“Tamao, we can’t just rush in like that--”
“There are civilians in danger!” Tamao slammed her hands on the table. “We have to do something!”
“And if we act now, the people we swore to protect might be in danger because of us!” Ichie yelled back.
“They already are in danger!”
Rui sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose as her captain and the rookie argued once more. Yuyuko, ever the diligent esper that she is, sensed a supernatural presence in the nearby town of Kyoto, confirmed by Fumi when she patrolled the town. The yokai(s) in question, the infamous Shuten-doji and her merry band of misfit oni, had been making routine trips down Mount Oe and into the city, taking the women and children as they killed everyone else. It sickened the Ghost Patrol Squad, but Rui agreed with Ichie.
“Going in without a plan is never a good idea,” Rui spoke up. “Reinforcements won’t be coming for at least another week, and if we get ourselves killed now, no one else will be able to protect the city.”
“So you’re all just going to let all those innocents get hurt?!” Tamao argued. “ I can’t believe this is the infamous Ghost Patrol Squad. I thought you were all better than this.”
“Rookie, you’re out of line--”
“Don’t you dare insinuate that I-- that we don’t care about innocents.” Rui stood up, intimidating Tamao into silence. “Because my heart bleeds for them. I hate that we can’t save them all, but that’s something you have to deal with in this line of work or else you aren’t cut out for this.”
Rui stood there, a ball of rage threatening to burst out of her chest before she sighed and turned around, walking away from the group. “I’m going to the shrine. Don’t follow me.”
“Bad call there, Tamao.” Yuyuko shook her head as Rui exited the meeting room. “Rui’s an orphan you know. Her parents were lost to yokai attacks, so she’s got a personal score to settle.”
“Oh.” Tamao bit her lip, now feeling terrible. “And the shrine.”
“Oh, it’s the shrine-- well, ruins more like, of a local wind goddess. No one knows her name anymore, but the orphanage Rui grew up in was run by a few of her devout followers. Since Rui first came to the orphanage in the fall, she gave up her old name and gave herself a new one. Akikaze, autumn wind, as an homage to the orphanage and the wind goddess.”
Rui smiled, letting her anger melt as she entered the area of the ruins. The wind played with her ponytail, getting stronger as she walked closer to the ruins of the shrine. She could feel hot air tickling her neck and brushing against her, becoming less like air and more like a breath. By the time Rui entered the shrine fully, she felt warm arms wrap around her.
“Shiori-sama.” Rui breathed as she turned around and kneeled. “Hello.”
“Rui, My Champion.” Shiori smiled gently.
The two stood there, before bursting into laughter.
“‘Shiori-sama?’” the blonde giggled. “That’s new.”
“A-and what about ‘My Champion?’” Rui blushed. “That’s making me sound more like a hero than an officer.”
“Because you are a hero, My Champion. And in a technical sense, I am your patron goddess.” Shiori smiled.
Rui sat down on a boulder, a chunk of the roof that had fallen a long time ago. “I don’t feel like it sometimes.”
“What’s wrong, Rui?” Shiori sat next to her, giving the other girl a hug.
“Just… is it bad that I’ve given up on trying to save everyone?” Rui melted into Shiori’s touch. “I do, I really do, it’s just… so hard. Thinking you can save everyone and being devastated when you can’t.”
“No, not at all.” Shiori shook her head, burying her face into Rui’s neck. “I think... it’s really tricky, in your line of work. Having to save people, fighting yokai on a near weekly basis, I personally can’t fault you for not wanting to get your hopes up. You have a big, soft heart on the inside even though you’re this tough, unshakable swordsman on the outside. It hurts you when other people are hurt, even if there was nothing you can do to change it, and I think it’s really telling of what kind of person you are. A good one.”
Rui sighed. The thoughts still plagued her, definitely, but Shiori had eased a huge weight off her shoulders. “Thank you. I appreciate the kind words.”
“You don’t need to thank me for anything.” Shiori cupped Rui’s face, leaning in.
Every time they kissed, Rui swore that Shiori was using her magic on her because she felt absolutely breathless every single time. Shiori was a wind goddess, her domain was the sky, and yet there was something earthy about her. Maybe it was the Uva tea that Shiori was so fond of, or maybe it was something else. Either way, Rui loved it. Rui loved her.
“I love you.” Shiori whispered, leaning her head against Rui’s. “I’m sorry I can’t be here entirely.”
“I love you too.” Rui whispered back. “And I don’t mind. I’ll take any time I can get with you.”
“That’ll change soon, actually.” Shiori smiled. “You know how I’m technically a stand-in of the official wind goddess that was fragmented? Well, the other gods have found the missing fragment, a yokai.”
“That wouldn’t happen to be Shuten-doji, would it?” Rui asked.
“It would, actually.” Shiori smiled. “I came to tell you this because the other fragments of the wind goddess are also going to be at Mount Oe. The gods plan to put her back together, but not all of them can physically manifest in the physical realm like I can, much less use enough of their powers to do something like reform the original wind goddess.”
“You need my help.” Rui extrapolated.
“You’re free to refuse me if it’s too much pressure, but--mph!” Shiori was suddenly cut off by Rui’s lips on hers.
“Yes, of course I’ll help you.” Rui pulled away, a soft expression on her face. “You didn’t even need to ask, really, since that’s the Ghost Patrol’s next mission: taking care of that yokai. Speaking of which…” Rui looked up to the sky, the sun already setting. “I should be heading home soon. I wish you could come with me, but…”
“My power and presence is chained to the shrine.” Shiori sighed, leaning into Rui a little more. “For the time being, at least. Once the wind goddess is back, the balance will be restored and us gods will be free to do as we please. Like staying with you.”
Rui smiled, pressing a kiss to Shiori’s hair. “I’d like that.”
“Oh, before you go, let me give you my blessing.” Shiori said. At Rui’s nod, Shiori cupped Rui’s face with her hands, drawing symbols and chanting in a language Rui didn’t understand. She felt a rush of power, and it took all of Rui’s self control and training as a swordsman to not let it overwhelm her or get to her head. She couldn’t describe it other than Shiori, her light laugh and calmness and caring, but also her sorrow, her anger, her self loathing. She saw flashes of Fumi, of the feared oni, of a disgraced ninja, of so many people. She saw the fall of the wind goddess, her hubris having finally caught up to her. She saw Shiori mourn for the wind goddess, mourn for her sister, before meeting Rui and finally pulling herself back together. She saw everything.
Shiori pulled away, a nervous look on her face. “Well?”
Rui took Shiori’s hands and pressed a kiss over them. “I’ll bring her back, I promise.”
Rui would follow through with that promise, no matter what.