Mai-HiME Origin: Part I
Edo, Japan, September 7, 1705, 105th year of the Tokugawa Shogunate
"I don't understand."
In a richly decorated house in Edo, a young woman stood opposite a man. She could barely make out his face, but there was just enough light for her to discern his piercing blue eyes.
"Listen to me," the man said coarsely, with a trace of a foreign accent. "They are coming. If we knew you existed then there's no way that they don't know. You're in great danger, so let's go!" he reached out and grabbed her wrist, but she twisted out of it easily and backed away towards the open window from which he'd come a few moments ago.
"I could scream," she said nervously, unconsciously pulling her red kimono tighter around her body. "I don't know what you want with me, but all it takes is one scream and the whole of the Utsusemi family guard will be here to tear you apart!"
"No, you don't understand, stupid girl!" the man hissed, advancing towards her. "I'm here to save you! If you just come with me, I'll take you to Fuuka, and then…"
He was interrupted by a piercing scream from down the hall. The girl's eyes went wide.
"Momoka!" she began to run forward, but the man grabbed her and hoisted her over his shoulder like a sack of rice.
"I'm sorry, young lady," he said, ignoring the kicks to various parts of his anatomy. "But my mission is to rescue you and you alone."
"Put me down!" she protested, banging her fists on his shoulders, only to find that he was wearing heavy padding. "That's – That's my sister! Hey! I can handle myself, Mr. I-don't-know-who-you-are!"
"Oh no you can't," he muttered, taking off down the hall and running past several confused servants. "Trust me, Princess; your guard is already gone, and you don't stand a chance against them."
"Princess?" she repeated, rolling the unfamiliar foreign word around in her mouth. "What do you mean?"
Up ahead three shadows suddenly took corporeal form. The man cursed in that same odd language and threw her backwards over his shoulder, where she landed against the wall with a dull thud.
"Run away, Princess!" he called, suddenly producing an odd barrel-shaped device from his sleeve. "Go to Fuuka! That's where –!"
He never finished, as a dozen black barbs suddenly sprouted from his chest. He was alive just long enough to stare at them in shock before he slumped forward, a trickle of blood coming from his mouth.
The girl screamed and ran, aware that there were already footsteps behind her. She ducked into one of the side rooms and hid herself in one of the servant's passages, listening to the screams coming from various parts of the house.
"Why is this happening?" she muttered to herself, burying her head in her hands. "Is it because of my mark?" She set her jaw and stood up, extending her hands out from her body.
"I'm sorry, father," she said, wondering if he was even still alive. "But I have to break my promise." She took a breath. "Hari!"
The small space was suddenly filled with a roaring wind as two tonfa materialized in her hands. She twirled them over her head and brought them down with an air-splitting cut, leaving in its wake a tiger-shaped being who watched her with oddly intelligent eyes. She walked over and scratched him behind where the ears would be on a normal animal.
"I'm sorry, Hari, this has gotten out of control," she sighed and wrapped her arms around the big creature's shoulders. He made a sound halfway between a mew and a bark, and she managed a smile.
"That man said to go to Fuuka, wherever that is. Do you know anything about that?"
In response he nodded his head, much as a human would, and motioned for her to follow. She tied back her long dark hair, shed her wooden sandals, and bounded after him down the corridor in only her socks, occasionally pausing to fend off the mysterious black-clothed people who seemed to come out of the shadows.
With her tonfa and Hari's wind they moved quickly towards the old escape passages in the North quadrant of the house. She knew they hadn't been used since the Sengoku period, but she just had to hope they were still in working order and that the invaders hadn't gotten there first.
As they rounded a corner Hari suddenly paused and planted his feet on the floor firmly, giving off a growl that seemed to make the air vibrate. She looked over his shoulder and cried out in horror.
Up ahead she could see that one of the black-clothed men had a knife raised to the throat of her mother, for once without her finery and makeup.
"Utsusemi Hoko!" he called, pressing the blade against her mother's white throat and drawing a small trickle of blood. "You are under arrest for treason against the Shogunate! Surrender and we will make accommodations for your family members!"
She hesitated, feeling the beginnings of tears stinging at her eyes. Her mother managed to make eye contact and nodded, just once, while mouthing a single word.
Fighting back tears, she brought the tonfa down and cried out, slicing both the man and her mother to ribbons. She ran past them as quickly as she could and tried not to look at them, instead focusing on running ahead. They'd discussed this once before, and her mother had made it clear that in a pinch she would be willing to give up her life. Hoko had hoped that she'd never have to take her up on the offer, but now there was no turning back.
"I have to get to Fuuka," she sobbed, holding onto Hari's back for support as she ran. "I have to, for Mother, and everyone –!"
Something cold and heavy slid between her ribs, cutting off her breath. Her tonfa dropped to the floor, where they exploded into a shower of green sparks. She tried to scream, but all that came out was a small squeak. It was all she could do to turn and look at the person who had stabbed her out of the corner of her eye, but there was just a mass of shadow in a vaguely human shape.
Hari roared and lurched forward, his body already beginning to dissolve into those same deadly sparks. She tried to speak his name, but before she could she felt the knife in her body twist savagely, and her vision went black.
Without so much as a cry she dropped like a stone, and while Hari had just enough strength for one last lunge at his mistress's killer, his paw merely passed through the figure, which dissipated like smoke to re-form a few feet away. It was over.
Across the room one of the black-clad men appeared from behind an ornamental and stepped over the body of his comrade and Mistress Utsusemi, making a disgusted face at the carnage.
"What a mess," he commented blithely, pulling his face mask up to block the smell of blood. He turned towards the shadowy figure standing over the body of the girl. "I told you we should have just stuck a knife in her before she awakened, Kaede. It would have spared us a lot of grief."
The ninja pulled down her face mask and sighed, throwing her comrade an annoyed look.
"Strategy never has been your strong suite, Minoru, but I expected better of you," she glanced over her shoulder and nodded at something behind her. In the air that had been filled with shadow a gigantic monstrous toad briefly took shape before it vanished into thin air.
"You see, by doing this," she continued, nudging the body of the girl with her foot so she rolled to lie face up. "We killed two birds with one stone. The amount of traitorous blood spilled tonight will be far greater than what we lost."
"Oh?" Minoru said, flipping a knife between his fingers. "How so?"
"That man," Kaede muttered, nearly spitting the words. "His coming here proved that those foreigners have been meddling in this all along."
She glanced up briefly as another person entered from one of the side doors, carrying the head of the blue-eyed man by the hair on his head. Kaede knelt down and pulled out one of the man's hairs, squinting at in the dim light.
"Hair dye," she said with contempt. "If they honestly think that was enough to fool us, they've severely underestimated the Shogunate. Heads will roll at Dejima tonight."
"Well, that's a given," Minoru shrugged and glanced briefly at girl. "But what about here? The Utsusemi Family has a lot of power in Edo. This will start quite a stir among the nobles, so what are we supposed to tell them when they ask?"
"You're looking at the answer," she motioned towards the head. "By tomorrow morning we'll have a sign outside saying that the Utsusemi Family was executed for treason against the Shogunate and conspiring with foreigners," she glanced down at the body of the girl. "And make something up about this girl carrying on an illicit affair with him just to make sure no one sympathizes. Make it as tawdry as possible."
Minoru bowed and gave her a crooked grin.
"You're a shrewd agent, Kaede. But all things considered," he looked again at the bodies of mother and daughter. "We probably did them a favor executing them like this in their own home. We could have just wheeled them out to the Tomb of the Traitors and done it in public. Also, we confirmed that Master Utsusemi is alive – until we execute him, at least – so our theory on the connection with the beasts was correct."
She nodded, narrowing her eyes as she stared at the girl's face. She was pretty in a typical sort of way, and was unmistakably a noble. If it weren't for the mark on her shoulder that one of Kaede's agents had seen during their "inspection" of Edo's noble daughters under the guise of a health exam she would have had nothing particularly extraordinary about her.
"Minoru," she asked, moving towards one of the elaborate gardens on the far side of the house. "What number does this make?"
"If you mean the ones you've killed yourself, four," he reached into a pouch on his belt and pulled out a small slip of paper, making a mark with a bit of charcoal. "In total we've gotten seven of them. That leaves only three, minus yourself and Sakuya-ojou-sama."
Kaede set her jaw and opened one of the screens, moving into the garden that overlooked the harbor. She glanced briefly at a statue of the Buddha near her and made a face. It looked like it was laughing at her.
"Don't get complacent, Minoru," she said. "They'll get harder from here. These ones were just the most obvious, but the three who are left are good at hiding themselves, " she fixed him with an icy stare. "Be on guard. So far we've been the attackers, but this late in the game they might try to get the jump on us."
"Yes, Ma'am," he said with a bow. "Should we concentrate our efforts on Fuuka itself now?"
"Yes, do that," she said, crouching in preparation for a jump. "I'll report back to Sakuya-ojou-sama and meet you there in two days."
And with that she was gone, leaving only a small disturbance in the undergrowth as any indication she'd been there. Minoru glanced out over the water and imagined the screams that must be rising up from Dejima at this very moment.
This would all come to an end soon.
- End Part I
Notes: Given that this is my own version of the HiME-verse combined with our own historical world, there are a few points that might require explanation. At the end of chapters this will be a collection of various notes about the setting, HiME-verse, and why I did what I did.
The Title: The title of this, Origin (or檻銀 in kanji) is a pun like most of the Mai series titles. While it means Origin as in the beginning of something, the kanji literally read as "cage of silver", which will be touched upon again later.
Utsusemi: This family name is something of an in-joke. When I first watched the original Mai-HiME I mistook Akane Higurashi's surname to mean "cicada" (since I was also watching Higurashi no naku Koro ni at the same time) though it is actually read as "evening". Utsusemi means "cicada shell" and references a chapter of The Tale of Genji and one of Genji's many attempted paramours. Like Akane, Hoko is the first casualty we actually see.
Dejima: This refers to the island in Nagasaki Bay where foreigners were permitted during the Tokugawa Shogunate's rule. Foreigners on the island were not allowed to leave without explicit permission from the Shogun, and even then what they did see of Japan was mostly staged and controlled by the Shogun's agents.
Tomb of the Traitors: The Tokugawa Shogunate was not known for its compassion towards its enemies, and in one infamous case the family of Totoyomi Hideyoshi, one of Tokugawa Ieyasu's rivals, were slaughtered and had their bodies carted away and displayed a hill that was named the Tomb of the Traitors.
-ojou-sama: This is a fancy way of referring to the person one serves. We will see more of Sakuya later, but for now all we need to know is that she has a lot of power and Kaede is subservient to her.