THE SAMURAI VAMPIRE SCROLLS

"She takes the heads of the undead."

For fans of manga epics, the KILL BILL movies, and old-school adventure stories.

After Oyomi's entire family is slaughtered by Lord Toyogomi, a powerful Vampire Lord, she is brought up in an abandoned temple by a ghostly woman-ninja and taught swordsmanship by the Shakuhachi playing son of the King of Hell. When she is old enough and well-trained enough in the Way of the Sword, she sets out to kill both Lord Toyogomi and his jeering, sadistic hunchback sidekick Shuzo. But first she must cut through the many other sword-wielding Vampires standing in the way of her singleminded quest for bloody vengeance . . .

The Samurai Vampire Scrolls: Scroll 1

(Translated from the Japanese by A. G. Hardy)

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18. The Summit

 

When she came into the temple wiping her soaked face with a rough sleeve of her kimono, Oyomi saw that Lady Shiomata and Miju were already eating breakfast -- miso soup with seaweed and charcoal roasted rice balls, washed down with bowls of green tea. She knelt at the low breakfast table and Lady Shiomata served her. Oyomi picked up the laquered chopsticks and raised the bowl to her lips and inhaled the searing, delicious steam. There were bits of chopped green onion floating in the soup, and ribbons of kelp, and little squares of tofu; the smells made her nose prickle. She was quite hungry. She sipped gratefully, with her eyelids shut, then picked up a strand of kelp with her chopsticks and put it into her mouth. As she chewed that, she set down the bowl and picked up a rice ball, speckled black from the charcoal-grilling, and bit it in half. Delicious. Wonderful. Lady Shiomata and Miju were both watching her with dark, amused, shining eyes. Steam rose from inside the rice ball. She bowed slightly and tried to eat slower. Lady Shiomata pushed back her long sleeve and bent over the table to pour a long stream of steaming green tea into Oyomi's mis-shapen and cracked black tea bowl. Again, Oyomi bowed slightly, chewing and swallowing. After her hard sword-practice the meal was to delicious that it brought tears to her eyes.

 

After she'd finished, Oyomi helped Lady Shiomata to wash and put away the bowls and chopsticks and the iron cooking implements. Then she went to Miju and stood smiling down at him.

-Well?

-Yes, let's go, said Miju, clapping his hands.

-Going up the mountain again?

That was Lady Shiomata.

-Hai, said Oyomi, as she took down the large basket from its hook.

She set down the basket beside Miju and placed a cushion into the bottom.

Crouching, she picked the boy up in her strong arms. He was hardly bigger than he'd been when she came to the mountain temple. His legs were withered to roughly the size of firewood sticks.

She set Miju into the basket and laid a blanket over his lap.

Then she picked the big market basket up by its cloth straps, and set the straps on her shoulders. Miju's head appeared over her head. Smiling.

He was sitting cross-legged, comfortable and dignified as a Zen monk, in the basket and ready for their morning climb.

-Go with Buddha, both of you, said Lady Shiomata, picking up her sutra box and settling on a cushion by her low, age-polished reading table.

-Hai, said Oyomi and Miju at once.

At the door, Oyomi slipped her feet into shoes made of deerhide and rabbit fur. When she opened the sliding doors, the white glare of the snow made her squint.

-Ready? she asked Miju.

-Hai! Let's go!

She stepped down into the snow and walked in it, the snow creaking underfoot, away from the temple into the dark pine grove.

She knew the path to the summit, although it was covered now by snow. She knew every tree, every stump, and every boulder.

She walked faster and faster as they climbed, sweating. Sometimes she felt Miju's fingers playing with her hair, or playfully snatching at her chilled ears.

She saw deer tracks, and also the tracks of a wild cat, of rabbits and hares and of different birds. Once, a hare bounded away from under a bush, shaking powder snow from its hind feet.

She knew she was climbing the same path she'd once descended on Jiko the Blacksmith's shoulders, as Miju was now on hers. It was steep and winding, and extra difficult because of the snowdrifts.

She didn't stop anywhere along the path to rest. It took an hour and a half to reach the summit. There, under the floating brilliance of white clouds and the startlingly blue sky, Oyomi knelt and shrugged the sweat soaked straps from her shoulders.

Miju, still smiling as he always did, was gazing with rapture at the sky.

-Look!

He pointed to a falcon gliding in wide, sweeping circles.

-Ah, said Oyomi.

She was thirsty now.

-Water, she said.

Miju searched in the basket and found the gourd and held it out to Oyomi, the water sloshing inside. She pulled out the stopper and tilted her head back to take a long, shuddering drink. Then she gave it to Miju, and he drank a few small sips.

-We're lucky, Oyomi said.

-Why? asked Miju.

-I have you. You have me. That's good luck, isn't it?

Miju laughed.

-I'm lucky you came, big sister. I'd be lonely if you weren't here.

-Yes, Oyomi said. I'm lucky too, little brother.

She looked around. They were sitting on the bare rock summit above the treeline, and clouds drifted below as well as above them.

-Do you miss your parents, and your real brother?

Oyomi shut her eyelids.

-They still come to me in dreams sometimes. They're laughing. Father picks me up. Brother holds my hand and tells me things.

-And your mother?

-Ah. She just smiles. Sometimes she seems a little sad. I know she misses me.

Oyomi went silent for a few moments. There was a lump in her throat. She didn't want to weep in front of Miju. She was a samurai, as was he.

-That's Aoi, she said, pointing.

Miju squinted down at the valley.

-The old woodcutter said there've been battles. Aoi is at war with Kiso. The samurai are away fighting and bandits have been burning some of the villages. But I can't see any smoke.

Miju, who had escaped from a war while very little on the back of his mother Lady Shiomata and seen many painful and ugly things on the way to Ogami mountain, always spoke of war matter-of-factly, like the weather.

Oyomi shaded her eyes to look. No, Miju was right -- there was no smoke. It all looked peaceful. She could see the wide loop of a river, and the brown-green shapes of rice paddies.

-If the bandits come here, Kasagiri will protect us, Miju said.

Oyomi smiled. She hadn't been thinking about it. But still, Miju was trying to reassure her, in case the rumors had gotten her worried.

She also smiled because she'd never seen Kasagiri, only heard his bamboo flute at night. She wondered if he really would protect them. He seemed to want only his own company.

Still, sometimes in the morning Oyomi found freshly killed game on the porch of the temple -- rabbits, partidges, once even a boar with yellow, curved tusks and a bloody snout.

The Son of the King of Hell! What an odd story. Maybe Lady Shiomata and Miju were just superstitious, and believed in old fables.

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