This is a story that is set in a Wraith world as constructed by White Wolf publications; and added to by Markleford and Ricko in a soon-to-be-published addition to the system called 'The Dark Kingdom of Jade'. The main premise of the background is that there is an afterlife that is dominated, in Asia, by the Chinese.
I looked up. Bright Amaterasu O-mikami was high in the sky.
A beautiful day to die.
I tied the cloth about my head, indicating my willingness to strive against all that would come, and tightened it carefully. The only uniform I had was clean and pressed from the night before and it was crisp against my skin. The armory had run out of bombs the night before and the Soviet army was in full flood against our troops in Manchuria.
Each sweet breath, the touch of the cloth on my skin, the gleam of the light on the fighter's wings, and the sound of my shoes on the metal steps up into the cockpit are all burned bright in my memory. As with every other flight, I slid into the cockpit of Bakemono and then kissed the picture of Toshima. I studied her face, the curve of her cheek, soft firmness of her lips, the delicate bridge of her nose. All that beauty nothing but dust.
Quietly, I said, "I'll be joining you soon, my love." I tucked the picture into my breast pocket, for this time would be the last time.
I also rubbed the jade lucky piece she'd given me when I left to serve the Empire, a jade piece shaped liked a cat curled up on itself. The soft stone was warm from my own body heat. I touched each part of the cat as I went through the checkoff.
Softly I murmered to it, "Give me the luck to keep this beast in the air until I can fulfil my duty."
The checkoff was routine, and Bakemono coughed to life only after the fourth attempt to start up the engines. They growled and sputtered with the low grade fuel that filled the tanks and needed careful tending as we took off.
The interior of the plane had been stripped of anything the Imperial Air Force could use, and was down to nothing but bare bones and tattered cloth. The instrument board had hollow sockets like an eyeless skull. The white gleam of metal surrounded me, brilliant with Amaterasu's light, encouraging me in my duty to the Goddess and my country. The wind was knife sharp through all the rents as I followed my compass to the industrial site that was to be my target.
The sea was sparkling blue beneath us, and too short a while later, the Mainland appeared under my feet. Anti-aircraft guns puffed white, but I did not bother to even dodge, for being hit by them at this altitude was as much luck as anything. Slowly we followed the roads to the Yalu River, the trees were turning all the colors of flame and it made the mountains and hills fleetingly beautiful this fall. The river wound quietly through the countryside and we followed its gentle meanderings to the industrial site.
We headed directly for the manufacturing plant. Shells bloomed close and then closer. I kicked the rudder over into a side slip as another bloomed directly along our path. I kicked Bakemono back into our path and then to the other side, dodging as we approached, not wanting to fail our giri. I pulled up at the last moment and then sent the warted nose of Bakemono at our target.
The frame and engines began to scream; and something snapped and the plane started spinning. I fought the veering away from our target with all the reflexes of years of piloting, letting the plane do my screaming for me, as I wrestled with it and we both hit the plant. The muzzle of the fighter pierced the roof of the plant and I saw the roofing collapsing all around us as I heard the screams of people.
Then the wings hit structural beams. They snapped and spilled fuel everywhere. With the impact I felt metal enter my flesh, pinning me to the rack of the seat behind me, the salt sweet taste of my own blood filling my mouth; and then the swift flash of fire.
Flame seared the flesh from my bones and the scream from my throat before merciful darkness closed in on me.
I woke to the soft vague song of a shakuhachi, a heavy wooden bamboo flute. It reminded me of my mother, who had played the instrument while I was a child. The two-toned song of it was hauntingly sweet, but sounded muffled as if by cotton and sometimes drwoned entirely by the lapping of water. Slowly, gradually, I became aware of a vague wetness, coldness after the searing of the fire. All around me was mist and fog and the touch of water. I opened my eyes but all I saw was blurred, unfocussed, lost in a haze. There were no colors, nothing to catch the eye.
The song stopped.
There was splashing. I felt a slender hand catch me under the chin, but the touch felt as if it were through a thick blanket. The hand pulled me steadily through the water, and then the faintest vibration of being pulled onto a rocky shore. I could not feel the water or the ground except through a distance. A vague shape with an enormous head loomed over me, all the color of whiteness, of death. Something moved towards me, touched me, and I felt something snap, break, and the world intensified, clarified... and was all in white.
A woman stood before me, the heavy length of the shakuhachi I had heard held in her left hand. The hugeness of her head was actually from the size of an amigasa, or the old fashioned 'incognito hat' that I had only ever seen in movies. She was dressed in odd robes, more of the Chinese style for nuns, and all of her, her skin, her clothing, and all her accoutrements were grey mist on white. Her hair, though, was as black and dark as the sky over us. In her wrinkled right hand was a piece of white flesh, the edges jagged as if torn. She tossed it away.
I blinked at that and then looked down at myself.
My skin was as white as hers. The leather jacket as black as her hair, all my clothing, which had burned with me, was redone without color. I reached into my pockets, and, instead of the usual mess of pocket knife, papers, keys, and random bits of stuff I'd picked up there was only one thing, the jade cat.
Her firm hand and arm helped me to sit up, in the lapping water at the shore of a great, wide river, as wide as the river I'd flown over earlier.
"Where?" I asked.
"A dangerous place for you." she said in badly accented Nipponese, accented with the weird swoop and swallows of a Chinese speaker trying to speak the crisp clarity of my language. I reached up to the brim of the hat and she drew back, reflexively, and then relaxed and came forward enough for me to pull the brim up.
I looked into dark eyes that did not avoid my own, and a Chinese face, wrinkled with age.
I dropped the hat and pulled away from her too familiar touch. I spoke politely, for she was old, but just barely, "Old Grandmother, there is no reason I should believe you for we are enemies." I looked around and the ground was as dark as the sky. This didn't look like the Shinto Heaven; but there was not the snow or infinite cold, nor the Mountain of the Shinto Hell, either.
She laughed, a clear, clean sound that surprised me. "Me enemy of you?" she said, with that atrocious accent. She took off that stupid hat and held it in her right hand.
"Hai." was all I said as I got up out of the water.
She shook her head, tucked the flute away into her belt, and tried to give me her freed hand. I looked at it, thinking I would probably pull her frail frame over, and I waved her off. She shrugged as I stood. I stretched and blinked and swayed gently. I felt better than I had for months, the dysnetary, the lack of food, and the lack of sleep at my duties felt as if they had all been washed away by the waters of that strange River; however, there was something strange about how I moved.
I looked at the landscape and swayed again with disorientation. There was nearly nothing to the landscape other than the river.
"Where am I?" I asked again.
"This is death." she said, simply, again.
"It is not like any Heaven or Hell I was taught."
"Ne. It is another life. It is filled with the same traps and illusions as the previous one. Most of which desire to harm you." Her tone was dry. "Here come some now." She put her hat back on, closed the chin strap and turned to look at three on-coming figures. They carried swords the same strange near off-white as her flute.
I reached for the pistol that had always hung at my hip, and found nothing there.
"Swords?" I asked, incredulous, and took a step backwards and splashed one foot into the river.
"Swords." said the woman quietly in confirmation. Her voice lightened and she chanted something softly in the sing-song softness of her language.
She looked at me, the huge hat cocking to one side and then she laughed, "Forgive me. 'If people are not afraid to die, it is of no avail to threaten them with death. If people live in constant fear of dying, and if breaking the Law means that a person will be killed, who will dare to break the Law?'"
"We can die here?" I asked, incredulous.
"Hai." she said softly. "Though it is a different, often difficult and stranger death than you have already experienced." That ridiculous hat cocked again. "Would you like to leave?"
"Do you have a sword, too?"
"I am but a modest priestess following the Tao." she said, her voice half-laughing. "What would I do with a sword?"
"How will we get away?"
"Run." she said. This time she laughed for real.
I shook my head. "An officer of the Imperial Army will not run."
She mumbled something again.
She said, very softly, "'A brave and passionate person will kill or be killed. A brave and calm person will always preserve life.'"
I chuckled, "I've died once, today. I may die again."
It surprised me when she bowed to me. "If it pleases you." she said, perfectly. I was so surprised I did not offer her a bow back. She merely shrugged and turned away.
The three had reached us. They were as death colored as we were. Besides the swords they also carried several sets of restraints, these in pale green. As they came closer I could see that they were made of jade. The first of the three recoiled on seeing me and the priestess. He said something incomprehensible. The woman's hat nodded. His voice rose in anger. She said something, very softly, and he recoiled again. I simply stood and watched them quietly.
"Please tell them to leave us?" I asked her.
She nodded and said something quietly to them. All three of them brandished their weapons and came at us. Two of them on me, only one went at the priestess. I was busy, using my training as an officer to incapacitate one and steal his sword as he moaned, unconscious. I put his sword into the chest of the other and he disconcertingly disappeared. The sword fell back into my hand. I looked over at the priestess. She was just watching her opponent as he picked himself up from the ground. He growled and rushed her again, and as he neared her, she seemed to just flow away from him and his clumsily held sword. Since he expected to encounter her body or some resistance when he was supposed to meet her, he simply fell down again. She waved her flute at him and spoke some words of admonishment.
I clubbed him with the pommel of the sword, not wanting more enemies disappearing on me.
He fell to the ground unconscious, like the other.
She looked around and then sighed in sorrow. "You killed the third?" she asked.
"Killed? Maybe..." I said, looking around.
She quietly nodded and then bent and took the swords away from the men on the ground. She looked at the swords and sighed again, the edge of tears to that sound. I took the restraints and used them on the men there.
"They will die like that." she said softly. "The organization against the corrupt Emperor can always use the Jade."
I looked down at the men. "They will follow us."
She shook her head, "They are afraid of dying."
I looked up at her unblinking. "Are you?' She shook her head. "Will you take me to the organization you speak of?" She nodded. "Will you answer all my questions?"
"That's what I'm here for." she said, that smile back in her voice.
"All right, then." I took the restraints off.
She bowed that bow of respect again, perfect between a woman and an officer. This time I bowed back.
Together, we walked away down the shores of the river.