Fan Fiction http://samuraispirits.net
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"Excuse me, Mademoiselle, but are you sure you're headed in the right direction?"
Population: 56 souls
Charlotte wondered how accurate the number was. It had been scratched through and rewritten many times. Peering closely, she could see the numbers 47, 63, 52, and 49 amongst other less decipherable ones embedded in the wood.
The man she had met earlier was right. The town did indeed look deserted; there wasn't a light or a person to be seen.
"Look's like it's Brustoke, Population: 1 tonight, Charlotte girl." She mouthed to herself.
She descended into the valley, watching her step carefully; ice was a treacherous thing. It wouldn't do to break a leg out here with no one about. Mentally, she pictured herself tumbling down the hill, her metal armor and sword clattering away, and landing in a misshapen heap at the bottom of the incline. But she had little to fear, the road into town was well worn by travel, and it was mostly free of winter's touch.
The run-down, wooden houses were all clustered around a small square, with the fields lying in a rough circle around the village proper. They homes weren't beautiful to look at, but they had that nice, "lived in" look that made one feel so welcome. Charlotte planned to have a dwelling just like these someday, out in the middle of nowhere, when she retired. But that was a concern for another time, for now, she owned only what she could carry.
She meandered down the empty street, admiring and observing, until at last Charlotte found what she was looking for, the church.
It was always there for her, no matter what little hamlet or city she visited. Life had been hard, but her faith had always been strong.
Sometimes it was the only thing that kept her going…
A sign had hastily been pinned to the temple's doors:
Even the priest, huh? Good. Charlotte wanted to be alone.
She pulled the gates open and stepped inside.
Ah! It was good to be out of the wind. A number of candles had been left lit as well, which gave off a dim, but welcome light.
It was a nice church, but poor like the town that supported it. A simple alter and six rows of pews were the only furniture. A wooden Christ stood behind the altar, as did a small, plaster Madonna.
Charlotte seated her weary body in the last row, and pulled back her hood. Dirty, golden curls spilled out onto her shoulders.
She stared at the crucified Christ. As always he looked upwards towards his Father in the infinite heavens above, a mixture of great pain and questioning etched exquisitely on his drawn face. Charlotte looked up too, at the oak beams that supported the church's roof. But, really she saw beyond these in her mind, up towards the stars.
What is it you want from me, God?
What am I supposed to be doing with my life?
Her hands drifted to her breast, where the only remnant of her past life remained. A silver cross, inlaid with semiprecious stones. It had been a childhood birthday gift from her mother, Jacqueline Colde. She held it lightly in her hands; tracing the familiar edges with her cold, numb fingers.
I don't know where I'm going, Lord.
Show me the way, please.
I feel empty, Lord.
I wander, trying to do good where I can, but not always succeeding, looking for something, anything, but I don't know what.
And…wherever Haohmaru is, even though I know he doesn't believe in you, please watch over him for me, keep him safe, and keep him happy, please.
Thank you, Lord.
She lowered her eyes again, and studied the barren floor.
It was the same prayer she always said. But no answer or enlightenment ever came. She wondered if Haohmaru ever said a prayer for her to the spirits and gods he believed in? She hoped so.
She lifted her head again, and now she looked at Mary. She was in repose, the baby Jesus swaddled in her arms. The Immaculate Conception… Sometimes Charlotte wondered what it would be like to be a mother. To have something grow inside you, something you made, and then to bear it, give it life. She liked children…but she very much doubted that she'd make a good mother. It wasn't in her nature to cuddle or moon over things.
Charlotte exhaled, long and slow. There was one other thing the church was good for: a free place to sleep. She made an uncomfortable pillow out of her knapsack and pulled her legs up underneath herself. She stared at the back of the wooden pew in front of her eyes. Someone had carved "Jacques loves Annet" into it.
"I hope Annet loves you too, Jacques." Charlotte smiled, and closed her tired eyes.
There was a noise, and her eyes instantly flew open again. At first she thought it was a mouse, or the building settling, but it was neither.
Charlotte sat up and peered into the corners, homing in on the sound. It was coming from the front of the church. It sounded like someone sniffling…
Reluctantly, Charlotte got up again, pulling her coat closely around herself.
Now she could hear it more distinctly.
She crept slowly down the aisle, and there was the source, curled up on the first pew, a young girl. She couldn't have been more than six or seven years old.
"Hello there, little one." Charlotte spoke softly.
The child jumped and looked up. She was dirty and dressed in rags, no doubt homeless like Charlotte herself. Black, tangled hair hung limply from her small head.
"H..h..hi." The girl whispered cautiously, distrust in her wide, dark eyes.
"What's your name? I'm Charlotte."
"R..r..Renee. Charlotte's a pretty name."
"Well, Renee is too, what are you doing here all alone?"
"D..don't have anywhere else to go. Y..you're not going to kick me out, are you?"
"No. Why would I kick you out? A church is the last place you should feel unwelcome, child. Besides, it's storming outside. Where is your mother?"
The girl looked up, craning her young neck as far as it would go.
"Up there," She gestured with one finger, "with the angels."
"Don't have no father."
That was a common enough occurrence, Charlotte mused to herself sadly.
"Oh…who takes care of you then?"
"What are you doing here, Charlotte?"
Renee deliberately avoided Charlotte's last question, but that in itself answered it. Charlotte deemed it wise to not press her further.
"I came to pray…and I needed a place to sleep, Renee."
Renee stared at the Virgin Mary, just a few feet from her reach, Charlotte followed her gaze. They both stared at the newborn child cradled in her arms.
"Will you be my mother?"
She jumped, Renee voicing the unspoken urge she had unconsciously felt.
"I…I…don't think I'd make a very good mother, Renee…I'm sorry."
"I understand. Nobody wants me."
"Oh, that's not true, Renee! It's just that I live a hard life, and sometimes I'm a hard person, do you understand?"
"No…you just don't want me. I'm just an ugly little girl nobody wants."
Charlotte slowly sat down next to the girl. The child slithered away from her.
"Nobody wants me either, Renee. And you're not ugly."
"Yes I am. Everybody calls me Crusty. Crusty Renee. And why would anybody not want you? You're beautiful."
"I wish I knew, but they don't, Renee. Especially the person I need to want me the most…"
"Your boyfriend, right?"
Charlotte smiled, and Renee smiled back. The girl had black and missing teeth.
"Something like that…"
"Boys are icky."
"Yes, sometimes they are, and then sometimes, they're the most wonderful things in the world…"
"I'll never have a boyfriend, ever."
"Yes you will."
"No, I hate boys. They're mean."
"Boys change. They get nicer, you'll see. They'll fall over themselves being nice to you."
The girl sat up, her hands sliding over themselves nervously in her lap.
"Charlotte? Can I…can I sleep with you? I'm so cold and tired."
Charlotte raised one arm, and Renee folded herself against her body. It felt good and right. For what seemed like the longest time, Charlotte didn't feel so lonely anymore.
"Your coat is nice and warm."
"Yes, it's thick bearskin. Very nice."
Renee coughed, and sniffled again, nestling even closer. Charlotte gently brushed her black, stringy hair away from her red face.
It was too red.
Charlotte pressed the back of her hand to the girl's forehead and instantly pulled it away again, concern and worry shadowing her features.
"Good God, Renee! You're burning up!"
"Yeah, I've got a little cold."
"You've got worse than a cold, you need a doctor. Now."
"No doctor here. He's gone to the party, like everybody else."
Charlotte pressed her hand to the child's forehead and cheeks again. She felt like a little furnace.
"You have to see a doctor."
"But I'm not hot, I'm cold."
This was true; Charlotte could see the child shivering terribly even though she was buried deeply in the bear's fur.
"You're very sick, Renee. Please, you have to come with me."
Charlotte didn't wait for an answer; she cradled the girl in her arms and lifted her. She was so light…how much did she weigh?
"Come on, Renee. I'll find a doctor for you."
"Doctors cost money."
"Do you have money?"
"Then how will you pay?"
"Hush, child. I'll manage."
If the doctor wouldn't treat Renee without pay, then Charlotte would introduce him to the sharp point of her Laroche Saber...
Charlotte wrapped her heavy cloak around her arms and Renee. The girl shied away from the cold metal underneath.
"Why are you wearing armor, Charlotte?"
"Because I'm a warrior. I need it for protection."
"Only men are warriors."
"Most of them, but not all."
"You're really a fighter?"
She stomped down the church's narrow aisle, her black, leather boots echoing. She cast one final look over her shoulder in the Christ's direction, a quick, unspoken prayer on her lips. The door open and the storm hungrily clawed at Charlotte and Renee.
She stepped out into the shallow, white drifts and closed the temple's door. The air was alive, the snow dancing like diamonds. Brustoke's buildings had become pale shadows that blinked in and out of sight, phantoms
Charlotte narrowed her eyes, searching for a light, movement, anything.
There was nothing but the snow.
How far away was Tribideau's?
Miles…but there would be a doctor there, she was sure of it.
Charlotte pulled Renee tighter to her chest and began to follow the road out of town, a road that was rapidly becoming indistinguishable from its pallid surroundings.
Renee coughed, a hollow barking sound, and Charlotte could feel her shaking.
She pushed herself forward faster. Brustoke fell behind her as she marched across the desert of ice swiftly. The moon was up and full, and the sky was an odd pinkish brown, no stars could be seen.
After a time, Charlotte stopped in confusion.
The road was gone, and so was any sight of the town behind her.
Black trees stood silently on either side, but gave no clue to her whereabouts. Charlotte thought she saw something familiar in the distance, a landmark of some sort, but the wind blew a wall of pale dust in her eyes and it was gone.
Ordinarily, being lost would not have worried her much, but a life was at stake.
Charlotte began to panic. She could feel the worm gnawing at her gut, screaming at her to do something, anything.
Renee peered out from inside her arms with half-lidded eyes.
"Where are we?"
"I don't know…"
God, show me the way…
But he didn't. There was only the bleak landscape, everywhere the same, and a sick child who's time was rapidly running out.
Charlotte continued forward in the way she had been going, hoping she was still on the road, or at least pointed in the right direction.
She could tell she wasn't.
She changed her course again, but it did her no good. It seemed that the world took two steps back for every step she took forward.
The snow got deeper. It passed her knees and bit into her thighs. She was heading deeper into the bare forest, not away from it.
Time seemed to stop, frozen like everything else. Her labored breath floated before her, ghostlike in the air. Anxiety danced like fire in every nerve, compelling her onward. She was getting tired. Pushing through the drifts ate her dwindling energy, and Renee, who had seemed so light before, now seemed so very heavy.
Charlotte fell to her knees, stumbled to get up, and then fell again.
Charlotte stopped and looked inside the hairy folds of her cloak. Renee looked like she was sleeping, her face was peaceful, too peaceful… She could see the tiny blue veins in her eyelids distinctly. Snowflakes buried themselves in her ebon hair and melted.
"Renee? You can't sleep, honey, wake up."
Charlotte shook her, but she didn't move.
"Renee, wake up…please…"
Hot tears collected at the corners of Charlotte's eyes, but froze before they could run down her face. Her vision blurred and the world wavered and rippled like water.
Charlotte shook her again, and slapped her cold cheeks gently, but nothing could stir the girl.
The tears flowed more freely, and she sunk into the white dunes, the dead child still gripped tightly in her arms.
The numbing cold was nothing to her now. Something far darker had crushed her heart within its iron grasp. She felt worse than empty, hollow.
Charlotte brushed Renee's limp hair behind her ears. You were pretty, Renee, no matter what those other children said. So pretty…but now you'll never get to be a woman…
"I tried…Renee…I tried so hard…but it didn't do you any good, did it? I'm sorry, Renee. So sorry…"
She can't hear you. What good are your apologies?
You failed, Charlotte.
What use are you? So strong and skillful with your sword, but you couldn't even save a little girl that needed you… You can't even help yourself anymore, Charlotte.
She wanted to die. She'd just sit here, in the snow, and freeze to death. The people of Brustoke would find them both together like this, their bodies as cold and hard as ice itself. Charlotte deserved no better, less even.
Life wasn't worth living anymore, it hadn't been for some time…
Let me die, God, I beg you.
I want to die.
Please, let me die.
I can't do this anymore.
Take the girl. Take Renee, Lord.
She's not old enough to have done you or anyone else any evil yet, God.
At least take her.
I don't care what you do with me, cast me into Hell, that's probably where I belong, but take care of Renee, I beg you.
Charlotte squeezed her eyes tightly shut, the darkness that she felt hurting worse than any pain that had ever been inflicted upon her before. She rocked Renee's body gently back and forth in her arms, trying to will life back into it.
"Don't cry, Charlotte."
She looked up, startled at the sound of another voice.
"You did your best, and believe me, you did not struggle in vain."
A woman was sitting on her knees in the snow, directly opposite of Charlotte. She was dressed in a blue robe, and her molten brown hair was bound up in a cloth. A faint, white light seemed to emanate from her body. And the snowflakes seemed to purposefully avoid her.
Never in Charlotte's life had she seen someone with such a kind face. Her eyes, her lips, they all seemed to invite the telling of her most intimate secrets.
"Madonna…" Charlotte whispered, "Mary…"
The woman smiled, understanding everything.
"May I see Renee?"
Charlotte lowered her head, shame coloring her face. She pulled the body closer to herself, trying to hide it and her failure.
"It's all right, Charlotte. You did what you could, but even had you found the doctor, it would have been too late. He called her, Charlotte. And when He calls, we all have to obey, how can we not?"
"She was too young…too young…I…"
"You wanted to keep her, didn't you, Charlotte? To protect her from all the things you knew would poison and hurt her."
"Yes…the others…they were so cruel to her…and…I…"
"You would have been a good mother to her, Charlotte."
"Yes. But, it was not to be, Charlotte. I'm sorry. May I see her now?"
With leaden arms, Charlotte slowly offered the stiff, young body. Mary gently took the girl from the swordswoman's arms and held her gently to her breast.
"Such a pretty girl…"
And then Renee's eyes opened.
"Renee! You're not dead!" Charlotte's heart leapt up into her throat, but then it crashed again. She understood. Renee was enveloped in that white light now too…
"None of us are ever dead, Charlotte. But you knew that. Renee has to come with me now."
The girl looked up at the angelic figure that held her, and then back at Charlotte again. They were so beautiful, together like that…
"Goodbye, Charlotte…" Renee whispered, sorrow and peace in her eyes.
"Take me with you…please, I beg you…" The words suddenly fell from Charlotte's lips, unbidden, "I can't…I can't do this anymore…please…I just want it to end…I want something else, anything else…"
Mary frowned, obviously disappointed. The expression filled Charlotte with pain.
"I can't do that, Charlotte. It's not your time yet, but it will be soon. Just a little while longer; you must be strong one last time."
And then the pair began to fade. Renee lifted one hand weakly in farewell. Mary's voice echoed again.
"Be strong, Charlotte…"
Her body was suddenly filled with strength, and she made a desperate lunge for them both as they disappeared.
But they were no longer there. She landed face first in the snow, her mouth filling with the cold, tasteless stuff. She sat up again slowly, spitting and wiping it from her face.
Charlotte stared up at the spiraling heavens and moaned, tears spilling from her eyes again, fists clenched in hopelessness. And then her gaze fell again, her blond curls encircling her wretched face.
"Why…why…why?" She whispered in desperation.
"Because He doesn't care about you. He doesn't care about any of us."
Charlotte's head shot up again. Where had that voice come from? It sounded like…
But that was impossible…what would he be doing in France, and out in the storm at that?
She turned her head this way and that, trying to see something…and there…what was that over there?
It looked like…
It was Haohmaru!!!
She tried to stand, but couldn't. Her weary legs wouldn't support her, so she crawled. Her arms sunk to the shoulders in the snow, but she didn't care. She knew if she could enfold him in her arms, everything would be all right again…
Closer and closer, she came.
"Haohmaru!!! Over here!!!"
Why did he just stand there? Couldn't he see her?
He seemed to be made out of the snow itself. It billowed all around him, his hair flowing with the wind. He WAS looking at her now! His hand beckoned slowly, and she fought to make it to his side all the more vigorously.
Almost there, just a little further…
But then his body fell apart, like a child's sand castle in the wake of the ocean's waves. He disintegrated in the air, and her heart followed suit.
Tittering laughter rang out all around her, like shrill bells.
Icy fingers dragged themselves across her soul. Charlotte awoke to that laugh now and then in the grips of a nightmare.
Where Haohmaru's figure had stood on the icy slope, a new shape materialized, a head, with long, flowing locks of winter finery. The necromancer.
Her eyes widened in disbelief, and Charlotte dumbly mouthed unspoken words.
His eyes glittered coldly in his porcelain face of ice, so beautiful, like a woman's. Amakusa's long tresses reached for her like tentacles.
"It's been a long time, pretty one, and now, I've come for you."
Charlotte managed to break her paralysis and jammed one frozen hand inside her coat and squeezed her crucifix tightly in a death grip, it's sharp points piercing her.
"Get behind me, Satan."
Amakusa laughed again.
"No god or devil can save you from me, Charlotte Christine Colde. I've waited a long time for you, and tonight you're mine. I swore I'd get you all, and you pulled the shortest straw when you wandered out into this storm unprotected."
The demon's head floated through the air towards her, and where it passed, the snow fell up, towards the heavens, not down.
"You…you're dead." Charlotte stammered, back pedaling through the snow.
"Hate is stronger than death, stronger than life. I hate, Charlotte. I hate so deeply and completely that nothing can ever quell my fury. As long as I hate, I will never die."
She had seen this thing that had once been a man die, twice. In life, Tokisada Shirou Amakusa had been a heretic - a Christian fanatic who had been martyred for planning to overthrow the Shogunate in Japan. In death, he had become something far darker, a servant to twisted powers that granted him unlife and vast power.
Almost a decade ago, Haohmaru had slain the evil Amakusa at Nagasaki. The sorcerer had almost succeeded in bringing his evil master, Ambrosia, to the mortal plane. Some time later, Amakusa had arisen again. Actually, TWO Amakusa's had come forth to walk the Earth. The sorcerer had been split asunder, one half of him good and human, the other fully embracing darkness. Again, his dark half had sought to plunge the world into darkness by harnessing the power of another demon, Minazuki Zankuro, but again, his plans had been thwarted and the necromancer slain. After that episode, Charlotte had been told that Amakusa's soul was finally at rest, but obviously that hadn't been the truth…
Pale limbs and a body began to take shape beneath Amakusa's head, as did flowing robes. They seemed to be drawn there in the air by an invisible artist's touch, made out of glittering snow and ice. His form rippled and flowed with the wind.
"You're not real, Amakusa…you're dead. And we both know it, dead for good." Charlotte whispered.
"We'll see how real you think I am when I fasten my fingers around your pretty throat, my dear."
Charlotte ripped the cross away from her neck, and held it, arm outstretched, in front of her.
"You have no power over me, child of Satan, be gone!"
Amakusa did not hesitate, but continued to float above the snow towards her, laughing. His sandaled feet passed inches above the white surface, but cast no shadow.
His mocking eyes laughed at her, but Charlotte did not waver. She stared back into the blue chips of ice defiantly.
"If you're coming for me, Amakusa, then come."
And he did, arms outstretched. His hands bent down to clutch her, curled into talons, murderous lust evident in every fiber of his unnatural being.
But then his crystalline robes came into contact with her outstretched hand and the talisman within it.
Amakusa's mouth opened wide, but no sound came out.
He shattered. The noise was exactly like that of a mirror when it protests being dropped on a hard floor - a harsh, musical sound. Amakusa's form hovered momentarily and then fell apart into hundreds of shards of ice, which the wind blew away and under the snow.
Charlotte was alone again.
So very alone…
Amakusa's laughter came to her ears again on the wind, although fainter.
"Your faith saved you this time…but next time…I will come for you in the flesh, wearing a face you know well…and no bauble will stop me…next time…"
His laughter died. She waited for more threats, but there were none.
She laughed herself, weakly.
"You're wrong, demon. There won't be a next time…"
She was done, spent. Charlotte didn't have the strength to move anymore, she was too tired and numb, nor did she have any desire to do so. She collapsed into the snow, the soft down welcoming her. The cross fell from frostbitten fingers that would no longer do their master's bidding. She lied there, her eyes following the waves of white crystals blowing this way and that, all around her in wild circles, dancing. And then, Charlotte closed her eyes and did not open them again.