10 Monkey 1169
I don’t know if I can write this.
I don’t know if I can avoid writing this.
Shinjo-san is gone. No, he is dead. We owe only truth to the dead and Shinjo-san did not wander off or join a monastery. He died tonight.
But that is how this ends, not how it begins.
We started today with a change of pace. I sent everyone shopping for whatever they may need for the Obon festival. I went back to the Mantis district to a shrine to Osano-Wo. Battle monks have never been terribly good negotiators so I got a good price on incense and some good-luck prayer strips. We got back together at lunch and I performed my first real mundane duty: a watch schedule for our fires. None of us were going home for the festival and I was not going to trust the maintenance of our fires to first patrol. Suzume-san volunteered to watch the fires on the night of the dance and party and I detailed everyone else, including me, to cover the three days of the festival. I wish I could say that we went to Iyashite Kudasai or Hayai Kame or even that Shinjo-san and I talked about something meaningful, but we didn’t; it was just another day.
Our patrol was about halfway done when we heard it. Angry shouts coming from two streets away. I took off at a run, expecting my patrol to follow me and they did. The sight awaiting us gave us pause: there were 12 bandits surrounding a palanquin. I hesitated for a moment – 12-on-5 is not my kind of odds. Shinjo-san, Suzume-san, and Daidoji-san drew bows and I used the only ranged weapon I had available: my voice.
“Oi! We are the Kanshigumi. Throw down your weapons and surrender or we will kick the ever-living shit out of you.” Alright, it wasn’t a great warcry or inspiring speech, but it did its job – the peasants in the group, now relatively familiar with our capabilities, turned tail and ran. The ronin who were part of the group turned to fight. I followed the arrows of my comrades in with a bellow.
Kago-sensei, my teacher at Dojo Raiden had explained the “rolling wave” attack time and again but I had never really gotten the hang of it until tonight. Raising my kama high, I hacked through one of the ronin and brought them back upward through another. Both of them staggered under the assault and I barely perceived Shinjo-san sprinting past my combat to engage one of the others. One of the ronin replied to my attack with a slash at my chest that tore through the ties in my armor and cut painfully but did not slow me down. As I heard a melee break out on the other side of the palanquin I crouched slightly and criss-crossed my kama across the bandit’s guts, spilling them and sending him the ground. I used the momentum to ram my blades into the sides of the ronin on my other side and he slid off of them to the ground. As a result, I had an excellent view when the ronin fighting Shinjo-san came over the Unicorn’s defense and opened his throat with a hard swipe of a blade. Blood sprayed like a wave crashing against a rock outcropping. It covered the street and doused both Shinjo-san’s killer and me.
After that, I don’t remember a great deal. I opened the man who killed my patrolmate from throat to crotch and sent another sprawling with a shoulderblock. I barked at Taifuu to run back to the house and ask for Sakae to come. Alright, I probably did not phrase it as a request, but I was barely thinking at all. I had convinced the one ronin I’d floored to surrender when he burst into flame. I looked up and saw the fire had flown from a nearby alleyway. I did not even think; I ran. It was an idiotic move because we all took off after the man, leaving whoever was in the palanquin with only badly wounded yojimbo for defense. Howling like a demon, I ran down the shugenja. I clipped him with a forearm and sent him sprawling to the ground while he was still trying to get a katana out of its saya. Even as furious as I was, I wasn’t going to kill them all – I wanted to know what was going on here. However, I wasn’t about to let anyone I thought guilty off with a bruised shoulder. I raised my kama and brought them down with all my might at his sword. It clattered to the ground, the lower part of his arm still gripping it.
I dragged him back to the others where I saw how stupidly lucky I had been. The yojimbo were in a bad way and the passenger in the palanquin had stepped out when everything had turned quiet. It was Ide Reigiko. Now I felt like a blithering idiot even as my heart and head filled up with conflicting emotions: we had been foolish in leaving the palanquin largely unprotected but lucky in that there were no more bandits and that the peasant thugs did not return; now we’d saved the life of a prominent Unicorn diplomat but gotten a Unicorn warrior killed at the same time. No, I’d gotten a Unicorn warrior killed – he was my patrolman and something akin to a friend. If I had stood back and let the arrows work some more, if I had not done what I always do and stupidly blunder in, if… baka! I cannot explain nor excuse what I’ve done. Moushiwake arimasen, Shinjo-san.
Taifuu returned to the scene with Sakae on his back, a scene that would have been comical at any other time. Ide-sama made comments of gratitude as the Kitsuki finally began arriving on the scene. I stood in a daze, letting other people handle the aftermath around me. I found my focus for a minute and tried to interrogate the shugenja, squeezing his new stump any time I got an answer I didn’t like. He told me nothing, but the tiger tattoo on his remaining arm is one of the few clear images I still carry with me, though it’s married to the sight of Shinjo-san’s bloody corpse lying in the street.
The eta finally arrived and we gathered Shinjo-san’s kabuto and daisho and took them back to Atsumori-sama’s house. I had to wake up our squad leader and tell him that a member of second patrol had died. My second full day as patrol leader and a man – a competent, quiet, and brave man – died at the hands of ronin scum. I passed the kitchen on my way back out of the house and reached for a bottle of sake someone had left on a table. The dried blood covered my hands and cracked as I wrapped my fingers around it. My throat burned but I thought about Ueda, who has charged fearlessly to his death. For the second time in recent days, I put the bottle down and walked away.
We all went to a temple and woke the monks there for purification. They were terribly obliging, even for dealing with blood-covered samurai. My prayers became a chant, washing away thought for a little while as I tried to force my grief down. For the first time in forever, Taifuu was silent. He had become fast friends with Shinjo-san and I suspected he was taking it harder than the rest of us. That thought brought me back together a bit – my patrol was, no doubt, looking at me and I was not going to let them down. Not now.
Though I already had, hadn’t I, Shinjo-san?
I must leave this grief on the page. Tomorrow will come and only we will care that Shinjo-san has left us. The rest of the world in all its corrupt glory will keep turning and we will need to be there. If this moment doesn’t tear us apart, we might yet prove worthy of fighting for that world.