First crossover fic. Pretty excited :)
Disclaimer: Soul Calibur and Tekken are property of Namco-Bandai.
Between dawn and the early sun, she remembers her mother had something important to say to her before she died. What it is, what it was, slips out from her mind, swiftly as water over a dam too small to hold it. She has it raised close to her parched lips, unbearably warm from the creeping morning light, close enough for a sip of guidance.
She's awake, hand raised to block the heat and her mother's words are lost to that sad year when the rain didn't stop falling, soaking through the roof and clothes only thick enough to protect skin. She's thinking now that she's missed something, rummaging through a list in her head to make sure she's warm in the belly from the meager bowl of gruel she's supposed to have had sometime ago. Then, she remembers and re-corrects herself. That it's twenty years past since she's had to forget what her mother told her, what her brother's name was, that she might have to mourn again for her choice to survive.
She's waking up on a grassy loft overlooking a crumbling empire and she feels as much for it as the nightingale would have for her dying Emperor. Lessons learnt, stories listened to, all proven wrong with the might of one tainted blade and a ripple of change that shakes her awake in the morning instead of the old childish chilblains. The cure lies in this curse of hers, regressing into memories that have shrunk smaller than her thumb-nail, allowing her to feel littler than she is and reminding herself that she is but one blade too. Sharp, swinging out of bearing and loose as a cannon-ball on the wrong tangent.
There is no one to answer her hidden question, no one who remembers the dreams she dreams with her. Blurring, not with tears, her eyes travel with the arc of birds to the land south of the distant palace dome. Blurring, not with tears, her eyes close over the scene, memories spilling from the gash. She whispers to herself a prayer scrapped from pleas lying forgotten at the dusty feet of stone deities in musty temples, oh please you've taken one brother away from me so please don't take another –
She sleeps with a hand curled into a fist beside her to remind herself of who she is and the places she's had to fill. With four fingers, she claws at notions of mother and sister-hood, ideals she's never bothered to shine up with a false glow until these days. The thumb is hooked through three rings, linking three roles, three burdens she clutches with her nails digging in enough to leave behind rosy half-circles in her palm.
Mi-na flies on two feet, ignoring the weight of wood on her back.
Moving ahead keeps her from brooding. A straying mind manifests in a vulnerable heart. Running stops those questions from being heard, even better than being answered. When her feet move her further away from home, so do her thoughts.
Mi-na can tell you a thing or four about running if you just stop her and ask. If you're a bit more patient, she'll tell about the next best thing which is hiding, one of the few accomplishments she can surprise you with even if your eyes weren't straining from peering too hard into hers. Oh yes, Mi-na's a master at what tricks she sweeps from beneath her sleeves, entranced as you are with the smooth tan planes of her bared stomach and the smile that flickers closer to a grimace as soon as you look away.
When Mi-na's not dreaming about her mother, before she was fleeing the sanctity of home-soil and patriotic pride, she was filling in that role by her father's place in their home. Unequal, always a few steps behind him whenever they walk across the training-grounds on inspection. 'Hm', her father would grunt on seeing a misplaced rag on the floor and she would pick it up without question. The same went for broken dishes in the kitchen and dust gathering thick on the door-handles. Pick it up, clean up this mess, since she was the unlucky survivor of the monsoon plague. As a child struggling to cope with armloads of laundry, Mi-na had chalked her burden as penance for her sin of survival.
She discovered how to pull at the chain when she was turning twelve in winter. November skies brought scowls to washerwomen's faces, marking their brows with the same lines that mar their hands once so soft and lily-white. So Mi-na considered her birth in the same month a likely sign that she should bring such punishment to her father by merely breathing.
Piece by piece, the shirts she was supposed to be washing tore apart. The old hags had always told her rage and frustration were thorns to be chewed on until they were swallowed to be boiled in the pit of your belly. But Mi-na had done the unthinkable, had taken a whiff of the poison that would go straight to her chest and make her heart want to storm out from its cage. Shredded rags of her father's shirts and robes, she had held them to her nose and breathed in the watery filth.
This is how Mi-na can tell you a thing or four about running. First, she'd tipped over the basin, scattering soaked cloth and rivers of water over their feet. The other women clicked their tongues and narrowed their eyes at her retreating form, that failed bud falling back into the dirt. Then Mi-na may or most likely not tell you of the streets she'd passed and the stares she'd dodged.
Third and fourth are the things she keeps to herself about the feelings of a bird fluttering in desperation because it's far too young to tend to a nest all by itself. She can actually go on counting the numbers by which she measures the time that she wastes, cramped and restless with little need for the usual niceties that keep good girls unlike her busy. She was sixteen when she watched the first boys go to war. It was usually the oldest sons that walked the line since they had the most time left over from their youth. Easier to goad them into war than lull them into peace with bedtime stories.
Hwang had taken her place in the queue to the drafting office and she had never forgiven him since. The Japanese signs of invasion were there. She had spotted at least nine new traders along the coast whose names Hwang whispered as she clung to his shadow ahead of hers. They sounded horrid and chopped up, like they were calmly reorganized for the purpose of resettling in a new land. She could pronounce them better than he knew. When she spoke to herself, her breath was foul with the stench of vengeance.
'Ni-shi-ki, Oo-toh-ri, Mi-shi-ma…'
The list went on, each syllable another pierced target at the end of her blade. Her father didn't think her skills worthwhile of a few rounds with his best students, so she had to settle for stacks of rice stalks soaked in barley water and left in the sun to harden. The list went on, another pile of wasted grains and her time untested for her benefit.
When Hwang left, accidentally letting something about an enchanted sword slip, she was on his trail. She had no time to spend on feeling annoyed and left out. It was the second time she was on the run and it was for real. Slipping through Ming, Europe, states that had no name or owner, Mi-na felt it tug at her feet, pulling her through victories and losses.
As she tried to explain later to her father, some hearts were born only so far from home.
Mi-na halts to stop and tastes fire on her tongue. It's been a year of chaos so far. With Yun-seong, they've been more fluid in passing. She cared greatly for the boy like a sister would for her brother (or a mother for her son, as the rest at home mutter discreetly).
Only another role to fulfill.
Flames crawl up buildings, roasting already charred bodies and burning the tip of halberd in her hands. The steel must be blazing to touch by now.
Shouldn't have trusted him.
Never should have let him go.
It struck her suddenly how she thought of him as the one who got away. He'd always been a wild kid, from his first time wielding a wooden sword to the man-child storming through life so soon he'd forgotten where he'd begun and that he would have to end someday. A fine pair, the two of them made. This, she recalled with a rueful air.
What had her mother always said about men? Nothing, perhaps. Mi-na couldn't have been paying attention even then. And now they – like her father, like Hwang – remained enigmas, frowning behind their stone-chiseled smirks. If she knows one thing that her mother never taught her, it's that every light has a shadow. A written note aglow in the candlelight, the moon guiding her way forward to find him, the face sneering in her imagination when she sees it reflected on a blade swerving round her head.
So she's a liar. A pretty one, an adept one.
Yun-seong's still just a kid. Boys these days only thought they grew up faster than their bodies could catch up. In truth, it's the reverse. Men always age in reverse, throwing caution aside the older they grow when they think it hampers their ability to reason with the riddles that fate often presents them. They grow old in body and mind, skin withering and bones twisting until they are rooted to their graves. Souls, however, are eternal. Ageless, some were never destined for eternal rest.
A cry shoots up from a distance, then she can taste the blood before she smells it. The old Mi-na, the younger Mi-na would have froze on the spot, hardening ice melting to formless water so that she could slip through the back and make a break for the next horizon. The girl she had once been slept with one eye open and lived off a heart made half of stone.
But she's too late for that now. The sun bleeds into the earth and all the land belongs to the dark.
There's one thing Mi-na can't tell you about. She doesn't think she has felt enough of it for her heart to really survive on it. Mi-na will always tell you she's a fighter first, then a daughter, then a sister… then a lover. Of love, she won't tell you what she knows now.
But if it means that her heart is no longer a stone but a pyre in flames, than that is it. Fate is a terrible thing to believe in when all she'd wanted was to get this life done with so she could finally lay down her blade and sleep through an endless dream. Where the sun will never rise, where wounds do not shine as red as they do on the body before her.
She may have seen this man before on her travels. Too bad for him, she's forgotten his name and cannot respond when he calls out one that isn't hers. He looks strong, steady, even on the verge of death. A handsome face in a youthful body. She may have noticed him once in a crowd but there could be no more room left for any more men in her heart.
Drawing in one last breath, he leaves and she stays behind long enough to close his eyes.
Through the doors ahead, another spark of crimson latches into her sight. Yun-seong is a boy no longer but regressing into a man with each step he takes away from her into the dark.
Locking him with a glance, she flows towards him.