written by Patrick Drazen
using characters created by Naoko Takeuchi and others associated with
the manga and anime “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon”
Chapter 4: “Battle on the Plains of Edo! An Unexpected Fighter Enters!”
The second attack on the daimyo Kuruda came a week later. The week would have been a typical, quiet stretch of time for Usagi any other time, but not this summer. Her father was gaining strength after his attack, but was still weak from the loss of blood. Tsukino’s wife practically terrorized the household staff, making sure that the master always had some light but nourishing food to eat if he was hungry, or that there were always herbs to ease the pain he still felt in his hand and wrist.
At first, Usagi was among those who thought that her mother had taken things too far. Just because her husband was cut in a fight didn’t mean she had to act like an empress. But then came the night that Tsukino had trouble falling asleep from the pain. Usagi was up also, and could hear as her mother read aloud to her father from an old classic, The Tale of Genji. The stately cadence of words describing love among the courtiers hundreds of years ago made Usagi cry, but they were tears of happiness. She knew that, as bossy as her mother had become in recent days, she did all this because she truly loved Tsukino, even after all these years. Usagi prayed—no, she knew—her marriage someday to Mamo-chan would be just like that.
The need for herbs meant that Shinnosuke was now spending a lot of time with the Tsukino household. He checked the samurai’s wrist daily, and would usually stay awhile to talk with Usagi. Usually, she asked him questions about medicines—what herbs had what effect and why—and everyone who heard him was impressed with how much the young apprentice knew.
Then, sometimes, when nobody else was within earshot, Usagi and Shinnosuke would put their heads together, talking privately about something. Usagi’s mother had caught them talking like that several times. Could it be something romantic? No; they always had such serious looks on their faces. Whatever they discussed, it didn’t make them happy. And Usagi still has her heart set on the son of the rice-broker Chiba. Well, at least being friends with the apprentice keeps Usagi away from the docks.
Often they left together and went to Kazan Jinja, to see the girl Hino Rei. Usagi’s mother was of two minds about that friendship as well. That girl could grow up to hold a great deal of power and influence, but we’ll all have to be very careful. The line between our world and the spirit world isn’t always clearly marked, and I’ve heard stories about those who try to walk that line and then stumble.
But things were seldom so serious when the three young people got together. As friends sometime do, they got together just to be together, without talking about anything in particular. But two days after they fought the ninja in the temple Rei took them aside as soon as they arrived. There was a strange look on her face: anxiety and at the same time a determination not to let it show.
“Takaki came back this morning,” she said simply.
“Really?” Shinnosuke said. “Is there news?”
“Enough news. Takaki is dead. Fukaiumi probably is too. I’ve given up waiting, in any case.”
The temperature in the room seemed to drop as Rei spoke. “What happened?” Usagi asked.
“I heard a scratching on the temple gate just before dawn. When I opened it, I saw Takaki on the ground. He’d looked like some wild dog had attacked him; feathers were gone, there were bloody scratches everywhere. I brought him in here and tried to clean him up the best I could. But he was still in a lot of pain, I could tell.
“I turned my back just for a minute, to get some more water. And I heard this strange noise behind me. And I turned back to look, and…” The memory made her shiver, as hot as it was outside. She had to pull herself together before she could continue. “He—it—had grown. Bigger than a crow; it was bigger than a dog now. It had little teeth all along the beak. And its eyes were red, glowing…
“It jumped toward me. I didn’t know what to do. He’d hit me with his wing; it felt like being hit with a club. He was trying to peck me, scratch me. I stayed clear long enough to call on the red star Kasei and transform. When the jintsuukon appeared in my hands, I just closed my eyes and stabbed with it. And then I looked again and it wasn’t a demon, it was Takaki and I…” Rei couldn’t keep a straight face any longer. She buried her face in her hands, crying out, “Forgive me, Takaki! Forgive me!”
Usagi reached out and put one hand on Rei’s shoulder; Shinnosuke clutched Rei’s other shoulder. Before anyone else could speak, though, they all heard Mika’s voice. “I’m sorry it had to come to this, Rei, but I think we all knew it could happen.”
“It’s going to get worse, isn’t it?” Usagi asked. Now she was as scared as Rei had been. “Why don’t we just stop now? Stop listening to you? Stop doing what you tell us?”
The cat’s voice was level and cold. “Because if you do, you’ll wake up one morning to see yourself being attacked by a demon version of your father.”
“I wish it were a lie. But the enemy will keep growing and keep changing…”
“But who is the enemy?” Shinnosuke interrupted. “You’ve never told us what’s going on.”
“And I can’t tell you; not yet. There are others you must meet who will help you. When you meet them all, you shall know the truth.”
“That’s not good enough, Mika. Already this enemy has hurt my father, and Rei’s…” Usagi hesitated at the word, but only for a moment: “Rei’s friends. We need to know something!”
“I’ll tell you this much. About ten years ago the shogun Oda Nobunaga was destroyed. Then a couple of other shogun held power. Things have settled now around the House of Tokugawa. But there are daimyo in and around Edo who want to overthrow Tokugawa and raise up the ghost of Nobunaga to lead an attack on the mainland.”
“Is that possible?” Shinnosuke asked.
Rei nodded her head. “It’s very possible. If Nobunaga has become a “hungry ghost”, the wrong kind of magic can bring him back, as you said.”
“But why would they attack my father?” Usagi asked. “Just because daimyo Kuruda supports Tokugawa?”
“That was the reason at first. But now they realize something
that you must realize. There is a larger destiny at work here.
You are part of a handful of people who will stand in their way.
And they fear you, because you can defeat them. Never lose heart,
and never forget what I say: whatever their number and however evil they
may appear, you can defeat them.”
Shinnosuke wasn’t at all worried the next day when he set out at noon into the deep woods surrounding Edo. He had done this a hundred times before for his master: gathering roots & herbs to be made into medicines.
He looked at the forest floor for telltale signs. Finally, he recognized the five-fold leaves and scarlet berries of the ginseng root. Quickly he dug it up, cleaned off most of the dirt and put the healing root in his sack.
A few steps away, he halted in surprise. He saw a sprig of purple flowers he had never seen before. Master may be interested in this, he thought as he dug around the root. Slowly he pulled the plant free of the earth. When he saw what he had, he froze.
The root branched off almost symmetrically, and the limbs reminded him of a starfish. No; a human torso. As soon as he thought that, he realized what he held. Somehow, this plant, native to Europe but not to Japan, written up in rare old books, had taken root in the wilds of a forest outside of Edo. The plant was a mandragora, noted in Europe for both its medical and magical qualities.
Shinnosuke didn’t wonder how it came to be there, except to think: Perhaps some Christian priest started a secret garden near here. He did remember reading one bit of lore about the mandragora: because of its resemblance to a human body, the root would cry out if it were cut or broken. He didn’t want to break it before his master had a chance to look at it, but Shinnosuke tried squeezing the root.
It squeezed back. In fact, in the blink of an eye it turned into a demonic claw that grabbed Shinnosuke’s hand in a viselike grip and pulled his hand into the earth. The demon root gave another tug, and Shinnosuke’s arm was sunk in to the elbow.
There were crashing noises in the forest behind him. He didn’t turn around to look, but called out, “Suisei, chikara-wo yobidasu!”
He was once again dressed as a ninja, but it didn’t help. Whatever had a grip on his arm wasn’t letting go. In fact, it gave another tug, and Shinnosuke’s arm was buried to the shoulder.
He tried with all his strength to pull free, but the underground hand had a fierce grip. The crashing through the forest came closer…
It was Usagi and Rei. They almost walked right past Shinnosuke, since his ninja clothes rendered him almost invisible, but he called out, “Help me!”
As soon as they heard his voice, they knew what to look for. “What are you…” Usagi began.
As they transformed, the underground force pulled again, with Shinnosuke straining against it with all his might. He felt as if his arm would be torn from its socket, but this time he did not sink further into the earth. But he was worried about the next time.
“Strike the earth where my shoulder is,” he told the others, indicating the moon-katana and the jintsuukon. “Hurry!”
Since Shinnosuke was still barely visible, Usagi had misgivings about this, but she wasn’t about to mention them in Rei’s presence. The two of them aimed as best they could and struck the earth.
Below the earth, something gave out a muffled yell. A moment later, Shinnosuke pulled his arm free of the earth. It was covered with mud and bruises, but the skin wasn’t broken.
He pulled his hood off, and became visible to the others. “What happened?” Usagi asked.
Shinnosuke gave them a quick account of the war with the mandragora root. “Thank goodness you came by. What were you looking for?”
“For you, really,” Usagi said. “We were running low on herbs to treat the swelling in father’s wrist, so I went to Akimoto-sensei. He said you were going out in this direction.”
“Usagi bumped into me on the way out here,” Rei went on. “As soon as she said your name, I got a feeling that something wasn’t right.”
“Your feeling was correct. They set a trap for me, but you pulled me out.”
“Well,” Usagi shrugged, “it’s not time to break up the team yet.”
As warm as the weather was, Rei shivered. “I’m afraid that the attacks will increase. We need to be alert all the time.”
“Or, we could just spend more time with each other,” Usagi suggested.
“I like that. I’ve spent so much time at home or with my master; I really don’t know anyone else my age.”
Rei nodded at Shinnosuke’s words. “It’s been the same way for me. I think we really were destined to meet.”
They walked out of the forest feeling considerably better than when
they went it. They wouldn’t have felt so good if they had seen a
robed figure pass slowly out of the trunk of a tree. It watched the
three companions leaving. “The Queen will not be pleased,” he whispered
to himself, then dissolved back into the tree.
The next night Mikazuki showed up at Usagi’s window just as Usagi was preparing for bed, easily squeezing through the bamboo lattice. “Don’t get undressed, Usagi-chan. You’ve got to go to the plains outside of Edo.”
“Please tell me you’re joking.”
“I wish I were. This will be a big one tonight.”
“They’re always big ones,” Usagi muttered as she changed into a light traveling outfit. “Why do we have to leave Edo tonight?”
“The daimyo Kuruda. He thought he could avoid an attack by traveling in the dead of night.”
“Even I know better than that,” Usagi sniffed.
“Regardless,” Mika continued, “he thought his men-at-arms would protect him until he got to the outskirts of the city. Then the Shogun’s watchmen would be responsible.”
“So what’s going to happen?”
“The watch will be replaced with dark ninja. Lots of them this time. Be glad your father won’t be guarding him.”
“He’s not a coward!”
“I never said he was. Sorry if I offended you, but I just wanted to say that there’d be lots of the enemy tonight. Be prepared for a hard fight.”
This worried Usagi. She didn’t say a word to Mika as they wound through the streets of western Edo and at last saw the checkpoint that marked the city limits. They also saw Rei and Shinnosuke waiting a few yards off of the road.
“Have you two been here long?” Mika asked in a whisper.
“No, not really,” Shinnosuke answered. “So far all we can see is a camp on the edge of that field. Looks like they’re just travelers.”
“Looks can deceive. The daimyo should be along here any time now.”
It took about another thirty minutes before Kuruda’s very noisy party of samurai and other retainers arrived at the checkpoint. After their papers were checked, they proceeded across an open plain along an open road—a half-dozen men carrying daimyo Kuruda’s palanquin, two samurai in front, two in the rear, the rest watching the fields on either side. They had gone about fifty yards when Mika’s whiskers bristled. “Everyone down and keep quiet!”
They hid behind bushes, and from their vantage point they could actually see darkness moving along the road—a tangible mass of something like smoke. As it approached the checkpoint, the guards there began to fall into a deep sleep. Kuruda and his party had likewise frozen in their tracks.
“Wait for them to go by,” Mika whispered, “then transform.”
The waiting put Usagi’s teeth on edge. She wasn’t especially anxious to get into a battle—especially since she and her friends seemed to have just that odd cloud to worry about—but the dark presence was already too close to the daimyo to suit her.
Shinnosuke seemed to read her thoughts. “Don’t worry,” he said, “we won’t let anything happen.”
Neither the darkness on the road nor its prey seemed to notice the glow in the forest as the three transformed. Shinnosuke vaulted twenty feet into the air and (if they could have seen him) hit the path running; meanwhile, the glowing figure of Rei cut to the left while Usagi went right, her moon-yukata shining brighter than ten torches, with Mika running alongside. As they did, they could, by the light of the moon above, see the darkness halt its progress along the road. Then it lifted like burned-away fog, revealing an army of about fifty ninja.
Rei flanked them on the left. “AKURYOO TAISAN!” she yelled as ofuda flew in all directions. Most of them found their mark, paralyzing the ninja where they landed. Shinnosuke seemed to be in several places at once, felling the dark ninja at all margins of their formation. However, just as Usagi was about to wield the moon sword, noises came from the forest behind them.
On either side of the road, another mass of blackness was taking shape, revealing another hundred dark ninja!
“That doesn’t look good,” Shinnosuke commented.
“You’ve got to stop them!” Mika warned. “Protect Kuruda!”
“We could use a little help!” Usagi wailed.
No sooner had Usagi said it than the first group of ninja began to part down the middle. The group stared as they saw a teenage girl, her long legs clearly visible where she had tucked up the hem of her already short yukata. In either hand she held what looked like a piece of farm equipment. It was a pole about as long as the girl’s forearm and almost as broad, with a handle sticking out near one end.
She made momentary eye contact with Usagi, Rei and Shinnosuke, smiled, then whirled and started swinging the—whatever-it-was she was holding. She seemed to be a master at using it. With a flip of her wrist the pole extended her reach by a foot, enabling her to club anyone who came near. With a flip back, it shielded her forearm from attackers.
“Well,” Mika shouted, “are you going to let her do all the work?!”
That seemed to wake up the other three; Usagi charged up the road, swinging her moon katana and turning the dark ninja to mist. Rei was doing the same with her jintsuukon to the left while Shinnosuke felled the ninja to the right. Finally, the dark ninja had either been dispatched or had run away. Kuruda’s entourage—which had been frozen during the battle—had simply come back to life when the dark ninja broke off their attack and walked on, oblivious to the whole battle or to the young people on the road behind them.
Usagi came running up to the tall girl after the fight. “That was awesome! What kind of fighting do you call that?”
The girl, about half a head taller than Usagi, wiped the sweat from her forehead with her sleeve. “Don’t really call it anythin’. Just somethin’ we had to do in Okinawa. That’s where I come from; we had a little farm near Terima. Had a lot of trouble with bandit gangs. Every family down that way knows somethin’ like this.”
“That doesn’t look like it was supposed to be a weapon,” Shinnosuke said, pointing to the object the girl held.
“Usually it isn’t. It’s just a handle to a millstone. We call it a tonfa. But it comes in handy in a fight.”
“Why did you do it?” Rei asked. “Why did you join the fight?”
“I just didn’t like the odds,” the girl smiled. “By the way, my name’s Kino Makoto. My family’s camped yonder. Would you like to rest with us before goin’ on your way?”
Before Usagi could open her mouth, her stomach started growling. Makoto laughed out loud. “Well, that answers that. Come on, then; I think we can find you somethin’ to eat.”
To say they had “somethin’ to eat” was an understatement. Even though it was the dead of night and her parents were sleeping nearby, Makoto managed to produce rice and miso soup and a stew made with vegetables and some kind of game bird in almost no time.
Usagi started out by taking a little of everything, then a little more of everything, and then a little more. Makoto beamed; that was all the compliment her cooking needed. Rei and Shinnosuke just looked at each other. They had learned since meeting her about Usagi’s almost bottomless appetite.
“How did you learn to cook so well?” Rei asked.
“Somethin’ my daddy told me a long time ago,” she smiled. “He said I’m gonna be eatin’ all my life, so I’d better get good at cookin’ what I eat.”
“But you don’t have to get stuck with the cooking,” Usagi said. “There’s food sellers all over Edo, and if you can get a servant…”
“Servant?!” Makoto almost laughed again. “We couldn’t afford to keep a servant; we could barely afford to keep ourselves.”
“Was the farming that hard?” Shinnosuke asked.
“No, not really. But between bad weather and bandits, it got so that a good year was when we broke even. So my daddy decided we’d just give it up and try to start over again in Edo. He’s real good with horses, and he expects there’s somebody can use what he knows.”
“I’ll bet Kuruda would. You just saved his life.”
“He’s somebody important?”
“He’s one of the daimyo; my father a samurai in his service,” Usagi beamed. “When he gets back from his trip, I can ask my father to put in a good word for your father.”
Rei and Shinnosuke just looked at each other. They couldn’t tell
Makoto that Usagi’s father was just one samurai in a large household, and
that the word of a girl counted for less than nothing. Makoto probably
knew that anyway.