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My mental space has evolved since its inception, no longer a replica of my home in the village. With some practice and effort, it’s become something of a mental palace for me and my alter ego to relax in, complete with all the luxuries I can come up with. Scattered throughout the rooms are comfortable beds and couches, complete with fluffy pillows and warm blankets. As we lounge, there are plenty of viewing screens available for either of us to watch the world through our eyes. For a more active approach, training gear is scattered across the courtyard, the result of Other me’s venting, I suppose. Taking a conductor’s stance, I wave my arms dramatically as grass sprouts from the dirt furrows. The items on the ground arrange themselves neatly, weapons returning to their stands and dummies repairing themselves, dancing into place to an appropriate soundtrack.
It’s cool to be the master of my domain, able to enact change on a whim. In fact, the real challenge comes from keeping things from changing too much. The mind is fluid and ever-shifting, but when an errant thought can warp your surroundings, it’s a good motivator to stay focused. Some things can’t be helped though, no matter how much I concentrate. Chance and physics both favour me when I’m around, and when he plays by himself, nothing remains static, my subconscious mind at work. I can’t keep track of 72 tiles or 52 cards at a time, nor can I properly randomize dice, so the game room I created goes unused. Thankfully, he prefers to smack things around as opposed to play solitaire, so it works out for the best. He’s a damn good chess player though, far better than I am, a good match against Li Song and improving by the day.
Despite my almost godlike powers inside my mind, there’s nothing I can do for him. Bundled up in a comforter, he lies curled up on a couch, staring at nothing while he snuggles with the hare I made for him. With a mental effort, I try to energize him, imagining him hale and healthy, full of vim and vigour. His head turns slightly to greet me with a spiritless smile, before sinking deeper into his pillow and smiling as the hare snuggles back.
Okay, yea so I’m mentally controlling an imagined animal to cuddle with my sometimes-murderous alter ego. My life is weird. “Hey buddy. How are things? Any changes?”
“Good to see you brother. I’m starting to understand why you dote on those animals so much, although I could never bring myself to do so publicly.” Yawning, he blinks slowly and stretches a little. “Nothing’s changed, I’m still tired all the time. Exercise neither helps nor hinders me, whether I work hard or laze about, I sleep the same amount.”
“Well, don’t worry, we’ll figure this out.” I hope. I don’t understand why he’s in such dire straits, he hasn’t been in control for more than a month and still gets worse by the day. Difficult as it is sharing all my experiences, it hurts to watch him waste away. He’s supposed to be the strong one, kicking ass and taking names while I support from the shadows. We were set up to be the dynamic duo, switching between us as the situation required. He kills and I heal, I plan and he fights, a perfect team.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not altruism, he has his uses and I like having him around, a convenient solution to all my guilt over killing. No matter how terrible a person, I still sometimes see their faces when I lay down to sleep, like old, unwanted acquaintances pestering me into remembering them. I get it, I killed you, you’re dead, get over it. He gives me mental strength, knowing I have someone inside my head that has my back.
Although the involuntary sharing of all my senses is a little nerve-wracking, I’ve grown accustomed to it. What’s a little awkward pooping compared to a companion you share everything with? I’ve even let him cuddle with Lin and Mila a little, trying to get used to sharing with him. When it comes right down to it, we’re the same person. What’s mine is his, and his is mine. The lines are starting to blur between him and me, but I don’t care. He has his psychotic moments, but hell, most people I’ve met outside the village are far worse.
He fits right in around here.
“Don’t look so sad brother. I trust you’ll find a solution.” His sad smile gives away the lie, trying to comfort me even though he’s the one at risk. That’s just who he is, fearless. Sure he’s got a short temper, but he’s loyal to a fault when it comes to friends and family. If facing starvation and given the choice of feeding ten people for one day or feeding his family for two, he’d murder those extras without hesitation. Sometimes, tough decisions need to be made, and I can’t trust myself to make them. I want everyone to survive.
Even my split personality.
Unable to think of anything to say, I watch as he drifts in and out of consciousness and cuddles with the bunny. A poke to the cheek disturbs my thoughts and my eyes open, my body sitting on the floor of my officer’s tent. Lin and Mila stand armed and armoured while Auric buries his head in my chest. “Hi hubby!”
As I greet the girls and rub Auric’s head, other me asks, “Can I come out?”
“Of course.” Might as well, who knows how long he’ll be around. Other me rubs my cheek against Auric who purrs in delight.
“Hmph, you spoil that animal, he’ll never be of use if you keep that up.” Mila frowns at me and other me looks up at her and breaks into a smile.
Kissing Auric on the head, he stands and opens my arms for a hug. “You’re right, I give them too much affection,” other me says with a smile, “and leave too little for you. I will try to be more affectionate, my lovely, freckled princess.”
Feigning reluctance, Mila snorts before pretending to yield, leaping into my arms. Gesturing for Lin to join us, we share a group hug. With a chaste kiss on the cheek for each, other me holds them tightly for a minute before leaving me in control without warning.
Quickly checking on him, I find him passed out and unresponsive in the courtyard. Moving him to the bed with his bunny, I focus and create a few other animals to pile in with him. A small bear, a mid-sized cat, a floppy-eared dog, and a little fawn, creating a scene from a fairy-tale, the sleeping princess. I’ll figure out a way to revitalize him, then work on a method for both of us to live full lives instead of sharing one. Who know, maybe I can grow a clone with Panacea or shove his brain into a comatose body. A male body of course, it’d be uncomfortable to put him into a girl’s body. Do Not Want.
Or even better, a shiny, indestructible body, created from a weapon heart, complete with rocket punch and eye beams… Rain 2.0, Destroyer of Worlds.
…Damn that sounds awesome, I kinda want that.
With magic around, the sky’s the limit.
“Whatcha thinking bout hubby?” Lin looks up at me, her head resting on my chest. “You look so mopey.”
“Just feeling a little melancholic lately. Nothing a hug can’t solve.” Releasing my hold on them, I clear my throat and ask, “So why are you both all dressed up? Going hunting?”
Mila grins and pinches my butt before hopping away. “Major Yuzhen wants the perverted trio to gather. We’re finally going to see some action. I’m her new aide now, but don’t you worry, I’ll still be fighting at your side. Tenjin and Tursinai will keep an eye on your accident prone butt.”
“Uh huh… so what’s with this?” I grab Lin’s bow and jiggle it, staring accusingly. “Put this away, you’re staying with the camp, that’s an order.”
“Nope, I’m going with you hubby.” Outright rebellion accompanied by a smile and peck on the cheek.
“Ah, how times have changed. What ever happened to that sweet, obedient little girl who followed me around every day? Asking to be carried and for stories about princesses and heroes, needing help with her studies and arithmetic. I miss her.”
“She grew up and followed her dreams; she’s gonna marry her childhood sweetheart.” Smiling beautifully, she pushes me out the tent. “It’s a wife’s duty to take care of her hubby, ya? I need to come along and keep you safe too. You go to your meeting, I’ll collect all the kitties and get things ready while we wait.”
Mila walks backwards, treating me to a smug smile. “There’s no point arguing with her you know? She’s only sweet and obedient for you, blockhead.”
“Bah, one mischievous and disobedient, the other brutal and disrespectful. I’m a poor soul who’ll end up bullied by his wives. How am I to survive?”
“This is love and care. Call me brutal again and I’ll show you bullying.”
Our flirtation comes to an end as we grab Rustram and head to Yuzhen’s tent. More of a canvas pavilion, it’s a large, gaudy affair that easily fits thirty people in for meetings, although we have less than half that, mostly Yuzhen’s staff. Joined by Song, Huu, and Fung, we seat ourselves at the table and sip tea with the lovely vixen as manners demand, making small talk. Unless it’s a grave emergency, it’s rude to talk shop without partaking of snacks and conversation, a custom I rather enjoy. Who doesn’t like to snack? I could do without the conversation, but with beautiful Yuzhen, I don’t mind, even if she doesn’t like me much.
I should figure out why I’m so unlikable. How am I supposed to build a proper harem if no one likes me?
“Let’s move on to business.” Spreading out a freshly drawn map of the area, Yuzhen runs her finger along the coastline. “Our target is the Butcher Bay Bandits, who we expect to be landing somewhere along this line. They travel by longboat from their hidden hideout through Western Treasures Lake, and either north or southeast along the rivers to their targets. It’s estimated they have between three and seven thousand members, a veritable army. Favouring night attacks, they’ll split up upon arrival, raiding the surrounding areas in a lightning fast offensive. Villages, farms, warehouses and the like, but they’ve been known to raid the fisheries, stealing the preserved goods along with the pay chests, low risk and high reward. I want us spread along here, watching for their arrival day and night. Payday is coming up, and I expect their arrival to coincide with it. Suggestions?”
After a few proposals from her two Senior captains, I chime in. “I had plenty of success letting a few bandits escape and following them to their place of hiding, I’d like to try that again. Killing them is good, wiping them out at the root is better.”
“I suggest you don’t bother, better sailors than you or I have tried and failed.” Yuzhen shakes her head and gestures at the map. “The Western Treasures Lake is a death sentence unless intimately familiar with the area. A labyrinth of riptides and whirlpools constantly threatening to pull the boats out to the calm centre where many a boat has capsized. As the name suggests, there is plenty of wealth and riches deep in the lake depths, guarded by the vicious sea creatures hiding within them. Capture a few bandits if you can, but they’ll likely be oath sworn and unable to give up their hideout location. Your safety is of paramount importance, so fall back and call for reinforcements if needed. We’re spread thin here, but I will send what I can.”
“What about setting archers along here? If they need to stick to the shallows, it’s likely the boats will be visible, and we can fire down…”
The planning continues for another hour, setting up communication and supply lines, with the greatest concentration of soldiers staying close to the river inlets. The fisheries are left to Fung, Huu, and myself, in a small cove surrounded by a multitude of tiny villages. After sending messengers to Ravil, we set off and break camp, a half-day trip by quin, reviewing what we know while travelling.
The Butcher Bay Bandits, led by former Major of the Imperial Army Yo Ling, the Spectre. Established almost forty years ago alongside his colleague former Major Liu Shi, the two war heroes persuaded a number of their former soldiers into a life of banditry, getting fat off the slaughter of innocents. As years passed, they swallowed up the gangs in the area and grew into a juggernaut, putting enormous pressure on the surrounding cities. Extortion, robbery, smuggling, and more, Butcher Bay is synonymous with organized crime.
The Marshal called upon the Imperial Defence Forces six times to subjugate the bandits, but each time Yo Ling and Liu Shi retreat to their hidden hideout to wait out the pressure, taking their elites out on surgical strikes when their food ran low. Rumours have the base situated among the islands or the forests to the south, but their central location and familiarity with the waters allows them to strike out in any direction, with four cities to target. Each time, the Marshal called off the bandit subjugation after the costs began to heavily outweigh the benefits, each one an abject failure and black mark on Marshal Du Yi’s otherwise spotless record.
In fact, the greatest setback to Butcher Bay came from within, a rift erupting between Yo Ling and Liu Shi over fifteen years ago. In the end, Yo Ling won out, taking sole ownership of the Butcher Bay Bandits. Liu Shi, now known as Bastard Liu, fled to Eastern Prosperity Lake with his loyal gangsters, starting his own bandit group, the Crossbone Corsairs. The resulting turmoil between the two gangs gave rise to a third faction, cropping up seven years ago, the Azure Ascendants.
A smaller gang, the Ascendants rely on superior skill and equipment to carve out their place in the north, their estimated numbers at less than fifty total. The difference is, each Ascendant owns at least one spiritual weapon and they carry a multitude of runic devices, the origins of which are shrouded in mystery. Their identities are also unknown except for the two newest members, Lord of Thunder, former Lieutenant Colonel Lei Gong, and Major Daxian the Virtuous. Although I’d love to raid the Ascendants’ armoury, with those two on the roster, I’d rather not cross swords with them any time soon. Lord of fucking Thunder, no thanks. Who knows how many other experts they have, I’ll pass.
Upon reaching the first village in the mid-afternoon, I send Rustram out to find someone for me to speak with. An aged village chief arrives and I question him along with Fung and Huu about the local conditions. The cove is calm and relatively safe, with a natural seawall keeping out the more dangerous aquatic creatures, but even normal fish are dangerous around here, sharp fins and pointed teeth part of the standard package.
No threat at all to roosequins. Diving into the waters, they quickly clear the area of danger, surfacing with all manner of ferocious and disgusting looking creatures clamped between their jaws. A voracious pack of apex predators by land or sea, quins take down their prey through strength of numbers and instinctive cooperation, which is what makes them great for warfare. Watching them crack open molluscs while floating on their backs in the water is a bonus.
By the end of the day, we’ve made contact with a dozen other villages, setting camp outside the ‘main’ village where the Council’s payment will be arriving. For five days, we help the villages prepare for bandits, building defences and planning escape routes. Other me sleeps through it all, comatose for the second time since his emergence, worrying me greatly, but there’s little I can do but wait. Two messages arrive from Ravil, each bringing news of another successful heist. We also receive word from Yuzhen of the Council’s growing demand for mercenaries and the first bandit incursion into the farmlands, Yuzhen taking victory with few casualties. Things are getting heated, but the fishing villages are quiet and peaceful, passing the days drinking with my brothers, playing chess with Li Song, and flirting with my little wives.
This would be a nice place to live if I didn’t hate seafood so much. Minus the bandits and merchants of course, but I’m working on that.
On the sixth day of our arrival, Rustram interrupts my early lunch. “Officer Rain, longboats have been spotted less than half an hour away.”
“Excellent, gather the troops Mister Rustram. Time to earn our keep.” Thank god, I thought I was going to have to choke down more salted fish. Blergh.
Time for some good old-fashioned bandit killing.
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