Chapter 4: A Town under Siege
A town under siege, a sea of fire raging within a sea of green. The sky darkened by the escaping souls of the tormented and the torture, and amongst an orchestral of screams, the sadistic laughter of its wicked conductor. As Sakuya and the others approached the town of Tasou, the town Lloyd thought would be next, they expected the scene to fall upon them like the horror it was but saw anything but. The sky was barely dyed by rising smoke, and while laughter did reach them, it was merely the chuckles of joyous children. Not a soul in sight walked with terror in their eyes, and not a person on the street hinted toward a sinister plan. The town, so small and quaint, wrapped in the woods’ brush that would make it hard to find, remained little more than a blip on the map as Sakuya and her group made their way through it and set themselves up in an inn. With every step, their eyes had searched wearily and warily around the hamlet, but found no malicious hands crafting a diabolical scene. There were just people going to and fro, people who seemed both happy and surprise to have more visitors to add to the small lot that had already come to the village before. A young girl, hair blond, eyes blue with an outlook on life as rosy as her skin, and her parents the same; and a young couple, one dark skinned man of impressive bulk and his girlfriend, smaller, lighter, with long brown hair braided into a ponytail and tossed over her right shoulder. They didn’t seem like much, nothing more than travelers and not even travelers from the same land, but weariness had bred paranoia and wariness bred a need to know. As Aeriane and Takeshi slept, Sakuya had made her way to the inn’s diner where she found the other visitors discussing their intrigue with the land. She joined them at their table, and received the curious gaze of the young girl who quickly moved to the chair closest to her, and stared with an invasive intent.
“Jasmine, stop that.” Her mother instructed and intrigue changed to disappointment.
“But mom!” She cried.
“No ‘buts’, don’t be rude to our guest.” He mother scolded her and made Sakuya laugh.
“It’s alright really.” She chimed in and the woman forced a polite smile. “I am curious though, what’s so interesting about me?” Sakuya locked eyes with the girl who lit up with childish glee.
“I saw you had a sword when you came in, so that means you can fight right?” Jasmine squealed and Sakuya noted her watchful eyes.
“I’m pretty good at it, if that’s what you mean, but surely I’m not the only person you’ve ever seen who wields a sword.” Sakuya replied and Jasmine agreed.
“No but most of the other people I’ve seen work for the court of Irra, and they aren’t really that interesting.” She sighed.
“Yes,” Jasmine’s mother spoke again. “You see, the reason we came to this village was because of a book my husband read to Jasmine.” She explained with a nostalgic smile.
“It was about Irra’s first trip to Hokutaga; she happened upon a wandering swordsman who challenged her to fight and managed to win. Since Jasmine admires Irra, she always wanted to see what the place the swordsman came from was like, and this town happens to be it.” Jasmine’s father explained and Jasmine sighed again.
“But when we got here I learned that his sword style is taught to new recruits to the court of Irra here, and I was really disappointed.” A gleeful girl turned sad as she thought back to the moment of her arrival and the immediately disappointment.
“So how come seeing me made you happy?” Sakuya asked.
“Because I still want to see it. I still want to see a unique style that Irra would have described as almost magical.” Jasmine exclaimed and made her parents chuckle.
Sakuya smiled at the young girl and let what foolish suspicion emerged, fade away, as she turned her attention toward the young couple who joined the proud parents in their laugh. They had courteously remained silent as the mother scolded her daughter and the seeds of conversation were sown, but their laughter had held up a sign that said they wanted to join in. As the vines of conversation reached over and entangled them, Sakuya took a moment to examine them thoroughly to find tell tale signs. The man, dark skinned and bulky, had a number of scars running up his arm, till they disappeared under the sleeves of his blue shirt. His narrow eyes blinked with an autonomy that all people possessed, but shined with a harden presence hidden deep in their brown depths, and black hair was neatly cut down, save for a spot where the flesh had once been torn, almost as if by an agitated man’s rage. His girlfriend had a soft tan tone, and softer big brown eyes that didn’t sparkle like those of Jasmine’s but shined with a passive happiness. Void of scars and void of trouble’s torment, she sat there in a white dress, slit on one side, barely seeming like anymore than a person on vacation. Conversation's reach was all but strangling them now, as they realized Sakuya had began staring and the woman turned to her with a polite smile, and said something she didn’t quite hear.
“Pardon me?” She escaped her quiet curiosity.
“I asked why it is that you are carrying a sword.” The woman repeated, and Sakuya shook her head.
“I’m a bodyguard you see.” She said.
“Oh really?” The man smiled. “You and I have something in common.” He said and as he held up his arms, Sakuya realized they thought she was staring at the scars.
“No you aren’t Arty.” His girlfriend nudged him and made him chuckle. “He actually works for a shipping company, but he got all those scars from protecting the cargo. I worry about him sometimes.”
“I see. Then what brings a shipping company worker to this small town?” Sakuya asked.
“Business. These places are hard to find so it’s worth dropping by and asking them if they want to do business. Special items can attract more visitors to a town after all, right?” Arty explained with a professional efficiency and Sakuya nodded her head.
“Not yet. The shop owners are pretty worried about price.” Arty laughed and Sakuya nodded.
“Well I wish you luck.” She said as she stood. “And Jasmine I hope you find someone with a unique style.” She smiled then turned her back to the table and began walking off.
“I thought about it for a moment and I guessed right.” Arty’s girlfriend said something that brought Sakuya to a halt.
“What’s that Bell?” Arty asked and Bell smiled.
“Well if she’s a bodyguard, the only reason she came over here was to see if we are dangerous. That’s why she’s leaving now.” Bell explained and Sakuya wondered if it was foolish to leave her sword behind. “So I’m curious, is that girl who you’re protecting?”
“I can’t really answer that.” She said and Bell smiled again.
“It has to be. That raggedy man is her caretaker, and you and that boy are her bodyguard’s right?” Bell submitted and made Sakuya silently praise her attentiveness.
“I still can’t answer that.” She replied as she continued out of the room.
“I’m definitely right.” Bell remarked to Arty who nodded to her, till Sakuya finally left them behind.
From a room filled with white and silver, Sakuya made her way through a lobby of dark browns and beige, and down the hall to her room. There Aeriane sat half-awake on the bed, clearly forcing herself to remain awake till her roommate returned. When Sakuya sat on the other bed, she asked a question through a yawn, and lied back down, now content with going to sleep again. As Sakuya removed black shoes from her feet and pulled her hair behind her head, she stared half-awake herself, as the question was slowly decoded.
“I think it’s safe.” She said. “We’ll stay for a day and if nothing happens we have to leave, even if it means someone will get hurt.” An urge to remain silent emerged as each word formed a professional sentence that made her stomach knot.
With her hair drawn behind her head, she lied on her pillow and stared at the flowers carved into the ceiling. Her eyes barely remained open as they scanned the beige garden and she thought about Jasmine, and her look of intrigue. The room had long since gone dark, and seemed to darken every time she blinked, but even as the morning slowly approached, she didn’t dare go to sleep. In Jasmine she had seen something that reminded her of herself before fate forced her life to change, and the knot in her stomach torment her as she imagined Jasmine going through the same. With each blink, the room became dimmer, till the light creeping in through a window was all the illumination she had and needed. She didn’t dare go to sleep, but she could feel it setting in and as she decided to give into it, she rolled onto her side and whispered to herself.
“I don’t want the same to happen to her.”