Humidity hung in the air as morning rose through the clear blue sky scattering clouds rolling by with a turtle-paced wind from the beyond the south. Insects of the land droned on in the back of every nearby ear, with birds gathering cawing upon their perches in the trees. Above the valley way, two figures walked between rolling farmland intermixed with farmers, work animals, and puddled paddy fields. Graveled paths broke in-between them with stagnant stenches rising upwards from stale potholes filled with old rain. In their fields, farmers painstakingly planted stalks of rice while their work animals laid in shade nearby.
Along the western edges of the paddies, the surrounding dense deep forest was reaching out over the wide interbasin ditches that lined their edges. Built up with cast-off stone, moss, and horsetail weeds it carried the waters to and from the fields. Across the ditches, nearest the forest, the land cracked with fragments of green foliage that sprouted and withered. Bark along the treeline aged and pealed with a white hue from which a pale fog seeped before dipping into the ditch and vanishing. In amongst the tree's and underbrush large black stone pillars overgrown in vines protruded forth at equal distant points, carved ruins worn by passing era's lined their four sides with the barely legible words:
The first figure, a gangly one walked the edge of the dirt graveled path skipping and jumping over the puddles. Purple hair ran the length to their ears, with fair skin a pair of bush eyebrows dance on a wide forehead. Grey eyes darted about the scenery before being framed in a slender boxed face that gave way to a blunted chin set atop a short slender neck. With shoulders stretched out wide enough giving way to an unremarkable frame, adorned in a light blue-grey sleeveless top marked with a strange design. Long arms swung back and forth like pendulums, a boxy waist held a folded down yukata jacket of patchworked colors and an overburden satchel with a lopsided wrap tied under it bobbed against the hips. Moved along by sturdy legs covered in slim black pants that ended with a pair of flat-footed bare feet covered in grime.
Ahead of the first the second figure, tall in stature slightly slouching walked in wide slow paces. Black barely curled hair fell to shoulder length clinging to the face and neck. A pale yellow complexion broke apart by narrow slitted eyes, the left of which bore a deep scar running vertically from forehead to cheek cutting one of their two fine brows. Light facial hair clung to the chin and upper lip framed by a slender long face. Under which a strong neck held by wide rounded shoulders and a slightly muscular frame to match, with which a sleeved dark green tunic embroidered at the edges in black celt knots covered. On the back rested a lacquered box with faded carvings, underneath it a rolled up blanket and jacket secured with leather belts. The left wrist was covered with several woven bands dyed in various colors some with shells or stones woven in them. Long legs were slightly bow bent with a pair of brown loose pants ending at the ankles with corded woven sandals adorning their feet.
The road before them was winding between peeking hills and flat fields, as they rounded a small hill a bell corded in the lower valley ringing six times before it drifting beyond. Stopping the shorter one turned back to look, than wondering to the edge of a paddy field raising arms up stretching to the sky and taking a deep breath. Bending down and hunching over their eyes scanning the flooded field before them. With a small stick found nearby, they began swirling the water's edge.
Small sprigs sprouted slightly above the clear water beyond them, muddy soil underneath gave way to small teaming schools of tadpoles that swarmed around frantically, water fleas dipped and dived on the surface with dragonflies gliding just above the mirror-like surface with distant cicadas chorusing nearby.
In the blink of an eye, one dragonfly went missing, following the direction there on the sidelines in the tall grasses, bumpy with a green-grey texture blended into its surroundings save for the red speckled colors of its eyes.
"Toadie!" the voice called out with a slight cracking.
A smile formed, as they leaned forward, hands on knees perched still, slightly squirming.
The amphibian looked up to the sound as it crunched its meal a wing caught in the corner of its mouth, giving some pause it opened wider swallowing whole the remainder of its snack.
"Can I carry you?" They called extending a hand.
The two stared at one another, a brief wind rolled by rustling the grass causing a small frog to jump from the sidelines into the paddy field and dart away.
"Ayumi" The voice softly carried clearly in the air.
Turning to look up Ayumi noting the other, now looking back to themselves, was a fair distance away.
Ayumi stood up taking one step, stopping and stepping back, underfoot sat the toad about head-sized looking up. Bending down and gently scooping up the bundle, they began jogging to the other who had begun walking again.
Approaching the other at a quick pace and slowing to match pace they held out the toad.
"Beautiful, right Hakk!?"
From cheek to cheek a smile beamed with slight dimples forming on either side.
The toad stared at the other, tongue slightly hanging out, and Hakk back at it, raising an eyebrow and giving a slight nod.
"If you say so."
The three continued at pace with one another as the road passed by large trees shading work animals and fields. Ayumi eyed the animals as they walked by, most napping or nibbling on the grass near them, giving each a slight wave.
"Any place you'd like to be taken?" Ayumi turned the toad to face themselves.
The toad replied in low guttural croaks for a few moments with Ayumi locking eyes with it than looking around before stopping their gaze at a distant pond covered in large lily pads
"Okay." Ayumi nodded. "May I pet ?"
The toad replied with a single shallow croak and Ayumi began to pet the toad from between its eyes to the top of its head and to its back.
"I wish I could take you with me."
The toad croaked solemnly.
Approaching the forked road with the lily pond Ayumi kneeled setting down the toad, hopping out of hands reach it paused turning back. Ayumi waved a short goodbye with the toad hopping into the reeds and disappeared beyond sight.
Hakk continued to walk down the left path of the fork, narrowly it funneled to nothing more than game trails. Ayumi winded her way through the ever-increasing tall grass before stopping behind Hakk.
The two stood before a grove of bamboo engulfed by multitudes of trees. Ayumi looked up and around the stone obelisk marked a few points along the outskirts of the forest with one standing right before them. Above the forests rose a large mountain-like hill buried in a thinly veiled fog, around it a wave of warm air radiated from it
Hakk turned around.
"Eyes open, ears listening, and follow me."