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To Far from Tomorrow part 1
I met him in a field of dead people. Not a place you would like to meet someone I can assure you. The smell of decaying bodies and blood thickened the air. Crows were gorging themselves with flesh. It was like hell on earth. I’d seen many places like this in my lifetime. Not that it made it any less horrifying.
It was a normal day like any other. Until I saw something move in the distance. Instinctively I wanted to distance myself, but something within my heart told me to go after it. I don’t know what was going through my head that day. All I remember was just walking towards the figure. Sword in hand ready to cut it down. Only as I got closer the figure took a smaller and different form. I slowed down and stared in surprise at the creature before me.
A child it was. His small hands and mouth covered in blood. Indicating that had already started feasting on the dead humans. It took him quite a while to notice me, but when he did he full on attacked me. I had to give it to the kid he had some back bone. Easily I kicked him away onto a dead man. “Don’t be stupid,” I warned.
The kid hunched over like an animal and showed me a small knife. Probably from one of the corpses. “So your a cannibal and a thief,” I retorted.
As I took a closer look at him I could understand why. He could barely keep himself upright with those skinny legs and arms. His bones jutted out as if he were a skeleton and his eyes were veiled. He sure was a sight to behold. Carefully I set my sword down and crouched down in front of him. “Where are you from?”
The kid seemed a bit surprised that I asked such a question. “Are you not going to kill me?”
It was such an absurd question that I started laughing. Not that it was funny in the slightest. I grabbed my sword and put it into the ground to show him. “If I wanted to kill you you’d already be dead,” I explained.
The kid looked almost disheartened at my answer. A twinge of regret stirred inside me. I really am an awful person. I pulled out my pack of bread. There were only three slices left not enough to keep him alive. I put them down in front of him. “Here this should sustain you a day. There’s also a river quite a ways south as well.”
I grabbed my sword and left him. I guess you could say I was a horrible person back in the day. Nothing surprised me and nothing made me care. The boy didn’t even last a day in my thoughts.
Until the next night. The little animal was stealing from my bag! Of course I caught him before he could even run off with it. The little booger.
“Let me go!” He ordered.
“How dare you try and steal from me after I graciously gave you my bread!” I snarled.
With a wide swing I flung him onto the ground. He groaned in response to the hard fall. Not feeling the least bit sorry I yelled, “scram.”
I turned to walk away, but the kid grabbed onto my waist. He dug his feet into the ground in an attempt to stop me. I grabbed his head and tried pushing him away. “Let go!”
“No!” He cried.
I looked down at his arms. They looked like they could barely keep a hold of me. The image of his face appeared in my mind. Veiled eyes and bloody mouth. I pushed the image out and grabbed his arms. “I said let go!” With little effort I pushed him off me.
Not daring to look back I crouched down and started packing my futon and blanket. I just wanted some peace and quiet! I thought. Again his small arms wrapped around me. This time I didn’t attempt to push him off. He’d leave eventually: they all do. A long period of silence followed. “Please,” he whispered.
I didn’t stop packing. No matter what I wasn’t bringing him along. “I can’t go back there,” he croaked.
“Then don’t,” I remarked.
Suddenly I felt my back become wet with tears. His arms let go of my waist as he began crying into my back. “I didn’t want to eat those people..” he sobbed.
“I’m disgusting” he added.
I don’t know why, but his words touched me. If my father were here he probably would have scolded me. Told me that I was too soft to be a warrior. I sighed and reached around to pat his back. “Don't cry-you did what you had to do to survive,” I explained.
I’m going to really regret this I felt myself think. Gently this time I lifted him off my back and turned around to face him. His sunken eyes were swimming with tears. No longer did he look like a ravenous animal, but a little child.
To be honest I didn’t have a clue what to say. I’d never been in this situation before. I awkwardly patted his shoulder and told him, “don’t feel bad.”
He continued to sob and leaned himself onto my chest. I slowly wrapped my arms around him. I feel like a mother I thought. I guess I wouldn’t know though since I didn’t have one. Conflicted about what to feel I just held him. What do I want to do with him? I wondered.
Throughout my journey I had intended to not involve anyone with me. I had strictly set rules so I wouldn’t meet anyone. It hadn’t really worked out for me so far.
His tears and snot began wetting my chest. Along with his too long brown hair that was messy with dried blood.
I pulled him up to face me. Snot dribbled out of his nose and his tears poured out of his eyes. “Good gosh you're a mess.”
The kid didn’t seem offended by my words probably because he looked like he was about to faint. I grabbed my blanket and wiped his face clean. “If we’re going to be traveling together you have to listen to my rules and obey what I say,” I explained.
The kid nodded in approval, “I will I promise.”
“Your probably going to be sick from that raw flesh,” I observed.
I can’t make him throw up. He’s pretty much skin and bones already. I looked at his clothing. Blood and dirt covered the front along with tears and rips on the bottom. “Here lift your arms up,” I ordered.
Obediently he lifted his arms as I pulled his clothes over him rendering him naked. I fanned out my dusty blanket and wrapped it around him. “You can wear that for now. Once morning hits I’ll wash your clothes.”
His veiled eyes became bright with happiness. Something inside me felt warm. I don’t even know his name and I’m already getting attached. I sighed and laid out my futon again. “Sorry but this futon only has room for one and I’m not sharing,” I muttered.
He didn’t reply or say anything at all. I rolled it back out and laid down on it. My eyelids grew heavy as sleep dragged at me. Only when I was about to fall asleep did I feel the boy pressed up against my back. Ah what the heck….
And that’s what started the ridiculous journey of two ridiculous different yet similar humans.
. . .
The first two days he hardly talked. Mainly because he was barely alive. I had to nurse him back to health. Which required me to be very patient with him. Unfortunately for him patience isn’t my strong suite in the slightest.
It was like taking care of an infant. No wonder my mom left me I thought as I washed his clothes in the river.
I sauntered back to our little camp that I’d made. To be honest I was proud of it. I’d cut down branches and sharpened them into little steaks. Then I stuck then into the ground so they were like a little gate guarding us. Along with that I’d made a tent that leaned up against a tree. Ever since I was little I’d always be out in the forest. Even sleep out in the forest. Which always ended up with me having a cold.
Those were good days. My thoughts were interrupted by seeing the boy stoking the burnt firewood. “I guess your not dead yet,” I retorted.
The boy’s expression was emotionless. I waved his clothes around so the wind could dry it. After two minutes I threw it over to him. “Here it’s a little damp,” I warned.
Without hesitating the boy threw off the blanket and put on his clothes. The blood stain was now faint in color, yet still remained. He looked down at it as a reminder of his cannibalistic ways. A look of sadness washed over him. “If you think to much about it you’ll become depressed,” I reminded.
The boy looked up but kept silent. “Your creepy,” I admitted.
For some reason he smiled at that remark. How did I end up with such a creepy kid I wondered to myself. He got up from his spot and stretched. His tiny legs and arms showed that they were improving along with his face. “Do you think you’ll be good enough to travel in a few days?” I ask.
The boy looked at himself. “I’m pretty sure I should be good,” he answered.
“Good,” I grumbled making sure to show the irritation in my voice.
There was a slight pause before the boy blurted, “my names Ryu.”
“Okay?” I say almost questionably.
Ryu scratched his ear a thing he usual did when embarrassed. “I thought you should know my name,” he explained.
“What’s your name?” He interrupted.
I felt my blood begin to boil. “You’re very talkative today,” I mumbled.
“Uh I’m sorry.”
Ryu fell to his knees and bowed his head respectively. I felt my ears grow hot. “No need to be so formal about your apology. Besides I’m just cranky today.”
Ryu’s eyes widened, “is it that time of the month?”
It took me a second to understand. When it hit me I began to stutter, “of course not!! It… I’m just… uh I’m just cranky in general!”
“The ladies I traveled with sometimes acted like you when they were on it. It was like living with monsters,” he admitted.
His eyes seemed distant in thought. I didn’t press for more. We both had our pasts that we’d like to keep secret.
I walked over to the fire and start trying to make a new one. “Find me some twigs and tinder,” I commanded.
Ryu raced off. As he left so did the atmosphere. I hadn’t noticed it until he left. The air was more cold and lonely. I guess I missed humans more than I Let on. My father would have been disappointed in me. You only need yourself and the sword! He would have screamed into my face. The thought of his square like face and sharp eyes sent chills up my spine.
I pushed away the thought and tried concentrating more on the fire. Ryu came back with a huge pile of twigs and tinder. “Thanks,” I replied.
I cut a sturdy twig in two and then etched a dip from the inside. I placed the bark and leaves into the dip and then used another to twig to twist and turn the tinder. “Hold the bottom kid.”
“Ryu,” he corrected.
“Whatever,” I retorted.
“What’s your name?” He asked
“What's it to you?” I snarked.
“Would you rather I call you cranky lady,” he retorted.
I huffed, “Ming.”
Ryu gave a small smile before pinning down the bottom twig. I ran my hands down the twig as fast as I could. The wood rubbed against my blistered hands. I bit my lip to stop myself from groaning in pain. My muscles tensed as I continued to proceed with the process. “There’s a spark!” Cried Ryu.
“I know that,” I said breathlessly.
I pushed him back and began blowing on the tinder. The flame went out immediately. I glanced at my hands. The blisters from last night hadn’t healed completely. Ignoring my aching hands I put more pressure down on the tinder.
Finally after three attempts we got a flame going. It grew into a marvelous hungry flame worthy of cooking food. I laid back on our tent and wrapped my blisters up. “Grab the fish from the bag,” I gasped.
Ryu turned to me. A look of concern crossed his face. My icy glare made him turn away and grab the fish. I used my teeth to tear away wrapping from the roll. That was my last wrap. I gave them a quick shake to give them air. “Stick the fish with one of those sticks,” I instructed.
Ryu followed my instructions and stuck the fish with a stick. “Like this?” He asked.
Ryu glanced again at my hands. I squeezed them into a fist despite the pain. “It didn’t hurt that bad.”
He didn’t look convinced, but caught the hint and staked the fish. I relaxed my hand and rubbed them softly. I don’t want anyone worrying about me I told myself. Casually I walked over to Ryu and sat down beside him. I reluctantly grabbed the sick and hung it over the hungry flame.
The fire crackled and flew into the trees. Heat flew at me making my eyes water. Ryu coughed and covered his eyes. “Looks like the winds not on our side,” I coughed.
We both scooched over so we avoided the smoke. “Ming?” He whispered.
“Hhmm” I replied.
I could feel his eyes wander to my sword. Couldn’t blame him a sword would look cool to any person. “Why do you have a sword… are you a samurai?” He asked.
“I’m far from a samurai. Samurai are merely serpents who serve a master that couldn’t give a crap about them. In my eyes all they do is try and achieve glory for themselves,” I rambled.
Ryu seemed a little bewildered. I slowly unsheathed my sword. The silver glinted in the sunlight. It’s edge so sharp it could probably cut air itself. A look of astonishment crossed his face. Feeling pride swell within me I added, “this is my own sword that I forged.”
Ryu gave it a longing look. I rolled my eyes, “You can touch it.”
Ryu’s eyes gleamed with excitement as I gave it to him. He ran his fingers down the middle. “So smooth,” he said.
I felt unease grow within me. It had been a long time since I’d pulled it out. I wasn’t sure why I had pulled it out. The sword seemed to blur and then it was covered in blood. Not wanting to see the image anymore I jerked the sword from his hands. “Ahh!” He cried.
Droplets of blood fell from the palm of his hands. Petrified I stared down at the sword. What was I thinking pulling this dangerous thing out. I sheathed it and looked down at his hands. They were only minor cuts, but the skin was broken. “I’m so sorry,” I heard myself say.
“It’s okay it didn’t hurt that bad,” he reassured.
I’m so stupid! I wanted to scream. “Here come to the river with me! We’ll wash your hands and then I’ll give you my wrapping,”
That was the first time and last time I would unsheathed my sword.
Another three days passed since I unsheath my sword. I had decided that night that we couldn’t stay in our camp any longer. It was time to move out.
I packed up the last of my things and was resting while Ryu finished dressing. His once tiny body was now healthier and had color to his skin. Still there was something really bothering me.
I pulled out my pocket knife from my bag and gestured for him to come over. His eyes widened, “what are you going to do!?”
“Relax kid I’m just going to give you a haircut,” I explained.
His brow furrowed in disbelief. “I don’t trust you with my hair,” he replied bluntly.
I gripped the handle and pointed it at him, “c***y little brat! Get over here I’m not asking.”
Ryu groaned and sauntered over to me. “Geez rebellious already,” I muttered.
“I learned from the best,” he snarled.
“Maybe I should cut up higher,” I suggested pulling the knife more toward his scalp. “No! I’m sorry!”
I got to work and began cutting his hair. In all honesty I felt bad for the kids because I’d never done this before. Thankfully Ryu was a boy. I couldn’t mess up his hair that bad. “Please don’t give me bald spots,” he pleaded.
“No promised,” I replied.
Ryu slouched in response. I concentrated as hard as I could. His brown hair fell onto the ground in little snippets. As I got closer to his head I just grazed the tips of hairs. After what felt like ages I finally leaned back and inspected. “Not bad what do you think?”
Ryu felt around his head. “Eh not as good as Asu,” he replied.
I completely ignored his insult and asked, “ Asu?”
Ryu went silent. I guess I stepped to far into his territory. I got to my feet and put the knife away. “Let’s get a move on.”
With only a small pack of food, water, and supplies we started our journey. It was a warm day with an occasional breeze. In my mind it was a perfect day. Ryu seemed to think the same. I reminisced in the smells and feeling of the wind. “This type of weather is best when your riding a horse,” I told him.
“I’ve never rode a horse before,” replied Ryu.
“That sucks,” I muttered.
Ryu closed his eyes as the wind flew onto his scalp. He shuddered and whispered, “I wish everyday was like this.”
Me too. I could almost picture it. A beautiful royal red horse with strong legs. The feeling of bouncing with the horses gallops. How I longed to do that again. “I have some money right now, but if we save up some more we might have enough to get a horse for the journey,” I suggested.
Ryu snapped his head around, “you have money?!”
“How do you think I got that bread?” I questioned.
I looked over to see him giving me a questioning look. Irritably I snapped, “I didn’t steal it!”
“Where did you get it then?” He questioned accusingly.
I hesitated. What exactly could I tell him? “Trust me.”
“That’s not an answer,” he blurted.
I returned his question with a dissatisfied smirk. “I have no obligation to tell you,” I tried.
“So you did steal it.”
“I did not steal the money!” I yelled.
Ryu laughed at how heated I was getting. His cute laugh almost sounded annoying in my ears. I rubbed my temples in order to stop myself from hitting him. I guess I would be a horrible mother I concluded. After his laughter died down Ryu asked, “but seriously where are we going?”
“Yogo,” I replied.
“Where’s that?” He questioned.
I pointed to the huge mountains ahead of us. “Past those mountains.”
His wide eyes climbed the mountain up to its peak. “Oh,”
The mountains looked small now, but it will take us at least a week to get through the mountain range. Luckily there were secret paths made by slaves. Li’s voice entered my head. “Use the secret path by the rock with a bear face. It should get you through the mountains.” I felt more reassured now.
Thank you Li. I touched the weaved bracelet on my wrist.
Suddenly the sight of smoke caught my eye. Was that there before? I wondered. Li has never mentioned a village or town before the mountains. “Do you see it too?” Questioned Ryu.
“A perfect opportunity we may be able to buy some stuff before going through the mountains,” I added.
“Have you ever been in a town?” I asked.
Ryu shook his head, “I never was allowed to get close to the town.”
“Well it’s your lucky day,” I replied.
We headed toward the smoke. As we got closer I could hear the people. Probably busy I concluded. I stopped in my tracks and knelt down in front of Ryu. “Don’t wander from me. Sometimes townspeople can be dangerous. Especially the people that are drunk this early in the morning,” I added.
Ryu nodded his tiny little head.
With that we headed into the town. Street kids were running around occasionally stealing. While the adults were looking around the stalls. It had been forever since I’d been in a town.
Ryu was beaming with fascination as he looked around the town. Groups of people were gossiping or playing games in front of shops. Towns had a nice feel to them. “There’s a lot of people,” breathed Ryu.
“Well of course we are in a town.”
My eyes caught sight of a food stall. People gathered around the stall paying and eating their food. “Fish only thirty hans! Rice and beef forty hans!” Called the stallman.
“Follow me,” I told him.
Ryu followed close behind as I walked up to the stall. I fished out all my hans. Only seven left. The black tablets laid in my sweaty palm. I looked at the food choices. The smell of fish was appetizing, but rice was one I had to get. “A bag of rice,” I reported.
The stallman grabbed his huge bucket of rice and scooped it into a cloth bag. I put the forty hans on the stall counter and grabbed my bag. The weight felt good against my shoulder. “This way,” I ordered.
Ryu followed me away from the stall. The smell of the different meats brought back memories along with my watering mouth.
“Ming?” He asked.
I felt Ryu tug at my robe. I looked down at him and saw him pointing to a stall. The stall had a bunch of kids around it. As I read the sign I understood. “That’s Anpan,” I explained.
“What are those?”
“A sweet roll with red bean paste in it,” I answered.
The smell reached my nose. I hadn’t had one in a long time. I looked at the sign again. Thirty hans! Jeez they new how to make a person broke. “Here go get us a bag.” I threw him twenty hans.
He looked down at the two tablets. “That's only twenty hans,” he told me.
I smirked, “today you learn how to become a city boy.”
I whispered him the plan and then patted his shoulder. “Just don’t look nervous,” I reminded.
Ryu gulped and nodded. I distanced myself and sat down on a front porch. Slowly Ryu made his way up to the stall. He looked tiny compared to the other kids. I casually got up and made my way to the stall as if walking by it. As I got closer I began hearing there conversation. “Thirty hans?” Questioned Ryu.
He gave the stallman a quizzical look. That was my cue. I sauntered over and looked at the sign. “Thirty hans? There’s a stall a further ways down that only requires twenty hans.”
Ryu blinked at me as if he’d never met me. Quite the little actor. “Really?” He asked.
I glanced at the stallman. He looked panicked; not sure what to do. “I would go for that one,” I added and walked off.
I didn’t dare and stop. You had to play your part until the end. It was all up to Ryu from here. I looked around with the crowd and sat back down on the same porch. Finally Ryu ran over to me. A bag of Anpan in his hands. “You were right he handed it over really easily,” admitted Ryu.
He threw the bag to me. The smell flowed into my nose. I untied the tie and plucked out one. The fried ball gave off a golden brown color. “Try it,” I said.
Ryu caught the ball and felt it. He plopped it into his mouth. His eyes widened in amazement. “Good huh?” I plopped one in my mouth.
The red bean paste sizzled on my tongue. My mouth exploded into flavors. The faint taste of egg whites coated the outside. “You can have the rest,” I threw the bag back and laid on the porch.
Ryu sat down beside me and ate the Anpans. It felt good just to bask in the sun. My mind was moving at a mile a minute though. I should probably try and get some rope for the mountain along with a horse. I pulled my pack off and searched for my money patch.
I looked inside to see the bronze rugals. Only four rugal. I needed at least ten to get a good horse. “Looks like we’re out of luck,” I mumble.
“Is there not enough money?” He asked.
“Yeah I need seven more rugal in order to even think about getting a horse. Not to mention for supplies.” Already the stress was getting to my head.
I pinched the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes. Looks like my plans will be pushed back again. Along with that I can’t stay in one place for too long. A wave of unease washed over me. “Ryu!”
“I’d like you to go look around town and see if any stores or resting places have job offers,” I ordered.
Ryu swirled around his mouth full of minghooms. “Jobs? I thought we were heading into the mountains,” he remarked.
I gave him an icy look, “look just do it. Don’t ask questions.”
Ryu scrunched his nose and stuck his tongue out before darting off. I’ll make him an errand boy. Could be useful. Suddenly a thought entered my mind. I could just leave him… what was I thinking I could do with him. Once I got to Yogo where would he go? It hadn’t really crossed my mind.
It’s dangerous anyway for him to be near me. I rubbed my temples. Sometimes I thought to much. “One step at a time,” I told myself.
“Hey you!” Came a voice.
I swirled around to see a man behind me. His long black hair was pulled back in a tight tie. A cup, most likely filled with sake, was in his hand. He gestured to the sword at my side, “how did you get a hold of a samurai sword?” He asked.
His voice was slurred. I presumed he was drunk. “I forged it myself,” I responded.
“Eh? A girl forging a sword!” He started bursting out laughing.
The other men on the porch started laughing. “It’s more of an antique than-“ tried the man.
I looked down at the sheathed sword. “I guess you could say that,” I admitted.
The man knelt down beside me. He smelled of body odor and sake. I felt my nose scrunch in disgust. His eyes trailed the sword. “Then it’s for sale?”
“No,” I snapped.
The man gave a daring look and put his hands up in the air. “Oh no she might cut me up!” He mocked.
The men started laughing again. I could feel the atmosphere growing tense. It’s too dangerous I should have known that this was a dangerous spot. I had been keeping up my guard up for so long that I had finally let it relax. Without hesitation I spring to my feet and darted away. “Hey where you going missy.”
I kept my head down as I ran further down the town. Sorry Ryu, but I couldn’t stay there. We would have to find each other some other way.
It took me almost an hour to find him. I’d even consider leaving him and heading off to the mountains. Unfortunately my soul is still weak and kind.
I finally found him by the minghoom stand. He seemed angry with me as he stormed over. “You were going to leave me weren’t you!” He roared.
I snarled, “I considered it, but your annoying face would have been in my thoughts all day.”
Ryu pouted and then hugged me. I pushed him back, “if you want to hug something hug a tree.”
Ryu smirked, “you just can’t go on without me,”
“Don’t get it twisted,” I retorted.
Ryu grabbed my hand. “I found a resting place that needs maids and cooks,” he replied.
I followed him to a little shop. A women that looked like a maid stood outside and welcomed people in. “Welcome,” she told us.
She looked down at Ryu, “oh it’s you. Is this the girl you were talking about.”
The girl scanned me. I tried to turn so my sword wasn’t visible. It was too late. Her eyes stared at my sword before putting her finger up. “Hold here one second.”
She disappeared into the shop. We both sat down on the porch and waited.
After a few minutes she returned. “Please follow me.”
We followed her into the shop. Screens blocked the booths so people had privacy while eating. The smells mixed all together. We snaked through the shop and to the back. A burly women who smoked from a pipe leaned against a post. Her eyes snakes over us.
Almost immediately she looked at my sword. “Are you good with a sword?” She replied in a husky voice.
Reluctantly I nodded. The women pulled out her pipe and blew out the smoke. She stood up and walked over to me. “Lately our shops been robbed constantly. And we can’t hire a bodyguard in high stature.”
I already knew where the conversation was going. “So basically you need a bodyguard.”
The burly women puffed out some more smoke. “You’d be working as a maid, but a bodyguard. You’ll be paid double if you take the bodyguard job,” she offered.
“You don’t even know if I can even use this sword good,” I blurted.
The burly women’s eyes lifted slightly. “I’ve seen many men carry swords and all of them have the strength of ten men. Why would you be any different?”
I hesitated to answer her request. Being a bodyguard would just make me stand out even more. Ryu piped in, “of course she’ll do it! Ming is the strongest person I know you can count on her.”
I scowled and looked down at him. He stuck his tongue out. I went to object, but the burly women was already bowing. “We thank you for your service.”
Fighting back the urge to punch Ryu I just muttered, “I’ll get paid double right?”
“Yes,” replied the burly women.
I sighed and rubbed my head. Another thing I’m going to regret. “So when do we start?”
. . .
“Welcome,” I said to a couple walking in.
I fanned myself to stop myself sweating. Wearing a maids outfit didn’t really suit me. To many clothes.
The heat was unbearable today. No breeze or anything and they expected me to just stand out here and invite people in. I’d rather be in the kitchen even though I had no experience cooking. Ryu took the job as the errand boy. He learned how to get around and find the best stores to buy from.
A man walked up to the porch and took his sandals off at the door. “Welcome,” I told him.
He gave a fleeting smile before entering. Man I forgot how hard it was to be nice. Well this was the only place that took me in. And I was getting paid double. Slowly but surely I’d get enough money to buy a horse and rope.
I’d stayed here about four nights and there hasn’t been any break ins. Sometimes I actually wonder if they saw someone steal their stuff. I didn’t question it though. That burly women was holding my money I wasn’t about to get on her bad side. “Welcome,” I half conscientiously said.
Three more men entered. I wiped the precipitation off my forehead. The sound of running feet caught my ear. I opened my eye to see Ryu hurrying back with two huge sacks on his back. “How’s it coming along?” I asked.
Ryu collapses outside the door and laid against the post. “I just need some water,”
“Well don’t look at me,” I muttered.
Ryu checked the bags while he caught his breath. “I better get this in before it melts,” he sighed as he dragged the bags into the store.
I put my elbows on my knees and hid my head. The beating sun was killing me. Some people even sat down on the porch just to get away from the sun. “Awful weather we’re having today,” gasped a women to my left.
Two other women were grouped around her. They’re faces beat red. One of the women had a classic fan that moved up in down swiftly. “Even with this fan I still feel like a fried fish!”
“My mother is going to kill me if my skin gets blotchy,” said the other women.
I looked more deeply at their faces. They were all quite beautiful. There long black hair matched they’re kimonos perfectly and there face paint was spot on. I never had used face paint before. Father had forbidden me. I felt my nails dig into my arms. No stop it! I got to my feet and stepped out into the sun. Luckily the heat got my mind off of my father. Only to find my feet burning the next second. I stepped back onto the porch. My socks were drenched with sweat along with holes. “I need shoes,” I sighed.
Irritated by the heat I entered into the store. It wasn’t much better, but it felt nice to be in an enclosed space.
Sounds of laughter rang through the store. Some people drunk and others just having a good time. I looked over at one booth. It was a family I had welcomed earlier. The two children had stuffed their faces beyond compare. Laughter echoed from the parents mouths as they tried to calm their kids.
A twinge of envy stirred within me. How can they be so happy? I wondered. It almost pained me to look at them. Why couldn’t it have been like that for me? Suddenly Ryu’s voice snapped me out of it. “Ming?”
I whirled around to see him holding a glass of water. Without responding I snatched it out of his hands and gulped in down. “You okay?”
“Just tired from the heat,” I lied.
Ryu added, “Why don’t you take a break. You’ve been up all night and day for four days.”
I shoved the glass back to Ryu, “I’m fine.”
I don’t need a kid worrying about me I wanted to scream. My frustration started spilling out in my mind. I’ve always been on my own so what’s the difference! Why do I even do this? What’s the point in trying to run?! I clenched my hands. I wanted to punch a wall or hit someone.
You haven’t slept well I tried to rationalize with myself. All the emotions that had been stored up inside me suddenly all started pouring out. Who needs money who needs a kid? I’ve been doing just fine on my own. Already I’ve spent too long here. Fear and anxiety took over my body.my exhausted body began to shake. I’m so pathetic and helpless! What did I think I could do by running away. There bound to catch up to me anyway- in that moment I just wanted to cry in frustration. I had no control of the situation. My mind ran a mile a minute. The reality of everything hitting me. I am so stupid! My teeth gritted in anger.
Why am I even so mad? I wondered to myself. Nothing made sense I couldn’t even comprehend it all. I have to get out of here they’ll find me and when they do-
Before I could even think about the next word it turned dark.
I woke up with a cold rag against my forehead. The sound of sloshing water reached my ears.
Slowly I glanced to my right. Ryu was soaking a rag with cold water. He snapped his head over to meet my eyes. “Your awake,” He cried.
“I didn’t die,” I mumbled.
I pulled the wet rag off my forehead and clumsily threw it. Everything was blank from when I passed out. I went to sit up, but Ryu shoves me back down, “don't even think about it,” he warned.
“Since when did you order me around?” I grumbled yet I followed his orders and laid back down.
Ryu didn’t say anything. He pressed the cold rag against my face and limbs. It felt great against my hot skin. I looked around at where I was at. Takes, shovels, and old decorations. Most likely a shed to store stuff.
My eyes wandered and matched onto Ryu’s face.’something was troubling him I could tell. “Spit it out,” I ordered.
Ryu didn’t dare look at me as he replied,
“As you were walking away you were mumbling ‘I can’t run anymore’ and ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ Then you passed out with tears down your face.”
I felt my face grow warm. I didn’t mean to say that out loud. Quickly I tried to save the situation,
“I was just tired.”
Ryu didn’t seem to like that answer.
“To be honest I don’t really know anything about you Ming so I wouldn’t know.”
I muttered, “and I want to keep it that way.”
Ryu slammed the bucket of water right on top of my stomach. Not prepared I cried out in surprise. The cold water seeped into my maid outfit and reached to my stomach. “What was that for?” I snapped.
Ryu held up the rag in his defense, “Your so frustrating!”
“I’m just trying to talk to you and all you do is dismiss me or ignore me all together! Your attitude is what’s irritating the most!” He exploded.
I grabbed the collar of his shirt and raised him. Infuriated I roared, “I never asked to babysit some pathetic child! All you’ve done is been a thorn in my side since the beginning. I could be halfway through the mountains if it wasn’t for you!”
My blood boiled angrily as he grabbed my arm. “Yeah I know that! But don’t you think I’ve tried my best to help you! All I’ve done is do what you say, but that still isn’t enough for you. I’m still treated like a pest!”
I gritted my teeth and felt my body pump with boiling blood. Angry wasn’t the word I’d describe in that moment. Something beyond that… “you little-“
“Your only angry because I’m right!”
In a fit of rage I pulled him close to my face and growled, “how dare you try and tell me how to act and live my life. How can you, a little kid, understand what I’ve been through!”
I threw him with all my anger, frustration, and stress across the floor. He landed with a thud on his back. The rake and shovel stirred and the glass porcelain dolls rattled. I heaved as if out of breath. My boiling blood simmered down and eventually settled. Realizing what I had done I looked away. Even though I try and run away I’m still just like him. Sadness washed over me.
Silence filled the shed. Neither of us wanted to say anything. I wanted to say something; take back my words. Prove to myself that I had changed, but some little part of me still was bitter and refused to force out the words. Say something! I screamed to myself. A huge stone entered my throat rendering me silent.
Out of the corner of my eye Ryu slowly got to his feet and walked to the door. Without another word he left the shed and closed the door softly behind him. My eyes began to burn as tears formed. I gasped as if out of air. “I-I’m sorry,” I sobbed.
The tears spilled out. You always push people away and it’s your own fault I told myself. I pulled up my knees and hid my head.
It had been a long time since I’d cried. Every tear felt hot against my skin. “I’m sorry Ryu…”
I hadn’t talked to Ryu the rest of the day. When we passed by each other we looked away. Making the situation very awkward for both of us.
Night fell upon the town. People returned to their homes and stores closed for the night. The burly women Okita stepped outside with me. She inhaled and then exhaled our the smoke. I put my sword against my shoulder and stared at the sky. “Jeez even at night it can be stifling hot,” She grumbled.
I didn’t respond. “Does he mean anything to you?” She blurted.
“What an odd question,” I sighed.
“Not really,” corrected Okita.
I could tell that I wasn’t getting away from this conversation. What was with everybody today? Reluctantly I replied, “we’re not family if that’s what your asking.”
“That’s not what I meant,” She grumbled.
Jeez why was everyone all in my business today. Usually I would have snapped at her. Yet Ryu’s words returned to my head. “It’s not like he’s my friend just someone to keep at my side,” I answered.
Wow that sounded really bad I thought. I already knew what she was thinking. “I know I’m an awful person,” I muttered.
Okita blew out more smoke before answering, “I don’t think that.”
“Even if you did I wouldn’t care,” I muttered before standing up.
Okita didn’t respond. I stretched and kept my eyes peeled. When I did a job I did it right. Even if the robbers never came. “Ming Kai Chang,” whispered Okita.
I felt my blood freeze. My neck hairs raised in fear. Heart pounding against my rib cage; blood pumping. I gripped my sword even harder. “How long have you known?” I asked.
I can still win this. If I just injure her enough I can get away. “I won’t tell, I’m not like that,” Okita added.
I looked back at her. She didn’t look threatening or aggressive. Truly a frightening women. Okita blew out more smoke that caught in my face.
My eyes started tearing up and my nose stinging. I swiped away the smoke. “Even though Ryu is just a companion for now he deserves to know who you really are. And let him decide for himself if he wants to stay by your side,” she explained.
A lump formed in my throat. I couldn’t speak to her. I didn’t want you to see this side of me I thought. “I don’t want his view of me to be poisoned,” I whispered.
Okita smirked in laughter almost, “Have you seen the way he looks at you. Your like his savior,” she laughed.
Surprised at the comment I looked back on our journey so far together. Nothing in particular stood out. I was so lost in thought that I didn’t even realize Okita had walked up to me. She placed her hand on my shoulder, “go and talk to him,” she insisted.
The warm feeling in my chest reappeared. A thought that I’d never thought before plopped into my mind a mother. Okita’s warm smile and reassuring eyes calmed me. “Okay,”
Suddenly I was on high alert. I sensed it before I heard it. It sounded like it was coming from behind the store. I zipped into the store and dashed to the back.
My heart started racing. It’s been a long time since I’d fought or confronted someone head on. I drew my sword with the sheath still on. I must have made a humongous ruckus because I could hear the retreating. They don’t want a confrontation. So their a thief but not a fighter I calculated.
As I entered the back I caught sight of the foot of the thief running out the back door. I didn’t wait to check to see if they’d stolen anything.
Using all my strength I pursued the thief. “Stop!” I roared.
I could clearly see them now. It was a man and he didn’t look armed. I pumped my arms and followed close behind. The man looked back his eyes filled with worry. His eyes caught sight of my sword and he sprinted.
The man zipped through the buildings with me close behind him. My sides began to ache getting a little rusty. My body was never made for endurance. I lifted my sword and angled at to the side. Tensing my muscles and putting all my weight into my legs and hips. I flung my arm straight forward throwing the sword like a boomerang. The sword slammed into the back of his neck making him fall to the ground. “Don’t move!” I ordered.
I jumped onto him and twisted his arm onto his back. He struggled to squirm out of my grip. “Unless you want a dislocated shoulder you should keep still,” I warned.
“I didn’t steal anything!” He snarled.
“Ming!?” Called Okita.
I didn’t keep my eyes off the thief. He’ll take any chance to run away. “Over here!” I called.
“I told you I didn’t steal anything!” He howled.
I pulled his arm up his back. He howled in pain and again tried to escape. “Ming!? Are you okay!” Cried Ryu.
For some reason I was surprised to hear his voice call out for me. I looked over my shoulder. Ryu was running close behind Okita a huge rake in his hands. “Yeah I’m-“ as I turned back to the man my face clashed with his elbow.
I fell back onto my side clutching my face. The man staggered to his feet and attempted to run off. Extending my leg out I swiped his legs out from under him. Losing his balance he fell onto his side with a thud.
Warm blood flowed from my nose. Ryu stepped in front of me and pointed the huge rake at the man. “Ming you okay?” He asked.
I spit the blood out of my mouth and choked out, “Yes.”
Okita kept her foot on the thief. “Don’t try it! Unless you want a rake to the face!” She warned.
The man grabbed his side and didn’t dare to get up. Okita slammed her foot down onto his back for good measure. “Help Ming,” she ordered.
Ryu hesitantly put down the rake and knelt down beside me. Well I didn’t think I’d have to apologize like this. Ryu tilted my head back for me which only made it worse since the blood was now falling down my throat. I’ll wait til after I decided. That was before I realized we both were staying silent.
Ryu kept his eyes off me only making the situation worse. I already knew Okita was waiting for me to say it. “Ah what the heck,” i gargled the blood and then spit it out.
I wiped my nose and sat up. Ryu lifted his eyes to me and waited. His puppy eyes almost taunting me. You stubborn little brat! I wanted to tell. Instead I replied, “I’m sorry Ryu. I well I just get kind of mad easily that’s all,” I stuttered.
I glanced at Okita. A look of disappointment crossed her face. I’m trying! I screamed silently. Putting aside my stubbornness I pulled Ryu into a hug. “Even though you irritate the heck out of me I’m glad your with me. You really are helpful and I’m truly grateful to you…”
I felt like there was more I needed to say. Something that would tug at someone’s heartstrings. Desperately I struggled to find the words. “What I said was really mean and I shouldn’t have thrown you. And even though you irritate me it’s not the same without you,” I finished.
Ryu gave a heavy sigh before mumbling, “wow you’re really bad at this.”
Flustered, I stuttered, “I… I just poured my heart out and you-”
Suddenly Ryu squeezes me tighter. I stopped talking and relax. This is where I hug him right? I wondered. I’d never had someone hug me so I wouldn’t know. I slowly wrapped my arms around him and squeeze him tightly. “Apology accepted,” he replied.
“Get off me!” Roared the thief.
I had totally forgotten that we still had the thief in our possession. Okita was now sitting on him a playful smile on her face. If it hadn’t have been so outrageous looking I would have laughed. Ryu pulled away and grabbed his rake again. “We’ll keep guard you go get the shinsengumi,” I suggested.
Okita nodded and got up. Ryu and I tied the thief with a rope and placed him against the back of a store. As Okita passed me she handed me a bag. “Take care,” she whispered.
I gave her a grateful smile. “Thank you,” I replied.
Once Okita was out of sight I grabbed Ryu’s hand. He swirled around and seemed surprised. “We have to leave,” I told him.
Puzzled he turned to the thief, “we can’t just leave him here! And what about Okita?”
I showed him the bag and rattled it around. The sound of rugal rang in my ears. “We’re all set and as for him….”
I grabbed the rake from his hands and tied it to the end of the rope. The rake stood upright with the rope around it. “If he moves the rake will come down and he’ll have a bad cut,” I put lightly.
Petrified the thief froze in his place. He didn’t take his eyes off the rake. Once again I grabbed Ryu’s hand. “Let’s go,”
This time Ryu understood and followed me as we ran off to hide until the morning.
The next morning we bought ourselves some rope and extra food along with a beautiful black horse. Ryu and I had been arguing for the past ten minutes on what we wanted to call her. “It only makes sense that her name is Night,” I remarked.
“I’m pretty sure everyone names a black horse that,” added Ryu.
The shop owner sighed, “Are you going to take the saddle or not.”
“Oh yes,” I replied and handed him three more rugal.
The owner walked to the back of his store and brought over a brown saddle. I rubbed my hand against it. “Perfect,” I replied.
I picked up the saddle and set it next to the black horse. “What about Star?” Tried Ryu.
“That’s basically the same thing as Night,” I retorted.
“No look she has a white star on her face,” he objected.
I walked over to the front of the horse. She whinnied and stomped the ground. The white mark on her head did look like a Star.
“Please Ming,” he begged.
He put on his puppy face. I rolled my eyes, “nice try. Whatever I didn’t really care anyway.”
Ryu beamed and petted Star’s chest. Star neighed and bounced her head up and down. I patted her shoulder blade. “Hey girl,” I whispered.
It’s been so long since I’ve rode a horse I thought. I grabbed the saddle and put it on her back. Carefully I tightened the belt on her stomach. “I’ve never ridden a horse,” admitted Ryu.
“Yeah you told me that already,” I reminded.
He didn’t seem to hear me. I’d never heard him so excited before. “First you got to get to know the horse before we can ride her,” I explain.
“Can we keep her even after going through the mountains,” he asked.
“Of course,” I replied.
I started putting on the bridle. Star seemed to understand and graciously opened her mouth. The metal piece fit into her mouth perfectly. Ryu continued to pet her. His small hands grazed her black coat. In a small voice he whispered and talked to her. It was actually starting to get annoying. I kept my mouth shut though. It was important for him to have a bond with Star.
I put the bridle over her head and secured it. I patted her muscular neck and said, “ready to ride her.”
Ryu nodded. He ran to the saddle and tried to lift himself up. Unfortunately his arms weren’t long enough to actually reach the saddle. “Wait I can do it!” He assured.
He bounced a little before leaping up. Which only ended up having him on the ground. Without asking I grabbed his arms and raised him up high. He threw over his leg and sat on her. A look of panic crossed his face. “Wait! Woah!”
A hearty laugh escaped my throat. “Looks high up huh?”
Ryu gripped the bridle; trying to balance himself. “Hold on,” I warned.
Ryu held onto Star for dear life as I hopped on. I forgot how uncomfortable it could be sometimes on a horse. I wrapped my arms around Ryu and grabbed the reins. “Lean into me or else I can’t see the reigns,” I explained.
Hesitantly Ryu let go and leaned into me. “You can grab the knob if you want,” I added.
“I’m fine,” he snapped.
I kicked at Stars side. Star neighed and dashed. Ryu cried out in surprise almost falling off. His hands wrapped around Stars neck as she ran at breakneck speed. “Stop!” He ordered.
I clicked my tongue and slowly pulled back the reins. Star halted and shook her mane. Ryu’s body was shaking from the surprise. “What was that again about you being fine?” I Questioned.
“You’ve proved your point,” he muttered.
“Because I’m always right,” I add.
“In your dreams,” snarled Ryu.
This time he took my advice and held the knob. I clicked my tongue again and lightly kicked Star. She lifted her head and started walking down the street.
The people around us pointed and gushed over Star. I felt myself smirk a little. It felt nice for people to notice. My thoughts turned to Okita which then turned to our conversation that night. He needs to know. I felt my hands tighten on the reins. Not yet maybe when we’re in the mountains I told myself. Yet the unease didn’t disappear as we made our way out of the town.
. . .
Moa looked down at the old campfire. It had been at least a week since it had been put out. “She’s long gone,” muttered Kai.
Siung knelt down and touched the ashes. His snuffed his fingers and sat down. Moa looked around the once campsite. The little tent that she’d made had fallen from the rain storm two days ago. “With the rain storm it will be almost impossible to track her with the dogs,” admitted Kai.
Moa looked up at the sky. A perfectly clear day. The sight of the mountains made him start to think.
“No, she hasn’t gotten into the mountains yet.”
Siung blinked, “how do you know?”
Moa pointed to the mountains. “From what we gather she’s out of food and she had no supplies.”
Kai started to piece it together, “since she was under the same training as us she probably only ate two pieces of bread and water along with a fruit.”
“Probably caught fish from that river over there,” added Siung.
Moa started calculating in his head. Considering her mind set she wouldn’t have gone into the mountains without supplies. “There must be a town nearby,” concludes Moa.
Kai stretches his arms and started making his way to his horse. “This may be our only chance to catch up to her,” he reminded.
Siung sauntered up to his horse and jumped on. Moa hesitated to get on his. A feeling of guilt washed over him. I’m sorry Ming, but you brought this upon yourself. The image of Ming reappeared in his mind.
Her long black hair and sharp eyes. Not in the slightest pretty, but somewhat charming. Memories started coursing through his mind. He gripped his sword almost as if speaking to it. Moa jumped onto his horse and started heading east. Siung and Kai followed close behind.
His black hair was drenched with sweat along with his robe. He wiped his head and grabbed his straw hat from his back. Putting it over his head to hide from the sun. Not one of them said anything about it though. Quiet as could be they all rode deeper into the forest.
Moa felt his eyes grow heavy. He hadn’t been sleeping well from the last few nights. Those nightmares kept returning. He could already see it coming to pass. Despite the heat Moa felt goosebumps rise from his arms. Deep within him he wanted to make her pay for what she did, yet somewhere inside him he was silently praying that they wouldn’t find her. “There smoke!” Called Kai.
He looked up to see smoke coming from the forest. His heart was hardened as he thought about Ming again. She has to be stopped. What she did was unforgivable. He slapped the reins on his horse. The horse neighed and galloped through the forest.
Deep within him he felt his compassion fade. I must fight for my honor as a samurai. No matter what he would catch Ming and kill her.