From chapter 1:
(note: "Kakunoshin Niitsu" is an alias of Hiko's from the series, and I adopted it as his real name)

Chieko abruptly panicked. Kakunoshin was still trying to get into his sleeves when she grabbed him up and ran with him, and when he protested, she clamped a hand over his mouth so hard that he could barely breathe. She ran for the back door, but stopped with a jerk when she saw a stranger in the yard, a big man who was casually pulling their vegetables from the ground and stuffing them into a sack. Chieko doubled back into their parents' room and looked frantically around. At the same time, he heard his father give a loud, wordless shout. Chieko opened the wooden crate which held their father's clothes, stuffed Kakunoshin into it, and shut the lid. While he was still trying to untangle himself from his sleeves, he heard her climb on top of the box and knew what she was doing. She was climbing into the rafters under the roof. He'd seen her do it before in her own room, to hide things. Now he supposed she was going to hide herself.

He heard his mother scream, a sound of both fear and rage, cut off abruptly. After that, he heard the strange men all around the house, talking, laughing. Then they were in the house, their feet heavy on the floors, nothing like his father's light step. He heard when they found Chieko and heard her screaming as they dragged her outside. She screamed for a long time, and putting his fingers in his ears didn't blunt the sound. Then it stopped, very suddenly, as his mother's scream had stopped. He crouched there in the darkness, smelling his father in the clothes underneath him, shivering with fear and anger, debating whether to stay hidden or come out and fight the men.

Then the decision was made for him. The lid flew open, and an unkept, dirty man with a round face looked in at him. "Hey! Look at this! There's another one!"

"Another girl?" asked a second man in the room, one with an oily, snakelike voice.

"No, this one's a boy. Just a kid."

"Well, we don't need him, then."

"Right." The lid came down again, and this time he heard the pin drop into place, locking the crate.

A third man spoke, this one with a gravelly voice, as if his throat hurt. "Find anything?"

"No, sir," said the dirty man respectfully.

"What's in the crate?"

"Just some clothes and a kid."

"A kid?"

"Yeah. He's locked in. I figured we'd just leave him there."

The snakelike man sniggered. "You really are bad, you know that? You're just going to leave that kid in there to burn alive?"

"Sure, why not?"

Burn? He didn't want to burn alive. With a sudden surge of energy, he began trying to break out of the crate, screaming curses at them.

"Damn. Good set of lungs on him," the snakelike one said.

The gravelly-voiced one said, "Just get the torches and lets get going."

Kakunoshin screeched even louder and attacked the box with more determination.

"How old is he, anyway?" the gravelly one asked.

"Not old enough to be any use to us," the dirty one said. "Six or seven, maybe."

"Open it up and let me see him."

The lid came up and rough hands dragged him out into the light. He was facing a man about as old as his father, wearing partial armor and a katana, with long dark hair and flat, expressionless black eyes. "How old are you, kid?"


"He's lying," said the dirty man, who was holding him.

Kakunoshin bit his hand, hard, then made a break for it. He was stopped by the katana, which came singing from the scabbard and sliced down in front of him, so closely that he felt the breeze of its passing on his face. He froze. "Wise choice," said the swordsman. "I could have cut you in half, you know. So, answer me truthfully. How old are you?"


The katana swung slowly up to tap him under the chin, forcing him to lift his face and look into the swordsman's face. The swordsman said to the other two, "What do you think? He looks like a pretty kid to me."

"Yeah, sure," said Snakeman, who was skinny enough to suit his voice, "but what use do we have for a pretty kid? Put him back in the box."