary for her marriage ceremony. "Konbanwa, how would you like to buy a sword? Zikko's Swords are of the highest quality in all Japan!" Said the sword smith as he watched Nasaki from his bamboo rocking chair. "No, not toda." Nasaki interrupted herself with a thought. "Since it is customary for both bride and groom to give each other gifts and given the fact that Akimoto is a highly trained samurai, why not get him a beautiful Sword, after all the sword he has now looks like a metal twig." she thought to herself with a giggle. "Yes I will look at your swords." "Zikko, the names Zikko, come inside," he said Nasaki followed Zikko into his shop. The walls of the store were covered with every style, color, and size of sword available in the eastern world from antique roman short-swords to the latest in samurai swords. Nasaki looked all around the store; she stopped and stared at a sword that looked like a giant ruby with a blade. "I call That one the Nobunaga, the handle is made from a rock that very closely resembles ruby and those dots on the handle are real gold inlay, real quality for real cheap, only five hundred mon sen," Zikko said, seeing her observing the sword. "Oh no Zikko-san this sword is to gaudy for Akimoto, I was thinking more along the lines of this one," said Nasaki as she pointed to a sword on the wall. "Yes Akimoto will love it," she commented. The sword she beheld was indeed the sword of a samurai, on its handle a great battle scene was carved, every detail exploited to its fullest extent, and the hand guard was made entirely of intricately carved silver. As if it was not beautiful enough the blade only added to its beauty, the three foot long blade was polished to a mirror finish and along the entire length of the blade was a flawlessly etched Dragon, Nasaki could tell just by looking that the blade was sharpened to a razor edge. This was indeed the sword for Akimoto. "Ah yes, that Nasaki-san it the revenge blade, the sharpest, strongest blade in my store, and Japan I might add. Only three hundred mon sen," informed Zikko. "I will take it. It will take all my money but nothing is too expensive for my Akimoto," Nasaki said with a loving sigh. Zikko pulled the sword from the wall and put in a matching sheath then wrapped a cloth around the entire sword. Nasaki handed Zikko his three hundred mon sen, took the sword and left. It was late and quite dark; the road was illuminated only by the light cast from lanterns in the windows of the buildings on either side of the street. The Merchants had begun dismantling their stores and going home for the night. As Nasaki began to walk toward home, Zikko stepped out of his shop and locked the door behind him. "Hold up Nasaki-san, I would not be much of a man if I let you walk home alone at this time of night," offered Zikko. "I do not need your assistance Zikko-san but if you want to, you may walk me home, just don't let Akimoto see us, he might get jealous," Nasaki giggled. Zikko nodded and they started on down the street. As they walked toward Nasaki's Home, the two conversed about her very near wedding and Akimoto. "I've known Akimoto since I was four; we met while playing in Yamacoza Park behind his father's dojo. When we were ten he told me we would be married one day and I have always been in love with him since then, so of course the day he asked me for my hand in marriage was the happiest day of my life. I love him so much," said Nasaki with a quiet coo. Nasaki lived in a small house along with her father and brother just outside of Sendai. The path to her house led through Takuhiro Pass, a dark winding forested trail notorious for harboring criminals on the run. After the pass, her house was just a couple of yards down the road. They say things can change from good to bad in the blink of an eye. What they say is true. As Nasaki and Zikko approached the pass, five impressively dressed men walked out of the brush just ahead of them. Each man wore a silk gi embroidered with the image of both a dragon and a fist. The men looked like grunts but the one that appeared to be their ringleader was petite and rather scrawny. The ringleader spoke "Zikko." "Shoulin, eh, eh, what are you doing here?" asked Zikko with a nervous laugh. "I was just about to ask you the same Zikko, we told you that if you did not pay off your dept we would return to Sendai and make you and your fellow citizens lives a living hell!" snickered Shoulin. Though scared, as Zikko and Shoulin talked, Nasaki observed each of the grunts. Each man wore a mask except Shoulin and a huge grunt that stood next to him; she also noticed one of the men farthest from her was fidgeting nervously. The brutes began circling Nasaki. The huge man about three feet taller than Nasaki, stepped toward her. The man's face was a mess, as he stared at Nasaki, he grinned baring his teeth, they were all decayed and half of them had already fallen out, the empty sockets pus filled and oozing. The mans left eye was normal but his right was completely scarred over, perhaps a battle injury. "Since Zikko no pay his dues, this sword will do much fine," Said the grunt as he jerked the sword from Nasaki's arms. Nasaki immediately lunged to reclaim it but the grunt just held it over his head. Nasaki with building tears in her eyes kicked the man in his genitals; he remained completely unfazed but knocked Nasaki to the ground anyway. "Please just give me back my sword it's for my husband to be.please," Nasaki sobbed. As Nasaki lay on the ground, the man who seemed so nervous stepped forward and knelt down next to her, he was wearing a tiger mask and a small dragon dagger was strapped to his thigh. The man began to harshly grab at her chest, Nasaki was stunned with fright as the man began to defile her, the group cheered him on and held back Zikko who was screaming profane things at the man. After a minute the rapist climaxed and shouted Nasaki's name, Zikko heard this and realized that her name had not been mentioned before, the rapist knew Nasaki. As the rapist pulled his pants up and stepped back from Nasaki, Shoulin spoke up and winked at the large grunt "You heard her Juang give the little witch her sword back." "No, oh my God please don't," Shouted Zikko, but his words were futile and he had no choice now but to watch as the horrible scene unfolded. Juang un-sheathed the sword "here you go," he said and in one swift movement plunged the sword into Nasaki's abdomen twisted the blade and pulled Nasaki completely off the ground. "That for kicking me," he said. She tried to scream but all that came out was the gurgle of blood as it began to flow from her mouth. Juang let go of the sword and Nasaki fell backwards to the ground. She held her stomach, the sword still in place and entirely drenched in blood, Zikko stumbled to her side only to be kicked in the face. The entire group of men surrounded Zikko and proceeded to beat him. As the gangsters began walking back into the brush, Shoulin turned to Zikko "That little brat filthed up my sword so I still expect you to pay me, understood?" Zikko, bruised and bleeding profusely from the beating, nodded. "Oh, and do not forget to tell everyone you know, that the Deruku Deragonsu are in town," Finished Shoulin and then he too disappeared into the brush. Zikko crawled over to Nasaki, she was nearly gone so he pulled the sword from her stomach, she spasmed, he laid the sword on the ground and took her into his arms. Nasaki looked at him with red tear soaked eyes and with her final breath muttered "AKIMOTO."

Chapter 2 The Vow

September 10, 1866 Sendai settlement, Edo Province
Akimoto Takamori was woken by a steady knocking at the door. He forced himself to wake up, his eyes were bloodshot and sore, he had been up half the night sparing with Yuushi Matsumura and his twin Mihashi Matsumura, Akimoto's closest friends. Akimoto was a very well built nineteen-year-old samurai. He was one of the Japanese-Americans but he never felt himself different, and was also never treated differently, he was, in everyone's eyes, a Japanese. Akimoto wore a beautiful silk samurai's kimono, embroidered with both his family symbol and the family symbols of his friends, Nasaki, Yuushi, and Mihashi. He had one sword that was falling apart by the minute, and couldn't hold its own in a battle if his life depended on it. Akimoto stumbled from his bed mat to the entrance of his home. At the entrance stood two Samurai warriors in full armor, one held a bloodied sword. "Yes, Can I help you two?" Akimoto questioned The warrior with the sword stepped forward and placed it in Akimoto's arms then kneeled to the ground on one knee. "It is our deepest regret to inform you that your fiancé, Nasaki Hashimoto, was murdered last night by a group of five men as she was walking home through Takuhiro pass. There was one witness to the crime, a local merchant known as Zikko; he is currently being treated for his injuries at Yukomuro Hospital," The warrior said sympathetically. He got back up nodded to his partner and they walked off back toward town. Akimoto just stood were he was and stared into oblivion, a single tear came to his eye and he dropped to the ground, dropping the sword as well. He began to sob profusely, wakening Yuushi, in the next room, who quickly came to Akimoto's side. Yuushi was a rather small young man of eighteen, one of two identical brothers. He wore a blue kimono with gray split hakama pants, and had two double bladed swords strapped to both sides. "Akimoto, what is troubling you?" asked Yuushi with concern. "They killed her," said Akimoto, but his sobbing made it impossible to hear his words. "What did you say?" "They killed her, they killed Nasaki," Yelled Akimoto in mixture of rage and sorrow. "Who, who killed Nasaki." "I do not know, but if I question this Zikko I may find the answer," said Akimoto, wiping the tears from his face. "If you are going to see him I will come with you," offered Yuushi. "No, I must go alone." "But..." before Yuushi could finish Akimoto left and began walking towards town. As Akimoto Walked through town, he made sure to concentrate on his surroundings as not to focus solely on his current predicament. Arriving at Yukomuro Hospital, Akimoto realized Yuushi had followed him the entire way. "I told you I must go alone," said Akimoto, somewhat annoyed "How dare you, you know Nasaki was my friend just as much as yours and I have just as much right to find out what happened to her as you do," Yuushi sneered angrily. Akimoto simply nodded and entered the hospital, Yuushi followed. Yukomuro was by no means a state of the art facility, it was a nigate mansu hosupitaru, poor mans hospital. The walls of the hospital were stained a sickly yellow; the floor that had once been white was now black with dirt and grime. The odor of sickness, death, and rotting wounds perforated the air, Akimoto and Yuushi held their collars over their faces, though disrespectful. They came to a large corridor, lined on each side by six beds. Nurses and doctors were hustling back and forth, providing care for their patients. Akimoto immediately spotted Zikko lying in the last bed to the right of the corridor. As the two walked towards Zikko's bed, Yuushi observed the patients in the other beds. Eight of the twelve beds were in use by patients, some soldiers and a couple civilians. The odor grew thicker and mustier the closer to the back of the corridor they got. Yuushi noticed that the doctors were neglecting a lone patient, a soldier still in full armor, his back facing Yuushi. Yuushi approached the soldier's bed, not noticing the many flies ii the vicinity of the man.
Yuushi reached out and grabbed the mans shoulder, "Sir, are you ok, I noticed you are being neglec." His words were cut short by the ghastly sight when he pulled the soldier onto his back. The man was dead, and by the look and smell of it, several days. Yuushi gasped and turned away, continuing to Zikko's bed.
"Did you see that Akimoto-san, that soldiers been dead for days but the doctors just don't seem to care," said Yuushi in a tone of disgust.
"Its because the mans family has yet to pay his medical expenditures until the debt is paid the mans body will remain here with out honor," Explained Akimoto.
They reached Zikko's bedside and were stunned by the mere brutality that his body bared witness to.
"How could another human being do this to somebody," asked Yuushi.
"The same way another human being can kill my fiancée," responded Akimoto, a tear appearing in the corner of his eye. He wiped his face, as a samurai you are trained not to let your emotions take hold of you, but Akimoto could not help his feelings. Akimoto reached down and clenched Zikko's hand, "Zikko-san, wake up." Zikko moaned for a moment then regained consciousness.
"Oh, god please don't hurt me again!" screamed out Zikko as he began to thrash about.
Akimoto grasped Zikko and attempted to calm him, "Zikko-san, Zikko- san, its me Akimoto, calm down there's no one here to hurt you." Zikko immediately stopped. "I have come to talk to you about the events that transpired last night and to find why my Nasaki is dead." Said Akimoto sternly.
Zikko began to weep, "I, I tried to save her life but they were to powerful. They took the sword she had just bought for you. When she desperately tried to get it back they threw her to the ground and a man wearing a mask and a dragon tanto defiled her."
"What!" Akimoto shouted, enraged.
"After she was defiled, a large man named Juang impaled her with the very sword I assume you received this morning," continued Zikko "Who Zikko-san, who was to powerful, who did this?" Akimoto demanded.
"It was the Deruku Deragonsu and their leader Shou." Zikko fell silent as a lone arrow hit him in the throat.
"What, what happened?" shouted Akimoto
"There!" shouted Yuushi pointing to the corridor roof. As Akimoto and Yuushi drew their swords, a person dressed in full ninja fatigues dropped the bow and began to flee. Akimoto and Yuushi ran to the back entrance in pursuit of the ninja, knocking over several doctors and nurses. Akimoto kicked open the back entrance door and they made it out side just in time to see the ninja escaping, on horse back, into the dense forest growth.
"Shetola! He got away," Akimoto cursed.
Yuushi and Akimoto walked back into the hospital, where doctors were cleaning up the blood around Zikko's Bed.
"Zikko's Family lives in Echigoya, word won't reach them for days. That means." Yuushi stated.
"Yes, that means Zikko's body will remain here until his debts are paid," Responded Akimoto.
Yuushi turned to the doctor that had been attending Zikko, "Sensei, how much did this man owe"
"Exactly two hundred mon sen" answered the doctor.
As Akimoto and Yuushi left the Hospital, Yuushi turned back, his kind heart getting the better of him, and handed the doctor three hundred mon sen.
"Give him a proper and honorable burial, sensei," instructed Yuushi.
"Yes sir, it shall be done," said the doctor.
Yuushi followed Akimoto, who did not seem to be headed in the direction of their home.
"Where are we going Akimoto," asked Yuushi.
Akimoto said nothing but soon stopped in front of an old run down structure. Akimoto looked up at the sign just above the door, and then proceeded into the establishment, Yuushi followed. The sign read Uchiro Tavern. Uchiro was a run down military barrack converted into a semi thriving tavern. Though the outside left something to be desired, the interior was rather exquisite. The interior was decorated to resemble a seventeenth century teahouse, thus the waitresses were dressed as geisha. To the back of the tavern was an alcove, which contained a massive fireplace, above which was a mounted panda head, and a few bamboo chairs, making for a little private escape.
"Over here you ugly pigs" Laughed Mihashi as he motioned for the two to have a seat at his table. Mihashi Matsumura was the spitting image of his twin brother Yuushi, however the similarities stopped there. While Yuushi was a hard working young man, taking pride in all he did, Mihashi was completely opposite. Yuushi and Akimoto were trained samurai and worked hard to get that title but Mihashi, as far as Yuushi knew, was just a highly skilled bowman having been the family food hunter. In essence, Mihashi was the laid back one, never amounting to a thing. He wore a grungy gi embroidered with his family symbol, he had a rather unshaven look to him, long hair kept in a pony tale, and he always wore a ruby encrusted dragon tanto on his thigh. Yuushi and Akimoto had a seat at the table.
A tavern imitation geisha came to the table, "What can I get you sirs?" she said, attempting to sound like a real geisha.
"Sake," the three said in unison.
"That will be right out sirs," nodded the geisha.
"So, what did you guys do today?" said Mihashi with an evil smirk.
Akimoto said nothing and just put his head down on the table. "Actually brother, we had quite a day."
"What's wrong with him?" Mihashi asked, motioning toward Akimoto.
"You mean you don't know?" questioned Yuushi with surprise.
"Know what?"
"Nasaki was murdered last night and the only witness was just killed as we interrogated him."
"You don't say," say said Mihashi with an almost cold uncaring attitude.
"Yes, he was about to reveal the killers to us, when a ninja hiding on the roof put an arrow through his throat,"
"We pursued him, but he escaped on horse back. I believe he may have been headed for Hiyugo castle. If Akimoto is up to it, I would like to investigate the castle and the surrounding areas," said Yuushi.
"Why would the killer head to an abandoned castle?" asked Mihashi.
"What better place for a criminal hideout than a massive castle complex."
"Ya I guess," said Mihashi, pulling a piece of brush from his hair.
The geisha returned with a tray of drinks, including an entire bottle, and set it on the table. "Is there anything else I can get you sirs?"
"Ya, how about me and you go get a room for the night?" said Mihashi, slapping the geisha on the buttocks.
Yuushi kicked Mihashi as the geisha stormed back to the kitchen; Mihashi just laughed and took a drink of his sake. Akimoto lifted his head from the table; his eyes were bloodshot and soar from the near constant tearing. He got up out of his seat, grabbed the bottle and moved to the back of the tavern where he sat in a bamboo chair in front of the huge fireplace.
"Gosh, I'm really sorry. Nasaki was my friend to, I'm really going to miss her," Sympathized Mihashi.
Hearing this, Yuushi became rather annoyed. Mihashi's attempts at sympathy were hollow and cold; it was almost as if he was simply pretending to be somewhat caring.
"Have you been working in a stable? You stink of horse manure," Asked Yuushi.
"Uh, ya, ya I have," responded Mihashi, a bead of sweat rolled down his for head.
Mihashi was about to ask another question when the roar of thunder pierced the air and the steady rhythmic pounding of rain on the roof filled the tavern. Akimoto was unfazed by the thunder and just stared into the fire; he began to drink the sake like it was water. Mihashi and Yuushi moved themselves to the fireplace alcove and sat adjacent to Akimoto.
"Look Akimoto, I know what your feeling and I'm here to help you in any way," offered Yuushi.
Akimoto got up and angrily threw the bottle of sake against the wall, it was empty. "No, you don't know, you don't have any idea what I'm going through, so just leave me be," he erupted; he then stumbled out of the tavern into the cold rainy evening.
"Come on, he's drunk, we have to make sure he's ok," said Yuushi as he pulled Mihashi from his seat and followed Akimoto Outside.
It was raining profusely outside the tavern, so much in fact it limited visibility to a few yards. Yuushi spotted Akimoto in the distance, swatting at low hanging tree branches with the sword he had received earlier that day. Akimoto was also shouting as he swung at the branches. Yuushi, still pulling Mihashi, ran through the muddy terrain till he reached Akimoto.
"Now stop. You have to stop this Akimoto or your going to hurt yourself," shouted Yuushi.
"Hurt myself? You think I am going to hurt myself," sneered Akimoto. He sheathed his sword and stepped up in front of Yuushi, "They killed her!" he said, then with a fluid swift motion, delt Yuushi a fist to the face.
Yuushi fell back but gained his balance, "I'm not going to fight you Akimoto."
"Then don't," shouted Akimoto as he clumsily punched at Yuushi, missing each time. Akimoto, through a mixture of intoxication and exhaustion, collapsed into Yuushi's arms. Crying like an injured child, being held by Yuushi, he shouted at the top of his longs, "They killed her, They Killed my love!"
"Its ok Akimoto, Its going to be ok," Comforted Yuushi.
Akimoto withdrew himself from Yuushi's arms and walked out into the middle of the small clearing they were in. Soaking wet, he drew his sword and thrust it straight into the air, still crying he shouted with pain, "Mark my words, that on this day, I Akimoto vow revenge on each and every one of them that wronged me past present and future. I will avenge Nasaki's death and I will deal destruction to her killers, destruction to the Deruku Deragonsu!" A bolt of light lit the evening as Akimoto passed out.

Chapter 3 path to revenge

September 11, 1866 Sendai settlement, Edo province Takamori homestead
Akimoto woke in a dense, forested area, his head hurt and his eyes felt as if two elephants had been tied to them. It was dark; the only light was that of the moon, which was visible through the thick canopy of the trees. A figure suddenly blurred by trailed by an evil yet familiar laugh.
"Who is there?" called out Akimoto.
The figure blurred past him to the right, "You know who I am."
"No, I don't Know who you are," shouted Akimoto blindly into the humid night air.
"I was there when they killed her Akimoto," The figure said as it jumped down from a tree and ran into a bush.
Akimoto drew his sword, "then reveal your identity that I may slay you."
"You already know who I am, I am your betrayer, but I am also your friend," said the figure as it jumped over Akimoto and landed in front of him. The figure was dressed like the ninja Akimoto had seen the night before. "Betrayal hurts worse when it's by someone close," said the figure. Before Akimoto could respond, the ninja took his mask off, it was Mihashi. Akimoto, frozen with surprise, made no move as Mihashi threw two shuriken, both hitting him in the chest.
Akimoto woke, opening his eyes to searing pain as thick sweat ran into them, his entire body was drenched. He was home, the beautiful rays of sunlight shining through the window gave him the clue it was morning. Akimoto rose from his bed mat and saw that he had left a wet spot in the shape of his body on it. He proceeded to the bathroom and used the water bowl and linen cloth to clean himself. He focused so fully on the task at hand, he failed to notice Mihashi standing in the doorway.
"Its about time you woke up, you've slept half the day." said Mihashi
Akimoto was startled by this incursion and nearly threw the water bowl to the floor. "Mihashi, I didn't see you there. Next time you might want make your presence known," exclaimed Akimoto.
"Ya what ever. Anyway, Yuushi is waiting for you in your father's dojo; he wants to talk to you, something about a castle. See ya," informed Mihashi.
"Aren't you coming with us?" asked Akimoto as Mihashi was walking away.
"No, I, uh, got things to do, got to go help old lady Hiragawa in her store," Mihashi said hesitantly.
As Mihashi left, Akimoto couldn't help but think of his dream. Was Mihashi, one of his best friends, capable of such betrayal? Could a dream be trusted? Akimoto finished cleaning himself and retreated to his room to dress.
The Takamori Dojo was the most elaborate dojo in Sendai. The dojo was traditional shoin styling with beautiful railing, hand carved from oak, each connected at the corners of the rectangular facility to a pure gold dragon statue, Akimoto's adoptive father was one of the few wealthy men of Sendai. Akimoto's father, Gesshin Takamori was a master swordsman and received the homestead as a gift from the Shogun for his honorable service in the shoguns army. Akimoto's mother, Hagumi, was murdered when he was just ten; the circumstances that led to her death are a mystery. A large wooden arch stood at the entrance, at the top in beautiful Japanese calligraphy was written: A master who has hatred Is in danger of being killed even by those who for their wealth and happiness depend upon his kindness, opposite the arch was a large cherry tree ready to blossom. Every time Akimoto came to the dojo, he stopped and read the saying aloud, today he did not. Inside the dojo, the saying was plastered everywhere, on the wall opposite the entrance stood a towering display of various weapons, the floors. Yuushi was kneeling in the corner of the dojo meditating in front of a candle; Akimoto approached quietly from behind and joined him.
"How are you feeling this morning?" Asked Yuushi, still focusing on his meditation.
"I feel fine on the outside but my heart feels as if it has been pierced with a sword," Responded Akimoto.
"Have you talked to Nasaki's parents?"
"No, that is a task I shall see to today."
"I'm going to Hiyugo castle today to investigate this Ninja we encountered, I am certain he was head there."
"Good I shall accompany you to the castle, I have some things I would like to ask the ninja."
"No, I will go to the castle, you go and talk to Nasaki's parents, after you have finished with the Hashimoto's meet me at the castle."
Akimoto got to his feet and began to leave when he remembered the dream, he turned back to Yuushi, "Yuushi-san, what are your beliefs on dreams, are they pointless or are they a tell tail sign of things to come?"
"Though mysterious as dreams are, I believe some dreams may have deeper meanings than others. To answer your question one would have to look into his own heart and weigh the probability of the dream fulfilling itself," responded Yuushi, maintaining his concentration.
"Very well, I will see you at Hiyugo. Don't forget to take your swords, I have a uneasy feeling about all this," Said Akimoto pointing to Yuushi's swords on the wall.
"I to have these feelings, please do the same," said Yuushi.
Akimoto walked out of the dojo and sprinted to his arms room where he proceeded in gathering his revenge blade sword and some various throwing weapons. On his way to the Hashimoto homestead, Akimoto passed through town to purchase fine tea, that he may serve the Hashimotos as they talked. He stopped by Oshigawa's Dry Goods and purchased the most expensive tea they had, Emperors Green tea. Akimoto left the busy town and headed to Nasaki's house, again the burn of tears began to eat at his eyes as he realized not only was he going to confront his would be parent in laws, he also had to walk through the pass where the murder took place. Two days had passed since the murders, the heavy rain the night before would have surely eradicated any evidence of the incident. As he came the head of the pass, Akimoto readied his weapon and began to walk briskly through. He kept his head up that should any trace of what happened still remain, he would not see it.
Yuushi blew out the candle he had been meditating in front of and put it back into its proper storage compartment. As he got to his feet he walked to the entrance and stretched in the warm after-noon sun, large black clouds could be seen over the Fukushima foothills. Yuushi walked back inside and took his swords from the wall, he strapped one each side then grabbed a thicker gi should it rain. Before he left for Hiyugo he felt the need to practice his Doubure Demunerusu form (art of the double sword). Yuushi proceeded outside to a small yard behind the Dojo; the yard was filled with various bushes. Yuushi approached a bush that stood in the center of the yard; it was pruned in the shape of a human being. He bowed to it as if it had life, then in a motion so fast it could hardly be seen, he pulled both swords from their sheaths and using the Sushisusoru Kutsu, or scissor cut, decapitated the bush figure. Now fully prepared, Yuushi jogged to Gesshin's stable and prepared Yuki, a beautiful pure white stallion jointly owned by Yuushi and Akimoto. Yuushi said a small prayer of protection and rode off into the forest toward Hiyugo castle.
Akimoto came to the end of Takahiro pass and could see the Hashimoto homestead in the distance, over come with a sudden burst of emotion; he broke into a run toward the house. Lady Ebansu, Nasaki's mother was in the garden swinging gently on a homemade swing under a cherry blossom when she say Akimoto, tears filled her eyes as she got up to meet him. As Akimoto entered the yard of the house, Ebansu, weeping profusely, threw herself into Akimoto's arms. He held her tight as she cried aloud and they both collapsed to the ground.
"How? How could such a thing happen to my daughter?" Mourned Ebansu.
"Shhh, Its ok, I have vowed to avenge her death. Those responsible will pay dearly for what they have done. I will find and slay them all, I promise," Sneered Akimoto, his heart filling with rage.
"The same promise you made to protect Nasaki from harm? Your promises are worthless," Barked Nasaki's father, Ademu, as he walked out of the house toward Akimoto. Ademu grabbed Akimoto by his gi and thrust him against the side of the house. "You worthless brat! You let her die, you should have been there to protect her!" Shouted Ademu. Raising his fist into the air, he hit Akimoto in the jaw, blood from his mouth spattered the wall as he fell to ground.
"Stop this, Ademu. You should be ashamed of yourself. You know just as much as I do, that Akimoto can not be held responsible for this," Said Ebansu, helping Akimoto to his feet. Ademu's face turned the color of a ripe tomato as he stormed into the house. "I am sorry, he is just looking for someone to blame, some way to appease his anger," said Ebansu, wiping the blood from Akimoto's mouth with her kimono.
"Dear Ebansu, have strength. I must go. I am to meet Yuushi at Hiyugo castle, we believe it may be connected in some way to the murder," explained Akimoto.
Akimoto walked Ebansu to the swing and sat her down in it, "How do you plan to get to Hiyugo?" she asked.
"Non-sense, you'll take my mare, Ashiyu. She's in the Field out behind the house," commanded Ebansu.
"Thank you," said Akimoto, he kissed her cheek and ran to the fields behind the house. There in a small run down building was Ashiyu the mare, Akimoto prepared the horse and mounted it. With a slap of his hand to the horse's hindquarter, it departed at full gallop down a narrow dirt pathway, which would eventually lead them to Hiyugo castle.
Yuushi exited the dense forest into a huge courtyard, the stone walls that surrounded the courtyard were crumbling and covered with moss and various overgrowth. Yuushi took a moment to take in the sight around him, the massive courtyard, the awe-inspiring castle, and the seashore that could be seen just beyond the castle. Hiyugo castle was the first built in the Edo province by Ieyasu Tokugawa in 1603, the first shogun and founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Without warning, a single arrow hit Yuushi in his left shoulder, frightening the horse who then bucked him form its back. Yuushi landed harshly on the ground, breaking the arrow off into his shoulder, blood began to flow openly from the wound. As the horse fled into the forest, a second arrow hit the cuirass Yuushi always wore and was deflected safely away. Yuushi, grasping his wound, picked himself up and tumbled behind the stone work of the courtyard wall. The shots had come from a window high in the keep, shots which at that distance, only a professional could make. Three more arrows hit the ground next to Yuushi; the head of the third broke off and lodged itself in his left leg. Yuushi yelped in pain, he realized it was pointless to run; all he could do was wait behind this wall. Wait for the cover of nightfall, wait to die, or wait for help that he thought would never come. Yuushi felt a sudden rush of terror combined with relief as the foliage before him began to move.
"Who is there?" whispered Yuushi as he drew one of his swords.
"Its Akimoto. Are you ok," came the response, he was hidden from view.
Yuushi was relived, "Ill be ok. There is an archer up in the keep window."
"I see him. Can you move?"
"Yes but the archer is a marksman and would have an arrow through me before I could get to safety"
"Yuushi-san, when I say go, run to the draw bridge and get into the castle."
"Ok" said Yuushi uneasily.
Akimoto drew his sword and angled it to the sun, with some minor movements; he used the swords mirror finishing, throwing a barrage of burning sunlight at the window. He watched as the archer threw up his arms to block the light and fell back in to the room, it was clear.
"Run Yuushi, Now" Yelled Akimoto, as he to broke into a dead sprint for the castle entrance. Yuushi got up to run but had underestimated the pain in his leg, he fell to ground. Akimoto turned around and with a new found strength, grabbed Yuushi by his gi and actually carried him across the courtyard, over the bridge and finally into the massive entrance of the castle. As they entered, Akimoto threw Yuushi to the ground and collapsed from exhaustion.

Chapter 4 Into the lair of the dragons September 11,1866 Hiyugo Castle, Edo province

Akimoto regained consciousness, minutes after his collapse. Yuushi was leaning against a wall, his leg and shoulder bleeding badly. They were in the grand hall, in a operational castle this room would normally be well lit and well fortified, but now there was simply a glowing torch on one wall and various debris and dust covered everything. Unlike the western castles, Japanese castles were strictly instruments of war, and so the interior was not as elaborate as one might expect. The Daimyo, or general, of the castle usually reserved the gaudy, elaborate beauty for his personal palace, located deeper within the castle complex.
Akimoto moved to Yuushi's side, "Are you all right?"
Yuushi looked at Akimoto then to his shoulder; with a yelp he thrust his fingers into the wound and began to probe for the broken arrow. Yuushi grasped the end of the bolt and swiftly pulled it out, taking with it muscle and flesh.
The wound began to spurt blood, Yuushi cried out, "Akimoto please help!"
Akimoto took Yuushi's hand a put to the wound, "Hold it tightly, applying pressure will slow the bleeding."
"Please hurry," said Yuushi rather calmly.
Akimoto ran to the wall, pulled the lone torch from its resting place and returned to Yuushi's side.
"Hold this," Akimoto said, handing Yuushi the torch. Akimoto then drew one of Yuushi's swords and placed the blade into the flame of the torch. Once the blade was glowing a hot orange, he withdrew it from the flame.
"Brace yourself Yuushi-san, this will hurt like the bite of a demon," Akimoto said. He grasped Yuushi's shoulder, who looked away as Akimoto inserted the blade into the wound, cauterizing the blood vessels of his arm, the bleeding stopped. Akimoto saw the blood flowing from Yuushi's leg and pulled out the arrow, then cauterized the leg wound as well.
"Can you stand?" asked Akimoto.
Yuushi used the wall to pull himself to his feet. "The pain is horrendous but I think I will be able to walk."
"if you should feel the need to rest please do so," offered Akimoto.
Yuushi began limping through the great hall followed by Akimoto, who was carrying the torch. The hall was in complete disarray, thin beams of light showered down on them from the many holes in the ceiling. There were many doors in this hall, all blocked or covered by the fallen debris, except for a small door in the far right wall. Yuushi and Akimoto decided this was the only way to advance in this desolate castle, so they proceeded to the door. The door opened easily, a little to easily for a supposedly abandoned castle. Yuushi moved to enter first but Akimoto held out his arm. "Wait, Allow me to enter first, these ancient castles are armed with an abundance of traps." Akimoto walked slow and carefully into a small, dank corridor. In the nimble light Akimoto could just make out what appeared to be a spiraling staircase leading to the upper levels. As he walked slowly toward the staircase, he motioned for Yuushi to stay back. Akimoto suddenly tripped and fell against the wall; it was covered in a putrid greenish-yellow slime, which was now covering the side of his garments. "Are you all right?" said a concerned Yuushi. "Im fine, just stay there," called back Akimoto. Akimoto got back to his feet and took another step, he stopped. He heard a click when his foot had come down, not even thinking, he threw himself backwards to the ground. A wooden floor panel rose up from the ground and six razor sharp spears suddenly protruded from it. Seeing what had just unfolded, Yuushi ran to aid Akimoto. "Akimoto-san, are you hurt?" Akimoto sat up and stared at the trap, he then looked down at his torso, a small red flower appeared on his gi.

To be continued.............