To face one's own feelings is akin to throwing oneself into a bottomless pit…
Or setting sail on an endless sea…
Never look at it…
You must not think about it…
"Though you search your soul on the dark, heaving waves," The Fruit-Merchant stated as he shut his book on his latest entry, "You must never look in that place."
There, on the ground in front of the sea-coffin, Ivan had started reading from that old book again: his words silent to everyone else on deck. Toris walked over and cleared his throat before asking, "Your majesty, are you saying that your sister was sealed in here, twenty years ago…" He shivered, "And is still wandering aimlessly across the sea?"
"Hmph!" Jiraiya huffed, "Just as I suspected! The Sea of Demons itself is a demon, born from the malice within this sea-coffin!"
The Fruit-Merchant stayed still, his sword not responding at all to these statements. It caused Kurenai to think,
'Isn't that the spirit's truth?'
"Well, the solution is obvious!" The old writer stated, "We need to exhume this sea-coffin, give this young lady a proper burial, and get the hell away from this wretched sea!" Toris and Yao yelped at that.
"Y-You want to open it?" Yao gasped, Toris adding,
"That's too frightening to even contemplate!"
"Hey!" Kurenai shouted, "This poor girl's been trapped in there for twenty years! She obviously would want to come out!" She sighed, "I sure would…"
"No!" Toris shook his head as Ivan ran his fingers across the decorations of the sea-coffin, "It's too much! No one could stay alive in there for that long! If she's been dead for fifty years, then her body would have rotted away!"
"All the more reason," Jiraiya raised his voice, "For us to save Prince Ivan's unfortunate sister!" Though Yao and Toris were rapidly shaking their heads, Jiraiya went on, "This must be Ivan's purpose in life!"
"Can't I convince you not to do that, aru?" Yao whined.
"Should we really open it?" Kurenai asked The Fruit-Merchant, the bluenette replying,
"If you do not wish to roam the seas forever as a demon, then yes."
"Why the hell would I want that?" Kurenai huffed. But she was curious, "Didn't you come here to put demons and foul-spirits to rest?"
Ivan was still quietly reading out the words of that book to the sea-coffin, unmoving even as Jiraiya, Kurenai, Yao, and Toris brought a plank of wood to help pry the vessel open. "Well then," Jiraiya smiled, "Here we go!" They all pulled and pushed. Except for The Fruit-Merchant who was just watching over the scene, Ivan who was reading, and Suigetsu who was pitifully staring at his broken sword.
"This is harder than I thought it would be, aru!" Yao whined, Kurenai calling out,
"Stop watching and help Mr. Fruit-Merchant!" They all pulled for a while longer, The Fruit-Merchant still watching. Finally, he smiled,
"I see.", and pulled a handful of holy-slips from his sleeve. Kurenai yelped at the sight, her eyes going wide as she carefully moved away from the sea-coffin. "Well then." Everyone slowly turned, right before the slips were flung toward the handle of the sea-coffin's opening.
"Why don't you warn anybody when you do that?" Kurenai yelled as everyone fell to the ground to avoid the flying papers. All of the symbols on the slips turned blue before the handles started to turn, The Fruit-Merchant controlling the movements until the vessel was almost ready to open. Jiraiya gulped,
"Here it comes…"
One of The Fruit-Merchant's scales floated in front of his and Ivan's face.
The doorway was opened.
And the scale chimed.
In another plane of time, all of the ship's passengers were sitting on the ceiling of the compass-room: the space filled with water that goldfish and koi happily swam around in. "Me and my sisters: Katyusha older than me, Natalia younger," Ivan began, "We were born to a crownless kingdom back in our snowy home."
The scales were standing guard near the group, even as the shadow of a monstrous fish crept along the floor.
"Katyusha was the only one to have known our parents before they died. And soon, she was taken by the same disease that had devoured them." He turned the page of his book, the words worn down to obscurity, "Natalia and I lived in our family's castle together, and there were no other children allowed in the castle, so we were always together."
The shadow of that monstrous fish still danced across the floor as Ivan spoke, "We were always getting along so well." He gave a sad smile, "Perhaps, we were getting along too well, da?"
"When I was fifteen," A much younger Ivan stated, "I started handling the affairs of my kingdom." He hardly noticed the eerie, pale silhouette of a young woman behind him.
"It was what was expected of me, being my father's son…" Ivan's voice continued on even as he was trapped in a flashback of himself walking through the halls of the castle. He gasped as he felt someone watching him and turned around, seeing a young girl with long, pollen-blonde hair dressed in a dress blue and white. "…Me and Natalia were compelled to follow those expectations…"
Natalia looked up, her blue eyes cold before she whispered, "Big brother."
"What the hell?" Jiraiya shouted, Toris nearly fainting behind him. Back in real-time, the sea-coffin had been opened, but…
"Natalia!" Ivan screamed, Kurenai panting,
"She's completely gone. Neither,"
"Hide nor hair of her!" Toris whispered even as Ivan kept screaming,
The sea-coffin's innards were as bare as the day there were made.
"They called me Ivan the Great," Ivan began back in the water-filled room, "Ivan the Terrible. My rule was intense and fierce." As he spoke, The Fruit-Merchant looked down to his still quiet sword, "Many could not withstand my rule and left. All the better, less food needed to be divided that way. But…" Ivan sighed, ignoring Toris's panicked looks, "I mostly wanted to forget all about Natalia."
"But she thought about me EVERY SINGLE DAY!" Ivan slammed his fist to his lap. "No matter how many times I tried to explain to her…"
"So many goldfish, aru!" Yao whispered as he looked at the fish swimming around them.
"That, as brother and sister," Ivan sighed, "We could never become one."
"But!" Ivan shouted as he looked inside of the sea-coffin, "I was certain! She had to have been in here!"
"It would seem," The Fruit-Merchant began, "That your sister is not a demon." Jiraiya groaned,
"Then what is the Truth behind this demon?" There was a light chime, the old man scoffing as one of The Fruit-Merchant's scales floated up. "Is it showing us the distance between us and the demon again?"
"Not only measuring…" The Fruit-Merchant spoke as the scale moved through the air. Kurenai gasped, falling back as the scale floated down in front of Ivan's still reading face, "I have sent it to show us the demon's truth." The bluenette nodded, walking behind the frenzied Prince: gently whispering into his ear, "Will you now tell me what the connection between your little sister and this sea-coffin from fifty years ago?"
"The scale is going to bring the Truth…" Kurenai whispered, Ivan's eyes drifting shut, "To light?"
"Natalia, no!" Ivan shouted, his much younger self dressed in his royal robes as he tried to force his sister off of him; Natalia seething,
"Big brother! All I want is what is best for you!" Ivan groaned as she kissed his cheek, finally pushing her onto her own bed.
"What you are asking is an abomination Natalia."
"How she longed to be together with me…" Ivan shook his head as he sat in that room filled with water.
"Even so," Younger Ivan said from on top of the staircase, "Knowing this, I chose to ignore her and work to better my kingdom and its people." The Fruit-Merchant looked up from where he sat, asking,
Younger Ivan glared at The Fruit-Merchant before shaking his head, that melancholy smile on his face, "To this day, I do not know whether it was to purify her, to save ourselves, or just to be rid of her…"
"You can't say things like that!" Toris screamed, "Such horrible things… She was your sister your majesty!" Older Ivan shook his head,
"I was so terrified of her… No. I absolutely…"
"Hated her." Both Ivans agreed, younger Ivan gritting his teeth, "Always whining about how she wanted to get married!"
"Always sneaking into my room!"
"Trying to kill anyone who got close to me!"
"If only she could be done away with…" Ivan chuckled, "That was my wish. However…"
"Aiya!" Yao shrieked, clutching his chest as he could have sworn he felt someone stab him in the back.
"Natalia was of royal blood." Ivan sighed, ignoring everyone's shouts and screams as the ghostly figure of Natalia either cut, stabbed, scratched, or strangled them. "If she were to suddenly go missing, it would not have been a pretty sight."
"My mind was filled with horrible, terrifying thoughts, day after day after day!" Younger Ivan groaned, clutching at the crown on his head. He abruptly looked over to The Fruit-Merchant, his wide lavender eyes shedding tears, "I was so scared!"
"You are a monster!" Toris yelled, despite feeling his throat being strangle, "What kind of ruler are you? When did you become this way..?" The rest of his outburst trailed off in a wretched sob, Ivan only replying,
"I suppose… I was always a bit of a monster inside. My only regret… Is that my kingdom had to have a ruler like me."
"But why," Kurenai began, despite the bleeding cuts on her arms, "Did Natalia board the sea-coffin?"
The goldfish and koi continued to swim overhead.
Ivan stood, walking to the left wall of the room, "Five years after I had begun my rule, my people had become even more dissatisfied with their lives. Their main complaint was that this ocean was not letting any fish come in for people to eat.
For a brief second, the fish began to sink: as if dead.
"Someone had somehow tied my family's misfortune to this plague. And then…" The cream-haired man laughed, covering his face in his hands as his younger self began to sob, "They had heard of ways to appease the ocean from the east. They wanted to sacrifice me, stating that as a royal I should be more than happy to do it."
"I couldn't get out of it!" Younger Ivan shouted. "But, after a while…"
"I thought that sacrificing myself, rather than living in torture and fear, would be a better route." Ivan whispered, flinching as he felt his sister's fingers running along his spine. The touch suddenly vanished, leaving the smell of sweet perfume. "Everyone wanted it… It would have been easier…"
Ivan slid against the wall, eyes closed as he remembered, "The people heard of my decision… and built me a sea-coffin."
The black skies above groaned as the perfumed wind wafted up to the imposing eye above.
Jiraiya nodded, his face hosting a vicious scratch, "So that's where this sea-coffin came from."
"But in that case," The writer's voice continued, Suigetsu still sitting outside on the deck: staring pitifully at his sword, ignoring how more and more perfumed wind wafted up from the pond of blood. "Shouldn't you be inside the sea-coffin? Why did Natalia replace you?"
Ivan was still as stone, even as The Fruit-Merchant's scale and sword floated upward.
"It was a beautiful vessel indeed." Ivan's voice spoke, outside the sky had changed from black to a morning glow. Suigetsu flinched, slowly turning around and choking on air as he saw that the sea-coffin had reverted from its soggy, barnacle-covered state to a beautiful vessel of golden wood and red and blue engraved paintings. "Like a work of art."
"What the hell…" Suigetsu panted until the petal of a Flax flower floated past him, gathering his attention towards the other side of the deck.
"On the morning I was to board the ship," Ivan began again, "I was to meet with Natalia once more."
There Natalia stood, her long, pollen hair and beautiful blue and white dress fluttering in the ocean breeze. "A gorgeous young girl of sixteen years." As she glared towards the sea, the perfumed winds and Flax petals whipped around her. "Perhaps, we should never have seen each other… Either way, she would not let me board the sea-coffin."
Suigetsu could only watch as Ivan's younger self fought against Natalia, desperately trying to get into the sea-coffin but the young woman forcing him away. Natalia even went so far as to take out a knife and threaten Ivan with it, the Prince backing away slowly from the vessel.
"If I was a monster," Ivan stated, looking at his own hands, ignoring the shadow of the monstrous fish on the floor that glared at them with a purple eye. "Then that girl was a demon."
"She did not care if our kingdom fell into flames or succumbed to a plague…" Younger Ivan watched his sister carefully, her eyes wide and manic, "She only cared to live with me, no matter what the costs were."
The monstrous fish's shadow was circling around a slightly smaller being, hunting it down and wrapping thin, slimy tentacles around its prey. "Natalia took her psychosis and malice for kindness and sincerity."
"She should have been knowing," Ivan looked up to see those goldfish and koi, swimming, swimming, swimming peacefully, "That neither of us were worthy or capable of pity."
Suigetsu struggled to clamber away from the scenes flashing in front of him, clutching his broken sword in his trembling hands. "The time of the ship's departure was imminent; everyone was clamoring that I be sacrificed. When we were finally pressed up against the wall, my sister stated:"
"I will board this wretched sea-coffin in your place big brother."
"What?" Kurenai whispered, that perfumed wind flew up from around Ivan, the Prince stating,
"Of course, even if I hated her, I could not allow her to do such a thing!"
On the floor, the monster-fish's shadow had finally devoured its prey: a pitiful cry ripping through the air. "After the preparations were completed, Natalia spoke to me again."
"If we cannot be married in this world, Big Brother," Natalia's ghostly visage hissed from behind The Fruit-Merchant as he held out his sword, "Then we shall go to the afterlife and be married there!
NOT EVEN GODS OR DEMONS SHALL STOP US!"
"I dream of you every night and day, big brother…" Natalia smiled, hugging her brother close to her body, "If it is the only way we can be together, then I will surely set forth in this damned sea-coffin."
"Geez, what a freak!" Kurenai whispered, Ivan continued,
"I could not believe it!" Ivan's younger self had been so tired. Tears dripped from his eyes as he held his sister close, just tired of fighting, "Why had the gods presented me with such an easy way out of this?"
Natalia sat on top of the sea-coffin, pedaling her feet in the air: her pure, white wedding dress fluttering in the breeze. "After she said her piece, she wanted us to enter the sea-coffin together." Ivan's voice echoed across the wind, "There was no way in hell I would be doing such a thing. I left my kingdom with my clothes and gems in hand and fled."
Ivan covered himself in a simple wool shroud and ran from the prison his home had become with all he could carry. "In my mind, way in the recesses, a part of me promised her and Katyusha that we would be together again soon… Yet…"
The sea-coffin's lid slowly rolled to a close, "I did not even consider taking my own life. I ran to the city, set up a small house, and was even able to hire a few servants…"
Toris flinched as he remembered how happy he was to have been hired by Ivan in the first place. "But for twenty years, Natalia continued to plague my mind; my very soul!"
"So Natalia rode the seas aboard the sea-coffin…" Jiraiya stated, "And became a demon after twenty years of travel."
"That poor, sick girl!" Kurenai screamed, trembling in rage. As all the scales stood around them, the area was silent after Kurenai's outburst.
"Wrong." The Fruit-Merchant stated, slowly standing to his feet. Kurenai looked up at him, a koi swimming around her head,
"What is?" The Fruit-Merchant's hand clenched around the hilt of his blade.
"It was not Ms. Natalia's rage and obsession that brought forth the demons on this sea." The bluenette sighed, "That's not this being's Truth."
On the floor, the purple-eyed beast's shadow swam towards the center of the room, all of the scales in the room following it.
"Ivan?" The Fruit-Merchant spoke silently, "That eye you're hiding…" Everyone gasped as they looked at the prince in front of them, "What happened to it?"
Ivan choked back a scream as he covered his right eye, crimson pouring down his face.
Out on deck, Suigetsu looked up to the sky when it groaned again: the purple eye above still chained to the sea-coffin. "It has been watching us all this time…" The Fruit-Merchant's voice explained.
"What are you talking about?" Toris screamed, "His majesty's eye is right… It's right there!"
"You feared Natalia's wrath," The Fruit-Merchant went on, "You feared what Katyusha must have been thinking in the afterlife, you even feared your own soul."
Outside, in the black sky, the purple and green eye faded to a more lavender color: still watching the ship it was chained to. The Fruit-Merchant spoke again, "Fear gave rise to fear, and they soon became a shadow, dark beyond human understanding." As the cream-haired noble collapsed and began to writhe on the ground, painfully clutching at his eye, The Fruit-Merchant raised his sword, "It separated from you and wandered the seas.
"Your majesty!" Toris cried.
The Fruit-Merchant's sword purred.
"The truth is…" The Fruit-Merchant stated, the room shifting from the water-filled compass room to the colorful lobby; The Fruit-Merchant and Ivan being the only inhabitants. "You are your own worst fear Ivan."
"Nyet!" The prince roared, standing and clutching at his head as he felt it would split in two. "This cannot be! This is what I've been running away from for the past twenty years?"
"But where-!" Ivan choked as a thick, viscous mass of red and sickly pink began crawling forth from his right eye-socket, "Where is Natalia?"
The Fruit-Merchant, who had been slowly moving around the lobby, making sure they had enough space, replied, "She didn't become the monster that you thought she was. She became one with the sea after willingly sacrificing herself for her love." The bandage-covered, gem-encrusted sword was tossed up in the air, The Fruit-Merchant going on, "This sea-spirit is a part of you: the past you've wanted to abandon and destroy."
More and more of the garbled, inhumane screams of Ivan's past filled the air as the sticky, sickly mass of flesh tried to free itself from its prison. But, abruptly, it was pulled back in: Ivan standing as still as a statue.
The Fruit-Merchant looked at the poor soul and said one word. "Separate."
Immediately, half of Ivan's body melted down into a foul-smelling shadow. It grew and grew until it's pitch-black form had taken that of the monster-fish that had been scouring the compass room floor.
Outside, Ivan's right eye was glaring intensely at the ship.
"Prince Ivan," The Fruit-Merchant began, Ivan struggling to turn his remaining half of his head to the bluenette, "Let me ask you… To kill this demon means to kill your very soul. All of those feelings and fears, all the elements that caused you to split your heart and soul in two: those which you have denied… They would return in full-force."
The remains of Ivan's body fell to the floor, more shadows of large, frightening fish crawling along the walls of the lobby, "I ask you," The Fruit-Merchant spoke up amongst all the screams and howls, "Do you still want this?"
The Fruit-Merchant's sword was purring and trembling, waiting for someone to make a move as Ivan's remains screamed on the floor.
"Big… brother…" Natalia turned to see Ivan walking towards the sea-coffin. Her eyes went wide in glee, a bit of drool dripping from her mouth as she limped over.
'I'm not staying here.' Ivan thought as his sister continued to speak,
"I've been…" Her voice was interrupted by a vicious, hacking cough that actually sent some off-colored bile to the ground, "I have been waiting for you. I want… to take your place in this sea-coffin…"
'Whatever you decide, decide it for yourself and leave me alone!' A wide smile grew on Ivan's face, 'Wait, did she say what I think she just said?'
"If it is the only way… I can become one with you…" Natalia's steps were uncoordinated, she even tripped over herself a few times as she tried to dizzily move closer to her brother.
'This is perfect! I shall be killing two birds with one stone with this idiotic plot!'
"Please…" Natalia wheezed, her mouth still drooling spit and bile, "Please to be promising me one thing…"
'Silly girl, this kingdom is so poor; I hope you are not asking for money…'
"Just…" Ivan stood unflinching as Natalia's tears and drool seeped through his clothes, "Just tell me you love me…"
"Get off of me…" Ivan frowned.
"Tell me you love me!"
"Get away!" Ivan shoved his sister away, rushing away from the shore and ignoring his sisters shrieks and cries for him.
"I remember now…" Ivan's remains whispered, "Natalia had always been a sickly girl. But when Katyusha died, she fell apart. Our attendants tried all sorts of treatments and remedies, but they just proved to make things worse. Her health deteriorated… and her mind rotted away. However, through all of that, the one thing that seemed to grow and prosper… was her love for me…" He sighed, "Again and again she confessed her love for me…" His one good eye looked outside to see the barnacle-covered sea-coffin, "But I could not create anything but hate for her."
As tears dripped down from his eye, he choked back sobs of, "I am nothing but a stupid monster… Ignorant to even the power of love. It took me too long to realize it…"
Finally, he looked to The Fruit-Merchant and stated, "I beg of you. Please help me."
"Understood." The Fruit-Merchant nodded, stabbing his sword into the floor as it screamed,
"Release me! Now!"
After the command had been given, The Fruit-Merchant's alter ego appeared, his blue hair wildly blowing through the wind. The Fruit-Merchant vanished as Hoshigaki Kisame went into action, grabbing his sword just as the sea-spirit's many tentacles surged towards him.
He quickly sliced through the majority of them, rotten fish-chum raining to the ground. The monstrous-fish's shadow glared at Kisame just as he glared back at it.
The Fruit-Merchant handed Kisame a mirror, the wild bluenette crushing it in his hands as if it were nothing. A larger mirror appeared in front of him from the action and he hit his blade against it. The sword's voice screamed, "I AM FREE!" Before all of the bandages rapidly unraveled from it, revealing the shining blue steel underneath. Kisame turned once, twice, thrice, before he hurled the sword into the monstrous-fish's eye: the organ cracking like glass before he jumped over and used his weight and power to slice down.
There was a brief glimpse of the beast's true form: a hideous overgrown tumor of spewing flesh and jagged teeth.
Kisame whipped his blade through the shadow once more, empty crab shells and more fish-chum spraying forth into the lobby as the warped screams and cries of Katyusha and Natalia echoed in the air.
The eye above the ship gave one final groan before the golden chains snapped apart, the monstrous organ finally drifting shut as the sea-coffin sank back beneath the bloody pond waters.
As the sea-coffin sank outside, inside the lobby two feminine shadows: one with short hair and one with long hair, slowly drifted down besides Ivan's remains.
"It is over."
Outside, the sun finally rose upon a clear, calm, blue sea.
A harsh gasp echoed in a small space, lavender eyes opening up to see nothing but darkness and skin feeling cold water beneath him. "Easy Mr. Braginski…" A man's voice spoke from outside, "The treatment is over but I need you to relax as I shut the system down and get your body back to normal."
"Now…" A tall, Russian man with short, cream hair lay on a medical bed in a hospital-room as he tried to catch his breath from the experience he had just had. Across from him, a man with wild blue hair dressed in medical scrubs was speaking; a nameplate that read 'Dr. Hoshigaki' on his chest, "Do you have an idea of why your ancestors were causing you and your partner to suffer now Mr. Braginski?"
"Comrade, just call me Ivan," Ivan sighed, rubbing his eyes. "You need not be so formal with me." Kisame smiled before picking up a book and taking a few notes,
"So, what did you think of the F.F. system? I told you over the phone that it would be like nothing you've ever seen before."
"You never said it would be so potentially traumatizing my friend." Ivan sighed, sitting up. "But I will admit that it is amazing: a perfect combination of medicine and fiction. Time travel and paranormal studies used to help people with modern issues…" He then shook his head, "So my ancestor, Ivan the Great… Now that I know these things, do you think that their spirits will be at peace? At least enough so that Alfred can take a shower without Natalia's ghost trying to strangle him?" Kisame finished taking his notes before he stood and began,
"They should. Then again, no science is exact. I had a couple in here a few days ago who were wondering why they couldn't conceive a child. It had turned out that one of their ancestors had an undying hatred of the other's family. I am not sure that even a cycle inside the F.F. system helped them, they haven't contacted me or returned my calls."
"I see…" Ivan nodded. He stood and went to grab his coat, "Well, I thank you for trying to help me. Oh, by the way," He looked straight at Kisame and continued, "When will you be attempting to find him again?"
Kisame was quiet before he remembered that flash of dark hair and pale skin he had had during Ivan's procedure.
"I'll probably try an individual session again next month. So, you'll be able to help monitor while I go under?"
"But of course my friend!" Ivan smiled before walking out of the door with another farewell.
"Shit…" Kisame had stayed in the hospital late that night, recording all of the raw data from that day's procedure which he had lovingly labeled 'Sea Coffin'. But, while he had been analyzing all of the data and footage from the F.F., or Foreign Fruit, System, he had tumbled onto a disturbing discovery.
It appeared that, after Ivan's session had ended, the young swordsman Suigetsu was still sitting by the pond of blood. "What are you doing there?" Kisame asked, wondering if he should chance going into the F.F. system without anyone to supervise him.
Suigetsu just sat there, staring at his broken sword on the ground. Finally, he stated, "Thank you for everything…" His voice sounding unusually light and feminine.
"The hell?" Kisame frowned, calibrating the system camera so he could get a better look at Suigetsu. But the young swordsman turned…
Revealing the face of Katyusha rather than the distraught swordsman. "Thank you for everything." She smiled.
Then the system screen went dark.
A/N: So, did I give you guys enough of a WTF moment yet? Well, this is just a glimpse of how I'm making this fanfic different from the original anime 'Mononoke'. More elements of what Kisame does in this 'hospital' and the inner-workings of the Foreign Fruit system will be revealed…
Next time! Thanks for reading! Please review!