The Pain of Death

The Pain of Death

By Joe Gensweider

It has been nearly a thousand years since I ascended into my position as the carrier of souls from the Realm of the Living to the afterlife and my pain is more than any mortal pain. In the Realm of the Living, I was a warrior of Japchin, and my whole training was based on honor, honor above all. I was told always to respect my elders, and now I feel good only when I am feeding on the life force of the elderly, the strong, the young, and the noble. Always, I take their lives without, warning without honor. Rarely is there someone strong enough to face me in battle, even rarer is it that one challenges me, and never have two challenged me on the same trip. But that was what happened, the single two greatest warriors who have ever lived, have shown up in my realm. Both died in a great battle, the eldest one wields the great sword Excaliber, and the other was such a swordsman that he needed no magical sword.

It all began when the battle started. I woke from a deep sleep in my palace between the Eternal Happiness and the Eternal Torment. My hand found my katana, known as Life Stealer in the tales of mortals, and I vanished from my palace and reappeared above the battle field. Only the dead or dying could see me, but I was there waiting for battles end, when I would transport the souls to their after lives. Each time one of the young soldiers died, they rose into the air by my side and pleaded with me. They told me of their wives, their children, and each time I had to tell them that there was nothing I could do; I explained how their fates were sealed.

Finally, there was a soul that came into my possession, at the end of the battle, who did not ask me why I was taking him; he did not plead with me. Instead, he stood there silently with a sad look on his face, the look was almost one of disappointment. This warrior, or knight as he called himself, fascinated me and I made my way over to him.

He was a light skinned man of average height and weight, he had dark brown hair, clean cut, but dirty, and deep, dark blue eyes. This was his soul, I knew, but the soul's appearance is only a reflection of the physical body. Of this young man I asked, "What is troubling you, warrior?"

"I lunged without thought, a youth could have cut me as easy," he said.

I felt a smile spread across my face as I suddenly realized he was talking about his death. He had made a mistake in battle, that was why his face showed disappointment. This man was a true warrior, perhaps he could offer me a challenge.

"I am sorry, where are my manners. My name is Lancelot, of the Round Table. You must be Death. What a worthy opponent you must be," Lancelot said.

"My human name was Katsuhrio Masamune, you can call me that," I said.

"So then the legends are true then, you were a young Japchin warrior, then you destroyed a Pezymitan force single-handedly when they killed your cousin. Then you became Death," the young knight said.

"Yes, the legends are true. You look sad my friend, have you a family?" I asked.

"My only family is down there fighting his accursed nephew, Mordred, while I float up here, unable to help my lord," Lancelot said.

"Who is the man down there wielding the magical sword?" I asked.

"Are you not a god? That is the bravest and noblest leader the kingdom of Camelot has ever seen. That is King Arthur, warrior, king, lover, and to me, father. My own father died long ago and I have always felt that Arthur was my father, I love him like a father. The sword he carries is Excaliber, a weapon that rivals your own Life Stealer," he explained.

"Look, young Lancelot, the battle comes to a close and your King and his nephew both lie dying from wounds they gave each other. Who is that?" I asked, indicating to a man taking the weapon Excaliber from Arthur's hands.

"That is Bedivere, the last of the knights of the round table. My lord is commanding that he take Excaliber back to the lady of the lake, its rightful owner," Lancelot said to me.

Twice the knight made a journey and returned, both times the great warrior king scolded him and both times he was sent back. Finally, he told of an arm that had caught the sword that he had thrown into the lake. There are some things even demigods do not fully understand, some magicks that remain mysterious to even us, the chosen few.

When this task had been accomplished by the lone knight, Arthur died and journeyed to the sky to be with the rest of the mortals, friend and foe. But by his appearance alone, one could tell that he had been a great king. What hair he had left on his head was gray with shocks of white, his finely trimmed beard had the same colors. He was tall, lean, and fit for his old age, but the most noticeable feature of this man was his dark black eyes, eyes that had seen too many deaths in a lifetime, the eyes of a wizened man. I wanted to ask this Arthur questions, but my sword was eager to deliver the mortal souls to the Almighty One or to the Tormented One , so I let myself be taken by the power.

It was the only thing that made me happy, taking souls to there new homes. It filled my body with an awe and an ecstasy that is a release from my constant pain. As Life Stealer sliced through the body-less souls I was filled with a joy no human could ever know. It was when my sword was sending the poor mortal souls on their individual journeys that I truly became a god. I could see stars, and planets being born, I saw them die. I felt blissful love and tormented hate. I could feel the past, I could see the future, and the present became clear. I saw into the minds of prophets and poets. I journeyed beyond reality and into the great wide open. I saw the birth of all these men and I felt their final tormented screams. I saw the loving smile on the face of the Almighty One and I saw the dirty smile on the face of the Evil One. I felt the rage of chaos and evil, and I felt the unbridled joy of love and forgiveness. Then as quickly as it all flooded in, it left and I was returned to a state of melancholy.

Except, this time when I came out of my killing spree, I saw that two men still stood facing me, Lancelot and Arthur. These two must have really been the greatest warrior of the time or the Almighty One would not have allowed them to challenge me to a battle. I stood looking at the pair for a moment, waiting. If they did not know tradition, I would kill them without hesitation.

"Death, I am King Arthur of Camelot and this is Sir Lancelot, of the Round Table, and we challenge you to the ritual Life Battle," the king said.

"If you wish," was my answer.

Then we were instantly transported to my palace, where the challenge would take place.

My palace was a truly grand place and, by the look on the faces of the mortals I found that they agreed with me. My fortress was constructed of a mystical moving black stone that always seemed to be shifting like insane water. There were statues of angels carved from ivory and jade, and statues of demons formed with black pearl and ruby. From my palace I could see anything that happened anywhere, in any realm, and I could travel between those realms with ease.

I lead the mortals to my inner sanctum, it was truly the bright spot in my fortress of solitude and darkness. It appeared that my inner sanctum had no walls, ceiling or floor, all you could see was the endless expanse of outer space. But it was like any other room, except that it had no limit, it went on forever just like space, it was infinite. In the center of my inner sanctum, there was a pool of black blood that led to my Room of Solitude, where I spent most of my tortured existence as a demigod.

I calmly made my way to the dark pool and when I reached it, I dove in. The journey to my Room of Solitude was a quick one, and soon I was standing on magnificent golden tiles. My Room of Solitude was where I could act like a normal mortal. As I said, it was paved with gold, as were the walls and ceiling, there were beautiful works of art everywhere. It was a room that a mortal king may have store fancy things in, but for me it was a place to rest and contemplate.

My favorite mementos from my mortal life were also on display in the room. There were the few things the Almighty One had allowed me to bring with me to my palace: paintings of my family and my lost love, an alter where I placed Life Stealer, and my family's ceremonial flag. Also, my room contained the few artifacts that had been given to me in exchange for life. The Almighty One and the Evil One cared not if every few centuries I bargained with a soul, and if I decided to, I could allow the soul to remain alive. I only did this every few centuries because it was my masters' will, but also because it was incredibly painful for me to do so.

After a soul's mortal body died, it was in a type of Limbo. It was my job to send it on its way to either Eternal Happiness, or Eternal Torment by cutting it with my mystical blade, Life Stealer. This process took a lot of my energy. To save a soul and send it back to its mortal body was even harder on me. I have to cut the soul lightly with my katana, then channel it through the fibers of myself and into the healed body. This process could take months or even years in mortal time and that is how the mortal myth of self-resurrection began.

I had only resurrected three souls in my career as the carrier of souls. The first time was when a man died who swore he was not from this universe. He said there was not one universe, but a whole horde of them, all together they were called the multiverse. I did not believe him until he showed me the crystal that now lies on my alter. When I looked onto that crystal the first time I saw many wondrous things, wagons moving without horses, massive iron birds, sticks that shot small projectiles out of a slim barrel, and a box that displayed moving pictures. I was amazed by the reality of it all and allowed the "multiverse traveler" to return to his earthly body. The next was a young man who appeared to be very much in love. He gave me a gift that showed me I was not the most tormented entity in the universe. He said he was a healer, and he took me to the bedroom of his wife, he told me of how all her life she had been very weak. He explained that she too, like the young man I had previously saved, could travel the multiverse, except she had had an accident in another universe. She had died, but she was able to escape with half of her soul intact. The other half had split again in half and part went on to Eternal Happiness, the other to Eternal Torment. Because she had only half a soul she began to fade in between the Realm of the Living and both Realms of the Dead. I realized she was even more tormented than I, and I allowed the boy to return to life in order to ease the poor woman. The third was the love of my mortal life a young, now old, woman named Nabiki Jinnai. She gave me nothing, nor did she ask to remain living I could just not allow her to die, at a fairly young age, of disease, so I sent her back fully healed, and immortal. Even though my young love was able to give me nothing, that good deed was the one that made me feel the best. It had been a long time since I had any mortal feelings at all, they feel good. Unfortunately, I have not had any since.

In the middle of my room there was a small, but comfortable bed. That was where I wished to be, so that was where I went. I stretched out on the bed and soon I was dreaming the dreams of gods.

I woke some time later, and remembering my guests, I left my mortal surroundings and returned once again to the world of a tortured god. I found them waiting silently. I had slept a long time and their appearances showed the all signs of spiritual fatigue, but this was my domain and I did not want my challengers weak when we fought, so I easily refreshed them.

"Thank you," the king said, "But what must happen now?"

"Now we battle, you both of challenged me," I said.

"But I cannot fight a demigod without Excaliber," the wise king said.

"What ever weapon you choose," I said waving my hand. In front of Arthur floated his beloved sword, above Lancelot, on the other hand, floated only a plain shortsword and broadsword. Both men reached up to grab their chosen weapons. Lancelot began slashing and stabbing the air, testing the sword's quality, while Arthur slowly took the jeweled hilt of Excaliber and silently to all but me said a prayer.

"To win the challenge you must pass three tests. First I test your honor. You have already passed that test, I have viewed your pasts, and you both have the gift of honor. Next, we battle. Your swordsmanship will be tested, but I will also test your self-control. I have decided that you will both fight me at the same time." I explained my rules to the men.

"What about the third test?" Lancelot asked.

"In time, brave knight, in time," I said.

Around us the scenery began to change, we were transported to the bare country-side. There was lush green grass everywhere, but not a tree in sight. Off in the distance there was a small clay house on a high hill surrounded by fields of wheat and corn. The sun was high in the sky, but there was a cool breeze that kept the small valley comfortable.

"Let the exam began," I said pulling Life Stealer from the air itself.

Arthur held his sword in front of his face, he said another silent prayer, then aloud he said, "Good luck, Death, though I doubt seriously that you will need it. Good luck, my brave knight, we can beat him. Together, we can defeat anyone."

"Yes, my lord we can. Good luck Katsuhrio," Lancelot said.

For a moment I believed that I had made a mistake in challenging them both at the same time, but then I felt Life Stealer wake in my hand. My katana was not just a piece of metal. It craved the souls it always eventually won, and it had a life of its own. Alone, these men before me were nearly unbeatable, together they were undefeatable, untouchable by a single mortal. However, I was no normal mortal, I was a demigod, I was Death, I was the chosen warrior of the most powerful beings in our universe, I was Katsuhrio Masamune.

Lancelot struck first with his broadsword, at my neck. I blocked this strike without even thinking about it, but he countered my counter by sweeping his shortsword toward my chest. Life Stealer moved of its own accord this time, parrying, then thrusting. Lancelot blocked my thrust, as Arthur joined the battle. The king's mystical sword was arching through the air, directed at my arm. The sword never found its mark, I blocked the strike, but when Life Stealer and Excaliber met, both wailed, in reality piercing tones. It was clear that the two swords were mortal enemies by the way they reacted to each other, but it also seemed that the weapon were eternally joined as brothers.

Now, I was facing the king and the sword. It seemed that Excaliber was as sentient as Life Stealer, for the weapon was doing its master's bidding, but it was doing what it wanted as well, as my sword did. Arthur stabbed forward, but I blocked and lunged at his throat. In return, he blocked, and again he lashed out at me, his strike missed, as I slashed back at the king, missing as well. After many failed blows, I finally had Arthur reeling when Lancelot stepped in and blocked my blade from puncturing the king's lung. But even as the knight took his lord's place in battle, rouges in black armor shot past us on speeding horses, heading quite obviously toward the house.

When the young knight saw this, he stopped fighting, and stood watching the horsemen, and I knew I had him. That is, until Arthur stepped in placing Excaliber in my katana's path at the last possible moment. Once again Arthur and I wielded our magical swords against each other, while Lancelot stared in horror at the house on the hill.

"You evil dog!" he screamed at me when he realized what was being played out above.

I stopped, as did my opponent, and I said, "What is it, Lancelot?"

"You know full well you killer of women and children. This is a field my father owned and this is the day rouge thieves disgraced and kill my father, mother, and sister. I'll kill you, you treacherous pig!" Lancelot said, as he leapt toward me, both swords extended.

I stood ready to stop him when we he came close enough, but I never got my chance. Arthur caught the young warrior by the back of his chain mail, stopping his forward momentum and knocking him to the ground.

"Pull yourself together, my son! It is not real! Did he not say he was going to test our emotions as well as our fighting prowess?" the great king said.

Lancelot composed himself and said, "Thank you, my lord."

I knew it was a mistake to face both of these warriors at once. Would my pride always be my weakness? Regardless of my inner thoughts I said, "Very good my worthy opponents, teamwork. Shall we continue?"

As I said this, the scenery around us changed once again. Now we were surrounded by the walls of a castle under siege. There was a grand battle being fought all around us, but the fighting soldiers seemed to be translucent. Arthur and Lancelot seemed confused by the warriors around them, until the mortals realized they were passing through them with no trouble.

"Ah!" Arthur said, "My father's castle! This must be the night I was conceived. I have heard the story many times."

"So you think," I warned.

Arthur and I began to duel. The old king started combat, with a combination strike. He lunged forward at my gut, I blocked and he swept at my neck, again I blocked the strike, finally he stabbed at my throat. I narrowly diverted his onslaught and I struck back with my own combo. First I stabbed at his knee, the first hit of the fight, then I dropped to the ground, rolled, popped back up and swung at the back of his neck. He blocked this arching strike by blindly placing mighty Excaliber behind his head, pointing down, parallel to his back. I spun around slicing at his chest. Life Stealer would have cut the old man, except for the loyal knight always by his lord's side.

Now it was Lancelot's turn to face me. Now that he was not standing in the field of his past, his concentration amazed me. He stabbed and thrust, spun and rolled, blocked and parried like he was the demigod, not me. He stabbed at my heart, and I ducked, not having a chance to block his attack. When our swords clashed together, I let my rage over take me. My rage was beginning to get the better of me, and Lancelot was bringing both of his swords towards different sides of my neck, when Arthur cried out.

"You devil!" he screamed.

"What is it, my lord?" Lancelot asked, stopping his strike

"That man on the balcony is my fathers enemy, Melshnek, and the woman he is assaulting is my mother," Arthur said, as he watched his mother being violated by his father's enemy.

"So, the stories you have heard your whole life have been lacking one detail. The man whom you called father throughout your life, was really not your father. Melshnek, your fathers mortal enemy, is your father," I revealed.

"Thank you, Death, this was a truth I needed to find before I was sent to the great beyond. I am sorry, demigod. But no matter how painful the truth is, I can accept it. Your tactics will not affect me in battle," Arthur said.

"Very good, noble king," I said.

Once again our surrounding changed and we were back inside my inner sanctum. Our battle began anew. This was the final round but, only I knew it. Our final conflict lasted an eternity, but to us it seemed that this was not true. We slashed, struck, thrust, stabbed, swung, blocked, and parried for many lifetimes. All around us, space and time changed, new worlds were born, old worlds died, wars were fought, great men were born and great men died. It seemed that the brilliance and splendor of the universe were magnified a billion times while the great King Arthur, his loyal knight Lancelot, and I were locked in mortal combat.

We battled for centuries, the brave warriors lasted longer than any mortal I had battled since I was a normal human. They were the greatest warriors whom had ever been gifted with life, they were, together, as good as I am. These two had been blessed by the Almighty One.

Finally, after nearly a hundreds of eons, I said, "You have fought gallantly, now it is time for the third and final test."

As I said this I transported Arthur, Lancelot, and myself back to the present that the two men knew. When we were back, I slowly guided them to my throne constructed from black dragon bones. I sat down on the throne and I motioned to the warriors to step up to my ebony altar.

"The final test is a question. I will send you back to one moment in your life, in your present incarnations, of course, and when you get there you can do anything to change your past. My question is: Where would you want to go back to?" I riddled.

Lancelot instantly said, "I want to go back to that day when my mother and father were killed, I want to stop those rouges."

"If you wish," I said, revealing nothing. To Arthur I said, "And you, brave king, where would you go."

Arthur stood, the lines of wisdom on his face were clenched together, in deep concentration He said, "I see through your deception, Death. My answer is I would not assault time in the manner you suggest. If I were to go back and save my Camelot, I would dramatically alter history, and that is not what the Almighty One wants, that is not the noble thing to do."

"Very good Arthur. You have won the rights to go back and live until again you die," I said, "But Lancelot, I am sorry, you have failed. Arthur shows true wisdom, any man can be a great warrior, but it takes a special warrior to be a great man. Do you except defeat, or would you like to battle me again, alone? I would enjoy the challenge."

"I am sorry, Katsuhrio, but I would not stand a chance against you alone. I know when to except defeat," Lancelot said.

"If you wish. Arthur, if you are ready, we had better begin while I still have some strength," I said.

"Death, if it is all right with you, I would like to postpone my right to life for a while. I have a feeling that my kingdom will need me many years from now. Maybe then I will ask for your assistance in sending me back. Until then, if you would preserve my mortal body, I would be eternally thankful," Arthur said.

"Anything for the man who bested me," I answered, "If there is nothing else, I will send you on your way to happiness, you have both earned it. Remember my friend you may return to the realm of the living when ever you wish, it is your right."

"No," Arthur said, "There is nothing else, I would just like to thank you for fighting bravely and with honor."

This comment truly touched my soul, or what ever demigods have to guide them. All of this time, I thought that my job was one that involved no honor, but thanks to the great man before me, I realized that my job was a noble job. I realized that I was not taking away precious mortal life, but giving, to the worthy, eternal happiness.

"Thank you," I said, as I plunged Life Stealer into the hearts of two brave warriors, "Thank you."

In the eons to come, I never forgot what I learned from the great king. He taught me, in our limited time together, that what I did took more honor than anything else. He showed me that only a truly brave man could escort souls from the Realm of the Living to the afterlife. He helped me to realize that the pain of Death, was not mine. The pain of death was something that everyone felt. I will never forget what Arthur said as he passed through me to Eternal Happiness, he said, "Death is all around us. We are born to die, we live to die. No man can out last death. It is something no one, not even you, can control, not forever. We all die, one way or another. You, brave warrior, only extend a helping hand to the dead. You have more honor than any man I have ever met, mortal or demigod."

King Arthur may have been the greatest king ever to rule, but he was an even greater man.

Copyright 1997 by Joe Gensweider You can e-mail Joe at:

About the Author in his own words: "My name is Joe Gensweider, I'm fifteen years old and I live in Yates Center, a very small town in southeast Kansas. I became interested in writing in the second grade and I've been doing it ever since. This is my first fantasy work to be published. I became interested in Sci-Fi and fantasy through Star Wars and I've grown as a reader and a writer ever since. Right now I'm working on several short story series and two novels. I live with my mom and editor, Sharon Suske, my sister, Amy, and three cats and a dog. On weekends, my sister and I visit our dad and lawyer, Leo Gensweider."

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