Hello, my name is Amai. This is a story about me. Not only me, though. It's also a story about my friends, and my enemies, and people I barely even know.
This world is different than any other. It has some animals that are just the same, but then there are others that are unlike anything else. The people here are really just like anyone else. Some are good, some are bad, and some fall in between. Some are special, and others are a dime a dozen.
But the most distinctive thing is magic. There's more than one kind. Some get familiars, and their magic is shared. They work together. A few are just born with powerful magic. Some get their magic from objects. And others still live in a town where they get special fruits when they reach a certain age. This is the group I fall into. It's what everybody around me does. But here comes the problem. When I said fall, I also meant it quite literally. Why does it have to be tree climbing? The higher we get, the more powerful the fruit we can get. There are lower fruits, too, but what if I can't climb at all? What if I do everything all wrong? What if-
Never mind all that. Enough about me. I'm not the only person there is, after all. I'll stop talking, and you can see how everything works out.
Ouch! That was the third time she had fallen out of the tree today. "Why am I so bad at climbing trees? How am I ever gonna get a good one?" Amai got up and briefly dusted herself off. She had been practicing climbing all week, and she was sick of it.
"Come on, it isn't so hard! You just need to learn to hold on better!" Bianca walked over, amused after watching her friend fall out of the tree yet another time.
"Easy for you to say! You already got yours!" Amai got up and jumped up into the tree again.
"So? Just because I already got my fruit doesn't mean I was bad at climbing trees before." Bianca climbed up into the tree, easily getting past Amai, and climbing several branches higher. Just because she could.
"Come on, no fair! How do you even climb like that?" Amai gave up, letting herself drop to the ground, and sprawled out on her back. "I just don't get it."
"Don't worry about it, Amai. You'll figure it out eventually. And even if you don't, it's not like there's any shame in getting one of the low-hanging fruits. Loads of people do." She effortlessly jumped down out of the tree, landing neatly. She reached down a hand to help Amai up.
Amai took her hand. "Yeah, but I don't want to be loads of people. I want to have cool powers, and go on an adventure! I don't want to just be stuck here all my life!" She let Bianca pull her up, but she was getting frustrated with this whole prospect.
"Come on, no need to get frustrated. You just need to take a different approach, okay?" Bianca wiped the tears off Amai's face.
"But everybody's supposed to be all excited when they can finally get their powers. But what if I screw up? What if I just have to get a low fruit because it's all I can get? What happens if I'm just stuck here all my life being a worthless nobody?" She didn't want Bianca's sympathy. She was dreading what tomorrow would hold. At this rate, there was no way she could possibly achieve her dream. She pulled her hand away, and turned away from Bianca. "Why am I even trying?" Amai said in a hopeless tone.
"Amai, you'll never be a worthless nobody. Not to me. You're my best friend. Even if you suck, I'll take you on an adventure with me, okay? No matter what happens, I'll be here. I'll help you out. Everything'll be just fine." Bianca put her arms around Amai, who, despite her previous resistance, just leaned into her.
"...Are you sure?" was all Amai could manage after a minute. What was she supposed to say? She couldn't just keep saying no after everything.
"Yes, I'm sure. I promise."
* * *
The two stood together for a while, silent. Still, thoughts were racing through Amai's head. What if she did fail? What if she was so bad, she couldn't get a fruit at all? If anybody could do that, she could. But... Bianca promised. She promised. What could possibly go wrong, right? Even if Amai failed worse than anyone ever, Bianca would still be there. They would still be friends. Bianca would always be there. There was nothing to worry about.
Eventually, Amai sort of pushed Bianca away from her. "I'd better get back to practicing. Not going to get anywhere by standing here moping, am I?" She still sounded like she had recently been crying, but she was ready to try again.
Bianca smiled at her. "That's the spirit. Here, I'll show you how." She started climbing up the tree, careful to move slowly enough for Amai to follow.
"Alright. I guess there's no harm in trying." Of course there was harm in trying. It wasn't exactly painless to fall out of a tree over and over. But despite that, Amai walked over and tried again.
The two spent the rest of the day together, practicing climbing trees. Despite that Amai was awful at it, even your failures were fun when you had a friend with you.
I can't believe it. It's almost time. Just a few more hours. I'm not really sure how to feel. Part of me is still kind of excited, but the other part is scared. Whatever happens, I'll still be okay. I have my best friend, after all. I still can't help feeling anxious about everything, though. Pretend for a moment I succeed. Everything goes right. Then what? Where do I go from there? There's still so much I haven't figured out. Do I still have time? Maybe it will all work out. But maybe it won't. If I do go on an adventure like I said, she'll come with, right? She said she would if I failed. What would be so different about succeeding? She'll be there for me. Then what? Where do we go? An adventure isn't very specific. Would we just wander aimlessly? Maybe. Or maybe we'd have a plan. Regardless, we'll still be together. It can't turn out that bad if we're together. I think I've even been getting better at climbing trees. I don't know if I can sleep, but I guess I should try. I'll need to be ready tomorrow. I won't be able to focus if I don't sleep. Hope everything goes well tomorrow.
Amai awoke the next morning. Only it wasn't exactly morning yet. It was still dark outside. She was still sort of tired, and she knew she should still be sleeping, but no matter what she tried, she couldn't get herself to fall back asleep. She was filled with mingled excitement and dread.
It was today.
There was no going around it. She'd have to climb up and pick her fruit. And if she couldn't climb, well, that wouldn't matter after today. She'd figure something out. Was it possible to cheat? Was there some other way she could get a fruit down? Amai knew it was definitely against the rules to have someone help you, but what about something? Then again, this idea was stupid. She didn't have a whip, or a bow with arrows, or anything else that could help her for that matter.
Maybe the tree would just be easy to climb? There was always that chance. After all, it wasn't like she had ever tried to climb that tree before. ...But it probably wasn't. It was probably like most trees. Why did it have to be stupid tree-climbing? Amai had a number of skills, but tree-climbing was not one of them.
Maybe if she just kept her mind off of it. It would be over soon, and she wouldn't have to worry about it anymore. Whatever happened today would be the end of it. After that, Amai wouldn't have to worry about it anymore. So she decided to get up and get herself some breakfast. It was important. She wasn't sure what else to do just yet, and she was hungry, so it seemed a good a plan as any.
Amai went into the kitchen, finding she was the first one up. Her mom usually got up at sunrise, so this wasn't surprising. Only once in a rare while was she up earlier, and she was only up later than that if she had had an especially exhausting day.
"Wonder if Mom'll want to make me something special. I guess I hadn't really thought of that," Amai said, pretty much just to herself. It seemed so quiet and lonely in the kitchen. Usually her mom was here, too. Or at least some sort of other noises. There were no birds outside, or people, or anything else that made noise, really. Everything was silent. It was sort of creepy, in a way.
"I don't care, it doesn't bother me," Amai said quietly to herself, grabbing a couple of fruits. Despite this statement, she took them back to her room, which was normally quieter. It didn't feel nearly so weird in here. It just felt peaceful. Well, maybe just a little weird. But she could deal with it.
She sat down in the chair at her desk, and bit into one of the fruits. What was she supposed to do while waiting? There wasn't really anything to do. And try as she might, her mind kept wandering back to everything that would happen later. There was no way she could avoid it. She could run away, but that seemed worse than just going through with the whole ceremony garbage. Amai decided if she was going to run away, she may as well wait until after she potentially humiliates herself. At least then she'd have some magic to work with rather than nothing.
Why did it even matter so much if she did somehow fail? She would still get powers, even if they weren't as good as they could be. A lot of people didn't get very high in the tree. It's just the way it was. What was there to be worried about? "I don't care what happens. Everything will be fine. Even if I fail, I'll be fine," Amai tried to tell herself. "It's not even failing. It's just normal."
She couldn't stand waiting anymore. She needed to do something. Anything at all would be better than this. Why couldn't she just magically make time faster? That wasn't a thing and it would probably have bad side effects, but it would make her not have to wait as long. Amai got up and pushed her window open. She jumped out it, which wasn't really much of a jump at all. Maybe she could practice some more. If she could figure out how to climb better, it wouldn't be so much of an issue. She wouldn't have to worry.
Amai discarded the last bits of her fruits, and started working on climbing a nearby tree. Bianca really had helped yesterday. Amai could actually climb more than just a couple of feet now.
...But it still didn't take long for her to fall down again. "Why do trees have to be so hard to climb? ...Probably cause otherwise everybody would climb up to the top, and the whole climbing thing wouldn't even matter anymore." Amai sighed and stood back up. Was she doing something wrong? Bianca climbed trees so easily all the time. At least as far as Amai had ever seen. She certainly didn't have any trouble in the lower branches at all. Amai decided to climb back into the tree. She would try as many times as she could. It didn't matter how many times she fell out, she'd keep trying.
* * *
Amai fell out of the tree over and over again, practicing until it got light. Which was really only a couple of hours, but it felt so much longer. Contrary to her number of failures, Amai felt like she was actually starting to get somewhat better. Maybe it was just her imagination, but she wasn't falling out of the tree nearly so often.
After all that climbing, she was starting to get hungry again. The fruits weren't exactly a proper breakfast. And her mom was probably up. Amai was feeling slightly sick, worrying about what would happen later, but she was also still hungry. She went back in through the window, pushing it shut, hiding that she had ever gone outside. It was perfectly reasonable for her to be up already, right? She was sometimes.
She dismissed her thoughts and went into the kitchen. Sure enough, her mom was there.
"Can't sleep anymore?" she asked, a warm smile on her face.
"Yeah. Kinda hard to." Amai sat down at the table.
"It can be really hard to sleep when you're excited."
"And nervous," Amai quietly added on.
"You don't need to worry, Amai. I'm sure you'll do great." So she had heard what Amai had said.
"I'm not so sure. Climbing trees is just so hard. I've been practicing, and I still can't ever get more than a few feet up before I lose my footing. The higher branches are just so flimsy and hard to hold on to, and I don't know what to do. It's just... just... I don't know." Everybody was so sure. So sure that Amai could somehow do it. Didn't they realize that she wasn't any good at this sort of thing? No, they didn't. They couldn't, or they wouldn't be so confident.
"Relax. People find a way of rising to the occasion. You're better than you think you are. You just need to calm down and focus. You have a good long while to try, and there won't be anybody watching. Even if you can't get up to the top branches or anything like that, I'm certain you can still climb a decent ways up. You don't have to do anything extraordinary. It's not like you'll be one of those few that can barely make it off the ground. I saw you practicing yesterday."
"So you should know just how bad I am. I was only able to do that at all with Bianca helping me. You know I've never been much of a climber." Her mom was doing that soothing thing with her voice again, which in some ways just made Amai more frustrated. She couldn't just be calm, not when that whole tree-climbing thing practically determined everything.
"You'll do fine, Amai. I know you're not the best climber, but you're not that bad." She walked over and gave Amai a half-hug, and then set a plate of food on the table. "Now you'd better eat. You have a long day ahead of you." She smiled at Amai before returning to cooking.
Amai quietly sighed, and started eating her food. "Thanks, Mom."
After a minute, her mom came with her own plate of food, and sat on the other side of the table. "To be honest, I'm not surprised you're nervous. Most people are, and I was no exception. There are no do-overs, or second chances. You're stuck with what you get. But even if you can't climb at all, and have to pick one of the lowest branches, you can still make it work. You're a strong girl, Amai. Whatever happens, you'll be fine. It's not like magic is all there is."
"Thanks. It's just... this huge thing. Whatever the results... well, they're permanent. It's just a little hard to come to terms with that, I guess. But after today, I guess I won't have to worry about it anymore. But then, everything else. What do I do afterwards? And... and I don't even know. Just... everything." Amai was sort of teary now. Before it just seemed like frustration, but now that she was facing it all, she couldn't help feeling scared, too. Scared, and sad, and worried, and just about everything else.
"I know. But you don't have to do anything. You have as much time as you need to figure it out. And you have Bianca, right? Maybe you two can work on it together. You can be there for each other. And I'll always be here, and you know I'll help you in whatever ways I can. Just take it one step at a time, and you'll get things figured out. Most people don't know what they're going to do." She still had that warm, comforting smile on her face.
"I guess that's true." They were both silent for a minute, eating. "...Hey Mom? Did you know what you wanted to do?"
Amai's mom smiled. "Not at first, no. It took me a while to figure it out. I always enjoyed a number of things, but didn't really know if any of them were something that I'd want to do for the rest of my life or anything. I traveled around for a while, and started gathering seeds and information about them. It was sort of a hobby. And then I started just gardening when I came back, and I've been doing it ever since. Of course, I'm also happy taking care of you. As problematic as you have sometimes been, I've never once regretted having you here with me."
Amai was silent for a minute. How were you really supposed to respond to that? "I like being here with you, too. And... maybe, even if I don't find out what I want to do for a while still, I could try and like, maybe bring back some seeds for you or something."
"That would be great, Amai. I'll be looking forward to when you come back. And not just because of the seeds."
Amai actually smiled at this. "I'll be looking forward to coming back, too."
They spent the rest of the meal mostly in silence, partially because it was nearly over, anyway.
"Do you need to go to your room to get anything?" her mom asked, getting up and taking the dishes to the sink.
"I don't think so, but I'll go check just to be sure." Amai got up and left the room, heading to her bedroom. She looked around, and thought about it.
"I guess I can bring a water bottle?" she mumbled quietly to herself. She didn't really want anyone to hear her talking to herself, because that would be weird. Probably. Did most people talk to themselves? Doesn't matter. Amai grabbed her sling bag and put it on, and put a water bottle inside. She decided to tie her hair back into a ponytail. She didn't generally care for her hair being tied back, but it kept it out of her face, which would be useful for when she was climbing.
Deciding she was done in here, Amai left her room, and found her mom standing in the hall. "Well, I guess I'm as ready as I'm going to get."
"Alright. Good luck. I have a few things I need to do still, but I'll see you later, okay?"
"Kay. Thanks, Mom." Amai walked over and hugged her mom. It wasn't like this was the last time they'd be seeing each other, but it sort of felt like it.
It was probably at least a full minute before Amai took a step away. "Well, see you later." With a wave, Amai left. She hoped she would run into Bianca soon, because she didn't really want to walk by herself. It wouldn't be that long before she'd have to be by herself, attempting to climb that stupid giant tree that she'd get her magical fruit from.