Hello again! I feel so … scattered. I have all these ideas for new stories and so I jot them down as soon as possible so that I won't forget. Anyway, please let me know what you think of this one. I'm trying out a whole bunch of different things. I know it's probably a bit confusing (like all my stories) at first but please bear with it. Could you all do me a huge favour? Would you let me know (I guess in a review) which of my three new RK fics you would most like to see updated next (that would be Creature Comfort, The Hunted or this one, Bound)? I would really appreciate it. Thanks all!
Chapter 1: Death
"What binds you to me?" She asked, looking down at his bowed head as he knelt before her.
"I am your servant," he answered, looking up at her through his copper bangs.
"Oh," she said, turning her face away, "Is that all?"
He bowed his head again, hiding the depth of emotion in his eyes. The young woman turned her chin slightly to look out from the balcony. The heat and smoke from the fire raging around the castle seared her eyes and face. Around then, the city crumbled and burned under a black sky.
"My lady," he said, standing and holding out his hand, "We must go."
The lady Kaoru turned back to look at her guard. The blaze around them cast an orange hue against his skin and made his honey-gold eyes gleam unnaturally in the semi-darkness. His long red hair, tied in a high ponytail, was a sharp contrast to the colours of his traditional Japanese garb: a blue gi and white hakama. Kaoru looked to the hand he held out to her and could see the crusting blood that was drying against his black hand-guard. Her eyes shifted upward to his face.
Against the red and black of the blaze, Kaoru's slender frame was a dark silhouette. But even though her face was cast in shadow, her blue eyes were strangely luminescent. It must be because of her tears, her guard thought to himself. He beckoned to her urgently with his blood-stained fingers.
"Quick, my lady," he said again, "We need to leave."
Kaoru let her eyes fall for a moment before moving. Then, she quickly brushed past the guard, ignoring his proffered hand and tossing her waist-length black hair over a shoulder. "By all means let us leave," she said coolly as she entered her chambers from the wide balcony, "But not before we have ensured that the castle occupants have been evacuated."
"My lady," Kenshin said as strode ahead of her, his voice tinted slightly with impatience, "There is no time."
"I will not leave them to die here," Kaoru replied resolutely, stopping by a low dressing table.
"You cannot save them all." He took her by the upper arm and pulled her toward the door.
She shook his hand away brusquely. "If you are only a servant to me, then I will not be commanded by you," she said cuttingly, "Either help me or leave me to perish with my people." She stooped to pull a long dagger from her table drawer.
Distantly, the screams began as invading soldiers broke into the fortress. Kaoru's eyes widened and, clutching the dagger tightly, she rushed toward the door. He caught her wrist as she passed him.
"It is too late."
"No," she whispered fiercely, "No, Kenshin. It is not too late to save some of them."
"I will not let you throw your life away." His grip on her wrist tightened.
She laughed a short harsh bark. "It is not for you to decide." She wrenched her arm free and spun toward the doors, her royal attire trailing behind her.
Setting his lips in a grim frown, Kenshin followed her as she pushed the doors open and strode out into the hall determinedly. She paused, her head turning right and left. With a sigh, Kenshin started in the direction of the servant quarters.
"This way, lady Kaoru," he said, looking over one shoulder, "Most of the servants will still be in this direction."
Kaoru hurried to catch up with his long strides. "Thank you."
Kenshin resisted the urge to shake his head. Did she expect him to simply abandon her? Instead he spoke. "You might consider shedding your outer robes, my lady. We must make haste."
Kaoru nodded and, without slowing, shrugged off the ornate cloth and let it fall to the ground behind them. She didn't look back as she skipped to keep up with Kenshin's clipped gait.
"There are a series of tunnels that lead from the West wing to the river," Kaoru informed him, "We could tell all the servants trapped in here to flee by that route."
Kenshin only nodded and sped up, his eyes constantly flicking to and fro, searching for potential enemies or friends. Their hasty progress toward the servant quarters was only occasionally interrupted when Kenshin would pause to pull a trembling handmaiden or male servant from their hiding place. He would shove them in the direction of the escape route and, bowing to Kaoru, they would run ahead to the tunnels that Kaoru told them about. Kaoru would smile graciously while Kenshin would frown unkindly. The servants they were saving had a better chance of surviving the siege since they were fleeing while their princess was still traipsing around the castle.
"After this," he told her as they neared the servant wing, "We are going to leave."
Kaoru smiled determinedly. Then, as they turned a corner, she stopped dead in her tracks, her mouth agape and her eyes staring. The hall was littered with bodies. In the distance, she could hear the sounds of weeping.
"Kaoru," Kenshin said urgently, an arm pulling her back into his chest and his hand covering her eyes, "It's not safe here. The soldiers have been this way already."
Kaoru shook in his arms. Though blinded by his warm fingers tight over her eyes, she could hear, ever so sharply, the desperate sounds of clashing swords and shrieking women and – she trembled violently – children. She tore herself from his embrace.
"I must," she said brokenly, "I must help them."
"It is too late!"
But Kaoru was already running toward danger. Kenshin was about to run after her but stopped to whirl around and face the small contingent of soldiers that had caught up with them. His eyes grew cold. No more than five men were advancing upon him, swords already drawn. He calculated that it would take Kaoru a few minutes to reach the servant quarters since she was running with her eyes down, carefully avoiding the bodies. He would have more than enough time.
He unsheathed his sword.
Kaoru, tears in her eyes from the smoke and fear, was struggling to pull a young handmaid from her paralyzed state of fright. The invading soldiers had just passed through the servant wing, hacking and slashing and killing. Anger stung at her eyes; they didn't have to kill everyone. She wrapped her fingers more tightly around the girl's forearm and tried to pull her up.
"Come on," she pleaded, "Get up. We have to get out of here."
The woman could do nothing but cry. Kaoru winced as she pulled even harder. "They're burning the castle. We have to go." Already the flames were curling up the walls and the smoke was heavy. "Please!"
The woman's response was to cry even harder, her sobs escalating into wails. "Just leave me, my lady!"
The high, keening wail caught the ear of a retreating soldier. He turned to look speculatively at the girl who was trying to pull another from her misery. His eyes narrowed as he noted her long, black glossy hair, her pale creamy skin and, most all, the fine silk kimono she wore. His eyes widened. He turned fully and lifted his bow, pulling a long arrow from the quiver at his back.
Kenshin sped around the corner just in time to see Kaoru trying to haul a maidservant to her feet. Behind her left shoulder, he saw an enemy soldier turn and pull the long bow from his shoulder. His honeyed eyes were wide as he watched, transfixed, as the archer took aim. Then, Kenshin was moving even faster and a scream that didn't leave his lips bubbled up from the pit in his stomach. Though in reality he moved with blurring speed, he felt as if he were dragging his limbs through mud. He heard, rather than saw, the twang of the bow as the arrow shot into flight. His eyes were fixed on Kaoru as she struggled to lift the prone servant from the floor.
The startled gasp that fell from Kaoru's lips as the arrow embedded itself in her back and protruded from her chest seemed to roar in Kenshin's ears. He didn't acknowledge the stray tears that flew from the corners of his horrified eyes as he realized he'd failed. Kaoru arched back suddenly when the arrow struck her, her stunned eyes suddenly wide and staring straight at him as her head jerked back. She inhaled shortly, as if something was caught in her throat and then she was falling. Kenshin was racing, still racing madly toward her. He was in time to catch her as she collapsed to the floor, but he was too late, much too late.
His muscles trembled as he clutched the girl to his chest. Everything around him – the impatient shouts of the soldiers, the ring of swords leaving sheaths – dimmed as he watched Kaoru's eyes blink open and closed once, twice. Her lips moved almost lethargically as her breaths grew ragged. Then she melted in his arms, her blue eyes staring blankly up at him and the steady beat of her heart stilling.
Kenshin began to shake with rage. He carefully laid her body on the ground before standing to face his approaching enemies. He crouched, his hand going for the hilt of the sword at his hip. He let the soldiers get closer, his hate boiling up into his golden glare. He didn't care that she had hated violence, that she loathed killing.
There was nothing now, nothing but the absence of her heartbeat.
He left her body in the care of the shrine priestesses at the edge of the battlefield. He carried her limp body into the shrine and laid her down, tenderly arranging her lifeless limbs. The priestesses hovered a ways off, fearing the blood-coated warrior. Kenshin paid them no mind. Instead, he spent a few minutes staring down at her, his eyes memorizing her every feature. Swallowing his grief, he bent over her and brushed is lips against her cool forehead and whispered words he had never spoken aloud. Then he straightened, spun on his heel and walked out without looking back. The shrine maidens hastily bowed as he left.
The slow burning sun had already dipped beyond the horizon when Kenshin stopped before the imposing wooden gates of another fortress, the fortress he had called home before leaving for the lands belonging to Kaoru's father. When the doors swung open before him, he strode in confidently, ignoring the servants that bobbed in prostrate bows around him. He wasn't even fazed by the sprawling stone courtyard, intricate Japanese gardens or grand steps leading up to the main house.
"So, Battousai," a thick voice interrupted his dark thoughts, "Have you finally seen the error of your ways?"
Kenshin turned angry eyes upward to pin his former lord with an unapologetic glare. He continued to stare until the other man, turned away with a wave of his hand.
"Well come in then," the lord said nonchalantly, "And we'll discuss this over sake."
Kenshin wordlessly followed the ornately dressed man into the house. His former master, the feudal lord Hideko, was not a large man but he was not by any means weak. He was shrewd and cunning and did not have much regard for life. He took what he could, without hesitation.
As they sat with cups of alcohol before them, Hideko leveled Kenshin with a sharp stare. "And why, my errant subject, have you returned in such a state?" He gestured to Kenshin's bloodstained clothing.
"She is dead," Kenshin said, his voice flat and cold.
"Ah," Hideko leaned back, "I see. And so you've returned to the house of the Fire Dragon clan."
Kenshin didn't bother to nod. He only continued to stare steadily at the man who was now stroking his chin with his thumb and index finger.
"That will work very well for me, I must admit." He raised an eyebrow. "Will you continue the duties you abandoned when you left for that princess, what was her name? Oh yes-"
Kenshin's fist came down onto the low table. "Do not say her name," he hissed, "I don't want to hear her name again."
"I see." Hideko chuckled mirthlessly. "But you will resume your duties?"
"I will. But I have one request."
"What is it?"
"I want vengeance."
He paused as he entered the senior high school classroom, his book bag slung over one shoulder. "What?'
A male classmate jogged up to him and smacked him on the back. "There's a new transfer student in our class."
"So?" Kenshin shrugged to emphasize that he didn't care and headed for his seat.
"Oh come on," his acquaintance said with a good-humoured chuckle, "You can't ignore this one. There is no way."
Kenshin sat at his desk, swinging his bag onto the desktop. "And what makes you think I won't?"
"Just take a look at her, why don't you?"
Kenshin rolled his eyes. All high school boys were the same, he thought to himself. They were nothing but horny little jack-asses with nothing more than girls on their minds. And a female transfer student just meant another opportunity, he supposed. He, himself, had just transferred to this large public high school at the beginning of the school year. And it had only taken him a week to establish to all the boys that he was not intimidated by their fake little gangs as well as to let all the giggling school girls know that he wasn't interested in their underdeveloped personalities. He had assumed that his rotten personality would turn everyone away from him, but somehow, it had only served to make him more popular. He sighed. Ah, high school.
Oh, he realized as he looked up at his classmate, the guy was still talking. "What?" He interrupted suddenly.
"Geez, Himura. I was just suggesting you look at her. I promise you won't be disappointed."
But, just to satisfy his curiosity, Kenshin turned to look in the direction that the boy was pointing. When his eyes settled on the transfer student, he nearly stood up in shock.
"See, I told you." His classmate's tone was smug.
But Kenshin ignored him. All he could do was grip the side of his desk with white-knuckled intensity as he stared at the girl. He could see only her sunlit profile since she was turned away from him, staring out the window. Even though she was standing straight as a stick, her shoulders were relaxed and she seemed to be effectively ignoring all the hushed whispering around her. She must have known that everyone was talking about her, but her facial muscles were not tense. Instead she was calmly watching the elementary children play in the yard.
Kenshin didn't even acknowledge that the homeroom teacher had entered and was announcing the arrival of the transfer student from Kyoto. He was still staring at her as she turned to walk to the centre of the class, her long black hair swinging at her hips.
"Kamiya Kaoru." The teacher said and Kenshin blanched.
She bowed politely and lifted her eyes to meet the stares of her classmates. And when her luminous blue eyes met his honey stare, he immediately knew that she recognized him as well.