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Trial By Fire
By Mike Baker

2009 Samurai Fiction Contest

Genre: Historical Fiction / Ghost Story

 

 

“Are you sure our dear lord will be occupied long enough, for this plan to go completely into effect, Sadanori?"

Akechi Mitsuhide sat questioning his guest and fellow conspirator, who had appeared less concerned about the dangerous matters they had been discussing. Mitsuhide then quickly sipped, nervously from his ornate sake cup.

“My general it is a simple task to accomplish. Many may not know it, but as powerful of a man as our lord may be, he is easily subdued by both drink and celebration. With my presence at Honno-ji, our lord will be docile, like a sleeping child, and easily be dispatched by the actions in your plan”.

Izumi Sadanori retorted confidently to Mitsuhide’s questioning, while he casually enjoyed his own sake, from his simply decorated, earthenware cup. Mitsuhide’s lips slowly curled into a smile. Sadanori’s assurance convinced Mitsuhide that he would succeed in his role, in keeping their lord occupied long enough, so that he could overtake Nobunaga by force.

“Sir I must also add, that your plan is perfectly constructed and thought out, and it will be without fail. When the day is over Oda Nobunaga shall be dead and you will be the supreme ruler“.

Akechi Mitsuhide’s smile only widened. He enjoyed the sound of Sasanori’s prediction. He silently lifted his sake cup to Sadanori, offering a slight not, giving him silent praise.

Sadanori quickly awoke from his reverie, he looked about, to make sure that he had not completely lost track of the passing time. He certainly had not forgotten that the plan, he and Mitsuhide laid out, must be perfectly timed this very day. He had worked very hard to get into the position he was in, and cannot miss his opportunity. He would follow through in making the sacrifice of himself, in order to put an end to Nobunaga.

Sadanori was one of the junior most member of Oda Nobunaga’s entourage. He had first joined Akechi Mitsuhide as a retainer, only a year after the destruction of the temple complex on Mt. Hiei. Though not a well versed fighter compared to his peers, what he lacked in martial skill Sadanori made up in his artistic ability. He soon found himself in the company of Oda Nobunaga who appreciated Sadanori’s talents, and his never ending praise for Nobunaga‘s own artistic pursuits. This was especially true tonight, as Nobunaga personally ordered Sadanori to be dispatched from Mitsuhide’s army, in order to join him at Honno-ji, where he planned to entertain nobles earlier that evening. Nobunaga wanted to make an impression on the nobles in Kyoto, and knew Sadanori could make it happen. Now after the poetry reciting, sake drinking and celebration Sadanori laid in the room next to his lords, waiting for the Mitsuhide to put his plan into motion.

Sadanori laid his head back down, going over the plan and how it was laid before him by Mitsuhide. It was no easy task to gain the trust of his general in a short amount of time. But Sadanori did it, first by giving praise to Mitsuhide, even when it was not necessary, even sometimes dulling down his own artistic skills in order make Mitsuhide feel to be the superior artist, often similar tactics he uses for Nobunaga. Sadanori also calmly dealt with Mitsuhide’s temper, enduring his general’s tantrums about their lord, often adding his own pieces of encouragement, to fuel the fire in Mitsuhide‘s heart. But one night Sadanori found opportunity, when in one of his tantrums Mitsuhide had slipped, professing his desire to avenge all the wrongs he suffered at the hands of Nobunaga. He spoke about how he long had the desire to usurp Nobunaga. Except Mitsuhide lacked the necessary push, to accomplish the feat. But the required push made an appearance, this had come in the form of Izumi Sadanori. Gaining Mitsuhide’s trust and confidence was the easiest part, after that is was a matter of patience, that was the tricky part, a matter of Mitsuhide concocting the plan, like it was his own and a matter of finding a role for Sadanori in the plan . In order for it all to come together, Sadanori had to make the killing of Oda Nobunaga, become Mitsuhide’s ambition.

Often Sadanori would hear how Nobunaga publicly insulted Mitsuhide, once for serving rotten fish, another time Nobunaga publicly whipped him with a pair of his sandals, in front of his own soldiers. And each time Mitsuhide suffered such an insult, Sadanori was there, feeding his ego and coaxing his inner rage. But Sadanori knew exactly what would make Mitsuhide’s blood boil. Often he would feign ignorance on one particular topic, and bring up Mitsuhide’s mother into conversation, knowing very well what happened to her. Because of Nobunaga’s execution of Hatano Hideharu, despite Mitsuhide’s promise of sparing his life, in an effort to get him to surrender, The Hatano clan took their vengeance out on Mitsuhide’s mother, killing her in a very cruel manner. After this event Mitsuhide certainly bore extremely ill feelings of his lord. Although Sadanori quipped to himself, if Mitsuhide ever realized who neglected to tell Nobunaga about the promise to Hatano Hideharu, or who even convinced Nobunaga to make a point by executing him, then it would be Sadanori who would probably earn Mitsuhide’s wrath, instead of Oda Nobunaga.

Suddenly, the piercing sounds of screaming guards, and cheering soldiers, broke the early morning haze. The awful stench of smoke and burning timber snapped Sadanori out of his second reverie. He listened to the sounds of Mitsuhide’s men cheering, as they were laying Honno-ji to the torch, and to Nobunaga’s guard making desperate attempts to escape the burning temple, their attempts stopped by the edge of a sword or the end of a gun.
“Well t appears that my plan has been put into motion. So now it’s time to pay a visit to our Lord”.

Sadanori chuckled to himself, listening to the commotion occurring on the lower levels of the temple. All of a sudden his happiness grew, as the sound of a man in immediate agony, came from the next room, Oda Nobunaga’s room. Izumi Sadanori entered his lords room, wearing only a simply decorated bed robe, with his unsheathed sword in his right hand, the empty scabbard in the other. To him he viewed an excellent sight. While Nobunaga’s personal guard tried escaping one way, Nobunaga decided another route. In his ornate robe, in a sitting position in the middle of the room, Nobunaga had plunged a dagger into his belly. Managing to make one horizontal cut before Sadanori arrived. His beautiful robes, now dyed in fresh red, the fleshy coils of his bowels, appearing from the incision like large pink serpents. In his agony Nobunaga looked up, through his grimacing he spoke to Sadanori, who still held Nobunaga’s mercy in his right hand.
“Please, Sadanori, please use your sword. end this!”

Taking a step forward, Sadanori observed how pathetic his lord looked, as he always felt he was. Nobunaga’s eyes widened through his contorted face, as Sadanori threw his sword down, the tip lodging into the floorboards.

“ What… Sadanori what are you doing?”
Nobunaga was in complete shock from both the agony of his cut belly and from Sadanori’s defiance, in ending his suffering. His stunned mind could not comprehend the treachery that was unfolding before him.

“ My dear lord, there is no way I want to end your life so quickly, although you will most certainly die tonight, I promise this will occur no matter what. Before that happens I wish to confess something to you, before you depart.“

Sadanori violently grabbed the collar of his lord’s crimson soaked robes, jerking Nobunaga’s limp frame, dragging him across the wooden floors, with a strength not natural for Sadanori’s stature. Nobunaga groaned painfully, as the warm, coils that emerged from his belly dragged along, leaving a dark, slick, wet trail, like large pink serpents. Then Sadanori propped Nobunaga up, so they could get a view outside the temple. Through the choking black smoke, both men saw the instigator, and the one who led the burning of Honno-ji.

“Mitsuhide… you dog!”
Through the intense pain, Nobunaga managed to identify who he thought was the lead conspirator.

“No, no, no my dear lord, you have it all wrong. Akechi Mitsuhide may be the weapon of your demise, but he is most defiantly not the general who ordered it’s use“.

Sadanori loudly proclaimed with a laugh, while leaning an elbow on the frame of the opening to the outside. Whether it was from the loss of blood, or the shock, Oda Nobunaga was speechless.

“You see my lord, Mitsuhide may have gone through with the plan, and put this place to the torch, all for the cause of ending your life. But he was not the one who planned it, the artist who orchestrated all of this, happens to stand before you.“

The force of Sadanori’s confession, drained the little amount of life, Nobunaga had in his face. Nobunaga’s response was weak and marked with both immense physical and emotional pain.
“Sadanori…why?”

Sadanori chuckled at Nobunaga, while placing both hands to his head, tightly gripping the flesh of his own face, in front of his ears.

“My lord, understand that we have met before.“
Nobunaga’s dull, almost lifeless eyes, peered down, towards the puddle of his own bodily fluids, trying to understand.

“ I apologize, you probably do not recognize me like this, let me help you understand.”

As he finished speaking, Sadanori began to forcefully pull the flesh of his own face forward, pulling it off like it was an organic mask. Throwing the useless piece of dead flesh on the floor, with a sickening slap, Sadanori revealed his true image. He looked almost like a normal man, except his complexion was just pale, almost a blue hue, marked with patches of horrific burns. His eyes looked inhuman, the bright colors of his iris were now a deathly grey, his black hair was no longer oiled and made up into a topknot, but instead it was matted and charred. Oda Nobunaga gazed upon Sadanori, in horror. For the first and last time he felt absolute fear.

“You still don’t remember me, do you. I wouldn’t expect you to, there were thousands of us, that you had executed that day. You see, we met before once, on mount Hiei, the day you surrounded the temple and ordered it to be burnt to the ground. Before that day, I had no vendetta against you, I was simply a traveler who had stopped at the temple for shelter, a meal and to experience the monks artistry. But you had to have your vengeance on them, you had to surround the temple and set it afire, much like what is being done to you. And anyone who wanted to escape the flames found that route, by your soldiers guns. But I, like many of the others, chose not to be executed like a dog, so we stayed in the temple, and met our end in agonizing flames. And for all that, Oda Nobunaga you must die.“

Sadanori looked down at Oda Nobunaga, who remained in a prone position, painfully gasping, attempting to breathe, his intestines had almost completely spilled from his belly, his robe so soaked in blood, the original color could have been mistaken. Suddenly though Sadanori looked out the window, the flames and smoke from the floors below increasing.

“It appear the ones I have received my orders from have arrived, most likely to view your final moments.“

Sadanori lifted Nobunaga up again, propping him so he can look out of the window, through the black smoke and flames. Nobunaga was further horrified at the inhuman sight, outside. Behind the treacherous Mitsuhide and his men. Stood thousands of figures, specters of the slain men, women and children, many of them were the monks and the others were civilians from mount Hiei. They appeared human, except they were pale and their faces were marked with horrible burns and various wounds some from bullets others from swords or spears.

“Do not worry Nobunaga, I can certainly confirm there is an afterlife. Because of the absolute suffering you caused the people on Hiei, our spirits kept going. Many of them wanted revenge, but they were afraid. The monks did not know what was in store for us if we pursued our vengeance. They were afraid to get their revenge, afraid of the consequence. But not me, I wanted revenge, no matter what, revenge for me and the other people you massacred, revenge at any cost. So I offered to do the deed, for all the people on Hiei that you killed, that is my sacrifice.“

Sadanori began to walk away from Nobunaga, who looked terrified and pathetic in his final moments. The hot flames were licking the windows and beams of the temple, the smell of smoke, burning wood and charred bodies filled the air. He walked out of the burning room, into the blazing inferno, that took place of the doorway. That would be the last sight Nobunaga would see in life, soon he collapsed, the last of his vital fluids had left the large cut in his belly. Moments later the roof of the temple, and Nobunaga’s room collapsed on him. The cheers of Mitsuhide and his army rang, as Honno-ji fell in a burning heap.

Epilogue:
On a bright, summer afternoon, the single messenger, who could report on the Oda Nobunaga’s fate back in Kyoto, left the camp of Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The messenger was able to report to the general about not only Akechi Mitsuhide’s treachery, but also how many men he commanded, and his next destination. With this information, he figures Hideyoshi could easily attack and kill Mitsuhide. As he walked away from the general’s camp, down the lone dirt road, the messenger could not help but chuckle to himself.

“Well, lord Nobunaga, it appears you will get your revenge, the same time I get mine.“

Sadanori continue to laugh to himself as he walked down the road. The final part of his plan he figured was the easiest. All he needed was a new name, and a new face, and to tell Hideyoshi everything that happened, or almost everything. Soon, Sadanori figured, Hideyoshi will execute the person responsible for burning one particular building on Hiei, and in the process, killing Sadanori.