L5R - The Great Dusk
Another Bad Night
Heichi Shuzo gazed absently across the darkened, empty room, a bottle of sake dangling lazily from his fingertips, his fingertips themselves dangling lazily at the end of a heavy arm. He leaned against the old doorframe, like an ancient teetering statue, ponderous, breaking his concentration only occasionally, to bring the bottle to his lips in slow, deliberate movements.
His only son, the young Heichi Masu, had been called away by the Minor Clan Alliance, had been asked to travel great distances in order to defend the interests of this strange political entity, one that claims to have the best interests of so many disparate groups at heart. Masu was stoic and soft-footed, and though it had only been a few days, Shuzo was nonetheless struck by how utterly vacant his home felt.
He pursed his lips and wondered if ever he would see his son again, struggling to recall what words had been exchanged in those moments before the young Boar’s departure. Had he said everything that needed to be said to his only son? Shuzo closed his eyes tightly against the blue moonlight. Had he said to Satomi everything that needed to be said before she was ripped in half? Before she drowned in agony?
“But you will see,” she had once said to him, “you will grow to love this child.”
Shuzo opened his eyes, stared once more into the moonlight and his own memory, and tried to recall the precise details of his wife’s face, those little intricacies that made up her features, but it was so much more difficult than it once was, it was always getting more difficult. And Satomi had many different faces. They were always in a state of flux, shifting from week to week, from year to year, in the light and darkness, with her expression, with her energy. Even the important memories were becoming smudged somehow, unspecific, the blank spots painted in with every remembrance of her, making it impossible to determine just how much of his wife was now imagination instead of something real.
Even the last face that she would ever wear, something entirely new and unique and terrible, something that Shuzo thought would haunt his nightmares forever, was dissipating with time, generalities replacing lines, freckles, little curves. Entire objects were being removed from the room, and physicians even. Shuzo clenched his teeth; he was able to recall the distinct smell of the sun upon her tired skin at the end of the day, and yet so much of her death remained foggy, and it was always getting worse.
Shuzo could remember stepping into the room, cramped, its air dry and stifling, the smell of the blood, the iron of it, the sweat. It was upon Satomi’s brow, her bangs tangled and damp and pressed against her forehead, her eyes red, her face so pale. The streams of tears. But it was her mouth, agape and distorted in a wide frown that was so offensive to Shuzo, made him want to turn and run. He tried to close his eyes but couldn’t.
She had taken so much care and had been so gentle for so many months, throughout this ordeal, glowing and lovely and content and appreciative. She had been so virtuous and optimistic, and now she was being punished, her warped, horrified expression indicating the degree to which she felt betrayed. In her final moments, she moved her lips but barely a whisper could be heard as she pleaded silently with unseen forces, a frightened child who could not see Shuzo, who stood silently, unable to move or speak or even think.
For half a year, Shuzo had been endlessly elated, the happiest his acquaintances had ever seen him. It was so strange, to see Shuzo—the headstrong Boar—give himself away so freely to such hopefulness.
To Shuzo, it had been his compromise; a gift he could offer that would leave her with the same happiness that she had given him, filling that empty space, that empty room. “I know you do not want this child,” Satomi had once said, the same day her pregnancy had dawned on her, her hand on her belly, while he protested softly. “It’s okay. I know. But you will see, you will grow to love this child, don’t look at me like that, you will, and you will feel this new sense of purpose, I promise you.”
The words echoed in Shuzo’s ears, sounding the way a flame looks when you close your eyes; haunting, bright and dark all at once, pulsing, and disappearing rapidly. He took another swig from his bottle, forced himself upright, and left the room.