"Red Moon" (Part I - Hardships)
Author's Comments: After heavy editing, my story begins again. Since both the prologue and the first chapter are pretty short, I gave y'all the gift of coupling them together! Enjoy(:
Prologue – “The Myth”
Times were rough in Japan. The Great Samurai War had ended less than a year ago, but the community was still striving to maintain political and economic balance. Treaties with allied lands, global trade for advanced weaponry, development on armory, and surplus for troops had taken a toll on the small island. Around the country, the heads of the samurai, or the Shogunate, worked together with the Emperor to seek a way for peace. Just as people assumed they had come up with an idea however, the Emperor was found dead by alleged assassination. This is when the Ninja’s infamy became known. Samurai became unstable and on their toes, but before a quarrel could arise from their skepticism, beings from the Otherworld manifested themselves onto their land. No one knew why they came, or what their true purpose was, but they knew it wasn’t for good.
In time, they were seen to be able to possess objects, plants, and even animals, and were thus concluded to be demons. They were especially known for manipulating the worldly attributes around them, much to the civilization’s chagrin. Unexplainable reports of fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, thunderstorms, and cyclones had dramatically increased. It seemed as though the Gods were out to smite them. And due to their specific nature, they were dubbed “The Elementals”, and because they couldn’t clearly be seen, the war they had introduced became known as the “Hidden War”.
These creatures spread through the nation and soon, empires fell and wars became more frequent. People fled to nearby islands and countries while they still could, hoping to save their families from the terror on their island home. Outposts were created in nearby areas surrounding Japan to maintain security and at this moment, Samurai and Ninja knew they had no choice but to cooperate to complete the task of eradication.
With Samurai’s code of conduct, very precise fighting style, and warrior-like reputation, coupled with Ninja’s intelligence, slyness, and vast-array of weaponry, a new government was formed. The new Shogunate then hastily decided to close off their land’s borders to protect the rest of the world from seeing destruction, or letting the beasts out of their “sight”.
This government, based purely on war and predicting the skepticism other countries might have, excused their isolation on behalf of embargoes they had created, fearing that telling the truth would only make matters worse. Furthermore, if any outside contact were to reach out, guards would simply explain to them that they are not accepting any lethal western weapons or religion, and would send security to lead them away from the civil conflict.
This is how it played out for almost a century. Priests would exorcise the so-called Elementals into shrines and temples, Ninja would gather intelligence on the matter, and Samurai would train, using their weapons to fight off what little they could see. However, nothing could stop humanity from changing Mother Nature. The catastrophes continued, and everything, it seemed, was for naught.
Eventually, people started to give up, and the efforts of the warriors became redundant. People became ill, and sooner or later, the people of Japan started dying for essentially no reason at all. Even the healthiest of adults would fall under an unseen spell, vomit unknown purple fluids, then be carried off on a stretcher on the way to their new home underground.
When all hope was lost, a young, poor Samurai-in-training saw light in his newly engaged fiancé, Himiko. With pure optimism, the Samurai, Kanetsugu, begun fighting the Elementals bare-handed. He called this new technique “Juujustsu”, and begun a union based around this revelation, that spread even to the outposts surrounding the land. They began to understand that fighting empty-handed was more effective than using weapons, and soon, every troop in the military was taught classes in Juujutsu.
Hope started to ignite from a spark into a soft-burning flame again, and the illnesses that spread were remedied with natural green tea and soup. However, whilst holding a conversation with Himiko about their soon-to-be-born baby, Kanetsugu was interrupted by a shadowy figure emerging from the darkness below. Disguising themselves as Kanetsugu’s shadow on the wall, this Being introduced themselves as the leader of the “Elementals” and spoke of the horrors that were to come. That this was only the beginning. That soon, Earth would become as barren as the planets around it. And when they ended their monologue, they let out a demonic, androgynous cackle and started to possess the said Samurai.
Kanetsugu choked, and the pregnant Himiko struggled to do anything in her power to help him. But there was nothing she could do. The only hope for Kanetsugu was to kill himself. And that’s what he did. To protect his fiancé, he choked himself to death to keep the Being from entering his soul.
Himiko let out a cry, trying to peel his hands off of his neck, but it was already over. His eyes had rolled back into his head, and purple blood had leaked from his nostril. Himiko sat on her legs in devastation, when she felt something crawl up her legs. The demonic presence was far from gone, and the leader, who had previously called themselves “Tatsuka”, had snuck themselves into the belly of the mother, adamant to infest the first human on Earth.
When the baby was born, it was thought to be dead, as its entire skin was purple. However, after a few days of keeping it on the only kind of life-support they had at the time, Himiko was convinced the baby would breathe life into his young lungs. And he did. Himiko laughed in joy as the color returned to his body, and she named her baby boy after the wretched demon, in hope that people would renew the name, not as a harbinger, but as a blessing.
With his dad gone, Tatsuka only knew about the war and the Union through his mother. He taught himself Juujutsu at the age of 3, and by the age of 5, started teaching the village he lived in the martial art. Soon, he became the leader of the Union at age 12, the same year his brother, Katakune was born. Himiko had started to get sick herself, and just so her only son wouldn’t be alone, she sought after another man, any man, to bare her second son. Tatsuka didn’t even know about the conception until her pregnancy was obvious. And when she finally had the baby, the illness took over her body, and she too, passed away. Tatsuka was then left to look after his younger brother, Katakune.
9 years after his birth and the date is August 7th, 1683. It is the year of the Water Boar in the peaceful Domain of Nagaoka. Not far away from the Domain lay a bundle of wood and hay two sons call a home. The wind blows valiantly from the East and the sea sparkles below an ephemeral mist. The Sun begins to rise, and the following is the story of the second son, Katakune.
Chapter 1 - "Abandoned"
Aw man, he beat me again! I hung my head in shame and clenched my poor little king piece, wondering just how he got me to checkmate so easily. It's ok though, right? I mean living with my brother is probably better than if had to live with my real parents, I think. He's just so good at teaching me so many things. I smile, staring into my hand, fiddling with the king-piece. He's so trustworthy, nice, and never keeps secrets from me.
A burst of encouragement ran through my veins and I quickly jolted up to challenge him once more, but when I saw into his eyes, I sensed something wrong. "Brother? Are we going to do another round?" He still didn’t answer me. "B-brother, what's wrong?" My clench to the piece got looser as I got worried. "Brother, answer--" He finally made a movement, no emotion on his face, and stared blankly at me. He sighed and finally talked, "Katakune.” He paused, enough time for me to reply, "Brother? What is wrong with you? You have never called me by my full name before. Am I in trouble?"
"No, ‘Kune-kun, you're not in trouble,” he said with a smirk, “ but there is something I must tell you." I got nervous; I could feel my heart beating faster. What was he going to say? What would my reaction be? "Uh, what--", I hesitate, "what is it brother?" He sighed and looked directly at me with his raven eyes. “There’s something I must show you.” Without a word, I stood up after him and followed him to his room. Above his bed was a long katana sword. Gently, he lifted it from its anchor and turned around to place it in my fragile, innocent hands. “Your katana… But why, brother?” I looked up at him. “His name is Kanetsugu, named after my father. And I’m going to teach you how to use him.” Surprised, I almost dropped the mighty sword. “Why now? You think I’m old enough? Am I even ready?” He placed his big, comforting hand on my shoulder and smiled, “Well that too. But there’s another reason that I’ll tell you once we’re done here.” Without a pause, I blurted out “What’s the reason?” He chuckled and directed me to the back of the house where our training yard was. “I’ll tell you once the Moon looks directly upon us from above.”
The moment he opened the sliding rice-paper door, a flood of light rushed to our faces and I immediately pursed my eyes and forced the inside of my elbow across my face to shut out the light. I heard Tatsuka call out for me and I followed his voice. “Katakune,” he said, “the first step to letting go is to bring in the light.” He slowly pulled my arm away from my face and when my vision adjusted, I could see my brother amidst several paper dummies filled with rice. Right next to him was training armor fitted to a tree-stump. Letting go? I thought. What did he mean by ‘letting go’? And what in the world could his other reason be for teaching me these arts so suddenly? Tatsuka took the blade from my hand and leaned it against one of the dummies before detaching the armor from the wood and placing it on my body. “Safety first, right?” That was like a motto for him. Whenever we played Shougi, he would always emphasize protecting the king. Whenever we went out to town, he would always bring his katana. Whenever we even meditated, he would make sure the candles were far enough from me just so he could always practice “safety first”.
“Right.” I replied, almost sarcastically. But I had to obey, because he was my brother and I must do everything he says. After the armor was on, he took me to the stepping stones on our pond and sat us down. “Now Katakune. Before we begin training, we must calm our mind and focus the pools of energy inside of us.” I looked at him like this was a joke and said “Why did I have to put on armor just to meditate?” “Quiet!” He shouted. “A Samurai must always maintain a peaceful heart, even in the most warring of times. If he doesn’t, then he will be the one to perish. Some may say that meditation is the most important aspect of samurai-hood, so they must always be protected in case of an ambush or a raid.” I nodded my head and closed my eyes. “First we must connect ourselves to the Earth.” We went through the steps for hours until we reached the last step: “Connecting to our spiritual selves”.
The Sun was beginning to set and I was confused as to why we hadn’t started training or sparring yet. When I asked, he simply replied “As I said before, once we can calm our minds, our bodies will follow through. Very little training is needed when you can see through your opponents. It’s all just a competition to see who’s clearer of mind.” How can I have a clear mind when I still don’t know you’re reason for doing this? I just nodded in agreement and followed him as we finally started practicing with the katana of his.
Once we were done sparring with our fists and feet, he pulled out a shorter blade, a wakizashi, from the sheath on his waist. He then placed both of his hands on the handle. “Wait!” I exclaimed, “Aren’t we going to start off with Kendo swords first?” Tatsuka let out a maniacal laughter and stopped suddenly, “I never actually learned Kendo. So we’re going to use real swords!” He lashed out to me and in pure instinct, I negated each of his thrusts with ‘Kanetsugu’ and barely dodged each of his attacks. “Very good, Katakune. But what about this?” He yelled, charging at me in a stabbing motion. Within a hair’s breadth, I dodged it and went for his shoulder with closed eyes, cutting a piece of his hair off while he dodged my counterattack. “Whoo. A close one,” Tatsuka shouted with adrenaline. Panting and turning around to catch his breath, I let down my guard and wiped my brow. At that exact moment, he threw the blade in my direction and as I crossed my arms in defense, It threw off the trajectory and the sword was sent spinning in mid-air only to land back in the pond, effectively spearing one of our Koi. “Haruko-chan!” I yelled in remorse. “Relax,” said Tatsuka, “It’s only a fish.” “But… It was my favorite fish.”
The night continued like that for hours, practicing with bow and arrows, spears, and short-swords until the moon rose above our heads. Before we knew it, it was pitch-black and the only thing lighting the scene were paper lanterns and the red-shine of the crimson Moon. “So?” I started, “How did I do?” As I turned to my brother, I saw him leaning over the pond, panting and almost coughing. “Hehe, Guess you’re out of shape, aren’t ya, old man?”
“Tatsuka! Are you okay?” I quickly stood up and ran towards him and saw the vomit diffuse throughout the water, the koi swimming in opposite directions. However, the vomit… was purple. This time, I put my hand on his shoulder and asked “What’s wrong? Tell me.” He fell to his side, holding himself up by his right hand. He looked over his shoulder and said “I’ve been hiding something from you, Katakune.”
In that moment, my heart stopped. Everything I knew about my brother collapsed. My ears couldn’t comprehend what they were hearing. I was speechless. What would this mean for me? What can I do to help this situation? It was all hopeless though. For Tatsuka… was infested.
“The Hidden War I’ve told you about in the past,” he said between coughs, “has been going on since your grandmother was a young girl, Katakune, right after the historical warring period. It was as if the pain and devastation would never end. Once the national officials understood what these creatures were that “possessed” objects and animals, they quickly shut down all entries to the island, forcing embargos on the country, and forbidding outside contact with other nations. This was all in the hope that foreigners wouldn’t find out about this Hidden War between humans and creatures. It was also for their safety, for Japan tried its best to tame the invisible creatures so they wouldn’t spread to other parts of the world.”
I knew almost everything he was saying, because he’s told me hundreds of times before. But I was too awestruck by his voice and his eyes to say anything. His beautiful raven eyes had turned into a horrid blood red, and his sclera were starting to gray. His voice, too, didn’t seem his own. There was an overlap whenever he coughed between his voice, and something else’s. Something… almost demonic.
“These supernatural forces, after some time, were known to be connected to the changing patterns of the climate. Pots near the sea would roll into the water, only to cause a Tsunami and destroy villages. Foxes would climb up trees in a forest and burst into flames on-sight. For these reasons, commoners began naming them ‘Elementals’. But I know they’re more than just gods. They’re not even demons, Katakune.”
A tremendous cough came from his throat before he could answer himself, “They’re called Purgators. They reside in Limbo and are the judges of whether or not someone can pass on to the Overworld, or the Underworld. I don’t know the reason they’re doing this now, but the only way I know the name of them…”
He paused, closing his eyes and drawing in a deep breath. My teeth were chattering in fear, and my arms had frozen solid against my sides, my shoulders rising to my jaw. My breaths were uneven and uncontrollable, and I almost passed out from the tension. I couldn’t stand it anymore. Then finally, he continued.
“The only reason I know the name of what these so-called Elementals are, is because I am one of them. In fact, I have been infested by their leader ever since birth. And that is why, Katakune, I must leave you. I can’t risk being around you for longer than I already have, in fear that I might kill you as well.”
“Kill me as well?” I questioned, not knowing I had even said anything. “There have been many I’ve unintentionally killed just by being around them. I stayed this long to raise you and train you, but any longer and I’m afraid I’d only do more harm than good. Because of my situation, I can only live a nomadic life. But while doing so, my mission is to stop this Hidden War. And Katakune, I swear to you, I will end this all, if it’s the last thing I do.”
My vision blurred and my heart almost exploded from beating so fast. I didn’t know what to say, so I cried out the first inquiries that came to mind. “Who will look after me? Why can’t I come with you? How are you going to end this war? How can you get un-infested with a Purgator? Where am I going to live? How am I going to eat? What am I going to do without you?”
And in outstanding recall, he replied, “Katakune. Please calm down. It will all make sense in the future. But right now, I must leave. You can’t come with me because any more contact with me, and I’m afraid I’d make you ill. I’m planning on ending this war with a little help, of course. There’s no way I know of that you can ‘un-infest’ yourself. You can keep on living here, or find shelter closer to town. I have left all of my assets and Ryo with you. And if that’s not enough, you can always trade or sell our late parent’s belongings for extra cash. And without me, you’ll become a strong young man, and I just know I’ll be proud of you once you find your path in life, whatever it may be.”
Everything was going too fast, I couldn’t understand anything anymore. I felt like I was going to throw up, and soon, I started crying. “I can’t live by myself, brother. It’s too dangerous for me out here in the forest. I’m scared. Please help me!”
And one last time, he picked me up in his arms, struggling, and grunted out a “You’ll be fine, bro. And as for who will look after you?” He reached into his robe and pulled out two golden cuffs with a red gem on one and a blue gem on the other. “These will look after you and protect you.” He fitted them onto my arms, just above the elbows, and kissed me on the forehead before setting me down again. I had calmed down, but my tears were still visible. “When the time comes,” another cough from him, “you will know when to use them. They’re very special and fragile, so please be careful with them. I went through great lengths to find them.”
I started to laugh, “This is all a joke, isn’t it? Just one big lie to see how I’d react, huh? Just another one of your tests, correct? All fun and games, right?”
No response, and hollow wind, and a plop on the floor. “You really are leaving me here alone, aren’t you?”
“I’m sorry, Katakune. I really do apologize for this.” My sniffles and tears kept coming, and to subdue me, Tatsuka wiped the salt-water from my face and quietly said, after another cough, “It’s far too late for me to turn back now, brother. I’m supposed to leave once the Moon reached its peak and shifted to a complete Red. Now, Katakune, is that time.”
“I guess I have no choice,” I whispered, finally acquiescing. Tears fell like raindrops on the fertile earth below me as I stared into oblivion. “All the fun times we shared. The bonds that grew. The love that formed. Does it all mean nothing now?”
“Oh no, Kune-kun. It means everything. Cherish it and please know that I’ll always be with you in here,” he patted my chest and stood up. “If this is the end,” I started, “Please know… That I love you.” He smiled, his back faced towards me, and simply said “I love you too.”And like that, his footsteps echoed into the darkness, and silence followed after.
*Red Moon Copyright 2014 Alexander Loesch*