The fire was progressively consuming everything around the occupants of the room, and it was a matter of time until the place would come tumbling down like a house of cards. The air was now barely breathable, and the eleven year old Mayu fell on her knees, unable to stop coughing as she was inhaling more and more smoke. Her gaze wandered helplessly around the room, and she had to restrain herself from emptying her stomach at the view of the lifeless bodies bathing in their blood on the wooden floor. It had been a massacre.
Her eyes then fell on her eight year old sister who was still standing up by her side, her eyes blazing with fire as she was staring angrily at the person responsible for their misfortune. She could tell Jurina had something in mind, and she wasn't surprised when she reached for the katana laying on the floor near one of their bodyguards' form, her feet then swiftly leading her to the older girl raising her weapon over their injured father.
Jurina was a few meters away when a warrior stepped in and quickly gripped her arm, the weapon falling with a loud thump on the floor as he twisted her hand. A loud cry left Jurina's lips in pain, and she immediately fell on her kneels as she received a sharp blow on her back. Her fists tightened in anger as she tried to stand up again, only to get a kick on the head in reply.
Mayu cried out her young sister's name as she watched her writhe in pain on the floor and she crawled towards her, wrapping her arm around her waist to help her sit. The katana raised above their father's head lowered and the traitor turned towards the two sisters, a smile plastered on her face.
"You have a very fierce daughter," she murmured, taking a step towards Jurina and cupping her chin in amazement. "If she wasn't so young, I'm sure she would have been a worthy opponent."
Her fingers left the furious Jurina and her gaze shifted to Mayu, her smile widening in amusement as she witnessed her distress.
"You're right to be afraid," she declared, before turning her back and raising her katana over their father's kneeling form again. "Because you won't have anything left after today."
Mayu immediately averted her gaze as she knew what was coming, shutting her eyes when the sound reached her ears. Her eyes started watering and she refused to look at their father's lifeless form, gazing instead at Jurina who, unlike her, had not looked away from the terrible scene. Mayu's forehead hit Jurina's arm and she started to cry, her tears increasing in despair and fear. Were they about to follow their clan's fate? Were they going to get killed as well, their lifeless bodies left burning in their family's house?
Despite the crackling fire she could hear the warriors' footsteps as they surrounded them and she gripped tightly her sister's arm, noticing the way Jurina was breathing hard and seething with anger.
"Don't," the traitor's voice echoed loud and clear in the room, her subordinates immediately lowering their katanas at the command. "They don't pose a threat."
Mayu's eyes shot open as the forms around them dissipated, the room progressively emptying and leaving the two sisters alone in the middle of the suffocating fire.
"One day, I will come for you, Miyuki," Jurina declared as she suddenly stood up, her voice unusually steady as she stared at the older girl's back.
A soft chuckle filled the room as the traitor turned around, her amused eyes falling on the small girl. "I can't wait, Jurina."
10 years later.
Mayu had been pacing up and down for a few minutes now, stealing an occasional glance at the village below the hill. Her eyes swiftly scanned the streets, in search of a familiar face, but her eighteen year old sister was still nowhere to be found. An hour ago, she had woken up alone in the forest and soon discovered the missing body beside her. It didn't take her long to understand Jurina had decided to pay a visit to the village nearby, and her absence was starting to worry her. She almost wanted to go and look for her, but the idea faded when she knew it would be totally useless. She wouldn't even know where to start.
A sigh left her lips and she leaned her back against the tree, until her eyes suddenly caught sight of a familiar silhouette running in the streets. Mayu immediately took a step forward, alert, not missing the two very angry men chasing her sister.
"Jurina!" Mayu shouted at thin air in frustration. Now she knew why the girl had left without a word. She wanted to commit another bad deed.
Her pursuers were fast, but Jurina had the advantage of youth. She swiftly turned to the right, engulfing herself into a more narrowed street, then on her left down another one. Despite being very angry at her - Jurina had again decided to go against her wishes - Mayu couldn't help but relax slightly when she realized her agile sister was starting to lose her pursuers.
Indeed the two men had suddenly stopped running - obviously exhausted - and Jurina was now exiting the village at full speed. Mayu watched her as she climbed the hill in long strides, and when she was sure no one was following her anymore, she made her way back to their makeshift camp. It didn't take long before she heard footsteps and her eyes soon fell on the slightly breathless thief. When Jurina caught sight of her older sister her mouth tugged into an amused smile and she cheekily waved her bag at her, before laying on the grass.
"Breakfast," Jurina exclaimed cheerfully as she closed her eyes, a soft chuckle escaping her lips. "These guys really wanted to catch me."
When her remark was met by silence she curiously gazed at her sister, only to witness an angry Mayu standing in front of her, arms crossed over her chest.
"Why did you go without me?" Mayu protested.
"I didn't want to put you in danger," Jurina explained calmly, sitting up, and retrieving some food from the bag. "Come on, eat."
Mayu caught the apple coming her way and briefly glanced at it, before shifting her gaze to her sister. Jurina was already starting to eat what she had stolen, Mayu's protests already forgotten, judging by the pleased expression on her face.
Mayu was more than ready to voice her disapproval anew, but the sudden growl her stomach made told her she really needed the food. Reluctantly she took a seat in front of her sister, taking a bite in the fruit, not missing Jurina's smirk when her stomach voiced its discontentment another time.
Both sisters quietly ate and Mayu studied her sister's features, a pang in her chest as she noticed the bags under her eyes. A week ago both girls had woken up one morning to discover their food and money had been stolen and since then, Jurina had insisted on taking watch. Mayu had suggested staying at an inn but the young girl had refused, stating that they could not afford it.
Jurina was supposed to wake her up for her shift but she had not, and her current tiredness was only the result of sleepless nights. Mayu knew this situation couldn't continue forever. They were now out of money, and Jurina didn't seem to realize how much she was putting herself in danger. In the last village she tried to steal food she almost got caught, and the scar above her left eyebrow was the clear sign the situation could have gotten out of control, had it not been for Jurina's quick reflexes.
"How long are we going to keep on doing this?" Mayu asked, desperate eyes seeking an answer in her confident sister's ones. Despite the fact that she was three years older than her, Mayu was more than aware that Jurina was the one providing for both of them. The young girl was cunning and definitely more athletic than her, enabling her to quickly get out of difficult situations. Mayu honestly didn't know how she would have managed to survive without her. She should be the one taking care of Jurina, but it had always been the other way round.
"What do you mean?" Jurina arched an eyebrow, staring at her curiously.
"Stealing, sleeping in the forest. I can't stand it anymore," Mayu declared, feeling more than relieved to finally get it off her chest. For days she had tried to broach the subject - hating the apprehension she felt each time Jurina put herself in danger - but she had kept quiet, hoping their misfortune wouldn't last.
"It's not like we have a choice," Jurina answered.
A few days ago, Mayu would have relented to Jurina's assured reply. However, as much as she knew her words were going to upset her again, she knew she couldn't back away anymore.
"Yes, we do," Mayu retorted, tentative fingers retrieving a particular scroll from her bag and unrolling it, the picture of a maple tree coming into view.
"We already spoke about that," Jurina muttered, her displeasure more than obvious as her tone slightly raised up. "We are not going there."
Jurina's answer didn't surprise Mayu. Not in the least. It was not the first time she made such a suggestion to her sister. In fact, she had showed her that scroll a few times over the years, only to receive the same stubborn reply each time. She had abandoned the idea at some point, burying the scroll right at the bottom of her bag, but the desperate situation they were now into told her it was the right time to bring the subject up again.
"Why?" Mayu asked, gripping the scroll in her hand tightly. She could already predict Jurina's answer - she had actually heard it dozens of times before - but she was refusing to let her have the last word.
"We don't know these people!" Jurina hissed, waving her hands in the air in frustration at her sister's insistence.
"Yes we do." Mayu nodded, pointing at the maple tree. "We met the head of the clan."
"We were little." Jurina chuckled softly, shaking her head in amusement. "I'm not sure we would even recognize her."
"It doesn't matter!" Mayu exclaimed, noticing the surprise in Jurina's eyes at her sudden outburst. "We have to go."
Mayu averted her gaze slightly, trying her best to compose herself. It was unusual for her to raise her voice - even more to contradict her sister - but it seemed their recent hardships had taken their toll on her.
"No." Jurina's firm reply came shortly after, prompting Mayu to gaze at her in disbelief.
"Jurina..." Mayu murmured, her pleas being ignored when Jurina raised to her feet and walked away.
Mayu knew she had to think fast if she didn't want to lose her window of opportunity. However, much as she searched her brain for a solution, none came to mind. Her eyes suddenly caught sight of the young girl as she kneeled in front of the long blade laying on the grass, her fingers unwrapping the cover around it and absently brushing the familiar blue tsuka of the katana. The action didn't really surprise Mayu as she had seen her perform the act a few times before. At first, she didn't really understand why Jurina had decided to keep that weapon all these years - as carrying it around proved to be quite a burden - until she came to the realization that it held great meaning to her in some way.
Mayu's eyes widened slightly as a new opportunity suddenly presented herself to her. They rarely spoke about their father, but she knew there was a possibility - however slim it may be - that her next words could reach her sister.
"He would have wanted us to be safe," Mayu affirmed.
Mayu didn't have to wait long: a pair of very surprised brown eyes fell upon her, and Mayu could immediately tell her sister wanted to come back at her with a clever retort. However, even if her mouth opened a few times, not a single word left her lips. Mayu patiently waited, watching her sister's every move and not missing her sudden lost expression. She could tell that she was now truly thinking about her suggestion, and she held her breath when Jurina finally nodded at her, although somewhat reluctantly.
When Jurina came back from the next village on the back of a horse, Mayu didn't even bother to ask where it came from. It was more than evident the merchant had not kindly offered the mount to her sister. Despite not agreeing with Jurina's new bad deed, it was true that it enabled them to cover more ground. Carefully following the instructions they had been given they were now not far from their destination, and Mayu was confident they should arrive in three days if they didn't encounter any obstacle on their way.
It seemed fate had decided otherwise, as two men suddenly appeared in front of them when they were crossing a forest the second day. Judging by their threatening looks, it seemed they had not stopped them to simply ask for their way. Indeed, it didn't last long until they voiced their request, and Mayu would have found the situation quite ironic - if not for the two very dangerous men facing them.
"Leave," Jurina replied, her left hand letting go of the rein to move downwards to her belt, her fingers resting on her tanto.
Mayu knew her sister was sending a sign to their attackers, and a quick glance at them told her they had not missed the action either. However, unfortunately, it didn't provoke the reaction expected.
"Give us the horse," the taller man requested again, gripping his own dagger at his waist. "And you better not resist."
Mayu could feel her sister fidgeting on the saddle in front of her, and she knew the thieves' insistence could only lead to one thing. Jurina was never going to let them steal their means of transport, especially not after they already been robbed a week ago. Jurina carefully dismounted the horse, leaving the reins to her more than apprehensive older sister. Mayu watched as Jurina took a few steps towards the two thieves, and she held her breath when her sister spoke again.
"I won't repeat myself," Jurina said, showing again her tanto resting at her waist under her cape. "Let us pass."
"It's a girl," the taller man exclaimed, his eyes widening in surprise now that he was able to distinguish Jurina's face more clearly.
"It's true," the other thief chimed in, his mouth tugging into an amused smile. "Come on little girl, handle us the horse. We promise we won't hurt you."
Mayu winced when she heard the words uttered. It wasn't the fact that the two men had mistaken her sister for a boy that bothered her. It definitely wasn't the first time, and Jurina's shoulder-length hair and boyish behavior surely didn't help to believe otherwise. However, one of the things she had learned about her sister over the years, is that she truly despised it when people underestimated her because of her sex.
That's why it didn't surprise her when Jurina's fist immediately landed on the tallest man's cheek, the second thief soon falling victim to Jurina's anger. A chill run down Mayu's spine as she saw daggers being drawn and she gripped the rein tightly, watching in terror the fight unfolding in front of her. Both men had a very imposing stature, but Jurina's action had taken them by surprise and they had failed to react in time. The smaller man was now kneeling on the ground, holding his stomach in pain after a sharp cut, while the other one, dagger in hand, cautiously kept his distance with a furious Jurina. The shock was still very present in his eyes when he glanced briefly at his fallen companion, before apprehensively looking back at his opponent. It was obvious he had not foreseen such a turn of events, and Mayu could imagine how easy a prey they might have looked when they decided to rob them a few minutes ago. They were definitely now realizing their mistake.
"What is it going to be?" Jurina smirked as her opponent seemed to hesitate to attack, the fright evident in his eyes. She was more than aware than she was capable of provoking such a reaction in others, and it always brought her a great amount of pleasure. Truthfully, a part of her wanted to prolong their fight a bit more.
It seemed the thief read in her thoughts as he launched another attack, his blade brushing Jurina's left cheek as she moved aside to avoid it. Blood spilt from the small cut as Jurina swiftly replicated - her feet landing between the man's legs - a sharp cry immediately leaving his lips as he fell to his knees. Jurina didn't waste any time to threaten his throat with her tanto, her other hand moving upwards to her small injury, before studying the blood on her index.
"You cut me," Jurina stated, furious eyes leaving the red liquid to gaze at her fallen opponent. "You'll have to pay for that."
The blade of her tanto slowly brushed the man's throat and Jurina was about to draw more blood when Mayu's sudden voice made her pause. She didn't miss the pleading tone in which she had called her name, and she didn't need to look back at her sister to know she disapproved her action. Jurina's blade stayed a while longer on the man's throat, pondering her options. She truly wanted to teach them a lesson, but as she heard her sister's warning voice anew she snapped out of her anger and lowered her weapon, reluctantly placing it back at her belt.
Jurina watched as the taller man raised slowly to his feet, staring back at her in fear. He was more than aware that he had been that close to lose his life, and he glanced briefly at the other girl still mounting the horse, realizing that he wouldn't be alive anymore if she had not intervened. Placing his arm around his bleeding companion's waist he took a step back, both men soon disappearing into the depths of the forest.
Jurina followed their retreating form until they were out of view, before turning on her heels and she gazed at her sister, noticing the relief in her eyes.
"You shouldn't have stopped me," Jurina declared, moving towards the horse and taking her rightful place in front of her sister. "They didn't deserve to live."
Jurina's words sent a chill down Mayu's spine and her fingers slightly trembled as she encircled her sister's waist when she ordered the horse to move forward. As much as she loved her younger sister, sometimes she couldn't help the fear enter her heart when Jurina let her anger take control over her.