"Cursed family heirloom my ass." Kaoru snorted disdainfully as she looked up at the object in question.
It was a sword. Strike that. It was a piece of aged crap that hadn't been unsheathed in what must have been over a century, dirty, sorry excuse for a katana. Even if it wasn't peace-bonded, with what was now nothing but a yellowing rag of fabric, Kaoru would bet her best bokken that it was rusted permanently shut.
Yet, for some reason, someone had deemed it fit to take the blade and stash it, hanging it high on the wall of their dojo's training hall like it was some sort of trophy.
And, for some reason, she just couldn't burn the weapon's image out of her mind's eye.
The kenjutsu maiden gave a half-hearted growl of frustration. Running a hand through her bangs, she once again abandoned her nightly rounds of the dojo's grounds. Coming more fully into the room, she shut the door behind her.
The training hall was dark, the only source of light being the intermittent windows and the pearlescent glow of the full moon which pooled in through them. At first she'd considered lighting a candle for a moment but discarded the idea just as quickly. Her sapphire eyes had already long adjusted to the deepening pitch.
It was stupid really. The reason she had come here. The thought that had been plaguing her almost to her wits end.
Like any child growing up in an old family household, she had heard more than her fair share of ghost stories. The brother-in-law whom had been run over by a carriage, the great-aunt whom had choked on a large slice of teriyaki, all of the usual tales had been told on restless nights when the sun had long since gone down. Even her own parents, whom had left the young shihondai with little else but their love and the family's dojo, had joined the ranks of the abruptly deceased.
The katana, however, was a different story, one she knew quite well. After all, the telling had sent her running to the safety of her futon more than once when she was a young girl.
It was an antique from before the Meji era. The blade had been an instrument of murder. Guided by the malevolent hand of one man, hundreds had fallen to its razor edge building the legend that was the Hitokiri Battousai. The man said to be swifter than Death himself, possessing hair like crimson blood, and eyes that shined gold belying his demonic nature.
Then, for whatever reason, he'd mysteriously vanished without a trace. All that remained of his existence was dormant in the form of his once scarlet stained blade that was now hung innocently in her family's dojo.
Still, the weapon was not what it seemed.
On nights, not unlike this one, when the sky was still and moon was full the blade had to it an unearthly aura. It was at this time that the unwary or foolhardy would bring the weapon into view, letting the white celestial light shine upon the blood-soaked edge.
Three times the hitokiri's name be uttered and his ghostly form would appear, placing the caller under the scrutiny of the man's unholy gaze.
Five times, the manslayer be named, and the barer of the katana would be visited by the hitokiri's long dead spirit, marked, scarred with the cross-shaped slash that would forever brand their skin.
Or at least that was how the story had gone.
As a child that story had scared her senseless as she heard the frightening tale whispered among the older pupils under her father's schooling. After one boy's particularly chilling retelling, which he supported with an oddly shaped cut on his elbow, Kaoru had refused to enter the training hall for several days. She'd been afraid, in her naiveté, that she'd be struck similarly, broad daylight or not.
It was ridiculous, of course. Now wiser and older she knew better. With the peace-bonding, the weapon remained as untouched as ever. The complex knot pattern was far too difficult to be undone and retied by children. The boy's cut had probably been from something far from glamorous and, as boys are apt to do, he'd embellished the story behind his scar into something to wow the other boys.
There was no such thing as a cursed katana.
So what was it really about this aged weapon that transfixed her graze?
Kaoru's eyes returned to where the blade hung in the shadows and a familiar tingle played along her spine accompanied by a chill that could not be blamed on her thin gi and hakama.
Her frustration was visible as she bit her lower lip. In spite of everything she knew Kaoru was still uncomfortable being around the weapon at night. Though her sharper scare had faded quickly, the fear had never diminished completely.
It was ridiculous! Kaoru reiterated fiercely. She had absolutely no reason to be afraid of a katana.
Even so, despite her better judgment, and her need for sleep, she'd found herself drawn back to this position in what was becoming a nightly ritual. Her hands upon her hips, bokken loosely held in her fist. Her senses flighty like the scant moments before an impending attack. Her sapphire eyes vaguely challenging as she glared at the weapon across the wide distance of the training hall.
She didn't want to lose. In the end, that was what the compilation of the emotions roused by the blade's appearance all boiled down to. To admit that she was still slightly afraid of a mere inanimate object would be to admit defeat, and that she was not willing to do.
"I'm not afraid." Kaoru said firmly, as if verbalizing made the words more real.
Before she was conscious of what she was doing, Kaoru's feet had swiftly crossed the distance of polished floor. Her hand moved upwards as she made to prove her statement. Fingers wrapping swiftly around the hilt, the young woman yanked it down from its rack.
The katana was surprisingly heavy. Her right arm sagged slightly as she adjusted to the added weight. The hilt was uncomfortable, the grasp unfamiliar; but the patterned weave of leather strips was smooth, worn down from handling.
Propping her bokken up against the wall she now held onto the katana with both hands. As tempered as her own hands were from her early exposure to kenjutsu, the weapon held little affinity with the art she loved to teach. The feel of it was almost alien against her palms; the rustle of metal sent a sharp chill down her spine.
There was no doubt: this was a sword that destroyed.
Absorbed in the awkward sensation that seemed to radiate from the weapon, it took a fresh wave of determination before Kaoru was spurned back into action once more. But even then, she couldn't stop the trembling in her hand as she placed her fingers against the peace-bonding.
With a swift jerking motion, she pulled on the knot. Brittle from age and exposure, the fabric practically crumbled. Bits of the yellowed tie tore and fell upon the floor to be forgotten as the weapon was released from its bindings.
Kaoru shifted the weapon horizontally before her, holding the sheath securely with one hand while her other hand ghosted over the length of the hilt. Taking a deep breath, she wrapped her fingers around the leather grip. Her nerves spiked and Kaoru flinched, her face turned away from the katana, in that instant she pulled sharply.
Instead of the expected struggle to bring out the antiquated katana, Kaoru's arm swung quickly. The motion was made jerky by the unneeded force behind her grasp. The round of ringing steel rained upon her hearing.
Wide eyed, the shihondai slowly turned her face back towards the blade.
Breath stilled in her lungs as Kaoru choked on her gasp of surprise, heart skipping a beat.
She was met by her own sapphire eyes as the polished surface flawlessly reflected her expression of muted shock.
It was immaculate. No rust, not even a speck of stray dust marred the mirror like surface. Moonlight refracted along the naked length making the metal gleam with an eerie clarity.
Watching the play of light as she held the aged katana before her in her closed right fist, Kaoru made her decision.
She took a breath.
"Battousai." Kaoru's voice was soft, hesitant. The named formed haltingly as if she still couldn't quite believe what she was doing.
The shihondai shook her head firmly wishing to physically erase further doubt from her mind. Stomping down on her unease, she raised the blade higher. Her eyes hardened with determination.
"Battousai." Kaoru's voice was strong, steady this time.
"Battousai! Battousai! Battousai!" She shouted out the last three repetitions quickly, hastily, as she rushed to remove the hitokiri's name from her tongue.
As she finished, there was a long pause. Her words hovered as a dying echo against the utter silence in the room. The shihondai scanned quickly around the wide expanse of flooring as she checked for any possible disturbances.
Other than the fact that she felt like a complete idiot...nothing.
Kaoru released the breath that she hadn't been aware she was holding in a sigh. She remained frozen in that pose for a long moment. Various self-depreciating thoughts crossed through her conscious as she realized how foolish she was acting.
Idiot... She told herself disdainfully. Honestly, there is no such thing as-
The sighed creak of shifting floorboards interrupted her string of thoughts. The nearly inaudible sound loud in the silence of the training hall.
Heart leaping in her throat, Kaoru whirled, senses flaring. The katana brought to the ready by instincts born from a lifetime of swordsmanship as her body braced for attack.
Kaoru shivered. Her preparatory gasp of air left her lungs in a dizzying rush. The receding adrenalin filled her nerve endings with a hum as the shihondai tried to regain control of her racing pulse.
Shaking her head lightly, she lowered the blade, relaxing her position. Her hands loosened the white-knuckled grip on the hilt allowing the weapon to hang lax in her palm. Turning her attention to the katana once again, she reached to where, in her fright instilled haste, she'd tossed aside the sheath.
Scabbard in hand, she leveled the blade horizontally, nudging the tip of the weapon into its housing the shihondai carefully began to put the ancient thing away. Her inexperience with a katana slowed the action from a quick thrust to a gentle slide as she carefully watched the gleaming blade to ensure that it didn't catch on anything.
Then, reflected in the katana's polished surface, a shadow, and the faint impression of glowing amber. Kaoru's breath steeled momentarily in her lungs. But, no sooner had she blinked when it was gone.
Her head snapped up at an impressive speed while she pivoted to scan the area behind her.
Still, only emptiness met her searching eyes.
As she realized what she was doing, the shihondai uttered an expletive. It was quite obvious what had been the cause of her jumpy reaction. She was still letting that stupid childhood fear control her.
Kaoru grit her teeth and slammed the katana the rest of the way shut with a decisive clash. Not even bothering with the peace bonding tie, she closed a fist tightly around the weapons girth. Intending to return the katana to its forlorn peg she turned sharply on her heel-
To find herself on the receiving end of an amber gaze.
The man stood casually, arms crossed as he leaned against the wall where the katana had been hung. His form dark even against the surrounding shadows as if the very moonlight was hesitant to encroach upon his person. Eyes glinting with an underlying sheen of gold, he stared unabashedly at the shihondai. A cocky smirk played about his lips.
Amber eyes. Scarlet hair. Taking in the man's appearance a chill doused over Kaoru's skin, freezing her in her tracks.
"Hitokiri Battousai..." The name came unbidden to her lips, whispered fearfully.
The man's smirk grew. His arms untangling, he levered himself off the wall. The eyes that had been famed as demonic gained a wicked looking gleam as he stepped forward.
Her reaction was instinctive. She half stumbled backwards for each of his advancing steps. Ignored was the little voice that spoke of the impossibility of the situation while she sought her escape from the figure that had haunted her childhood dreams.
Had she been paying more attention, Kaoru may have noticed the futile nature of her actions. However, she didn't realize the error in her calculations until her heel hit the ridge of one of the practice mats left along the edges of the training hall. She fell backwards hitting the side wall with enough force to leave her cringing in pain.
A soft snort of suppressed laughter met her ears.
Shocked, Kaoru stared up from her position sprawled against the wall, eyes wide.
He paused in his stride several feet away from the fallen shihondai. His lips twisted into an amused leer while he watched her scrabble to regain her bearings.
His voice was low and silken as it floated across the expanse between them. "Are you still unafraid, Kaoru?"
Kaoru froze. It wasn't that it was her own earlier declaration was being thrown mockingly back at her but the sound of her name on the man's lips that sent a chill through her blood. There should be no possible way for him to know her name.
What possessed her, the shihondai would never quite know, but in that moment her stance shifted from fearing to challenging. Pushing herself quickly back up off the floor, her feet slid into a defensive position. Her hands fumbling as she brought the katana up to bare at the approaching threat, the sheath falling to the ground with a loud thump.
It wasn't that she was being brave, not by any means, for all her posturing she was shaking uncontrollably. Rather, the fact of the matter was that Kaoru was determined not to cower.
He wasn't real. She had to be dreaming. It was the only explanation.
She was a shihondai of her father's school. She'd lived through the hardship of losing both her parents. She did not believe in ghosts.
Yet, for some reason she couldn't bring herself to let go of her weapon.
"How do you know my name?" Kaoru demanded and proud that she'd banished any hint of fear from her voice
"I know much more than just your name, Kaoru." He told the defensive shihondai with a slow smile. Her name added as more of a suggestive afterthought in response to the way Kaoru had given a visible start to his revelation than anything else. His expression was knowing. He took a step forward.
There was something about the way he spoke, the teasing look he'd gave her. It stirred the emotions lying just under Kaoru's skin. Fear momentarily forgotten, her temper sparked at the taunting undertone in his voice and she raised the katana a tad higher in warning.
"Don't come any closer." Kaoru ordered sharply, trying to ward the man away upon threat of steel.
The smile he gave was dark. His advancing steps didn't even falter. "And what if I do?"
In all honesty? She had absolutely no idea. How could she possibly defend herself effectively? Her arms were already starting feel the added weight of the katana in comparison to the familiarity of her bokken. It wasn't dramatically different, but even the slightest bit of disrupted balance was enough to slow down Kaoru's efficiency.
And from the look on his face, he knew it too.
She gripped the hilt tighter, trying to hide the betraying tremble in her hands. Almost wistfully her gaze glanced past the man toward her bokken on the other side of the hall.
The distraction proved her undoing.
Almost instantly he was moving. Darting forward he neared Kaoru with a frightening speed.
She thrust the katana instinctively.
He caught it. Barehanded he caught the swinging blade in his left hand. Wrapping long fingers around the metal and locking it in place as his strength prevented her from pulling the katana away.
Eyes widening impossibly, Kaoru found herself half-mesmerized by the liquid now slowly flowing down the bright expanse of steel.
Blood. His blood.
With a sharp motion he jerked the blade forward. She stumbled and the hilt went flying from her grasp. In the same motion he tossed the weapon aside carelessly. The wielder however retained his full attention.
The ring of steel striking upon the ground was ignored in the moments that followed.
Tumbling forward, Kaoru fell straight into the wall of his chest, a gasp escaping her parted lips. More than anything else it was that feeling of slamming into his body that sent Kaoru's mind into a sudden stasis.
He was solid. His body warm to the touch at their abrupt intimate proximity. She could feel the roughened texture of his gi and the smooth contrast of skin as the fabric rippled, parted under her hands where she'd fallen, fingers splayed against his chest.
It was the quiet rumble of laughter at her shocked expression that woke Kaoru from her frozen state.
"Let me go!" Kaoru pushed violently against him trying to shove the man away.
"No." He told her, his voice dropped down to a low tone. A slow smile on his face as he reached out to grasp her wrist, holding her in place; and despite her valiant protest she found herself mere inches away from the burning amber eyes that regarded her with undeniable amusement.
"You're not real." The argument rang hallow even to her ears, more as a desperate attempt to cling to the reality she knew. The doubts she'd been harboring voiced with a stubborn repetitiveness. "That was just some stupid ghost story!"
"Are you certain about that?" Something in his eyes flickered and Kaoru found one of her flailing hands caught in his. The grip tightening around her wrist as he hauled her closer to his chest and forced her palm over his heart. "Are you really so sure I'm not real?"
She could feel a heartbeat.
It wasn't, it couldn't be possible.
The shiver that traveled down Kaoru's spine was involuntary; her fright spiking uncontrollably with the knowledge that further denial had become pointless.
He really was...And she really had...Aw hell.
As though he'd caught her train of thought, Battousai cocked a slow smirk.
Pushing aside all thoughts of the improbable, Kaoru retrained her focus to the present. After a brief struggle she forcefully removed her wrist from his hold, glaring when his expression spoke of being entertained at her expense. The stirring of anger used to subdue her fears.
"Well I don't care if you are Battousai." Kaoru countered heatedly. "Go back in your katana and leave me alone."
"Back to the sword?" He spat, eyes trailing to where the very weapon lay forlorn and exposed in the middle of the room. His eyes flashed dangerously and for that brief moment it was clear just why Battousai had been so feared.
Kaoru blinked, having not expected the malice in his voice. Lost love clearly not felt between the weapon and its former wielder. She stiffened, as the golden gaze was transferred back to her with more intensity than before.
"Don't think you can be rid of me so easily, Kaoru." Battousai said smoothly, starting towards her. The look on his face was predatory and Kaoru was given the distinct impression of the prey that was toyed with before being eaten.
Before Kaoru had the opportunity to make use of her mobility she'd been re-caught within Battousai's grasp. His arm coming to twine about her waist, drawing her impossibly close.
She opened her mouth to protest only to be shushed with a finger brushed against her lips.
"After all." Battousai continued fluidly, practically purring. The wicked smile on his face reflected in his eyes gleaming. His breath a ghost of a caress against her cheek as he leaned to whisper in her ear. "You let me out..."
Authoress Notes: Written up for the Halloween Urban Legend Challenge issued for the Battousai and Kaoru FanFiction List ( http : lists.topica . com / lists / battousaiandkaoru / ). The legend used surprise, surprise, was 'Bloody Mary', taking it and twisting the RK reality to give Battousai-kun a different 'punishment' for his evil ways. A big thanks to Papaya for listening to me rant. Questions? Comments?
Happy Halloween everyone!
"The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear - fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above everything else is safety." - Henry Louis Mencken