Author-chan's notes: This is probably the most screwed up ideas in the universe. It's also pretty original (for a fanfiction). Anyway, even if this is a messed up idea, I'm going to play around with it to see if anyone will like it. I'll consider this to be a test of my writing skills. Man, but I am so twisted…
This chapter is dedicated to Mizamour, who was one of the first to read this fic and endorse it. Thank you very much!
Disclaimer: Rurouni Kenshin, created by Watsuki Nobuhiro, is not owned by Author-chan. However, plot, twisted ideas, and original characters are owned by Author-chan.
Skin and Bones
(Chapter One: Priest)
A long time ago, a devout Buddhist priest went up to the mountains to pray and meditate.
He went alone.
Before long, his loneliness became too much and he longed for a companion. So, collecting the bones of men fallen in battle, the priest used his skills and his holy powers to create a living being.
The priest called the technique Hangon. For subsequent generations, the technique was fiercely guarded, both treasured and feared.
None had expected for Hangon to be used again. And, for awhile, it was forgotten to all save for a select few.
But nearly two decades before the fall of the Tokugawa, the Heavens demanded for it to be revived.
Year: Kaei 6; 1853 A.D.
Hayato walked down the road, brown dust swirling around him like smoke in the wind. The brown particles clung to his robes and sweetly ringing staff turning them dusty and dirty. Hayato's own pitch black hair had been unwillingly dyed an earthy tone by fault of the dust. He was road-weary, tired, hungry, and thirsty beyond all belief.
Before long, Hayato found himself in the middle of a small farming village as young children and their sun-tanned, work-roughened parents watched his progress through the village, whispers trailing him.
The villagers easily recognized the robes that clothed Hayato, despite the dust that had discolored them, and they knew the tinkling of his ringed staff.
Hayato was only mildly surprised at the whispers. He was young for a Buddhist monk, and on top of that, was a traveler. It was only natural that the villagers be curious.
He had long gotten over jumping at the merest curiosity or prod. He and his tainted secret were safe.
"Houshi-sama!" a loud voice, though strained with age, hailed him. Hayato paused, bowing to greet the speaker, an old man, no doubt one of the village Elders.
"Elder," Hayato replied politely, "What might I help you with?"
"You are just in time, Houshi-sama," the Elder began, gesturing for Hayato to follow him, "There has been a death. We need someone to administer last rites."
"I see," Hayato nodded, "How long ago?"
"Two weeks?.!" Hayato gasped, "Surely there was another to administer last rites! You did not have to wait for me. Why, that poor soul…Why did you not do the burial sooner?"
"We would have liked to," the old man muttered darkly, "but the parents would not allow it."
"A child?" Hayato murmured, quickly inferring a few things, "It is tragic to lose a child…"
"Hai," the Elder agreed, "But even so, the child's parents are refusing to give the child last rites! They have become delusional! They believe the child is still living in the house. Not that I would be surprised. Little hellion probably became a vengeful spirit…"
"Elder!" Hayato admonished shocked at the scornful tone of the other man, "Do not speak of the dead in such a way!"
The elder was silent before he paused in front of a small hut and gestured for Hayato to enter.
"Talk some sense into them," the Elder demanded briskly. Hayato nodded and entered the hut alone.
The first thing that Hayato noticed was the lack of smell. If a dead body had been in there for two weeks, surely there would have been a stench…
He glanced quickly around the room. The room was rather bare. A fire place in the middle, a box for storage in one corner, with folded up futons stashed away in another corner. There was a young couple sitting near another corner, dressed in peasant clothing. Both husband and wife were small in stature and very slight, as if built from reeds. The husband had dark hair and tanned skin, a common enough trait among farmers, but his eyes were an odd light brown and when the sun's rays hit them in the right angle, they almost appeared to be the color of warm honey. The wife had pretty features framed with brown hair and a face far too delicate for her rough life. Like her husband, she too had unusual eyes: violet, like wisteria blooming.
"Please for give me for intruding," Hayato apologized, bowing politely to the couple before them.
"Houshi-sama," the husband murmured, bowing his head in greeting, "We were told that you would come."
Hayato paused, slightly put back at the simple statement. How had they had known he was coming? He had only just arrived.
'Cleansing breath,' Hayato though, breathing deeply to clear his mind. Focusing himself, Hayato tried to see, to observe the unseen situation at hand.
Firs, no scent of rotting flesh. Unless the parents had had placed the child's body outside, which was doubtful since the Elder mentioned that the parents believed the child to still be alive.
Hayato understood the parents' grief. Sometimes it was hard to accept the loss of a loved one. Denial was only natural, part of human nature. He saw it all the time. He experienced it himself.
Willing himself away from old memories and returning to his observations, the monk noticed the absolute calmness of the couple before him. They had known he was to come to them. It was eerie how confident they were.
"Where is the child?" Hayato murmured, resting steady eyes on the pair before him.
"Here," the wife murmured, moving aside to reveal a small form lying on a futon, previously hidden by the bodies of the couple.
Hayato kneeled down to observe the body, more confusion swirling over him. The Elder said the child had been dead for two weeks. But there was no smell, no rot…no…flesh. All there was were pale white bones, bleached from the sun. But surely there would have been some flesh! Unless the parents had cut off the meat and disposed of it…But that was unlikely as well. The skeleton was whole and unblemished, well cared for.
The wife's visage softened gently, her light colored eyes warm as she gazed at the pale bones. Long fingers gently brushed over the small skull, the movement instinctual, casual.
No, this couple would never have though of desecrating their child's body in any way. They loved the child too much.
Then why were there only bones?
"Can you help him, Houshi-sama?" the wife asked softly, fretting over the bones as only a mother could.
"Help?" Hayato croaked, surprised. It was too late for help! "I was sent her to administer last rites."
"Our child is not dead!" the husband snarled, his sun-kissed eyes flashing.
"Anata, please!" the wife cried out, clutching her husband's arm to calm him, "Houshi-sama doesn't know what we know."
"I would like to be informed," Hayato said gently, trying to humor the distraught parents, "Please."
There was a moment of silence between the couple.
"…We were told that you would come," the husband began slowly, "you can help us save our little boy."
"How so?" Hayato asked, fear knotting his stomach. There was something wrong here, something that stirred a memory he would have liked to have forgotten.
Bones. It couldn't be…
"Hangon," the wife whispered, looking up at Hayato confirming his worse fear.
"Y-you can be serious!" Hayato gasped, standing up sharply, "How did you know? How you know of Hangon? How did you know that I knew Hangon?"
"We were told that you could help us, Houshi-sama," the husband replied calmly, "We were told that you know Hangon."
"It is a forbidden technique," Hayato growled, his eyes flaming angrily, "For good reason. Humans should never delude themselves into believing they are gods!"
"But it was a god who told us of you!" the wife yelled, losing her composure, "It was a god who turned my dead child into bones for you to resurrect!"
Hayato was struck dumb. There had been no insincerity in the wife's voice, no lie. There was no taste of deception in the air.
How else would these people have known he was coming? How else would these people have known of his knowledge of Hangon? It must have been some sort of higher power. No one knew of Hangon.
"I-I must meditate on this," Hayato murmured.
"Understood," the husband agreed, "You may stay with us."
"Domo arigato," Hayato nodded.
It was disturbing. Hayato had no other way of describing it. Like most huts, the structure he was in was small, so he was forced to meditate next to the bones of the child.
However, it was not the closeness of the remains that put him off. Nor was it the fact that the parents had knowledge of his secret sin, the ritual of Hangon that was branded in his brain. It was everything else.
Fishing poles leaned against the corner. Did the child and its father go fishing often? Did they enjoy their time together? There was a basket of clothes needing mending and a half finished child's yukata. Was the mother making it for her child? Was the child excited for a new gift?
Hayato tried not to hyperventilate.
There was a painted top on the floor, a toy clearly loved and played with often. It looked abandoned, lost without its playmate.
It was disturbing, this hut, no doubt about it. Hayato was surrounded by things that no doubt belonged to the bones lying oh so quietly on the futon beside the monk.
'Cleansing breath,' Hayato thought to himself, trying to focus on his meditation, rather than the constant reminder of a life cut short, a life he had the power to restore.
'Iie,' Hayato admonished himself, 'I am no god, no giver of life. I am only a man. Even the holiest of monks could never perfect Hangon. Every being brought back using that accursed technique has been warped. Why, only three hundred years ago there was that fiasco with that resurrected girl who ate raw livers…'
Sighing quietly to himself, Hayato forced himself to meditate.
Gracefully, like a fish sliding into crystal water, Hayato fell into a trance.
There was no time.
There was no space.
There was nothing to bind him.
There was only peace and a deep connection to the universe.
Hayato became more than himself, his spirit stretching and reaching out. Hayato's awareness was filling the hut, threatening to spill over.
Hayato almost lost his concentration at the gentle greeting. Carefully gathering himself, he probed again.
'Hello,' the same voice greeted.
'Hello,' Hayato replied, only slightly surprised. While he did not often encounter spirits, he did know how to communicate with them.
'What are you doing here, sir?' the voice asked innocently. With a start, Hayato realized the spirit was very young, probably no more than five years old, if that, considering there was still an androgynous quality to it that all children possessed.
It must have been the spirit of the child whose bones he sat next to.
'I should ask you the same thing, little one,' Hayato replied softly, 'What happened to you?'
'I got sick,' the spirit answered honestly.
'Sou ka?' Hayato murmured, 'You know that your parents miss you, ne?'
'Hai,' the child replied, and Hayato could almost see a bobbing nod, 'Are they alright?'
Hayato was amazed. The child was dead, but instead was worried about the parents' well being.
'Yes,' Hayato answered, 'They want me to bring you back.'
'Oh,' the child said, '…Do, do you want to bring be back?'
'I'm not sure,' Hayato replied, frowning softly.
This child was no hellion, like the elder suggested. A few gentle explorations and Hayato could tell the child was quite the little innocent. A pure soul like none he had ever seen.
But Hangon was dangerous. Those brought back by it tended to have…problems. Eating raw flesh was a must for these undead, and most were violent.
But then again, many of those brought back by Hangon had been violent when they were alive to begin with. And raw flesh wasn't that bad…it was only uncooked. Besides, sashimi and sushi were mostly raw, though light seared.
'Are you going to leave me?'
Hayato paused. 'Are you lonely?'
'…Yes. But kami-sama comes to visit.'
'Kami-sama?' Hayato questioned, remembering his conversation with the parents.
They had mentioned something of a kami as well.
Hayato had no more time to ponder this, however, for then, there was a blinding light.
Nearly an hour later, Hayato snapped out of his trance with a gasp, spots dancing across his eyes still.
"Are you alright, Houshi-sama?"
Hayato blinked glazed yes up at the speaker. The husband and wife looked at him expectantly, worry coming off of them in waves.
Hayato took several breaths, willing himself not to vomit. His senses were still overly sensitized after…after…
"I saw," Hayato gasped, struggling to speak.
"Our child?" the wife inquired, hopeful.
"Yes," Hayato nodded, slowly calming himself, "But I also saw the kami."
Hayato winced, remembering the blinding light. It had been an intense experience. Light and darkness and unbelievable power… Hayato was shocked he was still alive. He had thought the very flesh would be peeled from his bones. But the child…The child danced among those beings of power as if he did it daily, did it often.
"Your child is…quite blessed," Hayato murmured to the parents, "The kami favor him greatly."
The husband merely nodded, his hand clasping his wife's as both looked at Hayato, hope shining in their eyes.
Hayato sighed running a hand through his hair.
"I need to collect ingredients," the monk said bluntly.
"For the Hangon ritual," Hayato replied, standing up with a slight groan.
"Yo-you'll do it?" the husband gaped.
"Apparently the Heavens demand it," Hayato sighed glancing at the bones on the futon, "Your child has a destiny. I don't know what though."
"Thank you, Hoshi-sama," the wife whispered, her eyes tearing, "For saving our child, arigato gozaimasu."
She bowed, then, low enough as if Hayato was the emperor himself. Hayato flushed lightly at the respect.
"Please, onna-san," Hayato murmured, "It is my duty. No thanks are necessary. But please, grant me one request."
"Anything," came the breathless, almost awed whisper.
"Tell me the child's name."
"Hai," the wife smiled warmly, "Houshi-sama, let us introduce you to our son, Shinta."
Tokugawa: the family name of the shogunate that ruled from 1604-1868
Hoshi-sama: a respectful title for a Buddhist monk
Anata: "you"; also used as a form of endearment used by a wife to address a husband
Domo arigato: "Thank you" (respectful)
Yukata: a light summer kimono usually made of cotton
Sou ka: approx. "Is that so?" or "I see"
Kami-sama: "Lord god"
Kami: "god" or "gods"
Arigato gozaimasu: "thank you" (extremely respectful, normally used when someone saves your life or equivalent to that)
Onna-san: used here as "ma'am"
Author-chan's notes: End Ch. 1!
Next chapter: More on the mysterious Hangon technique, Shinta's revival, and consequences. See you then!