Sometimes doing your best is not enough.
It's what the cruel pain says, and it's the ringing in her ears; it's the sound of her magical barriers being crushed, shattered to pieces, layer after layer. It's her fight to the last fragment of power – for her blood still flushes her face and her breath flows, and as long as she lives, she will not stop.
The shadow is still a long distance away, but it comes fast from the clouds, in poisoned rain – on the earth, Rao runs and cries in silence, stricken by death already. Life escapes her from her tears; because she knows she doesn't stand a chance, and if she doesn't, nobody else will. Her prayers crumble in a low wail, different from spells, different from curses. She feels she won't have time to regret all the things she should. She will die like that – dirty, guilty, helpless.
It's almost there – too deep to see through – a blackness that freezes her. She collects her energies to bear the final blow; and she is wise and desperate, and gets ready to feel a pain that will not end with her life.
When her eyes are finally closed, she finds she is moving fast. The mass flies far from her beloved places; it dwells in horror, it triumphs in evil, and turns beauty into cinders.
She feels the black grasp, it tortures her every inch; her flesh burns bright and smells like cursed fires, turning in something she cannot stand.
The skin, the blood, the fingertips and eyes – they burst in flames and change their hue, rearranged in a cruel pattern. The black waters wash her away and play around with her very existence; she is blinded now, but not in the heart.
Her soul still resists, but her mind can see. She becomes the opposite of herself.
She is too conscious to bear all of this.
It is from ghostly eyes, wet and refreshed, that she first sees the horrid copy of herself. There is no barrier now, and her soul releases part of her power – under her helpless gaze, it gifts that shape with the illusion of life. The darkened flesh turns into snow, the raven hair swells again, the dead branches that once were her limbs find their former shape. Without a body of her own, without her senses, she is still trembling.
A glimpse of red leaves her alone in the darkness. She doesn't know this place.
Lining her edges with transparent tears, her ghost drifts to the feeble light, next to the stairs. And in a moment she knows what the thing lying at her feet is – her clothes, a pile of uncorrupted bones.
She kneels, embraces her frail skeleton, praying herself to sleep. Under her wordless breath, the curses fade from the corpse – the bones turn white, the clothes go back to their colour and their shape.
When the traces of evil are gone, she knows what she must do. Even in death, weakened and broken, she is a priestess.
Rao sits by herself, and starts waiting.
Although I am still very ignorant when it comes to mythology/religion/magical arts/sacred magic, I have read a lot about Ōkami-related mythology, especially about Ninetails. The kitsune and the beliefs surrounding them are just fascinating. Obviously, you can't part Rao and Ninetails, since so many small and yet crucial details bind them to one another. So - this is sort of my headcanon about Rao's death. One of the many headcanons, of course, but this one is my personal favourite, in spite of my ignorance and my other theories that make more sense. I think I'll write a post about it when I have more details!