Ayane-chan; The Bashful Oni and the Sad Eyed Salaryman Part 4: Final Preparations/The Gathering Storm
>Ayane and Mandy still had an uneasy rivalry, though the latter was more teasing than anything else.
>At least my sister had gone from actively trying to get in my pants to throwing the occasional innuendo my way
>And asking me about procuring doppelganger potion
>Eventually, Dave had to meet with his lawyer for the custody case and Mandy, well, she departed with some hesitance, but she did so all the same.
>It was only a few days after they had left that I was confronted by Ayane
<"I believe the time has finally come for you to meet my father."
"Oh, did you finally get enough money to bring him out here?"
<"Months ago, but he is stubborn, other than fishing on his boat he usually never leaves the village, but I appealed to his weakness."
<"I told him that I was hurt he didn't want to see how his daughter was doing."
"So, where are we going to meet him?"
<"Mrs. Mika's husband is meeting him at the portal and we will meet him at the Yamano's house."
"This wouldn't have anything to do with you meeting my family, would it?"
<"Of course not, having you meet my father to ask his blessing so we can wed as soon as possible has nothing to do with any nosy kinoko that tried to take you away from me."
"Ayane, you know I would never have sex with my sister."
<"You wouldn't have had a choice, never trust a Boushiya. For all you know she could have ridden you in your sleep and be carrying your child as we speak!"
"Ayane, you were sleeping next to me the entire time she was here."
<"She could have dragged you into Wonderland to do it."
"I somehow doubt that."
<"Belive what you want, but I swear if the next time we see her she's got a chibi Boushiya with blue eyes I'll...
"You know, you've really been focusing on the baby angle, is there something I should know?"
<"N-nothing, just come to the Yamanos tomorrow around noon to meet my father."
>I'd often wondered just what it would be like to meet Ayane's father.
>The way she described him made me picture a hard-faced man with skin the color of cracked leather from long hours hauling nets and tossing harpoons on the open ocean
>She said he was kind but had an underlying hardness to him.
>But she also mentioned how he tortured two order knights, one of them to death, for having killed his wife.
>Not that I wouldn't do something similar if something happened to Ayane.
>All night I try to practice my introduction.
>No good, would her father even speak English?
>I'd gotten so used to how quickly Ayane had picked up the language that I completely forgot to consider that possibility.
>Is calling him father too presumptuous?
>Crushing realization set in
"I can't speak Japanese."
>I guess that's why Ayane wanted the Yamanos present, let Mika and Mr. Yamano handle the small talk
>Ayane could barely speak the language when I first met her and look at us now, this is merely a trial I have to overcome.
>It wouldn't be as unpleasant as say, being stabbed, but it would be daunting none the less.
>I just need to convince a hard-bitten man of the sea to agree to letting me marry his only daughter.
>I think at this moment I'd rather seek out Ser Bohemond and let him do his knightly bullshit
>The night's dreams are rather fitful, filled with images of me being keelhauled or tied to anchors
>But that morning, I find myself slipping into routine again, wake, shower, shave, eat, leave.
>I needed to get their early, maybe talking with Ayane and Mrs. Yamano would ease my nerves.
>Maybe pick their brain a bit.
>9am, maybe a bit too early.
>"Oh, it's been too long, Sad Eyes-san."
"It's only been about a month, Mrs. Yamano."
>"Still far too long, you realize that without you and Ayane-chan I have next to no entertainment in my life."
"I'm sure Ayane tells you everything that happens when she's gone."
>"Not stories, teasing you, it’s too much fun."
>she leads me to the kitchen and hands me a cup of coffee.
"Kids already left for school?"
>"Yes, and my Eisaku has already left to meet Ogawa-san at the public portal."
"Is Ayane with him?"
>As if to answer my question, a yawn comes from the living room.
>Hair wild and askew, eyes half closed and unfocused, glasses hanging haphazardly on her face
>No matter how many times I see her like this, it never ceases to be adorable.
<*yawn* "Ohayo, Mika-san."
"Well, good morning to you, beautiful."
>Almost immediately her eyes shoot up
<"Y-you're here early, Anon."
"I wanted some time to talk with you before, well, before HE gets here."
<"You should have told me you were coming; I could have at least brushed my hair... and wait, "HE"?"
<"Are you afraid of my father, Anon?"
"Ayane, this is a man who, according to you, wrestled an oni into submission and is confirmed to have tortured a man to death, I'm terrified."
<"Hehe, that is actually kind of cute, fighting the Order is nothing to you, but meeting your father-in-law is just too much?"
"I at least know where I stand with the order."
<"Hahaha, don't worry, I will protect you from the fearsome Otou-san, my darling."
>The rest of the morning continued on like that, with me and her trading barbs and banter across the breakfast table.
>Taking breaks for Ayane to get dressed and situated, of course
>I barely noticed the time passing until the actual sound of a car entering the drive was heard.
>Muffled voices speaking back and forth in Japanese.
<"Just stay calm, he will be a bit abrasive at first, but after he learns more about you he will accept you, I know it."
>As the door opens, the first of the two who catches my eye is Eisaku Yamano, Mika's husband and all-around unexceptional individual.
>But the other man immediately catches my eye.
>His Okinawan-like tan contrasting heavily with Mr. Yamano's paler skin
>Hair kept close to the head, almost shaved
>a small but visible scar on his cheek
>So this is him, Daigo Ogawa.
>Wearing a suit provided for him by Mr. Yamano, he looks entirely out of place.
>To tell the truth he almost looks like a Yakuza wearing that suit, not that i'd ever tell him that.
>Like a bird of prey, he sweeps the room, until his eyes land on her.
>His icy exterior seems to melt entirely when he lays eyes on his daughter.
>Striding forward, he is met halfway, and in an attempted feat of strength he attempts to lift his daughter with his hug.
>They begin speaking, but in Zipangese.
>Mr. Yamano senses my confusion and steps in
>"Allow me, Anon, he's saying she's grown so much "Who would have thought my little girl would be able to lift me now?"
>"He's saying she reminds him of her mother."
>I gathered as much from the subtle hint of sorrow that appeared on his face.
>"She's saying she wants him to meet you, get ready."
>Ayane leads her father over to me, pulling him by the arm.
<"Anon, meet my father, I've told him a lot about you."
"Pleased to meet you, sir."
>I put forward my hand, only to have it and the other grabbed, my palms being rubbed heavily by his calloused hands
>He stares me in the eyes before dropping my hands, throwing his head back, and laughing.
>He then says something to Ayane
<"Father says you have soft hands, like a merchant or a magistrate, he thinks you would be better off being my wife."
>I try to respond, but before I can he has wandered off, him dragging Ayane this time, leaving me alone.
>Rather awkwardly, I follow the two around with Mr. Yamano providing running translation
>He seemed happy Ayane was still drawing, though he voiced no opinions on the many sketches of me she had made.
>One other humanizing moment came when the Yamano children came home and were actually intimidated by this serious faced stranger
>Until Ayane explained who he was.
>Every time I made a comment or tried to interact with him, he treated me like a bothersome fly
>My time with him essentially amounted to listening to Ayane or Mr. Yamano translate, make a comment, be ignored, repeat.
>When dinner time eventually came, I found myself seated in between Mr. Yamano and their youngest child, directly across the table from Daigo.
>with Ayane and Mrs. Yamano still preparing dinner, all that occurred was Eisaku asking me about my job and comparing it to his, and me again trying to strike up a dialog with my future father-in-law
>I joke I made must have landed in translation because I at least got the sour bastard to laugh
>Though out of the corner of my eye, I could see Mika and Ayane speaking to each other, Ayane showing her something that caused the Yamano matriarch to react with pure joy.
>"Everyone, before we eat, I believe Ayane-chan has something she'd like to say!"
<"Ah, I didn't expect to be put forward like this, but yes, I have something to say."
<"Six months ago, I met a special someone. Two months ago, that someone and I shared a few... intimate moments."
>I glance over at Daigo, he still has somewhat of a smile on his face
<"With that being the case, I, well, there is no simple way to say this."
>"Ayane-chan is pregnant!"
<"Mrs. Mika, you're horrible!"
>"I think everyone can guess who the father is."
>The Yamano children jump from their seat and rush to Ayane
>"Big Sis is going to be a Mommy!"
>"Are you gonna get big like Mommy did, Sis?"
>I feel Mr. Yamano give me a fatherly pat on the back, but also notice Ayane's father looking extremely confused.
>Which is replaced by a look of cold, barely contained rage.
>We lock eyes for a moment, the murderous intent clear on his face
>Ayane gives a stern stare at her father, who returns to his earlier nonchalance
>Dinner is lively, with the Yamanos congratulating Ayane and myself.
>Mrs. Mika even began crying tears of joy at the thought of her "first grandchild".
>Eventually, when dinner has concluded, Ayane finally decides to speak.
<"Why do you hate my Husband, Otou-san."
>Daigo feigns confusion, beginning to speak in Zipangese
<"I know you understand me, Father, speak so he can understand you."
>His eyes return to their hate filled glare as he stares right at me and begins speaking in English
>Was he pretending not to speak the language as an excuse to ignore me?
>"The boy is no good, he is weak, he could not protect you or your child."
<"It is his child as well, Otou."
>"My point still stands"
<"Has Anon told you he and his friends have been fighting the order? That they're working to stop them getting a foothold in this world?"
>"From behind a desk, I take it? He is a coward."
<"Anon, take off your shirt."
"Ayane, the Yamanos..."
<"Take. off. your. shirt."
>Not one to argue with an angry oni, I do so, with Mrs. Mika thankfully sending the children away.
<"Do you see the scar on his shoulder? He got that from the blade of an order Paladin. The bruising on his body? Also from fighting the order."
>"So, worse than a coward, he is a fool."
<"Perhaps, but at least he fights, what did you do to avenge mother? Torment two wounded men and then drink yourself into a stupor?"
<"Perhaps Anon should be "brave" like you and hide away on a boat, never acknowledging the passing of time, that your little girl has become a woman, and that your wife is dead and will never come ba-"
>Nearly everyone's heads turn at the sound
>I jump up intent on violence. Father or not, no one hits Ayane in front of me, but Mr. Yamano stops me.
>"I did not teach you to speak with such disrespect, has this world really corrupted you so?"
>Ayane does not respond, her eyes are edged with tears
>"I asked you a question, daughter."
>Not answering, she moves closer to me.
>Taking my hands in hers she guides them to just over her navel.
<"Accept it or not, Otou-san, I love him."
<"Inside me right now is something we created together, he and I, a new life created because we love each other."
<"I will always be your daughter, but I cannot be the little girl from your memories anymore."
<"So strike me and berate me all you want, but my decision is final!"
>His eyes maintain the same steely glare as they had, but they proceed to soften.
>"There must be some worth to him if he makes you feel this way, ojou."
>He turns towards door and begins walking out, as he passes, I swear I hear him mutter something in Zipangese
<"Mitsuki, I've been a fool."
<"What my father was saying, he was asking forgiveness from my mother."
>Sensing a chance, I quickly turn to catch him.
>"Have you come to brag, soft hands, brag at how you have finally taken the last thing I have in this world?"
"I haven't taken her from you, like she said she'll always be your daughter"
>"That is easy for you to say, perhaps you will understand if you have a daughter someday."
"I hope someday I have that chance."
>His eyes meet mine, the usual disdain replaced by a deep sorrow.
>"Has she told you, how her mother died?"
>"Has she told you what I did to the men who killed her?"
"She didn't go into specifics."
>"For an entire week, I tortured those men, one to death, the other to madness."
>"They were less than human to me, less than animals. So for seven days I cut, and chopped, and burned, and blistered them all over."
>"What I did to them, I still believe I was justified, even if I know the taint it has left on my soul."
>"Please understand, Ayane is the last piece of Mitsuki I had left in this world, the last little shred of proof that the one I loved walked this earth."
"All you have left is the pain."
"I'm sorry, my mother died not to long ago, so I think I know how you feel."
>"No, you don't, and for all that I have said about you, soft hands, I pray you never learn what it is to feel as I do."
>I turn to leave, but he stops me
>"Ayane called you "husband", have the two of you...?"
"She wanted to wait for your blessing, she knew she was all you had."
>"I see, let me think, just for tonight. You will have your answer soon."
>Reentering the house, I find Ayane speaking with Mrs. Yamano.
>As I approach, she rises and pulls me into an embrace
<"I am sorry about tonight; it was supposed to be far happier."
"You're joking, right? This is probably the happiest night of my life. How long have you known?"
>A small smile comes to her face
>"For a while, I wanted it to be a surprise and tell you and my father at the same time. I did not realize it would cause such a mess."
"I'm not surprised, he just wants to look out for you."
"Just watch, in another seven months I'll be acting just like him over our little girl."
<"I don't think so, not for a while yet."
"How do you figure?"
>She pats her belly
<"In my world monsters cannot have male children, some curse or contrivance of the order's god, it is why in Zipangu the nobility often have what are called "heir wives" human women whose role it is to sire a male heir for the bloodline."
<"My mother often bemoaned the fact that she could never give my father a son, so I made a promise that when I had children, my first child would be a boy."
<"Here, where the god of the order has no power, I have kept that promise. If only my mother could be here."
"You realize it's probably too early to tell, right?"
<"Hrm, No, this is a boy, I am sure of it."
>If she was sure, then I was not complaining.
>That night I slept in her arms and dreamt of holding my son.
>With the unpleasantness from last night resolved, everything has finally come together
>There are really only two pressing issues left to resolve
>1. Deal with the order in this city once and for all
>and 2. Finally hash out wedding plans with this poor woman I've been stringing along for over half a year now.
>Honestly, #1 isn't half as daunting as #2
>All I need to do with number 1 is convene my little war council and hash out a plan of attack.
>SONO CHI NO SADAME!
"Ugh, just pick up."
"Hey Joey, I gotta free day and it's only a few weeks til' go time, you want to meet up and makes some plans?"
>"I, uh, I don't think that's gonna be possible, buddy."
>"Yeah, see, Anna has been getting, let's just say, creative with her date ideas."
>"I'd, uh, rather not say."
>Suddenly a voice in the background sounds
<"Jojo, who are you talking to?"
>"It's just Anon, Annie, he wanted to see if I could hang out."
<"Well, tell him to get lost or go bother Ayane, I spent all day yesterday planning this, to say nothing of what I paid those Sabbath goats to help me set things up."
>"Yeah, sorry man, my princess hath made her royal decree, I'd be happy to meet tomorrow though."
>Well, that was quite rude
>But she's right, I've spent so much time planning this little crusade that I forgot all about the girl I launched it for.
>It's settled, I'm spending the whole rest of the day with her.
>It's not exactly hard to find Ayane, since she's right where I left her.
>In her room, hunched over her desk working on some drawings.
>Employing all the stealth I can, I walk over and wrap my arms around her.
>Feeling the moment of tense surprise followed by the immediate relaxation, it's a feeling I never knew I would enjoy.
"Hey, whatcha drawing?"
<"A lot has happened in the last few months, I figured I should preseve it somehow, take a look."
>I hold up the drawings for closer inspection
>A familiar man striking a familiar pose, one hand on his hip and the other grasping one of the breasts of his coat, next to him a white haired, horned woman is striking a pose of her own beside him, one leg forward and hand on her hip
>A sad man nursing a drink at a smokey bar, the smoke behind him coalescing into a large figure wrapping him in a hug
>Lastly, a sinister drawing of a woman in fancy clothes drinking tea, nearly every detail having some fungal motif designed to make it look uncanny. I didn't even notice the man with mushrooms sprouting from his head she's using as a footstool.
"These are my friends and family, all the ones I've introduced to you recently."
<"Hai, do you like them?"
"Ayane, I can barely draw a stick figure, anything you make is gonna look like a masterpiece to me."
<"That is not exactly an answer but thank you."
"Joey blew me off, so it looks like I have a whole day to myself, I think I'd like to spend it with you."
<"Hrm, with everything that has been going on I guess it has been a while since it has just been us."
"Exactly, so what do you want to do?"
<"Who said I wanted to go anywhere? Maybe I just want to spend the rest of the day working on my drawings? Maybe afterwards we can cuddle and you can whisper into my belly some more."
<"But since you are offering, there might be a few places I would like to go."
>As it turned out, those "few places" were spread all around the city.
>The first stop being a tailor
>Ayane had made it clear she wanted a wedding in the Zipangese style, the kind her mother and father had.
>Naturally, not knowing what this entailed, I kind of panicked since I had planned for a traditional church wedding
>But as she described it, it turned out to just be a Shinto wedding, of course.
>But it did mean that the both of us would need the proper attire and while she had inherited a proper wedding kimono from her mother, I would not be so lucky
>I could borrow her father’s but seeing as I had a good six or seven inches on the man, I doubted it would work.
>The whole affair took around an hour for measurements and final picking of the material
>All the while Ayane was getting pestered by the tailor's wife about how we met and if she was excited to be a mother.
>I have to hand it to her, with all her usual embarrassed sputtering, Ayane answered the latter question with a firm and serious "Yes."
>The next stop, surprisingly, was the mall.
>Namely to one of the upscale stores that sold baby clothes, cribs, and other things of that nature.
>In between the usual pink and blue there was some other odd patterns
>Including a set of purple striped toddler pajamas that gave me an odd sense of deja vu.
"It's barely even been a full nine months since the portals opened and already stores are stocking baby clothes for monsters."
>I present Ayane with a garment that looks like a set of baby pajamas with a long sock instead of legs, the tag explicitly saying it was for use by "Lamia and other Homo Serpentes"
<"Well, as soon as they opened there were already people getting together. Some of the first couples will be having their babies, it is a growing market."
"I guess, I'm just glad I found you and won't have to be seen buying horse bloomers."
>I turn and present a pair of child's underwear that look as though they belong on a foal, which they do as the tag makes clear it is intended for "Centaur and other Homo Equus"
<"You may laugh, but when we have our next child it will be a girl, and you'll have to think of how to make her clothes work when she grows her horns."
"Was that a problem for you?"
<"O-of course not..."
<"Mika-san had to help me put on pullover shirts for the first few weeks I lived here, it is why I mostly wear clothing with buttons."
>Things fall into a rhythm after this, until eventually we have a small wardrobe picked out in a mostly nautical theme.
>As we go to leave, two children run past, nearly knocking the bags out of our hands.
<"oops, sorry mister, big lady."
>"Yeah, we're sorry."
>I lock eyes with the boy, and something seems to shift in his gaze.
>Hold on a minute.
"Ayane, did those kids seem... familiar to you?"
<"Other than the Yamano children, I do not know many."
"Give me a minute, I need to check something."
>As I tail the kids, a brown-haired boy and a girl with light blonde hair, I begin to hear whispered snippets of their conversation.
>"Do you think they recognized us?"
<"Hardly, I disguised myself for a reason, we just look like two normal kids."
>"It's just, I feel kinda bad ducking out on him for this."
<"Look, you saw them, they're happily buying baby clothes, I did this because you brought up how you "never got to enjoy being a kid" so be grateful."
>Well, that got my attention.
>It's time to end this little farce.
>With a good natured smile, I walk up to them
"Hey there kids, I just wanted to apologize for bumping into you."
<"It's fine, we should've been more careful."
>"Y-yeah, we're sorry."
"Say, where are your parents, kiddos?"
<"In the parking lot, they let us go into the store by ourselves."
"uh huh, say, boy. I was wondering if you could answer me a question?"
"I've been thinking about it all day, but I don't have an answer to "How does King Crimson work?"
>"K-king What? I don't know anything about that."
"Are you sure? Because I've been looking at it from every angle and still don't understand. I mean, one minute Bruno is about to attack The Boss and the next he's hitting himself? What's up with that."
<"Look, he said he doesn't know, leave us alone!"
>Sweat is pouring from the boy's face.
"I guess, at the end of the day, IT JUST WOR-"
>"GODDAMNIT, Look, Diavolo can see ten seconds into the future with Epitaph, if he sees something he doesn't like, like him being attacked, he can erase ten seconds using King Crimson, in the ten seconds that are erased, only Diavolo can move and act, to everyone else it's like time just jumped!"
"Hello Joey, I take it that's Anna?"
>"It's not what it looks like, I swear."
"Well, maybe you can explain what it is, because I'm confused."
<"My Jojo is always complaining that his father ruined his childhood by making him into a trophy son against his will, I decided to use magic to let him relive some of that youthful exuberance."
>Joey did often complain about his dad, how he'd run his life from an early age grooming him to essentially become a smaller version of him.
>I guess that's why we're such good friends, I was the first friend he had that didn't have a Dad that was a member of the same country club as his.
"And you transformed yourself why?"
>"It's not a sex thing!"
<"It really isn't, I can sympathize with how he felt. You know who my mother is and the responsibility that places on my shoulders. So, if for a day I can stop being the 32nd Princess of Maou and just be Little Annie, I'll take it."
<"If it just so happens my Jojo likes it, then that's a plus"
"This isn't permanent, is it?"
<"The Sabbath aren't as clever as they think, any permanent effects were removed by me, this should wear off by tomorrow."
"Good, you two enjoy yourselves, I WILL see you tomorrow."
<"Just talk with me if maybe you want something like this for Ayane, Jojo told me you have "childhood friends to lovers" fantasies."
>Goddamn blabbermouth, but he's right.
"I'll consider it, just wait until we have the baby for shenanigans like that, who knows what that potion would do to it."
>"Congratulations, by the way."
<"Yes, congratulations, I can't wait to be "Auntie Anna"
"Yeah, whatever, just be ready to plan non-stop tomorrow."
>As I turned away, I could here them talking
>"So, what do we do now?"
<"Get back into character and enjoy the rest of our day, ahem, let's go get some ice cream, Joey."
>"Y-yeah, ice cream!"
>I'll never understand those two.
>I walked from the store and made my way back to my car
"Just some brats, nothing important, let's go home."
>We return home, unload our purchases, and have a light meal
>The rest of the day was spent moving some furniture from the smaller guest room and replacing it with the necessary items for a nursery.
>Ayane is barely out of the first trimester yet she demanded that things be ready and perfect for her little boy
<"We will still need to paint it, what color do you think?"
"Well, I would say blue."
<"Ah, to go with the general ocean theme we picked, good idea."
"Well, that, and blue walls are going to remind him of his mama."
>A familiar blush
<"O-oh, I hadn't thought of that, I do suppose that might help when he gets lonely."
"Yep, when he does, he can stare at the blue walls and be reminded of Mama until she can actually come and hold him."
>A serene smile as she closes her eyes
<"Hm, as if he'd ever have to wait."
"That's going to take some getting used to, having to share you all the time."
>At this, Ayane gets a small smirk
<"Hehe, Getting jealous of your own son?"
"Nah, He makes you split your focus for what? twenty years? We still have another forty in us after that."
<"Maybe more, oni do live longer than humans, after all."
"Yeah, but that'll be you living alone. I'm still just a human."
<"Perhaps now, but there is a process by which humans can match strength and lifespan with we yokai."
"A ritual? I'm telling you upfront that I'd do anything for you, Ayane, but I'd rather not drink your blood."
<"Nothing like that, though it does involve an, ah, exchange of fluids."
"So let me get this straight, you're saying that if I just keep having sex with you, I become immortal?"
<"W-well, it does sound absurd when you put it like that, and it's not immortality, not even the kami are immortal, it just means your lifespan is tied to mine."
"Would I become an Oni?"
<"Would you want to?"
"Probably not, those horns probably hurt when the come out."
<"No more than getting a new tooth, but no, you'd remain human."
"How many times does it take to kick in."
<"I'm not sure, maybe a dozen, maybe a thousand."
"Well then, we'd better get started."
>A sinister grin spreads across her face.
<"I was hoping you would say that."
<"Because guess what I bought."
"You're scaring me."
>A blue plastic oni mask to replace the garish red one.
"Can't we just make gentle love? I don't want the wild oni to visit tonight!"
<"Oh, I can hear the wild oni, Hasu, she says it's cute you think you have a choice."
>I run around my house, Ayane chasing me like a mad woman
<"Ie, just accept it, it'll be good for you in the long run, besides, you'll need that strength to face the Order this next week."
>A look of serious concern crosses my face.
"Wait, how did you know about that?"
<"Anna is not one to keep secrets, you confronting that man, discovering their plan, she said you even fought with the paladin again."
<"I don't want you to go, not as you are."
"I have no choice, I let the order go and thousands will die."
<"So? Then the Monster Lord invades, deals with the order and goes home. The problem is solved."
"Ayane, you know that would start a war."
<"The order has been at war with the Monster Lord for a thousand years, look at what that has accomplished."
"You don't know war on this planet. I have no doubt that the monsters will probably win in the end, magic is a great equalizer, but it will be bloody and bitter."
"If there is war between Earth and monsters, do you know what they'll do to me? To us? At best put in internment camps, at worst executed as enemies of the state. Hell, they'll probably try to kill Joey just for who he's with."
"So I have to do this, it's not just for you and me anymore, it's for the future of any man and monster like us, who just want to live and love in peace."
<"If you go, you will die."
"That's a risk I'm going to have to take."
>Her face becomes one of actual rage.
<"You think you're so selfless, "Oh Ayane, this is for the good of all men and yokai, so they can love in peace.""
<"Do you think I care about them? If you die, am I expected to see happy couples and think "I am glad my husband gave his life for their happiness, leaving his wife and son behind."
>Reaching a fever pitch, she almost looks like an actual Oni.
>With little effort I am against the wall, in midair.
<"You say you love me then you want to throw your life away, you speak sweet nothings about this child but then accept that you might not live to even see it?"
"I'm doing this for the both of you, so you can be safe!"
<"You'd be the second person who blindly rushed to their doom trying to protect me without any regard for themselves."
>Her grip slackens, instead of dropping me to the floor, she takes me in her arms.
<"I want a husband, not a hero. Our child needs a father, not a martyr."
"I know, and you know I wouldn't do this if I wasn't sure I had to."
<"Very well, I can't stop you."
<"But know I refuse to live like my father, if you die the men who kill you will know no peace, they think me a mindless ogre already and they will have what they wish."
<"Anyone who hurts you will pay a hundred-fold of that you can be sure. I will make the name Oni-no-Ayane a name those in order lands say as the blackest curse."
>That look in her eye, wild, feral almost, this isn't her putting on a mask for dominant roleplay, no, this is Ayane embracing the oni within.
>The mere thought of losing me and the bloody retribution she'd reap in return is bringing her to the edge of reason
>Her fists are clenched, she's shaking.
>I say nothing, just return the broken embrace.
>I can feel her trembling, her rage pouring out as she holds me tighter and tighter.
>I barely remember her hefting me on her shoulder and carrying me to bed
>We miss dinner, and most everything else that night.
>By the time it's over my hips feel like they've gone under an industrial press
>My tongue is raw from six hours of rough kissing
>And my tool feels as if it's been put through a wringer.
>A roughness, but not too rough, even in this state she doesn't do anything that could hurt the baby
>And even after all that, I'm the one holding her.
>I hadn't noticed it until now, but she's just starting to show.
>The Ayane I met way back when was something I would die for, her smile needed protecting and her innocent charm needed keeping safe.
>The woman in my arms, hair wild from the passion we shared, belly just beginning to display the roundness of pregnancy.
>My wife and the mother of my child
>This is a woman I'd be willing to live for.
>The day has finally arrived, one last meeting and then destiny awaits
>Slowly but surely, the "war council" peters in
>Anna's two Amazoness bodyguards enter first, Diana giving a good-natured wave and as much of a smile as she could muster, and Artemis giving me a slightly less harsh glare than normal.
>Anna herself is next, returned to her former height and back to displaying the regal demeanor she usually exudes.
>Lastly, my old friend enters, looking a little sheepish as he passes by me.
"So, this is it? Five people?"
>I look around, the Amazons' defiant stare, Joey's nervous glance, and Anna's indifference.
<"I have sent out missives to my sisters, several have written back expressing a desire to assist in this little endeavor."
"What do they want in return? Sorry for being cautious, but the way you've described your family has been... less than heartening."
<"Obvious extremists have been given polite rejections, it wouldn't do to make a plan to covertly maintain peace between our worlds and then fuck it up by having Druella come with a full invasion force."
<"Other than that, most are just interested in securing husbands for their subjects, either through having an excuse to come to Earth or through "rehabilitating" any order prisoners we catch."
"Fair enough, how does it look on our end, Joey."
>"Talked with chief of security, he sent me some roster sheets, apparently there’s a black hour between midnight and 1AM where there is no guard posted, usually that's because the otherside branch comes through to compare the days notes."
"But if they wanted that's a blank space for the order to make their move."
>"This lack of oversight should have been noticed, but with all the moles and plants we've been finding it's not surprising."
"Any idea as to the opposition?"
>One of the Amazons hands me a police report, and a missive from the Guards headquarters in Royal Makai
>I had forgotten that more than just Halford was taken prisoner that night, a fair few order knights had been incapacitated by the two Amazons.
>Those captured had been remanded to both Earth and Otherside authorities, and what I had was a few of their depositions.
>From their accounts, the initial force had been twenty-nine knights lead by Bohemond, joined by a few dozen earthborn acolytes
>These were the fodder, most of them being lost through attrition, arrests, and suicide attacks.
>For the knights, about six had been captured following my tip to the police after Calvin was grabbed.
>And a good fifteen had been captured after fighting the Royal Guard the night we grabbed Halford.
"Nine knights, who knows how many Earth auxiliary."
<"Unless they've been reinforced"
>"And there's still the Paladin to worry about."
"Leave him to me."
<"Out of the question."
"I don't recall asking your permission, Princess."
>The lilim's face hardens
<"An Order Paladin is a daunting foe even for someone like me or the girls. What do you, a human man who has not even incubized, hope to do?"
"I want to try talking to him, it's obvious he's taking orders and he sounded disgruntled when he spoke with me. He doesn't sound like a brainless zealot, just someone who is driven by loss and mistrust."
>"Anna told me he talked to you, told you a bunch of crap about her mom and spun some sob story about his daughter. 90% of it is probably him trying to get in your head."
"If any of it is true, and I can talk him out of it, then we won't need to fight as hard, he seemed one good argument away from a crisis of faith."
>I see a few looks of disbelief
>Anna shakes her head
<"Here I thought you were the rational one."
>"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?"
<"It's exactly what it sounds like. Tell me, when you face this Paladin, do you expect him to be swayed by your words and forsake a lifetime of oaths?"
<"Do you expect this to be like an anime, where the villain forsakes all his prior motivations after the hero gives him a rousing speech?"
"I have to at least try."
>"Look man, we're novices at this stuff. Anna, her mom, and her sisters have been fighting this battle a lot longer than we have. If she says you shouldn't mess with this guy, I'd be inclined to listen to her."
>Anna is deep in thought, after a short interval she finally sees fit to speak
<"Hrm, on second thought, we could use a distraction."
>"Annie, we aren't sacrificing my bro, he's got a baby on the way!"
<"I never said we'd sacrifice him, just use him as bait while our forces get into position. If the Paladin is genuinely interested in him then we could use the time to set up a proper assault."
>A tense silence hangs over the room.
>Joey is intensely staring from me to Anna and back again
>The lilim says nothing
>"Do you think Ayane would approve of this?"
"We've already talked."
"This morning she told me if I died that she would petition Enma-O to be one of the Oni tormenting me in Jigoku, whatever that means."
>"That's a little harsh."
"She doesn't approve, but she understands. That's the best I can hope for."
<"So we've decided, Anon will serve as a distraction while I co-ordinate an assault with my sisters and their forces, any questions?"
>Joey raises his hand
>"Yeah, uh, what will I do?"
<"Well, for starters you're coming with me, I need to try on my old Demon army combat uniform and I'd like your, ah, opinion on how it looks."
>"Oh, yes ma'am, I guess I'll see you tonight, friend."
>After the dismissal, I made my way home
>The entire time I kept running through scenarios
>Maybe I would prompt Bohemond to have a change of heart and we would fight our way through the order together
>Maybe he would cut me down then and there when I refused his offer to join him
>Maybe I'd have to explain to Mom and Dad why their baby boy had thrown his life away at arguably his happiest moment
>Coming home for what might have been the last time, I slowly opened the door.
"Ayane! Are you home?"
>Was she out?
>The answer greeted me upon my bed, a small pile of things.
>On top, a hachimaki headband, a rising sun motif and some stark black kanji
>Next to that, a card.
>Almost like the one she gave me when we first met
>In it is only a single drawing.
>small versions of her and I sitting on a couch, heads against one another in sleep.
>In her arms, Ayane has a small bundle with a peaceful sleeping face.
>Next to it is a series of slogans
<This is what you are fighting for
<Come back alive
<Our child needs his father
>Lastly and most concerningly, I find a tanto dagger.
>Just a single note
<Demon realm silver, thank Anna.
>With my newly acquired dagger and my father's old .38, I was ready to meet what would appear
>As I am about to cross the threshold, I feel arms wrap around me from behind
>Not a word is said, nothing more needs to be.
>Without a glance back, I enter my car and begin to drive.
>As the highway stretches on, I finally dig out an old tape of my father's
>The delay as the cassette begins to play, I try to think about everything that's happened.
>Would I have risked my life like this a year ago?
>Did this woman change my life for the worse? Would I have been happier living my mundane life of routine?
>The song begins to play, and as if to answer my question the lyrics start in
>I don't mind you comin' here
>and wastin' all my time
>'Cause when you’re standin' oh so near
>I kinda lose my mind
>Not one of my favorites from the Cars, overplayed on the radio, and yet...
"I GUESS YOU'RE JUST WHAT I NEEDED!"
>(Just what I needed)
>I ended up listening to that song another two times before I reached the perimeter of the west side portal facility
>Where my destiny awaited.