Onimusha: Monogatari

Onimusha: Monogatari

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Introduction



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Private Role-play between Aethyia and Mihael

In This Moment || From The Ashes



Nobody’s sure exactly where the oni came from, perhaps in the same way that nobody can be sure where the humans came from. Some speculate that they were cast out from another world for their violence and their strength, exiled to a fledgling realm of humanity, but there’s no more basis for that than anything else. Perhaps it will never be known how everything started, but some of the history is common knowledge.

Every child knows that when they came, they conquered, razing fields of battle like locusts upon the rice paddies, and it wasn’t long before most of the world was theirs. They marched under the banner of a great warlord, the King of all Demonkind. As legend tells it, he was a massive creature, nearly nine feet tall and nearly indestructible. There was nothing and no one that could stand against the strength of he and his army. Not for nigh on a hundred years.

But then, when everything seemed darkest, and humanity looked to a future as a mere stain on the fabric of demon history, they appeared. The Slayers. It is hard to say how they did it, but they somehow managed to conquer their own human weakness, driving themselves to the heights of physical prowess and perfecting techniques that allowed them to not only survive an encounter with an oni, but to actually kill them. Slayers always worked in teams or pairs, and though they were few in number, they were fearsome. Their arrival forestalled the inevitable conclusion, and at last, the King of the oni was killed in battle. Such victory was not without cost, however; the vast majority of the Slayer clans were also obliterated in the effort.

The power balance had been, to some extent, reset, and no oni quite so foreboding as the King has been seen since. These days, they roam in scattered warbands, only occasionally uniting as a singular force. These yakuza gangs terrorize towns and, in many instances, larger cities. But they do not strive for our eradication, only our servitude. From the oni and conquered peoples, bastard children have been born, abominations of nature known only as the hanyou—half-demons. The slayers have all but died out, but there is still life to be made under the rule of the demons. In the end, it has not proven so different from being under the rule of daimyo.

It is in the city of Edo, one of the largest in our realm, that this tale takes place. Six people, of heritage and background varied, attempt to make a life beneath the thumb of one of the most notorious gangs of yakuza in the world. Their oyabun sits perched like a cormorant at the very top of the social heap, but for all his height, he cannot see everything that happens beneath him.


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Masurao Toukai | Played by Mihael

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Makoto Yoshida | Played by Aethyia

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Yujin | Played by Mihael
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Yuzuki Mori | Played by Aethiya

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Tatsuki Kagirinai | Played by Mihael

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Naomi Fujita | Played by Aethiya


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The Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Naomi’s eyes never left her work as she moved, whisking the tea in the bowl with a deft skill that could belong only to someone long schooled in the art, but though she appeared uninterested or at least unaware of what was being discussed by the two men in the room, she was anything but. One of them, she hated perhaps more than she should be capable of hating anyone, and the other controlled essentially ever aspect of her life, so it paid to listen. Leaning forward slightly, she ignored the heavy tug of her thick mass of inky hair, pooled on the floor behind her—she’d been wearing it that way for so long that it wasn’t even a hindrance anymore. Nor, in fact, was the kimono, though she was not overly fond of it.

In most cases, one should wear more subdued clothing for a tea ceremony, but this was hardly the paradigm case of such a thing. Though her training required that she do this perfectly every time, she doubted her employer ever paid attention, and the only garments ever provided for her were in bright, eye-catching colors. Doubtless, he desired that people notice her so as to better notice that he owned her, and grant him just that much more respect or envy. She supposed that on some level it worked, though in her innermost self, she was hardly pleased to be used in such a fashion.

Well, in the end, she was using him, too, so perhaps it was fair. At least she knew what he was doing—he hadn’t the faintest clue that she had arranged this very setup for a single purpose: killing the second man in the room.

Sakaki, the man in question, was speaking at present. It hadn’t been more than a month ago that the yakuza marched into Edo, once a large city and now more or less a moderately-sized village—this largely due to the population damage of the last major war. Still, it was larger than anyplace else but Kyoto, and that was the last stronghold the humans had left. It would seem that she was actually going to learn why they had bothered to set up their men here, aside from the abundance of resources, anyway.

“If it’s here, we’ll find it,” he said, crossing thick arms over his chest and frowning thoughtfully. Sakaki was a dark blue in complexion, with a shock of white hair that might have been a sign of age, had he been any more than middle-aged by the standard of his own species. His most notable feature was the fact that he was missing his horns—they’d been cut off in a fight with a Slayer many years ago, as the story was told. Naomi was frankly rather disappointed the Slayer hadn’t cut of his head instead, a fact she remembered most keenly when she poured and served the tea only to catch the flicker of desire in his eyes. Disgusting—he really had no idea who she was, did he?

The oyabun, or Lord Nobunaga, as he styled himself, wasn’t much better, but that was an entirely separate issue. Naomi was very interested in what it was, as nobody had bothered to specify this in her presence, perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. She wasn’t exactly unnoticed here, but she was never perceived as threatening, either. Why should she be? As far as any of these fools knew, she was Nobunaga’s pet half-breed, a little curiosity he kept about for his amusement. If she had her way, they’d all continue to think that until she killed Sakaki and made off like a bandit with anything she could take.

Nobunaga leaned in his chair, leaning his head on a closed fist with his eyes closed. He could hear Naomi whisking away at the tea as she prepared it, and he could hear Sakaki speaking. He wasn't paying much attention, though, and kept his eyes closed. The recent acquisition of Edo had been a large stepping stone for him, however; he was well aware that there was a little resistance to them in the village. It was to be expected, after all. The Yakuza were still fairly young, though that meant very little. During the last years, they had made a name for themselves, or rather, he made a name for them. It wasn't a difficult task, and one that Nobunaga often spoke of. He was a prideful man, and shameless down to the very bones of his body.

Black hair pooled over his shoulder as he opened his only visible eye, glancing towards Sakaki and following the Oni's gaze to Naomi. It was a known fact that Nobunaga looked nothing like an Oni, a fact often pointed out to him countless times. There was a time in his life when he had been asked if he were a Hanyou, and if he was, what was he doing controlling such a powerful group. The question was never answered, and it was never asked again. He had proven he was Oni by birthright countless times, and he did not like his purity being brought up. He blinked his eye slowly, shifting so that he was sitting up in a proper position. His gaze hardened at Sakaki's words, and he shot the Oni a glare. He would not have marched into Edo if he did not believe it was here.

It would have been a waste of time and resources, and one thing he did not have, was time. Oni were not immortal, and their lives expired too. He would eventually die, but he had no plan of dying just yet. There were things that needed to be done, and things that needed to be accomplished. "Do you believe I would waste my time on such a place if it were not here, Sakaki?" he stated more than asked, his voice a low baritone as his gaze never left the blue-skinned Oni. He took the cup situated by the table next to him, and sipped at the contents before returning his gaze back to Sakaki. His pet always knew how to make tea.

"You are to take a few of the others into the village. I have been told that it might be located within the shrine there, but you are only doing a reconnaissance. We do not need to instill fear into the humans just yet. There will be a time and place for that," he continued. He had planned this out from how it would be in the beginning, to the very end. What he had come to Edo for, he planned on finding it.

“No, my lord,” Sakaki said slowly, though not perhaps overly cautiously. He was as wary of Nobunaga as any properly-intelligent person would be, but he also did not underestimate his own usefulness. Good help was hard to find these days, and Sakaki was very good help. “But this is not a small village. There are many places it could be. Nevertheless, we will conduct the reconnaissance on the shrine first.” It was as good a place as any to start, and if the boss had information or instinct that leaned that way, he certainly wasn’t going to argue. Nobunaga had a way of just knowing things, sometimes.

Nevertheless, he did not leave immediately, staying to finish his tea as was polite. During this time, it was usual practice for him to update the boss regarding other matters, important enough to earn his notice but not so important as it was. “The Slayer will likely not attempt to interfere with us—though I did have him take out the traitors like you ordered.” It was a rather peculiar sort of irony, oni using a Slayer to kill other oni. But it was the perfect kind of disgrace, in a way. They didn’t even bother using their own enforcers to hunt down the traitors and deserters—a mere hanyou did it instead, and managed to kill them, at that. A potentially-dangerous foe, but one that they had cleverly neutralized by employing him before he could be employed against them.

Naomi assumed they must be talking about Makoto. He was the only Slayer she’d heard of in this city, and she’d seen him near the stronghold once. Apparently not for his own reconnaissance as she’d expected, but for a meeting, likely with this end in mind. She could see intuitively the reasoning there, but she hoped Makoto knew what he was getting himself into with these people. Perhaps she’d have to tell him, just in case. Nobunaga was no ordinary warlord, that much she knew with certainty. The red silk of her sleeves hovered mere inches from the ground as she collected the used tea ware, and awaited her dismissal—or Sakaki’s—with eyes fixed firmly to the floor.

“Other than that,” the strategist concluded, “There is little to report. The humans have accepted our authority with a minimum of struggle. I suspect they have forgotten what it is to fear us truly. We’re just another set of nobles and daimyo to them, now.” Sakaki sounded displeased with being thought of in the same way one would think of a human, but it manifested as little more than a slight undertone in his voice. Oni were not, as a rule, subtle creatures, but he was moreso than most.

Nobunaga refrained from sighing, instead, shifting his visible eye towards Sakaki. The ogre had a point. The village was relatively large, and if his resources had failed him, there would be a new spot open for scouting and one less Oni in the world. His attention was changed towards the Hanyou, the one they employed to take care of the trash, as he so liked to call it. The boy was useful, and he was strong. All the more reason to keep him employed to him. He knew, in time, the boy could become a threat to the Yakuza, however; he seemed content on just doing what the Yakuza asked of him. Either the Hanyou was clever, or he knew enough to stay out of the way. It bothered Nobunaga none, and he had no reason to terminate the Hanyou quite yet.

"Send another his way. Hideyori needs to be dealt with, and shouldn't be much of a problem for the Hanyou," he stated, rolling a thin string between his fingers. He shifted slightly, raising his posture back up as he turned his attention from Sakaki and gazed out the nearby window. "We are more than that to them, Sakaki," was the only thing he stated. It, in a way, was true. They were demons to the humans, creatures powerful and frightening enough to be feared in such ways that the humans couldn't do much about it. Slayers, they had come, and they had gone just like everything else. They were never going to last, though they did bring the foolish hope with them. As with all things, they just needed to crush that hope. Then, they would be gods to the humans.

"Begone, Sakaki. I grow weary of your presence, and take that with you as well," he stated, flicking his wrist towards Naomi. He wished them gone from his presence. He had things to do, things to plan, and he did not need a distraction at the moment. And Naomi was quite the distraction. He'd have his fun later. He always did.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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The day had started off relatively nice. The sun was out, bringing a summer breeze with it as the wind passed by gently. It caressed the heated skin of the people as they walked through the streets of Edo, passing each other by and stopping only occasionally to converse. Masurao was currently outside, sweeping the front of the restaurant to keep it clean. He could smell the food coming in from inside, and smiled to himself as he stopped momentarily, gazing out into the streets. He leaned against the broom, taking in a slow breath of air before turning around. Of course, he had not anticipated someone being behind him, and as he turned, his eyes widened.

The sound of plates crashing to the floor, and the slow motion of a body falling towards the ground, had Masurao reacting in a way he always did. His arm swung out, catching the woman by the waist as he held her steady, wincing when the plates broke. He was going to get chewed out again by the owner, and he could almost hear the veins in the man's head pulsating. He laughed nervously as he set the woman back up on her feet and glanced at the damage below. He frowned, watching as the food he knew Tatsuki had made, become covered in dust. He sighed heavily, leaning down to pick up the pieces as his face was still marred.

"And I was doing so well," he spoke, picking up a piece of the plate and set it on the empty table next to him. He had gone the whole morning so far without breaking anything, and he almost had his hopes up that today would be the first day he wouldn't break anything. It was almost too good to be true. "Man, Tsu-Tsu's going to kill me when she finds out, and Yuyu's never going to let me live this down," he mused to himself. Yujin always made fun of him, no matter what he did, and Tatsuki already expected this of him. It really wasn't a loss, if he thought about it.

Yuzuki hummed to herself as she let the road carry her into Edo proper. The shrine was a ways outside of town, but she made it a point to visit the people she knew in it several times a week at least; despite her solitary profession, she was not really all that fond of being alone. Usually, Makoto was with her, but he was out on a job today, so she was by herself for once. Well, that term was loose at best—she was in a large population center, after all. It was not until she hit the inn, however, that she stopped in her tread down the dirt path in enough time to see a very large man accidentally back into a lady, and then catch her before she fell.

Unfortunately, the dishes she was carrying were not saved, and these had been laden with food. Yuzu watched the waitress sigh and head back to the kitchen, no doubt to tell them to remake the order, and she winced in sympathy, for both parties. Plastering a friendly smile to her face, she turned towards the muscular fellow with the broom and allowed her feet to carry her to him. She had to crane her neck to look properly into his face, but the smile never faltered, even as she placed her hands on her hips and tilted her head slightly to the side, spilling a few of her short reddish-brown locks over her cheek.

“If I ever start a war against dishes and cutlery, you’re going to be general of my army,” she declared cheerfully, the grin inching wider and flashing even, white teeth. “Rough day, Mao-Mao?” Yuzu rocked back on her toes, a motion which produced a soft jingle. She wore a bell to one side of her hair, attached to the band she used to keep most of it tied back. It was Mako’s version of a joke—a suzu for Yuzu. She liked the sound, though—it was light and sweet and reminded her that there were people in the world willing to make such small gestures of comfort and friendship. It was something worth remembering.

Masurao chuckled lightly as he scratched his cheek nervously. "I don't think I'd make a good general for that war. I'm afraid the dishes might gang up on me and end up breaking me," he replied, the smile faltering slightly from his face before reappearing. He sighed softly, running a hand through his hair before allowing it to slide down his face. The day had been good so far, but now he was sure the boss was going to fire him. Though, he wondered, just a bit, why he hadn't been fired yet. Maybe it had something to do with his sister, or maybe some other force of nature. Regardless, it wouldn't last long. He was sure of it.

"'Not quite so rough. It could be worse, though. I could manage to bring down the whole restaurant. But, if I did that, I really wouldn't have a job. What about you, Yuzu? How's your day coming along? Mako isn't with you today," he stated, noting the white-haired male's absence. The two were about as close as he was with Tatsuki, so it always baffled him when Makoto wasn't around. He shrugged his shoulders absentmindedly before returning to picking up the broken pieces. He really did need a new job. At this rate, he was sure that all the dishes in Edo would be broken by the end of the month.

Yuzu crouched so that she was able to help pick up the shards of dishware as well, being careful so as not to cut herself on any of the newly-sharp edges. Most of it was ceramic, and broken pottery could actually be quite hazardous. Probably not to him, since he was more durable than the average person, but her? Squishy as any other human, though she did have the advantage of being able to heal her injuries. “Mako’s out on a job,” she said simply, shrugging her shoulders a little. “There’s an infestation of wasp demons out on the south side of town—he got called away to deal with it yesterday. You just get little old me today, I’m afraid.” The smile hadn’t left her face, though, and it was clear that, whatever else she thought, she wasn’t so worried about being unwanted. She liked to think that if she were, someone would have made it obvious by now. Why waste time worrying about things like that when there were many more real concerns to be had?

It took a bit, but eventually, they’d cleared away all the shards too big for the broom to deal with and thrown them away. Yuzuki dusted off her hands, then glanced sideways at Masurao. He still seemed a little down—and there were a couple of things that she could do about that. “Do you think the boss would let you take a break?” she asked speculatively. “I bet I could talk him into it for you. I don’t have anyone to eat lunch with me today, and doing it alone just seems… too sad, somehow.” The old innkeeper was also known to have a soft spot for her, largely perhaps because he’d known her since she was a child and also because she’d done his son’s marriage ceremony the year before. She bet she could make it happen—assuming the other party was interested, anyway.

Masurao frowned, just slightly, at the news of the wasp demons. He sighed and slumped his shoulders, allowing the frown to deepen. Usually, smaller and lesser demons stayed just outside of the village. Either they were smarter than they looked, or they somehow knew that it was currently occupied by the Yakuza. Either way, it bothered Masurao just slightly. If they ever came into the village, at least the villagers would be well protected. They had Makoto, after all, and Yujin, who was currently somewhere. Masurao didn't know, but he knew he wasn't too far. He blinked at Yuzuki, however, and grinned.

"And there is nothing wrong with that. You are always welcome to come spend time with little old me and Tsu-Tsu whenever you want to, you know," he stated, chuckling as he shook his head. "I actually think the boss would prefer it, really. I think I've broken enough things for one day," he stated, placing a hand on the back of his neck. "Besides, I'm sure the boss wouldn't want you to be sad, now will he? Even if he says no, I'll still have lunch with you," he continued, nodding his head as he turned to go inside the restaurant. He re-emerged not more than a minute later with a smile on his face, and a package in hand.

"Courtesy of Tsu-Tsu and the boss. Anywhere in particular you had in mind to go eat?" he questioned. He didn't mind where they had lunch, and it was a nice day to begin with. Maybe they should go to the shrine, or the small pond just on the edge of the village?

Yuzu grinned at the appearance of the parcel, guessing as to what it might contain. She felt a little bad for dragging Mao away from his job, but it sounded like that might be the best solution for everyone at the moment, so there was that. Lifting her index finger to her chin, she canted her head sideways and gave the matter some thought, then nodded decisively. “Let’s go to the pond. I brought crumbs for the koi anyway.” she had been planning on a stop there regardless, and it was a very relaxing place, usually inhabited by at least a few kids this time of day, but not many of their parents, considering that many worked at this time.

It was only a short walk there, though to call what Yuzu did walking was a bit unfair. It was more like one part walking, one part skipping, one part frolicking, and really anyone who knew her at all knew to expect it by this point. She didn’t have anything to spread on the ground, but that was of no consequence at all-she just say right on the grass at the edge of the pond. Sure enough, the koi were swimming around inside, and Yuzuki reached up a sleeve with the opposite hand, withdrawing a pouch of bits and morsels of food, mostly loose grains that the fish would eat. Pinching some, she flicked it out into the water, smiling to herself when the smooth motions of the koi diverted so they could splash over one another in an effort to eat.

“So, what did Ki-chan and Grumpy-san give us?” she asked lightly, grinning up at Mao.

"The pond it is, then," he spoke, smiling to match hers. He shook his head faintly as he watched Yuzuki walk, or what seemed an attempt at walking. She seemed to be enjoying herself and Masurao wasn't going to ruin that, though admittedly, he was half tempted to join in on her fun. Instead, he walked a bit slower, keeping an even pace with her as to not walk out too far ahead and leave her behind. He was, after all, taller than her. He could easily pass her up with just a simple stride or two. Once they reached the pond, Yuzuki immediately went for the pond, leaving Masurao behind a bit as he pulled the parcel in front of him. He blinked as he stared at her, watching as the koi fish splashed around to get at the bread crumbs.

"Well, Tsu-Tsu made us some Oyakodon and some Botamochi. Grumpy-san gave us an Omurice," he stated, opening the parcel and exposing it's contents. He could see other ingredients, such as the sushi and the sausages. "Oh, and there is Hayashi Rice as well," he added. There was a lot of food in there, and he could only speculate it was because of Tatsuki knowing his food addiction. Though, he was nowhere near as bad as Yujin was. He shook his head faintly and handed the box to Yuzuki. He would let her take what she wanted first, that way she could at least get some food. He didn't want to be greedy, after all.

"How are things at the shrine?" he found himself asking, staring at the box of food as he waited for Yuzuki to get her share. "If you ever need anything, you can always ask me or the other two. I wouldn't mind going up to help...or, you know," he muttered, falling a bit over his words as he rubbed the back of his neck nervously. He really wasn't good at conversations, or at least starting them, but he could manage.

Before picking her way over the food, Yuzuki reached across the intervening space, taking Mao’s hand and turning it palm up. She had to stifle a laugh at how much bigger it was than hers. It was no wonder he was always breaking things—most of the dishes were probably made for people with hands half the size! She tipped the little bag she was holding so that some of the fish food spilled onto his palm though, which had been her intention the whole time, then grinned at him. “Throw that much in and they’ll go crazy,” she informed him with a grin, her nose crinkling in her amusement.

She set it aside though, and picked up a few utensils, helping herself to the omurice and oyakodon. She could eat quite a bit for someone of her size, and she wasn’t shy about this; still, the vast majority of the food was left when she’d filled her own bowl. She didn’t waste much time digging in, either—manners were a bit too formal for use around friends, or so she’d always thought. At least the really stickler-type of manners that just made things uncomfortable. She did remember to chew and swallow before answering though.

Yuzu was entirely unperturbed by Mao’s slight awkwardness; she’d grown up with Makoto, after all, and the Slayer was quite a lot worse. Actually, this was remarkably simple, as far as conversations went. She was used to doing most, if not all, of the talking. Not that she minded—that was what Mako was comfortable with, and she was happy to accommodate. “Thank you for that, Mao-Mao,” she said brightly, nodding a bit. “It means a lot to have friends and people willing to help me out. The shrine’s doing fairly well right now—we just had the new year a few moons ago, and that’s when people leave the most offerings. This year, there was enough to fix the broken parts of the gate, which was nice. Other than that, it’s usually quiet.” A pause, then she shrugged slightly.

“I did a wedding yesterday, too. The kimono are so pretty…” she sighed slightly. Her mother was a tailor, and naturally made most of the garments in question. Yuzuki was a tomboy in basically every respect, but she still knew how to appreciate nice clothing. Her mother would probably be disappointed if she hadn’t. “But anyway, it was a nice ceremony. Daichi the farmer’s son married his neighbor Shiori. I always knew they would.” It wasn’t uncommon for the lower classes to marry for love rather than convenience, as had been the case there. It was always a much happier occasion when they did, though less fancy then the wealthier weddings could be.

Masurao smiled, shaking his head when Yuzuki took his hand and poured the remaining bread crumbs into his hand. He leaned over the pond, and sprinkled (rather than throwing) the crumbs into the pond. He watched as the koi gathered in one spot, swimming over each other to get at the crumbs, and for a second, Masurao frowned. He wondered if people were like that, at times, fighting for what little they could get. He sighed, slumping his shoulders as he tilted his head lightly to the side. He listened as Yuzuki spoke of the happenings at the shrine, and cracked a smile, one that was bright and honest, at the words. Humans were truly something, though he was half human himself. He'd never known his own parents, and it was something he didn't really think of. His mother had passed during child birth, and no one seemed to know who his father was.

He doubted he'd ever meet his father anyway, but it did not stop him from wondering who it was. "You're welcome, Yuzu," he replied before grabbing parts of the meal for himself. "At least it was a good marriage, right?" he stated more than questioned. He ate his food a little slower, savoring it rather than scarfing it down and missing all of the flavors that were packed into the meal. Once he was finished, he placed the empty containers back and folded the parcel up. He stood, dusting himself off before offering Yuzuki his hand to help her up as well.

"We should do this more often," he stated, grinning brightly at the shrine maiden. "But I think we should get back into town for now," because his boss was probably fuming by now. He'd been gone for awhile, that much he knew. But then again, his boss might be rejoicing in the fact that nothing else was being broken. Masurao only sighed.

Yuzu accepted the hand up, and nodded. “We should; and you can bring your brother and sister next time. I’ll drag Mako along, too.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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The next day, Makoto did indeed return from his hunt, sporting a few injuries which themselves quickly healed, and a large boar—a creature he’d chanced upon in the forest on his way back home. Admittedly, he would have left it alone on most occasions, but something had seemed to be irritating it, and when it had caught sight of the man moving quietly through the trees, it had not let him pass, as it perhaps would have otherwise. Instead, it had charged him, and he was forced to fight it. At the very least, he supposed, shifting the massive burden of it over his back, it would feed his family for a while.

It was so large, however, that much of the meat would spoil before they could use it, and there was little point in that. So he packaged up what neither his immediate family nor his uncle’s family could use, removed the tusks, which would sell in town, and placed it all in a satchel over his back. His shortswords remained crossed over his lower back, but he forewent his bow for the moment.

Not often did Makoto go into town without Yuzuki with him, but she had shrine duties to tend to today, and he did not relish the idea of needing to rely on her to accomplish something so simple as this. He could make himself interact with people, it was just always a profoundly uncomfortable experience. Awkward was an understatement, to say the least. It was a personal failing, and he was not fond of it, but… he had to admit, if only to himself, that he didn’t try very hard to do anything about it, either. Sighing through his nose, the Slayer set his feet for town, ignoring the staring, which was usually much worse when Yuzuki was not present, as though she was a buffer between him and the rest of the world, a shield that seemed to deflect negativity with an effortless sort of charm.

Mako, on the other hand, was the opposite of charming. Repugnant, to say the least, and from the disdain he received, ugly also. Well, it wasn’t like he owned a mirror, so he could only suppose so. It didn’t matter mush when you were knee-deep in demon guts anyway, only when you had to pass by people who didn’t know you, like this. He chose to ignore it, and proceeded until he had reached the inn. Yuzu had told him when he went to see her today that the innkeeper and the cook had provided her with a free lunch yesterday. This wasn’t exactly repayment for that, but it would be a gift in return, he supposed. Generosity deserved the same, and he was generally disposed to show it to those who were good to Yuzu.

Though he stepped inside, he didn’t immediately see anyone. The time was a bit too early for lunch, and thus far too early for drinking, but late enough that the guests had likely left to conduct the day’s business. He wondered if Masurao was in, or if he’d have to go poking around in the back to find someone.

Yujin sat at the back of the restaurant, enjoying the silence and the moment of peace the emptiness brought with it. He had returned not more than two days ago from a job Tatsuki asked of him. It wasn't much of a job when one was asked to gather herbs and spices for the kitchen. It wasn't easy, but he found a majority of the items on her list and he had returned with the package in tow. He earned a few scrapes here and there, some from falling into a bush of thorns, and one for clipping his elbow against a jagged rock, however; one wouldn't be able to tell with his healing abilities. He yawned, loudly, and barely covered his mouth with his hand.

"Tsu-Tsu! I'm hungry," he complained rolling into the kitchen, pulling back the curtain that shielded the kitchen from the actual restaurant. He pursed his lips together, a sight to behold on such a large Oni, however; Tatsuki merely kept a straight face and continued chopping away at the daikon root. She cast him a side glance, a light smile tugging at her lips before she returned to her dish. "That is cold, Tsu-Tsu," he continued, frowning slightly before shaking his head. He walked over towards Tatsuki and glanced over her shoulder, staring at the soup she was making. He reached over, placing his index finger on the brim of the pot before it was smacked away.

"You will not touch that, Yuji. You'll ruin it with the taste of you," Tatsuki stated, frowning at the Oni who merely chuckled. He stepped back as she went back to rolling the noodles out, stretching them before cutting them into strings. "If you are that hungry, go take one of the steamed buns from the pot over there. Those are finished," she stated, smacking Yujin's hand once more as he made for the broth. He feigned a hurt look, pursing his lips together as Tatsuki merely raised a brow.

"You know, it might actually improve the taste if it had a little of me in it. You never know," he continued, shrugging his shoulders. Tatsuki just shook her head, however; she paused in what she was doing when someone entered the area. She blinked slowly, staring at the white-haired Hanyou for a moment as Yujin smirked in amusement. "Well, if it isn't Mako," he began, leaning against the counter. He placed his hand underneath his chin as he continued to stare at the Hanyou. Tatsuki pursed her lips together before returning her attention to her meal, a light pink dusting her cheeks. Yujin merely chuckled lightly at his sister's response.

"Don't mind Tsu-Tsu, she's happy to see you too," he stated, his smirk growing when the girl glared at him.

Makoto somehow doubted that, but he kept his thoughts to himself. People were rarely happy to see him, and he didn’t hold it against them. He wasn’t all that pleasant to keep company with. Nodding to the both of them, he figured he might as well leave the gift with Tatsuki, since she was the cook and would know how to make use of it. Shrugging his satchel off his shoulder, pulling several paper-wrapped bundles out of it, each one tied with string and apparently weighing around five pounds. There were four in total. He used the short delay to compose his words as well as he could in advance, so he wouldn't stumble over them the way he usually did.

“I ran across a boar, in the forest. There’s too much for just my family, so… I figured someone could make use of the meat.” He glanced up, then between them for a brief moment before he returned for looking straight ahead, though he addressed Tatsuki. “Thank you. For yesterday. Yuzu says she enjoyed lunch a great deal.” Clearing his throat awkwardly, he pushed a heavier-than-usual breath out his nose and turned to depart.

Yujin stared at Makoto, watching as the Hanyou remained silent, and instead pulled four parcels from his bag. His lips tilted in light amusement as he watched Makoto hand the parcels to Tatsuki, who blinked a bit confusedly at the items. "Thank...you?" she stated, unsure whether or not she should have stated that as more of a statement than a question. She could hear a snort escaping Yujin as she took one of the parcels, pulling it open and stared at the meat. She smiled faintly, a ghost like appearance upon her face, before it quickly faded. She knew Yuzuki would like the meal. Perhaps she should make more for her and have them premade.

"In a hurry to be somewhere Mako?" Yujin stated as he glanced at Makoto, turning to leave the restaurant. "You should stay. Tata makes a really good Inoshishi Ramen," he stated, keeping a laugh from escaping him as Tatsuki shot him a glare. She really didn't like that nickname, and she didn't understand why he insisted on calling her that. Yujin just shrugged his shoulders as he smiled coyly. "It shouldn't take too long to make, and Tsu-Tsu would make it special just for us," he continued. He glanced towards Tatsuki, who kept her focus on the meat in front of her, but noticed the small pink dusting her cheeks turn a deeper shade.

"You shouldn't do that, Yuji. If he needs to be somewhere, let him go," she stated, her voice coming out a bit dry. She didn't do it intentionally, however, and she pursed her lips together when she realized how it sounded. Taking a slow breath, she placed the utensils down and turned to face the two, glaring at Yujin while staring at Makoto. He really did have pretty white hair. She shook the thought from her mind as she pursed her lips together. "If...if you don't mind..." she began, fumbling over her words as she tried to piece them together.

"I don't mind that is...i-if you stay for the ramen," she concluded, quickly turning around, her face feeling a little warmer than usual. Yujin kept a snicker to himself as he watched his sister turn to work on the meat. This was becoming a little too much fun for the Oni. He needed to make it a little more entertaining, though.

Makoto stopped in his motion out the door, turning halfway back so that he was looking at the two over his shoulder, then rotating so that the rest of him faced back inwards at the door. He met neither pair of eyes, though he did look at them when they spoke—sort of. It was more like he was looking slightly over their shoulders, but hard to tell for certain, given the distance. Yujin’s words put a furrow in his brow. He didn’t have somewhere to be urgently—was he being rude in leaving? He’d simply assumed they would both prefer to get on with their business, but the implication was something he did not fully understand.

At least Tatsuki’s words were a little less mysterious to him, though they still caused him to blink slowly, tilting his head slightly to one side. A few locks of snowy hair fell over his violet eyes, and the crease in his brow eased, leaving the skin smooth and as unnaturally-pale as ever. “If… if it is not untoward, I may… something to eat would be kind.” He’d not eaten for almost half a day in hours, actually, having gotten to his errands as soon as he returned home, without a break. He would probably sleep for most of the rest of the day, after he collected his payment from the client, but perhaps eating would not be unwise.

“I do not wish to consume your resources without compensating you, however.” Everyone in this place worked hard for their livelihoods… well, except the yakuza, who knew only how to plunder. He pursed his lips slightly. “Is… there some work I might do in recompense? I have little coin to offer instead.”

Yujin laughed softly, though tempted to let out a full bellowed laugh. He made do with what he could, though, and grinned brightly at the Hanyou. "That's the spirit. Oni tend to enjoy Inoshishi ramen in the company of others. And yes, I know you're here too, Tsu-Tsu, but the more the merrier," he stated, his eyes dancing with mirth. Tatsuki gave Yujin a flat look before rolling her eyes at the Oni. "What?" was the only statement he issued, his face contorting into something of a half-smile and a smirk. He leaned over and tapped Tatsuki on her nose, causing the girl to swat his hand away violently, her face deepening in color.

"Yujin, stop that!" she nearly hissed out, rubbing her nose before turning her attention towards Makoto. She cleared her throat and processed her words slowly. They wouldn't come out right otherwise, and she'd probably confuse Makoto more than she confused herself when se tried to speak to others who were not Masurao or Yujin. "Payment is not necessary. You brought us...the meat, and I don't want your money," she stated, pursing her lips together. She didn't mean for it to come out that way, however; she sighed and slumped her shoulders a bit.

"What Tsu-Tsu is trying to say is that you don't need to repay her. She'll do it anyway for free. You've provided the meat, so that is, in itself, a repayment," Yujin chimed in, speaking the words in a nonchalant manner. "Besides, you look like you could use more food in you," he continued, closing his eyes as he smiled at the Hanyou. It was caught between a toothed grin and a lopsided smile, however; the mischievous tint behind both was enough to make anyone a little wary of the Oni.

"Yuji...shut it."

The meat was only because they had been kind to Yuzuki, but he sensed that it wasn’t really a point worth arguing over, and so he didn’t bother to point this out. The comment about his relative size formed a small frown on his face, but Makoto wasn’t really offended. The vast majority of hanyou looked something like Masurao did—very tall, very broad, and disposed to strength over agility. He had always been different. His unsightly coloration was the marker of his ancestry, separating he and the very few like him from those hanyou that could pass for full human. Honestly, even the ones that wound up with demon coloration usually only had eyes of a strange hue. Hair like his was almost unheard-of. He’d certainly never met anyone who looked like him. It was a little… lonely, particularly in his childhood. The humans though he was freakish; the oni just found him freakishly small.

He didn’t even hold it against them, really. “Thank you,” he said bluntly, directing it primarily to Tatsuki, though not to the complete exclusion of Yujin, either. They did not seem ill people, and that alone was enough to bring him some comfort. Yuzuki was known for making friends with all kinds, and then her kindness was exploited. They seemed unlikely to do so, which meant less work for him, in the long run. Taking a seat, he folded his hands in his lap and let the cook return to her work—he was respectful enough not to want to interrupt, after her, and awkward enough not to know how even if he’d desired otherwise.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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It would seem that Nobunaga and Sakaki had both taken the majority of their forces to go chase down some kind of lead on whatever it was that they attempted to find, which left Naomi mostly to her own devices for the day. Whomever or whatever it was that they were trying to find, she felt sorry for, but it was only because of it that she ever managed to leave the extensive estate that Nobunaga was based out of, so in a way, she was selfishly grateful for that. She hoped they never found it and continued always to look. Better for everyone but them, that way.

With her free day, she’d chosen to go into the city, or rather, the lake right near the city. Naomi did not ordinarily look like a woman who enjoyed nature, but actually, she found it very soothing to be out here. She’d even managed to shed her usual finery for the occasion, though there was no mistaking the elegance of her carriage. Some women could make the simplest of things look like the finest, and she’d been trained to be one of them. So, though she wore a very loose man’s red gi and brown hakama, there was no mistaking that she was female. She’d braided her hair into one long plait, which was now coiled behind her as she sat seiza in front of the lakeshore, idly feeding the ducks from the onigiri she’d brought with her.

Her expression was little wistful as she watched them nibble contentedly at the little bits of sticky rice she broke off, though it would have been easy to miss. She was long accomplished at hiding her feelings, after all, and even as much expression as she now allowed herself was only because she was, for the moment at least, quite alone. Sighing quietly, she raised the remainder of the rice ball and took a bite herself, chewing slowly as she gazed out over the water. Sometimes, she entertained fancies the like of being a duck, or some other kind of bird, or some other kind of person. Really, anything but herself would do. Such things were, however, only idle imaginings that would never get her anywhere. She had chosen this path for herself, in a sense, and she was committed to it now. Still… she wondered what her life would have been like if it were truly hers to live in the first place, were she not always beholden to someone else.

"They say it is not wise to feed wild animals. They become tame once you do," Yujin stated, lacing his hands behind the back of his head as he rested in a tree limb. He had chosen to nap in the tree situated near the lake, having found the sounds of nature a bit soothing than the typical hustle and bustle of the city. It was comforting to just listen to the sounds of the ducks swimming, the birds singing, and the bugs flying by. He wasn't one for such things, however; someone in the city had found his presence to be a little intimidating. And the last thing he wanted to do was cause trouble for his siblings. So, he opted to leave the city for the day, and take up rest in the tree. He cracked one eye open, spotting Naomi sitting by the ledge as he studied her.

"I take it the boss has either croaked, or he's chasing another lead," he stated, putting an emphasis on the word. Yujin was no longer part of that group, and he was silently thankful for that. He couldn't say the same about Naomi, though. He'd only been around her a few times when he was still a part of the Yakuza, however; he didn't need to know much to know what exactly Nobunaga always intended. "Judging from the way you are still here, Oni would have to say that he's chasing another lead," he continued, rolling so that he dangled from the limbs of the tree, which surprisingly, held his entire weight.

He released his legs from the limbs and landed upon his feet, trudging towards Naomi before taking a seat next to her. He pulled at the satchel laying at his waist, and handed her a small box. "Tsu-Tsu made Inoshishi Ramen yesterday. She packed an extra box that this one does not need. You may have it, if you want it seeing as you just fed the ducks your onigiri," he stated, offering her a toothy grin.

Naomi arched a perfectly-sculpted eyebrow at the oni beside her. The moment she’d heard another voice, all trace of genuine emotion had erased itself from her visage, leaving her with a sort of soft blankness that passed for polite, at least in the company she tended to keep. She recognized the one seated next to her, though only dimly. He had once been part of Nobunaga’s yakuza, but had somehow managed to escape with his life. That was not common. It was rather bold of him to be here, in the same city as his former comrades, but Edo was big enough that he could stay out of their way if he really wanted to. She was not nearly so fortunate.

Since he already seemed to know the answer to his query, she did not do so herself, rather looking with a trace of wry skepticism at the food being offered. “And if this Tsu-Tsu,” she began, placing a delicate emphasis on the obviously-affectionate nickname with some trace of amusement, “feeds an oni, does she tame him, I wonder?” The crystalline blue eyes that marked her own half-blooded heritage slid to his face, the corner of her lips tilting just slightly upwards. It was an expression equal parts sly and the sort of natural hint of sultriness that she never quite managed to lose. It was just too much a part of her now.

She made no move to take the box, nor, however, did she refuse it. “Perhaps,” she ventured, “some tame things are still wild, after all, and only pretend to be otherwise in order to be fed.” It was unclear if she referred to him, herself, or something else entirely, and that was quite intentional on her part.

"Well, when you put it that way, I suppose she has," he replied in a nonchalant manner. He hadn't really thought of it that way, honestly. "If that is the case, then wouldn't we all be tamed by the one who cooks for us?" he questioned. He placed the box in her hand, though she had made no move to accept, nor refuse, the box. He contemplated her statement for a bit. There was truth in the words either way he looked at it. Wild animals became tamed simply because they had a need for something that someone could provide for them. But that did not necessarily mean that they were not still wild. An animal could still turn and bite the hand that feeds them, tame or wild.

"We all have to eat, and if there is an easier way to obtain it, then perhaps, we are all just tamed animals who merely think we are still wild. And that the word wild still means unattainable," he continued, taking a bite out of his lunch pack. He intentionally ignored the sultry behind her smile and fixed his gaze upon the ducks, watching as they idled in their spot. He reached over, grabbed the roll stuffed in the box, and crumbled it in his hand. He then sprinkled the crumbs into the water, mimicking the motion Naomi had when she fed them the sticky rice.

"You shouldn't feed birds rice, it tends to expand in their stomaches, and you'll make them implode. Or is that with dry rice, I can never remember," he continued speaking, though he knew full well which one it was. He just didn't have the capacity to care at the moment. He was making conversation, and her answers were a little entertaining to leave well enough alone. Masurao wasn't around to pick on, and Tatsuki was always at the restaurant, cooking. He needed to find his entertainment in one way or another.

Naomi made a breathy noise somewhere between a huff and a scoff, though it still somehow managed to sound rather feminine. For the briefest moment, she almost rolled her eyes skyward, but in the end, that would have required a level of comfort she simply didn’t have here. She had little idea what Yujin—for that was his name, she was almost certain—wanted, and until that was clear to her, it was best to be cautious. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she looked back out to the lake, for the moment setting aside the ramen and folding her hands demurely in her lap. Chances were good that what he wanted was amusement. That was all anyone ever desired to use her for. It meant something a little different for everyone, and sometimes depended on the day. She took his today to be largely benign, at least by comparison to, say, Nobunaga.

“In truth, I think it matters little what we really are. It’s what we think we are that makes the difference. Well, that and what we can convince others we are.” The statement was unusually blunt, coming from her, but true nevertheless. Idly, she smoothed the hakama she wore with her palms, a gesture that perhaps would have made a little more sense with a kimono. Considering she was much more accustomed to wearing those, this fact likely made sense of a sort. She lifted both shoulders in a delicate shrug. Her entire profession traded on impressions and deception; it was hardly illogical for her to think as she did. Perhaps his perspective was different, but even if so, it wouldn’t really change hers. He wasn’t someone’s pet.

"On the contrary," he spoke, picking up one of the ducklings in his massive hand and holding it with great care. He placed it near his face, watching as it sat in his hand. "It matters all the same what we are, because what we are leads to us being who we are," though in honesty it was a bit of a lie. He was an Oni, and by standards, Oni were to be big dumb brutes. He was nothing of the sort, however; he tended to play the part. After all, why would he give someone reason to believe that he was more dangerous than what he already knew? He sighed softly through his nose and set the duckling back into the pond, watching as it swam away to rejoin its family.

"Tell me something, Naomi, what is it that you wish to convince the world you are?" he asked, laying back in the grass with his hands folded behind his head. For him, he wanted nothing from the world other than for it to believe that he was an oaf, an ogre who couldn't see ten feet in front of him. "Or rather, what is it that you are trying to convince yourself?" he added as an after thought.

He lived in a much nicer world than hers if he really believed that. Then again… she wasn’t sure he did, not exactly at least. He was unlike many of his kind, after all—if who they were really blossomed out of what, then it was unlikely he would have ever attempted to become anything other than what he once had been, an enforcer for the yakuza. The question returned the wry smile to her face, and though she reached delicately for a duckling, it skittered past her into the water, and she resisted the urge to sigh. There was no hiding what she was from such a simple creature, perhaps. It could not see enough to be deceived by the same lies as everyone else.

“An interesting question,” she admitted. And one with many answers. “Though it’s a little rude to ask it of someone you hardly know, isn’t it?” Despite the words themselves, she didn't sound at all offended that he had. That did not, however, mean that she was going to answer. When one survived on deception and artifice, one did not give the truth away very freely. She glanced down beside her to where he lay, though she remained seated with the same flawless posture. “Perhaps I wish to convince the world that I am hungry, since I seem to have received free food out of the endeavor,” she teased, referring of course to the leftovers she’d been gifted with.

So saying, however, she picked up the box and flowed gracefully to her feet. It was a little too easy to talk to this one. For a moment, she met his eyes, then shook her head minutely. “Good day, Yujin-san, and do pass my thanks to your Tsu-Tsu, hmm?”

"Oh, you wound Oni so, with your harsh words," Yujin replied, laying his hand over his heart in a mocking gesture. He, however, chuckled lightly. Perhaps it was a question that should have been reserved for those more close. That didn't stop his lips from tilting into a light smirk though. "I wouldn't say I hardly know you, rather, I do not know you all that well. But, as you say I do not apologize," he replied, shrugging his shoulders lightly as he sat up, meeting her gaze before she shook her head. He imitated the gesture of shaking his head, and stood up.

"Oh, I shall express thanks to my Tsu-Tsu. I am not so sure that she'll appreciate the gesture of being called so, but it might be a little interesting. You should go by the restaurant, I'm sure she'd like that," which she probably wouldn't if Yujin knew his sister. She'd get upset at him for making Naomi do that, if she did that, and she'd end up scolding him. She'd probably apologize to the Hanyou in the process. "Good day, Naomi."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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For once, Tatsuki was taking a break, enjoying the cool breeze with her brothers. Masurao was sitting with Yujin, currently locked in a stare down with the Oni. Tatsuki stared at her brothers, rolling her eyes only slightly. The smile on her face, however, gave way that she was not irritated by the actions, but rather, she was amused by them. She leaned against the base of the tree, letting her head rest against the bark as she stared at the sky. The sky was a vibrant blue, like the azure one would find in the clearest of oceans with the occasional puff of white rolling by. It seemed peaceful to Tatsuki, and she was enjoying the moment.

"And this is why you will never win a staring match," Yujin's voice snapped Tatsuki out of her stupor as she turned to her brothers. Yujin smirked, his victory evident by the defeated look upon Masurao's face. Yujin stood from his spot and sauntered over towards his sister, taking a seat on the opposite side of the tree and relaxed upon it. He placed his hands behind his head, shifting his gaze upward, mimicking his sister as Masurao walked towards them, shoulders slumped and head hanging lowly. "Work on your attention span, and maybe one of these days you'll be able actually focus," he continued. Masurao merely frowned as he fell down upon his back, laying his head in Tatsuki's lap as she combed her fingers through his hair.

"You don't make it easy, Yuyu," Masurao began, turning so that he could face the Oni. "You always make faces and it's distracting," he murmured, pursing his lips together in a childish manner. Which, in some ways, was true. Yujin had been making faces during their little contest, and Masurao was finding it a bit difficult to concentrate when his brother did that. They were always...distracting. It didn't help that the Oni used a horrified expression and Masurao thought there was something behind him at one time, prompting him to blink quickly and turned around, sword in hand. There was nothing there, of course, but it did not stop the red-haired Oni from laughing.

"But that is the point, Mao: distraction," Tatsuki began, her voice soft and mellow. Masurao frowned as he turned his attention to Tatsuki, emerald meeting jade, before he sighed softly through his nose. "There will always be distractions, the purpose is to learn to ignore them," she added. Yujin allowed an unseen smirk to cover his face before he blinked slowly. He squinted his eyes, trying to peer off into the distance. There was a dark cloud, and it seemed to be moving. Odd, when did clouds move? Yujin sighed heavily, though it belied the sardonic smirk that covered his face.

"It looks like we have a bit of company headed our way. Should we go greet them?" Yujin stated, standing from his spot. Tatsuki and Masurao both glanced in the direction Yujin had, and within seconds, Masurao was standing. Tatsuki, however, remained seated, her eyes closed as a heavy sigh escaped her. She really didn't feel like dealing with demons at the moment, however; there could be one of two reasons why they were headed towards the village. They were either just passing through, or they were looking for food. She was willing to bet that the demons were not just passing through. She stood from her spot and dusted herself off.

"Try to be a little civil this time, Yuji. We don't need you blowing anything up again," she stated as the Oni snorted. It was one time, and he didn't really blow anything up. Well, unless you consider half of the restaurant still remaining in tact while the other half dangled not really being blown up.

Not a one of them had taken even a single step forward before something blew past them from the opposite direction, moving too fast for the naked eye to track. From the way the grass in the clearing had been flattened in several places, though, it might well have been a person of some description. So fast did the person move that ripples on the lake indicated their passage over the water and towards the incoming dark cloud. The slight shing of metal weapons ringing free of their sheaths followed, and, several seconds later, so did a girl.

Yuzuki, to be exact. She held a bow in one hand, a quiver of arrows slung over one shoulder, and looked faintly winded. “Mako!” she called, eyes fixed in the direction the blur had been moving. Then she sighed and shook her head, the bell ornaments in her hair ringing pleasantly. “Never waits for me…” she murmured, chewing her lip with evident concern. Only then did she seem to notice that they were not alone. Blinking her surprise, she smiled, her face brightening.

“Oh hello you three,” she greeted amiably, though she did not forget about the incoming demons, drawing an arrow from her quiver and fitting it to her bowstring. “I… suppose you noticed, then.” There wasn’t really a whole lot else that needed to be said, was there? Drawing the arrow back, Yuzu charged it with her rare ki and sent it flying, a trail of glittering violet lights left in its wake. The arrow punched through a large chunk of the cloud, burning it away to reveal insect demons, falling from the sky in large numbers, her attack having torn them apart. The illumination of the arrow was also enough to see flickers of motion from Mako, his swords little more than glimmers themselves as they occasionally caught the light, blurring quickly as he twisted and moved through the middle of the horde with seemingly very little concern for his own safety.

Then again, maybe he just knew that well what he was doing. This was his job, after all.

Masurao blinked as a blur slipped passed them. He tilted his head lightly, Tatsuki mimicking his actions until another person entered the vicinity. Masurao grinned brightly at Yuzuki when she arrived, Tatsuki offering a small smile while Yujin was already heading towards the cloud. He merely shook his head when she spoke, the smile never faltering from his face. "Well, to be fair, it was Yuyu who noticed first. From the looks of it, Yuyu and Mako seem to have it under control," he began, watching as the white-haired hanyou cut effortlessly through the horde. Yujin had continued walking at a steady pace, appearing neither in a hurry, nor seemingly taking his time. It was casual.

It wasn't long before he too was tearing through the vermin. "Shall we give them a hand, though?" Tatsuki stated, watching as Masurao cracked his knuckles and popped his neck. She shook her head as she pulled the pole from its place upon her waist. She kept it there, even when she worked inside the restaurant, just to be prepared. With the increase in demon activity, one couldn't be completely unprepared. She pushed a button up on the pole, causing it to extend into its original form: a naginata pole. Masurao currently did not have his scimitar with him, and would have to rely on his bare hands. Not that he would mind, it was something he preferred.

As if in reply, Yuzuki released a ki infused arrow, Tatsuki and Masurao right behind it as they made for the horde. The arrow damaged the cloud enough to cause the insect demons to fall, and Masurao began tearing them apart. Yujin was having the time of his life, his colored irises gleaming with a sort of spark behind them. It had been awhile since his last fight, and though these were lesser creatures, that did not prevent them from putting up a fight. He had to maneuver around their stingers, making sure he avoided them so he wouldn't be stung by one. That...would not have been pleasant at all. Though his skin was a bit thicker than human skin, being stung by a demon insect was far worse than being stung by a bee or wasp.

"Oh look, here comes the cavalry," Yujin stated, watching as another cloud appeared. Odd, usually the clouds traveled solo. Why were there two passing through?

Makoto neither particularly relished nor loathed battle. For him, it was simply another way of being, and the movement necessary came to him with the same natural ease as breathing. The insects were quick things, and there were a lot of them, especially when the second cloud joined the first. Yuzuki’s arrows shot intermittently into the miasma they trailed in their wake, burning out the blight they carried with them and taking out large swaths of insects at a time, and what she didn’t hit, he darted in and destroyed, sometimes with his swords, sometimes with the blades of vibrating air molecules he made at his feet, utilizing all four limbs in a deadly, efficient dance.

He was well aware of others joining the fray, and he certainly wasn’t going to stop them from doing so. Still, he generally steered clear of them, not knowing of their own preferences for proximity to others and not being particularly trained to fight as part of a group himself.

Yuzuki kept her distance for the most part, firing arrows into the fray with careful aim so as to avoid hitting any of the others, but she did not notice the three demon insects sneaking up on her until it was well too late, and a swift stinger to the side of her neck informed her of her mistake. Her last arrow flew well wide of the target, and she swayed on her feet for a few seconds before her knees buckled, carrying her to the ground, unconscious.

It was Yujin who noticed the falling of Yuzuki first, and within an instant, all the demons within his range were frozen. He paid them no mind as they fell to the floor, crashing into small pieces as they did. He made his way back towards the fallen priestess and glanced down on her, noticing the stinger still embedded within her neck. He sighed softly. If he left it in, the poison would still leak through the stinger, and she could die from the overdose, however; if he removed it, she would be okay. The only problem was, if he didn't remove it properly, it could still kill the priestess. He cursed lightly beneath his breath, picking Yuzuki up and cradling her to him. He could at least remove her from the battle field and keep her safe until they could return to the village.

Once she was safely stored, Yujin turned, attempting to make his way back towards the group when something poked him. "Well, there goes that," he stated as two more pokes cradled his skin. One entered the side of his neck, one entered his right shoulder, and the third entered near his collar bone. Three doses had the Oni to his knees and hands, his vision blurring only slightly. "Sorry guys. You have to finish this on your own. Oni's...going to rest a bit," he muttered to himself as he fell forward, his eyes still open, but his consciousness gone.

Tatsuki's eyes widened at the fall of her brother, and she felt a fear course through her veins. It caused a fire to burn through her blood, causing the liquid to burn through her. The adrenaline pulsing through caused her movements to become smoother, and fluid. She tore through the demons, intent on reaching her brother as they continued surrounding her and the others. "Rao," she called out, Masurao turning momentarily to acknowledge her. She pointed towards the fallen Oni and priestess and Masurao felt a rage spark within him. How could Yujin have been careless? He was always careful about things like that, however; Yuzuki's fallen form answered that silent question.

His eyes narrowed, glimmering a pale white, only temporarily, and Masurao began tearing through more demons. As large as he is, he was becoming nimble and quick, intent on clearing out as many demons as he could. He needed to reach his brother and Yuzuki to help them. But first, they needed to clear the clouds. The last of the insects fell, and Masurao jogged to Yujin and Yuzuki's side. "We need to get the poison out of their system. Yujin, will be okay for the most part, but Yuzuki's only human. She needs to have the poison taken out of her now," otherwise, the poison would kill her. Even if it was only one stinger, the poison secreted by these demons was more toxic to a human than if they'd been bitten by a snake.

Slicing down the last of the insects, Makoto appeared at Yuzuki’s side almost instantaneously, only the swish of grass blades marking his passage. He did not appear to be winded from his exertions, but his face contorted quickly into one of deep concern, a frown marring the smoothness of his face. Two callused fingers found their way to the girl’s neck, and his shoulders eased slightly when he detected the soft flutter of a pulse. Weak, but still present. That was good enough.

Violet eyes flickered to the side, and he noted where Yujin lay unconscious, putting together what must have happened to make it so. Likely, the oni had come to harm himself attempting to help Yuzu. That necessitated regard of his own—there was nothing in the world more precious to him than she was, and any who helped her had earned of him the deepest respect. Especially when it put them at risk themselves. “If you can carry him, follow me. There is one in this place who knows more of poison than any other. I will take you to her.” Time, however, was of the essence. Scooping his surrogate sister into his arms, he waited for Masurao and Tatsuki to arrange Yujin on Mao’s back, then nodded at both and took off, moderating his pace so that the others would be able to follow.

Anyone who knew the way to it would recognize that they headed to the manor house occupied by the majority of the yakuza. They did not, however, enter through the front door, instead swinging around to the side, where Mako, still holding Yuzu to him, jumped the tall fence and opened the entrance from the inside. This took them onto a winding garden path, but his steps did not err, and eventually, they were at the far side of the house. There was no need to go inside, however, because the person they sought was sitting outside on the veranda, sipping quietly at a cup of tea. At least, until she saw the bedraggled party.

To her credit, Naomi took in their appearance without any fanfare, setting her tea down gently on the serving tray. It only required a glance at the unconscious ones for her to stand, beckoning the three conscious people inside her chambers behind her. By the time Makoto stepped over the threshold, she already had two futons—one considerably larger than the other—laid out in the center room, the table that usually sat in the middle of it pushed to one side. “Set them down right there,” she instructed, politely, but without leaving room for argument. Makoto complied immediately.

“What happened?”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael


Image

Image



Tatsuki nodded in Makoto's direction when he spoke. He knew someone who could help Yujin and Yuzuki. There was nothing more that needed to be said, and she helped Masurao fix Yujin upon his back. The Hanyou was probably the only one who could hold Yujin's weight considering his size. Tatsuki would do it, but she'd just be crushed beneath his weight. Instead, she sighed softly, shaking her head at her brother before allowing a soft smile to grace her lips. Typical Yujin, he'd do something like that, helping someone and getting hurt in the process. Masurao nodded his head and was following after Makoto when the other Hanyou took off. Tatsuki kept her pace as well as she could, however; Masurao frowned slightly.

They were headed towards the Yakuza's main home, and he did not like that. Not one bit. But if there was someone within its walls that could help Yuzuki and his brother, then he would have to bite his tongue for now. It didn't take them long to reach the place, and within a few minutes, they entered through the back way, greeted by the sight of Naomi. Masurao raised an eyebrow, but said nothing of it. He laid Yujin down where she directed, and opened his mouth to reply, however; Tatuski beat him to it. "Demon insects," was the simple reply she gave the Hanyou woman.

"They were both stung by the insects. They were poisoned," Masurao continued, stepping so that he stood beside Tatsuki, and glanced down at his fallen friends. Something flashed through his eyes, similar to something akin to pain. He wasn't in pain himself, however; watching as his two friends were suffering (even if it wasn't showing) was enough for him to feel some of that pain himself. If Naomi could heal them, he would be forever in her debt. And if Makoto trusted her enough to be able to, then he should as well.

Demon insects. It wasn’t the best news, and perhaps, were she any other person, there would be little she could do for them. Even local apothecaries had too much difficulty with toxins of such a high grade, known to be outright fatal to humans, and dangerous even to oni, particularly in higher doses. Quickly assessing the condition of the two patients, she moved to a cabinet and pulled open the doors, rapidly grabbing things off of shelves, including a pestle and mortar. All of this, she handed to Makoto. “Your mother is an apothecary—surely you can make a poultice? Use the grimroot first. I have to do something more… direct.” All traces of her usual demeanor were gone, and in the wake of it, she was businesslike and efficient, though certainly not rude.

Makoto nodded—he did indeed have those skills, though he would not have known nor had access to the right ingredients for this particular mixture, and Yuzu likely wouldn’t survive long enough for him to figure it out. He suspected that what he was making was for Yujin, then, but he was unsure what Naomi meant when she said she was going to do something direct. Much as he wanted to watch and find out, he had to concentrate on what was in front of him, and so he did, carefully crushing and mixing the components of Yujin’s poultice, which would draw out the poison from his wounds.

Naomi, on the other hand , lowered herself to her knees beside Yuzuki, smoothing the hair back from the girl’s forehead and laying a palm there. Her flesh was feverish and slick with sweat, but that was to be expected. Taking a deep breath, Naomi concentrated, letting her eyes flutter shut. Her form of healing was not particularly enjoyable for her, but it was what was called for here. After a moment, her outline was limned with a light blue ki, the slight glow of it starker against the darker woods and walls of the room they occupied. Carefully, she used her energy like a fine instrument, gently drawing the poison out of the girl and into her own system instead. Naomi was completely immune to most lower-grade poisons, but she’d had only limited exposure to this particular venom before. No doubt if she survived this, it would boost her immunity to demonic toxins considerably. Then again, that was quite a big if. She didn’t mention that, however.

By the time she was done, her face was pale and a little drawn, but Yuzuki was regaining color fast. Thankfully, Makoto was also finished with the herbs, which she put into three poultices for Yujin, applying them to his wounds carefully, then bandaging them in place. Her hands shook slightly as her body fought off the toxin that had been used on the little priestess, but she ignored this until she was done, at which point she sat back on her legs and folded her hands into her lap. “And now… we wait.”

Tatsuki and Masurao stayed to the back, out of the way of Naomi and Makoto. They watched as Naomi applied the poultices to Yujin's wounds, however; Masurao had watched on with curious eyes when she had healed Yuzuki. He breathed a sigh of relief when Yuzuki began to regain color, an action shared by Tatsuki, who was a little more subtle in hers. She glanced over towards Yujin, watching the steady rise and fall of his chest, signaling that he was still alive. At least for the moment. She could only hope that the antidote Naomi produced was enough to heal the Oni.

Yujin furrowed his brows deeply, the feeling of something sharp piercing his body. He could feel his muscles going stiff, and the blood flowing through his veins felt like ice. It was paralyzing, and he didn't like it. He wanted to move, regain control of his body, and make it move, but it would not heed his commands. He growled inwardly, the only sign that he was even remotely okay was the faint shiver of his body. He glimmered, coated in the sweat that had come with the fever of being poisoned. His body felt a little warmer than usual, however; it was gradually cooling down.

"Next time, you or Tsu-Tsu can be poisoned," he finally muttered, remaining on his back as he slowly closed his hand. Tatsuki frowned, the faint hint of a smile plaguing her eyes as Masurao grinned. "Oni doesn't like the feeling of being...helpless," he continued, his voice a little more composed as he cracked both of his eyes open. Masurao shook his head and glanced towards Yuzuki, hoping she would pull through too. It was, as Naomi stated, a waiting game.

“How about next time, none of you get poisoned?” That came from Naomi, who was still shuddering lightly as her own fever built, turning her face from its sickly white pallor of a few moments previous to a dark red that flushed her from cheeks down her neck, the shade disappearing beneath her pale green kimono. Her breathing was steady, however, as her body fought to master the toxin she’d taken into it. She was much better equipped for this than basically anyone else—she’d been putting herself through similar things and worse since she was a very young child, in an attempt to give herself full immunity from anything she could be dosed with. She wasn’t quite there, as evinced by her body’s current reactions, but she was close all the same.

Even considering her condition, she did not allow herself any sign of weakness, and still sat perfectly straight, her facial expression serene and composed despite the redness to her face and neck. It might have been mistaken for a blush, though there would be no reason for such a thing, presently. “You shouldn’t even be here… but I understand why you came.” Yuzuki probably would have died if she’d waited any longer for treatment, and a mere antidote might not have helped her in time, however quickly it was delivered. She could not blame them for their appearance here—even if it might mean trouble for her later. Likely not with Nobunaga, because he was still away for the moment. But some of the others… well, there were some things they would not dare to do to their boss’s property, but if they spread the wrong rumors, she might have enough trouble with the boss as it was. He didn’t much enjoy sharing.

Her attention was drawn when Yuzuki stirred, trying to sit up, only to be held steady by Makoto’s hand on her shoulder. “Don’t move yet, Yuzu,” he murmured softly, and Naomi’s eyes softened. It was worth the risk, to see something like that. She was reminded painfully for a moment of Kojiro, but pushed the memories aside.

“It’s fine if she does,” the geisha put in. “There’s not a trace of it left. Oni, however,” she said, raising a slight eyebrow in Yujin’s general direction, “probably should rest a bit longer.” The antidote didn’t work nearly as fast, after all, and even with it, his system would be under assault for a while longer. Hosting a war between venin and antivenin was not the easiest thing for a body to do—even an oni body. She knew that quite well indeed. She was counting on it, for something else entirely.

"Well, Oni will try to be a little more civilized and ask the nice demon insects not to sting him next time," Yujin replied as he turned his head to face Naomi. He offered her a toothy grin before trying to sit up. "Besides, I am fine," he continued, however; he was unable to move any further when a hand on his shoulder stopped him. He glanced up, meeting the stern visage of his sister. She furrowed her brows together, fixing him with a stare as he sighed in defeat. He laid back down as Tatsuki removed her hand, and focused her attention on Yuzuki. She seemed to be stirring slightly as well, and it wasn't long before she too was trying to sit up.

"Thank you, Naomi, for healing them. I apologize on their behalf for the intrusion," Tatsuki stated, bowing just slightly. Naomi was right, they shouldn't be there, but they had nowhere else to go, and Yujin and Yuzuki would have likely died from the poison. There was a slight irregular thump to her heart beat at the thought. If she had lost her brother...she shook her head of the thought. Yujin was fine, and he would be for a remainder of the time he didn't do anything stupid. She glanced towards Yuzuki and smiled softly at the girl, thankful that she too was okay.

"Ah, sorry Mimi! It's just," Masurao began. He didn't think they were intruding, but considering where they were, she was right. They shouldn't be there, but they were. He sighed softly, rubbing the back of his neck in a soft manner. "Thank you for healing them. If there is anything we can do to repay you," he continued. Whatever she wanted as repayment, he would do his best to provide it. Tatsuki nodded in agreement. They owed her and they were not going to leave a debt unpaid.

Mimi? That was a new one; she was pretty sure nobody had ever called her that before. Kojiro had called her Nao, occasionally, but… she supposed she didn’t really mind. Raising a hand, she waved off the thanks and the offers, shaking her head slightly. “That’s not necessary. I do not mind, and besides that, you didn’t really have another choice. Just… take care of yourselves. I’m not exactly always free, you know.” She made an effort to sound blasé about the whole thing, but despite herself, a bit of concern leaked into the tones. She swiftly quashed it, hoping that nobody had really noticed. Given their own preoccupation with their injured loved ones, they probably had not, and frankly, she preferred it that way.

Makoto understood the implication well enough, and he helped Yuzuki to her feet once he was sure she was steady enough to walk on her own. She was, after all, completely recovered unlike Yujin, and so their continued presence only served to possibly alert others to the existence of uninvited guests. “Thank you, Naomi-san,” Yuzuki said gratefully, both herself and Makoto bowing as one. Then she turned to Yujin, having figured out what must surely have happened. “And thank you as well, Onigiri-san.” She beamed at him and bowed again, before following Makoto out the door they’d arrived from. Naomi didn’t doubt the Slayer would get them out undetected. The other three, though… they weren’t exactly unobtrusive, especially the two men.

Well, it was no matter. She would take the consequences as they came. “Did she just call you a rice ball?”

Yujin pursed his lips together, keeping the light chuckle from escaping his lips when Yuzuki addressed him. "I am not food," he murmured beneath his breath, the smile still on his face though. Yuzuki had taken a shine to the nickname, and though he didn't mind now, he didn't take too kindly to being called food the first time. But there was no harm behind the implication and simply just let it go. He turned his attention towards Naomi, and pursed his lips together. "I am a rice ball to her, apparently," he answered, finally managing to sit up. He stayed still for a moment, allowing his body to readjust to the poison being out of his system, before managing to stand.

Tatsuki shuffled nervously in her spot. She didn't want to get Naomi in trouble if they were not supposed to be here, and she had no doubt she could get out without being detected, however; her brothers were a different story. They were large by comparison, and they weren't exactly the quietest of people around. It was going to be a bit difficult to move them about, considering Yujin was still recovering. She heaved a sigh, allowing her shoulders to fall ungracefully before she readjusted herself. She could leave them be, and get Masurao out quietly, but Yujin would be on his own. She pursed her lips together as Masurao tilted his head, smiling nervously.

"I suppose a thank you is warranted, but it seems that our time here is up. Thank you, Mimi," Yujin began, moving his arms around as he glanced towards his siblings. He nodded at them and turned his attention back to Naomi. "Now, where is the exit?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Image



The broom swept in rhythmic strikes over the stone pavers that led up to the shrine. Located a little ways into the forest and set upon a scenic overlook, it really was the perfect location for prayer and meditation. The shrine to the local earth deity was not especially large or rich-looking, but it was kept in impeccable condition, the gate always freshly painted and the altar cleared every day. Yuzuki took a small amount of pride in the irreproachable condition of the place, but more than that, it made her feel like the god enshrined there might be a little more comfortable, if ever he chose to grace her with a visit. She wasn’t the kind of person who, like some, believed that the god was always present there, because she’d never known anything to be there, but she did not exclude it from the realm of possibility that he did exist somewhere.

More than that, though, maintaining this shrine gave her a purpose, and allowed her to help the people around her by mediating disputes, officiating weddings and other important ceremonies, and serving occasionally as a religious instructor to children, something which she genuinely enjoyed. She also put on many festival celebrations throughout the year—not as many as at the larger shrines, but a fair number all the same. Learning and performing the ceremonies and dances was a unique experience, and she’d had a wonderful teacher, a man who still ran a different shrine in the city itself. She visited at least once a week when she could.

Right now, the simple chores of shrine maintenance were helping her recover fully from the ordeal she’d gone through. Naomi’s ability was amazing, and had removed all of the poison very well, but the psychological toll was a bit different. Yuzuki had never been so close to death as she was in the minutes after her poisoning, and to think about it now still felt… heavy, and wrong in a way she could not explain. She wasn’t silly; she knew that people died all the time, and some of them quite young. She’d just never really thought about it in such an intimate way before, and the knowledge that she really could lose the people she cared about at the drop of a hat, well… it had shaken her. Pursing her lips, her mouth for once felt too stiff to smile, and her eyes were sad, but she kept at her cleaning all the same, trying not to let it get her down. The shrine was depending on her, after all… and maybe her friends and family were, too, a little bit. Some of them, like Mako, found it very difficult to smile, and so she liked to think of herself as doing it for them. Here, now, and alone, she could stop for a little while, but not in front of everyone.

Masurao shifted the package in his hands, trying to balance that and another box underneath his arm as he walked. It had been a few days since the poisoning, and Masurao was worried. Though it seemed that Yujin had recovered, he was more worried about Yuzuki. She was only a human girl, and though it appeared that she was fine, thanks to Naomi, he still worried about her. His sister tried everything she could to reassure him that Yuzuki was fine, and that she would be fine, however; Mao took it upon himself to at least visit the priestess once a day, or occasionally, when he had time, twice. Currently, this was his first time in the last two days. He would have visited yesterday, however; he was needed at the restaurant, much to his surprise.

Taking a deep breath, he ascended the stairs to the shrine, taking careful steps so that he didn't accidentally trip and ruin the food Tatsuki had made for him to share with Yuzuki. When he reached the final step, he spotted the priestess sweeping away, her face away from him. He opened his mouth to call out to her, however; instead of her name, a startled yelp escaped him. His foot caught at the last step, and he tripped, spilling the contents of the first box upon the pavement of the shrine. He let out an exaggerated sigh as he collected the contents, mumbling incoherent words to himself. One of these days, he would be a little more graceful, and not break everything he carried.

"Sorry, Yuzu," he began, having collected most of the items. The smaller box contained just the sweets, so perhaps not all was lost. "I just came to see how you were faring, and I brought you something to eat," he continued, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly as he held the destroyed contents in one hand, and the saved food in the other.

A great clatter behind her drew her attention, and Yuzu turned only to see a bunch of food now decorating her clean pavement. Lifting her eyes up—and then way up, because Mao was very tall—she recognized her visitor as the same one who’d been to see her more times than anyone, even Mako. Probably more times than were really needed, but she appreciate the concern. Strangely enough, the new mess and the sheepish cause of the minor fiasco were enough to bring the smile naturally back to her face, and she raised a hand to her mouth to stifle her giggle with her knuckles, an attempt which was only partially successful. Trotting over to the spill, she swept what remained unsalvaged off to the side, clearing it from the pavement with a small shake of her head, producing the telltale chime of bells.

“It’s okay,” she said cheerfully. “The birds need to eat too; they’ll have this cleaned up in no time!” As if on cue, a trio of bright blue ones landed nest to the pavement and began pecking at the remains, while a fourth—this one a very large magpie, flew a circle around Yuzu’s head, cawing raucously at her before landing firmly atop Masurao’s spiked hair. That time, she didn’t try to disguise her laughter. “See? Poyo-chan’s happy you brought him lunch.” Setting the broom down carefully, she tilted her head slightly to the side, grinning suddenly and looping one of her arms through his free one and tugging him along with her.

“We can have lunch by the sakura behind the shrine, okay?” She didn’t really expect him to protest, but it was really just a suggestion, even if her pulling might have made it seem otherwise. She didn’t think him the type to mind. Sitting herself down on the soft grass under the tree, she leaned her back up against the trunk of it and crossed her legs. “Busy at the restaurant yesterday?” she inquired politely.

Masurao smiled sheepishly at Yuzuki's comment, and watched as she swept the remaining food from the pavement. As she spoke, birds flew by to clean up the mess, and one landed in his head. Though he knew he wouldn't be able to, it did not stop him from trying to see the creature nestled in his head. He blinked owlishly when she spoke and smiled. Well, he supposed if the birds needed feeding too, then they had a really good lunch to feed from. Though, he was certain Tatsuki would be a little upset that she fed the food meant for him and Yuzuki to the birds. He might be able to squeeze out of that one if he told her about the trip. He stared down at Yuzuki when she approached, and grabbed his arm.

She wanted to have lunch behind the Sakura tree? He shrugged, or rather tried to, his shoulders and let her pull him along. Poyo-chan decided to stay in his hair, not that he minded, as he took a seat on the opposite side of Yuzuki. He pulled the larger box from his arm and laid it out in front of them, the sound of a nervous laugh escaping him. "Well, not entirely busy, but more-so than usual," he replied, pulling the top back to the box. "One of the cooks was sick yesterday, and one of the workers didn't show up," he continued, frowning just a bit. Yukito had always been on time, and having not shown up yesterday caused a little concern from the Hanyou.

"What about you, Yuzu, are you doing better?" he stated, concern laced in his voice. No matter how many times she would say she was okay, he still had to ask it of her. He was still convinced that there was something still there, and he just wanted to make sure she was okay.

Yuzuki shook her head slightly. There really was no convincing him that she was going to be okay, was there? Then again… was she? Physically, she was fine, but there was a feeling she couldn’t quite get rid of, and it weighed on her chest like some tangible thing, there to stay and somehow unshakeable. Using her chopsticks to select a few items for her plate, she chewed thoughtfully for a moment before responding, but in the end, respond she did.

“It’s… I’m recovered from the poison,” she told him honestly, and then she sighed, smiling somewhat ruefully. “I just… that could have been anybody, and if Naomi hadn’t happened to be around, if she hadn't known exactly the things she did, someone could have died, even for something so simple as a few insect youkai. It’s… it’s hard, to know that. I mean… Mako goes out and deals with those things and worse every day, and he’s by himself. What if… what if someday he doesn’t come back home?” She looked down at the grass in front of her knees, swallowing a little thickly. It was hard to even put such thoughts to words.

“And me, well… I worry about everyone, but it seems that being there with you just put you all in more danger. Onigiri-san was hurt because he had to go help me, you know? I’m just not sure I belong out there like that, but there really might not be a choice. I could never let the villagers be hurt.” And in a situation like that, wasn’t it best to have all the help possible? She just wasn’t sure if she was a help, or more of a hindrance than anything. The thoughts unsettled her, but perhaps none more than the knowledge of how close a call it had really been. It was jarring, to think of death on such close terms. She wasn’t quite sure how to handle it.

Masurao flinched. He hadn't meant to upset her that way, and causing her unnecessary worry and grief had not been his intention. She was right, though. That could have been anyone, and if Naomi had not been around... it was something he didn't want to think of. Yuzuki and Yujin had both been hurt, and there had been something that had snapped in him. He knew what the feeling was, and he was grateful he had enough control to keep it under control. But who knew what could happen if something like that happened again? It wasn't something he wanted to dwell on, and not something he wanted to think of.

"Hey, that's not true. We were all there because we wanted to keep the villagers safe too. You being there didn't put us in any danger. We did that ourselves. And Yujin... he wanted to help you, and he knew the possibilities of getting hurt by making that decision. It was something he was well aware of," Masurao tried to reassure Yuzuki that it wasn't her fault. He didn't know how to make her feel better, and he was really bad at comforting people unless he was making a fool of himself. It seemed though she was fine, the attack had shaken her up a bit more than he thought.

He sighed and offered her a soft smile. "And you belong anywhere you want to be. You helped us out a great deal, and there is always a choice. There might not always seem like there is, but there is," he stated, laying a hand gently upon her head and ruffling her hair a bit. He didn't like it when people he knew, were upset about things like that. There was no need to cause herself to think that way, and he was sure Makoto would probably (probably) try to make her feel better as well. What happened wasn't her fault, and no one was expecting to be attacked by a swarm of demon insects. He supposed they were lucky enough that no one in the town was hurt, even though Yuzuki and Yujin had.

Yuzuki smiled a little. It didn’t solve all her problems, to hear that, but it was nice all the same, and he did give her a fair bit to think about. Perhaps he was right, and perhaps she was overanalyzing things. She would like to think it had been enough that she wanted to help, and perhaps she had. In the end, intention had to count for a lot, as least as she saw it. Just like his intention to make her feel better helped achieve itself. It was nice to know that there were people out there who cared. She faked a pout when he ruffled her hair, but didn’t see a need to fuss with it to put it back in place quite yet. Let him deal with the consequences of his action and have to look at her silly hair for a while.

“Hey Mao-Mao?” she said, blinking up at him. He was so much taller than her, even when seated. “Thanks.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
Image

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Truly, Makoto just wanted to go home and sleep, but a promise was a promise.

The few days after the incident, he’d been sent out repeatedly on hunts, against more insect demons and also once a pack of demon hounds. It was enough to wear on anyone, and while he was surprisingly resilient for one of relatively slight stature compared to oni, he was not capable of fighting indefinitely. But it was his job, and he would do it for as long as was demanded of him. It was, after all, the way his family continued to eat, and he had the kids to think of as well as his mother and himself. Not to mention Hayabusa-sensei and his Aunt Chinatsu. With Yuzuki having taken her spiritual vows, there was nobody to feed them in their old age, though of course she helped out where she could. It was he, however, who purchased most of their food.

And that was exactly what he was doing today, trying his best to ignore the staring of the townspeople who didn’t regularly see hanyou, and barter down the vendors without coming across like he was trying to scare them into it. He’d never be able to live comfortably here if anyone thought he was using his identity to threaten people. And truthfully, that much he agreed with. It was just that he could seem threatening without ever intending to, because he spoke infrequently, smiled almost never, and looked the way he did. He may not have been towering, but pale hair like his read as frightening to the majority of people, because only oni ever had it.

Still, some people were more accustomed to his presence than others, and the tofu vendor, for one, was well aware that Makoto was as likely to hurt him as a mouse was to hurt a tree, and so felt no fear in bickering over price until they arrived at something that both were satisfied with. Hooking the long bamboo pole with the buckets attached over his shoulders, he moved to the vegetable seller next. The prop would probably help the woman see past his appearance, at least enough to do business with him. He just hoped it would be relatively painless today—he was exhausted, and wanted very much to make this as expedient as possible, just once.

Masurao usually spent most of his time working at the restaurant, or with Yuzuki at the shrine. Today, however, he was spending his free time with one of his siblings. Currently, Yujin had Masurao in a head lock, walking through the streets as if nothing were wrong with their appearance. Some people stepped aside, some gasped, and others just stared. Masurao was struggling, mumbling incoherent things underneath Yujin's arm, however; the full-blooded Oni proved a little too strong for even him. Yujin released a loud laugh, causing more people to stare at the Oni and Hanyou. He was enjoying himself, and he didn't really care who saw. Though, he should be more mindful given his predicament and how the humans of the town were staring at him. He blinked innocently, or as innocently as he could, at them.

"I think we have ourselves a mob staring at us," he stated, the toothy grin making its way upon his lips. He released Masurao just enough so that the Hanyou could turn his head and glance at the townspeople. He frowned slightly and continued to struggle against Yujin's grasp. The grin on Yujin's face, however, morphed into a sly smirk as he slowly loosened his hold, waiting for the moment that Masurao would pull just a little harder. When he did, Masurao was sent flying backwards, having used a bit much of his strength to free himself from the Oni's grasp. "Careful there, Mao, you might hurt someone," he stated, watching as the object Masurao ran into collapsed.

Unfortunately for Masurao, the object he had run into was also a stall. From the looks of it, it had to have been some vegetation stall as he was now sitting in pools of lettuce, squashed tomatoes, and other various vegetables. His eyes widened slightly as he looked around, horrified if he ran into someone. His eyes, however, spotted a familiar head of white, and his eyes widened just a little more. "Ah, Makoto, I am sorry," he quickly apologized, trying to remove the ruined vegetation from himself and winced when he caught sight of Makoto. It seems that one of the heads of lettuce managed to find its way to Makoto, leaves of the vegetable hanging off of his shoulder. Yujin stood back and inspected the work, trying not to laugh at the Hanyous. Restraint was never one of his best strengths.

It would not have been very smart to try and knock the vegetable out of the sky, because it was slightly rotten and the speed he would have applied would have translated into enough force to make even more of a mess. As it was, it landed on his shoulder when he didn’t move—refusing to spill the tofu—and he was still picking pieces off when Masurao offered an apology. Blinking violet eyes rather slowly, Mako raised a white brow, just a bit. “Something tells me it was not primarily your fault,” he said flatly, flickering his glance for a brief moment to the highly-amused oni.

The poor stall owner was nearly beside herself, having had most of her goods for the day destroyed, but far too afraid of the two hanyou and the oni to do anything about it. She’d stumbled backwards in the crash, falling on her rear, and when Mako attempted to offer her a hand up, she flinched slightly, eyes saucer-wide with fear, and his mouth pulled into a faint frown when he sensed an incoming limb from another person. He didn’t react when his wrist was seized, nor when someone made a clumsy effort to twist it behind his back, merely moving as his person was directed, shifting the weight of the tofu to his free shoulder and taking a slight breath.

“Keep your hands off her, filth,” a voice snarled, but Makoto’s face did not change. The speaker, a male perhaps in his early twenties, tightened his hold on Mako’s wrist, but the Slayer continued to offer no resistance to anything he did, his face impassive. “You… people just think you can do whatever you want, don’t you? It’s all just fun to you, to ruin people’s lives, isn’t it? It isn’t enough that you yakuza kill our fathers and sons and rape our sisters and mothers and daughters? Now you have to destroy our livelihoods, too?” He wrenched Makoto backwards, only the hanyou’s sense of balance keeping him from losing his footing. But the man was not really paying attention to him anymore, instead looking at the other two culprits.

“We’re not going to stand for this forever, you know. Oni and hanyou,” he spat the word like it was an invective, “should leave the rest of us well enough alone. We didn’t do anything to any of you. Just go away!” Mako wondered who he’d lost to the yakuza, but there was hardly a need to ask. It would only make the situation more volatile.

The amusement that flickered across Yujin's face, was no longer present. His face darkened considerably, his eyes glowing a faint brighter, however; he did nothing and said nothing. These humans, they think that lowly of themselves, and for what? To continue to believe in their own worthlessness that they have to blame the Oni and Hanyou for their miserable lives? Was it not humans, long ago, who found a way to become slayers to his kind? Was it not humans who managed to free their kind of the influence Oni had? He would agree, the Yakuza did nothing but ruin peoples lives, stole and slaughtered whomever they wished, however; not all Oni and Hanyou were like that. Why could they not see that?

"And what are you going to do about it, boy?" he stated, flashing a toothy grin to the human who spoke. Masurao stood from his spot, quickly dusting himself free of the vegetation and made to stop Yujin from further speaking, however; the Oni just shook his head. "You forget, human, that it is not only Oni who hurt your people. Your own kind, as united as you wish you were, continue to do the same thing. Your own people rape your daughters, your mothers, your sisters, and slaughter your brothers and sons and fathers," he continued, feeling a bit of rage building in him. He made to stand next to the boy who held Makoto in a make-shift restraint, and glanced down at the Hanyou.

"If he desired, he could kill you. In an instant, your life would be nothing more but a memory to these people, however; he is choosing not to, because he values your silly ideals," he stated, shifting his gaze from Makoto to the young man. He knew that he was not helping the case, and that these humans would be too simple-minded to understand what he was saying, but it mattered very little to Yujin. He took a deep breath, glancing over to the other humans who waited on bated breath. Masurao, however, decided to step in. If he continued talking, he was more than likely going to get him, and possibly Tatsuki, fired from the restaurant.

"Yujin," he whispered a little harshly. "I am sorry, but we didn't mean to cause anyone unnecessary grief. If it helps, we will pay for the vegetables that were destroyed, and we will build you a new stand," he stated, bowing lowly, which was still something considering his height. Yujin scoffed, however; the Oni mimicked his Hanyou brother's actions, bowing lowly as well. "It was never our intent to harm any of you, but if we did," he stated, straightening out his appearance and glanced directly at the boy holding Makoto. "I will take full responsibility for it. Just, let Makoto go, and you may do as you wish to me," because Masurao would rather have it be him, than anyone else who took the punishment.

Makoto tried to shake his head, because neither of them was going to accomplish what they wanted to with their words, but at that point, the woman herself stood up, laying a hand on the man’s shoulder. “They didn’t hurt me, Okita,” she said softly, casting her glance between the three men. “It was just an accident.” The man looked like he wanted to disagree, and several members of the crowd were eyeing Yujin especially with suspicion, but with a discontent hiss, he released Makoto and stepped back.

“One problem at a time,” he spat at the oni, referring, of course, to the notion that humans were just as bad for humans as oni were. Whether he believed it was hard to say—after all, victims had a chance when their assailants were only human, but to most, oni were an unstoppable force.

The woman shook her head, and bowed slightly to all three of them. “Thank you, for not hurting him,” she said softly, “and I’m sorry I didn’t let you help me, earlier. I just… it’s hard, sometimes, and I am afraid. The yakuza killed our parents, you see, and it is hard not to see them in every demon face.” she offered a tremulous smile. “You don’t need to pay me back,” she told Masurao kindly. “I think I’ve seen you before. You work at the inn, right? Maybe next time I come in, I can have one of the steamed buns?” It was a way of proposing a deal without costing either of them anything. If he worked at the inn, he wouldn't have a whole cart’s worth of money to spare, but she would always have a few more on the farmland. She would be fine.

Makoto nodded his acknowledgement, readjusting the tofu on his shoulder, and managed a surprised thank you when she handed him a pair of undermanaged radishes. “You usually get these, right?” He blinked, paid her the usual amount, and stood off to the side as the nearby vendors came to help the girl clean up.

Yujin's eyes followed after the one called "Okita", watching as the man hesitated before leaving. Masurao sighed a breath of relief, and slumped his shoulders. "We never had the intention of hurting anyone, really," he replied, before blinking owlishly. No payment? He shook his head before smiling. "I'll make sure Onee-chan makes special ones for you then," he replied, bowing once more. Yujin shook his head, but bowed to the woman as well. He didn't want to hurt anyone either, and it was, perhaps, a good thing that his lid was tightly sealed. Though, that man was starting to irritate him. He smiled though, offering the woman a toothy smile.

"We'll still make you a new stand. It'll be here for you tomorrow," he stated before walking off. Masurao only shook his head. Sometimes, he worried about his brother.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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“That’s it,” Yzuki encouraged brightly. “Just pull it back a little more, aim, pull in a breath—” she inhaled audibly to demonstrate—“and release the arrow with the breath.” The projectile went a little wide, but it did stick in the target, which wasn’t bad for someone who’d only been learning for a week at most. “You’re a natural, Tsu-chan!”

Of course, she wasn’t the only one teaching, and Tatsuki not the only one learning. The two women had been doing a bit of a skills exchange for a while now, since in the wake of the incident that made her feel so vulnerable, Yuzuki had thought it might be best to learn other ways to defend herself, and she felt more comfortable learning from Tatsuki than the others, maybe because she would best understand the limitations of being small and human. Also because she felt she had something to offer in return—apparently, Tsu-chan had never learned to shoot. So they were both benefiting from each others’ knowledge, and it gave her a chance to get to know the girl a bit better, which was nice.

“Mmm… I think that might be enough for today. Should we take a break? I made lunch this time!” Yuzuki wasn’t as good a cook generally as Tatsuki, but she was far from bad, and she did some things very well, some of which she’d included in the bag she’d carried to the practice site today. She didn’t want Tatsuki to have to provide all the food, after all, and between their melee spar this morning and the archery just now, the shrine maiden was starving.

Tatsuki did as she was told, breathing in when she was supposed to, and released the arrow. A week's worth of practice had provided a decent amount of control for Tatsuki, as she had never learned to wield a bow. Daggers, she could do, pole arms and swords, she could do. But a bow was new territory for her altogether. After the incident, it was perhaps a good thing to learn a new weapon. Being so close to the insects had provided a fear in Tatsuki that she had not realized was there. She knew she was human, that was a given, and she did not have immunities to their poison. When Yuzuki had been stung, and Yujin soon after, it had frightened Tatsuki a bit. She shook the thoughts from her head and offered the priestess a soft smile.

"Thank you, Yuzuki," she replied, her voice still soft. Shy she was, and her voice only grew a little stronger when she was in the company of her brothers. Being around people she didn't know all that well often put her in uncomfortable positions, but she felt she knew Yuzuki enough to be a little less shy around her. Plus, it was easier talking to another girl than it was to talking to a man. Men... they frightened her a little because of their voices. Though she knew that is how most of them spoke, the louder they were, the more she felt herself cower away. Eighteen years old, and she still couldn't talk to people properly.

"Lunch sounds good. Shall I get the tea?" she asked. Normally, it was she who provided the lunch, however; Yuzuki had been insistent and she decided to let the priestess provide today's meals. Her food was good, and Tatsuki enjoyed it. Plus, it was nice not having to cook for once. She might have enjoyed cooking, but sometimes she forgot that she needed to rest for a bit. She couldn't live in the kitchen, after all.

Yuzuki nodded, and it wasn’t long before the two of them were seated just off the practice area, enjoying the food and the tea and the company. It was nice, being able to do that. One might think from her gregarious demeanor that Yuzu was friends with everyone, and it was true that she was friendly with just about all the people she knew or met. But her role as priestess sometimes put a bit of a barrier between her and other people, and most of the townswomen couldn’t relate to her as well as to each other, or she to them. They had husbands and were raising children, even the ones around her age or a little older, and the younger ones were actively looking for such things, or else in the middle of having them arranged. She rarely met anyone who didn’t have their lives consumed by things like that, not even men.

Mako was pretty much it as far as friends, true friends, went for her, though she supposed that in time, Mao-Mao and Onigiri-san were coming to count as well. But they were men, and she was unused to just spending time with another female. It was… nice, in its way. The conversation lulled, and in the silence, she realized that if they were going to be friends, it might be better to know more about Tsu-chan, since she knew very little at all, not even how she’d learned to fight like she did.

“Hey, Tsu-chan?” she asked, a little suddenly, perhaps. “Can I ask you how you met Mao-Mao and Onigiri-san? I’ve never really met another human who spends lots of time with people of demon blood, you know?” It certainly wasn’t common outside of her own family, she knew that much.

Tatsuki blinked at the sudden statement, and she paused in her chewing. It was... out of the blue, the question, and Tatsuki set her sticks down along with her bowl. She swallowed her food and thought about how to answer the question. To some, it might have been a little personal to ask such a question, but Tatsuki did not see the harm in it. It was, after all, just curiosity and sometimes, curiosity was an okay thing. She smiled at the priestess and took a deep breath. She wanted to know about Masurao and Yujin, but the subject on how she met them was a little touchy. It required her to remember that night, and it wasn't something she was fond of doing. Letting out the breath she was holding, she finally turned her gaze to Yuzuki.

"Mao, I met him when I was young. He... saved my life actually," she began, deciding whether or not she should explain how. In the end, she did. "I was only nine at the time, but my family had arranged a marriage for me. I never met him before, but he was already twenty years old. My parents decided it was time for me to go meet my betrothed, however; before we could reach his home, our caravan was attacked," she continued, pausing to glance down at her hands. It was also the night she lost her actual brother, but she did not say anything on that subject. She smiled softly to herself and shook her head.

"If it wasn't for Rao, I wouldn't be alive. I owe him my life," she added, taking a sip from her tea as she did so. And she would continue to owe him for the rest of her life. A debt that large could never be paid in one lifetime. "Yuji, on the other hand," she stated, a bit of humor laced in her voice as she spoke. "Rao and I were mercenaries at one point, and one of our contracts was to deal with an Oni. They never specified why, but as a mercenary, you don't ask those questions," and she hadn't. She soon found out that the contract was put on him simply because he was an Oni, and nothing more.

"Rao and I met Yuji at a shrine, actually. He was talking to one of the priests, but Mao didn't know any better at the time. I think he actually broke Mao's arm, but it wasn't on purpose. Yuji's been with us ever since," she finished. She told what she could, and left out details that were, perhaps, better left unsaid. But if Yuzuki wanted to know more, she didn't see the harm in telling the priestess. "What about you? How did you become a priestess?" she asked. From her knowledge, one basically gave up the rest of their life in order to devote it to their shrine god or goddess. It wasn't an easy thing to do, but she supposed some people were that devoted.

That was quite a story. It seemed that Tatsuki’s life had already been quite eventful. By comparison, Yuzu’s was rather dull, in all honesty. She had a lot of questions—how had it been that Mao-Mao saved her life that night, was her fiancé still around—and were they still engaged?—but she didn’t want to pry too much. Perhaps those would be questions for a time when they knew each other a little better. In the meantime, she had and answer of her own to give.

Yuzuki smiled a little thinking about the answer, and in the end shook her head, slightly disheveling her short reddish hair. “Well… my dad was a demonslayer, like Mako is. They’re actually really distantly related. That means I’m technically related to the Yoshida Clan also.” She wasn’t sure if Tatsuki knew her lore about such things, but legend had it that the Yoshida were basically the reason the first oni war had ended. Supposedly, one of them had been instrumental in assassinating the King of all Oni, and the yakuza had taken retribution by killing the rest, back when they were first formed. Well, almost all the rest, anyway.

“I’m not sure what I would have done, really, but when I was maybe twelve, I was training with my dad, and made my ki manifest for the first time.” She held up a hand, and it started to glow slightly with a warm violet color. “Every ki has an elemental alignment, I’m sure you know, but mine’s a bit… different. It’s called Heaven-aligned my some people, but what it really means is that I’m good at purification and such.” She shrugged slightly. “Most people who have it go into work as shrine-keepers or wandering priests, and I didn’t want to leave my family, so I apprenticed to Hiroshi-sensei. He’s a priest in town. When I was ready, I was given the guardianship of the shrine I serve now. There’s not a lot to it, honestly. I like the work, but… sometimes I wonder, you know? What it would be like to have another kind of life.”

There were, after all, a lot of things she could not have or be because of what she had sworn. Her vows to the shrine were such that she was allowed no family or children of her own, no simple life like that. She was bound to the grounds of the shrine, and could not wander too far away if she wanted to travel. She had to perform the ceremonies and hold the festivals, but it meant also that she would always be apart from the other people in town. They had to feel comfortable consulting her on spiritual and health matters—she could not be overly familiar with too many people, else her spiritual power would be questioned. It wasn’t so bad most of the time, but she did feel a little lonely all the same.

Tatsuki stared in slight awe at the violet ball manifesting itself in Yuzuki's hand. She wondered, for a moment, what element her Ki was aligned to, if it was aligned to anything at all. She never tried manifesting it, nor had she tried figuring it out. She was part of a ninja clan, and as such, they didn't rely on things like that. They relied more on stealth and deception to win their battles, not their Ki. It didn't matter, to her at least, what element her Ki was, or even if she had Ki like that. She wouldn't be using it any time soon. She smiled softly at Yuzuki's response. They shared one outlook, it seems. Yuzuki's life seemed a little... lonely to Tatsuki, though. It seemed that she would be spending the rest of her life at the shrine. Perhaps, if things went well, she and Masurao could perhaps keep her company.

"Perhaps, things will change, and you will be able to experience a different life. Maybe not in this life, but perhaps in the next. Things work themselves out in the oddest ways," she stated, smiling a little brighter at the priestess. "I wondered what it would be like to have a different life, and so far, I've been lucky, or unlucky, to experience three different lives. I've experienced the life of a ninja, a mercenary, and my most recent life, a cook," she continued, listing off her lives. Granted it wasn't the most exciting lives to have, but they provided enough for her that she was glad for her third life.

"Sometimes, they aren't always grand and exciting though," she added, laughing a little nervously at the end. "I think, out of all my lives, being a cook is the hardest. Mao breaks a lot of dishes and ruins a lot of the entrees," she continued, laughing a little at the thought. She had to cook extra of everything because Masurao broke and ruined at least one dish every other minute. Or it seemed so to her.

Yuzuki grinned. “I think I know what you mean,” she said, giggling at the mention of Mao breaking dishes. Clumsy was a bit of an understatement when it came to him, it seemed. “You know… I can see that. He tripped up the stairs on his way to see me the other day. Poor Mao-Mao—maybe I should come see you guys next time. Fewer stairs for him to risk.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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The sound of something colliding, and breaking, against the wall could be heard. He was furious. They had lied to him, and no one lied to him. He had left the small town to chase a lead for the one thing he was looking for, and it turned out to be a dead end. The Oni, who told him the lead, head rested against the palm of his hand, dead eyes staring into pitch black ones. It was the price he paid for lying to Nobunaga, and Nobunaga collected what was due to him. The Oni was lucky he had no other family, otherwise; Nobunaga would have slaughtered them as well. Though, perhaps he would have made the Oni watch first. He shuddered, the silent rage radiating from him as he turned to face Sakaki.

"What news do you have, Sakaki?" he spoke, his voice unnaturally calm. He was not in the mood for much, but his appetite would be sated later. He needed to vent one way, and it was the reason he had her. That one could do wonders, and just the thought alone was enough to send a small tremor down his spine. His eyes met Sakaki as he waited for the Oni to update him. He had been away from his post for a few weeks, not much seemed to have changed since. The humans, as they were, were still terrified of his family, and that was how he intended to keep it. He had no need to interfere with their pathetic lives at the moment. When the time came, there would be nothing left for them, and he would relish in it.

The suffering of others is what he thrived on, what he lived for. And causing them just that would give him insurmountable pleasure. He could do worse... a lot worse. For now, he would let them be as they are, idling, fearing their inevitable doom. "And do tell me something interesting. Or perhaps, you wish to end up like Keitaro," he added as an after thought, speaking of the Oni whose head he was still holding.

Sakaki did not react to this in any overt fashion; he was by now quite used to the fits of temper his boss struck out with. That he’d managed to work this closely with the man for so many years and was himself still alive spoke to the fact that he had no problems delivering under extreme pressure, and the benefits of his position were more than enough to mitigate the risks. The lieutenant behind him was not so used to the whole thing, however, and appeared to be turning faintly green. That was the way of it with the young ones these days—many of them had never seen a proper battlefield, bloody and ripe for the plundering. They didn’t understand the way it called to the blood, awakened the real monster in every oni. They were soft, almost humanlike.

It was something that, in the yakuza, they grew out of or died still possessing. He had high hopes for the boy behind him, but the lack of stomach was truly embarrassing. Not for Sakaki, of course, but for him. Not that the older oni really cared all that much. He’d get over it, or he’d be burned at his funeral. The adviser crossed his arms over his broad chest, cracking his neck first one way and then the other, arranging his words the way he wanted them. He didn’t lie to his boss, but the way information was presented could make a big difference, especially when he was in one of these moods.

“As we have discovered, the woman is not in Hokkaido. At least, not where Keitaro said he would be.” His lip curled with disdain for the dead oni—Sakaki liked being run about without purpose no more than Nobunaga did. “There is time yet before she births the whelp, but perhaps not more than a few months. She won’t be able to move much in that time, and so it stands to reason that she’s somewhere well-protected. Somewhere she believes she is safe. Have you considered looking into the other clans? Not all of them respect you as they should, and many of them have fortresses. As though they have forgotten how easily we storm them.”

Nobunaga stared at Sakaki, sighing heavily through his nose. He did have a valid point. The other Oni clans feared him, that was a given, however; some of them still thought themselves impervious to his influence. The fortresses they hid behind were not impenetrable, and as Sakaki had stated, could, and had, been destroyed. Though, giving the woman enough time to birth the child wasn't something Nobunaga wanted to do. His patience wasn't exactly a strong point, however; he wanted that child, needed it. There were, however, a few clans he could pay a visit to. One of them being the Koga clan, and perhaps the Fujiwaras. The Fujiwaras, however, were loyal to him and his father.

There was not a single one of them who would defy him, though there had been that one. Perhaps he should not have spared the Oni his life as he had. But the oaf was better use to him alive. He'd let the Oni think he was free from the Yakuza's grasp for now. But when he called, he would come. Dogs always do. He fixed his attention back to Sakaki. "The sooner we find her, the better it will be. We cannot afford any complications," he stated. A woman carrying a child, especially an Oni woman, was at a higher risk of having a miscarriage. The stress he was undoubtedly causing would not make matters any better, however; it wasn't something that really concerned him.

"I think it's time we pay the Kogas a visit. They have neglected to send envoys, and I do hate being uninformed," he spoke, his lips tilting up ever so slightly. "We leave in two weeks," he added. It would be plenty of time to gather a small army to enter the Koga's fortress. Not that he would need it, but there was a point that needed to be proven. And if there was anything he liked more than his woman, his power, it was proving his point. "What of the shrine?" he inquired. The object of which he needed was said to be near the shrine, however; he has yet to hear any news of it.

Sakaki cracked his knuckles, more from habit than anything else. “The place has a very strong holy aura—it’s difficult for the men to stay on the grounds for more than a few minutes at a time. I’ve had them searching in shifts, though, while the priestess is gone, so she doesn’t know we’ve been.” The holiness might also prove fatal if she happened to be there at the same time. “They found a few relics, but not the object we’re looking for. There’s another shrine, further in the city, run by a priest. It’s not as likely—his holy power isn’t as great as the girl’s. But he was her teacher, so if anyone knows where it is, and it really is here, it would be him. I was planning on sending a few of ours to have a talk with him in a few days, once they’ve recovered from the aura poisoning.”

While not exactly common, aura poisoning was a danger for their kind when in prolonged proximity to holy items, or on sanctified ground. Especially if they had not been invited there by the priest or priestess in charge of the place. Thankfully, the strength of the holy aura around the forest shrine at least had the benefit of erasing all trace of their presence fairly quickly, so the priestess would likely have no idea they had even been there at all.

Nobunaga contemplated the statement, rolling a stick through his fingers. The priest, he knew the man, if only slightly. He was not a threat, there would be no need for more than two Oni, at most, to go and talk with the man. His lips tilted downward. The object was not amongst the relics, and that only served to fuel his disappointment. He'd have the next Oni's head who provided him with false information again. Though, the next Oni who did, better have a family. He was in need of torturing others on the behalf of the incompetent Oni.

"You and your subordinate do it. We do not need more than two capable Oni to interogate a human priest. If his holy powers are as small as you say they are, you should have no problem dealing with him. Do not disappoint me, Sakaki. You haven't...yet," he stated, shifting his gaze away from the blue Oni. He knew the General would not disappoint him, and he doubted if he ever would, however; he did not trust Sakaki. He didn't trust anyone, and for good measure. If they ever knew... it could be disasterous for him. He was not about to lose his power because he decided to become sentimental.

“Of course, my lord,” Sakaki replied, bowing before rising to his feet, beckoning the lieutenant, who had been wisely quiet the whole time, to rise behind him. The two bowed once more and exited, and as was routine by now, their exit was the cue for the woman sitting outside the door to rise and enter. The lieutenant was unabashedly staring, which wasn’t exactly unusual around here, but Sakaki shook his head.

“Don’t even consider it if you want to keep your head, boy,” he warned. “That one’s Lord Nobunaga’s, and you don’t want to know what he does to people who touch what’s his.” Sakaki has seen such retribution only once, and for something much less significant than the woman, and suffice it to say everyone who had would never lay a finger on anything that their lord desired to possess.

Naomi heard the exchange, inwardly bristling at being referred to as an object to be owned, but in truth… here in this situation, she was, simply because she didn’t have the power to be anything else. It was a sacrifice she made for the thing she wanted above all other things in the world, and for that one chance, she would endure whatever she had to. It mattered that much to her. Raising her chin slightly, she smoothed the sleeves of her deep red kimono and took the subsequent silence as invitation to enter. She’d learned his habits by now, and knew well that this was expected of her.

“My lord sent for me?” she inquired, sweeping an elegant bow. Her voice was a throaty half-rasp, half-purr, the one she’d been taught to cultivate for years she did not desire to count.

He watched, dreary eyes following after Sakaki and the lieutenant as they left. He rubbed his forehead with his index finger and thumb, circular motions trying to soothe the headache that was coming. His anger was getting to him, and he needed to find something to relax him. That was when she entered, the image of elegance and beauty all wrapped up in a sultry visage. Though he knew about the wandering eyes, that was all they could do. They could only see what he possessed, what was his and his alone. They could never hope to touch, taste, nor even smell the woman as he did, and had multiple times before and would continue to do so after.

His eyes, however, narrowed slightly. The message he had received before Sakaki came in, was not one he was expecting, not after returning with failure. She had helped someone, and not just someone. It was him of all people, and he did not like that. The disappointment did not make it to his face, however, and instead, a devious smirk lay upon his lips. He stood from his chair, making his way towards the woman and placed a finger beneath her chin, raising her head so that she could look at him. She really did have a gorgeous face. It was a shame he'd have to ruin it, if only for a little while. His hand snaked through the back of her hair, raking his fingers through her hair in a combing fashion.

"There is," he began, his voice low, matching her purr with a hint of false innocence behind it. "A little bird," he continued, leaning his face down closer to hers, inhaling just her. "Who has told me something most unsettling," he finished, balling his fist in her hair, grabbing a large chunk of it and pulled, hard. It was enough to force her head back, exposing her neck to him as he stared down at her. And it had been most unsettling indeed. "You know the rules. You know the consequences for even so much as touching another," he stated, his breath warm and burning upon her skin.

His lips trailed along the smoothed, exposed, skin along her throat. His fist remained in place before he fitted his mouth over hers. He pulled back, his eyes now slitted. "You should have let them die," he spat, pulling her head forward and throwing her to the ground. He would rather destroy what was his, than allow it to be taken from him. He would rather break what was his, than allow it to be used by another. And if he had to do that, then he would. A shame, though. He was rather fond of his pet.

She was stoic through the whole process, though inwardly she cursed whichever sniveling creature had decided to earn himself points by reporting the incident to the boss. She resolved to discover whom, but for now, there was nothing for it but to endure what he chose to mete out, and thank her cursed genetics for the fact that she was not so frail as she appeared at first glance. She swallowed thickly, the skin of her throat tight against her windpipe with her head forced back the way it was. She endured the sticky heat of his breath at her neck, she endured the rough toss that came after, and before the day was through, she would endure much worse. She would endure it because what she strove for was worth even this pain, even this indignity. He did not love her, did not care about her, but he wanted her, and he was used to getting what he wanted. That was his weakness, and she would continue to exploit it without him noticing for as long as it took.

And maybe, when she was done and Sakaki was dead, she would tell him what she really thought of him.

Naomi’s vision went slightly out-of-focus, and her mind drifted out and away to somewhere else, the place she always went when he thought she was with him. Safety, or close enough to pass for now. Close enough that she could live though the pain and the shame and the fear. That close, and far enough too.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Later that same night, after Nobunaga had finally left her, Naomi had stayed within the confines of her chambers for as long as she could stand it, but sleep was elusive, and so it was at about two hours past midnight that she left the premises, unsure where she was going but knowing only that she needed to be away. Her feet were quiet over the ground, and she knew well the routes and paths the guards took. If she didn’t want to be seen, she wouldn’t be. She could leave, and nobody would know. She could be out of the whole city by morning if she wanted to.

She was no stupid girl who zoned out when the men spoke of strategy. She knew who Nobunaga’s enemies were, knew things about him that many of them would pay handsomely for. She could flee to one of them, sell her secrets to the highest bidder, and live somewhere, quiet and alone, on her earnings, safe and content. It was a dream so tantalizing she sometimes almost forgot how impossible it was. He would find her—of that, she had no doubt. Naomi did not fear dying. She had never seemed to have that fear, perhaps because she had never really seen herself as truly alive to begin with. But she did fear, in the darkest parts of her heart, what he would do when he found her. Because he was far too cruel a man to simply let her die, that she understood very well.

More even than the fear, though, what stilled her plans to flee was the same thing that always had—her rage. She carried it with her, locked deep within the prison of her black, frozen heart, nurturing there the tiny flame that she knew would one day become the blaze that consumed her, once and for all. But she had to be patient. Until the day came when letting it burn would actually achieve something. In the end, really, Nobunaga meant nothing to her at all. He tormented her, made her body itself into a prison and her dwelling into a cage. He pinned her in place with power and fear and menace, but every one of those feeling paled next to the anger. Even the fear would not stop her, when the time came.

The time to kill Sakaki.

This, she had told herself for so long. But it would appear that while her heart was a carefully-guarded ice chamber, as dark and poisonous as that of any yakuza, her body could only take so much before it started to break down, to tremble and ache in terrible places and beg her to do something to relieve her own pain. Healing factor or not, wounds from that man did not simply disappear—she could feel the bruises forming on her, purplish-red splotches beneath her heavy kimono, other spots raw and once-bleeding from places he’d bitten or scratched. Those had scabbed over, and she’d cleansed herself of the worst of her own blood, of course, but the wounds were still tender, and she dare not stretch too far in any given direction. There was an angry red scratch running from her cheekbone down her throat, disappearing beneath the neckline of her kimono before ending just below her clavicle. It throbbed uncomfortably with every beat of her heart, a reminder that sometimes being alive in and of itself was a painful thing to do.

Something stung at the back of her eyes as she took a better survey of her own condition, and she wondered for once with alarming clarity how she’d allowed herself to come to this. How she could have known this was going to happen, and stepped willingly forward into it, or as willing as a sold woman could be, all for the chance at something she knew would kill her. And then she remembered her brother’s face, and she him for taking that from her, hated her body for its mortal weakness, and most of all, just hated herself for everything she had become and would never be. She was a terrible, wicked, ugly person, no matter what her face looked like, and she couldn’t even bring herself to try being anything else.

Because the memory of that day held her still.

Swallowing thickly, she lowered herself to sit by the riverbank, drawing in a shaky breath but refusing to let herself cry. She had become wicked so that she would no longer be weak—now was hardly the time to let that be for naught. For wicked she would always be. Terrible she would always be. Weakness was a choice, one she refused to make.

Somehow, in the godforsaken hour of the night, Yujin found himself awake, staring up at the ceiling of the home he shared with his siblings. He stared, trying to collect his thoughts as they spilled into one message: wake up. He sighed softly, turning his head to the side to spot his brother, sound asleep, and his sister, clutching onto his arm. He smiled sleepily, peeling the girl from his arm as gently as he could, before blinking slowly. He could still feel sleep beckoning him to return to it, however; his muscles were burning for a little movement. He needed to stretch them, to allow them the air they wanted, and the only way to remedy that was to move. With a tired sigh, he sat up, moving as carefully as he could (considering his size) so that he did not disturb his sleeping siblings.

For a moment, he wondered how he even came to be here, with them. They had tried to kill him once, and now, here they were sleeping under the same roof. They were his family now, and he wasn't sure how to make due with that. She was a human, and he was a Hanyou, and himself a full-blooded Oni. He almost laughed, remembering a comment he heard once that had been made. It had turned his sister a shade of red he wasn't sure human's were capable of, and his brother had merely frowned. Though Masurao does look older than Tatsuki, and he is, a woman once commented on the lovely family Yujin had. At first, it took a moment for the information to settle in, and it finally hit him when the woman asked if Tatsuki was his and if Masurao their son.

The Oni had laughed almost the entire day, much to the chagrin of his siblings. He shook his head, dismissing the thoughts from his mind as he slipped out of the home. The night air was cool, and crisp. It felt like silken sheets were caressing him, enveloping him in their embrace against his roughened and heated skin. It was a welcoming gesture, and he wished that nights were more like this one. He blinked as he noticed the change of scenery, frowning only lightly until he came upon the riverbank. He narrowed his eyes, trying to see the figure off in the distance, but even his eyes could not see that far. He decided to leave the figure alone, not wanting to alert whomever it was to his presence, however; something familiar caused him to take a closer look. A small smirk found its way upon his face as he stared down at Naomi.

"Nights disturbing you too?" he questioned, seating himself next to her. He was about to say more on the subject, but something caught his eye, and he frowned. She'd never sported a scar like that before, and if he knew anything about his former employer, it was that he didn't like things marred. Especially if those things belonged to him. "Get into a fight with a cat?" he asked, his tone light, though there was a light hint of concern. For what people believed him to be, he wasn't just that, and he could have his sentimental moments. He didn't choose when they surfaced, however; over the years of being with them, he had learned that it wasn't such a bad thing as he was made to believe. One just had to apply it right.

Of all the luck. She was out here, in the middle of the night, not I any sort of state for company, and company had found her all the same. Not just anyone, either. The initial question drew a breathy snort from her, mostly an ironic sound, because she was finding it difficult to be amused right now. To her credit—or perhaps her detriment, though—she didn’t look that different from usual, save perhaps the slight, nearly unnoticeable tremor in her limbs and the obvious wound on her face. It, too, was scabbing over, and would likely be completely healed within the hour, no trace of it left on her person. She supposed that was the benefit of one’s concubine being a hanyou, rather than a human. She would never dare to presume to be owed what an oni woman knew was her due in such a position, but she wouldn’t simply break when struck, either. She’d also last longer, in terms of youth.

And he never did seem to grow tired of her. Her instructors would be so proud.

“Nothing so harmless,” she replied, though she said nothing else, at first, merely lifting her chin as if daring him to even try asking the question. It was hardly his business, after all, and she did not feel much like telling anyone. There was too much shame in it for her. Just because she had chosen it didn’t mean she felt no embarrassment about what she’d been reduced to. The slight motion shifted the neck of her kimono, though, making visible half a row of teeth marks at the juncture of her neck and shoulder. She was unaware of that, though, having missed the injury in her own examination earlier. She rarely bothered to catalogue anything not needing treatment or concealing, and she hadn’t planned on needing to conceal anything this time.

“And yourself?” she inquired, attempting to turn the topic away from her. It was far less elegant than she would have usually been capable of, but right at the moment, Naomi wasn’t feeling her usual self. She felt like a raw nerve, vulnerable, exposed, and quite likely to feel pain if prodded the wrong way. “I would have picked you to sleep like a rock, somehow.” She clung to the normality of such a remark, hoping for her own sake that he’d just leave it alone.

Yujin quirked an amused eyebrow, the amusement glimmering through his eyes, however; as quickly as it appeared, it disappeared. His eyes narrowed his eyes, trying to fix them on a particular spot and he felt a slight tremor roll through him. There were teeth marks on her. He wasn't a fool, though many questioned his intellect, and he knew her occupation as Nobunaga's Geisha, however; he did not know her actual duties to the man. Nobunaga wasn't one to care about tradition. Geisha were not whores, but Nobunaga could make them into anything he wanted with just a wave of his hand. And, perhaps, it was that information that he knew of Nobunaga, that infuriated Yujin. If only for a bit.

It subsided as quickly as it came, and he shook his head, instead choosing not to further question her. If she wanted to tell him, she would. He would leave that up to her, and by the way her posture shifted, she was challenging him to do so. But he wouldn't, and instead, turned to gaze out across the lake. "Sleep? What is this sleep you speak of? Didn't you know, Oni doesn't sleep. And as for a rock," he stated, turning to face her with a grin. "You must have me mistaken for Mao-Mao," he concluded, turning his attention back to the lake. It had a sort of innocent beauty to it, the way it reflected the moonlight and captured the brightness of the stars.

"So tell me, have you figured out what you are trying to convince the world you are?" he stated, lowering himself on his back, and folding his hands behind his head. He, of course, referenced to the last conversation they had. "So far, Oni is convinced that you are trying to convince the world that you exist. Perhaps not as you are now, but as something you will be, eventually," he stated, his eyes focusing on her through the corners. His head remained forward, as forward as it could be, however; his eyes never left her form. It was hard to tell what he meant by that, and perhaps he meant nothing at all by it. But he always knew what he meant.

“Not the world,” she said softly, lowering her head slightly. Her hair, loose as it was, fell forward over her shoulder to obscure her face, and for a moment, she studied the hands folded daintily in her lap. Even now, when she had no idea what to do or what she wanted, her training came though and saved her. It made her sit with her back straight, her hands perfectly folded. When somewhere inside herself she felt like just collapsing and succumbing to her weakness, these things she had been taught, her tutoring, kept her strong. It was almost funny—people surely believed geisha to be delicate women, prone to breaking and shattering, like glass or flowers. But rather, she had been taught to weather anything and everything with the same mannerisms, the same perfect grace. To make even the hardest things look as though they were easy.

She was surprised she had answered him at all, but maybe it was only that talking was keeping her from thinking of the things she didn’t want to dwell upon. She had a nasty habit of dwelling, and she knew it. “There is only one person who needs to know I exist, and reminding him will probably be the last thing I ever do.” She raised her head then, her hair falling back against her diaphragm, to join the rest pooled on the ground behind her. “But not yet. It’s not time yet.” She smiled at him, but there was no mirth or happiness or cheer in it at all. Only cold certainty.

“As for the world, well… I suppose I don’t care what the world thinks of me, in the end. I only need to remain in it for so long, after all.” Truthfully, there was one thing she needed to be thought for a while longer, the thing that at the very least was keeping her alive long enough to die. “All I need to fool the world into thinking is that I’m beautiful, that there’s a reason to bother with me at all, and it’s not the most difficult deception, really. They see what they want to, and I make it easy. That’s all.” She’d been learning how for most of her life, after all.

Not the world? He was confused, who was she trying to convince then? The answer, however, startled him slightly. He wasn't expecting an answer, at least not one of that depth. It appears that, no matter who, someone had wronged her. Life seemed to be funny that way. It did not matter who or what you were, life was certainly going to screw you over one way or another. That, he was certain of. She was spared no sympathy from life, or so it seemed. He sighed softly through his nose, tearing his gaze away from her for the moment. It was a little sad, thinking about it, and hearing it that way only intensified the feeling.

"Fool the world into thinking you are beautiful," he stated, repeating her words and rolling them around his tongue. "I'm afraid you're going about it all wrong then. If you want to convince the world you are beautiful, you need a little more color to your face," he stated, having already sat up in his spot. His hand, however, had smeared a bit of mud along the side of her face, drawing a spiral upon her cheek. He flashed her a small smile, though there was something a little sad behind it. Truly, no one, not even her, deserved to think of life that way. He sighed once more though. When had he become so sentimental to plights such as these? He couldn't remember, even if it didn't seem like a plight.

"That, is a shame, really. You should want to exist in this world, even if it is not kind to you. Existing is the only true weapon we have against those we hold a grudge to. It allows them to see that by existing, they have not won. That we have continued to thrive, to live where they thought we to be broken. It destroys them, but I suppose retribution is different for us all," he stated. He did not know her circumstances for which she desired to do what she did, and he would not pry. That was not his place, and it was a touchy subject, as far as he could tell. He only wished that people did not have to suffer as they had.

Her brows drew together when he touched her face, and she had to fight very hard not to flinch away. But as always, her training kicked in, and she remained perfectly still, blinking bright blue eyes in confusion at the sensation of mud on her face. There was nothing harmful about it, to be sure, but that didn’t mean it made sense. The smile she gave him was brittle, but there might have been at least a little truth in it. “I’m afraid my existence is not nearly enough retribution for this crime. Perhaps, if I were the only one he’d hurt… but I am not, and a life demands a life in return.” Pressing her lips firmly together, she shook her head. She’d said too much already. Perhaps it was because she could never speak freely that the temptation was too great. Perhaps it was only that she felt weaker now than she had in a long time. Perhaps it was only the false safety of the dark.

She had best leave now, before her tongue betrayed her further. Standing, she searched his eyes for a moment with her own, folding her arms into her kimono sleeves and inclining her torso slightly, a voluntary gesture of gratitude. Beyond that, though, she did not speak, and turned instead to leave, trailing her way back to the estate to enter the way she had left—unseen, unheard, unknown. Her fingers touched briefly the spiral of earth on her cheek, and she had the strange thought that she’d never been more relieved to be told she wasn’t beautiful.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Yuzuki hummed to herself as she was wont to do as she and Mako made their way down from the shrine. He’d been by to check on her, and as usual, she’d replied by inviting him to lunch. She wasn’t cooking this time, though; rather, she’d insisted that they take their meal together at the inn. She liked the food there, it was true, but more than anything, she was doing this because she wanted Makoto to come out of his shell a little and make some friends. Just because she was abound by the laws of clergy didn’t mean he was, and much as she loved him, she wanted him to have other people in his life besides his family. It would be good for him.

He, of course, had some inkling that this was his intention, and so while he sighed when she invited him along, he did not protest. He simply wasn’t the sort of person who could make friends easily, and though she might believe differently, forcing him into the proximity of other people was only going to create awkwardness for everyone involved. He didn’t really need anyone else in his life—he was content just having his family, and they certainly kept him busy enough attempting to make sure they were provided for.

But it was Yuzuki, and he had a very difficult time saying no to her. So if this was what she wanted, he would endure it, if for no other reason than because she had asked. He followed her at a more sedate pace—few would be able to guess what speeds he was really capable of, given the pace of his gait at the moment. He found it best to slow himself down as much as he could in the company of humans, lest he accidentally react too quickly to something and give them cause for alarm. They tended to be very off-put by obvious signs that someone was not quite as they were, and though he could do nothing for his outward appearance, he could at least seem as harmless as possible.

He held the door for Yuzuk when she entered the inn, the two of them kneeling on either side of a low-set table, setting aside the few things they had carried into town. Makoto still had a couple of deliveries to make, but he’d taken care of the potentially-offensive ones (such as the pelt of a rather large wolf demon) before coming here. He was surprised to find that Masurao didn’t seem to be present, and Yuzuki seemed to notice it, too, if the slight disappointed downturn to her mouth was an indication. She smoothed it over afterwards, never one to stay in any negative state for long, but he was a bit surprised she’d reacted at all. He hadn’t realized they were such good friends…

As it were, Masurao had taken to run some errands with Yujin, far from the village at the moment, leaving the inn to fend for itself. This meant that the inn was one person down, and this person happened to have an important job. He took the orders and greeted the potential customers when they came in. Someone had to fill his shoes for the day, and it was perhaps the reason why Tatsuki currently sported a scowl on her face. The innkeeper knew her disdain for interacting with other people who were not her family memebers, and they had come to the arrangement that she would cook. That did not mean, however, she was going to completely escape the inevitable fate, and so she sighed heavily.

She was glad, for the moment, that no one seemed to be coming into the inn, with only a handful of people already seated and ordering their favorites. When she thought she had a break, she glanced towards the entrance to spot two more people coming in, however; she did not scowl at them. Instead, the subtle quirk of her lips went up in a small smile, bowing in greeting as she spotted Yuzuki. The smile faded, though, when she spotted Makoto behind her. She could speak to Yuzuki, as she often did, but Tatsuki suddenly found a large lump in her throat. She tried opening her mouth to greet the priestess, but found no words would come to her. She pursed her lips together, furrowing her brows as she tried once more.

"Good afternoon, Yuzuki-chan, Makoto-san," she finally managed, feeling the sudden flare in her cheeks light up. She could feel the blush already forming, and it only caused her frown to deepen. She didn't like it when her face did that, and it betrayed her. A woman did not usually blush unless in the company of a man courting her, or in the presence of their husband. Makoto and Yuzuki were none of those, though the latter was technically a female. She would get rid of it one day, but for now, she had to grin and bear it. Or about as much as she could. Shaking the thoughts from her head, she offered them the best smile she could muster. It looked a little odd, her face twitching in some parts, but she managed one nonetheless.

"Is...is there anything I can get you?" she stated, leading them to an empty table. She would have to remember to scold Masurao later for leaving her alone like this. Yujin could have handled his own business quite well on his own.

Yuzuki grinned at the expression on her friend’s face; she personally though the blushing was cute. She’d never tell Tatsuki that though—it would only make matters worse. Well, perhaps that just meant she’d tell her later, at some more interesting or funny moment. For now, though, she settled down happily enough and picked up the menu to peruse. Makoto didn’t know why—by now she knew every dish they served here, and usually ordered one of the same three or four things. Indeed, when she spoke, it wasn’t unexpected: “I’ll have the salmon onigiri, thanks, Tsu-Tsu.” She smiled up at her friend. “I’m surprised to see you in the front of the inn! Is Mao-Mao out today?”

Makoto, who didn’t appear at the inn nearly as often as Yuzu did, took a bit longer selecting his food, blinking down at the selections with some trepidation. He knew basically any of it would be good, but that was mostly the problem. “Ah...” he interjected mildly, attempting to draw attention without being obnoxious about it, “I’ll just, uh… whatever you recommend.” He cleared his throat and leveled his eyes back down at the table. Honestly, if Yuzuki hadn’t known he was like that all the time, she would have sworn he had a crush on Tsu-Tsu or something. Then again… that went for both of them, in all honesty.

"Ah, well," Tatsuki began, only momentarily able to collect her thoughts when Makoto spoke. She blinked slowly, trying to think of what dish to suggest. She wasn't cooking today, and she didn't want to recommend a dish that Haku would not be able to prepare. He was a good chef on his own, but there were certain dishes that he made that were not exactly... enticing. She didn't have the heart to tell Haku that, however, and she kept the recommendations down to what he actually could make. After a few silent minutes, she nodded her head as if finally coming to a conclusion.

"Shio ramen," she stated, short and curt and to the point. "I'd...suggest Shio ramen for you," she continued, furrowing her brows a little harder than necessary. She then returned her attention back to Yuzuki, glancing back for a second at Makoto. "Rao left with Yuji this morning. I... don't know why but Yuji said it was important," though what could have been so important, she didn't know. She was sure Masurao would tell her, as he always told her, when he came back. She could still feel the heat upon her flesh, and it only intensified the longer she stood and spoke to Yuzuki.

She didn't like feeling so awkward around friends, however; she didn't know Makoto too well. She'd only spoken to him that one time when he came to deliever the boar to her and Masurao, and then again (though she really didn't) when Yujin and Yuzuki were poisoned. Perhaps... "The boar, the one you brought Masurao and I...well, um," she tried unsure of where to go from there. She shuffled in her spot a few moments before giving up. "Nevermind," she mumbled, glancing away as the red became a scarlet color on her face.

"I'll just... I'll go get your orders," she spoke quickly, dismissing herself hurriedly to place their orders. In a few minutes, she was back, placing the food in front of them to eat. "I... I... hope you enjoy it," she stated, offering a lopsided smile to them.

By this point, Makoto was embarrassed by proxy, Tatsuki’s awkwardness only magnifying his own feelings of the same. Yuzuki wasn’t helping much, as he could tell from the way her lips were pressed together and her cheeks slightly puffed that she was trying very, very hard not to giggle. His own uncomfortable flush started at the tips of his ears, and thankfully, she left for a while after that, giving everyone a moment to re-center themselves. What had she been about to say, though? He hoped it wasn’t more thanks; he wasn’t very good at accepting those. Then again, who was he kidding? He wasn’t very good at accepting anything. Thanks were at least a little easier than compliments, though he always would wonder about how genuine either kind of thing was. Force of habit, he supposed, when one was a hanyou.

“You might as well get it out of your system now,” he said to Yuzuki, his tone completely devoid of the awkwardness he demonstrated around other people. There was something about Yuzu that wouldn’t allow it to stay for long, really. Or maybe it was just because he’d known her for so long—there was nothing left to be concerned about with her. Everything she did was genuine, and she knew every little awkward tic he had, and forgave him for all of them. Just like he was going to forgive her for the fact that she was about to laugh at his expense.

And, surely enough, she did, collapsing into a fit of giggles and leaning back against the segment of wall behind her, separating them from the next table over. “I’m sorry, Mako,” she said, though her contriteness was ruined a little by the broad smile she still sported having emerged from the other side of her fit. “It’s just too adorable, it really is. Neither of you can so much as talk to the other one without turning red as a beet!” She beamed at him, but he only compressed his lips together, thinning them into a straight line. He really was a serene and centered person—when he didn’t have to interact with other people.

“I was just thinking how if it was anyone else, I’d have thought you liked each other,” she said, mostly just to watch him flush again. He did, at least somewhat, and When Mako blushed, it tended to go all the way down his throat as well as his ears and cheeks. Maybe it was because he was so pale, like a luminescent ghost.

“Yuzuki,” he warned. “Don’t make trouble.” She usually didn’t, really, but the exception was when she believed it was good for someone. There was no time for her to respond, however, because it was at this point that Tatsuki returned with their food, and though he could do absolutely nothing about it, he could tell from the glimmer in her blue-green eyes that he was about to be disregarded entirely.

“Why don’t you join us, Tsu-Tsu? There’s nobody else coming in, and I bet all that waitressing is exhausting.” She’d learned from growing up with Mako that generally introverted people like him tended to get tired from interacting with a lot of people, especially ones they didn’t know. It didn’t really wear her out much; if anything, she seemed to gain energy from being around others. But not everyone was like her—it might be helpful for Tatsuki to take a couple minutes to spend with people who she at least knew.

"Ah, well," she began, about to protest when she glanced towards the kitchen area. She could see her boss giving her the sign that it was time for a short break, and Tatsuki sighed heavily. It wasn't that she didn't want to join them for a bit, but she didn't know exactly what to do or even say. She was going to tell Makoto that the boar he had given them, the meat at least, had come in handy that evening. A rather large group of samurai had passed through, and she was able to feed all of them with it. "I suppose it wouldn't... hurt," she stated, pausing only momentarily to remove the apron from around her waist and laid it against one of the empty chairs.

She took a seat next to Yuzuki, rolling her fingers over each other as she remained rather quiet for the most part. She wanted to say something, anything to break the thin ice they were sitting on. Or at least, the thin ice she was sitting on. She searched her thoughts, carefully planning out each word she wanted to say before she said them. Once she had them, she glanced up at Makoto, and glanced away again. "How's... how's your... family," she spoke so low she wasn't even sure he could hear her. She glanced at Yuzuki and almost gave her a pleading sign to chip in, start another conversation so that the red tainting her face would subside, just a bit.

Makoto blinked in surprise. He hadn’t expected to be addressed, and for a moment, he wondered if perhaps she wasn’t actually speaking to Yuzuki, but it had been he she looked at when she asked, and Yuzuki was looking at him in anticipation of an answer, so he figured he had better give some semblance of one, at least. Fortunately, his family was one of the things he found it easiest to speak about, and so he was only minimally fumbling when he gave his answer. “They are… well. Mother has recovered from the last round of high demand, and the triplets are…” he paused, his gaze passing out of focus slightly, though the smallest of smiles tilted his lips upwards. His mother often wound up working long hours when a sickness went through the town, as had been the case a few weeks ago. He’d killed the demons causing it with miasmic breath, but even then, it had taken some time for everyone to recover, and his mother’s medicines had helped considerably.

The thought of his younger half-siblings was sufficient to soften him a little though. Makoto did not generally come across as a man who cared much for the world around him, and perhaps he didn’t, but his family had always been the exception to this rule. He was as devoted to them as any son or brother, and moreso than most. “They are as they always are.” Vibrant, mischievous, and unmistakably curious. Fortunately, he knew how to handle that, having grown up with Yuzuki.

He might have asked her about hers in turn, but she’d already mentioned them. Still… there was something he desired to know. “About a month ago… there was a little trouble with some villagers. Has… has anyone given Masurao trouble over it?” He doubted anyone would dare bother Yujin over the incident, but the other hanyou was much as Makoto himself was, in that he tended not to react with violence or intimidation, even when pushed towards it.

Perhaps it was the tone of his voice, when he spoke, or perhaps it was the way he spoke of his family. Whatever it was, Tatsuki found herself smiling slightly along with him. It must be nice, having that kind of family, and for a moment, Tatsuki found herself wondering what it would have been like if she still had her cousin, and her own family. Her eyes darkened at the thought of Nobuo, and a melancholic appearance fluttered across her face. It disappeared just as quickly as it came, however, at the mention of Masurao and trouble. Tatsuki frowned at the mentioning, and she pressed her lips into a fine line.

Yujin had told her of the incident, of how the humans had spoken to Makoto and Masurao, even himself, and Tatsuki had scolded him for it. He had laughed at her, but she had been serious when she told Yujin that they couldn't go anywhere without her again. Not that they couldn't handle themselves, it was just easier for people to be a little calmer, at least around a Hanyou, when a human was present. It wouldn't be easier for them to be accepted, but it would be a little tolerable. She allowed the sigh to escape her lips before she folded her hands across her lap.

"No, thankfully," she responded, her voice still low, but had a little more volume to it. "I... apologize for Yuji's actions though. He doesn't usually interfere with humans, but... he," she paused. He didn't like seeing what he had witnessed, and Tatsuki did not blame him. "Masurao is like a rock, nothing phases him," she finally responded, shaking her head lightly with a faint smile. "Even if they were giving him trouble for it, he wouldn't let it show. What of you? I... I know it's not easy, being what you are, and given the circumstances that took place," she questioned. It wasn't that she was worried, because Tatsuki barely knew this Hanyou, but she was a little worried.

No one, Hanyou or Oni, shouldn't have been treated that way, but humans differed greatly on opinions. Perhaps she was just fortunate enough to have grown with one of each, both different in their own ways. She could have met an unfortunate fate long ago, and it might have obscured her vision of them now. She could have hated them, as the others do, and still to this day, she still could, but she wouldn't. Hating something had never solved anyone's problems, and from the looks of it, it wouldn't be solving them any time soon. Why worry of something like that?

Makoto shook his head faintly, letting his eyes fall once more to the table. “I am accustomed to such things,” he said simply. It was better to not react at all when humans or oni attempted to lambast him for the fact of his existence. To many, it was a sin, and he wasn’t sure they were wrong, really. But he could not be anything other than what he was, and so he tolerated it as well as he was able. “If they are not troubled, then there is nothing to be concerned about.”

There was a bit of a silence then, at which point Yuzuki, who had been watching with mild fascination as the two had a real conversation, cut in and directed the topic to something a little lighter. She certainly had the ability to keep one going, and indeed, the three of them talked all the way through Tatsuki’s break. Makoto hadn’t expected it to be pleasant, but found that, surprisingly, it was.

How strange.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Masurao couldn't remember how long ago it was that the incident had been. He wasn't sure where Tatsuki had heard it from, but someone had told her of the mishap. He was sure it wasn't Makoto or Yujin, the latter being a little afraid of his human sister's wrath. He smiled softly, stopping momentarily to lean against the frame of the inn, and glanced up at the sky. He still received some backlash from the villagers, but that was okay. He'd endure it all the same. It wasn't their fault that they had hated him for being what he was. How could he fault them for the years of oppression half of his kind had caused upon the humans?

"Mao! You're finished for the day!" a voice called out to him, causing him to peer inside of the inn through the flaps. He blinked as the owner shooed him out. He could see Tatsuki in the back, cooking, however; she locked gazes with him and lifted the ladle at him in a threatening manner. He chuckled softly and held his hands up in defense, placing the broom back in its storage area. He said his goodbye to the owners and his sister before heading out into the village. The home was a little low on a few things, and since he was out early, he could stop and get them. Perhaps it was a good thing that he did not inherit the odd coloration a Hanyou typically did.

He was recognizable, who wouldn't be for someone his size? But he didn't have to worry about that too much. He was a warrior, and most took him as just a mercenary who did the hard labor. He could go into the village without worry, however; the incident still plagued his mind. He tried to be more careful of his surroundings, more mindful to the people, and so far, it had worked for him. He only received a few glares here and there, and they were from the people who had been present at the incident. Once he was finished collecting his items, he made his way home, not mindful of what was in front of him as he did so. He was, after all, carrying items obscuring his vision.

Perhaps, were Makoto any less quick on his feet or graceful, this would have resulted in a nasty collision. As it was, he sidestepped just in time, managing to pull a little boy out of the way who was also not paying attention to his surroundings. He sighed when the child simply scampered off in another direction, looking up the extra half a foot at Masurao. The last thing they needed was another accident. It had been a while ago now, but some people had a long memory for grudges. He knew this fact very well indeed, having been he target of it on more than one occasion.

“Masurao,” he greeted mildly, alerting the other hanyou to his presence. “Perhaps you would allow me to carry some of that to your destination? It would be unwise to accidentally run into someone.” He wasn’t really averse to offering his help in such a situation as this one, all things considered. Makoto was perhaps not the most altruistic of people, being of a generally more practical disposition, but he did not find helping others to be a waste of his time or anything, either. It was also surprisingly easy to speak to the other hanyou, though they had known each other for quite a while now, by most reckonings. They also seemed to run into one another with some frequency, though perhaps not as often as either of them saw Yuzuki, for instance.

Masurao blinked at the sound of a familiar voice, and he paused in his steps. He glanced around the objects in his hand, spotting Makoto on the other side. He flashed the other Hanyou a grin, but it disappeared as soon as the words left Makoto's mouth. Another accident wasn't exactly what they needed, especially after what happened. But he didn't think much of it. Perhaps that was his problem, he wasn't thinking enough. He shook his head in response and released a nervous laugh.

"Ah, thanks Mako. I'm, uh," he began, shuffling the items around one hand to get a better grip on them. "I'm actually on my way home. We were out of a few things and I thought that I would get them since I was out early," he stated, placing the items on the floor. Most of it was mainly food, cabagge, bread, fish, and other random items. He even had a jar of honey, something he was sure the Oni of the family would enjoy in his sake, or other drinks. Masurao placed half of the items in another container, and handed it to Makoto.

"So, how have you been? Since the accident, I mean," he asked. He would admitt to the bouts of curiosity that lingered within him. He knew Makoto was a bit quiet, and reluctant at most things, however; that didn't mean that Masurao didn't worry about him either. He was Yuzuki's brother, and they were his friends... or so he liked to believe. He didn't want to cause his friends unnecessary trouble if he could avoid it.

For a man half a foot shorter and two-thirds the width of Masurao, Makoto carried his half of the burden with no apparent difficulty, taking the basket up in his arms and resting mostly against his chest. At the question, he tipped his head to the side slightly in thought, then shrugged. “There is nothing much to say,” he admitted quietly. “That is the way this city has been for many years. Human anger goes out again as quickly as it ignites. I think the best thing to hope for is that their understanding is not the same way.”

Perhaps the incident would be for the better, in the end, if they came to understand what Yujin had pointed out—Makoto had made no move to harm anyone, even when he was physically and verbally harassed. He’d always been like that, and in time, some of those in the town had come to realize that he would always be like that. He didn’t hurt humans, and hunted only those demons that proved themselves a pestilence on the population. “One must be careful, however… one wrong move can destroy what years have built.” Yujin very nearly had by rising to the bait, but fortunately it had not come to that in the end.

Masurao hummed in thought as he listened to Makoto. He had a point; fear was an ever delicate balance and just the slightest offset could be dangerous. But... fear worked both ways. Humans were not the only ones who feared something. Oni and Hanyou alike all feared something, but Makoto had a point. One wrong move, and everything that had been built over the years could be destroyed. That was the last thing Masurao wanted to do. He sighed, slumping his shoulders a bit before glancing back up.

"Yeah, you're right, but you know, sometimes," he began, pausing to regard the other Hanyou. "I wonder what it would be like if the humans and Oni could actually get along. I mean, some of us are not born through consensual means, but," he paused again, unsure of the words he was speaking. He wanted to make sure what he was saying came out right, and that he didn't sound silly. He laughed nervously, shifting his items to one arm so that he could rub the back of his neck, massaging the muscles to keep them limber.

"If the world could be a little like Yuzuki and Tatsuki, I think we might actually stand a chance at obtaining peace. Just... don't tell Tatsuki I said that. She's still mad at Yujin and myself for what happened," even if it was meant as a compliment, he was sure his sister would take it wrong and still scold him for it. She still scolded him from time to time about the incident, but he spent most of his time in the company of Yuzuki, or at least tried to. "You know, you should come over sometime, you and your sister that is," he stated suddenly. "Tatsuki is fond of the both of you, even if she won't admit it, and it would be nice to have a dinner together."

Makoto might have had something to say about the first part of that, but as it was, he found his attention rather taken by the last part, and cleared his throat a tad awkwardly. Tatsuki was fond… of him? He could understand basically anybody being fond of Yuzuki—she just had that way about her that caused most other people to seek her company and greatly enjoy it. But him? He was terrible at talking to almost anyone, and besides that, he embarrassed easily and got himself mucked up with demon guts for a living. To say nothing of how unnatural he looked—he wasn’t really sure how it could be that anyone was fond of him, save perhaps the family that had known him all of his life and didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.

“Ah…” Makoto was trying to think of a graceful way to decline while not closing off the opportunity in case Yuzu wanted to, but nothing in particular was coming to mind. Masurao seemed like the kind of person who would extend such an invitation to anyone out of politeness, and he really didn’t want to impose. If how their last meal together had gone was any indication, any other occasions where he and Tatsuki were forced to interact with one another would be… uncomfortable, to say the least. One socially-impaired person in a given situation was not usually that bad, but two? It wasn’t that he disliked her or anything, he just… “I’m not… especially good at things like that,” he ventured cautiously. “But I am sure Yuzu would love to go.”

"Oh, that's okay, neither is Tsu-Tsu, but," he paused, blinking slightly before tilting his head. "We're all friends, right? We've known each other that long, at least I think," he continued, grinning widely at Makoto. They'd all known each other for the last few months, and Masurao considered Yuzuki and Makoto his friends. He wasn't sure if they considered him their friend, but he considered them part of his little family. They were nice people, and it was obvious that their family was just as close as his. Though, he couldn't really say for sure, he's never met the rest of their family.

"I'm sure she'd like to come, but I don't think she'd want to come without you," he continued, his grin widening more, if it were possible. "Besides, you don't have to be good at anything with us. We're all the same, aren't we?" he stated. He wasn't entirely sure why he didn't want to come, but Masurao wasn't going to push any further than that. The Hanyou may have been simple, but he didn't want to make Makoto uncomfortable and make him do anything he wasn't comfortable with. "But I suppose that's up to you," he added with a shrug of his shoulders.

“I… see,” Makoto replied, his mouth turning down slightly at the corners. Perhaps he would have to consider going after all, regardless of how strange it was for him, to think in terms of having friends and companions. For a very long time, his world had been divided into his family and everyone else. It would seem that perhaps it was time to make at least a small alteration to that scheme.

“Then… I will pass the invitation along, and see what Yuzuki wishes to do.” It was about as good as saying he’d come, because he had a hard time believing Yuzu wouldn’t want to, and also that she’d let him stay behind while she did. Masurao was right about her that much, certainly.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Image



Naomi wasn’t precisely sure what had drawn Nobunaga away from his stronghold this time, but it probably had something to do with the child he was supposedly looking for. Whatever the case, he’d taken Sakaki and the most troublesome of his guards with him, leaving her a little more free than usual to do as she liked. It was only in such times that she risked going to the village, not because he had forbidden her to do so, but because she would rather always be around when he called upon her—the consequences for being absent were honestly more dire than it warranted, but such was the way of people who had too high an opinion of their own importance.

So she’d dressed in a simple, dark blue kimono, patterned with plum blossoms, and walked into the city proper. Few people knew who she was, and next to nobody was able to correctly identify her as a hanyou, and so in this guise, she simply passed for another human woman. Sometimes, she really wished she were. But those were thoughts unbecoming, and she did not allow herself to dwell on them for long. Whatever this path brought her, she had, in the end, chosen it of her own free will. She did not reserve the right to complain about the consequences. She would continue to believe that for as long as she needed to in order that she might keep going.

But today was for less weighty matters. She was feeling a bit like taking an opportunity to observe other people at their daily lives, mostly because it was something she found interesting. There were few better places to do so than an inn, where all sorts came and went, and so it was to there that she was headed. Besides, the usual staff at this one was rather cute: the cook Tatsuki and her brother the clumsy hanyou, Masurao. She’d encountered them both a few times before, and almost immediately connected that Tatsuki was Yujin’s Tsu-Tsu. Sickeningly adorable, really, but it was nice to be reminded that life could go well for unconventional people, even if it did not go well for her.

It was with consummate elegance that Naomi entered the establishment, selecting a table near a window, with a good view of the rest of the room and settling onto her knees before the low table. She was rather looking forward to discovering what the place would have to offer today.

"Stop it, Yuji," Tatsuki warned, glancing at her brother. Yujin grinned widely at her, his hand hovering over the pot she was preparing. Her lips pursed together deeply, watching as his hand inched closer and closer to the pot. "Yuji," she continued, her voice getting lower. His grin only seemed to widen (if it were possible) before she hit his hand away with the wooden spoon in her hand. He laughed as she shoved him out of the kitchen, glancing at Masurao who blinked at them with a confused stare.

"Keep it away," were the only words she spoke as Masurao blinked at Yujin, who continued to grin like a mad man. He chuckled softly at his brother, however; his eyes spotted a rather familiar person, and he waved towards the woman. Yujin, however, blinked a bit surprised to see her here, and made his way towards her table, sitting himself down in front of her as Masurao continued sweeping. He stared at her for a moment, as if trying to read her, before allowing his grin to return to his face.

"Miss Oni that much you had to come visit?" he inquired. "Or is it that you are here for that meal we owe you?" he continued. Though, they really didn't owe her anything, they still hadn't properly repaid her for that day she healed them. It wouldn't be much of a problem to repay it now, if it was food and drink she was seeking, but then again, Yujin couldn't claim to be a mind reader, like his other siblings, and chose to see what her answer would be.

Naomi narrowed her eyes at Yujin as he sat down across from her. Really, she should have expected to run into him here of all places, but she hadn’t really thought of it. It wasn’t that she would have avoided him on purpose… though perhaps she would have. She didn’t like how nosey he was, asking her questions whose answers had no point for someone like her. So persistent, without even once seeming like he was digging for anything in particular. Perhaps the fault was hers, for feeling almost inclined to tell him. “Hardly,” she sniffed, drawing her dignity around her like a cloak. “I came for tea, and to… observe, if you want a word for it.”

It might have sounded a bit odd out loud, her little hobby, but it wasn’t as though she much cared what other people thought of it. She scrutinized him a bit through her lashes, her face a mask of evident disdain, though it was really mostly affected. He was unusual, yes, and perhaps even annoying in a way, but she somehow found it difficult to dislike him. Not something she would be admitting anytime soon. Or really ever, if she had her way. “And you? I can only presume you came to make a nuisance of yourself, if the poor girl had to toss you out of the kitchen like that.”

"If I wasn't making a nuisance of myself, I wouldn't be doing my job properly, now would I?" he replied, leaning onto his hand as he placed his elbow on the table. He sat crosslegged, blinking slowly as he contemplated the rest of her statement. "Why would you come to a place like this to observe? There are more interesting places to observe than this place," he stated, tilting his head to the side as he glanced back towards the kitchen. He could see Masurao talking to some of the kitchen staff before grabbing a plate for himself. He locked eyes with Yujin as the Oni grinned, and Masurao took two more plates.

"Ah, Mimi, how are you!?" he greeted, setting the plate down in front of Yujin and offering her the other plate. There was tsukemono, sashimi, hayashi rice, sekihan, and an onigiri, to which Yujin frowned. Tatsuki was making fun of him, he just knew it. "I hope Yujin's not bothering you," he stated, side glancing his brother as Yujin merely offered an innocent smile. Masurao only frowned slightly. That smile was never a good one, for as long as he'd known the Oni. It always meant he was up to something, he just didn't know what.

“So you’re a professional menace? I thought you just did it recreationally.” Naomi looked unimpressed by this, however, and might have said something further, but she was interrupted by the appearance of Masurao, at whom she flashed a bright smile. “I’m not sure he knows how not to bother someone, Little Mao,” she replied sweetly, her kindness obviously reserved for the hanyou. He was really quite adorable, what with the clumsy earnestness he had. She just wanted to pinch his cheeks. Mostly to watch him get embarrassed by it. “But Oni here is nothing I can’t handle. Tell Tsu-chan I said thank you, would you?”

She resolutely ignored Yujin while she spoke, really treating him as though he wasn’t there at all, falsely-innocent smile and all. She knew the difference—she wielded such a weapon in her own arsenal, and it could certainly get one places if deployed properly.

"Professional? You give me too much credit," Yujin replied, leaning back and placing his hands on the back of his head. He flashed a toothy grin at her as she spoke to Masurao. "You know me all too well already, Mimi," he stated, raising a brow at her last statement. It only caused the grin on his face to widen. It seemed he was in a grinning mood. He leaned forward on his hands, Masurao giving him a questioned look, before he spoke once more. "What makes you think you can handle me?"

"Because you are easily swayed by anything that offers you food. It's not hard to control you with that," Tatsuki interrupted, frowning at her brother as she glanced towards Naomi. She offered the woman a polite bow before sitting in between her brothers. "You are welcome, Naomi-san," she spoke having heard the woman tell Masurao to thank her. She offered Naomi a meek smile before glancing between her brothers.

"Oh, does this mean we get to have lunch together?" Masurao spoke, his eyes shinning brightly as Yujin laughed at him. Tatsuki resisted the urge to roll her eyes at him, but nodded her head nonetheless. Having lunch with friends and family always made Masurao a little happier inside.

“Is that all it takes?” Naomi asked, setting her mouth into a moue of disappointment. “And here I was hoping for a challenge.” Her eyes glittered when she smiled at Tatsuki. The girl really was too shy; it was quite endearing in its own way. That atop Masurao’s easy delight at the prospect of such a simple thing was at once warming and also a little melancholy, for her. How long had it been since she’d felt such delight? Had she ever? She couldn’t remember, honestly. What it was like to be that happy.

Well, for now she would content herself observing it in others. “This is what’s worth seeing,” she told Yujin, while the other two were preoccupied serving themselves from the dishes laid out on the table. “More interesting than most of the things I come across.” But not the kind of thing she could do more than look at, be that from afar or close by. She moved to serve herself a little rice and fish, but she wasn’t a particularly big eater as a rule, and preferred her food surprisingly simple. Well, except perhaps for the sweets. She was a bit of a sucker for those, but it was a well-hidden secret.

Yujin frowned at Naomi's comment and proceeded to pout at Tatsuki. She ignored him, serving herself a plate before passing it to Yujin. Immediately, his eyes lit up and he took the offered dish, placing it in front of him as he reached for his utensils. He stopped, however, when Naomi spoke and blinked. This was worth seeing? A bout of confusion crossed his features for a brief second before he shrugged his shoulders. He did not doubt that Nobunaga kept her on a short leash, and the things she was able to see when he was gone, might have been a bit of a breather for her.

"I'm afraid Oni does not provide much of a challenge when it comes to food," he stated, earning a snort from Masurao. The same could be said about the Hanyou as well. They both loved food, and could eat it for days, and perhaps rightfully so. They burned through food as quickly as they ate it, given their metabolism, and it was a good thing that their sister was able to keep them fed. They'd probably be starving if it weren't for that, a thought that caused Yujin to visibly shudder. How had he and Masurao managed all those years without their sister?

"Don't think about it," Tatsuki stated, taking a slow bite out of her food as she regarded Yujin. The Oni merely smiled, holding his hands up in defense before wrapping his arms around her, pulling her into a hug. "Yuji... let go," she spoke, her face turning a shade of red as Masurao laughed. She struggled to get out of his hold, her face turning a shade darker with every movement. Yujin merely grinned and shook his head.

"But why!? We wouldn't be quite so fed without you here," he spoke, blinking with a sudden thought as he glanced towards Naomi. "You'd keep us fed if she didn't, right?"

“Mm… I’d feed Little Mao,” Naomi conceded magnanimously. “But you’d be out of luck.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Yuzuki paused to wipe the beads of sweat forming on her brow, then sighed heavily. It was basically the same principle as cleaning the dojo floor when she was little, but it never really seemed to get any easier. Plus, it was only she and Mako, and they had a lot more work to do before the shrine was anywhere near ready. It was true that there was a lot of work to be done before any wedding, but this one, she considered especially important. Everything had to be perfect, including her. But that was something to get nervous about later.

Thankfully, Makoto understood just why it was so special to her, and his help had been invaluable so far—his half the floor was cleaned wickedly fast, and he’d moved on to setting up the ceremonial items that did not require her specifically. She’d have to bless some of them herself later, and arrange everything just so, but at least she was getting a good start. Nevermind that she still felt like she had ten dozen things to do in the next three hours—she would make it perfect, no matter what. This was important enough that no amount of her own labor would be too much, no adjustment too small to matter.

With a pause for her sore back, she started at it again, running the cloth over the already-polished wood floor of the shrine interior. It was a little silly, maybe; they wouldn’t even be having the ceremony indoors unless it rained, and Makoto had reliably informed her that it wasn’t going to. He’d always been able to tell things like that, somehow. She put it down to some weird property of his ki. Whatever the case, it meant that straightening and pruning the garden, which he was currently working on, would be of the utmost importance, since that was where the ceremony would likely be.

She hoped the god was okay with what she was doing, but she somehow thought he would be.

Yujin roamed aimlessly throughout the village, glancing at the villagers and offering them short grins when they stared back at him. For as long as he and his siblings have lived here, it still surprised the villagers that there was an Oni amongst them. He lived in the village for almost a year now, surely by now they would be at least used to his presence by now. The Yakuza were not so present, but even still, the reactions to them when they were there were more mild than the ones he received. He shook his head lightly, allowing his feet to carry him past the village. He found himself staring at a pair of steps, and glanced up, smirking to himself when he realized where he was.

He climbed the steps, taking his time as he whistled quietly. Being in a holy place did nothing to him, it was the use of the holy items that did. He wouldn't be bothered by the purity the place exuded, and in fact, he rather enjoyed it. It wasn't the first time he visited the shrine, or one in general, and it had been awhile since he last visited this shrine. As he made it to the top, he blinked in slight surprise at the cleanliness of the shrine. There must be something important going on for it to be this clean. He pondered on what it could be, however; his eyes landed on a familiar person, and the grin on his lips spread.

"Busy bee, you are," he stated, glancing down at Yuzuki as he approached from behind. He crossed his hands over his chest and smiled. "Is there anything Oni can do to help?" he inquired. From the looks of it, she had done a lot by herself, and with her brother as he could sense the other Hanyou nearby. He didn't know exactly what she was doing, but if he could help alleviate some of that burden, he'd do it. He wasn't doing anything important anyway.

One of the benefits of being the guardian of a particular shrine was that the area was absolutely blanketed by her ki, her protection, and she was able to sense other people approaching. This visitor was an oni, and she wondered for a moment if he might be part of the wedding party before she realized just who it was, at around the same time as he spoke from behind her. The floor at last clean, Yuzuki stood, smiling cheerfully, and nodded her affirmative, the motion accompanied by the small bell charm in her hair.

“We have,” she agreed, the smile inching wider as she was reminded of why. “There’s going to be a very important wedding at the shrine this evening, you see.” She bounced a little on the balls of her feet, clearly excited despite all the work she was doing.

She might have turned down his offer of assistance, but why should she? He was freely offering, and she could realistically use the assistance. Besides, work passed faster when you were doing it with friends. “Hm… you could help Mako and I with the gardens. Everything needs to be trimmed, and then decorated nicely.” From a spot at her hip, she took a roll of leather, unfolding it and extracting a short, flat blade for pruning, which she handed over to Yujin, taking the other for herself. Mako had one already.

“If you need to know what length to trim things to, just let us know. We’ve both done this a lot.” She grinned brightly and set to work on the nearest bonsai tree, since those required a little more expertise to do properly.

Yujin raised a brow when she handed him a flat blade. There was going to be an important wedding? He shrugged his shoulders absentmindedly. It probably wasn't all that important, however; it seemed that important to Yuzuki, and so he would help. But perhaps it would be best if he didn't. He wasn't Masurao, clumsy like the Hanyou, and he was sure he could handle everything just fine, however; he did have his moments where he could be like Masurao. The wedding was important enough to Yuzuki without him destroying something. So, he rolled the blade back into the leather strap she took it from, and handed it back.

"Perhaps Oni may be of assistance in some other way. I am terrible at cutting things, and I don't want to ruin all of your hard work," he explained, stepping back and folding his arms over his chest. Though, it was a bit of a lie, really. He is a samurai, or was one, and he could wield a blade just fine, however; there was some truth to his statement. He wasn't the most elegant samurai, and one wrong flick of his wrist could destroy everything she was working so hard on. He didn't want to do that to her. Least of all, her. He smiled, instead, and tilted his head to the side. He was a bit curious though.

"Who is the wedding for? You say it is important, but I do not recall there being any news of any such figures," he finally questioned. If he didn't ask, he'd be bugged by it all day. He'd find out, of course, when the wedding happened, but why wait when his curiosity could be sated now?

Yuzuki wasn’t exactly sure what more she could ask him to do, considering. Glancng over at Makoto, who was meticulously trimming the flowering plats a few feet away, she chewed her lip thoughtfully. “How many times have we swept the front path?” He held up the last two fingers of his hand in response, and she nodded. “Well, if you want, there’s a broom over there—the garden paths need another going over for anything we trim off.” She shrugged, really not concerned with whether or not he chose to work. He could do whatever he wanted, assuming it wasn’t going to mess anything up, and she didn’t think he’d do that.

She paused in her trimming at the question, though, blinking. “Oh, um… I didn’t mean to say it was a wedding for important people. Er, well, it is, but only because everyone is important to the shrine. It’s not nobility or dignitaries or anything.” She doubted anyone would trust a shrine maiden as young as herself to officiate over such a major ceremony. “I just meant it was important in a different way.”

Makoto raised his head then, looking at the other two over the plant he was working on. He was also cutting several fresh bouquets as he went—he had a surprising artistry with plants, and his arrangements always looked a little nicer than hers, which sometimes bugged her a little, because she was the one with formal training in the area. He just had the instinct, but it was a good one, and she wanted the best for this ceremony. “She says that because she’s marrying an oni to a human,” he explained. Such a thing was practically unheard-of, and was likely to be viewed unkindly by members of both species. Likely, Yuzu didn’t realize how brave she was being, by volunteering to conduct the ceremony. He’d warned her of the danger, but she seemed resolute. Nowhere else would take them, and she was convinced it was the right thing to do.

“Mhm,” Yuzu agreed. “They were both so anxious about it when I met them… afraid I wouldn’t take them, you know.” She sounded sad to think of it, and her smile softened as she remembered the hopeful looks on their faces when she’d not banished them from her holy place immediately. “But I don’t think the gods would really want to turn anyone away… I think it’s only people that do that.”

Now that was interesting indeed. An Oni marrying a human, he almost laughed at the absurdity. But then again, this was Yuzuki, and it was, in its own way, important. They were right, not many places would make such a union official because of human views in general. It was almost enough to cause Yujin to frown when he remembered the incident, however; he merely shook the thought loose and grabbed the broom Yuzuki had pointed to. She was right in the last statement. He couldn't profess to know what a god favored, but people often looked down upon things that were different. If the Gods looked down upon such things, he was sure hey would have eradicated his kind, or humans depending on the God, a long time ago.

He thought they just didn't want to concern themselves with such things anymore, really. As long as someone was willing to believe in them still, they would continue to bless people. He grinned, however, and glanced towards Makoto. "Is this where you plan on being wed as well, Mako?" he questioned, his grin spreading into a toothy smile. He knew the boy would probably react the same way he knew a certain someone would, but it wasn't quite the same. Reactions were what fed him, and he liked making people uncomfortable.

"What about you? Zuki, do you plan on being wed here as well? Or is a priestess such as yourself denied of doing such things?" he continued, glancing back between the two, the broom moving slowly by his feet as he swept.

Yuzuki laughed at the way her brother’s ears turned red, the flush spreading to his fair face. The glare he shot Yujin could have perhaps lit a fire, though thankfully the oni sweeping the paths did not burst into flame. Makoto, keeping what dignity he had left, declined to answer, so Yuzuki answered for both of them. “That was mean, Onigiri-san. Poor Mako here has never had a special lady. I’m sure he hasn’t even thought about it.” She winked at her surrogate brother, who was regarding her with a look of disapproval for her speculation on his personal life. Did they really have to rub it in? He wasn’t exactly a comely creature, given his alien features, but most of the time, he let that go and refused to be bothered. Shaking his head, he went back to his work.

When the question turned towards her, though, Yuzuki shrugged. “I’m not really allowed,” she said quietly. “Most religious folk aren’t. A few have broken the rules, but not many. There’s a rumor that we lose our power, if we do. And there’s nobody to look after the shrine but me, so… I guess I just get to officiate lots of other weddings!” She brightened, but there was little mistaking the slight edge of melancholy her tone had taken. She hadn’t really gotten to choose her own path in life, and sometimes that bothered her. But then again, she didn’t really have any especial reason to want to get married, did she? She’d only be missing out on something if there was someone she’d want to be married to. When she was a little younger, the very thought had been absurd. Now, well… there still wasn’t anyone like that, really.

“What about you, Onigiri? Any special person you want me to marry you to some day? I wouldn’t even charge, you know.” She grinned, the sparkle in her eyes a sure sign that she was having fun teasing him. “Maybe… Mao-Mao?” The smile inched wider, and she snickered. She even thought she heard Makoto snort softly somewhere behind her.

"Don't worry, Mako, your time will come. If an someone can find love in an Oni, I'm sure the same could be for you. Who knows, there might be someone already," he stated, his grin spreading into one of wickedness. Of course, he was lying. He didn't know if someone had an interest in the Hanyou or not, but one often didn't have to look very far. Shaking his head of the thought, he raised a brow in amusement at her statement. Mao-Mao? He chuckled lightly, pausing momentarily in his sweeping to tap his chin in a thoughtful manner.

"Mao-Mao's a little too bulky for me, Mako's too scrawny, and Tsu-Tsu's too shy, but" he paused, glancing down at Yuzuki. "I think there might be someone," he stated, his eyes sparkling with mischief. He placed the broom back in it's spot before walking back to Yuzuki. He kneeled down to the ground, taking both of her hands in his, as he stared up at her. "What do you say, Zuki? Will you make Oni a happy Oni by being his wife?" he stated, his voice laced with a serious tone to it, however; the sparkle in his eyes belied what he was truly thinking.

Makoto rolled his eyes so hard it actually hurt, but Yuzuki was laughing. Hard enough, in fact, that breathing was becoming a struggle. “Oh, Onigiri-san!” she shot back, pretending to swoon, “I thought you’d never ask!” Still trying to contain her laughter, she bent and kissed him on the forehead, then patted his cheek. “But you don’t want to marry little old me. I’d make you do shrine chores all day.”

Yujin chuckled as he stood back on his feet. "Oh, but it would be worth all the chores in the world to have little Zuki as a wife," he stated, hooking his arms underneath her legs, carrying her bridal style. He spun in his spot with her before setting her back down, trying to contain the small bouts of laughter coursing through him. "But Oni would be terrible with Shrine chores, so perhaps it is best," he proclaimed, laying a hand on her head and ruffling her hair.

"That's okay, I'll just have to settle with Mako then," he stated, offering the Hanyou a toothy grin.

“If I am ever that desperate, I would prefer it if you killed me,” Makoto replied flatly.

Yuzuki lost it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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How long had it been? She couldn't remember the last time she'd seen him, and for the first time, Asami felt a lump grow inside of her throat. It was hard to breathe, to think straight, to do anything, really. The world felt like it was spinning, however; she did not allow any of it to show through. She carried herself as she always did, a woman of nobility, of elegance, of charm. She was nobility, however, and that meant she had to present herself as such. Not that she cared much for it, she just wasn't sure how he'd react to her presence. She sighed softly, ignoring the glances and the whispers directed towards her as she walked through the village. The Edo Village was where she'd been told he was currently making a home for himself, and she could only hope that her informant was right. Tensions were rising at the Fujiwara estate, and she needed her brother to come home.

Yujin, however, was currently laughing at the puffed face Masurao was giving him. The two of them were currently doing a bit of shopping for Tatsuki. She'd sent them into the village to retrieve a few vegetables and meats for their home. Feeding a Hanyou and an Oni wasn't exactly the easiest thing to do, and she wondered how she had managed to keep the cupboards stocked. Masurao shook his head, pushing his lower lip out slowly before turning his attention back in front of him. He tilted his head slightly, squinting his eyes to make out a figure in the distance. It was another Oni, that much he could decipher, however; he couldn't tell if it was one of the Yakuza members, or if it was just a roaming Oni. Whoever it was, it caused Yujin to stop in his tracks, his eyes widening slightly as the figure came closer.

"Yujin," Asami breathed out as she spotted her brother. It was true, he was here, and she could feel a wave of relief wash through her being. She approached them, her arms folded inside the sleeves of her kimono, and she smiled at her brother, offering it to his companion as well. She bowed politely, causing Masurao to fumble in his words as he returned the gesture, however; Yujin did not, and remained stoic of face. "It has been a long time, brother," she began. Yujin scoffed, causing her to frown. "Yujin," she began, taking a step forward, however; Yujin merely shook his head and took a step back, causing Masurao to frown. What was wrong with his brother? This Oni just called him brother, and Masurao couldn't recall Yujin ever mentioning his family.

"You know my answer Asami," he spoke, his eyes hardening as he regarded her. "It has not changed," he added, watching as the frown colored his sister's lips. He knew why she was here, but it did not change the fact that he was set in his ways. He was not going to return home, and he knew she would try to make him. Masurao, however, cleared his throat awkwardly, causing Yujin to glance at him. "Oni has a new family now, he does not need them," he stated, clear disdain laced in his voice. Masurao wasn't sure what to do or say, and remained quiet. Asami merely shook her head as the smile faltered from her face once more.

"Mao, this is my sister, Asami. Ami, this is Mao," he stated, introducing his brother to his sister. Asami merely shook her head but smiled at Masurao, who grinned sheepishly back at her. "There is nothing more to say, however; I cannot make you leave, Asami," he continued, turning his back towards her in the process. "Perhaps we should go visit Tsu-Tsu," he spoke, ignoring Asami and turning his attention towards Masurao. The Hanyou pursed his lips together, but obliged his brother nonetheless. The three of them, Asami trailing behind, walked towards the restaurant, and seated themselves. Some day this was turning out to be. Nothing else could go wrong, right?

It would seem that in the next booth over, there was a small commotion. “Mako, you can’t just let people treat you like that; it’s horrible!” The familiar voice of Yuzuki was urgent, but not particularly loud. Likely, though, the three in the area behind her could hear it well enough. Her fingers were presently lifted gently to Makoto’s face, which presently sported a black eye, deep purple bruising an ugly contrast with the vibrant violet of his eyes. His lower lip was also split, with several other marks on his face, as though he’d been punched by someone wearing a gauntlet or something with sharp edges. The wounds were relatively old, indicating that he’d received them a good deal earlier in the day.

He’d been about to go home, but unfortunately, he’d run into Yuzuki on his way, and he knew she would come after him if he tried to avoid her. So she’d dragged him into he nearest friendly building and sat him down, upset but doing her best not to show it. If she got much more worked up, however, she may begin to cause a scene, and another one of those was the last thing he wanted today. “I can, and I must,” he said softly, barely audible to any but the keenest of ears. “They’re scared, Yuzu, and they’re volatile. If I fought back, if I ran away, they would assume I was guilty, and there would be no time for negotiation when they came to burn the house down. You know this.” He was pleading with her to understand, to let it go, but it must have been the wrong thing to say.

“That’s no excuse for what they did! They don’t get to call my brother a murderer, to… to… hurt him like this, and just walk away satisfied with themselves. I won’t let them!” She sounded like she was going to cry, but Makoto’s response was not at all sympathetic.

“Yuzuki.” Though his tone was still low, there was a strange, implicit command in it, one that carried an unusual level of authority for someone as tentative as Makoto was. “You will let them. I will not be the reason you are ostracized or harmed for colluding with oni. I accept this because if they are satisfied having hurt me, then there is no need for them to hurt you, or the little ones, or mother. Nor any of… our friends.” The last words were said slowly, as though they tasted strange on his tongue.

There was a long silence, then a sniffle, clearly Yuzuki’s. “It’s wrong, Mako,” she said, and her voice trembled even as she reached forward to take his face in both of her hands. “It’s just so wrong.” She started to glow faintly with a violet-pink light as she channeled her healing energies into his wounds, choking back a gasp when she realized just how many of them were under his clothing as well. His own healing factor was very good, and that meant… they’d beaten him long beyond what would have killed a human man. She imagined the broken bones, the gaping wounds that these had been, and she could not stop her tears anymore. Heedlessly launching herself across the empty table, she wrapped herself tightly around her best friend and sobbed softly into his shoulder. Makoto swallowed—this was why he’d been hoping to avoid contact with her until his injuries healed themselves. He’d never tell her, but this was hardly the first time he’d undergone such an ordeal. Gingerly, he placed his arms around her, one about her back, and threading the fingers of his opposite hand through her short hair.

He was glad that the establishment was mostly empty, and they were hidden from most eyes by the booth structures.

The silence was a bit uncomfortable to Masurao, glancing between the Oni siblings as he tried to think of something to break it. Yujin seemed content, sitting with his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes closed, while his sister held her hands in her lap, folded neatly, and a soft smile on her face. From the little bits he had caught earlier, it appeared that the female Oni was here for Yujin, and for him to go back. But go back where? All the years he had known his brother, Yujin never spoke of his family, only telling them that his parents were dead, and that he was a ronin samurai. He sighed softly, clearing his throat awkwardly, however; before anything could be said, there was a small commotion from the next booth over.

Or so it seemed to be the next booth over. Being an Oni, or even a Hanyou, Masurao could hear bits and pieces from the conversation. He recognized both voices, and he pursed his lips together. Something happened to Makoto? Wait... did she say murderer? Was he being blamed for a murder? Who was murdered? Masurao couldn't recall any information regarding a murder in the village. Perhaps it was recent. As if reading his thoughts, Asami cast her gaze downwards. She hadn't seen the body per se, but she could smell the blood lingering in the air. Whoever was killed, wasn't killed mercifully. They were tortured, and slowly devoured from the scent of things. Before she could voice this, though, Masurao was already out of his seat and walking towards Makoto and Yuzuki.

"Yuzu, Mako, what's going on? Why are they accusing you of a murder?" he questioned, standing at the edge of their table. Yujin cracked an eye open as he stared at Masurao, having caught the conversation himself, and almost scoffed. The humans were at it again, and from the sounds of it, almost beat Makoto to death. He furrowed his brows, the scowl evident on his face. Asami raised a questioning brow, tilting her head in the process. Why would he feel so angry about such a thing? These humans, they were all animals, and they treated Oni and Hanyou just as badly as each other. Hanyou were worse off than Oni because they were half human.

"Why does the news disturb you, brother?" she asked, the curiosity evident in her voice as she spoke. Yujin snapped his eyes towards his sister, regarding her for a moment as she continued to smile softly at him. "I remember an Oni stating once, that humans were vile, disgusting creatures. Has the same Oni, who spoke those words, eaten them?" she questioned, her brow raising playfully up as Yujin's frown deepened. He had said that a long... long time ago, when he was a more violent proned Oni.

"Perhaps," he spoke, his face softening just a fraction. "My family has... shown me differently, yes," he continued. And they had, in their own way, shown him that humans and Hanyou were not as they had appeared. They could be changed with the right notions, however; he wondered if his faith in that would disappear again. "And Zuki and Mako are Oni's friends, they matter to Oni," he continued, his eyes hardening as Asami smiled. Her brother had changed, after all these years.

"It is why we need Oni, back."

Yuzuki pushed back against his chest, trying to gather her composure, and Makotot let her go without protest, helping her wipe the tears from her eyes. Masurao’s appearance wasn’t unexpected to him, as he’d known who was present, but Yuzuki had likely not been paying enough attention to properly register their ki signatures. “There was a kidnapping last night,” he said quietly, brushing the pad of his thumb over the spot just beneath Yuzu’s blue-green eye. She sniffled, giving Masurao a shaky smile. “A young woman, from the village. The same one we met that day.” He knew Masurao would know the occasion to which he referred.

“They thought that just because she was friendly with Mako, that he had hurt her. There’s no proof, and there never will be, because he didn’t do it!” Her little hands curled into fists, and she bit down on her lower lip to keep it from trembling.

Makoto sighed softly, sounding very weary. “The problem is, there is no evidence at all, save her disappearance and a half-eaten corpse. I found her at the wrong time, and they jumped to the conclusion one would expect.” He decided against describing what had followed. He wouldn’t fight them—he refused to. They were only frightened, and without any other way to get justice aside from what they took for themselves. The Slayer in him understood. They did what they felt they had to do to protect themselves and each other. But they were weaker than oni, and sometimes they picked the only target they could reach rather than the one they should be aiming for.

Masurao frowned deeply. The woman, the one who managed to calm her brother, the one who Yujin rebuilt her stall, she was dead? The description Makoto gave him, however, wasn't something that felt familiar. Sure, Oni would eat a human from time to time, but they never left half eaten corpses. Only youkai and lesser Oni's would do that. But that couldn't be right, why would they think Makoto did it? Just because she had been nice to them didn't mean he would do such a thing. He wasn't even sure Makoto was capable of harming anything that wasn't a youkai, or Oni. He softened his gaze at Yuzuki when she spoke, and slumped his shoulders.

"Of course he didn't do it," Masurao spoke, laying a hand on Yuzuki's shoulder and giving it a light squeeze. He offered her a grin, trying to keep himself in check. "We'll figure this out, so that we can clear his name," he stated. He was making a promise to the both of them. Makoto didn't deserve the treatment, and the village would be under attack still, if they didn't deal with the problem. The less people that died, the better it would be for them all. He couldn't help a feeling of dread to fall to the pit of his stomach as he thought about it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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The following night, Masurao, Yujin, and Tatsuki set out to patrol the outskirts of the village. Another body had shown up, a young child this time, battered and mangled. They couldn't see who it was, however; the cries of the mother and the insults of the villagers were enough to let the trio know that it was another human. Masurao had been under fire that day because of it. Makoto was not the only one being blamed, however; unlike the other Hanyou, the humans of the village did not necessarily touch him as they had Makoto. Either his bulk was enough to scare them away, or they had not the courage to do so. Plus, Tatsuki had been there as well, the normally shy kitchen chef, set in a hard glare.

It, of course, wasn't enough to keep them all at bay, but it was enough to keep the humans from trying anything stupid. Though admittedly, she and Masurao were a little surprised that the villagers did not blame Yujin's sister. She had just arrived into town, and it was a little suspicious that the murders happened just as soon as she arrived. Asami, however, assured them that it was not her, that she wouldn't harm a human unless given reason to and that she suspected she knew what was killing the humans. She did not divulge any more information than that, however, and the three siblings decided to do a little night hunting.

It was quiet for the most part, the village seemingly peaceful, and there were no signs of demons or Oni. Masurao sighed, running a hand through his hair as he stared down at Tatsuki, and then glanced towards his brother. They had all remained silent with each other, trying to listen for any clues that would lead them to the murderer, however; they had met only silence. "Perhaps we are on the wrong side," Yujin stated, yawning rather loudly as he shifted his arms behind the back of his head. Tatsuki frowned in his direction as Masurao pursed his lips together. Perhaps they were, or perhaps the creature responsible knew they were there. Whatever the reason, they couldn't just leave, yet.

"Perhaps we should split up. We could cover more ground that way," Tatsuki suggested, however; before the other two could reply, the sound of a twig snapping, caught their attention. Immediately, Tatsuki brought out her Naginata pole, extending it so that the blade was now a few feet in front of her. Masurao and Yujin both straightened their posture, their eyes giving of a certain glow in the dark as they glanced in the direction the sound came from. "Show yourself," she demanded, her voice going rugged and deep, firm and strong. It was nothing like the soft, shy tone she used back in the inn, or with the others.

"Tatsuki?" a voice called out, causing the said girl to purse her lips together. The figure stepped out of the shadows, the moonlight above being the only illumination they had, and Tatsuki tilted her head in confusion. The man before her was a little older, closing in on his mid to late thirties, but it was his eyes that she noticed. They were a shade of deep violet, very peculiar, and very familiar. She'd only seen them once, and that was all it had taken to imprint them into her mind. She could never forget those eyes. "Is that... is that you?" he continued, taking a step forward as a bright light coursed through his eyes.

"Who are you?" Masurao stated, taking a stand in front of his surrogate sister, Yujin doing the same. Yujin glanced back at Tatsuki, and noticed the paralyzed state she was in. It was obvious enough that she knew who this person was, however; it appeared to have not been on good terms. Why else would she appear to be so... frightened? "And how do you know Tsuki," he continued in a demanding tone. The man frowned slightly, his eyes narrowing in on the Hanyou and Oni before returning to Tatsuki.

"My name is Shiranui--"

"Hidehiko" Tatsuki interrupted. Yujin and Masurao both gave her a questioning look. "He's my betrothed."

It was at this point that the group was alerted to a disturbance by a shout in the distance, accompanied by a bright flash in the dark. The touch of divinity that reached all their senses on the air meant it could only be Yuzuki, though perhaps those with better-attuned aura perception would note that Makoto was also present, as well as an unknown human.

In fact, the scene they arrived to was a bloody one, though only the human seemed injured. At night, Mako resembled more a spirit or a ghost than anything of the mortal realm, the scant light of the moon and stars reflecting off the snowy color of his hair and the almost equal pallor of his skin in a way that contrasted sharply with the dark clothing he was wearing. Both his swords were drawn, slicked the deep red-black of demon blood, and Yuzuki still held her bow in one hand, an arrow loosely clasped in the other.

Of course, at that point, the human behind them whimpered, and she shoved the arrow back in its quiver, slinging the bow over her shoulder and kneeling immediately beside the woman, who was staring wide-eyed at Makoto and the space in front of him with clear signs of shock setting in. There was a large hole in the earth about ten feet before the hanyou, and he appeared to be staring at it intently, at least until he sensed the presence of the others, at which point his head turned sharply towards them, revealing that his left cheek was streaked with the same blood as his swords. To his side was a dark, shiny object about as tall as Yuzuki, jointed once in about the middle. The leg of a giant centipede demon, for those who knew about such things.

“We appear to have found the murderer,” he said bluntly. Though from the hole in the ground, it had fled quite quickly when it realized it was in for more than a free meal.

Before anything else could be said between the four, a shout alerted the group, and immediately, three of the four were off with a quickness. Hidehiko was left behind, staring at the empty space the other three had currently occupied and ran after them as well. When the three siblings arrived on the scene, a lick of confusion crossed their features as they stared between Yuzuki, Makoto, and the frightened woman. Masurao was immediately by Makoto's side, as Tatsuki went to Yuzuki's side, glancing down at the frightened woman before glancing at Yujin. He was standing off to the side, looking at the limb of the demon responsible, and he frowned.

"This demon is well fed," he spoke, running his hand over the limb. "And appears to be someone's pet," he concluded, removing his hand and placing it to his side. It appeared that either someone had let it loose upon the village, or it escaped. He was willing to bet that it was no accident. A demon of that caliber shouldn't be too hard to deal with, however; it would be a different story if it was someone's pet. Youkai's, for some reason, were a little stronger than their wild counterparts. Partially because they were always well maintained, and partially because their owners always made sure they were the strongest. Through selective breeding, training, whatever possible to make them stronger.

"Who could be responsible for it though?" Masurao questioned. Why would anyone want to let their pet loose on such a peaceful village? It didn't make sense to him, however; he wasn't going find answers by just standing around. "At least... we'll be able to clear your name now, Mako," he stated, offering the Hanyou a tilt of his head. But it wouldn't be that easy. Even he knew that. It would take the whole corpse of the demon to convince the village, and for them to cut open its stomach to prove that Makoto was not responsible for the murders.

"Then why not go after it?" Hidehiko spoke, approaching the group and standing next to Tatsuki, who took a step to the side for more comfort. "You and I must talk, but that can wait," he spoke lowly for her to hear. "I can help you track the demon to it's lair," he continued. Tatsuki merely pursed her lips together. He was the heir of the Shiranui clan, and he likely had a few talents that could help him, however; that did not mean she had to like the interference. This was not going to end well, she just knew it.

"You could track it, yes," she began, walking so that she stood next to Yujin. "But it would be foolish to do so now. It has the upper hand, it's under ground. Even if we go after it," she spoke, glancing towards Makoto before returning her attention back to the others. "All of us at once would only hinder our chances of escape and will limit our movements. It would be better if we waited for it to come out from underground. It seems to have a taste for flesh. We can lure it out with bait."

“Use me.” That pronouncement came from Yuzuki, as Mako had known it would from the moment Tatsuki suggested bait. “We can’t risk another defenseless villager, and I don’t think anything other than a human would work. It fled as soon as Mako got here.” Though that may have had more to do with the fact that he’d sliced a leg off in less than a second than anything. Aggressive wasn’t usually the right word for her brother—until he perceived that someone he cared for was in danger, and Yuzuki had indeed been in some degree of danger, trying to fend off the thing while simultaneously dealing with the abject panic of the creature’s intended victim. The woman had actually latched onto her legs. Not the smartest thing, but considering how scared she’d been, Yuzu couldn’t really blame her.

The light of her healing ki faded from around her, and she smiled over at Tatsuki before looking up at the rest. “That leaves me, Tatsuki, and this person I don’t know. Hello, by the way.” She grinned at Hidehiko, then stood, dusting off her hands and offering one to help the village woman stand. The lady, who had deep black hair and doe-like brown eyes, accepted it, then bowed to the group, a second time to Makoto and Yuzuki.

“I’ll tell them it wasn’t you,” she offered tentatively, “But I don’t know if they’ll believe me. Whatever the case, I know I’m not betwitched.” She glanced down and to the side, shaking her head.

Yuzuki nodded, clearly satisfied by that. “And Tatsuki is much better at stealth than I am, which means she’ll be more helpful in getting close and taking it by surprise,” she concluded. She also didn’t want to put her friend in direct harms’ way. This was risky for a human, no matter how skilled, even though she knew without a doubt that her friends would be able to take down the centipede.

Makoto clearly didn’t like it, but it was difficult to argue with her reasoning, and they both knew it. “It has been chased away for tonight,” he said quietly, glancing at the severed limb. “It will likely choose to recover until tomorrow. The trap can wait until then. Warn everyone you know not to go out alone until it is dead, Fuuka-san,” the last was directed at the woman, who looked surprised that he recalled her name. She shouldn’t be, though—he passed her shop often on his way into town, and his aunt occasionally made purchases of raw silk from her. Then again, perhaps everyone simply assumed he didn’t care enough to learn a human’s name. In the end, though, she nodded and affirmed that she would.

"No," was the immediate response from Masurao when Yuzuki offered herself as the bait. He pursed his lips, however, when Tatsuki touched his arm, his frown deepened. "But, Tsu-Tsu," he tried, but Tatsuki merely furrowed her brows in a light glare. She didn't like the idea of using Yuzuki as the potential bait as well, however; the priestess was right. She could help her brothers and Makoto with the youkai, and Yuzuki would be able to care for herself when it arrived. At least they were not using an incompetent human.

"She will be fine, Mao," Tatsuki stated, offering a small smile to her brother. Masurao's frown remained, however, there was no going against his sister when she smiled like that. He sighed, shaking his head softly as he lowered his head. "And Makoto is right, we will have no hunt today," she continued, glancing at the white haired Hanyou before turning her attention towards Yujin, who seemed to be studying the demon's limb. He turned towards the group and grinned at them, causing her to shake her head and sigh.

"For now, we go home and conjure a plan. We have our bait, but we will need a plan," she continued, the sound of something rumbling causing her to shake her head and frowned towards Yujin. "And a late dinner it seems." Yujin only continued to grin.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Image



The plan would be as it was, and everyone knew their part. After cleaning the dishes, and putting them away, Tatsuki made to leave for her shared room with her brothers, however; Hidehiko stopped her, pulling her away and asking for her to join him on a short stroll. She would have advised against it, but it wasn't as if they were in any real danger at the moment. The youkai was gone, recovering from its missing limb, and Yujin and Masurao wouldn't be too far. She sighed, obliging him as she took to his side. The walk, for the most part, was rather... quiet. It was an eerie kind of silence, one that even Tatsuki was feeling a little uncomfortable. It was broken by Hidehiko clearing his throat, and Tatsuki glanced up at him.

"Tatsuki," he began, his voice soft and shaken. He enveloped her in an embrace, resting his head on the top of her crown as her body stiffened. She was not used to any other bodily contact other than her brothers, and the small friends she had managed to make the last few months of living in Edo. She remained stiff, her hands kept to her side as she tried to regain the feeling in them. Hidehiko pulled back, his hands still placed on the sides of her shoulders as he stared down at her, a small smile on her face. "They told me you were dead," he began, his eyes glazing over slightly. "I thought I'd lost you. Your father," he paused, glancing off to the side. She sighed softly, knowing full well what he was going to say.

It wasn't lost to her, that her father might have died awhile back, perhaps childless for all she knew. But she didn't care. She no longer held any ties to that family, and she no longer wanted them. She had a new family now, one whom she had come to care for in ways she had never cared for any of her true family members. Though, Nobuo would always be the one exception to that. Hidehiko stared at her, their eyes locking as he tried to read her. She remained as she was, eyes focused, her body still stiff. He was confused, why did she not grieve? Did she know already? But... that couldn't be possible. No one knew she was alive, and she'd never left any connection to her survival.

"Why do you not grieve? Does your father's death not upset you?"

"Father had it coming," was her curt reply. Her eyes narrowed at Hidehiko as he furrowed his brows. "I do not know the circumstances through which his death came to be, but whatever it was, he was destined for it," she continued. "Is there reason why you are here, Hidehiko? You did not bring me out here to inform me of father's death," she stated, pushing away from him in the process. She crossed her arms against her chest as she stared defiantly up at him. He was beginning to grate her nerves, and Tatsuki was not known for her temper. She was shy, timid, Tatsuki. She wasn't stubborn, and she wasn't defiant.

"Is it not obvious? I came for you. We will stay to help this village, it is our job as a slayer of demons, to help those who cannot, however," he stated, pausing to lay a hand upon her cheek, sliding it back to thread his fingers in her hair. "Once the demon is vanquished, you are returning with me to the Shiranui clan." he declared. Tatsuki stared at him incredulously. She was going to do what? She wasn't going anywhere. She didn't have to go anywhere. This was her home, her family was here. He could see the hesitation in her face, the way it twisted into one of discomfort, and he was not pleased.

"I am dead to my family. The marriage was annulled the moment they announced me as such," she stated. She didn't understand why he still thought they were betrothed, however; the smile on his face sent a chill upon her spine. What was he smiling about? Surely he didn't believe that she was still going to marry him, did he? "I am not marrying you, Hidehiko," she declared, pushing his hand away from her as she took a step back. He only stepped forward, forcing her back against a tree. He caged her with his hands pressed against the trunk, and she glared up at him.

"You believe that you are a free woman?" he questioned, his tone deeper, darker than it had been moments before. His eyes seemed to glow an eerie color, and Tatsuki could not help the state of fear she was currently feeling. "You have seem to forgotten that you are not a free woman. You are mine, Tatsuki Genshu," he continued, causing her to flinch inwardly. She had not heard that name used in such a long time. She'd dropped it, kept her birth name, but her surname had to be changed. If it was not, she risked exposure of her family finding her. She risked this happening.

"You are my wife, legally bound to me by the contract of our clans. You are not a free woman, Tatsuki. I am offering you this much, letting you stay, giving you a chance to be with those things you call family. You should be grateful to me for that," he stated, putting his hand on the back of her neck and forcing it forward. "If I so desired, I would have them all killed, and I would make you watch as they were slaughtered. I would have you executed for even fornicating with such demons," he spat, their faces only inches apart. Tatsuki had half a mind to launch forward, bite his lip in retaliation and run, however; she only glared at him.

"They are my brothers, Hidehiko, not my lovers. And they would kill you before you even had the chance," she spat back, however; it managed to elicit a laugh from the older male, causing him to pull back. He kept her still in her place, and she could feel the annoyance bubbling within. This man, he was asking for a death wish. If she had any of her weapons on her person, she'd have done it herself. But as it was, she was currently defenseless. And he knew it. He was using it to his advantage, but what was keeping her from doing so when she returned? What was to keep her from killing him when they got back to her home?

"You will come back with me to the Shiranui estate once this is over. I have sent word to the clan that you are alive, and should I not return in four days time, you are alive and to be executed for my death," he threatened. Tatsuki took a sharp intake of air. She should have known he would do that. She had to stop the message from reaching the clan. For once, Tatsuki hoped that the demon responsible for the murders, would commit just one more in the form of the messenger. If she could be assured that, she would not hesitate to exact her revenge upon this man. "And when we return, you are expected to provide me with an heir to my clan, Tatsuki. You will give me an heir," he added. She would do no such thing. The very thought disgusted her, and she could feel the bile in her stomach traveling up her throat. She just needed to bide her time. She had a feeling, however, that time was not on her side. Never in her life, has she ever wished death upon a person.

Until now.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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The yukata Yuzuki currently wore was perhaps not the best thing for movement, but she needed to look the part, just in case the centipede’s victims were selected by someone other than the youkai itself, as they might well be if it was in fact a pet. She didn’t want to know who’d keep such a creature, or what they fed it to keep it growing, but thankfully, if they killed it she wouldn’t have to know. She wasn’t a violent person generally, but she knew that this was necessary to protect the people of this town. The centipede was being used as a weapon, and that weapon had to be destroyed. To protect the people of this town.

She shifted a bit uncomfortably in the garment—she wasn’t really used to yukata and kimono, and besides that, she had another layer underneath, which most people usually did not. For the sake of the act, she was walking by herself, but she knew the others would be nearby, ready to move at the first sign of distress from her, which might come sooner rather than later, considering she hadn’t been able to bring her bow, and was armed only with knives. Tatsuki had been training her with their use, of course, and sometimes, even Mako would spar with her, but she wasn’t nearly as good as either of them. She’d have to hope Mako could get her bow and arrows to her soon after the big bug showed up.

Her aura sense flared to life, and Yuzuki whirled around even as the rumbling under her feet started. They were just small tremors at first, but swiftly grew until they resembled an earthquake, making it hard for her to keep her feet. It was a moment too late that she realized where the centipede had gotten to—it erupted from the ground directly beneath her, and Yuzuki’s dive away was interrupted when its pincers caught her around the waist, carrying her up and up and further up still until she was lofted more than thirty feet in the air—and fighting to keep from being lodged in its throat on a more permanent basis.

Her shriek was entirely genuine, and she struggled to reach the nearest knife, in an arm sheath hidden below her sleeve. The way the thing undulated in the air, trying to dislodge the grip her legs kept on its right mandible, was not making things any easier, and she felt herself losing her hold even as she finally drew out the knife. With a final wrench, it tossed her another good twenty feet straight up—and lined its gaping maw up right underneath her. It was strange, the delay while she hung in the air before plummeting downwards—the moment felt like it took forever and no time at all simultaneously. Was this how she was going to die—consumed before her life was even a third done by some giant bug? It seemed monumentally unfair, though she supposed she’d lived a very good life, for all that it was short.

Still, she certainly wasn’t going to die without a fight. Enveloping herself in the bright light of her ki, Yuzu adjusted her grip on the knife and angled downwards, leading with the blade as she fell. The beast’s alignment was right on, but she stretched herself as much as she could, hooking onto the upper jaw with the knife and bracing her feet against the lower, trying to stop it from closing over her. The youkai was strong, and she risked being swallowed at any moment, but she could tell her ki was burning it, if the way it thrashed around with her was any indication. It was certainly well and truly distracted—whether she lived or died now was entirely a function of what her friends did. She had to believe in them… and she did.

The three siblings decided it was best to be downwind of Yuzuki. Seemingly alone was the best route for her to take, and they couldn't risk the demon smelling them. It would ruin the plan, and they would lose their shot at dealing with the pest. They only had one shot, and they couldn't afford to blow it. They also had to travel by trees. The demon was an insect, one that thrived underground. They had a certain advantage to being so. They could sense vibrations from the surface, and it was how they chose their prey. At least in the trees, they didn't have to worry too much about being detected. The trees would take most of the impact, and cancel out the vibrations.

And just as expected, the large demon emerged from the ground, taking Yuzuki with it. Masurao was the first to move, watching as the demon tried to swallow the small girl whole. It took every ounce of restraint Masurao had to keep from losing himself to his Oni side. That was his friend in danger, and he didn't like it. Even as she was able to keep herself from being eaten, Masurao was struggling to keep his anger in check. Yujin was one of the last to move, his face contorting between a smile, and trying to remain straight. Perhaps not the best time to be laughing about the situation, but he was nonetheless charging the creature.

"Makoto," Tatsuki shouted to the other Hanyou. All she need do was say his name, hoping he knew what she meant. He was the fastest out of them all, and he would be able to reach Yuzuki first. She would trust that he would, and instead, focused on the base of the demon. She extended her Naginata pole, launching herself at its back and digging the speartip into the demon's back. She could hear it hissing in pain as Masurao drew his own blade, severing off one of it's legs as he aimed for the stomach area. "Mao, not there!" Tatsuki shouted, watching as Masurao's blade merely bounced back.

"Its belly acts as armour, Mao-Mao. You can't just attack any particular spot," he spoke, pointing to Tatsuki. She had buried her spear underneath the demon's shell, managing to pierce the spot where the scale was weak. Masurao frowned, drawing his blade once more as he glanced towards Yujin. "Find the weak points, Mao-Mao. Shouldn't be too hard for you," he spoke, a light grin spreading across his lips. Masurao frowned at Yujin, but took the Oni's advice anyway. He continued hacking away, listening to the sounds of metal scraping against metal. Why did it seem it would be so much easier than this?

Makoto didn’t need to be told twice. In fact, it was almost too much to ask him to stay in place for as long as he had, but he knew it would be foolishness to waste Yuzu’s distraction while the others were still out of range. So he waited until they were all on the attack before he gathered his ki to him and charged, gathering his legs beneath him for a powerful leap that sent him more than ten feet off the ground. He grabbed one of the youkai’s limbs and began to climb it even as it thrashed, trying to dislodge himself, swallow Yuzu, and flail away its other attackers in the process.

Three more leaps had him up near its mouth, and another application of ki manifested a blade composed of vibrating air molecules around one of his hands, which he stabbed into the throat area of the youkai, jumping from its right forelimb to its left and dragging his ki weapon with him, severing the lower jaw entirely from the creature. It could still pinch with its side mandibles, but it would have serious trouble eating anything. This also lost Yuzu her foothold however.

“Mako!” she shouted, her grip on the knife embedded in the creature’s mouth loosening until it slipped from her fingers and she plummeted towards the ground below. Makoto abandoned his effort to kill the thing in favor of rescuing his sister, whose human fragility would not likely allow her to survive such a fall if she landed poorly. Pushing off the centipede with his legs, he dove down after her, encircling her in his arms and gesturing a swift column of air upwards to break their fall.

He landed scarcely more heavily than he would have were he on his own, and set Yuzuki down carefully, handing her her bow and arrows, relieved to see that she was mostly all right. She smiled at him for a moment, but then her eyes went wide at something behind him. He whirled just in time to see an oni’s sword flash towards them, and he stepped into the blow, knowing that to do otherwise was to give the warrior a chance to hurt Yuzuki.

The blade entered his belly and exited just left of his spine, heavy internal bleeding causing his lungs to well with the liquid, which dripped from the corner of his mouth as he coughed. “Mako!” He could hear Yuzuki calling to him, but the words sounded far away over the ringing in his ears. He staggered backwards a step, his hand going to the hilt of the blade, still held by the oni. He was not as strong as such a creature, but he could hold it there for long enough. His free hand formed into a spade shape, the familiar air-blade manifesting, and with energy he should not have still possessed, he stabbed it forward into the oni’s skull, piercing the bone that protected its brain. The yakuza warrior—he recognized him, from a meeting with Nobunaga—went still, dropping to the ground like a sack of stones, only for many more of his fellows to take the field, and Makoto coughed, spraying the ground with his own blood.

Yujin had opted to stay back, watching and observing the centipede demon work to detach its attackers. He was studying it, looking for a weak spot in it other than under the scales, however; he wasn't finding anything helpful. He frowned, watching as Tatsuki held onto the Naginata blade still embedded into the demon's back. She had managed to dislodge one of its shell's, however; the soft part exposed would soon be hard again. That was one of the things Yujin hated about centipede demons. Slow, stupid, they were, but they were also highly efficient at regenerating lost scales. They were what most Oni made their armor out of. In a fluid movement, Yujin moved to attack, sinking his blade into one of the demon's legs.

Masurao, however, had been hacking away limb after limb. It wasn't until the scent of blood entered his senses that he snapped. He turned in time to see Makoto impaled through the stomach, blocking an attack meant for Yuzuki. Makoto managed to dispatch the Oni, however; more were pouring onto the field, and Masurao could feel something pulling inside of him. His aura seemed to grab a life of its own, flaring around him in a visible white light. The dark shade of his hair seemed to lose all color to it, and was replaced by a white, almost translucent, color. His eyes lost all color to them, instead, retaining a pure white color, from sclera to iris, to pupil. There was no color left to his eyes.

His friends had been hurt, and the only thing on his mind was to destroy. Tatsuki grunted as she tried to hold onto the demon's back, however; she glanced in time to spot Masurao's transformation. Her eyes widened, causing her to momentarily lose her grip on the pole, and fell from the demon's back. She landed with a hard thud on the ground, and snapped her head in the direction of Yujin. He had spotted the transformation as well, and that did not bode well for anyone. This was not the first time Yujin had seen this transformation, and he knew what it entailed. Masurao was not himself. He would attack anything that moved, and Yujin felt torn. Should he help his sister finish off the demon, or should he help his brother return?

Masurao, however, had already begun to attack. There were a good handful of Oni, all full-blooded, on the field. It didn't seem to matter to the Hanyou. Their attacks seemed to roll off of him, though it was still obvious he was being hurt. Blood was pouring from wounds that were healing as fast as they could, daggers were sprouting from his shoulders and back, but he simply waved them off. He felt nothing. His hand, large as it was, fit over an Oni's head, and he merely squeezed, watching, reveling in the Oni's pained scream as his head exploded. Masurao smiled.

"Yuzuki," Yujin called out to the priestess, immediately going to her side as he stood in front of her. "Help Tatsuki with the demon. I'll help Makoto and Mao. It's not safe here for you," he stated, gesturing behind him in the process. There wasn't much he could do to help Makoto, though. All he could do was pull the blade from the Hanyou, and hope his regeneration would kick in. But for Masurao, once he calmed down, Yujin knew he wouldn't forgive himself if he had hurt Yuzuki or Tatsuki. It was not something the Oni was willing to take, and he would protect his friends, even from each other if he had to. These Oni that were attacking, though, he knew quite well. They were all of Nobunaga's lower line. They were the ones he sent out to eliminate.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Image



Yuzuki looked like she wanted to protest, but she knew it was probably a bad idea. She had a pretty good idea what had just happened to Mao, and she didn’t want to put him in a position where he might hurt her, knowing how bad he’d feel about it afterwards. She wanted to heal Mako first, but her brother shook his head as though intercepting the thought. “Go,” he said, his voice haggard, but not weak even so. “I’ll be fine.” Raising his second hand to the hilt of the sword, he tore it out of his stomach, something Yuzuki could not bear to watch.

So instead, she turned towards the centipede demon, raising her bow and nocking an arrow on the string. “Tatsuki! I’m going to make you a weak spot, but you’ll have to stab before it regenerates!” So saying, she charged the arrow with her ki and let it fly, hitting the centipede square in the middle. Unlike ordinary steel, which would have simply bounced right off, her arrow burned away at the plating and the flesh beneath, causing the creature to let out an unearthly squealing sound as it struggled to get at the one who was causing it so much pain.

Yuzuki, however, was having other problems. Ducking under the first swing of an oni assassin, she wasn’t quite able to avoid the second, which sliced clean through the obi of her yukata. She shed the garment in a hasty effort to get away from her assailant, but he was persistent, a toothy grin making evident the disgusting dark yellow of his teeth, bright even so against the deep green of his skin. His third slash opened up a deep cut on her arm, effectively disabling her ability to shoot. Scrambling backwards, Yuzuki blocked the next hit with her bow, which snapped in half under the blade, skimming her cheek. The next stab took her in the same shoulder, carrying her to the ground and staking her there, the pin making it impossible for her to roll away or otherwise defend herself. She kicked out at its legs, the only thing that stopped the second sword from burying itself in her throat. It landed a mere inch from her neck to the left, the assailant growling with frustration at being unable to skewer her, she figured.

Makoto, meanwhile, was fending off no less than three full-blooded oni, the wound in his stomach healing rapidly, but even that did not spare him the blood loss, and he was lightheaded, his disorientation slowing him down and making it difficult to gain any ground, even with his speed. He’d finally drawn one of his swords, his other hand still making use of a ki blade. Bending backwards under the cudgel one was carrying, Matoto flipped, using one of his feet to stab another ki blade up into the club-wielder’s throat. He was wearing out fast, though, and with the wounds he was accumulating, even his regenerative capabilities would soon be at their limit.

Tatsuki nodded, waiting for Yuzuki to provide her the opening she needed. She dug her naginata deeper into its back, pulling a dagger from her thigh and replacing the naginata with it. She would need the length of the spear, and when Yuzuki let her arrow fly, Tatsuki went soaring after it, using the daggers as a means to climb. The arrow hit center of the centipede, and Tatsuki was not far behind it. She plunged, with as much force as she could, the spear into the opening, listening as the severed flesh parted. She continued driving it in, watching as the blood poured from deep within the creature. With a final thrust, the naginata pole was pushed deeply into the wound, piercing the creature's heart. The demon stilled, standing erect in the air as Tatsuki continued to hold onto it.

Its eyes clouded over and it fell backwards, forcing Tatsuki to jump from the creature. She managed to roll to the side, but let out a startled gasp when she looked up. Masurao was currently holding Hidehiko by his throat, his eyes blazing a blinding white. The Shiranui male struggled to free himself, doing everything in his power to cause the Hanyou to drop him, however; Masurao merely caught one of the male's flailing arms, and tore. The ripping sound was almost too much for Tatsuki to stand, and the painful scream Hidehiko released, caused her to cover her ears. The shriek wasn't something she would have expected from him, but it didn't really matter at the moment.

Masurao grinned broadly, his teeth flashing a pearly white as he tossed the severed arm to the side. His eyes, however, focused behind the screaming Hidehiko, and the grin on Masurao's face vanished. It was replaced by a feral pull of his lips, curling up in a display of anger, and the Hanyou charged. The Oni trying to kill Yuzuki wasn't exactly succeeding, but Yuzuki wouldn't be able to hold out forever. The Oni made another attempt at Yuzuki's life, however; something collided with him. It was enough force to send the creature away from Yuzuki, however; it was enough force to cause the object thrown to split into two. Hidehiko's torso currently lay on top of the Oni trying to kill Yuzuki, while his lower half was currently missing.

Had Tatsuki had time to think, she might have almost felt sorry for Hidehiko. Sure, he didn't deserve to die like that, being split in two, but he did deserve it. Yujin merely winced at what happened, and charged after Masurao. Though his intentions were to protect Yuzuki, Yujin could see the desire to kill her as well, in Masurao's eyes. He couldn't allow that. He bowled over his brother, wrestling him to the ground before standing back up. Masurao growled in response as he stared at Yujin, the itch to destroy growing fervently. Before the two could go back at each other, they were both separated by more oni on the field, causing Yujin to sigh.

"It's a never ending cycle of Oni," he muttered to himself. This was nothow he expected this to go. He needed to restrain Masurao, however; he was going to need Yuzuki's help. He glanced over towards the priestess, noticing the blade still in her shoulder pinning her down. It was not going to be easy to remove that, and it would hurt. Hopefully she'd still be able to help him though. "Zuki, I'm going to need your help bringing Mao-Mao back. First, I'm going to remove this blade. I am not going to lie, it's going to hurt," he stated, standing next to Yuzuki. He gripped the blade embedded into her shoulder, and with a quick flick of his wrist, pulled it out. He then laid his hand over the wound, trying to keep it from pouring out too quickly.

"If you can, I need you to hit Mao-Mao with your ki. It might be enough to sedate him," he stated. Or it might be enough to kill him. He had to trust Yuzuki enough that she wouldn't. Tatsuki, however, was having a bit of trouble fending off her own Oni. She wasn't as prepared or stocked in stamina as her brother counterparts, and the battle with the demon had sapped most of her energy. She had to hang on and she had to force the spear in, otherwise it wouldn't have reached its heart. She was currently weaponless, and she was staring at the Oni looming over her, sword raised above his head, ready to swing down upon her. Was this how she was going to die? Severed in half like Hidehiko?

Karma was a bitch, if that were the case.

The downward blow never came, however, and indeed, the oni’s eyes seemed to glaze over before slowly, like a tree, he began to topple to the ground. A surprisingly-strong arm grabbed hold of Tatsuki’s, pulling her out of the way before he could fall and pin her beneath the weight of his corpse, and the same person that pulled her out also hauled her up, such that she was back on her feet.

The figure was dressed in garments suited to moving quietly and skillfully through the dark, most of it quite close to skin. Her purple-black hair was braided several times around her crown to keep her incredibly long ponytail from brushing the ground, but there would be a few people who recognized her even so. “You all seem to have a particular aptitude for finding trouble,” Naomi remarked, interrupting another charging oni with a flick of her wrist, dropping him several feet before he could reach them. If one looked closely enough, one could note the four-inch senbon needle protruding from his windpipe. Not even an oni was immune to poison, after all.

With a sly little smile, Naomi ruffled Tatsuki’s hair. “Now… what say we clear the field out a little while they try to get Little Mao under control, hm?” She winked, then ducked and rolled away as the downward slash of a naginata not unlike Tatsuki’s attempted to forcibly part them.

It had taken Yuzuki that long just to get herself back on her feet, her right arm entirely useless and the large hole in her shoulder bleeding at an alarming rate. There was no time to stop and heal it, though—that was just as likely to get her killed as anything. “Nn,” she tried and failed not to flinch at the surge of pain that accompanied pulling herself at last to her feet, her breaths shallow and fast. “I’ll do it,” she said between pants, scanning the field for Masurao and spotting him, thankfully not too far away.

She didn’t want to hurt him, but the range of her ki was not great unless she had an object to channel it into and then launch. Given the state of her arm, that wasn’t an option, so she’d have to get close. Trusting Yujin and Makoto, who had finally dispatched the last of his foes, to keep the others off her, she made her way over to Mao, her good hand held against her shoulder and trying to stem the bloodflow. The smell of it tended to make oni in such a state aggressive, she knew this firsthand, but there was simply nothing she could do about it. Another oni on the field attempted to make his way in to finish her off, but his head was parted from his shoulders by a scythelike blade of wind produced directly by Mako’s ki. He was bleeding too, she could tell, but he was still up and moving, so she knew he could make it a little longer—long enough for her to do this.

Thankfully, Masurao’s back was turned to her, and she moved very quietly, reaching out with her bloodied hand, taking it away from her injury to touch his back. Her ki flared to life, passing from her to him, and she took several more steps, such that she could press her forehead also up against the space between his shoulderblades, her nose right at the middle of his spine. More points of contact were ideal, but this would have to do.

“Come back now, Mao-Mao,” she said softly. “Come back to your family.” She was careful with her ki, not desiring to kill him, but needing to use enough to put a cap back on his own strength, to cancel those terrible instincts that were driving him now to kill without regard for the difference between friend and foe.

“Please.”

"And you always seem to be the one pulling us out of it," Tatsuki replied mildly, offering the woman a smile of gratitude as she glanced at the fallen Oni. She pursed her lips together, twisting out of the way of a sword that had attempted to cleave her in half, rotating so that the side of her foot, caught the Oni in the back of his head, sending him forward. She ducked backwards, avoiding a spear thrust to her face, and immediately reached up, grabbing the spear down the middle. She brought her legs up, coiling herself on the Oni's arm, and twisted it with her body, listening to the crack sound it made when she broke it. It was enough to cause the Oni to drop the spear, and she took the opportunity to steal his spear. She could use that in place of her Naginata, for now.

"Good girl, Yuzu," Yujin stated, nodding in her direction before setting off to clear a path for her. He dispatched a few Oni, and headed straight for another group that seemed intent on going after the human girl. He couldn't have them interfering with Yuzuki when she tried to bring Masurao back. It was almost heartbreaking to have to put that much responsibility on her when she was in need of care. But she was the only one who could help Masurao right now. Tatsuki could not bring him back the last time he snapped, and Yujin had barely managed to wrestle the Hanyou down into submission the last time. He wasn't so sure he could do so a second time. Masurao had proven to be a little stronger than most Hanyou in their Oni form, something that confused Yujin at the time.

Masurao, however, was angry. He was in battle with an Oni that he seemed to recognize. He wasn't sure who it was, or why he wanted to stop fighting, but the desire to keep fighting was growing stronger. He had managed to decapitate an Oni that had charged him, and it was enough of a distraction that he failed to notice Yuzuki sneaking up behind him. It wasn't until the scent of blood filled his nose that he realized it was too late to react. She was pressed up against him, her head resting on his back, and the feeling of being shocked coursed through his system. He felt paralyzed, his arms and legs refusing to listen to his commands, and he growled. Her voice, soft as it was, found its way into his ears, and the feral snarl upon his face subsided.

He knew that voice. He knew who it belonged to... or so he thought. Where was he? Why would he need to go back to his family? Wasn't he here already? It was confusing. Who was calling him, though? He could feel his Oni growing quiet, relaxing its rage within him as his shoulders relaxed. The pale pallor of his skin and hair began to take on color again, his eyes slowly becoming a mixture of a milky emerald. He blinked slowly, watching the last of the Oni that had attacked them, fall to the floor. Yujin smirked, breathing a heavy sigh of relief when he noticed Masurao was no longer a threat to them. He had managed to get by without getting harmed, but he was currently sporting a large gash down his arm. It was slowly healing, and it would be fine in a matter of minutes.

"Yuzuki?" Masurao questioned, turning to face her once he cleared his confusion. He glanced down at her, spotting the bleeding wound, and frowned. "You're hurt," he continued, gently removing her from him and placing his hand over her wound. It was big enough to fully cover it, and he applied the necessary pressure to prevent more blood from pouring. "I... did I do that?" he stated, his voice low and fearful for what he might have done. He would never forgive himself if he was the cause of her injuries.

Yuzu whimpered a bit at the contact with the painful wound, but fought back the tears that threatened. It was much harder to heal herself than it was to tend to other people, for some reason—maybe because her body was accustomed to her kit and did not react as readily to its healing influence. “It wasn’t you,” she managed to tell him, trying to concentrate enough to at least close the wound over. After a few moments, it worked, but she’d still need to bandage and splint it later. For now, though, it was enough.

Makoto was in slightly better shape, but he’d nearly depleted his ki reserves over the course of the battle, having dealt with a large number of the oni himself. His face looked a bit drawn, and the shadows under his eyes seemed deeper than usual, but other than that, he didn’t appear much different save for the ripped and bloody clothing he wore. Naomi, having entered the fight last of all, had sustained a cut to her cheek, but it was already healing over—it wouldn’t even be there by the time Nobunaga arrived back in town, which was good, because if he knew about this, she was certain he’d kill her.

“I hate to interrupt,” she said to the group at large, “but there’s something you should know. These men, and that… thing,” she referred to the insect youkai with disgust, “were Nobunaga’s.” Her voice softened, then, and a look akin to guilt flashed over her face for just a moment before it was gone. “He is not well pleased that I helped you, nor that some of you are inclined to make peace rather than war between oni and humans. If I had known the assassins were for you, or that he’d set the bug loose, I would have been able to say something sooner—but I didn’t find out what was going on until I followed those men here.” Her lips pursed, and she shook her head faintly.

“This won’t be the end of it, either. You’re all on his radar now—be careful, hm?” With a nod, she took her leave. The less time she lingered, the less chance it would be discovered she was here by someone who should not know.

There was a moment of silence, and then Makoto cleared his throat softly. “It would appear,” he noted blandly, “That Shiranui-san is dead.”

Masurao breathed a sigh of relief, the fear of hurting her, dispersing. He was glad he was not the one to harm her, however; he was also slightly angry with himself for allowing her to be hurt. If he hadn't shifted, if he hadn't lost control, he could have done something to help rather than be a hindrance. He removed his hand and placed it on her shoulder, lightly so not as to hurt her further, and offered her a small smile. "Thank you, Yuzu, for bringing me back," he stated, pulling back from her and offered her a bow. Yujin snorted softly, grinning all the while until Naomi spoke. So, the bug and the Oni were Nobunaga's. He sighed softly through his nose.

He should have known that the Oni Warlord would have known about their little visit to Naomi. Hardly anything passed by that man's gaze, he was almost surprised the Oni wasn't a telepath like his siblings were. That... would be a little interesting actually. Yujin snorted to himself, glancing towards Makoto when he spoke at last. He blinked mildly, glancing in the direction of Hidehiko's mangled corpse, and raised a brow. He had seen Masurao do that to the man, and he glanced towards Tatsuki. He was her betrothed, perhaps she would need comforting, however; the brow ascended further up his forehead when he noted the faint smile on her lips.

"Care to share?" he questioned, moving so that he was standing next to her. Tatsuki glanced up at him, blinking before returning her attention to Shiranui's corpse. She pushed his hand with her foot, a look of disgust crossing her face, and a shiver rolling down her spine. She didn't have to worry about him anymore, however; there was still the issue of the messenger. If she remembered correctly, the Shiranui estate was at least a three day ride from her home, and from here, it was likely to take almost a week. If he was riding non-stop, he could make it to the estate in a matter of four days. She doubted he would do that though. Horses were not easy to come by.

"The man deserved it," she spoke, her voice coming out a little harshly. It wasn't the typical tone she was used to using, and it surprised even her, a little. "I will not mourn a man who thought he could own me, but," she paused, her brows furrowing. She glanced up at Yujin and then towards Masurao. "His death has issued in a warrant for mine," she answered, her voice low as she cast her gaze to the floor. She sighed softly, raking a hand through her short hair and chewed the bottom of her lip, gently.

"I doubt the messenger has reached the estate by now, but he is too far ahead that none of us will be able to catch up with him," she continued. Yujin, however, grinned at her, a mischievous smirk playing at his lips as she gave him a questioning look. He glanced towards Makoto, who seemed to have healed almost completely, however; he was sure to be tired. Tatsuki frowned, and she shook her head. "I cannot," she simply spoke, her voice muffled and timid all of a sudden, causing Yujin to bellow a laugh.

"But I will," he countered, turning to face the white-haired Hanyou. "What say you, Mako? Care to eliminate a little problem? I know it goes against your code of slaying humans, but that one deserves it. Tsu-Tsu would be forever in your debt, and I am sure she'll repay you somehow," he stated, his grin turning almost feral at the light shade of red coloring his sister's face. He really did enjoy his work a little too much.

The luminous, ghostlike aspect to Makoto had not dimmed much even considering the battlefield, and when he straightened his posture, it looked almost like he’d never been injured at all. There was an odd glitter in the violet of his eyes when he passed them from Yujin to Tatsuki, successfully ignoring the oni’s ribbing and studying the woman for what seemed a long, frozen moment. Yujin was correct—he had a general policy against killing humans, especially those who had done nothing wrong in particular. But he also had a general principle against allowing harm to come to any of the people he considered his friends or family, and in the year or so since he’d known them, the three here with he and his sister had managed to earn themselves that position.

“I will catch him,” he said solemnly. “And if he does not agree to keep his message to himself, he will take it to his grave.” He glanced over at Yuzuki for a moment, but was satisfied that she was in safe hands for the moment. Perhaps it should have been expected that he would be wary of letting Masurao near her, after the way he’d lost control like that, but on the contrary he made no comment at all. Well, none save one.

“Take care of her. I’ll be back in two days at most.” Sheathing his sword, he took off, a white streak blurring against the night-darkened backdrop of the village outskirts.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Makoto, as it turned out, made it back to town in a day and a half, the signs of exhaustion clear in his posture and the dark circles beneath his eyes a good clue that he had not yet slept or eaten much. Still, he’d dealt with worse on hunts before; this wasn’t unbearable. Besides, it seemed necessary to inform Tatsuki of the result of his search before he took his rest, and with this in mind, he made his way to the small home she shared with her brothers. Judging from the feel of the area, both Yujin and Masurao were out, but the person he needed to see was in, which was the important part.

It was only with some delay that he realized he’d forgotten to stow his weapons, and he paused for a moment to do that, sheathing everything and setting himself more or less to rights. He didn’t want to look like he’d come in fresh off the battlefield, and he wasn’t quite sure how he hadn’t stowed them until now, but he put it down to a mentality that constantly prepared him to be attacked by anyone and anything. Unfortunate, but something that had saved his life in the past.

He found himself reaching up to set his hair straight before he managed to catch himself, and frowned. Why on earth would he bother doing something like that? He was only here to deliver a piece of news, nothing more. Leaving himself as he was, then, he shook his head and headed to the front door, rapping sharply on it three times. He supposed he could have just gone in through the window, but that would have been a bit rude. Yuzu didn’t mind, but they’d been friends since they were children. This was a little different from that.

Tatsuki stood in the kitchen of their home, staring at a pot as she waited for the water to boil. Yujin and Masurao were currently out, sent on a run for supplies. They were currently low on fire wood, and a few herbs that she needed for their dishes. She had taught Masurao which herbs were for eating, and which ones were the ones they needed, and she trusted Yujin enough to collect more firewood than her Hanyou sibling. Not that he wasn't capable of carrying firewood as Yujin was, he was more suited to the herbal collection. She blinked slowly when she heard the knock on her door, tilting her head to the side in confusion. Who would be knocking on her door? They hardly received visitors, and when they did, it was typically Yuzuki. Drying her hands off, she moved to grab the small dagger on the shelf, and placed it in her sleeve.

Just a precaution. For all she knew, it could be one of the villagers looking for Masurao or Yujin. She was slightly surprised, however, to open the door and find Makoto standing there, the fatigue evident upon his face. She frowned, knowing that it might have been too much for him and too much of a request to make. "Makoto, come in," she invited, her voice soft as she waited for him to make his way in. "I apologize, Makoto. I did not mean for Yujin to impose," she apologized to him, offering him an apologetic bow in the process. It really wasn't Yujin's place to have done such a thing, and she had voiced that to him the same night when they returned home.

"Ah, Mao and Yuji are out, but," she began, glancing away and feeling a bit nervous in the process. She shuffled in her spot, keeping her gaze to the floor as she continued talking. "But dinner is almost ready, and you are welcome t-to stay," she offered. He seemed so tired, the least she could do was offer him a moment's rest and a bit of food. She could feel her cheeks flaring just slightly.

Makoto pursed his lips slightly, though in the end, he did step indoors, settling himself into a leaning position against a wall. It was that or keep moving, lest he’d likely collapse, and he didn't much think she’d appreciate him pacing around while she tried to cook something. It was with his customary awkwardness that he let his eyes fall to the floor. Apologies were uncomfortable, more even to receive than to give. “That… is not necessary,” he said slowly, mostly to avoid stuttering as she was doing. He could sympathize, to be sure, but the conversation would get nowhere fast if they were both doing it.

“I only came to inform you that the messenger is dead. He… attacked on sight, actually.” With a strange amount of prejudice at that. He wondered if perhaps this Shiranui person had for some reason instilled a dislike of him into his hirelings? Perhaps a dislike of any of them. Maybe the man just hated hanyou, like so many did. Though he was still far from comfortable killing a human, he’d done it willingly even so. The messenger was, after all, no defenseless villager, but a trained ninja, and he hadn’t had the energy to simply endure what would surely be a deadly wound inflicted on his own person. The spot he’d caught the man at was two days by horse out of town, and the running so fast for so long as to catch up there had been exhausting after the battle.

“Whatever the reason, though, the message he carried will not make it to whomever it was intended for.” To be honest, he wasn’t sure why he’d been asked to intercept it, nor what was going on at all with Shiranui, having not been there for the conversation in which he was named as Tatsuki’s betrothed. Likely, knowing that would have only confused him further, really. Despite being the last of the Yoshida, he was not accustomed to such things as clan politics, and hadn’t the faintest idea what had transpired between all of the parties involved. He had simply been asked to do something, told it was necessary by someone who had no good reason to lie to him, and so he had done it.

Tatsuki sighed. It couldn't be avoided, but from what Makoto stated, perhaps the man deserved to die as well. She knew the Shiranui clan were Oni hunters as well, just as her clan had been, however; she did not know that they would attack an Oni on sight, even if it was just a Hanyou. Nevertheless, the messenger was dead, and the message would not be delivered, and this caused Tatsuki to smile softly. The clan would not know what happened to their heir, and would appoint a new one. Hidehiko had plenty of siblings, and she was sure one of them would inherit.

"The message was a claim on my life," she explained softly, but shook her head. "Hidehiko would have me killed if something happened to him should we not return together. He was trying to take me from my brothers, and from y-Yuzuki," she sputtered the last word out. She'd almost said him, and she found herself frowning. Why would she think something like that? He was her friend, just as Yuzuki was. Perhaps she would have finished it off with the both of their names. Shaking off the confusion, she managed to force herself to look up.

"You are weary, I insist that you stay and rest for a bit, eat, and then you may leave," she suggested. "I do not mind, it is the least I can do... as a thank you," she added as an after thought. "If you wish, there is a spare room if you'd like to rest in there as well, but," she continued softly, her face coloring at the suggestion, "you are welcome to sleep there as well. Mao and Yuji will be back soon, and they would not mind the company either," and it was a little calming to have someone else in the house. She wouldn't admit it out loud, but she didn't like being on her own as much as Masurao did. But it was entirely his decision.

It was on the tip of his tongue to refuse—his own home was just a few miles from here, on the other side of the city, but… entering in this state would provoke questions from his mother, and the triplets would probably demand his attention after he’d been gone for so long, and he didn’t want to impose upon Yuzu when she was still probably injured. Sighing softly through his nose, he folded his arms into his torn sleeves and bowed. “I… thank you. I think perhaps I would eat something and then—” he made the mistake of glancing up at her face, and her embarrassment in turn embarrassed him, his own face taking on a light shade of pink.

He cleared his throat awkwardly, looking back down and to the side. “Ah, well—I will see how everything is after that.” The corner of his mouth twitched, as though he were beginning a grimace or perhaps a slightly self-effacing smile. Finding a spot on the floor to settle himself, he occupied the next several minutes simply watching her cook, trying to place what it was about this particular person that put him on edge. He’d never been good with people in general, but by now he was mostly used to Yujin and Masurao, and could speak to either of them with relative ease. He certainly didn’t stammer with those two. But though he’d known Tatsuki just as long and more or less as well, they were both still very awkward around one another.

It was possible that it was only because she was female—he’d always had particular difficulty around women he wasn’t related to in some way. But it wasn’t quite that, he didn’t think. “If that’s the case, then… it was worth it,” he said bluntly, referring to the fact that he’d killed the messenger to save her life. Not that he suspected anyone they’d send after her would succeed, but they’d been saved a lot of trouble and more human deaths this way. “I… am not very good at speaking to people, but… you should know that it is not imposing, to ask of me something like that. I want… I want you to be safe, as I would want the others to be safe, and I am not against working to make it so.” His ears were bright red, and he was staring very intently at the spot a few inches over her left shoulder.

Tatsuki stopped stirring the pot when he spoke, and turned to face him. He... wanted to keep her safe? Like the others? She could feel an irregular thump of her heartbeat, turning to stare intently at the pot in front of her as her face turned a scarlet color. She wasn't used to people saying things like that, and perhaps he was saying it because they were friends. But that did not stop the embarrassment from taking over. They were friends, why couldn't she at least stop blushing by now? Perhaps there was something more to it than that, however; she did not want to linger on the thought any longer than necessary.

"Thank you, Mako, but you should not have to do so on my behalf. It is a life that should not involve my friends in such a way," she spoke softly, stirring the pot once more as she avoided eye contact with him. It was sweet, the gesture, or so she thought, but she could have put them all at a serious risk. Sure, they could have defended themselves as easily as they did on the field, however; the Shiranui clan were trained in the shinobi arts, and Oni hunters. They were not as well known as her family was, but that did not mean they were less efficient. She shook her head softly and sighed once more.

"It would seem that we are both not capable of speaking to people properly," she replied softly, a light smile pulling at her lips as she chuckled to herself. They were both awkward, that much she could tell, and it was a little bit of a relief to know that she was not the only one. Perhaps she could speak with him more freely if she talked to him more? "I... enjoy your company when I am with you and your sister. It's... it's nice to have others to speak with who are not my brothers," she added, bringing the finished stew from the pot, and set the table before him. Tradition was hard to leave her, and so she poured him a bowl first, setting it in front of him before serving her own. "I hope you... you like it," she stated as she played with her own stew.

He waited until she had food as well before eating his, even though he was near-starving. His metabolism burned through things at an alarming rate, and though he could not likely eat as much as Yujin or Masurao, he was still quite the eater for a man of his size. That said, he wasn’t without his manners, either, and managed to keep from wolfing it down, though it was, like everything else she made, easily delicious enough to warrant inhalation rather than more moderate consumption. It occurred to him that he should say so, so he arranged the words the way he wanted them in his head and then spoke. “It’s… excellent, thank you.” A pause, and then, “Your family… it seems they are of importance, if they go to such lengths to arrange matches for their children. My mother tells me that ours was once the same, but… there are none left now but me.”

He wasn’t especially sad about it, considering he’d never known anyone else in the family, and he certainly couldn’t imagine that many things about his life being laid out for him ahead of time. Already his profession had been assumed from an early age, and that was honestly more than enough. He found some satisfaction in what he did, but he didn’t exactly enjoy it, as such. He could kill, and honestly without much remorse, but he found no pleasure in the act. It was only necessity. It seemed the wrong attitude to have in other areas of life, especially marriage and family. He’d always valued and loved his family deeply—he could not imagine being told to place that same value on a stranger.

“I still carry the Slayer’s profession, but… it seems that maybe it’s almost better, not to have to deal with the rest.”

Tatsuki was a little surprised when he began speaking of his family, and in turn asked about hers. She remained silent for a moment, opting to play with her food a bit more as she collected the words she wanted to say. Her family wasn't important, per se, but they were rather well-known. "My family is... was important, I suppose. They were a clan of Ninja, employed by human and Oni alike, however; we... they were prized for their strategics and their guerilla warfare. My match was arranged due to my father wanting to further advance his position. It was nothing more than that," she spoke, mildly surprised at how easy it was to state such things. She pursed her lips together though.

"I suppose I was fortunate enough when the Oni attacked our caravan, that I was able to leave that family. Masurao... saved my life that night. Yujin and Masurao are my family now, though, and they have been," she paused, taking a slow bite from her food before setting her bowl aside. "Yujin isn't the easiest Oni to deal with, but he is my brother nonetheless. And it is a shame," she stated, glancing up at Makoto in the process, offering him a sad smile. "Everyone should have a family of their own to enjoy," she muttered. She wanted a family of her own one day, perhaps if she was lucky. Not many people found it desirable that their potential be the sister of an Oni and a Hanyou. Some thought that Masurao and Yujin were her actual brothers.

Masurao, because he shared the same coloration as she did, and because he was a Hanyou. They might have shared the same mother, but their fathers might have been different. She did not care either way, and allowed them to think what they wanted. Yujin because Masurao and he might have shared the same father. "What of your family? How are your siblings? And your mother?" she inquired, recalling that he had spoke of them the last time she had inquired about them. It seemed easier that way, to speak of their family.

A strange expression came over Makoto’s face, unreadable mostly, but certainly not unpleasant. It was more thoughtful than anything, as though he were studying her, seeing her really for the first time properly. “If that was something you wanted, I am certain you could find it,” he replied, lifting one shoulder in a sort of half-shrug. She was, after all, human, even if she did adopt an oni and a hanyou as her brothers. Really, her empathy for all kinds of people should be considered a good thing, not a bad one. He was not so sure he would have been capable of the same, had their lives been reversed. She wasn’t, after all, like him, who wore his freakishness in the most obvious of ways and for all to see. If she decided someday that she wanted a family, he had no doubt she could have one.

“As for mine, well… they aren’t much different. Rinko seems insistent that I teach her to use a sword, and Shin wants to learn to control his ki. Momoko is a lot like Yuzu, so… you can imagine what that’s like. The house sometimes feels like one of those travelling shows, in all the strangeness.” Despite his words, his tone contained a rare warmth, and he really did smile that time, just a small one, but genuine all the same.

"You try living with Masurao for a day, and you won't be saying that," Tatsuki replied, a sort of playfulness lacing her tone. She knew how Yuzuki was, and perhaps, she and Masurao were not all that different. Still, it was a challenge, so she could only imagine what it was like with two of the same people. "And Rinko sounds like she knows what she's doing. But a child should be able to enjoy their childhood, not learning the art of war," she stated, her tone deepening slightly. She was taught at a young age the same art, and it was one she almost seemed to regret. It has proven to be a sort of lifestyle for her and her brothers, but when a child need not grow up in that world...

"But I will not say on how to let a child grow up. All we can do is encourage them, and guide them," she stated, standing from her spot to collect the dishes. It was a bit odd that her two brothers had yet to return, and she suspected that they might have taken a detour. That meant that they would not be home tonight, and she sighed softly. "If you still wish to rest, the spare room is open for you. It appears that Mao and Yuji will be gone for the remainder of the night. I...I do not mind if you stay or go," because it would be deemed improper for such a thing, for her to share a roof with another male who was not her family or her betrothed. But she did not care for things like that. Most already thought it improper that she slept in the comfort of her brother's embraces. She liked to cuddle, and that thought caused a streak of pink to highlight her face.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Rumor had it that about a week remained before Nobunaga returned to Edo. These same rumors were inclined to paint his latest venture as successful, though nobody really knew exactly what he was supposedly succeeding in doing, other than hunting down a traitor of some kind. Naomi knew, and she could not help but feel a pang of pity for the poor woman they hunted. The wife of Nobunaga’s brother, and the same man’s unborn child. She wondered if anyone would have a care for the infant, or if it would simply be killed along with the mother, for whatever betrayal Nobunaga imagined her complicit in. Then she wondered why she cared—it was not as though any of it had anything to do with her, after all, and one child of Nobunaga’s blood to deal with was certainly enough. Not that she minded Chitose; he was a rather well-behaved boy, and seemed to have taken a bit of a shine to her. Then again, most toddlers just liked people, and she was one of only two that looked anything like him in the whole estate.

His father was certainly not one to be sought for the kinds of things a child wanted to talk about, either. For now, however, she’d once again taken her leave of the place, though she was walking nowhere in particular at the moment. Naomi had always loved the outdoors, much more than one would expect of a woman most often swathed in fine silk kimono and elegant wooden shoes. Today, however, she walked only in straw sandals and a basic yukata. Though her equipment for the altercation the few days before had been borrowed from Makoto, this was actually hers, something she’d worn traveling from place to place when Nobunaga’s army was on the move and her presence was demanded with the column. It was simple, dark russet-red and sturdy, so it held up well against the occasional branch or underbrush, as, surprisingly, did she.

Headed no place specific, she was a bit surprised to eventually find herself at the base of a stone staircase. The air here smelled of pine and flowers and wet earth, not so different from the surrounding forest but somehow purer. She recognized the arch at the top of the stairs as the entrance to a shrine, though she’d only ever been to one or two in her life, and this not one of them. Still, she might as well go see it while she was here—maybe even put in a little prayer for that child she suspected nobody would ever get to name or know. She wasn’t much of the religious sort, really, but that seemed like the kind of thing worth praying for, didn’t it?

Tatsuki shuffled in her spot, pulling at the sleeves of the yukata she was currently wearing. It was the first time, in a while, that she'd worn something like this. Usually, she was dressed in her outfit for a just-in-case moment or if she would be required to move quickly. Today, however, seemed a little peaceful. There was no need to be dressed like a warrior when the current situation did not warrant it, and so, Yujin forced her to wear the yukata today. It was a simple blue color, perhaps a bit more indigo in color, and held a bright pink sakura on the bottom left. She didn't mind it too much, really, and found it to be a little pleasant. Perhaps she should wear them more often? She pushed the thought to the back of her mind, adjusting the basket she currently held in her arms. She had not seen Yuzuki since the incident, and she wanted to make sure the priestess was doing better.

Masurao assured her, multiple times, that Yuzuki was fine, but Tatsuki wanted to check on Yuzuki on her iown. Plus, she wanted to bring Yuzuki lunch. It was becoming a habit of hers, feeding all of her family members, and Yuzuki was slowly becoming part of that family. She enjoyed cooking, and she often made plenty of reserves. Sighing softly to herself, she continued at an even pace, towards Yuzuki's shrine. Plus, she wanted to get a certain event out of her mind, and Yuzuki was the best at distracting her. She made it to the base of the stairway, and blinked in mild surprise. She wasn't expecting anyone else to visit Yuzuki, but then again, this was a shrine. There were bound to be people passing by every so often, to visit it.

"Good morning, Naomi," she greeted, stopping to offer the woman a bow. She straightened her posture back up and offered a small smile. "Are you here to visit Yuzu?" she spoke, her voice timid in manner. If she was, then she could have lunch with the two of them. It was a good thing she had a lot of food in the basket she was carrying, otherwise she would have felt a little guilty for not offering some to Naomi. "I'm bringing her lunch, but since you're here... you could join us?" she continued, wording the last of the sentence in a questioning tone, unsure of how to properly word it.

Naomi’s brows ascended her forehead, betraying a mild surprise. “So this is her shrine then?” she asked, though the question was mostly rhetorical. She didn’t need to have the information repeated to her—she’d caught on as soon as Tatsuki had mentioned it. Still, there was something about it that seemed fitting—she hadn’t felt an aura of such peace in a very long time. “Actually, I was just out for a walk. I’ve not long yet before Nobunaga returns, you see—I was intent on enjoying my little freedoms while I still have them.” There was something melancholy in her voice, and for a moment, her eyes found the smooth stone of the stairs beneath them. It seemed that she really would say things to other women that she dare not say in front of men. She wondered why that was.

It was true that the people in her life who hurt her were invariably men, but it wasn’t like she lumped them all together with Nobunaga and Sakaki—if she had, she’d have given up on the world long ago. Perhaps it was only that she was used to wearing faces around men, since she scarcely interacted with women anymore. In her years of training, the women and girls had always been extraordinarily frank with one another, dropping the pretensions they wore around the masculine sex. It was just old habit, she supposed. How long had it been since she was in the company of just other females?

Far too long. “Though, since you offered,” she said, flashing her foxlike smile at Tatsuki, “I do think it might be nice to pay a visit, hm? My thanks.”

Tatsuki made an 'oh' with her mouth and dropped her gaze to the floor, shuffling a bit in her spot as she listened to Naomi. She pursed her lips together when the woman stated she only had a moment before Nobunaga returned, and it caused a pang of remorse to pass through her. She could understand wanting to enjoy what little freedom one had, rather than being forced into a cage. It was what Hidehiko would have done to her had he not died accidentally. Part of her will always be grateful to Masurao for that, and part of her wished it did not have to be that way. If he had never found her, if he had just let her go, he would still be alive. She sighed softly through her nose as she returned Naomi's smile, perhaps not as foxlike as hers was, but the same soft smile she offered everyone.

"She will be happy to see you," she stated, turning her attention back to the stairs and stared up them. They were not the longest set of stairs to climb, however; that didn't mean she had to like them. She was not usually an accident prone person like Masurao was, but for some reason, every time she came up these set of stairs, it was as if something took hold of her and tried to trip her. She only furrowed her brows befor shaking her head. "A fair warning, do not be alarmed if I fall," she almost teased, if she were not being completely serious. She began her ascent up the stairs, finding it a bit surprising that she actually made it up without incident.

She glanced around the shrine, looking for the priestess and her smile brightened when she spotted Yuzuki. "Yuzu," she called out, glancing towards Naomi before walking towards the priestess.

As it happened, Yuzuki was humming to herself as she swept rice off the front pathway and into the grass. The birds would eat it, after all. She remembered with a smile the time a bird had landed on Mao-Mao’s head and perched there. Her shoulder pulled uncomfortably from the repetitive motions of the broom, but it was thankfully most a dull ache by now, the work of a combination of her own ki and some more conventional herbal medicine Nanami Yoshida had helped her with. Mako’s mother was a very kind woman, even if she came off as very distant and fragile both.

At the call, however, she looked up, grinning when she spotted Tatsuki approaching, none other than Naomi on her heels. Yuzu had only infrequently been able to talk to the woman, as she seemed to leave the yakuza estate only rarely, but she was glad to see her here at the shrine, to be sure. “Tsu-chan, Naomi-san—it is good to see you!” Retreating a short distance to stow the broom away, she returned to meet them as they approached the shrine itself, pulling Tatsuki into a warm hug and then giving a very surprised Naomi one as well. The other woman blinked, not quite used to being handled in such a manner, but in the end, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it, just odd.

And really, odd was fine by her.

“Well, if this is part of the deal, perhaps I should visit shrines more often,” she said with laconic amusement. “Though perhaps only this one; I’d rather not be hugged by old men if I could avoid it. They’re not as cute as you.” Yuzuki laughed, and took one hand of each of the others, tugging them gently behind her and into the main living area behind the shrine itself. The furnishings were nice enough, if a little old and sparing. Hers was not the wealthiest shrine, to be sure, all the way out in the woods like this, but it was home.

Once everyone was settled and started on the food, Naomi hazarded to begin the conversation. “So everyone is recovering, then?” She sounded casual about it, as though it didn’t make much difference to her, but that she had asked at all was perhaps the more telling fact.

Tatsuki smiled, returning Yuzuki's embrace, however; a small shade of pink dusted the woman's face. Really, she should be used to this by now, but it never ceased to stop the blush from forming on her face. She sighed inwardly, mentally rolling her eyes at herself as she offerred Yuzuki a smile. "It's good to see you as well, Yuzuki-chan," she replied and blinked at Naomi's response The statement elicited a short snort from Tatsuki who covered her mouth just as quickly as it escaped. She hadn't meant to laugh, least of all snort, at the woman. She recovered from it, and followed Yuzuki as she took her hand.

Once everything was laid out, and the food spread evenly, Tatsuki remained silent until Naomi spoke. She blinked mildly at the woman, and allowed a soft smile to cross her features. Tatsuki had not been injured, perhaps as badly as Yuzuki had, and she had recovered quickly enough. Though, having a giant worm and an Oni almost crush her and cut her in half hadn't been the most pleasant thing, she's experienced a lot worse. She placed her bowl down in front of her, finished with the contents (she didn't pour a lot), and regarded Naomi with a soft expression.

"I have recovered about as much as I can," she answered. "I did not sustain many injuries, other than what the worm provided and the grass," she continued, absentmindedly flicking off a piece of dirt (even if it was imaginary) from her yukata. She blinked and turned towards Yuzuki. "But Masurao told me you sustained heavy injuries," she stated as she glanced towards Yuzuki. From what she was told, and what she had seen, she was a bit surprised to find the priestess up and about, seemingly well.

“It was a little close,” Yuzu admitted with a sheepish smile. “I still really shouldn’t lift anything too heavy, but I can heal myself pretty well. Not as well as I can help other people, but… it does more good that way, I guess. Mako’s mother is an apothecary, and he can stitch injuries really well, so I had a lot going for me.” The smile stretched into a grin, and she tilted her head to the side at Naomi, chewing over another bite of fish before she spoke thoughtfully.

“I didn’t know you could fight, Naomi-san.”

Naomi shook her head. “I can’t, really. I’ve taught myself how to throw senbon and knives, but I’m no good with anything larger than that. The reason I was able to help is because I have the nasty habit of coating my weapons in toxins.” Her answering smile was amused and sly in equal measure, suggesting that she believed the habit to actually be rather intelligent.

Yuzuki was not immediately so sure. “But enough poison to kill an oni? What if you accidentally cut yourself?” Especially if she had no formal weapons training—that could be disastrous.

“Nothing would happen, dear. I’m immune to all the poisons I use and most others besides. I’ve been ingesting them in small doses since I was a child. It made for some sick nights here and there, but I certainly don’t have to worry about keeping over, hm?” Actually, the combination of this talent and her water-oriented ki allowed her to store poison in her own body and secrete it at will. Which, as she had discovered by experimentation, could give her the literal kiss of death. Fortunately for some people, it was controlled at will, and she was keeping it secret for good reason. She may someday need it, after all. She elected not so share this particular tidbit of information with the other two.

Tatuki was mildly surprised when Naomi spoke of her poison talents. She knew people could become immune to poisons by introducing it into their system in small doses, but most people never survived. They didn't control the amounts they ingested. She would know, some of her clan members had tried doing the same thing, but they had failed. She shook the thought from her mind as she stared at Naomi, a frown pursing her lips as she studied the woman. Naomi was in the care of Nobunaga, the most notorious Oyabun (and only one really) there was, and yet, she seemed pleasant. How could she be so, being in the company of that man? Had Tatsuki the right of mind, she would have asked, however; it was none of her business, and so returned her attention back to Yuzuki.

"If you need help with the duties of the shrine, you can ask Mao or myself to help. Yuji is currently addressing his sister. She... intends to leave soon," she spoke. She would help out where she could when she wasn't at the inn, and Masurao could do most of the heavy lifting for Yuzuki until she healed. Of course, she wouldn't be able to do so all the time... perhaps she should have Yujin help out? She pursed her lips at the thought. He would probably destroy more things than help, and he'd probably get too distracted. Still, it was worth the thought. She sighed softly through her nose and glanced back towards Naomi.

"If you'd like, Naomi-san, I can teach you. I mean, I'm not an expert or anything, I just," Tatsuki began, stammering over the last of her words as her face turned a light shade of pink. She wasn't an expert in weapons, but she'd grown up wielding them, and she had applied them to her job as a mercenary before she and Masurao retired. "Yuzuki has been teaching me to use the bow, and I'm still not quite as good as she is, but I've been helping her with other weapons. If you'd like, you could join us," she offered quietly. Though she knew it would probably be unlikely seeing as Naomi was hardly out and about to begin with. Getting away from Nobunaga must be hard.

Naomi looked genuinely surprised for a moment, stilling in the process of eating and glancing back and forth from one girl to the other. When Yuzuki nodded her enthusiastic agreement, she pursed her lips slightly. “I… can’t get out very often,” she admitted slowly, glancing down at her hands. “And I could not invite you to the estate without arousing suspicion. But… perhaps, on those occasions when Nobunaga is away, I might… I might enjoy that.” It was something, anyway, and she smiled slightly, her eyes softening just a fraction.

It would be…nice.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Masurao flinched, twitching with each sound of breaking glass reaching his ears. And he had been doing so well. He had went the entire week without one incident, however; it seemed karma was out to get him. Or so it seemed. It wasn't his fault this time, though. Well, not directly, at least. He was sweeping the front entrance when he had felt something collide with him. Perhaps it wasn't such a good idea to be standing in front of the doorway, which was covered with thin cloth-like material to begin with. He chuckled nervously at the perplexed expression on the waiter's face as he offered him a hand up. Once the waiter was back on his feet, Masurao made an attempt to sweep the mess up, however; the angry shouts of the boss filled his ears, and he sighed softly.

He removed his cloth and placed it with the broom, taking his leave of the inn for the day. He didn't want the man to be upset with him more than he already was. Though, technically, it wasn't his fault the dishes broke in the first place, or maybe it was, he wasn't too sure about the blame. Now, he had a free day to himself, and he wasn't entirely sure where he should spend it. He thought, momentarily, of going to see Yuzuki, to see how she was doing. But he was sure she was tired of his presence by now. He was by the shrine almost two to three times a day just to check in on her. Not that he minded, but she might feel a little suffocated by his presence, and he didn't want to bother her that way.

Instead, he let his feet carry him to where ever they traveled, and he happened upon a small pond. He blinked at it, tilting his head to the side when he spotted a family of ducks swimming by. Smiling, he pulled a bag from under his arm, one that currently held bread and other things for the home, and pulled the bread out. He threw some crumbs towards the ducks, however; they all quickly scattered away from him. He chuckled nervously, and raised a curious brow when one duckling swam back to him, nibbling at the bread and swimming closer to him.

"I guess it's just you and me then."

The surface of the pond stirred slightly, before it broke as Yuzuki rose to take in a deep breath of air, slicking her short hair back and out of her face to keep her vision clear. A nearby duck quacked and ruffled its feathers at her, and she giggled in return, crooking a finger under the chin of its beak, applying just the softest touch of her ki to the contact. It was kind of funny, how animals seemed to react to it. This one made a small noise and rolled, turning itself over in the water before righting itself again, and she laughed, the sound unrestrained and entirely unselfconscious. Her toes touched the deepest part of the pond, keeping the water level just below her bare shoulders, and she stirred them around in the soft sand at the bottom.

She’d been coming here to swim since she was a small child, actually—it was quite secluded from the surrounding area and relatively close to the shrine. Swimming was also very enjoyable to her, and easy on her injury, so she’d decided to come down here today for the opportunity to relax. It was at this point that she pivoted in the water, about to duck down again, caught sight of something out of the corner of her eye, and froze momentarily.

Yuzu certainly had not been expecting anyone else to be here, and her eyes widened until they were almost perfectly circular, but she relaxed a little when she recognized the other person. “Hello Mao-Mao! Did you come to swim too? Uh… the pond might be a little shallow for you, though.” He was a lot taller than she was, after all.

It shouldn't have surprised him much. But, for some reason, it did. The sudden appearance of Yuzuki started Masurao enough so that he fell backwards from his crouched position. He blinked rapidly in the spot Yuzuki was currently swimming and opened and closed his mouth like a gaping fish. He was trying to speak, but couldn't find the proper words to speak. What was he to say? He was at a loss for words, and he pursed his lips in frustration. She spoke to him, and he laughed nervously.

"Would you believe me if I said no?" he responded finally, shaking his head at himself. He sat back up from his spot on the ground and sat with his legs crossed beneath him, resting one of his arms on his legs. "Actually, I got kicked out of the inn," he confided, pausing momentarily to rub the back of his neck. "Again," he added in conclusion, laughing nervously at himself. It was almost expected of him to get kicked out of the inn at least once every day or every other day. It just seemed his luck had finally ran out when the waiter ran into him.

"Do you still plan on waging war against dishes? I think I could lead your army now," he responded, laughing at his own simplicity.

Yuzuki smiled sympathetically, Ducking smoothly back under the water and swimming for shore, where she came up again, pausing to wring out the ends of her hair as well as she could. She’d long ago fashioned herself a sort of swimming costume, basically a modified version of sarashi about her chest and a pair of Mako’s old shozoko pants, cut off to end at her knees and held up by a thin corded sash. It didn’t weight her down too much in the water, but it meant she didn’t have to swim naked, either, something she was grateful for, especially now. Of course, she realized a bit belatedly that she was showing quit a lot of skin still, and abandoned her attempts at her hair to retrieve a light blue yukata from where she’d left it hanging in a nearby tree, tying the obi loosely before returning to where he sat and lowering herself to sit next to him.

“They’d never know what hit them,” she said cheerfully, attempting to assuage his apparent discomfort. “But hey, look at the bright side—you get the afternoon to do whatever you want now. Those are nice, sometimes.” She smiled brightly up at him, then leaned back on her hands, stretching her legs out in front of her, wiggling her bare, still slightly-sandy, toes. The collar of her yukata was getting damp from where her hair dripped, but she didn’t much mind.

There was a bit of a pause, which she didn’t mind. You got used to moments of silence, growing up with Makoto. Eventually, though, she broke it. “Are you feeling all right?” she asked at last, her voice surprisingly serious. She had avoided asking him about the transformation while she was still really injured, knowing that he felt guilty about it even though he hadn’t caused it. The whole thing had been kind of funny and very sweet, the way he fussed over her, but she really was fine. She wasn’t so sure about him, though. “Transforming is really hard on your body, isn’t it?”

Masurao turned away slightly, scratching his cheek in slight embarrassment when Yuzuki surfaced from the water. He waited until she was clothed in her yukata, and turned to face her once more. He grinned at her statement and offered her a thumbs up. The smile, however, faltered when her voice took on a serious tone, and he cast his gaze away from her. The transformation was a bit straining on his body, and even more so because he had almost lost complete control of his Oni. He could still fill the stiffness in his muscles, but they had mostly subsided by now. He sighed softly before answering her question.

"I'm fine. The transformation was a little... unexpected, but I am fine," he answered truthfully. "Besides, Yuyu says I'm more sturdy than most," he threw in to lighten the air. It had felt a little suffocating to him, thinking about it. Though she said he was not the cause of her injuries, he couldn't help but feel that he was. If he hadn't transformed that day, he might have had a clearer head to help with the infestation of Oni that had taken advantage of the worm. He shook his head of the thoughts, knowing it wouldn't prove much if he kept dwelling on it. What was done, was done. He couldn't change that little fact.

"Tatsuki says you're doing better thanks to Makoto and his mother. I'm... glad that you're doing better now," he stated, placing a hand on her head to ruffle her hair, however; he quickly removed it, and coughed awkwardly into his other hand.

Yuzuki caught the hand in both of hers as he withdrew it, though, guiding it down to rest in hers atop one of her knees. She used her index finger to trace the lines on his large palm while she spoke, looking intently at what she was doing, it seemed. “Mako used to do that sometimes,” she said softly. “When we were younger. The townspeople were worse with us then—most of them had never seen a hanyou before, and they used to torment him a lot more than they do now.” She was sure he could guess the rest. He’d been young, her best friend, her brother, and sometimes he’d lost control of himself. “Some nights, I was scared I’d wake up and he wouldn't be there anymore, you know? That they’d come and take him away forever while I was sleeping…”

She sighed lightly—it had been a truly frightening period in her life. Leaning sideways, she rested her head and side against his arm, lacing the fingers of their hands together and marveling at the way his were so much larger. “But you know… I wasn’t afraid of him, not once. Because even like that, he was still Mako. And even like that, you’re still Mao-Mao, okay? You saved me, you really did. I would have died if you hadn’t stopped the oni from stabbing me.”

Masurao blinked when Yuzuki took his hand in her own, studying the smaller girl as she drew circles in his palm. His face twitched lightly, stuck from being polite and from trying not to laugh. He wouldn't admit it, but it was slightly ticklish on his palm. It subsided though, when she spoke of Makoto. It seemed that all Hanyou were subject to that berserk tendency. Full blooded Oni were more equipped at handling that side of themselves, but even the most trained Oni could still succumb to the temptation of just being an animal. It was easier, and the adrenaline and power that surged through them was hard to resist.

"Sometimes, I feel like I just won't be me, though," he confessed, tensing lightly when she laid against his arm. Her hand in his felt oddly comfortable, and Masurao couldn't help but smile softly, leaning down a little so that his head was laying against hers. "I almost... I almost killed Tatsuki once, like that," he spoke, his voice solemn. It had been when he first met her, when he had saved her that night, however; he had managed to snap back before he could deal the final blow. It was why she was bandaged that night, and why she felt sore.

"She... I never told her, nor anyone, about that," he added, pursing his lips together. He could understand though, that feeling of disappearing so that no one could ever be hurt because of him. But he knew that even if he didn't hurt them physically, he'd be hurting them in another way. If it wasn't for Yujin, he wouldn't have such a tight lid on his Oni side, and he owed his older surrogate brother that much. He shook the thoughts from his head and smiled. "But if Yuzu says I'll still be Mao-Mao, then I guess she's right," he stated, chuckling lightly to himself.

“Now you’re catching on,” Yuzuki told him with a little smile. “I’m always right.” She snorted softly at her own announcement, then sighed softly again, snuggling into his arm. She’d always done so with Mako when they were children, but this felt different. Maybe because Mao was a little warmer and softer, not quite so twiggy as Makoto had been as a child, of course. She let her eyes drift closed for a while, humming contentedly.

“And if you’re worried about staying you, I guess I’ll just have to stick around, to make sure you do,” she murmured, warm and content and a little sleepy after the exercise she’d just done. Somehow, this seemed like the best way to spend the rest of her afternoon. Of course, it would probably be an inconvenience for him to lend her his arm the whole time, so she told herself she’d get up after another five minutes.

A plan she was sadly unable to execute, as by then, she’d drifted off to sleep.

"Of course you are," Masurao stated, shaking his head with a light smile on his face. He glanced down at her, noticing the tired look on her face. He was going to state something, to see if she'd rather have him walk her home, however; she had fallen asleep on his arm. Masurao allowed the smile on his face to stretch, using his free hand to move a few of her bangs from her face. "You do that, Yuzuki, and I'll make sure I won't lose control again," he spoke, leaning down to place a chaste kiss upon her forehead, but stopped halfway, shaking his head at his own silly behavior. She really did look peaceful, though, and she didn't seem too ready to move on. So, Masurao stayed still for the remainder of the time, and allowed her to sleep on his arm. It wasn't long before he too, succumbed to the calls of a nap.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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She had remained, even after the events, she had remained, and Yujin had grown weary of her presence. He loved his sister, he really did, but she was no longer his family. She was part of the Fujiwara clan, a clan he no longer had ties with, and no longer wanted. She was here to try and bring him back to that clan, though the last few days had seen a decrease in her attempts. He was grateful to that, and grateful to his siblings that they said nothing when she was there. He sighed softly, sitting up from his spot on the grass, and turned to face Asami. She stood, a gentle smile on her face as he frowned.

"I am not here to convince you to go with me, brother. I only came to wish you and your siblings a farewell," she spoke, causing him to raise a questioning brow. "I did not get to meet the rest of your friends on a more personal level, however; they all seem pleasant company. I am proud of you, little brother, but I am afraid I must return home... empty handed," she spoke, the smile turning into a grin. Yujin simply regarded her with a blank stare, before his lips stretched a bit. Asami bowed softly, and turned to take her leave.

"Would you at least care to stay a moment longer? Our friends, if they agreed, should be here momentarily," Masurao called out, walking up on the two in time to hear her words. He had somehow managed to convince Tatsuki to invite the others to a light picnic on the outskirts of the town. It was in a secluded spot in the forest, yet on an open plain. Tatsuki nodded in Asami's direction, as the Oni woman softened her smile. "At least join us for lunch, and then Yuji, Tsu-Tsu, and I can escort you out," he continued, offering her a large grin in the process. Asami smiled at the Hanyou.

"You make it hard to refuse," she responded in a playful manner, causing Masurao to rub the back of his neck sheepishly. Tatsuki set the blanket on the ground, spreading the various dishes out and waited for the others to arrive. She wondered if Naomi would be able to make it, seeing as she hadn't appeared as of late. Perhaps Nobunaga had returned? But even then, they would have known. He always made his presence known.

The next to arrive were Mako and Yuzu, both laden down with several parcels. “I didn’t know how much food there was going to be, so I made lots!” the priestess said by way of introduction, while her brother set down the things he’d been put in charge of carrying. Yuzu did the same, briefly making eye contact with Masurao and turning a very faint shade of pink before looking away. She still couldn’t believe she’d fallen asleep on him—how embarrassing! Of course, she had no idea that he’d fallen asleep as well, since she woke up in her room at the shrine afterwards. She’d almost been too mortified to attend the event, but Tsu had invited her, Mako, and Mimi too—so it was really hard to refuse, and in the end, she’d decided she could just suck it up.

Perhaps surprisingly, Naomi was able to attend, and though not a bad cook, she’d elected to provide herbal tea, instead, being far and away much more talented with that. The china was a bit difficult to carry over such a distance, but she’d managed. Nobunaga wasn’t back yet, but it was sometimes hard to slip away without the guards noticing. She’d had to plan well in advance for today. Honestly, she wasn’t sure why she was doing any of this, treating these people like friends. It was bound to end poorly for all of them. But she was drawn to them all the same, perhaps because they were so incredibly bright, and she had known little but darkness.

Showing apparently little regard for what was clearly a very expensive green kimono, she knelt in the grass and started setting up, observing the others going about the same with a tinge of amusement. “My, my, Yuzu-chan is a pretty shade of pink today. I wonder why that is?” She chuckled when the color on the younger woman’s face deepened.

Yujin grinned alongside Masurao, at all the food being brought. Between the two of them, they'd probably be able to eat all of it by themselves. Tatsuki smiled towards Yuzuki and glanced away nervously from Makoto. She was glad when Naomi spoke, asking why Yuzuki's face had turned such a shade of pink (though hers was probably just as deep), and it was Masurao who answered first. Perhaps he should not have been so eager to answer the question, or answered it the way he did. Yujin, however, found it slightly amusing.

"Ah, well, the other day she and I fell asleep by the pond. She fell asleep on my arm," he stated, a bright grin spreading on his face. Yujin raised a brow, trying not to chuckle at Yuzuki's face. He glanced towards his sister, and a smirk formed on his face. Asami glanced between the group, slightly curious as to what was going on. Not only was the priestess blushing, but it seemed Yujin's surrogate sister was as well. She had not stayed with the trio at their home, instead finding shelter at one of the shrines. Not the one Yuzuki currently cared for, but one not too far from hers. Yujin, however, took the opportunity to speak.

"It seems... that everyone has had a sleep partner, my dear Mimi. What say you, care to cuddle with me?" he stated, opening his arms wide, and wiggling his fingers. Tatsuki shot him a look, causing Asami, and Masurao, to raise a questioning brow. Had he seen what happened that night? Tatsuki's blush only deepened as she tried to bury it in the basket by searching for invisible food and utensils.

And just like that, half the faces in the area were alive with the bright red of a deep blush, as Makoto’s slowly morphed to that color as well. He had a feeling he knew what Yujin was referring to, and it had been a complete accident. Apparently, he and Tatsuki both migrated in their sleep, was all. He blamed the fact that he’d grown up in such a large family, and for most of his life had had either Yuzu or the triplets attempting to utilize his body heat when asleep. His natural reaction to such proximity was to allow it. He surmised she must be much the same, which would explain how she’d migrated across half a room and two futons to end up next to him. By unspoken mutual consent, they’d agreed never to mention it again, but it would seem that Yujin had no such reservations.

Naomi on the other hand, actually laughed. It was a mellifluous sound, and seemed almost to surprise her. When was the last time she’d actually really done that? It had been far too long, but it felt… extraordinary. It subsided quickly, constraining itself into a mischievous smile, and she arched a brow imperiously at Yujin. “With you?” she asked, looking unimpressed. “Hm… no thanks.” She waved a hand dismissively, using the motion to grab the wrist of a passing Yuzuki and pull her down into her lap, wrapping both arms around the girl’s waist and nibbling lightly on her ear.

“Yuzu-chan’s much cuter, really.” The girl in question was now officially the color of a beet, struggling to stammer something in response to what was happening, but in the end, she managed nothing coherent, and Naomi chuckled, taking mercy on the poor girl and letting her up so she could settle into a seated position by herself. “You be nice to her now, Little Mao, or I might just steal her for myself, hm?” Her eyes glittered with mirth.

Yujin blinked in mild surprise when Naomi laughed, and he tilted his head to the side at her refusal. "It seems, that even she does not want your company, brother," Asami stated, chuckling lightly at all the bright faces. Yujin pursed his lips together and shrugged his shoulders. Masurao, however, turned a light shade of pink when Naomi spoke, and blinked in confusion. Was he not good to Yuzuki? Did he do something wrong? He could feel a swell of panic form inside of his being as his breathing felt shortened. He glanced towards Yuzuki, his eyes wide in a fearful manner.

"Have I done anything to upset you, Yuzu!?" he almost stated in a panicked tone. "I'm sorry if I offended you in anyway!" he continued, bowing so that his arms and forearms were pressed against the cloth, his head in between his arms pressed gently against the grass. Asami chuckled lightly, causing Yujin to shake his head lightly at Masurao's reaction. Really, the Hanyou could take everything so wrong, these days. Yujin pat Masurao's back, causing the Hanyou to glance up in slight confusion.

"That's okay, Mimi. You're just missing out, because even though Yuzu's cuter, Oni is more comfortable," he responded, rolling his arms out again in the process, however; his arms ensnared Tatsuki, who had been standing to move towards the back, away from Yujin and his mouth. "Besides, Tsu-Tsu will cuddle with Oni, won't you?" he stated, pulling Tatsuki into his lap. Asami laughed, perhaps a little too loudly, at the beet red color the human girl's face took on. She didn't know this Yujin. The Yujin she knew would not have been sitting with Hanyou and human's alike, joking with them, and laughing.

He would be slaughtering them, and the sudden realization brought a geniune smile to her face. Perhaps... she could entrust him with something, something special, however; she needed to know that he had changed for the best. "Yuji, let me go," Tatsuki stated as she tried to worm her way out of his grasp.

“No!” Yuzuki said, surprised by the vehemence of her own reaction. The blush was going nowhere, clearly. “That is, I mean, you haven’t done anything to upset me Mao.” She finished a little more calmly, smiling thinly It was actually really uncomfortable, for him to be bowing like that, and she couldn’t help but twitch in sympathy for Tatsuki’s current predicament. Makoto looked… uncomfortable might have been an understatement, as though he were waiting for it to be his turn to be picked on.

“Is he?” Naomi asked, entirely unconcerned. “Well, Oni must sleep very well then. I wasn’t really thinking about sleeping. She smiled again, but shrugged. She had a feeling that Yujin and herself could go at this sort of arguing all day, but it was probably better for the sake of the others that they eat eventually—else a few of them might pass out from the embarrassment.

“Now, who wants tea?”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Yujin smiled as he laid in the grass, completely content at watching the clouds roll by. If he didn't have such a good regenerative system, he would currently be sporting a black eye. After the incident at the picnic, Tatsuki had slugged him a good one in his eye for making fun of her. He, of course, laughed all the while as he laid on the ground. A little over dramatic on his part of course, but he couldn't help himself. It was just too easy to pick on his siblings. And now that he knew of Yuzuki and Masurao's little incident, Yujin felt invincible with all the knowledge and power he had over his siblings. He wouldn't use it against them, of course, but that didn't mean he would let them live it down.

He let out a content sigh, closing his eyes momentarily to enjoy the passing breeze. He frowned slightly though, remembering the words his sister spoke to him before she left. He didn't understand what she meant, and he doubted he would. The one thing about Asami, was that she liked to speak in riddles sometimes. It actually irritated him. He chuckled to himself, turning so that he was on his side, staring at the rabbit that seemed to take shelter next to him. He blinked surprised by its appearance and tilted his head to the side. He poked it softly, wondering if it was dead, however; it moved, closing in on his side. He raised a questioning brow at the creature and stroked its fur.

"Do you not fear me, little one? I could eat you, you know," he spoke, picking the rabbit up by its hind legs, watching it dangle. He grinned, shaking his head at the rabbit before setting it back down. Instead of scampering off, it merely returned to his side. "You are either a very stupid creature, or too smart for your own good."

“Funny,” said a voice from behind Yujin, “I could say exactly the same thing about you.” The rabbit flicked an ear, but seemed to be not at all scared of the newcomer, either, and truly, she looked the opposite of fearsome. Her kimono was lavender today, patterned with red hyacinth flowers scattering from the bottom up the garment, when many more at the bottom of her belled sleeves. Her parasol, too, was red, shading her face from the sun, though in all honesty she carried it more for the sake of appearances than because she feared the rays of the great fireball above them. She never really tanned anyhow.

It was in fact Naomi’s last day of freedom. A messenger had been sent ahead of the main force—Nobunaga would be returning tomorrow, victorious and having killed the wife of his supposedly-traitorous brother. It would appear that her prayers had been as useless as she’d known they would be. It didn’t surprise her, but what did surprise her was how disappointed she was by that. She’d needed to leave the estate, perhaps to see the sky unfettered by the chains binding her to the property when he was present. Just one more time, before he returned for who knew how long. Her respite was coming to an end, and the cost of it had been the lives of many. A woman and her child not least of all. It was hard to decide how to feel about that—she certainly hadn’t asked for it, but she had enjoyed her weeks of freedom.

She’d enjoyed it, and someone else had died. She wondered if maybe there shouldn’t be some guilt there. Perhaps she even felt it, a little, but she was trying not to allow her last day to be stained by it. She’d be abjectly miserable again tomorrow, after all. Maybe that was punishment enough. It was happenstance that she’d come upon Yujin, though it was happenstance that seemed to happen to her with unusual frequency.

"Are you implying that Oni is incredibly intelligent?" he replied, a small grin forming on his lips. "Because Oni could have sworn Oni wasn't," he continued, the grin morphing into a smirk. Of course, he knew what she was going to say, and smiled slowly. He rolled onto his back and sat up, glancing back up at Naomi. He frowned slightly when he noticed the expression on her face, tilting his head to the side to regard her. He raised a questioning brow at her (something apparently he was doing frequently today) and pat the ground beside him, offering her the seat next to him.

"Want to talk to Oni about it?" he stated, his smile turning into a mischievous smile again. "Or you can just bask next to Oni, your choice," he stated with a light shrug of his shoulders. Something was bothering her, or seemed to be bothering her. He didn't know what, and he honestly did not really care, but he cared enough, because it was her. And she seemed bothered. Maybe he was just becoming too sentimental to things like that. He sighed softly at himself and returned his attention back to the sky. "Have you managed to convince the world yet?" he asked suddenly. He wasn't sure why, but he felt the need to ask. He was rather curious if she'd succeeded yet. He highly doubted it, but who was to say?

“Well, perhaps almost as intelligent as the rabbit,” she sniffed haughtily, raising an eyebrow at him. For a time though, she did not sit, nor in fact move at all, still standing several feet from where he was. Did she want to talk to him about it? She found herself oddly inclined to tell him things she had not confessed to anyone else, really, but that was independent of the question about whether or not she wanted to. Naomi could not be sure she did, but… perhaps she needed to tell someone. He seemed unlikely to give her false pity if she did, and that was good. She had no need of it—she knew well enough what she was, what her lies and her flaws were. And they were many.

The last query, however, made her exhale in a huff of something approaching amusement. “I do not know. Do you think I am? Oni is part of the world, after all, and if I haven’t convinced Oni, I haven’t convinced the world, now have I?” She didn’t actually expect an answer, and asked the question more to tease than anything, since questions like that were traps with no good answer. If he said no, he’d ostensibly just insulted her, not that she would care. If he said yes, well… assuming he was truthful about it, he’d just be taking a step backwards in this strange little game they played, where they matched wits and attempted to catch the other in something vulnerable or embarrassing.

"Then I would say that Oni is fairly intelligent. Stick to a predator so that others will not harm you is a rather impeccable skill, even if that predator is just as likely to eat you as the other," he remarked, rolling his eyes gently. Her next statement, however, caught him a little off guard. Though the statement was to tease, Yujin did not take it as such, and allowed a slow smirk to cross his features. He stood from his spot, when she did not take a seat, and circled around her. It was almost as if he were inspecting her, and perhaps he was. He made the circle around, twice, and stopped on the third way around. Pursing his lips together, he rubbed his chin in a thoughtful manner, and exhaled a small breath.

"It appears that you have not managed to convince the world at all, then," he stated, closing his eyes with a light shrug of his shoulders. "For one," he began, tapping his chin lightly as he stared at her, "you still do not have enough color. You're too pale," he spoke. He took a step closer and stopped about two feet in front of her, peering down at her in the process. "And two," he continued, reaching out to grab her arm, gently. "You're too willowy. Not enough muscle on you," he stated, allowing her arm to fall back to her side.

"And three," he stated, turning his back towards her and glanced over his shoulder. "You're trying too hard. Oni is not convinced that you are actually trying to convince the world of anything."

Naomi knew from quite a lot of firsthand experience that oni were resilient creatures, and not prone to much injury. Things that would kill a man would heal upon the body of such a creature in ten minutes. Really, she was going to miss the parasol a little, but that didn’t stop her from calmly folding it in, and then, with a viper-quickness and a move Tatsuki-chan and Yuzu-chan had taught her, she cracked it over the back of his head, snapping the bamboo pole that held it together. Still wearing an expression as cool and tranquil as a pond in winter, she tucked the broken pieces into her obi, then smiled sweetly up at him.

“Well, unfortunately, the sun has never had much of an effect on my complexion. I am doomed to be forever the ugly duckling, it seems.” Really, the color of her skin had always been considered one of her finer features, but it wasn’t like the point of this whole discussion was actually her physical appearance, though she would admit it stung a little bit. “As for the rest, well… you have an interesting definition of trying too hard, if you also think I’m not trying at all.” She wasn’t even wearing cosmetics, either, but she supposed the fact that her kimono were expensive almost without exception could give someone the impression that she was attempting to show off. Alas, Nobunaga was the one who decided what she wore, not she.

She trusted the force with which she’d hit him had made the point about her lack of musculature elegantly enough that she need not comment upon it further.

It was unexpected, and it came so quickly, that Yujin merely blinked in a quick succession. Once he processed what happened, he reached up to touch his head, inspecting his hand to see if there was any blood on it. There was not, and he turned to face Naomi. He tilted his head to the side in slight confusion. Did he say something wrong? She was the one who asked, perhaps he should not have answered so truthfully. Was she upset that he had answered truthfully? That was a little... odd. Slowly, his lips began to stretch, seemingly reaching both ears until a laugh finally escaped him. He fell back onto his backside, clutching his sides in an attempt to control the laughter, however; he was having no success.

"It appears that I have found a bit of a weakness to you, Mimi," he managed between breaths. Though perhaps it wasn't really a weakness, he now knew what at least pushed some of her buttons. That, in itself, was a reward to him. He wiped under his eyes as he contained his laughter, rolling his elbows back so he leaned against them. "Well, the ugly duckling eventually became a beautiful swan," he stated, regarding her through the corner of his eye. "Maybe, one day you too can become that swan," he continued, wiggling his eyebrows at her in the process.

"But then again, with a temper like that..." he trailed off, the smirk returning to his face.

“Temper?” Naomi questioned blithely. “What temper? I was merely testing a theory. I had come to suspect that you had a stone for a brain, and it would seem that I was correct. I feel quite validated in my suspicions.” Despite herself, his smile was infectious, and she found herself wearing one a good deal like it, if significantly less broad. Rolling her eyes, she elected to sit seiza beside him, shaking her head a little at his obvious amusement. “Well, I suppose in the meantime, I’ll just have to win the world over with my wit and charm, hm? While I wait for the day I grow into a swan.” Her tone was thick with sarcasm, and she poked him in the shoulder.

“But you wouldn’t know anything about those, I take it. Not very charming, telling a woman that sort of thing. It’s no wonder you’re sitting in the grass with another man’s whore instead of at home with a wife and little Oni.” The smile faded abruptly as she realized exactly what she just said, but she shifted her eyes out at the surroundings, smoothing her expression over and trying to act as though she hadn’t said it. Yuzu and Tsu knew what she really was to Nobunaga, but she’d never told anyone else. As a geisha, it shouldn’t be true, but when had Nobunaga ever played by anyone else’s rules?

He was about to make a remark, one that might have cost him a bit more than a smack with a parasol, until she spoke. He blinked slowly, allowing the information to fall into place. Slowly, his brows began to furrow, his head tilting to the side as if in confusion, and he squinted his eyes at her. Did she just say she was a whore? Wasn't she a geisha? He might not have been as customary to Geisha as one would have, given his previous employment, however; he was wise enough to know that Geisha were not whores. Instinctively, he wanted to reach out to her, pull her to his side and just hug her. He managed to stay his hand before it could, and dropped it to his side.

"That...you," he spoke, falling over his own words. Funny, he'd never had a problem speaking before, but with this new information, he just couldn't seem to form the words properly. He knew what he wanted to say, needed to say, but he just couldn't. That would explain that night he asked if she had been in a cat fight. Those marks, those scratches... they were his. They were his because of what he did to her, and that made Yujin angry. He could feel it bubbling up inside of him, and it was odd that it would do so. Perhaps it was because, after all this time, as little as it seemed, that Naomi had visited, she was becoming part of his family.

Tatsuki had grown fond of the geisha, as did Masurao. And he was also growing fond of her. There were not a lot of people, Hanyou and Oni alike, who would play with him as she did. She was becoming a part of his family. Perhaps that was why the Oni inside of him seemed to want to destroy something, however; he kept a tight lid on it. He did not need to lose his cool and accidentally attack her. It wasn't her fault. "You are not some man's whore, Naomi," he spoke, his voice oddly calm. He turned to gaze at her, holding her eyes with his with such intensity, he wasn't even sure it was him speaking.

"You are Naomi, a caged bird whose wings have been clipped too many times. You just need a chance to fly," he spoke, unable to peer at her any longer... because it hurt, and he didn't know why.

It was funny, how much easier it had been to hold it together when this secret was only hers. She’d been a bit of a mess inside the night she’d escaped with her injuries, both visible and hidden, but she’d kept herself from doing anything drastic, maintained her façade of easy calm so that he wouldn’t have any idea. Then she’d told Tsu and Yuzu, and it had made her feel a little more miserable to admit it to someone else, like it meant that she was too weak to keep it to herself anymore. But… now was different even from that, and his reaction surprised her.

Naomi would probably have preferred it if he’d pretended not to hear, but unfortunately, he did the opposite, and the words he spoke were just so kind that she didn’t know what to do with them. If he’d even made some kind of joke about it—but no, even he had more decency than that. Much more, it seemed. She wished he didn’t, because she would have felt more like she deserved that. She didn’t deserve this. She held his eyes for as long as she could stand it, wondering how she’d never noticed how soft they were before, one amaranth and one gold. Such a curiosity, that they didn’t match. They should have been harder, flintier, but they weren’t. They were soft, and gentle, in a way she knew hers had never been. How could he have the strength to live through this much life and still be that kind? Kind enough that he could even spare some for someone as forsaken as she was?

“I’m all out of chances,” she said softly, and she felt something warm sliding down her face. She almost laughed at herself, but the sound would have been bitter. Now she wasn’t even strong enough to keep herself from crying in front of him. Gods, she really was becoming hopeless. At this rate, she wouldn’t even survive long enough to kill Sakaki—the one thing she’d been keeping herself alive for for nearly fifteen years. Damn this man and all his friends, for showing her what it was like to live in warmth and light. And damn herself most of all, for forgetting that the only place she belonged was the cold and dark. The cage she’d chosen so long ago, and could never escape. Like it or not, she would always be that man’s whore now—there was no going back to the time when she could have become like them instead.

He wasn't sure what happened, or why it happened, but he couldn't stop himself from doing it. He didn't like it when his sister cried, and though it was only a few tears, he could feel something tearing in himself when she was shedding those tears. He did not stay his hand this time, and reached for her, pulling her into his side and embraced her. Odd, he never noticed the sweet scent of plum blossoms on her person before. He sighed softly, laying his head on hers, and felt a slight shiver roll down his spine. He really didn't like this feeling at all, and it was tearing him apart. Why was it so hard to hear something like that, coming from her?

"Then Oni will give you another chance, if you need it," he responded, his voice low and soft. "Oni will give you as many chances as you need until you can fly again," and he would, because she deserved that much. Even if she asked him to help her, in anything, he would do it. He could not go against Nobunaga. The Oni was a little too strong for even someone like him, however; if that was the chance she needed, then by all the gods watching them, he would do it. Even if those same gods forsaked him, he would do it. Because she deserved that much.

Naomi didn’t sob or anything so dramatic as that. She simply pressed her forehead into his shoulder and let the tears fall until there were no more, taking what comfort was offered. She could not accept what he was speaking as though he wished to give—because as terrible as it was, there was still something she had to do, and the only place she could accomplish it was at Nobunaga’s side, however much she hated being there. Her brother would find peace, and she was the only one who could bring it to his departed soul. She didn’t know if she believed in the gods, but she believed in that. Or maybe she was doing it for herself. Maybe she wasn’t trying to convince the world of anything at all, and in fact only wanted to convince herself that she was strong enough to do the one thing of merit she would ever be able to accomplish.

Whatever the case, she would not ask him to take that risk for her. She would ask it of no one, least of all someone kind enough to offer. In time, she drew back slightly, looking up at him through red-rimmed eyes, perhaps the first hint of color on her face in quite some time, and placed a hand upon the side of his jaw. Smiling thinly, she spoke. “Don’t look so distraught, Oni. It doesn’t suit you.” She rose onto her knees, studying his face for a moment, then shaking her head.

“It’s a little unfair, really, that you get to be the beautiful one out of the two of us. I hope you can be the happy one, too.” Leaning in, she pressed a chaste kiss to his cheek. “Goodbye, Yujin.” She doubted she’d ever see him again, after all. If Nobunaga had whatever he’d gone seeking, then he would have no reason to leave, and would settle into making this place a more secure stronghold. The chance she’d be able to escape at any point, even just for a few hours, was slim to none. And perhaps she shouldn’t, if doing so made her wonder what her life might be like if she were free. Those were dangerous thoughts to be having.

Yujin merely shook his head, forcing a soft smile upon his face. It was unfair really, that she had to do this on her own, or seemed to think she did, however; he was not going to force something upon her that she did not want. He could offer her that much freedom. Instead, he softly shook his head, and released a silent breath. "Perhaps it is rubbing off on you, then," he spoke, gently brushing his knuckles against his cheek where she had placed her kiss. He removed his hand and glanced towards her, the smile no longer seemingly forced.

"It's not goodbye. Oni doesn't like goodbyes," he spoke, standing from his spot and removing the few leaves that had fallen on him. "I'll see you soon, Naomi." he could not bear to watch her leave.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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It wasn’t an offer he could turn down.

About a week ago, Makoto had been contacted by the head of the Chiyama, one of the few remaining Slayer clans capable of operating at full strength. The problem was, the head of the family currently had no one to succeed him, as such—he had had only daughters, and though he was willing to teach them his techniques, they were not ready to learn the most advanced things yet, and the head was dying. He needed someone to learn his techniques so that they would not die, and could eventually be taught to his daughters, when they reached the needed level of skill. There were very few people fit for that kind of advanced training, and Makoto was an ideal fit, being plenty skilled, a Slayer himself, but without his own house to succeed.

For his service, his family would be paid for as long as he was away, including his Aunt, Uncle, and Yuzuki. It was impossible to find flaw with the plan, save that the village in question was a few weeks’ travel from his home, meaning that with as busy as he was going to be, he would be lucky to be able to return twice a year. The head of the Chiyama estimated that it would take him six months to teach the techniques, if he had that much time left, but Makoto was also being asked to run the family until the eldest daughter was ready, and that could be a few years from now. Leaving his family and friends for that long was not something he wanted to do, but this would provide for them much better than he could on his own. The Chiyama were wealthy and influential, and he knew that he wouldn’t have to worry about the triplets starving or his mother patching holes in her yukata anymore.

So he’d decided to go through with it. As expected, Yuzuki had not taken it well, but there wasn’t much he could do about that. She was set to meet him as he made for the road this morning, to see him off. The Chiyama had even sent him a horse for the journey, a creature he now led by the reins, making for the very edge of town, where she had promised to be.

He was rather surprised to discover when he got there that she was not alone.

Usually things, such as people leaving, did not bother Masurao, Yujin, or Tatsuki. People came, and they left. Some stayed, some chose to move on to another town, however; for a majority of the people who lived in the Edo village, most people who came, stayed. The only way they ever left, is if they were murdered, died, or had some other reason to leave. And currently, there was one person who was leaving. This person was a friend to Masurao, Tatsuki, and Yujin, and he would be gone for a long time, or so it seemed. Masurao was bothered by the fact that he would be the only Hanyou left in the village (not that, that really mattered). In reality, he was losing a friend momentarily, and he wasn't so sure he actually liked that.

He and Tatsuki had accompanied Yuzuki to the spot they would see Makoto off, however; Yujin was not present. He would not give reason as to why he would not be attending the departure of another friend, something that had confused Tatsuki and Masurao, and left it at that. Masurao wanted to talk to his brother, but he had prior engagements. He would talk to Yujin later, to see what was bothering his brother. For now, he was with his sister and Yuzuki to see Makoto off. Tatsuki, however, had taken Makoto's departure a little oddly. She was confused why it upset her, that he would be gone for so long, but she couldn't understand why, really.

Over the months they had lived in the Edo village, they had all became friends, and perhaps it was the departure of a friend that had really bothered her. She sighed softly, glancing up at Masurao before glancing towards Yuzuki. She could understand, just a bit, how Yuzuki felt at the moment. Her brother was leaving for a certain amount of time, and she could understand the feeling of losing a brother. Perhaps not to the extent Yuzuki might be feeling it, as Nobuo had actually died. There was no seeing him again, but at least for Yuzuki, Makoto would be back eventually. Unless, of course, something happened to him.

She felt her heart constrict at the thought, and tried shaking it from her as Makoto finally arrived. Masurao smiled brightly at the other Hanyou, waving a massive hand in his direction. "Oi, so you're leaving us?" he questioned, offering the shorter male a grin resembling Yujin's. "You'll be coming back to see us, right?" he stated, causing Tatsuki to purse her lips and glance away. It was a bit difficult to stare at the Hanyou, knowing he was leaving. Masurao, however, continued grinning at the white-haired male. He knew the answer, but he just needed to hear it.

Makoto had rather thought it would only be Yuzu coming to see him off. To learn otherwise made him feel strange. He had known this would be the most difficult goodbye, because Yuzuki was a difficult person to say goodbye to, and he would freely admit that she meant more to him than he could properly express. But this was an opportunity he simply could not lose. He might not show it, but he had a certain amount of pride in his profession and his heritage, and the chance to become a full-fledged Slayer along was one he would have had difficulty turning down. But fulfilling the dying request of the head of one of the only true Slayer clans left in the world? That, he simply could not bring himself to do.

But somehow, that there were other people here, these other people specifically, was making it both easier and harder to leave. Easier because they reminded him that Yuzuki would be well taken care of while he was away. Not so lonely as she might have become without them. Harder, because… because he cared about them, too, somehow. He did, despite the fact that he knew it was no gift to be close enough to someone to feel pain at a departure like this. He found himself looking between a teary-eyed, Yuzu, a smiling Mao, and a Tatsuki who would not meet his eyes, and he sighed slightly.

“I expect to be able to visit for a week or so at the middle of every spring and fall,” he replied with a small nod. Summer was peak activity season for lesser kinds of youkai, and he would be needed then to defend the Slayer village. Winter made travel a bit too arduous through the mountains he would need to cross to return here, and besides that, it was unwise to leave then, either, because everyone would be required to gather what supplies could be found. Apparently, local youkai incursions had left the Chiyama with a dearth of able-bodied individuals. Most of those in the village now were old or young, and the letter had made it clear that he would be heavily-relied-upon by those people for as long as he was with them. He would not do something like that halfway.

It was at this point that Yuzuki threw herself at him, burying her face in his chest. “I’m gonna miss you, Mako.” He swallowed thickly, patting her back gently with his free hand, the other still holding his horse in place.

“I know,” he said softly. “I’ll miss you too.” He looked up at the other two. “All of you.”

"But you'll be back, right? There's no point in missing you if you're going to come back, right?" Masurao wasn't so sure who he was trying to convince when he spoke that. Makoto would come to visit when he could, and though that only meant twice a year, it also meant that he would still be visiting. That... should be enough for them. It wasn't like he was leaving them permanently. Masurao pursed his lips together, forming a thin line. He wasn't sure he'd be able to deal with something like that. If he lost either of his new found family members, he might just lose it like he did last time. That could be problematic for everyone around. He simply sighed, glancing down at Tatsuki, who finally managed to glance towards Makoto.

She stepped from beside Masurao, taking slow, hesitant, steps towards Yuzuki and Makoto. Once she finally reached the two, she stared up at Makoto and pursed her lips together. She opened her mouth to say something, but found the words stuck in her throat. She couldn't say anything. Not that she lacked the ability to say anything, but she didn't know what to say. Anything she could say would only embarrass her, and possibly him, and that was not something she wanted to do. She sighed softly, relaxing her shoulders before she did something that surprised even her surrogate brother. She clasped her arms around Yuzuki and Makoto. She buried her face into Yuzuki's side, feeling the heat rise to her face.

"Come back to us safely, okay?" she muttered into Yuzuki's side, refusing to pick her head up for fear of saying anything else. Masurao blinked at the scene, and frowned slightly. He wanted to be a part of the group hug too. With that in mind, Masurao took a few strides and wrapped his arms around the three of them as well.

To call Makoto uncomfortable would be a rather large understatement. He was not exactly the most accustomed to so much contact at once, especially not from anyone other than his immediate family members. Still, it said quite a lot that he was able to refrain from pulling away. He thought the request a bit odd—he was less worried about his own safety than he was about Edo in his absence, but he knew that these three and Yujin were all very competent warriors, and so it should remain safe from petty youkai in his absence. Still… he supposed it couldn’t hurt to make some kind of affirmation. He would come back. He had plenty of reasons to, after all.

“I promise.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Three years.

No one really counts the days that go by unless they had reason to, and certainly no one in the Edo village did. Tatsuki, however, had kept track of how long Makoto had been gone at the suggestion of Masurao, who had noticed a slight change in her demeanor during those three years. She was still the same shy Tatsuki, however; she didn't seem as timid as she had once been. Perhaps, it was because she was still eighteen years of age then. Now, she wasn't so young, and it might have been the maturity that finally shined through. Masurao himself, had just turned thirty years of age, and it didn't seem like he matured much. He still wasn't sure how he managed to keep his job at the inn, when all he ever did was break things.

Yujin, however, had spent those three years gone from his surrogate siblings. Masurao had had little success in trying to find out what was wrong with him that day, after Makoto had left, but Yujin simply remained quiet, and disappeared. He left no note, nothing as to hint at where he might have been. He had taken to the life of a mercenary again, taking any job he could just so that he could forget the ones back in his home town, however; during his travels, he ran into Asami again. He had been as stoic and blank with her as he had when she was in Edo, but there was something that he could not place about her. And he told her almost everything. He was surprised how easy it was, to just speak those words he kept inside to himself, and to have her nod in understanding; it convinced him to return to Edo, to his siblings, about a year ago.

It was good to have him back, but even his demeanor had changed, just slightly. He was still the same Yujin, albeit more reserved and quiet. Tatsuki had tried speaking with the Oni, however; he had managed to turn the whole conversation around on her, and left her flustered and storming out of the home. Masurao hadn't the slightest clue what had happened, but Yujin had reassured him that it was nothing. Today, however, marked the third year of Makoto's departure, and he had yet to return or send notification of his return. It had worried the siblings, however; they had all managed somehow. They were still eagerly awaiting his return, or at least word of when he would be coming back. Perhaps it was why the three found themselves in Yuzuki's presence.

The three years had been extremely busy for Yuzuki. About six months in, her mentor had come to her and told her that he was leaving the city, to move further out into the countryside and continue his work as an itinerant priest. She sensed that there was something else underlying his reasons, but he hadn’t volunteered the information and so she had not asked for it. If he had reasons, she assumed they must be good ones. A bit unfortunately for her, however, his departure meant that she was the only religious practitioner in Edo, and she couldn’t just leave his shrine to fall into ruin, and so she started to maintain it, too, spending half of her time at each. It meant she couldn’t make trips to see her friends as often as she would like, but she still tried to set aside a couple of hours once a week or so to spend at the inn. Sometimes, they would come by to see her as well, and those were the days she enjoyed the most, for she would speak with them while she did her work.

She had come to be relied upon by the people of the town quite intently, and was now almost a revered figure by some of them. Three years had worn away some of the rougher edges of her youth, and she no longer seemed quite so much the tomboy as she might have before, her new responsibilities lending her a certain dignity and grace. She had to appear composed in front of the people that needed her, and so she learned how to do so. Her aura grew in strength, and her spiritual powers along with it, and she was sometimes employed by people from surrounding villages for exorcisms.

Today, however, she was relatively free, and back at her own shrine, passing the time with her friends. As usual, Tatsuki had cooked them all something to eat, and Yuzu had pitched in with a few of her specialties as well, especially sweets. None of them ever said it, but Mako and also Mimi were missed dearly at gatherings like this one—though he had been back to visit as he promised, it wasn’t nearly enough, in her opinion. Mimi had disappeared entirely, and sometimes, Tatsuki and Yuzu remembered their time with the woman and exchanged mournful glances, unable or perhaps only unwilling to imagine what she endured, trapped in the yakuza estate all by herself, without anyone to call a friend.

She was parting her lips to speak when she sensed two new presences entering the vicinity of her shrine. One of them was unfamiliar, but the other… Yuzuki’s eyes went wide, and the smile that bloomed over her face was the brightest she’d worn in three years. “Mako!” She was on her feet and out the door before anything more could be said on the subject, forgetting even to don her shoes.

Sure enough, there at the end of the path he stood, studying the shrine as though it were the first time he’d seen it. His hair had grown fractionally longer, and he tailed it high on his head now as samurai did. He still wore his shortswords crossed at his lower back, and his style of clothing had not changed much, though the quality of the fabric had obviously increased. He was actually an inch taller or so, which was odd but perhaps indicative of a greater use of his demonic heritage. The color of his eyes was somehow brighter, the bones on his face a bit stronger-looking. He was almost thirty now, she supposed, and three years of hard training had filled out his frame. He would never be as muscular as Yujin or Masurao, but he didn’t look even the slightest bit weak anymore, either. Not that he ever had been, of course.

Yuzu barely noticed the young woman walking beside him, slightly to the left and half a step behind, beyond soft brown hair, eyes of a similar color, and a pale pink travelling yukata, her swords crossed behind her as Mako’s were. She was too busy throwing herself at her brother, winding her arms around his back and squeezing as tightly as her grip would allow, a strange inverse mirror of the time they’d parted. To her surprise, this time his wound around her just as tightly, and he buried his face in her hair.

“Yuzuki.”

Masurao blinked in surprise when Yuzuki suddenly shouted a name, and ran off. He followed after her with her eyes, having noticed the bright smile she adorned, and couldn't help but allow one to cover his face. He stood from his spot, following Yuzuki out, but placed his shoes on before doing so. Not that he needed them, there was nothing on the ground he could actually step on. Yuzuki always took great care in the shrine she watched over, and though that shrine grew to two shrines, they were still neat and cleaned. Masurao and Tatsuki had come by to visit her when they could, helped when they could, but none of that seemed to matter at the current moment.

Had Makoto not sported the unusual white hair, Masurao was sure he wouldn't have recognized him. He seemed more full in appearance, nothing like what he appeared when they last saw him. Three years appeared to have changed him quite a lot. Masurao could not say the same. He still had the same short hair, spiked in all directions, and the same thick build he shared with most of his brethren. Little seemed to change in his appearance, except perhaps his age. He still appeared in his mid-twenties, however; he was no longer even in the that age group.

Tatsuki, however, had literally stopped moving the moment Yuzuki shouted his name. The food hovered inches from her face as she stared straight in front of her, refusing to turn to regard the return of Makoto. She, however, managed to turn her head, and spotted Yuzuki hugging him, and Masurao blocking Makoto from her view. She slowly placed the food back into the bowl, and stood, placing her shoes on and stepping to greet the Hanyou's return. She changed, not only in demeanor, but her appearance as well. No longer living the life of a mercenary, allowed her to finally grow out her hair, and it reached just above her waist line. She was currently wearing it half-way up, with the loose strands flowing over her shoulders.

She seemed not as battle hardened as she once was, having lost most of the callouses on her hands, however; the small attacks from the lesser youkai made sure that she was still a capable warrior. And she was, but perhaps not so much as she used to be. She wasn't a warrior any longer, but that did not mean she had to lose her skills as one. She bowed in respect to the woman behind Makoto, acknowledging her before her friend. She didn't know who this woman was, however; it didn't mean she had to be disrespectful about it as Masurao seemed to have not acknowledged the woman at all yet. She then turned towards Makoto, and offered him a soft smile.

"Makoto, it's good to see you back. Are you here to stay?" Masurao spoke, grinning down at his friend.

The woman behind Makoto seemed rather accustomed to being bowed to, and returned it politely, but nothing more than that. This was, after all, the first time he’d seen these people, his friends and family, as he called them, in more than half a year, and she was not so petty as to demand attention now of all times. Mako himself moved one of his hands atop Yuzu’s head, loosening his other around her shoulders, and looked up at the other two. He had not changed so much that he was smiling, exactly, but all the same, his mouth had a pleased tilt to it, and he looked surprisingly relaxed, an air of confidence there had not been before folded around him like a cloak.

“Yes,” he replied. “I’m here to stay.” Taking a step back from Yuzu so as to stand beside the girl, he nodded in her direction. “Everyone, this is Chiyama Sakuya-hime. She is the heir of the Chiyama family of Slayers, and my apprentice. Chiyama-san, these are Mori Yuzuki, Kagirinai Tatsuki, and Toukai Masurao.” Makoto’s expression softened a fraction.

“My friends.”

The girl seemed to study them all for a while, head tilted slightly to the side. She was clearly the youngest person present, though not by a lot, and evidently human. That said, she moved with a sort of unconscious grace not too different from Makoto’s, and when he spoke, she listened intently, all of her body language oriented towards him. At the introductions, though, she’d taken in the parties being introduced with a keen sort of intelligence, obviously not missing the fact that Masurao was hanyou. In the end, however, she only smiled warmly and bowed in front of all of them.

“It’s my pleasure,” she said, her voice light and musical. “Sensei speaks fondly of all of you. Please call me Sakuya, if you don’t mind.”

"Another princess?" Yujin stated, having arrived just moments after Makoto had. He had been left behind by Masurao and Tatsuki at the home they shared simply because he did not find it fitting to be up at the hour they were. He had wanted to stay in and nap, as he so eloquently put it. Tatsuki glared at Yujin, and smacked the back of his head before rolling her eyes. She knew what he meant by that, but that didn't mean she wanted anyone asking about it. Yujin chuckled slightly as he turned towards Sakuya. "Yujin, but you may call me Yuyu, or whatever suits your tastes," he introduced himself, shrugging his shoulders lightly.

"Do not mind Yuji, he is... special," Tatsuki refrained from saying anything else that might have seemed offensive towards her surrogate brother. "It is a pleasure to meet you as well, Sakuya-san," she continued as she addressed the woman by the name she wished to be called. Tatsuki could understand the want and need to be called something other than Hime. It was a little unnerving and had required a great deal of effort to have her cousin, Nobuo, stop referring her as such when they were children. She, however, did not miss the way Sakuya's body language read when Makoto spoke, and Tatsuki frowned ever so lightly.

"Ah, I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were standing there," Masurao spoke, chuckling nervously at himself. He hadn't seen the woman standing behind Makoto. He had been too focused on his friend to notice any other presence other than his, and he gave Sakuya a slight bow of respect. He frowned lightly, though, when she was introduced as an Heiress. Even if she wanted to be addressed as just Sakuya, it was going to be a bit difficult for him to call her as such. It would take a bit of time, but he would eventually do as she wished. He glanced towards Yujin and offered a smile towards the Oni.

"So... it seems that Makoto has an apprentice. What a shame, now we won't be able to spend time with each other, all cuddled up next to one another," Yujin spoke, a playful frown etching onto his face. Tatsuki seemed to pale at the statement, and Masurao just stared at the Oni with confusion. What was Yujin talking about? Whatever it was, it was causing Tatsuki's eyebrow to twitch rather violently.

Sakuya looked mildly confused by the oni’s words, blinking owlishly up at him, but to her credit, she did not seem to be hostile towards or frightened of him, only puzzled. “I’m not sure exactly what you’re talking about,” she told him rather bluntly, “but I doubt my presence will make that much difference. Sensei has his own way of doing things, and I found out the hard way that nothing I can say or do will really change that.” Sakuya grinned then, and shrugged, causing Yuzuki to giggle.

“You’ve got that right,” she agreed, poking Makoto in the arm. He seemed to know what Yujin was talking about, but for once, he failed to react to it or even blush in the slightest bit. Placing her hands on her hips, the priestess looked around at her collected family and friends, so happy to see them all in the same place again. Well, all except for one, and that did put a bit of a damper on her enthusiasm, but she allowed it to pass. The perfect couldn’t be the enemy of the good, and this was definitely good as it was.

“Anyway, come on you two. We were just eating. Onigiri can come too, even though he should have said he was going to come by, so we could make another ton of food!” Lightly bumping the oni’s bicep with her fist, she nevertheless led the way in, nearly skipping for how happy she was.

“They really are quite… energetic,” Sakuya said, glancing sideways at her teacher, who shook his head just faintly.

“I warned you.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


Image

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Makoto's return had brought brighter smiles to a lot of people, Masurao's included. He was glad to finally see Yuzuki smiling brighter now that her brother had returned, and it, in turn, made him happy. He wasn't so sure why he enjoyed seeing her smile so much, but it brought a sense of comfort to him. It was calming in a sense, and maybe it was just that about her that he had liked. A feeling of serenity was a nice contrast to the constant need to destroy. It was the one thing he actually did not like about himself. He could handle being a Hanyou, but the Oni side of him was a little... destructive. Maybe that's why he broke so many dishes? He was interrupted by his thoughts when Yujin appeared, tilting his head at his brother.

"You have something on your face," the Oni stated, tilting his head to mirror Masurao's. He blinked in slight confusion before his face twisted into a smirk. Masurao's hands immediately went to his face, wiping off whatever was on his face, and it caused Yujin to smile. "It's called a smile," he continued, laughing when Masurao's face pulled into a frown. He waved a hand in front of his face, rolling his eyes as Masurao tried glaring at him. "You shoud ask Tsu-Tsu for some advice, she knows how to glare at someone," he stated.

"Yeah? I don't think she'd teach me though. I think she's mad at me too," Masurao spoke, his voice set in a serious tone. Or maybe she was just mad at something and was taking it out on them, though, she'd never do something so silly as that. At least, he didn't think she would. He sighed softly, running a hand through his hair as he glanced towards Yujin. "I'm actually on my way to go see Mako, do you want to come?" he offered, watching as Yujin's face pulled into a slow smirk. It caused him to raise a questioning brow at his brother.

"Lead the way, Oni would actually like to talk to him," he answered, ushering Masurao in front of him to lead the way.

Makoto, as it turned out, was for the moment at his family home, enjoying some time with his younger half-siblings. The triplets, all with identical wheat-brown hair and dark brown eyes, were fifteen summers now, and though he had visited them several times over the course of the three years he’d been away, he was still surprised at how much they had changed. Rinko was the most troublesome, as she always had been. Shin looked a lot like his father, and Momoko favored her mother in both features and demeanor. Presently, his mother was working and apparently Sakuya had wanted to train with Yuzuki and Tatsuki that afternoon, so he had the time to himself for once. Well… relatively to himself. As soon as they’d learned that he wasn’t otherwise occupied, the triplets, mostly Rinko, had demanded a sparring session of their own, and presently, he was using a wooden sword held casually in one hand to fend off attacks from three directions.

While Shin favored katana, Momoko was in possession of a bo staff and Rinko tended to prefer a wakizashi, so they were able to cover short and medium range both quite well. They were, of course, still children, and so they were frustratingly unable to touch him no matter how they tried. It wasn’t much of an effort on his part, but he was enjoying himself, evinced by the slightest of smiles tilting the corner of his mouth.

He called a halt to the practice, however, when he sensed two familiar presences headed in his direction. Rinko thought to try and thwack him while he was distracted, but he caught the wooden blade she had, twisted it easily out of her hand, and bopped her gently on the head with it. “There is no honor in that,” he admonished. Though perhaps not typically the type to care about honor, he did generally desire that they learn to respect their foes. Even he did that. Rinko pouted at him and took the sword back, but she didn’t argue. As his guests drew close enough for him to speak at his normal volume, Makoto raised an eyebrow slightly. “Masurao, Yujin. To what do I owe the pleasure?” His manner of speech hadn’t changed much, but there was obviously more confidence to it now.

Masurao grinned widely at Makoto as he waved towards the other Hanyou. He opened his mouth to say something, however; Yujin beat him to it. "We came to see how our favorite cuddler was doing," he spoke, the words flowing naturally through his mouth. He'd never get tired of teasing the Hanyou about that night, though, he might actually have to work a bit harder at getting a reaction out of him. When Makoto had returned, he didn't so much as bat an eyelash at his comment, and that had unnerved Yujin, a bit. He could still get a reaction out of his sister, but then again, she was always fairly easy to fluster. Makoto, however, seemed to have changed through the three years he'd been gone.

"I am... lost," Masurao spoke, raising a confused brow in the process. He still didn't understand why Yujin said that, and he chanced that it had something to do with a preference Makoto had. Whatever it was, it seemed to bring the Oni a great deal of amusement. He shook his head from the thought, choosing to not linger on it longer than necessary, and blinked at the three children to Makoto's side. He remembered them as Makoto's siblings, and knelled down to their level. He was still rather tall, and though they were already fifteen years old, they were still considerably shorter than him. "Are you teaching them a few things you learned while you were away?" he asked, waving towards the triplets in the process.

"If he isn't cuddling, he's doing something productive," Yujin chimed in, shrugging his shoulders in the process. "I wonder, if your cuddle partner wasn't currently with the others, if they would like to cuddle again," Yujin continued, his smirk blowing up into a broad grin. Masurao only shook his head. Really, Yujin could be so confusing and odd.

“I hardly think I am your favorite one of those, in any sense of the word.” Tatsuki was, after all, their sister; he was quite confident they preferred her in that sense, and of course he didn’t mind that. They were friends; that was rather a miracle on its own. He raised a brow at Mao’s confusion and Yujin’s insistence on pressing the point. It was true that he felt some embarrassment over the incident still, but it had been three years ago and unintentional on both of their parts. He’d learned not to betray his reactions to things so easily, largely because it was required to survive intact in clan politics. As an outsider from the beginning, he’d had to compensate by learning quickly.

As the subject of his siblings’ training came up, however, Makoto spoke somewhat more freely. “Well, they are Slayers,” he said, shooting a sidelong glance at where Momoko was happily grinning up at Masurao, glad to see the family friend again. Rinko, on the other hand, had a hold of Shin’s hair and was tugging, apparently trying to coerce him into sparring with her. Shin’s face was nearly as blank as Makoto’s got sometimes, though they looked little alike. “…on occasion.” Some things, it seemed, did not change in the slightest, and he shook his head.

“All right you three. Go clean up your practice equipment.” Despite all their antics, they didn’t complain about doing as he said, though Rinko did try to swat Momoko with her own practice staff. Makoto closed his eyes and tried not to sigh. He was only partially successful.

"Oh, that stings. And here Oni thought we had something special," Yujin spoke, mock sadness filling his tone as he placed a hand over his chest. Masurao resisted the urge to roll his eyes at his brother, and instead focused on the grinning at Momoko. It was a little odd. It seemed the two were having a grinning contest until Makoto told them to put their things away. Masurao blinked at the scene, watching as the Rinko tried to hit Momoko with her staff. He chuckled lightly as Yujin grinned. Little slayers in training, he thought as he watched them steadily. "You know, with a little more tutelage, they'd make good slayers. Though, it appears Shin might have the right mind-set for it," he continued.

"They're still kids, Yujin," Masurao interrupted, frowning slightly. Though, in reality, they were closer to adulthood. Another year, and Momoko and Rinko would be of age to be wed, and Shin an adult in his own home. It was odd, how such ages were considered. Masurao would always see them as just children, but perhaps it was different for everyone. "Besides, I'm sure Shin could take you down no problem now, right Shin?" he stated, glancing towards the only male of the triplets. Yujin raised a brow in slight amusement before turning towards the smaller boy.

"Oh? You think you can take Oni down no problem?" he spoke, a hint of amusement lacing his voice. "Perhaps, Oni isn't as strong as he used to be. A mere child could probably take Oni down now," he stated, a light chuckle escaping his lips. "And you are always the favorite, Mako. Remember that," he spoke, his lips tilting into a mischievous smirk, as if he knew something the white-haired Hanyou didn't... and he did. But he wasn't going to say anything about it.

Shin, collected and cool as ever, only shrugged. “I doubt I could yet. But Mako could, and he’s on my team, so…” he shrugged again, and Makoto barely resisted the urge to pinch his nose between his thumb and forefinger. He knew his siblings had always looked up to him, but sometimes, it really showed through.

“This is an irrelevant discussion.” he pointed out, not bothering to puzzle through what Yujin had just said. Instead, he turned back to the two other men. “Make yourselves comfortable. Yuzu’s making dinner tonight, Chiyama-san will be back with her, and I’m sure they’ll drag Tatsuki along as well. We might as well all eat together.” Like they had often, once. He was a little nostalgic for it, strangely enough, though he wondered if he would feel the same when Rinko and Shin inevitably started a foodfight.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: [NPC] Bartender Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
Image

Image



Tatsuki let out a slow breath, trying to even out her breathing as she stared at Yuzuki and Sakuya. She and the two other girls had been training for what seemed like all day, however; they had only been at it for a few hours. Rather than piling her hair into a tail or bun, Tatsuki had cut the long locks. She didn't know why, but she felt the need to return to the short locks. They were easier to manage, and provided more of an advantage, especially since she was training again. She didn't need a distraction. She straightened out her posture, smiling softly at the two others before bowing. They had time for a bit of a breather, and Tatsuki could feel the muscles in her arms and legs stretching. Perhaps she shouldn't have domesticated herself as much in the last three years.

"Yuzu-chan, Sakuya-san, would you care for a break?" she questioned the two. If they wanted to keep going, she would oblige them. She stared a bit longer at Sakuya, though, trying to read the girl. She was very... vibrant, in her eyes. She seemed to be well-mannered, but still had enough respect to speak her mind, and Tatsuki found herself a little envious. She might have been less timid, but she was still far from being able to speak freely and speak her mind. She could only do so in the presence of her surrogate brothers, and other women. She just wasn't that good with other men. They unnerved her for some reason, but she didn't mind much. She had her friends, and her brothers. That would have to be enough... for now.

"There is a hot spring, a few paces behind this place, that we could use as well," she continued. Their place of training had been an abandoned shrine of some sort. She didn't know who the shrine was to, only that it had been abandoned for over ten years. That was what the villagers had said, at least. Supposedly, it was a haunted shrine, however; the months Tatsuki had used it with Masurao, she'd found no such claim on the place. She'd only stumbled upon the hot springs on accident, when Masurao had fallen down one of the hills, and she had to go after him. It would be good to at least soothe the sore muscles and cleanse themselves before they left.

Despite the hard training, Sakuya seemed scarcely out-of-breath, but perhaps that was to be expected—she trained harder than this with her teacher almost every day, trying to reach the level of ki mastery needed to inherit her clan’s techniques. She was doing well, or so sensei would occasionally say, and she, flush with the praise, however sparing, supposed that if anyone would know, he would. Still, she’d taken the opportunity to vary her routine today, because doing the same thing repeatedly was never good for oneself, and even though sensei varied her lessons, she knew that something completely different would come of this. She was impressed by sensei’s friends; they both had unique styles, and Yuzuki’s ki control was amazing. That said, she held her own with them no problems, and it made her a little proud of herself, too, and how far she’d come in the last few years. Unlike her father always had, sensei never pulled punches or softened blows because she was the heiress or a girl. He respected her as a warrior, just like, she could tell, he respected these two.

And if he did, she certainly could too. Smiling at Tatsuki, she nodded gracefully. “That seems like an excellent idea, Tatsuki-chan.” A chance to cleanse themselves of all this sweat would be nice. Yuzuki enthusiastically agreed, and before long, the three of them were at the springs, Sakuya peeling off her practice clothes with the ease of familiarity. “I’ve always preferred bathing right after practice. It gives me the chance to consider everything I learned.” Not bothering to tie up her hair, she let herself sink down into the steaming pool, up to the level of her eyes at first, then dunking her entire head back, coming up again and resting her back against the stone. The water was really nice, and almost too hot, which was honestly the best way for it to be.

“You take your training really seriously, don’t you, Sakuya-chan?” Yuzuki asked, following her into the water and taking a seat across the pool. There was no need to pin her own hair up—it was far too short to get wet unless she wanted it to.

Sakuya blinked. “Of course,” she said, faint surprise in her tone, as though it were inconceivable that she might not. “I’m the heir, now, and I have a duty to my people. I must be fit to lead them into battle, and with grace enough to handle more delicate diplomatic matters as well. It is no easy balance, but… I have made much progress because of sensei.” It might have just been all the heat and steam, but her face was definitely turning a little pink.

“It’s still really strange to hear someone call him that,” Yuzuki admitted with a giggle. “He’s always only been Mako to me.”

She'd never really seen it that way, bathing and thinking of what she'd learned that day. Tatsuki had always used the chance of bathing just to relax her body, and allow it to absorb what it needed to. It calloused her in a sense, and allowed her body to remember the familiarity of moves, learning them as second-nature. She'd never really reminisced on her training. It might actually do a bit good for her to do so, now that she wasn't as trained as she once was. She turned her attention back to Sakuya as the younger girl spoke, tilting her head slightly when she noticed the slight pink dusting the girl's face when she spoke of Makoto.

"Do... you like Makoto?" Tatsuki stated a little bluntly. She wasn't ignorant to believe that the heat was the cause of the girl's flushed face. She knew all to well what a blush looked like, and that, was most certainly one. "You speak very fondly of him, and you are blushing," she continued, a little surprised at her own forwardness. Even if the girl was slated to be an heir, she really wouldn't be able to rule without finding a husband. She did not know how slayer clans worked, but her clan had always had that set rule. Should a leader of the clan only have a daughter or daughters, the first born would lead, however; she was to be wed as soon as she was of age, before she could rule. Perhaps Slayers were different?

Did that mean she wanted Makoto, then? Tatsuki was suddenly aware of the pressure that built in her chest.

Yuzuki was incredibly surprised to hear such a blunt question from Tatsuki, who was normally so shy, and was opening her mouth to say something to smooth it all over when Sakuya replied, equally straightforwardly. “Do you?” She swore she could detect it there, a certain note of jealousy, and maybe she was just imagining things, but she didn’t think so. Under the water, her hands curled into fists. “I know what everyone thinks. They all assume it’s just a little hero complex, that he swooped in and saved my village and so I should want to marry him. Or that I’m doing it because I can’t rule without a husband. But they’re wrong.” Her dark eyes glittered—she’d heard such things in whispers behind her back, and some of her clansmen hadn’t approved of the fact that he was hanyou. Some wanted her to marry him as soon as possible, to merge the two most impressive Slayer legacies and give themselves an edge over the demons.

But Sakuya didn’t care one whit about any of that. “They’re all wrong. He didn’t save me, or my village. He taught me how to do that.” And that was infinitely better. He’d made it clear from the beginning that he wasn’t after rulership of a clan or even power in the usual sense—he only wanted to help. It had taken her a long time, too long, to believe him and trust him, but he’d never once disappointed her. That was a rare thing in a world of backstabbing clan politics. “And I’m not some stupid little girl who swoons for the first pretty face she sees, either. He’s a good person, so yes, I do like him.” She knew she was being a little unfair—it wasn’t like Tatsuki had directly accused her of any of those things, Sakuya had just read them into her tone, from lots of previous experience.

“I’m sorry, I—” She shook her head, suddenly not feeling much like a bath anymore. “I should go.” Stepping out of the pool, she moved well past it, dressing under the cover of some foliage.

When she was gone, the slightly-agape Yuzuki turned back to Tatsuki. “Um… where did that come from?” It was unclear if she meant the answer or the question that had sparked it. Raising an eyebrow, she gave Tatsuki a look that suggested she’d better have a few answers of her own.

Tatsuki was surprised by the sudden turn, and blinked in slight horror at the statement. She hadn't meant to upset the girl, only to see if Sakuya had liked Makoto. She wasn't going to say anything if the young slayer had, because she believed Sakuya would be a good match for Makoto. A Slayer was better than a Ninja in any given scenario, especially since the Chiyama clan was a renowned clan. And given that the Yoshida were once a prominent thing, it would be one of the best mergings possible. Not that she ever thought about things like that, because Tatsuki did not believe on marriages being built on merges. Her own marriage was built on a merge, and she would never wish that upon anyone. She lowered her gaze, failing to apologize to Sakuya before the girl left, causing Tatsuki to sink further into the water.

"I didn't mean... to offend her," she spoke, her voice low and solemn. "It's just..." she began, pausing in her words as she glanced up to meet Yuzuki's eyes. She took a deep breath, releasing it slowly as she raised herself back up from the water. She could see it in Yuzuki's eyes, that she wanted answers, but Tatsuki wasn't so sure she could give them quite yet. The words Sakuya had spoken and struck a nerve with her, and many of them were true. Makoto was a good person. She'd said as much to Yuzuki and himself on occasion, because she meant it. She'd grown with Masurao and Yujin as brothers, and as such, she was not biased on what he was. It didn't make him who he was... and somewhere over the years, she had grown to respect that.

She had missed him terribly when he was gone for the last three years, and it took her those three years to figure out why. She could feel tears well up in her eyes, the notion disturbing her slightly. Why would she cry about something like that? Just because she knew how she felt about someone, didn't mean they felt the same way. What if he actually liked Sakuya? There would be no point in telling him how she felt (if she could) if he was set on her. She pulled her knees to her chest, resting her chin on them as her mouth hovered over the surface of the water. Yuzuki at least deserved to know. She was her friend, and she was Makoto's sister.

"Yes... for a long while now," she finally confessed. It felt like her throat was constricting. Odd, shouldn't she feel relieved? "I... wasn't sure until he left for those three years. I know now that I do like him, but... I," she continued, unsure of how to continue. How could she? She knew nothing, and it almost hurt to think of the possibilities that were likely true. She knew Makoto hadn't exactly had his fair share of women after him, and Sakuya was a beautiful girl, more-so than Tatsuki could ever hope to be. They were both nobility, but Sakuya actually looked like it.

"Sakuya-san seems like she could make Mako very happy, and I do not know where he stands with her. She's... she could give him a lot, and she has a lot to offer," she continued, lowering her gaze from Yuzuki, unable to keep it any longer. "I'm sorry, Yuzu. I shouldn't have said anything."

Well. That was definitely not how she’d been expecting her day to go. Yuzuki was left stunned for a bit—she’d always sort of wondered if maybe Tatsuki was fond of Mako in some way, but… she hadn’t exactly been expecting something like this. Honestly, as a priestess, people sometimes told her things of a similar nature, asked her for advice and all that, but there was something very different about it when it involved the people closest to her. Carefully, she reached out and wrapped her fingers around Tatsuki’s wrists, inching them up so that their hands were palm to palm, and she sent a little burst of ki through the link, more a reassurance than anything. “Hey now,” she said softly, sad to see her friend in such distress.

“You’re sure right about one thing—nobody knows how Mako feels about this, and let’s not go jumping to any conclusions before we do, okay? Just because she loves him doesn’t mean he loves her. And maybe she does have a lot to offer, but,” Yuzuki smiled, giving comfort in the best way she knew how. “So do you, if you wanted to offer it in the first place.” Reaching up, she fiddled with strands of Tatsuki’s newly-short hair, brushing them to the sides of her face so they wouldn’t get in the way. She would have told her friend to just tell Mako how she felt, and see what happened, but Tsu was feeling a little too raw for that kind of advice right now, she thought. Better save it for later.

“So chin up, okay? There’s no use being sad about it when there’s nothing to be sad about yet. There might not ever be anything at all, for all any of us knows.” She sighed gently. Poor Tatsuki—sometimes, Yuzu wondered what it might be like to have a love life or something like this, but watching her friend now, she wondered if she might not be much luckier without that kind of complication.

Tatsuki offered a small smile at her friend, her eyes softening as she glanced at their joined palms. Yuzuki was right, but she was also wrong. What could Tatsuki offer him that Sakuya couldn't? She could offer him so much more, a family, a clan. The only thing Tatsuki had was the small inn she worked in, and even that wasn't hers. There was nothing more than that. But she would trust Yuzuki, and her words. She would, because she didn't know what else she could do. "Okay," were the only words she could speak.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Three years.

Closer to three and a half by this point, but Naomi had stopped counting after one, having lost the will and the inclination to do so. It would just be a countdown until the day she died, in the end, because she didn’t ever expect to leave this place alive again. She’d been three years a prisoner, and there were exactly three things keeping her going. The first was the progress of her herb garden, where she was still hard at work crossbreeding the plants, trying to get something capable of killing an oni that she herself could build an immunity to. More specifically, a noble oni, not the ones of common lineage. Those were much easier to kill, she knew from experience. But an oni lord like Sakaki would be quite difficult. Maybe, if she had enough time and poison left over, she’d be able to kill Nobunaga, too—an addendum that had entered her revenge dreams with startling frequency since her term of forced solitude had begun. She scarcely saw anyone besides him, anymore.

But two of the people she did see were Nobunaga’s sons—though only one of them was truly his. Chitose was a bit of an entitled brat, but he was her entitled brat. Not by blood of course, but because his mother was long dead—probably killed by Nobunaga, she couldn’t help but think cynically—and she was the only person who could or would fill a role at least a little like that in his life. He was much kinder to her than he was to anyone else, save of course his little brother, or so they’d both been told.

In truth, Nobunaga had cut the baby from the dying body of his brother’s noble wife, the child notably lacking some of the most traditional oni features, looking, like Nobunaga and Chitose, more like a human or a hanyou than anything. The child had been brought back, and she ordered to see to its needs. It was certainly one thing she’d never been trained for, but perhaps the task of mothering fell to her because she was the only woman regularly in the compound. She didn’t have much of a choice, and she’d learned what she needed to know along the way.

Ironically, shouldering her with this burden had been the nicest thing Nobunaga had ever done, to her and probably in general. Sora, she’d named him, like the sky she could only see from behind the walls of the estate. He was a dear thing, with a soft crown of purple-black hair and blue eyes, both features she shared, though his eyes were far more saturated with color than hers, almost indigo, and sometimes dark enough to seem black. Still, he easily passed for her child, with his fine features and pale cast, and so the obvious rumor was that he was Nobunaga’s bastard by her. A rumor that the oyabun only encouraged, hiding his child’s true heritage. Whatever the case, Naomi didn’t care. He was the light in her life, the one star in a dark sky. She cherished him more than she thought herself capable of cherishing anything, and sometimes she even began to wonder what it might be like, if she abandoned her revenge and just ran away with him, took one more chance for herself and he both. But she already knew what the result of that would be—they would both die for her presumption. For the thought that she could hide from him.

But today, the strangest thing had happened. Nobunaga had summoned her—rarely did a day go by when he didn’t, and she supposed she should be glad he was not tired of her yet, five years was a long time to keep the same woman, for him—and told her that she was to take Sora out into the village. If he was to eventually be Chitose’s shadow arm, he needed to learn the outside world and the people in it. She wondered if he even realized it would be her first time outside his estate in three years. Probably not—he was notoriously absent-minded if something did not relate to his immediate goals in some way. That was what Sakaki was for, after all.

So here she was, Sora’s little hand clasped in her own, only safe now that they’d made it out of sight and she did not have to endure accusations of coddling him—as though a little affection would weaken him somehow. Actually… scooping him up, she arranged him such that he was on her back, heedless of the fine kimono she wore, his arms—already long enough to indicate that he would one day be tall—looped around her neck. In this fashion, they proceeded to the lake. She wasn’t quite sure she was ready to go into town yet, and face what she’d left there last time. Did they still think of her sometimes, she wondered, or had she faded from memory already? She supposed it didn’t matter. It would be kinder if they did forget someone like her.

Standing at the edge, she peered at their reflections in the water, smiling slightly at the way his head appeared over her shoulder. Three years had, according to some people who felt entitled to make opinions on such things, had only made Naomi fairer—in both senses—than she had been before, and she remembered distinctly someone who would disagree. She’d maybe gained a few muscles from minding a pair of rambunctious children, but color would likely never be hers. She couldn’t see herself as anything but ugly now, anyway. But it also no longer seemed to matter the way it used to. Other than that, she was physically the same, from the length of her hair to the soft taper of her fingers and the long fringe of her lashes. Another feature that, oddly, Sora shared. He really didn’t look like his uncle at all, save a certain shared strength in the jawline. She could already tell he’d be beautiful when he grew—he and Chitose both, but especially her little Sora.

“You’ll break some maidens’ hearts some day,” she told him matter-of-factly. “I only hope that you at least will know the value in what you are breaking, and leave them the pieces so they can put them back together.” She didn’t even know where her own heart was anymore. Perhaps she’d never had one to begin with.

Yujin lay underneath a tree, eyes closed to the world as he enjoyed the afternoon breeze. His family had chased him out of the house, something to do with what he had said, and caused Tatsuki to threaten him if he didn't leave. He had only laughed a hearty laugh before obliging his sister. He had traveled down to the lake, finding the town a little too boring for his tastes that morning, and had opted to feed the ducks. There were only a few when he had arrived, but they had left a few minutes later, leaving him to himself for the rest of the afternoon. He had told his siblings where he was going to be, and if they were going to join him, to bring lots of food. Tatsuki had only thwacked him with the ladle as he walked out the door.

His attention, however, was caught when he heard someone speaking. He knew that voice. Even after three years, he'd recognize that voice anywhere. He sat up a little too fast, his head snapping in the direction it came from, spotting a familiar person. There was, however, another person standing next to her. A mere child, it was hard to deny the similarities between them. Both sported rather dark hair, almost identical eyes, and the same pallor of skin. It caused Yujin to purse his lips together as a few things clicked together. Was that what she had meant? When she said she wouldn't see them again? It actually hurt to think of it that way. Shaking his head slightly, he contemplated whether or not he would go and speak with her. He decided he would.

"You know," he began, the same light tone he'd used before reaching it's way to his voice. "If I would have known you were bringing Oni a present, Oni might have brought something for you as well," he spoke, crossing his arms over his chest as he raised a brow, glancing at the child. "But don't you think it's a bit much? I don't think he would look so good wrapped around Oni as he does you."

By this point, Naomi was thoroughly convinced that if there were gods, they hated her. For a long moment, she simply stared at him, her lips slightly parted as though to speak, but she could not, initially, summon the words. This was dangerous, somehow, this situation, but… wasn’t that the opposite of the truth? Shouldn’t this be the safest of all scenarios? Yujin had made himself something of a friend, without so much as a hint of genuine interest beyond the platonic. Not that she always expected differently, mind, but it meant she could at least assume that his dealings with her did not have ulterior motives. He wasn’t out for revenge against Nobunaga, had little interest in her personally, and wasn’t likely to try to hurt either herself or Sora. After she’d up and left them all three years ago, she might have been expecting a little more out of him, but this was… this was better. This was fine. She could do this—she’d never get those weeks back, the ones when she’d been wrapped in their warmth and their friendly affection, but at least they would not be angry. She wasn’t sure she’d know what to do with that.

When had they become so important?

With a deep breath, she smoothed her face over, mirroring the expression worn by the child on her back, who stared at Yujin with eyes darkened with a strange kind of knowing. She felt a flare of ki from the child, just a little spike of it, and knew he was already frighteningly capable of much more. This was like a breath of ionized air, right before all the chaos of a tsunami, but fresh, invigorating, chaotic and dark. It was hard to explain so many things about Sora; that was only one of them.

But that little piece of him was enough for Naomi to ground herself again, and the customary sly smile slid over her lips. “Then I’m glad you didn’t bring anything,” she said, “because I’m keeping this little one, I’m afraid.”

Yujin merely stared back at the child, staring into the deep pools the child possessed. He didn't have to be touching the child to feel the flare of ki, however; it did cause him to purse his lips together, his brows furrowing slightly. That... was a little odd, even for a Hanyou child. There was more to it than that, he was sure, but he chose not to think about it much longer. It wouldn't do much good to consider those thoughts. This child was obviously something more, something that could be dangerous in the future, however; as long as Naomi was with him... he didn't have to think of a possible situation. Instead, he chuckled lightly at her statement.

"Then I suppose Oni is out of luck, and lunch," he stated, a sly smile tilting on his face as he continued to stare at the child. It wasn't uncommon for Oni to eat humans or other humanoid creatures. He'd actually known other Oni to eat Hanyou as well, but the mere thought of putting human or Hanyou flesh in his mouth was a little repulsive. He visibly shivered, but set himself right once the motion passed through. "What a shame, I'm sure he would have been delicious," he continued, reaching a clawed finger to poke the child's cheek. He wasn't completely serious, if the toothy grin on his face said anything about it, and glanced back towards Naomi.

"So, whose is he?" he questioned. He might not have known entirely what the child was, but it was obvious (to him at least) that the child was not hers. The child was old enough to be her child, however; there was something about him that threw Yujin off. It was the way everything seemed chilled, the air thick and almost hard to breathe through, that gave it away to him. Most Hanyou children did not have abilities like that. Those were usually reserved for Oni with extremely high Nobility, usually the ones closest related to the King. Yujin was Nobility, though he hardly looked it. He knew certain things, about certain appearances, of certain people. It was why no one questioned the authenticity of Nobunaga's heritage.

She knew that Sora would likely not remember these events later in his life, which was the only reasons he felt comfortable saying it. If he repeated it to Nobunaga… then she was dead, plain and simple. Fortunately, he was incredibly smart for a boy of his age, and she knew she need only explain the situation to him, and he would understand, and tell no one. “Officially? Nobunaga’s and likely mine.” the boy’s eyes narrowed at Yujin, as though he took offense to being poked, but he didn’t say anything. He was capable of speech, of course, but he didn’t often exercise the capacity, unless he was alone with her or his brother. He might as well have been mute for all he said to anyone else.

“Truthfully… Nobunaga’s older brother, and his wife.” The bloodline to the King didn’t get any more direct than that, and Naomi was smart enough to know that the child she held on her back was in fact the rightful heir to the position. Lord of all Demons, and for now, just a child. Though he wasn’t really just anything, was he? Carefully, she set him down, placing a hand on his head to run her fingers through his silky-dark crown of tousled curls. Her eyes softened, and she didn’t even notice the fact that she was smiling. “Will you tell the oni your name?” she asked him, failing to suppress a snort when he shook his head.

“No.” The word was short, clipped, and spoken in the tones of one who is used to being a bit surly. “Mama-san can, but I won’t. Because Oni didn’t say his name first.”

Naomi, clearly amused, glanced up at Yujin and raised an eyebrow. “Strange sense of fairness, isn’t it? Yujin, this is Sora. Sora, this is Yujin, though you should feel free to call him Onigiri-san.” She smirked, but the gesture fell away immediately afterwards. She never did cease the soothing motion of moving her hand through his hair.

“Everyone… how has everyone been?” She’d been gone for so long she wondered if maybe she’d lost the right to ask. But she needed to know, somehow.

That... was a little unexpected, and caught Yujin completely off guard. He blinked down at Sora, tilting his head in slight confusion when the boy had spoken. "Not even yours, and he's already picking up your habits. I have to say," he spoke, kneeling down so that he was eye level with Sora. "You've raised him well," he continued, poking the child's cheek once more. He could get used to doing that, if only to keep getting the same reaction out of him. He sighed softly though, standing back up to his full height as he glanced at Naomi. He wasn't entirely sure if he should tell her the full truth, or partially. They had all missed her, even Masurao, but none more-so than he, Tatsuki, and Yuzuki. He had missed her the most, though.

"Makoto left us for three years, off in a Slayer village training," he started. "He returned to us a few days ago with a package in tow. Suffice to say, I think little Tsu-Tsu might have a bit of a fight there," he stated, a slow smirk pulling at his lips. He knew things that she would not have wanted anyone else to know, but he wasn't going to say much on the matter. Tease her, probably, but he wouldn't do something that would eventually put her in an uncomfortable position. It was his job as an older brother to look after his family. That, however, didn't mean he couldn't have fun with the information.

"Tsu-Tsu and Zuki, though... they missed you," he spoke, his voice taking on a rather uncharacteristic tone. It was melancholy tainted with something else that he couldn't quite explain. "They didn't really say much, but their demeanors dropped considerably when you disappeared, and only increased when Mako left. I'm sure they would love to see you again. They still miss you," he neglected to tell her that he had missed her as well.

Naomi sighed, watching as Sora moved to the edge of the pond, inspecting the fish that swam by below. She didn’t really like knowing that anyone had missed her—it made her feel… guilty. That it made her feel anything didn’t really surprise her, but she hadn’t been expecting it all the same. “I’d like to see them,” she admitted, “but… I don’t know how long this mood of Nobunaga’s will last. This could just as easily be the last time I leave his estate as anything, and I don’t want to hurt anyone twice.” She smiled crookedly, glancing up at him through her lashes.

“I suppose it’s good I ran into Oni instead. He’s rather impervious to me, after all.” She didn’t have to worry too much about hurting him, and perhaps that was what made him safe in her mind, why she associated him with that feeling of rightness, while she at all other times felt either dully or keenly a threat. The threat that she could find herself dead at any moment.

The smile didn't quite reach Yujin's eyes when she spoke. "Perhaps," he spoke. He wouldn't put that on her that he had missed her as well. He didn't want her to feel bad if she felt that way about Tatsuki and Yuzuki. And she was right, Nobunaga had a strange way of doing things and Yuzuki and Tatsuki did not need to be hurt twice. Him? He could take it, the hurt because it was something he had dealt with most of his life. Though, this hurt was nothing like what he had endured. It was a slow agonizing hurt, and one that he could not put a word on, not quite yet. He shook his head faintly and stared back at Naomi.

"Oni is impervious to a lot of things... but you?" he said nothing else, allowing the smirk on his face to convey everything else he needed to. It was a lie, he knew that much, but the smirk would not betray it to anyone else. "Take care of your mother, Sora," he tossed towards the child, turning his back towards the both of them. "The offer... it still stands you know," he stated before walking away. It would always be there, his offer to give her a chance to be free. It would always be there for her when she wanted to take it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Six months had passed now since Makoto’s return, and life had settled back into a familiar rhythm in Edo. Given the frequency of the excursions she was made to take with Sora, Naomi had eventually come around to the idea of at least letting the rest of her friends know that she was fine, and introducing them to the child. It had been awkward at first, to say the least, but in time, she’d fallen back into the same patterns of behavior as she’d had before with them—in her heart, she tried to keep them from her, but in person, she was amicable, teasing, and frequently participated in the now four-person all-female training sessions conducted behind Yuzuki’s shrine. It didn’t take her log at all to figure out the reason for the tension between Tatsuki and the girl Sakuya, but actually most of the time she refrained from commenting on it.

She went out of her way to never be caught alone with Yujin, Sora at the very least always serving as a barrier between them, but in groups, she didn’t mind sitting next to him or anything. It was only that she could not risk sharing too much again. It wasn’t her way, and something about him seemed to draw the truth from her even when she should have lied or remained silent. It was not a risk she was willing to take, not now. Especially not now. She was always vague in her reports to Nobunaga about where she took Sora, and he was smart enough not to contradict her, either. She didn’t much like teaching the boy how to lie, but she knew it would probably be a vital skill to his survival in his future. He wasn’t like Nobunaga, nor even like his older brother. There as a gentleness to Sora, a fundamental kindness that he would have to learn how to hide before his so-called father attempted to kill it all together.

She was out with him, simply wandering along the pathways of town, eating dango off a stick whilst he did the same, when the attack came. It was odd—normally, she could at least sense youkai coming from a ways off, but in this case, it was as though they appeared out of nowhere, in massive droves. These were no weak insects, either; these were wolves. Not as strong as an oni, perhaps, but there were hundreds of them, and they swept in over Edo in an organized formation, with the intent of nothing but killing. It was odd behavior for the species, but there wasn’t much time to contemplate it. Looking down at Sora, who was staring over at them as though vaguely fascinated, she picked him up and ducked into the nearest building, which happened to be the inn at which Little Mao and Tatsuki worked. There today in addition to Yujin, Makoto, Yuzuki, and Sakuya were Maktoto’s family and Yuzuki’s parents, the whole family eating lunch together.

“Wolves,” she said without preamble. “Everywhere.” This inn contained perhaps the only people both capable and willing to defend the town—for Nobunaga would not send his men to exterminate the threat unless it reached his very gates. Immediately, the three Slayers sitting at the table stood, along with Makoto’s teenaged siblings, but these were pulled back into their seats by their worried looking mother. Naomi wasn’t entirely convinced that the one-armed old man should be fighting, either, and she saw the matching looks of concern pass Yuzu and Makoto’s faces before the priestess stood as well. Being in a restaurant, most of them didn’t have many weapons on them, but Makoto, Sakuya, and Hayabusa all did, and immediately grabbed them.

Masurao had not the slightest clue why, in the last six months, Tatsuki had seemed a little tense. It only seemed to grow when they were around Makoto and his family, and when Sakuya was around. She seemed to turn in on herself, as she used to not so long ago, and Masurao had grown a little worried about it. He tried getting her to talk about it, but she usually just changed the subject or avoided it completely. It was unlike her, however; Yujin had managed to persuade him to leave her alone, claiming that it was a battle Tatsuki had to win on her own. And it was one that required support, not badgering. Heading his brother's advice, Masurao had dropped the subject and returned to their daily routines. Things seemed to lighten up once more, however, when Naomi had returned.

Though she now carried a three year old boy with her, it did not change things much, and the three siblings had adopted the child as they had Naomi. Masurao and Tatsuki believed that Sora was indeed, Naomi's child, however; Yujin had told them otherwise, telling them to keep it to themselves and no one else. They had sworn an oath of silence to that, and spoke nothing further about it. It was nice to have the whole family back together again, and that was all that mattered to them, even if that family had grown to two extra members. Currently, a majority of the family had been enjoying a meal at the inn where Masurao and Tatsuki worked, and immediately, a cold air passed through the building.

Tatsuki was out of her apron, her Naginata pole in her hands, when Naomi entered and spoke. Yujin, before the others, was already out the door heading towards the pack of wolves. Masurao glanced towards Makoto's mother, and the triplets, passing a worried glance towards Yuzuki. He knew Hayabusa was a capable warrior, but he was up in age. There was a greater possibility that this could be his last fight, however; Masurao gained a resolve. He would protect her father as much as he could, along with the others. He would believe that, even an old man could be strong and keep the village safe. Shaking the thoughts from his head, he followed after Yujin, catching up with him. Yujin stared at the wolves, watching as they mindlessly slaughtered people.

"I never really liked wolves," he stated, sighing before shoving his way towards the yokai. Typically, wolves only traveled in packs less than fifty members. It was easier to keep a small amount of mouths to feed than it was to manage hundreds, however; something didn't sit quite right with Yujin. He managed to grab one of the yokai by its neck, twisting it with a quick flick of his wrist and listened to the snapping noise it made. By themselves, wolf yokai were not strong. In numbers, however, it would prove to be a difficult fight, even with all of them fighting. Thankfully, Masurao and Yujin did not need weapons, and could use their bare hands just as well. And that was exactly what Masurao did. He managed to pull a few wolves off of a villager, helping them to escape before he was assaulted by three of them. One wolf latched onto his leg, tearing at the calf muscles while another latched onto his arm, trying to tear it off.

"Mao," Tatsuki managed to spear the third wolf in the head with her Naginata, however; that left her temporarily weaponless. Her eyes narrowed around a small group that surrounded her, and she took a fighting stance. "Whenever you feel ready to return my Naginata, Mao," she spoke, keeping her eyes on the wolves in front of her. She wasn't quite that skilled in hand-to-hand combat as she was with her Naginata, however; she could make do without it for now. Even as one latched onto her shoulder, she managed to roll with it, ripping her shoulder out of its jaws. She turned, grabbed the short blade that she had stowed in her kimono shirt, and stabbed the wolf in its throat. She threw the short blade at one heading for her, catching it between the eyes as Masurao made his way towards her.

Yujin seemed to be having the time of his life, though. It wasn't exactly a fair battle, however; the Oni was tearing wolves apart. The odd thing, however, was there seemed to be an endless supply of wolves. Where were they coming from?

Yuzuki stuck close to her dad, her mother agreeing to take up the primary work of protecting the ones still inside, along with the triplets. Naomi stood protectively in front of the door, a long dagger in one hand and a glass flask of some kind in her other. When she threw it into a knot of wolves, it shattered and released a greenish gas, something that dropped four at once, leaving only the fifth to leap for her, somewhat groggily at that. It got her sleeve, tearing the whole thing off at the shoulder seam and leaving her left arm bare, but she grabbed the end at it went past her hand and used it to yank backwards, interrupting the creature’s momentum and plunging the dagger into the back of its neck, dropping both the wolf and her kimono sleeve afterwards. Blood streaked her face, but she honestly didn’t notice it. Those things were trying to reach the noncombatants—and Sora. She wasn’t going to let anything hurt him.

Yuzuki didn’t have her bow with her, but she did have a few throwing knives, a skill she’d picked up from Tatsuki, and she handled them in much the same way she would use an arrow, charging them with her ki and throwing them—hard—at incoming wolves. Beside her, her proud father hacked them down with a katana, the empty sleeve of his left arm fluttering like a pennant in the breeze. A wind kicked up, and the edge of the katana lengthened as he applied his ki to it, slashing outwards and sending an arc of razor-edged air to slam into a broad swath of wolves. Yuzu picked off the ones on the edges, sticking close to him and Masurao. When she ran out of throwing knives, she moved to retrieve the ones she’d already used, the other two providing her cover.

Makoto was further afield than most of the others, though he slowed his pace such that Sakuya could keep up with him, his apprentice assuming a familiar spot back-to-back with him. Both wielded matched shortswords, though his were somewhat longer. Sakuya’s ki was aligned to fire, and it showed in the fact that both of her blades were on fire when she ripped them through the air, slashing at the wolves with all the ferocity of a trained Slayer, proud and mighty in her heritage. Seeing a large swell of reinforcements heading for the town, she turned to regard her teacher, who nodded. Sucking in a deep breath, she conjured the largest portion of ki she could safely control in one effort, and launched the fireball at the incoming wolves. With a motion so sharp and efficient that it made what she did look like the work of a child, Makoto conjured a wind, feeding her flames and spreading them into a wide wall of fire that slammed into the front lines of the encroaching wolves. Those that made it through were blackened and charred in places, but there were too many for any one effort to head off.

And some of them were making it beyond the initial defenses, cleverly slipping behind the lines and trying to get at easier prey within. The smell from within the inn was enticing many, and Naomi was running out of poison to hold them off with. She could still fight on her own, but she wouldn’t be able to keep them all away, and hoped that Chinatsu, Yuzuki’s mother, could keep them all safe enough with her ki control.

Unfortunately, however, she soon had bigger problems, specifically, Alpha-sized problems. Far stronger than most wolves, Alphas could prove deadly even for oni, and this one apparently really wanted into the inn. Gritting her teeth, Naomi tightened her grip on her knife, blocking it with her body when it lunged for the door. It carried her to the floor, its massive jaws closing over her bare arm, the punctures penetrating deeply enough to scrape bone as the sheer force of its bite shattered her arm, forcing her to drop the dagger. She could feel her vision flickering in and out, the pain threatening to drive her to delirium, but she refused to let herself succumb. Sora… she still had to protect Sora, because if she didn’t, then nobody else would.

Even under the great creature’s paw, which itself threatened to cave in her ribcage, Naomi found the strength to push back against what held her down, her lips pulled back from her teeth in a gesture itself not so different from a snarl. Her head swam with the pain of her efforts, and she had only one arm left to push with, but she refused to give up. The Alpha wasn’t having it, though, and drew back to bite her once more, only to find itself suddenly unable to move. Naomi didn’t understand, her blurred vision moving from the wolf itself to what it stared at, behind her.

She let out a soft gasp. There stood Sora, his eyes locked with the youkai’s, indigo blue with brilliant gold, and it seemed caught in that color—the hue of a twilit sky. The boy’s expression was solemn, but she could feel the ki roiling around the area, curling over the ground almost like a palpable, tangible mist. She breathed it, and swore she was tasting life and death on her tongue.

“Submit,” the child told the massive creature, and to Naomi’s astonishment, it did, bowing its head and whimpering in a high pitch, backing off her chest and folding its great black tail between its legs. Sora jerked his head in a strange motion, and the Alpha fell upon its own pack, closing the mighty jaws around the nearest wolf’s throat and tearing the windpipe out. Sora, meanwhile, knelt by her side, his expression back to normal and his eyes no longer so eerie. “Mama-san has been hurt,” he said softly, touching her bleeding arm. She winced, and he moved the hand away.

“Yes,” she said, “but it’s okay. Sora helped Mama-san, so everything will be okay, right?” her good hand reached up to hold the side of his face gently, and then she began the arduous work of regaining her feet. The fight was not over yet.

Now was not the time to feel the slight pang of her chest, and she knew it. But it didn't stop the fact that the two of them worked in better unison, and Tatsuki tore her eyes away. She had to keep focus on what she was doing, or she would lose her life. Was that such a bad thing, though? She'd die protecting her friends, her family, and the village. She wasn't ready for it, not in a long run, however; she wasn't like them. They were all raised into this. She was a mercenary, once, but that life was never hers. She'd never approved of it even when she and Masurao were doing the work. She was happy, when she had learned that she had had the choice to make the decision to keep going, or stay and make a living in the inn they currently worked in.

And for four years, she'd been happy. Why did this jealous feeling make her feel so low? She should be happy. Happy that there was someone that complimented him so well, something she could never do. But she was fine with that, because her own happiness could be sacrificed for his. And she hated it. With a strange battle cry, Tatsuki pulled the Naginata out of one of the wolf yokai's head, and swung the blade around, catching another in a cheek, however; a new set of wolves appeared. She furrowed her brows, her eyes searching for her brothers, but they were all on the furtherest side of the field. She felt something slam into her back, causing her to fall forward, and caught the side of her head on the edge of a table. She could see spots in her vision as she rolled out of the way, avoiding a pair of jaws.

Masurao stood as close to Yuzuki and her father as possible, keeping the yokai from getting too close to them. It was obvious that Hayabusa was an expert in his field, taking down most of the yokai with, what seemed, relative ease. Masurao grinned, snapping a wolf's neck before grabbing another by its tail, swinging it into a pack that charged him. He covered Yuzuki as she retrieved her knives, keeping the wolves from attacking her until she was able to arm herself once more. He cursed silently to himself, though, when he spotted a few wolves running past them, heading straight for the inn, and he made an attempt to go after them, but was stopped when more wolves appeared, however; they were no ordinary wolves. They were alphas, and they would be more of a challenge than their weaker counterparts.

Alphas were usually two to a pack, however; there seemed to be four of them. Masurao narrowed his eyes, reaching for the short blade Tatsuki had traded him for her Naginata pole back. It wouldn't be enough, but he could add a bit more strength to himself with his augmentation. And he began focusing. He could feel his muscles stiffen just slightly more, and his bulky frame seemed almost to even out. He opened his eyes and stared down one of the Alphas that headed towards Yuzuki and her father. He wouldn't allow this creature to harm either of them, and he would protect them for as long as he could. "Yuzu, try slowing it down with your ki daggers," he directed towards her. If she could amplify her ki to course through the yokai's body, it might weaken it just enough to where they would have a chance.

Yujin, however, was not exactly thrilled. He had spotted a few of the yokai passing the defense and his eyes narrowed dangerously when he noticed where they were heading. He had been pinned down by an Alpha, and even as its teeth were ripping into his shoulder, he could see another Alpha heading towards the inn, and the other towards his sister. A snarl released itself from his throat as he grabbed a hold of the Alpha's head, trying to rip it out of his shoulder, and succeeded in doing so. It managed to pull out a large chunk of flesh, but one could already see the muscles mending together to heal. He tossed the Alpha away from him, feeling the boiling rage inside of him grow. He might not have had a wolf's nose, but it didn't take much for him to smell blood on the air.

And it wasn't just anyone's blood. It was her blood. A chilled air escaped from his mouth, as his eyes seemed to darken. Even if it was her blood, that meant that the creatures had managed to get through, and that was something he would not tolerate. His eyes seemed to match colors, a deep amber gold replacing the amethyst eye, and he glared at the Alpha. The wolf merely snarled in retaliation, its feet buried in the ground as it lept towards him. Yujin merely allowed himself to lose control. He could no longer afford to play, and his berserker took over him. He emptied his rationality and attacked, meeting the wolf head on as his hands gripped its jaws. It struggled between him, clawing, snarling, and trying to bite him, however; Yujin pulled at its lower and upper jaw until the sickening sound of flesh tearing reached his ears. He could hear the painful howl of the wolf, as he dropped its corpse to the ground, his eyes fixing on the other wolves in the vicinity.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Tatsuki managed to evade most of the jaws, but had not escaped unscathed. She currently sported a large gash in her shoulder, and another on her left side. She tried evening out her breathing, but was having difficulty doing even that. The Alpha that had attacked her seemed to have punctured her lung, and if that was the case, she would not last much longer. She wasn't as strong as Masurao or Yujin, and she didn't have the advantage of Ki control as Sakuya and Yuzuki seemed to. She had to rely on her own skills, her own strength to get her through this fight. But she wasn't sure she was strong enough to handle an Alpha on her own. It lunged at her again, its claws outstretched and clawing her in the cheek. She narrowed her eyes at it as it pinned her down, snarling over her. She released a snarl of her own, trying to push it off of her, but was unable to.

"Tatsuki!" Masurao shouted, a painful scream filling his ears. He could see the Alpha hovering over his sister, its jaws clamped down around her shoulder. She was sure he fractured her collar bone and her shoulder. If she hadn't moved, he would have found her jugular vein. Masurao glanced towards Yuzuki and her father. If he left them, the Alpha they were taking care of would get a hold of Yuzuki and her father. But if he didn't, Tatsuki was going to die. He was going to lose someone either way he looked at it, and he clenched his fists tightly. Yujin, however, had began making his way towards the inn when Tatsuki's scream filled his ears. It snapped him back long enough to see the Alpha, and he cursed. She was too far for him to make it in time, however; he had to do something. And so he ran, hoping to make it to his sister's aid in time.

The scream also alerted Makoto, and truthfully, no distance was too great for him to cross in time, if need be. He swept his eyes over the situation, calculating the likely outcomes of what was going on. “Sakuya.” Formality had no place on the battlefield, and it was the one place he would ever use her first name. She interpreted the signal correctly and disengaged from her foes, jumping onto his back just in time, because he was off like a shot, the speed something she was still far from used to. There wasn’t even enough time to enjoy the closeness—she was enough a professional to push such thoughts aside in the moment, and so when his grip on her loosened, she was ready, and pushed off his back to land on her feet halfway to his destination, planting herself in front of the next incoming wave of wolves to hold them back while the others dealt with those already past the first line of defense.

As soon as she was gone, Makoto jumped, his ki aiding him in making a massive arc from the ground to the back of the alpha attacking Tatsuki. Considering they were on average slightly larger than horses, and much stronger, he did not break its spine by doing so, but the surprise and pain of his landing loosened its jaws, long enough for him to make another leap, wind an arm around Tatsuki’s waist, and pull her free of its range. His other hand shoved one of his swords up into its soft palate, the blade emerging from between its eyes, and he wrenched to the side, earing the blade free in a shower of blood and grime. The red spray landed in his hair, staining the white strands crimson in splotches. His eyes flashed golden for a moment, and his entire body shuddered with the force of his bloodlust, but he managed to stave off the berserker instinct.

“Stay with me, Tatsuki,” he instructed quietly, though he knew she was in no condition to continue the fight. Anywhere he set her down ran a risk of her being found and finished off by another wolf, so he would simply have to keep her with him, and he tucked her into his side with his arm, angling his body such that she was out of reach of those wolves that chose to charge him.

Masurao’s moment of indecision, however, left him blind to the appearance of yet another alpha, this one like most of the rest a snowy white color. Yuzuki, who had been staving off the one they knew about with her ki daggers, missed it, too. In fact, the only person who saw it in time to do anything was Hayabusa, and when he saw it barreling for his daughter, he didn’t even have to think. With his single arm, he shoved her to the side and down onto the ground, where she rolled onto her back in enough time to see the massive creature’s jaws close over her father’s middle.

“Dad!” she screamed, and his head turned sideways to regard her, a half-smile tilting his wizened features.

“I love you, Yuzuki. Take care of… your… mother.” The jaws tightened, and a symphony of wet cracks signaled the breaking of his rib cage, the bones perforating his lungs in several places.

“No, Dad! NO!” Tears flooding her vision, Yuzuki did something she couldn’t remember ever doing—she gave herself over to her anger. She could feel something building, bubbling underneath her skin like boiling water, scorching her skin and begging to be allowed to overflow. She allowed it, aiming at the creature that had killed her father, and a raw burst of light flew from her hands, slamming the wolf in the side and carrying it several hundred feet where it crashed into the side of a building and lay, unmoving.

Yuzuki’s vision went dark, and she collapsed.

Her screams caused Masurao to turn, eyes wide in horror as he watched the Alpha pierce Yuzuki's father. It clenched its jaws around the slayer, and it didn't take much for Masurao to know the man was gone. Anger poured through his body, however; fear soon replaced it when Yuzuki used her ki to launch the Alpha away from her, killing it almost instantly. He was at her side immediately, catching her just before she could fall, and cradled her to him. He glanced over her, trying to see if there were any other visible wounds on her, and pulled her close to him, cradling her head softly. He shuddered softly as he listened to the steady rhythm of her heart beat. His eyes flashed gold for a moment, his berserker trying to take hold of him, but he couldn't allow it. He had Yuzuki in his arms, and if he lost control, he'd likely kill her.

"I'm sorry, Yuzuki," he apologized. Somehow, it felt like it was his fault that Hayabusa was dead. He had hesitated, and if he hadn't, he would have been able to see the Alpha heading towards Yuzuki, and it would be him instead in the jaws of the creature. He would have been able to survive the jaws, however; Hayabusa was merely human. He would not, did not survive. And Masurao blamed himself for it. His arm shot out as a wolf tried to take advantage of the situation, crushing its windpipe with relative ease. He shuffled Yuzuki on his back, glancing towards Yujin who merely nodded his head. With a bit of help from his brother, Masurao made it back into the inn, blinking somewhat in mild surprise when he spotted Naomi injured.

"I'm... sorry," he spoke, his voice low, unable to look at Yuzuki's mother. It was his fault her husband was dead, and it was his fault Yuzuki's father was dead. If he hadn't hesitated... Hayabusa would be alive still. He set Yuzuki down on one of the tables, gently, and made his way back out of the door, pausing momentarily to glance over his shoulder. His eyes softened before he left, making his way back onto the battle field. Unable to contain himself much longer, Masurao gave himself over willingly, his hair sporting the snow white locks and his pale pallor returning. He allowed himself to grieve while in this state, and he would continue to do so until every one of the wolves was dead.

Yujin, however, breathed a sigh of relief when Makoto was able to reach his sister, and turned his attention back to the remaining wolves. Four of the five alphas were dead, and one of them seemed to still be attacking the other wolves. It made no sense to him, but he wasn't going to leave it to chance. He made his way, cutting through the wolves, towards the alpha. He allowed just a sliver of his berserker through, enough to give him the edge, and he attacked, his fist cracking over the Alpha's skull as he pulled another wolf yokai from its jaws. It was already dead, but that did not mean much to Yujin. He plunged his hand through the wolf's mouth, watching as his hand protruded through the back of its skull, and wiggled his fingers in slight amusement.

"Oni got your tongue?" he chided to himself, pulling his fist free as he watched some of the other yokai back off. He could see a few of them leaving, returning to where they came from, and watched as the last of them were dealt with. He snorted, shaking his hand free from the debris that covered it, and glanced towards Masurao. His eyes seemed to be darker than normal, even if he was returned to his normal self. A silent knowing passed through the both of them as Masurao went towards Hayabusa's corpse. He knelt down in front of the older man, and bowed his head. He apologized to the man in silence, and vowed to never be the one to hurt Yuzuki again. He wouldn't. He couldn't. Yujin stood by Masurao's side, laying a hand on the Hanyou's shoulder.

Tatsuki had not expected him to come. Of all the people on the battle field, he was the one she did not want to come to her aid. He shouldn't have, but she found no room to retort this. She was losing blood, fast, and she fought to keep her consciousness. It was hard, watching as people became black blotches, voices becoming muffled whispers. She just wanted to sleep, but she knew if she did that now, she would never wake up. That... didn't sound too bad of a thought. At least they wouldn't have to worry about her anymore. She wouldn't be the one who held them back. She would be the one who let them go forward. But she was selfish, and she knew it. She clung to his voice like her lungs did for air. She did not take time to relish the fact that he was holding her, only that he had saved her... again.

"This is the second time... you've saved my life, Mako," she spoke in a low voice, her words slow to be understood. "I think... I will just... close my eyes for a bit," she continued, unable to keep her eyes open any longer. She could feel her world going black, but she knew that she would wake back up... probably. Yujin glanced over towards the slayers, his eyes finally landing on Makoto. He gave the Hanyou a sympathetic look, and glanced towards Tatsuki in his arms. Had this been any other time, he would have commented on it, however; it was not the time, nor place to make such things. Gently, he removed Tatsuki from Makoto's arms and glanced at the slayer.

"My sympathies," were the only words he spoke. He was sure the Hanyou slayer would want to carry his deceased Uncle to his family. The least they could do was build a pyre for him.

Makoto made his way over to his uncle, his teacher, and knelt at the old man’s side. One arm, and he’d still managed to be stronger than most warriors Mako would ever meet. He’d told the hanyou once that if one felt that something about them was a disadvantage, they just had to learn how to turn it into an advantage. It—that advice—was one of the things that had helped him master his own inner oni, turning it to his advantage rather than letting it control him.

And now he was dead.

He was joined by Chinatsu soon after, while Naomi tended to Yuzuki. Sora had looked a bit sad that his wolf had been killed, but he said and did nothing about it, merely sticking to his surrogate mother’s side quietly and removing himself from the affairs of the others. He did help her tend the priestess and bandage the other girl, the cook. Given that the only ki healer in the group was out of commission, the wounds had to be taken care of the old-fashioned way, and both Nanami Yoshida and Naomi herself were rather skilled with such matters. Makoto wasn’t bad, either, but he was currently occupied helping his aunt.

As was the tradition of Slayers, Hayabusa’s body was burned on a pyre the next day. Yuzuki wept bitterly, and then returned to her shrine in the mountains and closed herself inside. She had not the energy to help heal anyone—her ki still had not recovered from the raw blast of it her anger had pushed from her. Nanami and the children had cried as well, but Chinatsu had remained strangely stoic about all of it, watching her husband’s body burn in mournful silence. Makoto did the same, then helped her back to their home, not wanting to leave her alone at present. He, however, took over for his mother and Naomi in tending Tatsuki, changing her bandages and making sure she was given the medicine she required. On the occasion that the wounds in places less-than-decent needed to be looked after, Nanami paid a daily visit to do so. He asked Sakuya to remain with his family for the duration—this was something he did not desire anyone else to see him do.

Wounds and recovery were private things, and besides that it was best for a bedside to be visited by as few people as possible in the early stages of recovery. Mao was currently nowhere to be found, and Mako generally traded shifts with Yujin when it came to watching Tatsuki for any changes. He mourned, of course he did, but it was much easier for him to put those thoughts to the side and do something useful instead.

And so it was that three days passed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Makoto had left Tatsuki to Naomi’s care for the day, as the woman had been allowed back into the town for the first time since the incident. She still had the child with her, which surprised him a little bit. One would think Nobunaga could at least pretend to care about a child that he had supposedly fathered, but it seemed that this wasn’t really the case, though Mako suspected that he had been enraged that a rival lord had sent domesticated wolves against his territory and harmed what he thought he owned in the process. The fatigue on Naomi’s face seemed to confirm his suspicions, but there wasn’t much he could do for her, save to hand her another one of the small glass bottles his mother made up for her. Likely if Nobunaga found out she was intentionally drinking a contraceptive brew, he’d not take it well, so she couldn’t grow all the ingredients herself. He’d never told anyone else that he delivered them in six-month supplied every time he’d visited over the three years he was gone, because it was a secret of hers to tell, not his.

It was a small thing, but still something he could do for her. At least he’d been able to know for sure that she wasn’t dead—he’d definitely have told the others if she were. That was enough for the both of them, really. For today, however, it wasn’t her he needed to assist—it was his sister. He’d visited Yuzu several times in the last few days, and though she’d always let him in, she had not responded to his poor attempts at comfort or consolation, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to get through to her. Not while he still grieved as well. When he visited, they shared pain. What she needed now was someone to help alleviate it.

The best suggestion was also the person perhaps least likely to try on his own, so Makoto knew it fell to him to push his friend in the right direction. Both of them needed the visit to happen, Mao no less than Yuzuki. Perhaps, if he were lucky, he could at least arrange it.

He found Masurao in the forest. The man had come down from his oni state some time ago, but he still hadn’t come back near the town. Makoto approached cautiously, knowing that his friend could still be treading on a thin line right now. When he reached the clearing he wanted, he dropped down from the last in a sequence of trees, tilting his head slightly to look up at the older hanyou.

“Masurao.”

Masurao had not been back to the village in the last few days. He had opted to stay away from them, the failure leaking from him was almost suffocating. He had promised himself that nothing would happen to Yuzuki and her father, and he had failed. Her father had died because of his mistake, and now Yuzuki and her family were paying for it. If he hadn't been hesitant, if only he had been paying attention, Hayabusa might still be alive. He might still be alive, and Yuzuki and her family would not be grieving. But... the thing that had caused him to hesitate was the need to protect his family. His entire family. Tatsuki had been injured, on the verge of death, and had he left Hayabusa and Yuzuki, they would both be dead. One life, or two? His sister, or his friends?

It wasn't a decision he could make hastily, but it was one that had needed a quick response. And he had failed to do both. It had cost him dearly because of it. So, he had left the village, choosing to stay away from those he had hurt. He had not stopped by to see Tatsuki, to see if she had even recovered from her injuries. Yujin had found him, and told him that she was okay, but still unable to move. Out of all of them, she had suffered the most injuries, and Masurao couldn't help but take the blame for that too. He should have been able to keep them all safe, and all he did was watch his friend's father die, and his sister almost die. He was useless. He was brought from his thoughts when Makoto arrived, calling out his name.

"I'm not going back, Mako," he spoke, turning to regard the Hanyou over his shoulders. "I... I can't," he continued, turning away from Makoto in the process. How could he go back and face them? They should all hate him for not protecting Hayabusa, for not protecting Yuzuki, Tatsuki, Naomi, any of them. They should despise him for letting Hayabusa die, for... he stopped his trail of thoughts as he slumped his shoulders. "I'm sorry, Mako. I should have done something."

“Yes,” Mako agreed, “you should have. Just as I should have reached the scene faster, just as Yujin should perhaps have gotten serious sooner. Just as Tatsuki herself should have stuck closer to other people fighting, to avoid the predicament in the first place.” He tilted his head to one side, leaning his back on a tree trunk and folding his arms into his sleeves. His swords were a familiar, comfortable weight crossed over the small of his back, somehow a counterbalance to the unfamiliar, uncomfortable weight resting in his chest. He blinked slowly, and inhaled, filtering through the various scents of the forest—pine, juniper, dead leaves.

“’On a battlefield, there is no such thing as perfection. Something can always go better. What we must do is learn from our mistakes, and endeavor not to repeat them.’" The way he said the words, he was quoting someone, and it was not difficult to guess whom. “That was one of the first things Hayabusa taught me, when I was only a child. Sometimes, there is no avoiding a bad outcome—we are not gods. We cannot stay a death when it is truly meant to come. We can only make choices. I could have chosen differently—to come to the aid of my teacher instead of Tatsuki, and then he would be alive regardless of anything you chose.” Of course, then Tatsuki would be dead, and that was the outcome he had been most intent on preventing. He had known that there was a chance any of the others might die if he chose not to help them. There was a chance for them to die if he did help them. That was how battle worked.

“And he chose, too. To die to save his daughter. Don’t you think she feels even more guilty about that than you do? Don’t you think that she asks herself, over and over, what might have happened if she’d just noticed that wolf a little faster, moved out of the way? We all made mistakes, Mao. And we will make more. We’re just lucky enough to be alive to try and make up for them.” His lips pursed into a fine line, and he shook his head faintly.

“If you wish you’d done something, don’t repeat the mistake. Do something now. I can’t reach her—but I think you might be able to.”

Masurao glanced away from Makoto, flinching lightly at his words. They stung, in ways that Masurao wasn't sure they were supposed to, but he couldn't help but feel the truth behind them. Still, it did not stop the guilt from swelling further in him. He could have done something differently, they all could have, but the outcome would have still been the same. Someone would have died, regardless. If it had been him, would the others be this mournful? He knew his family would, but at least Yuzuki and the others would still have their father, their friend, their mentor. He shook slightly, the shivers of indecisive measures coursing through his veins.

He should have done something different. There was nothing he could do about it now, though. Yuzuki's father was dead, there was no getting him back. He shifted to fully turn Makoto, his frown deepening when he spoke of Yuzuki. She probably was doing the same thing he was doing, and that was something he didn't want her to do. He didn't want her to blame herself for her father's death, because that blame was his. She should be blaming him for not being faster, smarter, stronger to protect them all. And he wasn't. He had let her down. She should be blaming him, not herself. He sighed softly, lowering his shoulders in defeat.

"Nothing I do or say will help her. I'll only make it worse for her," he began, refusing to look at Makoto. He should be mad at him too, for not being all those things he should have been. "But if you believe I can reach her, I'll try. She deserves that," he whispered softly. But what would he say to her? What could he say to her? "Just... don't expect it to work."

Makoto’s stance softened slightly, and he resisted the urge to sigh. He knew that Mao was going to beat himself up over this for a while, and just as he didn’t think he was the right person to help Yuzu see the light of day again, he didn’t think he was truly the right person to convince Masurao that he had stewed in his guilt for long enough. He suspected that was something they could only do for each other. But perhaps pushing them to it would be good enough for now.

“I expect nothing from nobody,” he replied, a very tiny twitch to his lip indicating the beginnings of a melancholy smile. “Sometimes, I am pleasantly surprised.” But his words had run out, and their purpose had been served, so with a last nod, he departed the clearing, leaving his fellow hanyou to gather his own courage.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


Image

Image



It took a moment for Masurao to swallow past the large lump in his throat, and gather his courage. He still wasn't sure if he should go see her, however; if Makoto had spoken the truth, and he doubted Makoto had reason to lie, he couldn't let this go on. He didn't know what he would do or say to her, to bring her out of whatever it was that was bringing her down. Taking a deep breath, he set his pace, slow and rugged, towards her shrine. She was still locked in her room, or at least that was what Makoto had said. She hadn't left it, and Masurao couldn't help a dreadful feeling encasing him. He didn't want her to hate him for what he did, for his inability to choose, but he didn't want her to hate herself for what happened to her father. He needed her to make a choice, and if hating him brought her back, he could take it.

He could take it because they were friends, and she would always be his friend. They had known each other for almost four years, and this one incident could prove to be the ending of that friendship. He didn't want that. It scared him to know that if she chose to hate him, chose to refuse his friendship, it would devastate him. He shook the thoughts from his head as he happened upon the steps to her shrine. He took a hesitant step on the first step, pausing momentarily to second guess himself. What right did he have to be here? To be the one to try and bring her out? With a new resolve, he pushed himself to finish climbing the steps. Once he reached the top, he maneuvered through the shrine to find Yuzuki's room. He found it, and noticed the door was closed. He gently knocked on the door, waiting for a response before calling out her name.

"Yuzuki, are you in there?"

A figure stirred on the futon, where Yuzuki had dropped four days before and had not moved much from ever since, and she rolled over to face the door. She’d felt him coming, just barely, her power still not fully returned to her from what she’d done after the incident. Now, though, he was right there, right outside her door, and she wasn’t sure she had the strength to face him right now. She was curled into the fetal position, her knees tucked tightly to her chest, as though she were trying to conserve all the warmth she possibly could against a chill in her heart that was so real it felt physical. Her eyes were rimmed red from all the crying she’d done, and her hair stuck up at strange angles, and she was wearing an old, threadbeare sleeping yukata and not much else, but…

She couldn’t just leave him out there. No matter how miserable she felt, her conscience wouldn’t let her leave a friend out in the cold. She wasn’t sure precisely what his purpose was in coming, but she supposed that he and her other friends must be concerned for her right now. It wasn’t like her to do this, to go for such long stretches without seeing them, but… her grief would not leave her, not yet. Her father had been her hero for as long as she could properly remember. Even though her teacher had been a father figure to her as well, her blood father was just… irreplaceable.

And now he was gone.

She alternated between sinking deep into the warm, light memories of years past, when she was still a child in her parents’ home, watching him practice with Makoto and forcing them both to take breaks for lunch. She remembered his little pleased half-smile, his rasping chuckle, the way he refused to let anyone do anything for him that he could do himself, even if it took him twice as long with his missing arm. That pride he’d had—not just for himself, but for his family. His wife, herself, Mako. Nanami and the kids. The way he’d visited her shrine once every week just to talk to her. The way he’d told her he loved her when he died. The way he’d known he was going to die, and jumped in front of that wolf anyway, for her.

The way his body had burned, the smoke and ash rising towards the stars, carrying away pieces of her innocence with it.

Slowly, she pushed herself to her feet, and padded miserably over to the door, sliding it open and blinking blue-green eyes up at Mao. She tried to smile, because she knew that was what everyone expected—sometimes needed—her to do, but she couldn't, and the pitiful twist to her lips faltered, falling back into a melancholy frown a couple of seconds latter. “Hello, Mao-Mao,” she said softly, her voice carrying the edge of a rasp from recent sobbing. “Please, um… you can come in.” She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted him to see her messy futon and such, but, well… she was a bigger mess than her bedding, and he’d seen that already. No point in hiding the futon.

Masurao couldn't help the look that flickered across his face. She looked so... he couldn't put a word to it, and he wasn't sure he wanted to. How could she have let herself go this far? How could he have let this happen? His eyes softened gently, as he let himself inside. He glanced at the room she was in, noticing her futon and the messy state it was in. Everything came at him once again, the guilt, the pain, and he allowed his fists to clutch together. He turned to her, his eyes grimacing in the process. He couldn't let this go on. It had to stop. If anything, she had to stop. He stepped next to her, reaching a hand towards her and slipped it around her shoulders, bringing the other one to rest around her as well. He brought her into a hug, and surpressed a shudder through his body.

"Yuzu, please," he began, his voice soft and pleading. "Please, don't," he continued. He didn't have a right to say this, he had no right to say anything after all he did to her. He couldn't claim to know how it felt to lose a parent, but for him, it felt like he was losing something just as important. Her appearance, the state she was in, it was eating at him. "I'm sorry, Yuzu. It's my fault. Blame me, be mad at me, but don't blame yourself. Do whatever you want to me. Take it all out on me, not yourself," he continued, wrapping his arms a bit tighter around her.

Yuzuki was at first startled by the gesture, and uncertain of its meaning. But as he continued to speak, a picture formed in her mind, of how he must have seen the situation, how he must have put it together. Slowly, she reached up, her fingers tangling in his shirt, and she just rested her forehead against his chest, feeling the steady pulse of his heart in his chest, sending the blood through his system at regular intervals. She squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep, shuddering breath, holding it for so long she started to feel lightheaded, then released it.

“It’s not your fault,” she murmured against his shirt, leaning further into him such that he was basically supporting her weight. He was easily strong enough to do so, she knew. “It’s not your fault I always need to be protected.” Because that’s what had caused everything, at the root of it. She was small and human and fragile and didn’t really have the heart for fighting, and so no matter how hard she tried, she always became a liability on a battlefield. She wasn’t like Sakuya or Tatsuki—humans who could tolerate the press of battle, and the smell of blood on the air. Eventually, it always started to make her sick, and she eventually failed to notice something, or slipped up somewhere, no matter how she tried not to.

Sometimes, her friends became hurt. Other times… even worse things happened. But she would never, ever blame anyone else for those things. She didn’t understand why he was blaming himself, and she didn’t like it in the slightest. “It’s my fault. It’s always my fault.”

"No, Yuzuki. It's not your fault, it has never been your fault," he spoke, keeping his arms tightly around her, keeping her from falling over. "It's my fault that I wasn't able to protect you or your father. I promised you I would, and I couldn't. I didn't. Don't... please don't blame yourself Yuzuki. You could never be at fault," he murmured, burying his face into her hair. How could she think that? But... wasn't he doing the same thing? Blaming himself for something that he could not control? Was that what Makoto was trying to tell him? He may not have been as smart as the others, and it took time for him to understand things. He just wished he could understand things then and there. He sighed softly and shook the thoughts from his head.

"We won't get anywhere like this, will we," he questioned, a small smile crossing his features. "I don't think... your father would be happy with the both of us, mourning over him like this," he continued. "Your father... he was a brave man, Yuzuki. And he died defending you. I think, in the end, he was happy. And he would have wanted you to be happy," he wasn't sure if he was even saying the right things, but he had to say something, do something to make her happy again. He was pretty sure he was only upsetting her further.

"I... know I don't have any right saying any of this, but Yuzu, please smile," he stated, because he wanted to see her smile. He needed to see it. If only for him, because if she could no longer smile, he wasn't sure he could live with himself for taking that away from her.

Slowly, Yuzuki eased the deathgrip she had on his shirt, stretching her arms out so that she was hugging him around the torso instead, trying to relax the tension in her muscles. Deep down, she knew that what he was saying was true, that it wasn’t really anybody’s fault, and that her father wouldn’t want her to be so miserable. She just… she missed him. And she would probably always miss him. It hurt to know that he wouldn’t be there anymore, not physically. She’d never see him smile or feel the crooked fingers of his wizened hands ruffle her hair. She had been a late in life child for both of her parents, and they had not been expecting her, they said. Once, when she’d asked if they’d wanted her, her father had told her that they hadn’t really thought about it, because when the gods gave you a gift, it was rarely the exact thing you asked for. Rather, it was the exact thing you needed.

She wondered if maybe this strange patchwork family she’d acquired was like that. She’d have never thought to ask for them, and she hadn’t been expecting them, as such, but they might just be what she needed. To ease this hurt, and whatever others were to come in her life. The thought gave her the needed courage to step back from him, tipping her head up so she could meet his eyes. Yuzu didn’t feel much like smiling, but that seemed to be something that Mao needed at the moment, and since he’d just managed to give her what she needed, it seemed only fair that she return the favor.

Her lips tilted up into a smile, small but genuine, and on an impulse, she stood as high as her toes would let her, placing a hand behind his neck and bending him downwards until their foreheads touched, their eyelashes almost brushing. “Thank you,” she whispered, as though to say it louder would break some kind of trance they were both in, whatever strange world they had created from dim light and sorrow and the comfort of knowing another person needed you, even just a little. Her fingers tangled slightly in the shaggy hair at the nape of his neck, her other hand resting gently, palm against the front of his shoulder. He smelled, she noted, like the juniper and pine of the forest, and she wondered how long he’d been out in it.

Masurao released a breath he had not realized he was holding when he met her eyes, watching the slight tilt of her lips move up. It was small, but it was there, and it was enough. It was enough to allow the small smile of his own to continue resting on his face, even as she brought his head down to rest against her forehead. His arms encircled her once more as he continued to stay in the position. They would be fine, for now. They would be okay, and it was enough to know that she had not lost her smile. He could never fathom losing his family, the pain it caused, and he hoped he would never have to lose any of them, again. He would do whatever he could to ensure that he would no longer be powerless to help, powerless to defend his family, his friends, and he would do whatever he could to ensure their safety.

"You're welcome, Yuzu. We should go, Mako and the others are worried about you," He stated, bringing his hand from her shoulders and lacing it with her fingers. It was odd how small her hands were, and even more-so how they just seemed to fit so perfectly into his. He could feel his heart skip a beat, and he wondered, for a moment, just what that meant. "And thank you, Yuzuki."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
Image

Image



Naomi had managed to go into town without Sora today, on the excuse that she was going to order some new clothes for both of the children in the estate, who were growing almost faster than tailors could make garments for them. Sora and Chitose would both be very tall adults; it wasn’t hard to tell that much already. It was three weeks ago that Yuzuki’s father died, and so her mother was once again plying her trade, and it was from her that Naomi made the order. Having a fair amount of free time left over, she decided to pay a visit to the inn, as was usually her practice with Sora as well.

It was nearly empty when she got there, something she attributed to the time of day—it was not anywhere near a meal, particularly, and not late enough that anyone would be there to drink yet, so the place was quiet. She waved to Masurao, who was sweeping out front, probably because he’d broken more dishes or something, but decided not to disturb him. Instead, she headed back into the kitchens to see what Tatsuki was doing. The owner knew who she was by now, and so didn’t even give her a second glance when she passed him to do just that.

“Good afternoon, Tatsuki,” she greeted. It had taken a while for the girl to regain consciousness, but between Makoto, his mother, and herself, her medical care had been about as good as it could get, and though some of her injuries were doubtless still bothering her, she was well enough to go back to her work. Naomi imagined that being able to do something had to be better than sitting around her house trying not to let boredom drive her insane. “How are you feeling?”

Tatsuki had not paid attention to the time that had passed her by. She had woken from her injuries four days after the incident, and had suffered small episodes of pain. She hadn't realized how injured she was, and had almost fallen into a deep depression. Out of all of her friends, she was the one who was heavily injured, something she attributed to the fact that she had been further away from them. Masurao had told her the news of Yuzuki's father, and Tatsuki had mourned, silently, for the priestess. In time, she would heal, but until then, she would suffer as Tatsuki had when Nobuo had died. It had taken her a long time to get over his death, but without Yujin and Masurao, she would have never recovered from it. But Hayabusa was Yuzuki's father. She couldn't really claim to have known how that felt.

Instead, she had occupied herself with her work, three weeks later. She could still feel the occasional shift in her ribs, where the Alpha had fractured one of them, and she winced a bit. She blinked in mild surprise when Naomi entered, and offered her a small smile, and wiped her hands on a cloth, not before removing the pot from the fire. She grabbed one of the fresh Dango's from the counter and handed it to Naomi. She glanced back up at Naomi and allowed her smile to falter slightly.

"I am as well as I can get," she responded, sighing softly. She wouldn't be healed completely until a few more days, or even a week if things decided to take a turn for the worst, and she was counting on that happening. Nothing ever stayed peaceful in Edo for very long, and another yokai attack by now was almost expected. "But I have you, Makoto, and Nanami to thank for that. If it were not for all of you, I would not have healed," and likely would have died from the wounds themselves. A thought she did not feel like sharing. "And what of you?"

Naomi grimaced in sympathy, but nodded anyway. While perhaps she would have ordinarily preferred to tease the girl about something, she knew that now was not really the occasion for that. Perhaps later. “I am… well enough.” she said in response. Nobunaga had not been pleased with the fact that someone had injured her and it wasn’t him, but it wasn’t really her fault, and he’d at least had enough sense to see that much. It hadn’t precisely stopped him from adding to them, but he’d been… gentler than usual, for the last few days. Frankly, she was just lucky that everything about her was so elastic, and tended to snap back into place easily enough even when it endured more than body parts should have to. This was something she chose not to share.

“Also… I think I know why those wolves attacked. According to Nobunaga’s advisors, there is another clan of oni, opposed to the yakuza, who have been breeding the demons for a few centuries now. Apparently they’ve finally figured out how to train them enough to send them over long distances to attack. They… think it’s really just a prelude, to a march by the army itself.” They’d been trying to soften up the yakuza, but they’d run into the city’s other defenders instead. Naomi wasn’t sure exactly how she felt about that.

Generally, she was for anything that was against Nobunaga, but she also knew that if they made it here before she had her revenge, well… she would refuse to run, and in doing so, she would probably become some other lord’s war prize, and worse would happen to Sora and Chitose. Assuming the invaders even won. If they didn’t, she’d just have a destroyed town, and angry Nobunaga, and possibly some dead friends.

It certainly wasn’t anything she wanted.

Tatsuki furrowed her brows and pursed her lips. A prelude? The opposing Oni had seemed to domesticate the wolves and had used them to their advantage to fight against Nobunaga. Had they known that, they might not have interfered, however; the wolves had attacked innocent humans in the process. They couldn't have just let that happen and had to do something about it. Still, there was a chance that the army itself would appear to challenge Nobunaga. If that happened, more than just a handful of innocent people would be lost to the battle. Even if some of the humans could be harsh in their words, did terrible things to the Hanyou, they did not deserve a fate like that. Tatsuki sighed softly, shaking her head before taking a seat on one of the empty tables.

"We won't stand a chance against an army of Oni," she finally spoke. A handful, maybe, but an army? They would all be killed, even Yujin. He may be a full blooded Oni, but that only meant so much against his kind. She pursed her lips together in thought. "We don't have much choice if it comes to that. We would have to leave Edo," and that was something she didn't want to do. This was her home, their home. They couldn't just leave. "Or, we can fight to defend what we can. If an army does pass through here, we can only hope they will head straight for Nobunaga and his estate," she spoke, and immediately choked on her words.

"I'm sorry, Naomi, I didn't mean," she stated, apologizing to Naomi. If that were the case, something would happen to Naomi, and Tatsuki definitely did not want that to happen. She was her friend, and as much a part of her family as the others were. "I suppose it is a good thing that we have two slayers, an Oni, a Priestess, and a Hanyou to help fight," she stated. If it came down to a fight, they just might have the advantage at defending, and hope that the Oni would move on to easier prey.

Naomi smiled, the expression half bitter and half understanding. It was a strange look on her face, but it expressed her sentiments well enough. “There is no need to apologize,” she said, waving a hand dismissively. “I would, in all honesty, hope the same.” Truly, the last thing she would want was for any more of her friends to be hurt or worse in the name of someone else’s ambition. Sighing softly, she pursed her lips.

“I’m afraid the news is a little worse, too. Nobunaga is preparing for just such an attack, and he’s doing it by attempting to consolidate his power and locate some kind of artifact that he believes is in the city somewhere. Anyone perceived as an outstanding threat to his position is being rounded up and dealt with.” The words rolled off her lips in almost a sneer, and her eyes narrowed. She’d seen just what that meant firsthand, probably in a needless reminder of what would happen to her or anyone else who disobeyed him. Needless not because she was already scared into submission as he thought, but needless because she knew it was what waited at the end of her life and would endure it anyway. In her brother’s name, having killed his murderer.

“I just came to tell you to be careful, and to warn the others to do the same, in case I don’t see them. If he decides you're all a threat, he might just let you die by throwing yourselves at the incoming army, but… he might not. And I have no idea what kind of artifact he’s talking about.” Naomi didn’t like how much she didn’t know, but she knew that Nobunaga’s information was also rather thin in that area, and she could only hope he never found it. She didn’t know what it was for, but if he wanted it, who cared? It was bound to be horrible for everyone else.

Tatsuki resisted the urge to groan. Really, that wasn't something they really needed. It was bad enough that the opposing army had sent those wolves, however; if Nobunaga decided that this artifact was in town somewhere, there would be doubtless casualties, humans mainly. She pursed her lips together and frowned. What were they going to do? If Nobunaga was taking potential threats and disposing of them, who was to say he wouldn't see her family as one if they interfered? That wasn't something she was willing to risk, but if they didn't do anything, the lives they had saved would be for nothing. They would die at the hands of Nobunaga until he found what he was looking for, and that was even assuming he could find it.

"Thank you, Naomi, for telling me. I will warn the others. It must not be easy for you, but... thank you, for taking that risk," Tatsuki stated. Naomi was risking a lot for them, whether she knew it or not. She probably did, and took it anyway. That was something Tatsuki wasn't sure she'd ever be able to repay. Being able to defy Nobunaga to tell them the information was a big risk, and Tatsuki wasn't so sure that she would have been able to be that strong to do so. "You've... been an invaluable friend, Naomi, thank you for that," she added as an after thought, offering the woman a smile she hadn't been able to wear in the last few weeks.

Something in Naomi’s eyes softened, and she returned the smile with a hint of one of her own. “There’s the pretty smile,” she teased lightly, shaking her head slightly. It was true that she risked a lot, but… looking at it another way, she risked more by not warning them. And she wasn’t sure she could bear to lose them anymore. Not a one.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


Image

Image



Makoto paced uncomfortably by the lakeshore. He wasn’t exactly happy with the way events had turned, but he had to say, he should have been expecting it sooner. It just made things… complicated, and he’d been hoping the whole situation could be avoided before it got to this point. Alas, that had not proven to be the case, and now he wasn’t precisely sure how to handle it. Sighing through his nose, he sat crosslegged at the edge of the water and looked out over it. There was a swan in the lake, he noted, a most unusual sight. Unfortunately, he didn’t keep himself distracted for long before his vexation settled back over him like a cloak, manifesting in a displeased downward turn to his mouth.

Perhaps he should speak to Yuzuki. She might know how to handle something like this. Or at least, her ideas would probably be better than his were, for he could see no choices that did not somehow have disastrous consequences. Shaking his head faintly, he pursed his lips and leaned forward, bracing his chin on the heels of his hands, elbows planted on his knees. The hunched posture served to de-emphasize his height, though there was still no mistaking him for anyone else, considering his coloration.

Tatsuki had the afternoon to herself, having left the inn a little early. She was no longer needed to fill the larger orders, since most of the people had stopped coming by. Even though the attack had been a while ago, people were still afraid of coming out of their homes and going anywhere. It was understandable, and she didn't blame them. Fear tended to keep people away from the things that frightened them, and had she been like them, she might not even be here. She sighed softly, mulling the information Naomi had given her the other day. She wondered what the artifact had been, and what it could do. It must have been extremely powerful for Nobunaga to want it. From what she had gathered on the Oni, that was all that he was after: power.

If he didn't have it, he would find it, and that was something Tatsuki wasn't so sure she wanted him to find. She sighed softly, allowing the afternoon breeze to soothe her senses. She was headed into no particular direction, however; she found herself at a small pond, tilting her head slightly when she spotted a familiar figure. Wasn't he with his family at the moment? She shook her head and approached silently. She didn't want to startle him, he looked like he was thinking of something. Instead, she cleared her throat and offered him a small smile. Almost four years, and she still felt awkward around him, though she knew why now. She shoved those thoughts to the back of her mind and took a spot to his side.

"Something troubling you, Mako?" she questioned, glancing towards the swan that inhabited the lake.

He wasn’t ignorant of her presence, but something he’d learned it was better to do was let Tatsuki take things at her own pace. He was adaptable enough now that he could adjust a bit more than he used to be able to, and though he still felt a little more awkward with her than anyone else, he managed all right most of the time. He acknowledged her with a soft hum when she sat down, his own way of saying that he needed a bit of time to compose coherent sentences. “It’s Chiyama-san,” he said finally, straightening his posture slightly and folding his arms into his sleeves. The swan drifted closer, occasionally dipping its head into the water to scoop something up—either food or water, he could only assume.

He shook his head minutely. “She… confessed.” He said the word with the faintest hint of unease. And why not? He did feel uneasy about it. She was his student, after all, and a member of nobility at that. He’d suspected it would happen eventually—she was far too direct and forthright not to tell people what she wanted, and right now, she was deluded into believing she wanted him. He firmly believed it was a phase on her part, but then, he had little experience with such matters. “I am uncertain how to proceed.”

Somehow, Tatsuki felt like it was her fault that Sakuya had confessed. She sighed softly, removing her gaze from Makoto and back towards the swan. He didn't know how to handle it, and honestly, she was afraid to say anything. She had told Yuzuki that she would try, but hearing it now, she wasn't so sure she could do anything about it. She wasn't going to tell him how she felt if he was reacting this way to Sakuya's confession. He didn't need two confessions to make him more troubled, and she would not do that to him. Instead, she allowed a small smile to cross her lips, pulling her knee's to her chest as she laid her head on them.

"What of you? How do you feel about her?" she asked. Though it wasn't any of her business, if he at least knew how he felt, then perhaps... it would be easier. "Isn't that a good thing, though? She's a slayer, as you are, and... the way she speaks of you, it doesn't sound like a passing... fancy," she continued, managing to fight down the blush that threatened her face. She'd gotten good at keeping that down, it wouldn't be a good thing for it to start happening again. "She seems to care for you a great deal, Mako. Shouldn't..." she paused, the words suddenly caught in her throat. She sighed softly through her nose and glanced back at him.

"Shouldn't you give her a chance?" because it was a chance that Tatsuki was willing to take, for him.

Mako leveled an incredulous stare at Tatsuki. Somehow, of all the things he’d expected from her, this odd encouragement was not one of them. He’d almost thought—but no, perhaps not. Sakuya was a very strange fluke; he was hardly an attractive person, and it made no sense to consider that anyone else might feel even a bit—it was irrelevant anyway. “She’s a child, Tatsuki.” He snorted softly and shook his head. “If not in age, then in maturity.” It was a marginally unfair assessment—she was indeed a skilled Slayer, but in many ways she was also a princess. Used to getting what she wanted and being heeded for no other reason than her bloodline. For he, who had had to fight to be recognized in any remotely positive way for most of his life, the concept was totally foreign.

“Besides that, she’s nobility. Human nobility. I am just…” his eyes narrowed out at the pond. Just what? “An unsightly hanyou. Her life will proceed much more smoothly for her if she learns to dismiss her notions of such things.” He did care about her enough to want that for her. He wanted her to lead a good life, a happy one, and one at the head of her clan, if that was where she desired to be. She would be good at it, especially as time gave her experience. She didn’t need him, or any man or husband, for that. Gently sighing through his nose, he added the last part in a soft voice.

“And… I do not love her. If three years constantly near her has not produced that emotion in me, then no amount of them will, I don’t think. It would be cruel and unfair of me to accept what she offers with no feelings to give in return.” He knew, of course, that feelings were rarely ever at issue in noble marriages, or even a lot of common ones—Sakuya would be by some accounts very lucky to marry someone that she actually loved. But wasn’t it better for people to start a life together on the same terms? Perhaps, those who were arranged could sometimes learn to love one another, but starting such a thing in such a lopsided fashion could only breed bitterness and resentment. For her, he did not want that, nor for himself.

Tatsuki smiled and shook her head. "Perhaps, it is because you only see her as a child. One cannot love a child more-so than just that if they do not try to see the child for the woman or man they could become," she began speaking. Her voice was still low, but loud enough for him to hear. He did not love her, he said, but that was because to him, she was a child. And perhaps, he was right. Maybe she was just a child, but didn't that make her just as much of a child? She was just the same as Sakuya, though perhaps with different backgrounds. She wasn't used to getting what she wanted, because she had never had the chance to grow in that life. She was, by all technicalities, a princess in her own right, but that did not stop her from loving whom she loved. And it hurt to hear him speak of himself that way.

"You are anything but unsightly, Makoto," she spoke, her voice a little firmer than it should have been. "She loves you not because of your appearance, but because of who you are. An appearance doesn't make someone who they are. They choose that for themselves. You are a good person, Makoto, and a dear friend. Anyone would be lucky to have someone like you," she continued, sighing softly and shaking her head. She glanced back out at the pond and smiled as the Swan approached, honking a soft tune. She reached into the bag she had been carrying (having forgotten about it momentarily) and pulled a few pieces of bread from it, feeding it to the bird.

"Like this swan. It wasn't always a beautiful creature, it grew into what it is, it wasn't made," she spoke, watching as the swan ate the crumbs. "Things take time, and sometimes, it doesn't always happen the way we think it does. Some of us are not as lucky to find someone who loves us, for who we are and not what we are. I... I can understand, not being able to love someone, even after three years. I don't think I could have ever grown to love Hidehiko if he had taken me back, or if the caravan had never been attacked by Oni that day," she continued, turning her attention back to Makoto. She offered him another smile, and raised her hand so that the back of it brushed his bangs out of his face.

"You just need to stop looking, and just seeing," because the two were not the same. "I love you, just as I love Yuzuki, Mao, Mimi, and Yuji. If, you cannot see her for the woman she may become, then, perhaps you are right. Perhaps it would be cruel of you," she added, her smile faltering just a bit.

Makoto blinked, honestly somewhat bewildered by her vehemence on the subject. Then he sighed. “I know exactly what kind of woman she’ll become,” he confessed. “She will be strong and kind, if a bit willful, and lead her people well. Her skills as a Slayer will grow, and she will doubtless teach many apprentices, be very important to many people. She will, as she does now, have a large heart and a forceful spirit… and still I will not love her.” Sometimes, that was just the way of things. He couldn’t force it, and he didn’t want to. It would be unfair to the both of them.

“What I really wanted advice on was how to tell her this without making it impossible to work with her. She is rather… sensitive, but she needs to remain focused on her training if she is to learn her father’s techniques. I don’t wish to draw out that training any longer than necessary, but I will not let her leave only half-taught, either, and I fear she may take rejection… badly. I am at a loss.” Honestly, it sounded like Tatuski wanted him to marry Sakuya, and he felt a twinge of disappointment that it was so. He wondered of perhaps that was for the reason he thought it might be for, but shoved the thought to the side. It was pointless to have, considering the reason he’d even had it.

Some part of him did wonder, if it might be better to accept Sakuya’s feelings. He didn’t see himself as having many chances for a wife and family of his own, in all honesty, and he could have those things with her. Children who would bear only a fraction of his curse, and who would hopefully be gifted with looks like hers instead of his. Children he could teach and look after and take pride in the way he’d never experienced a father taking pride in him. The closest thing he’d had had been his uncle, but a glimpse of that warmth, and then its loss, had made him reflective, and he’d realized that at this point in his life, he did want that.

But not at the price it would cost. Not when it would eventually make them miserable and resentful of one another, of coolly formal when their home should be warm and affectionate. She deserved that, too, and unlike him, Sakuya would have many opportunities.

Tatsuki sighed, shaking her head and threw her head back to glance at the sky. He still wasn't understanding what she meant, but she didn't blame him. She turned her head to stare at him, and offered a confused brow. How to let her down? He had the answer to that already. She smiled at him. "You know the answer to that already. You just said it," she answered, shaking her head. "Tell her how one tells a child, slow and understanding," she began. If he saw her as just a child, and he believed her to be, then he needed to tell her at a slow pace. Ease it in that he did not feel the same about her, and that he wouldn't. Ever. It would be difficult, because there was no way that it wouldn't go bad. She would still be hurt, and it would still be difficult to train her. But if he did this right, she would eventually see, and continue her training.

"Make her see what is more important to her right now. Her father's legacy... or her affection for you," she continued, pausing only to glance back at the swan. "There will be no easy way to do it, but if it must be done, then she will understand... just," she paused once more. "Be careful when you do tell her. It is hard to sway a child, a woman in love from the course she has set," because she knew that if the situation were reversed, she would not want to give up so easily. She wouldn't necessarily fight for him, because in the end, it was he would make the decision whom he chose to love, and she had no right to interfere with that.

Makoto pursed his lips in a fine line. He hadn’t meant to suggest that he believed Sakuya to be unintelligent, only young. Nevertheless, he could see the wisdom in the words, and perhaps she was right and he had known it all along. That did not mean, however, that it would be at all easy, and he wasn’t looking forward to it. “Tatsuki, I—” He wasn’t sure how to finish the sentence, so he broke it off and shook his head, reaching out instead to squeeze her shoulder. It was a reassuring gesture, because oddly she somehow felt like she needed it.

“Thank you.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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For once, Yujin was not at the pond, or the inn, or anywhere remotely close to the village. He was out in the forest, small beads of sweat rolling down his face, as he tried to even his breathing. It had been awhile since he last trained by himself, with a blade at that, and he swung the massive blade across his back. He had borrowed the Scimitar from Masurao, who had it, but never used it. He had made a passing joke about it, however; if his brother wasn't going to use it, Yujin could put it to use. And that was what he was currently doing. The blade felt like an extension of himself, and for a moment, Yujin had missed wielding a blade. For something, for someone, a cause. He sighed softly, placing the sword down and laid his back against a tree.

"Such an odd day it has been," he spoke to no one in particular. Odd because there had been no activity, and that was never a good sign. After what Tatsuki had told him, he had made his surrogate siblings start training again. He had trained them when he could, and often had them pitted against each other. If an army of Oni came through, they would need more than just their skills to help them. He wouldn't be much help, either, and he wasn't a fool to believe that he was. Sure, he was capable of fighting off Oni, but that didn't mean he was capable of fighting off hundreds of them. It... would be too good to be true if that were the case, and he wasn't that strong to begin with. Instead, he allowed a sigh to pass through his lips as a small sparrow landed on one of his horns.

"Need company with Oni?" he spoke, chuckling lightly to himself. Perhaps it was the wrong thing to say, but he soon found himself covered in sparrows. "I... guess you brought friends."

Letting Sora wander around in the forest by himself was probably not what Nobunaga had imagined she would do when he told her to take the boy into town periodically, but she doubted he would care. Probably, he was of the opinion that if the child couldn’t survive simple forest youkai, then he didn’t deserve to live. Naomi had a markedly different opinion, but she had also see for herself just what he was capable of doing. She’d watched him dominate the will of an alpha wolf demon with nothing but his eyes and his voice, and she’d felt the strange, chaotic brush of his ki more than once. She wasn’t worried about anything bad happening to him, but she herself wandered the forest as well, close enough that they could still sense one another, though the were nearly a mile apart.

Dressed once again in the fashion of a man, her kimono and obi having been tossed over a tree at the entrance to the forest, Naomi had actually altered Makoto’s old clothes this time, such that they fit snugly enough not to catch on any branches. She couldn’t quite say the same of her floor-length hair, but she’d pulled it up far enough that it wasn’t dragging behind her, anyway. It was much easier to move around this way, and she might have even preferred it, for the strange little sense of freedom it gave her. Not that she mistook it for actual freedom, of course, not when she could feel the tether tying her to the estate, though it was only in her mind. Still, the forest felt like a secret. Nobunaga would never bother coming somewhere like this on his own, and so in a way, it was a small part of her life that was completely free of him.

She was somehow entirely unsurprised when she managed to find the very same clearing that Yujin had, raising a brow at his current state of… avian companionship. She wondered if perhaps they might not defecate on him. It seemed like every time she felt Nobunaga’s presence receding, she found herself in his, or perhaps that of her other friends. He was usually there, though—like a germ you couldn’t quite get rid of. “Well, I suppose this does explain the smell,” she quipped, crossing her arms beneath her chest. It was rather awkward to try crossing them over it, for anatomy reasons. She caught sight of the scimitar, and examined the clearing more closely, noting the way the ground had been flattened, presumably from repeatedly being stepped on. It would seem she had caught the tail end of some training.

"Are you saying Oni smells nice? Because I think we've had this discussion already," Yujin retorted from beneath the mountain of birds. Thankfully, none of them seemed content to defecate on him, and he was silently grateful for that. "I'd ask you to join me, but Oni is afraid that the birds would not appreciate someone who... lacks color," he retorted, a small grin pulling at his lips. Though, she wasn't able to see it beneath the birds. Not that he would have minded either way, he would not have minded. Instead, he took a slow breath before shaking the birds from him, one still hanging on to his horn. He raised a brow at it, but allowed it to stay.

"If Oni didn't know any better, Oni would believe that you are a stalker," he spoke, a mischievous grin spreading across his lips. The bird chirped in response, and Yujin allowed an amused look to cross his features. "Apparently Oni is agreed with," he mused, bringing the bird from his horn, and allowed it to rest in the palm of his hand. Odd, how easy it would be to just crush it in his hands. They were so small, and frail, just like humans. He shook the thought from his head and walked next to Naomi, placing the sparrow back on his horn.

"Or, is it that," he spoke, standing at an uncomfortable closeness to her. "Mimi is fond of Oni?" he stated, taking a lock of her hair and twirling it in his fingers. As quickly as he had stepped close to her, he was a few feet away, shrugging his shoulders in the process. "Because if that were the case, Oni would have to apologize for Oni is already spoken for," he stated, throwing the statement over his shoulder casually. "Though, it'll take some convincing. Zuki denied my proposal the first time," he spoke, a playful frown crossing his lips. He wasn't serious... about anything he said, and the half-smile on his face gave that away.

“Quite so, I’m afraid,” Naomi said with a mock-sigh, bringing one hand to her sternum. “You’ve caught me, I’m stalking you.” She affected a look of guilt for all of five seconds before she rolled her eyes. It was true that they seemed to run into each other quite often, but he found her just as frequently as she found him. She had to try very hard not to laugh when he insinuated that he was enamored of Yuzuki, because she knew exactly who actually was, and she tilted her lips up in a sly smile.

“Have you told Little Mao? He’d be so sad… and probably wouldn’t even know why.” He seemed mostly oblivious to the nature of his affections, something she put down to him being remarkably innocent for a man of his age. Yujin, on the other hand, was most certainly not. The strand of hair he’d taken up fluttered back against the front of her shoulder, and Naomi glanced down at it. He was playing an interesting game—one that she so far had not brought herself to indulge in. Perhaps it was time she reminded him just which one of them was born and raised to play it better than anyone else.

It brought her no difficulty to step right up in his personal space, nor to smooth her soft hands over his skin, up his chest and around his shoulders to the back of his neck, where she let her elegant fingers curl into the hair at the back of his neck. The color was, she would readily admit, quite fascinating, the texture rather thick and coarse. Nor did it trouble her whatsoever to lean right into him, pressing the weight and shape of her body against his as though it were the most natural thing in the world. He might not think her beautiful, but one didn't have to be pretty to play this game. Not if one went about it the right way. “If Mimi were fond of Oni,” she purred, standing on her toes to breathe the words against his neck. “What would Oni really do?” It was entirely unclear from her mannerisms alone whether she was teasing him or being serious, and that was rather the point.

"No, actually. Mao-Mao doesn't know, yet. It really would break his little heart, and Oni couldn't do that to his brother," he spoke, shrugging his shoulders in the process. He had, however, not counted on the sudden turn of events. Two could play that game, and while Yujin wasn't exactly as innocent as he led others to believe, he knew where this was going. He allowed both of his brows to ascend his forehead before they lowered again, a smile playing on his face. His arms encircled her, wrapping around her in an odd comfort, and he lowered his head so that it rested against hers. He let out a low humming noise as he contemplated the answer. He could go so many ways, really, with that question, however; he settled on the more innocent one. He did, after all, have a reputation to uphold.

"Are you sure you want Oni to answer that question?" he stated, lacing his statement as a question of his own. In all honesty, if she were fond of him, he would do something he would never have thought to do for another person, and that thought alone frightened him. He chose not to let it show, however, and leaned his face down, leaving just a fraction of space between their faces. "Because Oni can think of a lot of things he would really do," he continued, lacing one of his hands through her long locks. He ran his hands through the loose strands, tangling them through her hair. They were as soft as they had looked, and he attributed that to part of her profession.

He brought his other hand loose from her, and trailed an index finger along the side of her arm, stopping so that it was placed under her chin. He tilted her head up so that she was looking at him now, and something flashed behind his two-toned eyes. It passed too quickly to make sense of what it was, however; he wasn't going to linger upon it. He knew what it was, but that did not mean anything, not like this. Instead, he smirked, leaning further in so that when he breathed, it was her, and when she breathed, it was him. Slowly, almost ghost-like, he passed his lips over hers. It was too soft to even be considered a passing, and too light to even be noticed.

"But sadly, Mimi is not fond of Oni, and therefore, Oni cannot do much about that," he spoke, pulling away quickly, as if he was never there and she was not pressed up against him. "But if she was," he continued, his voice smoothing over to something more serious. "Oni would give her the freedom she deserved. He would run away with her and be at her command," and he was slightly honest about that. He would do what he had said he would. He would give her the freedom she needed, even if it meant that they would be looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives.

Whatever she had been expecting, it was not that. The first bit was nice enough—if something she knew she should not be doing. Her eyes slowly closed as his breath mingled with hers, and she felt just the barest brush over her mouth, and knew it for what it was. More than anything, though, it was the words he spoke that surprised her, for she would not have expected anything like them. Naomi wasn’t the kind of woman that people offered to die for. She was desirable, purposely so, and she was witty and crafty and worldly enough to make for excellent conversation, but nothing in or about her inspired the sorts of notions that would surely kill them both. Nobody offered to run away with her, because everyone knew such a silly thing would result in a drawn-out, painful death eventually.

And yet, she could sense no deception from him. It surprised her, and then it scared her. When she looked at him, her expression was stricken, openly so, and less guarded than it had been in years. Crystalline-blue met that strange combination of magenta and gold, and there was fear in hers. Fear not of him—for despite what he was, she had never been afraid of him—but rather fear for him. She could not deny the pull of those words, because of the truth in them. He would do it, if she asked it of him… he really would. He’d leave everything behind for her sake, and if there was ever anyone in the world who deserved that kind of devotion less than she, Naomi had not met them.

The revelation passed a fine tremor over her body, and she could sense Sora probing at the other end of their strange bond, unsure if she was okay. In turn she soothed him, the action giving her the time she needed to slip the mask back on. It was precisely because she knew he was telling the truth that she could not ever let him do what he promised—she was not worth that. And so she would protect him in the only way she could really protect someone from such a fate as Nobunaga’s wrath—she would lie.

“Then I suppose it is good for Oni’s health that Mimi is only his friend.” she said, her smile every bit as false as her words. She was a good liar, oh yes. She was the very best of liars. But she wondered even so if perhaps he would be able to see through her, to know that inside, the fear had never faded as it faded from her face.

Yujin smiled. It never quite reached his eyes, though, but he smiled nonetheless, shaking his head at her statement. "Perhaps it is best for both of our health, that Mimi and Oni are just friends then. Besides, I still have to try and make Zuki enamored with me. I'm not giving up," he spoke, his tone returning to the playful tone it once had. It was a bit difficult to understand just what he meant at the end of his statement, though. Was he not giving up on Naomi, or Yuzuki? He knew she was lying, but then again, so was he. In time, he would do as he said, but he had to make sure his siblings were taken care of first. If Nobunaga was one thing, it was a deceitful bastard who would not be against stooping so low as to use someone's family against them. Once he knew Tatsuki and Masurao would be safe, when the time came, he would make do on his promise to Naomi. Because that was what he was doing, making a promise, even if she did not yet know it.

"Though, Oni is not so certain the two are very different," he threw over his shoulder, picking up the Scimitar from the trunk of the tree.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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In the two months since the attack by wolves on the city, Nobunaga had managed to track down the band of oni responsible and utterly destroy them. Their heads were brought back on pikes and marched through the streets of Edo, a grim procession that had only served to increase the fear and tension in the human population, as doubtless it had been intended to do. In what seemed to be the result, Yuzuki was busier than ever, running both shrines as well as she could and trying to tend to the people, keeping them from losing their heads and doing something dangerous like attacking, or else stupid, like trying to flee when there was nowhere to go. Aside from the Slayer villages, there were hardly any places that were completely free of oni influence in the West anymore, and making it over the mountains and to where Nobunaga’s reach did not extend was a long and difficult journey, one few could make safely.

Unbeknownst to Yuzuki, however, the location of a certain artifact had at last been pinpointed by the strategist Sakaki, and he and a collection of Nobunaga’s men were tasked with retrieving it….




Yuzu hummed pleasantly to herself as she swept the stone walkway. She was located in her small forest shrine this week, which generally meant less work than the weeks where the priestess was stationed in the city proper. It was a lovely evening, too, the sun just falling beneath the horizon and painting the sky over the trees in pink, orange, and purple. She stopped sweeping for a moment, simply arrested by the sight, and sighed gently. She still missed her father terribly, but moments like this every day reminded her that there was much in the world to experience yet, and that he would want her to be able to do so with joy in her heart.

It helped that she had such wonderful friends, as well. Life was not perfect, and she knew it never would be, but it was good. Some parts of it were even great. She glanced down at the woven bracelet, mostly made from red threads and decorated with several charms. She’d made one like it for each of the others, in a color and with charms that she thought represented them. The soft pink one had been her going-away present for Sakuya, who had to return to her village for an unknown amount of time to deal with a demon threat pushing into the Chiyama clan’s territory. Yuzuki knew that she’d wanted Makoto to come with her again, but he’d said he couldn’t leave his own people this time—not when it was uncertain when he’d be back or what would happen even as soon as tomorrow. Sakuya had been disappointed, but she’d understood. Perhaps she would be back soon, and Yuzu hoped so, because that would mean her village was safe, and it seemed like the right thing to wish for. Or, in her own case, pray for.

A few presences entering the shrine area caught her attention, and her head turned sharply in their direction, the bell woven into her hair jingling softly. They were oni—she didn’t turn anyone away, of course, and some oni did come here to visit or pray sometimes, but… the longer she waited, the more of them she sensed. There were at least a dozen in total, and one of them… she shuddered. They were all strong, but one of them was so powerful she wondered if it might not be Nobunaga himself. Her fingers curled around the broom warily—but she couldn’t let herself assume anything bad because they were oni. They could very easily just be here to pray like everyone else.

A thought that was obviously disproven when every least one of them seemed to be holding a weapon of some kind. They came into her view, and she noted that the presence she’d sensed was radiating from a blue-skinned oni with horns that appeared to have been broken off. His hair was a blue-white, both like and not at all like Mako’s and the way he stared at her sent shivers down her spine. “You, priestess. You keep an artifact of my people. Where is it?”

Yuzuki had no idea what he was talking about. “An oni… artifact?” If she knew the location of such an item, she would gladly give it back to whomever rightfully possessed it, but she had no knowledge of any such thing.

The blue oni’s lip curled, his expression a leer that somehow also managed to be disdainful. Oddly Yuzuki’s thought was that she really admired Mimi for being able to put up with that—it was making her feel vaguely ill. “Don’t lie to me, human wench. Men, tear the place apart of you have to, just find it!” At the command, the other oni split up, many getting right to work with the tearing apart bit. Yuzu watched as one smashed a heavy cudgel into the archway several times, eventually toppling it down the stone staircase. She flinched, and then scowled, using her instinctive connection to the place to bring its holy aura to bear down on the tainted beings destroying it—even the blue-skinned one flinched, a few others started bleeding from the nose, one even collapsed.

Too soon, though, Yuzuki felt a massive hand close around her throat and lift her from the ground, her feet at least eighteen inches off the ground, and then more as she held her slightly above his own height. “If you don’t want to talk, then I don’t see how your continued existence is of benefit to me. I will destroy this shrine, and then I will kill you.” His lips pulled back from his teeth in something caught between a snarl and a feral grin.

“Or perhaps I’ll have a little fun first. Priestesses have to stay untouched, don’t they?” A foreign fear built in Yuzuki’s stomach, and she struggled harder, scratching at his hand with her nails and trying to focus long enough to hit him with a concentrated blast of ki, but her vision was fuzzing at the edges from lack of air, and she couldn’t quite focus properly. The environmental pressure lifted, too, leaving the rest of the oni slightly dazed but otherwise free to continue their destruction. Yuzu’s lips parted, but she had the air only for a single word, perhaps the last plea she would ever make.

“Mao…”

Masurao had somehow convinced the inn owner to let Tatsuki and himself go for the day. In the passing two months, things seemed to flow back into an easy rhythm, though it was not quite the same. Everyone still seemed to mourn Hayabusa's death, however; it was a little easier to manage. They seemed to have moved on with their lives, continuing it as best as they could, even with the missing person. Yuzuki, Masurao had noticed, seemed a little better than the last time he had seen her, and he was silently grateful for that. He hated seeing her that way, and had tried everything in his power to make her smile once more, going so far as to bring her lunch that he made. He was no cook, like Tatsuki, but he had managed to make something that was edible and enjoyable. Or at least that was what she had told him.

He was certain his sister would not lie to him, and had wanted to take it to Yuzuki as soon as possible. Granted, he didn't need Tatsuki to go with him, he wanted her to. She had not seen Yuzuki in the last week mainly because Yuzuki had become so busy, and the inn had managed to draw more people to it as well. She had larger orders to fill, and it was becoming a bit difficult to keep up with all the orders. She had managed, thankfully, but the break had been welcomed. She had brought along dessert for them, having made a different variety of Daifukumochi and Uiro. They weren't relatively sweet, but Tatsuki had learned to make them in ways that the sweetness would actually still be tasted. Yujin, as usual, invited himself along, deciding he wanted to visit Yuzuki as well.

Though, in reality, he just wanted food, and it would be the first time he had tried Masurao's cooking. Of course, the Hanyou wasn't exactly thrilled to know that, he nonetheless allowed Yujin to tag along. He wasn't sure what it was, that caused his body to become paralyzed, or when he had found himself flying through Oni, but Masurao was indeed running as fast as he could. Yujin and Tatsuki had been left behind, however; they were preparing themselves for a fight. They remained at the bottom of the stairs, staring down a massive amount of Oni trashing parts of Yuzuki's shrine. Immediately, Tatsuki's thoughts went out to her brother, but she couldn't reach him, and a dreadful realization dawned on her. Masurao, once he reached the top, was not at all thrilled to see the visage in front of him. Without so much as a warning, his body changed, matching the coloration it once had the last time Yuzuki was hurt.

With a quick flick of his wrist, Masurao had managed to severe one of Sakaki's arms, forcing him to release Yuzuki in the process. He was struggling to keep his consciousness, and so far he was succeeding. "Filth will not touch her," he spoke, his voice low and threatening. His eyes shimmered a deep golden color as he ripped the hand, still clutching to Yuzuki's throat, away from her. He had not damaged the Oni enough, and knew that in a matter of minutes (or seconds depending on his regenerative abilities) he would be sporting a new arm. He cradled Yuzuki to him, glancing worriedly down at her. "Are you okay?" he questioned, feeling his Oni wanting out. It was dangerous, and he was losing the battle. If she was okay, for now, he could lose control and rip apart every single Oni the vicinity. He wouldn't even blink an eyelash as he did it.

Tatsuki and Yujin had finally made it to the top, the Scimitar belonging to Masurao, resting in Yujin's hand and coated in blood. Yujin didn't seem to be sporting any wounds, but there was no denying that he had been injured. He was just lucky enough, he supposed, to be an Oni. Tatsuki, however, was sporting a small gash on her cheek, but had otherwise seemed unharmed. She glanced towards Masurao and Yuzuki, her eyes narrowing with worry. Masurao was in his Oni form, which was not a good thing. They needed to get Yuzuki away from him before he lost control, however; the plethora of Oni standing in their way would be a bit difficult. Still, they had to do something. Masurao turned his attention towards Sakaki, though, and glared at the blue-skinned Oni.

"You will pay for hurting her," he spoke, standing, Yuzuki still cradled in his arms. He set her down, keeping a hand on her shoulder until she was able to stand on her own. He was angry, and his anger was growing by the second. He had not missed the words the blue Oni had spoken, and just remembering those words caused the spark to grow, until his eyes were coated over white instead of the usual amber.

Sakaki watched with mild interest as his arm detached from his body, curious enough to step back from the human girl for the moment. He sneered over at the half-blood, well aware of just whom this one was. “You don’t want to make an enemy of Nobunaga, boy he spat, his limb regenerating itself within fifteen seconds of its loss. Superb ki control had its perks, after all. With the new arm in place of the old one, he drew the sword at his waist, an odachi, similar to a katana but longer in length.

When Yujin and Tatsuki arrived, his eyes flickered to the oni, a platinum brow ascending his forehead. “And so comes the traitor as well. What a little assemblage this makes. I’m sure my lord will be delighted to hear of it.” His tone was no less menacing than Masurao’s, and he dropped his eyes to where the shifted hanyou was still holding the girl. She seemed still to be struggling to breathe—far enough, since he’d been but a squeeze from collapsing her windpipe.

“It’s okay, Mao,” she said softly, touching his cheek with a shaky hand. “I’m okay.” Sakaki sneered at the display of characteristic human weakness and scoffed.

“Give us the artifact, and you all might live a few more days. Deny it to me, and you can all die here, the hard way.” As if to demonstrate, he hooked his hands into a clawlike formation and jerked his hand forward, using his ki-based control of water to drag Tatsuki bodily forward without once touching her, and then sweeping his arm sideways, sending her into one of the broken pillars of the archway, face-first. It was his particular art, the manipulation of the water and fluid in the body. It had taken him years to master, and he had never known anyone capable of resisting it.

Masurao felt his lips curl back in a feral snarl, however; the soft touch of Yuzuki's hand was barely enough to bring him back. Though, his eyes were not fully amber, but a mixture of the white and gold color. He was still struggling to keep his Berserker under control. Yujin, however, scoffed at Sakaki's words, glaring at the blue-skinned Oni as well. He never really liked that Oni, and had relished in the thought of killing him himself, however; Yujin was not that particularly strong. He knew Sakaki's strength was in a different league than his, and would likely kill him if given the chance. It didn't mean that Yujin wouldn't put up a fight against the Oni, just that he wasn't really liking the odds against him. He took a step forward, however; Sakaki flicked his wrist, and within seconds, Tatsuki was gone.

Tatsuki, unprepared, barely had enough time to shield her face with her hands, taking most of the impact from her arms. They absorbed the impact, but she could hear a faint cracking noise. Her arm was either shattered, or broken. She was going to say it was shattered from the way it felt. Better her arm than her face though. She would have cracked her skull and most likely died. Yujin's lips pulled back into a feral snarl at the assault though, just barely keeping a lid on his own Berserker. Masurao, however, was unable to fully keep himself in control, and had tried charging Sakaki. Yujin managed to hold the Hanyou back, but just barely. An artifact? Was it the same one that Naomi had mentioned?

"If you were smart, you would know that the priestess does not know where this artifact you speak of, is," Yujin stated, his voice unnaturally calm. "Threatening us will not produce the artifact, either, or have you become as dimwitted as the humans believe us to be?" he continued, throwing the insult in. Really, Sakaki was Nobunaga's strategist, and valued for his intellect, but there were moments where Yujin wondered about the blue Oni's intellect. "Hurting my family in a display of power, will not produce the artifact either, Sakaki. You only succeed in pissing people off. You are not invincible, you should do well to remember that," he continued.

Perhaps it was he who should have his head checked. Though not an open threat, there was a lingering hint of it in his voice. Yujin did not take well to people hurting his family, but there wasn't much he could do against Sakaki and his control. He would have to take the Oni by surprise, when he was least expecting an attack, but there was no open opportunity at the moment. Masurao still continued to struggle against Yujin's arms, however; Yujin knew that he would likely die if he let Masurao go. They did not need another death on their hands. They didn't even know what the artifact looked like, so they really wouldn't be much help to Sakaki and his army. He had to keep his focus, though, and try to keep them all from becoming unwanted targets. Somehow, he knew they already were.

Tatsuki had managed to right herself, and stood on trembling legs. She touched her head with her good arm, and pushed herself to stand with her brothers and Yuzuki. The priestess seemed to be fine, for now, but Masurao was lost at the moment. She tried to breathe, but found it just as difficult. The pain was still coursing through her, however; her adrenaline was keeping most of it at bay. She pulled her Naginata pole from her waist, and extended it. There would be no reasoning with this Oni, and they needed to prepare to fight.

Yuzuki looked at the situation before her in mounting horror. Her shrine—she knew there was no saving it, but it was hard to watch it be dismantled even so. Worse was the state of her friends. Though she had wanted them here at the time, she now wished they had never come to find her at all. Tatsuki seemed to be in serious pain, and Mao… he was losing himself again, she knew it. There was nothing that they could do, so few against so many. Sakaki didn’t even look tired for having done that much damage to Tatsuki, and there was nothing stopping him from doing worse.

“Run,” she said softly, stepping forward and out of the line they were in. From her belt, she drew a dagger, lighting it up with the magic of her ki. “You all have to get out of here. None of us stands a chance, and I want… I want you all to live.” She was the one that had this artifact they’d supposedly come for, and if they ransacked her shrine and killed her, they would probably be satisfied. It would at least delay them long enough for the others to get away. This place still had a few secrets, and she knew them all. She was the only one who did. There was no point in anyone else dying here. If they could run fast enough, they might be able to get Mako’s family and her mom out, too, maybe take them all to Sakuya’s village.

“Brave little fool,” Sakaki said, raising his sword. “I will enjoy breaking you.” He lunged, very fast but not near as fast as Mako, and Yuzuki was just barely able to avoid it, the point of his sword slicing several hairs off her head, and she lashed out with the ki knife, aiming for his hand but only getting his last two fingers, which spun off and away. The holy energy stung much worse than anything else would have in the same place, and Sakaki hissed. “You’ll pay for that, little bitch!” He went to regrow his fingers, only to find that something seemed to be blocking his ki. With a look at the still-missing digits, he turned to Yuzuki, who half-smirked.

“What's the matter?” she taunted, trying to keep his focus only on her so the others could get away. “Did a little fool hurt the big, bad oni?” With a roar, Sakaki lunged at her again, aiming the odachi straight for her heart.

Tatsuki and Yujin both shared an incredulous look at Yuzuki. She wanted them to leave? But they couldn't, not without her. She did not need to throw her life away so that they could escape. And even if they did, Sakaki would send his army after them. They would be chased regardless, but if they could at least rout Sakaki and his army, for now, it would give them enough time to flee, and find a haven. They wouldn't be safe in Edo, if they managed to do that. Sakaki wasn't the type to just let things go, and would likely convince Nobunaga that they were all threats, even the two humans. That was not something Yujin could afford, and so, he released Masurao, whose emerald green eyes had managed to return back to normal. Not quite Masurao, but still enough of him to understand what was going on. Their stupor had them paralyzed long enough for Sakaki and Yuzuki to battle each other, and before either of them moved, Tatsuki was the first to Yuzuki's side.

She could feel the odachi piercing her back, barely missing her vital veins, as she pulled Yuzuki away from it. It wasn't a fatal wound, but it did hurt... badly. She twisted herself, along with the blade, hard enough to cause the bottom part of the blade to break in her shoulder, allowing Masurao and Yujin enough time to go in, hard at Sakaki. "We do not leave our friends behind, Yuzuki. We want you to live as well, so... don't ask us to leave you. We won't," Tatsuki managed to speak, reaching over her back to pull the broken piece of blade from her back. She winced softly as she tossed the metal to the side. She really needed to start wearing her armour again, even if it was in the inn. She was getting stabbed like there was no tomorrow, and she did not appreciate it. Yujin and Masurao, however, had managed to keep Sakaki busy enough so that he could not focus his talents on one or the other person, not an easy feat considering the blue Oni was a lot quicker than the red Oni and Hanyou.

"Yuzu, it will hurt Masurao and Yujin, but it will also help them," Tatsuki began, wincing slightly as a course of pain passed through her. "The only way we can get out of here, is if you use your ki to temporarily halt Sakaki and his army. Oni do not do so well with your ki, but... it might be enough for all of us to get out," because they would all be slaughtered if they stayed. And Tatsuki did not want that for her family.

Yuzuki dithered a moment, clearly torn between doing that and using the very same ki to heal her friend, but in the end, she nodded her agreement. They needed to get away from here, and she could buy them the time to do that. Taking a deep breath, Yuzu focused her ki, suppressing the malevolent auras of the oni in the area. It was also going to hurt Onigiri and Mao, but she tried to apply it a little lighter where they were, though it was no easy task, considering how much they were moving. Several pained cries and hoarse shouts went up from the oni nearest the temple itself, from where the most power radiated, and there were a few heavy thuds as three more fell completely unconscious. Yuzuki was starting to sway on her feet.

Sakaki, meanwhile, had managed to force both of his opponents back a bit, though not without injury. As it was, however, his healing factor was just as good as his regeneration, and as these were not holy wounds, they healed quickly. “Suppression,” he snarled. That was a rare talent indeed, and while its effect on him was lesser than on his men, even he could feel discomfort and pain as a result of what the girl was doing. “Of course.” More intelligent than Yujin had insinuated, Sakaki had the answer he’d come for. “You’ve been suppressing it this entire time, you little bitch,” he growled, kicking Masurao back as he came in again and shoving past Tatsuki to grab Yuzuki again.

She was more prepared this time, though, and slashed at him with the knife. Grimacing, he knocked it out of her hand, and she reached into her pocket, withdrawing a chain of prayer beads, which she held loosely in one hand. It was the only weapon left to her. Hefting her by the collar, he looked her up and down, this time more clinically than lasciviously, before he reached out and tore the bell ornament from her hair.

The effect was immediate: in reaction with a demonic aura, the object emitted a wave of sickly, dark ki, pulsing and chaotic, and Sakaki grinned in triumph. The girl had been carrying it this whole time, and from the horrified look on her face as she stared at the object, she’d never known. The artifact repelled any further attacks directed at him, and it was with an almost casual air that his sword found her abdomen and plunged inwards, tearing it out her left side. Blood gushed in a heated stream down onto the once-pristine stone of the walkway, defiling the shrine with the blood of something divine. Even just a touch was enough to do it, and this girl had more than a touch, with ki like that. Dropping her carelessly, Sakaki motioned to his men. “The artifact is ours. We’re leaving.”

Tatsuki wasn't sure if her eyes could get any larger, or if the rage on Yujin's face could be more prominent. She wasn't even sure if the shocked looked on Masurao's face was enough to convey what they were all thinking. Tatsuki wasn't in any shape to help, and highly doubted she could, and so it fell upon her brothers, to do it. "Yuzuki" the three of them shouted in unison. Masurao was the first to Yuzuki's side, cradling her against him as he applied pressure on the large wound. He could feel the warmth stinging the back of his eyes as he glanced down at her.

"You're going to be okay," he stated, repeating the words over like a mantra. He continued to apply the necessary pressure, however; if they didn't get her help soon, she was going to bleed to death. The thought sent a bout of fear coursing through Masurao. He couldn't lose her, not her. If she died... he didn't even want to think of the possibilities of a world without her in it. It was... dark and it would no longer have sunshine to it. "We're going to get you help," he stated, standing on his feet, and lifting Yuzuki with him. He glanced towards Yujin and Tatsuki. He was tired, and hurt just as they were, but Yuzuki was bleeding out in his hands, and he was given little choice. It would be the only way he would be able to get to the village in time to get her medical help. And it was with that thought in mind, that Masurao allowed his Oni side to take over once more.

"Be careful, Mao," Tatsuki spoke, clutching her forearm in the process. She glanced towards Yujin as Masurao was off, not quite as fast as Makoto, but with enough speed to get him back into town. "Yuji, let's go," she spoke as Yujin nodded his head in agreement. He still felt sore from being exposed to Yuzuki's ki, but he would be fine in a few hours. He scooped Tatsuki up, placing her on his back before making his descent down the shrine, by passing Sakaki's men. He would make the Oni pay, one day. This, he solemnly promised. Sakaki will pay, and Yujin would make sure he was the one who did the blue Oni in.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Masurao had barely made it back to the town in time to save Yuzuki. Any later, and she would have died from bloodloss. He was immediately blamed for her condition, which he did not blame the villagers for doing so. Showing up, looking like an Oni, it was bound to point fingers in his direction, but that wasn't his concern. Yuzuki had been, and with the help of the village doctors, and Nanami, Yuzuki had barely made it. He had stayed by her bedside the last two days, watching over her, never leaving her side. Tatsuki and Yujin took turns watching over Masurao, making sure that he remained calm. The slightest hiccup in Yuzuki's condition might throw his emotions off, and that was something they could not afford. He was worried about her, and they all were, but they also needed to keep their minds clear.

Any day, Sakaki could come back, with an even bigger reserve, and destroy the village. The thought alone had Tatsuki and Yujin patrolling the village at night when Tatsuki was off, and in the morning when Yujin had nowhere to be or wasn't running errands. It had been three days since the attack on Yuzuki's shrine, and there had not been a single sign of improvement in her health. There hadn't been a decline either, so Masurao had to count that as a good thing. This was the second time he had failed her. The first time he failed to protect her father, and this time, he failed to protect her. She almost died, could be dying, and it was his fault. He wasn't strong enough to protect her, even with his siblings there, he wasn't strong enough. And he wasn't sure he could be strong enough. Oh how he wanted desparately to be so.

If he was, Yuzuki wouldn't be in this condition. She would be fine, still attending to her shrine and smiling. He felt his heart clench tightly in his chest as his hands curled in on themselves. He could see his knuckles turning white, and he only clenched them tighter. This was his fault, because he wasn't strong enough. If he'd only been strong enough... he glanced up to see Tatsuki entering the room, his eyes softening a bit. She laid a hand on his shoulder, grabbing his hand in hers, and gave it a gentle squeeze. It wasn't hard to see that he was beating himself up, again, for this. She offered him a light smile, but said nothing, and turned her attention towards Yuzuki. She wasn't sure what was going to happen, but if something did, she could only hope that they would be prepared for it. If the Oni decided to attack the village, it would be difficult trying to get everyone out. It would be especially dangerous to move Yuzuki in the condition she was in.

Makoto entered shortly after, his face drawn and dark circles prominent against his eyes. He’d only returned the day before from escorting Sakuya back to her village, to discover that while he was gone, his sister’s shrine had been flattened, Tatsuki severely injured, and Yuzuki knocked into a coma. Needless to say, he was furious with himself for not having been there when she needed him the most, and though he’d been helping his mother tend to her, he found it difficult to look at her for an extended period of time when she was in such a state. The abdominal wound would leave a massive, ugly scar, if in fact she survived it at all. That much was still uncertain. Knowing that it was a risk but willing to do anything possible to secure Yuzu’s survival, he’d snuck into the yakuza estate and made his way to Naomi, who upon hearing the news had immediately mixed something up that she said should help. No guarantees, of course, but then, there never were in situations like this.

This mixture was what he carried now, in a small glass bottle. Acknowledging the presence of the other two with a silent nod, he moved to kneel beside his sister, taking the cork out of the bottle and setting it down beside his knee. Carefully, so as not to disturb her stitched wounds, he lifted Yuzuki’s head, smoothly maneuvering himself underneath her such that her head was at an incline, resting on his knees. Murmuring something too soft to be heard under his breath, he took hold of her chin and tipped the contents of the vial slowly back, bending so that his ear was close enough to discern if she had swallowed or was choking. Fortunately, it went down easily enough, and he gently returned her to her former position, putting the cork back into the empty bottle.

Sighing softly, he turned tired violet eyes back to the other two. “Naomi,” he explained, tapping the top of the bottle with a single digit. “She says that Nobunaga probably will not make a move for another few days—he’s busy with the artifact. But after that…” Well, nothing was guaranteed. Honestly, he was glad they even had a few days. He had no idea what condition Yuzuki would be in by then, but he could only hope it would be better than the condition she was in now.

That wasn't exactly the news they were expecting to hear. Nobunaga was currently busy with the artifact, and from the way it had reacted to just Sakaki alone, if it was in Nobunaga's possession, there was no telling what he could do with it. It was a scenario, when played over and over, that did not end well. Everyone was dead, or being tortured, and that was not something Masurao, nor Tatsuki, could handle. Masurao sighed softly, lowering his gaze from Yuzuki's form, and directing it to Makoto. It seemed that the both of them were not exactly rested, and given the few days they might have, they wouldn't be getting any more any time soon. If Nobunaga was going to attack, they needed to prepare. But he was still reluctant to leave Yuzuki's side. What if she woke up, and he wasn't there? He wouldn't know if she was alright, or worse, what if she didn't wake up, and he wasn't there?

"We should use this time to prepare. Nobunaga, from Yujin what used to say, will use any means necessary to kill us, if that is what he intends to do," Tatsuki spoke, her voice just an audible whisper. "If he doesn't intend to kill us, he'll do something more dastardly. We need to prepare ourselves... if it comes down to it. We'll need to move. There is not much we can do against Nobunaga and his forces, not as we are," she finished, removing her eyes from Makoto and placing them back on Yuzuki. They had to be prepared for anything, if that were the case. She didn't know what he was capable of, however; if he was anything like his general, there would be nothing they could do. She released a small sigh and closed her eyes temporary. She didn't want to leave her home, but if she had to... it wasn't exactly that hard to do. She, Masurao, and Yujin had lived life on the road once before... it wouldn't be too difficult to transition back into that life.

Masurao, however, did not want to leave his home. Slowly, it had become more than just a home, it had become a way of life for him. He made friends, even though the villagers still hated him, but he could manage that. He would just continue being as he was, a gentle Hanyou. He glanced towards Tatsuki, a perplexed look crossing his features. "We can't just leave, Tsuki," he spoke as if she'd been the one to stab him. They couldn't, not with the condition Yuzuki was in, however; Tatsuki merely furrowed her brows. "Yuzu... she won't make it if we move her, and you said it before: we don't leave friends behind," he spoke, repeating the words she had spoken to Yuzuki. It wasn't the same, though, and she wasn't sure she could make Masurao see that.

"You think I want to leave? This is our home, Masurao. We can't do anything against Nobunaga, he's... he's too strong, and we are not. Perhaps, if we had an army ourselves, we could stay, defend the village, but we don't. The villagers are afraid, Masurao. They are so afraid, and they have every right to be. Who are we to stay, and bring about the unnecessary deaths of the innocent? It's not an outcome I want, but," she paused, realizing that her voice had grown a fraction in volume, and sighed, releasing her fists to regain color to them. "We have to consider the possibilities, Mao. Would you rather move Yuzuki, and take that risk, or would you rather her die at Nobunaga's hand? None of those options are appealing," she concluded, standing from her spot, giving an apologetic bow to Makoto, and exiting the room.

"I'm sorry, Mako," Masurao apologized to the other Hanyou. He hadn't meant to upset his sister and cause the little outburst, not with Yuzuki in the room, and he shifted his gaze to the floor. "What... do you think we should do? Tsu-Tsu is right, in some ways, but... I don't think we have to leave... do you?"

Makoto dropped his eyes to his sister’s sleeping face. She looked… thin. Yuzuki had never been the kind of girl who worried people with her frail appearance—there was a generous-enough curvature to her even though she was so short. But he could see now, more easily than when she was smiling and bustling about, that recent months had taken their toll on her. It was more than anyone should have to do, running the only two shrines in the Edo area, and he knew that the upkeep of the sanctification on the grounds sapped her a great deal. He also knew that the defilement of her forest shrine—for surely she had bled on those holy grounds—had weakened her as well, and was making it harder for her to recover. Unfortunately, only another priest or priestess, or perhaps a monk, would be able to restore the grounds, so she would have to heal despite the damage to them. It was a bit like trying to climb a tree with one arm tied behind your back, a handicap right from the start.

The exertions of those months had thinned her a bit, but trying to heal now was sending her body into overdrive, as she attempted to fight off both a mortal wound and the corruption of so much of her accumulated ki. Her face had become drawn, dark circles beneath her eyes a reddish-purple to match the thick finger-marks wrapped around her neck. She looked eminently breakable in her sleep, something that had never truly hit him the way it was now, not even after the battle with the centipede demon. It made him uncomfortable, in all honesty. He knew that, as a hanyou, he would probably outlive her, unless perhaps her ki sustained her longer than normal, but he had never suspected that death might be so close to her so soon.

“I don't know,” he said softly, his voice barely more than a whisper. Her fragility seemed to demand that things be spoken quietly here, and he wasn’t exactly loud to begin with. He wouldn’t go if that would place her in danger—but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t send his family somewhere. “It is not only she and I that I have to think about. My aunt and my mother are not made for lives of travel. They need to be somewhere they can be kept safe.” The triplets could probably handle the lifestyle of a wanderer; they might even enjoy it. But his mother was not that adaptable, and his aunt, though she would do well enough for a while, was simply too elderly. Perhaps he could send them to Sakuya’s village, but… it was undergoing a fair amount of its own turmoil these days. It wasn’t truly safe either.

“Either way… I cannot decide what I think should be done just yet. Nobunaga has requested my presence this afternoon. Whatever he has to say, I am sure it will be relevant to the discussion.” He had a feeling he knew what it was going to be, and he swore he could feel his heart sinking to the pit of his stomach at the thought of it.

Masurao had forgotten about Makoto's family, and how frail they were. They were not like Makoto and himself, or Yujin and Tatsuki. They were not made for traveling as they had once been, and asking that much of them would be difficult. He sighed softly, closing his eyes in a contemplative gesture. The options were not pleasant at all, and he opened his eyes again, finding Makoto's and held them. He could see that the Hanyou was just, if not more, tired than he was, and he offered him a reassuring smile. The statement, however, had Masurao frowning just a fraction. What could he possibly want with Makoto? Makoto wasn't a part of what happened at the shrine.

"Maybe, it's just another contract. You... should go then. I'll stay and watch over Yuzuki," he spoke, not liking the way his stomach twisted. He laid his hand gently on Yuzuki's bed, finding her hand and holding it as gently as he could. He just hoped, that whatever option they had to take, Yuzuki would be fine.

Makoto nodded slowly, and then spoke, still softly. “Then for now, I leave her to you.” It was an expression of incredible trust, because Makoto took Yuzuki’s well-being much more gravely than anyone else’s; indeed even that of his blood relations. She was dear to him, in a way that nobody else ever had been, and she had saved him, more than once. They were siblings and best friends and companions when neither of them was truly understood by another. He would give up much more than his life for the sake of protecting her, and to leave her to someone else in such a fragile state was more trust than he’d ever had cause to show a person not in his family before. He knew, however, that Masurao would understand just how important it was.

Because she was important to Mao, too.

Rising to his feet, Makoto glided smoothly past his injured sister and his subdued friend, lifting his chin and bracing himself to face the lord of the yakuza. It was not an experience he was going to enjoy.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Naomi sat to the right of Chitose at his father’s meeting table. He, as the heir, even considering he was only seven years old, sat to the immediate right of Nobunaga, and she beside him. She knew not why she’d been allowed in on these meetings officially of late—it was almost like he was making her a more official part of his court now or something, a move which drew some disapproval from other members of it. Maybe she was only there because Chitose and Sora behaved extremely well in her presence. The other boy was to Sakaki’s left, and of course the blue-skinned oni was to the immediate left of Nubunaga, as his chief advisor. That meant a woman and two children had pushed several other oni a few places down the table, and she could see where they might resent that. Well, it wasn’t like she cared a whit for what any of them thought—her plans were the same regardless.

Presently, they’d just finished a most enlightening discussion of rebel elements in the country, predominantly the East, which was still not under Nobunaga’s sway, where many of the old oni families that had once served the king now stood defiant of his son. Many had once favored Nobunaga’s elder brother; now that he was dead, the main rebel leader had taken a much more aggressive stance. They called him the White Dragon, though she didn't know his real name. Rumor had it a duel with Sakaki in their younger years had ended with the Dragon taking the other oni’s horns—a symbol of great shame that Sakaki had managed to overcome by entering into Nobunaga’s service. Considering how little the yakuza lord cared for honor, nobody dared think less of a strategist without horns—he could kill them for saying anything untoward if he wished.

They now awaited a guest, one that Nobunaga had called specifically here to give a mission apparently of great importance, but one for which he either could not or would not spare his ordinary men. When at last the guest entered, she was both relived and terrified to note that it was Makoto. The hanyou was very good at a specific number of things, and she was quite sure Nobunaga was not going to ask him to exterminate a problem nest of lesser youkai. No… no, if Makoto was here, Nobunaga wanted an oni assassinated… and she had a sinking feeling she knew exactly which one.

Bowing before those assembled as was necessary, Makoto seated himself at the end of the table, back straight and carriage proud. Naomi had only met the late Hayabusa Mori a few times, but she could see the old man reflected in his apprentice just then, that same sort of warrior’s pride that none of these men had. It set him apart, making him formidable despite his lesser stature and, some would say, his lesser blood. He did not flinch from meeting Nobunaga’s gaze when he spoke. “My lord requested my presence, and so I have come.” It wasn’t a question, but it didn’t have to be.

Nobunaga, to say the least, was not pleased when Sakaki returned with the artifact. He was, however, pleased to have the artifact, but at the cost of his men's lives was not something he had been planning on. The artifact had been located under the possession of the shrine maiden, and it was supposed to be an easy task. Kill the maiden, take the artifact, and bring it back. Simple enough. The result, however, had made him furious. The lives of a few simple Oni were nothing to him. They didn't matter, but to have resistance, by them, had caused the War Lord to think a few things over. Sure, he had known about their little interference with the Okami, and that had earned him a slight raise in status of power, but this was not so easily forgiveable.

Chitose, seven years old this day, was attending his first contract. He was Nobunaga's heir, and as such, needed to learn how to rule when Nobunaga no longer could. Of course, being what he was, he would live for a very long time before his life expired. Not that anyone would ever know that, it was time Chitose started to learn to be Nobunaga. The boy was still young, rebellious in nature, however; he seemed to be at his best behaviour when Naomi was around, something that he took full advantage of. He didn't need to kill his only heir, not like his mother. The Oni woman was of a high pedigree, close in blood to his family, however; they were not directly related. Her family had served his father for generations, something he did not really pay mind to when he slaughtered her after Chitose's birth.

Currently, Chitose sat with a pleasant smile on his face, staring down at the Hanyou who had just entered. Nobunaga, however, regarded the Hanyou with a sneer, taking a sip of the red wine he held in his hand. He really didn't like the Hanyou, and if he had half the mind, he would have had the Hanyou killed a long time ago, however; he did have his uses, like this one. He allowed a slow smirk to cover his features, setting the cup down down upon the plate, and folded his hands in front of him. He remained quiet for a moment, contemplating the words he wanted to say so that they came out right. Not that it would matter in the end, he would get the desired outcome one way or another.

"I have a contract for you, two targets, to be precise," he spoke, his voice low and commanding. He didn't know when to turn it off really, but it wasn't like he needed to. His commands were always followed. "An Oni, and a Hanyou. I do not think they will be much trouble for you," he spoke, putting an emphasis on the last word. He flicked his wrist and a lesser Oni appeared, bringing a scroll draped on a velvet pillow to Makoto. It had two very specific names written on it, ones that Makoto would recognize. Yujin Fujiwara, and Masurao Toukai. The smile turned malicious upon his face as he leaned forward.

"I trust this will not be difficult for you, Hanyou. I would hate for something to happen to those triplets, or perhaps that mother of yours. Perhaps the Priestess might not wake up, either," the threat was clear in his voice. Should Makoto not succeed, he would have claimed lives regardless.

Makoto glanced down at the names on his scroll, picking it up in callus-roughened hands and examining the details of the assignment while Nobunaga spoke. The demon wanted him to kill Yujin and Masurao—clearly, he was unaware of just how close they were, else he would have gotten someone else to do it. The threats, he expected—they were pretty standard when dealing with Nobunaga. He had no doubt the man would make good on them if it came to that, and it made his situation a little more urgent. Casually, he tilted the parchment just such that Naomi could read it without appearing to, or even that either of them had noticed the slight shift in its position, then rolled it up and tucked it into his gi.

Naomi, even more practiced in the art of hiding what she was feeling, made no visible reaction to any of it, an expression of polite interest on her features and nothing more. Sora didn’t know what was going on beyond that one of his mother’s friends was here, but he knew very well to be quiet about the fact that he was mother’s friend. She and the man everyone said was his father were not on good terms, and so he kept many of his mother’s secrets. He would never want to do anything else. For such a young child, he was incredibly still, and he recognized that he made Sakaki. And the other oni seated to his own left, somewhat uneasy. The latter had moved a total of four inches away from him since the meetings had started earlier today.

“It will be done,” the Slayer said, his tonality exactly the same as it ever was. “If your lordship requires nothing else, I will take my leave to prepare.” Even someone like Nobunaga would recognize that a pair of assassinations on targets like that would take some time to plan and carry out. He waited, however, for the dismissal, his eyes fixed unblinkingly on the spot above Nobunaga’s left shoulder.

"You would do well to," he spoke, waving Makoto to dismiss the meeting. Nobunaga was no fool, despite claims that he was. An Oni of Yujin's breeding would not be an easy opponent to take down. Though he might have appeared more a fool than Nobunaga, the War Lord was no fool to believe that Yujin was. He had employed the Oni, once, for his strategic abilities, and had valued them almost as much as he valued his advisor, Sakaki. But the Oni had a less-than-attractive quality that Nobunaga desired no longer to keep around. He should have killed him then and there, when he had the chance. The meetings were done for the day, he had nothing more to discuss, and dismissed the council. He motioned for Naomi, however, to remain where she was.

He might not have desired to take a wife so soon, however; many of the other Oni lords were being a little... unresponsive. Some did not share his hatred of humans, nor his hatred of Hanyou, and that was putting a strain on his momentum. He desired to conquer all of Japan, but he couldn't do so with the resistance that he met. Perhaps, if he had her at his side, on his campaigns, it would prove to his benefit. It would also put an end to those stares she was receiving, and the thought alone was almost enough to cause him to pull his lip back in dissatisfaction. He didn't like it when the others eyed what was rightfully his. He had gone so far as to order Oni who had given her that look to rip one of their eyes out and eat it. Needless to say, most of the Oni in his army were sporting eye patches, mainly the ones who were not so experienced in his army.

"You are to become my wife," he spoke in a casual tone. He spared her a glance and then towards his children. Chitose was his heir, and many of the others had assumed that Sora was his bastard child with her already. "You and I will be wed in a month's time," he continued, not really giving her an option to say no. If she did, he would hate to taint his hands with such beautiful blood permanently. He would have made it sooner, however; his problems needed to be dealt with. He knew that Makoto would take a few days time to prepare for the assassinations, and it shouldn't take him more than a week to do so, however; he was marching out against the Koga clan in a weeks time as well. They had risen against him, throwing their lot in with the White Dragon, a name that caused Nobunaga's blood to boil. He was growing tired of that Oni interfering with his plans.

To say that Naomi was shocked would be an understatement. After so many years as his concubine, she had hardly expected that Nobunaga would ever have this sort of inclination towards her. Of course, it took her only a moment to grasp the political reasons for it, and her stomach turned uncomfortably. She wondered if it was possible for him to make her any more miserable in one day—ordering the deaths of a close friend and someone she… cared about, in some strange way, and then telling her that the very last fragment of freedom she had was soon to be hers no longer. As things stood, she was basically his property. In a month, she would be his, in a very real, very legal sense, and any hope she had of ever getting away from him would be gone.

When had she started to hope for that, though?

For as long as she could remember, she’d been planning nothing more or less than Sakaki’s death, with her own to follow. How many times had she told herself that anything else she had to endure for that was just details? How long had she endured everything this man did to her, did to other people, for the sake of that one chance at avenging her brother? Why now did she think of freedom and getting away? The thought, though, startled her with how firmly-planted it seemed to be, almost as if she’d started believing that it might be true, that once everything else was said and done, she might be able to escape.

It was his fault, she was sure.

She swallowed, none of her tumultuous thoughts making it to her face, half-smiling pleasantly and dropping into a bow. The words she spoke were delivered in a sweet voice, but they only tasted bitter on her tongue. “My lord honors me.” Reaching up, she placed a hand atop Chitose’s wheat-brown hair, an absent-looking gesture that was in reality the only thing keeping her panic from accelerating her breathing and giving her away.

"It is not an honor. You would do well to remember that. As appealing as you may be, your significance is nothing. You are merely being used as a tool, and nothing more," he spoke, his voice laced with disdain. She was beautiful, attractive, sensual, all the things he lusted for in a woman, and very satisfying, however; he had made her into his whore, nothing more than a stress reliever or when the mood took him, a release. She was not marriage material, however; none of the Oni women had particularly been marriage material, save perhaps one. If he had her as his bride, he would not have the trouble he had now with the lesser Oni. The Fujiwara clan, prominent and powerful as they were, had arranged for their only daughter to be his. But the bitch had left the family long ago, disappearing into thin air.

Their child would have been something more than Chitose could ever be, however; he had to settle with the second best option, and currently, that was Naomi. But to have had the Fujiwara... he took a slow breath, releasing it just as slowly as he regarded Naomi's bowing form. There could always be an accident should he tire of her, and it wasn't like she could divorce him either. Women became a man's property once they were bound by law, even if she was already his property. He could do whatever (and he did) he pleased with her and she could do nothing about it. If he so desired, he could put her to work in the Red Light district, force her to work for extra resources for his army. It was expensive keeping an army up to date with weapons and armour, however; the mere thought of another man touching what was his sent a silent snarl in his chest.

"You are to go into town, find the best tailor, and have them fit a kimono for you. Take the brats with you as well. It is time Chitose learns the village he will one day rule," he spoke, dismissing her to do as he spoke. He'd give her that much to do on her own.

Naomi knew better than to contradict anything he said, especially in a mood like this one. Nevertheless, she felt a flash of anger heat her under her skin, and wondered for a moment where it had come from. She never used to get angry at anything he did—either misery or complete apathy would suffice. She’d have to think herself worth something to be offended, and that was a stretch, certainly. Perhaps it was merely a fleeting sensation brought on by the way he referred to the children. That usually did upset her, though as with anything else, she did not show it.

“Yes, my lord.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Another day had passed, and Masurao had yet to leave Yuzuki's bedside. She was still asleep, her breathing shallow and barely audible. She had made no signs of waking up quite yet, and Masurao had felt a fear growing inside of him. Was she ever going to wake up? Would she stay sleeping like this? He hadn't even left to get food or properly change. That didn't seem to matter to him though. He wasn't going to leave until someone else showed up to watch over her. Makoto had not returned from his meeting with Nobunaga, and Masurao had only assumed that the War Lord had sent him on another hunt. But something about that didn't sit quite right either. Yujin had said he spotted the Hanyou a few hours after he had left Masurao's side, but that was the last he heard of it.

He just hoped Makoto would be okay with whatever mission he was sent to do. He turned back to Yuzuki, holding her small hand in his, brushing his thumb over the top of her hand. It seemed so frail and breakable, and he had had the urge to pull his hand away, but couldn't quite bring himself to do it. "You'll wake up soon, right, Yuzu?" he questioned in a soft voice. A small smile had managed to warm its way onto his face, however; it didn't quite reach him. He couldn't bring himself to actually smile, not while she still looked like this. It was killing him, slowly, to see her still in this state, and he still blamed himself for it. He wasn't so sure that anything anyone said would make him stop.

"I'm sorry, Yuzu. I hope you can forgive me... for breaking my promise to you," he spoke, running his free hand across her forehead, parting her bangs from her face.

Yuzuki’s unconsciousness had been far from peaceful. For a time she could not measure, she had felt like she was just… trapped, floating in something dark and sticky that made it hard to breathe even as it seeped into her pores. It felt wrong, worse than the time she’d been poisoned, even, and it burned thick and sickly, like tar or pitch, but slower. She felt like she was choking on it, her whole body trapped and defenseless. And she dreamed of things that made little sense to her, people whispering to her in beautiful voices from very far away. No matter how hard she strained to hear them, she could never make out the words, only a soft murmur. She drew close to death many times, and its touch was like a cold finger on her cheek, one she instinctively shuddered away from. But… why?

She had always told the families of those that died that it was nothing to fear, that the gods would safeguard the spirit of a loved one as it passed from this world into the next. But she felt no gods here. The only thing she was keenly aware of was the sensation of being herself, only she wasn’t entirely certain what that was supposed to be. It was hard to think, easier to only feel, but after a while, even that began to wear, like her skin was being rubbed raw and vulnerable. She felt sensitized and too tender, like everything was just one step away from hurting so painfully she might not be able to take it.

And just when she was certain she could no longer resist the call of death, there was relief. Something soothed her, or perhaps it was many things, and the voices grew to resemble those she knew, and with a final mighty push, she drove that toxic corruption away, reaching with everything she had towards life and the people she loved.

Waking was not an easy process even so. As she came to, she was aware first that her entire body hurt, a dull fire stoking in her abdomen. She’d been hurt there, she thought, but it was hard to remember for certain. She made a small noise, more a soft, whispery groan than anything, and her eyes, blue-green and bleary, cracked open, slivers of color between dark auburn lashes. Everything came into focus slowly, but she registered in time that there was something warm and rough over her hand. It took her a bit to place it, but she recognized it for another hand, a large one. Her cracked lips parted to speak.

“Mao?” Somehow, she knew it was him.

He didn't know how much time had passed between the moment he uttered those words, to the moment he heard his name, soft as it was, exhaled from Yuzuki. His eyes immediately found her form, and a light, once extinguished, returned to them. A look of worry crossed his face as he sat up, immediately by her bedside and holding her hand a little firmer. She was awake, or at least in the process of waking up. He could hear the fatigue in her voice, the sound of something just there, as if all the energy she had was being used just to speak. He cringed at the sound, but his smile did not falter. Instead, he forced it, allowing a genuine soft smile to flutter across his face.

"I'm here, Yuzu," he spoke, calling out to her as softly as he could. He pulled his other hand so that both of his clapsed her small one, leaning forward slightly on her bed frame. "Don't... don't try speaking yet Yuzu, let me get you some water," he spoke, letting go of her hand just for a few seconds. Already he could feel the cold stinging his hands as he released her. Odd, he hadn't realized they were so warm. He shook the thought from his head as he left her room, coming back in the just a few seconds to bring her a small cup of water. He placed it on the side and went to her, lifting her up as gently and slowly as he could so he wouldn't harm her in the process.

"You had me worried," he spoke, a light, melodic tone to his voice. He was glad she was finally awake.

Yuzuki coughed slightly, groaning as he helped her sit up and taking the cup in shaking hands. She was incredibly thirsty, but she knew it was a bad idea to drink it too quickly, so she forced herself to take small sips, still blinking to clear her vision. His face resolved into better focus, and something pulled uncomfortably at her heart. “H-how long have I been out?” She felt uncomfortably weak, like she hadn’t eaten or moved in a very long time. That wasn’t her real concern, though, because judging from the state of him, he’d been here, with her, the entire time, and what she really wanted to know was how long that had been. Her eyes searched his face, concern evident in them.

She could feel the dark thoughts about what had happened to her shrine circling the periphery of her mind, but she really didn’t want to think about it right now. It was too much. She would have to examine that grief in time, she knew, but it may well be that time was a luxury they did not have right now. Her shrine had been destroyed, and she was supposed to be dead. Her friends had fought to defend her, and she knew someone like Nobunaga would never allow that to go unpunished. The thought filled her with the leaden weight of guilt, but she tried to remind herself that it wasn’t really her fault. Nobunaga could easily choose to be less cruel, but he never did. That was no fault of hers, nor of theirs.

She set the water back down, moving as if to pull her knees to her chest, but the motion was far too painful for her to complete, and she was forced to sit with her legs straight in front of her instead. “Nngh,” She clamped her mouth shut to prevent any worse exclamation of pain, even though it was bad enough that she really wanted to cry. She wanted to cry for a lot of reasons, actually, but this wasn’t the time for that. “Everyone—everyone else is okay, right?” That was her biggest fear right now—that what had happened to the shrine had somehow hurt the others as well. She knew that Tatsuki had been seriously hurt by Sakaki’s ki manipulation technique, and she needed to know the other girl was okay.

Masurao's face contorted when she tried to move, moving his own hands out so that he could try and lessen her movements to something more manageable. He didn't want her to cause herself unnecessary pain, and from the expression that had fluttered across her face, she was still in a lot of pain. He frowned slightly, adjusting himself so that he was sitting more or less on the bed to help her. Once he was adjusted properly, and she in a more comfortable position, he released a short gust of air through his nose. He cracked his eyes open, when he had closed him, he hadn't realized, and glanced down at her.

"You've been out for four days," but to Masurao, it felt like an entire week. It might as well have been a week with as long as the days had passed. Even now, he could feel the time ticking by slowly, almost as if edging him on and prodding him to do something, however; he kept himself calm, for the most part. Her next statement, however, had him smiling just a bit wider. "Everyone is fine. Tatsuki... she's healed for the most part, though her arm is still broken. Yujin and I were not hurt, so we're fine," he answered, glancing out towards the window. Yujin and himself were lucky to be what they were, even if he himself was only half. Their regeneration worked better than humans.

"Besides, you know Tsu-Tsu, she'll be healed in a matter of days. She's... able to heal a lot faster than most people," he added as an after thought. Her own healing abilities were a little more than average for a human, however; he didn't suspect anything of it. It just meant that her body was able to take a lot more, however; that also meant that her life was probably shortened... just a bit. Cells only regenerate so many times... he pushed the thought out of his mind and turned to stare at Yuzuki. "Don't try to exert yourself Yuzu, you're still not fully healed," he continued, worry laced in his voice.

Breathing too much was still difficult, as it pulled uncomfortably at her stitches. Everything seemed to pull, really… Yuzu wasn’t sure she wanted to know, but she had to see… Cautiously, she lifted the hem of her gi, exposing the abdominal wound that she had, and choked back a sob. It was… the wound was jagged, the stitches demarking the way the blade had been torn out her left side. The wound was angry and red, though she could tell that it would fade to white. Since the sword had gone through her entire body, she knew the wound wrapped halfway around her back as well, just as ugly there. The redness would fade, but the scar it left behind would not be a pretty thing.

Yuzuki did not consider herself a vain person, not really, but you didn’t have to be vain to mourn a little for that kind of thing. Especially when she considered what it meant, how close to death she’d been. She didn’t doubt that someone, quite possibly Mao, had needed to hold in her innards just to give her a chance at survival, and something about seeing the evidence of that overwhelmed her more than the memories themselves. Some part of this would always be with her. She would only need to see herself to be reminded of just how fragile she was. Of just how much she needed rescuing. Of just how badly she’d failed to protect the shrine.

She’d wanted to leave it until later, but that dark cloud of thoughts descended in full upon her now, and she shuddered. “It was my whole life,” she murmured brokenly. “The shrine… protecting it, serving the god there… it's the only thing I know how to do. How can I…” She trailed off, letting the hem of her gi fall back into place. How could she trust herself to look after her master’s old shrine when she couldn’t even protect her own? When it was defiled now with her blood and the taint of dark purpose? “What am I supposed to do now?” She could hardly call herself a shrine maiden without a shrine, but… she could not put the other one in danger by staying there. The yakuza wanted her dead—perhaps they even believed that she was.

But she could not help but believe that she was failing the townspeople somehow, who needed her help. She turned her eyes, damp with unshed tears, up to Masurao’s, as though pleading with him for answers she could not rightly expect him to have. Her father was gone, her life’s purpose had been brought down around her ears, and she was utterly lost in their absence.

Masurao wasn't so sure he could answer those questions she had asked. Even as he stared at her, noticing the slight moisture in her eyes, he could not bring himself to say anything. He didn't want to say something that would make it worse, yet, if he said nothing at all, it would make it worse. He was torn in two directions, and he couldn't choose. Instead, he closed his eyes briefly, inhaling a deep breath, and opened his eyes once more. He had to try at least. It was the only thing he could do for her, and if he said the wrong things, he would have to deal with the consequences. Though, if those consequences caused her to shed unwanted tears, it would eat him up inside.

"That's not true, Yuzu. You don't know how to only be a shrine maiden. You know how to be someone's friend when they need one, to be a smiling face when everyone else can't. You know how to be there for someone in their time of need, without ever giving regards to how you might need someone to do the same for you," he spoke, his voice cracking just slightly. She had been many of those things for him, to him. She was so much more than just an ordinary Shrine Maiden. "You know how to be a sister, an Aunt to triplets," he continued, unsure of any of the things he was saying were reaching her properly.

"And most of all, you know how to be you. A shrine maiden is just a title, Yuzu. You are Yuzuki, someone who has a lot to offer and give, even to someone unworthy like me," he lowered his gaze momentarily. "I have failed you, twice, already," he spoke in a low voice. He had failed the first time in protecting her father, and the second time... he failed to protect her. "Are we not part of your life too? If we are, your whole life isn't gone. We're still here," he wasn't sure what else he could say.

She felt like she didn’t even know who she was anymore. She’d learned to be kind and cheerful and help people because that’s what shrine maidens were supposed to do. She’d existed to help people, to serve them in this one specific way. She could see what he meant, but he didn’t seem to understand that it all came from what she had been from the moment of her birth. Her ki type had set her destiny before she could walk, and she had never really minded. It suited her well enough, and in time, it came to define her. Could she still be whatever she was without it?

Perhaps the answer was in the way she leaned sideways to take his hand, encircling it in both of hers. “You’re not unworthy of anything, Mao-Mao,” she said softly. “I’m still alive, after all. I’m still here, even though there was a very strong oni who wanted me to die. Who tried to kill me. If you and the others weren’t there, he would have, so… it seems like you haven’t failed me at all.” She moved her thumb in circles against his palm, taking comfort from the nearness of someone she cared for a great deal. It was enough for now that he was here, and though she still felt keenly the pain of her injuries and her failure both, what he said had made her feel a little better.

She still had her family, and she still had her friends. As long as she didn’t lose them, she would be all right. “Hey, Mao-Mao?” she asked tentatively, looking up at him through her lashes. “Can you… can you promise me something? Promise me you won’t leave?” She didn’t think she was strong enough to lose anyone else, but… especially not him, somehow. Right now, it felt like he was something strong and steady that she was leaning on when her own strength faltered, and she wasn’t sure she could get by without that support. Not right now, definitely, and if the future carried even half as much difficulty as the present, probably not ever.

She was still alive, so that had to count for something, right? He offered her a small, broken smile, in return. Perhaps, he had only failed her once, and almost failed her a second time, but he did not. She was still alive, barely back from the edge of death, but she was still alive. But that didn't cause the feeling of unworthiness to stop plaguing him. He wasn't worthy of the friendship she had given him, nor anything else she had extended to him. Even this, what she spoke, what she was doing now, he was unworthy of, however; he could not deny her. There was just something that pulled at him, slowly causing the broken smile on his face to smooth out into something more genuine, and he wrapped his arms around her. He cradled her softly against him, laying his head on her shoulders and whispered softly to her. He meant every word he spoke. For whatever life he may have left, he would keep this promise to her.

"I promise."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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At about the same time as his sister was regaining consciousness, Makoto was making his way with uncharacteristically heavy treads to the home shared by Masurao, Yujin, and Tatsuki. He knew that Mao at least was probably still with Yuzu, but he could tell the other two, and surely they would pass the news. There had never been any doubt in his mind about whether he would inform them of what Nobunaga had ordered—it was everything that came after that he was less sure of. Regardless, there were several pieces of news to pass on, one received from Naomi just the night before, when he’d snuck into the estate for more medicine for Yuzu. None of it was good, and it just seemed to be getting progressively worse, for the people he considered his friends.

He let himself into the home, mostly because he knew that knocking was not required of him at this point but also because he didn’t want to be seen outside the home for any longer than necessary. He could always be mistaken for casing it, but not if he stood at the front door like an idiot. Inside, he was quick to locate the pair, sitting in the central room as they were, though they were accompanied by a guest that he recognized as Yujin’s sister, Asami Fujiwara. He knew now that she was once Nobunaga’s intended, and the strange twist of fate that her refusal had created was a very interesting one indeed. He wondered how she and her brother would feel when they knew what the result was? It wasn’t her fault, of course, but it was undeniable that they were all bound up in this common weave, this fate. He knew not what would become of them, but he did know that he would shield them all from it as best he could—even if it killed him.

“Nobunaga has hired me to kill you,” he said without preamble, locking eyes with Yujin. “And Masurao.”

Clearly, Yujin was not expecting any company, however; it seemed that the gods (or whatever he believed in) were laughing at him. Asami had shown up at his door not more than a few hours ago. She had heard of the recent attack at the temple, of Nobunaga's find, and had come to see if it were true. Apparently it was, from what her brother had told her. He had been a little surprised, at first, that this visit had not entailed her trying to drag him back to the Fujiwara estate, and was still expecting it, however; she made no move, spoke nothing of the sort. They had been in the middle of a discussion when Makoto came in, Tatsuki having already set the table for lunch.

"That doesn't surprise me," Asami was the first to speak, setting her cup of tea down on the small table and turned towards Makoto. She sighed softly, shaking her head as she regarded the Hanyou. "I told you he would do something like this. You are lucky to have the Slayer as your friend, not your enemy, Yuji. So, tell me, what will you do brother?" she spoke, turning to hold Yujin's gaze. Tatsuki had stopped whatever movement she was making, turning to regard her brother as well as he furrowed his brows, narrowing his eyes at Makoto, though they were not intentionally issued at the Hanyou.

"And if you do not fulfill your contract, what becomes of you?" Yujin questioned. He softened his glare a bit as he stared at the Hanyou. Surely the contract didn't come without some complications. It was obvious enough that Nobunaga didn't know they were acquainted, otherwise the man would have not given the Hanyou any time at all to dispatch Masurao and himself. But before an answer could be drawn for Asami's question, he needed to know the risks he would be taking if Makoto did not fulfill his contract. Somehow, he already knew, but he needed to hear it first.

Makoto raised a brow slightly, but then he sighed, his expression returning to normal, and shook his head slightly, folding his arms into his sleeves and holding them against his chest. “The usual,” he replied flatly, though there was a slight edge to it that was hard to place. “He murders my entire family.” The Slayer pursed his lips. That was evident enough, and he knew that Nobunaga would not fail to follow through on his threat. He had a few days left before the oyabun would begin to get suspicious. If it were only him, he would be able to make it far enough away by then to be safe, but in truth, he did not know if the same could be said for them.

“That is… partly why I have come. I need somewhere to send them. The only option I have right now is Sakuya’s village, but things are not ideal there. They are dealing with youkai outbreaks of their own, and they do not need to take in more people who cannot fight. My mother is an apothecary, my aunt a tailor, and even the triplets are apt message runners and so forth, but none of them would be much use against demons. Not yet.” One day, the triplets would be, but that day was a few years in the making yet—he could not responsibly ask Sakuya to take them in. At least, not unless he absolutely had to. “I was hoping that one of you would know of a place I could send them.”

Yujin sighed through his nose, and Tatsuki glanced down to her hands. She had been raised as a traveler, and didn't have many people to call friends. The only stable home she had ever had was here, in Edo, but even now that seemed less likely as the days went by. Yujin had family, but they would not take in humans simply because they were human. If he recalled correctly, the only reason he'd actually joined Nobunaga at one point, was because his family served the Oni. He was only following his family's footsteps when he joined the Oyabun, however; he was kicked out of the Yakuza and had lived a life of a mercenary. The only sanctuary he could provide for Makoto's family would be with them wherever they went. Asami, however, smiled as she read the troubled faces of her brother and his sister.

"I could take them," she offered, a warm smile etching upon her face. Yujin stared bewildered at his sister. Why would she take them? His family was not safe, and they both knew that. "You do not trust me, I can see it written on your face, Yujin," she spoke, the warm smile never leaving her face. "And you, Makoto, have no reason to trust me either, however; I assure you, I can take them somewhere where they will be safe, where they will be hidden even from Nobunaga. It is a safe haven for all those who wish to flee Nobunaga; humans, and Hanyou alike. Even other Oni are welcome into its camp," she explained. It would be difficult to have them believe her, but it was the least she could do.

"Asami, this is his family though. How do we know that we can trust you?" Tatsuki was the first to speak, her voice low and a bit timid. She was worried for the Yoshida family, if only because they were her family too. She might not have been as near and around them as Yujin and Masurao had been, mainly because Yujin wanted to teach them to be little terrors, as he had said once before. They were still her family too. Asami smiled a knowing smile, and tilted her head to the side.

"It is in a location that has not yet been touched by Nobunaga. There are several Oni lords, and human lords, who have taken up arms against Nobunaga. They are a rebellion, as you may call them. We are large in number, and grow every day. Nobunaga is not yet strong enough to fight us, and the Oni who leads us... well, let's just say they are not exactly fond of each other," she continued explaining. Yujin folded his hands in front of his face as he regarded his sister. For as long as he could remember, she disliked humans as much as their family. She'd even gone so far as to kill one once, so why was she a part of this rebellion? What has changed her so much that he could see the same change in himself... almost.

"What has changed you, sister?" he found himself asking, waiting for her reply. She turned and regarded him with an even stare, a bright smile painting her face.

"The same thing that has changed you, dear brother. Love."

Makoto was not inclined to be immediately trusting, either, but if this option was real, then it was about as good as anything he could hope for. “You refer to the White Dragon’s Rebellion,” he said softly, tilting his head to the side in thought. He had heard of the oni through Naomi, who kept him appraised of most of the things she learned through Nobunaga or his associates, in exchange for him keeping her up-to-date on the goings-on of their mutual friends and associates in the village. She cared about them a great deal more than she let on to them, and would often ply him with questions for perhaps longer than was strictly safe. Her own situation had taken a poor turn lately, but things needed to be taken care of in order.

“I thank you,” he said, bowing deeply to Asami, “for your offer. If I may, I will accompany you and they to the place myself, that I might lay my eyes on it and know whether they will be safe enough.” Personally, he thought it might befit him to join such a rebellion, at least for now. He was a killer; fighting was what he did. It was no longer enough to kill the petty youkai surrounding Edo in order to protect his family. He knew now that Nobunaga was the greatest threat to them that existed, and that meant that, one way or another, Nobunaga had to die. He held no illusions about being capable of such a feat on his own—for all his strength, for all his speed and ferocity, he was still a hanyou. And while he had killed more than one full-blooded oni in his time, it would take him much training yet before he would be able to stand on even footing with such a one as Nobunaga. If indeed it was even possible at all.

But with others, perhaps he could do what was impossible alone. He wondered if any of the others would have an interest in such a thing, or if they would prefer to wander. He knew now that whatever they did, he would do, so long as he knew his family was safe in the meantime. They had, in some strange way, become kin and home to him, and he would not leave them now. “There is… something else you should know.” Though his eyes flickered to Tatsuki for a moment, they settled on Yujin, because Mako was smart enough to know that it was he that would take the tidings the hardest.

“Nobunaga has announced his intention to take a wife. In one month hence, he will force Naomi to wed him.”

Asami smiled, and nodded her head. "Yes, I refer to him. He is a friend, and though it might seem like the reason is because we are both Oni, I assure you, the faith and trust I have in him is nothing of the sort," she spoke, and she had spoken the truth. It had taken her awhile to fully trust the White Dragon, and earning it had been no small feat. In the end, she was glad that they had met. He had become something of another brother to her, and his friendship had saved her on more than one occasion. Her smile brightened a fraction when he spoke of accompanying them, and she nodded her head once more. "You are welcome to tag along to see for yourself," she glanced towards Yujin, wondering if he would do the same.

Yujin, however, met Makoto's eyes when he spoke of something else, and he couldn't help the feeling of his stomach dropping. He didn't like the look in the Hanyou's eyes, and with each second that passed, it seemed like an eternity of waiting. And then Makoto spoke, and his heart sank. He felt sick, and if the expression on his face did not convey it enough, the way his eyes narrowed dangerously, and the way his fists curved in on themselves should have been enough. Tatsuki felt the sudden chill in the air as she glanced towards Yujin, a worried expression on her face, but she said nothing. She didn't know what to do or say about something like that. Naomi was her friend, and she knew small things about the woman, like the fact that she was Nobunaga's concubine, and how she disliked the War Lord. But to be his wife, and being forced into it? She could only imagine what Naomi was thinking.

Asami glanced towards Yujin and sighed. "I am afraid that is partly, if not my entire fault," she spoke, her voice low and apologetic. Yujin turned his harsh glare towards Asami, and she could feel the demand for answers. It was, if she were being honest, entirely her fault that the situation was forced upon the other woman. Had she followed through with her family's plan, she wondered, briefly, if the woman would have ever been in Nobunaga's captivity to begin with. The look in Yujin's eyes, however, was something she wasn't accustomed to seeing, and something clicked. "I am sorry, Yujin, I did not know," she continued.

"I was to be in Naomi's place," she confessed solemnly. "After you left, Yuji, our brothers thought it befitting to join closer in the ranks of Nobunaga's army, and proposed a deal: me in exchange for more power and territory. I have not seen our family in over ten years," she continued, her eyes leaving her brother's form. If she had not left, it would be she in Naomi's place, married already to the Oyabun and perhaps birthing him heirs. It was not a pleasant thought, and she mourned for Naomi. "He isn't doing it out of desire, I can assure you that. He is doing it for political matters. Currently, a few of the lesser Oni Lords do not support either cause, but he is trying to win them over. If he took a human as his wife, it might turn the tides in his favor," she explained, and Yujin could only feel a rage building inside of him.

"If we managed to take her from him, would you give her the same sanctuary as you are giving Makoto's family?" he finally spoke, an eerie calmness to it sent chills down both Tatsuki and Asami's spine. "Would you?" he continued. Asami lowered her gaze momentarily, and something sad passed through them. If they took Naomi, it would only give Nobunaga reason to start an early war with them, and not only that, he would be putting his entire family at risk, not the Fujiwaras of course. Masurao was already a wanted person, however; they did not seem to spare a glance towards Tatsuki. If they knew she was his sister, they would kill her just for being associated with Yujin. He merely scowled at Asami's quiet response. She could not take Naomi, not now at least.

Makoto hadn’t known most of that, but he couldn’t say that much of it made a difference to him, anyway. The past was past, and Asami had made what he at least took to be a reasonable choice in avoiding any sort of entanglement with that man. Naomi’s troubles now might have never come about if she had chosen differently, but they were nobody’s fault but the oyabun’s. Still, there might be something he could do to ease the situation, at least a little bit, and if it would help, he would do it in a heartbeat.

“I can sneak you past the guards,” he told Yujin quietly. He had, after all, spent quite a while learning and memorizing their routes, their watches, their faces, even. He could navigate the flow of movement on the estate like a fish navigated a river, and he would be able to take another long with him if he so desired. It was not without risk by any means, but he could do it. “Before we go, should you desire to see her.” Privately, he did not believe Naomi would agree to leave with them even if there was some place to take her, but perhaps Yujin knew her better than he did. The news certainly seemed to upset him more than Makoto had imagined it would.

Perhaps, though, if they were to leave his family in safety with Asami and the Dragon, the rest of them could live on the move. They would be harder to track that way, and though it would not be an easy life, nor one he was especially keen on, it would be much better than simply waiting for Nobunaga to decide it was time for them to die. It was the only thing he could think of that would work, really, but he supposed in the end, it was something for Yujin and Naomi to work out themselves, if they desired to.

Yujin stared at Makoto, reading the Hanyou's face for a moment. He had to try something, anything really, to get Naomi out of the situation. She had denied him more than once, however; some part of him, a part that was hopeful would make her come this time with him. He couldn't just leave her, not like this. If he could see her, convince her, then he would do his hardest to keep her safe. Living life on the run wasn't an attractive idea, but it was better than her becoming his slave forever. There would be nothing he could do once she was wed to Nobunaga... and he wasn't so sure he could take that. Selfish, perhaps, but he'd be damned if he let that happen to Naomi. He only hoped that she would come with him.

"Take me to her," was the short reply he gave the Hanyou. He would see her, convince her, and they would be able to live their life on the run. He was a dreamer. He knew she would not come with him... but he had to try, right?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael
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Three days.

It had been three days since the announcement, only twenty-seven more until she was somehow forever changed. Naomi wasn’t looking forward to it, but she’d done a lot of thinking, and in the grand scheme of things, it really didn’t make that much of a difference. She was no freer now than she would be in twenty-seven days, and in the end, she supposed the impending union didn’t really change anything in terms of her plans. Whether she was his wife or his concubine, she’d be dead in a few months anyway. The strain of the plant she was breeding was nearly ready, and from there all that would remain was a somewhat complicated extraction process for the toxin, and then she would be at last ready to do what she had long ago decided that she must.

She would avenge her brother, and then she would die.

Strange, that the thoughts did not lull her into sleep this night as they had on so many others, but rather kept her awake. The knot of dread at the pit of her stomach was relatively new, as well. Perhaps it had something to do with the forms lying on either side of her, on her futon, both smaller than she was, but destined to be eventually much larger, she was sure. To her left lay Chitose, his hand currently curled around her own, and Sora on her right, sprawled out on his stomach, his breaths stirring his ink-dark forelock. She doubted they would be allowed in here if they had asked, but they had both learned not to by this point, and simply crawled in beside her as she went to sleep every evening. Moving her hand gently from Chi’s, she combed her fingers through his hair. The texture, if not the color, resembled his father’s—thick, but coarse, almost tickling against the fingers. She tucked her chin atop his crown, and sighed deeply.

She would not have expected it to be so possible to love the son as much as she hated his father. She wondered if they would miss her, when she died, these children that she loved. The thought made her sad, but she supposed if there was any time she could afford to let herself be sad, it was now, in the dead of night, when nobody else could see.

A light sound outside her door stirred her—it came from the door to her veranda, not the one into the hall. She knew who it was, then—nobody else chose to visit her at this time, from that direction, though she honestly had not expected to see Makoto again. She’d have thought he’d fled with his family by now, knowing that he could not kill those he had been asked to slay. She’d hoped he would have, but perhaps he’d come to at least tell her that they were leaving. Carefully, so as not to wake the boys, she rose, throwing on a light robe over her yukata, and tread carefully to the door. “I’d have thought you already—” she started quietly as she opened the door to admit him, then halted abruptly when the face she saw was not the one she’d expected.

“Left,” she finished in a breathy whisper. “It’s you.” She swallowed, suddenly unsure of herself, and it took her a moment to remember that he could not simply stand out there indefinitely, lest he be spotted. She moved the door wider and stepped aside so that he could enter, closing it behind him and crossing her arms over her chest. He shouldn’t be here. Didn’t he know how dangerous it was?

“Why have you come?” she asked, voice pitched low but tense. She didn’t want to wake the children, but there was no mistaking her worry. “You should be away from here by now. He wants you dead.” There was no need to specify who he was.

It had been no easy task, sneaking into the Yakuza compound. With his large frame, Yujin had worried that he would be found, and would be killed. He had hoped Makoto would have had enough sense to leave the Oni behind if that had happened, but thankfully, whatever entity was watching over them, they had not been discovered. It took a while for them to reach Naomi's chambers, and even with his large size, he was still capable of reaching a window he could slide into without alerting anyone. He could almost smell her, the plum blossom scent that always seemed so relaxing at times, and yet so addicting. He glanced towards door, hovering outside of it with just a moments hesitation before it opened. The surprised expression caught him off guard, if only slightly, before she allowed him in. He could see the two boys laying on her bed, but he paid them no mind. He was fixated on her, and she was all that mattered right now.

"Come with me," he spoke, his voice low and almost fearful. Fearful because he knew the answer she would give him, but also because he knew he would not leave her when she did. "Come with me," he repeated. Something bled into his voice, something similar to pleading. He was pleading with her to come with him, because he could not bear to watch her suffer. Whatever was anchoring her here, he wanted her to leave it, to be done with it and come with him. He spoke lowly enough that it would not disturb the children. He did not know how they would react to seeing him there, and it was for his sake, as well as hers that he did not speak any louder.

"Please, Naomi," he continued. He was aware that this was nothing like him, the playful edges smothered out of his tone and were replaced by his sincerity, and the severity of the situation. His hand reached for her arm, the tips of his fingertips touching it gently. "You cannot convince Oni that this is what you want, that this will make whatever anchors you here, better," he stated, his eyes never leaving hers. He wanted her to come with him, because he knew the feeling that she caused him to feel, knew it so well, that it had frightened him when he realized what it was. But it also made him feel complete, as if something had always been missing from his life, and only with her had it been filled. He would not be the same person without her, and he wasn't so sure he would want to be.

The invitation was abrupt, and maybe even a little bit unexpected, but then, she’d learned a long time ago that things could only be predicted so far. What surprised her most was how close she was to saying yes, how much she wanted to. She hated it here, and she always had, but for so long, that hate had been her anchor. It had kept her in this place because there was something she had to do, and that had straightened her spine and rendered any thoughts of what could or might have been completely useless. Because things could only be as they were, and as they were, this was something she had to do. This was the place she had to be.

She remembered what it felt like to touch him, to be held by someone who did not presume to own her, to make her decisions for her. It had been so nice, that little sliver of a dream, and she knew that if she thought about it hard enough, she could envision what her life would be like, if she accepted what he was offering. It would not be perfect, or without danger, and truly there wasn’t even any guarantee that they would come to mean much of anything to each other. Naomi still didn't think that she was capable of love, and perhaps in the end, that would hurt him, and she would feel terrible. But whatever would come of it, however that future would unfold, it would be hers. They would each be able to choose for themselves what to do and what they wanted, and whatever they became, it would be the result of their own feelings and actions.

She was not in love with this man, this oni, but perhaps one day, she could be. Perhaps she could prove herself wrong. Somewhere in the future with her friends, with him, and gone from this place for good.

Slowly, she shook her head, regarding him with stricken eyes. Their meetings had in truth been few, comparatively, but she knew more about him than she suspected she knew even of herself. Not his history or his ambition, perhaps, but of who he was now. And he was a wonderful person, she knew that. It was precisely why she had to refuse. Her thoughts were swimming in circles, her feelings making less and less sense, and she could feel her resolve weakening as time passed and she held his eyes. “You don’t understand,” she whispered softly. “I can’t leave. There’s something… something I have to do.”

She owed him nothing, she knew that. Not reasons or explanations or loyalty. But she wanted to give him all of those things just the same, not because they were his due but because she believed he deserved them. With a deep breath, she lowered her eyes to her arms, still crossed over her chest, and spoke. “I… Sakaki is my father.” She paused a moment, hesitating, and then drove the explanation forward. “He doesn’t know—but I remember. He… he killed my brother, when we were only young, and I can’t… I can’t leave until I’ve taken his life in turn. For my mother and my brother… and for Yuzuki.” The new name was only recent, but had solidified her desire to end the man. “And then, if I have enough strength left, I will kill Nobunaga, too, for everything he has done to the world. I can’t leave, because… this is the only thing I have to give.” Her entire life, from the moment she watched her brother bleed out on the ground, had been devoted to this one purpose. It was everything she was.

The promise of a brighter future… was lovely to think about. But it was not the future someone like her deserved. This was the one good thing she could do for the world, and she had to do it. Naomi wondered if he would understand.

Yujin faltered in his gaze. He knew it would not be as easy as he hoped it would be, to convince her to come with him. It would take something akin to a miracle to make it happen, and he was no fool to believe that it would happen. Miracles did not happen for creatures such as him. They were not worthy enough, pure enough for such things. Miracles were reserved only for those who had enough stupidity to believe in them. And perhaps, it made him the biggest fool there was, for he believed, no matter how small that belief was, that a miracle would happen for him. Her voice, however, pulled him from those thoughts. Something she had to do? The answer was provided shortly after, and he could feel the rage in his blood, boiling.

"Then leave with me, still. You don't... you don't have to do this on your own, Naomi. I will help you, but please," he was practically breathing it out now. He wanted her to know that she didn't have to do this alone, she could come with him, and they could do it together. "Come with me, and we can do this together. We will do something about Sakaki, he will die, but must you also die with him?" he stated, stepping closer to her. He lifted his hand and gently cradled her cheek with it, his mismatched eyes holding her own blue gems. She didn't have to, not when he was offering her the help to do so. She didn't have to die, or if she did, at least he could be with her when it happened.

"Oni could not bear it if you died without him," he spoke, his voice barely above a whisper, his eyes softening to a sad smile. The smile that crept upon his lips conveyed everything almost perfectly. "If you will not go, then permit Oni to stay with Naomi, so that he can be here for her when the time comes. We could do it together," because he owed Sakaki as well, for hurting his family, his friends, everyone he loved. Even as Naomi confessed to being Sakaki's daughter, it was only adding to the list of the ways Yujin wanted to end the blue Oni's life. He would make the Oni pay for hurting those he loved, for hurting her the most.

"But... Oni will only do if you command it of him. Tell me, Naomi, what it is you command of me. I will do it," he spoke, pulling himself closer to her and wrapping her in his arms. He laid his head upon her own, and held her as if he would fall the moment he let her go. It was her decision, whatever she wanted him to do, he would heed it regardless... even if she told him to leave. "Because Oni loves you."

It was like someone had lanced her in the chest, watching the way his expressions changed like that. Hearing the way he spoke of helping her. But she knew he could not—Sakaki and Nobunaga were simply too well-guarded for a direct confrontation to have a hope of killing them. The methods would have to be subtle, and they would have to be unexpected. By this point, everyone believed her to be a weak-willed whore, and if that was the face she had to show the world, if that was what she wanted to fool the world into believing, then so be it. It might even be true, but she could at least do this, this one thing that would leave the world a better place than she had come into it. This one thing that would allow her brother to rest, finally, in peace. She wouldn’t have to see his ghost every time she looked over her shoulder, encounter the scene of his death every time she closed her eyes. She would be haunted by those specters no longer.

And if the price was her death, then that was simply how it must be. She had told herself this so many times that she had accepted it as the most basic of facts. And now he was telling her that it was not supposed to be that way, that he could not bear her death. She leaned into the hand holding her face, sighing softly, a shudder wracking her frame as her eyes grew liquid with tears, these sliding down her cheeks to fall from the line of her jaw to the floor below. When he held her, she did not object, seeking the comfort of the warmth he carried everywhere he went, in more sense than one. That was it, she decided—she was so drawn to him because he was warm, and her life had been from the beginning only dark and cold.

She blinked away more tears, turning her face to look up at him, but that only made her want to sob, to weep until there were no tears left. He loved her? How could anyone love her? She was just… just Naomi. A geisha who’d given up her noble calling to be bought and sold as a common whore. A girl who’d taught herself to be a killer. All his love would do for either of them was make things harder, and while she might deserve that, he did not. She knew, then, what she had to do. Perhaps the only truly selfless thing she’d ever done in her life—she could free him from her, as much as was possible.

Lifting her hands to his face, she gently placed them on either side, smiling softly up at him. “You are too good to me,” she whispered softly. “Too good for me.” Yes, she supposed that if she could ever love anyone at all, she would probably love him. But that was not a luxury she could allow herself. Standing on her toes, Naomi pressed her mouth to his, and this was no mere feathering of the lips. It was something tender, threaded with a sensual heat, slow, languid, deep. And over, in truth, far too soon. She lowered herself back to her feet, resisting the powerful urge to do it again, to soak in this thing he said he felt for her, this thing she had never known, until there was no more of it left. But that wouldn’t be fair to either of them.

“Forget me,” she said, almost too soft to hear. It hurt her physically to say it, because in truth, she didn’t want him to forget her at all. What she wanted was to walk out of there with him, and the children, and never look back. But that was impossible—it would get them all killed. And that was something she could not do, not ever. “Forget me,” she repeated, “and protect them. They need you, now more than they ever have.” Her hands trembled against his jaw.

He was almost reluctant to break their kiss, and when she pulled back, speaking those words to him, it felt like a part of him died. She wanted him to forget her? How could he? "How could Oni forget the most wonderful thing in his life? It would condemn Oni to death," he spoke, however; there was a soft smile upon his face. He lifted his hand to keep hers from leaving his face, and he leaned into her trembling hand. He stayed like that for just a moment before he opened his eyes again. He would do what she asked of him, but he could never forget her. Never. It was like asking him to forget how to breathe, how to live, and he would do neither of those things unless it was she who plunged a dagger into him. And perhaps, she had, in her own way, but he could never fault her for that.

"Oni will go, but," he spoke, removing himself from her. The smile never quite left his face as he held her hand still, placing both of their hands over her heart. "Oni will not forget you. I will come for you, one day. Be it in this life, or the next," he whispered, placing a gentle kiss on the top of her crown before releasing her altogether. He stepped back, taking her in once more before turning his back to her. He would keep this promise of his, because it was the only thing he could do now. He would no longer be the same, not without her, and he knew he would not want to be.

"I promise."

Naomi watched him go, and stood there for several moments even after he had left, trying to gather her composure. But really, what did it matter? Composed or not, she’d just given up her last chance for anything but this—the world where she would die for the sake of a vengeance not even her own. Perhaps… perhaps in the next life, if she could bring herself to believe in such things. On the futon, Sora stirred, and that at last broke her from her trance. She moved back to it and lay down, soothing him with murmured words of comfort that might have been just as much for herself.

But she fell asleep weeping into the boy’s shoulder, holding him close as though she were afraid she might lose him, too.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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“Burn it,” Makoto advised flatly. He, as well as his family, currently stood outside the home shared by Tatsuki, Masurao, and Yujin, a small rucksack slung over his back. The triplets had similar bags, as did his mother. His aunt was mounted on the family’s only horse—she would be switching off with Nanami and anyone else who found themselves too fatigued by the journey, which would probably include the still-weak Yuzu. He referred, at present, to the house itself. “Nobunaga may have access to inuyoukai. If so, leaving them anything they could use to track you would be a bad idea.”

Both his family’s home and also Chinatsu’s were currently in the process of burning themselves, but if they didn’t get going soon, the head start would all be for nothing. He could understand a reluctance to leave, really, especially from Yujin, considering that he’d left the estate the previous night without Naomi, but it would hardly matter if they were all killed on their way out of Edo.

Masurao took a hesitant step towards his home, glancing back at Tatsuki and Yujin. Tatsuki refused to glance up, a deep sadness covering her features, however; there was something knowing across her expression as well. Yujin had expressed nothing, even as their home went up in flames, his expression remained as it was. His face remained stoic, passive, as if he were just there. If Masurao had to put a word to it, Yujin looked like he was an empty shell, dead. He and Tatsuki had managed to say goodbye to the inn owner, and though he and the inn owner never saw eye to eye, the older man was sad to see them go.

"We should go," Masurao spoke, his voice low and solemn. Tatsuki placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it lightly before falling into step with Yujin. There was nothing left for him now. Everything he had, everything he owned was now burning before him, just like everything inside of him. Though, perhaps it wasn't the best word to describe it, the burn. It felt more like a cold chill to him, his chest constricting ever so lightly, before he had almost lost the ability to keep breathing. He was leaving her behind, and she was to be his wife soon. There was nothing more he could do for her.

He had given her multiple chances at freedom, and she continued to reject them, all for the notion of revenge. He couldn't do more for her, and as a result, he was leaving everything behind. He would heal, maybe, in time, but for now, he would remain as this empty husk he felt. "Asami," he called to his sister. The Oni woman nodded her head and glanced towards the group. She could see the reluctance to leave in their faces, but this was to be for the best. They would be sheltered and safe, though, not all of them would be. There was one who could not come... and she mourned for her brother.

They were not, in truth, easy goodbyes for anyone, really. Makoto and Yuzuki had both spend their whole lives in Edo, essentially. They had been raised here from the time they were very small children, as had the triplets. This had been Chinatsu’s home for her entire life, where she met her husband Hayabusa, and then where she lost him. It was the place she’d given birth to her only child, and now the place they would both leave behind them. The parting was hardly easy, but they would make it because it was necessary. Even if Edo was all of that to them, it was still only a place. And all of them knew that home was about people, not locations.

With the rest then, they turned, faces grim and treads tight, and departed from what had once been the place their home was, setting their feet upon the trail that led eastward, towards the parts of the country still firmly in the hands of Nobunaga’s enemies. The journey was a long one, and in many places difficult, but it was not until the third day that the fact that they only had one horse became a problem.

When it did, it did so in a rather spectacular fashion. Yuzuki, without making any sign of it or telling the others, was experiencing a great deal of residual pain in her abdominal wound, which despite repeated applications of what little ki she could muster, was still not fully healed. She put it down to the fact that her energy was still somewhat corrupted by what had been done to the shrine, and would take a while to level out again. Even so, it was putting considerable strain on her, but she refused to complain, because they were passing through the mountain, and neither her mother nor Mako’s would be able to make the climb without assistance. Two people was about all the horse could handle, so she resolved to push through it and say nothing. She refused to be the reason Nobunaga caught up to them.

They were walking along a rather thin ridge along the side of a mountain, the narrowest point in the pass. It was barely wide enough for Mako’s surefooted horse, and Yuzuki had volunteered to take point, since her steps were light and she would be able to tell everyone if they were about to encounter a particularly-treacherous spot. Also, if a section of the pass had trouble holding her weight, the others would need to find a different way across.

Unfortunately, her injury was making her a little less cautious than normal, and sometimes she forgot to test a step before committing to it. On one such occasion, the placement of her foot caused the ground to give way beneath her, sending her pitching forward. She was going to fall down the side of this mountain… and she didn’t know if she’d be able to get up again.

Three days of travel was taking a toll upon everyone, it seemed, perhaps none more than the injured Yuzuki, and the elderly Chinatsu. Everyone knew the risks they were going to be taking with this journey, and Asami had warned them all that it was not going to be easy, nor was it going to be quick. It was a tedious journey, one that was going to require a lot out of them, and she wasn't so sure they would be able to make the journey completely. The revelation sent a small sigh from her as she turned to stare at her brother. Yujin, though he didn't appear to be, was still under the same influence he had been since they left. He didn't even laugh nor crack a joke at anything, and it was unlike him.

Masurao tried getting the Oni to talk, but Yujin just seemed void of a voice. He said nothing, did nothing, and hardly ate when they stopped to do just that. Masurao was worried for his brother, but he supposed it might be best to leave the Oni alone for now. Tatsuki had certainly made no effort to comfort him, but that was because she knew she could not be the one to do so. Her brother ached, and she knew why. But what could she tell him that he probably already told himself? She remained quiet, instead, hanging in the back with the triplets and Asami throughout the voyage.

They had come to a narrow pass, and Yuzuki was the one ahead of them, something that caused Masurao to frown. He might not have been intelligent, nor perhaps smart enough to know things, however; he could see that the wound still bothered her, and he wanted to help her in any way he could. He was behind her when they walked the narrow pass, and immediately, his hand snatched out to grab hers, pulling her back from the ledge so that she didn't fall. He cradled her close to him as he pressed up against the side, keeping them both from falling along with the rest of the mountain side. "Are you alright?" he questioned, glancing down at her with a worried expression.

He sighed softly, and glanced towards his sister, who nodded her head and maneuvered around the group. She might not have been as light as Yuzuki, however; she was still a trained Ninja, and could still be light on her feet when she needed to be. "You need to rest, Yuzu, or you'll open your wounds again," he spoke, peeling himself away from her. Instead, he walked so that his back was positioned in front of her, and stared off in front of him. "Get on, I'll carry you," he stated, waiting for her to do so. He could do that much for her, seeing as she wouldn't be able to share the horse with Chinatsu and Makoto. He could be her horse for now.

The lurching feeling in the pit of her stomach aborted almost as soon as it had come, and she found herself clinging to Mao’s hand for dear life as he maneuvered her back onto the ledge like she weighed nothing at all. She supposed that, for someone such as himself, she might as well have. She shook for a few moments after she was set back down, alarmed at just how close she’d come to tumbling down the rocky mountainside, and choked back a sob that threatened. Now was hardly the time, though the stress of the journey was great. The least she could do was make herself as helpful as possible, and when he offered to carry her, she at first looked uncertain, hesitating with one hand loosely clasped at her sternum, her palm near her beating heart, which was presently frantically-paced, the adrenaline of her near-fall pushing it to work harder.

“Yuzuki.” The stern word belonged to Makoto, who had for most of the journey been trailing well behind the others, serving essentially as rear guard, in case their pursuers should find them. His speed also enabled him to set false trails, which would hopefully confound the demo hounds long enough for them to make it over the mountains. Nobunaga’s men would be stupid to follow them into the east, though there was no mistaking that it was still possible, since they would likely be killed for their failure should they return empty-handed. Whatever the case, they needed to make it out onto the plains before then. He might have to kill a few of the trackers as they went, and trust that he could get away fast enough to avoid being killed himself.

Right now, however, his primary concern was his sister. She was in no shape to continue walking herself, especially not when the trail was this treacherous. He would make the same offer himself, were it not necessary for him to continue covering their tracks. So he pushed her with a word in the direction he knew she needed to take, and she acquiesced, likely more because of the pain than his interference. Continuing to walk with an abdominal injury that severe would be no easy task—he didn’t want her to pull a stitch.

“Okay,” she conceded, climbing gingerly onto Mao’s back and wrapping her legs around his waist. Her arms, she settled loosely over his shoulders, trying to pull at her wound as little as possible. “But if it ever gets hard to carry me, you have to put me down.” She didn’t want to slow anyone down, and even hanyou strength had to have limits, right? When they were off again, and she could do so beneath the hearing of anyone else, she set her chin over his left shoulder, and murmured softly into his ear. “Thanks, Mao-Mao.”

Their journey came to an end another two weeks after. Makoto had gradually slain most of their pursuers as they went through the treacherous mountains, and the rest were not terribly difficult to deal with. The demon hounds had scattered after that, having no real desire to keep up the pursuit when not compelled to do so, and the last half of their journey took place over rolling hills and plains. There was a lot of farmland out this way, and they passed many small villages, where humans working in fields and rice paddies stopped to gawk at the strange mixed company that passed them, though none of them made any hostile moves, or seemed to expect an attack. It must be nice, to live somewhere the oni were not all out to kill you, Mako decided. But it prepared them poorly for the war that was to come.

Masurao smiled when she complied, and settled onto his back. With a warm smile, he continued on with her, carrying her as if she were as light as a feather, and truly, she was. He blinked though when she spoke, and let a low chuckle escape him. "You're welcome, Yuzu," he stated, the smile inching just a fraction wider. "Are you kidding? You could never be too heavy for me. I'll carry you the rest of the way," he spoke, amusement laced in his voice, though he knew he could carry her all the way if he needed to. Hanyou were strong, that was a given, but even they had their limits. Thankfully, Masurao really never knew those limits.

Two weeks later saw the group in the hillside of Kyoto, spectators watching the group approach. Some recognized and smiled towards Asami, as she inclined her head towards them and smiled, while others waved in greeting. It was nice, to be accepted somewhere and not be threatened or attacked. Perhaps, they could call this their new home in time, however; they were not going to be optimistic about it. Things changed, that was inevitable.

It wasn’t much longer until they reached the city that would house them. It was of a size with Edo, or close enough, called Sendai. Though referred to as the east, it was actually mostly north, in the Honshu region of the country. It was here that the group of them were shown their lodgings for their stay—a medium-sized house for all of the soon-to-be-permanent residents, and rooms at an inn for the rest of them. Yuzuki almost immediately collapsed into her futon, falling into a deep sleep and staying there, but Makoto was able to confirm that it was just a sleep, and not a more prolonged period of unconsciousness as before.

The rest of those remaining gathered in the downstairs room of the inn, as apparently there was someone who wished to meet them. Makoto, Yujin, Masurao, Tatsuki, and Asami occupied a table, along with Nanami, who’d come to ensure that everyone else made it all right. She was less tired from the journey than some of them, as she had spent a good half of it on horseback, walking now and then to give the creature a break so that it carried only Chinatsu. Still, she was worn out, but not enough to neglect making sure that her eldest and her surrogate niece Yuzuki were safe. She was still a Yoshida, after all, and her duty was to her family.

When their guest entered, he was flanked by several grim-looking oni guards. As tall as any of them, he was somewhat less broad, but to take that as an indication of decreased strength would evidently be a mistake. Two oversized naginata were crossed over his back, and a full compliment of swords at his waist, including a longblade—an odachi. He was armored somewhat lightly compared to his men, his nose and mouth covered by a half-metal mask not unlike what some ninja or Slayers wore when dealing with highly-corrosive poisons. His most striking features, however, were those that were entirely his. Many oni had white hair, at least in their true forms, but his was long, luxuriant, and bereft of the slightest hint of color. Unlike the rest of his kind, his skin, too, was incredibly pale, bordering on semitranslucent. Like Yujin, he was heterochromatic—his right eye was a vibrant violet and his left an equally-bright teal color. It was safe to guess that this was the Dragon.

He had barely looked their way before there was a sound of crashing chinaware—Nanami had dropped her teacup onto the tatami mat next to her and shattered it. The sound drew his attention, and the Dragon glanced in her direction before freezing in place, his eyes wide. “I-Isamu?” Her tone was somehow more fragile than it was usually, and Makoto’s eyes snapped suspiciously between his mother and this oni.

The Dragon responded by reaching up behind him and untying the mask, something that was not a usual occurrence if the looks his men exchanged were any indication. It fell away from his face, to reveal the fact that he was half-smiling, something like nostalgia in his expression. “Nanami.” His tone was light, but there was an underlying note of authority in it even so, an indication that if he so desired, it could become thunderous at a moment’s notice.

“It has been many years.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

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#, as written by Mihael


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Asami smiled, sipping at her tea with her family and the others, waiting for him to show up. Yujin was still not smiling, and Masurao and Tatsuki were as they had always been. Masurao had a light smile on his face, knowing that Yuzuki was fine, and Tatsuki mainly held an expression, one that she had learned to wear during her father's meetings. As the only heir, she was required to sit in on them when she had the chance. Masurao was sitting in between Tatsuki and Yujin, the smile never quite leaving his face, until a rather foreign Oni entered. He wasn't quite as large as most Oni, and even he was bulkier than the Oni, however; it was obvious from the way the others followed him, that he was either a General of this place, or the leader. Asami knew which one of those was true.

"It appears that you are acquainted with one of them already, Isamu," she spoke, a light smirk covering her face as she stared at the pale Oni. Of course, she knew who Nanami was, exactly, to Isamu, however; she wasn't going to say anything. She would leave that up to her brother. Besides, this was his family, even if one of them did not possess the knowledge quite yet. "These are the people I spoke to you of," she stated, standing and taking a light bow. He was, after all, still the Leader. She straightened herself back out and glanced towards the ones who inhabited the table.

"Isamu, this is my brother, Yujin, and his surrogate siblings, Masurao Toukai and Tatsuki Kagirinai, formerly Genshu," she began, extending her arm out towards the trio before turning towards the others. "The Slayer, Makoto Yoshida," she stated, smiling towards the white-haired Oni, before directing her attention to Nanami. "And you are already acquainted with Nanami Yoshida," she concluded. She then turned to her family, and smiled. "Everyone, this is Isamu, or, as other's know him by, The White Dragon."

Nanami’s smile was gentle, and she stood from her spot at the table, crossing the rom to embrace Isamu gently even as her son hissed a half-formed protest through his teeth. “Mother—” Makoto was uneasy, partically just because there were a lot of oni around that he did not know and therefore could not trust, and also because some things were falling quite easily into place for him. Mako was not a stupid man, and it was very easy to see the resemblance between himself and this man he had never met. Especially when his mother clearly knew him.

But Nanami and Isamu greeted one another as friends who had been a long time parted, not as lovers who still missed each other’s company. Their embrace was affectionate, but it did not linger, and he ruffled her hair gently. “I heard you took a husband after all,” he told her quietly, only long enough for her to nod slightly before he turned his attention to the others. “It is good to meet you all, friends and family of my friend. Asami has told me of your desire for asylum, and to all those of you who cannot fight, I will gladly grant it.” Here ne nodded at Nanami, though the majority of the people who would be covered under such a provision were outside the room.

“And those of us who can?” The question was Mako’s, and for the first time, Isamu turned to examine him. The oni’s scrutiny was intent, and lasted for perhaps a shade longer than was polite, but in the end, he half-smiled dangerously.

“I expect that those of you who can have little need of my protection. Stay if it suits you, join if it suits you, or leave—the choice is yours. I will force no one into my army who does not desire to be there.”

"I would stay," Tatsuki was the first to speak of her siblings, staring at the white Oni and glancing towards Asami. "I will stay and join," she continued, not an ounce of nervousness inhabiting her voice. It was odd, to be speaking so forward and direct without stuttering or blushing. Perhaps because they had no other place to go. They would continue to be hunted by Nobunaga until they were all dead, either by his hand, or their own demises. She did not wish to live life on the run any longer. She wasn't going to be producing a family any time soon, and she could spend the rest of her life, however long that may be, doing something productive. Such as helping to rid the world of a toxin. Masurao, however, did not like the idea, and made to make Tatsuki reconsider.

"I'll stay too. Might not be much help, but I will do whatever I can," because he needed to stay with Yuzuki. She would be in no condition to leave, and was in no condition to do so. If he could stay, with her, while being of some use (besides breaking dishes), then he would do it. Besides, Nobunaga needed to be stopped. If they were contributing to that cause, he would fight for it. Yujin, however, remained quiet. As much as he would love to help end that Oni's life, he was in no shape to do so. Asami could see it on his face, and she sighed. He made no movement, said nothing, but merely stared. He was miserable, and it was evident for everyone to see.

"Yuji, he will stay and help contribute to the landwork," Asami spoke for him. He would be better suited to a warrior, however; he wasn't quite ready for it yet. He would go charging blindly in the midst and most likely get himself killed. He was a damned fool if she ever knew one, however; she also knew that he was a fool in love, just as she was. He could work the land for now until he regained himself, however long that took, because this war with Nobunaga was not going to end any time soon.

Makoto’s lips compressed into a thin line, but there wasn’t much choice left for him. He would not abandon his friends and his family. “If they are to stay,” he said quietly, shooting a glance in the direction of Tatsuki and Masurao, “Then I will stay as well.” He looked up, his hands folded in his sleeves, and met the oni leader’s eyes. One of them was an exact match for his own shade of violet. It was not terribly difficult to guess that he was looking at his father, and indeed, something about the way the man returned the look confirmed that he knew it as well. Whether they would ever openly discuss it was another matter, but for now, it was enough that they had at least that much mutual understanding.

“Very well,” Isamu said quietly. “You have three days to rest, and then I’m putting you all to work.” With a shallow bow, he took his leave from the rest, exiting the way he had come, with his men trailing behind him.




Putting them to work, as it turned out, generally meant throwing them into preparations for war. While Yujin had been spared that much and put on organizing field labor instead, the rest of them were sharpening weapons, training with the Dragon’s existing soldiers, or in Mako’s case, the man himself, and Yuzuki was put to work in the healing tents as soon as her ki had sufficiently recovered for her to be of use. Mostly right now she mended wounds that people acquired during practice bouts, though at the moment she was on a break, taking her lunch with Tatsuki and Masurao, while nearby a small crowd had gathered to watch their esteemed leader spar with a hanyou man who looked suspiciously like him.

Presently, they stood across the ring from one another, both holding their preferred weapons. While Isamu did in fact have a full daisho set of swords, he preferred to swing two nagninata at once, and so these were what he currently held, staring down Makoto from across the practice ring. The latter held only two wakizashi, his height nearly half a foot below the oni and his weight perhaps only two-thirds as much, but it was unmistakable that Isamu was taking him seriously.

“I wonder if Isamu-sama will ever tell everyone officially that Mako is his son,” Yuzu wondered aloud, lifting some of her noodles to her mouth as she did. It was obvious enough to anyone who really looked at them. Isamu might have the horns and the musculature of an oni, but he was also definitely Makoto’s father. There was a certain similarity in their features, to say nothing of their coloration. Isamu seemed to have natural red markings along his body, something which was apparently natural and indicative of noble lineage rather than tattooed. That was only further evidence for Yuzu, who knew that Mako’s oni form looked quite similar.

Still, she wondered what political complication it might have. She’d gathered that, though Isamu had once loved Nanami, they were basically just old friends now, and he’d never really taken to another woman the same way, meaning that even at the age of fifty, he had no wife and no other children to inherit. Would the people here accept a hanyou as the heir of the Tennou? Would Makoto even want that kind of responsibility? He was already the last Yoshida, something which came back to bother him every once in a while. At least Isamu seemed really healthy and strong still—it was likely that unless he died in battle, it would be a very long time before it really became a problem.

"Perhaps," Tatsuki stated, taking a bite from the sandwhich she had prepared. "Or perhaps he may choose to never tell them. It is his place to do so, but from what I've gathered here, it doesn't look like they wouldn't be any resistance to that fact. Hanyou and humans are surprisingly welcome in this village," she stated, glancing towards Masurao and then the two sparring partners. Masurao nodded his head in agreement, taking a sip of the soup he was currently feasting on before turning towards Tatsuki and Yuzuki.

"You're right about that, though, Tsu-Tsu," he spoke, drawing the woman's attention in the process. A light smile formed on his lips as he stared at her. "That one Oni, the one you were training with the other day, keeps asking about you," he stated, his smile growing wider as all color drained from her face. A bright red was instantly in its place as she turned away from Masurao who turned towards Yuzuki in the process. "And I think you have a secret admirer too," he continued, though he frowned at that. Why did that thought bother him?

Yuzuki blinked in surprise when she came up in the conversation about secret admirers, another bite of noodles halfway to her mouth before she lowered her chopsticks back to her bowl. She wasn’t exactly used to being seen or talked about in such a fashion. For the majority of her life, the shrine had been the obvious barrier. Miko were not allowed to take lovers or get married, and so she’d just never thought about it. Before then, she’d just been an utter tomboy who had never even considered the possibility, but… now that she thought about it, she was free to pursue such things now, if she wanted to. It was an odd thought, and struck her strangely. If there was really someone out there who admired her, then maybe… she coughed softly and turned a little pink.

“Th-that’s silly,” she said unconvincingly. “There’s n-nobody who would think of me like that! I-I’m just… me.” Her incredulity was genuine, and she gestured at herself with a free hand. She couldn’t think of anyone who it could possibly be, anyway. Though, there were those people that stopped by the healing tent when she was on her breaks sometimes… no! Surely not! That was silly—they were just being nice.

Awkwardly, she turned her attention back to Mako’s sparring match just in time to see Isamu launch himself forward, swinging one of the naginata in an impressive arc. It was really something, watching him handle a weapon made for two hands with just one. Mako ducked easily under the blade, and it whistled over his head. Almost too fast to be seen, he lashed out with one of his own swords, and would have caught Isamu right in the chest had the oni not bent backwards just in time. It would seem he was almost as fast as his son, and he reacted on a hair-trigger. Pretty soon, they were moving so quickly that the only things Yuzu could really see were the glistening arcs of swung weapons hit by sunlight. The sounds of the clashing seemed only to reach her ears after the hit was over, and the combatants had already moved onto the next exchange. Occasionally, a crimson line of blood would fall off one or the other of the swords, and spatter onto the ground.

It was clear, however, that for the moment at least, Isamu had the advantage. Makoto was a hair faster, but any clash ended with him being overpowered by his father, and Yuzu had no doubt that most of the blood was his. “Come on, boy!” Isamu taunted, grinning such that his sharp canines were bared. “You fight like a human! Show me how to fight like an oni!”

The two broke apart, Makoto winded for the first time in Yuzuki’s memory. His eyes were bright, flecks of gold just visible in the vibrant violet of his irises. Blood ran from several rapidly-closing wounds on his body, parts of his clothing torn and shredded. She had no doubt that the wounds had been grievous not long ago, but there was little need for either to hold back when they healed so quickly.

Tatsuki rose an eyebrow at Yuzuki, watching with slight amusement to the girl's reaction. Not long ago, she might have had the same reaction, however; she wasn't as young and innocent like that to react to the news now. It was just a little odd to have someone inquiring about her. Besides, it's not like anything would become of it. She... shook the thought from her mind as she glanced towards Makoto and his father, her eyes barely able to keep up with their movements. They were fast, much faster than she had anticipated anyone could be, but perhaps it was due to the fact that they weren't exactly human to begin with. Sure, Makoto was half, but that was it.

"You don't give yourself enough credit, Zu-zu," Tatsuki stated as she regarded the priestess. "There are those around you who think of you like that. It's just... a little difficult for them to say so," she stated as Masurao turned towards her, offering her a puzzled look. Tatsuki merely smiled at him and turned her attention back to the fighting pair. Masurao, however, pursed his lips together. He knew who was Yuzuki's admirer, but he was slightly puzzled by Tatsuki's words. He searched his memory for someone like that, and came up empty.

"Who, Tsu-Tsu?" he found himself inquiring, however; Tatsuki merely shook her head and said nothing further. Masurao frowned but did not push the subject. Instead, he watched father and son pitted against each other, and the frown deepened when Isamu spoke. There was nothing wrong with fighting like an Oni, but perhaps just not becoming one. He wasn't sure if the two were so different, though, and sighed softly. He was about to say something when Tatsuki interjected, her own eyes wide with confusion.

"Do it Mako!" she had no idea where that came from, and Masurao had to hold back a laugh. Where did that come from?

Yuzuki wasn’t so sure, but the fight was proving too distracting to linger over the thoughts, and she didn’t bother to hold back her giggle when Tatsuki shouted in support of Makoto, instead grinning over at her friend and nudging her with an elbow. “You should be careful, Tsu-chan,” she advised with a glimmer of laughter in her eyes. “You do things like that, and your poor secret admirer will believe that you’re spoken for.” She smiled facetiously, glancing back to the field, where Makoto was looking in their direction with a strange look on his face half confusion and half apparent embarrassment, if the slight color to his usually pale face was anything to go by.

Isamu, on the other hand, looked highly amused. “You heard the woman, Makoto. Best not disappoint a lady, hm?” Mako’s lips compressed into a thin line, but he said nothing, turning back to the fight. Isamu was still grinning at him, and he wondered if all oni that didn’t want to kill humans and hanyou enjoyed prying into their business and teasing like that. So far, his evidence suggested that they did. Nevertheless, he wasn’t really in a position to refuse now, and for a moment, utter silence reigned over the field, as everyone waited to see what he would do.

The transformation was gradual, unlike the sudden alterations of a true berserker state. Makoto had better control of himself than that. Slowly, his frame began to increase in size, until he was forced to shrug out of his gi, letting it hang loosely at his waist. Red markings appeared on his skin, over the planes of his chest and arms, up his neck and upon his cheeks and brow, a sweep of the red-orange hue covering above and below each eyelid as well, as though some god with a brush had decorated him in the colors of blood and fire. The gold overtook his irises entirely, a glittering hue narrowed to a pair of predatory slits. The horns that erupted from his forehead were white as pearl and ivory, as wickedly sharp as those belonging to the man across from him, and indeed, when his hair lengthened to his waist, they looked almost like twins, save that Mako was still substantially less bulky.

More than anything though, it was the change in atmosphere that anyone could notice. A wind kicked up from nowhere, flattening the grass against the ground as it passed, and from the other side, the air crackled, taking on the faint taste of ozone. Wind and lightning, ki in great amounts, and it seemed almost as if a storm were coming. “That’s more like it,” Isamu rumbled in satisfaction, and this time, when they came together, forms blurred and swords clanging, it was Makoto who first drew blood, leaping away with crimson painting the blade of his left-hand blade. The clash continued, much more evenly-matched this time, though one of Mako’s blades was knocked out of his hand and went spinning to the far side of the field, landing not far from where his friends were sitting. He compensated by forming a blade of wind at that arm, and Isamu summoned lightning to crackle at the blade of each naginata.

He finally called a halt to the fight when Mako managed to sneak in a blow heavy enough to slice off Isamu’s right forearm at the elbow. “Enough,” he said, regarding the severed limb with some respect. “You have done well, and you fight like a true oni.”

Makoto’s eyes narrowed even as the violet started to creep back into them. “No,” he replied tersely, sheathing his remaining sword. “I am a hanyou, and I fight like one of those.” A strange smile cracked Isamu’s visage then, and he nodded his acknowledgement.

“Fair enough. I doubt anyone would doubt the strength of such people, having seen you take off your own father’s arm that way.” The limb in question was regenerating already, and Isamu left it at that, picking up his second Naginata as his old arm crumbled to dust. The acknowledgement was simple, not grandiose in the slightest, but everyone knew that everyone else present had heard it, making it as official as it needed to be. The rebel leader had a hanyou son—one he fully acknowledged.

With a sigh, Makoto made his way over to the others, intent on retrieving his own missing blade.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Naomi Fujita

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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Three weeks didn’t ordinarily seem like a lot of time.

But honestly, this had been just about the worst three weeks Naomi could ever remember having. After her friends all left, it had taken Nobunaga about a day and a half to discover the deception. To call him angry was like saying that people were a little bit scared of him. Which was to say, a gross understatement. He was absolutely enraged, and it only got worse when not one member of the ten-man tracking team he’d sent after them returned alive. She could only suppose that they’d all been killed. She could only hope they hadn’t gotten any of her friends first. But it was painful, not knowing.

Of course, she wasn’t allowed to forget her impending marriage, either, and it only served to make her even more miserable. All she could do was keep in her heart the hope that her friends were safe beyond Nobunaga’s reach now, and take comfort in what she still had. To many, it may not have seemed much, but she supposed that, if she worked at it, she could eventually grow to be content, if not happy. Presently, she sat crosslegged, Chitose in her lap and her chin propped on his head while both of them looked out over the garden. He had something in his hands that he was working on quite intently, and she let him do so, occasionally raising a hand to brush her fingers through his hair, but otherwise quiet for the moment. Sora was out and about in the garden itself, running from flowerbed to flowerbed with little signs he’d made in childish handwriting to label the flowers with their proper names and uses. It was honestly quite adorable, and she was proud of him, not only for being that smart at the age of four, but for having taken the initiative to do so himself because he thought it might be helpful to someone besides himself. She hadn’t met many people with that inclination.

Sighing softly, Mimi smiled sadly when her breath stirred Chi’s hair. Three weeks was also ample time to begin to doubt her choice to stay. She knew she’d been offered a chance at happiness when Yujin asked her to leave with him—not a guarantee, but a chance. That alone was more than she’d ever had. She’d been stopped, she knew now, not only by her revenge or her desire to look after the boys, but also by a crippling sense of self-doubt. She was worried, among other things, that she didn’t deserve that chance, that even if she took it, she might still not be happy. What, after all, did she and Yujin really know about each other? He knew her deepest secret now, but he hadn’t, when he offered. And she… well, she knew what kind of person he was, and tidbits she’d picked up about his life, but… what kind of courtship was it really, stolen moments when she managed to loosen her leash enough to reach out for him?

That was what she’d been doing, she knew now. She’d been reaching out for him, unconsciously but consistently. Naomi liked to think that maybe, without choosing to, he’d been reaching for her as well, and that was why they’d so often found one another’s company. But what did that make? He said he loved her, but she wasn’t so sure she really believed in that kind of love. Surely, he thought he did; she did not believe that he was lying to her on purpose, but… what if he was just mistaken? Naomi couldn’t risk herself on a gamble like that. She couldn’t bear the thought of him growing tired of her.

Yet… did that itself not mean something? Wouldn’t he have to matter to her in some deep sense for her to have that fear that she could not stand? She closed her eyes and wound her arms loosely around Chitose. In three weeks of near-constant dwelling on those moments, she’d come to understand that her heart knew the truth as well as her body did, and it was only her mind that refused to acknowledge it. It should have been impossible, she’d always believed it to be, and their circumstances were so unfavorable. It should have been impossible for him to love her, and even moreso for her to feel anything in return.

It should have been… so why did her heart ache? Why was it so difficult to even wear a false smile anymore? Why did she feel as though something precious had been taken from her? She knew the answer, but she couldn’t confess it, even to herself. Because it would surely mean that she lost her resolve, lost her strength.

Chitose fumbled with the project in his hand, making twists and knots here and there where they needed to be, and furrowed his brows when he could not produce the desired object. He sighed dejectedly and threw the flower crown away from him, crossing his arms against his small chest and pursed his lips together. He closed his eyes, contemplating what he was going to do next before turning to glance up at Naomi. Immediately, the frown was removed from his face and he grinned at her, tilting his head in slight confusion when he noticed the expression on her face. The frown returned to his face as he poked her cheek softly.

"Mama Mimi doesn't smile as often as she used to," he simply spoke. It was something he had picked up on the last week. He wasn't an observant child, he lived in the moment. Things came and went for him, and he had adored them in such ardent wonder that he barely noticed the smile was taken from his mother's face. Though it was gone much longer than that, he had simply not noticed. "Why is that?" he questioned, staring up at her with curious red eyes. He blinked, and before he could hear her reply, the sound of something loud caught his ears. He turned his head in the direction it came from, and lept from his mother's lap, heading towards the source of the sound.

He approached the side of a wall, one that he knew belonged to one of his father's many meeting rooms, and pressed his ear up against it. It appeared that his father was yelling at someone, but he could barely make out the muffled noises. For as loud as Nobunaga was shouting, the walls were surprisingly thick enough to block most of it out. Still, he made out parts of the conversation. "You will go after them. I do not care whose territory they are in. You will take whatever able bodied men you can find, and you will march into their camp, and you will slaughter them all," Nobunaga bellowed. His face, usually pale and void of much color, was a furious red.

They had finally managed to locate Yujin and the others, however; no Oni wanted to step into the lands of Sendai, a place they all knew who protected its borders. Nobunaga, however, did not care. He wanted those people dead. "Take the entire army if that is what it takes. The Serpent wouldn't be able to interfere," he spoke through his teeth. It should not have been this hard to find a few people, much less a former Yakuza member and a couple of Hanyou and humans. It should have been an easy job, dispatch them, and return. Instead, Nobunaga received news he did not want to hear, and had snapped. The unfortunate soul, Kouta, had been killed during Nobunaga's rampage. A shame really, the Oni had a promising future as a possible General in his army.

Chitose pulled away from the wall and glanced towards Naomi. "Who's dad trying to go after now?" he questioned in a hushed voice. Small as he was, young as he was, he was already aware of most of the things his father did. A small part of him was dying slowly, but he was not yet aware of it. All he knew is that he was becoming more aware each passing day.

Naomi, who had risen with a furrow in her brow to follow Chitose, leaving Sora to his labors, swallowed thickly, knowing full well who he was referring to. On the one hand, she was happy, because it meant that her friends were all still alive, but on the other… she doubted anyone would be expecting Nobunaga to lose it this way. They probably expected that, like any rational man, he would wait until his army was stronger and the alliance of the neutral lords was his before making any aggressive moves. The fact that he would just march across miles of neutral territory without permission and attack Sendai would doubtless catch people by surprise, and there was a chance—a great chance—that in the confusion, the targets, her friends, would be killed.

It was exactly what she had remained here to prevent, and without once knowing it, he was making a mockery of that sacrifice. Rendering it meaningless. Gently taking Chitose’s hand, she led him back away from the wall. Even they would be punished if they were caught eavesdropping. Once they were safely away, she settled back down and tried to think of how to explain it to him. There was a certain amount of delicacy required. She had no doubt that both of her boys knew in their own way that she and their so-called father were not in love, but unfortunately, she doubted either of them would really ever be able to understand what that meant. She loved them, as much as any mother would, but she was but a stone in the stream, here, and they would never truly come to understand what people could mean to one another, when all they would ever see was people using each other like exhaustible, finite objects, to be discarded when their function was fulfilled. She didn’t want that for them, but what could she do against everything they would be taught?

“There are some people,” she began softly, “who used to live in the city. An oni, like you,” she actually had a few doubts about that, but she did not voice them—that would get her killed. But one could only be so close to Nobunaga for so long before one began to notice certain things. She wondered if that bastard Sakaki knew, too—that Nobunaga was not in truth a full-blooded oni, but a hanyou, just like she was. “two hanyou, like Sora-kun,” she needed over to where the other boy was. From the subtle tilt to his head, she could tell he was listening, even as he worked. “And two humans. They were all very good friends who loved each other, a little like Mama Mimi loves Chi-kun and Sora-kun.” Not the same, but perhaps the only way he would understand what she was trying to get at. She smiled softly, and this at least was genuine.

“One of the humans had something that Lord Nobunaga wanted, even though she didn’t know it. So Lord Nobunaga sent General Sakaki to get it, and when he tried to hurt the human to get the thing they wanted, her friends attacked him. So now Lord Nobunaga wants to kill them.” She couldn’t keep her sadness from her tone, but she shook her head and sighed. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do, but she had to do something. Her heart demanded it—but the problem was, not all of its demands were in accord, and she found herself torn in two very obvious directions.

"They attacked stupid-face?" Chitose stated, raising an amused eyebrow. He never really did like the blue-skinned Oni. There was just something about him that had caused Chitose to instantly dislike him. He wouldn't deny that the Oni was strong, even as a child, he knew that, but he didn't fear the Oni as he should have. Or not considering who he was. "Stupid-face probably deserved it," he muttered rocking back and forth on the floor he had taken a seat upon. He wondered if they had hurt Sakaki, somewhere in the midst of the fight, and a sly grin wormed its way upon his face. He turned towards Sora and called out to his little brother.

"What about you Sora-chan?" he spoke, the grin never leaving his face. "Do you think stupid-face got what he deserved?" he continued before laughing a little obnoxiously. "What about you Mama Mimi? Did you know those people? Were they your friends?" he continued bombarding her with questions. He was curious as to how she knew these things about those people, when she was hardly out of the Yakuza grounds to begin with. Ever since he could remember, she had never really left, and only did so when she took him and Sora into town.

Sora glanced up, blinking slowly at his brother. “You ask stupid questions, Chi-baka,” he replied, his voice a flat sound. It was funny, though, that if the ear was trained just so, there was almost music in it all the same. He seemed to be full of contradictions, that child. Naomi sometimes wondered if it had anything to do with the strange nature he had. He was more demon than any oni she’d ever met, and yet he looked so human. “Of course they were Mama-san’s friends. And stupid-face deserves more than he got.” He said it so plainly, but Naomi was honestly a little shocked.

He was perceptive, much more so than Chitose. She could only suppose he had noticed the change in her moods before and after she came in contact with one of them, and her sorrow after they left. Knowing that he had the truth of it already made it a little easier to confess, because if he hadn’t told Nobunaga by now, then she doubted he ever would. Chitose… Chitose didn’t care much for his father either, and she could only hope that he also would keep the secret. “Yes,” she replied softly, smiling sadly and ruffling his hair. “They were my friends. But you don’t have to worry about that right now. It’s time for your lessons, and you know that your father does not like it when you are late.”

Chitose pursed his lips together, pausing in his rocking, and glared at his brother. "I do not ask stupid questions," he retorted, sticking his tongue out in the process. It wasn't his fault he didn't catch on as quickly, and it certainly wasn't his fault that Naomi had taken Sora with her more than she took Chitose, when she ventured out into the city. "So, Mama Mimi's friends beat up stupid-face... good," he stated with a light nod, as if silently approving of their actions. At the mention of lessons, his face paled and he wrapped his arms around Naomi. He glanced up at her, pleading silently through his eyes as they started to water a little.

"No! Don't make me go! Dad's lessons are boring, and all he ever does is talk! Please don't make me go!" he pleaded. Besides, he learned more from her than he ever did with his father. The only thing Nobunaga wanted him to learn right now, was the geography of the land, so that he knew what territory would eventually become his, when he was older. And he also sat in on the meetings, which were dull to begin with. He really didn't like being in his father's company either.

Their antics were enough to soften her smile into something gentler than melancholy, and she knelt to wrap Chitose up in a tight hug. “I know,” she said, leaning the side of her head against his. “But you know how he is. How about I make Chikkun berry tea and dango for when he’s done, okay?” She was shamelessly bribing him with his favorites, but… she also wanted to be able to do that for him. One last time.

As predicted, it worked, and Sora went off to his own lessons with much less protest, though as he passed her, he stopped, looking her in the eyes with his own deep indigo ones. “This one will miss Mama-san,” he said quietly, but before she could respond, he’d already left.

“Mama-san will miss you too,” she whispered.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael


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Tatsuki lay underneath a cherry blossom tree, glaring up at the leaves in the process. She didn't know what to do, and this was quite honestly the first time she has ever had to deal with anything like this before. No one had ever expressed an interest (let alone an Oni) in her before, and she didn't know how to take it. Hayate was an interesting Oni, and if she didn't know any better, she would have thought him to be a Hanyou than anything. He didn't appear as other Oni, with the colored skin or the protruding horns, though his horns were there. He looked more like Masurao and Makoto: human-like. She had nothing against him, and he was charming in his own way, but Tatsuki could not bring herself to accept his insistence on him courting her.

She wondered if this was how Makoto felt when Sakuya confessed to him, and he was seeking help on how to deny her. Maybe, perhaps she could give Hayate a chance, see if she could change her heart and give it to someone else. She wouldn't be able to tell Makoto how she felt about him, because she didn't know how to. But... if she gave Hayate a chance, would she be able to forget the things she felt for the Hanyou? She groaned in frustration, closing her eyes momentarily to enjoy the passing breeze. She couldn't think of things like that, not right now. They were all preparing for war against Nobunaga, and there was a chance that she might be killed. Why would she allow anyone, herself included, to get attached to something if it were only going to die soon?

"This isn't fair," she muttered in a low voice to herself, pushing herself up so that she was in a sitting position. She glanced towards the bag to her left, and frowned. She had made lunch for herself and the others, but Masurao and Yujin had not shown up yet. She wondered if they were caught up in training, or in Yujin's case, field work. He had seemed to regain a glimmer of his former self, talking now, but the jokes were still not present. At least he was recovering, or so Tatsuki thought. She pulled her knees closer to her chest, and laid her head in between her knees, allowing her hair to brush over them. She pulled at the ends, noticing the length and sighed. Maybe she should cut the strands shorter again. They were growing.

“I hesitate to agree,” said a voice from up in the very same tree Tatsuki had been glaring at. “But only because I’m not sure exactly what you refer to.” Makoto jumped from the tree, landing softly several feet from her. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye and sighed gently. “Then again, I’m sure you’re right anyway.” He had his own reasons for thinking the same thing, but he doubted they were thinking of identical predicaments, as his was quite personal, and though he could not say for sure that hers was also, he suspected as much.

Mako looked thoughtful for a moment, then shook his head a bit and settled into a crosslegged position beside her, propping his elbows on his knees and hunching his back a little. He’d taken refuge in the tree to avoid other people in all honesty, but Tatsuki wasn’t other people. Not in the same sense, anyway. So he was actually a little relieved that she was here, strange as it was. “If… if it would help to speak of it, I will listen. You have done me the same favor, after all.” He wasn’t quite smiling, but his usual hard, impassive expression had softened a little, and he cocked his head to the side, resting one side of his jaw in his curved hand.

Of all the people who had to be around, it was him. She turned to regard him for a minute, and sighed softly, shaking her head in between her knees. "It's... complicated, I suppose," she replied, sighing into her legs before straightening out her posture. "But I suppose for you, it would feel like Deja Vu," she added, rolling her eyes at herself in the process. In reality, it probably would feel like that for him, only, the roles were reversed. Hayate was her Sakuya, and he was in her position. She shook her head at herself, leaning back on her hands as she laid them flat on the ground. She glanced up towards the cherry tree once more, and passed the leaves to stare at the sky.

"Hayate, the Oni I've been training with, has been trying to court me. I do not know how to respond to it," she spoke finally, keeping her eyes glued to the sky. "It is confusing, and I am not sure I am ready for that," she confessed solemnly. It was, having someone trying to court her was an experience she wasn't sure she would ever be ready for. She knew that most people always courted those they intended to take as a potential partner in life, a wife or husband to be exact, but she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to be part of Hayate's life in that sense.

"How do you let someone know that you do not love them in that way?" she questioned. Though, it wasn't directed specifically at Makoto, and she did not doubt he would answer. It was just a thought, one she was having difficulty with.

Well, she was rather right about the déjà vu, though it was assuredly role reversal. Except… he doubted very deeply that she had felt so uncomfortable with the notion of someone courting him as he did with the same happening to her. Makoto was, generally speaking, slow to feel things and not always the most accepting of his own inclinations, but… he was not a fool. Perhaps he could read the feelings of other people better than his own, but he knew why he was uncomfortable with the idea—because he had some feelings of his own. It was, perhaps, nothing so profound as love, but… that was not to say it would never be. He was torn between letting them be and attempting to stamp them out, but perhaps this discussion would help him decide which.

“Be honest,” he advised, resolving not to let those little inklings of emotion stop him from giving her the best advice he could. “If it is true that you do not have the right feelings for him, then… I believe you should not try to force yourself to have them.” One thing he had always believed strongly was that marriages were not mere contracts. They were bonds, and should be forged only between people who loved one another deeply. It was, he supposed, why his mother had never married his father. Their love was never strong enough to overcome all the challenges they would have faced, and they had both known it. So they had chosen to part rather than remain beside each other, and his mother had found that truer kind of love in a human man.

“But it is also true that love is not instantaneous.” It almost pained him to say that, because it might sound like some kind of encouragement. But he was following his own advice and being honest… at least to a point. “Sometimes, people enter into courtship to discover precisely whether or not they will love one another.” And sometimes, they knew well beforehand, he supposed. Makoto closed his eyes and sighed through his nose. He pursed his lips for a moment, cracking his eyelids and looking anywhere but at her. “If you want my personal opinion, however… it sounds as though you should decline, at least at present.” He couldn’t let himself not say it, however selfish it might be. He had at least that much honesty in him.

Tatsuki sighed a little harshly than she had anticipated, through her nose. She knew all too well that love was not instantaneous. She had not realized she had loved him until he had left. Perhaps she didn't fully know what love was, but she knew what she felt was something she would never have with another person. Not that she didn't want to try, but what was the point in trying if you already knew the outcome? She forced herself to glance at him, and pursed her lips together. He made it sound so easy, and for a moment, she wondered if this was how she sounded when she gave him the advice. But, then again, he wasn't trying to force her as she was him with Sakuya. He was being honest with her, and perhaps she should have been the same in the beginning.

"I know I do not have the right feelings for him. Those feelings... I've had those feelings for another for a long time now," she confessed, sinking her head deeply between her knees, as if she were trying to bury the shame of admitting it. She silently hoped that he would not know whom she referred to. Let him think Masurao or even Yujin, however; she knew that it would be neither of them he thought of. It was obvious to almost everyone that Yujin had loved Naomi, and how it was killing him slowly to be so far away from her. Masurao, he cared deeply for Yuzuki in such a way that it was obvious he loved her. Oblivious, perhaps, but still all the same. She shook her head and inhaled softly.

"I know that love is not instantaneous, and that it grows over time. And it was that time that gave me the reflection I needed to understand those feelings. Now that I know what they are, I wish... I did not have to," she continued. It wasn't a bad thing, to love him as she did, but she knew that she did not deserve to love him as she did. She didn't deserve to because she didn't feel worthy enough. She wasn't even sure she'd be worthy of anyone really. It was flattering, perhaps, that Hayate had thought so, but she would not do that to him or herself. "But what would I know of such things," she stated, scoffing lightly to herself and turning away from him.

Makoto was not in the habit of touching people. Excluding spars and Yuzuki, who was very tactile, he could probably count the number of times he’d voluntarily touched anyone else on his hands, and the times he had initiated such contact would leave fingers to spare. He did now, though, placing a hand on her shoulder and using it to turn her carefully back around, so that she was facing him. His grip was not overly tight, but it was clear that he possessed more strength than he appeared to. His fingers were sinewy and roughened, like iron bands, but carefully handled. He didn’t know who she was talking about, exactly, but he did know it was neither of her brothers. He had seen them together many times, and knew from observing that this was really what the three of them were: siblings, as he and Yuzu were siblings. Perhaps someone who did not understand would mistake them for something else, but not Mako, who understood that kind of bond perfectly.

He felt a disquieting tug at his chest to know that there was already someone she cared for, but he told himself that it would be simple enough to let his feelings die. He wasn’t sure he believed that, but whatever the case, her happiness was essential, and he wanted to do what he could to ensure it. Even if it was only something small, like this. For a long moment, he scrutinized her face, his other hand coming up to her free shoulder, so that she was held at precisely arms’ length from him. “Why?” he asked quietly. “Why would you desire not to love?” Even he did not desire that. He acknowledged that there was a chance he never would, or that when he did, it would be for the wrong person, or end poorly, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want to ever feel it. He had seen the good it could do for a person—the good it had done for his mother. It had done good for Yujin, too, though his was hardly the happiest of endings. Makoto believed that he was a better person for it even so, and he thought that perhaps the oni would agree with him if asked.

Unsure of the answer, he took a guess. “Is it that you do not wish to be wed, or have a family other than what you have now?” He understood well enough what was expected of women in this world, and he knew also that some women did not want it. But… surely that was not a reason to abandon the idea of being loved wholesale. Not everyone would expect those things of her. Not everyone cared what was normal for females to do. He certainly didn’t. But he had to remind himself that this had nothing to do with him.

Tatsuki was taken back by the sudden shift in her position, facing Makoto now when she was facing away from him. She blinked owlishly before a frown settled in. The reason she did not wish to love was neither of those things he spoke of. She wanted a family, perhaps because it was a family that she had never had. Masurao and Yujin were her brothers, in a sense, and slowly, Makoto, Yuzuki, and Naomi had become part of that strange bond she considered family, but she had never known a mother nor a father. She had never known the bonding of a child to its parent, and she had never known what it was like to have that. She had the love of her surrogate brothers, but it wasn't quite the same. She, however, smiled softly in response.

"No, Mako. I do want a family, but that is not the reason. The reason I do not wish to love is because I do not know if I could properly love someone the way they deserve to be," she stated, leaning forward slightly so that her hand laid gently on his face. "Because that person is a wonderful person and deserves to be loved with everything I could not possibly offer," she continued, letting her hand fall back to her side. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to think of the next set of words she wanted to say. She could feel her heart thundering against her chest, and yet, there was a rhythm to the beat. A steady rhythm she could not quite explain. She sighed softly, and opened her eyes, this time, smiling a little brighter at Makoto.

"It is what you deserve," she stated, the pink that once threatened to taint her face, no longer visible. That was what she had truly felt. She had seen what the humans used to do to him in Edo, what he had endured, and what little Yuzuki had spoken of him. She had wanted, for so long, to help, but she never knew how. Even now, a part of her still wanted to reach out to him, but she refrained from doing so. She kept his gaze steady, and refused to believe that she could give him the love he deserved... even if there was someone who could provide those things. Like Sakuya.

Mako’s breathing, which had been perfectly steady, hitched. “…me?” There was something before that, but it was too quiet to hear even at such a proximity as the one they currently maintained. His eyes shifted into sharp focus, and he scrutinized her face, as if trying to understand a language only half-recalled. Mako had never recalled anyone especially telling him that he deserved anything good, mostly because his family took it for granted and everyone else seemed to believe the opposite. He was just some half-blood Slayer, a hideous thing with no place in the world. These were the truths etched deep on his heart, for does not one accept as truth that which has been repeated loudest from the moment of their birth? He had never seen himself as deserving of anything in particular, certainly not what he had received.

Now… now he supposed he was suddenly confronted with the opposite situation. His father—still a strange thought, in truth—wanted to make him his heir in truth, and seemed to think nothing differently of him being hanyou than he would have a full-blooded oni. He had proven his power, and here, to these people, that seemed to be enough. It was hard to reconcile, this treatment now with what he was accustomed to, and it had left him feeling lost. He didn’t know what the truth of it was, anymore, and in all honesty, he was finding it increasingly difficult to care. It would be so easy, to narrow his world only to those few people he had accepted, and simply be done with the rest. It was not a problem that could be solved right now, but he wondered, even so.

Furrowing his brows, Makoto softened his expression and shook his head. “Such feelings… love is not…” Somehow, all the confidence he’d acquired over the last three and a half years fled him. He was back to the stuttering mess he’d used to be, and his cheekbones were dusted red. “It’s not about what is deserved,” he managed to murmur.

He hesitated for a moment. Those seeds of feeling that he felt were not enough for elaborate promises. But… they were enough for something else. Slowly, almost as though he were afraid of scaring her, Mako leaned forward, sliding one of his hands around to the back of her neck, the other down the outside of her arm to her elbow. He paused a hairsbreadth from her lips. “Is it… may I…?” he trailed off, softly sighing his frustration at his inability to articulate. There were too many things swimming around in his head.

Tatsuki blinked in sudden confusion when Makoto stuttered, trying to find the words he wanted to speak, and allowed the faint hint of pink to dust her cheeks when red covered his face. She only realized then, what she had spoken, and allowed her eyes to widen slightly. She hadn't meant to confess, and she could feel it becoming a little difficult to breathe properly. It only increased when his hand was placed at her neck, and the other on her elbow. "Mako... I," she began, speaking slowly before their lips were just a hairsbreadth apart. She could immediately feel the burning of her cheeks as they turned a color to match his, and she was at a loss for words. He wanted to... with her... but why? It didn't make sense to her, or perhaps it was a part of her that did not wish to accept the truth before her. He could have someone from a more prominent family, someone who could compliment him well enough, and yet, here he was, asking for permission to kiss her.

She raised her free hand to gingerly touch his cheek with her fingertips, and tilted her head so that both of their foreheads were touching. The smile never left her face, however; she did shake her head, but not in denial. "Only if I may," she countered, lifting her head slowly. They were close, and before she could hear his response, she pressed her lips against his in a slow manner, lingering for a full minute before pulling away. Her face was as red as Yujin's hair, and she could not look him in the eye. Not out of shame, but embarrassment. She really didn't like that aspect of herself.

The kiss was tentative, mostly chaste, and tinged with uncertainty perhaps on both of their parts, but that didn’t change the electricity in it. Maybe he only imagined it, but… while he wouldn’t go so far as to say it felt natural, it did seem somehow right, like this was the logical progression of themselves. Mako sucked in an unsteady breath, swallowing thickly. Her embarrassment made him a little embarrassed himself, and he wasn’t exactly sure what to do. He didn’t think that kiss was something he could repeat just now, but he didn’t want to just leave either, because that would express something he didn’t really feel. Unfortunately, he also had no idea what to say, so he ended up taking the only option he could see being left.

Carefully, he moved himself so that he was sitting behind her, wrapping his arms loosely around her waist and propping his chin on her crown. He let his eyes fall closed, and wondered for a moment if she could feel his heartbeat against her back. It was still a little elevated, but mercifully, it seemed to be slowing down. He could smell something vaguely floral wafting from her hair, something fresh and cleanly-scented. It was quite pleasant, like lavender or vanilla, maybe. He’d never been all that great at identifying things by scent, so he didn’t know for sure what it was.

With her facing away, it was a little easier to speak freely. “I… can’t make any elaborate promises,” he confessed softly. “I haven’t figured everything out yet, and in truth… right now there is a lot about my future that is uncertain.” War was coming, and it might well kill him, kill any of them. He might have to assume some kind of command, he may or may not accept what his father was offering. There were too many variables right now to know where he would be in a month from now, let alone a year or two. But… “but if you don’t mind, I would like to… to court you.” It was difficult to force the actual word out, and he felt his face getting hot again.

“And whatever comes of it… whatever happens, I… I won’t let you die. This war will not mean your life.” That much, he did want to promise.

She was thankful that he could not see her face when he was sitting behind her, wrapping his arms loosely and setting his chin on her head. She could hear her heartbeat in her ears, and she could feel the warmth flooding her face like the sun scorching her during the summer afternoons. She knew he couldn't make any elaborate promises, just as she couldn't fully make them. The war was dividing everything in half, but who knows what would become of them during it. She could die, he could die, they all could die, but at least... for this small moment, she could allow sliver of hope at happiness to press through. She laid her hands on top of his, and let a slow, content, sigh escape her.

"I don't mind," she murmured softly, lacing her fingers with his. "Just... promise me something," she stated, her voice still low and uncertain. "Promise me that... whatever you decide to do with yourself, you will do so because you want to do it, not because someone else is expecting you to," she stated, glancing up as if to try and see him, though she could not. That was something she wanted him to promise her. It wasn't much, but perhaps it was asking too much of him. She didn't want him to make a hasty decision based on what he thought was right because they thought it was. She wanted him to do for himself, decide for himself, if only just that.

"It's your life too, Mako, you should get a say in what happens to it."

Mako’s mouth twitched, the beginnings of a smile at the corners. “That’s true,” he agreed mildly. “I do get a say. As do you.” His friends would always matter to him where such decisions were concerned, but if he were to take this courtship seriously—and he would never do otherwise—that meant her opinion mattered even more than that. He supposed he might as well prove it.

“So I promise I will.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


Image

Image



“Phew!” Yuzuki half-sighed, half-spoke, flopping gracelessly down on the warm grass in the field. She was by herself at present, her work in the healing tents done for the day and content to take a nap for a little while before dinner. Hardly anyone seemed to come out this way at this time of day, which was good. Yuzu loved people, but she was around a lot of them most of the time these days, and rarely ever got the moments of solitude that had centered her back when her job had been maintaining the shrines. She’d almost asked the forbidding oni in charge of the healers for a few extra chores, but she had a feeling she’d only be rebuffed if she did.

It was kind of… weird, actually. The people here treated her oddly. On the one hand, they seemed almost wary of her, perhaps because of her ki, which could be used to harm them just as readily as she used it to help them. On the other hand… there was almost a deliberate kind of reverence to the way they treated her, as though she were something very precious, but especially delicate. She wasn’t exactly sure why that was, and had asked Mako about it. His best guess was that she could do things that oni were not commonly able to do, like drive away poison or heal very old scars and things. Something she could not, unfortunately, do for herself. He also told her her aura had something to do with it, which she didn’t really get. She’d been told before that she was calming to be around, and Mako had confessed that she suppressed the latent aggression in him personally, so she could only guess that such a thing might be the reasoning here.

Whatever the case, it was still kind of weird. She wasn’t some kind of… spirit or goddess or something. She was just Yuzu, a flesh-and-blood person like anyone else. A human, if she wanted to be technical about it. But nope, it seemed she’d acquired a small entourage of people who always were around her now, and while at first she found it flattering, she didn’t really understand it now. She’d thought they wanted to be friends, but… they didn’t really act like it. More like they wanted her to tell them to do things, like servants or footmen or something. It was kind of a relief to get away from them for a while, she would admit. She’d had to be really insistent that she didn’t need any help anymore today, and she kind of felt bad—they’d looked disappointed. Maybe they were bodyguards? But who would order them to protect her?

She sighed. “I’m just Yuzu.” Her tone was somewhere between grumbly and wistful. Of course, like anyone else, she’d dreamed of being important and special, but she was just too realistic to let it trouble her more than in her silly dreams. She was perfectly ordinary, really, minus the whole weird ki thing. But that would be very strange for anyone to care about so much. So she wasn’t sure what was going on, only that it was bizarre and it was making her sleepy.

Masurao had taken the rest of his free time, and used it to wander around the surrounding area. Training had been a little more difficult than he remembered it to be. Perhps because he had given this life up, a while ago. Living in Edo, it was more fight to survive, but now, it was fight to live. The same thing, perhaps to most, but it was entirely different for Masurao. Fighting to survive meant fighting and choosing not to kill his opponent, but fighting to live meant that he had to be prepared to do just about anything. He wasn't so sure he'd be willing to. He had never wanted to kill anyone unless they were harming his family, or if it was in self defense. It wasn't an attractive idea, and not one he would readily entertain.

But now, this was different. He had to in order to ensure the survival of not only himself, but those he loved. He had to ensure that they would live and possibly die of natural causes, not on the battle field. He sighed softly, glancing down in the process. He was wandering through the fields, and had not been paying attention until it was a little too late. His eyes wide, he took a dive over Yuzuki, and fell flat on his face. He groaned, lifting his head to spit out a few blades of grass. He glanced over his shoulder to see if Yuzuki was alright, and laughed sheepishly at her.

"Ah, sorry Yuzu! I didn't see you there," he spoke, lifting himself up and sitting in a cross-legged position. "What are you doing out here?" he inquired, blinking owlishly at her.

The contact of someone’s foot with her side was not the way she’d expected to wake, and she was honestly glad she was still half asleep when she saw Mao go flying by over her person, else she might have shrieked, mostly due to the shock. Also a little fear though—he was a very large person and she was very… not. It would have hurt if he landed on her, not that she would have blamed him for it. Instead, the thud he made landing on her other side snapped her fully awake, and she scrambled to her knees, ignoring the twinge in her abdomen and sitting back on her legs next to him, lifting her hands to his head to feel for any injuries or bumps. Completely automatic by this point.

“Are you okay?” she asked, maybe at slightly louder volume than was really called for, but in her defense, her grogginess meant that alarm was settling in later than usual, and it took her another few seconds—and a better inspection of his person—to determine that he didn’t seem to have any significant injuries. She sighed and sank back into the grass, relieved. She’d tell him to be more careful, but there was really no point. Accidents were just part of Mao being Mao. He was lucky he was so durable. She’d have broken every bone she had more than once if she were as accident-prone as him.

“Uhm, well, I was taking a nap,” she said, a faint note of teasing chastisement infused into the past tense. She didn’t keep it up, however, instead brightly smiling at him and shaking her head. She missed the soft jingle that used to make, but she wasn’t supposed to let herself think about those things right now. She’d actually run into her teacher here of all places, and he hadn’t been upset with her when she told him how she lost the object he gave her. So she shouldn’t keep beating herself up over it. “Mostly though, I just needed to get away for a while, you know?” She pursed her lips into something resembling a pout, but not quite all the way there.

“It’s really weird, to have people following you around and calling you hime-sama all the time. I’m not even a real princess!” She didn’t get it, but she couldn’t exactly just tell them to get lost. They seemed upset when she expressed a desire for a little more space, so… she figured she could compromise by letting them call her as they wanted.

Masurao blinked, a small smile covering his face. "Well, I certainly wouldn't want to be called Hime-sama," he spoke, the smile blooming brighter, however; it faltered slightly as he shook his head. "It's not because they think you are a real princess. I think they just call you that out of respect for who you are and what you can actually do," he replied in a nonchalant manner. He couldn't think of any other reason than that as the reason. Though, somewhere, deep down, it did bother him a bit to know that there were a lot of others after her. Why? He didn't know, but what he did know was that he didn't really like it much. He sighed softly through his nose, and lowered his head a bit.

"Ah, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you then!" he finally stated, panic filling his eyes in the process. He waved his hands wildly in front of him, losing his balance and falling back over on his back. He blinked up at the sky and sighed in defeat. "It seems I just cannot win against falling for you all the time," he spoke, oblivious to how that may have sounded to other people were they around to hear it. He gave a lopsided smile, though, and turned his head to regard her. "But I suppose you're worth falling for," he spoke, crinkling his face in her direction.

"By the way," he stated suddenly, frowning slightly as he regarded her. "How are you feeling?" he questioned. It may have been a while ago that she was hurt, but even with all her healing capabilities, she was still only human, and he worried that she was still in pain somehow.

“Uhh…” Yuzu had gradually turned a faint shade of pink as he spoke, catching on that he didn’t mean what he sounded like he meant but unable to avoid hearing it that way at first. Clearing her throat, she shook her head as the pigmentation receded. Why was it that a joke could embarrass her like that? Or really, it wasn’t embarrassment exactly, was it? Usually, that caused a sinking feeling, not this weird fluttering thing in her stomach. Maybe she was still disoriented from being sleepy.

She realized somewhat belatedly that he’d asked her a question, one that actually called for an answer. “Oh, um. I’m fine. I mean, the scar’s still there, but it only hurts a little when I pull it now. It’ll be fine in another week or so, I’m sure.” She smiled as if to reassure him that she was speaking truly. “A-anyway,” she said, unsure why she stuttered, but choosing to ignore it for the moment. “Now you know why I’m here, so… why are you?” She cocked her head to the side. She figured he was probably done with work for the day, but that didn’t mean she’d have expected him to be just wandering around. He was usually with his siblings for dinner at this time.

"Oh you know, the usual. Falling for you, training, things like that," he added, laughing a little childishly at himself before shaking his head. He continued to lay in the grass, allowing the passing breeze to cool him down. He enjoyed days like these, when they were peaceful and enjoyable. There were hardly days like this anymore, and he had grown to miss them. He pushed the thoughts from his mind and thought about how he was going to answer her question. He pursed his lips together and contemplated a moment longer.

"Well, really, I'm finished with my training for today, and I had a bit of free time. I was just wandering around, really," he finally stated, grinning at her in the process. "Come here, Yuzu, and watch the clouds roll by with me! I haven't been able to just stare up at them in a long while now. It's always more fun when someone is there beside you enjoying them with you as well!" he suddenly stated, patting the spot next to him for her to join.

He really needed to stop using that phrase. It could give people the wrong idea if he started telling anyone but her, honestly. She was thankful that she understood him a little better than that, and sighed softly, shaking her head. Rolling back down into a laying position on the grass, she tugged at one of his arms until she could rest her head on it like a pillow—his biceps were certainly big enough, something she found a little funny. Folding her hands together and lacing her fingers over her diaphragm, she fixed her eyes on the sky, occasionally raising a hand to point at one of them and mention what it resembled to her.

After about half an hour of this, however, she sighed a little more morosely and turned her head to observe his profile. “I’m worried, Mao-Mao,” she said quietly, pursing her lips together. She was worried about a lot of things, honestly, and she tried not to let them all catch up to her at once, but it was in her nature to be like that, and it was hard to fight off. “About Mimi, and Yuyu, and Mako. About my mom, and Aunt Nanami, and whether Nobunaga’s army will make it this far… and what will happen when they do.” She knew firsthand the kind of pain and destruction a mere dozen of them could visit upon a place, and she was afraid that something of that nature happening again.

“I feel… small. Insignificant, I mean. Like… if I can’t even protect my shrine… how can I possibly protect the people I love? All the innocent farmers here, even? If I go out there and try, isn’t it more likely that I’ll just… die? Or be a burden?” But she couldn’t bear not to try, to allow other people to do all of the fighting and dying before her. “If I… if I lose one of you and I’m not there to help, I don’t know what I would do.” She couldn’t bear to lose anyone else like she’d lost her dad, but she lacked the strength to prevent it. It was a conundrum, and she couldn’t seem to think her way out of it.

Masurao smiled brightly, and allowed his arm to go limp when she tugged at it, using it as her personal pillow, and laid his other hand over his stomach. He smiled every now and then, watching with light amusement when she pointed out clouds and what they resembled to her. He actually missed this, being able to just look at the clouds with someone and just allow a sense of serenity to pass over his being. The calm feeling, however, disappeared the moment Yuzuki spoke, and Masurao turned his head to stare at her. A frown covered his lips as he pursed them together, furrowing his brows in the process. He inhaled slowly, and released it just as tenderly as he could.

"Yuzu, we are all afraid," he spoke, turning so that his free arm rolled around and brought her closer to him, wrapping his arms so that he encircled her smaller form. "We are all afraid of what the possible outcomes are, because we, in a sense, are all very weak against Nobunaga and his army. If I wasn't able to protect you, what makes me more worthy? How can I be expected to protect those I love? I failed at protecting you, not once, but twice," he continued, his hold tightening on her but not enough to hurt her. He would never hurt her. She mattered too much to him for him to do that.

"But... wouldn't it just be the same to not try? At least, if we die... at least we would have died knowing we were doing what we could to try and protect those we love," he continued. He wasn't sure if he was the best person to try and comfort people. He had never been the one comforting in such a way. Usually, he would be making a fool of himself, if only to get someone to smile, but her words... they pierced him so deeply that all he wanted to do was comfort her in a foreign way that felt odd to him. He sighed, pulling her closer to him as he possibly could, as if letting her go would be the most horrible thing he could ever do.

"And I wouldn't let anything happen to you again, Yuzu. This I promise. No matter what, even if I have to lose myself, I won't let anything happen to you ever again. I do not think I could bear to fail you a third time," he confessed softly. If he failed a third time, what right would he have then to say that he would protect her? To call her his friend and part of the people he loved. "You are part of my family, Yuzu, and I love you too much to lose you," though perhaps he didn't know exactly what he meant when he spoke that word. All he knew was that he did love her in a way that he loved his surrogate siblings. But even that description felt a little wrong.

Yuzuki hummed a soft note in the back of her throat, pressing her forehead into his chest. It wasn’t like there was anywhere else for her to go at the moment—she was firmly held in place by his arms, but she didn’t mind at all. She felt… safer, this way, like in this little bubble of warmth, everything was okay. He was right, in some ways; none of them were much against a whole army, and they couldn’t expect themselves to be. But the thought was really the opposite of soothing. It was so easy to wish that she just had more strength, but she was only human, and gifted or not, she had her limitations. Maybe that was why she was really so uncomfortable with people calling her things like hime-sama. Because it felt like they thought she was more than she really was, somehow. And she really was just Yuzuki.

It didn’t seem like enough, but… maybe she was thinking about it the wrong way. She bit her lip and sighed, her breath fanning over his shirt, and nodded against him. “There’s not much I can do,” she said softly, “but… if I have you, and Mako, and Onigiri-san and Tsu, maybe… maybe together we can do what none of us can do by ourselves.” If they just stayed together, there was a chance they could all make it out of this. And maybe she wouldn’t have to watch anyone else die for her. It wasn’t enough to assuage her worry, but it made her feel a little better, anyway.

“But we need everyone,” she said a little more firmly, winding her fingers into his shirt and tipping her chin to look up at him. “That means we need Mao-Mao, too. So… you can’t lose yourself, okay? You have to stay you, because… because what we need is you, and nobody else.” She smiled, but it was tinged with concern. “Like right now… what I needed right now was only this Mao, who knows himself and knows me.” She moved her hands so that her palms lay flat on his chest, her fingertips pressed gently to his heart. “This Mao right here, and only him.” She didn’t want to lose him to his rage any more than she wanted to lose him to his death. What would the point of living be if he couldn’t live as himself?

Masurao sighed softly, but the smile returned to his face. She was right, she was always right, and somehow, it was always her comforting him. For once, he wanted to be the comforting person, but it was not his to do so. Perhaps, one day he could, but for now, he would take her words to heart. He closed his eyes, lowering his head so that his forehead laid gently against hers, breathing slowly as to not disturb her. He kept his smile, and allowed the warmth between them calm his mind.

"Alright," he finally spoke, his voice barely above a whisper. "Mao-Mao will stay as he is, but only if Yuzu allows Mao-Mao to take a nap like this," he spoke, his voice laced with mild amusement, though he was being completely serious. He was comfortable at the moment, and he had no intentions of letting her go just yet. Of course, the decision was up to her, and he would not keep her where she did not wish to be.

Yuzuki smiled, remembering the fact that Tsu had mentioned Mao had a penchant for cuddling in his sleep, like some kind of enormous stuffed toy. She certainly had nothing against it—she’d done the same thing often in her childhood, during the winter months, sharing her warmth with Mako and sometimes the triplets. “Hmm…” she said, pretending to contemplate, then scooted herself in closer. “I think I can manage that.” She had been napping before he showed up, after all.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Masurao Toukai Character Portrait: Tatsuki Kagirinai Character Portrait: Yujin Character Portrait: Makoto Yoshida Character Portrait: Yuzuki Mori

Earnings

0.00 INK

#, as written by Mihael


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Image



Sometimes, enough was just enough. Yujin didn't know when he would finally realize it, but it was apparent that Masurao was not going to realize anything on his own. To be in love with someone and not realize it was one thing, and to love someone you could never see again was another. Yujin still felt hurt, but he was learning to deal with it, to put it away little by little so that he didn't have to feel it as badly. He sighed heavily, hoisting the shovel over his shoulder as he glanced up at the sky. He had cultivated an entire field on his own, and it was barely noon. Lunch sounded like a good idea right now. Plus, having at least one other person there with him when he told Masurao, would be beneficial.

There was a good chance that Masurao would not believe him, and he didn't blame the Hanyou. After all, Yujin wasn't exactly the type to tell someone something so straightforward. He enjoyed his little riddles from time to time, but this was a very delicate situation, and Masurao, big as he was, was a very delicate person. Yujin sighed as he rubbed his eyes, groaning in frustration before shaking his head. Really, his brother was an idiot. He waved towards Tatsuki once he spotted her, telling her of the situation and managed to get her to tag along for this. She knew how Masurao was, but quite honestly, she agreed with Yujin.

Though, perhaps his method of telling Masurao was a little unorthodox, she had to be there to make sure everything went smoothly. Masurao tended to not get certain connotations, and she would be there to help him. Otherwise, Yujin might end up hurting his brother, and they did not need Masurao injured at the moment. Perhaps, once this was all over, the war with Nobunaga, then he could hurt Masurao as much as he wanted to. But for now, every able body was needed to fight. Isamu may have had a large force gathered, but Nobunaga's was greater still. If combat happened today, or tomorrow, every one who was training, everyone who could, would have to fight.

Masurao, however, blinked slowly at the appearance of his surrogate siblings, watching as they approached. Yujin held a large basket over one shoulder, keeping it in place with just a hand, and Tatsuki was carrying what seemed to be a blanket. "We will wait for the others to arrive," she spoke, a glimmer of a smile appearing in her eyes. She, of course, referred to Makoto and Yuzuki. It was best that they were around for Masurao's revelation, and it would be best if Yuzuki was there too. That way, she would know that it wasn't entirely Masurao's fault to being completely oblivious to his own actual feelings, because they were there, and they were real. He just needed a little push in the right direction, and it would give him insight to how Yuzuki would take the news.

Makoto had been a little surprised when Tatsuki and Yujin asked specifically for he and Yuzu to join them for lunch today, since they usually did anyway, but he didn’t protest, agreeing to pull his sister from the healing tents for long enough to get a proper meal in her. She wasn’t eating as much as she should be, not because she was purposefully neglecting herself but because she had so much work to do on a daily basis. The oni under Isamu didn’t believe in taking even spars lightly, perhaps following the example of the leader himself. He certainly hadn’t gone easy on Mako, and they were training together nearly daily now. It was true that his healing factor was excellent, but even it could be worn down, and the average oni perhaps would be better off if Yuzu did her work right away, instead of waiting for their own bodies to take care of their wounds.

He’d had some difficulty dislodging the followers, or parasites as he tended to think of them, but a sufficiently hard glare had done the trick. Apparently he had a reputation now. It was a bit tiresome, but he was willing to put up with it. What other choice did he have, anyway? Still, he supposed in some ways, it was nicer to see Yuzu being treated well than the occasional flak she used to get because of her association for him. As for him, well… there was no denying that having a moderate amount of respect was better than the outright hate he’d endured before, but he wasn’t sure he liked the deference and the touch of fear. He’d been called Yoshida-sama today—it was a little bit disturbing. Whomever his father and mother were, he was nobody’s lord.

The two of them approached the group, Yuzu grinning broadly when she noted the way Makoto’s mouth turned up just subtly at the corners when he spotted Tatsuki. She was privy to the change in their relationship, but only because she’d pestered him about it ceaselessly until he gave in. She’d had to threaten to tell Yujin everything she knew to get him to talk, though honestly, if it was the way he said, the oni might know anyway. She certainly would not have picked now to tell him herself, though, considering his own circumstances. So it had been an empty threat.

“Hello everyone!” she said, taking care of the greeting responsibilities for the both of them. Seeing as how Onigiri-san was in between his two siblings, she let Mako sit right next to Tatsuki and completed the circle by sitting between her brother and Mao-Mao. “How’s work today?”

Masurao waved at Makoto and Yuzuki when they arrived, still unsure as to why they were all gathered. They usually did not have enough time to even get a meal together, and really, only saw much of each other during night before bed. He did not linger much on it as Yuzuki took a seat to his side, and grinned brightly at her, causing Tatsuki to sigh softly and shake her head. Yujin, however, just stared at Masurao with a flat look, one of incredulous disbelief and had to refrain from throwing his plate at his brother. This was going to end... today, whether he liked it or not. Instead of answering right away, Tatsuki passed the plates around the group, waiting until each plate was settled with food before glancing back at the priestess.

"Work... has been progressive," she spoke slowly, as if she were unsure of the proper answer. She was being honest at least. It was still a bit awkward training with Hayate, and the Oni still seemed a bit persistent, however; she had managed to keep him from pushing too far. All she had to do was mention Makoto's name, and he had settled down. It was odd, that Makoto held so much rank over these Oni that just a mere mention of his name was enough to cause most others to be slightly obedient. But they were not here for her, they were here for Masurao. With a soft breath, she inhaled slowly and turned to Yujin.

"The lands have been fertile as of late, and if the weather continues as it is, Oni has no doubt that they will be prosperous for the coming winter season," he spoke simply, taking a drink of the tea he held in his hand. It was his own, given to him by one of the field workers who wished to thank him for helping. It was odd to Yujin, really, that humans were being accepting of him and the other Oni, even the Hanyou (and they were plenty) running around the place. It was almost a haven that was too good to be true, like a dream. He shook his head softly though, and turned to regard Yuzuki. "There is something that you need to know, Yuzuki," he spoke, his voice almost solemn.

It was as if he were trying to prepare her for bad news, however; it would be good news... or bad depending on how she took it. "This includes you too, Mao," he continued, turning to face his surrogate brother. Masurao's face contorted into confusion. What was going on? What did they need to know that they already didn't? From the way it sounded, it was as if the news they harbored was causing them to be distraught. Was Nobunaga on his way here? Did they need to prepare for war? Or worse, were Tatsuki and Yujin leaving? His eyes widened slightly at the thought and he made to move, however; Yujin lifted his hand to keep the Hanyou silent.

"It is not an easy thing to say, but I am sure you are at least somewhat aware of it," Tatsuki took the moment to intercede with her statement. "But it has become a little unnerving that neither of you have noticed it," she continued, glancing between Masurao and Yuzuki. Masurao continued to give his siblings a perplexed look, but kept silent as Tatsuki sighed. Yujin rolled his eyes and placed a hand on his knee, leaning forward slightly with a frown on his face. It wasn't quite exactly a frown, it was an attempt at a grin, but he couldn't quite fully form it. He still couldn't grin, but he was trying.

"What Tatsuki is trying to say, Mao-Mao, is that you love Yuzuki," he spoke, giving his brother a flat look as he gauged his response. Masurao blinked slowly at his siblings. This was what they wanted to tell him? To tell them? Of course he loved Yuzuki, she was part of his family, why wouldn't he love her? Yujin's lips pursed to a fine line at Masurao's response, and seemed to guess what the Hanyou was thinking, and turned towards Makoto. "He doesn't understand, Mako, you tell him before Oni does something he might regret later," he spoke, throwing the reigns in Makoto's direction.

In the momentary pause that followed, there was a distinct choking sound, followed by a splash, as the tea that Yuzuki had been in the process of drinking was flung everywhere, mostly, however, upon Yujin. Makoto casually blocked the spilled drink—a fraction of it spat but most of it just accidentally flung from the cup—from Hitting Tatsuki with the interjection of one of his bell-shaped sleeves, which he then regarded with a small frown. Taking a small towel from the basket, he tossed it neatly to land on one of Yujin’s horns, and set about dabbing at his sleeve with the other. If he had known this was what the lunch meeting was going to be about, he might have advised handling it slightly differently.

Yuzuki went from white as a sheet to red as a tomato in seconds, which was really quite impressive, in a certain sense. “Oh my gods, Onigiri-san, I’m so sorry!” She looked a bit like someone had kicked her puppy, which combined with her obvious embarrassment was rather piteous indeed. “But… but you can’t just say things like that! People will misunderstand!” She wasn’t sure why she was so frantic about it—usually when Mao made such weird turns of phrase himself, she didn’t really let it bother her. Except lately… Yuzuki sighed and set down her empty tea cup, running a hand down her face.

Why, oh why was this happening to her?

Yujin stared blankly at Yuzuki as a soft snicker escaped from Tatsuki. She covered her mouth as Yujin turned to regard her, her eyes shining with a bit of mirth behind them as he shook his head. He removed the towel from his horn and used it to wipe his face of the beverage that now covered it. Once he was finished with it, he placed it to the side and turned to see Masurao. He still didn't understand what was going on, and he pursed his lips together. Yujin sighed softly. At least Yuzuki seemed to understand what he meant, and that was a good thing. A small step in a way. His brow, however, ascended his forehead when Yuzuki spoke, the half tilt of his lips indicating he wanted to smirk, but couldn't quite bring himself to.

"Oh on the contrary, Zuki, Oni can say just about anything he wants to. And it is not Oni's fault if they misunderstand," he continued, earning a slight smack on the back of his head. He turned towards Tatsuki who gave him a flat look before pursing her lips together. He shrugged his shoulders and turned back towards Makoto. "Mako, over there, agrees with me, don't you?" he spoke. Masurao turned towards Makoto, staring at him as if he had all the answers to help him understand. What was he missing?

“About which part?” Mako said flatly, having dried his sleeve as much as it would be for now. “Because no, I don’t think you can say whatever you want with no regard for the consequences. That is how you get tea all over your face.” He raised an eyebrow, his point rather elegantly ended by the small gesture. He followed up, however, with a sigh through his nose. Makoto wasn’t exactly sure why he had to do this part, as he wasn’t even part of the plan to begin with, but now that they’d come this far, they might as well get it over with. Honestly, Yujin was an old woman, interfering in such a fashion, but he supposed it might not end entirely horribly.

“What Yujin is trying to say, Mao, is that he… and I, and presumably also Tatsuki… believe that you are infatuated with my sister. In the romantic and sexual senses of the word.” Though it was delivered quite dryly, his eye twitched a little over the word sexual. He couldn’t help it—blood or not, Yuzuki was his sister, and he like he imagined most brothers must, he didn’t really like thinking about that sort of thing in relation to her. But if he didn’t make things incredibly clear, they were never going to get anywhere.

By this point, Yuzu had mumbled something unintelligible and buried her face in her hands. She felt like she was burning at a million degrees, and the way Onigiri and Mako had just laid it out there like a matter of public discussion and speculation was not helping. Seriously, of all the crazy things they’d ever said, and the way they teased, she had not been expecting this. She couldn’t decide if she was more horrified or curious as to what Mao would say in response. She thought she knew which response she wanted him to have, but not like this. This was just too… forward, or something. And in front of their friends…

"I what?" Masurao spoke, letting the words sink in. He furrowed his brows in confusion as he continued to roll the words around in his mind. He didn't think of Yuzuki like that... did he? She was his friend, someone who was very important to him, and he loved her in a sense that he loved his surrogate siblings and the others who had become a part of his family. He didn't think of her like that. There was no way he could. He wasn't even sure if he could possibly even love someone like that, not out of some sense of being what he was, but more-so because of the fact that he had never really sought love like that before. Sure, it would be nice to have a family one day, but he wasn't so sure it would be wise, all things considered. They were in a war, and if he had a family now, there was a possibility that he wouldn't get to see his family grow if he died.

"You are in love with Yuzuki, Mao, there is nothing complicated about understanding that," Tatsuki spoke, shaking her head softly. Really, her brother was dense, but she couldn't believe he was this naive. She glanced towards Yujin, who merely allowed his head to rest in the palm of his hand as he regarded Masurao with an arched brow. "There is nothing wrong with that, Mao, but you need to accept it already that you love her and stop... this," she stated, outlining him with her hands. Yujin snorted softly, allowing his head to fall from his hands as Masurao frowned.

"I... still don't understand. Yes, I am aware that I love Yuzuki, because she is my friend, but I don't... like Mako likes you?" he began before asking the question. At that statement, Yujin actually snickered at Tatsuki's reaction. She turned a shade of red to match Yuzuki's before looking anywhere but the people in front of her. "That's not fair, I don't understand what you mean by that," he continued. How could they make him understand what he felt for Yuzuki was more than just something friends have for each other? Yujin had half the mind to just beat the sense into Masurao, however; Tatsuki laid a hand on his shoulder and shook her head.

"Well, Zuki, it's up to you to make him understand."

Mako rolled his eyes. If he thought it would be at all helpful to actually answer Mao’s question, he would have, but it didn’t seem like the kind of thing that was going to make a difference. Besides, she seemed… uncomfortable about it, and he didn’t want to make that worse on her. Yuzuki, he noted, seemed to hunch a little further in on herself with every innocent denial on Mao’s part, and that was honestly inclining him a little in the direction of smacking some sense into the other hanyou himself. But that wouldn’t help anything, either, and he sighed somewhat when it was suggested that Yuzu do the explaining.

Sure enough, her head snapped back up. “M-me?!” She pointed to herself with an air of disbelief and panic in equal measure. “B-but I’m n-n-not the one who th-thinks s-s-so!” She groaned, but really, there was no avoiding it if the torment was to end anytime soon. She could just… find some way to show them all that they were mistaken, and then go nurse her tender heart in peace. Because though nobody had really picked on her about it, she was pretty sure she did feel that way about Mao-Mao, at least a bit. Of course, she’d been raised a priestess, and so there were a lot of things she wasn’t terribly familiar with, but… well, she did know how his company made her feel, and that was enough to clue her in.

With a short sigh, she turned herself so that she was sitting seiza in front of Mao, though admittedly, she found it difficult to meet his eyes. Every time she tried, her face turned a little redder. Mao, she had learned, wasn’t really the kind of person who learned things just because he was told about them or read about them or something like that. So she knew that, even on the off-chance he did feel that way about her, they weren’t going to convince him of it with words. “U-um…” she fidgeted with her hands, still very conscious of the fact that four people were watching her with varying levels of confusion and comprehension. “Th-that is…” If it were possible, her face h