Crossing the Knoll
Well, here's Chapter 3 to tide you all over. Enjoy the beauty of Shinshu Field. Flames will be put into my steam engine.
Disclaimer: Though I would like to, I own neither. Joss owns Buffy, and Capcom owns Okami.
***Chapter 3“Crossing the Knoll”***
Buffy, Ammy, and Issun made their way out of the valley. Back in Shinshu field, they encountered the Nameless Man, who was staring at the newly-cleansed river in confusion.
“Freaky. It looks like the river suddenly cleared up. I did see Susano whizzing past here a little while ago...but surely it wasn't him who did this?”
“He wishes,” Buffy muttered, just loud enough for everyone else to hear. Issun stifled a snort.
“Yeah, you're right, that wouldn't make sense,” the Nameless Man said. “It's been ages since I've seen the river looking so healthy. That magic crystal ball must be working its mojo.”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah, and take a look at the valley when you get a chance. You wouldn't recognize it at all!”
“I might just do that, gal. Well, I suppose it's back to chopping wood for me.” He wandered back to his house, and began doing just that. The trio headed over to the withered Sapling in the middle of the field, and as with the one in Hana Valley, Ammy drew a circle around it. It quickly burst into bloom, sakura petals falling from its boughs.
Again, the tree seemed to draw in a breath, and then the falling petals exploded outward. This time, though, the effect seemed even more amazing, as there was much more to see here. The already clean river was soon surrounded by grassy green banks, and the black mist that hung over much of the field was blown away. Buffy shook her head in wonder. “You know, I don't think I'll ever get tired of that. What else can Ammy do, turn night into day?”
Issun chuckled. “Actually, she can. Remember how she called the sun in Hana Valley? If she does that at night, time accelerates, and then it's daytime in no time flat.”
Buffy nodded. “Bet that plays hell with people's sleeping schedules.”
“Well, they get confused, but no one ever really complains. They chalk it up to the work of the gods.”
“Not too far wrong, are they?”
“Nope, not at all.”
Further conversation was interrupted as a massive tree in the distance suddenly seemed to grow quite a bit, and sprouted leaves. “Hey, that's Sakuya's tree! Konohana!” said Issun, amazed. “Guess she's feeling a lot better, now that two of her saplings are healed.”
Buffy nodded. “Well, can we drop by her tree later? I'm a bit bushed at the moment, and I want to explore the field. Didn't get much of a chance before, what with dropping in near a curse zone.”
Issun considered this. “How tired are you?”
She gave him a level stare. “I hadn't slept for some time before jumping into that portal, because I was worried sick about my sister. And I didn't sleep when I first got here because of adrenaline. That's worn off now, and I'm not that worried anymore since that hell-goddess is dead, so now I'm REALLY tired.” Indeed, she seemed to be swaying slightly on her feet.
Issun nodded. “Okay, a break is definitely in order then, because I doubt you'll be of much help like that. What do you think, Am-Oh, never mind,” he muttered as he noticed Ammy was already curling into a ball to snooze. “I suppose I'll spend some time drawing. If I run out of paper, though, I'm going to use your faces.”
As Buffy collapsed near Ammy, she smirked. “Only if you want to find out how far I can throw you, Issun.” Issun squeaked slightly at the comment, and Buffy chuckled before falling asleep.***
Sometime during the night, Buffy woke up slightly, confused. This didn't feel like her bed...Then she remembered. She was sleeping on the ground of Shinshu field, not in her own bed. She sighed, and adjusted her position on her pillow. Then she mentally blinked. Waitaminute, pillow?
She cracked an eye open.
Apparently, she and Ammy had shifted around in the night, and she was now using the wolf's stomach as a pillow. Ammy didn't seem to mind, if her peacful snoring was any indication. Buffy smiled a little. She may be a goddess, but she can feel content, just like any person. Makes me wish I could understand wolf.
Nearby, she heard some scratching sounds, more than likely Issun drawing away. Occasionally, there would be a slightly muffled curse, and some more furious scritching before resuming normal pace. Correcting mistakes, no doubt. I haven't actually seen any of his sketches yet, come to think of it. Maybe I'll ask him to show me one sometime...
“Holy Ponc'tan, what the heck is that?!” Issun's cry had the effect of startling both Ammy and Buffy into full awareness, as they sprang to their feet.
“What's the matter, Issun?” she asked, looking around in the slight gloom.
“Look over there!” The miniature being seemed to be pointing over to a patch of darkness across the river. Buffy gave her eyes a minute to adjust, and looked over herself. In the gloom she could make out a dim form. It looked like a decorative gate, like the ones you'd find in backyards. But this one wasn't going to win any beauty contests anytime soon. It looked old and decayed, and moreover, green flames surrounded it.
“I'm going to go out on a limb and say that thing's evil,” Buffy commented. This was met with a snort from Issun.
“Could you be any more obvious? That thing's a Devil Gate. We may have gotten rid of the curse zone, but those things are like storehouses for evil energy, sort of like those patches of grass in Hana Valley, remember?”
Buffy nodded. On their way out of the valley, they had found a patch of grass that still seemed to hold some of the evil power. Using the Bloom technique, Ammy had purified them, releasing the parts of the valley that the evil power had hidden. They had also purified the evil trees, the ones that threw fruit at them.
“I'm guessing that using Bloom on that thing won't work, right?” she asked.
“Nah, to deal with this thing, we have to go through the gate, and deal with the monsters that live in its pocket dimension,” came the reply.
“Right, let's go,” Buffy said, sauntering over. Ammy followed, and together, the three slipped under the gate.
The battle was rather anti-climactic. Green and red imps attempted to get the drop on them...'attempted' being the key word. Buffy and Ammy's keen senses, however, gave them a huge advantage. Buffy used one red imp's mandolin as an effective weapon, crushing a few green imps before caving in the skull of its owner. Ammy stuck to her tactic of hurling her reflector – as Buffy had learned it was called – at the monsters. All in all, it took about ten seconds for the whole group of imps to be slain.
When all was said and done, the pocket dimension broke, and the three were presented with the sight of a kiln appearing seemingly out of thin air. Buffy looked at it in approval. “This must be the workshop that the Nameless Man said was lost.”
“Guess so. Let's pay him a visit, it's nearly morning anyhow.” Indeed, the sun was beginning to peek out from the horizon. As the group approached the Nameless Man's house, he came out, looking around. When he saw what had appeared across the river, he blinked...and then charged across the bridge, nearly bowling the trio over as he did so.
“OOF! Hey, watch it!” Issun yelped. Buffy knew that the man was probably glad to have his workshop back, and didn't say anything as she jumped out of the way. The man looked at the kiln, almost not believing it...and then turned to the three.
“Don't know how you three did it, but many thanks! My workshop vanished when that black mist came in, and now it's back. Drop by anytime, and I'll make you some good pieces of pottery!”
“Might take you up on that one of these days,” Buffy said kindly. The Nameless Man nodded. Then he tilted his head.
“You all are fighters, aren't you?” When he received a nod from Buffy, he continued. “I follow the path of peace, friends, but if fighting's what you're into, I suggest finding Onigiri Sensei. His dojo's over thataways.” He pointed over to some hills a fair distance away.
“Thanks, we'll look into it,” Buffy replied. She set out in the direction he'd indicated, Ammy following with Issun riding on her head. They passed a couple of evil patches of grass that Ammy purified, one of which concealed a monument of sorts. Eventually they came across what seemed to be Onigiri's dojo...with another devil gate in front. After clearing that one out, a pond formed in the dojo's front yard, complete with bridge.
“Yeesh, I'm beginning to get tired of imps,” Buffy complained.
“You, what about us? We've been dealing with these things longer than you have,” Issun countered.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” she sighed as she opened the door to the dojo. The entrance was very traditional in appearance. Bamboo grew in neat stalks against the walls. The foreground was a sand-covered floor which ended in a wooden deck. At the back of the deck stood a door, which was framed by two statues of monks.
In front of the door stood an elderly man, hunched over his cane with age. Perhaps he was a caretaker while Onigiri-Sensei was out. As the trio approached, he turned around, revealing a pleasant face with a huge handlebar mustache and chin. “Ho ho! What do we have here?”
Buffy bowed respectfully. “My name's Buffy Summers, sir. This wolf is Amaterasu, and the miniature person on her head is Issun, the wandering artist.”
“Hey, there!” Issun greeted.
“I see. So what brings a young lady, a wolf, and a miniature person to this dojo?”
“We're looking for Onigiri-Sensei, is he in?”
The old man chuckled. “You're looking at him, young lady. Why do you ask?” His eyes narrowed for a moment. “Surely you three can't intend to become students.”
“Actually, we are,” Buffy said. “If there's any fee, I'm pretty sure we can spot it...”
“10,000 yen,” the old man said simply. Issun sighed, but pulled out a bag of yen that somehow grew to a much larger size. Buffy blinked, but didn't dwell on it. After all, she'd seen stranger things. “Well, now!” Onigiri-Sensei said, a bit amazed. “I'm impressed! I guess I can take you on as my students. Aaaaaaaah...OOOOH!”
With that exclamation, the hunched-over man suddenly straightened, standing taller than Buffy now, and – to Buffy's everlasting confusion afterwards – his head
rolled sideways on his neck, until it had flipped completely over, turning the handlebar mustache and chin into a massive set of eyebrows and forehead. Buffy glanced at Issun and Ammy. Issun wasn't bouncing, or doing anything. Ammy, on the other hand, looked as gobsmacked as Buffy herself felt.
“Waaah...Are you mentally prepared to face the ultimate challenge?!” Onigiri-sensei howled. The door behind him opened, seemingly on its own. “Step inside to test your might!”***
Buffy was grinning later that day. A nice back-breaking spar was exactly what she had needed. Looking at her companions, she couldn't help but giggle at their discomfort. Issun was groaning, obviously not used to the physical hardship. Ammy was better off, but was still feeling the workout, if the ginger way she was moving was any indication.
“Oh, come on! You two can't be all that tired!” she teased.
“Shut it...you...sadist...” Issun retorted. “I swear...you can't...be human...” Ammy whined, seemingly in agreement.
“Please, I just keep in shape, that's all. Kind of a requirement of living where...I'm...from...” Buffy trailed off, gazing across the slope that they had reached the top of. Before them lay a rather breathtaking sight.
A massive lake dominated the bottom of the slope, seeming to stretch even beyond the horizon. The crystalline waters were definitely beautiful, and it looked like the perfect setting. But Buffy's keen senses told her otherwise. She could feel
the evil coming from the lake. It wasn't the kind of demented, careless evil she had felt from the hell-goddess Glory, nor the uncaring evil aura that Angelus, her vampiric lover, had had. This was a malevolent aura that she hadn't felt since she had confronted the ancient Master atop Sunnydale High, an aura of pure evil. And it was as strong now as it was then...and she knew she was nowhere near the site of the evil's source. If it's that strong from here...what's it like closer to the lake?
she wondered. A sudden nudge from Ammy brought her back to Earth.
“You okay, Buffy?” Issun asked. His voice had a hint of concern in it. “You kinda zoned out there for a minute.”
“Just...looking at the lake,” she said, half-truthfully. She drew her gaze closer to the water's edge, where she saw something somewhat peculiar. “What's the deal with the path there? It goes under that gate into the water, and then...it's gone.” Indeed, a pathway DID lead from the shore into the lake...and vanished as it passed under a huge red gatepost.
“That's the path to the Moon Cave,” Issun explained. “It's supposed to look like that, so that people don't go nosing around where they shouldn't.”
Buffy looked at the inch-high being curiously. “Why would a cave need that kind of protection?”
“Curiosity killed the cat, you know,” Issun said.
“And satisfaction brought it back. What's the deal?” Buffy was curious, but not because of the cave. She wanted to know what was IN the cave that was giving her Slayer sense such an awful vibe.
Issun sighed. “Alright, I'll tell you. Pull up a seat, and try to get comfy.” When Buffy had sat down on a nearby rock, he began.
“The whole story starts over 100 years ago, when the nearby village of Kamiki was under the shadow of a demonic 8-headed serpent named Orochi. In true demon-beast fashion, Orochi had a sacrifice brought to him every year from the village. Always, it was the fairest maiden living there at the time. 99 maidens he devoured, and that's just from Kamiki. No one knows – and I'm sure they don't care – how he sustained himself for the rest of the year.
“100 years ago, a white wolf appeared in Kamiki. Many people shunned the wolf, thinking it Orochi's familiar. Because of its pure white fur, it was dubbed Shiranui by the village folk. It prowled around the village, and hardly anyone dared impede it, for fear of invoking Orochi's wrath. One person, however, tried several times to kill Shiranui. That person was Nagi, a renowned warrior.”
Issun paused briefly in his narration. “Nagi,” he said with distaste, “is the ancestor of Susano, the buffoon we met in Hana Valley.”
Buffy snorted. “I can't see it. If he's the descendant of a renowned warrior, why does he act like a coward?”
“Who knows?” Issun shrugged, and continued his story.
“Nagi, as I said, attempted several times to kill Shiranui. But, the white wolf was always too crafty for him. In time, the date of the sacrifice came again, and Orochi marked the home of Nami, the fairest maiden in the village, and Nagi's significant other. Nagi, enraged by the serpent's decision, decided to confront Orochi, and end his reign of terror.
“Of course, a demonic serpent is no easy task to kill, and when Nagi confronted Orochi, the battle quickly turned against the warrior. Things were looking grim for Nagi, and the village of Kamiki as a whole. But just before Orochi could strike the final blow, something came between the serpent and Orochi, intercepting the blow.
“It was none other than Shiranui, the white wolf that had prowled around Kamiki. It wasn't a familiar of Orochi after all, but an enemy of the Demon. Shiranui took over the battle, and Nagi retreated to a corner to rest. The battle between Shiranui and Orochi has gone down in legend as one of the greatest of all time.”
Issun was in his element now, telling the story as though he'd told it countless times before. Buffy found herself enraptured by the minute being's storytelling, eagerly awaiting what would happen next.
“Shiranui, it seemed, had the gods' powers on his side. Whenever Orochi attempted to breathe fire or poison at him, a divine wind blew the flames and foul air in another direction. Orochi attempted to bite at Shiranui, but trees sprouted out of nowhere, and blocked his path. Nothing Orochi did seemed to have any effect on the white wolf.
“All the same, Orochi was protected by a magical barrier, and Shiranui, for all his efforts, couldn't break it. In the end, Shiranui tired, and was left easy prey for Orochi. Just when things looked their bleakest, Shiranui threw back his head and howled. When he did, the clouds above the Moon Cave parted, revealing the golden moon above. At that moment, Nagi's sword glowed with a brilliant gold color.
“Having been forgotten by Orochi in the face of Shiranui's attack, Nagi caught the serpent flat-footed. Channeling all his strength into his battered arms, Nagi sliced off one head after another, and finally killed the serpent. Nagi had kept his promise; he'd freed Kamiki Village from Orochi's rule, and saved Nami in the process.
“The news wasn't all good, though. Shiranui hadn't been able to dodge all of Orochi's poison, and had collapsed at the end of the battle. Nagi carried him back to the village, but by that time, it was too late. Orochi's poison had done its damage, and Shiranui was barely breathing. He gave one last pitiful whimper, and died. In Shiranui's honor, the people made a statue of him, placing it at the base of Konohana, that huge tree we saw earlier.”
“And that's how it was,” Issun concluded. Ammy had listened to the story as well, and gave a bark of approval.
Buffy, however, was looking at Ammy in a new light. “You said the gods were on Shiranui's side, right? Sounds like Ammy here...”
Issun nodded. “That's right. Ammy is actually the statue of Shiranui, animated by Sakuya, the spirit of the Konohana tree. She's Shiranui reborn, but most of her techniques were lost during the hundred years since Orochi's fall. The only technique she knew when she was reanimated was her own, the Sunrise.”
Buffy frowned. “And judging by the way everything's going to pot, I'm guessing that she's not the only thing that's returned, right?”
Issun sighed. “That's the truth, unfortunately. Orochi seems to be back as well, though he was supposed to have been sealed by Nagi's sword, the Tsukuyomi.”
“Which means someone removed it,” Buffy speculated. Ammy 'whufed' in agreement.
“Seems that way. You still in on this?” Issun asked, a hint of challenge in his voice.
“You bet!” Buffy smirked. “After all, you guys are my friends...and friends help each other with things, be it shopping, storytelling, or killing ancient demonic serpents.”
Issun laughed long and hard. “Well then, let's get a move on! We still have a few places left to explore here in Shinshu Field.”