Idea : A world where everyone is born with a single Word of power; a girl chooses to become a monk to avoid military conscription; eventually the Emperor orders the monks into the war as well…
Process : This was one of the hardest things I’ve written, for 3 main reasons: 1) tons of research into old stories, because Hiko’s Word takes place in ‘modern day’ Cerinoit, which I haven’t touched in years… 2) I’ve played with ‘the unwilling protagonist’ with About 3 Minutes, but Hiko is harder than Naomi because Naomi really should be doing this stuff—but you never want Hiko to have to become a soldier. It’s just sad. 3) Hiko’s people are ‘the bad guys’ in the rest of my Cerinoit stories. Sooo although Hiko can be good, I have to show how she gets involved in the war, and also how other people around her become ‘the bad guys’. Her friend Garo especially was difficult, because he’s a good guy and I have to make him baadddd *wahhhhh*. Part of this made the story venture out of YA and into teen/adult content, which I dislike, but ultimately… the overall villain of the story is just that way. So I have to figure out how to deal with that.
Oh also 4) war logistics? Really? What was I thinking?!
Edited? : Nope.
———– Read some! ———–
Intro: Meet Garo
Shouts woke Garo from his well-deserved afternoon nap. His ship had arrived at the new training camp only two days before, and any dreams he’d had of catching up on sleep once here were shattered along with his confidence during training. It hurt just to sit up, and the worst of it was that two days were nothing—it took these soldiers months, if not years to learn to fight like they did. They’d brushed up on the ship, all day, and this was following two years of basic training, and Garo and Miko had joked how they would arrive in a wave of glory to show their seniors just how powerful their reinforcements were. His first sword match had crushed that joke, and his first hand-to-hand match sunk him deep into despair. If it wouldn’t sound petulant he’d have told Miko he wanted to go home… but she had patted him on the shoulder and said “I guess we’ll need to practice twice as hard now,” with a false note of gusto, and it wasn’t fair to make her be strong when he felt like crying like a child. Now it was Miko who jumped to her feet to peer outside the tent, motioning to the other 4 trainees to be quiet. Taran, sitting up on Garo’s left, pulled his boots from under their blanket, and Haruko at his head accidentally kicked him while stretching out. Garo held in a curse, instead rubbing his head and finally joining the rest of them in their slow preparation. “Ok, move faster,” Miko barked, jumping for her jacket and stepping into her shoes at the same time.
“What is it?” Garo asked, his voice as rough and muddled as his head felt.
“I think we’re being attacked.”
“I bet it’s some sort of stupid training exercise. Or hazing,” said the last boy, Wan, refusing to get up.
Miko didn’t smile. “Um, I don’t think so. Stuff is burning.” These 5, along with a hundred other trainees, had spent the last year in the same camp, anticipating their arrival in enemy territory and the glorious battles they would fight here. Before that, they’d sailed the long two weeks from their homeland, and before that they’d trained a year together on Dragon Isle. Of those hundred trainees, Miko was the one who laughed the most, and she never exaggerated or lied. Coming from anyone else, Wan would have ignored them and gone back to sleep… but for Miko, he put his boots on lying down, and took out his knife. Taran, dressed and ready, peeked out the tent again, watching quietly. Garo tied a bandana around his forehead, heart starting to beat in anticipation. These trainees had only seen real combat once, when their previous training camp[ in Istoti, by Fugora] had been attacked during the night. Garo had never been more frightened in his life, and was grateful there were enough hardened soldiers at that camp to do most of the fighting. Those red-haired demons had been the strangest things he’d ever seen, and confirmation of the righteousness of their war.
“Now I understand why everyone calls them ‘colored heathens’,” Taran noted. “These things have black skin. They don’t look as threatening as the red demons. We might not have to do anything.”
“Coward,” Haruko said, whacking his leg.
“I’m not a coward,” he said, because her words struck a chord. Taran should have chosen to be a monk instead of a soldier. If he’d known his Word he would have.
Haruko didn’t press him, but moved him aside to take his place at the tent flap. “Multiple smoke towers. It looks bad. Let’s get out there.”
“We should stay put until we’re told,” Taran argued.
“Coward! What are you, a wounded sheep?”
“No, he’s right,” said Miko, “we can’t act without orders.”
“So if no one tells us to do anything we’ll burn to death in this tent? I don’t think so.” Haruko stepped outside, and the others hesitated only a few seconds before following her.
The youngest at 16, Haruko had the shortest temper and was the most bossy. Of course it would be up to her to ruin everything. They were spotted exiting the tent, and garbled cries in the heathen language alerted others of their presence. “Time for all this training to finally be put to the test!” Haruko called, sprinting after the guy who’d seen them. Like a true warrior, he stood his ground, raising his sword in his strange pink palms. His skin was black, as Taran had said, like some dark demon bear. Not intimidated by the longer weapon, Haruko brandished her knives and jumped straight in at the enemy. Her left hand parried the sword against a knife, then she jumped and kicked him in the face. Apparently the shock hit him harder than she had, for the demon quickly recovered and swung the sword in a wide arc. Haruko was the best of all the trainees in knife and hand-to-hand fighting, and she’d never forgive assistance, so Garo tore his eyes away and focused in on the other demons coming towards them. There were five.
“Five to four,” Miko sighed. “We’ll split the last one. Let’s go!” They charged, something exploded in the background, Garo stumbled and took a slash to the shoulder, then the adrenaline and anger struck and he moved like wind, like fire, like a raging river, as a snarling wolf—the demon couldn’t follow him or understand what was happening as Garo killed him… for Garo’s Word was Light.
Chapter 1: Meet Hiko
The rattling of wooden tags woke Hiko from her unintentional afternoon nap.
“You know, you know, tomorrow’s harvest day, you know?” said Kara, walking the perimeter of Hiko’s territory. She held her hand up to brush the tags hanging above, tags etched with the symbol meaning “Fly”. (飛) 250 tags marked the area, older tags replaced with newer ones when she could find no more space on the line. When Hiko first arrived at Kyoki Temple she carved 5 tags each day, using all space available to practice the symbol and engrain it in her mind. Now she felt comfortable enough to etch one side in the morning, one side before bed. The oldest tag was from 5 months ago, still burned from the fire that scarred Hiko’s hand.
“Were you sleeping?” Kara asked.
Hiko yawned and stretched her stiff arm, the fire scar bearing the imprint of her robe where it had been squished underneath her. “I don’t know why.” She’d been keeping a normal schedule.
“Get Yun to check you. Just in case. Don’t get me sick.”
The thought of visiting the busy medicine man (who rejected the title of ‘Doctor’) might brighten Hiko’s mood but she wasn’t sure when she would find time to do so, unless she skipped supper. Skipping supper earned reprimands from Mr. Yun, defeating the purpose of visiting him at this time.
“You could grab food and run,” Kara pointed out, as if reading her mind.
Hiko nodded, rubbing her neck. Her Word of Power made her light on her feet, enabling her to traverse distance in almost double the time it took other monks of her age. 1.85 the time using the basic word form, to be precise—accurately and meticulously recorded in the initiate logs.
“Annnnyway—harvest day! I can’t wait.”
“Why? What’s good about harvest?” Last year’s harvest Hiko had been down the north side of the mountain helping rebuild Togo village after the landslide. Their harvest had been mostly ruined so they didn’t need any help.
“Bushels of folks working together to gather victuals. Singing songs. Dancing around bonfires. That’s at the end though.”
Hiko brightened and clapped her hands. “I’m excited for the harvest festival. Ravi’s group is dancing. Tan’s group is drumming.” She named two of her close friends at the temple.
“Everyone’s been practicing all the time,” Kara agreed. She crouched down to bring her face level with Hiko. “So why are you sleeping?”
“Are you disrespecting your elder over there?” called Haide, the only other girl hanging around their sleeping hall.
“She’s not that much older,” Kara muttered.
“Hmmm?” Haide insisted.
“No,” Kara shot back. “Yun asked me to get her.”
“What,” Hiko didn’t quite ask, pursing her lips at the other girl’s lie.
Kara stood. “Yes, actually, he did, I’m not making it up.”
Hiko’s pique turned to curiosity, and she got up, brushing out her robe. “Why?”
“I didn’t ask. That would be disrespecting my elder.”
“As would chatting away about harvest when your elder sent you on an errand,” Haide said, now standing right outside Hiko’s pad, a frown plastered on her previously jovial face.
Kara shrugged. “It’s free time. It was luck I looked here first. And you can run fast.”
“Kara, I will find a menial chore to assign you your next free period,” Haide said, “this isn’t funny. Come on, Hiko, let’s go.”
Hiko slipped on her booties and fixed her hair. “You too?”
“It’s free time. I’ll just happen to be there. And I can tell him why you’re late.”
Hiko smiled gratefully at the older girl. “Ok. Can you keep up?”
“We’ll see.” Haide’s word was Wind (風), and she’d had several years of practice, but the two had never faced off. They’d only spoken once or twice, really. Haide was 16 and had been a part of the temple since she was 12, having transferred here from a smaller temple on one of the other islands to which she’d been initiated to when she was 6. This made her the senior of all the girls as far as initiate length, though there were a few girls slightly older. Hiko had only been here 2 years herself, since the draft. Also when she was 12.
The two girls stepped outside the lodge, and Hiko felt a chill down her spine. She squeaked, and Haide giggled. “Sorry.” Hiko smiled briefly but began concentrating on her Word, centering it in her vision. She hadn’t mastered multi-tasking with her Word by any means. Walking, running, seeing, and sometimes hearing, rarely speaking unless it was to repeat her Word. Now, as she pulled the Word through her, she set a part of her mind on maintaining the image of it, and set the rest of her mind to normal functionality to navigate to the medicine man’s hut. She stepped off the deck and her foot did not press into the ground, did not make an imprint in the top layer of dirt; it rested there, a twig brushing the underside of her foot. Her head shook to release lightly on the intensity of the word, cutting it down from its verb form to its root syllable, and she felt the pressure of the ground.
One push propelled her over six feet of earth, the next over eight. She had to maintain the power to keep herself light enough to move forward easily while staying close enough to the ground she had something to push off of. The Word in one of its full verb form could allow her to actually fly, to move through the air propelled by her magic, but that was difficult and she couldn’t do it well. Not well at all. It always ended with her falling in the lake.
“Tree!” Haide called, the ends of her ballooning cloak whipping around her feet.
“I can see it!” Hiko managed, pulling back on the frequency of her Word, but she had misjudged and was still aimed right at the thick cedar. One foot held up in front of her allowed her to bounce off the tree trunk, pushing her several feet into the air before she fell—lightly—back down to the ground. How fun was that! she thought to herself, wishing she could play more here, and reluctantly pushed herself forward. There was no good reason why Mr. Yun would want her, unless he knew that she—not a dancer or a musician or planner—would be idle during her free time when few other were, and needed someone for some menial task. Not uncharacteristic of him. Hiko realized she was slowing down and wiped all thoughts from her mind, concentrating again on the Word.