Chapter 19

“Sato! Are you going to disobey my command or do your duty!” The gruff-sounding man shouts at a red-armored samurai. The young man can’t distinguish if the crimson colors were painted or the blood of his victims.

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“My Lord, I-” He attempts to speak but is quickly cut off by a look from the man he serves. His eyes were filled with bloodlust, and he stared at the man who was his sword, his means of death. Haruki the Headhunter. He was the regal lord’s personal executioner and top warrior.

“Take their heads, or your head will roll right with them! Do it, Sato!”

Sato holds his blade with shaking hands. The rattling sound of the blade was haunting. Gripping it with both hands, he raises it high. A face filled with anguish and regret as he stares at the little girl, bound and gagged by her beheaded family. The village sat in ruins and burned rumble. The pouring rain masks the tears down both their faces.

“Do it now!” The Lord spoke with intensity.

“YAHHHH!”

*

I arrived at a small, peaceful village for something to eat. My bright crimson armor was a symbol of my status as a Samurai. My katana sat faithfully to my side. The kids would stare at me, and their aspirations of becoming a samurai like me were a warm sight. After fighting in war after war, taking the heads of commanders and lords alike, I was bathed in blood; it was my home, my solace.

A change of pace was a welcoming feeling. I had introduced myself to the village chief and his wife. Their daughter was a sweet little girl who hid behind her parents of the scary samurai at her home. I just laughed it off and minded my own business. I only came here for rest and food.

Before I knew it, four days had passed while waiting for my convoy to request that I return to the front lines once more to serve my Lord. Imagine my surprise when I began to casually listen to the villagers, hearing their lives and histories.

I never showed much interest in others, only those whom I was loyal to. I was orphaned and abandoned by the people I called family. Only to be taken in by my Sensei, who saw the will to live within me. The quality of a fierce warrior was born that day as I was stuck in an endless loop of honing my steel and temperament. I was barely fourteen when I was sent to the battlefield when I killed my first man. He tried to kill me first, and I had closed my eyes to swing my blade at his chest. Little did I know, his head fell right at my feet. The lifeless eyes of a man who was more upset he was beaten by a child more than anything. However, I didn’t see it that way. That was the birth of Haruki the Headhunter, the sick fascination that made me. Every kill with my blade was always a beheading, and execution was my responsibility. 

It became who I was and who I was to be. But in my short time in this village, I was free of my way of life. The chirping birds and insects’ sounds were a calming wave that I never knew. The intriguing eyes of children who admired me were unfamiliar and caused me to feel something more than a weapon.

Time passed, and I spent a whole month in the village waiting for any messenger or my commanders to call for me. It seemed like the war was doing fine without Haruki the Headhunter. My purpose in life was gone, and it was filled with living a different life.

My Sensei died in battle before he could see my achievements; I always wondered if he was watching me. If he was proud of my life or felt disgraced, I started to forget who this “Headhunter” was or what his duties were.

For once, I began to feel like “Sato” for the first time in a long time. 

“Hey guys! Look! The chieftain’s daughter is such a baby!” A child was shouting.

“Look at her! She just cries!”

“Leave me alone…! Just let me go home!”

“Run back to Mama and cry? That’s just like you, Soriko! Too bad your dad has to live with the shame of you as his child.”

The child threw a rock at her. It was evident she was bullied by the other kids and hid the shame from her parents. No one helped her as she kept it all to herself. One of the kids grabbed a sizable rock and threw it right at her head.

Smack!

Without a thought or plan of action, I stepped forward and caught the rock with my hand. The sound of it hitting my skin was loud for all of the kids to hear. Upon seeing the large samurai carrying a katana, the bullies quickly shut their mouths.

“Where is the honor of picking on a defenseless girl? Have you no shame or dignity!?” With intense strength, I crush the rock in my hand; the jagged edges crumble to the ground along with drops of crimson—a small trail of blood from my fingers and palm.

The bullies quickly retreat and leave the area. The small girl looks at me with wonder and awe. So, I kneel beside her and gently look her over before standing her up.

“Are you hurt anywhere?” I spoke calmly and slowly.

“N-No… They didn’t have big rocks, so the tiny ones only stung a little.”

“That won’t do; let’s take this to your mother.”

“P-Please don’t! I can’t get anyone in trouble and give my parents a bad time!”

“Letting them do this only worsens things, Soriko; come on, let’s see your mother right now.”

Taking her hand in mine, we set off for her house. Her tiny hands barely fit in mine. Soriko struggled a bit, but once she knew I was committed, she gave up and didn’t resist further.

“Are you really a Samurai?” She spoke with great curiosity.

“Indeed, I am.”

“Do you kill a lot of people?”

“It comes with the title. Yes, I have killed many.”

“Do you hate killing? Does it hurt to kill?”

“Does it hurt… I’m not sure; I killed it because it was necessary. Not once did it feel like a burden.”

“You are lying.”

“What?” I stopped in my tracks and looked at her. Her bright brown eyes stared into mine.

“I can see the pain behind those eyes. You killed because it was necessary, but that doesn’t mean killing didn’t hurt.”

“Soriko, I don’t think a child can-“

“Don’t worry! I’ll make the hurt go away!” Her eyes light up, and the comforting smile across her face burns away the remnants of Haruki, the Headhunter.

Holding her hand, I felt like a new purpose, a better purpose free of bloodshed and constant battle, was given to me. She would be the little sister I never had; she would be the light in the darkness of my dreams.

Her bloodied, decapitated head sat at my feet. The tears streaming down her lifeless face. The blood of Soriko stained my hands and face. The cut was clean; the blade was still warm from the strike. Haruki, the Headhunter, had claimed another one.

“S…Soriko…” The pain within my voice was husky. Letting go of the blade in my hands, I soon fell to my knees.

“Soriko… Soriko… S… So…SORIKO!!! SORIKOOOOO!!!!” Madness swept my mind. The headhunter’s shattered blade could do nothing but shout the name of an innocent girl that he loved.

One day, his Lord showed up in the middle of the night with a small army. After spending a long while with the villagers, Sato had forgotten what his Lord looked or sounded like until he addressed him. The gritty voice of the man struck deep within Sato’s mind. It was almost like he needed to obey such a man; the loyalty of serving his Lord was Samurai.

That is why when he heard the command to burn down the village and take their heads for being the people of the opposing Lord. Sato barely spoke a few words of rejection before his Lord shot him down with the order again.

Haruki, barely able to think or process the next few hours, had set aflame the houses he once helped repair, slept in, dined in, and talked in. The headless bodies of the people he learned to know, their families, their dreams, their wants and needs. All of their blood stained his blade and armor to pure dark crimson.

So, when it came to the girl he treated as a sister, she looked at him one last time with her bright brown eyes, the storming rain drowning out her pleas and cries.

A single cry was heard as his blade bathed in another crimson shower. The tale of Haruki the Broken ended there.

He sat there, on his knees, crying to the once-living body of the chieftain’s daughter. It was the moment that the very thought or feel of a sword disgusted Sato. His blade laid to the side; he was on his hands and knees, saying her name with cries of pain.

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The Lord he served for many years took this as a sign and approached him one last time.

“M-My Lord… I-” Before he could speak his final words, he watched his headless body fall to the ground. Without realizing it, he was unaware of the fact he was beheaded. The final emotion across his face was just the lifeless expression of shock before the light left his eyes. His head sat right next to the girl, the last image before his life finally ended…

*

“SORIKO!” Caleb shot from his bed in a cold sweat. The vivid image of a previous life still haunts him.

With a moment to collect himself, he lays back in bed, the cold night sky of this world returning him to his senses. A soft grin and chuckle escaped his lips.

“Soriko… I’m sorry…” Tears flow past his cheeks, the painful memories still haunting him…

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