The Lost Ones by Lauren Le

Below the rising sun, multiple hard working villagers could be seen hacking away the glistening rice fields that greeted them once the sun was beginning to rise. Though soon, the eerie creaking of wooden footsteps echoed through the air, with the ominous jingling of bells echoing through the streets. Multiple civilians immediately parted ways to a large, old man holding a large metallic bucket of what appeared to be slop. His amber gaze fixated on the outskirts of the village, his eyes narrowing towards a large hill several meters away from the entrance of the red archway. He never did like his job, but he knew the villagers needed it more than anything, if he didn’t do it nobody else would. He was thankful his fellow villagers parted ways, biting his lip down nervously at a thought as he walked along the dirt pathway, the two bells clacking against each other on his belt ringing into the air.

Over the lush green hill with the blossom tree resting just atop the tall blades of grass, however, just on the other side, with the hill obscuring the view, a large hole was seen in the dirt floor. The ditch in the floor had multiple large stairways leading deeper into the earth, chilling stones outlining the top with flat pieces being stuck to the wall with sticky mud. Sickly claws of darkness kept hold as the jingling of bells carefully ringed out, airing closer and closer to the bottom of the hole. The only source of light that was seen was from the orange glow of the lantern piercing the thick darkness surrounding it. The footsteps echoed through the air, though the deeper the man carefully went, he could hear the taunting and familiar voices of multiple children.

A sudden wet splat echoed through the air as the man made his way down, bringing the lantern to his eye level as it illuminated the small room. The room itself was a cube shape with large bricks making the walls, the floor laid with stone tiles, before him were long strips of metal bars that made a cage-like arrangement. His eyes grazed over the sign that hung by two simple strings, “モンスター”, or otherwise known as “Monster”. He soon glanced towards a group of three children in the corner, sighing at their presence, he never understood why the kids came down to bother a creature. They hardly even knew the risks, but with the bars keeping it in, he wasn’t quite concerned, beginning to make his way cautiously towards the barred door, carefully pushing aside a sliding iron lock.

It was always the same, everyday, every week, every year was the same thing, trapped in this dark coffin as always. A young girl was sitting against the far wall from the others, her dull gaze fixated on the floor mostly. She couldn’t be bothered to deal with the kids as she sat there quietly, ignoring the familiar stench of rotting tomatoes that flooded the cell. She could feel the warmth suddenly washing over her body as the light from the dim lantern drew closer and closer, but she didn’t feel anything anymore. Simply staring at the dark floor below her feet as the man took a step back upon seeing her face. The deathly pale face that covered the right side of her body, her long and unkept white hair that hardly flew. What was even scarier was the scales covering the entire part of her left body, bits of it jutting out like stalagmites, the left side of her face was monstrous looking, scales shooting out like alligator teeth. 

She knew the routine by now, her knees tucked close to her chest with the rags that were her only clothes hardly clinging to her body. The look in her eyes shifted as she heard the metallic bang of the bucket dropping, the man letting out a soft sigh and once more regretting his job. The three kids in the corner snickering carefully at the bits of disgusting slop bouncing out of the bucket. She knew the feeling all too well, it wasn’t anything known, perhaps it was bad that she was so numb to it all, but it didn’t matter either way. She was just a curse on the village, if her own parents thought so on their own daughter why should she care? They had practically sold her off to this literal hell hole, perhaps that was her purpose here. To be forgotten, just like everything else. Right? 

It felt odd feeling the warmth emitting from the lantern, normally they stood at a farther distance, it was so alien that she actually lifted her head to look for it once. Though soon wincing at the bright light, squinting her eyes in pain as she reached her bony hand towards the bucket with it being pushed closer by the man’s feet. The man was beginning to leave without another word, being somewhat disgusted as she opened her mouth to eat, grimacing at the missing length on her tongue as she scarfed most of it down, the light fading from her cell. The slop was at least filled halfway, a bit more than she normally had but at least it was something.

The man couldn’t feel any pity or sympathy for such a creature, his brows furrowing as he watched her practically inhale the entire thing with each scoop of her hand. She could feel the judgemental stares from everyone, the uncaring and cold eyes that peered into her soul only hardened the sorrow in her dim blue eyes. She knew they always hated her, they always drowned her with scourge for nothing as she finished the bucket. She couldn’t help but run a hand over the shackle on both her wrist, her gaze growing duller as her expression remained emotionless. She couldn’t help but feel the familiar pang of sadness beginning to seep into her very heart. The grip on the bucket tightening the bully’s snickers beginning to grow once the man’s footsteps fully subsided. 

She never understood why they had to bother her all the time, though perhaps that’s their way of playing with her, even if it hurt at times it was the only true interactions she ever had. Her eyes blinked carefully as all three were beginning to approach. Her head tilted to the side carefully, even as her expression grew dimmer at the tomatoes they were holding. She didn’t bother with trying to hide, having given that up multiple years ago, she couldn’t count the amount of time she had known them. Well, she didn’t know how to count or read either now that she actually thought about it. Though her thoughts were interrupted by a sudden splat just on the left side of her cheek, a large amount of sweet tomato juice began to roll off her face as she took the opportunity to scarf it down, not caring for the others being thrown. It was the best food she had, it was much better than the slop and she rarely got to eat these odd red foods.

“Ew- 10 yen she’d do the same to your blood. Blegh.” A male voice spoke out from the leader of the other two, sticking his tongue out to the side as the other two laughed rather nervously, turning their heads away. The boy noticed as his brows immediately arched with disappointment, scowling before wrapping his arms around both their shoulders to help comfort and give them some form of bravery. Meanwhile she turned her head away from them to avoid being hit in the face, though never attacking back despite the mistreatment. Simply turning the other cheek as she continued to eat, slightly grateful for the more flavorful food.

“Stop being such chickens, it hasn’t even attacked anyone yet.” His voice grew stern as he shook her head, facepalming carefully. He never did like the other villagers for being such cowards, the great village of Golden Rain trembling in fear over some monster who wasn’t even older than themselves. His anger only grew towards the beast between the cell as she munched away at the tomatoes inside, having trouble finding them from how dark it was underground. The boy’s gaze focused on this with an eye roll, turning to both of his friends before pointing at the figure. 

“You’re really gonna be scared of that? It doesn’t even have a name, stop acting like everyone else-” He let out a small groan, rolling his eyes before pausing, a booming voice echoing through the area just from the entrance. For once the cursed girl finally lifted her head towards the voice in confusion, a small blink from her softened gaze. Their eyes soon turned towards this, though their expressions filled with annoyance as groans came from all three. Standing there was a young boy, no older than the young girl in the cave, his pale white hair being seen with glaring red eyes. His tanned skin showed fully as he spoke out against them, facepalming in disappointment.

“Geez, do you guys have to pick on a girl? No manners, sooo shameful.” His voice spoke  out with a large amount of sarcasm and sass behind it. The children from afar narrowed their eyes with annoyance though before they could speak the sudden cracking of knuckles came that immediately silenced them, their heads lowering carefully as they took a step back. They were not willing to get beat up again, remembering the last time they picked on him. The boy gave a sharp grin as he watched the three beginning to cower before him. His large size was quite noticeable compared to them, the young girl sitting in the cage watched with great confusion. She couldn’t understand what he was doing truthfully, she wondered if she was being defended, though she didn’t decide to question it further as she watched the three trudge along. She had never seen them act like this before, it was quite the surprise as she blinked, though her expression remained the same even then. She expected the usual words and insults that spewed from the other villagers, her hands slightly tightening around her knees. Ready to tank whatever pain or suffering would come next. 

“…Can you tell me your name please?” Though to her surprise, a warm voice suddenly spoke despite the cold prison she was in, a question she had never heard or been asked. The boy flashed an innocent and warm smile towards her as she stared in utter silence, unable to understand the question. Nor could she truly answer it, herself, her blank stare was unsettling to the boy, though it only intrigued him as he took another step closer. Closer than anyone ever had, they normally stayed multiple feet away aside from the man who always brought food. The boy himself didn’t bother showing fear, she was just a kid like him, and he always did find the village dumb at times. He suddenly outstretched his hand towards her without another word, his bright smile still resting on his expression, ignoring the bruises scattered along his arms. 

“Well… Er- I’m Amon! You look really cool.” Despite the boy’s rather lackluster attempt to start a conversation, she still remained quiet as ever, slightly entranced by his warm aura, though even more confused as he reached a hand out. She couldn’t remember the last time an actual human was allowed to greet or touch her. The boy tilted his head at her lack of response, though his eyes simply flashed with sympathy and a small amount of familiarity as he gently took her non-scaled hand, making sure it didn’t hurt despite his strong grip, and made it shake his other hand with a laugh. She blinked again, unable to understand the gesture, nor did she sense the anxious and nervous feeling coming from him.

“Sooooo you like any games?” He asked somewhat gingerly, hiding it underneath his playful persona, though slightly curious as she blinked again. She had never heard of games before, well, games that didn’t involve her getting pelted or hurt at the very least. She couldn’t help but wonder why he was doing this, why was he talking to her so much? What was even more surprising was the fact that he suddenly sat down beside her cell, giving an oblivious smile before opening his mouth and trying to start up, many, many, conversations. She couldn’t understand why he never stopped to leave, why he never stopped to do anything else, all he did was talk to her. That alone was a surprise but she knew if anyone found out, he wouldn’t be here for long.

Her eyes blinked as she listened to every last one. Her heart was swelling with guilt, feeling the urge to curl up the more he talked as her lack of answers simply ate away at her. She couldn’t even form the words with her lack of tongue, the boy noticed after multiple hours as the night fell over them, he had spoken so many times that his throat was beginning to hurt. But then again, it felt nice to have someone actually listen to him for once. He could feel the words of his parents beginning to enter his mind as he glanced towards the locks on the cage, blinking at the wooden sign that hung from it. His heart slightly swelling with familiarity and sympathy as he watched her emotionless expression. He didn’t mind it up to this point, though he did scratch his chin in an attempt to think he did want to communicate with her, she was really the only one who honestly listened.

“You know… You shouldn’t listen to everyone else… They’re just jerks! Just like the rest of the village…” He sighed at the small remembrance of the village, wiping a hand over his eyes with a dampened spot being left on his skin. Ignoring the spike of pain in his chest from the thought of his parents before covering it with a simple smile. The young girl stared at him for a moment, his eyes met hers as he sighed. Shaking his head away from the negative thoughts before scratching his chin. 

His eyes sooned grazed towards a few dead sticks off to the side near the entrance, most of the kids normally used them to poke at her as he gently grabbed onto it. The young girl herself slightly lowered her head, preparing herself for the worst before she heard an odd scribble echoing through the air, wood and dirt colliding as she carefully looked up. Her sapphire eyes glimmering lightly with confusion as she watched him draw something, his face full of determination. She was astounded by how kind he actually treated her, there was an odd comfort that always surrounded her every time he spoke. Though that only brought much more guilt as she lowered her head, feeling a small sense of loneliness at her lack of answers before she felt an odd and light poke at her scaled hand. It hardly hurt due to the protection but she looked over to see Amon practically gesturing with both of his hands, doing small jazz hands, only to find two stick figures with some scribbles next to it.

“Tadaaaaa, you can’t say no to this masterpiece.” He let out a giggle, feeling proud of himself as she gave a blank stare, her gaze fixating on the drawing depicting a very poorly drawn stick figure alongside a female one. He gently pointed the end of the stick towards the scribbles, beginning to outline the actual writing in japanese as he spoke, slowly spelling out his name. She watched with both intrigue and curiosity, her eyes glistening as she watched the stick running over the lines beautifully, or what she thought at least.

“A. M. O. N. Amon! That’s me, here, you try.” She blinked as she was immediately handed the stick, grabbing onto it and beginning to mimic it in a very inexperienced manner. Amon giggled at his slightly wonky name as he took the stick back, beginning to guide her through the alphabet. She was slow at learning, but eager to actually learn more once she knew of the alphabets, albeit, she couldn’t spell but it was an improvement nonetheless. He opened his mouth from time to time, pointing at his lips as they made the various sounds each made. It only made her much more curious, though she could never truly repeat the sounds. 

Despite the darkness in the cell she was in, Amon oddly never left her side no matter how dark it got. No matter how many times she didn’t respond properly, and never flinched at each blank stare she gave. It was almost as if he was used to it, though she couldn’t quite place her finger on it. Granted she could figure out some other bits at the very least despite her years of loneliness and isolation, it felt so odd to have someone by her side for once. Someone to interact with and talk to, he never yelled or raised his voice at her, no matter how many mistakes she made while learning the alphabet. She couldn’t quite remember everything, and misspelled nearly every word she tried to write out, including his name, but he always corrected her with his usual gentle smile. 

A part of her wondered why the world couldn’t just be her and Amon, the only person she considered a true friend over the past few days. Even when he left he was always coming right back. Her loneliness only seemed to dampen every time he came, always new stories to tell, new things to learn, and sometimes food he bought for her. Soon she learned to actually look forward to it, but unfortunately, their friendship wouldn’t last long in this cell.

One day, as the setting sun was beginning to lower down to the horizon, Amon gently strolled down the steps with his eyes gleaming as always, giving a friendly wave towards his friend as she waved back out of instinct. Scooting forward as the jingling of bells disappeared in the background. She took note of his much more energetic behavior than usual, slightly blinking as he came over to tell her the usual about the village. 

“Hey- Sorry I’m late! I was so busy planning for today! You’re gonna love it!” She blinked as she carefully bit into a delicious rice ball that he had brought down for her, her head tilting to the side with curiosity as Amon let out a mischievous giggle. From past experience she knew this was either a bad sign, or he was going to do something reckless as usual. Her hands fidgeted with the unchained shackles around her wrist before she heard the sudden click of the lock. Instinctively looking up as she saw Amon taking hold of the lock itself, her eyes widened with surprise as she felt herself beginning to lower. What was he doing? She knew only the bell man could unlock the door himself. It was already dangerous enough that Amon was talking to her more than the rest of the village but this was much more of a surprise as he pushed his entire body weight against the ajar door, using both of his feet to push his back against it, using much strength to wedge most of the heavy metal door open. 

The precious half eaten rice ball was suddenly dropped to the floor as she stared at the freedom that stood before her. Unable to process anything, only the familiar emptiness and darkness in her cell as Amon slowly stepped inside. For once his expression slightly darkened as he sighed, holding both his hands out to her half-scaled body. Reaching out to the little girl just like him, one so drowned with pain and suffering that he had known for most of his life.

“Come on… Let’s go play.” She stared at the outstretched hands that greeted her cold cell. Her eyes twinkling carefully at the thought of leaving her cell, for once in her life being able to feel the grass Amon always talked about. To see the village that had scourged her life with hatred for the first time as she shakily reached her hand out. Without another word her hands were enwrapped in a warm hug from Amon, the boy giving a smile as he pulled her up, freeing her non-scaled hand before gently taking her cold reptilian wrist, beginning to suddenly pull her right out of her cell with a giggle. 

Her head slightly flinched with each of her barefoot stepping across the cold stones that greeted her skin. Recoiling at the sudden flash of light from the setting sun as she covered her eyes, the cold embrace of darkness from down below began to leave. Amon practically moved closer and closer to the surface he had always known. Soon enough, she felt an odd spike beginning to pierce her feet from down below, an odd gust of wind brushing past her face as she slowly removed her hand, the full view of Amon stood before her. A young boy with bright white hair, standing a few inches taller than her, his gentle amber eyes blinking in her direction sympathetically, a hand over her scaled and cursed wrist as he opened up his arm, gesturing to everything around him.

For once, she couldn’t believe the true beauty that hit her eyes, the color of green that filled her feet below, the beautiful sky above that glowed with the gleaming red of the setting sun from afar. The pink clouds that she had never seen before, ones that she couldn’t believe were so fluffy looking that it practically bounced in the air. Her eyes glanced to the hill obscuring her vision as Amon gently tugged at her, beginning to pull her up. The only person that ever treated her this way, the only person that could ever possibly understand, and the one person she could consider a friend by her side. 

As they gently treated their way through the tall field of grass that reached their knees, her hand ran through each individual blade of grass softly. Her eyes were full of amazement even as her expression remained emotionless and dull. She was greeted at the very top with the beautiful blossoming tree of the cherry blossom, the pink pedals beginning to open up as Amon stood beside her. Watching over the villages she saw for the first time, the houses of clay, the golden straw roofs seemed too beautiful. Everything around her was so much better than she could ever imagine. An odd warmth filled her heart as the glimmering light from the water shined across their face. Amon slowly turned his head to the left, and for once, he was greeted with a bright smile from her. Her gaze focused entirely on the village itself. 

Amon was slightly shocked by this, the boy had never seen a change in her expression before, and yet here she was smiling. Soon a genuine smile carefully curved his lips as well, turning towards her before reaching a hand out, placing a hand on her shoulder as she turned.

“…Let’s play a game…Sakura.” Her eyes glimmered with a light never before seen, perhaps it was from the setting sun, the dull look in her once somber sapphire gaze was replaced with something full of life. She was slightly surprised at the name he had called her, but she couldn’t help but be contemptuous with it. What was once someone who had no name now had a true meaning and name. Amon gave a smile as she watched him, for once, she felt the air of freedom running through her body. The boy gently tapped her shoulder, beginning to run off behind the cherry tree, Sakura following after. Playing till to their heart’s content, even as the sun was beginning to set from afar. The jingling of two bells clacking against one another echoing through the air one final time.