Date: April 13, 2012
It's time for Sousa's appointment with 'Death-san'. However, all is not well in the realm of the dead, as Sousa soon finds out.
"Blood Red Sandman - The Game"
'Home is the place you return to, Sousa. It's the place where someone is waiting for you. I've been waiting for you all these years there… And now, it's time to come home.' The glowing, angelic woman who is Sousa's departed mother embraces him, holds him firmly-yet-gently to her breast, and subsumes him in the warmth of her love and compassion, and her sorrow for not having been there before.
'It's time to come home.' The rest of the world is gone. The darkness is gone. Kokoroe Sousa is floating in the air in the arms of his mother, surrounded by a pearly whiteness like clouds of made of light instead of air moisture. He may feel, for the very first time, like he really IS 'home'. The place he belongs, with the person who has cared for him all this time even when she couldn't be there to show it.
The beautiful, musical voice speaks again, but it is no longer the same voice. It has a raspier, hollower tone to it. Then Sousa is held somewhat away from the statue of glowing marble-flesh, and he will find that the light has turned to darkness once more, and he is in the arms of something other than his mother. Like a skeleton made of smoke, with vaporous fangs and glowing pinpoints of red for eyes. "Waaake uuuupp, Ssssoussssa-chaan!" the voice of the Desert whisper-shrieks.
A moment later, he would likely wake up and find he is lying on a mound of cushions in the middle of a tea garden. Neatly-laid paths of smooth stones, a koi pond with a little water fall fed by a small stream, trees, flowers, statues, a fountain… And sweet incense of the Southern Lands filling the air with a scent not unlike cinnamon. It is quiet aside from the sound of water. The sky is a dense, unmoving, impenetrable mass of cloud-like material, with some illumination radiating from it. They likely isn't really clouds. More like that light-vapor from the dream.
…Or was it a dream? The voice from before — the FIRST voice attributed to that angelic creature — speaks then, though without the emphasized, heavenly resonance of something beyond-human. The source of the voice is a woman with long black hair tied both at the base of her neck and lower, towards the bottom, with red cord of some kind. She is wearing the silks of a Southern scholar, not the kimono of those who Sousa has likely been dealing with most of his life. Her words are a question. "Were you having a bad dream, Sousa-chan?" she asks with a look of mild concern from where she kneels by a tea tray a few feet away.
She has those same features. The same face structure that hints Sousa came from her in some way. What's going on here?
Sousa is a person of separate parts. Any seriously dedicated rationalist has to be. Emotion, while it has its uses, is simply too unreliable for discerning truth. So it has to be separated from the intellect, disentangled through careful following of rules and mental disciplines which become ingrained habit. The suppression of emotion, or more accurately, indifference to it, becomes a fairly effortless reflex to those sufficiently trained.
So when the peculiar technique engulfs Sousa and pulls up emotion in him, inflating it into bloom without regard for his own choice, a part of him remains apart from it, analyzing what's going on with the dispassionate eyes of a perfect scientist. He watches his other self be drawn in by the warmth and comfort, and frankly by curiousity; ironic that even the desire to know can sometimes cloud the ability to perceive truth. He watches the surprise, the fear, the sense of betrayal, when the being of love somehow changes into an object of terror. And then —
That was certainly an abrupt switch. The internal observer notes the confusion mixed with relief now being experienced, along with the many details of their new surroundings. Including the presence of a person much like the being from before, hm. "Were may be the operative word in that query, and I am as yet uncertain of the answer."
…That's what Sousa says, but what actually comes out of his mouth is, "Yes, Mother. It was awful."
The woman pauses as Sousa calls her mother. An awkward silence hangs in the air as she almost seems surprised by it. Then she clears her throat as she looks back down at the tea tray. "Well, you are aware now. I wish I could have been called mother in life… But it is better late than never, yes?" She smiles sunnily as she looks up and then rises from where she kneels and comes over to her son. The smile fades slightly as she approaches, however, replaced with concern again.
"You already know why you're here, or at least suspect. That thing that your former colleague used on you tried to remove you completely from the world of the living. However, an intervention on your behalf occurred." As the woman tries to explain, she also kneels next to Sousa, unless he gets up or otherwise moves, and seems to be reaching out to him, wanting to touch his shoulder, but hesitating to actually make contact. All this explanation about how Sousa is dead or whatever, and what she really wants to do is catch up for all the missed years they should have had together. It's plain in her face.
"Things aren't right here," she finally admits. "Everyone and everything dies eventually. But from what I understand, we have at least twenty billion years remaining before the end of the universe is supposed to occur. Further, that 'end' may be more figurative than literal… A transition from one state of being to another. What your False Immortal friend is trying to do is altering the time-table. I don't know the specifics, but there's someone here who wants to give you the chance to prevent it. A sacrifice has to be made, but it is possible for you to rejoin the world of the living. You just have to—"
Then a voice like titanic black-marble doors to the underworld slamming shut deep beneath the Earth speaks. "YOU NEED ONLY WIN YOUR GAME OF CHESS AGAINST ME, WITH THE PREVIOUSLY AGREED UPON HANDICAP." Death-san emerges from nowhere and everywhere. The world of the tea garden unravels into strips of black linen that in turn wind together, replacing the previous environment with an expanse of liquid darkness that is everything and nothing. A podium of dully-reflective obsidian rises up from the blackness, and seated behind it is the Grim Reaper.
"WE WILL GET TO THE GAME IN A MOMENT. I HAVE AN APPOINTMENT TO DEAL WITH. MAKE YOURSELF COMFORTABLE," the voice of Death instructs. In the darkness to the left, where previously there was only that same darkness, the floor has taken up the pattern of a checker board. Sousa's mother is still there with him.
Sousa remembers what it was like growing up without knowing this woman. It wasn't as bad as people make it out to be, particularly since he never consciously knew her in the first place. He had his upbringing amongst the monks, and while strict and not very warm, it was sufficient. Still, it did feel like something was missing, like the lack of some vitamin from a healthy diet.
As his mother starts to explain what's going on, Sousa's rational side tries to fit the pieces together in his head. Okay, the Ghoul used some strange technique, which…it's a little hard to remember clearly, but it seemed as if it took on the appearance of this same woman, then turned into some sort of monster before Sousa suddenly found himself here. Did that technique have the power to call up the image of Sousa's mother? Certainly it couldn't have made an accurate picture of her by using Sousa's own thoughts, because up until now Sousa didn't know what his mother looked like. e.e Of course, that assumes that what's going on now isn't simply an extension of said technique, presenting the same image which may or may not be accurate. Or perhaps it only gave a strong low-level impression of 'mother', and now Sousa is projecting the image of his mother back onto that experience now that he knows what she looks like. -.-
All this musing is shoved to the back of Sousa's mind when the woman starts talking about the Ghoul's plans and the end of the world. Well, it's comforting to know the world isn't intended to end anytime soon, whoever it is that's doing the intending. Somebody or something with more control over the world than the Ghoul, hopefully. And apparently They want Sousa to be their agent in getting things back on track? o.o Sousa doesn't know whether to be more flattered, or worried about the implication that the mysterious They may be unable to do anything Themselves. e.e At any rate, it sounds like there's about to be an important instruction given —
— Aaaand they are interrupted with the strange un-rudeness of an entity which regards the wishes of humans as insignificant and may be quite right in doing so. c.c; Everything changes around them, as though reality itself is caught in some gravitational force bending it to the shape imposed by Death's presence. Oddly, Sousa feels an impulse to put himself between the woman and the specter. Irrational of course, seeing as Death has likely already done to her all that it can, and even more curious for the fact that Sousa hasn't even had time to establish much of an emotional bond. Speaking of which, his rational side observes that the emotional impulses have grown weak enough for control to be reclaimed from them. The rational Sousa smoothly steps back into the piloting role.
"Take your time," Sousa calls out to Death, with just a hint of sardonic humor. "I am in no rush." Sousa turns his head towards his mother. "I suspect we have little time for uninhibited conversation. Can you still speak of what you were going to tell me before?"
Death does not even bother to acknowledge Sousa's generosity in offering time to one who might not even abide such a thing to begin with. Instead there is some man yammering dimly in the background, gesticulating animatedly, smiling, acting like his appearing before the Death Aspect is some big joke, and so on. He appears to be wearing a ninja outfit with a forehead protector that has an odd, rectangular shape with 50 tiny stars and 13 tiny stripes engraved on the plate.
Death appears to be enduring the babbling for the moment while finding the man's entry in the registry.
Sousa's mother, meanwhile, turns her troubled gaze from the Reaper and onto her son with a bit of startlement. "What I wanted to…?" she asks in confusion before finding her train of thought again. "Ah! Ah, yes." She clears her throat and says, "Everyone and everything dies eventually, and Death is not prone to reversing any given soul's flow. That goes against his own nature as a cosmic force. But there are other Aspects that handle the return of spirits to the world as part of the Wheel of Transmigration — the means by which a given departed soul can be reborn or proceed along its course to a plane of enlightenment higher than what can be achieved among mortal life."
The black-haired woman looks younger than Sousa himself, so she must have died decades ago. She runs a hand through her bangs briefly to move them from jade eyes that Sousa apparently didn't inherit. Then she finally seems to manage to gather the nerve to reach out to Sousa as well in an attempt to touch his cheek delicately with her fingertips, as though he might shatter or vanish if she presses too firmly. She doesn't say anything for awhile after that, her explanation probably not over, but her focus primarily on her son. Unless prevented, she moves closer and makes greater contact, her features eventually contorting slightly as subdued tremors of sobs jolt her form even as she smiles.
But then Death's voice interrupts. Whatever the man before the podium has been saying has gone unheard despite being within earshot. Just a vague muttering if anything. Death's voice carries and resounds throughout the darkness-that-can-be-seen. He does not sound pleased. "-SHUT UP-!" Death orders as he reaches out from behind his desk, jabbing one enormous, boney digit into the American-village-ninja's face. Actually, if one were to judge sizes in relation to each other, Death is bigger than all of Sunagakure based on that one fleshless index-finger. "SHUT UP, YOU AMERICAN. YOU ALWAYS -TALK-, YOU AMERICANS. YOU TALK, AND YOU TALK, AND YOU SAY, 'LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING' AND 'I JUST WANNA SAY THIS'. WELL YOU'RE -DEAD- NOW, SO -SHUT UP-."
The man shuts up.
Sousa's mother nearly seems hesitant to speak herself after that, but moves back a little bit and reclaims the thread of the conversation as she wipes at her eyes with her sleeves. "One of the Aspects," she resumes quietly, "that governs the torment of spirits that have done ill in life and yet will eventually be returned to the world to try again, is not behaving as he should. A certain relic left behind by the founder of all Ninjutsu from when he lived centuries ago has been broken for some time and now, even repaired, it is weighing upon the Wheel of Transmigration such that it is unbalancing… Everything."
Sousa's mother lowers her arms to her sides. "Hell, Diyuu, Yomi… Whatever one wishes to call it… There is a door leading from there to the world of the living. The tormented dead and their Infernal keepers are pouring through into the Southern Lands. The balance is disrupted. It can be repaired if the Stone of Yin-Yang can be returned to its rightful state. However, Misu Yane is attempting to remake our univese by drawing in that 'Other World' you have heard of, essentially slamming two universes together and using the resulting release of energy to remake them both. He can be stopped, but the dead who remain in the world of the living are granting him greater power with their wrongful presence. Further, if his plan goes through right now…"
The black-haired beauty with the eyes of jade takes in a shuddering breath as she finally calms herself, and says something probably not at all calming to Sousa. "He will draw in more than just two universes. He will wind ALL universes together around the Wheel, and if the Wheel breaks there will be no 'remaking', no 'fixing', no… Anything. The transition from one state of being to the next that we are scheduled for billions of years from now will not happen. There will be Nothing left. Nothing. Nothing like the Void that has replaced Higuregakure in the Land of Rivers. Nothingness, like the power of Nothing wielded by the man who warned you of his intention to end all war. No darkness, no light, no pain, no pleasure, no love, no hate, no life, and no death… Nothing."
Sousa listens carefully while his mother explains things. It occurs to him in the back of his mind that it's awfully convenient that the description of life and death and reincarnation being given happens to match up so well with the most popular beliefs of his homeland. e.e It's by no means impossible that such beliefs happen to be right, of course, but Sousa was never able to find in his studies any evidence for any particular set of beliefs about the supernatural order stronger than, say, such-and-such holy man had a divine vision about this. If he hadn't found physical evidence in the form of the word RESUSCITATE where he'd carved it as a ghost, Sousa would've regarded even his own previous visit to this realm as possibly just a hallucination. :P Still, a person who has been around this 'place' for a while is probably a more credible source than anything else Sousa has available.
Sousa holds still while his mother moves to make contact. Well, evidently being dead does little to diminish the hold of emotion on a person. That's interesting, considering the positive experimental results Sousa has found in attempts to control emotion through direct physical manipulation of brain matter. Does this mean that dead people still have brains somehow? Or are brains not really the producers of emotion after all, despite the apparent link with — "-SHUT UP-!" Sousa glances back toward Death briefly as he makes his tirade. Hmm, even Death-san has emotions. e.e That may be useful information.
Sousa turns his attention back to his mother and takes in the rest of her explanation. When she gets to the end, he finds himself more deeply perturbed than he has been about anything in quite some time. Dieing he isn't ultimately concerned over, though he'd rather put it off as long as possible all else held equal. Even losing the village he's established wouldn't be an unrecoverable blow. But for there to be NOTHING…it's simply too uninteresting. Nothing to know, nothing to learn, nothing to be…and it reminds him too well of that dream in which —
Sousa coughs and shakes his head. "Clearly, this is a matter of even greater urgency than I realized. So then, what is this sacrifice you spoke of?"
No ignorance but also no knowledge. No decay but also no growth. Yes, that is hardly something that would make a scholar do a jig out of happiness. That is something that no one would want. Possibly not even someone insane. Does the Ghoul KNOW what he might wind up doing? "Keep in mind that your body is already dead. Your spirit is seperate from your flesh. The actions of others, whether free-willed or predetermined, are factors that when taken together create the formula that describes 'Everything'," mother-dearest explains. "A False Immortal is a subtraction from the total that Everything will encompass in the end. They use resources of energy, space-time, essence, and others by existing beyond what has been allotted to them. If Misu Yane is reclaimed now he will still have been subtracting 102 years from the total. The years lost by those whose lives were ended before they were scheduled to be by the so-called 'Ghoul' would ordinarily be what is used to balance out the discrepency."
"Someone has to bring the balance to a positive instead of a balanced 0. A life 'extra' with many years left must be sacrificed. The sacrifice…"
Then Death is 'with' them again. The checkerboard floor shifts, seemingly hurtling towards them at hundreds of miles per hour, revealing the enormity of it based on how far away it was before now. Then it arrives, flying underneath their feet, and freezing in place. Sousa stands on one side of the board. Death looms over the other, like a mountain of bone and black cloth. People rise from each square, in full, three-dimensional, fleshly-seeming form. Mara, a woman whose life was claimed during the storm that ended Sousa's life the first time, and Michi, the well-trained secretary who was slain more recently by the Ghoul of the Desert, both rise up as Rooks on the far ends of the row nearest Sousa. Kuoroke and Itami rise up as Bishops. Rurohashi Ruri and Onohara Meimei rise up as Knights. The monks who Sousa knew as a child, who trained and educated him, fill the entire row of Pawns. Only two places remain open. Sousa's mother says, "The sacrifice… Is that one of the pieces in your game with Death, one whose positive number of years, whether claimed early or yet-to-be, will be added to your own to send you back. That 'piece'… That PERSON… Will not survive this conflict, will have no chance at revival, and all of those who would have benefitted from his or her survival will do without that benefit."
"My name was Mei-Lin, by the way," Sousa's mother — Mei-Lin — offers. Then she takes up the Queen's position. The King's spot is empty for one moment, seemingly implying that it is Sousa who is to stand there. Instead, an orphan child who was adopted by Meimei — known in Sunagakure as 'Yoko' — and has since become a student at the ninja academy, Risu, rises up in the King's square.
She is only ten years old.
Death's voice booms out, deep but quiet, reverberating yet sending no felt vibrations. "IT IS TIME TO PLAY THE GAME. ARE YOU READY TO PLAY WITH THE SOULS OF OTHERS AS YOU DID THEIR LIVES? IF SO, YOU NEED ONLY PLAY AND WIN. FAIL, AND SO WILL WE ALL."