Reads: 103

Sky, stirred to wakefulness by intuitive sense of something amiss, opened her eyes just enough to notice Bara seated on the pallet beside hers. “What are you doing?” she asked. “It’s still dark. Are you having trouble sleeping?”

“Hai…” Bara replied.

“What is it?” Sky asked while gently rubbing her eyes.

“I was awakened by a disturbing dream,” she replied as if deep in thought.

“A disturbing dream…” repeated Sky. “A nightmare?”

“Hai. I saw Asako,” she said as she turned to face Sky. “She warned me of approaching danger.”

“What kind of danger?” Sky asked as she rose to a seated position.

“Evil…” she said, “and darkness. Something that cannot touch her, so it intends to cause her to suffer by hurting those close to her.”

“Everyone close to her?”

“Not everyone,” Bara confirmed, “only those who helped defeat the shadows, especially Asuka.”

“But it was just a dream, wasn’t it?” Sora wondered.

“It was much more than that,” Bara said ominously, “it was a warning.”

 

Later that same day and many miles away from the Shrine of Autumn Mists...“It’s rather interesting,” mused Asuka, “how detached one can be from everything going on when gripped by grief.”

The peaceful atmosphere of the Jade Teahouse was abruptly shattered by a heavy fist slamming down on the surface of a table as a belligerent inebriated patron bellowed… “More sake!”

Their conversation interrupted, Asuka and her sister Mariko turned their heads in the direction of the chaotic outbreak.

“I want more sake!” the large man demanded, pushing the table away as he haphazardly stood up and raised a hand to strike the frightened young waitress.

In a blink, Asuka crossed the room and coming from behind, roundhouse kicked the brutish lout behind his right knee. His leg instantly buckled and he dropped, his knee striking the hard surface of the wood floor. He cried out in pain, then angrily lashed out with a tirade of curses before Asuka struck him with an elbow on the side of the head. Still conscious, he was dumbstruck for just a moment.

Mariko hurried to the side of the waitress and her father Toshiro was rushing to the scene as the drunken man attempted to stand.

“Who hit me?” he yelled as he straightened up.

“Please customer,” Toshiro implored, “You’ve had enough sake. Too much. I told the girl not to give you any more.”

“I’ll decide when I’ve had enough, old man!”

Asuka stepped between him and her father then, distracting him momentarily. He studied the diminutive girl a few seconds, then noting her black hakima pants and short, pageboy hair, sneered as he accused… “It was you wasn’t it? A little shrimp like you, hitting me from behind!”

She defiantly glared at him in silent response.

“What’s with that stare…?” he shouted, then became quiet as he noticed her eyes. They were dark, with a hint of blue, the result no doubt of her union with Asako. “Are you some kind of freak?” he taunted, as Toshiro, a big man himself, stepped forward. The drunk made a fist and swung at him, striking a glancing blow on the right side of his face as the innkeeper moved to avoid being hit. A left hand punch was double forearm blocked by Asuka, directly followed by an elbow thrust to the solar plexus, back fist to the temple and a side snap kick to his chest. The brute slid back a short distance before falling unconscious to the floor.

As he dropped limply to the wooden surface everyone in the room, including her father and sister stared in stunned disbelief as Asuka nonchalantly brushed off her hakima, went to the man’s table to retrieve his cup and walked toward the kitchen as though nothing had happened.

“Asuka chan…” Mariko intoned questionably.

 

Elsewhere, not far from the Jade Teahouse, a traveling merchant, Saburo Fujiwara, nonchalantly guided his wagon of wares toward the isolated town of Tsukimi. On the horizon there was the vague hint of a rising moon, almost transparent, as if viewed through a thin veil. Enchanted by the rare sight, Saburo sighed, just before speaking to his horses… “I’ve heard it said that from beautiful skies like this, angels descend from heaven.”

Deciding to pause briefly to better admire the sight and the natural arboreal beauty of his surroundings, he stopped the wagon, unaware of danger lurking nearby.

A short distance away on a wooded rise, concealed in a tree amid the rocks and foliage, an outlaw notched an arrow to his bowstring and took aim. Before he could release the barb a rock out of the blue forcefully struck his hand, causing him to drop the weapon as he grunted painfully. The guttural sound of his voice startled a flock of birds and sent them fluttering noisily through the leafy limbs of adjacent trees.

Saburo abruptly sat bolt upright. Attentively straining his ears, he patiently waited a few moments, listening for any sound or indication of a threat. Finally deciding all was well, he prompted the horses to move on.

Meanwhile, on the wooded hill, a petite girl in black with a sling in one hand arrived at the base of the tree just as the renegade archer was descending. Caught off guard at the sight of her, he paused as his feet touched the ground, just before bending down to retrieve his bow. Reacting quickly she took advantage of his momentary indecisiveness, springing forward as he attempted to notch an arrow. She tackled him successfully but they both went down, locked in a vicious struggle. Minutes later they managed to stand while fiercely grappling. Suddenly releasing his hold on her, the outlaw swung his arms wildly before sending a powerful punch toward her face.  His fist made contact with her forehead, causing her to stumble backward before losing balance. Already stunned before she fell, she went unconscious after striking her head on a large rock, after which she laid deathly still. bow and made a hasty retreat.  In so doing he noticed her horse tethered to a nearby tree. Considering the discovery a stroke of luck he took the animal and rode away in haste, before some passerby discovered his crime.

A few moments later and quite a distance from where he had been, a loud whistle sounded. Immediately the horse stopped and began to buck violently, until successfully flinging the thief from the saddle. He landed heavily on the ground, dazed from the impact but otherwise unharmed. As he shook his head and attempted to stand he saw a petite girl step onto the road about twenty feet from where he landed and the horse happily trotting toward her. In her hand she held a sling with a stone ready to strike.

“Impossible…” he exclaimed. “How can it be? I left you unconscious and lying on your back a kilometer from here.”

“One good turn deserves another…” she said with a hint of sarcasm.

“Wait…you’re dressed in white,” he declared. “You were wearing black…” then a thought fearfully occurred to him, “Did you die back there? Are you a ghost?"

Rather than give a verbal reply, she spun the sling and sent the stone flying, strategically striking his forehead and knocking him flat on his back.

 

A few hours later, when he regained consciousness he found himself bound by ropes and two identical girls observing him intently.

“He’s awake,” said the girl in black. “You win.”

He frantically blinked his eyes, looking incredulously first at one and then the other.

“Yasa!” exclaimed the girl in white. “You’ll pay for our next meal, and remember, the winner can have whatever she wants.”

“Hai,” the other agreed, “but I thought for certain you had killed him.”

“Not so,” she replied. “I’ve really been working on the intensity level of my swing and release.”

“Who are you?” he interrupted with an expression of exasperation masking his face. “And why am I bound up?”

“I’m Aiko,” replied the girl in black.

“I’m Aika,” said the one in white. “You’re tied up because..."

“…you’ve been bad.” The girl in black finished her sister’s sentence, while removing a rolled parchment from her tunic.

“Even before,” Aiko continued, “you attempted to injure that traveling merchant, left me for dead and stole my horse.”

His heart sank when he heard that.

Aika accepted the parchment from Aiko, unrolled it and gazed at it before showing it to her sister and then their captive… “Seems that you are a wanted man, Hayashi san.”

“That’s not me…” he protested.

“That’s what they all say,” mused Aika. “One would think they rehearsed that line in case of capture.”

“Maybe they learn that in outlaw school,” said Aiko sarcastically.

“I know you,” he whined. “You’re bounty hunters. Push and Pull; the Petulant Pair.”

"The Petulant Pair..." repeated Aiko. "I've heard that some call us the Precocious Pixies."

"I rather prefer that," added Aika. "Grandmother always calls us by that name."

"That's true," Aiko agreed, "but personally I like Petulant Pair."

"Naturally, you would," said Aika, "if for no other reason than to disagree with me."

"But that's acceptable," determined Aiko, "because after all, there are two of us..."

"...and each entitled to an opinion," declared Aika with a smile.

"You two are mad!" their captive yelled suddenly.

Both girls turned to look at him.

"Mad you say," reflected Aika. "That would be my sister. Like me she is fiercely determined and will do anything to achieve her goals but gets so caught up in her extreme methods at times she forgets her intention."

"True," Aiko agreed, "but that doesn't mean I'm crazy, just eccentric."

"You're both crazy!" he wailed.

They looked at him again.

"I know your reputation..." he began once he was certain he had their attention.

“If you know that much,” Aiko interrupted, “then you know you can’t bargain with us.”

“There is quite a remarkable price on your head,” Aika proclaimed. “I’ll need my half to pay for my sister’s dinner. She’s small but has an enormous appetite.”

 

 

 


Submitted: September 12, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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