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Ryoka Yukimura

"My life isn't what I thought it'd be... but I'd rather be here, now. With them."

757 views · last seen in Tokyo || 2020
a character in “Ephemeral Ascendence”, originally authored by Mihael, as played by Nemeseia

Description

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xxxxxxxxx◙◙◙◙* Female xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 28 xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 5'7 xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 130lbs. xxxxx◙◙◙◙* Human

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AAWPN x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌


--Image- KI SENSE gauge power & type of yōkai, even from a distance
KI ENHANCEMENT increases physical abilities using ki energy
INDOMITABLE WILL occlumency; push past pain/temptation
SLAYER PRODIGY really good with weapons/killing things


Image I learned to let go when I was younger
- - - - - - - scared of growing old .


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If Ryoka is anything, she is stubborn; there's no denying that. She isn't quite keen on giving up, and pushes through until she has accomplished whatever it is she's doing. It can cause some tension with others considering that she doesn't exactly know her limits. When someone else wants to quit, she wants to keep going--to keep pushing herself to see just how far she can go. She doesn't mean any harm by it, but it doesn't bother her to push herself to her limits. She just forgets that others aren't quite the same as she is.

And if anything, she is protective of what she considers her family--especially if it concerns her younger sibling. She is extremely protective of him in a way that can be a bit over bearing. She knows that he can take care of himself, that he is just as capable as she is, however; the fact remains that he is her younger brother.

He'll always be little to her.

She doesn't hide that fact, either. Ryoka is as blunt as she is stubborn. She's not particularly great with expressing herself, so she prefers to be as honest as she possibly can. She doesn't like hurting people's feeling on purpose, unless she has to, but she doesn't exactly keep things to herself, either. It's a bit of a conundrum for her since she's been in trouble before because of her mouth, however; she refuses to lie unless she absolutely has to.

Despite her strong personality, though, Ryoka is a warmhearted individual--perhaps a little more delicate than she presents herself. She takes things to heart, though she tries her best not to since most things aren't exactly pleasant. She knows she's not exactly the brightest person, and somethings she does get wrong, however; she is dedicated and loyal to her family. For them, she would gladly lay down her life--especially him, her younger brother. She can be a bit overwhelming, a little temperamental, but she usually means well.

And that's all she ever wants to do, even if she fucks it up from time to time. Still, Ryoka is a woman who would rather be herself than hide behind a facade, and would rather people know her for who she is and be accepted for it. She doesn't take kindly to people threatening her family, and enjoys teasing those she is close with. She's got a dark sense of humor, but she puts that down to her line of work.

That and she blames some of it on her younger brother.


Image I don't want love no more
- - - - - - - though it's the one thing that I miss the most .


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Ryoka was the first born into the Yukimura clan. As the first born, it was expected that she take on the role of future heir, and thus her training began the moment she could wield a weapon. It didn't matter what weapon she wielded, Ryoka took to it like a second nature. She excelled in the art of weaponry, and it didn't take long for her to excel in hand-to-hand combat as well. As a child, though, she embraced the life of a slayer, and focused all of her time on training. She was less interested in school with the normal children, and because of this, it caused her to go through the first years of her life, without friends.

She never seemed to mind this, though, and was always waiting for the day to come when she no longer had to participate in school. Her grades, however, never suffered though. She made sure of that, even if she wasn't interested in it. Suffice to say though, she wasn't the most liked kid in her school, either. Though they were never to lay hands on normal people, it did not stop Ryoka from participating in fights when she was pushed a little too far. Because of her aggressive nature, Ryoka was home-schooled.

This of course, meant that her training increased, and most of the pent up aggression was eventually beat out of her. It was, perhaps attributed to the fact that she became an older sister around ten years old. She'd never seen a child look so frail before, and though as Satoru grew and his strength, that instinct to be there for him and protect him, also grew. He was her baby brother, and she needed to protect him. It was also around this time that she made her first kill. Most slayers do not earn their first kill until their twelfth year, however; as young as she was, Ryoka was determined to prove that she was the best.

Of course, this desire grew less and less as she matured, however; it was undeniable that she was, for a time, one of the strongest taji-ya in her village. During Ryoka's teenage years, she trained with her family, eventually falling in love with one of her clansmates. Given that they grew up together, and were one of the strongest pairs on hunts, the union was smiled upon, however; it wasn't meant to be. He became ill, and no amount of medicinal herbs or modern medicine, could heal him. It took him, and it broke her heart, however; she learned to move on.

It didn't stop her from trying to love again, however; she eventually knew that her heart did not matter. She would eventually love what was best for her family, and since then, Ryoka has given up on finding love. She wants what is best for her family, and loves them dearly. She would do anything for them, and most of the members know this. It is perhaps a fault in her, how devoted she is to them, and what she is willing to sacrifice to keep them safe. Currently, she is leading a bit normal life, which is a bit foreign to her.

Though she has grown in both worlds, she is unsure of what to do with herself should there be a day where the taji-ya are no longer needed.

It would be... weird.


Image I thought I had a chosen my design
- - - - - - - I thought I was broken all this time .


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Ichikage
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This line is here to take space.
I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who's crushed on their boss.

Ryoka isn't quite as dense or as ignorant as most when it comes to what she feels. She is more in-tune with her emotions, and knows that she feels something for Ichikage. Maybe it's just a bit of infatuation? After all, he was the one who went out of his way for her on her date that completely flopped. Plus... he's been really good to her and Satoru. Whatever it is, she's not going to deny it. She'll let it run its course like it always does.

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Mika
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This line is here to take space.
She's... pretty amazing, actually.

There is no one quite like Mika, and Ryoka almost feels envious. How can someone so young be so accomplished? So... talented? Ryoka greatly respects Mika, and if anything, actually listens when Mika gives her advice. Whether it's about her clothes, or her job, she takes everything to heart. Mika is, in some aspects, like an older sister to Ryoka, one she'd never have. And it's fun going with her and Etsuko on their monthly outings.

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Kiyoshi
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AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
And I thought Satoru was a bit dense.

Kiyoshi is something of a spectacle for Ryoka. He shares some similarities to Satoru, ones that are quite hilarious, in fact. They both are quite emotionally stunted when it comes to any kind of romance. Ryoka doesn't claim to be an expert in it, but she knows that Kiyoshi is a bit blind to his attraction to Mika. Still, he's fun to be around and she enjoys talking with him when she's not teasing him.

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Etsuko
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AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
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This line is here to take space.
Etsu's a good kid.

Ryoka is not going to lie; she adores Etsuko. She's fun to tease, and she enjoys putting her in awkward positions with Satoru. Their reactions are adorable. She secretly hopes to have Etsuko as a little sister one day, however; it's up to Satoru on what to do, if he ever figures it out. Honestly, their friendship has caused Ryoka to respect Etsuko. She's been good for Satoru, even if they end up just friends.

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Satoru
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AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
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AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
I meant it when I said I'd support him.

It amazes Ryoka at how grown Satoru is. Sure, he might be a legal adult, but to her, he'll always be her little brother. She was secretly happy that he decided to stay in Japan, though, when he chose his college. She would have supported him either way, but knowing that he'll be close by, close enough that she can protect him... it's a bit overwhelming sometimes. She knows she'll have to let him go, soon, though. He won't always be with her, and she won't be the one to hold him back. He deserves the world, and she'd give it to him if she could.

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Coding by Aethiya, inspired by maccotango's guide to the same.

So begins...

Ryoka Yukimura's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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Footnotes

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INK



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Sunlight slanted in through Satoru’s window, illuminating the interior of his bedroom with the red-gold color of sunrise. Unfortunately, one of the beams landed right in his face. His eyes squeezed shut; he threw an arm over them to block the intrusive rays.

But try as he might, there was no avoiding it—he’d been up at dawn every day since his infancy. It was natural to him in the same way breathing was natural. Likewise, trying to resist only wound up giving him grief. So with a groan, he threw off his blue blanket and rolled out of bed, planting his feet confidently on the floor without paying much attention.

Half-staggering to the small bathroom attached to his bedroom, he turned the water faucet on and cupped his hands under the stream, splashing it up into his face. The cold water finished what the bright light had started—by the time he’d rinsed off his face soap, he felt like a human again.

His hair was still damp from last night’s shower; half of it was plastered awkwardly to the side of his head where he’d slept on it. Frowning at his face in the mirror, he slid his thick-framed glasses onto his nose and reached for his comb. Dampening it under more water, he wrestled it into something that looked neat enough—it still looked like bedhead, but moderately-respectable bedhead, which he figured was good enough. Gods knew he’d never make it lay all flat and shiny like Ryoka’s.

Changing into his uniform sans the black and red jacket, he threw that over his arm and padded downstairs to the kitchen. The clan members responsible for cooking for the main branch were already hard at work; Satoru threw his jacket over one of the chairs and joined them. The handle of a kitchen knife was familiar in his hands; unlike a sword, it didn’t make him feel guilty to wield, either.

“Satoru-sama,” chided Kiyone, the head chef and Satoru’s distant third cousin. “If your parents find you here, they will not be pleased.”

She said it to him every morning. He always replied in the way he did now, by smiling slightly and shaking his head.

“What my parents don’t know won’t hurt anyone, Kiyone-san.” He slid the knife easily through the blocks of tofu, cubing them neatly for that afternoon’s miso soup; breakfast itself was already well underway, and he didn’t want to interfere with the smooth efficiency of the kitchen. They still had about half an hour before his parents would make their way downstairs; Ryoka was a little harder to predict, but she didn’t care if he helped the cooks, so he wasn’t worried about that.

"It's not like he has anything better to do, Kiyone-san," almost as if on cue, Ryoka spoke, making her appearance inside the kitchen. She grabbed a nearby apple, grannysmith if the green color was anything to go by, and rubbed it against her shirt. She took a single bite from it and her face contorted slightly, probably from the sourness of the apple. "Besides, Toto-chan is a good cook, Kiyone-san. You've taught him well," she added, glancing in his direction, allowing a small smirk to cross her features. She made her way towards where he was, standing just a few feet behind him.

"So, what are you making, Toto," she asked, leaning over so that she could peer around his shoulder. He was a bit taller than she was, probably by a good few inches.

Satoru rolled his eyes, frowning at his sister’s typical antics. Honestly; she was ten years older than him—and maybe half as mature most of the time. Of course, he knew it was mostly him that she was like this with; plenty of other times she could be too serious. So he didn’t shove her off or say anything too rude. He preferred to just put up with it. Continuing to chop with her practically leaning her chin on his shoulder wasn’t that hard, so he did.

“It’s the miso soup for your lunch today, ane-ue,” he replied. “And don’t forget that you have to go pick up otou-sama’s swords from the blacksmith this afternoon—he’ll need them for tonight.”

There weren’t many smiths left who still actually worked on blades that saw use, but there were a few. One of them was on contract with the Yukimura, but he lived a ways outside of Tokyo, which meant that dropping off or picking up their orders took a while. Since Satoru had school and wasn’t old enough to drive yet, he couldn’t do it—and most of the branch family members had other daily duties that made it prohibitively inconvenient for them as well.

"And you take such good care of me," she mocked. She said nothing else, instead, stretching one arm over her head until a slight pop could be heard. She did the same thing to the other arm, and pulled them both forward until her back popped as well. "I'll be picking them up once I drop you off," she simply stated. "Chizuru had an emergency to take care of, so I am dropping you off. The blacksmith isn't too far from your school, anyways," she added, taking another bite from her apple.

Once she was finished with it, she tossed it into the trash, and waited for him to finish what he was doing. "I'll be picking you up, too," she decided to add, pulling a hair band from her right pocket. She pulled her hair back and tied it, probably to keep it from getting in her way. "Oh, and another thing," she stated, clicking her tongue as if she'd forgotten to mention something. "You get to be my sparring partner tonight," she spoke, the smirk on her face growing.

“Lucky me,” Satoru deadpanned.

It was no secret that Ryoka loved to fight. Equally obvious was that he didn’t care for it, though like any Yukimura, he was trained to the peak of his capability. Family tradition was hard to say no to, especially when that tradition had a very practical and necessary purpose, as theirs did.

That didn’t mean he was looking forward to it, however.

Finishing with his work and setting the ingredients aside for Kiyone’s later use, he made his way over to the other side of the kitchen counter, picking up his school jacket and sliding into it. For whatever reason, his private high school had chosen black and red as their uniform colors—and both the boys and girls wore blazers, more formal than most of the public schools around.

Satoru might have preferred to attend a different school, actually; pretty much all of the friends he’d made in middle school had ended up at the local public high school. But his parents had insisted he take the entrance exams for Ginseki Academy, and so he had. The tuition rates were insane, even for a family with as much money and history as his, but fortunately the top examinee from each test year was allowed in on scholarship.

Two years ago, that had been Satoru; he was in his last year of school now. Fastening the jacket, he adjusted his glasses and brushed a few stray hairs behind his earpiece before following Ryoka out to the car.

“Please remember that if you want to spar me this evening, I have to live that long,” he reminded his sister. Nee-san’s driving was about as good as her cooking: potentially lethal and likely to leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. Satoru thought sometimes she forgot that they were only human, and relatively fragile.

She snorted in response. "You haven't died, yet," she chided. "Now hush and get in the car," she added, motioning for him to move.

“Yet."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
Tag Characters » Add to Arc »

Footnotes

Add Footnote »

INK

Ryoka yawned, covering her mouth as she did so and continued walking. The day had been less eventful, and she found most of her time being spent training. By herself. Satoru was originally supposed to be her sparring partner tonight, but there had been a slight change in plans. A hunt was being orchestrated for the night, and she didn't want to wear Satoru or herself out. She didn't doubt her baby brother's abilities, but she also never wanted to take that kind of chance. She stopped momentarily to greet one of the other members of her family before continuing on towards her destination.

"Satoru, are you ready?" she stated, knocking on his door slightly. "Otou-san wants us to gather by the foyer," she continued, waiting for his response. Normally, she'd walk right into his room, however; something like this always gained a sort of proper distance for him.

“Just a second,” he called from behind the door. Ryoka could hear the efficient, but unhurried sound of her brother gearing up inside: the soft slide of a sword sheath going into a sash, the gentle ruffle of him pulling a cloth mask over his head. They all wore zukin—masks that covered the lower half of their faces—and then metal ones designed to filter demon toxins over those.

Satoru opened the door; the zukin was still around his neck, and he had the filter mask in one of his hands, but the rest of his equipment was intact: katana, wakizashi, a brace of kunai throwing knives held in a dark sash over his chest, and a small pouch at his thigh with other miscellaneous tools in it. The taiji-ya had adapted a lot of their practices and equipment from shinobi—the difference was that their foes were far deadlier, and even in the modern day and age, bullets weren’t that useful. They were also too noisy, really.

“Did he say what we’re after tonight?” he asked, padding silently down the stairs to the foyer behind her. Satoru might have been the youngest member of the clan, but like her, he was an experienced hunter by this point, and stealth was second nature to all of them.

"Nope. He said he'd brief us once we were all gathered, though. It may have something to do with that swarm from last week," she replied, slipping her fingers through her hair to pull it back. She couldn't have it interfering with her sight once she was on the hunt. She pulled her own zukin over her face as well, leaving the metal one to hang around her wrist but still grasped in her hand. She'd put it on once the briefing was over, but for the time being, she'd leave it be.

"Last week's swarm was just a bunch of saimyōshō running about in one of the more rural areas. We couldn't find the source of their nest, but I think some of the others have finally found it. It could also just be a rogue Jorōgumo. There are rumors of men disappearing around the outskirts of town, too," she elaborated, shuddering slightly. It wasn't unheard of, a yokai running rogue, but it wasn't exactly common, either.

“Hm.” Satoru took the news with little reaction. Instead, he pulled his zukin up and over his nose and mouth.

They both filed into the foyer with the rest of the clan members. Those that weren’t strictly household staff all had a job to do on a hunt like this; their clan had never been the biggest, and so on the really important hunts, it was all hands on deck. The scouts had been out earlier in the day—so it was the slayers that would mobilize tonight.

Their father, Yukimura Seiji, was already issuing orders to the clansmen that would remain behind; mainly the triage team and their cousin Eiki, who was a surgeon. Satoru often helped him—but lately their father had been pretty insistent that he go on the hunts with Ryoka and the others.

The siblings were the last to arrive; their father narrowed his eyes slightly at them. But they weren’t really late, and so no scolding was forthcoming. Beside him, their mother was looking down at a GPS device—no doubt pinpointing the location of tonight’s excursion.

Ryoka greeted their father with a formal bow, and glanced towards her mother. "Have they found the location, yet?" she asked. The question itself, was probably unneccessary, but still, she wanted to know. Ryoka was excited about the hunt. They always provided a certain adrenaline high for her, though she was careful not to indulge too much. She rolled out her shoulders, trying to loosen the muscles in her arms so that she would be a little more limber. She couldn’t have her muscles cramping up on her, after all.

“Yes,” her mother replied. Yukimura Fumiko may have married into the Yukimura family, but she was of taiji-ya heritage herself; just like them, she’d trained from an early age to do this. “The nest is about five miles outside the city—here.” She tapped the point on her GPS, zooming in on it. Everyone carried smartphones designed to handle that information; no doubt she’d just sent it to Ryoka’s as well.

“We will take the vehicles until we’re a mile away, and then proceed on foot,” their father added. “But we may be attacked on the way—the scouts indicated that the saimyōshō are quite aggressive in defending their territory—they may well be under the command of a greater yōkai, so you must all be smart about this.”

A round of bows and a few “yes sirs” went around the room. Her father returned the acknowledgement with a nod. “Good. Then split into teams of two, along the usual lines, and get to the cars.”

For Ryoka, that meant pairing with Satoru and sharing a car with their parents on the way over. Her brother, already at her elbow, met her eyes. “Time to go, I guess.”

Ryoka nodded her head in agreement. Before they left for the cars, she turned towards Satoru, and just stared at him. "Be careful, alright?" she finally spoke, all seriousness evident in her tone. Even if he was old enough, and certainly strong on his own, she still worried about him. He was her baby brother. "Now let's go hunt some saimyōshō, yeah?" she finished, ushering him towards the car they would be sharing. She tied the metal part of her mask around her face, and shuffled her equipment around. Her mother was right; they could be attacked along the way. With the way the saimyōshō were acting, it was a high possibility.

He nodded tersely, but didn't say anything in response.

Once they were in the car, Ryoka placed her katana in a place where it would be easily accessible, and moved the rest of her equipment to the back. She wouldn't need it that much, but it did contain extra kunai, her wakizashi, and her kusarigama. She favored that weapon more, but one wouldn't be able to tell right away. There were more notches on it than her katana, though. "There were reports saying that there were possible sightings of a Jorōgumo near Aokigahara," she stated once the car was started.

"They were false," her mother replied. She glanced at her phone, watching the GPS as they drove towards their destination. "There wasn't a Jorōgumo, but there were smaller, Tsuchigumo. Hibiki took care of those," she continued, glancing through the sides of her eyes towards the siblings before returning her gaze towards her phone.

"Tsuchigumo? Guess that means the saimyōshō weren't the only ones," she muttered to herself, placing her hand beneath her chin in a thoughtful manner. "Satoru, what's the easiest way to dispatch a Tsuchigumo?" she questioned. A small pop-quiz couldn't hurt. They didn't face too many Tsuchigumo, after all, but they were still well-known to the taiji-ya.

“Easiest?” he echoed. His voice was slightly muffled by the metal mask he’d also donned. Satoru’s was shaped vaguely like the jaws of a dragon, scales etched into the metal and fangs protruding slightly from the surface—they resembled predatory eyeteeth. It was a strange contrast to his eyes; Satoru had soft eyes, not the hard ones Ryoka and her parents shared.

“Sneak up and put something sharp in their eyes, preferably from a distance,” he replied automatically. “But if you end up in group melee or your cover is blown, it’s really the fangs you have to watch out for. They’re immune to most poisons, so you have to hit them with weapons. The carapaces are hard, so aiming for the eyes or the joints is best. Stabbing is better than slashing if you do want to get past all the armor.” His answer was nearly monotone; he shifted his eyes out the window of the car.

He’d always been exceptional with yōkai lore and knowledge—probably the question had been too easy.

“And what is the difference between a Tsuchigumo and a Jorōgumo?” their father asked, following up.

“Tsuchigumo look like spiders. Jorōgumo are more powerful, and can transform to resemble humans. They tend to favor female forms, and prefer to eat men. They can also use their webbing to attack directly, where Tsuchigumo can make snares and nests out of it, but not use it in combat.”

"Basically, dismemberment, starting with the legs," she stated, nodding and sighing in slight satisfaction at his answer. There was another class of spider yōkai known as the umigumo, however; they were no where near the ocean. Umigumo were sea spiders, and made their homes closer to the ocean. They usually weren't a threat to cause one of the Yukimura members to make a trip all the way out there.

"If you're incapacitated by a jorōgumo, what should you do?" their mother questioned, this time. Ryoka mulled the question over.

"Depends on how we were incapacitated in the first place. Jorōgumo have stealth and agility on their side," despite the fact that all taiji-ya had that as well. Jorōgumo had the upperhand by just being what they were: demons. "But despite that advantage, they aren't too physically strong. They prefer attacking from a distance so in order to become incapacitated, she'd have to ensure you're captured in her web. The only way out of a Jorōgumo's web, though, is with fire," she stated. Jorōgumo made exceptionally strong webs, no matter their age, and some of their weapons weren't exactly made to cut through such things.

"A Jorōgumo is also known to command lesser spider yōkai as well. It's always good to be aware of your surroundings," Ryoka muttered more to herself. She glanced at Satoru as he eyed the outside, smiling just a fraction before turning her attention to her phone. They were nearing their destination. She opened her mouth to speak to him, however; the sudden turn of the car knocked them to the side. The car slide a bit to the side, doing a quick spin before coming to a stop.

"Is everyone alright?" came the voice of her father. Ryoka grimaced slightly, unhinging her seat belt. Her shoulder was throbbing slightly due to the pull of the seat belt, but she could still move.

"Satoru," she called towards her brother. The broken window allowed a screech to fill the car as a small swarm of saimyōshō could be seen in the distance. There was, however, a closer screech. It belonged to a pair of Tsuchigumo, causing Ryoka to smirk as she pulled out her kusarigama from the back.

"Ready little brother?"

With a click, Satoru unfastened his seat belt as well. He used his protected elbow to break out the rest of the glass on his side, then pulled himself through the opening with the ease of long practice. It was quicker than using the door, and would keep the rest of the vehicle as protected as possible. “Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled, hooking two fingers around the rings at the end of a pair of kunai.

As soon as she was out as well, he turned to her. “I’ll distract them; you can flank.” He was, after all, more suited to direct confrontation.

Stepping forward into a sprint, Satoru drew his wakizashi in his left hand, loosing one of the knives at the closer tsuchigumo. Red light flared around it, encasing the blade in a thin shell of luminescence.

Upon contact with one of the tsuchigumo’s center eyes, it detonated with a bang and a crack. Demon guts spattered everywhere, raining down over the side of the road. The tsuchigumo that had been hit—lacking a head—fell over dead.

He certainly had the other one’s attention now.

"Hey now, don't kill all of them. Save one for me, will ya," Ryoka commented, watching as the tsuchigumo's head exploded. "It's a good thing you practice on watermelons," she made the nonchalant comment, pulling her kusarigama around and began swinging it. The second of the tsuchigumo lunged towards her brother, but the moment it did, Ryoka's blade connected with one of its legs, severing it and causing it to stagger forward. She could hear more approaching from the distance, and perked up.

"Seems like we do have a jorōgumo in our midst," she spoke, a rather cheshire-like grin pulling at her features beneath her mask. It was no secret that she enjoyed a good fight. A good hunt, however, was as exhilarating to her as jumping out of an airplane was for an adrenaline junkie. She pulled her kusarigama into her hand, and shifted it so that she was now wielding it. The tsuchigumo she'd temporarily crippled, turned its attention towards her, venom seeping through its jaws. She shuddered slightly. It was odd how unnerving spiders were to her, considering what she did for a living.

"Why do they have to have such ugly faces?" she stated, watching as it hissed at her. "Oh hey, I think I hurt its feelings," she continued, dodging the small bile of spit it shot towards her. Well, so much for having fun. She rolled out of its way as it swiped at her, swinging her kusarigama as it did, and severed its other leg.

"Hey Toto-chan, wanna blow it up again?" she directed towards her brother, tilting her head to the side as the rather jovial shine to her eyes seemed to take on a brighter hue.

“Little busy here,” he replied, staving off a hit from the jorōgumo. It must have moved forward to attack him while she was slicing off the second leg.

At that point, however, a triplicate of shuriken embedded themselves in the tsuchigumo’s eyes, thrown by their mother. Both parents joined the battle now, moving to keep the large insects away from Satoru’s fight. Other clan members threw canisters of specialized poison at the saimyōshō, covering the area in a thick, toxic fog that their masks would filter for them.

"Well, you're no fun," she almost pouted. She threw her kusarigama at the tsuchigumo, watching as it embedded itself in one of its remaining eyes, and drew her katana. With a slight focus of ki, she enfused her muscles with it to drive the katana straight into its head, watching the light fade from its eyes as she made her way towards Satoru. Another tsuchigumo appeared, trying to slow her down, however; their father managed to draw its attention away from her.

"I know Satoru is a handsome young man, but unfortunately for you," she stated, grunting slightly as the jorōgumo moved to attack Satoru again. "He's off limits," she finished. She managed to block the spider-woman's weapon with her katana, and pushed her back. She held her weapon in front of her, her attention on the jorōgumo as she spoke, "Are you alright?" Her eyes never left the spider-woman.

“Ugh, ane-ue. Really?” Satoru looked some combination of disgusted and embarrassed at her words to the yōkai. But he didn’t lose focus either, swatting one of the woman’s arms aside as it tried to snatch him off his feet. From the way he was moving, he was uninjured.

One of the demon’s other arms threw a rope made of sticky thread for each of them. Satoru dodged his, darting in and slashing with his wakizashi, leaving a heavy cut across the yōkai’s collarbone. Deep red blood oozed from it, carrying the stench of rot and decay.

"What? I can't say my little brother is handsome?" she retorted, jumping to the side to avoid the sticky thread, however; some of it managed to catch her foot, causing her to grunt. "Damn it," she stated, trying to hack it off. Luckily, it hadn't the time to harden, but it wasn't exactly easy to get out of. Once she was free, her face contorted at the stench. She'd never get used to the smell of their blood. Instead, she took the opportunity to charge it, aiming for one of the arms.

Unfortunately, the demon parried her attack, sending her backwards into a defensive stance. The demon was angry, if the way its eyes were gleaming were any indicator, and an angry jorōgumo wasn't exactly an easy opponent. "Satoru," she called towards her little brother, barely dodging a swipe from the demon. "I'm going to distract her, and I want you to incapacitate her. Blow her up if you have to," she stated. It would require some time, perhaps, for him, and she would give him that time if he needed it.

The jorōgumo lunged at Satoru again, however; Ryoka moved to intercept her, the woman's claws scrapping her shoulder in the process. "What did I say? My little brother's off limits. You'll have to get rid of me first," she stated, a hint of seriousness laced in her voice. She pushed the spider-woman off of her and stepped back a bit. Her shoulder wasn't bleeding too much, but there was a slight possibility that the jorōgumo could have seeped poison into her wound. She wasn't feeling the side-effects, yet.

Jorōgumo poison, however, often took time to spread. And if she moved around more, it would spread quicker. Her grip tightened on her sword as she swung it at the demon, managing to catch some of its fingers. The digits separated from the hand, and the painful, angry screech was enough to cause Ryoka to wince.

The noise suddenly cut off as a blue-lit blade passed through the jorōgumo’s neck from behind. The cut was extremely smooth and even, passing through flesh and bone like a knife through butter. The yōkai’s head tumbled to the ground, her neck gushing a small fountain of fetid blood.

Satoru landed right beside Ryoka—he’d vaulted over the yōkai’s shoulder and cut her on the way past, it seemed. The blade of his wakizashi dripped with more black-red ichor; he flicked it off almost absently. His free hand was pressed to his sternum; the lines at his eyes conveyed at least discomfort, if not pain.

“Are you all right, ane-ue?"

"I'll be fine. It was just a flesh wound. I'll have one of the others look at it to see if the wound is infected," she replied, glancing in his direction. She frowned slightly, and seemed to do a once over with her eyes. "What about you? Are you alright? You're not hurt, are you?" she stated, reaching out to him and cradled his face. She moved it from side to side, inspecting to see if he had any wounds on him. Once she was satisfied, she removed her hands and glanced towards the remains of the demon.

Most of the saimyōshō were dead, littering the ground in small lumps, while the tsuchigumo seemed to scatter. Without the jorōgumo controlling them, most of them would return to the mountains. "Let's go check on the others," she simply spoke, sheathing her katana and picking up her discarded kusarigama.

“Yeah..." He followed, still rubbing absently at his chest.

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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Ryoka squeezed the excess water from her hair, twisting it until there was little moisture left. She pulled it over her shoulder, walking through the silent halls of the Yukimura home, and started to braid it. It was quiet, the crickets chirping endlessly, and Ryoka found herself humming to their tune. She was bored, and most of the other members were either asleep, or they were taking turns on a small hunt. Apparently some rats decided to harass locals outside of a restaurant, and they needed to be dealt with. She flipped the braid behind her, stopping in front of a familiar door, and smiled when a dim light could be seen.

"Toto-chan!" she spoke, entering the study where Satoru was. It was low enough that she wouldn't wake any of the other members, since sleeping schedules weren't kept too regularly, but it was still loud enough that she was trying to startle him. She should know by now that he didn't startle easily, but she still tried. Plus, it was good reflex training. You can never be too careful. "Whatcha workin' on?" she continued, walking so that she stood behind him. She leaned over, leaning her arms over both of his shoulders and resting her chin on his left shoulder.

The unimpressed frown he gave her was normal. She could see him carefully slide the small knife in his hand back up into the sheath under his sleeve—apparently, his reflexes were just fine. Laid out on the desk in front of him was what looked like math homework; it was much more complicated than the kind of stuff Ryoka had done in high school. Her brother took a bunch of fancy accelerated classes on top of all his other crap—why wasn’t something he’d ever talked about.

“Calculus,” he replied almost tonelessly. “It’s as boring as it looks, honestly.” He shrugged the shoulder she wasn’t propped on, taking up his pencil in his hand and making the next few symbols in the sequence.

"Calculus, huh," she repeated his answer, shifting so that she was a little more comfortable and he wasn't exactly unable to do his work. She wouldn't hinder him from it. "Well you're no fun," she spoke, yawing in the process. She didn't bother covering her mouth, and instead removed herself from his shoulders. "Thanks, by the way," she stated suddenly. "For bailing me out," she added, referencing what she was thanking him for. Satoru hadn't arrived quickly enough when they were at the mall. She ended up kicking some guy in the shin, and she nearly broke one of the manager's arms when they grabbed her wrong. She'd been sent to the local jail and was restrained until she either made bail, or she served her week sentence.

She couldn't exactly miss a week's worth of hunts, but her family wouldn't bail her out. Satoru was the only one she could count on for that. "You know, one of these days, Otou-san and Okaa-san are going to wonder what you do with all your money," she spoke in a nonchalant fashion.

“Hookers and blow, obviously,” he deadpanned, moving to the next line of his homework without interruption. He glanced up at her and rolled his eyes. “But seriously, they probably think I have a porn stash or something.”

It took only a second to realize exactly what he said, and Ryoka tried with all her might not to laugh. Typically, she failed, and held a hand to her abdomen as she tried to regain her breaths. "My Toto-chan is finally growing up," she finally retorted once she had enough air in her lungs. "He's finally becoming a man," she teased, slipping to his side and giving him a quick peck on his cheek. She then wrapped her arms around his shoulders in a hug, trying to distract him from his current task.

“Pfft.” He blew out his breath in an unimpressed gust, stoically still under her rather fierce hug. “Yeah, because you’re not a man unless you want to look at naked strangers all the time,” he drawled sarcastically. “Besides, ane-ue, all my allowance actually went to bailing you out. You’ve really got to learn to put a lid on your temper.”

"Well, you know you do have a choice of not bailing me out, imouto-chan," she spoke.

He scowled, narrowing his eyes at her.

"My temper? Dear Toto-chan, I have no idea what you are referring to," she said, placing a hand on her hip and holding out the other as if she were holding a dish on it. Her nose was turned up slightly, however; she turned towards him and sighed. "Yeah, well it wasn't exactly my fault, you know. I just wanted my quarter back, and that guy didn't have to grab me that way. You know how I feel about being touched like that," she muttered, making her way so that she lay lazily in one of the empty chairs.

She twirled a kunai in her hand, watching as it spun. She knew she had a temper, but there were just times where she couldn't exactly hold it. Sure, she wouldn't have a record if she did. It'd be pretty flawless by now, but where would the fun in that be? He did have a point, though. She was using up a lot of his allowance. Most of what she made went on food. Desserts, mostly, but no one would be able to tell given the way she looks. "Fine, fine," she finally sighed and dropped her hand, leaning her head over the top of the chair.

"Tomorrow, I'll go set up an actual savings account and try to save my own money so that I won't keep using up yours," she spoke, putting an emphasis on try.

His expression softened, but only slightly. “I can go with you,” he offered. “To help make sure they offer you fair rates and that kind of thing.” It was obvious that he made the suggestion only because he knew how to deal with that kind of thing—not because he supposed she couldn’t figure it out. Satoru hadn’t kept secret that he invested; he actually had a decently-sized financial portfolio. It apparently made him enough money that he could afford to help her out when he needed to, despite the fact that his monthly allowance was still much less than hers, since he was a minor and she was an adult.

"Aw, my Toto-chan takes such good care of me," she spoke, offering him a lopsided grin. "Fine, fine. We'll go after tomorrow's training session, ne?" she suggested. They would still get to the bank on time since their training's usually lasted for a few hours. The banks, on a Saturday, typically closed by the afternoon. They'd be done way before then, hopefully.

He wrinkled his nose at her initial statement, but it smoothed out as she continued. He nodded. “Sure. Tomorrow then.”

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INK

Satoru was awake well past midnight. It was rarely, if ever, that the whole household was asleep at once; the Yukimura inhabited the entirety of a small compound outside the main city. The house he lived in was the largest and most central, but it was definitely not the only one. In total, about fifty of his relatives—including relatives by marriage—lived in the area. It was a few miles outside Tokyo’s city limits. Privacy had to be balanced with the ability to get to likely locations of yōkai attacks or nests, after all.

These quiet hours of the morning, however, were the least busy for the compound. On a slow night, the evening patrol came in around now and went to bed. The scouts were usually up in the predawn hours, but it was still a little while away from that yet. He might be the only one awake.

The house was actually a little eerie at times like this. It had two stories and a sprawling layout with many hallways. That feature, and the fact that the windows were often kept open when the weather was nice, let the sounds of nighttime filter through clearly even to the study. The night breeze whistled almost too lowly to be heard through the empty halls—but his hearing had always been sharp enough to pick it out.

He finished the last paragraph of his English essay with a decisive period. Ginseki offered half a dozen foreign languages; English and Mandarin were no doubt the most useful, though. Leaning back in his desk chair, Satoru removed his glasses and passed a hand over his face. Having to do a week’s worth of homework in one night wasn’t great, but it was the only way he could make sure everything that needed to get done did.

Ryoka hadn’t cared what her grades were like when she was in school, but… Ryoka and Satoru were very different people. Sometimes it seemed like she was born to be a taiji-ya: she was very good at it, and had the right natural disposition. He wasn’t sure if she’d ever wanted to be anything else, but it was easy to tell that she was happy with this now. But him… he suppressed a sigh and replaced his glasses, blinking when the room sharpened into focus around him.

If he thought his parents would let him, he’d have been applying to colleges right now. He still was—but he did it where no one could see. He skimmed off the top of his investment portfolio to pay for the application fees. He might disagree with his parents, but he wasn’t going to use the money they gave him to do something they would never approve of. He wondered if—

A soft creaking sound caught his attention. Satoru immediately oriented himself towards the sound, reaching up into his sleeve and pulling free the tantō that he wore strapped to his forearm. The blade glinted softly in the dim light of his desk lamp. The creak did not repeat itself.

Pursing his lips, he kept his eyes on the door to the hallway, reaching back and killing the light. His eyes rapidly adjusted to the darkness, and he stood, rising to the balls of his feet. If this was just Ryoka playing a stupid trick on him, he was going to be pissed. But he didn’t sense her ki in the immediate area. There was a creaky board on the floor out in the hallway, but everyone who lived here avoided it automatically by this point. Besides—he hadn’t sensed any ki at all. That was weird. Really weird.

Soundlessly, he slid the door open. Casting his eyes down the hall, Satoru saw nothing out of the ordinary. That was so strange though. The floorboard didn’t—

A hand closed around his mouth from behind. Immediately after, he felt the point of a dagger at his lower back. “Keep quiet, boy,” a voice hissed, “And you may live to see the end of this.”

Satoru’s response was to drive his elbow back into the unfamiliar man’s gut. Twisting out of the hold, he put about a foot of distance between them as the intruder recovered. He was wearing some kind of dark cloak, but underneath that, his clothes were rather traditional. He was armored like a shinobi, mostly in light protection, and armed for melee combat—plus the shortbow slung over his back.

“Who the hell are you?” Satoru demanded. More importantly, why couldn’t he sense this guy’s ki even though he was standing right there? Everyone had at least a bit, even humans and animals. Hell, even plants had a miniscule amount of ki. But it was like this man was a ghost.

The stranger’s lips pulled back from his teeth. Satoru sucked in a breath—he might look mostly human, but with pointed eyeteeth like that, there was only one thing he could really be.

“Yōkai,” he muttered. Bad news, in other words.

“Right in one, whelp,” the man answered, narrowing his eyes. The irises glinted dully in the darkness of the hallway.

It was then that the screaming started. A shrill cry from outside and to the south, where Satoru’s uncle and his family lived—it cut off sharply. A clang of metal on metal rang out much closer; it was coming from his parents’ room. A cold spike of fear drove through Satoru’s spine—this demon was not alone.

Gritting his teeth, he lunged, his knife in-hand, but the yōkai dodged his swipe easily, drawing a tachi from the sheath at his waist. “You’ve got nothing but that little knife, boy—you won’t survive if you fight. Surrender, and we’ll let you live.”

“And my family?” Satoru slashed again. He missed the vitals again, but by increasing his speed, he was able to catch the man’s shoulder, driving the tantō into a joint in his armor. Blood gushed, hot and sticky, over his hands.

With a grunt, the yōkai pulled himself off the knife, swinging for Satoru’s ribcage. He twisted away at the last moment. Crackles of energy jumped between his fingers, but he might inadvertently bring the house down if he let it go here—it wasn’t safe.

The yōkai chuckled darkly. “That’s already been decided. No Yukimura but you survives this night. And you don’t either, if you fight it.”

No sooner had the man spoke those words, Ryoka appeared by the door. Her eyes were hard and steeled, the anger clearly radiating from them. Even as she stood in the door way, she had not escaped unscathed, it appeared. Her left arm was bleeding, and the large cut was plain to see where her sleeve used to be. "Stay the fuck away from my brother, you asshole," she managed to breathe out, however; it seemed a little hard for her. She was clutching her side with her right hand, and there was blood pouring through her fingers. She'd been injured there as well. But Ryoka was resilient; any slayer knew that. She wasn't making an idle threat, either. Her tone of voice was one she rarely used.

"Satoru," she spoke, pointing her wakizashi towards the intruder, "is off limits. Don't even think about trying to touch him again, filthy bastard," she continued, standing in a more defensive way. She seemed to be ignoring her own wounds, possibly because by now, they would be repairing. She knew how to manipulate her ki that way, and was partly the reason why she wasn't too scarred.

Even a taiji-ya’s ki healing, however, was nothing compared to the rate at which high-level yōkai healed, and this one was recovering already, the blood clotting in his shoulder wound and flesh closing over. The demon turned towards Ryoka, a nasty sneer on his face, and Satoru seized the opportunity, lunging for him again.

He managed to parry, but only just. With unnatural strength, Satoru brought his leg up, kneeing the yōkai in the stomach, then drew back his free hand and punched him hard enough to send him through the wall. Ordinarily, he would have thrown the knife, but he knew he needed to keep it. Ducking through the hole he’d made, Satoru tried not to inhale any plaster dust.

The demon was slow to his feet for whatever reason, and Satoru took advantage, pinning him to the ground and holding the knife to his throat. His other hand ripped the man’s hood down—this particular yōkai was obviously somewhere in the ryū class. Draconic demons, identifiable in their partly-humanoid form by the horns curling up from their temples over the crown of the head. Satoru gripped one to keep the man’s head still.

“Why are you here? What do you want?”

“Want?” The yōkai’s tone indicated that it was an absurd question. “This is just business. The taiji-ya die tonight, that’s all. And if we bring their boy-child back alive, there’s a bonus in it for us.”

"What do you mean we die tonight? And what do they want with Satoru, the people who sent you?" Ryoka questioned, standing next to Satoru. She plunged her wakizashi into the demon's shoulder, just between the juncture of where his clavicle met his shoulder, and twisted it. She wasn't exactly skilled in interrogation, but she had killed enough to know where to make someone hurt. And if she wanted to, she could pop the demon's shoulder out of its socket. She didn't move, though, keeping the blade in its location.

He grunted when the sword pierced him, but he definitely didn’t seem afraid of her. Satoru flinched—he wasn’t exactly on board with the idea of torturing someone, even if that someone had tried to kill him. “Ane-ue,” he said softly, hoping she would understand. It wasn’t like the yōkai had been refusing to talk.

“I meant what I said,” the demon said, glaring up at Ryoka from the corner of his eye. He wasn’t even struggling under Satoru’s pin, though—that was odd. “All of you, all of the Yukimura, are going to die. You didn’t think I was alone, did you?”

And indeed, it was obvious he wasn’t. What had been a few isolated sounds of battle before was swiftly becoming much louder, both nearby and apparently in the rest of the compound.

"Fuck," Ryoka spoke. She'd heard the sounds too. "Otou-san, Okaa-san," she muttered. She was worried about them; the panic in her voice was obvious enough. She glanced at him, and ripped her blade from the demon's shoulder.

Satoru’s eyes went wide. “Shit. Shit… Ryoka, we have to—”

She stood and made for the door, leaving the demon to Satoru as he spoke. He didn't finish his sentence, though, as another demon appeared, too swift for her to counter, and the demon caught her in the chest with his twin kusarigama. A hiss of pain escaped her as she tried clutched the front of her shirt, falling to her knees. He came at her once more and she raised her wakizashi to counter the attack. With only one arm being used, it was difficult.

"Shit! Satoru, run!" she yelled at him, pushing the other demon back. She was bleeding profusely now. It wouldn't be long before she'd collapse from the blood loss, though. And even her stubbornness to not die, wouldn't help her here.

Like hell he was going to leave her.

Two demons, both of them stronger than anything he’d ever faced before. Holding back would be even stupider than letting his powers fly in here. “Get down!” he shouted at her, charging the tantō in his hand with as much energy as it could take before he threw it. Quite intentionally, he didn’t aim for either of them, but the floor between them.

The explosion was enough to send them both through the study floor and to the kitchen below, heavy bookshelves tumbling down after. Ryoka nearly went with, but Satoru lunged in just enough time, grapping one of her arms with both of his own. He tried to be careful, but if he wasn’t quick, they wouldn’t get out in enough time. Supporting her with his back and shoulders and hoping she could do the rest herself, he flung out one of his empty hands. A ripple in the air was the giveaway to the energy he released. The wall of the study blew away, exposing them to the night air.

He could hear the yōkai recovering downstairs. “We’ve gotta go,” he said, throwing them both out the hole in the wall. Satoru took most of the weight of their landing. Ryoka’s weight made it awkward; he felt his ankle twist painfully when he hit the ground, and he hissed. “Fuck.”

"Idiot! I'm going to slow you down, she managed to state through a weary breath when they landed. "Here, lean this way," she spoke to him, moving herself so that she was still using him for some support, but wasn't too heavy that he would be putting more pressure on his injured ankle. It was also keeping the blood from seeping too heavily into his shirt, though that wasn't exactly something to worry about right now.

"We need to find Okaa-san and Otou-san," she continued, her breaths becoming a bit more labored. Her ki wouldn't be able to heal the wound on her chest fast enough, and there was doubt that she'd be able to even use it that way. The sounds of their relatives screaming and yelling could be heard fading, and there was a subtle tremor that passed through Ryoka's body. Whether it was from bloodloss or from the realization, was hard to tell.

"We need to...," she seemed to repeat. Something wet and warm, fell on his arm, and another subtle tremor passed through her.

“Yeah,” Satoru replied. His voice trembled; he knew what he felt on his arm. She was bleeding. His sister, his invincible ane-ue, was—

“Satoru! Ryoka!” The voice belonged to their mother; she appeared some distance in front of them, darting out from the cover provided by the house. She pointed a bow almost directly at them. Satoru froze when she fired; the arrow whizzed over his shoulder and struck a third yōkai in the throat.

His vision snapped forward again when he thought he sensed something. There—behind his mother appeared the two yōkai from earlier. The ryū and a kame, by the looks of them. He stumbled forward half a step, Ryoka heavy on his back. “Okaa—” The warning was half-choked-off; his mother did not turn to face the incoming danger. Perhaps she knew she would not be fast enough.

She smiled softly; the yōkai tore her head from her shoulders.

Satoru’s eyes went wide; his breath caught in his throat. How… how could…?

"Okaa-san!" she'd surely seen that much, and the sound that tore out of Ryoka's throat was a strangled realization that she couldn't save her, much like himself. She had tried to reach out to their mother, only for her hand to fall as she lurched forward the rest of the way, her eyes blank and void of any real life.

All the strength left his legs, and he felt to his knees on the ground. The impact was hard; Ryoka came down half on top of him and still bleeding heavily. His mother was dead. His father… his father surely must be as well, or he’d have been with her.

His sister… he could feel his sister dying, the remnants of her ki draining away in an attempt to heal herself of critical wounds.

And he… he was useless to stop any of it.

The ryū looked at him dispassionately, but the kame smirked slightly, bringing his fingers up to his mouth and licking the blood off. His mother’s blood.

Satoru felt a sickening mix of hot anger and deep fear in his body, one that rendered him at once all too eager to fight and completely unable to move. He had to protect Ryoka. He knew that. But how? How could he possibly stand up to this?

Before his eyes, they transformed, taking on their fully-yōkai forms. The ryū was as long as a bus, massive claws adorning each of his feet. Green-colored scales glinted in the light from the clear night sky above. The kame was much wider and about half as long, his head shaped like a snapping turtle, with a vicious beaklike mouth. His legs were more bluntly-clawed, but they were tortoise-like, rather than the fins of an actual turtle. His armored shell was deep black, his eyes a dull, eerie yellow.

Pulling Ryoka a little tighter over his back, Satoru braced himself. He wasn’t going to let her die—that was the only thought he had now. The only thought he could have.

The dragon roared, the sound like thunder in his ears. Satoru shuddered down to his bones, but he prepared to defend anyway, easing Ryoka’s wakizashi from her weakened grip and holding it in the hand he wasn’t using to support her. They advanced slowly, and he held it out in front of him, steadily despite his fear. The edge began to glow a deep blue as he poured his ki into it, willing it to become strong enough to cut yōkai hide. Strong enough to protect what might be the only person he had left in the whole world.

His chest burned, like a searing brand on his skin—the mark was responding.

Satoru lowered his stance, preparing to meet their onslaught, when a low, sonorous howl floated to them, rolling over the area like a thick fog. Both of the yōkai froze in their tracks. Their heads snapped in unison to the west.

He felt… Satoru wasn’t even sure he could describe it as yōki. There was so much of it it overwhelmed his sense for it—the same way strobe lights could cause a seizure or a sound could render someone temporarily deaf. It just… blotted everything, completely overwhelming every other ki signature in the area.

Whatever that was… he had no chance against it.

The dragon shuddered, turning to his companion. “We have to go,” he said, voice low and gravelly like two stones scraping together.

“But our orders,” the other protested, eyeing Satoru and Ryoka. “We have enough time to—”

“Are you insane?!” the dragon bit back. “Our orders don’t include tangling with a fucking daiyōkai, you fucking idiot! We didn’t come here to fucking roast!”

With a final baleful look at Satoru, the kame grumbled something like assent. “Fate smiled on you tonight, boy.”

They were gone in a flash.

Satoru didn’t think fate had smiled upon him at all. Not one tiny bit.

His fatigue caught up with him fast; it wasn’t thirty more seconds before he passed out on his way back to the house. His last conscious thought was that he needed to find medical supplies for his sister, and then… and then…

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INK

It was like a movie reel, stuck on repeat. But it only played the last two minutes. All Ryoka could see was her mother's head being torn off, and there was nothing she could do about it. As one of the best slayers in her clan, she was helpless. She couldn't save her mother, her father, herself, or her brother. Wait. Why did that seem wrong? Satoru, he wasn't dead too, was he? He couldn't be dead. He was the strongest of them all, even if he didn't want to admit it or enjoy what he did. He survived. He had to survive. She, however, wasn't so fortunate, or at least that was what her mind was telling her. She was swimming in a black abyss, floating in nothingness while she waited for the metaphorical white light to encompass her.

There were sounds of something beeping, though, that filtered through the darkness. She couldn't make it out, exactly, but there were voices. Otou-san, Okaa-san? she thought, but that couldn't be right. They were dead. But if it was them, then maybe she was finally on her way, however; the image that filtered across her mind shook her deeply. It was her mother's severed head in the hands of the demon that slew her, and he was toying with it.

"Okaa-san!" she screamed, her eyes flashing open to a white room, surrounded by medical equipment and what appeared to be a startled nurse. She felt the pain surge through her body as she thrashed in her place, being restrained only by the nurse until a few other nurses came in to help.

"You need to calm down! You're going to re-open your wounds!" they pleaded with her, however; she ignored them. "Quick, get me the syringe," one nurse shouted as Ryoka continued to move about. She needed to get up. She needed to go find Satoru!

"Let me go, I need to find him!" she shouted, her vision becoming a bit blurred. This caused her to stop momentarily, and she could feel the warmth sliding down her cheeks. The doctors and the nurses finally managed to get her to lay back down, but she had managed to re-open the wound on her chest. She could almost smell the metallic scent to it, but she did nothing as they went to work on it. "He's gone, isn't he?" she whispered more to herself than to the nurses. They shared a somewhat solemn look, as if to confirm it, however; one of them laid a hand on her arm.

"He's alive, but," the nurse began, shifting his eyes to the other side of the room. "He's still unconcious," he finished. Another onslaught of tears fell from Ryoka's face as they finished stitching her wound. "You can go see him, but be careful. Your wounds, they aren't healed... hey!" she didn't let him finish as she slipped out of her bed.

She grabbed onto the pole with the IV bags, and stumbled towards Satoru's room. A nurse was by her side, helping her after she almost fell to her knees. She silently thanked the woman as she finally made it to his room. He was alive; the steady thrumming of the heart monitor was enough to ensure that. She almost choked back a sob, but she didn't completely succeed. Within a few seconds, she was by his bed-side, her hand brushing against his cheek in a gentle manner.

"My otōto-chan," she whispered, her face peeling into one of pain, regret, and vulnerability. "I'm sorry, Satoru. I'm so sorry, I couldn't... I wasn't...," she choked out, balling her fist over his chest. She wasn't strong enough to protect him. She failed him, their family, and everyone else she held dear in her clan. He was all she had left now, wasn't he? Her mother was dead, her father surely had to be, and everyone else... they were all dead. Dead.

"Please don't leave me, too," she pleaded, her hand folding over his.

For several minutes, there was only the silence. Occasionally, the sound of Ryoka’s raspy breathing, Satoru’s more even breaths, or the soft beep of his heart monitor would break it, but even with those little noises, it was impossible not to feel the oppressiveness of the quiet. He was warm beneath her, at least. Actually… he was too warm, almost feverish, except the heat all seemed to be radiating from his chest. She could feel it underneath her clenched fist, like trying to pull a pan out of the oven with a too-thin mitt. Underneath, it was scorching.

As quickly as the heat had built, however, she could feel it recede. Beneath her, Satoru stirred, pulling in a deeper breath, one that skittered and shuddered into his lungs. His brows twitched a couple of times, pulling together over his eyes. Slowly, almost as if tied down with weights, his lids cracked open, exposing a sliver of blue iris. They closed once, then opened again, wider this time.

Satoru’s eyes were clouded and bleary, but with a few more blinks they seemed to clear. “Ane-ue?” He seemed dully confused by her presence, and especially her appearance, but he’d always been quick. A look of pained understanding dawned on him within moments, pinching his lips and pulling his mouth down into a deep frown.

He raised the hand on the opposite side of the bed from her, letting it fall down on top of hers. His index finger had the monitor clipped on it, but the rest of them curled tightly around her fist. She could feel the tiny tremors in them. He swallowed audibly, parting his lips to speak. All that came out was her name, in a shaky rasp.

“Ryoka.”

She was relieved when he opened his eyes, but she could not pretend to be happy. "Satoru," she'd never really used his actual name. She would always use her pet names for him, and only used his name during hunts or on rare occasions. "You're okay," she continued, feeling the shakiness to her voice. It cracked towards the end, but she didn't care. Her little brother was alive, but he looked so... pathetic. She almost wondered what she currently looked like. Probably the same. She used her free hand to place it on his forehead, and rubbed her hand through his hair.

"They're..." she almost spoke out loud that their parents were dead. But she didn't need to remind him of that. He was there too, and he'd seen the events unfold. "I shouldn't have let this happen to you," she continued, her voice still low. She didn't need the nearby doctors to hear what she was saying. They might get the wrong idea or throw her into the psychiatric ward. "I'm supposed to be your guardian, and look at you," she didn't hold back this time. She allowed the tears to fall from her eyes and onto his face.

Her poor, fragile, strong brother. She was the oldest sibling. She was supposed to protect him, but look how that ended up. Her family was dead, and her brother had almost been on his death bed. She'd almost died, too, but what did that matter? She should have died. Why? Why did they have to die? What crime had they committed to warrant their clan's massacre? She clenched tightly to Satoru's hand, the confusion, the anger, all molding together in that single act.

"Toto-chan, I...," she tried to coax out, but it sounded more like a cat being strangled. "I'm glad you're okay," she managed to still her voice this time when she spoke. But her eyes could not hide what she was truly feeling.

Without saying anything, Satoru moved his other arm to wrap around her back, hugging her in a grip much weaker than he usually was. What had happened had taken a heavy physical toll on both of them; it went without saying that even that was nothing compared to the emotional one. His other hand still held hers. She could hear his breathing, feel his chest rise and fall—he was clearly doing his best to keep it even and steady. He leaned his head sideways against hers.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he said at last. Despite the softness of the words, they were firm, resolute: he was not blaming her. “We didn’t… they…” he hesitated, pulling in a breath and holding it. It wasn’t clear what he wanted to say.

Maybe not even he knew.

She didn't say anything. She selfishly held onto the comfort he was offering her, and she didn't let go. "I'm going to make them pay, Satoru. Every single one of them. They are all going to pay," she finally found her voice, however; even she didn't recognize it. It was low, calm, and void of anything remotely merciful. "I'm going to find out who did this, this I swear," she was making a promise. If she'd be able to keep it, though, is something not even she knew. All she knew was that she was going to avenge her family.

"Yukimura-san," a nurse brought Ryoka out of her thoughts, and she released Satoru enough to glance at the woman. The nurse shuddered from the gaze. If she had a mirror, she could only guess that her eyes were not the same vibrant deep blues of silver like her brothers. They were darker, and numb. "Yukimura-san, there are officers who want to speak with the both of you now that you're awake," the nurse continued.

"They deal with me, not him," she responded, her voice stern and leaving no room for negotiations. She could see the nurse hesitate for a moment, as if to object, however; Ryoka's gaze intensified. "If they have questions, they will deal with me, but not him. He will rest," and she shut the conversation off from any further delays. She returned her attention towards Satoru and continued rubbing his head.

"I'll be back, Satoru. I'm... I'm not going too far. You... get some rest, okay?" she stated, placing a soft kiss to his forehead.

He nodded slowly, but his eyes were serious when he replied. “Ane-ue. You can handle this part, but after… I’m going to help. There’s only…” He swallowed hard, licking his chapped lips. “There’s only two of us now, and… there’s going to be a lot to deal with. Lawyers and the estate and… everything. So don’t try to do it alone, okay?” His fingers curled into the starchy white hospital sheets, tightly enough to make a soft crinkling sound.

She managed to crack a soft smile for him. They only had each other now. "Sure thing, Toto-chan."

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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INK

Satoru sighed heavily, loosening his dark tie and pulling it away from his neck. He let the hotel room’s door click shut behind him—Ryoka had gone in before him. He tossed the black silk down on the table, undoing the first button on his starchy shirt with weary fingers. The funeral had been… long. As expected, considering the sheer number of people that were being recognized. Their family had a tradition of cremation rather than burial—a practice that dated back to the days when they worried about their corpses being possessed by certain kinds of malevolent spirits.

Most everyone had wills and testaments; when one’s profession carried a risk of death, even someone as young as Satoru had one. The children though… he closed his eyes and pushed another breath out slowly. Well, they could only do the best they could for them.

The somber ceremony had been decently-attended, he supposed; much less so than the few others he remembered. Of course, the whole family had come for those, and now… now he and Ryoka were the whole family. The police had confirmed it.

Treading to one of the two beds in the small hotel room, Satoru sat down on the edge of the mattress, meticulously loosening his laces before sliding his feet out of his shoes. Neither of them had bothered to turn on the lights, though it was swiftly growing dark outside. The official story was that the whole family had been attacked by some unknown group, possibly Yakuza or other organized crime, but the evidence was sparse, and the police had expressed no confidence in getting to the bottom of it, especially when neither he nor Ryoka had confessed to having any idea who it could be.

Even now, even after all of this, keeping the secret was the first thing in his mind.

Who would believe them if they told the truth, anyway? Anyone foolish enough to believe would get killed if they tried to investigate, most likely. No… the only people who stood even a chance of finding their family’s killers were the siblings themselves. But even if they wanted to do that… they had to sort out their own lives first. Satoru had mainly been dealing with the family’s lawyer, Ise-san, but there were a lot of things he had to talk over with Ryoka.

Maybe… maybe right after the funeral wasn’t the best time, but… he’d been putting this off for two weeks, while they made all the arrangements. If he didn’t get around to it, he might just keep putting it off.

Softly, Satoru cleared his throat, leaning back on his hands on the bed and pulling his feet up underneath him. Immediately uncomfortable, he adjusted, shrugging out of his suit jacket and throwing it over a chair-back near the window. “Ryoka?” He swallowed. He’d been calling her by her name since it happened. Not ane-ue. That seemed too… distant. He didn’t want to be distant from the only person left in the world he could call his family.

“What… what do you want to do with the compound? Ise-san wants to know if we plan to sell it, or…” He trailed off.

"It's our home, Satoru," was the response she gave him. Her voice was slightly coarse, probably from crying. She didn't cry during the funeral, though, only the days leading up to it. She sighed, still dressed in her kimono. It was the traditional black one that she had worn many times before. She never seemed quite comfortable in it, and now it seemed almost unbearable.

"We... we can't just sell it," she continued, making her way towards the bathroom. She stopped for a second, and glanced at him. "But I don't know if... I don't know if I can ever sleep there, again. At least not yet," she added before disappearing into the bathroom. She reappeared minutes later, free from her kimono and now dressed in something comfortable, it appeared. Even with the light fading outside, her shirt couldn't fully hide the scar on her chest. It could be seen passing her collar bone, and if she hadn't moved that night, the weapon could have sliced her jugular vein.

She seemed to trace it, as she did often now for the past two weeks, and it clearly bothered her. "Do you want to sell it, Satoru?" she questioned him, this time. "It's... it's our home, and we don't have to, but... if you want to," she was leaving the decision up to him.

He fell backwards to sprawl on the bed, lifting his hands and scrubbing at his face. They’d inherited all of their family’s assets, of course; considering how many of them there were, and how long they’d been a clan, that was not an inconsiderable sum. But most of it was tied up in the property. A property big enough for fifty people.

“I don’t know,” he said finally. The question had been bothering him since Ise-san asked. It was their home. The place they’d been born and raised. “But it… it’s a compound, Ryoka. We can’t take care of a place that big ourselves, and hiring other people to take care of it for us would be…” Expensive, for one. And it’d feel wrong to him, somehow.

Even that was assuming he could stand to go back. Satoru had, once. He’d gone after that meeting with their lawyer, to get a look—to try and sort out how he felt about everything. By then, all the bodies had been taken away. Considering the police had never asked him about yōkai, he assumed someone else had disposed of the dead attackers. He could sense faint traces of unfamiliar ki—enough to clue him in that someone else had been there. He found that he didn’t really care who it was.

The compound, devoid of anyone living but himself, had been eerie and strange. It hadn’t felt like his home at all, and he’d left quickly. Satoru didn’t know if he’d always feel that way, but… maybe it was better to have a clean start. Besides…

“We also… we have to consider that they might come back. For us. I don’t think… I don’t think it would be smart to make that easy for them.” He stared at the ugly popcorn ceiling overhead, unblinking. How long would it take until he didn’t feel so numb anymore?

"I suppose you're right," she replied solemnly. She seemed reluctant, but she also appeared to at least consider the option. "We should sell it, and maybe find a small apartment in the city. If they come for you again, for us, at least they won't be so bold in a more populated area," she began, however; she paused momentarily. She remained silent for a few minutes before she sighed, the sound almost inaudible.

"But if they really want me dead, and they want to take you, a populated area might just be a necessary casualty to them," she spoke. "But, who would want to buy the property? It's a decent lot, and they could probably tear down the remaining houses," she seemed to hesitate on that thought, as if the very notion of the houses being teared down bothered her. It probably did. "We'll sell it, and go from there. We'll talk to Ise-san about it, and weigh our options, how about that?

Satoru pushed out a sigh, feeling some of his tension relax a little. It seemed like the right decision, even if it wasn’t a comfortable one. But nothing about this was comfortable—they just had to do their best with the lot they’d been given. “Yeah,” he said quietly, still staring at the ceiling. “For now, we can keep staying here, and have our stuff moved into storage. And whatever of… the rest we want moved, too.”

They’d have to take care of the weapons and taiji-ya gear themselves, to avoid the questions such things would raise, but probably they could get professional movers to deal with the rest. They could rent some kind of storage space, sell off the property, and… figure the rest of it out as they went along.

There was no question that they’d be living together, of course. Satoru didn’t want to live somewhere Ryoka wasn’t, and he was pretty sure she felt the same way about him. For now, at least, they’d at least be doing all of this together. That had to count for something. “I should… probably go back to school soon.”

It would be best if he could still graduate this year. That way he wouldn’t have to worry about it next year, and could get some kind of job to help his sister out. They’d have plenty of funds if they sold the compound, but he didn’t just want to rely on that. College, well… he supposed that was going to have to wait a while, if he ever got around to it. He wasn’t going to leave Ryoka hanging so he could go do more school further away. It didn’t seem right.

"Yeah," she replied. "You should go back, Monday," she seemed hesitant to agree on that matter. It would be the one place she couldn't follow him to. "Tomorrow, though, we should start setting everything up. We'll find a storage, talk with Ise-san about the compound, and the equipment," she began, pausing momentarily about their equipment. "We should sell those as well. The ones we don't need, at least," she continued, sitting on the edge of his bed.

"At least you'll have a proper place to bring your hookers to, now," she spoke softly, trying to make things a little lighter. The lightness of the statement, however, just didn't make it past her voice. She was trying, or at least it sounded like she was.

He huffed weakly, the best approximation of a laugh he could manage. “Yeah, sure. Gotta look at the bright side, I guess.”

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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INK

Today started out rather well, if Ryoka had anything to say about it. She'd recently been hired by the local fast food place, and today was her first day. Of course, she felt a little out of place since she was older than most of the people who worked there. Most of them were high school students who wanted a part time job as a way of paying for their tuition, or wanted some spare change to line their pockets. She didn't let it bother her, though, and was dressed in the red uniform shirt and black slacks. Her hair had been pulled back into a tail, and was now fitted beneath the red cap with a yellow W on it.

"And you'll work the register once you've been trained properly on the cash handling procedures," her, now, employer spoke, his face pulling into one of irritation. Ryoka hadn't been paying much attention. She was, oddly, a little excited to work. She needed something to do, to keep herself busy, and they would probably need the extra income until everything could be settled with the compound. "Yukimura-san, did you hear anything I said?" he spoke, snapping her out of her thoughts.

"Yeah, yeah, boss man, I heard you," she replied, waving a hand in front of her face. He frowned at her.

"My name is Ieyasu," he stated, causing her to shrug.

"Does it make a difference? You're still the boss man," she retorted, earning a defeated sigh. He pushed her off onto another worker, a young teenage girl about Satoru's age. Ryoka searched for her name tag, and noticed it said 'Kimiko' on it. "Kimiko!" she exclaimed, causing the girl to jump in surprise. "Yukimura Ryoka, at your service! What can I do?" she questioned, watching as Kimiko regained her composure.

"You're the new hire, Ishimura-kun was talking about?" she questioned. Ryoka merely nodded her head and waited for Kimiko to continue. "Well, if you'd like, you can help me flip the burgers," she stated, motioning for Ryoka to come around next to her.




Ryoka laid on Satoru's bed, staring at the ceiling with no discernable look on her face. She sighed heavily, running a hand down her face as she did so. How did she manage to fuck this up? She was glad no one was hurt, but still... that shouldn't have happened. She glanced at her arm, looking at the blister that was forming, and frowned. If she hadn't moved, Kimiko would have been burned badly. Luckily, the hot oil was something Ryoka was used to. Everyone had simply looked confused when she didn't react properly, but Ryoka shrugged it off. She'd lied and said something about not having nerves in her arm, however; it did hurt. She was just used to worse things.

"At least the place didn't burn down, right?" she muttered to herself. After that incident, she'd set the kitchen on fire. That was the last straw for Ishimura, apparently, since it wasn't just the kitchen she'd caught on fire. The entire building almost went up in flames, and she was to blame for it. Couldn't she do something right?

Across the room, the door handle turned with a soft rattle. Satoru stepped inside, placing his school bag down on one of the chairs that went with the small round table in their hotel room. They’d moved to a new one with a small kitchen while they tried to sell the property; at least this way they could eat something other than takeout. He shrugged out of his black uniform jacket, raising both eyebrows when he noticed she was present. “Nee-san? I thought you’d still be at work at this time…”

"I got fired," she simply replied, keeping her eyes glued to the ceiling. She assumed he'd probably want more of an explanation than that, but she didn't want to say just yet. It hurt her pride, a bit, knowing that she couldn't even do that much. She sighed once more, scoffing at herself for doing so, before she sat up, glancing in his direction. "Be honest with me, Toto-chan, am I hopeless?" she questioned. She was serious in her question.

"I can't cook; I can barely drive as it is," she began, listing some things. She turned away from him and pulled her legs up, sitting crossed-leg on the bed. "I almost burned the place down. It's like..." she continued, pausing momentarily. She needed to gather her thoughts together. She was a slayer, and an older sister. Anything outside of that seemed like details that were supposed to fall together once she came to them.

"It's like I can't assimilate out of the life of a slayer. If it doesn't require killing something, I just can't do it," she finally spoke, feeling a bit heavier as she did. If anything, she was a burden to society now. She wasn't good at anything, and she wasn't good for anything. She was a walking hazard. How did she not realize that until now? "I can't be anything other than a slayer, Satoru."

“I don’t think that’s true,” Satoru replied quietly. He seemed to be taking the news that she got fired pretty well; at least he didn’t seem to be upset about it. His expression was sympathetic, but not pitying. “But being a slayer is what you’ve trained to do your whole life, Ryoka. It makes sense that you’re better at it than you are at things you’ve never practiced.”

It wasn’t, she knew, a weakness he shared. Satoru had never seemed all that suited for the life of a taiji-ya. He was good at it, but not really interested. It wasn’t his whole life in the same way it was hers. He’d developed other interests outside of it, even when their parents didn’t approve.

He sighed. “Do you…” He paused. “Do you still want to be a slayer?”

The question hit her harder than it should have. Did she want to be a slayer still? Yes. Maybe. Probably. She knew she wanted to avenge her clan, to make the ones who slaughtered them, pay for it, however; did she still want to be a slayer? It was only him and her, now. Sure, there might be other clans of taiji-ya, but it wasn't the same. Would it ever be the same, though? Maybe, if she could avenge her clan, perhaps she could leave that world? It would always be a part of her, but maybe she could learn to live differently?

"I don't know," she finally answered, leaning back on her hands. "What I want is to find the bastards who killed our family," she continued, narrowing her eyes slightly. "I want to make them pay for what they did, but who's to say I'd be able to accomplish that? Even if I could, what would wait for me afterwards? You, Toto-chan... you still have your whole life ahead of you. I know," she paused momentarily to steady her breathing. She could feel it, the way it was tugging at her heart.

"I know what we did wasn't easy for you, and that now, there are so many options open to you. What about you? What do you want to do, Satoru? Do you want to continue our work, or do you want to do something else? I'll... support you in any decision you make, you know," and she really would. If he wanted to leave their old life, she'd support him. But she wasn't so sure she could leave so easily. What is life without being a slayer? She'd taken to it so fervently as a child, and built her whole life around it. She didn't care much for school because she knew this was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. But now?

Satoru shook his head, providing no real answer to that question. “I asked you, nee-san. I’ll figure things out for myself later.” He pursed his lips a moment, then slid into one of the other seats at the table, in front of his laptop computer. “If you want to fight… we’re going to have to figure out some way to be stronger. As we are now… we didn’t stand much of a chance.”

His keystrokes paused for a moment. “But if that’s not what you want… you could always find some other way to use those skills. Work security someplace, or become a police officer, or something like that?” His tone made it impossible to tell what he thought the best option was, and he tilted his head at her inquisitively.

A way to be stronger? It was true that they weren't exactly strong, and that was partly the reason why they had failed. Why she had failed to protect herself and the others. She wanted to, so badly, to fight, but it wasn't that easy, was it? "Easier said than done, I suppose. I do want to fight, I just... what could we do to make ourselves stronger? Our ki can only do so much, and that alone isn't enough for the higher class demons. It took at least a small group of us to just do that much, and all of us had to use our ki in order to do that," she responded. She could train harder, but even that wouldn't help. No amount of training would make her strong enough to fight. It would take a long time, too many years that she knew she didn't have. She groaned slightly, leaning further back on her arms so that she was propped on her elbows, now.

"Since you're so smart, what do you suggest we do to get stronger?" she didn't say it in an insulting manner, though. She knew he knew more about things than she did. All someone had to do was point her in the direction of the thing that needed to be killed, and she'd kill it.

Satoru pulled in a deep breath. “I need to learn how to control my powers,” he answered immediately. Everyone knew that his abilities were far above the norm for a slayer, but that had posed a problem as well: no one knew how to teach him to use them. That was a fairly straightforward problem, even if it wasn’t an easy one to solve.

“You…” he hesitated. Whatever it was had clearly been weighing on his mind for longer than the five minutes they’d been speaking. Maybe he’d known for a while that this was what she’d want. “There is a way. A way to get stronger, that training alone won’t ever be able to do.” Satoru pursed his lips.

“You could form a Contract.”

She raised a brow at him. A contract? What was that? "What are you talking about, a contract?" she questioned. She'd never known about anything like that. Who was she supposed to make a contract with? "Sorry Toto-chan, but you're going to have to be more specific for your sister, here. She's not as bright as you are," she spoke, clearly confused about what he'd said. She didn't read the lore as often as he did, maybe she should start doing that now that she had the free time.

He nodded slightly—understanding, if she was reading him right. “A Contract is an agreement between a yōkai and a human,” he explained. “Our ancestors occasionally made them. By imbibing a certain amount of blood from a willing yōkai and performing a specific ritual, some amount of power can be shared between the two, until specific terms are fulfilled. For example, the founder of our clan, Yukimura Yutaka, formed a Contract with a daiyōkai—it gave him enough power to push occupying forces out of his hometown and establish the clan there. In return, he became an ally of the demon lord, and acted as his agent. Because of the Contract, Yutaka gained access to a weakened form of one of the daiyōkai’s powers, and all of his skills and abilities were well above what a human could achieve alone.”

He shrugged. “I think it also made him immortal, unless killed by blade or poison, but I’m not sure. The accounts are… divergent, on that point.”

"Well so much for that," she muttered. It's not that she didn't believe him, because she did, but how were they going to find a willing yōkai let alone a daiyōkai? She was taiji-ya, a slayer, and they weren't exactly on good terms with demons. Sure, not all of them were bad, and that there were a few yōkai who were once friends (if she could really say that) with the Yukimura. "Seriously, how would I even find a demon who'd form a contract with me? They aren't exactly plentiful in this time, you know," she spoke ruefully.

"And I'm sure they don't go about advertising for such things in the personals section of the newspaper, either," she added, allowing herself to fall fully onto the bed. At least she had some idea, now, how to get stronger. The only problem was finding a demon, now. She groaned, rolling so that she was on her stomach and staring at Satoru.

"Alright, Toto-chan. We need a plan. We need to find a yōkai who will form a contract with me. I don't care what the cost is," she spoke, a little more seriously this time. "Isn't your school kind of filled with upper yōkai kids? Maybe you should ask one of your friends if they know anything."

“Actually…” Satoru countered, a small smile inching over his face. “The daiyōkai that made a contract with Yutaka-sama is still alive. He’s lord of the Kanto region… and he put out an ad for a personal bodyguard about three days ago.”

He turned the laptop towards her, showing her the screen. Splashed across the top were the words ‘Motoyami Enterprises’ with a dark red logo behind them. There weren’t too many people who hadn’t heard of it—it was mostly a publishing company, but the owner apparently believed in diverse investments, because they were in all kinds of international business fields. Satoru had found the ‘employment’ section of the website, and there did indeed appear to be a listing for a personal security position.

Applicants are advised that the hiring process will require advanced skills in the following areas: hand-to-hand combat, legal weaponry, subtlety, discretion, and personal ethics. Tests will be administered as necessary. Interested parties should send application materials to… It listed an address in the really swanky area of Tokyo.

"Well then, what would I ever do without my imouto-chan?" she stated, looking at the screen as she did so. All she had to do was apply for this job, and then maybe proposition the guy to make a contract with her. If her ancestor could do it, surely she could too, right? "Alright, Toto-chan! Fill out my resume and send it in!" because she couldn't even do that.

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Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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Ichikage adjusted the servant’s uniform he wore, tightening the badge of a household guard wrapped around his bicep. The linen gi and hakama were much more comfortable than all those layers of silk he was usually forced to wear for more official things; plus the blonde tint he’d added to his hair and the contacts darkening his eyes let him appear like a perfectly-ordinary member of his own staff. The absence of ki was a little harder, but he’d learned to suppress it even from the keen senses of a Slayer long ago.

He still wasn’t sure exactly how Mika always managed to find him when he was hiding, but she was the only one who could.

But since he was actually doing work today, he didn’t have to worry about that. He lounged against the wall that ran around the outside of the estate’s grounds, arms crossed over his chest and one foot planted against the stone behind him. The awning overhead blotted out part of the sky, but he could still see some of it beyond the lip of the roof. No clouds today—shame.

A taxi car could be seen in the distance, slowly crawling up the drive-way. It took it a few seconds to reach to a stop, and the passenger exited. She stopped to pay the driver, and seemed to have a slightly awed and perplexed expression on her face. Either she'd never been to an estate this big before, or she'd never seen one as extravagant. She seemed to accept it, somewhat, and made her way up the path. She glanced at him, pursing her lips before making the decision to walk towards him.

"Can you pinch me before I go in?" she asked, seemingly serious enough. "I'm not entirely sure if this place is real, or if someone decided to invade my dreams and turn it into some odd nightmare."

“A nightmare?” Ichikage echoed. He blinked slowly at her, feeling a smile stretch across his face. “I haven’t heard that before. It is kind of stupidly-big though, isn’t it?” He stepped away from the wall and turned around, as if to survey the estate from a new perspective. As though he didn’t already know its every nick and cranny.

He tipped his head to the side and shrugged, returning his attention to her. “You wouldn’t happen to be Yukimura-san, would you? I’m waiting for someone by that name, and you’re the only one who’s been by.”

As though he didn’t already know exactly who she was.

"I'm not sure 'stupidly big' would be the proper way to describe it," she muttered, as though she still were slightly disturbed by it. She blinked at him, however, when he asked her if she was Yukimura-san, and smiled. "Yeah, that'd be me. I'm here to see... someone. I guess that much is obvious since you just said you were waiting for me," she laughed nervously. She sighed, though. "I don't suppose I'd be doing my interview with you, because that would be nice," she stated, her eyes drifting to different parts of the estate. She was probably picking up on the yōki.

He wondered what she’d do if he stopped suppressing all of his. He considered doing it just for the shock value, but he didn’t want to make her pass out. To be fair, she’d been injured the last time, but still. So instead Ichikage smiled a little wider, dipping his chin. “Actually, it is. Motoyami-sama has put me in charge of this round of interviews. I’m pretty familiar with the requirements.” All true, if phrased deceptively.

“If you’d prefer, there’s a café about a half mile down the street. The plan was to use the office, but I don’t really mind either way.”

She seemed happy about the arrangement, but seemed to give their interview a bit more thought. "Actually, I kind of skipped lunch to make it here on time. The café sounds nice," she answered truthfully enough. "If it's just half a mile down, we could walk?" she seemed to inflict it as a question rather than a statement. "It won't bother me, but I'm...," she didn't seem to know how to finish that sentence. She frowned momentarily before shaking her head.

"You could ask questions along the way, I suppose. I'll be honest, I don't know how interviews like these usually work. I'm probably doing a shitty job already," she muttered the last part.

Ichikage chuckled softly. “I wouldn’t say that. Believe me, I’ve done so many of these that I like it when things go a little differently from usual.” Truer words had never been spoken—at least not by him. He wondered if her inclination not to enter the estate was solely due to hunger, or if she had some reservations about it because of the yōkai therein. That would be something to check on presently.

He started off down the road, keeping his strides to a length that made it simple for her to walk beside him. “You can call me Ichijo, by the way. Or just Ichi—I don’t really care for the formalities.” Ichijo wasn’t the most common surname, but it wasn’t unheard-of, either. It was what he called himself in this disguise, when he had to use an actual name.

“I have to ask, though, Yukimura-san… you know that the man you’ve applied to work for is a yōkai, right?”

"Ichijo, or Ichi," she repeated the gesture as if to contemplate which one to call him, however; she turned her attention towards him when he asked his question. "Yeah, I'm aware of that aspect. Motoyami-san is a yōkai, but that doesn't seem to be an issue. There are a lot of yōkai around this establishment, but there are also a few humans too, including yourself, right? It was odd, though, I'll admit, when I came across the listing that a yōkai needed a bodyguard. It doesn't directly say that, but still," she trailed off, breaking the eye contact momentarily.

"Tell me something Ichi, and you don't have to answer if it makes you uncomfortable or anything, but," she began, fully staring at him now. "This Motoyami-san, why would he need a bodyguard in the first place? He seems like a respected guy, and probably plenty strong, so why a guard? Don't get me wrong, I'd still like a chance to get the job," she was curious if the tone in her voice was anything to go by.

“Truthfully?” he replied, his mouth dropping into a wry half-smile. “He doesn’t need one. But it’s the done thing, you see—it would be inconvenient for him if he didn’t conform to expectations in this way. Yōkai can be a finicky lot, and there are some reasons it’s important for him to have their respect. His son’s getting married, for one. And there are all sorts of dealings between the old houses.”

He pushed out a sigh. The truth of the matter was, she’d be less a bodyguard than a necessary ornament. He didn’t like that about it—but he tried to make it up to the people that served in those positions by treating them as well as possible. “But, you never know. Even the strongest person could be caught unaware, and oftentimes, Motoyami-sama uses his bodyguards as extensions of himself. Eyes and ears in places he can’t easily go, for instance. It’s certainly more than following him around all day, though most days, that’s what it comes down to. He might ask you to do personal-assistant or secretarial duties as well, but nothing demeaning.”

She either really wanted this job, or she was trying not to sigh heavily. It seemed a combination of both. "Yeah, that's true enough, I suppose," she finally replied, a hint of melancholy lacing her tone. She shook her head instead, and seemed to force a smile on her face. "Even the strongest person can be caught unawares, and it's best that they didn't. Well then, Ichi-kun," she began, all traces of the melancholy gone from her voice. "I guess I better not screw up this interview," she continued, the smile turning slightly into a grin.

She shrugged her shoulders, though, and continued walking. "What about you, Ichi-kun, what do you do? If I have even the slightest bit of a chance at getting the job, it'd be nice to know about what you and the others do, at least. I know the interview is supposed to be you asking the questions," she began, stopping momentarily before walking again. "But we're not quite at the café yet."

“Me?” Ichikage shrugged. “Not much, most of the time. If you want to know about important people, well… Kiyoshi-sama is Motoyami-sama’s heir. He serves as CEO of Motoyami Enterprises, which is an international printing company. They also have a controlling interest in a few other businesses—restaurants, art galleries, that kind of thing. Motoyami-sama himself is the company President, so he makes the really big decisions, but on a day-to-day basis, Kiyoshi-sama and the board run everything.” He paused thoughtfully, bringing his hand to his chin and tapping it.

“Sanada-san is Motoyami-sama’s other bodyguard—in practice, he runs household security, who are in charge of protecting everyone else in the house besides the two Motoyami. Sakuragi-san is Kiyoshi-sama’s bodyguard and assistant. She has pretty much the same job you’re applying for, so if you get a chance to talk to her you might want to ask her about it. Kanzaki-san runs the household’s… well, if this were a few hundred years ago, I’d call them the household’s shinobi, but these days they’re more like… agents or attachés. Aogi-san is in charge of the household servants and so on. Those are the big names.”

"So basically I'd be an additional guard, though not a guard?" she seemed a little confused on that one, but it seemed to fall into place shortly as she made an 'oh' shape with her mouth. "An extensive network, kind of..." she trailed off at the end on that one. She seemed to digest the information slowly, and seemed to be contemplating everything that he'd just told her. "Well, I suppose if this interview goes well, I'd be meeting them all, eventually," she spoke suddenly very quietly. Her body seemed to stiffen slightly as she turned towards him, as if something finally dawned on her.

"This, you're not going to count this as part of the initial interview are you?" she questioned, though had it been anyone else, they'd have missed the inaudible 'fuck' after that sentence.

Ichikage, of course, had a yōkai’s hearing. He laughed outright at her reaction, flashing his teeth in a jagged grin. “Everything counts, Yukimura-san. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, if I were you. Your curiosity does you credit.” She reminded him so strongly of Yutaka in that moment that his mirth sobered quickly, and he held open the café door for her with a playful flourish.

“They make a really nice potato croquette here,” he advised, digging around in his pocket for his debit card. “If you want anything, I’ll buy, since I’m technically the senior here.” He winked; it was a gesture of fun rather than a lascivious one, though really he always made it hard to tell on purpose. Still, he should probably keep things mostly serious for now, even if he found that boring.

She merely frowned at him, though it probably borderlined pouting in some senses. "I should have taken Toto's advice," she grumbled to herself, but followed after him into the establishment. "Well, if you're buying, and everything counts, I guess I'll just gorge myself on pastries, instead," she half-chided that one.

Ichikage snorted. He supposed that if this were a conventional job and he a conventional employer, she would have disqualified herself almost immediately. Fortunately for her then, nothing about this was ordinary. “An order of potato croquettes,” he told the young lady behind the counter, smiling brightly at her. “And one of every pastry.”

Masaki-chan, the server on duty, smiled back, a slight blush on her face, and nodded dutifully. “Of course, Ichijo-san,” she said, not fazed in the slightest by the extravagance of the order. This was not the first time he’d been here, needless to say.

Ichikage took the little number on a stick she handed him, gesturing for Yukimura to precede him to a table at the back of the café, near a window that looked out into the street. “So, Yukimura-san… do I get to ask the questions now?” He cocked an eyebrow at her, a little smirk turning his mouth up on the left side.

She seemed almost shocked that he'd ordered one of every pastry, and gaped at him for a moment. "Did you just?" she began, however; he seemed to pull her out of her daze and she shook her head. "Uh, yeah, sure. You can ask the questions now," she responded, taking a seat. She still looked a little perplexed by the order, however; it seemed to pass slowly. She was either accepting it for what it was, or actually a little excited for it. The smile on her face was almost confirming she was excited for the pastires.

"So, go ahead and give me your worst," she nearly invited.

“It’s not a competition, Yukimura-san,” Ichikage responded with obvious amusement. Propping an elbow on the table, he leaned forward slightly and caught his chin in his hand. “Why don’t you start by telling me what you know about combat? What qualifies you to guard someone else’s life?”

"On the contrary, Ichi-kun, it is a competition. Interviews are funny that way," she responded, but seemed to think on his next question. "What makes me qualified to guard a person's life, and what do I know about combat," she mused out loud. Either she was trying to be careful of what she said, or she was trying to figure out how to say it. The expression on her face suggested the latter.

"My family used to be borderline traditionalists. When I was old enough, they taught me everything from martial arts to how to use weapons. I've been training since I was five. If a demonstration is required, I can certainly provide one," she spoke, but there was a confident smile on her face. She was apparently really confident in her skills. "As for guarding someone's life," she began again, only this time, she hesitated. Something seemed to bother her for a moment, but it was quickly gone.

"I'm going to be honest here," she spoke, staring at him with an uncanny seriousness to her eyes. "I was a taiji-ya. I'm sure you know what that means," she spoke, her voice even and steady, oddly enough. "It was my job to protect people, and I did. But... I'm no longer needed for such a thing," she continued, sighing softly and leaning back in her chair. "But I miss it. I miss being able to protect someone and knowing that I could. I was... it made me happy, protecting people who couldn't or otherwise needed a little help," she concluded, folding her hands on the table.

Ichikage obviously had no need to ask what had become of her family, or why she was no longer a taiji-ya, so he didn’t. He might enjoy pretending to be someone other than he was, but he was not so cruel as to force her to recount her heartbreak to him by feigning ignorance. “Well,” he replied instead, “taiji-ya training certainly qualifies, I’m sure. How are you with following orders? I have to say you come across as a person with a very independent spirit, and that’s good, but if you take this job, you will have to work within a certain structure, and loyalty is expected.”

She sighed with a bit of a reluctance to the question. "Loyalty is expected everywhere, Ichi-kun," she began, leaning back in her chair slightly. "But whether or not a person actually deserves it is another question. I will confess, this Motoyami-san definitely seems like he deserves it. I haven't even met the guy, but I can already tell he's someone whom I can respect," she continued, closing her eyes for a moment. She seemed lost in her own thought, as if trying to answer the question a little more thoroughly.

"I may be independent, but I'm not stupid, Ichijo-san. Even if I won't be necessarily guarding Motoyami-san, orders are the difference between life and death, regardless of the situation. So, to answer your question, yes. I am an independent person, but I follow orders when they are given to me without fail. But," she spoke, and paused for a moment.

"I will not follow orders if I disagree with them. Probably not the best thing to say in an interview, but I'm not going to lie, either."

Well, that was a bit of a contradiction, wasn’t it? Would follow them without fail, but not if she disagreed? Still, he supposed he could respect the honesty in it.

Before he could respond, Masaki-chan and two of the other café staff approached, bearing a tray laden with their food order. All of the pastries were set down on the table, covering nearly the whole thing. He had to carefully rearrange some things to make space for his croquettes, smiling ingratiatingly at the staff all the while. “Many thanks,” he said politely, signing the receipt they brought him and tipping nearly fifty percent.

Masaki-chan goggled at the number for a second, looking back to him uncertainly, but Ichikage didn’t let his smile waver, which she correctly took as confirmation. All three of them bowed before taking their leave, allowing the interview to resume.

He made his way through his croquettes at a sedate pace, curious to see how she would tackle the challenge presented by the pastries. In between bites, he ventured the next question. “You should know… the position you’re applying for is a live-in one. Is that something you’re prepared to do?”

"A live-in?" she repeated, pausing momentarily as she reached for another one of the pastries. She'd eaten five of the smaller ones before he asked, and the smile on her face was wide. It was almost cheshire-like, however; it seemed to slowly disappear. "I... don't know. I have my younger brother to look after. I can't just... I can't just leave him. I need him, and he needs me," she spoke softly about this. Her brother was important to her, this was apparent.

She seemed to think the question over a little more thoughtfully this time, because it took her five minutes to answer it. "I'd be prepared to do it," she spoke honestly. The tone suggested that she would do it, but there was also some hesitance behind it. She took the pastry, eating it slower this time as if the question still deeply bothered her.

He had expected her brother to come up at some point, actually. Ichikage’s eyes narrowed slightly, a thoughtful expression crossing his face before he smiled. “Well, you know if you are hired, that’s the kind of detail you can bring up in negotiations. A few of the members of staff have children that live with them as well—it might be that you could work something out for your brother.”

Ichikage lapsed into silence for a few moments. She was certainly mowing her way through those pastries with impressive speed. “One more question, I think: why do you want the job? This job in particular, I mean. There are a lot of ways to protect more people than just this one person—and even Motoyami-sama would acknowledge that he is only one individual. If that alone was what you wanted, I’d think you better suited for the police force, or something like that.”

A look of relief seemed to flash behind her eyes when he spoke about negotiating something for her brother, if she got the job. "Satoru said the same thing," she spoke, swallowing down another pastry. She was almost finished with them. "But it's not just that. The police force could probably benefit from what I've learned, growing up, but it wouldn't exactly be the same. I think it'd be more exciting to act as a personal guard than it would be to be an officer. Also," she paused, staring at another pastry as she did. She almost seemed to glare at it for a moment, before she released a dejected sigh.

"I think there may be something he can help me with. I know that's kind of vague, but it's just something I want to ask him, personally. I also think you made the little fat kid in me, very happy," she concluded, indulging herself in the last of the pastries.

Ichikage considered himself thoroughly charmed. But then, he’d always been a little weird when it came to what he found endearing. While he was curious to know what she thought he could help her with, he elected to leave that alone for the moment. Clearly, she considered it a private matter for her potential future employer, and while he was that man, she didn’t know it. He would not press.

“Glad I could be of service,” he said, his tone laced with obvious amusement. “I do still have lots of other interviews to conduct, and then of course there’s the second round of them, but I daresay you should expect a call from me in a week or so.” He smiled.

"Oh you have no idea," she retorted, however; she blinked at him a little mildly surpised. Slowly, the surprise wore off and a smile seemed to stretch over her face. It wasn't the same chesire smile she'd worn earlier, though. This one seemed a little more genuine. "Thank you, Ichijo-san. I'll be expecting that call in about a week," she seemed genuinely happy about it.

He was glad.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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The house—well, no. It was probably better considered to be an estate, wasn’t it? With grounds and everything. That said, there was one main house, which was by itself enormous, and then a lot of garden and yardspace and a lot of anterior buildings. If Satoru had to guess, he’d say there were a at least five larger buildings for staff, as well as a full-sized dojo, a small shrine and its attendant buildings, a few supply sheds, and so on.

It wasn’t a complex of homes like his family had had, but it was even bigger, in terms of acreage. He’d expected a lot from one of the richest men in the world, but not quite this. It wasn’t even the space as much as the quality—everything from the paving-stone pathways to the wood to the lay of the gardens to the roof tiles was immaculately clean, well-kept, and luxuriant in a kind of understated, simple way that he knew probably cost more than outright gaudiness. It wasn’t ostentatious, just objectively beautiful.

The idea that his sister could actually end up working at a place like this for the person who owned it all, was starting to seem a lot less probable than when he’d first floated the idea. But that they were here at all, walking up the pathway to the main house, meant that she’d passed the first round of interviews and was here for the second. The call had mentioned that it would be more like a competition, with job candidates pitted against one another in a series of skill tests for the things they needed to know to be successful bodyguards.

There was so much yōki in the place that Satoru swore he could taste it on the back of his tongue. He was getting antsy, like something in his gut was aggravated by the feel of all the demonic energy around. It made him feel oddly… aggressive, he thought might be the word. Considering what he knew about his own personality and tendencies, Satoru was a little disturbed by the change, though he had no idea what the deal was.

"Yukimura-kun?" a voice called out almost tentatively, as if she was unsure that it was actually Satoru. "Yukimura-kun, what are you doing here!?" it was Fujimori who appeared in front of him, a look of confusion crossing her face.

Satoru was pretty sure he was wearing pretty much the same one.

Fujimori?” What the hell was she doing in a place like this, full of yōkai? He briefly considered the possibility that she was applying for the same job; they would be graduating in less than a year, after all. But he discarded the notion almost as soon as he thought of it; it wasn’t like her from what he knew, and as someone who’d fought her… she was lacking the skill required.

It occurred to him that he was just staring blankly, and hadn’t answered her question yet. “Uh… I mean.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. “That’s my sister Ryoka. She’s applying for a job here. What are you doing here?”

"Ah, well," she began, a light color of pink dusting herself. Ryoka snorted from behind Satoru, apparently finding the situation amusing. Fujimori, however, fidgeted slightly in her spot as Ryoka laced one arm around Satoru's shoulders, and stared at Fujimori.

"Oh? Fujimori is it? And who might this be?" she questioned, a sly smirk crossing her features. Fujimori just turned a deeper shade as she laughed nervously.

"Well, I go to the same school as Yukimura-kun, and I live here," she finally responded. "Ah, that means you're applying to be Otō-san's bodyguard, right?" she added, glancing towards Ryoka. Ryoka glanced down at Satoru, and cocked an eyebrow at him.

"You go to school with his daughter? And you didn't say anything?"

Satoru shot an incredulous look at Ryoka, then at Fujimori. “I didn’t know, obviously,” he replied. “You’re… your father is a yōkai?” She clearly wasn’t one, unless she was somehow disguising her ki. But he’d never heard of anyone being able to do that before.

“Does… does that mean you’re…?” He wouldn’t care if Etsuko was a demon herself—he might have hunted them for a living, but there was a vast difference between the kind of yōkai that preyed on humans and the ones that lived together with them. But even if he wouldn’t mind, he’d be extremely surprised.

"Wait, what? Oh, no! No I'm not a yōkai!" she blurted out suddenly. To Ryoka's credit, she held back a laugh as Fujimori turned a slight shade of red. "Otō-san isn't actually my biological father. I was adopted. I'm one hundred percent human, as far as I know," she muttered softly. Ryoka merely held an amused smile as she held Satoru's gaze.

"Geez, Toto, you know how to pick 'em don't you?" Ryoka spoke, watching as Etsuko's face turned a deeper red.

“Huh?” Satoru had no idea what she was talking about, or why Fujimori was turning progressively more red. Actually… “Are you okay?” he asked her. “You look like you might be running a fever or something…”

"Really Toto, really? She's embarrassed" Ryoka stated, giving her brother a slight deadpan gaze. Fujimori, however, merely nodded her head, and waved her hands in front of her face. "Is he always like this at school?" Ryoka asked Fujimori who merely stayed quiet but still seemed to sport a brilliant red blush on her face.

"I'm fine, Yukimura-kun. A-anyways, do you want me to show you the rest of the way? I-I don't mind," she stated, playing with the hem of her skirt this time as the floor seemed a lot more interesting to her. Ryoka merely grinned, like one of those chesire cats.

"We'd love it, Fujimori-chan. Right, Toto?" Ryoka stated, leaning over his shoulder.

Satoru was still a little caught up on the fact that Fujimori was embarrassed. Why would she be embarrassed? He couldn’t really think of anything in particular. Unless…

“Uh, sure,” he replied, falling into step beside her. Ryoka followed. Pursing his lips, Satoru lowered his voice slightly. “You uh… you don’t have to be embarrassed about being adopted or that your dad’s a yōkai, Fujimori. I won’t tell anyone at school or anything, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Satoru knew enough to know that family issues like that could be sensitive for some people. But even if he’d been enough of an ass to not care about her privacy… she was pretty much his only friend. Who the hell else would he tell?

Fujimori sputtered slightly. "What? No! That's... what?" she stated, giving him a slightly incredulous look. "That's... no, I'm not... adopted?" she continued, sputtering her words in slightly incoherent sentences. "It's okay, Yukimura-kun, that's not it," she finally managed to say. She sighed softly, as if something were weighing heavily on her, but said nothing else.

"Everyone knows I'm adopted at school, but they also know that Motoyami-sama is my otō-san. So, don't worry about it too much. I'm okay now. I just, it was nice meeting your sister," she stated, changing the subject. "But I didn't know she was applying for the job. Is she, has she worked in the field before?" Fujimori asked, apparently slightly curious.

“Oh. Um.” Satoru scratched the back of his head. “Kinda. My family… before. We were… do you know what a taiji-ya is?” He figured there was no point in keeping the family secret anymore. It was just him and Ryoka now. And neither of them seemed likely to try and restart the clan and go back to business. Besides, now that he knew she knew about yōkai, there wasn’t really any reason not to tell her.

"Taiji-ya? Like demon hunters? I know some things about it. Otō-san and Kiyo mentioned them once, but nothing more than that," she stated, tapping her chin in a thoughtful maner. "So, you were a taiji-ya... Oh..." she continued, stopping for just a second before continuing her walk. She seemed to figure something out when she did that, however; she didn't say anything. "But I take it you are no longer taiji-ya? You... you wouldn't be here if that were the case," she spoke, averting her eyes from him.

"You know, from where I'm standing," Ryoka started causing Fujimori to glance over her shoulder in her direction. "You guys look pretty cute walking together like that," she continued, causing Fujimori's face to turn a bright red again.

Satoru shot her a dirty look over his shoulder. “Knock it off, Ryoka.” He couldn’t help the slight warmth he felt on his face. Of all the people he met, none could get under his skin like his sister. He sighed, returning his attention to Fujimori. “Don’t let her bother you—she likes teasing people.”

"It's okay, Yukimura-kun. Kiyo is the same way," she muttered beneath her breath, the color still staining her cheeks slightly. Ryoka chuckled darkly behind them, but spared them both from further embarrassment. "A-anyway, Yukimura-kun. The area you're probably looking for is the one behind the house. If you keep following this path, you'll find it. I-I have to go find Kiyo and Mika-chan," she stated, giving a polite bow before taking off in a different direction.

"You have such nice friends, Toto," Ryoka chimed in once Fujimori was out of sight, a sly grin forming on her face.

“And you're horrible, Ryoka-neesan."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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INK

Ryoka was amused. Really, how dense could Toto-chan, be? She was half tempted to tell him, but then again, it was much more fun teasing him. It was, dare she say, adorable. She could feel her lips tilting up, somewhat, before she sighed and shook her head. They were supposed to go around to the back of the house, or at least that was what Etsuko had said. She was excited, to say the least. If she pulled this part off, not only would she have a job, but also she'd have a chance to ask her employer for a contract. Admittedly, she hadn't exactly planned that far in advance, but she'd get to it when it happened.

If it happened.

She drew her eyes to her brother. She had to glance up at him since he was a few inches taller than her. She had to do this, for his sake, and hers. If she failed, then she wouldn't be able to get justice for her family. And she wouldn't be able to provide him with a decent place to stay. Sighing softly, she dropped her gaze, and continued walking next to him. Pursing her lips together, she huffed softly.

"So, Toto-chan," she began, keeping her gaze forward. "Be honest with me, do you think I have a chance?" she asked. She had some faith in her abilities, but she didn't know who, or what, she'd be up against. Hell, she didn't even know what the second part of the interview was going to be.

He contemplated that for a moment, then shrugged. “I don't think they would have bothered telling you to come here for this part of the interview if you didn't," he pointed out reasonably. “Whatever else is true of Motoyami-sama, it seems that he does not hate humans on principle."

It took them a while to get around to the back of the castle, since they'd avoided trying to go inside. Once they did, though, it was clear where they were supposed to be: a large group of people had gathered in one spot.

Actually, not just people. A large group of women. Just from the feel of their ki alone, the vast majority were yōkai. There might have been one or two hanyō in the group, but it was impossible to differentiate that much. There had to be at least thirty young-looking women, all dressed traditionally. Most wore kimono; a few had hakama on instead.

At the moment, they milled around uneasily. Some of them kept to themselves, basically ignoring everyone else. Others observed the rest of the group; a few ventured quiet conversation with each other.

“All the applicants are women?" Satoru looked surprised by that, glancing between the figures with a skeptical look on his face. “Don't tell me the lord's a pervert or something."

“He is, but that doesn't really have anything to do with this, believe it or not." The voice came from behind them, tone crisp and precise.

“S-Sakuragi-san?" Satoru swallowed audibly, pushing his glasses up his nose.

She blinked at him, then turned to Ryoka. “Do join the others, please. We were just about to get started." The words left no room for argument despite their politeness.

Ryoka just shrugged, however; she didn't miss the reaction her brother had. She would have laughed at him if she didn't know any better. She could bother him later about it, if she remembered. Right now, though, she had a job to secure. Speaking of which... "Am I the only human?" she asked. With the different ki about, the only humans she could detect where Satoru and herself. Then again, maybe she wasn't concentrating hard enough?

She was slightly curious, though. But she wouldn't be all that shocked if that were the case. The job she was applying for, after all, was protecting a daiyōkai.

“You are," the woman replied, nodding her head. Her hair brushed slightly over her shoulders with the motion. “Motoyami-sama has no particular preference for whether his staff are humans or yōkai, as long as they are capable of meeting the requirements."

She paused a moment, moving her dark grey eyes to Satoru. “You may stay, Yukimura-san, but keep in mind that interference with the proceedings will not be tolerated."

Satoru nodded immediately. “Of course, Sakuragi-san."

Apparently satisfied with that, the woman left them behind, approaching the front of the group at a brisk pace. No few of the women present shot Ryoka looks of anything from curiosity to outright disdain as she joined the assembled, but when Sakuragi cleared her throat, all of the attention swung immediately to her.

To her credit, she looked not even slightly fazed by that. “Welcome to the Motoyami Estate," she said evenly, modulating her volume so that she was easy to hear without being loud. “My name is Sakuragi Mika. I will be guiding you through the remainder of the application process."

There was a bit of a stir at that. The reason for it wasn't clear, at least not until one of the women, a stunningly-beautiful lady with waist-length red hair, spoke up.

“When will we be meeting Motoyami-sama?" she inquired, arching a perfectly-shaped brow.

Sakuragi must have anticipated the question, or else she just had a really good poker face, because she didn't look in the least bit surprised by the question. “That depends," she said, blinking slowly. “Some of you may not. Motoyami-sama has elected to leave me in charge of this particular phase of the process. Once I have narrowed the applicant pool to a satisfactory number, he will involve himself as he sees fit. Are there other questions before I explain?"

Ryoka raised a brow at the redhead. What did it matter how soon they met Motoyami-sama? This was the second part of an interview, right? The woman seemed to scoff slightly at Mika's response, causing Ryoka to visibly roll her eyes. Were all these women really here for the job? Or were they here for something else? She was hoping that they were here for the job. Maybe she was being too optimistic? She sighed, a little too loudly.

"So, we will meet Motoyami whenever the pool is small enough," she spoke, though it was more to herself than to Mika. She tapped her fist on the palm of her hand. "Does that mean there's a possibility that it might be narrowed down to just a small handful of us? Say... four or six?" she decided to ask. She could handle that. Of course, that was assuming she'd make it that far.

“Allow me to explain the procedure," Sakuragi said, staving off further speculation. “Given the nature of the work you are applying to do, it is imperative that you be in excellent physical condition, capable of handling weapons, and thinking like a bodyguard. As such, you will undergo a series of tests of your capability. If I am satisfied that you meet the necessary minimums, then you will move to the next stage."

“Which is?" That question came from a different girl, a shorter one who wore an open smile. She was curiously hard to read despite that.

“A single-elimination tournament."

“Hold on." The redhead raised her voice again, crossing her arms beneath her chest. “How are you qualified to be judging this? I won't be eliminated because some amateur hanyō doesn't know what real skill looks like."

Sakuragi met the redhead's eyes with a flat, unimpressed stare. “If an amateur can't tell you're good, you're not good enough. But if that does not satisfy you, there is no need for concern. I have the same job you want; I guard Motoyami Kiyoshi-sama. Additionally, Motoyami-sama's other bodyguard, Sanada-dono, will be joining me in the assessments."

Ryoka snorted softly at Mika's response, feeling a slight quirk of her lips. She was, however, a little surprised to hear that Mika was also a bodyguard. From the rare times that she'd actually seen her, picking up Etsuko, now that she knew the girl's name, she would have figured Mika to be an aunt or a sister, perhaps. Not a bodyguard. She huffed lightly to herself. She should know better to assume someone's occupation based on their appearance, though.

Or make any assumptions, for that matter.

"So basically, this is more a test of skill than anything else, right?" she asked. If that were the case, she could get by somewhat with her ki. She felt a slight grin tugging at her lips. Even if she were eliminated, at least she would get the chance to kick some ass. She hadn't been able to do that, recently, and Satoru was the only sparring partner she had, at the moment.

He was good, but now she'd have the chance to be pitted against yōkai and hanyō. She could hear someone close by mutter something about human, but she didn't care. Yeah, she was human, but not just any human. She was taiji-ya, and she was Yukimura. She wasn't going to go down without a fight.

“Indeed," Mika replied. She scanned over the group for a moment, clearly counting them, then nodded slightly when she was done. It would seem that they were the right number. “We expect this process to take several days. You will be compensated for your time, though not at the rate the winner will earn eventually. You will also be housed here for the duration; it is preferred that during that time, you do not leave without informing myself or Sanada-dono. Please endeavor to cause a minimal disruption to the household during your stay."

Mika paused, clearly waiting to see if anyone else had any questions. When none were forthcoming, she continued. “Your first test is an obstacle course. It has been set up outside of town; we have arranged transportation to the site in one hour. Please take this opportunity to attire yourselves appropriately." Though she gave no sign of it, it was a fair bet that she disapproved of the women who'd sown up wearing fancy kimono.

Ryoka was glad, at that moment, that she wasn't wearing such a thing. She'd dressed a little too casually, though it could still be considered formal. A simple shirt and a pair of slacks, after all, could go a long way if she really wanted it to. She brought her attention back to what Mika had said, though. They were going to do an obstacle course. She could do that. It's not like the hunts she'd been on had been void of any obstacles. Not to mention the training she'd underwent as a child, and before... she shook the thought from her mind. She took a soft breath and left with the others.

She'd contemplated on wearing her shinobi shōzoku, however; this was an obstacle course. Even if the clothing was specifically made for maneuvering, she still had to be a bit practical about it. She needed something that would not feel as if she were restricted in her movement, nor too loose that it might feel like it'd slip off. Plus, she needed to make sure her legs and arms were protected, too. Sighing softly, she rummaged through her clothes to find something appropriate. Once she did, she dressed accordingly, and made her way to where they were supposed to meet.

It didn't take them long to reach the obstacle course. That might have been in part because Ryoka was actually anxious. It could have taken them an hour, and she wouldn't be the wiser. She waited, standing purposely behind the redhead from earlier, and waited for instructions, if there were to be any.

Standing beside Mika was an older-looking yōkai. It was always hard to tell with them, of course, because they tended to stop aging after a while and where exactly that was appearance-wise varied a fair bit between individuals. If the man had been human, he would have looked to be in his early forties. He was huge, easily towering over Mika, and broad enough to suggest that he probably belonged to one of the more strength-oriented species.

But he let Mika do the talking. “This is Sanada Nobuyoshi-dono," she said, gesturing to the man. “He will be making the assessments for this task with me. As you can see, the course is rather large. We are asking you to simply make it through as fast as possible. You must complete every obstacle. A satisfactory time is necessary to qualify, but we have decided not to say what that time is. All of you will run at once. Please line up accordingly."

Ryoka inwardly groaned. She wasn't exactly the fastest at this kind of thing. Hell, even Satoru was faster than her, however; she couldn't allow that to disuade her from the course. She needed to pass so that she could move on to the tournament. So that she could do what she came here to do. With that in mind, she let loose a soft sigh, and rolled out her shoulders. No use in being stiff, right? She stepped in line with the others, waiting for the signal to start.

It's now or never, she thought to herself. When the signal was given, all of them were off. They were, obviously, quicker than she was, however; she managed to summon some ki to her legs to help her keep up. It wasn't working as well as she thought it would, but at least she wasn't quite out of the race... yet.

The obstacles were exactly that. Obstacles. The first one was decent, and most of the other women seemed to cross it with out so much as a batting their eyes. Not Ryoka, though. She struggled over them, and she could tell she was falling behind. There was a particularly deep one that she almost fell into. Gritting her teeth, she pushed herself forward. The next obstacle wasn't any better, and Ryoka stood in front of it. She just stared at it for a second. It was at least fifteen feet high.

"Well... shit," she spoke. She was supposed to vault over it somehow, wasn't she? Even with her ki boost, there was no way in hell she'd be able to make that jump. She growled to herself, and rolled up her sleeves. "You're not going to stop me from completing this," even if she came in last, or failed. She was going to finish this regardless. With that in mind, she applied the necessary ki to her legs, and lept. She didn't quite make it all the way, however; she managed to dig her hand into in opening.

She dangled for a moment, trying to catch her footing. She couldn't. "Shit, shit, shit," she mumbled to herself, trying to pull herself up. She managed to find another opening with her other hand, and allowed herself to continue to dangle. Sighing, she lifted herself, trying to climb the rest of the way. When she was almost at the top, she lost her footing, and slipped back down. She managed to grab the hole she'd grabbed earlier, and stopped herself from falling all the way down.

Letting loose a frustrated sigh, she tried again. It took her five tries to get to the top before she managed to get over it. She landed with a hard thud, and took off running again. She was behind. She had to catch up.

“Come on, Ryoka!" The voice belonged to Satoru. She hadn't seen him approach, but he jogged alongside her now. Her brother usually wasn't one to come out of his shell enough to do something as enthusiastic as cheering, but it seemed that he'd made an exception for her. “Don't worry about them. All you've gotta do is make a time, remember?" He flipped himself around so he was running backwards just ahead of her.

He seemed to be taking care not to interfere directly; he was far enough away that it would be obvious from a distance that he wasn't physically helping her. No one shouted anything at them, so it was probably fine. “Don't do this like a yōkai; do it like a taiji-ya."

They were approaching the next obstacle; it looked to be a smooth a-frame wall, but it was much taller than any such object she'd ever seen.

She pursed her lips at him. "Yeah, but if you haven't noticed, I fell behind," time or not, she was still behind. She did, however, take his suggestion into consideration. She was thinking a little like that, wasn't she? Like a yōkai. She grinned at him. "Where would I be without my little Toto-chan?" she stated, taking a steady breath as she ran. They approached the next obstacle, however; instead of stopping to stare at it, she kept charging it. Using the momentum, she managed to get a good running start, however; like the obstacle before, she lost her grip, and she slid back down.

"Argh!" she grunted, stepping onto the ground and running in the opposite direction. She stopped when she was a good distance away, and turned back towards the wall. She needed to build up momentum again if she was going to cross it. She was a taiji-ya. She had, at one time, been the best in her clan until Satoru came along. She was the best in her clan. She felt a small grin appear on her lips as she pushed a little faster, scaling the wall as best as she could. She'd managed to get to the top before her foot slipped again.

"Ack!" she managed to catch the top before she slipped completely. "When this is over, invest in better gripping shoes," she spoke to herself, pulling herself up to cross over. Once she managed that, she slid down the otherside and continued running. You can do this, you can do this, she repeated to herself like a mantra. She could do this.

And slowly, she began to catch up. The course was long; perhaps longer than some of the early leaders had been expecting. One by one, Ryoka started to pass the other women, those who'd burned too much effort too early and could no longer force themselves to complete the obstacles. She was still well behind the main group, but at least she could see them now.

“That's it," Satoru said, still running steadily beside her, almost as though he were keeping her on pace. “This is the back stretch; you're almost there." The next obstacle looked like a series of ropes suspended over a pit filled with mud. From the way it had been churned up, more than one person had fallen already.

“They might be stronger and they might be faster, but how many of these people do you think have trained their bodies to do this?" Her brother flashed her a sly grin and accelerated, almost as if inviting her to chase him for the last leg.

She grinned. This was way she loved her little brother. He kept her going, and whether he was doing it on purpose, or not, he was challenging her. She couldn't pass up a good challenge, now could she? She'd be letting herself, her training, and her family, down. That was the last thing she wanted to do. So she gave chase, running after him until they had to split. Like the obstacle before this one, she didn't stop. She kept going, pushing herself to complete the obstacle before her.

She made it through without falling, something she was extremely proud of. The first few obstacles, she either fell, or lost her footing. This one, however, she managed to get through without doing either. It wasn't a bad thing, considering that she was now catching up with the main group. "Alright, Toto, this is it!" she spoke, grinning at her brother.

“Now we're talking!" he called back, lengthening his stride until he was sprinting. “One more long jump; let's go!" That one, he actually went over himself, gathering his legs underneath him and sailing over the sand under their feet, as if to prove that it could be done.

She grinned. Pushing herself a little further, she jumped with as much energy as she could. She landed, and turned towards him to grin. "You were saying!?" she stated, her grin shifting to something more cocky. She could see the main group clearer, now. She was almost there. She didn't even know what the time was, but at the moment, she didn't care. She'd managed to complete most of the obstacles, challenging as they were. Well, at least they were to her. Once this was over, she'd have to train herself on a course like this. It was... challenging, and she was certain that, regardless if she got the job or not, she'd need the experience.

"Here I go, Toto! Wish me luck!" she continued, pushing herself a little further. She was so close, now.

“Who needs luck?" Satoru dropped back, letting her run the last stretch herself. She managed to pass a couple more strugglers, crossing the finish line several seconds behind the main group, but not nearly as far back as she'd been in the middle of the course. She'd managed to beat about seven of the other contenders, too, by anywhere from a second to almost a minute.

The two evaluators waited until everyone had crossed the line before giving the results. By that point, Satoru had returned to her side, squeezing her shoulder for just a second before he let his hand drop. Both Mika and the Sanada man wore perfectly neutral expressions. This time, it was him who did the talking.

“You," he said, jerking his chin at the woman who'd crossed just after Ryoka. “You pass. Everyone after you can go home. The rest of you better get a good nights' rest. It only gets harder from here."

Ryoka blinked a little stupidly. Did that mean she passed, too? She turned towards Satoru. "Did you hear that, Toto? I passed," she spoke, the grin on her face spreading further. She could feel it pulling her cheeks, and if she didn't know any better, she'd say it was splitting her face in two. She raised her hand up to him. "C'mon Toto, don't leave me hanging," she stated, waiting for him to give her a high five.

He rolled his eyes and smacked his palm against hers.

“Congratulations, Ryoka."

She still kept grinning at him. This was awesome.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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INK

Ryoka sighed a content sigh, patting her stomach as she did so. She was full, and happy. She passed. Twice. Her first interview, and now this second one, or whatever it was. She could feel a slight grin on her face as she made her way back to the room, however; she blinked a bit. She glanced from one side, then to the next, and groaned slightly. This wasn't the way to her room. How the hell did she manage to turn herself around? She might not have been the best at directions, but she prided herself in knowing how to get to places without having to ask someone.

Didn't look like she had much of a choice, now, however; she took a deep breath. "Okay, Ryoka. Just go back the way you came, and start from there, again. You'll be able to find your way back if you do that," she spoke to herself, nodding at the same time. She turned around abruptly, however; as soon as she did, she came face to face with a pair of silver-blue eyes. She tilted her head slightly, studying the man in front of her. He didn't seem much older than her, maybe in his late twenties, early thirties, however; his hair was what threw her off. It was white.

"Do you dye your hair for fun, like that?" she asked, the words slipping from her mouth before she could contain them. He merely blinked at her, a slow hint of confusion crossing his face. He pulled a strand over his shoulder, and glanced at it.

"Dye? Do you mean color it? I assure you, I do not," he spoke, though his expression smoothed back over. Ryoka merely arched a brow at him before shrugging her shoulders.

"There's nothing wrong with it. It's pretty," she made the comment without really having any other meaning to it. It's not like it wasn't pretty. He seemed to be confused for a moment, before he lowered his head. "Do you know how to get back to the area with the applicants? I'm kind of lost," she decided to say before she could make things more awkward. She didn't even know who this was, but judging by his ki, he was a yōkai.

"It's down the hall to your right," he replied, stepping back to nod his head in the direction. She arched a brow before grinning at him.

"Thanks," she replied.

"You're welcome?" he didn't seem too sure about that, but Ryoka didn't mind much. She was trying to get back to her room, anyway. She might even stop to bug Satoru while she was at it. She waved at him in a nonchalant fashion as she departed.

"Now, to find Toto-chan," she spoke more to herself than to anyone else. It's not like there was anyone else except for the white-haired yōkai, but he seemed to be departing as well.

Of course, trying to find him meant she was turned around again pretty quickly, since he definitely wasn't in their room and it was impossible to track him through the house with this much ki around.

Eventually, she wandered past what looked to be some kind of small office or study. Unlike most of the rooms in this hallways, the door was open; she could easily see the two men sitting at opposite ends of a shogi board. One of them was Ichijo, the blond man who'd interviewed her the first time. His opponent was clearly a yōkai; this one had dark red hair and a slight slouch to the way he sat, like he was more used to going unseen.

She wasn't one for shogi, however; she contemplated whether or not she should ask him if he, perhaps, knew where Toto-chan was. She highly doubted it, but it also looked like they were having an interesting match. Besides, Ichijo was a human, and the man he was playing was a yōkai, right? She kind of wanted to see this played out. She couldn't tell the age of the yōkai, but she was willing to bet he had at least a century under his belt. It would be something if Ichijo won.

So, she politely, or as politely as she could, hovered by the door until they were finished.

Fortunately, from what she could tell the match was nearing its end anyway, and within about a half-dozen turns, Ichijo grinned like it was his birthday. “Better luck next time, Shin'ichi."

The yōkai sighed, as though this were something that happened to him often, and put his hands on his knees. “Indeed." When Ichijo went to help him clear the board, though, he shook his head. “That's not necessary, sir. Please see to your guest. I will take care of this."

Ichijo stood, absently dusting his knees. Neither of them had once looked at her during the match, but apparently both had known she was there. “Yukimura-san," he greeted, still smiling. He seemed somewhat pleased to see her, if she was reading him right. “What a surprise. Is there something I can help you with?"

"Not really, I don't think," she replied, though she offered him a smile. "I was just looking for my brother. I seem to have misplaced him somewhere," she spoke, choosing those particular words. It's not like she really misplaced him anywhere, but it was a little difficult to find him with all the different ki around. She just shrugged, though.

"Didn't take you for the type for shogi. If I'd known, I would have told Toto-chan. I'm sure he'd like to play against someone with skill," she spoke, drawing out the last word on purpose. "He only has me to play against, and I'm not exactly a challenge when it comes to shogi," she continued. It was honestly, true. She didn't particularly like the game, but she didn't have anything against it, either. It just wasn't for her.

She blinked a little mildly, though, when she realized how she said it. "And that's assuming you'd have the time, of coure," she shrugged again.

“I find I can usually make time for the things I'm really interested in doing," Ichijo replied mildly. “Something about the way it flows around here makes it seem like there's not really any hurry." He slid his arms into his sleeves; he was wearing some version of the outfit that most of the staff and servants seemed to have: it was dark red and had matching small crests on either side of the kosode. They were the same as the one incorporated into the Motoyami logo from the website.

Ichijo tilted his head at her. “I think I can help you find him. If I remember properly what it's like to be a younger man, there's a lot of eating involved. Let's try the kitchen, shall we?"

She snorted softly. She should have checked the kitchen. That's where she could usually find him whenever she needed to. She grinned and shook her head. "You can't be that much older than me, Ichi-kun," she spoke, deferring to the way she'd spoken to him during the interview. "Unless I'm just a bad judge of people's ages," which wouldn't be all that surprising. She huffed a little at herself.

"But yes, kitchen it is," she spoke, stepping next to him so she could follow. She knew where the eating room was, or at least one of them if there were more. She didn't know where the kitchen was, and in a house this big, she didn't want to exactly wander. They'd been told not to disrupt anything, and Ryoka was going to make sure she didn't. At least not unless she got the job.

“Your metric will be thrown off completely, if you spend enough time here," he replied with a smile, turning them down an unfamiliar hallway. “You never can tell which yōkai are older than which others, because they all seem to stop aging at different points in their lives. I think it's genetic, personally, but there are a lot of theories out there about why." He neither confirmed nor denied her guess about his own age; perhaps the enigmatic smile he wore was the only hint she was getting.

“But anyway, how are you finding things here? I heard you were all taken out to some sort of obstacle course today. It sounds rather arduous."

"Yeah, arduous," she spoke, suppressing the urge to groan. She still felt sore in some places, places she didn't even know could be sore, however; it had been fun. "It wasn't exactly easy, considering most of the obstacles looked like they weren't made for someone like me," she spoke, referring to her being a human. "But I did it, and I had fun. It was... awesome," she spoke, feeling her smile spreading into a grin.

"Not sure if you're supposed to have fun during an obstacle course, especially considering it's still an interview process," she stated, rolling out her shoulders a bit. They were still sore, too. "But I did, and I'm actually kind of excited for the elimination tournament." She really was. It'd been a while since she'd actually fought with something, let alone someone.

Ichijo chuckled. Apparently, he at least didn't find it that weird of her to say. “I'm glad to hear you enjoy a challenge," he said. “It is often said that the lord can be a rather challenging man to deal with; I suppose perseverance is a quality they're all looking for, even if there isn't a single way to test for it." He still had a mysterious smile on his face, like he knew something she did not, but then that was probably true.

“And how do you find the other contenders?" he asked offhandedly, hanging a left at an intersecting hallway. The house really was huge—almost more like a castle than anything.

"Pft, challenging," she spoke, keeping herself from laughing entirely at his statement. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn't. Instead, she chose to focus on his question. "The other contenders are interesting," she answered. "Some of them have skills," she pursed her lips a bit at that. They were yōkai and hanyō, and they were probably older than her, so it made sense for them to have more skill than she did, however; they weren't her.

And she was a stubborn son of a bitch.

"But there was one who seemed really interested in meeting Motoyami. Some pretty red head. She was upset that Mika would be judging us since Mika's a hanyō. Apparently the woman doesn't like hanyō. Mika, though... she seems nice," she continued, though nice wasn't quite the word she wanted to use.

"The others, beside the red head, all seemed just as determined as I am at getting this job," she added as an after thought. The others probably had a legitimate reason for wanting this job. She wanted this job for two reasons. One, she'd have a job that would be difficult to be fired from, and two, she could ask Motoyami for a contract. She'd have to be a little delicate on those words, of course, but she'd figure something out. She always did. If not, she'd just ask Toto-chan for advice.

“Mm... everyone has their ulterior motives, of course." Ichijo seemed amused by this. “You'd think that someone with that much power would be above being used, but it's actually quite the opposite, isn't it? Everyone wants something from you when you have so much power. Or so it seems."

They reached an open doorway at the end of a hall, and it was there that Ichijo stopped, tilting his head as if to listen for something. A small smile appeared on his face, and he arched a brow. “I think that might be your brother I hear. The kitchen's just through this room here. I'm sure Etsuko-chan will be able to get the two of you back where you need to go." He gave her a shallow bow, clearly dismissing himself.

“Until next time, Yukimura-san."

"See ya then, Ichi-kun," she replied, watching as he left. He was right, though. When you had that much power, there was bound to be someone who wanted that, to use it to their own purposes. In the end, she supposed she wasn't any different. She wanted his power so that she could get justice for her clan. She huffed softly. She really wasn't any different.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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It was kind of a surreal feeling to Etsuko. He was at her house. Of course, he wasn't here as a friend or anything so silly. He was here with his sister because she was applying to be Ichikage's bodyguard. If she remembered correctly, the tournament would be starting soon. Today, or tomorrow, she wasn't entirely sure. Still, she couldn't help the grin that spread across her face, nor the extra skip to her step. She was happy, perhaps a little too happy about it.

"Tsu-chan," Kiyoshi's voice stopped her in her tracks, and she turned to face him. Slowly. There was that same smile on her face, but she knew what that smile meant. "Can you help me with this? Mika-chan's busy," he spoke, lifting up a tablet. She blinked slowly at him, and pursed her lips together.

"What do you need, Kiyo-kun?" she asked, hesitantly. She narrowed her eyes at him as he kept that same smile on his face. "Because if you're trying to get into otō-san's account for the participants..." she stated, trailing off at the end. It was a clear indication that she wasn't going to help with that. He frowned, and shook his head.

"Nothing like that, Tsu-chan. I'm just trying to check my calendar for any events today. Since Mika-chan's been replaced with Kashiwagi-san," he spoke. She mouthed an 'oh' as she took the tablet from him. She'd forgotten about that. Mika was helping with the interviews and tournament so Kashiwagi-san had filled in for her. She snickered softly at that. It looked like Kiyoshi was either evading him again, or Kashiwagi-san was doing something else. She highly doubted that was the case.

"Kiyo-kun, you really shouldn't leave your bodyguards behind. You know how otō-san and Mika-chan get when you do," she spoke, entering the password for Kiyoshi's account. She'd remembered it only because it reminded her of Mika, somewhat. Cherry blossom. Of course, it took her a moment to realize that it could also be for Sakura, and she pursed her lips together.

"There," she spoke, pulling up his calendar for him. She handed him the tablet back, and he nodded his head. "You should get back to Kashiwagi-san, Kiyo-kun. You'll be in trouble if you don't," she spoke, watching as his face twisted into a sort of pout. He always did that, and if she wasn't slightly disturbed by it, she'd find it hilariously adorable.

"But I'm here, already. Can't I accompany you to where you're headed?" he asked, causing her to sigh heavily. She wasn't heading anywhere in particular, but she kind of did want to go see the next trial. It would be starting soon, or in a few hours. She couldn't remember.

"What about Kashiwagi-san?" she asked, raising a brow in his direction. He smiled in that same way that sent a shiver down her back.

"I'll be careful," he spoke, grinning somewhat. She just shook her head.

"Fine, you can come with me. But we're going to go find Kashiwagi-san, first. I don't want otō-san to find out you're walking around by yourself again. Let alone, Mika-chan. She'd probably strangle you," she spoke a little seriously. Kiyoshi didn't seem too bothered by it since he smiled. She sighed again.

The search for Kashiwagi was proving difficult. Of course, it was a very large property, and the bodyguard himself was probably wandering around trying to find Kiyoshi. Their progress ended up taking them past the exercise yard, currently converted to an arena of sorts for the upcoming trials. There were even benches for spectators and officials.

A few of the staff were still working on getting things set up, but a section had been cordoned off for participants to practice or warm up. A girl with chin-length brown hair was at work on the archery targets; a pretty woman with a cascade of red locks threw kunai at a straw dummy.

In the middle of one of the rings, though, Yukimura-kun and his sister were sparring. She had a kusarigama, while he held a katana in one hand and a wakizashi in the other. Deftly, he jumped out of the way of the ball on the end of the chain, taking the opportunity to duck in closer and bring the katana around in what might have been a feint, from the way he drew it away quickly and slashed with the wakizashi instead.

She hadn't noticed she was smiling until Kiyoshi pointed it out. "Tsu-chan, is that the boy you like?" he spoke out loud, and Etsuko could feel her face warm considerably. Luckily, they were still a little too far for Yukimura-kun and his sister to hear them, and she quickly turned to face Kiyoshi.

"Kiyo-kun, you can't say things like that! He doesn't know!" she spoke in a sharp whisper. Kiyoshi blinked mildly at her and tilted his head in a curious manner. She did not like the look on his face as he did so.

"Why not? Haven't you told him?" he asked, and Etsuko's face warmed further. It was at this point that Yukimura-kun and his sister stopped, and it was she who noticed them first.

"Hey Toto-chan, isn't that your friend, Etsuko?" she stated. Etsuko felt her shoulders tense, and didn't turn around to face them. "Oh look, it's the guy with the pretty hair," she added, which caught Etsuko's attention. She raised a brow at Kiyoshi who seemed to frown at the comment.

"I do not know why she says those things," he spoke, pulling his hair over his shoulder as if inspecting. Etsuko snickered softly and shook her head, turning around to finally face Yukimura-kun and his sister.

"Ohayō, Yukimura-kun, Yukimura-san," she greeted, watching a large grin cross Ryoka's face. She shuddered underneath it. It looked like Kiyoshi's when he was up to no good. "A-anyway, this is my onii-san, Kiyo-kun," she spoke, introducing Kiyoshi. He blinked, and offered them a polite bow.

"And you must be the Satoru-san," he spoke, his eyes drifting over towards Yukimura-kun.

Satoru looked surprised to have been singled out in such a fashion. He shook himself slightly and dropped into a ninety-degree bow. “Er... yes. Pleased to meet you, Motoyami-sama." He rose only after several seconds, frowning at his sister and elbowing her in the ribs. “Ryoka," he hissed softly. “That's Motoyami Kiyoshi, the heir. Don't say ridiculous things, and greet him properly." He narrowed his eyes at her behind his glasses.

Ryoka hissed softly back at Yukimura-kun, rubbing her side as she did so. She turned to face Kiyoshi and tilted her head. "He didn't say anything last time," she murmured, but bowed. It wasn't as polite as Yukimura-kun's had been, though. "Pleasure to meet you, Kiyoshi-san," she spoke, causing Kiyoshi to smile in response. Etsuko rolled her eyes. He was always happy when someone called him that, instead of Motoyami-sama. If she didn't know better, she'd think he hated being called that, but he didn't seem to mind either way.

"Kiyo-kun, this is Ryoka-san, Yukimura-kun's sister. She's applying to be otō-san's bodyguard," she introduced Ryoka since he already knew all about Yukimura-kun. Kiyoshi merely nodded as he kept the strange smile on his face. She didn't like that, actually.

"Congratulations on making it this far, Ryoka-san," he spoke, nodding in her direction. She grinned at him, and Etsuko felt another shiver go down her spine.

"Thanks, Kiyo-kun. It's not easy, but it's been fun," she spoke, causing Etsuko to shake her head. Kiyoshi just kept smiling, and nodded his head. His eyes drifted back to Yukimura-kun, though, and a sly smile crossed his lips.

"And what of you, Satoru-san, are you here cheering for your onee-chan?" he asked, causing Etsuko to inwardly groan. He was up to something. He had to be up to something.

“More like making sure she doesn't kill herself doing anything stupid," Satoru replied. A moment later, he stiffened. “Oh, uh... sorry. I shouldn't..." He seemed extremely uncomfortable in Kiyoshi's presence for some reason, most likely because of his status. It seemed he'd only spoken so freely on accident.

He shifted awkwardly, rolling his shoulders. “Thank you, by the way. I don't know exactly whose decision it was to let me stay here, but I'm grateful." He looked like he might have said more there, but instead he bowed again, slightly less-formally this time. It was still deep enough to make his long tail fall over his shoulder, where it remained when he straightened.

Kiyoshi laughed. Well, the sound was more like a soft chuckle, but Etsuko knew him a lot better than that. He was amused by Yukimura-kun's reaction, and she hit her forehead to her palm. "Kiyo-kun, it's not nice to laugh at people," she murmured, elbowing him in the side in a similar manner Yukimura-kun did, earlier. He chuckled softly, and shook his head.

"My apologies, but Satoru-san," he apologized, and turned his attention back to Yukimura-kun. "You needn't be so formal around me. I'm just a humble person today," he spoke, the smile on his face inching just the slightest bit. "Etsuko speaks very fondly of you," he added, causing Etsuko to turn a deep red. She was sure of it.

Ryoka laughed loudly, smacking Satoru on the back. "He's always like that, Kiyo-kun," she spoke once she'd calmed down, it seemed. Etsuko tried to bury her face in her hands. Why. Why did she agree to let Kiyoshi come along?

Someone has to not embarrass the family by acting familiar with daiyōkai," Satoru snapped back, scowling at his sister. He didn't seem to think anything in particular of Kiyoshi's comment; perhaps he'd interpreted it as something other than what it meant.

He sighed, looking apologetic. “In any case..." he paused, clearly trying to decide how seriously or how far to take Kiyoshi's request, “Kiyoshi-dono, please forgive my sister's lack of manners. She doesn't really know how to address people, but I'm sure she'd be perfectly willing to learn the necessary manners to live and work somewhere such as your home."

Ryoka seemed to blink before shrugging her shoulders. "He doesn't seem to mind," she spoke, tilting her head towards Kiyoshi. He nodded his head in agreement, or so it seemed. "And I'm sure that if he did, he'd... say something about it," she added. Etsuko shook her head.

"Ah, Yukimura-kun, Ryoka-san, perhaps... p-perhaps we should let you both get back to training? We're looking for Kashiwagi-san, anyway, so..." she really didn't know what else to say. Kiyoshi blinked down at her, though, and tilted his head slightly.

"But Tsu-chan, I don't need Kashiwagi-san, right now. I'm with you, and one of otō-sama's applicants. I'll be fine," he spoke, smiling down at her with that same sly smile. She could tell, her life was going to be ruined in the next few minutes if she didn't get Kiyoshi to leave with her elsewhere.

"I'm not your bodyguard, Kiyo-kun. And Ryoka-san's applying for the job. That doesn't mean she has it, yet," she spoke, shaking her head at him. "But I do wish you luck, Ryoka-san," she spoke immediately afterward. She didn't want Ryoka to think that she was speaking ill of her, or anything like that.

"No worries, Tsu-chan. And I'm flattered, Kiyo-kun thinks I can protect him," she spoke, and it looked like she was trying not to laugh.

"You're welcome, Ryoka-san," he spoke back. "Oh, before I forget," he spoke, turning back to Satoru. "Thank you for taking care of our Tsu-chan. I'm sure otō-sama appreciates it as well," he spoke, offering Yukimura-kun a bow. Etsuko could feel her eyes widen at that comment.

"Kiyo-kun! You can't say things like that!" she spoke, covering his mouth as best as she could with both of her hands. He was taller than her, after all. He just blinked in mild surprise and tilted his head as if to question, 'why not?' He really was going to be the death of her, one of these days. Ryoka seemed to find it funny, though, since she laughed.

If anything, Satoru just looked even more confused; half his mouth pulled back in something almost like a grimace, and he furrowed his brows behind his glasses. “I haven't really done anything worth thanking me for," he said, shrugging slightly. “Just... pretty normal friend stuff, really."

"See, friends, Kiyo-kun. Now hush before I have to go call Mika-chan and tell her you abandoned Kashiwagi-san... again," she spoke, making sure the threat was there. He blinked and frowned at her.

"You wouldn't," he spoke, and she allowed a small smirk to cross her features.

"I have her on speed dial. And I know how to operate it, Kiyo-kun," she threatened once more, pulling her phone out to show him. His frown deepened considerably.

"Alright, Tsu-chan, you win," he spoke, pouting as he did. She smiled to herself in victory. "But..."

"Nope, not a word Kiyo-kun," she knew he was going to say something else, but she didn't want him to. He embarrassed her enough as it was. "Don't mind Kiyo-kun, he's just spitting nonsense," she spoke, offering Yukimura-kun an apologetic bow. Ryoka didn't seem to contain her amusement, though, and seemed to be laughing at the entire exchange.

"It's okay, Kiyo-kun, Toto-chan does the same thing," she spoke, placing a hand on Yukimura-kun's shoulder before dropping it. This was, officially, the worst meeting. It had to be.

“Inform other people when you're full of..." There was a conspicuous pause. “Nonsense? Yes, I do. Now come on, Ryoka. You're not gonna last two minutes in this tournament if you stand around talking all day." He waved her back towards the ring with a shooing motion.

“Kiyoshi-dono, Fujimori." He dipped his head to both of them and followed his sister back to their practice.

Kiyoshi chuckled softly. "I see why you're so fond of him, Tsu-chan."

"Kiyoshi!" she really hated him sometimes.

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Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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INK

Satoru frowned, tightening the sash around Ryoka's waist a little so it wouldn't get caught on anything. The last thing she needed was a malfunction in clothing to cost her a fight. She'd decided to wear a version of their uniform, which was probably a good thing; he'd seen a couple of the other competitors, and this was serious business. Most of them wore clan crests and carried a full compliment of weapons. Ryoka could do no less if she wanted to match them.

The Yukimura crest was prominent on the back of her shirt, white on black. The actual clan color, a faded cornflower blue, wasn't really the best idea for stealth missions, but the obi he'd tied had it, at least.

Sighing, he stopped fussing with it and reached for the comb on the dresser, carefully taking down her hair and starting to work through it, starting from the ends. “And don't forget, everyone bows to the lord before they start, if he's there. If not, bow to the officials instead. I know you don't give a shit about manners, but no one's going to hire someone who will offend all their guests, even if they don't care."

He still couldn't believe she'd called Kiyoshi Kiyo-kun. Like a centuries old demon lord was some friend in high school or junior at a job. He'd nearly had a freaking heart attack.

"Yeah, yeah, kaa-san," she spoke, her voice giving way to the only teasing gesture. "And to be fair, Kiyo-kun didn't care, but if it'll make you feel better, I'll call him Kiyoshi-sama the next time I see him," she spoke, clearly amused by his statement. "Anything else I should know before I go in?" she asked, tilting her head just slightly. It wasn't enough for her to disturb what he was doing, though.

"Because I think you covered most of it," she added.

He was fairly sure he'd gone over all of the technicalities. Ryoka had received instructions about all of this the day before, but true to her nature, she hadn't bothered reading any of the documents. So he'd done it instead, knowing she'd at least listen if he told her something was really important. Satoru knew he wouldn't be able to do that forever if she got the job, but... on the other hand, he was glad to be able to help.

They were still reeling from what happened to their family, and no matter how tough she was acting, he knew Ryoka was hurting even now. Being able to take care of the little things for her sake made him feel a little better about the fact that they both really needed her to have a job right now.

“Yeah... I think that's everything you need to know for now. Except... I believe in you, Ryoka. So don't go making a fool of me." He used the comb to sweep all of her hair into his hand, then tied it with an elastic, reinforcing the hold with a thick fabric strip.

"Aw, you're going to make me cry," she spoke, turning around to face him. She was grinning, of course, but it wasn't the same grin she'd give him when she was up to something. "And when have I ever made a fool of you? Myself, maybe, but not you," she continued, still grinning at him. She stood from her spot, though, when he was done, and sighed.

"Thanks, Toto-chan. It really does mean a lot to me, you know," she spoke, placing a hand on his shoulder. "I'd give you a hug, but I don't want to mess up all your hard work, here. You know, if everything goes well, you should really become a stylist. You'd make a good one," she spoke casually, almost as if she were being serious.

He rolled his eyes. “Tell Fujimori that. She thinks my fashion sense is terrible." He wasn't so sure why he'd chosen to say that instead of something else. Maybe because this house was hers, in a way, and so she'd been on his mind a bit more than usual lately. Or something.

Fortunately, Ryoka didn't have any opportunity to tease him about it, as she surely would. Instead, there was a knock at the door. The yōki outside the door was well-contained, but vaguely familiar to Satoru. Rising from where he sat, he moved over to it and pulled it open, to find Mika standing there.

“S-Sakuragi-san?" He cleared his throat, not exactly thrilled with the way surprise tightened his throat and raised his pitch a bit. “Uh, I mean, is there something we can help you with?" He moved aside and held the door, letting her step over the threshold.

She looked as put-together as usual, neatly dressed in the staff uniform of red and black. dipping her head to acknowledge him on the way in, she waited for him to close the door before she spoke.

“Yukimura-san. I've come to inform you that your match today is one of the afternoon ones. Nevertheless, we would like you to arrive at the designated location within the hour." She paused, tilting her head slightly as though assessing Ryoka somehow. Her expression did not give away her thoughts. “You will be facing Nakamura."

"Nakamura, Nakamura. Isn't she the hanyō?" Ryoka asked, though she didn't state it in a rude gesture. She seemed interested in who her opponent was, if anything. "I'll be there, though. Thanks Sakuragi-san," she continued, offering Mika a bow as she did so. "I guess I have enough time to warm up before hand, huh, Toto-chan?" she stated, knocking her shoulder into his. She wasn't that much shorter than him, but she still hit the top of his bicep.

Satoru was still studying Mika's face, though. She was completely unreadable, which was impressive, but at the same time... “Forgive me if I'm rude, Sakuragi-san, but you didn't come all this way just to tell us this, did you?" Any messenger could easily have done the same; surely she was busy enough that making a trip like this was well out of her way. She didn't seem like the type who would do anything frivolously; quite the opposite.

He thought he saw something about her eyes change; maybe as though she'd relaxed that part of her face a little. It made her look... softer. He was abruptly struck by how pretty she was. Pushing the thought down, Satoru swallowed, glancing away.

“No," she replied neutrally. “I did not." Tilting her head, she returned her attention to Ryoka. “I would like to ask you directly, Yukimura-san, why you wish to have this job. It is not easy, and it is clear to me that you are not here out of desire to wed Motoyami-sama. Nor does the Yukimura clan owe him any fealty or debt of service that winning the position might pay."

Ryoka visibly shuddered when Mika mentioned that she wasn't here with the desire to wed Motoyami-sama. She, however, held Mika's gaze, her lips pursing into a thin line. She seemed to contemplate what Mika asked, and glanced at Satoru. There was a hint of being unsure, however; she seemed to sigh softly, and slumped her shoulders a bit.

"Honestly?" she began, her words unusually soft. "Besides having the chance to provide for him, and to have a job that I could actually be good at?" she continued, pausing only for a moment to glance back at him. "I know it's not going to be easy, even this tournament has shown me that, however," she paused again, taking a deep breath before she continued.

"There is something I would like to ask him. And I'm not going to rest until I do. You're right, I'm not here to wed him. Esh, no, not that," she spoke, shuddering again. "I believe there is something he may be able to help me with, though. If he can't, well... at least I'll have a job that can provide for him. That's... why I'm here, why I want the job," she spoke. She hadn't mentioned exactly what she wanted to ask Motoyami-sama, perhaps because she didn't know Mika too well.

Mika had obviously noticed the omission, but it didn't seem to concern her. “Your skill is admirable," she said quietly, thinning her lips into a line. “As is your goal. But even a hanyō at this level will outmatch you. It is my understanding that taiji-ya are able to get an advantage over yōkai in part because of their use of stealth and tools that are forbidden or useless on open matches like this one. You are, in essence, being placed at an unfair disadvantage even beyond the relative level of your strength."

She delivered the words with no hint of feeling. In a way, that made it even more brutal. But Satoru appreciated the honesty of the words, perhaps moreso because they were conveying a hard truth of the situation.

“But." The syllable was crisp and clear, drawing Satoru's eyes back to her. “I am in a position to be able to even the field a little for you. You may find the suggestion distasteful, in which case you are under no obligation to accept. But if you desire this job for the reasons you say you do, I believe you will find my idea agreeable."

Ryoka blinked in shock. Her eyes widened slightly, and her head tilted just faintly to the right. "You would help me? Really?" she didn't seem to believe Mika at first, however; her brow arched, and she continued to stare at Mika. "Really?" she spoke again, still not quite believing what Mika said. She seemed to contemplate it for a moment before she grinned.

"I believe I have reason to at least hear out your idea, right? Like you said, I'm under no obligation to accept, but," she finally spoke, shaking her head a little bit. "I really do want this job. I'll take any help I can get. I'd like to hear out your idea," she continued, a small grin forming on her lips.

Mika nodded, still unruffled and stoic. “I am not certain to what extent you are familiar with something called a Contract," she said, her eyes sliding to Satoru. Perhaps she suspected that he would be the one to know?

“It's when a yōkai and a human perform some kind of blood ritual and bind together their lives, right?" He kept his voice steady. This woman was sharp; if Ryoka didn't want to give away their goals yet, he'd have to work not to accidentally give anything away himself.

“Yes. Or I should say, that is how one makes a contract permanent. However, the ability is one belonging to all those of yōkai blood, and it is not the case that Contracts can be used only on humans. Traditionally, they have been used for all kinds of purposes, and temporary ones are much more common than the permanent sort."

Temporary contracts? Satoru had never heard of such a thing. He shifted slightly, tilting his head and trying not to let too much of his natural curiosity show.

“In other words," Mika continued, “it is within the capability of any being with yōkai blood and a certain amount of power to be able to, to a limited extent, share it with someone else. It is this I propose. I will share my power with you, to compensate for the tactics and techniques you are not able to use in the tournament."

Satoru let out a long breath, shoving his hands into his pockets. That was... quite an offer. But if it sounded too good to be true, then maybe... “Is there a catch here?"

He got the sense that Mika was almost smiling, and had to re-balance himself a little bit.

“Isn't there always?" she replied. Crossing her arms over her chest, Mika pursed her lips. Her body language wasn't hostile, only cautious. “The agreement ceases as soon as the tournament is over. And in exchange... if you should happen to get the job, you will owe me one favor, which I will make use of at a time of my choosing. Is that acceptable?"

"Agreed," Ryoka didn't even hesitate. She didn't even seem to contemplate it. She'd agreed swiftly and the expression on her face was a rare one. She was completely serious. "If I get the job, I'll owe you favor. Heck, I'll still owe you a favor even if I don't get the job. You're going way out of your way to help someone like me. I don't even know you nor do you know me, however; I am grateful," she spoke, bowing a little formally towards Mika. She didn't do it often, and the only times she really did was around their parents.

"I knew this was going to be awesome," she spoke, though it sounded like she was talking to herself more-so to either of them. "So... what do we have to do to perform this Contract?" she asked. "Since it's only going to be temporary, I assume it's a little different than if it were a permanent one, right?" she continued. Unlike him, Ryoka didn't seem to bother to hide her curiosity.

Mika huffed softly. “There's much less unnecessary bleeding, for one. It's actually quite a quick process. I will need to touch you however; my apologies." She reached up, placing a pair of callused fingertips against Ryoka's forehead, right above her brow.

Satoru could feel the shift in Ryoka's ki; it grew in his mind from a little pinprick of light to a small flame. Mika's was still much brighter, but then, there was something about hers that wasn't normal anyway. Carefully, Mika lowered her hand.

“I believe that to be the optimal amount. It would be unfortunate if you were so strong that your body didn't respond predictably to you. But you should be able to hold your own now. You will also be somewhat protected from abilities that use yōki, but it is not a complete shield, so I do not recommend relying too heavily on it." She nodded once, then turned to depart as quickly as she'd arrived.

Only when he was sure she was long out of earshot did Satoru speak. “She's... really different." He couldn't help but admire that, a little.

"Oh? Is that right?" Ryoka spoke, something a little sly in her voice. "Could it be that Toto-chan actually admires someone?" she continued, her voice becoming more amused by each word. She looked like she was containing a laugh since her shoulders were shaking.

"Or..." she drawled out, a smirk crossing her face. "Is it something more than just mere admiration?" she was teasing him. That wasn't hard to tell.

Inevitably, he blushed and sputtered. By this point, he should really know better than to get embarrassed when she teased him. He knew she thought his reactions were funny, and that was the only reason she did it in the first place. But he'd never quite been able to conceal his consternation that well, no matter what she was teasing him about. “I'm just saying she's kind of interesting, that's all! And anyway, it's weird that she helped us. You might not care about the whys, but that means I have to."

She laughed at him. "Uh, huh, sure. Interesting. You keep telling yourself that, Toto-chan. She's probably about my age, just so you know. Shouldn't you find people your own age, interesting, hm?" she continued, the grin on her face growing. Any further and it might actually split it.

"Besides, I'm sure there's one out there whose heart you might break if you keep it up," she said as she rolled out her shoulders. "I don't think you want to do that. Poor thing probably doesn't even have a clue, either," she added.

Satoru was pretty sure he was the one without a clue, but it was better to ignore Ryoka when she got like this. “Whatever," he said, rolling his eyes. “You're delusional. And we should head over to the ring before you're late. Within the hour, remember?"

He checked everything over one more time, making sure she hadn't forgotten any of her weapons or anything, then ushered her out the door, closing it behind them.

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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INK

Ryoka was grinning from ear to ear. She could feel the change in her ki thanks to Mika's temporary Contract. It was... strange, though. Was this what it would feel like if she managed to convince Motoyami to make a Contract with her? A thought struck her, then. Since temporary Contracts could be formed, did that mean she could ask for one from him? It would be more likely to be agreed upon than something more permanent. Besides, she wasn't entirely sure if she wanted a permanent kind of Contract. From what she remembered of what Satoru said, it meant not only sharing a demon's power, but also their lifespan. She wasn't sure she wanted that kind of life.

She sighed softly. She just wanted to get justice for her clan. If and when she did, then she could think of a future for herself. She wondered, if she got the job, the Contract, and justice for her clan, would she still stay as a bodyguard? She glanced towards Satoru, and smiled fondly. Probably. After all, if the job paid well, then she could support him and whatever it was he wanted to do. Unlike her, he had a whole life ahead of him. He could be good at something else, something that didn't require him to do what he didn't like.

Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself. She could think about those things later. Right now, she had a tournament to get to. And to win. When she approached the ring, there was already a few people about. She was at least fifteen minutes early, or so she thought. It didn't look like they were quite ready for the next match to start, and she glanced back at Satoru.

"Any last minute advice?" she asked, smiling at him as she did.

“Don't be reckless," he replied bluntly. “Even if the match isn't supposed to be fatal, it could be if you don't watch yourself. They're going to underestimate you, but you should let them instead of getting cocky and trying to prove a point. When you win, that will say enough on it's own."

“You're fighting Nakamura, right?" The voice came from somewhere to their right. It belonged to a very small woman with chin-length hair and big golden-brown eyes. She'd been practicing earlier in the ring with them, shooting targets with the longbow on her back. “She's lefthanded, so watch for when she switches her sword to that hand. It means things are gonna get serious." She smiled at the both of them, apparently without a trace of guile.

Ryoka raised a brow at the shorter girl. She was going to reply to Satoru with a witty comeback, however; the woman's input caught her attention. "Thanks?" she spoke, unsure of whether or not she should be giving the thanks. She nodded her head at the same time, though, and then tilted it somewhat. She gave Satoru a quick glance before she turned back to the woman. She was probably a yōkai judging by her ki.

"Aren't you a participant, too?" she asked. She vaguely, vaguely recalled seeing a woman like the one in front of her, during the trials. She blinked, feeling a little stupid, now. Of course she was a participant. She'd been practicing earlier with her bow. But then again, how was she supposed to know that? For all she knew, the woman could have just been practicing while the tournament was being set up. Ryoka rolled her eyes at herself.

"What I meant to say is," she began, folding her arms across her chest. "Thanks for the advice. I'm Yukimura Ryoka."

The young woman—or at least she looked young; it was impossible to tell with yōkai—dipped into a friendly bow. She didn't seem all that concerned with the formalities, though, and still wore a bright smile. “Nice to meet you, officially. I'm Kurosawa Chihiro. And you're right: I'm a participant like you. But... a lot of us know each other, for various reasons. You don't have that kind of information. It seemed a little unfair, so I thought I'd tell you. Make sense?"

Yes and no. She supposed it made some sense, if she really thought about it. "Well, I'd say you're the first person to say that," or technically the second. Mika said something similar, hence why she formed a Contract with Ryoka. "But isn't that kind of... weird?" she asked. It was kind of weird that a yōkai would tell Ryoka something that would give her some insight to her opponent. Weren't they all trying to get the same job?

Wouldn't it have made more sense to keep things like that to themselves, and just let the weak ones get eliminated? Ryoka felt her brows furrow at the thought. She wasn't weak. Human, maybe, but not weak. She huffed lightly.

“Well... I'll be honest. It's not like we all like each other, is it? I'm sure some of them are even hoping you'll beat her. A lot of purebloods would prefer a human over a hanyō, after all." Chihiro scratched her head and sighed. “I just think the person with the best skills should be the winner, so I don't want you to lose because you're behind on information." She shrugged, then smiled again. “It feels too much like cheating."

Well, now that made more sense, and it also made less sense Why would they prefer a human over a hanyō? Wouldn't a hanyō be preferred? They were, essentially, stronger, were they not? If anything, Ryoka was a little more confused on yōkai ethics and dealings. She'd narrowed her eyes, though, as she tried to shake the thoughts from her head. Chihiro didn't seem to mind either way, however; Ryoka was a little conflicted now. No. Now was not the time for that. She needed this job, for more than one reason.

"Thanks, I guess, for the information. I think you're right, though. The person with the best skills should win this shindig," she spoke, allowing a smirk to cross her face. Not only that, she was going to have fun doing this. Just because this was a serious tournament didn't mean she had to be as serious as the others. Of course, that was a little different than taking the tournament seriously. Of that, she was.

"So from one participant to another, good luck," she spoke, grinning down at Chihiro.

“You too, Ryoka-san." Chihiro bobbed her head. “One thing, though... watch out for Kaori-san. She's... she's not a bad person, usually. But she's very intense about this, and I don't think she likes the idea of a human being here." Chihiro looked vaguely troubled by that, but shook her head slightly, inadvertently fluffing her hair a bit.

It was kind of adorable, actually, the way her hair fluffed. Shaking her head, Ryoka pursed her lips together. "Well, I guess too bad for her, then. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere. She can..." she paused, biting her tongue somewhat. She couldn't exactly say what she wanted to for two reasons. One, Satoru was next to her, and he probably wouldn't appreciate it. Two, Chihiro might actually go tell Kaori. She scoffed lightly at herself.

"But she's not the only person who's intense about this," she added, her voice taking on an unusually serious tone. It surprised even her, but she kept it from her face. "We all have our different reasons for being here. Yōkai, hanyō, or human. It's not going to matter in the end. What is, is determining whether or not our skills are sufficient enough to be able to protect Motoyami-sama, right?" she stated, her face smoothing out.

"Well, I suppose this is it," she spoke, glancing towards Chihiro, and then Satoru. "The match is about to start. Thanks Kurosawa-san, for the advice, and Toto-chan," she stated, turning to face him fully. "I'm going to make sleeping difficult for you if I don't hear you cheering for me, alright?" she spoke, the grin on her face saying she wasn't serious, but he should know better. She was being absolutely serious. If she couldn't hear him cheering her on, she was going to make his night of sleep miserable.

Chihiro giggled; the sound bordered on musical. Maybe it had something to do with whatever kind of yōkai she was supposed to be.

Satoru looked far less amused. “Yeah, yeah," he muttered. “But only if you give me something to cheer for, got it?"

"Yeah, yeah," she muttered, though she was still grinning at him. "I'll give you something to cheer for," she continued, turning so that she was facing the ring. "Alright, here goes nothing," she spoke, glancing over her shoulder one last time. She was going to win this tournament. Not just for herself... but for him, too. She was going to prove that she could do things, too, that she wasn't completely hopeless. She was the older sibling, after all. She had to take care of him, not the other way around.

"Love ya, kiddo," she spoke, turning around to face the ring. She rolled out her shoulders, listening to them pop before she stepped towards the ring. This was it. She could do this.

She could do this.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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Footnotes

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INK

The last match of the morning was, admittedly, the one Ichikage was most interested in seeing. He'd been able to pick out the winners of the others just by hearing who'd been lined up against each other. Some of the candidates were just stronger than the others, and nothing about the way the tournament was set up would provide any surprises there.

He didn't have the intention of simply choosing the winner, however. He might, of course, but he wasn't beholden to the idea, if there were other considerations to be made.

Still dressed as Ichijo, he'd taken up a position at the top of the stands assembled around the ring, perching himself on a railing in a loose crouch, arms draped over his knees. Balance wasn't an issue, and he preferred it to sitting on the benches in the typical manner. The two combatants in the last match were an interesting study in contrast: Yukimura was slender and dark-haired, as well as of course having the distinction of being the only human in the applicant pool. Nakamura's tora blood was obvious in her height and muscularity; she was nearly six feet tall and built for combat, with short, light brown hair kept so for practicality, he supposed. Even had she been human, she would have been a formidable match for Yukimura.

That, of course, was quite intentional. As the combatants arranged themselves below, Ichikage raised a hand to his mouth, biting down lightly on the tip of his thumb. A slight breeze stirred the cooling air; it would not belong before winter was upon Kanto. He wondered for just a moment what changes it would bring with it this year.

"Otō-sama," Kiyoshi spoke, taking a seat behind him. "If you wanted to watch the match, why didn't you go closer?" he questioned. He was curious, it was easy to tell in his voice, however; he didn't seem too concerned about Ichikage's decision. "Is that Nakamura-san?" he continued, leaning forward just a bit.

"And Ryoka-san?" he added. He made a soft huffing sound, as he leaned back. "I wonder how long this match will last," he spoke out loud, probably to himself. It didn't sound like he was saying Nakamura had the advantage, but he also didn't sound like Yukumra had it, either. He was about as neutral as he'd ever been.

“I can see just fine from here, Kiki. Besides, it's better to have a view of the crowd as well." From here, he could see the other participants that had gathered to watch the matches; since a loss was not an automatic disqualification from the position, he actually hadn't decided who was going home today yet. The tension in the ranks was palpable. Those who had lost wondered why they'd been asked to stay; those who'd won wondered who their next opponents would be. He could not blame them for their uneasiness.

And of course, he was not the only one with a keen interest in this particular result. For a moment, he glanced back at his son. Mika stood faithfully behind where Kiyoshi sat, vigilant as always. Her job demanded that she pay attention to everything, but even she was obviously interested in the match beginning below.

The combatants turned towards where the "Lord" sat; in this case it was Shin'ichi, using his illusions to appear about the right height, weight, and hair color for Ichikage. He was far enough back that no one would be able to see properly, anyway, so that was good enough. After they bowed, they faced each other and bowed again. Nakamura was respectful as he'd known she would be. He didn't think it fair to Yukimura to throw her into a match against someone that would play dirty against her right away, after all.

He read their ki, a half-smile pulling at his mouth. “It will be a difficult match, but Yukimura-san will win, I think."

The gong sounded; the combatants leaped forward.

"You think?" Kiyoshi replied, sounding just vaguely interested. "But Nakamura-san doesn't exactly fight like a normal combatant, and Ryoka-san is at a bit of a disadvantage. She has her skills as a taiji-ya, but I don't think they'll be much help in this fight," he spoke, his eyes drifting towards the ring. Yukimura seemed to be on the defensive side of things at the moment, trying to avoid Nakamura's attacks. Either she was too busy trying to defend, or she was trying to see what Nakamura was capable of.

"Mika-chan," he spoke, turning towards Mika as he did. There was a faint smile crossing his lips as he did so, and also a hint of curiosity on his face. "Who do you think will win this match? Ryoka-san, or Nakamura-san?" he asked.

“Yukimura," Mika replied without hesitation.

Ichikage's smile pulled a little wider. He had a feeling he knew exactly why that was, and the fact amused him. For now, though, he let it slide, choosing to poke fun at his son instead. “See, Kiki? Even Micchan agrees with me. We're just smarter than you, is all."

Kiyoshi pouted. "I didn't say I thought Nakamura-san would win," he spoke, pursing his lips further at Ichikage. His face pulled back into something passive, though, and he simply glanced back out into the ring. "Besides, the match is still going, and it's anyone's win at this moment," he spoke, tilting his chin in the direction of Yukimura and Nakamura. He still seemed upset about what Ichikage said, though.

Ichikage snorted. A thousand-some years old, Kiki was, and sometimes as much of a child as ever. But then, he was no better himself. It was important to keep little pieces of levity, or they'd bore themselves to death long before anything else took them.

Turning his eyes back to the match below, he watched Nakamura get herself out of a clever trap, avoiding a grievous wound on her arm by the space of inches. She was handling herself quite well, but it was clear that she was puzzled by Yukimura's obvious ability. Judging by the faces of some of those in the crowd, no few of them were just as surprised. She was doing a great deal better than her obstacle course time suggested.

“Well, well... she certainly does like to fight, doesn't she?" It was obvious just from watching that it was so.

Kiyoshi just raised a brow, and shrugged softly. "She seemed to be having a good time training with her brother when Tsu-chan and I saw them," he spoke, but didn't elaborate further. Yukimura had a large grin on her face, if that wasn't conformation enough. "We can ask the next time we see her, though. I'm sure Tsu-chan would like the chance," he spoke, a small smile inching on his face.

Yukimura dodged another strike from Nakamura, however; it seemed she wasn't quite fast enough to get out of the way. "That'll scar," Kiyoshi spoke, tilting his head slightly to the side.

Despite the obvious injury, she only slowed a bit; Ichikage was willing to bet that she didn't feel it much. Not right now, when the adrenaline was at its peak and the fight was still on. He knew too well what that was like. It had been a very long time since he'd last fought for his life, for his pride. But he could feel it even so, a slight stir in his yōki as the sight of the battle below brought his own fighting instinct to the fore. He'd been born in an age where sometimes that instinct was the only thing that kept him alive. And the way it had once sung in his blood...

That had been the only thing worth living for, back then.

“She's an awful lot faster than a human should be, isn't she, Micchan?" Ichikage let his tone turn sly, glancing momentarily at the poker-faced woman beside Kiyoshi. He never mentioned it, but he enjoyed the visual of the two of them together. Contrast and harmony... of a sort. Perhaps one day they'd perfect it.

Mika blinked slowly, that face of hers giving away nothing, even though they both knew he knew. How could he not? He knew everything that happened in his home.

“Perhaps it is simply a taiji-ya's training," she suggested with a tone of disinterest. “Her brother certainly has capabilities greater than those of other humans."

"I doubt it," Kiyoshi responded, though he did seem slightly interested. "Her brother is also slightly more skilled than she is, however; even with all of their training, otō-sama is right. She is a little faster than a human should be. Perhaps it's just the adrenaline?" he suggested. He either hadn't sensed their ki, or he simply had no clue. It was probably the latter.

In either case it was amusing, though Ichikage contained it. He'd let Mika keep her thoughts to herself for the moment; he expected he understood what had driven the move anyway. “Did anyone else stand out from today's matches, Micchan?" He had his own opinions, naturally, but he was also interested in hers. After all, she did the same job he was hiring for.

“Fushimi-san is impressive," she replied crisply. “As expected. Kurosawa-san is young, but she clearly takes this seriously, and I suspect you would get along with her. There are a few others; a few more have eliminated themselves by failing to show the necessary competence, but of course the final decisions are yours."

Kiyoshi hummed softly as if in agreement. "Fushimi-san has always been like that, though, hasn't she?" he stated it rather than questioning it. "But you are right about Chihiro. She is young, but perhaps that will serve her well if she is your guard, otō-sama," he continued, allowing his eyes to drift to the match again. It looked like Nakamura and Yukimura still had a lot of fight in them. Yukimura hadn't broken a sweat yet, but it looked like she'd be struggling in a few moments.

"If she is deemed strong enough, people might underestimate her, and she can prove them otherwise," he spoke, frowning slightly. "Though the same could be said about Ryoka-san. She is human, after all," he added with a light shrug of his shoulders. "Out of the applicants, which one is your favorite? You always had one," he spoke, directing the question to both of them, it seemed. The last statement was directed at Ichikage, though. Mika didn't have favorites.

And she certainly didn't volunteer any this time, either. Ichikage shrugged. “Oh they're all interesting of course. I'd never have passed them to this point if they weren't. There are a few I certainly won't choose, now that they've been here a while." Specifically, now that he'd had the chance to use the household staff to spy on them and gather more information on their motives.

“The three you've already pointed out are perhaps the most so, for various reasons. I quite like Nakamura, as well. She's got heart." He'd made quite a point by even inviting her, considering her status. Ryoka's presence itself was surprising, but not quite the same level of offensive to some people.

He did rather despise the average attitude towards hanyō. Strength alone was not the currency of the yōkai world anymore. At least not in the typical sense. It was the strength of a line that counted most, and diluting the blood of a yōkai with the blood of a ningen was considered an abomination by more than a few. Humans could not help what they were, but the existence of a hanyō was proof that a yōkai had failed in his or her duty to keep their blood strong. A weakness of character that came close to being unforgivable.

Ichikage thought it was because they represented a primal fear: the fear that perhaps yōkai were not so superior as they believed. That in truth they could blend with humanity and adapt to it. The fear that all their pride was meaningless, based on nothing but hot air and inflated tradition. And the strong hanyō, like Mika and Nakamura, were hated most of all: for they proved that even a being with diluted blood could outdo the purest of yōkai.

Nakamura was bold to even apply. He liked her for it.

Kiyoshi arched a brow as if he didn't quite believe what Ichikage said. "And heart is all that matters to you, right?" he spoke, his brow descending a bit. He was amused by something, but then again, little things seemed amusing to him. "I think they're getting to their final stages," he spoke, nodding his head in the direction of the ring, again. Yukimura seemed to be struggling a bit, losing her footing for a second before she regained it.

"Perhaps it will be Nakamura-san who gets the spot," he added, though it seemed like he was talking to himself, and not either of them. "Otō-sama," he began, glancing in Ichikage's direction. "Good luck with whomever you hire," he simply spoke, but the look in his eye said something different. It was as if he were whispering it to who Ichikage picked.

"They'll need it," seemed only to confirm it.

Ichikage snorted. “That's why it's important that they have heart, Kiki." He turned back to the match, his mouth pulling into a full smile when, at the last moment, Yukimura toppled her foe and emerged the victor.

“Enough of that, and no luck is necessary."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Footnotes

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INK

Etsuko sighed heavily, drawing the bow across the strings in a lazy manner. She almost flinched at the sound. It sounded like something was dying. She sighed, and allowed her thoughts to drift. Sometimes, she hated how she got around Yukimura-kun. She hated herself for being some stuttering fool who couldn't really talk properly around him, and she was certain he either disliked her, or was on the verge of hating her. She could take the former, but if he actually hated her, well... she supposed it'd be no one's fault but her own.

Maybe... maybe should could satisfy herself with just being his friend. Maybe then, she'd get over this ridiculous crush she had on him. She pursed her lips together. She doubted it. She liked him, and she was old enough and smart enough to know that the way she liked him wasn't just as a friend. Oh, no. Her stupid hormones and teenage self had to go and like him as something more.

Sighing again, she tried pulling the bow again, flinching at the sound, and giving out a frustrated sigh. "Why!?" she spoke suddenly, letting the bow and violin fall to herself. "Why can't I concentrate?" she spoke, pursing her lips together as she did. Maybe she needed a break? "No, no break. That won't do," she spoke softly, rolling her eyes at herself. She chewed the bottom of her lip before she shook her head. Maybe... she could use that for her music? She'd always been good at expressing herself that way.

With that in mind, she brought the violin back to her chin, and began playing it. She smiled softly at the sound it produced. It was soft, and gentle, and nothing like how the world outside was. Especially since Ichikage's tournament was still going on.

"You play well, you know that?" a voice caused her to let out a small shriek, and immediately, her eyes fluttered open towards the source.

"Ryoka-san?" she questioned, blinking at the older Yukimura sibling. "T-thanks," she spoke, stuttering slightly. Ryoka seemed amused by it, though, and pushed herself off of the wall.

"Just stating the obvious, kiddo," she spoke, grinning in her direction. She didn't like that grin. It looked too much like Kiyoshi's. "But sorry to interrupt you. I got lost again, and was wondering if you'd show me back to the kitchen. I'm a little hungry and I can't find Toto-chan," she spoke.

"Oh, um, he was studying the last time I saw him," Etsuko replied, though she purposefully didn't say where. Even though Ryoka wouldn't know where Mika's office was, she suspected that he'd still want to study on his own. Ryoka, however, didn't seem to mind, and simply shrugged her shoulders.

"But if you still want to go to the kitchen, I can, um, show you the way, and make you something if you'd like. It wouldn't b-be a p-problem at all," she offered. It wasn't like she wouldn't benefit from a break, either. Maybe it'd even help her clear her mind? Ryoka's grin spread across her face.

"You're too sweet, you know that," she spoke, folding her arms across her chest. "And adorable," she added. Etsuko felt her face heat up a bit as she scratched her cheek.

"I-If you say so," was the only thing she could say. "A-Anyway, if you'll follow me, I can show you where it's at," she spoke stepping in front of Ryoka to lead the way.

They made it about halfway there before running into anyone else; when they did, it turned out to be Ichikage. Though she wasn't supposed to address him as otō-san when he was dressed like this: in the servant's uniform and with other measures of disguise, like the blond hair and contacts to darken his eyes to a more normal color. Rather, he was Ichijo-san in that guise, a minor member of staff in the household.

He spotted them, of course, lips curling into a smile. “Yukimura-san, Etsuko-chan! What a pleasant surprise this is."

"Hey, it's Ichi-kun," Ryoka spoke, causing Etsuko's eyes to widen in mild shock. Did she just address him as Ichi-kun? She glanced towards Ichijo, and pursed her lips together before shaking her head softly.

"Ichijo-san, I thought you were with otō-san," she spoke, implying that she meant elsewhere and not here. "Ryoka-san and I were just headed to the kitchen, though. I was going to help make her something to eat," she purposefully left out the fact that she would be making most of the food, however; this was otō-san, Ichijo disguise or not. He would know.

"She's being sweet, really. Toto-chan could take a lesson, or two, from her book," Ryoka spoke, causing Etsuko to sputter and blush.

"I don't... think so. He's... good the way he is?" she wasn't entirely sure how to state that, but Ryoka seemed to laugh, anyway.

He, of course, blithely ignored her implication that he should be somewhere else; he never really did do anything but what he felt like doing at the time. Maybe it had something to do with his age; he did tend to blame most of his bad habits on being old.

His eyes widened with false surprise when she told him they were heading to the kitchen; he smiled in a way that could only mean trouble. “Well, if Etsuko-chan is cooking, I can't not come along. If you'll have me, that is, ladies?" He bowed with overblown gallantry, no doubt meant to be a humorous mockery of formal manners.

Etsuko suppressed a groan. Really, this could only mean trouble, but she couldn't exactly say no, either. Instead, she just gave him a flat look. "Don't you have a tournament to oversee?" she replied in an equally flat tone. Ryoka, however, raised a brow at her, and then towards him.

"But wouldn't it be more fun if there were more people? Toto-chan never says anything about it, but I heard the more people to cook for, the more fun it is. Plus, Ichi-kun can help you, right?" Ryoka chimed in, causing a look of horror to cross Etsuko's face.

"Absolutely not. Unless you want to be poisoned," she spoke, blinking in rapid succession once she realized she'd said it out loud. "But I suppose one more mouth to feed won't be too much trouble," she spoke, narrowing her eyes lightly at Ichijo.

“I've never poisoned anyone with my cooking," he protested. “That's mean, Etsuko-chan. I'm going to tell Micchan you said so." He didn't seem genuinely put-off, of course, but he did give her a toothy grin. Somehow, Mika had become what most of the other members of the household threatened one another with when they wanted to get their own way.

Besides," he drawled. “The tournament's over for today, or Yukimura-san wouldn't be here, would she? And I'm only in charge of a few really basic things; more important people do the judging and all that boring stuff." He moved his hands as if to shoo them forward once more, and they reached the kitchen in short order.

Ichikage took a seat at the island, patting the one next to him for Ryoka to take. “This way we can just watch the master work," he said with clear amusement. It was a bit of an overstatement of her abilities, but he was prone to that sort of thing, no matter what guise he was in.

Ryoka happily took the seat next to him, and leaned forward on her hands and elbows. "And you say I'm mean," she murmured softly, shaking her head softly. She could do this, even if this was Yukimura-kun's sister. She'd made things for Ichikage a few times before, however; she wasn't going to make too much this time. Instead, she grabbed a pan, and a few pieces of fish, different varieties. She was hungry, too, now that she thought about it. Yukimura-kun had made omurice for her last time, but now she wanted sashimi.

And it would be quick and easy to make. She wasn't going to make anything too complicated at the moment. "What are you going to make, Etsu-chan?" Ryoka asked, tilting her head slightly. Etsuko raised a brow at her, though, and offered a half-smile.

"Sashimi. It's quick, it's easy, and I don't want to spend too much time on it. I still have to practice, you know that," she spoke, pointing the knife in Ichikage's direction. She blinked when she realized she did that, but shrugged her shoulders. She wasn't threatening him with it, and she really couldn't even if she wanted to. She'd just threaten him with Mika, if she had to. That caused her to smile.

"Sashimi? That's boring," Ryoka spoke, causing Etsuko to snort. She wasn't in a position to ask for anything special, anyway. If she really wanted something different, Ryoka could make her own food.

"Boring, yes. But quick and easy, like I said," she spoke, sighing somewhat. Maybe she should make something different? She shook the thought from her head. She could make Ikura, Hamachi, and Unagi sashimi if she really wanted to. She already had the fish; she just needed the eel. She went to retreive it from the fridge and laid it out with the other ingredients. Once she was finished, she laid the pieces on several plates. One for herself, Ryoka, and Ichikage.

"Now, eat the boring food," she spoke, watching as Ryoka chuckled softly.

I never said it was boring," Ichikage replied, picking up a piece with his chopsticks and lightly dipping it in soy sauce before adding a little ginger to the top and popping it into his mouth. “I happen to like simple food. Didn't they feed you already anyway, Yukimura-san? All the applicants have their meals made for them by the cooks, right?"

He paused a moment, then grinned. “Or is this just for your... how did you say it? Your inner fat kid?" He mimicked Ryok'as voice by pitching his own higher and adding a bit of a rasp. His own voice was a great deal smoother, but it was a passable impression.

For a moment, Etsuko thought Ryoka was going to choke. Her eyes had widened somewhat, and she coughed at the same time. She hit her chest a few times before she managed to laugh. Laugh. Who laughed when someone said something like that? Etsuko was slightly disturbed, actually, and held a piece of sashimi to her mouth. She knew her mouth was open, but she hadn't quite been able to put the food in, yet. She was staring with wide eyes at Ryoka.

"You know me too well, already, Ichi-kun. Yes... this is for my inner fat kid. I'm always hungry," she replied without missing a beat. Really, how did people go about talking like this? Was she really related to Yukimura-kun? "Etsu-chan, you doin' alright? You're staring and your food's just hanging from your mouth there," she spoke, pointing to Etsuko's chopsticks.

Etsuko quickly took a bite from it, shoving as much as she could so she wouldn't have to say anything, yet. Once she swallowed, she glanced back at Ichikage and Ryoka. "Ichi-san, that's not nice, and Ryoka-san, you shouldn't goad him. He won't let you live it down," she murmured. She still wasn't sure if she should be disturbed, shocked, or something else.

"Is that right? Hm, I guess I have to be more careful in what I say, then, right Etsu-chan?" Ryoka replied, grinning at her. If she survived this, she was certain grins were going to be the death of her.

“It's true," Ichikage said, with a sigh that sounded almost wistful. “I'm really not very nice. Everyone's always telling me how mean I am. But then they say bad things about me, and I feel like no one's on my side at all." He shook his head. “It can be hard living arond here, Yukimura-san. Especially if you have a sense of humor. Because really, no one else does."

He smiled sweetly at Etsuko. “Etsuko-chan, for example, hates being teased. Especially about Yukimura-kun~" He singsonged the name, winking at her such that Ryoka couldn't see.

Oh she wanted to strangle him right now. Could she do that, strangle a daiyōkai? It'd be worth it. Her face had to be about as red as it could possibly get. Ryoka, however, snorted loudly which gave way to a laugh. "Toto-chan? Really?" she spoke, drawing out the last word longer than necessary. She arched a brow, and leaned her head forward on her hands, elbows propped on the table.

"I mean, I don't see why not? Yukimura-kun is cute, isn't he? Adorable with his glasses and the way he's so serious all the time," she spoke, her smile turning almost as malicious. It was a contrast to the way she spoke, gently.

"It's not like that at all!" Etsuko nearly yelled. Why did they have to be so cruel? "Yukimura-kun is just... good at a lot of things and I admire him, is all," she spoke a little fast. The grin on Ryoka's face stretched as if she didn't quite believe her.

"Hm, admire, is it? You hear that, Ichi-kun? She admires my Toto-chan. Whatever am I to do? He's my otōto," she spoke, the grin never leaving her face.

“Mm, I don't know, Yukimura-san. I suppose it depends on how far the admiration extends. Etsuko-chan only says she admires his talent. Perhaps we should also ask if she admires his pretty blue eyes before we decide what to do. Hm, Etsuko-chan?" Even behind the colored contact lenses, Ichikage's eyes were glittering with his obvious amusement.

"And this is why no one likes you," she spoke, her lips pulling into a thin line. With the way her face was heating up, she was certain she'd pass out from it all. Ryoka, however, didn't seem too convinced, and just continued grinning.

"He does have pretty blue eyes, doesn't he? What about his hair, Etsu-chan? Do you favor men with long hair, or short hair? Personally, I like long hair, like Kiyo-kun's. It was pretty," she spoke, causing Etsuko's eyes to widen further.

"And you're horrible, too, Ryoka-san," she murmured against her food. Now she could see why Yukimura-kun never really spoke of his sister. She was as bad as Kiyoshi and Ichikage. She shuddered softly. If she got the job... she turned to face Ryoka.

"It's nothing to be ashamed of, Etsu-chan. It's perfectly natural for a young woman such as yourself to admire a handsome young man. I'm sure Ichi-kun's had his fair share of admirers, haven't you?" Ryoka spoke, elbowing Ichijo's bicep.

“Though my hair is unfortunately nowhere near as long and pretty as either Yukimura-kun's or Kiyoshi-san's," Ichikage said with a sigh. That was totally false—Etsuko knew that his hair was actually longer than either of theirs', and the same color as Kiyoshi's, but of course she couldn't say that.

He shrugged. “But no one gets quite as many admirers as Kiyoshi-san. He probably needs Micchan around just to keep them away. Don't go falling for him now, Yukimura-san. He has a fiancée." The way he said the word, rolling his eyes a little, indicated that he might not have thought much of that idea, though. It was curiously the most free Etsuko had ever seen him being with his opinion on the matter. Certainly the first hint she'd ever seen that he was anything but wholeheartedly approving.

Perhaps he was only saying it for the sake of his role as Ichijo?

"He's not my type," Ryoka snorted softly. "But there's nothing wrong with admiring the man, even if he does have a fianceé," she added, rolling her eyes in what seemed like good humor. Etsuko just placed her head in her hands, trying to bury the expression on her face. Really, these two were going to be the death of her one of these days. Hopefully, hopefully it wouldn't be like this if Ryoka got the job.

"You two are horrible," she couldn't help but mutter it out loud. Ryoka just grinned and shrugged her shoulders.

"What can I say? It's in my nature to tease adorable things. Or in this case," she paused to take another bite out of her food, "adorable people." Etsuko was certain her face turned on a new shade of red. Her face was probably purple by now.

"I'm sure we came here with the intent to eat, and not tease." She shoved another piece of sashimi into her mouth, her face pulling into a light pout. She knew she was pouting, and that it was childish, but these two were being horrible.

“I absolutely came here with the intention to do both," Ichikage replied, sharing a positively conspiratorial smile with Ryoka. Really, it seemed that they were getting along too well. If this was a vision of the future...

“But if you insist on being no fun, Etsuko-chan, I suppose we can find something else to talk about. Did you have any other questions about anything, Yukimura-san?" He effortlessly changed the gear of the conversation, perhaps sensing that she'd just about reached the limit of what she could take.

For that, she was glad.

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Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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Ryoka rolled out her shoulders, the grin still on her face from the other night. She'd eaten a good meal, had a good laugh, and now she was ready for this next match. If she remembered correctly, she'd be facing Fushimi-san. The woman had a strong ki reading, but even so, Ryoka wasn't too worried. Sure, she worried that she might lose, but she'd won both of her matches so far, and that had boosted her ego, a bit. She had more confidence in herself, and in her abilities, despite the fact that she was, temporarily, under a contract. She felt invincible at the moment.

"Alright, here I come," she muttered to herself, chuckling softly, and making her way towards the ring. Apparently Satoru was already there, and she grinned at him. "Alright, Toto-chan, here goes nothing!" she stated, passing him to enter the ring. She could feel her blood come to life, singing to her in the way it always did before a good fight. She took a deep breath to calm herself. She knew she was excited, but that excitement needed to be kept in check, or else she'd let it overwhelm her. Then she'd lose, and she'd probably be out of a job.

She couldn't have that.

“Be careful, Ryoka," she could hear him say behind her, but she was into the ring before he could add anything more, if he'd intended to.

Fushimi was already there, looking extremely serious. She was equipped similarly to Ryoka; she carried a chain-sickle and a shortsword in addition to a brace of throwing knives strapped diagonally over her chest. Her impressive crown of red hair was pulled into a high tail on her head; her gear was a slightly-modernized shōzoku, more or less. Prominent on either sleeve was an unfamiliar mon, presumably her own family's crest.

It was an impressive color, too, the red of Fushimi's hair. Shaking that thought from her head, she turned to bow to the lord, as she'd done in the previous two matches, and then turned towards Fushimi. She offered her a bow as well. She wasn't expecting Fushimi to hold back. From the way she was dressed, and the look on her face, she was going to give this her all. Ryoka could respect that. She was, after all, doing the same thing. Even with her slight boost, her previous opponent had given her a good work out. No doubt Fushimi was going to do the same.

"Fushimi-san," she greeted, straightening her posture back out, and shifting into a stance. "Let's give it our all," though she really didn't have to say that.

As courtesy demanded, the other woman bowed back, but she did not say anything in response to Ryoka's words at all. Rather, she waited for the signal to begin, her hand on the handle of her kusarigama. When the gong sounded for them to begin, a deep, rolling boom, Fushimi sprang into action, almost too fast to be tracked. The ball end of the kusarigama came flying directly for Ryoka's head.

She almost fell onto her back trying to avoid it, and rotated herself so that she could track Fushimi. The woman was fast, faster than Ryoka was capable of keeping up with, however; she managed to dodge a few blows. She didn't quite make it out of the way in time for the ball end of the kusarigama, again, and it smacked her in the cheek. She thought she heard something crack, but she couldn't be too sure. Putting more ki into her legs, she sprang back up, and charged with her own kusarigama.

Her swing with the sickle part clanged off Fushimi's own; the yōkai woman kicked hard at Ryoka's legs, clearly trying to send her to the ground, where she'd be easier to gain advantage over.

Unfortunately, Ryoka had never been one for leg work. She'd been able to keep her balance for a few moments, before Fushimi managed to finally trip her. Her back hit the ground pretty hard, and it took some effort to ignore the pain. Even with the ki boost and her adrenaline, it still didn't stop the feeling of it. She tried to roll away, but she was trapped by Fushimi's legs. Instead, she put as much ki as she could back into her legs, and pulled them up, lifting with as much force as she could to kick Fushimi off.

The other woman was forced to stumble back a few steps, long enough for Ryoka to regain her feet. Tossing her kusarigama aside, Fushimi drew her wakizashi, wielding it in a reverse grip. With a sudden influx of ki, she transformed, entering her yōkai form.

Apparently, Fushimi was a kitsune, if the red fox-ears and two tails were anything to go by. She flashed forward, considerably quicker than before; her blade drew a heavy line across Ryoka's ribcage, easily slicing through her clothing to get at the skin underneath.

She hissed slightly as she felt the wakizashi slice her skin. She'd managed to pull back before it could do any real damage. The cut was thin, but it still managed to draw forth a decent amount of blood. Nothing life threatening, of course, and Ryoka pursed her lips together. Either Fushimi really wanted to win this battle, or she had some other intent that Ryoka couldn't pick up on. She wasn't going to let her do either, though.

Pulling her kusarigama, she twisted the chain part around her arm and held her ground. She needed to go on the defense if she wanted to get an opportunity to strike back. Lesson one of being a taiji-ya: always observe your opponent for an opening before going for it. If Fushimi had any, Ryoka was going to find it, and then exploit it to her advantage. With Fushimi's transformation, she was going to need it.

But unfortunately, as the battle wore on it became clear that if Fushimi had any weaknesses, they didn't stay exposed long enough for Ryoka to take advantage of. She managed to get a couple good hits in when the kitsune woman got in close to strike, but for every one she scored, it seemed Fushimi got four or five.

The upside was that the one time the woman had tried to use foxfire, it hadn't done more than redden her skin and hurt a little. More like a sunburn than an actual fire. Perhaps it was the resistance Mika had talked about kicking in. It probably saved her life, honestly.

Even so, Mika had told her not to rely on it too much, and she wasn't going to. She jumped out of the way of another foxfire attack, feeling the fire singe her hair a bit, and she pursed her lips together. She was getting tired. This fight was going on a lot longer than she'd anticipated, however; she couldn't give up. Not now. She had too much riding on this fight. On this job. She could feel her ki draining slightly, and if she didn't finish this soon, she'd likely die from exhausting all of her ki.

She needed to get the advantage over Fushimi. It didn't seem likely, though, as the battle continued. She was breathing heavily, now, and she'd been pushed to defense. She couldn't be offensive at the moment; Fushimi was too quick, and Ryoka couldn't keep track of her movements. She cursed beneath her breath, trying to block another attack from Fushimi's wakizashi. She couldn't lose. She couldn't.

And yet, it seemed for all the world as though she was going to. Fushimi lunged in close, kicking high for Ryoka's chest. The blow caught her dead-center and picked her up off her feet, tossing her to the dirt several feet away, no air in her lungs and quite possibly with a broken collarbone.

“Stay down," the other woman hissed, tone thick with obvious venom.

She coughed, and sucked in a much needed breath. Why would she do that? "Why would I do that?" she echoed her thoughts. She wasn't going to stay down just because something was broken. And certainly not because some yōkai was telling her to. She had too much pride as a warrior to do so. And she had too much riding on this. She wasn't going to stay down. To prove hit, she pushed herself up from the ground. She winced slightly, putting some pressure onto her collarbone. It was definitely broken.

She couldn't use her ki to heal it, not even a little bit. She needed what she had left to keep fighting. Breathing heavily, she took another stance in front of Fushimi. "I'm not... I'm not finished."

Fushimi's face twisted into a snarl. She dodged Ryoka's weakened attempt at a hit easily, retaliating with a rake of her claws down Ryoka's face and the hilt of her sword to the guts. Sweeping Ryoka's legs out from underneath her again, she pointed her wakizashi directly at her nose that time, the blade steady an inch from her face.

“I said surrender, ningen bitch."

She spat, some of the blood on her face flying with it. "Fuck you, yōkai bitch," she replied, her eyes narrowing as best as she could. She could feel her blood sliding down her face, but she didn't care at the moment. "I'm not yielding to the likes of you," she continued, though her voice came out much weaker than she wanted it to. She wasn't out, yet. She could still fight.

“Then I hope your pride is worth what you'll pay for it," Fushimi replied, stomping down hard on Ryoka's kneecap. It broke with a wet crunching sound, pain spreading from the spot all the way up and down her leg.

The next several things happened almost, it seemed, at the same time:

Fushimi's blade came whistling for her unprotected neck.

A yōki unlike any she'd ever felt before bloomed across her senses, settling over the whole arena like a soft blanket of petals, strange as the comparison might be. She could almost smell it, it was that thick. Thick enough to dampen all the other yōki in the area, including Fushimi's.

A pale, clawed hand caught the wakizashi between forefinger and thumb, right in front of Ryoka's face. She smelled sandalwood, incense, and the faintest hint of ash.

“Now, now. I don't think that's really necessary; do you, Fushimi-san?"

Fushimi's face blanched in the space of a second, going white as a sheet; immediately releasing the sword, the kitsune staggered backwards several steps. She dropped to her knees in the dirt, pressing her forehead to the ground in a full dogeza. “Motoyami-sama."

“That's my name." Looking at him, it wasn't hard to believe; he bore a strong resemblance to Kiyoshi, except that his facial structure was more... masculine? Rougher-looking, somehow, not as refined. His eyes were bright red-gold, ringed with white lashes that matched the sheets of hair falling to his waist. There was something vaguely-familiar about him, but it was too subtle to place.

He smiled at her; it made the presence of fangs quite obvious. “Please excuse Fushimi-san, Yukimura-san. She does not understand, yet. How a human can have such pride." Turning his attention to the judges' box, he spoke lightly. “I believe we are going to call this match a forfeit on Fushimi-san's behalf, aren't we, Fushimi-san?" The last was directed at the woman herself, her brow still pressed to the ground.

“Yes, Motoyami-sama," she answered at once.

“Mika, if you please?"

The hanyō appeared a moment later, escorting Fushimi off the field. Motoyami crouched beside Ryoka, his arms draped over his knees. “You took quite the beating there, Yukimura-san. I think your young brother is very worried about you right now, but he is staying away because I am here. I do not think he will be able to restrain himself for much longer."

She huffed lightly, but regretted it immediately after. She hurt. Everywhere. Her knee was broken, her collarbone was broken, and she was pretty sure a rib or two had been broken as well. She closed her eyes for a moment before opening them again. That was just like Toto-chan to worry. She offered a faint smile. "That's my Toto-chan," she coughed, furrowing her brows. "Always the worrywart," she continued, taking a slow breath. She tried to lift her hand, to give Satoru a thumbs up to say she was alright, but it didn't quite go all the way up.

"He'll be fine... mostly," though she couldn't exactly say the same about herself. It'd take awhile for her to fully recover, and she pursed her lips together. She could feel something in her chest tighten. Did that mean she'd be out of the tournament, too? Just because he called it a forfeit didn't mean she was going to be able to continue. Her knee was busted up, her collarbone, and her ribs, too.

"He's going to be disappointed," she murmured to herself. She supposed this was the end for her. Sighing heavily, she could feel her eye lids grow heavy. She really did take a beating, and her ki was nearly drained. Still, she offered Motoyami-sama a grin, or as much of a grin as she could muster. "But I still kicked ass," she mumurmered.

He huffed a laugh; that was more familiar to her than anything, but the exact place she'd heard it before still eluded her. Perhaps because she was so tired. “That's one way to describe it, I suppose. But you need medical attention. Please forgive me the familiarity, Yukimura-san."

Carefully, he lifted her from the ground, taking care with her particular wounds, so as not to aggravate them. She couldn't even feel the bumps of his individual steps; he seemed to glide or float over the ground instead of walking.

She supposed she should feel honored... but she didn't. She was much too tired to care at the moment. All that was on her mind, now, was that she'd failed somehow. Who or what, she didn't know. She'd figure it out when she wasn't so... drained.

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Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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Ichikage, sans disguise, stood outside of the room currently in use as an infirmary. All of the yōkai occupants had been moved out of it days ago, of course; for them, broken bones and flesh wounds were more a matter of inconvenience than anything. Any remaining recovery would be possible from their homes. His human guest, on the other hand, was not so lucky. He expected she had not been especially cooperative as a patient; she seemed to have the kind of independent stubbornness that occasionally drove people to outright stupidity. Hopefully her brother at least had been able to convince her to stay mostly still—Satoru-kun seemed to be much more practical.

He knocked to announce himself, waited long enough to ensure that no one was yelling at him to wait a moment for one reason or another, then entered the room.

Ryoka looked confused for all of a second before her gaze faltered. She didn't drop it completely, though. "Motoyami-sama," she seemed to greet him with a soft tilt of her head. She didn't move from her spot, and simply remained in one of the chairs. It seemed she'd moved from the infirmary bed. She sighed softly before she lifted her gaze back up at him, and offered a small, rueful grin.

"Got a little tired of laying down," she seemed to offer as an excuse as to why she was in a chair. "So, to what do I owe the honor of a visit from Motoyami-sama himself?" she simply asked, pulling herself up somewhat in the chair.

He grinned at her, flashing pointed teeth. One of his ears flicked; his hair was in the way as usual, even when it was pulled into a tail, as it was presently. “I preferred it when you just called me Ichi, Yukimura-san." He let that sink in, taking one of the other armchairs. There was a small table between them now, but he didn't mind, and leaned his elbows on it.

"Ichi?" she questioned, saying it again before she scoffed lightly. "Ichi-kun, I believe, is what I actually called you," she spoke, rolling her eyes somewhat. "Hm, but I'm afraid Toto-chan would be upset with me if I just called you Ichi," she muttered softly. "Also, I may or may not still be on strong painkillers so you'll have to forgive the lack of... something," she continued speaking, flicking her wrist as if to emphasize the something.

"Ah, but you still haven't answered the question, Ichi-kun. What brings you here?" she asked, arching a brow in his direction. She was still slightly slumped in the chair, and didn't look like she was going to move any time soon.

She was less surprised by that than he'd thought. He supposed it might be the painkillers after all. Since it was equally-amusing this way, he took no offense. Folding his fingers together, he propped his chin on them and studied her. Humans were such resilient creatures. Not in the literal physical sense of course—fragility was their defining feature there. But the amount of adversity they could overcome, even while being so delicate... it was something he doubted many yōkai could match. Perhaps some of the very old ones, who'd lived through a different time. But then, perhaps not.

“Am I not permitted to ask after your health for its own sake?" he asked mildly, lifting a snowy eyebrow. “Must I have an ulterior motive of some kind?"

She huffed slightly, smiling just faintly. "See, you just answered the question though," she replied, clearly amused by something. "And I never said you couldn't ask about my health. I was just wondering what brought you down here," she continued, shifting somewhat in her chair. She winced, and took in a sharp breath before slumping.

"And now I know what that was. You're here to inquire about my health, but," she paused, lifting her gaze towards him. "I'm sure Motoyami-sama wouldn't be here just for that, would he?" she questioned, the small grin still on her face.

Ichikage pursed his lips in mock consternation, but the expression wasn't natural to his face, and didn't remain for long. It didn't escape him that she was still in more than a little pain, and his brows drew down over his eyes. Motoyami-sama, I'm sure you will learn, does what he wants with little concern for how others would rank its importance." He stated it as a plain matter of fact; fitting, considering that's what it was. Under ordinary circumstances he may well in fact have come here with no intention other than seeing how she was doing, but needs must.

“This time, however, I suppose I do have another thought in mind." He blinked bright golden eyes at her, a smile tugging up one corner of his lips, exposing just the very edge of his fang there. “Are you still interested in the job you applied for? Because I'd like to hire you, Yukimura-san."

She huffed lightly, almost as if she didn't quite believe him. "Hm, I'm not quite sure I heard you correctly, Ichi-kun," she spoke, reaching a hand up to her ear. She placed her pinky finger in it as if to emphasize her point, before dropping her hand again. "I thought I heard you say you wanted to hire me," she continued, lifting her gaze so that she locked it with his.

"Because if that is what you said," she drawled out, narrowing her eyes just lightly enough. "The answer is yes, I am."

He was quite pleased that she'd gone back to calling him Ichi-kun. Allowing himself a moment of satisfaction, he returned his attention to her in time to catch the rest of her answer. Ichikage could feel his smile growing over his face. He supposed it might be a little implausible from her point of view, but that was all right. He was quite used to doing surprising things and getting reactions from mild skepticism—Mika's default—all the way up to full-blown shock. This was on the gentler end of things, but ah well.

“It shouldn't be that unusual, I don't think," he said, lifting his shoulders in a shrug. “You were among the finalists, and handled yourself quite well. You even managed to impress Micchan enough that she offered to help you. I assure you, that's a more ringing endorsement than she's ever given most people in the household already." He'd known about that, of course. Even questioned her indirectly, but of course she was very good about being closemouthed, even when she knew the game was up, so to speak.

“So... yes, I'm offering you the job. And it pleases me to hear that you're still interested. That brother of yours is quite the astute negotiator, but he rightly insisted that the contract we drew up was yours to decide on." With a flourish, he produced the document in question from between the layers of his shirt and set it down on the table, sliding it across to her with one clawed hand.

She huffed softly. "My Toto-chan, always looking out for me," she murmured softly, pulling the document closer to her. "And of course I'm still interested in the job, Ichi-kun. I have to repay all those pastries you bought me. My inner fat kid, as I put it, will be forever in your debt. And what better way to pay off that debt, hm?" she stated, giving him a lopsided grin. It appeared that she was still lucid, but the painkillers might be affecting her a bit too much.

"Alright, so, just signing my life away. Here goes nothing," she spoke, grinning still as she glanced at him. "Kind of need a pen to do that, you know," she spoke, arching a brow in his direction.

“Oh, no, my dear. I'm afraid this must be signed in your blood." He said it lightly, but with an undertone of seriousness, giving it just a few seconds to sink in before he grinned again. “I jest, of course. Here you go." He handed her a plain ink pen as well, tilting his head to the side. “Feel free to read over it beforehand if you wish. I have no intention of rushing you into anything." He, after all, had nothing in the world but time.

She scoffed lightly but took the pen anyway. Her facial expression smoothed out to something more solemn, though, and she glanced down at the papers. She took a while to read over them, and when it appeared that she was finished, she placed the pen to the paper. Before she wrote her signature, she glanced back up at him, her lips pursed into a fine line.

"Before I sign this, I have something to ask," she stated, her eyes and expression pressed into something serious. "I didn't see anything about Satoru being accommodated with me. As you know," she paused, wincing just slightly while taking a slow breath. "You know I can't let him live on his own, and you said that we could work out the details about having him stay here. With me."

She leaned back so that she was sitting up straight and properly. Her gaze never left his, though. "I just... want confirmation that that still stands true. Will he be allowed to stay here until..." she paused momentarily, her gaze faltering for just a second. Had it been anyone else, they would have missed it. "Until he's old enough to live on his own, or until he decides he wants to leave?"

She needn't have worried. “Of course he can," Ichikage said, sounding almost slightly offended that she'd ever suspected otherwise. “He's welcome to whichever of the empty rooms he wants, as are you. You also needn't worry about meals or anything of that sort while you're here. The house will provide both of you with uniforms, but he isn't obligated to wear them. Neither are you, honestly." He waved a clawed hand nonchalantly. “I think that last part's in there somewhere. If you would like an official addendum stating all this, I will have Micchan draw one up."

He tilted his head at her, his expression and tone softening. “I don't mean to boast, but I'm a very wealthy man, Yukimura-san. It will not trouble me to provide for him in this way, and I would never try to cheat you out of what your work is worth. I look forward to the chance to prove that to you."

A slow smile pulled at her lips when he spoke, and she shook her head. "I am not worried of your social standing, Ichi-san," she stated softly, a sort of lightness coming in to her tone. "But nevertheless," she continued, pausing only to sign the documents and set them aside. She glanced at him, and bowed. It might have been painful to do so, but she showed no signs of the discomfort.

"Arigatō gozaimasu, Motoyami-sama," she stated in what appeared to be complete honesty. She returned to her sitting position, and when she did, there was a smile on her face. A closer look, and there were faint hints of tears behind her eyes. They did not fall, and she did not seem inclined to let them. "I can tell Toto-chan he doesn't... have to worry, now," she stated, the smile inching a bit wider.

He smiled softly. “Iie, Yukimura-san. You are more than welcome."

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Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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Ryoka could feel the grin on her face, splitting it. She had a job, and a place for Satoru. That was the only concern she had. Of course, now that she could think properly, she grimaced slightly. She hoped, just slightly, that Ichi-kun did not take her tears as tears of gratitude. They were tears of pain. She'd regretted, in that instance, bowing in the position she had. Her ribs, though mostly healed, were still bruised. It had hurt bowing the way she did. Shaking the thought from her head, she blinked slowly, and glanced down at her hands.

"I suppose it'll be a good time to give Toto-chan the good news," she spoke to herself. It had been at least two days since she'd accepted the position, and negotiated the terms for Satoru, however; she wasn't sure if he knew he had a place to stay. She wanted to surprise him. With that in mind, she pulled the covers back from her bed, and stood. The chill of the floor touched the heel of her foot, and she shivered.

"Time to find Toto-chan," she stated to no one in particular. She could almost see his reaction to the news, however; the smile on her face disappeared behind a frown. What if he didn't want to stay? She pursed her lips together and shook her head, gently. She wouldn't give him a choice if he tried to refuse. He was going to stay with her until he was old enough to be on his own. Well... he'd never be old enough to be on his own in her eyes. He was her baby brother. He'd always be.

She found him in one of the estate's many courtyards, his back planted against a retaining wall, books and notes scattered around him, undisturbed due to the lack of a breeze outside. He seemed to be working quite intently on something, but no sooner had she approached than he'd looked up, tossing his head to clear his fringe from his eyes and pushing his glasses up with his index finger.

“Ne, Ryoka. Shouldn't you still be in the infirmary?" It was true that their injuries healed a lot faster than was normal for humans—especially his. But they didn't heal that fast, and he knew it well enough to see through any bluffing she might do about it.

"Eh, sort of," was the reply she gave him. Sure, she should probably be in the infirmary, but was she going to be? No. She smiled at him, though, and shifted into a more comfortable position. "I thought I'd come check up on you," she spoke through her smile. She could see the look on his face, and shook her head. Sighing softly, she glanced in his direction, wincing only slightly at the small bout of pain.

"Judging by what Motoyami-san said," she began, trying to be a little more formal about how she addressed Ichi-kun to Toto-chan. "You know I got the job," she stated, being a little more serious.

"So that means that we'll be living here, now," she added, the grin on her face spreading slightly. She knew he'd catch what she said, and hopefully, he'd take it well.

Satoru blinked, slowly inclining his head. “He did mention that to me. While we were negotiating. He thought it was likely that you would insist, and wanted to make sure I knew that he was fine with it." He set his pencil down in the crease of his notebook, smoothing the page slightly with his fingers. “That it wasn't an inconvenience to him, or something he was only doing because you'd insist." It seemed that Motoyami had anticipated her concerns quite well in advance.

He pursed his lips, then lifted his shoulders. “I'm... not sure how I feel about living someplace so... fancy. But I've already talked to Sakuragi-san. She's having people pick our things up from the hotel later today, and bring them here." They hadn't ultimately been able to salvage too much from the house; the structural damage had broken most of the furniture, and lots of Satoru's clothes as well as Ryoka's had been destroyed by water damage or tearing, when the second floor of the main building gave out.

“She also said Motoyami-sama has given us a discretionary advance. So we can replace anything that's missing that they don't have here." It was rather generous, for someone who was simply Ryoka's employer. But then, Motoyami seemed to do things the old-fashioned way, where being in someone's service also meant being under their protection, in a certain way. “He really is more like a lord than anything, isn't he?" Satoru seemed to be thinking along those lines, at least.

Ryoka almost didn't hear what he said. She could almost feel her eyes go out of focus, and a sly smile pulled at her lips. An advance? They could replace what they lost. She blinked and glanced towards her current attire. It was standard infirmary attire, but her clothes in general could use an update. She shook the thoughts from her head. She could worry about clothes, later. Right now, she had other things to do.

"Yeah, I suppose he is," she replied, chuckling softly. She contemplated for a second, whether or not she should take a seat next to him. She decided against it. If she did, it'd be hard to get back up, and she was slightly comfortable standing, anyway. "Well, I'm sure, if I asked real nicely, Motoyami-san would give us the least fancy spot to stay in," she jested. She doubted if there was such a room on the estate. Everything looked, and smelled, well taken care of.

"But to your earlier statement," she began, grunting just slightly as she shifted her posture. "It's not like we'll be staying here, forever. If everything goes well, we shouldn't have to be here longer than necessary. Granted, it'd be a pain in the ass to leave, especially since the pay will be nice, but," she paused and sighed heavily.

It would be hard for her to find work anywhere else. She'd messed up working at the burger joint, and she knew she'd probably do it again. Fighting. Killing. These were things she knew she wouldn't mess up. Guarding Ichi-kun wouldn't be much different than her previous life, but... she shook the thought from her head. She'd take care of it when the time came.

"Well, I suppose it'll all depend on what Toto-chan decides he wants to do with his future," she stated as she grinned at him. Perhaps she was being too optimistic about the situation, or maybe it was just the side-effects of the painkillers she was still on, but once she found out who killed her family, they could leave this life behind.

“We'll see," Satoru agreed. His tone sounded much more cautious than hers, but then, that was typical of them. He was always the more meticulous of them. The planner, the strategist, the careful one. “But don't forget what we're really here for: you need to get Motoyami-sama to agree to form a Contract with you. I really doubt any demon would do something like that if he thought it was just going to be until whenever you decided you were done."

He grimaced, pausing for a moment and glancing around. She could feel his ki stir; he was clearly checking to make sure no one was within earshot. “Which means either you're going to have to lie to him about your intentions, or you're going to have to accept that we might not be in control of all the terms, here."

He had a point—Motoyami was there only potential lead on what had happened to their family. Their only possible source of information, and more importantly, the source of the power she'd need to see their vengeance through. Satoru seemed to think there was no way all of that would come without a cost. Maybe he was right.

Ryoka groaned lightly. She didn't necessarily forget why she was here. She knew quite well what she needed to do, but being in the interview process had ignited something in her. Something she hadn't felt since her first hunt. She pushed herself to stand up straight, or mostly straight, and glanced down at Satoru. She could feel her eyes narrowing in slight seriousness as she stared at him.

"And what do you suggest I do, Satoru?" she spoke seriously, addressing him by his actual name to convey it. "We don't really know Motoyami-san, and if I lied to him and he found out..." she didn't need to continue for him to understand the ending. "But if I told him the truth, the same outcome might be likely. He could get offended by such a thing, and it'd be my head," she continued, pursing her lips in a fine line.

She didn't think he would be that cruel, but Ichi-kun was a daiyōkai. There was no guarantee he'd always be this hospitable. "Either way runs a risk," but she was willing to take those risks. "Just... I suppose we should give it a bit of time before I even do ask. Getting the job and then coming out and saying 'Hey, by the way Ichi-kun, I'd like to form a contract with you,' isn't exactly professional," she stated with a bit of lightness to her tone.

She was completely serious, though. "In the mean time, I think we could use some of the resources to do a little investigating, ne?" she cracked a small smile towards him.

“That would probably be for the best," he agreed. “I'd make sure to tell him what you're doing, though. Trying to use his staff and connections to look into something without informing him would probably be just about as bad as lying. Do that first, then... bring the Contract up later. Seems like the safest way to go." It was definitely unwise to forget that they were in the house of a daiyōkai here. Someone who, like it or not, could wipe them off the face of the earth like ants. Probably without even needing to try. Hopefully that power would be to their advantage, one day. For now, though, it was mostly one more thing to be careful of.

Satoru exhaled heavily. “Anyway... it's not all gloom. I think you impressed him, Ryoka. Just... try not to make him reconsider that opinion." The slight smile that lifted one half of his mouth was evidence that he was joking, at least a little bit.

She grinned in response. "What can I say, I'm charming," she spoke, chuckling softly to herself. She wasn't charming. At all. Not that it really mattered, though. She wouldn't want to screw this up, anyway. She had too much riding on this, and failure was not an option. "We still have some time before anything happens, and I'm still in the process of healing. I think," she paused, lifting her arm to inspect her sides with her finger tips. The flesh was still tender, but most of her bones seemed mostly healed.

"I have at least another day or two before I can be released from the infirmary. And then you'll have your onee-chan back to normal," she stated, grinning slightly wider. "In the mean time, you can help me back to the infirmary. I don't think I'll make it back by myself," she spoke, leaning back somewhat. She could make it back on her own if she really wanted to.

But she didn't.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

Mika affixed her signature to the bottom of the page, handing the pen back to the delivery driver, along with a crisp paper note by way of tip. The Motoyami hired a courier service, which allowed them to have things delivered that were not normally delivered. Such were the benefits of unimaginable sums of money, she supposed. As it happened, she'd been able to arrange for several related items to come in at once, and took all the boxes into her hands at the same time, navigating the hallways with little difficulty.

Once she'd reached the empty guest bedroom she wanted, Mika set the boxes down on the raised futon and pulled open the closet door. The armor rack that she'd asked to have moved in here was already present; she took a specialized hanger out of the closet for the kimono. Sending off a quick pair of texts to Etsuko and Ryoka, she told them where to meet her and when—here, in ten minutes—and got to work.

Racking Ryoka's armor was easy; Mika had a set just like it. The actual armor pieces were light enough to be mobile, and most of the uniform was actually just fabric, but it was functional enough to do its job while being formal enough to satisfy the needs of formality when the guests were of a certain social class. It was very traditional—not something Ryoka would ever wear in front of people who knew nothing of the Motoyami's secrets. But for all other purposes, it would do. Mika rarely bothered with hers, since she spent so much of her time guarding Kiyoshi in the more modern setting of a corporate headquarters. But she supposed Ryoka could make much more frequent use of hers, considering that Ichikage rarely left the estate. Well... more rarely, anyway.

After she'd set the uniform up, she did the same for Etsuko's recital kimono. It was important for her to make sure that both garments fit to their satisfaction, else they'd have to be sent back for adjustments. The fit of the armor was clearly important; Mika had taken Ryoka's measurements a month ago, when she'd first been chosen for the job, but it had taken some time for the smith to complete the set to the required standard. Ichikage could be surprisingly fastidious about some things. Though he'd be more likely to call it "being a picky old man."

Once the kimono fabric was smoothed out as well, Mika stepped back. The third box, she left unopened; that could be dealt with later. It was hardly of any pressing concern. If they were on time, both of them should be appearing at any moment.

Etsuko was the first to arrive, stepping into the room with a smile on her face. "Mika-chan," she greeted, glancing towards the kimono. Something in her eyes seemed to light up, and the smile on her face grew just slightly. Before she could say anything, though, Ryoka stepped in behind her, holding something in her hand. She took a bite from it, revealing it to be a piece of chocolate mochi, and glanced in Mika's direction.

"Mika-san," Ryoka spoke, in the same manner of greeting as Etsuko. She glanced around, and raised a brow before finishing off the last of her mochi. "Mika-san, is that what I think it is?" she asked, glancing towards the uniform. Her eyes roamed over it, as if she were inspecting it for something. The uniform was covered in the house colors, red trimmed around the arms of the haori, and down the middle. The Motoyami crest was outlined in black on the left sleeve, but the crest itself was a bronze-like gold.

The hakama was red as well, with the same bronze-like gold trimmings on the bottom portion. The armor, however, was mostly black and bronze. The chest armor was sleeveless, but the gauntlets traveled past the bicep region of the arm, connecting with the bottom half of the shoulder.

"Is that what we're required to wear?" she asked, letting her gaze fall back to Mika. She seemed slightly skepitcal at first, but the large grin on her face suggested otherwise. Etsuko raised a brow in Ryoka's direction, but said nothing.

"Should she try it on to see how it fits?" Etsuko finally spoke, glancing in Mika's direction. Ryoka seemed excited at the prospect, and glanced at Mika as well.

"The uniform is not a requirement," Mika said, clarifying for Ryoka. "You may also wear the servants' uniform as I do, or appropriate modern clothing when you accompany Motoyami-sama off the estate grounds. But this is what we wear for official visits and more formal gatherings, and is optional at any time you're on the grounds." Her own uniform was only an ordinary dark red shitagi, with a black kosode beneath, and black hakama and tabi. The crest, in bronzed gold, was on the back.

She tilted her head at the armor rack, then figured there might be more useful information to convey. Crossing her arms, she blinked once at Ryoka. "True gold is reserved for actual members of the household, which is why this color is more bronzed. But the red is the same, and you wear the crest of House Motoyami. As do we all." She pursed her lips. "The formal uniform is Motoyami-sama's design and taste, but you will need to try it on to be sure the armor especially fits correctly."

Ryoka didn't seem to pay too much attention to what Mika was saying. Her eyes kept traveling back to the uniform, and there was a certain grin on her face that made her seem mischievous. "So, as long as I'm on the grounds, I get to wear this?" she asked, though the question seemed more rhetorical. She made a strange sound, almost like a squeal, which seemed to startle Etsuko. Almost immediately, Ryoka made for the armor, and began pulling her shirt off.

"Ryoka-san!" Etsuko nearly shouted, quickly making her way towards Ryoka and pulling the shirt back down. Ryoka blinked almost quizzically down at Etsuko, and tilted her head. "The door's still open! You should wait until it's closed before you try changing," she nearly chidded. Ryoka made an 'oh' with her mouth, and waited until Etsuko closed the door.

"Now can I try it on?" she asked, but didn't wait for an answer. The pink staining Etsuko's cheeks, darkened slightly as she glanced away. Within the span of a few minutes, Ryoka managed to pull the uniform on, however; she didn't seem to be wearing it properly. "Uh, Mika-san, a little help, please?"

Mika pushed a breath out through her nose. She would have expected a taiji-ya to be better-versed in wearing traditional clothing, but apparently her experience was limited. She wondered if the other woman even knew how to wear a kimono.

Well, it didn't matter either way. She was perfectly capable of learning what she needed to know, and Mika perfectly capable of teaching her. "Here." She stepped closer, pulling the haori away from Ryoka's body for a moment. "Take the armor back off—you've fastened it improperly, and it won't sit well if you don't adjust the juban." The juban was a light, white fabric wrap, this one without sleeves and cut off just below the hips, so that the armor would sit comfortably.

Once they had it sorted out, Mika put the armor back on over Ryoka's head, careful to remove her hair from between the layers before she tied it at the sides where it was meant to fasten. Then went the outer haori, the ties at the waist, and finally, the detached sleeves. She folded the haori neatly into place crosswise. "That's better."

"Even though it's formal, it's still nice. Mika-chan, you should wear yours more often," Etsuko spoke, smiling somewhat towards the outfit. Ryoka seemed too engrossed in her uniform that she remained quiet, though small squeaks escaped her. It almost looked like she was trying to contain her squealing. "Ryoka-san, are you alright?" Etsuko asked, a small hint of concern laced in her voice.

Ryoka, however, slipped her arm out of the haori, and was only partially wearing it. "So much better. Seriously, Mika-san, how do you not wear this every day? It's... it's," she didn't seem to know what she wanted to say. "It's amazing," she nearly drawled the words out.

"Mika-chan, is it possible for someone to get drunk on clothing? I think Ryoka-san's a little too excited about her uniform," Etsuko spoke, earning a large grin from Ryoka.

"Oh, you have no idea," Ryoka spoke, and glanced back at her uniform. "It's so comfortable, too!"

"I spend much more time outside the estate than you likely will," Mika replied factually. "My job requires more modern clothing selections." And in the house, she preferred the servants' uniform. It was better for her personally not to stand out. It wouldn't matter as much in Ryoka's case; the damage was already done in that case. Though her Contract with Mika had worn off after the tournament, her ki was still very different from that of the demons in residence or the other human servants.

She didn't smile, but she did allow a trace of her amusement to show through in her tone. "If you like it so much, you should thank Motoyami-sama. He is the one who designed and selected it." Mika lifted her shoulders, then turned to Etsuko. "You need to try on that kimono for fit as well. Better not to find out it's too big on the day of your recital."

"Oh, is that so? Well, I suppose I should. Wait, where is he? I'll go do it now!" Ryoka stated, and indeed, she made towards the door, however; she stopped when Mika spoke to Etsuko. A smile crossed her face, one that almost resembled the older Motoyami's. "A recital? What kind of recital is it?" she asked. Etsuko didn't seem to catch onto what Ryoka was saying, and merely smiled in return.

"It's for school. I play the violin, and I'll be performing for school. A few other of my classmates will be doing the same thing," she replied, glancing towards her kimono. "They're all different, though. Ah, since you're officially otō-san's guard, you'll be attending, too, right?" she asked. Ryoka merely grinned.

"I suppose I shall be. And we'll make sure Toto-chan looks his best for it, too," she spoke, the grin stretching further across her face. Etsuko's face turned a light pink, and she turned her attention back to her kimono.

"The entire school will be there, Ryoka-san," she spoke, as if she were trying to divert the implication of Ryoka's words. "Not that it really matters," she muttered, mostly to herself it seemed. Ryoka didn't appear to hear Etsuko, and shook her head.

"Hm, we'll see about that, Etsu-chan. What do you think, Mika-san?" Ryoka asked, raising a brow in Mika's direction. Etsuko looked like she was doing her best to ignore Ryoka, and removed the kimono. She laid it across her arms, and sighed softly.

"I'm going to go try this on without Ryoka-san in the room," Etsuko spoke, and looked to excuse herself.

"I will assist you." Tying a kimono was nearly impossible for one person to do alone, especially the more formal kind, like this one was. "Ryoka-san, you are welcome to either change back or wear your uniform out. It is, after all, yours now." She paused. "Motoyami-sama is currently on the roof of the main building, if you would like to see him."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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Kiyoshi was, currently, bereft of his body guard. It wasn't a pressing matter, at least not to him. Mika was currently with Etsuko and Ryoka, helping the latter with her new uniform, and he wasn't required to be anywhere that called for Mika to be near him. In the month that Ryoka had been recovering, she'd been measured for her uniform, and informed of the new duties she'd be expected of. She seemed to take it well, or as well as he thought she did. He pushed the thoughts away, though, leaving them for another time.

He was headed nowhere in particular, and found that roaming the halls of his home distracted him from a strange feeling of loneliness when Mika was gone. It wasn't something he could explain, or at least not properly. It didn't even make sense to himself. It felt somehow worse than it did with Sakura. With Sakura, he could deal with not seeing her, and he'd be happy enough with their conversations.

With Mika, it was different.

"Kiyo-kun? You're spacing out," a voice he recognized as Ryoka's, interrupted his thoughts, and he blinked. He glanced in her direction, and tilted his head slightly. "You had a far-off expression on your face. Something bothering you?" she asked, raising a brow.

"Not particularly," he found himself replying. "Is there something you need, Ryoka-san?" he decided to ask. She wasn't speaking to him solely because she wanted to, right? She shook her head, though.

"Not really. I was actually looking for Ichi-kun," she replied, causing Kiyoshi to furrow his brows. Ichi-kun? She was referring to his father, he knew that, however; it was strange to see a human speaking of his father so casually. A ghost of a smile spread across his lips. His father would probably enjoy it. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and merely dipped his chin.

"He is on the roof. Would you like to accompany me? I was on my way to see him," he stated. It was partially true. While he wasn't heading anywhere in particular, he figured he might as well escort Ryoka to meet his father. He wasn't sure why, though, she was looking for him. It looked like she managed her uniform well-enough, but she wasn't required to be his father's body guard yet. She still had to go through the training.

"Lead the way," was the only thing she said. He nodded, and guided her through the home.

The roof was only accessible through an attic-style loft. Sure enough, when they got there, the window out onto the lower portion of the tiled roof was already open, admitting the chilly breeze of early November. No doubt it wouldn't bother his father any; the man seemed completely oblivious to changes in temperature as a rule.

Once they were out the window, all they had to do was climb a little until they reached the top, which was, coincidentally, where his father was. He appeared to be sleeping, resting comfortably on the slight downward slope, but the fact that he immediately cracked an eye open gave away the fact that he was not. The eye was golden, and neither his ears nor claws were in evidence, so he was obviously spending the day in his human disguise. The normal one, though, not any with dye or colored contact lenses or anything like that. His hair was still stark white and very long, after all, which was a bit of a giveaway, and he wore the slightly nicer clothes then the work uniform the servants had. Still a haori and hakama, though.

"Eh, Kiki. Don't tell me Micchan finally misplaced you." From his tone, he knew she hadn't. Tilting his head slightly, he glanced past Kiyoshi and set both eyes on Ryoka. "Well, well. Someone looks official. I hope it's up to your standards, Yukimura-san."

"Up to my standards? Hell, I don't ever want to wear anything else," she replied almost instantly, a large grin spreading across her face. Kiyoshi blinked in mild surprise. There weren't many who wore the uniform, only when it was required. He figured Ryoka would be the same. Apparently, he'd been wrong.

"Ryoka-san, I don't think that is what otō-san meant," he spoke, furrowing his brows. Ryoka huffed a laugh, and shook her head. He didn't understand what was entertaining, but he didn't say anything further.

"Ne, Kiyo-kun. I meant that it is up to my standards, and that I like it. Seriously, though, if I could, I would wear this everywhere," she stated, glancing down at her uniform with the grin on her face.

Everywhere? She was a strange one.

His father seemed to find it amusing, though; the corners of his eyes narrowed, a grin tugging at his mouth. "Finally. Someone appreciates my excellent taste." He sat up smoothly, pulling his legs underneath him until he was perched at the very apex of the roof, crosslegged and looking quite satisfied with himself. "It suits you, Yukimura-san." He nodded once, as if that decided something.

"Of course, now that you have the gear, it's time to start the work. I hope you're ready—your training schedule is going to be pretty intense. Micchan helped me plan it, and no one trains harder than Micchan." Kiyoshi knew that was more than a throwaway line, too—Mika was extremely dedicated to her self-improvement. He didn't really know what she did on her days off or after her shifts ended, but there were plenty of rumors that she practically lived on the training grounds.

Ryoka seemed to scoff slightly at Ichikage's statement. "If my interview process showed anything, it's that I'm not going to quit just because something gets a little tough," she spoke, seemingly satisfied with herself. Kiyoshi furrowed his brows slightly, and pursed his lips together. He assumed taiji-ya training was intense; it would have to be considering the lifestyle they chose. But could she really say that after the training began? He glanced at her, and studied her for a moment.

She was stubborn, if the tournament taught him anything, but even that stubborn pride of hers might not be enough. Shaking the thoughts from his head, he turned slightly so that he was standing comfortably in his spot. "If you need help, Ryoka-san, I'm sure Mika-chan will be glad to help out. All you need do is ask her," he added. No doubt that some parts of the training would be done with Mika, however; that's what most of the other members of the house were for. She was his personal guard, not his father's. A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips at that thought.

"What's he looking smug for?" Ryoka spoke, though it seemed like she directed the question to Ichikage, and not to himself. Kiyoshi blinked in mild surprise. Did he have a smug look on his face?

Ichikage raised an eyebrow, leaning his chin into a hand by slouching forward and propping his elbow on his knee. "I think I know what he's thinking." He let the statement sit for a moment, in which it wasn't clear whether or not he planned to elaborate, but he seemed to let it go rather than explaining whatever hypothesis he had.

"Anyway. You'll be spending mornings from six to noon training with some of my senior retainers. Nobuyoshi shares your job, so he'll be teaching you a lot of the particulars of it. After lunch, you're with me from one to three. The rest of your time is your own for as long as you're still training, unless we need to adjust for particular circumstances. But I don't plan to make you work twelve-hour days regularly or anything." He reached into the layers of his shirt, extracting a trifolded sheaf of papers and holding it out towards her.

"Granted, I can't promise an eight-hour, Monday to Friday sort of thing all the time. My schedule varies, so yours will have to vary as well. But I'll do my best not to overwork you, lest that brother of yours sue me for all I'm worth." A grin followed the statement, as though he weren't actually all that worried.

Ryoka snorted at Ichikage's statement, and took the papers. She glanced over them, raised a brow, but didn't say anything. She was probably processing the information. Kiyoshi shot his father a glance, though, one that was slightly confused. He sighed softly, and decided it was best not to press the matter. If he looked smug, then so be it.

"Also, you'll need to program everyone's number into your phone, if you haven't already," he chimed in. It would be good for her just in case she had questions, or if she needed to reach someone. He certainly didn't mind giving her his number if she needed it. He'd help out, too, if and when he could. Ryoka glanced up from the paper, and grinned at him.

"You sure about that, Kiyo-kun? What if I accidentally get drunk and text you about how pretty your hair is, hm? Or maybe that I want to run my fingers through it?" she spoke, though she stated it a little slowly. The grin on her face wasn't as mischievous as his father's could be, but it was certainly close. Kiyoshi visibly frowned at that. He could feel his cheeks tingle slightly, and he pursed his lips together. Why did she have to keep saying that?

To make matters worse, his father cackled. "It is, isn't it? People used to be unsure whether Kiki was a boy or a girl, when he was growing up. He's always been too pretty that way." His father's eyes glittered with obvious mirth.

Kiyoshi frowned, and it deepened as his father spoke. It wasn't his fault that his genetics made him appear the way he did. "It's mostly your fault, ōto-sama," he muttered. He received most of his looks from the man, if anything. He couldn't recall what his mother looked like, or if he'd even seen her face, but he knew he took after his father the most.

"Is that right? I mean, Kiyo-kun does have that androgynous look to him. He could have certainly passed for either or. Even now, I think he still could. Maybe if you gave some padding around that area," she spoke, making circle motions with her hands around his chest, "and as long as he didn't speak, he could definitely pass for a woman. I think I'm kind of jealous, now."

If his lips weren't pursed into a fine line, Kiyoshi was certain they would be now. "Is this really necessary?" he asked, frowning in his father's direction.

"Of course it is," Ichikage replied, grinning slyly. "It's only fair to give Yukimura-san an accurate understanding of how things are in the household she'll be joining." He tilted his head. "You could always depart if you feel it's too unnecessary. I'm sure Yukimura-san and I can entertain ourselves just fine without a stick in the mud around." As with everything his father said to tease him, it was sardonic, but not cruel, even though he liked to pretend it was.

"Oh, no, Kiyo-kun can't leave. We were just getting started," Ryoka spoke, though it sounded like she was almost whining. Kiyoshi shook his head, and heaved his shoulders.

"As ōto-sama said, you both can entertain yourselves. I am going to go find Mika-chan, now. She's probably done," and he really didn't need his father's new guard teasing him in the same manner. A visible chill went down his spine. Was it going to be like this all the time when he interacted with his father?

Immediately, he turned and walked back towards the house. He certainly hoped not.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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Ichikage adjusted the sash of his layered yukata, making sure that it sat right. It wasn't a particularly lordly garment, but then he didn't want it to be. They were just going to the shrine for the New Year, like everyone else did. The less they stuck out, the better, though of course it would be impossible to avoid entirely. Swift fingers braided his long mass of white hair; when he released it, it thudded heavily against the back of the dark red yukata. The layer underneath was black, and there was a small crest on the sleeve, but other than that, nothing gave away the fact that he was the man he was.

He, unlike some people he could name, was quite used to blending in. He stepped into his geta, the strap of the sandal fitting into the split in his thick tabi. Weather hardly bothered him any, but he'd look very strange if he wasn't properly bundled against the cold. The over-haori, also black, helped quite a bit.

Sure that it would do, he stepped back out into his office. "Yukimura-san, are you sure you don't want to change out of your uniform before we go? You should at least take the armor off. People will stare otherwise." He kept his tone light and teasing, but he was serious enough about the armor part. She might not care, but he didn't want to draw a crowd around his family. No doubt the guards would be able to deal with it, but it would be inconvenient and unpleasant for most of the people going with them. Looking like ordinary civilians was preferable.

She pursed her lips together, almost as if she were pouting. She seemed to chew on her bottom lip in a thoughtful manner before she sighed. "I suppose you have a point," she seemed to agree with him, glancing down at her attire. "I'll just take the armor off. If I tried putting anything else on, I'd have to have Toto-chan help. I... can't tie a kimono, or yukata, properly without his help," she replied. She was, perhaps, a little too forward with such information, but it didn't seem to bother her.

It certainly didn't bother him any. Ichikage was far too old to be bothered about propriety or ridiculous things like that. He'd seen and heard it all by this point in his life, more or less. There just wasn't any offense left in him, really. He snorted at her admission; it turned into a chuckle. "Somehow, I'm not surprised, since it's you." He grinned, flashing teeth at her. "In that case, just leave the armor pieces here and wear the haori normally. It shouldn't be a problem."

He waved a hand easily. "We've got to go get the others, though. Cricket's fussy and it might take her a while unless we prod her along. Micchan has to dress two people, but she'll be on time anyway, so we'll get them first."

She complied, but snorted in response. "Cricket might take a little more time since there's a certain someone around," she muttered, fixing her haori properly. "And that would explain why Kiyo-kun always looks so spiffy. I need to ask Mika-san for her secrets. Maybe she could help me, too. That way, I don't have to keep bugging Toto-chan," she stated, shaking her head as if to herself.

"And I would be surprised if Mika-san was late. She's always... punctual," she added and moved so that she was standing beside him. "Alright, who are we collecting first? Pretty Hair-kun, or Etsuko-chan?" she asked, snorting softly at her name for Kiyoshi.

"You know, if you were anyone else, I'd worry you might have designs on my son," Ichikage replied facetiously, sliding open the door out of his study and heading down the hall. "Fortunately, it's you." He could see from miles away that Ryoka and Kiyoshi were the furthest thing from each other's type, so to speak. Mostly because Kiyoshi's type was Mika, even if he hadn't quite figured it out yet.

Maybe he never would. Ichikage hadn't yet decided to what extent he wanted to interfere with that. Normally, he wouldn't have hesitated, but Micchan was more delicate than she appeared, and there were other things to consider that could not be easily disregarded. But that was all for another day. For today, he'd done everything he could in that respect, and was looking forward to seeing the results.

"But yes, Kiki first. Micchan probably dressed him before herself, in case she ran short of time."

"Well, what can I say? Kiyo-kun has pretty hair, enviously so," she made a face, though, and shook her head. "I wonder if he'd consent to cutting it and making a wig out of it," she spoke, though it sounded more like she was stating it to herself. Snorting softly, she kept an even pace with him. She was a little taller than the average Japanese woman, so she didn't have much trouble keeping up.

"If it makes you feel left out, you have... slightly prettier hair, but don't tell Kiyo-kun I said that. He might take it the wrong way," she spoke, chuckling softly to herself. She took a deep breath, though, and cleared her throat. "But in all honesty, it sounds like Mika-san has her hands full trying to dress him, and herself. What about you, Ichi-kun? Who picks out your wardrobe? You can't possibly be the one," she asked, addressing him as she had since the beginning.

Oh, he had the prettier hair, did he? Now he knew she was bullshitting him. Ichikage found it more amusing than anything, though. "Flattery and insult in the same breath," he chided. "I certainly do dress myself, thank you. Can you imagine anyone else putting up with such a task, really?"

She tapped her chin with her index finger, as if she were giving it some thought. "I'm sure someone could. I mean, if Kiyo-kun could find someone, surely you can. I, obviously, am not volunteering for that," she visibly shuddered at that. "No offense, Ichi-kun," she spoke, chuckling lightly. "At least one of the Motoyami members knows how to dress themselves. I could say the same about us, though, but it doesn't really count. Toto-chan can't really dress himself either. He always picks such boring clothes. Oh!" she exclaimed suddenly, glancing towards him.

"You should help him. You dress nicely, he could learn a thing or two," she stated as if it were that easy.

He shook his head. "Well, I did inform him that nice clothes were mandatory today, so we'll see what he came up with, I guess." They reached Kiyoshi's door; Ichikage raised his hand and knocked. "Kiki, we're here! Let's go already." They still had to get Mika and the other two, after all.

"You know I don't like it when you call me that," Kiyoshi spoke not more than a few moments after Ichikage had knocked. His lips were pursed into a fine line, and he glanced towards Ryoka. "Ryoka-san," he spoke in way of greeting. Kiyoshi seemed to be dressed in a similar manner to Ichikage, only the coloration was different. Where Ichikage's was dark red, Kiyoshi's was more a charcoal grey. His clothing, however, looked a little more crisp.

"Kiyo-kun, it looks like you managed well for yourself," she spoke, the corners of her lips tilting upwards just slightly. He had a puzzled look to his face, but didn't say anything. "You look nice, Kiyo-kun," she stated, placing a hand on her hip. Kiyoshi narrowed his eyes just slightly, but smiled nonetheless.

"As... do you, Ryoka-san. Even if it is the unifrom," he added. It almost sounded like he was joking, but his face remained a little passive. "It seems you were not jesting about wearing it everywhere," he added, and a small smile pulled at his lips.

"I wasn't," she simply grinned back. "Alright, one down, three to go," she stated, glancing towards Ichikage. Kiyoshi did the same.

Satoru was next; his yukata proved to be dark blue. It had a subtle Yukimura crest, not entirely unlike the other two. He'd pulled his hair up high on his head as he often did. Ichikage didn't know many young men who wore their hair in such a traditional style, but he supposed if anyone was likely to, it was the son of a line of taiji-ya.

After that, they had to pause outside of Etsuko's room to wait for her to finish changing. He wouldn't be surprised if Cricket had forgotten they were going out today, too absorbed in her music practice to remember until there were only a few minutes left. The thought brought a smile to his face.

The door opened a few minutes later to produce Etsuko. She was dressed in a predominately black kimono. There were pink peony flowers on the bottom portion of her kimono, with one peony located on her left shoulder. There were also smaller, red peonies with a few orange ones as well. Her hair was pulled back into a bun, some strands falling out of the back of it. There was a single braid on the right side of her head, though, with the bun held in place by a sakura kanzashi.

"Sorry it took so long, Ichikage-san, Kiyo-kun," she greeted them first with a bright smile before her eyes landed on Ryoka and Satoru. "I... hope you weren't waiting long," she added, glancing down with a light pink hue dusting her cheeks.

"It's alright, Etsuko-chan, it was worth the wait. You look pretty," Ryoka spoke, causing the pink on Etsuko's face to deepen a bit.

"Ryoka-san is correct, you look nice, Tsu-chan," Kiyoshi chimmed in, a small smile pulling on his lips.

"Thanks," she muttered, playing with the hem of her sleeves. "Are we waiting on Mika-chan, too?" she asked, glancing towards Ichikage.

Ichikage glanced down at his phone. "She's already waiting for us, of course." Or so her message indicated.

He was getting a kick of watching Cricket. It would seem young Yukimura was not completely oblivious to her, either, though it seemed to be something he wasn't sure what to make of. He didn't blush, just kind of tilted his head, like there was a puzzle here he was trying to solve. But the reaction Ichikage most wanted to see—by which he meant "laugh at"—was yet to come.

Fortunately, he did not have to wait long for gratification. Mika was waiting for them just outside. She hadn't done much with her hair; it lay sleek to her shoulders as usual. But he had managed to force her to blend with the group by wearing a kimono. In defiance of him, perhaps, she'd selected a fairly plain one, but it suited her undeniably well all the same. Ichikage was the furthest thing from surprised by that; he'd known her mother once. He hadn't mentioned it yet, but the resemblance had only grown more striking as she grew.

The white she wore suited the season. The garment was edged in silver, really only visible when she moved, the way it glittered against the light. "You told me we were leaving ten minutes ago, Motoyami-sama," she chided.

Ichikage waved a lazy hand. "Did I? I must have forgotten. I do that a lot in my old age." From the corner of his eye, he glanced at Kiyoshi.

There was a soft smile on Kiyoshi's face. "Mika-chan, you look lovely," he spoke, though it looked more like he blurted it without really meaning to. Kiyoshi blinked mildly in surprise to himself, but didn't reel his words in. He simply kept his gaze on her. Etsuko was standing next to him, grinning just slightly and pushed her shoulder into his side.

"Come on, Kiyo-kun, you shouldn't keep Mika-chan waiting," she spoke, earning a light snort from Ryoka. She was, surprisingly, quiet on the situation.

Inwardly, Ichikage cackled, and it only got louder in his head when Mika started slightly, apparently quite surprised for all of half a second before her face smoothed over and she shook her head. "Thank you, sir. In any case, we should be going if we want to reach the shrine in time for the actual New Year." Her tone was as brisk and businesslike as Ichikage had expected; she always did that when she wasn't sure how to react to something: retreated into her professional demeanor.

"Ah yes. Let's go. It's not a very long walk, but if we want amazake and rice cakes, we should get there early," he declared. The younger Yukimura gave him a bit of side-eye at that, perhaps surprised by his childish concerns, but Ichikage didn't mind. He took delight in little things—it was basically mandatory if life was to be tolerable at all, after so many years alive.

The group headed down the path away from the estate. They couldn't all walk in one line, so he maneuvered himself beside Ryoka, forcing the others to organize themselves accordingly. One day they'd thank him for things like this, really.

"So... am I going to be buying up all the mochi to satisfy your sweet tooth, Yukimura-san?" He inquired playfully, ducking his head slightly to meet her eyes more easily.

"I doubt that they'll have enough to even do that," she replied back, almost too casually. As if she believed that. "But I'm sure they could substitute some daifuku, or some dango. Oh, they could probably add in manjū if they have any," she continued. She didn't even bat an eyelash as she listed the sweets. She kept his gaze, and raised her brow in an almost challenging manner.

"I'm not sure if you'll have enough for all of that," she added, smirking just slightly.

"Of all the ways to bankrupt myself, I never imagined this one," he confessed. "But I think I can handle it."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Satoru Yukimura Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura Character Portrait: Etsuko Fujimori
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INK

The spread in front of them was quite sumptuous, Ichikage had to admit.

But, well, he felt he had license to go a little overboard in celebration of Cricket's achievement. She'd placed second in her recital, and he was of course telling everyone who would listen about how wonderful she was: the waitress, the host, everyone else at the table... it was quite worth it to watch her reactions.

He'd all but demanded they celebrate after her excellent showing at the competition. Of course, at a place like this, reservations were necessary months in advance, but he'd had Mika take care of it well ahead of time. He'd intended to celebrate no matter what the result, after all. That she'd done so well was only more reason to do so.

Ichikage sat at the head of their rectangular table, Etsuko to his left and Kiyoshi to his right. He'd sat Ryoka across from him so she could watch his back and satisfy the requirements of her position, but he was much less concerned with that than having fun. Mika was, of course, next to Kiyoshi, leaving the younger Yukimura between Cricket and his sister.

"Well, here we are, everyone. By all means, dig in. And remember to thank Cricket if you enjoy it; we are, after all, here because of her immense musical talent." He winked at Etsuko when he said it, conspicuously enough that no one at the table could have failed to notice.

"Cricket?" Yukimura-kun asked the question of her, picking up his chopsticks in his left hand.

Etsuko narrowed her eyes at him and furrowed her brows. "It's a nickname Ichikage-san calls me. He's the only one who does, though," she spoke, though there was a tone of bitterness in her voice. Probably because he called her that in front of Satoru. Ryoka huffed softly.

"But why Cricket?" she asked, causing Etsuko's frown to deepen. She rolled her eyes softly, though, and sighed.

"Because crickets rub there legs together in a way that's reminiscent to the violin. Since I play the violin...," she trailed off. She shrugged her shoulders. "At least that's what I like to believe," she muttered before taking a bite out of her food. She grinned somewhat, and glanced towards Kiyoshi, who had chuckled lightly at her.

"He calls Kiyo-kun, Kiki. I'm sure everyone will, eventually, get a nickname from Ichikage-san. It's a thing he does," she spoke, narrowing her eyes in his direction again. Kiyoshi was frowning by this point.

"Please don't call me that."

"Oh no, please do. I'm hoping it'll catch on, you see." Ichikage smiled enigmatically. He never had explained why he called Etsuko Cricket, and honestly he didn't intend to. It was funnier just to do it and watch her pout at him regardless.

Working his way slowly through his food, Ichikage propped his elbow on the table and his jaw in his hand, pretending to contemplate the others. "Mika is Micchan, of course. That one I might not recommend anyone else use. There's no telling whether she'll murder you in your sleep, after all."

Mika blinked at him, her lips pursing slightly, but she'd long ago learned the lesson that Kiyoshi still hadn't: it was better not to provide him more amusement in the form of a reaction.

He let his eyes fall on Ryoka. "I think Yukimura-san will be Yoyo." She was certainly energetic enough, and sort of tethered to him, though the string was invisible. "And Yukimura-kun..." He hummed. Satoru was already looking at him with something like mild dread.

"I don't know yet. But I'll think of something. So you have that to look forward to."

"Great," he deadpanned in reply.

Ryoka huffed out a short laugh. "Oh come on, Satoru. It can't be worse than Toto-chan, can it?" she chimed in, grinning at him. Etsuko looked slightly disturbed at what Ryoka had said, and Kiyoshi just tilted his head.

"Toto-chan?" he echoed, glancing towards Satoru. "I don't see how you could derive that kind of moniker from Satoru, Ryoka-san," he stated, glancing back towards Ryoka. She grinned at him, and opened her mouth to say something, however; Etsuko interjected.

"Anyway," she spoke, apparently trying to divert the attention away from the nicknames. "Don't listen to what Ichikage-san says. He's just an old man with too much time on his hands, and not enough entertainment," she stated. Ryoka merely laughed.

"Absolutely," Ichikage agreed. "My old-man life is far too boring, so I find myself with so little to do but bother everyone else. It's a bad habit by this point, I'm afraid." He nodded with false sagacity, bobbing his chin up and down.

Mika snorted. "You might be less bored if you did any of your work, instead of leaving it to other people, Motoyami-sama." She lifted the last of her noodles to her mouth with the sort of ingrained elegance that could not truly be taught.

Ichikage pouted. "That's mean, Micchan," he whined. "Making me do paperwork would be cruel and unusual punishment at my age." For all his exaggeration, there was a grain of truth in the statement; for most anything in the world, Ichikage had done enough of it to man it bored him to tears these days. At least teasing them all was still fun to him.

"See what I mean," Etsuko stated in a deadpan voice that almost rivaled Satoru's. "Old man. Too much time. So little entertainment," she continued, finishing off the rest of her food. Kiyoshi remained mostly silent, preoccupied with watching the exchanges, apparently. Ryoka was laughing by this point, but it seemed mostly contained.

"You make it seem like entertaining oneself should be a crime, Tsu-chan," she stated. Etsuko gave Ryoka a flat look, and stared at her for a few seconds.

"It should be for Ichikage-san," she stated, causing Ryoka to chuckle. "You just wait, Ryoka-san, he'll drag you into it, too," she continued, causing Ryoka to raise an eyebrow.

"Oh, really, now? I don't think that's possible, Tsu-chan. You see, Motoyami-san and I get along very well. Even the other day, we were talking about you and that certain someone you admire so much," she stated, grinning a little too widely. She leaned forward on her hand, and kept her gaze with Etsuko's.

Etsuko, however, seemed to turn a deep shade of red, before narrowing her eyes at Ichikage. "You guys are the worst."

Satoru looked vaguely confused, then shrugged, apparently deciding it wasn't any of his business. Shame; Ichikage so would have enjoyed holding the knowledge over his head. Mika, for her part, rolled her eyes and sighed softly. "Leave her be, at least for tonight," she said with a frown. "We are meant to be celebrating her success, in case you have forgotten."

"Of course not," Ichikage replied, feigning hurt by placing a hand over his heart. "How could I forget my little Cricket's impressive finish in her recital? I'm the proudest nosy old man there ever was." He grinned, flashing teeth at the table.

"She deserved the win, though," the younger Yukimura said quietly, shrugging and focusing quite intently on his plate. "The winner wasn't as good."

Mika blinked. "You think so? I found his performance to be one of the most technically proficient I've ever heard from someone in that age category." She raised an eyebrow.

Satoru lifted his head to meet her eyes, clearing his throat. "That's true," he admitted. "But it's not all about who is technically most accomplished. Fujimori conveyed the emotion of her piece much better than he did."

Ichikage leaned back in his chair, the smile on his face inching wider.

"I agree with Yukimura-san," Kiyoshi spoke, glancing in Etsuko's direction. "There were a few people in the audience who were quite moved with your choice, Tsu-Tsu," he continued, showing a soft smile. There was something behind that smile, though, that inched just a bit wider. "What made you choose that particular piece?" he questioned, though judging by the smile on his face, he knew.

Etsuko, however, managed to return to a healthier shade of not so red, and glanced down at her plate. As if it were the most interesting thing at the moment. She didn't look back up, but she did take a soft breath. It was easy to see by the movement of her shoulders.

"Yukimura-kun suggested it," she replied softly, almost too soft to hear.

"I see," he stated. Ryoka chuckled lightly, but it looked like she was trying to contain her laughter. "But Tsu-Tsu, isn't the original piece a little more fast-paced?" he asked, causing Etsuko to lift her head and stare at him. "You changed the way it was played, why?" he continued his questioning. Etsuko cleared her throat softly.

"I'm interested in knowing as well," Ryoka stated, leaning forward to prop her chin on her hands. Etsuko sighed, this time.

"I... had a particular audience in mind," she muttered, dropping her gaze back to her plate. Ryoka huffed softly.

"More like a particular person," Ryoka muttered, cracking a smile. Etsuko rolled her eyes and shook her head.

"It's actually not that simple, Ryoka-san. Changing the way a particular piece is played could be career suicide for most musicians. I changed the way it was played because there was something I wanted to convey. Music is supposed to make people feel something. Happiness. Sadness. Excitement."

"If a musician can't make you feel any of those things by the way they play their music, then they can't call themselves as such. So, yes, I might have had a particular person in mind when I played it, but..." she paused, huffing softly to herself.

"You played it well, Tsu-chan," Ryoka stated. To her credit, she looked like she was being genuine. Her voice had no traces of teasing in it. "I agree with Toto-chan, too. You should have won." Etsuko smiled.

"To the winner in our eyes, then," Ichikage said, raising his half-empty glass of water.

Mika huffed softly, but raised hers as well. The others followed, and for a little bit, their glasses all clinked together.

"Now keep eating. I've already ordered dessert."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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INK

Ryoka grinned to herself, allowing her legs to dangle off the engawa. It was still relatively cold outside, but she didn't mind too much. Being in the cold allowed her to adapt to it in small ways. She wouldn't be outside in a sleeveless shirt and shorts, though. That would require a way to adapt that she wasn't capable of. Still, being in the dark red turtleneck was more than enough to keep her warm. The pants she had chosen were black in color, and form-fitting in a way that allowed her maximum movement.

She liked when something felt more like second skin rather than an extra layer. Leather, though... the thought was enough to make her shudder. She was warm enough, and that was all that mattered. She allowed her thoughts to drift over the events that had occurred in the last few months. She was in a job she loved, caring for her younger brother, and thriving. She didn't think that was possible. She was much more comfortable here, than she expected to be. The people, they were something else.

She'd never known that there was someone who could be so... carefree. That didn't seem like the right word, but it was the only one she could associate with the household. Kiyoshi was, perhaps, the only one who seemed a little out of it. If it wasn't for Mika, Ryoka was sure he would have been lost a long time ago. Mika, on the other hand, was proving to be an exceptional example of what a bodyguard should be. Ryoka almost envied her.

Almost.

Ichikage, though, was something else. Something she wasn't quite sure of. He seemed a little too much like her, but perhaps that was a good thing. She had gotten along with him a lot better than she'd expected to. He had a certain energy about him that made her feel... at ease. It almost made her forget why she was here in the first place. Shaking the thought from her head, she heard footsteps coming around the corner. She grinned when she saw who it was.

"Tsu-chan, to what do I owe the pleasure?" she asked, leaning back on her hands. Etsuko blinked for a moment, glanced around her, and then back towards Ryoka.

"I was looking for otō-san," she finally replied. "Kiyo-kun broke the strings on my violin and I need to go get new ones," she stated, frowning just lightly. Ryoka huffed a soft laugh and shook her head. "Do you know where I can find him?" she asked, tilting her head to the side. It was adorable, Ryoka had to admit. She shook her head, though, and grinned.

"Currently, I don't. I'm on free time right now," she replied, watching as Etsuko's shoulders slumped. "Say, Tsu-chan," she stated slyly, narrowing her eyes slightly. "You know Valentine's Day is coming up soon," she began, watching as Etsuko's face turned slightly red. She nodded, but didn't say anything. "Do you plan on giving Honmei-choco, or Giri-choco to Toto-chan?" she asked, grinning broadly as the red on Etsuko's face, deepened.

"It's not your concern, Ryoka-san," was the only reply she gave, and turned on her heel to leave. Ryoka barked a short laugh before laughing a little too hard at what had just happened. That was too much fun.

It wasn't long before someone else wandered by, though to call anything Mika did wandering was probably a mistake. She always seemed to be moving with a purpose, either trailing slightly behind Kiyoshi or walking by herself. It was the latter right now—maybe she was taking a break as well? She still looked dressed for the office, in a sharp pair of well-tailored slacks, a crisp white shirt, and a cornflower blue sweater-vest. There was a tie between the shirt and the sweater, an elaborate, stylish knot tied in the dove-grey silk.

She was studying the screen of her phone, but paused when she rounded the corner and encountered Ryoka. "Yukimura-san. Good afternoon." She paused there, as though deciding whether to leave it at that, but surprisingly, she ventured a question. "Has Motoyami-sama sent you on a break, then?"

"Yeah, he has," she replied. She blinked at Mika, though, and tilted her head. The woman was always well-dressed, and hardly had a hair out of place. "You always look so pretty, Mika-chan," she stated truthfully. She wondered, for a moment, how the woman was still single. "Did Motoyami-san send you on break as well?" she questioned, raising a brow.

"If he did, do you want to join me? I found this particular area has less foot traffic, and it's calmer," she stated. There were probably better spots, but she liked this one, currently.

Mika looked like she wasn't quite sure what to do with any of that—either the compliment or the offer. Her lips parted slightly; she blinked. It actually looked like her face colored slightly, tinging just a little bit pink. She glanced back down at her phone, then sighed softly and took a seat next to Ryoka on the engawa. Her posture was considerably better than Ryoka's, straight and neat as the rest of her was.

"It's... not exactly a break. I think Kiyoshi-sama sometimes forgets that those exist. I have to schedule them for him, and it's not worth scheduling any for myself on top of that." She lifted her shoulders in a half-shrug. "But he's in a meeting right now with some of the household staff. That includes Nobuyoshi-san, who is acting as his guard while I try to take care of this." She gestured with her phone, though she didn't elaborate on what she meant by this.

Ryoka blinked slightly before whistling slowly. "Kiyoshi-san really makes you work, doesn't he," she stated. "I don't think Ichi-kun has had me do that much work. Wait," she paused, and glanced up for a second. "Nope, I can't recall," she continued, shaking her head.

"You really do a lot for Kiyoshi-san, don't you," she questioned, raising a brow. If Kiyoshi really did forget that breaks existed, there was no telling just how lost he would be without Mika. It was adorable.

For a moment, Mika looked indecisive, but then her expression turned wry, and she shook her head, sighing in what sounded almost like exasperation. "Want to know a secret?" She glanced at Ryoka, raising an eyebrow. Apparently, the answer was evident, because she continued. "My job is at least two-thirds babysitting. Kiyoshi-sama isn't as well-adjusted to this era as Motoyami-sama is, despite all appearances to the contrary. I manage his life as much as I guard it."

Despite her words, she didn't seem upset or irritated by it, just blunt. Glancing down at her phone screen, Mika dashed off another message, then let her hands fall back behind her, leaning back slightly on the engawa and kicking her legs out a bit.

"So... you're saying Kiyoshi-san is, essentially, a big child?" she questioned. She stared at Mika, brow raised, before a grin spread across her face. "And he's supposed to be how old?" it was a rhetorical question, and didn't need answering. It was slightly humorous, though, that a daiyōkai of Kiyoshi's age, and status, was just a large child. She shook her head, though, and leaned back so that she was resting on her forearms.

"I almost feel bad for you, Mika-chan. Almost," she spoke, glancing out at the view in front of her. "He seems to rely on you a lot. Do you ever wonder where he would be if he didn't have you?" she asked, slightly curious. Mika didn't need to answer that, though. "I think... you ground him in some ways. It's obvious in the way he cares for you," she huffed slightly. She'd noticed how Kiyoshi always seemed happier when Mika was around.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd think he loved you," she stated without really thinking. Perhaps he loved her in a way a friend loves another friend, but Ryoka couldn't claim to know. "But as I hear it, he has a fiancée," and she knew it wasn't Mika.

Mika's expression blanked, losing all trace of recognizable emotion. "Ito-sama," she supplied dully. "Their wedding will be this year, yes." Still solemn, she turned her eyes on Ryoka. "What you just said... don't say it again. I know you only meant it as an idle speculation, but around here, reputations and rumors matter. If the wrong person, someone who didn't know me or Kiyoshi-sama, heard that and it got back to Ito-sama's family, it could jeopardize everything."

She pursed her lips. "That's the main difference between working for a household like this and working for anyone else. Motoyami-sama may not seem like it, but he's a dynastic lord, and his dynasty has been in place for more than a thousand years. Anything could matter."

Ryoka sighed, perhaps a little too heavily. She didn't mean to sigh like that, but she supposed Mika had a point. Mika, as she understood, had practically lived here for quite awhile as Kiyoshi's guard. If anyone knew how this place worked, Mika did. Something didn't sit right, though, with the way Mika looked, and how things were. Maybe Ryoka was seeing something that wasn't there. Maybe what she saw was just the workings of a bodyguard and her charge, and how efficient they were.

"Of course, Mika-chan. I meant nothing by it," and she really didn't. "Sometimes, it's easy to forget that I'm here, in this place, and not at home," she whispered the last word. She missed her family so much. She could feel her chest tightening, and shook her head. Sitting up properly, she took a slow breath and turned towards Mika.

"Well, Mika-chan," she began, forcing a smile on her face. She didn't want to let her thoughts overwhelm her at the moment. "Since it seems that the Motoyami both do not currently need us, shall we go get something warm to drink? I think some amazake or hot chocolate is in order," she stated, standing from her spot and dusting her pants.

Mika looked vaguely surprised by a moment, then nodded. "If you'd like." She stood as well, fluid and graceful as a cat. For a moment, she hesitated visibly, then she spoke.

"Ryoka-san. I'm... sorry. About what happened to your family. You should know... Motoyami-sama asked me to look into it. We're searching for any answers we can find. It's not much, but..." She seemed unsure what else to say.

To her own credit, Ryoka did not falter in her soft smile. "Thanks, Mika-chan. It's... there isn't much that can be done right now, but..." she would find those responsible. Somehow. Someway. She would find out who killed her family, and she would make them pay for it. She was slightly surprised, though, that Ichikage had asked Mika to look into it. Perhaps, she should ask him about that?

"I think right now, there is a cup of amazake, or hot chocolate, with our names on it. Let's go get warmed up." It was a question for another time.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Ichikage Motoyami Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Motoyami Character Portrait: Ryoka Yukimura
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INK

He was supposed to be spending today with Sakura, enjoying their Valentine's Day dinner. Kiyoshi, however, currently found himself alone. He didn't mind. Something had come up, and Sakura had to cancel, but he didn't mind. It was the first time, but it wouldn't matter in the long run. He was to be married to her by the end of the year. Missing one dinner was not going to be the end of things.

"Why the long face, Kiyo-kun?" a voice interrupted his thoughts, one he recognized as Ryoka's. She stood in front of him, arms crossed over her chest, and a raised brow. He blinked slowly at her, before tilting his head. Did he have a long face? He furrowed his brows together, and shook his head.

"Nothing, Yukimura-san. Today's dinner has been canceled with Sakura, and I currently find myself looking for something to occupy my time with. Mika-chan is off duty, at the moment, as you are, I presume?" he asked, receiving a nod. He made an 'oh' before shaking his head again. "Would you, perhaps, like to help me?" he asked, earning a curt snort from her.

"You should be more careful how you word things, Kiyo-kun. That almost sounded like a proposition," she spoke, a small smirk crossing her features. Kiyoshi blinked, and felt something in his cheeks tingle. It must have been visible to Ryoka, because she started laughing. "I jest, Kiyo-kun. But seriously, be careful of what you say. People might take it the wrong way," she continued, causing him to furrow his brows.

"If you're bored, then I can probably keep you company until Ichi-kun needs me, or something. In the mean time, you can help me with a little problem," she stated. The smirk on her face, however, suggested that it wasn't a problem at all. It was almost similar to his father's smirk when he was up to no good. He sighed.

"How can I assist you, Yukimura-san," he found himself saying the opposite of what he wanted to say. It couldn't hurt to hear her out, at least.

"It involves your cute imōto-chan, and my otōto," she started, rolling her eyes in the process. "I know you know how she feels, but Toto-chan is about as dense as a pile of wood when it comes to that," she continued. Kiyoshi found himself huffing, just slightly, in amusement. "Now, I'm not saying we need to interfere to a big degree, but," she paused, glancing up to meet his eyes. She was fairly tall for a Japanese woman. About as tall as Mika was, actually.

But it made more sense for Mika to be as tall as she was. Mika was a hanyō; Ryoka obviously wasn't anything more than human. Maybe it was because Ryoka was taiji-ya? "Go on," he found himself saying. She grinned.

"We just need to give him a little push. I'd ask Ichi-kun to help, but..." she trailed off, pursing her lips together. "I'm not entirely sure how he'd feel about that," she continued. Kiyoshi chuckled softly.

"I assure you, Yukimura-san, that he would want to help in the most discreet of ways," he spoke. By that, he meant not-so-discreet. He also knew that Ichikage would likely want to help, but it was probably for the best that he didn't.

"Ne, is that my name I hear?" Ichikage himself rounded a corner as he spoke, coming into easy view of the two of them. He lifted an eyebrow in their general direction, the slight upwards tilt of his mouth suggesting that he'd followed at least enough of the discussion to know what it was about. "What's all this conspiring, then? Any good conspiracy has to involve me, you know. We old people are very good at them."

Ryoka snickered softly, but then cleared her throat. Kiyoshi, however, frowned towards his father. Good or not, making any sort of plan with Ichikage usually resulted in something a little more than what was originally anticipated. "If you must know, Ichi-kun, we are conspiring against your Cricket and my Toto-chan," she spoke, trying to hold back a laugh, it seemed.

"Ryoka-san believes that Yukimura-san needs a bit of a push. As she put it, 'he's as dense as a pile of wood,'" he spoke, earning a light chuckle from Ryoka. He merely pursed his lips together, though. "And Tsu-tsu won't necessarily take the steps to engage in anything more than their strange friendship," he continued. Their friendship was a little strange to him. If he didn't know better, he'd say that there was something else to it. Something a little warmer than before. He shook his head.

"Exactly. Toto-chan wouldn't know if someone had any kind of romantic inclination towards him even if it hit him in the face. He's a strange kid, that one, but I love him. Anyways, Kiyo-kun and I were just trying to think of some way to give him a little push, or rather, them a push," Ryoka spoke, crossing her arms over her chest.

Ichikage nodded along with the discussion in a way that suggested he knew all of this already, somehow or other. Kiyoshi knew he tended to know basically everything. It was much safer to assume that no secret escaped him than that something had. Reaching up, he scratched absently at his jaw with the blunted fingernails of his human form. "Well... jealousy works pretty well, but I don't think they're quite at that point yet." He exhaled through his nose, shaking his head.

"The enemy of all revelation is routine. You can quote me on that." He seemed rather impressed with the pithiness of his own wisdom, though Kiyoshi knew that was mostly farcical. "Why would either of them learn anything new or change anything if the circumstances around them don't change? They need to be put in a new context, one that's not comfortable for them. That'll force them to look at things differently. The push, if you will." His eyes, golden like sunset, glittered with something approaching sadistic amusement.

"Considering today is Valentine's Day, it shouldn't be too difficult, however; it might prove to be. I wasn't lying when I said Toto-chan was as dumb as a pile of wood when it comes to that kind of thing, but..." she trailed off.

"Leaving them alone together won't do, either," Kiyoshi mused. Ever since both Yukimura moved in, Etsuko and Satoru spent time together alone, working on homework. It wasn't all the time, but it was enough to leave that option moot. "Tsu-Tsu isn't exactly a shy person, either," which was weird in itself. Etsuko was honest with most things; she wasn't one to hide her emotions or what she thought.

"Even if they are not quite at that point, I think it's an angle you should still try. The jealousy, I mean. We need to get them somewhere, maybe doll up Tsu-Tsu a bit, and just throw her out to the sharks," Ryoka suggested, nodding as if it were a good idea. Kiyoshi, however, furrowed his brows and pursed his lips together.

"We should try something that will leave Tsu-Tsu in one piece, not torn in a different direction," he stated. This was more difficult than he thought. It should have been easier considering his current status, however; it wasn't. He sighed.

"Honestly, you two need to learn to think in the long term." Ichikage crossed his arms, leaning sideways against one of the square columns holding up the engawa's roof. "It's not going to magically happen today, no matter that you do. People don't come to such realizations so quickly, and as I said, I really don't think jealousy would work yet." He shrugged. "At this point, if one of them saw the other connecting romantically with some third party, they're likely to just congratulate them and not say anything. No, it's going to need to be more gradual than that."

He raised a hand to scratch absently at his jaw. "I think... we should all take a vacation. Somewhere nice and tropical, come summer. They'll be graduated and away from their familiar high school surroundings, meaning there won't be any homework to serve as excuse for their time together. They'll have to admit they want to spend time together, not just doing the same thing." He hummed; a sly smile stretched across his face.

"How does Hawai'i sound?"

Ryoka made a strange sound, something that sounded almost like awe. She'd taken in a deep breath, and her eyes widened slightly. "I hear they have amazing mochi, and all kinds of different sweets," she stated, as if what they were discussing held no immediate importance. Kiyoshi, however, blinked, and smiled softly. Rolling his eyes, he raised a brow in her direction.

"Is food all you ever think about, Ryoka-san?" he asked, the words passing through his lips before he could filter them better.

"Food and your pretty hair," she replied just as smoothly. She was smirking at him, and he could feel his lips pulling downward. His cheeks were tingling again, and her shoulders started shaking, slightly. "I do believe I know how to make Kiyo-Kiki embarrassed," she stated. She started laughing, apparently unable to contain it any longer.

"I shouldn't have asked." He shouldn't have asked.

"No shit." His father was, unsurprisingly, grinning broadly. "But isn't that nice, Kiki? Someone thinks you're pretty. Aren't you so lucky to have admirers?"

"Am I?" he deadpanned his father.

Ryoka snorted, though, and chuckled softly. "You misunderstand me, Ichi-kun. I said his hair is pretty, not him. Though, if I had to say...," she trailed off in what seemed to be a pause, and cast Kiyoshi a glance. He could almost see the mischief behind it, however; it seemed to disappear. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Don't worry Kiki, I won't tell anyone how sensitive you are about your hair. I'm sure a certain someone wouldn't like me mentioning it out loud, anyway," she spoke, offering Kiyoshi a small smile.

"Should I take that at face value," he responded, giving her a flat look. She seemed to find it amusing since she laughed.

"And this is why I like you, Kiyo-kun. My word is my oath, I shan't break it," she replied. Kiyoshi sighed softly. Perhaps, entering into a plan with his father and Ryoka was not the best idea he had. He could only hope, as strange as it was, that Mika would not find out. He didn't think she would be pleased about it.