"How can someone feel so lonely on such a fine summer day?" groaned Hotaru. All of the children except she had errands to run and work to do. "Well," she reasoned, "if the weather was bad, I couldn't be out here by myself."
Today, the wind was warm, and it blew against Hotaru's back, insisting that she continue down the dirt road. The village that was her home was several kilometers behind, but close ahead lay the trail that led to her favorite fishing spot.
Turning onto the trail now, the world suddenly became darker with the shadows cast by the densely packed trees on either side. Oblivious to the looming darkness, she casually walked through, focusing on the glittering pond ahead. The shadows faded as she entered the clearing, cast away by the light of the sun shining down over the large pond. The road was still visible through the tunnel of trees, two havens of light separated by a pathway of shadow.
Sitting down on the edge of the steep bank with her legs dangling over the water, Hotaru cast out her fishing line into the pond. The bare, shining hook would be enough of a bait for the fish. Even as she thought that, hours passed without the slightest nibble. This didn't bother Hotaru, she was just glad to be outdoors.
Shattering her mental harmony was a soft voice from behind "Hello, Little Sister." (1) Hotaru glanced behind her to see a man standing barely a meter away. She stood up to greet him, forgetting that her feet were still over the edge of the steep bank. With nothing to stand on to, Hotaru found herself tumbling down into the clear water. Full of embarrassment, she slowly climbed out of the pond, under the eyes of the young man with a curious half-smile on his face.
"Good afternoon, sir." she choked out, her face blushing. "I'm terribly sorry."
He merely laughed and waved his hand. "You don't need to be sorry. After all, it was my fault for startling you."
Hotaru raised her head up, taking notice of his features. Who she thought was a young man turned out to be in his late teenage years. He was about 170 centimeters tall and both his hair and eyes were the darkest shade of brown. On his back he wore a large leather backpack, the type normally used by migrants and travelers.
"I was wondering if there's a town nearby with an inn. I don't think I can stand sleeping on the ground three nights in a row."
"Ummm, there's a village less than an hour down the road. Just keep walking and you'll find it." He nodded, but his attention was elsewhere, for now he was scanning the clearing, taking in every detail.
"This is a beautiful place." he said. "The vibrant trees, the crystalline pool, the clear view of the sky, I wish I had spent last night sleeping in a place like this."
"If you don't mind me asking, why are you traveling? Are you looking for something?"
"Not looking," he spoke, with a hint of melancholy in his voice, "leaving behind."
"Leaving behind what?" she asked.
The boy chuckled to himself. "Why all the questions?" He then stopped, and quietly whispered to himself, "She's just curious, harmless."
Refocusing his attention on Hotaru, he suggested, "How about we sit down."
They both did, sitting on the cool grass with their legs crossed. "What's your name, Little Sister?"
"I'm Hotaru Kitamori. (2)" she said. "What about you?"
"Really?" she asked in disbelief. "Your parents named you Child of Darkness?"
He hesitated. "No, they didn't; I did."
"Well, I don't remember anything until about three years ago. I suddenly awoke on a green hillside, looking up at a beautiful blue sky, and a dark, deep voice in my head spoke 'Remember, you are touched by darkness.' That was the first thing that I ever knew, so it became my name: Yamiko."
Hotaru stared intently at him, fascinated by his tale.
"I found a town and decided to live there. By the charity of a kind, old couple I got a job as a scribe's assistant. And then, a few months later... things started to happen."
Yamiko's gaze shifted downward, and melancholy filled his voice. "It started as small things, minor instances of misfortune. My neighbor's heirlooms suddenly disappeared or broke and they were injured by strange, freak accidents. My master even broke both of his thumbs and was unable to work."
He paused again, inhaling and exhaling deeply. "Later, he was arrested and executed for a crime he didn't commit. With the entire village in chaos, I left."
"The next village I lived in suffered the same calamities, and the one after that, and the one after that. Even if the village was perfectly fine before, upon my arrival, a curse was laid." He raised his face up, looking at Hotaru once again. "So I've decided to always be on the move, and never stay in one place long enough to curse it. After I rest at this village, I'll probably leave the next day. I still don't think my previous home is far enough behind."
Hotaru's mouth was slightly open, and her eyes were wide with attention. It took her ten-year-old mind a moment to process his whole story. When she had finally gathered her thoughts she said, "How sad. Anytime you find a place to call home, you destroy it."
"Your sympathy is nice, but unnecessary. I've learned to live with it; it's become my way of life."
"But you have no home, no family, and no friends! Why..." she was almost to the point of tears, realizing that those were the things that she herself valued most. "Why haven't you given up?"
"I don't know." He said, then he stood up. "Goodbye Hotaru, Firefly. Keep shining just like your name."
At that, he turned around and walked through the shadow of the short forest trail, keeping his eyes on the light at the other end.