Walking in Circles
A cooperative writing exercise between Chickenhat, Ednoria, and Kugelblitz; presented in separate parts for our GameMaster’s journey during the 2012 MS Challenge Walk.
by Chickenhat (1st part) and Ednoria (2nd part)
Tonight I dreamed of fire. Of a copse of heather, dry from the summer heat, ablaze with oranges and reds with a warren of rabbits running in several directions all at once trying to escape. Some made it out, to where no one can say. Some were caught in the fire as they fought and kicked against something in the blaze. And there were screams in human voices, but not of fright.
I remember briefly thinking “Why has there been no rain?”, and hearing my own voice answer “Why have there been no tears?”
Amid the flames, I saw an old rabbit fighting with two scorpions, who aimed their stingers at him again and again. But though he was old, he was quick, and he avoided most of their blows. His fur was matted with blood, only some of which was his own. His death approached, yet he laughed, for he did not care.
I could see more of the scorpions surrounding the copse, like a poisonous red carpet. They stung the rabbits who tried to escape, and killed many. But some escaped, and raced away to the river to soothe their burns, or the deep forest to hide and lick their wounds. One of these caught my eye — a mottled brown and white female, smaller than most, who slipped from the scorpions’ net and hid in the hollow of a rotted tree. She looked straight at me, and I thought I heard her voice say “Do not let us be forgotten. Tell our story to those who will hear it.”
by Chickenhat (1st part) and Ednoria (2nd part)
Rain falls on the top of the hollowed out log in an even rhythm, constant like the sound of hoofbeats from an entire cavalry unit passing over an old bridge. The hare lies curled up exhausted and wet, shivering from the cold, but determined in spite of lack of food or sleep to last through the night.
Somewhere outside in the night the sound of a newborn wolf howls. It calls and there is no answer, the pup has no pack to teach it the ways of the wild.
The hare has no reason to trust the pup, any other night one would be food for the other, but something leads the newborn pup to the hallowed log. Somehow both agree to share their meager shelter as the hare thinks “If only those hoofbeats were horses I could ride away.”
Sleep does not come easily, but exhaustion wins in the end. The morning is overcast, and the smell of smoke lies heavy on the damp greenery. The rabbit emerges cautiously from the tree, nose twitching, scanning the forest for danger. She is ready to bolt, when a sudden whine from the tree stops her. The pup, shivering, crouches in the log’s debris, watching her, his tongue lolling. She hesitates a moment, then touches her nose to his. He will not last a day without food, but there is nothing here to offer him. She lopes slowly into the clearing, and the pup follows.
Nearby is a stream. The corpse of a man is tangled in the brush on the bank. He wears red armor, and several arrows protrude from his back. The rabbit nudges the pup towards the body. He tears at its leggings, exposing the purpling flesh underneath. Shuddering, she goes to the edge of the stream to drink, and when the pup finally joins her, his jaws make the water run red.
by Chickenhat (1st part) and Ednoria (2nd part)
The water runs red as the master printer cleans the brushes for the pressing block from the day’s work. He pauses and sits for a moment to watch a pair of squirrels leap from branch to branch as they chase each other. A brief smile appears underneath his graying beard before he turns again to the work before him.
He goes over the freshly completed woodblock again. The fox looks right, although it almost wound up looking like a wolf instead. The rabbit turned out well. He wonders if the frog could have turned out better, but it looks very much the way it should. The eagle, though, that was a tough one. Until this afternoon it looked more like a hawk or falcon than a proper eagle.
Tomorrow he will set the rest of the colors and show the apprentices the order for the small prints, for now he is tired and decides to rest his head on the workbench for a moment before going home.
He lays his head on the workbench, unmindful of the small puddle of black ink that had somehow escaped its dish. The ink seeps into his skin, sending out black tendrils in all directions. They curl and twist like smoke, like shadow, forming a complicated pattern that brings to mind thorns, and pain, and the man grimaces in his sleep as it spreads.
Suddenly he awakens, the horror of the nightmare still on him. It is dark, save for a single lit candle. He rubs his hand over his face, which is hot and dry. There is a brief spasm of pain, but it is gone just as quickly, leaving him more tired than before. With a great effort he stands and stretches, his joints cracking. He blows out the candle, and the darkness is complete.
by Chickenhat (1st part) and Ednoria (2nd part)
A wisp of smoke from the far away keep is reflected as a tiny speck in the deep black pool of the peregrine’s eye. Even nearer the tiniest flicker of movement in the darkness reveals where The Hand awaits her return. Another flicker in the darkness tempts her, but The Hand calls. The Hand is food, shelter, comfort. The Hand is Home.
Claws clutch at the thick deer skin of the egake as she lands and settles, the tassels of her ashigawa brushing against the wrist of The Hand. Soothing tones come from nearby and bits of flesh are offered, she’s not hungry but she consumes them anyway out of habit. There is a small pressure on one claw for a moment to hold her still and something releases the pressure on her other leg. In any other place she would scream a complaint in protest, but the Hand is trust, the Hand is safety. There are a few moments when a shuffling sound is made nearby as voices regard a small piece of washi. More soothing tones as the zukin is fitted over beak and eyes, rest can begin as The Hand moves her to a shoulder, the smell of his hair and the rhythm of his walk another source of comfort as her claws sink deeply into the padded surface. She can tell they are going somewhere with purpose, somewhere important.
His falcon hooded, the bushi heads down the stairs of the castle, taking them two at a time. He nods briefly to those he passes, having no time to perform the proper rituals of greeting. They are used to him and his ways, and nod amicably back. He is in the courtyard now, heading for the stables, when he suddenly skids to a stop. An elderly woman dressed in the travel robes of a Miya is talking with some of the castle guards. They seem overawed by her attentions to them, though her smile is serene and her speech gracious. Two of her bodyguards stand alertly near her, and when the bushi approaches, they watch him with suspicion.
She does not seem to notice him until his falcon, perhaps made anxious by his abrupt stop, makes a questioning noise. Then she turns her smile upon him, and he falls to his knees, forehead to the ground, automatically giving the bird just enough warning so that she may reposition herself. Her voice is like old silk, soft but worn thin. “No need for that, child. Please, get up.” He does so, and his falcon, now thoroughly irritated, makes as if to peck him on the ear through her hood. The Miya laughs. “Your pardon, swift one. I am sorry to have caused you so much trouble.” The falcon, as if mollified, grumbles and then is still once again.
The Miya looks at him appraisingly. “You are dressed for travel. I will not keep you from your duties. Perhaps we may meet again when you return.”
The bushi bows deeply. “Yes, Grandmother. I would be honored.” He turns for the stables once again, and behind him, his grandmother’s eyes shine with tears of pride.
Tears are a voiceless song to the wind. The wind makes the hole tremble. It blows and veers the hole, and the hole dances. The tiny web of silk threads catch the the moonlight, and little bells tinkle.
The hole is alive. The hole is beautiful. The hole is a trap. Arthritic hands move the hole ever so gently, until the tiniest of hooks find an almost invisible string. A gentle adjustment and now the song fades and the hole hangs, waiting.
Aikibahara sighs, even in death there is beauty.
“Why do you sigh, grandfather?” Whispers an almost invisible form, there, shadow planes of armor and a sliver of moon silvered bow. A glint of eyes behind a fierce mempo, a screaming tiger face, as Aki turns away from the trap. He kneels slowly, carefully favoring his right knee. Here, a small camp stool concealed behind a deadfall. He does not answer immediately, watching, the old overgrown trail, the slender bamboo hoop, there the gleam of a farmhouse in the distance and across the way the very, very old graveyard, almost forgotten. Almost.
All is quiet now. He sighs again to himself. Saburo is so restless and duty is like the night, vast and always.
“Saburo, even ghosts, however tortured they are, whatever their deeds here in Meido…” Aki stops, coughs slightly, his voice is rough, gravel sliding down driftwood, “Whatever they are, once they were people who had hopes and dreams.” Aki nods at the hoop, a shrug in the dark, but Saburo can see him fine. “The ghostcatcher will hold them until they can be sent onwards, it is not only for the living that we serve.”
Now there is the distant drum of feet, a running on the trail, fast and then faster.
The hoop sparkles.
It was going so well for the vengeful spirit. Twenty years trapped in the form of a harmless worm, or a fly, or a dung beetle. Twenty years before it could be called again by the maho-tsukai to come into the world and feed. The messenger fleeing before its screams and roars was attempting to catch his spooked horse while the bird stayed in flight alongside. The chase, the smell of desperation and fear, and then… then the pull towards the edge of the road as the prey flew by and then the feeling of falling instead of flying through the air and tumbling towards the ground.
Dang. They got away. He could read the desperate thoughts of the messenger in those last moments. So important that he deliver the news that the Empress had borne an heir. Now the Fortunes will protect their young brood, expecting great things and worse yet with renewed hope. Bah!
What did they stick me in THIS time? I feel small. I’m wet. My tongue feels thick and my feet feel… large and gangly. Wait, is that a bucket?
Oh no, not again.
She is hungry. She is always hungry these days. But she has become slow, and she has no one to hunt for her. The forest seems strange tonight, the wind carrying hints of things she does not understand, and she is cautious as she hunts for something to still the cramping in her belly. She sees a farmhouse and licks her lips at the memory of panicked birds, trapped in a small space; blood on white feathers; the crunch of delicate bone. Approaching carefully, she stops when she hears voices — an old man, and a young one, his voice high and excited, and the whinny of a horse. Too many. Disappointed, she turns to go, but stops when she hears a sudden splash. A bucket stands nearby, and she peers inside at a large frog, trying desperately to climb the bucket’s steep walls. It will do.
She puts her head into the bucket, but her only reward is a faceful of water as the frog frantically kicks to stay out of her way. She withdraws her head and shakes the water from her eyes. Another try, with much the same results. Snarling, she swipes at the bucket with her paw, knocking it to the ground. Water sloshes everywhere, making her step back to avoid wetting her feet. The frog, briefly stunned, gazes up at her with bulging eyes, and then explodes into the night, hopping away as fast as it can. She lunges for it, but within seconds it has found a hole she can scarcely fit the tip of her nose into. She paws at the ground, but suddenly her belly cramps again, and she lets out an involuntary whine. It is time. The frog and food are forgotten, and she is in motion, heading directly for her den.
The horse snorts and dances, and the old man and the messenger look up, startled, as a wolf passes by not ten feet away. Her swollen belly marks her as a pregnant female, and she moves with a purpose, not even glancing at them. The messenger reaches for his bow, but the old man puts out a hand to stop him. “There will be enough killing tonight,” he says. “There is no need for more.”
The drought has not been kind to the area, trees have not grown enough foliage and the ground cover is dry and crackled under his feet while he was moving along the ridge. On the other hand, it was easy to find wood and kindling for the signal fire and now it starts easily.
The Bayushi Scout has almost done his duty, and now readies his bow to let loose the kabura-ya arrows with the whistle bulb tips covered in pitch into the air to signal the beginning of the siege now that their agents are clear of the castle. One arrow means wait until morning, two arrows means they can begin at once. He dips the first arrow tip into the small fire, readies his stance, sets the arrow, and aims at the brightest star he can see between the gathering storm clouds before he looses the shaft which sends it’s light into the heavens with the ghostlike screech of an Ubume dying in childbirth.
The Scout watches as the first flaming arrow manages to find the edge of a small stream nearby, a good thing with all the dry brush around. He then readies the second arrow, watching the pitch flare into life and setting nock to string, he readies himself again and draws.
The briefest of sounds from the dry undergrowth is the only warning he has before he feels the keen edge of the katana slicing through silk and leather and the briefest of pains in his belly before he sees the Usagi mon of his foe. The arrow is loosed and goes up, but with only a short yelp instead of a scream, and flies wide of the stream and into a copse of dry heather which catches immediately and sets the hillside ablaze.
As he falls he almost feels sorry for those Usagi who manage to live through the battle, there will be many new made ronin tonight.
(The End… for now.)