A/N: Thank you so much for the reviews, y'all! I love you guys. Anyway, this chapter contains Hidan's foul mouth (you have been warned, and the rating has been upped) and introduces some other characters. Please do R&R again, and now, on to the chapter!
Chapter Two: The Castle
"What do you mean, he will never be returned?"
Sakura asked fearfully, seeing a bright flash of lightning net across the sky. The figure in the crimson cloak laughed, a low chuckle that sent a layer of ice crawling up her skin. She saw those wide, painted eyes in the shadow of the hood again, staring directly at her, and she looked away as thunder rumbled across the sky.
"It does not concern you. Go home."
And then he was gone.
Sakura's mind spun wildly. She had just seen it with her own eyes, the inhuman hand, those evil eyes, but yet she could not help but sense the aura of loneliness that accompanied this being. The fairytale, she knew now, had been real. The man, if you would call it a man, she had met did not seem very princely. But he had her father, and as she saw the cloak of red darting up the dead garden's slope towards the great black castle, she knew that she had to rescue her father, even if it meant giving up her own freedom in exchange.
She reached the entrance to the castle, a wide archway of stone, just as the rain started to fall. Thunder crashed again as the rain like icy needles descended in droves upon the garden, splattering off blackened roses like bitter tears. The interior of the castle was musky and damp, and she coughed on the layer of dust as she entered the main corridor. Brightly lit torches burned on the walls, illuminating her path. Something in her told her to turn back, but she thought of her father and pressed on. As the rain-strewn archway disappeared slowly behind her, she noticed a figure in a tattered black robe approaching her.
His hands were covered with black gloves, and he clutched a candle in one hand, the hot wax dripping onto his glove as he approached her. When they were face-to-face, Sakura saw lengths of blonde hair draped over his left eye, the rest tied behind him in a loose knot. Icy blue eyes surveyed her carefully, as if never seeing another human before, when suddenly he broke into a pained smile.
"So, you have finally come to break the spell!"
He whispered under the fire's flickering light. Sakura was taken aback, unsure of how to respond as the young man before her addressed her with such enthusiasm. Her mouth laid half-open in an attempt to answer, but the blonde quickly shushed her and looked around furtively. "Please, you must break the spell. You're our last hope." The blonde paused to look around again, before continuing.
"My name is Deidara. I was once the castle artist, talented in sculptures for the castle decorations. But then, that enchantress came and now, we have all become like this." He blew out the candle, placed it on the floor and removed his glove. The hand was human for as far as Sakura could see, but when he turned it over, she gasped in shock at the mouth resting in his palm. A tongue darted out before it slipped back in. Leaving Sakura wide-eyed, Deidara replaced the glove and fixed her with a hard look. "You must help us."
"Who are you talking to, Deidara?"
Another voice startled Sakura as she turned to see yet a second robed figure swiftly approaching from the end of the corridor, followed closely by a third. As they came before her she noticed that one glared at her with vivid green irises set upon a pitch black sclera, the entire bottom portion of his face covered in a half-mask, framed with jagged black spikes of hair. The second had sleek silver hair with piercing violet eyes, and as far as Sakura could tell, there wasn't anything physically wrong with him. Narrowing his eyes at her, the silver-haired man spoke.
"Look, lady. If you're here, it means you have to fucking break the spell. We've been under this damn curse for ages now, and we're not gonna let you run away if it means locking your ass in—"
"Quiet, Hidan." The man next to him muttered. "It seems that Deidara has found the one who will free us all. Good, for the castle treasury has been slowly rotting away these long years. You must meet the others."
The one named Hidan scowled. Deidara nodded wisely. "This is Kakuzu—"He gestured to the man with the strange eyes. "And this is Hidan." He pointed to the silver-haired man. "Kakuzu is the castle treasurer, and Hidan is the priest who conducts sacred ceremonies for the prince." "You mean used to conduct." Hidan snapped. Sakura took all these in slowly, starting to believe that she had finally lost her mind. How could one as foul-mouthed as Hidan be a priest? Slowly, she backed away. Deidara was about to take a step after her before a flutter of a crimson cloak caught his eye.
"Master…" Deidara quickly muttered, before gesturing to the rest to exit. He mouthed a 'good luck' to her before all three figures retreated down the corridor and vanished from sight. The ominous figure from before stood in front of Sakura now, fixing her with that permanent glare that seemed to indicate something bad was about to happen. His voice was laced with frost, and he seemed to spit the words.
"I told you to go home."
Sakura shivered again, before she summoned her courage and looked up into the painted eyes. "I am here to offer myself in exchange for my father's life. Release him and you may keep me here forever." The puppet laughed, wooden lips curving into a smirk. "I am not human, nor am I a full puppet. You'd be willing to stay?" Sakura nodded. She saw a glimmer of emotion flash quickly in his eyes before his wooden palm pressed onto hers, passing her an ornate brass key. "Take this, and free your father in the dungeon. Then lock yourself in. If you escape with him, I will take both your lives."
Sakura nodded quickly and closed her frozen fingers around the icy key, and following where he motioned her to, she darted down the moss-covered stone steps towards the dungeon, her surroundings getting darker and damper every step that she took. Finally, she reached a circular area surrounded by rusty metal bars, illuminated by a single torch upon the wall. Motionless shadows lay in each cell, propped up against the wall. She feared to see what they might be. Pulling her eyes from the horrifying sights, she approached the one cell where she could see the shadow moving frantically, as if looking for a way out.
"Father!" Sakura shouted in joy, sticking the key into the lock. With a click, the cell door swung open and her father walked out, looking dazed and afraid. "Why did you come? It is too dangerous…we must leave now." Her father said, grabbing her wrist. Sakura stood steadfast upon the wooden steps. "I cannot. Go back, father. For I must stay in exchange for your freedom…"
"No! Sakura, he isn't here, we can leave—"
"I am afraid that's impossible. I promised him, and so I must stay. But I can see it in his eyes; he will not harm me even though he is but a puppet. Go home father, everything will be fine." But Sakura felt a light flutter of fear in her heart even as she said those words. "I will come back for you…" Her father murmured before he sprung back up the stairs. Alone in the dungeon now, Sakura stepped into the empty cell and swung the door closed, before turning the key as the door locked. And she sat there, listening to the howling of the wind above her and the roar of the heavy rain, and she waited.
Finally, she heard footsteps on the staircase as the blonde she had met from earlier, still carrying his candle, came down the stone steps, a ringlet of keys in his other hand as he unlocked the door to Sakura's cell. "You stayed." He whispered to her, smiling. "The master asked me to bring you to your new room, he said you'd be here, and here you are of your own free will." Sakura felt appalled. She did not have to reside in the dungeon?
Deidara motioned for her to follow him as they exited the dungeon and walked across the main corridor, before turning through an archway marked "The East Wing". Empty suits of armor lined the hallway along with hanging tapestries. As she walked, Sakura noticed a painting that hung just adjacent to a suit of armor, and it was torn in half, preventing her from seeing the person in the portrait. Was that the prince's original self? She took a deep breath and continued walking.
They soon reached a huge chamber door, which Deidara unlocked. Stepping in, Sakura was awed by the spacious room and the large canopy bed covered with velvet sheets. Richly embroidered curtains lined the stone window that lay on one end of the room, and the floor was carpeted in burgundy. Candles on a three-stand candelabrum lay on the dressing table, burning brightly.
Sakura entered the room slowly at first, but eventually she forgot all her worries to admire the room's artistic design, and nodded towards Deidara, who returned her nod. "Oh yes, and the master also wishes that you join him for dinner tomorrow evening. All the clothes are in the closet for you. Good night." The blonde said as he exited and closed the door behind him.