Chapter 6

Path of many years

Winding from farm to forest

This is her story

“The maiden’s name was Shizuka. From that night on, she was a constant sight by Hayaoh’s side. Those who knew of him saw a great change come over the great warrior… gone were his days of fury and bloodlust, gone was the merciless aura that trailed him like clouds. His heart of stone had cracked in two.

“Theirs was more than a simple courtship turned romance turned love. ‘Love’ was hardly a sufficient word, for the two complemented and completed each other. As Shizuka filled the emptiness inside Hayaoh’s heart with compassion, so Hayaoh brought out the warrior’s spirit in Shizuka, teaching her the sacred virtues of the samurai. She tempered his anger, and he brought out her courage. He showed her how to fight, she showed him how to make peace. It was a perfect union, with each half enhancing the other to become greater than the whole. In time, the legend of Hayaoh became the legends of Hayaoh and Shizuka… the world watched in awe.

“Yet this was not the end of their troubles. When they fought, as all who are in love must fight, their passion shook the earth and rattled the sky, bringing forth rains of bitter tears. Only when they reconciled would the sun shine again.

“And as the years passed, one grew to resent this passion, this bond between them. He was a samurai as cold and hard as Hayao’s heart of stone had once been. His name was Gen, and for many hours, Gen would sit and think his dark thoughts: that Hayaoh had come to disgrace the warrior’s code, becoming a pale shadow of what he was before. It was his mate’s fault, he thought. Something must be done, he thought…”


[Excerpt from The Legend of Hayaoh, a collection of squirrel folklore, circa Year 500]


She is born on a farm in mid-autumn, in a small brick house within the Jiburi Grasslands. The house is bordered by rows of green blessed with vegetables and fruits in a dozen varieties, and flowers in countless colors.

It is a humble life, a simple life. The farm makes money, but not very much. She learns to tend the fields at a young age. Her parents teach her the Edicts of the Heavens and how to read and write, for they do not have the money to send her to formal school or hire a tutor. She reads whenever she can, whatever she can. Sometimes she hopes for a younger brother or sister to play with, but one never comes.

Years pass. Her life is quiet and sometimes lonely, but pleasant.

As she grows, her parents tell her again and again the importance of the Edicts, the sacred directives given by Lady Terra, the Goddess of Life herself. She comes to know them all by heart. The Edicts are good, the Edicts are absolute. How could anything from the Goddess be anything but?

She spends many days gazing out of her bedroom window, imagining the wider world beyond the seemingly endless fields of green. She suspects she will never see that world, that the farm will keep her here for the rest of her life, as it has kept her parents and grandparents before her. Sometimes she sorrows to think this, but the sorrow always passes quickly. It is good work, important work that she and her parents do. They plant the seeds and till the soil, and the Goddess gives them food and flowers. The food feeds the people, the flowers make them happy. Happiness brings enough money to plant more seeds, and the cycle goes on.

Sometimes she thinks that the cycle will continue without end.

She is twelve years old, a year away from coming of age, when the storm hits. It is summer, during a long dry spell. For the first time she can remember, the clouds bring not life-giving rain to make the flowers grow, but fire… A lightning bolt falls from the heavens and sets the dry fields ablaze like kindling. From her bedroom window she watches helplessly, her pads blistering as they press against the hot glass, and the shadows of flames dance like frenzied demons on the wall behind her. The fields, the fields are burning. Her family’s life is burning. Everything is burning. All the tiny trees and shrubs, the rows of cabbages, radishes, and beets, the berry bushes, and all the thousands of flowers, they are all consumed… they shrink and blacken and crumble in the blasting heat until nothing is left of them. Great clouds of ash and foul smoke choke the sky and smother the stars. She watches, helpless, unable to scream, unable to do anything. At some point, her mother drags her away from the window. She never remembers how long she stood there watching.

The next morning, before dawn breaks, she slips out of bed. Her parents are gone, off to the nearest village to withdraw what little money they have saved. Silently, she dresses and walks into the fields. They are nothing but ashes and withered husks now. All of it is gone. Her sandals make tiny crinkling noises as she moves, and the only other sounds are the lowing of the wind and her own heartbeat in her ears. In the space of one night, the colors have been scoured from this place… where once there were reds and yellows and purples and dozens of shades of green, now there is only black and grey. It still reeks of fire, of heat that she cannot feel, only imagine. The smell violates her senses and festers inside her. She does not know why she keeps walking; the house is far behind her now, and there is nothing here but death.


She rubs at her eyes, thinking that they must be playing tricks on her. She rubs them again. She deliberately looks away, then back, just to be sure.

In the midst of all the black and grey, she sees a single spot of bright red.

She all but flies to it. She falls to her knees in the ash before it, tears rolling down her cheeks and matting her fur. A single flower juts out of the destruction, just one. She has never seen anything like it before: it is something like a rose and something like a carnation. Its many blood-red petals are arranged in a spiral pattern, and its stem is smooth and thornless.

How this one flower survived the fire, she does not know, but she sees it for what it is: a miracle from the Goddess. It is a sign, a sign that perhaps things will be all right after all. Gently she scoops it up along with the soil underneath the carpet of ash, making sure to maintain the delicate root structure. Perhaps, she thinks, she will plant it in a pot, and place the pot on her windowsill… as a reminder. A reminder of all that used to grow here: the tiny trees, the shrubs, the rows of rows of cabbages, radishes, and beets, the berry bushes, and all those thousands of flowers…

As she remembers, the strange flower moves in her hands, plunging new roots into the soil beneath her.

And as she watches, the dead fields erupt with new life… With impossible speed, the tiny trees sprout once more, and they grow and grow and grow before her eyes, spreading their new leaves wide over her head. The rows of cabbages, radishes, and beets spring back up in their rows, and there are twice as many as before. The berry bushes spill over with succulent fruits, so many that their branches creak with effort to hold them all. And everywhere there are flowers, bright and beautiful and colorful, their scents mingling and intoxicating…

All of it is back. All of it is better than before.

She sits in disbelief among the new fields, barely able to comprehend what has happened.

All of it is back. All of it is better than before.

There is only one explanation, she thinks, but she must test it. She has to be sure. Clutching the strange flower to her breast, she closes her eyes and thinks of a peach… a single ripe peach with its silly, fuzzy outer skin, its inside bursting with sweet juice.

When she opens her eyes, there it is hovering before her, hanging on a tiny sapling with just the one fruit, bowed and burdened with its weight. Exactly as she imagined. One single, perfectly ripe peach.

Joy swells in her heart. It is a miracle, a miracle straight from Lady Terra. This flower, wherever it came from, can save her farm, save her family. More than that, it can make things better. Now they will have all the harvest they will ever need. Even better, with a power like this… no one will ever need to go hungry again. Truly, she is blessed.

She runs back to the house, her fingers tight around the miraculous flower’s smooth and thornless stem. She cannot wait for her parents to come home.

A hand cracks across her cheek. It is her mother’s hand. Her mother’s claws leave marks in her flesh that ooze with blood.

It is night. Her mother and father are back from the village. The moment they step through the door, stunned by the jungle of green that now surrounds their house, she tells them that everything will be all right. She tells them they are saved.

She tells them about the flower, about what she did that morning.

That is when the hand cracks across her cheek.

As she gazes in disbelief, her mother howls. She demands her daughter to repeat the first Edict, the greatest of them all: Cast not spells or magic. To do so is to alter nature, and nature is the domain of the Goddess alone.

Confused, desperate, she tries to tell her mother that this miracle came from the Goddess. It can only be a good thing, why is she angry?

Another strike sends her to the floor.

Witch, her mother calls her. Blasphemer, harlot, desecrator. Spittle flies from her lips, her voice grows hoarse from shouting, all her fur is raised. She tells her that she has broken the first and greatest Edict, and that the Goddess could not possibly contradict herself so. To send her daughter magic would violate everything they stand for. Their family tended these fields for hundreds of years, working only with their own hands… and now she has defiled that work. Even worse, she has defiled it and claimed that it is the Goddess’s will. The new fields of green are a monstrous thing, born from unnatural means, from her sacrilege. The new growth cannot be harvested and cannot be sold. It must be destroyed.

Her eyes overflow with tears. She crawls to her father, who has not moved or made a sound during his mate’s tirade, merely sitting wide-eyed in his favorite chair. She clutches at him, imploring hin to make her mother listen.

Her father pulls away from her grasp. He says that his daughter must be dead, for his daughter would have never disobeyed the most sacred Edict. His voice is cold as a winter’s night. His face, that sweet, loving face that kissed her goodnight every night, is a dead thing without feeling, the face of a stranger.

Trembling with rage, her mother tells her to leave.

Weeping, she says that she does not understand.

Her mother tells her she is no longer welcome in their home. She says that she has no child.

Aghast, she turns to her father.

Her father turns his face away and says nothing.

In a blur of motion, she is being hauled to the door, the flower still in her fingertips. She weeps, but no one hears. She pleads for forgiveness, but none is given. She calls for her mother and father over and over and over and over. They do not listen.

She is hurled over the threshold. The door slams in her face, and the lock clicks shut.

Screaming, she scratches at it, her claws leaving divots in the soft wood. She tells them she is sorry, that she meant no harm. She begs them to open the door, begs until her throat is raw and she can speak no more.

There is no answer.

A lost and haunted girl wanders Unify. She is thirteen years old. She is without a home, without a family, without a name. Terrified of herself, terrified of her own shadow, the only things she owns are the ragged clothes on her back… and the flower. She has kept it with her for the last year, using it sparingly, only to grow food for herself when she needs it the most. No one notices her. No one speaks to her, and in turn, she speaks to no one. Her every step is taken with dread that someone will learn her secret, her shame.

Of the farm where she was born, and of the two people who were her parents, she knows nothing.

She drifts from place to place, never staying anywhere for long. She is like a ghost in the crowded city, all but invisible. The few who do take notice of her see her long golden hair, such an unusual color for her kind. Fewer still are the ones who can get close enough to see her eyes, a unique shade of robin’s egg blue, always meek, always afraid.

It is a hot summer day, thirteen months after the night of the fire, and she rests with her back against a cool stone wall in the Outer Rings of Tachi-cho. Her belly rumbles with hunger, but she does not dare grow herself something to eat… there are too many people passing by. Too many people who might see. All it takes is one of them, one who learns her secret, and they bring the wrath of the Goddess down upon her. Sometimes she thinks of casting the flower aside… but the hunger is always too great. Without the flower, she will truly have nothing.

She sits against the crumbling, moss-covered stone and she looks at her flower. Her mind is as empty as her stomach. She turns the flower in her fingers, admiring its beautiful red spiral petals. How does something so precious bring so much misery? She does not know.

The idea is upon her almost before she can process it: They do not have to know. They do not have to know that she uses magic to grow food and flowers. No one knows her, no one cares about her old life. So long as the plants she grows are sized carefully enough to avoid suspicion, and so long as she grows them out of sight, where no one can see…

True, doing so will break the first Edict. But, she thinks, she broke the Edict before, thirteen months and a lifetime ago, and paid penance for it. Much like her flower, she can rise again from the ashes, she thinks. It can be different now. She can use it to help people, help herself. So long as no one finds out…

She is nearly eighteen years old. She calls herself “Hanami”, just “Hanami”. Her old name, her old life, is but a tragic memory, one that lingers in her mind sometimes at night when she tries to sleep. She tries not to think about it.

She owns a stall in the Tachi-cho market. A small, humble stall, so as not to be suspect. Every night, under cover of darkness, she grows fruits and vegetables and flowers… ripe and healthy and colorful enough to catch the eye of passersby, but nothing that will strain their belief. Everything she sells is something that could be grown by hand with enough time and effort.

She makes enough to afford a small home in the Middle Rings, a home that is tiny, but comfortable. She no longer starves; with enough to eat and enough money to live on, she has blossomed into a beautiful young doe. Still, she keeps herself hidden when she can… she draws enough stares at the color of her hair.

When not tending her stall or her secret harvest, she wanders. She learns exactly how to use what she now thinks of as her Mage Flower. She learns its limitations, its advantages, everything it can and cannot do. She learns that she can grow anything that she has touched before, anything she can visualize… with this knowledge, she makes frequent trips to the stalls of other fruit and vegetable and flower vendors, to gardens around the city, to orchards outside the walls. Her versatility grows over time.

She is generous. Her customers in greatest need often find their produce larger and more bountiful than they expected. It is a risk, a foolish risk, but something in their hungry eyes speaks to her, and there are none she would wish that hunger upon.

She learns that she can not only grow but shape her plants. All it requires is visualization and a portion of her energy. Simple shapes cost almost nothing, but complex ones drain her for hours or days. She takes note, and plans accordingly.

It is a good life. A humble life, a simple life. She is happy. The dread that someone might learn her secret begins to fade. After all, she is careful, she is clever. She makes sure no one can see her when she works her magic, and she makes sure everything she grows is within the realm of belief. The flower rests behind her left ear, tucked into her golden hair. It rarely leaves her sight.

But all it takes is one person…

It is mid-autumn, and she is just now turned eighteen. Finished selling her wares for the day, she returns home, satisfied.

She does not know that one of the other vendors has grown envious. Everything this vendor tries to grow, the golden-haired doe seems to grow just a bit better. This happens again and again. Jealousy turns to resentment, and resentment turns to anger. She goes to a tavern and drinks deeply. She vents her frustrations to anyone who hears. In her state, she makes a suggestion that she will not remember later: that perhaps the golden-haired doe is using magic to grow her wares.

Most dismiss the suggestion as the mere ramblings of a bitter drunk. Silver magic, the magic of creation and growth, is vanishingly rare, and none of their kind would dare use it even if she had it. The Edicts are clear.

The two Daigundan samurai at the tavern, however, take an immediate interest.

They spend weeks watching the golden-haired doe, seeing nothing overly suspicious… but still the idea lingers. One bright and sunny day, they follow her home and knock on her door once she closes it.

She opens the door and sees two Daigundan samurai in their red and white and gold, and as they explain that they have some concerns, the dread she thought safely buried rushes back to the fore and seizes her heart with ice-cold fingers.

She tries to lie, to tell them that she knows nothing. They note her distress. They will not go away. All she wants is to live quietly, to be left alone, but they will not go away.

As she grows more and more panicked, they work their way into her home. They tell her she is in no danger, that if she is as innocent as she says, she has nothing to fear. They think to themselves that the vendor in the tavern may have simply been a bitter drunk after all.

Something within her snaps as they approach the back room, and the tiny plot of fertile soil that brings forth such wonders.

When she regains herself, she cannot comprehend what she sees at first. Her home is different. Different, and quiet. There are thorned black branches everywhere, choking her table and chairs, her mantle, her floor, her walls, her ceiling. The only sound is a persistent drip, drip, drip, as if the water spellstone in her wash basin is leaking.

She focuses on that sound to bring herself back to reality, and sees the dark red puddle on her floor. Every few seconds, it ripples as a drop falls into it. Her eyes follow the path of those drops, into the densest tangle of branches…

The two samurai are in there, motionless, pinned to the back wall like mounted butterflies. The branches pierce through their armor in a dozen places each. The red drops stem from the second one’s helmet… she sees one staring, unseeing eye peering out of the samurai’s shattered facemask.

Drip, drip, drip.

She flees. She flees from the home she has come to love, from the life she has built up from nothing, from the cruel ones who will never let her be happy, who will not leave her alone. For hours she runs, and runs, and runs, never looking back. When she finally stops, she finds herself in a deep forest on the world’s eastern side…

She calls herself Hanami. She is an Outcast. She lives in an ancient forest called Tasakeru, and her home is a cottage fashioned from a living oak tree, a place she calls Haven Grove. For a few blessed months, she is accepted for who and what she is. Her new friends tell her that her magic is a gift, a gift that has saved their lives. She tells them a simplified story of why she left her old life, leaving many details unsaid, never mentioning her family, the farm where she was born, or the samurai that she attacked, whom she fears are dead. She begins to see her magic as a blessing again. Slowly, her fear of herself and her power fades once more. She is with people she feels she can trust… and one she feels she can love.

Then, one rainy morning, her fear returns, worse than ever.

True, her magic saves her friends’ lives. But that magic also hurts the one she loves, as it has hurt so many others. It lashes out, wild and uncontrolled, to protect her… and its brutality when doing so frightens her.

She begins to think that perhaps she has displeased the Goddess after all. She looks at her Mage Flower and finds no comfort in it, only fear.

Over the next few weeks, she has nightmares. One after another, vivid and terrible things. Visions of death and blood and pain. She sees her flower taking her friends’ lives, and then her own. She sees the farm again, rotted and abandoned, and the thorned black branches seize her and drag her inside as it begins to burn.

Her doubts are gone: she is being punished. She should not be here.

There is only one thing to do to make the punishment stop.

So she visits each of her friends in turn, to thank them and say goodbye, so that she will have no regrets. When she visits Rowan, she takes a copy of The Edicts of the Heavens from his library, just to affirm what she already knows to be true. When she visits Faun, she drinks with her and laughs with her, though her heart is heavy. When she visits Zero, she finally tells him that she loves him, and shares a kiss with him. A first, and last, bittersweet kiss. She leaves her sandals at his door.

With all this done, she has no more regrets.

There is but one thing more to do before the end.

She returns to Haven Grove and writes her story, her full confession, on a scroll for her friends to find. She writes of her sacrilege, of the many people she has hurt, of how she has lied to them for months about who she is, where she comes from, and why she ran away. She writes of how she has never even told them her real name, and how much she wishes she could find to courage to speak it.

She tells them that she loves them all, and that they should not mourn her; hers was a cursed life, and now she will finally be free. They, and the world, will be better off without her.

With tears in her eyes, she writes the final lines to Zero, pouring out her heart in words that he will not let the others read.

Once the message is written and left in a place where she knows her friends will see it, she leaves Haven Grove for the last time.

No regrets. She has made her peace, made her choice. The only question is where to end it.

The little voice in her mind answers her: The Tower. The Black Rose Tower.

Yes, she thinks to herself. That will do. She will go to the top of that strange tower and cast herself into the wind. There will be a few seconds of freefall at most… after that, the impact with the forest floor will kill her instantly, painlessly.

Then it will be over. She will at last be free.




3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: TWILIGHT’S DREAMING, CHAPTER 5 | Tasakeru
  2. Trackback: BHS Blogress Report: 2018, Week 51 – Hypest | Tasakeru
  3. Trackback: TWILIGHT’S DREAMING, CHAPTER 7 | Tasakeru

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