A Rurouni Kenshin Fan-fiction
By The Dragon's Daughter
For dignity compos'd and high exploit
But all was false and hollow; though his tongue
Dropt manna, and could make the worse appear
The better reason, to perplex and dash
- John Milton, Paradise Lost (bk. II, l. 110-112)
Nuada plucked a bit of lint from the sleeve of his shirt and dusted down his chest trying to smooth the snags and wrinkles left by Kenshin's claws.
Aoshi stood a bit further behind Kenshin with an arm around Misao's shoulders. If the ice-demon were to possess anything as tedious as an expression, then it would have been one of distaste. Misao, however, was more honest. She glared at Nuada with all the intensity her tiny body and general good nature could manage.
Kenshin didn't care about any of that.
"Where IS she?" The snarl worked its way up from deep inside Kenshin's stomach and tasted like acid on his tongue. Things were falling into place like pieces of a puzzle, but parts were missing and the image that he could see was almost too frightening to look at. "She ran because of you."
For a moment something that could have been pain flickered across Nuada's face, but it was gone almost as soon as it arrived. "I don't know where she is. I wish I did then this might be easier. She is in danger, but not from me." He let out a short harsh laugh. "I don't think she knows that."
Sensing that Kenshin was perhaps not in the right frame of mind for civilized debate, Aoshi cut in. Nuada eyed him for a moment before recognition sparkled in his eyes. He snapped his fingers with a smile. "I remember you! You were the one who asked to see my picture!"
Something that might have been a grimace made Aoshi's mouth twitch. "Please, do not insult my intelligence, sir. You followed me here because of that, did you not?" It was clearly taking something out of Aoshi's pride to make the admission. "Tell us why you are chasing the girl."
Nuada gave his sleeves a final tug, satisfied that he was back in order. "She might have stolen something that once belonged to me, long ago. It wasn't in my possession any longer when she did, but the owner wants it back… rather badly." Nuada's expression shuttered. "… he might want it badly enough to make matters unpleasant for her and those around her. I would like to reach her first." He broke off with his feckless grin back in perfect place. "In order to do that, I'd like to enlist your help!"
For a long moment, Aoshi weighed the young man with a look, taking the sort of calculated measurement of interior worth that only a man who had spent over a thousand lifetimes cultivating his ability to perceive could. Finally, he turned away. "Please, look elsewhere for help. Any arrangement between us would benefit you first and foremost. I believe I speak for my companions when I say that none of us are anyone's cat's-paw."
"…no, I expect you'd have had a stomach full of that after the Fall." Nuada's voice was soft and somehow resonant. There was something ancient in his voice just then, something beyond the vain young man they'd seen heretofore. There was no recrimination in that voice, no judgment, just a simple observation and a deep ocean of sympathy. Even Aoshi turned to look on Nuada with surprise. However, whatever had come over the man –or whatever part of him had surfaced- was long gone. "Before you brush me off, let me give you a sample of what I have to offer."
Aoshi's gaze flicked towards Kenshin's hot amber one and then to Misao. Kenshin was wound tight as a clock, but possessed enough control to award Aoshi with a terse nod. Misao echoed the motion. Neither of them was happy, but they had no more options than Aoshi did at the time.
He paused to consider the house. It had been stripped of any vestige of the young woman's presence, which was actually impossible. At the very least she should have left dead skin cells on her clothing, hair in her brush, a psychic impression on the walls of her home, or even a bloody fingerprint on the note she'd left Himura. There was none of that in the house and if Aoshi had less faith in his friend then he might have wondered if the woman existed at all.
'Then where are the traces of the person who did leave the note? Who is the girl in the picture? Why is this person here looking for her?' Too many questions, not enough answers. Aoshi knew his fatal flaw, as surely as though he'd analyzed his own character in a Shakespearian tragedy: it was curiosity. This whole situation had whetted his appetite and he knew he could not rest until he'd puzzled out the source of it all.
Nuada brightened at the terse assent. "Then come with me, I spotted a valuable resource out in the back. I shouldn't be surprised, but Kaoru was always sharp like that." He trotted to the back door and opened it with the flair of a terminally flamboyant doorman. The only thing he lacked was floppy laces cuffs to accentuate his wrists as he gestured. "Please, follow me!"
Three wary demons followed one dandy out into the back yard. Misao moved up to walk beside Aoshi. She held onto his sleeve with small hands as she watched Nuada's back. "Why are we following this Smarm-osaur?" She used her native ability to speak selectively to Aoshi. Imps had a lot invested in overhearing everything and never being overheard themselves.
"If you have another option then you have my attention." Aoshi replied. "Miss Kamiya seems to run away a great deal. She's gotten very good at it."
"He broke Himura's wrist!" Misao's rejoinder was weak. She knew as well as Aoshi did that the man would have had to do something to establish his equality with Kenshin when he was in… well… when he was in his current state. Even now, the chaos demon was prowling along beside Aoshi and Misao with his sulfurous gaze trained on Nuada, waiting for just one opening.
Kenshin was in no state to be reasoned with. Aoshi knew this and understood it because if something similar had happened to Misao he would have been in a similar state …had, in fact, been in that state on multiple occasions considering his wife's propensity for mayhem.
Neither Aoshi nor Misao had ever been to Kaoru's property before. She lived far out of the common way and Aoshi tended to be more at home in a city environment. Misao often was quickly bored by the countryside and after a few centuries of domesticity with an Imp, Aoshi had learned to avoid that at all costs. So, when Nuada led them out to the most wrecked and disgusting old dry-well that either of them had seen in their long lifetimes it came as something of a surprise.
"What is that?" Misao didn't bother to disguise her feelings on the subject.
Even in his state, Kenshin gave the old well a basilisk eye. "… Kaoru won't part with it. It's a hazard, but she's never allowed it to be filled in."
"As well she should. One must have respect for the old places." Nuada patted the slimy stone. "I can't say that this thing was laid in by the romans, but it's at least one hundred years old. Now, observe…" Nuada produced a wide silver coin of a denomination that Aoshi would be hard pressed to recognize, although it did look familiar. Without further ado, he tossed it into the well.
Aoshi's well-trained ear listened for the eventual 'clink' as it hit bottom… but he heard nothing. Nuada, for his part, just smiled and leaned over the slimy, lichen covered lip of the well. A few beetles and a lizard scurried out of his way.
"Hello, Mother Holle! Guess who?" Nuada called out into the well and his voice echoed, gaining depth and tone as the sound rebounded against the old stone walls.
One of Aoshi's brow ticked up in as much an expression of shock as he would allow himself when the sound of a gravelly old woman's voice came filtering back up from the depths.
"Oh, Firbolg Scat. It's you."
Petite let her off at the docks. Kaoru wasn't sure which dock, but it had to be somewhere on the west coast. Not that it mattered. Kaoru didn't travel by boat or train when she needed to be somewhere. Her next ride was waiting just below the frothy waves that lapped at the shore.
Kaoru could see the water nymphs dancing below the waters. They laughed their silent laughter at her with twinkling cerulean eyes and waved with webbed fingers. Without hesitation or concern for her bag, Kaoru dove straight in before anyone could notice her. She was under something of a time crunch anyway.
The nymphs had a peculiar racial ability that Kaoru was positive found its root in sympathetic magic. To them all oceans were one. They existed in all parts of the ocean in a semi-permanent state of amalgamation. Sometimes Kaoru wondered if they even experienced time in the same way that she did. The Tuatha de Danaan were less bound by the linear perception of time than, oh say, a human. However, the nymphs were unlike the other lesser fae. Lesser Fae like Petite had a sort of short term memory. They lived more or less in the present, but they could remember certain things for years if they needed to. The water nymphs on the other hand…they always seemed to know something more than what little they let on and they had a reputation for capriciousness that never made sense until later.
All that aside, they were also known to occasionally take a passenger along for the ride. Kaoru –for lack of a better word- dissolved into their embrace. She had a vague sensation of tiny fingers plucking at her pockets until they found the hard candies she'd placed there for them then she was forcibly ejected from the water and staggered onto a rocky shore.
Kaoru hit her knees and took several long gulping breaths as her fingers curled into the gravelly beach. Once she felt like she had her breath back, Kaoru rolled over onto her bottom and surveyed the landscape around her.
The island was small and desolate. There was some sea-grass that grew up from the stony soil among the sharp jutting rocks. A thick velvety mist covered the ground and obliterated anything more than a few body-lengths in any direction. Kaoru knew from memory that the altitude of the island rose sharply and then bottomed out into a small valley in the center. Now living in more enlightened times, Kaoru realized that their tiny island had probably been a volcano at one point, but now it was long dead.
There was birdsong in the distance and the soft rustle of wind in the trees. Kaoru set off towards the center of the island. She had a pretty good idea of where she was. Things had changed somewhat since the last time she'd visited, but only inasmuch as anything changed on Avalon.
She knew she was getting close when shadows began to appear in the mist around her; large hulking things that lumbered along beside her, but did not call out or speak. They were just her escort, the island's way of welcoming her home.
The guardians followed her until just over the crest of the basin, and then they began to drop off one by one until only one remained with her. Smaller figures began to appear in its wake. Lithe and quick they darted in and out of her range of vision like ghosts.
Closer to the interior, the mist began to thin down until there was only the lightest layer on the ground that pooled and swirled around Kaoru's ankles.
The compound was somewhat larger than Kaoru remembered. There was the central temple, the refectory, the solar, and the meditation chambers just the way they'd always been, but someone had added in a dormitory and enlarged the kitchen gardens. There was an orchard a bit further out and a lovely little ornamental pool. "Nimue has been busy…" Kaoru mused.
The stillness of the day was broken by a childish squeal. Kaoru watched a tiny young girl in novitiate robes dash into the Courtyard followed by an older woman with her skirts kilted up to bare her legs while she chased the child.
She had to smile. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
There was a time not so long ago that Kaoru had been the one chasing a child around that same court. The older woman was tall and slim with light brown hair held back in a braid that extended all the way down her back where it met her knees.
"Ho! Nimue!" Kaoru took delight in the unladylike squawk the elder Priestess let out when she was surprised. The novice took advantage of her temporary reprieve to make a bolt for it past Kaoru. With practiced ease, Kaoru caught the girl-child around the waist in the crook of her arm and hefted her sideways so that all she could do was kick helplessly and in the most undignified manner possible.
Nimue's hands flew to her mouth and hair. "My Lady! This is so unexpected…" Nimue frantically worked at the knot holding her skirts up. Finally, she snarled a spell as the stubborn cord and her skirts fell down to cover her feet. "… we had not time to prepare your room, oh… and the children… oh dear…"
To clarify, Nimue was not Merlin's legendary lover. She had in fact been named for her. Kaoru's island had always been a refuge for the gifted women of the world and Nimue had been born with the Gift of Sight. Once, the practice of leaving change children in exchange for human newborns had been something of a fad among those in the Eternal Court, but Kaoru had always kept up the practice.
The Sisterhood of Nine had all been similar rescues, although the original nine had long since passed on to their final reward. Avalon was known as a place of healing and tranquility, especially for those with the burden of being born with a Gift that made living in the mortal world a nightmare.
These days, change children were only left in exchange for a Gifted child and if the child was female and of a certain Gift then she came to Avalon. The others all went to be fostered among Daghda Ollathir's court. The girls who came to the Isle of Mist all possessed the Sight in some form, either they saw Truth or possessed Far Sight. Some, like Nimue, possessed Foresight, as capricious and fickle a talent as it was.
Nimue hurried over to Kaoru and grabbed for her bag. Kaoru held it out of reach. "Now, now. Why don't you take the sprog and I'll get my own bag?" Kaoru grinned at the expression of mild panic on Nimue's face as she remembered the toddler under Kaoru's arm.
"I am so very sorry, My Lady. I don't know what's gotten into her… oh, oh you've never met Chariste. Stand up, you naughty thing and curtsey!" Nimue's small slender hands flew over the child, righting her sleeves and dusting her clean. She thrust the child forward, keeping a hand on her shoulder so the tot couldn't escape. "Now, Christa." She growled sotto voce.
Christa peered up at Kaoru with the sort of clear, unhurried gaze of a Truthseeker. Kaoru winked down at the girl who smiled in return and bobbed a sloppy curtsey. "You're HER! Aww… Trixie is gonna be soooo jealous, I met the Lady and she didn't! Are you gonna stay? Trixie always wanted to meetcha so you gotta stay, at least for Dinner because that would be so cool!"
'Trixie', Kaoru recalled, was Tirana, one of the younger novitiates. There were three at the moment according to Nimue's quarterly reports. The last was a druid child as so was probably out in the orchards with Sisters Thyme and Rue. Trixie had the gift of Farsight and so would be taking classes with Christa under Nimue and Sister Roxana.
…classes that Christa seemed to be skipping.
"Hmmm… its midday, I thought classes would be in session." Kaoru mused as she shouldered her bag. She cast an eye on Christa, who suddenly found something fascinating on the ground in the vicinity of her toes. "Are the novices not in lessons?"
Nimue squared her shoulders and dropped in a curtsey. "We were on our way there as you arrived, My Lady. I will stop in the kitchens and let Sister Betilde know that you have arrived. Please, the guest quarters are made up an available. I hope they will suit your needs until we arrange the solar."
"That's fine. I'll stay in the guest suite if it's free. I'll only be staying the night. I'm on my way to see Lugh." Kaoru would have been worried about the expression that flickered across Nimue's face at the mention of the Craftsman if she didn't know exactly what the root of Nimue's feelings on the subject was. Foresight could be a pain, as the Priestess was prone to saying. "Come see me after dinner and we'll talk, if you like."
It was not an explicit offer of help, but Nimue caught the hint. She bowed again and shooed Christa inside the temple.
Kaoru eyed the shadows flickering to and fro at the outermost edge of the compound. They tended to fade as one focused on them, but Kaoru had gotten the knack of watching them long ago. 'It's been such a long time since I've been in Annwn.' Kaoru mused to herself as she trudged up to the guest house out in the back of the refectory. Avalon wasn't quite Underhill, but it had been pulled so deeply into the mists and ether that it might as well have been. After a few centuries it had the same feel to it.
'I'm homesick.' Kaoru realized it with a start. She missed Annwn. How strange, after four or five decades away from home it only took a subtle reminder to bring the memory back in full force. 'I've always been closer to the human world than the Underhill. Perhaps that's why I never really noticed.'
The guest quarters were Spartan in their décor, but Kaoru didn't mind. The bed was soft and there was a tub that could be filled for a good long soak. The dinner bell wouldn't ring for another five hours. 'That means I have time for a bath before I face Betilde and a nap afterwards.'
"… now, Mother Holle, be reasonable." Nuada ducked to dodge the stone that went flying out of the depths of the well. "I just have a single innocent question! I come in all sincerity!"
"Why are we still here again?" Misao whispered as an aside to Aoshi who maintained silent neutrality.
For his part, Kenshin had managed to cool down somewhat in the intervening hour that Nuada had been attempting to sweet talk Kaoru's disgusting old well… or rather, the old German well-spirit who lived in it. He recognized the name from his time in Europe, although the cantankerous old woman in the well bore little resemblance to the benevolent earth spirit of the old legends. Somehow, Kenshin doubted that this Mother Holle was likely to grant anyone a shower of gold. The bucket of tar dumped over their head was a distinct possibility however.
He wasn't sure what to make of the fact that Nuada apparently knew Mother Holle living in Kaoru's well. He wasn't sure what think about Kaoru's keeping the well in the first place. Had she known the well was inhabited? She'd never exhibited any knowledge of the supernatural world before then…
Then there was the matter of Nuada. At first glance he came off as an ineffectual fop, for lack of a better descriptor. However, no fop had the power to break a normal human's wrist, much less a demon's denser bone structure.
There were too many questions rising in Kaoru's absence and Kenshin didn't like any of them.
He rubbed his wrist in thought as he watched Nuada attempt to wheedle the well-spirit. The stranger had been right when he said that they lacked other options. Kenshin trusted Aoshi when he said the site had been sanitized and Misao showed the strain of maintaining multiple 'bloodhounds' on the corporeal plane. They were still searching, but Kenshin knew as well as any that if they didn't have something within the hour then they would never find a trail.
Nuada straightened and scowled at the well. "Now see here, you've accepted my silver, Frau Holle. Cease this immediate… ack!" Nuada staggered back as a silver orb went spinning out of the well and hit him square in the eye.
"Then take your silver back and go on your way, insolent boy!"
Aoshi's shoulders twitched in a silent laugh and he stepped forward as Nuada fell back. The ice demon let the man fall and unbuckled the silver watch from his wrist. "Are you there, Madam Holle?" Aoshi stood at perfect polite attention, leaning forward as he awaited a reply.
"Aye, I'm here for what it's worth." The gravelly old spirit replied. "What do you want?"
The silver watch glittered in the dying light as Aoshi held it up. "I have a gift for you, will you accept it?"
There came a thoughtful pause from the well. "Keep your silver, young man. To hear proper manners from a man… or demon of your generation is worth more than mere metal to me. Now, what is it that you need that you need to call up old Mother Holle?"
"Thank you. There is a young lady who lived in this house. She has gone missing. Can you tell us where she has gone?" Aoshi's brows lifted at the sound of rusty laughter that was his reply.
"You'll have to be more specific, young man." Mother Holle chortled. "I am many and vast. I live in all the Old Places. Where are you?"
"New England outside the home of a young woman name Kaoru…" Aoshi was prepared to go on, but Mother Holle cut him off there.
"You can stop there." The old spirit heaved a sigh. "You're not the first to ask me about her, you know? I didn't tell them where to find her and you'll have some work to do if you want me to tell you."
Nuada stiffened. "Who asked about the girl, Mother Holle?" He demanded.
For once the spirit didn't even bother with a cranky rejoinder. "You know who has asked about her, young man. Don't ask me questions you already know the answers to. Now, name me one good reason I should tell you and your friends a damn thing."
Aoshi glanced at Kenshin, who paused for a moment and then nodded. The ice demon placed a hand on the lip of the well. "She left without leaving word. There are those who are… concerned for her." Words of that kind had never come easily for Aoshi. Being naturally reticent, words of any kind had never become without effort. Because many situations had required Aoshi to be able to talk his way out in the past, he'd forced himself to gain a certain level of eloquence… but some things, the important things he'd never been able to say.
Mother Holle made a rude noise. "Oh never mind. Tell the idiot… no the OTHER idiot, the one with the red hair, to come over here. I want a word with him."
Kenshin approached the well and placed his hands on the lichen covered stone. He had so many questions, but he had a feeling that Mother Holle was in a far from forgiving mood. "I am here." He still felt full to brimming of mixed emotions: rage, worry, hurt, and fear. The only thing he could focus on was the need to have Kaoru back in his arms, safe where she belongs… possibly with whoever was threatening her in several pieces at his feet.
"You're an idiot, boy." The well spirit snapped. "Don't think I don't know about you, I do, and you're an idiot…" Mother Holle pause for a breath and softened her voice. "… but you're a well-meaning idiot, which is more than I can say for most. You go after the girl and make her face her demons. She runs away far too much. Tell the crown-idiot over there to take you to the Island of Apples. You'll find here there or at least pick up her trail."
"Thank you." Kenshin didn't want to thank the old German spirit, but the well had gone silent. He could almost feel her absence. A fine tremor worked its way through his shoulders. The Island of Apples… where the hell would that be? He turned a look on Nuada who had his disarming grin back in place. "Well?" He growled.
"The Island of Apples… somehow I'm not surprised, but she won't stay there long. If we hurry, we can probably catch her." Nuada cocked his head at a thoughtful angle. "If she's going there then she must have something in mind. She wouldn't have left a trail that might endanger the sisters there…" He trailed off as he realized that he was the focus of several intent stares. "What?"
"Where is this place?" Aoshi resumed his role as spokesperson for their group.
Nuada smiled. "Well, the Island of Apples used to be a part of the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Scotland. Of course, that was a long time ago before the Lady Morgen closed it off from the world and drew it back into the mists as a retreat for her sisterhood. The island is almost more Underhill than it is in the Fields of Man, but it has long since been a sanctuary for women of power and vision."
Misao and Kenshin only exchanged baffled expressions, but Aoshi's job lifted a fraction of an inch.
"… you are jesting, sir." His tone was icy. "We are not here to play games."
"Oh, now be reasonable… you're a demon: Hellfire, brimstone, and Thou Shalt Not!" Nuada tucked his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "Surely a little fairy tale come to life shouldn't surprise you so much. It's a real place, I assure you of that."
"What are you talking about, Aoshi?" Misao tugged on her lover's sleeve. "What fairy tale?"
Aoshi's expression did not change. "He's referring to the island in the mists where the Sisterhood of Nine was thought to live. The island to which Morgen le Faye bore wounded King Arthur when he was wounded in battle so that he would be healed." He paused for a breath and Nuada broke in.
"Be blunt, man." Nuada winked at Misao. "He means Avalon."
End Chapter Four : Lhiantyn Rish
Seiyuu: Well, here's Chapter Four! This is where I feel that the core of the story starts to shine. At the beginning, it's probably not very clear that most of this story is based off of Celtic Mythology. Hopefully, things are beginning to make sense now.
Of course, I'm not sticking to the rote version of the legends. What I'm trying to do is show how things might have happened and how they were perceived by the humans who witnessed them. There is a certain decay of information when it is passed on through any media, especially the verbal tradition. So it's kind of fun to take this immortal race and then contrast them against their own legends.
A lot of the time you find that the Fae/Fairies/Aes Sidhe/Tuatha de Danaan are portrayed as a stagnant race left clinging to the shadows of an age long gone. I do think that some of them might have trouble letting go of their old glory day coughDISPATERcoughhack However, by and large, a race of immortals would have to either embrace change or face death. However, no group is perfect and there's always going to be dissenters so it'll be fun to place with their court politics later on. I'm already having fun putting together a plausible social structure for them. Later on, I'll go into that in more depth. For right now enjoy the cranky German well spirit.
For those of you with questions about the mythological characters I've used so far I recommend that you go check out the Encyclopedia Mythica. It's got a good interface that lets you pick out characters by name. The information there isn't terrible in-depth, but it gives you a rough idea and a direction to go in. Please, bear in mind that my representation of the Tuatha de Danaan is going to be pretty removed from what you find on your own. This is my own interpretation of how things might have gone. There are also cross-cultural characters like Dispater, who actually started life as a member of the Roman pantheon; however he did have something of a following in Britain. Proserpina is actually Persephone from the Greek myth. She enjoyed some time as a popular figure during the Renaissance. So really, there's a wealth of information out there and a thousand ways to interpret it.
I'll provide a quick translation of the chapter title as well. It's a bit different from the others, but it just seemed to stick.
pursue, stick to, cling (of garment), cleave, persevere