Deep in the forest, the sunlight drifted down through the branches. The cold earth had a light dusting of snow. The air was quiet. The cold was bitter and frigid; painful. One of sane mind would never venture out into this frigid wilderness, yet the silence was broken by footsteps crunching in the snow. A young man, surely having seen no more than a score of summers walked below the branches, with a small girl child following closely at his heels. Looking around as she walks, she hums a simple tune. Her hair was pulled back into a long braid that fell below her knees and bounced about as she walked. She was young, but no younger than thirteen and wore a light green outfit decorated in leaves and brightly colored flowers; clearly designed for fighting, with no sleeves and small shorts to provide easy movement. She wore guards on her wrists and wrapped her legs to mid-calf. The kunai holder on her right leg made it clear that she was a young ninja, most likely still in training.
Not paying attention to her surroundings she stumbles into the young man whom has recently stopped walking. Her bright green eyes look up at his face.
“Hogosha? Is something wrong? Why’d you stop?”
The young man doesn’t respond. He stares intently into a thick area of the forest. Bushes grow out of control, vines drape through the branches. A person could hide and never be seen in the thicket. The girl looks about to try and see the reason for his halt, but sees nothing.
“Hogosha, is something there?”
Without any warning the princess comes running out of the thicket. Her once immaculate kimono is now in rags. The rough branches have taken their toll on her as well. Her arms and legs are covered in scratches, scrapes and cuts. Blood trickles down her pale skin. Her face is streaked with tears and filled with scratches; the origin of the red in her sea green hair. Once glorious, her hair is a tangled mass of leaves, twigs, thorns, blood and tears. She starts upon seeing the two strangers.
“Help me, please!”
She runs behind Hogosha and collapses onto the ground, panting and sobbing. The small girl rushes over to help her. Behind her, a group of soldiers burst through the bushes. They stop when they see the two travelers. A rugged soldier steps forward.
“Who the hell are you?”
Hogosha remains unbothered by all the arrivals. He simply stands, and faces the intruders. Slowly, he reaches back and grasps the hilt of his sword.
“No one you need be concerned about.”
From behind, a soldier laughs causing the others to turn about.
“What’s that supposed to mean-”
Suddenly cut off, Hogosha stands behind the remaining soldiers. No one is moving. His hand is no longer on the hilt of his sword; he smirks slightly.
“It means, I’m not telling you who I am because… you’re all dead.”
The soldiers collapse forward spraying blood as they fall to the freezing earth. Red spreads across the cold earth reaching forward, staining the once pale ground like an invasive carpet. The shocked faces of soldiers gape up from the floor, splattered with dirt, sweat and trickling crimson beads. Silence returns like a vacuum having sucked the very life out of all surrounding creatures. Something strange hangs in the air, musty, thick and striking. The scent of death.
Upon closer inspection, many gashes grace the soldier’s bodies. Hogosha’s sword had killed yet again, with incredible speed and accuracy. The smirk on his face echoes as a beacon to the deed. Through the silence, all eyes are brought to this sight. The kind of sight one cannot pull their eyes away from.
The princess stares on in disbelief.
Incredible…I didn’t even see him move.
Not noticing the young man clean his sword on the grass, sheath it, and start to walk away, she is suddenly jolted back to her senses by a shout from the young girl.
The young man stops, but does not respond.
“Where are you going? Can’t you see she needs help? How can you just walk away?” Daggers shoot from her eyes as she stares at Hogosha.
Hogosha doesn’t move. The moment drags on, seeming to last an eternity. Without turning or otherwise showing any sign of movement he speaks.
“It’s none of my concern. They were in my way. It’s not my job to aid every helpless person I come across.”
“How can you say that? She’s obviously in trouble. We have to help her!” At this point the girl is quite angry with Hogosha and his indifference.
“I don’t have to do anything. If you’re so concerned for her sake, stay and look after her… I don’t care.” With this, Hogosha starts to walk off again. He keeps his back towards them showing only how little he cares.
The princess’s fears return all at once. The sight of her seemingly only source of help leaving sends her into a panic.
Hogosha stops again. Once more, he doesn’t turn around. Silence hangs in the cold air. The princess’s eyes are full of fear and cry out for help, but Hogosha still doesn’t turn. She struggles to find something to say to make him linger. The young girl stares at the princess. She says nothing, knowing that the princess is the only one that can get Hogosha to stay. Despite her fears, she finds herself staring at the young man. He is tall, with pitch-black hair falling to middle the middle of a strong back. It flutters a bit in the slight breeze. She has never seen black hair before…It strikes her as beautiful.
“Please, could you at least tell me where the nearest village is?”
No sooner does she say this than the absolute absurdity of her question strikes her. Now he’ll leave for certain…Why couldn’t I think of something else to say?
And again, silence returns. The princess hangs her head in despair, certain she’ll be left alone. The silence breaks.
“Don’t ask questions that you know the answer to.”
The princess winces. She seems to know what's coming. She’s prepared to hear his footsteps again as he continues on his way, leaving her in the cold woods. Alone. But instead of footsteps, she hears his voice.
“There’s no village within a hundred miles. Only thing you’ll find this far north is the city of Kourime, home to the castle of this kingdom. But…You should know this better than anyone else, your highness.”
With these words she snaps her head up. He slowly turns around to face the frightened princess. For the first time, she sees what the mysterious warrior looks like. His tall frame is slender, though muscular. His red and black outfit is simple; plain, straight dark red pants, with a black trim; a simple shirt in the style the princess has only seen in books, buttoned up the front with elaborately sewn frogs*. Upon closer inspection, his clothes seemed to be made of silk. He was no ordinary traveler.
As her eyes make their way up the silhouette, the blackness of his appearance caused his sapphire like left eye to sparkle. The entire look of it is startling. But even more startling was the fact that across his right eye ran a long scar; starting above his eyebrow, running down to below his cheekbone. Instead of the glowing sapphire of a left eye, his right shines pale, almost white only showcasing it’s obvios lack of vision. The princess jerks backward at the sight and turns away. With a shaking voice she finally gathers up the courage to respond.
“I know…But I can’t go back there…not anymore.”
Fresh tears run down her already tear-marked face. The young girl tries to comfort her.
“Hey, don’t cry. It’s okay, we’ll help you!”
Hogosha grunts in disapproval. The young girl’s daggers return as she glares at him.
“Suiren, Tell him to help her!”
The princess looks confused. Suiren? There are only two people other than herself there. Who on earth was she talking to? Her question was answered shortly by a glimmer of blueish light above Hogosha’s shoulder. At first it seemed like a trick of the setting sun filtering through the trees, but it only grows brighter and before the princess is able to figure out what is happening the glow erupts in a warm blue flash. Suddenly, hovering above Hogosha’s shoulder is a crouching faerie. She begins to straighten herself. Falling past her slender shoulders, rippling like water, is long golden hair. As she slowly lifts her head it flows around her torso shining with the same luster of white gold, until it falls to its resting-place just above her knees. As she straightens her knees her water-like blue skirt flaps out around her, billowing in a spectacle of all sea colors imaginable. As she stands the true nature of her clothes can be seen. Layers upon layers of a light gauzy material fall beneath a deep green fitted belt. The material sparkles like magic, as it ripples down towards her small feet. Curved silver shoes peak out from beneath the flowing skirt. The torso of her dress is a fitted pearlescent white from which pink sequin flower designs melt down off a deep pink collar. Her sleeves made of the same pearly white, billow out of a flower-like pink puff on her shoulders and drift down past her hands. A bright pink sequin pattern adds a hint of color as a trim. She finally stands erect. Translucent white wings almost like smooth, iridescent angel wings, though lacking feathers, grow from her back adding to the mystical air around her. Her bright golden eyes and soft face give a warm, almost motherly feeling, and with a noble and royal air about her, she looks towards the young girl.
“What makes you think he’ll listen to me?”
The young girl looks at her pleadingly.
“Because you’re the only one he listens to.”
“Ayame, you know perfectly well, he only listens to me because I’m the only one who can help him on his mission. And that’s all he cares about at this point…”
She glances over at the princess, startled she turns back to Hogosha.
“Hogosha! How can you think of abandoning her like this! You know who she is don’t you?”
She looks as though if she were big enough she just might hit him. And not surprisingly Hogosha isn’t phased. After all, she is only about eight inches in height.
“If she’s not strong enough to get up on her own feet she’s of no use to me.”
“Then how exactly do you plan to rescue your sister? You came this far looking for the Princess and now you’re just going to leave her here?”
The princess looks on at the strange sight of the “harsh” warrior arguing with a tiny little faerie. Amusingly, Hogosha is even beginning to get irritated and loose his cold and emotionless air.
“I have no desire to get pulled into the problems of this kingdom. And as she is there is no way she could be of any use to me. She probably doesn’t even know who she is.”
They both turn and look at the princess. Her face is a mixture of fear and confusion. Though mostly confusion. I do too know who I am!
Suiren shoots Hogosha a stinging glare, then flies over to the princess. The Princess pulls back in apprehension.
“Whoa, don’t be afraid. We’ll help you.”
Ayame’s face lights up at this news. She turns back to the princess smiling warmly.
“See? I told you we’d help you.”
Laughingly she turns back to Suiren,
“I told you he’d only listen to you.”
Suiren looks back at Hogosha, who hasn’t moved.
“Only partly. He still doesn’t want to help.”
Hogosha turns and begins to walk away. Ayame looks at Suiren worriedly. She looks about to say something when Hogosha scoffs briefly.
“Do what you want.”
He changes course from the forest path and sits down leaning against a tree. The princess still seems wary of him. Ayame turns her attention once more to the princess.
“Don’t worry, he’s always like that. He’s really not as scary as he seems.”
She smiles warmly at the princess. Her fear seems to lessen as she turns her gaze away from Hogosha to the two smiling faces of Ayame and Suiren. Once again Suiren erupts in a blinding blue flash. The two turn away quickly. As the light subsides they warily turn back towards Suiren. And much to the Princess surprise Suiren is standing at eye level. Suiren kneels down before the princess.
“I apologize for his rude behavior. Now, lets take a look at these wounds, shall we?”
The princess doesn’t respond. Suiren lifts her head gently and looks to the princess, smiles and grasps the princess’s hand.
“My dear, it’ll be alright. We know who you are, Princess Toukiko, and you’re safe with us. So, do you think you could tell us what happened?”
The princess looks at Suiren with a sort of reluctant resolve. A look in her eyes seems to nod in solemn agreement.