Her voice brushed against Daisuke’s neck, it was recognizable within a moment's notice.
That cold feral wind, a single whiff of the voice’s dreary air was enough for the enjoyment of the peaceful moment to take a hike. Daisuke’s shoulders arched and his body was shaken up by wave after wave of frivolous shivers. He didn’t want to turn around, but he had to.
A frigid chill shot down Daisuke’s spine at the very sight of Ayame standing over him, arms crossed as she scowled with her tightly wound lips. A few headshakes were all she had to offer for an explanation of Daisuke’s actions. Her eyes narrowed and set aglow, full of relentless fury for his disobedience.
“I looked everywhere, I mean everywhere, for you.” She huffed out egregiously.
An hour’s worth of pent-up sweat that soaked her paled skin was evidence enough of the search endured. The skin on her left knuckles was worn out, little scrapes left behind from every door banged upon. Going door to door in a dead panic to just find him there, trying to make up for it all with a haphazard smile.
“Heh-heh. You found me.” Daisuke muttered through the nervous chatter of his teeth.
“And do you know what’s the prize for being found?”
“There’s a pri—ow-ow-ow!”
Ayame yanked Daisuke up by the ear and dragged him away from Kiyo, her muscles strained and teeth gritted. Flexing a fake grin she glanced over her shoulder back at Kiyo. Every ounce of anger that twisted her face into a frightful glare smoothed out instantaneously. Her unrelenting rage flipped into a beautiful rosy smile.
“I’m sorry but Daisuke will have to be heading home now. Won’t he?” Ayame asserted with a twist of Daisuke’s earlobe, his ear stretched to the very brink of rupturing. Her little pinch of pain was one that only continued to swell on the side of his head.
“Okay. Yes, I will.” He relented.
“You promise?” She gave a sharp tug upward, and the spike of pain squealed through the side of his head. Like she tore it clean off. His eyes dilated as he sputtered for a response, hands flying up in an effort to free himself. It was no use, only one option left to escape her grasp.
“Okay. Good then.” She said adamantly as she released him.
Dropped back onto the ground, Ayame squeezed Daisuke’s left hand within hers, the nurturing smile returned to her face as she looked back at Kiyo. A total one-eighty as she buried the aggression once more, saving it for Daisuke later. His punishment inevitable.
“I’m sorry but I will actually have to take him back now. He’s about to become an older brother and he should really learn to set a better example.”
“Never asked to be an example,” Daisuke muttered under his breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothing! I’ll be good. Very good.”
“There you go. You’re learning so much already.”
Ayame held her smile as they walked away from Kiyo. Fingers crushing Daisuke’s little hand as she forcibly hauled him away. And like that Kiyo left on his own, isolated, forced to deal with his struggles alone. A broken child. He lifted his right hand to his chest and did a slight shake. A forlorn goodbye.
Daisuke watched his newfound friend wave him off, but something wasn’t right. Feet planted in the gravel, he resisted Ayame’s pull.
“I don’t want to go.” He let out through gritted teeth, mind made up.
“Master Daisuke, not this again.”
“But, we can’t leave him.” Daisuke insisted with a longing point thrown up toward Kiyo. Ayame followed the boy’s adamant gesture but only snuffed it out. Irritated enough by Daisuke’s shenanigans she upturned her nose at the thought, not about to fall for them once more.
“We’re going home. Now.”
“But look at his back Ayame! He’s got extra markings I don’t have.” Daisuke cried out.
She fell still and jerked back to face Daisuke.
“What are you talking about?”
“Just—look. He said his dad gave them to him.” Daisuke said as he continued to point at Kiyo.
Ayame debated the idea of giving in to Daisuke’s request. To take a look at the back of this unknown child. A heavy sigh billowed out of her mouth, carrying out her frustrations as she hung her head forward. Too exhausted to put up a fight.
“Alright Master Daisuke, alright. Let’s take a quick look. Is that okay with you Kiyo?”
“Yes, m—miss.” He stammered out meekly.
Ayame released Daisuke and walked over to the somber boy as he leaned off the wall enough for his back to be visible to her. She reached down and slid the shirt up Kiyo’s back, his tender secrete exposed to the sunlight. It only took a second for it to sink into her eyes as she shrunk back. The irritation pent up in the creases across her face broadened, mouth unable to form the words that came to mind. Airless sputters were all that slipped out between her awestruck lips.
It was unbearable to imagine a child having faced such torment. Her hands traced out the scars, the deep gashes in Kiyo’s supple flesh. His pale skin stained a vibrant dark mahogany.
“Oh my Sun . . . your father gave you these?”
“Mhm.” He mumbled abruptly, twitching away from her cold touch.
Pure terror plastered itself across Ayame’s face. The sight of abuse was something not acceptable in the clan’s eyes. Especially that of a marked child meant to one day protect the masses of the blessed Paladinian people he was born into. To save them.
“Isn’t that cool? He said he gets to train with him every day. Like me with you.”
“Every—day?” Ayame said sorely, tears right on the cusp of her eyes.
With the sleeve of her white robe, she wiped away the dreary emotions as they streamed down her cheeks. Daisuke’s eager smile faded away at the sight, confusion settling in on what the scars really meant. Face masked with curiosity.
“Ayame? Why are you crying about his marks?”
“I’m not, it’s just.” She heaved in a deep breath and relaxed her panicked mind, not quite sure how to deal with this situation. “I’m going to fix this Kiyo. Okay? No one marked should be getting this treatment.”
“N-no.” Kiyo shook his head and recoiled away from her. “Please don’t tell anyone. Please.” Kiyo said weakly as he shuddered, unable to keep still at the very thought of others finding out.
“Okay, it’s okay. We won’t, let’s just—find someone to bring you to. Someone to help.”
“Kiyo. We have to tell someone. Believe me, it’ll be the best thing for you. Okay?”
Kiyo nodded, his face downcast, gaze dropped to the gravel beneath his feet. Ayame smiled and stood upright as she glanced around, trying to think of who to contact. Who was nearby to send a message to the high priest? Who would help the child in the meantime? Who was the boy’s father?
Amidst the confusion, Daisuke slipped away from her line of sight. Quiet as a mouse.
“I think we’ll just have to go to the chieftains shrine. It’s not that far.” Ayame uttered, distracted by the onslaught of people that continued to walk by on the roadway. Oblivious to Daisuke as he snuck right over to Kiyo’s side taking his hand within his own.
“Wait-” Kiyo was cut off as Daisuke shoved his finger over Kiyo’s lips.
“Shh. Just follow me.” Daisuke whispered with a hearty smirk.
“Maybe the priestess would be understanding. Maybe?” Ayame questioned herself.
With a single tug, Daisuke convinced Kiyo to join along in his escape plan. The opportunity was too good for either of them to pass on. Led down the other end of the narrow pathway, they crept back a good distance and then took off in a full sprint. Kiyo yanked along by Daisuke’s will, unable to get a word in as they dashed out into the open cobblestone walkway.
“Either way, let's go . . . not again.” Ayame turned back and rushed to the other end of the backway, gaze sent in both directions. “Master Daisuke, get back here this instant! Daisuke!”
It was too late. Daisuke bobbed and weaved between buildings, needling the thread as they avoided adult supervision. Low to the ground, they stuck to the narrow gaps between the homes. Stealth on high till they reached the very edge of the Nippon housing district. Nothing but a bare field in front of them. The last stretch until the outskirts of the village.
Across the ragged weedy field, Daisuke dragged Kiyo to the base of the far back grand stone wall. The two of them were mere ants in its presence, yet they looked upon it with all the more wonder.
“I’ve always wanted to come here. And look, not a single guardian in sight.”
“I don’t know. Is this safe?” Kiyo asked hesitantly as he glanced back at the path they came from.
“Safe?” Daisuke perched his lips and blew a little puff of spit-laced air toward Kiyo. “Pfff! It’s easy, probably. Just follow me.” Daisuke said cockily, a sly smirk creasing his lips.
Daisuke stretched up and grabbed onto a loose stone in the wall. He swung himself side to side and caught onto the middle ledge. Easing his body up into the air, he scaled the wall up the three tared rock levels to the wooden midsection. Kiyo watched from the ground below, finger in his mouth as Daisuke ascended to the top. The rough tacky vass blades pricked into his bare feet, yet he enjoyed the feeling. It was unique but familiar somehow.
“Almost—there.” Daisuke huffed out.
With bare torn palms, he continued the ascension to the top. His tiny hands clasped onto the stuck-out notches with every pull upward. The last was the most tiresome as he flung himself up onto the flat top of the wall.
“Fweeew!” Daisuke leaned over the edge and panted in the fresh afternoon air. “See? Easy!”
Daisuke gazed back down at the perplexed Kiyo, body riddled with shakes and lips clenched. His hands balled into fists at his sides as he stared up at Daisuke, unable to move a muscle.
“What?” Daisuke questioned, face scrunched at the sight of Kiyo’s apparent fear.
“It’s just a-a little high. And it’s already past noon-”
“Kiyo,” Daisuke said abruptly.
“Shut up and come look at this,” Daisuke said joyfully, eyes full of glee. A widespread awestricken smile gripped his face as he turned back and took in the scenery beyond the wall. What he had dreamed of seeing up close since he was able to peer out his window.
“Look at what?”
Silence filled the air after Kiyo’s question went unheard. Daisuke had no verbal response to offer as he took in the moment, captivated by the grander world he had only heard about in stories. Kiyo left in the dark.
“D-Daisuke?” Still nothing. Kiyo sighed as he ran his gaze from the base of the wall to the tippy top where Daisuke sat upright. Checking to see if no one else was nearby, Kiyo shuffled side to side at the thought of scaling the wall. An antsy jitter was apparent in the wobble of his legs. His innate fear of heights was battled by the little fuzzy sensation of curiosity to see what had taken Daisuke’s breath away.
“C’mon up. It’s so cool.” Daisuke egged on.
That was it. Kiyo opened up his hands and made his way over to the wall. Fueled by a single tingle that spread throughout his body, he grabbed onto the wall. Stones clenched in his palms, he dug his nails into the cracks and held on now or never.
One foot at a time, Kiyo propelled himself up the wall, step by step. Pace a little faster than Daisuke as he flung himself up the grand wall. Kiyo’s fingers grappled onto the top to only be grabbed by Daisuke as he yanked Kiyo up. The force swept Kiyo into the air, mouth gaping open as surprise filled in the empty space.
Without time to react, Kiyo fell on his butt with a light slap from the wood. He winced in pain but fell silent as he followed Daisuke’s steady arm. At the very end, his outstretched finger pointed toward the greater horizon, the world they had only heard of until then.
“Look Kiyo. It’s amazing.”
“Wooah,” Kiyo responded as he stood upright.
The two friends gazed out into the world beyond the Nippon village. Down the steep cliffside, a short distance from the wall led to the Sun-touched tan vastalleys that grew over the ashy gray dirt. Pitch black tar pits scattered throughout the lowlands with clusters of people down there to harvest them for construction. Small round lumped flesh toothers scavenged the grounds as they fled capture from Nippon hunters. A minor inconvenience-tumored animal that dared to get so close to the village out of instinctual stupidity. Its tooth-covered gnarly body a mere warning for what lurked further out in the world. Creatures worth fearing.
“Daisuke look over there,” Kiyo said excitedly, a small smirk parted his lips from one another.
Kiyo pointed past the other various gray rock structure that dotted the landscape to the growing horizon, a hint of green visible on its edge. A sliver of land they had both never seen. The destination of dreams for any young Paladinian. To journey out into the world.
Wow. I can’t wait to see it all. Daisuke thought to himself, unable to hold back the joy of the moment that left him with a grin.
But then an idea popped into Daisuke’s mind. With his hand gripped onto his chin, he narrowed his focus for a minute and glanced over at Kiyo. His friend was just as captivated by the view, the subtle yellow gleam in Kiyo’s eyes just a tad brighter than before. The pain he held close to him was forgotten, even if for just a moment. A joyful stare settled it.
“I got it.” Daisuke announced.
“What do you got?”
“Why don’t we meet here every day?”
It was unexpected, Kiyo’s smirk shrunk a little at the thought of it, gaze falling to the wooden beam beneath them as his father barged into his mind. Terrified of how he would react to his absence. Kiyo rubbed up and down his arms as memories of the pain flared up in his mind. A scarred childhood.
“But my father will worry. And—”
“Just for two turns? It’s not that long. Just two.” Daisuke bargained, hands clutched together as he shook them at Kiyo.
“You're right,” Kiyo said, the small smirk still expanding across his face. Cheeks a warm rosy red as the joy of the moment flooded back in. “It is nice here.”
“Yeah!” Daisuke jumped up into the air, his fist punched toward the heavenly sky. “Every day, same time,” Daisuke yelled out.
On the outside he continued to celebrate, wood creaking beneath his bombarded excitement for the future at hand. But there was more to it, his true inner emotions tied to the situation. He was more thrilled to have made a friend. Someone new outside the four walls of his own home.
Kiyo in the same manner of interest was surprised to even find someone like Daisuke. Everything about him only bewildered the little boy. Lost for words, awestruck by the open friendliness of someone else his age. The boundless joy.
It felt nice. A comfortable presence to dwell within. Each was the other’s balancer, their peacekeeper.
In each other they found freedom. A reason to be happy.
“Oh and stick out your hand,” Daisuke said abruptly as he stopped celebrating, right pointer finger hurled toward Kiyo.
Daisuke chuckled and grabbed Kiyo’s arm on his own accord. Pulling out Kiyo’s left hand toward himself, Daisuke extended out a full arm’s length. Their hands clutched together in the middle. Daisuke fidgeted them about for a couple of seconds to get the gesture he wanted, it proving to be more difficult than he imagined. With his open hand, he held it up in front of them. Eventually, with a pointer and middle finger straightened out, he tucked the rest of his fingers into his palm.
“What’s that?” Kiyo questioned.
“C’mon do it. Promise it’s good.”
Kiyo mimicked Daisuke’s hand gesture.
“Now tap my fingers with yours.”
Kiyo nodded and reached out toward Daisuke’s fingers. Without hesitation, Daisuke clenched Kiyo’s fingers with his own and brought them toward his palm. Taken aback by the instantaneous action, Kiyo could only watch Daisuke enact an unseen foreign gesture. Something Daisuke had practiced on his own for weeks.
The best friend handshake.
“Peroo!” Daisuke imitated an explosion as he shoved Kiyo’s hand away from his.
“What was that?” Kiyo asked worriedly.
“A handshake. You know . . . for friends.”
“Yeah us, have to be friends if we got a hideout.”
Kiyo gasped. The word unheard of to him, something beaten out of his mind in the isolation his father chained him down too. Stuck in unfamiliarity, he stared into his hand-shaken palm for a minute, lost in the thought of what it meant. Warm unfamiliar emotions rose within him, and the odd comfort grew immensely.
It was friendship. Something neither had ever truly experienced before. This day was one of many that lay ahead for the duo, a plethora of new awaiting them that they would never forget. But this first one was beyond special. It was locked within their young minds for all of eternity. Daisuke the cause of it all. The catalyst for opening up.
Kiyo’s first friend.
“Yeah . . . friends.”