The Heart of the Sword
A Rurouni Kenshin Legend
by Darth Stitch

DISCLAIMER: All hail Nobuhiro Watsuki-sensei, who gave us a certain redhaired swordsman and the rest of the merry crew which includes a certain raccoon girl, fox lady, rooster head, samurai brat, weasel girl, icy ninja guy and psycho wolf cop. Oro…

Part One: The Dragon and the Maiden

Listen. This is the tale as it was told to me.

A very long time ago, in the Land of the Rising Sun, there lived a dragon named Heart of Sword. He was a great and mighty creature, elegant and sleek. His scales were the color of flames and his eyes blazed golden bright. He was as fierce in battle as his name suggested, and could bring down lightning from the sky with a flash of his fangs and claws and could open great furrows in the earth, causing soil and rocks to fly with the merest flick of his tail.

And yet, he did not actively seek battle and strife, though he did delight in it whenever the opportunity arose. The dragon Heart of Sword was far happier to simply fly in the heavens and he was highly curious about the humans who dwelt in the land, often flying down to help a human in need. Unfortunately, his sheer size and the fact that he was a dragon tended to terrify those humans but it didn't deter Heart of Sword. It only made him all the more determined to understand these seemingly fragile yet resilient creatures.

Other magical creatures looked askance at the dragon for his actions, especially the Great Wolf of Mibu. The Wolf was the greatest warrior of his kind and lived for battle even more than Heart of Sword did. He considered the dragon the only opponent worthy of his time.

"Helping these 'humans' is a pathetic waste of time," he would sneer at the dragon. "They do not even possess the good manners to thank you for your trouble."

To this, Heart of Sword would only shrug and say "Oro?" in the most innocent and guileless way possible. That would irritate the Wolf so much that they would end up fighting, making the very earth tremble and the heavens blaze. Neither of them could ever score a decisive win, which made it interesting for the dragon and would make the Wolf keen to get back for another round.

"You are a dragon and you enjoy the battle and the strife and thus you shall always be," the Wolf of Mibu would say as he stalked off.

It came to pass that one day, the dragon came upon a village being attacked by murderous ronin. Disgusted by the rogues' dishonorable actions, the dragon swept down and called up the lightning and opened the earth, destroying each and every last one of them. Although he had saved the village and its inhabitants, they were far more terrified of the dragon than they were of the ronin. For of course, in the end, the ronin were only men and a dragon was an entirely different matter.

"Perhaps he will extract from us a tribute, one that will break our very hearts to pay, in return for what he's done," said the villagers. Better then, to placate the great dragon so that he would do them no further harm.

And so the villagers chose from among their number a young and beautiful maiden to sacrifice to the dragon. Her name was Snow Raven and she was chosen for she no longer had any family – her parents, siblings and even her betrothed had all died of sickness a year before. Better her than one of their daughters, thought the villagers, for although she was beautiful, they believed her unlucky and thus, the most obvious candidate to sacrifice.

They dressed Snow Raven in the finest silks that they could afford and her long, straight beautiful dark hair was let down to lie loosely about her shoulders as her only adornment. Then, with great ceremony and fanfare, the villagers brought her to the very foot of the mountain where the dragon made his lair.

The dragon Heart of Sword was startled out of a peaceful sleep by the noise, merrymaking and the strange ki that he sensed outside his home. And so, he went outside to see what was going on and was startled to find the maiden on his doorstep.

"Oro? What are you doing here, O human maid?" The dragon asked.

Snow Raven prostrated herself before the dragon and said humbly, "O great dragon, forgive this unworthy offering from my village, given to you in thanks for saving us from the ronin."

Heart of Sword was quite perplexed. "But what am I to do with a human maid? And stand up and let me have a look at you, please. I've never truly seen a human maid quite closely before. You all scream and run away from me."

Snow Raven did as she was told and found herself saying, "Perhaps it would be best if you start by not eating me." And then she blushed hotly, not knowing why she said that out loud.

Heart of Sword burst out laughing . "I have no taste for human flesh, little maiden. But since you are here, then perhaps you could stay with me and teach me about your kind for I would like to learn about you humans and your ways. You need not fear; you shall be quite safe with me. This I swear."

And Snow Raven looked up into the dragon's golden eyes and saw that although they were indeed strange to her, they were very kind. And so she stayed and true to his word, Heart of Sword treated her quite well. They spent their days together in amiable companionship where Snow Raven got to know her unusual host well and where Heart of Sword learned everything she had to teach about humans. She found that despite his rather fearsome appearance, he was indeed kind and gentle and it was rather easy to grow very fond of him.

Sometimes, Snow Raven would still grieve for the loss of her loved ones, especially for the memory of her betrothed. She usually hid this from the dragon but Heart of Sword caught her weeping one day and distressed himself, asked her the cause of her tears.

"He would have been… my mate," Snow Raven told Heart of Sword, trying to find words that the dragon would understand. "And though we had no chance to truly live as husband and wife, I grieve for what we were and what we might have been."

"Can you not find a new mate?" Heart of Sword asked her.

"It is not so easy to cast aside one's love," Snow Raven said angrily. "Or forget."

"No, that I understand. We dragons are not incapable of feeling," Heart of Sword answered. "But you are still living. Would not your beloved want you to find happiness again?"

"Perhaps," Snow Raven said pensively.

"You could always go with one of those fools who are always showing up on my doorstep trying to kill me and 'rescue' you," Heart of Sword said helpfully. "You need only say the word and I shall pretend to go to my doom and you may go and live happily ever after."

At that, Snow Raven found herself laughing. For indeed, many had heard about the beautiful maiden supposedly held prisoner by the great dragon and there were indeed those foolish enough to think she needed their aid. They would never listen when she tried to explain she was quite happy where she was. Heart of Sword took great pleasure in sending them away and usually they were just a tad singed when they left.

"Ahou!" the Wolf of Mibu bellowed when he heard all about it. Rumor could fly faster than a dragon's god-like speed after all. "Why don't you just eat the pathetic creatures?"

"I don't like human meat," Heart of Sword said patiently. "And Snow Raven wouldn't like it."

"You are hopeless," said the Wolf in exasperation. "You'll be trying to turn yourself human next!"

Heart of Sword thought that was a splendid idea.

One day Snow Raven was startled to find a strange young man in the dragon's lair. He was small and deceptively slender but a sword hung at his side and he had an air of one who definitely knew how to use the weapon. He also looked like no man Snow Raven had ever seen – his long hair, caught up in a high ponytail, was a fiery red, his eyes were an unusual violet color and his face was almost too delicately pretty for a man's.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?" Snow Raven demanded, thinking that this young man might well be one of her misguided would-be rescuers.

"Don't be afraid, Snow Raven – it's only me," said the young man and just for a moment, his eyes flashed gold and that was how Snow Raven recognized him as her dragon. Heart of Sword was now human.

In the beginning, Heart of Sword was rather entertained by the novelty of being human. Although he could no longer scale the very heights of heaven, he found that he could still leap high into the sky and strike down any enemy with his sword. He had to get used to this new way of fighting for as a human, he did not, of course, possess fangs and claws and a tail. The only thing he carried from his dragon form was his sword, which was actually forged from one of his fangs. He soon found that he could still strike like lightning and raise great furrows in the earth using his sword and the very great strength of his own ki. It was quite obvious that in his human form, Heart of Sword was the very embodiment of his own name.

There was, however, another consequence of being human.

Heart of Sword began feeling very strange as he spent his days with Snow Raven as a man. He had understood that she was beautiful after the fashion of her kind but he had never truly looked upon her with a human male's eyes. He had been fond of her as a dragon for she was kind and gentle and while no warrior, was brave in her own way. For all the kindnesses that he had shown humans in all the long centuries he had lived, she was the very first human who had returned that same kindness to him.

And then, he realized, for dragons certainly were not immune to that emotion, he had fallen in love with Snow Raven.

And Snow Raven had also begun to act just as strangely towards him. Her pale cheeks were often flushed a lovely shade of red and her dark eyes would not meet his. Their conversations – which were often free and lively – became tense and strained.

Finally, Heart of Sword could not bear it anymore and so, one day, he asked Snow Raven, "Do you wish me to free you? I have never meant to keep you prisoner here and I have sworn to never harm you. Please, tell me what it is you wish me to do and I shall grant your wish freely."

He had shown her kindness and she had given it in return, though she had feared him at first. He had been gentle and he had been her friend. She lacked for nothing living in his mountain lair and she had been treated with honor and respect. But when he had assumed the form of a man, things had changed for her too.

And when Snow Raven saw the first tear slip from his eyes, she could not help but brush them away with her sleeve. "Please do not cry."

"Dragons," Heart of Sword informed her with as much dignity as he could muster, "do not cry."

"Humans do," Snow Raven answered, feeling her eyes prick with her own tears. "We cry when we are sad. And you have been kind to me – I do not wish to repay your kindness with sorrow."

"I have been kind before," Heart of Sword murmured. "It hasn't hurt this much. Not ever. I do not wish you to stay here if you only mean to be nice to a silly dragon. I would like you to be free and to be happy."

And then, Snow Raven smiled at him, through her own tears and at long last, she looked at him directly with her beautiful dark eyes. "I wish to stay with you, for now and always. I can only truly be free and happy when I am with you."

And so, Heart of Sword finally understood and the two of them swore their promises of love and devotion to each other and they spent their days in utter bliss. Heart of Sword thought that he and Snow Raven would live happily after.

And they did indeed, for a time.

But then, one day, Snow Raven was wandering the forest when she was suddenly taken away by strangers.

The dragon's lady thought that once again, she was facing foolish would-be rescuers and demanded that they return her to her husband.

But the leader of this band of strangers smiled wickedly. "So you are indeed his woman in truth. Nothing will stop him then from coming for you and we shall be ready for him."

So would Snow Raven learn that these men had come, amply armed and protected, to kill a dragon. Dragon Hunters did not simply hunt dragons for their fabled treasure hoards – the dragon itself was a treasure beyond price for those who practiced magical arts. Every part of a dragon – blood, bones, hair, flesh – could be used in very many spells.

A dragon was magic and strength and grace and power beyond imagining.

And she would be bait for their trap.

The Hunters knew their craft and made their careful plans. They knew the right spells, set up the wards, so they could carefully chip away at the strength of their prey, herd him carefully so that the dragon would be right where they wanted him.

But Heart of Sword was one of the strongest dragons who ever lived. And the Hunters did not escape his wrath unscathed. The battle was bloody and the price paid by both sides was great.

In the end, it would come down to the leader of the Dragon Hunters, Snow Raven and Heart of Sword.

Through it all Snow Raven had watched, sick with horror and grief as these men tried to bring her dragon down. How she wished that she was a warrior born, that she might fight by her beloved's side, protect him as he sought to protect her. She had struggled and fought as best as she could against her captors but she was no match for them. She had thought to find ways to escape but they watched her too carefully.

And now she was here, being used by the Dragon Hunters' leader as a living shield against her raging husband. Here in this forest clearing, the ground stained red with the blood of hunters and dragon. She and the leader stood on one side, Heart of Sword on the other, separated only by a circle of power, designed to ensnare a dragon.

"Submit and step into the circle," the leader sneered, holding a knife to Snow Raven's throat. "And she will live."

He lied. Snow Raven and Heart of Sword knew it. The Hunter would kill the dragon and then she would too would die. But Snow Raven knew that her husband would take any chance, however small, so that she might live.

Willingly, Heart of Sword stepped into the circle, head held high even as the wards snapped in place, forcing him into human form, depriving him of his last reserves of strength.

Violet eyes met dark ones. I love you. The words did not need to be said. Snow Raven knew that he meant to bid her farewell simply with that look.

No longer needing a shield, the Dragon Hunters' leader cast her aside roughly on the ground. He raised his sword and lunged forward, aiming for his prey's heart.

Only to have his sword slide through Snow Raven's body.

Blood spattered over the circle and Heart of Sword and when she fell, she broke the wards and set him free.

For years afterwards Heart of Sword would only remember the next few moments in bits and pieces. He knew that he had screamed and raged and that none of the remaining Dragon Hunters who came to challenge him survived. The forest clearing had turned into a nightmare of broken bones and mangled flesh.

And he had done it human – with no other weapon other than his sword.

But there was one thing that would stand out in his memory. That his cheeks were streaked with tears and his hands were wet with blood as he held Snow Raven close and he had tried to call his magic to him to heal her of her mortal wound. But all of the battles and the spells of the Hunters had drained him almost to death – he could not even assume his true form.

And yet, despite the pain that she must have surely felt, she had smiled gently at him and reached up to touch his cheek.

"Beloved," she whispered. And breathed her last.

For years afterwards, people would speak of the great fire that suddenly razed the forest on the mountain where Heart of Sword lived. For years they would shun this place in fear and terror. All mercy and kindness seemed to have been purged from Heart of Sword and he would suffer no humans to set foot in his territory. Folk would whisper tales of a blood-spattered, amber-eyed demon who could strike from the sky and make it rain with blood.

Even as the tales were told and passed down from one generation to the next, Heart of Sword grieved for his beloved. Sorrow, guilt, despair and rage plagued him, weighed down his spirit until he could hardly even bear to take to the skies. He was always the dragon now, unable to bear the sight of himself in human guise, the form that had allowed him to fall in love and take a mortal woman to wife.

And then, the Wolf of Mibu came for the Dragon.

The Dragon welcomed his presence and the battle that followed after. For three days and nights the mountain was ablaze with lightning storms and it shook down to its very foundations. Heart of Sword sought his death but he would not, of course, blindly allow himself to be ripped apart by the Wolf's fangs. Had not the Wolf himself said it? Heart of Sword was a dragon and he delighted in battle and strife and so he would embrace this and die fighting. So it was and so it would always be.

The two opponents regarded each other, their flesh marked and scored with wounds. And then the Wolf said the strangest thing:

"Do not dishonor her sacrifice by casting away your life."

And then, he left the dragon alone on their battlefield.

- tbc -

Author's Notes: The reference to "Snow Raven" is obviously due to Krista Perry's classic RK fan fiction – it is meant simply as a tribute and is not a spin-off or directly connected to her story. The name "Spring Moon" was picked up from Bette Bao Lord's novel of the same name and I thought it was kind of complementary for the other female character to be named for spring while the first one was for winter. Considering the RK women who they represent, I guess it was fitting. Hee.

The second OAV? Never happened. Hate it with a fire of a kazillion burning suns. I'd Aku Soku Zan the effing thing in a heartbeat – stupid, OOC, WTF ending that was totally at odds with the manga, the first absolutely gorgeous kick-ass OAV, the original anime series and everything Kenshin stood for… (growls). I'll even take the silly Christian Arc over the second OAV – I could at LEAST do a Trinity Blood crossover rewrite for THAT one!

AIEEE! Plot Bunnehs! Get away! Get away! (shoos w/ bokken)

I started this story about two years ago and meant it as a gift fic for a meme I did on Livejournal. Real Life and Writer's block got in the way and it sat on my hard drive as one of those nice little stories I always meant to dust off and finish.

Recently, I've been re-reading the fan fics of this fandom, watching the anime again and finally sitting down with the manga. Here is irony – RuroKen came out when I was in college and was too poor to afford the manga and a fast internet connection so I could download scanlations. And then, once I got a job, I had to prioritize other stuff. So now, I've gotten a hold of the first two omnibus manga volumes Viz released – it's really like settling down again with a very good, much-missed, old friend.

I also blame Vathara and her excellent Rurouni Kenshin fan fiction works (Spin Cycle, Blades of Blood – ROCK SO HARD!!!) for inspiring me to take up RK fic writing again. I'll probably take down my very first RK story soon from ff dot net and rework it from the ground up. However… consider this little story my humble effort of testing the waters.