* Disclaimer* All rights to the Rurouni Kenshin Characters are Watsuki-sama's, Jump Comics, etc. All right to the character " Incarnations" Are property of Piers Anthony. There are references made to his book " On a Pale Horse." But you do not need to have read the book to understand what is happening. =) This is only a little fanfic by a crazed Kenshin fan, I'm a poor college art student, and not even worth suing! Enjoy!
Well, I came up with this fic when I still believed Kaoru was dead. But I liked the idea of it so much that I decided to keep on writing it. (Even though it's been established that, yes she IS alive) Consider this a "what if this happened" fic. Kind of like an alternative where Enishi does actually kill her. I know, it sounds awful, but believe me; this ISN'T going to be depressing! I'm determined to make it happy! And to appease all those Kenshin and Kaoru fans out there well >=)
A little pre-fanfic know-how about "On a Pale Horse."
The incarnations mentioned in this fic are taken from " On a Pale
Horse." In Piers Anthony's book, he takes these aspects of life
and creates people for them-- much like we imagine there being a "Father
Time," and a "Mother Nature." Here, I will be making
references to human incarnations of " Death," "Fate,"
"Time," and "Nature." ( So far-- I don't know what other
ones I shall bring in from his book yet.)
Oh-- Death also rides a horse, Mortus, which can also conveniently be a car (limo), boat, etc. Whatever Death might need as a mode of transportation in the moment.
CHAPTER 27- On the Edge of Death
Kenshin had thoughtlessly taken a step forward and before he knew
it his head was under the muck. He'd had enough time to gasp a breath
before he'd been pulled under. His foot had fallen into a hole and
something had grabbed him. Something
Something was wrapped around his ankle. He couldn't move fast enough in the muck to unsheathe his Sakaba. He still held onto the Saya tightly, he prayed that Death would grab his hand, grab the Sakaba grab anything! Whatever it was that had caught him was dragging him down swiftly. Struggling wasn't doing any good, and he couldn't hold his breath much longer
Death looked about frantically, he reached into the muck as deep as he
could but found nothing. Then he spotted some air bubbles hitting
the surface a few feet away.
" HIMURA!" Without a second though, he thrust the long end of his Scythe into the muck and stirred the mud in hopes of finding him, he knew that there was a hole directly in front of him that Kenshin had fallen through. Death willed the Scythe handle to lengthen, it plunged its way down into the hole through the mud.
Kenshin felt his lungs were about to explode and the thing that
had itself wound around his leg wasn't giving way. He'd managed to
wedge his Saya between it and his leg and he tried to pry it off.
But it held fast.
" Is this it? The end?" He thought. Then remembered what Death had said-- if he died then Kaoru would be trapped in Hell forever-- along with his own soul. He COULDNT die!
He felt something hard jab him on his shoulder. It came from up above! He flailed his arms upward, his fingers closed about something smooth and long. He held onto it and pulled.
Death uttered a cry of alarm as he felt the handle hit something. He braced himself as something immediately began pulling at the handle. He prayed to God it was Kenshin. But it wasn't just that he was sinking no one would PULL on the handle if they were only sinking
" Himura isn't just sinking-- he's being PULLED down by something!" Thanatos thought in shock. He grabbed onto the handle of the scythe and pulled backwards as hard as he could. His muscles strained as he fought for every inch of ground. Whatever it was, it was strong. He arched his back, straining with all of his might until he noticed something rise from the muck. A lump of mud He wasn't sure if it was the swamp monster or Kenshin. Moments later he could see the face as Kenshin tilted his head up and gasped for air.
" HIMURA!" He yelled again.
" KEEP PULLING!" Kenshin gasped back. He held onto the handle of the Scythe tightly as he rose his other hand up out of the mud. The Sakaba was still with him, He adjusted his grip so he now held the handle and with a flick of his wrist the Saya was off and the spotless blade unsheathed and held ready. He switched it around without hesitation.
Kenshin was motionless; he seemed to be listening intently. " It's coming "
Death kept himself braced; he strained his ears but couldn't hear anything but his own pounding heart.
Then, as swiftly as his own heartbeat, a monstrous worm erupted from the surface of the swamp right in front of Kenshin. Death froze in terror when he heard it's high-pitched scream as it dove for Kenshin. It had no eyes but it did have a round jaw filled with row upon row of sharp, dagger like teeth. Kenshin was waiting for this though, the worms head was disconnected from it's body in another heartbeat. The long body writhed for a moment, then fell lifeless at the surface. The tension instantly slacked on Kenshin's body, and he started sinking again down into the hole.
" PULL!" Kenshin demanded.
" Oh--" Death quickly shook his head, back to the matter at hand and pulled Kenshin from the hole. The Rurouni breathed heavily, relieved to be touching firm ground again.
" Sorry " Death muttered, still in awe of the display of Kenshin's skill. He'd always heard of his reputation, but had never witnessed it for himself.
" Are you ok?" Kenshin asked.
" W-What? Heh-- yeah " Death shook his head. " I should be asking YOU that question! Damn--"
Kenshin reached down and unwound the worms body from his leg then looked back to Death. " I think I woke it up when I stepped into the hole. Come on- let's get out of here." He found his Saya sticking half way out of the muck and resheathed his sword.
" Aa-Aaa--" Death nodded dumbly.
Kenshin felt his way around the hole carefully. Death followed but quickly caught Kenshin's shoulder before he tried to venture further. The Rurouni looked up at him questioningly through mud caked strands of red hair.
" What happens if you fall into another hole? We might not be so lucky again." Death cautioned. " I'm going ahead and I'll use the handle of my Scythe to detect the holes, you follow straight behind."
Kenshin narrowed his eyes and nodded understanding. " Ok-- be careful."
The role of Thunder sounded soon after they began to navigate their
way through the swamp. The mud went up as high as their necks at times.
And soon a cold rain began to pelt down on them. And by the time they
reached the far side of the swamp and climbed onto the high bank, Kenshin
was shivering uncontrollably. The rain had helped to cleanse them
of the mud, but it didn't help that they didn't have the luxury of building
" There's no time to warm up We've got to keep going! How much more time do I have?" Kenshin said, sweeping his hair out of his eyes in one fluid motion.
" 17 hours."
" It took us 5 hours to get through that muck? And we still have two rivers and that winter quarter to pass? Damn--"
" Don't forget the Hell Hounds. Our cutting through the swamp may have set us ahead again-- but they won't give up so easily."
The rain stopped as soon as they began moving towards the border.
Kenshin ignored the icy chill that pulled at his limbs and he curled his
fingers into his palms for warmth as they ran.
" This isn't good " Death said. " You'll never survive in the next quarter like this. We have to get some warm clothes or you'll freeze as soon as we cross the river.
" I'm already starting to dry off a little." Kenshin said.
The sky was darkening now and as much as Kenshin tried to cover it, he couldnt keep his teeth from chattering. Fog crept up around them, and like a thick blanket settled to make it impossible to see anything.
" I don't even know what direction we're travelling in!" Death grumbled. Kenshin stopped and looked about, up ahead there was a small glow.
" Do you see that light?" He pointed towards it. Death followed his gesture and nodded.
" There must be someone up there. Maybe they can help us."
" Come on." They veered off of their path towards the dim light. Wading through knee deep marsh until they finally stumbled upon a small group of bedraggled workers huddling about a small fire. They constantly fed it with small dry bits of marsh grass and dead wood. Kenshin approached the group cautiously. One middle-aged woman looked up in greeting, her eyes instantly lighted as she seemed to recognize them.
" Are you the Incarnation and the soul in search of the Fallen Angel?" She asked in an enthusiastic voice. Kenshin gawked at her-- she spoke in English. He laughed nervously.
" J-Japanese " He pointed at himself while saying the word in English. The lady tilted her head confused.
" He speaks Japanese. We are looking for the soul of Kamiya Kaoru " Death responded to her in English and she nodded her confirmation, then gestured for them to take a seat by their small fire. Gratefully, they both did so.
The woman's name, they found out was Elizabeth. She had been sent to Hell because she'd committed the sin of cheating on her husband. And currently she was working to tip her balance towards Heaven. Other than that one sin, she'd been a good woman. The people around them all committed sins that weren't extremely grave, but were enough to tip their scale to send them to Hell. Normally they got no rest and the fire certainly wasnt allowed, but they were all taking advantage of the fact that their supervisor demon was passed out drunk. Kenshin saw the creature asleep on the ground about 30 yards away from the group.
" Can you ask her how far we are to the border of this quarter?" Kenshin inquired. Death nodded and relayed the question. They discovered that the bridge spanning the River of Sorrow was just about a mile down the road, but it was heavily guarded (as most of the bridges were) by demons. Kenshin narrowed his eyes.
" What are Demons like?"
" They're stupid." Thanatos stated bluntly. " They always quarrel with each other all muscle and no brains at all."
" Then what's the problem?"
" If they have a competent leader to follow, they can be very dangerous. And they carry guns that shoot fire which will incinerate you instantly upon contact."
" Is there any other possible way to cross the river without having to confront the demons?" Kenshin asked.
The woman said that the river wasn't extremely wide like the River Lethe or Styx. It was about 50 meters wide and shallow enough to walk across without putting your head under the water. The only trick was that there were dangerous monsters swimming about it, and so no one dared try to cross for fear of getting eaten up instantly.
" We can deal with monsters." Death muttered under his breath. " Be sure you don't let any of the water in your mouth-- you'll be overcome by sorrow."
They rested briefly by the fire until they could feel life coming back into their stiff limbs. Kenshin stood with a firm hand on his Sakaba, he turned to Death.
" We'd better go."
" Yeah-- 14 hours left."
They thanked the small group and set off at a brisk pace. The night was pitch black, the fog didn't help any and Death had to feel his way along the raised path with the end of his Scythe to make sure they didn't stumble down the bank into the marsh. The last thing they needed was a tangle with another worm.
As the woman had said, about a mile down the road they saw the lights of torches marking the gateway to the bridge. Kenshin and Death hung back behind the knarled trunk of a dead tree.
" They only allow other Demons to cross and there are a lot of them. " Death muttered. "It's not worth the risk. Let's go upriver and find a good place to cross."
Kenshin nodded agreement and they stealthily made their way past the gate, concealed in the shadows. A call from above froze them in their tracks.
" WHO'S THERE!?"
In an instant about 15 demons were outside the Iron Gate. Kenshin and Thanatos crouched low in the shadows, afraid to breathe.
" Kuso " Thanatos muttered. " I forgot some have infrared vision "
" They're over THERE you fools! Catch them!" The demon on the watchtower called to his comrades. He was pointing straight at them as if they'd walked out in broad daylight.
" No other choice " Kenshin muttered.
But all he heard was the sudden whistling of the wind and Kenshin was no longer beside him. A split second later he heard a howl from one of the demons as the gun it'd been holding was sliced into two. Like a bolt of red lightning he tore down the row, slicing above 5 guns before the others turned and fired straight at him. Searing red fire bursted from the guns.
" HIMURA!" Death gasped. Kenshin jumped out of the way not a second too soon. The tips of his ponytail singed off in an instant as it barely missed the stream of fire, the tie holding his hair broke and the red locks spilled out around his shoulders. He dropped to the ground, crouching low in the firelight; his Sakaba flashed back into it's Saya. The demons with weapons' still in tact hovered about him menacingly.
" Heh-- take a look " One demon sneered at his friend who'd gotten his weapon sliced. " You got your gun sliced by a mere girl!"
Kenshin's eyes narrowed. They'd apparently taken him for a female!
" No girl could move like that!" Another demon snarled. " Look what it did to my gun!"
" You CALLIN' ME A LIAR?" The first demon shot back.
" JUST KILL IT!" Another shouted.
" DON'T TELL me what to DO! You ain't the boss!"
" I say she's a DAMN GIRL!"
" HELL IF SHE IS!"
" WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING! JUST KILL HER!" The demon from the watchtower shouted.
" IT'S NOT A GIRL! IT'S A GUY!" The other bellowed.
" SHUT YOUR TRAP-- YOU GOT BEATEN BY A GIRL!"
" Just EXACTLY what are you saying!?!"
" I'LL PROVE SHE'S A GIRL!" One of them began to walk over towards Kenshin but another Demon pulled him back by his horns.
" HELL NO! I'M GONNA DO IT!"
" YOU GOT THE LAST ONE!"
The demons all grouped together, throwing angry curses and threats at each other, apparently completely forgetting about Kenshin and Thanatos. Kenshin blinked up at them wide eyed, then glanced back to Thanatos who shrugged his shoulders. They soon began to throw punches at each other and the quarrel turned into a full-fledged brawl. Kenshin stood up with a large "oro" look on his face. Then drew his Sakaba out again and raised it high in the air.
" HITEN MITSURUGI RYU " He shouted. The brawl instantly ceased as they all looked over to him open-mouthed. " RYU KAN SEN!"
He sent his Sakaba whistling downwards and before they knew it. Every demon found itself hurtled through the air. All going in different directions. They'd been so clumped up that one Do Ryu Sen had decimated the entire squad. Thanatos gaped as Kenshin silently sheathed his sword and walked through the sea of writhing bodies.
" For your information " He muttered, looking down menacingly through the loose strands of red hair. " I'm a guy."
He wasn't sure if any heard him; most lay unconscious or very close to it. Kenshin looked up to the demon in the watchtower.
" Open the gate." He demanded. " Or suffer the same fate as your brainless comrades."
The demon looked about helplessly for some form of reinforcements. He knew the penalty for letting unauthorized spirits cross the bridge was too unholy to even think about. And Kenshin's punishment certainly was nothing compared to Satan's! He glowered down at Kenshin.
" Reinforcements will be here shortly." The demon spat. "They'll take care of you."
Kenshin walked over to the base of the tower. The demon following his every movement and grew pale as he unsheathed his sword.
" What are you doing?" The demon called down to him.
" Hiten Mitsurugi Ryuu, RYU KAN SEN!"
Again, the ground erupted below the tower and stones flew from the base in all directions. The demon shrieked as the structure shuttered under it's own weight, then slowly began to fall.
A huge cloud of dust flew up and about them and the ground shook as the ponderous tower toppled down with a huge boom.
When the dust cleared, Death found Kenshin kneeling next to the unconscious watch-demon that was partially buried under a pile of stones. Kenshin found a ring of keys and walked over to the gate swiftly.
" Himura " Death shook his head in amazement. " I never thought--"
Kenshin smiled at him as the lock gave way and the gate opened with a creak. "Let's hurry on."
" Wait--" Death did a quick search of the bodies and came up with a heavy fur coat and a pair of well-worn boots. "Wear these."
Kenshin looked at it confused for a moment. " These--are?"
" They were one of the demons-- you need to keep warm in this upcoming quarter."
" But, what about you?"
" I can feel the cold but it will do nothing to harm me. That is the power of an immortal."
Kenshin reluctantly slipped the large coat on and then the boots on over his Tabi and sandals. The coat smelled horrendous but he knew he couldn't afford to take any chances with the state of the weather that they were about to face. The boots were about three sizes too large but they would be adequate protection from the cold snow. Kaoru was depending on him to rescue her, he couldn't die yet.
They crossed the bridge swiftly and instantly found themselves knee deep in snow drifts. Kenshin drew the jacked closer about him, he felt the winds cold chill sting his face and cheeks. Sheltering his eyes with one hand, he set forth through the blizzard with Death close on his heels.
" How are you doing?" Kenshin heard Deaths voice through
the howling wind. He turned back momentarily, squinting his eyes against
the stinging whiteness of the snow.
" I'm ok!" He called back. " How much longer?"
" 10 hours!"
The snow blew around them in a flurry, wind whipping Kenshin's free hair about his face and neck and stinging his cheeks. But they pressed onwards with even more determination than before. They moved not only to save Kaoru, but also now to keep their own limbs from freezing up. They couldn't afford to stop. Kenshin tried to ignore the fact that he couldn't feel his toes. Even with the heavy boots he'd "borrowed" from one of the demons it was still inadequate for moving through such freezing snow for so long. And the coat he wore didn't cover his pant legs. His skin tingled until it became an unbearable itch that threatened to cramp. He gritted his teeth and tortured his muscles to keep moving they pressed ever onwards.
The path began to taper upwards, as time passed it became steeper and steeper and snow gave way to slippery ice.
" We'd better find another way around!" Death said. The wind continued to sting them like a whip, but the snow had subsided for the moment and they could see they were at the base of a steep mountainside covered in snow and ice. It tapered up into a sheer cliff wall that extended upwards for about a mile.
" Do we need to cross this to get to the River Lethe?" Kenshin asked.
" We have to find some way around it. There's no way we're going to be able to climb up it though. We don't have any equipment for this kind of work!"
" We'll just have to be extra careful " Kenshin turned and continued upwards.
" Wha? H-Himura! If you fall--"
" I'll die-- I know." Kenshin continued picking his way up the side carefully. He used the handle of his Sakaba to dig footholds into the ice and began scaling the Cliffside. " But if we can make it up this cliff, then it would save us a lot of time."
Death let out a long sigh and the reluctantly followed after him.
It seemed like the cliff would never end as they carefully made their way up. Kenshin's fingers were as red as his hair and just as bloody by the time they stopped at the nearest ledge. It was about two feet wide but long enough so that they could both stand and lean against the wall's edge. Death was careful not to look down. He eyed Kenshin who was slapping his hand violently against his pant legs to try regaining circulation.
" Maybe I should lead next." Death offered nervously. " Give your hands a break from seeking out those hand and foot holds."
" I'll be fine." Kenshin muttered, cupping his fingers to his mouth and blowing.
" Don't be so stubborn, what's Kaoru going to say when you tell her you lost all your fingers trying to scale a mountain to find her?"
Kenshin stopped his motion and let his hands drop to his sides and returned Death's serious gaze. He paused thoughtfully and then sighed.
" She wouldn't like it "
" That's right."
" Ok ok-- you can lead." Kenshin gave his fingers one last warmer and then they commenced their climb.
Death was almost to the peak when they heard that familiar, bone chilling howl.
" Damn it " he cursed under his breath as he scrambled over the ledge, and helped Kenshin up. They stood at the top, Kenshin slapping his hands against his legs again to bring back their circulation.
" What is it?"
" The Hell Hounds are back--"
Kenshin looked out over the vast expanse of white that they'd just crossed and saw the black specks moving ever closer towards the base of the cliff.
" It'll be all right though-- they can't climb cliffs can they?"
" Baka-- They'll find a way around this-- let's go "
The downward slope was steep but not ice covered so it wasn't particularly treacherous. There were a few dead trees littering the sides of the hills and a lot of rocky outcroppings. And the best of all, they were sheltered from the wind. They walked for about a half an hour and Kenshin was relieved to be able to feel his fingers again after keeping them warm in the sleeves of his jacket.
" What's with that smile?" Death asked. Kenshin looked up at him.
" Oh-- nothing, I was just relieved "
" About what?"
" Well--" Kenshin brought his hands up and cupped them against his mouth and blowed. " I don't have to worry about being scolded by Kaoru for loosing my fingers."
Death chuckled. " When all this is finished what do you think you'll do?"
Kenshin was silent for a long moment; he let his hands drop to his sides. " You mean-- when I make sure that God allows her back into Heaven?"
" Yes-- you know that she won't be allowed back to earth "
" I know-- I haven't thought of what I'd do afterwards, I guess I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it."
Death nodded. " Just as long as you don't do stupid things "
Kenshin blinked at him surprised. " Like?"
Death shot him a stern 'You-know-what-I-mean' gaze. Kenshin put his hands up reassuringly.
" Oh no no-- heh-- no you don't need to worry I wouldn't do-- umm that."
" Oh really?"
Kenshin sighed heavily. " It's about time I accepted her death-- and if we must separate then I'll live the best that I can with Yahiko-- I'll make sure he grows up to be the student that Kaoru always dreamed him of being."
" What about you? What will you do for YOURSELF?"
" I haven't thought of that yet." He said again. He walked in silence for a while before continuing. " Honestly, it pains me to even try to imagine living a life without her. But if that's what it comes down too-- then I'll have to cope. I've been alone all my life already both people that I'd ever dared to love have been taken from me before I ever had a chance to be truly happy with them I think it must be my destiny "
" If you really believe that, then it will come true."
" So-- don't say that such bad things must be your destiny because you shape your own destiny. "
Kenshin was silent, thinking about what Death had said as they continued walking. The path was getting steeper and Kenshin had to pick his way down with increased care.
" Watch for the patches of ice " Death warned.
" I know--"
The dead trees grew thicker in population as they continued down. And soon they found themselves in a dense wood. A loud howl broke through the serenity of the atmosphere just behind them. Kenshin and Death whirled around to see a snowy white Hell Hound bound out from behind the trees.
" Damn it-- even here " Death brought his Scythe forth from the folds of his cloak, snapping it into position. Kenshin brought his hand up and poised to draw his sword.
" That's not the only one-- there are more of them " Kenshin said. " They're in the woods, watching us."
The beast stood looking down on the travelers menacingly, and then brought its head up and uttered another bone-chilling howl. It reverberated throughout the woods.
" It's letting everything know we're here!" Death cried. Kenshin narrowed his eyes as he saw a flash of white in the corner of his eye. He turned not a second too soon and whipped his sword out to bat away the Hell Hound, which had pounced on him. Others came out of hiding now, surrounding them in a tight circle. Kenshin stood back to back with Death.
" The only way to defeat these things is to hack them to pieces " Death warned. " They're demon dogs and just chopping off legs isn't going to do any good. They'll continue biting and attacking even if they're nothing more than a head "
Kenshin tightened his grip on his Sakaba. " But--" He hadn't had a problem with beheading the worm " --But--" the idea of hacking some intelligent creature like this to pieces-- he just couldn't
The scene froze before them. It was a long, lingering second before Kenshin felt an eerie trembling underneath his feet. The Hell Hounds felt it too and they looked at each other, seemingly confused as to what it was as well.
" What's that? An Earthquake?" Death asked. Kenshin looked up the mountainside and what he saw made his heart skip a beat. There was snow and lots of it
" No--" His voice shook as fear gripped him. The booming shake of millions upon millions of tons of snow grew louder and louder, sliding downwards in a deadly cascade. " An Avalanche!!!"