Description: A herald of bad tidings, the gravely injured Miyama shinobi collapses within the courtyard of the Meian Jinja. Will Ayame Ichijo finally accept help with a situation spiraling rapidly out of her control?
The first, tentative fingers of an orange dawn spread across a purple sky, heralding the beginning of what promises to be a beautiful day. All of the early birds have long since gotten their worms, and have commenced singing boastfully about it to all of the other less punctual woodland creatures. Their twittering message of conceit is carried through the bamboo forest that surrounds the ancient walls of the Meian Jinja, buoyed by a chill north wind that sets the plants to swaying, their leaves rustling gently.
All of this beauty is lost on the figure that makes his way down the center of a weathered cobblestone path in the heart of the forest. Ancient stone lanterns pass slowly to either side as he continues ever onwards. With each heavy step his leather-clad foot leaves behind a dark red print, surrounded by small droplets of clear and crimson fluids that drip from his ragged clothing.
The newcomer's stride has devolved into a listing stagger. His pace is slow but constant, a dogged forward grind guided more by instinct than sight. His vision has long since gone dim. It is not his conscious mind that controls him, for that part of him is busy, Consumed in an endless universe of pain and suffocation. But let it never be said the Miyama are quitters.
To an outside observer, Noboru would appear to be little more than a walking corpse. A stumbling zombie that makes its way slowly down the middle of the path, paying no heed to respect or customs.
The hulking shinobi's once golden brown hair is matted down with blood. More of the crimson fluid leaks from somewhere along his scalp, though he is far too much of a bloody mess to know exactly where. His once dark blue coat is badly burnt and shredded, as is the rest of his clothing. All that remains in tact is a badly scorched weapon harness hanging several short knives.
Yet more knives of an altogether different make have been driven into his flesh. Their hilts protrude from his chest and shoulders, thighs, gut and arms. There must be at least twenty of them lodged in his body. And where there are not knives, the skin is peeling and blistered from heat.
Despite all of this damage, and the blood that still drips steadily from his numerous wounds, the Miyama continues to walk. His eyes are closed, and his pace is faltering. Blood bubbles up from his lips to stain the inside of his mask. But he can not stop. Not yet. He has a final mission to complete.
The ghoulish form of the dying ninja passes beneath the torii just as the sun crests the horizon. He can feel the space open up around him. The flickering forms of life burn into his closed eye, the swirling mass of chi imbued into the land impossible for him to ignore, even in this state.
Slowly the brutish form staggers to a halt. He sways, blood splattering the ground around him, and the open gate looming wide behind him.
And then he collapses to one knee, blood gushing from between his lips to smack his mask, and begin running down his chin. The sun peers down over the wall to beat across his shoulders, warming the man as the life continues to gush from his body. But he is not dead. He has strength yet, if he can only...only reach a little further.
The day starts early around the Meian Jinja. While the afternoons tend to be more populated as some of the part timers come in from nearby Southtown to help out around the place, those who call the remote shrine a home tend to get started before the sun is little more than a distant idea in the Eastern Sky. There are rows in the garden that need tending to and setup of some of the accoutrements expected to be ready for the earliest tourist or pilgrim to wander through. The rinsing basin near the inner wall entrance for proper cleansing needs to be cleaned and refilled. And the supply of wooden plates for inscribing wishes to be left on the Ema - a four sided stand with dozens of tiny hooks for hanging wishes - needs to be setup.
Everyday, the rituals are the same, the setup the same, everything is put in its proper place and treated with its proper respect. This early in the day, nothing really changes except for the weather.
Except this morning. Having a bloodied, dying man stumble through the open gates constitutes a significant change from the norm. If the walls could share their stories, this sight would harken back to the days of wars and bloodshed, when the Meian Jinja stood as a refuge to the wounded and lost, a single bastion of security for man against the world that would see his extinction. But in these far more 'civilized' days, no one presently engaged in the setup of the courtyard has ever seen such a thing.
A cry goes out, two young attendants, a boy and girl of roughly sixteen years old, are the first to notice. The red-headed girl rushes forward, dressed in the simple white kimono top and crimson hakama of a miko initiate. The black haired boy, dressed in simple, drab brown robes of a priest acolyte drops the buckets of water he was carrying to refill the purification trough to follow over after her. While shouting is hardly a recommended way for communicating around the normally tranquil complex, it is certainly the fastest and both of them don't hesitate to call out for help.
"Tch." Ayame takes notice, glancing over the second floor balcony of the large shrine building itself. The covered patio affords a commanding view of the courtyard and is where rituals are often conducted by the priests of the shrine. The girl's own clothing is a more simple variant of the elaborate, beribboned miko outfit she wears when wanting to make an impression, but the pieces are the same, with a white and crimson haori coat worn over a white kimono and tucked into crimson hakama. Her sleeves are tied up past her elbows with a single cord, a tasuki, which keeps her forearms and hands free for whatever setup work she was engaged in within the shrine proper. A crimson ribbon tied into a large bow behind her head keeps her long hair partially in check.
The priestess vanishes from view, exiting the main shrine building a minute later, striding across the open courtyard to draw closer to the younger two who have taken to crouching near the hunched over huge man, peppering him with useless questions, like if he's okay, or if he needs help.
"Quiet," Ayame barks as she brushes aside the boy to move in closer, leaning forward and identifying the man up close who was unrecognizable from a distance. Frowning, she stands up straight, looking out the open gate for a moment, as if evaluating whether something lurked outside that she needed to be aware of.
Exhaling, Ayame lifts her hand to rub two fingers against her forehead as she studies the surface injuries in silence as if trying to make up her mind about something. Finally, glancing to the girl, "Achi, go fetch the men, then alert my mother. This one might not make it to the hospital." That is one issue with the remote site - even the parking lot where the cars are situated is a twenty minute walk right back through the forest. No one gets in or out of this area very fast.
Nodding her head eagerly, the pig-tailed red-head charges off back toward the living quarters. Crouching down in front of the injured shinobi, she studies his face, mouth forming a faint frown, "You picked a bad place to come in your condition... but we will see what we can do." She's quiet for a heartbeat before adding such heartfelt concern, "You better live long enough to explain this choice."
The young priests and mikos and workers go about their duties, tending crops, filling buckets, tidying stands, all manner of other chores that responsible people do on a daily basis. Birds sing, animals scurry about in search of food, etc, etc. A typical morning for a rural shrine and one with which the residents are all too familar.
All of which looks suspiciously like a lot of effort. Within the walls of the shrine and it's industrious, if small, community, there is one individual who has yet to emerge to greet the morning; or rather, to wait for it to come along so that it can be greeted. Perhaps it is a facet of her demonic nature to take to the darkness but Riki has never been much of a morning person. More likely it has something to do with the several empty bottles of sake scattered around her person in a haphazard mess.
The large oni slumbers on the far side of the temple, tucked away in the corner of a half-empty storage shed, which had been the only space available large enough to serve as a makeshift room for the demon. The deep rumble of her snoring can be heard like distant thunder in the silence of the early morning, until the surprised commotion surrounding the arrival of a human pincushion breaks that sacred tranquility. It is not the noise, however, that rouses the drowsy giantess from her rest well ahead of schedule - she had been aiming for something much closer to noon - but a particular smell with which she is well acquainted.
Her nose twitches a few times involutarily but the unmistakable coppery tang on the air burrows through to her more instinctual part of her mind. Her eyes snap open and she sits up, her senses alert and body tensed. Upon finding nothing nearby she starts to relax but a fresh surge of wind brings the scent to her even stronger. Wary now, the oni climbs out of the pile of blankets and cushions serving as a makeshift bed and makes her way out into the courtyard.
She approaches slowly, taking the request of the master of this temple to avoid causing a panic to heart. Upon reaching the edge of the temple building itself she peers around the corner to survey the area and finds the scene unfolding near the temple gates. Frowning, she takes in the wounds that the man kneeling in the dirt has sustained. Someone had a rough night.
This has nothing to do with her. It might be best if she just keeps out of it. While her parents were more than willing to accept the guardian demon into their home, Ayame's icy demeanor towards her presence has yet to thaw in the slightest. Antagonizing her by making an appearance when it isn't needed might not be the best of ideas.
On the other hand... it could be fun. Besides, that's quite the sizable fellow they've got bleeding all over their fancy stone doorstep. They might need some more adequate muscle to help move him somewhere he can be tended to more easily.
Brushing her unruly mane of hair out of her face, Riki stretches and then begins to plod over towards the small gathering of people, her footsteps announcing her approach well before she arrives. She peers down at the miko with an unapologetic grin, arms crossing in anticipation of the girl's disdain and countering it with willful apathy for such sentiment.
"Hmph. Tis proving to be vertiable wellspring of excitement in thy company, girl. Doth thou often receive visitors in such a state?"
After a moment of nearly silent heaving, heavy shoulders trembling from the effort of expelling the mass of dark, coppery sludge from his wounded lung, the brutish shinobi slowly becomes aware of his surroundings once more. He can hear voices, young and full of controlled panic. The vibrant spikes of their auras burn in his mind, woven through the ambient energies of his storied surroundings.
The silk mask that covers Noboru's face from nose to neck is sodden with blood, clinging to the hard features beneath as he lifts his chin to face the children before him. His left fist rests atop his upright knee, right braced against the now gore-smeared stones. Clearly it is a struggle for him to remain mostly upright, but he is managing for now.
Concerned questions buzz about him like gnats, the noise threatening to distract him from his true goal. He can feel her near by. The distinctive register of her inner energies entering the courtyard, approaching at a measured pace. His face turns in her direction, eyes cracking their gummy seals of blood as his mission objective shoves the young boy aside and sends the girl scampering for help.
As she leans forward to identify him, Noboru's distinctive eyes stare back into hers. They are calm, and intensely focused. He does not have the look of a man afraid to die, who has staggered desperately toward the nearest source of help. He has the look of a man with a mission. Death will not stop him.
His chest heaves gently as he draws in a slow breath. internally he is arranging his thoughts with methodical calm, paring unnecessary words away to shorten and distill the sentences required of him. Speaking will be difficult.
"Ayame Ichijo." The words rumble wetly out of the large man's chest, much of the power drained from them, though each remains clear and distinct. He punctuates the greeting with a sharp-eyed glance over the miko's face, insuring that she knows he is lucid.
"Seishirou Ryouhara lives," he begins with stoic calm, as if reciting a series of statements memorized long in advance. "Deranged by grief, we fought over the hellfire shrine."
The big man is forced to stop, his chest rattling as he takes another slow breath. Chin shifting to one side, the mystic takes note of a near blinding aura some ways off, beginning to stir and move in their direction. He pays it little mind, however. His mission is not complete.
"He knows of you. He may attack. Be ready." Noboru breathes, blood dripping from his clothes to join the ever increasing puddle beneath him. The amount that he has lost already is staggering. Just how long had he been walking to have gathered so much of the stuff in his lung?
However, his mission is now complete. The young girl before him, who had trusted him with so personal a question, now knows the truth. For better or worse, his message has been passed along.
He can finally rest.
The muscular brutes eyes slip closed as he visibly relaxes. Focus leaves him, rigid posture departing as he allows the iron control over his body to loosen. His great muscles go slack, and he tumbles forward into the spread of blackish sludge so recently heaved onto the stones, forehead on a collision course with the ground. If he is allowed to fall it will likely grind the knives bristling from his chest in a bit deeper, as well as giving him a nasty thump to the head, but what is a little more damage at this point? He likely wont' be feeling it.
The last thing he hears are heavy footsteps approaching the lithe priestess from behind, and a great female voice booming somewhere far, far above.
For a time, everything goes black.
A number of explanations fill her mind, most of them involving the Hitbit Corp or whoever the large shinobi discovered in the shadows behind the King of Fighters tournament. The injuries suffered are not typical assassin's work, however. If it really was a bad run in with one of the megacorps... they must have dispatched a specialist. She is quiet, staying crouched, one knee against the soft dirt that has been pounded to a fine dust beneath hundreds of thousands of visiting footsteps. Her left arm crosses over her left leg for support as she continues to assess him. The surface injuries seem like they will be tricky but manageable, but the detectable lung damage is a problem.
About to stand up to survey the courtyard to see where everyone else is in answering her instructions, she freezes as the resolute warrior forces her name to his lips beneath his blood gorged mask. Lowering herself back to face level, she locks eyes with him. "Yes, you made it." she answers, as realizing the purity of intent in his arrival here. She hesitates, glancing to the side for a moment, almost seeming to struggle with a decision that comes after a couple of seconds. Looking at him again, she adds one more word -
A request that he utter his message at all cost.
She realizes an instant later that she need not have said anything at all.
His first three words strikes her like lightning as Ayame freezes, no longer even breathing. Then he knows, he found proof. A million and one questions spring to mind but she looks nearly incapable of lending them voice so lost is the look on her face.
He continues and her mouth is pressed into a thin line as she stares unblinking. Deranged? Grief? These are not words one associates with Seishirou Ryouhara, the brilliant, calculating, tactician she has been seeking for as long as she can remember in this lifetime. That they fought explains the condition the stalwart messenger finds himself in now, the miko's eyes tracing over his body with renewed interest, identifying telltale signs of techniques that seem familiar, yet evidence of others that are foreign to her recollection. The Ryouhara scion would fight anyone - being in his presence with one iota of insufficient ideal could provoke such. The whys are not important, that he exists is all that matters.
Then he continues after a brief distraction toward the sound of another's approach. First came the revelation, now comes the dire warning. "...attack?" Ayame's voice is barely a whisper lost to the sound of thundering foot steps. As Riki looks over the normally dour girl, she would find her still staring at Noboru face to face, the color washed from her complexion. She either doesn't hear Riki or is willfully ignoring the oni's bemused question.
The priestess remains like that for a few seconds until, finally left with not one shred of strength left, the herald of dark tidings falls forward. The girl slips forward, roughly catching him as best she can with her arms and left knee, black and dark red fluids smearing over her forearms and hakama. Struggling to bear his weight, she speaks up without even looking at Riki, "Well, wipe that dopey look off your face and help already." It doesn't matter if she was already in the process of doing so, of course.
Every effort would be made to save the life of the Miyama shinobi. The task of disarming him would fall to Ayame, the girl seemingly well versed in the care that must be paid when touching a shadow's weapons. He would be clothed in a white robe, his damaged gear and clothing gathered and set aside with care. The room in which he would receive medical attention is toward the center of the living quarters - as large as the dinning area, it would even allow Riki access if she decided to stick around and see what this whole thing was about.
The knives would be removed and handed off to others to investigate their tips for poison, though Ayame would note out loud that she did not expect there to be any - while he was undoubtedly capable of it, poison was not the Ryouhara way. Noboru's primary caregiver would be Ayame's own mother - Koumyou - a woman in her late forties or early fifties, she says little and speaks softly when giving instructions throughout the compound's little clinic.
The troubling burn on his back is cleaned, dried with careful, gentle patting of sterile cloth, and then covered with sterile gauze. The lung wound is troubling, however. As an internal injury, there is nothing that can be done for it beyond full intensive surgery and care. Ayame's father, Genbou, a man that looks surprisingly young at first glance for his age until one notices the silver hairs running through his black hair, lingers on the outskirts, not getting directly involved in the medical care.
He asks one pressing question, however, once all else has been done for the gravely wounded man that can possibly done without a better medical facility.
"Should I call into Southtown for a medivac?"
Naturally the oni's jokes end abruptly once she draws close enough to see just how terrible the wounds that the fallen ninja has suffered are. Her brows go up at the many knives protruding from the man's body and she lets out a low whistle, clearly impressed.
"It would seem that someone had a rather intense disagreement with thy friend, girl. Ah! Careful now!"
When Noboru topples forward, threatening to kiss the ground and inflict yet further wounds upon himself, Riki is only a few steps behind the small miko. She tucks her hands underneath the ninja's arms, finding it to be one of the few places not covered with blades or wounds, and hefts his bulk up away from Ayame's struggling attempt to keep the much larger figure from falling. While the man might be big for a human his size and weight are little challenge to the muscle-bound demon.
Sometime later, having transported the unexpected guest to a place designated by the girl's mother, Riki sits at the far side of the large room doing her best to keep out of the way. Even with its considerable open space, human dwellings are not designed for things her size, and more to the point, her medical skills are barely more capable than wrapping bandages around things.
Instead, she contents herself to watch in relative silence, the length of her ancient pipe held loosely between two fingers as she puffs out tiny clouds. Her gaze lingers on the body of the mysterious visitor as the priests go to work, partly to watch the manner in which his wounds are tended, though in truth her thoughts are mostly focused on the reasons for his arrival in such a state. She had seen the look of complete dread that had overtaken the girl's normally neutral, if dour, expression.
Now what could cause such a stubborn girl to look like that?
Once the Miyama shinobi has been carried away to be stripped,cleaned, and examined, there is one fact that is immediately obvious to those with the skill to see it.
Noboru has not been brought low by any single wound. The burns across his skin are horrific, and the multiple puncture wounds have driven deep into muscle, but the body they have pierced is hardened beyond such things. Each of these wounds when stacked upon one another would certainly be enough to bring the powerful ninja down. But to kill him? That is unlikely. The one who did this to him meant for him to live.
The horrible state that the ninja finds himself in is due mostly to blood loss. His wounds are old, aggravated and stressed by travel. If he had gone directly to a hospital, it is likely that he would be in the process of recovering by now. But with no means to contact them, and two choices before him, this is the path that he has chosen.
The Miyama do not make allies lightly.
His scorched skin cleansed and bandaged, and a white robe wrapped about him to keep him decent, the wounded shinobi comes to consciousness by degrees. At first he can hear only indistinct noises. The murmur of a soft voice, paired with sensations of tugging and motion. Later come the sounds of quiet conversations. An awareness of himself, and the contentment that his mission was completed.
He is not dead.
Noboru's mismatched eyes open slowly, chest expanding as he draws in a rattling breath. His one good eye is sharply aware as he stares up into the gracefully aging face of Koumyou, noting absently the features inherited by her blunt-mannered daughter. He blinks once, before shifting his gaze to the side.
His good eye roams from mother to father, before reversing direction to glance toward the abnormally bright beacon of energy sitting against the far wall.
For a moment the mystic considers mentioning the demon in the room. But he entertains the idea for only a moment. Such things are none of his business, and they must be aware already. it would be impossible for an aura so bright to bypass the protective wards without detection. He has seen them, and knows their strength.
"A surgeon is required," the shinobi rumbles wetly, "But there is yet time. You have done well."
Grabbing either edge of the platform he had been resting upon, the badly battered and burnt Miyama pulls himself shakily upright, muscle still quivering with blood loss and fatigue. His body has been through a great deal of trauma, and it badly wants to rest. But it can wait. He will make it.
Swinging his legs over the side of the table, he casts a quick glance over Riki's seated form, before scanning the room for Ayame herself. Surely there will be questions. Preparations must be made, and matters addressed.
No one seems to mind the Corner Oni, focused on their work of stabilizing a nearly dead man. The look she had found on Ayame's face in the courtyard is gone, the girl's expression back to one bordering on dour like always. She helps her mother with a lot of the first aid treatment, but the true expertise comes from the hands of the family matriarch. Her clothing is still stained from catching the collapsing emissary of dark tidings outside though she has since cleaned her forearms of the blood and ichor that had smeared over her skin.
Collaboration between the priestess and her mother is conducted through fairly soft mumbles, quiet whispers, and gestures between the two of them as they work in unison with almost innately perfected coordination. The injuries sustained are catalogued by Ayame as thorough care is made to address what they can. He had been attacked to disable, his wounds not the sort an executioner would apply. But why? Was it so that he could be followed? Was it so that he could be captured?
Little by little, he shows vague signs of life, mother and daughter meeting each other's eyes and nodding with quiet acknowledgement at a job well done. His eyes flicker open and Ayame turns to grab a white towel to begin wiping her hands off once again, her sleeves still tied off toward her shoulders to keep from draping over her arms.
Once he has managed to sit up and speak, however, she turns to face him again, dropping the towel in her hand on the pile of bloodied towels already building on the floor next to the elevated table Noboru finds himself on. Clasping her hands over each other in front of her, she glances toward the shinobi, then toward her mother, then finally her father, avoiding Riki for the moment.
"Seishirou Ryouhara, likely the last of the Ryouhara clan. An eclectic family of geniuses, prodigies, inventors, and mathematicians. How I know of him is unimportant. Know only that he is one of the most dangerous men alive to those he deems as enemies. The lengths he will go to exact vengeance..." Her voice fades, eyes losing their focus for a moment before she blinks and looks to Noboru once more. "You have already paid a price in blood to carry this warning here. Tell us what you know."
She falls quiet, waiting expectantly, before finally adding.
Said Corner Oni remains in her place quietly puffing away even as the battered ninja claws his way back to consciousness, the scent of the spiced herbs in her pipe doing much to counter the cloying taste of blood in the air. Her idle staring shifts back into focus upon Noboru's revival. She quirks an eyebrow at the almost mechanical manner in which he come to, assessing his surrounding and then relaying a report about his condition. To top things off, the fool pushes himself upright without hesitation, as if he weren't still full of holes.
Riki shakes her head and laughs under her breath. The stubborness of humans is quite impressive. Atleast, it will be until he falls over again. She ponders scooting closer in the event of that outcome but a quick glance proves that there's little room for her at the table with all of the Ichijo's crowded around it already. They can probably handle it.
"Tis quite plain to what lengths this Seishirou will go in pursuit of his goals," the oni interjects, gesturing at the pile of bloody rags and discarded blades. "But violence hath ever been the tool of Men. If he is truly the last of his kind, tis hard to believe that his 'genius' is of great potence. I would hear more of this as well."
In truth, their is little reason for demon or priestess to request information from the Miyama. A man does not walk himself near to death only to toss out vague hints about what is to come. However, there is no look of sarcasm or impatience in the stoic man's face. His stubbled jaw remains set, expression one of tired focus.
"Knowing the ways of my kind," Noboru begins quietly, good eye sliding back to lock once more upon Ayame's young face, "I visited the remains of his village, and left there a memorial of stone. It is a sign that can be read many ways, but will attract attention." He is forced to stop then, to draw in another breath as he considers once more just how much the miko before him reminds him of himself. So serious and intent. Driven by a personal code, despite the vast differences in their tone and upbringing.
"He attacked from ambush. The fight was not long, but he spoke throughout." Each word comes slowly and with great deliberation, the big man's shoulders slumped as he braces thick forearms on his thighs. "He blames all shinobi for the death of his clan. I have been accused of treachery, and idleness, without evidence. Each thought seeming to be spoken as it arrived to him. He seemed at times not to know your name, and then to be angered at hearing it, arguing with himself."
Again a pause, a breath while the ninja casts a thoughtful look past Ayame and her mother, observing the seated form of the Oni.
"He now wears a helmet. It breathes for him, though I saw not what is beneath. And this is all that I can recall. He thinks himself to be representing forgotten and discarded masses, as the bringer of history. But his tone is fevered. He wishes justice upon you, but I know not why. You are not one of us."
Riki's brief assessment provokes a quiet smirk from Ayame, though with the girl's back to the oni, it would go unnoticed by any other than Noboru. The expression fades as she begins to get the rest of the story behind the wounded warrior's visit. There is a faint frown as he speaks of leaving a memorial, of having traveled to the Ryouhara village itself. He would see a flicker of disapproval, whether it was because she doesn't think he should have gone, or that she thinks he shouldn't have risked his own life for her personal concerns, would be hard to say.
Attacking from ambush, but for what? The answer comes as Noboru continues, Ayame's eyes searching his face. She has no reason to distrust him, especially for all he went through to come here, yet she still studies him as if trying to figure out if there are half truths or withheld facts in the story he weaves. She breaks eye contact for a moment as she continues the revelation that the last of the Ryouhara blames all other ninja for the loss of his kin, his home. But her attention is back on him when he mentions that the mention of her name seemed to trigger such confused reactions in White Ghost.
The mention of a helmet provokes a glimmer of confusion in her eyes but it passes quickly. That the target of his attack would be her specifically leaves the priestess disquieted, hands clasped over each other in her lap as she sighs softly as if hoping for some relief to be found in the gesture.
"What is your business with this man?" her father, Genbou, asks from his place in the doorway, leaning against the frame with his upper arm.
"I have had no business with him."
"Ayame, dear, I have often noticed you gazing out beyond the shrine gates... I used to think it was wanderlust that compelled you so..." The mother's voice is soft, barely perceptible throughout the room. "But I came to realize over the years that you seemed to be waiting for someone... is this the one?"
"But you don't have anything to do with him?" her father presses, sounding a touch confounded at his daughter's laconic, seemingly contradictory responses.
"I do not."
Ayame turns away from Noboru and her mother's side, folding her arms across her chest as she stares out the open sliding rice paper door to stare out into the courtyard. In the seconds that follow, father and mother glance at each other with a questioning look, but before either speaks again, Ayame whirls back around to face the other four in the room, her right hand raised, her bent pointing finger resting against her chin. "If we are lucky, he will only be coming for me. But it would be foolish to count on that."
Her eyes lower to the floor as she continues to consider, "His methods of attack... do not expect a warning. He will either select a battlefield that gives him the advantage, or shape any location to his benefit."
"Well, until this matter of having a man whom you have nothing to do who wants to kill you is resolved, you must stay here." her father insists.
"He is patient. Simply hiding... would you have me waste away here indefinitely? It would not change anything." the miko answers, turning around again to stare out into the courtyard. "But everyone will need to be put on alert. I am afraid I cannot say if it is safer for anyone affiliated with me to bunker down here or stay as far away from me as possible..."
The sound of a heavy thump as some massive object hits the wooden floors resounds throughout the room. When attention is turned towards the sound, eyes questing for its source, they would find the oni standing to her full height, eyes blazing with new found intensity.
The object to which the question of the noise can be directed proves be a club of truly immense proportions. Crafted of blackened iron and standing nearly as tall as the ogre herself, the weapon is little more than a massive solid shaft of metal. It flares out somewhere around halfway down its length becoming twice as thick and its dark surface studded with dozens of wicked spikes in neat rows that transform the already deadly blunt object into a weapon of terrible suffering. The handle is what truly stands out, however; a length of curved bone the color of bright roses with a golden star emblazoned upon its side as it a natural part of its polished surface.
Riki leans upon the handle of this great weapon and peers down at the assembled humans in silence for several seconds. Those quick to notice such things would find that the horn upon her head is now gone, clutched firmly in her large hands at the base of the ancient kanabo. How exactly she was hiding something of this size is not entirely clear, but Ayame atleast would have some inkling, having witnessed her ability to create objects seemingly from nothing before.
"It would seem," she rumbles, "that thou find thyself in need of a guardian."
Though her voice is soft and controlled there is an obvious edge of hope and energy behind her tone. Her lips peel back, fangs flashing in a grin that speaks of the anticipation of violence and battle. It is a primal lust that flows through her now, the desire to seek out a known enemy and crush it beneath her heel. She wants that fight, wants to feel that same surge of triumph that came with vanquishing the old hag and driving back the infernal soul bees from their prey. But, even more so than this, the oni sees an opportunity for redemption here, a chance to reclaim her pride as a protector of the faithful.
"Be he madman or genius, I would prove this Seishirou a fool should he entertain the idea of laying harm upon a single person under mine protection." The demon sweeps her gaze across those assembled. She looks at each of the elder Ichijo in turn broadcasting her intent unto them with the stern look upon her features. The Miyama ninja is given the attention of her stare as well and she nods ever so slightly in acknowledgement of his strength of will and the determination which brought him to deliver this warning. Finally, it comes to rest upon the young miko. Her expression grows intense, faint red light flashing through her eyes as her grip tightens upon the hilt of her weapon, flickering wisps of pinkish-red flame dancing to life around her hands.
"Please, allow me the honor of being thy shield against this threat!"
The heavy thump of an emerging war club is more than enough to pull the attention of most people away, but Noboru's own quiet gaze has drifted back to Ayame. For one silent moment he studies her profile, though once his private thought has passed he rises from the table to loom tall beside the lithe miko, dwarfed only by the giantess who now commands the room.
"The Miyama will stand with you where able." He puts in softly, rattling breaths slow and controlled. The nod of respect from Riki is met with a solemn glance and a slight upward tic of the man's chin. Likely a sign of high praise from one such as he.
"After I have been healed, I will warn my clan of what has happened. We are spread thin, but threats to my siblings are not taken lightly."
Glancing down toward Ayame and Koumyou, the two closest of the Ichijo to where he now stands, the bulky man tucks his chin against his chest in something of an exhausted bow. The gesture is full of quiet respect, and reverence toward the alliance he has promised.
"Kuuya has left sign that the skull was delivered to you. If that is so, my business here is done. I thank you for the hospitality you have shown me." Only then does he straighten as best as he is able, using the back of one sleeve to wipe away the blood that has bubbled up through his lips. He seems not at all concerned with this, utterly Unworried at the state of his body. In fact, he is so unconcerned that he attempts to step between the two women and begin padding barefoot toward the door, leaving what few belongings he brought where they lie as he approaches the head of the Ichijo household.
Noboru's shaggy head bows to the smaller man as he nears, but he does not stop. His intention is clearly to pass him and exit out into the courtyard beyond, to continue on alone toward medical aid, or perhaps toward another mission he has not yet mentioned. Regardless, his step is firm, if slow, and his gaze is clear. As with all things he seems to approach the task ahead with a certain quiet stoicism, willing to walk alone without requesting aid from others whenever it is possible. And now, apparently, he believes it is possible.
The thunder of the mighty warclub demands immediate attention as all three Ichijo's turn toward Riki in that moment. That such a massive weapon was produced from no where is clearly a surprise to the two elder members of the family though Ayame's expression continues to hide her thoughts as she looks over the impressive armament. Her eyes flick to Riki, her mouth neutral. There is a hint in her eyes that she already knows where this is going, yet for the moment she manages to hide any outward signs of disapproval. Is she finally grateful for the offer of assistance for once?
When the request finally comes, she lifts her right hand, pressing her bent fingers against her chin as she bows her head slightly in thought, neither dismissing or accepting the request for honor, the chance for redemption in the eyes of those who doubt the Sacred Guardian in the heavens above. The miko's eyes flick back and forth as she considers countless thoughts, mind lost in a whirlwind of unexpected, terrifying revelations concerning the man bearing the name of Seishirou Ryouhara.
Finally, she glances toward her parents who are both looking back at her. She needn't ask them what they think. Her father was eager to break bread with the oni the moment he saw her, and her mother has been nothing but kind and friendly to the demon. Exhaling softly, she lowers her hands to her sides and faces Riki directly. "Very well. The thought that you would lend your considerable power to the protection of this household... I will admit, it gives me some comfort." She pauses, bowing her head with one of the first tokens of respect she's paid the ogress since first awakening under her care.
Looking up, she continues, her voice calm but steely, as if wanting to make sure nothing about what she is saying is misunderstood. "However, understand one thing. This... conflict, at its heart it is a personal matter. At some point, facing it alone may be my fate. I hope you will honor my request should that time come."
Noboru moves... sooner than she would have expected, given how he arrived, and Ayame looks to him next. He promises the aid of the Miyama, and both the young priestess and her parents nod their head.
"Your actions have already been proof of the Miyama's legendary honor," Genbou answers, no longer leaning against the door frame. "Let us work together in this matter."
Ayame nods her head a second time, sustaining her father's words, and then smiles faintly at the mention of a skull being delivered, which only serves to garner another pair of confused and distressed looks from her parents but she willfully ignores them for now.
Words exchanged, Noboru continues out into the courtyard, barely clothed in the robe afford him, his belongings left behind. "Ano..." Ayame's mother murmurs, worried tone unmistakable.
Grunting, with a shake of his head, Genbou begins to stride after the gravely injured shinobi, "I hope he doesn't mind a ride in the station wagon." the man chuckles, heading out after the Miyama warrior, car keys rattling in his pocket.
Noboru's return of the respect given him is noted but all of the oni's attention remains focused upon the tiny miko, her gaze intense as she awaits the girl's decision. Until now, Ayame has shown little but contempt or anger for the efforts put forth to gain her trust. Would she now refuse the offer of earnest aid once more? Such a refute would be difficult to handle. The girl's parents she knew would want their daughter cared for but to do so behind her back would be far less preferrable than with her consent. Besides, she's not exactly the most stealthy of creatures, which would make the whole secret protector thing rather challenging.
Fortunately, as it turns out, she needn't find out just how much of a challenge such a task would be. The words of approval from the priestess' mouth cause her grin to grow even wider and the club thumps on the floor a few times like a war drum belting out its tacit enthusiasm for the battle to come. Riki resists the urge to break out into a battle chant this time. Plenty of chances for that later.
Ayame's next words, however, cause the giantess to pause. She considers this for a few moments, chewing on her thoughts, then nods.
"Very well. If thou believe that this be a trial that thou must undertake on thy own then I shall not interfere without thy consent. However..."
She hefts the club, lifting its bulk with one hand as easily as if it were made of styrofoam, and rests it against one shoulder. Against the backdrop of her wild mane of bright hair and the shimmering blaze of hellfire about her hands, she strikes a pose that could have been taken right out of an ancient Japanese folk tale.
"Until that moment comes, thy need only speak mine name and I shall be at thy side. Name thy foes and they shall fall. Mine Lord tis always ready to receive new guests. They will find him a... most accomodating host."
Log created on 00:14:49 07/06/2016 by Ayame, and last modified on 04:34:35 07/07/2016.