Amaya bounded through the fields of Japan, a familiar tug between earth and human guiding her along.
She could feel the roots that connected her to the lush green lands attached to her ankles, they grounded her.
The morning sun had just risen over the peak of Mt Haku, casting a blissful glow across the fields of Ishikawa. The autumn wind blew through her silky ink-black hair, her harsh piercing gaze set on a particular rabbit up ahead.
“Damn it,” she whispered to herself, “Damn it, stay still you stupid thing.”
Bamboo stick in hand, she halted, watching her prey a few metres back.
It hopped along merrily, its fluffy tail bobbing up and down as it did so.
The sheer ‘cuteness’ of the thing almost made her sick. How could anyone find something with such beady eyes and weird back legs adorable? The only thing Amaya admired about it was the amount of meat it beared, for this little friend was going to join them at dinner tonight. In a stew to be exact.
She approached it slowly, staring at it with hatred.
She raised her stick…
Only for it’s eyes to bulge at the last second and for it to run away almost immediately.
“No!” Amaya shouted, throwing the stick to the ground in a small fit of anger.
She threw her head back and groaned before plopping herself down onto the grass.
“You win you little jerk!” She called after it, watching the small creature bound off across the fields.
Amaya sighed and once again stood up and collected her stick. She was being ridiculous. Throwing a fit over a rabbit was absolutely stupid.
She took a quick glance at her surroundings, taking in the fresh air in deep breaths. Everything was so still and calm, so empty…
Maybe she could utilise the fact that she was alone to her advantage. No one could see her out here.
So with that Amaya gave a small smirk before casting a few clean punches into the air. Feeling a small spark of thrill bite at her skin.
She backed it up with a few kicks. It made her feel somewhat…powerful.
Practising martial arts in secret wasn't all that abnormal for Amaya Katsu. In fact, it was almost like a daily routine, for if anyone in her family found out… She'd be more than screwed.
She then threw her stick in the air and launched up after it, flipping sideways, and twirling above the ground.
In Amaya’s mind, the world slowed, her hair twisted around her face in slow motion and the spinning pole above her slowed too. She took a quick sharp breath and time returned to its alarmingly quick pace. But even so, Amaya once again landed on both her two feet, perfectly stable on the grass, gravity rooting her down to the earth.
She raised one arm above her head and caught the stick as it too felt gravity’s familiar tug and fell into her palm.
It really did make her feel powerful.
However, her peaceful state was then interrupted by the voice of a small girl, “Amaya?”
Amaya jumped and turned around to face her cousin who was standing promptly behind her, a small look of worry detectable across her face, “Yes, Mei?”.
“Baba wants to see you”.
She swallowed hard. Well crap.
Lanterns lit the room, omitting a soft yellow glow that illuminated the small, low-to-the-ground wooden table. Amaya was kneeling on a reed mat facing her grandma, who certainly didn’t look at all happy.
“I told you not to go out in the fields anymore, Amaya,” she said sternly.
“I was only hunting for a rabbit,” she fibbed.
“Don't even try to lie! Your cousin Kohaku told me everything.” Her grandma said coldly.
Amaya sighed. Damn it, she could kill that boy. But she had to admit it, there was no getting out of this one, “I was only practising a bit”.
“A bit or for hours I don't care, I told you not to! You know your place in this family Amaya so I suggest you don’t continue to break tradition for your own hobbies.”
Amaya’s grandma got up slowly, grabbing her cane to help herself off the floor.
“It's more than a hobby Baba!” Amaya said, a little louder than she had expected.
“Then what is it? Because you are certainly not going to make a life out of it.”
“I- I could. I could be an Onna-musha,” Amaya retorted quickly.
Her grandma scoffed, “A warrior is a man's job, no girl like you could do it.”
“Then who will inherit the katana?” Amaya argued, “if it's not my Dad’s anymore then who will have it?”.
“Certainly not you,” she said before exiting the room, leaving Amaya at the table, alone.
Or so she thought.
“Who knows?” a voice called from beside her, “maybe I will inherit the katana. I'm the only one worthy of it.”
“Shut up Kohaku, you don’t know the first thing about using it,” Amaya scoffed.
Kohaku joined Amaya at the table, he had the same ebony black dead straight hair, sharp gaze and porcelain skin thats cold tone broke the warm light surrounding the two.
“You know what Amaya? If you’re so interested in the sword then why don’t you take it? You’ve caused enough trouble already…”, he joked.
Amaya’s eyebrows narrowed as she considered this.
“Maybe I will…”.
That night Amaya couldn’t sleep, thoughts clouded her head like the swirling fog surrounding the base of Mount Haku. They swivelled in and out of her attention, not leaving her any time to solve each problem before the next one came to mind.
However, the one question that did interest her was what her cousin had said the previous night. If you’re so interested in the sword why don’t you take it? He was right, stealing her family’s most prized possession would only be one more incident added to her long list of mistakes that had grown and grown over the years. From simply practising martial arts to when she had tried to run away into the forests surrounding their small home.
Amaya remembered that day clearly. She had run into her room in tears after having her jade necklace taken from her, her most prized possession, a gift from her father before he disappeared into the forest when she was five. He had simply vanished into the bush, everyone had looked for weeks only to find a smear of blood on an old oak tree.
Perhaps that was why she had wanted to do the same. Maybe she wanted to find him, even though the evidence was piled against her.
But Amaya knew this wasn’t the true reason, she had just used it as a white lie when her family had questioned her about why she had run away. Of course, the real reason was her wish to disappear, just like her father did. Turn to mist, evaporate, simply disappear into the shadows. No rules, no expectations and certainly no Baba. Her life would be hers to make, her future lying in the palms of her hands.
Amaya stared out her bedroom window, the night sky was pitch black and the stars shimmered like speckled white paint across a black canvas. It was quite beautiful, the galaxy stretching over the fields.
Below this spectacle, however, was the forest. That same forest that had consumed her father, allowed him to disappear without a trace. An eerie mist clung to the trunks of the trees, blocking the view of the path that led deeper and deeper into the darkest depths of nature, all light blocked by the canopy.
Amaya just shivered when she imagined what might have happened to her if she hadn’t turned back that night, if she hadn’t lost her courage and ran back towards the faint lights of home. Maybe she too would have been eaten by the forest and joined her father in the cemetery that was the leaf-covered track that wound in between the trees.
Amaya sighed and shifted in her bed. This world was a cruel one, especially to her. Her life here in Japan wasn’t exactly perfect. But it wasn’t terrible, and Amaya knew better than to complain about her Baba and her restrictions when there were others around the world without family or a home.
But was this the life she wanted to lead? To be forced to abide by her Baba’s rules and give up her love for martial arts? She didn’t like thinking about what she would be like in twenty years' time if she didn’t try to change her destiny. If she didn’t try to prove her point. She was capable of being an onna-musha, it was just her Baba who didn’t see it.
But then a rustling sound echoed from outside. She sat up sharply and swivelled around to face the window. It was open, and a cool breeze was sweeping in, brushing gently against her skin. It tickled her cheeks and sent tingles down her spine. It wasn’t comforting at all. Something about the feeling of the unknown was so terrifying to her, Amaya was used to, and most comfortable, when she knew her surroundings and what may be lurking in the shadows.
Then yet another noise came from the kitchen. A slight pinging noise, like tapping crystal with a spoon. Amaya’s curiosity and nerves were pushed even further and she quietly slipped out of her bed, feet gently hitting the wooden floorboards. She crept across her room, trying her best not to wake Mei, who was sleeping soundly in her bed.
The floorboards creaked under Amaya’s weight and she froze, staring at her cousin, hoping she hadn’t heard. But the small girl just let out a brief snort and then returned to her peaceful state of slumber. Amaya let out a sigh of relief before slipping through the slightly ajar door leading into the kitchen.
The room was dark, all the lanterns had been put out and all the furniture was engulfed in the shadows. Amaya held her arms out in front of her blindly, running her hands over the surfaces they touched.
Her foot caught on a loose floorboard and she stumbled slightly, letting a small yelp of shock escape her lips before righting herself and continuing. The floor looked like a mass of shadows, like she was walking on thin air above a bottomless black pit. The darkness was almost unnatural, but then a shimmer broke shadows, a white flicker of light.
Amaya squinted, straining her limited sight to realise that the sudden outburst of light was not a flash, but a reflection. For there, standing before her, was her family's katana.
The sword sat on a bamboo stand. Usually, it was tucked away in its scabbard, showing no sign of the silver blade. But now some of the shimmering metal was poking out slightly, someone had partially pulled it out.
Amaya’s eye was reflected in the iron as she knelt down before it, her look curious but confident. She lifted her hands up to it, wrapping her fingers around the sword. A small rush of power tingled through her mind as she lifted it off the stand.
She stood up slowly, the katana felt weightless in her palms, like invisible strings attached to the roof were holding it up.
Amaya took a deep breath and pulled the katana the full way out of its scabbard, a beam of light reflecting off the metal as she did so. She held it in the air, watching it in awe.
But then yet another rustling noise echoed from behind her, breaking the moment. Amaya’s instincts kicked in and she ran.
She wasn’t trying to be quiet anymore, her feet hitting the ground hard as she bolted back into her room. She slid the door shut as fast as she could, waking Mei with a start.
She threw the katana onto her bed and flung open the doors of her cupboard.
“Amaya is that-” Mei stuttered.
Amaya didn’t answer, she was too busy piling clothes into her arms.
“Amaya put it back!” Mei said, louder this time.
Amaya was already pulling on her crimson sleeveless top that looked like the top half of a kimono. Her matching red pants were already on as well. Her father had secretly gifted these clothes to her when she was younger after he had found out about her wishes to be a warrior. She most definitely had to take them wherever she was going.
“Amaya!” Mei said urgently.
But once again she wasn’t listening, she was now wrapping a dark navy blue obi around her waist.
“Amaya, you need to put it back! Baba will be so mad!”
“She’s already mad at me,” Amaya replied simply, buckling a belt attached with a scabbard around her waist, yet another present from her father.
“But…but…where are you going?” Mei asked, eyes starting to shimmer with tears.
Amaya picked up the katana, gripping the handle in her palm, before sliding it cleanly into the scabbard. She turned to face her terrified cousin and quickly knelt beside her.
“I don’t know,” she muttered, then added, “yet”.
Amaya then jumped to her feet and dashed to the window at the end of Mei’s bed. Then with a slight bow of her head, she slipped through the opening, her bare feet hitting the soft grass of the fields.
She heard her cousin call out, but Amaya ignored her and ran towards the woods, heart pounding in time with her heavy footsteps.
Soon she felt the familiar crunch of gravel underneath her feet that belonged to the path that led into the forest. A pool of darkness engulfed the last few metres of the land leading up to the eerie trees that lined the boundaries of the woods.
Amaya took one last breath before she disappeared into the shadows.
However almost immediately, the sudden realisation that she was most likely going to die kicked in and Amaya’s muscles tensed. Her heart skipped a beat, this didn’t feel right, none of it did. That familiar tug of gravity that guided her down to earth was gone, that familiar tug that was always there, before every attack, before every landing, jump or hit… was lost. The roots that connected her to the land had snapped… and the atmosphere seemed to shift.
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