Hitomi continued struggling and squirming and showed no signs of tiring, much to Yuanjun and Shari's annoyance and difficulty.
"What? I fucking look like a wizard to you or summin?!" She spat, fairly literally. "Hells if I know. Wasn't magic, prob'ly psionics or some shit." She gave a bit of a laugh. "You Humans tried pretty fuckin' hard, but you didn't get all the psions in Shibayama. And you act all outraged at what I've done. At least I do what I do because I choose to, not as a knee-jerk 'cause I'm a scared little pussy. You don't scare me, bitch.
Consider how old 'ol Sogi is, shithead, and consider when it was she became a boring uptight cunt. Do the math. All those silly wars up north are her fault for trashin' the Huangdi Empire. She made Otoyo and me, and the others. So she bears the blame for that too. I don't give a fuck in Hades what the fox-cunt is calling herself these days - she's still Sogi, and Pao Su, and Da Ji, and all the others. Only difference 'tween me and her - or her and Otoyo - is that Otoyo and I know what we are and aren't running from ourselves or lying to ourselves." She smiled. "Although I suppose it's not just herself Sogi's lyin' to these days, is it? What's the bitch giving you shits? Sex? Money? Both? What, she tell you she loves you? You know she's a hooker, right? That's what they all say." She gave Yuanjun in particular a wink. "I bet she said you're the best she's ever had, even, right?"
Yuanjun, for her part, seemed angrier than the group had ever seen the terrifying woman, but rather than hitting the Nekomata - not that she had a limb to spare for it - she just replied as calmly as she could, through gritted teeth, while tightening her hold on the squirming, struggling, classy lady.
Hitomi just laughd. "Did I touch a nerve there, thunder-thighs?"
Hitomi wasn't a very nice lady.
"And what do you supose Rin does? Just roll over and die because you say so?" Shari scowled again. Despite her ponderings, she suspected that the bitch was never really going to tell them much past the obvious. "By the Kami, how can such an old being still talk like a child... Senile maybe? You are a pretty damn old hag."
"...Yaun..." She redirected her gaze, then redirected her arm to prevent Hitomi from spouting anymore retaliatory insults. "This is pointless. Either let me start snapping bits off, or just let me finish her off already. I can't think of any reason why we should trust even the bullshit she is spouting."
Yaun didn't say a thing. She just stared on vindictively, as if to say, 'What the hell are you waiting for? Isn't this supposed to be the one thing you're good at?'
Shari just looked ahead again, and Hitomi started to suddenly thrash more violently, as if realising what was up.
Then, her body just fell limp, head dangling at the neck like a badly made rag-doll.
Her voice was unempathetic, and she regarded the body with disgust, but the feeling of denying somebody any form of redemption made her feel deeply sick... Even if it was someone like Hitomi... Particularly if it was somebody who reminded far too much of Rin.
Too late now.
The trip back to Kusanagi was fortunately without incident. Yuanjun was even more quiet than usual, apparently still uncomfortable about everything that had happened. The first day of the trip back, in fact, she didn't even get petty or catty with Shari, and actually behaved like a reasonable adult towards the other Monk.
Unsurprisingly, Rin more or less threw herself at, and upon, Yuanjun, the Monk's considerable strength being the only thing keeping her from being tackled to the ground by the foxy lady. Rin hugged her tightly, then kissed her, then kissed her and then seemed to remember the others existed. "I missed you, thunder thighs." She purred before greeting everyone else with her usual overly friendly, over long, Rin-tastic hugs and kisses.
"You did it? You killed the bitch?" Rin sounded deadly serious, her mood shifting rather quickly.
She listened to the story, and seemed even more shaken and uneasy when the mention of the... abomination came up. And the fact that the group had not only failed to prevent Otoyo's return to Asul, but had further been unable to prevent the abomination's apparent masters from claiming her for their own.
Rin opted to spend the night alone with Yuanjun, telling the group to come back the next evening when she'd had some time to handle things.
Rin was many things, and Human was one of them, I guess?
That night, Rei kept her word, and took Shari and Kai out for drinks. The Kitsune was an idiot, constantly struggled to remember Kai and Shari's names, and her lips moved when she read, but she was also as sweet as Rin, funny in her own way, and generally fun to be around. It was a nice evening, she was nice, and after so long around monsters, it was nice to have some friendly human contact, even if strictly speaking Rei wasn't entirely Human.
"Thanks, Kinnosuke, though, I mean, seriously. I know what Rin told you to do. I know what she asked of you and the others. I, like, really don't know if Rin will come out and say, she's kinda funny and hard t'read sometimes, y'know? But, like, I do, like, know she appreciates that you all cared enough about her to know better than her. She's a goddess, you know, but she's not... uh... um... uh... yes! Infallible! Thanks, Sana, you're the best! She's not infallible. Hitomi needed to be put down, but torture doesn't do anything besides demean us all. You did the right things. :3"
Rei saw them both off with hugs, and even managed to not make Kai uncomfortable.
And, so, the next evening the group met with Rin once more.
"The abomination. It was an Illithid Hulk. They're horrors wrought by Illithids from their own kind using the most perverse psionic arts and fleshcraft." Rin explained, her voice as serious as it had ever sounded - although there was always an allure and sexuality to it she clearly simply could not excise. It was a part of what she was, after all, not merely who she was. I have Chiyo and her underlings looking into finding out what they can about the masked man and the young woman you described. They're not the ones behind this. They can't be." She gave a heavy sigh, squeezing Yuanjun's hand tightly.
"Only an Illithid could possibly create one of these obscenities, and only the same horror could control or direct one. This is their work. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I got you all involved in this. In these horrors. Some of you have families, and you have the right to be with them. I'm not... I don't want to lie to you. I believe that there are dark times ahead. Dark as they've ever been. And you have the right to be with your loved ones now. I can't ask you to confront these horrors, and there's no shame in failing to confront them right now... but help would always be welcome." She gave a sad little smile. "You mortals are all so beautiful, you know. You can't see yourselves like I see you, but I think that, you know, if you could... well, I mean... you're all so much more than you know."
Kai decided to spend some time with his family. He'd been through a lot. He kind of earned it. He implied he would probably be back to the group, but could make no promises. Naturally he spent some time alone with Shari...
Ryo, too, had other matters to deal with.
In both cases, Yuanjun was oddly friendly as she saw them off. She really did seem to care about those two, even if she generally lacked the ability to express her feelings in a non-patronizing and paternalistic way.
On the flip side, it was still pretty clear that while Yuanjun's harshness towards Haru, Kai, and Ryo may have been born of misguided concern and care, her feelings towards Shari were still quite, however, different...
"Oni," Yuanjun drawled, "there's a small arena I know where I fought in some tournaments while you and the others were in Mizunokuni and Yamaguchi. I'm pretty popular there since, you know, I easily won all my appearances. Unless you've decided you really still don't want me to kick your face in..." Yuanjun gave a catty shrug, her voice still as monotone as ever. "It's not like anything I do to your face wouldn't be an improvement."
Shari just glanced over, not moving at all from her perch on the small stone wall.
She looked differant. Hair cut super short and new earnings afixed, both little presents for Kai's sake before his departure. He seemed to appreciate it at the time, but now her lightened head just felt awkward, and, moreover, foolish.
The monk didn't need an insult to want to crush the smaller woman's bones. Every time she saw her sitting there in her masters lap, disturbing every bit of sanctity that her oath demanded, it made her want to get up and fight her then and there.
She couldn't feel angry at Kai. It would have been selfish of her to ask him to stay, just to fulfil her own strange sense of honour. But she couldn't follow him, for the exact same reason. The entire situation felt like purgatory.
"You can tell Yoko and Rei that this was your idea." A subdued tone, mechanical in the mental practice that had gone into saying it. Clearly, the woman had been thinking of the situation for a long time, playing it over in her head. "I don't think I can spare their feelings, if it means holding something back."
What else could she have said? What insults were there really left to hurl?
It was late in the week, late in the day. The warm wind made small eddies in the brownish dust, and the sky was attempting to turn a deep shade of scarlet. Well maintained white stone walls and red wooden beams, the arena looked far too fancy for it's purpose. A bit like a toybox, beyond the odd cracked slab and dried brown bloodstain. The lantern placement looked nice but was not particularly well thought out, letting barely any light into the middle of the ring and forcing both fighters to confront silhouettes.
Shari Tsunzaku could see that the handful of drink-fueled patrons in the arena's wings had attended on Yuanjun's namesake only. That was okay. Her preference would have been to fight in the streets with nobody in attendance, but if the doll-faced monk had been doing nothing but attempting to bloat her ego from the start, so Shari wouldn't have minded beating her in her own comfort zone.
If she could beat her.
It wasn't a fact to be trifled with. Fate had dealt the woman a tremendous hand in terms of looks and ability, and she suspected it was the former which made the latter so much more effective. Yuan herself almost definitely knew it... But, it was also all the more reason that Shari, just once, wanted to spoil her day. It wasn't like it would make Kai come back, or Rin change her mind about either of them, but they were way past the point where putting a crack in Yuan's perfect little self image was worth more than any penalty it could bring about. The stern-faced, lumbering career thug simply had nothing else left to loose.
The smaller woman stuck first.
Predictable, really. She always kicked straight for the groin, perhaps to kill the enemies' willpower right off the bat. But what she had forgotten was, Shari had seen her do it a thousand times. It rattled the both of her arms, but she rebounded it.
Another kick, this time aimed at the face, came immediately afterwards. The babyface doll was just so damn fast. Striking Shari in the nose, she observed herself stumble backwards, as if the impact was enough to dislodge the soul from her body.
She attempted to retaliate with a punch, but it was several inches too slow.
A third kick, apparently trying to hammer home the humiliation of the groin kick manoeuvre. The larger monk angled an elbow towards her face, and the smaller's attack turned into a feint; Then, an unexpected continuing roundhouse kick which caught Shari in the side of the head instead.
They were close now, and it would have been perfect for a grapple, if the hefty monk was not already kick-drunk and bleeding from the nose. Instead, it just turned into a blind shove that skidded the lighter thing harmlessly backwards several feet.
“...Does it insult you?” Shari growled. All the blood made her angular face, and the hurtful glare that it was making, particularly horrible. “That anyone would even try and fight your highness? Is that why you always try this humiliating bullshit?”
Yuan answered with her hands, colliding with both sides of the muscular woman's face and completely baffling her senses for several moments. She couldn't even see the following kick, but she knew it was coming.
Her grasping hand immediately launched downward, seeking it; It connected, but not accurately. For the cost of merely blunting the attack, several fingers seized up in agony and her stomach was tainted with the cold sickness that came a long with broken bones.
“Oh please, you humiliate yourself!” Yuan finally answered back, now that she had a position to gloat from. “Weren’t you supposed to be good at grappling, you Oni-lookin' bitch? How you gonna do that with one hand?”
Shari just glared back. She'd drop dead before she gave up.
Instead, she answered back with her own fist. Yuan was still too fast. A knee to the ribs, then a reverse slap across the face.
Self-righteous little shit was toying with her, and the lumbering soul knew it.
“Come on!” She teased, leaning in close, swerving in and out in time with Shari's haggard shuffling. “I'm barely even using my hands anyway! What the hell is all that muscle even for?”
It had to be now or never. The heavy monk felt her toned physique turning into dead mass. Anybody else and she could have toughed it out, but Yuan's impacts just impacted with such force that even blocking them made the back of her shins ache.
“What's the matter? I know I call you a knuckle-dragging gorilla wench and all but-”
The lumbering thing made a long, poorly executed and overextended punch. The smaller woman just curved around her trunk-like limb, relishing in how her insult had tormented the ugly brute into such a worthless action. Now just a couple more light slaps and-
A sharp pain, a sudden added weight in her footsteps.
Shari smiled viciously, her teeth digging into Yuan knuckles with something resembling genuine blood-lust.
'Yes, grappling is what I do.'
A downward stomp onto Yuan's right leg. She still managed to slink her flexible body out of the way, but her trapped hand left her ribs wide open. Shari's undamaged hand could have been moving at a snails pace and still made an impact. It wasn't. The blow lifted the smaller woman clean off her feet, and knocked all the air out of her chest.
She tried to punch in retaliation, but the large monk only had to walk forwards to throw it off balance. An attempted kick was worse, leaving her open to a solid blow to the stomach.
Finally, Shari's teeth let go and freed the hand. Yuan formed another punch, but her brain wasn't what it was. The large monk gave her a head butt in the teeth, then backhanded an attempted retaliatory kick.
Yuan didn't have enough left in her to right herself, and fell flat. It wasn't for lack of enthusiasm, or an immediate will to get revenge, or an utter refusal of the idea that Shari could actually beat her. The no longer quite as beautiful woman just seemed to break down in the irrationality of the situation, and struggle to get the willpower back together in order to get back up again.
Shari leant down slowly, grasped her twisted left hand within her right, and made a low, disapproving snarl.
“Have you never felt this way before?...”
“Well, now you know what a real fight feels like.”
It wasn't that Shari was in much of a better shape that was disturbing. Covered in blood, she really wasn't. It was that her train of thought didn't waver at all.
She was at home.
The next day, Shari received a summons to the palace; Rin wanted to see her. WELP.
Rin was, as always, spilling out of a far too small and simultaniously too tight and too loose semi-kimono of sorts when Shari walked in on her. Shari had no sooner sat down than Rin lay down beside her, resting her head in the muscular Monk's lap and smiling up at her as she spoke.
"I heard about you and my Yua- no, calm the fuck down," Rin laughed, "it's okay; I'm not mad. A bit surprised, but not mad. I love Yuanjun and I know her in ways you do not, but I'm not going to pretend like she hasn't deserved a good kick in the cunt for a while now. I'm sad my beloved lost, and she's taking it pretty rough, but she'll get over it. She's strong. And you deserve nice things, too, sexy." Rin sat up, turning Shari's face towards hers and sighing before and after kissing her on the forehead.
"I know my love for Yuanjun has blinded me, sometimes, to how she treated you, and that was wrong, and I am sorry." She gave a sad little smile before sharing some of that musical laughter. Even Shari probably found it hard to remain stoic when Rin laughed. "Ahahaha, could you imagine if someone told you you'd one day have a Goddess apologizing to you?" She gave a wink and hugged Shari before continuing. "But it's not just Thunder Thighs, and I know this, too. I haven't always treated you, Shari, as I ought to have. And, no, it's not about the whole trying to kill me thing. Hells, I don't even remember how many times I plotted to kill Genno, rest his soul." Her face lit up at the mention of Genno just like it did whenever she spoke about Yuanjun. Didn't Otoyo mention him, too? Probably one of her past lovers.
"The parts of you that you have worked so very hard, and come so very far, to overcome remind me of, well, me. I see them when they are there, in you, and sometimes I have projected them on to you, sexy. I have lashed out at you not because I am upset with you, but because I am upset with me - or with who I was.
But I believe people can change. I am not who I once was. Sogi was a different person. I tell myself that, and I believe that, although sometimes it is so very easy to forget. If someone like me could honestly and truly change, I cannot imagine how much simpler it would be for you. And you have. You're not the same Shari I first met. I guess that's another way we're alike, love. We forget how far we have come." Rin smiled.
"I love you, Shari Tsunzaku, and I am so very sorry that my actions have not always reflected this. I will see you again, of this I am sure, but I want you to remember that - oh, Hells this sounds corny - I'm with you always." Rin cracked up laughing. "But seriously, gorgeous. I am a Goddess, and I tend to my little foxes." She felt up Shari's muscular arms, leaning in close, her already exaggeratedly seductive voice becoming even more so. "Even when they aren't so little." More giggling.
"But more importantly - the sun rises. Tomorrow is a new day. I am not who I once was, and neither are you. Live your life, Shari Tsunzaku, and stop punishing yourself."
Shari didn't know what to say. A large part of her was convinced that slugging it out with Yuan would be the last straw in Rin's eyes. Choosing still to do it was consigning herself to the life of a servant, ridding herself of this clawing jealousy, but also giving up hope of ever gaining a place in her master's heart. Quite how that scenario failed to occur was beyond her. She didn't understand what Rin was even trying to say. Did the holy woman really question the monk's loyalties so much, that she felt the need to baby her back into submission?
Her body remained rigid and cross-legged despite Rin leaning on top of her, reactively remaining in a polite, stoic state. It was exactly like the old days, cold and respectful. Only Kai probally knew, it was the woman who wasn't afraid of anything’s version of being anxious. Confused. Distressed.
"I'm sorry, my master. It was not my intent to harm your blessed servant." She wanted to bow, but with Rin in her lap, she ended up putting her hands in a praying position, placing them to the goddesses' head, and then putting her own head ontop of that. The monk didn't dare open her eyes. "No... That's a lie, forgive me. I did want to hurt her. I have for a long time. Dearly."
"It's just that, well... She's better than me. Effortlessly. She has everything I want, and I can't help but despise the ground she walks on." Her voice became a heartfelt whisper. "Did she not constantly take that for granted, there is no way I would have won... Really just wanted to hurt her. I'm sorry, master."
"It was all I could do. The only thing I'm good at." One suspected that the barbaric woman's voice could not turn soft, but it's grating raspy tone did become quieter as she spoke. She was caught inbetween trying to suppress emotions, and not actually knowing how to express them in the first place. "Shari Tsunzaku will continue to be your loyal servant no matter what. She let low animalistic resentfulness get the better of her, and it will not happen again. It was never my place."
No good. Her master hated all of that 'proper talk', she knew that. But that sort of embellishment was really the closest thing Shari had to actual heartfelt affection. The show wasn't for anyone who just asked for it.
Hiding her face in her hands and rubbing a finger down the scar that transversed it, she began to think about how different Rin was from the monster she first encountered, too. The unknowable, terrifying power that she worshipped had slowly turned into the happy-go-lucky woman that was seated upon her today.
"...Please, try to understand... You are truly My Master, and I have given this to you and no one else, because I choose to. It was not the threat of execution, or the money, it was your radiance. Your brilliance. I was childish to think I could grasp it, stupid to feel others might trample it, but it was an earnest feeling."
"There... There is nothing else."
The last part sounded like a formal end to her list of confessions, but it was tinged with a sombre overtone. It seemed, her 'nothing' was in the place that Kai once sat in beside her.
Rin smiled and a placed a hand on Shari's cheek. "You are very good at fighting, but it's not the only thing you're good at. You humans; you're like bags of holding - you're bigger on the inside." Rin stifled a laugh before cracking up. "Okay, that was a terrible analogy, but the point stands, gorgeous. Trust me, I'm a Goddess. I know this shit." the Kitsune smiled.
"I am pretty great, aren't I?" Rin laughed again, her laughter, as ever, sweeter than the most beautiful music. "You're so much more than you think you are, Shari, but fuck if you're not a total godsamned dumbass sometimes!" More laughter. "Of course you grasp it. I mean, my tits are right here!" More laughing. "Okay, okay, but seriously; first of all, we're friends, aren't we? I love you, and I like to think you love me, right?" She gave Shari a big doe-eyed smile and held back a giggle. "And, you know, grasping the divine? Honey, it's called religion. I've not been properly worshipped in a while, and it's kind of funny but if you wanna spend some time on your knees...
Wait! I know something better we can do on our knees together!"
Slowly and carefully, but with her typical unyielding strength, Shari ushered Rin into sitting upright, so that the large monk could put her arms around the back of her waist, and lay her brow upon the unworldly woman's right shoulder. She was as doting as possible, but it was clear from her unexpected sternness that Shari just couldn't stand to have her master see the emotional reaction currently taking place on her face.
The fact that she struggled to comprehend what love was sounded like such a dumb cliché she couldn't really bring herself to say it.
"I... I'm remorseful... But I can't even promise that if I didn't know you, hurting you wouldn't be a thing I would do again..." Her voice was hurt. "Such things have been in my life so long that they feel utterly natural... And it's not like I even started questioning doing it to your enemies for a long time."
"...and then, when I did... To be honest... I... I... resented you..."
Uneasy silence. Her grip tightened. Was she crying?
"...Despite all your grace, you are still so human in the soul... And so, I resented you."
Rin pushed Shari off her, gently, and looked her in the eyes before laughing, musical as ever. "Shari Tsunzaku; every day is a new day. We are to be judged by the people we are, not the people we ahve been." She shrugged before laughing once more. "I certainly hope so anyway. I'm in some serious fucking trouble if I'm wrong." The goddess embraced Shari again and kissed her on the forehead. "You need to stop second guessing yourself. I am not the monsters I have been, and you are not the miserable cunt you were. Live your life, gorgeous."
Shari hadn't made it far from the palace when Rei came bouncing and jiggling after her, a small gaggle of foxes trailing behind the ditzy priestess.
"Setsuna! Wait up!" She laughed, greeting the muscular monk with a great big, and overly squishy, hug. "You don't get to leave without saying goodbye to me!" Rei smiled and let go of Shari. "Like, uh, seriously, like, though. You're going to keep in, uh, touch, um, right?" She gave a big smile. "I really had fun the other day with you and... uh... um... Kenji!" Oh, Rei. "You better keep in touch with me, Setsuna. I mean it." The scatterbrained Kitsune smiled at at Shari and was quiet for a while before hugging her tightly again. "I mean it, love. You are, you know, a better person and, like, stronger than you know. You deserve to be happy. Everyone does. You will keep in touch with me, right? You and Kenji? I worry about you, Setsuna." Rei was adorable.
"Oh, and, uh, congratulations on beating... um... thunder thighs!"
Reg is going to reply to this and give Shari her sendoff. Then I will post the C Revival. GET HYPE.