A/N: Hello everyone! I have been… hibernating? I guess hibernating, as far as writing goes. To be honest, I am afraid to post this, as I do not see it as an adequate work… however, after much convincing, I am putting up my first Ulquihime story. I hope you all enjoy this! Another post will be coming this Saturday for those who are interested. Your feedback means a lot to me, so please review, and thanks for reading :)
"Here he comes, the demon."
"I heard he fled from the mainland after being found to have killed several men… and then eaten the hearts of their women!"
"He can't be human. Look at his eyes!"
"Forget his eyes, pale as a corpse that man is…. Must be a spirit, nothing else for it,"
The terrified whispers did not escape the ears of the man at which they were directed. The streets cleared before him as he walked, eyes cast upon the stones at his sandaled feet, black nailed hands hidden in the sleeves of his kosode. The garment was black with white edging and tied with a white obi, the lacquer sheathed katana hanging from his waist his only possession of value.
He had come into the small rural village to buy ink and paper. He lived in a house in the deep woods that rimmed the village, spending his days of self-inflicted solitary confinement writing music and playing his shamisen. Paper was a valuable commodity, however, and the man was not rich by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, he had nothing better to do, and to keep the company of the human trash that surrounded him was unthinkable.
He continued his walk, shaggy black hair loose, free of the commonly accepted topknot, worn sandals scuffing the dirt. There was a sudden cry as he came upon a child of no more than eight, at the most, in his path.
The shout came from the dismayed people that edged the streets as they awaited what they thought to be the obvious demise of the child. The man had never killed anyone in their sight, so why was it that they thought he would do anything now? He would never understand the humans, strange as they were, being governed by their emotions. He had no use for such things.
Not that he held an ounce of mercy in his heart that would spare the child from his blade either, for compassion was a waste of time, but it simply was that he did not feel like squandering energy killing a brat or any of the rest of the filth that lived in the village without provocation. There was no point, no meaning to it… but there was no point in anything at all, was there? His face displayed no feeling as he gazed down on the young girl.
"U-um…. Would you like to buy a flower…?" she squeaked, knowing of his reputation. He was the one who mothers threatened they're children with when they were ill-behaved. She proffered him a marigold and a buttercup, hand shaking.
The man took the flowers from her, and he saw her wince at his pale skin and blackened nails as he did so. Emerald eyes, brilliant, sharp, and cold, like a spear of ice, met terrified brown for an instant before the man switched his gaze back to the flower.
"The marigold," he murmured, "the sign of despair… and the buttercup, the flower of oblivion."
He handed the girl a coin, placing the flowers in the inside pocket of his kosode, returning his hands to his sleeves and once again hiding them among the folds of black cloth. There was a disbelieving silence in the street behind him as he entered the shop he had come for.
Despair and oblivion… what a fitting pair.
At the sight of his face, the shop owner stopped what he was doing, freezing in the act of placing a stack of fine-cut paper on the counter.
"U-ulquiorra-sama!" the man gasped fearfully, adding an unnecessary suffix of respect, brought on by his alarm, "I-I wasn't expecting you so… so soon," the man swallowed nervously.
Ulquiorra approached the counter and placed the rest of the coins he had on him on the counter, silently taking the top bit of paper off the stack and turning to leave. He felt no urge to frighten the spineless paper maker any further.
He walked back to his home, weaving between the trees and around the fallen giants that lay across the path. He heard a sudden weak chirping from the path ahead of him, and looked to the side. There lay a baby bird, not even feathered yet, struggling on the broken path.
Without sympathy, Ulquiorra stepped on it, silencing its cries. The strong ate the weak, that was the way of the merciless world in which he lived. He looked at the clean documents in his hands.
The paper was pale white, now stained with flecks crimson….
The colors of oblivion and of empty despair.
"It seems he was in town again today," a girl with pink hair fretted, "Rumor is, he attacked a little girl!" she tugged at the sleeve of her rose colored kimono, "I think he really must be a demon, that man! A few call him the Horobito, the lost man, saying that he only comes out of the forest to exact vengeance on those who didn't search for him when he went missing in life. Others call him Nakiotoko, the weeping man because of the marks on his face. Maybe he's a ghost?"
"Chizuru, you shouldn't believe everything you hear… and stop touching Orihime!" a second girl, with short dark hair snapped. She was dressed in a kimono of deep blue, a butterfly stitched on the left side of the chest in golden yellow thread.
"Ah… it's fine Tatsuki, don't worry yourself," the third girl, this one with long fiery hair. She was dressed in an orange and white checkered kimono that only reached her knees, her feet unadorned, but a white cloth tied around her head, covering her eyes. She pushed the hand of the first woman away from her rather large and busty chest, smiling slightly at Tatsuki.
"Poor Hime, though! You need all the love you can get!" Chizuru cried, "Your brother… and your eyes…. I'll never forgive those bandits as long as I live!"
"How do you think she feels about it?" Tatsuki asked sardonically, adding so that only Chizuru could hear, "Don't bring it up if it might be painful for her."
"It's alright," Orihime said with a grin, "I get by without seeing… and everyone helps me! I've already gotten used to the darkness. It doesn't bother me that much."
"Orihime…" Tatsuki said softly, anguish for her friend painting her tone. The red head stood up and smoothed her garb.
"I should be going," she said, her bubbly smile widening, "there is something I want to try cooking… don't worry, I won't light the fire without help!" she laughed, as if she could see the worry on her friend's faces.
"Do you want us to walk you back home?" Chizuru asked helpfully, cringing as Tatsuki punched her in the arm to wipe the perverted smirk off her face.
"No, no, I don't want to trouble you! I'll find my way just fine, I've walked the route a thousand times or more," Orihime stepped toward the door and placed a hand gently on the frame before stepping out.
Her steps carried her confidently down the familiar path, her bare feet guiding her rather than her eyes. The stones beneath her toes warm, and all unique to her heightened sense of touch. Her sharp ears did not miss the twittering of the birds as they settled into their nests for the night.
Orihime sped her pace. To be caught outside at night would be bad; even if she found her way home quickly, it was autumn, and getting cold early. Without shoes she might get frostbite, and without the ability to see it, how would she know? Frostbite made one numb…
She suddenly stumbled over an unfamiliar object. Twisting on her hands and knees she felt around for the cause of her fall, her scraped hands eventually encountering the end of fallen sappling, the bark stripped away, the soft wood full of furrows from beetles. The texture was amazing, she could have spent forever running her aching fingers over it, but she could no longer feel the sunlight that had previously warmed her. She staggered upright, intent of finding her way back home. Blood trickled down her leg from a small scrape on her knee.
The girl walked in what she thought was the direction of the village, but she only encountered twigs that whipped her face, logs that stumbled her feet, and low branches that punched her midriff. She began to go more slowly, fearful of falling somewhere that she couldn't get out of. She had told Tatsuki that she had become accustomed to darkness, which was true to some extent. She was fine in areas that she knew.
But she was still scared.
She stretched out her hands, groping into the air, searching for something, anything to grasp. Her fingertips suddenly encountered smooth-cut wood. Not a tree, or a broken branch, but a plank chinked with mud. She felt further, and suddenly her hands met cloth that gave way beneath her touch. It was obviously the door, but she could hear no movement. Perhaps the house was empty?
As she pushed the rags aside to enter the home, a voice startled her.
"You won't find anything of value in my home, thief," the voice informed her. The sound was flat, empty, and without warmth, but somehow comforting and silky-smooth. Orihime smiled and whirled around.
"I thought I was alone!" she laughed in relief.
Ulquiorra stared in disbelief. At first he had thought that the girl was simply incredibly bold for breaking into the home of a 'demon'; then it occurred to him that she was maybe stupid and trying to rob him of his worthless items. But blind… it made sense, he supposed. There was no pity in his heart, only mild surprise. But the strong ate the weak, and being sightless could certainly be seen as a weakness, especially in the era of war in which they lived.
"You may as well be alone," he answered icily, walking past her and entering his home without inviting her inside.
"Wait," she called, "can I come in?"
"Can you?" he echoed coolly as he set down his purchased stack of paper on the ink-stained table that he used desk in the far corner, "I don't know,"
There was a giggle, and then she asked, "May I?"
Ulquiorra looked toward the cloth that served as his door and stared at the girl. She was already half way into his home; she was cut, bruised, and dirty, and probably tired. Humans were weak creatures after all.
"I suppose you're lost?" he sighed.
"What would give you that idea?" she wondered with obvious bravado. Ulquiorra blinked slowly.
"So, woman, you came here of your own accord?" his voice was so comforting, but she just didn't know why…. Was it because it the first new voice she had heard since she lost her sight? He knew nothing about her, that would make for a fresh start… or perhaps because his emotions were a challenge to define because of his monotone? She thought that mostly the relief of finding human company at night in the woods contributed a large part of her feeling as well.
"Well, not exactly…" Orihime answered, scrunching her nose.
"I thought not," there was a muffled swish as Ulquiorra turned to face the stranger straight on, a soft sounded that almost obscured a softer whisper, "No one ever would come here of their own free will." Then louder, "Well, woman, come inside; there are wolves this far into the forest. Be careful not to trip."
"Oh, um, thank you!" Orihime made a short bow as she slipped inside, sliding her feet cautiously across the bumpy rush mats that covered the floor, lest there was a step or furniture that blocked her path. Her foot soon encountered a tattered cushion. She knelt on it, feeling in front of her and finding the customary low table. Parts of it were sticky with flecks of ink, but she chose not to question it.
"So, woman, now that you are in my home, who are you?" the man asked bluntly.
"I'm Orihime Inoue," said woman replied cheerily, "What about you?"
"I'm no one important," he told her in his monotone, and Orihime chose not to pry any farther. It was enough that he had invited her into his house without knowing a lick about her.
It was enough.