I came back to reality only to find my body out of breath.. but that was to be expected.
At least I’m not in pain this time.
My eyes were closed and my mind was racing with what I had just experienced. Ikun Omi’s words and what she had shown me were more than just unnerving… they made me understand that there were very few ways in which things could end up well for me.
Between her insanity, my own mental issues, the Court’s agenda and the mysterious request behind my reincarnation in this post-apocalyptic world… What was the upside? Where was the good in all of this?
What if all of this was just an elaborate personal hell?
It didn’t even sound that crazy compared to the rest.
I felt tired… then I noticed that all I could hear was the crackling fire. There was no music.
I finally opened my eye, slightly dreading what I would see. How likely was it that I had unknowingly done something unforgivable?
I finally opened my eyes, and to my relief, there were no dead bodies lying around me. The audience seemed in good health, albeit much farther from the fire than I remembered… And they were all standing.
Wait, there’s much more of them… What’s going on? Are they… crying?
I could hear sobbing, coming from several directions at the same time. Those who stood at the front were either wiping their tears or wearing downcast expression. The adults in the back who weren’t busy comforting the younger children were looking at me with eyes filled with tears.
“What?” I said to no one in particular.
Someone broke from the crowd, ran in my direction and hugged me before I could say anything. It was Bo.
“It’s… It’s going to be okay, man… I… I pro-” but the rest of his words got lost in his cries, and I was left unsure of what I should do. I looked around and managed to find Maboru, with her daughter somehow standing next to her with her eyes wide opened. Maboru, on the other hand, was trying her best not to look at me.
“Hey!” I opened my arms and waved at the scene, my voice sounding too loud over the strange silence. “Care to explain?”
She opened her mouth to speak, but another kid ran to wrap his arms around me. Others did the same, and I was soon surrounded from all sides, at the center of a silent display of empathy I couldn’t explain.
“Alright everybody, time to go home,” someone said. “Let him breathe.”
I was released after a few well-meaning taps on the shoulder. Bo finally let me go, and while he was wiping his face, one of the musicians stood from his seat by the fire and came to me. I couldn’t pinpoint his exact age, but there was no doubt that he was, at the very least, older than I was when I died.
He held both of my hands in his and we locked eyes.
“Young man,” he said with a slow and solemn voice. “In the name of the Harmattan Troupe, I thank you for allowing us to give the performance of a lifetime. I can… finally pass the mantle to the next generation and retire with no regrets.”
He made a pause, probably to allow me to say something, but I couldn’t find a fitting word to place.
“If it is not asking too much,” he continued, “could I know the name of the exquisite style you displayed tonight?”
It seemed that this information meant a lot to him, so I found it hard to reply without averting my gaze.
“That… I can’t say.”
“Your name, then?”
“Edward. My name is Edward Lee.”
He closed his eyes and nodded again, “Edward Lee. What a strange name, though it is fitting for someone such as you. If you ever come to Nashran and find yourself without a place to stay, ask for the Troupe’s quarters. I pray for you to find peace.”
Peace? They didn’t… actually see what happened, right?
He then turned around and left, walking slowly in the direction of the settlement. One by one, the other musicians shook my hands in silence before doing the same.
Most of the audience was gone by then. Except for Maru, those who had stayed were adults busy talking with each other.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, and saw Petro standing next to me. I raised a questioning brow.
“There are many…” he started, before taking a moment to better chose his words. “The shape of your mindscape will evolve as you get more insights in the type of dancer you are, so keep in mind what you have just seen might be very different than how it will ultimately turn out in the end. Every time you feel yourself losing control, take a moment to dance and go back to your inner place. It will help you correct the imbalances and find your new center.”
“Alright,” I said. “Now, what about the tears and people retiring?”
He sighed and shook his head.
“The first step to mastering Mindscape Projection is the ability to share emotions,” he finally said. “Your dance began with the expected animosity and anger, but those feelings were shockingly soon replaced with profound… intense sorrow. The kind of anguish no one could have predicted from a young man as… adjusted as you seem to be. It took us by surprise.”
The reason for their reaction was that they had experienced some of my… “sorrow”.
Most of the people who had been present were either children or parents. So either not at all equipped to deal with the woes of an old man or oversensitive to a child’s abnormal grief. It made sense.
“And for the old Maestro retiring… Well, I’d be a fool to not admit that your dance, while showing your inexperience, is unlike any I have ever seen. Very… raw. The Troupe played accordingly and the fusion of your performances created something breathtaking enough that their leader decided it was worthy of being his last performance.”
“Every blade dancer in an earshot came to take a look,” Maboru said as she joined us.
“Finally talking to me?”
“I have my own pride. As I have said, every blade dancer in the area came to figure out what was going on, and I can assure you that if you weren’t so young they would still be here to challenge you in a duel. You’re lucky this didn’t happen in Nashran.”
“In a few weeks, news of the old Maestro retiring will shake the Pearl,” Pietro whispered. “You don’t have to worry about it though, because you thankfully will be long gone by then.”
… or dead, like you.
It was interesting to note how carefree they both acted in regard to what everybody expected to happen to them. I assumed that the fact that they were far from alone in their predicament made it more easy to accept.
So the lesson by the campfire had been turned into a spectacle. I could almost hear my sword’s snorts of disdain and was torn between echoing a similar opinion, ignoring it all, and being annoyed that I ironically had missed it.
At least it wasn’t all for nothing, I thought as I looked at the blade in my hand. The old musician had wished for me to find peace, but the last time I had felt at peace was when I was dying. For now, knowing that I could hold my sword without scaring everybody again was enough.
I do hope that Mindscape Projection won’t just make my opponents depressed though.
“It’s a very elegant sword… Seems to have been made for the dance,” Pietro said with a thoughtful gaze toward Ikun Omi that filled me with enough irrational irritation that I immediately put the dark blade back in my inventory. “Is it a gift? You seem attached to it.”
“It was,” I said, before adding after a moment of consideration, “and I am.”
If my mind, spirit, soul or whatever, had truly merged with Ikun Omi, finding a way to change her perspective on mass murder would be an important item off my bucket list. Trying to keep my distance would not work. Especially when she clearly knew more about my inner workings than even I did.
“Many dancers see their sword as trusty partners,” Maboru said. She then waved at their daughter who had stayed behind. “Maru, why don’t you come over here?”
The person in question simply glared at us and left, ignoring her mother’s wishes.
Isn’t she too old to act like a teenager?
“Things are a bit complicated between us, and let’s just say that your showing up didn’t make it easier,” Maboru sighed.
“Does she know that she might have to leave you both here?” I asked.
“She does,” Pietro said with a smile. “Funnily enough, it plays a huge part in why she’s angry at us… but you don’t have to worry about it.”
“I have a few things planned for tomorrow,” I said with a nod to Bo. “So we’ll be taking our leave.”
“Sure,” Pietro said, before glancing around at a man who was staring into the dying fire without even blinking. “I can tell you that your welcoming dance will be remembered for a long time.”
So I left with a silent Bo in tow. We walked straight toward the temple, not even bothering to go back through the settlement. The moon was starting its descent, we had lost a good part of the night already and I wanted to get as much sleep as possible for my impending “venture” with the hunters.
“How was the show?” I asked Bo after a long moment of silent walking. “I can’t remember.”
We were nearing the temple and I was starting to think that the effects of my mindscape might have been worse on him.
“It was amazing,” he said without hesitation. “And scary too. Sometimes, it felt like I couldn’t be seeing what I was seeing. And the music… it was like a dream. or a nightmare.”
“Sounds like it was confusing.”
“It was! But… in a good way, I think. At first, people were just nodding, but when that wave of heartache hit us… it was horrible, even though I could tell it wasn’t mine. Man, you should have heard the gasps. I think that you got them to respect you more.”
“It felt more like I earned their pity, really.”
“Ha! Yeah, maybe… I know it sounds corny, but I’m convinced we all learned something when we realized that you still manage to leave your bed every morning with so much… pain inside of you. I know it made me feel like even more of an idiot for what I was saying this morning.”
“Hey. I don’t know what it was that you guys felt, but you have to understand that it was one isolated emotion. There’s a lot of other stuff in my head to keep it balanced.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” he said with an half-hearted chuckle. “But just so you know… What I was saying earlier for Sarn and Lima is valid for you too.”
I glanced at him and his eyes darted away.
“I mean, I’m not really sure how I could help a delver- or if you even need my help!” he fumbled. “But, yeah… We’re thinking of getting our own place, and if you want, it could be your home too. Assuming you do not have one already… ugh, forget I said anything.”
I laughed and threw a mock punch at his arm, “Thanks for the offer, I appreciate it.”
He shook his head with embarrassment, smiling.
We finally reached the hill the temple sat on and followed the old beaten path.
“Bo,” I said after yet another moment of silence. “What kind of hero did you want to be, when you were younger?”
“That’s one funny thing to ask,” he said with a laugh. “I wanted to be just like Rengu Kainam. Wait, let me guess… you don’t know who he is.”
“Right after the cataclysm, the Martyr’s allies were left with the responsibility of finding a way to fight off the fog…Well, we all know they botched the job, but at least we’re alive, right? Anyway, Rengu was the greatest out of all of them. Not just because his infinite great sword objectively makes him the best, but also because he never gave up. No matter how many monsters his group was facing. It’s like he was made out of sheer willpower alone!”
He does sound like the type of guy young boys would idolize.
“When we were in your room, I realized that I didn’t need to be a delver or a warrior to be like him. I’m sure it’s going to be hard, but as long as I never give up on my goals, I can still be just like him. Even If I’m forsaken by the gods or whatever they say I am.”
His eyes were shining with hope and determination.
“About that…” I said nonchalantly. “How do people know someone is forsaken? Is there a specific age at which everybody is supposed to receive their class?”
“Well, first there are those who are born with no attributes at all. It’s sad, but at least they know very soon where to put their efforts and don’t waste years training. Then there are those like me. We have attributes, but for some reason we never get a class. There are a few exceptions, but past fifteen it’s better to wake up and face reality.”
“How old are you?”
“… Sixteen. What about you? I stopped going to practice last year to focus on work.”
Oh, so he has training. Good thing.
“Another question. What are your attributes?”
He stopped walking and gave me a puzzled look.