I realize that this idea has been overused, but I wanted to take my own crack at it. I actually only started thinking about it after stumbling upon an old story that I had written in seventh grade… which was like ages ago. XD Consequently that story was based off of the Rapunzel plot line, and our English teacher wanted us to come up with something original. Well… lets just say mine sucked. Pretty damn bad. And I've always been rather embarrassed about it. However, the story of Beauty and the Beast has always fascinated me, and though, like I have said, it has already been used with our characters filling in, (and I must put in that the one that I did find was outstandingly amazing, and I wish they would finish it already), I wanted to try. Maybe because I wanted to see if I could do any better than my last attempt. Hope you won't hate me for it.
Disclaimer: None of this is mine. But I thought it might be fun anyway.
Chapter 1: Rumors and Bad Karma
As a child of the village one would hear many tales of the palace on the mountain. All engineered to keep youngsters away from the forests surrounding it and in their beds at night. For it was said that the beast who lived there thrived off of human flesh and blood, the best of delicacies being the small, tender morsels of helpless children. In consequence, as adults of the village many feared and hated the palace, their dark eyes wary and full of disdain as they looked up at the peaks barely visible through the dense foliage.
Centuries had passed since that time, however, and the stories soon lost their potency, turning legend into myth. There was still no small amount of mystery about the deserted palace on the mountain, and no one ventured nearer to it than necessary. However, the children that now grew up listening to the horror stories looked to it as more of a challenge than a threat. Who could sneak out of their beds at night without getting caught by the creature? Who dared to venture the closest to its palace walls? There was still fear, but it was more adrenaline than actual fright.
At least, until one of the children went missing.
Though no one seemed to want to talk about that mystery, and it seemed to Kaoru that after thirteen years someone would feel the need to look into it. At least they should want to figure out what had gone wrong and keep anyone else from making the same mistake. Bad Karma. That's what it is.
Walking happily down the main street through town, Kaoru waved at a few of the people she passed, and traded greetings with a couple. She did not notice the looks she garnered from others, or the slight fear and distrust in their dark irises. Her sapphire eyes were focused only on the road ahead. She never thought to look back.
Walking through the market area she stopped at several of the smaller stalls, eyeing the merchandise critically and trading questions with the merchants. She had to watch her purse here. Since it was so light to begin with she did not need the added prices some of the vendors liked to tack on. Loading down the basket in her arms with fresh fish and enough rice to last a few days, she circled her way around to the far side. Delicately picking through a few of the smaller spice bottles with the last of her coins, she made sure they were packed in tightly before heading back out of town. Smiling at a few of the sour looks on the merchants as they waved her off, she knew she had talked them down further than they would have liked. Ah well… you think they would know better by now.
Calling a greeting as she reentered her home, she smiled when her father answered back. Living where they were, on the outskirts of the woods, they were further than any other house from the town. It was the perfect atmosphere for her father to practice his sword art and train his only child. Unfortunately, it wasn't that great for their small dojo and they were both beginning to feel the strain. As it was her father would be leaving the next day to travel across the mountain. They were both hoping his trip would bring them new students. If not, they would starve by next spring.
Kaoru sighed as she unpacked their meager supplies, wishing in her heart that there was some way for her to help her father. Her presence, however, only seemed to burden him as she found it difficult to perform daily tasks as easily as other women did. Being raised by a man, she felt, really should not have mattered as her father could cook well enough and even sew if the situation called for it. More bad karma. Sticking her tongue out, Kaoru huffed at her lack of feminine charms. She was more of a boy than most of the boys were.
"How was your trip into town, Kaoru-chan?"
"Quick and clean." Turning a smile on her father as he entered the room, Kaoru watched his dark eyes twinkle at her orneriness.
"You weren't too hard on them, I hope."
"Only as much as I had to be, Father."
"Where did you get this?" Lifting one of the small bottles of spices to eye level, Koshijirou held it up for Kaoru's perusal.
"Oh, they finally got some back in at the stand. I knew it was your favorite so I couldn't pass it up. Don't worry, I talked him down to a fair price."
"Aijou, you were supposed to buy that new hair ribbon with our extra money."
Shrugging her shoulders, Kaoru turned her back to him and carefully stored away the fish. "I don't really need a new hair ribbon, Father. It was just a silly want."
"We don't really need this bottle of spice either." Wrapping an arm around her shoulders, Koshijirou sighed, reaching over her to carefully place the small glass container on a high shelf. "Kaoru… I am here to take care of you. If there will be any sacrifices in this house they will be made by me."
"But, Father…" Lip trembling, Kaoru cleared her throat to still it and smiled when she looked up at him. "We do need that spice of yours. All the food is tasteless without it."
Bursting into abrupt laughter, Koshijirou took the rice and moved away from her to put it up as well. "How nice of you to say, Aijou. If only I were to be complimented in such ways on a daily basis I'm sure my skills would improve."
"What skills? You're barely better than me!"
More laughter filled the kitchen and the day progressed happily.
Night brought silence with her slumber, however, and Koshijirou was left with his own thoughts and memories.
Kaoru had always been a beautiful and happy child, but as her father he could only teach her so much and in consequence she was now minus much of the expertise a wife would be wanting to run a household. Her mother, his lovely, delicate wife, had died twelve years before when Kaoru was only five and no other woman was present to educate her in womanly arts. So Koshijirou had done the only thing left for him to do; he'd raised her the best he could.
Though at times he felt selfish and ashamed of himself, he was almost relieved that his daughter had attracted no suitors. She was all that he had left in the world and it frightened him to think of someone taking her away. At first, when she had begun to develop into womanhood he'd contented himself with the thought of her husband moving in with them. It was a nicer image than a stranger from another village taking her away across the mountain. As the years passed, however, he began to worry more for her loneliness than his own.
No one in their village liked Kaoru much. It was sad to see their hate-filled and distrustful eyes turned on his sweet and innocent daughter, but he knew what was driving their feelings and why nothing would ever change them. They did not understand her awkward ways, and the many whispers floating around the town only added to her oddity. The rumors kept the suitors away even better than her tomboyish nature.
Koshijirou walked to the edge of the engawa, his blue eyes staring up at the full moon. Long moments later they tracked their way down to the mountain and the dark outline of the palace roofs in the distance. A lone wolf howled somewhere out in the forest, quieting abruptly as something large and dark took flight. It circled once in the sky high above before disappearing over the peak of the mountain.
It was an ominous sign.
"I shall be back in a fortnight, aijou. I want you to stay close to the house while I'm away." Koshijirou shouldered the straps of his light travel bag and adjusted the katana at his hip distractedly as he looked out through the trees.
"Father, I'm not a child anymore." Blue eyes rolled, feeling that overbearing protectiveness all fathers show towards their daughters.
"That won't stop a wolf from attacking you. They will take down full grown men if they have the inclination." Anxious, his gaze searched the surrounding bushes. "Besides, not all stories are myth, aijou." Whispering the words, he missed her frown as his sight caught and stayed with a darker patch of shadow deep within the forest. It was too far away for him to see much detail, but he could have sworn it moved not a second before his head turned to look.
"You're starting to sound as bad as the town folk. Really, that palace is over a thousand years old. The last lord that lived there died in a war, and his family more than likely perished with him. It's just a run down mausoleum in an inconvenient spot. That's why no one goes near it."
"No. No." Waving a hand dismissively, he stepped closer to the tree line. "A mausoleum it certainly is not. And do not say such things, Kaoru. You tempt fate with your confidence of knowledge you do not have."
"What does fate have to do with anything?" Crossing her arms, Kaoru twisted her lips.
"More than you know." Whispering again, he shuddered as the shadows, so still and quiet as he stood before the entrance of the forest, purposefully, meaningfully, stepped briefly into the light and disappeared. "Perhaps I shouldn't go."
"I do not feel right leaving you here by yourself. I don't believe I'll go." Voice trembling, he came back to the engawa while looking over his shoulder nervously.
"But Father! If you wait much longer it will begin to snow on the mountain and you won't be able to make the trip! Delay means death by starvation!" Shoving his shoulder, she huffed angrily. "Are you going to let some fairy tale scare you from making a living? Really, are you a man or aren't you!?" He wasn't paying her any attention, and she reared back an arm and smacked him across the back of the head. "Dammit, if you won't go then I will! Give me the pack! You big wuss!"
Blue irises not unlike hers widened in alarm and he backed away from her grasping hands. "Absolutely not! You will not step one foot inside that forest! I forbid it!"
"Then pull yourself together! You're acting like a ninny!"
Frowning, he stared back at his daughter as she glared at him, then sighed, his head hanging. "I know that you are right, Kaoru… but…" I have this awful feeling… that if I go… I will lose you to something I cannot protect you from.
"But nothing, old man. Get your lazy, chicken butt moving and remember not to take no for an answer. We need some boarders or we're going to be eating nuts from the trees like squirrels."
Laughing airily, he reluctantly agreed. "I know, aijou. I promised your mother I would keep you safe and healthy. I cannot do that without income." Looking her over slowly, a sad ache of pain bloomed inside his chest as he could clearly see for a moment the gentle beauty of his wife reflected in her features. A part of him knew his fate was to have them both taken away. He was only hoping it was much later than sooner. "Please, little one, do not go into the forest. Do not leave the house after dark. Most of all, don't… I beg you, don't even look at the mountain."
Wondering what had possessed him to act this strangely, Kaoru was partially inclined to throw off his requests as paranoia. For a moment her eyebrow lifted, ready to call his bluff and tease him for his crazy imaginings, but there was an odd light in his eyes. He truly believed something bad could, or even would happen if she was to do what he asked her not to. "Alright, Father." Smiling though she was uncertain, she leaned forward and abruptly hugged him tight like she had as a child in his arms. "Be safe yourself, okay? I'll be waiting for you to come home."
"Goodbye, little girl." Holding her back by the shoulders when she pulled away, he smiled like a man who knew he would never be happy again. "Your father loves you very much."
"I love you too, Daddy." Brows drawing together, she encircled one of his wrists with a hand, he's attitude infecting her as he let her grip slide away.
Though the sun was rising high in the sky, flooding their small dojo with light and warmth, Kaoru felt nothing but a chill. No sunbeam penetrated the darkness of the forest, and her father was walking straight through it.
That night Kaoru had a dream. There was a tree. A beautiful sakura tree with thousands of tiny pink blossoms that shone and reflected light, almost as if they were made of glass. She wanted to touch one. More than anything in the world, she wanted to feel their texture and cradle one in her palm. So she plucked one, delighted that it was just as soft and smooth as a true petal should be and yet it was heavy like the glass it mimicked. Holding it close to her face she smiled, a shower of more blossoms falling from the limb her own had been taken from. They shattered on the ground in a spray of particles and disintegrated into pink dust. Somehow she was unconcerned with their plight.
The petal made her happy. It was warm in her hand and filled her heart and mind with peace. Carefully she turned it over and over again in her fingers, awed by the prism effect of light it produced. A moment later, though, the light disappeared as a shadow fell over her figure from behind. Turning around quickly, her hand clutching the petal to her chest, she tilted her chin straight up, for the being was much taller than she.
It towered above her, its outline and form blackened by the light behind it. She could see no details, but there were horns upon its head and great black wings sprouting from its back. Surprisingly she was unafraid, though its appearance was alien and she could feel that whatever else this creature was, it was angry with her. Instead she was happy. Glad even to have someone to share her treasure with. Holding out a hand she showed it the sakura blossom she had taken, grinning in anticipation of its reaction. For several long seconds the dark figure did nothing as if undecided before it moved, its actions slow and gentle. Carefully a dark hand engulfed her own, tilting the petal back and forth as it too examined what she had discovered.
"Can I keep it?"
Another second of hesitation stalled its movements and then a large hand fell on top of her head, its long fingers curving around her skull easily. Sharp claws scraped gently at the back of her neck and ears and she giggled as the sensation tickled her. Somewhere underneath the dark shadows and concealing gloom the creature finally smiled too.
"Come along, little one."
Koshijirou looked around him suspiciously, the crackling and sparking fire not enough to penetrate the thickness of the trees. The path around the mountain took him too close to the palace for him to feel comfortable, and the stagnant air of deep wood felt as if he were being transported to a time in the past. Memories he tried to block came rushing back. Words he had sworn to honor haunting him; unfulfilled. Sitting, alone and in the dark, he knew the time to pay old debts was fast approaching.
"That fire won't be enough to keep me away."
Terror, like a baby rabbit cornered by a fox, ricocheted his heart into an unstable rhythm inside his chest. Closing his eyes and swallowing thickly, Koshijirou ducked his head and tried to fight the drowning tide of helplessness.
"I did not figure it would."
A shadow passed in and out of his peripheral vision. Though unafraid of the fire, the other did not seem willing to come any closer.
"You have not honored your promise, sword master. I thought we had made a bargain."
"I had every intention of honoring your request, you must believe me, but… my wife… she died not a year later. Of sickness."
There was a short pause. "That would not have affected our deal."
"You must understand. Kaoru is all that I have left."
"I asked only for one day." Anger was rising in the other's voice, impatient with Koshijirou's unreasonable actions. "One day from dawn to dusk. No longer; no shorter. One day out of each year until her eighteenth birthday. I would not hurt her. Was my request unfair?"
"No… though I have never understood it."
"You do not need to."
Not many things scared Kamiya Koshijirou, but this entity and the loss of his daughter were two of them. Swallowing, he stared at his trembling hands. "My wife told me a story once. Of a young lord and a curse." A sharp hiss warned him not to speak too much. "Ever since that day you brought my child back to me… I knew her story was more truth than I had ever been told."
"Where would your wife have heard such a thing?" There was a dark threat in his voice and for a moment Koshijirou laughed like a man with nothing to lose.
"You are free to ask her if you wish." The laugh was becoming just slightly hysterical, doubling the dojo master over as he clutched his side. Solid footsteps entered the circle of firelight and pointed claws raked across his chest as one hand fisted into his kimono and hefted him from the ground.
"Be smart, samurai. The rest of your life depends upon careful attention to my next words." The air in his lungs froze the frenzied giggles in their tracks as blue eyes met the dark gold gaze of the creature. "For your dishonor to our agreement I have been denied my entire fourteen days. You will pay me back for those fourteen days I lost."
"Fourteen days?" Brow twitching on a frown of incomprehension, Koshijirou's voice was breathless with disbelief. "Is that all you require?"
"That is all."
"Then… all you want is to make up for those days she did not come? All you want her for is a fortnight?" Hope lit the dead azure depths of his irises, thinking of how short a time that truly was. He was only going to be gone over the mountain for a fortnight. By the time he got back, she would already be returned as well. Then they could get on with their lives without the cloud of bad karma hovering over the dojo. Perhaps it would end all of their problems. Perhaps one of the boys he brought back with him would even end the loneliness his daughter was facing.
"Is this a suitable deal?"
"Yes. I will need to speak with my daughter, but it is very reasonable of you." The hand in his shirt lowered him to the ground, where Koshijirou stepped back and bowed at the waist. "You are a very generous and forgiving lord. I apologize for my disrespect."
"Then it is agreed. From this day on your daughter will live at the palace with me."
"What?" Jerking his head up, Koshijirou stared at the hard features of the lord, his amber gaze stern and merciless.
"As for the fourteen days you owe me, they will be paid by each day you are allowed to visit her. Whether you decide to use them all at once or dispense them sparingly is your choice. But not one day more will be allowed you for the rest of your life."
"But my lord…"
"You have until the day after tomorrow to bring her to the palace. Each day afterwards that you delay will be subtracted from your due. If you have not come by the end of fourteen days, I will collect her myself." He was already back outside the circle of firelight, leaving the shocked father to digest what had just been taken from him. Speechless and frozen he stared after him, sightless eyes ignoring the crowding darkness.
"One more thing, sword master. Does your daughter remember her visit to my palace?"
"…No… she has forgotten it all." Softly Koshijirou laughed, suddenly fully aware of what it was like to be powerless and empty. "I encouraged her forgetfulness if you would like to punish me for that as well."
"That is unnecessary. I did not wish for her to remember. When you speak to her you will tell her only how she was returned and of the promise you broke. I want you to make her understand that this is all your doing. The fault belongs only to you."
"… A-as you wish."
A/N: So I can't believe I'm doing this, but I was bored. I've been wracking my brain the last two days trying to work on MOJ and AML. I've even wrote a bit… but I think it's been so long since I've done anything with them I don't remember the feeling exactly and I'm so afraid of messing them both up after getting as far as I have with them.
Anyway, this has been on my laptop for quite awhile, but today must have been its day, because I sat down and wrote a couple chapters. And since it was the beginning I was having the biggest problem with… now that it's out of the way, I feel more confident about finishing the rest of it. What's funny, is I actually started this before Demon. Now, though, that it is already completed and posted, I feel like I may have stolen a little from this story for it. So I'm trying really hard not to have Kenshin's character from that story reflect onto this one. So if there is anyone that sees a similarity, I'd like to apologize. But I'm trying to make this one seem more like a spoiled and selfish lord than the outcast and unsocial assassin from Demon. Hope it comes across alright.
Well, hope it catches someone's attention, and that you like it if it did. It'll probably be a short story, so don't worry about too many chapters to wait for. Ciao.
Oh, and leave a review to tell me what you thought. Thanks!