WHAT YUKI SAID

I viewed the slaughter ahead with mixed feelings. Truth be told, I didn't mind. I hated that part of me- the nature of my blood. My Tribal blood. The cold heart of murder, only partially smothered by my mother's uniform love of life. Long ago, my heart cradled by my mother; more recently by Shigeru I would find the reserves to quash that icy enjoyment of death- my father's genetic imprint, but right now, stood alone, I felt it surge through my veins. Even in the rays of the sun, I felt like I should be shaking, although, I knew I never would.

Shigeko stood aside me, unaware of the battle between my nature and my nurture, and blissfully free of confliction; obvious in her revulsion, her face contorted in barely restrained rage- her mother's rage. It tore through me, to see her beautiful features baring such ugly hate, hate that I had prayed she would never have to bare. I felt myself coil at the thought of her innocent eyes being plagued by the harsh truth of my world, not yet free of those sworn to oppose my every move. Those indoctrinated by their parents, already indoctrinated, into the beliefs of selfish arrogance and dogmatic obedience that made the self-sustaining infrastructure of the Tribe. I had spent the better part of the last 13 years trying to eliminate the viral agents of the Kikuta, my own Tribe family, so that my children may live, free of the constant assassination that threatened my own life.

I knew however, as long as the Kikuta Master Akio drew breath, that would never happen.

We stood, rooted to the spot by the ever more clear sight of what lay ahead. Tsuwano. A village of great meaning for me. Tsuwano. The village where, a lifetime ago, I had knelt in front of Lady Shirakawa Kaede, presenting the gifts of my Otori Lord to her at their betrothal. I remember that first time I met her eyes- I remembered how much her heart raced when she met mine. I remembered sparring with her in the battle hall, when neither of us dared swing with intent to hurt- lest we ruin the whole perfection of the other. Tsuwano. The village where, days later, my uncle and adopted father, Shigeru had confided in me for the first time. I remembered the pain in his eyes as he asked me to commit assassination, and the tone of his voice which said he fully expected me to decline. He thought me too caring; he didn't yet understand that the stamp of Kikuta is absolute. Tsuwano. A village close to me in a way pathetic words could not describe.

Without words, I moved from our vantage point, towards the stricken village, until but a few hours ago a village of bustling activity, it's tenants always working to keep the village clean and habitual- quite the challenge, with the seasonal rains. Shigeko followed, her eyes moving from scene to scene, horror to horror, her usual warm mahogany skin bleached white in revulsion. As I walked further into the midst I felt sick by the sights, but more prominently, sick by the sounds, or lack thereof them, of the forever blotched Tsuwano. Sounds had forever been my way of identifying a place- certain sounds, exclusive to one place: the flow of the river at Hagi, the wind whistling through the mountain peaks of Terayama, the clockwork mechanism of Inuyama- for Tsuwano it had always been the voices- so many voices, jovial voices- the community of Tsuwano, driven by friendship and common goals. The absence of those voices scared me more than I would've admitted to Shigeko.

As we entered the main hub of the village the sights became engulfing; not a single place for our eyes to rest which did not contain a scene of harsh cruelty. Men, lying, gazing, their throats slit once across the carotid artery. Women, slumped astraddle various furniture, the once green fabric now saturated red. Some bodies lay at the end of streaks of blood across the floor, as they had tried desperately to reach loved ones in the fleeting moments of their lives. I broke away from Shigeko somewhat and observed one specific scene which had caught my eye. I entered through the threshold of an unbroken door, opened from the inside, presumably by the agent who had already entered through some other means, and engaged. Two bodies lay on the ground, one a baby boy, I estimated that he could not have been older than 7 weeks old, and the other, his mother, her throat slit, whom I estimated must have spent her last moments staring at the freshly deceased body of her son.

I felt initial revulsion, and then after began to see as if replayed in my mind the exact way this had occurred. I saw in my head, the woman, holding her freshly bathed baby, preparing to lay him to sleep. I looked at the blood streak on the wall, and saw her turn, to meet the agent's grunt and slash of the blade, the ruptured artery causing a focused torrent of blood against the wall. I observed the spilled water, and the blood on the table and I saw her body fall, the baby still in arms against the table. I cast my gaze upon the baby body, I inspected the indent the harsh blow had caused on his still under-developed head, a purple patch of internal brain haemorrhaging still fresh under his skin, and I saw his head crushed under the weight of his mother as she fell. I saw him fall from her arms, to the place he now laid, and I prayed he had died immediately. I observed the mother's body, the pool of blood around her now a dry deep purple, and I saw her body slump to the position it was now. I imagine she must've hit her head also, or perhaps have been in too much shock, for she hadn't reached for her child. I saw the Kikuta turn, their work done, and calmly walk out of the door.

I felt a second wave of revulsion having re-lived the experience in my mind. There was something about the body of the infant, lay as it was with it's eyes closed, still too young to have recognised the danger and horror of the situation, it's face almost peaceful, as if in a deep sleep that shook me to my core. It had been over 10 years since a dead body had provoked within me anything other than regretful indifference, but looking at this boy made me feel something I hadn't felt since the day Shigeru asked me to take his head. I quickly sourced a blanket and cast it over the baby's body- I could not allow Shigeko to see it.

At the thought of Shigeko I turned from the scene only to find Shigeko stood at the threshold of the door, her previous pale hue and tearful eyes replaced with a hot, repugnant flush of hatred. I knew she had seen my hiding of the child and I immediately fell ashamed. Shigeko coiled and her hand flew through the air, striking me on the cheekbone. I could have moved, or stopped her but I didn't. I thought about trying to explain my actions, my first child; her older brother, once again protruding to the front of my mind. I felt sadness flood my body as I mourned his loss over again, thought about the way Shigeko unequivocally adored her twin sisters and again found myself incapable of telling her that she had an older brother in the spirit world.

Apparently unable to restrain herself any longer, Shigeko, her body contorted, challenged me.

"What is this Father?" she hissed.

"It is a harvest," I choked, surprised at how my own voice caught in my throat.

"A harvest?" Shigeko queried, confused and revolted.

"They will use the children. Infect their minds with lies, until they come to despise me, and everything I do," I explained.

Shigeko swallowed a lump in her throat. "Why have you brought me here Father?"

"Because this is the type of hate you will inherit, once my time has passed, and the Three Countries looks to you to maintain the prospering peace."

Shigeko locked her gaze on mine, and I felt the same exaltation I always did at being able to look someone in the eye without them falling asleep at my feet; Shigeko having never once, not even as an infant succumbed to the intoxicating Kikuta Sleep. "You speak of such as if it were tomorrow Father," she choked.

"I am old Shigeko. Since your birth I have been subject to countless pain, misery and constant assassination attempts. Akio will never give up, not until my body lays rigid in rigor mortis and my name in disgrace. Through Kenji and my own skills I've repelled him, but my body is breaking down and my strength waning," I paused, deciding that she was ready to appreciate the truth, "it's not going to be long Shigeko; not long until you must take up my name and all the danger that will follow."

"Father..." she began, her tone betraying her denial.

"No Shigeko. This is my truth, and this-" I indicated the devastation around us, "-this is the extent your enemy will go in order to see the name of Takeo forever blotched with memories of death and despair. You can't help these beloved now, you can only honour their spirits by bringing to justice those who have stolen their lives, and forever poisoned their children. Only in the quantum annihilation of the Kikuta can events like this be prevented from happening again, and you, my daughter, must accept this task; must be ready to bear my mantle."

I observed as Shigeko processed what I had said. My eyes saw her brows raise of a sudden, and I knew she was omniscient; my ears heard her inhalation, and I knew she was abhorrent; my body tensed as she embraced me; and then she cried. I felt anger and shame at my own bone dry eyes. My nose scented her hair; the smell of sweet lavender masking the bitter death of the air. As I held her, I saw in the sky the Heron; it's cry reverberated through the emptiness, through me and through Shigeko. My mind perceived her pain; and I felt it slowly seep away. Her sobbing ceased. She pulled back from me and appraised my blank face, and I watched as hers moulded into my extrinsic indifference. My heart broke over; and I knew hers did too. In our silence we bonded; only by our angst could we survive.

My lips found her forehead; hers found my hand, and I led her from the building. We doubled back through the Tsuwano's topical havoc, silent, conjoined in comprehension. Comprehension. I appraised my daughter and heir: I felt serenity and regret, forever conflicted. As I surveyed the flight of the Heron above us, I meditated. Only by our angst can we survive.

That was what Yuki said. She was right.