When the Caged Bird Sings
Shun'u [ff.net ID: 61008]
Kakutou Komusume Juline/ Juline (US release)
(House of Kenga) Juline, Seiju/Sai, Ryoku, and Shiga Kio
Disclaimer:Juline and all of the characters used in this fan fiction do not belong to me. They're the creation of and © Kakinouchi Narumi (also creator of Vampire Princess Miyu) and all subsequent parties. "When the Caged Bird Sings" is © Shun'u Hanashiro [email@example.com].
W H E N • T H E • C A G E D • B I R D • S I N G S
· |· A Juline Fanfiction · |·
The news reporter's voice droned on in a near monotone. Only occasionally would his facial muscles shift, tightening and relaxing, to show expression. To Kio it looked wholly unnatural for anyone to be that neutral. The balding reporter had probably been trained to look serious but the end effect was a face of utter boredom.
Sitting to his left, Juline remained attentive to the telecast. Her entire focus was on the screen and what was being said.
· |· Part IV: Action and Reaction · |·
"And today there has been another unexplained death reported in the City of Yokohama. 15-yr old Tanaka Keiko was found brutally murdered in her residence at 1800 this evening. The police are not releasing any details at this time, but Detective Kinoshita Shinji is the head investigator in this string of grisly murders.
"So far there have been a total of six deaths reported in the last month. All of the victims have been school-aged girls ranging from age 13 to 17. Police will not confirm any conclusions of the ongoing investigations, but all six girls have shared similar physical traits: long hair, teen-aged, and petite.
"The murders have taken place in Ueno, Shinjuku, Kamakura, Shinagawa, Kanazawa-Bunko, and now Yokohama. Because all of these cities are located on the JR and peripheral train lines, there is no means for police to track how the perpetrators are traveling from city to city. Police have advised that parents keep their children at home after 1700 and be aware of their whereabouts at all times.
"If anyone has witnessed any suspicious activities in these areas in the last month, there is a toll free number you may call. It is 01…"
The television shut off with the faint click of the remote control. Juline remained immobile while Kio began tossing the remote in the air.
"Kamakura…" Juline hugged her knees to her chest and curled her toes into the cushion, feeling the plush texture of Kio's hunter green sofa. "That was here. Naoe-chan… Two days ago."
Kio rose abruptly and set the remote into the small woven basket underneath the dark-wood coffee table.
"Come on." He tugged her off the comfortable sofa unceremoniously. "Mom made some macadamia white chocolate chip cookies this morning. She said for you to take some to the dojo for afternoon class."
"But we don't have afternoon class today," Juline protested. A frown darkened her face. "We cancelled all of the afternoon classes because everyone's parents are worried."
Kio ignored her feeble struggles for freedom and dumped her on one of the kitchen chairs. He began pulling out glasses from the cabinets. Next came a carton of milk and an enormous platter of cookies.
"Juline. Juline, where are you, darling?"
A childish giggle followed by tiny running feet. She followed the sound until finally she reached a door located at the end of the family wing of the House of Kenga. Indecision made her pause on the threshold; this was her husband's private room, a place forbidden to everyone else in the clan but Grandfather Kenga – to whom it had belonged before Seiju became heir.
She timidly tapped the door with her fingertips. Well-oiled hinges gave way and the ash-wood door opened to a shadowed interior. Not a single glimmer of light revealed what lay within the incense-laden chamber except for the faint outline of a shuttered window. Terror clawed its way up from the dark recesses of her mind and gripped her in its razor sharp talons.
"Juline? Come out, sweetie. You know you aren't supposed to go in there."
A playful giggle was all she could hear in response. She dug into the wood frame with tense fingers.
Seiju had been behaving so oddly lately. The brilliant man whom she had married was no longer there. Not in his eyes. Not in his voice. In his place was a man who brooded and ignored the world that continued to revolve around him. The man that Seiju had become over the past year was not her adored husband. He was a stranger to her now: a mystery. A frightful creature that induced fear in his students now rather than love and respect.
She felt her breathing speed up as panic grew. Her daughter had been in the room a long time now. And all was silent. This room… this terrible room had been declared off limits. She dared not enter where her daughter intrepidly ventured.
Envy… She was bitterly ashamed of feeling jealousy towards her own daughter, but at the same time she could not stop the emotions. They were there. She was jealous of Juline for being the light of Seiju's existence. The bright beacon that brought him home after each mysterious training mission.
Here she was, wife and mother, and yet she was relegated to the sidelines of her family's life.
Bile rose in the back of her throat unexpectedly. She rushed away. Back down the hall, back to her solitary bedroom, in which her husband had not stepped foot for the past nine months.
Since the day she miscarried their son…
In the bathroom she gagged on the lurching dry heaves. She could not bring herself to cry anymore.
"Juline," the austere Master's face softened as he finished his meditation. Dark, nearly black eyes opened to see his granddaughter kneeling across from him expectantly. The energy she always brought with her wherever she went was a constant reminder of her father; Seiju had also had that palpable aura about him.
"You are late, Granddaughter."
"I'm sorry, Grandfather." Juline looked sheepish. "I lost track of time."
He nodded knowingly. "You were with young Kio."
Juline nodded. "Yes. We were doing English homework." Her lips turned down into a pout and her nose scrunched up. "I don't know why I have to take that class. It's not like I'll ever live anywhere else but Japan anyway."
"To open your mind, child," he admonished. "To bring the entire world into the palm of your hand." He rose. None of his age was apparent in the graceful, controlled movements of a martial artist. "Are you prepared for your lesson?"
"Then let us begin."
He went to the far wall and opened a carved wooden chest. From its lined interior he retrieved two swords bearing resemblance to Chinese straight swords in design. One heavier, thicker than the other, with a simple spiral motif etched against the coal gray metal of the blade. The slimmer straight sword seemed quite dainty in comparison although it was at least four feet long. Its metal was iridescent. Light reflected off of the pattern-less blade with every motion, making the weapon appear fluid.
"Juline," her grandfather said, "do you know what these are?"
"No, grandfather." Juline reached out to touch the liquid silver sword, more than a little in awe of the weapon. "What are they? I've never seen them before."
"These," he held both at waist level and parallel to the ground, rotating his wrists so that she could see the swords more clearly, "used to belong to the founders of our school."
Juline stared at the swords with greater respect. She whispered, "You mean…"
"Our ancestors. Your many times great-grandparents."
He returned the heavier male sword to its casing, keeping the female sword out. Handing it to her, he let her test it for balance. Juline began her katas as her grandfather continued with his tale.
"The legend follows…"
Sai faltered in his training exercise as exhaustion claimed his limbs. They ached and trembled, and the only thing keeping him from dropping the wooden staff was his stubborn refusal to give in to weakness.
Last night had been a nightmare come to life. Sai bit the inside of his cheek ruthlessly to silence a shaky sob. He would not cry.
He nearly broke the Bo in half with his bare hands. He would not cave to his weaker self.
Don't think about it.
Cleanse your mind.
You will be strong.
You need to be strong.
This was what he had wanted. What he had desired above all else. Forsaking everything that had held value to him to be powerful. To be the best in the world he had made sacrifices. No matter what those sacrifices would be…
Dark hair cascading over his pale hands.
The cries… those terrible silent tears of despair.
Dark, accusing eyes.
Reminding him… of another face… another…
Sai cried out as the whip cracked across his heavily lacerated back. His knees buckled and he desperately clung to the staff to hold himself upright. Clots reopened and more blood was shed as it dripped down his skin.
"Focus!" Black Pearl demanded coldly.
Another whiplash – this time across the back of his calves. Sai tasted the bubbling blood inside his mouth. His cheek began to swell and sting.
"Hold your stance!"
Sai breathed raggedly and his muscles screamed from the morning long abuse. But he held his stance.
Black Pearl rose upon her throne. Her lacquered nail impaled him in place without touching.
"You will be strong. You will not fail me, Guardian," she ordered relentlessly. Black Pearl allowed a momentary pause as an attendant dressed in white draped a black cape over her shoulders. "I will purge you of this accursed weakness." Sai felt the burn of her cold rage. "Of this, I promise."
Numb and dull, Sai felt hands grip his arms on either side of him. They were the only part of him left untouched other than his front. The entire back of his body from shoulders down to ankles was patterned with a lattice network of welts and jagged cuts. Whip marks never healed well. Black Pearl knew this.
"What did you do?" A calm voice asked.
Sai uttered a bitter, choked laugh filled with self-derision. "What didn't I do?"
There was understanding, if not sympathy, in the voice as the other Guardian mimicked his question. "What didn't you do?"
Sai was nearly unconscious, but he whispered, "I would not rape a child for her."
Sympathetic hands lifted him, draped him over a shoulder.
"Then you are the strongest among us four."
Darkness engulfed Sai before he could tell them that they were wrong.
So terribly wrong…
[End Part IV]
Whoo boy! Was that too… dark?
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