A Night for Cherry Blossoms

Featured Item: +HILU+KAIKI (Moon Festival)

The full moon was on the rise. The night sky was full of stars. It was autumn. It was getting cooler, and a fog started to seep across the valley.

Luna was cresting the hills, and that was the backdrop, as Ral stepped over the ridge, pausing a moment, his form a stark contrast to the enormous disk behind him.

Mylas was on his porch, looking up at the sight of the young dark clad man on the ridge, watching as the warrior strode from the hilltop, down towards the small ranch house in this little valley. Mylas was rocking in his chair on his home’s front porch, smoking a long stemmed pipe, the gentle glow of red from the burning tobacco illuminating his face as he puffed on it.

Mylas was an old man with long white hair, down past his shoulders, tied in a topknot with a red ribbon at the crown. He was dressed in a gray sleeveless denim work shirt, faded black jeans and leather sandals, and his nails painted blue on hands and feet. He had a small bronze disk on a leather cord that hung around his neck. His skin was virtually unblemished, but his face had carelines and crows-feet around his eyes. He wore a pair of round steel rimmed glasses that reflected the moon’s disc as if his eyes held the celestial body in them. His eyes were gray, and his skin was sun-bronzed from his labors around the farm. His was trim and hale, and he appeared about 60, though he was well into his 90s.

As the figure approached from the hilltop, the only noises were the sounds of Mylas’s rocking chair on the front porch, the occasional lowing of a farm animal in the barns, the sleepy chirp of insects, slow and lazy, and the wind’s zephyr, as it sighed through the cherry trees along the ridge.

Mylas drew on his pipe, sending a streamer of smoke to curl in lazy circles over the porch, as he observed the black clad figure’s approach. He knew it was Ral, his former apprentice, and could tell he was on a mission. You could see that in his purposeful stride, and the set of his shoulders.

The figure was dressed in black, with subtle designs worked into form-hugging material. There were double belts at the waist and the veil/mask was pulled up. He wore black fingerless gloves that went up near the elbow. It left only his shoulders, and upper arms bare, from elbow to deltoid, showing intricate tattoos and lean muscle. The soft brown hair was loose and shimmered, almost a veil of its own. His fingernails were the only visible weapons at the moment; they were more like claws- sharp, black and deadly in their own right.

Ral leaped up onto the porch, bypassing the steps, and grabbed the arms of the rocking chair, halting Mylas’s motion. The younger man leaned in and stared at Mylas, his green eye and a blue eye looked deeply into Mylas’ gray orbs and calm visage.

The old man took a long pull on the thin pipestem, and puffed it out the side of his lips. He planned on waiting for the other to speak first, but the boy was breathing heavy, and seemed so intense, that maybe he was hoping Mylas would read his mind. Ral would get worked up sometimes, and it interfered with his ability to verbalize. So Mylas gently laid the pipe aside, and cleared his throat.

“So, you’ve finally heard something.” The old man said, as he peered up into the much younger man’s face.

“You know I’ve heard something, old man,” Ral growled in a hiss, a few moments later. ”You knew this day was coming. He didn’t die in that rockslide. They have him. Or Had him. He’s dead now. “

Mylas tilted his head, and then arched a brow, in questioning, and said, in a soft, calm voice. “Ral, How do you know these things? Or are you guessing?”

The figure reached into a pouch at his side, and pulled out a length of red silken hair, but with a disturbing patch of skin still connected – like it had come from a partial scalping. He handed the coil the the old man, who took it grimly, and drew in a breath. Then Ral pulled out a note that had symbols on it. Mylas read the code and compressed his lips, let out a soft breath, and shook his head. “This only means they are treating him roughly – the note says…“

“Don’t do that..” Ral said through gritted teeth. He shook his head and looked angrily at Mylas. “You always try to put a good face on things! Since when did that help us, huh?”

“Since every other time we’ve had to face trouble of this kind, or of any kind, actually, “ the old man said calmly.

Ral hissed and pushed away from the old man, who was fingering the hair itself, as if he was trying to read something from its fabric with his fingertips. Ral stalked across the porch, rounded and came marching back, then pointed a finger at Mylas. “I’m telling you, he’s dead. Or else something horribly worse.“

“Did you see the messenger that left this for you,” Mylas asked, in a sympathetic tone. He didn’t have to argue with his young friend, so he tried to focus on details. “Anything you can tell me will help us find our way through this.”

“Yes, the messenger was one of those damned black owls, the ones that smell like death and look like they have been starved for weeks. The undead ones. It dropped this in a paper packet at my feet. I threw a rock at it, and broke one of its wings, and it spiraled out over the lake. But I thought it regained altitude.. what does it matter! This is serious!“

Mylas nodded and sighed, standing from his chair, and he went over to the black clad figure and placed a hand on his shoulder. “This is a clear sign they have him. Zal is a strong one. A survivor. Don’t give up on him yet. “

“They sent these tokens to make me come to them. They know I’ll arm myself and go after him! They have to!” Ral stomped his foot, and Mylas was impressed that his old apprentice saw the inherent trap in what he was preparing to do.

“This note is a blatant provocation, and the hair is certainly meant to be a humiliation and bait on their hook.  I agree the most likely scenario is they are luring you in, on the pretense he’s still alive, even if they may have killed Zal. They know, either way, that you will have to find out. So, they plan on capturing you or killing you. Either suits their purpose,“ Mylas said in a slow, deliberate manner, his voice was smooth and resonant, but tough as old leather.

“Mylas – I need my weapons. You .. you still have them, don’t you?”

“I have them, yes,” Mylas said, as he gestured the younger man towards one of the barns, and stepped off the porch, leading him to the old potting shed build right up against the larger structure. ”I have the sai, stars, and the devil’s chain. I even have your mana kit, for if you survive this .. mission.“

Mylas went to the back of that little cramped shed, and he took hold of one of the shelves in the corner, and yanked a board out. That revealed a chain, which he gripped and tugged down on until a soft sound of gears sounded. A trap-door popped open in the floor under a bottom shelf. The old man reached in and pulled out a stiff, dusty brown satchel, which was belted closed, and seemed rather full of heavy metallic items. He cleared some broken pottery from one of the nearby waist level shelves, and set it down.

Ral set to opening up the bag, finding a whole assortment of weapons, items, and tools in the bag. He took each out, examined them, and slipped them into pockets and places all over his outfit, though the sai went into the lower back sheath, and once that slipped in, he paused and leaned forwards, as if he was relieved.

“What is it, Ral? You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”

“No, “ the younger man replied in a wistful tone, after a few moments. “I just wish I wasn’t doing this on my own. I wish Zal were with me, like in the old days. Nothing could stop us.“

“You won’t be alone, as long as you carry him in your heart. “

“Oh I’ve got him in my heart. And I have Death in my eyes. “

“Do you know where he’s being held?”

“Where else?” Ral’s voice was almost incredulous, as he pointed a thumb in the direction he planned to go, “ It has got to be at the far end of the valley, in the Viper compound,”

Mylas nodded, and sighed, shaking his head, “I’d tell you to let me gather my old crew, and we’d help, but I don’t think you can wait that long.“

Ral was suddenly taken aback a moment by the notion – any notion, really – of getting aid. He felt a strong love for the old man, strong and grateful for saying he wanted to help. But what could a an old man do, or even a group of them? He smiled behind that mask, and laid one of his strong hands on Mylas’s forearm and squeezed.

“Thank you -but no, I can’t wait that long. I have to leave.. Now.. Just .. do one thing for me? If I don’t come back, send a message to the west, to the Prince, and let him know what happened. He’ll know what to do. “

Mylas frowned at the thought of getting the Prince Regent involved. But he said nothing, and simply nodded.

Ral was already double checking his weapons, and then he moved towards the door. Mylas sighed, advanced and gripped Ral’s arm once more, holding him back a moment.

“Look, just remember: the Viper compound is surrounded by the Cherry tree orchards. This time of year, the blossoms are shedding, but there’s still plenty of them. But if you can stick close to them, they will provide the best cover. Remember your training, and my nagging, old-man voice. Those lessons will help you succeed. “

Ral gripped the old man’s hand with his opposite one, squeezing. “I’ll remember that, my friend. “ he leaned in and gave him a quick hug, and the old man returned it with a squeeze and a kiss on the forehead for the smaller man. “Ancestors protect you, Ral. “

With that, the warrior was gone, and he seemed to melt into the landscape.

The old man sighed, and thought wistfully of his pipe, and the meal he’d prepared inside, and the warm fire, for this was going to be a cold night. The fog was growing even faster now, which would work in Ral’s advantage. But the boy, however much he’d grown in ability and knowledge, lacked the wisdom. And without help, it was unlikely he would ever make it back, let alone with his captured, possibly dead, lover.

He sighed again, returning the open secret cubby hole at the back of the shed, and drew out several other leather bags, and started changing his clothing.

Soon, he had redressed, but in warrior’s garb, in a smoke gray outfit, very similar to the black one Ral had worn. He had a katana, and an assortment of other weapons both hidden and visible, secreted around his outfit.

Once he finished arming himself, he pulled up his veil, removed his glasses, and placed them into a side pouch. He didn’t really need them anyway – he just liked wearing them.

The Gray Fox slipped out of the building, and started to run towards the far end of the valley, following the faint trail of his old apprentice.  This was a night for great deeds. This was a night to reap the whirlwind. This was a night for cherry blossoms to fall on the enemy. He pitied them, for, as Ral had said, Death was coming.

And the night was filled with Cherry Blossoms, falling like drops of blood.

~Dehrynn Shepherd 

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Kimono- +HILU+KAIKI (Moon Festival)
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