By Bishop Conner
The periodic crunch of feet digging into the snow resounded throughout the grim atmosphere. The milky light from the orb in the night up above showered a lone warrior in its glory. The glistening armor encased his left shoulder and left pectoral muscle while exposing his right side to the tenacious stings of the cold. The warrior shook off the breeze like a bear would a bee, maintaining an unyielding stance as he strolled home. However, as impeccable as his posture may have been, it was immediately breached by the horrid stench of the battlefield as smoke began filling the man’s nostrils and lungs.
It wasn’t long before pitch black smoke began to occupy the air directly in front of the warrior. With absolutely no hesitation, he broke out into a sprint, maximizing his strides to cover as much ground as he possibly could in a short amount of time. Although the warrior moved with the strides of a horse and swiftness of a cheetah, he was still far too slow to race against the clock. His home had already begun collapsing on itself, and all means of entry were blocked off by the wicked flames of Hell. Navigating through the immense smoke clouds while holding his arm across his mouth and nostrils, the warrior saw the terror up close and personal. The warrior who appeared to be the mightiest of all was now brought to his knees in defeat; the orange flames flickering in his eyes as tears began streaming down his cheeks.
The voice shrieked over roaring flames and tumbling timber. Even still, the cry for help was ultimately for naught; destiny was inevitable. It was also the last word that Leo Tamashī would ever hear his beloved nine-year-old daughter speak. Decades worth of bone-aching training in the way of the Samurai and nothing to show for it. In the face of the agonizing asphyxiation of his wife and daughter writhing in the blaze and squirming under the lumber.
The sight caused a psychological pain that resonated within Leo for the remainder of his existence; driving him to an unhealthy obsession with vengeance. Such ambition pushed him away from his life-long dedication to the Bushido code: he had evicted the idea of mercy for anyone from his mind, his self control had abandoned him, hatred now clouded his sincerity. As a result of this utter defiance, Leo was banished from his clan and stripped of his title as Samurai, becoming what was known as a Ronin. The scent of his smoldering home and the hopeless cries of both his daughter and wife desperately calling for him haunted him in the night, depriving him of sleep. The nightmares had to stop, the weight of the guilt on Leo’s chest felt like a safe crushing his sternum. They were gone…Forever. No matter what the cost, Leo would have his revenge. He knew who was responsible.
Five Years later
Seated on a stool at a tea house in a village with snow covering a good portion of the rest of the houses and shops, is a man dressed in red peasant-like clothing and a straw hat. Next to the man, Leaning up against a countertop was a fairly long bamboo stick, The aroma of a myriad of different spices and food filled the air. Workers dressed in ivory uniforms circled around the store. Lanterns were lit to brighten the shop, reflecting off the chestnut walls. A waitress with a beautiful sunshine painted across her face approached the sphinxlike man.
“The usual will be fine?” the waitress asked.
“Of course,” the man responded in a rather gruff voice.
Two more individuals dressed in higher class clothing entered the tea house pushing open the ivory curtains that displayed large crimson Japanese characters. Taking seats beside the man in the straw hat, they immediately began to converse. The man in the straw hat, as usual, kept to himself, his head lowered and his face hidden by his straw hat making it difficult for anyone to even ponder on what he could have been thinking.
“So, have you heard about the festival tonight at Okada Province?” One of the two men asked.
“I have not, but I presume you must wish to attend if you’ve brought this up to me,”
“Let’s just say that I have a proposition for Lord Okada.”
It was at the very last chunk of that exchange between the two men that the man in the straw hat’s head jerked upward like an eager serpent poised to strike.
The man in the straw hat asked in a slightly demanding tone. “Lord Ishida Okada?”
“Yes,” one of the men responded.
“However, I don’t think that an event housed by a man of stature such as Lord Ishida Okada would have much to offer for people like…you.” The man in the straw hat clenched his fist just a tad from the blatant disrespect. To judge one based on appearance was beyond ignorant, but his calm nature drove him to loosen his hand.
“I’m sure ‘Lord’ Okada will come to find the utmost of bliss in receiving a visit from an old friend,” said the man in the straw hat. Before anyone else could respond, the waitress with a smoking cup of tea in one hand and a plate of sugary biscuits in the other interrupted them. She set them down on the countertop before turning her attention to the two men who sat beside the man in the straw hat.
“How can I serve you two today?” She asked.
“We’ll take your best vegetable soup,” one of the men answered, speaking for both of them. As the waitress went to prepare their dish, one of them spoke out loud to the man in the straw hat in a pompous tone.
“Well, if Lord Ishida actually chooses to waste even a little bit of his time with you, it’ll have to wai-…” The man came to an abrupt pause as he looked to his left to see that the man in the straw hat was no longer present. He had vanished into thin air, his tea and food remained, still smoking but he, along with the bamboo stick, were gone. Looks of confusion plastered across both of the men’s faces at the empty seat, how could he have disappeared so suddenly?
“Maybe it’s good that we didn’t order the tea?”
Ishida Okada, the name that had forcefully taken residence inside of Leo’s head. Right next to the nightmarish images of the charred bodies of his wife and daughter: Asuka and Hana. It was because his mind was so locked into the details of this ‘festival,’ that he hadn’t slit the jugulars of the men in the tea house for their disrespect. He may have lacked self control,but he didn’t lack focus. He had waited for the opportune moment to take his revenge. The news of this festival meant Ishida would be out in the open. The man in the Straw hat, Leo Tamashī was now on the hunt. Vengeance was destined to be his.
-Just a few hours later-
The moon beamed down upon Leo as he had finally reached Okada province. Licking his chops, he could almost taste Ishida’s blood. The festival had already started, sudden explosions were followed by rainbow colors, the lanterns lit the sky and breathed life into the streets. A multitude of civilians amassed in usually vacant lots. Unfortunately, Leo wasn’t here to enjoy the view, he was hardly a tourist. Instead, the Ronin made his way past everyone, placing open palms on the chests and shoulders of those in his path and forcing them every which way, bumping people, not caring about whatever it is they might be holding. Leo headed directly to where he imagined a man of Ishida’s stature to be, loitering around in the town square pandering to the masses like a buffoon.
After a few minutes of maneuvering through the sea of humanity, Leo reached the town square. There he found his inference to be true. There he was, Ishida Okada. Once Samurai General, now a Kenin, with the insurance policy of a dozen foot soldiers dressed in silver armour whilst Ishida was dressed in expensive red silk with gold trim. There he was, mouthing off to the public while they paid attention like mindless drones. With measly hand gestures, Ishida commanded the attention of everyone within the immediate vicinity, silencing them like an adult would do to children. He was so revered that there was about ten feet feet of distance between him and the crowd on all sides. Practically, he was protected by the mass of people who circled him.
“Welcome, welcome to the first annual Okada festival here in Okada province. Despite what some may think, I am an ordinary man, a man that has made countless mistakes, I have done many things that I am not proud of, but that is why I have put together this festival, to show good faith and to repent for my sins.”
There was much sincerity in Ishida’s voice. It was the voice of a man who had taken time to reflect on himself not only in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense as well. He only hoped that he would have the support of the people with whom he would walk the path of repentance. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, Leo couldn’t help but cringe at Ishida’s words, to him they meant nothing, they were equivalent to garbage. He couldn’t stand to hear it anymore. He was going to end this nightmare. At the end of Ishida’s sentence, the crowd gave him a small round of applause to return the ‘good faith,’ showing that they were willing to work with him.
“There will be plenty of time to repent to your god after I send you to the afterlife,” a voice pierced through the split second of sheer silence after the crowd had finished their round of applause.
The foot soldiers placed their hands on the scabbards of their Katanas, ready to defend their leader. From the crowd, the source of the voice traced back to one Leo Tamashī, making his presence known as he stepped out of the crowd, bamboo stick in hand. Leo used a finger on his free hand to push his straw hat off, revealing his identity to the crowd and to Ishida.
“Ishida Okada, you are responsible for orchestrating the deaths of my daughter and wife: Asuka and Hana Tamashī. For that, I will have your head.”
A saddened expression crossed Ishida’s face as he was reminded of his past, how it disappointed him that his past had caught up with him. Ishida could only lower his head before responding:
“Leo Tamashī…I am deeply sorry for what I have done to you, I wish there was a way I could visit the past and change things…but I can’t.” Overwhelming guilt and regret was beginning to influence all of Ishida’s mannerisms, even his voice.
“I’ll be changing the pigment of the soil with your wretched blood, Ishida. Draw your blade Samurai, or has the glory gone so far inside your head that you now lack the decency to accept challenges?”
With his manhood called into question, Ishida ordered all of his men to stand down and give the two warriors room. Ishida reached down and took hold of the scabbard of his blade, but didn’t draw it. Leo on the other hand slammed the end of his bamboo stick on the ground to create an opening for his Katana to fall from; the bamboo stick acting as a make-shift scabbard. With just a few movements, Leo mimicked Ishida’s stance. The two warriors bent at the knees, Leo offered a cold stare while Ishida shot one full of regret back at him. The intensity itself drowned out all possible noise from the crowd. It was almost as if Leo and Ishida were alone, locked in a pocket realm.
Before anyone knew it, the two shot off like lightning, leaving nothing but a blur. Nothing was heard beside the clanging of two blades. By the end of the exchange, Leo was on his hands and knees breathing heavily. Ishida was behind him in the spot where Leo had previously stood. Declaring victory, Ishida began to speak.
“Leo…I hope you can find peace, and can somehow come to forgive me in the afterlife, but it is there that your wife and daughter await you. Farewell.”
Ishida looked down at his chest and saw a deep cut that he had somehow overlooked. A second later, he fell down to a knee and his blade fell from his hand. He clutched his chest. The foot soldiers and civilians thought they had witnessed Ishida defeat Leo cleanly, but they were wrong and subsequently awestruck. Leo began to rise to his feet while holding his blade as he turned around to face an Ishida writhing in agony. Satisfaction of mild proportions filled Leo at the sight of Ishida’s struggle, he had done it…he had done it.
“Just like I thought, the fame, the glory, it has weakened you, warrior.” Ishida was on the receiving end of mind numbing internal pain. Leo had hit a vital spot whilst avoiding Ishida’s strike. With Ishida still writhing in agony and blood now starting to leak from his mouth, Leo continued to speak.
“I told you vengeance would be mine, Ishida, and I promise as long as the spirit of my daughter and wife lie in the afterlife, you will never Rest In Peace…”
There was nothing Ishida could do but cough up more blood, and in time, precisely fifteen seconds, he had passed. What of the repentance he had spoken of, the acts of goodwill he had promised the masses? They were gone in just a few short seconds. But before Leo could even attempt to gather his things to escape, long before Ishida’s men could even attempt to avenge him, a small, soft voice rang through the crowd,
All eyes were on a small child no older than ten. Upon seeing the corpse of her father laying across the ground, her heart sank into her toes before utterly melting. She frantically ran beside her father and knelt down to cradle his head. It didn’t take long for tears to flow and for wails to drown out the silence. Leo was stuck, paralyzed because of what he saw… It was eerily reminiscent of his beloved daughter, oh the memory weighed so heavily on his heart and instilled a sizable section of both humanity and mercy inside him that he wished he harbored just a few moments ago. Leo’s blade fell from his hand. He extended that very same hand in the direction of the sobbing child, his lips parted almost as if he was actually going to try to say something comforting. Leo knew it was too late, just like it was too late back then. Realizing that, his hand fell, only for him to lift both of them to waist level to see Ishida’s blood on his hands. Taking a moment to process it all, Leo found himself looking once more at the distraught child. The only thing that could escape his mouth now was,
“What have I done…”
My name is Bishop Conner, an unpublished 17-year-old writer from the Germantown Area of Philadelphia. Just your average kid with a dream to write, hopefully comics.