Act I: Who Will Be The Next Shogun?
Act I: Who Will Be The Next Shogun? - Read the full Act below
Sitting in his favorite chair and eating a Nashi Pear, Hwanghishou was so nervous that it was making him sweat. His eyes were in a dark red color and he was chewing so hard that all his servants could listen to it. To his ears was coming the sound of blades crashing into other blades and screams that arrived for a small window. If one didn’t listen to that sound, would be possible to admire the beautiful sunlight passing through the same window.
After swallowing a piece of fruit, Hwanghishou summoned his servant making a gesture with his left hand and order him to bring the monk warrior to his presence: “Find that monk and bring him to me. I need to know what is happening outside.” The servant started to run as if he wanted to finish that task as soon as possible, but the truth was he was running trying to escape the screams and danger, even knowing there was nowhere to run. He, his master and the other servants were trapped inside the tower. He was running trying to escape his own fear.
The servant didn’t go very far. As he opened the simple double wooden door, he saw the monk walking rapidly into the room. The servant opened the door widely and looked back to his master, that was eating another Nashi while waiting for the monk to get closer. In just a few seconds the monk has been close enough to hear from the Daimyo’s full mouth: “Tell me. How is the battle? We are winning, aren’t we?”
Isao, with a cold look to the owner of that land, answered: “Winning? Your men have no training. They also are weak and insecure. Most of them died trying to defend the gate and the others will die before I finish talking. We must flee through the underground passage that I said to you to build.”
“To run away?” - Said the Daimyo with anger in his eyes. “I cannot run. I must win this battle. I must defeat Himaokan. This is the only way for me to stay useful to the Daimyo North Alliance and be rewarded by the new Shogun. If I perform well, the next Shogun could even be me. And you are here to guarantee my victory. Do your job.”
“Your contract with the Brotherhood was for my protection. I’m here as your bodyguard. To guarantee that you’ll survive. The Daimyo North Alliance won’t defeat Himaokan. At this very moment he is attacking the entire Alliance, not just you. Himaokan is now a loyal servant of the Emperor and have the command of the imperial army, and it’s fire weapons. Your Alliance declared war with a Daimyo that have no political strength, but he has a formidable army at his disposal. There was never hope for you to win.”
Despair was now what could be seen from Hwanghishou’s eyes when he spoke again: “But… but I believed in our victory. I haven’t even gotten the trouble to build the underground passage that you asked for. I thought we would win and now I have no way to run.”
Isao his right hand inside his light gray kimono, reaching for cigarette and match inside a pocket. Then, started to calmly walk to the Daimyo’s direction. He coldly stared at Hwanghishou while walking. The landlord felt fear, maybe the monk, a member of the Brotherhood of the Seventh Circle, would kill him. The Brotherhood had a good reputation fulfilling their contracts, but their monks, or as he should say, their Ninja, were relentless. The Daimyo knew he had broken the contract when he demanded that Isao fought to win the battle against Himaokan that were still happening outside.
When Isao finally arrived at Hwanghisou’s side, the fear of the old aristocrat was too much to hold: “Please Ninja, don’t kill me. I’m sorry for what I’ve said. I know what my contract is with the Brotherhood. Please, spare my life.”
A dark, low voice came up from Isao’s mouth: “If you want to live do exactly as I tell you from now on.” Hwanghishou agreed rapidly with a nod. The Ninja has more to say: “I left several pieces of wood through the small lake around this tower. Jump through the window to inside the lake, grab one piece of wood to float and wait for me.”
Still afraid of the Ninja, Hwanghishou walked to the window and looked down to the lake. He saw the wooden pieces floating, if he jumped, he wasn’t to get hurt, the fall was short and he knew how to swim. Even so, he didn’t want to jump and get wet or risk to lose any of the jewels he was wearing. He thought of asking for another solution for the Ninja. He could even make another deal, another contract with him, Hwanghishou still had money.
The Daimyo turned in time to see Isao beheading one of his servants, it was a simple and fast hit with the katana. The Ninja locked the door and now was walking to another servant one that was already on his knees begging for his life. When the head of the second servant fell to the floor Hwanghishou jumped into the lake.
After killing the third and last of the Daimyo servants, Isao looked at the window to acknowledge the situation. Hwanghishou was hidden in the lake with the help of the battle’s smoke. The few samurai left that were loyal to him would be dead soon. Under Himaokan’s command were soldiers with swords and with the deadly western fire weapons. Those soldiers were about to enter the tower where he was.
While looking for a solution to fulfill his mission and save Hwanghishou’s life, Isao noticed another Ninja staring at him from a distance. Was a Brother under the service of Himaokan. Dressing the same light gray kimono as Isao, mounted on a horse and far from the fight. Probably his mission was to help Himaokan to take that land and he didn’t need to fight for that, just give advice and even orders to the soldiers.
Even from that distance, Isao noticed the hand signals that his Brother did. Saying which way, he would lead Himaokan’s soldiers to enter the tower. That information was enough for Isao to choose the best way to escape with Hwanghishou, completing his mission and keeping the Daimyo alive. The Brotherhood of the Seventh Circle always manipulated their missions to take advantage of the situation. Sending a Brother to each side of the conflict, the result was guaranteed. The contracts would be honored and the Brotherhood influence would grow stronger.
All members knew that the main goal of the Brotherhood was to fortify the Meiji Era and the power of the Emperor. So, a mission like Isao’s of helping a Daimyo that declared to be an enemy of the Emperor, was just for money. The Brotherhood goals have been always clear, but their tactics only revealed themselves in these moments, when a Brother was in need of help and another Brother shows up at the right moment with the right aid. Sometimes Isao asked himself if the Brotherhood of the Seventh Circle’s leaders had magical powers.
Certain about what to do, Isao jumped into the lake at the same time as his Brother conducted the horse and was calling all Himaokan’s soldiers to the other side of the building. When Isao emerged from the dive most soldiers were already gone and so he swimed to the encounter of the defeated Hwanghishou and pointed the direction they’ll take. Only when Isao did that he noticed two horses next to the lake, ready to gallop away and he thought: “Thank you Brother. Sacred is our mission searching for the endless peace.”
Wet, tired and with cold Hwanghishou was trying to warm up next to the fire, but Isao said the fire would stay burning only until they finish their food and even before eating they’ll continue their journey, deceiving any trackers. The Daimyo didn’t answer, he knew he had lost everything. He was broke and if the forces of the Emperor found him, he would be executed.
Hwanghishou didn’t know what would happen to him next, when the Ninja Isao would stop protecting him? He knew his contract was next to an end. The battle was behind him. The danger was getting distance with each step he took, Hwanghishou was afraid of his future, lots of uncertainties and fears was dominating his mind when Isao tossed sand into the fire, extinguishing the heat and the light and awakening the old and now poor Hwanghishou.
After several hours walking in the dark the two of them arrived at a temple, one belonging to the Brotherhood of the Seventh Circle. It was a simple building with no gates and surrounded by trees. There was a high grass with a lot of different leaves of all colors and a pathway made with natural little rocks. The pathway, divide itself to end up in two entrances to the temple. The temple itself was a big wooden house.
Two big rocks are used as stair steps to whom wants to enter the Brotherhood’s temple. On the left door a Ninja in a white kimono was waiting for the visitors.
After a good bath Hwanghishou was sited in a table with a huge feast only for him. Eating like that he felt as a Daimyo again, a rich landlord from the sacred islands of Japan. Taru, the master of that temple, said to him that his contract was still active and that the Brotherhood would protect him until he died from natural causes. When the contract was written, the Daimyo asked to be protected from his enemies, avoiding murderers or a death on the battlefield.
Impressed with the Brotherhood’s loyalty, Hwanghishou was planning to come back to the fight to rule Japan. In his mind, the Daimyo North Alliance was lost. But using the forces of the Brotherhood of the Seventh Circle he would be able to gain enough power to become the Shogun and send the Emperor back to his figurative role. He just needed to find a way to use his contract to make the Brotherhood help him in this task.
Focused on convincing the Brotherhood in helping him and on eating all he could, a thought came to the noble’s mind. He remembered of a treasure. One with magical properties that was delivered to the last Shogun by the Gods. That was a long time ago when he himself was a young samurai and helped the Shogun to hide that treasure. He saw it, but didn’t see the Shogun using it. The other samurai said the Shogun had fear of its power and for that was putting it somewhere no one could use it against him.
If Hwanghishou possessed such a powerful thing, he would be able to build a new army and fight the Emperor’s forces. The last Shogun ordered his people to never again uncovered that artifact but he and most of his loyal men were dead now. Hwanghishou knew where it was hidden it was in a land of a landlord from the Daimyo North Alliance. A landlord that was loyal to the Shogun but Isao said that Himaokan attacked all members of the Alliance so that Daimyo was probably dead by now. Hwanghishou was the last one alive to know where the treasure was.
Abruptly the nobleman stood up from the chair he was, making his act be noticed by the two Ninjas that were close by. Hwanghishou looked to them and demanded: “I want to talk to Taru. Bring him to me.” The Ninjas shared a silent look, and one of them left to find the temple’s master. Hwanghishou seated again, this time with a smile on his face. Triumphantly he thought he had found a way to win that war.
The Master Ninja wearing his white kimono arrived to talk to Hwanghishou: “I hope everything is in order Hwanghishou. This is the best food we have here at this humble temple.”
“Taru. At this very moment I don’t care about the food. I want to make a new deal with your Brotherhood.” - Taru smiled and asked: “How could the Brotherhood be of service?” - “There is something I need to seize from the land of Rimaki Nicaiwa and when I have it in my power, I'll hire all your Ninja to help me defeat the Emperor.” - “This is a complex task. Do you really believe you’ll win? The price to hire all of our Ninja won’t be cheap.” - “I am certain of my victory. I’ll be the next Shogun and with my power, I’ll give you all the land you want to build your temples and train your monks.”
The journey to the extreme north was quieter than Hwanghishou expected. The Brotherhood of the Seventh Circle appointed the Ninja Isao to continue under his services and promised to put all Brotherhood’s Ninjas under his command if he found what he was looking for in the devastated region that once was the home of Rimaki Nicaiwa. Both Daimyos were loyal to the last Shogun for their entire lives, but now both of them were broken and one of them was dead.
“I don’t believe you’ll find what you are looking for around here” - Said Isao - “The Emperor’s soldiers must have looted all that had value from here.” - Hwanghishou was now familiar with the coldness of his companion and answered: “They don’t know where it is. And for whom doesn’t know what it is they’ll consider it with no value. Rimaki didn’t hide it close to his house. He and the Shogun were afraid of its power.”
The two of them walked through the landscape passing by some dead samurai bodies all of them with fire weapon wounds. The Emperor bought a lot of western weapons to arm his soldiers and they’ve been using it on all battles. Ashes is all that remains from the house where Rimaki Nicaiwa and his family lived. Through all that was Isao, following Hwanghisou with no worries. The Ninja didn’t believe anyone alive was close.
Far from the house and all the devastation around it the companions arrived to the riverside, this river once irrigated all agriculture of that land. They continued to walk, now in the direction opposite the water stream, going up to the river source. Isao noticed that Hwanghishou knew exactly where to go while he was making an effort to memorize the landscape and learn about the terrain they were in. That is an important task for the Brotherhood’s Ninjas. When he gets back to the temple Isao would make a map and deliver it to Taru.
The river source was wild. The water was fast falling down two waterfalls that were about three feet tall. The sound of the water crashing into stones was noisy and there were no more clear pathways to walk on. Hwanghishou kept the pace walking on several stones partially submerged in water, something that only those who knew the place could do.
The Daimyo took Isao to a hidden passage behind the second waterfall where a cave stood. An old door was put there trying to close the entrance. “I don’t have the key. Are you able to put this door down?” - Asked the nobleman to the Ninja. Isao put himself in front of the door and after a good look he pushed it smoothly what made it fall and break into pieces. No one took care of that door for many years and was a little miracle that it was still standing.
Hwanghishou entered first. He seemed euphoric like a child who is about to open a new present. The nobleman took a torch that was hanging on the wall and lit it up illuminating a pathway. The two of them headed deep in the cave fast since Hwanghishou was really euphoric. Isao had no trouble in keeping that pace, but suddenly the nobleman stopped.
“It’s here” - Said Hwanghishou - “It was here that I and other samurai that served the Shogun left the iron man” - Isao took a look around but didn’t see a thing besides the rock walls of the place. Hwanghishou lit up more torches on three walls until all the place were illuminated and so Isao could see the “iron man.” A creature in a human form but its body was all made of iron. It was a kind of iron that Isao never saw before.
The iron of that creature was sturdy and shiny allowing Isao to see his own face reflected on it. The creature’s eyes were black without life. It hasn’t a nose and the mouth despite having a normal human shape had the lips merged and shut. What kind of creature was that? It never spoke when it was alive? Only the upper body of the “iron man” was there. Isao didn’t see the legs and its guts were black and apparently not human at all.
“Finally” - Hwanghishou’s voice echoed in the cave - “Here it is. The magical artifact. Now Japan will meet its new Shogun” - Surprised, Isao turned to see that the nobleman was holding a simple Shinobue flute in his hands and asked: “That flute is the treasure that you were looking for? I thought this iron creature was the magical artifact” - “No. The iron man came with the flute when the Shogun received it from the gods, but I don’t know what it is. But this flute has power I can feel it just for holding it.”
“Well. I wouldn’t be able to carry that iron creature and protect you at the same time through our journey back to the temple. But a small flute is easy to carry. How does it work? Are you going to play a song?” - Hwanghishou hesitated for a moment. He knew the flute was magical, but he never saw the Shogun using it. He didn’t know how it worked or what it was capable of doing.
Taking the flute to his lips, the old nobleman blew it and Isao noticed soon enough that he didn’t know what he was doing and that the nobleman had no aptitude for music. Hwanghishou saw the disapproval in the Ninja’s eyes. The Ninja was now comfortably seated at the iron man’s side on the ground. Without being able to play a single chord and now with anger Hwanghishou tried to throw the flute at the Ninja’s head. Shortly after doing that the nobleman regretted the act. Maybe the flute would break. Maybe the Ninja would get angry.
Isao grabbed the flute without difficulty and didn’t seem disturbed by the throwing attempt from Hwanghishou. Graciously taking the instrument to his lips, the Ninja played four simple chords: C D E F. After those sounds Isao felt a small tremble from the flute. It was a really small tremble. He thought it was his imagination after Hwanghishou’s speech about a magical artifact, but the old nobleman encouraged him: “Yes, that’s right! You’re making it work. Keep playing.”
Now with closed eyes and focused on the task, prepared for the tremble of the flute, Isao started playing a joyful melody. That song was like the singing of happy birds on the top of trees, a vision the Ninja had when he was a child. As the song continued, Isao and Hwanghishou started to feel warm. Was like energy was emanating from the flute with each chord.
The music continued as Isao kept the flute under control while it trembled, without mistaking any chords. The heat didn’t increase much and at some point was stable, enabling the Ninja to finish the beautiful song. When the music stopped a bright light emerged from the wall behind the iron creature. The wall vanished and the creature fell into the hole that was opened.
Astonished the Ninja jumped to Hwanghishou’s side. Both of them looked at the hole and saw what appeared to be a passage elsewhere, some place neither of them recognized. They could see the upper body of the iron man laying on the ground on the other side. It was night there, but astonishing lights were illuminating all around the iron head. But it wasn’t the light of some fire, it was another kind of light.
“What do you think is over there?” - Hwanghishou asked in a whisper - “Let’s check it out” - “Going there? Is it safe?” - “It looks safe. The iron creature wasn’t damaged when it fell through that passage and we can see the ground. I’m curious to see what’s there. If you’re not, wait for me here.”
Isao walked through the passage easily, and what he saw made him feel amazed. There were lights from all colors that was going up to the sky. They appeared to be in some kind of buildings, a kind of construction he never saw before. There were noise, a lot of noise from everywhere, noises that he couldn’t identify either.
Looking back, Isao saw that Hwanghishou was in the middle of the passage, half of his body on this side and the other half the other side. With a scared look on his face, the nobleman pointed a direction that Isao turned to see, several men were running toward him. They were wearing a kind of uniform and masks, carrying weapons very similar to the ones the Imperial Army was using, western fire weapons. The Ninja grabbed the hilt of his katana and shortly after he heard the sound of a shot and felt the bullet piercing his left leg.
The pain was huge. Isao was forced to kneel with the injured leg and place the hand holding the flute on the ground to keep balance. The flute trembled again when it hit that rock solid ground, making a small, distorted sound, enough to annoy all those who were close and all of them took their hands into their heads. Isao dropped the flute at that moment, in doing so, the passage behind him closed.
Half of Hwanghishou’s body fell to the ground. Spreading a huge amount of blood…
...The soldiers hesitated when they saw the nobleman dead. For the Ninja that hesitation meant the soldiers were getting their guard down... And that was an opportunity to fight back…
What would you do?
- Route 1: I’ll kill all the soldiers.
- Route 2: I’ll incapacitate the soldiers until a clear path to escape appears;
More Free Stories: