The Coward and the Sapling
A/N: GAH! I'm sorry this took so long! Writer's block is a pain to deal with. Anyway, please R&R! Flames will be disposed of with prejudice.
Disclaimer: I do not own either of these. Joss Whedon and Capcom own Buffy and Okami respectively.
***Chapter 2“The Coward and the Sapling”
Buffy listened intently to the story Issun wove, and when he was finished, she nodded. “Okay, just to sum up: You were assigned by a...well-endowed wood sprite...” Here she cocked an eyebrow at Issun, who had used quite a different phrase to describe the sprite in question. “...to travel around this field to revive her saplings and restore her strength. Did I hear all that right?” When Issun nodded in the affirmative, she sighed. Then, she spoke again. “Well, I guess you can count me in on this.”
Issun and Ammy blinked...although in Issun's case, it was hard to tell. “Come again, babe? Whaddya mean, 'count you in'?”
“Did I stutter? I mean, I'm going to help you with this. I was obviously brought here for a reason, and I figure it might just be to help you and Ammy out in this quest of yours. After all, I jumped into that portal thinking I was going to die, yet here I am,” she explained.
Issun and Ammy traded glances. “About that portal, babe, you promised us your story in exchange for ours, remember? So spill. What's your deal?”
Buffy sighed, and nodded. She explained the events that had led up to her leaping into the portal. How Glory, the demented hell-goddess, had kidnapped her sister Dawn. How Dawn was actually an interdimensional lockpick known as the Key. How Glory had used Dawn's blood to open the portal in question, and how the goddess was subsequently defeated. How Buffy, rather than let her sister die, had taken the fall herself. She had fully expected to die, but instead, had found herself on the edge of the cursed zone in Shinshu field. She had been there about a day before meeting up with the two.
When she was finished, Issun was shaking his head in disbelief. “Babe, no offense, but that is one of the CRAZIEST stories I've ever heard. You honestly expect me to believe that pile of wolf crap?” Ammy growled slightly at that comment.
Buffy, on the other hand, took it in stride. “Hey, spend ten minutes in my hometown at night, and you'll be singing a different tune. Trust me, a hell-goddess using my sister as a trigger for a portal is just par for the course where I'm from. I understand you don't believe me, but that doesn't make what I've said any less true.”
Issun looked about ready to protest further, but Ammy silenced him with a meaningful growl. “What, you believe her, Ammy?” Ammy nodded, and then collapsed into a furry puddle as Buffy, giving in to temptation, started scratching her behind the ears.
“Nice to know SOMEone believes me,” the girl remarked, withdrawing the offending hand after a few seconds. Ammy recovered, and then motioned for Buffy to follow. They progressed to a house where a man chopped wood outside. The man apparently had no name, which rather surprised Buffy. He cautioned them about Hana Valley, and mentioned that someone had already passed by, not too long ago. Buffy and Issun thanked him, then proceeded into the cave where Hana Valley was.
The bleak air of Hana Valley was an unwelcome change from the relatively fresh air of the field. The landscape was as bleak as the air. The most notable thing was the water. Instead of blue, as Buffy expected, it was a sickly black.
“What is this, a cursed zone?” Buffy was rather confused at the landscape.
“No, but it's affected by one. Major difference is that if we were in a cursed zone, you'd be a statue, and Ammy here would be weakening at a rather rapid pace. Here, we'll be fine, although I wouldn't suggest drinking that water.” Issun's explanation was met with a nod, and a snort from both of his companions at the last comment.
They soon stumbled across a campfire...with imps being the guests. Buffy and Ammy immediately went on guard. The following fight was so short and simple, neither of them broke a sweat. Buffy was rather impressed with Ammy's method of flinging her mirror as a weapon, while both Issun and Ammy were treated to another display of Buffy's astonishing skill. Within seconds, the imps were slaughtered.
“You know, if this is all we have to fight, I'm sorely tempted to call up whoever these wimps belong to and ask them what they intend to do with such inept help,” Buffy commented. Nearby, part of the water seemed to brighten for a moment, but it quickly resumed its bleak appearance. The trio was rather surprised by this.
“What's going on? We beat the monsters, so why hasn't the curse lifted?” Issun was rather confused.
Buffy sighed. “I think we need to find the source of the evil here in the Valley and deal with that rather than trying to defeat the symptoms.” Ammy nodded, and Issun did as well.
“Good plan, ba-” Before he could finish, Buffy plucked him off of Ammy's head, and held him at eye-level.
“Issun, I have a name, and I would much rather you call me by my name as opposed to 'babe'. I don't much care for it, and it will save you some pain in the long run. Get my drift?” She cracked the knuckles in her free hand for added emphasis. Although it was hard to tell, Buffy could tell Issun had gone rather pale.
“Got it!” the miniature being squeaked. Buffy nodded, satisfied, and put him back on Ammy's head. The wolf made a series of 'whufs' that Buffy could swear was an attempt at snickering on Ammy's part. Issun picked up on this, too.
“Laugh it up, furball! You weren't the one being held by a sadistic, psychopathic, flat-chested -” He was cut off again, this time by Ammy, as she flipped her head, and caught him within her mouth. This was as much a safety measure for Issun as it was a block against his voice. Buffy had been looking somewhat murderous at Issun's words, but seemed to calm down.
“You know what, Ammy? I think I'll leave disciplining him to you.” Ammy smiled, and then spat the miniature being out. Needless to say, he wasn't happy.
“WOULD YOU STOP THAT?! Geez, wolf slobber is hell on my clothes.” Ammy and Buffy snickered again, but their humor was short-lived as they spotted a tree that was visibly moving. Without warning, a fruit on the tree began glowing. It spun around...and hurled the fruit right at them. Buffy blinked, and kicked the fruit right back at it. Although it wasn't physically possible, she could have sworn she saw stars circling the tree when the fruit hit, and it ceased moving in a hostile manner.
“Nice one, ba-Buffy,” Issun quickly corrected at the glare Buffy directed at him. They repeated this several more times on more moving trees, alternating between Buffy kicking the fruit, and Ammy deflecting it without touching it. Buffy was beginning to think that there may be something to Issun's earlier claim that Ammy was a god.
Suddenly they were ambushed by a pair of green imps...but the earth was moving as well. A yellow clad imp burst from the ground, holding an oversized drum. It just as quickly burrowed back underground.
“Lovely, an imp pretending to be a mole,” Buffy sighed. “Ammy, can you take these two? I'll handle our burrowing friend.” At Ammy's nod, Buffy closed her eyes. One of the green imps attempted to take advantage of this...and was thwarted as Ammy rammed into it. Ammy quickly dispatched the two green imps, and turned...just in time to see Buffy pull the yellow imp out of the ground, smash it into the ground several times, and then break its neck with a powerful kick. Buffy rested a moment.
“Well, he was bigger than his friends, but still not much of a challenge,” she commented, mock-sadly. Ammy gave her a wolfish grin. All three of them jumped when a different voice broke in.
“What's all the racket?” A large, somewhat balding man walked towards them. He frowned at Ammy. “Oh, it's you, mutt! What are you doing here? I already told you, I'm not looking for apprentices!” He then noticed Buffy, who was looking at him...or rather, at his sword. His wooden
sword. That is sad
, Buffy thought. I used a real sword when I was 17. This guy has to be twice my age, and using a wooden sword. That is sadness personified.
She broke out of her reverie when she realized the man was addressing her.
“I'm sorry, could you repeat that? I wasn't paying much attention,” she said, not in the least apologetic.
“But of course, fair lady!” the large man replied. “I am Susano, the greatest warrior ever! What could bring such a lovely flower to a place such as this?” 'Greatest warrior' my patootie,
Buffy thought. Out loud, she said, “Name's Buffy. And I'm here on my own business, as you are doubtless on yours, oh 'great warrior'.” Issun snickered, clearly having heard the sarcasm in the address.
Susano, however, did not. “Indeed. Hana Valley is home to my secret training ground. With the monsters roaming the land unchecked, it's the perfect place for me to hide -” He paused, then coughed. “-Ahem. To train. And I'm afraid I don't have time for dogs or women at the moment, so scoot!” With that, he swung his wooden sword at the group, causing them to leap backward. Satisfied, he turned around...and began pushing against what seemed to be a solid stone.
“Talk about an exercise in futility,” Buffy muttered. Ammy, meanwhile, had noticed a mural on the stone wall nearby. It looked as though the people used a crystal sphere to power a tree's growth. Scanning the painting, she noticed something was missing: the sun wasn't where it must have been in the upper right corner. Deciding to fix that, she raised her tail, and drew a circle in the air that, from her perspective, fit the empty space perfectly. An image appeared on the mural, a spiral with several jagged lines coming off of it.
Suddenly, the same symbol appeared on the stone that Susano had been pushing against. With a thunderous CRACK! the stone broke apart, revealing a passageway further into the valley. Everyone was rather startled at this.
“Wh-what the?!” Susano seemed dumbfounded. “How did...? Ah well.” He recovered rather quickly. “Now I can go hide – er, that is, train.” He ran into the new passage. Buffy shook her head.
“If HE's the greatest warrior ever, then I'm a long-lost daughter of a local queen,” she said definitively.
Issun couldn't help but agree. “He's the descendant of a famous warrior. I'm afraid it goes to his head, sometimes.”
The trio headed down the passage that Susano had gone through. When they came to a clearing, they stopped. “Huh, wonder where Mr. Coward went?” Buffy commented. Looking around the clearing, she saw a small sapling in the middle. Behind it was what appeared to be an altar of some kind. There was a crack in the mountains that would have allowed the sun to shine through...had the sun been shining.
Issun zipped over to the small sapling. “What's with this? It has Sakuya's scent on it!”
“Sakuya? The wood sprite you mentioned before?” Buffy asked.
“That's the one. Why would her scent be on this tiny thing, though?”
Ammy had walked up behind the altar, looking into the crack in the mountains. Raising her tail, she drew a circle in the air. To Buffy's shock, the sun started shining. Nothing else happened, however.
“Huh...guess we're missing something,” Issun said.
Buffy nodded. “Wasn't there some sort of crystal sphere in that mural?”
“You're right. Guess we need to hunt for it,” Issun replied.
Smashing their way through a rotting gate, they proceeded down a passage off to the side of the clearing. When they reached the end of it...
The trio blinked as they saw Susano brandishing his sword. “Now what?” grumbled Issun.
Susano answered, although indirectly. “You...You foul beast! How did you get in here?!”
“Foul beast?” Buffy asked, and looked past the so-called warrior...and was sorely tempted to face-fault. As it was, she couldn't restrain the big sweatdrop that rolled down the side of her head.
Susano's 'foul beast' was a bear, balanced on top of a sphere, and fast asleep. How such a feat was possible, Buffy didn't know, and wasn't keen on finding out.
Susano, however, wasn't paying that much attention. “You have some nerve, sneaking into my private training ground! Now you shall get a taste of my new secret technique!” With that, he went into a stance, aiming at one of the four torches in the room. “Susano-Style SUSANO!!” he yelled. Buffy noticed Ammy raising her tail, and poising it as if to slash with it.
“SU!” Susano slashed the torch; moments later, it split apart due to an unseen force.
“SA!” Another torch was cut in twain.
“NO!” A third torch fell.
“SUSANO!” The last torch was sliced in two, casting the room in semi-darkness.
“Now for Susano-style...Exploding Implosion!” With that, Susano struck at the bear. It woke up under the slash...and promptly fell asleep again, toppling off of the sphere as it did so.
Susano seemed briefly startled...but recovered quicker than thought. “Hm? Aha ha ha ha ha ha! That'll teach you, foolish beast! You're no match for my secret technique!”
Buffy watched with a half-lidded stare. “Just to clarify...he just beat up a sleeping bear, right?”
Issun nodded. “Yes. Yes he did.”
“And he's celebrating that fact?”
There was a moment of silence.
“How sad...I doubt even Cordelia could find the words to mock this, and she's extremely good at demeaning everyone.”
This seemed to register on Susano's mind, as he put his sword back in its place on his back. He coughed a little. “Um...uh...rest in peace, foul beast. The great warrior Susano condemns the offense, not the offender. Anyway, there are other monsters I must deal with! Aha ha ha ha ha ha!” And with that proclamation, he ran out of the cave.
For a moment, Buffy looked after him. “'Condemns the offense, not the offender', huh? Yeah, right. He was probably so embarrassed about beating on a helpless animal, he couldn't come up with anything better.”
“I think you've got it, Buffy,” Issun agreed. Ammy was inspecting the sphere that the bear had fallen off of. She 'whuf'ed a little to get their attention. Issun and Buffy looked at the sphere as well.
“Hm...Hey, Issun. Doesn't this look like the sphere in that mural? The one Ammy drew the sun on?” Buffy asked.
“Yeah, it does...Well, let's get it back to the altar, and see what happens from there.”
So they rolled the sphere over to the altar, and rolled it over a small puddle. As soon as they did, the sphere was lifted up by a geyser of water, holding it in position.
“Okay, now try calling the sun again, Ammy,” Issun said. With a nod, Ammy did so. Unlike before, when nothing else happened, the crystal sphere caught the sun's rays. It then cast a greenish light over the small sapling. The sapling suddenly began to grow at an amazing rate, becoming a full-grown tree in mere seconds. There was, however, one thing...
“It's dead,” Buffy said, noting the tree's total lack of blossoms or leaves.
“Yeah, it is,” agreed Issun. “I wonder why...?” Suddenly, the area around them went dark. “Hey! Who turned out the lights?” A glow came from above leading them to look into the suddenly star-covered sky. “Oh, I see! It's a new constellation!”
Buffy looked at Issun in confusion. “What does astrology have to do with anything?”
“Astro-what? Constellations embody the spirits of the 13 brush gods, Buffy. Whenever Ammy completes a constellation, she gains a new power. I wonder what this one is...” Issun trailed off as two stars winked into existence where they hadn't been before. Now that Buffy looked, she could make out a pattern...
Suddenly, the set of stars began to glow, and Ammy, Issun, and Buffy were suddenly seemingly hundreds of feet above the ground. “Yah! What the-?!” she exclaimed.
“Relax, we won't fall here. This is a representation of the Celestial Plain, or something similar to it. Trust in the gods, Buffy.”
As he said that, the glowing constellation suddenly flashed, and something whirled down to meet them. It was...a monkey with a large ornate harp. It posed on one leg when it stopped spinning, then noticed its audience. Sheepishly, it began playing its harp.
“Ah, Amaterasu...Origin of all that is good and mother to us all...” it began. Buffy, who had dealt with stranger things than a talking monkey, said nothing. “My gratitude for releasing my body from its slumber. Please accept my humble thanks in return for your great kindness. I am Sakigami, one of the triumvirate of flora gods known as the Hanagami. My brethren and I have been entrusted with the brush techniques known collectively as Greensprout. I now grant my humble power to you. Use it wisely.”
With that, Sakigami transformed into a glowing kanji character, and flew into Ammy's body. The aerial plain disappeared, and they were back in front of the Guardian Sapling. Issun hopped up and down in excitement. “Coolness! That was Sakigami, one of the gods of flora! From what I hear, the Bloom brush technique can make even dead trees bloom again.”
“Then let's give it a whirl, okay Ammy?” Buffy asked. Nodding, the wolf drew a circle around the withered Sapling. In an instant, the tree was in full bloom, sakura petals falling from its boughs. As amazing as that was, what happened next dwarfed it.
The falling petals were drawn inward for a moment, almost as if the tree was taking a deep breath. Then, in an explosion of power, they flew outward, and in their wake, the landscape changed. The dull grey ground became green, the dirty water became blue and clear, and even the grey sky brightened. Buffy looked on with wide eyes. She had never seen a demonstration of such power. In her amazement, she could only thing of one thing to say. “Holy cow...”
Issun, although she couldn't see it, was grinning like an idiot. “Told you. That's called Divine Intervention. And only a goddess like Ammy could pull it off.”
Buffy looked at him, then at Ammy. “My apologies for ever doubting your godhood.” Ammy just 'whuf'ed repeatedly, giving the impression that the wolf was chuckling.