Disclaimer: Naruto belongs to Masashi Kishimoto and not me.
A/N: Alright, here's probably one of my favourite chapters I've written so far. I hope you guys enjoy it!
Chapter 20: Corpse Walker
Sora awoke with a jolt. He regretted it immediately and held a hand to his forehead as a headache set in. This was the third time tonight he'd had that nightmare. It nauseated him. Unblinking white eyes… those images wouldn't leave him. He plumped the pillows behind him to allow him to sit up. The faint smell of anti-bacterial wash lingered in the hospital room.
The curtains were open, allowing weak moonlight to fill the room and cast a white lustre over everything. He could see across the tops of rooftops from this vantage point and the new snow that had begun to blanket it all.
It had begun snowing the day after he'd been taken to the hospital. Winter had finally come.
Sora sighed and turned his head towards the window a little more. He wasn't sure what to think any longer. He'd gone over the situation hundreds of times during the past week, and gone through all the emotions that accompanied it. He felt drained mentally.
He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the black claws that had reached out of the earth and the demonic eyes that had followed. White-blue and glazed over… they weren't Kita's eyes any longer. After he'd heard her screaming from the abyss he knew she'd fallen into her worst nightmare.
I… I was scared being tied up… and useless in the dark like that. I don't want to go back to that.
She'd said those hesitant words to him as they'd walked back to the shrine all those nights ago.
He supposed he knew how Tansei felt now – to be betrayed by someone, to find out they weren't what you thought they were. Sora moved his arms so he could look at the bandages running up them. The nurse had tried to make him smile with that old 'girls dig scars' saying, but when the scar was caused by a girl… one he thought had been his friend… it didn't feel like it would ever have that 'coolness' to it.
Snowflakes slid down against the window. The snow had hidden it, but the village had also been damaged.
They'd run through the grass to the tunnel and locked the door, but she'd followed them and torn the door off its hinges. He could still remember the clanging of metal as they escaped up the stairs, that unnatural screech growing closer behind them. He'd been the last one out, throwing the wooden door down to block her off. But it had been stupid to do so. In the few seconds he should have used to run instead, the door exploded into splinters and multitudes of teeth had raked down his instinctually-raised arms. He fell to the ground. Hisae and Tansei were frozen in shock. He yelled at them to go. Why he yelled for Tansei to take Hisae and go… in fact, why Tansei even obeyed and got her out of there… Fear did funny things to people.
He wasn't even sure why'd they helped Tansei in the first place either. It had all felt like some sort of sick joke at that moment. It really did… what kind of sick joke allowed you to see your friend suffer their worst nightmare, and then end up with that same friend becoming your worst nightmare? It definitely screwed with his mind. Maybe showing Tansei sympathy and helping him had been part of the joke, but he couldn't stand the thought of leaving him behind to burned alive… or worse.
He remembered the creature's face as it placed its paws on his shoulders and stood over him, embers dripping from the corners of its too-wide mouth and floating into the breeze. It had a mouth like a cauldron and breath that smelt like smoke and rotten things. When he'd felt the mismatched fangs tear down his arms, he could feel the heat blistering his skin. He'd been lucky it hadn't clamped down on him. Lucky that villagers had arrived to investigate after seeing the embers set dry autumn trees alight and made smoke swirl like a beacon into the air.
Lucky… it had become distracted from wanting to kill him.
The weight lifted from his shoulders and he heard a scream. It took him a moment to register what was happening, and he sat up to feel flecks of blood cover his face. The creature had a woman in its mouth, shaking her as though it was a rabid dog with a piece of meat. It tossed the woman aside into the flames, blood pouring from the gaping wound in her side. She gave a final death rattle before the blaze began to claim her body. Sora stared on, his own body trembling as the smell of burning flesh flooded his nostrils.
The creature moved on, stalking its way through the choking smoke. Sora heard more and more sounds of terror echo through the slowly burning forest. The creature struck down anyone that came near, and it was moving into the village.
Despite the pain and agony he felt through his body he rose to his feet and fumbled his way through the smoke.
This creature… this thing… was it still her in there? Somewhere?
In the midst of his fear, a tiny voice in the back of his head had wondered, if only for a second, if he spoke would he be able to control her?
He stumbled out of the forest and into a back lane. There was an old man on the ground. Dead. Eyes wide. Blood spilled across the dirt. And there were more bodies as he went. He stepped over them, some whimpering for help, some softly sobbing until their voices faded away.
Sora covered his mouth with his hand to suppress his want to vomit. The death of those bandits had been on a scale so different compared to this. He couldn't give these people any help either, he could only hope it would arrive soon – and that he could only help by stopping her.
His footsteps grew stronger until he was running, fuelled by adrenaline. He followed the trail of destruction until he found her, cornering a child between some trash bins. The child cowered in her wake and the vision of its hellish maw. Sora refused to slow down, not even for a moment to think – he lunged and tackled her. He clung tightly around her neck, somehow managing to pull her back to let the child escape.
"Kita… stop. Please, no more!" he pleaded.
They held, frozen, for a while until his bleeding arms were too weak to keep grip any further. Sora collapsed to the ground and half-expected for his last sight to be flames and claws. Instead there was nothing. Nothing. He was faced with blue-white eyes, pupil-less and unblinking, staring blindly into his own.
He wasn't sure if what he'd seen had been real or not, but in those wide inhuman eyes, for just that brief moment, he thought he saw some sort of realisation. He thought he saw guilt, and somehow he felt the same feeling in himself.
"Kita…" He reached out a hand, shaking, unsure – wanting to know if she was really there.
But suddenly, she was gone.
From there the whole village would come to know the continued existence of the monster called the Corpse Walker, as the creature fled over buildings with the guilt of death on her tail.
And they would come to know it was Kita, because on that day the last Mitsukai finally left the village.
The pain in his arms had almost gone now. Sora continued to stare out the window rimed with white. Soon enough he'd have to go back to missions and working with his team, sans one. Yanagi had visited every few days, although he felt some sort of seething anger underneath the smile she tried to give to cheer him up. And for once he was lost on why she felt that way. Confliction was all he could gather from her mind. Was it because she felt betrayed too in some way? She'd run through the village when she saw the fire, only to be greeted by Sora being carried away on a stretcher. Was it frustration from not being able to believe what had happened? She'd come to discover that someone she'd secretly adored had done such terrible things, and her best friend had become a monster capable of much worse. Or maybe was it because he'd been there and hadn't been able to do anything? Perhaps she felt like it was his fault for Kita becoming like that. Whenever he tried to smile back at her, he knew it was an imitation.
His world had begun to crumble. Slowly, slowly, he realised it had been crumbling away. Ever since he'd set eyes upon the sliced up body of Hissori Mitsukai and his screaming daughter that had set his mind afire. And it all went full circle once more. Before that day he'd seen her as something different, something that made him nervous. After that day he'd come to call her 'friend'. Now… she terrified him. But somehow he still felt that guilt lingering in the pit of his stomach, that feeling that had always been there throughout every phase.
But why guilt? Why after this did he still feel like he'd done something wrong?
He supposed it was because he knew Kita was just a kid, just like him. She wanted normality even though she too felt she was something different, something that made even herself nervous. It was maybe for that reason she had frozen up in a moment of weakness and Tansei had taken advantage of her, and had inadvertently plunged her into the deepest of her nightmares. The nightmares that would soon become their own…
All those people… dead… they haunted him too.
He wished this had never happened, but it had, and the pain never felt greater.
The reason why she ran away was because she was a coward. She couldn't up with any other word than that. The look on Sora's face told her something was wrong, and that she was the cause of it. She was a monster. The worst kind.
That was why she wandered away into the wilderness and looked for a reason.
Perhaps that was why she felt no need to fight back against the man who kicked her to the ground and waved a knife in her face. She saw the lettering, the flash of 'Happy Birthday, Kazuo' written on the blade. The man mocked her and asked where her team was.
"I don't have a team anymore…"
He smiled and mused about fate. Fortune must have been smiling on him to allow him to get his revenge. He might not have gotten away with any artefacts from the shrine, but this was more than enough for him. He pulled up his sleeve and showed her the bandages wrapped up his arm. He asked if she wanted to feel the same pain he had.
"Do what you want…"
He dumped her body out in the wastelands with a knife sticking out of her torso and blood running in puddles to the ground, laughing as he walked away.
She watched the sky blaze in brilliant colour, unable to even breathe, knowing that something was wrong with her.
It wasn't so bad, being stuck like this. This was a good place to be. Maybe this was what she deserved… even though something within herself felt the same panic she'd experienced falling into the dark. It wanted to live. It called for her to do something, but she could only see the sun rise and fall each day. There was nothing she could do, not even to lift a finger. But as long as she could watch the sun and the lights of the night sky, she felt content. It meant she wouldn't have to face the darkness she saw inside herself. That darkness terrified her.
But this wasn't to be her fate.
"Gaara? What's wrong?"
The last thing she saw was dark-ringed eyes and red hair before the lights went out. She screamed as she was forced to face the darkness and she fought against it. She strained to listen to the wind rustle through the dry grasses, but even then they ran together and she became deaf to them. Only the voice of the darkness remained calling for her. There was nothing else.
Eventually, it dragged her away.
Suddenly, she was sitting on the floor of a room. Not any room though, she recognised this one. She'd spent enough time there before to know it – the attic of her house. Scrolls and books littered the place. She picked one up and flicked through it.
Faded memories of days gone by… Her first day at school, blurry images of Yanagi and Hisae…
She went through more of the books finding more of the same – so many of them were missing parts though, pages ripped and parts scrubbed out. At times it almost seemed like she was just talking to herself. These were all the things she didn't know. What if there had been someone important to fill those parts? Who had they been to her? Maybe… she had been the one who killed them.
She threw the book she was holding against the wall and ran from the room. It was too much. The darkness was nothing in comparison to these sorts of questions.
She paused midway on the stairs. A voice was echoing up from the ground floor. Glancing back up at the attic and deciding anywhere was better than there, she followed the voice. The second floor bedrooms were closed off. No matter how hard she twisted the doorhandles they refused to budge. She felt something beyond them though, calling her but not as clear as the voice from the floor below. She moved on.
The first thing she noticed at the bottom of the stairs was the door to her own bedroom, and the red liquid that seeped from the crack beneath.
Tentatively she opened it, and stared into the endlessness – terrifying and full of unknown things that made her knees weak and her mind dizzy with terror.
She slammed it shut again and stumbled back against the opposite wall. That feeling… it had been like she had been standing on the edge of a cliff. She hadn't really known what she'd seen, but if she'd crossed over it, she had no doubt that was 'the way out'.
"The last host… he was a piece of work. The girls would fawn over his appearance, but inside he was a nasty little boy who liked to see the flies squirm with their wings torn off, rather than simply kill them outright. I despised him. In the end though, he opened a door like that and stepped over the threshold. When he came back out… I thought he was the most beautiful creature I'd ever seen."
With tedious footsteps she walked down the final hallway. She paused, only to glance in at the open bathroom. Her reflection smiled with a familiar expression – Sora's grin – it looked like it was practising faces. She stared at it for a while. Something flashed within her memories. Sora stared up at her, arms bloody and torn, tears streaming from terrified eyes.
She turned away from the mirror trying to block the sight. Her reflection now showed herself looking smug and satisfied. Disgusting.
"Why are you telling me this?" She stopped at the entrance to the living room, now full of darkness and guarded by bars. She could see the flickering set of the television in the corner, screen showing nothing but static. Something moved in the dark.
"Your father asked the same question once. I gave him my justifications for existence, but I will tell you that even I will be forgotten one day. 'The river swells with each new wave; the shore becomes the waves' mass grave' – this creature too will die and then Amatsu-Mikaboshi will move onto the next generation, because we have no reason for existence except to be. We all fight so hard to exist, but it's because we don't want to be forgotten. This is the demon's own curse – the compulsion to live on, one way or another."
"I still don't think I understand." She wrapped her hands around the bars. Her eyes began to adjust until she could see it. Someone was leaning against the back of the lounge facing her.
It was her… an older her, but the same nonetheless. She stared at the blank blue-white eyes, arms wrapped around something she couldn't quite make out until her older self moved towards her. The face of the man in so many photos, she recognised it as the one she was supposed to called 'father'. His head was being held in her older self's arms.
"Your father was a fool, but I won't forget him. This fragment of his soul still has me even if all the other women in his life left him. I think he would like I'm pretending to be you for a little longer in here." She stroked his dead face with black nails and smiled – a smile too mixed with emotions to tell. "I promised him I'd take care of you. His last wish – 'don't let death affect her like it has me'. Perhaps he meant it in the same way that drove him to kill himself. But I mean to keep you alive in any way I can, and you should do the same. Live, Kita. You can do that, right?"
She didn't flinch as the hand reached out and stroked her cheek. It was almost comforting, even as the nail drew a red line down her flesh. She nodded slowly. The thing before her wasn't human; she knew that as soon as it had touched her. This was the monster in the dark she had feared all that time. Nibi… Nibi no Nekomata, the name was too familiar – and it all made sense – she wasn't the monster after… wait, no…
"Can I ask you a question?" she asked quietly.
That smile again. A long fingernail pressed under her chin. "No secrets here. If you want the truth, just ask."
"Will I… become a monster?"
The grin widened to reveal more teeth than she thought were in there. In the darkness of the cell, the teeth showed stark white, as though nothing else existed but the maw that stole lives away and devoured them whole with greed.
It was then she realised the answer before it was even said. She ran from the bars and headed for the front door. As much as she tried the handle it was locked as well. She slid down onto the floor, trapped, unable to escape to that freedom of unconsciousness.
This was her nightmare all over again.
"Kita…" The whisper came once more, echoing down the hallway as the creature's hand beckoned her to come back.
"Don't… don't say it," she retorted, curling into a ball with her hands clapped over her ears. "I don't want to know."
"But you already asked, and I'm obliged to answer," it hissed, voice driving into her very mind so she would hear. She could almost feel the smile on its face growing wider as it spoke. "You might call me a monster, but a demon am I until my last breath. From where I stand, I'm the one who sees a monster behind the bars. You're able to feel loss and pain, and then turn those feelings into rage and power. You can do more destruction than I ever could – simply because humanity has poisoned you. But humanity means you'll end up hurting the ones you love most… like Hissori."
Kita froze for a moment, hearing the last words clearer than anything. She scrambled to her feet and ran back to the cell. The Nibi wasn't smiling like she thought – instead its wide eyes reminded her of a child, unable to understand what they'd been told.
"It's a nice curse, isn't it? Forgetting the dead…" The creature placed Hissori's head on the ground and slid down to sit next to it. The wide-eyed look had vanished. It sighed, neck arching with a tired elegance. "You'll never know… you'll never know just what you lost. Death is but a fading memory after all. Eventually all will be forgotten. But you'll never be human if you keep forgetting what made you. It's what made a beautiful creature out of the last host. He forgot the girls who fawned over him, and the boys who had made him feel like a brother. All were slain on the battlefield and his commanders made him walk the bloody ground and point to their corpses, pointing out they had died. And he knew not a single one. When he reached the end and realised he'd lost it all, he walked through that door and… such a sight it was."
The Nibi stared up at the ceiling, head tilted in quiet contemplation.
"I can't begin to understand fully that sort of pain, because death is just another facet of existence to me," it muttered, "but… I walked in your shoes for a while and felt what it was like to lose a man. I found myself furious for what he did, and I can only wish I could forget like you." The creature carefully brushed aside a lock of hair from Hissori's face.
Grabbing the cell bars, Kita shook them furiously. "Why…? Why are you like this? You're the monster! I'm not! Just because I can't remember doesn't mean I'm not human!"
The eyes that met hers narrowed, while and blind, but full of disgust. When it spoke this time, malice dripped with every word. "Humans… Humans will go on to become saviours and peacemakers, corrupters and killers. Their memories will shape them as human, because they are the products of their pasts and the people they interacted with. But you… what will you go on to be when you've already forgotten so much? What makes you think you can be one of them? They say the worst humans are the ones that have never been loved, so what will you become if you forget what it is like to be so? You'll only be filled with the pain of knowing you lost it all like the last host.
"What then, Kita? What will you do then? Will you be able to move on, or will it all be too much because you say you're human? You're better off to become a demon like me and treat humanity with contempt, because to me they're the monsters. If you let them hurt you, you'll only cause yourself pain, and then one day you'll become as beautiful a creature as that boy, and I won't be able to stop you. I won't want to stop you."
She stared down at the disembodied head of her father, his eyes closed and face looking peaceful. She had no idea who he was… who he had been. For a father who had supposedly looked after her for so many years, she knew not a thing about him. Right now, he was merely a stranger to her. Nothing more; nothing less – and she would never truly know.
If she were to forget, be left with only the wicked smile of this creature in her head, what would she do? No wonder the other host went mad. The welcoming arms of the darkness seemed preferable to the pain of that sort of loss. Maybe it was better to just accept fate. She had already run away from so many people, so why did it matter if she remembered them or not? They were probably wishing they could forget about her.
But still… she was afraid. She didn't want to forget so easily – not really. She remembered Sora's grin from the face practising expressions in the mirror. She didn't want to forget that.
The Nibi began to hum to itself. It was the same tune as the one that had been haunting her for so long.