"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."-Edward Abbey

01 December 2010

The Demon's Claw

"Weapons are tools of ill omen, despised by Heaven..."-Chinese proverb

It was by accident that he found his old sword. As with a great many things, he came across it whilst looking for something else. So many years had passed since he last saw or even thought about it, he'd all but forgotten it. Those memories stowed in the same cinnabar trunk as the blade. Dusty, and covered in cobwebs.

As he reached down and grasped the handle, those lost memories came flooding back. Another life and another time. Before the scars and nightmares, which years of meditation finally quelled. Before he shut the sword away in an ornate trunk of cinnabar to gather the dust and cobwebs.

There was a time when he fought under a banner and was respected and feared for his prowess with a blade. He was like a wild demon and the battlefield, and his sword, an extension of him, was the Demon's Claw. It was said he moved like fluid. Like the wind. Like fire and the shadows of a moonless midnight. None could best him.

But he put the sword away. The Demon's Claw had tasted blood and was ever-hungry. And after the campaigns, he found there were other pursuits and appetites to slake. The way of the blade no longer suited him. He cast aside his allegiance to the banner and trekked far and wide to find a quiet place where he could quietly contemplate and find peace with the destruction his demon wrought.

An older man now, he pulled the sword from its scabbard, its blade gleaming in the lantern light. It was still sharp to the touch. He could feel its perfectly balanced weight. His hand, now unsteady from years without practice, shook as he worked his way through a few basic forms. He remembered how easy it once was. The sound of the Demon's Claw slicing through the air with the same ease as it did with flesh and bone.

Perhaps once, he may have been disappointed with how clumsy he'd become. But now, he found himself chuckling. Amused at how alien the blade, which once such a part of him, was. In a moment of nostalgia, he brought the blade close to his face, feeling its dull side against his cheek. He shut his eyes, remembering how many times in battle, before making that first strike, he would do such a thing.

When he opened his eyes again, he saw himself. Or rather, he saw the man he once was. The warrior. The demon, moving like fluid and wind and fire and the shadows of a moonless midnight. The sword, the Demon's Claw, showing like molten silver in the lantern light.

At first he was startled by the apparition of his younger self. Then, a strange sense of calm flooded through him. It seemed only fitting, after all. He had pulled the old sword from its resting place in the cinnabar trunk, covered in dust and cobwebs. Besides, it was nighttime, and it is at night when the demons come.

"Look at you!" The phantasm hissed, its breath a hot wind of the battlefield carrying the screams of the wounded, the silence of the dead, and the scent of blood. "You can barely handle the blade! You have grown soft!"

"I put it away. I have studied," he said calmly, lowering the blade of the Demon's Claw to the floor. "I have learned when I draw this, when I use it, especially in anger, I have already lost the battle."

"You are pathetic!" The demon growled, raising its sword, and slicing down. The blade made a humming sound as it cut the air as easily as it could cut flesh and bone.

It was met with a deafening clang! The apparition stood in shock at his quarry, the man it once was, standing perfectly still, stone-faced, with his sword, the Demon's Claw, blocking that of his attacker. He locked eyes with this ghost of his past, his gaze unwavering.

"I have learned a new way," he said in an even tone. "I am no longer you." He then pushed the phantasm's sword to the floor. "And you will never be me."

It is said, when standing face to face with a demon, one must maintain eye contact. The slightest blink could spell death, or thousands of things worse. He knew this bit of wisdom and did not flinch from the demon in front of him. The apparition sneered and spat, but he held his ground. His sword, the Demon's Claw, kept his opponent's blade pressed to the floor.

"You are not welcome here," he said finally.

In that moment, the demon smirked. Defiant, but still carrying an air of respect for the man, who was once a warrior, but had put his sword in a trunk made of cinnabar to collect dust and cobwebs. It bowed its head, and faded into memory and the shadows between pools of lantern light. Finally, he allowed himself to blink.

He looked at his sword, the Demon's Claw, for a long time. The phantasm reminded him of what he once was, and that he could not simply hide his past in a trunk made of cinnabar. It was important to remember it so as to be mindful of why he had become the man he was now.

The next day, he set the sword out to be displayed. Sometimes, when engaging in quiet contemplation, he would focus on it, remembering what he once was. He never saw the demon again, but he took its lesson to heart; one cannot hide their past away, and when one tries, its specter will come back to haunt one in the dark.


  1. I like this a lot. It draws you in quickly, sustains you and then brings you to a calm conclusion. An excellent short story. It reminded me Of David Gemmell's writing.