My vision was already blurred when we entered a large room with walls filled with white characters I couldn’t be bothered to read.
Bokwen guided us toward a door at the back, after waving at the people in the room to stay where they were. We went through a hallway and then ended up in a much smaller room with a bed.
It wasn’t really a bed, but more of an assortment of furs placed on a block of rock that had been carved from the wall.
“There you go,” I heard him say. “I’ll see you when you’re back on your feet.”
I dragged my feet, sat down on the furs and placed Ikun Omi on my lap.
I remembered thinking the sword was nothing special when I first picked it up, but now that my fingers were slowly brushing its cold steel, I could effortlessly sense the bond between the two of us.
And it was growing stronger, in a way that made me feel more dependent on her than I liked.
I looked up and saw that Bokwen was gone. Ardos was sitting with a worried expression, and the female instructor was still standing in the hallway, holding her arms close to her chest.
“I’ll be counting on you,” I told her with an apologetic smile.
She just did her best to avoid looking me in the eyes and didn’t answer.
“You will be fine,” Ardos said. “Nothing is going to happen as long as I am present, so you can try to calm down.”
I nodded, thinking that he couldn’t be further away from the truth.
I wasn’t holding onto the sword because I was worried or scared. I was holding to it because I currently felt like there wasn’t any being or obstacle I couldn’t cleave in two, and I didn’t want to find out whether those feelings were mine or hers.
A soothing arrogance that birthed a muffled violence. Like a shark or a lion chuckling at prey undeserving of its fangs.
It came to me that my hearing was gone, and I realized I couldn’t stall any longer. I prepared myself to put Ikun Omi back into my inventory.
This is going to hurt like a bitch, I thought as I remembered the pain that followed my enlightenment.
However, I didn’t even get to feel the pain. One instant I was sitting in a stranger’s room, then there was darkness.
I was born in a small village in West Africa. A village of fishermen nestled between a great river and the boundless blue sea.
It was a haven, a sanctuary almost unaffected by “modernism” and the great discoveries made around the world. Home to men and women who strongly respected and valued traditions above all else. For better or worse.
I was taught to always greet others with a smile. Every older person was called “uncle” or “auntie” and other kids were “brothers” and “sisters”.
Life was simple back then. My world was my family. My only dreams were to beat my older brother at racing home from the beach and one day be big enough to defy the sea with my father and the other men.
People always told me that I was too eager to grow up, that it wasn’t all it seemed to be and that I should just wait to see the great things Destiny had in store for me. But that was not something I wanted to do, even though Destiny seemed to have played an important role in the circumstances of my birth itself.
My parents had met each other in this secluded village, but my mother wasn’t from around here. She wasn’t even from the same continent. Though she had the same skin tone as the others, her ancestors had been taken from their homes to somewhere very far. She was the first member of her line to be able to make it back.
Like an angel, she had flown through the sky from a land called “America”, a land of freedom where the earth and plants had been replaced by concrete and steel, where people worked with machines in towers that pierced the clouds.
I loved hearing her talk about her country, but I didn’t want to go there. She had said that it was possible to not see or talk to family for a long time, and that old people were often moved away from home. I couldn’t imagine living without my family.
She was a doctor, and she had come with others to help the village. When her friends left, she had decided to stay and build a family with the chief’s oldest son.
Which I found strange, as they were total opposites. He was calm and analytical, she was energetic and impulsive. He was a guardian of traditions and she loved innovation, even facilitating the construction of the village’s only school with a teacher from the city.
When I asked him about it, my father just laughed and told me that she had actually greatly mellowed out and made efforts to integrate into the community. And that even if she had not, she had saved the lives of enough people to deserve a place among them.
My parents always butted head, but always with a smile on their lips. As if every single one of their arguments was just a rehashing of an old song they were familiar with, but still loved to perform like it was the first time.
I knew that many of the women slightly resented my mother for staying. A man could have up to five wives, but my father never took a second one.
When I listened to the fishermen tipsy on palm wine at night, instead of sleeping like I was supposed to, I would sometime hear them mock my father. They would then proceed to say that their sisters would probably not mind him. He would just laugh and say that his wife was already more woman than he could handle.
To that, my brother once whispered to me that mom would probably kill him if he tried to marry someone else.
I was the kind of kid who hated school, but we were forced to go. I wanted to go play on the beach with most of the other kids or laze under the sun while eating fruits from the bountiful trees that grew everywhere.
My mother would tell me that going to school was necessary if I wanted to become “someone” one day. That now that the country was independent, it would soon need more educated people to help it stand on its own.
I did not believe her. None of my friends' parents had been to school, and they certainly were “someone”. Dad had been to school, but he would soon be chief like my grandfather, who had not been to school. So what was the point?
In the end, she managed to win that battle by introducing me to books.They made me realize that there truly was more to the world than just my home. From that point on, I knew I needed to learn more in order to understand the more complicated ones.
Of course, there were always more books to read and more to learn. At some point in that endless cycle, I was hooked, and from that point forward all my memories of me lazing under the sun included me reading something.
On the subject of memories, my oldest one is one of me playing in my grandmother’s hut. I must have been four, or maybe younger. Even though she wasn’t supposed to cook inside, she would always make a quick something when she was looking after me.
So she was cooking, and merrily singing one of those ageless songs the men would sing when pulling the nets full of fish on their boats.
I remember myself stopping what I was doing to listen to her song. Before long, she was picking me up in panic and asking me what was wrong. There were tears streaming down my face, and I was uncontrollably sobbing.
At the time, I didn’t know why I was crying. I only figured it out many years later.
Have you ever taken a step back from whatever is going on to look around? To truly look? It’s like an out of body experience, during which the whole scene is engraved in your brain forever along with an absolute feeling.
I can still remember every grain of dust, dancing in the light filtering from the thatched roof. I can still remember the voices of my parents lovingly bantering outside. I can still remember the smell of the sauce simmering in the pot. The salt in the air. The pure simplicity of it all.
I still hear her beautiful song sometimes, when it is late at night and sleep eludes me. And I will never forget the sudden certainty that took a firm hold of my young heart.
That things would never, ever, be as good as they were in that instant.
I do not know what prompted the thought, or why it would even occur to a young boy who thankfully soon forgot about it. But I have lived a relatively long life afterward, and it hasn’t been proven wrong.
Then again, it is entirely possible that, by the time other comparable moments happened again, I was too damaged to appreciate them.
I woke up feeling extremely tired, but thankfully not in pain.
My first reflex was to check the state of my arm. It wasn’t broken anymore but felt as sore as the rest of my body. I wasn’t going to complain though.
It seemed that I had been in and out of sleep at several times, and maybe even delirious. I had memories of the same old dream I had made the previous nights and of thoughts of me being in my room at the temple, somehow.
But I was definitely still in the small stone room that suspicious bear had led us to.
What was his name again... Broken? Bokren?
The female instructor was sleeping in a chair next to the bed. She had circles under her eyes, and I promised myself that I would find a way to repay her for her efforts... and at least properly learn her name.
I took a few seconds to sort my thoughts and noted with satisfaction that they were no longer bloodthirsty. As far as I could tell, I was back to my regular self... for better or worse.
The bed of fur wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was making me itchy. With a groan, I managed to sit, and the woman opened her eyes.
“Hey,” I tentatively said.
My mouth is dry... I need water.
“Hey,” she replied, still groggy. Then she realized who she was talking to and straightened herself in her seat. “You’re awake! How do you feel?”
“I am and I just feel sore... Which isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. How long have I been sleeping? Where’s Ardos?”
“There was an emergency and he had to go back. One of your friends brought this for you the other day, though I’m not sure what you can use it for” she said as she pointed to a large object in the corner of the room.
It was Tamie’s empty mana crystal.
I looked at the woman in confusion.
“...The other day?”
“Ah, yes. It’s been three days since we got here.”