Diving deeper into Risa, two stories at a time.

This curse will never leave me. The curse would be a part of me until the end of my stunted days. That is what the Goddess told me. Her word is decree, there is no way of escaping my fate. She reminds me of the woman I met long ago, outside the Village of Willow.

Father wanted me to deliver a package to Chief Rodwood of the Village of Clouds. He was very specific in his instructions. "If you so much as peek at the contents, I will test out my tempered sword on you". The village was very far away and he did not care about highway bandits and rapists. He knew that I could handle myself…or he did not have time to be concerned about me. The sky was hazy, making the road to the village darker and menacing. Fear was something that Father said was "irrelevant" and "a distasteful feeling. Cast it from your heart every time you're overcome with it. But a daughter of mine should always be fearless, right?" And I would always respond, "yes Father." The package was sturdy and took quite a burden on my back just as I exited the village. But I would never let anyone see my pain. Adjacent to the stream that flowed into the village was the Spider's Roads. If anyone were to fly above the Spider's Roads, they would say that it looks like millions of spider webs jutting out in all directions, each path taking you somewhere and never anywhere. I never got lost, I knew the road I was supposed to take; Father made me memorize them.

When I took that road, I saw people coming from the opposite direction, some greeting me and most ignoring me out of fear. They thought I would bite them. I had a intimidating reputation back then. However, I did not see this woman approach me. "Why, hello there young lady." I silently curtsied and then continued on my way. She appeared next to me again. "Good afternoon," greeted the woman again.

"Good afternoon my lady."

"What're you doing out here all by your lonesome?"

"Making a delivery, my lady."

"How old are you?" she bent down to reach my height. There was something warm and inviting about her hazelnut eyes. I answered truthfully.

"Ten."

"And you're doing this all by yourself?" she inquired in disbelief.

"Yes, my lady." That made the beautiful woman frown. I was confused as to why she cared so much. Nobody cared about what I did. Why should this rich and beautiful woman worry about what I do?

"Do you mind if I ask where you're going?" asked the woman.

"To the Village of Clouds. May I ask if you are a bandit?"

She laughed heartily and genuinely. Nobody at home ever laughed, except the other children-the idea of laughter was, and still is, foreign to me. "No child, I am not a bandit. Can I accompany you to this village?"

"I am supposed to go alone. I am a fearless warrior."

"I don't doubt that at all. But I am also going there and I would like it if a fearless warrior were to come with me to be safe." She had a beautiful face, she would get attention from bandits and thieves. And rapists-I should protect her. It would be a shame for her to be kidnapped or slayed. I agreed and we walked together. The sun glistened prettily, breaking through the heavy overcast. The beautiful woman asked me all sorts of questions on the way, about my parents, if I had any friends, why I had a hood over my head, and how strong I was.

"Can I ask you questions?"

"Anything dear."

"What village do you come from?"

"I travel a whole lot. I'm never in one place. Everywhere is my home." We came across a large river and in order to cross it, we had to use the stepping stones to get across. I did with ease and caution and it surprised me when I was joined by the beautiful woman. Barefoot, she kept up with me like a graceful, poised dancer. "You do this quite easily I see."

"I was trained to by my father," I said while on my tip toes. "He says I have perfect balance."

"He says that huh?" We reached the last stone at the same time and kept on walking from there. "Can you tell me what else Father tells you?"

I said too much, I cannot go on about Father. But my mouth was still open and I kept talking. "Father says that fear is a distasteful feeling that makes you weak. He said I must by fearless all the time."

"And?"

"He said that every fearless warrior carries three kinds of blades. He carries the Blade of Courage, the Blade of Wisdom, and the Blade of Blinding Strength. I must always carry the and never forget them."

"Those are very heavy blades young lady. And if you do forget them?"

"I never do."

"Does Father treat you kindly?"

"Yes," I answered immediately. At the time I thought my Father's ears were everywhere-if one were to denounce Father in any way, they would suffer, wherever they were. Nobody is allowed to disrespect the Chief, not even me.

The beautiful woman wearing a violet toga dress made of the finest silk pressed on as she pushed a low branch out of my way. "Can you tell me how he trains you?"

"No," I replied sternly. "I cannot."

"Why is your face hidden?"

"You asked that question already. Why are you asking all these questions about me?" They were making her alibi for joining me suspicious. "Are you a spy?"

"No," she chuckled. "Just a curious woman." I was getting tired of her hanging around. I should have declined her request to join me. Not that it matter at that point because we reached our destination. The Village of Clouds was livelier than my home because there were more children, metaphorically and literally speaking. Only less than eight percent of adults actually worked and always needed to borrow granks* from neighboring villages. The man I had to deliver the package to was impatiently waiting by his home. By then the sun was dropping as if it had given up hope on staying any longer in the sky. The few citizens that did work were heading back to their homes. "Why don't you go play with the other children and I will take care of the package," suggested the rich woman.

"I will do it. I do not trust you."

"That's fair."

Chief Rodwood seized the package from my grip when I approached him. Ravenously, he opened the package and was greeted with a large scroll attached to a single ore of iron. "The Chief expects me to increase production while my village is like this? What kind of a man does he take me for?" A sensible, but lazy one. My silence only made him angrier; he threw the paper and the iron ore to the dying flowers nearby. "Give him this for me."

It was not a surprise to get struck across the face. At that age, I was used to plenty of hits from my Father. He always did that when he was displeased with me or with his occupation as Chief. I used to try to run away from him but he would always stop me from leaving him. "You're the only thing I have," he would always say. My face met the pebbles gruffly, scraping against my skin. I spat some blood as I picked myself up to meet his malignant gaze. I thought by now the beautiful stranger would have left my side, but she was still there, silently watching the scene. "May I take my leave?" I asked Chief Rodwood.

"Go."

I quickly turned for the giant arches that bring you to the Spider's Road. Someone placed on their hand on my shoulder. "Can you wait a moment child?" the voice belonged to the woman traveling with me. I faced her and she bent both knees. Her breath smelled like the world's sweetest honey. "You're returning home?"

"Yes."

"Do you mind if I were to join you?" Some part of me enjoyed her company, but I had enough company today. Father would be upset if I brought someone to the village. This stranger, did she not say that she had an errand to do here?

"Yes." My response disheartened her a little bit. A raindrop precipitated on the top of my hood. Then more and soon, it was pouring. Yet we were still looking at each other. "I must be heading home."

"I understand. Will you answer one more question?"

"Yes." Her grip tightened.

"What is your name?"

"Risa Willow-Greenhorn."

"Thank you," she whispered before embracing me. My hands stayed at my side. "I'm always here."

"You mean in this village?" I asked while she still hugged me. She never answered.