"Man the towers! Archers, be ready! They're coming!"
"They're coming. They've caught up."
The words seemed more damning than ever to Izuni, even after the hardships she had endured alongside the remnants of the Fang army. For three weeks they'd trekked across the plains, just barely keeping ahead of their enemy, and they had finally caught up.
As she looked out the stained glass windows, the beautiful designs worn and cracked by time, Izuni let a small smile crack across her face as she watched her soldiers tirelessly prepare for the oncoming assault.
They had survived the arduous trip here alongside her, marching on nothing but loyalty to her clan banners, and while their decision to attempt to hide themselves within the abandoned fortress of Saer Brocainn was what ultimately allowed their enemy to catch up, the young chieftain had long known escape was impossible; their dogged pursuers would catch up sooner or later, whether on the plains or within the rocky crevices they held out in now.
Even now, if she strained her senses, she could hear the jeers and howls of their trained predators, each of them eager for the taste of Fang blood.
"…My lady." Hearing the doors open, she turned to see one of her soldiers kneeling before her. She recognized him, a hardy young lad named Isao who had joined her company as an ashigaru only two months before.
"We've barricaded the gates, the towers are manned. Iashinn has spotted Imperial scouts probing Saer Brocainn's perimeters." He responded tactfully, but she could hear the shakiness in his voice.
"Then we have little time before their assault begins. I will lead the defense." Turning back to look at the stand her personal armor had been placed upon, Izuni took a deep breath. "Return to your brothers, tell them that Izuni lun Fang, Chieftain of the Fang Clan will fight and die alongside them, each of us unbeaten and unbroken until the end."
"Yes, my lady. You honor me." Bowing quickly, Isao departed. Hearing the door click shut, Izuni let out a low whistle.
Out of the shadows came a figure to answer her call, a slender woman dressed in the armored garb of a kunoichi. The white emblem of a fox was marked upon her breastplate, just visible enough to reveal loyalty but also to not hinder stealth.
"My lady Izuni. What do you require of me?" She knelt before her as the boy had, though this act of respect in her case was far more intimate and meaningful than that of simple courtesy.
"Izuko…I fear our time together is about to end." Waving her hand to cease with formalities, Izuni let out a mournful sigh.
Behind her mask, the ninja remained emotionless as she stood at attention, but the chieftain knew her well enough to spot the redness of her stoic protector's eyes.
"Yes." Izuko admitted finally, looking downwards. "I have failed."
"No, my dear sister. I fear that I have failed us all." Reaching out, Izuni pulled her into a tight embrace. "Perhaps if I had agreed to the marriage, this would not have had to happen. Perhaps another, better opportunity could have arisen to defeat the Emperor."
"I will follow you to the grave, sister. I swore to protect you, I will die to fulfill that oath if I must." Placing her hand on her sword, Izuko's face hardened behind her mask.
"…No." Receiving a look of pained surprise from her sister, Izuni pulled away. "Something must live to carry on our blood, dear sister. Mother and father have both passed on to the Moonriver, slain by our enemies, and Jhiro hasn't been seen in months."
"N-No! I swore an oath, sister! I cannot leave you to die here!" The kunoichi pulled off her mask finally, allowing herself to cry at last. "Y-You're all I have left…"
"As long as you walk in the path of the moon, sister, you will not be alone. I promise you." Pulling off her necklace, a tiny onyx carving of a fox that the chieftain had carried since childhood, Izuni placed it in her younger sister's hand, curling her fingers around it tightly. "I will not be taken by this Southern king like one of their whores."
Izuko looked her in the eyes knowingly, her gaze darting towards the pair of sheathed blades that her sister had wielded since becoming chieftain. Izuni knew that every ounce of her sister's willpower was being tested, the desperation to find a way to save her only remaining family supplanted by suffocating reality.
"…Left to right, sister. It'll be fast, I promise." Gritting her teeth, the kunoichi let out a sob as she hugged her sister one last time, tying the pendant around her own neck.
"I know. Safe travels, sister. The path we discussed before will be the one you journey upon, but alone." The two stepped away from each other slowly, both looking into their other's eyes as Izuko disappeared into the shadows once more, and Izuni was left to stand at the window.
Now, she could hear the Southern horns blowing, a call to battle echoing through the mountainside forests.
Looking back to her white garb, recently cleaned and neatly mounted upon an armor stand, Izuni steadied her breath and shed her kimono.
Her enemy had come, and the Fang of the East would face them.