Extended Warning: Please Read First! This is a story about character development. I had a really good warning label on this to begin with, but I forgot to transfer it when I did a little editing and re-posted. Sorry. Anyway, I had a few complaints about a bit of the backstory, so I wanted to leave a small warning for those too sensitive to handle it. This is not in any way saying there is anything wrong with being sensitive about it. I just don't want anybody getting upset while reading my story. That's not what fanfiction is about. It's about enjoying yourself. To continue with the warning, there is a suggestion of rape during the first few chapters to give a foundation on backstory. Rest assured that this will not be something that I will go into detail describing, and not something that will happen in my story. Also, it is not done by our hero, thank you very much. That's just rude to think, lol. As I said before, this story is about character development, and of course love. Please enjoy.

Disclaimer: I am done trying to explain myself… lol

Chapter 1: Dusk

Kaoru walked, back straight and chin high down the main street of town. At dusk it was hard to make out much detail about the small village she had been raised in, but she could feel the eyes watching her. They followed her as she passed, but they were hidden from view through the cracks in boarded windows and firmly closed doors. Anger and resentment pressed down on her from all sides, but there was more fear in them and they stayed far away from her glaring figure.

Though mostly, she realized, that fear was not for her. None of the men in this area had ever shown any type of emotion towards her besides harsh amusement and cold indifference. No, that fear was for another. The demon who had claimed her life. A demon that she was to be sacrificed to so that the cowardly men would be left free from his wrath. A creature that had already taken all of the children and the rest of the women in their town. Kaoru was to be the last… and she hoped the damn thing came down and ate the men when he was through with her.

Breathing deeply, Kaoru continued on to her death.

Consciously, Kaoru was not afraid. In fact, a part of her relished the relief this finality would bring to her. Finally she would be free from the rule of her uncle and the rest of the adult males. Maybe the afterlife would even hold some happiness where this life had not.

As an orphan with no immediate family to care for her, promises of a good marriage to a good man was all but impossible, even in a peaceful village. In this village, women were slaves anyway no matter their birth or family. At what place in time this small coastal village had deteriorated into a purely pro-male society Kaoru was not aware. All that she knew she had witnessed through her own eyes and she understood what happened to women, claimed or unclaimed, when they lived here.

At a young age she had witnessed the rape of a neighboring woman. Five men, drunk at mid-day, had been walking down their street, and upon hearing their raucous voices hollering at the top of their lungs Kaoru had run to hide. As they had passed the next house, however, they had spotted the other woman cooking in preparation for her husband's return. Kaoru had heard her screams for hours.

The noise had been painful and agonizing, but when it had finally ended the silence had been worse. Too afraid to move, too afraid to breath, Kaoru had stayed hidden for several hours afterwards. Long enough to observe the arrival of the woman's husband, and the beating she had received for letting it happen. Though she had been young, the husband's betrayal had not been missed, and Kaoru's heart had ached for years. It had hurt even more so when a few days later the woman had killed herself with a cooking knife.

And was not the last to do so… until the demon had arrived. From then on every woman in the village had been locked away in their houses while each man awaited the call almost sycophantically. This demon was terror and hell unleashed. He would kill them at will if his sacrifice was delivered bruised and already warm from another, and had proven his threat by taking many lives. No one questioned his authority any more. No one doubted his strength. Not after the first few men had turned up missing with only the splattered bloody remains in their ruined houses as evidence of the demon's anger.

When leaving the building she had been forced to call home, Kaoru had almost hoped for the normal beating from her uncle just so she would arrive battered and spoiled. Seeing his death would be the only thing she would miss of this life, but knowing it could possibly be carried out so brutally by this creature of darkness was almost as good.

It was no surprise that this wish was to be taken away from her as well. Her uncle was just as afraid of her reaper as was the rest of the village, and from the moment his mark had been set upon her door her day had been strange and frighteningly unusual. A full meal had been given to her, and then a hot bath. Better clothes than she had ever seen were laid out for her to wear and not one curse or wayward kick had been thrown her way. In fact, the only contact they had shared was when his rough hand had shoved her out the door at dusk.

Now she walked willingly into the arms of death with blue eyes that were hard and without fear. A demon he may have been called by the men, but to her Kaoru could see nothing but an angel in disguise. It did not even matter if he decided to take more from her than the flesh on her bones. At least she knew her life would not last the night, and there would be no more years in this hellish town. No more days forced upon her where she had to live a slave for a man she despised. No more fear that one of these days that same man would finally look and see the woman she had become.

The edge of the last house came into view and beyond it the thick line of trees that marked the outskirts in darkness. Through those trees she would have to walk to the old abandoned shack the demon had taken up residence in. There she would offer herself to him and satisfy his hunger. These honorable actions would save many lives, or so she had been told. It had taken much self-control not to spit in her uncle's face.

For one fleeting second she hesitated, and she glowered at the dread that suddenly filled her. How could she even feel such an emotion? In what part of her mind did she actually wish to live on in this contaminated culture? It is not this place that I will miss. It is the sky at dawn, and the happy chirp of birds as they play. I will miss the smell of rain and the soft susurrations of the ocean. A deep breath in closed her eyes, and she soothed her mind by making a list of things she found beautiful. Warm wind, wet dirt, seashells, laughter, the creak of trees as they dance, the roll of thunder as it growls, and the wicked slash of lightning. I will miss the foxes, and the… The snap of a tree branch echoed through the darkness, and it startled her out of her thoughts. Jumping and looking around, her heartbeat was suddenly fast and uneven, and she stood for several long seconds waiting for whatever it was to make itself known. Suddenly she was afraid of the wild animals that were known to rove the woods at night.

Then she laughed. What difference would it make to her whether she died by one beast or another? She was already on her way to embrace a demon. What fear was there left in her for death? Besides, a part of her was eerily aware that this creature would not give up its prey to a simple animal when he wanted her for himself. Steadied, she continued on.

Flowers, and seaweed, fish, rice, the taste of sugar, the purr of a kitten, snow, ice, the thrill of a typhoon. Maybe the afterlife will hold all of these things and more. Only the good and none of the bad. A smile briefly curled her features at the fanciful idea, and Kaoru ran her fingers down the course material of her kimono. Better than what she wore from day to day it may have been, but she knew that it was nothing in comparison to a real lady's kimono. It was warm, however, and against the chill breeze of coming night, she welcomed the thickness.

The light scent of smoke abruptly filled her nostrils and she added one more item to her list, before she realized for what purpose it was to serve. Swallowing thickly, she found herself standing across from the small shack that was to be her destination. Inside there was her death, waiting for his sacrifice. Waiting for the final woman that the rest of the village hoped would satisfy his hunger completely. Here was death and freedom; danger and hope. Today was the last day of her life, but the beginning of joy. Trembling with the fierceness of her emotions, Kaoru made those final steps to the door and waited.

From just outside she could see the changes that the building had undergone between those short three months the demon had taken up his residence. Before, the structure had stood in abandon, and had been hopelessly rickety and termite infested. Though it hardly looked livable still, the roof had been mended and the largest cracks in the walls were covered by new pieces of wood. The door was new as well, and the steps leading up to it were polished and smooth. Sure as she was of her demise, Kaoru could not help but think that there was nothing evil about the place.

A sudden noise shifted from inside and Kaoru's heart took off on its unsteady path anew. This was it, her final hours, counted down by the soft thumps of his feet heading toward the barrier standing between them. Soon she would be in his presence. Soon she would be Death's companion. Muscles shaking more violently than ever, her knees knocked nauseatingly when the door slid aside.

Kaoru had seen the demon only once before when he had first made his appearance and demanded his payment, but she was still unprepared for the strong press of his ki as it bore down on her. She struggled to keep her feet underneath her, but clenched her jaw and leveled her chin in defiance. He was no better than the men she had left behind, and so she could not show him the fear she felt, just as she had not shown her emotions to them. Stiffly she bowed low at the waist, and offered her bare neck to him. Not in submission. Her thoughts were far from subservient. What she showed was her unwillingness to be cowed, and mocked him with her lack of care for his strength, even as she acknowledged that he was powerful.

When she stood back up she found he had not moved, but the pressure of his ki lifted from her shoulders. As his energy left warmth from the cabin washed over her face, and it was only then that she realized her lack of ability to see his features was because of the fire that illuminated his back. Strangely curious, she tilted her head for a better look, but jumped back when his hand lifted to beckon her in. Hesitating for only one second more, she stepped over that last threshold and entered Death's company.