Author: LadyShiin PM
BK Very dark fic: Kaoru’s a Necromancer hellbent on revenge against the one who killed the person that was most dear to her. Instead, she finds love and the chance for peace where she least expects it.Rated: Fiction M - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Kaoru & Battousai - Chapters: 3 - Words: 18,107 - Reviews: 85 - Favs: 55 - Follows: 62 - Updated: 06-16-06 - Published: 03-15-06 - id: 2846196
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Another new story from Shiin . This one has been in my head a LONG, LONG time. It'll be short as well, 3 or 4 chapters max.
Enjoy! I had so much fun writing this
The cave was dark. In the summertime water would cascade constantly down the walls. Now the water had frozen to a thick sheet of ice that glittered with the dying rays of the sun.
A little girl sat cross-legged in the center of the cave. Her black hair was streaked with white and gray; matted and fell nearly to her wait in a tangle of knots that looked as if they hadn't seen a brush in a very, very long time.
She wore what could only be described as rags. Once upon a time it would have been a dress. Perhaps a white one. Whatever color it had once been was, it was now unrecognizable because of the dirt and blood staining it.
Her head was bent over something she cradled in her lap. A small white rabbit. It was pure white except for a slash of red across its throat. She was humming softly and gently stroking the fur.
"Little rabbit," she crooned softly, her voice lilting and musical. "Little rabbit… you want to be alive don't you?"
She bent her ear close to the rabbits muzzle and her silvery-blue eyes narrowed. "Yes... you do want to be alive again…." She lowered her voice to a soft whisper. "Do you want to know a secret?"
She gently shook the rabbit, its head flopping brokenly in a parody of a nod.
A conspirator's smile stole across her face and she nearly buried her lips in the fur near its ear, "I can hear your soul." She nodded. "It says 'I want to be alive!' 'Make me alive!'"
She nodded, "I can do it. You want to be alive again. You want to hop and hop and play and play." She giggled.
She shifted slightly and picked up a knife from where it had lay hidden behind her. The blade was stained and dark with old blood. She removed her arm out from under the rabbits head and held it out in front of her. Lowering her arm to just above the gash in the rabbit's neck she sliced once, quickly at her arm and blood welled from the cut. Quickly, she turned her arm over so that the blood would fall into the gash on the rabbit's neck.
For several moments nothing happened.
Then ever so slightly the rabbit twitched.
A grin stole across her face and she raised the knife once more to make another cut.
There was a movement behind her and she turned too slowly. A hand lashed out and stuck the knife from her grasp. The girl found the rabbit wrenched out of her grip and flung against the wall where it lay on the ground unmoving once more.
The child let out a heartrending wail and jumped to her feet to run toward the rabbit.
Strong arms grabbed her and held her back and she shrieked twisting in her captor's grip.
"No!" She wailed. "The rabbit! The rabbit!" She screamed again.
One of the captor's hands stuck her across the face and she choked on a scream, eyes widening. Tears leaked out of the corner's of her eyes as she stared mutely at the person who had interrupted her.
It was a woman. Her exact age she didn't know. She had thick brown hair streaked liberally with white and gray tied into a low chignon at the nape of her neck. Large brown eyes webbed with wrinkles. Her face other than that was smooth and clear. She could have been any age.
"The rabbit," the child whimpered again.
"Shhh…" the woman murmured. "I know little one."
"It… it wants to be alive." Tears were coursing down her face leaving trails in the dirt that covered her face.
"I know," the woman pulled her close and rocked her slowly. "I can hear it too little one."
"You can?" The little girl whispered.
"Yes," the woman replied.
The child's eyes took in her appearance lingering at the gray and white in her hair. "You are like me?"
"Yes," the woman smiled slightly. "I am the same as you are."
The child's eyes widened even more.
"What is your name little one?" The woman asked softly.
She shook her head mutely.
"You have no name?" She questioned.
A short jerky nod.
"My name is Yumi," the woman murmured.
"Yoo-me?" The girl rolled the syllables in her mouth as she repeated her.
"Yes," a ghost of a smile flitted across Yumi's face. "What shall we call you hmm?"
The girl shook her head silently.
"Hmmm…" Yumi tilted her head to the side regarding her. "I think a bath is in order first. I can't tell what you look like under all that grime."
She picked the child up gently feeling a flash of surprise as the lightness of her. She was all skin and bones and long tangled hair. "You need a bath and food and new clothes." 'And to get away from the death in this place.'
She could feel the souls of the death congregating around them, drawn to them like moths to a flame. Had she been only a few months later there would have been nothing left of the child. They would have possessed her and left behind nothing more than a walking husk doing their bidding.
As it was, she had been cutting it close.
She carried the child out of the cave and toward her horse.
The dark bay mare lifted her head at their approach, nostrils flaring as she took in the child's scent. Yumi spoke soothingly to her and she calmed down, though she still eyed them warily. Yumi settled the child in the saddle and then swung up behind her.
The village was little more than a twenty minute ride from the cave. She dismounted from the saddle, lifting the child down with an ease that made her grit her teeth. A stable boy came up to take the mare, making sure not to look at the child standing beside her.
The girl made a soft whimpering noise and pressed closely to Yumi, screwing her eyes shut. Yumi picked her up and the child flung her arms around her neck, pressing her face against her shoulder, body trembling.
Yumi gently stroked the child's matted hair and carried her into the inn. Not looking at anyone she strode down the hallway and up the stairs to the room she was using. The door opened at her approach as she gave it a mental nudge and she slipped inside.
Gently she lowered the child onto the bed and stroked her hair reassuringly as she pulled away. The girl curled up into a tight ball in the center of the bed, her blue eyes huge in her thin face.
"I'll be right back," Yumi murmured. She stroked her hair once more and then disappeared to return a moment later.
The girl had sat up in the bed and her eyes were darting around the room, face pale.
"It'll be ok," Yumi settled down beside her and pulled her into her lap. "You'll see."
There was a polite knock on the door and a maid entered carrying a tub. She set it down in the center of the room and then stepped outside of the room to return with two large buckets full of steaming water. Bowing once to Yumi she walked backwards out of the room and closed the door behind her.
"Come little one," Yumi rose, still holding her. "You need a bath."
She stripped the child of the rags she wore and deposited her gently into the tub. Taking some of her soap out of her own bags she set to work washing and scrubbing the girl. The dirt came away easily enough but what it revealed made her bite her lip to keep from gasping.
Scars covered her arms from wrist elbow. Some were pale white with age, others pink and newly healing, still more scabbed. Yumi fished out her salve from her bags and spread it over the scars to keep them from getting infected.
Her long black hair proved resistant to a brush and she gritted her teeth as she had to cut off a large chunk of it. The ends were uneven and choppy but it would do. She pulled it back in a messy braid to keep out of her face.
She needed food, Yumi thought firmly. Her body was little more than a skeleton. Arms and legs thin and light as a bird. Her hipbones stuck out and the skin was stretched tight over her high cheekbones resembling a skull.
Yumi found the smallest shirt she owned and put it over, grabbing a belt and wrapping it around her too-small waist. An old soft pair of leggings were produced and she rolled up the cuffs several times to fit.
She called the maid again to take the dirty water and requested food.
The girl's eyes widened as she caught sight of the plate of food.
She leapt for it and Yumi caught her and sat her down firmly.
"Sit and we'll eat," she told her.
Obediently she folded her legs under her and settled down.
Yumi placed the food in front of her, batting away at her grabbing hands.
"Be patient," she said firmly.
The child nodded eyes darting quickly from her face and back to the food.
Yumi picked up a piece of bread and buttered it, holding it out to her.
The child snatched it immediately she shoved it into her mouth, chewing quickly.
Yumi picked up another piece of the bread and buttered it as well.
The child made to grab it and she jerked it out of reach.
"Say please," Yumi said.
The girl's eyes flickered between the piece of bread and Yumi.
"Please," Yumi repeated again.
"Plee-eeze?" She said softly.
Yumi nodded, "good." She handed the bread to her. "Now say thank you."
"Th-thank yoo," she stumbled over the words, unaccustomed to speaking.
"Good girl," Yumi smiled. "You have no name yes?"
The child nodded, still working on chewing the bread.
"Hmmm," Yumi tapped her bottom lip with a finger as she thought. "What shall we call you?" She mused.
The girl finished chewing and swallowed looking hopefully at the food.
Yumi poured her some fruit juice and handed her the cup, smiling when she remembered to say please.
"How about…" Yumi pursed her lips, still thinking. "Kaoru?"
The child looked her, over the rim of the cup. "Kao-roo?"
"Yes," Yumi nodded. "Kaoru."
"Kao-ruu," the girl repeated again.
"Your name is now Kaoru."
Kaoru woke with a start.
'What…?' She blinked. "A dream," she murmured out loud.
She shuddered, thrusting it away.
Had it not been for Yumi, Kaoru would not be here today. The souls of the dead that hounded Necromancers had nearly destroyed her. Even now Kaoru could see the affects they had left on her.
Her hair was streaked with white and gray. Her face lined around the eyes and mouth and yet smooth and pale otherwise. She would never be fat or tall – too much of her growing years had been sucked away by the souls of the dead. But she was no longer the skeletal child she had been when Yumi had found her.
Even now the thought of her brought a lump in her throat.
Had it only been three years?
It felt like just yesterday she had walked into Yumi's citadel, disturbed by the whispers of the souls floating around her, to find Yumi dead. Her body gutted and eyes open and sightless.
Her soul had vanished already. The death-taint that all Necromancers carried in them barely tied them to the living world. Their souls never lingered long after their deaths and Kaoru had been too late to even think of resurrecting her.
Yumi wouldn't have wanted it anyway.
They were immortal – or the nearest thing to immortal. They couldn't kill themselves by starving themselves or drowning. But they could let their grip on the world lessen until their soul would leave their body – the souls of the dead would then take up residence inside of their vacated shell, with all the powers it contained. A body never lasted long though. It quickly fell to pieces without the essence of its true soul.
Kaoru had cremated her, taking no chances that some other soul would slip into her body and animate it.
Kaoru shook her head, pulling her out of her memories.
"Stop it," she told herself firmly.
She got to her feet and rolled up the bed pallet.
Her mare – Yumi's mare – was grazing and looked up as Kaoru began her activity.
Kaoru made a quick cold breakfast of trail bread and cheese, stirring the embers of the fire only enough to heat a cup of coffee which she gulped quickly. She cleaned her cup with sand and put it into her pack.
The mare was clean and only required a quick brushing. Kaoru saddled her and settled her belongings on her. A quick look-over of the camp pleased her. Clean and orderly with only the slowly fading fire to tell her presence.
She swung aboard the mare and gave her a gentle kick. The mare snorted softly and broke into a slow trot.
Kaoru sighed and relaxed in the saddle. The sun was just starting to come up and burning the mist away. As she rode out of the forest and a long flat plain stretched before her, she leaned forward urging the mare into a gallop.
The howl and whip of the wind, made tears stream down her face but didn't allow her to think. All she could hear was her heartbeat and the thud of the mares hooves on the ground.
Kaoru slowed down the mare down and shut her mind to memories and thoughts.
She rode until the sun started to sink in the sky.
Kaoru stiffened as she felt the first brush of a soul against her shields.
She was near a village.
She halted the mare, looking toward the lights flickering in the distance.
Go and stay the night or avoid it all together?
She felt nervousness curl in her stomach.
Kaoru never had learned to do well around people.
'Sleep on the cold hard ground or in a bed. My own cooking or a nice hot meal prepared for me?'
Her stomach rumbling decided it for her.
Kaoru never could last long on just her own cooking.
She rode into town, doing her best not to flinch as people looked at her.
She found the nearest stable and unsaddled the mare there, slinging her bags over her shoulder and walked across the street to the hotel.
She paid for a meal and a room and went upstairs to leave her stuff. She set a magical lock on it. Last time she forgot she nearly had all her belongings stolen. She glanced quickly around the room and then headed downstairs for a meal.
The special for tonight was a thick meaty stew that had Kaoru sighing pleasure. 'Yes I will never cook, not when I can eat someone else's cooking.' As well as hot freshly brewed coffee which she gave points over the gummy reheated junk she'd been drinking for the past couple of weeks.
She found a corner where she could watch all the goings on around her and eat in peace.
A sudden scream cut through her mental shields, and she dropped her spoon with a clatter onto the table. The scream rose in pitch and she cursed hands flying to clutch her head.
'What the hell..?' Her stomach clenched and rolled as the smell of approaching death reached her.
The souls that always hung around her began to scream and pound against the shields she threw up.
Meanwhile the screaming in her head continued to rise until she felt like her skull would split.
She staggered to her feet and followed it to its source, stumbling through the doors of the inn.
The scene before her eyes made her stop and her eyes widened.
Had she been standing next to it, its head would have been level with her shoulder. It was massive and reminded her vaguely of some sort of hound. A long aristocratic muzzle was pulled back in a snarl, straining against the ropes binding it shut. A loud shrieking snarl worked its way up through its throat to ring in the air. Its coat was black and sleek, blood blending into the darkness so that she couldn't see exactly where it was wounded. Golden eyes blazed furiously and its ears were pressed flat against its skull.
There was a rope looped around each paw and as she watched the villagers holding on the ropes jerked simultaneously, sending it crashing to the ground. There was a sharp crack and Kaoru felt an echoing pain in her side as ribs broke.
Its screaming in her head intensified.
Before she even realized what she was doing, she had moved toward it, pulling a knife out of her boot.
The villagers were so wrapped up in subduing the demon they didn't see her at first. One of them fell to the ground blood streaming from his nose. Another had his legs kicked out from under him. A third and forth simply had their heads knocked together.
Kaoru's knife flashed and she cut the ropes attached to the demon.
It attempted to get to its feet but fell back, golden eyes looking glazed.
"Shhh," she murmured soothingly. The screaming her head softened but it was still very loud.
She tucked her knife away back in her boot and bent to pick the demon up. For all it's size it was very light. It made a soft pained sound as she shifted her grip on it, hands slippery with blood.
"Easy," Kaoru murmured. It was too big for her to carry effectively so she half-carried, half-dragged it into the inn.
The owner stepped toward her but the look in her eyes made him back up hastily. She eyed the stairs and ground her teeth. Balancing herself carefully, dragged the demon upstairs and to her room, the door swinging forward with just a mental push.
Kaoru managed to make it across the room and laid the demon down on the bed as gently as she possibly could. She locked the door mentally and set up wards. The last thing she needed was a bunch of irate villagers coming into the room hell-bent on revenge.
She waved her hand, creating balls of witch light that hovered around her head so she could get a better look at the demon's wounds.
What she saw made her wince in sympathy.
It had at least three ribs broken. One of its legs had snapped in half, the bone pressing against the skin. There were wounds around its muzzle and along its legs. Blood streamed from a large gash on its left shoulder and as she gently laid her hand against its head, it made a soft whimpering sound.
She detected a fracture.
"What did they do to you?" She said softly. "Poor thing."
She left its side to grab her medicine bag.
Kaoru grabbed her medicine bag and began pulling out what she needed. Gauze and rolls of bandages, containers of salve and other healing herbs, a mortar pestle for crushing them. She concentrated hard weaving strands of magic into the mixtures as she worked.
The demon was silent except for the slightly raspy sound of breath, its eyes closed.
Kaoru smeared the crushed herb-salve mixture she had made over the welts and large gash. With nothing other to use she snapped off a leg of the table and split it in half to make a splint for the demon's broken leg. It made a whimpering noise and its eyelids fluttered but otherwise were still as she set the broken bone.
The ribs she tended to as best she could, not wanting to move him.
Her healing as complete as she could make it; Kaoru wove a sleep spell. The effects were immediate, evidence of the demon's weakened strength. Had it been whole and healthy it could have repelled her spells with barely a thought. Kaoru bit her lip as she looked at the slumbering demon.
What had happened to it?
The villager's shouldn't have been able to wound it like this. Perhaps it had been wounded before and they'd just stumbled across it?
Kaoru swayed, suddenly tired.
Healing always took so much out of her. She never would have the talent that Yumi had possessed for all that she attempted to teach her.
She eyed the bed and contemplated crawling in next to him. She decided not to. It needed all the rest it could get and she didn't want to disturb it.
Besides, she'd been sleeping on worse things than the floor as of recent. One more night on hard ground wouldn't kill her.
Kaoru spread her pallet on the floor, rechecked her wards. Nothing, the villagers must be staying away - she didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Sleep took her immediately as she closed her eyes.
On the bed, the demon raised its head watching her.
Its golden eyes gleamed in the dark.
Kaoru remembered the first time she saw Yumi's castle.
They had entered the forest two days before. Tall oaks reached skyward. Their branches interlacing overhead. The light was dim at best but Kaoru's eyes adjusted to it easily.
Yumi had placed her in front of her, in the saddle. She reined the mare with one hand, the other wrapped around Kaoru's waist.
"Not much longer little one," Yumi murmured.
"Wh-where are we going?" Kaoru tongue still tripped over words but she was getting better at speaking after her weeks with Yumi.
"My home," Yumi replied. "Our home."
"Home," Kaoru murmured softly.
Yumi's hand waved and the image of a tall white-stoned castle appeared before their eyes.
"That is home," Yumi told Kaoru.
She waved her hand again and the image vanished.
Kaoru felt more than heard a vibration in the air as they rode clear of the forest. Ahead of them stretched a long flat plain – and then the castle, that Yumi had shown her.
The mare's ears perked forward and she hastened from a walk to a slow canter without Yumi's urging.
Kaoru watched as the two doors began to open slowly to admit them.
"It knows me," Yumi explained to Kaoru's questioning look.
And so began the happiest time of Kaoru's life.
Under Yumi, Kaoru learned to build shields to keep the souls of the dead at bay, so that they would not overpower her as they had very nearly done before. Small magics were taught to her as well, and healing.
But most of all Yumi taught Kaoru to read.
The castle held a library bigger than any that could be found in the largest cities.
Yumi spent several nights before bed after a long day of training in weaponry and magic, just reading to Kaoru and helping her puzzle out the letters that made up words, and then finally, the words themselves.
Kaoru's appetite for reading was voracious and she soon began to steal books from the library to read. Yumi often found her curled up in a chair with a book. One finger tracing the words and Kaoru reading out loud to herself softly. Her speech improved too, becoming smoother and her stutter faded away.
Yumi taught Kaoru History which she loved, Science which she accepted grudgingly, Math which she detested, and cooking and sewing proved to be a nightmare of bloodied fingers and explosions in the kitchen.
The cooking and sewing were soon abandoned.
Three or so years after she found her, Yumi took Kaoru outside the walls of the castle to learn to fight and release to the hereafter the souls and ghosts that roamed the land, possessing people and creating havoc.
Kaoru awoke to find a pair of golden eyes staring at her. The demon lay curled up beside her, head on its paws, watching her quietly.
It took Kaoru several quick blinks to realize the fact that the demon did not appear to be harmed in any way, and was in fact whole and perfectly healthy looking.
"Good morning," Kaoru managed.
The demons eyes gleamed and she saw intelligence in them. It was not some mindless weak demon, but he didn't appear powerful enough to be a one of the high demons that took forms closely-resembling humans.
She wondered at how he had gotten into shape and fallen into the villager's hands. Added to the list was how exactly he had healed himself so quickly.
The demon cocked it's had at her, eyes following her as she got to her feet. It eyed the clean clothes – or as clean a pair of clothes as she could find – that she pulled from her bag.
"No I am not changing in front of you," she informed him. She tucked her clothes under her arm and walked past him into the tiny closet-sized bathroom that was adjacent.
The demon's jaws parted in a grin and his eyes flashed.
She stuck her tongue out at him and closed the door firmly.
Kaoru reappeared a moment later. She packed away her old clothes and rolled up the pallet up. A quick touch at her wards told her that they had been undisturbed. A further quick search told her that the inn had been deserted.
Guess having a demon and a necromancer were bad for business.
Kaoru picked up her bags and slung them over her shoulder. She opened the door and the wards faded away as she stepped into the hallway. The demon padded silently after her.
Kaoru grabbed food from the kitchens as well as towels for bathing and a set of blankets.
It wasn't stealing not really anyway.
The demon watched her and she looked at him as she finished collecting everything that she would need.
"Are you coming with me?" Kaoru asked softly.
The demon grinned in return and she took that as a yes.
"Then come on."
The mare skittered when Kaoru approached with the demon at her heels. The demon marched up to her and she rolled her eyes at him. Patiently the demon wagged his tail and whined softly. The mare lowered her head touching noses briefly with the demon and then let out a long breath.
She perked her ears at Kaoru and then resumed munching her hay.
"Good girl," Kaoru murmured, going to fetch the tack.
The mare was saddled quickly, saddlebags tied and adjusted.
Kaoru swung aboard and turned away from the village with the demon trotting alongside her.
It appeared deserted but she didn't want to hang around incase the villagers would start to appear and give her trouble.
Kaoru found a good place for a campsite as it neared dark. She unsaddled and brushed the mare, tying hobbles around her front feet. She unpacked her bags and rolled out her pallet.
A fire was quickly built up and Kaoru heated a pot of soup over the flames. She dug out some dried strips of meat and tossed it to the demon who gulped them down. Once the soup started to bubble she ladled it into a mug and sat cross legged on her pallet sipping it and trying not to burn her tongue.
The demon curled up next to her, his head on her knee and she scratched his ears absentmindedly as she sipped her soup.
The demon made a whining sound and she tilted her head at him. "What? No I am not giving you any of my soup. It's my soup."
He whined again and she narrowed her eyes at him. "You're not getting any more meat either. If you're still hungry go out and hunt something."
He whuffed at her and she rolled her eyes. "What am I going to call you anyway? Puppy is cute and all but you're a wee bit bigger than a puppy."
"Blackie?" She tried.
He rolled his eyes at her.
She thought for a moment. He obviously wasn't going for the black-themed names. "…so how about Shinta?"
The demon stared at her.
"Yep," Kaoru decided. "Your name is Shinta."
Kaoru drained the last of her soup in a gulp. "I'm off to bed then."
Shinta raised his head and looked at her inquiringly.
"Sorry pup there's not enough room on the pallet." Kaoru stroked his head and got to her feet.
She lay down on the pallet and pulled the blankets over her. After a moment she heard soft padding and the demon settled down beside her. Kaoru turned around and buried her fingers into the ruff around his neck and fell asleep, wrapped around him.
Kaoru fought the urge to press against Yumi's side as they entered the throne room. The entire court turned to watch them pass.
Kaoru had often read in the history books that Necromancers were often asked to come to help bring back to life/keep a King that was a dying living. Sometimes more than asked…
The diaries of the Necromancers before Kaoru and Yumi, that Yumi had collected were full of horror stories of Necromancer kept as slaves in order to keep bringing back to life a despotic king. Sometimes if they were lucky the King or Queen as the case may be never took an interest in them beyond that of a person that kept them alive. Some were not so lucky.
Yumi frequently had message-riders come into the castle beseeching help for this ailing king or that ailing queen.
She turned down all of them.
Except for this one surprisingly.
Yumi didn't give any reasons just nodded at the message-rider and said a word that she never had said before to a rider: Yes.
Kaoru had looked at her curiously but Yumi had merely nodded and told her to pack her things that they were leaving.
Kaoru had quickly gotten ready and saddled her dapple gray gelding. Yumi was already waiting for her astride her dark bay mare, standing next to the message-rider.
As one they turned and followed the message-rider.
It had taken three days for them to arrive at the King's palace.
"Lady Yumi," a man – Kaoru blinked – or maybe not… approached them looking relieved.
"Hello Kamatari," Yumi replied softly. "It's been awhile."
"Indeed it has," a smile ghosted over his features. He cast a look at Kaoru. "Is she yours?"
"Yumi is my mistress," Kaoru replied softly.
"And you are the same as her," Kamatari nodded.
"Come this way," Kamatari bowed slightly.
Yumi nodded silently and Kaoru fell into step behind her.
They walked up the steps to a raised dais and passed through the doors behind it which lead in a long hallway.
There were doors on either side of hallway but neither Kamatari nor Yumi spared them a glance as they walked down the hallway until they reached the second to last door.
Kamatari opened it and bowed them in.
Inside it was dark save the dim light the flickering candles along the walls gave off.
There was a large canopied bed in the center of the room, curtains drawn and blocking its inhabitant from view.
Yumi held up a hand and shook her head at Kaoru gesturing for her to stay.
Kaoru stopped in her tracks and nodded, watching as Yumi walked toward the bed and pulled the curtain back slightly.
"Hello love," her voice was so soft Kaoru barely heard it.
Kaoru didn't hear his reply and looked at Kamatari who shook his head wordlessly and motioned for her to follow him out of the room.
"Come," he said softly as the door closed behind them. "You look like you need something to drink and eat."
Kaoru nodded, "who…?"
"We will discuss this over food," Kamatari replied.
Kaoru was led into the kitchen where a plate of chicken soup with fresh made bread and a cup of coffee were given to her.
Kamatari sighed and took a sip of his own coffee, hands tense around the mug.
"Explain please?" Kaoru asked softly.
Kamatari bit his lip, "where to begin? Lady Yumi and my King, Shishio met several years ago… They loved each other; still do, as my King's actions have just shown… He asked her to marry him several times… each time she refused."
"It is not easy being what we are," Kaoru said softly.
"No, I do not think so." Kamatari agreed. "Yumi would visit and stay for a while but then leave again… She was never here for very long and each time she left she took a piece of his heart with him." Kamatari paused to take a sip of his coffee. "The last time we saw here was several years ago. Shishio asked her to marry him and she refused. They had a fight and she left. We haven't seen her since."
He sipped once more at the coffee as if steeling himself. "Then several days ago there were rumors of a rogue Necromancer near to the castle. Shishio went to battle him and the Necromancer burned his body and damaged his soul." He closed his eyes. "He's now dying and sent a message-rider to Yumi."
"Will she…?" Kaoru asked.
Kamatari shook his head, "I don't think so."
"Oh," Kaoru dropped her gaze to the bowl of soup in front of her. She spooned some noodles into her mouth and closed her eyes. It tasted bland.
Suddenly she felt a brush of something… it flickered out and was gone before she could recognize and decipher it.
There was the sound of footsteps and Kaoru raised her head, peering over Kamatari's shoulder to see Yumi standing in the doorway.
If one did not know what to look for they would have thought Yumi composed. But Kaoru knew her better. She saw the faint trails on her face left by tears and the slight redness around her eyes.
Kamatari rose when she appeared his face concerned. "Shishio?"
"He is gone now," Yumi replied softly, her voice even. "I made it as easy as I could for him."
"Thank you," Kamatari bowed, his eyes closed.
"Come Kaoru," Yumi said softly. "We will be leaving now."
Kaoru nodded silently and rose from the table.
"Goodbye Kamatari," Yumi said softly.
"Thank you," he murmured again.
Yumi managed a slight smile, "I will return… if I am welcome?"
"Of course," Kamatari replied.
"Thank you," this time it was her that said the words.
Yumi motioned soundlessly for Kaoru to follow and she did.
It was only as they rode away from the castle unaccompanied that Kaoru noticed the sheen of tears in Yumi's eyes.
She urged her gelding ahead, wanting to give Yumi privacy for her grief.
Kaoru found a good place for a campsite and made camp.
Yumi appeared two hours later and Kaoru handed her a cup of coffee.
"What do we do now?" Kaoru asked softly.
There was steel in Yumi's voice. "We find who killed him."