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My name is Agma and I am nine years old.


I like to climb scaffolds and play knights. On slow days when the nobles are out and Papa’s asleep, I battle my way through the servants’ quarters where I live, and up to the buttresses where I play.


I fight with my sister sometimes too—not because I don’t love her, of course, but because she always tries to be my boss. Mom says she’s just at that age, but I wish she would just leave it already.


I miss her. I wish I could find her.


“Harahina!” I shout for her above the peripheral screams and scramble, other Kotakaya pushing and shoving around me in a panic. “Harahinnnaaa!”


There’s no answer but for the incessant, unrelenting stampede.


They shove me, push me, and for a moment I’m no longer Agma—I’m a fish swimming upstream. The current batters me, hammers me, but I don’t back down. I must find my sister. And so, I struggle through, shrugging off the hits. I am a salmon who makes it to the other side.


Soon though, I am a salmon no more. I am only Agma, left hurting and frightened following the onslaught. Only scattered souls remain, grabbing what they can in their frenzied dash to get away. One straggler twists, his balding face looking at me.


“Hurry, child! You must not dawdle!” He reaches a wrinkled hand out to me, but I am not Agma. I am a master thief, dodging the guard captain’s hand. I skitter below the straggler's grasp and run the opposite way. There is no way he will catch the master thief.


He doesn’t even try.

“You damned fool!" he shouts after me. "Don’t you know what’s waiting—?” but the rest of his words are lost as I race around the corner. I pant hard and breathe deep, Agma once more.


The master thief would not feel fear at the old Kotakaya’s words, but I do. A chill rises up my back and spreads to meet my trembling hands. I should run, I know, but I also know I won’t. I can’t leave without Harahina.


I won’t leave without my sister, so on I march.


Soon I’m not alone again. I see Kotakaya lying on the ground. They might even look as if they were only taking a moment to rest if they weren’t so very red…if they weren’t in so many pieces. Those that still have eyes stare up at me. My heart pounds. My eyes tear.


I want to abandon this stupid quest. I am no hero. I am only nine years old.

But before the fear can settle, my imagination takes over again and I am Agma no more. I am a knight, heroic, brave...a fearless warrior willing to face any beast to save a damsel in distress. I will not back down. Despite my new-found gumption, I remember that maidens aren’t rescued on bravery alone, so I reach down and grab a piece of wood.


It’s hardly befitting a knight of my caliber, but it’s all I have. Armed with my blade, I stop looking down and instead focus forward. “Harahina,” I whisper. “Harahina, are you there?”


Suddenly, I hear something, but it isn’t Harahina—it’s the unnerving sound of so many claws scraping against stone. I twist and brandish my blade with a scream, swinging blindly but valiantly at the air.


There’s nothing. It’s only empty air and a dark shadow beyond that. It’s a terrible darkness and my sword begins to shake, but I will not back down.


I point my sword at the shadow and shout. “Who goes there?! Tell me quickly, before I run you through!” I hear the scratching again, louder than before. It’s like a hundred nails scratching relentlessly at unforgiving stone.


As the sound grows closer, a figure finally emerges and I realize that the darkness doesn’t hide a monster... It conceals an army, a great hulking mass of Kotakaya inching forward, step by step.

“Answer me!” I shout, my voice cracking. It takes everything to just stand. I don’t know how I’m going to fight, but with great relief, I realize don’t have to. Harahina is here.


She eases into the light with the others and my sword thuds to the ground. Further she comes, tall, beautiful. I've never noticed how much before, but now I understand. Harahina stretches out her arms and beckons me, a slight, sweet smile on her face and tears in her eyes.


Tears begin to fill mine as well. I am not a knight or a thief or a salmon - I am only her little Agma. I run to her now, half-blind, stumbling, sniffling. She wraps her arms around me and I cling to her, my fingers in her fur.


“I thought I had lost you,” I sob, “I thought you were gone forever.” We embrace this way for several moments and I wait for her to reply, to comfort me with her kind words, but it never comes. She only hugs me, harder now, and harder still.


“Harahina,'re hurting me!” I squeak, but she doesn’t listen and her hug becomes a vice, flattening my ribs, squeezing the breath out of me. I wriggle and struggle against her, kicking my feet, but it's no use. I am only Agma.


Soon another hand pulls at me, drawing me in closer; then another, and another. A hundred hands are pulling me flat and I'm so scared, but Harahina never stops smiling. It’s only then that I notice the other hands aren’t reaching around her, but from her...stretching out from a collective body that is far too big.


Eyes glint in the darkness behind my sister like constellations, and fifty faces join Harahina's, smiling, grinning, ghostly. They laugh and hiss and shriek as they press me forward and pull me in. The mass of thick fur in front of me parts and I feel wet as the skin begins to swallow me inch by terrible inch.


I try to fight, but my limbs are weak. I try to scream out, but my lungs won’t work. I can’t even pretend that everything is going to be alright this time.


Defeated, I finally give in and join them all in that mess of skin and thought and feeling. I join them in the warmth and safety of the hive. I join them and I forget about scaffolds and knights, epic battles and sweet summer rivers. I forget my sister...whatever her name used to be.


I am not a salmon, or a master thief, or even a knight, but it doesn't matter, because now I can be something so much more. I can no longer remember my name, but even that doesn’t matter.


We don’t need one.

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