Description: Lurking in the shadows of the Great and Abominable Mortal Kombat tournament, a schemer and her partner in crime devise a plan to secure victory for Earth.
Chosen warriors put their blood and lives on the line in battle after battle. Whether they were summoned, invited, or stolen away into the night, those selected to represent Outworld and Earth put their lives on the line day after day. The rules of the tournament are vague and buried in a morass of edicts few claim to even know in full. But one thing is understood among everyone on the island - in the end, there must be a victor in the tournament. Either Outworld will secure their tenth victory, the final barrier proclaimed by the unseen gods to a full invasion of Earth itself, or Earth will end their streak and the eternal cycle will begin anew.
But then there are others on the island - they may have vested interest in the outcome of the violence playing out across the fortress island of Shang Tsung, but they are not able to directly participate. Instead, the only role that seems available to them is to be witnesses to Earth's desperate last stand, as one by one, champions are picked off, either by Outworld assassins or the corrupted fallen from Earth itself.
It had been by choice that the miko if the Meian Jinja ventured onto one of the ghost ships ferrying champions to the island though she had no invitation to suggest that she would have a part to play in what finally happened to the entire planet she was leaving behind.
"I believe a client of mine will be there," she had offered by way of explanation to Riki when she had pieced together secrets explaining a recent rash of disappearances in the shrine's ancient library. "I gave them my word I would help them, so I need to go there too. Besides," the declaration had come with a half-shrug, "If the fate of the world hangs in the balance, we at least need to keep an eye on things, right?"
Upon reaching the island, simple guest quarters had been provided and otherwise, the miko and oni had oddly been left to their own devices. Of course, Ayame had followed the proclamations, the announcements, the results. She had an ear for news, gossip, and rumors, and since she was merely a guest rather than one of the so-called Chosen Ones, even Outworld staff seemed to not mind being a bit more open to the nosey human. By way of trickery, cajoling, or threats, she had developed an understanding of the politics, the matches, the powers of the soul shards, and the fates that had befallen so many thus far.
While she never explained herself to Riki, the ogress would have known that the girl must have snuck out and gotten into some kind of trouble when she found Ayame laid up in their room, groaning in pain she refused to elaborate on beyond demanding to be left alone to recover.
But that was weeks ago... maybe? Time was fuzzy here. Either way, she was on her feet again, and surprisingly well behaved, avoiding picking any fights, causing any obvious trouble, or engaging in anything that would require Riki to bail her out from another one of her self-made disasters. Meals were attended, fights in the arenas observed, and frequent trips to the museum of the fallen located deep within Shang Tsung's palace where one could find curiously detailed etched stonework of all the champions who had lost their lives thus far.
This morning, something was different about the girl. Her eyes flashed with a purpose, an idea taking hold in her mind. The Ichijo scion had insisted once more that the two journey to the shrine to the fallen where the morbid statues of the recently dead could be found.
With a shake of her right arm, a small gemstone lantern the color of desert sand falls into her palm from somewhere within her lengthy sleeve, a crimson cord dangling from its looped handle. Riki would have seen her often pondering the Soul Shard, turning it over in her hands, as if aware the promise it offered as significant but not quite certain how to manipulate it best to her favor.
"Obviously when you were at your full strength," she muses as she walks among the pedestals. Fourteen are labeled and either bear a statue resembling a fallen fighter, or are missing the statue for each of the individuals that had been somehow wrested back to life. "You had great power to destroy. I wonder," Ayame continues, holding her lantern up by its cord to look at the glowing gemstone thoughtfully. "Did you have the ability to grant life as well? Or has that tremendous power always been reserved for the gods?"
The figure that strides alongside the young miko lets out a thoughtful sound at the question, the noise filling the air with a deep basso rumble. After a moment or two, the oni gives a casual shrug. "That would depend upon what meaning thy referred to with such a question. Twas within mine power to sire offspring. By such standards, most creatures are capable of this feat. Though I would wager there are few are as skilled at the art," she adds with a wide toothy grin full of amusement.
Standing well over eight feet tall, Riki towered over her companion, her massive form making the already diminuative girl look little more than a stick figure that had come to life. Her body is of the sort that would make anyone balk at the idea of taking her up on such a bet, every inch of her figure curved with shapely muscle or attractive padding, a primal goddess of time long forgotten. Her attire is of similar design to that of the priestess, or atleast, sharing rough origins, her body draped in something resembling a mix between a toga and a kimono and her ample curves fills out its loose folds to the point of near indecency. More modern clothing had been furnished to her by the Ichijo family to assist in her attempts to blend in, laughable as that might seem, but she had opted to fall back on her more tribal garments upon learning the purpose of their journey. It just didn't seem prudent to go into battle in a full length dress, something which she had pointed out to Ayame in regards to her own choice of wardrobe, with predictable results.
She had been quite excited to get the chance to finally contend with of some of the most powerful and skilled fighters alive. Even in her present weakened state, Riki's lust for glorious battle has not waned, managing to pull ahead of even her great capacity for sloth and gluttony. Imagine then, her disappointment when no opportunities to avail herself of the most infamous battleground presented themselves. They were to be mere spectators, watching helplessly from the sidelines as history was written.
It is not a new experience for the ancient demon to be bound to as a silent observer but it isn't one she's terribly fond of which possessed of her mortal flesh. Some aspect of this form imbued her with a certain sense of restlessness and she was quick to bore. She had spent the majority of their time on the island availing herself of the sorcerer's hospitality, devouring food and drink at such a rapacious pace that the hooded figures who apparently served as the peons within the towering fortress were kept in a constant scurry of activity every time she saw fit to lumber her way down to the feasting hall. The rest of it had been lounging lazily on the entirely too small bed which had been provided for her use, save for the rare occassions when Ayame sought out her company, such as now.
"However, if thy inquiry be in regards to the power to restore vital essence to that which hath lost it, then mine answer would be, no. There are even many gods to whom such power lies out of reach. These 'Elder Gods' must possess great strength indeed to so casually offer such boons."
Her initial answer earns her a predictably dour look from the girl in crimson and white. Fastidious even when sojourning on an isle of the damned, she is clean and presentable, preferring as always her uniform of choice and station. For her, it has always seemed a badge of honor, every bit as ceremonial yet deserving of respect as the ribbons decorating a general's dress jacket.
Her hair is worn straight, long, decorated with the singular red ribbon that only seems to accent the strawberry blonde lengths that rest against her upper back. Her brown eyes regard Riki with visible irritation as she waits for the oni to continue, clearly not settling for the mischievous answer her question garnered at first. As always, she's forced to crane her neck upward to meet the towering woman's face, which might explain why she seems to settle so for not even looking toward Riki at all when speaking to her. Her right hand is occupied with her gemstone lantern, its golden glow casting a faint light around her in the coolly lit memorial in which they stand, her left hand gripping lightly her rune carved wooden staff by its center.
Staying out of everyone's way, indeed, avoiding fighting or confrontation at all hasn't seemed to set well with her either. While she would never speak of it, there would be no mistaking that not being selected as one of the champions of Earth was a hit to her pride. What kind of selection process do these so-called Elder Gods use when a ten year old kid that acts like he'd be spooked by a house cat is numbered among Earth's chosen while /she/, who had dedicated her entire existence to being an unknown sentinel over Japan at least, is left watching from the arena benches? But to admit to her hurt ego out loud would be to confide too much and so she has kept the annoyance to herself, settling for looking particularly gloomy as the events of the tournament have ground out, leaving the silent stone statues of the dead in this shrine as proof of the fallen.
But when the teasing oni gives her a more thorough answer, the faintly scowling miko nods her head slowly, lifting her right arm, brown eyes locking on the dangling talisman. "Yet here we are, possessing the power to bring back those who have fallen by the wayside one way or another. In my hands, the bowered power of creation... and all I had thought to do with it was to restore life to my client." She has come to a stop in front of one pedestal - its label reads The Atavist. Lifting her glimmering boon, Ayame allows some of its golden glow to fall upon the immaculately chiseled likeness of the woman she knew as Aya Hazuki.
"But I have been thinking. We were not burdened with the obligation to fight for our world, yet we were still given these crystals, these... soul shards." She looks away from the statue, lifting her face to regard Riki once more. "I think my plans were short sighted. I believe we could have a role to play in the fate of our home after all."
The young woman hefts the cord from which her gemstone lantern dangles, causing the talisman to snap upward so that she can catch it out of the air and hold it in her palm, looking down at its warm glow once more. "I have been watching what others have done with them, how they have collected power in them, and how they have lost it. I think I have a good understanding of their workings."
Slowly, a smirk works its way into her contemplative expression. "I hope your weeks of laying about have not made you slow in a fight. Not everyone we meet over the next few days will be so eager to accept my offer. They might require some convincing." she states, closing her had over the small crystalline lantern, concealing much of its gentle glow. "As long as we can beat them, even their refusal will help us in the end."
The demon seems to take some kind of perverse pleasure in the mere act of drawing out even small amounts of scorn from her tiny companion, her grin growing slightly wider and more mischievous in response to the miko's annoyance. She doesn't have to see the girl's face to know the expression upon it. Her emotion practically radiates in an aura of hot contempt towards the uncouth joke and Riki smugly basks in the glow.
Despite being a good deal more interested in the art of raw brutal combat than most, perhaps even more so than the workaholic priestess, the oni had found her desire to spectate significantly hampered by the sheer size of the island and the scattershot nature of the tournament's battlegrounds. As such, she'd caught only a few of the bouts, those which unfolded near enough that she had only to walk a short ways to observe. As such, she is much less empathetic to the poor souls represented in effigy here. Their fates were of their own choosing. They fought for honor and glory, but as all with all mortal warriors, they were ultimately claimed by the one foe against which these things were of no avail.
Her eyes wander over the cold likenesses of warriors from bygone ages, recognizing a familiar style of weapon or armor in a few places, while most are simply alien to her. The names upon the plaques are little more than meaningless scrawl as well, exotic titles and fancy monikers, their meaning lost to all save perhaps the ancient being that engineered their downfall.
Her attention shifts down to the shimmering talisman as Ayame juggles it in her hand, a small and simple thing, and yet infused with such power as would make even the gods jealous. A hand lifts idly to one of her ears beneath the thick mane of shaggy golden hair, a finger brushing along the surface of the crude bit of jewelry there. Much like that held by the miko, she too possessed one of these mystical shards, her own a faint blue in hue. Though no one had ever explained the nature of such things to her, the oni knew without the shadow of a doubt that the gem which she wore offered her protections against the greatest of evils within this place. What those might be, she does not know, but even here in the outer realms, her lord had exerted his influence and marked her as his own.
Riki tilts her head and lowers her arms, crossing them beneath her breasts. She eyes the shining pendant, her curiosity piqued at the idea of learning more about them. They held power, that much was clear, but without the same dedication to gathering information as Ayame they remained much a mystery to the ogre. She lets out a disgruntled scoff at the very idea that her effectiveness in battle might be hampered by something as mundane as good food and ample time to laze about, but her grin takes on an eager look, her eyes sparkling in the light of the shard.
"I should hope not! I can hardly think of a greater disappointment than that I should endure if mine time here should end without a proper bit of sport. Thus far, the experience has proven most tedious."
"Indeed," Ayame muses, seeming to agree to the idea of the prison island's stay being something of a chore. "I have learned a few key facts, when considered in total, seem to imply room for a new plan - one we are uniquely positioned to execute on." She lets the lantern drop from her palm again, looping the crimson cord around her finger so that it is free to swing back and forth at the nadir of its permitted fall.
"First, if you fight others who also have these things, and defeat them, your own crystal becomes more powerful. Win more and more fights and the stronger its potential becomes. Simply attuning to it in a fight will augment your ability accordingly, let alone the incredible feats people have accomplished drawing upon their potential. Second," she continues, whipping around on her feet with a swish of cloth to look at the statue she had come to stop in front of. "By expending some of the shard's potential, one can bring back the fallen. From my tentative experimenting with the idea, it has become clear that the more powerful the individual, the greater the cost in power to bring them back."
She flicks her wrist up, pulling her gemstone lantern back into her palm, closing her fingers over it. "Finally, it is possible to transfer, voluntarily, energy stored in one shard to another's. This is a vital detail of my plan." Turning around to face Riki again, she lowers her right hand to rest her knuckles at her hip, her talisman still palmed lightly by her fingers, a confident, self-impressed smirk back on her face.
"I have been paying attention to the matches and their outcomes, the number of victories individuals have claimed before becoming a part of this..." she waves her staff-holding hand a little at the mausoleum in general. "Collection." Brown eyes blink, her smirk fading slightly as she glances around the room in somber thought before continuing in a slightly more subdued tone. "First, I think I can bring one or two individuals back with the energy my shard has. The key will be to estimate who I can revive that might have had enough victories such that they can restore to me the cost of pulling them back from the abyss, as well as enough left over to offer, ah, a bit extra for our trouble." The priestess turns to lift her face up at Riki again.
"Thus comprises phase one of my plan. One by one, we bring someone back who might not be inherently powerful but managed a string of victories all the same before they fell. They will then be convinced," her inflection on the word suggests she's more than willing to use force as a tool for 'convincing', "to repay our kindness with more energy back than it cost to raise them." The miko holds her hands out at the sides as she continues to explain a pyramid scheme reaped in souls rather than the life savings of the desperate.
"Once we have collected the power we can from bringing back the most... efficient options, then we can turn our eye to the rest of those still wandering the island." She turns around now, her back to Riki, her hands both returning to rest at her hips. "By the rules of this great charade, those in the tournament are off limits to us, but there are many who linger still, no longer in the tournament, yet potentially in possession of a great amount of energy all the same. With enough energy in our own crystals, there is nothing preventing us from convincing others to hand over whatever energy they have, building even more momentum for us."
She breathes in and pauses for a moment as if to let all of those thoughts sink in for a bit before the girl finally releases her breath. "In the end, we should be able to secure enough power to chose a champion to wager everything on. I do not know what surprises Outworld has yet to reveal, what champions await the finalists, but if you and I collect all that energy that is going to waste right now... it has to be enough. If not, then... our world never had any hope in the first place."
She makes an end of speaking, eyebrows arched slightly as she looks at Riki. Is she looking for approval? Is she hoping the ogress will go along with her scheme? Or is she merely wondering if the oni even understood the plan she laid out in the first place?
Riki listens as the details are laid out, one by one, staring into the distance with a placid expression as she so often does when preparing herself for the onerous task of withstanding one of the girl's rambling lectures about some topic or another. Her features remain neutral, almost disinterested, though her eyebrows go up at the prospect of accumulating power in a most direct fashion. Convenient time savers, these shards. Yet another display of their divine empowerment. Occassionally she nods her head, the great shaggy mane of wild blonde shifting about with the motion, though whether this is simply something she does on reflex like one of those sipping birds that sit on the edge of a glass is difficult to tell.
It is not until the full measure of the goal that Ayame describes and the method by which it may be fulfilled has been described that the demon's grin returns in full force. She lets loose a bellowing laugh and tilts her head down to regard the small miko with a somewhat surprised expression mixed with a healthy dose of amusement and maybe even a dash of newfound respect.
"Dear girl! Thy subterfuge surprises me. I had thought such ruthless cunning beneath thy consideration. I am pleased to see that such suspicions were misfounded."
One of her great hands lifts to stroke her chin, fresh thoughtfulness in her expression, and she turns to eye the menagerie of stone figures scattered throughout the garden. Possibilities whirl in her head, the prospect of facing a near endless supply of talented warriors sending a surge of brutal anticipation through her body.
"Aye, tis an excellent plan, with which I can find no fault. Surely, by our powers combined no foe shall manage to withstand such a... generous offer. Mine only concern lies with the snake - the sorcerer who serves as the head of this great beast. Should he learn of our plans, surely he would seek to interfere."
Ayame lowers her left hand, her staff held horizontally, resting against her thigh as she watches her plan be answered by a thundering laugh. She never seems terribly happy at the volume of Riki's boisterous noises and to this day, it'd be hard to cite a time the severe priestess had laughed at anything. Her expression looks like one enduring something of an annoying trial as the laugh passes and the oni begins to speak, but the words themselves seem to catch her off guard.
Eyes blink, right hand lifting from her waist to the side of her head so that her forefinger can rub at her temple while her other fingers continue to clutch the glimmering gemstone lantern. "Y-yes, well..." she stammers, clearly not sure how to respond to the idea that ruthless subterfuge would not be part of her toolkit. But then she has to consider the girl Riki has had to deal with; the pure and proper miko of the Meian Jinja, who tackles problems with stubborn directness. She closes her eyes for a moment to compose herself, the flash of brief pain visible for a fleeting instant before she recovers. Did she perhaps prefer the thought that Riki considered her above such artifice? Or does she find the tall brute's praise discomforting?
A soft cough, hand lowering, eyes opening, she continues in response to the demon's other thought, her mouth twisting into a faint frown as her eyes flick to the side. "True. As we are not in the tournament either, the moment we begin to act, we will no longer be bystanders but targets. And we are not among the dwindling few protected by the rules of the tournament..." She shakes her head, glancing around, quiet for a moment. What if they are being listened to even now?
"The truth of it is, there is nothing preventing our gracious host from engaging in the same kind of behavior if the thought comes to him. All we can do is be the first to act and prepare to weather the consequences. Fortunately, the overt champions of Outworld have all been eliminated but for one, which means Shang Tsung would either have to reveal the reserves he has kept hidden to come after us, or send guards that I feel confident we could dispatch ourselves. His third option would be to dispatch the gunman... from what I have heard, I hope we have gathered more power before then."
The Ichijo miko pulls her right hand into her sleeve for a moment and when it appears again, the gemstone lantern is no where to be seen, having been concealed in whatever hidden pockets that line the girl's voluminous clothing. "Your concern is legitimate, but it cannot be a reason for us to not act."
She turns slowly in place then, eying the status perched atop pedestals in all directions. "I always suspected my obligations would put me in a situation where I would have to chose who lived or died... I never expected that it would involve literally raising people from the tomb though." The girl inhales then exhales slowly. As pragmatic and detached as she presents herself, the burden of chosen who to save based purely on who would be most expedient appears to trouble the girl more than she had expected.
"Oh death, where is your sting..." the priestess murmurs softly beneath her breath.
"Aye," she says, nodding in agreement. "Twas not my intent to instill doubt or delay upon our cause. What'ere forces this Outworld may have secreted away for its inevitable treachery, we shall face them! For even should we fall in the attempt, our efforts may perhaps lend some manner of reprieve to those who must carry on the fight."
The towering demon's mouth twists upwards into a smile at the prospect of facing such odds. Whatever traces of mortal emotion have been instilled into her by her transition from spirit to human, fear of imminent death doesn't seem to have made the list, or perhaps her enthusiasm for the thrill of battle is simply the stronger of the two. Every aspect of the oni's demeanor suggests an eagerness to leap once more into the fray, to unleash her might upon a worthy foe for a righteous cause. Her fists clench tightly sending ripples of motion across her arms and legs as the muscles go taut.
"Tis a grand opportunity thou hast been granted, girl! A chance to wield forces of which mortal kind were never meant to be privy." She turns and kneels down, bringing her head low enough to look Ayame in the face, and reaches out to rest her massive hands on the miko's shoulders. "Thou tappeth into a power that surpasses even mine own, had I my original strength. It shall be mine great honor to guard thee in the execution of this holy task. Let us hope that the forces of evil rise to the challenge, eh?"
The ogress's answer regarding the inherent dangers of Ayame's plan draw the miko's attention. She boasts of taking on whatever challenges Outworld might have to send their way and her smaller companion's brow furrows a little, a conflicted look on her face, as if appreciating the expression of courage yet also not remotely excited about the circumstances the courage would require, or the so-called silver lining of their possible deaths in pursuing this endeavor.
"Yes, well... I have no intentions of dying on this rock. I am taking a calculated risk and will only pursue this course as long as the odds seem promising." She looks away, closing her now empty right hand into a small fist, her arm hanging against her side. "Accruing a lot of power in these crystals is a double-edged sword... We are better able to protect ourselves from threats, but we also make ourselves appealing targets. It will be a delicate balance once we start down this path." She pauses for a moment, head lowered, hand lifting, still clenched as she stares at it in front of her.
Riki kneels near her as the girl contemplates the first pawn in her plan and Ayame turns to face her directly. She frowns slightly, averting her eyes as she considers this strange, unique opportunity, to open the crypt and invite one deceased to step back into the world of the living. "I cannot help but wonder if the truth of the matter is that death in this desolate place is not quite the same as it is for us normally. Maybe what I am about to do is no more miraculous than having the right key to open the prison cell and let them free." She shrugs faintly, eyes flicking to Riki's then away again, "Merely a thought."
She falls quiet at the promise to guard her, turning around completely then, her back to the oni woman who has followed her into a hellscape of danger. "I-..." Her voice cuts out, the priestess breathing in then releasing a soft, pent up sigh. "I am not one for trusting many. But I cannot do this alone, and it only occurs to me now just how rare it is to have a partner I do not have to second guess with every step. You have already proven that to me." Coughing, she lifts her face, eyes settling on the statue she decides to approach first, her stride taking her in that direction now as she casts one last comment over her shoulder, her voice suddenly aloof and dismissive.
"So, ah, thanks, I suppose."
Log created on 22:47:07 12/18/2016 by Ayame, and last modified on 04:40:34 12/21/2016.