Good day to any and all who felt brave enough to give this fic a try! I greatly appreciate it. A little about this story:
It's obviously about Rurouni Kenshin, and I'll probably end up using most if not all the canon characters. It's also set in an alternate universe, so there MAY be changes to relationships, personalities… that sort of thing. Though I will try to keep somewhat faithful to the manga/anime (I'll probably mix aspects of both). There will be some Japanese terms used, and I will provide definitions or explanations to most at the end of a chapter.
Please read and review! I accept all reviews, and I usually don't mind when people offer corrections. Just… please keep it civil….
For King and Country
She froze when she came out of the trees and was faced abruptly with a vast plain scattered with the remains of a battle long past. The light of the setting sun dyed the scene a garish red, lending the grass a startlingly blood-like hue. The woman blinked, and looked around warily.
She was thin, a sort of painful thin that happens when somebody already slender suddenly doesn't get enough food, and her clothing was ragged and worn. The tatami zori on her feet were nearly completely worn away, and the haori that hung from her shoulders was threadbare and filled with holes. In fact, all of her clothes were filled with rends and tears- some of them looking to have been made by sharp-edged objects. Wisps of her long dark hair escaped from her high ponytail, drifting into her face until she raked them back with a swift, irritated gesture. Her face was too thin as well, cheekbones casting sharp shadows on pale skin. Dark smudges marred the skin under her eyes.
Overall, she looked like somebody already dead. So perhaps that was why she seemed so unconcerned with the heaps of sun-bleached bones and half-rotten armour that crunched and clacked quietly under her feet as she crossed the field. Anything that might have been of interest to wild animals had long been removed, and all that remained were the dead. Any other sane human would not have dared set foot in that field. No, not field- graveyard. It was clear that nobody had bothered to even try to lay the dead there to rest. It was as if the battle had promptly been forgotten as soon as it had ended.
The woman who, curiously enough, had seen fit to ignore these facts, made her way carefully to the hill that rose haphazardly from the center of the field. The number of dead seemed to increase as she drew near, as if the hill had lain at the heart and heat of the battle. A sune-ate cracked under her heel, but she didn't glance down, keeping her eyes scanning the horizon. Looking for enemies? Pursuers?
Reaching the crest of the hill, she looked out around the surrounding field and nodded slowly in approval. It was clear to see why; the hill was a highly defensible location. From the top, one could see every blade of grass on the plain. It would be nigh impossible to sneak up on somebody there, and from the woman's manner, that was something she had to look out for.
By that time, the last lingering rays of sun had disappeared, and the woman lowered herself to the ground, breath hitching as undoubtedly sore muscles protested. She sat with her knees drawn up to her chin, watching the moon rise, obviously intending to pass the night on the hill. Wisely, she did not try to light a fire. The light would have been an obvious beacon in the night, for just as the view of the field was clear from the hill, the view of the hill was clear from the field. It was a pity, though, because the night was cool and the breeze continued to slip icy fingers through the huddled woman's tattered clothes. Aside from an occasional shiver, she did not seem to mind, however. Perhaps she welcomed the assistance the chill lent in keeping her awake? For it was blatantly obvious that she meant to keep watch all night; every time her head began to nod forward, she would jerk upright and give herself a shake, blinking furiously. And for the most part, her efforts were not in vain. She kept herself awake as the quarter moon slowly traced an arc across the sky, only succumbing to her obvious exhaustion twice, and then only for a few breaths. Then she'd jolt awake and look around hastily, inspecting her moonlit surrounding as if expecting samurai to pop up from behind the sad heaps dotting the field.
Near midnight, a sudden, fierce wind sent her hands flying to her collar to clutch her thin haori close around her body. Her black hair streamed out like a banner, and some of the smaller bits of detritus on the field swirled around in strange patterns, tumbling across the ground and catching on some kabuto here or katana there.
Her eyes followed a bit of faded cloth as it fluttered through the air and came to rest at the feet of the man standing before her. She started, having not heard nor seen him approach. She stared up at him with shocked blue eyes, and from the shadows obscuring his face, he stared back.
"Well," he said finally, his voice low and curiously flat. "Aren't you going to beg for your life?"
"Is there a reason why I should?" she replied, wearily. There was a long pause in which she peered up into his face, trying to see through the shadows. But nothing was discernible but for the seemingly youthful curve of one cheek.
"You do not know the legend of this hill?" he asked, just as quietly as before. There was an odd lack of emotion in the voice. She shook her head, shivering a bit as a sudden chill swept her body. The man shifted, the moonlight outlining the fold in his gi and hakama. "Many years ago a sorcerer tried to take over this country. He had many men at his side, but many chose to stand with the rightful king against him. The sorcerer was powerful, however, and his armies decimated the opposing troops. But there was one swordsman who always triumphed against the opponents the sorcerer sent to face him, and the sorcerer began to hate this enemy. The two faced each other at last in the middle of a great battle. The swordsman wounded the sorcerer gravely, but, with his magic, the sorcerer stole the swordsman's heart and set a geas upon him. The spirit of the swordsman was bound to the battlefield upon which they had fought, and was ordered to slay any who dared set foot on the field after sunset."
He fell silent. The woman blinked slowly, immediately understanding that the man standing before her was said swordsman. "Well, it sounds like begging for my life would be a futile action. I think I'll forego it, thanks."
The spirit inclined his head. "There is a chance for you to avoid this fate."
The woman looked up at him, the cool moonlight shining on her face making it seem even more corpse-like. He turned his head away to stare off at the distance.
"I will release you if you can return my heart to me."
"What?" She said, brow furrowing. "But…"
She stopped and frowned, thinking. "Your heart… If you are bound to this hill, does that mean your heart is hidden nearby?"
Instead of answering, he said, "If you can find my heart by sunrise, I will spare your life."
And he vanished.
"W-wait!" The woman yelped, half rising from the ground. Of course, it was too late. She lowered herself back down and scowled out around the field. She mumbled to herself: "His heart…"
She gazed speculatively around her and stood.
The sky was just beginning to lighten in the east when the wind rose again, bringing with it the spirit swordsman. He stood motionless as the wind died and his clothing and hair settled. The woman lifted her head to look at him from where she sat on the slope of the hill.
"Have you failed, then, as every other fool before you has failed?" Questioned the swordsman impassively. She didn't answer right away, but rather slowly unfolded herself and stood. She tossed an object to his feet in a smooth gesture.
"There," she said, her voice a tired croak. The swordsman gazed down at the katana, but didn't move.
"Pick it up," he ordered. The woman's eyes narrowed.
"Why?" she asked. The edges of the swordsman's form wavered, as if he were an image of smoke and a breeze had just blown through him. She perceived that he was annoyed.
"Because I cannot." It was gritted out through clenched teeth.
She moved forward and bent to pick it up, keeping a wary eye on the shadowed spirit. In the growing light, she fancied she could make out the colour of his hair and clothes. The long- red?- bangs that hung in front of his face still obscured his features, however.
"Is this not your heart?" She questioned, holding the katana between them, tipping the blade so that a bead of light rolled up is length to the hilt. It was a well-made weapon, still sound after countless years lying exposed on the field. It just needed a new hilt, and perhaps a polish…
She was entirely unprepared for what happened next. The swordsman moved in a flash, so quick that she had no time to think, she simply reacted. And she reacted in the way that had been drilled into her as a disciple of kendo; she leveled the blade in her hands and braced herself.
All breath and thought fled her body as the swordsman threw himself forward onto the katana, driving himself down its length until he lost his momentum. He slumped forward toward her, folded over the blade. The tip gleamed wetly from his back, just left of center. She was transfixed by the sight, frozen by the action, she could not even twitch. Her mind started to babble, but she distantly noted the blood that ran down the blade, coating her hands and dripping to the ground.
'B-blood? But he's… a spirit…'
His hands rose slowly from his sides, slowly, shakily, and she watched with wide eyes as they closed over her own hands, which still gripped the hilt of the katana. They were warm, and slick with blood. 'He's…able to touch me…'
Head bowed over the hilt and their clasped hands, the swordsman dragged himself further onto the blade. It was then that she was able to shake her paralysis, and her hands began to tremble under the impossibly solid fingers of the spirit.
"Oh," she whispered, and that was all she could say for a while. "Oh. Oh, no…"
She released the hilt, and suddenly her hands were fluttering over his chest, lightly touching the blood-soaked gi and the cold steel buried in his flesh. She pressed her hands to the wound, as if she could stanch the flow of blood from it. His head rose, hair (she could see now that it really was red) falling away from his face, and his eyes met hers in the strengthening light of dawn.
She was once again immobilized, caught like a fly in the amber of his gaze.
Still clutching the hilt in his hands, the golden-eyed swordsman took a step back… and another… And he fell to one knee, turning his head to the side and coughing up blood. He panted, each breath ragged with pain. He shuddered once, taking in a great gulp of breath…
In a sudden, swift motion, he ripped the katana from his chest. The deep breath he'd taken in was torn from his lungs in an agonized grunt. He fell forward, propping himself up with one fist. The katana was stuck point-first into the ground, and he leaned heavily on it.
For her part, the woman merely stared. Her lips moved soundlessly, and she sat down heavily, gaping at the man crouched not far from her.
The first rays of the sun spilled over the field and hill, perversely casting this nightmare into the day-lit world.
Silence reigned on the hill for a time, and then there was a soft clack as the swordsman levered himself up with the help of the katana. He looked down at the ragged figure of the one who had been able to break the geas that had been set upon him.
"Woman," he said, "Who are you?"
She gulped and, after a few false starts, managed to say: "I am Kamiya Kaoru, King's Messenger."
The swordsman turned his head to look at the sunrise, the bright light highlighting his red hair, golden eyes, and the cross-shaped scar on his left cheek. When he spoke it was little more than a whisper, in a tone of almost like wonder.
"I am… Himura Kenshin…"
Tatami zori- Zori sandals are any japanese sandal that has a flat bottom. The sandals are called tatami which means straw. The surface of the sandal is made from woven straw like the tatami mats used on the floors of Japanese homes.
Hapi- A long-sleeved overcoat typically worn over a kimono.
Sune-ate- Shin guards. Part of Japanese samurai armour.
kabuto- Samurai helmet.
gi- Loose shirt worn by samurai.
hakama- Wide skirted pants worn over the gi.
kendo- "The way of the sword" The study of sword-fighting.