Throne of the EmperorbySean Renaud©
It was near sunset and a cool breeze was blowing in over the Azure Sea chilling the young bald monk. He stood barefoot in the sand with only narrow band of silk wrapped around and between his legs for a hint of modesty. It was only a hint though as the fading light and transparent silk did little to block the cold and less to conceal him from any eyes.
His own eyes were closed as he focused his ki. He felt it gathering first in his belly, then slowly he let it flow down to his arms and legs before he released it his breath. Next he reached out to the sea focusing himself completely on the waves until his breathing was in sync with the waves. Once he was attuned to the sea he turns his focus to the sand beneath his feet. This wasn't as easy for him as focusing the air or water which both came naturally for him. The earth was hard and unforgiving and even the shifting sands did little to alleviate that for him. Still he continued to focus on them until he could feel the individual grains of sand beneath him.
"Jin. Are you okay?" Jin didn't need to turn around to know who was behind him. Juri Lynn was a long time friend, the oldest friend that he could remember actually. She was the one who'd found him lying on the beach with no memory of who he was, where he was or where he'd come from. The only identifying marks on him was an intricate tattoo of a serpent that started at his waste and wound it's way over his left shoulder and down around his arm just above the wrist.
"I'm fine Juri Lynn." He lied. He could only hope that it was a convincing lie. The truth was he was anything but okay. The last few years he'd spent traveling the world learning about who he was and who he had been.
He was a member of a dead cult of assassins known as the Serpent's Kiss. They served no lands and no master instead maintaining the balance. That was what they had done for thousands of years and then he had come along. Jin still hadn't put all the details together; perhaps looking for details on how a secret cult of assassins had suddenly vanished was an exercise in futility. What he did know was that he was the one who had killed the Four Kings and set his former master, Yamato Oda, upon the long empty Throne of the Emperor. Why none of his brothers had come to fix it nobody could tell for certain but the answer was obvious to him. He killed them.
"You're not fine." She whispered softly slipping up behind him and wrapping her arms around his torso from behind. He loved the warmth of her bare breasts against his back and her cheek against his. He wasn't as fond of the way she could make him feel like a toy. He was a slight man of only five seven and she was an Amazonian six feet of robust beauty. Her breasts were nearly as large as his bald head. "I know what you're feeling."
"No, you really don't." Jin growled suddenly distracted from the dark skinned beauty behind him. "I've changed. I'm not that man anymore. I don't know if I ever really was." He was lying again. He knew that he had once been that cold hearted killer because he could recall their faces in his dreams. There were no names to go with the screaming faces, nor dates to correspond with the blood that cooled on his hands. The coppery smell of blood still aroused him in away that made him sick to his stomach.
"I know you're not that man anymore. You're a better man than he ever was that's wh-"
Jin cut her off and stepped away from her arms. "I'm a better man than he ever was and that's exactly why you're asking me to be him." A sardonic smile crossed his face for a moment as he stared into her hazel eyes. "You want me to be a killer."
Juri Lynn for her part didn't blink and only took a step forward. Her silken sarong was billowing in the slight breeze and goose bumps had risen visibly along her arms. "I'm not asking you to be a killer. I'm begging you to be an assassin."
Stomping his foot in disgust sent up a plume of sand nearly as tall as he was and the sharp turn of his head created a gust of wind that cleared it away. "What exactly is the difference? Is it murder when I kill someone you love and assassination when I kill someone you loathe?" Jin felt a tickle at the back of his mind, a darkness that threatened to take control of him. "I don't want any more blood on my hands. Not now, not ever. I have enough to weigh on my soul as it is."
"You want to unburden your soul and wipe the slate clean?" Juri Lynn asked taking another step towards him. "Then fix your mistakes. With Yamato Oda gone the rest of us have a real chance at peace. A lasting peace without fear."
The stain on his soul reached up lacing its freezing fingers through his mind. Despite the breeze Jin felt like his skin was on fire and something was creeping just beneath his skin. "You want to know what's funny here bi- Juri Lynn?" He reached his left hand across gripping his opposite bicep. "You tell me that I'm not him, that I shouldn't feel guilty for the things that he did and yet you want me to clean up my mess. Which is it you-"He cut himself off again digging his nails into his arm until the flesh turned white beneath the pressure.
It was the first time almost since they'd met that she didn't know what to say to him. He was right of course. It wasn't fair at all to ask him to right the wrongs of another. She opened her mouth prepared to let a lie pass between her lips but after a silence she shut her mouth and took a deep breath.
"So which is it? Am I him or not?" Jin hissed. His attention was so focused on the woman standing before him that he didn't realize that a trickle of blood was running down his arm. "If I am then I should feel bad not only for the lives I've taken but also for every single person that suffered because of me." Without noticing his voice was starting to rise.
Juri Lynn started to reach out for Jin when continued his tirade. "Like your father who died mewling as General had him impaled on the palisades around your village." As soon as her eyes shut the vision of her father came flooding back. Normally she would have just pushed the decade old memory down but she couldn't do it while Jin continued to narrate. "I'm told that's an especially horrible way to go, if you use a dull enough spike and go slow enough it pushes everything out of the way and you die very slowly." It was true. She remembered watching him twitch and struggle against the ropes holding his hands behind his back. "Of course the kind thing to do is put them down but the General is a cruel man." Hot tears streamed down Juri Lynn's cheeks as she was forced to relieve her Father's final hours. The rancid stench of death had attracted the carrion birds who circled the village picking at the corpses and their not quite dead brethren. Instead of showing that simplest kindness and allowing them to die the children were sent out amongst the impaled with brooms to chase them away. The penalty for failure was another family member would go up. Juri Lynn was no different from the other children in the end though. Eventually exhausted they were forced to flee.
The words just seemed to spill out of his mouth without Jin's permission. Except spill was the wrong word because it implied a certain speed that this lacked. Whatever that stain was enjoyed watching Juri Lynn's face twisting and made absolutely certain that she could feel each and every syllable as is landed on her ears, especially the last three. "Was that me?"
It wasn't the breeze that had chilled Juri Lynn down to the bone and it wasn't Jin's warmth that made her take another shuddering step towards him. "No." Her voice faltered and even she wasn't certain if she was lying with the truth or being honest with a lie.
One of them was certain of their sincerity though. "Liar." Blood dripped off his finger tips and down to start a tiny pool in the sand. If he was responsible for the Emperor then he was responsible for the acts of the Emperor. That was why he was being asked to shed blood to change history yet again. It was because it was his fault.
"Do you remember when we found your mother?" It wasn't a question so much as a trigger that set off an explosion behind her eyelids. She'd been looking for her Mother for nearly five years, ever since she'd been taken from the village. Jin had been there when they found her. Somehow Juri Lynn had always known her mother was a prisoner or dead. She would find her one day wasted away in the deepest dungeon of the largest castle. The only other possibility she'd considered was that her mother was long dead, probably in some mass grave, gods knew the Emperor had filled entire fields.
Jin's lips twisted to a sneer and it was his turn to take a step towards his victim. He couldn't read minds but he didn't need to, after all he been there a year ago when the twenty year old had seen her mother again. The last thing that he wanted to do was make her relive that but it was what had to be done. It was what the stain insisted on and he was already too far along to stop himself even if he wanted to.
"It wasn't at all what you expected was it?" It wasn't. Juri Lynn's mother hadn't been locked in the deepest dungeon of the largest castle and she wasn't dead. She was a whore. That and worse. When they found her she was . . . working at a tavern. She approached Jin on hands and knees like a dog begging for scraps and kissed at his hand trying to gain his favor. He'd was about to dismiss her when Juri Lynn had recognized her. There was a brief happy reunion, one that ended when the Honor Guard burst into Jin's room and nearly killed him.
Despite, or maybe because of, how jarring seeing her mother as a willing whore and accomplice to the Empire it hadn't prepared her at all for what came next. It was the first time she'd seen a glimpse of who Jin had once been. "You know, I really enjoyed that. I don't know how long it had been since the last time I'd heard the sound of bones snapping but-"
He trailed off but Juri Lynn finished his sentence easily. "It made you want to dance." And dance he had. That was the only way that she could describe the fluid effective joyful way that he dispatched his foes that day. She'd seen him fight before, restrained and stiff, so reluctant to use more force than necessary. This was something like watching ballet. Members of the Honor Guard were hand picked by the Emperor himself for their skills and even unarmed he made dispatching them look easy. If she hadn't heard the screams, seen the blood, witnessed their fear and his joy she would have been certain they had practiced. There wasn't a single wasted movement and when they'd had enough and tried to flee for their lives Jin stood still. He canted his head slightly and a skull splitting smile stretched from ear to ear before he kicked the bed shutting the door and blocking off their exit in a single motion. That was when she blacked out. When she came to they were all dead at least one of whom had dislocated his own shoulder trying to crawl through a window barely larger than his own head. Jin was curled in the corner with his arms wrapped around his knees his entire body racked with sobs.
"Was that my fault? Do I need forgiveness for that?" He finally noticed his nails raking across his flesh and the blood. "If I must pay blood for my sins can I not pay with my own?" He pulled his hand away from his arm staring at the blood on his own fingertips and finally collapsed to his knees. "Isn't this good enough?"
Neither one of them was sure how long they remained silent nor could they have told you when Juri Lynn wrapped her arms around the smaller man pulling him against her. She knew that his red hot flesh was enough to drive stop her shivering and he knew that her frigid skin was enough to keep him from burning no matter how badly he deserved it. Juri Lynn cupped his face in her hands bring him close enough to her that he could feel her breath on his lips when she spoke. "No. You don't need forgiveness. I've already forgiven you a thousand times over and more but you are the only person who can do this. The only man who can fix the world."
"If I do this I have to what I was. You've seen it. I don't want to be him; I don't want to be him." Juri Lynn wasn't the only one crying anymore. "I want to be me. I don't even remember him but I know what he is. He's evil."
Juri Lynn kissed his tears away softly then brought her eyes to lock on his. "I know you, and you can do this and come back." She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his ending the conversation. He fought against her a moment before his arms moved to encircle her waist. "And I'll be right here when you get back but time is almost up."
Jin slumped, not just physically but spiritually, pulling away from Juri Lynn. "I'm going to go and I'm going to meet with Yamato Oda. I can't promise I know how this ends but I've come to far not to meet him face to face."
"I'll be right here when you get back. Juri answered with a forlorn smile." Jin turned on his heels and started walking away.
A few moments later her brother walked up behind her. "Is he coming back?" The two of them stood in silence for a few moments. "Is he coming back?"
"I need him to think he is." She flatly replied.
"That's not what I asked."
"We're not waiting around to find out."