AN: This is the 2015 revised version of the one-shot I wrote in 2005. Hope the edits will make this a better read. Enjoy!
Please be aware that this one-shot is part of my Motoko/Keitaro series and takes place during the time skip between Another Promise and Forgotten Promise. The series deviates from canon from the point when Naru was accepted into Toudai, but here, Keitaro still failed.
Disclaimer: I do not own Love Hina or any of its characters used in this story.
Background: Motoko and Keitaro have overcome many obstacles. With Naru's departure, the two have finally begun their romantic relationship, but will things change when an island carrying their past resurfaces into their lives?
A woman in white and red sprinted along the forest path, her tatami sandals tapping lightly on the moist ground with each agile step. Her keen eyes gazed forward, sword hand clutching the katana hilt, ready to unsheathe its blade. The wind's whispers were familiar. The same sword, the same soul, all here at the same land of twenty years ago.
"The demon is near. I feel its aura," Aoyama Takeo muttered as he stared off into the distance. His newborn daughter was crying. His wife pleaded for him to stay. But he knew he could not protect them from here. Taking his sword, he cast his family dojo one last glance before running down the steep steps into the deep valley below.
But Aoyama Tsuruko would not sit waiting. Though just a young child of twelve, she was determined to follow her father's lead. This was their home. She could not stand idly while it was under danger.
"Mother..." she muttered, staring up to her parent. The elder woman remained speechless for a while, but eventually stood.
"We'll go too. We'll go wherever your father goes," she said.
The plains seemed endless as they treaded on, their only guide the dinted vegetation marking Takeo's trail. They finally broke through the grassland by the last light of dusk. There, standing on the deserted beach beneath the skies streaked pink and gold, was his shadow. His heavy steps landed on the sandbar reaching into a large body of water. He stopped, turned, his face partially obscured by strands of his hair blown across by the wind. All Tsuruko could see were his eyes.
"Do not follow me further. I will be back, I promise," he said before disappearing into the distance.
The canopies thinned, the earth by her feet bare. Light shone on her sharp features, no longer obstructed by leaves. Only few withering trees remained standing on this barren land. The air smelled acidic. It did not take a trained demon-slayer to detect this presence - the aura she previously sensed grew so powerful it hindered her very steps forward. Yet, she only gripped her katana harder, lowered her stance, and...
It was night. The woman cared for her newborn as her elder daughter tended to the fire. The flames were flickering madly in the wind, the orange glow dancing across their faces. Tsuruko looked into the distance from where her father had disappeared, now covered in an unnatural crimson mist.
"Father said it's a demon," Tsuruko muttered. Her baby sister was crying, but neither warmth nor food nor her mother's kind words were bringing her comfort.
The skies were suddenly lighted by lightning, revealing a dark island in the middle of the water, connected to the beach by the sandbar. Red vapors radiated upwards from the island's dark forests, causing the baby girl to cry even louder.
"Would father be alright?" she asked. She knew the answer before her mother said anything. She read the older woman's hesitation succumb to her worries.
"I shall go to your father. He is in danger."
"Take us with you!"
"No, this is too dangerous. I can't..."
"Mother, we are the Children of Shinmeiryuu. We live to protect. We'll have no meaning of remaining alive shall we fail our own parents!"
"You do not understand, Tsuruko. This is not something you can fight."
"Then why is it that Father and you have taught me to wield this sword? If I cannot use it, wouldn't that make it a mere toy?"
The woman lowered her gaze.
"I will not be able to ensure your safety."
"Neither could Father when he left us behind. Neither can you when you leave us behind. Please. Let us come with you."
The rock where she had stood a moment earlier shattered and flew, the ground charred by lightning. She dodged through more flashes. A sickle of light zoomed towards her, but she lunged, drawing her sword.
Rain poured onto their muddy faces as mother and child ran. The water surface became scarred with waves that slapped upon the sides of the sandbar. Claps of thunder, torrents of downpour, streaks of lightning blazed the violet skies. From here, they could hear the clashing of metal against metal, human ki against demon power. With each clash was a light, blinding even the heavens. They stood and watched against the wind.
Her katana sliced the sickle cleanly in two. More flew towards her, but she leapt from one to another, using them as a staircase. With one last leap, she landed onto the arm of a giant, meeting the hells that had just opened: its glowing red eyes.
"Die!" she cried, running up the arm towards its shoulder. Her katana gleamed in the sunlight, ki whipping down its silvery length. She hacked it down onto the monster's neck.
"Mother..." Tsuruko muttered, gripping onto the woman's sleeve. Her baby sister was still crying, her voice loud against the clashes of metal that had yet to cease.
Then, a scream, a spurt of blood...
The storm paused. All was silent. The woman gripped her child's hand, their hearts linked in prayer.
But there was no answer.
"Takeo...Takeo..." the woman called. No response.
Tsuruko knew something was wrong.
The woman kneeled before her daughter, placing her newborn in her hands.
"Take care of Motoko for me."
"No! Mother, you can't leave us...you can't leave us!"
"I'll be back with your father. I promise."
She didn't want to accept this. She didn't want to believe in some faraway promise. She just wanted her parents back.
But all she could do was to nod to the woman's last smile, wishing that somehow, if they made this promise, it would be fulfilled.
"Un. It is a promise then."
Her eyes widened. The monster's claw had skewered her.
It flung her loose. She fell ten feet onto hard dirt, blood drops scattering into the wind.
She closed her eyes. She remembered...
That promise from twenty years ago...
Was never kept.
Spring Special: Path of Promises
"Tur...Tur...Turtle!" A loud scream emitted from the ancient inn on the outskirts of town, causing all the crows to fly off and thin branches to shudder. It was another typical day at Hinata Springs, autumn leaves drifting and falling upon hot spring pools to create ripples on the water, warm mist clouding olden paths of polished stone on which the townspeople came and went.
"Motoko-chan? Wait for me, I'm coming!"
Upon hearing the scream, a man of messy brown hair rushed down the inn's halls, the tape holding together lens and frame nearly fell off as his glasses bobbed violently up and down with his hurried steps. The dark-skinned girl sitting in front of him did not seem to have caught on his urgency, continuing to peel and gobble bananas at mach 3 speed. As usual, the man's observational skills were lacking. While he managed to avoid collision with the girl, his evasion only caused him to land onto a mass of banana peels, making him slide uncontrollably down the staircase.
"What the? Is this the new Hinatasou amusement park or something?" Kitsune was still in her pajamas when she peeked out her bedroom with a pair of perpetually squinty eyes. Shinobu, who was at the bottom of the stairs, wasn't so lucky. She could only gape in horror when the man crashed into her.
Shinobu's cake exploded upon impact, sending cream flying everywhere. While Shinobu lay on the floor, knocked unconscious, the man continued tumbling through the sliding doors and out into the hot springs.
A splash of water erupted in a mushroom cloud. The woman, whose scream had started this whole commotion, forgot about the chase she had with the resident turtle. She grabbed the white gi beside her, clothed herself, and glared into the hot mist that eventually parted to reveal the face of her kanrinrin.
"Motoko-chan, are you alright?" the man stumbled towards her. In his weak state, he tripped, fell, and fell right onto her. The gi went flying. His hand clutched her naked breast. Her blush deepened.
"Urashima..." the woman muttered, her tone shaking will killing intent.
The inn residents stared into the sky, taking their guess at where their kanrinrin would land this time.
Yep, this sounded like another ordinary day at Hinatasou, Keitaro somehow entangled with a naked girl, Motoko (who wouldn't ever admit to being his girlfriend despite it being an open secret) sending him into lower Earth orbit. Kitsune would comment like a pro, praising the perfect trajectory with which Keitaro traveled through the sky, while Kaolla would busily calculate a mathematical expression to describe his path. Maybe only Shinobu still felt sorry for him, then again, she was well aware Keitaro the Immortal would eventually return, with maybe just a mini blood geyser opened atop his head.
But the incident today wasn't quite over yet...
The turtle chase was still on. Right after sending Keitaro flying, Motoko was starkly reminded of her unresolved predicament. She once again splashed through the springs, madly chopping through the air with her sword. Like always, Tama-chan was actually behind her. No wonder this cycle just never ended.
"Don't worry, Motoko, I'll catch it and boil it for lunch!" Kaolla exclaimed.
"Tama-chan isn't food!" Shinobu complained.
"Isn't it nice to be young..." Kitsune tipped her head and smiled at the sun.
It was then that a giant shadow cast over them. Kitsune was first to spot the bird, larger than any she had ever seen, with a wingspan easily three men's height. Its descent brought such a strong wind that Tama-chan was thrown into the spring waters, cutting short Motoko's chase.
Everyone crowded around Motoko as she approached the bird. Upon seeing her, the bird lifted a single talon to show the note that was tied onto it.
"Is this a message for Senpai?" Shinobu asked.
"It must be a secret love letter from the boss of the Allied Yakuza of Kansai," Kitsune said with a snicker.
"Must be the long-lost recipe for extra extra spicy curry if you ask me!" Kaolla chimed in.
Motoko didn't even bother rolling her eyes at their nonsense, just calmly removing the note to read it. But upon doing so, her expression darkened. Kitsune lost her silly smile, peering over and asking if Motoko was alright. Shinobu and Kaolla were equally concerned.
"This is an emergency," she said, rushing back to her room. There, she changed into her white gi and red hakama, grabbed both the Youtou Hina and the Sakabatou, and hurriedly left town.
Keitaro ran down the street, blood still streaming down his face from the gash on his forehead. It had been a hard fall this time, but he had no time to recuperate after receiving Kitsune's text.
"Ha...ha..." he panted, doubling over after finally catching up to the rest of the girls, "...where...where is Motoko-chan?"
"Senpai got a message from home and left immediately. She said it was an emergency," Shinobu answered.
"Probably Kyoto then," Kitsune said, "Keitaro, you know how to get to her home dojo, right?"
Keitaro nodded, hardly able to answer anymore, but he still pushed himself to walk forward, presumably towards the train station.
"Hey, Keitaro, wait up!" Kitsune called after him, but he didn't stop.
"I...I can't...I have to help Motoko-chan..."
"Then we're going the same way!" Kaolla said. Taking out a remote control from nowhere, she pressed a button, then the ground in front of Keitaro erupted, revealing a giant mechanical turtle in his path.
"Alright everyone, come aboard! Mecha Tama version 9.95 ready to launch!"
Kitsune hopped on without another thought. Shinobu wanted to hesitate, but seeing at it couldn't be helped, she boarded after Kitsune, then extended her hand to Keitaro with a smile.
"Everyone..." Keitaro muttered. Kitsune grinned.
"You can't be thinking of helping Motoko-chan all by yourself, eh? She may be your girlfriend, but..."
"Ki...Kitsune-san!" Keitaro exclaimed with a heavy blush on his face. They all laughed while they launched off into the skies.
Only after they were in mid-air did Shinobu remember to ask, "Kaolla-san...you do have a permit for flying this, right?"
Motoko stood under the red-lit skies. There should be no reason for her to remember this place, this beach facing the resurfaced demon island mentioned in the note from Shinmeiryuu. But she did remember, the night twenty years ago that had claimed both her parents' lives - now, this island had claimed another of her family: her sister.
Tsuruko had come to investigate the island two weeks ago. She had not returned.
She set her feet onto the sandbar leading towards the island, but before she could walk on, she heard voices behind her.
"You aren't going to Banana Island without me, Motoko!"
"She's not going there for the bananas, Kaolla-san. Wait, are there bananas there?"
"The bananas are plotting to destroy the world."
"Stop joking, Kitsune-san!"
Motoko turned around to see her friends running towards her.
"Everyone...and...Keitaro, you too..."
"Of course!" Kitsune pounded Keitaro's back to send him flying into Motoko's arms, "What good is your boyfriend if he doesn't come to your rescue?"
"He...he isn't...we aren't...what are you saying in front of Shinobu-chan and Kaolla-chan, Kitsune-san!?"
Shinobu scratched her face, "It really is no secret, Senpai..."
"What's not a secret?" Kaolla asked. Shinobu just sighed.
"Anyway, I came looking for you after receiving Kitsune-san's text about how you ran off on your own. What happened?" Keitaro asked. Motoko narrowed her gaze and turned back towards the distance where the shadows of the dark island lay ahead.
"I've been here before when I was very young, with Ane-ue, and...Haha-ue too..." Motoko whispered. There was silence after as everyone took note of the sadness in Motoko's eyes. Needless to say, they now knew the reason why Motoko had never mentioned her mother before.
"And whatever happened then...is happening again now?" Keitaro asked. Motoko nodded.
"Yes. My sister has disappeared after heading onto the island. I came to save her."
Tsuruko's eyes opened slowly, a piercing pain in her shoulder jolting her awake. She was in a cave on the island, bounded by sharp vines digging into her flesh to draw blood. Outside the tavern was the storm demon she had been fighting earlier - the one that had taken her parents' lives to seal.
It had been sealed, that she was sure of. Twenty years ago, the island had collapsed when Tsuruko's parents had cast the spell. The demon should've been stripped of its powers.
But how did it resurrect? Tsuruko glanced out into the darkening skies. The moon was rising - the full moon.
Just like that time when she was still a child.
"You had adsorbed the moon's powers?" Tsuruko muttered to the demon. It turned towards her and cracked a smile.
"You are not as stupid as I thought, Human. You shall make a good sacrifice for the revival of my power tonight. Wait until the moon has reached its height and I will drink your blood dry, hahahaha" the demon laughed. Tsuruko grit her teeth.
"Even in my death I shall haunt you, till I rid this land of your evil."
"Say what you want. I'll not only eat you, but the rest of those insects of your kind coming this way."
It was then that Tsuruko could finally spot it, the ki in the distance so ever familiar to her. She struggled against the binds, no longer accepting of her fate. She did not fear death. But she would not allow her loved ones to fall prey to this monster!
The demon, though, only sneered at her, "Oh, so there is your kin amongst them?"
"You will not dare!" She cursed. It laughed.
"Hahahaha...I shall savour her last, just before you, so you can watch me peel her skin and drink from her veins before your very eyes!"
They were greeted by a green forest once they set foot on the island, but the deeper they ventured, the greater Motoko's unease was. She kept her hands on the Youtou Hina, her eyes sweeping the expanse. There was something heavy in the air. Danger was drawing near.
Motoko's steps stopped. In a low voice, she muttered, "This is getting very dangerous. Keitaro, please take Kitsune-san, Shinobu-chan, and Kaolla-chan with you and go back where you came from."
"Forget it, Motoko. As an adult, I can't let you do this alone," Kitsune replied, earning a quirk of Motoko's eyebrow. Who wasn't an adult here?
"Umm...I...I would like to help too!" Shinobu raised her frying pan. Kaolla patted her shoulder in approval.
"Me three! It's too late to ditch us, Motoko!"
Motoko shook her head. "Please..." she pleaded, but just as Kaolla said, it really was too late. Right at that moment, a flicker caught her eyes. She pushed back Kaolla while leaping forward to meet the incoming attack.
"Motoko-chan!" Keitaro cried after her. Motoko was met with a crescent blade of light, which she managed to slash apart, but dozens more came her way, forcing her to weave in and out between their paths.
"This is a trap," Kitsune muttered. Keitaro nodded in agreement. Kaolla didn't seem too concerned though, whipping out some of her numerous weapons to distribute amongst her companions.
"This shall be no problem with my latest invention, the Portable Mecha-Tama Limited Edition!" she yelled. As a light blade came her way, she dodged to the side and demonstrated the use of her mechanical mini-turtle gun. With a light squeeze on its metal shell, a flare of electric energy escaped the turtle's mouth, nullifying all the attacks coming their way from a hundred meters away. Shinobu and Kitsune nodded in awe.
Meanwhile, Motoko ran further into the woods, Keitaro struggling to catch up. Finally, they broke through into a rocky barren with nothing but the moonlit sky overhead. There was a stale smell of death in the air. Still, Motoko turned back and smiled.
She detached the sakabatou from her sash and threw it at Keitaro, who finally caught it after it bounced off several times from his palms.
"You'll need it," she said, "Survive like you always do, okay?"
"Of course. We made a promise before, right?"
"Motoko, I'll never leave you again. It is a promise."
The promise under flying sakura petals...she would never forget it in her life.
She nodded. Her heart was still pounding hard, but it was from her determination, not fear. She knew she would survive, everyone would survive, because they all had a promise to keep, a home to return to.
"I remember, Kanrinrin-san. I'll always remember."
They walked upslope towards where lightning was striking the top of a rocky pinnacle. Here, the bare trees were twisted like they were corroded. The air was thick with miasma - it was hard to breathe. In its midst was the storm demon, stepping up towards them. It recognized her. The baby from twenty years ago. The child of the ones who had once sealed it. Power flowed from her blood. It could not wait to devour her!
"You've come for this one?" the demon gestured towards Tsuruko who remained pinned to the rocks. Motoko glared at it, but her breathing remained strong and steady.
"I've come for your life," she declared.
She stepped up, then broke into a run. She drew her sword, infusing it with ki, turning black metal into light. But she just held it to her side, waiting her chance. The demon was amused. When she came within range, it slashed its claws towards her, but she just dodged, jumped, brought her blade up, ready to slash.
The roar of thunder, the light of electricity - she hurled it all at the youkai, but the ki blasted harmlessly off the demon's hide. It moved to the side, spitting bright sickles at them in retaliation. Motoko managed to dodge, but Keitaro was finding it much more difficult. When one such sickle was about to hit him, all he could do was to close his eyes and hold out the sakabatou in anticipation of its impact. But miraculously, the sickle splintered and faded upon touching his blade.
Motoko stared. Did Keitaro just...purify the demonic aura?
"Don't just dodge, Keitaro! Hit them with your sword!" Motoko shouted.
Keitaro nodded, flipping the sakabatou over in his palms so that the sharp blade now faced the enemy - such was his conviction of bringing it down. Trying his best to remember the things he learned from Seta-san, Keitaro slashed at the sickles with brute strength, and somehow, they all blasted apart before him.
"Fools! The best you can do is counter my attacks! There is no way you can defeat me!" the demon roared. Motoko leapt onto its arm and gathered her ki, once again. If one time was not enough, she would try twice. If twice wasn't enough, she would try thrice! There was no way she would back down now!
"Hiken, Zantetsusen!" Motoko yelled, the ki she released was so strong the air around it seared with heat. The bright energy struck the demon's neck, but it barely made a scratch!
"Take this! Urashima attack!" Keitaro also hacked the sakabatou at the demon's foot. His purification energy glowed a violent violet, but it too left only a thin mark on the demon's toe!
"Hahahahahaha...I'm invincible!" the demon screamed, its entire body glowing blue from the lightning that had gathered around it. It turned towards the pair. "Now go die!"
It slammed its body to the ground. The land beneath them shook, rocks shredding apart like paper. The lightning blast that had hit them sent them flying off a couple meters. Keitaro pulled Motoko into his embrace mid-air and shielded her from the hard landing.
There was a huge thud. It was a miracle that Keitaro didn't break any bones, but that did not stop him from being charred and dazed.
"Keitaro!" Motoko screamed his name.
"I'm okay...Motoko-chan...I'm immortal..." Keitaro whispered. It took him a moment, but he rose again with his sword as support. Motoko couldn't bear seeing him like this. She turned, about to charge towards the demon once more, but she was stopped by a voice - her sister's voice.
"Motoko, Keitaro, combine your forces. Use your ultimate attack," Tsuruko muttered.
Motoko finally understood. It wasn't that they couldn't match the demon in power...
They had just been doing it wrong.
They depended solely on themselves, even when they had each other all along.
"Slash at me, Keitaro..." Motoko muttered, her eyes gleaming with strong will.
"But...what if...what if I..."
"Trust me. It's not just you who has made a promise. I also have a promise to keep."
Keitaro was stunned, but he believed in her words. He believed in their promise: the promise he made to Akiko on the roof of Hinata, the promise he made to Motoko at the JR station. He made many promises in his life, some he didn't keep, some he couldn't keep. But still, there were promises that continued to mean a lot to him, and while he could not guarantee that they would for sure be fulfilled, he intended to try his very best.
These promises were his hope. He lived for them.
"Here I go," Keitaro called, draining all his power into his blade. He watched his most beloved woman with his very eyes even as he slashed at her, knowing she wouldn't fail, not on him.
"Hiken, Fuujin Ranbu!" Motoko cried, slashing down her katana in a perfect arc. The ki around her formed a whirlwind, pulling and weaving in Keitaro's powers. Motoko felt their combined forces on the Youtou Hina. She heard the sword's soul pulse with her heartbeat. There it was...her final attack.
"Shinmeiryuu Kessen Ougi, Shinmeiken!" Motoko's voice thundered. The five elements answered her call - running waters, blowing winds, blazing fires, swaying trees, all on the cold kiss of her metal blade. The enormous ki ripped through the length of the sword to be released in a thrust that drilled through the demon's flesh. In a blinding light, it disintegrated, only the echo of its last cry could be heard fading into the midnight air.
Motoko collapsed onto the ground, panting for breath as sweat dripped down her back. Kitsune, Shinobu and Kaolla finally arrived, running towards them.
"Motoko, you alright?"
"I'm fine. Please tend to my sister. She's in pain..." Motoko answered Shinobu and Kitsune. They nodded and ran into the tavern to free Tsuruko.
"We must be off quick. The island will collapse soon," Tsuruko warned when they cut her binds to set her free. Kaolla just grinned.
"Well, well, well, guess how we got here in the first place..."
"Kaolla-san, I think it might be a good idea to first knock Motoko-senpai unconscious before doing this..."
"Wow, what's gotten into you, Shinobu-chan? How violent!" Kitsune answered.
But when Kaolla summoned her giant mecha-tama and Motoko's face turned grey, they all agreed that Shinobu's idea might not be so bad after all.
Unfortunately for Motoko, this was her only choice. But considering Keitaro held her hand the whole way back, maybe it wasn't so bad in the end.
The sun soon rose again, dyeing the skies a warm red, violet, and orange. The island crumbled into the waves, but the sandbar was still there, its golden length lying peacefully on the water surface.
This will always be...
Their path of promises.
- End -