Shinobu

Please note: When I first wrote this around the age of 17, I didn’t have much of a clue about Japanese history or special naming conventions. I still dont… There is only so much one can accomplish by page-by-page wikipedia research, and I feel like I will not have the necessary insight on this topic until I actually make a long-term effort to truly immerse myself in some specific parts of Japan’s amazing history. So, if you could be so kind, just read the story itself without paying too much attention to hints to eras and special names.

Yorimoto – Shinobu’s first

Prologue

In the city of Kuma once lived a powerful daimyo; Yorimoto. He had gained his wealth through the exploits of war, misusing his unquestionable power as a high ranking military leader, having been assigned to guard the city as it was a point of interest for many warring tribes at the time. He kept the city in a clenching grip, claiming it as his own. Many he convinced that they would not stand on their own two feet had it not been for him. Those who stood up against him were killed at the spot to set an example, often strung up on his wooden fortification around the city to further induce his point.

Long after his time as a guardian, once the city was considered in danger no longer, he maintained his tight grip of the city through his many followers, susceptible enough to think that he was the sole reason they were still living. If that wasn’t enough to keep the people at bay, the fear was, as fear always is. Yorimoto ran the city like a prisoner’s camp, letting a river of corruption flow through the place. A special police force was established, striking down hard on criminals. The people saluted him for his dedication towards keeping the city free of crime, never thinking twice to realize that he was only making sure there was no competition around, while at the same time keeping the only form of law enforcement in his own pocket.

It was when Yoritomo started recruiting young boys into his private army that the people started grow more weary than usual. Many of the young boys were just as Yorimoto’s first followers; instead of seeing him as the power hungry tyrant that he was, they saw a hard working man in the process of creating what could very well become the new center of power in Japan. They all went when they were called in. Those who didn’t go willingly were convinced by their parents to go, as they knew what would happen with their child if it refused.

For years the recruiting continued. Then the riots began. The more boys that were recruited, the louder the parents shouted in protest, demanding that Yorimoto would send the young boys home again. The reply was swift and merciless. Mass executions were held as central events in the city. Never had there been so much blood in the streets. But Yorimoto’s scare tactic had failed, as he had now forced the rioteers to unite, and before he knew it he had a civil war on his hands.

People of high rank started vanishing, reappearing later; hanging from the inside of the city walls. There were more mass executions, more assassinations. Yorimoto realized that if he didn’t alter his methods there would soon be no more people left to control. It was then that he was struck with the cruelest yet most brilliant plan of action. The young boys recruited throughout the years were almost grown up, early on corrupted by his poisonous words and promises, ready to blindly do his bidding, no questions asked, no conscious weighed. And so they did. He dismissed the few heads in command he had left, and reinstated the young boys instead, pitching them up against their very own parents by birth. The boys, having been forced into battle many times already, forced to steal, rape and kill, no longer recognized the disturbed faces of their parents. But the parents immediately recognized theirs, admitting defeat on the spot.

The city went back to being a volcano waiting to erupt into a blazing lightshow of self-destruction. A few rebels were still alive, most of which being the families that had managed to keep their son in hiding, or never had one. But they were not united any longer. Spread all over town they could do very little besides keep the fainting hope alive, while trying to keep themselves and those dear to them from being killed. And it is here, years after the beginning of our story, that the Dreamrunner makes its first appearance.

A Visitor Drops By

It is late at night, more quiet than usual as there has yet to be heard a scream from someone who has had their son discovered and taken away from them, or a mother witnessing her own flesh and blood removing the head from her husband’s shoulders, then directing his blood drenched katana towards her. All lights are out in the house of the two farmers living on the outskirts of the city, except the red sparks from the tiny fireplace, keeping the cool air from taking the breath away from the two sleeping rebels. The heat from the fire is suddenly gone along with its flickering sparks, and the two sleepers are wide awake in an instant. Their eyes are struggling, trying to soak up some light from somewhere, but the room is pitching black without as much as a moonbeam to light it up.

– “Don’t walk into the table Aoki; you’ll hurt your knee”.

The voice came from nowhere, and everywhere. It fills the entire room just as the darkness does, and the cold air carries the words with clear precision into the couple’s ears, who find themselves frozen, clueless as to what to do. The peculiarity of curiosity gets grip of Aoki’s tongue, and he whispers:

– “You know my name. How?”
– “Don’t you remember? We talked when you were dreaming earlier, just like we are talking now. You don’t think this is for real do you?”

No reply.

– “And you Bika, you don’t remember me either?”

Had the darkness not hid it, Bika’s face would have appeared twisted beyond recognition by fear and confusion. The curiosity gets the best of her as well, and it says:

– “What do you want from us? Are you of Yorimoto’s men?”

The darkness smiles, and lets out something short of a humming laughter.

– “Yorimoto’s man? No, no. I am no one’s man. But today I am your good doer.”

Aoki releases himself from curiosity’s grip and speaks from his own heart.

– “Hrm! A good doer? What good can you be to us, you who don’t even dare talk to my fa…”
– “Oh but I do.”

The darkness replies before Aoki’s words get to finish, and he can feel the warm breath of the man in front of him touching the tip of his nose, finding its way up to his raised eyebrows. Slowly he raises his arm, desperate to know that the man he’s talking to is of human nature, and not a son of the shadows beyond.

– “Don’t!”

The darkness replies harshly.

– “I am no demon.”

The dark figure says, as if having read Aoki’s mind.

– “I have no time for explanations, nor do you have any time for questions. Yorimoto would not go through all this trouble just to kill you. I can’t ease your heart with more than that provided the time we have at our disposal. You want me to kill Yorimoto and that I will do, tomorrow at nightfall. My price is fair; a life for a life.”

A Fair Price

The mood has changed. Aoki and Bika feel threatened all of a sudden, surprised to realize that they did not feel this when the first words emerged from the dark. So many questions to ask, so many fears to consider. A thousand thoughts swivel through Aoki’s head in a heartbeat, and he replies firmly.

– “If it is so, then take mine.”
– “Oh I wish it was so, but your life is of no value to me. I want the boy whom which we are standing on top of this very moment.”

The immense sensation of awe brings Aoki to his knees, gasping for air. For years they have managed to keep him secret; unexposed to Yorimoto’s manipulative ways; as pure of heart and innocent as few. To hear these words come out of the mouth of a complete stranger is just more than what his body can bear, and he falls, face down; surprised not to find the stranger’s feet anywhere. All this time, Bika has been standing fixed to the point when the voice first got her undivided attention, struggling since to find a rational thought to go with. In an instant she throws herself down on the floor, searches around with her fingers until she finds the chilling metal handle, heaves up the heavy scuttle in a swift thrust and yells:

– “Run!”

They all expect to hear little footsteps speeding out the door and off into the rice fields. But the steps they hear are light, approaching slowly in a calm fashion.

– “Don’t you understand? This man wants to kill you!”
– “But mum, when did he say that?”

Little Myamoto’s head appears for the first time before the three, and Bika enfolds her son in her arms, drenching his airy hair wet with her tears.

– “Young Myamoto here is right. I do not intend to end his life as a whole, merely his life as a farmer’s boy, your son. Time is very dear to me, and right now I have little left of it. Question my demands and the proposal is terminated. Answer now, quickly.”

By this time Aoki has blindly crawled his way over to his wife and son, lead by the continuous sobs and the tears falling on the iron handle of the hatchet.

– “I’ll do it”

Myamoto whispers in a monotone voice. The four shaking arms around him hold on a little tighter for a while, then they let go, finding their way wrapped around one another instead. As Myamoto walks towards the door into the darkness, it’s as if he is covered in a cloak of light, and the two grieving parents see their son clearly before them, waving goodbye. They wave back. Bika then turns to the stranger in black.

– “You.., you said this was all a dream. How can all of this still have happened?”

– “I make dreams come true. Sleep now, and tomorrow you should fill your son’s hideout with your food supplies for they will surely search this place.”

A Dream Comes True

The next morning the small chamber was empty. Not a word was spoken as the two farmers took out their son’s few belongings and filled the room with their food supplies. They let their tongues rest for the bigger part of that day. Then, when they were both outside working the rice fields, a small party of Yorimoto’s mob made their way through the fields, went right past the two dirty workers, and started searching their house. They came out again looking even more displeased than at their arrival, and they walked up to Aoki.

– “Have you in the past, or are you currently providing shelter for anyone besides you and your woman?”
– “No, no we have not”

Replied Aoki coolly.

– “Ehm, may I inquire what it is that brings you here to our humble household?”
– ” Yorimoto had a visitor last night. Little is known of what was said, but he has now ordered the entire force to go out on an intensive search that is not to end until the night-guest is caught.
– “Huh, I see. Well I’ll be sure to let you know if I see a stranger walking around on these fields.”
– “You do that.”

The group of hooligans roamed on. Aoki and Bika were puzzled at the least. Yorimoto was supposed to die tonight, and all the stranger had done was to talk to him? But it only took another day to ease their weariness, as a group of joyful rebels whom the couple knew came running to spread the news. In some distant hideout, Yorimoto had been found lying dead in his bed. Cause of death: Unknown, but his face was said to be stuck in horror, as if he died screaming.

The story of Kuma doesn’t end there, but the tracks of Shinobu lead elsewhere.