The Warriors Arrive
The mayor was a plump man, who enjoyed showing off and playing snob almost as much as he enjoyed eating. Though it was close sometimes.
Today was a showing off day. He had the entire population of citizens gathered in the square outside our small town hall of Ookiimura, which ironically translated into 'Large Village'. Wishful thinking, if you ask me.
Two days prior to this ceremonial meeting, a similar string of events had occurred, in which he had announced with great enthusiasm and pride that warriors from our closest neighbouring city, Kazekuni, would be passing through. The crowd had responded with cheers and gleeful yelps, as it was seen as a great honour to house a squadron of warriors that were on route to war, and an even greater honour to have your own citizens selected to be chosen as medics and squires.
That's where I came into it. Known as the keenest medic in the Westlands, I possessed medical skills that rivalled that of the most famous doctor in the Midlands, Tsunade of Konaha. I, however, was not so well known.
My family were all involved in medicine in some way. My younger sister, Mina, was a practicing medic with, like myself, though she had no particular speciality. My mother worked away a lot as a poison's specialist, and when she was at home she'd often leave us to provide for ourselves as she passed the time in bars with single guys, or stopping over at her friends' houses, so we rarely saw her. My father died during a civil war, a few months before Mina was born and I was too small to remember.
But Mina and I were thick as thieves. With 7 years between us you wouldn't have thought siblings could be so close. I guess you could say it was more a mother-daughter relationship we shared, since I had been the one to bring her up for most of her life. Our mother wasn't what you'd describe as a maternal woman.
I glanced down at the little brunette beside me, unable to keep the smile from my face as her dark hair swished in the breeze while she watched the Mayor on his platform ahead. My expression soon turned sour though at the thought of our possible separation, all for the sake of someone else's war.
I had never met anyone from Kazekuni, and I didn't particularly care for their antics in war with some far off land that no one really liked anyway. Conveniently named the valley of blood, Chitani was known as a bloodthirsty people, whose leader was getting too big for his boots and had begun harassing and invading several smaller towns in the East.
'People of Ookiimura, I thank you for your time and patience.' The Mayor's patronising voice pulled me back to the present, and I squinted into the distance at the short and stout leader. 'Our neighbours shall be arriving extremely shortly, and I would expect you all to treat them with the utmost respect and honour. They will quite quickly be filling up the hotels and inns we have available, though should we run out of rooms, some of you will be required to share your own accommodation with our guests.'
There were a few disapproving murmurs from the crowd, but the majority remained silent, waiting for him to redeem himself.
'The last opportunity to sign the lists for volunteer squires and medics will be at 6pm tonight in the town hall, where a grand celebratory gathering will be thrown to welcome the warriors. I'm sure that I do not need to remind you that if an insufficient number of volunteers are listed, we will be selecting by force. That will be all, now please continue with your business as usual. Thank you.'
I scoffed and rolled my eyes. So much for subtlety. Of course, I had already written mine and Mina's names down, it just wasn't worth the hassle if we didn't. All I was clinging to now was the hope that there were either too many names down for the warriors or that we were simply not selected.
I guided my sister through the maze of people and when we finally pushed out for air at the back of the crowd, I had to chuckle. 'It always amazes me how many people fit into that square…'
Mina made a noise of acknowledgement but kept her head down, fringe hanging down over her eyes. We strolled through the streets, the windows shimmering and glowing in the early morning sunlight. I continued to chatter, lightly commenting on pointless on goings around us, trying to keep her mood up with the sinking feeling that I was failing.
When Mina finally met my gaze, her eyes were clouded with worry. 'Koko?' It was a nickname that had stuck from when she was younger and unable to fully pronounce my full name, 'Emiko'. I thought it was sweet.
'How long will the war last?' She whispered, her voice low enough so that only I could hear it.
I gave her a sad smile. 'I couldn't say, Mimi. Not long, I hope.'
She nodded and dipped her head again. I wracked my brain for something I could say to comfort her, coming up blank every time.
'War is evil.' She muttered as we paused outside our apartment door and I fumbled with the keys.
'There is no evil in the world, Mina. Only bad people who want to create evil.' I quoted, remembering the saying from an old man who used to live a few blocks away.
'Well then, people are evil.' She huffed stubbornly, crossing her arms over her chest and turning her deep purple eyes up to mine. Her hair and eyes were darker than mine, which I often envied. My mousey brown locks were dull and boring, falling loosely over one eye while I kept the other, longer side wrapped in a tight braid that hung to my shoulder. At work, I'd pull the main body of my hair up into to spikey buns, but at home I usually left it free and flowing, though even at full length ending just above my shoulders, it had nothing on Mina's, which, when loose, fell to her lower back.
Inside was colder than usual, which I refused to look at as a bad omen. Lighting a match, I flipped it onto the old log fire in our tiny living room and turned back to Mina. 'Why don't you put the kettle on, Mimi? We'll have some tea and I can make some of your favourite miso soup!'
Thankfully, her face brightened slightly at this, and she skipped into the kitchen to fill the kettle as I'd suggested. A few moments later though, she returned, her face falling. 'We're out of Miso Paste! Mom used the last of it yesterday for dinner and must have forgotten to stock up…'
'That's alright, we can nip out and get some in a minute.' I grinned, and she perked up again.
'I can go get it now! Oh please, Koko! I won't be long I promise!'
Mina knew I was wary about her going out alone, but on this occasion, I sighed in defeat. 'Fine, but if you're not back in ten minutes–'
'I will be! I promise! See you in a bit!' She scurried out the door in a flurry, forgetting to ask for the money and having to shuffle back in sheepishly while I fished in my pocket for some change.
When she had gone I moved to stand by the window, gazing out into the distance at the surrounding mountains.
Ten minutes came and went. Then another ten. I tried to control my pacing but the million different scenarios flashing through my mind refused to cease even slightly, until finally I could bare it no more.
Grabbing my keys and stuffing them into a pack I kept buckled at my hip, I hurried out into the street and around two corners to the market place.
The market place was packed, which was at first I thought was unusual, until I saw several built up men pass by that I had never seen before, and I remembered our expected guests. Great, that'll make it much harder to find her with all these people…
'Emiko!' I spun round at the sound of my name, eyes scanning the crowd until they landed on a familiar face. It was Mrs. Honaka from two blocks down. 'Emiko! Quickly, Mina has got herself into a bit of trouble with the newcomers…'
She barely had time to finish her sentence when I arrived in her face, panic rising in my throat as I questioned the old woman. 'Where is she? What happened?'
'I'll take you to her, I think one of the men though she was pushing in and got angry with her…' She spoke quickly as we walked, far too slowly for my liking. 'Over there!'
She pointed to a giant, burly man who looked to be in his late 30s. He was scowling into the small group of people that had gathered around, and it was only when I got closer that his voice reached my ears.
'I am disgusted by it. Such a lack of respect and from such a young member, which begs the question, what exactly are the elders of this village teaching their young in this place?' He spat, his face contorting into a glare as he arrogantly threw his weight around.
His arm moved sluggishly as he shifted, as though dragging something behind him, and when I managed to squeeze my way in front of the last layer of people, my whole body froze as I stared.
He had Mina. His giant, grizzly hand clutching her around the back of her neck as he swung her forward and let her fall face down into the dust. Several people gasped and frowned at the scene, though no one dared move as she sputtered and scrabbled to sit up.
'I believe you deserve your punishment now, little girl!' He snarled, looming over her and about to make another grab for her neck.
Without thinking, I darted forward, squishing my body in between them and glaring with all my might at the beast before me.
'Don't you dare raise your filthy hands to her!' I spat venomously, my feral hatred blatantly clear in my voice as I fumed.
He seemed somewhat taken aback momentarily, but gained composure soon enough to shove me backwards easily so I landed clumsily on my sister. Now he was really pissed.
'I think I should teach you a few manners too, you little bitch!' He roared, practically snapping off his belt and wrapping it once around his fist, drawing his arm back threateningly.
I span myself round so my back was to that monster, curling around Mina in a desperate attempt to protect her. I heard him heave and his arm shot forward, the belt whooshing through the air at the movement, and I squeezed my eyes tight shut as braced myself for the searing pain. But nothing came.
There was a sudden eruption of whisperings among the crowd and I slowly convinced myself to peek back over my shoulder.
Someone else was there, standing between us! I flickered my gaze upwards to the back of the strangers head. Bright red hair that I definitely did not recognise. Above his head his arm was extended, his fingers wrapped easily around the end of the belt that would have inevitably hit us had he not intercepted.
The monster started to speak, clearly as shocked as everyone else. 'What the hell, man…'
'I'm not sure if the right person is being taught the manners here, Ryuuga.' The stranger's voice was strangely calm as he dropped his hand casually, still clutching the end of the belt. With a quick tug, he yanked it from the giant's hand and threw it unceremoniously at his feet, and without another word, turned and walked away, the crowd parting incredulously as he passed through them.
I stared dumbly after him, unable to move until Mina's small hand shook my shoulder. 'Koko, let's go home…'
Her voice was quiet and weak, and my heart broke at the feeble sound of it. Her cheeks were tearstained and her eyes were scared. I scooped her up hurriedly and ran face down back through the streets to the safety of our apartment.
I placed her down on the couch gently, sinking to the floor as soon as she had left my arms.
I felt the cushions move against my back as Mina shifted closer, and I sighed and let my eyelids slide close. 'Are you alright, Mina?' I murmured softly.
'I'm so sorry…' Her voice wobbled as a tear slid off her cheek and landed on my shoulder. 'I didn't mean to offend him, I tripped and he thought I was pushing in front of him and–'
'Shh…' I reached back to stroke her hair, throwing her a reassuring smile. 'You're alright now. You don't have to worry.'