DISCLAIMER: This is merely a work of fanfiction honoring the incredible series, Samurai Champloo. No harm or offense is meant to the owners or creators.
DISCLAIMER: This story takes place between episodes 22 and 23. There may be spoilers up to AND PAST episode 23. Please be warned.
An Amalgam of Lost Tales
Chapter One: The Map
It is fear which looms large over this land. Fear. Fear of going hungry. Fear of losing loved ones to violence or disease. Fear of Westerners coming to destroy our nation. Fear that our way of life is becoming obsolete. Fear is in every village through which we pass. Fear lingers, and rots the buildings, the families, the country.
Fear has it's own vibration, and I know that vibration well. There are things which are too strong for their own good. I may be one of those things.
I fear only one thing, losing my way as a samurai. To throw aside bushido is to accept defeat as surely as is committing seppuku for a crime I refuse to regret.
Sensei, how could you throw aside bushido? How could you wish to render all of your teachings pointless? Better that we live in squalor than the fate you wished us to accept.
Last night, again, another one came for my head and met with his destruction. What good is it to try to explain to the other students what I did? Even if they did understand, they would only come to realize the pointlessness of their own training. For too many, the betrayal of their master would eat at them from within until they became brigands. They would lose their way, and thus die to the way of the samurai. I must bear it for them. To prove that my sensei's teachings were not pointless, I must bear it for all of the students. At least in seeking my death, they have a goal, they are righteous, and they die believing that at least they fought for an honorable cause.
"Oi, Jin, are you even listening to me?" Fuu's voice. She's looking over her shoulder at me. In front of her, Mugen is scratching his hair. I briefly wonder if he has lice, or some other foul skin pestilence.
"Give it up. He hasn't said anything since yesterday."
All they know is that I came back to our camp covered in someone else's blood. It has happened a few times since the journey began, and Fuu always yells a little as she checks me for injuries. Mugen eyes me like I'm fresh meat, but usually says nothing until he finds cause to yell at Fuu about something, like his being hungry, or her being too loud. It's only to distract her, I know. So Fuu will worry less.
Fuu is that sort of person. She's the most fearless girl I've ever met. But, she worries about everything. I do not claim to understand how she can have so much lack of fear, and yet so much concern for the world around her. Sensei once told me that compassion is innate to women, they must learn of war. But war is innate to man, and he must learn of compassion through bushido.
"I'm fine." That's all I said to Fuu. What need was there for more? After that I went to wash my clothes, and tried not to listen to Fuu talking to Mugen about me being covered in blood. Mugen is right. She really -is- loud.
"Jin!" Fuu's taken ahold of my collar. And she's shaking me. I wish she would stop. Not because it hurts, but because I'm not particularly fond of being touched. It provokes the ingrained response of wishing to eliminate the attacker. "Are you listening? Mou, snap out of it already."
"Maybe he's become deaf as well as blind," Mugen says. "I hear that happens when you don't get laid enough."
Fuu pretends not to hear him. She just shakes harder.
"Please stop shaking me," I say as evenly as possible.
"Yatta! He speaks!" Fuu lets go. She's all smiles now, as if she's accomplished something phenomenal. "I was wondering where you were. You were like Night of the Living Dead Ronin or something."
I have no idea what she's talking about. I just haven't had anything to say all day. Why is this any sort of crisis?
"Dead ronin? I can arrange that," Mugen quips as he looks up at the sky. Indeed, it is getting late in the morning. I hadn't noticed.
"I was asking you a question, Jin. Geez, it's not like you to not pay attention." She's worried again. I'm not always good with people, so as compensation I've learned to pick up on the little things behind the masks they wear.
"Yeah. I want to look at the map. See how far we've gotten."
"Ah." I rummage around in my gi for the object in question. I do not know why I've been designated Fuu's official map-holder. Maybe she is worried the animal will eat it if she keeps it in her kimono, or that Mugen would try to sell it if he got the chance. "Hm." Maybe I put it on the other side. I try there. Nothing but ribs. "Hm," I say again.
"Don't tell me..." Fuu scrunches up her face. She looks like the old woman who used to the cook and do laundry at the dojo. "Don't tell me you lost the map."
"I lost the map."
Mugen swings around and starts laughing so hard, he has to hold his stomach.
Trees. Trees. More trees. This is wilderness. I do not find the wilderness appealing. It is...not particularly my element. I spent my formative years in the Mujuu Shinken Dojo. Not in the forest. Every tree looks alike. And every tree looks decidedly different. This is why people should stick to roads.
"Hey! This sucks! Damnit. There's no sake or women in the woods."
Fuu is walking next to Mugen. I'm behind them both. I'm always back here. Is it because Fuu decides where we are going? Or because I feel more comfortable this way? I do not know. Perhaps it does not matter.
"We're lost," Fuu says. "We are most definitely lost."
"Uh-huh. Lost," that ruffian replies.
"And do you know why we're lost, Mugen?"
"Yeah, but say it anyway."
"Because of Jin."
I say nothing. What can I say? It is the truth. Nonetheless, there is an odd sensation right below my ribs. Perhaps it is the altitude of this land. One needs to breathe more deeply, or one suffers ill effects, such as lightheadedness or odd chest compressions.
Fuu has said nothing to me, directly, since asking for the map. That was this morning.
The map. It must have fallen out when I was fighting yesterday. I should have left it at the camp when I went to seek out the eyes that had been watching us all evening. I do not understand how I could have made this mistake.
Fuu seems to be in a mood I have not witnessed before. At least, not a mood she's directed at me. Oh, she's yelled at me, been angry with me, but this is somehow not the same. And, it is different when she is this way towards Mugen. He just argues with her. They speak loudly and bandy words about like bokkens. Then, suddenly, it is resolved. By what magic or consensus, I know not.
I have no way to resolve this. I say nothing. And this seems to only increase the tension.
It is growing dark. "We should set up camp."
"You set it up. I'm going to take a piss and find some dinner."
He's doing this on purpose. He must get some sort of inane glee out of watching Fuu be mad at me. And now, without him here to talk to her, the tension will only increase ever the more.
Nonetheless, I start to set up camp. Nothing can be done. I did lose the map. How could I be so stupid? I pride myself on not doing ridiculous things. Things like Mugen would do.
Fuu says nothing to me. She starts gathering sticks for the fire while I clear away brush for the pit. That animal climbs out of her kimono and starts scampering around. It ends up in a tree, watching us.
I am uncomfortable. Why am I so uncomfortable? I must focus on the task at hand. Setting up camp, and then, yes, tomorrow... Tomorrow we will head south. We've been heading south, so we might as well continue in that direction. If we could find a road... Fuu would be happy again, for we would be on the way towards her destination, and not wandering about aimlessly in the woods. Things would return to normal.
Normal. Has anything about this journey been normal?
Fuu brings the kindling. She drops it at my feet. There is a look on her face which causes my head to hurt. It's that one where her lips are drawn together into a sour pucker. Maybe she'll yell now. Maybe she'll call me stupid, I'll apologize, and we'll be done with it. Why does this continue? How do I resolve...this?
I bend down and start arranging twigs. It won't take long, with a piece of flint, to get the fire started. I strike at it with a rock. Unfortunately, I use a little too much force, and a sliver of the flint flakes off and hits me in the jaw. I need to think less. Sensei always said I overanalyzed everything. While this is good in a combat situation, it appears to occasionally be detrimental in more mundane life.
Fuu plops down on the other side of the fire after I get it going. I can hear Mugen crashing about in the nearby woods, swearing occasionally. The noise doesn't usually seem to deter him from catching dinner. Fuu, on the other hand, is still completely silent. And now she's staring at me. Most people don't like to look at me. Catching the wrong samurai's eye can mean death. People fear to look at one another. But, Fuu seems to lack the concept of fear. Perhaps she is yet too young, and too innocent. Or maybe there is nothing she's afraid to lose.
I stare blankly into the woods. The night chill is descending, but the fire burns bright. It's warmth, however, is bested by the searing gaze being directed at me.
Why do I care? Why can't I focus? Why doesn't this slide off of me like all other things? It must. It must. This means nothing. Fuu means...
I turn my face to look at Fuu. Maybe she'll yell now. Maybe she'll...
Something touches on my head. It feels like an outstretched hand, and I immediately go for the hilt of my katana. I'm still looking at Fuu, however. I know I will be able to tell by her face how immediate the danger is.
But, her mouth is drawn wide, not in a semblance of horror, but one of amusement. Her shoulders start shaking, and then she busts out into peals of laughter which echo through the forest.
I reach up and touch the thing on my head. Furry. Small. And it...
It bites my finger. I bite my tongue.
"Momosan, c'mere..." Fuu manages to call between laughs. The animal leaps off my head and glides over the fire onto Fuu's knee. "You better get back in, before Mugen tries to eat you!" The thing squirms around in her collar and then attempts to thrash its way deeper into Fuu's kimono. I look away, and pretend not to be utterly amused.
Suddenly, it is as if a weight is lifted. The tension is gone. Fuu is giggling and trying to get the animal to stop squirming. I poke at the fire with a long stick in an attempt to get it hot enough to cook whatever Mugen brings back. It is comfortable again. In the blink of an eye, things return to normal.
Fuu's power. Fuu's magic.
"Fuu." She stops squirming and looks over at me. "I am sorry I lost the map."
Fuu tilts her head and peers at me for a moment. "Were you thinking about that this whole time?"
Wasn't she? "I thought you were mad."
"No." She shakes her head, but continues to smile lightly. How does one approach the world with such tender happiness? "I was just teasing about that. Because... I mean I was mad, a little, but not about the map."
"About what, then?"
"Well, it's because..." Fuu swishes her lips back and forth. "It's because when you guys fight, and then come back bloody or scraped up, you always say 'It's nothing', or 'I'm fine'. It's like you don't even care that I'm worried about you. So, I thought I'd give you the silent treatment for once, to show you how it felt."
"But, you asked for the map."
"Yeah, guess I forgot." Fuu laughs and shakes her head. "You make it look easy, that not-talking thing." She quirks one of her eyebrows, crosses her arms, and leans back a little before muttering a small, "Hm". I think this is supposed to be her impression of me. She gives it up, and leans back on her hands. "So, I'm not mad anymore. Okay?"
I nod slightly, and go back to poking at the fire. The fact that this comforts me is an irksome concept. I need do nothing more than fulfill my promise to escort Fuu on her journey. Why should I care if she comes to loathe me in the process?
"There is no need to worry all the time," I finally say. "I do not plan on dying so precipitously."
"Okay, I'll make you a deal." Fuu jumps to her feet and points at me. "When I ask you if you're okay, you'll say, 'I'm alright, Fuu'. If you say my name, which you almost never do, I'll know that you understand that I'm worried. Alright?"
Who is this girl? How did this come to pass? The string of events which led us here is extraordinary and improbable. Who is this girl, this small creature which commands an elite force of two warriors, and seems to conquer Japan one footstep at a time? Who is this child, this person, this wind which blows us forward? This magnetic force which holds the three of us together? It's insane, really. I must have lost my sanity.
"Ara, Momosan! That tickles! Stop it! There isn't any food in there!"
She's just ordinary. She's just an ordinary girl with an extraordinary goal.
I look down at the fire, and I feel alive.
"Alright, Fuu. It's a deal."
In Our Next Chapter: Our heros are still lost, and run into another small obstacle to their progress.
Author's Note: This isn't some grand fanfiction with an overarching plot or some wise insight. It's just some simple vignettes, something to leave you with a good feeling inside, I hope. :D