My Dear Sacrifice
The story of an unusually literal 'bodyguard' whose charge is less than happy with her current arrangements.
(Chapters 1 & 2 complete. Chapter 3 in progress.)
Writing My Dear Sacrifice for NaNoWriMo2015. I apologize for frequent updates on this story; I'm working on this as somewhere to keep it typed and safe. Thank you Tablo!
I'll leave the teaser until I have enough material that it isn't needed anymore.
"It is a ridiculous notion to consider that I, of all people, should need an escort!" The carriage jumped as she slammed her fist into the open seat at her side. "I am your daughter! You know better than any that I am fully capable of protecting myself; you've taught me everything I know!"
"It is precisely," the older man ran a hand over his trim beard, once a rich brown and now spotted with gray, much of which he attributed to the dark-haired woman sitting across from him, "Precisely because you are my daughter that I know your strengths, weaknesses, limits, and boundaries. You may argue until the sun ceases to burn that you know that land and those people, but they are no longer what they once were, do you understand me?"
"That is through no fault of their own!" the young woman burned in response. Her father sighed deeply, taking in her narrow eyes and steely glare. She looked so much like her mother had. Waves of ebony fell in lengths to her shoulders, every strand as strong as her personality. Delicately fashioned eyebrows and a small mouth made her an undeniably refined girl, for which he sometimes despaired that she was so blessed. If only she had been graced with the common sense he remained unable to drill into her reckless mind.
"What you lack, my daughter, is a shield." Virgil raised a hand to still her protests. "I have found you one the likes of which nothing can compare. This will be no mere escort, Saya."
The crash of the falls echoed across stone and wood as a single youth stood beneath its surge. A final cleansing ceremony before he would bond himself to another in a way that few would ever understand. His bare chest rose and fell upon a slow breath, allowing the clean air to fully penetrate his lungs. He knew no more this time where he would be going, or with whom, than he had the last time he had been chosen. Neither did he know if he would ever be returning.
Well, that was his life, after all.
A soft tug on the reins and the coach slowed as the bays pulling them came to a gradual, obedient stop. The broad, empty courtyard was not welcoming, nor was any aspect of the massive shrine they had entered nearly a half hour prior. It seemed whatever resided here did not even wish to stay, but was clawed by the trees and dredged at by vines and shrubbery, forced to remain. The mountainous terrain was so deeply out of the way of civilized people that Saya was beginning to wonder if her father was not just chasing a myth, and this time dragging her into it.
"Do you have the token?"
She jumped at her father's voice, blushing foolishly as she dug out a rosary from her bag. "Yes, though I still do not understand the significance of bringing such a valuable gift to be thrown away at a complete stranger. Mother would be ashamed of you. She wore these always."
"Which makes them precious to you?" he prompted her.
"Of course it does! They were Mother's!" Saya returned indignantly.
"Calm yourself," her father raised his hand, "In accordance with their ways, what you present must be precious of heart. It will be returned to you when you arrive safely on our shores once more."
"Gibberish!" she scoffed.
"Gesundheit," he grinned.
"Sir?" The coachman was standing anxiously at their opened door, uncertain for their banter.
"Good man, Jarvis." Virgil nodded firmly to the whip. "Come along, Saya, this is no time to bicker."
With an irritable stamp of her foot Saya exited the coach, keeping her nose in the air and a good yard of empty space between herself and her father. The tension between them abated somewhat as Jarvis sat behind the bays once again, their nickers betraying their growing unease, and so reminding Saya of hers. The courtyard was absolutely desolate, sending a course of chills up her spine that had nothing to do with the day's more than pleasant weather.
"Now where in the hells are they?" Virgil asked gruffly, crossing sturdy arms in growing irritation.
"Father!" Saya admonished him in a hushed tone. This place was said to be a temple of sorts. Whether she agreed upon their being here or not, he could at least show proper respect!
"We've arrived at the height of the day, as requested," the man griped nonetheless. "I expect my negotiations to go through in a timely and-"
He was interrupted by his daughter elbowing him in his side, turning his frown upon her until he saw that she pointed across the way to where two figures were now just able to be made out amongst the foliage. They were clad in black robes lined with ribbons of red and gold at the seams, the both of them shrouded by hoods.
"Well if that isn't about time."
"This is how they appeared to you as well?" Saya asked cautiously.
"Devils, no. I've never been here in my life. I sent men to stake out the rumors of this place before I ever considered dragging my precious daughter into these wild mountains."
"That's very comforting."
The banter paused again when the two hooded figures began to move, measured strides giving no indication of a rush to meet the outsiders. Saya and her father watched as the figures reached nearly halfway to them before stopping, whereupon Virgil grew very close to offended.
The coachman quickly cleared his throat and gave a nod toward the hooded figures. "Pardon, Sir? I believe they're waiting for you."
Upon closer inspection it was revealed that the two figures had halted just inside of a discolored circle in the dirt, shades lighter than the areas around them, and very clearly inviting as a middle ground. With an indignant harrumph that his daughter had clearly inherited from his side of the family, Virgil began towards them, Saya following uncertainly on his heels.
As they approached the mysterious figures drew back their hoods. The first was revealed to be an elderly fellow with a shining cap and a long, gray wisp of a beard. The second was shown to be a man who was only just that, a boy just barely outside of the realm of youth, though he stood a good half a foot taller than his elder. His face betrayed his age, for he had a youthful charm that would have been rather dashing were it to be put to use. Instead, he and the man beside him were expressionless, or at the most severely serious.
Meeting them inside of the circle were Saya and her father, complete contrasts to the robed figures. Virgil was a burly man, widely-built, and though he was graying it was clear he had some years of fight left in him. A crisp suit in a deep tan and lined with brass fitted him at every seam, and seemed to glisten wealth. Saya, on the other hand, was of a stout build. Petite, but well-curved. She was the shortest amongst them. She wore simply a black, sleeveless blouse, arced around her neck and shoulders in delicately refined bands of cloth; and a dark navy, layered skirt, touched up with a splash of purple in her sash.
The elderly figure nodded first to Virgil, and then to Saya, letting his eyes linger on her for a moment. Saya did not need to be told to keep her back straight as she returned his gaze, the spirit in her eyes reflecting deep, silvery pools of passion and determination. It appeared to meet his liking.
"Welcome," he spoke in a rasping tone. "I am Migawari Ghen, Master of this shrine." He looked to Virgil as he asked, "The child's name...?"
"Komuro Saya." The elder 'Komuro' declared in a voice returned to reason. It was a rare tradition to take upon the surname of one's wife, and he went by it no longer, lest he had matters to address with his daughter, but this was one such time that he would abandon his birth name and title and enforce kinship instead.
The elder nodded thoughtfully, looking at the sapling beside him before speaking again. "Allow me to introduce to you, Migawari Yagi."
"This is the boy?" Saya's father looked over the youth critically.
"He is one of our very finest, I must assure you," Ghen rasped. "Yagi-kun is at the prime of age, and has experienced-"
"Where is your true finest?" Virgil asked critically.
Ghen grew solemn and answered slowly. "If Yagi-kun does not please you, I am afraid our services cannot be of use to you."
"And for what reason is that?"
"Yagi-kun is the youth your men were told was available, and he is the only Migawari presently available still. Do you not wish for him?"
Virgil made an uncomfortable sound in his throat and looked over Yagi again. He was appropriately tall for what he had been seeking, and from what he could see beneath heavy robes the boy had an athletic build that would satisfy his use as a shield for his daughter. It was something else about the boy that bothered him. His hair was an untamed, feathery mass of black, a shock of bangs falling over staggeringly bright amber eyes. Defiant eyes. Though they spoke of him as though he were not standing here, the boy's face remained impassive, and it set Virgil's nerves on edge. Nonetheless...
"If he is everything you say, he will suffice."
"Do I get nothing of a say on this old magic?" Saya interrupted, and Ghen smiled grimly.
"My dear child, you and this boy will be the only two that matter come a few moments time."
"And what if I should choose to refuse this binding? With all due respect, I have no -"
"Saya, hold your tongue," Virgil warned. "You wish to make this journey, do you not? To aid your friends? These were my conditions, and as you are here I am under the assumption that you have agreed to my terms."
Saya shied at her father's tone, lowering her head in defeat. "You know I will not give up my cause. If this is the only way to gain passage, then you leave me no choice." She turned to Ghen. "Please, let us get this over with."
"As you see fit, Komura-dono," Ghen replied, placing a gnarled hand upon Yagi's shoulder. "Do you have a token to present to this youth?"
Once more Saya removed the juzu from her bag, hesitantly offering it to the old monk. She was falsely relieved when he shook his head, pushing Yagi forward instead.
"Bestow upon Yagi-kun your offering with your own hands, Komura-dono, else this will not take effect. Where would you have them placed?"
"The right..." Saya hesitated to answer, thinking of how her mother had worn them. Upon her words Yagi pulled back the sleeve of his robes and offered up to her his wrist, still without a word. She placed the beaded juzu delicately upon his skin, but Yagi did not allow his arm to fall, standing expectantly.
"Place your hands upon them, Komura-dono, if you will." Ghen encouraged. Saya looked to her father, who was nodding along with everything being said, and found none of the comfort she had hoped to see there. She placed her hands upon the twenty-seven beads, glancing up at the man that now wore them. She did not see the defiance that her father had, deep within that amber glow; but a sadness and a longing that made her rethink yet again what she was about to do. Tearing her eyes back to the beads she could not help but notice the difference in their skin color. She had a faint foreign darkening, an olive and mocha tint to her skin, and her eyes were delicately narrow and drawn. These men, the Migawari, were of a lighter tone. She wondered if they were native to this land, for it was a spectacular thing to find a true descendant of the old ages still living on the continent.
Her thoughts were torn from her as the old monk began to chant words she could not understand, and the beads beneath her fingers grew warm. A reasonable fear began to grow, and when the beads became almost too hot to touch she made to let them go, only to find that she could not. Her fingers were bound to them, and with a sickening discovery she looked to see that the beads were bound to Yagi as well, burning deeply into his flesh as it began to give off a gut-wrenching smell. Panicked eyes sought his, but Yagi did not look in the least phased by what was happening, and just before she lost her nerve completely the chanting stopped, and her fingers came away.
Breathing heavily, she took several steps away from the other man. "What sorcery was that? You did not mention that we were to be burned, our skin melted!"
"Please take a look at your hands, Komura-dono." Ghen encouraged. Saya had not realized she was clasping them so tightly against her chest. She pulled them away hesitantly, only to find that her hands were unmarred. "How?"
She looked up to see Yagi holding up his hands, where the wounds she had felt herself receiving had manifested on his body, and where the juzu had also driven painfully into his skin. "The ritual is complete," he spoke at last, his tone honeyed and rich. "I am in your service, Komura-dono."
Jarvis did not usually consider himself to be an unlucky man. He was well payed by the Komura family, decently housed, and he loved dearly the horses that he tended to for a living. He was still young enough to be eligible, and old enough not to throw himself at just any pretty woman that caught his eye. He had the looks of a stable-hand, but he was content with himself in his light eyes and hair, considering himself a catch for the right person, whenever she chose to come along. Never before had he been troubled with the manner in which his life had been proceeding, until this day, as he was obediently driving the carriage back through the mountains to the awaiting ship at port; he began to question everything he thought he had known about his comfortable little life and job.
The smell of burnt flesh had been masked by herbs, but the sickeningly sweet combination was almost worse than the original horror. Jarvis had witnessed everything from afar, tending to the anxious bays that had wanted nothing more than to break away from this unholy place. It had taken all of his strength to soothe them into remaining. He could hear only some of what was being spoken away in that designated area, and very honestly he agreed with the young Miss Saya, a most unusual turn of events from his normal perspective. This place and these dealings were dark, and he would have preferred that his master stay out of them. Indeed, Virgil had become obsessed with the idea of it, something he had heard of long ago and easily discarded, once his daughter had requested to cross the seas and travel to Alun. He'd sent lesser experienced men to investigate the cause, which Jarvis had found to be his initial tip-off that something was amiss. Virgil was never one to shy from an adventure. He had made quite a name for himself in all of the places he had gone, and the rarities he had returned with. Why was he not investigating such a rare phenomenon with his own hands now that a reason to travel was upon him?
He was in a foul mood for the three days it took for his men to return, and when they did they were ashen-faced but full of talk. The rumors were true, and the Migawari clan existed. The day of meeting was less than a week from their return, and Jarvis had rarely seen his master so anxious to set out on a journey. "For the sake of my daughter," he had told the whip once, when he had asked.
"A shield," he had proclaimed. "For my daughter, I shall obtain her a shield like none other." Jarvis had not known what those words meant days ago, but he felt he was beginning to understand. The boy that was now seated beside Virgil and across from Saya in the carriage he led had his hands bandaged from the burns Miss Saya sworn she had taken on herself, and the precious juzu that had belonged to her mother were now embedded into the young man's flesh, assured that they would remain that way until this 'contract' was fulfilled. It churned his gut to bring this all down to the basic facts he had.
Virgil had just acquired a human scapegoat to act as a median for Miss Saya's well-being.
The old monk had explained little before he had sent Yagi to fetch his belongings and head out with his new master. "Good boy," he had praised the dark-haired youth with am empathetic pat on the shoulder, and Yagi had nodded solemnly in response.
"Excellent!" Virgil had cheered, clapping his great hands together with a sound that echoed about the otherwise silent courtyard. He strode forward to take his daughter's hands and examined them thoroughly, she in her shock having no will to pull away from such an inspection. "Most excellent," he continued, muttering now to himself.
"The token was a powerful memory, and her cause a righteous one." Ghen explained with practiced patience. "The binding ritual has been a success, and Yagi-kun is now yours to command as you see fit. But, only so long as your assertions adhere to the greater outcome of your cause, such is to the best of your belief. I pray you will understand this much."
"He will do splendidly," Virgil confirmed, patting his daughter's thick locks as he helped her to straighten up. "We'll depart at once. Fetch your things, boy," he spoke roughly to Yagi. The young Migawari exchanged a look with Ghen that fostered sorrow in the old monk's gaze, but he gave an encouraging nod to the boy. "Clean up properly before you depart."
Without so much as another word spoken, Yagi left their company. Fifteen minutes later he rejoined Virgil's enthusiastic praise to the monk Ghen of this temple and this magnificent bloodline. He had shed his robes and was now dressed in such a casual manner that one might mistake him for a normal boy of his age, and hardly the tool he had just allowed himself to become. Long sleeves of white just covered the beads he now wore, and further up his arms and about his torso he wore a thicker, black shirt, elegantly collared and sleeved only just past his elbows. Comfortable, many-pocketed pants of a earthly brown were worn with simple black sandals. The only things truly striking about his garb were the studded belt that had attached to it two loops of slender chain that hung from his hip, and of course the six-ringed staff that he was now carrying with him, upon his opposite shoulder looped a small draw-string bag which surely help the rest of his belongings. It was this drastic change more than anything else that slowly began to work Saya from her stupor.
"He cleans up well!" Virgil complimented. Better yet, minus perhaps that ridiculous staff, he did not present himself as a target, and therefore did not present Saya as such. Not that that was going to matter from here on out!
"Safe journey," Ghen spoke kindly towards the boy. "I expect to see you back within these walls."
"The world would have me no other place."
The pot was ready to boil over long before they had reached their destination, so it was really no surprise what was to come. Yagi had not spoken again since his departing words to the old monk, despite Virgil's insistent line of questioning. Saya had eventually grown so tense that she had raised her voice, begging her father to stop pestering the young monk. By the time they had reached the ship, Virgil was steaming. He had arranged to cross the seas to Alun with his daughter to ensure her safe passage, and was now more than ever grateful for his precognitive decision.
The clipper was called Montague, a sturdy vessel that transported men and merchandise alike across the stormy seas of Westdale. They boarded without incident, and Virgil ushered them to their quarters, where he had reserved three independent rooms, quite unnecessarily. They were near the dining hall, where they would be spending their next few meals getting to know one another. At least, that was Virgil's intention. For all Saya could have cared, she would have been rid of both of the men and continued on to Alun by herself. Naturally, her father would have nothing of that.
Yagi was dismissed from their company for the first time, and with a grateful nod the boy collected his things and took to his cabin, closing the door softly behind him.
"You're being an absolute fiend," Saya spoke quietly as only she and her father remained in the halls.
"You'll curb your tongue or dare to repeat yourself," the man warned.
"What has he done that you cannot leave his ears to rest? His hands are proof enough that the dark magic you sought has worked efficiently!"
"Be silent!" Virgil raged. "The boy is impudent, and I'll be damned if I trust my daughter's life in the hands of an impudent young monk!"
"He is damned! And I feel myself to be by way of association!"
Virgil raised a large hand, hesitating only at the horror that reflected in his daughter's deep eyes. He made slowly to lower it, wavering as tears began to brew in those silvery pools. "Mind your tongue, Saya," he warned her softly.
Dark curls whipped her face as she shook her head fiercely, taking to her room like a bolt and latching the door behind her with quivering hands.
Several hours passed in somber reflection. Saya had curled upon her bed and would not answer to her father's calls, eventually falling into a fitful sleep. Left to his own devices, Virgil had wandered the halls until the air was thick and confining, seeking refuge instead on the deck where the stormy seas only served to spark his already frayed temper. He returned below, approaching Yagi's door with heavy footsteps. His fist was heavy as he pounded on the wood, calling out simply, "Boy!"
An aggravated moment of silence passed before tender footsteps could be heard on the opposite side, a latch coming undone to reveal the disheveled young monk, fresh from sleep. His hair was even more unruly than it normally appeared, and he had shed himself down to his white shirt, exchanging his pants for a comfortable looking pair of sleepwear. "Komura-san," he greeted groggily, but his eyes, those damned eyes were still viciously sharp, far too aware, like he was playing some game with him. Virgil snapped, taking the boy up by the collar of the shirt and shaking him roughly. "You'll show some respect!"* He ground through his teeth, bewildered to see the boy smile.
"My respect is due to Komura-dono, Komura-san. I fear you ask of me more than we bargained for."
"I bought you, boy!"
"For which you have my most sincere...something or other." Yagi shrugged carelessly. "Regardless, it is your daughter whose service I am bound to, and not your own. You would do well to remember what my Grandfather spoke at the shrine. I have only one master, and only one cause to which I am committed, and those are both Komura-dono's concerns. Not yours."
The closed fist impacted so harshly that Yagi was torn from Virgil's grip, smashing into the wall behind him with an echoing thud. Virgil did not wait for the boy to regain his composure before taking a large stride over to him and grabbing him in the same way as before, shameless for the boy's now bleeding lip. "You will not speak to me that way!" the man hissed through his teeth, grip trembling.
Yagi wiped delicately at his lip before turning burning amber to lock with Virgil's dusty brown glare. "You don't really have a say in what I do."
Saya awoke with a churning in her stomach that had nothing to do with the lurching seas. She sat up slowly, blearily reminded of how she had come to find herself here in the first place. Her father had nearly struck her, and she had run, hiding in the only place she had available to her. How long ago had that been now? She glanced anxiously at the door, feeling a shiver overtake her so fiercely that it seemed to echo in her ears. Then she heard it again, more clearly. Not a sound she had made, but a sound from outside her room, the sounds of a distant scuffle. Throwing open her door, Saya ran down the hall to where the sounds seemed to be originating, finding her father beating mercilessly at a prone Yagi.
"Stop it!" She screamed, horrified by the blood on the wood.
Yagi's lip, cheek, and forehead were bruised and bleeding, and he had fallen to the floor where Virgil was kicking at his ribs with great force. Strangely, he did not look upset at his circumstances. In fact, his eyes seemed to alight when Saya came upon the scene, and she might have sworn that he smiled at her.
"Father!" she cried again, running up to him and taking his arm, trying to forcibly remove him.
"Out of the way!" Virgil threw her off easily, and she stumbled back into the wall.
"You can't do this!"
"Watch me!" Virgil announced gleefully. "I'll teach this boy a lesson if it's the last thing I do!"
Overwhelmed, Saya looked between her abusing father and the abused Yagi, whose gaze was still strong and suggestive. "Well don't just lie there! Do something to protect yourself! Stop him!"
She saw his eyes flash, and in a moment Virgil had been taken by the very foot he had been using to strike Yagi with and pulled off balance, crashing like a sack of bricks into the wood floor beneath. The audible 'crack' served as a reasonable enough cause for why the man did not immediately rise.