Rekindle and Release
A/N: From Mokou's chapter of Cage in Lunatic Runagate:
"For the first three hundred years, other people hated me, and I lived a sad life of one who only caused trouble to myself and those around me if I didn't stay in hiding.
"The next three hundred years I spent harboring a grudge against this world, and was able to preserve the faintest sense of identity by immediately dispatching anything that crossed my path, youkai or otherwise.
"For the next three hundred years the youkai in the area couldn't hold my interest anymore, and I lost all motivation towards anything, surrendering to tedium.
"But during the next three hundred years, I was finally reunited with my immortal archrival, and we discovered the joys of killing each other, over and over."
Boredom played strange tricks on my mind. I'd known about the little village for, oh, maybe a century, give or take the odd decade, but I'd never gone near it. No, for all those years, I hadn't the motivation to explore my little section of the wilderness, much less a human settlement. I'd given up. I hadn't cared, not about anything, really.
Still didn't, as a matter of fact.
But lately I'd been thinking, and that was the problem, because I didn't really want to be thinking about anything. Not about the future, not about the present, and please, by any god or gods, not about the past. I didn't want a past. I didn't need a past, not like this.
How long had it been? Since it-felt-like-forever ago, I had existed emotionlessly, mindlessly, until I could believe that I was dead. I surrendered, that's it, no more self. For three hundred – or was it four hundred? – years, this cursed body was an empty shell, devoid of any spark of consciousness.
…Of course, that wasn't true.
Not today, at least, I thought with a bitter sigh. And it hadn't been true yesterday, though I couldn't vouch for the day before that. I had been so, so tired with this world, I had fallen into the soothing nothingness. And as fate, or luck, or whatever had it, that still didn't get rid of the boredom.
If it didn't matter at all, why not go see the village? I had thought, which was an incredibly, irredeemably stupid idea. How many times had that gone wrong before? How many times did I have to get burned before the warning took hold?
But I didn't want to think about the past. So I didn't, and now I stood awkwardly at the edge of the forest, not really sure what to do with myself. Also, there was another human in front of me. A little girl with long-ish, dark hair that shimmered a kind of blue color. That was probably important, now that I thought about it. That there was a human near me, yeah. She might tell her parents about me. And her parents might tell their neighbors, and their neighbors might tell their friends, and soon enough, there would be a mob out for my blood.
I hate dying. It hurts, damn it.
"…are you even listening?" The girl was saying something. To me, that is. "Hello, Ms. Stranger?"
I should be running in the other direction, and fast, part of me was saying, but it was swiftly overruled by curiosity. This was interesting. When was the last time I'd had a conversation, a real one, not talking to myself, by myself?
"Um, Dad said something about a youkai lurking around." She squinted at me, but with curiosity, not malice. "Ms. Stranger, have you seen her? Or," And here her eyes widened into saucers with a plateful of fear. "Are you the youkai?"
She clutched her books tightly to her frilly blue dress, as if the scraps of paper would somehow protect her from me. From me. But I hadn't done anything, not yet! I withdrew my hands from my pockets, just to make sure. Nope, no blood, no fire. Yet.
"Uh, did you hear me, Ms. Stranger? Are you okay?" She frowned in puzzlement, then muttered under her breath. "no, try again. Sensei always says be polite, especially with youkai. It might save your life if-"
"Maybe. If you're lucky." She jumped when I spoke, and nearly dropped those books.
"I-I'm sorry Ms. Stranger, if I offended you!" She smoothed down her dress and adjusted her little hat. "I don't meet many youkai, but I'm, um, pleased to meet you!" The girl bowed to me, and some odd corner of past told me to bow back. Be polite. I was a nobleman's daughter, wasn't I?
Not anymore, no.
"Er, um… what's your name, Ms. Stranger? Or, no, I should say mine first, shouldn't I?"
Well, since I was on that subject, even if I didn't want to be, I might as well say it. So: "Mokou." There was another half too, not that it really belonged to me any more. I hadn't been a Fujiwara in eight centuries… nine centuries… a millennium, actually.
It would be more accurate to call me a disgrace.
"That's a pretty name." A dreamy look entered those brownish eyes of hers. "Hmmm… do you have a last name? And how do you spell it? Sensei's been teaching me some history behind different –" A quick movement in the doorway of one of the houses distracted me, and I missed the rest of her sentence.
"You!" I turned to face the owner of the interruption, knowing the tone meant bad news. Sure enough, "Get away from my daughter, youkai scum!"
I judged the distance. He was standing across a wide street, while the girl and I were on the far edge of a field beyond it. He couldn't hit me from here, could he? Not with that tiny crossbow…
Oh, I was wrong. The girl screamed and covered her head with her arms as the bolt clattered off of the bamboo over my shoulder. He was quite a good shot. Huh.
"Daddy, stop! I'm okay!"
No, no she wasn't. Had I been a youkai, she would have been dinner by now, or possibly a midafternoon snack, as the sun was still quite high. Anyway, since I didn't like getting killed, I blasted away the next bolt with a burst of flame.
Of course the girl shrieked at that. Humans - other humans – always do. And yes, now she was the one backing away, holding her books like a highly flammable shield. Bad idea, all things considered. Not that I was in the mood to do anything about it.
A third bolt whizzed into my arm, and I hissed in pain before returning fire. I let my shots go wide, though, and they dissipated before they could even scorch the grass. What was the point? He was doing the smart thing, protecting his child from dangers like me. Even if I wasn't being dangerous now. But it's the thought that counts, I've learned. It's that particular one that gets me killed so often. They never listened, and better safe than sorry, yeah? Better to kill one suspicious maybe-human than risk a youkai getting near your precious daughter…
A book hit me in the side. "Bad youkai! Don't you dare attack Daddy! " That, however, was unexpected. "Die!" She whacked my hip with the book again, so I jerked it out of her hands.
"Hey, give it back!" I looked from the book to her, then back, and set the weapon aflame. She shrieked in terror, and her father started firing that crossbow again.
I'd had enough.
I aimed one last fireball at the man near the house, then kicked off into the bamboo. It was a game of chance, whether or not I would get caught, whether or not they would think me dangerous enough to pursue. Somehow, I had gotten lucky. As I dove through the gaps in the shoots, their shouts faded behind me, and I felt a smile creep across my face.
I wasn't quite so crushingly bored, so that was good. And I hadn't died either, that was an unexpected plus.
But as I slowed and touched back down on the leaf-strewn paths of the forest, that half-smile slowly became a twisted grimace. No, I wasn't bored, but now I was thinking. About the past.
About my past.
And when I thought about my past, I couldn't help but think about her.
Yes, when I had first become immortal, I had thought it a blessing. A miracle, the best day of my short life. And for a brief, forgettable time, eternity had been wonderful when I thought I could spend it on revenge. And many years after everyone else had died, I still wanted that revenge. And many years after she had long since disappeared, I still searched for her.
But the years have turned to decades, the decades to centuries…
I think it must have been a thousand years since I swore revenge. A thousand years since I drank her elixir and cursed myself with her immortality.
Eternity was not meant for humans. I know, because it broke me and burned me, then scattered the ashes over the drip, drip, always dripping away years. I have given up. Am I human? Am I youkai? It's not like I'm good terms with either. And wherever Kaguya is, it's not somewhere I can reach.
So I tell myself I don't care. Hell, she probably doesn't even know who I am.
…But if she did, I think she'd be laughing.
"Kaguya, is something wrong? You haven't moved since last week."
I blinked and stretched, my reverie disrupted. Looking up, I saw my teacher framed in the doorway.
"No, Eirin, I'm fine."
She shrugged and moved to leave me, then halted to say something.
"Hmm…?" I had returned to staring out the window. Such a pretty sunset. It was one of many pleasures I could only enjoy here on earth.
"I said, have you seen Tewi?"
"Who?" The clouds were a beautiful shade of pink, almost matching the shirt I always wear. One of them kind of looked like a rabbit if I squinted and tilted my head to the side.
"The rabbit with the necklace, princess."
Oh, right. I leaned my head on the window, letting the cool surface press against my skin. The rabbit. The one that played tricks that drove Eirin up the wall. Inaba. Actually, I call all rabbits inaba, but that one is the Inaba. She was the only rabbit that talked to me. Or was she? All these Earth rabbits look the same. Little girls in frilly dresses with big mallets.
Although I don't think they will ever make mochi that tastes like the kind made by lunar rabbits. That's something I still haven't found on Earth. But there are lots of other things to make up for it. Like the pretty things Eirin found for me. Or did she make them? I'm not sure. To think that humans had such trouble with them when they were just lying around for anyone to pick up… hm? I blinked again, startled this time by a hand on my shoulder. Eirin wanted something? But the clouds were so beautiful…
Eirin put her other hand on my right shoulder and shook me gently. "Kaguya?" She pushed back my black hair. "Kaguya? Wake up, please."
"Mmhmm…" I rubbed my eyes and tried to focus on the present. "Inaba? No, haven't seen her."
"I'll have to go out and look for her, then. Goodnight, princess." Blue and red flickered in the corner of my vision and I was alone again.
Nighttime, almost. Yet wasn't tired, nor have I been for many years. I spend my days in a dreamy trance, letting the power of eternity seep into my home. It's a simple spell, one that I have maintained ever since I came here. I don't even need to think about it any more.
As the last bit of sun sank below the bamboo, I finally turned away from the window and padded down to Eirin's lab. Inside were hundreds of bottles, all filled with the strangest of things. Eirin tells me not to touch them. But they fascinate me, the fluffy powders and shimmering liquids.
What would happen if I tried this one? Or this?
No. I must do as Eirin says.
More than a thousand years ago, I had disobeyed her once. Only once.
It had started as a selfish whim, a forbidden experiment to see if I could control my power and put it into a tangible form. It should have ended with my loss of status and the subsequent elimination of my impurity. But they gave up trying to execute me when I didn't stay dead.
My powers tend to work a little too well sometimes. With Eirin's help, I had created an elixir of immortality…
Why was I here again?
I slowly turned to see Eirin standing behind me, her bow over her shoulder.
I wonder where she got it. She's had it ever since I existed, but no one on the moon made weapons like that anymore. Perhaps she kept it for sentimental reasons? My mentor has always been full of surprises…
Eirin was giving me a strange look. "Can I help you, Princess?" She tapped the bow. "I'll be outside for a few hours, so if you need me-"
"Don't go." Oh, yes. That was why I had come here.
"You'll go looking for Tewi?" She frowned, her dark gray eyes glinting with worry. "I can't let you, Kaguya. It's not safe."
"Please, Eirin? I haven't been outside in…" Days? Months? Years? I've never been good with keeping track.
My mentor smiled fleetingly. "A century, Princess."
"Oh." Had it really been that long? Well, I trusted Eirin's judgment more than my own. "So, can I go outside? Just for a little while?"
Several emotions warred on her face, eventually settling on resignation. "Very well. I suppose you can take care of yourself, after all. Be careful, though, understand?"
"Yes, Eirin." I brushed past her to get to the one door that led outside.
"Oh, and before you leave, take a knife to mark the bamboo. I don't want to have to go looking for you and Tewi."
I'll get lost anyway, of course. But that's okay, because I like wandering around when I get the chance.
Even after so many years on this earth, it still amazes me. The Lunarian landscape is pure but lifeless, just as I was so long ago. Now I am tainted with the stain of life and death, yet I live at Eientei, the house of eternity. A place held in complete stasis, where the lunar emissaries will never find me. Here nothing changes, and nothing ever will.
I do not change. I have never changed. I will never change. Such is the miracle of my power.
Sometimes I wonder if I've really left the moon at all…
A/N: For anyone who doesn't know, this is a revised version of the first chapter. Well, actually, Mokou's part is completely rewritten, but the events are pretty much the same. When I was rereading the original version, her part began to bug me, especially the annoying verbal tic I'd given the village girl. I also tried to make Mokou's narration a little more distinctive, at the cost of her sanity, apparently. Does she sound too much like Kaguya now? Hmmm…
I'd also considered eliminating the first-person POV like I did in my Azula stories, but since it's kind of essential to the point of the fic, I can't really do that.
And if none of the above made any sense to you, welcome, new reader! I hope you like my little story~!