“Well hello there, my little sparrows. Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?”
Sachen crawled to the wall. “You are-”
“Yes… miss me? It’s the ‘daughter’ of the dead witch.”
“Azukunika!” Neha said, she curled herself next to Sachen. “W-why are you here?”
Azukunika snickered. She lurched her face upon Sachen and growled when seeing Sachen’s necklace. With a frown, Azukunika yanked the jewelry. The chain snapped in half. She squeezed the emerald, her nails carved small cuts. Fire brimmed in her eyes, and curses came out of her mouth.
“This necklace… is a disgrace… a symbol of vile monstrosity. You should have never gotten this.”
“Give that back!” Sachen grabbed the woman’s arms, and tried to pry open her hands. Azukunika pushed her aside with little effort.
“What do you mean ‘vile monstrosity’? Usheniko would never-”
Azukunika zipped Sachen’s lips. Sachen trembled from the bottom of her feet to her head.
“You are such fools, little girls. First of all… do you think you can get away with the madness that you have caused from your little plan?” She pointed her fingers towards the school, where the battalion began to suppress the students. With the assistance of the teachers, the soldiers thrust back the students inside the school, and punishment would soon come to them. Most of the high school kids fought back, only for the soldiers to arrest them. “Look at that! It was thanks to you two stealing the documents from the shed, that the battalion had to deal with the rage of the students!”
“W-what?! How do you know?” Neha asked.
“I was watching the whole time. Days before the plan, you two met at the school grounds, and ran through the cemetery and arrived at the northern gate. I took my precious time to see what you two were up to in your shenanigans – and surprise, you were able to slip by.”
Sachen scratched her nose and fumed. “So the one in the forest… that was you!”
“Indeed. You lack quite an awareness, and you should have known sooner. I would have given you the chance to catch me, but that wouldn’t be fun. I just want to witness everything. After all, I am a loyal servant to the High Order, so I have to know what’s up!”
Azukunika cackled, and she wheezed over and over until her throat dried. “Oh my goodness! I am doing a good job am I, my Lord?! I have done my deeds for the sake of your righteousness and power! Good thing you approve of the raid from before, and it only managed to teach them a bit of a lesson! But now, the second raid might be cancelled… the heavens won’t like this one bit.”
The face of the woman shocked the nerves of Sachen. The girl rolled her sleeves, clenched her fists, and punched Azukunika with whatever strength she had available. Her punches only flapped the woman’s robes, but Sachen peristed. Never before could she fathom that such a person like Azukunika would lead herself to satisfaction in the wake of the turmoils that had happened during these times. Sachen wanted to sock the woman in the face – if only she were tall enough to do so.
“You can punch me if you want to, it won’t hurt.” Azukunika poked Neha’s head, the latter moaned. “And you little girl, I think it’s best for you to stay put! Don’t be crying anymore, because something good will happen to you soon enough. I had a nice long chat with your mother long ago, although she rambled a lot of irrelevant things. Too bad my presence caused her to be more, how do I say it… deranged.” She inked a grin.
“W-what do you mean my mother?” Neha walked up to the woman, she fiddled her tiny fingers. Please tell me, I am worried-”
Azukunika shook her head and closed her eyes. Neha stepped back, she winced from her bodily scent of peppermint. Seeming to notice something odd, Neha retreated to Sachen’s side; she snuggled her face upon her friend’s arm without a word.
“You don’t need to know,” Azukunika said. “All you need to worry about is your own education. Huh, the situation over there has been cleared up fast. I guess the students got tired of fighting, and decided to give up. So much for protesting. They’re going to be in re-education classes; you girls will not be spared. You will learn everything that is good about the Lama, you will conform to his beliefs, and you will spite whoever opposes him! How fantastic!”
“Shut up, Azukunika!” Sachen was about to launch another barrage of punches again; Neha tugged her friend’s uniform, and pulled her away. Sachen seethed, her face reddened more than blood. “We are trying to spread the truth! The Lama is a cold-hearted man, and he is trying to slaughter us for his assurance and popularity! There’s no doubt about that!”
“Tell that to the teacher.” Azukunika scoffed, she chucked the emerald necklace to the ground. She stomped on it a couple of times.
Sachen then retrieved the item and tried to attach it around her neck, but the chain was already broken.
Azukunika glared. From the clicking of her teeth, her smile faded away for a few moments.
“Can you say that name again? Just so I can hear you clearly?”
Sachen tilted her head. “Azukunika-”
The woman struck herself with laughter again. “Oh my goodness! The way you say it, it’s so hilarious, like you are a doll or something! Hahaha, that name is an abomination, a curse upon my soul!” She leaned herself closer to the girls, she perked her lips and wiggled her eyebrows. “Tell me ladies… do I look like Azukunika? Do I really look like Usheniko, the one that people say it’s my mother?”
Neha stammered. Instead of answering, she scratched her cheeks.
Sachen scowled and gazed attentively at the woman’s face. Something dark lingered within her lips and eyes. The point where Azukunika’s pupils turned dim, Sachen rolled her tongue. She choked from a buildup of saliva in her throat. Then shaking her head many times, Sachen couldn’t get herself around this. Perhaps this woman was asking a trick question? Maybe she was tormenting the girls more and more until they would surrender? Up to this point, Sachen, along with Neha, had always known that Azukunika was an offspring of Usheniko. There seemed to be nothing to refute that. Even if they shared different characters and appearances, a parent would always come to recognize his/her kids as part of their personal lives. Usheniko would never throw away her daughter – but from the start, Azukunika was the one that threw the kind woman away to her demise.
Sachen crumpled her arms. Neha squeezed the shoulders of her friend, she reassured that the woman might be messing around with them. But the silence and unmoving lips of Azukunika showed otherwise.
The woman laughed to herself, as though she had taken this moment as a joke. She shrugged and slumped her back against the wall. Kicking her heels upon the grounds, her lips moved again. She darted her eyes to the school, then returned her attention to the duo. Haze overwhelmed her eyes.
“Azukunika is not yours truly. I am Naransaya, the person who swore vengeance upon Usheniko’s family. The real Azukunika… is still in prison, sentenced for life.”
Sachen thought that she had heard a lie. For this woman to be somebody else, it seemed unbelievable. But it soon cross Sachen’s mind, and in an instant, she yelped. She huddled close to Neha and pressed her hands against her chest. It couldn’t be anymore true. As much as Sachen wanted to deny it, the consideration would do more harm than good. Now that the truth had come out of the woman’s mouth, Sachen uttered every insult known to man, pinched her face so hard that it could bleed, and rattled her fists. Neha was unable to contain her.
“You dog, you devil, you bottom feeder, you scoundrel of the north! How can you lie to us like that?! I should have known! Dang it!”
“Hahaha!” Naransaya twisted her head, she let out a thrill. “What’s the matter? Is the truth too much for you?”
Neha hyperventilated. She tumbled to the ground. “Please don’t hurt us, please don’t hurt us… please!”
“Too late, too bad. Ah, it feels good to see you girls scared out of your minds! So do you want to know more about my vengeance? I bet I have to satisfy your curiosity, isn’t that right? If Usheniko were here, then she would come to save you – but she’s sleeping with the bugs right now!”
The girls held each other’s hands and walked away from Naransaya.
With shaky legs and sweaty hands, they returned to the street. At the school grounds, the soldiers of the battalion further taunted the fat officer, taking it to the point where they started to kick him like a donkey. The fat man wailed; they then stowed him away to the front gates, hauled him to the southern district. Without noticing the girls, the battalion walked off. Right after that, Naransaya strided to their sides and smirked. Her expression froze the hearts of the duo. Nothing much they could say back, they mumbled.
Naransaya hugged herself and nestled her cheeks against her shoulders. She burst into giggles, that gesture to which it became an annoyance to the pair. To their dismay, Naransaya regained her composure. She stood still. With the showing of her teeth, she cast shadows under her eyes.
“Do you want to know the truth? Come on, come on, answer me you little runts! I am dying to tell you! Hurry hurry, give me something! You said yes? Okay!”
“This woman is crazy,” Sachen whispered to Neha.
“Wonderful!” Naransaya said, she jumped up. “Well then, let me tell you a story, a story that your little hearts and brains wouldn’t even take without falling apart, but you’ll understand anyway. Do you know that treacherous, poor leader that we had two years ago? From the start, the likes of the reactionaries were suspicious to Ozughen’s administration. Thus, an abbot named Yebuka sent my father to spy on the Ganshipe family.”
Naransaya shuffled her steps to the school gates and stared at the front door. The door hung ajar, the wood of the frame contained split parts and splinters, still intact from the outrage of the student body. She zipped her lips. In the moment that her smile turned into a frown, her presence chilled the girls. Something seemed to sprinkle a bout of sadness on Naransaya’s face. She brought her gaze down, and muttered words with a breaking of her voice. She turned back to the girls.
“I begged my father not to go because of the dangers, but he swayed me off. The last time I saw him, he showed me a big smile. Thus, he went off to the house of the fiends. It was rather lavish, with every room having decorations and items pertaining to the work of the devil; plus, the house was so big that it took one-fourth of the northern district! My father blended in quite easily. He got himself acquainted with many members, most importantly the patriarch and his wife, all of them wore that disgusting emerald. He aimed to expose them to the light by trying to find evidence that they were using black magic to worsen the conditions of the village. But… but… a month had passed since the start of the mission.”
Naransaya’s voice dipped. She grabbed her robe tightly and boiled.
The haze in her eyes darkened, leaving nothing but a faint glimmer.
“Those bastards killed him, the one I loved dearly. They manifested their vile monstrosity. They made him drunk, to which he confessed everything about his plan. In a rage, they stabbed him, choked him alive, burned his skin, shot him in the head, and tarred and feathered his body. He died in the most excruciating form of agony… goddamnit!”
Naransaya stomped on the cobblestone, she scratched her heel and sole.
“Yebuka was outraged, and when he told the news to me, I was so pissed! He let me join his side, and for a while, I had something to fight for. Damn, damn, damn!”
Neha pursed her lips. Her heart softened for a bit. “I-I’m so sorry to hear that. If there is-”
“No apology could bring back my father!” Naransaya snapped her fingers. She then hissed. “You don’t know what it feels like to lose a loved one, don’t you?”
“Hey! Neha does know!” Sachen said. “What gives you the right to say that?”
Bringing her head up, Naransaya gurgled her voice. Tears flowed through her cheeks. “You don’t know at all! Shut up! In retaliation to my father’s death, Yebuka and his group gathered a bundle of support; at the same time, they acquired weapons and armor from night raids of the armory. It was then that the revolution happened. We set up camp in the forest, where we made continuous ambushes and sabotages against the High Order. We obtained victory after victory. But it was one gloomy night, where Yebuka almost had his life taken.”
Naransaya coughed violently. She brushed her hair aside and walked closer and closer to the duo. Sachen and Neha turned quiet. Their hearts flapped like a butterfly’s wings, and countless thoughts overflowed their minds. It looked like they won’t leave the street anytime soon without hearing everything from the woman.
“To hope that they could win the whole conflict, the 27th Lama called Usheniko’s daughter: Azukunika. He assigned her to assassinate Yebuka under the full moon. That way, they could destabilize the rebels and crush them. That night, when the revolutionaries were sleeping, Azukunika sneaked into Yebuka’s hideout. She stabbed his abdomen with a knife, just two times – but our men caught sight of her. She ran away, able to escape from our grasp. Yebuka managed to heal quickly, and luckily, he had his eyes open during the botched attempt by that lecherous woman.”
Sachen gnawed on her lips. “No wonder the High Order arrested Azukunika for that.”
Getting dizzy from the woman’s account, Neha collapsed on her knees. Sachen grabbed ahold of her and she then scowled at Naransaya.
She admonished the woman for saying such horrible things. But Naransaya held no qualms; her face bred fulfillment. Darkness hung over the girls’ head.
“After the war, Yebuka threw a week-long celebration. Everybody was happy, and they considered Yebuka to be a god, to which he was too humble to accept such a claim. Then Yebuka brought Azukunika to trial. He expressed his inferno of rage, he spat insults upon her family and he really wanted to kill her. But, he was merciful. You know what the fate of Azukunika was… oh, if I had been there, then I would have strangled that wench!”
Sachen fumed and gnashed her teeth. “You monster.”
“Haha! Usheniko settled herself down in the northern district, she lived a peaceful life. Nobody batted an eye on her. The Lama ordered me to infiltrate her home and pretend to be her daughter. I committed myself to it, albeit it being exhausting. And you know the story from there… haha, haha, haha! Now you see how much I have to suffer to get to this point in time! Do you understand now, little sparrows?! Look at me!”
Neha and Sachen caved away from Naransaya. By the seconds did the woman resume running her mouth again with uncontrollable laughter; her face wrinkled from her tears. From there, everything had clicked and fit in their juvenile minds. They now beared the burden of knowing the truth. The girls imagined the horrors and bloodshed of the revolution, the fate of the family, the aftermath, and so forth; they had no words to accept the fact that Naransaya had to go through all of that.
How could a young adult like her be able to survive and fight back, even when her father died long ago? They could sympathize with the woman if she were not acting like this, but her circumstances alone terrified the life out of them.
The clouds and sun decayed from their colors. The girls sunk themselves to the cobblestone. Naransaya stepped up to Sachen, and once again she snatched her necklace and chucked them to the school grounds.
“Take that damn thing off your hands. Innocent blood had been spilled by that emerald.” Naransaya walked by them. Before she left, she spoke one more remark – this time, towards Neha. “Soon girl, will your time come. Let the gods help you in your endeavors.”
Naransaya departed the eastern district. By then, Sachen got herself somber. She hovered her sight to the rows of buildings in front of her and started to whimper. The words of the woman had drowned almost everything within her. Hope dwindled in her horizon. Along with Neha, the things Sachen had not known before, she would remember this as long as she live, cradling and suffering from the inconceivable side of the truth.
Neha, who reclaimed the necklace and gave it to Sachen, hugged her friend. Their heartbeats waned; the weight of the air dissolved into nothingness.
“It’ll be better if we go home.”
Sachen nodded. “Our plan went down the drain… because our classmates and the others were unable to stop the bad guys. What’s the point?”
“At least we tried our best,” Neha said. “But we will have to face the consequences.” She picked up Sachen. They then left the area.