Contrary to what Ruarc might have thought about Raiko's residence after she had informed him she was a Shrinekeeper's daughter, the Irish Druid found himself in front of a smaller mansion, with respectable enough grounds, though, as suggested, they were in slight disrepair. A pull-chain hung at one side of the wrought-iron gates, with a small speaker built into the pillar behind it.
Gilt is a somewhat scrawling Japanese script was the word 'Kokoro', which was congruent with the girl's family name, so, without further ado, the gate sat there, waiting for Ruarc to do something.
The Irishman stood in front of the gates for a few moments in humbled silence as Laoise sat in a tree off to the side. He looked over the gate several times as he debated with himself whether or not to turn around an leave.
"I think you are supposed to pull the chain," Laoise suggested as the two foreign entities were slightly baffled by the set up.
"You think so?" Ruarc replied to the bird in an off hand manner. Taking a step closer he pushed slightly against the gate to see if it would move on its own. No deal. With a sigh he hesitantly reached over and tugged on the pull-chain.
The result was a very large bell some distance away ringing with a loud gonging sound, which resonated across the grounds and unsettled not a few birds from hidden perches. As soon as the ringing died down, the speaker grill on the pillar roared to life, first with a bit of static and white noise, and then a few loud clicks and bangs, and a sound that felt distinctly like someone dropping the microphone.
"Yes?" Raiko's voice, slightly distorted, rang out to grace the Druid's ears. "Just talk at the speaker, i'll hear you." She added, in case Ruarc couldn't figure it out.
Laoise cocked her head to the side as she could hear a voice but could not see who was speaking. Ruarc did the same thing. His eyes were wide with curiosity while his eyebrows were scrunched up in confusion. Slowly he leaned closer to the speaker until his face was almost touching it.
"Ah! It's you! good, good. Been waiting for you!" the speaker responded, and suddenly the gates began to open themselves with the sound of an old chain and an overworked electric motor. Up the short drive to the front of the house, they could see the front end of a very large black car poking out from behind some bushes, and they could also see the front porch and entryway to the house.
Though Raiko gave them no instructions, it was apparent that she wanted them to come up. or at least it should have been.
"Ruarc, if something tries to eat you in there, don't bother me about it," Laoise told Ruarc as the gates opened up.
"Pfft," was all he gave as a response to her, for he was busy once again debating the idea of leaving.
After a few moments more Ruarc strode through the gate and up the drive. Anxiously he began to fidget with his clothes, which at the moment consisted of the earthy brown tunic he wore under his cloak and some tan linen pants.
As Ruarc approached the doors, they opened, and Raiko arrived, wearing a floral Kimono, and looking somewhat more regal than she had in her school uniform. "You look a bit confused, or hesitant." she observed. "I thought you had made up your mind already today at lunch?" Raiko said, looking somewhat amused.
"It's not like anything's going to hurt you here. The only one living here right now is me, and it's not like I'm going to hurt you." The girl stood at the edge of the porch, and straightened herself up, holding herself with just that much more poise. "I am the lady of the manor, if you will." she joked.
"She lives alone like me, but this mansion is quite a bit bigger than my one roomed cottage," Ruarc monologued to Laoise as Raiko spoke.
"Creepy," Laoise added.
Once the lady of the manor finished speaking, Ruarc chimed in. "Well, Ah can definitly see why ya woul' need a gardener. An' pardon me if Ah am still a bit hesitant, strange new country an' all tha'," the Irishman said lightly in accented Japanese.
"Yes, it's a little bit larger than I have time to take care of. We used to have a full staff, but their terms expired, so the only thing left is the house and the grounds. Shrinekeepers aren't the most affluent of people, so this had actually been a gift to the family several decades ago." Raiko explained to Ruarc, walking down the stairs.
"Mom and Dad are busy actually at the shrine, which is in another prefecture, but I get to stay here because the schools here are better." She huffed slightly, looking to the side as if annoyed. "Anyway, do you speak English? Something tells me if you do it's more comfortable than Japanese, Mister Ireland."
Ruarc listened solemnly to Raiko's explanation. "Yes, as a matter of fact Ah do speak English," Ruarc said to the girl. "English is a main language in Ireland, so it pays to learn it."
"Has anything eaten you yet?" Laoise asked from her tree back by the road.
"Shush bird, you can see me from there," he replied quickly without looking back towards the bird.
"So, um," the Irishman started in English, unsure of what to say next. "Now what?"
"Well," Raiko began, in strangely unaccented English "There's a small groundskeeper's cottage over there" She pointed to what appeared to be a large square bush "But it's a little overgrown. I spent all week cleaning out the inside for you, but the grounds are still a mess."
She looked down at the ground, kicking at a pebble on the road with the traditional wooden sandals she wore, before looking up again. "Would you like to have a look? there's a shed built into it with lots of garden tools but, once again, it's buried by Ivy." Raiko began to walk over towards the green foliage covered box that was the groundskeeper's cottage, wooden shoes making a distinct clapping sound on the cobbled drive.
The Irishman followed behind the Japanese girl, letting his mind drift a bit as the sound of her sandals became a repetitive beat. His own handcrafted leather shoes made little noise as they passed over the rough surface of the cobblestone.
Laoise, anticipating where the duo were heading took off from her perch and glided effortlessly over to land on top of the cottage. Since Raiko had already placed the connection between Ruarc and the bird, she figured there was no sense in sitting back.
When they reached the entrance, Raiko ducked under a curtain of ivy and Ruarc could hear the squeaking of door hinges as she opened the door behind it. When he followed her in, he would find a slightly dusty, homely cottage that was very bare, and the floor showed definite signs of having had things dragged out of it recently.
Raiko stood to one side, allowing the Irishman in, and leaned against a wall, one of her hands clutched around a long wooden staff with a small crook at one end that carried a small orb within. She was grinning, but it was not malicious at all. "Nice place, Isn't it?"
The Irishman had to duck a bit farther than Raiko did to get under the ivy at the entrance, but once he was inside and his eyes adjusted he was quite surprised by what he saw. The small shack almost reminded him of his home back in Ireland, except that this small cottage was much more modern and quite a bit bigger than his own.
Ruarc began to walk slowly through the first room as he inspected the floors, walls, and ceiling. While Raiko had been kind enough to empty out the cottage for him, there was still a lot of work that needed to be done to get the home as good as new.
"Is there something good in there Ruarc? You are happy," Laoise noted from her perch on the roof.
"Well, it definitely looks like a cozy place to stay while in Japan. Western style, roomy, and it gives me a project to work on. Wanna come in and see it?" he replied from down below. Curious herself, the dove fluttered down from the rooftop and landed on the doorstep of the cottage before hopping over to Ruarc. Once at his pant leg, the bird began to climb up his back until she got to his shoulder to perch.
"Well Raiko, it looks like it is in decent shape, Ah'll have soome fun fixin' it up," Ruarc said as he turned back to Raiko.
"Well, Good," Raiko said, seeming pleased with herself. "Oh, Someone from the Order named Mealla told me to give you this," she added, offhand, tossing the staff she was holding to the young druid. "She said it was called a 'Cara Cre' but that you were free to name it as you'd like." She put her finger over her mouth in a thoughtful pose for a moment before continuing. "Oh, and she wants you to hurry because they've got another job for you here in Japan."
Ruarc reacted and caught the staff that Raiko had tossed at him. He didn't really pay it much mind as the Japanese girl continued to speak. In the next few moments the young Druid felt a wave of mixed emotions ranging from intrigue, to confusion, to something along the lines of horror and extreme grief. He had no idea what to say as he tried to speak but fumbled over every word that came out of his mouth. Eventually he stopped trying and just starred at the ground for an extended period of time.
"The Order? What are you talking about?" Ruarc asked Raiko in a pitiful attempt to feign ignorance.
"The Druid order, you know, the ones who sent you here? Geesh. Who do you think tells them stuff? The trees? Trees take too long, people are faster," she explained, sighing. "My goodness, Keeper Flynn. You're almost as big a worry as your father."
How Raiko knew this was a complete mystery, as she was supposedly fifteen years old, but, she seemed to know more about the order than even Ruarc did. "Mealla is the Druid that handed you this job in the first place, and she figured giving you a staff might help you along."
Ruarc had begun making a face he had never made before. His eyebrows began to knit furiously as his mind tried to grip the situation, his eyes were locked onto Raiko with a look that screamed "HOW?!", and his lips were puckered to the point where a lemon would be jealous.
"Well, Ah guess there is no sense in playing dumb anymore. Ah have no clue how you know all that you do, but Ah," he started to say before having to stop to avoid a breakdown. "But Ah suppose the important thing is for me to focus on my job so Ah can...so Ah can get started on the other task from the Order."
From his shoulder Laoise gave a lamentful cry as she was feeling much the same way as Ruarc was. The Irishman, feeling rather dejected, walked over and leaned against a near wall.
"Well, at least I have a place to stay Ah guess," he said in a bland tone.
"Just because you have a job or two with the order doesn't get you out of working my yard if you want to stay here." Raiko muttered, almost indignantly. "It's not like Japan's a bad place, either, and if you need to contact the order, you can go through me," she continued, rolling her eyes and turning about to look at the cottage.
"Lord knows this place needs some looking after. And I'll leave how you manage it up to you. you can make it look like Ireland, if you'd like, just as long as it's not covered in weeds." the girl continued, walking over to the kitchen and starting to fiddle with some switches, lights turning on over the house, and then turning on the faucet. "Ah, good, the utilities got hooked back up..." she muttered to herself.
"Oh look, we don't have to read by whale oil while we are here," Laoise said as she hopped off of Ruarc's shoulder and fluttered over to Raiko's shoulder for a better look at the kitchen.
"Yeah, Ah know, Ah will take good care of yur yard," Ruarc said to Raiko as he picked himself back up. He made his way over to also get a look at the kitchen. "Ah am pretty good with handiwork."
"Well, if you're good enough, I might give you more jobs and pay you more. Right now I'll give you an allowance of 10,000 a week." Raiko instructed, offhand, and she opened the dusty, slightly corroded ceramic-covered oven, and then began inspecting a tub that might have been a dishwasher, seemingly unaware of the bird on her shoulder.
As she stood back up from her inspections, she looked at the bird. "There should be plenty of fruits and seeds out in the yard for now, but if you want anything special, bug Mister Ireland here for it." Raiko put up her hand, stretching out a finger for the bird to perch on if it desired.
Laoise chirped joyfully as she made her way onto the young girl's finger. She swiveled her head as she clicked her beak audibly.
Ruarc had to think for a few moments to calculate how much 10,000 yen was, and even though it wasn't that much it was more than enough for the humble Irishman. "Well, Ah can get started right away then," Ruarc told Raiko as he diverted away and walked towards the back room. He opened the door with a creak and peered inside. A bedroom. Ruarc chuckled lightly as he noted some similarities to his home in Ireland.
Raiko Gently released Laoise into the house, and then walked out the front door, smiling as she ducked under the curtain of Ivy obscuring the front door. Perhaps Ruarc would have an easier time now that he was here, in a safe place, under her watch and care. She began speaking quietly, as if to herself. "There's still a lot that he does not know, but he needn't know it yet. For now, allowing him to grow under these circumstances is the best thing for him."
Raiko looked over the grounds, eyeing the large black car that was parked there, waiting to be used. "Perhaps I'll teach him to drive it..." she mused, walking to the porch and disappearing into her house.
"I am gonna have a lot of cleaning to do," Ruarc thought to himself as he inspected the layer of dust covering all of the surfaces. Stepping back out of the doorway he shut the door and turned around to find Raiko gone. With nothing left to do besides chores, Ruarc walked into the kitchen to find a rag.
"So, what is that staff that she gave you?" Laoise asked as she hopped along the floor behind Ruarc.
"I don't know," Ruarc responded as he was reminded of the hunk of wood still in his hand. Looking down at it Ruarc noticed several runes carved into its side. "I will have to take a closer look at this after I am done cleaning."
Ruarc set the staff against a wall in the kitchen and grabbed a rag before setting into cleaning the house.
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