Description: Hauntings along the holy mountain bring Ayame to the site of a horrific slaughter and face to face with an ancient threat.
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Mount Koya, for many westerners, was an unknown site. If one asked what was the most holy mountain in Japan, Mount Fuji would be chosen not out of reverance, but out of convenience. But for locals and Buddists, the holy mountain is only too well known. It is the blessed mountain where the body of Kukai, or more widely known, Kobo Dashi, is held. As Kobo Dashi was the founder of Shingon, the "True Word" school of Buddhism, the mountain is a sacred site, where millions of buddists take their pilgramage. Rumor even had it that, amongst the forests around the mountain, the wandering monk still resides, not dead at all, but simply resting.
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There was no bodhisattva to be found at the forests around the mountain, no Kobo Dashi. And pilgrims were now avoiding the mountain in droves. 'Haunted,' the pilgrims claim. And even more babbled, were the monsters that they said were lurking in the trees. Strange, twisted little creatures, bearing warped skulls on their visages, were said to be filling the forests now, bizarre creatures that stalk, and watch, with hollow eyes. Worse, the haunting laughter of what sounds like children roll over the. Demons are murmured; curses are dreaded. But skeptics can shrug away the laughter as mere school children; and simply point out that no pictures of the strange creatures have been made. But one thing could not be denied within the depths of the mountain forest.
The strange clicking sounds that never cease across the forests of Mount Koya.
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The history between the Shinto and Buddhist believe systems forms a rich, complex tapestory of bygone decades for the island nation of Japan. Politics, family traditions, legends, and legacies all factored into the interweaving of the two faiths until in this modern day over half the country's population identifies itself as both Buddhist and Shinto, representing a decisive end to any division of bygone days.
But even with the copacetic existence between the two major faiths of Japan, there were distinct differences in the details. The girl that approached the stone-tile paths at the base of Mount Koya when all others had begun to turn away due to the rumors abounding was decidedly clothed in the iconic attire of a Shinto shine maiden. A pristine white kimono top with its billowing, oversized sleeves and the signature crimson hued dress at her waist are more than enough to identify her as such.
As she walks along the fog laden path, her steps are soft, the soles of her sandals rubber rather than wood. In her left hand is a long wooden staff, its entire surface enraved with with intricate runes. The upper end of the staff is light colored, with golden runes, while the lower end darkens until it becomes black at the tip with fiery orange glyphs that seem to glow even in this grey atmosphere.
In her right hand is a single talisman glowing with a pale, ghostly blue. It provides some illumination against the fog, casting its faint glow against the damp, stone steps she climbs or the stone sentinel lanterns that line the path. The trees here are old - older than almost anywhere in Japan, disappearing high up into the thick mist hanging over the mountain. The talisman serves as both a lantern as well as a warning, its glow responsive to the presence of spirits that might otherwise go unseen.
On the miko's back is a backpack. She has come expecting her stay not to be a brief one, it would seem. Rumors of the haunting of Mount Koya have drawn her attention from the southern region of Japan to investigate the reports. Her movements are calm but she is wary, attentive. This is not a relaxing stroll through peaceful nature but rather an incursion into potentially hostile territory. She should feel welcome here, but the ominous clicking sounds echoing throughout the forest inspire another sensation all together.
The network of stone paths and steps can take one a far ways into the forest. Along the way are countless temples of various sizes and construct. Wooden shelters for the weary traveller, stone edifices dedicated to the divine, and even sepulchers to monks of legend who passed away in service to this holy mountain.
The red ribbon in her hair rests against tresses of strawberry blonde, its ends swinging back and forth at her back as she moves ever further into the depths of the forest. In some of the small temples, candles burn, left by those who have since vacated the region. Leaning against various trees are momentos left by those who came seeking peace in better times, leaving a part of themselves behind to preserve that link with the sacred mountain: small dolls, scraps of clothing, hats, and even wooden jewelery.
The girl glances over such icons of faith briefly. People are fleeing the mountain out of fear of the monsters that lurk in the dark. But among the creatures of the night throughout Japan, the Ichijo scion that stalks the forest now might be considered more monstrous than them all. Ayame's reputation is well established - the streets of Southtown are her usual hunting grounds and many a darkstalker has been chased from the city to find refuge in other lands.
Lifting her glimmering ofuda, she sweeps her arm out in front of her, turning this way and that as she continues along her way. If she must spend the night here to discover the secrets of the mountain, then she will do so. The air is damp and vision limited. Perhaps it will rain tonight. She's glad she packed an umbrella.
That might be the first evidence for Ayame about what was happening.
The spiritual energy of the mountain was overwhelming; the glow of the talismen evidence of this. It does not take long for dim, ghostly lights to appear between the trunks of the trees, illuminated by the artifact. Hitodama. Ghost lights, the spiritual remains of the long dead. Commonly found in the background of sites rich with spiritual activity... but so far, there were no signs of the creatures of the night.
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The sound erupts around Ayame, high in the trees. A rattling sound, now breaking from any sense of rhythm. An alarm? A warning? The light of the talisman reveals nothing high in the trees... or perhaps, hidden within the trees. The rattling sound suddenly bursts out nearby, no longer just above the Miko... but below.
Some of the small dolls are moving.
The dolls approach Ayame, moving with slow, deliberate motions. Not all of them move; these were... these were much different than the offerings of the pilgrims. These 'dolls' were small white humanoid, translucent to the spiritual light Ayame was casting. Upon their necks, they bear large, rattling heads, with warped, mask-like features upon their faces. But there should be no fear, no terror, as the small creatures stop their approach, as it is clear now the source of the rattling.
Tree spirits. Often noisy, and disturbing at first glance. But ultimately, harmless. Typically found in the deep mountains, living within ancient trees... ancient trees, naturally, like the ones found around her. But there shouldn't be that many of them awake, especially in a Buddhist mountain. Long ago, they might have been covering the mountainside... but this was the new peace. And yet, they are here, in vast, awakened numbers, bearing no ill intent towards the mysterious miko that had arrived. They only stand there, staring at her, their heads rattling.
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A peal of haunting laughter rises deep within the woods. Light laughter, the laughter of children. The Kodama on the ground turn towards the laughter, rattling suddenly at the sound. No antagonism still, but curiosity endures. One of them, the smallest of the dolls, approaches Ayame directly now, coming towards her staff. Extending a tiny arm out, it gestures towards the sound of the laughter. Ayame may have her enemies amongst the creatures of the dark, but a miko is not lacking allies, either.
The question was, were these spirits friends, or foes?
The hitodama are given only a brief glance as they are illuminated by her spectral lantern. If she was more given to appreciate the beautiful mysteries of the world, perhaps the girl would pause for a moment to study them further, or at the very least, appreciate their ghostly beauty as she lays eyes on a phenomenon few living will ever see. But no smile plays at her lips as she looks away, sweeping her lone light in the pending darkness about her path, her steps steady as she continues along the walkway.
But finally they make their presence known - the countless kodama that seem to have flocked here. She comes to a stop at the surge of wooden clacking, her dress sweeping along her legs before settling. Looking up, her own face illuminated by her card, she scans the canopy above as far as she can see through the tendrils of mist. The grip on her staff in her left hand tightens as movement catches her eye and she turns toward the side of the path with a swish of cloth.
What are these doing here - in so great number? One or two stray tree spirits would make sense, even in an area so steeped in wards, seals, and travelers. But not a flock such as this. Still, even in number, she doesn't have immediate cause to fear them. They do not have a long history of being dangerous to those who come intending no harm to the forest itself. But she had never dealt with any herself, and assumptions are a surefire way to get caught off guard. She will stay wary.
Slowly, the girl turns, taking them all in, before finally coming to rest facing the direction of distant laughter. The reaction in her company is immediate and obvious. The clicking at her feet just next to the darker base of her staff has the girl glancing down, observing its own tiny gesture into the forest. It would mean leaving the stone path behind, leaving the relics of modern visitors or constructs of ancient worshippers behind.
But she did not come here to play it safe. Her work rarely allows such luxuries. Slowly, the priestess kneels, her staff leaning against her shoulder while her left hand slips into her voluminous right sleeve and withdraws a small wrist band of wooden prayer beads. While the Shinto and Buddhist faiths share many symbols and icons, prayer beads are not one of them - they belong to Buddhism. But the girl was never one to ignore the power in symbols belonging to all faiths.
Her left hand lowers, swaying the small band of wooden beads near the tiny kodama and, for the faintest moment, a flicker of a smile crosses her lips. She bears the protective tree spirits and the woods they cherish no ill will.
Standing, the lone miko slips the clacking band over her right wrist before taking hold of her staff once more. Sucking in her breath then exhaling, she lifts her spectral blue talisman in front of her and steps off the path in the direction indicated.
As she strays from the path, a new path forms.
Ayame will find as the stones fade, a path remains. Not a created path, hewned by man. But a hunting trail; a path formed from long and common use. She is followed by the kodama, who rattle sporadically both high and low. Even the ghost lights drift along nearby. A small pattering of rain comes, only to cease moments later. As the path continues, the trees suddenly give way into a clearing, an opening from the ancient trees.
And there, she finds the source of the laughter.
A young boy, pale skinned and freckled-faced, rushes past her, followed by two other young boys, a dark-skinned boy paired with what must be a local. Children. Real children. Further along the hunter's path, leads to the exterior of a small shrine, where three more children stood; one was in her early teens, and was inspecting a place in the ground. Another was a very young girl playing with one of the hitodama, letting it dance at her fingertips far away from the temple. Such shrines around the mountain was not uncommon; this one was clearly one of the more modest temples dedicated to Kobo-Daishi. It is a worn temple, where only a handful of monks would keep in silent meditation, reflecting on the wisdom of the spiritual site. Just a temple.
Or, was a temple.
The remains of several pyres are scattered before the entrance of the old, worn temple. Amongst the remains of the burnt out pits, were the charred remains of its victims: fragments of prayers beads are scattered amongst the ashes, defaced remains of mandalas are trampled under the feet of the playing children. And more telling are the bones; the human bones that lay amongst the heaps, a mockery of the Goma ritual that ran so deep through Shingon Buddhism. There is no smell of smoke. There is no sign of smoke. But the destruction is clear.
And sitting amongst the ashen heaps, was a beautiful woman.
Black hair and rosy cheeks, the woman looked Eastern European. She is dressed in an apron and housedress, the matronly clothing of greys and woad. A red shawl hangs over her head. She is sitting on an altar, one of two artifacts that seemed to have survived the defiling. At her side, a little, dark-haired girl, still wearing pajamas, reads a story to her brightly. But the woman was clearly only half-listening; almost all of her attention is on the statue of Mahavairocana, the principal deity of the purifying flame ritual. She wordlessly chants to herself, her hands upon the statue... until suddenly, smoothly, she breaks from the ritual. Looking towards the general direction of Ayame, neither directly at her, nor blindly away, the most gentle of voices calls out as a smile crosses her lips.
"Welcome, darling~" The woman coos delicately.
"Are you Buddhist?"
The shrine maiden's gait is steady and confident - she is not one given to fits of trepidation. She has trained herself to venture into the dark places of the Earth and to confront the creatures that find comfort in the shadows. She is armed with a young lifetime of combat arts, impressive victories, and an encyclopedic knowledge of magical talismans. The free moments of every day were spent in training with her staff and studying in a dusty library full of secrets located beneath the Meian Jinja. Her nights were spent on the hunt, pursuing those that threaten Southtown, killing the already dead, sealing the unkillable, and chasing off those sentient creatures that were too close to humans that wanton murder could not possibly be justified even in the biased courts of law. If anyone alive could handle what lurks ahead, it would be her, she is certain.
The hunting path is followed, whisps of mist swirling about the priestess's sandal-clad feet as she sticks to the opening between the brush. As the rain begins to fall, she pauses beneath a thick canopy of an ancient pine. There is a modern convenience - a collapsed umbrella in her pack that she could reach for, but it would mean either tucking her staff beneath her hand as she continues, or having to move on without the ghostly lantern in her fingers. Just as she is prepared to fetch the umbrella, the rain stops and, hesitating for only a moment longer, Ayame continues. The air is chill but she pays it no heed - part of her training regimen has involved evolving survivalist skills. One must be prepared to go anywhere, survive anything to truly battle the darkness that plagues the land. And she thought she was prepared.
Until she steps into the clearing.
An intake of breath has her recoiling as the children rush by, her back brushing up against the trunk of one of the pine at the edge of the clearing. Brown eyes follow the three boys as they vanish off down the path before she turns around to face the desecrated site and take in the true horror lurking in the forests of Mount Koya.
Ayame Ichijo was no stranger to blood. And she had seen death. But never before had she seen the aftermath of such slaughter. Freezing where she stood, sharp eyes sweep over the debris and carnage scattered around the once sacrosanct grounds. Lowering her right arm, the pale blue talisman still flickering between her fingers, the new arrival seems startled into inaction at the sight, her mouth curled into a darkening frown as she studies the children standing about, surrounded by death and despair.
As her eyes stray across the firepits, her hand clenches tightly over her staff, her head shaking ever so slightly. What if this had been her own shrine? What if the charred ruin was her family? Her left arm begins to tremble as the girl closes her eyes, falling back on techniques honed a lifetime ago - compartmentalizing emotions... she must not be distressed by what she has seen here, she can't sympathize with the monks that were slain. To do so would only make her vulnerable.
When her eyes flicker open again, there is a steeliness about her - a dispassionate intensity that has replaced her initial reaction. Another step forward is taken. What are these children doing here? Are they the ones that... no, not on their own. Her attention snaps to the two seated on the alter, her frown pressed into a thin straight line as she takes another step.
She doesn't know what she is. Not all darkstalkers are so easily identified by scales, wings, tails, or horns. Not all of them stalk with eyes of crimson or shrouds of spectral darkness. She does not know what it is she is looking at.
Only that she is a monster.
"I am your end."
She stops advancing, meters away still. Eyes flit from child to child. Three boys, three girls, none of them older than fifteen. None of them seeming the slightest bit disturbed by the gravesite of the newly dead they are now playing about.
The priestess stands among the ashen grey, a beacon of white for purity and crimson for war.
"Then it is you who has brought ruin to this mountain and defiled its spirit." Copper brown eyes narrow as she slams the dark end of her staff against the dirt at her feet with an audible thud. "You have the audacity to come to my country... to work your sick trade here... Tch. You will learn why all creatures of the night need fear these lands."
The little girl reads aloud her story.
"She took them both by the hand, and led them into her little house. Then good food was set before them, milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples, and nuts. Afterwards two pretty little beds were covered with clean white linen, and Hansel and Gretel lay down in them, and thought they were in heaven..."
"Isn't she such a beautiful young lady, Anna?~"
Those are the words that come from the stranger woman, as Ayame emerges. "Yes she is, mommy!" The young girl responds, interrupting her own story. Following along her, the kodama keep at her heels loyally. As she fully enters, however, the hitodama spread out. Several linger over the pyre pits, where the bones now lie. This was, ultimately, a place of death. But the reason why was not clear yet. As Ayame levels accusation after accusation at the woman, keeps that soft smile. As the final threat comes, she brings her nails to her lips, touching them softly. And there, she finally makes her objection.
"You are naive, my child. I do not seek to defile this mountain. I only seek to defile the wards upon it. You are not a Buddhist, no, my dear, it is most unfortunate for me." She mutters to her self, smile locked on her face, tapping her fingers upon the statue. "No, no, I have come to free this mountain, young lady." The mother comes to a stand, taking a step towards Ayame. "And I will not have a child come and-"
"Is something wrong, mother?"
The words come from the chased boy. The trio of boys come to a stop between Ayame and the strange woman. The effect it has seems to defuse the woman's temper. "No, no, my dearest children. There is nothing wrong. Continue your playing. Mother is just dealing with some business~" Gesturing for the children to run along, the boys look back at Ayame, a look of concern on their faces.
But they soon fall back into their smiles, and continue their games.
"I am so sorry, my precious child~" She coos softly, falling back into her altar chair. "But a mother's patience can only go so far. My children care so dearly for me, if it was not for their love, well, I may find myself losing my temper, my darling~" The woman looks around wistfully, shaking her head as the three boys continue their chase.
"Don't you sense the new life in these mountains, precious child?"
The words come along, as she turns her gaze to the treetops. "It is only a glimmer, but it is there. Long sleeping spiritual forces, trickling awake piece by piece. Beautiful life, yearning life, pure life." "No, no, words will not work on you. You have too much of that beautiful power, that pure resolve. Nothing I say can convince you... So let me show you, darling~" Gracefully, the woman raises both of her arms, and looking to the sky, she begins to shape her hands as she murmurs.
'Wood and whispers, leaves and flame'
'What made you become, return to became'
And with that, the rattling becomes a roar.
From the trees, thousands of the Kodama suddenly pour out towards the mother. The small spirits, from around Ayame's feet, rush along the ground towards the mother. The masses of spirits surge and flow, clinging to the woman's leg and feet. In turn, the ghost lights break from their drifting, pouring across the sky one by one over the woman's head. And there, a blur swirls as the lights begin to dance. The spiritual energy, once diffused through the mountain, was beginning to surge around them. The source of this awakening was clear.
And their loyality still seemed to lie with the strange woman.
"A mere trickle of the spiritual force laying under this mountain, but no. You are not my end, child. You are my beginning." The mother states religiously, a loving smile sealed on her warm face as she carresses the gown of Kodama. "But what they tell me... do you listen to them, my precious child?~" The woman asks calmly, plucking a small wisp out from above her. The wisp does not struggle, but dances along her hand, playing with it. "They tell me names without meaning, passions without pleasures, and promises upon false promises." The woman cocks her head to the side, swaying her hand slightly as she looks dead on Ayame.
"Don't you wonder what else is sleeping within this mountain, darling?~"
The reading child is ignored in favor of focusing on the woman in their midst. Not until her blissful storytelling is paused, the mother discussing with the child the arrival of Ayame, does her attention shift to the girl, an expression of realization crossing her stern features. "Anna..." Her head cants slightly to the side. It can't be coincidence. "Anna Petrov, is it?" For a shrine maided at a secluded jinja, she stayed remarkably abreast of news from around the world. She glances at the other children at play or idly loitering around the yard. Other victims of kidnapping? Having seen their faces, she would be able to later connect them to missing children's reports. But the way they frolic and listen to the woman's voice... this is no ordinary abduction scenario.
She falls quiet as the central figure of this unfolding mystery speaks. She is listening to every word, watching every movement, as therein lie any hope of figuring out what it is, exactly, that she is up against. But when the woman rises, the priestess braces, her left hand extending, the rune-engraved staff held in front of her. She will not be caught off guard, and she will definitely not entertain contact from the unknown thing. The intercession of the boys causes her to blink, however, lowering her staff as the self-proclaimed mother takes her seat once more upon the altar.
She speaks of new life and Ayame glances up, only slightly, eyes skimming the canopy of trees surounding the temple clearing before coming to rest on the woman once more. Her expression affirms her initial incredulity - it will definitely take more than words to sway her. When the seated figure rises, Ayame responds in turn, bending her right arm in front of her, the ghostly blue talisman burning brighter for a moment as she looks ready to fling it and put an end to whatever incantation she is speaking. But she hesitates - in listening, she can learn, but at grave risk. The power of ritual is no foreign concept to her, and that allure of knowledge untapped stays her hand for a moment.
Until her senses get the better of her. She cannot let spells be uttered here, the damage already done is far beyond anything that should have been allowed to happen. Just how strong was this woman? By what means are the bones of the monks that kept this sacred ground arrayed so? "Silence, creat-" she spits only for her voice to be drown out by the clamor of countless spirits surging into a sea of movement.
The priestess backs up a step, looking all around her as they pour from the trees, the brush, and sweep past her feet, a river of kodama that flows toward and around the Childkeeper. To see the natural spirits cling to her so is the last thing the young miko had expected and in spite her efforts to the the contrary, the surprise is readily apparent in her eyes. Sucking in her breath, she whirls once to look at the life pouring into this clearing only to amass about the mother.
By the time her attention falls to the woman once more, her demeanor has become far more guarded. "Why do you care from whence my training came... if you wanted Buddhists..." she sweeps her right hand, teeth grit in rising ire toward the pyres.
She starts to take a step forward, the hold on her staff suggestion she was about to become more aggressive, before she pauses. How can she strike the matron that so many spirits fancy? Are they possessed? The children she might be able to work around, difficult as it may be, but an apron of clicking kodama is another matter all together.
What sleeps within the mountain?
The priestess blinks. She was versed well enough in the secular history of the mountain, but she had not thought to study the older texts to see if anything was penned of its nature before the great Kuukai settled it millenia ago. "Whatever is sleeping here... should stay sleeping. I cannot allow you to continue whatever you came here for..." she scowls, closing her eyes for only an instant. "What are you called, so that I might know what myth I have brought to an end this day?"
The woman waits on Ayame's every word.
Anna herself is listening to the conversation. As her last name is mentioned, she nods her head. "Yes! And this is my mommy!" She explains. And for that purpose, she was. She still looked the same, as she did that night in Minsk. Anna was a good girl, and now, mommy was taking her to new places. For now, 'Mrs. Petrov' does not intervene with her daughter. Not yet, at least.
Anna would soon learn later, that speaking is a privilage, not a right.
"I've dealt with many enemies of the old ways, child." Is the woman's answer, gently brushing a finger on Anna's cheek. "They have many names. Catholics, with their holy orders and destructive zeal towards the old ways. Imans from the Middle East, and naturally, scientists creeping in the depths of my woods, picking and prodding as if they can prove away the reality of the spirits. And then there is Shinto..." She pauses, a dreamy look coming over her eyes. "The miko are allies, my child. Misguided sometimes on their loyalities." She shakes her head, making a point towards Ayame. "But naughty children always return to where their heart belongs."
"But Buddhists... I've always had trouble with Buddhists."
She gazes towards the pyre, a glimmer of frustration coming in her eyes, in her fingers. "They change the rules. Catholics and Imans can be corrupted easily enough, and with them, their seals. But Buddhists? You defile their bodies, their souls, and they still cling to purity. To easily defile, to easily break their seals is... complicated. Particide is inconvenient, and marticide... well, unapplicable in these circmumstances." The woman gives a chuckle, a distant memory returning to her. "And until I find one of their holy men, well, I can only find my own way then. And while I have made some progress, well" She gives a glance towards the pyre that Ayame glares at.
"Well, I've run out of buddhists, my dear."
She lets out a light chuckle, the rattling coming in time. Smoothing her spiritual garment, she plucks up the statue, easily lifting it up with one hand. "This is what they worship, I suppose. But it's the trouble with these buddhists again. If I destroy it, it will only be reborn, will it not? And the cycle begins anew, the seals remain strong, and spiritual energy continues to fester and decay. It is always, always trou-" The woman is cut off as Ayame steps forward. The smile does not fade, but as she drops the statue into the dirt, letting it sink a few inches into the earth, her point is clear.
Do not challenge mother.
"Child, please, don't act like one of those monster hunters." She idles, running a finger through her hair. Instantly, it grows by 2 feet, stretched out by her fingers. "You are far too smart for that. You are a beautiful young lady, with incredible spirit, and an eager mind. I admire you shrine maidens, you remind me of my youth~" She sighs longingly. "And even I recall when I was naive once. Perhaps you know my kind as the Old Mothers. I would prefer for you to call my mother, my dear... but you are not ready yet." The woman rises up, coming to a full stand. the spirits continue to cling close to the woman, continue to dance above her. "Please, my dear, for you, I will allow you to call me by the old name..."
The Old Ways, she says. A loaded term rife with meaning and significance. In this modern era, many of the Old Ways have been lost. Even religions dating back millenia have filtered out many of their darker traditions - rites that would be troubling to modern sensabilities. Animal sacrifice, blood atonements, and pacts with the fae things of the world... all lost to the passage of time for were they to manifest in this day, they would be stomped out summarily by a world no longer willing to indulge in such unpleasant matters.
The miko stands quietly as the creature from a bygone era speaks, only flinching at the implication that the Shinto faith strays closer to being in line with what the woman is striving for than the other relgions around the world. But on the topic of the monks - pertaining to the priestess's original question - the implications grow only darker. Ayame swallows, glancing back toward the bones.
She watches as the heavy statue is dropped to the ground but doesn't advance any further forward. She never thought she would be uncertain in this calling, unsure as to what needed to be destroyed, what needed to be saved. But glaring at the motherly figure with a carpet of clacking, eager forest spirits all about her feet, she finds herself confused as to what to do for the very first time.
The term Old Mothers is uttered and the girl glances to the side, searching her own memories, flipping through a vast repository of legends, lore, myths, and folktales. She glances back toward her, however, attentive as the old name is spoken. She can't allow herself to be distracted. This woman is a killer. A kidnapper. A monster. Never before had she imagined the forces of nature would align with such. How can she take a stand against the forest's friend? How can she /not/?
She is quiet, the clearing disturbed only by the soft brush of wind, the laughter of children, and the gentle, persistent clack of an entire army of kodama.
"What... are you trying to awaken here? What is it the seals are keeping bound?"
How could someone so beloved be touched?
Slowly, the children cease their play. And gradually, they move past Ayame, coming to join in the apron of kodama. Some hold her by the legs, others her arms. The eldest, pale and too thin, presents a filthy skull to her mother. Eadni clutches the skull, leaning in to give the young teenager an affection kiss on her forehead. "Darling~" She coos, as the children continue to hug her. Kodama, hitodama, and children; a shield of innocence and purity. Ayame could try and break it, but would she be willing to?
Eadni's expression is but a smile.
"What are the seals keeping bound?" She repeats allowed, her smile gradually turning more and more smug. She continues to stand, her beloved children clinging to her. And there, she moves with a powerful, graceful stride, approaching Ayame step by step. The freckled boy swings on her arm, as Eadni lets her arm rises and fall unhindered. Anna herself was upon her dear mother's shoulders, her arms wrapped around her forehead. "What names do they spirits tell me? What passions do they tempt me with? What are the promises upon promises upon promises do they whisper into my ear?"
And she simply shrugs her shoulders.
"Does it really matter, my dear child, when the very essence of life is on the line?" She idles playfully, continuing her subtle approach. "When the alternative is the very foundations of the earth to rot? Sleep transforms to death, death into decay, and with enough decay... worms begin to crawl into our world." Her haunting words suddenly lose their teasing tone. The smile does not fade, but a ruthless sternness takes over her tone, as her words seem to reverbate within the temple yard. "You should be eager to protect the natural world, in spite of costs of human life."
"After all, do the foundations of your faith lay in humanity, or the spirits?"
Eadni had, at some point, reached only a meters away from Ayame. And she halts. Tilting her head to the side, she focuses upon the light that illuminates, as the rain begins to finally drizzle down. "I would give it all away, for me to take you into my sweet embrace." She whispers, her presence not gone in spite of the hushed voices. This close, the dark pits of her eyes are fixed dead on Ayame's, threatening to consume her whole as she speaks with religious devotion. "A precious child like you is so rare these days; and do not think you are too old for Mother, no child is too old for Mother~" She reaches out towards Ayame slowly... before retracting her hand just as carefully. Her head continues to tilt to the side, as a sharp crack is heard. "But that talisman... is strong enough, child. And your spirit is still too pure. You will not be mine yet, I accept that. But if you want me to be yours..."he sound of snapping branches continue, as the head tilts past the 90 degree point.
"I doubt you would be unwilling to pluck away so many innocent lives reach me, darling~"
She pauses a moment, her head snapping back straight. The rain continues to come, as Anna begins to whine. Holding the book over her head, she begins to rock a bit on Eadni's shoulders. The mother keeps that smile on her face, as now, she raises her palm up towards Ayame, expecting something. "Your umbrella, darling." She insists with the commanding air of a true matriarch.
"Please give me your umbrella, so my children won't be soaked~"
Ayame's attention shifts from child to child as they collapse in around Eadni, holding her ground but not making any further efforts to step closer to the timeless one. The non-answer her question receives provokes a faint frown, but she otherwise remains quiet, growing more tense as Mother steps closer, little by little.
Her right hand is still held up, the flickering pale coldfire of the talisman in her fingers continuing to illuminate the girl in the settling dim. She doesnt flinch as the drizzle of a late winter storm begins to fall over the forest. Her layered clothing will absorb some of it for now while her long hair also begins to soak it in. As the ancient matron speaks, the young miko's eyes dart over the courtyard, over the children, studying the spirits that encircle the creature that stands before her - a calculating look to her eyes even as the woman twists her head into an impossible direction.
It is only when the demand is made that she finally reacts, mouth opening with a hint of surprise before closing, leaving the question unspoken regarding how the matriarch knew she had an umbrella with her. With a soft sigh, Ayame worldlessly flicks her right wrist, the blue glowing talisman held between her fingers scattering into harmless ash. A shrug of her shoulder has her sloughing her pack to the dirt with a thud before she slowly kneels down, hand slipping beneath the top flap to pull the compactly folded umbrella free. Her grip on her staff in her left hand never slacks, holding the long weapon at an angle in front of her. Standing upright, she presses a button on the black umbrella, flicking her hand to the side as it unfolds with a snap of springs and cloth into an open canopy.
Curling her hand inward, she flicks the umbrella out with a sharp spin, sending it whirling upright toward Eadni, leaving it easy enough to catch out of the air provided her reflexes are up to the task in spite the weight of that precious cargo on her arms. The priestess's expression has not softened an iota in the exchange, her right hand now joining her left in holding her staff as she remains put in the falling rain.
"I think you misunderstand my position here," she finally speaks, a faint smirk crawling its way into her expression. "I am not a believer but a scholar. I follow the traditions of of my family because they have brought me strength and health, not for the sake of any blessing I might hope for from the spirits of the world. The rites of purification have allowed me to stay focused without wavering, following diet and prohibitions have put vigor in my marrow and in my blood, and meditating has allowed me to bolster my resolve to stay the course I have taken upon myself."
Her right hand slips from her staff to duck into her left sleeve, withdrawing another ofuda. Another flick of her wrist has it igniting with an orange aura of warmth - a little something to stave off the building cold, perhaps. Or maybe something more. "But make no mistake." Her smirk melts away, lips pressed into a thin line of intensity. "It is not due to a crisis of faith that you find my hestiation here, but rather that you have me at a tactical disadvantage because of the hostages you surround herself with."
She shakes her head then, her hair sticking to the sides of her face as it becomes increasingly soaked. "I do not know what you have done to them to draw them to you so. I am sure you will tell me that you have simply given them the love of a mother, or some other drivel... but," she glances toward Anna directly then, "Was it a mother's love that killed that girl's father? And what of these other children? What atrocities did you commit in stealing them away from their homes? I am sure each has a story... warped as it must be by your fel influence."
The girl grits her teeth, left arm trembling at the tightening hold on her staff. Shifting her grip on the long weapon, she jams the dark end of it into the soil at her feet and, turning herself around fully, carves a circle in the dirt roughly one meter in diameter. Sucking in her breath, the girl drops to her knees in the dirt, resting her staff across her lap. Leaning forward, she presses the orange talisman into the goove, holding it there as its soft warmth extends out, filling the circle around her with a radius of warmth.
"So be it. I cannot attack you, sheltered as you are like a common thug by the lives of the innocent. But I will not leave you here, at this ruined site, to conduct your dark buisness without interruption...." The resolve in her eyes suggests that she knows full well what she is committing to.
"Other monks will return to these temples in due time, the evacuation will not last forever. Only, this time they will not be left with only Buddha to aid them in their fight against you." Resting her hands over her staff across her lap, the miko inhales then exhales, her smirk of confidence returning.
"They will have me."
How did she know there was an umbrella?
The moment the talisman fades, Eadni instinctively takes a step forward. And yet, as the umbrella is tossed in the air, any perceived weakness is forgotten. The spinning tool is snapped out of the air, the old woman nearly flinging off one of the children with the sheer speed. The boy gasps in terror, clinging to the arm in panic now instead of play. And steadily, she backs away, drawing away from the young woman. With a .
She repeats, words steeped in caustic venom. "So, you merely are using your blessed gifts for personal gain. No wonder you seem to love the buddhists, you unforgivable little-" Light, playful laughter from the woman break the flicker of rage. "No, no, this is not your fault. You were raised without that spiritual love. Mothers make mistakes all the time, my dear. Do not worry, I'll make sure to fix that mistake in time, in careful time." The rain pitter patters on her skin, but she is not drenched. She is not soaked.
In fact, her body looks just as dry as before.
"I have nothing to fear from you~" She begins, recoiling away as the circle is drawn in the dirt. The intuition of the old woman was keen, and she recoils an arm as the light is brought out from the new talisman. "But you have nothing to fear from me. You are a good girl, a good child. You have give me what I asked for, darling~. Good children are rewarded, and blessed with the mother they deserve. Naughty children... well, you do not need to worry about that. Holding up the umbrella, the lone ghost light, still dancing at her fingertips, grows more animated as the old mother holds up the umbrella. Quietly, the spiritual flame becomes absorbed within the umbrella. With that, she pops the umbrella open, holding it over Anna's, and by proxy, her own head.
And a deep groaning echos from the depths of the mountain.
"You will understand a mother's love soon enough, my good, good child." The ground behind Eadni's feet begins to build up, turned earth rising like molehills. The kodama, at the sound of the rumbles, rattle away as they begin to release the woman. Spreading out, they leave at a steady pace, returning to their trees. Above, the ghost lights likewise begin their drifting, returning to lurk amongst the tree tops. But the children remain, eager to stay with their mother. "And soon, you may even see yourself on mother's shoulders, eager to please me as little Anna does." Plant matter suddenly boils from the depths of the ground.
The rooftop is the first to break from the earth.
The hut rises up from the earth like a whale breaching the surface of the water. Built like a somewhat cozy cottage, the wooden cabin has a small porch before it. Rising up, it scoops itself under Eadni's feet... and begins to rise. The hut goes higher and higher, rising up on a pair of great tree trunks. Nearly reaching 20 feet in the air, the base of the tree trunks finally reaches the surface. Pulling itself up, the two 'legs' of the hut trail with three 'toes,' the roots of the trees dangles below as it paces side to side. And from the porch of the great hut, Eadni glances down at Ayame, her own children beginning to release her. As the door to the hut opens, she speaks firmly to the miko. "But if you are going to resolve to interrupt my rituals, young lady, then it seems that I must wait a little longer. I do not appreciate being pestered when I work, especially when dealing with such... tedious subjects. Besides, I've been meaning to visit an old friend anyways. He's been quite active recently; I hope he isn't too busy to receive a visit from mother~" She sing songs, leaning back from over the edge. "You keep with your monks, my darling, and play with them as you see fit. But remember this, my dear. The monks may have you~"
"But you'll always have me."
And with that, the house begins to stride away. Turning around, the hut begins to beeline it to the temple. The legs suddenly dip low, and with a mighty bound, the hut leaps over the temple's roof. THe groan of the tree trunks come, as lands on both legs. Trees and branches crack and swish as it forces itself between the trees... until soon, the sounds of the walking hut fade.
And only the sounds of rattling is heard within the forest.
Amy says, "Windows Media Player, don't be a fucking moron."
Amy says, "Why would I want to combine Tygers of Pan Tang and Two Steps From Hell. >:("
The kneeling priestess of the Meian Jinja stays quiet as the matron speaks, her hands resting atop her staff placed horizontally across her lap. She barely bats an eye at the remarks about her lack of faith or proper upbringing. Such topics, while things she has strong opinions about, don't seem to strike a defensive chord with her. Her expression is neutral at first, only shifting to a faint smirk as the woman extrapolates on who needs not fear who.
"Every myth has an ending, every legend its final chapter. Someday you will let your guard down and your hostages will be stolen." she finally declares as the elder mother holds the umbrella up over the lost Anna's head. The girl continues to wait right up until the ground itself begins to herald the coming of something from below. Mouth curling into a frown, Ayame pushes herself up to her feet, her drenched clothing and hair clinging to her body, her staff still gripped tightly in her left hand.
When the earth breaks, the girl staggers backward, leaving her circle of orange faint warmth. She is silent as he eyes take in the impossible construct - a seeming living creature and structure in one. Warily, she watches for sign of attack, studying every element of the mobile abode that she can. Lectured again, she answers with steely silence, leaning behind her staff, ready to retreat to the trees, thinking perhaps it might be better avoided there.
But Eadni has other plans and the legged house answers. Ayame is left alone seconds later with the distant rumble echoing along the hillside to accompany the old creature's departure.
She doesn't exhale until several seconds later, not realizing she had been holding her breath for so long. Pressing her staff into the muddy soil, she leans forward against it, a long breath of relief escaping her lips.
She can't look away from the direction the house left, toward the splintered trees just over the temple, even long after the thunderous footsteps are gone. But finally, she turns, right hand lifting to rub at her forehead as she contemplates her next course of action. To whom would she even be able to report something like this? The monks should be warned - they may or may not take her seriously... but what of the kidnappings? The missing children?
This mission, she muses, will require more than one to succeed.
Log created on 19:58:00 03/06/2015 by Ayame, and last modified on 12:54:11 05/27/2018.