Description: The Meian Jinja has seen better days. In the aftermath of the chaos of the Gear invasion, resident miko and guardian oni catch up on where their own paths have taken them.
The Meian Jinja has seen better days. But ultimately, it stood the greatest test of its defenses since it was built hundreds of years ago. Unlike most Shinto shrines throughout Japan, the Ichijo Clan had built a war compound to house their holy place. Thick, stone walls had surrounded the courtyard for centuries, and the massive wooden gate for the main entrance had often been sealed in perilous nights in darker times.
Now the gate is nothing more than splintered ruin and the stonework surrounding it is showing signs of cracks and breaks. Further along the wall, there is a place where the wall has collapsed inward all together, a massive iron ball still lying in the dirt at the end of the trench it carved through the courtyard upon landing obviously to blame.
The long, low, single floor building adjacent to one wall that had served as the living quarters for those who make their home within these walls is half burnt to the ground, the fires long since put out but the charred remains of skeletal beams making it plenty clear what happened.
The side of the massive main temple has suffered a hit from one of the massive cannon balls. The ancient wood that formed its walls and ceiling had no prayer holding back the ballistic projectile, though it appears to have been just a grazing hit, the cannonball itself half-visible where it landed, currently covered beneath a pile of broken wood.
And then, of course, there's the evidence of the army that sought to bring down the Meian Jinja all together - or what's left of it, at least. The broken forms of countless insectile or bestial creatures are strewn about the grounds and piled up outside the walls, their blood seeping into the earth where they died. The bodies are most concentrated near the broken gates where the defenders no doubt were trying to bottleneck the invading force. And there, half dead within the broken gateway is the siegebreaker gear itself, a massive, armored monstrosity with armor akin to a great beetle, now lying stiff and dead along with all the rest.
It is late afternoon now. The siege itself broke in the late hours before sunrise. Since then, the defending force had focused on tending to their wounded. Those in critical enough condition were stabilized and then transportation was arranged to get them to regional hospitals. The rest were stationed inside the central building, the main floor converted into a place for the wounded to convalesce. It had been a collation of those who work at the jinja itself as well as holy warriors that had congregated here from other shrines, monasteries, and temples in the region - Taoists, Buddhists, more Shinto exorcists and priests, and a number of acolytes from each of the neighboring conclaves.
Clean up, rebuilding, and re-warding the entire compound against future attacks will come next, though with Gear Invasion itself only having come to an end, it's anyone's guess as to how long it will take to secure the resources and construction materials necessary for rebuilding.
In the end, however, the war shrine stood and the desperate defenders survived. Considering the besieging army's goal was the complete eradication of all of the above, things definitely could have gone worse.
Ayame Ichijo has not rested since the assault broke and the surviving gears retreated back into the forests, no longer nearly as dangerous a threat as they had been before so many of them died in the siege. She has changed out of her battle worn priestess attire, however, replacing her ornate white and crimson trappings with a simple white kimono top with shorter sleeves that only reach down to her mid forearms, and a long, pleated, black hakama-like skirt.
Exhausted following her own personal ordeal in fighting off the so-called 'Lady Killer', she's seated on the porch on the half of the living quarters building that WASN'T burnt down, her back propped against the wall. From there she can quietly watch the movement going on throughout the grounds as those less wounded in the battle examine the damage, double check to make sure all the dead gear beasts are, in fact, dead and not just faking, and start trying to figure out how this entire mess is going to get cleaned up.
At her side is a tray of food and glass of water provided by her doting mother who took time to see to the girl's needs during a brief break tending to the wounded in the main building. Other than being exhausted, however, the Ichijo scion doesn't seem to be overly worse for the wear... as long as one ignores the nasty bruise on the right side of her face and forehead from where she had been unpleasantly dragged down an interior hallway and forcefully introduced to each and every strut along the way...
There is an old idiom that says lightning never strikes the same place twice. The proverbial meaning is something akin to 'strange things never happen to the same person more than once in the same place' or 'misfortune does not occur twice in the same way'. Those who believe this particular adage, however, clearly never had dealings with the supernatural for gods and spirits are often a capricious lot who seem to take great pleasure in picking on mortals when they least expect it and are ill-prepared to deal with such attention.
Like right now, for instance.
A jagged flash of light stabs down into the center of the ruined courtyard, streaking out of a sky boiling with sudden elemental fury where only moments before there had been naught but a few wisps of cloud. The impact of the lightning hits the ruin-strewn ground like a bomb, sending a great plume of dirt and shattered stone flying up into the air. A wave of concussive force rips outwards in all directions carrying with it a deafening blast of raw noise, the very air itself screeching in agony at the incredible force. The entire complex shudders as the shock wave washes over the already battered walls and splintered buildings, knocking loose large chunks of fresh masonry and cracked wood.
The unexpected touch of a god's finger lasts only for a brief few moments. The dark unnatural clouds rumble a few times with tumultuous power, bellowing at the tiny mortal below as if to declare their authority, but even they too fade away in short order, their task complete.
At the center of this fresh bit of devastation, a small crater now pocks the Meian Jinja's once pristine courtyard, though it hardly seems out of place alongside the recent rennovations inflicted by the previous night's assault. As the smoke and dust finally begins to settle, something stirs within the hole, letting out a loud and pained groan of distress.
A massive hand stretches upwards towards the sky, appearing from beneath the rim of the crater, its long clawed nails digging into the hard fire-blasted rim. The muscles on the arm tense up as the voice gives another grunt of effort, slowly sliding some object of great weight towards the surface. A few long seconds later, the familiar sight of a red horn crests the lip of the crater followed shortly by a ragged mane of unkempt blonde hair.
Riki grunts as she heaves herself up to a sitting position against the crater's wall, her face twisted into a great grimace. She pauses to take a long breath, casting her gaze skywards towards the rapidly vanishing thunderclouds with a look of annoyance.
"For thy timely intervention, my lord, I must offer my heart-felt appreciation. And for the very thorough and unpleasant purging of that foul mystic's demonic energies from mine body, I must once more give my gratitude. And I must not forget thy gracious offer to return me hence to this holy place with utmost speed. However..."
Gritting her teeth, the oni places her other arm on the lip of the crater and with a great heave, drags herself up the side. The ogre flops onto her stomach with a dull thump, slowly pulling herself inch by inch onto the softer ground, where she eventually seems to lose steam and simply lies flat, huffing out another grunt.
"Could not thou hast removed the glass first?"
In her new position, the state of Riki's body is now clearly visible for all to see. The back simple white t-shirt which had been given to her by Ayame's thoughtful parents is a complete bloody mess. Tiny jagged shards of glass jut upwards from her flesh like miniature mountain ranges, creating a topography of bright red spines across the majority of her broad torso. It looks like she got into a fight with a recycling bin and the bin won.
It's understandable that everyone who has either not been ferried off to the nearest hospital or has passed out to recover inside the ground floor of the shrine snaps to attention at the sudden bolt of lightning. Gasps of alarm are heard as everyone already outside turns toward the epicenter of newly made destruction. Heads appear from the windows of the other buildings as more look to see what fresh new hellish threat has decided to attack in the aftermath of such a grueling siege.
Ayame gets up to her feet with a grimace, right hand bracing against the wall, left hand gripping her staff that had been leaning adjacent to her, her expression already breaking into her all too familiar scowl. If something else is up for a fight, then her aches and pains will have to take a rain check - she's got more ass to kick!
The change that comes over her the moment the first groan of agony is heard from within the cloud of pulverized stone is as quick as it is drastic, her expression shifting from glowering to deadpan neutrality, the tension coursing through her body seeming to melt away as she settles back down into a kneeling position on the porch, resting her staff back against the wall as she grunts softly in response to her own wounds.
While others continue to gawk at clearing smoke, the strawberry blonde miko just stares, eyes half-lidded. When the large hand claws its way up and out of the site of ruin, she hardly bats an eye while murmurs of concern are heard from the dozen or so others gathered in the damaged compound. Many present are not residents of the Ichijo family shrine and thus far less acquainted it the Meian Jinja's resident oni. Of course, many have visited from time to time and have likely at least gotten a glimpse of the imposing creature or heard second hand tales about her presence... but seeing the tremendously large giantess for themselves must be an entirely different experience. And considering the nature of her arrival... even now, many are still glancing furtively up at the heavens as if concerned there may be other lightning bolts to follow.
And of course, Ayame Ichijo hardly moves, her right hand reaching to her side to take up her clear glass of water as Riki faceplants against the ground and comes to rest, the evidence of whatever savagery she survived plainly visible on her back for all to see.
Taking a sip from her water, Ayame lowers the cup, cradling it in her hands near her lap, looking as disinterested as she could possibly be.
"Nice of you to join us."
Others are far more concerned, with three people rushing out of the temple with white cloths, a bucket of clean, cool water, moving toward the prone demon with alarm. At least they clearly seem to know that the new arrival is not a threat. "Get more bandages," one young woman wearing a simple brown kimono declares, beckoning back toward the shrine before drawing up close to Riki and kneeling down at the massive woman's side.
"You don't need to be too gentle, Hikari-chan," Ayame helpfully comments from her place on the porch before taking another sip of water. "I doubt she can feel anything through that elephant hide of hers anyway."
The younger teen girl presumably named Hikaru blinks toward Ayame with a confused look before she turns back toward Riki while laying out a cloth bundle with a few medical instruments and packets of herbs and medicine. "I can help you with the shards, though we really should get you inside..."
And what awaits the wayward demon after her harrowing encounter with a man, or what was once a man, who very nearly managed to corrupt her soul? After countless days in the none-too-gentle care of her demon lord, meticulously picking the bits of fel magic from every nook and cranny in her strange amalgamation of human and demon soul? Why, only the warmest and most heart-felt of greetings, ofcourse.
Riki twists her head towards the sound of the voice, offering up an amused grin at the tiny miko through the grimace of pain currently etched into her exaggerated features. No amount of suffering will stop her from being cheeky and it's a pretty good sign that she's probably not too badly injured if the oni has the energy left to swap barbs with her mistress.
"Oh... tis good to see you again, my lady! Nrgh. I trust thou hast fared well in mine absence?"
As if on cue, an ominous creaking noise fills the courtyard as one of the handful of smaller structures that had not yet entirely collapsed suddenly gives way to the inevitable, likely abused beyond the point of no return by the demon's rather dramatic arrival. Riki's broad smile doesn't falter even for an instant at the noisy clatter of crumbling boards, her one open eye sparkling with mirth.
"Mrrrph... while I appreciate thy vote of confidence for mine incredible fortitude, my lady..."
Her gaze shifts to Hikaru, a new face that she's yet to encounter until now. Infact there seems to be a whole lot of new people milling around.
"I wouldst appreciate it if thou wouldst disregard the girl's medicinal advice. These accursed shards have been lodged in mine back for nigh on a fortnight atleast... and, nnrgh, even this body of mine has it limits!"
As Riki goes through the effort to orient her face toward the dour miko of the Meian Jinja, Ayame is staring back at her looking terribly unconcerned about the nature of the oni woman's arrival, simply taking another sip of cool, refreshing water.
That she is being her usual difficult self is at least enough to clue the battered giant in that for as bad as things look, the individuals who stood in defense of the shrine must have made it through the night alive. Not even the infamously unsocial Ayame could keep her front up in the face of true sacrifice. For however bad things look, the beleaguered humans must have won and kept their own alive through the nightmarish horror. Which is why Riki has landed in the midst of talk of recovery and reconstruction rather than a mournful dirge and why Ayame can continue being as difficult as she wants.
She pauses at the rhetorical question, a twitch in her expression as the nearby wooden storage shed finally gives way and falls into a pile of broken boards.
Pulling her right hand away from her glass of water, Ayame half shrugs, "Really," she retorts, "The amount of structural damage went down significantly while you were away."
She falls quiet then, taking another sip of water as Hikari begins to fret over the glass shards in the guardian oni's back. With a pair clean, steel forceps, the young acolyte warns of impending pain before she begins pulling out the visible glass bits, one at a time, and setting them aside. Two of the other shrine workers in training accompanying Hikari help with dabbing at any blood around the areas she is working meticulously but swiftly with skilled, nimble hands.
Ayame breathes in then releases an exaggeratedly loud sigh from her place on the porch. "You missed a Gear army trying to plow the shrine under, salt the earth, and slaughter us all. Nothing we could not handle. So what is your excuse?"
Despite her complaining, Riki doesn't put up much fuss as the dutiful girl and her assistants go to work on divesting her back of the bits of broken glass, making only the occassional wince as some of the more onerous pieces are worked free. As usual, her demonic flesh begins to knit almost immediately once the intruding bits of debris are removed, slowly closing up the gaping slashes left in their wake.
The oni is content to remain flopped onto the ground but after some thought she rolls over onto her side and props up her head with one arm, shifting to a position that is both more comfortable and allows the shrine maiden easier access to her injuries. She's about to rip the ragged remains of her shirt off, which is surely doing nothing to make the girl's job easier, but pauses after remembering the several complaints she'd gotten in the past about basic decency while living amongst humans. Grunting, she instead does her best to hike it up in the back as well as move her massive mane of golden hair aside, leaving it piled up around her head and arm.
The giant winces, though whether at Ayame's accusatory question or the large shard of glass being yanked from her hide is impossible to tell. Her gaze sweeps over the damaged shrine for the first time, taking a proper view of the destruction wrought.
"Oh... nothing of import, my lady," she says, her tone nonchalant. "I merely went for a stroll in yonder city... ah, Southtown, I doth believe it is called? I felt it time that I expand mine experiences beyond these walls, accomodating as they hath been."
With a flourish of her clawed fingers, the oni works a bit of her magic, drawing forth her long slender pipe from wherever it is that she keeps her toys. She sticks the elaborate golden tip into her mouth and takes a long drag, exhaling a rolling cloud of smoke scented by whatever flavor of herbs and incense she's packed into it. This batch smells something like a mixture of sage and cinnamon, packing a sharp crisp bite when it invades the nostrils. Riki takes her time, enjoying a few puffs to take the edge off several weeks of being cooped up in some sort of spiritual limbo.
"Whilst enjoying mine walk, I did sense a quite unusual concentration of spiritual energy. Finding its nature to be unpleasant, I did seek out the source of this taint. A man, as it happened, and a most foul one at that."
Her nose wrinkles up at the memory of the meeting, feeling the slimey sense of corruption radiating from the sorcerer and acrid taste of his poisonous magicks in the air. She takes another pause to puff at the pipe for several moments, seeking to smother the recollection with something more aggreable to her palate.
"Twould seem that this man, this...warlock," she spits the word out with unusual vehemence, "had gained some power to draw souls into his flesh and hold them captive. Naturally, twas an affront to the power of mine lord, whom holdest the power of judgement over the dead. I could not simply allow such a monster to roam freely."
Riki glances to the side, scratching behind her ear with the pipe as she moves on to the next part, clearly embarassed.
"Ah... tis my sad duty to report that mine efforts to rebuff his witchcraft met with...limited success."
Riki's roll onto her side forces Hikari to reposition a little, but ultimately makes the attentive work the young miko acolyte is doing significantly easier. "Let me know if you need a break. We're making good progress," she says to the oni with a concerned tone as she pauses to dab at the swiftly knitting flesh to clean it before germs or dirt might get sealed beneath the surface. Whether the half-demon can even suffer something as mundane as an infection is unknown to her, but she treats the guardian oni with all the care she would any other victim.
As Riki speaks of entering Southtown, Ayame's eyes widen slightly, tghe first look of surprise on her face since she realized who was occupying the lightning-caused crater. "You- you cannot just go wandering around a big city like that," she stammers, sitting up straighter and putting her glass down at her side.
Her protest doesn't continue at that point as she falls quiet, lips pressed together, signs of visible alarm melting away from what is likely a conscious effort on her part, her hands coming to rest in her lap as she remains kneeling.
She's clearly focused on the giantess's narrative, however, eyes never wandering off in search of more interesting things to observe. Slowly, her frown builds as the actual specifics of the malevolent presence are established.
"I know of the creature." Ayame states quietly. "You encountered him... the one that tried to kill me months ago, before the United Nations decided to invade our homeland." Her right hand lifts, fingers gripping closed, "I- I warned you about this when the Miyama shinobi was here last. You should not have fought him on your own." The more she speaks, the more she seems to be clenching her jaw, her fingers tightening in her fist, "It is not just souls he can absorb but youkai of all kinds."
Ayame breathes in, closing her eyes, shoulders lifting, before she releases a long breath and resumes staring at Riki. "That one is not a fight you should try on your own. For that matter," she continues, pointing at the oni with her right hand, "You cannot just saunter into Southtown like any normal person. You certainly do not blend in. While you may have been able to get away with it, if barely, before this whole war thing broke out, city people are just not going to take an eight foot fall woman with a horn on her head in stride. Tensions are high now!"
Ayame lifts her hand to her forehead and rubs at it vigorously, eyes closed again. "Well, at least you got away..." She lowers her hand slowly and then glances up at the sky. "Or got rescued." she states, attention shifting back to Riki, "That was fortunate." she adds, narrow eyebrow arced slightly.
The oni grunts in response, eyeing Ayame as she takes another drag from her pipe. In days of old, she'd have taken offense to being told what she can and cannot do by some little pipsqueak of a girl with hardly more than a decade or two of years behind her. She'd spent centuries marauding through human lands, slaying peasant, warrior, and monster alike. If she were to fall in battle then it would be nothing short of what she desired, a life full of destruction and hedonism brought to an end in glorious combat.
Things are different now. She has responsibilities, a sacred mission given by a god and an oath taken under by her own will. Unfortunately, it's not quite that easy to break old habits, particularly where monsters are concerned. Even now she can feel her blood starting to boil at the idea of being lectured to about rules and limits despite it being a very nearly daily occurance when she is around the young miko. Most days she can brush it off as the girl's typically humorless nature, berating her for mundane things like indulging in her various vices or taking naps in the middle of the day when there is some chore or other that needs done.
This time, however, there is something different behind those words of chastisement. It is obvious in the tone of her voice, though she might try to hide it with her usual stand-offish mannerisms. The concern, however slight it may be, is amusing to the ogre. Seeing her mistress flustered never fails to be entertaining, particularly when she is the one responsible. On the other hand, Ayame seems to be under the mistaken impression that being the ward of a guardian oni gives her leave to dictate commands to it. Though she means well, Riki intends to disabuse the girl of that notion right now.
Heaving herself upright to a sitting position, ignoring whatever words of protest might be chirped at her by the girl attending to her injuries, the giantess crosses her legs into a lotus position and leans towards Ayame, resting an elbow upon her knee. Another long and deliberate puff from the pipe is taken and the demon's eyes smoulder like stoked coals as she draws the smoke into her lungs. When she exhales, there is fire amidst the scented grey cloud. The conflagration swirls and churns in the air before her, taking on the shape of a long sinewous dragon. Like a snake, it writhes and twirls in the air, coiling over and around on itself, spitting out angry sparks from its smokey scales and fanged snout.
Another strong exhale sends the fuming serpent sailing towards Ayame. The heady aroma of spices and brimstone assaults her senses as the minor spirit comes closer, twisting its long length in looping circles around the miko, close but never touching. It spins round and round for several seconds before pulling itself up before her, tiny claws pawing at the air as it hisses a thin burst of smoke into the girl's face, bombarding her with an extra powerful dose of the incense composing its body before resuming its drunken circuit.
"My lady," Riki rumbles, her voice sober but not yet threatening. "While I appreciate that thou art not an expert on etiquettes long since vanished from this world, twould do thee well to remember that mine presence here is a matter of mine own chosing. I hath sworn myself to thy protection and will honor that oath with all due importance. However, there are none that may give me direct commands save Lord Enma-O himself."
The sky rumbles again, brimming with the threat of fresh thunder. The oni doesn't bother to glance up but her lips pull back into a fierce grin, monstrous curved canines flashing.
"And even he finds it a most onerous task at times."
As Riki rights herself, Hikari finishes dropping another shard of bloodied glass onto the open cloth at her side and then begins to shuffle backward on her hands and knees, eyes a bit wide. Though the oni woman is considered by many at the shrine as a benevolent presence who is not there to do any harm to its residents, the sheer magnitude of even her most basic movements is a powerful cause for intimidation for many of the acolytes.
But once the ogress settles down, the black-haired girl moves back into a position behind her back, focusing more now on the woman's muscular shoulders than her mane-covered back. Of course, she also has to stand now rather than kneel, going about her work quietly and trying to be as non-disruptive as possible.
Ayame stays put, hands in lap, kneeling on the raised porch of the half-demolished living quarters, seeming to have nothing else to say after her previous diatribe ran its course. She remains indifferent at the initial display of magical smoke manipulation - a creative endeavor she's always assumed the oni wasted countless years of her long life mastering just to show off. But when the wispy dragon crosses the short distance between them to encircle the recuperating priestess, her expression shifts from tight lipped neutrality more toward low-grade irritation, mouth twisting into a slight scowl, eyes narrowing just a little.
She remains still, giving Riki a quiet glare while the smoke-formed manifestation continues to twirl about her in its elaborate dance, as if doubting the ancient demon is going to press any further into invading her space. But the Ichijo girl's focus is forced to shift when the tiny dragon alights in front of her, her eyes widening slightly before squinting closed, the miko flinching and recoiling at the burst of scented smoke.
Her left hand clenches into a tight fist in her lap while her right hand lifts to start waving back and forth in front of her face as if to scatter the smoke, coughing softly all the while.
Lowering her right hand back to her lap, now clenched as a fist as well, she opens her eyes and resumes her glare as the shrine guardian speaks, her expression going from irritated to flustered to openly frustrated. Even with the raised porch beneath her, the kneeling girl is only at eye level with Enma-O's indebted. Leaning forward a little, her lips drawn back into a clearly forced smile that shows her clenched teeth behind it.
"You really are impossible," she all but growls.
Sitting up straight then, she closes her eyes, lifting her face slightly to the right. "Fine." she snaps curtly. "Do whatever you want. Go get trapped by the Butcher if you know so much. He has so many youkai swarming around him, I am confident you will find plenty to keep you company as you reflect on what a bright idea it was to fight a demon sealing, soul stealing monster on your own."
Her eyes open then as she leans forward slightly once more, "And you are painfully out of touch with the disposition of the modern world if you think stomping around like a goliath in Southtown will not have severe repercussions. But I am sure you know what you are doing and will not need me to clear up any regrettable misunderstandings that come about as a result."
The strawberry-blonde hmphs, exhaling softly, reclining slightly to rest her upper back against the wall. "Know it all demons," she mutters under her breath before blinking as if thinking of something else entirely.
"What of the summoner? Did you learn anything in your encounter with him? Other than what a bed of glass shards feels like?"
The oni's toothy grin fades to a more subtle but still smug smirk at the miko's predictable reaction, drawing another long soothing puff of smoke into her cavernous lungs, adding just a bit more substance to the faint haze of spiced incense forming around her. Riki allows her mistress to vent her outrage at being spoken to in such a fashion, saying nothing while the hot-blooded teenager hurls her typical petulant insults and dismissals, knowing that her temper won't stop her from coming to the core issues eventually.
For several seconds, the ogress looks thoughtful, her eyes half-lidded and unfocused in the typical manner she displays when allowing herself to become engrossed in one of her various hedonistic vices. Eventually, she stirs, leaning forward to rest her hands on her knees as she inclines her body in a stiff half-bow. She'd do better but there's still glass in her back and it kind of smarts.
"My lady, thou knowest that I hold thy council in the utmost regard. If it wouldst pose a great risk for this body to be seen by the city-dwellers then I shall refrain from further wanderings in the open."
Just because she isn't going to take orders doesn't mean she can't take advice. It might seem like a minor difference but for a spirit borne out of the myths and legends of an afterlife riddled with complex beaurocracy, such things carry actual weight to them. The chain of authority has to be respected. That and she's never much liked being bossed around, even after her conversion to the more modern outlook of oni as brutal but honorable guardians. Old habits die hard, as they say.
The smile she offers Ayame becomes more amicable and full of her usual annoying enthusiasm. Even though the young miko seems quite resistant to her guardian's rugged charms, they work well enough on everyone else. Not that she'd change even if they didn't. In terms of stubborness, oni rank quite high on the chart. She'll break down the girl's shell one of these days.
"But, I cannot allow fear to keep me from the sacred duty that hath been given me. Wherever true evil lurks, I must face it, and this creature that thou speaketh of is a most foul one indeed."
Riki sits up straight, chewing on the end of her pipe again as she recalls the unpleasant memories of her encounter with the entity that called itself the Butcher. It gave several other names but none of them meant much to her, likely little more than local nicknames and superstitions attributed to its devilish activities. It had been surprisingly chatty for a monster, largely in part because it believed that the two of them shared a common bond due to her own demonic nature. She'd been quick to set it straight on that point.
"Hmm... thou ask if I learned anything from mine encounter with this fiend? Indeed I did, none of it good."
Riki's good humor fades away to be replaced with a sour grimace, her expressions exaggerated as always. Glancing sidelong at Ayame, the oni puffs on her pipe a couple times, worrying at the gilded mouthpiece for several seconds before speaking again, this time posing a question of her own.
"Tell me, girl. What doth thou know of the name Shuten-doji?"
Even the slightest show of acquiescence to Ayame's concerned council seems to mollify the miko slightly, the girl grunting as she lifts her hands from her lap to fold her arms beneath her chest. Some of her dour expression melting away, she breathes in then releases an exaggerated sigh.
"Just... just be careful. Not everyone is as patient and understanding as I am with mythological creatures moving through their midst," she mutters with a roll of her eyes. "And now more than before. That offensive invasion has put a lot of people on edge. They are eying everything not human with an extra dose of hostility, suspecting anything suspicious of being left over invaders. You can thank those UN forged Gear abominations for that. There are rumors about some major changes being made by governments in terms of securing..."
She unfolds her right arm to waggle her right hand back and forth, "Non-traditional methods of dealing with anything people find scary. Hopefully it passes. I cannot blame you for being curious about what is out there." She grimaces, looking to the side then, "Just wear a hat, okay? You will still stand out, but aberrations in human size are not entirely unheard of."
As to the matter of facing evil wherever it lurks, the judgmental priestess looks... well, less judgmental when the case is made, shoulders falling slightly. She makes no comment concerning such sense of duty verbally but she makes no effort to hide her thoughts from reaching her eyes.
She understands that solemn oath. All too well. She may not have sworn to some powerful lord in the heavens to be a barrier between evil and innocents, but the burden is written in the somber look she gives the oni.
Instead, she focuses on the catalyst of this discussion for at least on that point, they are agreed. "Indeed." she punctuates Riki's assessment of the Butcher with nothing less than seething resentment that burns on a personal level. Unfolding her arms, her left hand resumes resting in her lap while her right hand reaches for her glass of water, lifting it to her lips to sip quietly as the battle-worn oni continues to be attended to by the quiet Hikari while contemplating what must have been quite the appalling encounter.
At the question, however, she shakes her head. "There are a lot of stories, but they all date from an era when... record keeping was less than precise. I do not know, myself, where the line exists dividing wild fancy from fact." A faint smile tugs at the corner of her lips, a subtle acknowledgment of just how vast the oni woman's experiences must be compared to her own.
"But I suppose you would."
"Ahhh..." Riki nods, muttering around her pipe. "That I would."
There are many legends surrounding the great demon king known as Shuten-doji, though naturally the most famous of which is that in which he was supposedly slain by a band of human heroes. There was liberal portion of divine assistance mixed in, as is often the case with such stories, but in the end it was a mortal's hands who dealt the final blow. A rather conveniently inspiring story - if one happens to be a human.
The truth of the matter is not quite as tidy.
As one might expect, anything that manages to earn itself the title of 'demon lord' has to be a pretty nasty customer, even more so one claiming to be a king of the oni, the most ferocious and fearsome of monsters. Shuten-doji lived up to the expectations and then some. A towering giant with five horns and fifteen eyes, he dwarfed all other oni in both stature and power, growing so mighty that the Elder Gods themselves had to intervene when his wrath spilled over into the mortal realm. Even they were unable to slay him, instead carving his body into many pieces which they scattered about the Earthrealm, burying and sealing them so that they might never be found.
Yet even this was not enough. A mere handful of centuries later, the great demon's head managed to break free from this binding. With this alone, Shuten-doji once more threatened all of Japan. It was only through a great sacrifice that the demon lord was sealed away once again, buried deep behind powerful magics. As the belief in such creatures became the stuff of superstitions, so too was the truth lost to the passage of time. Yet now, a thousand years later, another twisted soul seeks to unleash tragedy upon the world again.
Riki relays what she knows in a somber tone, taking frequent pauses to chose her words or add to the thick cloud of incense clinging to her like a misty shroud. Unfortunately, though her knowledge of the past is a bit more informed than that of anyone else at the temple, Shuten-doji's reign of terror predates even her own lengthy existence by several centuries and most of what she knows comes from old stories passed around the campfires. It's enough to know that his revival would be quite the dilema, as the gods have long since withdrawn the majority of their influence from the world and mankind no longer commands the mystical powers they once did.
"Though he hath told me little and less beyond what I already knew, my lord hath made it very clear that the revival of this great evil /must/ be stopped. Even a single piece of the oni lord's flesh may pose a challenge beyond mortal ability. If he were to be made whole once more, then I fear there would be no hope at all."
Though she is hiding it well, the night-long battle and her subsequent violent match against the shadow soul that was was known as Daniel Little exacted a significant toll on Meian Jinja miko. But she is determined to keep up appearances all the same, kneeling stoically and staying up rather than retreating to her trashed but functional bedroom to sleep.
Which likely explains the keen interest she has in the stories and details Riki has to share, showing no signs of wanting to hurry the oni along or of looking like she has better things to do than listen to the accounts from Japan's history so ancient as to fall within the realm of myth. The company and engagement is more appreciated than she will ever let on.
At Riki's back, Hikari extracts the final piece of glass she can find, running attentive fingers over the strong skin of the supernatural creature to seek out any final slivers or fragments she might have missed. "You should be able to rest easier now," she murmurs, her tone gentle as she crouches to gather up her tools. Standing, she bows toward the shrine guardian, hands clasped in front of her, "If you have any further need of assistance, I will be honored to provide it." But otherwise, there are other wounded to attend to, and with that, she turns to retreat back into the main building to check on those who were injured in the compound's defense against the Gears.
"Mn," Ayame considers, lifting her left hand to rest at her chin, fingers curled as she lowers her head slightly. "So this reincarnation of the Butcher is even more of a problem than I originally considered now that we know his grand ambition." She exhales with a soft huff, shaking her head, looking back up at Riki. "The body he houses was once a powerful sealer, that much I was able to determine when I encountered him. And somehow he has retained much of that power even as he corrupts and twist the man to his own purposes. That might explain why he thinks himself capable of breaking such ancient, powerful wards."
Returning her glass to the porch, both hands return to her lap then, studying Riki. "But you could sense him. How... close do you think you would have to get to be able to find him again?"
She considers for another moment, "I suppose research into the probable sealing sites of the parts would also be worthwhile, though there will probably be a fair amount of guess work involved. If any of the demons housed within the Butcher's host were able to give him more specific facts, I fear he has a big advantage over us there."
Quietly, she glances around the war torn walled in stronghold, "Well, at least the library is underground," she grunts. It, at least, should have survived the siege without any damage.
"My thanks, child. I feel much improved already. Thou hast a healer's gift."
The giant inclines her head towards the young maiden, smiling broadly as she makes a show of rolling her shoulders. Most of the work was done by her supernatural regeneration but it would have been far less pleasant waiting for the glass shards to work their way out on their own. Being trapped in the spirit realm ever since her timely rescue from the Butcher's grasp had not afforded her the opportunity to divest herself of the annoyance and it feels good to be rid of them finally.
Ayame's own thoughts on the matter at hand draw the oni's attention back as Hikari heads off to tend to others still in need of her services. Riki nods at this, finding it concordant with her own experience. Her hellfire had managed to burn away the shield of souls surrounding what must have once been this sealer, bringing the poor man's tortured spirit to the fore if only briefly. That might prove instrumental in striking a decisive blow.
Riki's nostrils flare in derision at the question, blasting twin jets of smoke into the air infront of her.
"I could feel that twisted miasma of corruption clear across the city. The fool does nothing to conceal himself. Openly did he strike down monsters in the streets, touting himself as a defender of the people. A pitiful ruse. Yet it may serve him well if the city-dwellers allow themselves to be prejudiced against those who are not human in light of the recent conflict."
At the thought of seeking out Shuten-doji's resting places, however, the massive woman's eyes narrow, her brows furrowing deeply. She takes another drag from her pipe and crosses her arms, frowning.
"I know not where such a place might be. But, there are many sites of power scattered throughout the world. Leylines, as your kind call them. Such would seem ideal locations for the sealing of such a terrible entity."
As Riki explains the range at which she was able to sense the demon's corrupt presence, Ayame's eyebrows raise slightly, a rare moment of unconcealed esteem for the guardian oni's abilities.
"Did he now," she muses as the scenario in which the Butcher was found is described, her right hand lefting back to her chin. "What would he have to gain by building admiration from the public? Public opinion is a fickle enough thing. No matter what he built with it, it would turn on him in an instant with a single mistake. I suppose in the meantime, it allows him to draw more souls into his horde without interference..."
Ayame shakes her head then, "Nevermind that. The linchpin of his plot will be to uncover the whereabouts of the head of Shuten-doji. Finding it before him should be the focus of our search. If we can figure it out first, we might be able to prepare a trap to catch him when he eventually comes for it."
Her hand drops back to her lap as she shifts off of her knees to sit more comfortably on the porch, leaning back against the wall, her energy waning in spite her efforts to stay focused. "Of course, that will probably be the most hidden, secretive of the pieces. But his plan hinges on it. Find the head and we can foil the rest of what that monster is up to. No matter what, we cannot let him release it..."
A frown forms at her lips as she contemplates further the threat represented by the Butcher and his inconveniently powerful host. "What is his motive for all this? Would he be hoping for a reward from Shuten-doji? Is it just to wreak havoc? Has he gone so insane as to think he can wrest the demon lord's power for himself?"
The miko hmn softly, eyes half-lidded as she relaxes more against the wall. "If we can discern his objective, we may be able to better position ourselves to thwart it. But for now, at least, we know he intends to find and unseal the pieces."
Riki's frown deepens at this and she snorts again, shaking her head from side to side.
"Nay, the answer to that mystery is already known to me and it shall offer us little advantage. He seeks what many men have sought since the dawn of your kind - to escape the cold clutches of death and cling to what remains of his miserable life."
The memory of her conversation with the Butcher wells up in the ogre's mind, staining her thoughts with black irritation. Not only had he blasphemed against her lord by taking those souls which were rightfully Enma-O's to judge but he had insinuated that she owed allegiance not to the god of the dead but to the demon lord of the oni. Hah! As if declaring himself king was enough reason for her to swear fealty to a creature that had been defeated and humiliated twice.
"His motives he did offer freely as we conversed, in an attempt to sway me to his cause. So long hath he feasted upon the life force of others that he hath become dependant upon it. Rightly did this foul practice see him abhorred and spurned by others, yet he hath grown bitter and vengeful for being cast out. Now he would see all the world burn, content to feed upon the refuse left in the wake of Shuten-doji's carnage."
If there's an angle for them to exploit there, she certainly doesn't see it. If he were just in it for power or wealth, that would be simple enough to understand. Even a primitive desire for wanton destruction for the sake of amusement would offer some way to draw him out. What do you offer someone who wants to see the whole world burn?
Ayame blinks in surprise as Riki declares that not only is she already aware of what the Butcher's purpose is, he openly declared it to her as if he had nothing to hide in the slightest. That he would declare what his end game without hesitation suggests he's either bad at predicting the big picture, which seems unlikely to her, or he is confident it hardly matters if anyone knows what he hopes to glean from it all.
"I see," the Ichijo scion replies, sounding disappointed in the mastermind's ultimate ambition. "Then at least the stakes are clear."
She falls quiet then, looking for several seconds to be lost in thought. "There is one other matter that I feel you should be aware of, as it affects me personally. In the siege I was beset upon by an individual known as Daniel Little. There was a time when he was a member of international law enforcement, a good man if often bewildering. A shadow has consumed him, a fragment of the Butcher, as well as ritualistic science and now he is something all together not human."
She sighs softly, eyes half closed again, "Without consuming the soul energy of humans, he will die. After dealing with his delusional attempts to defeat me, I left him with a talisman that will absorb the energy he needs harmlessly from environments steeped in it so that he does not have to hurt anyone to sustain himself while he wrestles with his inner demons. In time, it may be possible to separate the shadow from the man... but there is a risk he will rescind his efforts to improve and hurt someone."
Ayame takes in a deep breath and sighs, turning her head to the side to gaze toward the shattered courtyard gateway, "He has to return to me each week for the talisman to keep working. But in the meantime, if you should find time to... check on his progress, you would be doing me a great favor and helping save the soul of a man who once was capable of incredible acts of good."
Ayame's attention drifts back to Riki, a tired, faint smile at her lips as she shifts her back against the wall behind her, looking to get more comfortable, "Now, your rowdy arrival has already interfered with my meditations enough. Please see to it that you regain your strength as soon as possible." In other words, for once she seems to be /encouraging/ the guardian oni to take it easy for a bit?
"We have a great amount of work ahead of us."
Ayame closes her eyes.
"So, this Butcher is a threat not only in raw power and ambition. The ability to corrupt others and inflict them with his own condition could prove most troublesome. He may seek to mask his movements by infecting others."
Riki muses out loud, rubbing at the back of her neck with an exasperated sigh. Things just keep getting better and better. Atleast it sounds as if the girl has some sort method of cleansing those touched by the monster's taint. Even if it proves unreliable, any chance to recover is better than none. On the other hand, if they end up with more than one Butcher running around, things could get very bad very quickly, especially if these offshoots are themselves capable of infecting others.
The cold and certain way to deal with the threat would be to put down anyone unfortunate enough to be corrupted. Certainly, it is how her lord would go about the task. The life of a few individuals is of little consequence in the long run and death is not as final as most mortals would believe. A soul once corrupted, however, is often beyond saving. It may be more of a mercy to destroy their flesh and set them free to rejoin the Great Cycle than permit them to fall prey to the hunger for living essence.
The oni keeps that thought to herself for the moment. The girl has enough weighing on her mind at the moment. She will simply have to keep an eye on this Daniel Little and ensure that he does not fall to deeper corruption. In the event that he does succumb, she'll be ready to act and do what is necessary. Ayame can berate her all she likes for it later. Better that she not have to be involved in such sordid business.
"A rather tragic tale. I shall watch over this man when circumstances permit."
Pushing to her feet, the oni banishes her pipe and dusts herself off. Her gaze wanders across the ruined landscape around her, taking note for the first time of the extent of the damage done to the complex with a grunt. Ayame's lapse into silence is taken for the dismissal it is, freeing Riki up to do as she pleases. Trundling off towards one of the larger piles of rubble, Riki stretches her arms towards the sky and rolls her neck about, setting of a noisy cascade of cracks and pops as her massive bones work out a kink or two.
Despite the advice that she should rest, several weeks being cooped up in the spirit realm have left her rather eager to do something of substance. And there looks to be a whole lot of things that a big strong ogre could help out with right about now.
Log created on 03:11:27 05/21/2018 by Ayame, and last modified on 13:01:11 05/27/2018.