"Very well!" she raised her voice once again above the murmuring crowd. "If there are none here who will help me - a sworn warrior of your lord - out of duty and honor, perhaps silver will give you the courage to row for me." She held up a string of jangling silver coins - enough to buy a boat outright in a village this poor. One man stood forward, bald and wizened. Wordlessly, he took the coins, handed them off to an equally ancient woman, nodded to her solemnly, then led Ino to the shore.
His boat was small, but he used it like it was a part of his own body. Ino tried to make conversation with the leathery old salt, but he just smiled and nodded and kept working the oars. They were halfway to Onobai before she realized he was mute. She took up a position in the prow, hand upon the hilt of her nodachi, grey eyes scanning the sea for the promised threat. It was not long in showing itself.
It started as a ripple of water moving against the wind. Then the tentacle breached the surface, bristling with serrated suckers. So it was a giant squid after all. She drew her nodachi, ready to strike out with the long blade at the slightest provocation. No, not a giant squid - the creature was a single, free-swimming tentacle, tapering to a point at both ends, thick around as a tree trunk, and covered in those toothy suckers. She had read about these. Ikuchi. Ship-renders. Hungering tentacles from the deep, not often seen in shallow seas such as this. Spring had brought more than cherry blossoms to the shores of Achikara.
The tentacle circled the boat once, then struck. Both ends of the ikuchi shot up, wrapping around the prow and stern. Ino lashed out, quick as a crane, her blue blade biting into the rubbery flesh. It twisted itself around the boat like a coil of rope. The old sailor seemed to pay it no heed; his face as he rowed was that of a samurai going into a duel - confidence masking resignation. Ino leapt back as the prow of the boat splintered. The tentacle continued to constrict, cracking the wale of the boat. Water was seeping in. Ino struck at the ikuchi thrice, and thrice more, each time cutting a deep gouge in the beast, but it never relinquished its hold. It would crush the boat before Ino could cut through it.
The old sailor caught her eye. He had stopped rowing, and was standing in the boat, holding a splintered oar like a spear. He gave her the same solemn nod he had given the old woman in the village. Ino nodded back. Channeling all her strength, she brought her nodachi down on the thickest part of the tentacle, cutting deep like a woodsman's axe. The blade shattered inside the beast. The old sailor came down a moment later, driving the sharp end of the oar down into the cut she had made. The tentacle writhed, ripping the boat to flinders. As Ino hit the water, she saw the tentacle wrap completely around the old sailor, ready to tear him apart as easily as it had his boat.
All sense was muffled by the shocking cold water. Ino dropped the hilt of her broken sword and fumbled to undo the ties on her kusari katabira - the heavy silk-covered coat of mail links was dragging her deep into the sea. Breath burning in her lungs, she shrugged the armor off and kicked back up to the surface in time to see the wounded ikuchi, blood seeping from dozens of cuts, slither off into the depths.
Matsushita Ino lay back in and breathed deep, letting the salt water and the tide carry her toward Onobai. She closed her eyes and said:
Dead whale. Spiral scars.
Blossoms fall on the red sea
where ikuchi feeds.
|Ikuchi illustration by Toriyama Sekien for the Konjaku Hyakki Shūi (1781), via Wikimedia|
Today's Monster Monday is the ikuchi, a giant living tentacle from (where else?) Japan. This free-swimming tentacle can wrap itself around ships and crush them to get at the tasty sailors within.
The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2017 Jonah Bomgaars.