Stars… They are shining brightly in the night sky. It’s beautiful. Even from the second-floor window of an abandoned building…
― I made a wish upon a shooting star back then, didn’t I?
I turn around and glance at my sister who’s lying on the bed I made for her. There is nothing in the room — just a huge empty space with a few jagged cracks in the walls. Most parts of the building are covered in shadows, which I’ll always try to avoid.
― I hate the dark, always did. But it only got worst in the past two years…
I sigh heavily and stare out the window. The wind caresses my hair as the leaves rustle outside.
― Wait… Something doesn’t feel right… It’s… too quiet…
I lean my head out of the window and listen for anything out of the ordinary. Then I hear a faint sound of gravel crunching out in the distance.
I rush towards my sister as fast as I can.
“Polya! Wake up! They’re here!”
“Get ready. We’re going.”
“Already? We just got here…”
“… There isn’t much time left; we must go.”
Polya jumps off the bed and prepares to leave as I strap on my father’s katana onto my back.
I reach my hand out, hovering it over the bed I constructed out of hardened light.
―Who would have thought magic is real?
I reassemble the light-bed, turning it into three orbs of light and hurl them towards the dark parts of the building in a cone shape.
I grab my sister’s hand and start running.
Soon the shadow spreads and takes over the building. The only thing that’s glowing is my ‘bracelets’ of light.
As we are running, Polya tumbles over onto the floor as something seems to have grabbed her leg. Without hesitation, I hoist her up to my arms and continue running towards the second-floor exit.
― I’ve memorized the quickest way towards the exit; we should be there by now, but why aren’t we?
Polya shouts, pointing towards the door.
― We’re close. I just need to-
I feel something sharp had pierced through my right shoulder. I couldn’t see the wound, but I can feel the stream of blood bleeding out.
― I mustn’t fall yet.
When we’re almost at the exit, the doors flung open harshly, letting in the serene moonlight.
We run out of the building and onto the empty streets of Kiseki Town. In a short moment, I found myself running onto the residential area. The houses on the sides are divided by concrete walls with metal gates leading to the entrance. In some parts, metal fences are built into it to reveal the bushes and trees behind which separate each residence.
The lampposts in front of us seem to be illuminating our path to safety, but those behind us darken as we pass.
“Polya, don’t look back.”
― Why must my sister live like this… Why can’t she live a normal life?
“Anya! You’re bleeding! Let me-”
“Don’t worry, just rest now…”
“Put me down, let me patch you up.”
“I’m fine, don’t worry about me. We’ve got to get out of here first.”
“…I’ll try my best to stop the bleeding then.”
She gently lays her hand on where I am bleeding. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Her hand starts to glow dimly. A feeling of calmness engulfs me until something appears in front of me.
― A Straggler…
“Polya, hold on tight.”
I swing her up onto my left arm as I use my newly freed right arm to unsheathe my blade from my back and swing the glowing katana, leaving a smooth white trail behind it.
* * *
It was a smooth cut. My blade went through the bamboo matting six consecutive times in quick succession for my Tameshigiri practice. I think it was called ‘Rokudan Giri’ if I’ve not mistaken. It was the fastest and the smoothest I’ve ever done and I’m quite happy about it if I do say so myself.
― If only those peaceful days could have lasted forever…
“Great work, Kiddo.”
My father starts clapping behind me. I turn around to see a broad smile on his face.
“That was clean. I’m so proud of you, Anya. You have come a long way since you started training.”
“And it was only thanks to the greatest sensei I could have ever ask for. So, thank you, Dad.”
I had been training with my father here in his dojo for many years now. I forgot what sparked my interest in swordsmanship, but it must be because both my parents know it.
The dojo is like a second home. The ‘Fyodorovna Kendo & Naginata Dojo’ here in Russia. Named after my mother― Zarya Fyodorovna. Aunt Liliya, my mother’s twin, sometimes comes over and has a kendo sparring session with me. She’s more skilled than my mother, even as she’s younger. On top of that, she also knows other sword techniques while also being skilled in greatswords, polearms, and even bows.
― But why? Why are all my family members skilled in fighting? We’re not in a war, and if so, won’t we use modern weapons like guns? I mean, is it because we’re Russians? No… My father’s Japanese, so that’s not it. Hmmm…
“Hey, Anna! Catch!”
My father throws a huge bottle of water at me out of nowhere. Panicked, I raise my sword and cut the bottle in half. I am proud that I manage to cut it, but only for a second ‘till the water rains down on me.
― It’s cold… and I’m soaked through my navy Kendogi all the way down to my underwear…
“I knew you would do that!”
My father bursts into laughter and starts rolling around on the floor.
― Well yes… This is my dad, the great Yamato Hiraga Sensei. Acting like a child as usual, rolling on the floor laughing, while I’m here: Soaked, about to catch a cold.
Trying to hold his laughter, my father finally stands up, hands me a towel and actually offers me a bottle of water. Even as he looks intimidating with his daunting eyes, long messy hair, and scarred hands from bladesmithing, he never acts the way he looks.
― Well, at least I’ve never seen it.
“I was wondering why you were still standing that far away.”
“There’s always a reason for everything; I learnt that from your mother. Anyway, you remember where my office is, right?"
“Use the shower there, I’ve dropped off your clothes and bag in there as well.”
“You always have everything planned out don’t you.”
“Of course! I won’t be your dad if I am not planning something ahead! Now go get ready; we still need to prepare your sister’s birthday cake.”
“We’re heading to the arcade after, right?”
“Yeah, don’t think there’re any other places that Polina would rather be. Right, I’m going to pick up some baking supplies. I’ll be back for you soon.”
“I’ll see you in a bit. Love you, Dad.”
“Love you too, Anya.”
After he gets into his car and leaves for the supermarket, I head towards his office.
The dojo has long and narrow hallways which connect to each of the rooms. My father’s office is on the second floor, it’s connected to a small bedroom and a nicely furnished bathroom. I’ve heard that my father built this place with my mother and that he also has another dojo in Japan. I know nothing much of it other than it being in the town my father was born in.
It’s not long ‘till I arrive at the bathroom. I took off my uniform and hop into the shower. The bathroom quickly steams up while I stood under the warm water.
― Can’t believe my little sister turned nine today! Oh… I feel old now… ‘bout three more years and I’ll be eighteen… I still haven’t even thought about what I’m going to do in the future. Maybe I’ll take over my father’s dojo or maybe get a degree in a university abroad. I’m sure there’s quite a choice. I wonder what will Polya do when she gets older, maybe game art and design. That would be quite interesting.
“…The future huh?”
I wipe the water off my eyes and look at the mirror to my left. I think of nothing at first, but then I realise-
There is nothing in the mirror; my reflection isn’t visible… I quickly wipe off the condensation on the mirror. Even as I cleared out most of the vapour, there’s still nothing. After rubbing my eyes in confusion, my reflection reappears in the mirror.
“Have I been in the shower for too long?”
Ignoring what just happened, I turn off the water, wrap myself in a towel and step out to the small bedroom next door. I sit on the bed and put on my crop top, denim jacket and miniskirt alongside some of my accessories from my bag. After everything is ready, I walk out of the dojo and wait for my father’s return.
* * *
“Hey Mom, we’re back! And we got the ingredients!”
My mother is standing in the kitchen. She is surrounded by lots of baking supplies on the counter while flipping through a cake cookbook, trying to pick the perfect cake for my sister.
“Hey Sweetie, how was training today?”
“It was great! You can ask Dad about the fastest and smoothest Tameshigiri cut I did!”
I run over and give my mother a hug. My dad walks up behind me and gives her a quick kiss.
“Oh? Is this true, Hon?”
“Yeah, you should’ve been there to see it. You would have been extremely proud of her.”
“I don’t need to be there. I already am really proud of my little Aurora.”
She puts down the cookbook and returns the hug.
“I’m not little any more, Mom.”
“But you are Anya. Now, let’s make the best birthday cake for your sister.”
While my mother lets go of me and continue searching through the book, I lean on her.
“Aha! How about this one?”
I turn around and look at the page my mother had chosen.
“Interesting. I think she would like that very much. How many candles are we using?”
Before long, the whole kitchen is a mess. Flour dusted the countertop; Spoons, dirty bowls scattered around next to the spilt batter. Right now, I’m on icing duty; whisking the huge bowl is really tiring, but I’ll be done with it soon.
The cake is quite wide. There are 2 layers with a layer of chocolate filling. The top layer is made from 2 cakes and is cut into eighty-three different pieces, switching from brown to white to create our desired pattern.
When the icing looks done, I decide to stick my finger in it.
“Don’t you dare.”
I look at my mother with a smug smile and continue to dip my finger into the icing. She quickly tries to swoop in and take it off me, but I’m faster. I move the bowl to the top of my head before she could reach it. We play around for a couple of seconds until she looks at my father who is on washing duty. He then walks over, takes the bowl off me and proceeds to scoop up the icing and stuff it into his mouth. For the next moments, we just stare at each other. Soon, the silence breaks when we all start laughing.
“So, how is the cake coming along?”
“I think we’re almost done here, Dad. We just need to decorate the top and we’re done.”
“The cake already looks great! You two make a hell of a team.”
Not long after, we finish decorating the cake and I finalize it by putting the candles onto the correct slots.
“…And it’s done!”
“We still have a good amount of time before Polina finishes school. I’ll clean up the kitchen; you two go get ready.”
My mother takes off her apron and walks towards her bathroom while I follow behind her. We soon get rid of all the flour on us and start dressing up for the day.
“Mom, what should I wear?”
“I think you look great already but come over here.”
Mother sits me in front of the mirror and starts to style my hair into a long ponytail, tying it with a white ribbon while leaving two strands of hair in the front and brushing my fringe to the right.
“There, that should do it.”
“It looks great; I like it. Thanks, Mom.”
She kisses the top of the head, looks at the mirror and smiles.
“Look at you all grown up to be this beautiful young woman.”
“And soon you would see Polya grow too. I wonder what she’ll be like when she becomes an adult.”
“I’m sure she will be as strong and as beautiful as you.”
My mother sits next to me. Still looking at the mirror, she starts brushing her long blonde hair.
Like her, my hair is also blonde while Father and Polya have dark purple hair. Mother and I usually have our hair down while Polya usually keeps hers in pigtails at the sides of her head.
“I’m sure she would as well, but I want her to stay as the cute little sister I have now.”
“It would be great if she could just stay like that forever.”
“By the way, Mom, something weird happened today.”
“Yeah, when I was looking at the mirror today, I wasn’t able to see my own reflection. But I’m sure it’s either I spent too long in the shower or it’s the steam.”
Mother takes more than a few moments before speaking again
“Yeah sorry, it’s probably just the steam.”
Mother soon finishes up her makeup and dresses in an elegant white and yellow dress.
“I feel young again.”
“But you are.”
“Should I top it up with a straw hat?”
“Mom, we’re going to the arcade, not the beach.”
“But we haven’t been to the beach in far too long. I really wanted to visit the beach and have a swim.”
“You know what? I’m going to talk to your father. There’s a beach in his hometown that is quite heavenly.”
― That’s where my parents said they met, right? I think my father described it as meeting an angel that descended from heaven.
“Oh? Do I finally get a chance to visit dad’s hometown?”
“I keep forgetting you and your sister have never visited it. I’ll definitely make the trip happen then.”
“I’ll hold you to that.”
“Right, I’m all set. Let’s go, shall we?”
* * *
The rest of the day flashes by. It is a perfect afternoon. After we pick up my sister, we tell her that we will be going to a park, but of course, we bring her straight to the arcade. She burst with joy when she realised where we are at. While there is an arcade within the city we live in, Polya had been there hundreds of times. So, we decided to drive to Moscow and bring her to the biggest arcade in the country.
We went through so many games there, from dance machines to VR experience to Bouldering, laser tagging, and go-karting. Some of them are new to me but all it matters is that my sister is enjoying the best she can. For most of the games, I am in the same team as my sister. While our parents will join as our enemies or as our teammates against us and the other people who are in the game.
When it’s getting late, we leave for a Japanese restaurant as it’s Polya’s favourite. She fills herself up with plates after plates, bowls after bowls. I wonder how she still manages to keep in such good shape even if she’s a kid.
After finishing dinner, we head home and end the day with the best part of a birthday ― Birthday presents and cake.
“Polya, this is for you.”
I hold out a small box as I reach the dining room from my bedroom on the second floor.
“Thanks, Anya! What is it? What did you get me?”
“Open it and you’ll see.”
She opens the box excitedly, revealing a necklace made of four smaller ones. When it combines, it forms the shape of the North Star, or as we know it as ‘Polaris’ ― my sister’s nickname given by my mother much like ‘Aurora’. Each necklace is made of two kites, one big and one small. The initials of our first name are marked on the larger one: ‘P’ for Polya, ‘A’ for Anya, ‘Z’ for Zarya and ‘Y’ for Yamato. In addition, there’s a ring behind the star to finish the shape.
“It’s a piece of jewellery for the whole family, and-”
Before I had the chance to finish, Polya embraces me tightly.”
“Thank you, Sis. I love it!”
― Didn’t know would she like it at first as I designed it myself. But-
“Glad you like it.”
She then proceeds to put hers on and hands out the rest to the family.
“Now we all have the same necklace!”
“This is beautiful, Anya. Thank you.”
I smile at my mother as she is still amazed by the necklace. Later, Father leaves to grab the present he had prepared for Polya while Mother heads for the cake. When Father returns with the present, Polya jumps with joy as she now owns the newest console.
“Don’t worry, Sis, nothing could be better than the necklace you got us.”
“Even that thing you’re holding right now?”
“Yes, even this.”
“Happy birthday, Polya.”
Mother walks out of the kitchen with the birthday cake we prepared for her.
“A chocolate dartboard cake! And the three candles on the cake are scoring 167 for a perfect nine-dart finish! This is… This is great!”
“We all made this for you; even Dad helped.”
“Time to make a wish Sweetie.”
Polya closes her eyes to make a wish. She then opens them and blows out the candles.
― Hope what she wishes for comes true, however big or small it is.
The night comes to an end as we finish the cake and leave to clean ourselves up. After showering with my sister, we both hop into our beds.
“Thanks for the best birthday ever, Sis.”
“Only for my cute little sister. I still can’t believe you’re growing up so fast.”
I glance over at her and smiles as she throws up both her arms.
“Don’t worry! I will stay as your cute little sister forever!”
“Alright! If you say so.”
I lean back and gaze at the stars through the skylights as they glimmer in the quiet night sky.
“They are glowing so brightly tonight, Anya. I want to… Touch them.”
“I’m sure you can one day.”
“Aha. You never let anything bother you. So, I’m sure, even if it sounds impossible, you’ll find a way to overcome the challenge.”
The pleasant moment is soon interrupted by heavy rain clouds as they float in, engulfing the radiance of the night. Without any light sources, the room soon became very dark. I begin to pull my duvet close to me, grasping it firmly on my chest.
Polya turns on the lamp on the nightstand between us and sits on the edge of her bed.
“Still not use to the dark yet, Anya?”
“I still… don’t like it, yeah.”
“Heh, well you have to deal with me tonight then!”
Polya launches herself forward, landing across my stomach. She then starts crawling under my duvet and cuddles onto me.
“I’ll be strong for you when you are not, Anya.”
“Hah, Thank you, Polya. I love you.”
“I love you more, Sis.”
We slowly drift off in the peaceful moment we’ve created under the darkened sky.