"Remember me always."
A voice whispered in his head as he awoke. Remember who?
The darkness was all-encompassing. It was comforting, like the warm glow of a fire on a cold winter night.
And yet there was treachery in it. Cold and disconcerting, a deathly quiet that threatened to entomb him in its icy chill.
How long had he been asleep? Where was he? Curiosity overcame him, but movement did not come easily. His slumber must have been long and deep; his muscles felt atrophied.
A vision flashed in his mind, a memory of days gone by. A boy standing under the cherry blossoms, eyes closed amidst a flurry of crimson petals. A lesson imparted. "The sword is forged in the mind first, the body second. A warrior's mind is his most powerful weapon."
His senses were coming back now. He could feel a chill, and something else he hadn't realized until now. His backside was wet. He had a sudden fear: Am I awash in blood? Was it my own? He felt no pain, no sharp, cutting sensation that would seem to suggest a significant injury. Was it someone else's? Cold stone and liquid. His sense of smell returned. The air was fetid. He felt sick to his stomach.
"Calm down and focus." He opened his eyes.
Darkness. He squinted and stared out into the distance.
He stood up with great effort and began to survey his surroundings. There was the smallest sign of light, possibly coming from an opening above him. It was not much at all, just enough for him to make out faint details.
"Your parents are no more. Your mind may be in darkness today, but not forever. Talanoth is your home now, boy. Duty and honor will be your new companions." An old man with wise eyes, gentle, but that had seen much death.
He reached out slowly to touch the objects, his first real movements. He was like a newborn; the entire world was different to him. Born in darkness, like a babe in a mother's womb. Or was it king in an otherworldly tomb?
He went to the floor and felt around, trying to make sense of his surroundings. His hands touched several objects - a glove, a helmet, a dagger. Did they belong to him? No, these artifacts, whatever they were, belonged to more than one person. There were far too many of them lying around. He looked down at the wet floor. The liquid substance looked more like water now to his eyes.
Another memory. A boy holding a katana, training under a waterfall. "The spirit and the sword are one." A commanding voice spoke above the roaring water. "If the spirit breaks, the sword breaks along with it. Let your spirit guide your hand and the sword will cut true."
His eyes went to the floor. The stones were set in a pattern too deliberate to occur naturally. Instinctively, he dusted himself. His hand felt a mishmash of textures; cloth, chain links, leather, and cold steel. His chest was covered in a linked iron material. Leather straps secured the covering in place. He realized he was geared for battle, and that the armor he was wearing had been well worn, as if he had just fought in a large war. The cloth was tattered everywhere, the leather straps torn, the iron-link breastplate ravaged from what he could tell in the darkness.
He took a few more steps and realized his feet were bare. The cold cut into them. "Think! What am I doing in this place?" After that question came another one, surprising, a knot twisting in his gut.
"Who am I?"
He had a sudden, sinking realization. He could not recall his name, or what he had been doing before he got here, or of the events that had led to him being in the place he was in. He felt sick. His breathing was tight, his mouth open. He realized he had lost the ability to speak. "Calm down!" Panicking would not serve him in this situation.
"You have lost today because both mind and body are weak. Do not be afraid to be weak. Weakness does not lessen the man if he learns from it. It is through mastery of fears and weaknesses that a warrior is made. A sword becomes stronger in the forge, when it folds inward, unto itself."