Red Jade: No Warrior’s Path

Still wanting to fight, Sora begged Chimatsu to continue.

Seeing her determination, and going against his better judgment for the sake of her father, he agreed.

The winter months flew by in a haze of pain, adrenalin, and feelings of inadequacy.

His litany of her wrongs seemed endless:

You’re fighting in anger.

You hesitate.

Your defense is lacking.

You’ve been captured.

You’ve been killed.

One day he did not come out to train her.

She practiced her forms alone, considering it a test of some kind, looking at the door to his swaybacked house, but it didn’t open.

The next day she practiced her weaponry, knowing he was watching, but nothing happened to make him open the door.

The next day she practiced longer, but he still stayed inside.

Enough of this!

She went to confront him as the day was ending.

She raised her fists to pound the door, only to find it was already open a crack.

A little thrill of fear made her peer inside, thinking she might find him dead.

He was sitting in front of a large, warm fire, drinking tea and eating a bowl of rice and some savory fish.

Her mouth watered and her stomach growled.

He knew she was there, but didn’t acknowledge her; he offered no food nor a seat by the fire.

“What’s going on, sensei?”

He set his bowl and cup down on a tray, then leaned back and steepled his fingers under his chin as he gazed into the fire but spoke to her.

“It’s simple enough; I can no longer teach you.”

“But I’ve been practicing!”

He shook his head. “To no foreseeable end. You lack skill, Sora, not heart. But in an actual battle, you’d be among the first to fall.

He sighed. “I’ve already written to your father. I will take no more of his money, and waste no more of my time, or yours.”

“So you’re saying…”

“What I’ve said before: the life of a warrior is not for you.”

“So what am I to do?”

“Rest, heal, spend the night, and in the morning, return to your father’s house.”

“I meant about my fighting.” She moved in front of him, blocking the fire’s warmth.

His eyes seemed to look through her as if she wasn’t there at all; her world was shrinking, and he wouldn’t even look at her.

“What am I to do about my fighting?” she asked again, her voice hitching.

He surmised that she needed to hear him say it, and as much as he didn’t want to, her refusal to leave forced it out of him.

He looked at her then, his eyes sad and somber, the firelight dancing in their depths; to her he looked like an ancient god in transition.

“Fight no longer. Marry, and raise children, a son perhaps; one who can take the road you seek.

“Your skills are adequate, but they need to be superior, and for that, you have not the skill.”

Her fists clenched, she began to pace. “You’re wrong! You’re wrong about this! About me!”

Again he shook his head, the fiery eyes tracking her.

“No, I am not wrong. Here is what I am: too old, and too slow to help you improve.

“The truth is, Sora, I’ve enjoyed your company, but as a student of the killing arts, you will be the only student I have failed.”

That made her stop, her face betraying shock, and she spluttered and swallowed whatever she’d been about to say in protest.

He rose, shifting his weight like a log in the fire, poured her a cup of tea and shambled over to give it to her while he gave her advice.

“Abandon this road, and live a longer, happier life as a civilian. The warrior’s path is not for everyone to walk.”

She took the proffered cup because she needed something to focus on to keep from screaming, and because she didn’t know what else to do.

All this time, he’d not said a kind word, or did a kind deed, but now that he was done with her he was almost gentle, and even a little sad.

It made no sense.

He returned to his chair, and indicated with a small sweeping gesture toward the pot that she could help herself to some food.

She looked at him, but his eyes were closed now and she couldn’t tell if he was sleeping.

Emotions fought within her, but there was too much and nothing more to say.

The bowl steamed in the cooling evening air as she sat on the steps, watching the shadows lengthen on the ground.

Swarms of gnats and small butterflies played around high stalks of flowers in the persimmon rays, and the birds began their evensongs.

She concentrated on the beauty of the scene in front of her, and felt the rhythm of her heart slowing.

Eating without tasting, she finally finished everything and left the bowl and cup on the steps.

On her way back to the cottage she began to turn Chimatsu’s words over in her mind.

Inside, looking around at the sparse furnishings there came a realization that as harsh and uncomfortable as it had been, she’d endured it, and that was something.

If nothing else he’d released a side of her she didn’t know she possessed.

He said the warrior’s path wasn’t for her, but maybe it just wasn’t a straight one. The truth was, she loved the feel of the weapons, loved the hum and swish as she sliced the air to chunks and the straw men to ribbons.

It thrilled her.

And yet, for all her joy, Chimatsu had basically shown her that even at the end of his fighting days, over before Sora was born, he could still beat her; he would brook no excuses as to his reputation.

“Your opponent doesn’t care who you are.” Splat!

Still, his name struck fear into hearts of enemies and allies alike; he’d went through both with equal alacrity and aplomb. In his time it was considered an honor to fight beside him, and a death sentence to fight against him.

He told her she would never be worthy of being considered either, and in the cold, empty embrace of this strange place in a strange land, alone where no one could see, she allowed herself to cry.

Red Jade (1): The Final Fight

Sensei Chimatsu was tough, not prone to mercy or quarter; he pressed every advantage and seemed to find every opening with a quickness and severity that belied his age. He moved with the flexibility of a wet reed in a hurricane.

Sora’s clothes were sodden and splattered with mud because he kept knocking her back down into it as fast as the rain rinsed it off.

“You are distracted today, Sora. To be distracted in combat is to die.

“Tell me,” he said, taking her legs out again, making her fall, “is it your family?” Splat!

“Your friends?” Splat!

“The boy you love?” Splat!

“Thoughts of home?” Splat!

Unable to rise from Chimatsu’s onslaught, Sora lay there heaving, wondering if this crazy old man was *trying to paralyze her.

Chimatsu bent and lifted her chin on the tip of his gnarled, hard fingers.

“Return to your father’s house, Sora.”

He helped her up, the rain washing the mud from her clothes and face, cutting the bitter saltiness of her tears, and making her cold and miserable on the outside as well.

Appraising her for what seemed like forever, his expression remained neutral as stone.

She shivered, sniffled, and hugged herself, not meeting his eyes though she felt more angry than ashamed. She imagined this was how bare trees felt when their leaves were gone and they stood denuded in clusters, as prone to nature’s fury as she was to this man’s whim.

But she was alone, and rootless on the muddy ground.

He seemed to sense this, grunting as he turned his back and walked away, not caring if she followed or went back to the guest cottage where she stayed.

She stood there in the rain, hearing the iron finality of his words echo in her mind:

Return to your father’s house, Sora.

Her father would not take it lightly and would not be pleased with either of them; she would not let him shame her before her father.

When the door to Chimatsu’s dilapidated house closed, she took a deep breath and went through the forms until it got dark, the rain felt like an icy second skin, and her clothes felt heavy as armor.

Armor is for warriors, Sora. Earn your armor.

Breathing hard and pushing herself to go faster, she kept it up until she was shivering too violently to do them anymore and could no longer concentrate.

The mud pulled and gripped over her ankles as she made her way off the practice field, forcing her to march a little, her spirit as soaked and heavy as her clothes and hair.

Before she opened the shoji screen, she used the water pump and filled the two buckets Chimatsu left there, the muscles in her arms screaming as she carried them inside.

Grateful to be out of the rain, in the scant relative warmth of the guest cottage she took off her slimy shoes and left them outside, then made silty barefoot tracks across the floor. She hung the iron pot on its pole, wincing from the pain of the effort. After she poured the buckets into it she hurried to make a fire.
As it warmed the modest room she waited by the screen door looking at the rain batter the ground as it erased all trace of her presence, and her defeat.

You are distracted, Sora…

When everything was warm enough, she poured the heated water into a small tub that barely fit her, then stripped and bathed. Her hair, coming untied in the drubbing, needed a bath of its own.

She massaged her arm muscles and aching knees, and raked between her toes. Checking her body for red marks and bruises she knew she’d have to stretch to keep the muscles from stiffening. She’d still feel the pain in varying intensity.

Still for all his ferocity Chimatsu didn’t break or fracture anything; he’d been at this long enough to know how to do that.

She spent extra time on her hair until the water grew tepid and gelid.

Getting out, she dried off and examined her body.

On the whole, she’d definitely gotten stronger, if not better; her body was lean and taut, and muscles she didn’t know she had were defined and firm all over. She looked great, and felt like a hundred horses trampled her.

Wrapped in the damp towel, she sat on the edge of the futon with her legs folded under her as sore and tired muscles began to protest being kept upright. She concentrated on the fire, her breathing deepening, slowing, as she relaxed and sidled into bed. She gave her limbs and extremities a final cat-like stretch, spreading her fingers and toes and flexing them again.

She turned her face toward the warmth of the fire, and watched the flames gradually decrease.

Father will not be pleased, but Mother will. Marriage awaits, and a quiet life. I hope to be able to live that way, but I’m not sure I can. I must find out why the need to fight consumes me, and the only way to do that is to wield the weapons themselves.

Gods, help me find my path and heed my calling. Chimatsu says I’m not fit to be a warrior; I say I am not fit to be a wife. Help me to choose wisely.

Movement along the wall caught her eye as she turned on her back, and she smiled, spending an extra moment to look as the shadows of her ‘pet’ mice crept furtively toward the warmth. She regretted not leaving them any food. They were harmless enough, and one was bigger than the other. One day she was going to name them, right now she was too tired. Besides, she didn’t have anything to eat either.

The warmth of the crackling fire, the soft blankets, and the patter of rain on the roof and against the screen worked their magic, soon sending her into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Armor is for warriors, Sora….

I of the Storm

Within, you see,

is where the tumult resides.

It does not break its bond

to the outside world,

cracking the enamel of

my tremulous smile.

Trust is hard.

Love is harder.

Faith makes it possible,

but still I must

choose to believe.

And that,

oh that,

my dear, trembling

heart,

I will never do again.

Not Out There

It’s not out there!

Don’t go outside,

there’s nothing there to see.

 

Inside your virtual world here

you can think and do and be.

 

It won’t take any work at all for

fortune, love, and fame.

Just hit the buttons really fast

and play your bestest game.

 

Achievement’s just a click away.

Reality’s a bore.

We love you here in 3D land,

now go increase your score!

 

You don’t have to be perfect,

strong and beautiful, or kind.

And you don’t even have to think,

let us immerse your mind.

 

In virtual realities your Screen Name

fills with dread.

Out there you’re weak and helpless now,

and you could end up dead.

 

In here your image flickers

and you get to live again.

Out there is love and friendship,

“Let’s go here!” “Remember when…?”

 

But when they finally bury you

and no one comes to care,

it’s far too late to find out

virtual worlds are not out there.

 

At the End

At the end,

we stood in the rubble

of what was once a

shining kingdom on a hill.

 

The snow fell

and chilled our hot tears

as we sifted through the

burned and broken stones

of our castle.

 

Winter crows gathered,

and one broke the bitter silence

to call more.

 

I threw the stone that

took its life,

but the echo was loud enough.

One by one they grew bolder,

and began to feast on the remains.

 

We lost the fight, the battle,

and the war.

And at the end,

we looked at each other

with sad indifference,

and went our separate ways.

 

Bye Morning.

A day full of clutter

and clamor and rush.

Alarms and commuting,

Face wash and toothbrush.

 

There’s no time to waste,

And my head’s full of worry.

Can’t find anything! Running late!

Gotta scurry!

 

But how did that happen?

I set the alarm.

Gonna quit and cash out.

Go away. Buy a farm.

 

And now on the road,

all these jerks in my way…

It’s a horrible start

to a terrible day!

 

Slow down, says a voice

somewhere deep in my head,

for one day, it’s ‘Bye, morning.’

It’s over. You’re dead.

 

Take time, watch the sunrise

in fiery gold hue,

with a cadre of clouds

in a sky bright and blue.

 

And quiet your heart and your mind

for the day,

A peaceful, ‘Bye, morning.’

is what you should say.

 

And though there are some days

I still wake up mad,

I still say, ‘Bye, morning.’

And it’s not so bad.

When Evening Falls

When evening falls

I come to this place.

I like the way the colors of night

gather to say goodbye

to the colors of day.

 

The birds claim their beds

with songs of belonging,

and the rustling brush whispers

as the chipmunks find their dens.

 

The evening stars

peer through the forest canopy,

bright and clear.

 

A bright moon pokes its shiny face

over a distant mountain like a child

burrowing from under the covers

to favor me with a smile.

 

And somewhere nearby

is the sound of running water

I’ve never tried to find.

 

I name it

Evening Falls,

and take the pleasant path

toward home.