Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 1
Ryu scanned the ruins, but as far as he could tell there was only dust and shadows stirring in the moonlight, nothing more. This was the third location they'd visited this week, the previous two being even more decayed and destitute. The last place had even had cobwebs fluttering like curtains in the doorways and actual tumbleweeds rolling across the grounds. At least this time the buildings still had their roofs. If you tilted your head the right way, you could even still see that this place used to be some sort of temple or palace - somewhere where an ancient people wanted to flaunt their wealth and architectural mastery at any rate.
Actually, now that he thought about it, the ruins were somewhat familiar to him; he'd probably been there at least once before time and abandonment had taken their tolls.
"Do you sense anything, Kara?" he asked, turning to his companion. She was, of course, gone. Heaven help them all if the little bit ever actually stood still for+ more than a minute; the Earth would shatter from the shock. Ugh, he definitely should have acquiesced when Kara had asked to stop for coffee on the way over from their hotel. Not that Kara on caffeine was much of an improvement - the opposite in fact - but at least HE would have had the caffeine jolt to temper his mood.
Sighing heavily, he scanned the area. Kara was petite and slender, a little slip of a thing, with a fondness for old fashioned corsets, long sleeves, and tiered skirts. She called it nouveau medieval chic. Ryu called it her wannabe princess style. Either way, when coupled with her pale rosy skin and waist-length, snow-white hair, it was hard to miss Kara, even in shadows and moonlight. She tended to stick out like a sore thumb in a world of paws.
Except when she was cloaking.
"Kara! Kara, this is a poor time for hide-and-seek; please come out!"
She appeared beside him a second before hugging his arm and pressing against his side, laughing quietly. "Here I am, Ryu! Is it time to leave now? This place is creepy."
"No, honey, not yet; we're looking for something, remember?"
Kara slipped around in front of him and scrunched up her nose in distaste. "Ryu, this is not a nice place and I don't like it here. Let Daddy come hunt his own trinket; this game is boring now."
Once, Ryu was a warlord - had his own army and everything. Mortals would hear of his coming and flee, whole villages being abandoned at the mere mention of his name. He was a source of crippling terror, a living nightmare, one who soaked entire battlefields with blood and crushed whole kingdoms to dust. He used to delight in the screams and pain that echoed eternally in his wake, taking pleasure in the suffering his claws and blades birthed.
Things were so much simpler back then.
Rubbing at his temple in the vain hope his burgeoning headache would be appeased and retreat rather than flourish, Ryu growled low in his throat and tried not to bare his fangs. This wasn't Kara's fault after all. "We need to do this, Kara; your father made it clear that he expects this artefact found sooner rather than later and he is not a patient man under the best of circumstances." Not that Ryu had ever seen such circumstances, but he'd heard a rumour or two about it at least.
Kara's expression changed, becoming more serious, more shuttered, more thoughtful. "I don't want him to be mad with you; he might take you away from me and I need you, Ryu. I don't want to lose you and I don't want Daddy to replace you. What do we need to do?"
Thank you, Universe; these things always went so much more smoothly when Kara focused.
"Do you remember what we're looking for?"
"Daddy lost something a long time ago - a dagger that's very special. He needs it back now but he can't remember where he lost it."
If Ryu had a gold coin for every mess of that man's he'd been made to clean up...
"Can you scan these ruins? See if it's here?"
Did other demons have to suffer like this, Ryu wondered, or was he just extra lucky? "No as in you don't sense anything or you're not going to scan?"
"I'm not going to scan. Dad can travel around, scan his own damn ruins, and deal with the guardians himself. I like having limbs, thank you very much."
Then again, too much focus could be a bad thing.
Sighing, Ryu jabbed one hand roughly through his hair and scanned the ruins once again. He didn't sense anything but he knew from experience that Kara was more perceptive than he was; if she said - or insinuated, as the case might be - that there was a guardian around with something to protect, there probably was.
"Kara, what sort of guardian would your father be dealing with?"
She shrugged. "She's sleeping now and locked up in stone like a seal or a statue. She'll wake if anyone gets too close. We should not get too close."
"Your father wants the dagger."
She shrugged again. "So tell him where it is and he can come get it; he told us to find it, not retrieve it, so our mission is fulfilled. Done. Finito. Let's go home now, okay? I want hot chocolate. Do we have any marshmallows left? I like the way they float and bob and melt into goo. You should get whipped cream on yours; the moustache is funny."
Ryu briefly closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He and Kara had been together for nearly a hundred years - since Kara first came into her powers. They were her father's favourite tools, sent out on everything from retrievals to escorts to diplomatic missions. He'd even tried once to send them on an assassination; it had been one of two times Ryu had ever seen Kara stand up to her father and hold her ground. Those two exceptions notwithstanding, however, Kara was usually careful to follow her father's orders and wasn't one for looking for loopholes. That she was now didn't bode well.
"Kara, honey, can you sense anything else about the guardian?"
"I'm not sure. No, wait, what is she? Who is she? Who put her there? How is she bound? Can you swift her Snare?"
Kara blinked. "Whoa, that's a lot for not being sure."
"I recovered quickly. Can you find out any of the answers?"
Frowning, Kara stepped away from him, a wariness and suspiciousness he didn't like appearing in her eyes. "Ryu, I said I want to go home now."
Ryu winced. Kara was unpredictable. No, scratch that, Kara was insane. Usually, this was okay because, hey, she was cute. Sometimes though it was just one big inconvenience he sincerely wished someone else got to deal with. Anyone else. Maybe someone with a psychiatric degree.
"Ryu? Ryu, we were told to find the dagger. We've found it. The guardian...we shouldn't play with her; she's angry and vicious and not for us, okay? I want to go home."
Yes, well, so did he, but he'd prefer not to end up in her father's bad graces when he got there. It wasn't just the guardian who could potentially cost them a limb but at least the guardian gave them a chance at self-defence.
"No! We are not going in there. You can't find the dagger without me and I am not going to get it. The guardian is not nice, Ryu - NOT. NICE. We're not going in there. We're not. We're not. WE ARE NOT."
She slapped him. Out of nowhere, she just slapped him and hard enough to snap across his cheek and jerk his head with the force of it. Glaring at him, her blue-green eyes seemed to catch fire, like sunlight caught in tropical ocean waves.
"No, Ryu," she said coldly, her voice laced with steel. "We are not going to retrieve the dagger. I need you. I can't risk you. It is as simple as that. If my father wants that dagger, let him use his own chevaliers; his are infinitely more expendable than mine, or so he's always treated them."
"He will not be happy, Kara."
She actually growled, throwing up her hands in frustration and pacing away from him. "So? Ryu, you're a demon warlord, a freaking ZODIAC demon; you're much too powerful and way too old to be cowed by a sadistic mortal with a god complex. Acting like this? It's pathetic, shameful. You're like this place; ancient, once terrific and mighty, and now just a ruin of your former self, forgotten and decrepit."
"Kara, you don't remem-" Ryu began, but she cut him off again, slicing her hand through the air as though to wipe his words away.
"I'm broken, Ryu, and I know that; my father shattered me and kept a piece, an important piece. But you? You're ruined and all he had to do was slip a collar around your neck."
Her words stung. No, not true; her words were like knives, stabbing him, slicing him, cutting him. Every syllable was another blade wielded against him, all the more vicious for the truth they carried, a truth he didn't want to admit and certainly didn't want to hear. "You don't understand," he snarled.
She laughed bitterly and shook her head. "I understand completely; I am my father's creation, after all, his masterpiece. You were a wild stallion, untameable and free, the crown jewel of nature's beasts, and my father took offense at all that pride and arrogance and unchecked POWER and took it for himself because that's what he does. He broke you, made you fear him, convinced you that he was the one with the power and the strength, made you forget that you're the warrior, the hellion, the nightmare. That's okay - I get it; Dad's done it to demons a lot older and scarier than you. I guess I just...I just got caught up in your legend and expected more from you. You disappointed me, Ryu. I'll get over it. Will you?"
"You're every bit as enslaved to your father as I am, Kara, and hardly in a place to judge; you aren't punished, you're pampered." Not entirely true, but close enough.
"I play my father's game, Ryu; I'm a piece and a player at the same time, but you? You're a pawn resigned to his fate and without ambition to be more. I NEED you, don't you understand that? I desperately, completely, and absolutely need you, but I need the Ryu who led armies to victory, reduced kingdoms to smouldering cinders and ash - the Ryu who was ruthless, efficient, and brilliant. But...but I think...I think all that might be left of him are-" she gestured towards him, the wave of her hands encompassing all of him, "-these ruins."
Ryu kept silent and looked away, refusing to meet her gaze.
Kara huffed out a breath and made some small, frustrated sound, like a cross between a snort and a sigh.
"Fine," she said, " I guess that answers that. We'll do it your way, but I'm still not going to risk you. Stay here, Ryu. That's an order."
She turned on her heel and started to march away from him. He tried to step forward, to follow her, but couldn't; her command held him in place better than any cage or chain. Panic flared fast and hard, swiftly smothering his bubbling anger and icy shame.
"KARA! Wait! Where are you going?!"
"Stay, boy, just like the good little doggie you are. Me? I'm going to fetch, just like the good little doggie I am. Back in a flash, Fido."
"Kara, no! Kara? Kara! KARA!"
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