Description: Sometimes critical aid comes from the most unexpected... and most /unwanted/ of sources.
Such a site should not have been a scene of violent altercation. Even abandoned, neglected, left to the elements to reclaim their own, this was sanctified ground. Now, it is the epicenter of a raging fire. The structure itself has long since been immolated, its dry, old wood easy fodder for the hungry flames. One wall has already collapsed, sending up a maelstrom of sparks and thick smoke. The remaining pieces of the framework will not be far behind. The planters, full of weeds and wildflowers, are now bonfires stretching up into the night sky. The surrounding trees are ablaze as well - this is the fact that will concern the fire fighters the most once they get here... The building is a lost cause and who will miss it after all?
Perhaps it was a hint of the honorable man he once was that stayed the Revenant Assassin's hand when he at last stood over the fallen priestess that would see him sent right back to where he came from. And maybe he still harbored enough respect for the old ways to drag his fallen foe out of the heart of fire that could do him no harm but would have rapidly consumed her.
Whatever the motivation, the warrior priestess's life was spared, her unconscious form left lying in a clearing of dirt and pebbles, far enough from anything combustible that her chances of surviving until help arrived seemed reasonable enough. Evidence of a battle hard fought but ultimately lost is abundant - a split lip and bruised cheek on her face, her right arm bearing ugly bruises as if someone tried to dislocate it with blunt force... evidence of burn marks on her exposed forearms, shins, and melted tips of her hair... and the most immediate danger, twin kunai embedded into the front of her shoulders, blood continuing to spread as it soaks into what was pristine white cloth.
The wounded girl's state of dress has seen better days, much of her proud uniform having been lost to the same maelstrom of heat and destruction that ravages the area. Her long sleeved white beribboned haori coat full of tricky talismans is gone and only a quarter of her charred, dress-like hakama remains tattered around her waist. Even one sandal was lost when she found herself hurled around like a living meteor hammer. A blood stained, soot covered white thigh-length kimono worn under her normal uniform is all that has survived mostly in tact at this point.
Hugged against her left side is staff that is longer than she is tall, its rune-carved surface lightly scorched as well but otherwise mostly undamaged. While difficult to make out in the chaotic light of fire, the unconscious girl's hair is presently a dirty strawberry-blonde.
From start to finish, the battle was violently fast. The sanctity of the shrine would have only been disturbed a brief five minutes ago - and in that time, a pitched battle of life and death played out and the fire now visible from long distances has run rampant. The sun has only just set, the moon and stars only now starting their reign of the night sky.
Even as the fight comes to its dramatic conclusion, a figure can be seen making its way up the winding pathway that leads to the ancient rural shrine. While once a well-cared for trail of cobblestone and carved steps the neglect of decades has rendered the footing trecherous in the dark, its almost faded surface lousy with gnarled roots and thick undergrowth that catches at the feet of the unwary. This difficulty combined with the oppressive cloud of smoke that blankets the area makes the approach a slow one and the angry revenant is long gone when that distant silhouette finally strides through the dark mist into the blazing light of the former shrine.
Despite expectations to the contrary, it is no fireman that steps forward to stare at the fiery inferno; it is instead another demon. In the smouldering orange and gold of her former home, Riki looks upon the destruction laid out before her in silence. Rage and anguish war for dominance throughout every fiber of her being, that battle of emotion playing out in stark relief upon her strong features as her expression shifts from a wide-eyed gape to a teeth-grinding glare.
"Who would dare...?"
She speaks the words into the smoke-filled air, ignoring the harsh burn of the acrid smoke as it assails her lungs and stings at her eyes. The oni's gaze sweeps around, her pupils red chips of brightly glowing rage as powerful and brilliant as the embers that dance around her like clouds of fireflies. She looks upon the place where once the ancient double doors of the shrine stood wide, always open and welcoming to visitors or pilgrims alike, now little more than charred ash and splintered still-burning planks. The broad expanse of main hall lies just beyond, a place of meditation and reflection, now host to a burning hellscape.
"Who would DARE?!"
Finally, her attention shifts to a spot some distance to the side of the main building where a small miniature shrine stands tilted and neglected. Though it has not yet been taken by the flames, the tiny structure is defiled all the same, the once proud statue housed within shattered into two ragged pieces. Her outrage fades and grief rises to take its place as she looks upon the last remaining vestige of her former life. That shrine had been hers for the better part of three centuries, small but well-cared for and respected by those that had lived under her protection.
This is all that remains of them now - some forgotten hovel in the woods that not even the tourists care about? Her fists clench in anger yet again, but it is directed inwards this time. The fire had not done this; her apathy had.
A surge of weakness assaults her then and the great ogre struggles to keep her footing as her knees wobble with self-hatred and shame. She had been avoiding coming to this place ever since her banishment, afraid of what she might find here, and her cowardice had resulted in yet another mark of shame upon her soul. She had failed those who in life had trusted in her, expected her to fulfill her duty, and now she had failed their memories as well.
Throwing her head back, Riki unleashed a bellow that rattled the world around her. The trees shook with the fury of her emotion and the already weakened timbers of the shrine's remains buckled and collapsed sending up fresh plumes of smoke and ash to blot out the sky overhead.
Her grief announced to the world, the giantess turned to leave having no desire to watch the last of her memories burn to the ground. She had taken only two steps, however, when something caught her attention. She paused, head lifting up, and slowly turned to face the blazing bonfire, crimson eyes narrowing.
"This... this smell..." Her nostrils flared as she inhaled sharply, snuffing at the air like a beast despite the smoke. "This is...hellfire! But, why here...?"
Suddenly overcome by the sense that she had missed something very important, Riki moved forward to investigate the flames with greater scrutiny. Heat washed over her and the mortal flesh she was entrapped within railed against the burning pain but she grit her teeth and pushed it aside for the moment focusing her gaze within the core of the fire. Searching for several long moments, she was about to give up, forced to retreat before her meager defenses against such mundane threats were overwhelmed when she found what she was looking for.
While invisible to the mortal eye, or most atleast, the telltale traces of spiritual energy danced in her vision, thin wisps that echoed the power unleashed in this place. This had been the site of a battle, perhaps. That or the vandals had been more than mere hooligans. Could this be the work of that old crone? Her fists clenched in renewed anger.
"I will grind the hag to dust with my bare hands!"
Another trace of power draws her attention and upon following it she finds another and another. Her ire boiling over, the ogre turns and begins to follow the trail that leads through the ruined shrine until at last it leads off into the woods.
"I have you now!"
Unwilling to let the bastard responsible for this sacrilige escape, she leaps into the trees with a great bound, crashing through the heavy underbrush and foilage like a mad boar and, in the process, nearly flattens the unconscious girl lying just beyond the flames. Eyes widening in shock, Riki leans hard to the side and comes down heavily on her side rolling ungracefully past the fallen priestess and into a nearby tree. The impact earns a grunt of chagrin but she quickly pushes back to her feet and hurries over to the miko's side, kneeling down beside her.
The state of the girl's body sends a fresh dagger into her heart upon first glance. Was this person the last remnant of the temple's caretakers? If so, she was doing a pretty lousy job of it, judging by the state of the path and such, but at this point the ogre is in no position to be picky about her luck. It's clear that whatever was responsible for this fire had its way with her before leaving, in either case.
A quick check reveals that she is still breathing, which is a good start. Her medical knowledge being about five hundred years out of date, the ogre doesn't bother to check for broken spines or shattered ribs or anything of the like before slipping her arms underneath the priestess's back and legs and hefting her up in a princess carry. The kunai she leaves in place for the moment - pulling them out could cause bleeding and she doesn't feel like this is the best place to be trying to bandage wounds. Sirens continue to blare in the background though their distance has clearly grown smaller in the past few minutes. Time to be going.
Toting her prize with ease, Riki turns and vanishes into the forest. Unfortunately, her time in the mortal world has been one of hardship thus far. She has no real abode or safe haven to speak of. While she could potentially transport the girl to the nearest hospital and hope for the best her own appearance would be just as likely to get her labeled the culprit in the matter and that would make her intent to ask questions much more difficult to pursue. Instead, she heads deeper into the forest. This shrine isn't the only long forgotten building in the woods she could use.
"Be strong, child," she says, glancing down, unsure if her words can reach the miko but compelled to reassure her all the same. "We shall find respite for your wounds soon."
Her world of pain is experienced in fleeting moments; glimpses through half-lidded eyes that last a second or two before encroached upon by a veil of black over and over. She was never cognizant that she was dragged to the clearing, that the being she was driven to banish spared her an ignoble death by fire before leaving her to her own devices or the compassion of others to ultimately survive.
It might have taken the fire fighters some time to find the sprawled, unconscious priestess. No doubt they would have written off the inferno as the work of arson, or a freak accident... that anyone would still be in the vicinity to even be discovered would be unlikely to cross anyone's mind.
Another glimpse affords Ayame only a look at the wall of flames around her before she fades again. In the prison of her mind are nightmares aplenty, but none cause her body to tense upon itself like the strain of known failure. Another vision of living bone and concentrated hatred given form is interrupted by a sound - a bellowing roar audible even over the thunderous noise of the blaze.
Another vision, or is she awake? Her mind races to answer the question as a horned demon towers over her. Is this hell? Some might think it strange a shrine maiden would expect to end up there once her mortal sojourn had run its course, but she always knew that would be her fate from the beginning - some stains are too deep to erase even by a lifetime of attempted amends.
This muscular, powerful creature kneeling at her side must be some devil-appointed tormenter. Her right arm half-lifts in protest only to drop as she slips away again.
The next sensation is one of motion but she can't fathom its nature - she has never been carried like this for as long as her memories can reach. The swaying of steps, the pressure of unyielding arms hardly straining to heft her... is she being carted? Maybe it's a rescuer, maybe she isn't dead after all.
Eyes blink open again, searching through blurred fog. But instead of a grizzled firefighter's mug, she slowly makes out the face of that demon again just as she looks down and says something - the words, their exact nature is not absorbed, but something about them... they did not feel threatening. How could that be? Is she seeing things? Her vision distorted from punishing strikes to the face? How could a demon's voice possibly console?
"...no," she murmurs, she starts to shake her head in protest, "Just-" Her bruised right arm lifts again though it only makes it to the level of her shoulder. "... just one more..." She falls limp again, arm dropping back down to sway with the giantess's gait, one last word whispered from bloodied lips.
The oni pauses as the priestess struggles to gasp out words through a haze of pain and delirium, peering down at the precious cargo in her arms with a look of concern, though relief is mixed in as well. That she is able to speak at all is a good sign and it gives the demon comfort that she may yet salvage something from the tatters of her honor and pride.
"Do not attempt to speak, girl," she rumbles, keeping her voice low and, she hopes, soothing. She takes care not to jostle the miko too much as she moves through the heavy expanse of towering trees and thick undergrowth but moves with as much haste as possible, knowing that the longer she leaves the wounds untended the more likely an infection could set in. Human anatomy is something mostly foreign to a spiritual creature such as herself but she knows enough to atleast understand that much.
"The immediate danger has passed but you are not out of the woods yet." She snorts softly at the weak joke but whatever mirth it might have brought her is fleeting.
It takes the better part of an hour before the landscape of dense wood gives way to more reasonable terrain, which in turn, allows her to quicken her pace towards the destination she has chosen. The past month had been spent scouting out the local demense that she had claimed for herself, not yet quite sure how to introduce herself into the modern world. It would make her job immeasurably more difficult if a slayer was dispatched to harry her across the country. Worse yet, she would have little to do but strike them down should a confrontation come about, and she wanted no more innocent human blood on her hands.
Several more minutes pass before she finally steps out of the trees entirely, pushing past a low hedge wall with her shoulder to emerge into a small clearing along the side of the mountain. There is little to be found here that renders it a remarkable place save for the lone wooden shack tucked away near the far edge of the groove.
A worn sign hangs on the side of the building declaring it to be of some official purpose in regards to the Forrestry Service. Riki pays the bright red 'Keep Out' signs no heed, casually twisting the old-fashioned U-bolt lock off the door with a quick yank. The door creaks loudly as it swings open and she hurries inside, pushing it closed behind her with her foot, hurrying to find a place to set her ward down so as to tend to her.
In the end, she discovers a simple but servicable cot in one of the side rooms and gently lays the miko upon its surface. A quick search of the premises reveals, foremost, a great deal of dust, which makes it likely that the place hasn't seen any use in quite some time. A promising start. Underneath all of the dust, she also manages to unearth some clean looking towels in a plastic bin along with a simple first-aid kit. There also turns out to be several cans of food, mostly fruit and beans of various varieties. She takes all of these, dumping them into a pile on the floor. A bowl filled with water marks the final object in her scavenger hunt and she plops down beside the cot to begin the process of dealing with those blades.
The ogre peers down at her patient, checking on her vitals once more before leaning down to speak incase she happens to be awake. "Steady yourself, girl."
Being the sort who believes in simply getting things done, Riki removes both of the kunai in a pair of quick yanks, tossing the offending blades to the side where they clatter into a bucket. The kimono is removed next, the ogre having little sense for something like modesty, particularly in a situation such as this. She wipes the blood, which has already become hard and crusted, away from the wounds with a wet towel making sure to inspect each cut for any signs of ash or other debris that may have gotten lodged within.
"Aahhh... you are fortunate. The blades did not bite deep enough to do permanent harm, I think."
She would have no idea how long the journey lasted, how far she was carried. Her brushes with reality are brief and the picture they paint incomplete. The discovery of the shack, the breaking and entering, and even the initial ransacking for essentials are all events the unconscious human plays no part of. The checking of her vitals shows her to be alive - pulse weak but present, breaths slow but steady, the bleeding around the kunai entry points has long since slowed to a stop. Overall, she seems stable, but one can hardly expect to stay stable indefinitely with two blades sunk into their shoulders.
There is a blink of awareness as the oni prepares to 'tear off the bandaid' as it were. Only, instead of a sticky slip of plastic, she's pulling out two blades that had sunk into the girl's flesh. The vague, unfocused stare she gets back from those confused brown eyes suggests Ayame has no idea what she's being told to steady herself for or why there's a demon talking to her again.
But then the blade are pulled and her patient suddenly tenses, her back arcing, feet alternating at digging her heels into the cot. Teeth grit, eyes pinched shut as a tear forms in each corner, her face becomes crimson. But the sharp pain of the wounds being reopened by necessity passes and Ayame collapses back flat against the bedding. Her breaths are coming faster now, eyes snapping open as she looks around wildly. The environment is strange to her, but the most alarming thing is the hulking presence crouched down over her, filling an awful lot of the limited space of the shack with her imposing frame.
Too weak to protest and still to confused to really respond with anything beyond a confused, almost manic search for a way to escape, Riki's patient puts up no fight as her bloodied kimono is removed, leaving her in a simple but serviceable white underclothes. A small, forest green paper talisman would fall out from the inner fold of the kimono - the only ward that she has left, the only one she keeps hidden beneath her second layer of clothing. As of right now, it appears to be inert, however.
Ayame's revealed frame is lithe but toned - she is no stranger to physical effort, training, and exercise. She is hardly the most shapely human around, but she isn't entirely without curve seither. Other than the blade wounds in her shoulders, no other injuries are apparent on the defeated priestess's body beyond the bruising on the right side of her face and her bruised right arm.
Shaking her head, her brain starts to come up to speed as the pain of the removed kunai fades into a duller ache, Ayame finally moves again, rolling onto her side, pressing back away from Riki as if wedging herself against the shack's dusty wall is going to be of any help. Unarmed and disrobed, her arsenal of combat techniques are almost entirely unavailable to her now even if she were strong enough to try and apply them.
"W-what are you doing?!" she stammers, her face paling after having grown so red a moment ago. "Get away from me!" The rejection is immediate and unmistakable now, an experience that is sadly unlikely to be foreign to the well intentioned oni. Blood blends with the water wiped against her injuries a moment ago as the girl's struggle forces new crimson to the surface of the two stab wounds, but she's paying that no mind as all her fear, guilt, and distrust have found a single target to be directed at.
Only when she lifts her arms to try and push away at the intimidating presence does she trigger the same sharp pain all over again, robbing the barely clothed girl of this brief moment of fight rather abruptly. A soft cry escapes her lips as she rolls face down onto the cot, arms bent at the elbows so that she can press her hands against the stab wounds, starting to curl into a fetal position. She doesn't seem like she's going to be an easy patient.
The sudden shift from compliant baggage to struggling patient was not entirely unexpected, though the immediate reaction of fear in the miko's eyes causes the oni's eyes to crease slightly. She cannot blame the human for that, however, her kind is not meant to be a part of their world any more and a disruption of that natural order is likely to breed such sentiment. However, her panicked flopping about isn't doing the priestess any good either.
Riki growls softly and wraps hands almost as big as the girl's torso around her at the shoulder and waist, rolling her onto her back once more with a gentle but firm motion that the slight miko has no chance of resisting in her current state.
"Hold still, girl, or you will make it worse."
She peels Ayame's hands away from the wounds with two clawed fingers, holding them down at her side by force if necessary, and resumes tapping at them with the already stained towel to clean away the fresh blood that her antics have brought forth. The process is slow, her fingers belaboring the cuts with quick taps, unsure of how much pressure she can use without causing undue strain to the injured girl.
Eventually, she withdraws the towel, now a bloody mess, and tosses it aside with the kunai. A fresh cloth is drawn out of the bin and she soaks it with water before folding it into a thinner strip which she places on Ayame's forehead to help keep any fever she might have down and in the muggy heat of the summer night she doubts the cool water will be an annoyance. In the darkness of the shack, the demons eyes glow a faint dull red as she leans over the miko, watching her in silence for several long moments.
"I must bandage these injuries now," she says eventually, her voice a low but feminine rumble. "Else, you risk suffering greater harm than that already inflicted upon you. If I release you, can you be trusted to remain still while I do this?"
The first-aid kit is dropped upon the cot next to Ayame allowing her to see its contents of gauze and alcohol swipes, proof of the claim that the creature currently holding her captive has no ill-intent. Reaching underneath the cot, the ogre withdraws another item, which turns out to be a length of rope which she had kept hidden incase her guest proved uncooperative.
Riki leans against the cot, smirking in an amused fashion. "Or must I bind you down like a wild boar first?"
As the physical contact is made to roll the almost infamously unflappable girl over, the most unexpected field-medic imaginable would feel the trembling in her patient's body. In pain, stripped of all her weapons and most of her clothing, even deprived of her prized situational awareness, Ayame Ichijo is the most vulnerable she has ever felt for as long as she can remember. Teeth grit, she struggles against the powerful restraint, even fighting having her hands pulled away to expose her wounds to the oni's first-aid treatment. She would twist a little, plying her inferior physical strength - even in peak condition there would be no comparison - against that of the supernatural creature tending to her.
But once those options have been considered, the futile, one-sided wrestle comes to an end, though her eyes are still locked on Riki's, the girl's jaw set, teeth clenched. It's only when the banished guardian begins tending to the wounds again that her patient's fear begins to blend with confusion. Ayame has always been a believer in actions over words, that intent means nothing, only the outcome. And right here and now, she finds her mind reeling at the juxtaposition of an obvious monster administering to her wounds even in defiance to her protests. One can almost see the gears spinning in her head as her eyes search the oni's expressions or shift to the side with a slight tilt of her head to see that she is, in fact, actually treating her injuries.
There is a defeated air of resignation about her as she sinks into the cot, no longer actively fighting what is being done with her. Though her expression is still far from accepting, her mouth pressed into a thin red line but for the bruised bulge on her upper left lip.
She allows, resting her head down flat then, either because she's realized that angering something with such a powerful grip is a bad idea or because she's simply too exhausted to keep protesting. It makes it easy to rest the cloth over her forehead then.
"Why are you doing this." she states, the question implied by her phrasing though her tone suggests a certain imperious demand for an answer. Her eyes flick over the gauze and swipes of the first aid kit, but the girl is still tense even after all that, as if waiting for just the right moment to-
Wait, what's that rope for? The threat seems to be the final breaking point of her patient's defiance, Ayame squinting her eyes closed, inhaling, then releasing a pent of up sigh as she relaxes at last beneath the firm but gentle hand of her immense caretaker.
"That..." she grouses, brown eyes closing as she gradually surrenders, a hint of pink returning to her cheeks, "Will not be necessary."
"Good," comes the reply, and the rope is tossed aside. The massive hand restraining her arms to her side is also withdrawn and the ogre begins to rummage through the contents of the first-aid kit before simply dumping the entirity of its contents onto the cot. "That would have been pleasant for neither of us, I am terrible with knots."
Riki eyes the contents of the box for a long moment. The gauze she can figure out easily enough, though it's make is of far greater quality than the simple strips of cloth often reserved for bandages that she saw during her previous time on the mortal plane. The small packets of medicated cleansing wipes, however, prove quite the mystery. She spends a good minute staring at a handful of them, scratching her head through the mane of golden hair. Eventually, she rips one of the packages open and the familar smell of alcohol invades her nose. Her eyebrows go up at this but it seems to be enough of a clue to help her puzzle out their use.
Applying the first of these pads to one of the cuts, the oni looks thoughtful as she ponders the question that was asked of her. The answer is fairly simple, in truth, though there is some difficulty in relaying certain bits of information. Faith in the afterlife is at an all time low among mortals and even a miko could well be likely to balk at the idea of a literal demon from Hell. On the other hand, when one is sitting right next to you, the case is probably a fair bit more compelling.
"It... pleases me to do so."
Which is the truth, if not all of it. Riki rests a hand on the priestess' chest, anticipating an unpleasant reaction to the stinging touch of the medicated pad, the massive palm stretching completely across her.
"I found you unconscious at the site of a burning shrine. It would seem," she says, gesturing to the red-tipped throwing daggers, "that you found yourself caught up in an unpleasant exchange. It would have been a rather unneighborly thing to do, leaving you there to die." Riki grins and tries not to be overbearing as she broaches the subject but any glance at her face would reveal the intensity in her gaze.
"Can you remember anything that might shed light upon this mystery?"
At first, she's getting a wary look as the rope is tossed aside and she admits that she doesn't have a good mastery over proper knots, but Ayame keeps her word in not trying something ridiculous, like defiantly flopping onto the floor as soon as the hand is lifted away and her arms are no longer pinned. And as she begins to investigate the first-aid kit's contents for herself, she'll get no help or advice from her recalcitrant patient - indeed, she seems inclined to just sit there and endure the aching throbs in her shoulders rather than speak a single word of explanation as to what the curious little packaged swipes are for. Even as the puzzling extends beyond a minute - a period of time almost even the most stubborn individual would cave to the need to explain the obvious and get it over with, Ayame remains mute, still glaring, though she's lost degrees of fervor from when she first came to.
Riki finally figures out the mechanics of the swabs, unravelling one of the least mysteries of the universe, and the priestess snorts softly. But the passive derision is suppressed when she hisses in pain, arcing her back again at the touch of the cleansing wipe, pressing up against the oni's prepared hand before collapsing back down. But other than the grunt, she doesn't voice any complaint over the care she's being given.
She doesn't look happy with her caretaker's explanation for why she's doing it, undoubtedly believing that a creature like her can't possibly do any benevolent act whatsoever - as if their very nature would render that impossible to begin with. But she doesn't press the question further at this point, especially as some explanation as to how she came to be here begins to be shared.
Eyes flick to the bucket where the kunai were tossed a few minutes ago before focusing back on Riki. Her memory of the events at the shrine requires little refreshing - she has replayed them in her mind in her fleeting moments of consciousness and even her unconscious nightmares ever since she fell. What could she have done differently? Why was she not strong enough to banish that returned wraith?
"Yes." she states at first regarding being caught up in an unpleasant exchange. When she finally looks past her own innate disregard for the oni gently taking care of her, she notices the sincerity and interest in her questioning - a legitimate concern about what had happened at the ill-fated shrine. But why? Again, questions pound at Ayame's thoughts, threatening to claim her full attention rather than the answers to the oni's inquiry, but she finally manages to push them aside.
"That place was one of many locations that I patrolled from time to time... it seemed to be a magnet for conflict, a beacon for spirits wrestling with discontentment... This was not the first time I found trouble there, but never had I encountered something like what I found tonight..."
Her voice fades before elaborating on what it is exactly she came across. Instead, she attempts to reverse the dialogue, implying that she needs answers too if she is going to explain everything that she can.
"Why do you care?"
The question is direct and simple, the prone miko looking at Riki's face pointedly, searching her expression for answers that words alone might not provide.
As Ayame casually dashes what little hope the oni had left in regards to the state of the shrine, the giant's shoulders sag visibly as if the miko's words had placed a heavy burden upon them rather than clear away some of the mystery of the night's events. Her hand pauses in the middle of swiping the last of the first wound's surface with the medicated pad and she stares down at the floor in a moment of sudden silence and stillness, practically statuesque. She makes no attempt to hide this reaction from the girl and even in the faint light the anguish on her very human face is plain.
As suspected, the blame lie squarely at her own feet. It was not unsual for shrines such as that to become beacons to the departed. Souls are little more than bits of emotion or fragments of memory. Any place that stands as a monument to the connection between one life and the next was bound to draw the occasional lost spirit that had somehow escaped the draw of the netherworld. But to be a haven for anger and malcontent so strong that even the dead were drawn to it... no, that was not normal. Only a deliberate act could defile a place of peace and pervert it into something like that; an act that she had failed to stop in her sloth and laziness.
Once more the storm of emotion rises up to consume the demon from within and it runs rampant through her expression and her voice. Oni have never been good at controlling their passion and once it has been stoked there is little that can quell those flames save for the passing of time. Riki's jaw tightens as she feels a surge of anger well up from within and she fights the primal instincts down with a deliberate act of will.
Under normal circumstances, she would allow that maelstrom of grief to explode and revel in the raw power of the emotion even as it wrenched her apart from the inside out. There was strength to be had in letting such feelings be known to the world, a dark and ancient power that flowed from the core of her being. However, in her current form she's not quite sure what would happen if she gave in to such feral desire, and more importantly, what the fate of the girl under her care would be.
The war for her soul, or more accurately, her being, for demons do not have souls in the same way as humans, takes only a few moments. The oni shakes her head and snorts in an attempt to hide her conflict from the girl. One of the strips of gauze is fetched from the pile and she starts to wind it around Ayame's shoulder, sandwiching a few of the alcohol swabs against the wound.
"I have..." She searches for the words to use, chewing on her lower lip. "Let us say that place and I are... were... connected."
Even her brief history of what she knows of the derelict shrine has pulled strong emotions to the surface - that, Ayame had not anticipated. Her mind continues to race, trying to understand the connection between her most unexpected caretaker and the shrine that is undoubtedly nothing but water-soaked charcoal by now. Perhaps it is because she cares more about solving her own mysteries than ameliorating the oni's concerns that she responded with a question so quickly.
Again, the answer she gets is baffling. It isn't even the words that finally work their way to the lips of the miserable creature, but the gamut of emotions that play out across her facial features. The priestess is quiet, allowing her inquiry to hang in the air, partially because she demands an answer before she continues. But also because she realizes that she is unable to predict the reactions her words are provoking in the oni. Knowing how to manipulate emotions in others to get the result she wants has been one of her many disingenuous social skills all her life. But the game doesn't work if she can't remotely fathom her conversation partner. And right now, she's completely baffled other than knowing quite clearly that the ruined temple is or was extremely important to the otherworlder. She decides she must begin to pick her words more carefully... she cannot afford to cross a line with this unexpectedly patient demon.
Holding her arm against her side, she provides no difficulties of her own in the wrapping of the bandage around her shoulder. Her eyes break contact to flick up to the ceiling, shifting about as if searching for the optimal response based on what she knows now and her current circumstances. It should come naturally to someone with normal human empathy, but her interactions with others are always so calculated unless one gets beneath her skin enough to draw her true nature to the surface.
"In that case," the priestess states, eyes shifting back over to Riki, "I am truly sorry." It sounds sincere, an expression of sympathy for another's loss. Brown eyes close, the girl wincing a little as the bandage is secured into place.
Her brow furrows after a moment, her thoughts clearly still on what the connection could possibly be. She has to pry further, she needs to know, the blank spaces in the tapestry of this story vexing her more than her loss at the hands of the undead assassin. But the wrong question could end up escalating emotions worse than what she had already said.
She felt it couldn't be the creature's home. She's wandered by that site enough without ever finding clues that an oni was sheltering in the sacred grounds. The shrine had been abandoned for as long as she had known of it, though that only accounts for a handful of years of course. The oni tending to her now very likely has lived far longer than that, perhaps.
"There was something there when I came by tonight - it had the figure of a man clothed in assassin's garb and equipped with accoutrements appropriate for the trade. But I also felt the rage radiating out from him - a supernatural, tangible manifestation of hatred." She shifts her focus to the shack's unremarkable ceiling again as she recalls to mind details of the encounter she feels are worth sharing. That she initiated the fight that ultimately lead to the obliteration of the site... well, she's not an idiot. That detail will not be shared.
"He must have been a man once upon a time. How the Hellspawn walks again I was unable to ascertain. He was powerful... maybe he broke loose himself, but..." She doesn't seem convinced about that theory. How often has something like that even happened? It isn't exactly a statistic readily available on wikipedia. "It is more likely that he was summoned by someone with even greater power."
A soft exhale as she takes a break from sharing what she knows but it is clear that there is additional information to share. An identity, perhaps, or any clues from what was uttered in the heat of the violent struggle.
Her mind circles back to her earlier thoughts, especially about the potential longevity of the oni. "Did you... know someone who served there at one time?"
At Ayame's gesture of sympathy for the destruction of the shrine the ogre silently snarls, her lips peeling back to reveal twin sets on curved predatory fangs amidst her otherwise human teeth. The gesture is reactionary, not meant to threaten or menace, but it highlights further the differences between the giant woman and the girl at her feet.
Again, Riki struggles to keep her nature in check but it is a difficult fight with her emotions already in such turmoil. That righteous fury is a central part of her; in many ways, it is what defines her as an existence. This girl, however, does not deserve to be on the receiving end of that outrage. She is just trying to do what many humans do, offering her support in a time of need. She is being helpful. The ogre repeats these words in her head like a mantra, squeezing her eyes shut until the haze of red over her vision begins to fade.
After several long moments her hands begin to move again, finishing the first wrapping and moving on to the next. The rest of Ayame's story is absorbed in silence while she works, both of them finishing at around the same time. The demon ties a small and simple knot on the bandage and sits back as she ponders this new information. So, it was not the onibaba; or atleast, not her directly. In their last encounter the old hag had summoned the dead to strike at her but they were mere puppets of decay and bone, nothing like what the miko had just described. She had sensed its presence, or the mark it had left in it's wake and it did not feel familiar beyond the obvious taint of the damned fire. It is something to be wary of in the future.
"No Man escapes the punishment he is due once his life upon these mortal shores has reached its ultimate end," she says, her tone one of clear authority on the matter. "However," she adds, looking annoyed, "there are ways in which the damned may be called back into this world, through acts of sorcery, witchcraft, and other foul rituals. Your assessment is most likely correct, though for what purpose such a being would be called forth, I dare not guess. None, I wager, which bodes anything but ill for the living."
The topic shifts back to the shrine and Riki quirks a brow at the boldness of the human child to continuous prod such a sensative subject. Her arms cross over the hefty curves of her bosom and she leans against the wall pondering how much information to divulge. The shame of her failure still burns brightly within her and the thought of sharing that burden with a stranger causes her stomach to twist. Unfortunately, lying to a holy woman would look quite... unfavorably upon her already tarnished resume.
"...having spent some time watching over that holy temple, I assume you noticed the small shrine that stood watch over its approach. Twas but a small thing, but crafted with great care and tended diligently by the maidens and priests who called that humble place home; many centuries ago, I think, though I cannot accurately gauge. Though the passage of time hath rendered it to naught more than wind-blown rubble, twas a time that those ancient rocks within its protective shelter held the form of a powerful demon, a... guardian of the way."
Her expression grows sad once more and her voice trails off, head drooping down towards her chest. The thick wild locks of dirty blonde hair drift forward to hang about her face like a veil, darkness mercifully obscuring the tears that have begun to form in the corners of her expressive eyes least her weakness be plain to see. She says nothing more, leaving the obvious conclusion hanging in the air for the miko to pluck down herself.
Watching the horned creature's emotions iterate, Ayame takes her turn being quiet. She can't escape the thought that were it to have been this oni she found at the shrine, she would have attacked her with the same zeal as she went after the Wraith called Scorpion. If she wasn't wounded, disarmed, recuperating from being at the heart of way too much fire, would she be trying even now to strike down the demon? All along, she has been waiting to see what her game is, what does she want out of her? Is she saving her because she has darker plans in store? Will she turn her over to her demon buddies? What is her long game here? The priestess's mind seems to conjure up one dark, cynical idea after another, unable to simply trust one of /them/ to not truly be as terrible as she believes them to be.
How has fate brought her to a point where she's being tended to by an ogre of all things? Why is it that she can't ever get a break??
But she keeps her ruminations to herself, having long since learned too mask her emotions deep behind her carefully manipulated expressions. Something, perhaps, the emotional oni could stand to learn someday, she scoffs to herself while quietly deliberating. But what options does she even have? For now, discourse is the only thing that makes sense, and while she keeps stepping on the nerves of the attentive ogress, it still seems like something she is interested in engaging in.
The obstinate miko at least takes solace in the demon's assessment aligning with her own... if any creature would have better insight than she does, well... she's looking at one. "Yes," Ayame murmurs regarding the implications Scorpion's existence has for anyone living. It was her duty to stop that, has she not slaved away her youthful years to be capable of that very thing? Ayame closes her eyes and sighs, finding herself more irritated than she wants to let on. A mental compartmentalization of the emotion happens in an instant, the moment of agitation passing.
Finally, Ayame's vexing persistence pays off in getting an answer with enough details to fill in the missing pieces. Riki cites the small shrine - a guardian marker, common place at many shrines and temples throughout the nation. Only Ayame's own shrine, the Meian Jinja, lacks any such thing... the Ichijo clan were so fervently anti-demon throughout the centuries that to entertain the idea of a guardian spirit was completely at odds with their ideals. No such stone would be found there this day.
"Mn." She averts her eyes as Riki's head bows, finding 'something' of interest to stare at on the wall on her other side. Whether giving the ogre her peace is out of empathy for the latest swell of emotion or simply a smart decision to avoid antagonizing her any further would be hard to tell with this one.
"I tried to pry his true name from him, but even in the end, the Hellspawn would not give it. All I got from him was for him to identify himself by the moniker of Scorpion." She flicks her eyes over to see if the oni is still sulking before she would look away again. Just seeing so much human emotion on something that everything tells her should be /inhuman/ is making her more uncomfortable than she's even consciously aware of.
"That much hatred though... that much animosity. I could feel it even from several meters away. I can only imagine they are the emotions he died with magnified by whatever process brought him back." She pauses again, considering what she can really recall from the hectic battle. "His fighting style... I could not place it, exactly, but his comfort in close quarters deflecting, grappling, and disabling strikes reflected some flavor of ninjutsu." Oh, then there is that one thing. She pauses again, this time eyeing Riki once more. "When he took off his mask, there was only bone beneath. That is when the full blast of Hellfire was launched against the site. It was... the magnitude," she frowns, annoyed that the words are not coming as easily to her as she felt they should be. "I believe his skull was a conduit from the Infernal itself... it was too much power to be generated by just a single Revenant."
She sighs softly, looking away to stare at the ceiling once more. "There is little more I can offer you at this time by way of information." She seems to brace herself. Now that she has shared the only leverage she had - information - what happens next? She has to be ready! If she has to act, even in her wounded state, she must already have a plan of action prepared!
Even in her remorse, Riki continues to listen as the miko talks. It is something that she is good at, listening; a skill hard not to develop over the course of centuries when it is all one can do. She listens now, hearing the utter lack of emotion in the voice of her guest that comes a little too easily to one who brushed death so close such a short time ago. Was this girl so jaded that the events of the night had not touched her? No, tis more likely a mask, a shield to guard her against revealing her true nature.
No one has ever accused an oni of being smart but this one is cunning enough to puzzle out the reason behind the priestess' strange tone. Already in the depths of self-loathing, she simply files it away as another side effect of her own nature. Fear drives this girl away from her and there is little she can do to assuage that sentiment.
"Scorpion." She repeats the name out loud, resting her hand along the base of her chin in thought. "Tis a name unfamiliar to me. Like as not this damned soul came from a realm beyond those underneath the rule of my lord. I cannot speak for his nature, save to say that all lost souls such as he are naught more than bundles of emotion from their former life. If his death was one of agony and hate then tis likely that his motivation be revenge."
The oni's expression remains one of obvious contemplation, almost comically so, as if her thoughts were practically tattooed upon her proverbial sleeve. She ponders this information for some time, casting the occasional glance down at the miko incase she might have something further to say on the matter. Finally, after much silent deliberation she seems to come to some sort of conclusion, the resolution once more apparent on her oversized features.
Leaning forward, the ogre stretches out her hand and the massive shadow of it looms over the girl as it slowly descends downwards to engulf her. The tiny points of her demonic eyes burn in the dark light filled with a new found resolve of purpose that is somehow quite chilling. Down, down, comes the deadly claws, those wickedly curved nails menacing and ominious.
Just when it seems as if the moment Ayame had been anticipating had arrived, that dreadful instant of inevitable betrayal from the creature that could want only to deceive or harm, Riki reaches just past the prone form on the cot and draws the folds of a thin blanket up from the far side of the floor. She pulls the sheet across the priestess with a slow tug then reaches out again and draws a pillow forth to place under the girl's head.
"Rest now, girl." The small green talisman, forgotten and discarded on the floor is gathered up delicately between her nails and she places it atop the blanket on Ayame's chest. "Keep this near. If you speak the truth then tis possible that this demon may become consumed by his anger and seek revenge upon thee for whatever harm that may have been visited upon his manifestation in your efforts to return him whence he came."
The ogre pushes to her feet and turns to move towards the door of the shack, each heavy footstep causing the old wooden frame to rattle slightly. She pauses there and peers back, hesitating.
"I shall stand guard this night. In the morning, I shall ferry you to safety, where ever that may be in your eyes." Her fist tightens suddenly, those wicked nails biting deep grooves into the wall and frame of the door. Her lips pull back into another noiseless snarl but her outrage is not directed at the girl but at the spectre of the many failure that lingers over her head. Never again.
"No harm shall come to you while I stand watch. Of this, you have my vow!"
If it were possible to will herself directly through the cot when the 'threatening' reach comes for her, Ayame would have done just that. Instead, all she can do is shrink back, clearly fearing the worst, bracing for the attack she expected all along. When the gesture is finished by gently tucking a blanket over her, shifting a pillow into optimal positioning, and even returning her sole surviving talisman, the paranoid priestess looks visibly flummoxed and even defeated by the unexpected pampering.
She is quiet as the ogress speaks of the risk of retribution. Closing her eyes for a moment, she thinks back on the events toward the end of the violent conflict. While her mental images are incomplete, she has the vague sense that if the Scorpion had wanted to secure his retribution, he had passed on the opportunity already. No... his antipathy was for someone else. But she doesn't try to disabuse the oni of the notion that there could be some threat, eyes staring at the powerfully built shoulders of the guardian spirit.
Her expression is unreadable, a neutral mask as she wrestles with the turmoil of conflicting emotions within the chambers of her soul. So much brute strength, yet all the dejected creature did with that power was show her kindness and care. Try as she might, Ayame could not find even an iota of deception in the emotions that were put on display. Instead, she was faced with simple honesty and no hidden agenda that could be detected. If anything, the openness has become almost grating, the miko considers irritably, gritting her teeth.
If she were not intimidated by the powerful build of the oni, if she were in full health, armed with her full arsenal, instead of cowing beneath a blanket atop a cot in some ramshackle shack... maybe she'd even antagonize the oni... 'Some guardian you turned out to be, look what happened to your shrine. Hah!' Revelling in her bitterness is the only recourse Ayame seems to find in the moment even as the vow is made that she will be protected from all dangers, real or imagined.
Being watched over by a demon! How can she be grateful for that! Then why does she feel like she should be?! Her hands clench beneath her comfortably tucked blanket, her head sinking into her carefully placed pillow as she glares at the ceiling once more.
Another glance is made toward the exit of the shack, but her thoughts are no longer about wanting to escape into the night. Grunting, the miko burrows a little further under the blanket. "My name is Ayame." she offers, the statement made abruptly and without any intimation that she expects a name in reply. Indeed, her thoughts are already starting to slip to other, darker places. Maybe... maybe she could use the simpleton? Could her strength be put to use for herself? How could she justify that though - a demon's strength should NEVER be a tool... that path could only possibly end in ruin.
In spite herself, she can't help but circling back to the idea though. Is the oni released of her prior guardianship with the loss of the shrine? What great things she could accomplish with the ogress at her side?
Maybe there is an upside to this horrible night after all?
The towering silhouette of the miko's self-appointed guardian lingers in the doorway for a few moments, searching her unreadable features for some slight hint that her promise to keep the girl safe had granted her some small iota of comfort, but all she finds is stone-faced neutrality. With a soft sigh, the oni turns and ducks to exit through the small opening, turning herself sideways to try and avoid unintentionally turning it into a much wider hole.
She's only been stuck in this body for a month or so but human doors are already near the top of her list for things of things that are quite annoying. She's about halfway through the process of awkwardly shimmying outside, her arms raised over her head to grip the far side for leverage, when the name is tossed in her direction. The demon pauses and peers back at the cot through a gap in her blonde hair and outstretched biceps, blinking in surprise.
She opens her mouth to say something in return but realizes that it might look somewhat ridiculous to hold such a pose for long, so instead she wiggles out into the night and then pops her head back in through the opening and offer the girl a faint smile.
"I am known as Riki."
This revelation is probably unsurprising at this point, the great hulking woman who seems incapable of subtley or subterfuge having a name that means quite literally 'strength'. Well, atleast it should be easy to remember.
"If you require anything of me, you have only to ask, priestess. There is food and water at your side."
She holds up a hand, sticking it into the shack and makes a circle with her index finger. There is a soft pop as reality shifts around it and suddenly a massive bowl of red wood rests in her palm, faint signs of golden inlay glittering in the dim light. The oni grins, displaying the first sign of genuine mirth since their meeting.
"And, if you happen to desire something a bit more fiery, I can oblige as well."
The bowl is pressed to her lips and she tilts her head back, slurping deeply of the contents within. The requisite sigh of contentment escapes her lips when she has drained the dish and she winks at Ayame before withdrawing out of sight, the shack's door closing softly behind her.
Log created on 22:59:58 06/19/2016 by Ayame, and last modified on 10:27:41 06/21/2016.