Title: Ronin Note
By: Dr. Kim-chan
Author's Note: I thought of this when I was doing two things at once: listening to the Samurai Champloo soundtrack and rereading the Death Note manga. There was a line from Ryuk I remember reading, about how the Kira case wasn't the only time when history was changed so dramatically by Death Notes. Then I was doing a little research for another writing project, and I picked up Tale of the 47 Ronin. Then I found out with a shock that the main antagonist was named Lord Kira! Coincidence? I think not!
Well, since Mello, Near (and to a certain extent Matt) are essentially avenging a fallen master, I put two and one together and started this story! Most events are parallel to the actual plot of Death Note, and I also changed some things around, and along the way I'll put in footnotes, translations, etc., so you won't get lost. (Sick of the word "note" yet?) Oh, and beware: spoilers to the end of the series (if you look hard enough). I'm also not sure of the rating. It's T for now, but we'll see…
First, however, the prologue…
"The late Yamamoto Jin'emon always said to his retainers, 'Go ahead and gamble and lie. A person who will not tell you seven lies within a hundred yards is useless as a man'." – Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo
She squinted, both to keep the smoke from the steamship out of her eyes and to capture the sight of the retreating Tokyo Bay, somehow believing that by it not growing fuzzy, it would last longer in her memory.
She'd heard rumor from some of the military men on deck that the city's name had been a recent change, that it used to be "Edo", and that this new name meant "eastern capital". Though the meaning of the new name captured her imagination, she preferred the old name, pining for it in much the same way as someone mourned the demolition of a cherished childhood monument. Her Japanese still not being up to par, the trick step where "k" joined with "y" was a bit much to worry about. "Edo" was easier. It spoke of something ancient, something mystical…
But business in the capital of what the natives called "Nippon" had been the same as usual. It hadn't been that long since the American forces opened up this strange and exotic country to foreign trade, and it hadn't taken long for other countries to take advantage of these new developments. She stared down into the dark blue waters lapping at the hull of the ship, hoping that whatever came of this new enterprise, it wouldn't disturb the lives of the Japanese too much. Too often she'd been accused of being a romantic, but it was a genuine concern.
She sighed, pushed a wayward strand of yellow hair back behind her ears, and pushed herself up from the railing. It would be quite a while until the ship returned to its native port. Her first sketchbook she filled with visual observations about the trip, all of them monotonous: crewmen, her captain father, seagulls, the endless horizons of the Pacific. The second filled sketchbook was much more interesting: their arrival at Tokyo Bay, the natives in their small fishing boats surrounding the steamship like guppies surrounding a shark, the huts and wooden houses, and when she could catch a glimpse, royals and nobles in regalia she thought to be even more beautiful than the royals of her own country. She had at least two sketchbooks left, plus a diary of events. What would she do until she returned home, until her grand adventure ended?
The heels of her shoes thumped hard against the deck floor, but she couldn't make all that noise by herself. She darted around, searching for the source of the ruckus, and then quickly laid her back flat against the outer walls of the cabin.
A few yards ahead of her, two uniformed men bounded around the corner stepping rather quickly, and out of line—behavior that betokened an emergency. She strained her ears, but she didn't hear the alarm that would signal a fire or a man overboard. No one was yelling out order, either. Regaining her awareness, the young woman then realized that they were carrying something between them. She'd never seen anything like it: it looked to be a bundle of white sheets, topped with the soft wool of a sheep. What on earth were they doing with…?
A hand leapt up to her chest when it groaned. Stepping back for a closer look, she made the most shocking revelation of all: the thing had a face! Its features were wrinkled, an elderly man's face, but other features gave away the true secret. He didn't belong to the Western Hemisphere.
He was Japanese.
She wrinkled her nose in disgust, picked up the hems of her skirts, and began marching in their direction. It was true that their goal hadn't been to pick up any Japanese and bring them back, either for diplomatic or personal reasons, but as a romantic she was also a champion of human rights, and a lady.
Hearing loud thumping contradicting their footfalls, the officers looked up to see the young lady charging towards them. Their faces contorted into expressions of unease, both at the fact that she was the captain's daughter and that she looked very angry.
"You two there!" she called out. "What are you doing with that man?"
The officers stopped and saluted with their free arms, keeping the other two in a secure locking grip with the third man between them.
"Good day, my lady. We were on our way to see the captain about this stowaway," the brunette said, his eyes narrowing at the last word as his gaze shifted to the elderly man. She followed his gaze, then had to bite back a childish giggle. The "stowaway", as the officer put it, didn't seem at all peturbed; in fact he looked rather put off that his trip had been interrupted. Either he had strong determination that could only come from life experience, or he truly wasn't aware of the fate that befell most stowaways on a ship.
"We found him hiding below deck, helping himself to our vegetables, as bold as you please!" the other officer, a portly middle-aged man, exclaimed.
"Did he show any signs of struggling?"
"No, ma'am. He came with us peacefully."
She wasn't sure whether to believe this. Being the captain's daughter, she knew more than a woman her age ought to know. They could've just as well coerced him out through more forceful means.
"Well, if that's so, then why are you dragging him about like an unruly child? I don't care if he is a Japanese stowaway, appropriate conduct and civility is the same everywhere," she added, already anticipating the officers' defense. "He's a helpless old man and should be treated as such. And if he was rifling through our rations, that must mean he's hungry as well."
In a final demonstration of her power, she stepped forward and wrenched the old man out of their arms. The last injustice was felt when she realized that her whirlwind movements had been too much for the man to handle; he stumbled, his knees wobbly, but with the woman's quick thinking she flung out her right arm and shoulder as support. As if they'd come to a telepathic understanding, the man immediately used this to his advantage and grabbed her for support. She raised an eyebrow; he was much lighter than he looked.
"He's weak, too, the poor thing," she mumbled. Though her voice sounded soft and compassionate, the two officers could practically hear her berating them for their poor conduct. "I'll take him back to my cabin for the moment."
The officers' eyes grew to the size of full moons, and they quickly protested, but the young woman wouldn't hear any of it. It was times like these, she came to believe, that she was glad to be the captain's daughter.
"I know he's a stowaway; I think you've made that clear enough. Regardless, right now he needs to gather his strength. I'll take full responsibility and report him to the captain once he's back in good spirits."
She said it in a tone that more or less closed the matter, and the officers reluctantly gave up custody of their charge before returning to their posts.
The old man was impressed.
He'd only met two or so women in his life that had the aura of authority like the one who saved him from inevitable punishment just now. She was surprisingly strong, too: she had managed to help him back to her cabin, open the door, and (though rather ungracefully) step in and close the door behind her. Still, her touch was softer than the uniformed men he ran into below deck. In truth his English was rather good, and he knew a few words in Dutch from his stint in Nagasaki; he'd been studying and listening for the past ten years. He just didn't know how to explain it that he had never been able to walk well since his childhood. Considering their behavior, though, he wasn't even sure if they would have cared.
Yet again, keeping quiet had saved his life.
Assured that he was now in good hands, his eyes scanned the cabin they just entered. It looked rather cramped to his foreign eyes, but after the chill of the lower decks of the ship it was cozy. The walls were unpainted, paneled wood, furnished with a few knick-knacks. A bed lined with a flowery comforter, a nightstand, and an unlit oil lamp occupied the left corner. Telescope bags and other pieces of luggage were strewn around the room, as were pieces of thick white paper torn from large notebooks. This grabbed his attention immediately. It wasn't paint and drastic brush strokes, or intricate woodblock printings, but he could tell it was art all the same. Each piece was marked with an exquisitely done picture, capturing a memory in graphite pencil.
The blonde woman quickly ushered him into a chair, then crouched down in front of him, staring at him intently.
"Do you…understand English?"
He stared back and nodded.
"A little bit, yes."
Her eyebrows flew up until they became lost in her fringe. She hadn't expected this. A couple of nobles in Tokyo had learned English, and even then their speech had lacked some of the structure, correct pronounciation, and propositions. His was almost perfect.
"Oh good! I know some Japanese myself. That should make things easier for the both of us, huh?"
She paused, then shook her head and stood up.
"Here I am, trying to teach boorish army officers manners and I haven't even told you my name." She pursed her lips. "Wa…wa-tashi wa…Linda desu. Haji-me-mashite."
He grinned, but it was encouraging rather than condescending.
"Pleased to meet you, Linda-san, but it's all right if you wish to speak English. I know there are the rules of the boat to live by, but I have no intention of returning to Japan. As for me, my name is Ichi—"
He paused, and Linda caught a glimpse of sadness in his eyes as he almost let another name slip.
"Excuse me…Near Shirakawa." (1)
Linda's blue eyes sparkled at this tidbit of information. That was another thing Linda loved about Japan; she loved her name, acknowledging it as a gift from her parents, but Japanese names were poems of a high nature. Apparently, even though they were wont to change their names according to the circumstances, they even guarded their names with even more pride than Westerners, claiming reasons of family loyalty, pride, or milestone accomplishments in their lives.
"'Near'? What an interesting name. Why did your parents call you that?"
"No, my parents called me 'Ichiro' at birth. Someone else gave me the name 'Near'. It was necessary…to save my life." (2)
Linda let out a gasp.
"To save your life? I didn't know names were that important to Japanese people!"
"They're not, usually, but my fate led me to be a samurai…well, a ronin, really. But I wasn't alone. Two friends shared my fate, and they also changed their names to follow that fate, and we avenged Sensei's death to the end."
"Are they on the boat with you, or back in Japan?"
He sighed. "As it turned out, we came to face dangers even new names could not protect against. I'm the only one who survived."
Linda's jaw dropped, and she immediately pulled up another chair to sit across from him. She knew what the terms meant. A samurai was a warrior, a respected man in Japanese society, in much the same way as high-ranking officers of the army. They served under warlords, pledging their lives to them, but once their master died they were considered ronin—samurai without masters, in much the same way as dogs lost without their owners. To see so much death in a lifetime…if nothing else, that was probably why he left his native country.
An idea sparked in her mind. Suddenly timid, she asked, "Could you…could you tell me the story?"
His face looked impassive…no, shocked at the suggestion. Linda suddenly felt embarrassed and waved her hands around wildly.
"Sorry, that was rude of me! If it's too painful to talk about…"
"No," he breathed, a small smile sprouting on his pallid face. "That's all right. If this is repayment for sparing me from those men, then I'll gladly return the kindness, Linda-san. Besides, it's been almost fifty years. Not very many people have asked me, and I've kept it to myself, out of grief and out of selfishness, but for people to not know what almost became of Japan, for people to not know those who gave their lives to protect the peace…that's the greatest shame."
He looked up, a fire of resolve in his otherwise blank eyes.
"Before I begin, however, there are some things I hope to make clear to you first, Linda-san."
She nodded solemnly. "Yes?"
"The first is about the two friends I mentioned earlier. At the very end, they said I was the strongest, the most favored of our master, but I tell this story in their favor. I couldn't have learned what I learned and endured what I've endured without them. Their original names were Jiro Katsumoto and Mitsuo Jounouchi, but their names will be remembered as Mello and Matt." (3)
Linda nodded again.
"The second thing pertains to the changing of our names and our master's death. What we battled against wasn't simply swords and other such weapons. There are few warriors like this, but they do exist…though with more and more samurai using the guns and cannons of the gaijin I don't doubt that power like this may not ever exist in Japan again. There were those who were able to use what one would call…let's see…I suppose you would call it 'magic' or 'sorcery'. Even my fellow warriors and our allies used it. However, there are those who use it for good, and those who use it for evil."
Linda nodded understandably as she rose to fix two cups of tea.
"We refer to it as 'white' and 'black' magic," she said. "So you, Mello, and Matt were white magic users?"
"Yes. Our enemies—those who used the 'black magic', as you say—had obtained a particularly dangerous type of weapon, one that threatened the power of the shogunate. A twisted blessing from above, they said, though I think it was more of a curse. They called them Death Scrolls. When one's name is written on such a scroll, the person then dies shortly after."
He winced slightly as Linda dropped a (mercifully empty) teacup, which shattered upon impact. Grumbling and apologizing in erratic bursts, she gathered all the pieces she could and used a spare jewelry box to hold them as she fetched another cup. Through all this, however, she kept her wide eyes on Near.
"All they had to do was write their enemies' names on paper…and they died? It all seems so hard to believe."
Now it was Near's turn to nod understandably.
"That's why I wanted to mention it to you first. I couldn't believe it myself, but then…Ryuuzaki-sensei…oh, thank you."
He took the teacup and saucer gingerly in his hands. He took a sip, the tea tasting a lot sweeter than the kind he was used to, and smiled. Linda sat down with her own cup, allowing it to cool for a while as she prepared to hang on his every word.
"Let's see…I suppose I should start with how I came to meet Ryuuzaki-sensei. If I hadn't seen him that snowy day…I would've given up right there, in that village…"
(End Chapter 1)
1. For the sake of the story, I wanted to give them more Japanese-sounding names, though for the most part they'll be referred to by their codenames in the story. With Near, Mello, and Matt in particular, I wanted to give them family names that started with the same letter as their real names, as well as meanings that matched their personality. With Near, I couldn't find family names that ended in 'R' (I'm not saying they don't exist, but I personally couldn't find any), so I gave him the next best thing: Shirakawa, which means 'white river' (for obvious reasons…lol).
2. The same thought went into their first names. Near was Ichiro, which means 'first son'. I'd wanted to call him Yuki, but I wanted to keep up the theme.
3. For Mello, Jiro means 'second son' and Katsumoto means 'victorious' (from the fact he always wanted to win). For Matt, Mitsuo means 'third son' and Jonouchi means 'castle from inside' (from his dislike of being outdoors).
Having Death Note "How to Read" Volume 13 is a huge help, too. It gives a lot of insight into their personalities (did you know Halle Lidner hates moths?) and it helps me decide what roles some of the more minor characters will play here. (It also said Halle likes baths, so she'll most likely be a tough-as-nails bathhouse manager.)
Anyway, from now on the story will be told in third person, but still think of it as if Near's telling the story to Linda, and once in a while they will interrupt the flow of the story. I hope you liked it so far. Review, please!