I'd just like to clarify the fact that the main character IS NOT an OC. You'll get it if you read to the end of the chapter...


Once upon a time,

in a land far, far away

where everything is peacefully white,

there lived a beautiful and strong girl who was blessed with great powers.

She worked hard to become one of the graceful swords maiden dressed in midnight black,

for she dreamed of being able to protect her loved ones.

One day,

she lost control of her abilities

and caused devastating destruction.

Frightened of her potential,

she decided to escape to the human world.

Time passed and she soon forgot her true past;

forever she was to be unconsciously trapped

in a world of hatred, avarice, and cruelty

until she died.

But her dear childhood friend

knew that she would be reborn

into another human girl.

So he waited for the day

his friend reappeared

so that she could once more

regain the happiness that was once hers...

The princess wearing a black dress—I think it's a Japanese one—and holding out a sword is gone, all I can see is a hand on the cover.

"Lin Xiao Tao."

I look up and I see Mama. It's not good when she uses my full Chinese name. But she doesn't look angry. I think it would be better to describe it as tired.

She sighs, "Xiao Tao, you're already 10. You're too old for these make-believe stories. When I was your age, I never read books. I was cooking for my family and taking care of all my sisters and brothers."

Mama has black hair that is a bit wavy at the end. In old black-and-white pictures, she has long hair, but she has short hair here. She also has some more wrinkles on her face. I think it's because she has been married to Baba and taking care of me so much.

She places some yen in my palm, "Go to the market and get some fresh vegetables for dinner."

There are a lot of people in these streets of Nanjing. Lots of the boys from school play ball in the alleys as grown ups rush by. The vender I usually buy from gives me bok choy and lotus root. In return, I hand her the yen and tell her how Mama is doing.

The wrinkly old people with gray and white hair like to sit in front of buildings, drinking tea while gossiping about grown up things. The Nainai like to gossip about stuff like women having babies. The Yeye like to argue about business and things I don't really understand. But today, everyone is talking about the Japanese. Apparently, the Japanese are coming to our city and they have done a lot of bad things to the Chinese people on the way. I asked Baba a few days ago why the Japanese would want China when they already have Japan, and told me that I was safe and not to worry.

I'm not worried. But everyone else seems to be. Just yesterday, my best friend left Nanjing with her family because they didn't feel safe. I wonder if they made it out, because the Baba called the government something bad; the Chinese army won't let any of us out. One day, when Baba came home, I heard him swear at the Captain of the army because our neighbors were killed from trying to escape.

But even everyone kind of tense, I still like my home city. I like the shrine I pass by on the way home the most. With the bag of vegetables in my hand, I walk through the shrine entrance and peer at the puddle left from yesterday's rain.

I can see myself in the reflection, wearing a flower-pink qipao that goes down my knees. My black hair is combed back into a bun and my almond brown eyes stare back at me.

Mama gets angry at me if I'm out in the streets too long, especially nowadays because she thinks something bad might happen soon. But ten minutes shouldn't do any harm. So today I pretend I am one of those swords maidens in black like in that fairy tale I was reading. With a long stick I found in the forest, I slash at pretend enemies like those guardians did with their swords.

In the story, the swordsmen can speak to their swords. And each blade has a different power. Right now, I pretend to be a guardian in training because I can't imagine what kind of power I would have.

A black butterfly flies past my nose. I try following it by turning, but it is gone.

"Oi."

Instead, there is a boy with messy hair. He looks funny, with his hair as white as snow and eyes as blue as the sky, but I've gotten used to it. The first time I met him was about a month ago here. I think he mistook me for someone else that time, but now things are all clear.

"Hi Bai!"

I call him Bai—it means white in Chinese—because he has never told me his name. He doesn't seem to mind. This is why I make sure to go to the shrine everyday, so I can play with Bai. Unlike my friends, Bai doesn't go to school and I don't know where he lives. He seems foreign because he wears an outfit that looks like what a samurai would wear only it is all black. There's a sword tied at his back; he has never drawn it but I'm sure it's real. He looks like one of those swordsmen.

Being with Bai is like having an older brother. He is only a little bit taller than me but I can tell that he is definitely older. Sometimes he is grumpy (especially when I ask him if he is short for his age) and other times he teases me (I hate it when he calls me a bedwetter); but I know he must think of me as a friend—otherwise, why else would he stay with me?

"Say, Bai, what do you want to play today?"

He looks at me with this expression that proves that he must be older. His eyes are on the horizon, where Nanjing's walls are. I hear him say quietly: "So it's time..."

I don't have time to wonder because the ground shakes and loud pops fill the air. My knees are scraped from falling to the ground and it is suddenly really hard to hear. But when I can hear again, I hear lots of screaming and more booms that make my heart jump.

Bai helps me up and starts running. He is hurting my arm a bit but I let him drag me along.

"Bai!? Where are we going?!"

"To the Oni. They are about to do something bad."

I don't understand. I don't know what Oni are and it doesn't sound Chinese. But we are running down down down the stairs as my feet hit the ground hard, even though Bai is so fast that his feet don't even seem to touch the ground.

We dodge and duck through mobs of people. They are all wide eyed, and I think I am too. Everything is blurry and I can tell my hair is all messed up because strands of it fall in front of my eyes.

There are people wearing gray military clothing on the streets. When I look closer, I realize that they are actually monsters. They have black hair like me, but there are horns coming out of their heads. Their nostrils are huge and they have sharp claws. They shriek in laughter as they take their axes and swords and run them right through people. I see one monster hold the vegetable vender's head by the hair.

Only the rest of the vender's body isn't there.

Her arms and legs are splayed on the ground next to vegetables that should be green but are red instead from being soaked in sticky puddles of scarlet.

The monster turns his head...and then the black fabric of Bai's sleeve shields my eyes and he keeps dashing forward, fast. So fast that I can't see anything but grays and blacks and red. Lots of red. I think some of it splashes on my face as I hear screams that makes me jump like the sound of thunder makes me leap. But Bai tightly grips my hand and continues on.

When we stop, I realize that we are in front of my home. And home means safe.

"We're too late." I hear Bai mutter angrily under his breath.

The front door is bashed open and there are footprints of something hideously large that lead into the halls. Inside, I see hungry shadows lurking. I don't want to go in, but I don't want Bai to leave me either. So I follow him through the door.

I remember that Mama and Baba should be home. Something in my chest feels lighter as I imagine that they will tell me everything is just a bad dream.

Bai's hand is gone. I think he went on ahead. But I stop in the doorway of the living room. I am frozen.

There is a woman in the room. She is pale and there is a hole in her forehead. She is naked, and her familiar qipao with her apron are torn, tossed on the ground near her. She lies face up with her arms weirdly raised, like a broken doll. There are red claw marks near her bottoms where her underwear should be but there is no underwear. Underneath her is a pool of bright red.

I wonder why this scary woman is here. But she has short black hair.

And she is Mama.

I stare.

If I cry, this woman can't hug me. And she won't kiss me. I don't even want her to, because she frightens me. The parted lips as if in a scream, the cold face, the wild wide eyes...it looks like a screaming ghost. She is my mother, but I am scared of her.

And I cannot speak because it feels like something has grabbed my heart and is twisting it hard. It hurts. So much that it steals my voice and I can't feel.

I don't know how long I have been standing here. But it feels like there is no time. Just emptiness. Me and this bare woman.

A hand is on my shoulder. It feels far away, so I don't move and I keep my eyes on the naked body.

"We have to go."

I can hear him. Yet I can't. Nothing registers.

"Mo—I mean, Xiao Tao..."

Silence

"We have to. Or else the Oni—

He steps in front of me and puts both hands on my shoulders. His eyes are really blue and really nice. And I really want Mama.

Quietly, he says, "This is all part of the test. You see that plum?"

I look at the ground. Along with the shattered porcelain tea set that Mama inherited, there are fruits smashed and half-eaten or rotten on the ground, as if monsters were here. But there is an uneaten and ripe plum—perfect and dark purple, at my foot.

"That is the sign. You are Tobiume's swords-maiden. A guardian princess of the Spirit World. Your real home is somewhere much nicer than here. But you have to get your powers back first. And this is all part of the test."

I believe him. That's right, this isn't my real home because it doesn't make sense for something so horrible to happen to me. It doesn't make sense for my home to be ruined to nothing. It doesn't make sense for Mama to be gone forever. This isn't real. Real is somewhere else.

"Be brave, alright?"

Bai's eyes are actually a bit green too. It reminds me of warm grass in the summer. They are really nice and warm, even if they are a shade of cool blue too. So I open my mouth.

Nothing comes out. Something has stolen my voice.

He stares at me and my open mouth. Gritting his teeth he says, "So they stole your voice too. Damn it." He seems to be thinking hard about something. Finally he tells me, "We'll have to find some treasure to trade with a witch to get it back."

I feel myself nod silently.

Noises are in the kitchen. Deep growling noises, foreign noises. Shadows appear by the door and they are huge, bumpy. With one look at the horns, I know they are the monsters. The Oni.

"Let's go." He whispers and holds my hand, whisking my up the stairs before the monsters can see me. Or before I see the monsters.

In the drawer of my parents' room, which has not been touched yet, is a small wooden box. When I open it, something inside the box glows a warm gold and I know somehow that this is what Bai is talking about. I clutch it close to my heart and we sneak out the back door.

The sky glows red like blood and there is gray smoke hanging in the sky. Gray bodies lie on the ground. Gray people with wide-eyes wander and wail. Ashes are everywhere from burned buildings. Everything is dark.

Except for Bai. His hair is still as white as snow and the black he wears is vibrant. We walk hand in hand until we reach a small complex in another district of Nanjing. Maybe the Oni haven't gotten to this house yet.

"This house belongs to a family of witches. You have to give them the treasure and they'll help you heal your voice."

I nod.

Be brave. Be brave.

Bai is next to me, so I can do it. I take a breath and take the steps that lead me to the front door.

Then I knock.

Her mother told her not to hang around with the girl too much, but she can't help but feel curious about her.

She looks the same age as her. When she first showed up at their door two days ago, her hair was fringed and wild like black branches. Her face was smudged with dried blood and dirt. She looked pale, yet ashes from the sky made her look dark. Her qipao was all dirty and ripped to the point that she couldn't even tell it what color it was. But what made her curious the most as she peeked from behind her mother's back, was how wide her eyes were; her brown irises were shaking so much that she thought they might jump out of her almond-shaped eyes.

Her mother and father argued a bit over whether they should take her in. Eventually they did, because the little girl her age held out a box of some jade necklaces. That, and because her family is nice and generous, so the little girl should be very grateful—is what her mother said when she snapped and let the girl through the door.

There is another thing odd about her: she can't talk.

Right now, as the little girl is washing the floors like her mother told her to (because her family is nice and the girl should be grateful), she wonders what the girl saw to make her look so scared that day. She wonders if whatever that girl saw stole her voice too. Or maybe she was just born that way.

She walks up to the girl, who is dressed in one of her old qipao her mother meant to throw away. Standing over her bent over body, she tilts her head, letting her orange-brown hair fall to one side.

"Say, how old are you?" She cheerily asks.

The little girl's hands on top of the wet cloth stop. And then with a hand, she traces out strokes on the floor.

She understands, "Oh! I'm ten too!"

So they are the same age. But with her small frame, the little girl seems much younger.

"Hey, where is your Mama and Baba? Why are you all alone?"

The girl's eyes meet hers. They are very, very empty. It makes her uncomfortable so she shakes it away and then asks, "Do you want to be friends?"

Slowly, the girl nods.

"I'm Inoue Gong Zhu. Isn't that pretty? My last name is Japanese because I'm half and Tou-chan is Japanese. He says that my Japanese first name is Orihime! Say, what's your name?"

She is no good at lip reading, so the girl tries writing it on the ground but that is no good either because there are too many strokes. So she runs to get some paper and a pencil to bring back to the girl.

Lin. Xiao. Tao.

She crouches down so she can see the girl's brown eyes and then cheerfully thinks, "Hmm...Lin Xiao Tao...That's nice but..." She grins, "Want to have a Japanese name? Tou-san says it's best that we pretend that we are all Japanese now that the Japanese are taking over the city. That's why I call my Baba Tou-chan. Say, how about it?"

The girl stares. She takes her silence as a yes. Placing a finger on her lip, she thinks hard about all the Japanese words she has learned that translates from the girl's Chinese name. Finally, she snaps her fingers and grins at her new friend.

"Hinamori Momo."

A/N: I have a pretty good idea where this fic will take me...although time may be an issue...

This idea has many inspirations. For one, I was inspired by Guillermo Del Torro's Pan's Labyrinth, which I watched in Spanish class earlier this year.

Second, this setting is loosely based on the Nanjing Massacre, a mass war rape in which the Chinese were victimized by a Japanese troop that went out of control. It took place in 1937, during the course of WWII. Oh, my disclaimer: whatever I write, it is by no means an attack on any nationality, I am merely tying my fanfiction to an event in history that little people are aware about—which is sad, because I am a true believer in learning from mistakes.

It's hard to make out Chinese pingying, so I'll just point it out here:

Lin Xiao Tao (林小桃): the first name means Little Peach and the last name means Forest. It was the best I could do with translation from the Kanji. Direct translation was awkward.

Gong Zhu (公主): Means princess. "Woven Princess", the real meaning of Orihime, was too hard. So I just stuck with Princess.

As always: Review and let me know what you think!