The Fish-Killer: A story from the world of Samurai’s Blood

September 21, 2011

 

The Fish-Killer

A story from the world of Samurai’s Blood

by Owen Wiseman

It begins with a fish. He is eight years old, already quick enough and smart enough to sneak up and get his fingers under the fish far enough to flip it up out of the water and onto the bank. He stands between the writhing creature and the water, to keep it from flopping towards escape, but he does not reach for a rock to end it. He watches it die slowly, and feels for the first time that perfect detachment, that invincible, floating, whiplash high of dominion over life and death. It is only a fish, not nearly so powerful as the spirits he will soon command, but it is his first and it is that fish which sets the hook deep within his own jaw. It is that fish which makes Mitsumo Tomotori—fourth son of Mitsumo Iwada, Lord of Bifu Castle—fall in love with death.

A year goes by. He thinks often of the fish, but life is busy and he has few opportunities to slip away and be alone. Then one evening he captures a bird that lands on his open windowsill. He grabs it by the neck and squeezes with his tiny fingers as the bird flaps and tries to claw its way free. Eventually the bird’s effort slackens. It cannot breathe. But rather than let it die, he releases it with just a spark of life left inside, and instead stomps on its wings, making sure to snap them both. He spends most of the night sitting alone, watching the bird drag itself around his quarters trying to find its way back aloft, and it is his only happy memory of being nine years old.

Two more years go by with only these petty crimes. Tomotori is eleven years old. Meanwhile, the lowest-ranking of the sons of Mitsumo Iwada is quickly becoming the best swordsman. He battles his older brothers fiercely, and at thirteen he defeats the eldest, a proud samurai of twenty-two years who cannot look his father in the eyes after retrieving his wooden sword from the rich courtyard grass of their grand castle. Pride shines on Tomotori’s face at his victory, but when he turns to his brother he sees the hatred that has settled there.

Tomotori looks back to his father, with hope still shining on his face, and at that one moment, if he had found what he was looking for on the face of Mitsumo Iwada, everything may well have changed for Tomotori. He might have stopped loving death. But he does not find what he is looking for, because Mitsumo Iwada is not looking at him. The old man is looking at his older brother, the meaningless brother he had just defeated, and Iwada is exhorting him, demanding more and better and harder. And it is then that Tomotori realizes that there is no competition between them at all. He strove to be a better sword than his eldest brother, but they are not both swords. They are different tools, different sons, moving through different passages and unable to cross over. The world around them swirls, the hand of servant turning against master as the civil strife of Sengoku-Jidai winds itself down, and men change their destinies by conquest as Japan is united once more. Yet in this world that is their castle, the world where Mitsumo Tomotori is prisoner, he is one thing and his eldest brother is another thing. Their destinies are immutable.

His brother hates him, and that means everyone hates him, because his brother is going to be lord one day and so everyone aches to please him. Their father pits brother against brother, and every night Tomotori is victorious. As they grow older and Tomotori comes into his full powers, the beatings get worse. Servants come to Tomotori’s quarters and beg him to throw the matches, to allow his brother to win for everyone’s sake, but he refuses. He is merciless. But every night, standing over his brother’s bloody form, he looks to his father and finds the old man’s eyes averted, staring instead at his eldest son, willing him to be something he is not.

Meanwhile, Tomotori piles up suffering and death to move mountains. He stalks the castle grounds at dawn and dusk, hunting vermin, on pretext of training but truly so that he might take any captives back to his room for experimentation. He evolves from simple murders to vivisections. He comes into possession of a small, leather bag, open on three sides but with ties to keep it closed. Inside the small bag, held in by straps that he makes himself, is the collection of knives and metal pokes that he uses as instruments of vivisection.

He turns fourteen on a perfect day just as the cherry blossoms are falling in the courtyards. He is presented with a katana and matching wakizashi. All his father’s samurai retainers and many of the palace staff gather. A condemned prisoner enters the courtyard. The man is not blindfolded, and Tomotori looks long into his eyes. The assembled samurai murmur, for he does not tremble as most boys in their memories trembled. He looks at his father, and his father finally looks right straight into his eyes for the first time in what seems like years. His father draws the katana from its scabbard and hands it to him. He turns and looks at the prisoner again. He has grown used to hiding his thirst for blood, through the long nights of furry little bodies, and so now he tries to wipe away the smile that wants to creep onto his face, but as that blade bites into the man’s neck and slices through clean, he cannot help himself. He grins and releases a roar of what can only be called triumph, and yet his father turns his back on him once more after that night, despite his bravery. And so Tomotori’s heart is hardened. There is nothing to be done.

Tomotori begins to seek more opportunities to kill. Vivisecting animals no longer excites him now that he has tasted human spirit, and he begins to regret having performed the vivisections in the first place. He throws away his leather bag with his tools, and he stops searching the castle for vermin. That he used to do this strange thing becomes a deep and shameful secret, as time piles on top of it, and he tries to bury his deep, dark impulses under the veneer of justified killing. He volunteers to carry out executions. When he cannot find someone to kill, he will walk through a crowded market, hand to his sword, knowing that people will recognize him, just to see the fear on their faces at the thought of what he might do.

And still the nightly battles of brother against brother continue, and still Tomotori is victorious each and every time. His brother is one of the finest swordsmen in the province, but no match for Tomotori’s viciousness. He fights without style and without mercy, winning with quickness and endurance and ruthlessness. But all this skill cannot bring understanding, and Tomotori cannot understand his father’s aloofness, or his brother’s hatred. Tomotori becomes a ghostly presence in the castle. No one speaks to him. No one looks him in the eye. It is as if he is slowly ceasing to exist.

Then one night, a night much like all the others, save perhaps for some petty annoyance that proves too much to bear, Tomotori and his brother duel in the courtyard while the sun goes down and their father watches. Tomotori is aged sixteen and his brother is aged twenty-five. Five years and more they have fought this way. For three of those years, Tomotori has been the victor, and each night, once victory was assured, he lowered his own sword and offered his brother assistance in rising. Not so this night. This night he beats his brother into the ground and continues beating. He beats him until the wooden sword breaks and then he beats him with the handle. He hears the crack of bone and the cries of mercy, but he does not stop. Not until he hears his father’s voice. When that clarion yell rings out he stops, face splashed with his brother’s blood, and turns to the old man, and again their eyes meet, right on, and the father really, truly looks at his son.

The next day the order comes by messenger. Tomotori is to take only a dozen men and see to the destruction of the Mitsumo Clan’s hated enemy, the Maeda Clan, at their seaside stronghold. It is a suicide mission. Tomotori laughs in the face of the messenger. He sends a message of enthusiastic acceptance to his father. He chooses twelve petty criminals to accompany him, takes them with hands bound out into the forest, and forces them to fight to the death, with the promise that one will live and go free. Once that last poor bastard has killed all the others, Tomotori slits his throat. He does not dispose of the bodies. He leaves them in the forest for the animals, as payment for all the torturing nights of his childhood.

He goes with light feet to the Maeda Clan’s castle, buoyed by all the death in his wake. He reconnoiters the village outside the castle, and discovers where the various gate guards live. He follows them for weeks on their road to and from the castle, listening to them talk and studying their voices. He finally chooses the one he thinks is the biggest coward. He kidnaps the man’s wife and daughter, and it turns out that Tomotori is a good judge of character, because the man agrees to let him into the castle as ransom.

Tomotori sneaks into the castle on the night of a feast. He moves through the entire structure, setting fires and murdering guards, enough to send the whole wooden castle to ashes. Then, in the chaos and the smoke, disguised in a stolen uniform, he slips in amongst the bodyguards of Maeda Dogen, and slides a knife between the patriarch’s ribs. Tomotori slips away without notice, and the incident is later blamed on other parties, but before he returns to his home castle, Tomotori returns to the house of the cowardly gate guard, and kills him, along with his wife and child. Not because he is afraid they will implicate him, but for the same reason he used to vivisect those animals in those long, sweaty nights, with the tools from his leather case. He goes back and kills those people because for Tomotori, the act itself has meaning. Some kill with heavy hearts, and some kill with hardly a thought, but very few kill in the same way that artists paint or sculptors sculpt. Yet Tomotori is one of those.

He returns to his father’s castle and is given a hero’s welcome. He is triumphant. His boldness and daring have finally overcome the lowness of his birth. He sees his eldest brother and some of the hatred has simply evaporated from his eyes, the way it sometimes can for men who must contemplate being stabbed with a sword, and so who are happy to avoid a fight. All those eyes which were averted are shining now. He will not rule, not take his brother’s place, but he has respect, and that is enough. And so there comes another moment where it seems as if he has a chance to turn it all around.

That night, he asks his father why he was hated for so long. What had he done that had made it necessary for him to destroy so many enemies to make it right? And his father tells him, with unusual bluntness, that every single person in the castle knew about his vivisections and his cruelty when he was a child, and that they all thought he was cursed, and that perhaps he still is cursed, but some curses can work in someone’s favor some of the time, and that as long as he only kills the people he is told to kill he will be allowed to stay. Only Tomotori does not hear many of his father’s words after the first few, because the shame wells up inside him so hard and so fast that it becomes a literal roar and blots out all other sound.

And oh, that shame. That old secret that he had stuffed away is not just revealed but revealed as never a secret at all. The only person who did not know the real secret was him, and now he feels all at once those long years of whispered conversations and snickers that must have taken place all around him, while he lived in that pathetic world of secret hiding spots and little leather cases.

He does not show the shame on his face. He calmly expresses it to his father, and abases himself before him. He begs forgiveness and receives it, then goes out into the castle and walks with his head high. He resolves not to linger in the past, but to start fresh. Yet by the time he reaches his quarters, he knows that is impossible. Every eye on him is a reminder of his burning shame. It consumes him that night, and every night thereafter, until one night, a night filled with storms, he realizes that the only way the world can come to life again is for everyone who knows this secret to die.

And so he picks up the katana and the wakizashi that his father had given to him, and he uses the thunder and the storm for cover as he stalks the hallways, until he reaches his father’s quarters. He kills the guards outside without speaking a word to them, then enters, and stabs his father in his sleep. The old man’s eyes shoot open, and his mouth works like a caught fish, which reminds Tomotori of that first fish, by the riverbank when he was eight years old, the day he fell in love with death.

Tomotori gets very close to his father, and looks right down into his eyes for the last time. He touches his father’s face, the first time he has ever done so. The old man tries to speak, but can only get out three syllables, three disconnected sounds from a sentence lost to the winds of death: A—RA—KU. Then he is gone.

Tomotori smiles his last smile of his old life, and embraces his new name. Araku he shall be, once and forever more, and he swears on his father’s blood that all who hear that name will fear it. Araku stalks through the castle, setting fires and killing his brothers one by one. The eldest is last, and he does not struggle. He knows he is beaten and dead the moment Araku walks in the door. In the morning, when the fire has died to ashes, the Mitsumo Clan is no more, just as Araku had intended.

Araku heads north. He spends a decade moving slowly across the country, traversing the newly established domain of the Tokugawas, never thinking or hearing of his family or their castle or their fortunes again. He has forsaken all that he was. He desires no lands or castles or power, beyond the power of his sword. He eats little food, but feasts on the fading light from a thousand dying eyes, and the gurgling screams from a thousand dying tongues. He does not think of the past or the future. He is a Lord no more.

And then, long after the people of his home province have stopped talking about the fate of the Mitsumo Clan, long after some other family has seized power and built a new castle atop the ashes of the old, Araku arrives in Dewa Province, and hears the name Sanjo for the first time. He hears of their goodness, and of their proud history, of their benevolence, and for the first time in a decade his heart is filled with desire. He is weary of the road, weary of the privations of life as a nomad. He decides that he will enter the service of the Sanjo Clan, and in time, will destroy them.

Character Profile: Sanjo Mayuko

June 15, 2011

NAME: Sanjo Mayuko
GENDER: Female
ALIAS: Motogawa Kimura, Kimura-chan
SPECIALTY: Daggers/Short Swords, Dance, Tea Ceremony

BIOGRAPHY: Mayuko is a woman of great character and great strength, stranded in a world in which men’s sheer physicality gives them control of her destiny. She is a flickering candle, buffeted by the winds, that refuses to snuff out. Growing up in Eiwa, she was part of the rough-and-tumble of farm life, often playing and even fighting with her brother and Katashi. As she neared womanhood, the fights with Katashi became glances filled with longing, and soon enough they were promised to each other. Yet the destruction of the Sanjo Clan tugs at her as well, and she wants her vengeance just as Jun does. These two forces—her love for Katashi and her love for her Clan—threaten to tear her apart, and she will have to find a way to integrate them, even as life and death hang in the balance.

 

KUROSAWA FILMS AND SAMURAI’S BLOOD

June 2, 2011

As the writer of SAMURAI’S BLOOD, I must at all points acknowledge a debt to the films of Akira Kurosawa. I grew up on Kurosawa movies. I first saw ‘Ran’ when I was in middle school, and I was struck by the incredible combination of elements that he had managed to tie into his story. Kurosawa used Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ as inspiration for the film, and I could see even then (though I couldn’t quite understand it yet) the incredible things that could be done through a fusion of East and West.

I sought out more Kurosawa movies. I watched ‘Yojimbo’ and ‘Sanjuro’. I watched ‘The Hidden Fortress’ (And suddenly ‘Star Wars’ seemed less original). Yet the films of his that I liked best, like ‘Ran’ and ‘Throne of Blood’, were the ones where he combined East and West. I rewatched his movies a lot growing up. I was definitely more obsessed with them than I was with manga or anime. I finally decided that it was because I liked the pace of them. The epic stories combined with a deliberate, tense pace did more to make my nerves tingle than did the frenetic energy of other uniquely Japanese picture art.

I left Kurosawa’s films behind for a while, when I went to college and buried myself in the great western minds like Nietzche and Heidegger. I graduated and came to Hollywood, and when my good friend suggested an idea for a story about three young samurai bent on vengeance, I remembered Kurosawa once again.

When I watched his films as an adult, it became crystal clear to me what it was that I had always loved about his movies: The ideas. Kurosawa is a master filmmaker, no question, but his craft pales in comparison to the sheer brilliance of his mind. East or West became unimportant, because all elements of his stories moved in orbit around his central conception of life and death.

That is my ultimate goal for SAMURAI’S BLOOD. The ideas of the samurai masters shine as bright today as ever they did. Perhaps brighter, for all else that has fallen away since the days of the masters ended. The samurai conception of life and death is a strange one, judged by the standards of the modern mind, but its very strangeness is what makes it so interesting, and so useful. It is not something that can be communicated directly. SAMURAI’S BLOOD is my humble attempt to sketch an outline.

Comics Bulletin talks to EiC Dave Elliott

May 30, 2011

From one Editor in Chief to another Editor in Chief, Comics Bulletin‘s EiC Jason Sacks sits down with our very own EiC Dave Elliott to talk Benaroya Comics!

Head on over to Comics Bulletin now and check out this great interview!

 

 

 

 

Comic Book Road Show talks Samurai’s Blood with Owen!

May 25, 2011

Thanks to Chris and Darrell at the Comic Book Road Show Podcast for talking SAMURAI’S BLOOD with our own Owen Wiseman! Head over to their site and listen in now, or download it from iTunes now!

Stream off of Comic Book Road Show site.
Download from iTunes.

 

 

 

InvestComics Breaks the News: Win an Original Page from “Samurai’s Blood”

May 14, 2011

InvestComics breaks the news!  You can now enter to win an original page from Samurai’s Blood! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and you are automatically entered to win an original page by Nam Kim!

On June 8th (release of Samurai’s Blood #1 for just $1) the 2 lucky winners will be chosen! One lucky fan will be chosen from each to receive the page!

So head over to Facebook.com/SamuraisBlood and ‘Like’ us today and follow us on Twitter @SamuraisBlood to enter to win!

Legacy of Samurai’s Blood
Take Part in a New Samurai Journey and Bring Home Original Art

BERKELEY, CA – 13 May 2011 – Revenge, redemption, honor, and love shine in SAMURAI’S BLOOD, the new six-issue miniseries from Image Comics and Benaroya Publishing. Beginning in June, writer Owen Wiseman, in collaboration with interior artists Nam Kim and Matthew Dalton, along with cover artist Jo Chen, will introduce a tale of three young samurai battling their way through the world while hiding their identities in order to find their destinies. Readers can not only learn of the legacy of SAMURAI’S BLOOD, but they can now enter for a chance to take a piece of the journey home as well!

Wiseman explained, “We wanted to give fans who jump on board early a chance to win some one-of-a-kind art. It’s the fans really caring and paying attention that keeps us going, so we wanted to do something special for them.”

Before the journey of SAMURAI’S BLOOD begins, readers can join the SAMURAI’S BLOOD community on Facebook and Twitter to enter into a drawing for a chance to win an original interior page of SAMURAI’S BLOOD by Kim! There is no purchase necessary to enter; all you need to do is head to the SAMURAI’S BLOOD Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/SamuraisBlood or follow @SamuraisBlood on Twitter and you are automatically entered to win. Two lucky winners (one from Facebook and one from Twitter) will be chosen at random on the day SAMURAI’S BLOOD #1 hits shelves.

In the first issue of SAMURAI’S BLOOD, the teenage samurais must flee as their village and all they’ve ever known burn to the ground behind them. Headed for a city they’ve only heard about in stories, the three young samurai must struggle to maintain their lives and true identities in an era when lineage defined you. Will they rise on the tides of vengeance against the evil usurper who has destroyed the rest of their clan, or will they fall on the swords of fate?

SAMURAI’S BLOOD #1 (APR110406), a 32-page full color action adventure comic book priced at only $1.00 will be available in stores on June 8th.

 

Wiseman Spills “Samurai’s Blood” @ CBR

May 13, 2011

Owen was recently interviewed by Comic Book Resources’ TJ Dietsch. Head over and check out some of Nam’s incredible pencils! Click here, or on the pic below, to head over to the interview now!

 

Samurai’s Blood #1 8-Page Preview

May 12, 2011

Head over to Comixology or click the link below to check out the first 8 pages of SAMURAI’S BLOOD #1 hitting store June 8th for just $1!

Samurai’s Blood #1 Preview

Entering the World of “Samurai’s Blood”

April 19, 2011

When a war lasts for one hundred fifty years, it is not like a war won by the same men who began it. Victorious soldiers feel the uplift of completion, and of hope waiting just around the next corner. When a war is measured in generations there is only the unceasing rhythm of the seasons, attacks and counterattacks, and vicious grudges whose causes have passed into legend or even myth.

So it was in Japan for the century and a half of Sengoku-Jidai. The power of the Ashikaga Shoguns had been destroyed by famine, flood, betrayal, and corruption by around 1450, although they did not mark dates as such. Forces loyal to Hosokawa Katsumoto and Yamana Sozen fought for a decade in Kyoto over Shogunal succession. A shock wave of violence rocked the nation, a single shriek inside an echo chamber that split into a thousand smaller conflicts. The hands of servants turned on their masters, the weak and the gentle fell away, and the people were sharpened to a keen edge as decade followed bloody decade. In Azuchi Province, a man left his infant son to fight and was killed. One hundred twelve years later that man’s great-great-grandson, unaware of the irony of his fate, killed the great-nephew of the man who had cut down his ancestor.

On the western coast of the north end of Honshu, Japan’s main island, was the realm of the Sanjo Clan, in what was at one time called the province of Dewa. During Sengoku-Jidai, the Sanjo Clan’s shrewd and honorable stewardship spared their realm from much of the devastation of the war around them. As a result their people grew to love them, and sent their sons to Castle Bifuyo, stronghold of Clan Sanjo, to protect the province at the bidding of the Sanjo Daimyos (lords). Thus the men of Dewa Province bought peace and prosperity for the price of well-oiled swords, taut bowstrings, and constant vigilance.

After one hundred fifty years of strife, Japan was once again reunited by the iron fist of Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose family would rule in Edo for more than two centuries. Peace came to the land, and many samurai had no wars to fight. Some left their masters and became ronin, others tried to find ways to remain useful. Still others descended into the basest forms of crime and oppression. The old men who had spent their lives waiting to die began to despise the young men who would not have to.

Many of the most savage and evil samurai, unable any longer to quench their blades in battle, retreated to the farthest corners of the land, to outflung provinces like Dewa, where threats from indigenous peoples and simple distance limited the reach of the Tokugawa Clan, at least in the early stages of their reign. The added weight of these broken souls did not fall easy on the leaders of these lands, even leaders normally as steadfast as Clan Sanjo.

During the period of reunification Sanjo Ichiwara, then Daimyo of all Dewa Province, peacefully abdicated his power and entrusted Castle Bifuyo to the eldest of his five sons, Sanjo Ujimori. Ujimori became a Daimyo in the spirit of his ancestors, renowned for his wisdom, for his finely honed spirit, and for his ability to navigate the treacherous waters of a nearby struggle without damage to his people. The Sanjo Clan prospered, and the people were happy.

And yet sometimes peace is more dangerous than war.

 

CBR releases first look at “Samurai’s Blood”!

April 8, 2011

Comic Book Resources has just released the first look at SAMURAI’S BLOOD!

Head over and check ’em out!

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=preview&id=8136