Description: Thanks is slow in coming from the injured, bedridden miko of the Meian Jinja. But after enduring a crushing defeat at the hands of a man, and being fought for and carried home in the arms of a demon, Ayame Ichijo is forced to reconsider a way forward that can better prepare her for the challenges to come. Besides, it's time for that guardian oni to quite loafing around the shrine so much!
Riki isn't quite sure how much time has passed when she opens her eyes again. The heavy grains of deep sleep cling to her lids thickly like sealing wax, forcing her to lift a massive hand in order to wipe the residue of slumber away as she struggles to bring her mind into focus. It's almost completely dark, the only only light a faint glow that filters in through the pale panels of rice paper that comprise the far wall. The rythmic chitter of insects from beyond the thin barrier add yet another piece of evidence to quickly mounting evidence that night has fallen since she dozed off.
A quick glance around reveals her to be in a moderately sized bedroom. It is mostly bare save for a few essential pieces of furniture: a desk and chair next to a simple dresser with a standing wardrobe tucked off in one of the corners. Even in the near darkness, her demonic vision can pick out most of the subtle details that a human could not. Thin stacks of blank paper sit atop the desk, arranged into neat piles by someone who seems to possess an almost pathological need for straight edges, not one single sheaf even mildly out of sync with those beneath it. A handful of the slips sit off to one side, covered in intricate flowing writing wroght by the same hand of utter perfection.
She recognizes them immediately - talismans. The same sort wielded by the clergy of temples for as long as she can remember, including the young priestess to who's service she is now sworn.
The ogre's gaze sweeps to the side at the thought of her ward, a sharp and sudden need to see the girl's face rising up at the thought. She finds Ayame only a few feet away from her own resting spot, tucked underneath a thick blanket to ward off the chill of the evening. Only her face is visible from beneath the folds of the futon but Riki doesn't need to see the battered and bruised body. The memories of their battle with the arrogant silver-haired fox are fresh in her mind.
A growl rises up in her throat involuntarily but she quickly bites it back. A hand is run through her messy mane of blonde hair, thick fingers gripping at her scalp as she leans her head forward to rest it upon the surface of her palm, anguish overtaking her features.
She had failed. Even though the girl had fought her presence at every turn, rebuked her offers for aid and company, it was still an oath she had sworn to keep her from harm. Oh, she had thought herself clever allowing the child to face that man on her own. Thought it might teach her a lesson or two, should she get knocked down a peg or two. Had she but known his true intent.
Grief swells up inside of the demon's chest and she closes her eyes tightly, teeth grinding in the darkness. Regardless of the deception, it had been her pledge to keep Ayame safe. Much like the temple she had once stood guard over, the girl was now a broken wreck and all she had been able to accomplish was to pick up the pieces and run away.
It was never clear what the battered miko saw or heard throughout the fierce battle that followed her collapse. She moved little, panting for breath, face flush with pain and smeared with blood. She had been punched, kicked, and stomped by one of the hardest hitting men in the fighting world today. A man who was deliberately trying to destroy her, to break her down, render her incapable of resisting. Chaolan had such big plans for her, his little project, his promising rising star!
But she was alive, and based on the occasional shifting on the the ground, fingers sometimes reaching for her broken staff, she was also vaguely aware of what was going on around her. She never uttered a word though, making a soft grunt when Brandon discreetly slipped a tracking card beneath her haori coat - a careful fail safe in case the Violet Industries megalomaniac made good on his threat to cart the defeated girl off. And she rolled onto her side to catch glimpses of Riki's valiant effort against the powerful man, and Brandon's brave last stand...
But by the time it has concluded, she's out, eyes closed, body limp. The tyrant is carted away in the ambulance that had been intended to transport the miko away from this place, but as staff and crew scatter from the SNF gone horribly awry, and Brandon is injured to the point of needing to see to his own needs, having forced his body to endure great harm in the process of standing up to the monster, Riki alone is left to transport the fallen girl.
At the shrine, the two evening arrivals were given full attention with many of the residents and attendants already out and waiting for them when they arrive. Word around the compound had already been alight with talk about the fight - it was broadcast after all, and while the girl could never quite tell if her parents actually watched her bouts, the stricken look on their faces the moment the ogress passed through the torii is more than enough to make it clear that they know. Of course, by then, the oni's natural restorative gifts had done her great services in concealing the damage she had endured.
The mortal girl is not so fortunate. Her parents are attentive, the concern in her mother's expressions readily seen, and while her father puts on a good show of not being too moved by the state their daughter is in, the worry just beneath the surface of his countenance would be revealed to the guardian's perceptive eye. Both of them are thanking Riki profusely.
A physician arrives not long after, having already been on the road to the remote shrine at the behest of Ayame's parents. A trusted friend of the family, he looked over her, helped her mother clean up the blood, dress the scrapes abrasions, and stitch the cuts, and finally took his leave after assuring them that the hardy girl had not yet fought her last.
Hours have passed since then, Ayame and Riki left to rest in the girl's room, her family not far, a few still awake elsewhere in the old living quarters of the Meian Jinja. The first sound the efficiently blanketed girl makes other than steady breathing is a cough. An irritated expression is her way of greeting the waking world, scowling for a moment as she starts to become aware of the countless ways she hurts. But finally she blinks her eyes open, perhaps only then becoming aware of another's presence in the room.
A large, black silhouette against the moonlight visible through the thin sliding door is all she needs to figure out who it is that has sat vigil for however long she was out. Blinking again, she turns her head to the side to stare at the wall adjacent to the side of her futon. "H-hey," she mutters. "Have we not found you your own room yet?" She shifts a little, shoulders moving beneath the blanket, only to wince and become immediately still again. Okay, she isn't going anywhere for a while.
Her forehead is wrapped with a bandage and both of her eyes look blackened. A stitched cut on her eyebrow is covered with a large bandaid, situated in too awkward a place to wrap more effectively. But none of that compares to the pain in her hip, the reason she decides not to even fidget for now.
"Did..." She glowers, looking like she's irritated that she feels obligated to ask, looking away from the wall back toward the huge company occupying her room. "Did Mister Malone make it out okay?"
It isn't until Ayame speaks that her guest takes notice that she has awoken. The large shaggy head lifts from its resting place on her palm to peer down at the prone girl with a face filled with worry. Mentally, she curses herself, sure that her foolish noise making had somehow stirred the priestess from her much needed rest. Just one more sin to add to the growing list of mistakes she's made today.
"Forgive me," she says, bowing her head in response. Her voice is soft and consoling but she cannot hide the tinge of remorse that seeps into it. "But I could not in good conscience leave thy side for an instant. If that devil had sent his minions to pursue us and attempted to steal thee away in the darkness..."
The demon's eyes squeeze shut again, her hands balling up into fists in her lap with such force that the grinding of of her flesh is can be heard. She goes quiet for several seconds, unable to speak through the emotion that seizes her body as it locks her muscles up into painful knots. Her head tilts forward until her chin rests upon her collarbone, the massive woman's body shaking with a mixture of rage and sorrow.
"The other man... the one who helped you. He was able to escape as well. He said he would be in contact."
When she finally speaks again, control has returned to her voice, though it is the sort of calm that is forced into place. Riki takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, her gargantuan sigh as unsubtle as everything else about her. This isn't the time for self-pity. She has to focus on how she can help, even if that just means sitting in the corner like a gargoyle for as long as it takes for the girl to regain her strenght. A week? A month? A year? The gods themselves will not uproot her from this child's side.
Rubbing a hand over her face in an attempt to wipe the last traces of weariness and grief from it, Riki offers a faint smile down at the miko and draws her pipe out of its ethereal storage space. A small bag, well small by ogre standards, is plucked from somewhere inside of her tunic and fresh herbs stamped into the bowl by thumb. Within a few moments the pleasant aroma of spiced herbs begins to drift through the air, much akin to the smell of incense often burned in offering to the gods.
The ogress leans back against the wall and exhales a thin stream of smoke at the ceiling, fighting off the urge to add a bowl of sake to the list of vices she draws upon to calm her frayed nerves. She doubts the girl would understand the gesture and, for once, she doesn't feel like antagonizing her over such a petty thing.
"How are you feeling?"
It's a stupid question. She saw what was done to the girl, what brutalities were inflicted upon her body. She experienced some of it herself, her own ineptitude allowing the man to gain the upperhand on her despite her clear advantages. Even her reinforced body, flowing with righteous power, had been hard pressed to shake off the sort of damage that had been done. What suffering must a mere human girl be enduring after such vile assaults?
Regardless of already knowing the answer, she asks anyways. Perhaps simply having the chance to complain about it will make the girl feel better. Maybe it will awaken a spark of outrage, a fury directed at the guardian for failing once more in her duties. Strangely, Riki would welcome such chastisement right now. It seems so unjust that she should suffer so little while her failure is so plain.
At her apology, Ayame is already grimacing - an expression born by pain and irritation at the outpouring of emotion she finds herself confronted with from the oni. She's quiet until her question concerning Brandon is answered, but then she immediately pipes up again. "Tch, if I knew it would make you whimper like that I..." She exhales, releasing a pent up breath, her expression relaxing, "Forget I said anything." she mutters imperiously before falling quiet.
The priestess takes another breath before continuing with a more subdued, less antagonistic tone. "Of course you would be here..." A simple statement of fact, yet behind it is a world of potential meaning, none of which she chooses to elaborate on.
The look the oni gets when she asks her question concerning the girl's well being is silently caustic for several seconds, as if Ayame is struggling to put to words the utter ridiculousness of a question like that, yet in her injured state is incapable of formulating the most acerbic, biting response that her sardonic mindset wants her to.
But even that moment fades with passing time without her giving actual voice to the thoughts that were clearly written on her face, easily discernible by the demon's vision in the dark. "I am not a fool," she finally declares. "I already knew full well he is stronger than I am. I fought him once before... but he was holding back then." She frowns, eyes averting to the wall as if to avoid the large black shape cast by the moonlight lit sliding door. "I just did not know how much more powerful... until now."
She winces again, reminded of the pain in her ribs from his initial blows. How could she not manage to defend against any of that stuff? She knew how he fought!
"Clearly..." she continues, her voice less steady now, "There needs to be some changes around here." Her eyes snap back toward Riki then. Even though she can't make out the exile's features clearly, she can still see the outline of her shape. "Clearly, you are not strong enough for this task you have taken upon yourself!"
The words are spat out, her disapproval palpable as she lets them linger in the air before shifting slightly, eyes half-lidded before she continues, "And..." A soft exhale before she looks down along her blanketed body. "Apparently... either am I." There is resignation in her voice, an acknowledgement that was hard in coming. She had faced insurmountable forces before, but they were monsters, not men. That such a gulf still existed between herself and what, for as best she could tell, was just another human being, was simply not something she had come to terms with before.
Eyes flick back toward Riki, her tone hardening, "We have to get stronger." Not I. "No more lazing about the shrine for you. You will be joining me in my training regimen for now on." From being around the Jinja, Riki would already be well aware of Ayame's intense kata routines with her staff in the garden, her practice at forcing chi to manifest and bend to her needs, and even the study she puts in to continue and refine her Onmyoujutsu. But she had always trained alone, not interested in anyone helping her ever since she surpassed her father's skill with the staff two years ago.
She closes her eyes, settling her head against her pillow again. "The threats against this refuge are mounting..." Open again, she glances back toward Riki. "Lee Chaolan will not be easily swayed, he is a man obsessed. But there is still the matter of Noboru's warning to be concerned about. I can feel it... the danger gathering outside these walls. We have to be ready for it."
Riki does not recoil at the words hurled into her face like a dagger. They bite into her, stinging her pride and her soul, but she is prepared for them because she already knows that they are true. The calmness that has overtaken the ogre does not waiver under the assault of the girl's anger save for a small shift in her expression, a faint hint of sadness in her eyes as she nods quietly in assent.
What she was not prepared for is the words that follow. The ogre's brows rise in surprise and she tilts her head to regard the small girl at her feet, unsure that she heard her correctly. Within moments, however, new surprises are piled upon the first, words that she had never expected to hear come barking out in Ayame's harsh tone in regards to herself, especially not after such a horrific failure.
The ogre waits quietly as the priestess speaks, pipe hanging loosely from her lips and filling the small room with an ever growing cloud of scented smoke, her mouth pressed together in a firm neutral line. It isn't until Ayame turns her gaze back towards the demon that she finally shows some hint of emotion again. The corners of her lips slowly curve upwards into a grin and a deep rumbling sound fills her throat as she lets out a short chuckle full of amusement.
"Hmm hmm hmm! Perhaps one of us struck their head harder than I thought. It almost sounds as if thou art seeking out mine aid."
Riki takes another drag on the pipe, her eyeslids drooping lazily to a half-closed state. She leans sideways and sprawls out on the floor next to the futon, propping her head up on one hand, the shift in stance bringing her face much closer to the girl without forcing her to lean awkwardly over her resting place. The pale moonlight filtering through the rice-paper door is enough to highlight the prominent angles of her features, her indolent smirk peering out from underneath the ragged mess of blonde that spills over her eyes.
"It will be a mighty undertaking, keeping a layabout such as myself dedicated to such an... onerous task," she says, making it sound like the very thought of hard work appalls her to the core; or would, if she could muster up enough effort to display such emotion. She tilts her head to towards the ceiling slightly, lazily exhaling the newest puff of smoke from the corner of her mouth in a deliberate and languid fashion. "Art thou sure that thy possess the resolve to see it through?"
Most sources of avocational smoking would fill the room with noxious fumes, rendering breathing more difficult and leaving a stench that anyone accustomed to the filthy habit common in Japan would know quite well. But the smell from the ogress's pipe is aromatic, soothing in a way, the scent of spices and flowers one might associate with a hot cider on a crisp autumn morning. Not even Ayame can find anything to complain about the smell that permeates the room as she remains immobilized beneath her blanket, watching the oni without turning her head often.
"Che." she retorts to the initial response she gets. Seeking aid from a demon? Impossible! "I implied nothing of the sort." the ornery miko glowers, watching Riki out of the corner of her eyes as the giant slides herself into reclining adjacent the futon, occupying the space between the occupied bed and the desk against the wall. "But I cannot seem to get rid of you." she continues. Has she ever really tried? The verbal abuse has been none too welcoming, to be sure, but for one who prides herself on her prowess against Darkstalkers, never once had the girl made motions to take arms against the resident oni. Her parents' invitation to the outcast forbade her from considering something like that, at the very least.
"So it stands to reason that I should try and put you to work in some useful way." she finishes. She doesn't turn her face to watch Riki as she props herself up alongside the bedridden fighter, but she watches her out of the corner of her eyes all the same, her expression as dour as ever.
"Hmph." comes another grunt as Heaven's Exile intimates that it might be difficult to get her to not be such a lazy ogre. The girl's eyes trace up to follow the faint essence of smoke reflecting just enough moonlight to be visible in the dark. "I do imagine it will be a shock to your system - being useful for once - but I am sure I can make it happen." Her focus shifts to the ceiling above as she shifts hesitantly beneath her blanket, holding her breath at one point no doubt in response to some sharp discomfort experienced, before she becomes still again and resumes breathing like normal.
"I never wanted to end up in war with man," the girl murmurs, her voice contemplative, using words to share an actual sincere thought for once rather than using them to try and keep the resolute shrine guardian at bay. "I tried to stay out of the affairs of others... my obligation and duty is to hold the line against the dark things people cannot even begin to comprehend or defend themselves against."
A soft sigh, "But now..." She is quiet for a long moment as if having lost her train of thought. "Entering those tournaments was a mistake, I suppose. I never would have garnered so much attention or drawn so many distractions if I had not. But it is too late now for regrets. These diversions will simply have to be dealt with."
"Oni are notoriously stubborn sorts, quite the chore to uproot once they've set their minds to something," Riki says with an air of solemn knowledge, closing her eyes and nodding like a wise old hermit passing on a piece of treasured wisdom. She grips the pipe between two fingers and lazily blows another puff of the fragrant smoke into the air, her expression a casual grin of amusement at her own poke of humor.
The sudden shift in the ogre's demeanor from that of one barely able to contain their grief to her current state of relaxed detachment is certainly odd. Demons of war and violence such as herself rarely drift very far from the extreme ends of emotional display, either outraged, anguished, or joyous, sometimes going through all three stages of their limited social options in a single conversation. Riki herself had already proven that she was capable of unleashing the legendary wrath of an oni upon those who garnered her ire, and she seemed quite visibly overtaken by melancholy at the thought of having failed in her duties.
Yet, now, she looks like a cat that has successfully tricked its owner into performing some menial chore, the pale moonlight highlighting a subtly smug smirk of contentment as the girl lays out her plans for the coming days; plans that for the first time include the demon as an inherent part of them. She idly wonders if those words caused more pain to the poor child than the beating had. Perhaps later she'll ask.
"A life lived without risk or challenge is not any life that I would willingly seek out."
Riki's head tilts up and she stares across the room with a sleepy look through half-lidded eyes. The chittering chorus of insects continues to serenade them in the background and the ogress lets her mind wander past the thin screen of rice-paper to the wilderness beyond. Memories of ancient times drift to the forefront of her consciousness, days of struggle and conflict and strife - but also those of conquest and celebration, each victory made all the sweeter for the pain and effort poured into their making.
"This day is but one among many yet to come. Ye may have been beaten here but thy life remains thine own. Thy wounds will mend, thy bones knit. Learn from thy mistakes and ye shall rise all the stronger for their lessons."
Her gaze turns downwards to the girl once more and she leans forward, bringing her face fully into the light so as the give the human the benefit of being able to clearly see the smile she presents in the darkness.
"And maybe while we're at it, we'll work on making you a little more agreeable! Tis a wonder you have made but /one/ enemy, scowling like an old crone at everyone you meet."
Log created on 22:06:09 08/19/2016 by Ayame, and last modified on 01:45:17 08/31/2016.