Ayane-chan; The Bashful Oni and the Sad Eyed Salaryman Part 1: Meeting Ayane/Anon just wants a Quiet Life
>It seems that nothing ever really changes in my life
>Get up, go to work, come home, make dinner, exercise, drink some water or warm milk, go to sleep
>At least I go to a job where I can wear a suit
>My parents, already older than most when I was born, have both passed away.
>Any siblings I have live far away, a brother slowly drinking himself to death after a messy divorce and a sister who barely talks to me
>Nothing really changes
>Not even when those portals opened, and the strange women came pouring through
>All it meant was not keeping doors unlocked at red lights and not dawdling overlong in the parking lot
>I saw it on the news and heard about co-workers and “friends” (acquaintances) finding wives from the new arrivals
>Didn’t matter to me, I had my routine and didn’t see a reason to break it.
>As far as I was concerned, my fate was to live a quiet life, and I had accepted that
>But fate is a funny thing
>The day started as any other
>Wake up, shower, shave, fix breakfast, get dressed and head to work
>It all seemed to be another day at the office until
>What in the world
<“Harrow, Mista Anon?”
>That certainly was a thick accent if I ever heard one
>The firm did get infrequent transfers from the Japanese branch, so it didn’t surprise me as much
>The boss did say I would be getting a new member of the department to look after.
>I just didn’t expect her to be so
>With such pointy teeth and a single horn growing from her head
>The glasses were cute though
“Miss Ogawa, correct?”
<“Hai, I am, uh, Ayane Ogawa. New co-worker, it is, um, a very pleased to meet you.”
>Though not intending to, I cocked my head which she must have interpreted as confusion.
<“Gomen, am still learning English, please, have this, can write better than speak.”
>She handed me a hand drawn card, words punctuated by small chibi renderings of herself
<“Hello, my name is Ayane and I am an Oni”
>a small Oni is waving
<“I come from a country called Zipangu, it is very similar to your world’s Japan, I am astounded at the similarities in culture and language!”
>A small Oni waving a Japanese flag
<“Unlike the legends of your world, Oni from Zipangu are very friendly and never intentionally harm humans.”
>Chibi-Ayane is shunning a more bestial orthodox Oni.
<“I have been hired here thanks to the monster integration bureau and look forward to learning more about humans and their culture.”
>A small Oni sitting at a desk
<“I enjoy scary movies, meat dishes, and Japanese music, I am also learning to enjoy manga.”
>Four different Oni, one in a hockey mask carrying a machete, one in the stereotypical tiger print dress biting into a giant drumstick, one in a frilly dress posing like an idol, and one sitting down reading what is assumedly manga.
<“I hope we can get along and learn to work together.”
“You draw well, Miss Ogawa.”
>Her eyes light up
<“Ah, Ariga-, I mean, thank you. Much practice.”
“Well, if I’m to show you around we should probably get started.”
<“Hai, please take care of me, senpai.”
>Well that certainly shook me out of any complacency, the younger, more weebish me would have killed to have a girl say that to him.
>It didn’t take long to introduce her around and show her the basics of the job
>The only snags being Violet the elderly receptionist unsubtly attempting to play matchmaker for you.
>And Calvin from accounting
>Calvin “Ranted for an hour about how the monsters were a vanguard for invasion and how we needed to stop them before the earth becomes a monster Aristocracy and humans become servile cattle”
>Luckily, my seniority kept him from saying anything openly.
>Only a barely audible “traitor” as Ayane and I passed
>Other than that, people were friendly and understanding
>Near the end of the shift, we had a light meal and discussed more about her and the office
“Do you have any hobbies other than art?”
<“Hai, I am learning to cook, have become, ah, proficient, is the word?”
<“What do, ah, co-workers do after work?”
“Drink mostly, bunch of lushes.”
>At that she freezes
“Do you drink, Miss Ogawa.”
<“Sometimes. Best if not, become different person when drunk, not as friendly, please understand.”
>With that cryptic statement, she bid me good day and we both left for home
>In the six years I’d been working there, I’d never thought as much about a co-worker.
>Working with her would be an experience.
>A few months passed, and it seemed that the opening of the portals had been a boon for the company
>For a firm specializing in imports and exports, a whole new dimension meant a whole new avenue of profit for both buying and selling.
>Those on the other side became infatuated with Earth culture
>Wealthy monsters purchasing various pieces of art, of course cultural exports such as movies and music, foodstuffs, and fashion.
>Not that a good deal didn’t also come through in reverse, as our firm became one of the first licensed to handle magical artifacts and material, mainly in transporting it for those monsters who were immigrating to earth from their world
>Alchemy sets for liches and things of that nature.
>It didn’t hurt that the son of the company president was dating one of the many daughters of the monster’s lord, whoever she was.
>Even outside of work things began to look up
>My brother called, sounding happy for the first time in a year.
>Apparently, he’d met a woman who’d helped ween him off the booze and was slowly getting his life back on track
>The pictures he sent looked like some patchwork ogre leaking wool stuffing in places, arms far too big, but I could see the face of a pretty woman somewhere in there.
>Last he said they were trying to get his kids back.
>As for me, I continued on as usual.
>The same routine
>Except there was a change as instead of eating lunch alone, I instead found myself seeking out Ayane.
>Where once I kept thoughts bottled inside instead I found myself sharing with her.
>She also didn’t mind since it “helped strengthen her English”
<“I am glad your brother found happiness, drinking to kill sorrow only increases it, even we Oni know that.”
“Well, thank you for your concern. He’s been hurting for a long time.”
“What about me?”
<“Are you hurting? All I see is you working, occasionally talking like this. Other co-workers go out, but not you?”
“This place is my job, I’ve never really found the need for friends.”
>That was a lie, but one I’d told myself enough to believe.
<“You have not answered my question.”
<“Well, “maybe” we should do something about that then?”
>She seemed pleased with what she no doubt thought was a clever turn of phrase.
>But she also stared at me expectantly, as if demanding an answer.
“Alright, it couldn’t hurt.”
<“Yosh, we’ll go somewhere tonight.”
“Hey now, shouldn’t we plan or-“
<“No, tonight, I will introduce you to my host family.”
“You sure you wouldn’t rather go to a restaurant?”
<“No money, all sent back for Oto-san in Zipangu.”
“Your father? Is he alright?”
<“Will tell you tonight, see you then!”
>It must be an Oni thing to force issues and bullrush people
>Not that I held it against her
>Of course, the same couldn’t be said about other people
>”I still don’t know how you can stand being around that thing.”
“Well Calvin, as a non-homosexual male with a pulse, talking with a cute girl is generally a pleasing experience.”
>”You know what I mean, smart ass. The teeth, that horn, she’s not human.”
>Neither is the man-sized rat your mom must have fucked to make you yet here we are.
“I don’t think HR would appreciate the direction this conversation is going.”
>”Whatever, maybe you think that if you get sweet with her she’ll treat you like a lap poodle instead of feed cattle when her kind take over.”
> That brought a laugh
“Calvin, if Ayane becomes Empress of the Earth I’ll personally make sure that you and only you are shoveling shit”
>”Laugh all you want, but you’re not the only one with friends from the other side…”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
>”Wouldn’t you like to know.”
>I had no more time for his nonsense, so I quickly made my way back to my desk
>Time seemed to pass slowly as I waited out the clock
>Errant thoughts entered my head
>Ayane had mentioned her father and how he needed support
>I’d never actually thought of her parents before
>Well, I would get my answers after work
>5’o clock and there she was.
<“Hurry, Mrs. Yamano does not like me being home late, the train will leave soon!”
“Ayane, I have a car.”
>Tonight was going to be interesting.
>It had been far too long since someone had ridden in my car.
>The last time must have been…
>Mom, hard to believe it had already been four years since…
>Best not to dwell on it
>But for her part Ayane was enjoying herself.
>A large grin on her face, window open letting the wind blow through her hair
<"This is only the third time I have ridden in a car."
"Do they have cars in your world?"
<"No, Zipangu is… very quaint."
>I knew what she meant, I'd been through the portal for a brief moment with the president, it looked like some medieval throwback mixed with the odd steam powered gizmo here and there.
>With their magic and our technology, who knows what both worlds would look like in twenty years.
"How do you think people in Zipangu would react if we drove through right now?"
>She laughed, high and lilting
<"My father is a simple fisherman, he would run out with his spear and shout, "Ayane, why have you brought this foreigner and his iron beast here? He will scare all the fish and anger the sea gods!"
"Ha, and what about your mother?"
>The smile fled from her face
>That can't mean anything good
"I'm sorry if I touched a nerve…"
<"Do not be sorry, you could not have known."
<"There is where I am rooming"
>A small house in a semi-suburban neighborhood
>Almost immediately a small, dark haired woman met us at the door, speaking angrily to Ayane in Japanese, only for her expression to soften upon seeing me.
>"Ah, so this is the boy you always talk about, Ayane?"
"How often does she talk about me exactly?"
<"N-not that oft-"
>"Oh, all the time, every day we hear about her co-worker with the sad eyes."
""Sad eyes", eh?"
>"Oh yes, "sad eyes""
>Upon entering, Ayane was rushed by two children, a young girl and a slightly older boy.
>"Big Sis Ayane brought a boy home!"
>"Is that Sad Eyes-san?"
>"Will you draw more for us, Ayane?"
<"Yes, Yes, let us get through children."
>After getting settled, I learned a bit more about Ayane's hosts.
>Mrs. Mika Yamano and her two children, along with a husband currently back in Japan on business.
>They had been contacted by the MIB shortly after the Portals opened, being a Japanese speaking family, they were a natural fit for housing a Zipangese monster
>Over dinner, I learned a bit about Ayane's early time on Earth, adjusting to new technology and bonding with the Yamano children.
>"Is it true that you and Big Sis are going to have babies together?"
>And so, the table sake went directly in my windpipe.
<"W-Who said that?"
>"Mama said that it would be nice if you and Sad Eyes-san finally got together and had a baby, she said it would make you both happy."
>And now the sake is in my nose.
>An innocent shrug is all the middle-aged woman answers with
>"Am I wrong?"
>As an effort to defuse the situation, I turn on the television
>An immediately regret doing so
>The news was reporting on a terrorist attack in the city, a bombing at a local club frequented by men and monsters alike.
>And the group claiming responsibility, calling itself only "The Order."
>As soon as the newscaster read out the name, the sound of glass being broken rang out.
>"Big Sis, your hand."
>She doesn't say a word, merely gets up and begins attending to her wounds
<"In the car, you mentioned my mother."
"Did this order group do something to your family?"
>She beckons me to follow, leading me up the stairs to a small guest room, threadbare save for her futon and a small desk strewn with papers
>As she shuffles through, various drawings catch my eye
>A man with a spear holding a large fish proudly
>A man in a business suit with, of course, sad eyes
>I wonder who this could be…
>But lastly, she holds up a final drawing, rendered with heavier linework, giving it a dark and depressing tone.
>An oni, her back studded with spears, swords, and axes kneeling in front of a young oni girl, behind her are several European style knights, armor crumpled, splayed upon the ground
>Her mother's death
>No words needed said as I pulled her into a hug
>Just gentle sobbing on her part
>We must have stayed like that until Mrs. Yamano came knocking.
>"They've closed the roads, so you'll have to stay here, Sad Eyes-san."
>"I can prepare the couch, or not if Ayane-chan decides she's willing to share."
>Poor woman, trying to defuse the tension with humor.
"The couch will be fine."
>I hadn't attended to my routine at all and honestly, I didn't care.
>That night, I dreamed of the sea.
>When I was a boy, I had terrible allergies
>Because of this, every spring my parents and I would head to the sea to alleviate my suffering
>I often dream of the salt air and the crashing waves
>Tonight is no different, still the same beach, the same air
>But I am not alone
>Sitting on the shore further up is a tanned, shirtless man mending a fishing net
>Beside him, a blue skinned girl
<“My name is Ayane, do you want to play with me?”
>Almost blissfully, the younger me plays in the surf with the young Oni
>In the course of the roughhousing, she ends up on top of me
>The air of the sea
>It smells like…
>Someone is actually sitting on top of me
>Yellow eyes glowing in the moonlight
“Ayane, is- is that you?”
>Something is said in Japanese, something sensual judging by the tone
“I don’t understand.”
<“I’ve been thinking about what Mrs. Yamano said…”
<“Maybe I would be happier if we made a baby.”
>Well, now I’m awake
>Something sloshes on my leg
>A gourd shaped bottle
>I know enough about Oni to know that’s not water
“Ayane, you’re drunk.”
<“That doesn’t mean anything, we Oni can handle our liquor. I’m fully in control.”
“You aren’t thinking straight.”
>Her face takes on an expression that’s somewhere between sorrow and hurt
<“I’m thinking the straightest I have in days, you make me pregnant, we get married, move far away, raise our children as far away from the order as possible.”
“Ayane, this isn’t about me, is it?”
>She turns her face away
<“You were my first friend in this world. you treated me, an outsider, so kindly.”
>I can see where this is going
<“I came to this world to get away from the violence, it’s why I’m trying to pay for my father to come here with me.”
<“But you had to be so nice to me…”
>Her weight slackens enough that I can sit up and embrace her.
<“I don’t want to lose you…”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
<“I-I love you.”
“Go to bed, Ayane, we’ll talk more once you’re sober.”
>The rest of my sleep was fitful
>”It’s morning, Sad Eyes-san, you can’t keep sleeping.”
>Mrs. Yamano, here to shake me awake
>Back to the routine, shower, shave, just in a stranger’s house.
>”How did you sleep?”
“Not bad at all”
>Ayane enters the kitchen, holding her head.
>Upon seeing me, she freezes.
“Nothing at all.”
>As soon as Mrs. Yamano leaves the kitchen to wake her children, Ayane sits next to me.
<“I apologize for what happened last night.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
>She looks somewhat hurt
<“No idea at all?”
“Well, I think I remember something about a cute girl telling me she loved me and wanted to have my babies, but that must have been a dream.”
>She goes red in the cheeks and hides her eyes
<“O-oh, of course, a dream, yes.”
>That face, a mix of embarrassment and relief capped with a soft smile
>I didn’t want to see it twist into the look of sorrow I saw last night
>That does it, those Order people would need someone giving them materials to carry out operations in our world.
>If they used any of the company’s services I could trace them, find them, deliver them to the authorities
>Anyone who threatens this girl’s smile or my quiet life must be eliminated
>Well shit, now I know who I sound like
“Ayane, if I start taking an unhealthy interest in your hands, hit me.”
>Starting tomorrow, a new detective would be on the case.
>Being middle management at J. Patterson and Sons import/export company meant that I often got access to certain documents barred from my peer’s eyes
>Such as ordering forms
>Some eccentrics trying to place order forms for Demon Silver
>A pharaoh ordering a few crates of KY Jelly for her mummies
>God, I hope she’s just trying to keep them moisturized
>Several bags of chemical fertilizer to be delivered to an unspecified client
>I could see how someone might have overlooked this, when the portals opened one of the first technologies inquired about by the monsters was agricultural technology.
>Their husbands still need to eat, after all.
>But fertilizer in this quantity?
>If a private citizen ordered this, the ATF would be knocking on their door to shoot their dog/wife/son
>But because it was across dimensional lines, no one seemed to care.
>I needed to cross reference the delivery point with my map of the realm
>A major order city
>Someone at the office was supplying terrorists
>And I think I have a hunch who.
>Jumpy and jittery, like a rat in a trap.
“Watch the news last night? A bombing in our city, can you believe it.”
>”Y-yeah, it’s crazy.”
“Calvin, mind telling me how an invoice for a few dozen bags of chemical fertilizer got filed without incident?”
>”I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, but your “friends on the other side” might?”
>”I-I have an alibi, you can’t prove anything.”
“You know crimes like these get remanded to the courts on the other side? You’re going to the Matango chamber, Calvin.”
>”Damn it, they just said they needed it to help their people! Nobody said anything about making a bomb!”
>Well, that was interesting
“Who is “They”, Calvin”
>”Some order guys I met, from beyond the portal, they wanted to make a contract with us but got rejected because they asked for weapons. I told them I could get them non-lethal items, as a sign of support.”
>”They just wanted fertilizer, how could that make a bomb?”
“Christ, Calvin, do the words “Oklahoma City” mean anything to you?”
>”I can’t go to jail, but if I rat they’ll kill me.”
“Did you meet these guys anywhere.”
>”Yeah, they have a place on the west side they meet, I went there a few times, too religious for my taste.”
“Show me, and I won’t have the police toss you to the hounds.”
>”Okay, I’ll show you after work, just don’t hurt me.”
>Spineless as always
>It was almost lunch, and I needed to check in with Ayane
<“Miss Violet says you were speaking with Nezumi-San in accounting.”
“Calvin and I were just having a discussion about discrepancies in some of the paperwork coming out of accounting, it’s nothing you should worry about.”
<“I know he doesn’t like me, but I hope you won’t get in trouble trying to protect me.”
“He’s a coward, he’d never do anything, and besides, now that I’ve seen you in short sleeves I think you could twist that geek into a pretzel.
>She blushes again
<“Don’t mention those, muscles are not ladylike…”
“And who told you what is and isn’t ladylike.”
<“Oto-san, and Mrs. Yamada.”
“Mrs. Yamada would probably tell you that what’s ladylike is having a big round belly nine months of the year.”
>Ayane chuckles, then exaggeratedly shrugs and does a spot-on impression of the housewife
<“Am I wrong?”
>By the time lunch ends, I almost wish I could stay with her.
>But if she’s ever going to be safe, me and Calvin have a trip to make.
>Well how the times have changed
>"Can we listen to music; the tension is getting to me."
"Touch the radio and I'm going to hand deliver you to those larpers myself."
>A few days ago, I had a beautiful woman in my car, and now I have a spineless ratman.
>"S-so, how is Ogawa?"
"Why do you care? aren't you still afraid she wants to eat humans and make us all do tricks for her amusement?"
>"Well yeah but, that doesn't mean I can't ask."
>Lord preserve me.
"Look, you're going to show me the Order boys’ hidey hole, I'm calling the cops, you get off the hook and move to a different branch, understand? We're not buddies, we're not pals, I'm using you for good so shut up and be useful."
>"You don't have to be rude about it."
>The west side had become colloquially known as "Portal town" a place where most of the new arrivals congregated
>It also might have had something to do with the localized portal that opened on the west side, the secret to the company's success.
>Parking my car a block away from my destination, Calvin and I began to maneuver the maze of alleyways
"Now Calvin, stay close to me, because if you run, you little rat fuck, I'm going to find a Fresh off the Boat Jorogumo and let her play with you all night."
>"I don't know what that is…"
>One of the colorful spider women ambled out of a nearby doorway, taking position between two building and hanging down next to Calvin's ear
"Look behind you and find out."
<"I'd be into it too."
<"Oh, are you sure I can't have this little rabbit now?"
"Tell you what, get spinning and if everything works out, he'll be your problem.
"get up, Casanova."
>The door he led me to was fairly non-descript.
>Looked almost like any slum house door in a dingy alley
>If not for the overwhelming scent of incense
>I was raised Catholic and it still was overpowering to me.
"Is there a secret knock or something."
>Calvin shuffled forward.
>A face appeared at the doorframe
>"I-it's me, Calvin."
>"Ah, brother Calvin, and this must be another man from your firm?"
>"Y-yep, another lost lamb to be brought to the light."
>The old man seems pleased and welcomes me in with a clap on the shoulder
>"Welcome brother, no doubt it must be hard, seeing your world despoiled by these new arrivals, but you are in good company."
"What a relief, because I sure do hate those fucking monsters."
>Ignoring the fact that I'd had an oni essentially ride me a few nights ago asking to impregnate her
>And gotten pretty hard because of it.
>As we walked through the cramped chapterhouse, walls covered in devotional icons of a female figure, I noticed several knights either at prayer or engrossed in hymn books.
>In the odd alcove, some ragged looking type, no doubt earth volunteers were cleaning and cataloging various blades and a few firearms
>"So, Brother Calvin has told you of our arrangement?"
"Yes, fertilizer to help grow crops for the beleaguered Order troops fighting the good fight against the demon lord."
>"Ho ho, Astute, but that is far from everything."
>That catches my interest, but to ask too many questions may invite suspicion
"If I may ask, how do you get the things Calvin brings you back to your cities, the portals are heavily regulated?"
>The old priest cocks his head
>"Calvin hasn't told you? I should have thought he would have; we have an arrangement with-"
>"I believe you've said enough, Father."
>Calvin had gone to muttering "Oh shit" under his breath
>A broad chested knight, clad in ornate armor strides towards us, staring daggers at Calvin
>The sword upon his hip marked him as a dangerous man
>"I am Master Bohemond, Paladin of Our Lady."
>"I would say it is good to see you, Brother Calvin, if I had not received word of your betrayal."
>The rat jumps out of his skin
>"I didn't betray anyone; I never told a soul!"
>The knight snorts
>"You were instructed to burn the invoices, you did not, you were sworn to secrecy, yet here you are with a suspicious newcomer."
>*sniff sniff* "With the scent of tainted flesh upon him."
>Calvin is now fully in tears
>"Your life is forfeit, but HE believes you still have worth, so I will merely be taking you into my care."
>"As for you, interloper, I would have let you go with an oath to secrecy, but I smell the enemy upon you."
>His voice raises enough for the whole assemblage to hear
>"This man has committed abomination by laying with a monster, shall we hear his defense?"
>By now, I've had about enough of this shit.
"It was just over the clothes cuddling, so wholesome that Jesus Himself would approve of it."
>The Paladin was not amused.
>"Do not bring your Undead Messiah into this house of the Goddess!"
>He got angry and lowered his guard
"Well sir, My Daddy taught me to never abide blasphemy."
>As quickly as I could, I shoulder tackled the paladin, sending him reeling back into some other knights
"Damn it, Calvin, book it"
>Dragging the wimp with me, I ran through the door and into the alleyways
>No time to look behind, as long as he keeps his grip, we're fine
>Multiple turns to confuse the pursuers, hopefully I can get to my car and be scott free.
>Pain erupts in my shoulder
>A blade pinning me to the brickwork behind
>"Your tricks may have confused my knight, but it won't fool a Paladin, heretic."
"Damn it, run Calvin, go to the police, show them this place, I'll buy you some time."
>I expect the coward to run, to abandon me and save his skin
>Instead, he interposes himself between me and Bohemond.
>"I surrender, just let him go."
>"A wise decision, but to spare the heretic is a sin to we Sons of the Goddess."
>"D-do you really think he's a threat anymore? Look at him, wounded and pathetic, not even worth the stain on your blade."
>"Fine, I'll spare the heretic, but you come with me."
>Calvin turns to me and whispers something.
>"I'm a link, but I didn't make the chain, you need to look higher, good luck."
>Almost immediately, Bohemond takes him, kicking and screaming.
>With his blade removed from my shoulder, I stumble forward out of the alley, vision dimming from pain and shock.
<"Hey Pal, Where's your little friend?"
>The Jorogumo from earlier
<"You don't look too hot, something happen?"
>I fall forward, my vision fading to black
>My last thoughts turn to the woman I failed
>What did I think would happen?
>Did I think I’d charge in there, announce a citizen’s arrest and live happily ever after?
>No, the problem was that I didn’t think.
>But now, I’m in the void between consciousness and unconsciousness, ruminating on all my mistakes
>Not bringing a weapon
>Letting Calvin get taken
>Not telling her.
>No, if Ayane had known she’d never have let me go in the first place.
>But still, she deserved to know, in case something like this happened.
>So I didn’t just become another precious person the order took from her
>I can almost picture an older Ayane staring forlornly at a heavy pencil rendering of her sad eyed salaryman bleeding out in a dingy alley, next to the drawing of her mother pincushioned by blades
>What a fool I’ve been.
>When I finally wake up, it’s to the sight of a sterile hospital ceiling
<“Oh, you’re awake.”
>I turn to the nurse, a monster with wings and a strange bulbous tail
<“Well, 911 got the call around 11:00 last night, we got you in around 11:50, it’s around Noon now, so about twelve hours.”
<“Nah, you just ain’t ever been stabbed before, you went into shock.”
<“No laughing matter, it can kill ya, but you still have plenty of the red stuff in you.”
<“Well, we went through your phone for contacts, we got a hit on a guy in Kansas, your brother, too far away obviously. No answer from your sister.”
<“Last one we tried was for a Ayumi? Aiko?”
<“That’s the one, I honestly didn’t expect a big ol’ Oni to come barging in bawling her eyes out, repeating some weird mantra or something.”
“What was she saying.”
<“Sounded like “Baka baka baka.”
>I laugh, despite it bringing pain to my shoulder
>she’s right, in this situation, I was an idiot.
<“Your girlfriend really cares about you, you know, she was here from midnight to ten, stayed up without sleep just to watch over you. Only left when some old Japanese lady insisted she get some rest, threatened to pour her booze down the drain knowing what motivates Oni.”
“She’s not my girlfriend, just a coworker.”
>The manticore’s eyes narrow
<“You can lie to yourself, hun, but you can’t lie to me. I call it like I see it.”
>She looks down at her chart
<“oh you’ve got one more visitor, a Mr. J. Patterson,”
“Junior or Senior?”
>”Junior, and I’m surprised that ambulance didn’t run you over, Mr. Quiet Life.”
>Joseph H. Patterson Jr. is the son of my boss, and also a somewhat close acquaintance from business school
>He was the one who got me my job, and since then we’ve had a shaky friendship.
>He’s also the first one to make the connection between my love of routine and a certain fictional serial killer
“Joey, I haven’t seen you in months.”
>”Well, there’s a reason for that…”
“Oh, you mean the princess you keep bragging about dating?”
>”She’s just a girl like any other.”
“She rides around on a ball of pure magic because she thinks she’s too good to walk, that screams at least Duchess.”
>”She doesn’t do that anymore, makes it too obvious for the paparazzi.”
>The fact that she has paparazzi following her should be another big tip off, but I drop the subject.
>”So what happened, I heard you got mugged?”
“Joey, what I say stays between you and me, as my friend, promise me that.”
>”Okay? What is it.”
“I think someone high up in the company is supplying those order terrorists.”
>His face pales
“I found shipping invoices for materials that could be used to make bombs, I thought I found the connection, but he was just a patsy.”
>”Why are you telling me this? For all you know I could be the mole.”
“Joey, if you were an Order plant you’d essentially be a crusader dating a daughter of the Caliph, that’s a pretty long con to play.”
>”Fair enough, but what do you want me to do about it?”
“Just keep an eye out for anything suspicious, you’re higher on the totem pole than I am.”
>”Well, okay, I believe you. I’ll keep an eye out.”
“Remember, this stays between us.”
>He leaves shaken, I don’t blame him, if I found out something like that I would be too.
>They day passes slowly after that
>Mrs. Yamano and her kids came to visit around three.
>Her little girl told me that she tried to wake Ayane, but her mother had stopped her
>A police officer came around to take my statement around five
>I stuck with the story of it being a mugging
>Apparently Calvin’s disappearance had not been reported yet.
>The nurse told me that I’d be good to leave after tonight
>I knew the first thing I had to do was apologize to Ayane
>But after that, the hunt was on.
>Getting discharged from the hospital had been the easy part
>Some stitches and bandages, thankfully someone had brought my car to the hospital
>No, the hard part would be confronting her.
>There was two ways I could go about this, actively go to her and try to explain myself
>Or wait until I saw her at work
>Option 2 had a significantly lower likelihood of me being throttled for my stupidity, but it didn’t sit right.
>I knew what I had to do
>That same suburban house
>The same door
>”Oh, it’s you Sad Eyes-san.”
“Yes, is Ayane home?”
>”She’s been in her room all day, I think she was waiting for you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Yamano.”
>The middle-aged woman grabs my wrist with a mother’s strength
>”If you hurt her worse than you already have I swear…”
“I won’t, I swear.”
>Across the entry hall
>up the stairs
>The little ones peeking out from their rooms
>The last door, a few exploratory knocks and it yields.
>Her back is turned to me, desk moved against the far wall
<“Would you like to hear a story?”
“Ayane, I’ve come here to apologi-, what does that have to do with anything?”
<“Everything, just listen.”
<“I grew up near the sea, and for certain periods of time my father and the men of my village would be away.”
“I remember, he’s a fisherman.”
<“Living near the sea was very fun for a child, but it also could not be.”
<“Storms, tides threatening to pull one out to sea, and of course, raiders and pirates.”
>I started getting a feeling for where she was going.
<“The order has little hold in Zipangu, their dogma falls on deaf ears in a land where most of our heroes and great leaders are born of the union of man and monster.”
<“Any crusade they launch into our shores sees them devoured whole and spat out, but there are exceptions.”
“Their ships can still raid the coast.”
>She does not look back, but nods.
<“One day, when the men of the village were away, a foreign ship came within sight of our village, with only the elderly, children, and women to protect the village, it fell to my mother and the village chief to organize the defense.”
<“But one Oni with a kanabo and a sixty year old man with a yari leading other old men and a few passive monsters cannot defend an entire village from trained warriors.”
<“When they came, my mother fought like a tiger. Swinging her club with practiced ease and putting the warriors to shame.”
<“She began to tire, fighting so many warriors alone took its toll, and lastly, she became distracted.”
>My mind drifted back to the drawing
<“I had been hiding with the other children, but I desperately wanted to see my mother fight, I ran out into the open, one of the order men must have seen me and shouted something, because my mother went berserk.”
<“A demon, shattering skulls and armor alike in a drive to reach me, but it also meant she had to run the gauntlet of the entire raiding force.”
>I can almost imagine the frenzied woman knocking knights aside like cardboard, rushing to rescue her daughter even as blades found their mark on her back
<“By the time she reached me, she could not speak, only blood came from her mouth. My last memory of my mother, is her looking out to sea and smiling.”
<“Three knights survived the battle, one died of his wounds, and the others…”
<“When the men came home, my father was more than furious, all light was gone from his eyes.”
<“For a whole week I did not see my father, for a whole week the screams of those men were heard throughout the village.”
<“By the end of the week, only one remained, set on a raft to drift.”
“What did he do to them?”
<“He never told me and I will never ask him, he had lost his wife and was entitled to some measure of vengeance.”
>I moved closer, reaching a hand to her shoulder.
<“Hearing this, I hope you understand…
>my senses flared a warning, but I was too late to pull back.
<“HOW ABSOLUTELY FURIOUS I AM!”
>For as long as I’d known her, Ayane had been a delicate flower, so gentle and demure.
>But in this moment, I knew the true strength of an enraged Oni.
>My feet left the ground as she began to shake me
<“Going by yourself, with no knowledge, no weapons, what were you thinking?”
“Ayane, please, my stitches.”
<“What if you had died? What would I have done.”
“You could have found someone else, you’re still young.”
>I immediately regretted what I had said, seeing her anger turn to hurt.
>Which then came close to me as she put her face as close to mine as possible.
>Golden eyes meeting sapphire
<“You don’t understand, I told you that story because I know now how my father felt.”
<“When they called me and said you were in the hospital, that you had been stabbed, I knew what was going through my father’s mind when he, when he tortured those men.”
<“I wanted to find the people who hurt you and flay them alive, rip them limb from limb, hurt them worse than they hurt you.”
<“For you to say, “just find someone else” , you spit on those feelings”
<”My father never “just found someone else” to replace my mother.”
>The ground met me as her grip slackened.
<“And I would never find someone to replace you.”
>She turned away again.
>I quickly found my footing and tried to reach for her again
>Expecting to have it slapped away, I reached out gingerly
>First brushing her hair
>Then running my hand across her cheek, catching one of the tears flowing freely from her eyes.
<“You won’t do something this foolish again without telling me.”
>Her face turns to mine, a weak smile to accompany the tears
>We embrace yet again, all the hurt and sorrow being banished with one gesture.
>If I had to pick a place to die, it would be in these arms.