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Evening, May 1st, 2012 ,, The sunlight filtered through the thick vines and thorns, still strong enough pierce her eyes with pain nearly as much as the thorns if she strayed from the narrow path and brushed against them. She had to keep running, though, even if it meant stumbling and pricks along her half-bare arms. She couldn't remember how long it had been since the last time since....since someone had gotten close, but she knew she was being chased and she had to keep running. Had she ever done anything other than run? Memories flickered through her mind and a rock scooted onto the path to trip her. ,, She tumbled down to the ground, throwing herself as much to the center of the clear line of dark earth winding between the tree-sized vines as she could. The rock snickered nastily and grew to the size of a boulder; she could hear the groan of the ground as it began to roll towards her. She scrambled, crab-like, away from it. She knew if she took the time to stand up, it would roll over her and crush her. It kept growing larger and gaining speed, expanding to fill the entire path and even push on the vines along the edge. Her heart pounding, she covered her face with her arms and rolled towards the vines, wondering if death by impalement was worse than death by crushing. ,, Death is death, honey. It's not cruel and it's not fair, it just is. It reminds us to live every moment as happily and fully as we can. That's what your mother would have wanted. Her father's voice had been with her for as long as she could remember, little snippets of conversations around campfires or in a warm bed just before sleep. ,, Thorns ripped into her flesh, tracing bright red lines down her arms and legs and setting her entire body on fire as the boulder rumbled past her, grumbling at her escape from it. It was rolling too fast to slow down and turn around on the path quick enough to crash through the vines onto her before she could run, though, and it lazily continued along the path, looking for another bit of prey. She curled up on herself, tears slipping through her arms and watering the ground beneath her, mixing with her blood and the soil. Small iridescent red flowers began blooming beneath her, the petals metal-sharp and keening in a mockery of her own crying. ,, I fell down, papa. I broke my knee. ,, It's just a scrape, sprout. You're barely even bleeding. ,, It hurts! ,, It's just a little blood, kiddo. Time to get back up. You're almost there. ,, Almost where, papa? ,, Can you see the stars, Zoe? Can you see the Swan? ,, Swan? ,, Something bit at her, a dull half-circle of pain digging into her arm, followed by a loud honking. She opened her arms enough to see a white swan standing over her, honking impatiently. It nipped at her arm again and then spun around, trundling off into the thick of the vines. She pulled herself up as much as she could, stumbling after it through the green foliage. The thorns ripped at her again at first, but the farther she chased after it, the smaller they became, slowly transforming from wicked instruments of torture into soft, pliant leaves. The vines became smaller but denser, taking on a brown, woody texture and eventually forcing her to crawl on her knees after the bird. The light, blinding before, faded from above, but the swan itself gave off a lustrous white glow. After a short eternity, the plants gave way entirely to a green ground of soft grass, rolling gently away towards a building. The swan gave a final honk from the middle of the grass then thrust itself into the air, wheeling up into the sky until it burst into a half-dozen glowing points of light and faded into the Cygnus constellation. ,, She laborously pulled herself upright, staring at the night sky. Shouldn't I be up there? An evening breeze wandered by and cooled her skin, goosebumps flushing over her. She blinked and pulled her eyes from the stars, looking at her earth-bound surroundings. Papa, where am I now? ,, ,, Zoe's Clothing
Morning Kamiko sleeps in her room, surrounded by her three favorite things. Her books, her cloak, and a little kitten stuffed animal she got from a UFO Catcher. Light begins to clear over her books from a crack in her window shades. Stirring her from her slumber on a air mattress on the floor. She never wanted a bed. Or anything else. She sometimes wondered why her adoptive parents don't insist on a normal room. Just means more room for her collections. She gets up, rubbing the sleepers and book dust from her eyes before putting her glasses and slippers on. It's a modern hardwood floor, very western in design, if you look past the halls that look more like the insides of some science fiction starship. White paneled with data screens, storage... The design of someone who was looking for utility, not architectural asthetics. She smells a massive breakfast being cooked from the kitchen of the estate. "Good morning dear!" A woman says from her position behind a stainless steel stove. "I've been setting up to make your spam and egg sandwiches like you like them." Her pink hair looks very discombobulated. Like she had been working at it. Particularly with her husband already sitting at the table. A 8-foot, half ton humanoid tiger, his bluish white fir bristling with hunger pangs. "Hurry it up... I got a meeting with the JGSDF in an hour. We're discussing that contingency plan today." "Oh that one? Surely China wouldn't be stupid enough as to attack now." "I wouldn't put it past them, Doryoku." "So, Kami... How was your sleep today?" The tiger looks over at his adopted daughter. Being sterile as the sahara bothered him so, and was happy to have adopted Kamiko from his best friends after their untimely deaths 8 years ago. "Well... it was restful." She sits down, her pajamas not fitting right, as if bought for a full grown woman than a girl of her age and stature. "Had nightmares later on though." "Regarding?" Doryoku asked. "Regarding Tokyo... burning..." The tiger-man grunts. "As if... no one could even touch Tokyo with my protection, Kami." "It's Kamiko, father. Or should I start calling you Long?" "Touche..." Long says. "Alright, you start doing your chores without complaining and I'll start calling you by your name, alright?" She scratches her head. "...WITH no paper familiars." Kamiko pouts. "Alright... Kami it is." Long grins. "See... the power of negotiation." Kamiko watches as Doryoku places Long's dinner at the table. "Your sandwiches are coming up. I got to get to Osaka and talk with Kou regarding an adjustment of disaster response. I left your at-will allowance on the front table. You also have access to the supply debit card today. I would have made some omlettes, but I got to go in like... 10 minutes and we need to get new Spam for the disaster supplies. Restock what you see we need." "Expecting something?" Kamiko asks, observing Doryoku's movements carefully for any tells of impending doom. "No... the expiration date is in 5 days." Kamiko grunts... as if salmonella would fell a mighty nova like Long or even her. "Mother, don't ever do that to me again." She says as her breakfast is placed on the table. "Sorry, dear." Kamiko eats slowly as Sakurako and Long eat at a speed that would be called gluttonous by baseline standards and clean their table placements with professional eater timings. Also she is thinking of what she'll get with her at-will allowance. She pulls out a old map from a dresser drawer in a hallway cabinet and brings it back to the kitchen. She starts looking at some marked locations on it. "Sweet... no survival lessons, no naginata sparing... no homeschooling today... today... Jimbocho is my objective." She calls up a couple of numbers on the map. "Hello, Mr. Nakamura, I'm Kamiko Hideyoshi... Yes... I still have my customer reward card." She smiles, looking at the map. "So... what is new in your store today?" She looks at her at-will allowance and frowns. "For sale... and still purchasable with the reward points." ...To be continued.