Rain

From the Story Arc: Scholar, Soldier, Superhero

Previous Story in the Arc: Rising Suns by Crimson Tao (Friday, October 07, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Disequilibrium by Crimson Tao (Wednesday, January 04, 2006)

(posted Friday, December 23, 2005)

Korea – October, 1950

It had been bright and sunny only a moment ago, a stark contrast with the grim battlefield, but the now gathering clouds recognized the need for a solemn atmosphere. Streaks of rain fell from the sky, pelting a dozen soldiers of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army as they marched silently across a field of the dead.

The troops’ footprints began to darken brown, as the crimson slowly faded from the mud. The rain is softening the earth, allowing it to be cleansed of the blood of mortal men, Tao mused. Does it pain the earth to accept our bodies? Or are men insignificant pawns to the earth, as they are to the generals that wield them?

Coming to the edge of the pass, Sun turned and surveyed the battlefield once more. The light had almost completely faded, but he could still sense the horror of the stillness that had settled over the ground where men had bled and died for their beliefs. But my duty at this time is not to analyze the philosophy of war, only to execute it.

Sun’s detachment began to pick up the pace as they neared their encampment. No one had eaten that day, and if fate was on their side, the foragers would have been able to gather something edible and brought it back to camp. Perhaps a ration shipment to the UN soldiers might have even liberated.

At long last, the camp came into view… and the detachment halted in shock. In the gathering darkness, it took a moment to comprehend the scene. But then the reality of the situation struck full force. Bodies. Mangled. Strewn atop collapsed tents, scattered among broken armaments.

The soldiers jumped at a crack of thunder, then froze. No one could miss the dark, inhuman figure perfectly silhouetted against the lightning flash. As the night hid the creature standing in the midst of the camp once more, its face turned towards the troops, its only visible feature was the pair of eerily glowing white eyes.

“Open fire!” the major shouted.

A dozen rifles were aimed, and a dozen rifles were fired, followed by an unearthly scream mixed of pain and rage. The thing dashed forward and leapt, landing in the middle of the detachment, slashing through the soldiers.

Sun stumbled backward as the creature grabbed a corporal by the face. Screaming, the corporal’s back arched violently as if something was being ripped out of his body. Once the shrieks faded, he fell into a crumpled heap, his soulless shell finally released by the monster.

The major had never seen anything like this before, but he had read the stories. He knew what this was. Jiangshi. Demon. A hopping corpse that can travel a thousand li, and pull the soul out of a man with only a touch.

Extending a clawed finger towards the major, the jiangshi roared, “Kai!”

All other thoughts were shoved out of the way by the utter fear that had taken control.
But his feet had hardly fled more than a few steps before the demon leapt into the air, slamming into the mud meters away from Sun. Clawed hands, slick with blood, were instantly wrapped around his throat. Covered by a hood, the face was invisible except for the burning white eyes. The tattooed body was that of a man, but the arms became more feral tapering towards the fingers, ending in demonic hand-claws.

“Your karma has been stained by the souls you have betrayed,” the creature snarled. With his free arm he motioned towards the fallen soldiers.

“B-but, you ki-killed them,” Kai gasped.

“No, no! Your arrogance! Your cowardice! Your treachery! That is what killed them!

“I want-ted to protect them.”

“Lies!”

No longer trying to push the creature’s claws away from his throat, Sun dropped his hand to his side and unsnapped his pistol holster.

“What do you think you’ll do with that, Artist of Strategy?” the jiangshi mocked.

The fingers grasped the cool metal and raised the gun – past the demon – and towards the sky.

The jiangshi exploded, “Do you mock me even now, Kai?”

At first, Sun felt nothing. Then, a strange sensation, a strange presence, where his stomach should have been. His eyes followed the arm of the monster – now firmly planted through the major’s abdomen. Blood spurted violently from Sun’s mouth, doubling him over with the racking convulsions.

“Now what do you say?”

The major grimaced as he lifted up his head and looked into the demon’s fiery eyes. “I won.”

In the space of a heartbeat, Sun grasped the jiangshi’s arm, and focused his entire essence into the one technique that could provide any hope of survival.

High above the earthen floor, the pair seemed to be caught in a lapse of time. His arm still fully extended towards the heavens, Sun braced himself for the coming torture. The expected thunderclap boomed, but neither could hear it as the surge of lightning struck Sun’s pistol.

If the major had been able to let his mind shut down from the overload, to give in to the shock that would have stopped a normal man’s heart, perhaps he would not have had to endure the torture that followed as the split second of electrocution dragged on for eternity. Pain. Terror. Agony. Horror. Suffering. Kai could not shut any of it out.

“AAAAAAAAAH!!!”

The ground was advancing quickly now. This was the moment he had planned for, that he had endured for. Twice more, just twice more. With every muscle burning, Sun tried to keep his mind alert as the entwined bodies plummeted to the earth. The monster and the man fell, mere moments away from impact – and then disappeared in a flash of light.

Encased in earth, the blood of war had trickled down even here. Blind. How far had he teleported into the ground? Deaf. Dozens of meters? Hundreds? Thousands? No air in this natural tomb. Kai began to push the demon’s claw out of his abdomen, but his muscles failed him. One more jump, only one more to ensure victory. But… it hurts.... Instinctually, he tried to take a breath, receiving only a lungful of soaked soil as asphyxiation took its hold.

* * * * *

I do not remember dislodging the demon’s hand from my body. I do not remember teleporting myself out of the grave I had dug for myself. I do not remember anything that would have explained to me why I had survived. All I remember is lying with my face to the sky, and whispering that I had given the heavens one more body to weep over.