The Heat…

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It was nearly stifling. Kaoru walked up the deserted path between two fields, the sun hung low in the sky, slowly sinking to the horizon. It would soon be night; Kaoru gave it thirty minutes before the sun would be completely lost from sight. It didn't worry her much though, this was a farmer path, used mostly for transporting animals and farm equipment to and from the fields. If there were bandits, they would be on the main roads, not a path so rarely used. In fact, Kaoru took this route home more often than not when returning home from the small town, and she could easily count the number of times she had encountered anyone on it.

She felt a bead of sweat glide down her spine and wished desperately for even the slightest breeze. She was entirely soaked in sweat before even getting half way home and was grateful that the sun would soon no longer be beating against her skin. With a heavy sigh, she wiped her brow, pushing her bangs away from her eyes and began to think about the things she had heard in town that day.

The Battousai is expected to return soon… She had heard a few girls gossip behind her as she waited to purchase rice. This wasn't the most abnormal gossip. Even she knew that the large shrine-like house on the hill above town would soon have it's master home. When the demons from the forest became restless and began attacking villagers it was never long before he would reappear, and shortly after bodies of the berserker demons would be found. It was very predictable. Although… no one that Kaoru knew of had ever seen him, and there were but rumors of his appearance, which were probably fantasized since Battousai himself was a demon.

He had been around for a very long time, though his presence didn't make her feel any safer. Kaoru had always felt more threatened by the villagers themselves, and she was grateful to live so far from town. Shifting the bag of rice to her left hand in order to give her right arm a break, she kicked a stone along the path, deep in thought.

Her father had died when she was thirteen leaving her alone in the world. Kaoru had never known her mother who died giving birth to her. She knew only a few things about her mother; she had been very beautiful, she had grown up working in the kitchens of a brothel far from their village, and that her father had loved her deeply. In fact, she knew her father had died still deeply in love with her mother.

The marriage had not been a popular one in the eyes of the villagers who saw her mother as nothing more than a whore who had stolen Koshijiro, her father, away from them. Koshijiro Kamiya came from a prosperous family in town and his life partially planned for him down to the woman he would marry. His move to abandon his pre-planned future for an unknown and strange woman had been a very unpopular decision. Despite this, his dojo had been very popular and they had never hurt for students. Kaoru smiled, her father had always been so charismatic that it was hard for anyone to dislike him.

Kaoru tilted her head up to the sinking sun and soaked in the last rays of light as she remembered all the joy she experienced with her father over the thirteen years she had with him. He had always said she was nearly her mother's twin. Dark, thick and smooth black hair with stunning bright blue eyes and you could hunt all day for a freckle on her face and never find a thing. At the same time alluring and innocent, he would reminisce about how those two traits got him in a lot of trouble after he first met her. Kaoru smiled. She knew she looked like her mother, but her personality was all from her father. She winced, well almost completely like his, she had never been as charismatic and had always felt like an outsider among the townspeople.

After her father's passing, the dojo had lost all it's students and Kaoru had never been able to rectify that. Being too young had been a big part of it, and she had been more focused on not being ripped away from her home by "do-gooders". After his death many had come by her home to take her in and raise her as a proper lady in the few short years she had left before she reached a marriageable age. Kaoru's father would have been very disappointed in how badly she behaved as to avoid anyone even being willing to take her in.

The villagers left her alone, and she had managed to do odd jobs here and there to keep a slow trickle of money coming in so she could afford rice. Now eighteen, she knew her time in the family home was coming to an end. As she reached the gates to her house, she smiled sadly. It had kept her sheltered for five long solitary years, and it was being taken away by the town council. She had never paid taxes on the land, and she didn't contribute to the village in any way. Really, she had been lucky that their good-will had lasted this long.

It was painful to think about another family living here, but tonight was her last night here. With a sigh she admitted to herself that she had never fit in here anyways, and tried to convince herself it was for the best. Women did not traditionally walk around in clothes meant for men… but Kaoru didn't even own a kimono. Shaking off negative emotions she stood tall and walked through the gate. She started cooking a batch of rice before grabbing her bokken and moving through her evening routine.

Although she was small she had been vigilant in her training, and her limbs held more strength than most women. By the time she finished, her whole body was drenched in sweat. Even leaving practice off until early morning or evening didn't help with the awful heat. Setting her bokken aside she went to check the rice, it was a bit overcooked but she'd made worse. Kaoru got herself a bowl, lit a few candles and sat down on the porch to eat.

The sun had completely set, but the sky still held onto the last few rays. She admired the colorful sky with it's blues, pinks, oranges, purples and the creeping black of night. The stars were just beginning to peek out.

Kaoru quickly cleaned up and would normally bathe and go to bed but something was pulling at her. She didn't feel ready for bed, and something whispered in her ear that the river would be much better relief from the heat than a bath. For a long moment she stood on her porch and stared out the gates almost as if in a trance. A slight breeze blew in and she closed her eyes again and took in a deep breath, smelling the scents of summer and something she couldn't quite place, and it touched something in her she couldn't pinpoint.

Before she even realized what she was doing, she was crossing the courtyard to the gate. It was dark but she had always secretly loved the dark. The stars and moon above were all the light she needed. She reached the river in no time and cutting across the field she pulled a tasuki cord from her sleeve and tossed it over her shoulder. About five feet from the water's edge she tied the cord as she didn't want her sleeves to catch on a root, among a number of other things that stuck out from the edge of the river.

Sitting down, she began to remove her sandals and tabi. Just having her feet free felt amazing, and she wiggled her toes in the grass for a moment before standing up and stepping into the water.

"Ahhhh" a sigh escaped her lips. The water was almost chilly to her skin, a true testament to exactly how hot she had been. Slowly, she stepped deeper and deeper into the water until she lost her footing on the slick sediment of the river and fell completely under the water. Bursting immediately back to the surface, Kaoru had to laugh, no one was around and the water was just amazing. Cupping some of the water in her hands she splashed her face. This was just the thing she needed to bring her spirits back up. She smiled up at the moon above and began to sing her favorite lullaby. She might not be able to cook like her mother, but singing was a family trait she had inherited. So she sang to the moon.

Emotions welled up in her as she continued to sing. All she could picture in her mind was her home and father and the happiness she had experienced there and it was all going to be gone tomorrow. She choked on the melody, but tried to push on. She felt stupid and childish for allowing herself to cry but like mourning the loss of her father and the mother she'd never had a chance to know, she mourned the loss her home. It was her security, her safe haven. She allowed herself a moment of weakness, she had been strong for years. It was only a place, it had no real meaning. What truly mattered were her memories, those were what she would cherish. The uncertainty of tomorrow scared her more than she would ever admit.

Kaoru finished her song and took a deep breath. Between the moonlight, the song and the water she felt more centered. Water had always felt soothing to her. She loved storms, it made her feel refreshed and alive. She leaned back and let the water seep into her hair again and sighed at the feel. Yes, this is exactly what she needed. She watched the stars and moon for a long while as she sat in the water, her hair floating around her. If only she could simply stay in this moment forever. The quiet night, the stars above, the water around her. It was all she felt she needed.

After what might have been an hour, it was time to head back. She pulled herself out of the water and onto the bank. A heavy breeze swept through the woods, it was cool and made her shudder. It smelled like a storm was heading towards her within the next few hours. Slowly she put her sandals back on. It was late, and she prayed to be lucky enough to avoid a demon encounter. She stood up and tried to wring some of the water from her clothes, they were heavy and clung to her.

After walking for about two minutes, the wind shifted again, bringing with it a foul, strong scent. The deep relaxation she felt from her time in the water faded away in an instant. She felt another presence nearby. Looking around sharply, she didn't see anyone. Glancing at the ground she picked up a decent sized stick, about the width and length of her bokken, though perhaps somewhat heavier. A snap to her left made her turn sharply and there, on all fours was a large toad-like animal. Kaoru's heart lurched, Demon! Quickly she pulled the stick up defensively, eyes narrowing, and her mind racing. She had never tried to fight a demon before, but from what she knew, they healed quickly and were impossible for a human to kill.

The demon rumbled low in his throat and the sound made Kaoru shudder in horror. She knew there was no way to outrun this creature. He was massive, one step for him would be five for her.

"What is a little human like you doing in the woods so late?" It mused, not really asking. It was assessing her, "You smell sweet. It has been a long time since I've had something so fresh and young." It hummed joyously.

Without warning it leapt into the air, nearly landing on Kaoru. If she hadn't leapt back as fast as she could he would have crushed her. She readied her 'bokken', her heart pounding in her chest.

"I won't be an easy meal" she tried to threaten, but the slight tremor in her voice gave away the fear she was trying to push down. The demon roared with laughter and before he was finished his tongue whipped out of his mouth at her face. Kaoru nearly didn't have time to react, but was able to get her stick up and and hold it firmly as he tried to rip it from her hands. Gritting her teeth and using all the strength she had, she held on with both hands. The toad pulled his tongue back and leapt into the air, whipping his tongue at her again. She again moved out of the way and his tongue hit a tree instead of her. Kaoru heard the demon grown in annoyance. Bellowing he began to snap his tongue in her direction over and over in rapid succession. She tried to block as many of the japs as she could with the stick, but a number of times she was hit in the knee, shoulder, or gut.

The moment she got a break in his attack she tried to jump up into a tree, hoping to escape. Unfortunately for her, the demon was faster and his tongue wrapped around her ankle in midair and pulled her sharply back to the ground. Impacting hard enough to knock the wind out of her lungs she grunted as twigs dug into her body from the fall. The demon chuckled as he used his tongue to pull her body back to his waiting mouth. Tightening her grip on the branch she was using as a bokken, she pulled her body up as fast as she could and dug the uneven end of the branch into his tongue. It was enough for the demon to hiss and loosen his grip long enough for her to get away.

RUN! Her mind told her, but her ankle had twisted sharply when he had grabbed her and she was doing her best not to show it. She stood, her stick held up in front of her.

"No more games." The demon grunted and she saw him open his mouth wide, his throat began to glow orange, and before she could react, she saw flames burst from his mouth and shoot towards her. It was too wide, too much, there was no way for her to escape it.

So I'll be a cooked meal huh? Kaoru's sadistic mind mused. She felt the heat near her and closed her eyes.

REVISED 3.22.2017 I hope you enjoy the changes. If not I'm sorry but I've been meaning to update this story for years. I didn't like how I had initially started it. Hopefully there aren't too many inconsistencies and grammatical errors as it has been a long while since I've written anything. I tried to keep some parts the same so it's still mostly the same story.