The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Fell asleep in my chair with about 500 words to go and didn't wake up until I was already late for work. Mea culpa; feels bad, man.
I'm above blaming IRC? Shit, I gotta get my act together.
[X] "I wouldn't mind staying here, that much I know."
- [X] "I wouldn't mind staying with you.
"Y'know, honestly? I meant what I said before," you say resolutely.
"Uh, which before is that?" Yuugi's the one who's slow to catch on this time, squinting in confusion at you.
"What I said about livin' down here." You take another sip of your drink, gathering your thoughts. "I mean, I can't tell the future, I dunno what things are gonna be like when everything's said and done, but... I like it down here." You smile softly at Yuugi. "I wouldn't mind stayin' down here with you at all. If you don't mind puttin' up with me, that is," you add with a little laugh.
Yuugi doesn't laugh with you, though, simply staring at you in shock without replying. For a moment, you think you've misspoken somehow, and your mind freezes, trying to figure out what you might have said wrong, but before you can speak--
"You for real?" Yuugi does, surprise evident in her voice. A little more evident that even she intended, it seems; "I mean, uh, you really mean that?" she revises in a more positive tone.
This isn't really the sort of reaction you were expecting, but it's a little late to turn back now. "Would I lie to you?" you say with another chuckle, trying to lighten the suddenly serious mood.
"No! I ain't tryin' to call you a liar at--"
"Easy, easy!" you say, holding up your hands in a calming gesture. "I didn't think you were! Just an expression, that's all." No, this isn't going as planned at all. Well, considering how oni culture is about liars, you guess it's not too surprising that she would take a joke like that seriously. "I, uh, I wasn't tryin' to impose on you either, sayin' th--"
"No, no, s'not that," Yuugi interrupts, waving your concerns away distractedly. "I mean, you really... it just seems like you've had kinda shitty luck, is all. I gotcha caught up in this politics shit, and now the council head's on your case, and I dunno..." She pauses for a moment, looking away uncertainly. "You really like it down here?"
"Yeah," you say simply without thinking twice. "I mean, yeah, that's all true, but... I dunno. It feels like I've done more living down here that I did up there." You shrug, not really sure of what you're trying to say yourself anymore. 'Sides, it's not like it's been all bad luck. I mean, I coulda ended up wanderin' around the underground until I starved to death. Ending up here with you is probably about the luckiest thing that's happened in my life."
Yuugi's eyes go wide again, and this time, they're accompanied by a light blush rising to her cheeks, one that makes its way across the table to you as you realize how what you just said could be interpreted. "Ah, y-yeah, maybe so," she says with an odd grin, eyes not quite meeting yours. "Just surprises me you'd see it that way, that's all."
"S'not that surprising, is it?" you say a little petulantly, some small part of you annoyed by the notion that Yuugi thinks you wouldn't be grateful for everything she's done.
"I guess it shouldn't be," she admits, voice turning far-away and contemplative. "S'just... I dunno. Bad habits're hard to break, I guess."
"Judgin' people for stupid shit. Y'know, here I am on my high horse 'bout oni and youkai not gettin' along, and then just 'cause you're a human s'like part of me's expectin' you to be a--" She stops short, frowning at herself. "To not be the kinda guy you are." She smiles at you, faking bitterness. "S'your fault for bein' so easy t'get along with."
"Well, then, my bad," you joke, and Yuugi laughs along with you, giving you another shove on the shoulder.
"Anyway, I feel the same way you do, really," she says after the two of you calm down.
"'Bout what you said earlier, that is." The introspective air is gone now, and she's back to her usual self, grinning widely at you. "Fact of the matter is, I like havin' you around. S'far as I'm concerned, you'll be welcome here whenever you like, as long as you like. Assumin' you don't mind puttin' up with me," she finishes, smirking at you.
So Yuugi likes having you around? That makes you feel... really good, actually. "Well, then, here's to puttin' up with each other for a while longer," you say happily, raising your glass towards her.
Yuugi's momentary confusion at your gesture gives way to amused recognition, and she snatches her cup from the table, raising it to meet yours with a light 'clink'. "I'll drink to that."
The two of you stay up for a little while longer, talking about nothing in particular, but it gets late quick, and before you know it, you find yourself nearly nodding off at the table. Your last surprise of the night, though, doesn't come until after the two of you decide to call it a night, when you slide open the door to your room to find a short, slight body with a mess of blonde hair occupying your futon.
"Ah." Yuugi, noticing your confusion, stops short of entering her own room and turns back to you. "Yeah, Yamame was kinda antsy 'bout leavin' you at the palace like that, and then there was the fight on the way back, so she was lookin' pretty down by the time we got back to the house," she says. "Gave her a little booze to calm her down, but she can't hold her liquor, so she went out pretty quick. I laid her down in there, ah, musta been ten or twenty minutes before you showed up."
So Yamame saw the fight in the streets, too? "You think she's okay?" you ask, glancing back through the open door at her sleeping form.
"Well, ain't you mighty concerned 'bout everyone's well-bein' tonight," Yuugi teases. "Nah, you don't have to worry too much 'bout her, really. She bounces back quick, that kid." A faint smile plays across Yuugi's face for a moment, like she's remembering a pleasant memory, before her attention returns to you.
"Anyway, I kinda forgot 'bout her bein' there. Sorry t'shuffle you around like this, but you're probably gonna have to sleep somewhere..." Halfway through her apology, Yuugi's attention seems to wander away from her words, and you think you see a slight blush on her cheeks before she snaps out of her reverie, shaking her head. "...somewhere else. Yeah. C'mon, I'll dig out an old futon for ya," she says, quickly stepping past you and into one of the storage rooms down the hall.
The room is every bit as messy as you remembered it being when Yuugi first showed it to you, with piles of junk without any apparent organization scheme lining the walls. Grumbling to herself, Yuugi sets to work on the nearest pile, grabbing items off the top and throwing them onto a different pile as she digs through to the bottom. After watching her for a moment, you (slightly more carefully) start to do the same on the opposite side of the room, searching for anything that looks like something you might be able to sleep on.
"Ah, here!" Before too long, you find a folded futon and blanket near the bottom of one of the piles; uneven and dusty, but without any holes or stains that you can see. Grabbing one of the edges, you let the fold fall open--
--and something falls out, just narrowly missing your foot as it hits the floor with a resounding clunk. You take an unsteady step backwards after the fact, your drunkenness slowing your reaction time to an amusingly bad level, and lay the futon to the side, reaching over to pick it up.
"Ah, you find some-- oh." Yuugi's voice falls slightly as she turns to see what it is you're doing, and she walks over as you lift up the object and examine it.
It's... a pyramid, dull red in color and about the size of a paperweight. It feels rough to the touch, like it's carved out of some kind of stone, and it's got a bit of heft to it; you almost need to use two hands to lift it. Attached to the bottom face of the shape is a heavy length of chain, twisted open at one end, dangling down a foot or two in length.
"It fell out of the futon," you explain as Yuugi edges her hand under yours, gently taking the object from your hands. She raises it to eye level, the chain on the pyramid clinking against the broken manacles she wears around her wrists, turning it around and examining it from multiple sides with a surprisingly serious look on her face.
"More old stuff," she says dismissively after a moment, setting it back down on the ground and moving to straighten out the futon. As she turns back to the pile of junk to find you a pillow, though, you can't help but notice her set the object gently on a high shelf rather than throwing it back on the pile like she does for everything else.
Another minute of digging, and you've got everything you need to sleep, and a big enough space cleared out of the junk around you that you don't feel like you have to worry about an untimely death in a junk avalanche. Once you're settled in, you bid Yuugi good night again, and she shuts the door behind her as she steps back out into the hall, leaving you to fall asleep almost instantly.
It's still dark when you wake up, and cold, too; the thin blanket covering you does nothing to stop the chill of the floor from seeping up through your bedding and straight into your bones. Groaning slightly, you roll over onto your other side, glancing over at the dying embers of the campfire and...
...Ah. Another dream, then?
As if to answer, Yuugi's body suddenly sits itself up in bed, taking your mind along for the ride with the eerie feeling you've grown to recognize as that of not being in control of the body you're in. This time, though, it feels like your senses are more tightly linked to hers than they were last time; you can feel the pain in Yuugi's shoulders as clearly as if it was your own, and there's a hint of annoyance at being awake in the back of your mind that you don't think is yours as much as it is hers. Interesting.
Yuugi has much better night vision than you, you realize as your head turns from side to side to work out the kink in her neck; the forest hides almost all the natural light of the night sky, and the glowing embers in the fire shouldn't be bright enough to see by, but you can still make out the entirety of the little clearing she's camped in. One pile of dirty cooking tools, another pile of leftover scraps from a meal... Only two more sleeping pads apart from Yuugi's, you note; does that mean that the oni from the last dream isn't here anymore? How much time passed between this dream and the last, anyway? Is--
Your thoughts break off abruptly as a spike of panic hits you from without, and you can feel Yuugi take in a sharp gasp as she scans the campsite once more. Even seeing everything that she sees, though, it's not until she throws off her blanket and stands, rushing over to the second sleeping pad, that you realize what's wrong: there's nobody on it. She shoots a quick glance over to the other pad, confirming that the smallest oni is still there, and the nameless fear within her gets stronger still as Yuugi's fingernails dig into her palms.
Just as your own mind is beginning to race to figure out what's going on, though, Yuugi's fists unclench, and as you feel her take a deep, measured breath, another surge of emotion hits you, so powerful that you can almost hear it: stay calm. She drops to one knee atop the abandoned bedding, taking another deep breath in, and as she exhales, her eyes close, and the two of you are plunged into darkness.
Almost immediately, the sounds of the forest assault you, little chirps and croaks coming from all directions; not any louder than before, but much more vivid without vision to distract you. Even more powerful than the sounds, though, is the sensation you're getting from Yuugi's mind; an insistent pulse of thought, so powerful now that you're certain that you're actually hearing it: focus. She takes another deep breath in, and the sounds around you get louder still. Focus. The flutter of a pair of wings over on the other side of the clearing sounds like it's right in your ear. Focus. The howl of some wild animal resounds inFocus. A branch snaps deep within the forest behind you--
And you're off. Yuugi's already at the tree line before her eyes are even open, and she moves through the dense forest faster than a human could run through an open field. She's getting faster by the second, too, dodging stray branches and overgrown roots by a small enough margin to make you cringe several times. Even as she moves at these ridiculous speeds, though, the sounds of the forest still echo in her ears, and underneath them, the mantra in her mind repeats, weaker, but still loud enough to hear, focus, focus, focus--
And then, as suddenly as she began to run, she stops.
"Come out, Ongyou," she says to the empty forest, turning around to face--
--a person. One of the oni from the last dream, presumably the one whose bed was empty. Where did she come from? You know you didn't see anyone while Yuugi was running.
"I didn't mean to wake you." The girl's voice is quiet and reserved, and her posture seems closed-off, arms held tight to her body and eyes never quite meeting Yuugi's.
"Yeah, I figured that out," Yuugi says coldly, with real anger behind her words. "So what is this?"
"You already know, Yuugi," Ongyou replies, still not looking Yuugi in the eye. "We talked about this when--"
"Yeah, we did talk about it, and I don't remember hearin' anything about you leaving then!" Yuugi says, voice approaching a shout.
"No," Ongyou replies, with the same reserved calmness that no longer seems to fit the situation. "But I did tell you about this." Holding her right arm out, palm up, she grabs her sleeve and pulls it up with her other hand, revealing an ugly, half-healed scar, stitched together haphazardly and flecked with scar tissue, tracing its way from her wrist all the way up to her elbow. Your mind recoils and the sight of the wound, but Yuugi doesn't, eyes passing it for a moment before locking with Ongyou's gaze again.
"It's been nearly two weeks, Yuugi," she says, bending her arm up to look at the wound herself. "It shouldn't take an oni this long to recover from anything, let alone an attack by a human with a sword."
"That doesn't prove anything," Yuugi says quickly, and you can hear the uncertainty in her voice as clearly as you feel it through your connection with her.
The other oni sees it too, sighing dismissively and shifting her posture. "Don't lie to yourself, Yuugi. This isn't right, and you know it. You must have felt the effects too, on some level." She turns her head up, staring into the space past Yuugi blankly. "'The oni that have been causing trouble for travelers around the central mountains have been bested by humans, and are growing weaker.' As more people believe it, it becomes more true, and as it becomes more true, more people come to believe it." She takes another glance at the wound on her arm before pulling her sleeve back down to cover it again. "And I'm not even sure if that's the full extent of the problem. Somebody needs to stop and try to figure out what's going on, and things could just keep getting worse."
"So we're just supposed to go our separate ways and that'll solve everything?" Yuugi's anger is gone now, replaced with a sort of quiet desperation. "That's the only option we have?"
"As the rumors fade, so should their effects."
"Why not get rid of the rumors by--"
"That's not all," Ongyou interrupts. "When was the last time we had a fair fight? The old legends of humans who could beat oni head-on, without any tricks... the humans don't tell them any more. Their new heroes aren't the dedicated fighters, skills honed through a life of hard work, they're the simple folk who stumble their way into success through luck and happenstance." She pauses, grimacing. "I can't stand it any more. Even if I could stay... I don't know if I still want to."
"So do something ab--" Yuugi cuts off her own shout midway, and you feel another complicated pang of emotion from her; anger and sadness mixed with a sort of hopelessness. "I... don't want you to go," she finally mumbles.
"You could come with me," she says plainly, pausing a moment to let the message sink in. "Leave humans behind for a while."
You can feel Yuugi's mind churn over the silence of the next few moments, and you taste blood as she clenches her teeth, biting down on her lip.
"...No." As she finally speaks, you hear her mind once more, saying a single word: Suika. "I made a promise."
"...I see." The other oni smiles ruefully, as though that was the answer she had been expecting from the beginning. "I'm going back to the mountain we went over about two weeks ago. A few miles east of the place we stopped, there was a crossing of leylines, a good place for the type of research that needs to be done. If there's anything within my power to discover about this... condition of ours, it'll be there."
"...And if there's nothing you can do?"
Another sad smile. "Then I will have someplace comfortable to wait for the end."
Yuugi has no response, and the two of them fall silent for a long while, just standing and staring at each other.
"So..." Yuugi finally ventures, so quietly that you're surprised the other oni can hear her. "I guess I won't be seeing you for a while... so..." She swallows once, and you can almost hear the 'goodbye' she doesn't say. "See you later, okay?"
"...I hope so." Ongyou smiles once more, eyes shining with tears as she raises a hand slightly in farewell. "Goodbye, Yuugi."
And then she's... gone, simply blinking out of existence on the spot, as though she had never been there in the first place. Yuugi doesn't react to the sudden disappearance, simply watching the space where the other oni had stood, a whirlwind of emotions going through her mind. After another long, silent moment, Yuugi finally turns away,
The walk back to the campsite is a slow one, made slower by Yuugi's wordless sorrow transmitted back to you. You don't know exactly what just happened, what the reasons behind it were; hell, you barely even remember the name of the person she just bid farewell to, and yet it hurts, a pain like seeing a loved one die. Was this really the way it had to be, the two of them separating like this? Did they ever meet again, or was this really their last goodbye?
You still don't know any of the answers yourself by the time Yuugi reaches the clearing you awoke in, the place this dream started. The fire is completely dead now, not even embers left in the ashes, and even with Yuugi's sight, it takes you a few seconds to see that Suika is awake now, sitting up and facing away from you, staring into the remains of the fire. You feel Yuugi's footsteps stop for a moment, and when they restart, she changes her path, walking over to sit beside her friend. For what seems like hours, neither of them say anything, and when the smaller oni finally speaks, it's so quiet that you nearly miss it.
"She left." It isn't a question.
"I t-thought..." The other oni's voice cracks almost as soon as she opens her mouth, and she stops and swallows loudly, looking down at the ground. "I thought you left too, for a second."
"...Huh-uh." Another pang of sadness hits you full-force, and you feel Yuugi's arm slowly move, draping across Suika's shoulders lightly.
She's... shaking. Not sobbing, and not shivering with cold, just... trembling, like a scared child.
"Don't worry," you say quietly, squeezing her shoulder lightly and pulling her towards you, letting her head rest against you. "I'm still here."
"Good." Her voice has the strained sound of somebody trying and failing to keep themselves calm, and you feel her shiver against you, her arm snaking its way around your back and squeezing tight. You return the gesture, pulling her in even closer to you with the arm around her shoulders, and all you can hear is her sharp, uneven breaths as she slowly, silently, turns to press her face into your shirt and begins to cry.
All you can do is hold her tighter, letting the world fade to black as you close your own eyes to hold back the tears.
Your eyes are still wet when you open them again back in Yuugi's house, the sensations of your own body slowly returning as you awaken from the dream. Blinking to clear your vision, you pull yourself into a sitting position, running your fingers through your hair and putting your face in your hands.
...Damn, Yuugi's past doesn't get any less depressing, does it? You can already feel the details of the dream slipping away, like all dreams do, but that inexpressible feeling of loss sticks with you in an unpleasant way, returning in full force as you try to lay back down and catch a little more sleep. After a few minutes of lying there with your eyes closed, you decide that a sleepy morning out of bed will help you put what you saw out of your mind better than a sleepless one in bed will, and you force yourself up, kicking your blanket out from around your feet as you stagger to the door.
You step out into the hall to find Yuugi already up and awake, peeking her head into the room where Yamame was sleeping. As you approach, she steps back and quietly slides the door shut before sighing heavily.
Damn. You had hoped for a little more time to get that dream out of your head before you saw her. "Morning," you say, trying not to let any uneasiness show in your greeting.
"Mornin'," Yuugi replies blearily, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and yawning loudly. "You're up early again."
"Guess so," you say with a shrug. "Yamame's still asleep?"
"Her bein' a lightweight's not so funny when it means I gotta make my own breakfast," she replies with a sigh. "...Help me out?"
"Sure thing," you say, walking along with Yuugi past the living room and into the kitchen. "Did you have anything in mind?"
"Mmm... nah, nothin', really. S'been a while since I cooked my own breakfast, actually. Go for it."
As you take stock of Yuugi's cupboards, your thoughts begin to move away from that dream, coming to rest on what lies ahead of you today. Now would probably be a good time to talk to Yuugi about some of the things you were planning to talk to her about yesterday, but... ugh. After spending last night ignoring your problems and just talking with Yuugi, it's hard to resist the urge not to do the same thing today.
[ ] What should you make for breakfast? (Write-in)
Talk to Yuugi...
[ ] ...about cooking.
[ ] ...about her workout yesterday and what sort of training she does.
[ ] ...about her past, but without mentioning the dreams you've been having.
[ ] ...about the dreams you've been having.
[ ] ...about the fight she broke up yesterday.
[ ] ...about what happened during the search yesterday.
[ ] ...about your plans for the search today.
[ ] Write-in.
Write-ins for both light-hearted and serious topics are fine. Keep in mind that you should vote for options in order of priority; if you're interrupted midway, there is a possibility that not all of your conversation points will be covered.