DISCLAIMER: Mine, such as it is, and therefore not in need of a disclaimer. A lesbian story, though, so if that bothers you, don't read it.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Carola "Ryûchan" Eriksson
I sit here watching the sky, waiting for the first rays of morning. I know it will be my last.
A night of staring into the darkness, watching, waiting, keeping watch for the inevitable... it has given me much time to think. Too much.
It also gave me the chance to visit my memories one last time. It seems appropriate.
My earliest childhood seems so far away now, distant memories of another world. I was made to grow up fast, and my world shattered so many times.
She was always there, our lives entwined from before even that first breath.
Our families lived side by side, working together to get through the days, and our mothers got blessed with children at nearly the same time... or so I remember my mother telling me. We were born a day apart, as she was born somewhat early, and I remember hearing our fathers laugh and say that she could not wait to be with me.
We played and grew together those first years, those distant years before the breaking of our world. We discovered that there was a world outside our families, and that this world was riddled with war, famine and disease... we discovered this, because the outside world entered our home and destroyed it.
I still remember the burning in my chest and the pain in my arms as I pulled her out of the burning wreckage that had been two small houses standing together... that had been our homes. I couldn't pull my brother out of the fire, although I tried long after his hand under the debris had stopped moving.
It seemed to take a long time but it can't have been, because her sister grabbed us both and held us still beside the fire, holding our mouths so that we would not scream. I turned away from the fire to see what they were watching with such huge and horrified eyes, and knew why she stopped us from screaming.
I turned around just in time to see my father beheaded by men in armour that looked like monsters, and my gentle mother grabbed and thrown screaming onto a horse. Others were already dead on the ground, both our families... I wanted to scream, but couldn't.
The soldiers saw us anyway, and her sister was grabbed as well. I tried to do something to stop them and one of them slashed his sword across my face and my throat, leaving me to bleed to my death on the burning ground. I don't know why they didn't take her as well, or kill her, but perhaps her staring, unblinking eyes of that unusual colour frightened them... or perhaps they knew she would not move even when the fire claimed us both.
Our salvation was an old man who witnessed it all. I suppose I could resent him for not trying to intervene, but in truth I know how futile that would have been, and I owe him both our lives.
He carried us both away from the carnage, far away to the rickety hut that was his secret home, even though he was weak and frail to carry even so small and skinny children as we were. He stopped my bleeding and even healed my throat well enough that I, in time, would be able to speak again, even if my voice was no more than a harsh gravelly whisper. He tried to care for her as well, but her silent staring was unbroken by the time I recovered enough from wounds and fever to sit up and try to reach her. Another week or two passed by, and I was strong enough to help the old man to fend for us, and he began teaching me his profession.
He was a thief, but old and withered now and no longer very successful. I was young, small, fast and very nimble, and as he taught me how to do it, I stole enough food to let the three of us survive, if no more than this.
She snapped out of whatever horror she had been caught in for so long, to this day I am not certain why or how... just that as I was feeding her and speaking to her as I usually did, I cried some. Suddenly she was wiping the tears from my cheeks and looking at me strangely, like she wasn't sure if she was awake, but it didn't matter... I hugged her as hard as I could, and then she spoke to me. It was the sweetest sound I could remember hearing.
The old man was also happy to see her up and about, and began teaching her his craft as well. But it was not to last, this surprisingly happy little place in the ruins that became a home for us, and he fell ill. We never realized how bad it was, until he didn't wake up that morning.
We buried him in a shallow grave in the cold ground, life already turning us grim. Perhaps it was strange that we had not spoken of what had happened that night before then, but when standing by the grave of the man who would never tell me his real name, she asked. And I answered as well as I was able, all that the old man had said. I even took her to the small, unmarked graves at the edge of the forest where the old man had buried my mother and her sister after finding their bodies.
I think perhaps a full year passed for us, stealing just enough to stay alive and barely at that, and getting better at it. Perhaps that was my mistake, getting so good that I stole more, even having the audacity to steal a nice thick blanket to keep the cold from her slender bones.
We got caught. And because the owner of the blanket was a nobleman, we were brought before _him_.
I didn't know it then, but he was the lord and ruler of these lands... a powerful and ruthless ruler that had earned his title by warfare, and whom was feared even among his allies. We were dragged into his castle, all the way inside and held down on shiny, decorated wooden floors before him where he sat. We were presented as siblings, which as I think back might not have been too far-fetched an assumption, with our gaunt and dirty appearance and shaggy unkempt hair making us look more alike than nature otherwise had. Those eyes of hers should have told them otherwise, but who would look close enough to notice the eyes of a young thief?
Apparently, he did.
I glowered angrily even though I was being manhandled by large burly men, not turning my eyes away from him. I might have been nothing to them all, vermin to all, even to myself I guess, but I had pride. I wasn't going to cower when death came for me, I decided.
He laughed. He looked at my defiant face, threw his head back, and laughed at me.
Then he spoke with quite some amusement that he had been told that we were orphans as well as thieves, and because of this he would show us mercy. He waved once, and two old men stepped up to kneel at his side, one clad in elegant clothing of bright colours, with a soft face but eyes as hard as the winter cold. The other was dressed in black, face so still it revealed nothing and his eyes guarded. The irony of that comparison is almost laughable still.
The ruler told us that he had decided we would not die for stealing. He would grant us mercy and instead give us to the men kneeling by his side... one of us would become a ninja and the other a prostitute.
To my shock she spoke up before I had the chance to defy his supposed gift, and said in soft tones that she would rather be a prostitute than kill someone. I stared at her in a moment of betrayal, didn't she know what she was saying?
It didn't take me long to realise that she knew exactly what she was saying, and that she said it for me. It was her only way of protecting me, and so stunned was I that the retort that would have cost me my life then and there never left my lips.
The ruler seemed pleased by this, and the bejewelled man by his side came forward to tilt her head upward and peer at her closely. He nodded once and smiled at the ruler, approving of the choice after taking a quick shuddering look at my scarred face. The ninja came forward then, not bothering to look at me, instead just bowing to the ruler and pulling me with him as he left.
I struggled against his grip, but there was no breaking it. I screamed to her just as she was disappearing out of my sight that I would find her, I would come for her no matter what... I swore I would.
His ugly laughter echoed with me as I was dragged away.
The following years with my new owners, my supposed clan, were harsh beyond anything I could describe. I tried to run away to find her many times, and they always let me get just far enough to test me and to be able to punish me more severely afterwards. Then I grew smarter. I realised they would not let me go, and stopped trying to run away... embraced the teachings and became the best I could be.
Oh how I hated them all... and that hatred fuelled me, gave me the edge needed to become stronger, faster, better than the others. I also learned to hide my emotions well, bury them deep inside so all the things I had to do washed over me but did not destroy me, much like the blood I often washed off my hands.
By the time I was a young adult I was the best they had, better than my teachers themselves, and they believed I was loyal. Yes, I'm sure they knew of my hatred, but I learned that many of them came from similar beginnings and similar feelings, but became loyal members of the clan regardless. We had nothing else, I suppose.
I was brought before him again, to begin my service at the palace, as the best of my clan served him personally, as bodyguards and assassins. The thin white scar that cuts across my face and the wider one across my neck makes me easy to recognise without my ninja veil, and he did recognise me, finding it gut-splittingly funny that I was now considered to be the best. He approved of me, and often requested me personally to attend him, going so far as to speak to me often as he got drunk or entertained himself. I suppose he believed I felt gratitude for his deed, and would reward him by being exceedingly loyal. What I wanted to do was to bury my blade in his expanding belly, then pull it upwards until it split that evil grin of his.
Years as a ninja does not make one a nice and gentle person.
It was at the palace that I finally saw her again... and found out why the evil demon had been so pleased to hear her choose the path of the prostitute that day. In truth I barely recognised her, dressed in fancy clothing and the long shiny hair done up, all grown up and into a beauty like I had never imagined. But as I watched this particularly lovely woman from his harem, one that he laughed and called one of his favourites, she looked up at me. And I would recognise those eyes anywhere.
The eyes in question looked even more dead than they had after watching the deaths of our family members at the hands of those soldiers, but then they fastened on me and grew wide. I don't think anyone else noticed us staring at one another, but I saw her eyes take in my scars with recognition, then look into mine as her full, red-painted lips parted as if to say my name. I swallowed hard, fighting down my utter rage and desire to pull out my blades and slaughter everything in the room but her as he grabbed her and pulled her to him. I caught her eye once more, nodding once to confirm to her, praying inside to the gods I long since lost belief in that she'd remember my pledge and believe in me.
She looked down in shame as he touched her, not meeting my eyes again for the rest of the evening.
After the end of that night it would take me little over two weeks before I saw her more than in passing again. Two weeks filled with feverish plans and a curious hunger to see her again... and a few small scented notes that found their way to me through giggling little girls. Notes that had the appearance of secret love-letters written in poetry and perfumed, making it seem as if though she had grown a harmless little crush on the silent shinobi in her master's service. Only I saw the hidden messages wrapped so carefully in sweltering poetry, and I played my part as well, leaving a word or two with the giggling children for her ears to hear.
It was a brilliant plan on her part. Prostitutes, even as lovely as she, were too common to be quite as prized as a ninja of my calibre, especially one as favoured by my master as I was. Smirking the guards and other onlookers allowed us this juvenile courtship, and even permitted us to arrange small meetings in which to have a few stolen kisses, though not more.
That nearly proved to be my undoing. I was supposed to plan for our escape, how to get her away from there without getting us both killed, but as she surprised me by kissing me that first time, my mind went completely blank. She whispered to me the nature of her plan for us to meet, and how we needed to keep up the appearances as we would be watched at all times. I nodded dumbly, feeling curiously crushed by the explanation, but as I kissed her back I heard the small gasp and felt the unmistakeable eagerness in her touch. As I stepped back to leave, knowing we would not be given more time than that, I saw the expression in her eyes as she looked at me... and my heart, that guarded thing that had been cold for so long, was well and truly hers.
It didn't take long for our master to hear of this romance between us, as we both knew he would. We acted our parts well, she never looking at me when he brought her out in my presence, never attempting to refuse as I know she wanted to... and I managed to stem my lust for bloodshed at the mere thought of him or anyone touching my love, concentrating on playing the loyal ninja as well as I knew how. He tested us and we passed.
I was sent away for a short time, for a special assignment to assassinate a specific target among my master's enemies. It was a dangerous assignment, one that should have been impossible to perform, but not for me. I am that good, and also I had something else to make sure I returned alive, although he did not know of this.
I returned with the sword of his enemy and a body part of his choosing, like the faithful dog I was assumed to be, just as spies brought word of the uproar caused in the palace of this enemy as he had been found dead.
I was praised for my deed and my master celebrated, and as the celebration went on my love was brought out and presented to me. We both acted the part of our shameful surprise well, I managing to impress upon my master that I would not have taken more than the occasional stolen kiss without his approval, and whatever else our performance was, it pleased him. A night with her was to be my reward for a task performed well, and we were escorted to a small room with a single light and bedding already made up on the floor.
We both knew there would be people nearby, listening to make sure our master's reward was well received, and he not deceived in some way, so thus I held her close to me in that bed as she made all the appropriate noises for a while, convincing those that listened of our activities. My trained ears heard them leave their posts eventually leaving only the usual guards further down the hall.
That night I whispered into her ear not of plans and schemes, no, those things were spoken in the early morning, but of love and longing. I had not intended to do more than hold her, truly I had not, but as her breathing hitched and she welcomed me into her, all thought left my mind. It was a fortunate thing, for had my mind still worked as it should, my shame would have overcome me, my shame for all the blood on my hands and for all the pain and suffering she had lived through without me to protect her. Shame that would have prevented me from loving her then, but without it, loved we did.
With the morning came my summons to join my master, and I went without even touching her goodbye. Once I arrived my master wasted no time in informing me that if I continued to serve him well, like I had done in this mission, I would be rewarded with more of her. If I served him truly well, in time she might even be given to me to have and keep, alone.
He smirked then laughed in perverted glee as he told me this, and I did my best to look like an eager and round-eyed child hoping for a great reward, like he expected me to. Inside I seethed, imagining the many ways I could kill him with his breakfast utensils before anyone could stop me, how dare he try to sully our love this way?
The image of her stopped me as always, her sad eyes downcast and her slender shoulders bent with sorrow and grief... no, I would stick with the plan. Though dangerous, it was our only chance.
Another month passed, and I was rewarded several times, but also reminded whom owned us both. My master began his campaign against the broken house of his slain enemy, and then came the day when my plan was going to be put in motion. My master's armies followed him on a march towards the impending battleground, and I was supposed to be with them. Oh I was a shinobi, not a soldier, but my master wanted to have me near for protection as well as in the eventuality an assassination was needed, a prudent precaution for a man in his position.
I stole away quietly in the night, having made arrangements so that I would not be missed for two whole days of marching, and went back to the palace. My love was waiting for me, and we made our way out the same way I came in, as stealthily as she could manage.
We didn't get far.
To this moment I do not know just how my master found out, only that he had, and had set a trap for me. There were many soldiers waiting for me in the courtyard, intending to hold me until my master, who was not far behind me with the rest of my clan, would come to take his retribution.
I cut a bloody path through them all.
Our plans of a silent escape dashed, I grabbed my love and a stolen horse, and we rode as fast and as far as we could. The death of the horse stopped our mad dash for freedom temporarily, then my love, not used to being outside of the palace walls, hurt her leg and could run no more on her own.
I carried her on my back the last part of the way downstream to where the ocean meets land, then up a sheer cliff face to a small cave hidden there. It was the best I could do, and this way I can see them when they come, the others of my clan, and fight them off as best I am able. I am the best they have, but they are many and my weapons few... I will fall.
She knows this too, although I haven't told her so, and she clutched the blade I gave her tightly with a grave expression in those lovely eyes. When I fall, she will join me... we won't be separated again. Never again.
One last kiss shared, and now she sleeps fitfully with her head in my lap. She lay awake for so long before sleep closed those eyes, but I remain awake and watching. The sun is rising now, and with the first tendrils of light I am able to see her face again. It is a face worth dying for.
I close my eyes as I hear the sound of horses coming closer now. I will have to wake her, because they will be upon us soon, and I do not believe whatever gods decide our fates will allow for him and his servants to merely pass us by without checking this hiding place of ours.
The sound grows louder, impossibly loud, littered with the sound of swords drawn. It wakes her, and for a moment I am allowed to just look into those beloved eyes.
Then I rise and quietly free my own sword. They are coming.
It is time.
She stands just out of sight inside the opening of the small cave, body tense and prepared. The clamour of swords drawn and horses running through gravel and water become the clamour of swords clashing and men shouting. Men dying.
The surprise is almost visible in her stance, just before she is drawn to the opening to see what is happening, sword ready in hands made capable by years of hard training. The sounds from outside is deafening, it is clear that there is a battle fought there even before she looks outside.
And once she dares to carefully peer around the meagre shelter of small rocks, it is clear that the sounds come not from a battle but a massacre. As the other comes to her side, together they witness the end of the man who thought to own them. They remain standing in silent shock at the view for a long time.
Finally the battle is nearly over, and the leader of the army that charged the smaller group of mostly ninja and some soldiers to kill his enemy turns towards the cliff where they stand. Throwing his helmet back to prove what his banner has already declared, he lifts his bloody sword to salute them.
Then, to the triumphant shouts of his men, he leans over to reclaim his own sword from the horse of his slain enemy where it had been fastened as a trophy, spurs his horse around and heads up the beach to wherever his camp is hidden around the bend. His soldiers gather the bodies of their slain and the beheaded corpse of the enemy leader, wrapping him in his bloody banner, then leave the site in a cloud of dust.
By the time the two silent women crawl down the rockface to the bloodstained ground below, the only living things there are the two saddled and packed horses that have been tied loosely to a spear under their cave. From the saddlehorn of the larger animal hangs a large bag of coin, a traitors tribute perhaps, but to the two women, the means to start life anew.
No words are spoken as the short-haired one helps the other onto the smaller horse and then mounts the larger herself. But then no words are needed as they turn their new mounts away from the smell of blood and bad memories, and head into the new day together.
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