Obligatory Author's Note: I am not a fast writer. I could even sit down at my computer, bazillions of ideas for the next chapter in my head, and not type a single sentence because I blank out. Why? I haven't the damndest clue. However, not that I'm insinuating anything, the more helpful reviews I get the faster I seem to go. Maybe I have a complex…hmm.
Never heard of/played Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly? For shame! However, knowledge of Fatal Frame is not necessary to enjoy this story. In fact, it just might add more suspense.
Disclaimer: Did you know that these things won't do you an ounce of good? I can still be easily sued, disclaimer or not, by Tite Kubo (Bleach) or Tecmo (Fatal Frame) so instead I will use this time to ask them out of the kindness of their hearts to not sue me.
"I've heard rumors about the lost village before. Long ago, a massacre occurred on the day of a ceremony, and the village was wiped from the map. Twin Deities Statues in the forest lead lost people to the village entrance. Once you passed the gate however, you cannot go back."
- Miyako Sudo
Dawn slowly crept up on the town of Karakura, the warm rays of the sun gently stirring the birds to wakefulness and giving them reason to sing the announcement of Saturday's arrival. The freshly gathered dew glistened brilliantly on the town's greenery while the flowers began their slow unfurling to gather in warmth from the sky. The forecast had called for a temperate, cloudless, spring day that was expected of a weekend and all of Karakura basked in the peace it had created that morning. Or at least, those lucky many that were not being given their wake up call by Isshin Kurosaki
"GOOD MOOORNING, ICHIGOOOOO!"
Ichigo, with practiced finesse, rolled over in his bed to prevent his face from being smashed in by his father's elbow. With equal ease, the teenage boy gripped the older man's shirt collar in his fist and casually tossed him into the opposing wall. Isshin sank pitifully to the floor, twitching when he landed in a heap on the carpet. "I'm proud…my son…" he ground out painfully.
Sighing irritably with the knowledge that any further attempts at sleep would be denied, Ichigo sat up in his bed yawning and stretching. Knowing that questioning the motives of the slightly deranged man would only end up encouraging his irritating behavior – he was still too tired to endure that sort of punishment – Ichigo cut straight to the chase. "What do you want, old man?" He asked, tiredly scratching his head.
Suddenly regaining his strength, Isshin leapt to his feet. "Can a father not greet his only son, the fruit of his loins, on such a glorious day!?" He bellowed loudly, moving into what Ichigo suspected was a fighting stance; at least, that was his excuse for promptly flinging his father down the stairs before slamming the door shut. Grumbling random words under his breath, Ichigo decided he might as well get dressed before his father could initiate a second assault.
As most might have probably guessed at this point, Ichigo Kurosaki was not a normal adolescent. His father was a certifiable nut – and a doctor to boot – his eleven year old, twin sisters were the only things keeping any semblance of peace in the family, and the only presence of his mother was a giant memorial poster that had been hanging on the dining room wall since her death nearly seven years ago. Ichigo also had to deal with bullies on numerous occasions because of his bright, spiky orange hair, despite the fact that he was unusually tall for his age and a menacing glare often beset his russet eyes. The other reason for his lack of normality was not one that most people knew about.
Ichigo Kurosaki had the ability to see ghosts.
The ability was one he had possessed for a long time and it was one that indirectly helped cause the death of his mother. It was an ability that had always been both a blessing and a curse. When he was younger, he was able to find friends within the spirit community when those of the living wouldn't as much as look at him without malice or suspicion. Unfortunately, he also received his share of the plainly irritating ghosts that latched onto him like leeches and refused to let go until they managed to pass on. The main misfortune of his ability, however, was the other types of spirits his unique power attracted.
They were once normal spirits that lingered too long in this world, until their pain and grief ate out their very hearts and transformed them into monsters that fed on the souls of the living and dead alike. Like a moth to a flame, they were drawn to Ichigo and his family who would have been powerless to protect themselves had the fifteen year-old not possessed another unusual trait. It was a power that no other living human being had; a power that had been granted to him nearly a year ago when a dark haired girl in a black shihakusho with a katana tucked into her obi had stumbled into his room one night to exorcise a spirit that had been following him around. Not even an hour later, he was the one wearing the shihakusho and wielding a sword.
He had become a Shinigami.
In what he had been certain would be the last moments of his life, the girl had stepped in and ended up mortally wounded in order to save him from being devoured. Too injured to continue fighting, she had temporarily passed her powers on to Ichigo in a move that nearly ended up costing her life. Needless to say, his newfound abilities didn't end up being quite as temporary as they both originally thought and he somehow found himself helping the Soul Society in a war against a powerful man that had betrayed the Gotei 13 to form a powerful army of Arrancar. One way or another, the female Shinigami that should only have been part of a week or two out of his entire life now resided in his sister's room for an undetermined amount of time nearly a year after she had first stepped into his home.
Just as Ichigo finished pulling on a plain white t-shirt and started adjusting the belt on his jeans, said Shinigami had knocked sharply on his door and waited for his consent before stepping inside. "Isshin-dono wanted to talk to you downstairs."
Rukia Kuchiki was a rather unusual person herself. First of all, she wasn't actually alive and the only reason that normal people could see her was the fact that she inhabited a fake body – a gigai. Another oddity about her was that she looked so exceedingly normal that it was abnormal. Her hair was ebony colored and cut just above her shoulders like a typical Japanese school girl, her eyes were an ordinary cobalt blue, and her cerulean dress was plain and simple. She was fairly scrawny, barely taller than Ichigo's eleven year old sisters, and looked as though if you sneezed at her too hard she just might break a bone. No one in their right mind would ever mistake her for a 150 year-old that could cut down towering monsters in a matter of seconds without so much as wrinkling her clothes in the process.
But that was precisely what she was.
"You don't have to call him that. Isshin-teme is more like it," Ichigo grumbled, sitting down in his swivel chair to pull on a pair of socks.
Rukia frowned at him. "It's not very respectful."
"No, but it suits him better. What the hell does he want anyway? Why didn't he just come up here himself?"
"Apparently, he didn't enjoy being thrown down the stairs."
Ichigo stood up and absently scratched the back of his head. "Never stopped him before," he muttered, leaving the room with Rukia in tow. He was hardly looking forward to whatever his peculiar father had to say to him but decided he might as well get it over with as soon as possible.
The moment he had cleared the stairwell, Ichigo fully expected to be on the receiving end of a roundhouse kick and was completely shocked when no such thing happened. In fact, his father was sitting (relatively) calmly at the dining room table, scarfing down his breakfast as if his life depended on it. Yuzu and Karin, Ichigo's younger sisters, had also already taken their place at the table and were consuming their breakfast at a leisurely pace. Yuzu, the elder of the twins, had donned a pale yellow dress with a faint, pink flower print sprawling out across the cloth and had clipped a dark brown barrette in her hair to prevent her short auburn bangs from falling into her honey colored eyes. Karin wore her usual red cap, black spandex shorts and a white t-shirt with a football printed on the front while her pitch black hair was left to fall haphazardly to her shoulders.
According to Isshin's announcement on Friday, the three should have been gone by now.
Yesterday, Yuzu and Karin had been assigned an insect collecting assignment and when the former had unwisely mentioned this to their father he had insisted upon a 'family-outing-slash-school-assignment-camping-extravaganza' that would span the entire weekend and involved staying the night out in some god forsaken woods. He had planned to leave early on Saturday morning and return Sunday evening which was why Ichigo was surprised that none of them had left yet. Of course, he and Rukia had managed to skillfully duck out of the entire arrangement by the irrefutable excuse of uncompleted homework assignments. Camping wasn't exactly one of Ichigo's favorite things to do and Rukia didn't even know what camping was.
Much to the displeasure of everyone in the room, Isshin saw fit to spit out his current mouthful of food the moment he had spotted Ichigo while he was rushing to get his next words out. "Pack your things, Ichigo, you're taking your sisters camping!" Ichigo's jaw promptly dropped and any words he might have spoken promptly choked him (and would have fallen on deaf ears anyway.) Isshin quickly turned to his daughters, suddenly teary-eyed. "Daddy is sorry for disappointing you, but the clinic was flooded with patients last night from a huge car accident."
Ichigo's mouth promptly snapped shut and he gulped before sharing a quick glance with Rukia, both of them having witnessed that car 'accident' up close when they were fighting an Arrancar and things had gotten a little out of hand.
Yuzu immediately leapt from her seat, "But Otousan, don't you need our help?"
"Ah, my sweet Yuzu…what a kind offer," Isshin sobbed melodramatically, rivers of tears flooding from his eyes. "But, I cannot ask you to stay for me. Your grades depend on it."
"You must go Yuzu, or Daddy will cry and cry and never stop!" Isshin wailed pathetically. Karin shook her head in disbelief, Ichigo stared blankly, and Rukia looked rather perplexed. "At the very least, you'll be able to bond with your siblings."
Only Yuzu bought into his act – though it could have easily been the fact that she had a soft spot for the old man. "Don't cry, Otousan, I'll go if you really want me to."
Just like a faucet, the tears were immediately turned off. "Alright then! Ichigo! Quit being a slowpoke! Go pack!"
"I have homework that needs to be done too, you know." This statement wasn't entirely true. Ichigo did have homework – easy homework that wasn't even due until Tuesday – but he couldn't exactly tell his dad he had to stay behind in case a monster tried to kill all of his friends again.
Isshin waved off his son, "You're grades aren't nearly as important. Now pack or I'll make you go naked!" Not doubting his father's word for a second – and deciding he wouldn't mind a weekend away from his father – Ichigo begrudgingly headed upstairs to pack his things.
When he returned, he was surprised for some reason that Rukia – who was just polishing off her breakfast – had not done the same and looked like she had no inclination to follow him. It was strange because for the longest time, he couldn't get her to not follow him. Before he could even stop the words, he asked, "You aren't coming?"
Her head immediately snapped up, and Ichigo wished he hadn't asked at all. Of course Rukia had planned on staying. The only reason she was even on Earth was to prevent the Arrancar attacks which, so far, had been partial to Karakura. Suddenly thinking of leaving Rukia by herself to defend his town for a weekend made him uneasy and almost glad he had opened his big mouth. "Oh, no, I couldn't possibly intrude on your family bonding," Rukia insisted sweetly. It was, of course, entirely the wrong thing to say.
Yuzu's eyes grew shiny with unshed tears. "But…you are family now Rukia-neesan! I don't want you to feel left out, please come with us!" And because it was doubtful that even Byakuya himself would be able to resist Yuzu's hopeful, teary-eyed expression, Rukia had no choice but to acquiesce. And with that, Isshin promptly packed them all onto a bus and sent them out into the wilderness, effectively leaving the protection of Karakura to three of its residents, two brats, a peculiar store manager, and a cat.
Unless you wanted to count the (practically useless) resident Shinigami.
Isshin snickered to himself as the bus pulled away, walking into his empty clinic. Thanks to his newly revived Shinigami powers, several of his patients had made a 'miraculous' recovery the night before and had been cleared out of his clinic early that morning. "I'm an even better actor than Rukia-chan is." The truth was, he'd known about Ichigo's Shinigami powers for a long time now and the poor boy really needed a break from them. Isshin hoped that his lie would give his son at least one weekend of peace.
And so, that was how Ichigo, Rukia, Yuzu, and Karin found themselves in Minakami Forest with a questionable map given to them by Isshin, looking for 'some river' – as marked on the map – to set up the tent by. Yes, their demented father had only one tent (apparently, family bonding included sleeping together in a small space) to give them and it was barely big enough for the twins to share. Fortunately, Ichigo had the foresight to bring a bedroll for himself that he suspected would end up being stolen from him by Rukia. As he though, she wordlessly snatched it from him the moment they had gotten off the bus, which he didn't entirely mind seeing as how he'd been named the unofficial pack horse; the only thing he wasn't carrying was that, Rukia's backpack, and the food that Yuzu had made for the trip.
Somehow, nearly an hour later, they found the stream marked on the crudely drawn map and Ichigo promptly let everything drop off his sore shoulders. The small clearing around the water's edge seemed to glow with sunlight after the foursome had been traveling through the relatively dark trees. It was unusually tranquil, save for the bubbling sound of rushing water. The river itself was more like a brook, not even a foot deep and barely a meter in width but it was a source of fresh water nonetheless. Despite the bright sun shining brilliantly overhead, the warm breeze wafting gently through the trees, and tranquility of the flowing river, Ichigo did not like this place. The silence lingering over the area felt more ominous than peaceful and he had a strange feeling that something terrible was going to happen.
Writing it off as paranoia when he saw that Rukia didn't seem bothered by the place, Ichigo hefted the tent back up onto his shoulder and began looking for a spot to set it up. Karin and Yuzu immediately set about their mission of collecting insects, each snatching a glass jar from their bags with a wadded up paper towel soaked in alcohol clinging to the inside. Rukia situated herself on one of the boulders by the brook and checked her phone for any Hollow or Arrancar sightings back in Karakura, unable to assist Ichigo since she could barely even open a juice box by herself. As an afterthought, she set her phone to vibrate instead of beeping in case any orders came in.
"Karin-chan! I found one!" Yuzu called from across the shallow stream that separated the twin sisters, waving the raven haired girl over. She leaned closer to the object of her interest, and the little beetle she had cornered twitched and waved its antennae at her, causing the light haired eleven year-old to flinch. She did not like insects, and liked their insect collecting assignment even less.
Karin barely glanced up from the glass jar that had thoroughly ensnared her attention before returning her interest to the feuding bees inside. She was only supposed to have one live insect in the jar at a time and wait until the alcohol had completely killed it before trying to catch anymore. However, once she discovered the reason why she was supposed to wait, the eleven year-old found it much more entertaining to let them kill each other. It was a faster method, at any rate.
"Karin-chan," Yuzu called when she didn't receive a response.
Karin yawned and stretched.
"I'm not catching it for you, Yuzu," she called back, knowing precisely what her sister wanted from her.
"But Karin-chan," she pouted, "they're so gross! Can you please catch it for me?" Karin ignored her pleas, enraptured by the frantically dueling bees that had yet to give into the strong fumes of the alcohol. Yuzu frowned at her cruel sister, preparing to deliver the mother of all guilt trips when a larger pair of hands took the glass jar from her clutches.
"I can do it, Yuzu," Ichigo sighed, pretending to be annoyed. Unscrewing the lid, he easily scooped the beetle into the jar, resealed it, and handed it back to his younger sister. Now that it had no way of touching her, the insect was far less gross and a lot more intriguing to her.
"Thank you, Ichi-nii," Yuzu smiled up at the orange haired teenager.
"Yeah, yeah," he muttered in response, before going back to setting up their tent.
Once he had finished, Ichigo seated himself on one of the various rocks lining the stream, briefly watching Yuzu out of the corner of his eye when she wandered further down the stream. Lazily, his gaze drifted to Karin who was sitting on the opposite bank and was still watching her insects fight to the death. Her eyes widened interestedly when one finally triumphed and celebrated by ingesting his opponent. After watching her for a few moments, his gaze flickered to the Shinigami kneeling next to her that had been mirroring Karin's actions.
Rukia stared with a mixture of awe and contemplation on her face as she watched the bee consume his deceased rival. "Fascinating," she mumbled, cocking her head to one side to view the spectacle from a different angle.
Ichigo subconsciously fingered his belt loop where his Shinigami license was normally fastened, feeling self-conscious now that it was absent. He knew it was dangerous going anywhere with out it, but whenever a Hollow showed up it would always started shrieking. While this normally wasn't a problem – since only people with high spiritual energy could hear it – Ichigo knew that at least Karin had enough reiatsu to hear it and really didn't feel like trying to explain why a piece of wood was making weird noises. He didn't bring Kon along either because he was violently opposed to killing anyone or anything and the idea of a school assignment that forced students to take the lives of dozens of insects would have traumatized the mod soul. Besides, Rukia had her phone and her glove so it wouldn't be a problem.
As a reminder of their temporarily abandoned duties, the phone in Rukia's pocket shook once as a warning that a Hollow would be appearing nearby. Glad that she had taken the time to set the phone to vibrate, she quietly backed away from Karin and climbed to her feet before flipping it open. Two Hollows were going to appear about a half a mile south of their location in about one minute, neither of them having a bounty which meant they were low level. When she looked up from the phone Ichigo immediately caught her gaze and stiffened, expecting her to drag him off while spouting feeble excuses for their departure. He moved to stand up, fingers already reaching for the Shinigami license that wasn't there.
Rukia shook her head, silently signaling that his help wasn't needed, and swallowed a soul candy. Moments later, her soul popped out of her body wearing the familiar black shihakusho. As an afterthought, she snatched the red glove from her gigai's pocket before darting off into the woods before either of Ichigo's sisters could take notice. It was made painfully evident that Chappy now inhabited Rukia's gigai by that creepy, cat-like smirk that quickly crossed her face. Fortunately, the raven haired Shinigami had taught the replacement soul the importance of not trying to rip Ichigo's arms off – unless he deserved it – and the importance of saying as little as possible around other people. Unfortunately, Chappy still had to learn the finer points of subtlety.
Chappy plopped down next to Karin again, watching the imprisoned bee twitching in its final death throes with immense fascination. Somehow, she was capable of contorting her face into expressions that Rukia – or any other human for that matter - was probably physically incapable of mimicking. "Pyon," she muttered, missing Ichigo's glare as well as the vein that began ticking in his forehead. She leaned forward until she was lying on her stomach, propping her head up in her hands, and started kicking her feet in the air.
Karin looked at the raven haired girl out of the corner of her eye, narrowing in understanding when she saw the peculiar expression on the gigai's face. While she wasn't sure how it was possible, she knew Rukia was no longer the soul inhabiting that body. She knew this because she'd seen her brother leave his own body before and had always assumed that her adopted sister was capable of the same feat. She also knew that they were both called 'Shinigami' and that they fought creatures called 'Hollows'. She knew, because she'd fought those monsters before along with Jinta, Ururu, and Don Kanonji when the latter was trying to save his floundering show ratings by forming a spirit hunting team.
Someday, when Ichigo was alone, she would confront him about it. Until then, she could feign ignorance.
"Ichi-nii!" Yuzu called, drawing the attention of both of her siblings. She had abandoned her sandals on the side of the stream and was pointing wildly at a water strider she'd been pursuing. Knowing that arguing would be pointless – he would lose anyway – Ichigo compliantly went to Yuzu, briefly casting a glance at his watch. The neon digits read a few minutes after noon.
Rukia sighed in irritation as she surveyed the empty landscape before glaring at the glowing screen of her phone. Five minutes now she had been standing in the exact spot where the Hollows were supposed to appear, and she'd seen neither hide nor hair of anything sporting a white mask with a gaping hole in its chest. She checked for any updates she might have missed but found none even though her scanner wasn't picking up any Hollow activity within a ten mile radius. Briefly entertaining the thought of drop kicking the damn thing – since it was obviously broken – the irritated Shinigami began pacing to vent her frustrations; quickly wearing a rut into the slightly soft ground. She'd give the Hollows five minutes, and if they didn't show then she would drop kick her stupid phone. That is, after she removed the Chappy trinket she had attached to it.
After another brief scan of the area, the raven haired girl began wondering why any Hollow in their right mind would come to such a remote place. There were no houses nearby, very few people, and since these were supposed to be low level Hollows they lacked refined intelligence and relied on instinct – they only ever frequented large cities. Then again, Ichigo still couldn't control his spirit energy and he absolutely reeked of Shinigami which was considered a delicacy among Hollows. Higher level Hollows knew better than to engage those that hunted them, unless they were actually strong enough to present a challenge. Lower level Hollows, however, sought out the strongest reiatsu they could find and attacked viciously until they succeeded, or they had been purified.
The Shinigami slowed to a halt, not even noticing that she was no longer moving. All this made Rukia now wonder why they wouldn't have shown up yet. She had, after all, arrived on the scene before the Hollows should have and her presence would have immediately drawn them to her. Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted when the very air in front of her ripped open and a spike shaped appendage slammed into the ground where she had been standing only moments before. "Finally," she muttered under her breath, grasping the hilt of her zanpakuto and waiting for the Hollow to fully materialize. The area to her right – just barely inside her peripheral vision – suddenly began to waver as the second Hollow made his appearance.
Rukia jumped back to keep a fair distance between herself and the Hollows while she took in their appearance. The first Hollow was reminiscent of a giant crab and had a layered shell covering most of its body though it (thankfully) lacked pincers of any kind. The second Hollow had the appearance of a large, winged, praying mantis and was smaller than his companion. Drawing Sode no Shirayuki, Rukia decided to take out the winged Hollow first since the flying types were always more problematic. Before she had even moved to strike, something slammed painfully into her side and flung her against a tree with such force that it splintered and nearly toppled over.
Crumpling to the ground, winded, Rukia cursed herself for being so careless and quickly focused her attention on the third Hollow that had snuck up behind her. She had little time for observation when a giant, clawed hand swung through the air and practically shattered the tree she had been flung against. Had she rolled away a split second slower, it would have been her skull that was fragmented and scattered across the ground. Ignoring her aching ribs and sore arm, Rukia climbed to her feet only to find herself surrounded by four Hollows and the shimmering air around her signaled that even more were on their way. At one point Rukia counted around twelve Hollows, at least ten of them mid-level or higher, and stopped caring how many there were once they began to advance. Knowing this battle was best ended quickly, the Shinigami really had only one option.
"Dance, Sode no Shirayuki!"
Five insects later Ichigo checked his watch again, sighing in irritation to cover up his concern. He wasn't exactly sure what time it had been when Rukia had run off without so much as a word, but he knew that twenty minutes had passed since he'd first began checking the time. He could still feel her slightly diminished reiatsu in the distance, which meant she wasn't dead or dying, but that offered him little comfort. What if she ran into a sadistic Hollow like that Shrieker guy and she was slowly being tortured to death? Or maybe she had already won but she had been seriously injured or had broken a bone and couldn't move? Or the Arrancar! What if she was being held hostage? Mentally slapping himself, Ichigo shook his head and crossed his arms fiercely over his chest.
Any Hollow short of a Menos Grande was nothing to Rukia now that her powers were fully recovered, and that was when she left her sword in its sealed state. Ichigo also knew that if it were a Menos Grande or even an Arrancar that she was up against, he would have been able to sense it by now. Plus, on the off chance that she had been injured, she could always use her kidou to patch herself up. He wasn't even certain when or where the Hollow was supposed to show up, which was also a factor in her lateness. Visibly relaxing, Ichigo decided that Rukia was either already on her way back, or busy with healing up a few minor scrapes. It did, after all, take longer for her to heal herself and if she had broken something…
…Like her arm…or her leg…or her neck and was lying in the middle of the woods, paralyzed, and another Hollow happened to come along…
"Damn it," Ichigo muttered under his breath, climbing to his feet and seeking out Chappy.
Yuzu and Karin had spread out a picnic blanket a few minutes ago and were digging into the bentos that the former had made for their lunch. At that time, Chappy had been sitting with them munching on an onigiri. Now, she was standing in the middle of the stream, hunched over with her arms outstretched, trying to catch the small silvery fish that flitted between the rocks. Witnessing the temporary soul's behavior while she inhabited Rukia's gigai was always a peculiar sight; he could never picture the real Rukia doing anything so bizarre. He was reluctant to leave his sisters in the care of that thing but he had little choice in the matter.
When he approached her, Chappy immediately abandoned her activity and gave Ichigo a stern look. "Rukia has not returned," she muttered gravely. At least, she understood the severity of the- "Pyon."
"Would you knock that shit off!" He hissed at her, his fierce glare ignored by the ditzy konpaku. "I'm going to find her, so make sure nothing happens to my sisters, got it?" Chappy nodded, pausing when a flash of silver below her caught her attention. Wordlessly, she dived for the fish, and Ichigo skillfully ignored her bizarre antics. "Yuzu, Karin." Hearing their names, the twin sisters looked up from their bentos. "I'll be right back I have to uh…I'll be back in a few minutes. Stay close to Rukia." Letting them draw their own conclusions, Ichigo felt out Rukia's reiatsu and headed out in that direction.
"Alright," Karin replied needlessly, requiring no further explanation. While it would have been fun and sinfully easy to give her brother a hard time, he wasn't the only one worried about Rukia's long absence.
Yuzu, however, did not know that Rukia was off fighting huge monsters with white masks. Yuzu – unlike her siblings – had never been able to see the monsters that the two Shinigami fought and quite frankly Karin hoped it would stay that way. "Ichi-nii, wait!"
"He's going to the bathroom, Yuzu," Karin lied coolly, finishing off her rice ball.
"Oh," Yuzu paused, letting her chopsticks dip into the ramen noodles. "Well, he could have just said so."
Karin shrugged indifferently, "He's a boy. They're weird like that." The dark haired eleven year-old leaned back against the tree and shut her eyes. She'd gotten pretty far along in her assignment and she still had all of Sunday to finish it so taking a short nap wouldn't hurt. Besides, there were a few insects she wanted for her collection that only came out at night so if she slept now, she'd be awake enough later to catch them. Letting a heavy sigh escape from her lips, she easily drifted into unawareness.
Everything suddenly existed in sepia tones riddled with scratches and shakes like the world itself had become an old film. The forest was no longer a quiet one, echoing with the chirping of birds and the occasional hissing cicadas that nearly overpowered the quiet trickling of the stream. Reality itself suddenly shifted like a dropped frame and the once vacant scene was occupied by two teenage girls walking along the water's edge. Both girls wore matching white kimonos and simple, red obis encircled their waist. Upon first glance, both girls were identical in appearance: Black hair, dark brown eyes, rather pale skin, and they were even the exact same height. When given closer scrutiny, however, their differences became apparent.
The girl in the lead was smiling assertively, stepping sure-footedly over the slippery stones. She stood with her shoulders squared and eyes glinting as if daring the rocks to reach out and try to trip her. She carried an unmistakable air of confidence about her as if the world itself would stop turning if she willed it to. The girl behind her, however, strayed from the brook and made sure to keep a safe distance from the uneven ground. Her worried gaze – almost a scowl – was locked on the first girl as if expecting something horrible would happen to her. She even seemed to be shrinking down inside of her kimono to pull herself away from the world into a cocoon of safety.
The first girl suddenly stopped, lifting her smiling face to the sky and breathing in deeply. The second girl stopped as well, her gaze shifting timidly to the surrounding area. "Yae, let's go back. We shouldn't go so far from the village. It's dangerous."
Yae slowly closed her eyes, letting the sun warm her face. "You needn't worry so much, Sae. Do you remember this place?"
Sae cautiously glanced around before her gaze settled on the river. Suddenly, she relaxed. "Of course, we came here when we were younger. We used to play here all the time until we started our lessons and training with father." The tiny smile that managed to tug up one corner of her mouth quickly dropped into a frown. "Yae, we don't have to leave…please…"
"I won't," Yae's expression became grave as she addressed her sibling, still focusing on the sky above. "I can't do it, Sae. We can't stay. I brought you here because I made you a promise." She turned to face Sae, her smile returning. "This is where I promised…where we promised that we would always be together. I won't break my promise to you, Sae." Yae moved to stand beside her look-a-like and gently placed her hands on Sae's shoulders. "Please, leave the village with me."
Sae's lips didn't move though her voice could be heard clearly as if her thoughts were echoing through the forest. 'My body is weak, Yae…I might not be able to follow you. What if you leave me behind? I don't want to be alone…sister.' Yae did not hear Sae's words and another dropped frame of reality stole Yae away and left Sae to sob miserably. A bright pinpoint of crimson light suddenly pierced the sepia toned world, taking on the shape of a butterfly flitting gracefully through the trees with a small, auburn haired girl pursuing it.
Karin immediately snapped to wakefulness, a cold sweat drenching her face as she heavily gasped for breath. Relief was the first sensation that gripped her, finding the world in its normal state and void of any ghosts whatsoever. No dream or nightmare had ever affected her this severely in a long time – not since she'd seen the memories of a little ghost boy named Shibata whose mother was brutally murdered in front of him. Another brief scan of the area, however, caused the raven haired girl to frown. Only a few minute ago, Yuzu had been sitting across from her on the picnic blanket but now, she was nowhere in site.
Quickly climbing to her feet and stepping closer to the river, Karin cupped her hands around her mouth. "Yuzu! Hey Yuzu, where are you?" Receiving no response from her twin she surveyed the scenery more carefully, a red pinpoint of light in the distance suddenly catching her attention.
Just like in her dream, a crimson butterfly was leading Yuzu deeper into the forest.
"Yuzu! Wait!" Karin called out, leaping across the brook and sprinting after her sister.
Chappy, who was still standing ankle deep in the water trying to catch fish, suddenly snapped to attention when she realized that her charges were running off into the woods. Leaping from the river, the replacement soul had only gotten a few steps into her pursuit when another butterfly cut off her path. She examined it with uncharacteristic seriousness, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion. The strange, glowing insect felt almost like a Hell Butterfly though its reiatsu was significantly stronger and felt influential – for lack of a better word. Its mere presence had been enough to halt the konpaku in her tracks. Intrigued by the unique creature, Chappy cautiously reached out to catch and examine it more closely and the moment she had extended her arm, the butterfly perched precariously on the tip of her index finger.
She promptly collapsed moments later.
Karin swore under her breath as low branches and underbrush whipped painfully at her legs and arms, almost trying to snatch her further from Yuzu's fleeting form, and finding out quickly that her voice was not reaching Yuzu's ears. She had managed to close a considerable amount of distance between herself and her sister, but now she couldn't seem to catch up no matter how fast she ran. Her next steps carried her past an old, weather-worn statue that barely reached her knees with an engraving of two shrine maidens on it. The moment she had stepped beyond the invisible barrier it created, Karin suddenly lurched forward into a world colored entirely in grays; the only exception was the crimson butterfly dancing acerbically before her.
A shadow of a woman briefly overlaid Yuzu's fleeting form; a shadow of the woman Karin had seen in her dream. Abruptly gaining an extra burst of speed, Karin was finally able to close the few remaining feet that separated the twins and reached out to grab Yuzu's shoulder. Suddenly, it was not her shoulder that was gripped in Karin's hand, but her thin, warm neck and her grip began to tighten. Appalled, she pulled herself away from this image, finding herself standing alone with a moonlit path lying in front of her.
Not caring how the day had suddenly transitioned to nighttime so quickly or why the air suddenly felt heavy and cold, Karin hurried down the path calling desperately for her twin sister. Upon reaching the end of the trail, to her relief, she found Yuzu had stopped on top of the slope before her, a stone monument situated in the center of the hill. This time when she called her name, Yuzu actually responded. Slowly she turned to face Karin, her eyes distant and slightly glazed over, and Karin found herself shivering.
"Karin-chan…I can see them…"
It's calling me…
Calling me deep into the village…
No…It's not us…
- Mayu Amakura
A/N: I am a bad, BAD person. Here I am making my 'Arashi' readers wait for the next chapter and what do I do? I start another story! I didn't mean to do it really; it's just when a story starts poking me it refuses to stop.
The Village: Poke
Damn it! Anyway, I hope the first chapter was intriguing enough for you.