The Man Without a Past
It felt like rising up out of a puddle of sticky, heavy mud. As he lifted his body, some black substance covering his skin slowly flowed off. However, it did not leave completely. It gathered at his feet, refusing to go away.
— That was what he felt the moment he woke up.
Gradually, he opened his eyes. A single horizontal slit of light pierced his pitch black field of view. Inch by inch it widened, until it eventually turned into the face of a small girl peering at him from an extremely close distance.
Their gazes met straight on. The girl’s scarlet eyes blinked once. Her serious expression slowly transformed into a broad smile.
“Willem, you’re awake!”
His head didn’t seem to be functioning well. Haphazard thoughts of unknown origin swirled around the inside of his skull, rendering him unable to even try to remember anything. What is ‘Willem’? The word felt very familiar, yet at the same time had a sort of uncomfortable ring to it.
“Nils, come here! Willem’s awake!” The girl turned around and, while hopping up and down in place, called out to someone in a loud voice. Her soft looking long red hair shook about.
“Ah, I can hear. Don’t shout, you’ll disturb the neighbors.” An exhausted man entered the room, scratching his head sluggishly.
Room. He looked around once more: a well cleaned and maintained room, most likely part of an inn. The furnishings, including the bed he had been put to sleep on, were neither luxurious nor shoddy. He guessed the nightly rate to be around thirty bradals, or perhaps a little higher, since he could tell just how well the place was cleaned from a brief glance.
Well, that doesn’t matter right now. A dull pain plagued the area around his forehead. His thoughts refused to get in line. Useless musings came to the forefront while the important things remained ignored.
“Hey, Willem.” The man, now standing beside his pillow, greeted him with a smile that concealed whatever true feelings which lay beneath it.
“… Willem?” he asked.
“That’s right. It’s your name. Did you forget?”
Willem. Willem. I see. This is my name. His ears certainly did seem to feel some sort of closeness with it. However, if he had to be told his own name…
“Did I lose my memory?” he asked.
As soon as the words left his mouth, he realized how odd his question must have sounded. Only he would know whether or not his memories had gone missing. At the very least, it wasn’t something to ask others.
“Yep.” Contrary to his expectations, the man gave an affirmative response. “To explain things simply, something very bad is haunting your memory and personality right now. If it surfaces and remains unchecked, your body will be done for. That’s why I used my great skills to directly put a lid on the majority of your memories and seal it in. It was a makeshift emergency treatment, but, being my work and all, it won’t break easily. Thank me after you finish crying.”
“What part of that was simple?”
“Shut up. Who was the one who showed up in front of me suffering from such a difficult condition?”
He didn’t have a comeback to that. “… I’m guessing you mean me? I don’t remember though.”
“You and this one. You two brought a real headache over to me.” The man’s large palm gave the girl from earlier a slightly rough pat on the head.
“Don’t worry about it, you won’t die again from something like this.” He ruffled the girl’s hair.
“No! Ow! Stop!”
“Hahaha, okay okay.”
Willem, still on the bed, rose the upper half of his body. His arm moved at a speed untrackable by the eye. It swatted away the man’s hand and pulled the girl in close to him. The girl’s light and small body landed on top of Willem’s chest.
“Ah!” A small scream.
She’s cold, Willem thought. Usually, kids this size had rather high body temperatures. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but you should stop. She doesn’t seem to like it.”
“… okay,” the man answered, slightly bewildered. For some reason, his eyes showed a gentle look, almost as if he were feeling some sort of nostalgia at their exchange.
Meanwhile, the girl inside Willem’s arms had become speechless, stopped breathing, and started blushing and blinking rapidly. She didn’t seem to be particularly against it, so he figured he would stay in that position for a bit longer.
“Well? From what you said earlier, I’m guessing you did something to this kid too?”
“Don’t make that scary face. At the very least, I didn’t do anything that she wouldn’t like.”
“What are you talking about? You were hitting her just now.”
“That was just a friendly pat on the head. No need to be all suspicious about it.”
“Given that you were the only one smiling, I’m not sure if I buy that.” Willem glared at the man.
“You really don’t change…” the man said for some reason. “Well, whatever. She’s a moving corpse. What’s called a low class ghost, believe it or not.” He pointed at the girl.
“Originally her body was supposed to be undying, but because of an annoying curse, it’s practically a regular corpse now. I used my super special powers to directly lift just a teeny bit of that curse, allowing her shattered in half soul to slip through that crack. So basically, a slight revival, with about one percent of her body and half of her soul.”
“I have no idea what you’re saying.”
Corpse? Ghost? Undying body? Soul? Those aren’t words you hear everyday… probably (He couldn’t say for sure due to his lack of memories). At the very least, none of those words seemed to be very fitting for the small girl inside his arms.
“If you don’t believe me, take a look. The cut through her heart still hasn’t healed.”
“Huh?” What the hell is this man talking about? Willem thought, but he decided to do as the man said anyway. Giving the neck area of the girl’s shirt a slight tug forward with his finger, he peeked down through the gap. A large sword wound deeply carved into the girl’s chest met his eyes. It was undoubtedly fatal. No proper living being would be able to move around while suffering from it. “Wha…”
“See? I told you. Sometimes I say the wrong thing, but I never tell a lie.”
Willem didn’t think that was something to proudly declare, but he put that matter to the side for the time being. What in the world is going on here? He took another look at the girl’s chest. Hm? He looked back up at her face, which had somehow turned bright red despite her lack of a functioning heart to pump blood. Tears were welled up in her eyes, ready to fall at any moment. By the time Willem figured out the reason, it was already too late.
The girl’s hands descended upon both his cheeks at once.
Off to the side, the man laughed heartily.
“What’s so funny,” Willem snapped.
“Your face right now, obviously. It’s pure red. You should look in a mirror.”
Willem could imagine it, so he didn’t feel the need to check. Instead, he looked over at the door which the girl dashed out of. Thinking back on the situation with a calm mind, he recognized his failure. Even with such a small kid, or perhaps especially with such a small kid, girls are still girls. He should have treated her more carefully.
Wait no, is it because she’s still a corpse even though she’s girl? Or is it because she’s still a girl even though she’s a corpse? Why is a corpse moving in the first place? What the heck is an undying body? Damn it, I have no idea what’s going on.
“… well, putting that aside for now, time for serious talk.” The man dropped the tone of his voice. “How much do you remember about yourself and anything else?”
Willem thought for a bit. Based on the fact that they were currently conversing, apparently he hadn’t forgotten the common language of Regul Aire. Taking a look around, he confirmed that he had no problems remembering the names of the various objects in the room.
However, when it came to information about himself, his mind went blank. Where did he live? With who? Doing what? What did he like and dislike? None of that sort of information popped into his head. When he tried to force himself to remember, it felt as if he were trudging through a bottomless swamp. Still, he forced his hand down into the depths of that swamp — someone looked back at him with a lonely smile.
“Ah?!” He pressed his hand against his forehead, suppressing the sudden headache.
“Stop it. I sealed it on purpose. Best not to try and force it,” the man said with a sigh. “Right now you’re on the line between being able to remain as you and not being able to. If you take one step forward, you’ll trip and fall. What was once you will disappear. If that happens, not even I’ll be able to do anything. You hear? If you want to live, don’t remember anything.”
“… there might’ve been something I was supposed to do.” As Willem continued to suppress his forehead with both eyes tightly shut, his headache gradually weakened.
“Give up.” The man shrugged. “I’m not just trying to piss you off, you know? I don’t know what you’re trying to remember, but the instant you do, you’ll become not you. And a you that’s not you won’t be able to accomplish whatever it is you remembered. In other words, either way you won’t be able to carry it out.”
The man’s reasoning made sense. Except for an emotional outlash, Willem saw no way to counter argue. However, those emotions didn’t come. He couldn’t do anything.
“… ahh.” For some reason, Willem felt just a little bit of relief. Perhaps being told that he didn’t have to remember his past, that he didn’t have to take on those forgotten burdens, granted some part of him salvation.
The headache had now faded away, but his head and stomach still felt heavy. He threw his head back onto the pillow. “I’ll follow your word. I don’t remember what happened, but it looks like you really did take care of me.”
“For now, just rest a little more. Next time you wake up, I bet that messed up head of yours will be feeling a bit better.”
Droziness suddenly took hold of Willem. “… ok,” he answered faintly. “Oh yeah, there’s something I forgot to ask.”
“What is it?”
“Your names. You and the kid.”
“Hm… yeah, that’s right. Completely forgot,” the man said while scratching his head. “I’m Nils. The little one is Elq. And you are Willem.”
Nils, and Elq.
“Both names sound familiar. Were we acquaintances before?”
“That’s right. You once adored me and called me master,” the man said with his chest over exaggeratingly puffed out.
“No, don’t think I believe that one.”
“Why not!? I’m not lying!”
“No, no, it’s just too unbelievable. I mean, you really don’t look like the type of person to teach anyone anything.”
“It’s the truth! Why is that the only thing you don’t believe!?”
“How do you know that old saying of yours?! Is your memory really sealed up!?”
Willem himself found that strange. He recognized that his attitude wasn’t one appropriate for a first meeting, but jabbing back and forth at each other like this felt eerily comfortable, as if he had returned to his distant homeland after a long absence.
“Rather than a master, you seem like a rotten old dad.”
“… geez, you really…” Nils sighed deeply. “Nevermind. I’m gonna head out so rest well.”
“Thanks, for everything.”
“If you’re gonna apologize do it first, geez…”
Even though he could only see his back, Willem knew that the man was smiling bitterly. Judging by the fact that he didn’t turn around, maybe he was even embarrassed.
“– Ah, that’s right.” Standing just beside the door, Nils added, “Don’t use your right eye too much. My seal only works on the parts of your mind which transformed, not the parts of your body. If you let it take over you, the seal will loosen.”
“See for yourself. There’s a mirror over there.”
The door shut, and Nil’s footsteps faded away into the distance. Where he last gestured to with his chin before leaving, Willem found a small mirror, about the size of his palm, standing on a table. What’s he talking about? Willem grumbled to himself, but he couldn’t ignore something like that. He dragged his eager to sleep body out of bed, took the mirror, and turned it towards his face.
The face of a black haired young man which seemed to lack any ambition reflected back at him.
Point of note number one: red swells in the shape of small palms lay on each cheek.
Point of note number two: his right eye, and his right eye only, was shining with a fierce golden color, like that of a wild beast. Since his left eye shared the same black as his hair, Willem figured that his right eye hadn’t always been like that. Most likely, it served as proof of whatever Nils was talking about.
“… I see.”
Just looking at that golden color, anxiety overcame him. It definitely didn’t mean anything good. Having convinced himself of that, he shut his right eye, slipped back under the blankets, then softly closed his other eye as well.
“If you’re looking for Nils, he left early this morning,” the owner of the inn — a markless man, strangely enough — told Willem the next morning.
“He’s gone on a bit of an outing, apparently. Said he doesn’t know whether or not he’ll be able to come back. Also said to keep healthy.”
“Wait a second. I haven’t heard anything about this.”
“He’s the type to leave as soon as he gets the idea. Judging by his words, he might come back on a whim, but who knows when.”
“Wait wait wait wha?”
What kind of vagabond is that guy? Maybe Willem, as the one who got saved, didn’t have the right to say anything, but he really wished Nils thought a little more about the ones he left behind. Willem had no recollection of his own past, nor did he have any kind of assets. Normally, one wouldn’t leave a guy who didn’t know left from right and up from down all by himself. Or at least, Willem would be too scared to do it. Apparently he had once called that man master, but Willem still didn’t believe it. He couldn’t imagine himself looking up to such an irresponsible man.
“Ah, it appears your companion is also awake.”
Who? Willem thought and turned around. He spotted the red haired girl, Elq, peeking out from around a corner in the hallway.
“That’s what I’ve been told.”
I see. That’s how Nils explained it. Without me knowing. His irritation at his supposed savior only increasing, Willem casually gestured toward the girl. After slight hesitation, Elq came out from behind the corner and jogged over.
“G-Good morning…” she said.
“Sorry about yesterday.” Willem bowed his head in apology.
“Ah… o-okay. As long as you understand… I mean, I’m not really angry anymore…” she mumbled, clearly flustered.
“I see. You’re a kind girl.” Willem raised his head and smiled. For some reason, Elq groaned softly and took half a step back. “What’s wrong?”
Willem rarely saw such an unpersuasive ‘nothing’. He thought about pursuing the matter further, but decided to stop, figuring such antics were too immature. Apparently, the two of them had been found close to each other. Then, they were both saved in the same way by Nils, then left behind in the same way by Nils. He had no idea how long they would be together, but he figured it would be best to get along. Probably.
First came preparations for living a brand new life. Willem needed to figure out what he was and was not capable of. Then, he needed to search for work. Elq still being young, he needed to somehow make enough to support her as well. Also, Willem decided that if Nils were to come back, he would throw a complaint or two his way.
“By the way, I still haven’t received your room fare for last night. How will you pay?”
Willem slightly revised his previous thought. If Nils came home, on top of a complaint or two, he would throw a punch his way too.
“… have any idea of a place around here that would hire a markless who doesn’t know who he is?”
“Let’s see… there is one place that comes to mind.”
There is? Willem didn’t actually expect an answer.
“By the way, the job provides three meals a day, and the small lady can come along too.”
“I am Astaltus, the owner of this inn. We are a small place, but there is much work to be done, so please prepare yourself.” The man held out his right hand, asking for a handshake.
That bastard. He left us while having this all planned out, didn’t he. Willem lamented his having no choice but to go along with the man’s kind offer.
“… alright. I’ll do my best.” Fighting the urge to deeply slump his shoulders, Willem gripped the man’s hand in return.