01 | kami
part i - kami (16 chapters)
They came in the night. Crashes and screams echoed once every month as two more townspeople were taken. The ruthless imperial soldiers snatched people for our emperor, who demanded new soldiers from towns all over the empire. Anyone taken is forced into battle against the Alliance, a group of territories led by a democratic collection of nobles.
Tonight was the night. The first of the month. Not a soul was seen or heard out in the streets as we all waited anxiously for imperial soldiers to storm into the town. It was a new moon tonight too. Mom peered through the blinds, looking for the soldiers. “Do you see them?” Dad whispered, glancing at me and Ebony in concern. We were, after all, the right age for conscription.
Mom hushed him and I clutched my origami swordsman tightly in my hands, careful to not create any strange creases in the paper. Ebony fidgeted with her small collection of origami wolves as we waited in silence. The tension in the town thickened as our ears picked up the sound of horse hooves approaching. A light filled the streets as the soldiers raised their torches, deciding which family’s lives they would destroy tonight. Mom pulled away from the window and we retreated into the depths of our small home.
I held my breath, praying that the soldiers wouldn’t pick on our family tonight. But the chances of that happening were extremely low. I heard a voice blare out as the leader read from his list of children available for conscription. “This message is for the Jonghe family! Your two daughters, Ivory and Ebony, have been selected for this month’s conscription! Be proud that they have this wonderful opportunity to serve Emperor Maverick.”
I closed my eyes, waiting for what I knew would happen next. Dad trembled as he hugged us close to his body. The front door was kicked down, crashing loudly on the floor. “No!” Mom gasped, standing in front of us. Dad joined her as we scrambled back.
“Kami!” my sister and I screamed, allowing the spell to flow into our origami. I quickly set my swordsman on the floor as the paper began to grow in size, morphing into a living strong warrior.
“Protect us,” I commanded, uncomfortable. This was the first time I used my town’s power for violence. I hated it. We were a peaceful town by the sea, but these soldiers ruined our tranquility every single month.
The soldiers pushed into our house and scoffed at the sight of my swordsman and Ebony’s wolves. “They’re made of flimsy paper!” the soldiers laughed. “What are you gonna do? Give me a paper cut?” Ebony’s wolves lunged for the first soldier, their jaws clamping down on the soldier’s legs with a sickening crunch. While our origami figures are made of paper, during active spells, all fangs and weapons are sharpened and can pierce anything unprotected by armor. My hands covered my mouth as the smell of blood tinged the air. I fought the urge to gag and managed to look away right as my swordsman pierced the heart of another soldier.
“Stop right now!” the leader roared, his blade pressed against Mom’s neck. Our origami backed down immediately at the sight, returning to our sides. Ebony’s hand slipped into mine and she squeezed me tightly, trying to reassure me. During the commotion, Dad had been knocked out by one of the soldiers. “Never have I ever,” the soldier sneered, “experienced such disrespect. Put your origami away. Now.”
“Mort,” I whispered, releasing the spell. My swordsman stiffened at once, shrinking in size and flattening out into his original form again. I stuffed the origami into my pocket as Ebony released her wolves as well.
“As punishment for your actions, leaving one soldier dead and another injured, how about we kill one of your parents and injure the other?” the leader smiled sadistically as he pressed his blade harder against Mom’s neck, cutting her skin.
I screamed, “No!” and leaped for Mom when—
The world fell silent as blood splattered across my face. I felt myself collapse on the floor as I stared at Mom’s dying body on the ground. Blood seeped through the deep cut on her neck. Her eyes met mine weakly and she smiled at me. And then the light in her eyes dimmed. Her hoarse breaths stopped. Numbness followed. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t even grieve.
Someone harshly grabbed my hair and yanked me off the ground. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Mom, whose blood pooled on the floor. Until I heard a horrifying snap, followed by Dad’s anguished voice. Ebony screamed and I knew that they had broken one of his legs. My resolve strengthened and I promised myself: I would have Emperor Maverick’s head on a platter, no matter what.