Why is it that people have siblings? Being alone was enough. One person can support themselves, all they had to do was be strong. She always believed in that sentiment, even now she held tight even though it was being roughly shaken.
The earliest of her memories had always been of home. Not the crib, not her parents' bedroom, not even the kitchen or the living room. Her earliest memories were of the dojo. The scent of wood and sense of serenity that overwhelmed the senses. It was as if she had stepped into a world so sacred even her clueless infancy was reined into abeyance.
It was magical how she had sat there. Her mother by her side, and her father was there patting her head. He would dress in what she first assumed was a skirt and waved a stick around. She would cheer despite her mother's futile urgings for silence. Father would only go back and give her a sharp tap upside the head. She would cry, he would follow up with a light pat and a smile. She'd smile too then everything would be alright.
Slowly, this became the norm for them. She would watch, this little girl would ingrain in her mind every single motion that was made by her father. Perhaps it was at that time, she was mesmerized by the sword.
It took awhile, maybe she was 3? Maybe even 6? but that was how long it took for her to realize she had an older sister. As sisters they looked identical, how they acted also seemed to reflect one another. But it was also different. This girl who would be the older sister, didn't feel like family. The way she talked, the way she referred to them. It was as if a stranger was living in their home alongside them. She was like a shadow that hid behind the family, watching but never joining. Honestly it frightened her.
"Houki. Get along with your sister Tabane."
That had been her mother's command.
It was awkward when the sisters finally confronted each other properly. It was always a game of who could hide from the other when it came to them and even when interaction was forced, both tried to cut it short. This time when they actually spoke for real, it was most traumatizing.
"Mom told me to give this letter to you. She said it was from some really important smart person."
"Ah... Thank you.", the older sister's fingers accepted the paper, but when she tried to pull away from the younger sibling, it wouldn't come off. "Um... Thank you.", she repeated.
"D-don't be mistaken. I have no intention of becoming close to you. Honestly, you scare me so don't assume I'm being nice okay? Just let things between us continue as they are."
A pregnant pause had filled that time. Almost ten seconds may have elapsed. Ten seconds where neither sibling could look the other in the eye while still keeping hold of their respective end of the mail. Those ten seconds were merely the calm before the storm.
Houki abandoned the letter and clamped both hands over her ears. When she looked over to her sister who had made that infernal noise, it was as if staring at a monster who had been unleashed. Her eyes were only pinpricks of light and the way she menacingly loomed over her with all that panting terrified the little girl.
"Tsun-de-re~ tsun-de-re~ tsun-der-e~ "
Those were the only words that she heard before the world went black. Ever since then, there seemed to be a one-sided love between the sisters.
The years went by quickly, watching her father, avoiding her sister. Everyday was like a battlefield, learn it one moment, apply it the next; mostly to her sister.
That one year, the one where she finally realized she was a girl was important. She found a boy she liked. It was something she didn't believe at first. She really couldn't believe it! After all, she believed that to be strong, one didn't or shouldn't need anyone. Wasn't that right? To be strong was to be able to do things alone and to be able to do things for others without having to rely on anyone else. But she found him, someone she wanted to rely on, someone she wanted to rely on her.
It was perhaps another odd meeting in her life of weirdness. As the only real child student of the Shinonono family dojo, the girl found it in herself to improve beyond a good fraction of those who partook of the lessons. Granted those members were far and few in between, maybe hitting only on numbers between 12 and 16. But most all of them were adults and she had beaten each and every one of them. She was superior in technique and years of practice had taught her how to use her small body better than any of the adults could with their bulk. She was strong. So strong that before she knew it, people began to disperse from her surroundings. Nobody wanted to lose to a child. Mortifying would be the only word to describe such a feeling.
But someone stuck around. It was a boy her age. He seemed the excitable type, a true hot-blooded shonen. She thought him odd as he was the only one who sparred with her often. She even noticed at one point that he was always willingly going to her. She'd had enough one day and asked.
"Why are you always challenging me?"
"Because you're strong."
"Then come back after you've gotten stronger as well."
"But it'd be faster if I fight someone strong right?"
This boy was hopeless, that was how the girl felt right then. The point wasn't really strength, the point was-
"Don't you have pride as a boy? All the adults I've fought and beaten stopped coming to me because they have pride as adults. Why are you always coming back to me even though it always ends with your loss? Isn't it embarassing? A girl who's stronger than you?"
Clueless... she sighed at the expression he was making. "you kn-"
"What's wrong with that?", he suddenly interrupted.
"What's wrong with what?"
"What's wrong with a girl being stronger than a boy? If a girl is stronger than a boy, does that mean a boy shouldn't like that girl? That's strange!"
"How is that strange!?", Houki's temper rose.
"My sister is stronger than anyone I know. I still like her."
She was momentarily stunned. "Are you stupid or something?", she near screamed, "this and that are different. The circumstances are different. You really are an idiot.". She threw her shinai at him and stomped away angrily.
Once she'd calmed down, she settled on the ground and began to writing on the dust with her fingers. His words echoed in her mind. He was so odd, she wondered what his name was? Wondered if they would meet again. Then she remembered that in the dojo there was only one boy of her age registered, the younger brother of their star student. Houki nearly screamed.
What started out as an awkward rivalry became a close, if not non-verbal friendship. Barely any contact, barely any words but the two could understand each other anyway. Such closeness between a little boy and little girl, of course, weren't taboo. But to the minds of the young and the misguided child, these were prime reasons for teasing.
It wasn't uncommon for boys her age to dislike her. After all, she was stronger than them. Something she proved time and time again. Embittered against her, all they could do was tease, her pride not letting her speak back nor lash out. She only stood her ground and took it all. What made everything worth the silent attrition was the presence of the boy she had come to love. But he never saw her the way she saw him. She wanted him to see her, badly. Her heart ached whenever they were together. It seemed all they could ever talk about was kendo. It was her only connection to him, what made her close but also what limited how close she could get.
In a bout of desperation, she had tried to ask her sister how she could get a boy to notice her. But the fear of their first meeting was too much. She ended up going to her mother who merely tied her hair up with a ribbon. She was unhappy about it. Was a ribbon all it took to make a boy notice that you're a girl? She had to admit though, this was probably the limit. If she dressed up more than that then she'd be too embarrassed to go outside.
The next day, too many things went wrong. First of all, she was the talk of every girl and bully in their class. The man-girl wearing a ribbon. That was all they ever whispered about. She was embarrassed, so embarrassed that she looked down on the floor and ran into five people on five different occasions during the course of the day. It got worse after classes during room cleaning. It was her turn and the boy she wanted to show off to just so happened to be in the same cleaning group. Her heart lifted then because there was a chance the boy might notice. Even then, when things seem to go well, calamity always seems to strike. The bullies were also in the same cleaning group.
While everyone including herself was busy cleaning, the bullies were just goofing around, swapping stories and making empty boasts. But like the theme of the day, the topic of talk fell to her.
"Wow, never thought I'd see the day the tomboy would wear something girly."
"Yeah, I didn't really think it was even a girl. I was convinced it was a guy from how strong it is!"
"Maybe Shinonono finally realized the girl-side and has a crush? Isn't that right Shinonono?"
Eyes, too many eyes for her comfort were trained on her. She couldn't look away, a sign of weakness. She merely looked the bully in the eye, said nothing before continuing her task of sweeping the floor.
"My god she does have a boy she likes!"
The cackling that followed hurt. Each peal of laughter like a crystal shard to her heart.
"Hey guys! Who do you think Shinonono likes? a teacher? another student?"
"Maybe he's from another class?"
"What do you think Orimura?"
The girl's wounded heart suddenly stopped. She looked over to him and he seemed silent. His exterior was cold, aloof and very much disgusted.
Her heart beat
Please, please don't say anything.
"you guys are all idiots.", the boy finished. "Who cares who she likes? She's a girl and that ribbon looks cute on her. If you think it's weird then you must have something wrong with your heads.".
Heat flooded her entire being. Those words, such words weren't something far off from what he'd say, but they were words she didn't expect at all. A happiness that can't be described began to bubble up in her chest and felt painful to keep in control. She had to look down and avoid anyone's gaze because she was sure her face was red.
"So does that mean Orimura likes the man-girl?"
"Ew! disgusting! Why settle for the man-girl?"
"yeah! Lot's of other girls in the class!"
"You're the ones that are disgusting!"
The boy snapped and swung a punch at the bully. Somehow, that day's happiness remained but spoiled by regret of how she got him in trouble. But that was still a day she would never forget, a day that holds her most precious memory.
It was probably a year after and the two continued to be friends, not that the girl wasn't trying to be more.
Kendo championships were around the corner and the kendo club's girl's team was a shoo-in for the nationals. Their secret weapon, Shinonono Houki, would make sure of that. On the boys' side, the boy she liked was just doing his thing at leisure. There wasn't even a possibility of entering the nationals with all the other strong teams out there. The morale of the boys seemed to be at an all time low.
Talking after classes, the childhood friends got into the topic of kendo like usual.
"So how's preparations for the nationals?"
"They're going well. How about the boys?"
"not a chance.", he waved away the notion with a sigh. "No one thinks we'd even place in the prefecturals. Even if I try my hardest, I'm only one person. It doesn't help that none of the seniors have ever gone to the nationals, ever."
They trudged on. Not knowing what to say as the atmosphere became heavier and heavier from the depressing topic.
"What is it Houki?"
"Promise me you'll do your best."
"During the prefecturals... Do your best, for my share."
"I'll do your share too. I'll definitely go to the nationals!"
"That's a little embarrassing."
"Don't say something I already know! It's hard enough to say these things as is."
"Then just do it."
"Let's both do our best. And when it's all over, we'll go out to celebrate our victory! Or nurse our losses."
"What kind of motivational speech is that? Listen, I'll definitely become the champion in the nationals. After that, we'll celebrate. Promise?"
But that promise. It would never happen. She would not even be able to attend her final match because something had happened that not only affected her family but also the world. That day, Houki not only feared her sister, but hated her as well.
Years pass by and the sands of time slip by through her fingers.
The reality of her situation not registering in her mind as all that remains is confusion and anger. There isn't time to calm down, no time to clear her mind and nurse the wounds. Just memories and longing that continued to embitter her. Moving from town to town every month or so, such were the effects of the witness protection program the girl's family was forced under.
Her elder sister had disappeared after a huge event that lead to the birth of the greatest weapon to ever grace earth's battlefields. This normally wouldn't be grounds for witness protection, but that weapon was built by her sister, a 14 year old teenager.
The girl was now a young woman who lived by herself. Destined to pilot the weapon made by the sister she hated. Another day, lost in memories as she idly flipped channels during dinner for one. Stopping on the news which showed a feature about the first ever male to be able to pilot her sister's machine, the bowl of rice and chopsticks fell from her hands. She ran towards the moving pictures and reached out as if touching the image would confirm what she was seeing.