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Hyuuga Hitomi

Hyuuga Hitomi

Posts : 45
Join date : 2016-02-13

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PostSubject: Peeling back the Night    Peeling back the Night  Icon_minitimeTue Feb 16, 2016 12:50 am

She looks down a low wall of gray stone, topped by red tiles washed to a dull brown by the moonlight. Here and there, kudzu creepers from the surrounding forest have caught on the wall, working their way slowly up its face, finding small natural pockmarks in the lava-rock and cracks where the wind and rain have done their work, then winding between and over the feeble defense of the tiles, falling down into the well-kept orchard beyond. She places the sole of her sleek skin-tight combat uniform, on a vine finding purchase. When she vaults over, she is as quiet as an owl leaving its tree-bower to hunt. A cricket chirps and from a dozen other places down the wall her deshi rise and follow, spilling over the wall to pool under the boughs of the plum trees. They are her disciples, she has trained every one of them from a young age and now they move as extensions of her own will. They are moon-shadows, the thin blue of watered milk and no more solid; their movement through the air is the swaying of rushes; their soft footfalls the scampering of mice in the fields.

The villa proper is clearly visible through gnarled, leafless trees. Here is the summer residence of an affluent samurai merchant who once profited from his trading house's location on the road that stretched between the high walls of Kuwabara Castle and the spice-ports of Heiwajima. Since the war began, he had been forced to abandon his wares and live here full time, with a small retinue of guards and his sole heir, a young noble by the name of Kio. All this Hitomi has read in a scroll that she destroyed in last night's campfire. She burned the words, turning their meaning to ash, and tonight, they will kill every man here and finish what she started. In three days time, a harried official will arrive escorted by Joki shinobi from Kuwabara, begging for the noble to release his stores of rice to feed the war effort, and he will find an intricately wrought puzzle of death. With shaking hands on abacus he will subtract the calm expressions of the corpses from the obvious traces of violence and the residue of his calculations will reveal nothing but blue-gray shadows and the glint of steel in the moonlight. Kagami checks the tactical sheath securing her short blade, and slips forward, toward the inner wall. A gentle night wind blows up from the road that approaches the villa's front gate, stirring the torch fires on the inner wall and shifting the dim light that trickles through the boughs of the empty orchard.

* * *

The wind was always tricky in the valley where she was grew up, under the shadow of the lofty Sokenzan mountains. Even on a warm summer day, the clouds could shift high in the peaks, sending a stiff breeze down the Hyouzan glacier to snap the hanging festival flags to attention and set the gilt-green leaves of the gingko trees to shivering in an early anticipation of autumn. Down between the rice-cake stalls and the soot-darkened eves of the merchant quarter, the girl would crouch and wait for the wind to pass, one hand kept on the yellow shawl that covered the basket of apples she carried for her mother. In the market, the gourd hawker would stop his song and scowl at the whirling street-dust. Standing in a doorway nearby, the tea-seller would pause before pouring another bowl and smile. Cold weather is good for business, and the recent droughts had made his money-pouch lean of late. Two months later, on a windy autumn evening, the tea-seller would be killed by a bolt of white lightning falling from a clear sky.

It was windy the night that the ninja came to the girl's village and slaughtered her family and everyone else she had ever known. From under the loose floorboards, she could hear the wind buffeting the broken shoji screens that ran between the veranda and the gathering room. In there the masked men carved her sister into pieces while her father cursed it and waved a smoldering poker from the firepit where they had just cooked dinner an hour before. The girl saw them-- cloaked in what could only be described as the night itself, wearing serine animal masks flecked with the blood of the only people she had ever come to know, gleaming snowflake icons adorning their foreheads. She watched as they turned the corpses, slowly examining the eyes of each and every girl, ignoring the men and simply piling them one by one in the village square. She lay hidden under the floorboards of her house as the wind carried the scent of burning flesh through the valley and into the recesses of her memories.

* * *

The inner wall is smooth, kept free of vines over the summer by an overzealous gardener. It stands higher than Hitomi can easily reach. She leapt straight up, her slender padded foot catching against the smooth stone, her paper-thin sole sticking with chakra. She silently slipped up the sheer incline, catching the top of the wall with one gloved hand. She closes her eyes for only a moment before pulling them open, the silvery gaze of her Byakugan peeling back the darkness and shadows, stripping the night of all its secrets. She pulls herself up and over the wall to crouch on the raised walkway that runs along the other side.

Ten paces down the walk, a sentry in an angled helmet of green bamboo slumps at an odd angle against the outer wall, the tall pennant that he had held now holds him. His eyes are open, looking uselessly out into the night. Blood drips slowly from the long, black-lacquered shaft of an arrow that has gone through his neck, right at the place where the thin tendons of speech lie, his dying breath robbed of sound. Hitomi's thumb traces the worn leather of the sword handle, polished to a dark red by use. It is strange not to have to use it now, to cut her way into this ill-guarded place. She knows she is only a sight-seer here, a grim observer of her deshi's death-work. This is way it should be. They will handle these distractions. Her business is further inside, in the main hall, on the second floor, in the lotus chamber.

* * *

The girl was good at hiding. Always, she was the last to be found when the children played the oni in the festival of masks. On days with no errands, she would walk up to the cold river that ran down from the mountains, and creep up unseen behind the men where they fished and steal their bait, leaving a wet leaf in place of the fat worms, so that they would think the kappa spirits that live in the water had enchanted their eyes and robbed them. It was a game she never tired of, yet now she almost felt that she should not be crouched here under her house with the masked ninja painting the walls red with the blood of her family.

She remembered how, when she was very young, her uncle would take her with the people from her village down the path from the fields, into the cedar forest where a little shrine sat hunched beneath the oldest and most sacred of the trees. There, they would leave a rice-cake for the kitsune who tended the shrine and a small copper coin with a hole cut in the middle for the kami. It was important that the coin be round, so that the kami might receive the offering and in return, give wealth in the form of a good harvest. Always in a circle, coming and going. She remembered the lessons he would whisper in her ear, or the times he would yank her aside as she strained to see the world around her. When she would let her eyes fade to silver, so she could get a better glance at the altar, or peer at what lay inside the donation box. She remembered him scolding her and tellign her never to let anyone see the true colour of her eyes. Somehow she knew it was her fault that the ninja had come. She should go out and meet them. She should offer herself to the terrible gods and they will spare the rest. But she knew it was already too late for that and so, miserable, she crouched and waited.

When the first light of dawn crept through the foundation stones, letting her know that the night of terror was over, she slipped out from her hiding place under the house and did not stop running until she was on the outskirts of town. As she ran, she saw bodies. There were more people lying dead than she had ever known by name. Worse, she found, than the dead were the poor wretches the ninja left alive. She saw them huddled, whimpering, their clothes shredded, their eyes blank, nightmares clawed into their waking minds.

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