Again, she felt a ripple. It pulled at her, tugging on her subconscious. She had last felt this some cycles back. Then it had been different, less clear, not as well defined. This time she could feel the waves flowing against her mind. She could feel where they were weaker, could trail the path that made them stronger. Just like the eye can centre on the point at which a stone enters the water, she knew with certainty where to find the source of this disturbance. This vessel was different from all the others, how or why she did not know, could this be the one? If she could feel excitement, right now she would have. The only thing Ikiryo did feel, was purpose. She was single minded in her pursuit. Finally she had something to follow.
The journey had been long and arduous. Many of the Burakumin that had begun with her, had not finished. Those that were left were the most suitable for the task at hand anyway. She had no need for those that would try to talk to her, most learned this quickly enough. Others had perverse personality traits she couldn’t abide in a thug. For instance one had decided along the way that he drew a line at some things, after all. Not willing to kill a babe after they had robbed and gutted both of its parents. The fat one, the butcher had no such issues, launching the little boy into a nearby tree. While, commendably she thought, his skinny companion drove a knife into the back of our new found saint. The Cult was no place for moral dilemmas.
Ikiryo surveyed the area surrounding the vessel’s domain. She was aware that the isolation of the family home was quite a stroke of luck. If anything went wrong there would be no local militia or do gooding neighbours to interfere. Out here there was no one to help she reflected. She would still be cautious though; deciding to stick to the old routine that had served her so well previously. She was almost crushed by the sense of importance she felt surrounding this vessel. So she had taken her time, no rushing in here. By the forest she would wait, her Burakumin could conceal themselves amongst the trees. The stream would conceal any noise they may make, the fat one had his uses but the moans and groans of the glutton’s belly could wake the dead.
Finally night was upon her, the trap was set, everything was in place. Ikiryo considered the meadow and knew that some would think it beautiful. She thought this poetic with what would occur tonight. The moon was a slit in the sky, a weak silvery sickle, casting little light. She watched as the girl tip toed across the porch of house. Then she made the goat’s head she was holding make another of its whining cries. What was it about little girls that made them have to help animals? She wondered. As expected the girl moved towards the sound and towards her trap.
As she moved closer, Ikiryo noted to herself that she didn’t feel fear from the girl, unusual. As the girl closed the gap her steps became halting until she came to a stop; about halfway from her home to the forest. Ikiryo was unperturbed, again using the goats head to cry out. The girl did not move, instead she let out a piecing call, “Mother, Father.” Ikiryo stood looking on, collecting her thoughts, she knew the Burakumin would react soon if she didn’t gesture an order. From the house came a noise, followed by the girl’s parents rushing onto the porch, candle in hand. Ikiryo decided it had to be done tonight, she signalled the Burakumin and they left their hiding places. Her father had spotted her and was calling her name “Aiko, Aiko come here.” Aiko’s parents Shiro and Masayuki, were perplexed by their daughters late night wanderings. That is until they saw the rabble approaching their daughter from the forest. Their bewilderment turned to raw, cold fear. Shiro picked a small knife he used for gutting fish from beside his porch chair and ran towards his daughter, his wife right behind him.
Ikiryo watched on, silly little girl has got her parents killed. She stepped out into the moonlit meadow, her movement momentarily drew the mother’s attention away from her daughter and onto Ikiryo. A moment was all she needed, as Masayuki’s gaze met Ikiryo’s she froze. They say the eyes are a window to the soul. Ikiryo’s soul was a dark and terrible place, a portal to the void itself. Within seconds the once loving and healthy face of Masayuki became a twisted and shrivelled mask of horror, her soul lost forever. Aiko’s mother dropped dead without a scream.
Aiko stood frozen to the spot, her head the only thing responding to her will. She watched as the geisha emerged from the forest, turned to see the men change direction to meet her father. She knew what type of men these were and that her lovely, caring father was no match for them, no matter how brave. She saw her mother, Masayuki, fall midstride as she came to the rescue. The look on her mother’s face as she fell would never leave Aiko. Her head moved involuntarily back to her father, in time to see the rogues toying with him. Shiro’s attacks missing wildly, as they moved in and around him slashing at his legs till he fell. Then like a pack of wolves they descended upon him hacking at his body. Her little heart nearly ripped in two as she watched him try to crawl towards her… before a tall, skinny beast grabbed his head by the hair and plunged a knife through the back of his neck. Their blood lust sated. They retreated to the edge of the forest, eyes fixed on the geisha. Aiko’s eyes followed their gaze to the geisha, lithely crossing the meadow towards her. She felt scared now for the first time, feeling bile rise up in her throat. Ikiryo finally felt the pleasant warmth of the girls fear, radiating from her like a well stoked brazier. As she stood over the girl, she felt a culmination of all of her work, she knew she would finally be realising her purpose. She readied herself to kiss the girl, preparing her, Aiko they had called out to her, to become a vessel.
As the woman drifted closer Aiko realised this was no geisha, she could see the awful stitches that held its eyes open and its mouth shut. As it stood over her, her heart felt like it would burst from her chest. Then she spotted a butterfly. Time slowed as she watched it flutter about the geisha’s head. Beauty and the beast. The sight of it reminded Aiko of happier days, of warm sun and her happy parents. She felt the image calm her and then she screamed a silent scream. The blast shocked Ikiryo. She was disorientated briefly. Regaining her composure and swatting the butterfly into the ground with her fan. Aiko felt saddened by the blow to the butterfly but it could not pierce the peaceful feeling it had imbued her with. All the negative feelings were external to her now, removed from the scene, her pain and anguish sat as if on the outside of a bubble surrounding her.
Ikiryo frustrated by the distraction readied herself once more to kiss the girl. Suddenly a roar reverberated through the forest and out into the meadow. At the forest’s edge was a huge gorilla, like an avatar of rage it smashed through the Burakumin, sending them sprawling, tossing them aside like rag dolls. Bounding across the meadow, quickly closing the gap to Aiko and Ikiryo. The geisha calmly turned from the girl to meet the charge of the gorilla. She fixed it with her deadly gaze and watched as it came to a halt before her. It stood and roared in anger before her, its great shoulders shaking under her power, yet it held her stare. Reaching forward it grabbed her with a huge hand. To touch the geisha is death, the gorilla’s hand started to burn, dreadful smells wafted down to Aiko. The gorilla growled, a deep rumbling sound, as it continued to stare deep into the geisha’s eyes. Slowly it raised Ikiryo from the floor, before flinging her into the air, to land in a very un-lady like manner, many yards away.
Gorilla and girl stood now looking at one another, Aiko could see the fury of the animal, she could also sense its pain. Its foes defeated the gorilla grimaced when it put its burned hand on the floor. Tentatively Aiko reached for its hand, gently placing her own against it. Its huge palms swallowed her entire hand, energy rushed between them.
And then her thoughts fell to her mother and father, she ran to Shiro first, blood from a hundred wounds soaking his robes and the meadow floor. She would bring him back. Aiko could sense her father immediately, she could feel his life drain away just like the stag. So she reached out for him, she felt his spirit but she couldn’t hold it. Like trying to hold onto sand, he poured away through the fingers of her mind. She fought using every ounce of herself to get a grip. She couldn’t. Aiko carried on trying until all she could feel was a whisper… Aiko, we love you. Then darkness.
The gorilla looked at its hand, the burning and pain were gone, he tried to put it on the ground it was fine. He looked on the girl now, her body was shuddering against the man’s dead body and then she collapsed against it. The gorilla saw the girl’s enemies begin to stir. He wanted, no had primal urges, to finish what he had started with the lady thing. Somehow he knew though, he had to protect the little girl. Torn, he leapt to where the girl lay, scooping her up like a leaf and carrying her to the forest. The groggy Burakumin scrambled to retreat out of his path.
Aiko slowly came round from her slumber. The first rays of dawn were streaming through the arched window. Her little body wracked with aches and pains. She felt strange, empty. Where am I? This was not her own room, the walls were stone, where hers were wood, even the air tasted different, colder, the fragrance of pine outweighing the sweet smelling flowers of home. As she came to, she fought her brain to work through the haze and recall where she was and why. Frustratingly nothing, and then, like the first chips of ice to fall from a glacier before half the world shears away, she remembered staring into a gorilla’s face. Then as the protective dam her mind had constructed gave way, the night of horror flooded her conscious thoughts. Mere moments before she had wrestled with her sub-consciousness for these memories, now they flooded her brain unbidden, unwanted. She cried out tortured by her thoughts, the massive pile of furry hair at her bedside shifted. It turned, once again she was looking into the eyes of the gorilla, my gorilla she realised. It snorted at her and turned its back on her once more. Crying gently, she reached out and entwined her hands in his fur, this time raising a dismissive grunt. Heedless of the gorilla’s complaints she moved, shedding her own covers, part climbing, part wriggling into the mass of hair and arms. Here she found comfort. In the warmth of her hero, she was able to control her thoughts, shutting out the pain. Aiko drifted away, into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Master Ekusa looked in on the girl from time to time. Her and her companion had been the talk of the temple for the last two days. She had not woken since she arrived, unconscious, nestled in the arms of the mighty silverback. What trauma’s she had faced to solicit such sleep he could only imagine. He could only be thankful that some force higher than himself had led the gorilla to the temple.
Ekusa was as versed as most in the ways of nature, himself having formed a strong relationship with his friend the Kitsune. This was different however, the two were inextricably linked somehow. The gorilla was a brute of nature, strong and powerful, bristly and wary of strangers. And yet he had come to the temple to be surrounded by men. Allowing himself to be led to a vacant monk’s cell where the girl could lay. From there he had not left her side.
And now, as Ekusa looked into the cell the girl was wrapped up in the gorilla. The sight made Master Ekusa chuckle quietly to himself. The gorilla’s head swung round, angrily it glared at Ekusa, Oh dear, you are in something of a predicament aren’t you thought Ekusa bringing the smile back to his face.
Over the coming cycles the girl settled in well at the temple, her laugh lightening the mood of any that heard it. She reminded Ekusa fondly of a time when Kenko and Yumi were young, running around the place shattering the monks peace. No one’s tranquillity was as affected as much as her companion’s though. He was ever present at her side. Ekusa laughed to remember Aiko’s tricks. One time, Aiko’s gorilla had been lazily watching the girl play with her beloved doll; a gift from Riku, who always knew how to make people feel comfortable. As she had played the gorilla lounged in the shade of the temple’s willow trees. He had dozed off to the tinkling sound of her laughter and the wind brushing gently through the leaves overhead. Then he had noticed her laughter had stopped. One eye opened ever so slightly, slowly, suspiciously to see what she was up to now… she was gone… and then like a wailing banshee she had shattered the serenity leaping out of the tree and onto his back. Many monks had come to see what all the commotion was only to see the girl hanging on for dear life. The sight of a small girl clinging to the back of a silverback would normally have brought great consternation. This scene only brought forth laughter though. Ekusa had tittered as he felt feelings of empathy for the poor gorilla, King of the jungle, that would make Aiko a princess I guess. Another time Aiko had tied pretty pink bows in the beast’s hair while he slept. Unbeknownst to him he had wandered the temple after her, tall and proud, ribbons blowing in the wind King of the jungle, indeed!