Slice of Life

This is another dedication, this time to my friend Zi Xuan for her birthday two weeks ago. Man, I really need to start on these things earlier.

Happy Birthday Xuan!

I watched him die, the knife hilt sticking out of his chest as it gradually drained the life out of him. His expression went from shock and pain to calm, perhaps even relief. He didn’t have to keep running anymore. I didn’t mean to kill him, just steal the knife, that’s all. But he woke up and attacked me. I had to defend myself and somehow during the scuffle, the knife ended up in buried in his chest.

I had won. The knife was truly mine now. As appalled as I was at killing someone, I couldn’t help be feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I yanked the dagger out of the dead man’s chest and admired it. There was not a single drop of blood on the white blade, which reflected the moonlight streaming in from the window, but the gem set in the hilt was blood red.

Others would be here soon, so I couldn’t stay long. I needed to move, so I sheathed the dagger, hid it in my waistband and left the room. As I neared the building’s exit, I slowed and peeked out the door. There was nobody in sight. Excellent. I pulled the hood of my jacket over my head and carefully headed home.

* * * * * *

Only when I’d snapped the fourth lock into place did I heave a sigh of relief. I’d made it back to my apartment without incident and none of my security systems had been tripped. I was safe, for now at least. No matter what others might say, paranoia keeps me safe. Alone, yes, but safe.

Pulling out the dagger from my waistband, I sagged onto my armchair and examined it – properly, this time. Apart from the ruby set in the hilt, it looked quite ordinary. The sheath was a simple wooden holder, the hilt made of iron, nothing fancy. The blade itself was made out of some kind of ivory. Interesting. I retrieved my notebook, flipped to the next empty page and began to do a quick sketch with labels noting particular details. This would be useful when I get a replica made later. Which reminded me – time to test it in the safety of my sanctuary. It would be such a waste to have gone to all that trouble for a fake.

Okay, first experiment. I picked up the knife in my right hand and held it over my left arm. In my left hand was a stopwatch, my thumb on the button, ready to start timing. I hesitated; I’ve never been a big fan of pain, but then again, who has? Quickly, before I could think further, I slashed my left forearm and started the stopwatch. For a moment, I felt nothing, then the stinging pain hit me and I dropped the items from my hands.

I gasped and clenched my fist, the blood welling up from the cut as tears of pain pricked my eyes. Then, just as the pain reached a climax, I saw my wound start to close itself and felt the pain slowly diminish. I blinked away the tears and wiped away the blood on my arm, revealing a white scar with a pinkish tinge around it, but no wound. I flexed my arm, testing out my movement and felt no residual pain. The cut had completely healed and the scar was beginning to fade as well. I quickly picked up the stopwatch and stopped it. 13 seconds.

Impressive. I noted my findings and started constructing and executing more experiments. I found that the time it took to heal a cut varied with the size – the bigger the cut, the longer it took. Cuts made further away from my core took longer to heal as well. By the time I’d finished, I had cut myself more than fifty times, on various parts of my body and I was famished. All the cuts I’d made had completely healed and I felt no more pain once they did. As I munched on an apple, I noted that I felt very relaxed, probably due to the endorphins coursing through my system. Just as well, it was about time I got some rest.

I checked my security systems again, cleaned up the droplets of blood that had fallen on the floor during my experimentation and got ready to sleep. As I lay in my bed, I twirled the sheathed knife in my hands. My last thought before I fell asleep was that the ruby in the hilt seemed a little dimmer than before.

* * * * * *

I awoke with a start, my instincts taking over, every sense heightened and on alert for danger. I rolled of my bed and landed on a crouching position on the floor, automatically unsheathing the dagger I had fallen asleep with last night. I paused and listened, holding my breath. Something was off, but I wasn’t sure exactly what yet.

Seconds passed. My heartbeat slowed. Quietly, I got up and systematically checked my home defences. Nothing seemed amiss, except when I looked at my clock. That was weird. It showed 4AM, but daylight was streaming in. I stood there, confused and still a little sleep fogged until I realized it was showing 4PM, not AM – I’d slept all the way into the afternoon of the next day. I glared at the dagger in my hand, which seemed to stare innocently back at me.

I sighed and sheathed the blade. I should have anticipated the energy it took to repair the self inflicted cuts over and over again. The magic in the blade started the process, but it must have used my body’s energy reserves to finish each healing job. Come to think of it, I was hungry again.

In my exhaustion yesterday, I’d forgotten to put my mobile on the charger and the battery had run out, which was why the alarm hadn’t rung and nobody had called to see why I wasn’t at work today. Oops. I plugged it in and went to make myself something to eat.

After breakfast (or lunch, or tea. Whatever.), I made a call to my friend and closest ally I had right now: Grant. He was almost 70 years old and sort of an authority on ancient relics; weapons, in particular, and he’d helped me track down the knife.

“Hello?” Grant said as he picked up the phone.

“Grant, it’s Tom. Is it safe to talk now?” I asked cautiously. There was a pause.

“… It is now. What’s up, kid?”

“I’ve got the knife. Can I bring it over later tonight?”

“You’ve got it? Damn, who did you have to kill?”

“Later, Grant. I’ll come by around 8, okay? Dinner’s on me.”

“Okay, Tommy boy. See you tonight.” He hung up.

I had a few hours before our meeting, so I figured I might as well put the knife to good use. There was a reason I had killed for it, after all. I packed what I needed, then hid the knife carefully in my bag.

First stop, the hospital.

* * * * * *

“Mum,” I whispered. She didn’t respond, nor did I expect her to. Even after four months, her injuries she sustained from the crash that killed my father hadn’t fully healed.

I closed the door of my mother’s room and took out the knife. I sat down beside her bed and started unwrapping the bandages around her feet. I hesitated. Cutting myself was one thing, but slicing my mother up just seemed inhumane. Whoever made this knife had a seriously twisted mind.

Just to make sure she was still in a coma, I made a small nick on her foot, beside one of her scrapes. Mum didn’t react, which was good. I watched the cut I made quickly heal itself, but didn’t see any other noticeable changes. I made a shallow cut beside a large scar and waited. This time, as the cut healed, the scar shrank.

I continued making calculated incisions, working my way up her legs, healing all the cuts I could reach without taking off the cast around her leg. It was a good thing she was comatose; I don’t think I could have done it otherwise. Only when I’d finished healing all her scars did I realize I had no idea how to heal her broken leg. I guess it could wait – her life wasn’t in immediate danger – so I could as Grant what to do.

There was nothing more I could have done for my mother, so kissed her goodbye and left.

* * * * * *

“Grant!” I greeted my old buddy as he opened the door. “I brought pizza!”

“Hey Tom,” Grant welcomed me into his house with a smile. He took the pizza box from me and took a deep breath with appreciation.

As we settled down to eat, I told him how I got the knife and my findings from experimenting with it. I showed him my notebook and the knife, which he took some time to admire.

“Hey, how do I use it to heal my mum’s leg?” I asked him.

“A broken bone? Hah, you won’t be able to do that right now, not with this level of energy left in the knife.”

“Energy?”

Grant looked at me in exasperation. “You don’t know how it works, do you?”

“Make cuts, they heal?” I shrugged. “Anyway, who cares how it works, as long as it works, right?”

“Tom,” Grant looked at me with a serious expression. “Making cuts is part of it. I’m sure you’ve found that the knife itself doesn’t completely heal a wound. It accelerates the body’s natural rate of recovery. See this ruby? It indicates the level of energy left in the knife. If it goes totally dull, it’s just a normal knife. The blade is, shall we say, vampiric. You have to kill someone and drain their life blood as energy for the knife to recharge.”

I stared at him.

“Can’t it be an animal?”

“No,” Grant replied. “And it can’t be someone who’s close to death either. The knife drains only as much life as the person has left. If you want to heal a broken bone, you first have to recharge the knife. Can you do that, Tom?” Grant nimbly twirled the knife and handed it to me hilt first.

“Can you kill someone?”

* * * * * *

Grant’s words haunted me as I trudged home. My ultimate goal was to bring my mother out of her coma, and if I can’t even fix her broken leg, what hope did I have? My father was already gone; I couldn’t lose Mum too. I would definitely kill someone to save my mother, that much I knew for sure. But I can’t kill an innocent person, or a child. No, those were out of the question. Killing the knife’s previous owner didn’t count – that was self-defense, an accident. But recharging the knife would mean I would have to actually commit premeditated murder.

My thoughts mulled about in my head and for once I wasn’t on full alert. Only instinct saved me as I threw myself out of the path of my attacker and I received a cut on my arm. That same cut would have sliced my throat if I hadn’t ducked away in time. I rolled and got up, the adrenaline already starting to course through my system and the pain of the cut faded to a dull throb. I had barely gotten to my feet when my attacker came at me again.

Man, this guy was fast. It was all I could do to parry his swing and stumble back, fighting to regain my footing. As I fought him, a small part of me recognized him as one of the other pursuers of the knife. How did he find out I was the one who had it? It’s ironic: not so long ago, I was one of them, searching for this legendary blade. We didn’t exactly work together, but as long as we didn’t step on each other’s toes, there was a feeling of friendly competition. Well, until one of us managed to obtain the blade, which made him the new target. Which made me the new target.

I mentally thanked my father for teaching me all my close combat training skills as I gradually gained the upper hand and pushed my advantage. Finally, I managed to get him in a headlock and applied pressure to his carotid artery. In a few seconds, he fainted. I held on a bit longer to make sure, then let go and he slumped to the floor.

I knew exactly what I needed to do. He would regain consciousness in a few minutes and would probably come after me again in the future. There was a chance he hadn’t told anyone else that I had the knife yet, but I couldn’t risk him doing just that. Besides, how could I pass up such an opportunity?

I pulled out the blade from my backpack, unsheathed it, and plunged it into my attacker’s chest.

* * * * * *

I stumbled back to Grant’s and told him my story.

“What I can’t figure out is,” I concluded. “How he found me so fast. I mean, no one else knew I was coming to you.”

“Don’t worry anymore,” Grant said as he patted me on the arm. “Now that the knife is fully charged, I can show you how to heal internal wounds. You know, legend says it can even reverse the aging process.”

“Really? I just want to wake Mum up,” I responded tiredly, passing him the knife.

“Yes, yes,” he said as he drew the knife out. “Here, watch carefully.” Grant removed his shirt and proceeded to make a series of cuts on the wrinkly skin of his chest. His movements were so fluid, as if guided by years of practice. He finished the cuts and they healed themselves. Then, before my eyes, his skin began to smooth over. His arms started to become muscular and his core began to fill out with flesh as well. In a few moments, he’d transformed from frail old man to a fit young man around my age.

I stared in shock and amazement.

Grant inhaled deeply and smiled. “Ah… it feels good to be young again,” he said brightly. “Did you know, this knife once belonged to Vlad the Third? They called him Vlad the Impaler for a reason.”

I shook my head mutely, only now starting to feel a little uneasy.

“I lost this once before,” Grant continued. “But now it’s back where it belongs – in my hands. Thank you, Tommy boy. But, oh dear, it seems I’ve used up all the energy in the knife again,” he said in disappointment.

He turned to face me with a hungry look in his eyes.

-Jace

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