Chapter 17:

Moment of Respite

The Hollow

One morning, the group of four awoke to discover that they had not been given a list for the day.

“What, does this mean?,” Kiyashi asked, worry seeping into her voice. But judging by the relaxed expressions on her teammates’ faces, it appeared she did not have anything to worry about.

“It means that,” started Aruya.

“Today is the Day of Rest,” finished Sendo.

Both looked at each other, Sendo surprised and Aruya turning a bit rosy, and Kiyashi just laughed. Mifu, beside her, was rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“Kii?,” she muttered, sleepily.

“Mifu, there is no hunting today. It’s the Day of Rest.”

Kiyashi watched as Mifu’s violet eyes opened wide with awe. Perhaps there was a small spot of happiness there, but that was an emotion that Kiyashi has since lost touch with. Indeed, what was happiness in this literal godforsaken world?

“What exactly is the Day of Rest?,” Kiyashi asked as the group headed down to the Hand. The door opened to admit the delicious smell of soup and Mifu ran ahead to the empty counter, seating herself on her usual stool.

“It’s like a reversal of the Purge, where the whole of the Hollow becomes a safe space.”

“Like one giant tavern…?”

Sendo chuckled. “I- Yeah, if you put it that way, that makes sense.”

“Welcome, welcome,” called out Yamato, from the kitchen. They caught a glimpse of his ponytail as he busied himself cooking.

“Happy Day of Rest, everyone,” Yamato said, once he had emerged from the kitchen with four bowls of stew.

“It’ll be your first, won’t it, Kiyashi?,” the man asked, as he set a bowl down in front of her. Kiyashi looked up, nodding.

“I did not expect there to be a day like this. I mean, after what this world has thrown at us…”

“This is only my second Day and it’s- I still find it hard to imagine,” said Sendo, between mouthfuls of stew. “But it’s, how do you put it, freeing?”

Kiyashi continued to carry the soup to her mouth and chew, her mind blank as she focused on the food before. Her thoughts of the Day would come later. She looked over at Mifu and saw her sharing a bit of the stew with Kuro, the raven. The scene filled Kiyashi with a soft warmth and she turned and began eating her stew faster. Was the purpose of the Day to make one emotional?

- - -

Since it was Kiyashi’s first Day of Rest and Aruya did not mind where they went, Sendo decided, with a glint in his eye, to take them down to the Marketplace.

The Marketplace was a location that looked to never appear as a place of targets on their daily lists. As Kiyashi pulled out her map to see if she had been to the Marketplace before, she could only see a blank square in the place where Sendo said the Marketplace existed. It was the same for Aruya’s map, although she had been in the Hollow the longest out of the four of them.

As they walked past familiar looking blank-faced buildings that yielded no signs of life, Sendo seemed to have a spring in his step that Kiyashi hadn’t seen before. Well, it was indeed a day of rest and a day of no killing, so there was a sense of calm all around. If the whole of the Hollow was a safe space, then there was no fear of Outlaws stalking them.

“And welcome to the Marketplace,” exclaimed Sendo as they came to a stop at a stairwell leading downwards, underground.

“It’s… underground?,” Kiyashi asked, in disbelief.

“No wonder I’ve never seen it before,” Aruya said.

“I think it’s something the Residents have done as a security measure,” said Sendo, his voice echoing as they made their way down the stairs, all their steps sounding louder as the ceiling grew taller.

“The Residents… you’ve mentioned them before.” Kiyashi spoke. “You said, Tetsu was from them, right?”

“Well, yes. I found the Marketplace by accident, really. Tetsu, I found nearly a pile of scrap metal and salvaged him. Now he’s the farthest thing from scrap metal. The first time I came down here, I actually was weirded out of my mind by the Residents.”

“What, are they not human?”

“Or humanoid…?” Aruya added.

“They- they are definitely not human, but it wasn’t that. They don’t speak.”

“Then how, how do they communicate?”

Sendo stepped off the bottom stair and turned to the others as they neared the bottom. And held up his hands.

“I haven’t the faintest. Maybe we’ll find out today.”

The area seemed to glow to life as they stepped into the plaza. It was exactly like a marketplace, with stalls and booths bordering the central open space, with some sort of makeshift centrepiece of pillars that stretched upwards to the ceiling. Looking up, the ceiling looked as though it continued on forever, dark, like a night sky, although it did not seem like they had come that far underground.

Behind each stall and booth, there stood a Resident. And there were Residents striding about, looking in each booth and silently conversing. One look at the Residents and Kiyashi understood what Sendo had meant by having to see for herself.

The Residents were dressed in robes that reached the ground and they stood a head taller than any one of Kiyashi’s group. She had thought Sendo to be tall, with Aruya being slightly taller than Kiyashi herself; the Residents were taller. They had human-like hands with long spindly fingers, their skin a dusty grey, and hairless. Their heads were the same width as their necks were and they had a single large eye centered at the top, a cyclops. As the Hunters approached, the Residents turned their large eyes towards the humans but did not seem phased. They blinked slowly and gestured at their wares, waving their fingers through the air as though weaving something together in the air.

The most intrigued out of them, besides Sendo, was Mifu. Kiyashi watched as her violet eyes widened with curiosity rather than with fear. The raven flapped its wings and circled around her head. As Sendo walked up to a Resident with a wave of a hand, Mifu tagged along, her raven perched on her shoulder.

Sendo tried to express, with hand gestures, that he was interested in seeing the wares, while Mifu beside him nodded. With her pale, slender hands, Mifu added her own gestures and the Resident turned its single eye to Mifu and narrowed its eye softly.

Kiyashi watched as Mifu pointed at Sendo and he sighed, pulling out his pouch of pebbles. A chuckle left Kiyashi’s lips as she watched Sendo begrudgingly pay for a small bracelet of beads that shone like sapphires and coral. Mifu turned and held up her wrist triumphantly in Kiyashi’s direction. Kiyashi made a show of clapping, much to Sendo’s dismay. And then Mifu continued onto the next stall, Sendo close at her heels, a concerned but intrigued look on his face as he looked at the wares as well.

The other two were seated on a low wall that was near the center of the plaza, where the pillars shot up into the dark expanse of the ceiling.

“This reminds me of my childhood.” Aruya’s voice was soft.

Kiyashi looked over and saw Aruya’s face, profile, her eyes watching Sendo and Mifu.

“Sendo, he- he used to take me to festivals and he would always get me one thing, the first thing I said I wanted. Everything after that, I’m pretty sure he said something along the lines of ‘I’ll get it for you next year,’ in order to deter me.”

She chuckled and turned to Kiyashi.

“He really hasn’t changed. Even in this world, he hasn’t changed. He’s still kind-hearted.” She paused. “What a soul to fall into this hellhole,” she continued, almost a whisper, a sad smile forming on her lips.

“You really care for him, don’t you?,” Kiyashi asked. She half-expected Aruya to immediately blush and stammer but she kept her sad smile and nodded.

“I really do. And hopelessly so.” Aruya dropped her eyes to her knees, folding her hands neatly in her lap. “All those years, I never forgot him. And since I fell in, I had him in my thoughts. He was more than just a love interest; he was like a beacon of hope for me. I-”

Aruya fell into silence. Kiyashi saw she was trembling. She scooted over and put her arms around her, in a sideways hug.

“Aruya, one look at you and anyone could tell that.”

“What?,” came the muffled reply, as Aruya raised her head and found herself in a semi-embrace.

Kiyashi chuckled. “You silly lovebird.”

“I- What- I am not!” Aruya protested weakly, then shut her mouth as she saw Sendo and Mifu returning.

“You most definitely are,” replied Kiyashi, laughing as she let go and went to greet the other two. Mifu came running, a big smile on her face, and jumped into Kiyashi’s hug.

As Mifi began to tell Kiyashi of what she saw and about the Residents, Kiyashi nodded and listened to every word as they walked back up to the surface. She glanced back and saw Aruya and Sendo talking, Aruya all smiles. Even if it was for one day, her friends were smiling.