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Thread: A Stab in the Dark [Archive]

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    A Stab in the Dark [Archive]

    A Stab in the Dark

    By Tomatoes and Constanze

    This thread serves as an archive of the story as it was before it disappeared off the face of the internet.
    After the original Beast’s lair went down this story was “lost”, and since the authors have yet to repost any part of it, also inaccessible. Luckily I had made a backup.
    Section dividers signify the end/beginning of post(s) as they appeared originally, and a switch between characters and the two authors.

    Warning:
    the story is incomplete and ends rather abruptly.

    Story Index:


    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    The park was empty. Just as she liked it.

    No, it wasn't one of those parks that had a foreboding history about it that kept people away, or that it had dark, gnarled, earthy protrusions clawing at the skies for trees. It was a regular park, one with cobblestone pathways, neatly-trimmed lawns, fenced-in flower-bearing shrubbery, benches to sit on. It even had its own lake of sorts, where a flock of swans often watched her from, and where she usually ended up looking into whenever she had finished reading the book she'd brought with her.

    It was empty merely for the fact that not a lot of people knew it existed. Even the young woman herself was oblivious to the fact that her part of the city had such a well-maintained park, until a furious night-time chase led her to it. And the lake was the very first thing she saw, the way the moonlight glittered on the almost mirror-like surface catching her eye. Calming her. Soothing her.

    It almost felt like the park had been waiting for her, and when she did stumble upon it, greeted her with opened arms and a whispered "Welcome home."

    And so she made it a practice - well, a habit - to visit everyday, and spend quite a healthy chunk of her schedule in the park. With a book randomly chosen from her employer's expansive library, a thermos of tea (miso soup if she felt a bit peckish) and a cellphone in case she needed to be contacted - she would make her way to the park on the dot, at exactly nine o' clock in the morning, and sit at her usual bench. The one that offered the best view of the lake, and the one that she had first collapsed into after one of her nightly escapades had left her with a rather nasty injury.

    And here is where things start to get just a little bit ironic. Much as I was...inconvenienced then, and how I cursed at myself for letting my guard down enough for it to actually happen - I feel that it was meant to be, somehow. I was meant to find this park.

    I was meant to find her.


    A small smile briefly turning up the corners of her lips, Ryogi Shiki took off her signature red bomber jacket - revealing a stark white kimono underneath - and draped it across her lap as she sat down on the bench. Delicately opening her book to the foreword, the girl resisted the temptation to scratch the medicinal gauze eyepatch currently strapped over her right eye, and instead poured herself a cup of piping-hot green tea from her thermos.

    She took a sip, nodded to herself, and then began reading.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    It wasn't long before the young woman set foot in the familiar park.

    Stepping through the grass, slightly overdue for trimming, and moving between well-spaced trees, she cut along until she reached the path by the water front. Her white tennis shoes sounded lightly along the pavement, as she walked, unhurried.

    Before too much longer, her target was in sight.

    She paused in her step a moment, her gaze falling upon the bench, and the person sitting there. She smiled lightly as her steps resumed, crossing the distance between herself and the other young woman's seat.

    The mysterious, boot-wearing kimono girl was reading, as she had come to expect. While not really unusual as an act, it did remind her of one of the things that was hard not to notice about her, that bandage over her right eye.

    Don't stare, she reminded herself. She couldn't see it yet, approaching from the left and with the young woman's dark hair blocking the view, but she reminded herself to not let her curiosity get the best of her as usual.

    She gave her usual brighter smile of greeting, nodding as the sitting woman looked up, as she herself took her place on the other side of the bench. There was a slight crinkling noise as she set down the brown paper bag she carried at her side.

    Brushing her reddish hair back behind the shoulder it's length easily fell beneath, she relaxed into her seat, taking a good breath of the pleasing morning air. They had never spoken to one another, and there were no words as they sat here, either.

    Not yet, anyways…

    She smoothed her skirt and folded her ankles beneath her seat as she sat, gazing out towards the water, humming a little bit to herself.

    The birds were already a bit active this morning, and she drew a bit of delight from seeing the young ones moving about, splashing here and there. It was somewhat nostalgic-feeling to watch them play like that…

    Her amber eyes shifted after a while to the woman sitting next to her, again. Looking at the book, curiously, then the ever-present cup, the thermos, the folded jacket, and back up at that face… That somewhat rough face, cool in expression. What little of it she could see beyond the hair from this angle, in any case.

    Kohaku tilted her head a little, then averted her gaze, not wanting to be caught seeming overly curious. She looked back out over the lake, remaining content in the moment, and resumed her humming.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    The book was titled Mort, written by an author by the name of Terry Pratchett. One in a loosely-connected series of novels about a certain realm called Discworld; it told the story of the anthropomorphic manifestation of Death - predictably depicted as a cloaked skeleton with a scythe - and how the force of nature hired an unassuming young lad as his apprentice. And along the way, the roles of master and apprentice seemed to switch - with the young man taking up the duty of heralding souls to the next world, and the personification finding purpose in the more mundane yet obviously-more satisfying world of food service. Unfortunately, at the end, Death was once again relegated to his eternal duty, the brief touch of happiness now a mere memory inside a grinning skull.

    Ryogi shook her head slightly. Even when the sorcereress obviously had enough on her plate to worry about, Touko still managed to find time to poke fun at her. And what ground her gears - enough to have once tried to actually invite the woman's sister to dinner - was that Touko's punchlines invariably ended up as being funny to only her, and just a bit too painful for the intended target. Oh, she never really meant any harm about it, it was all in good fun, but it was always the Aozaki who had the last laugh. The only laugh, at that.

    Her delicately-cut lips curling into a small frown, Ryogi closed the book with a snap - and only then acknowledged the presence of the girl sitting beside her.

    Rude wasn't the word for it. Ryogi had been called many things in her lifetime, but she made sure that she would never be known for having a blatant disregard for etiquette. It was simply her way - if she deemed someone worthy of her attention, she would give it. A peculiar way of handling things, and almost always the cause of many a brawl in which she had the dubious pleasure of partaking in - but it was her own, and one would be hard-pressed to change it. If Ryogi Shiki gave a damn about you, she would show it - otherwise, you could be naked and dancing wildly in front of her and she wouldn't even give you a second look.

    Thus, Ryogi was more than pleased - happy would be pushing it - that the girl beside her understood her, and considered her. It certainly wasn't the first time they had met in the park, the nod and smile of greeting attested to that - in fact, they had spent quite a many mornings just sitting beside each other, enjoying the quiet, enjoying the park for the solace it offered. And they would leave on their separate ways without even saying a word to each other.

    And they liked it that way.

    Taking another sip of her cup - now cradling the crockery with both hands, the book now tucked in one of the jacket's pockets - Ryogi breathed in, slowly, her one good eye slowly closing. To a casual observer, it would look like the young woman was simply relaxing, enjoying her tea. They were wrong. She hated tea.

    In truth, Ryogi was (although she would never admit it to anyone) enjoying the girl beside her.

    It was a trick she had always used in combat. Attuning each and every sense except sight to scope out certain things about a certain target. Heart rate. Scent. Mood. Body heat. Breathing rate. State of mind. Nuggets of information that would almost always spell the difference between life and death, if you ever caught yourself in a dark alley with someone clearly motivated to rip your throat out. She never thought she'd be using it here, on such a person, and yet...

    Tangerines.

    It was always the first thing that popped into her head, the first thought that would come to mind whenever she pulled this particular trick off. The girl smelled of tangerines, a subtly-sweet scent that was at the same time sharp and mischievous. As much as she tried, Ryogi couldn't pin it down to something you could buy from a store, be it a certain brand of shampoo, soap, perfume, or even laundry detergent. Even real tangerines didn't smell the same way. The scent from the girl seemed almost...more real, more vivid. More tangerine-y.

    Ryogi also noted how the girl's heart rate seemed to jump whenever their gazes met. She verified this, of course, by pretending not to notice her stares. She would wait until the girl leveled her gaze at her a second time - the first would be just a cautionary peek - before turning to face her, Ryogi's one good eye blinking back as if in surprise. That resulted in quite the peak in heart rate, and she was sure she spied the girl's cheeks turning an absolute crimson.

    Today, there was something different about the young woman. She still carried with her the scent of tangerines, of course, but with it came an edge of anticipation. It was as if the girl was waiting for something, or waiting for something to happen, Ryogi wasn't particularly sure which. But it was there, an unspoken question between them, both seemingly afraid to start lest something change in an arrangement that was already working out so great already. To enjoy each other's company in silence, taking nothing, accepting nothing. Expecting nothing in return, for there was nothing received.

    And then she felt the girl staring at her again, much like a cat would curiously consider something new to it.

    How many days had it been, anyway? How many meetings have ended with them only enjoying each other's company in silence, a silence only to be broken by either of them walking out of earshot? A little mystery never hurt anyone, of course, but there are times where the same amount of contact would do good.

    Ryogi opened her eye - her one good eye - and for did the staring for a change. She took it all in - the girl's modestly-long crimson hair, her light cream-like complexion, the blouse-and-skirt outfit, the white tennis shoes - but most of all, she drank in the girl's deep, amber eyes. Eyes the color of darkened honey, eyes that were expressive as they were bright, eyes that had seen more than they should have...

    She turned back to her book, and smiled again.

    "Shiki." She said, softly, finally breaking the silence, the raven-haired woman keeping her gaze on a duck that waddled out of the lake and had begun herding its wayward young back into the water. "My name is Ryogi Shiki."

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Kohaku was a bit surprised by the gaze.

    Before she had known it, the woman was looking at her in return this time. Looking her over, it seemed, that single eye, black in color. She hadn't really noticed it as much before, given how infrequently and briefly the mysterious woman looked directly at her, as well as with the distracting bandage. The unobscured eye that met her own gaze now was a dark, deep color, almost to the point of making her uncomfortable.

    Perhaps it wasn't really the color, however, but something else… That look. The woman's expression didn't betray any ill intent, but somehow the searching from that eye made her feel… A little vulnerable? Maybe it was just the fact that she had been caught staring at the woman first, and was now having the curious eyeballing returned.

    Nonetheless, Kohaku's small smile remained, despite her blinking and visible mild embarrassment. Eventually the young woman's head turned away, smiling lightly now herself. Kohaku felt a bit of relief that she hadn't messed things up yet, or somehow annoyed the woman, and turned her own gaze back to the water.

    As she heard the voice, her eyes flitted back to the woman, and she almost did a double take as the first spoken word sunk in. It seemed the past moment had merely been a warm-up to prepare her for the surprise of hearing the woman speak, and of a familiar name at that.

    Shiki..?

    She looked at the woman, her heart skipping slightly as the vision of a young man sprung to mind. Her expression dropped into surprise after all. She's giving her name. she realized, looking more embarrassed, and working to regain her previous expression.

    Ryogi Shiki.

    She found the woman's voice wasn't quite what she expected… It was smooth and low, subdued, but not as quiet or maybe rough as she would have guessed. She smiled again, feeling some vague sense of victory at finally getting to hear the woman speak. It seemed she hadn't needed to make the first move after all.

    She took a breath, preparing to reply, a bit triumphant in the back of her mind. She returned her gaze to the water, once more watching the waterfowl she adored.

    "I'm pleased to meet you… Shiki-san. My name is Kohaku." she said, cheery, but not overbearingly so.

    She quickly began to second guess if she shouldn't have said Ryogi-san instead, but decided to push that thought aside for the moment. After so many days, the routine had changed. Where there was previously comfortable silence, there now were words.

    Maybe it was a gamble to change things. But the mysterious woman - Ryogi Shiki - had taken initiative. Kohaku had followed, and now that was that. As to what all this meant now, though, she didn't really know.

    She continued to smile.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    It was now Ryogi's turn to blink. She was not really the most social of person, Ryogi Shiki-san was, and while she was more than familiar about Touko's sense of humor, the Aozaki sorceress never missed a beat in rubbing it into the woman's face. Oh, that Ryogi, she's as hospitable as a coffin. An open coffin without a pillow in it, at that. She's not one for conversation, either, and you'd probably have more of an reaction talking to the undead - present company excluded of course. Why, if she stood in a corner, she'd probably get mistaken for a coat rack. Imagine!

    The thing was, she scared most people off. This was peaches and cream to her - she preferred to be alone, if for the mere reason that she liked the quiet - but on the rare occasion that she needed company, when she wanted to be listened to rather than be forced to listen, she would almost always drive them away when she made the first move.

    The girl not only stayed, she gave Ryogi her name as well.

    ...Kohaku.

    Needless to say, Ryogi was ecstatic. A mood that translated into a slight widening of the eye, a miniscule widening of her smile, but no more. The young woman may be gifted in a lot of things, but the display of emotion department desperately needed some buffing up.

    Never mind that there was no last name forthcoming from the girl, or that she had set the tone for a first-name basis even though they had just introduced themselves to each other. What mattered was that for the first time in a long while, Ryogi Shiki didn't have the hospitality of a coffin without its furnishings, or the raw animal magnetism of a newly-blossomed bouquet of corpse flowers. She had her name, and she would fight to death if anyone dared to try and take it away from her.

    Kohaku. It was a simple name, quite a literal one if you took notice of the color of her eyes. But Ryogi liked simple names herself - they didn't need to have all sorts of wordings or complex suffixes or even titles. Call her boring, mabe even spartan, but Ryogi held it as a rule that whenever someone introduced themselves to her with a name that required a certain linguistic finesse that also gave one the ability to double-knot two cherry stalks with their tongue, she would forget that name and give them one herself. Something terse, short, perhaps even rude - but it would be better than simply referring to them as 'meatbags', as Touko had recounted other Chokushi no Magan adepts had done in the past.

    Kohaku. Simple. Sweet. Tangerines and honey and a smile worth all the strawberry ice cream in the world. For a moment, Ryogi felt a strange, almost alien warmth blossoming from between her shoulders, up the nape of her neck, and then back down her spine. Excitement? Elation? Perhaps that warm and fuzzy feeling Touko had often described whenever her soap operas reached the crescendo of lovers reuniting, with the evil and scheming mistress' plans foiled?

    Whatever it was, she liked it. And she wanted more.

    The tea had already gone cold in her grasp, but she took no notice of it.

    "Kohaku." Ryogi finally repeated, enunciating it with the careful air of a child wanting to make sure she got it right the first time. "Likewise, I'm sure."

    She wanted to say many things. How at first she thought that her introduction would have failed miserably, that she was sure Murphy's Law had a corollary specifically written for her when it came to human interaction. She wanted to say that while people may think that she didn't particularly care about anything at all, the truth was that she did, she just cared for a smaller, more select group of people and knick-knacks (most of the latter she kept in a locked box). She wanted to say that while she met quite a lot of people in her career of cutting people into pieces, she wanted to meet someone who didn't scream her name combined with language colorful enough to make a sailor blush, as well has have a life expectancy of more than three seconds.

    She wanted to tell Kohaku how grateful she was.

    Instead, her cellphone rang.

    "...Excuse me."

    Placing her teacup on the bench beside her, Ryogi fumbled inside her kimono's sleeve for the ringing, vibrating device. She remembered setting the phone's volume to minimum, but in the oppressive quiet of the park, she might as well have jacked it all the way up to an obnoxious 11. Quickly thumbing the device open - Touko called it one of them clamshell models - Ryogi held the receiver up to her ear and fervently hoped that Kohaku would still be there when she hung up.

    "Ryogi here. What--"

    It was Touko.

    "Ah, Ryogi-kun. Be a dear and come into the office as soon as you're able, please? There's a client in need of your services, and from what I'm hearing, it's smack dab in your area of expertise. I know I'm intruding, yes, we made a deal that you would always have mornings off, but it's just this once, and then it's back to the usual schedule. You're headed here right now, aren't you? Aren't you?"

    "..."

    "That's a good girl. The knocking code is three times fast, two times slow. Oh, and be sure to look proper."

    "Understoo--"

    Touko had hung up even before Ryogi could acknowledge, prompting the girl to stare at the quietly-beeping device as if it had offended her. And it had, for the most part. To be called in at such a time, when things were finally going her way.

    Just as things were looking up, even.

    Shoving the phone back into her sleeve, Ryogi sighed the sigh of the massively-bereaved, before turning back to Kohaku and frowning the most depressed-looking frown she could ever frown. As depressing as a slight curling down of the corners of the lips could be.

    "I apologize, but it seems that I'm urgently needed. I have to go." Ryogi murmured, hoping that her almost monotone delivery of the apology would come off sincere and...well, apologetic. "I would have very much liked it to have spent the entire day..."--she didn't say with you, because she didn't want to appear too forward--"...enjoying the park with you, but it will have to wait for another time. I hope we meet again...Kohaku."

    Grabbing her things - the book, her thermos, her jacket - Ryogi broke into a dead run, boots clomping loudly on the tiled pathway as she left Kohaku on the bench. Within moments, she had completely disappeared from view.

    Her teacup resting on the bench seemed to be the only thing that proved she had been there in the first place.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    I'll post the rest within the next few days, just a little bit too tired to do more at the moment after spending half the day travelling.
    Oh, and I'm relatively new here too, so please be nice, yes?
    Last edited by White; December 19th, 2011 at 06:21 PM.

  2. #2
    is eclectic. ItsaRandomUsername's Avatar
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    Thank God! I thought this was lost forever!
    Spinach: Tina is my spirit animal.

    Mcjon01: [Fate/EXTRA]'s still a rock paper scissors simulator. The skills simulate the part of rock paper scissors where you get mad at your friend for obviously cheating all the time because you know it's impossible for you to just be that bad at rock paper scissors so you punch him in his stupid cheating mouth.

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    屍食鬼 Ghoul
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    I actually made an account to thank you.
    I missed this, thanks!

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    YES

    YES

    YES

    A THOUSAND TIMES YES

    I LOVE YA

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    Butt Stallion says hello Neir's Avatar
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    I remember this! I still have the archived BL version bookmarked!
    11:47 tusia Nii san ! Grab my penis ! ADVENTURE !!!!

    Quote Originally Posted by lantzblades View Post
    says the hater, you keep on hating, i'll be around ignoring your invalid, incorrect opinion.
    [18:00] Spinach: Because I don't like Saber's personality but boy oh boy does she make my dick turn to diamonds when I see her getting tentacled.
    [18:01] Leo: feeling superior to EU makes me hard
    [16:16] <Bloble> Drakengard? Is that a rhythm game?

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    sibei shiok fun time Overwhelmed by Anime's Avatar
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    Oh yeah, internet archive did seem to rescue the old thread.

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    The Jester Kieran's Avatar
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    Been a long time - I'd thought this was totally gone. Thank you.
    "Evil isn't the real threat to the world. Stupid is just as destructive as Evil, maybe more so, and it's a hell of a lot more common. What we really need is a crusade against Stupid. That might actually make a difference."


    ―Jim Butcher, Vignette





    http://www.everafterhigh.com/en-us/f...share/madeline

  8. #8

    Story Index:



    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞


    Kohaku would have been a bit worried at a sudden departure after her introduction, but the call - one that hadn't seemed pleasing to other woman in the slightest - was a legitimate reason for the woman to have to suddenly leave. It's not as if she had magical powers to have someone call her whenever she needed an excuse to get away from someone, right?

    She continued to smile at the mysterious woman, this Ryogi Shiki, although her face plainly showed polite disappointment at her leaving.

    That frown Ryogi had given.. It was a strong expression, especially compared to how subdued she seemed normally. Kohaku was curious about it, about what could cause such a strong reaction besides simply leaving, but she knew better than to push her luck as it was. One step at a time. she thought. She already had her small victory today, and the woman would return again some other day.

    Kohaku watched her leave. She let her gaze fall from the dark hair to the rest of her, that white kimono moving gracefully with her steps. Even the woman's way of walking was somewhat.. Different. She couldn't put her finger on it. Perhaps given the woman's leaving mood, it wasn't the best time to analyze her way of walking anyway.

    It wasn't long before the woman was out of sight, and Kohaku returned to enjoying the rest of the morning. As she turned to the bag she had brought, her snack as well as what she had for the ducks and assorted waterfowl, she finally noticed the tea cup resting the same place Ryogi had left it. She reached out slowly, carefully picking it up and bringing it up to hold with both hands. The cup's owner came to mind, as Kohaku curiously looked it over. Plain for the most part, porcelain, fairly run of the mill. A small white lily design on the bottom. It still smelled of the green tea she already knew Ryogi had a tendency to bring with her.

    She ran a thin fingertip along the rim carefully, in thought.

    Days later, that very cup was on Kohaku's dresser. Nestled in a small towel, within a plastic food container, safe from any disruption of the knick-knacks surrounding it. Kohaku turned to look at the little box from where she sat.

    Bringing it home, she had taken extra care in washing it, focusing solely on the task at hand so as not to become distracted in the slightest. Of course, this meant she had nearly dropped it in surprise after she was done, as she hadn't noticed Hisui standing there watching her. Hisui seemed to clearly zero in on the fact that Kohaku seemed in an unusually good mood that day, as well as the fact that the tea cup was unfamiliar and being treated with extra care. Kohaku began to wonder if she was becoming far too easy to read after the year or so, as she had hurriedly changed the subject.

    After all that care, she had taken it with her to the park the next day, hoping Ryogi would show up so she could return it. However, it seemed the mysterious woman wasn't going to be there that day. It was no problem, as it wasn't as if they met every day. She simply went back the next, hopeful.

    All in all, it had nearly been a week. Kohaku frowned slightly, resting her cheek on her hand as she looked sideways at the thing. It was hardly about the teacup. Perhaps it wasn't until she hadn't seen her in so long, after finally learning her name, that it struck her they had some kind of.. companionship? It was hard to wrap her head around having a bond with a stranger, but.. She felt lonely. Another strange thing to think about.

    For her entire life, she had her Hisui-chan. For a good portion of her life, that was all that mattered, or so she had thought. But, it seemed that sometimes someone new would sneak up on her.. Akiha, and Shiki, each coming to her aid out of seemingly nowhere.. People precious to her, although she sometimes didn't see it until it was almost too late. The number of people who cared about her and who she cared about had grown a little, but it remained a very small circle. Without Shiki here things weren't the same, but living with Akiha and Hisui was enough companionship for her.

    ..Wasn't it? And why that strange woman.. Is it because she has the same name as Shiki-san..?"

    The next day, Akiha was to set for a short trip away from the mansion on family business. As the last of the luggage was carried to the car, the mistress of the Tohno household was addressing the two maids, who were standing dutifully in the entranceway. Kohaku was a little distracted, but kept her smile, nodding at Akiha's words.

    The head of the household, perhaps a little taller now, or perhaps just her presence had matured, looked at each of the siblings in turn. Those blue eyes were still as striking as always. Still, Akiha's strong gaze made Kohaku think of someone else now. Someone who's eyes - or eye, rather - had a stronger effect on her. Kohaku came back to attention as she was addressed again.

    "And furthermore.. I don't think it needs to be said, but no parties while I'm gone. I don't want to see any strange men or women hiding when I return, either." She wasn't really smiling, but it was hard to think Akiha was seriously saying that. Perhaps this was her way of being in a better mood this week?

    "Of course, Akiha-sama." "Yes, Akiha-sama." Kohaku and Hisui responded.

    The maids bowed, and Akiha took her leave. Kohaku smiled a little more to herself as the car pulled away. With Akiha gone, she would have free run of the mansion, essentially. As long as the mansion was clean and cared for, without Akiha to wait on, she could leave whenever she pleased.

    "Nee-san.. What are you thinking?" The voice to her right broke her train of thought. Kohaku turned, nervously, seeing her sister looking at her, brow slightly furrowed. She was obviously concerned in some way. I'm slipping.. Have I really become so transparent now? Kohaku thought.

    "I'm not thinking anything strange, really. It's not like I'm going to throw a party or anything. If I went overboard like that even Hisui-chan would have to tell on me." Kohaku said, giggling.

    Hisui's expression remained serious. "..You've been acting strangely this week, Nee-san." She didn't need to get into detail. Kohaku figured her own sister would have noticed how she had become a bit more glum as the week wore on. Even Akiha probably noticed.

    Kohaku waved her hands in warding, smiling. "Oh, have I? You shouldn't worry about it, Hisui-chan, I'm fine.."

    With enough assurance, she got Hisui to back down, although her sister's parting expression let her know that she wasn't going to forget it so easily. She was always like that. Reliable Hisui-chan.. she thought. Even when it was inconvenient, it was something that really touched her.

    The rest of the day Kohaku spent preparing a few easy meals to save for later eating, while thinking about how she would use this newfound freedom properly. Having already visited the park in the morning, to no avail, she tried the evening. It was an idea, anyway.. Perhaps Ryogi's job, whatever it may be, had interfering hours now. If she was visiting the park at a later time, it'd be worth a shot. So thus she went, armed with a packed meal, a freshly-tied bow, and the tea cup once again. Evening at the park was a delight on it's own, a bit of a different feel from morning. Even the different direction the shadows cast on everything seemed to change the quiet landscape into something else, different, yet familiar and just as nice.

    It was a lonely wait. Kohaku remained on that bench until the sun slowly went down, the colorful glow beautiful as it filled the side of the sky and made the lake water sparkle. But eventually it faded away, leaving a slowly darkening blue sky, the air becoming a bit more chilly. Kohaku slowly stood, and walked home.

    She enjoyed her evening meal with Hisui. Perhaps enjoy wasn't the best of words, with the struggle between her false smile and Hisui's concerned gaze now a full-on cold war as they ate in silence. They parted ways for the night, and Kohaku returned to her room. Her amber eyes came to rest on the box containing the tea cup as she stood by the dresser, expressionless, but biting her lip. She closed her eyes, not wanting to think about this sudden onset of unreasonable feeling, and changed out of her kimono for bed. She draped one of her shirts over the box, as an afterthought, so she wouldn't have to look at it.

    She was fully willing to admit it to herself, at least. She was lonely, and she was worried. Still, she needed to rest.. Rest and figure out what she was going to do after waking up. She tried to do what she could to stop thinking about it.

    It took a while, but she finally got to sleep.

    But it wasn't a good sleep. She dreamt.

    ..Shiki-san..?

    It was him. Shiki the young man. He looked pensive, and there was something wrong with him. She couldn't tell what.. Something about the way he moved. It was him, but he wasn't himself, and he was wary of something. She couldn't tell where he was.. Or where she herself was. Her eyes caught the knife in his hand. The very knife she had given him, the simple blade bearing his real name.

    Somehow it stood out.. A shining blade amidst a sea of darkness. She saw Shiki react to something she couldn't see. He spoke, but she couldn't hear any words in this black realm of silence. She herself was gripped with fear. She didn't understand what was happening. She tried to speak, but still nothing reached her own ears, or apparently his either. Threatening shapes began to form.. Or were they? It was as if the darkness had become dangerous, but in a vague, formless way she couldn't grasp.

    As Shiki Tohno moved, it was.. Once more, it didn't seem quite like him. Was he strained with some kind of burden, or was he just moving strangely because..? She shouted silently, a name, as Shiki went on the attack, meeting something coming for him.

    There was a shining crescent of light as the blade tore through something that she couldn't see. She felt a splatter of liquid. It was cold, and she couldn't seem to wipe it away. She began to feel disconnected, as the scene became more violent, this strange experience overwhelming her.

    She could barely tell what he was doing anymore, as things became blurry. Soon it was nothing more than a vague, fuzzy shape in motion, not even looking like any sort of person, but an abstract color, flashes of light coming from it to try and hold off the infinite black around it. The only thing in the center she could make out was a spot of blue, moving as if it were an eye, staying vigilant of the numerous foes around it.

    And then, a sense of overwhelming loss. There was a line of black slashed across the fading figure in the middle, followed by a burst of red, and she somehow knew it was over. That's when it all came back into focus, as if she had been roused from a nap with a bucket of cold water. Shiki came back into view, once again close and in full color. But it wasn't him.. It was her. That strange woman's face, an expression of angered defiance, a long red line obscuring her right eye, gradually thickening until it became a burst of crimson liquid. Her left eye had changed colors, but in her shock somehow she couldn't tell..

    Shiki..!?

    "SHIKI!!"

    She finally heard herself. The silence was broken. She tried to catch her breath. She was so disoriented.. She realized she had been dreaming. She was back in her bed, shaking slightly. She wrapped her arms around the loosened blankets, and hugged them against herself, calming herself down.

    She closed her eyes, gathering her thoughts.

    She was well acquainted with the world of nightmares. One didn't live a life like hers without a long history of her own subconscious bleeding dreadful imagery into her thoughts as she slept. But it had been a while since she had dreamt.. And she hadn't had a dream quite like that before.

    Shiki.. Ryogi..

    She rubbed her face, turning over, finding herself tangled in the covers somewhat. Fighting her way free, she sat at the edge of her bed. She was cold, and she felt awful. What's more.. She couldn't settle down. She felt like she had to move, otherwise she'd go crazy. Maybe I am crazy.. she thought, standing. She needed to pace. Or move. Or.. Anything. It wouldn't be surprising at all if I was..

    She reached the dresser, and picked up the shirt resting there. The little plastic food container was still there, visible in the moonlight filtering in through the cracks in the drapes. It was awfully bright.. She moved over to the window, opening it.

    The moon was full, and it shined down from high, bathing everything in it's pale light. If she went outside, she'd be able to see about as well as if it were daytime, almost. She started moving again, working to dress herself. She didn't know what she was doing, and only knew that she'd go crazy if she didn't move, and stopped thinking. She tugged on her jeans and found a sweater, putting on the first things she found at hand. Pulling on a jacket, she slowly realized what she was doing. Grabbing a bag hanging on the closet door and slipping it over her shoulder, she stuffed the packed tea cup into it and left her room, not bothering to grab her ribbon.

    ...Shiki-san. Ryogi-san..

    She stepped lightly through the darkened mansion. The moonlight coming through the windows was appreciated, but completely unneeded in here, considering she knew this building well enough to navigate it in almost total dark. She crept to the side door, the only worry being if Hisui was awake. But only the silence and shadows were there to witness her easily escaping out into the night. She had done this enough in the past that it was almost trained physical instinct.

    What came after required a little more thought. She found herself moving down the side of the road, hurriedly moving through the night.

    Before long, she could hear the sound of her shoes crunching gravel. Then grass, then pavement, then more gravel. The park was truly almost like day, but inverted, the full, bright moon in the cloudless sky overhead revealing all in it's pale light. It was once again the same park, but she was seeing a different side of it. Her pace slowed as she approached the bench, giving her time for her elevated breathing to wind down. The bench was empty. She didn't react to this, and took a seat on it. She looked out over water, her amber eyes finding the shining, rippling image of the moon reflecting on it's surface.

    She didn't know how long she had been sitting there, or how long she would continue to do so. Or what for, or why. The sound of a light wind rustling through trees met her ears, her hair brushing along and over her shoulder with it's movement, a bit floating in the air. She paid it no mind, as she waited, watching the moon in the water, expressionless.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    In all her life - well, since the day she first died, anyway - Ryogi Shiki had never really walked. She had never really performed the calm, relaxed action of putting one foot in front of the other, shifting your weight forward onto the balls of your feet and pushing off the ground at the same time, and then again with the other foot, aud nauseam. Everyone who had the opportunity to meet her - or the dubious honor of facing off against her in combat - instantly recognized the obvious deliberation of her every movement, the methodical execution of each twitch seemingly premeditated and planned in advance. The end result of it was a forward movement that was relentless, intense, and bode quite a lot of pain in traction to whoever (or whatever) got in the way. It was as admirable as a marvel to behold as it was as chilling and unnerving.

    In essence, Ryogi Shiki never moved. She stalked. Much like a cloaked, skeletal, scythe-wielding anthropomorphic personification.

    And it was in this manner that she explored the moonlight-bathed streets of the city, her knife loosely clutched in her hand - at least, until she suddenly threw it over her shoulder, the sharp implement flashing once more embedding itself into a lunging black panther that hadn't been there before. At least, not until two seconds ago.

    "..." Ryogi managed as the dark-skinned feline dropped heavily into the ground, the blinding crimson light that burned in its eyes slowly fading. Placing one boot on the giant beast's face for leverage, the young woman closed her fingers over the weapon's handle, gave it a quick and savage twist, before ripping it free. The creature seemed to congeal into a formless, shapeless shadow before suddenly exploding into dust.

    It's not fair. She thought angrily, the mahogany-handled combat knife screeching loudly as she ground it against a nearby wall - onlookers later that morning would say that the wall seemed to have gouged itself a monstrous-looking scratch - her face curiously still retaining the same deadpan expression, even in the rare occasion of anger-induced self indulgence. Just when things were moving along nicely, something like this just had to pop up and ruin everything. It's not fair. It's just. Not. Fair.

    Another panther slithered out of the darkness and tried to have another go at Ryogi's jugular. Lazily sidestepping to the side, the young woman let the creature brush past her - right before slamming the entire blade of the knife deep into the beast's spine. The animal fell into a twitching heap of limbs on the sidewalk, halting dead in its tracks - before a well-placed curb stomp ended its misery.

    Well, of course it isn't fair. Not many things in life are fair. Fair doesn't come into the equation as much as you wanted to. Your long line of victims - even you yourself - know that. So just grit your teeth and be done with it - you'll have all the time in the world to pick up the pieces afterwards.

    In the back of her mind, Ryogi swore she could hear Touko's half-lecture, half-apology that she gave to the girl minutes after the impromptu meeting the sorceress had called. While she didn't know what came over the older woman to do so - she couldn't remember doing anything that could have hinted that she was, in a way, pissed beyond belief - Touko always had a knack for reading the unreadable, be it her own gnarled handwriting or even Ryogi's moods, and to make the right decision based on what she read.

    The right decision, eh.

    Ryogi sighed as she turned that particular meeting in her head, one week ago. She had taken the short cut from the park on the way to Touko's office, and with traffic being light, she arrived without too much of a delay. Placing the thermos back with the rest of the kitchen supplies in the office lounge - murmuring a particularly colorful oath she learned from Touko as she realized that she had left her tea cup behind - the girl reached up and rapped her knuckles on the door that lead to Touko's office.

    Three fast, two slow. The door automatically swung open to admit her, and Ryogi made to step over the treshold, one hand reaching up to take off her jacket.

    It was then she stopped at the sight before her, a sight that a very casual observer could have interpreted as someone taking advantage of their rank in the company to nab some benefits not printed on the employee manual. As they damn very well should, Ryogi recounted another piece of Touko wisdom. But that was neither here nor there, and the girl calmly waited for her turn to exist.

    "Oh, Ryogi-kun. Come in, come in, coat rack's over there. No, give me back my glasses, I might do something naughty, there's a good girl--" the blue-haired woman half-said and half-giggled as another woman - or young girl - squealed as she wriggled on Touko's lap, the ridiculous schoolgirl outfit leaving practically nothing to the imagination. Well, except for the rather cumbersome-looking metal bracer that covered the newcomer's right arm, from her shoulder to her knuckles.

    "So this is the infamous Ryogi Shiki? I can't say I'm not disappointed." The stranger slid off of Touko's lap, waist-length blonde hair swaying from side to side as she approached. It was then that Ryogi felt a frosty chill shoot down her spine, feeling that oft-mentioned sensation of being examined underneath a microscope. And by the way the girl had scrutinized her with her sharp emerald green eyes, Ryogi felt that couldn't have been closer to the truth.

    Observed, weighed and measured. Ryogi remembered calmly waiting for the moment where the girl would nod at Touko, and the sorceress would then wrap her in butcher paper and ring her up in the register. Just like a piece of meat in a meatshop, just waiting to be carted off and be eaten.

    "Well, what's your name, then?" The newcomer asked.

    "..." Ryogi replied, and the blonde-haired girl seemed to take an involuntary step back as she realized that she was being measured herself. To her credit, however, she managed to get back on track, one hand flamboyantly flipping a large amount of her tresses over her shoulder as she literally preened herself in front of the Chokushi no Magan adept.

    "von Uberwald," the girl then said, in a tone that was as confident and haughty as it was asking for a punch in the face. "Burial Agency Director Salacia von Uberwald. You're pleased to meet me, of course."

    "...of course," Ryogi murmured, her one eye blinking in astonished surprise.

    "Now, as I've discussed with your handler, and no doubt she will explain to you after this meeting - we've decided to outsource a few of the Church's services to you. Specifically, hunting down some heretics we've received reports about. Nothing too major, of course, else we wouldn't be here talking about it. Merely low-level creatures that even you shouldn't have any trouble dealing with." The one known as Salacia took a seat on the edge of Touko's desk, taking one of the sorcerer's files and using it to fan underneath her skirt (or a garment that could be charitably described as a skirt, and uncharitably described as a very wide belt).

    Bitch."I see."

    "You see. That brings me neatly to my next point." Salacia seemed to examine her bracer carefully, before suddenly drawing an oversized firearm from behind her. The handgun seemed to be made entirely of cobat, and Ryogi could dimly make out the words 'Black Barrel' etched on the side - no mean feat, as the weapon itself was aimed directly at her face.

    "Wait, what the hell are you doing?" Touko interjected hotly. "I told you she can do it, you don't need to--"

    "I'm just making sure of my investment, Herr Aozaki." Salacia smiled a charming smile. "I'm sorry, but I can't resist. I have to know if I'll be getting my money's worth from a real Satsujinki." She tilted her head to the side. "They say that you lose quite a bit of your depth perception when you put an eye out. If that is the case, then you wouldn't be able to dodge--"

    A small clinking sound echoed around the room as Ryogi's knife brushed almost gently against the barrel of the handgun.

    Two heavier, considerably louder thunks hammered into their ears as the weapon fell apart in Salacia's grip.

    "I consider dodging bullets to be a needless expense of energy, Miss Salacia," Ryogi murmured, carefully putting the knife back into its scabbard. "Why would I need to dodge bullets when I can kill the source in the first place?"

    "..." It was Salacia's turn to be horrifically eloquent as she stared at the remains of what was once a mighty, all-powerful and priceless artifact. Key word here being priceless.

    "Well, I guess that's that." Touko said hurriedly, standing up and quickly putting herself between Ryogi and Salacia. "We'll discuss the specifics later. Um, Ryogi-kun, a word outside, please?"

    And that was that. A few moments later, and Ryogi was sworn in as a reserve member of the Holy Church of Vatican's Burial Agency. There was an oath-taking as well as a rudimentary baptismal, which she dutifully endured. It was during the ending ceremony, though, that Ryogi saw Salacia looking at her in a manner quite unlike how she had done before.

    It was as if the girl was sizing her up. Not for combat, but for something else entirely.

    "Now," Touko began as she gave Ryogi a towel to soak up the holy water in her hair, "you'll need a Burial Agency uniform. They'll be handling it, but you'll need to provide them with measurements. I can--"

    "I'll do it myself. At home." Ryogi cut in as politely as she could, suddenly feeling that it would be better - and safer - if she had her measurements taken without Salacia in the vicinity. Proving to be wise beyond her years, Touko got the hint, and instead handed her a manila folder.

    "Right. Now, about your targets..."

    The dossier was a list of all registered heretics - at least, those that the Burial Agency had been keeping track of - currently residing in the city, and as reserve member, it was up to Ryogi to work her way up from the bottom to the top, killing them off one by one. The reason was that the Church itself had been getting reports of a massive uprising in the near future, and seeing as each of the heretics could pose a very real and very serious threat, they had to go.

    Ryogi had been working twenty hours a day, four hours for sleep for six days, and she hadn't even made a dent.

    It was then that she decided to simply skip ahead and focus her efforts on the top ten on the list - starting with the mindless, unfocused wraith of a certain Nero Chaos. She had spent the rest of the day tracking its movements and triangulating - or at least, attempting to - the location where it hibernated during the day. All her research, coupled with Salacia's data, told her that it was hiding a few city blocks west of the park. The park that she had enjoyed many a quiet moment with Kohaku.

    Ryogi resisted the urge to rake her fingernails across her eyepatch. She had been dreading the worst. While she knew Kohaku would certainly be able to understand her missing for a day or two, being gone for an entire week - without explanation - would be enough to make anyone mad. It was then that she decided to stop by the chocolate store on the way home, and then wait the entire morning for the girl, with a peace offering just in case.

    Absently disemboweling a shadow-borne bear just as it was mere inches from taking her head off, Ryogi halted in her tracks as a lone figure barred her progress.

    "You will not pass," the figure said, in the gravelly tones of the original. Its shadow - one that seemed to stretch around it, sucking in as much moonlight as it could - seemed to bristle with untamed rage. "Your journey ends here, executioner."

    "Step aside, or attack." Ryogi replied, her voice a quiet murmur. "I have a chocolate shop to raid of its supplies later. I haven't got all night."

    "A life is in danger. Turn back, I implore you."

    Ryogi blinked her one good eye, before shaking her head. "I appreciate your concern, but I know what I'm getting into. I'm--"

    "Did I say that it was your life? I think not."

    Suddenly, a scream. From the park.

    The blood drained from Ryogi's face as she recognized the voice.

    Oh, no.

    "Do you see, executioner? I cannot control them anymore. They eat what they wish. Do what they wish. Satisfy any urge they want. They are unstoppable, and they are many. They are--"

    The figure exploded into ethereal dust just as Shiki withdrew her knife from its chest.

    "--dead, at least after I'm done with them." Ryogi snarled, her one eye glowing a bright, cold blue.

    And then she disappeared.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Kohaku looked up from the water suddenly, and peered around, curiously. She blinked, and rubbed an eye with the back of her knuckle, feeling a little disoriented. What was that sound? ..Was I falling asleep? she wondered, unsure if she had dozed off a bit or if she had just been staring at the water all this time.

    She wet her lips, and stretched a little, trying to think of how long she had been there, when she heard another sound. No, rather, it was a string of sounds, the cry of frightened birds. Lots of them, in fact.

    She looked to the right, this time hearing where it was coming from. There was a flurry of activity as assorted avians began to vacate their resting places on the side of the lake. The taller grass there, where most of the birds would have taken shelter normally, was rippling from the motion of the sudden mass evacuation. As the birds spread out, their sounds losing volume, she could hear a splashing coming from the water.

    Kohaku stood, deliberated a moment, then hurried over. She couldn't for the life of her figure out what was going on, as she approached the grass. Something was thrashing in the water.. Her first guess would be that someone or a large animal had fallen in, given the size of the sounds. She wondered if it might be a drunken person, as she came closer to the edge of the grass and slowed, curiously tilting her head up to peer past it and into the water.

    She drew in a small gasp of surprise, but her expression quickly turned to disappointment. Standing in the shallow water was a large wild dog of some kind, shaking what was left of a swan in it's mouth, another one, torn and motionless, drifting near it's leg. Kohaku lowered her head a bit, sighing out, feeling a bit of pity for the poor birds who had just become lunch, as she prepared to turn and put the scene behind her.

    She caught herself, almost double-taking as she realized what was wrong with this picture. The large black dog was no ordinary creature, and she felt her breath catch in her throat as it.. changed.

    The sleek black beast had lowered on it's front legs, it's head seeming to almost melt as it slid forward, spreading out like a quickly melting lump of black ice cream, the entire front of it's body oozing over the slain birds. Her eyes widened, as she was frozen to the spot, watching the horrible thing. Then, it drew back into itself a bit, and began to move, a sickening, crunching sound meeting Kohaku's ears. It was.. eating.

    The terrible chewing sound eventually brought her back to her senses. She tensed, taking a half step back, a hand to her chest. She began to try to rationalize the situation she was in. This isn't right.. It's not true. It was all supposed to be over now! Nothing else like this was supposed to..

    The beast's head had reformed, and with a sloshing sound, it turned to face her. Kohaku flinched lightly under it's gaze.. If it wasn't the moonlight playing tricks, she'd swear it's eyes were glowing red. ...No, they truly were. It's looking at me..! Kohaku clenched her teeth, her hands up in warding as she stepped back. "Nice doggy.." she said under her breath. It responded by opening up it's large jaw, something that obviously wasn't saliva dripping from those terrible fangs, a hungry sound of warning coming from deep within it. As the muscles in it's sides tensed to prepare for motion, Kohaku screamed.

    Before she knew it, she was running, the bag over her shoulder trailing behind her on the air. The sounds of water breaking and then tall grass tearing behind her kept her from thinking too deeply about the fact that she couldn't recall the last time she'd ever screamed. It felt odd even to be simply running somehow.. Like ordinarily she might have stayed put. But she'd have to be introspective another time, as she grimaced, barely avoiding tripping as she scuffed her shoe on the cobblestone pathway as she reached it.

    She could hear it behind her. She had a lead, but she could only imagine she was losing it quickly. She felt her shins ache a little and her lungs burn as she dashed all out, somehow finding the strength to seriously surprise herself with how fast she could move when death was on her heels. She was past her usual bench in what seemed like a flash, and was practically at the end of the lake before she knew it. Maybe she just didn't have time to think..

    "Uhh..!!"

    She gaped as in a blur of black, the dog had leaped in front of her. Wether it had come from the side or just flown over her head to cut her off, she had no idea, and barely had time to try and make a stop, flailing her arms. She felt herself slip on the short grass somehow, and went down, thrusting her left arm out to try and find purchase in the ground, trying not to slide right into the waiting dog with her momentum.

    She eyed it fearfully as she almost reached it, the black creature growing within her vision, and everything seemed to slow down. It opened it's waiting jaws, growling, and Kohaku mentally cursed the comedy of coming to a stop right before it, for it's eating convenience.

    Suddenly the dog looked up from her, it's ears pinning back. It was distracted by something. Kohaku blinked, and then decided she didn't care what had drawn it's attention suddenly. With a grunt, she used the ground and pulled herself away with both arms, managing to get to her knees and then feet, kicking off and punishing her lungs some more as she ran in the opposite direction.

    She suddenly regretted it, for more reason than because it was also the opposite direction of the way home or anywhere she was more familiar with.

    The park, formerly sparsely populated, had become a nightmarish zoo. The landscape, with it's lake, trees, and park benches, was now becoming overrun with every manner of creature, all sharing in common the shadow-like color and glowing red eyes of the dog she had been running from.

    Absolutely anything and everything.. Horses, deer, giant insects and reptiles, wolves, things that flew, things she didn't even recognize.. Or have time to recognize. Prowling, hunting, even fighting one another, everything was in motion.

    The beautiful night scenery of the park was gone. The moon's rays now shone down upon a sea of black chaos, a jungle of creatures, as a herd of innumerable shadows of every shape and size dominated the landscape. As their cries broke the night's former silence, Kohaku was struck with disbelief, almost stumbling as she came to a stop, panting.

    She panted, and laughed lightly, staring, as the herd of black creatures began to move more her way. Before long she'd be surrounded close by creatures of every shape and size, like some kind of bizarre Snow White. It was a nightmarish joke.

    Without warning, she was slammed into from behind, crying out in surprise as she went down hard, sliding through the grass again. She felt a weight on her back, and jerked her head back fearfully, seeing that black maw looking back at her. She clawed the ground again, working to get out from under it, and slid forward, somehow getting out from under the weight of the beastly canine's leg.

    Suddenly she was jerked back, gasping as she heard the tear of fabric, her upper body restrained by her own clothes. The beast had almost caught her in it's jaws, and instead had her by the jacket, as well as the strap from the bag she carried.

    She grit her teeth and, once more calling upon an unknown well of self preservation, managed to quickly struggle her arms out of her restraints and clambered away as fast as she could. She could hear the beast shaking the material it had behind her violently, and she worked to get onto her feet, knowing she didn't have long before it came to get the meat it was looking for.

    However, she was having trouble getting enough breathing room to figure out how to escape.. She eyed about for an escape route, already running again, barely paying any mind to the pair of long shadows rising into the air at the back of the herd of beasts ahead..

    It didn't really matter how many more there were, right? However, her attention was piqued as they suddenly thrashed, and then began to fall like trees, the long, serpent-like necks fading before they hit the ground. She looked, halted somewhat, wide-eyed as some of the creatures reacted to this, turning back at something in their midst.

    A creature, something like an elephant, suddenly divided into two parts, splitting down the middle like a cracked walnut. There was a ruckus in the crowd, as the animals seems to rear up and turn all to face a single point in their ranks.. A point that kept moving through, sowing chaos and felling everything around it and in it's path, which Kohaku barely registered as moving in her direction.

    There was an explosion of black. Something she didn't even recognize popped like a bubble as a point of light, or what passed for one compared to all the black, shot through it. She saw a human shape, a human color, with red and white, running her way, a stark contrast to the sea of darkness that covered the park. No, running didn't do it justice.

    It was flying along the ground, moving like a true demon. But maybe that didn't do it justice either.

    It covered the distance from one point to another with swiftness she could barely follow, changing directions to dodge half of every black shape that stood against it, the other half being torn into savagely in passing. A slim crescent or line of light as every creature, no matter how large, met it's end.. Sliding into halves, splashed like thrown mud, fading and melting away..

    Shiki..

    Kohaku could feel her heart hammer. But as soon as the thought came, it passed. Whatever was killing those creatures wasn't him.. It was a woman. A woman in a kimono. The shape was close enough now to make out, despite the speed, speed that would put a striking snake to shame.

    Kohaku had enough clarity to recognize her.

    "Shiki-san.." she said softly, staring.

    The growl behind her almost made her jump out of her skin. She turned, stumbling as she did, barely dodging the black, canine shape flying past by luck. Kohaku flailed her arms, getting her balance back, and tried to run in another a different direction, then came to a near dead halt as she saw another beast coming for her. A tiger-shaped creature growled, stalking slowly towards her. It seemed there were still monsters who wanted to pay attention to her..

    She barely had time to take this in when the dog-beast from before made yet another pounce, knocking her aside and to the ground. She winced, her body sore from all the running and being knocked around, and tried to roll away and stand, but three black shapes surrounded her.

    She looked up, not knowing what to do, when a sound of slicing flesh caught her ears again. She looked past the creature in front of her from her place on the ground, her mouth open, as she saw Ryogi so close, and yet so far.

    The dark-haired woman dashed low, under the heavy swing of a gorilla's arm, then sprung up, a serpent flying in half as she herself flew through it, the blackness evaporating in the wake of the kimono, torn white material moving almost serpent-like with her motions.

    She turned briefly, the knife moving down in a perfect line, bisecting something with long limbs behind her, and she continued her rush, almost every physical contact with the blackness being a hand or boot to push off it like a stepping stone, or the knife, to get it out of the way.

    Almost. She was close enough that Kohaku could hear the grunt as Ryogi was slammed aside by a charging animal with horns, one that faded a moment later, a red jacket-clad arm and a knife occupying the space it once had. It seemed that hadn't been the first blow she'd taken either, in what almost now seemed like a kamikaze charge, as more than just her jacket was red now.

    Kohaku then felt the wind knocked out of her, as a heavy paw pressed down on her back.

    Ryogi was close enough to see clearly.. Kohaku repeated her name, quietly, and with strain. Ryogi couldn't have heard it, but she nonetheless seemed to speed up. Her eye.. she thought, wincing as there was added weight on her. The eye she thought was black, Ryogi's single black eye, was shining blue.

    Shiki..

    Kohaku felt almost like she was underwater now. Such a heavy weight on her, making it impossible to breathe almost. She realized she didn't know where the creature in front of her went.. And then she realized it was around her. She was being drawn in. Drawn into a blackness that she knew she couldn't escape. She wanted to reach out, but didn't have the strength. She could see them.. Hisui-chan, Shiki, Akiha..

    Ryogi Shiki was so close, she could see her speaking.. Her face, a trickle of blood dividing it, an utter, serious, almost desperate look of intent on the woman's face as she closed in. That blue eye locked with Kohaku's own, which she knew were wide, like a frightened animal.

    She saw a flash of red and white as the knife moved, and suddenly things cleared up a little. She then realized that nearly everything was black. Not because of what was around her, but what was around both of them. A sea of black, as the entire herd of death was surrounding the two women.. Black death, with red points of light, like innumerable stars, watching them, closing in.

    Kohaku's attention was brought back as she felt an arm wrap around her suddenly, in a movement that was quick and strong enough to hurt her already aching body a bit. The scent of fresh blood met her nose, as the words of the woman she barely knew sounded in her ear.

    "Close your eyes. Don't move. Trust me - I'm here to protect you."

    Kohaku didn't know what to do, as the blackness surrounded both of them, so she closed her eyes tightly, trusting in the warrior.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    She moved quickly, and struck even quicker. With her knife gripped in one hand, the Satsujinki looked more like a twisting, turbulent vortex of violence than anything else as she tore into the mass of shadow creatures.

    Every movement of the bladed weapon had it either going into flesh, being ripped out of flesh, or having its handle used to remind a thoughtless killing machine the meaning of blunt force trauma - before cutting into yet more flesh.

    Some of the shadow creatures tried to escape, but even before that instinct for self-preservation had even fired in their diminutive brains, they had to consider first the debilitating fact that they were already lying in two neatly-cut pieces, maybe four.

    A dervish of dismemberment and destruction, doling out inescapable inevitability with the furious tenacity of an angered god.

    Kohaku. I must get to Kohaku.

    Up until that point - up until she heard Kohaku scream in pure terror - Ryogi had planned everything out. Contrary to public belief, the raven-haired Satsujinki never went headlong into a fight without something planned in advance, and more often than not the outcome of that encounter would follow whatever she had in mind.

    Whether it be a refreshingly honest knife fight where one had to end up bleeding all over the pavement, or a playful romp against a gang of thugs in which she would have them inadvertently walloping each other into submission - she would always have a plan underneath her sleeve.

    When one peaks, one can pretty much anticipate any situation, with any number of attackers, any number of dangers, any number of obstacles in any sort of terrain. Ryogi had done that, and then some. She had never been caught unprepared for anything.

    Until now.

    A tiger - or at least it looked like one - caught Ryogi's attention as it closed its massive jaws over her free arm in an attempt to be cute, its teeth puncturing skin, sinking into flesh and grinding against bone. Seemingly taking it as a cue that their prey was no longer harmless, three more panthera tigris sprang towards the girl, their bodies silhouetted against the moon as they leapt.

    The Satsujinki gave a hollow chuckle, her eye flashing a cold and brilliant blue - and then violently swung her knife in a wide, searing arc. Just as the pack was upon her.

    She was already moving even before all the body parts had landed. She wasn't one to study her handiwork, anyway.

    Ryogi hated variables. Ryogi despised variables. In a past life, perhaps, when she found combat to be the life-and-death experience it had always purported itself to be to those of lesser skill and experience - she would have welcomed the unexpected, the sudden change in the playing field to make things a little more interesting.

    She would have cherished it, relished it, for she had believed that only in the maniacal grip of death can one truly feel alive.

    But that was two years ago. That was a lifetime ago.

    Whatever delight Ryogi had for combat, or the high she got with the adrenalin rush of taking someone's existence from them with a stab of the knife - all of it had burned away into something mundane and typical. It had become something she was merely excellent at and nothing else.

    It was something she was able to do.

    Ryogi called it the assassin's burnout. Touko called it something way dirtier, but the gist was that the Satsujinki wanted to do something else for a change. Something that didn't involve shoving sharp objects into predetermined spots in someone's anatomy.

    As it was, Kohaku - the girl she had met in the park, the girl that smelled of tangerines - was a variable. One that threw everything she had planned literally into Chaos.

    It was a frighteningly-simple plan. She would simply and methodically pierce the dot of every shadow creature that she would come across, forcing the wraith to retreat into itself and create a unified form of all its remaining fragments. This, while making it stronger, faster and deadlier - also removed its greatest strength, that being guaranteed regeneration if even one of its pieces still lived. Then and only then would she be able to kill it, and it would take only one pierced dot to finish the job.

    It was her plan, and now with Kohaku into the equation, Ryogi would have to start all over again, get back to the drawing board and come up with a new one.

    And this was with a time limit. If she took too long, if she was but a moment too slow in her actions, she would have to deal with the amber-eyed girl being the new figure-shape of the wraith. She would have to kill Kohaku along with the rest of the beasts.

    Ryogi bit down on her lower lip until she tasted blood.

    It will not come to that. It cannot come to that.

    Whether it was the thought of having to do the unthinkable - or it was merely her old self resurfacing after two years of relative inactivity - Ryogi felt her limbs suddenly becoming a bit lighter, her thoughts more lucid, her sight clearer.

    Whatever fatigue that had accumulated during the week seemed to be relegated into a mere memory - and disturbingly, the lines and dots that currently filled her vision seemed to glow brighter, standing out more in the darkness.

    It was then that she recognized it. It had taken her a while to - she had always been trained to never let another variable, emotion, get the better of her in combat, to be detached no matter what the situation. But now she felt it, just as she felt the breathless sensation of adrenalin flooding every nerve, every blood vessel in her body.

    In essence, Ryogi had gone from mild frustration to full-blown implosive anger. Wrath, hatred, rage - whatever you called it, it pumped in her veins like cold mercury, clearing all the senses and synchronizing each and every one into one unified purpose.

    Destroy everything. Rescue the girl.

    And with a sudden burst of speed that sent a rabid pack of chaos wolves whining in terror, Ryogi set out to do just that, the knife gleaming in her hand as she swung it this way and that, flesh parting and bodies exploding into mist before it.

    Pain became a mere afterthought - every bite, every scratch, every bone-crushing impact against her body became as futile and as unnoticed as the rapidly-darkening splotches of blood on her kimono. They would pay dividends later, of course, no human body took that much damage and went on without suffering the consequences - but it would all come crashing down on her after she'd accomplished her goal.

    And it would be worth it, just to see her safe. Just to see her smile.

    Flipping the weapon around in her hand - catching the knife in a stabbing grip- Ryogi finally caught sight of Kohaku. Her situation reminded the Satsujinki that there was no time to waste. She would have to act fast--

    Acid rising painfully in her dry throat, Ryogi screamed the girl's name, to try and get her attention. Despite the noise of the infernal zoo deadening every other sound, Kohaku seemed to acknowledge her, looking at Ryogi with all the composure of a child trapped in her nightmares. Gritting her teeth, Ryogi slammed her boot into the snout of a shark that was trying to worry her leg off, and sprang for the amber-eyed woman.

    She closed her eyes as her free arm found Kohaku, while her knife hand found three more dots to plunge into.

    "Well, it's a good thing you only lost one eye," Touko said cheerfully, ever the sensitive optimist. "I wouldn't know what I'd do if the only remaining Chokushi no Magan master suddenly found herself blind, of all things--"

    "It would have been nice," Ryogi cut in, her voice low. "Not to see these things anymore. Not to see how death works."

    "And what fun would that be, hmm, Ryogi-kun?" Touko removed her glasses. "You were given this gift. Now, don't give me that look - you were given something special, and no matter how you view it, it's yours to live with and use the way you see fit. A day will come when you realize that you were meant to have your sight - and it will be a day that you will thank yourself that you didn't go batshit insane like Aozaki-san would have done in your position and cut your eyes out. One day, Ryogi-kun. One day."


    Holding the petite girl tight in her arms - making sure that she shielded Kohaku with her own body as best she could - Ryogi ignored the scent of tangerines filling her nostrils and watched as a veritable tsunami of congealed shadow began to creep over them. It was beginning - the wraith wanted to assimilate them into its own form, to absorb them into its core. It would only take a moment before their minds were ripped from their bodies and eaten, their bodies to be used as puppets.

    Ryogi opened her one good eye - the light now seemed to burn from within, rather than just shine on the pupil's surface - and hugged Kohaku tighter as she found what she was looking for.

    The main dot. The existence of the core, hovering just above them, glowering at them like some cyclopean deity from the heavens.

    Everything became quiet, and Ryogi savored it. They were finally safe - she just had to perform the finishing move, to move the last piece. Checkmate, as they often said.

    She whispered gently into Kohaku's ear.

    "Close your eyes. Don't move. Trust me - I'm here to protect you."

    Kohaku...

    Putting as much force behind the blow as she could muster, Ryogi speared the knife's point right through the glowing dot.

    And then everything was mercifully over.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    I hope its okay that I break up the story in smaller parts to make it a little more readable, there are no clearly defined chapters after all.
    Last edited by White; December 19th, 2011 at 06:22 PM.

  9. #9
    吸血鬼 Vampire EVA-Saiyajin's Avatar
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    Wow, you seem to have a pretty good grasp of Ryougi's character. Oh and the way you're posting is fine to me.

  10. #10
    sibei shiok fun time Overwhelmed by Anime's Avatar
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    Hopefully, this shall summon Tomatoes and Constanze, and get them working again!

  11. #11
    Worried Soul That Watches Larekko12's Avatar
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    Very nice. So Shiki Tohno is off the Radar?
    Then let it break, if it shatters to pieces then forge an even better blade to take in hand. Should that blade crack then forge once again, untill the battlefield is a graveyard of blades that have fallen and but a single sword claims the field that embodies the world. Let that sword bear the world untill its time comes and time blows its dust to the winds. Then forge again.---Eric Dagger



  12. #12
    sibei shiok fun time Overwhelmed by Anime's Avatar
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    IIRC, it wasn't explained what happened to Tohno before the story went on hiatus.

  13. #13
    Worried Soul That Watches Larekko12's Avatar
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    Know I mean Touko saying the Ryougi is the only wielder of the MEoDP when Kohaku plainly exists and is formely aware of the moonlit world and knows shiki.
    Then let it break, if it shatters to pieces then forge an even better blade to take in hand. Should that blade crack then forge once again, untill the battlefield is a graveyard of blades that have fallen and but a single sword claims the field that embodies the world. Let that sword bear the world untill its time comes and time blows its dust to the winds. Then forge again.---Eric Dagger



  14. #14
    Story Index:


    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    It was truly over, even if it took her a while to realize.

    The crushing presence was gone. The bestial vocalizations, the movement of feet and flapping of wings, the unearthly, almost wet sounds of the creatures coming together around them.. The park was silent again. All Kohaku could hear was her own racing pulse, and her own breathing.. Correction. Her breathing and that of the woman who shielded her.

    Kohaku opened her eyes, as she felt herself pulled up by her side, Ryogi's arm around her. She winced a bit as what was probably a bruise was pressed by the motion, but was in no position to complain, as she knew it was her savior helping her to her feet.

    She blinked to un-blur her vision, having kept her eyes tightly closed for a while. She could feel the woman turning slightly, possibly scanning their surroundings.

    What was left of the black beasts.. Almost nothing, by now. The last traces of the ones closest to them were quickly evaporating, leaving the park a bit mussed and pitted, but otherwise back to it's usual peace and quiet.

    She heard a sigh, and tilted her head, looking at the older girl's face. Ryogi was looking back, that single eye scanning her over briefly, her expression serious, but easing slightly, the hint of wearied relief creeping along her features.

    Kohaku stared back at her, and became a bit distracted by the color of Ryogi's eye - once again, that deep black color - as well as the line of darkening blood going down her face.

    "Shiki-san.." She finally managed, her voice soft, fighting to hold off a distressed face, not wanting to betray the troublesome feelings welling up. There was so much she wanted to say, to ask, or just think..

    It seemed she wouldn't have a chance at the moment, as she felt the waver of Ryogi's form, and gasped as the woman collapsed onto her, sending both of them to the ground.

    "S-Shiki-san..!?" She quickly managed to ease up on her elbows, despite the woman's weight on her. Checking her pulse eased her initial, painfully sharp worry of the worst, but she could tell this was still a difficult situation.

    She needed to get help for Ryogi.. This crazy, strange woman who had saved her. Calculating the routes in her head, she concluded the closest place was to simply bring her back to the mansion. Most convenient..

    Somehow she figured it was for the best if they both avoided the trouble of having to explain this..

    As she eased Ryogi off of her, she noted the woman still had her knife grasped tightly in her reddened hand. Frowning, she quickly worked to pry the fingers away from the handle. What tenacity.. she thought, taking a little bit to get the weapon freed, and seeing no other quick solution, stuck the weapon in the pocket of her jeans.

    Kohaku stood, and was finally struck by the incredible.. Familiarity of the situation. Shiki.. Back then, this happened to you too.. To both of us. But it was different then.. she thought, briefly seeing that boy in the bloodied school uniform laying there.. Covered in blood, however, that wasn't his.. All because..

    It was different then. Stop wasting time. she thought, shaking her head, and kneeling, pulled Ryogi up over her shoulders. She stood carefully with her legs, having been well versed in a fireman's carry for a long time, and started home quickly.

    On the way out of the park, she had come across her bag.. Or what was left of it. To her massive disappointment, it seemed to have been mashed during her flight from one of the beasts, and the fate of the teacup she wanted to return was obvious from the shape of it's container. Nonetheless, she went to the effort to retrieve it.

    The full moon continued to light her way, although it was a bit lower in the sky by now, the shadows along the way stretching long across her path. The trip home through the cool night was long, and she wore out more quickly from all the running for her life she had done previously.

    She was also sore, the trip aggravating the pain she had felt from being knocked violently around the park that night.

    Still, she made good time. Making use of the side entrance, creeping efficiently back to her room, she made it back to home base, safe and without trouble. And she didn't even want to bother thinking of all the trouble she would have been in, caught in any place by anyone carrying a blood-covered woman through the night when she had a knife sticking out of her pocket.

    She immediately set to work, washing her hands thoroughly, her fingernails caked with dirt from all the scrambling on the ground she had done, as well as the blood from her companion. She opened her closet, the large chest within containing a host of medical supplies.

    Luckily, it seemed that Ryogi's jacket and kimono outfit was one that could be opened mostly from the front. She wouldn't have to cut anything off of her hopefully or move her unnecessarily, and she could undo a kimono obi in a heartbeat.

    Moving the light, bloodstained fabric aside, she proceeded to efficiently trace the routes of red to their sources, finding where the skin was broken and telling it from the mere blood-covered bruises and scrapes.

    It seemed it was a matter of many injuries having caught up with Ryogi, rather than any particularly large ones, and luckily she was already clotting fairly well. She was a lucky woman.. Although as Kohaku thought, luck was hardly the only thing playing a role in how this woman overcame an entire dictionary's worth of black monsters.

    Cleaning the various wounds and covering them professionally, she moved about until the worst was dealt with. Finding the cut on her head took a while, as she had to sort carefully through the dark strands of hair, and the blood's color had already darkened to match it.

    She sighed, wiping off her forehead with the back of her hand, smudging it with a bit of red. She looked back at Ryogi's mostly bared form, now having a moment to take her time.

    The woman really didn't seem much physically older than she was, actually, now that she had a real look at her.. Although her hard expressions and the look in that eye of hers had made her look more.. Mature, perhaps. But with her unconscious, the restful look on her face, lips slightly parted.. She looked a lot more relatable somehow. ..Almost somewhat vulnerable.

    Kohaku's eyes flitted up to the guaze-and-tape eye patch Ryogi still had, briefly. She bit her lip, and decided it was best not to let her curiosity get the best of her. ..For the time being. She decided to finish up, as she felt her weariness starting to tug at the edge of her own consciousness.

    She worked the rest of Ryogi's clothes off carefully, peeling away a bloodstained sarashi, as well as the unremarkable white underwear, being thorough in her not quite official but very professional doctoring. Tossing everything in a pile, she worked on finishing dealing with the rest of her wounds.

    Retrieving a wet cloth, she worked on cleaning the woman, noting that it seemed being injured was par the course.. Her pale skin was covered with scars here and there, some more pronounced than others.. The scarring being another in a long line of parallels she couldn't help but draw.. How long has she been doing.. Whatever it was she was doing? Was she a hunter like the Nanayas?

    She continued, clearing away all of the blood, sweat, and dirt, noting the tone of subtle muscle she could feel from Ryogi's wiry limbs and flat stomach.

    She could tell she was a strong one.. A wonderfully efficient form. This was a body that had quite a lot of power packed into a frame that wasn't much bigger than Kohaku's own, even.

    Of course, aside from being in much better shape, she noted for that Ryogi also had a more womanly figure, curves normally somewhat obscured by that kimono she always wore.. She frowned slightly at that jealous thought, but shook it off soon enough as she continued with her task.

    She began to hum a little, occasionally looking up at Ryogi's face. Shifting her had made Ryogi's head turn to the side a little, hair falling over that eye patch of hers, but it seemed she wasn't close to waking up.

    She's probably tired too.. Being up at night, chasing monsters, probably? ...Tired too. I really am tired myself.. she thought, finding herself yawning. She pulled a clean blanket up over Ryogi's bare form, and looked at the wall clock, noting the late hour. She still had a while until dawn, thankfully.

    "Well, Shiki-san, it looks like I have a load of clothes to try and save.. Don't move, okay?"

    She smiled at the unconscious Ryogi, and gathered up the pile of clothes. Ryogi didn't seem to have any argument.

    Sneaking to the laundry area, she set to work. Bloodstains were nothing new to her, and laundry was a task she could luckily handle indeed as she set about getting the proper temperature of water and ingredients to efficiently deal with them.

    Thank goodness Hisui-chan seems to be sound asleep.. It'd be so troublesome to explain all of this.

    Finding her own clothes having similar issues, she pulled off her beaten sweater and jeans and set to work on them as well, remembering the knife in her pocket.

    She sat down on an overturned bucket and looked it over while waiting on the clothes to soak. It was a fine weapon, that much she could tell. Both she and her sister, - although Kohaku herself sometimes played dumb in that regard - had an eye for this kind of thing, and she found it to be a fascinating little number, turning the blade over in her hand.

    She thumbed the edge of the blade lightly, peering at the weapon from different directions, the glint of metal in the light of the laundry room light being pleasing to her eyes.

    The blade had nice curves and lines to it.. A fine mahogany handle, with polished brass. She found it much nicer to look at than the simple blade she had kept from the Nanaya family.. This one seemed to be a strong, experienced weapon as well.

    Getting the needed supplies after a while, she set to cleaning the knife too, feeling nostalgic.

    After a long period of ritual cleansing, Kohaku procured a robe from the laundry area to wear and returned to her charge. Ryogi Shiki, that mysterious woman, was still out of it from what it looked like, resting under the sheet on top of her bed.

    Kohaku was full of questions, questions she mulled about as she set the freshly cleaned knife on her dresser, as well as a fresh plastic food container, containing the carefully-wrapped fragments of Ryogi's tea cup. There were too many pieces to try and save it, but she was intent on returning it, no matter what shape it was in.

    Pulling another robe from her closet, she set it alongside the unconscious woman. The light blue cotton probably wasn't to her style, but it'd serve well enough in case she woke up, until she could figure something else out, anyway.

    Kohaku pulled the chair away from her table gently, and sat down in it, the wood creaking slightly, as she watched Ryogi. She felt she had time to think now, her amber eyes focusing on her intently.

    Ryogi Shiki. This strange, serious person.

    It was almost too much to be a coincidence. This woman, one she met by sheer chance. It was a strange ritual they had, sitting next to one another at the park, as strangers. It didn't seem like they'd have anything in common, but the day they became familiar, it seemed they did.

    The woman was a part of the 'other side', as Kohaku decided to call it, not really having a better term for it. The world most people didn't know about, and were better off not knowing. The world where demons and undead and magic ran under the surface, policed by their own, on a whole different grid and system than what existed above.

    In short, to anyone new, there would be a knowledge gap between them. And for someone who didn't know before, the ugly truth about everything..

    Troublesome.

    However, here she was. This Ryogi Shiki was, without a doubt, a part of the world Kohaku was a part of. She might even have demon blood. As she wondered earlier, she suspected Ryogi might be some kind of hunter..

    ...A hunter. she thought. It was the best way to put it, above all else. The way Ryogi moved.. Even the way she walked.

    She pondered back, shifting to get more comfortable in her chair. ..Like the Nanayas. Like Shiki..

    It was the other half of the equation. This woman shared the same name as the boy she knew from childhood..

    The boy that became so much more. The boy that had saved her, saved her life and more, despite the horrible things she had done to him and those he loved. What she would have become, without the kindness from him..

    She missed him terribly.

    "You're a scary one, Shiki-san.." she thought, a phrase from the past..

    The resemblance didn't end there, for certain. The combat ability, against something ordinary humans couldn't dream of handling.. Carrying a bloodied form home to clean and care for.. The uncanny fleeting gaze of blue. The speed, the knife, the scars.. ..The physical perfection. The kindness.. Saving her..

    Years ago, she might have just let herself die. But tonight, she wanted to survive. She wanted it more than anything, and worked for it. But all the love and hard work those had done to save her in the past might have been rendered useless regardless, this night, had it not been for this woman.. Her new friend.

    Kohaku let herself slump against the table, resting her head on her arms. It was a lot to think about.. Too much to think about. She turned her head to face the unmoving Ryogi, her eyelids dropping a bit. "..Thank you.. Shiki-san number two." she murmured quietly, deciding to finally let all the fatigue claim her.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Ryogi Shiki dreamt.

    Her dreams have always been lucid. That was the term. Lucid. The sort of dreaming where you were fully aware that you were dreaming, and you had full control of that dream itself. Touko called it the everyday man's reality marble - a space where you could do anything, be anything, and shape reality into anything you could possibly want.

    Most people, Touko had told her during one of her lectures, would go all out in their dreams - from outrageous riches to going on romantic quests where the hero gets the girl and so on and so forth. One's imagination was the limit. And that was perfectly normal, perfectly healthy, a sign that the person dreaming had grown into the fine, repressed individual that society's norms and pressures forced everyone to mold themselves into.

    Ryogi's lucid dreams were anything but imaginative. They were anything but colorful. In fact, a normal person looking into her dreams - they wouldn't really be normal if they could actually do THAT, but this is just an example anyway - would simply watch for approximately ten seconds, waiting for something to happen, before stalking off, indignant, demanding that the manager return his money because nothing even remotely remarkable was happening and it was BLOODY BORING.

    A typical dream of Ryogi's usually consisted of her sitting on a bench, sipping tea, in the middle of a featureless, lifeless white expanse. That was it. No flying, no adventures, no doing anything out of the ordinary.

    She would dream of herself sipping tea - and the only thing that was remotely dream-like about the entire thing was that her teacup would never run out of tea, or go cold in her grasp. That was how dreams usually went for her.

    At least, until Kohaku stepped into the picture.

    It wasn't obvious at first, really, but it came to a point that even Ryogi noticed the small changes, the tiny details that came trickling in bit by bit, dream by dream, day after day that she had spent whiling away the hours in the park with Kohaku. She had tried to consult Touko about it, but the older woman clearly didn't seem to think anything was wrong - instead, she had pointed Ryogi out of her room, covering her mouth with a book in a clear attempt not to laugh despite the Satsujinki's distress.

    The changes began with the bench.

    The first time she had met Kohaku - the first time they enjoyed each other's company in the park- the bench in her dream resembled the bench in the park. From the handcrafted metalwork to the markings from the tree the wood was carved from, they were one and the same.

    At first, Ryogi took no notice of it, chalking it up to the new Oolong tea that Touko had mistakenly bought from the grocery.

    The next night, after another encounter with the amber-eyed girl, the tea in her teacup tasted just a bit more...alive. It had always been a flat, if not half-hearted Earl Grey that she sipped during her past dreams - now it tasted strong, sharp even, a robust green tea that cleared the senses and did the body good.

    Again, Ryogi paid this no mind, although she made note to ask Touko in the morning if an imagination was something that you caught, like a cold, instead of being born with.

    This gradual change continued over the days, then the weeks. From the bench to the tea, the featureless expanse of white molded itself into an actual replica of the park. The lake appeared, and with it a gaggle of geese that seemed intent on quacking each other to death(Once in a while, Ryogi would silence them with a well-meaning rock, thrown with an expert arm). Then it was the sky. Then the sun. And then the birds.

    It was then that Ryogi made the connection. No one could call her slow on the uptake, that was for sure - it was just that she was never one to put any meaning into dreams. But this was just too much. Idly wondering if she was already going insane, she decided to wait it out until inconvertible proof presented itself to her, that would cement the fact that...

    Kohaku...

    The day she spoke to the girl was the night she appeared in her dreams.

    It was an encounter she would always remember. For some reason, the dream began with her walking into the park, rather than with her sitting at the bench, sipping tea every few minutes or so. Kohaku would be waiting for her there, a smile on her face, wearing the same clothes she had when they introduced themselves to each other. She would bow first - her warm amber eyes closing briefly, distracting Ryogi for a split second before she awkwardly bowed herself - before taking Ryogi by the hand and leading her to the lake.

    "Shiki-san." The girl would say. "Shiki."

    "Kohaku." She would then reply, and then their conversation was over. They would go back to the bench and sit - but instead of sitting in the usual way, with a respectable distance between them, Kohaku would sit close to Ryogi. Close enough for the Satsujinki to feel the girl's body heat. Close enough for her to drown in the warm pools of honey that were the girl's eyes.

    Close enough that whenever Ryogi sipped her tea, she could swear she tasted tangerines in it.

    But Ryogi's current dream was nothing so idyllic, so perfect. No. Having been knocked unconscious while the rest of her was still tensed for combat, the girl's subconscious recounted the events of that night. A dream of blood, of tar-like shadows, of fangs and claws and horns and hooves and death.

    In her dream, Ryogi beheld Kohaku's lifeless corpse, the girl's cold eyes staring accusingly up at her own. A moment too late, a second too slow - and Ryogi had lost her only chance at something special. A chance that she thought she'd lost after Kokuto Mikiya had decided to help his sister pursue her studies overseas, as well as do some traveling of his own.

    In her dream, Ryogi cried.

    The sensation of tears pricking her eyes was enough to snap her out of it.

    An unfamiliar ceiling and a decidedly even more unfamiliar room greeted her. Slowly sitting up from the rather spartan, but comfortable bed, Ryogi quietly but carefully stock of herself and her surroundings - her one eye slowly closing and opening, getting her sight used to the pre-dawn darkness.

    First of all, she was naked. Completely and--

    She carefully lifted the sheet covering her and took a peek.

    --utterly naked. While she wasn't one for modesty, Ryogi felt the cold, and crossed her arms over her ample breasts as she shivered slightly from the biting night air.

    Second, she hurt. From a thousand different places. Every movement had a particularly-stinging burst of pain that convinced her that moving any further would result in more of it. Even her hair hurt, that was how bad things got. Of course, the last one may have been just the wound she got on her forehead, but all in all, she was lucky to be alive - and surprisingly, mended to the point that the pain was slowly ebbing as soon as it had flared up.

    But who...?

    From where she sat, Ryogi started to examine - and mentally catalog - each and every detail about the room. There was an air of home-ness to the place - one could easily feel the warmth, the hospitality, the innate safety and comfort that it brought. Knick-knacks, slightly disorganized, littered every stable surface, but not enough to be called clutter. A few books - Ryogi's brow furrowed as she recognized a few fairy tale compilations in the mix - sat in a pile on a corner, next to a rather large TV set. A videogame console - or at least, one that looked like one, a thin white box standing on its side - rested beside a stack of DVD cases, piled high enough to tower over the contraption itself. The room was - in a word - scholarly, and Ryogi found herself frowning in envy.

    It was then that she spied Kohaku sleeping, slumped onto a table, just like any other student would during a particularly boring lesson.

    And the night before came rushing back to Ryogi, the girl's one good eye blinking in astonishment as she gazed at the rather numerous bandages that held some particularly-nasty wounds in place. Wounds that, upon closer inspection, were properly cleaned and medicated.

    Ryogi put one and two together, slowly, in her mind, and then smiled slightly. She was relieved that she had been able to get to her in time, but that was moot - considering that the girl obviously inconvenienced herself to carry her all the way home. It was a failing in her part. Any thoughts about quietly gathering up her things and making a break for it was quickly dispelled - she owed Kohaku her thanks, and would patiently wait for the girl to wake up for her to be able to give it. It was the least she could do.

    Stop making excuses. You're thrilled to be here, inside her room. You would have given your right eye to even take a peek here, and would immediately give your left to step in. There's a thing called being honest with yourself, you know. You should be honest to her, too.

    Shaking her head at the small, mental voice that she hadn't heard in years, Ryogi slowly slid off the bed, quickly but quietly throwing on the robe that she surmised the girl had considerately placed near the bed. Not bothering to tie off the sash at the front - the garment falling open, revealing her toned form - Ryogi made to drape a blanket over Kohaku's shoulders, to make sure the girl wouldn't catch a cold in the morning.

    The first step she took creaked. A bit TOO loudly.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Creaaak.


    Kohaku exhaled slowly, a little deeper than the shallow breaths of sleep she had been making. Her eyes opened halfway, blinking a little, as she slowly came to.

    ..Third floorboard from the bed..? Why..? -Oh!

    She tilted her head a little, starting to remember everything, her eyes opening fully, a bit surprised as they found Ryogi Shiki, standing and awake. The woman was in mid step, looking back at her, seeming a little off guard herself, eyebrow raised a little.

    ..She looks like she's been caught red-handed, sort of? What was she doing up? But that thought was pushed aside, an unneeded thought. She mentally gathered herself. It was earlier than she expected. By the light, it still wasn't even sunrise yet. And to think she had only just woken up.. But nonetheless, the time had come. She was going to have to rouse herself and actually speak to Ryogi Shiki.

    "Mm.." Kohaku brought her head up, and moved to face her rather under-dressed charge, then stood. Her mild look of post-wake dullness melted into a smile as she blinked away the sleep, and gave a small bow to Ryogi. Despite this strange circumstance and informal meeting, she had to be polite at least.

    "Good morning, Shiki-san.. I'm sorry about your state, but I was going to fix your clothes in the morning. I was hoping to do them before you woke up.."

    Ryogi's expression became a little more neutral, closer to that usual look that could almost be intimidating, in the right situation. This certainly wasn't one of them. Retracting her foot to stand more normally, she continued to meet her gaze, not seeming to mind the open state of her robe at the moment.

    Kohaku continued, her expression softening a bit. "How are you feeling, Shiki-san?"

    "..It's nothing I'm not used to." she said, nothing about it giving reason to doubt her. The second, no, third full sentence she had heard from the woman.

    That won't do. That's no kind of answer..

    "..Shiki-san, even if you say that, I know your body is hurting, and you need to be careful with yourself right now. You were a frightful mess.. I did my best to patch you up, though, and don't worry, I've had training under a real doctor. So you should listen to me and at least sit down for a while, okay?"

    She wondered if she was coming on too strong, the tiny, nagging little fear starting to gather in the back of her mind. She kept smiling, however, and it seemed Ryogi was ready to comply with that much at least.

    Ryogi moved to slowly sit down, then almost as an afterthought, fastened her robe. She eased down on the bed, almost seemingly not reacting to her injuries as she moved.

    Kohaku felt her curiousity grow all the more, about her new, strong, mysterious friend. But don't forget your manners.. With that taken care of, you know what you have to say for the time being. She folded her hands together demurely, preparing herself.

    "Shiki-san.. I want to apologize for last night. You saved my life, and went through a great deal of trouble to do so. I want to thank you very much for what you did for me, so please let me treat you in return. Truly, thank you." She felt a bit embarrassed saying so much, and perhaps it was last night's events clouding her judgment, but she had to say it. There was no way around it, as things were.

    It seemed her words weren't wasted on Ryogi. She turned her head to the side a bit, obscuring her good eye from Kohaku, and mumbled.

    "..'s nothing, you don't have to.."

    Kohaku couldn't tell if Ryogi really even finished her sentence, but reading into what she could see of her face, it seemed her genuine gratitude created a bigger reaction than any of what she had said before. If anything, it seemed she wasn't used to getting that.

    Or something. Kohaku smiled more, clasping her hands together in front of her. "Don't be so bashful, Shiki-san. You're a good person to have done so. ..Ah, but how silly of me, I'm supposed to be treating you now. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Do you want something for the pain?"

    Ryogi looked back at her, seeming a little surprised again, then glanced down briefly. "I could eat."

    Kohaku brightened. "Please wait right there, I'll bring you a tray, Shiki-san." She bowed briefly, then went for the door, her step undeniably light as she left the strange woman in her room.

    The red-head thanked her foresight, in having prepared quick food ahead of time for her and her sister over Akiha's absence. Sneaking to the kitchen like a master burglar, she made the arrangements without Hisui showing up.

    Before long, she made it back to her room, a tray of curry and rice, as well as some water. "I'm entering..!" she said, just in case.

    Ryogi looked up at her, sitting exactly as she was, it seemed. Her eye glanced to the tray.

    "Here you are, Shiki-san. It's not much, but I wasn't expecting to have to do much cooking this weekend." She opened the legs of the tray and set it over Ryogi's lap. It seemed the smell was to the woman's liking.. Either that, or she must have been rather hungry, as Kohaku caught the sound of Ryogi's stomach as she stepped away. She resisted the urge to giggle at that, as she turned to watch Ryogi lower her head.

    Giving the woman her space to eat, Kohaku stood by politely. This one.. She may want to leave after she's eaten. I should take this chance to talk to her.. she thought. Waiting for a break in the eating, Kohaku spoke up.

    "Shiki-san.. Might I ask you something?"

    "Mm?"

    "What you do.. For a living..?"

    Kohaku asked with a simple, happy smile. She knew she was taking a risk, but she had to learn more. It helped that Ryogi wouldn't be able to escape easily with food to satisfy her, as well as the fact that she didn't have her clothes.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞
    Last edited by White; December 19th, 2011 at 06:23 PM.

  15. #15
    吸血鬼 Vampire EVA-Saiyajin's Avatar
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    Nice, very nice. When does this take place in the Kara no Kyokai and Tsukihime timelines?

  16. #16
    sibei shiok fun time Overwhelmed by Anime's Avatar
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    Unknown as of hiatus. It's post KnK, but with Shiki's eye, it's clearly an AU, and it seems to be post-Tsuki also, although again, possible not after a canon route.

  17. #17
    吸血鬼 Vampire EVA-Saiyajin's Avatar
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    You're right, her eye does imply something non-canon. Thanks.

  18. #18
    Story Index:


    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Ah. So it begins. Ryogi thought, looking down at the food that Kohaku had generously prepared for her. The chopsticks that she had poised to clamp down on a clump of soft rice was politely lowered, showing Kohaku that she had gotten the Satsujinki's full attention. She had been expecting it, actually - pretty much anyone who had interacted with her in the past during any sort of way had asked her the same exact question, without fail. And Ryogi Shiki gave a barefaced lie for an answer, without fail.

    Of course, a few years ago, it would've been easy. She was still studying then, despite being involved in quite a number of incidents. 'Student' always did the trick, and while she had pretty much stopped going to classes - much to Kokuto's disappointment - it worked. Ryogi knew that she didn't look the part, eternal kimono and leather jacket model that she was, but maybe it was the fact that she kept to herself like a freshly-resurfaced hikkikomori or that she simply wore such a striking color that people readily believed her. And then life moved on, as always.

    Today, it would be harder to make that particular lie stick. She thought of what passed as a taxable occupation for her - Touko had her registered as a clerk in her payroll, giving Ryogi a weekly sum for spending money as a salary of sorts - and then dismissed it just as quickly as it had popped up in her mind. It wouldn't do, after all. It was enough that the one you were supposed to rescue ended up carrying you all the way to her home, patch you up, and then feed you in bed - the last thing Ryogi wanted to do was to wad everything Kohaku had done for her up to this point, and then throw it back into her face by lying. No. The least she could do, however, was tell the truth.

    And she did say thank you. The voice piped up once again. Go on. She'd just seen you kill something that would have probably mauled her to death and left the bones out to dry in the sun afterwards. I'm sure she won't judge you for something as trivial as that.

    Ryogi looked at the smile that Kohaku was giving her - and the one-eyed Satsujinki suddenly feltthat the girl was going to hang on to every word that would pop out of her lips, and that she was making her wait. She cleared her throat, self-consciously fidgeted underneath her robe by rubbing her ankles together, and then took a deep breath.

    She let it out with a small sigh, and then...

    "I kill things." Ryogi said, raising her voice a little to let Kohaku hear her as clearly as she was hearing herself, even if she didn't believe it at first. "I kill things that could, might or already have killed people. Sometimes, I have to kill people too - but I try not to unless they try to kill me first. It's something I'm...good at, I've been told." She added.

    All cards on the table, the Satsujinki thought, bowing her head and closing her eye as she waited for Kohaku to react.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    She..

    Kohaku's expression shifted slightly, a little taken off guard. It was the answer she was expecting for the most part, but the delivery and directness, as well as the way she described it, was something else. The smile was small, but remained, however.

    She's very forthcoming after all, this Shiki-san.

    Seeing Ryogi lower her head, she knew this must have been a bit troublesome for her to say. She paused, considering her own response for a moment.

    "..You're very honest, Shiki-san. Although after seeing that, it'd be hard for me to believe if you said you cut meat at a store for a living, or something silly like that. I don't suppose I'm in deep trouble with you now that I know, am I?" she said, tilting her head a little, giggling.

    Ryogi eyed back up at her, a bit of a bewildered look showing from her brow at the overly casual response.

    Maybe that wasn't the right thing to say.. Kohaku thought, as she made a somewhat helpless gesture. "..You don't need to look down, Shiki-san.. ..I understand." she said, looking at Ryogi a little more seriously.

    "You have something special about you, Shiki-san. You have something others don't have. This makes you different.. ..And it means that you've become a part of something strange, something that most people do not know, or even believe. Because you can do something that they cannot.. And those that do know, may covet it."

    Kohaku leaned forward slightly, continuing seriously, but still retaining the small smile.

    "..And either you found something that required what you can do, or.. Perhaps, something found you." she said, then nodded.

    Shiki-san.. I wondered if you were a private person, when I first saw you. You always seemed to be. And I suspect you have good reason, especially now, with what I've seen so far..

    She knew it was a risk, to try and connect with the unusual woman like this. But she wanted to try. It wasn't so bad, was it..? She was lonely, but Ryogi seemed like she was lonely too..

    "Shiki-san.. I hope you don't feel awkward around me. You saved me from a real woof-woof panic.. A bow-wow bedlam, even. So you can feel at ease.. I know how to appreciate something given to me." She raised her shoulders slightly, giving a softer expression. "If you want, I won't pry more.. Or you can ask me something too."

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Ryogi stared directly at Kohaku, her one good eye blinking in half-astonishment and half-wonder. To say that the girl's almost casual, if not calm reaction to her outright declaration of being a hired murder surprised the Satsujinki would be to understate an understatement. Understate it horribly. Understate it until the word didn't really mean anything anymore, and it had to call its mum and tearfully ask if it was really adopted.

    Ryogi Shiki was surprised, yes, but at the same time she wanted to stand up and embrace Kohaku in a crushing hug. Yes, she was pleased just as she was surprised, simply because telling the truth did not result in Kohaku running away to call the authorities, either the ones with the tazers and handcuffs or the ones with the straitjackets. Far from it - in fact, Kohaku's smile never faltered, and instead made her feel that somehow, things ended the way they were supposed to be. And that made Ryogi just as happy, just as giddy. For one brief moment, the amber-eyed girl in front of her was the center of Ryogi's universe.

    Emotions threatening to explode underneath the surface, Ryogi moved - and Kohaku was rewarded with a small, but heartfelt attempt at a smile, as well as a brief and almost imperceptible shaking of the head.

    "It's...it's alright." Ryogi managed. "You can ask me anything, and I'll try my best to answer. I'll try my best not to be so awkward around you. I promise."

    I promise.

    And that opened the floodgates. For the rest of the meal - Ryogi taking a bite or two after every answer she gave - the two friends began talking, just like two girls in one room would talk about everything and anything. Instead of delving into what she could do and what she couldn't, Kohaku asked Ryogi mundane questions, questions like where she lived, what was her favorite color, what she did in her spare time, what her favorite movie was, if she ever played videogames. That sort of thing. For the first few minutes, Ryogi had steeled herself for questions that would border on the invasive - but none was forthcoming, and the Satsujinki found herself liking the girl more and more as they learned about each other.

    So at ease, Ryogi thought, her shoulders shaking in quiet, genuinely sympathetic laughter as Kohaku finished telling, between giggles, a hilarious tale about her finding a curiously-shaped vegetable in the local grocery. As if...as if she dealt with people like me on an everyday basis, and thought nothing of it. A curious, curious girl indeed...

    Before long, her plate was cleaned of any proof that food had previously been piled on top of it - a sign that they both dreaded, one that said that their brief time with each other was now nearing to a close. After the perfunctory thanks for a good meal, and Kohaku quietly stealing off into the kitchen to deposit the dirty dishes - Ryogi made the decision to make the first move. It was her prerogative as a guest, after all, and she hoped that the amber-eyed girl wouldn't make it too difficult for her to leave. No long goodbyes, no lingering invitations of "Oh, do stay just a bit longer," - Ryogi, for all her fortitude, knew that she would not be able to resist.

    For she wanted to stay, just as much as the girl seemed abhorrent on the thought of Ryogi finally setting off for home.

    "I...I am afraid I've overstayed my welcome." Ryogi murmured as she stood up from the bed. "As much as I would like to stay longer--" Focus, Ryogi, focus..."...I have to report back to my employer and tell them what happened."

    Please don't look at me like that. The raven-haired Satsujinki silently pleaded with a blank, expressionless face.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Kohaku supposed the saying "time flies when you're having fun" had shown it's work here.

    And it was fun. Kohaku liked talking, and just chatting with Akiha, and when it happened, Hisui, was an enjoyable part of her little slice of existence. Of course, even between young women like them, things could become a little stale sometimes, a lack of fresh things to discuss. Sometimes there was the need for something different. But while Akiha had her friends and acquaintances(mostly the latter, of course) to turn to, Kohaku's options were more limited.

    It was easy to see why both Akiha and Hisui-chan were encouraging me to take more time off or otherwise leave the mansion.. she had thought.

    Of course, for someone who had never really had the chance to go out and make friends, and without the convenience of public schooling or an outside job to give her excuse to get to know people..

    Troublesome.

    It was easy, too easy, to be friendly with a stranger. Hisui had even told her that she could easily make friends if she went out and tried. But getting over the hill that separates stranger and acquaintance.. Troublesome really was the word for it.

    Of course, all of this had lead her to this very situation. The encouragement to get out more leading her to discovering the quaint park.. And all the time whittled away there letting her discover another person enjoying the same thing. The stranger she had never spoken to, but ended up spending so much time with, if by chance.. And now, who she finally had the pleasure of losing track of time getting to know.

    She had wanted all of this from the beginning.

    Talking to Ryogi wasn't like talking to anyone else, of course. She was different.. A different sort of person than she had imagined finding to fritter away time talking with. Withdrawn, rough around the edges, but not impolite.. A bit blunt, and quiet, but not to the point where Kohaku had to struggle too much to keep conversation going.

    Despite what she was willing to say, Kohaku imagined she was only scratching the surface, when it came to this woman. Ryogi had an almost alluring air of mystery to her, and Kohaku's curiosity was held at bay by her good sense and politeness.

    She was fortunate to have found a friend. Maybe it wasn't the ideal way to make one, nearly dying and all, but so far she wouldn't change the past even if she could. And she'd have to be crazy to do anything to risk driving her away.

    Kohaku glanced at the wall clock. What was more noticeable than the time was the fact that the sun was starting to come up, the soft light peeking over the horizon and slowly adding it's warmth to the room.

    Time flies indeed..

    She gave Ryogi a small smile, polite disappointment showing through. A similar look to when Ryogi had left the day she learned her name. "Alright, Shiki-san. Thank you for indulging me so far."

    She's forgetting something, Kohaku thought. She clasped her hands together lightly in realization.

    "Of course, you will be much too drafty if you leave right now, Shiki-san. I haven't prepared the rest of your clothes yet, so you'll have to borrow some of mine. Come, let's pick you out an outfit." she said, looking cheery again as she stood.

    Kohaku idly wondered if that time Ryogi really had forgotten about her state of dress, as she took the surprised Ryogi by the hand and over to her closet.

    In any case, it seemed they really would have just a little longer.

    Kohaku could only guess the expression on Ryogi's face as she sorted through a surprising variety of clothes. She hummed lightly as she reached in, pushing aside more eccentric choices, idly wondering how they'd look on Ryogi as she went.

    Cheongsam.. Festival yukata.. Hisui-chan's uniform.. My uniform.. Another Hisui-chan's uniform.. Ah, this would be funny.. She lifted out a school girl's uniform, complete with pleated skirt, and showed Ryogi. "It'd look so smart on you!"

    The sight of that skirt made Ryogi blanch. "I.. don't think so.."

    Kohaku giggled, putting it back, and after poking through a few more oddities, focused her mental energy on outfits that would be more practical choices.

    Before long, keeping Ryogi's slightly larger frame in mind, she had presented her with a teeshirt and a long skirt to wear. The shirt's stylized 'New York, New York' in English boldly covering the front probably didn't suit her at all, but Kohaku found the visual mismatch endearing, and Ryogi didn't seem to see reason to complain.

    Kohaku let her have her privacy to change into her new outfit, as well as her cleaned undergarments and boots. Coming back in, she found Ryogi examining her cleaned knife, found on the top of her dresser. Looking satisfied, the young woman tucked the blade away.

    "..Thanks for that. All of it." she said.

    Kohaku bowed lightly. "I should be the one thanking you. And might I say, you look good in that outfit." she said happily, putting her hands together. After a pause, she tilted her head. "..I guess it's time. I'll make sure the coast is clear, and.."

    Ryogi shook her head a little, then motioned at the window. "Does it open?"

    Kohaku giggled lightly. "Yes. You can leave like a master spy if you'd like." She felt the sadness of parting start to surface again. This time it was time to say goodbye for certain. It was then that she noted the box on her dresser.. What was left of Ryogi's teacup.

    Ryogi was turning. Kohaku stepped forward, speaking up. "Ah, Shiki-san, about your cup.. The one you left at the park.." she said, her voice serious. Ryogi turned back, recognition showing in her eye.

    "You kept it?"

    "Yes! But.." Kohaku let the shame wash over her face. "I had it with me last night.. When all that happened. It didn't make it.." she said, looking away.

    She heard Ryogi shift. "..It's.. all right." she muttered. Kohaku didn't even want to look and see what her expression was. She must be disappointed.

    Kohaku certainly was. Taking wonderful care of that little cup, as if it meant everything to her. She was so excited about the thought of returning it, all nice and neat. But that stupid black dog..

    That black dog that had almost killed her. Kohaku swallowed, feeling a bit of a hollow sensation in her stomach. Perhaps she was too full of adrenaline and lack of sleep all this time.. She shivered, and felt like only just now she was appreciating the harshness of what almost came to be.

    "Did.."

    She looked back at Ryogi, as she heard the woman murmur. Ryogi had been likewise looking away.. Thankfully. Kohaku re-asserted her usual expression. "Yes?"

    Ryogi's eye turned to her. "How much was left?" she asked, uncertainly.

    Kohaku tilted her head. "Eh? Well.." she eyed the box. "Well, it was packaged so I had all the pieces.. It's not really fixable, I'm afraid.." Kohaku looked back at Ryogi, and made her guess about what she might want. "Here." she said, taking the plastic container of wrapped fragments and presented it to Ryogi.

    Her savior.

    "Thank you.." said Ryogi.

    "I.. Thank you, Shiki-san." said Kohaku. She meant her words, but they felt hollow to her own mind. 'Thank you' didn't feel like it covered it nearly enough, still.

    Ryogi had saved her life.. The life of Kohaku, who was a stranger. Thinking back to all the people who had helped her, who endured awful things to save her.. Those people were people who had known her from childhood, and had been close to her.

    Ryogi Shiki, however..

    "Why?"

    She found herself asking, before she could stop herself.

    Ryogi half-turned back, a slight questioning look on her face.

    "Why?" Kohaku repeated, feeling a slight waver in her voice. More than that, she felt it in the rest of her. She swallowed, proceeding, even if she thought maybe she shouldn't.

    "Shiki-san.. Why did you save me?"

    She saw Ryogi turn to face her fully.

    Kohaku could feel her eyes moisten. Why am I wanting to cry..? she wondered, as she continued, fighting to keep her expression neutral. "Why, when you only just learned my name? You went through so much trouble.. And you risked your own life, all for a stranger. It would have been easier if you had ignored me.. That much I could tell. Getting to me hastily could have killed you, Shiki-san.. ..So why.."

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Ryogi's heart couldn't have had sank any lower when Kohaku brought the issue of the teacup up, and her profusely apologizing about how it had ended up into a mere pile of crushed porcelain. It wasn't that she was disappointed, really - sure, it was the first thing she had bought from her very first salary from Touko, and it had been on sale for quite some time, as if the stall had been saving it for her - but it was perfectly replaceable.

    In fact, she had been contemplating on buying a new one, after finally conceding that she had lost it somewhere, somehow. She didn't have a spare, and she couldn't keep drinking tea right out of the thermos forever.

    No, it wasn't disappointment in Kohaku. It was disappointment at herself that made the Satsujinki turn away, mentally kicking herself in the shin and promising that she will have to swallow piping-hot tea direct from the thermos for as long as she lived. With the tea leaves left in.

    Her forgetfulness - her own stupidity - had almost cost Kohaku her life, and her the chance of meeting someone who actually didn't run away when Ryogi felt the absurd need to be honest.

    She wanted to return the godforsaken cup to you. The scathing voice was back, and now sputtering with barely held back rage. As much as it'd be regretful that you wouldn't have had this chance to get to know her better - I think you'd have to do more than just spend quiet mornings with her in a park before she'd even let you into her room, much more to actually wear her own clothes in lieu of your own - if you hadn't left that teacup in the park in the first place, she wouldn't have been that close to danger. So close to death.

    Whatever you do will have consequences, and you pretty much came close to killing someone like her because you were too busy being angry. The next time, try and think a bit more about your actions before you put someone else's life - other than yours, that is - in mortal peril. Not anyone can take a thousand different animals trying to tear your own throat out like you can.


    The tirade burned away like so much joss paper in her mind, but the stinging truth remained as clear as day - and there was no getting away from that. But what stung more was the awkward silence, as well as the sudden change in mood in Kohaku. It was as if she was blaming herself for it - that she was afraid that Ryogi was disappointed in her for getting the damn piece of porcelain smashed.

    And all this, after carrying her unconscious form to her house, patching her up, feeding her, and then clothing her...

    Ryogi tried to console the girl, to tell her that the teacup wasn't anything to feel sorry about, but something held her back. She didn't know what it was.

    Perhaps a fear of making things worse by being too forward, or sounding too unsympathetic, that she was only doing it to be polite and would be seen as someone who actually gave a damn for a glorified vassal of boiling liquid than a person's life? A little bit from Column A, little bit from Column B, or probably everything all at once? But she had to try--

    She ended up asking about just how much of the teacup remained.

    That's it, the voice inside her raged. You will have a self-imposed handicap on tackling your targets so huge, you'd have to pierce their dots with a toothpick. A BALSA toothpick. One of those things that snap in half even before you've put it into your mouth to get that annoying piece of food out from between your teeth. You can't even--

    Kohaku was kind enough to reply, as well as give her a carefully-wrapped package that she said contained all the fragments of the damnable piece of crockery. This she accepted with much more gravity than she would have, as she wanted no more than to hurl it into an incinerator and think nothing more of it, of how close she had gotten Kohaku killed because of it.

    Fidgeting slightly in her new clothes - the T-shirt was comfortable and airy, the skirt a bit confining but manageable if she didn't plan on running - Ryogi thanked her again, and made to leave. She would have to stop by the local incinerator before making a beeline for home.

    And it was then that Ryogi's heart sank even further than necessary. Or further than she thought it could possibly sink.

    She didn't know exactly why - or what she did to set it off - but it was clear to Ryogi, even with just one eye, that Kohaku was holding herself back from crying. It was in the way she stood, the way a small shiver ran across her shoulders whenever she inhaled, the tiniest quiver in her voice as she asked the Satsujinki why.

    Why did she save her? Why the mad dash to save someone and getting horribly injured the process while she could have just taken her own sweet time and not even take a scratch?

    Ryogi stared into the girl's eyes, amber orbs glistening with unshed tears, and then looked away. One hand curling into a fist, she thought hard about what she was about to say. Was it the truth? Would she understand? And finally, would she be willing to accept the consequences if it all went wrong - including having to spend the rest of her days in the park alone?

    "I didn't want to lose you."

    Ryogi whispered it out more than said it, but in the silence of the room, she might as well have shouted it. Shaking her head briefly, the Satsujinki grimly decided to follow it through the entire way. She might as well.

    "You are correct. I could have taken my time with the monsters. I could have left you to die, to be assimilated into the core yourself, and I would have managed to kill them all without getting hurt. And the process itself would take barely ten minutes more, all in all." Ryogi's one eye closed briefly, before opening again, a determined light shining from it.

    "But I didn't. I wanted to step in, I wanted to do away with them before they could even do you harm, even if I got to you considerably late." She touched the flattened package for emphasis. "I wanted to save you. I don't know why, I don't know what drove me, but all I knew that the idea of losing you was something I could not live with."

    Kohaku...

    Silence. Deafening, ear-shattering silence.

    And this is how it ends, Ryogi thought bitterly, her face blank and expressionless - except for the small frown on her lips. She had been banking on spending more time with Kohaku - but now, with her answer, she'd be sure that the girl would certainly find it awkward.

    Well, at the very least, she had work to throw herself at, to stop her from thinking about it too much. She just hoped that Salacia would magically come up with more targets for her to kill - God knows what she'll do after it was all over, and when thoughts of a certain amber-eyed girl followed her to her dreams.

    "I'll...I'll be leaving now." Ryogi murmured, her head bowed as she turned away. "I'll give these back to you after I've washed them."

    She made to open the window.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Kohaku continued to look at Ryogi. Her expression remained a mask that was obviously, barely holding back the unexpectedly strong emotions, as well as the waterworks. She was still surprised at herself, and didn't understand exactly where it was all coming from, much as she initially didn't understand what Ryogi was saying.

    Even Ryogi herself admitted not entirely understanding. But through the lost, confusing mess she was feeling, Kohaku began to piece it together.

    That person Ryogi would meet all those days at the park, who's name she didn't know. The fact that they didn't know each other's names meant nothing, and the same went for the fact that they had never spoken. When they shared the same bench, even from the start, they weren't enjoying their day the same as the way as they would if the other wasn't there. They were enjoying it together.

    Ryogi didn't save a stranger. She saved her - Kohaku. And she had wanted to because it was her.

    It was a warm feeling. Something that added tangibility to intangibility, something material to fill an emptiness. The knowledge that this person could care about her so easily, enough to save her like that..

    Shiki-san..

    She saw Ryogi was making to leave. The woman looked downcast, after saying something so meaningful. Kohaku wondered why, when the response had made her feel so.. Positive.

    Nonetheless, Kohaku was full of emotional energy. The conflicting feelings, both good and bad, needed somewhere to go. All Kohaku knew was that she didn't want Ryogi Shiki to leave without.. Without her doing what? Showing how she herself felt, her gratitude? How moved she was by Ryogi's admission that she cared?

    She didn't really know, as she felt herself moving forward, quickly but somewhat unsteadily. Her vision was blurred slightly with dampness, her very breath shaky. She reached Ryogi and turned her, hearing the woman's confused vocalization, and grabbed her into a tight embrace. She held the surprised woman close, her head resting over her shoulder, feeling the warmth, and the way Ryogi was tensed.

    Kohaku didn't care if it was incredibly improper. She didn't care the reasoning behind it, or about anything else. All that mattered was that this is what she wanted to do.

    "S-Shiki-san.. Thank you.."

    She heard herself say those words, very softly, almost without thought. Maybe that's what she wanted to convey with this.. That she was grateful, for everything.. For a friend and a savior. That she wanted Ryogi to not feel bad. That she was a confused, crazy, wreck of a person after all and just wanted this moment to get it all out.

    She still didn't know.. But it felt good, this contact. The warmth of a person pressed against her, someone who cared about her.

    Kohaku blinked, some of the held-in tears escaping as she realized that Ryogi was moving. She shivered a bit, suddenly a bit fearful, until she felt Ryogi's right arm wrap around her in return, lightly, rather awkwardly, followed by the left after a moment. It was obvious Ryogi wasn't really a touchy-feely person, but at this moment Kohaku felt as if there was no better way she could have responded.

    She squeezed her eyes shut, leaning a bit closer, feeling the dark hair brush her cheek softly. Her gesture had been returned, for the most part. Without saying anything, or even knowing what she had wanted to say, Kohaku felt as if she had delivered the message successfully, and received a reply of understanding that warmed her heart.

    She heard the woman breathe in deeply, feeling Ryogi's torso expand in her arms, and she wondered what she was thinking.. As well as what her face looked like.

    It was a while, the feelings that had wanted to burst forth subsiding, before she realized she might be overstaying her welcome with this heartfelt embrace. Kohaku blushed a bit, and swallowed, wondering what to do, then relaxed her grip. A moment later, she felt the awkward, uncertain arms around her do the same, as they mutually ended the hug, stepping back and looking at one another.

    Kohaku met Ryogi's gaze, an expression of a somewhat embarrassed surprise, her own being similar. The somewhat surprising, faint tinge of crimson to Ryogi's cheeks made her feel all the more better, somehow.

    I.. Well, I did what I needed to.. And I feel so relieved.. But what now..?

    Kohaku felt herself at a loss for words, after her brash show of emotion. Needless to say, Ryogi didn't seem to have anything to offer either. As the extra warmth of contact faded, the moment became an awkward silence.

    Both women looked away at the same time, as Kohaku mentally berated herself for acting in such a silly manner, and tried to think of something, anything to bring the moment to anything resembling a proper close.

    The sound of a rapping on the thick wooden door made both women snap to attention, Kohaku downright jumping at the noise.

    "Ah, who.." she started, holding her chest in surprise.

    "Nee-san, are you really going to oversleep this much?"

    Kohaku blinked, looking back at Ryogi, who seemed to have recovered much better, then looked back at the door. "I'll be coming in a moment, Hisui-chan, just let me finish with my hair, okay? I'll help you find breakfast!" she said, cheerily. She had forgotten all about it. She didn't even want to think about what kind of abomination her sister would make for herself without some advice..

    "I will be in the kitchen, then." she heard from behind the door.

    Kohaku exhaled, slumping her shoulders, and then smiled as she turned back to Ryogi. Or rather, the space she once occupied. A light breeze made the curtains sway a little.

    She gaped, a dumbstruck expression, as she hurried over to the open window in surprise, looking out. "What a master spy type.." she said to herself. Ryogi was nowhere in sight, although a flattened stretch of grass showed evidence of passage of some sort. She hoped Ryogi had been careful, even though it was only a first floor window.

    Setting her hands on her hips, she sighed. After what just happened, she couldn't complain that Ryogi must have been in a hurry to get out of there. Nonetheless, she was content. She had made a friend, a good one, one who wouldn't be chased away so easily. She wiped off her cheek.

    "Shiki-san.. I'll see you again before too long, okay?" she said to herself, smiling a bit. She turned back into her room, snatching up a ribbon from the dresser and headed for the mirror, humming a little to herself.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Being sick is not much fun, not much fun at all...
    Last edited by White; December 19th, 2011 at 06:24 PM.

  19. #19
    吸血鬼 Vampire EVA-Saiyajin's Avatar
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    Excellent chapter. Keep up the good work!

  20. #20
    Story Index:


    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Ryogi frowned as she patted away bits of lawn and grass from her new clothes, silently cursing her slightly botched attempt at a perfect entrance. She had nailed her landing perfectly, even managing a covert-looking roll that ended with her one booted foot firmly on the ground and the other ready to kick her off into a sprinting start. Her exit would have been clean and flawless, just like a ninja's, and nobody would even be the wiser.

    Stubborn as always, Ryogi refused to believe that it was her fault. It couldn't have been - even though her knees, as it was, were threatening to buckle underneath her, shivering as they were. But they held up, from the controlled frenzy of a breakneck sprint that had her clearing the entire manor's front lawn to the more sedate walk that got her mingling with the rest of the early-morning townsfolk. Panting just a bit slightly from the mad dash, Ryogi took a moment to catch her breath, before slowly turning around and facing the mansion where she'd just left a dear friend.

    Kohaku...

    She had been expecting the worst. That the amber-eyed girl would have trouble accepting the simple fact that Ryogi cared about her - enough that she'd willingly charge blindly into a veritable next of fangs, teeth and claws. She thought that things would be awkward, to the point that it would cripple any and all attempts at communication and crumble the fragile acquaintanceship that they shared. She had read enough - and seen enough - from the soaps that Touko followed religiously to know that a confession gone wrong would ultimately mean the end.

    Ryogi had confessed - sort of - and Kohaku responded with something that the Satsujinki could have never expected, nor prepared for in advance.

    Kohaku hugged her. Embraced her, tightly, and for once in her life Ryogi's world went soft and hazy and warm. She was surprised, of course, and probably would have reacted pretty nastily had it been someone else - but Kohaku, with her smile near bordering on tears, her warm amber eyes reflecting nothing but Ryogi herself, managed to catch her off guard and initiate that instance of full-on physical contact that left her helpless. Left her wanting. Left her suddenly feeling incomplete, as if she had been shown where home was and then told that she'd have to look for it again herself, this time blindfolded.

    Kohaku...

    Mind, she'd had hugs before. Kokuto had given her quite a lot, and his sister Azaka spared one or two, especially when Ryogi had one of those nights when she'd have to drag herself, bleeding and bruised, into Touko's office where everyone had been worrying about her. Touko -- well, you couldn't really call them hugs, when the older woman would suddenly seek a shoulder to cry on whenever one of her soaps reached a poignant conclusion where a major character died. The point was, it wasn't her first hug.

    But it was the first hug that felt that it was meant for her, and for her alone.

    There was something to it. A fierceness, a desire to communicate something that would take an awful lot of words and an awful lot of vocabulary to even hint vaguely at. Sure, she heard Kohaku's whispered thanks - one that made her thank that she couldn't see her face, her cheeks burning a bright crimson as it was - but there was something else, hidden underneath. A heartfelt hug of thanks would not have been so intense, so...emotional.

    And then there was the deal with the tangerines.

    It didn't make sense. If it was something the girl used, then surely it would have worn off by then. Perfume would have a lingering scent, yes, but the fact that the smell seemed to be stronger, become more vivid when Kohaku got her in that embrace mystified Ryogi, puzzled her, enticed her. And when she tried to return the hug the best she could, the Satsujinki swore that the scent almost became overpowering, heady, intoxicating.

    Ryogi blinked, and then realized that she'd been staring at the Tohno Manor for far too long. Shaking her head, smiling slightly, she took note of the address, as well as the surrounding landmarks, before silently bidding Kohaku goodbye and setting off in the relative direction of Touko's office. The sorceress would certainly want a detailed report, and Ryogi was in the mood to give it.

    As she walked past, people turned to see that the usually-sombre girl now had a slight spring in her step. A slight one, the smallest bounce of the heel, but it was unmistakable. For them, it bode quite the interesting start to the day ahead, and most of them went on with their lives not knowing just why.

    For Ryogi, it was the perfect way to end a perfect night. And she knew exactly why, although she wasn't sure if Kohaku also did.

    *

    The trip to Touko's office was relatively uneventful, if not for a few of the townsfolk who knew her commenting on the rather unexpected change in her usual choice of clothes. Ryogi merely nodded at them, gravely accepting their compliments and comments. It took some getting used to - it had been a long while since she last went without the comfortable tightness of her leather jacket on her frame - but it was a welcome change, they said. She looked like an entirely different person.

    As different as someone wearing a New York, New York T-shirt when they were accustomed to seeing her wearing a simple white kimono, that is.

    Touko also had something to say about it, but whatever the sorceress had to say about her outfit was quickly and loudly replaced by some sort of crying. Or bawling. Or full-out sobbing. Whatever it was, Ryogi heard it moments before something white and blue and gold tackled her into the floor the moment she stepped through the treshold.

    It was Salacia, crying her eyes out, muffling her sobs into Ryogi's shirt. Or rather, Kohaku's shirt.

    "Um, close the door, Ryogi-kun. We need to talk. Nice outfit, by the way." Touko cleared her throat, and Ryogi obeyed - no mean feat, as she had to slowly extract herself from Salacia's iron grip, before standing up and closing said door. She helped the girl out as an afterthought, who nodded miserably and began blowing her nose a bit loudly into a handkerchief.

    "Sorry about that. We were expecting you to report earlier, Ryogi-kun, and I'm afraid Salacia got worried when you exceeded the time limit you imposed on yourself. Remember it? Thirty minutes?"

    Ryogi nodded - but instead of hanging her head to avoid Touko's gaze, she instead met it directly, a quick response out even before Touko had breathed the full stop to her sentence. "I apologize. I underestimated the time it would take for me to track my target down and kill it. It was just as Miss Salacia said--" the girl who was currently trying to asphyxiate her sobbing with a handkerchief squeaked as she heard her name. "--the enemy was far less predictable than it could have had been if Fabio Rowan still existed. I had to hunt each individual piece down. It took me the entire night, and most of this morning."

    Touko and Salacia blinked at this. It was the most Ryogi had said to them - ever.

    "Yes, well, I, uh..." Touko tried, shuffling sheets of paper on her table this way and that in a futile attempt not to look the least bit stunned. Salacia was doing horribly at it, her jaw slack as she stared blank-faced at Ryogi. It was as if the Ryogi she had met was a different person altogether, certainly not the one standing before them.

    "In any case, don't let it happen again, alright?" Touko managed to recover, sitting back on her high-backed leather seat. "And you weren't picking up on any of my calls, so that compounded our worries. Be a bit more vigilant, Ryogi-kun."

    "I will."

    "That's settled, then. Um, Salacia, didn't you have something to say to Ryogi-kun before she gets excused? I imagine she's pretty tired." Although she looks like she's ready to kill a Type with her bare hands, Touko murmured in the back of her mind.

    "What? I...oh." Salacia sniffed. "I...the Vatican and the Burial Agency wish to grant you the official rank of Executioner. You are now auhtorized to access any and all facilities that fall within the Vatican's jurisdiction and use them in whichever way you see fit." She took another sniff, and continued. "You'll need an official uniform whenever you go out on official duty. Have you got your measurements yet?"

    Ryogi blinked her one good eye. "I...no, I haven't. I'll be sure to give it the next time we meet, surely."

    Salacia nodded. "I'm...I'm a mess. I'm sorry. Herr Aozaki, can you direct me to the lady's room? I need to fix myself up right away."

    "Sure, dear. Down the corridor, first door to your left." Touko quickly replied, waving Salacia away. Ryogi blinked again at this, and then at the azure-haired woman who sat there and lit a cigarette. Or at least, tried to.

    "Nice clothes." Touko repeated, finally getting it right. The tip of her cigarette burned like an inferno. "You took care of everything?"

    Ryogi nodded silently, and Touko almost smiled. Things were back to normal.

    "That's good. I'm not sure why she went off with the waterworks like that, but you'd better watch your back, Ryogi-kun." The sorceress took a drag, and exhaled it in a wispy puff of smoke. "Burial Agency directors often go mad in their first year on the job. Narbareck herself took ten years, but she was already crazy to begin with. This one might not last too long, she just started last month."

    "I see."

    "In any case, get some rest." Touko stood up, drawing the curtains of her office window aside slightly. "It's a nice day outside. I'll try to talk Salacia into giving you the rest of the week off before you hunt the next one in your dossier. They'd be wary now - even if you didn't like Nero or his beasties, you'd acknowledge the fact that they got killed off again. And it takes something to do that." Rifling around in her desk's drawers, Touko gave a satisfied grunt, and threw something at Ryogi, who instinctively lashed out with a hand and snatched it out of the air.

    "You could have just caught it." Touko said in light admonishment, as Ryogi stared at a bunch of keys resting on her palm.

    "..." the Satsujinki managed, blinking again.

    "Yeah, I know. Take my Vespa, give it a run around town." Touko laughed. "It's rotting in the garage anyway, and with Salacia around, I doubt I'd be able to get it maintained. You'll have to do that yourself, I'm afraid. It shouldn't cost much, though, just a tune-up every fortnight would be fine. It has absurd mileage, too, so you won't be spending that much on gas."

    "I...thank you."

    Touko shook her head, walking up to the Satsujinki and clapping her on the shoulder. "No, Ryogi-kun, it's I who should thank you. You're putting yourself on the line again, even when we have absolutely no right to ask you to. And while I don't quite know what you're up to, or what's happening with you lately - just remember to take it one step at a time, alright?"

    At this, the sorceress winked at her conspiratorially. Ryogi blinked.

    "Anyway, don't let me keep you. I'll just give you a call when you need to report back in for your next target." Touko patted Ryogi on the back once, hard, before stalking off back to her spot behind her desk. "In the meantime, get some rest. You've earned it."

    Ryogi nodded, and then turned to leave.

    "Oh, one more thing, Ryogi-kun." She stopped as the Aozaki woman called her back. She turned, and then barely caught a wadded-up piece of paper that the sorceress had thrown at her.

    An order for a prime bouquet of sunflowers, trimmed and vased? Ryogi read from what looked like a receipt. She looked up at Touko questioningly.

    "It's an order I placed a few days back. Can you collect it and bring it home? Sunflowers wilt easily at this time of the year, they'll do much better indoors. I'll just take them from you when I stop by."

    Touko winked at her again. Ryogi blinked back.

    "Er, alright. Consider it done." The raven-haired Satsujinki walked out of the office, still puzzled - but silently taking solace in the fact that at least one of them knew what they were doing.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Kohaku was in a good mood. How could she not be? The old phrase was 'Like a child that made her first friend'.. Although it was a slight stretch to apply it to this scenario. Still, she was happy, and it showed as she prepared lunch, humming.

    "Nee-san."

    She looked over and greeted Hisui with a bright smile and a wave of her free hand. "You're just in time, Hisui-chan, the noodles are almost ready!"

    Hisui took her usual place to the side, watching Kohaku cook, giving a small smile of her own. "Nee-san, you've been energetic all day. Ever since breakfast it seems as if you've been in a wonderful mood."

    "You've noticed?" She decided it was pointless to try and hide that much, really. It was too glaringly obvious.

    "This seems like quite a change from yesterday." said Hisui, as if merely observing something uninteresting.

    "Maybe."

    Kohaku could almost feel those green eyes boring into her, in that serious, inquisitive way. She kept up her chipper expression as she cooked, pretending not to notice.

    "Nee-san. Are you going to the park today?"

    She looked over to meet Hisui's gaze. Her sister's expression was perfectly neutral. Why is she still so good at that, while I've become so easily read these days..? she wondered. She set down her utensil. "No, no.. At least probably not. Today I want to stay inside and finish sorting through my room a little. Tomorrow, though..!" she turned, putting a finger to her chin, contemplative.

    By 'sort through her room', she really meant 'finish mending Ryogi's clothing'. After that, she'd have to figure out how to track down Ryogi.

    Of course, for someone secretive like that, it might prove a little difficult.. But Kohaku would have to give it her all, and use every resource at her disposal. She could just keep going to the park until she met up with her again, but somehow that seemed a bit less.. Fun?

    She smiled a bit more to herself. It was an evil plan, but if she could find out where she lived, she could deliver Ryogi's clothes back to her personally. The chance to see where she resided, what kind of place it was located, and possibly the inside of it.. Where a person lived, what they kept, every detail of their living space. It would provide such a wealth of knowledge, an insight into the world of Ryogi Shiki.

    After all, it was only fair as Ryogi got to see her room so easily. What goes around, comes around.

    She wondered what it was like..

    "Nee-san."

    Kohaku jumped, the voice behind her shoulder taking her off guard as she hopped away a little. "H-Hisui-chan..!" Since when did she move so close..

    "I apologize. I was about to ask if the noodles were ready." said Hisui, raising an eyebrow. She tilted her head to the stove subtly, and Kohaku put her hands to her head as she saw the noodles about to boil over.

    "Ah! Oh, oh, thank you, Hisui-chan.. I don't know what I was thinking." she said, hurriedly taking them from the heat and setting them aside, waving away a little steam.

    "You seemed a little spaced out, Nee-san.." said Hisui, smiling a bit again.

    She seems in a good mood too, maybe.. Kohaku thought, as she giggled, recovering from her near-mishap and making a show of preparing the rest of their lunch with extra artistry.

    After the delightful little meal, the sisters parted ways. Kohaku hurried to her room and started again on Ryogi's clothing. She was already proud of herself for doing such a masterful job of cleaning the kimono.. But now she just needed to deal with those cuts and holes.

    Once more, she had to call upon her determination and resolve to make the important task something she could put behind her proudly. The moment she doubted herself, she would remind herself why she was doing this. And thus, she continued merrily.

    The kimono was a mighty foe, but before long, it was finally finished. It wasn't perfect, but it was certainly passable enough. That left the red leather jacket. Needless to say, her experience with leather was less than ideal, and she had to do some running around to find the right equipment. But seeing the existing stitching on it, she figured out the right technique for it.

    After dinner, she was finally coming to a close on her mighty task. If only it hadn't taken me so long.. she thought. Her nefarious scheme to visit Ryogi wouldn't work if she met her at the park tomorrow before finding out where she lived.. Well, maybe she won't show up. ..Not that I'd want that at all..

    As she folder the jacket over, she felt something awkward about the way it bulged in her hand. Blinking, she opened it up and noted an interior pocket. How did I not notice that..? she thought, berating herself for being silly. Checking it, she fished out a plastic card. At least it wasn't paper, considering I already washed it..

    Flipping it over in her fingers, she found it to be some kind of work ID card. "Aozaki Architectural Firms." she said softly. She thought the name sounded a little familiar, as she looked at the photo of Ryogi on it. Even with the rather dour expression - something even many non-Ryogi people were stuck with on their ID cards - Kohaku couldn't help but smile a little at seeing her face.

    It says she's a 'partner'.. If you need a cover, you may as well take something vague, right?

    Reading the card over, her eyes widened, as she realized she had hit the jackpot. The key to finding Ryogi Shiki was in her hand.

    "Address GET!" she exclaimed, standing and holding the card up triumphantly.

    *

    She woke up early the next day, and prepared herself for her mission.

    Ryogi's clothes were professionally folded and packed into a bag. Hisui's breakfast was taken care of. Kohaku set about making herself ready, humming enthusiastically, as she carefully picked out a nice outfit - a light blouse and skirt - and set out her better pair of tennis shoes. Finding the mirror, she smiled at herself, striking a pose before brushing her hair and tying up the blue cloth ribbon.

    Nodding, satisfied, she set out to accomplish the hardest phase of her plan. Calling Ryogi, and hoping the woman answered, and wouldn't mind if she just 'dropped by'. Fortunately with an updated city map on hand, she would be able to reach Ryogi's place in record time.

    She went into Akiha's room, and made for the old corded phone sitting near the window. Less chance of Hisui-chan randomly making her way in here.. she thought, as she plugged in the faux antique-looking device, and slipped the ID card from her skirt pocket. She held it between two fingers to read as the rest of her hand held the receiver, her other hand operating the archaic dialing wheel.

    "Pick up, Shiki-san.. Shiki-Shiki-Shiki-san~"

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    The Ryogis, throughout every generation, had always followed one simple rule: anything worth doing is worth doing well. This Ryogi Shiki herself took very seriously. If she had to cook, then she'd do her best to make not just a passable meal, but one you'd certainly remember. If she had to kill things - and she often did - she would do it with the tireless and relentless pace of a stalking juggernaut bent on breaking things till they don't work so good anymore.

    And when she had to wind down afterwards a killing spree - notice the 'when', not if - she would wind down as if there was no tomorrow, to the point that Touko and Kokuto often had to break her door down to make sure that she was still alive after not hearing from her for weeks, months even.

    Azaka wittily named this particular habit of Ryogi as 'going hikkikomori', in tribute to the many shut-ins of Japanese youth today. Ryogi also had a witty name for her when she heard it, but she was too busy trying to count how many spoonfuls it took to empty an entire gallon of Haagen-Dazs' finest strawberry ice cream sherbet to retort(a justified endeavor, as she had been sent by Touko to clean up a Ghoul infestation in the local subway that took her five days).

    But like all shut-ins who gradually learn the error of their ways and make their way back into the light - often by being beaten with sticks while getting dragged out of their warm, cozy, anime merchandise-choked hovels - Ryogi learned that while doing most things to the best of her ability was commendable, bumming out after a hard week's worth wasn't something she'd be vigorously thanked for.

    Thus, she made efforts to change. Instead of gallons of strawberry ice cream, she stocked her refridgerator's freezer with pints of the stuff instead. Instead of a permanently-on kotatsu in the living room where she often hid and took naps underneath like some sort of utterly-contented turtle, she installed a futon with an extra-thick quilt blanket in its place.

    And she kept her old videogame systems - the ones she liked the most, including a well-worn SNES that she spent nights playing EarthBound on - under lock and key, replacing them with a brand-new Xbox 360. The rather unorthodox leap in console generation helped curbed her rather crippling addiction surprisingly well. This was because the games she had with it were all multiplayer, and more often than not, a round with some of the more rowdier players online would anger her enough that she would shut the console off by throwing the controller at it. Or something else close at hand.

    And the changes she made worked, at least to some extent. Instead of completely locking everything down and unplugging the phone line so that Touko wouldn't have any ideas of trying to see if she could run another errand or two on her off period, Ryogi kept it relatively easy to get in touch with her if she was needed.

    Of course, this opened the door to the menial tasks that she dreaded, but at least they got her out and about. And invariably, said errands would add a piece of alien paraphernalia in her once sterile-clean, utilitarian, devoid-of-anything-remotely-homely apartment.

    The place was still utilitarian as could be, but there were knick-knacks here and there that Touko had sent for her to fetch, but never give back. I'll just pick it up when I find the time to stop over, would be the typical Aozaki excuse, but she never found the time to. Ryogi was beginning to suspect that it was just another one of the sorceress' running pranks, a quest to fill her bodega-like apartment with so much junk that she would have to call Akitaka back from his forced retirement and have him clean up.

    But like the obedient Servant, grudgingly loyal to her Master, Ryogi tolerated it to an extent.

    An ancient jukebox filled with nothing but old western songs that sang about love lost and love found illuminated a dark corner of the living room. A brand-new beanbag equivalent of a Love Seat sat near the jukebox, the contours of a certain exhausted Satsujinki still evident on its soft leather surface. Toys of various states of disrepair littered a desk in her bedroom. An ancient Victorian Diving Suit - complete with a rather large (and rather imposing) drill as its right hand - stood like a sentinel in the kitchen. And who could forget the rack of baseball bats in the storeroom, each one in various states of abuse?

    And of course, the ancient game consoles she kept hidden from herself. Touko would have to pry those last items from Ryogi's cold, dead fingers - she was that attached to them.

    So despite of her mixed feelings in having her own home used as a storage area of sorts, she allowed it, much like a home owner would begrudgingly allow a particularly annoying guest to stay over and comment on how ugly the wallpaper is. She never really liked the wallpaper in her apartment, come to that.

    This time, however, Touko may have gone just a bit too far. When she stopped by the florists' - the shop managed by a precocious young girl with red eyes and flowing black hair, a bright-eyed white puppy in tow - the order had indeed been prepared, but the quantity was something she didn't expect. Instead of just one single vase of sunflowers, as was stated in the receipt, the young shopkeeper had her employees give her ten bouquet's worth of the bright, sun-yellow blossoms and a veritable shipment of vases. This Ryogi vehemently protested - the order was just for one bouquet, after all, and she doubted that anyone would have any use for such an absurd quantity. And what would she do with ten bouquets of the godforsaken things?

    That's your problem, not mine, the shopkeeper replied, and hurried off to attend to her other customers - leaving Ryogi stuck with enough sunflowers to fully decorate an abnormally-cheerful funeral. Grudgingly admitting defeat and carting off the flowers (a feat made possible with Touko's Vespa), the Satsujinki drove home, obstructing quite a large amount of traffic in her way.

    And true to the Ryogi bloodline, she spent a large part of the evening carefully extracting the sunflowers from their bouquets, giving the stem tips a diagonal cut, and finally placing them in their respective vases, the containers half-filled with cool fresh water. She found it a job worth doing, and thus did it well.

    The remaining part of the evening was then wasted on videogames, as well as a pint or two of strawberry ice cream that had been in line for consumption for quite some time now. With the living room pretty much wall-to-wall in sunflowers - she didn't quite know how to distribute them evenly in the cramped space of her three-room apartment - Ryogi booted up Viva Pinata and started playing, swearing that she wouldn't stop until she could see the bottom of both Haagen-Dazs pints, or when the highly-elusive cat pinata finally took refuge in her well-maintained garden.

    She was well into the second pint when the phone started to ring - startling the girl to the point that the controller dropped from her suddenly-slack hands.

    It was yet another first in this week's series of firsts. Ryogi had stressed to pretty much anyone who knew her number that early mornings were off limits. Even Touko, who had a penchant for trying her patience, took this particular warning seriously. Who could it be, then?

    Her eye narrowing slightly, Ryogi picked up the ringing contraption - and then suddenly blushed as she realized who the caller was.

    Kohaku...

    "Um, yes, this is...this is Ryogi," the Satsujinki murmured, hoping she didn't sound too nervous on the phone.

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Kohaku smiled as she heard Ryogi's voice. Considering how Ryogi spoke normally, she figured it was only natural for her to not really be a phone person either. Although she did find it curious that Ryogi carried one, a fairly high-end looking one at that..

    "Ah, Shiki-san, it's me, Kohaku. Have I caught you at a good time?"

    "..Yeah.."

    Really? she thought. She decided to save the idle chatter and cut to the heart of the matter.

    "I wanted to call you and see if it was alright to come over and deliver your clothes. They're all washed and fixed, and I thought it'd be easiest to bring them right to you since I'll be heading out anyway."

    Kohaku eased down into the wooden chair, the receiver glued to her ear. This would be the moment of truth. Her wording should discourage Ryogi from simply coming to get the clothes, as well as to imply her own course of action was the most convenient for her. It was a matter of waiting to see what Ryogi thought about this..

    ".....How did you get my number?" she heard Ryogi ask, curiously.

    Of course, she would have to have been foolish to not expect that question at some point. "I found your card in your jacket. It is alright for me to be calling this number, yes?"

    "Um, right. Yes.."

    There was a pause. A pause that had Kohaku leaning forward in her seat expectantly, as she slowly turned Ryogi's ID card between her fingers. She wished she could see Ryogi's face, so she'd have a better idea of the response about to come beforehand. Of course, she was fairly confident, but there was always the element of chance to anything..

    "..I'm not doing anything at the moment, so.. You can stop by."

    An awkward answer. She couldn't fault her, certainly, considering she was springing it on her like this. Naturally it was pretty much the answer she was looking for, in any case. She smiled more as she responded brightly. "Alright, Shiki-san, I'll be over shortly! It was nice talking to you again."

    "Wait, do you.."

    "I found your address on the card too, Shiki-san." Kohaku had to resist the urge to giggle. It looks like I really caught her unprepared.

    "..I see. It was nice talking to you as well.. Kohaku-san. I'll be expecting you."

    Kohaku was straining to listen carefully, trying to pick up anything more to Ryogi's words. She was having trouble reading her using just her voice through the imperfect medium of the telephone line so far, but it seemed Ryogi had gone from awkward, to awkward with a hint of pleased. Assuming her ears weren't playing tricks on her, of course.

    "Bye bye, Shiki-san!"

    "Goodbye.."

    Stretching out, Kohaku let the receiver fall lightly back upon the base, with an audible clack and the faintest hint of the internal bell sounding. She stood up, giving her best victory pose, and stuck Ryogi's card back in her skirt pocket as she took her leave of Akiha's room.

    *

    Kohaku was on her hurried way. The morning bustle was close to ending, so the walkways weren't too troublesome to navigate, and thanks to her fore-planning, she wasn't going to have any problems finding Ryogi's residence. She hummed as she walked, feeling the morning air brush her hair back, the sunlight keeping her warmed.

    Before long, she had found her destination. She looked up at the tall apartment building, committing it to memory. The sterile white-painted sides stretched high up into the morning air, with laundry hanging from poles running up every floor, and some construction scaffolding along one side. Overall, a very average looking building.

    She tilted her head a bit. It really wasn't a building that stood out at all.. A very unremarkable place to have someone so remarkable living there.

    Looking back down, she adjusted the bagged bundle of clothing in her arms, and headed for the main entrance.

    From the inside of the building alone, she could tell it could have been much worse, but still seemed the sort of place that fledgling college students and other sorts could probably afford, if not entirely comfortably.

    The building's elevator seemed to be a real relic, something she saw more often in old movies on television. Double-checking the card, she hit the switch for the fifth floor, and listened to the old elevator creak and start it's ascent. As she listened to the noises it made, she looked around the car, noting the scratches along one wall. Peering closer, it looked as if someone had taken a knife and vented some frustration along it. That, much more than the elevator's creaking, made her frown a little.

    Such a scratching made her think back to the basement of the mansion.. Before she could launch into an introspection on the minds of violent unsavory types, she heard the scratchy bell sound signaling she had reached her destination.

    Shaking her head clear, she stepped out and into the empty hallway.

    Rows of numbered, wooden doors greeted her. Picking a side, she walked along, counting off the numbers quietly to herself as she went.

    Shiki-san's.

    She stopped before it. She felt a little nervous, shifting the load folded over her arms. No time to be worried or anything.. This is what I came all the way out here for. To do something nice for Shiki-san. And hopefully to get to know a little more about her.. She extended her right arm, took a breath, put on an expectant smile, and rapped on the door carefully.

    She paused, listening carefully. At first, nothing. Then, she thought she heard something, and leaned in slightly. She heard footsteps.. It sounded like it was across tatami mats. As she heard them at the door, she straightened up.

    "Yes?" she heard.

    "Hello, Shiki-san. It's Kohaku."

    She heard a lock being opened. Just one? she wondered, although her thoughts that Ryogi might not need more than that were cut off as the door opened, revealing the kimono-clad woman herself. She looked Kohaku over, that dark eye resting a moment on the bagged bundle she held, before meeting her own gaze again.

    Kohaku took the pause to speak again.

    "It's good to see you, Shiki-san. As you can see, I brought them..! I hope I got them to your liking again.. It was quite the little adventure, and it was a long walk over here at that." She giggled a little.

    It was almost mean to do it like this, she felt, but she thought there was no harm, and the curiosity at this strange woman's life was strong.

    Ryogi didn't seem too unpleased, at least. Rather, she saw the woman give a tiny smile, seeming to think a moment before speaking. "..It's good to see you too. Why don't you come in? ..I can make us some tea."

    Kohaku felt her own smile widen, a bit of a tingle running through her nerves. This was going much better than she thought. And now, the moment she had been anticipating..

    She stepped in as Ryogi moved to let her, casually giving the room a look-over as she removed her shoes.

    She noted many things.. Rather, even glancing gave her a lot of input to digest. A clean, tatami-floored apartment, the expected furniture and appliances.. She had expected it to be rather sparse, and at a time perhaps it was, but it also had.. Things. Not just any things, but strange things. A jukebox, a beanbag chair, a rack of bats..

    She wouldn't have been surprised to see a moose head on the wall and a kayak strung from the ceiling too, at that rate.

    In her mind's eye, beforehand, she could have imagined something strange like maybe swords hanging on the walls and musty tomes of forbidden knowledge, perhaps.. But it almost looked rather like a lone wolf's spartan apartment being converted into an eccentric's attic.

    What caught her eye the most, however, was the sunflowers. Dozens of them, it almost seemed. The sight and smell of them, that very subtle but fresh fragrance, took her back.. That field full of them from two years ago..

    She didn't know why Ryogi had so many of them, all sitting around in vases, but it brought on a sort of bittersweet nostalgia, briefly. Of course she had seem them in the meantime.. She was even growing some behind the mansion these days. But it seemed as if without intending to, Ryogi was good at making her think about the past.

    Kohaku took a deep breath, savoring the moment. Victory at friendly contact with Ryogi, getting her foot in the door, literally as well as metaphorically, and seeing all of those sunflowers..

    ∞~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~∞

    Nothing much to say, if anyone knows where the original authors are hiding go give them a good poke for me.
    Last edited by White; December 19th, 2011 at 06:24 PM.

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