Shari would have loved to see Yuan fight Oboro herself. Or maybe have another go at kicking the woman's ass personally; Since they had been back, the husky monk had been training and pumping iron every day in order to try and get her as close to peak performance as possible, and looked every minute of it. Too bad Rin would probably be disapproving of a show of strength here and now. She could always go to plan B, through...
"Did you enjoy getting waited on every day and stuffing your face, honey buns?" Shari's voice was as humorous as it was barbed with well-aged spite. "It's a good thing Rin sent you out here to beef back up, really. I'd hate to find out you'd lost your touch."
The comment was double-edged, of course. If Yuan wasn't doing anything whilst they were away, making her paranoid was enough. If she actually was doing things secretly for Rin whilst they were away... Well then, Shari was hoping that 'babyface's arrogant streak would force her to spill the beans.
Never the less, the hefty woman didn't act the slightest bit interested in the response, instead putting her hands on Kai's shoulders to try and sooth his agitation over the matter a little. It seemed to reassure him, 'Don't worry. She will see.'
"You sound jealous." Yuanjun drawled in a voice that despite, or perhaps because of, its monotone was still the aural equivalent of a smirk and had a very clear unspoken ", bitch" at the end.
The party was dropped off in the Yayoi region of Shibayama, at the edge of the ostensible border of Oguchi - ostensible because between the Oni which were not uncommon to the Yayoi region, the plague, and everything else that had happened, who knew how many of the border villages and towns still stood.
So, map in hand, the group headed towards the nearest settlement; Togo.
Yuan walked most of the way, preferring to walk alongside her horse rather than actually riding it. She gave Shari a catty look now and then that said something to the tune of "aww are the widdle baby's feet tired?"
Along the way they crossed several large mounds that suggested mass burials. Even more ominous were the holes in some of them and the footprints leading *away* from them...
Togo was a small farming village of about 163 people. Well, it looked like the sort of village that would support and house ~163 people but given how many of the fields and rice paddies were fallow, and other signs of disrepair, it seemed like the plague had hit the village hard.
There were very few villagers milling about, and none of them even made eye contact and seemed to do their best to pretend the group was not in fact there.
To most of Yuan's taunting, Shari only retorted by suggesting that the woman was afraid of "that little pony", mostly because the black, imposing, robust draft horse that the hefty monk was riding herself. She had been an actual ranked soldier several times in the past, after all.
At any rate, Shari seemed rather disinterested in the terrain, only taking a prolonged gander when they passed a mass burial site, or small hard-bitten scenes were armed quarrels had apparently once taken place.
The sombre and ill-trusting villagers didn't seem like much of a problem to her, since it was infinitely preferable to being swamped in hostiles. It had been some time since Shari had really been welcomed into a place anyway. The tallest building became her focal point, as she suggested to herself that it was probably the town hall or a lesser royal household, before she turned back and regarded Kai and Haru with a bored glance.
"Shouldn't be too much of a problem if we split up." Her voice was gruff and weary. "But you guys can probably appreciate that they are more likely to talk to you than me." The words were followed up by a sharp look towards Yuan. "They might try asking babyface, too, sure, but that hasn't stopped her from randomly breaking people's skulls in the past."
Not really wanting to hear an answer from Rin's favorite monk, Shari then just walked off and began asking around for information.
There is no more Intimidate skill, remember? Intimidate checks are now just Charisma checks plus a secret modifier I apply after based on a number of things like class, level, and realism. Shari's obviously a lot scarier than Haru under normal situations, but if Haru turns into a bear...
Yuan shrugged. "I don't know. I'm from further north, you know, but aren't these people used to dealing with Oni?" She asked, giving Shari a look before heading off on her own.
It wasn't that hard to reconvene. An hour later Shari had managed to intimidate her way into some information, Yuan had likewise managed to find some people who were willing to talk to her chest, and others who were willing to talk after she made some threats. The rest of the group likewise met with similar fortunes - the villagers were evasive and stand-offish, but generally complied when sufficiently badgered, threatened, or faced with a beautiful woman who, however unpleasant, was apparently neither undead nor a literal crazy cat lady.
Evidently the plague ended around the time strange beautiful women showed up in many of the larger towns and Oguchi proper. No doubt the Bakeneko. They struck an accord with the Jijo and punished the Shogun and his wicked followers.
The village used to be run by a elected mayor, but the last one was killed during the Shogun's madness, and due to the plague and the madness there hasn't been enough stability or of a population to really require a leader.
No matter how much Shari or Yuan threatened, or Kai or Haru played good cop, the villagers utterly refused to speak about the Jijo beyond naming them, and seemed afraid and ashamed to even name them, whatever they were.
"I think we should try one of the larger towns." Yuanjun monotoned after everyone finished comparing notes. "If these people know anything more, and I don't think they do, they obviously aren't going to tell us."
"Sure, I don't think we'll learn anything more in a larger town but maybe a Bakeneko will pounce us or something."
"Well, hopefully they aren't normally as tough as that Hitomi slut." Shari just shrugged, easing the back of her neck with a irritated hand. "I almost want one of them to jump us, through, just to get this over with... None of these damn farm boys have any reason to tell us anything. Even if they knew what was really going on, these monsters are basically their masters... and it's not like we know half of what Rin really is either."
Such a truth was probably a little close to home, but Shari felt like saying it anyway. She sounded spiteful, yet within that, determined to accept reality in one deep gulp and take it in her stride. It would be a rather pathetic reason to abandon your master, after all, if you simply found out that they were some sort of untouchable, otherworldly being -literally-.
"A bigger town is probably a good idea." The large monk intentionally made it sound as little like she was agreeing with Yuanjun as possible. "If we can even find some management types just gabbing about the Jijo generally, that would be a start. Talk says there is one about a day or north-east, so... Let's get moving already..."
"This place smells like a oni's chamber pot."
The nearest town was a place called Tsuneie.
The ride was relatively short and thankfully it was free from any monsters. Less thankfully was the ominous presence of more and more mass graves, and worse still the fact that many of them seemed to not only be largely empty, but also had tracks leading out from the pits and towards the town.
The town's gates were heavily burned, as was much of the wall and some of the buildings by it. They were still standing, but clearly there had been a fire, and recently.
There were no guards, and as with Togo there were much less people out and about than one would expect. The group got lots of looks, too, and while some of them were clearly people checking out Yuanjun, most of them seemed to be wary looks. The town was small by Kusanagi's standards, but even for Shibayama it was large enough that travelers from out of town should not be getting that kind of cold shoulder.
The town smelled like death, dirt, and fire.
Yuan pointed towards a large building in the distance. "I am guessing that is either the estate of the local lord, or a temple. Either way, I imagine we can get information there, on way or another. I also imagine that if Hitomi has any of her agents in the town, they will be there as well. I could handle it easily, of course, but Rin would be upset with me if I let any of you children die on my watch, so if you would rather spend some time asking the locals for information first, that's fine too." Yuanjun drawled.
"I think I heard one of them mention an Oni. Maybe there's an Oni in town. I imagine you get along well with them, Shari, would you like to go talk to it first?" She added with a shrug that she still somehow made seem catty.
"Are you done?" Shari gazed at Yuanjun balefully. Any humor she had on the outset of the journey had long since been dried up by the inhospitable landscape about them, and alrough this was clearly what was making Rin's princess act up also, it didn't stop her from wanting to put a fist through that sly grin of hers. The fact that they shared masters was the only reason she had not done so already. The bratty woman had been humiliating her in practically every way for months. "Rin would be upset with me if a child got spanked, too..."
Not bothering to say where she was going, Shari simply stormed off after that. She ended up gathering up a little more information from some of the more destitute citizens, who she figured had little to loose. Any information they got from the middle ranks seemed to be two steps away from propaganda, in comparison.
Yuanjun shrugged, sat down, and decided to meditate while waiting for Shari to finish stomping about and the rest of the group to do whatever it was they were doing.
When Shari returned she hadn't gained much information beyond the large building Yuan pointed out being the residence of the local samurai lord, and regarding the Jijo everyone was still quiet, even under threat of violence. The most information she got was that it wasn't safe outside at night because of them.
"Learn anything?" Yuanjun asked as Shari returned, not bothering to get up or even open her eyes.
"Well they certainly seemed afraid of talking about the Jijo in general." Shari used her best civil, neutral voice and masked her continued annoyance. "But it was weird. No spite or vengefulness at all, like you would with normal people who've had their families roughed up... Only other time I've seen a look like that was this farmer who picked a fight with some Orochi cultists..."
"So I guess we are breaking in to that overblown dollhouse after all."
The last part just slipped out, and had her glaring down at the monumental building from afar again. It was indeed just a bit too macabre for it's own good, jutting out of those comparatively ramshackle little huts around it. The kind of thing that Shari would have found amusing on any other day... The trouble was, today, she was fairly certain that the unnatural, ill-fitting features were entirely too apt for the denizens within.