“Lift, boy, lift. We’re behind schedule as it is. Hurry now, walk faster.”
I grab another long box from the wagon, and lift it with a grunt. Carrying it in both arms, I turn to bring it into the store, one step at a time. I couldn’t walk faster if I wanted. These boxes are heavy as hell. Might as well be full of bricks.
Sumila walks past me, carrying her box easily. I don’t know how she does it. She’s the same height as me, maybe a bit taller. Much less muscular, with skinny, feminine arms. She can’t be that strong. I bet some of the boxes are lighter. They’re just taking advantage of me.
After the snafu yesterday, Fung went home with his guards after a long rambling goodbye. A great guy, that Fung. We share the same interests, women and training. He brought me to the Golden Swan Pavilion, truly Heaven on Earth. All free women, no slaves, well-educated and pricey. Two of my bows a go pricey. The guy is more of a training freak than me, and we spent hours just talking about strength building exercises. I had a lot of fun drinking with him. He told me his name means ‘Great Wind’, so I told him what mine meant. After a few more drinks, we were announcing ourselves as ‘The Typhoon Brothers, The Great Wind and The Falling Rain.” Stupid, but fun. It’s good to finally have a friend.
As punishment though, I’ve been forbidden from going out without a chaperon by Akanai, and from drinking by Mei Lin. I don’t mind too much, especially after Taduk told me where Akanai was headed when I arrived. Lady was ready to storm the DuGu manor for me. She does care. So instead of hanging around the villa all day, I’m here helping Husolt make his deliveries. He sells weapons to various noble families, both standard guard weapons and custom ones. Every place we stop at places another order, and he even helps me sell the furs and carvings I brought. I have no idea where all the money the village must make goes to, between the weapons selling and the mercenary work. Then again, spiritual weapons aren’t cheap, and every Sentinel seems to have one. A good number of the cadets do too, mostly short swords and short spears. I bet the Mercenaries are all armed the same way. I put my box down, and head back out. Husolt is already back in the driver’s seat, so I climb into the back of the wagon with Sumila.
She hasn’t spoken to me all day, but I’m actually okay with that. She is an odd little girl, difficult to understand. So angry, but still chooses to help. Then we were getting along well, but that incident in the bazaar, and them getting in trouble after I left to get drunk… Well, I’m always comfortable with silence. Looking out the back of the wagon, I lazily watch the buildings pass by. We’ve gone to 3 other islands and one district on the shore, all connected by stone bridges. It must have taken some crazy engineering to get all this done. I don’t know why there aren’t any boats though. You’d think they’d be useful, but I haven’t seen anyone in or on the water, not even a roosequin.
We pause at another checkpoint, and some guards peek into the wagon. It’s empty now, so the search is quick, and we move on. I keep looking out, seeing the calm peaceful water and distant city walls in the skyline. Some birds fly over and settle down into the water.
Emerging from the water, all teeth and scales, an elongated snout snaps closed, devouring a number of birds before splashing back down into the water, the surface quickly settling again, as if nothing had happened.
I can see why they don’t take boats.
Giant fucking aquatic dinosaurs. That snout must have been 5 meters long.
“Did you just see that?” I turn to Sumila, who looks surprised. She shakes her head, and I describe what I just saw.
“It’s a Saurophage. They live in the lake, just big aquatic lizards. They can’t leave the water, so nothing to worry about.” She’s very blasé about sharing the lake with freaking dinosaurs. I shake my head. Every time I start to enjoy myself here, something new reminds me about how dangerous it really is. I make a note to stay away from the veranda at Taduk’s. That cannot be safe.
“You should be more worried about carnugators. They sometimes climb their way onto the islands.” She smirks at my discomfort. I keep my mouth shut, and don’t ask about carnugators. I don’t need to know. I can imagine it from the name. How do they keep the wildlife from destroying the bridges? Why did they even choose this place to live in? Freaking maniacs.
Husolt shouts from the front, “Carnugators, eh? You looking to join a hunt, lad? There’s plenty of excitement there, a good day’s fun.”
Everyone here is insane. Why can’t they just find a safe hobby, like playing checkers.
We finally get off the death trap they call a bridge and move onto solid land. It seems like a workers district, with sounds of hammers and saws. The roads are still very nice, and the buildings all made of stone, with less aesthetics and a more utilitarian look. Porters carrying heavy loads of iron and timber bustle about, making deliveries to the various workhouses that line the street. Husolt pulls over, and I climb out after Sumila. We follow Husolt into the store, where he begins haggling with a scaly merchant with reptilian eyes.
I stretch and yawn, tired from not enough sleep. I slept the entire night, but it just wasn’t long enough. I spent a lot of energy yesterday. It was worth it though. I say that, but I wasn’t paying. I need a way to make more money, fast. I can’t always let Fung foot the bill, and it’s not like I can ask Alsantset for money to go whoring around. I wonder if there’s money in hunting carnugators? I don’t know what they are, but I assume it’s just some type of crocodile, right? No that can’t be it, Sumila said they ‘climb’ onto the islands.
“Hey.” Sumila interrupts my musings, looking like she swallowed a lemon. She glares at me for a moment before a curt, “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” I have no idea what she’s apologizing for.
“For punching you. For bringing Mei Lin away and leaving you at the market. I was wrong. It was simply a misunderstanding, and you could have been placed in danger.”
“O that? You shouldn’t worry about it. If you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have made a new friend.” I smile at her. No harm, no foul.
She shakes her head, determined. “Just because nothing terrible happened, doesn’t mean I wasn’t wrong.” Cute kid, owning up to her mistakes. I smile and pat her head, which earns me another glare.
Husolt gives us some directions and we get to work, this time loading the wagon with materials. Heavy bars this time. Sumila stacks them like plates and walks off, without a hitch in her stride. She really is that strong. I thought my strength was impressive. Is it a demi-human thing? Or am I just weak?
We make a few more stops afterwards, loading more materials onto the wagon. When the wagon is full, we head back to Taduk’s. With some spare time, I cross my legs and place my sword on my lap. I might as well try to brand my sword again. I keep failing, and I don’t know why. Just need to try again. I start my breathing exercises, and reach for Balance.
I haven’t used much chi lately, so I feel bloated. Cleansing the alcohol from my system was barely a drop in the glass. I don’t really understand this whole harmonizing bit. The sword is me and I am the sword. A freaking joke. Why can’t I ever get nice, clear instructions. It’s always vague and unhelpful. Something like ‘enter the Konami code for god mode’ would be awesome.
I can sense the sword with Inner Examination. A mass of chi flows through it as it journeys around my body. It’s natural now, moving without interruption, a part of my ‘chi system’ if you will, but still unbranded. According to everything I’ve been told, it should have been branded by now. I don’t know why. Despair starts to overwhelm me.
This world is dangerous. Bloodthirsty animals, bandits, arrogant humans, the Defiled.
I need this weapon. It will protect me, allow me to live.
I don’t want to be a soldier.
A hunter. A provider. A defender. Those are my roles. I will fight my enemies, so that I no longer have to fight.
I feel something, a tugging, a call. I draw the sword, eyes still closed.
I know what I need to do.
I turn the blade towards myself, and slowly stab it into my abdomen. There is no pain, no resistance.
Blood is significant. Symbolically and genuinely significant. The blood from my core is the most significant blood I can share.
I feel it flow from my core and into the sword, covering it and contained within it. My chi within the sword mingles with the blood. The sword is me. I am the sword. My chi feels … exuberant. It flows faster, one revolution through me. Two. A third.
On the eighth revolution, the sword exudes an aura, of stability, of permanence, as if indestructible. It feels heavier in my hand, yet light as a feather, all at the same time.
My eyes open, drawn downwards.
My stomach is uncut, my hands still on my knees. The sword is still sheathed, sitting on my lap. The blade slides out of the scabbard, as I study it. It’s exactly the same, nothing different about it. Still the same sword, but I can feel the difference. It is mine now. The sword is me. I am the sword.
I feel drained, exhausted. But happy. I finally branded it. It’s mine. I don’t understand what just happened, but I did it.
“What are you doing, idiot. We’re in a wagon. You’re going to poke your eye out if you keep staring at your sword like that.”
I sheathe it and turn to grin at Sumila. She means well but she has a terrible way with words. Kind of like Sarnai. I tell her about my achievement.
“Congratulations. What did you end up doing?” She gives me genuine smile. It disappears quickly when she realizes I have no idea what she means. “There is a ceremony that occurs in your mind, when you brand your weapon. A symbol of joining between you and the weapon. You do something that makes it a part of you.” She looks at me, waiting for an answer.
Oh, so that’s what it was. I thought I was going a little loopy. “I stabbed myself in the stomach.” I know how she’s going to react.
“Are you an idiot? You stabbed yourself?” She says it a bit too loudly, and Husolt overhears.
I shrug. “It seemed like the right thing to do.” I smile at my sword. It did seem right.
We pull up to the checkpoint to Taduk’s island. Husolt turns to me while we wait. “Lad, you really stabbed yourself with the sword?” I nod, and he sighs. “You don’t seem like the type. To live and die by the weapon. I would have thought you more relaxed and peaceful than that.” He shakes his head. “Sometimes it is a performance of one of the forms, with the weapon in hand. Others use the weapon to cut themselves, dripping blood onto it. I reforged my weapon in my ceremony, felt like I spent days doing it. There are other gestures, but those are the most common ones. To go so far shows you have impressive resolution, at the least.”
My mind is ordered and calm. Husolt is wrong about living and dying by the sword. That’s not what it meant, not in my case at least. It was a peaceful feeling, stabbing myself, relaxing almost. It sounds weird, even thinking it. I don’t intend to live and die by the sword. I love peace. I wish I could live out the rest of my life without ever having to fight.
Death would be the ultimate peace. No more fighting. No more being scared. No more struggling. No more kill or be killed. In a sense, killing myself would be granting myself what I wanted the most. Peace. That’s what it all meant, what the sword was telling me. That I might as well kill myself, if all I want is peace. On some level, I still hadn’t accepted the fact that I would need the sword. It was the same thing all over again. It wasn’t the sword rejecting me, but me rejecting the sword.
I thought that the sword didn’t suit me. It nothing but a weapon, and without a fight, a weapon is useless. That was my thinking, and I was wrong. It isn’t useless. It’s vital. It protects me, shows that I can defend myself, and so long as I am strong enough, I can live in peace.
I’ll carry the sword, learn it, cherish it. And pray I never have to use it. Should I ever have to, I will wield it and bring peace to my enemies, so that I can have peace for myself. A fitting name. I clip Peace onto my belt, at my hip. It feels right, out in front of me, on display. Protecting me.
I look forward, and who do I see but DuGu Ren, pointing at me. His eyes are all healed, but he doesn’t look very happy to see me.
C’mon, Son. At least let me enjoy my newfound clarity for a few minutes.
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