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I have no sister.
I have no sister.
Saki still hears those words hours after Kazekoshi's captain relayed them to her at the onsen. She tries to ward off the unease constricting tightly round her heart, tries to find light in the shadow cast in the dust of Teru's wake. She tries, tries so hard to push the words to the farthest, darkest recess in her mind, lock the door, and throw away the key.
But every time she comes back – to see if the cell remains unopened – the key is always in the keyhole, waiting to be turned.
Saki doesn't know what to do. She can't let Nodoka and the others know about this, can't let them get the impression something is wrong with her, something deep inside that is contained but is fighting tooth and nail to get out. She can't let them learn of the storm brewing behind her smiling, modest affront. Not when she had declared she'd climb all the way to the top of the nationals to see her big sister.
So Saki sleeps, and she dreams of a world drenched in darkness. It stretches on and on, broken by sporadic bursts of white flowers lost to a horizon that can be seen but never breached. On this horizon is Teru, her flesh pale as marble and her hair blazing crimson like the lone candle in a vigil of emptiness. Her back to Saki, she stands straight as one frozen in time, age and decay fomenting and peeling away like a snake shedding itself of the skin it has worn all its life.
Saki runs toward her, calls Teru's name as she draws closer and closer. Maybe her face will be the same – kind eyes, caring smile, firm but gentle hands. Maybe she'll turn around, take Saki in her arms and say I'm sorry, but I can't let them know about us; being a mahjong superstar isn't easy. Maybe that girl's still there, somewhere, somewhere underneath the basaltic gorge that's asunder even wider and ever deeper.
(There's still hope…there's still a chance to make everything right….)
That's when Teru whirls on Saki, stops her dead in her tracks with a hand latched to her forehead. Red eyes break through the younger's barrier like an oncoming meteor shrieking into the Earth's atmosphere.
Already the last of her defenses are being breached, and it is evidenced in the tremor of Saki's voice as she forces herself to speak. "Onee-chan…why did you say that? Why did you deny me in your interview?"
"You're just another person in a sea of faceless nobodies," the elder remarks flatly. "You're not worth my time."
"I don't understand!" (You know damn well why.) "You and I are family! Don't I mean anything to you?"
"You are dead to me. You are nothing more than an obstacle that needs to be dismantled. When our paths cross we will not meet as sisters but rivals, and when that time comes I will do everything in my power to tear you apart…piece by piece. Your fall shall be my rise."
This is when Saki starts pushes against her sister, puts all the weight into her legs so she can bulldoze into Teru and tackle them to the ground. Beat her chest with delicate fists, take those broad shoulders into the sleek ridge of her palms and shake them senseless, put her hands on both sides of an angular face and make her see that she's real, she's right here, she's more than just blood, bone and muscle. "I love you, onee-chan! I love you! You're my sister and I love you!"
"Wilt, oh little flower," Teru says, fingernails digging and biting into the younger's scalp. "Wilt, and may winter steal your final breath."
"TERU!" It's all Saki can get out before she is pushed off her feet and her head snaps against the invisible floor. There should be pain – brutal, agonizing pain – but there isn't any. She should also be dazed by the sudden impact, more or less knocked unconscious, yet Saki feels herself propping her body up on both elbows and begins to rise. Except she can't; she lifts her arms and sees they're wrapped from wrist to elbow in twisting, thorny roots – roots from the bed of flowers she could have sworn wasn't there a minute ago.
She tugs and tugs and tugs, moving every which way as a tiger will try and slash at the net thrown over it in a bid to capture. She kicks and snaps her legs but they too are lassoed with an unforgiving, vice-like tightness that is sure to restrict blood circulation. Animal terror snares her in its jaws, and her heart beats desperately against a xylophone ribcage threatening to break. She jerks and wriggles and tosses like a fish on dry land, her struggles growing wild and feverish. Her upper torso lunges unsuccessfully upward, once, twice, muscles flexing and pushing at slender, ropy shoots. She screams for her – "Teru! TERU! TERU!" – each spoken syllable dissolving into shrill, inhuman shrieks, but Teru doesn't listen, doesn't even turn back and free the younger from her plight. No, no, Teru keeps on walking, walks deeper and farther toward endless, impenetrable black, and with every blink of Saki's teary eyes she becomes smaller and smaller and all that remains of the hope Saki has been clinging onto is snuffed out in a puff of harsh breath.
Then the roots close around her throat, tangle in her hair and bound her mouth shut and pull her to their bosom, lovely, little white lilies that embrace the warm human body sinking into their cold, unyielding netherworld….
In the dark of the relaxing room Kiyosumi's chosen sleep peacefully, unaware of the tossing and turning their captain is enduring. Saki curls in on herself, fingers pulling at the blanket and eyes screwing amid a thin veneer of sweat. As the minutes tick by and the hour passes, her sister's name escapes her lips, groaning faintly for a savior to pull her out of the dirt and roots and dark and into the light of warmth and love.
I have no sister.
You're not worth my time.
You are dead to me.
You are nothing more than an obstacle that needs to be dismantled.
(You don't mean that, onee-chan….
(You don't mean any of it….
(Don't you love me? Don't you care about me?
(Don't I matter to you at all, onee-chan?)
In West Tokyo, two girls sit outside watching their makeshift fire spit embers and gnaw at crudely chopped wood. Between them is a pile of envelopes, folded papers, and crinkled photographs that is growing smaller and non-existent.
The first girl, Sumire Hirose, says, "You're going to regret doing this. If for some reason you decide to reconcile—"
"It won't come to it," the second girl declares. She picks up a Kodak and without looking lets it slide from her palm and into the inferno; the fire cackles with delight. "I'll make sure the point gets across."
"What if she doesn't?" Sumire can only stare as the photo crumples inward, distorting the grinning face of a red-eyed brunette who has one arm around the waist of a laughing child with similar features.
"Then it's her loss." Teru Miyanaga leans back on her arms and breathes deep the stench of acrid smoke rising into a cloudless, cobalt sky.
She will sleep easy tonight.