Chapter 1:

If, Saint

If, Mallard

Digging their hoes into the soil, rice farmers keen to wipe the sweat from their brow watched as a boy carrying a large wooden box on his back happily stepped past them. Spring flourished, and wind carried the words that the Saint had arrived. With spring, the Nation found peace, contentment, hope.

“They call him Mallard, don’t they? Why is that?” One farmer asked the other.

“They say it is because that box contains a duck.”

“One duck? Singular? Why is that?”

“Because he is peace. The duck, the tranquility in the water… if Mallard is here, then war will never come for us. Our families will be fed, not soldiers.”

The farmer finally wiped the sweat off of his brow, smiling. “He is our saviour… our Duck Saint.”

The boy had strawberry-coloured hair that fell against his shoulders, and his coat was as purple as the night. The sun was hot, but he showed no signs of overheating, and the box on his back looked as heavy as himself, but he showed no signs of weariness. They watched him for a time, and he continued onwards, as if that was all he was meant to do.

He was a visitor of the Nation of Japan, but he was also its greatest guest. So, he was uninhibited as he walked, only admired. From time to time, onlookers would gather, hoping to hear him speak, but his words were known to be reserved for those who needed them, and those who gathered were in times of peace. So, the Duck Saint spoke no words, and he did not stop, endlessly walking forward.

Notedly, his smile was unerring. It made others smile, as if it were infectious. That was the symbol of peace, the duck he carried. Wherever he was present, war would not rage. Wherever he was present, the people would prosper. They became content, safe, and joyous.

During his walk through a particularly blossoming town, a girl walked up to the young Saint, holding a bouquet of wildflowers in her hands. Mallard looked over at her curiously, and with a smile, she presented the flowers to the Saint.

“These are for you, your Holiness.”

Without stopping, Mallard accepted the flowers graciously, and smiled. “I appreciate these, kind Miss. You see, the duck loves wildflowers this time of year.”

The girl’s eyes lit up with joy, walking alongside him.

“You mean- the duck that brings peace will be sated by the flowers I collected?”

Mallard nodded.

“How wonderful! Will you be back here anytime soon? I will collect more for you in that event!”

The girl watched as the Saint’s eyes responded. It was a hint of solemness, of an aversion to respond exactly.

“Listen to the wind, young Miss. It speaks of my destination, I’m sure.”

She was confused by his words, and watched in awe as the Duck Saint continued walking down the path, towards whichever destination the wind spoke of. Still, her heart felt elated, and her joy blossomed.

Soon, the Saint came to the capital, Tokyo. It was a vibrant clash of architecture. Tall buildings mixed themselves into rows of classical-style buildings, and all sorts of garbs littered the streets. It was two worlds that had swirled together, an age where the world had turned toward the future. Smoke billowed from factories that had just been built, and embers rained down from the heavens, stained by the scent of steel.

He was unaware of the city’s changes, only his destination, which never changed at all. He made his way to the Imperial Palace, knowing his end lied within.

The palace guards watched as the boy strolled through the magnificent halls, unaware of his surroundings, as if danger was never a thought to him. They did not interfere with his travels, knowing of his identity, and aware that it was he who led their jobs to be filled with ease.

“His garb is strange, isn’t it?”

“It’s common in Europe. I’ve heard many stories of their outfits ——seeing them often in the streets as travelers come——, but never as plain as he looks. That purple coat that hangs down to his ankles… at his size, it’s hard to tell whether it was made to fit him, or if it’s just a coat made to fit an adult…” One palace guard joked.

“He’s a small fellow, isn’t he? Well, perhaps that’s normal for a child. Still, it’s hard to remember that much when he carries such a big box on his back. How much do you think it weighs?”

“It’s the Duck Saint we’re talking about. That box weighs as much as our Nation’s prosperity. It’s as heavy as millions of lives. That boy might be the strongest man alive.”

Soon, the Saint arrived at the entrance to the Emperor’s room, his final destination. His travels would continue soon after, as soon as he had brought peace. Mallard let out a heavy sigh, and continued inwards. He was met by a sight that made him nauseous, his smile quivering.

The Emperor stared at the boy, who wore a genial, unmoving smile on his face.

“It’s a pleasure to bask under your gaze, your Imperial Majesty.”

“Do you enjoy being a symbol, wandering spirit?”

“If it is at your Majesty’s pleasure, it brings me happiness.” Mallard bowed.

“You lie with a straight face. Are you content saying so? Speak your mind, spirit.”

Mallard’s lips trembled. He felt as if he couldn’t contain himself any longer. He was tired of walking forward while being cheered on.

“How long will you continue this charade?” The boy spoke, his expression finally changing. It was disparaging of the Emperor, disdain even. “Do you want me to lie to them forever? Is hope alright if it is false?”

The Emperor chuckled.

“No. Your persona is too powerful, Saint. We’ll end the charade here. Stop being an omen of peace.”

The boy looked up at the Emperor. It was fiercity, bloodlust. The Emperor gulped instinctively, his hand hovering over a bell to his right. It would summon the palace guards, the lazy fools who didn’t bother to think there would be danger present at any point.

“As you command, your Imperial Majesty. It is my honour to serve your great legacy.”

The Emperor’s body shivered. With every word the Saint spoke, it struck like a blade.

“Do you wonder why I’m asking you to stop bringing peace to this land?” The Emperor tried to keep his calm, leaning on his hand and crossing his legs as he spoke.

“It’s not my place to ask such a question.”

“Precisely. I’m glad you know your place.”

The Emperor’s left hand began to glow a bright red colour. Bright red lines spread across the length of his palm, and Mallard’s eyes widened. He suddenly felt a horrible agony spread over his body, and the Saint fell to the floor, screaming in pain. However, the content guards had already fallen asleep. Peace had brought them to know it acceptable. There was no one to interrupt the two.

“I know the feelings you harbor, Spirit. The contract I’ve bound you to allows me to know you, even though you don’t know me. It is as my father knew you, and his father before him, as far as time has forced you to be a symbol. I know you have grown to hate your travels, endlessly walking forward as we command. To every country you visit, you show them that peace is an inevitability. If a country fails to sight you, then they despair, knowing that hard times are ahead.” The Emperor’s gaze darkened. “So rejoice, Spirit. You needn’t bring peace here anymore. It’s contentment that’s stagnating this place. If the people begin to imagine that times won’t grow hard once more, they won’t work as hard as they should. What spring flourishes without the fear of the next winter?”

As he cried out, Mallard grimaced. “I ——understand!” He stammered.

“Good.” The Emperor lowered his hand. The pain in Mallard’s body ceased, and he collapsed to the floor. “If you understand your role now, then go. Give them hope no longer.”

Mallard later adjourned from the palace, his expression bitter.

He spoke to himself as he walked. “What fool doesn’t want peace? Stagnation? Why is that a fear? Does man only think of greed? Can humans not be satisfied unless they actively hate each other?”

Gradually, people began to gather behind him. One by one, a crowd had formed around him. They stood within a large square, bordered by many buildings, of which had more onlookers watching from above. Mallard found that he stood perched above them, overlooking the large majority, expectant of his words.

But his Sainthood was hollow words.

Mallard set down the box in front of the cheering audience that had gathered, quickly silencing them with his gaze. Expectedly, their murmurs ceased, and their eyes grew curious, wondering what the importance of his actions were, finally ceasing his endless wandering.

As the onlookers watched with no idea of his intentions, Mallard placed his hand on the shackle that bound the box tight. It trembled as he unlatched it, shaking like the gazes of the audience. No man, woman, or child- no Emperor nor peasant had ever seen the inside of the box. No living person had ever seen the Duck that heralded peace for Nations.

The door swung open, the audience’s silence became agony, their gazes fear.

The box was empty.

“Peace is a lie! You’re meant for war! Despair your hope! Stop looking at me!” The Duck Saint shouted to everyone who could hear him, and to the wind that carried his words far past his position. He averted his gaze from the shocked crowd and adjourned, his heart troubled.

The Duck Saint left the box, empty, in the middle of the square. If he were not carrying the duck along with him ——the symbol of peace—— would there be war? That thought raced through the minds of the gathered crowd.

Onlookers, farmers, felt their sweat bead.

“We worked day and night with those expectations… why? I thought my family would be safe, that the food I produced would make their way into their stomachs, not to soldiers. Why were we lied to?”

Onlookers, Palace Guards, felt that the world had become dangerous.

“We were meant to laze around… now will we have to fight? Will we die, and leave our families behind?”

Onlookers, a small girl with a flower tucked behind her ear, lost her joy. She listened to the wind, and the words that it carried, and understood. She held a bouquet in her hands, ready to greet hope, but she suddenly felt that it would wilt not long after, and abandoned it to the earth. She walked home empty-handed.

And the Saint who had abandoned his respect sat at the edge of a pond, despondent.

“He wants the people to stop being content…” Mallard’s heart felt hollow. Of course he would have been left with horrible emotions in his heart. Wouldn’t a scapegoat of terror be discontent knowing he had crushed the hopes of so many people?

Mallard looked at his sunken complexion in the reflection of the water. It had grown pallid, disgusting. He couldn’t bear to look at himself, just a boy, forced to be.

Suddenly, the water began to shimmer. A reflection appeared beside his own, with bright-white feathers and legs as long as spring. Mallard’s sullen expression shivered, and a smile curled up his lips.

“How ironic. Can’t you leave me to my self-pity without reminding me of what obeying cost?”

The duck crawled to the bank, shaking the water off of its feathers. Its calm, serene gaze focused on Mallard, and with graceful steps, it settled in his lap, content with its peace. He gazed at its contentment, and he cried. His tears flowed liked the water, rippling his heart, and he felt. He knew he wasn’t satisfied. Being a symbol, bringing smiles and peace to the people, even at the cost of himself, was his only joy.

“I’m scared of pain.” Mallard looked down at the duck, but its blank stare responded silently. “I’m scared of being tired, constantly traveling. I’m scared of the sorrow that loneliness brings. Should I weigh those fears against my regrets?”

The duck didn’t respond, and so Mallard laughed. “You’re a great symbol, but a horribly boring companion, aren’t you?”

Then, the duck quacked. So, Mallard laughed again, and then again, and he felt his heart feel better. “You’re right. What time can I waste pitying myself? There’s time enough when I’m walking to feel sad.”

When he began to travel once more, the Emperor became aware. He didn’t need the wind to tell him. Having contracted with the Spirit, he knew of Mallard’s intentions. Using the connection between them, Mallard felt a constant agony spearing his body. Being boiled alive, cut into a thousand pieces, or crushed to death ——the methods by which the Emperor could try to convince him to stop were endless—— and insignificant.

As the Palace Guards, preparing for the hardest times, watched the Once-Saint walk through the capital, their weary expressions changed. They saw him without the box that weighed as much as a million lives, but with the symbol that brought peace. Perched on his shoulder, bright white feathers and legs as long as spring sat, content. So, they dropped their blades, and felt their hearts at ease.

They felt that war would not crush their hopes.

When he made his way to a quiet town, the Once-Saint saw a girl in the blossoming pasture, eyeing the wildflowers longingly. However, when she spotted the sight of the boy walking down the dirt path, carrying joy on his shoulder, she began to pick them eagerly. She made her way to his side, and with a smile,

As she watched him, she became aware that his smile quivered, and his steps were shaky and wavering. It felt to her as if she were watching a man carrying the weight of a boulder along his journey.

“Are you alright?” She asked of the Once-Saint, worried.

Aware of his duties, he replied, “never better, kind Miss. The Duck will enjoy the wildflowers, I’m sure. Although he cannot thank you himself, so I must do it on his behalf. He appreciates your gesture, as do I. Please never stop picking them. We will be by sometime again.”

Her eyes glimmered with excitement, and she nodded her head. And as soon as she had left, she made sure to tell the wind to carry her words long past her position, of the fact that the Duck Saint would soon arrive someplace far away.

So, when the Duck Saint had arrived in the rice fields, he was met by the sight of smiling farmers who had long-wiped the sweat from their brows, taking time away from their toiling work to offer the boy a warm meal. They forced him to stop walking, and take a seat as they enjoyed laughter and food.

When he left, they made sure he did not leave without a satchel full of food, for the Duck that brought hope and himself alike. They were not going to give it over to soldiers after all, anyway.

They felt that a harsh winter would not follow spring.

So, the Duck Saint continued walking, the Duck content on his shoulder. Wherever he arrived, in whichever country lie in his path, the expressions of the people changed. Some followed him for awhile, hoping that their fortunes would change, of which they did, as the mood he brought was enough to make them believe so. Some tried to converse with him, and as eagerly as he could, despite his waning countenance, he would chat happily.

Still, Mallard felt the pain of the Emperor, his spite weighing on him. He was going against the wishes of his Master, after all.

His pain, it was unending.

“It hurts…”

His sorrow, remained unending.

“Why me?”

His exhaustion, unending.

“I’m tired…”

Every time, he remembered the relief of the Palace Guards, of the smile on the face of the young girl, and the kindness of the farmers. So, the Duck Saint and his companion walked forward with a forced smile. His determination… it was unending.

Taylor J
Dhamas Tri (dmz)
Steward McOy
Duck Saint, Mallard

If, Mallard

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