Exotic Herbs, Exotic Places May 9, 2021 15:26:32 GMT
Post by Arley on May 9, 2021 15:26:32 GMT
Given that things didn't go to plan with your training, and you've proven to be way stronger than originally anticipated, I'm going to have you perform a very special task for me. I'm sending you into the forest of terror, a special place between this world and the next. Retrieve for me a sample of the paradise herb that grows within. Be warned, however, you will be confronted by every foe you've ever faced once inside!
The warning she had been given was hardly something she needed when she really thought about it; Roshi had been effusive with his praise after the storm had passed on and had commended her quick thinking, even if he had been somewhat disappointed by her lack of ability when it came to sensing energy. Still he had dedicated some time to the notion and reassured her that while it felt and looked somewhat stupid right now the talent would come to her in time, that all she could do was pracise diligently and work on the things he had told her and that, when the ability awoke in her, she would be able to look back upon the regime he had given her and see how it all made sense. She was a little suspicious about that considering the requirements made sense, meditation and the like, up until they had listed clothing requirements and locational ones as well, such as needing to sit cross legged under a warm shower or to meditate in only ‘what is essential for deemed modesty’ but so far the pervert had treated her well and lead and guided her true, she was willing to give him and his methods the benefit of the doubt in that regard. In that regard he had chosen to repay her faith with faith of his own, eschewing his usual method of giving an alumnus their post graduate training by lashing them to a tree, pissing off a hive of bees and then telling them to avoid being stung for a day and instead he had revealed an egress into a realm that wasn’t entirely like the one she knew.
The forest of terror, he called it; a realm betwixt, a place somewhere between the living realm and the hereafter in which a number of things grew and lived that had properties that trended towards the sublime. He’d sent her in for something he called the paradise herb with the warning that she was to neither eat it nor attempt to intoxicate herself with it, that she was to bring it back so that it could be safely prepared as in its unbridled and natural form the thing was potent enough to send her the rest of the way towards that other realm. Naturally she had no intent on doing the latter forewarned status and neither was she in the habit of grazing upon random plants like her callsign’s namesake was but she considered the warning as duly noted regardless and wondered just what in the seven hells Roshi intended to use the thing for if it was capable of ending lives. It wasn’t overly her concern, all she had to do was retrieve the thing and, going by the picture Roshi had shown her in one of the journals he had kept in his youth, it was certainly something that would stand out to her when she found it. Seemingly ordinary the leafy plant possessed its own aura, something even she would be able to feel pressing at her mind; and so she had come, at his behest, entering the forest through its egress… the open mouth of a statute on an island remote from Kame House.
The trees were dark and spindly here as though they had never known daylight and the weight of the place was crushing down upon her almost instantly; she had been warned that the spirits of those who she had slain would have illusory life here and would be eager for revenge and yet there were precious few who could stand in that category. She had no true fears of what was here, no worries about what she would happen across or face simply because her entire list of victims thus far boiled down to… nothing much really, a couple of people trying to breach quarantine and nothing else, she hadn’t lived long enough to rack up a body count. There was nothing to fear from a handful of civilians after all and she had been doing her duty, so what concern was there truly for her? The answer would come swiftly enough, the figures of those civilians emerging from the shadows and the woman raising a firearm, one swift shot to each of them putting the figures back down, at which point they simply faded out of existence. This was supposed to be some sort of rite of passage for the man’s training and yet it seemed that the hardest part was going to be finding the thing… At least until the knocking sound began, the steady thuk, thuk of something being pounded by a hammer of some variety. Locals then, people lived in various places after all and surely there were many like her who had nothing to fear and no skeletons in her closet to be drawn upon; she could ask them about the whereabouts of her herb. Following the echoes of the sound through the trees the woman slowly moved deeper and deeper into the forest, enticing of the way the underbrush grew denser, the trees giving way to spindly pines and patches of thick vines and nettles… it was a slow gradient, slow enough that she never even noticed how dark and malign the environment was becoming as the forest dug deeper to find something that could be used against its visitor.
Thuk, thuk, THUNK!
The last sound seemed to come from everywhere and the sensation that she was no longer alone in the woods suddenly stole over Arley as she turned and looked around, realising just how gloomy the place had become; moving forwards quietly the woman was tense, highly strung and wary when she found the source of the sound, or rather the origin of it. Lying on the ground, with a thick metal nail pounded through their chest where the heart would have been, was one of the figures she had shot at that barricade, tears still wet at the edges of their closed eyes, blood still warm and trickling from the body. The woman felt a chill run through her body at the sight, a spasm in her chest causing her to wince and grasp at her chest… it wasn’t anything real, it wasn’t anything to worry about, spasms happened from time to time and who was to say that she hadn’t been made flawed? What was before her wasn’t anything to worry about, no, Roshi had warned her that the palace would play tricks, that it would feed on her Ki if she used it. She’d laughed at that one, but now she was realising that while she was carrying a firearm with her and indeed a knife she would have felt a lot safer if she had been easily able to hurl blasts of energy. You didn’t need to draw them for a start, you didn’t have to think about it if you were skilled or talented… you didn’t have to be vulnerable for those few precious seconds while you drew, aimed, squeezed…
Moving quickly the woman set a pace off in a different direction, aiming to leave the scene behind her as fast as she could, fleeing without actually taking to her heels in case it gave something any ideas about chasing; it still felt as though she were being watched and the fear had trickled in now, like the blood leaking from that body, it had taken root and was beginning to blossom. She had been told that she would face those she had killed here but she had thought that it had meant in battle, like those spectres when she had first passed through the stone statue’s maw… not this, not like this. The sound rang out again and the woman flinched visibly, the echoes ringing it all around them; picking a direction at random the soldier moved quickly, hoping against hope that she would avoid whatever was causing that sound and whatever it left in its wake. She wasn’t so lucky, the next clearing she reached was more a thicket with some empty space, another pair of those fallen hammered to the trees, Arley’s eyes glancing at the nails through their wrists and feeling a sudden sting of pain in her own, her firearm falling from suddenly nerveless fingers. She moved to pick it up when a shuffling sound came and she made a swift, tactical choice; leaving the gun on the ground the woman turned and fled, pushing through the undergrowth as though hell itself was chasing her which, if she were honest, it felt as though it were.
After running for what seemed like an age the hunted rabbit came to a halt, leaning against one of the dark pines and gasping for breath; this wasn’t what Roshi had told her the place would be like, this wasn’t what she had been expecting and she was certain that she was lost, entirely, utterly lost. She knew only that she was being hunted and that whatever was here had visited cruelty upon the pitiful souls she’d had to put down; it hadn’t been her fault that they’d had to die on that barricade, it was the orders passed down after all! The heart virus couldn’t be stopped, only contained and delayed right now so they had to keep it limited, they had to stop it from spreading; the few had to perish for the sake of the many, she knew that, she agreed with that, its why she’d been able to take those shots instead of the squad she had been assigned to serve with! It had been her duty that had killed them, she’d let them have their warning, she’d given them enough chances… they’d chosen to die, it wasn’t her fault!
“Then why does it still hurt you so?”
The words came and it was only the insistence of her ears that convinced her that she hadn’t merely thought the words; the tone and cadence matched her own perfectly and the sounds of footfalls on the underbrush came through once again; exhausted and tired Arley drew her knife and stepped backwards, watching the shadows as if defying them to come closer… and come closer they did. A figure in a simple white dress, both hands behind her back and yet clearly holding a heavy mallet and a long, thick nail in them; her expression was serene and peaceful, welcoming even, were it not for those closed eyes and the blood flecked into her long white hair, a whiteness mirrored in Arley’s skin tone as the blood drained from her features, blanching her in terror. The figure that approached her was her, insofar as it mattered outside a few minor details such as her attire and her hair length; the silent girl came to a halt a few steps away, as though waiting for an answer. When none came the figure let out a light, girlish giggle that unsettled Arley to her very core before those eyes opened, ruby red irises watching her intently. “Do you know the difference between regret and remorse, I wonder?” The being suddenly surged forwards and Arley screamed, flinging a blast of energy forward that only seemed to add more depth to the assailant, the figure barreling them over, straddling their chest, the nail already in position, the hammer raised high. Gripped by fear, facing what seemed to be the end the fight went out of her, the rabbit relaxing instead, tension fading, accepting what was coming; her duty didn’t excuse her actions and she knew it, she’d known they would haunt her and accepted the burden nonetheless after all. She couldn’t argue it…she couldn’t say it was unfair to be served the same thing she’d served others.
Yet the end didn’t come, instead there was a lessening of the pressure, a sense of a weight lifting from her chest; opening her eyes Arley watched as the illusion this place had created began to fade away, smiling faintly. “Perhaps we do after all then…” In moments the figure was gone entirely, the woman panting for breath in relief, head tilting to the side and eyes finding themselves drawn to a small thicket and the faintly glowing plants within the underbrush… the herb she had been tasked with gathering. Crawling over to it the woman hesitated just before placing her hand upon it before gently using her knife to cut the plant at its base. Standing up the trees seemed less ominous, the statue’s egress visible through the no longer gloomy stands of pines. Just how much of this place was real, how much of it was inside her head? Moving towards the exit her foot touched steel and she assumed she had found her firearm, yet glancing down a long, thick nail was rolling gently away where she had nudged it with her foot. “To be willing to bear pain…” The whisper came to her mind, from somewhere in the darkness of the forest and the depths of her heart it represented. “....is half the atonement.” Shuddering the woman scooped up the nail and hurried out, eager to get out of this place and back to the relative normality of Roshi’s island home; as she passed back through the stone something watched her go, wood and steel in its hands, accepting of the trade it had been given.