When Evil Smiles
A Rurouni Kenshin x Tokyo Babylon fanfiction by Ariane Kovacevic, AKA Fuu-chan.
Silence fell over the clearing as the echo of the whistling of air sliced by steel slowly faded. Silence, which enveloped the place like a dark cloak. Absolute.
I closed my eyes and focused on the slow beatings of my heart, letting the void engulf me.
Drowning in emptiness.
A weak sound....
I tensed reflexively, and looked on my right to see blood dripping from the tip of one of my blades. At the same time, another sound resounded in the brisk air of morning. I tightened my grip on the two kodachi, and swung the twin blades in a lightning quick movement, ridding them of the taint of blood.
I snorted softly, stepping away from the thick crimson red pool spreading around me, ignoring the miserable corpses lying on the ground.
A mere nuisance.
A waste of my time.
A gentle breeze flew my hair as I reached the tree in the center of the small clearing, carrying with it the delicate scents of the forest in the beginning of Spring. I looked up, a distant, almost forgotten part of me unable to prevent itself from admiring the play of light and shade through the beautiful tree's canopy of leaves and blossoms. On impulse I resheathed the two kodachi and reached out to it.
The trunk my fingertips touched was hard.
"As you'd wish to be...."
I whirled around as the quiet whisper reached my ears, blades drawn.
Laughter filled the clearing.
And then gone, as abruptly as it had come.
I looked everywhere for any signs of presence, I strained my ears trying to catch the echoes of the voice, but silence had once more reclaimed dominion over the forest. There was no feeling of danger, I was alone, as alone as it was possible to be.
"Really, the sight of you holding those instruments of death is terrifying."
The soft chuckle resounded from right beside me, and suddenly I saw someone sitting down on the grass on my left, her back to the trunk of the ancient tree. I hissed, "Who...?"
The woman turned her head towards me, her dark grey eyes unwaveringly taking in the sight of my kodachi blades held barely a hand away from her throat and a quiet smile on her lips.
Mocking, ever so slightly....
She was wearing a black kimono belted by crimson red tissue, and the ribbon holding her hair was red also.
Red and black....
Her eyes were so dark....
She reached up to me with her right hand, and the tip of her forefinger gently pushed the steel blades away from her. I allowed the movement, watching the scene emotionlessly, vaguely wondering what this absurdity might mean.
The woman was young, perhaps eighteen, and her beauty was exquisite, everything in her indicating absolute confidence. There wasn't the smallest hint of fear or doubt emanating from her. She looked me right in the eyes, replying in a gentle voice, "Should I not be the one asking you this question," amusement suddenly sparkled in her eyes, "Shinomori Aoshi-san?"
I considered putting an end to this charade here and there, but as I did so the impulse died and the moment passed. After all, that she knew my name was unimportant, I had never made a secret of who I was, and she might perhaps hold valuable information. I asked her in a detached voice, "How do you know my name?"
She chuckled. "So cold."
She shook her head, as if to give herself time to silence the mirth radiating from her. "You do live up to your reputation, even if--" She gingerly smoothed the front of her kimono and then looked up, as if admiring the tree she was sitting under. "But to answer your question, it's a necessary task for me to know those like you, Shinomori Aoshi, to know potential enemies and shields."
Her task to know....
I tensed, discarding everything else she had said, focusing solely on those words.
She laughed suddenly. "My, look at you! The would-be cold-blooded killer struck dumb by a woman's words!"
My fingers gripped the kodachi's hilts hard, my arms and shoulders muscles readying for the move, and--
The wind rose around us, carrying a myriad of young leaves and blossoms between us and flying her long hair.
The tree was singing.
The sound of the wind rustling its leaves.... The sound of the wind stroking the branches was that of fingers caressing the strings of a harp.
Slowly, the breeze died down, and she said, nodding, "You are wiser than you look."
I stepped back, unable to prevent something cold from seeping into my being, and asked her, "Are you a spirit?"
She laughed. "Hardly." Suddenly her smile left her face. "You are a trespasser in my domain, Shinomori Aoshi. Only because you paid tribute and because I allowed curiosity to brush my soul, do you still live."
I put the twin blades away, focusing once more on the emptiness inside me and told her softly, "You don't expect your words to engulf my heart in fear and dread, do you? If so, you'll be sorely disappointed."
She looked at me, silent for a while, and eventually smiled, shaking her head. "No, I have no need to instill fear into your heart, it's already there, gnawing at your soul."
I laughed at her. "You're mad, woman ! You know not to whom you speak !"
She smiled pleasantly. "Is that so?" Her eyes locked on mine. "Are you not Shinomori Aoshi, once leader of Edo's Castle shadow guards?"
Absentmindedly I noticed that I had been mistaken a moment ago. Her eyes were not dark grey, they were black.
Blacker than a starless night.
"Are you not the one who walked away from the path of honor because you lacked the strength to face the future, and as a result caused the death of those who respected and trusted you Are you not the one who then started on a quest for a meaningless title in order to shrug off the guilt devouring your heart?"
I looked at her, I looked at the absolute darkness of her eyes and crushed savagely the unbearable shadow of doubt within me.
It was not so.
She knew nothing about me, nothing.
There was no guilt.
There was only duty.
A promise to keep.
That was all.
I whispered softly, "You're mistaken. I merely seek to honor my pledge. I was once interrupted, but it won't happen again. When I find the one I seek, this matter will end."
She watched the delicate blossoms flying past her as a gentle breeze delicately took them away from the tree, as if fascinated by them, and caught them in the palm of her left hand, smiling secretly to herself. Eventually she looked up, apparently entranced by the beauty of the sunlight piercing through the canopy of leaves, silent.
I watched her for a while, and then sighed inwardly. What was I still doing here? What use was there in staying? In listening to the ravings of this madwoman?
I was wasting my time.
"And to win your battle, you have decided to sacrifice everything." She was smiling softly, her eyes lost in the contemplation of something only she could see. "Do you really think you have been able to do that ?"
I felt a disdainful sneer coming to my lips, then abruptly I saw her arm moving, its slow motion embracing the clearing in a broad sweeping gesture. On instinct, I let my eyes followed the slow and graceful movement of her hand, and I saw.
Corpses in a pool of blood.
Staining the grass.
Tainting the white petals of a flower.
Lives I had....
I shook my head, smiling inwardly. The woman was a fool. What had she hoped? There was nothing in my heart. No feelings, no emotions, no regrets.
Nothing could stop me, nothing could make me step away from the path I had chosen, the only path I could choose.
"Admitting you find the one you seek and win, do you think you will have reached your goal?" I tensed, distinctly hearing the mockery in her voice. "What if I told you that Himura Kenshin is nothing but a convenient shield?" Her black eyes were shining with a light that sent a shiver down my spine.
Unable to help myself, I asked her, "What are you?"
She cocked her head to the side, chuckling. "Ah." She slowly stood up, facing me. "At last, the right question."
Suddenly, I noticed her kimono.
Not plain black as I had first thought.
It was streaked with traces of crimson red spots and irregular lines.
As if it had often been splattered with blood.
She reached out to me, her fingertips brushing my face in a gentle, almost tender caress, and said softly, "I am your goal, Shinomori Aoshi. If your intent is true, if you want more than an empty title, if you can face going on living once you have fought Himura Kenshin, if you have truly been able to sacrifice everything and walk completely down the path you have chosen, then eventually you will come to me."
I caught her hand in mine, holding it gently away from me, and asked her, unable to completely prevent wonder from seeping in my voice, "Then are you....?"
She smiled. "I am the assassin, yes. I am the shadow, cloaking itself in darkness, allowing others the title that is truly mine. It suits me. Not a hitokiri, The Hitokiri." She shook her head. "The name is a nuisance and attracts attention. The one who wears it draws stares and wariness from everyone, and what's more, the present holder of the title hates the burden it imposes on his shoulders. Let him be the light fighting not to be drowned in the darkness of the name, I have no need of its shedding light on my own darkness, let Himura Kenshin be my shield."
I looked into her eyes and saw death. She was exactly what she had said, there was no doubt about that, but.... I couldn't help asking her, "Why did you tell me all this? You do not intend to fight me."
She freed her hand from mine and turned her back on me, walking away. As she reached the edge of the tree's shadow, she stopped and faced me, replying, "Because if you live, you will eventually come back to me. Whether you truly walk your present path or take another, my words will bring you back. And of course, simply because it amuses me." She chuckled. "Mine is a dull life, Shinomori Aoshi. I merely welcome distractions once in a while..." She bowed. "I must leave you, but it is my hope we will meet again."
She walked away, and as I went after her the wind rose once more, slapping me and enveloping me in a cloak of leaves and blossoms. I instinctively protected my eyes, asking, "Wait! What's your name?"
The wind faded, and I saw it had left a few blossoms in my hand. There had been no answer, I was alone in the clearing, except for the four corpses a few paces away.
She was gone.
I started, looking up and then around me.
The breeze gently stroked my face, flying the fragile blossoms from the palm of my right hand.
"Sakurazuka Keiko is my name."
I looked at the petals taken away form me and smiled grimly, walking away from the clearing in the center of which stood an ancient and beautiful tree which was the only one of this forest to already bear the flowers that had the telltale exquisite pale shade of pink.
I walked beside the corpses, uncaring of the sound of my feet stepping in the pool of blood, listening only to the breeze rustling the leaves and blossoms of the lonely sakura tree which ruled over the woods.
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