So, just a bit of a story that I've been writing for my own enjoyment. I lost my appreciation for Shaman King over the last year, but have recently begun to regain it. I have, of course, taken every oc from my previous stories and chucked them out the window. Every OC I plan to use in this story will be either new and improved versions of the old, or completely, shiny, squeaky new. So, enjoy. No guarantees that I'll even finish writing this, and forgive me if it's not historically accurate, but here's to a good show! Enjoy!
She ran. She heard the screams and calls behind her, but she didn't pause to look back. Branches tore at her clothes, and her bare feet were cut mercilessly by jagged rocks, reopening the wounds that had just barely begun to close. She could hardly see two feet in front of her, but she dared not stop. She would not feel safe until the loudest thoughts were not even as loud as a whisper.
She's a demon!
Why? her mind cried. Why do they hate me so? Why must my death be the only thing to satisfy their thirst?
Her limbs burned like the hottest of fires, and her throat was so dry she felt she might suffocate. Each step hurt more than the last, but the thoughts were still as loud as shouts. She wasn't safe yet.
She could no longer see. Her eyes were filled with their own darkness, more painful and consuming than any earthly darkness she had ever witnessed. Her steps were blind and unsure, and she knew that she would soon fall.
No, she pleaded. They're coming. They'll kill me. Please, please let me go on. Please do not let me fall.
And yet the time came, and her feet could no longer hold her. She felt her slow, bitter descent onto the ground below. As her eyes closed and the darkness fully engulfed her, she knew it was all over.
"I would like to thank you for seeing me, Hao-sama," the stout man said, bowing his head respectfully. "It's not often that I get to sit in the presence of such a talented onmyoji, and one so young. The progress you've made is simply amazing."
Hao gave the man a soft smile. "I am pleased that you should think so, your highness. And to what do I owe this lovely visit?"
As the nobleman explained himself, Hao sat still and listened with the utmost attention. Or so everyone around him was compelled to believe. The cat that sat near him, though, believed otherwise. Hao was paying attention, certainly, but not to the man in front of him. There seemed to be something else on his mind.
"-As you can see," the nobleman finished. "I need your help immediately."
Hao sat silent for a second, then he looked to the row of students who sat in a line on the side of the large room. They all looked at Hao expectantly. He beckoned to the first two, and both youths immediately stood.
"Go to the front gate," he told his pupils. "I believe there is something out there that needs to be taken care of." The two of them walked out of the room, remembering to first bow to their master and to the nobleman. When they had gone, the onmyoji looked back at the now incredibly confused nobleman.
"Your case, although interesting, will not be impossible." Hao said with an air of ease. "And as immediately as you'd like me to take care of it, I'm afraid there is something more pressing at the moment. But you can rest assured that I will see to it to carry out this business as soon as I can."
The nobleman was ready to argue, until a shout was heard from outside the door. Another onmyoji, an older, but far less experienced one than Hao, ran into the room.
"Two of your students just discovered a woman outside the gates. She's covered in blood, and quite close to dying."
"A woman?" Hao said, although his tone didn't change. If anything, Matamune noted, it had gained a slight hint of amusement.
"Well, a girl is more like it." The man replied in an unsure tone. "She can't be more than a child. But earlier all the villagers were shouting about a demon. Perhaps she has something to do with that?"
Just as he said this, the two students returned, carrying with them a small person. That was the only observation anyone in the room could make besides the fact that she was covered in blood and dirt. Her head hung limply, and it was hard to tell if there was any life within that battered body.
"I-is she...possessed?" the nobleman asked, moving away from the bloody creature.
Hao laughed. "Hardly. It's simply a wounded child, nothing more." Seeing the looks on the people around him, he sighed. "Still, there's no harm in checking."
Hao stood from his cross-legged position and gestured for the girl to be laid on the ground in front of him. The students obliged. He walked to her and crouched back down so that he was comfortable seated in front of her. He gestured for all of his students to join him. The row of students, which made a total of ten young men, came to stand around the body. He looked at a pair of them on whom he had yet to call.
"Fetch hot water and bandages and clean her wounds. We'll send her to the physician later and clean her up properly, but I don't want her to bleed to death while I'm working on her."
The two boys nodded and headed out. They returned in a few minutes, having gotten the hot water from a hot spring nearby, and got to work cleaning the wounds that they could see, careful to be discreet. Hao observed different parts of the girl's body. He laid his hand on her forehead, noting how hot it was becoming. Something else came to his attention, which made his eyes narrow with both annoyance and just a bit of curiosity. Matamune, who was sitting close by, monitoring the student's work, noted the change in his master's expression. Something was obviously not right about this child.
Suddenly, the girl's eyes snapped open, and a piercing scream erupted from her lips. Her whole body jerked. Before long though, her eyes fell shut once again, and she was no longer conscious.
"She's possessed!" The nobleman cried from where he cowered in the corner. "There's a demon inside of her!"
Hao glanced at one of his students and gestured to the nobleman. The student stood and quickly showed the nobleman out.
"Remember this," Hao said. "The last thing you need when you're trying to concentrate is an idiot blubbering about demons."
"Yes, Hao-sama." The students replied at once.
"What can you discern?" He asked them.
"Fever," the eldest said. "Nothing fatal, but enough to keep her coming in and out of consciousness all night."
"Her left ankle is swollen," another student offered. "She must've been running for quite some time. It looks like all of these wounds are old ones that have simply been reopened over and over again."
"There's no sign of any spirit entering her body, willingly or otherwise," another said.
"Wonderful," Hao said to them. "You are all becoming quite observant. The question now is: what was she running from? What can you tell from her clothes?"
One of the students who had fetched the girl to begin with felt some fabric in between his fingers. "It's nothing fancy. It seems to be the garments of a commoner. It's quite thin, so she must've had it for a while."
"There's nothing personal on her except for this," another student lifted a pendant tied around the girl's neck. It seemed to be white, although most of it was covered with blood and dirt, and it was shaped like some sort of religious insignia. "A Buddhist sign, but I don't recognize it."
Hao took it, wiping the blood and mud away. "It's an elemental sign for water. It's made of human bone, probably a very old one. You only really find these in the far south. She must've come a long way." Hao, replaced the pendant and looked at his students. "Well, since the girl is neither in need of an exorcism, nor likely to pose any threat as of yet, I suggest that two of you take her over to the physician, and that the rest of you get an early night's rest. I have the nobleman's business to attend to, and I shall want you all up bright and early to continue our lesson." Hao rose. "Good night."
"Goodnight, Hao-sama." The students said with a bow towards their master, then waited until he and Matamune were gone to start deciding who should take the wounded girl with a quick game of Jan-ken.
Hao smiled to himself as he heard the thoughts of his students behind him, all of them trying to get out of having to do the jobs that needed to be done. He remembered having a similar attitude as a young boy, and one that took some time to go away as he aged. Then, his thoughts turned back to the strange girl, and his smile became a slight frown.
"Is something wrong, Hao-sama?" Matamune asked as he followed his master down the candle-lit corridors of the Asakura household. "I noticed that the child brought you some sort of displeasure."
"It is best to hold this discussion until we reach my rooms." Hao replied. "Although I trust my pupils to hold their tongues, the same cannot be said for some of the other members of this household."
They continued their walk silently until they reached Hao's chambers. They were small, and simply decorated and furnished. Hao wasn't one for useless decoration and frivolous adornments. What he kept within his personal rooms was always of some technical or spiritual use to him. As he entered, he removed his monk's hat and sat before the low table on which he kept the scriptures and tablets which he studied as diligently as he could whenever time permitted. It was his goal to someday gain all of the techniques and spells associated with shamanism. It was a quest that consumed him completely for many days and weeks on end.
"You were saying about the child?" Matamune said, settling onto a nearby cushion and watching his master with curiosity.
"I cannot say why," Hao said softly, making it seem as if he was far more interested in the scriptures in front of him than in the current conversation. "But the girl's thoughts seem to be closed to me."
Matamune stood immediately at this. "What? Hao-sama...how is that...?"
"I do not know," Hao replied. "I've never encountered such a phenomenon before, and therefore am unable to conclude what exactly it is that is prompting such behavior. It may be temporary, due to her unstable state. It may be due to a previous injury of some sort. It may be because she herself has shamanic ability that somehow manages to surpass my own. I simply do not know."
"But...if you were unable to read her mind," Matamune prompted. "How did you know she was out there to begin with?"
"The villagers, of course," Hao reiterated, unfazed. "They were crying at the top of their lungs for her to be killed. Any mass thought such as that does not escape my attention. I was able to see through their eyes that she was on her way here, and since she wasn't tempted to change directions, I knew she would soon end up somewhere near our gate."
Matamune looked at his master, once again contemplating how nonchalant he seemed to be about everything, even the fact that he'd just come across the first person whose mind he couldn't read. It made him wonder what exactly was concealed in the depths of his dark heart.
"Do you think she is powerful, Hao-sama?" Matamune asked carefully.
"I felt her power the moment she was brought in," Hao said, his eyes baring a strange, somewhat hungry light. "Even the students must've felt it. She has something that not many shamans do. The villagers could sense that. They were afraid of her. They were terrified." He paused, then blinked slowly. "In any case, Matamune, it's time we get on with business. I won't think about this child any longer. All will be revealed in due time, when she is once again strong enough to speak. We shall have our answers then." Hao rose elegantly, once again putting on his cap and turning towards the door. "It is a fine night for demons."
"Hao-sama just wants to make sure that you're okay," the student in gray robes was saying as he led the girl down the hall of the Asakura house. "You gave us all quite a scare the other night. I'm glad to see you on your feet again."
The girl gave no reply. The student expected this. All morning, since she had woken up, he and other workers had been trying to get her to speak. So far, she had remained silent. He noted that she was a lot older than he had first imagined. But once she had been cleaned up and dressed properly, the girl showed more womanly features, despite her small stature. Her hair, now brushed and flowing loosely around her, was the color of burnt wood, and her eyes were so dark that he could not tell the difference between the iris and the pupil. The loss of blood had left her pale, and it was easy to tell that no food had passed her lips in quite some time. Though the swelling on her foot had gone down, she still had a bit of a limp when she walked.
The pair reached the door marked with a great pentagram. The student didn't see the girl's eyes widen at the sight of it, for he was busy knocking politely on the door.
"Enter," came Hao's voice from within.
They entered the large chamber where Hao held most of his meetings. Hao sat cross-legged at his usual spot atop a raised platform. A variety of different scrolls were rolled out in front of him, and another onmyoji sat with him, looking over and discussing some things that neither the student nor the girl were exactly able to understand. Then Hao looked up, regarding the student and looking upon the girl.
"Ah, I see our friend is awake," Hao said with a soft smile.
"The physician said she's healthy enough," the student said. "But she's still a bit weak, and she hasn't exactly said anything all day."
"There's no need for her to speak," Hao said. "I merely wish to examine her once again, just to make sure I didn't miss anything." He looked at the other onmyoji. "Will these suffice?"
"Certainly, Hao-sama," the monk said. "I shall get to work right away." The man picked up the scrolls, bowed, and left the room.
Hao looked at the student, who looked expectantly at his master. "You may rejoin your peers."
"Yes, Hao-sama." The student bowed, first to Hao, then to the girl. He then left the room, closing the door behind him. The girl watched him go, then turned back to Hao.
Hao smiled warmly. He gestured to the cushion in front of him. The girl walked carefully to it and sat down cross-legged as well. She looked at Hao expectantly, though no other emotion was apparent in the girl's features. Hao did not see any fear or confusion, as if waking up in a strange place was only to be expected.
"If you don't mind," Hao said as gently as he could. "I would like to ask you some questions."
The girl's expression didn't change, and Hao wondered if she was, indeed, unable to speak. Perhaps that had something to do with his inability to read her mind. Suddenly, the girl's eyes left him and went to rest of Matamune, who sat next to Hao, watching the girl with curiosity. Ah, Hao thought to himself. Something else reveals itself.
"No," the girl suddenly said, catching Hao off-guard. Her voice was stronger than he expected, filled with a strange weight. "I don't mind."
Hao paused for a second, waiting for her to say more, but she only looked on, waiting.
"What's your name?" Hao began.
The girl looked down for a second, as if such a question warranted any thought. "Tanaka Ayame," she replied softly, almost inaudibly.
Hao gazed at the girl for a minute. "I assume this isn't your real name?"
"My name is hated," the girl said with emphasis. "If I wanted to be known for who I was before, I would. But anyone running from something is smart enough to leave everything that was once theirs behind."
"Perhaps," Hao said. "I don't suppose you would be kind enough to tell me what it is you're running from?"
The girl, Ayame, remained silent.
"Fine," Hao said. "If you do not wish to speak, I won't press you. Would you mind if I made some observations instead?"
Ayame looked at him curiously, but made no sign for him to stop.
"You're older than you look," Hao began. "Perhaps fifteen or sixteen years?"
"Seventeen," Ayame responded, obviously used to having to explain her age. "Not much younger than you."
"Ah," Hao said with a smile. "Forgive me. Seventeen years of age. It is also apparent that you are from the far south, seeing as you are wearing a pendant common to the area. Also, seeing as it is the only personal thing in your possession, it must be very dear to you."
Ayame felt the pendant with the tips of her fingers. "It was made for me, a long time ago."
Hao studied her for a little longer. His expression remained neutral, but inside his mind was ablaze with wonder. Why couldn't he read her mind? Every time he tried, it was as if a large wall stood in his way, and no matter how much he tried, he couldn't get over it.
"You're Asakura Hao, right?" Ayame suddenly spoke, breaking through Hao's thoughts.
"Yes," Hao said, a little surprised. "Who did you think I was?"
Ayame didn't reply at first, and when she did, Hao was even more surprised.
"You have a demon's power, don't you?"
"Reishi," Ayame said. "You hear the thoughts of the people who surround you. You must have it."
"And what makes you think something like that?" Hao asked, deeply surprised by this outburst.
Ayame stood, somewhat shakily, and walked towards Hao. He observed silently as the girl reached out and placed the tips of her fingers on his forehead. As far as he was concerned, nothing happened.
After a few seconds, Ayame sighed, putting down her arm. "It's no use. No matter what, I don't suppose we'll ever be able to read each other's thoughts."
Hao stared at the girl for a couple of seconds before the corners of his mouth pulled into a slight smile. "I see. Two people with the same ability, the powers cancel each other out. That's very interesting."
Ayame returned to her seat, and for the first time, she smiled. "I've always wondered. But I suppose that makes some sense. I've never had this happen before." She settled herself more comfortably. "I suppose I should explain why I'm here."
"I was under the impression that you were running from something," Hao said.
"I was," Ayame said, looking away. "But now that I'm here, I have other things to think about. Especially now that I've found you."
"I wasn't aware that I was known about in the south," Hao said.
"You have quite a reputation," Ayame said. "They say you're the youngest apprentice ever to become an Onmyoji and establish his own clan. Many people respect you as one of the greatest exorcists of all time."
"And how does this concern you?"
Ayame looked at him directly this time. "I wish to become your student."
"Hm," Hao said with a smile. "I've never had a female student before. And I tend to teach my students from a young age. Do you think you'd be able to catch up to them?"
"I know how strong I am," Ayame replied. "I know it's not common, but I have a reason to learn." She stood up, trying to subdue her unstable limbs. She bowed shakily. "Thank you for your audience, Hao-sama. Please let me know of your decision." She began to make her way to the door, but she wasn't three paces away from it when she stumbled and began to fall.
Hao stood quickly, his robe flying from the sudden movement. He caught her with ease, steadying her.
"Perhaps you should rest a bit more?" Hao said, slightly amused.
"I'm fine," Ayame said indignantly.
"You've been running nonstop for days, and it doesn't look like you've had anything to eat in over a week," Hao said replied, more concerned. He placed his arm around her waist and put her arm over his shoulder. With that he began to lead her out of room and down the corridor. "I wouldn't want you to get any more hurt than you already are."
"Your concern is flattering," Ayame said. "But there's no point in me staying here if you're not going to accept me as a student. I might as well be on my way."
"Who said I wouldn't accept you?" Hao said, an amused glint in his eye.
Ayame blinked. "Do you mean it, Hao-sama?"
"It might take a bit of effort to convince the others, but I do see a lot of potential in you, and your strength speaks for itself." Hao led her into what looked to be a dining room where a group of maids were cleaning up. They bowed when they saw Hao. "This girl needs something to eat, quite urgently. Make sure she's fed and taken care of. Also, find a vacant room and set it up for her. She'll be staying with us from now on."
"Is she a new worker, Hao-sama?" One of the maids, who seemed to have more authority above the rest, asked. The other maids looked at the young girl curiously, but they came forward to help her into a seat, while others rushed to the kitchens to find some food.
"On the contrary," Hao said. "She is to be my new student. Find her a set of gray robes and place them in her room."
There was obvious surprise from the group. They looked at one another, giving each other curious looks. This was obviously not normal.
"In any case," Hao said, snapping the girls back into attention. "I have business to take care of," he looked back at Ayame and smiled. "I'll go make the necessary arrangements. Everyone else," he addressed the maids. "Be nice." He bowed, and everyone in the room bowed back. Then, with Matamune at his heels, he left the room.
The girls looked at Ayame questioningly. The others returned soon enough with a tray of food.
"I've never heard of Hao-sama accepting a female student." The first maid said.
"Aren't you the girl they found outside the gates?" A younger girl said, eyeing her with suspicion.
"Yes," Ayame said steadily. She could feel what the girls around were feeling. Although some of them seemed to be okay with her, even concerned, the majority were just suspicious of her. She preferred to pay attention to her food instead. It was the first time she'd had anything to eat besides the physician's chicken broth. "I'm glad Hao was kind enough to rescue me. I would be dead if it weren't for him."
She wanted to laugh when she saw the thoughts of most of the girls around her. Apparently Hao had quite a few admirers. Just the mention of his name sent a wave of fluttering hearts. The fact that Hao had practically carried her in here must've driven all of them crazy.
"That's enough talk," the head maid said. "All of you, back to work."
The maids, although grudgingly, went on with their work.
"My name is Sachi, by the way," the head maid said. "You can call me if you need anything."
Ayame smiled at her, since she seemed to have much nicer thoughts than the rest of the maids. "Thank you."
Left on her own, Ayame finished her meal in silence. Her head hurt a bit, and she was grateful for the silence. The thoughts of others were often so loud that she found herself to be sick with pain sometimes. She hated crowded rooms with a passion, and did everything in her power to stay away from them.
As she finished eating, she called Sachi back, and together they made their way to what was to be Ayame's new room. Hardly paying attention to anything else about the room, the first thing she noticed was the already-made futon with fresh, clean sheets. Despite the fact that it was still early afternoon, Ayame crawled under the covers and was soon fast asleep.
Hao looked at the small frame of the sleeping girl, a gentle smile settling onto his lips. It was already dark out, and according to Sachi, Ayame had fallen asleep as soon as she had finished eating. That's good, he said. She'll need quite a bit of strength for what I plan to teach her.
As he looked at her, he couldn't help feeling a sense of fascination. He had never encountered another person with the same ability as his. Considering the circumstances in which he'd gained his, what must this girl have done to gain hers? He knew nothing of her beyond the fact that she was from further south. She had given him a fake name, and said nothing as to where she came from or what she was running from.
But she was eager to learn. Hao didn't have to read her mind to know that she wanted to strengthen her shamanic ability. But for what? Was she merely hoping to gain more strength in order to be able to protect herself, or because she was hoping to take revenge on someone?
Perhaps she's like me, Hao thought bitterly. Perhaps she's been hurt just like I have.
Ayame shifted slightly in her sleep, and Hao's gaze softened. No matter what had happened, no matter what circumstances had brought her here, she was safe now. Hao would make sure that nothing hurt her again. It was the least he could do after what she'd been through.
Hao smiled. It was strange, but for the first time in a very long time, he didn't feel so...alone. For some strange reason, he felt like a child who held some great secret, and only one other person in the world was in on it, and that secret gave them some sort of powerful connection. It was silly, no doubt, but Hao hadn't had a great childhood, and things like these always helped to fill the deep, empty void within the depths of his heart.
Hao leaned down, extending his arm and resting the tips of his fingers on Ayame's forehead. Her fever was gone, and her skin felt cool to the touch. As expected, nothing happened.
"Hm," Hao said softly. He stroked the girl's cheek gently before standing up once again. He went to the door, stepping out quietly and closing the door.
Ayame opened her eyes, blinking groggily in the darkness. She had slept all through the afternoon, but her headache was gone and she felt very relaxed. She looked around the room, waiting for her eyes to adjust. Just now, she'd thought she heard...well, she wasn't even sure. But she was alone.
Deciding not to worry about it, Ayame settled herself back under the covers and closed her eyes. As sleep once again came to claim her, she turned one final thought to the great onmyoji who had just agreed to become her teacher, and smiled.
Yes, this will be a very cutesy type story, but who the hell cares! Hao is adorable!