Twilight settled on Ikishima and the little village of the Tatsuyoshi as Shinji, the aging Grandmaster, rushed to the jail. Worry flooded him as the cries of the angry mob grew louder. They wanted blood, not justice, and he hoped that by personally standing guard over the prisoner inside, he'd abruptly stop his enraged clan from exacting revenge on her before the trial next morning. At the door of the tiny shack, he found the guard, Takeshi, where he'd left him an hour prior, clutching his spear as he kept watch. Shinji nodded to him and then slipped inside. There was very little crime in the seaside village, so until earlier that day, there was hardly a need for a jail. The hut, which only harbored one cell, was dilapidated from disuse. Thick rust coated the iron bars, and when the older ninja stepped across the warped wooden floor, it creaked loudly.
"Shinji," the young woman in the cell greeted in an eerily high-pitched tone. Her eyes were closed and her head tilted back, but her snow white hair fell carelessly across her face. Though her hands were shackled behind her back and her feet chained to the floor, the old warrior feared this animal.
"Shinji?" he repeated. "Am I no longer your Otousan, Miyuki?"
"You lied to me," she replied in an amused voice.
The Grandmaster recoiled in surprise. He knew exactly what she meant, but how she came by that knowledge was a mystery. "It is what any father would do for his daughter," he said. "I love you, and I wanted to protect you. For that, I am not sorry."
With a roar, Miyuki lunged at him, stopped only by her shackles. He jumped in fear as his heart leapt into his throat. He had seen many terrible things in his long life as a ninja assassin, but he'd never seen anything quite so terrible as his daughter now. Something evil had gotten a foothold in her heart and taken control. He saw it in the half-crazed blue eyes bulging from her head as she sat on the wooden bench again with an insane giggle.
Outside, the shouts from the villagers grew ever louder, and Shinji now saw through the barred window the orange glow from several torches. His daughter chuckled as she slowly twisted her head around to look up at the window. "Oooohhhh," she taunted. "They sound angry."
"Musume, where did I go wrong with you?" Shinji was stunned by the lack of remorse in her expression and voice. This was not the sweet, loving girl he'd raised. This was a monster. "Why did you do these terrible things?"
She grinned at him dangerously through thin strands of stringy hair stained red with blood not her own, her sapphire blue eyes wild and dark. "Such a pretty night for a bloodbath," she said.
"This is not a game, Miyuki!" he snapped. "The others mean to kill you!"
"They're welcome to try," she replied.
"It will not come to that. I swear I will keep you safe until your trial tomorrow."
She cackled hysterically at that, chilling his blood. Evidently, she was a master of ice in more ways than one. Shinji couldn't stifle the sorrow he felt for his child, or the anger he felt towards himself for teaching her to fight and kill. In raw talent alone, she was a talented kunoichi, and easily the best young warrior in the Tatsuyoshi clan. In some ways, she was even better than the Grandmaster himself. Coupled with her mystical power to control ice, Miyuki was unrivaled by most. But he never foresaw the young woman turning on her own people with her deadly knowledge, ruthlessly slaying her fellow clansmen for no apparent reason. She had killed several of the clan's elders as well as ninjas before Shinji stopped her with a blow dart dipped in a strong sleeping draught. Perhaps if he never taught her, none of this would have happened. Perhaps he created this monster.
"You're washed up and wrung out, old man," she hissed after her laughter subsided.
"How dare you speak to your Grandmaster so disrespectfully?" he cried. "I raised you. Or have you forgotten?"
"You're pathetic," she responded, twitching slightly. "How dare you call yourself a Grandmaster when you're too afraid to kill me yourself? You'd rather rely on trials to dole out justice, and when I'm convicted, you won't be the one to execute me. You'll let someone else do your dirty work for you, the weak coward that you are!"
"Enough!" he replied.
She leered at him. "If I were the Grandmaster-"
"But you're not!" he shouted. "You're not the Grandmaster. You're not fit to be the Grandmaster of any clan, let alone the Tatsuyoshi."
"If I were the Grandmaster," she continued as if she hadn't heard him, "I would have brought the Lin Kuei to their knees long ago. But you let them live."
Shinji sighed. He feared they were the reason she'd finally snapped. Nearly eight years prior, on Miyuki's sixteenth birthday, the rival Chinese clan sent assassins to the tiny village to kill him. He was not home, however. He had taken Miyuki to the beach to let her practice her ice-wielding powers in peace, as the other members of the Tatsuyoshi feared her abilities and preferred she didn't hone them at all. The invading Lin Kuei warriors set fire to his large minka house, trapping his wife, Katsue, and his younger son and daughter inside. He and Miyuki saw the flames from the beach, and ran to help. His daughter, in spite of the fire, bolted inside against his express commands, but her path was blocked by a mountain of burning rubble, and she was doomed to hear her mother and siblings shriek in terror and agony until they finally burned to death. That was the night her hair turned white.
After that, she was never the same. Every night for the past eight years, Shinji heard her scream in her sleep and wake up sobbing. And every day for the past eight years, a darker and darker shadow settled upon her pretty face. She was inconsolable, and the older she got, the more sullen and withdrawn she grew. Though grief passes eventually for most people, it never released its hold on Miyuki. Instead, it festered and grew until it finally consumed her soul.
"And what purpose would revenge have served?" he countered. "More people would have died. Our people."
"What's the matter, Shinji?" she retorted. "Lost your stomach for the kill?"
"When you've seen as much death as I have, Musume, you wouldn't be so anxious to deal in it. There is more to being a Grandmaster than having the power and desire to kill someone. Honor, mercy, love. These are the things a Grandmaster must rule with. That is why I have already defeated Grandmaster Oniro. I do not need to risk my ninjas' lives to prove I am the greater man."
"Your petty scruples are an embarrassment." She threw her head back and gazed at him with an arrogant expression. "At least Oniro had the guts to try to destroy his enemy, and he didn't hide behind some misplaced sense of moral high ground."
"You have learned nothing from me!" he cried. "I am ashamed of you."
"I'm all misty-eyed about it, too" she shot back.
Suddenly, Shinji heard a commotion outside, and someone screamed majo – witch – loudly. Then, a hand shoved a burning cloth soaked in naphtha through the bars on the window. It landed on the floor with a loud crash, and a glass container inside it filled with a concoction of sulfur, saltpeter, quicklime, and more naphtha exploded, sending out streamers of white-hot flame through the cell and up the walls. The warped, dry boards beneath Miyuki's feet quickly erupted into a roaring blaze as the Greek fire fed it, and she began cackling like a hyena as it bit at her tabi boots. In seconds, she was surrounded by fire, but continued giggling hysterically while Shinji frantically turned around to get the keys hanging on the wall. He meant what he said; she would not die without a trial.
But when he turned around, she had stopped laughing. Instead, she leaned forward and peered at him like a predator on the hunt, flooding him with fear. The flicker of fire danced in tiny points off her nearly black eyes, and a shadow crossed her face. As the Grandmaster stood paralyzed by her wicked expression, unsure whether he should run or save her, he heard heavy metal clanking on the floor as her shackles fell off her wrists. Before he could react, Miyuki had leapt to her feet and thrust her hands though the bars, catching him by the red Japanese dragon embroidered on his robes, the symbol of the Tatsuyoshi. With a ferocious grunt, she yanked him into the iron bars and knocked him silly.
Stunned, he barely noticed her rip the keys from his hand and unlock her cell. Then, she slipped out, never releasing her hold on him. Chuckling softly, she pushed him into the back wall and shoved her arm into his throat, pinning him in place. Behind her, the flames and smoke swirled around ominously.
"Before I let you die," she began, "I want to have one last father-daughter chit-chat. You're going to tell me everything you know. I want you to-" she paused as she looked down at his stomach "-spill your guts."
By the time Takeshi, who had been knocked out by the villagers outside, came to, Shinji's screams had long since died away.
A brilliant and full blue moon lingered just above the ocean as thirteen-year-old Oki returned to the eerily silent village with his father, Nami. The two had been on the family boat fishing all day, and one of their nets accidentally got tangled in a propeller, so they were late getting home. As they walked into the tiny town, they immediately noticed no lights were on in any of the minka houses. There weren't the usual smells of food cooking on stoves or in hearths, and nobody strolled across the sandy roads. They heard nothing but the sound of wind through the tall trees; even the birds and forest animals were unusually silent tonight. Oki clutched his father's shirt.
"Chichi," he whispered. "I'm scared."
"Even so, we must find the others," Nami whispered back.
They walked further into the village, and what they found paralyzed them with shock and fear. Butchered and left for the carrion-eaters, all of the men, women, and children lay in the roads where they had died horrible deaths. Many of them had been ripped open with a knife or sword, their throats sliced open to near decapitation or their bellies eviscerated with their intestines drooping out, but many more appeared…frozen. Oki went to a slick mound glittering in the moonlight, and through the glassy smoothness of the ice he saw his best friend, Misao, imprisoned inside. The young boy's eyes bugged out in a perpetual state of terror. Oki's eyes welled with tears.
"Chichi, we have to go!" he said as he started to cry.
"We can't," Nami replied, also wiping away tears. "We have to find the Grandmaster. And then we have to care for the dead so their spirits will be at peace."
"Look," the man said to his son, pointing. In the distance, Oki saw a column of smoke rising from an orange glow at the center of the village. "Perhaps we will find answers there."
"I don't want to go!"
"Act like a man!" Nami rebuked. "A Tatsuyoshi warrior does not disgrace himself by wailing like a woman."
Oki hung his head and followed his father to the town square where they found the jail, surrounded by more mutilated bodies, nearly burnt to the ground. Erected outside the charred, wooden door was the most terrible thing the boy had ever seen in his life. Takeshi, one of the clan's most esteemed ninjas, had been impaled through his anus on a thick spear drove into the dirt. The blunt end of the handle exited through his mouth, forcing his head to tilt back as if vomiting upwards. His legs, which were too long, bent awkwardly into his chest as his boots rested in a thick puddle of his own, sticky blood.
While his father couldn't help but stare at the spectacle in terror, Oki whirled around because he couldn't stand the sight of the man's eyes gazing at the sky in blank surprise. But the moonlight revealed a new horror. Hanging from a hastily built set of gallows was Shinji, the beloved Grandmaster of the Tatsuyoshi. He was not hanging by his neck, however; someone had shackled his hands behind his back, wrapped a rope around them, and pulled him up so that his arms were wrenched behind him at an awkward angle. His killer hadn't stopped there, though. Shinji appeared as if he were gagging on something, and upon closer inspection Oki saw that the Grandmaster's neck had been deeply cut open before his tongue had been yanked down his throat and threaded through the hole. And still, that wasn't enough. Shinji's torso had been sliced open with surgical precision, and the flaps of skin on either side were propped up with long bamboo reeds so that Oki could clearly see the man's ribs and lungs. His intestines dangled to the ground like a chain of link sausages, and more blood soaked the earth.
Oki promptly threw up.
Nami, who now saw the Grandmaster, bowed his head and wept. "What man could do such a thing?" he wondered aloud.
"No man," a voice answered. Oki and Nami looked to their left and saw Miyuki, Shinji's daughter standing beside them, covered in blood.
"Majo!" Nami screamed before he spat on her. Then he got into a fighting stance.
She looked at the filth on her boots with an evil grin, then stared into his eyes. "You're absolutely right," she hissed. "Want to see a magic trick?"
With lightning fast reflexes, Miyuki gripped him by the throat before Nami could react. Oki screamed and ran to his father's aid, beating her on the back with his small fists, but the young woman giggled and pushed him away. The ninja warrior struggled to free himself, and grabbed her by the wrists to pull her hands away from him, but she looked at him calmly and squeezed, never loosening her hold over him. He gradually stopped struggling, letting his arms fall to his sides as his eyes rolled back into his head.
"Stop!" the boy shouted, tears streaming down his face. "You're killing him!"
"That was the general idea," she retorted in a sing-song voice.
Now, as Oki watched in helpless horror, a blue-white sheen of ice grew on Nami's throat, quickly spreading through his skin as it petrified his body. Within seconds, he was frozen like a statue, dead. Miyuki released her grip and promptly did a roundhouse kick into his solid midsection, and he toppled over like a toy soldier, breaking into several large pieces. While she howled in laughter like a hyena and briefly danced in glee over the corpse, Oki shrieked and bolted in the opposite direction.
The boy only made it a few steps before something cold and sharp plunged into his shoulder and knocked him facedown into the ground. He wailed in pain, feeling his hot blood dribble down his back as he heard footsteps crunch in the sand. He reached around and felt a shuriken made from ice jutting from his bone, but before he could wrench it out, Miyuki gripped him by his shirt and threw him onto his back.
"Where do you think you're going, Oki?" she asked with a devious smirk on her face. "I didn't say you could leave."
With that, she grabbed his throat and began to choke him like she just did to his father. And like his father, Oki tried to fight back. He gripped her wrists and scratched at them to wound her, but Miyuki scarcely noticed the thin trails of blood oozing from her skin, chuckling wickedly as she clamped down on him even harder. And then, the boy felt a sudden chill surge through his body. It felt a lot like getting caught outdoors during a blizzard, right when a powerful gust of frigid wind sprays snow and ice crystals into the air, threatening to freeze a person with its cold breath. He whimpered as the sensation grew bitter, and hypothermia paralyzed him. Suddenly, Oki's throat went stiff as he heard faint crackling and popping from the ice solidifying him.
Darkness gnawed at his vision, but before it enveloped him completely, he looked into the mad eyes of his killer. "Why?" he croaked hoarsely.
She scoffed. "Why not?"
And then, everything went black.