Samurai In Love
A Short By Luis A. Mendez
As part of a year-long plus project, throughout the 2019 holiday season and all of 2020, I will be releasing brand new and re-releasing re-published short fiction on here on Medium every two to three months. They will be available only to Medium members, though non-members can still read them if they have “free previews” still available for the month. This is the fourth of those planned releases. I hope you enjoy it.
Yoshi Katsumura was one step past the frozen, snow-coated, leafless tree where he had relieved himself when he suddenly realized the tiger that he had been looking for was staring right at him. He recognized the beast because of the red human blood stains coated onto the white fur around its mouth.
The animal had crouched next to a small bush and watched Yoshi, who had wandered into its territory. Its blank fur blended in well with the snow, but its dark stripes gave it away to the cunning eye, making it tough for prey to realize the tiger was approaching but easier for humans to spot it. Its eyes were disturbingly human-like, and the tiger stared at Yoshi as if it had something to tell him, “Who are you? You should leave. They’ve sent another one of you?”
Yoshi didn’t think the beast was a fool, as it probably knew why he was there well-armed and ready to do what he was tasked with doing. If all of the stories he’d heard were true, he wasn’t the first person to try slaying this tiger. So Yoshi felt it wiser to wait a minute as he unsheathed his katana to give each side time to choose a strategy — instinct from the tiger, intellect from the man.
They stared at each other in a tense hunter-hunted standoff, frozen still in the wintery weather. The tiger’s breath was visible as the beast panted, his eyes locked on Yoshi and staring as if to see what was going on in the hunter’s mind. Yoshi was so focused on watching his bounty that he ignored its foul smell. They locked gazes in an eerie silence disturbed only by the birds chirping in the distance.
Their tense pause was broken when the tiger growled a bit, stood on its hind legs, and gave Yoshi a look as if to say, “Battle me then”. Yoshi carefully raised his katana and silently prayed for agility, strength, and wisdom as he waited for the tiger’s first move. Soon, Yoshi tired from standing so still so long and he became impatient. The predator was going to strike, but it was more patient. Perhaps it was hoping that Yoshi would just go away? Not so, not given what he could earn if he slayed this accused murderer.
The tiger finally flinched, but to Yoshi’s surprise, it moved carefully around the samurai as if to slip by him. The tiger was clearly avoiding a battle, after not sensing fear or hesitation in his challenger.
Yoshi decided to walk carefully and keep confronting the massive cat’s front side, even as the tiger tried to escape. The beast finally realized his foe wanted a battle, and so it turned from moving around him to slowly creeping towards him, “So be it, fool”.
Yoshi prepared his katana and himself to do what he must do and then he began to creep up slowly towards the mammal. The tiger growled one last time and Yoshi grunted to show he wasn’t afraid and then the tiger pounced.
To Yoshi’s shock and despair, the tiger was quicker than expected. As Yoshi tried to strike down the beast, it jumped on him, driven by a mix of anger, frustration, and thirst for blood. Yoshi had his katana, but the tiger was too swift and put him at its mercy by standing over him. Yoshi still clutched his sword, but the tiger atop him was growling and seized control of the sword. The tiger’s hot horrible breath came from the beast’s murder weapon — its jaws. Yoshi dodged one attack, but then was bitten hard enough to feel and smell the blood running down his face.
Yoshi quickly realized the tiger’s body was angled so that he could kick it off. As the tiger prepared to strike again, Yoshi kicked him and got up with blood dripping red on the white snow. He held his katana ready to end this battle. The tiger growled at not yet defeating the samurai quickly as he’d presumably done many times in the past with others.
Yoshi charged and the tiger countered, but Yoshi was now the aggressor, hitting the beast hard enough and quickly enough to drop it on the snow. As the tiger lay stricken, Yoshi hacked away and when he felt that he had done enough damage, he stopped attacking and listened to the large cat’s final breaths.
Yoshi stood over the dead mammal and both the beast and the warrior were covered by blood. As his adrenaline subsided, Yoshi carefully sheathed his katana and sat down on the snow. The snow was cold and wet, and he thought of being back at the palace of the lord he served than here in the wilderness, but he needed to regain the will to do what had to be done
After sitting a while, he stood up to skin the tiger. He had to decapitate it and put the remains in a bag he as proof he had done his task. After dragging the tiger to a clearer spot, he turned the creature over on its back. To his horror, he realized that the tiger he had just killed was a female. That meant this tiger was not the male murderer he had been asked to kill.
The blood stains that coated the tiger’s mouth had mislead him. The man-eater he was tasked to kill had been a white tiger with black stripes like this one, it had been described as large as this one, it had been sighted with human blood stains on its mouth like this one, and it had supposedly dealt with other samurais who failed in trying to claim it as bounty like this one — but it was supposed to be a male. He had made a grave mistake and almost paid with it with his life. He stared at the body of the wrong creature, cold, wet, and covered in blood, and had little energy after the battle. He thought, “How did I get into this predicament?”
Yoshi served a lord who was known to be fair and just, but he also demanded results when a problem needed to be fixed. The lord owned farmland and bred livestock to provide food. The land was for the Empire of Japan, but it was overseas in China. A sudden and well-known string of deaths had started in these farmed areas among livestock and then extended to the breeders. Ultimately, a sighting pointed the blame at an unusually large tiger that had been seen roaming the outskirts of the nearby villages. It had also been sighted coming to and from the mountain that overlooked the land: male, white fur, black stripes, with human blood on its mouth. Samurais had been asked to kill the beast for the lord, but either they had trouble finding it and gave up or they returned too injured from an attack. Those who did not return were assumed to be victims of the beast.
Yoshi was a high-ranking member of his lord’s trusted samurais. He was the youngest, but he had risen through the ranks quickly. Many said his speed and strong strike force would make him possibly the greatest samurai of all one day. Because the tiger had been troubling enough to claim some lives, his lord would not allow him as one of his best men to try the task. He needed Yoshi to stay at his side more than being out in the wilderness risking his life hunting for an accused man-eater.
One day, the lord was visited by a neighboring lord. They were to meet about an alliance through marriage. Yoshi’s lord did not have a son to marry the visiting lord’s daughter, so he promised him one of his highest-ranking men. The lord and his daughter had come to pick one or rather he would do the picking and she’d have to deal with whomever he picked.
Yoshi was at the side of his lord when the potential allies arrived. The other lord was like his, a wiser and older man, who had his own high-ranking samurais to serve him. His daughter, though, caught Yoshi off guard. He had expected a young woman who was just coming of age, not one who was like him in his late twenties. Most of the women of this high of class had married by that age.
When she was introduced, Yoshi had a hard time not being so obvious in staring at her in awe. She was a sight to behold. Her long and flowing black hair, her beautiful face highlighted by her radiant smile, and her figure, to use more flattering terms, were perfect — Asuka Osaragi.
To Yoshi’s secret delight, he had been asked to be Asuka’s bodyguard and take her to see the surrounding lands while the lords talked over the details of the would-be arranged marriage. Yoshi decided to take her to see the gardens, and she fell in love with them. The flowers that dotted the landscape and the trees that shaded them from the sun created a beautiful sight.
Afterwards, he showed her around the farmlands, where the subject of the man-eating tiger came up.
“No one has tried to stop it?” Asuka asked as they walked together across the farmlands, and some farmers politely allowed her to taste their crops.
“My lord continues to send samurais to try and hunt the beast, but none have been able to kill it,” Yoshi explained.
“Why hasn’t he sent you?”
Yoshi shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe he thinks it’s a great risk to lose one of his highest-ranking samurais. Maybe he feels other men are up to the task.”
“Do you think you would be able to strike it down if you had your chance?”
“I’d like to think so,” Yoshi replied with a bit of a cocky smile.
Asuka giggled at his confidence and then stopped him with a gentle touch before asking, “Seriously, do you think you could?”
Yoshi had no clue, but now was not the time to be unsure around a pretty girl. He took his katana out to show it off, then as he stared at it, he proclaimed aloud, “Yes, I could. I know it in my heart. I’d take the killer out.”
To finish their tour, they went to the river via a small boat. The idea was to tour the waterways and get away from the hustle and bustle of life in the farms and inside the village.
At some point on the tour, Lord Osaragi’s daughter became bolder.
“Care to swim with me?” Asuka asked with a smile as she teased him about going into the water by herself.
“Don’t joke about that, as I could get into big trouble if you do that,” Yoshi warned her as he shielded her from getting any closer to jumping out of the boat and into the river.
“Oh, come on. We could use the swim!” Asuka replied as she shoved him into the water with a laugh.
Yoshi got his wits about him and surfaced quickly. Instead of being angry with her though, he found himself glad to see Asuka smiling and laughing. It somehow made her seem even more beautiful. Without thinking much about the possible consequences, he asked for her to help him get back onto the boat, but as she extended her hand he pulled her into the water with him.
“Oh, you! Now my clothing is all wet!” Asuka said with a mix of anger and laughter with the latter becoming her dominant emotion.
“Oh, come on. You said we could use a swim,” Yoshi replied as he tried to get back into the boat.
But Yoshi’s friend for the day grabbed him by his waist and shoved him right back into the water with her, and then shoved his head down. “Consider this my revenge, samurai!” Asuka declared as she laughed.
After taking a less than gentlemanly peak at her legs while under the water, Yoshi emerged and pushed her under.
“Eye for an eye!” he shouted as he held her head underwater before she resurfaced laughing and jokingly hitting him.
It was then they both realized the boat was getting away from them. They somehow found it funny as they swam desperately back to the boat, narrowly escaping being stuck in the middle of the waterway.
Moments later, the two were back on dry land and came to their senses about the kind of trouble their flirting and horseplay would cause. Asuka asked to be taken to any secret spot Yoshi knew so they could dry their clothes. Yoshi showed her a spot he came to for peace and quiet. They laid their wet clothing in the sun to dry. Yoshi found some rags for them in the boat to wear while waiting for the clothes to dry. It was a bit awkward to look away from each other as they changed, and yet they both seemed to find some joy in their mischief.
Using his skills with his katana, Yoshi stabbed a big fish for them to share and he started a fire as daylight began to fade. They shared stories of their childhood and how each had arrived at where they were in their lives then.
“How long have you wanted to be a samurai?” Asuka asked as they cut up the cooked fish.
“Ever since I witnessed one helping my father,” Yoshi replied. “My father was always getting himself into trouble. One day, a samurai helped him get out of a situation. Since that day, I wanted to follow the path of the samurai.”
“What kind of situation?” she asked as he was giving her pieces of the fish.
“That’s a story for another day,” he replied after some hesitation before they began to eat. He then changed the subject before his decision to keep some secrets became too awkward.
“What about you? Why are you not married yet?”
“My mother was very overprotective of me. It took years, but my father finally got her permission to marry me off,” she explained.
“Your mother. Is she back at your land?” he asked as he ate.
Asuka laughed at his messy way of eating and gently wiped his mouth.
“Yes. She was too nervous about this situation to come with me.”
Finally, after their clothes had dried, they changed into them. They were putting out the fire to begin heading back when Asuka mentioned the issue they were both trying to ignore by saying, “You know, I hope my father picks you.”
Yoshi didn’t want to get his hopes up and knew that if his lord didn’t want him to leave his side to stop a dangerous tiger, there was little chance he’d let him marry another lord’s daughter.
“I hope so, too” was all he could say in reply, not wanting to ruin the moment. It was a good day and that was fine enough for him.
Over the next week, as the lords continued negotiating their alliance, Yoshi was both Asuka’s bodyguard and her best friend. He showed her new sights, and they revealed more to each other about one another. By the week’s end, Yoshi knew he was in trouble as he had fallen in love with someone he knew he couldn’t have. Making it harder was her confession that she had fallen for him as well.
Asuka assured him that she could convince her father, but Yoshi had doubts. She thought it was a good idea if they shared at least one night of intimacy, but Yoshi could not do her that dishonor. So she came up with the idea of running away, but he knew what a horrible and deadly mistake that would be for his end.
Finally, the night came when the lords would decide who would marry Asuka. Yoshi took his place next to his lord as they hosted a dinner for their visitors. He tried to keep his composure as she had kept staring at him with a knowing look. When dinner was done, Yoshi’s lord got up and announced he and Lord Osaragi had chosen the men suitable to marry Asuka, who could choose one of them
“Wait a minute!” Asuka interrupted, as she stood up before the winning candidate could be chosen.
“What is the meaning of this, girl?” Asuka’s father demanded.
Yoshi’s lord put his hand up to signal it was okay. “No, it’s alright. Let her speak. This is a big moment for her.”
Asuka bowed and explained herself. “My apologies, as I’ve been a humble visitor here for the past several days and, in those days, I have discovered, thanks to unforeseen events, who among your samurais I should marry.”
Asuka’s father was incredulous to this news. “You what?” What events? What do you mean? You discovered who?”
Asuka looked over to Yoshi, making sure their eyes met. Yoshi gave her a worried look. “Don’t do this. Too risky”, he mouthed.
“I have discovered my heart belongs to the samurai who was tasked with protecting me,” Asuka revealed and pointed towards Yoshi. “I have fallen for Yoshi. I beg you, father, that you allow us to marry and create this alliance.”
Asuka’s father took a step towards Yoshi, with anger in his eyes, “Who is this samurai? Why does she know you on a first-name basis? What have you been doing with my daughter?”
Yoshi’s lord stepped in front of Yoshi, protecting him as he vouched for him. “Yoshi is one of the most honorable men who has ever served me. I am sure nothing dishonorable happened in their time together.”
Asuka’s father calmed down a bit, smartly realizing there was still diplomacy at play here. “I apologize for my temper. I am just surprised. He was not even among the final candidates.”
Yoshi felt he had to explain himself. “I am the one who should apologize, Lord Osaragi. I protected Asuka as was asked of me. We did not foresee falling for one another. I assure you, I meant in no way to stop what was meant to happen tonight — regardless of my feelings for her.”
“I want to be Yoshi’s wife, father.” Asuka said to break a couple seconds of tense silence. “I am sure you picked a good man, but Yoshi is the one who’s found his way into my heart.”
“That is your opinion, Asuka,” the lord said. “But I am your father and I have the final say. I think you should at least know of your other option.”
Asuka protested more, “But Yoshi is the one who….”
“Enough!” her father shouted before looking to Yoshi. “I trust you are a man of honor and will keep to your word about not stopping anything we had planned tonight.”
Yoshi wanted to protest in his heart of hearts, but he knew it was no use and he remained a man of his word. “As I’ve said, I will do no such thing. I am only here to serve my lord as he sees fit.”
Yoshi’s lord looked conflicted, “Perhaps, we should rethink this, given the new situation that has arisen.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Asuka’s father asked just as a loud scream of horror erupted from outside.
They quickly made their way out to see what the commotion was about. To their shock and horror, a woman passing by had just discovered the body of one of Lord Osaragi’s personal guards nearby. Yoshi was asked to come with the lords while Asuka stayed inside for her safety.
“It’s one of my samurais! He was asked to stand guard here,” Asuka’s father said as they approached the body. It was mangled, torn up, and obviously the work of a deranged animal.
“The man-eater,” Yoshi’s lord said as he looked into the distance. “It must have struck.”
“We have had a persistent problem with a wild tiger that has been killing livestock and men.”
The visiting lord’s eyes opened wider, “Shouldn’t you have warned me and my men?”
Looking around to make sure it was not nearby anymore, Yoshi’s lord explained, “It’s never struck this close to the palace before. It’s becoming bolder.”
Asuka’s father sighed and looked back towards the palace. “Tonight has not been the night I hoped it’d be. Perhaps we should part tomorrow and talk about an alliance some other time?”
“Not an option,” Yoshi’s lord said, with desperation in his voice. “We are too close.”
“My daughter has fallen for someone we did not pick from and a wild beast has killed one of my samurais. Perhaps it’s not destiny for us to be united as allies. Not yet at least.”
Yoshi, feeling sickened by the damage his weeklong romance might have caused and his inability to be as brave as Asuka about what each wanted, finally decided it was now or never to make things right. “If you don’t mind, my lord, I will find this beast and get rid of the nuisance by tomorrow evening.”
Yoshi’s lord shook his head and waved him off, “No, I cannot afford to risk you.”
Asuka’s father though seemed intrigued, “Wait, the samurai will avenge my man’s death? You promise to bring back its head to me come evening tomorrow?”
“I do,” Yoshi affirmed. “Not just its head. I’ll skin the beast and bring it back for you to wear if you’d like as a token of your revenge.”
Yoshi’s lord shook his head, but Asuka’s father’s mood changed, and he had something in mind. “Bring me back its head and its skin, avenge the crime that’s happened here tonight to me, and I’ll give you whatever you want in return.”
Yoshi’s lord sensed he knew where this was going. Now it was his turn to use this to his benefit. “Yoshi is ready to take on this challenge if I allow it. In return, if he brings back this head tomorrow and the skin, risking his life and my need for him here, you will allow him to make our alliance official by giving him your daughter’s hand in marriage.”
Yoshi was pleasantly surprised by his lord’s sudden change of mind and his plan for his reward, even though he knew politics were in play here as well.
Asuka’s father thought about it for a bit and then nodded while turning to Yoshi. “Avenge this man’s life, come back to me with the head and skin by tomorrow evening, and you will have my daughter to marry.”
Yoshi didn’t think twice. He agreed to it as did his lord. He rushed towards the mountain that overlooked the farmlands knowing he would probably find the beast there. He didn’t waste any time with good-byes or finding others to join his quest. He had a deadline and time was ticking. He knew if he explained to Asuka where he was going she’d beg him not to do it.
Now, here he was the very next morning after little sleep on a cold, wet, and snowy mountainside and standing over the carcass of the wrong dead tiger. Time was running out. The love of his life was on the line. An important diplomatic alliance was also on the line. His pride was on the line. Justice for the lives of those lost to this man-eater was on the line.
“What now?” he asked himself as he stared out towards the wilderness wondering where the beast was, his breath visible as he panted a bit in exhausting frustration. “Where are you?”
Yoshi started wondering about taking the head of this dead tiger and its skin and present them to Asuka’s father as if this tiger was the one that he had to kill. Problem was the man-eater would still be out there and Yoshi’s fraud would eventually be exposed. Once that was discovered, he would have bigger problems than not getting to marry his love.
He decided to leave the beast’s remains and carry on. He picked up his katana and used snow to wipe the blood off his head and ice his wounds. His head was throbbing with a horrible headache, but he had to keep his concentration steady as he looked upon all the white emptiness and leafless trees and bushes ahead of him. “You can’t be too far off by now”, he muttered under his breath as he began trekking through the snow.
After traveling a good distance, Yoshi came up to a small rocky ridge with a cave. He wondered if anyone had been using this as shelter and if they had sighted the tiger. He was a couple steps away from this cave when he heard noises coming from inside. The sounds of a growling beast? A tiger? The man-eater? Someone or something else? He had to take a look.
He prepared his katana by holding it out in front of him as he slowly approached the cave. The closer he got, the louder the sounds became. The grunts and growling were aggressive, confirming to him it was likely a beast. He expected whatever this was to emerge from the cave and pounce on him at any time. Before he could come up with a plan, he was now at the very edge of the entrance. As soon as he stepped into the crevice, something incredibly nerve-racking happened — the sounds suddenly stopped.
“Does it know I’m here?” Yoshi thought to himself as he walked deeper into the cave. Slowly, carefully, but surely, he inched inside until he turned a corner that guided him down into the entrance.
As he turned towards the deepest parts of the cave, the light started fading. A pocket of space was there, and he saw nothing in the pitch-black setting before him. But soon enough, he saw the eyes, bright enough to give off light. These were the eyes of a massive creature that was standing just a few feet from him. It stopped making noises because it knew someone was coming.
Yoshi wondered if he should attack first, but he feared he wouldn’t know what he was attacking in this darkness. He also thought about running, but worried that would just put a target on his back if the beast chased after him. “I better make a quick decision on how to approach this before it makes it for me,” he thought.
Suddenly, the beast vanished. It had turned, showing a white tail for a split second before going deeper inside the cave and into a deeper darkness. Yoshi was at a crossroads — leave the cave or follow the man-eater.
Yoshi chased it until the floor fell away. Branches fell under him and he landed in a ditch. After landing hard onto the rock-solid cave floor, he saw light through a hole he had not seen before, thus confirming he had fallen into a trap. He had no clue who set up this trap, or when they set it up, or for whom it was intended. He also wondered why the beast he was trying to chase had not fallen in with him. Luckily for Yoshi, the fall had not hurt him too badly. He could get up and fight. He was bruised and his headache from the earlier battle had gotten worse.
After standing up and assessing the situation, Yoshi looked up to find — to his horror — the largest male tiger he had ever seen staring at him. It had white and black stripes and a blood-stained mouth. This had to be the tiger that he was hunting.
Yoshi prepared his katana to strike, while expecting the beast to leap down at him. It did not. It merely looked down upon him, licked its nose, and then turned away to go out of sight.
Yoshi looked around and notice the rock formation around him was too steep to climb. He was stuck in this trap. After a horrifying couple of moments of pitch-dark silence, he realized he could be stuck here long enough to die. Panic set in.
“Hey! Who made this trap? Are you around? Anybody hear me?” he shouted, knowing how dire his situation was.
Then Yoshi saw the tiger return with a body in its mouth, a deer. The tiger laid the deer on the edge so it could comfortably eat while keeping an eye on Yoshi.
For the next couple hours, Yoshi watched the tiger finish its meal. He prepared to fight back if the tiger decided to leap down. But then came the next horrifying realization. Yoshi’s body was getting tired and he wanted to lay down and sleep. Problem was, once he was asleep, his defenses would be down, and the tiger could easily leap down and grab his second meal without much (if any) resistance.
Yoshi knew if he were to ever get out of this predicament, the tiger would have to be killed first. So after the tiger finished eating, Yoshi waited to see its next move. The beast used its paws to throw down the rest of the deer carcass into the ditch. The tiger then laid down and stared directly at Yoshi, as if it was thinking of what exactly to do with him.
Yoshi thought quickly. He used his katana and carefully cut his own finger, hoping the blood would help get the tiger to want to come down to him, giving him a chance to fight. “Smell that? Don’t you want more?” he shouted at the beast, holding his finger up in the air.
“I’ll come for you when I am ready,” a loud and booming voice suddenly said in reply to Yoshi’s shock.
“What? Who was that?” Yoshi murmured, looking around.
“It was me, you fool. I’m right here!” The tiger roared.
“You…you can talk!” Yoshi replied, shocked at this revelation. “No, it’s delusions from being so tired. My mind is playing tricks with me. It must be!”
The tiger growled in frustration and leaped down and landed without any flinching. It towered as a true monster over Yoshi. Suddenly, Yoshi’s idea of getting the beast down to fight face to face was looking like folly.
“You poor mortal. Don’t you realize I am not a normal beast?”
Yoshi was in shock and awe at what was before him. This was not a tiger, not really at least. “What are you?”
“I am a reincarnation of a legion of the souls who were wiped away in the wars you samurais took part in for your lords who have since ruled over this land. I have come to feast and haunt those who live without respect for those who have died as all of you enjoy the fruits of today,” the large creature said as it approached Yoshi. Its jaws started opening slightly.
Yoshi dragged himself backwards as the beast approached.
“You…you created this trap, didn’t you? You knew I was coming.”
“Correct, samurai. I knew you were coming. I know more than you’d like for me to know — your childhood, your father, your training, your lord. I know you wouldn’t come for me when I was killing the peasants and destroying their livelihoods, but now you have come so you can lay with a wealthy lord’s daughter? How pathetic. How utterly selfish,” the demon in a beast-like form was staring into Yoshi’s frightened eyes, it’s mouth starting to slowly open to attack.
Yoshi, backed against a wall, stared at this monster who hovered over him by just an arm’s distance, and saw his life flashing before his eyes. “It’s not what you think.”
“Even if I accepted your excuses, samurai, what makes you think my decision to kill you would be any different?” the creature asked, opening its jaws and revealing blood-stained teeth.
Yoshi still held his katana, and his fear and despair were transforming into reflection. He had to decide between two choices — whether to lay down and allow the monster to kill him or refuse to go down without a fight.
He then remembered the story of his father and a samurai that he had hesitated to tell Asuka. His father was a drunkard and was indebted to many people across various lands. He consistently moved his family from place to place to continue running from paying it off. Yoshi watched him time and time again just escape the wrath of someone looking for revenge for the trouble he caused.
One day, Yoshi’s father decided to become a part of a village’s small group of guards for some easy money. Not long afterwards, a gang of troublemakers came by wanting to rape and pillage. Yoshi’s father did not stay to do his job. He packed up when he got word of their coming and rushed his family out of danger.
It turned out that a samurai serving the lord that ruled over this particular village had come by to help. Along with the guards who stayed, they saved the village. However, the guard who had cut and run on duty, his father, was now wanted by the village folks. They wanted revenge on the coward who had left them for dead.
The village people did something the others who had chased Yoshi’s father across various lands couldn’t do — they found him. They dragged him from his newest hiding place and prepared to lynch him as Yoshi and the rest of his family watched in horror. The samurai, the same one who had helped do what Yoshi’s father was too much of a coward to do, had found them just in time. Tasked with protecting any citizen of the nearby villages, he stopped them from getting revenge thus saving Yoshi’s father.
On that very day, Yoshi chose to become a trained samurai and not run like his father, and to protect and not leave others for dead. It was this reminder, this bit of shame of what had driven Yoshi to this point, that made him realize he had to finish this task no matter how helpless the situation.
This was followed by a clear vision that rose in his mind. It was Asuka, smiling and laughing, looking at him, waiting for him. She extended a hand, and he could hear her saying, “We have much more time for us to share together. Don’t give up.” Hallucinations or not, this gave Yoshi the shot of adrenaline he needed.
He snapped out of it in time to realize the tiger had grabbed him by the neck but had not used enough force to kill him. The tiger was carrying him, leaping from the ditch and letting Yoshi go with only slight bruising on his neck as a sign of what had happened.
“You killed a mother tiger who was looking for food for her cubs. That I didn’t expect. You must have been desperate to react and kill the first tiger you encountered without realizing it wasn’t me,” The demon’s voiced boomed louder as it stood over Yoshi.
“Now I will take my time with you just as I took my time with the other samurais your lord sent to strike me down. Your cowardly father awaits you in the afterlife, samurai!”
The tiger attacked, but Yoshi used his katana to block his jaws. Staring at the beast, who looked surprised at his resistance, he replied, “No, you can tell him that you too were a failure like him.”
The beast retreated to look at Yoshi as he stood up.
“So you want to go down with fight still in your bones?” its booming voice reverberating around the cave walls. “Let me help you with your death wish!”
The demon pounced and Yoshi sidestepped it, taking this chance to cut its side with the katana. The beast turned back around and flinched in pain. A strange steam came out of its wound, the darkest blood Yoshi had ever seen, pitch black.
“Would you like to die in one strike or many?” Yoshi asked as he signaled for the huge cat to try and attack again, as the samurai’s confidence suddenly started to grow in this battle.
“How dare you mock me!” the tiger replied, pouncing again, but this time Yoshi sidestepped it so he could cut its other side.
“I’m losing time. I will finish this in the next strike,” Yoshi declared as he looked around and came up with a plan.
The demon growled, its eyes lighting up in anger. “No, I am done messing around with you! You will pay for wounding me, samurai!”
“You still think you’re the one in control?” Yoshi said as he started backing towards the edge of the ditch. “You should have killed me when I was down there.”
“I’ll put you down there again, human,” the demon replied, approaching Yoshi, with the ditch right behind him.
“This time I’ll finish you off when you’re back down there, and then? Then I’ll return to your lord. Kill him, kill the rest of his highest-ranking samurais. After that, I’ll travel to your fantasy concubine’s land. Kill her father and mother, kill his highest-ranking samurais, and finally take my sweet time killing her slowly and intimately!”
That said, the demonic creature pounce, on top of Yoshi to take him into the ditch, but Yoshi sidestepped him quickly enough so that only the beast fell into the trap.
“Now you’re the one trapped down there.” Yoshi shouted down to the demon, who was shaking its head from the fall and staring at the samurai.
That’s when the demon did something new. It laughed a disturbing laugh that was more a mixture of many souls, instead of one voice, “You forgot I can jump right back up there, you fool. I’m not the one trapped. You are the one trapped in this cave with me.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Yoshi warned as he prepared his katana.
“Or what, samurai?” the tiger boomed as it jumped up to escape and dove at Yoshi who now had a clear shot at the beast’s chest. Using his katana, he drove it right into the beast’s heart and cut right through the other side of its body. The heavy carcass atop him now, its eyes fading, steam and more dark blood escaped the new wounds, and its life vanished as it stared in disbelief at Yoshi. “You…” it started to say, but was unable to finish as it expired.
Yoshi mustered all his strength to shove the beast off of him. He looked down upon this supernatural being and watched as its body began to dissipate. The whole thing. Every trace gone. As it did, the cries of God only knows how many souls escaped from it, escaped the cave, and dissipated into the air.
Yoshi spent some time looking at the cave and then left. It was close to evening. He had finished his task, but obviously had no head or skin to bring back. He walked towards the palace in a hurry with his body aching from injury and his mind needing rest. On the way back, he found the body of the female tiger he had mistakenly killed earlier that morning. He cut its head off and skinned it to replace the true man-killer’s remains. As he did this, he noticed her cubs, three of them, nearby. He felt it was his duty to bring them with him. But time was running out. He would not make the deadline. Eventually his body had failed him, and he fell asleep on the way back.
That next morning, the lords were parting ways. A depressed and worried Asuka was to return to her father’s land. They had assumed Yoshi was either dead or still hunting. Per the agreement, they would be leaving as the deadline had passed.
“I hope he comes back alive and well,” Lord Osaragi said to his friend as they parted ways.
Asuka, still looking in the distance, hoping Yoshi was okay, then gave her good-byes as well. “Please, I beg of you, update us when you learn of Yoshi’s fate.”
“I will do that. You can count on me,” Yoshi’s lord promised.
As they were about to depart, a samurai approached, “My lord! Yoshi has returned!”
“What?!” Asuka’s father said as they all began to notice Yoshi appearing in the distance.
They rushed to him and Asuka got to him first and they embraced, not thinking of how it would look to her father who pulled them apart. “Okay, enough. Did you find the man-eater, samurai?”
Yoshi nodded and dropped the bag with the remains in front the lords. Yoshi knew it wasn’t actually the remains of the man-eater he had killed, but he decided trying to explain the man-eater had been a demon he had slayed would be tough. Better to go with the conventional wisdom.
“I must admit though, Lord Osaragi, I did fail in bringing back the evidence of the task being done in the time you wanted.”
Asuka seemed worried that would break the deal, but her father smiled, laughed, and hugged the samurai. “Don’t worry my boy, you’re going to be my daughter’s husband. I’ll give you the extra time as a bias to our family.”
The cubs then started making noises, reminding Yoshi he had them.
“Oh, please take this as a gift, my lord.” he said as he gave the three over to his would-be former employer. “I think you can train them to help guard against future man-eaters.”
Yoshi’s lord nodded his approval and the couple embraced again as the lords shook hands to signify a new united alliance between them. Days later, Yoshi was let go by his lord and went to Asuka’s land to be married.