Challenge: Blanket Scenario – From Rurouni Star
The pounding of snow and sleet against Kagura's back was unrelenting. The wind youkai bit her lip in concentration as she tried to wrap her wet kimono around herself more tightly, struggling desperately against the fierce winds as she walked. Behind her, the prints her feet left in the snow were being quickly filled with ice and frost, smoothing over the holes and dents like they had never been there to begin with. Casting a quick glance backward, Kagura watched one of her prints fill in and couldn't help but feel somewhat bitter. About the way it just smoothed and whisked away her presence and mark on the world, like she wasn't important enough to be remembered. She clutched the collar of her robe, her thoughts dark.
To most people, I'd be better off dead.
A chunk of stray ice scraped roughly against her wrist and she gave a startled yelp, biting harder against her lip. The skin was so thin and blue around her mouth that it gave way, and her teeth sunk through the membrane. It tore straight through the flesh, letting free thick fat beads of blood to dribble thickly from her lip.
Damn it… Quickly, Kagura tried to stop the blood flow, sucking her bottom lip into her mouth to keep it from the outside freezing cold. A harsh coppery taste began to pool at the floor of her jaw and the back of her gums, making it hard to breath. Kagura cursed again, pressing her numb fingertips to her torn lips.
This was all his fault.
Kagura's fist tightened as a black figure seemed to swim out of the darkness clouding her mind, smirking arrogantly down at her.
Naraku. The tormentor of her nightmares, the man that held her heart in the cup of his palm. He was twisting and slippery and turned everything she said or did around on her. He always made it out to be her fault, planned things just so to make the blame land on her. And he was always there. Even in her thoughts he was present, always rearing his ugly head in one way or another. It was the only place she didn't want him to be, the only place that she could call her own. But he found away, even though unintentionally. Many times, she was cursing him in her head more then she was taking the time to breath.
Damn you Naraku, you son of a bitch!
But this time, she had a right to curse him. This time, the blame really wasn't on her shoulders. This time, it really was his fault that she was here; if he hadn't been such a bastard and sent her into this fucking storm, she wouldn't be this lost and powerless, handicapped and unable to do a thing for herself. The mountains were so strong, so cold and the wind here held a bitter resentment in its currents. It howled and raged and even if she had been in her best condition, it would have taken all of her strength to harness in its power and size and spirit; with this wind at her aid, she would have been invincible, but against it she was hopeless.
The snow pelted her harder and faster as she trekked through the snow. Her bare feet were already blue and stiff, every muscle screaming with burning pain. Her heavy kimono clung to her, soaked through and weighted down with water and ice, making it a struggle for Kagura to move anywhere fast. Her hair was frozen to her skin, black and cold. Tearing a solid cold strand from the side of her face, she winced as a layer of skin came off with it. Then recoiled as immediately a thousand sharp pointed needles of frost were stabbing themselves into her burning skin. Blood began to seep from the wound and she brought up her only free hand to press against her cheek.
It wasn't worth it.
Chasing after a band of human and youkai misfits wasn't worth this kind of trouble. Earning the respect of the man she hated with every fiber of her being was not worth this torture. Searching desperately for a way to betray him was not worth this kind of pain. Being stranded helplessly with no way to escape her impending doom was not worth the prize she would have obtained in succeeding.
Because freedom was worthless when she was about to die.
Letting her bloody hand drop, Kagura stared down at the clenched fist she had been cradling to her chest. Smooth sandalwood poked out from her hand, paper-thin fabric wrapped tightly around the tip.
It was her fan, her treasure and her light. It was the one thing that was worth something to her, the one thing that made her useful and powerful and an immeasurable ally and foe. It gave her strength, it gave her peace, and it gave her comfort when she was in need of it desperately. But now it was her broken fan, torn in half by the might of storm and wind. Now it was as worthless as she was worthless. And now she was stranded in an oppressing darkness without her comfort, or her light, or her hope. Now, she was as good as dead.
Naraku will be delighted. Kagura thought cynically, pushing down the growing pain that was beginning to settle in the pit of her stomach and spread out its sharp talons. Kanna-onee-sama's mirror may not be able to penetrate this thick of a storm, but Naraku will know when I'm dead. When my heart stops beating in that damn clay jar he put it in, he will know I have failed in everything I set out to do. And he will laugh, and I will be replaced and no one will remember me. Not even my sister. Her teeth sunk deeper into her lip, and red blood wormed its way down her chin, leaving a wet sticky trail. Her eyes glistened a dark crimson.
If Kagura would have let herself, she would have cried then. She should never have thought to tackle such mountains herself, never thought to risk her precious gifts against winds that were just too powerful and strong. It had been a suicide mission, and one she had so blindly walked into with arrogance and stupidity. And Naraku had sat there and watched her and let her do as she pleased. And she knew he had been smiling then when she had waltzed out of his palace in rage. Knew he was smiling now as she struggled through an untamable storm.
Because he had known all along he was sending her to her death.
But she wouldn't cry, wouldn't give in, because if she did, she would have admitted that he had won. And she would let herself die, before she ever admitted that.
Suddenly, the storm seemed to rage even harder, beating at her with icy fists. A thousand sharp needles thrust themselves in her head and she almost screamed. She tripped, dropping to her hands, and the cold raced up her arms, setting a numb fire into every nerve and inch of skin. It seemed to pound the last of strength out of her. And her sanity. Eyes heavy and watery, Kagura pushed herself up and stumbled forward, almost toppling into the snow. Quickly at the last moment, she caught herself on a blackened tree trunk, her arm gripping it limply. Dragging herself up, she almost wilted against its steady hold, bonelessly molding against the tree's bent shape. With a struggling, ragged breath, Kagura pressed her head into the fold of her arm, hiding her tender face from the cruel world and its cruel tricks.
It was then that it finally hit her.
I'm about to die. She thought faintly, aghast. And then the coldness began to seep into her brain and she was numb all over and she didn't want to think anymore.
Her eyes began to fog as a cold icy hand began to sweep her entire body. Her hands began to loosen their grip and then she was slowly falling, sliding down, watching a blurred everything above her as her eyes exploded with stars. And then abruptly, she began to see mirages and images of things and people and places. And she clutched her broken fan tightly and watched, as figure upon figure began to pass her by. She watched as place upon place began to flash before her eyes. And then suddenly, a tall shadow was towering over her, its eyes the color of the midnight sky.
And she sighed in relief.
Because it was death in its wreath of darkness and black feathered wings, coming to whisk her away into a realm where freedom and life and honor and blood were of little consequence and of no matter. A black hand reached out to her, reached out to grasp her arm, and her eyes began to swim and blur and fade. And she was losing him, losing him, falling into darkness alone and by herself.
And she panicked. Desperately, with a sudden numbing strength, she reached out her hand, reached out and gripped death with her cold fingers. And then her vision began to clear a little, and his towering figure once more flickered in sight, and suddenly she was relaxed and calm and relieved.
And then she fell limply in his arms. And for once, her mind wasn't in turmoil and her heart wasn't in pain and she was just at peace. Slowly, softly, she began to drift between reality and the comfort of darkness. Hand in hand with death. And suddenly, she wanted it so much, wanted so much for it to all end. Suddenly, she wanted to die and be saved from this world and its pains and shackles and blood that stained her hands and her arms and her body.
"Please…" she whispered softly, except it was barely a whisper, just an exhale of faint breath. "…Save me."
And then her world began to fade. And the last thing she saw where those beautiful midnight blue eyes, before the darkness fully consumed her.
"Wake up Kagura…wake up…"
A voice called to her in the dark expanse of nothingness she had been drifting in. Slowly, Kagura began to swim out of the black, shedding invisible burdens as she floated upward, soaring closer and closer to where a soft light seemed to glow.
Who was calling her? Why was she being called?
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Kagura was at the top of the long dark tunnel. And then suddenly, it was like she was gently placed into a numbed body, as though her spirit had left and was being brought back.
And a light began to filter into her eyelids, gentle and soft, and that voice was still speaking to her, though it was blurred and incoherent. She tried dragging her eyes open, tried to see what was going on and why her name was being repeated, but they felt so heavy, almost as if they were pressed shut. After a moment of struggling and straining, Kagura's eyes began to part slowly, and a world of grey and black bombarded her vision.
It was then that the pain erupted through her body, singing every cell and nerve that was left untouched and warm.
It was the most painful thing Kagura had ever felt in her life. But before she could whimper and close her eyes, before she could fall back into that peaceful calm world where she felt no pain and heard no mysterious voices, she saw a face. It was something that made her linger a little bit longer, made her pause. She saw short black hair, and dark blue eyes, and an unreadable expression transfixed on a beautiful face. And she was so caught up in how a human man could be so beautiful, so perfect, that for a moment she didn't recognize him.
It was only a few seconds after that she realized she was staring into the face of her enemy.
"Miroku!" she hissed croakily, bolting up right. The blood immediately began rushing out of her brain and she regretted moving instantly. Her head seemed to explode with lights and stars, a searing pain beginning to pound at her eyes and her veins and her heart. She gave a muffled scream, her hands clutching her head. Miroku, who was seated next to her on his knees, watched her apathetically, making no move towards her huddled form. His hands clenched in his lap.
The pain was intense, but no even it could distract the confused wind youkai.
Miroku?! What was he doing here?!
When the pain began to lessen, when her vision began to clear, Miroku spoke up.
"What were you doing out there?" His tone was sharp, emotionless. No malice, no disgust, just emptiness. As soon as her eyes allowed it, Kagura's gaze was fixed on his face, taking in the set jaw and steely determination in his eyes. It was strange, unsettling. She drew back, unused to seeing the man's face without hatred burning his skin red.
"What…what is it to you?" she asked as steadily as she could, unnerved.
His eyes narrowed and the beads around his hand creaked dangerously under the pressure of his fist. His voice rose a bit, and something akin to anger blossomed in his eyes. It frightened her. "I rescued you from your death. Isn't that reason enough?!"
Everything hit her then, at that moment. The figure in the blizzard, the Black Hand, the midnight colored eyes. What she had mistaken as death had been…Miroku…
Her senses began to come back to her then. One by one: her touch, her smell, her taste, her hearing, her sight, and even her sanity, were making themselves known. The presence of something warm and woolen was draped over her cold body. The smell of damp cave moss, stagnant water and a burning fire assaulted her nose. The taste of melted snow and blood burned in her mouth. Blinking her eyes slowly, Kagura turned to stare at Miroku, who sat there breathing heavily. And her eyes cleared and his heartbeat began to pound softly in Kagura's head.
And then suddenly her sanity was taking a hold of her, and she had the urge to guard herself from him, and snap at him and use every word trick Naraku had used on her against him to put him in his place as the human he was. And she wanted to scream, and destroy everything she saw, and finish the damn houshi off so she would never have to see his ugly face again.
Normally, she gave into those urges, following them blindly into trouble and mayhem and a glimpse at what freedom was like.
But she didn't and it almost scared her.
She didn't give into those tantrums and injustices because…well, she didn't know the why really herself. Except that maybe, if she had given into her sanity, she would have become like Naraku, who used everything and everyone who came upon him.
And she didn't want to be like him.
When Kagura remained silent, Miroku's lip curled angrily. "Oh, I see." He spat. Kagura cringed. "You were being Naraku's little puppet and carrying out his plans, weren't you?"
After a long moment, Kagura turned her eyes on him, gazed at him with such a blank face.
She wasn't about to deny the truth.
No, not today. Not when for once, she wasn't feeling the need to pretend she was strong and independent and didn't care if she was alone or not. She had pretended for far to long, and really for once she didn't want to act like she was invincible and strong. She wanted to show the world just what made her Kagura, and just what left her in the shackles of the man she hated the most.
She desired freedom, bled for freedom, lived on for freedom. But freedom came with a price and that price was isolation from everyone else.
And she hated being alone, was so afraid when she was. It was why she hadn't left Naraku, had searched for harder ways to overcome him when her freedom could be easily obtained with a flick of her wrist. And he knew that, and that was why he wasn't afraid of her betrayal; because she wouldn't harm him if she had no ally to fall back with.
And so she was quiet and sincere, not denying that she was Naraku's puppet, and that she had been carrying out his plans. But Miroku, Miroku who should have been angry and spiteful, saw that desperation in her eyes, saw that mask of strength fade away into what was Kagura.
What he saw puzzled him.
He drew back from her, unnerved and Kagura watched him as he stood up and walked towards the fire a little ways away. His expression was cloudy with concentration as he picked up a stick to prod the flame with, and she watched him quietly as he went about the small cave he had brought them to. And she noticed she was bare underneath the blanket that was draped over her, and she noticed that her clothes were drying on a stick over the fire. But for some reason, she didn't care. After the silence had settled over them thick and heavy, Kagura spoke up, her voice soft and a little rigid.
Miroku turned a narrowed gaze at her, noticing her own eyes lingered on her drying clothes. An irritated look passed over his face briefly.
"I'm drying you clothes because I only have one blanket and your using it." He told her stiffly. His gaze turned back to the fire.
Kagura shook her head. The loose bun she had pulled her hair in came out and the black strands fluttered around her face, stopping a little past her shoulders. "No, that's not what I meant."
Miroku turned to her a second time, his mouth open in annoyance, but paused as he caught sight of her. Kagura spoke up before he could say anything.
"I meant, why are you doing this?" She lifted a heavy hand and motioned all around them. "…Why?"
Miroku stared at her, his eyes finally meeting her crimson ones, before he turned away to prod the fire, not giving her a response. Kagura waited, her hands clutching the blanket to her torso. Her eyes began to drift shut as the silence ensued, and she brought her knees to her chest, wrapping her thin cold arms around them. Tiredly, she pressed her forehead into the soft wool blanket covering her legs. She was so sleepy…
"I don't know."
Kagura blinked and looked up. Miroku was still sitting by the fire, his back turned to her.
"I don't know why I saved you. You've killed so many people." He was angry, frustrated almost. "You've done so many wrongs have hurt so many hearts, have destroyed so many lives. I know people out there who would die to kill you, and yet…I saved you."
Kagura closed her eyes and leaned back exhausted, letting her legs stretch out as her head met the ground. She listened to him silently, listened to his confusion. Everything began to fade around her except for that one voice. "Why…" she murmured again. Her eyelids fluttered open, then closed again.
"I don't know why." Miroku said vehemently. "I don't know. I just say you, saw you dying, and you turned to me, and for a moment, a brief moment…I thought I saw something there."
The cave was silent as Miroku paused. His forehead furrowed in confusion and he brought a hand up to his head.
"I thought I had seen…remorse maybe. Pain. Like maybe…you really did care about all the things you had done. And you had acted like you needed to be saved. You said as much…"
The fire crackled at Miroku's feet.
"I wasn't even supposed to have found you, I wasn't even supposed to have been there. Mushin's temple had not been in that direction…" he muttered.
The words whispered in his ear.
Suddenly, the houshi sighed.
"I was trying to find out if you were sincere. If you really did feel remorse. I wanted to know if…if you had just been a puppet to Naraku's tricks." Miroku finally turned towards Kagura, confusion etched on his features. "I wanted to know if—"
He paused. The youkai's eyes were closed, her breathing steady and easy.
She was asleep.
He breathed out heavily. Most of him was annoyed, but a part of him was also relieved. She probably hadn't heard a word he had said. He turned back to the fire, gazing in to its steady flame.
And while he sat there, in that small uncomfortable cave with the most unlikely of companions, Miroku finally relaxed. The silence that enveloped them wasn't unguarded, but it wasn't tense either. For the moment, the houshi just stared into the fire, lost in his thoughts.
The words whispered in his ear again. This time, he didn't hesitate in answering.
"I wanted to know if you…you really meant those words. If you really did need someone to save you. Because if you did, then maybe all that's happened, isn't entirely your fault…" He finished finally, muttering it mostly to himself. After a moment he stood up, making his way towards the entrance of the cave to check if the storm had died down.
But as he walked, for a brief moment, he thought he heard a voice whispering to him. Except not a whisper, just an exhale of faint breath.
"Maybe I did…"