It's 3:30 Am... and I can't sleep
But because of that I managed to get my imagination working again. I think I'm gonna cry, from being able to write another chapter again or from loosing sleepagain
I can't choose. But anyway here's the next chapter. Gonna be a bit long though.Chapter 3
₪₪ Risa tossed in her sleep, her brows scrunched together and small whimper escaped from her slightly parted lips. Her teeth grated together, her fingers digging into the sheets around her as if clawing at the hard ground. Another whimper, her head tossed to the side. Her breaths came out in short pants, small beads of perspiration gathering at her forehead.
She was running through the forest, the bright glow of the moon her only source of light. She didn’t have any specific direction in mind. She just needed to run further into the forest, get as much distance from whatever it was chasing after her. Her legs hurt, her lungs burned as she greedily gulped in the cold air. She could feel herself getting pulled out of her body by some unknown force permeating the forestry around her. Her vision started to turn black around the edges, scaring her even more. Finally, from what felt like forever, she emerged from the cluster of trees, losing her balance when the toe of her boot caught on a ditch and she felt her body dive head first onto the ground. She turned to her back to look around, her legs pushing her away from the forestry, when she caught sight of something in her peripherals. There was a cabin up ahead. Getting to her feet she ran towards the cabin. She banged her fisted hand on the door, her head feeling lighter and lighter by the second.
A loud banging from behind informed her of the arrival of the hunter. She turned her back to the door, her arms shooting up in front of her, and closed her eyes shut. She felt her body falling backwards and got the strange sense of déjà vu as she opened her eyes to look up at a familiar face. It was Ai. She was muttering something in a foreign language, then a bright light flashed blinding her.
Risa bolted up from her bed, her eyes wide and her mouth open in a silent scream. She turned her head to the side where her parents’ figures laid, sleeping soundly on the other bed. She let out a huge sigh of relief, her shoulders slumping down wearily as she rubbed the sleep out of her face and, at the same time she hoped, try to forget the frightful nightmare. She turned to the window, seeing the soft rays of the morning sun being permitted through the small crack of the curtains. She swung her legs over the bed, cringing slightly when the cold air caressed her bare feet. She pushed off the bed, taking her blanket with her as she moved silently towards the widow to take a peek at the view behind closed curtains.
The sun was just barely peeking through the mountains. The town was still blanketed with a light fog, hinting her of the temperature outside. She shivered slightly just thinking about it. Draping the blanket over her night clothes, an old tunic her father used to wear and trousers, she stalked quietly to the door, slipping on her boots on the way out, making sure she wouldn’t wake her parents up. Once outside she hurriedly walked down to the first floor in hopes of getting a hot cup of chocolate.
“Good morning!” A loud cry greeted her as soon as she stepped into the dining hall. She cringed at the volume and quickly shot her hand up to her lips, her index finger held up, as she motioned for the girl to be quiet. The girl behind the counter mimicked the action but held the bright grin on her face as she waved with her other hand. Risa couldn’t bear to glare at the smiling face of the younger girl for long and soon her lips lifted up in a smile of her own.
“Good morning to you too, Koharu.” Risa greeted as she approached the younger girl. Their mothers had introduced them the night before, after the incident with the path that Risa kept to herself, and they had instantly taken a liking to each other. Koharu was the daughter of the innkeeper. She was a real sweetheart, though she really didn’t have much of a sense for reading the atmosphere, Risa had noted with horror when she had suddenly barged in the middle of her father’s private, and very serious from the looks of it, conversation with a couple of blurry looking men. Suffice to say she was given a scolding, albeit a light one, before her father shooed her off.
“You’re up early.” Risa noted as she sat on one of the counter stools.
“I always wake up early.” She chirped, again Risa cringed and motioned for her to lower her voice. The younger girl grinned sheepishly and lowered her voice. “I have to help mom with the morning rush. You know, it gets really busy here every morning, which is kinda funny since every night this place turns into the local watering hole. What’s funnier is that the men who comes here during the night also comes here during the day, all sober and… just different. You get what I mean?”
“I think so.” Risa said, nodding her head as she recalled the times when the men in their little caravan went off to the pubs to get drunk, coming back looking like a mess, only to see them the next day all dressed up in their best clothes for the trade.
“So, whatt’lya have?”
“Hot choco, please.” Risa said as she tugged the blanket around herself. “Is it always like this here?”
“Like what?” Koharu asked as she took out a cup from behind the counter.
“Oh, this is nothing. You should visit during the winter, sometimes we even get icicles on the beams.” Koharu said, giggling when Risa tilted her head up to stare cautiously at the ceiling. “Just sometimes though.”
“Well, that sounds comforting.” She said drily.
“Hey, you were with miss Ai last night, weren’t you?” Koharu asked as she jogged over to Risa. Risa’s eyes widened as she stood up, the blanket pooling at her feet, her hands coming up in front of her in instinct as she watched the steaming cup of brown liquid slosh dangerously inside the cup Koharu was bringing her. She sighed in relief once the cup was safely on the counter table with Koharu a few feet away, resting her head on her propped up arms to look with curious fascination at Risa.
“Yeah, I was.” Risa said as she sat back down, taking the cup in her cold hands to warm them. She raised the cup to her mouth, blowing lightly at the steam before taking a short sip.
“What was she like?” Koharu asked when it seemed like Risa wasn’t going further into the subject. Risa arched a brow as she slowly set the cup back down the table. “What do you mean?”
“You know? Is she really as nice as she looks?”
“She is…” Risa responded slowly, taking another sip from the cup. She looked at Koharu curiously as she continued. “Why are you asking me? Shouldn’t you know more about her? I mean, she lives here doesn’t she?”
“Well, yes… But Miss Ai barely comes here, in the town I mean. She’s always up in her cabin. No one really knows what she does there but she comes down once a week to buy food or sell herbs and other stuff…” Koharu turns look at the front door, then to the back door leading to the kitchen before leaning further over the counter, motioning with her hands for Risa to come closer. Risa’s brow shot up in query but she silently obeyed to the silent command. “This is just a rumor I heard from the other patrons but they say that you can get a miracle potion for any kind of ailment from her, for a price. Some people kinda think she’s a witch. But that can’t be right? She’s too beautiful to be a witch.”
Risa stiffened at the mention of witch, remembering the dream she had. She definitely saw Ai there, and she was mumbling something in a foreign tongue, plus there was still that good chunk of her memory from last night that was still pretty much a haze to her. And that mysterious message she left her before disappearing into thin air.
“Could she really be?” Risa muttered to herself.
“Ah, yeah, witches… haha… My dad says they aren’t true, just a whole bunch of hoo-hah.” Risa giggled nervously, one hand going up to rub the back of her neck.
“That’s what my mom says too,” Koharu shrilled before dropping her voice yet again at the grimace Risa gave her “except she calls them old wives’ tales, which I don’t get… Why call them old wives’ tales? Don’t they usually tell them to children so they won’t do bad things? Shouldn’t it be kids’ tales?”
“Huh? Koharu what are you talking about?”
Koharu was about to respond when one of the usual patrons came through the door. The old man rubbed his arms over his coat, trying to warm them once again as he took a seat on one of the smaller tables. Koharu excused herself from Risa to tend to the man, promising to be back as soon as she could, a promise which she unfortunately couldn’t hold to as the tavern steadily began to fill with the rising of the sun. Risa had just finished her hot choco when the group who were staying at the upper floors came down for breakfast, further filling the hall. Taking a few loose coins from her trousers she gave her payment to Koharu’s mother, who had by then came out of the kitchen to manage the counter. Pulling the blanket closer to herself she began maneuvering her way through the mass of people towards the door, giving a small wave to Koharu as she passed her by.
Once outside she took a huge breath of the clean air. The temperature, though still cold, was a bit warmer than the night before. Children, some still in their sleepwear, were running about, much to their mothers exasperation as they raced after them. Risa chuckled when two young girls passed her by, one of them waved at her energetically, a large smile in place, while pulling her taller friend who was groaning at her to slow down before saying a short hello to her. At least they had good manners.
Wanting to stretch her leg a bit she decided that a walk around the square would be good for her. Fixing the blanket over her she started to walk towards the bakery first, to buy a piece of bread since she hadn’t had anything except the hot choco. With the bread in hand she set her direction to the right, figuring she could walk the perimeter of the town and be back at the tavern by the time the morning rush hour would subside. Munching on the piece of bread Risa let her eyes take in the sights offered to her by the small town. Unlike the busy city, the country side was really one of the best places to find solace. A sturdy community, surrounded by wide green pastures or dense forestry, the promise of an adventure waiting to be unleashed by the active mind. Unfortunately as wonderful as it is the cool temperature of the autumn season was a huge obstacle. Risa tightened her hold on her blanket as a soft gust of cool air caressed her exposed skin.
“Better get back to the tavern…” she mumbled, shoving the last piece of the bread into her mouth.
“It was nice seeing you again ma’am.” A familiar voice sounded. Risa turned to where the voice was, only to meet a pair of doe-like eyes turning to look back at her.
“Ah, hello there.” Ai called, waving her hello.
Risa felt her lips hitch up in a smile and she quickly chewed the rest of the bread in her mouth. “Hello to you too Miss Ai.” She greeted as she walked closer to the woman. She paused, just a few meters from Ai when she remembered the conversation with Koharu.
‘A witch… it’s impossible… right?’ she thought as she looked up at Ai’s smiling feature.
“You know… you don’t have to be so formal with me. I don’t think that I’m much older than you.” Ai said as she rifled through the basket in her hand, placing whatever it was she had brought from the store before looking back up to Risa’s face. Seeing Risa’s confused look she continued. “Just Ai is fine. Too many people call me Miss Ai, it’s kind of aggravating somehow.”
“So Risa, taking a morning stroll?”
“Yeah, it got too packed at the tavern.”
“Ah, the morning rush. The madam does make a delightful batch of strawberry flapjacks.” Ai said, her eyes glazing over as she thought of said flapjacks. “Anyway, I think I should best get going if I am to return home before the others wake up.”
“Wait!” Risa called without thinking. She pressed her lips together when Ai turned to her, a questioning look on her face. She began fiddling with her blanket, subtly hiding her reddening face behind the cloth. “Uh… would you mind if I go with you? I actually have something to ask you.” A flicker of steeliness crossed Ai’s features, one Risa missed due to her hiding her face in embarrassment. Ai shifted the basket in her hand, her eyes not leaving Risa’s figure. Her smile faltered a little, not much for others to notice, but enough for anyone who was close to Ai to know she was a little conflicted. After a short while, with still no answer from Ai, and feeling a little awkward with the situation, Risa was about to take back what she said when Ai finally spoke up. “Not at all. But, would you mind if we hold off on that question until later?” Risa looked up from behind her fringe, taking a momentary pause to look at Ai’s expression, before nodding her head. “Great. Come, I have to make a quick stop at the bakery.”
The trek back to the bakery was shorter than the one Risa would have had taken if she was to go back alone. Ai, having much more knowledge of the town’s streets, had took a couple of shortcut’s through the alleyways in between establishments, some of which Risa didn’t see before, making her wonder just how big the town was. Once they were at the bakery Risa stood back, opting to wait for Ai as not to draw too much attention. Catching on fast at the action Ai smiled and nodded her head at Risa to indicate she understood and walked up to greet the man behind the counter, who in turn greeted Ai with a paper bag full of, what Risa believed to be, bread.
“Your usual order, miss Ai.”
“Thank you, Sir Suzuki. How’s your daughter?”
“She’s doing great! Her fever has already passed and she’s got her good spirit back. She’ so excited to be able to run around again she’s practically jumping around on her cot, it’s driving her mother insane.” The man made a deep laugh at the thought of the missus scolding the young girl as she tried to do something remotely fun while she was confined on her bed. “It’s amazing, it’s like she wasn’t even sick for the past days.” The man happily chattered, his worn face breaking into a wide beam as he talked about his daughter.
“That’s wonderful to hear. Tell Kanon I wish her a faster recovery, and that there’s a batch of freshly made cookies with her name all over it.” Ai said. Risa could see that Ai meant every word she said, what with the way her face broke into a wide grin as she listened intently to the man’s report or the way her eyes sparkled as she wished for the girl’s good health. It seemed that she wasn’t the only one to notice this.
“I will, and I can’t repay you enough Miss Ai. And don’t think about paying for these, it’s in the house.” The man said as he passed the bag to Ai when she motioned to take something out of her basket, completely taking her by surprise.
“Oh, I- I couldn’t.” she stammered, fumbling a little with the bag.
“I won’t take no for an answer Miss Ai. Take it.” The man said, his voice hinting that he was done with the conversation. Ai smiled at the man, thanking him for the bread before walking back out to where Risa stood.
“Can’t repay you enough?” Risa asked, tilting her head to the side ever so slightly. Koharu’s voice played in her mind about the rumors surrounding Ai, particularly about the miracle potion. “So the rumors are true then. Then last night… my dream... Are you really human?” she asked, staring straight at Ai. Ai turned to Risa, a small frown on her face.
She turned her head to the side, waving at a man that greeted her. “In a sense I am, and in a another sense I am not.” She said in a soft voice that only Risa could hear.
“Would you like to come with me to the cabin? The girls are wondering how you are.” she asked, turning back to face Risa. She had a smile on her face, but her tone was emotionless, sending a chill down Risa’s spine.
“I- I can’t.” Risa squeaked. Her eyes darted to the tavern’s front where the wagons were situated, ready to leave at the order of the elders. “We leave today.”
“You can’t possibly leave today.” Ai remarked. Risa turned her attention back to Ai who was looking up at the sky, her expression now blank, unreadable. “Rain’s coming, and it doesn’t sound like it’s a slow one.” She continued. Risa turned her gaze to the sky, watching for any signs of dark clouds. There were none. “How can you tell? It doesn’t look like it.” Risa mused as she squinted, trying to look farther out the vast horizon.
“It’s coming in the afternoon and won’t end until after dark. I don’t know about you but at the temperature of the air now… I don’t think anyone can last out there when the rain comes. It’s better if you and your people stay here for the night.”
“What? But how can you know that?” Risa asked, her voice rising. Noticing that they were getting looks from the people around she bowed her head in apology before taking Ai’s arm and guiding her over to the back of the bakery, hiding behind some overgrowth. Making a quick check of her surroundings she turned back to face Ai, her brows knitted together. “How do you know that?”
Ai started at her, her lips hiking up in a smirk as she moved closer towards Risa, leaning towards her right ear. “Don’t you already know that answer?” Risa’s eyes widened as she took a step back, she didn’t get far as Ai’s hand shot to her wrist, locking onto it like a shackle. Risa’s mouth opened to let out a scream for help when Ai’s hand shot up, her things dropping to the floor, muffling Risa’s voice as she pushed her back onto the wall. She pushed her body onto Risa’s, trapping the younger girl, her head leaned onto her ear making a shushing noise until Risa’s muffled cries died down. “I’m not going to hurt you, okay? You trusted me last night to guide you back, did you not?” Ai stopped, waiting for Risa’s confirmation. With Ai’s hand still clamped around her mouth Risa furiously nodded her head, her breathing slightly getting shorter and faster. “Then trust me when I say I won’t hurt you. Don’t make this hard, I really have no intention of playing with you or anything, but if I must I have to do what needs to be done, even if I don’t want to.” Again she paused, letting her words sink into Risa’s mind and hope she heard the sincerity of her words instead of concentrating on the tone of her voice. “Now I’m going to back up and I want you to take a deep breath and calm down.” Again Risa nodded her head. She felt the pressure on her mouth lessen as Ai took a step back. Like asked she took a deep breath, trying to calm her erratically beating heart. Seeing that Risa was following as she asked Ai began picking up her things, thanking God that the bread hadn’t spilled out of the bag.
She turned back to Risa, her eyes widening in shock when she saw that the younger’s knees had buckled under her. She rushed over to Risa, who continued to stare at her, her emotion clashing between fear, confusion and respect. When she was within an arm’s length Ai stopped, carefully watching the younger’s reaction as she held out her hand. Risa slinked slightly back when she saw Ai’s hand move, shutting her eyes close in instinct. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, the action had tugged something within Ai, one that she hated to feel. She stared at the younger’s face, her mouth falling into a frown and her offered hand slowly retracted to her side, curling into fists.
She crouched down, slowly, making sure the ends of her dress wouldn’t touch the ground. With gentle fingers she reached for a loose lock of Risa’s hair, tucking them behind her ears. Wearily Risa peeled open her eyes, cautiously watching Ai for any peculiar movements. Smiling kindly Ai gradually raised her hand, reaching for Risa’s wrist. When her fingers grazed the top of Risa’s wrist she paused, waiting if the younger would retract her hand, when she didn’t Ai closed her hand over her wrist and slowly stood up, pulling Risa along with her. When they were both up Ai immediately let go and stood back.
“So… I’m guessing that you still have questions for me, don’t you? Well that’s fine, because I have questions for you too. But I think it would be best if we took this somewhere… more private. I don’t think anything I say can come back to me as anything good if someone were to overhear, more so to you and your people if my suspicions about you are indeed the truth.”
And I shall now cry in that corner over there.