Autumn rang, and the cherry blossom trees began their preparation for winter. Dotted around a small ring of stones they dreamed of the morrow’s bloom. A gentle wind springs across their branches, wrapping its way around the clifftop. But the circle of stones resists. An ecosystem unto itself, it is warmed by lanterns hanging from the exterior of the dojo in the background. In the middle of the brushed arena of sand, a figure kneels. A mountain rising in the desert. Upon his image, everything bleeds away. Except for…
“Look what has become… mmhmm…” Sensei Abe Lincoln stalks around the perimeter, his seedy eyes peering over the top of circle frames as he licks his lips. “Look what has become of Shujin Yama.”
A small puff of dust kicks up from where his boot hits the ground, spilling over a perfectly folded white robe to the side of Shujin Yama’s shirtless body.
“Sitting in reflection, a cheap imitation of your conqueror, no?” Lincoln sneers as he keeps circling. “Tell me… has this meditation given you the insight it gave Freddy-San?”
Yama is silent and still. His closed eyes don’t even flutter in response. Lincoln lingers on the fringe.
“Ah… yes!” he purrs through a sly smirk. “A vow of silence, you swore, mmhmm. So confident you were, yet… here you are, without Premier American Championship.”
Still Yama doesn’t budge from his perch.
“Freddy-San asked for ‘warriors’ to battle,” Lincoln continues. “But Shujin Yama hasn’t been ‘warrior’. Shujin Yama has blamed all others for ‘disrespect’. At Slam-A-Thon, Shujin Yama had opportunity to overcome. But Shujin Yama failed.”
His eyes squint further, carefully studying Yama’s face for any hint of response. But Yama remains resilient. Resolved.
“Mmhmm…” he nods. “Now… you must put aside any sense of honour. Seppuku will not redeem you. To be Premier American Champion, you must take punishment fitting one below your caste. Punishment fitting… for an American.”
From behind his back, Lincoln produces a small rope. Its woven fibres catch the moon’s light and shimmer like a blade in the night. He stretches it between his hands and snaps it together. Once. Twice. And as he steps closer to Yama, the kneeling man’s face becomes the world.
A shadow in the background, Lincoln raises his hand behind the monolith and brings the rope down with a cracking whip. Not even a ripple of a flinch crosses Yama’s face. Again, the whip is raised. Again, it strikes with speed and fury! But Yama is resound. This pattern of torment continues until the behemoth has been flogged a total of ten times. On the tenth, Lincoln steps around to the front, withdrawing a white handkerchief from a straight jetted pocket. He glides it up and down over the rope and the handkerchief reddens – the only hint of the gorges carved into the mountain’s back.
“Good,” Lincoln says. “Very good, mmhmm. Think now on what you have learned. Think on what has been taken from you. In this moment, you were no master. You were no mountain. You were no Shujin Yama. You were small child of nothing once again, sitting on your family’s porch in Nowhere, America. This is what Freddy-San made you into last month. This is what he would do again, mmhmm. But now you have chance, yes… to take control for yourself. Listen!”
He motions, open-handed, to the clifftop. Suddenly, the world rushes in once more. Behind ironclad eyelids, the slightest flicker of movement of the almighty orbs that lurk beyond suggests a wakedness heretofore unshown by Yama.
“Do the old gods speak to you, as they did Freddy-San?” Lincoln makes no effort to hide the derision in his voice.
The question sits in the night air as both Lincoln and Yama attend to the call of the wild. The wind that danced across the cherry blossoms makes a concerted effort to penetrate the circle once more, whistling like a shakuhachi flute. But it is played by a novice. The forces of Yama squash it out as quickly as it arrived.
“No,” Lincoln says, attuned to the metaphor. “For the old gods have no power here. Not anymore. This is Shujin Yama’s world. Now rise! Rise and overcome the King of Jungle! Overcome the very laws of nature themselves! Rise! Claim the Premier American Championship to reclaim your honour! Rise! The Oni of Oblivion! Rise! Rise! Rise!”
Eyes open as dawn cracks.
The rising sun.
And Hell follows with it.