Growing up in the peace and serenity of the Ikaru village, Ira was a bright and free-spirited child, always getting herself into trouble. Her brothers, Xilin and Jing, were often pulled into her mischief, despite trying their best to rein in their unruly younger sister. While her parents were often exasperated by her inability to sit still and listen to her tutors, they loved her dearly. Her memories of her family were fond, her village a complementary backdrop to the peace and contentment of her childhood.
Despite her parents constant warnings, Ira would sometimes escape to the shrine at the very top of the valley, nestled beneath the tree her family was named for. Within the shrine lay an elegant sword, cherry blossoms engraved along the length of the blade. No matter how many times she tried, she could never manage to pick up the blade, always interrupted before she could lay her hands upon the dusty metal.
“I told you not to come here,” her father told her on one occasion, “because this shrine is sacred. You should only come to the shrine if there is an emergency, Ira.” Despite his words, she always returned, drawn to the shrine by the sword that lay within.
Many years passed, and some time after her fourteenth birthday, Ira returned from training with her brothers. While the exercises had been boring, she had enjoyed the chance to get out of the valley and spar. However, when they stepped into the village, they immediately realised that something was wrong.
A mass of inky shapes flooded the valley, a horde of creatures filling the streets, laying siege to their ancestral home. One of the creatures closest to them turned, revealing an old, stained mask made of polished bone. Its shapeless, writhing mass was covered by a thin membrane, revealing glimpses of bone and muscle shifting underneath. The monster grew taller, its body straining upward as it shifted shape.
As the siblings drew their weapons, their father appeared before them, placing himself between his children and the massive creature.
“Leave it to me,” he yelled, holding his sword steady before him, “you must get to the family shrine. Do not stop until you reach it, no matter what you see.”
Xilin quickly pulled his two younger siblings out of the way, forcing them to run through the valley, racing toward the ancient shrine. They wove between the buildings, dodging the reach of mutated creatures, running past the villagers fighting in the streets. While plenty of monsters lay in their path, not one tried to chase after them.
Rushing into the shrine, the siblings closed the door behind them and began to search. The words of their father, many years past, returned to them. Come to the shrine if there is an emergency, Ira mused. He has to have had a plan. While her brothers checked the walls, Ira found herself drawn to the blade displayed at the back of the shrine, finally placing her hand upon the sword.
As she lifted it from the table, a great shudder wracked the building, the wood groaning beneath their feet. The back wall slowly began to slide away, revealing a dark passageway cut into the mountain. Before any of them could make for the tunnel, the shrine lurched once more.
Moonlight burst into the room as a creature tore through the front wall, crowding the entranceway. The masked beast towered over the siblings once again, dark and menacing. Its mask slowly slid upward, its faceless shape splitting open to reveal dozens of rows of teeth, releasing a bloodcurdling scream from its newly formed mouth.
Xilin immediately drew his sword, leaping in front of his siblings. He lifted his weapon to strike, but before the blade could make contact, the creature lunged forward. Like lightning, it struck, and in an instant, their brother was torn in two, slashed open from hip to hip, the lower half of his body collapsing to its knees. Blood and entrails hung from the creature’s gaping maw as it roared once more, teeth gleaming in the pale moonlight.
Jing quickly grabbed Ira before she could make a move, pulling her into the passageway and forcing her to run. The creature chased after them, hundreds of tiny hands forming from its misshapen body, dragging along the ground as it pulled itself into the tunnel. A high-pitched wail echoed in the dark as it tried to force itself after the pair, its giant body struggling to fit.
The tunnel, decrepit after years of disuse, gave a warning groan. The stone beneath their feet shuddered as the walls collapsed around them, crushing the monster under tonnes of stone and earth. Sprinting down the passageway, Jing and Ira narrowly avoided the cave-in, escaping with their lives.
Much later, when they had emerged once more, covered in dirt and dust, Ira turned to seek the frame of her burning village, bright against the night sky. Jing slowly walked over to stand at her side, and the siblings stood together in silence, watching and waiting for the sun to rise.
In the weeks following, Ira and Jing began to search for survivors, drawing as close to their childhood home as they dared. Only a few others had escaped from the village in time, vassals of the House of Blossoms. No one else emerged from the village, no other survivors stepped forward, and so Ira and Jing became the last living members of the Ikaru bloodline.
Yet, as time wore on, they began to discover a new truth. It began when they came across another group of survivors, suffering from the same injuries as their own group. They described an attack on their village by a horde of monsters, one that was eerily similar to their own experiences. Then they found another group with the same tale, and another. Word spread across Misteria, describing what became known as the ‘Night of the Dark Tide’. A massive group of monstrous beasts, rising from the earth and attacking villages across Misteria.
In all, eight houses had been wiped out in a single night. Not only the clans themselves, but their villages, their records - for some, it almost seemed as if they had been erased from history itself. Ira and Jing found themselves in charge of a large group of survivors, totalling nearly forty members in all. They banded together, searching for a place to settle, and taking comfort in their shared numbers.
This wasn’t enough for Ira. As she grew older, her memories of the Dark Tide drove her down a path of vengeance. Searching for answers, Ira gathered the remaining survivors and founded the Crimson Haze Rebels. The group began to travel across Misteria, searching for information on the Night of the Dark Tide. Ira chose to wield the Edge of Autumn in memory of her clan, and Jing could only watch as the weapons’ dark essence began to warp her skin, seeping into her veins.
One morning, Ira woke to find a note attached to her bedroll. Jing had seemingly disappeared into thin air, leaving only a short message in his place.
Over the last seven years I have watched you grow, founding the Crimson Haze Rebels and searching for the truth behind the destruction of our home. I know that the events of that dark day still weigh on you, and I know that you think that finding those responsible will help you to move on. However, this quest for justice has changed you, Ira. It has morphed into a dark desire for vengeance, and I worry that there is nothing left of the sister that I grew up with.
As the last of our family, it is our duty to return to the valley and rebuild the village, to help our clan move forward. Yet, you continue to ignore your responsibilities, choosing to journey further and further away from our home in search of retribution. I cannot watch you dishonor our family any longer. I have left to find a way to restore our family’s name, and rebuild the House of Blossoms. I can only hope that one day, you might finally come to your senses, and join me there.
Crumpling the note, Ira dropped it onto the ground, crushing the paper beneath her heel. A short call drew her outside of her tent, stopping to speak to a messenger. While her brother searched in vain for ‘another path’, she would continue to search, and bring her clan to justice.