Part 1 (Lair)
Part 2 (Vale)
The next morning Simeon rose before the sun and was at the base of Oyama as ruby light began to flood the tree-spotted, carpeted green edge of the vale. Finding easily the hunting trail his visitor had spoken of, he dropped his pack and, stashing the reed in the sash of his kimono, proceeded up the mountainside. It wasn’t long before he spotted a yawning gash in the rock face.
Well that Heaven had sent him help, he thought to himself, for Sogo’s tracks had abruptly tapered off and vanished some time ago. He might never have found the monk here.
He saw no sign that the cavern was inhabited, but this meant little. Drawing forth his longblade, Simeon called out fiercely. “Sogo the Bonze! I am Simeon Ukon Omura, come in the name of the King Peter! Come out and face justice!”
The only reply from within the stone mouth was the menacing echo of his exhortation. Still he remained where he stood, sword ready.
“I will enter presently and collect you if necessary, monk! But it will be said that Sogo died a coward, willing only to face old, unarmed priests!”
Simeon began to pace slowly toward the cave entrance when he heard the scuffling of sandals on gravel within. Then the monk emerged, drawing out of the shadow and into the faint coppery glow of the nascent daylight. He was a tall man, his head cleanly shaven and his face sharp and cruel. He wore the customary black over white robes of a shinto monk. In his right hand he hefted a long polearm. The fearful, crescent dagger-length blade of the naginata shimmered even in the dimness of the morning, and Simeon could tell that it was sharp and deadly.
His other hand clutched a curious white orb, lustrous and brilliant as a pearl, but large as a melon. This puzzled the warrior, but there was no time to ponder its nature.
“Nothing will be said of Sogo’s death,” the monk answered hotly. “For it will be Simeon Ukon Omura who dies here!” Crying out wildly, he charged down the short rocky slope to meet the warrior.
Simeon’s first thought was that this monk was a fool indeed, to wield a naginata with one hand in a reckless charge on an opponent. But rather than stand against the assault and deliver what should be a simple and fatal parry, instep, and counterblow, he heeded an instinctual call for caution, and instead gave ground and attempted to block and sidestep the attack. The strength of the blow from above nearly dropped him to his knees, however.
With astonishing speed, Sogo whipped the polearm back up and brought its blade back and twirling sideways to Simeon’s left. The warrior’s arms cried out in pain as he blocked the assault, and his teeth chattered from the impact of the attack . He scrambled further back down the rocks, barely keeping his footing.
There was something inhuman and vulpine about the monk’s face, and Simeon remembered the words of his helper.
Fending off another attack both strong and quick as lightning, he cried out in fury. “I bid you be gone, spirit, in the name of the White Christ Jesu! Do not interfere!” He quickly pulled at this kimono to reveal the small crucifix at his breast.
Sogo, or whatever had taken on his shape, staggered backwards as if physically struck, his onslaught halted. He scowled, hesitating, but then sneered menacingly. “Curios and words! You lack the power to stop me.” He started forward again to renew his attack.
Before he could bring the powerful bladed hook to bear, however, Simeon had hastily withdrawn the bamboo whistle and put it to his lips. Rather than the shrill piping he had expected, a terrible baying thunder exploded forth from the small reed. The burst of sound was as the rallying cry of some devil hound, calling pack and master to the hunt.
Sogo’s eyes grew impossibly wide in horror and surprise, his face pale and drawn. For a heartbeat his head was that of a great fox. Seven spectral tails flickered behind him as wisps of dim blue smoke and disappeared, and suddenly the shining, milky orb was gone from his left hand. The monk fell to his knees with a whimper, and Simeon knew the spirit had fled.
Simeon circled his stunned opponent slowly, positioning himself now on equally elevated ground. “It’s over. Surrender now and you may die with honor,” he urged.
The monk raised his face, now somehow flatter and less aggressively shaped, and met Simeon’s eyes. The bonze’s gaze burned with a cold intensity and a hate that chilled the samurai’s blood. Leaning on his naginata, he slowly lifted one leg, shifting into a position of genuflexion. “Honor!” he spat. “What know you of honor?”
He continued to pull himself up off the ground, and Simeon allowed him to do so.
“You and your king – you welcome foreigners to rape your lands and write your destiny. You displace the old gods of Nippon for that of the Christians. And you disgrace the memory of your ancestors.”
He stood, brandishing his polearm with both hands. The warrior-monk was tall and perhaps once strong, but now looked only wan and wrung of his vitality. Still, his eyes were bright and dangerous.
“We each write our own destiny,” Simeon replied, raising his blade. “Sometimes in blood, as you did in Tenkawa.”
Sogo answered with a downward, hooking thrust of his blade, aimed at the samurai’s right leg. The attack was easily deflected, the monk’s strength and speed now no match for Simeon’s. Patiently the samurai batted away several more blows, exercising the caution of a seasoned duelist. Although Simeon was obviously the more skilled fighter, he recognized a certain cunning in the way the monk aimed his attacks and controlled the speed and force of his blows, and realized that a premature counterstrike would mean his death.
Several more times the monk buffeted at the unbreakable fortress of steel, leaving false openings that the swordsman recognized as cleverly baited traps.
Then the long, curved pole of the naginata slipped from the grip of Sogo’s right hand, and he loudly sucked air as if in surprise and dismay. Instantly Simeon saw his antagonist’s mind. With savage speed he smacked aside the polearm and stepped into the monk’s inner circle. Sogo had pulled forth a knife from his sash to greet the samurai, but Simeon was quicker and his tanto of greater reach. Before the bonze could sufficiently raise his hidden attack, Simeon’s short blade was sheathed in his chest.
For the second and final time, the monk slumped to the ground, the knife and naginata both falling from his hands and clattering onto the gravel of the mountainside. The samurai swiftly withdrew the blade and grabbed at the dying man’s shoulder to slow his collapse. Lying on the rocky mount, the emptying of his lifeblood draining his face of what little color it still possessed, Sogo stared up at the red brilliance of the fiery dawning sky. His eyes were no longer filled with hate, but with fear.
“We will always remember the old ways,” Simeon whispered, looking down gravely at his vanquished foe. “But their time has passed.”
Neither Simeon nor Sogo the Bonze spoke further. The samurai remained with him until he expired, and then erected a humble mound of stones and said a short prayer. Simeon was content that justice had been served, and yet he felt no gladness. Only pity.
And so he departed Mt. Azami and began his journey back to the capital. There was much to report to the king.