I got three.
Suddenly I awoke with a start. I looked around for what could have woke me, but nothing stirred but the light from the midday shining in through the cracks in the wood… in fact, it was strangely quiet for what I guessed the time was.
A chill began to run down the back of my spine that made me twitch. There was something here I couldn’t place, ten years of war told me that I wasn’t safe. Grasping the knife underneath my pillow, I continued to examine my surroundings. Nothing, not a sound or a shadow moved. A shadow! An enormous shadow was surrounding my fire pit. Which was strange if you thought about it since there was a crack above in the ceiling above… Slowly I turned my eyes up. The dread I felt before intensified as above was a dark void with two bloodshot eyes staring back at me.
I swallowed slowly, the eyes did nothing but return my stare. Whoever this was, no, I don’t know why but calling this thing a person felt wrong. The darkness with the rest of the light around and it’s unblinking stare, I couldn’t believe this was human.
With a blink of my own eyes, the creature’s eyes were gone. In reflex, I leaped out of my bed and swiftly grabbed my short sword. A chill swept over me, this time down to my bones and I cried out in surprise.
Spinning around at the sound of a rustle down the other end of my room I saw the black eyes again. Where there had been light, instead there was a pool of darkness. I drew my sword.
I realize I said that sometimes the draw is most important in Wakoku swordsmanship. However, it wasn’t only Wakoku style which I knew. I was one of the few versed in Xian swordsmanship as well. This focused on channeling my body energy into my attacks, and I had a hunch that against this thing I’d need as much strength as I could muster. Besides, this was close quarters.
Sifting into a ready stance, I faced it and waited.
And it waited as well.
For a long time, I stared at its unblinking eyes. My grip began to feel sweaty, and I noticed the rest of the room had faded into a layer of shadow.
Then it was gone.
Suddenly able to breathe again I waited for another moment and then relaxed my sword grip. Shivers ran down my spine. It wasn’t every day you had an encounter like that. Though today seemed to be far from an ordinary day I thought to myself right before pain like a lance pierced through my side. Looking down I could see a dark blade through my abdomen, and a voice whispered in my ear.
You’re right. It’s not every day that you die.
Was that it? Is that where I was? Because where I was, looked to be the monastery I grew up in. The garden courtyard surrounded me, the monks walking around straight from my memories clad in their red robes. A young boy no less than five ran past me, holding a kitten in his hands. I watched him as he ran up to a monk that bore a think beaded necklace. Each bead was a formed from a different wood. I recognized it, and him as the head father, Satoshi. And the boy, he was me.
Somehow this wasn’t strange to me, in fact, for it to be any other way would seem odd. This felt more like a dream than actual memories, though it was undoubtedly the latter.
The younger me held the animal up in my hands to Satoshi. Bending down, the monk placed his own hands on top of what I now remembered and saw as a lifeless bundle of fur. “I’m sorry, Jin.” He said softly, his voice rang in more my memory than it did my ears. “Death comes to us all.”
Tears were streaking down the face of both me. The feelings were the same. I had found the kitten by the road and tried to nurse it back to health. In my five-year-old mind, I thought I could do for it what the monks had done for me. I tried to grasp onto the father’s words. Death was still strange to me, the very idea of something alive being here and suddenly being gone forever. It was too painful to grasp.
As the younger me collapsed in tears and Satoshi put his reassuring arms around him, I turned away closing my eyes. What was going on? There was something else. Something else that was actually going on, but instead I was here.
I opened my eyes again to the smell of ash.
I was still in the monastery. Though this time it was burning. The charred corpses of monks who had been my family scattered the courtyard. Men wearing the garb of Xian soldiers milled about a giant bonfire on which Satoshi roasted on an upright stake like a stuck pig. The men laughed and sneered and out of the corner of my eye I saw one carrying an eight-year-old me from the side building. I had blood on my face, and I could feel the scratches as I clawed at the man as if it was all happening again.
Again the world around me shifted through my tears, and I was no longer in the monastery. Instead, I was on my first battlefield. A green grass valley hemmed in by low mountains on either side. A light stream wound its way through the middle and that’s where the fighting took place. Men thrashed like dogs in the shallow blood-red water. I saw myself at thirteen this time use a broken sword to bash a man’s skull in. I could feel it cracking underneath my blows as if it was an egg. Blood and water stained all over the Xi’an red tunic I wore. The battle around me and the broken man falling away under the surface of the stream was all I could see now. Not the kitten, not the monk, not the years the Xi’an army had forged me into a soldier of war, not… What else was it? There was something else.
There was something else. I was standing five years later in the tent of General Tsu. He was a gaunt man a day over sixty, but you could see the vigor of a twenty-year-old in his every movement. That’s right, I was sworn to his guard. In the last of the Xi’an conquest, our battles had led us to here. This wasn’t right, no…
No. The tears fell down my face again as I was standing on my last battlefield. Snow was falling, and like the waters of my first battle, the snow mixed red with the blood of combat. The general had been like a father to me, much in the same way Satoshi had been. And in the same way as Satoshi, I held the dying General Tsu in my arms as he died. The tears fell less this time as my eighteen-year-old self, stared into the black void with two bloodshot eyes. The same that had.
Killed you? I thought I heard a voice whisper.
How had I forgotten? It was not only the same from my past, but I had forgotten that I had… Died. The voice echoed again. Unheard by my past self who watched the form vanish. I looked around for who spoke to see the Wokoku general dead behind me. General Tsu and I had finished the war here. But…
Does it matter now? I heard the voice say again. Still looking around I finally saw it.
No longer from my memories but like a shard in your eye or a splinter in your skin, a figure stood there out of place with the recollections around me. He was a withered and hunched old man. The wrongness of him in my memories hurt and made me want to claw it away though I knew not at what. He began to walk forward. And his appearance changed as the features on his face began to shift back and forth from the old man to a young one of my own age.
I know, it’s hard to look I’m not really here after all. The old man’s voice was again less of me hearing it, and instead more of me knowing what he had said as if I remembered his voice, though it had never actually been. I could no longer watch him and turned my eyes away to my younger self, who grasped the general’s sword at his feet.
My sword. My hands went to my sword hilt, and a cold chill of ice ran down my spine. That’s better. Now it shouldn’t hurt.
Bracing myself, I turned around again toward the voice and found myself face to face with a middle-aged man in a formless white space. At least I’d call it that, though there were shapes and objects in it, when I looked directly at them they vanished. The man himself, however, was about my height and one of the lest remarkable looking people I have ever seen. Almost as if someone had thought of the blandest and stereotypical looking person in the world and crafted him right in front of me. Well, that’s exactly it isn’t it?
“Isn’t what?” I said out loud on instinct. I felt I had been roughly awoken but fallen back asleep.
It’s what you’re mind can handle, but no matter. Let me introduce myself, my name is Ikiru. The man “said” with a bow.
“Ikiru?” I questioned, stunned. You are my sword, I found you all those years ago, and you brought me back that day. You are the reason I didn’t die in those fields.
No honorific? Manners Yashimoro-dono. You’re right, but you never saw me, this time your second death it’s given me an opportunity.
For a moment I felt colder than I’d ever been “death comes to us all” I said on impulse.
Ikiru smiled. True, death is the one constant. But you’re lucky Yashimoro-dono! With me you should know, the end is but a mild inconvenience. I can control death enough so it won’t touch you. At least not this time.
“What?” I never said I was prized for my wit.
Well, a magician never reveals his tricks, but let’s say I can cannel death’s entropy someplace else, in exchange though a piece of me, resides in you.
“I thought all these years you were sealed in the sword?” I asked him. Evidently, I knew less of Ikiru than I thought.
Ah! Now we’re going somewhere! As you know, I’m your sword, and your general’s before him, and a noble’s before him, and a pirate’s before him, and so on. I’m giving you this chance. To not find a new owner as I offered to them. You’re too exciting, and besides, my prison in far too cramped.
“Interesting, prison? I’m not sure I follow.” I responded like an idiot.
Now you choose to get all dense? We’ll have to work on this… I merely want to come back with you. It gets boring here like this. I want to live again. So let me in, just a bit and death won’t touch you.
“And how does this work? You possess me?” I questioned.
Nothing as crude as all that. Only I live in your head too. You have the control I just get to live there with you! Isn’t that fun?
“No, it doesn’t sound like it. I liked it when you were just a talking sword.”
Let me rephrase. Doesn’t that seem more fun that you staying dead and rotting down here? I don’t know where you are regarding reincarnation or whatnot but trust me… A twinkle gleamed in his eye. Those murders aren’t solving themselves after all.
I stood there for what felt like an eternity. I had carried Ikiru as my general’s sword, and he had saved me once but never approached me in this way, I had trusted him for many years, but this was… different. What would the consequences be for bringing him back with me? It’s true, all must die, but I couldn’t let myself die here. I could only feel pain and sorrow and loss from each of my memories. If there was a chance to fix it… I had to. I nodded my head, and Ikiru smiled.
And woke up a second time to the sound of rain pattering on my roof. The hot sticky air made my clothes feel soaked in sweat. Pulling myself to my feet, I felt the world spinning around me and sat back down. I glanced around the room which was now lit with the waning evening light. I must have been out for quite some time.
Not as long as it could have been.
I’d heard Ikiru’s voice echo from the sword from many hears into my head, but this was different. This time the sound in my head, “sounded” all around me.
Wow, don’t freak out so much. I told you what to expect after all.
“You’re still, Ikiru?” I said out loud, uncertain of what to do.
That’s right, you agreed to our deal. And goodness does it feel good to be back! Though I can’t say, I’ve missed this climate, blah.
This was going to take some getting used to.
For me yes, for you, just carry on the same as before. Don’t worry about it too much… and remember if you die again, it’ll be ok!
That’s right. I had died… I reached down my back and felt an enormous scar on my chest.
You’d still be dead if it weren’t for me, instead of sweating like a pig in this hovel you call a house you’d be bleeding through the floorboards and into the bay.
The scar indeed hadn’t been there before, the evidence for this all being real over crazy dream was adding. Who killed me? What?
That, I don’t know, my senses as sealed in that sword were far less than they are now.
I definitely wasn’t sure how I felt about this as I finally found my feet and began to heat the very last of the tea I had made before, in an effort to clear my mind. Watching the steam rise out the hot liquid was almost as good for my brain as the taste of the hot tea. Those from Wokoku might find drinking hot tea on a day like this strange, but one picked up habits from Xi’an when you served in their military for as many years as I had.
The rain began to die down, and with a start, I thought I heard something outside the door. Instantly my had gone again to my sword. I’d had enough of this for one day.
Not enough apparently. The voice of Ikiru chimed.
Trying my best to ignore his much louder voice in my head, I quietly made my way to the door and pulled it open drawing my sword.
The first thing I noticed, oddly enough, was that the rain had stopped, though there was a hot and sticky feeling that hung in the air. The next thing I noticed was the cat scratching up again the floor, now moving to rub itself against my leg. Its mixture of gray and white fur was wet and matted, the cat pushed harder against my leg looking up with an almost pained expression.
“Well, you’re very friendly for a cat.”
I hate cats.
“Well, I like cats.”
You’re not letting that into our house.
The cat opened its mouth in a silent meow still looking up at me. “Last time I checked, this was still my house,” I answered him.
You’re going to let it stay, aren’t you?
With Ikiru’s new intrusion into my mind, I argued back. “I hear cats are good luck.”
They can also be bad luck, you should listen to me.
I’ll take my chances with luck then. “You can come in little guy, or uhh girl.” With a voiced meow, this time, the cat bounced past me into my house.
Have it your way.
“Last time I checked I was the one in charge here,” I responded back to Ikiru closing the door behind me. Maybe ignoring was a better option.
Fine, suit yourself. You know what happens when you don’t listen to my advice.
Looking back into my room I had another shiver run down my spine as the thought of that black form with bloodshot eyes crept into my mind. I had to get out of here. Putting a bit of dried fish out for my new feline roommate I left and began to walk back up into the city.
I had no leads, and some… thing, had just killed me evidently. So far things were going just great… At least there was one case I could look into.