Windows of the Soul
There are so many Shiznat fics now that there's a pressure to bring something new to the table, but this is just a plain depiction of the lives of a psychotic lesbian stalker with erstwhile magical powers and her equally ex-magical crush. Please don't expect too much.
And yes, it's Mikoto, damnit. I've been watching altogether too much Minami-ke.
I am a dragon.
Dragons are many things to many people. Intelligent or stupid, with a low cunning or a sinister genius, large or small as they like, thin or fat, long or short, with scales of any colour you care to name, evil monsters, noble spirits, a steed to be tamed and rode or an ally and comrade or a being that will never suffer a mortal touch, a being that eats suns, dies to knights, eats virgins and in every respect embodies destructive power. Dragons can good or evil. It's just a matter of perspective. But regardless, they are intrinsically destructive, and that will not change. Still, they have a certain knack for capturing the human imagination, and worming their way into the myth of people across the world. People like to think about dragons, though I doubt they'd want to be one.
Dragons eat monks, as well, and unrequited loves.
I wish my dragon was here, my Kiyohime. It was easier, before, to separate things. I was myself, pure and imbued with purpose. And Kiyohime was the monster, albeit my beloved monster, a faithful servant who would give me the power to protect her. Now I am alone things are much more complicated, and I can no longer pretend that I am not part of the monster, and that Kiyohime was not one with part of me.
Everything had been so simple, then. Demons must lead uncomplicated lives.
But that's not to the purpose. I closed my eyes and chased thoughts out of my mind, trying to enjoy the moment, if nothing else. A moment of peace, with cold air against my face as I sat in seiza, a gentle nighttime wind rustling the grass, moonlight reflecting off the water. I probably looked very beautiful in that moment, I'm sure. My hands were folded neatly on my lap, resting on the sheath of my katana. In my mind's eye, the dragon roared. It had been in such a place, if not this place, where the end had begun. I pricked myself with that memory, drawing blood and probing the pain that sprang from it. That was, if not good, necessary, to know that I was still human and still alive. If my innermost heart ever matched my smooth porcelain face, I would lose all my excuses. But, at least, I still regret, and I still make myself sick to the heart. I am still human. Still water reflected the light of the moon, and I watched without moving.
Water Moon. The moon that I see there cannot be grasped, and even if I were to reach out, there would be nothing but ripples and regret. That is the penance we pay for desiring the unobtainable.
"Ojou-sama," Hideko said softly.
"Yes?" I asked without looking round.
"Viola-sama has called. She would like to speak to you."
I nodded. "Tell her I am already asleep."
"You didn't give any indication of anything else being true, did you?"
"Then you shall say that, but do assure her that I haven't run off again. I will call her back in the morning. But tell her that it's still arranged, for me to be staying here for a few weeks longer. I have a few things to take care of. Is that understood?"
"Yes, ojou-sama." Hideko bowed swiftly and withdrew.
"Thank you," I said, half-late. I really was slipping up in recent times. I didn't even look the poor woman in the face.
As silence fell again in my peaceful little world, I felt a peculiar compulsion of mine. Moonlight on the water is all very well, of course, but it only provides the most literal of reflections. I drew my katana a few inches, staring thoughtfully at the square of polished metal. Red eyes stared back at me, the centerpiece of a composed, idly contemplative face. Of course, this wasn't my Element, just as these lingering feelings are not Kiyohime. But the principle of the thing is the same. They are weapons, and this blade in an instant recalls everything I have ever done. I wallow in those memories, because they describe the exact extent of the corruption that lies within. It's a filthy, disgusting thing, a sword, an implement designed with no functions but to take a life from this world. And everyone is so connected in this world that to do such a thing is the ultimate sin. But still, they have a fey beauty. I'm not comparing myself to a sword, though. I am a dragon, or perhaps something worse than that. I knew exactly what I was doing. I know exactly what I did.
Before, when I played this game, it was in earnest. Those were the days straight after, when my palms sweated and my hands shook as they gripped the hilt and I felt the bile rising in my belly whenever I stopped to think. I have progressed, a little. Now I merely regard the blade and all its possibilities with a dull, detached and scientific interest. I know exactly how easy it is to kill a human. But I have killed so many that my own blood would mean nothing at all. Even if I had, that would not bring the dead back to life. After contemplation, I have decided that death isn't any kind of redemption. Instead, my duty is to live, and so I do, day by day. It is almost more than I could bear.
And so it is with her, as well. If only I could avoid her, I would, because it is a daily torture to she her distance, her weak smiles and cautious gaze and subtle fear, and her kindness. In a clumsy way. She believes she does me a favour, to play at forgiveness. I would never see her again, but that would be my weakness. I killed for her, and if that's why I cannot bear to see her face, she can hardly be blamed. No, redemption isn't running away, either. The easy solution is generally the wrong one in life. If a path feels clean and right, then it is false. I have learned that well, and so I will smile and be what I should have been to her all along, her friend. That is how things should be.
"I have relayed your message, ojou-sama."
"Thank you," I replied, voice empty. "I'm sorry to trouble you to such a deception, but I have a headache tonight." It was surprisingly difficult to string even those simple words together. I was tired, and I simply wanted to think.
"It was nothing. Shouldn't you come in, ojou-sama? Even summer nights can be very cold out, and you need your sleep."
"Thank you for your concern, but I doubt I will be able to sleep for a little while yet. I will come back in presently."
"Yes, ojou-sama," Hideko replied, sadness plain in her voice. She bowed and left silently.
They always look at me with those eyes, now. Those sad and worried eyes. It makes me sick, but it isn't their fault. I wonder what they whisper, when they think I can't hear, or when I'm at school? Illness? Lovesickness? Stress? I am sure they have come up with such imaginative explanations that I have never come up with a specific lie. That would ruin their speculative little pastimes.
My truth is both a ludicrously unlikely and complex one, and also the simplest truth of all.
I looked up at the ever-distant moon and wondered what Natsuki was doing right now.
"What are we going to do over the summer, anyway?" Mai asked.
"Who knows?" I replied.
"Don't say that! Chances like this don't come up too often, you know, Natsuki," Mai said, holding up a finger. "We should plan a lot of fun things to do together."
"You do that. The point is I, for one, do know what I'll be doing over the summer. Attending extra classes, or I don't graduate." I checked the room, just in case. Mai, Mikoto, Tate, all conditions clear. And so I threw my hands up. "Isn't this complete bullshit? I helped save the world, for God's sake, and they're quibbling over the minor details!"
"Well, to be fair, I don't think completing a year's work counts as a minor detail," Mai mused. "And for the most part you were skipping for your own reasons anyway."
"Don't be so analytical about it!" I snapped. "I died, you know! I actually, genuinely game over, reload from save file died. What else do they expect?"
"You have a point," Mai muttered.
"Well, yeah," I said, conscious that I was turning the conversation in a bad direction. "But then there's… Takeda! I've heard about that guy's grades. Just how the hell did he graduate? Clerical error?"
"I think you're being a little hard on the poor boy," Mai said, smiling weakly.
"Nah, she has a point," Tate said. "With that guy, I really don't know either."
"Honestly, if kendo club leadership was all it took to graduate I'd go and take it from him right now," I argued. "But life's only that convenient for other people. I know someone's out for revenge."
"Oh, don't be such a drama queen," Mai chided.
"Can't you get Fujino-san to do something?" Tate asked. "I mean, she is council president…"
"Was," I corrected. "And do you want me to have to see her smug smile?"
"I suppose not."
"In any case, you're really going to have to do something about Takeda-senpai," Mai said. "The poor boy's already graduated, and he's still mooning over you. You owe it to him to at least give him an answer."
I considered saying something sharp about Mai's decisiveness in choosing men but decided one awkward slip-up would do for an evening. Besides, we both knew that coming to a decision was hardly the problem. So I just shrugged coldly. "Oh, come on. Isn't that just a pain in the ass? I don't see why I should even talk to him after everything he's pulled, and it's not like he ever said anything properly."
"You should be graceful, Natsuki. Anything else is just arrogant. And he is a good boy."
I cocked an eyebrow.
"He just got into a few… accidents."
I sniffed. "Well, you should know that there are some accidents a lady can't forgive." I glanced subtly across the room, trying out some of this tact stuff Shizuru was always talking about. Apparently, I lack tact, which is nonsense. I always tell everyone very clearly why they're annoying the hell out of me, instead of letting them suffer in silence. But Mikoto was rolling across the floor, plainly bored out of her moderately feline skull, and Tate was shooting longing looks at Mai. Men are all hopeless. Though that goes for most women as well, of course, in different ways. Most people are generally hopeless.
"Oh, don't be so stiff-necked," Mai said reasonably. "You don't have to do it in person if you don't want to, either. Why don't you just write a letter?"
"A letter?" I queried. She nodded. "And if I tell him to jump off a cliff, he'll stop bothering me forever?"
"Well, I'd phrase it more politely," Mai said.
"If it's you saying that, he just might," Tate cautioned.
I groaned. "Fine, fine. I'll pull the punches, whatever. But I still don't see why I should show any consideration to him at all."
"Just get it over with, and you can forget him, and I'll stop nagging you," Mai observed with a wry smile. "It's too much to hope for that you'd have any interest in him, I guess."
"Are you kidding? I'd rather beat myself to death with one of his shinai. Let's be very clear on that one." I folded my arms and snorted. "I don't know where he got the idiot idea into his head in the first place. I barely know the guy."
"Well, crushes work like that," Mai said easily, as if being in one relationship made her the world expert.
Again, I didn't mention what I remembered of her very interesting track record. "If you say so. Creeps me out, though."
"You really are always aloof, aren't you?" Mai smiled. "You really need to get a boyfriend or something. It's not like you aren't beautiful or popular-"
"That's enough. Don't start. I'm not the relationship type, as I've said a thousand times before." I closed my eyes. "I don't have any interest in that kind of silly teenage game."
"Still with the lone wolf personality. Well, it's your loss."
"Theirs, you mean," I replied, feeling slightly pleased with myself. Okay, not Shizuru-level yet, but I can play with words too. The line of conversation was annoying, though, and once Mai's started talking about it she never stops.
Well, I guess it's nice for her to be able to talk about normal things, or something. But it's still a pain in the ass.
Mai laughed, and I stretched, standing up. "I feel like a walk, if you don't mind. How about you, Mikoto? Do you want to go get some ice cream?"
Mai frowned. "At this time of night?"
"Oh, wrap her up in a coat, mother," I snorted. "And it's not like we can't handle ourselves, anyway. How about it, Mikoto?"
The girl sprang up from her sitting position, nodding eagerly. "Let's go get ice-cream!"
"Then we can come too," Mai began, before I shook my head.
"You two stay here. There's no point in everyone getting cold, right?"
"I'll choose Mai's ice cream," Mikoto confided eagerly. "And it'll be a good one, too!"
"Are you sure…" Mai began.
Honestly, you can't do a favour for some people. "Of course," I snapped. "I only came up with this to get away from your yapping about me and guys anyway, right?" Hopefully she'd take that as a joke.
She did smile at that. "Okay, if you insist." She got up as well. "Come on, Mikoto, you can't go bounding off just yet… even in summer it'll be cold at night, okay?" She grabbed Mikoto's coat from the hanger, then turned to find that Mikoto had hidden behind a chair. "Jeez, stay still," she complained.
Personally, I don't see what the fuss is about. I'm pretty sure you could stick Mikoto nude at the south poll with no food or water and she'd make her way to Mai's flat inside the week, demanding food and back rubs. But Mai's got a mother complex about her. Probably makes up for Takumi getting a girlfriend or something. I don't know, I'm not a psychologist. Me, I just shrugged on my leather jacket and waited for the slapstick chase scene that was raging three foot from me to end. Normal children would say they don't want to wear the coat, but Mikoto can only attack or flee. There's something to be said for such a style, I must admit. Just as long as I'm not the caretaker of the wretched girl, something I'd just offered to do.
I blame it on the boytalk. I can't stand that stuff.
And so I went to get ice cream for Mai's adoptive daughter at nine o'clock at night. Go figure, with my life. It hasn't gotten any saner, since those days were over with.
I will admit that Mikoto has a few things to recommend herself to you, though. She's easy to deal with, as even I can buy food. She doesn't talk much if Mai's not around, and when she does she isn't exactly a trap conversationalist like some people I know. And I didn't have to fight her, either. I imagine she doesn't look so innocent to those who were killed by the second demonic Hime. And always to protect someone, I'm told… quietly.
I can ruin my own moods, as well. I've always been straight-forwards, and a straight-forwards denial has served me quite well these last few weeks. Insofar as it's possible, I'm pretending it didn't exist. Not the ghost of my mother, not killer cyborgs and orbital strikes, not deathmatches, conspiring nuns and Nao and above all… not her. That didn't happen. It's just a collective delusion we just don't talk about, because if we got down to exploring the twisted truths of that time we'd kill each other all over again. And this time, there'd be no convenient resurrection miracle. Not unless you believe in the afterlife and even then we're all going straight to hell.
Sometimes I do wonder whether that stuff really didn't happen. I mean, it's complete fantasy in objective terms. If I was to describe it to any third party, they'd consider me mad. I've wondered whether I am mad. But it did happen. There are too many leftovers for it to be a lie. Birthmarks, fat men with afros and my exceptional sporting abilities are all incidental. It's the looks, the fears, the hates, the resentments that linger still. The dropped sentences, awkward pauses in a conversation, a hate between friends that lies too deep to be pulled out and burns too strong to be forgotten. You don't need to be sensitive to notice such things. That's also another reason why I'm convinced it's real. In all the stories, we would have discovered our powers, fought a great evil together, defeated it and become best friends forever. We did discover powers and we did fight evil, but most of the evil we found in ourselves. Most people don't need to look further than that to find it. And as for friends forever… sometimes I wonder whether we should just scatter in twelve different directions and never meet again. Isn't that just easier? But Mai wouldn't accept anything like that. She wants us to forgive each other. There are a few people who won't be forgiving her any time soon, though.
Real life is really messy, whether or not it includes dragons and wolves. That's because it involves real people.
"You know, I really hate that guy."
Case and point.
I turned and looked down at Mikoto in surprise. "That guy?"
"Tate. He has funny hair."
I laughed at that. "He certainly does. You should tell him that sometime."
"And Mai never pays any attention to me when he is there. It's really annoying. She won't let me do anything either, and she won't fix me food. That's why I hate him." Mikoto glanced up at me. "It's unfair, isn't it?"
I sighed. Why is she talking to me about this? Someone else would be a lot better, and I don't have much patience with it. "Well, yeah, it is. But that's how it is," I said bluntly. "You might as well get used to it."
Mikoto pouted. That girl can really pout.
I shifted uncomfortably. "Well, it's not like you have to be with Mai all the time anyway. It's called personal space or me time or something… I think… but you should have other friends anyway, right?"
Mikoto nodded sharply. "Yep. I have Natsuki, right?"
"I'm honoured," I replied dryly.
"And I have Nao and Shiho and Akira and Takumi and Sanae and Arika and Nachi and Aimi and Orimi and Utae and Yasue and even ani." Mikoto grinned. "I have a lot of friends."
"So it's fine, isn't it?" I reasoned.
"Mai's different, though," Mikoto said simply, looking at the ground again. "Mai's my favourite friend, and it's best to be with her. But Tate is Mai's favourite friend, not me, and I don't like Tate."
I opened my mouth to say something, then thought better of it. Instead I just shrugged. "Well, that happens."
Mikoto scowled at me. "Even if it happens, it doesn't make me happy."
"I know that," I retorted. I looked forwards again. "I know that. Well, it's not like I haven't noticed the difference either. But when this happens, friends are people who keep a little distance and put up with it. I think, anyway. It's not like I'm an expert either."
Mikoto nodded. "I got it. Then I'll be her best friend."
I smiled. "And in any case, she'll come crying back to us in the end. That's how it goes, isn't it?"
Mikoto blinked. "Is it?"
I frowned thoughtfully. "Probably. I think so. The girls in my year are always complaining about the boys. Not that I take part or anything, but it's always loud and annoying."
"Say, who is your favourite friend?" Mikoto asked.
I blinked. "My what?"
"Mai? Kaichou?" Mikoto made a face, pointing to herself. "Or Mikoto?"
I frowned automatically. "Well, you can discount the last one, definitely."
"Natsuki is mean." Mikoto blinked expectantly. "Well, who?"
"Well, I don't have anyone like that," I began, waving a hand dismissively. "I have friends, but it's not like I'd choose between them or that I obsess much about it."
Mikoto frowned for a moment, then pointed at me. "Hime."
"Hime have favourite people."
Of course, Mikoto has no tact at all. Even though she killed the most Hime of us all, she doesn't really consider it a problem. It must be nice. "Well, that's a different matter," I said evasively. "And I'm not going to talk about that."
"Hmm," Mikoto pouted. "Natsuki won't tell me anything."
"It's not like it's important or anything." I groped for a change of subject. I could already see Shizuru's wry, sad eyes haunting me in the darkness.
"Hideko," I called softly.
She padded silently across the floor. "Yes, ojou-sama?"
"My mind is ill at ease. I will be performing purification rites again tonight. Please bring me my white kimono and the headband."
"The kimono is being washed," Hideko said uneasily. "And it is late. It would not be wise-"
I turned to regard her, eyes sharp and unkind. But I smiled, in a twisted kind of way. "Please bring me my white kimono and headband, Hideko-san. I am aware of the health risks, but the condition of my spirit is more important for now."
This is also a development that worries them. I have always been moderately religious, but only in a detached way before. This newfound zealotry must seem unhealthy to them. Of course, they do not understand that I have become so impure that I can no longer cleanse these sins, or receive any peace from the act, save in a small way. It helps me sleep, a little. That alone is grace.
I have committed the ultimate sin, taking life. Not to save my own, which is acceptable, but for my own pleasure, without regret and without apology, and not just once but many times over. The souls of those dead, those I killed so swiftly and so surely I lost count of their number, bear me an undying grudge. I must be pursued by so many aragami that my every step is dogged by a procession of demons. Sometimes I think I can see them, but that is only in my mind's eye. Certainly, my life is cursed, though.
But how can I explain that to them? I cannot. Their concern is merely another kind of punishment, for I must bear the burden of so many undeserved kindnesses.
Hideko left my white kimono behind me, neatly folded, and withdrew again. I paused for a few moments, closing my eyes and gathering my breath, then stood and began to undress, slipping out of my gaudy coloured kimono. Sometimes I wonder whether I should just wear white all the time and be done with it.
Actually, I was wearing something like this back then, wasn't I? All my traditional clothes have a kind of sickening nostalgia to them now. The cloth slid over my shoulders and fell to the floor, and I stood almost absently, the cold night air running over my naked body. A princess, wide open. There's a vulnerability to being undressed that is in all disproportion to fact. Clothes are just a social convention and they certainly won't turn a blade or stop a bullet. But still. And it was also very cold, which is an even better reason to wear clothes all the time. I shrugged the white kimono on, composing my thoughts, then wrapped the bandana about my head.
Thought and action have become tangled in my head. In these moments, which is the repentance? I sat again, bouncing my hand in front of my stomach. I must become aware of it, the spirit within me. Whatever I think of myself, however many demons pursue me, that remains and I remain human. It is to that, first and foremost, that I make my apology. I will become a small and mean thing when I die, but that is of no matter. Before others can forgive me, I must forgive myself, or at least accept myself. I am not who I wish I am. I am myself. I will become aware of myself, and take that inward thing out to see it, before keeping it within. My soul trembles and I feel it. Ease the soul and you will ease the mind. My sins are wrong, but the weight of sin on me in itself is a different concept. Regret does not raise the dead. So take scant comfort from that, and find peace.
I began to perform bird rowing, stretching my muscles and letting physical exertion overtake conscious thought. The air was still cold, the moon still clear, gravel crunched under my feet, and still, always, I can see them. Those azure eyes. I can still see that place, time, moment.
I wonder how everyone else would see me. Shizuru-sama, so devout and faithful? I didn't know what I looked like, so I looked down at the water. Red eyes glowed unnaturally, a demon from the deep. But my hair fell cleanly and my face was clear. I was still wearing that damned mask, after all.
I wonder how she would see me, if she could see me in this moment? Would she understand?
I finished stretching and walked forwards. The gravel barely shifted under my feet. I have a graceful step. But not even I can walk on water, so I waded into the pond, watching the moon ripple beneath me. Once, it reflected a baleful red light. Now that star has fallen to earth and shattered, and it is only alive in my eyes. The water washed about my legs, rising to my waist at the hardest point. It was incredibly, excruciatingly cold. I raked up the water with my hands, splashing myself repeatedly on the chest and arms, then raising water and throwing it into my face. I tried to tame my limbs, but still they shivered. I remain human. My hair hung dank behind me, twisting into curls, while the already damn kimono clung unpleasantly to me, chafing. I remain human. I drank in the coldness, which obliterates myself. It is impossible to desire like this. My body cannot betray me like this. What it craves is release from my mind, release from this torture I inflict upon myself for the sake of purification. I splashed water over my face again.
From a Buddhist perspective, my righteous self-harm here is as foolish and reckless as my selfish indulgence before. But that's fine. Whatever Gods exist on heaven or earth, they would not forgive me. I merely seek my own peace of mind, and Natsuki's smile.
That would be enough.
I looked up at the moon from the balcony. Yeah, yeah. Cliché as hell, I know. But I had to look at something, and it damn wasn't going to be those three idiots inside if I had anything to do with it. Doesn't Mai see enough of us at school?
"You're surprisingly quiet," Mai noted, coming through right on time. "Are you alright, Natsuki?"
"I'm fine, naturally," I said gruffly, turning to face her. "But watching Mikoto bounce off the walls is not my idea of a good time."
"I'd forgotten, but sugar before bedtime is bad for her. Well, not bad for her so much as it's bad for everyone else…" Mai laughed. "Thanks for earlier, though."
"That was only a favour to myself," I said, turning away again. "I told you that before."
"You're always so dishonest," Mai teased lightly. "You can't take a compliment at all."
"I'm even worse with insults," I replied.
"That's true." Mai walked past me, leaning on the wall.
I frowned. "Is Tate okay?"
"He's looking after the little monster," Mai replied flippantly. "He'll go back in a bit. You can stay if you like, but you probably want to go home as well."
"Ah." I nodded absently. I glanced sidelong at her, but she didn't say anything more, so I went back to looking at the moon.
"It wasn't so long ago, was it?" Mai began. "When-" She broke off.
"I don't know whether it feels like yesterday or a hundred years ago," I said. "Probably both."
"People would find it funny for you to have introspective moments," Mai noted wryly.
"Right back at you. You're the strong one."
"You can't take a compliment." I frowned. "What do you think she's doing?"
"Shizuru." I wondered why I'd said that, almost as soon as I had said it. But Mai seemed to understand.
"She'll be in bed, if she's sensible. She seems sensible." Mai frowned at me for a moment. "How are things… with you two?"
"Good. To be honest, things haven't really changed. Compared to before. She still teases me and smiles in her superior way and is really lazy and detached and god knows what else…" I grimaced. "Same old annoying Shizuru."
Mai smiled. "That's how you like it, isn't it?"
"As if anyone wants a friend that ruinously flippant," I said sternly. "Don't take any lessons from her, Mai. I won't have it."
"And don't go 'ara ara' either," I said with feeling. The image of a school full of Shizuru fangirls running around saying that still haunts my nightmares.
"Well, I'm glad." And there wasn't anything else to say.
I can't put what has changed into words, not to tell her. Broken glass still glitters, but it isn't whole.
I will continue to believe, however, in her melancholy smile.
I dislike translation notes, but Shizuru merits them a little.
1. Kiyohime- for the benefit of all two of the fandom who don't know the Kiyohime story, she fell for a monk who spurned her, turned into a dragon and burned him to death.
2. Seiza- the correct formal Japanese sitting position. Shizuru was probably born sitting like this.
3. Aragami- the angry spirit of a murdered person, which pursues the killer for eternity, according to Shinto belief.
4. Purification- Shizuru is performing a bastardised version of a Shinto ritual to cleanse sin and impurity.
5. Bird Rowing- physical preparation for purification.