Match Twenty-One: Oiwa:
Now, Kiku feels the pain in his spine. It felt like claws scratched out of his back. He sat over his tub, gripping the edge. The Japanese man took in heavy breaths as sweat came over his body. He could sleep or stand up straight. This new pain started back three weeks ago. It started at the base of his spine. When the pain started, his wrists and ankles went numb. His hands shook as they began cold. Kiku could barely hold things anymore.
What is this?
Massage and ice packs weren’t helping. Sena had to help him into bed. By day three, the pain started traveling up Kiku’s spine. He looked like an old man hunched over. A cane couldn’t help with his balance either. Touching the handle alone would cause the black on his hands to flare up. It didn’t help that she was in the background again.
Her deep red nails caressed his chest. Kiku looked behind him out of the corner of his eye. Those black eyes still haunted him no matter how many times he saw them. She was nothing but a yuki-onna. He shivered at the image of her taking pieces of his soul and grinding it with her teeth like a beast chewing on the bones. That vile woman wrapped her arms around him from behind.
“Do not worry,” she purred in his ear. “This pain will not last long. Think of this like a wedding gift.” This vile woman dug her claws deeper into him. She wouldn’t be satisfied until she turn him apart from the inside out. He hated to think what she could to Sena next. His wife hadn’t experienced the horror of the Woman in Red yet.
“Please leave me alone,” he whispered. She kissed him on the nape.
“No know that isn’t possible,” she said. “You and I are like a couple to be wed.” The pain is his spine increased to the core of the bone. He sucked in a mouthful of air. But, every part of him froze when another image took over his mind. This one, he hadn’t even seen before. This couldn’t be her doing. No, this was different.
He was fifteen and a disappointment. His brothers and sister led successful lives. The oldest son was to be next head of their noble clan. The middle was a powerful samurai general. Even the daughter was to marry another heir to a noble clan to make their family stronger. But their youngest son?
The youngest son never had any ambitions for his future. He looked attractive, but that’s all he had going for him. He had no interest in war, politics, or education. He stayed locked away in his room for most of his days. The servants and his family couldn’t get him out. Gossip floated around the youngest son. The parents would sometimes pretend that he didn’t exist. They would make up stories about him when they asked about their youngest son.
“He’s away in the capital studying,” they would say. But, all of the nobles saw through their lies and continued to talk. The parents became desperate to repair their broken image of their youngest son. They decided to marry him off to save their reputation.
The bride had to be beautiful, elegant with manners, intelligent, and a dutiful wife. The list for this mission proved to be asking too much in this given situation. Initially, the search wasn’t fruitful. No noble families would allow their daughters to be married off to the disgrace of a son. Having a poor bride would make things worse. In the end, they had no choice but to look for a poor wife.
The older nobleman went into the countryside to look for a bride. Every day, he traveled from village to village with his search. Most of the women were either old ladies or too young. The young women were already married off. The older nobleman didn’t want to have to marry off his son to a really young girl. He pushed that to the back of his mind. The older nobleman vowed to either find his son a wife or restore family’s honor with his life.
On the last day, he stopped off at a small shop in an isolated fishing village for something cool to drink. When he went inside, he leaned over the straw counter, frowning. The owner narrowed his eyes.
“Is there something wrong, my lord?” he asked. The older nobleman sighed and rubbed his forehead.
“Where do I begin?” he asked. “What do you have for me to try?”
“What do you have?” the nobleman asked.
“Soy milk mostly.”
“I’ll take that.” He set out his money on the straw counter. The shop owner served him up the cold milk. The nobleman downed it in one gulp.
“Now talk to me,” the shop owner said. “What is on your mind? What do you desire most?” The nobleman lowered his porcelain cup.
“I’m looking for a bride for my son,” he said. “He’s been such a disgrace to the family. I just want to save our honor before it’s too late.” The shop owner gave him a sympathetic smile.
“Good luck with that sir,” he said. “We don’t have many young maidens left anymore.” The shop owner paused for a moment. “Although…” He shook his head.
“No, that would be a bad idea to say,” he said. The older nobleman’s ears perked up.
“What?” he asked. The shop owner rubbed his forehead.
“And now I’ve said too much,” he said. The old man took in a deep breath.
“It can’t be helped,” he said. “You didn’t hear this from me. But, there is one maiden who isn’t married yet in the outskirts of this village.” The nobleman stared at him with big eyes.
“Is that right?” he asked.
“Yeah, but I would stay away from her if I was you.”
“Why is that?”
“Well… You can go by the hut outside of this town and see for yourself.”
“Is she lame?”
“No, nothing like that. She’s quite the beauty, in fact.”
“Does she have any illness?”
“Then… what’s wrong with her?”
The shop owner shook his head. “Nothing, you would just have to see it for yourself.” That should’ve been a hint to back out while he still had the chance. But, desperation has strange powers over a person like that.
She was supposed to be his wife. She came from a poor family. Sure, she was very attractive in this small fishing village. She only lived with her father. Her mother died in childbirth. Now, her father was starting to die too. Or that’s what she told everyone in the village. They saw her around town, but kept their distance. They had their own reasons. She had dreams of a better life. Lucky for her, she would soon get her wish.
She had just come home from the market when she found the nobleman waiting at her door. At first, she looked so confused.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Can I help you?” The nobleman took one look at him and smiled.
“Yes,” he said to himself. “You will do just fine.”
“Huh?” she asked. The nobleman walked up to her and licked his lips.
“Yes!” he said. “You will be the one to save my family’s honor!” She didn’t understand what he was getting at.
“What are you talking about?” she asked. The old man looked her straight in the eye.
“How would you like to get out of this village for a better life?” he asked. Her eyes grew wide at that question. Was she hearing right? Did this man offer a way out? She wanted to scream for joy for this opportunity opening up in front of her.
“What’s the catch?” she asked. He took her by the hands.
“Please marry my son,” he said. “He’s really attractive and a strong provider.” Obvious lies, but the nobleman was desperate at this point. His bride potential bride smiled.
She and the youngest son were married about a month later. The parents threw the couple a lavish wedding. The bride and groom looked somber out of respect. However, she would end up bringing the family more misfortune than luck as the parents hoped forward.
The vile woman could feel Kiku shaking.
“What was that just now?” he asked. She rested her head against his back.
“That was you,” she said. “You in a past life. That man looking for your bride was your father.” Kiku shook his head.
“No… No…” he muttered.
“Oh yes.” Her nails dug into his chest. “You aren’t the only one to see your past life. The other countries are starting to see the truth for themselves. But, you don’t have the whole picture just yet.” She licked him the cheek. Usually, Kiku would push anyone off for invading his personal space. But, she had him frozen. The vile woman smirked.
“Do you want to hear something?” she asked.
“No!” Kiku said trembling. That vile woman giggled.
“The fifth gate will be located,” she said. “Only three more to go, dearest. But, I have already left you another wedding present until we consummate our bond.” Kiku’s eyes widened as another chill ran down his spine.
No… He let out a gagged scream as he threw back his head.
Kanji of blasphemy appeared all the way down his spine.