Jin

The sins of man are many. This she knew well. She only had to look at the battlefield before her to be reminded of this fact.

She, Master Edakumi, and the few students that resided at the school had readily agreed to fight when the time came. How foolish we were, she thought to herself as the fires burned around her. The fighting had ended hours ago, but she had yet to hear word of the shinobi she had arrived with.

There was an unnatural stillness around her as she picked her way through the destruction. With each step, she prayed for their safety. Others combed the rubble as well, searching for those that had yet to come home.

Kari leapt atop a fallen building, hoping that the height would help her scout the field more easily. Twisted metal and fallen stone spread across the landscape as far as she could see, interspersed with fallen soldiers too small to make out clearly. Her breath caught as she took in the sight before her. It was heartbreaking to know that the price of her homeland’s freedom came soaked in blood.

When she could stand the sight no longer, she lightly fell to the ground and continued her search.

As the sun began to set, painting the sky with more fire, her eyes were drawn to a dagger buried in the back of a Garlean. She knew it well- it belonged to Master Edakumi. Her heart sank. Master Edakumi would never leave one of his daggers behind, not if he could help it. She pulled the blade free and wiped the blood on the dead Garlean’s pants.

She didn’t have to look very far to find the dagger’s mate. She spotted it buried in the gut of another Garlean, her sensei’s hand still firmly wrapped around the hilt. His face was twisted in rage and frozen in time. The dagger she held fell from her grasp, hitting the ground with a dull thud.

Master Edakumi’s body was covered in wounds. It was clear he had fought fiercely until his dying breath. She couldn’t seem to breathe as she moved closer — and came to a halt when she saw what he had been fighting for. She closed her eyes and turned away from the gruesome sight of the two younger students, battered and bloodied. They were so young — the oldest had been no more than 20.

She sank to her knees. Darkness had fallen now, the moon and the stars illuminating the sky as if nothing in the world had changed. Tears fell, blurring the sight in front of her. Grief and rage surged up and were released in a scream so raw that it left her throat in pain after.

— — — — — -

She sat vigil with the moon and stars, defending the bodies of her teacher and fellow students from the hungry scavengers. Her only companion through the night had been a small tanuki, scared and seeking shelter. It had crawled into her pack. She hadn’t the heart to take it out when she discovered it had fallen asleep. She would make it leave in the morning, she decided.

When the sun rose once more, she made her way back to the camp she had come from. She found a cart, old and creaky, that would serve her purpose well. It was not the most elegant transportation, but it would bear the three shinobi home all the same.

Kari was exhausted. Every muscle screamed out in pain, but she would not allow herself to stop walking. As she crested the hill, she saw the small building nestled in well-kept gardens. She knew that many more buildings sat behind it, forming the gauntlet she had spent so many days training on and later instructing the other students on.

The cart creaked as she drew closer, drawing the attention of the figure that had been tending to a bed of flowers. It rose and began to walk towards Kari, then stopped. She could see the sadness on the woman’s face, the horror in the way her hand covered her mouth as she stifled a choked sob. Still, Kari continued onwards, resolved in her duty.

She made her way past the woman, who followed slowly as Kari brought the cart into the center of the gauntlet. In one of the buildings, she knew there were planks of wood set aside for maintaining the buildings, but they would serve a different purpose. Without speaking, she built three pyres and placed the three shinobi on top of them. The woman watched, tears falling, as Kari wheeled the cart out of the way and stood back. Her fingers slid through familiar motions that she had done countless times, using ninjutsu to call forth the cleansing fire.

Together, she and the woman watched as they burned until exhaustion overcame Kari and she could watch no more.

When she awoke, she found herself on a futon in the main building, the small tanuki curled up beside her. Hm, she thought, I know I took him out of my pack before I set off. He must have snuck back in when I wasn’t looking. She gently scratched the tanuki behind its ears, which earned her a small noise of approval. She was startled out of the moment when she heard the paper door slide open and saw the woman step in.

“I carried you inside after you collapsed,” she said as she sat down a tray of tea, rice, tofu, and fruits. “I may have lost much of my strength in my old age, but you’re still as light as a feather.”

Kari frowned, then looked at the tray. When had she last eaten? She couldn’t recall. “Thank you, Sumi,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry you had to care for me. I’m also sorry that I didn’t return under happier circumstances.” She turned her gaze to Sumi, then noticed the wall behind the woman’s greying hair. Three new sets of daggers had been added to the collection — the arms of the fallen shinobi who had once been students there.

Sumi stepped around the table to kneel beside Kari, taking care to not disturb the tanuki that refused to leave the girl’s side. Warm arms surrounded the young shinobi, comforting her in the way she so desperately needed. Her own arms wrapped around Sumi, clinging to the older Hyur woman as if she were the only thing keeping Kari together.

A hand gently stroked her hair as Sumi whispered, “Yukari, be at peace. You did all you could for them. You brought them back to me, as you promised you would before you left.”

Be at peace. Such simple words.

But the sins of man are many, and man must be made to atone.

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