As the MCA begins to march south to Kudo, the chui meet their gunso. It is an eventful meeting, however…
Tsuruchi Raiko was lifeless. The eyes of the former archer were now as opaque as her skin, revealing little, if anything, of the raging storm underneath. Her body equal parts shelter and prison.
Occasionally, Heichi Masu would hear the quick patter of footsteps in the hall. And occasionally, one pair of feet or another would stop directly in front of the room, knock either hesitantly or impatiently, look in, express concern or ask for updates, then leave once more.
“Lately, it seems,” the Boar began, “we’re all meant to suffer at the hands of fortune. I suppose a more optimistic person would see this as a test.”
He sighed slightly, smirked sadly, and then rolled onto his back. Now they were both staring upwards, Masu and Raiko, though it was only the bushi who was fidgeting uncomfortably.
“Listen,” the young man continued, his tone now hardened. “I looked madness in the face recently. I did. I must have. I don’t know how else to place it.” Masu’s eyes narrowed, his mind wandering. He took a deep breath, and when he spoke next, he spoke rapidly, the way some confess.
“I woke up, I think, and there was a cave and the inescapable sound of a blacksmith at work. I grew up with such noise as the norm, you know. It is usually a comfort. But it was not a comfort here, wherever I was, not even dressed. I had been sleeping, but I was now in the mountains, I think. And in the cave was this figure, unlike anyone I have ever seen before, a man dressed in dark robes, his skin a sickly colour and coated with black tattoos. He was working upon a large anvil, and there were these swords upon the walls, and something about them repulsed me and fascinated me all at once.
“He welcomed me, and looked at me, and my blood pounded. I cannot describe it, Raiko-san, but he had my eyes. His skin was older, weathered, but he had my eyes. It was me. I was him, somehow. He only spoke in riddles, now mostly forgotten, of things to come – of the people he required for his schemes to come to fruition. He was glib but spoke of himself as meek, spoke of me as meek, and made reference to such terrible things that he—we—would do. This great evil.”
Heichi Masu winced, the memory of anguish assaulting him.
“He killed me. I tried to confront him, and he slid a red-hot sword into my shoulder, and it was truly a real death, not something that I can explain as a mere dream. I died, and then I woke up.
“And when I did so, I ran. I got up, I left my room, I ran out into the night. It’s difficult for me to recall entirely, but I know that I ran until I could only collapse, and so I did collapse, out in some field. And then I screamed, maybe out loud but perhaps not, and remained there for what now feels like an eternity.
“Eventually, I became more aware of my surroundings, and I was ashamed. I admit that. I walked back to the lodgings, and I think that you saw me, or that I saw you, but I was still fixated upon the nightmare that had consumed me. I don’t think that I even believed that I was awake. But I cannot say for certain, as the feeling is gone and now I only remember it being terrible and little else.”
The Boar shifted, and with a bit of lazy effort once again returned to laying on his side, leaning on one arm. He looked at Raiko, and thought that for a fleeting moment he saw a bit of light flash across her eyes, a mirror image of her soul thrashing silently against its cage.