Jack stands on the edge of the cliff. In the
distance, he can see the burnished hills which
are his destination. The tall, black castle
topping the highest hill is still a tiny speck; it
shimmers back and forth in the pre-dawn haze
and he is not sure he is even seeing it. Perhaps
it's only an eagle, trying unsuccessfully to find
a bit of meat in the barren waste of Aku's territory.
But perhaps ....
The wind has chilled well overnight and it whips through his robe as if it had its own magic sword. Jack's hair, loosened by sleep, flays his face and he absently rubs it aside. His breath steams from him and flies back in the direction he came from, the direction in which, if he had any sense, he would be fleeing.
He grunts softly to himself, fishing a hairband out of his pocket and tying back the black wave before it drowns him. He breathes quietly, swallowing the wind and spitting it back out, and thinks of his mother and father. Soon he can barely feel the cold.
It has been days upon days since he last saw a living soul. A girl at a country market had given him seven apples and a loaf of bread because she recognized him as a samurai. She wanted to talk to him of bushido, but saw soon enough that he didn't discuss those sorts of things with strangers. So she gave him food, a water jug, and pointed him west.
The food has run out. The water jug, though, is still useful. There are streams in this country, and Jack is willing to search patiently for water. It is easy to see if one knows where to look -- a patch of green and grass that is slightly less curled, and that's where to dig.
The last time he'd cared what his water tasted like was when he'd been a guest at a large mansion in the City. He had saved a piece of statuary, almost by mistake, from a band of thieves, and had been invited to dinner as a reward. The water had been glass-clear and had tasted faintly of raspberry. Jack had gorged on it.
Counting back now, that had been almost a year ago. The water in his jug is silty and tastes of earthworm and iron. Hefting it now, he smiles. It will last. Food, though, is something to be considered.
He tries not to be hungry. It doesn't seem dignified somehow, or honorable, to be hungry when one is on a quest to alter the universe. Yet his stomach will not be denied, and his bones cry out for strength. He ate the last apple day before yesterday, and has had nothing since then.
The very earth, devoid of pawprints or clawmarks or even animal smell, seems to laugh at him. There is no food here for strangers, it says to him. Why don't you head east, back to the soft lands when you slurped up noodles at a roadside stand? Remember when you were a chicken? Just think, you could have fried yourself up and had a nice meal.
Jack snorts half a laugh, thinking of that day. Aku hadn't been behind that, but it had nearly been fatal anyway. And since then, he'd been on his guard for wizened fellows in pointy hats. But if that fellow were here now, maybe he'd know how to create a chicken out of thin air. Jack's stomach knots at the prospect. An entire chicken, spitting fat as it rotisseried over a campfire. Maybe some bread for the next day, and a nice chicken sandwich. Baked chicken in the coals. Even chicken's beak soup, which he'd had many a time in the poorer parts of the City. A resourceful man could do a lot with a chicken's beak.
He comes out of his reverie to find his hand surreptitiously fondling his nose, hoping that it'd re-taken beak form in the last minute. "Sorry to disappoint you, hand," he says, and forces it down to his side. It would be beetles for him, probably, or grubs, or an edible plant or two, depending.
The wind shrieks up a notch, as if trying even harder to get inside his skin. The bottom of the cliff is a brown smear, at least ten meters down. Squinting into the grey dawn light, Jack can just make out some prickly-looking bushes with dark red berries hanging from them.
Raspberries? Perhaps there might be something for him in the west instead of his usual misfortune. Blessing the lack of birds in Aku's country, Jack sets his katana firmly at his waist. He gauges the distance quickly, spits a curse into the frigid wind, and jumps. Behind him, the sun begins to rise.
Notes: "Bushido" is the medieval samurai code of honor. Samurai Jack is owned by Genndy Tartakovsky, at whose animated altar I bow. No dishonor is meant.