Ash. Smoke rose up from the remains of the village and curled towards the heavens like the skeletal fingers of those people begging for mercy.
This was the sight reflected in the clear orange eyes of a little girl, only six years old. Her hand twitched around her little brother's, a child of two.
They were starving, and the girl knew that she must dig through these peoples' graves to survive. She closed her eyes.
May the Gods have Mercy on us.
"Yong-nee?" Yong-Ha turned her gaze to meet the sapphire blue of her younger brother's. His eyes were red-rimmed from tears and his cheeks were pink from the cold. His expression was surly and miserable. "Hungry."
She smiled at him.
She was six years old. Their parents were dead, and they were cold, and starving, and hiding from the violent, despairing men of the Xingese army as they razed the land of their enemies and they made their way home in shame and defeat.
The Kami whispered things she couldn't understand - but she knew they loved her. They always have. They've guided her steps, her hands, and it's saved them both.
She was certain that she would be capable of doing anything for him.
"It's okay." She told him. "Nee-san will get some food right now."
She would take from the bodies of dead men, women, and children to ensure that they lived.
Her little brother was dying.
The thundering fall of rain outside of their little cave seemed to echo in her skull as she held his trembling form in her arms.
She would do anything to save him - but she was only six years old.
He was so sick - so weak. He couldn't eat the food she brought - all of it was heaved back up within minutes, if he could even swallow it down. She couldn't even build a fire to thaw his frozen frame. He was dying, and she didn't know what to do.
The voice of the Kami continued to ring like bells in her head, growing louder, stronger -
The rain joined their chorus.
If you love me, then I shall ask for only one thing.
(This was all she had left.)
It was hard.
For a two year old, her little brother wasn't so little. Even with the loss of weight over the past few weeks, Yong-Ha struggled and gasped as she carried him to the tree, with him napping comfortably all the while. Still, she couldn't help smiling.
The thrum of his heartbeat was strong against her back, and his breath was warm against her cheek- all proof that it had worked. That he was going to make it.
Setting him down with a grunt, she carefully leaned him against the trunk of the oak and smoothed his bangs back against his head. Blearily, his eyes creaked open. With the return of consciousness came the return of his perpetual grumpy scowl. She would have giggled at the sight if her heart didn't ache so much. "Yong-nee?"
Her hands shook. She was given the strength to save his life, but the strength to let go was something she had to find within herself. Doing what she did best, she smiled. She filled it with every bit of love and reassurance she could and said, "Nee-San is going to do something very important, and she needs you to stay here for a little bit." She swallowed. "She's gonna get someone to help you."
Quickly, she stood. She had to leave before she lost her nerve. This was where he would be found, and cared for - but she had to go somewhere else. She needed to be ready for when the time came. With another smile, she turned, but froze in her tracks when she felt chubby little arms wrap around her middle.
"Where you go?" Yong-Ha didn't dare look behind her. He squeezed tighter. His angry demands came out trembling. "Yong-nee don't go. Stay!"
The crying started when she began prying his hands off. Big, wailing sobs that hurt both her ears and resolve. Stomping his foot, he screamed his disapproval at her departure - sensing that this goodbye wasn't quite the same as those that came before.
She tugged at the fabric of her worn dress, which he clung to viciously. "Nooo! Mamaaa!" He trailed off in tears, and she finally snapped.
Whirling around, she gripped his shoulders. "Mama is gone!" Sobs choked her. "Papa is gone! That means Nee-san has to take care of you! But I can't!" Her brother sniveled, but the rare sight of her tears and anger seemed to startle him enough that he fell silent.
Yong-Ha fell to her knees, and held his face in her hands. His cheeks were slick with tears and snot. Looking him in the eye, she spoke. "A man is going to come by here. He has a scar on his face, and rides a black horse. I need you to trust him. He's going to take good care of you."
Indeed he would. The visions hadn't let her sleep all night - her brother's savior.
Not hers. She would have to find him herself.
They would have to part - it was the only way they would be ready for when their King called.
Giving in, she held him tight to her chest. With a wet kiss to his forehead, she said, "You have to." She rocked him. "Be strong. For me."
He was silent, and Yong-Ha despaired to herself that she would have to abandon him while he screamed for her not to go. Just as she was about to move, she heard it.
Despite it all, she felt pride blooming in her chest. She knew he would live up to his promise.
"I love you."
She watched from a distance, from within the shrubbery as her vision come to fruition. A man with feathers in his greying hair pulled to a stop as he spotted the little boy sitting under the tree. Hopping off his steed, he crouched down in front of the child. The two seemed to have a discussion she couldn't hear, the only thing she could catch being the sharp bark of laughter the man gave at something the younger of the two had said.
Her heart thumped loudly, heavily as she watched them ride away. The grief she had held onto since their parents' death reared its head, stronger than before.
She whispered her last farewell.
I'm sure many of you already had an inkling about Lil Bro's identity as you read. Hak's backstory is easy to expand on, since it's pretty vague.
Honestly, I'm not certain where this is going to go, but I have some solid ideas I want to build on. It would be great if you could tell me your thoughts on the story in the reviews!