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Affiliates: The Sheath :: The Crouching Tiger's Realm

Blood and Snow
Chapter 24: Mao

by: Yasai-chan

           Kaoru looked behind her at Khean. He was getting downright obnoxious and wouldn't leave her alone. She had to admit though, his constant presence and occasional babble kept her mind away from other things. She sighed and continued on. She paused as she thought she saw the sun glitter off of something on the ground.

           "Is that the lake?" she asked, she was looking forward to the water, she was having a bath weather anyone liked it or not. The blood was starting to get to her. She looked back over at Khean. He nodded at her.

           "So are you finally going to see Mao?" Khean asked

           "If he gets in my way perhaps." Kaoru returned

           "In you way…?" Khean wondered. Kaoru gave him a sidelong glance.

           "I have no need to join whatever organization lives here, and I have no wish to disturb it. I will only be her for another month or two, I'm not sure I've lost count of the time…" she trailed off, not bothering to finish whatever she had been getting at. Khean watched her as she started walking again, towards the lake.

           Kaoru arrived at the lake and it seemed deserted. It was odd, anything being deserted around here, especially something with so much water. The people could live off of this. She chuckled ironically at the fact that she was going to waste it washing herself. She knelt by the water and was about to splash her face with it when she looked up to find herself surrounded by seven lean looking people. They wore human bones like clothes and blood like paint. She looked around, briefly wondering what had happened to Khean

           Each one had a different name and image written across their chest, seven of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. She grinned as she noticed there was no tiger among them.

           "Can I help you with something?" she asked arrogantly. She'd wanted to get into a fight rather than a slaughter and these people may prove to be fitting foes. She grinned feral, though she knew it likely didn't show up that way on her face.

           "Mao wishes to see you" the rabbit spoke up, surprisingly the largest one of the group. Kaoru was curious as to how they determined their names.

           "Do you expect to force me there?" Kaoru asked smiling all the more.

           "No" the rabbit said unexpectedly, "If you do not wish to come to him, Mao will come to you." Kaoru looked at him puzzled, but finally she nodded and stood, pinkish water falling out of her hands to the stone ground beneath her… well at least her hands were clean for now, she said staring at them as old blood trailed off, mixed with the water.

           She followed the group to a ruin of stone. The ground around had been torn up, and the building in the middle seemed to be built by the crushed stone, held together by human fat and blood. It was far from a large building, but it was enough for a room. The seven led her in where the small alcove housed a kneeling figure.

           Kaoru kneeled in front of the man, and the seven left without a sound. This must be Mao, she thought to herself. She examined the man closely, His grey eyes looked at her, as if allowing her to do as she wished, and she didn't feel embarrassed to be closely scrutinizing him.

           He was the cleanest person she'd ever seen in the pit, his hair, a light blond, a color she'd never seen on anybody before, was well kept. Although it was cut unevenly, it looked to be done so on purpose. His torso was undressed and also clean, although carved on it was an intricate dragon that spiraled along his body, detailed down to every last scale.

           It wasn't a tattoo, and it wasn't done in blood, Kaoru could tell it likely took years of recarving it to get it to finally scar. She winced at the thought of someone mutilating their selves that way, and her eyes went back to his face, which looked to be no older than 16 although she knew from Kenshin looks can be deceiving.

           His eyes bore a lazy yet sad expression, and looked almost in a way dead. They reminded her of Enishi, but they seemed to have lost or given something up, while Enishi still always retained that silent determination he held. Under his eyes were carved two long scars, which looked like tears, and seemed a lot older than the dragon.

           "You're not what I expected at all" Kaoru spoke up suddenly, staring at the boy who was likely older than her, but she still thought looked at least two years younger.

           "Neither are you" Mao said, his voice surprising Kaoru again. It sounded like the faintest murmur in the wind, and Kaoru found herself wondering what it would sound like if he sang. She smiled, something about this guy, he was easy to relax around, although she knew she shouldn't. "I have no wish to harm you" he said, as if anticipating her thoughts. "I only wish to ask you some questions." Kaoru looked at him in surprise.


           "You do not act, or look like any of the females that have been sent here, and none of them last more than a week usually." Mao continued, as if her query had already been asked. "I want to know why you are here, because you weren't forced here, that I know." Kaoru frowned slightly at him. She hadn't expected Mao to be so… polite. She had pictured a big burly or intimidating looking guy much like many that Kenshin had fought. And then to be presented with this… it was disconcerting, but she answered anyway, figuring it could do no harm.

           "I came here by choice, you were right in that assumption" she started, her tone also falling to a murmur, coaxed that way by listening to the soothing voice of his. "But you're wrong if you say I wasn't forced. Although I can tell you one thing, If I had wanted to leave I already would have. Using the bodies of every last person in here as a ladder if need be" Kaoru said.

           "I see," replied Mao, not even looking slightly confused as to what she meant. "Would I be correct if I were to assume that you were brought here by one who was once here before?" Kaoru opened her mouth, her expression surprised, as she was about to respond. Mao interrupted. "No, I see your expression and it is answer enough, I only wish to know who it is that brought you here, although I think I already know"

           "Enishi" Kaoru said, curious as to weather he would recognize the name or not, and what he knew of her… her what? Her mind asked her before she finished the thought.

           "So he has returned" Mao said quietly. "I will soon be able to rest." Kaoru opened her mouth to say something but Mao held up his hand "Do not ask any questions, all will be answered if needs be. Please let me tell you a story to pass the time away, for there is little time to wait now, and I grow weary of the silence." Kaoru looked at him curiously but nodded for him to continue.

           "I was brought here not long after I turned 15, and like you it was a choice of my own, although likely the reason was different. I had already killed many people, including my own parents." Kaoru looked at him her eyes wide. She hadn't expected that at all.

           "To this day I still feel no remorse, but I know it was wrong, so as retribution I carved these in my face" he said fingering the streaks under his eyes. Kaoru was almost frightened by the fact he could seem so calm while saying such things, but he still did not seem at all threatening which almost confused her more.

           "I turned myself in as well, knowing that it likely wasn't enough, and I was brought here, where I met Enishi. He would have killed me if I had resisted, but he was disgusted by my lack of caring.

           "He told me that if I were going to be punished, I should live in hell, and that this was the perfect place to do it. He convinced me that I could kill people here without it being something I should feel remorse for." Mao shifted his eyes to Kaoru's face. "I was the first to name him the Tiger." Mao said as he looked behind Kaoru at someone "The stage is set" he said simply "Watch the play unfold"

           Kaoru looked up in surprise as ten men surrounded her and Mao, the rest of the zodiac signs she assumed. Their eyes were wrong, she thought to herself as she made to stand, Mao put his hand on her knee to stay her, and something in his expression made her comply.

           Laughter came from outside the alcove startled Kaoru, she wanted to see who it was, but when he spoke she knew at once.

           "How does it feel Mao, all of your people against you!" Khean said, "I drugged them all, it was hard to pull off, but I did it" Khean said walking in the alcove, a grin on his face.

           "They aren't my people" Mao said calmly, not affected at all "They chose to use me as one would an idol, a meaningless figure, a carved Buddha." With each word, rage washed across Khean's face.

           "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up you old man, you are nothing, you waste away in your own remorse because you don't even fucking know what remorse is!" Khean screamed at Mao. Mao just looked at Khean with an unconcerned face. Kaoru wondered if anything bothered him. "I'll kill you, you asshole, you bastard, eat shit!"

           "I don't believe that would serve any purpose." Mao replied back, only infuriating the man more. The ten started towards Kaoru and Mao, and Kaoru was starting to get apprehensive, she wanted to attack them but Mao's look kept her still. What was he waiting for?

           One of the twelve swung at her and Kaoru closed her eyes expecting to feel him hit her. A loud crash and what sounded like tumbling rocks sounded behind them and a garbled scream came from her attacker. Kaoru opened her eyes and looked up to see Enishi, sword stuck into the man that had attacked her.

           "Damn fortune teller" Enishi muttered over to Mao "Always making a big scene." Kaoru almost gasped in surprise as she saw Mao fondly smile at Enishi, who was no longer paying attention as he fought off the nine remaining with ease. She would bet her life that that was a rare sight.

           She stood and joined Enishi, although she knew he could easily kill them all himself, it felt too good to stand beside him once more. She smiled at Enishi as she cut down the rabbit, the one that had spoken to her before. Enishi looked at her for a moment and turned away, facing the next.

           Kaoru sighed as she pulled her sword out of the body and cleaned the blood off with a quick movement. She didn't understand Enishi at all, but she knew this once, that she didn't want to live without him near her.

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