Chapter 5 - Warmth and Weakness

From Adashino's Journal:

I don't suppose I was entirely in my right mind when I entered that room. So much had happened, and I had thought so much was lost. At the time, everything seemed to make sense... But looking back, I was just being foolish. Ginko would say so as well, I'm sure.

Perhaps I was grieving, or perhaps I was just too eager for some kind of finality, some resolution. But all the same, I had a creature before me; A mushi I knew was dangerous. A mushi I had personally seen claim someone's life. And still, with hardly a second thought, I put myself right it its path.

Pure foolishness.

It's been pointed out to me before that I have a dangerous habit of underestimating what mushi can do. This has gotten me, and others, into a few very serious situations.

This was another one of those times. One would think I'd have learned my lesson by now.

Adashino woke to the sound of crackling wood, and the intense heat of a fire. When he shifted where he lay, he found himself buried beneath heavy winter blankets. Despite that, the man found that his limbs felt chilled.

Odd, he thought, isn't it the middle of summer?

Disoriented and confused, Adashino pushed the blankets off himself and sat up. Looking around, nothing about the room seemed familiar. Eventually he realized he wasn't in his own home. But his thoughts were sluggish, his memory a blur. He couldn't figure out where he was, or how he'd managed to get there.

"Sensei?" A familiar voice interrupted Adashino's confusion, and the doctor looked up to see Ashika entering the room. "You are awake, thank goodness!" The fisherman hurried to Adashino's side, kneeling down and offering over a steaming cup of tea. "Drink this if you can. I'm no doctor, but I can tell you could do with the extra warmth."

Adashino took the cup gratefully, but waited to drink. He couldn't help but notice that Ashika was red-faced and sweating. Obviously the room was hotter than it needed to be, so why was he himself feeling so chilled? The reason was at the edge of his memory, just out of reach. "Ashika-san... It might be strange to ask, but could you...maybe explain why I'm here?"

Ashika looked genuinely confused. "You don't remember?"

Adashino shook his head. "Not clearly, no."

"Well... You were just wandering around outside, on the path from your house. You didn't answer when I called out, so I went over and..." The fisherman scratched at the back of his head, unsure of the whole incident. Even though he'd seen it with his own eyes, it sounded crazy. "You were freezing, sensei. Cold to the touch, blue lips and everything. I'll be damned if I could tell you why."

Adashino's eyes narrowed thoughtfully, and he frowned. Things were beginning to come back. He could remember being in his home, and he vaguely recalled going into the rear guest room. And something about Ginko... "That's it? No one else was there, or anything?"

"No. I tell you, it was strange. Middle of summer and you're outside freezing to death. But the missus and I got you set right, thank goodness." Ashika gestured to to the cup that Adashino held. "Go on, sensei, drink your tea. We'll figure things out when you're fit."

Inside the doctor's house, frost was forming on the walls, the floor, creeping over the ceiling. Anywhere that shadows touched, the air was chilled. The mushi that now wore Ginko's face moved through the hallways like a creature stalking prey. It examined Adashino's belongings, and stared out the windows at a world vastly different from its own. Like an inventory of language, the mushi pulled words from Ginko's memory, naming everything it saw. Books, bed, haori, inkstone. Anything it saw, there seemed to be a word it could learn.

Slowly, it built it's knowledge. Slowly, it was becoming something more than just a creature of instinct.

Hours later, Adashino was finally feeling warm. Ashika was able to put out the fire, and opened a few doors to let in the sea breeze. Adashino felt a little guilty that the fisherman had to suffer through the heat, but he was grateful that the man had gone through so much trouble for him. The people here were were truly good-hearted folks.

Adashino was also able to recall the events that had brought him to this situation. It was a slow process, but his memory eventually returned. He told Ashika about how Ginko had seemingly woken up, and about how something else was now living within the body of the mushi-shi. He explained how his own foolish actions had gotten him into trouble, and that the freezing cold was a result of coming in contact with the mushi. But what Adashino was still unable to remember was how he had managed to get away, or how he had ended up on the path leading down to the village. In the guest room, he had felt with certainty that that was the end for him, that he had made a fatal mistake. But if the mushi had meant to kill him, wouldn't it have done so? The whole thing was a bit too much to handle.

Now he and Ashika sat together, contemplating what should be done next. Adashino sipped at a second cup of tea, and Ashika rubbed thoughtfully at the stubble on his chin.

"Well," the fisherman began, "We obviously can't just let this problem be. Whatever that thing is, it's dangerous. If it decides to leave your house, there's no telling what will happen."

Adashino nodded his agreement, but no solutions came to mind. This was Ginko's area of expertise, not his. Without the mushi-shi there to give advice, Adashino found himself at a loss. "...There must be some way we can kill it, or make it leave. Something. Ginko always knew of ways to make a mushi leave a host. If this thing has some kind of weakness, then maybe..."

"Finding that is going to be a problem though, don't you think?" Ashika shook his head, scratched at his chin a bit more. "If getting too close is dangerous, how are we going to know if it has a weakness or not? The missus and I were lucky we got to you the first time, sensei. I don't want you to get yourself into that situation again."

The doctor stared down at his tea, thinking hard. His reflection frowned back up at him from the green liquid.

"We'll just have to find a way."

Author's Note: Hello. After a couple years, I'm finally making some headway with this fiction. Some small changes have been made to the previous chapters, so please feel free to read them again. Also, I've added the chapter titles in English, in case anyone was curious about their meanings. Thank you all for the reviews and watches, and thank you for being patient with me and urging me to continue the story. There's more to come, so hopefully this somewhat uneventful chapter will hold you over until chapter 6 is ready. Thank you all again, and please enjoy.