Transient Life Ch 1

Chapter One

Change of Fate

This me is always alone…
Always looking at the doom…
Without anyone to rely on…
Please, someone, save this me…
This fate of mine is too much…
Please, someone, share this burden!

In a dark room around 6AM, a small object starts juddering, emitting light from its screen. It also plays an irritating ringing sound in a loop. It’s lying on top of a bed, right next to the person it’s supposed to wake up. The lioness extends her hand to brutally lacerate the object—or so she’d like to do, but she knows she won’t get a new phone if she breaks it. She decides to let the phone live, for now.

The girl sits up, a faint glimmer of light coming in through the gap under the door of her room. There is a window, but with the modern blackout curtains, the Sun is defeated, no light finds its way into the room to further provoke the beast.

Although she is awake now, her eyes are still closed. Her hair is totally messed up as if a bomb had exploded in front of her nose. No, she doesn’t have a hangover. Even if she was an adult, she wouldn’t drink, most likely. Who knows? As of now, she has a plan of never drinking so much that she’d face hangover.

Her name is Emily, and she is only twelve years old, but only physically. Sometimes even her parents are baffled by her character, for she (sometimes too often) behaves like a smart adult. At school, however, she is known as the lioness. She isn’t a rascal, even if she might sound like one at first. Rather, she is called a lioness for being so cold towards other students who aren’t part of her ‘group’, and those who are in her ‘group’ are ‘little sisters’. Metaphorically, she is the ‘big sister’ at the school.

No one dares to stand up to her. She stands up to no one, as long as no one picks a fight with her ‘little sisters’, also known as her best friends. Her grades aren’t top-notch, mainly because she already knows what profession she wants in the future, and that one doesn’t require too high grades.

After dressing up, she finally opens her eyes, having put everything on with eyes closed. She’s lived all her life in the same house, it’s only natural she can do it on daily basis without hitting her head or stumbling around.

As soon as she comes out of her room, Emily is reminded of her worst nightmare that has become reality; her family is moving. Almost everything has been packed, and what hasn’t been will be in a few hours. Her parents aren’t hoarders, so the house has always been relatively empty, yet comfortably garnished.

I prepared a breakfast for you,” her mother informs as she hurries past Emily, carrying things around.

Uh-huh,” Emily mutters.

Once in the kitchen, Emily picks her breakfast from a tabletop beside their fridge, a sandwich. She takes it to the dinner table. Her brains are still processing the start-up initiation, difficult as it is to wake up. Each and every morning is like that for her. However…

NO WAY I’M LEAVING THIS HOUSE!

Emily’s sudden outburst startles her mother, causing her to drop a box full of ceramic things. This is Emily, a girl who is absurd to the core. Even her mornings are different. For the fifteen minutes she spends starting up her central processing unit—her brains, that is—she accumulates thoughts and emotions, until she lets it all out upon activation. No, she isn’t a robot or anything. She is a human girl, and from Earth on top of that. No fantasy, no sci-fi, just a strange, ordinary girl, at least for now.

Emily! Because of you these ceramics are trash!”

No, it’s because of you that they’re in thousands of pieces. First of all, you know how I behave every morning, you could’ve predicted it, and secondly, what kind of a human lets go of a box full of fragile items because of a mere outburst of a child? Huh!?”

Verbally beaten, her mother retreats from the quarrel before it escalates to a degree where she’s completely cornered. She starts cleaning up the mess without a complaint.

Why!? Why must we move!? And somewhere as far as… whatever that place was!”

Because…” Her mother trails off, knowing that she is at fault. She promised Emily they’d live in that house until Emily’d move to her own apartment someday.

Promise means that you make a declaration of something that will happen in the future, but in this case, it was just a lie, a big fat disgusting lie.”

It can’t be help—”

Emily interrupts her mother. “Don’t make any excuses. I did some research, and I found out that you could have prevented the disaster, yet you didn’t, most likely because you thought it wouldn’t matter.”

Emily slams her fists against the table, standing up and darting into her room, not to lock up herself, but to fetch her backpack and leave. Her last day at the good old school of her hometown is about to begin. It’s a chaos inside her head.

Emily, wait!” Her mother shouts after her. “Look in a mirror before you go.”

Emily stops in her tracks, turning around. She can guess what awaits her in the mirror.

Sheesh.”

Her long, dark brown hair is a mess, and there is something on her face as well, maybe dark make-up? She can’t tell what it is, but she needs to fix her look, definitely. Her blue eyes have lost their enthusiasm that has been there almost every day. Unlike most girls of her age, she isn’t cute, and her face is oval and charming, mature.

***

Emily’s day at school is over in no time. She hasn’t said her goodbyes just yet. She’s walking with her friends, heading home. Compared to the other girls of her age, she is rather tall, roughly looking year older than her actual age.

When they part ways, Emily still refuses to say her goodbyes. She believes there is a way to stay, she just needs to find it. She is resourceful, it might be possible. Her friends, however, are saying their farewells.

On her way home, Emily is trying to come up with a scheme. Screw this! If only mom hadn’t messed up at work! Damn it! I’m not leaving this town no matter what!

Half past two in the afternoon, Emily is sneaking about, spying on her mom from a safe distance, hiding behind a thick berry bush. She will sabotage the moving somehow, force her parents to abort the mission. Her plan is to buy more time to think.

However, someone taps her right shoulder from behind.

In the fraction of a second, Emily has recognized the threat and darts forward—only to be seized by the hood. Nooo! Why did I pick a hoodie in the morning!? Whyy!?

The lioness is about to be tamed by the person holding her. Emily concludes that she can only try to slither out of her hoodie and escape that way. She tries just that, but the adult behind her is faster than that. He seizes her in an embrace, carrying her inside.

I knew you’d try something like this,” her father says.

Let me gooo!” Emily cries in vain.

We have to go and you know it.”

Nooo!”

Emily flails her legs and arms around, trying to hit her father so as to make him release her, but no matter how hard she lands her fierce strikes, the father of the lioness endures. The battle of iron skin and sharp claws comes to an end when the lioness is locked up in the family car.

Emily’s mother is holding the door shut on the other side, while her father stuffs her inside. There are two other men as well from a moving company. They are, in fact, helping with locking up the lioness inside the car.

Once the battle is over, Emily is sitting on the backseat, completely restrained. She can barely use her right arm freely. Her parents aren’t angry or anything. They deserve the hell the lioness is delivering onto them. Emily’s been a ‘good girl’ ever since her birth. They aren’t going to punish her for going ballistic because of the broken promise.

Her father is driving, mother sitting on the passenger seat. Emily is clenching her phone with the free hand, lamenting the fact that she never said goodbye to her friends. She believed in hope, thought she could stay somehow. All in vain.

The more she thinks about it, the more it stings her heart. When they have been on the road for a while, Emily starts weeping. She can’t bear it anymore. Strong person she might be, but in the end, she is just a child.

What’s wrong, Emily?” Her mother asks after checking on her. When Emily cries, something truly saddening must’ve happened.

…”

Silent treatment, huh?” Her father says.

You’ll get used to the new house in no time.”

Uh-huh,” Emily mumbles.

And new friends,” her father fills in.

Uh-huh.”

Emily has been looking out of the window on her right, but for some reason she now feels an urge to look straight. She can’t quite comprehend the feeling, but it’s as if she was sensing danger. Deciding to listen to her own instinct, Emily looks past her mother to see the road. There’s nothing there, absolutely nothing to worry about, and her father is driving properly. But despite that, her heart is racing out of… fear?

What has happened cannot be changed, Emily,” her mother reminds.

Emily ignores her completely. She’s eyeing the road with keen eyes, determined to find the source of her fear.

Are you even—” Her mother begins, but she never finishes the sentence. At that moment, Emily’s heart skips a beat as an obscure shadow jumps out of the tree line next to the road in the middle of nowhere. Her father can see it as well, but her mother, however, doesn’t have enough time to turn around. In order to dodge the thing, Emily’s father swerves the car.

The drivers of the moving van witness a horrifying car accident, right in front of them. They too saw the shadow leap out of the tree line, but that’s the least of their worries. They stop the engine and call for help immediately. The other man who isn’t on the phone sees if he can do anything to save the family. However, the sight of Emily’s mother who was in a really bad position before the crash is too much for him. She is most definitely dead. As for Emily and her father, they might be alive.

***

Where am I? It’s all so dark. I can hear faint echoes of other people, but I can’t see them. They’re talking hastily. Are they in a hurry? Why does it sound like there’d been an accident? They’re talking about two casualties and… and someone, a girl? A family got into an accident?

Wait…

Am I…?

Is this…?

Mom? Dad? Where are my parents!? Am I dead? Are they dead!? I… I can’t be d-dead, right?

Emily tries to open her eyes. She’s blinded by the bright light as soon as she does. There is a curtain in front of her. She can see silhouettes on the other side. In fact, the curtain is actually the one that’s used in surgeries. Her lower torso is on the other side of the curtain, surgeons working hard to save her life. She’s been brought into a hospital, apparently.

Emily can see a live surgery, performed on her own body.

Her pulse skyrockets, the machine on the side starting to let out the alarming noise. Her chest goes up and down at a rapid pace.

She’s awake!?”

What!?”

Impossible!”

Soon after, her consciousness fades away. She’ll never wake up again, not on Earth.

***

Suddenly, it’s gotten cold, even moist. Songs of birds can be heard.

Emily wakes up, sight of a clear sky the first thing she sees. She is no longer in the hospital, but somewhere where she shouldn’t be. It’s a forest of spruces, and those trees blot out the Sun everywhere except on the spot Emily is lying on, but it isn’t completely dark, as some rays of the Sun will always find a way through the branches. After a moment’s confusion, Emily remembers something really horrifying. She saw a live surgery being performed on her own body, which led to her inevitable death, and she feels like she is okay, like nothing had happened. She can move her arms, legs, and rest of her body like nothing had happened.

She panics and stands up to look around more carefully, her strong character crumbling. She prepared to be forgotten, and along with it, prepared for the void she’d be sent into. However, she never thought she’d see something so vivid in death.

She is clearly in a forest, but where exactly? There is only one way to find out. She starts to move around slowly, looking for anything that refers to civilization. She wants to find a proof of reality, of life. The trees around her aren’t enough, she wants to confirm it by any means necessary.

She doesn’t recognize the plants and mushrooms, but they don’t look strange either. It makes her think if she’s somehow gotten to the other side of the world. That’d be far more believable than afterlife. She keeps walking deeper into the forest, if she wasn’t already in the middle of it all. After walking for half a mile, she remembers that her parents might be dead. She’s confused, like any girl of her age should be.

What’s going on? Where am I!? Emily can’t help but question the very world. Her situation is hard to explain, maybe even impossible.

She falls to her knees just next to a spruce, weeping with a calm face. She begins to think of the world how cruel it is if death is like that. What if the forest is a paranormal maze you can’t get out of? What if there are monsters? And what about the dark shadow she saw leap from the trees? Are there more of them? Are they real?

Emily’s imagination has always been strong. She can easily imagine some creature so vividly she can make it appear in front of her. And because of the psychological impact, her mind is in disarray. Her own creatures of imagination start crawling around her, mumbling.

She knows they aren’t real, but even so, she’s still afraid. Everything is a mess in her head. She can’t even tell if she’s alive, dead, or dreaming. It’s all so confusing. Horrible ideas come to her mind, ideas like suicide. However, she isn’t going to try any of those.

She curls up, hoping that her imaginary monsters won’t see her or attack her. Among the hundreds of monsters her imagination creates, there’s only one that absolutely scares her the most. It’s a monster she’d created on her own during art periods. Face devoid of emotions, pure white skin, height over two meters, legs slender, arms extremely long, the thing has a mouth, a small one, but it bends and bends wider and wider until its prey can fit in. No teeth, only a maw that can swallow anything whole.

She hopes her imagination won’t reach her, the imagination that’d devour her. Am I cursed into this forest just so my mind can play with me!? Can I kill myself? After all, didn’t I just die? Can I just vanish? Can I? Please, go away! I want to disappear! I don’t want to exist in a place like this!

After hiding for half an hour to calm her mind, her imagination seems to retreat and fear departs her heart. Emily starts to feel slightly more encouraged to move.

A while after coming out of her hiding spot under a rock, she hears something horrifying, and real. Wolves howl somewhere nearby. Emily starts running as fast as she can. But why? What’s the point in living anymore? She keeps running anyway, solely because her instinct tells her to. Despite her efforts, the howling is getting closer. She tries to run up a ridge, then down the ridge, but the howls are closing in.

She jumps through a thicket, only to land face-first to the gravelly ground. She picks up a fallen branch, who knows if she can scare the wolves away with it? She clenches it hard as she resumes her flight.

When the howls are less than a few dozen yards away, Emily steps onto something that is slimy, making her slip. She tries to stand up fast, only to hear the howling so close that the wolves could be leaping at her in no time. She is becoming desperate and runs to noticeable larger spruce. Then, she gives up in front of the tree, dropping the branch. She closes her eyes, clenching her fists, all the anger focused on the world in which she exists. She can hear the wolves just a few yards away from her, growling behind.

When she thinks she’s ready to die in a world where she has probably already died once, someone places his or her hand on Emily’s shoulder, followed by a feminine voice that tells her to move aside. “If you do not move now, your death wish will be granted.”

Emily is taken by surprise. Before she takes a look at the person, she moves aside as the stranger has suggested. The person also pulls her further back, and to Emily’s surprise, the wolves leave her be. They seem to be afraid of her savior. They show respect and withdraw slowly, heads held low like they were in front of an incredibly strong matriarch, or a queen.

Emily takes a look at her savior, she is a young woman, maybe twenty five at best. She looks like an Asian in Emily’s eyes. Her hair is black and long, tied in a ponytail with a thick fringe in front of her right eye. Her clothing is somewhat surprising, for it looks like a dark and stylish clothing an adventurer might wear in a medieval movie. In Emily’s opinion, it looks better than her own hoodie and jeans combo. The woman has a hood around her neck which looks like a scarf. She is also carrying a backpack for supplies, a sword on her waist. More precisely, it’s a katana, not a sword. Katana is essentially a sword, devised in Japan. Its blunt side of the blade is softer than the sharpened edge which has been hardened. Overall, it’s a beautiful killing tool, the thin blade curved nicely.

In Emily’s eyes, the woman looks surely trustworthy and even interesting, but she looks like she hasn’t smiled recently. It makes her look scary if she was an enemy. She doesn’t look negative at all, more like mysterious. She is bound to have a secret or two.

Emily wonders why the wolves are retreating. “Why won’t they attack us? It doesn’t make any sense.”

The stranger replies. “They have their reasons.”

But, that’s a pack of wolves! They could tear us apart with ease.”

The woman answers with a single, succinct word. “Fear.”

Emily gives up and changes the subject to something more topical. “Nevermind. Can you tell me where I am?”

The woman is starting to think that Emily is playing around with her. “In a forest where you should not be. Go home lass.”

Emily retorts. “Of course I’m in a forest! But where exactly?”

The wolves are gone by now, and the woman starts to walk away. “Go back to your mother before the wolves return and make a feast out of you.”

Now Emily stays silent for a moment before she replies, horrified by the coldness of the woman. She can’t even tell if her family even exists anymore, and that woman is telling her to look for her mother who’s dead most likely. Emily starts catching up with her before she loses her, fearing that she’ll be left behind in this unknown forest.

But I don’t have parents anymore! They are gone! And I’m alone here with nowhere to go.”

The stranger stops in her tracks. From Emily’s perspective, she seems to have an inner conflict, like she wanted to help Emily yet she doesn’t. Could it be pride? Or does she want to be alone? Whatever it is, her savior is clearly troubled.

Fine. I’ll take you to the closest village and then you are on your own.” She sounds like she is having an uncomfortable moment.

Emily nods and decides to follow her. Who knows if she can find a way back to her parents from that village, if they are alive. A little later after walking for a moment, Emily’s curiosity wins over and she decides to ask a few questions. She needs to gather all the knowledge she can if she is to figure out what’s going on.

But before questions, she introduces herself properly. “I’m Emily by the way. What’s your name?”

The woman isn’t sure if she wants to answer, but she answers anyway. “Susu.”

Where did you get those clothes? They look very historical, even ancient, though well preserved.”

Ancient?” Susu’s brow twitches once. “I purchased this from a tailor only two years ago.”

Emily’s curiosity is sparkled further. “Then what about my clothes? Do they look strange?”

Never seen anything like that,” Susu states.

Aha, either I’m imagining this, or that woman—Susu, is a person from the past. Or if not that, then the third option is that this isn’t Earth.

They have less than an hour before they lose all the light. Emily can feel the last light of the day warming her skin. The forest is silent and there are no birds singing anymore.

They walk in a silence for what feels like an eon, but to Emily’s surprise, Susu is the one to break that silence later on.

If your parents are gone, then what about your other relatives?”

She decides to tell her that she doesn’t have any relatives at all since she isn’t even sure if it’s Earth she walks. “No, my relatives are… no more.” And she will never see them again. But I will never forget them, she makes up her mind. But telling the fact that she might be from another planet or timeline won’t be convincing at all, no matter how she looks at it.

Susu makes her final decision. “Fine. I will pay your night at the inn then. But you better find your own way to survive in this world after that. Or give me profitable information, and I’ll pay another night. Most likely, I’ll be gone soon after, unless you actually prove yourself useful.”

Emily nods at once and looks downcast. After all, she is separated from her parents and now she is supposed to survive in a harsh world. Emily is resourceful, however. She might survive for a month on her own. If she’s lucky, she might make it until winter.

The village should be close,” Susu believes.

Emily nods and wonders if the village looks historical. After walking for a moment she starts to hear noises coming from the direction they are heading to, and soon the village shows up just beyond a small hill. Just like Emily has guessed, the village looks historical. It isn’t big, Emily estimates the population to be from eighty to one hundred.

But that’s only the local population, as there seems to be much more people than the small village can offer shelter to. The road passing through the village is probably some main road merchants and travelers use a lot. If this is truly a historic setting, then all the goods are traded and transported on the road.

Buildings are made of timber and one can clearly see that there is mold in some of the buildings. It’s a historic setting after all. Looking at those buildings, Emily now understands why people got deadly diseases terrifyingly easily back in this kind of age. Of course, some of the newer buildings look clean, so it’s not that bad.

The street roads are just natural earth which has been trampled over time and the streets are dry, so there hasn’t been a rainy day recently. People also look surprisingly healthy and social, but not all of them, of course. Also, the culture here looks different to Susu’s, rather Northern than Eastern.

Strange, a Japanese-looking adventurer woman in a medieval celtic setting? Hmm… Susu might be an adventurer who has left her homeland long ago to see the world. I wonder if that alone is a reason good enough to abandon one’s homeland. She must’ve had a better reason. She doesn’t look like a flowery person who’d want to see the world. Rather, there is a hint of violence in her gaze.

When Susu and Emily have walked past several buildings, Emily notices that the village is more like a commune. People seem to know each other well and they also seem to know their places.

Soon enough they get to a big building made of logs, an inn. Once they are inside, Emily admires the interior. It’s a wide saloon with one wide desk and about a dozen tables, the guest rooms are upstairs, and the stairs are just before the front door. Dozens of customers are either drinking or eating, speaking or staying silent in the saloon. Emily has yet to see anything out of the norm, like fantasy creatures that’d confirm her suspicions.

Susu walks to the desk at once and reserves two rooms from the innkeeper. In the meanwhile, Emily just looks around and admires the historic environment. There are a few trophies on the walls to make the place look even better. Also, there is a hearth in the saloon, but it’s not lit at the moment. The day has been warm enough.

Susu interrupts Emily’s admiring soon and shows her where to find the rented rooms. Emily follows Susu willingly and they walk up the stairs they saw earlier. Once up on the second floor, a sight of a long and narrow corridor welcomes them. There are doors to different rooms on both sides of the corridor. Some oil lamps light the place.

The first room on the right is yours, mine is next. The Sun is setting, you can go sleep now or look around. If you do decide to look around and get lost, I won’t be looking for you. I have things to do tomorrow and I prefer to wake up early.” Her words bite at her with a cold touch.

Emily understands, but she needs to gather more knowledge of the place if she wants to survive on her own. Anyway, who’d get lost in this small town? Even Emily could find her way back to the inn. “Sure. I will go look around before I go sleep. I don’t feel so sleepy yet.” Also, she needs to calm her mind before sleep, lest she won’t be able to get any rest.

Susu doesn’t care and enters her own room.

After exiting the inn and walking around on the street for a while, Emily finds an interesting wooden statue. It resembles a huntsman who seems to have claws, fangs, and hairy body, almost like a Werewolf, except that the statue reminds her more of a human than a wolf. While she admires it, she gets pulled behind a corner by someone. Her mouth is covered by a stinky hand, and before she even knows it, she is put in a sack. Following that, she’s knocked unconscious.

***

A dozen of minutes later, Susu is sitting on her bed in her room. The bed is on the left side and a small table with a chair is on the right side of the room. And there is a window to the backyard at the end of the room, one that seriously needs some cleaning if someone is to see through it. Susu has a lamp lit and that is pretty much the only source of light she has since the Sun has set by now.

Susu has lived years upon years alone, and Emily is the first to travel with her in a long time, even if it was only for a mile. She was, in fact, told to look for a certain girl in the woods, then look after her. However, Susu didn’t and still doesn’t want to do that. Yet, for some reason, she ended up helping Emily. If not for him, Emily’d still be in the wilderness, all alone.

While she ponders over many things, someone slips a note into her room. Susu picks the note fast and opens the door to check who it was, but she can’t see anyone. Her room was close to the stairs, so the culprit either ran there or he’s in one of the rooms on the same floor. She closes the door and sits down on her bed.

She unfolds the note. In short, it reads that Emily’s been kidnapped by a group of unprofessional bandits. They are threatening to kill or sell her if Susu won’t buy her back. It’s usual in that age, the poor trying to find a way to survive. Be it immoral or not. In a way, Susu respects their tenacity, but she hates it when they are amateurs and keep making mistakes. And in this case, their mistake is that they’re threatening Susu.

She gets angry as she reads the note again and again. First of all, she doesn’t care about Emily, and second, she should be paying to get her free. A girl she doesn’t even know. Is that a joke?

Her own mistake. I told her that she is on her own. But she got captured though, not lost. Damn it! Well, if she dies at least she doesn’t seem to have any relatives who would cry after her. No, what am I thinking? Think if I was her. What if she hopes that I’d come and save her? She waits until the dawn and ‘knows’ that I’m coming, but then she gets killed or sold knowing that I didn’t come… what am I supposed to do? I don’t see any reason to risk my own life for the sake of one little girl who doesn’t seem to have any hope for the future. Precisely because of all this, I hate having company, it just brings trouble.

A silence takes over her mind and the room. Slowly, a smile spreads on her face, a smile that isn’t sane. Maybe… Just maybe I may finally create a Perfect Cherry Blossom.

Susu stands up like she was in hurry and leaves her room. She walks down the stairs and then out of the inn. When she gets out, she starts to walk towards a direction of an abandoned house. It’s not visible now, but she knows where it is. That is where the rascals are, or so it was mentioned on the note. It’s only a matter of time until she gets there.

Now that she thinks about it, there might be one intelligent person among the rascals. After all, someone did write the note, and writing is a skill not everyone can handle.

The streets are dark and quiet right now. Most of the people on the street look at Susu like she was a threat to them, but show no signs of aggression. Soon the old building shows up in front of her after walking past a few houses. The building is just like any other, except that it’s abandoned and older than the others.

Before going in, she reconsiders if she goes in and saves Emily. Nay, she isn’t going to do it because she wants to rescue Emily. She is after the sole thing she ever wants to achieve in her life. After reconsidering, she starts walking away, changing her mind.

***

In medieval era like the one Emily has found herself in, shampoo and other substances like that are either nonexistent, rare, or very expensive. And in the case of the bandits, it’s apparent. They’re constantly scratching their heads beacuse of lice. They also don’t look too smart. They may know how to survive in the wilderness, like building traps and ambushes, but that’s all there is to their knowledge. If they actually had the intelligence of a professional ranger, they’d know the risk they’ve taken. They couldn’t resist the prize, a healthy girl. They can get rich in a moment’s notice, if things go as they’ve planned.

Moneyyy!” One of the kidnappers is trying to sing in joy.

Shaddap! The weird-looking woman might come any moment.”

A third one speaks up. “Let’s just sell the girl to some noble. I doubt the woman has more money than the fat men.”

She just might have,” the poor singer reminds.

They’re all equipped with bronze swords, cheap as they are. But despite that, they’re still deadly tools.

What should we—”

The bandit is interrupted by a loud bang as the door is kicked in with force. A certain someone is making a grand entrance, smiling eerily as she enters the building, hand on the hilt of her weapon.

You got the money, eh?” Asks the man who was interrupted.

Shut it. I have none to spare for you.”

Then should we kill the girl?” One of the five bandits threatens.

Do I look like I care?” Susu asks them in turn.

For a few seconds, the bandits stare at her cold eyes. Shivers are running down their spines. There is no hint of worry in her gaze. She hasn’t come to get Emily back, she’s come for some other reason. At this point, the bandits finally realize that they just might’ve done a mistake.

There is only one thing I live for. Whether it’s a girl or boy, I don’t give a damn. I just want to see the Perfect Cherry Blossom, I standing as the tree.”

The bandits don’t know what’s a cherry tree, much less the thing Susu seeks. She draws her blade gracefully, pointing it at the bunch. The smooth surface reflects the little light there is in the room.

Run or die, I don’t care which.”

Shaddap, bi—”

Susu dashes towards the bandit, interrupting his cursing. Before the others can come to his aid, he’s been gutted on the spot, mutilated by the beautiful weapon that was known as katana on Earth. Susu’s right eye is hidden by the fringe, even in a fight. She doesn’t need both, not this time. She doesn’t have a blind eye or anything fancy either. Susu’s reasoning is that what is unnecessary is not to be used.

Kill her!” The leader figure shouts.

The bandits come at her all at once, no plans whatsoever in mind. They’re expecting they can kill her with just swinging their swords. Stupid they might be, but they do have experience backing their intuition. With the hair disrupting her view, strikes from multiple angles is bound to guarantee the kill.

The bronze blades are swung at her. However, they all miss their target. Susu jumps above the height of their heads, landing on top of a bulky one. The tip of the katana is stabbed into the bandit’s nape faster than any of the outlaws can comprehend. The blade tears through flesh and carves into the spine. To pull the sword out, Susu drops down from the dead man’s shoulders and pulls the katana with her, the whole weapon oscillating like a lever.

Susu isn’t unnaturally fast, she is merely at the peak strength and speed a human can achieve. After all, her daily life is all about survival. She has to be physically and mentally strong.

You…!” The leader figure attacks.

Susu performs yet another stunt. She slides towards the bandit, efficiently dodging the strike aimed at her torso. She follows up with a slash to cut the carotid artery. The head doesn’t fall off, but it is almost as good as loose. Right after standing up, she kicks the head with spinning heel style, sending it flying towards another bandit.

Two of them remain. They’re backing off, afraid they’ll meet the same end as their comrades. Susu’s weapon and some parts of her clothes are bloodied. Her ice-cold face conceals no remorse.

Susu…?” She can hear a weak girl’s voice behind her.

Susu turns around swiftly as if to defend herself from whoever’s behind her. However, the girl is no threat.

Emily?” Susu blurts in the middle of fight.

And then, at that moment when her back is facing the bandits, a blade of bronze is brought down at her. The bandit is aiming to split her head. Susu reads from Emily’s horrified face that there’s something behind her, and in that nick of time, she manages to twist her head enough to dodge the lethal strike—but the blade sinks into her flesh anyway.

Her right arm is severed from shoulder.

For a few seconds, Susu has a shocked face, until she starts crying loud out of pain. She writhes on the floor as the bandit watches her suffer, smile spreading on the man’s face. Emily is staring blankly at Susu, unable to think properly.

When Susu falls unconscious, the bandit raises his sword to stab Susu who’s bleeding out. And just as he starts bringing it down, he’s stunned by a newcomer, struck with tiger’s knee, a powerful melee combat move. If executed properly, it can damage organs.

The newcomer is armed well, armored like a knight. From the looks of it, he is a local guard. The last bandit standing wavers as the armored man charges at him. With a mere bronze sword, he can’t pierce the iron plates, and aiming at his joints is difficult.

The fight is over in a moment as the knight opens up the bandit’s torso with a well executed strike. He then goes back to the stunned, last living outlaw. He kills him as well.

I’m sorry I couldn’t save your mother,” the knight consoles Emily.

Emily shakes her head. “She wasn’t my mother,” she says that as she falls to her knees, her jeans drenched in Susu’s blood.

Susu is lying cold on the floor, eyes still open, eyes that have lost their vividness. Emily crawls closer to Susu, ignoring the fact that there’s blood and gore everywhere in the room. Her mind is shutting out all the excessive details that may damage her psychologically.

Why!? Why must you too die!?” Emily cries.

The tears aren’t flowing because she’s lost someone dear to her, but because she’s constantly left behind, alone. No matter who, one by one they are all stripped from her. Friends, family, strangers; she’s left with no one to rely on. Even a strong child can’t take it. And adding the fact that she is most likely in a whole new world, company of a reliable person is necessary for her survival and well-being in general. She thought she could tag along with Susu, but no, it’s not going to happen now.

Whether it’s a kind, caring person, or a cold-hearted killer like Susu, she doesn’t care as long as there is someone she can lean on.

Nada.

She has none, and she won’t have any at this rate. Whom will the world strip from her next? Only time will tell.

Why!? What have I done!? What’s wrong with this world!? What’s wrong with the whole damn universe!? Someone please, help me! I don’t want this fate!

Emily pounds Susu’s chest. Even she can’t tell why. Maybe she’s trying to make her heart beat again? If she did make it happen somehow, it wouldn’t change the fact that Susu’s bled dry.

I’ll go outside for a moment. I’ll help you bury her, if you let me.”

Emily doens’t say anything. She merely stares at Susu’s body with a blank face, tears streaming down, mixing with the blood as they fall.

Huh?” Susu’s severed arm has disappeared, and Emily is perplexed by that. She can’t see it anywhere.

Nay, she can, in fact, see it. Susu’s body has it, the right arm. Also, her eyes are now closed. Curious, Emily puts her finger under Susu’s nose. She can feel the air flow in and out as Susu breathes.

She lives? Emily tests her pulse from wrist. Her heart beats. She really lives? She starts shaking Susu, trying to wake her up. She’s alive!!! She’s alive!!!!!

After a while, Susu partly opens her eyes. She looks very tired. “Who…?” She manages to ask.

It’s me, Emily.”

Oh.” Susu attempts to sit up.

Are you okay?”

Ugh, I feel horrible.”

That’s a small price to pay for the miracle that happened.”

Susu seems to remember what happened to her arm. She uses her left hand to touch her right arm, just to confirm it. She doesn’t appear to have any idea about the miraculous recovery.

What did you do?” Susu demands.

Me? I didn’t do anything…?” Emily is perplexed. Why’d Susu suspect her? She isn’t a magician.

Then how am I alive? I’m pretty sure that I died.”

You did die.”

Uh-huh.” Susu stands up, only to collapse immediately. She hasn’t recovered completely just yet. “Damn, the whole world is spinning. Ugh, this is just like hangover.”

Don’t rush it. I don’t want to see you die again.”

Why do care? You see those corpses? I killed them. I’m a killer. A bounty hunter. This is my job.”

I don’t care as long as I can tag along.”

You don’t want to come with me.”

Why?”

I live on the road. Besides, I don’t really need you.” Although Susu is saying that, there is a certain someone who actually told her to look for a girl in the woods. She was also told to look after Emily.

Oh.” Emily slumps, losing hope.

However, I was told to look after you. That is why I found you in the first place. He promised I’d eventually need you, though I fail to see how you can be of help—that’s what I thought at first. Now that you have potentially done something miraculous, my interest is sparkled. Only one question remains; how can a little girl help me with my sole goal in life?”

And what might that be?” Emily asks.

Perfect Cherry Blossom.”

So you want to see a tree grow or what?”

It’s a metaphor for a… tradition of sort. In Northern Clan, it means massacre. Imagine the killer as the tree and the flowers as bloodied bodies. You’ll get the idea.”

Eh…” Emily is baffled. There’s a whole clan out there that has a tradition of creating a massacre?

You got it wrong, I gather,” Susu reads it from Emily’s face. “I’m talking about a battle. A single warrior is to take head-on an army and come out victorious with a pile of bodies behind. Of course I’m not planning on murdering a whole town or anything. There’s nothing noble in that. Cherry trees are noble, and so are the people of Northern Clan.”

So you’re from North? Where are we right now?”

This is North, but not the farthest corner where the Clan was.”

Was?”

The Clan doesn’t exist anymore. Only I survived the butcher. And as the last warrior of Northern Clan, I will stand as the Cherry Tree, Blossoming nobly.”

Right…” Emily is starting to grasp Susu’s character. To her, Susu is just a psychopath, a legal one. She even hunts outlaws. However, her inner desire is all about the massacre. There might be more to her, but so far those sides of her remain a mystery.

Susu tries to stand up again, this time succesful. “Aight, let’s get back to the inn. But before that, let’s visit the pond nearby. We can’t just walk in like this.”

Y-yeah, the blood…”

Hmm? Can’t stand the view?” Susu refers to the gore all over the room.

If the situation was different, I’d be horrified, but…”

I see. Let’s get out of here.”

As they exit the house, Emily looks around, wondering where the knight might’ve gone. “Strange, he promised to help me with—uh, let’s just go.”

Who?”

A knight killed the last two bandits. He’s gone, though.”

Oh, it was a local guard. I asked him to come with me. There was a bounty for the heads of those bandits, and I didn’t feel like carrying around some bloody heads as a proof. I’ll fetch my pay in the morning.”

So you didn’t come to save me, but to earn money?”

Susu doesn’t reply.

***

Back at the inn, instead of going to bed at once, Susu orders drinks of some sort for herself and Emily. They’re sitting next to a window, a candle lit on the table.

The aroma of the drink is pleasant. It’s tea, in fact. Emily isn’t really fond of tea, but anything’s fine. Both of them have their hairs wet, for they had to wash themselves thoroughly to get rid of the blood. Worse yet, their clothes are drenched. Neither of them have spare clothes. It is exactly because of that why Susu ordered warm drinks for both of them.

Drink it all. It’ll be a cold night otherwise,” Susu urges.

Emily nods. “I still prefer coffee or cocoa instead.”

Never heard of either. What are they?”

Coffee is a hot, bitter drink. Cocoa is sweet and is served cold or warm. But it’s not recommended to drink coffee when you’re about to go sleep. It keeps you awake.”

I’m certainly interested in coffee. Something like that’d help me stay focused during long hunts.”

Emily’s more than happy to tell about things Susu doesn’t know or understand. They chat for a while like that bloodbath from just a little while ago hadn’t happened at all.

By the time their chatting comes to an end, Emily has drunk her tea. Her eyes are wandering around the room, curious about the people of medieval age. Although there’s plenty of room at their table, no one dares to sit down beside Susu. She does look intimidating, but more than that, the locals know who she is: a bounty hunter.

A monk enters the inn. He looks just like any other. He looks old to Emily, but in truth, he is middle aged. He has an orange robe which covers everything except his head and hands. And unlike the people there, he is wearing sandals. He is also carrying a strong-looking staff. His face is wrinkly, cheeks are puffy, head is bald, and he appears to have eaten well.

Excuse me, but may I sit here?” The monk asks from Susu.

Susu turns to look at him. “Of course.”

The monk bows and sits at the table. He doesn’t seem to fear Susu at all. Does he know her? Are they acquainted?

Have you decided yet?” The monk asks.

I haven’t,” Susu answers.

About what?” Emily demands.

I told her to look after you, but it seems Susu has yet to make up her mind.”

You told her that? You know me?” Emily’s hopes are rising.

All I know about you is that you’re just a little girl in a vast, cruel world, all alone.”

Oh,” Emily slumps.

And of course, I know that you’re different.”

In what way?”

Only time will tell,” the monk says.

Aha. Wait, is this about the miracle that happened?” Emily recalls the horrible thing that happened earlier.

It’s related,” Susu answers.

Emily slams the table, causing a loud bang. “Can you please not look at me!? I didn’t do it! Ugh, this is messed up, I can’t make any sense out of my situation, and you aren’t helping me a bit.”

Speaking of which, how did you end up in the forest like that?” Susu asks, curious.

Neither of you would ever believe me. You might even call me crazy, so let’s not talk about that.”

Am I not crazy enough?” Susu smiles at Emily, her inner character surfacing. Emily is creeped out by the mad smile.

F-fine, I guess you win.”

Enough. We’ll discuss this in Seventh, if Susu is willing to take you with her,” the monk interrupts.

I’ll think about it. If I’m gone in the morning, it means that I won’t look after you, Emily. So, I guess I’m off to bed. I need to fetch the pay early in the morning before Emily can wake up.”

Before long, Emily and Susu have entered their respective rooms upstairs. Emily is undressing her wet clothes, placing them on top of the back rest of a chair. If she’s lucky, they’ll be dry in the morning. The bed isn’t as comfortable as a modern one. To Emily, it looks antique.

What will I do if Susu won’t help me out? Should I ask around if there is some place where I could work? I don’t know. I won’t survive in the wilderness, that’s for certain. Am I… going to be left behind again?

***

In the morning when she wakes up, Emily stands up as soon as she feels she can. She exits her room and looks at the door of Susu’s room for a moment which is probably empty by now. She then walks down the stairs, but stops halfway. There are people everywhere sitting, eating or drinking in the saloon.

Do you always sleep so long? Come on, we have to go soon if we want to reach Seventh before nightfall.”

Emily turns to look down from the stairs, right below her. A smile spreads on her face. Without saying a word, she rushes down there and leaps at Susu, hugging her. Feeling awkward, the bounty huntress scratches the back of her head.

Okay, you got your hug. Shall we go now?” Susu asks surprisingly gently, but still with a composed voice. Nay, it’s more like she was forcing the gentle part.

She’s a killer, after all.

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