(Photo by Radina Valova @RadinaValova, #photostorychallenge host)
On hands and knees she climbed towards heaven, catching just a glimpse of the divine between every hard-fought breath. The mountain’s peak was close now, filling her eyes to the rims, and only there at the god’s feet would she allow herself to rest. Her katana, the blade now defiled with ink-black dragon’s blood, had been lost to the mountain but the treasure tucked into sash of her kimono was pressed close enough to her to be her own flesh.
She had fought in his name, bled in his honor. She was his sharpest blade yet even her sword was no match for his steel-plated heart. There was one way to claim the Prince’s love, the fox had told her. Steal the Golden Lotus from the Holy Dragon’s den, climb to the top of the mountain, and whisper your true love’s name at sunrise. The Golden Lotus will bloom and the Prince’s heart will belong to you.
Higher and higher she climbed, the fox’s words in her ears, dragon’s blood on her hands, and the love for her Prince completely swallowing her heart. When she finally reached the mountain’s peak, she rolled onto her back, clutched the Golden Lotus in both hands, and waited for dawn to ignite the horizon.
The sun would adorn her in golden splendor befitting of a princess and she would speak the Prince’s name. Then she would shout their names to the sky so that their love would echo through the heavens and reach the gods themselves. She was his blade and now, at last, she would simply be his.
The fox didn’t know when the woman had died, only that the trail of blood had led to her. Her side had been clawed open, her entrails barely held in by the sash around her waist. But the fox cared not about mourning the foolish samurai. He placed the sword he carried in his mouth beside her, a final kindness to the lovelorn human he had tricked, and took the Golden Lotus from her bloodstained hands.
The sun had long since spilled over the mountain and the woman’s body was laying on the peak, sightlessly staring up into the blue infinity above. And for one fleeting moment, the fox wondered if, with her dying breath, she had spoken her love’s name. Then, thinking himself silly to waste thought on a dead mortal, the fox scampered back down the mountain, back to where the Prince was waiting.