365 Writing · Stories

Jin and the Dark Forest (Part 1)

Jin walked along the path carrying his lamp aloft so he could peer farther down the trail. The constant drizzle of rain had turned it to mud, and at this point, he was soaked through. Pulling his wide bamboo hat down farther he moved along hoping that he would reach an inn or at least a dry place he could camp for the night.

At times like this, he regretted leaving his old home for a life of traveling. Maybe it was time to settle down in one place, cities such as Kowigima needed his help, that was for sure. It wouldn’t be hard to find work, and while villages and farmers did too maybe he could do just as much good in one place… he mused to himself as he waded through the muddy forest path.

It was while he was mulling over this train of thought that his eyes caught the light from something other than his lap. It was a bit far off and looked like it was farther up the path and off away into the forest. It flickered like a fire or torch. Shelter, he thought, though he knew it could equally be bandits. He rested his free hand on the hilt of his sword and moved cautiously, but hopefully forward.

You always think the worst of things, don’t you? Ikiru whispered to him. The sword laughed at him quietly. Can’t you just relax a bit? You’re clearly worn out.

“It’s better to have my guard up and be safe than take a risk that could be fatal,” Jin responded through clenched teeth. The sword had done him the courtesy of being quiet for most of the trip, of course now it decided to pitch in its opinions. “Now don’t talk.”

It’s not like anyone else can hear me. Ikiru laughed at him again.

“Yes but it’s distracting, plus it looks like I’m talking to myself. Not shut up.” He replied, and the sword went silent. By now he was at the edge of the path where the light was coming from. From here he made his way, careful step by step towards it. The underbrush was thick, and he thought he could feel his already travel-stained Kimono rip on something several times. He needed to buy a new one… with what money?

Finally, he could he could see the source of the light ahead, it was a small bathhouse. See? It’s just hot springs, not bandits. You worry too much Jin. 

“It pays off.” He answered, relaxing and taking his hand off his sword. There were some sounds of people conversing inside though very faint, not surprising at this hour of the night.

Walking up to the door he gave a light knock, and almost immediately a woman answered it. “Oh,” She seemed somewhat started at his bedraggled appearance, HE probably seemed like a bandit. “How can I help you?”

“Sorry for my intrusion at this hour, but would you have a bed for the night, could also use a bath.” He flashed the last of his coins out of his empty purse, of course, he hoped she would assume he had more, harder to turn away a paying customer.

“Of course sir,” she moved aside, beckoning him to enter, “all are welcome. May I take your bag?” Reaching out she took his bag, hat, and lamp as he stepped inside. Compared to the chilly rain it was quite warmer inside, the heat from the hot spring and the lamps were a welcome change.

“If you would come this way, you can take a bath while we prepare your room for you.” She began to walk down a narrow hall and slid open a sliding door, placing his possessions inside. She then ushered him down another hall and some steps until they were in a room with towels and a stove in the center. “You may take off your clothes and change here. When your finished your room will be ready for you.” She bowed and left him alone to change. He put Ikiru in a safe place next to his dirty clothes and went to the part of the hot spring shielded from the rain by a rock overhang. The patter of the rain and the warmth of the water lulled his eyes into closing as he floated in the water.

Don’t drown. Ikiru said snarkily, still close enough for Jin to retain his connection with him. Leave it to a talking sword to ruin a good moment. Jin tried to meditate and feel the water and the rain, but his mind was still too clouded with fatigue. Eventually, he gave up, and after washing off the dirt from the road, he made his way back into the building. His clothes had been taken, and a fresh robe lay folded for him. Slipping into it and picking up Ikiru, he went to the door as there was a quiet knock. Somehow they knew he was finished.

“Hello, sir.” It was another girl this time; they were dressed in the same ruby Kimono, like a uniform. By her face, she could have been the other’s sister. “We have prepared your room. If you’d come with me.” He followed her down several more narrow hallways until they reached a sliding door. It was darker here, with only small candles providing light. She opened it and beckoned him inside.

The room itself was simple. With only a tatami mat, blanket, and futon but it was more than he had hoped for only a couple hours before. She wordlessly closed the door behind him, and Jin felt the pains and exhaustion of his trip as he lay down on the futon.

Don’t be too careful right? Aren’t you still worried?

“About what? He whispered to the nagging sword, his eyes closing by themselves like weights. “Wasn’t it you who said not to.”

Isn’t this a bit too perfect?

“Just shut up. Let me sleep… I’m taking your advice now.”

Hey, suit yourself. But be careful.

And with that, he fell asleep.