Nobody really thinks about it, but there is this abundant strangeness about running through a burning building that you wouldn't think about with the fear running through your veins. The air is too thick and heavy with smoke, the room is far too hot, and it difficult to see through the red and smoky haze around you. Thoughts of survival are supposed to be the one thing on your mind, but with me, it wasn't. Not when I was here running for my life, hand in hand with a strange man that I saw about to die by another's blade.
To think that it was only moments before this that I was waiting for one of my tutors near a small monument that I thought had no significance due to its relatively small size. With me, I had carried my bookbag that contained not only the books and study guides that I would need, but I also had my American ID card, student visa, and the apartment key that I was sharing with one of my cousins that I rarely ever see. I never would have guessed what would have happened next in my life.
I glanced at my phone to check the time for the millionth time since arriving here by both train and bus. The sun was shining and people milled about, going on with their everyday life. The background of my phone showed me with my parents right before I had taken this trip to Japan from the middle of nowhere Ohio. My father smiled lovingly as he glanced down at me with my plane ticket in hand. He wore a baseball cap that he had bought when we went to some minor league game together when I was no more than ten years old.
He had green eyes and a splattering of freckles that went across the bridge of his nose and cheeks. His blond hair was mostly hidden by the hat. He was much taller than me and my mother. My mother had the same almond brown eyes like me, but her smile was much more reserved than my own. Her raven black hair also was much shorter than mine as she kept hers barely to her shoulders while mine fell down to the small of my back.
I missed them both so much, but I wanted to go to this school since it was one of the top universities in Japan. The same one that my mother had gone to before she had done her own trip to study abroad in America, where she had met my father. She said that it had almost been love at first sight.
"Hello, are you perhaps the foreign student Andrews Katsumi?" I hear a voice ask that jarred me from my thoughts. I turn to see an older boy perhaps around the age of 24, a few years older than myself. I bow a perfect 90-degree bow, causing my black hair to fall off my shoulders.
"Yes, I am. You must be Furukawa Takahiro, Senpai?" I hear his laughter, so I raised from my formal bow. He was handsome for sure. His hair had been dyed a lighter brunette color. He wore a white button-up that was untucked from the dark gray skinny jeans that he also had on. His eyes were framed with rectangular glasses. He looked like he wanted to be some JPop star instead of a historian.
His eyes shine in the afternoon sun. "You're so formal for a foreigner. Your parents must have taught you correctly about Japanese culture." I smiled before explaining that this wasn't my first time in Japan as I still had family out here.
"My mom moved to America after she studied there herself," I had told him, showing him the picture of my family. He found it quite adorable.
"I see. Yet, for an American, you still speak perfect Japanese." I rolled my eyes. I had gotten that a lot here since I started my internship and schooling. Everyone seems surprised that I speak Japanese so well. It's not so surprising as I grew up learning both English and Japanese. My mother was born in Japan after all.
It's because my mother wanted to make sure that I was bilingual before I was even out of diapers. You have to remember, Senpai, I still have family here in Japan, I thought to myself.
I didn't say anything about the rather insulting comment since I figured that he meant it as a compliment. Instead, I got to work on trying to study with my tutor. We went over much of the material that I was still unfamiliar with. I didn't question Fukuwara-senpai since I knew that he was an upperclassman that understood the material much more than I did. He was not just a tutor in his free time, from what I was told from my sensei, but he was also a TA for our university.
Once I felt like I was more comfortable with the history that he was helping me go over, I finally asked why he wanted to meet me here at some little monument instead of in the library on campus or a local coffee shop that was near the university.
"So this monument? I don't know the famous monuments in Japan as well as the ones in America, so could you tell me a bit about it?" I asked as I walked closer to read the characters written on it. It was still a struggle to try and read Japanese top to bottom instead of left to right, but this simple stone monument was apparently a sight of a Buddhist temple burning. Before I could finish reading the engravings, Fukuwara-senpai spoke up.
"This is where the original Honnoji temple once stood. Honnoji was the place where the first unifier of Japan took his own life when one of his generals betrayed him. I am sure you know the name Oda Nobunaga?" It was definitely familiar. I remember learning about him in many of my Asian studies classes. I was a history major after all. I wanted to work in a museum when I graduate. I was after all interning at one.
"Yeah, I heard of the Honnoji Incident. But I am not very familiar with monuments. So Akechi Mitsuhide, the right-hand man to Lord Oda. I think I remember learning that this happened probably because he blamed Oda for the death of his mother?"
"That is one theory. Its the one I personally believe. If my mother died during a hostage exchange, I would blame those involved as well. But I am unsure if I would go so far myself," Fukuwara-Senpai said, looking at the monument so solemnly. I tried to understand the motive behind Akechi's actions. If my own mother were put into that situation, what would I do?
I was unsure. I pulled out one of my study guides to make a quick note of the situation. This would be good information to use for when I head into work tomorrow. We have several pieces from the Sengoku period. For tourists, this would be a great story to tell. Many of the tourists that come through, mainly elderly couples in those god awful stereotypical American tourist outfits, fit with white tennis shoes, polo shirts, khaki shorts, and the ever dreadful fannypacks. I simply try to smile and be polite when I take them on a tour of the museum.
Fukuwara and I spoke a bit longer before he had to go back to the university. "Do be careful on your return home. I am sure you are aware, but there is a monsoon that should hit any day now." He said. I thanked him before turning back to the stone. There was something off about it now. Was there an LED light that lit up when it started to turn dark?
Which was even more strange since there wasn't even a cloud in the sky. I looked around, but everyone walking or driving didn't seem to notice the strange phenomenon. I turned to see that Fukuwara wasn't that far from me, so I called out to him. He turned just in time to see that the glowing blueish white light started to grow around the monument. I started to back up, but it seemed to grow faster as I went further back.
"Katsumi!" I heard my Senpai call out before I was completely enveloped by the light. I started to scream, but it was as if all the air was squeezed from my lungs as I opened my mouth to do so. The next thing I knew, I was laying on the ground. No... It didn't feel like concrete. It felt more like a tatami mat. But it was far too warm to be inside any building. But the lighting was all wrong behind my eyelids to be outside.
I groaned as I sat up. But instantly regretted it. The air was now filled my lungs were heavy with smoke and burned as if I was in the middle of a burning building. So when I looked around, I found out that I was indeed inside of a burning building. But it was unlike any that I had been inside before. It looked more like a movie set for a period action movie where they were inside one of the traditional Japanese houses or temples.
"Fukuwara!?" I tried to call out. But I received no answer but the crackling of rice paper walls and timber support beams.
"A woman?" a deep, melancholy voice rang out from behind me. I turned and saw a man in several different collared robes. A monk? He had a large scar on his face, deep and jagged. It also looked as though he required a walking stick and had a pretty bad limp. "I would recommend leaving before a true demon were to saw his face, understand? I wouldn't want you to see his heart being destroyed." I squeaked before fleeing. There was this look in his eyes that revealed that while he may have been dressed as a Buddhist monk, he was not there for a simple prayer session.
"Fukuwara!" I screamed through the smoke. The inside of this burning building was like a maze. When I finally did find another human, again, it was neither the monk nor Fukuwara-Senpai. It appeared to be a man in a suit of armor. Not like the European suits of armor. No, this was clearly samurai. All leather and only some metal holding it all together, whether it be rivets or chains. The samurai was laying there, either asleep or unconscious. Above him, though, stood the monk. I saw the glint of something metallic. I quickly put two and two together to figure out that the monk was carrying an unsheathed sword.
I let out a scream, startling both men. The monk took off down the corridor behind him, while the samurai was still getting his barrings. He turned to face me. Though he wore the traditional armor, he didn't have the typical topknot hair. Though that was the least of my worries.
I rushed over to him. "Who are you?" He demanded. I grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet.
"No time. Building on fire. Don't know where the exit is," I said before I started to hack up a lung. "Can I borrow your wakizashi?" He looked concerned.
"You saved me now you want to commit Seppuku?" I hook my head.
"Need masks." That seemed to appease him for now as he unsheathed his short sword. I took it and began cutting two long strips of fabric from the hem of my skirt, glad for the length of it. I helped the man tie one around his nose and mouth before doing mine, keeping clear of my hair.
Once they were both secure, the man grabbed my hand and started to pull me out of the quickly burning room. I didn't even realize how far the blaze had spread while we had just stood there. He seemed to know his way about the building because we never once looped through the same room, and we still managed to avoid the blaze.
Or at least, I thought we had, until a burning timber fell through the ceiling to our right, nearly grazing us, before splintering as it hit the floor. Another scream caught in my throat, but the mystery man didn't let that stop us from continuing our live harrowing run through Hell's walls. The fabric seemed to keep the worst of the smoke from getting into our lungs, but I wished that I had a water bottle to use to douse them in to help filter better.
I can't worry about that now though since we were still currently running for our lives. Eventually, though, we did spot a way out. The only issue was that there was a large, mostly on fire log leaning across the threshold. The man released my hand just this once in the entire time we had been running together so that he could pull out his katana. I barely registered him swinging the blade, but ash and ember went everywhere as the log was cleanly cut and crashed to the floor.
The man stepped over the log first, before reaching his hand back to grab mine. I was careful not to touch the log or to slip and make matters worse. But with his firm grip, I was surprised how easy it was to make it over the log.
"Thanks," I said. "I owe you one." He chuckled. He finally led me far enough away from the building to see once and for all that it was actually a Buddhist temple that was being burned to the ground. I pulled the cut fabric from my face and breathed a breath of fresh air. It was crisp from the night air, and since the wind was in our favor, the smoke was being blown away from us.
"What's your name, curious girl?" The samurai asked as he grabbed the short sword from my hand that I didn't realize that I was still holding. He tucked it back into its sheath as he had done with the katana. But as he did so, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a g*n. But it wasn't nearly as modern looking like the ones I had seen my father use after he retired from his time in the military. No, this looked like those matchlocks that I see in pirate movies and in the museum I work in.
"Uh... Katsumi?" I answered as if it was a question. "Why?" He smirked devilishly before leaning dangerously close to my face. His eyes sparkled in the light of the still-burning fire behind me. They held a dangerous glint to them.
"Because I want to know the name of the woman who I shall make mine." I gave him an unimpressed look. He laughed. He leaned away before he sat down on the grass and stretched. That's when I noticed the burnt part of the clothes under his armor that could be seen between the pieces of armor.
"Hey, are you okay?" I asked. "Were you burned?" The man sat up on his hunches. I sat next to him and examined the now visible wound beneath the scorched fabric. "How do you take this armor off. It needs immediate attention.
"I have only known you for a short while, and yet you try to help me undress already? I barely learned your name and you still don't know mine, Katsumi-san." He may have joked, but he still helped me undo the straps that held the armor in place. Once the upper half was undone, I gingerly helped his arm out of the sleeve of his shitagi. At least, I assumed that it was a shitagi since he was obviously a samurai. Was this some kind of historically accurate cosplay?
I had to be dreaming. I was helping a samurai with a burn he received from a burning building that I magically showed up in. I didn't know if I was in some sort of extended dream sequence caused by some coma. Was my Senpai by my bedside wondering if I was even going to wake up?
"What are you doing?" The man asked as I took the two rags and wrapped them around his shoulder to protect the now blistering skin.
"Protecting the burn from the air. Burns sting to hell and back if it's introduced to the air around it. It's worse once those blisters pop," I told him once the knots were in place. "So, if you can, try to take it easy."
"I'm not sure that I can."
"Lord Oda!" A concerned voice cried out. The samurai turned to see two armored men running toward us. None of them had the topknot hairstyle. But I wasn't sure why I was so focused on history continuity errors. One of the men reached us before the other. He spotted me and instantly pulled his katana on me.
"Who are you, you wretched seductress? Why is our Lord half undressed in your presence!?" He demanded. I made a high pitched noise of panic, but could not answer him in my fear.
"Enough Akechi, disarm yourself. This is Katsumi. She saved my life tonight." The samurai stated as he tried to put his under armor clothing back on. I hopped to my feet and tried to help him place his injured arm back into the sleeve that was still burned pretty heavily. I also attempted to help him with his armor, but couldn't figure out how to do it. I didn't even register the name that he called the still armed man.
"Here, let me help," the other man said with a kind smile. He was cute and had a childish face. He was cute as a monkey from any one of the Disney animated movies. "My name is Toyotomi Hideyoshi. I do apologize for Akechi's rude behavior. He is quite protective of our siege lord." He was Toyotomi Hideyoshi! The second unifier of Japan! Then that would make the samurai-
"Oda Nobunaga?" I said to the samurai that both I had saved and had saved me. He gave me a crooked, childlike smile.
He bowed to me in a near mocking sense. "That would be me."
"Why didn't you tell me who you were?" I asked. "I was talking to you so casually. I must be going mad! I am surrounded by warlords," I said as I sank to the ground. "I'm dreaming, aren't I? Any second now, I will wake up to my annoying cousin prancing around our home and this would have all been a bad dream." I shut my eyes tightly and tried to force myself awake as tonight's events caught up with me now that the adrenaline was out of my system.
The next thing I knew, a sharp pain coursed through my cheek. "Ow!" I said as my eyes flew open and rubbed my pinched cheek. Oda was bent at the waste his kote gauntleted hand still outreached towards my cheek. I glared at the man. To think that this childish man would have succeeded in unifying most of Japan.
"See, not dreaming," he said, that crooked smile still playing at his lips. His messy black hair framed his face strikingly. I couldn't deny that he was rather handsome. "You are looking at the man who will unify Japan once and for all."