Content warnings: Passing mentions of abuse and violence, but nothing graphic.
Notes: Extremely late entry written for Jashi Week: Soundtrack Sunday. Wanted to finish this before the next Jashi Week begins (tomorrow)!
I. If I could begin to be half of what you think of me, I could do about anything, I could even learn how to love.
Ashi creeps behind the samurai, fingers wrapped firmly around the hilt of her kusarigama.
What a fool! she thinks, watching as he sits idly amongst the blades of grass. My weapon was right beside me and he didn't even bother to rid me of it!
Despite the samurai's grave error, Ashi knows better than to strike without hesitation. The samurai's demonstrations of lightning-quick reflexes and fighting prowess had seen to that. She would be sure not to underestimate him, for she knew he was a cunning, sly, mastermind of evil, and…
A red, speckled creature flutters in her vision.
Ashi waits for the creature to pass. It flies towards the samurai, who extends his hand out, letting it land in his palm. Ashi knows now would be a good time to strike, but she remembers her first encounter with the creature as a child-how it perched on the tips of her fingers, lighter than a feather, how she smiled at it and wondered if it wanted to be her ally.
It was a useless little distraction, she tried to remind herself; nothing more, nothing less. Any second now, the samurai would clamp his fingers down, crushing it to prevent from distracting him from his own evil mission.
But he didn't.
II. When I see the way you act wondering when I'm coming back, I could do about anything, I could even learn how to love like you.
The samurai has disappeared.
Ashi journeys into the world largely unknown to her, in hopes of finding him. Her journey is an uncertain one-thoughts of What if he is gone for good? What if I am chasing after a ghost? cloud her mind.
As she wanders across the land, surveying the various sights and meeting the citizens who occupy them along the way, those haunting thoughts gradually begin to fade away. She learns of the good the samurai has done for all-creatures, robots, and humans alike-but she also learns of what "good" is. It is the freedom, not just from an overpowering source of evil, but the very limitlessness of and what the spirit can conjure up from it. From basic needs enhanced into richer resources-water becoming anything from a warm cup of tea to a dizzying refreshment that awakened the senses-to things that served no purpose-moving your body to match with the rhythm of sounds made only for the purpose of listening to.
She hasn't forgotten about the samurai, and continues on her journey to find him; but no longer is she weighed down by the chains of any one person-be it someone who had hidden her from the truth like her mother, or even someone who helped her catch her first glimpse of the truth, like the samurai.
The samurai was her friend, the world was her family, and she was Ashi, wild and free.
Ashi has disappeared.
Jack journeys into the woods on horseback, in hopes of finding her. The woods he journeys into are largely unknown to him, existing miles away from home and clouded in a thick fog. He's unsure of what compels him to visit it, and his journey is an uncertain one-thoughts of What if she is gone for good? What if I am chasing after a ghost? cloud his mind.
Nothing could dispel these thoughts-he saw her, held her, felt the weight of her body dissolve from his arms and her physical form from his eyes. She was gone, and he had to make peace with that. But he couldn't; he couldn't ignore these feelings stirring endlessly in his chest that urged him to go find her, even after she was gone.
He dismounts and settles down by a tree he's never seen in his time, yet one that inexplicably evokes a feeling of nostalgia. Even more inexplicably, this nostalgic feeling isn't one of melancholy, but one that carries faint traces of warmth, of something yet to come. Nonetheless, he sits with his knees drawn to his chest, arms resting atop them, chin resting atop his arms, and his eyes drawn closed; weary, mourning, waiting.
A bug buzzes in his ear.
III. I always thought I might be bad, now I'm sure that it's true, because I think you're so good and I'm nothing like you.
The murders of the assassins-innocents brainwashed by a cult-are added to a mental tower of his wrongdoings. It's a tower that had been growing over the past fifty years; his failure to find a way home, his failure to rescue countless innocents from Aku's evil, being tricked by Aku into killing the creatures who had helped him on the mountain that finally pushed him over the edge into rage, followed by despair as he lost his sword and knew he had failed his quest once and for all, the suffering his family and his people in the past had gone through now all for naught. His tower had reached such heights that it threatened to topple over at any moment.
The only thing keeping it in balance was Ashi, the lone assassin he had spared and who turned against Aku once she knew the truth. Hope had been lost, but hope had also grown anew within this woman, who proved goodness existed even within those who had been trained to think otherwise. When he looked at her, someone who likely carried her own mental tower, who nonetheless persisted, he felt perhaps his own hope could be renewed as well.
But Ashi was not there as he sprinted away from the group of children-innocent children who were taken from their families and were now under control by a device crafted by one of Aku's minions-chasing after him.
They caught up in little time and he could feel that tower wobbling frantically within him as they tore into him with scratches and beatings. Jack shielded himself from their blows, desperate to keep these children alive while also fending them off from their attacks. Ashi's whereabouts were unknown; for all he knew she could have been killed in her attempt to destroy the source of what had been controlling him.
Suddenly, bolts of electricity jolted through the children with a severity strong enough to finish them off. Mountains of corpses surrounded Jack.
His tower collapsed.
The moment she scrubbed Aku's essence from her body she was a daughter of Aku no more. The moment she plunged the arrow into her mother's spine she was a daughter of her mother no more. The moment she rescued those children, the moment she protected Jack from a barrage of attacks, the moment she chose to listen to the words of others, the moment she saw the beauty of the world, the moment she knew the joy of living, the moment she chose to form her own path and identity, she had become her own person. A good person.
Or so she tries telling herself.
Ashi tries, repeatedly, to engrave these crucial moments into her mind, in case she has any doubts of whether she's truly strayed from the path her mother set for her, but she can't ignore her past upbringing. Can she really change, after twenty-five years of having lies beaten into her that she learned to effortlessly regurgitate? Twenty-five years of knowing little outside of her worth a weapon? Twenty-five years of knowing nothing of love?
She didn't know, but Jack believed so, and that pushed those thoughts from her mind, even if she could still feel them threatening to creep back in. Jack was someone who believed in her long before she'd even chosen to rethink her life and her purpose. He knew she was good, even if she didn't believe it.
That all changed when she learned Aku's blood truly did flow in her veins.
When she felt her being body seized under Aku's control, unable to fight back even as Jack fervently reassured her that she was not her mother or her father, that she was good, those doubtful thoughts she'd been pushing away had fully taken over. She can't change, she had no worth outside of being a weapon of evil, she knew no love. Her body was becoming the very embodiment of evil, and with it, she fell into the darkness.
IV. Look at you go, I just adore you, I wish that I knew what makes you think I'm so special.
The samurai brings his hand up and lets the little creature fly off.
Ashi drops her weapon and lowers herself to the ground.
Why did you let it go?, she wonders. Why did you let me go?
V. If I could begin to do something that does right by you, I would do about anything, I would even learn how to love.
Having reclaimed herself once more and harnessed Aku's powers as her own, Ashi does something she knows may be at the cost of her own life, but does so without hesitation: she creates a time portal. It hovers over her and Jack before they're sucked in.
They drift listlessly through time. Ashi turns to Jack, who's wearing a slightly fearful expression, one that resonates with her own uncertainty. She gently wraps her fingers around his hand into a tight squeeze, and his eyes meet her own. His face breaks into a weary smile, one she returns. They look onward, flying through time hand in hand.
VII. When I see the way you look, shaken by how long it took, I could do about anything, I could even learn how to love like you.
The buzzing stops and tiny, spindly limbs tickle the skin of his fingers.
Jack opens his eyes to see a ladybug perched atop them. Its brilliant crimson color shines through the muted palette the fog has given the forest.
He isn't sure what to make of his visitor's presence, and brings the index finger it's residing on towards him.
Hello. You've been waiting for me, haven't you?
Jack smiles and stands up, extending his hand out to let the bug fly away freely.