Ayame - Mission #7: Enveloped in Solitude

Description: The visit at an awkward time does not seem to be happenchance. Already at the limits of her strength, Ayame is starting to find her exploits are garnering a dangerous amount of attention.

At one time, this was likely a tranquil place for someone to have settled down in some bygone decade. Situated far enough from any civilization that the nights skys here are unblemished by any city lights, it looks like it would have been a comfortalble home for someone who wanted nothing to do with society or modern contrivances. No power, no running water, no road. Just a lonely, old wooden home built atop a grass covered stretch of flat land that came to an abrupt drop only a few meters behind the place. The forset bordering one side of the location consists of tall, thin trees that still have their leaves in the higher branches, but the trees right outside of the cabin itself are dead and look to have been that way for many years.

However a peaceful refuge this might have been at one time, right now it looks like a battlefield. Divots have been gouged into the soft soil in several different directions, as if something had been scarring the turf with huge, bestial claws. Scorch marks abounded, some patches of grass still burning specitral blue foxfire that has yet to fully burn itself out. One wall of the cabin has been shattered outward, as if some great force errupted from within, scattering splintered boards and rotting debris in an outward cone. A huge radius of earth has been burnt to cinders and even still, green hellfire flickers, casting an unearthly glow into the slowly dimming evening ambience.

A six foot wooden staff stands askew out fo the ground where it looks to have been stabbed down with incredible force. Blood drips occasionally from its upmost point, splashing into the thirsty dust beneath it. Shreads of paper are scattered across the terrain, caught in the dead branches of trees or in the dry blades of grass, many of it bearing scorched edges and some are large enough to make out fragments of intricate glyphs and sigils on their marred surfaces.

And finally, the lone living person in sight rests, her back propped against the wooden framework of an old well, her chest heaving as she gasps for breath. Her kimono-styled top with long, billowing sleeves was probably white at one point, but is now stained brown with dirt, grey with ash, and dark crimson with drying blood. Her arms are at her sides, hands resting in the dirt as her head leans back against the well wall, long, strawberry-blonde hair cascading against her shoulders and back, restrained only by the sizeable red ribbon tied into a bow behind her head. The red knee-lengthed skirt at her waist is cut in places, split over her left thigh where a deep scratch can be seen. Her right foot is missing its sandal, the article of clothing no doubt sitting somewhere among the grass.

The well itself seems to be the epicenter of whatever great catastrophe transpired here. The sun had been high in the sky when the young priestess had arrived, a long trail of of clues leading her to the home of a bitter, vengeful wraith - a kyokotsu - 'crazy bones.' The deaths of hunters and explorers in the neighboring woods had been few and long between, but what made them memorable was the brutalized state in which their bodies were found in. It was if they had been mauled by a great bear that had no taste for flesh, only murder.

Slowly, the young demon hunter lifts her right arm to wipe at a gash across her cheek before inspecting the cloth to see how much blood comes away. "Tch." She'll live, she decides between gasps for breath. That was too close. The creature was even more fierce than she had anticipated.

The well behind her back is now covered with a thick wooden plank that appears to be of new construction compared to anything else man made at the site. Intricate runes decorate its surface accompanied by inscriptions in several common languages warning all who come across this place to leave the seal in place or suffer the consequences. Sacred rope is entwined around the beams of the cover, the strands now swaying in the breeze settling into the area as evening begins to fall.

One by one, dark wings return to roost atop the cabin and the dead trees outside of it. The crows had scatted when the battle began, but have wasted no time reclaiming their turf. Even as she sits catching her breath, Ayame of the Ichijo clan of powerful spiritualists can't help but feel like the returning crows consider her an unwelcome presence. Glaring back at them for a moment, a smirk slowly forms over her features.

If they want to make something of it, she has plenty of fight still in her, she thinks to herself.

As the aphorism goes, 'no rest for the wicked.' However, anyone who knows anything about wickedness understands that it is usually the province of the wicked to enjoy leisure; anyone who considers themselves righteous is usually far too busy pursuing the great cause of their righteousness to have time for relaxation. Someone like Ayame, who has dedicated herself -- for whatever reasons, be they fair or foul -- to hunting the beasts who lurk in the darkness, likely finds these blood-soaked moments of respite to be rare and precious indeed. For a few moments out of her day, nothing befanged is attempting to rip her to shreds. A common person could hardly appreciate the necessity of both the service and the reward. But it just so happens that the young miko is about to receive a visitor that is anything but common.

With her level of spiritual attunement, the impending folding of space must register on her likely still-alert senses like a shadow passing over the sun. Indeed, somewhere in the trees at the edge of the path, hiding in evening gloom and just barely out of sight, SOMETHING is happening. Something noticeable and almost certainly unfamiliar, the coming of a palpable presence. Yet there is little fanfare; this intruder is discernible, but hardly advertising themselves. But perhaps even that in and of itself is the most brazen act of all; of knowing one's quarry will see you coming, and not actually caring one way or the other.

All at once, the crows atop the cabin where Ayame is taking her rest turn their beaks to the sky and caw, all seven of them out of tune and synch with each other. The resulting cacophony is frustratingly loud and likely quite irritating, the birds' caws overlapping with one another, turning the illusion of communication into just so much noise. However, just as swiftly, the birds fall silent, and from the edge of the treeline comes... a girl?

She could not seem more out of place if she tried. Her dress is in the Gothic lolita style, an intense flurry of night-black petticoats, red velvet, and white lace with what can only be called a decidedly Transylvanian air. Her gold-blonde hair streams behind her in two long pigtails, each secured with a length of black ribbon which itself spikes upward around them, giving a viewer at the distance the impression they're observing a person with rabbit ears. Chunky wedge heels, verging on platform shoes, make thick, earthy sounds with every step she takes, until this figure is at a... respectable distance. There, she stops, swinging both hands forward and driving her only accoutrement -- an ornate black umbrella -- into the ground tip first.

"One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a wedding. Most can't agree on if four is for birth... or for death," the diminutive blonde says in a perfectly calm, even tone of unfazed detachment. However, her crimson eyes are a stare somewhere between curiosity and casual disdain that she turns on Ayame unflinchingly. "Five for silver, six for gold... and then seven for a secret never to be told, which is worth more than the previous two combined."

The seven crows caw. In unison, this time.

A smile, slight but discernible, friendly but in an unsettlingly peaceful way -- this is what crosses the face of someone who appears to be no more than 12 years old. "I greet you, Ayame Ichijo," the girl says, sketching the faintest of bows.

There will be no payment for the job done. While there was a bounty posted for taking down whatever wild beast was killing men in these parts over the last couple of decades, there would be no way the girl could convince anyone that the creature in question was now thoroughly contained by the resealed well at her back. No. For the rest of the world, the string of murders will go stopped yet unsolved, and for the girl who put her life's blood on the line for such an outcome, the only reward will be whatever grim satisfaction she can take in having bested another powerful aberration.

Of course, compared to the Blood Weaver and Succubus Queen she had recently battled, the clawed wraith spawned from some grudge long since forgotten to the rest of the world was nothing. That it presented the challenge it did just reminded her of the gulf between where she was at now and where she needed to get to be be capable of battling those monsters on her own. As such, even the satisfaction taken is limited.

She turns when something is sensed off to the side. Her attunement to the ebb and flow of the natural energies of the world is strong for a human and outright phenomenal for one her age, capable of rivaling the awareness of monks who had been exercising such skills for a generation or more. It hurts to move, but will honed by a life of austere deprivation by her own choice is more than enough to overcome such minor inconveniences. A soft grunt escapes her lips, the girl twisting her body so that she turns up to her knees, torn-sleeve covered arms draping over the top of the wall for support as she gasps for further breath.

Okay, maybe standing so soon IS out of the question.

Brown eyes remain fixated on the forest's edge as she rests awkwardly, propped up only by the well as she works on convincing her legs that it's time for action again. That ANYTHING is out here is cause enough for alarm, and in her present condition, she is even more paranoid of the implications than she would normally be.

When the traveler steps into the open, the miko's concerns are not slightly alleviated by her visitor's harmless looking appearance. Tired but sharp eyes study the new arrival with all the approachability of a tom cat. She knows better than to be disarmed by youthful appearance or even a docile or impassive demeanor.

But the child-like figure stops far enough away that Ayame does not feel the need to force herself into further activity just yet - a fact her body is grateful for. She is silent at the recitation but when the crows provide their own accompanying cry and the poet turns her attention toward the battle weary girl, she releases a soft grunt of what almost sounds like amusement. This is new, to say the very least. And new things can be interesting.

"Greetings." She doesn't move, arms still draped over the well, chin resting at its edge, as if she looks like she might be content to just sleep that way for a spell. But there is the subtle shift of where her hands are placed, her right hand inching closer to the opening of her left sleeve.

"I will have to ask you to pardon my not rising to receive you a bit more properly quite yet. A young lady of your standing deserves better." The inflection in her voice makes it clear she's well aware she isn't addressing a twelve year old. As to how timeless this one might be, she can only guess though. "I would also apologize for the mess, but..." she lifts her head a little from the supporting wood to glance back toward the ramshackle hovel. "I do not feel this place fitting enough to belong to you."

There is something about the smile on this young girl's face. It is almost never openly antagonistic; there is nothing in the curvature of the bloodless lips, or the cast of the vaguely heart-shaped face, that openly suggests mockery or boredom in the same way that a typical person's body language often does. Even the smallest twitch of a normal person's features is often enough to convey volumes compared to what Ayame finds herself looking at. AND YET, despite all that, Rachel Alucard's smile conveys much about her demeanor anyway. It may be that the young girl's aura hides behind the carefully-crafted expressionless-ness of her seemingly blank facial expressions. The result is a bit like a cardboard cut-out shape in a colored photo frame; its bland formlessness conveys form by suggesting absence rather than creating presence.

As it is, the diminutive vampire raises her chin slightly and inclines her head to the side, speaking as if she were examining some long-lost curiosity, something she had not expected to find exactly where she found it. "Ara? I'm pleased to find you a woman of charming graces, Miss Ichijo," Rachel says, closing her eyes with a smile. "You will find in me a woman of..." And here, a weighty pause, "...similar breeding, or at least similar manners. I would never trouble a warrior to stand on ceremony in the presence of nobility after a hard-won battle."

Now, the scarlet eyes open, and with just the slightest fractional change in her expression, Rachel's demeanor goes from blithe disinterest to vaguely predatory amusement with a swiftness. "And it *was* a hard-won battle, was it not?" It is not even as if much changes; the curl of her smile twists just a bit, the last few centimeters separating 'amused' from 'cruel'; her eyes open, just enough so her stare appears heavy-lidded rather than unconcerned. So little has changed and yet, their meaning obviously has, demonstrating how thin a line indeed separates moods even for immortals.

"You may rest easy," Rachel says, that moment of predatory appraisal vanishing as swiftly as it came. Her eyes briefly dart to where Ayame's hand slips toward her sleeve, before meeting the huntress's eyes once more. "Had I been interested in attacking you, I'd have taken my opportunity well before now, and we wouldn't be here having this rather amicable chat. Though I must say, I am surprised. Were you always so... well-mannered, Miss Ichijo?"

And here, the silver sound of light laughter. "Of course, we are only meeting now, for the first time, are we not? Mayhap I have you confused with someone else."

A slight nod of visible appreciation is offered for the excuse to stay put. For now, she can entertain the dialogue. She doesn't know enough yet and as of late she's come to learn just how dangerous gaps in knowledge can be. As of now, she was only alive because of motives unknown in not just one creature of the night, but two. That neither Morrigan Aensland nor Jedah Dohma took her own young life when they had the chance is not something she has been able to stop thinking about. Two times she could have died, two times she was spared. She can't gamble on a third such 'mercy.'

A soft snort is her immediate reply regarding the difficulty of the battle. That slight twist in tone and mien is enough to convey a whole different meaning all together. And while Ayame's expression doesn't shift in the slightest, her visitor has long since needed to rely on outward appearances to read intentions or reactions. There's the uptick in her heartbeat, the subtle drip of adrenaline, nearly tapped out form her intense battle, the slight change in the speed of her next intake of breath.

"I have had worse."

Even without the reach for her sleeve with her supply of prepared talismans is running low, there is no question the exhausted priestess is preparing for a fight.

Even the declaration that such expectations are not necessary doesn't seem to calm her in the slightest though she maintains that faint smile all the same, an expression well practiced even if rarely used, just one of many similiar masks for many situations.

"Yes, I suppose we would not." So maybe she really is here to talk. Somehow... that really isn't that comforting.

But it's the question that catches her off guard. A normal person watching her dirt stained face wouldn't even detect it. That single blink. The way her right eye narrows ever so slightly - not in confusion but rather surprise that she is making active effort to not betray. Does she taste the almost forced nature of her politeness? The inflections are perfect, the diction exemplary... and yet... there is that lack of sincerity to her mannerisms, affectations born of expectation rather than nature.

Slowly, she presses her hands against the well, no longer reaching for her sleeve. Her legs are feeling more cooperative now as she gets to her feet, still using the seal on top for support. Another torn talisman falls to the dirt at her side through a cut in her sleeve, some other carefully crafted weapon no doubt damaged in the war that happened here.

"I cannot imagine..." she feigns to think on the question, "At what time I would have been any different than I am now." Another dip of her head, eyes closing so very briefly, "Perhaps... someone else comes to mind afterall."

Pushing up with her hands and toes, she manages to heft herself into a seated position atop the well now containing the vengeful wraith she had just narrowly defeated.

She must be very confident in that seal.

"I hesitate to wonder... that you came here looking for me?"

"No," Rachel says sweetly at Ayame's response. "I suppose you can't."

To an outside observer with no real understanding of this type of individual -- and both ancient vampire and young huntress may have more in common than either would be willing to admit -- this conversation would seem terribly dull, full of polite back and forth that seems to be a torrent of empty words and formalities. To the experienced eye, however, even this short exchange has been a dance rich in subtleties. Both speakers have agendas, and both have investment in keeping their cards close to the vest. Where the untrained eye sees pro forma hollowness, the keen observer would know that these two are already dancing a narrow circle indeed, knives at the ready.

As the youth say, 'words can hurt'.

When Rachel speaks again, it is in that continued, airy tone, as if she is merely discussing something of no import with a stranger, comfortable that everything that comes out of their mouths is speculation at best, idle gossip at worst. "You presume correctly. After all, it would seem as if the nobility of the night have practically fallen over themselves to meet you to date, have they not?" The question is innocent enough, but how could she mean ANYONE other than Morrigan Aensland and Jedah Domah? Of course, in her own way, Rachel has used the question to make a statement: the diminutive vampire is no less among the higher orders of the dark than those individuals, though certainly she seems considerably less... aggressive. "I suspect there are a few others whose manners may be... lax. At least one is tied up in a domestic matter, at the moment."

And here, the girl brushes a lock of blonde hair from her face, glancing off to the side of the cabin and off the plateau's far edge, on to a clear and moonlit sky, the silver reflection of it making the pale cast of her complexion even more pronounced. "I do wonder what it is you've done to merit such attention, but I am, as ever, a slave to the whims of polite society."

With a few words, Rachel reveals plenty - much suspected already, but confirmation is a firmer foundation to build upon than theories. Not only does this one know about her previous trials, she also seems to number among those elite she has found. For years, she had tracked and defeated creatures of the night. Zombie bears, skeletal haunts, and vengeful spirits that just needed a bit more prodding to be sent back the right side of the veil.

But only recently was she forced to understand that such feats were merely training for the real war to come. Darker, more powerful forces were on the move. Even the well wraith was stronger than just about anything she had ever fought before. The teasing succubus and fel Blood Shaper were... orders of magnitude even more dangerous. All her preparation was for nought against their might. And now stands this one as well, another of their echelon then?

While she cannot tell such things simply by looking, she feels that her conclusion is close to the mark. Still, there is something different about her.

A dirty hand lifts to rub thoughtfully against her uncut cheek as she contemplates the encounters she has had. How many could claim the same and still live to speak it? And why DID she? "Saa..."

A bow of her head, hand dropping from her cheek to thunk against the well cap, eyes closed briefly before opening again. "It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that they went out of their way to make my acquaintance. I... feel that those encounters were by happenchance moreso than choice."

Well, she HAD been hunting Morrigan... only to discover herself in well over her head. But the Blood Lord? That was definitely a most misfortunate but not planned experience. Or. She blinks then, thinking back to where she discovered him, strangling the hapless werewolf she, herself, had been hunting. Was it mere coincidence? That he was already there, knowing where she would be, was an angle even her paranoid psyche hadn't considered before now.

A soft exhale. Rachel's declarations did provide answers. She would be remiss to not return the favor. "Both events were because I was simply doing what it is that I do." Her right hand pats against the well cap just loud enough to produce an echoing thud. "And I will continue to do so."

Her confident expression fades after a moment. There is something she had held back, and as her eyes shift away from Rachel to gaze toward the ground between the two of them, it's clear that she wrestles with saying anything further. That she is willing to show such mental deliberation might suggest she had already made up her mind, however.

"The succubus. She wants to fight me again someday." The words come out bitter to the taste even if they are true to the fel creature's words. The idea that she was spared to provide future amusement... while she wasn't so vain as to wish that she had died instead, the resentment such a circumstances produced is worn openly on her face.

Happenstance? Ayame might have the satisfaction of realizing the look of surprise that crosses Rachel's face is genuine at hearing this, though it may be tainted somewhat by the undisguised flicker of disappointment that is threaded below the surface, as if she were a teacher that had asked a thought-provoking question and got a most mundane answer indeed in response. Curling the fingers of one hand inward toward herself, the Alucard heiress examines her nail tips idly. "How interesting, to hear you say you *avoid* disingenuity," she says thoughtfully, before looking up at letting her crimson-eyed stare fall on the miko again, blandly. "And to do so in the service of humility is equally... interesting."

Walking forward, idly, Rachel strolls along toward the cabin, now that Ayame has... not exactly retreated, but certainly made for the relatively safety of the warded well. Or does she fear that Rachel will try to force open the seal and let the wraith out? "And what exactly is it that you do, Miss Ichijo?" Rachel asks, distractedly curious again, the sound almost a sort of self-satisfied purr for lack of a better word. "Beyond the obvious, anyway. I feel it no largess to admit that you intrigue me. Hunters of the dark are a dying breed... and more and more of them seem to be raised like that wayward shaman, whose singular purpose puts rather particular blinders on his vision. But you?"

The short vampire girl turns to the miko with a MOST unsettling smile, that predatory note seeping into it once again, perhaps even unbidden. "I see in you someone who has walked the path of the dark too long to deny its place in the world, though I wonder if even you recognize the how and why of that. Why is it that you take up staff and ofuda against the denizens of the dark, Ayame Ichijo? Satisfy my curiosity."

Brown eyes stay fixed on Rachel. This is a contest of observation and cautious probing, and she suspects she is grossly outmatched, not only in skill, but in the weapons of knowledge that were brought to the fight in the first place. Are there others that know so much as this one?

Ayame sits quietly as her candid explanation and deference to humility is commented on, but her mind is racing furiously at the implactions of each chosen word. Whispers of another exchange come to mind, the words painful for the feelings they revealed.

'It is hard... Around anyone else. The mask has felt heavier.'

Words shared with That Man in the one moment of abject honesty between the two of them. No games, no devices. It was a fitting way for the world to end.

But she has had many years to grow strong enough to bear the mask again, to hide forbidden knowledge and a past that never happened.

Why then does this one poke at it so? Her words cut too close to be coincidence, but she will also not come right out and say it.

But then she finds herself under attack by questions no one had asked. What IS she doing? And why?

Brown eyes widen slightly, the girl openly taken aback, leaning against her hands, legs hanging over the side of the well.

"That... is ALL I do." she replies after a second to reflect. She had pursued the destiny of her lineage with zealotry beyond which anyone could recall. No hobbies, no distractions, no side interests. All that mattered was the fight. She knew few in the world would be ready to defend themselves against the creatures of the night. She knew she had always had such gifts, if she would simply not flee destiny.

Instead of fleeing it, she had clutched hold of it so tightly there was no room for anything else in her life. Friendless, without avocation or interests that would not further her ability to fight them; for years her parents have fretted over their child's incomprehensible single-mindedness to the family legacy. Already her skill with staff and onmyoujutsu had exceeded their own.

The blood stained miko leans forward, eyes no longer following Rachel as the last trace of molten gold dips below the horizon and night begins in earnest. Her posture shifts, her mouth forming a faint frown, hands adjusting to clasp tightly in her lap. For the first time since the Noble One had arrived, her guard was down, shoulders lowered. There was that second question still hanging in the air.

Her mouth trembled. No one had ever heard the word come from her lips before and why should this one be the first to know? Is it because she asked? Is it because she has been dying to say the answer for as long as she could remember?



The word 'wasteland' hardly begins to describe the setting, here. Stumps of trees reach shattered wooden hands to a blood-red sky as if they are the lowest of demons, supplicating an unhearing Lord of Hell to abate their torment, however briefly. Whatever soil they stand in is littered with the shattered remnants of rocks and buildings, forever stripped of its life, nothing but grey and red dust. At the edge of the horizon is a crater, so immense in scope it seems as if a mountain was scooped out of the ground and then shattered to rain over the landscape.

At the edge of that crater stands a young blonde girl in black attire. She is attended by a wounded-looking but tall and regal man, greying in hair but vibrant and vigorous in stature despite his wounds. When he speaks, it is with surprising gentleness. "What will you do now, Lady Rachel?"

Reaching down, the vampiress picks up a handful of dirt and brings it up in front of her, then opens her palm. A sudden breeze blows the soil away, as if she were performing a last benediction for the very earth itself. "Soon, all of this will begin anew. We were fortunate enough to be given a second chance. Perhaps... a surfeit of them. But I am not sure that 'we' includes me anymore."

The man raises an eyebrow. "Why should it not? Surely you have earned--"

With a hint of... annoyance? Or perhaps imperious calm, the young vampire cuts off her conversational partner. "Oh, no. I have earned little. I will... watch. I will wait. Perhaps I shall amuse myself, nothing more, if this is what intervention has wrought."

This draws an audible gasp from the tall, regal man. "My lady! You..."

Her gaze moves to the middle distance. "It will be my penance, Valkenhayn. A... form of atonement."


The blood-red eyes of Rachel Alucard turn to the sky. The setting of the sun augurs the coming of night, when those who walk outside the realm of light and life let their kingdom rise from the shadows. When dreams are more important than realities and the boundaries between 'could' and 'did' start to break down. "Is that so?" she says, quietly, in response to Ayame's answer. Rachel takes a breath, brushes a stray gold pigtail from her shoulder. "How weighty a word like 'atonement' sounds coming from the mouth of someone with your tender years." The words are almost like a harlequin's joke, coming as they do from the apparent mouth of a twelve-year-old girl. She dips her head back down and looks at Ayame with a detached, quizzical air. "Tell me, Sisyphus; when you reach the top of the hill, what will you do then?"

The question is ridiculous, rhetorical; a reference to an ancient myth which the Japanese-raised Ayame has likely never encountered. Rachel herself seems to realize this and, before the miko has time to answer, the vampire waves the idea away with one dismissive sweep of her hand. "Never mind. Perhaps I have taken enough of your time this evening. I shall reflect on your answer, Miss Ichijo. As a token of thanks for your answer, allow me to give you a piece of advice: imagine, if you will, a bicycle. As long as the wheels turn, you have a swift and sure path ahead... or so I hear. The bicycle, as an artifact of the lower world," the Alucard heiress says loftily, perhaps recovering a bit of her humor, "is something which which I have little congress or interest."

There is a pause before she continues her story. "However, imagine now a great torrent of rain begins. The road turns to mud and the wheel, your swift steed, is now useless, mired in the unexpected muck. What, then, is the wisest course to speed you to your destination? You need not answer now. Merely reflect on it."

And then, perhaps, something inside Rachel appears to have reached equilibrium; having delivered this most obtuse and confusing parable, what she says next is positively pointed and direct by comparison. Turning away from the huntress -- exposing her back to a dangerous foe -- Rachel speaks up one final time.

"Was it... comforting to discover he lives?"

The battle weary priestess glances up from her perch atop the well. Her mouth is a faint frown, a glimpse of a reaction at having allowed emotion and truth to slip through her guard. But the frown fades to neutrality, what's said is said, what's done is done. The question is posed and Ayame stares back at her for a moment and it is unclear if she intends to answer the proposed question before Rachel spares her further consideration of the myth.

But then advice is offered, in the form of a riddle, and the girl's brow furrows, listening to the scenario and replaying it, word for word, in her head, even as it is still being uttered, so extensive is her capacity for parallel thought. It had been a while since she had been challenged like this. There was something alluring about it. There is even a hint of a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

The Noble Elite turns her back, exposing it to the huntress who has never echewed an opportunity to attack and Ayame still sits quietly. Until the next question is posed. There is a soft intake of breath then exhale audible behind the eternally young.

"Toward the end."

She speaks plainly now. No games, no layers.

"Everything I did was for him."

All the risks, all the battles, all the journeys through dark places, all the brushes with death. Let that be her answer.

The miko leans back atop her wooden throne, hands once again braced against the well cap to prop herself up, legs still dangling over the side.

"Thinking on it,"

She speaks into the night air after a moment has passed.

"When I reach the top... I will have the good sense to put a damn brace before the rock."

A drop of humor is in her tone. It had been... a long time since she had opened up to anyone. Why this one here and now? Her own ideals did not leave room for darkstalkers that were not the enemy. And maybe the traveler will be someday. For the first time she can recall... she really hopes not.

"I trust I will see you again someday."

She asks for no name from the apparent young. And she can't even begin to fathom when 'someday' would be to her. A week? A year? A lifetime? The tapestry of woven paths can be hard to understand when you can only see a single thread.

It is just as easy to lose perspective when you can ONLY see the forest, when individual trees have ceased to matter. Rachel Alucard cares for mortals, is fond of humans. It is the only saving grace that keeps her from crossing lines that most others of her rank and position have not, and this is a saving grace. If Rachel lost her ability to care about those single threads?

"Such loyalty is... commendable."

She'd have no choice but to burn it all to the ground.

Her back is still turned to Ayame as the Alucard heiress sweeps her arm around, the ebon umbrella in her hand suddenly snapping open with a dull but audible *WHMP* noise. "I thank you for your indulgence, Miss Ichijo. And as for your question? Just remember..."

With a sweep of the umbrella, the air around Rachel distorts, turning in on itself like a tiny maelstrom of wind, sweeping leaves and -- somehow -- the blood-red petals of roses into the air. These flutter to the ground, their drifting passage the only thing that accompanies Rachel's farewell answer, echoing into the silence that follows as she disappears:

"I will be watching."

Log created on 21:47:00 12/29/2014 by Ayame, and last modified on 19:14:49 12/30/2014.