Despite technology coming so far, it's yet to completely muffle the sound of the tracks as a passenger train barrels down them.
This pure and simple noise has drawn your traveling companion to sleep with its soft repetition. Her head eases onto your shoulder while your eyes scan the landscape that passes swiftly by.
Things have changed in this mere half year. The countryside loosely resembles the suburbs now, though it's only a partial likeness. Farmland and dirt roads remain, hardly bothered by the small neighborhoods near them.
The sun, barely peeking over the horizon, makes a red splotch blend into a brightening blue sky. Unable to sleep last night, you merely sat where you were and watched the sky grow steadily brighter. A meager number of clouds dot the sky, spread out irregularly over the area you can see. A fellow traveler is woken from her slumber, and looks at you with aged eyes as she collects herself.
"...It really is a wonderful thing, riding on the train." The old woman smiles at you from a seat opposite to your own. "My husband and I always rode the train when we were younger, but now most people ride in cars or planes. The sky is still beautiful, though. Despite the planes and lights."
You smile politely towards the small woman, trying to not offend her while not talking to her. Sunlight pours in from behind her, framing her small form as she speaks.
"It's relaxing. This ride wouldn't be as nice if the sky was littered with planes and jets."
The old woman nods sagely as she taps her cane on the floor. She moves slowly towards you and pats your hand, her small eyes looking at you with a peculiar glow behind them. The train slows to a stop, and she moves to leave.
"Well, I'll be on my way. You and your friend be good, girl."
Words escape you as you watch her shuffle towards the opening doors. She turns to wave and you meekly wave back. The strange old woman leaves, and you're once more in the company of yourself. Silence surrounds you as the train picks up speed, zipping down the rails towards your stop.
"...Wake up. Come on, wake up Eliza."
Your companion stirs and opens her eyes at your call. She frowns softly and sits upright, rubbing at her eyes as she yawns.
"...Are we home, now?" You don't answer her. The train's constant movement should be answer enough. "...We most be close, then."
She stands up and searches the overhead compartment for your luggage. You offer to carry her bag, but she turns the offer down. The straps of both your bags slip over her shoulders, and she insists on carrying the two herself. It might be a way of returning to her real job.
The train comes to a stop, and the two of you wait by the doors. Long forgotten smells familiarize themselves with you as the doors glide open, and the first few steps off the train seem to send you back to when you left. You stand there a moment and take your old world in, staring at the city laid out before you.
"Master Aoi, it may be wise to stop by your apartment first. I don't have much to unpack at the mansion, and taking care of your luggage is a much higher priority."
"...You don't have to call me Master. For now I'm still Aoi, or I am until we enter the mansion's gate."
She nods, and you're quick to understand that she's taking that as a command from an employer. It seems the time of her just being a friend is up, fading away hand-in-hand with your journey.
The platform fades away behind you, and you're then on your way. The two of you walk along a vaguely familiar street, passing some of the tracks you had been over not long before. The train wails when you start crossing the street, announcing it's departure to the tired city.
The road isn't very busy this early in the morning. All cars driving around this part of the city are taxis in search of customers. The walk to your apartment is a short walk, so you feel no need to call one over to you.
"It should be just up ahead." Eliza says, pointing towards a building not far ahead. "It's right there, actually."
You nod quietly, feeling fatigued from your trip home. Eliza opens the small gate in front of the building, and you get the door. The apartment inside is even cleaner than when you had left it.
"They... must have sent a maid over to tidy things up." Eliza says that as she hands you your bag. "It must be nice to be so cared about."
"It's just a pain, sometimes..."
That's right. It's nice to come home to a spotless apartment, but it gets annoying when you remember who pays for that service. You've known him for years, and yet it's become impossible to accept your stepfather.
"Well, let's see your room."
Eliza derails your train of thought with those words. Family issues are annoying, so you don't mind. Up the stairs you go, and into the bedroom. The room has been kept spotless as the rest of the apartment. The sheets seem to have been washed in anticipation of your coming home, and the mirror on the wall has been cleaned to the point glistening. Clothing in the closet has been laundered, showing just how attentive the maid or maids were.
You hold back a sigh and open your travel bag. The few things you had packed included a laptop and a couple changes of clothes, which you had washed frequently in your time away. If it had been your stepsister on vacation, she would have packed fancy dresses and skirts, taking up a couple trunks worth of space.
It takes little time to unpack all of your clothes, setting them down on the bed for now. A note on the pillow grabs your attention, causing you to stop unpacking in order to read it.
Welcome home. I wanted you to know I came over and personally cleaned things up, and that I'm waiting for you at the mansion. Please come when you read this. It's been too quiet with you away, and I've missed you since the moment I saw your train leave the station. I've prepared a welcome home gift, too. I've also gone out and gotten new clothes for your second year, and put them in your closet along with your new study books. Please come home as soon as you read this. We miss you.
"...Your loving mother, Junko Hearn." Eliza says that from over your shoulder, spying on the note. She jumps back and laughs nervously. "Ahaha, I'm sorry, Master. It's rude to read a letter made for you, isn't it? Let me take that."
Grabbing your bag, she unloads what remains of the luggage in an attempt to save face. You honestly don't care if she does those things, her being your only friend for the past few months. You keep your peace, however.
"...Okay, that's all your things packed away." She says, now calmed down. "The only thing left is to head out. I trust Mas... that you'd like to return to the mansion?"
[ ] "Of course." [ ] "There's somewhere else I want to go." -[ ] The Usami household -[ ] The nearby park
Just a reminder, this isn't the same setting as AoD. Things that happened in AoD may have never happened in this story, and characters may not be portrayed the same way they once were. If you're reading this expecting it to be the exact same thing in a different light, then you're doing it wrong.
>>22407 Thank god. I'd been wanting to pick up AoD for a while now, but could never find the time to actually read through the archives. A fresh start is nothing less than optimal from my point of view.
Also: >Aria of Illusions >AoI Oh, you.
[X] "There's somewhere else I want to go." -[X] The Usami household
Eliza looks at you curiously, wanting to ask where it is while knowing that it's not her place to ask. You smile as you leave the room, listening to her footsteps following faithfully behind yours. Her patience is finally lost as you reach the front door.
"Where are we going, Aoi?"
"To see a close friend." A smile brightens your face. "I wanted a little more peace before visiting the mansion."
Eliza sighs, a thin smile meeting her lips. Apparently you aren't the only one dreading that place. A turn of the knob and a small push opens the door, and the two of you are on your way.
Many traffic lights are frozen in place, only turning when a stray taxi cabs pulls up. You find yourself amazed at how quiet this section of the city still is, totally different from how it once was. People have started to wake up at least, which is hinted at by lights turning on in apartments and figures sweeping inside dimly lit stores.
At first you weren't going to bother pressing the crosswalk buttons, but Eliza presses it anyway. It quickly changes to let you pass, playing a familiar tune as you cross the street. You go straight for a few blocks before turning to the right, now heading down a block that makes a quick shift from business to residential area.
Renko's home is almost immediately visible. Eliza is close beside you as you walk down the sidewalk, soon finding yourself on the Usamis' front steps. You check your phone to see that it's seven in the morning, which means that it should be a safe hour to knock.
You rap on the door twice before it flies open, an excited girl waiting behind it. You try to knock a third time and hit air, your reaction delayed by how sudden her actions were.
"You're finally back!" The girl waiting behind the door says as she runs at you, locking her arms around your torso. "It feels like it's been forever! Big sis said you wouldn't be here this early, but I was waiting here a whole half hour, and you came!"
"You mean that you're-" You pause, looking this girl over. She looks like she's still in middle school, but she's much taller than the girl you remember. "You're seriously Hikari?"
She lets go of you and looks up with gauging eyes. You stand in silence as she stares into your own eyes, not sure of how you should react. She quickly turns and folds her arms over her chest, puffing a cheek out in the process.
"Geez, I thought you'd at least remember what I look like." She shakes a little, her hands squeezing her arms. "I can't believe you forgot about me..."
"It isn't that way, really! It's just that it's been so long, and you've grown so much taller! I didn't mean to make you upset, I swear!"
She stands completely still while taking in what you just said. A moment later she turns around, her face pink with laughter. You then realize that this isn't the same girl you knew, afterall.
"Ahahaha, you thought I was serious! The look on your face, you should've seen it!" She clutches both arms around herself as she laughs, eventually quieting down. "I didn't think you'd take me that seriously, geez!"
"Um, you said Renko was up, didn't you?" One hand flies up to your neck and rubs it as you speak. "I know I just got back, and that I'm talking about her right off the bat, but I-"
"Yeah, she's upstairs." Hikari interrupts you, her eyes bright with some new mischief. "You want to see her, right? Follow me."
With that said, she runs off into another part of the house. Both you and Eliza rush in and take your shoes off, but Eliza stays at the front as you start after Hikari. You shrug this off and look for her anyway, eventually trailing her up the stairs and to a room with "Renko" on the door.
She throws the door open and runs in, showing absolutely no respect for her sister's privacy. You hear someone gasp as you walk in, feeling that there's no need for knocking at this point.
Renko sits on her bed, quickly buttoning up her shirt. You catch a glimpse of the pink bra and panties she has on and look away, clenching your eyes shut. A hand touches your arm a moment later, and you open your eyes.
"Welcome back." She isn't fully dressed, but she has a shirt on at least. You smile and return her greeting. "I didn't think you'd come over here right away, as you can see."
"I know. Hikari was just telling me so." She lets go of your arm and sits on her bed. You feel too uncomfortable to sit, so you keep standing. "Sorry about walking in on you like that."
"Oh, it isn't your fault."
Renko's eyes point accusingly towards her little sister, who raps her head once while sticking her tongue out. A small sigh escapes your lips as you watch the siblings exchange threatening looks, thinking of how nice it must be to have a little sister.
"Hikari, get out." Renko says that, but the smaller girl makes no move towards leaving. "Out. Now."
The older sister jumps up and lunges after the younger one, chasing her around the room in a comical way. They circle around you once and then around a lamp, but Hikari's eventually chased out of the room. Renko slams the door and locks it, ignoring any protests from the other side. She sits down once more, and you find yourself trying to not look down.
"Now that she's gone, do you wanna sit down?" Renko pats the bed next to her, but you deny her offer. "Oh come on, just take a seat."
You find a rolling computer chair nearby and pull it over, crossing your legs as you settle into it. Renko stares at you suspiciously and smiles, keen on what your problem is.
She stands up from her bed and pushes the skirt she had laid out, making it fall in a heap on the ground. She bends down to pick it up, displaying herself shamelessly in the process. Your heart beats faster and you feel dizzy, quickly looking away from the spectacle.
"There's nothing wrong with looking, you know." The skirt is partially buttoned as she says that, and you now look back with flushed cheeks. "I'm not gonna call the police on you for a thought crime or anything."
"Y- Yeah. Sorry about that." Those words slip past your lips, and you wonder why you're the one apologizing. "Anyway, do you think you might want to come to the mansion with me?"
Renko reaches into a compartment of her dresser, pulling out a black tie. She slips it over her neck and looks up thoughtfully as she tightens it, then slapping around the top of the dresser in search of her hat.
"I guess so. I haven't seen Mary in a week, so I was starting to wonder how she's holding up." She shrugs, holding her hat in one hand. "That maid is with you, right? Eliza?"
"Yeah, she's waiting at the front of your house."
Her eyes lock onto yours and she falls silent. She glances out the window and puts her hat on, then taps her foot as she crosses her arms.
"I'd hate to go back if I were her."
You look sideways as the door opens, and Renko steps out of the room. You flick the lights off and shut the door, following her down the stairs and to the front of the house. Eliza looks up from a small pamphlet as you approach, frowning slightly as she puts it back in her bag. The three of you silently move to leave, only to be caught at the door.
"Wait!" The small girl jumps out of the door frame and latches onto your arm, a pleading look on her face. "I don't wanna be home alone. Can I go visit Merry Berry too?"
"She doesn't like it when you call her that, Hikari." Renko shakes her head, and lightly flicks her sister's forehead. "You need to get ready for school anyway. You should stay here."
Hikari stays still and silent, her sad eyes locked onto yours. She sniffles once and tightens her grip, brushing one leg against your own in the process. Your heart races at the sight.
[ ] "It should be fine for her to tag along." [ ] "Renko's right, you should probably stay here." [ ] "Maybe she can get her things and come with us?"
Sorry about the delays. Things have come up through the week, but I was still trying to work on the update. All I have to do now is proofread it and make sure it's okay, so expect it to be up in a couple hours.
She keeps tugging on your arm, and you can't help but feel sorry for her. Cute looks and pleas aren't enough to convince you, though. She'd probably only get in the way of the whole thing, anyway!
"Renko's right. Maybe you should stay here."
Hikari seems to deflate as you say that. Her grip on your arm loosens as she backs into the house, a melancholy expression stuck to her face. Somehow you feel awful, as if you had just kicked a puppy.
"I'll spend time with you later, though!" You say that, desperate for a way to make her cheer up. "I just got back, though, so I'll be busy for a while."
The girl's face brightens up all at once, and her deep frown becomes a satisfied grin. She grips the door handle and nods, all at once becoming bright and cheery.
"It's a promise, then!"
She shuts the door before you can protest, leaving you outside with Renko and Eliza. It takes a moment for you to realize that you were just tricked by someone in middle school.
Eliza laughs into her hand, and Renko sighs with her hands behind her head. You look away in embarassment, cursing your apologetic nature. The three of you walk in silence for some time, not saying a thing about what just happened. Eliza starts to speak, only to fall silent after saying nothing. You and Renko look towards her curiously, and then at eachother. The silence has actually gotten annoying at this point.
"So... nice weather, huh?"
"That's a pretty sad conversation starter." Renko smiles at you sarcastically as she says that. "A better topic might be where you've been this past year."
She's right. That was an awful topic you chose, but... Wait, she's trying to get you talking, isn't she?
"Ah, well. Mom thought I should see more of the world, so Eliza and I went to a couple places. We saw Paris, Rome, New York... I got homesick, though, so I told Mom I was coming back early."
"Must be nice, seeing so many cultured cities..." Renko looks up thoughtfully, then pats Eliza's shoulder. "It must've been nice to get away from it all and see those places with a cute girl, huh?"
Your head becomes hot and you cross your arms. You might look like and dress like a girl, but it's still annoying when Renko actually calls you one. You turn away and look at the store fronts as Eliza and Renko talk, still listening in on their conversation despite yourself.
"Please don't call Master Aoi a girl. He's a boy, you know." It's obviously Eliza speaking. "It was fun, though. I felt like I was in another world, where I had no responsibilites other than making sure Aoi enjoyed himself."
"No 'Master' that time? You two must be pretty close now." Renko nudges you, still grinning as widely as she was a minute before. "Half a year is plenty of time to get closer to someone, isn't it?"
It's true enough. You nod and look over at Eliza, who's started to turn red. The mansion comes into sight before you can say anything to her, and Renko starts to run towards the large building.
You and the maid chase after her, arriving at the bulky iron gate that surrounds the place. Eliza puts a code into the keypad beside the gate, and a voice announces that it's checking who it is. A moment later the gate opens, and the three of you push past it to enter the front yard.
This large building really is too nice for those living inside of it. Flowers surround the walls, adorning the outside quite nicely. A circle of roses stands out in the middle of the yard, being tended to by a gardener Mr. Han hired some time ago. Eliza greets the man and leads your group to the double doors of the mansion. She knocks a few times before pushing one of the doors open herself.
"Eliza, you've returned." One maid stands by the other door, her hand on its handle. "You're expected to return to your duties right away. Please follow me to your uniform."
With that, Eliza is led off into the mansion without a word of parting. You and Renko watch in silence as the other maid ushers her through a hallway, finally vanishing from sight.
"Some things never change." Renko shrugs. "Might as well look for Mary while she's gone, right?"
"Oh, I actually had a letter from my mom. She wanted to see me as soon as I got here, so..."
"Sounds personal. I'll leave you to that, then." Renko starts walking off in one direction, waving towards you. "Come find me and Mary once you're done, okay?"
She turns and disappears down a hallway, leaving you all alone. You shrug and ascend a nearby staircase, deciding that the first place to check for your mother may be her bedroom. It's a short walk down the hall, and you can hear what seems to be Mr. Han and another man arguing in one room. Your footsteps become more timid as you pass that room, trying to hide your presence from the two inside.
Only a few rooms down is your mother's room. You knock on the door three times and a voice tells you to come in. The door creaks slightly as you open it, and the first thing you see in the room is your mother in a chair by the window. Her head is turned, so you decide to have some fun and surprise her.
"Is that you, dear? Are you done negotiating that deal already?" She continues to gaze out the window as you approach, unaware of your tricks. "I'd appreciate if you didn't raise your voice so much. I know you want to intimidate him, but it gives me a headache."
She stands up and slowly turns around. Seeing your chance, you jump at her and wrap your arms around her. The two of you stand there for a second, saying nothing and hearing nothing. A moment later she pats your back and smiles.
"You should have told me it was you, Aoi. Welcome home."
"Sorry... You were facing the other way that whole time, so I wanted to surprise you."
Junko smiles once more, petting your hair for a few seconds. She then sits back down and motions for you to sit wherever you'd like. You decide to sit on her bed for now, since any other chairs are on the other side of the room.
"I should be sorry. I asked you to come here and see me, but I don't have anything important to tell you." She shrugs slightly, looking sheepishly off to the side. "The only reason I wanted you to come here was so I could see you and know that you're safe."
"...Thanks, mom." A small smile appears on your lips. "It doesn't really matter if anything important happened. It just means a lot to me that you care."
Her smile persists, though she reaches for a book nearby. Your mother never has been great at carrying a conversation, at least not with anyone younger than thirty. Seeing her pick up the book reminds you of Mary, who could easily be in the library right now. You don't want to leave Junko like this, but she doesn't seem very intent on much talking.
[ ] "I need to look for Mary, too. Do you want to come?" [ ] "I actually promised that I'd go see Mary, too. Excuse me." -[ ] "Do you know where she is?" [ ] "So... good weather, isn't it?"
"I actually promised that I'd go see Mary, too. Excuse me." You turn about and approach the door, hesitating when you reach for the knob. "Do you know where she is?"
Your mother looks at you with hazy eyes, completely unphazed. It takes a moment for her pupils to light up in thought, her vision darting around the room as she taps her cheek.
"I believe she'd be in the library at this time. Probably starting her day off with a romantic novel."
She looks like she's ready to carry on a new conversation but holds back, probably because of your having to track Mary down. You mutter a quick thank-you to her and leave the room, stepping out into the spacious hallway. You turn to go back the way you had come, only to find a familiar face in your path.
"Good morning, Master Aoi." Eliza bows modestly, her hands resting in front of her. "If you wish to find your friend, she's visiting Miss Maribel in the mansion's library. Please follow me."
You comply, following the maid without a word. It's actually sad how she has to act like a different person, putting on a fake smile and good posture for the sake of her job. The staircase comes into view, and you get an idea as you approach it. Holding one hand out, you offer to help your escort down the stairs.
"Oh, m-" She cuts herself off as her face turns pink, fidgeting a little as she looks around. "Master, this is..."
You keep your hand held out, enjoying this breaking of Eliza's shell. She eventually takes your hand and walks down the steps, her eyes still darting around as she does so. Probably making sure that nobody else sees this happening. The two of you reach the bottom of the staircase, where Eliza leans over to whisper in your ear.
"Master Aoi, that sort of thing isn't proper for a maid. Please don't treat me so kindly."
She pulls away from your ear and walks swiftly in the direction of the library. You try to get beside her, but she speeds up each time you do so. The poor girl is probably trying to hide her face, isn't she? You feel somewhat guilty, but the embarrassed look on her face was definitely worth this.
The two of you arrive at the library's doors, and she opens one for you. Her face is still turned the other way, probably a soft red by now. A quick pat on the shoulder and you leave her, stepping into the large room before you. It's actually overwhelming, the large number of books kept here. Mr. Han probably keeps them for show, to appear intelligent to his friends and business associates.
Renko waves at you from behind a large bookcase, darting back behind it a second later. Mary also comes into view as you approach the shelves, as well as the couches that they're both sitting on. A small coffee table sits in the middle of three couches, a bowl of toffees sitting on the table itself. You take a seat on the third couch and unwrap a toffee, popping it into your mouth with delight. The candies that just sit around this place really are wonderful.
"So, you've come home." Mary leaves a bookmark in her paperback, closing it for now. Sure enough, it's a romantic novel. "Getting away from home like that... It must be such fun."
"It was okay. I missed my friends here, though." You look at the two seated near you, and think of others from your university. "I had Eliza to keep me company, at least."
Renko crosses one leg over the other and yawns, drawing both yours and Maribel's attention to her. She folds her arms behind her head and looks at the two of you with one eye as she speaks.
"It has been kind of boring without the third member here. Haven't done much as the Sealing Club this past year, nope."
"We aren't in high school anymore, Renko." Mary's face is blank as she speaks. "The Sealing Club is in the past."
You want to say something, but you feel like anything you say would be useless. Sometimes these two are so set in their ways that nothing can change their minds.
"Hmph, that's not true at all!" Renko turns her head once, then swivels her bright eyes back towards you. "It's still alive so long as we're all together, right Aoi?"
"I guess you're right." Your voice comes out small and meek as you speak up. It can't be helped, seeing how you don't even want to be in the conversation. "I always thought the Sealing Club was about the three of us, not about doing something in high school."
The others fall silent, and you join them. Light pours in from a nearby window, most likely caused by a cloud's sudden movement. A red haired maid then walks up with a tea tray and pours each of you a cup before leaving, interrupting absolutely nothing.
"We should go explore as the Sealing Club again, maybe some time this evening."
Renko's words are accepted with no other words uttered. She usually decides these things, and it's very rare that you or Mary would turn her ideas down. You reach out to a tea cup and take it, bringing it to your lips in one quick motion.
You draw your sip of tea out, focusing on Maribel. She's opened her book back up and seems to be fully absorbed by it. It takes you a moment to realize just how ridiculously drawn out the sip is, and you end it.
"Well, why don't we go do something else for now? I mean, you've been reading that for a while, Mary. Might as well get on with life, right?"
Maribel nods to Renko's words, and closes her book once more. She looks intently at you, causing you realize you had been staring at her this whole time. You look away and run your fingers along a cluster of your hair, thinking about how you should tie it up soon.
"Any ideas where we should run off to?" Renko beams at you first, then switches her gaze to Maribel. "There has to be something you want to do, right?"
[ ] "I remember this small cafe nearby, why not go there?" [ ] "Why don't you decide, Renko?" [ ] Wait for Mary to say something.
[x] Wait for Mary to say something. -[x] If nothing happens, suggest the cafe. [x] Drag Eliza along. Not sure how Renko and Mary would feel about dragging Eliza with us, as seeing this is a Sealing Club outing. Although this gives us more chances to see a flustered meido.
I'm wanting to update, but I'd feel bad to ignore dragging Eliza along just because it didn't win. If you don't want her going, then please say so soon. Otherwise I'll just go ahead and write her into the next scene.
You sit in silence as you wait for Maribel to say something. Sounds of the city sneak in from the streets, sounds like a car honking or the faint chatter of the people out there. Eliza enters as Mary searches for an answer, her eyes eventually lighting up with an idea.
"A cafe just a short walk from here. I stop there every day before my first class, and their coffee is really go..."
She pipes down and turns the other way, suddenly and overly bashful. You realize that you and Renko had been staring at her intently as she spoke, which is probably why she came to a stop. Renko tries to look her in the eyes with no success, eventually turning her attention back towards you.
"What do you think, Aoi?" She tilts her sighs while leaning her chair back. "I haven't had coffee for some time. The last time I had it was in high school while studying for that big exam..."
If she's talking about the same cafe you were thinking of, then it sounds like a great idea. You eagerly nod in response, then turn your gaze towards Eliza, who's been standing behind you since she entered. Her face became composed and serious in the time she stood out in the hall, and it bothers you, somehow. You grab her hand and stand up, pointing at her with your other hand.
"Eliza should go with us!" You lift her hand into the air with yours and continue to speak. "She's been on a few Sealing Club adventures before, so it shouldn't be a problem!"
"Yeah, yeah. Should be no problem at all, right?"
Renko steadies herself with one hand as she stands, beaming her approval. Eliza excuses herself with a promise to come back, leaving the three of you on your own once more. Renko eventually convinces Mary to ease up and follow you into the mansion's front yard, where Eliza comes dashing back to your group.
"Sorry! I had to change, since a maid walking around the city would be too weird!"
She trots up to you and stops, her chest rising and falling with each breath. Her outfit isn't too flashy, simply just a pair of jeans and a turtle neck. She regains her breath and urges the rest of you on, pointing in the direction of the cafe as she speaks. You had been all for her going along, though now you feel like she may change things around.
"So, take a right here, go straight for a block..." Renko speaks the directions out loud as she walks, having memorized them perfectly in such a short time. "Look to the left, and there it is!"
Surely enough, it's the very same cafe you had thought of. It'd be an understatement to call it small, seeing how most of the seating is on a porch outside the building. One customer sits at an iron table with his laptop, pounding out a paper for one of his classes. There's no other patrons at this hour, making the establishment feel devoid of life.
The four of you sit near the edge of the porch and watch the street as it slowly comes to life. At one point a waitress asks for your order, heading back in as soon as you finish giving it. You sigh and watch a couple as they walk towards a candy shop, thinking about how nice it must be.
"My sister had me watch this cute show with her last night." Renko smiles and stirs a cup of coffee, causing you to realize that your cup had arrived. "It was one of those magic girl shows. You know, where they fly around and fight evil with crazy powers."
"Oh, I've heard of those." Eliza sets her cup down and jumps into the conversation. "They're really popular with small kids... and some adults too. Isn't that right?"
The two of them laugh while you and Mary sip coffee in unison. She actually joins in on the conversation, talking about a fashion show that she likes. It's obvious what everyone likes to watch, except... Well, you're pretty sure they don't know what shows you like.
"Fashion is nice, sure, but what I really like are the game shows!" Renko bites into a bearclaw, chewing it up as she speaks. "Some of them are really stupid though, like that human tetris thing."
"What about that obstacle course show? That one's pretty funny. I actually see some of the maids watch it while slacking off!" Eliza stops for a second and swallows. She turns to Mary and laughs nervously while waving her hands in front of her face. "N-not that I'm the one slacking off! It's the other maids who do that, of course!"
Mary smiles, obviously unconcerned. The three continue to laugh and chat about their favorite shows, and for some time you simply watch them. It can be nice to observe, too.
"Ah, that's right." There's a sort of 'chink' as Renko sets her cup down, turning her attention towards you once more. "What kind of shows do you like, Aoi?"
You freeze up, searching desperately for a good answer. You lower your coffee and laugh, tugging on a lock of your hair as you think.
"Well, what I like are... cooking shows! Right, it's fun to watch them chop and dice the ingredients, and most of the hosts are really talented. They make cooking look as impressive as dancing, and I bet their food tastes really good, too!"
"Oh my, you watch those too? I like to jot down notes when I see something I want to serve to the Master and his friends." Eliza laughs. "Some of them are real gentlemen. They'll go out of their way to complement my cooking, even when the Master is trying to talk about other things!"
You sigh, having dodged a bullet there. The four of you finish your snack and pay the bill, and then leave the cafe behind. As you walk away, you realize that your group and the guy on the laptop were the only ones there that whole time. This revelation strikes you as odd, though it's only a passing thought.
Mary leads the way into a small store, using the excuse of having had her eye on something for a while now. She busies herself with finding some held item and trying it on in the changing room, while you take a look at a collection of music boxes on the wall. Most of them are small and inexpensive, though there's a couple large ones with really impressive displays in them. You crank one up and watch as small soldiers chase little rat men around the box, circling around a Christmas tree in the process.
You're interrupted by something being shoved onto your head, the person behind you laughing as they adjust it. You turn to face Renko, who's given you a thumbs-up of approval.
"That kind of hat really suits you, Aoi! I can't tell if it makes you cute or if you make it look cute!"
Renko says that shamelessly, laughing it up with her hands still in the air. You blush and look over at a nearby mirror, only to see that it really is a cute hat. It'd actually go well with your outfit, and it... It's way, way too expensive.
You put it up and sigh, turning to look at some noise from the other side of the store. Maribel's stepped out of the changing booth, sporting a kimono with a bamboo design. Her and Eliza exchange a few words before she changes back into her normal clothes, then taking the outfit to the front. The four of you are off again, and you start to wonder why Mary bought something strange like that.
A vibration in your pocket dispels those thoughts, and you bring your phone out into the open. The screen says that you have one new message from...
Hey, I heard that you're back! I'd come see you, but I'm really, really busy today. We could have lunch together after class, though! You are going tomorrow, aren't you? I'll be mad if you don't! You're probably with Renko and the others, though. Tell them I said hi, okay?
You smile and close the phone, not sure of how to respond right now. Your group stops in front of the park you thought of a while ago, and Renko leans against the wall surrounding the place. Mary and Eliza sit down, still looking at Mary's new clothes. Renko glances at them and then at you, then shrugs.
"Well, it's still too early to do real Sealing Club activities, so we might as well wander around." She looks out at the street, then back at you. "Any ideas on where we should go, Aoi?"
[ ] Suggest staying at the park. [ ] Suggest stopping by your old high school. [ ] Suggest going by the university.
> A message from someone we (the readers) don't know.
After looking at the message, the first person I thought of was Yukari. Luckily, that thought was accompanied by an 'old chum who want to see you' vibe instead of an 'ancient eldritch demon out for your guts' vibe.
Rest assured, my Yukari won't be that way. I've got bigger plans for her.
Sorry that the updates are taking so long. I've been working on this last one for a day or two, but I've been going through some writer's block lately, so it's hard to get the actual thing out. Should be up later today, though.
Seconded. I'd rather see something that came from Ninny himself rather than follow a personality I set up, partially because it would be more interesting and partially because including my perverted version wouldn't fit the nature of this story. Besides, you twits are getting a second run outta me! For the few of you who would, don't pester Ninny about what Yukari archetype he should use just because you want more soft-hearted pervert.
Besides, isn't it already established among voters that AoD's Yukari and mine are basically polar opposites? No disrupting the balance.Previous comment is serious business.Seriously.
"Why not stay at the park?" You shrug with both hands in the air and smile. "We came all this way, so it'd be a waste to just walk by, right?"
"Ah, yeah. The park it is, then."
Renko looks at the gate before telling Mary and Eliza to get up. The four of you walk into the park, quickly finding another bench to sit on. A loud grunting disturbs you, and you notice a group of men standing around a partially assembled statue. What really catches your attention, though, is the girl with them. She waves and dashes towards your group, and you get up to meet her part way over.
"Aoi, I just sent you a message!" She holds her phone up, even though the screen is currently blank. "I wouldn't have sent it if I knew you were coming here!"
"I didn't know I was coming here, either. Things just turned out that way!"
The girl stops to wave to your three companions. They all wave back and say their short greetings, but none of them get up. It's probably that they don't want to butt in on your conversation.
"Anyway..." The girl taps a foot on the ground, looking at you through one eye. "You're going tomorrow, right? I'll be mad if you skip out!"
You nod your answer and look behind her. Two of the men had been watching you, but pretended to do something else as soon as you looked their way. The other men are all busy putting the statue together, apparently done with just standing around it. You gesture towards the group and laugh smally.
"Um, so why're you here with those guys? I can understand why they're all here, but you...?"
"Oh, right... Papa!"
The girl runs over towards one of the men and tugs on his bulky arm. He nods and walks back to you with her, trying his best to manage a smile. You bow slightly and look over at your friend, unable to ask her what's on your mind.
"Even though we've known eachother since you became friends with those two... I can't believe I never introduced you to my papa!" She hugs the man's arm as she speaks. "Papa, this is Aoi. Aoi, this is my papa."
"N-nice to meet you..." His voice is rough, and he tries his best to keep smiling. "I... I should really go back and help the others, so excuse me."
He does just that, turning around and returning to his fellow workers. The girl sighs and looks between you and the man she called her "papa". You're still a little shaken up by the encounter, so the most you manage is a smirk.
"Please forgive him, he's a shy guy." She points over towards her father and shrugs. "I came here to bring him his lunch, since he forgot it at home."
"Ah... I remember one time I brought my dad lunch. It was a long time ago, but mom asked me to take it to him in her place. She watched me the whole time, so I think she wanted me to be closer to him."
"Wow..." The girl tilts her head in wonder. "I didn't know you and Mr. Han were so close!"
You try to hide your visible disgust at her words, but you're too slow to cover it up. Looking away and rubbing your head somehow makes you feel better.
"Ah, sorry! I see, so that's how it is."
Both of you nod, and silence follows. She looks between your group and her papa's, eventually deciding to say goodbye to her father. Your brain kicks into gear as she moves towards the gate.
"Ah, wait! You can come with us if you aren't busy anymore!"
She turns her head and smiles. Just the expression on her face lets you know that she can't come, but she goes ahead and puts that feeling into words.
"I still have places to go, and there's other people waiting on me..." She sighs, looking deflated. "I'd like to go with you, but... I just can't. Sorry."
She runs out of the park and vanishes from view, leaving you behind with your other friends, who're all on the bench now. Renko walks up and pats your shoulder, sharing the silence. A moment later, she speaks up.
"It isn't very late right now, but..." She shifts in place, visibly uncomfortable with saying this. "It should be the late afternoon by the time we reach any of the places we could go, so... What do you say? Let's all go visit the old shrine?"
[ ] "...Sure, let's go." [ ] "...What about the graveyard?" [ ] "I... still haven't seen the new shrine."
Sorry that it's taking so long. I'm having trouble getting the updates out, and I'd rather have them be a good quality than have half-assed ones out every day. Hopefully I can get it tonight, but please bear with me until then.
Sure thing. I hit a sudden writer's block while trying to write the last update, and I've also been going through a lot of changes in the past two weeks. Things are calming down, though. I also managed to finish half of the update the other night, so I think I should have something to show soon enough. Hopefully that means it'll be done by tonight, though I can't make any guarantees right now.
I know I've been a bad writer, and I'm sorry. I've ignored my responsibilities to write for a while now, and I'm sad to say that I'll probably never update this story again. I've come to find that I've invested far too much in digital life and playing around on the internet, when I should have been in the real world. I have a good reason for this revelation, I believe. My reason is that my best friend only has a month left to live, and, with him as the last major string of my social life, I've realized that I need to go outside and be a real person again. Not only that, but I need to spend as much time as remains with him while I can. I'm sorry to end it like this, but I really do think that it's for the best. I may come back some day when my life is more stable and pick things up, but I kind of doubt that. Until then, buh-bye.
Oh, and one last thing. YAF, if you're reading this, I just want to say I don't love you, so I can't let you know.
"I'm not sure, that old shrine gives me the creeps... What about the graveyard?"
A chuckle escapes from Renko's mouth, which has spread into a sarcastic grin.
"Are you serious? An old shrine creeps you out, but a graveyard is just fine?" She crosses her arms and frowns. "I guess the graveyard is okay, though. Mary, Eliza! We need to get moving!"
You fall silent as Renko directs things, now merely observing as events take place around you. Your group makes its way through the city streets, passing by store fronts left and right. Mary and Eliza get distracted by window shopping every few stores, causing a sluggish pace.
It takes a while, but the group soon leaves the shopping district and passes by local businesses without so much as a glance towards their windows. You make a mental remark about the situation and decide to keep it to yourself.
"The sky's already getting dark." Eliza says that while gazing upwards. "We aren't too far off now, are we?"
"Just a little more."
The conversation ends with those words. The city gives way to neighborhoods, and the neighborhoods die off as the woods take over. Not much later you find the steps to the graveyard, and your group silently ascends them. You started to count the steps without even thinking about it, and by the forty-third step a memory reemerges.
It was maybe one or two summers ago when you and Renko walked down the steps and counted how many there were, coming up with the number of one hundred and forty two. One hundred thirty nine... One hundred forty... One hundred forty one...
"It's still decrepit as ever."
Mary says that with a sad expression, coming to a stop before the first grave. She seems to either be uninterested or cautious, seeing as she won't take another step forward.
"Still graffiti where it was before." Renko shrugs as she looks at the back of a gravestone. "I don't see why anybody would bother, all the way out here."
Eliza stays close to Mary as Renko explores. You find yourself staying back, too. Not one to follow superstition, you step up to the graves and look them over. Not much has changed since you were here some time ago, other than some new withered flowers and other small offerings like those.
"Oh, someone with my family name is here." Renko shivers for dramatic effect as she says that. "Creeepy."
"Someone with your family name was here last time, too. They can't get a name change, you know."
Renko gives Mary a cold stare before going back to her business. You almost pointed it out yourself, and now you're glad you didn't. Although Renko would probably laugh if you said it.
"Oh, this is new." You look back towards Renko as she bends over one grave. "Somebody broke this one open... Looks like they even took something that was here before."
Sure enough, the grave she's inspecting has a small alcove on it where a box may have been before. The hole's at an angle and goes down a bit from the center of the gravestone.
"Grave robbing is bad luck... Or, that's what I've always heard people say." Eliza chimes in reluctantly, her face a little pale. "I really don't like this. Can we go soon?"
"I guess so... It's not like anything else is different here, anyway."
Renko shrugs as she says that, then jumps as something hits the ground on the other side of the graveyard. You almost instantly look that way to see leaves rustle next to one of the graves. Just looking around tells you that everyone's thinking the same thing.
Who or what was that?
[ ] Approach the grave and inspect further. [ ] Ask if anyone's there. [ ] Suggest heading home.
So no Psycho!Yukari then. Good. Infuriatingly-Vauge!Yukari I'm fine with, just because she isn't trying to be an Eldritch Abomination.
Of course, if something happens that sets her off as Psycho!Yukari that was our fault or from someone/thing that is worse than a complete douchbag, I won't blame her as long as she doesn't try to drag it out with everyone else.
>>24606 Constructions like "Psycho!Yukari" are A) primarily utilized by the brilliant minds of places like LiveJournal fanfic communities, which makes them annoying by association, B) useless innovations, since they say nothing that isn't said by just writing "psycho Yukari", and C) inherently stupid, since they imply that defining a character by one major personality trait is a good idea.
Sorry about not updating, my week's been a bit busy with job searching. I intend to update this story rather frequently in time, and yes, it is me updating it.
My friend, who's still very much alive, had told me that he thought it was amazing that I wrote and updated a story online which people vote on and read. Thanks to him I decided that I should continue writing this story and that I should definitely see it through to its eventual completion.
As for the actual update, you should expect it some time this weekend. It's worth noting that telling me to get off my lazy ass and write actually would be effective in motivating me to make time for writing, if you ever really want an update.
A bit sheepishly at first, you approach the source of the commotion and slowly part the bushes. A simple charm lays on the ground, the leaves around it pressed into the dirt. You find this odd, especially considering that the charm looks like paper and shouldn't weigh very much. Picking it up, you find out the strange reality.
"What is it?" Renko pushes up against you, apparently less alarmed upon realizing the noise maker wasn't alive. "A charm? Isn't that to ward off evil spirits or something like that?"
"Yeah, but it's really heavy..."
You hand the charm to her, and her hands fall almost immediately after taking it. An expression of shock covers her face as she pulls the token back up into the air. The display makes it hard for you to not chuckle at her expense.
"This really does weigh a ton... No wonder it made a thud like that after hitting the ground." Turning, she holds the trinket up with one shaky hand. "Mary, look! We could add this to the 'enigma' collection!"
Maribel stares lazily at the charm for a moment and yawns. She simply nods her head to express her thoughts, before turning her attention to the graves once more.
You also start to reinspect the graves, curious to see if Mary spotted something unusual. Nothing catches your eye, however, so you quickly lose interest. The gloomy atmosphere of the area starts to sink in, and you find yourself unconsciously rubbing at your eyes and letting your shoulders fall.
"Well, it looks like that was the only thing of interest for this trip." Renko motions towards the charm, which is now in Eliza's hands. "We can investigate it later, but for now we should head home and get some dinner."
Both Mary and Eliza's eyes light up at the mention of food, and the four of you are soon on your way back to the mansion. Eliza continues to rub a thumb on the little trinket you found as your party navigates its way through the woods and then through crosswalks. Her expression gives the impression that she knows something about the item, but doesn't seem to really know herself.
"Do you think it's supposed to keep bad spirits away or something?"
"Ah." She looks up at you as you speak, and seems out of it for another moment before answering. "Maybe. Your guess is better than mine."
She falls silent once more, and you shrug away from the conversation. With Renko focused on leading the way home, Mary focused on Renko, and Eliza focused on the charm... Your group seems strangely silent. It isn't long before you return to the mansion, and find that a group of maids had been loitering in the entryway. They scatter as you come in, and Eliza shakes her head angrily as she follows after them.
Maribel wordlessly takes the charm from your maid friend and flies up the stairs, most likely going to her room to get some research in before dinner. You and Renko watch as they both vanish from sight, then look at eachother and laugh a little sarcastically.
"Well, I've got something to look into, myself." Saying that, she starts walking in the direction of the flower garden. "Let me know when dinner's ready, okay?"
You nod silently, and find yourself left alone at the front door. A feeling of loneliness quickly sweeps over you.
[ ] Find Eliza and see if she needs any help. [ ] Find Maribel and help her research the charm. [ ] Follow Renko to the garden.
I probably would've let that update slip into next week if it wasn't for you two telling me to get off my lazy ass and write, by the way. It really does make a difference when I'm yelled at, but I'll try to be more on time and keep a better schedule as the updates keep coming.
After thinking on it for a while, I guess I'm going with the learnan option. I really like Nine's Renko, but this choice seems like it's something Aoi shouldn't miss out on. Also, it'd be good to get a better read on Maribel. Problems seem to gather around her.
[x] Find Maribel and help her research the charm.
Is there some reason everyone always has to split up? I hate having to choose people to hang out with. It makes me feel like a jerk to all the others that didn't win; moreso in this story than any other, since neglect was a very real concern in previous incarnations of this CYOA.
As far as I can tell, the notion of WHO WILL YOU SPEND TIME WITH NOW? is a holdover from when we were all still trying to make these like VNs or eroge, defining the protagonist through the girl whose company he keeps. I'm worried about that happening again here.
Am I just spouting crazy talk?
>>24660 >Time to up our INT ...Having read its LP semi-recently, I can't help but think of Princess Maker. And then of Princess Maker with Aoi. Or, for a much weirder game, with Futako. I would so fucking play either or both of these.
>>24667 >seems to like playing with cutlery "Hey, Aoi, do the thing with the knife!"
>>22407 >Just a reminder, this isn't the same setting as AoD. Things that happened in AoD may have never happened in this story, and characters may not be portrayed the same way they once were. If you're reading this expecting it to be the exact same thing in a different light, then you're doing it wrong.
Just felt like I had to make a point of this again, despite it being the second post and my pointing it out again and again.
You honestly wish everybody wouldn't split up like this. Eliza's somewhat understandable because of her position as a maid, but there really shouldn't be a reason for you, Renko, and Maribel to go different ways.
Somehow it feels like it's your own fault. It wasn't intentional at first, but your actions have alienated Maribel over the years. It wouldn't actually be that big of a shock if she hated or resented you for distancing her from her best friend.
Your feet seem to move with your thoughts, guiding you towards the staircase. You ascend the steps and walk towards your step-sister's room, feeling compelled to learn more about the charm from earlier.
A timid knock and no reply. You follow up with another knock only to be met with more silence. A third attempt proves effective.
"I'd rather you come in than just standing out there and bothering me all night." A short pause follows. "...Come in."
You slowly open the door, peeking in before entering. Mary sits at a small desk with two books opened, one on top of the other. The trinket from before rests on the edge of the desk, where it holds down a loose piece of paper.
"What do you want?"
"I thought I'd see how things were coming along, that's all."
Maribel huffs and turns her attention back to the large volumes set out in front of her. You pull up a seat and sit beside her, though you keep your distance. The large book she's peering at makes very little sense to you, though you can recognize a few words in it. The English language was never your strong suit before, and it still isn't today. She seems to scan the entire page before flipping to a new one and jotting down a few notes.
"How did you know I was in here, doing this?"
"Just a hunch."
She continues to scan the pages of her book, though she takes fewer and fewer notes as she progresses. She eventually stops jotting down notes as a whole, just glancing through each paragraph of the text in search of something important.
That tome is set aside in favor of the one beneath it. She once again takes down her notes, comparing images in the book with characters on the charm. A quick glance at this new book's pages tells you that, despite being in your preferred language, the words in it are too complex for you to understand.
The note-taking comes to a complete halt as Mary shuts the second book. She sets it aside with her partner and looks over her chicken scratch intently, circling one or two words in particular. You notice the words "curse" and "festival" had both been circled.
"What is this all supposed to mean?"
Mary gives you a condescending glare in reply, holding it for a few seconds before setting down her pencil and pointing at different parts of her paper.
"It wasn't that hard to figure out what this was. It's a charm meant to carry ill fortune." She picks the trinket up and waves it as she speaks. "Somebody probably set it out because they wanted something bad to happen to one of the dead there, though there's another reason they might have made it."
"What would that be?"
"It could be meant to bring bad luck to the upcoming festival."
You seem to recall something important from earlier. The kimono Mary bought, could it be for this festival?
"Is that why you bought that kimono earlier?"
"...For the festival, yes."
She seems to close up after that, wrapping the paper she took notes on around the charm and pocketing it. The look on her face suggests that she's done talking, but that isn't enough to convince you.
"So other than carrying bad luck, what else does the charm do?"
"...You'll find out when Renko does."
Well, that's being a little more straightforward. Her eyes aren't aimed at you, but very pointedly at the door. This, combined with her reluctance to speak, can only mean one thing.
[ ] "If you want me to leave, just say so." [ ] "Well, I'll leave you alone for now." [ ] "It's probably getting close to dinner. Come on." -[ ] Go find Eliza. -[ ] Go find Renko.
I'm not sure what your issue is, but that wasn't meant to and couldn't have had anything to do with Yukari, as she wasn't even mentioned in the last round of comments, I believe.
Besides that, I like to think I'm not even remotely popular enough to be the reason Yukari is so hated. I prefer to think it's because of her portrayal in such diddys as MiG that she'd have a negative image at all, and that it's that negative impression that influenced AoD's Yukari (along with a pinch of Beatrice).
If you want you can go make a /words/ or /blue/ thread about how much you hate Yukari or love her and think I'm the reason she's hated/used as a bad plot line, but I honestly wouldn't care enough to read the thread for more than three seconds before doing something more productive, like updating.
Even if we can't start off on the right foot, at least we can attempt to avoid characters hiding their real feelings from each other. Far better for two people to dislike each other than to subtly pretend that they don't. And the first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one.
With those few words, you've gotten Mary's attention focused on you. Her lips part very slightly, and for a moment she just stares at you with a look of disbelief. It's then that her features darken, and her surprised expression becomes one of mild annoyance.
"Why wouldn't I want you to leave? You're being rude to me in my room, when I was nice enough to even let you come in here!"
"You were nice enough? I was trying to be nice by asking about your research, and you gave me the cold shoulder!"
Mary gets to her feet, and you do the same. For a moment it feels like a scene from a cowboy movie, until you remember the door behind you and back up.
"Well, maybe I should just give you the cold shoulder! It's not like you even care about my research, you just pretended to care so you could feel better about yourself!"
Silence. It's hard to say anything back to that, especially since some small part of it may be true.
Mary swallows hard, and her eyes start to shine as her face turns red. Her expression says more than she could with words, and you, getting the message, leave the room. Running down the hall, you decide that getting away from Mary may be the best thing to do right now.
The stress follows you down the stairs and through the hall which leads to the garden. It starts to fade before you reach the doors which open to the garden, and the sight of lush greenery drives most of your remaining stress away for the time being.
It's then that you remember Renko heading this way earlier. A quick scan of the area shows nothing, though you have picked up on a voice. Following it, you soon find yourself watching something you didn't quite expect to see tonight.
"It's filthy, and I won't have it in my house! If you want to practice something that disgusting, you might as well take it somewhere other than the Hearn mansion!"
Renko avoids eye contact with your mother as she clutches something in one of her hands. It's obvious from the look on her face that she's ashamed of whatever it is she has.
"I hope you don't do that around Aoi or Maribel! They're both very well raised children, and I don't want them to pick up such awful habits! Do you understand?"
Renko nods, her eyes still averted. She raises them briefly to look at Junko, who returns her gaze with a dissatisfied glare. Renko cringes and clears her throat, obviously shaken.
"I-I'm sorry, ma'am. I don't want to be a bad influence to either one of them, and I promise to watch myself from now on."
"I certainly hope so." Junko folds her arms, and her features soften. "I don't want to come across as rude, but I'd really rather you keep that away from here... That is, if you continue to do it."
Renko nods a bit nervously, still not recovered from the talk she had been having. Your mother sighs and bids her a brief farewell before heading towards the side of the mansion. Renko collapses onto the bench she had been near as your mother vanishes, breathing slowly.
"...Hey. Are you okay?"
Saying that, you take a seat next to her. Renko jumps a little and shoves her clenched fist into a shirt pocket. Seeing this, you can't help but raise one brow to question her actions.
"A, ahaha! Yeah, I'm just fine. Your mom was just lecturing me about going off on my own is all, nothing to be worried about!"
"Sorry. I'm sure she means well, but she can be really nasty at times."
Saying that, Renko looks down at the pavement. She knows that you know she's been lying, and apparently isn't trying to hide that fact. Honestly, though, it's more than a bit frustrating to know she'd tell such an obvious lie to you.
"Was my mom really getting on to you for being alone? Not for something else?"
"...I'm sorry." Saying that, her shoulders drop. "I was lying. Your mom was lecturing me over something entirely different."
Your eyes drift to her shirt pocket. Whatever secret she's hiding, the evidence is definitely hidden there.
[ ] "What were you doing, then?" [ ] "Come on, dinner should be ready soon." [ ] Grab for her breast pocket and get the evidence yourself.
[x] That's all you need to know! Accuse her of... -[x] Spoiling her dinner by eating Tic-Tacs! -[x] Biting her fingernails! -[x] Taking up smoking! [x] Failing that, grab for her breast pocket and get the evidence yourself!
Forcefully inject levity by out-dramatizing your mother.
She probably wasn't fooling around with her magical transformation pen.
[+] “I’d… can, I ask what it was? I mean, if it’s too private, that’s fine…”
Same conceit as the previous votes, but I reworded it to sound a little less antagonistic. Friends help friends out during rough times, and friends keep each others’ secrets, but friends also don’t make friends too uncomfortable. There’s no telling how just how hard Junko hit Renko here. Baby steps; go halfway and let Renko come the other half if she feels like it.
I realize I haven't updated in a while, and that I did ask you to tell me to update in a manner such as the one just used. I'll have to ask for forgiveness and patience, though. I've come to a major breakthrough on something that had been stumping me concerning my own writing, and I want to make sure I have the issue completely tackled before I keep writing and somehow slip up. I'm sure you all can agree that having things all together and stable is more important than updating while unsure of my ability to do so. With that said, I should have this worked out in another day or so. Expect a return to updates this weekend.
"...What were you doing, then? If it's too private that's fine, but..."
Stopping your sentence there, you desperately try to make a pleading face. You're really curious what she was really doing, and the fact that she's hiding it only makes you want to know more.
"Well, I guess it wasn't really bad. Here."
Saying that, she pulls a strange item out of her shirt pocket. It looks like a small talisman, sort of a big O with four spikes spread out evenly. What looks like scribbles cover the inside of the item.
"I borrowed this from your- er, Mary's dad's office. Eliza told me he was into some weird stuff, so I kind of snatched it to take a look."
"You're saying she was mad that you stole something?"
Renko shrugs. She doesn't look certain, though you think her guess may be better than yours.
"I don't know. Also, I didn't steal it. I was just borrowing."
"But, you said yourself that you sna-"
"Borrowed. I borrowed it."
Crossing her arms, she makes the most defiant and childish face you've seen her make in quite some time. It's kind of refreshing to know that she isn't a complete adult yet.
"Well, if she's not mad that you borrowed it, then what else could be wrong?"
"I'm not sure, but..." Renko peeks over your shoulder and looks back before continuing. "I think your mom hates all this magic hocus pocus stuff."
That... wouldn't be very surprising. You're a little set off by it too, sometimes. The fact that Maribel and her dad are both into occult literature and collecting weird "artifacts" isn't a very comforting thing. Especially some of the things in Mr. Hearn's office, like a cow skull on his shelf.
Renko takes your wrist and sets the odd trinket down in your hand. You look it over briefly, wondering just what its purpose may be, before looking back up to Renko.
"I'd appreciate it if you put that back for me." She grins. "It was on his desk, next to a stack of important-looking papers."
You nod, pocketing the item while making a mental note to return it after dinner. Magical charms makes you think of Maribel and the charm you found earlier. It may not be a bad idea to... Well, not to apologize. Just to let her know you don't really hate her.
The two of you bask in silence for some time before Eliza pops her head out from behind one of the large doors leading into the mansion. You can tell from her headdress that she's in uniform now.
"Master Aoi, Miss Usami, dinner is ready." She pauses a moment, before adding, "Mr. Hearn said he wants to speak to you later, Master Aoi."
"Mister? Isn't he your master?" Renko grins slyly. "Or, have you decided someone else is going to own you...?"
Your cheeks heat up, and your heart skips a beat. She couldn't possibly be talking about you, could she?
"No, no! Please don't misunderstand, that was a mistake! Please don't tell Master Hearn, please!"
"Aha, calm down! I was only teasing you."
Saying that, Renko stands up and moves past Eliza. She disappears into the hall, leaving just you and the maid servant in the garden. Eliza shuts the door as she steps out, a small frown on her lips.
"...Master Aoi, about the trip."
"Ah-" This isn't something you want to talk about. Not now, at least. "Yeah, it was good. Come on, dinner's waiting!"
You run over to the door, pushing past the girl to get inside. Some part of you hurts from knowing you just made her sad, but... It's better this way.
The two of you catch up to Renko, who has her arms behind her head. She appears as relaxed as ever, looking like she's just short of a whistlefest.
"Hey, Eliza." She turns her attention to the maid, who had grown quiet. "What's on the menu?"
"A simple salad will start the meal, followed by a steak with mashed potatoes and assorted greens. For dessert, we'll have-"
"Mmm, sounds good." Renko cuts her off, apparently not really that interested. "So, how's your first day returning to work been?"
"Well, not too bad. The other maids were jealous that I got to accompany Master Aoi on his travels, and were pestering me for all the details. One of them even said she was interested in you, Master Aoi!"
"Ah..." Eliza looks let down at your reaction, though you find it hard to blush about someone you don't know thinking that. "That's nice, I guess."
"Anyway..." The maid looks back to Renko. "It hasn't been so bad. We have to part here, though. I'll see you in a bit!"
She skips off the other way as you approach the door to the dining room. Probably to go help in the kitchen, you think.
Renko leads the way into the room, where Mr. Hearn and your mother seem to be arguing. The man notices the two of you enter and seems to use it as an excuse to get away, giving your mother a rushed goodbye as he takes off.
You walk over to her, seeing the disappointment on her face. She sighs, and seems to be drawn inward until Renko speaks up.
"What was that about? Finances, business, or some other boring stuff like that?"
"No..." Junko's shoulders sag as she continues to speak. "I'm afraid my husband won't be joining us for dinner. He invited some friends over to play poker, and thinks that's more important than family."
"Oh... Awful sorry about that." Renko pats your mom's shoulder. "At least you have the rest of us, right?"
The pain on your mother's face grows stronger, and it looks like she's about to cry as she continues to speak.
"Maribel won't come down, either. She's locked up in her room, and she told me that she's too busy with research to eat with us..."
Somehow, you feel as if you're to blame for that. It breaks your heart to see your mother as upset as she is, though you're not sure if you can make things better or only make them worse.
[ ] Volunteer to get Mary. -[ ] Bring Renko with you. -[ ] Send Renko to get Mr. Hearn. [ ] Ask Renko to get Mary while you stay with your mom. [ ] Go ask Mr. Hearn to postpone his poker game. -[ ] Bring Renko with you. -[ ] Send Renko to get Mary.
That was unexpected, but I can see why Junko would berate her for it.
[x] Go ask Mr. Hearn to postpone his poker game. -[x] Send Renko to get Mary.
Mr. Hearn seems intimidated by us, so this might have a better chance of succeeding. If it's in front of his poker friends, they're more likely to take the side of his pleading 'daughter' than with someone unrelated. Plus we haven't interacted much with him, and even if this is unlikely to work, I'd like to see Aoi stand up for his mother. (Courage +2)
Renko I think has a better chance of persuading Maribel as a closer friend. I think we need to give her time to simmer down before Aoi should try apologizing to her.
Renko probably shouldn't be sent to get Hearn because she had just stolen from him, which might affect her assertiveness, but at least trying to bring Mary down might improve Renko's standing in Junko's eyes after that incident.
[+] Volunteer to get Mary. -[+] Bring Renko with you. -[+] Apologize to Mary first; don't act like she's the one in the wrong.
Aoi just had a row with Mary, and it looks like she's still angry. It's worth a try to attempt and apologize before she's stewed in that anger too long. Acting kind and passive here is a must; if Mary thinks Aoi is just yanking her chain, she'll clam up again. Perhaps it'd be a good idea to start caring about her said research in the near future; friendships are born from common interests after all. Renko should come with us in case Mary is really that obstinate right now. And for some overly-suspicious reason I don’t think Mr. Hearn is playing “poker” right now, and he probably won’t be convinced to leave the “game”.
I’d write in some apology text but I don’t want to steal too much of Nine’s job from him.
[X] Go ask Mr. Hearn to postpone his poker game. -[X] Send Renko to get Mary.
Mr. Hearn's just going to keep avoiding Aoi until the two of them are alone? Can you say suspicious? Screw that, Aoi just got back from vacation and everyone's going to sit down and have dinner, like a family.
An update is on the way, rest assured. But first, I feel like I owe an explanation for the delay.
My best friend for five or so years now had been struggling with leukemia for two or so years, and a few weeks back it did him in. The Saturday after that I was a paulbearer at his funeral, and I guess the depression is what led to so many things happening at once. The week after I could barely function, and the doctor told me that I had two ear infections, a nasal infection, and bronchitis. The nasal infection is gone now, thankfully. However, the past week I went back and was diagnosed with strep throat, and have been spending most of my time since then sleeping. I guess the best explanation I can offer, aside from the medical issues, is that I've just been too depressed to do anything really productive for a while now. Yet like I said, I'm working on the update now and I'll hopefully have it up tomorrow if it's not posted tonight.
You take one more look at your mother's downtrodden expression, and it's decided.
"Excuse us for just a moment."
Saying that, you shoot a meaningful look in Renko's direction. She seems to get the message, seeing how she follows you out of the room.
"I'll go get Mr. Hearn if you can get Mary. Does that work?"
"Ah. Yeah, sure." For a moment her expression is dumbfounded, but she recovers. "Are you sure that's a good idea? I mean, I'm pretty sure I can get Mary to come, but her dad is really... I guess he's kind of intimidating."
"I can handle it." You wave your hand in a dismissive way, trying to reassure her. "Okay then, I'll meet you out here in just a couple of minutes."
You turn and take a step towards the stairs, but Renko grabs your arm. Seems your hand waving wasn't very reassuring, after all.
"Shouldn't we tell your mom? I mean, what if she thinks we ditched her? She'll only be even more sad."
"I asked to be excused for just a moment, and that's all the time this should take. Besides, she'd probably be sad if we said we went to get someone and came back empty handed, so it's better this way!"
Renko doesn't seem very convinced. She goes after Mary regardless, and you also make haste in tracking down your target. It doesn't take long to find the room Mr. Hearn and his friends are in, though it took a maid or two to direct you.
As you stand outside the door, thoughts of what to say to him go through your mind. You keep repeating words over and over in your head, your hand lightly touching the door knob. Finally, you manage to knock. A voice tells you to enter and you do as it instructs.
"Ah, so is this your precious daughter?" A portly man sits at the poker table, across from Mr. Hearn. His grin is almost as wide as his bushy black mustache. "Gotta say, Grig, good looks run in the family!"
Mr. Hearn puts his cards face down on the table. Turning around, he proceeds to stare daggers at you as you close the door.
"What is it? Didn't you hear that I had a poker game with my friends tonight?"
He gestures towards the portly man and two others who are seated with him.
They're all rather shady figures. One man has gray hair tied back into a ponytail and signs of age all over his face. The other man has a scrawny face and messy black hair, with a pair of large glasses over his eyes. The fat man doesn't seem that strange, but with this company he's probably just as shady.
"I know, but..." Mr. Hearn's steady gaze makes you squirm. "Um, couldn't it wait until later? Mom really wanted to eat as a family."
"Aw, she just wants daddy to be there for din-din!" The fat man grins as Mr. Hearn glares in his direction. "Lighten up, Grig. We can wait."
"Hideyoshi, don't think I've forgotten that trick you pulled last time. I intend to take back every yen you stole."
The fat man, Hideyoshi, clams up. He wipes his neck with an embroidered handkerchief and starts pretending to admire the furniture.
"You're a real hardass, Hearn." The gray haired man smiles disdainfully as he speaks. "Skipping out on dinner with your family to get back money you don't even need. Revenge is more filling, isn't it?"
Mr. Hearn ignores him and turns his attention back to you.
"You're disrupting my game. I think it'd be in your best interest to tell Junko I'm busy and get out of my hair."
"I know you don't like me, kid. You better learn your place, though, or else you might lose that nice apartment of yours."
Those words easily shut you up. Mr. Hearn turns back to his game, and picks his cards back up. He reaches into a box by the table and grabs a cigar, then turns to look at you once more. His stare his cold and firm.
You back into the door and fumble for the knob. A quick bow and then you leave the room behind.
It didn't even occur to you that you were holding your breath. You exhale and then breathe in deeply in an attempt to calm down. You try to think of something else, anything else, and your thoughts turn to Renko.
Another maid helps lead you to Mary's room, which seems to still be locked. Knocking lightly, you ask if Renko's there. Silence follows, and you try again.
"She was here a short while ago, and she left."
Your heart sinks a little. So Renko failed to...?
"Mary..." You knock on the door again. "Can you let me in?"
"Give me a good reason."
"I wanted to apologize for earlier." She's quiet on the other side, and you continue. "I said some things I shouldn't have, and... I'm sorry."
More silence. You stand there a moment, your hand touching the door knob. You sigh and turn to go back, just as the door opens.
Maribel stands in the door frame, looking at you a little skeptically. It takes her a moment, but her look of skepticism fades.
"I should be sorry... I guess." She looks up and away as she speaks. "You didn't even say that much. I went a little overboard, perhaps."
"...So, does this mean you'll come to dinner?"
"No, it means that I'm sorry for jumping to conclusions." Having said that, her stomach growls. "...I guess I'll have dinner anyway, though."
Your mood picks up a little, hearing that. Her attitude is irritating, and she doesn't sound very sincere, but at least your mom will be happy this way.
The two of you soon reunite with Renko outside the dining room. She's more than surprised by Mary's presence.
"What the hell? I thought you were getting her dad! You took my job!"
Renko laughs, and Maribel crinkles her nose a little. She looks a little disgusted.
The three of you walk into the dining room, where your mom sits with a half plate of food. Her face lights up when she sees who you brought, and she quickly orders a maid to bring Mary something to eat. Taking a seat, you get back to having dinner.
It didn't take too long to eat, and Maribel wasn't really that talkative. You know it meant a lot to Junko anyway, and she even told you as much before checking up on the maids.
"So, I was really surprised back there." Renko props her arms up on the table, her gaze fixed on Maribel. "I asked you about it and you wouldn't leave your room with me. How'd Aoi convince you, huh?"
Maribel wipes her mouth with a napkin and sets it down neatly on top of her plate. She looks in your direction, a hint of a smile showing through her cold exterior.
"You called me Mary."
You set your own silverware down and think back. Yeah, you did call her that, didn't you?
"That's why I listened to him, at least. I came down to eat because I was hungry."
And just like that, the heartwarming sensation that was building up in your chest is gone. Mary really knows how to kill a mood.
"In any case, I think I'll return to my studies. Excuse me."
She stands up, pushes in her chair, and leaves the room in silence.
"...Ah, I should really thank your mom for the food before I go."
Renko gets up, then makes a beeline for the room Junko went into.
"...Maybe I should follow Maribel..."
"I'd advise against it, Master Aoi." Eliza appears behind you, seemingly from nowhere at all. "She takes her studies very seriously. Besides, I believe Mr. Hearn wished to speak with you?"
"...How did you-"
"I'm a servant in his mansion. I know these sort of things."
You were actually going to ask how she got behind you, but you decide against it.
[ ] Go find Mary. [ ] Go find Mr. Hearn. [ ] Go find Renko. -[ ] Ask her to stay the night. -[ ] Ask if you can stay the night.
I want to give this another go. His poker pals seem a lot more understanding than he is, so hopefully they've got Aoi's back if Mr. Hearn lashes out at him too much. Asking to see him means he at least cares somewhat.
>>25216 I think Ninny made a point of saying that Aria of Deception and Aria of Illusions weren't going to be the same. Characters are portrayed differently between them. So trying to understand this Mr. Hearn based on the last Mr. Hearn isn't going to work.
Unless you're just genuinely curious, in which case I forgot.
Staying the night here with Ren should be a no brainer because it allows for Junko, Eliza, and Mary interaction. However, depending on how the conversation goes, Aoi might not want to sleep in the mansion tonight.
[x] Go find Renko. [x] Go find Mr. Hearn. -[x] Ask if you can stay the night.
Going in this order, and including all of them since the majority in both cases wanted these options. If there's any objections, let me know soon.
In addition, I'd like to make a plug for Owen's new story in /others/. I'm partially responsible for it seeing light due to constantly pestering him to write something plot-centric that wasn't ASSM for me to read. Not that there's anything wrong with ASSM, but he related a lot of his ideas for it to me while writing it, so it'd be like reading something where you already know the ending.
In any case, his story is in the following link. I'd appreciate it if you gave it a look if you haven't already. >>/others/32264
Just a post to say that I'm sorry for dropping this. I doubt I'll be coming back to it any time soon, largely since I've come to really dislike what I'd done with AoD and AoI. To be more specific, I was upset with myself for writing so many OCs and non-canon bits into the story. I've been trying to better myself by writing something with a bigger focus on the actual subject matter (Touhou) for a month or so now. If it goes over well enough, I'll probably return to this and try to make it something I can be proud of.