By: Renu K
She woke up in the middle of the sky.
The girl was free-falling headfirst through the clouds. Her waist-long dark hair continuously swiped at her arms and sides as she slowly opened her brown eyes. She was wearing a knee-length black dress and two bracelets on her wrist: one was a silver chain with charms and the other a green jade bracelet. Her eyes swept left and right as she tried to stir herself from her dazed state.
"Ungh…" the girl groaned. …Where am I? she thought. I-I'm falling! But…why don't I feel scared? It…must be a dream. Yeah, this couldn't happen in real life. My ears would be bleeding from the pressure right now if it were. I wonder why I'm dreaming about falling… How strange. What was I doing before I went to sleep?
"Traveling," said a reverberating voice.
Huh? But why?
"You're going to go meet your friends.
"Yes, they are like your family. They are the people you would cry and die for. That's why you're going to go see them. It's been two years since you've been together."
Two years? That's a long time. You know who my friends are…so who am I?
"Your name is Renu. You will live and die by your friends; that is the role I give you. I can sense your loyalty and you have lived a good life. I will not punish you…as long as you behave."
"Now go forth, my little doll. Play your role in my puppet world and maybe I'll see you again."
The sky grew dark as black clouds rolled in. They seeped into every white or blue spot in Renu's vision until she found herself falling into darkness. Fatigue overtook her and she closed her eyes again, drifting off to sleep.
She soon awoke with a start. She rolled onto her side and sat up. A dark forest surrounded her and the night sky was gazing down at her. Renu scooted back into the tree behind her and tried to collect her thoughts.
Where am I? she thought to herself. Oh right, I was going to go meet Nayuko-sama and Sakae.
She took out a crumpled roll of paper from her pocket. It displayed a map dotted with several orange continents surrounded by violet-colored oceans.
At the designated meeting spot. I'm already behind schedule after sleeping for so long. I have to be out of this forest by sunrise.
Renu stood up and began walking on the well-worn path through the forest. She tightened her red jacket around her as the fog in the trees laid down upon her.
This forest is really creepy though… It's supposed to be dangerous too…but I won't let that stop me! Getting to that meeting place is my top priority! Yeah!
Invigorated, Renu walked even faster through the forest. She came across a gathering of crows with gleaming yellow eyes in the trees. Suddenly, the flock took flight and swooped down at Renu. They began to rapidly peck and attack her without mercy. She quickly began to run while trying to fend them off with her arms.
This sucks!! What the heck do rabid crows want with me?!
She was running for her life.
A girl was dashing frantically across a bare plateau as the ground shook beneath her. Her black hair, tied in two braids, slapped her shoulders as she jumped to avoid rocks in her path. Behind her, a gigantic reptile resembling a tyrannosaurus rex was chasing after her. Its rows of teeth glistened with the saliva that longed to swallow the girl up.
"I—thought—that dinosaurs—were—extinct!" she screamed all the while panting and running.
She reached the edge of the cliff and turned to face the beast.
There is no way I'm gonna be this thing's midnight snack, she thought to herself. She took in a deep breath. Here goes everything…
She leaped off of the cliff and careened toward the ocean water below.
She felt death crawling into her veins.
A girl struggled through the snow in the middle of a blizzard. Her black cloak shielded her upper body from the beating ice but did nothing for her legs which her knee-deep in snow. Her eyelashes were weighed down by collected snowflakes, but she found it hard to see even when she wiped her eyes. There was nothing but white walls everywhere she looked and there was nowhere to establish a shelter.
Fatigue seized her body and she collapsed in the white powder. Howling was heard amidst the shrieking wind. She opened her eyes but was helpless to move away. A pack of silver and brown-coated wolves approached and encircled her.
Renu emerged from the dark woods with scratches and bleeding cuts all over her. The sun had already risen and shined in her eyes as a greeting from the outside of the menacing forest. She discovered a meadow of colorful flowers bathed in orange and fuchsia light from the warm sunrise. Surrounding the meadow was a tranquil green forest, much unlike the bare, ensnaring woods she had just emerged from.
Made it…she thought. End's Sanctuary.
She sauntered through the meadow and entered the forest. After a short walk, a small clearing came into view. A single boulder with roughly-cut flat sides sat in the middle of the clearing. Streams of sunlight dotted the lush green area and a sigh escaped from Renu and she climbed onto the boulder. She relaxed as she observed her wounds.
A rustling was heard behind her and she braced herself on the rock. Suddenly, a figure leaped out from the forest and threw its arms around Renu. Had she not clung to the rock, she would have been knocked off her pedestal in the tight embrace.
"Sakae!" Renu exclaimed.
"Hey," the girl in braids greeted. "It's good to see you again."
"Well gee, you've only had two years to miss me," Renu said with a thick layer of sarcasm.
"Hush!" Sakae ordered. "So is Nayuko-sama here yet?"
"She's probably hiding in fear of one of your hugs."
"Uh, more like I should probably hide from one of hers."
"True," Renu said with a nod.
"Whoa, what's with all the scratches?" Sakae observed. "Did the Dark Realm not want their precious little Renu-chan to leave?"
"More like they wanted me to leave faster. These demon birds started chasing after me when I came into Ave's Forest."
"Ugh, same here. This huge dinosaur appeared out of nowhere and I had to run for my life. I lost him when I jumped off this cliff and caught the edge. He pretty much lost interest after that."
"You ought to expect that kind of thing while going through Seiryuu Mountains. Most of that territory is still unexplored."
"Tch, whatever! You try seeing how you'll survive when a ten-story prehistoric reptile chases you."
They continued to bicker until a large silver wolf appeared in the clearing. It unloaded its dark-colored burden from its back and left the area without a sound.
"Nayuko-sama!" Renu shouted.
The two rushed over to the girl's side. Her black cloak was soaked through and her lips were tinged blue. Her long wavy hair hung loose from the braid it was previously in.
"She's freezing!" Sakae exclaimed.
"She probably had to go through a blizzard while going through the Ice Lands," Renu theorized.
"The closest city is Lakemoon Trade City," said Sakae. "Here, I'll carry her on my back."
They placed the unconscious girl on Sakae's back and began exiting the clearing. It was a few hours before they found a town and they had to ask around for directions before arriving at a doctor's office. The girl they called Nayuko was taken in by the doctor and cared for over the course of an hour. Renu and Sakae waited alone in the lobby of the clinic.
"She probably has frostbite…and pneumonia too," Sakae pondered.
"Cut it out," Renu said. "You're making me more nervous."
They waited in silence until a nurse in a crisp, clean white uniform entered the room.
"Excuse me," the nurse began. "You're the ones who brought in Reiku-san, correct?"
"Yes, is she all right?" Sakae asked.
"She'll be just fine," said the nurse. "It's a miracle really. Her fever got to 107 degrees Fahrenheit and she died on the table. After about fifteen minutes of resuscitation, she amazingly came back to life. Now, come along. Her room is this way."
The nurse scurried off, leaving Renu and Sakae shocked speechless by her cheerful and airy demeanor during the entire story. They looked at each other with identical surprised expressions and Renu shrugged before they decided to follow the nurse. They arrived in a room where they found Nayuko stirring from her sleep.
"Hey there, sleepy-head," Sakae greeted.
"Sakae-chan…?" Nayuko responded, still dazed.
Renu approached the bed and looked down at Nayuko.
"Nayuko-sama," Renu said.
Nayuko immediately threw her arms around Renu and squeezed her tightly.
"Renu-chan!" Nayuko shouted.
"Hey, you shouldn't be moving around so much in your condition," Sakae said worriedly.
"Oh hush silly, Master is fine," Nayuko responded with an overly exuberant smile. "A worthless cold can't kill me!"
"Actually, it kind of did…" Renu muttered.
"What?" asked Nayuko.
"Nevermind," Renu said swiftly.
"You're sure you're feeling okay?" Sakae questioned.
"Yes, yes, I told you that I'm fine," Nayuko answered quickly. She embraced Renu again. "I'm just happy to see both of my 'slave-chan's again!"
"Hey, don't I get a hug?" Sakae whined.
"Oh, of course, Sakae-chan," responded Nayuko. "Renu-chan just gets first dibs because she's higher ranking than you."
"But she got two hugs," noted Sakae. "I didn't even get one."
"Oh, quit your whining, Sakae-chan," ordered Nayuko.
"Yes, it's very unbecoming," added Renu.
"Both of you just hush!" Sakae demanded.
By late afternoon, the doctors designated it safe for Nayuko to be discharged and the three left for the city. They entered a restaurant and enjoyed a late lunch on the outdoor patio.
"So what's the game plan?" Sakae asked.
"We go to the Inner Continent and find a way to clear our names," Renu informed. "Two years should have been long enough for all that chaos to settle down."
"How do we get there without being arrested?" Sakae asked.
"With the costumes I asked Nayuko-sama to make," Renu stated, nodding toward Nayuko. "Do you have them?"
"Right here," Nayuko replied, pulling out a white bundle from her bag.
"Great," commented Sakae.
"Let's head to Drifting Port then," said Renu. "We can catch a ship to the Inner Continent from there."