Chapter One

Icy shafts of moonlight penetrated the forest where Ayane sprinted. Jaw tightened at the feel of cool steel against her palm.

There would be no mistake.

A myriad of color passing on either side. The orange and red hues of Autumn, coming fast like a fanned flame. A breath escaping, her fist tightened.

Focus is the key.

The words of her foster father. Focus the very center of Hajin-mon principles, to lay all else aside. Her foot met with the base of a tree, launching into a flip, a simple motion of the hand sent the concealed
blade home.

The kunoichi landed, fingers poised as she rose. Her eyes fluttered closed, lips parted, words falling forth. The gathering energy surrounding her in a faint aura of light. Intense heat building in her arms.

Ayanes eyes flew open, senses assaulted by the pungent smell of burnt wood. The only sound was the creaking of leather gloves as her hands lowered. Her fingers traced the trees jagged edge, soot coloring the tips.

Fire. The symbol of the Hajin-Mon, possessing the power to purify or destroy all that it touches. From the time her training began she could remember Genras words on the importance of control. She witnessed the complete lack of it, felt it slip away from herself in part.

Three months since Genras death, yet the feeling remained beneath it all.

The sudden sound sent her hand to her kunai without thought. The young girl wore the dark green uniform and silver emblem gloves of a messenger.

" Ayane-Sama. Master Shiden says to come at once."

"Very well." The kunai was returned to its place, the sweat on her palm chilling in the night air.

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As a child, she had often played along the path into the main village with her sister Kasumi. Now, Ayane appreciated the cover of darkness as she
treaded across the wooden bridge leading to the front gates. She'd often wondered about the hushed whispers and foul stares from those within,
upon learning the truth about her heritage the reason had become clear.

The village lay silent, the only light dim and filtered through the trees She paused before the shoji doors, her hand lingering just before the
wooden frame. She could count on one hand the number of times she had spoken to Shiden. This was the first where Genra would not be present.

The door slid open, pushing her memory aside with it. The light of candles cast its glow over the room, lighting the features of Shiden His hair
lay loose against his shoulders. Age had turned it the same color as his uniform. The stress of recent times left more fine lines at his brow.

"Ayane of Hajin Mon Faction reporting as requested, Shiden Sama."

She knelt placing a hand on her raised knee. He responded, gesturing wit his hand..

"The message found you well"

"Well enough" She kept her head bowed. Through his nod and her silence.

"Something has come to our attention. It involves recent activity in

Munich, dealing in part with the experimentation upon Genra."

Her hand clenched at the mention of her foster father, tension drawing the leather taut against her hand.

"The plane leaves for Germany in three days. There is a contact awaiting your arrival. "

"Where will I meet with this contact?"

"They will meet with you."

She gave a stiff nod, her hand relaxing. The kunoichi gave a bow before turning, sliding the shoji door shut behind her. The sun had risen, tingeing the sky the color of crimson. Only a few
people were outside. The sound of the door sliding open drew her attention.

"Ayane." Her mother's deep blue flower Kimono and loose, waist length hair reminded her of kasumi.

"Ayame-Sama"

"I pray that you will not have to draw your blade, Ayane.." Her voice trailed, expression distant.

Ayane felt herself stiffen. At a time like this it was easy to see where her elder sister acquired her nature.

"Take this. I only ask that you wear it on your journey." Ayame took her palm and placed in it a purple gem suspended on a fine silver chain.The pendant warmed quickly as Ayane fastened the clasp.

"Thank you Ayame-sama." she whispered before turning to leave.

"Be careful Ayane."

Only one other time had her mother given her a gift, the day that she became Hajin Mon. She took a deep breath and paused at the bridge out of the village, taking a moment to slide off the headband which cut its path across her forehead. Ayane bit her lip as she fingered the purple material, then secured it under her hair and made her way across and out of the Tenshin Mon village.

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Ayane walked with her hands tucked into the pockets of her blue coat. The memory of chilled air still tangible. She was thankful to have both feet on solid ground. At least she was skilled at hiding the discomfort; no one asked her if it was her first flight.

Munich International airport was crowded, passengers from several flights milling through the terminal. Ayane appreciated the bustling atmosphere. Windows that lined a few small shops reflected her image. Blue tennis shoes, camouflage skirt, nothing to set her apart.

Carpeted areas with small benches lined the wall. The baggage carousel located in the centre. Ayane stepped closer to the conveyer: just in time for a large man in a dirty sweater to keep her from retrieving her bag. His muttered apology was lost as the scene nearby caught her attention.

A woman with long dark hair was helping a girl about six years of age to straighten her coat. The mothers brown eyes remained focused on the child as she pleaded with her. Evidence this was the girls first flight alone. Ayane was unable to keep the memory of Ayames eyes from her mind. Even when leaving on her first mission at the age of fourteen she hadn't shown so great a concern. Her fingers sought out the purple gem that hung around her neck.

Take this. I only ask that you wear it on your journey

During the three days before her departure from the clan she had examined it several times, admiring the fine markings.

The charm slipped from her fingers: feeling heated as it touched the skin. She turned on her heel to confront the sudden presence behind her.

"Master Ryu." Surprise was in her voice, not just from the sight of him but that he held her duffel bag.