Side Story: The Drifter
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
Both the sun’s dazzling rays and the glimmering reflections produced when they hit the salty seas around me stung my eyes. Sharp, piercing light aside, all I could see was blue. No matter where I looked. There were two neverending expanses. The mercilessly cloudless sky lay above, while the violent sea shook me to and fro from below.
I was by myself. Stranded.
There was no land no matter where I looked, only blue, blue, and more blue.
It was meant to signify calm. But to me, the colour had become a cruel reflection of the reality that lay before my eyes.
I was adrift.
And though my mind was hazy, I knew I was going to die.
Up and down.
And up and down.
The waves had full control over my locomotion.
There was nothing I could do to influence it. I was too exhausted. My throat was so dry that the skin inside of it was starting to crack. And my stomach so empty it’d started to eat itself. My whole body pulsed with a dull pain that weighed it down and robbed it of its ability to move. Worst off was my leg. It was broken. Sharp pain assaulted me each time the waves rocked my tiny lifeboat.
I just wanted the sun to stop drying me out. And for the salty sea breeze not to make my countless wounds sting. Because they were shaving away at the little vitality I had left. Every passing moment made it harder and harder and harder for me to cling to life.
Luck had been on my side. I was lucky enough to find a lifeboat that’d been cut loose when I fell into the sea. And though it seemed like the raging waves were sure to make it capsize, it had managed to hold me and allow me to escape the fate that my ship had met. The fate all my mates had met. But no more.
My luck wasn’t going to hold.
I knew I didn’t have much longer.
The reaper was beckoning me. His sweet whispers promised that I would be joining the friends that I’d made aboard the ship.
And I was ready to accept his hand.
They were my closest friends. They were all vulgar idiots without even the slightest hint of delicacy, but good men nonetheless. Spending eternity with them didn’t sound all that bad. I was even starting to look forward to our reunion.
My sole regret lay with Camella.
I wished to see her. One last time. But I knew that it was not meant to be. Death was to finally do us apart.
All I could do now was wait. Until she joined him. Then, he would apologize and do everything he could to make up for all the time they lost.
“Aye… I’ll… be joining… ya… soon… boys…” They were my last words. A testament to my will. “Don’t… be drinking… all the rum… without… me…”
Right as the reaper took my hand, I felt my boat hit something. I was confused. I didn’t know what to expect, so I did everything in my power to force my eyes open.
What I saw through a blurry squint was a ship. A fleet of ships. Like me, each was broken beyond repair. It was odd. I didn’t understand how they managed to stay afloat. They were just as damaged as the vessel that I had been aboard before I found myself cast away.
In my mind, I took my hat off to the reaper.
It was the perfect set up.
The perfect escort to the land of the dead.
I chuckled, painfully, dryly.
My last laugh.
Or so I thought.
“Well… so much for getting invaded. Looks like it’s just some dude that got shipwrecked or something.”
I heard a voice from atop one of the ships.
Not the reaper’s.
Someone else’s. A young man’s.
“That explains that. I thought it was a bit weird for some dude on the verge of death to suddenly try invading me. Let’s see… he’s a demon, has pretty average stats, and more or less seems pretty run of the mill.”
I could make out the dark hair covering his head.
But not his face.
My eyes were too blurry, and the shadow cast by the sun obscured him from my view.
“Well dude, today’s your lucky day. You probably would’ve died if I didn’t happen to be here to do a few renovations and whatnot. And honestly, if you were super strong or something, I probably woulda just left you here to rot, just to be safe.”
He used a piece of mooring rope to drop down onto my boat.
“Here, drink this, on me. Consider it my tribute to your incredibly good luck.”
He squatted down beside me, used a sort of magic to pull something from the void, a vial, and poured its contents into my mouth.
It was probably some sort of medicine.
The bitter taste filled my throat with the moisture it so desperately desired.
As my thirst was quenched, I felt my body fill with energy.
It was like I was being revitalized.
I felt… alive.
My body trembled with joy.
He was saving me.
Even though he didn’t know a thing about me.
My mind was growing hazier and hazier.
I could barely think.
But I knew I had to thank him.
I forced myself to take the dagger I’d carried since my childhood from my bag.
It wasn’t the type of thing I could simply give someone. It was a precious family heirloom.
But at this very moment, it was all I had to offer.
“Thank… you… Take… this…Repayment… for your… kindness…”
“Huh? Uhh, nah dude, I’m good. I’m just helping you ‘cause I feel like it. Wait, dude? Dude!?”
I used the last of my strength to press it into his hands.
And as I did, relief washed over me. All the stress I’d felt over the past few days vanished. Along with my consciousness.
“Where am I…”
I examined my surroundings as I slowly sat up and cleansed my mind of grogginess.
I was on a beach, underneath the shade of a great palm.
There was a bag I didn’t recognize placed right by my feet. Peeking inside, I found it filled with both food and drink.
My instincts spurred me on. My hands shot into the bag. One hand left it with a container filled with water, and the other, a ripened fruit. After drinking my fill, I bit down with all the voracity of a ravenous wolf. I couldn’t help myself. My body was far too desperate for sustenance to hold back.
There was a bit of a tart flavour to it, but the taste that overwhelmed me was its sugary sweetness.
It was an ordinary fruit. One that could be found just about anywhere.
But at the same time, I somehow felt as if today was the first time I’d ever enjoyed a meal so much.
“It’s so, so delicious…”
After a second, third, and fourth bite, my mind finally caught up with my body.
A single tear slowly dripped down my cheek as I realized that I had been allowed to escape death’s grasp.
And then the dam broke.
All sorts of emotions plagued me.
I felt the joy that came with life, the guilt that came with my status as the sole survivor, and the grief that came with the loss of all my dearest friends. They all overflowed from within me in the form of tears.
I had been ready to die.
My mind and heart had been steeled.
But the taste of the fruit in my hands had undone it all.
It told me that I made it.
That only I made it.
For a while, I cried. And cried. And cried.
I had no idea how long it took for my fit to come to an end. But once it did, once I regained my calm, I began examining my body.
It was… odd. I was in perfectly good health. All the cuts and bruises I had all over were gone, and my fingers and toes moved exactly as I commanded them.
My leg, which had been broken by one of the barrels tumbling down the side of the ship’s deck, was in peak condition. It was as if it’d never been broken to begin with.
“Was that… some sort of magical potion?”
I recalled the sensation I felt when he poured the bitter medicine down my throat. At the time, I felt as if the liquid was revitalizing me. Now, I was convinced that that was exactly what it had done.
And he had given it to me, a total stranger, alongside a heap of provisions.
I was able to give him my clan’s heirloom in exchange. But I felt like I had walked away with the better deal. He had done more for me than some dagger could ever do for him. I wanted to thank him and repay him. To pay good back with good. But I didn’t know who he was. His face remained a mystery. And I never had a chance to learn his name to begin with.
I would have liked to hear it so that I could forever remember it as the name of the man who saved my life.
But I had no choice in the matter.
Still, I wouldn’t forget him. I would instead engrave into my mind for as long as I lived that I was saved by a stranger. It was a piece of knowledge I knew I would make mention of on many an occasion, a piece of knowledge I was sure to pass onto my children.
As the thought passed through my mind, my wife’s face soon followed.
We could see each other again. I no longer needed to await her in the afterlife.
I craved her. I craved her touch, her smell, her voice. I wanted to hold her in my arms, lay my heart bare, and tell her about everything that had happened. I wanted to be with her.
Thankfully, everything I needed to know was carved on a nearby tree. My saviour had left me a note informing me the direction in which the demon realm lay, and that it was approximately three days by flight. How truly considerate he was, to provide me even this detail.
“I will never forget this debt, nameless stranger.”
After leaving my saviour a message in the wind, I picked up the bag he left me, and with a heavy heart, took to the skies.
“This kitchen knife is wonderful, My Lord. It’s beautifully adorned, and has a nice blade. Wherever did you find it?”
“Some random demon gave it to me while I was out,” said Yuki. “And yeah, I totally agree. It’s just right for cutting up vegetables and stuff.”
“It’s certainly much more practical than the adamantite chef’s knife you made last week. It was far too sharp for the kitchen. I almost couldn’t believe it when it split the cutting board right in half.”
Little did he know, the ceremonial dagger that the demon had given his saviour did in fact wind up proving extremely useful. It was forever treasured by both him and his maid as the perfect handy dandy kitchen knife.