The next day’s norma ended quite quickly. Both Sendo and Kiyashi’s targets happened to be all in the same area of the map. Thus, in quick succession, the dots disappeared from each of their maps and it was barely past midday when they had completed their norma.
The ‘sun,’ or the glowing orb in the sky that fulfilled the role of both the day and night, hung roughly in the middle of the overcast sky. It was bright enough to be seen through the grey but it was always with a veil of clouds over its face. The only change was when the clouds darkened and let loose rain. Otherwise, it was simply the same flat grey.
Slightly winded from receiving the names, Kiyashi found a low wall on the side of the road and sat down on it with a sigh. The streets were deserted and the buildings stood solemn and dark. The Residents lived closer to and around the heart of the Hollow, Sendo had told her once. Thus, the buildings further from the center were empty, the only residents being dust bunnies and cobwebs.
Sendo came over and sat down as well. The dim shadows from the buildings stretched across the dirt, drawing a faint boundary between the wall where they sat and the main street.
“Today’s norma wasn’t that bad.”
“You mean in terms of time, not content.”
“Yeah, the time. That might have been one of the fastest clears I’ve ever done.”
“I can probably say the same, not that I’ve-“
With a swift motion, Sendo stopped Kiyashi mid-sentence with a raised hand. He dropped his voice. “There’s someone near us.”
Kiyashi’s hand went to her katana. “How near?,” she whispered.
“Across the streets, between those two buildings with their roofs leaning towards each other.” Standing up and crouching behind the wall, Sendo motioned with his chin as he reached for an arrow.
Following suit, Kiyashi traced his line of sight and saw a figure in motion, coming towards them, from between the two buildings that Sendo had pointed out.
However, the figure’s gait was irregular, and it seemed slouched somewhat. And as it came closer, it did not get bigger but stayed small, like the silhouette of a child. There was a shadow that seemed to follow it, hovering. It looked like a bird of some sort.
“Sendo, that looks like a child,” Kiyashi murmured.
“Exactly,” came the tense reply.
“It’s a Dark Angel.”
“A Dark Angel?”
“They’re the enforcers of the Hollow. They can kill an Outlaw in one strike. They are absolutely terrifying.” Each word was wrung out from a nearly dry towel; a drop of sweat rolled down Sendo’s face. Swallowing a sphere of apprehension, Kiyashi fixed her eyes on the approaching figure. But as the figure stepped out of the shadows of the buildings, Kiyashi was shocked.
It was a young girl, dressed in dirt-covered sweats and a t-shirt, and barefoot. Beside her, flapping its wings feebly, was a raven, with feathers of midnight. The girl hobbled into the street, disregarding Sendo’s notched bow, and made her way towards them.
Kiyashi let go of her katana and stood up to a whispered protest from Sendo. As she did so, she made eye contact with the girl. Surreal striking violet pierced dark brown. And, as if she had used up her last strength in that moment of eye contact, the young girl pitched forward. And Kiyashi rushed forward and caught her before she hit the ground.
Cradling her up in her arms, Kiyashi was surprised at how light she was, and how small her frame was. With a soft caw, the raven landed on the girl’s lap and nestled into her arms. The girl’s breathing was slow and shallow, as if she had fallen asleep. Kiyashi was suddenly overcome with a strong feeling of sadness and purpose; she had to protect this child.
There was a crunch of gravel as Sendo approached slowly, a puzzled and cautious mixed expression on his face.
“Is she not, a Dark Angel?” He lowered his bow.
Kiyashi looked up at Sendo, concern etched on her face. “I think she’s really weak.”
“She feels cold and has no energy. Even the raven is exhausted.” She dropped her eyes to the bird and the face of the girl.
Sendo cleared his throat awkwardly. “I just- All I see is a Dark Angel but she doesn’t seem like one, at the same time.”
“Sendo, we have to help her. We can’t just leave her here.” The urgent tone in Kiyashi’s voice made Sendo sigh.
“Okay, let’s take her back to Yamato. Maybe he’ll know what to do.”
“Thank you, Sendo,” said Kiyashi, standing up, child and bird in her arms.
Sendo nodded but the confusion did not leave his face.
And Yamato had a nearly mirror expression to Sendo’s when they came bursting through the door of The Hand, which was deserted, per usual. No one really lingered in the tavern besides Kiyashi and Sendo, and they felt thankful for that, this time especially.
“Why do you have a Dark Angel?,” Yamato asked, as he passed Kiyashi a cloak, which she used to cover the girl.
“She looks like one, bird and all, but she doesn’t have a weapon,” said Sendo.
“No weapon? Now, that is odd…”
“Right? And she’s dressed in what looks like her street clothes, not the clothes that we get in the Hollow.”
“I was wondering that too,” Kiyashi cut in. “She looks like she just fell in.”
“Did the bell tolls sound around the time you saw her?,” Yamato asked.
Kiyashi and Sendo looked at each other. “Now that you say that, no, I don’t think so?,” said Sendo. Kiyashi nodded and looked back at the sleeping face of the girl in her arms.
“Then, how did she get here?”