Author's Note: Heh…it's been, what, about three-quarters of a year since the last chapter? I really did mean to get around to it, but the plot bunnies wouldn't tell me anything…they still won't tell me anything. This chapter basically goes nowhere plotwise. At all. I am perfectly serious. (grins. Puts up shield and walks away)
"The point is that thing you keep missing, the point is power. Power doesn't need to explain itself, power is not about explaining. Power just does because it can."
- Peter S Beagle, "The Folk of the Air"
It was silver. No, the thing itself wasn't silver, the thing was simply wearing a silver suit. The material glimmered with the despairing light of a dying sun, and in its lackluster brilliance she was unable to view the being its sheen concealed. From another corner of the room that wasn't there, Logic murmured that even for the deceiving flashes of the suit, she should be able to identify the being's face. But as she tried, she saw again that Logic was in fact out to lunch, and would be of no aid to her now. The thing had no face, or else had a thousand faces, or else did indeed have a true face but her eyes insisted on looking straight through without seeing it at all. Then again, it was possible that the dilemma was a combination of the three.
With gloves that held no hands, it presented to her a package. The gift was wrapped in elegant paper the exact shade of the being's suit, and a beautiful scarlet bow topped it, the red button that irresistibly lured her fingers to push it. No matter how she blinked, she could not identify if the package was a box or sphere, though the tips of her fingers told her it was masked by the gleaming mercury that had painted the ends of the gilded wings on the great messenger Hermes's feet. "All for you," the being let her know with shivering flickers and the sound of cats miaowing. "All for you."
Somewhere far away, her ears dished to catch the static tones of telephone wires being buried by snow. Her vocal cords twined around one another into ivy tendrils that lined the edge of her throat. As she opened and closed and opened and closed her mouth, she could feel their leaves brushing just behind her farthest row of teeth, patient as only anacondas and other strangling hunters can be while still alive. They had time. They had time enough for all.
The silver figure shifted its weight to the other side, and was suddenly miles away, a wavering spirit looking back expectantly, but only for another moment. Despair fueled her struggle to speak, and the words finally managed to worm their way free from the snare of stems. "Who am she?" Somewhere, she knew there should have been another word in the question, or a word less, or the entire phrase replaced, but the being understood anyway. How could it not? There was not a language it had not birthed the origins for.
"Pandora." Then the being vanished, and the world shattered. As the jagged shards fell around her, she was left standing in nothing at all but the remnants of a land she had once reigned over, for all were rulers of their own realms, in the most private darkness of heart. Only she and the package remained. She gazed at its cover of sterling galaxies, and it stared back at her, a question mark stretched between the two.
And The Unicorn knew she wasn't meant to go into the Dark Wood. Disregarding the advice given to her by the spirits, the Unicorn went inside and bled silver blood. For her misdeed, the world knew evil…
As dawn peered cautiously over the mountains with eyes of pastel reds and purples, she crawled back to Shigure's home on her belly, naked and ashamed. Though she did not recall what she had done as she'd left the comforting warmth of the house last night, she knew this was because it had been something too horrible for a mortal mind to remember. She crept into her room and washed away the crimson crust that ringed her fingernails. Dressed with her customary smile, hair fully swept of the twigs that now lay scattered before her chest of drawers, she trotted on blistered feet to prepare breakfast for her three soon-to-wake housemates.
They could never know.
Tohru stood behind her new classmate for what in reality was only about two minutes, but could have been twenty due to the extraordinary length that each second seemed to stretch to before turning to the next one. The girl was standing in front of the full-length mirror that, along with several sinks, dominated the wall opposite the bathroom stalls. She had changed out of her gym clothes into her school uniform. She wore little make-up, only a thick coating of lipgloss that appeared to have just been freshly applied. Around her left wrist wound a bracelet that was made up of small purple and pink gems cut into tiny squares. The squares alternated, each pink jewel pairing with a purple one, colors of the same type touching only at their corners. The gems were outlined by a thin silver metal, which appeared to make up the base of the bracelet. Her eyes were like that of a doll, smooth and distant as they gazed into the reflections of their own depths courtesy of the mirror. They were almost the color of glass, retaining only a small amount of the smoky blue they usually contained. With her left hand, the girl ran a large brush with black bristles and an emerald handle through her thick mane. It snagged often upon minor snarls on the inner layers of the wild hair, but she simply picked through them and then continued. Tohru wondered why Kate continued to brush her hair, when it already lay docile and waiting for its customary ponytail. The girl didn't appear to do it so much out of necessity as simply something to keep her hands busy while her eyes gazed into distant skies that no one else could see, or perhaps that no one should ever see.
"Davis-san?" the brunette finally queried, tilting her head. "The last bell rang a minute ago."
"I know." Her classmate's response was rough, spoken in a voice that was much like the one in which someone spoke their first words after a deep sleep. A guttural growl that scraped out of the throat hoarsely, painfully. Before Tohru could ask her why she hadn't left, as had everyone else in the gym class, she continued. "I like the quiet."
A long, awkward pause followed the girl's statement. Well, at any rate, the stretch of silence was awkward to Tohru. Her classmate still skimmed the brush through her hair absently, ponytail holder waiting on her left wrist. Glass eyes met glass eyes in the mirror's sheen, wide and staring. Their depths went on to ends eternal, but they were entirely empty – not dark, simply lacking light. Before that moment, Tohru had never known there could be a difference between darkness and absence of light, but now she realized darkness was full, while this space did not contain anything at all; good, or evil, or life, or death. Just existence.
"What are you?" The words flew out of Tohru's lips before she could stop them.
The emerald handle of the hairbrush froze at the bottom of the girl's tawny tresses. Slowly, it pulled away from her hair, chapped fingers stroking the brush's handle softly. Absent-mindedly, Tohru noticed that the girl's fingernails were short and jagged, as if they had been cut unevenly. The bases of the yellow-white nails were a dirty rust color. Not the color of any dirt Tohru had seen. More like…
The stranger's lips twisted into a cold smile, something that could have expressed amusement on another face. "You are wise, Tohru, to ask 'what is Kate" instead of 'who is Kate'," Kate answered matter-of-factly, as if she were commenting on the weather. "I am old, and full of sorrow and hunger, though I have no tears and I desire nothing. When I was not so old, I longed for power, power to make the world right. Then I was born into this way of being, and now I have my power at last. But the world is still too heavy for me to move," She let out a low, bitter laugh, humorless as the Sphinx's smile. "Despite what you in your idealism may think."
An alarm went off in the farthest corners of Tohru's mind, telling the girl that this thing before her was unnatural, frightening, and very much alone. It warned her that she needed to run before she too was snared in the wistful detachment of the consciousness that had long lost all concern for trivial matters such as her dilemmas. Briefly, Tohru considered the possibility that her classmate was barking mad, and then decided this would be preferable to the alternative.
"The judgement is coming soon, for you and your Jyuunishi friends," The stranger mentioned thoughtfully, rolling the words as if deciding whether or not it enjoyed the taste of the words upon its tongue. It slipped the ivy-handled hairbrush into the pocket of its backpack, which it swung onto its shoulder with a light thump. It paused for a reflective moment, and to Tohru, the being seemed very in danger of fading into the chipped mirror behind it, until it was nothing more than a memory long forgotten. Finally, it concluded, "Be ready."
Tohru blinked, and it was as if she were suddenly awakening from a terrible nightmare. She straightened abruptly, and her breath suddenly came in the gasping heaves of one who has brushed hands with the fate of drowning. The sound of her own heartbeat filled her ears, and she spun around to look for someone whose name she couldn't quite recall. But the teenage girl was alone, and the only sound loud enough for her to take notice of over the stampeding drumbeat that emanated from her heart echoed from down the hallway; the lonesome miaowing of a cat.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
The minute hand of the grandfather clock relentlessly marched around the clock's face in endless circles, clicking with every movement. Through the open paper door, the skies revealed nothing but layer upon layer of smoky gray cotton. The clouds ranged from ashen white to smoggy pewter, and yet they continued to prolong the rainstorm that was assured to follow, putting off performing their task for longer than possible. The forest that stretched outwards along the watcher's view held a silence only permeated by the anxious rustle of leaves in the highest tree boughs as they were tousled by playful breezes of wind that carried the promise of an approaching storm. Mammals, reptiles, birds, all had retreated to their dens and nests to wait out the oncoming downpour.
All but one. All but one.
A smallish white bird, perhaps the size of a sparrow, was perched upon the outstretched palm of the watcher. Docile as a tame canary, its eyes flitted peacefully back and forth, its only movement the shifting of weight from one miniscule-clawed foot to the other. The fingers of the watcher's free hand stroked the bird's back feathers, trembling slightly as they did so. Again and again, the shaking fingers lightly ran over the complacent creature's ivory feathers. Tenderly, the hand reached down to the bird's left leg, feeling the spindly bone structure beneath the rough down that covered it.
A tiny snap, like that of a twig breaking in half, echoed throughout the quiet forest until it masqueraded as the crack of a gunshot. Clumsily, the bird flapped its wings and took off towards its nest in the trees, wanting to reach sanctuary before the first raindrops plummeted from the sky. Its broken leg hung limply beneath it, useless and feeble.
The minute hand reached the half-hour mark and continued on without a chime, as if the marked occasion meant nothing to it. Tick. Tick. Tick.
The watcher tilted back its head, and began to laugh.
The last desperate thread of Rin's temper finally snapped, and the metaphorical Fenris Wolf leapt forward to vengeance, horrible and at last free of the careful mental chains that had been doing their best to collar it. "But that's why I can't stand her!" the Horse Sohma howled, her voice as shrill and eerie as a mythical creature belling a terrible cry of ruin. Fierce and liable to strike at any movement, the dark-haired girl paced furiously back and forth before her former boyfriend, back and forth, back and forth along the constricting wooden wall. "How can she be that way but still be human? How can she be so happy when she's seen tragedy? How are such terrible events dealt with by her as easily as shaking off raindrops?" Now Rin seemed to be proclaiming her challenge to the ceiling and beyond, her companion forgotten in the crimson flood of rage that clouded her ebony eyes. "I hate that I can't find anything to hate about her!"
"She's just like that. She's Tohru," Haru told the angry older Sohma gently, bringing her to a grudging standstill. The Horse member of the Zodiac weaved this way and that where she stood, stamping her feet angrily. But still she listened to the Ox's words, for the calmness in his voice was so infuriatingly logical that she was compelled to take it in, if only to add more fuel to the fiery center of her fury. "She looks for the good in everything, and if there's no good to be found, she finds it anyway. That's how she deals with things like her mother's death."
Gingerly mouthing his words as if they were distasteful upon her tongue, Rin muttered with scorn, "Look for the good in everything…" She snorted disdainfully and threw her head up high, making her long shawl of black hair float behind her and then gently settle between her shoulder blades, as if to shade the secrets she so carefully stood guard over. "I've been hearing people say that since kindergarten, but no one really does it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No one except her."
Haru eyed her with what appeared to be amusement, which drove her anger to even greater heights. "Are you jealous?"
Black eyes turned old and sad. Old in the way that even the ghosts that swirled in their shallows had faded into remnants, sad in the way that their beautiful darkness still did not possess the boundless depths of the singing sea, because their deepness was quite tethered to this world and quite describable. Rin took in a shaking breath, and as she exhaled, her fierce posture vanished on the wave of breath. Her shoulders slumped, and it was in a quiet, reproachful manner that she responded, "You know I'm not, Haru. You didn't need to ask me again. I'm sad I can't be that way, but I would never want to. To have wings, but not notice because she's too busy aiding those who are grounded firmly to the dirt. Why do so many people look to the heavens to answer all their wishes, Haru? Why do so many people yearn so hard for the ability to fly when they don't have any wings? I'm the Horse. A horse is just as irrelevant in the cosmic scheme of things as a human is, but at least it never thinks it is superior to them. I'll run on my own hooves."
A chuckle shattered the murky aura of self-closure her speech had filled the air around her with, and Rin's eyes blazed momentarily as she jerked her head up to look at the Ox. "You'll be an old, cynical lady far before your time, Rin." Haru told her, wearing the grin of a Cheshire Cat, a grin that let you know you were probably being made fun of, but you weren't sure for what, exactly.
The shadowy flames were extinguished by a blink of sooty eyelashes, and once again she turned her head to the window that overlooked the entrance to the Sohma mainhouse, her arms crossed over one another on the windowsill. Her tone was flat, lifeless, and far more frightening than her snarling, child-like temper could ever be. "I was born an old, cynical lady." Haru rose to leave. As he began to step through the doorway, his eyes flickered back to the girl he had adored, once upon a time, and perhaps still did adore. Her head was lowered to her arms, and her long veil of ebony hair fell over her face and forearms like the mane of an old black mare.
The textbook was more than 15 years old, and its pages stubbornly glued themselves into sections as the reader attempted to turn them. Frustrated, Ritsu slid a pencil between two of the particular sheets of paper in an attempt to pry them apart. The pages reluctantly separated themselves, but as a dying standoff, one had managed to leave a good bit of itself on the other when they came apart.
His lip quivered as he automatically thought to yowl an apologize to the unoffending piece of literature. But excitable as the Monkey tended to be, even he could not deny that any apology to the book would be rather fruitless, seeing as it had no ears with which to receive it. Of course, this was not to say that Ritsu never apologized to inanimate objects, it was simply that his therapist had recommended beginning with avoiding saying sorry to them, and then working his way up. He thought he was doing quite well. Just that morning while he worked at the spa, he had managed to catch himself saying "Sorry" to a frayed towel in the middle of the word.
Finally having obtained a few more fragments of the information necessary for his History of Literature class, he turned to scribble them down on the paper serving as his rough draft. The roof tiles he sat upon were not ideal as a writing background, and near one corner his pencil point had accidentally punched a hole through the fragile sheet of paper. Remembering his therapist's advice, Ritsu swallowed the apology welling in his throat, and merely hoped that the paper was not easily offended.
Though he wasn't aware of it, something else sat beside him on the rooftop, fascinated with the scratching noise of the pencil lead against paper. Idly, it wondered if it would be immoral to cut his hair as he slept.
It was strange. They were gone. All of them. No matter how he called, the rats would not come to him. They always had, before. He did not question why, nor did they; both knew it was because of the Jyuunishi spirit that dwelled within him. They knew something terrible was about to happen, and because they knew, so did he. That was his talent, after all. Seeking and finding information, spying because his kind went unnoticed so easily by all but the feline. They did not mind. It was a life, they were good at it.
He turned in the direction of Shigure's house and began walking, waiting for the world to end.
"The powers are swelling," someone murmured. The walls around that someone were worn, and clearly had not seen sandpaper nor the stroke of a paintbrush for quite some time. The room smelled of nothing at all, but streaked along the base between wall and floor were dark imprints, washed many times but not gone, for these stains came from the one liquid that never forgot. The air within echoed with the yowls of captives who had gone mad to keep from shutting down, with shadows of musky scents and the humidity of a monster's den. Torn along the weathered wood planks in the walls were claw marks that dug as deep as the largest tiger's, splintered patches where frenzied prisoners had one by one rammed the confining surfaces in a crazed bid for freedom. Scratched upon the door were crude stick figures of cats on two legs, unsettling in the way they were each symmetrical to the next after the next after the next.
That someone did not belong in this room. But excusing the raging ghosts, this was otherwise a silent place, and it was somewhere to go. That someone did not know why he was here, or how he had gotten here, but it was a good place to muse, to be. "Perhaps it is my lack of transformations that brought it forth? Do there always need to be thirteen capable of transforming, to keep the balance? Thirteen is a lucky number. Twelve is not. Yes, surely it must be that there needs to be thirteen." He stared at the nothingness that humans could not see, as all animals do. "But why Tohru? She is not part of this."
"No. She made herself part of this." It was still he speaking, but he had becoming quite skilled at arguing with himself. Isolation often had that side effect, after awhile. "The only question now is, how will it end?"
Another spoke to him, though this one was not he. This voice was female, cold and gray and very old, painting a picture of equal sanctuary and madness. "You know how it will end."
The sorrow broke within him, a furious tidal wave. His shoulders wracked with silent sobs, but no tears came of them. Voice cracking and head bowed, he whimpered, "But…why? It's not her fault she was raised as she was."
The voice was gentle, and without pity. "She chose her death long ago. It was the fate she wanted."
His tone was bitter, the resentful speech of a man who has recognized his own mortality and that he can do nothing to change it. He did not speak aloud, but the voice heard him regardless. "No," it told him, shaking its head softly. "I can never regret." It thought for a moment, and offered, "I can feel sorrow. But it's not the same thing."
He wished he knew how to cry.
Author's Note: (carrying fruit-proof umbrella) Ah-hem…anyway, I know the part below Ritsu's was extraordinarily short. But after I finished this, I looked back at the last two chapters and realized I hadn't done anything with him. So I threw that in. I also know that nothing within this chapter made any sense at all. That's ok. I am perfectly in control of the story…or not. The majority of this was written in (checks clock) the last two hours (except for the Haru/Rin part and the part below it). If anyone can name to me all the characters of the unnamed parts, you'll get…absolutely nothing, but I want to know if you know who they were (especially the part below Haru and Rin's). Hopefully next chapter the story might even go somewhere, you never know. Come to think of it, I haven't done two of the twelve…screw it, I am not writing anymore for this chapter. Hope you enjoyed it after such a long wait. Please review! (wanders off)
One more note before the responses: WolfBane2 has nothing against bunnies. She has two pet dwarf rabbits herself. No actual bunnies were harmed in the making of this fan fiction. And anyone who tells you otherwise has no proof.
Waffoeater: Well, if you like confusion and are still reading this, I bet you adored this chapter. Even I have no idea what's going on. I've been told that the author having no idea what's going on in their own story is a bad sign.
Wolf of the Moon: Aw…I didn't think anyone would recognize what I stole from Dangerous Girls…CURSE YOU REVIEWERS WHO READ BOOKS! Finally, someone who knows what a red panda is! And don't insult squirrels. If you do, I'll be forced to sic my mutant squirrel army on you. Their commander is named Dettles.
Moonlit-immortal: Is being called "interesting" a good thing? Well, keep complimenting and maybe I'll keep updating. …Or not. Actually, helping me hunt down and capture the plot bunnies for information torture might be more helpful. (pulls out bunny-hunting net)
Brock17: I wonder if you're still waiting now for an update…anyway, I do love praise. Praise me, PRAISE ME!
EmilyIsisNephthys: Tohru doesn't have a cursed form. Like Rin said, she's too good to find anything to hate about her (which is why she bugs me). To be honest, there's no going to be any profound meaning to the red panda. It could have been any animal. I just like red pandas.
Mad Meg Askevron: I congratulate you on your good taste.
Karina Gomez: Nope. No Tohru/Kyo…I don't think. It is possible. But there are so many of those out there…SO MANY…(twitches) Well, there's Rin/Haru. But I bet you already guessed that. Anyone who is hoping this story ends with a hot makeout session please leave the room immediately. (watches as majority of readers leave the room)
Yabun: Ice cream, fanfiction…it's basically the same, except eating your computer screen usually results in severe electrocution and chipped teeth. Don't ask how I know that. When I looked over your review to reply to it, I felt slightly bad I didn't write more about Tohru in this chapter. 10 seconds later, I got over it. If it's any comfort, there will be far more actually-happening in the next chapter. This chapter was to weave it all together before the main event…and the plot bunnies won't tell me what's going on. Damn plot bunnies.
Moonlit Maiden: Yay, you're good at figuring out where I steal things from. NO DOUGHNUT FOR YOU! I am incredibly sick of seeing all the Mary-Sue fics where the author's character turns into a Fox or Wolf. I hate Mary-Sues. More than that, I hate extremely dull Mary-Sues. THAT MEANS YOU! (stabs OC writer in the crowd) Seriously, it's always Fox or Wolf…(twitches. Whirls and stabs another OC writer) YOU TOO, TWINKIE! Ah…anyway…I'm glad you like it. KILL THE MARY-SUES! I'm calm now. Really.
Dark Inu Fan: The clothes are still shredded on the forest floor somewhere. Animals can't cry. They suffer without tears. Don't ask silly questions.