Giovanna walked along the side of the street, avoiding the heavy activity. Carriages pulled by horse covered most of the street, with people who spoke loudly covering what’s left. Though loud as it was it only got worse as construction workers arrived to make repairs on a nearby house that looked as though a giant had taken a bite out of it, the gaping hole revealing a bed that was missing its lower half.
Giovanna edged closer to her target and stealthily hid behind several wooden barrels. She raised her head just enough so that her eyes could admire a young man who stood alone with his back to her. She hadn’t the faintest clue who this man was, and she didn’t care either. She wanted a closer look at the finely crafted sword that was strapped to his side. Giovanna was positive that this man had to be a Warrior, and not just some common village guard.
Giovanna raised her body by a few more inches. She placed a hand on top of the nearest barrel for support, and it, along with the rest of her arm, sank, making her hit the edge of the barrel with her throat, and making a loud splash.
Giovanna retreated her now wet arm, hid again, and massaged her neck. She peered over the barrels, her eyes watery, and was relieved to see that no one had noticed. She looked inside the barrel and saw an eleven-year-old girl look back at her with a pained expression.
‘’No – keep still!’’ Giovanna whispered to her long bushy hair, color brown, which soared in every direction due to a gust of wind.
Giovanna peered over the barrels again and saw another Warrior, a young man with a nervous face and a katana strapped to his back.
‘’I’ve got the reports!’’ he said breathlessly to the other. ‘’I hope the Captain’s in a good mood…’’
‘’She ain’t,’’ said Mike. He glanced around, making Giovanna duck momentarily. ‘’I dug around – two men, six teenagers, and a young girl died in the attack.’’
The other shook his head vigorously. ‘’No girl died – that’s just a rumor –‘’
‘’There are eyewitnesses left and right, Kyle, how can you say –‘’
‘’Listen!’’ said Kyle impatiently, wiping some sweat from his brow. ‘’Almost everyone died in the woods – only one man died here in the village. We checked the forest and found no body of the supposed girl!’’
‘’The Shadowless might’ve – well –‘’ Mike gulped, ‘’eaten her…’’
‘’That’s what we thought too!’’ said Kyle. ‘’But Mina checked the village records and no girl, young or old, is missing – it’s just a rumor.’’
‘’These stupid villagers are making our jobs harder,’’ said Mike loud enough for a passing woman to launch him a glare. ‘’We need to get this right – I do not want to give the Captain a faulty report again… She went bonkers last time…’’
Both of them left at a run, as another Warrior, a woman, called for them. Giovanna remained behind, giggling at the two, who behaved as though they forgot to write an essay for their teacher.
‘’Hey, girl, what’re yeh doing?’’
Giovanna sprang up and spotted a grumpy-looking old man eyeing her suspiciously.
‘’What’re yeh up to?’’ he said. ‘’Yer not tryin ter steal nothin, are yeh?’’
‘’No, sir,’’ said Giovanna, shaking her head.
‘’What’s wrong with yer clothes?’’
‘’This is how I normally dress!’’ said Giovanna before she could stop herself, feeling incredibly stupid after one look at herself. Her jeans were ripped in several places and were covered with dirt, one of her shoes was missing a lace, and her overly large shirt had tears around the hem.
‘’Listen ere’, girl, I don’t appreciate being lied –‘’
‘’Er – oh, she’s stealing!’’ Giovanna shouted, pointing at a woman who was appraising an apple. The grumpy old man went after the innocent woman, yelling incoherently. Giovanna made a run for it and disappeared into the busy street. She didn’t mean to cause any trouble, but she felt she had been forced to… why would he assume she was stealing? Crazy man…
Everyone in the village seemed to be talking about the same thing: the recent Shadowless attack. Giovanna could hear people around her describing the beast and how terrible it had been. One of the two men who sat on the carriage next to Giovanna was saying loudly, apparently keen to get everyone’s attention, how he’d escaped the Shadowless by barely a centimeter. Giovanna was rather glad that the village was distracted: the state of her clothes had attracted a lot of attention the last few villages she had gone through.
‘’No, you cannot be a Warrior!’’
Giovanna flinched and looked to her left. A young boy was being scolded by his mother, who pulled him by the wrist.
Giovanna felt the side of her head collide with something solid. ‘’Sorry, mister…’’
The man Giovanna had bumped into glanced over his shoulder and then appeared to have chosen to pretend she didn’t exist, for he turned back to his friend without a word to Giovanna.
She turned to watch the boy and his mother, but they had gone. That woman had sounded so much like her own mother… Giovanna wrung the ripped hems of her shirt as a strong feeling of guilt twisted her stomach. It was only after she passed another deformed house that she realized she hadn’t a clue where she was going.
She quickly dug into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a crumpled article, along with the last surviving gold coin – its fellows having been spent on the long journey to Omise village. She flattened the article as best she could and reread it completely, as it had become a habit to do so whenever she felt even mildly anxious.
Ryu Hayashi – Out of retirement!
How many of you could truthfully say that you remembered that name? Ryu Hayashi, the legendary Warrior and Sensei, had fallen a tad into obscurity after his retirement almost twenty years ago.