Inspired by: Kitsune by XViolacea
It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Or spotting fish in a barrel. You had to ask yourself (or rather, Ichigo had to ask himself) the easy questions. Questions like: why is there a very well dressed woman out here at three in the morning? With plucked and painted eyebrows, really nice hair oiled so thickly it was reflecting the moonlight, and a sheaf of rice, unhusked, practically unharvested?
You asked yourself those questions, and it all started coming together real fast.
Ichigo pulled his horse up short of the bridge, stopping just before the first wooden board. It gleamed in the dim lamp light that lit the bridge. He could hear the river, humming below. It mingled with the sounds of the summer bugs, the whistling of crickets and the high song of the cicada. It smelled like summer, too. Thick air laden with the scents of grass and late blossoms and, drifting on the gentle breeze from somewhere on the far side of the river, frying tofu in sweet sauce.
Ichigo’s stomach rumbled. He hadn’t stopped for dinner anywhere, knowing he would hit the city tonight. The journey had taken him longer then he’d expected.
The woman looked gracefully toward him, her luscious hair almost falling out of her elaborate up-do. She smiled. She was a small woman, and she stood half in shadow, so that the lamp light landed gently on her face, and the moon was all that lit her back. Then she looked down, as if the casual meeting of their eyes had been too forward.
Ichigo wondered if he could get the horse to go fast enough to make it across the bridge before she caught him. The nearest crossing (besides this one, obviously) was a good two hour ride east. Ichigo did not want to wait two hours. He also did not want to sleep somewhere not a nice inn.
It couldn’t be that dangerous, right?
Ichigo nudged his horse forward. The horse snorted and shook his head, but he went.
The lady looked up again, shyly, and back down. Ichigo wanted to look away, but he was too scared. Instead, he stared just past her, so that her clothes flickered on the edges of his vision. He could feel the sweat on his palms, and his heart beating like a drunk badger, but he kept his face calm.
He thought about reciting a sutra under his breath. But he couldn’t remember any.
“Great lord.” She said, just a few big horsey steps onto the bridge. “Forgive my rudeness, but I am in desperate need.” She sounded a bit distressed, he had to admit. The holding back tears jerking sob at the end had been a bit much though.
Ichigo kept his gaze relentlessly just off of her and nudged the horse to go a little faster.
“Please great lord!”
Wait. What if this was one of those demons that only ate you if you were mean? Shit! He hadn’t thought of that!
Ichigo stopped the horse, hand going to his sword. He glared at the woman. “Look.” He said, trying not to sound too annoyed, “I know you’re a demon.”
There were tears in her eyes, but she held her free hand up to her mouth and laughed in shock anyway. A short, unhappy laugh, as if this was the last unbelievable indignity in a long line of unbelievable indignities that she had been forced to suffer through.
Now, closer to her, almost looming over her, and looking at her, Ichigo could see some of the details he’d missed before.
For example: The mud crusted around the rim of her outer robes. Just splashes, at the bottom. Like she’d been trying her best to keep it neat, but living in conditions that made that impossible. The fact that her up-do was falling out (in an incredibly alluring and stylish fashion) because some of her hair ornaments were actually broken.
Her eyebrows were still perfectly plucked and painted though. And her skin was lead-paint pale, which Ichigo was not prepared to believe was the lady’s ‘natural coloring’, no matter that the texture of her cheeks was skin, instead of powder.
Also, the red beauty mark below her lips?
He was pretty sure that was painted in blood.
“No. Seriously lady. I just want to get across the bridge. Do you want like, a toll or something?”
She began to cry more seriously, chocking back her tears as best she could, covering her face with her long, well maintained sleeve, turning away.
Ichigo wondered if that meant it was safe, or if she was just waiting for him to go a little bit further so she could attack from behind.
“How could you say such things?” She moaned. “I am the daughter of an important nobleman, distraught by his death and tormented by his enemies.”
“Riiiight.” Ichigo said. “I’ll just go then? Is that okay?”
She turned around and glared at him. A real, solid, sister-you-just-pissed-off glare. “Really? really?” She raised her chin and looked away from him. Ichigo winced. He knew that pose. That was the ‘you are screwed, buster’ pose.
“Look. I’ve been riding all day and most of the night and I haven’t eaten since I got up this morning.” He wasn’t going to apologize. He wasn’t.
She sniffed, reproachfully. “I was just expecting a little more respect. I mean, really!”
“I respect you!” Ichigo found himself saying. “I just want to go eat something!”
“Well, I want to eat too! You aren’t the only one who’s hungry, lord fancy-pants!”
“Okay, yeah.” Ichigo conceded. “But, I mean, you were going to eat me!”
She crossed her arms, the rice brushing across her face. “And?”
Ichigo stared at her. She stared at him.
Her eyes were deep black. Very attractive.
“Look.” Ichigo offered a compromise. “How about I take you out somewhere? What do you eat? Besides people.”
She sniffed, derisively, looking away pointedly. After a moment she relented. “Whatever is good. Meat though.” She looked back at him, putting her rice back over her shoulder.
Ichigo nodded. Made sense. “You promise not to eat me?”
She looked offended.
Ichigo winced. “Alright, alright. Promise not to eat me today?”
The demon nodded.
Ichigo nodded. But he said, “Out loud.”
The demon glared again, but then she sighed and said, “I swear on the Holy Name, Aimada, to not eat you until the sun sets tomorrow.”
Ichigo nodded. Good enough for him! He held out his hand. The demon took it, with the hand that wasn’t holding the rice. The hand holding the rice was withered, black and shrunken.
She mounted beautify. “So.” She asked, as Ichigo nudged the very unhappy horse back into motion. “How did you know?”