Chapter 7:

Ink on Parchment

The Hollow

Kiyashi awoke with a start. As her vision came into focus, she could make out a blur of grey, which soon revealed itself to be the ceiling. The ceiling of Sendo’s apartment, not her apartment. She was not in that world anymore; she was in the Hollow.

And today was her first assignment. Her first list of norma to clear.

As she sat up, Kiyashi blinked and tried to recall what had caused her to awaken so abruptly. The interior of the room was dim but there was a cool light shining through the edges of the curtain over the single window. The light threw two long bars across the walls.

There had been something fuzzy, a dream forgotten as soon as she opened her eyes, dancing in the recesses of her mind but it had disappeared. But she had dreamed; it was somehow strangely reassuring, that she was still herself, somehow, in this strange world.

The sound of wood creaking sounded and Sendo appeared in the doorway, a cup of water in each hand. He came over and handed one to Kiyashi.

“Good morning. Sleep well?”

“Thanks,” said Kiyashi. “Yeah, I think so.”

She took a drink from the cup. The water was cold and was soothing to her parched throat. After a few gulps, the water was gone. Kiyashi turned to place the now empty cup on the table, when she noticed two pieces of parchment paper laying neatly on the corner.

“Is this…?”

“Those should be your map and your list,” Sendo replied, as he finished his water as well.

“Map?” Kiyashi picked up the top paper.

On the vast field of cream-white parchment, there was a single black dot of ink in the center. Around it, in a one-inch diameter, was a fuzzy edged white circle. Within the white circle, Kiyashi could see lines in a brownish ink, like a square.

“The black dot… is that me?”

“Yeah, exactly. And that box, that’s the building we’re in right now,” Sendo added. He took out a similar looking paper from his satchel and held it up. “Here’s mine. It’s a bit more filled in than yours because I’ve, uh, been here longer.”

Sure enough, Sendo’s map looked more like a map than Kiyashi’s did. Outlines of structures were scattered across the center of Sendo’s map like symbols of a code.

“As you complete the daily norma and go to new areas, your map will fill in.”

“Like a mini map.”

Sendo let out a half laugh. “Ironically, yes, like a mini map.”

Kiyashi dropped her eyes to the second piece of parchment. “Then, this is my list. It looks blank-“

However, when Kiyashi picked up the paper, writing began to scrawl across it. The heading read:

Kiyashi – Day 1

And under it, there were three names listed. They all looked and sounded foreign. All she could do was stare at the three strange names; the more she looked at them, the more incomprehensible they seemed to turn.

There was a rattle as Sendo swung his quiver over his shoulder and grabbed his bow.

“Each of your targets show up as red dots on your map. And you have to go to each location, find them, and defeat them. Once completed, the dots will disappear off the map and their names will be crossed off the list.”

Kiyashi looked at the map and noticed that three red dots had presented themselves on the map, almost all in opposite directions.

“Now let’s go. We have a lot of ground to cover.”

Kiyashi nodded, tucking the two papers into her pocket, and reached for her katana.

Once outside, they dropped by the tavern, bought a bread each from Yamato (who accepted their pebbles this time), and then headed out again, bread in hand. Kiyashi followed Sendo as he walked to the edge of the tavern barrier, which was still bright despite the grey daylight.

“Past this, there are no more safe zones unless we find ourselves near another tavern. So, be aware of your surroundings.” Sendo’s face now fell into an expression of focus. Kiyashi nodded and they both stepped out into the street.

Following Kiyashi’s map to the closest red dot, the two of them found themselves standing before a building that did not look like anything other than a church. Except, it did not have a cross on its tallest point or over the big wooden double doors.

“Your first target in there, behind those double doors. You ready?” Sendo turned to Kiyashi, as they walked up the stairs.

“I- I’m not but I have no choice, do I?” Kiyashi returned his question with a small smile.

“Sadly, that’s the truth,” said Sendo. Then placing both his hands on the door, with Kiyashi following suit, the two of them pushed open the door. As they stepped into the interior of the building, the heavy doors slowly heaved closed behind them. A gust of dusty air whistled between them as the doors shut.

On cue with the sound of the closing door, another sound echoed out from somewhere in the building. It sounded like the amplified sound of drawing on a blackboard with a piece of chalk. Then that sound was multiplied and it could be heard from more than one direction.

In one swift motion, Sendo notched an arrow to his bow and held it before him, at the ready. Kiyashi slid the katana out from the saya and gripped it in both hands, eyes searching for the source of the sound.

Then, the sound of beans falling from a bean bag was heard, followed by a rustle like paper brushing against paper, and an emerald serpent jumped up in front of Kiyashi with a hiss.

Without a thought, Kiyashi felt her body move automatically, and slice the snake in half. The hissing was abruptly cut and two halves of the snake fell to the floor with a soft plop. There was a twang as another appeared and was nailed through the head to the wooden floor, with Sendo’s arrow. In a matter of seconds, the bodies of the defeated snakes dissolved into black dust and dissipated.

Kiyashi braced herself; she had been ready physically for ink to start curling on her skin but no such sensation came. In confusion, Kiyashi hazarded a glance at her map. The red dot was still there.

“Is my target all of these small snakes?,” whispered Kiyashi, afraid her voice would echo too much. She continued to slice at the small snakes and they dropped like flies meeting a fly swatter. Sendo was likewise doing the same, with the small waves coming towards him.

“No, these are the peripherals. The main target should be coming out soon.”

No sooner had those words left Sendo’s mouth, there was a loud rumble and the ground shook slightly, paused, then began shaking like an earthquake. As the tremors began, the small snakes slithered into hidden spaces and disappeared from view.

Suddenly, the center part of the floor ruptured with a loud crack and out leapt the largest emerald-coloured snake that Kiyashi had ever seen. It towered well over to two of them. Its ruby red eyes glinted and it opened its mouth to showcase four long fangs.

“There it is,” said Sendo, through gritted teeth, his face tight with focus. Kiyashi regripped her katana and took a step forward, planting her feet.

“Green Bejeweled Worm, indeed,” she said, recalling the name. The smell of something rotten assailed her nose and her breath faltered for a moment. Kiyashi gave a small cough and blinked to refocus. The giant snake noted this momentary distraction and reared up.

“Kiyashi! The snake-“

Sendo shouted and Kiyashi snapped back, just in time to see the snake stretching to have its head brushing the top of the building’s tall ceiling. And lunge forward and down, straight for Kiyashi.