A/N- Here is my first RK fanfiction. For those who are familiar with the other stories I've posted, please don't be disappointed in how short the chapters might feel in this story. That's just how the cookie crumbles.
I wouldn't consider this story excessively fantasy driving, it just has that feel to it so that's why I classified it as that, sort of fairytale-ish.
Disclaimer: How it pains me to admit that the marvelous characters of Rurouni Kenshin do not belong to me. However that does not prevent me from manipulating their world.
Summary: Legends speak of a fearsome creature living on the forbidden mountain. Escaping into its domain, one woman will discover just how real a legend can be.
Escape to the Forbidden Mountain
She lay where she fell, unmoving, the faint breath of life within her the only proof that she was not a part of the snow covered landscape. A few passing critters paused to sniff the lump of cloth and flesh, alert and uncertain when they detected the distinct scent of human. Hours passed, but it was on the dawning of the next day that she finally stirred. Powdered snow clung to her raven hair, her ivory skin frosted white hiding the once rosy cheeks of a once healthy young woman.
The shine had long since faded from her sapphire eyes and she willed them to focus on the ground beneath her numb hands. Seeing the blue tinge of her slender fingers brought sharp awareness of her desperate plight. She wanted to sleep, more than anything she wanted to give in to the weakness saturating her limbs and fall into blessed painless sleep. But to sleep was to die.
By the will to live she was standing on trembling legs and by the will to survive, she walked. She had lost her shoes two or three days before and wrapped cloth around her torn and injured feet. Even this cloth was beginning to tear free and she walked with a shuffling limp because the numbness of the cold eliminated the pain, leaving only the stiffness of weakened, dying extremities.
There was not another soul for miles to look upon her misery, to wonder why someone so young and once beautiful was struggling so fiercely against an inevitable death. There was no one to save her and she had ceased to hope for such. If the snows of winter did not claim her, the not so distant past would. But as long as her heart beat within her, she would not surrender.
Time could have passed quickly or slowly, but her steps continued to shuffle, her breath rasping from blue crystal lips, her dull eyes open but unfocused in the direction she faced. She stumbled on a tree root hidden in the deep drifts and the ground rushed up to embrace her. Soft puffs of white fluffed into the air as she crumpled into the snow.
Her breath escaped her with a shudder and she lay limp, empty of strength. I have no more strength. I cannot stand. I cannot walk. There is no more hope.
Even as she understood this, her fading gaze snapped into focus on the distant horizon. Is that…is it possible…no. It is only a vision taunting me in my final hour.
Get up! You cannot die here! You cannot die! You cannot die!
Her body moved as if by its own volition and she stood. Suddenly she realized the vision was not fading but getting closer with each forced step. For the first time in many days, hope blossomed in her heart that she might live just a little longer.
It stood before her dark and sullen, solitary in a small meadow surrounded by the ever silent, ever forgiving forest. In her eyes it was heaven, a sanctuary created out of the fabric of fantasy for her alone. It's amazing what a spark of hope can do for the defeated. Her steps quickened, became a little more sure and soon she stood on the small, worn down porch. Reaching for the handle, relief flooded through her as it gave to her touch and the door opened.
A few more steps and the icy winds of winter could no longer reach her. The door seemed to close on its own and finding herself sheltered from the cruel world, she surrendered to her body. She crumpled into a heap and fell without trouble into a kinder, unconscious existence.
Secluded in the forest in a rundown, abandoned cabin, on a floor covered with the dust of ages, Kaoru Kamiya slept a dreamless sleep.
Pain woke her.
Sharp, tingling pain in her fingers and toes woke her with the acute knowledge that she was still alive. Opening her eyes confirmed that she indeed lived and in a few moments her numbed mind grasped onto the truth of her surroundings. She had found shelter where none should exist. From her position on the floor, she took notice of what grade of shelter she had been blessed with.
It was sturdy and strong, built by one who took pride in his work, but obviously no one had lived in it for years. The dirt she laid in was thick and musty. Kaoru shivered and knew that if she cared to live to see another day, she must find water and warmth. She was stiff and pained, but in time she stood on her own strength. A box beside the hearth was filled to the brim with wood that she found to be aged and eaten through. Bugs scattered when she pulled a log free to place in the hearth and she squeaked but lacked the strength to leap away. They scurried on without noticing her and she decided she would give them the same courtesy.
It seemed to take her forever to stack three logs and then she sat and stared at them, wondering how she was going to start a fire. If there is wood, maybe there is a tinderbox. It was in a small clay jar beside the hearth. She struggled with it for a few minutes before a spark took to the dry rot wood.
Warm tears crept from her eyes at the warmth that reached out to her. Kaoru curled up on the filthy floor before the fire and slept again, finding peace from the pain that was seeping into her waking limbs.
She woke only to feed the fire, conscious long enough to drag another piece of wood from the box and push it into the life-giving flames. By the third or fourth waking, she realized it had been decided she would not die any time soon and she became aware of more than just the pain in her frostbitten limbs. Her throat ached mercilessly and her stomach felt like a rock in her gut.
Water. I must have water.
A searching glance found a bucket near the door and a firm argument with her legs had her on her feet reaching for it. When she opened the door, she was blinded momentarily by the bright field of white. Stumbling forward off the porch into ankle deep snow, she fell to her knees and scooped the white fluff into the bucket, ignorant of the cold seeping through her tattered clothes.
When she rose and shuffled back to the porch, she caught sight of a large woodpile under a sloped roof beside the cabin. Many years ago, someone had intended to return to this cabin and never did. Pushing the thought away, Kaoru went inside and set her bucket of snow near the fire. Sleep claimed her again and when she woke, a small amount of water awaited her in the bucket. She slurped it greedily, not caring that it burned her raw throat. Not a drop remained and she sighed even as her stomach clenched at the foreign substance.
From her seat beside the fire, she allowed her gaze to take in details of the sanctuary she had happened upon. She found food in some bins, vegetables old and dried out, but she ravenously attacked them without thought. Her body would make her pay for it later, but for the time she needed strength regardless of where it came from.
It occurred to her that if someone had cared enough to stock the woodpile and food bins, then perhaps there was more to find and she just might survive the winter after all. A clumsy search rewarded her with several tools and a dusty but comfortable futon with blankets of which she eagerly embraced. What difference did a little dust make when she herself was filthy beyond recognition? She was too tired to care and that night Kaoru did not sleep on a hard floor. Neither was she afraid to embrace the next morning.
The first few days passed in much the same order. She melted snow on a continuous basis as a bucket full of snow yielded very little water. While there was a great amount of the dried out foodstuffs, she knew it would not last her the whole winter. So she resorted to making stews with her melted water. It wasn't hard to reconcile herself to the lack of flavor, for she was certain it was more do to the fact that she could not cook in the first place than that her food was ancient.
She slept when she was not scooping snow, hauling wood, or cooking. Her body refused to function when it did not need to. Kaoru didn't mind. Sleeping saved her the trouble of remembering why she was here in the first place.
It seemed as though two weeks had passed and she began to dread going outside. Her clothes were threadbare and the bindings on her feet had long since disintegrated. The cabin creaked with a surly wind that found its way up the mountain and Kaoru shivered in anticipation of the storm it promised. The futon and blankets were beaten and aired while she hauled in extra wood and gathered as much snow as she could in preparation, biting her teeth against the hot pain biting through her bare feet as she trudged through the snow.
The storm was well underway by the time she revived the feeling in her lower extremities beside the fire. The wind howled like a wild animal and Kaoru shuddered at the fury of its power. What prevented it from crushing the tiny little cabin in its grasp? Who would miss the woman it harbored inside or find her remains decades later and wonder what brought her to rest in such a secluded spot on the forbidden mountain?
Kaoru crawled onto the futon and wrapped herself in the freshened blankets as if an extra layer of cloth possessed the magic to protect her from man and nature's hatred. Halfway into the raging night, sleep found her and she fell victim to the memories and dreams that had shunned her till then.
She woke to silence and for a moment she wondered if everything had been nothing more than a dream. Pulling a blanket with her and wrapping it tightly around her shoulders, she limped to the door. Snow fell steadily from the calm gray sky and she knew the storm was far from over. Already the drifts were spilling onto the porch. Kaoru was grateful for her forethought in gathering extra wood and with such high drifts crowding the cabin, she wouldn't have to go far for snow to melt by the hearth.
She closed the door on the winter and stood staring at her new home, empty and quiet. For the first time since her arrival, she felt restless. Her eyes turned to the other doors she had not yet explored and she decided this would be a good day to do so. She was rewarded with the unexpected.
"Someone planned to return here," she spoke to the empty cabin as she fingered the cloth she discovered. There were two gis, both dark green, as well as two dark gray hakamas. As she held them up for inspection, she found they would fit her remarkably well.
"He must not be a very large man," she said and was pleased with the sound of her own voice. Having removed the clothes from the shelf, she saw tucked behind them socks and sandals. Someone is watching over me, she thought as tears crowded her eyes.
A previous search had rewarded her with soap and with eagerness Kaoru spent the rest of her day melting enough snow to clean her new home, clothes, and greatly neglected body. In her excitement, she was not so gentle in removing the grime from her long black hair, but her fingers knew to be cautious as they grazed over the tender wound in the flesh of her right shoulder.
Evening found her sitting before the fire, combing her damp hair with her fingers and staring off into the flames, finding peace and comfort in her solitude. It had been a crazy impulse to seek safety on the slopes of the forbidden mountain, Oni's domain.
Every child in the surrounding villages was told stories from birth about the monsters that roamed the storm-ridden mountainside. Beasts that could devour a full-grown man in two bites were sometimes sighted on the outskirts of the villages, but every sighting told a different story about the mysterious creatures. They could have been nothing more than bears, but always it was sworn to that they had horns and breathed fire.
Of greater fear than the beasts was the master of the beasts, the creature that breathed the storms that ravaged the tiny villages below with savage winds and torrential rains. The Oni of this mountain was said to be born of fire and consumed all who dared to trespass within his realm with his molten glare. It was the stories about Oni that had always terrified Kaoru when she was young, more so than the beasts that stalked the perimeters of the villages. The creature that ruled over such beasts deserved such fear.
It was said his touch burned like embers upon the skin of the innocent. His teeth and claws could slice a man in half and he did not spare women or children. Kaoru shivered and then laughed at herself.
"They're just stories, Kaoru," she scolded herself lightly. "If you really believed them then why would you seek refuge in Oni's mountain?"
Her smile faded. Because I'm hoping they do believe the stories and won't come looking for me. She frowned as her eyes drifted to the clothes drying beside the fire. "Someone wasn't afraid of Oni. I wonder who built this cabin and why he never came back. It couldn't be…" she swallowed hard and then laughed nervously, pushing the thought aside as she crawled into bed.
"Don't be silly, Kaoru," she murmured as the wind began to stir to life outside. "This could not be Oni's cabin."
Despite the fire that warmed the small cabin and the pile of blankets she burrowed in, the uncertainty of the unknown chilled her and she lay shivering as the storm once again swallowed the mountain, ripping at the cabin and trees alike.
"Father," she whispered as she closed her eyes in fear. "I'm scared."