Sunlight filtered through the forest’s canopy, bits of its light dotting the ground. On any other day, Mozu would’ve gladly put down her naginata and rested here. Instead, she kneeled, exposed tree roots digging into her bare knees. The thin covering of dead leaves did little to blunt the pressure, though their musty smell put a frown on the girl’s face. She planted the butt of the naginata against the ground, and cradled the shaft with her elbow, before staring at her hands. They were calloused and rough, the hands of a farm girl. Yet, those same hands couldn’t save what was important to her.
The girl’s vision blurred, as she thought back to the events that had happened mere hours ago. She’d called to her mother, begging for the older woman to take her hand. Her mother pleaded with her to flee, the older woman’s legs no match for the monster behind her. As her mother’s body was pounded into the ground, Mozu fled. She ran past the last set of houses, before the village turned into pure farmland. She ran through the vegetable fields, trampling seedlings and brush alike. She stopped once she was under the cover of the trees, her breath coming in ragged gasps. Her shoulders heaved, as she buried her face in her hands. She should’ve slowed down for her mother, or fought off the monster with her naginata. Then her mother would be alive, and safe, and far away from the horrors that had so cruelly pounded the village flat.
She gasped, her emotions getting the better of her. A tear left a searing trail on her cheek, then another. Her head instinctively jerked up as something heavy echoed through the forest. The sobs in her throat slowed, then stopped, as the stomping slowly became louder. Without thinking, she stood up and ran, the dull thuds following her. Her progress abruptly stopped as her foot caught an exposed root, which sent her sprawling over the dead leaves. She spat out a stray leaf, the taste of mildew and dirt briefly distracting her from the pain in her knee, before limping over to her naginata. Weapon in hand, she slowly rose to her feet, the dull thuds becoming louder, and more pronounced. The forest’s uneven ground made running away difficult, and another fall would allow whatever was stomping through the forest to catch her. Snapping branches accompanied the stomps. She readied her naginata, biting back a scream as the monster appeared before her. It was easily double Mozu’s height, and probably four times as heavy. It was humanoid, with sickly green skin, garbed in nothing but a mockery of a loincloth. Its wrists were bound with the broken remnants of shackles, while its face was hidden behind some sort of spiky helmet.
A meaty fist flew towards the girl, who dived out of the way. The creature’s fist landed on the ground, but if that thing felt pain, it didn’t show it. Mozu quickly stood up, and thrust her naginata with all of her might. She reeled backwards, the blade of her weapon failing to penetrate the creature’s skin. She watched the creature’s fist, mesmerized by its slow upwards motion. This is how she died – away from her village, her family, and everything that was familiar to her. Though her mind tried to convince herself of her impending death, her body shifted, bracing the naginata’s butt against the ground. If she could just injure it, she could die happy.
Suddenly, the creature stumbled backwards, two knives in its midsection. A figure in white stood between her and the monster, a golden sword in hand. Before the monster regained its balance, the figure lunged forward. With a deafening thud, the monster fell. The person with a sword turned towards her, hand extended.
“Are you okay?”
Though the person’s garb was something completely alien to her, she recognized the warm smile that greeted her, one that extended to the person’s red eyes. It was the same look that her mother gave her, after a hard day’s work. She bit her lip, as a stray tear found its way down her face.
“No! My mother, and my friends–!”
She buried her face in her hands, and let the tears fall. Everyone she knew was dead, and she’d nearly joined them. She dimly heard the other person say something, and answered without thinking. She gasped as a finger gently wiped away her tears.
“This is no time to grieve.”
Whatever else the other person said was lost to the singular sentence that rattled through her mind. Someone in fancy garb ran past, knives at ready. The figure with the sword turned towards Mozu with a small smile.
“I’ll keep you safe.”
What if this person tripped on a random tree root, just like she had? What if the monster didn’t fall from the golden sword’s slash? Her last memories of the village resurfaced, but this time, she didn’t feel the usual rush of tears. Instead, she felt the blood drain from her face, as her hands tightened around her naginata. Yes, she could run and hide, but it would mean that others might die to the same monsters that ravaged her village. These strangers owed nothing to her or her village, yet one of them had protected her, then offered to keep her safe.
“No! I have to fight!”
The person’s mouth opened to say something, then closed. Her statement was answered with a nod. It didn’t matter who they were, or where they came from, or where they were going – saving her life was a favor she HAD to return. That’s what her mother, and everyone else in the village would have wanted.
“For Mother. For my friends. For everything the monsters took from me.”
And maybe, for those who were wiling to avenge her village, too.