By Maiji/Mary Huang
can't quite land
on that blade of grass.
A sweet, pure wind blew through the valley, sending the trees into a rustling, oceanic orchestra in the pale light of morning. The fields, usually full of mischievous laughter, were quiet today. Among the sea of green, two dark forms: a pair of small figures crouching, barely hidden by the tall, swaying grass.
"Wow, look at that one!"
Whispered awe, the way only a child could.
"He's beautiful …!"
A billion pairs of delighted red eyes reflected in the shining facets of the insect's enormous, jewelled eyes. Lacy, long wings folded delicately over its turquoise back, the insect swaying gently with the blade of grass.
"I bet he's the king of the tombo," the boy whispered, eyes gleaming. "Nobody's ever caught one this big, not even Tatsuo!"
"Yeah," the smaller, younger girl breathed. They continued to watch in silence, neither daring to make the first move. Finally, the girl leaned forward slightly, entranced by the closeness of the dragonfly's glittery form. Unconsciously, she shifted her leg.
A twig snapped.
The tombo twitched at the sound, wings fanning out in an eyeblink, springing from the blade of grass and vanishing like a dream into the pale blue.
"Aw, no!" The boy jumped to his feet. He scanned the clear sky briefly, futilely, then kicked the ground in disappointment. "He got away!"
The girl watched, wide-eyed. Would they ever see another dragonfly like that one again?
"I don't believe you!"
"It's true! I saw it with my own eyes! I think … I think you're just jealous."
"Well, if you go there, maybe you'll see a ghost too! Don't be scared."
"Who said I was scared!"
Darkness fell, and with it, curiosity filled to overflowing. After dinner, after making sure no one was paying attention, the little girl wandered out on her own. The wind whistled in her ears, tickled her face and sleeves.
The familiar fields were like a different place at night. Tonight, there was only the wind; only the wind, and her pounding young heart. Even the crickets were quiet; had they too fled?
The further she made her way through the long grass, the harder it was to take steps forward. She wanted to look back, to see the warm lamplight from the hut, but she was afraid to look back. There was a feeling of something there, something that had followed her … and she didn't want to confirm it.
You're so over-imaginative …
If she didn't look back, it wasn't there –
From nowhere in the dark, a face. Dark and red, with ferocious eyes and long, glinting teeth, inches from her own.
A terrified shriek filled the air.
"'KASAN! Mother! Mother!"
Screams, loud and piercing, then shaking, wavering, lowering. A pause, as the clay ogre mask fell to the ground with a muffled thud, overlapped by the boy's laughter.
"Stupid … poopyhead …"
A mumbling voice, thick with sleep. "I'm going … to get … you …"
"I didn't know you were going to scream so loud."
Silence. Fidgeting. A glare.
"... I'm really sorry." He rubbed his backside.
A faint nod. A half-hearted apology, a hard-earned one. She accepted it with equal half-heartedness, since it had been achieved through parental interference. Pride had been wounded on both sides.
Relieved, he dashed into the next room. "Can I please, pleeeease go now?"
There was pleading, then delight at the response. She sat by the window, her face wiped of emotion, staring in silence into the fields behind the hut. She could hear him grabbing his things, scrambling off, calling to his friends outside. Then, a howl of dismay.
A half-smile broke across her lips. Soft cackling was stifled into a hiccup.
His shoes had been filled with fat, juicy earthworms.
The woman giggled as she dreamed, stretching her limbs across the black river of hair. She wiggled her toes – as though digging into a soft, muddy field – and shifted in her bed."I have to go now." It was barely dawn, but he was already dressed and packed, everything neatly in place. She still hadn't gotten used to his new punctuality, his efficient movement – but most of all, she still hadn't gotten used to his hair, cropped so short in the military fashion.
Polished black boots hesitated at the door. "I, I'm sorry I couldn't stay long –"
"Don't keep them waiting," she interrupted him. "Sensei is patient, but you know how Kentarou gets." Red eyes met in silence. He nodded; understanding, gratitude for her forcing him to make it brief and unsentimental.
"So long, imouto." He turned crisply, walking out the door, out into the fields, away from the village to where the carriage waited. The sky, still drowsy, was a hazy amber, and his dark uniform made a striking contrast in the weak morning light. All too soon he faded from view.
You went to see the world …
I was a little jealous … but …
"I … I miss …"
The little girl ran through the fields. Something wasn't right. It was dark and quiet, and there wasn't even a wind. Did such a thing ever happen in Katsuragi? A tower had appeared out of nowhere, enormous gnarled roots growing from deep within the earth. She could see a strange, unnatural light at its roof.
She furrowed her brow in her sleep.
The air began to stir, and even against the dark sky she could see darker clouds looming, swirling, a storm encircling the tower. The wind came alive, carrying a chaos of dead branches, leaves – and her – towards the light.
She struggled to escape, but it was as though she were a bird caught in a hurricane. Soon she found herself hovering in the sky, overlooking the tower.
Its roof was carved with runes, intricate symbols cut and flayed into its stone flesh. A snowy-haired man stood in the center, a mocking expression on his face. The light thrummed around him. At his feet were three others, not quite dead.
A Chinese sage, his beautiful robes a vivid red – not only from the dyed fabric, but also from his own blood. A second figure was coughing harshly, crimson drops flooding into the cracks of the stone.
The third was nearly on his knees. His military coat was battered and stained, but his eyes were as fiery as when the battle first began.
"O … onisan …"
"Why do you still resist?" The white-haired warlock shook his head in amusement. "Your pathetic attempts only prolong your suffering. This world is mine."
"As long as I am standing," the other man spat, "you will never even take Shanghai."
The familiar scene unravelled painfully before her eyes; she was a helpless, ghostly witness to the tragedy she already knew.
"When the god is summoned, you must …"
"I cannot …"
"You will –"
A blaze of searing white fire, the scream of a spirit being ripped out of the earth. Red feathers drowned the sky – and in the next instant, she felt the sword piercing flesh and bone, as though it had speared her own heart.
She opened her eyes.
Her heart was pounding, almost exploding out of her chest; she could feel its desperate beating echoing in all of her veins. But to outsiders, it had all the appearance of a calm awakening; she never screamed from her dreams. Not for many years; not since her childhood.
She stared blankly at the smooth ceiling, collecting her thoughts and willing her heart to slow and stabilize. Gentle light flowed into the room, spilling over her and bathing the elegant bedchamber. Birds twittered just outside the open window. She sat up sharply, swinging her legs to the side of the bed and pulling the sheets aside. She began to dress, efficiently as always.
There was a knock at the door. "… Lady Saki?"
"I am already awake," she replied, tying back her black tresses. She eyed her reflection in the mirror. As always, a serene face with intense crimson eyes stared back. It had been hard at the beginning, to fit into such a calm role when her blood screamed something else, but now it was second nature. Almost. "Is something the matter?"
"It … well …" Hesitation. "They simply wish for your wisdom in settling a conflict."
"Another one?" Saki muttered to herself. "When did this village become so … so petty?" Aloud, she called, "I shall be there shortly. Please tell them to relax."
"Of course, Lady Saki." Fading footsteps.
She affixed the peony to her hair, then tugged at her sleeves to straighten them before turning to leave the room.
As I thought. Another foolish dispute.
It had been a simple enough matter to resolve – preparing for the harvest. A small discussion regarding the fields to be cleared first had escalated into a furious argument. It was ridiculous, considering the village had always done it the same way every year; it was a decision of both tradition and common sense.
Saki stood at her usual place upon the rocky platform, surrounded by the churning Fountain of Sukune. She faced the flowing waterfall, feeling the light spray against her face, her eyes closed and in deep thought.
Inugami Village has always been so peaceful. A clear eye in the storm of the world. Where did this angry spirit come from? Once would have been easy to overlook, but then there's been all those other pointless incidents. At least none have yet evolved to anything physical … Oh, I wish I could just pound some sense back into them!
She squinted one eye open to look at the ceremonial fan clutched in her right hand, and giggled – somewhat manically – at the image of the Inugami leader slapping villagers silly with the sacred instrument. Then she covered her mouth with her sleeve and coughed delicately, in case anyone were listening.
No, no … that's the wrong way to go about it … as fun as it might be.
She shook her head. Something is definitely amiss. This village, sitting over one of Japan's key ley lines, imbued with the divine presence of the Fountain of Sukune – it is inherently sensitive to the spiritual flow of the world. This must be causing the tension in the village.
There was slight scuffling behind her, then a whistling, uncertain whine. She turned to see Matsunaga's silhouette against the grotto entrance, his thick, tawny fur rippling against the light breeze. The solidly-built animal settled onto his haunches, watching her quietly, ears up, eyes alert.
At least someone else recognizes a disturbance. Saki nodded lightly in the guardian beast's direction, acknowledging and approving his presence.
These latest incidents …
And my dreams …
It's been a long time since I've wandered that field.
All those memories in these past few weeks …
She opened her eyes and gazed at the powerful waterfall that fed the Fountain.
… All culminating to last night. That final part … that was more than fifteen years ago! Why that, and not Tatsuo's more recent passing? I've known … regret …in my dreams, but that was for the memory and the knowledge of what happened – it was never the same actual vision, the one I saw in the Fountain on that day –
Her eyes narrowed. Why has the Holy Mirror itself not given any warnings?
A graceful sweep, one fluid motion, and soft rustling of silk as Saki raised the fan and clasped it to her chest. She bowed her head briefly, then stepped forward, swinging the fan in a slow arc over her head. Moving to an inaudible rhythm, she turned and twirled, her hair and robes swirling in the air in the ritual dance, a prayer for the Holy Mirror to grant its sight into the world beyond.
At last, Saki completed the dance, bowing low, the waterfall behind her, waiting for it to shed its enlightening vision on her.
An eternity passed. The Fountain bubbled and frothed, but its waters remained clear.
Saki frowned. She got to her feet, turned to the waterfall again. Again, the ceremonial bow as she re-attempted the dance. She concentrated intensely, focussing the gift given to her as a legitimate successor of the Inugami. When it was done, she lowered her head expectantly.
Once more. The bow. The sweep. Every step, every turn, choreographed perfectly and properly according to the divination ritual. But as she neared the end, her body close to the ground, she still felt nothing.
The waters flowed serenely, tranquil. Nothing is wrong. All is as it should be. Everything is alright.
"No, everything is NOT alright, you stupid Mirror," she snarled, clambering to her feet gracelessly. The urge to snap the fan in two and hurl it at the waterfall was almost overwhelming. Her grip on the instrument tightened with aggravation –
dignity, dignity, as always. The wolf's presence reminded her of the need to maintain appearances. Saki breathed in and out, trying to regain her composure. "Thank you, Matsunaga," she finally managed, a pleasant smile on her face. She returned her attention to the fountain, overlooking the fact that her words had been practically hissed out of her gritted teeth.
The wolf shrank back slightly, blinking nervously. He scratched his neck, then continued to watch the Inugami leader as she pondered, considering her options.
If the Fountain of Sukune won't spill (he he, Saki applauded her own cleverness), then there's nothing I can do about it. She tapped her chin thoughtfully. I should confer with the elders. Perhaps something like this has happened in the past, from far before my time …? Maybe I'm being too paranoid; after all, nothing especially troubling has occurred, but then again, as Tatsuo liked to say, it's always best to act while there is still room to breathe- Saki picked up her pace, striding over the stones towards the exit, still deep in thought. God, when did I become so wishy-washy?
A deep growl.
She looked up instinctively. The wolf was up on all fours now, tail and fur bristling, eyes angry and feral. Saki's own eyes darted left and right, but she saw nothing. The air, however, was suddenly tense with an invisible electricity.
"Matsunaga," she said sharply. "What's wrong?" What do his senses see?
In response, he snarled, then snapped up into the air, barking viciously in every direction. Every direction of the fountain's waters.
The fountain's waters.
It was as though layers upon layers of paper were being peeled back, each sheet dissolving into itself in a boiling vat. Under the placid waters of the fountain, the true face of the Mirror was unveiled – liquid black lava, the darkest void that appears after the Holy Mirror has divulged a most unfavourable omen.
In a matter of seconds, an onslaught of realizations.
Illusion. An illusion.
Idiot, idiot, it was trying to tell me all along –
The village disputes, the reawakened dreams, the obsolete visions –
Prevented from showing her anything new, it had reached back into what she had already seen –
Those had been the Mirror's warnings.
Like a low wind escalating into a sudden roar, the void stretched out towards her, long fingers of darkness engulfing her in an instant. Beyond, like a swiftly fading thought, she could hear Matsunaga baying frantically, searching for the Lady Saki in the tainted waters of Sukune.
Author's Notes: This was the character intro for a cross-universe RP game I was participating in (at RandomInsanity forums) over winter break 2004. The rest of the story makes very little sense without the context of the other posts, so I'm just posting snippets of the preparation work I did to try to make a cohesive story. The next few "chapters" here are vignettes, flashbacks I wrote to flesh out Saki's background and the personal history of the Hyuga family.
I love Saki and the possibilities of her story. She's a strong character, and without a doubt every bit as intriguing as her brother and nephew.
Tatsuo is the name I gave to Saki's deceased (and nameless) husband.
Originally I had a few lines from Growing Wings (vocal theme of the Square Enix game Drakengard) because they fit the imagery I wanted, but I've removed them D I heard there were some issues regarding the use of song lyrics on so I decided to play it safe. :B Doesn't affect the story too much, since it was mostly used as a moodsetter and an aid to help separate parts of the dream sequence. XD;