'How do you-' You begin to blurt out, and then clamp down on your own words, faintly embarrassed. 'Hmm?' Yoshika cracks one eye open again and stares at you with a lazy expression.
Okay, time to admit it to yourself.
'How do you know that me and Mary have a thing for each other?' You frown, at Yoshika. 'It is really that obvious? ... I mean, I have a thing for Mary, that's true, I think. I dunno if she feels the same way. We've been friends for years. I've known her for more of my life than I haven't known her. Aheh ... funny really, isn't it?' You cough to stop your nervous tension making you run your mouth at maximum speed. You've never actually said this out loud before; you never imagined the first time you'd admit it would be to a nude zombie-woman lying on Mary's bed. Today is turning out pretty damn weird.
'Some lovers fall together, by chance and circumstance, they love those who are next to them,' Yoshika murmurs, her voice slower than before; you swear you can detect a hint of far-off sorrow in her voice as she continues. 'But some lovers are drawn together, no matter where they stand. A hundred leagues apart, wed to the wrong partners, speaking different languages, and they will still find each other.' She nods slowly, and then closes her eyes again. 'Sounds a little melodramatic.' You comment quietly, feeling embarrassed. 'If you have experienced it, you can see it in others.' Yoshika says. 'Yes, it is obvious. To me.'
She falls silent; an unspoken question hovers on your lips.
'You mean you've-' You start. 'A long time ago.' Yoshika grunts, frowning sharply. 'I don't wish to discuss it.' You puff out a sigh. 'Alright, okay.' You hold up both hands in a placating gesture. ' ... still, I find it sort of wacky to think me and Mary are fated to be for each other or something, that sounds silly.' 'It is not fate.' Yoshika corrects you gently. 'It is only nature.' 'Still.' You shrug, trailing off and sighing again. 'Go be busy.' Yoshika rumbles at you.
'Mm.' You agree.
The ancient house creaks around you as you descend the stairs again, leaving Yoshika behind to roam, or sleep, or whatever it is she's really doing.
When you reach the entrance hall - still messy with four pairs of shoes, your and Mary's bags, and Yoshika's discarded tshirt - you add Yoshika's other clothes to the pile. The rain is coming down even harder than before, making the building drum with a static background hum, almost as if the house itself is trying to lull you to sleep.
The door to the kitchen is open by a crack, and you can see light spilling out around the door-frame. A faint smell of cooking catches in your nostrils, and your stomach rumbles.
[ ] Mary! Food! Heat! Light! All good things. [ ] Hold up. You've got a moment of privacy. This is the perfect time to get your tools out of your bag and keep them on you. [ ] Hold up. Circuit the house once first, double check the doors and windows.
[x] Hold up. Circuit the house once first, double check the doors and windows. [x] Hold up. You've got a moment of privacy. This is the perfect time to get your tools out of your bag and keep them on you.
[ ] Hold up. You've got a moment of privacy. This is the perfect time to get your tools out of your bag and keep them on you. [ ] Hold up. Circuit the house once first, double check the doors and windows.
This is the first moment you've had alone since you trudged into the Sealing Club meeting room and stripped off your wet clothes. It feels like a day ago, or a week ago, rather than ... what's the time, anyway? You glance over at the clock on the wall - a neat piece of purple plastic, the one concession to clean modernity in the entrance hall - and discover it's almost two in the afternoon. The rain makes it feel more like seven in the evening.
Right, before Mary comes back out of the kitchen, or Yumemi goes exploring. You don't really want anyone to see this.
The inside of your bag is a jumble of junk and loose papers: the carbon-copy of the date-stamp sheet you used for your essay this morning, a notebook covered in physics work, a half-melted chocolate bar, an unopened pair of sanitary pads, door keys, pens, your much-abused copy of In Search of Schrodinger's Cat, a couple of blank CDs, one of them which you know is full of photos you took last week. You leave your lock pick in the bag for now, there's no reason to carry that on you at all times. Your penknife multi-tool, however, goes into your jacket pocket. Just in case. Then you wrap your fingers around the heavy, cloth-covered object at the very bottom of your bag. You check over your shoulder, just to be one hundred percent sure, before you take it out of the bag and unwrap the cloth.
The matt-black handle of your pistol sits comfortably in your right hand as you check it's loaded. You make sure the safety is on, and then slide it - minus the concealing tshirt you usually keep it wrapped in - into your inside jacket pocket. You tell yourself this isn't necessary. You don't even know if what Yoshika told you was true, let alone if you're actually in any danger. But Mary might be. If you are. She'd fly off the handle if she knew you carried this thing around with you all day. Entirely legal, of course, as long as you don't take it out in public. Well. Mostly legal. Who would ever think of searching a wistful female physics student anyway? You need to load it with those "special" bullets you have in your underwear drawer back in your apartment, if you're going to be pointing it at things that aren't human.
The gun sits heavy against your side; you won't need it.
You close your bag, stand up again, and take a deep breath, forgetting about it for now. It's there, if. Just if.
The cooking smells from the kitchen lure you in that direction again, but first you decide to check that Mary really did lock all of the windows. She's shut the inner door, the heavy one that makes up for the real front door being about fifty years old. And she's drawn the bolt. You ignore the kitchen door for now and head through the other one, the one that leads into the dusty, never-used sitting room.
It's dark in there, with no lights on and the rain smothering the tiny windows at either end of the room. You move through the shadowy grey space, skirting the broken sofa and uncomfortable armchairs so you can check both windows have been locked. The large empty cabinet toward the far end of the room sits there staring at you like a vacant grave, just an open space where a television should have been if this place wasn't so crumbling. When you're satisfied both windows are locked, you head through the second door at the back of the room, into what was probably once a real dining room. Mary never uses this space; it feels lonely and cold, with nothing in here except an ancient oak table propped up against one wall, and a fraying blue carpet beneath your feet. The largest windows in the house look out onto the overgrown, unkempt garden, like a little slice of wetland moor deposited in the middle of a city.
Something could hide out there, couldn't it?
You put that thought right out of your mind; you're not going out in the rain to squelch around the garden right now, and these windows are locked nice and tight. There's nothing hiding under the table, and nothing behind you.
The last door leads to the tiny connecting corridor, back to the kitchen. Only a few feet between you and Mary now. And her cooking. You can hear her saying something, voice muffled by the doorway between you. But you stop in the little brown-wallpapered space, sighing and looking at the heavy door to the basement.
You really should ...
[ ] Check the basement. [ ] Fuck it, there's not going to be anything in there.
You sigh at yourself, and then push the basement door open. You expect it to creak ominously, as it opens on a black, lightless gulf. But instead it swings open on smooth hinges and reveals the bare stone steps leading down, lit faintly by a high-up window at the base of the basement space. It's grey with rain-light, but you can at least see.
The steps echo faintly as you creep downward, away from Mary's voice and the cooking smells leaking out of the kitchen. The basement opens out into a wide space, one end made of poured concrete and breeze blocks, the other constructed with actual stone. Empty wooden crates sit all along one wall - some of them bearing ancient shipping dates, in languages from every corner of the world. Some of them are still sealed, and have been the entire time you've known Mary. The boiler - a huge impassive cylinder of steel, like a rocket-ship on its side - gurgles away quietly, taking up an entire corner of the basement and extending metal tendrils up through the ceiling to feed the house with water and heat.
'Come out, come out, monsters.' You say, laughing softly at yourself. There's nothing down here, nowhere to hide. Except inside some of the crates that Mary's ancestors left here, and that would be dumb. You walk over to the boiler and rap your knuckles on it gently. Solid. Real. Very reassuring that the old thing is still chugging along; Mary hasn't pestered you to take a look at it for nearly six months now. You-
You spot a mirror.
Tucked away at a angle so it's half-hidden behind the boiler, there's a full-length mirror, just standing there. You step around for a better look, frowning in confusion. You don't remember this here before. Perhaps Mary moved it from some other part of the house? It's obviously pretty old; the frame is silver-coloured. No, you realise with a shock when you reach out and touch it, that's actual silver. The mirror surface itself is pitted and smeared, but the frame is in near-perfect condition. This must be worth ... well, an entire year's tuition fees, at the very least! Where has Mary been hiding this?! If she's just going to bung it down here by the boiler, you may as well sell it.
'Hey, Mary!' You call up the stairs, but your voice is captured by the acoustics of the basement, reverberating back at you. 'Whatever.' You mutter, and turn back to the mirror. This is a hell of a find. Did she dig it out of the crates, or what? Where did it come from?
[ ] Go ask Mary about the mirror. [ ] Investigate, see if you can find a manufacturer's mark on it. [ ] Did she start going through the crates? What else might be in them?
Caution kicks in hard; you step away from the mirror. You've never seen this before. You don't remember it from anywhere else in the house. Mary didn't mention it to you, and you can't imagine her stuffing it down here by herself, or actually going through the rates piled up against the far wall.
You stare into the mirror for a few moments, looking at an image of yourself distorted by the scrapes, abrasions, cracks and lines that web the glass. The mirror is very old, but the frame shines with loving attention. It's been cared for.
Mary would have mentioned this.
You step away from the mirror and head back up the stairs, casting furtive glances behind you at the silent silver sentinel. The rain-filtered light gives it a ghostly sheen, reflecting the static of the storm outside and the shadows inside the basement. You only feel comfortable again when you close the basement door, and stride into the kitchen.
'Mary!' You grin at the scene which greets you. The kitchen is large, and bright, and colourful, with Mary's touches everywhere - pastel coloured wallpaper plastered over the decaying green walls, clean white worktops, a stuffed bear sitting in one of the empty chairs. The windows are doing a poor job of lighting the space, looking out on the dripping garden, but Mary has turned all the lights on, giving the kitchen a soft, welcoming glow. The smell of cooking - real cooking, not campus canteen trash - fills the air, emanating from Mary's favourite heavy cooking pot, bubbling away merrily on the top of the stove like a particularly tempting witches' brew. You can smell chicken, red wine, and a lot of spice. Very Mary.
Mary herself is just bustling about washing her hands when you enter, but your eyes are drawn to the kitchen table in the middle of the space, and Yumemi sitting in one of the chairs, working away furiously.
She's spread out several sheets of blank paper on the table, half of which are now covered with angular symbols and curving sections of what looks like a circle; once she completes it the circle is going to be probably more than six feet wide. And red. All the symbols are in red. Bright, claret-red. You spot a syringe next to Yumemi, full of red liquid; her left sleeve is rolled up and there's a trio of little cotton swabs lying on the table, along with a shallow saucer filled with a very small amount of blood. As you watch, Yumemi looks up, nods to you, dips her fountain pen into the blood, and continues drawing in a frenzy, almost panting with concentration.
'Renko!' Mary turns, drying her hands on a tea-towel. 'How'd you get around that side?' She beams at you.
For a moment the clashing images leave you speechless. Mary and her cooking at one end of the kitchen, with Yumemi performing crazy blood-magic right next to her.
'Uh ... ' You gather yourself. 'Mary, why is there a mirror in the basement?' ' ... mirror?' She blinks. 'Big mirror, silver, very expensive looking. It's tucked half behind the boiler.' You continue. ' ... there's no mirror in the basement, Renko.' Mary answers, looking suddenly serious.
'Right, that's what I thought.' You say quietly, sighing inside.
[ ] Get. Yoshika. Now. [ ] 'Yumemi, anything else you haven't told us? Magical appearing mirrors, perhaps?' [ ] Show Mary the mirror. It did nothing to you before, it's safe. Maybe she's just being scatterbrained.
You and Mary hold each other's gaze for a few moments, probably thinking the same thing. Yumemi looks up from her blood-work in the sudden silence. 'What?' She asks, oblivious. 'I'll get Yoshika.' You start toward the other door. 'No!' Mary holds out both hands, trotting ahead of you. 'I'll get her, you stay here. Won't be a moment!' She hurries out of the kitchen door, like a mother after a wayward child. A moment later you hear her light footsteps ascending the stairs.
' ... what?' Yumemi repeats, frowning as her attention is drawn away from the spell she's weaving - or whatever it really is. 'Nothing, I hope. Just something in the basement.' You say without thinking, instantly regretting your choice of words as they leave your mouth. 'I mean, just a mirror.' You add as Yumemi's eyes widen. 'A mirror ... ' She echoes you, and then trails off, staring through you before starting again suddenly. 'Mirrors are highly important in many of the symbolic and representative systems that inform metaphyiscs.' She says, and then waits patiently, eyes on you. 'Oh yeah?' You blink. 'Mmm.' Yumemi tries a little smile, obviously disappointed her textbook-recitation didn't garner more interest. 'But for what,' you gesture vaguely at her blood-marked papers. 'What for, and why would one appear in Mary's basement?'
'Mirrors are symbolic portals!' Yumemi continues eagerly, and then comes to an abrupt stop, looking down with the embarrassment of a student unable to answer her professor.
You hear Mary's light footsteps returning down the stairs, accompanied by a heavier, fleshier tread: Yoshika is still somewhat naked, you assume.
[ ] Wait for Mary and Yoshika to break the awkward silence; you have bigger things to worry about anyway. [ ] Pat Yumemi's shoulder. At least she's trying. [ ] 'Does Rika have anything to say about mirrors? You could look into that for us.'
Posting on three hours sleep, from work, using mobile internet.
'Does Rika have anything to say about mirrors?' You ask, putting a serious frown on your face and forcing Yumemi to meet your eyes. You even lean forward, hands on the table, eyes boring into hers. 'Uh!' Yumemi looks up, blinking at you for a second. You allow the faintest smile to cross your lips, just enough to flicker; you inwardly congratulate yourself for playing this so smoothly. 'Y-yes! Some!' Yumemi reaches for her bag, rummaging inside. 'S-she did one small study, I haven't reread the paper in a few weeks but I think I can dig something out!' 'Good, you do that then. Look into it for us.' You give Yumemi a broad wink when she looks up again, and her cheeks flush with sudden embarrassment. She pretends not to react, gluing her eyes to the papers in her hands. But you can see they're upside down.
'Th-thank-' She starts.
Mary trots back into the room at high-speed, eyes wide and alert, a cautious look on her face; so unlike her that you respond without even thinking about it, muscles tensing and jaw tightening. '- you ... ' Yumemi trails off, voice dying away now it's no longer just you and her. She rights the papers in her hands and searches with the pedantic - but expert - gaze of a career academic. 'Renko, nothing happened?' Mary patters to your side and asks. 'Nothing yet.' You shrug. 'Nothing will!' Yoshika announces as she strides into the room just behind Mary.
You do a double-take at her; she's found one of Mary's old bath robes, one of the really old ones, once-fluffy crimson reduced to a threadbare cloak that hangs around her shoulders. She's left the front open, her bare skin and tattoos still on full display, and her feet bare on the kitchen floorboards. She looks like the savage queen of some headhunter tribe, strong and toned underneath her cloak of blood. Totally out of place in Mary's kitchen.
'Nothing?' You raise an eyebrow at her. 'Nothing.' Yoshika echos, drawing up short and spreading her arms. 'Sorcerers do not risk discovery with flashy tricks and obvious clues. Traps are designed to be sprung,' Yoshika jerks her head forward and snaps her teeth. 'Not caught and observed from a distance.' 'If you say so,' you shrug. 'So why's it down there?' You glance at Mary. 'Are you sure you didn't just-'
'You're wrong.' Yumemi interrupts, looking at Yoshika. She's got a quietly confident look in her eyes, and you'd bet there's some revenge weighed behind her gaze too. Even if Yoshika is no longer the creature which stalked her. Yumemi continues before anybody else has a chance to react. 'The Professor identifies mirrors as a very specific kind of conduit. I remember this now.' She slaps the papers down on her bag with one hand. 'She saw it performed once, by an unknown practitioner, but could not replicate the effect. She called it Instant Spatial Repositioning. Teleportation.' ' .. unknown practitioner?' You raise an eyebrow; that really doesn't help. 'She ... doesn't go into contextual detail here,' Yumemi gulps, looking down and shuffling her hands in her lap. 'It's quite curt.' 'Let me see.' You hold a hand out, holding back a sigh.
Yumemi quickly shuffles the papers together and leans over the table to hand them to you. She sits back down with an embarrassed pause. Mary and Yoshika both peer over your shoulders as you flick through Rika's notes.
Three pages of equations, almost all of which go completely over your head at first glance. They're interspersed with a series of diagrams about mirrors, angles and trajectory, all motion based around a mirror as pivot. Once you slow down and read them a second time, you frown and almost shake your head. What's she trying to do here, calculate distance over time assuming zero mass and infinite acceleration, but what is all this junk? This borders on complete nonsense, but ... You sigh and ignore it for now, leafing through until you find some actual text.
"- Offered help by subject Uncombative Female Seven. Seven expressed distaste at direction of my work. Unknown how Seven came into possession of knowledge of project S. Must ensure tighter working conditions.
- Female Seven offered demonstration of skills. Observed, great interest. Proceeding proofs are conclusion after watching attempts to convince me of her utility.
- Seven would not answer my questions! The mirror she used is just a mirror! I am disappointed. More obfuscation and I am none the wiser as to how to achieve this feat!
- Refused offer of help.
- Seven departed without further incident. Am unsure if current safeguards would be able to defeat her skills and methods. Must update project S."
The neatly typed letters carry a clipped, clinical veneer, but you can almost feel the intensity of concentration in them. Rika's voice speaks to you across the gulf of years. You only wish you knew what she meant.
Below the print are two lines written in faded pencil. The letters are shaky, and the hand that wrote them must have been either very tired, or very scared.
"Rika, what are you doing? Where does this all lead?
I don't know."
You frown at the half-vanished plea.
' ... something has teleported into my house?' Mary looks up, one hand at her own throat in mild alarm.
[ ] Don't mention the pencil addition. [ ] 'Yumemi, you think Rika added this here?'
You decide not to mention the handwritten lines at the bottom of the page, quickly moving the sheets in your hands so your fingers just happen to cover the faded pencil marks; you hope that Mary and Yoshika - well, Mary at least - didn't spot them before you did. The naked hopelessness of those two sentences, so mundane in any other situation, settles a cold feeling into the pit of your stomach.
You clear your throat and shake the feeling off; Rika might not have written that. The clipped, aggressive tightness of the typed lines sounds more like how you're beginning to picture her: one of those female professors with tiny, sharp glasses, never seen without a labcoat and a clipboard. The polar opposite of Yumemi, in fact.
'If the mirror is inside ... p-perhaps?' Yumemi tries to provide an answer to Mary's shocked question, shrugging awkwardly as she realises that she can't. 'Wait, wait.' You hold up one hand, leaving the papers on the table for now. 'I've checked the house, there's nobody in here but us four, assuming there's nothing invisible or intangible?' You glance at Yoshika. 'Do not credit me with a sage's powers.' She grunts. 'I wandered the upstairs. It was empty apart from my own footfalls.' 'T-there's lots of nooks and crannies in the house.' Mary gulps, and then takes a deep breath, trying her best to keep her usual bright attitude shored up. 'Somebody could hide ... ' She looks at you with a nervous smile.
'We're jumping to conclusions.' You interrupt the wild theorising. 'That didn't even really make any sense to me.' You gesture at Rika's crazy diagrams about mirrors and time. 'Yoshika, take a look at the mirror? Please?' You sigh inwardly. You're really starting to feel the burn now; lack of sleep is heavy behind your eyes and in your limbs. 'Very well.' She nods.
The mirror is gone.
'It was right here, I swear!' You almost tear your hair out with both hands, gritting your teeth and flushing with embarrassment. 'Mary, I wouldn't make this up!' You plead with her, but Mary doesn't seem to need more convincing. She stands at the top of the basement stairs with Yumemi, peering down with tight concern on her face as you and Yoshika investigate the now-empty space behind the boiler. 'An imaginary mirror. Such a creative trap. To make us think our stalwart is mad.' Yoshika gets a big, shark-toothed smile on her face at your frustration. 'It was here! Look,' you take a deep breath and hold your hand up. 'About this high, and the frame was solid silver. I touched it, I didn't just imagine it.' 'Then where did it wander?' Yoshika raises an eyebrow.
'Perhaps somebody moved it.' Yumemi suggests, her small voice echoing in the basement gloom. You and Yoshika both fall silent.
[ ] Alright. Search the house again. In pairs. [ ] Oh no, no splitting up. All four of your are staying in the same room until the the rain lets up, and then you can check the house in sunlight, later, or tomorrow morning.
' ... that's not funny, Yumemi.' Mary says, checking over her shoulder with a nervous glance, staring back out into the little connecting corridor. The look on her face makes your heart ache. 'It wasn't meant to be funny.' Yumemi answers with a flick of her chin. 'I'm serious.' 'A mysterious midnight wanderer, hmm? Pacing the halls and moving mirrors?' Yoshika looks at you with a sharp-eyed expression, far more serious than her tone of voice suggests. Then she rumbles low in her throat: 'Our budding sorcerer may be right." 'Yeah, yeah.' You nod, quickly deciding on a plan of action.
First thing is to get out of this basement.
Back in the kitchen, with the aroma of Mary's cooking still filling the air, you feel a semblance of normality returning. One that is quickly broken by the sight of Yoshika striding to the window and peering outside, her nudity on full display to anybody looking out of the upper back windows on the far side of the garden. They'd need a telescope to see any detail, of course. 'Renko, do you really think there's something in the house with us?' Mary takes your arm weakly, clearly looking for support. For a moment, neither Yumemi nor Yoshika are looking this way. You take your opening. 'Maybe, Mary. But as long as we're all in once place, we're okay.' You murmur low, as if the statement was just for her, just to keep her safe. You don't need to fake confidence for her, and the energy flows from your words effortlessly, lifting a nervous - but genuine - smile onto Mary's lips. 'It's okay, we'll find if there is anyone.' You say, wrapping one arm around Mary's shoulders in a half-hug, patting her on the back.
She clings to you briefly; you just hold her in a friendly hug.
'Anyway,' you raise your voice slightly when Mary lets go of you. 'I think we should stay in here for now, all of us,' you glance over at Yumemi. 'Just to be on the safe side. It's dark and rainy and I'm ... asleep on my feet, I don't think we should search the house right now.' You leave out the part where you would probably point your pistol at your own shadow. 'What if the rain doesn't stop?' Yumemi asks, sitting down at her work once more. 'Then we go to Mary's bedroom, lock the door, and get a good night's sleep.' You nod decisively. Mary agrees with a murmur. 'Meanwhile just stay calm, there's likely nobody in the house. I mean ... I can't hear anybody, can you?' You shrug at all three of your companions as you finally let yourself slump down in one of the chairs, resisting the urge to place your head on the table. ' ... okay.' Yumemi says in a small voice, and then swivels round and returns to blood-inking her sheets of paper.
'I'll just get some bowls for the stew!' Mary returns to bustle mode, hiding her distress well. 'Do you want some, Yumemi, dear?'
You tune out the noise of Mary serving food, the scratch of Yumemi's blood-soaked pen-nib, and the soft fleshy padding of Yoshika's bare feet. You let your mind drift, imagining for a moment that you could hear a pin drop in the furthest corner of the house. Sleeplessness and exhaustion-daze fill your mind and - tick - turn your senses to putty. Mary hovers around the table, carefully moving - tick sheets of paper to make room for Yumemi's bowl of steaming chicken stew and a plate of crusty brown bread. You frown, something is -
- grating on your senses, something at the edge of hearing, or maybe you're just -
- so tired you can't tell dream from reality any more.
'Renkooo?' Mary waves a hand in front of your eyes. 'Renko?' 'Mmm?' You look -
'I said, do you want bread with yours?' Mary repeats. 'Are you feeling okay, Re-?'
[ ] 'Yoshika, why am I hearing a ticking noise?' [ ] 'I'm fine, Mary, I'm fine, and yes, please.' [ ] 'Shhhh. I can hear something.' Listen carefully.
More tomorrow. Updates tomorrow will be at odd times, as I am working a weird late shift.
Sorry for the delays the past couple of days, folks.
'Wait.' You hold up one hand to Mary, interrupting her. You hold the silence for a beat.
'Yoshika.' You say as you exhale. 'Why am I hearing-'
'- a ticking noise?' You finish, trying to strain your ears for the sound. But the realisation forces you back into full wakefulness, stumbling back away from the wall of sleep and into Mary's - metaphorical - arms. She places a hand on your shoulder. 'Renko, are you sure you're okay?' Mary says in hushed tones. 'I'm sure.' You nod. 'I just heard this noise ... it's gone now though.'
'Ticking, tocking? The tolling of the bell?' Yoshika turns away from the grey windows and places her hands on her hips. 'Perhaps you count your own hours.' She looks at you with a sharp-eyed gaze, but without any mirth on her lips. 'Perhaps.' You echo, squeezing the bridge of your nose. Yumemi all but ignores the goings-on, totally focused on her delicate task, but Mary cocks her head to one side, trying to listen for the noise as well.
'I don't hear it either.' She says after a moment of listening. 'Bait.' Yoshika says in a low voice. 'Ah.' You sigh, getting her meaning instantly. ' ... bait?' Mary looks between the pair of you. 'What do you mean, bait? Renko?' Her hand tightens on your shoulder, somewhat protectively.
'It could be the mystery person in the house, or not. Trying to lure us to investigate a strange ticking.' You sigh. 'Especially if only I could hear it. One person at a time.' 'You are sharpening, Renko!' Yoshika gives you that huge, shark-toothed grin again, although this time you're not so pleased to see it. 'You think that's right, it's a trap?' You ask Yoshika and she nods in response,.
Yumemi's eyes flicker up from her work. 'Seems a little obvious for a trap.' She mutters, and then ignores the room again. 'I guess so.' You shrug, glancing up at Mary. She's chewing nervously on her lower lip, something you haven't seen her do in years, not since the time she accidentally attended the wrong class for six weeks. 'Mary, relax, it's okay, we're all in here.' You place your hand over hers.
'Mm!' She reacts with a brightening of her smile, but there's still an essential tightness behind her lips. She sighs softly and then draws herself up to her full height, running one hand through her hair and straightening her shoulders.
'I don't like an uninvited guest in my house.' She says, voice stronger than before. Her eyes move over the room with the defiant look of a mother bear. 'I said, I don't like an uninvited guest in my house.' She repeats, louder, waiting primly for the silence to extend after her words. 'I think you should introduce yourself, like a proper guest, and sit down for dinner with us.' Mary raises her chin and purses her lips, as severe as you've ever seen her. Everybody waits several beats; you just stare at Mary, delighted. 'Speaking at shadows,' Yoshika sighs and spreads her arms. 'In the absence of-' 'Shhh!' Mary frowns at Yoshika and hushes her with a peevish frown. Even Yoshika is surprised by this, and stops talking. Mary clears her throat and continues. 'If you don't present and introduce yourself, then you are an intruder, not a guest.' Mary eyes flick to you. 'And Renko will deal with you as such.'
It's about the most threatening thing you've ever heard Mary say.
'Here here.' You agree, a grin on your face and a flutter in your heart. Mary lets out a long breath, and then composes herself again. 'There, well, that settles it.' Mary speaks with a tight self-amusement you've never seen on her before.
[ ] 'I am at your service, my lady.' Play along. Mary makes a great lady of the house. [ ] Okay, lets take this little ploy to conclusion. Get up, and open the kitchen door as if to admit a guest. [ ] Make Mary's point stronger for her: take out your gun and work the slide.
You're seized by a sudden impulse to match Mary's level of impulsive creativity; ignoring how your tired muscles complain, you stand up out of the chair in one swift motion, turning to face Mary with a flourish, as if sweeping a cloak out behind you. Mary blinks at your sudden closeness. 'I am at your service,' you bow your head, and then take one of Mary's hands. 'My Lady.' You raise Mary's hand to your lips, and kiss her fingers gently.
You could never have pulled that off fully awake.
' ... uh ... ' Mary stares at you with wide eyes and an open mouth. You manage to hold the sophisticated, dashing expression on your face for one more moment, and then you break into a huge, shit-eating grin. 'Our lady of the house.' You say to Mary. Her expression collapses back into amusement and mild exasperation at you. 'Renko!' She complains, but her voice is far too full of mirth. Your little trick at least shooed the shadows away from her mind. 'Oh? I was serious.' You protest gently. 'Or was that just playing, telling our intruder that I would deal with them?' 'I ... well, yes, it was serious.' Mary collects herself, giving you a mock-bow with her head.
There might not even be an intruder at all, you all might just be swatting at shadows, but you wouldn't give up moments like this for anything. Even in the weirdest situation, you and Mary can still act like a pair of dizzy schoolgirls together.
'Good, then.' You smile at Mary, and then realise you're still holding her hand. You're holding her hand like you're her knight, in full view of both Yoshika and Yumemi. You find, oddly, that you don't care if you have an audience. 'Because I will. It doesn't look like our mystery guest is going to appear.' You let go of Mary's hand as casually as you can, and turn toward the main door to the kitchen, waiting to see if it's going to open, as if the fifth person in the house is just going to waltz right in.
You wait a long, long moment. Yumemi holds her breath. Yoshika leans against the kitchen counter and closes her eyes.
'Alright,' you sigh. 'Let's eat-'
Mary clamps a hand over her mouth to stop herself gasping in surprise at the thump against the door. Yoshika's eyes snap open again. Yumemi gulps and glances around for support. 'That didn't sound much like a knock.' You murmur, feeling for the reassuring weight of your pistol in your inside pocket.
[ ] 'Is somebody there?' [ ] Open the door, check. [ ] 'Yoshika, stay here.' Whisper. 'I'm going round.' Go out the back kitchen door, circle round, catch the person from behind.
[x] Whisper to Mary and Yumemi to get up and to the sides of the room. [x] Be watchful of the backdoor. [x] 'Is somebody there?'
Not sure about this one.
This option means doing nothing. If there is an enemy outside we'll be giving it more time to do whatever.
Opening the door would pout us in slightly more danger and possibly is what whoever's outside wants, since it had all the time in the world to do whatever but seemingly hasn't been able to carry out anything yet.
Circling around would be best if we knew that wohever's outside is someone we could subdue, but there's the problems of not knowing that and that if we have to shoot we may end up pointing at Mary or Yumemi since we would be coming from outside ourselves.
I was thinking of sending Yoshika to go aroud but that may leave the rest of the group defenseless. Man, why's this choice so difficult? I love it.
[x] Whisper 'Yoshika, I'll stay here. Go out the back kitchen door, circle round, catch the person from behind.' -[x]Ready your gun inconspicuously (as to not alarm Mary). You're not entirely defenseless.
While everyone's eyes are on the door, you reach into your inside pocket, wrap your fingers firmly around the handle of your pistol, and flick the safety off.
Just in case.
You keep your hand in the pocket, finger away from the trigger, and then touch Mary's shoulder with your other hand; your mind is already sharp, layers of exhaustion peeling back under the need to be alert right now. 'Mary, go stand by Yoshika.' You say softly, keeping your voice as calm as possible. You don't want to alarm her too much. Mary nods, white as a sheet, and trots quickly across the room. She pauses halfway and looks back at you, confused for a second. 'Renko what are you going to-' 'Shhh, just,' you hold up one hand. 'Just ... watch.' You say, unable to find the right words. The right words are "it's okay, have a gun in my pocket", but you can't bring yourself to say them. Mary gulps, nods, and then joins Yumemi on the other side of the table. She grabs the smaller girl's hand, playing the part of the reassuring motherly type, as you face down the door on the other side of the room.
Yoshika watches you with serious eyes. You share a glance with her, raising your eyebrows in question. She nods; you take a deep breath.
'Is somebody there?' You raise your voice, and then clear your throat. 'I said, is somebody out there? Hello?' You call louder, waiting, eyes glued to the peeling paint on the old oak door. There's a catch on the inside which you can throw, if you want to make sure nobody will come through it, but that leaves you four trapped inside, and the back way still open. 'Come out, come out.' Yoshika adds to your call. 'You are no lurking phantom.' She rumbles low, and you notice her doing something you haven't seen yet - flexing her fingers, stretching them out and curling them back toward her palms. She leaves them hooked, like claws, her body taking on a distinctively apelike impression as she leans forward, brow furrowed at the door. 'I'm going to give you till the count of five.' You say, taking a step toward the door. 'Renko, are you ... this isn't safe.' Mary hisses, but you ignore her.
'One.' You take another step.
'Two.' Yoshika shifts closer to you.
'Three.' You inhale, filling your lungs and clearing your mind.
'Four.' You slide the gun out of your pocket, and point it at the door. Mary smothers another gasp in the background; you can explain this later.
'Five.' You say finally, curt, and then grab the door handle, swing the door open, and put your finger on the trigger.
Nothing. Mary's entrance hall looks back at you with windows full of rain, the room thrown into deep shadows by the darkness starting to settle in outside. The electric lights struggle against the gloom. Your bag, Mary's shoes, Yoshika's pile of discarded clothing, they're all exactly where you left them.
'Okay.' You gulp. 'Okay ... ' You hold the gun with both hands now, exactly as you're supposed to, wondering what the hell to do next. 'I don't think-' 'Wait.' Yoshika reaches out from just behind you, and touches the door- No, something on the door. You turn your head, following her hand, and stare with disbelief at the object next to your head; you must have missed it in the focus on what might be standing behind the door.
A note has been pinned to the kitchen door. With a silver knife. A razor-sharp silver knife.
'The calling card of one who hunts.' Yoshika murmurs softly, and pulls the knife out of the wood, catching the note with her other hand. You step back, stunned, and she shuts the door and then leans against it, facing you. ' ... where did that come from?' You stare at the knife as Yoshika turns it over, spinning it between her fingers with a quiet, intense curiosity on her face. The knife looks like it's made of solid silver, the handle and blade formed from one single piece of metal. The handle is inlaid with a curious design: droplets of some kind, etched as if falling from the blade and down the handle. 'It came from the one who threw it.' Yoshika mutters, regarding the note with sharp eyes. Her gaze flickers quickly from the note to Yumemi - or Mary - and back again.
'What does it say?' Mary asks, nearly on tiptoes with tension.
Yoshika doesn't react. Her eyes flick up to you, pausing for a split-second.
[ ] ' ... what's wrong?' Blunt [ ] 'What does the note say?' Neutral. [ ] Take the note.
'Lemme see.' You take the initiative and pluck the note from Yoshika's fingers. She doesn't resist, but her eyes narrow into razor-edged slits of quiet tension.
The note is written on a sheet of ordinary paper, probably taken from Mary's desk upstairs. It's been folded once, the paper pierced at the top and bottom by the knife. The message has been written in exceptionally elegant handwriting, big looping letters and a flourish at the end. But the message is cold and blunt; the style does little to detract from the chill washing over you.
"Give me the witch. Place her in the next room, alone. Then I will leave. I will never trouble you again."
"Just give me the witch."
' ... huh.' You sigh, unable to resist flicking your gaze over to Yumemi. You hold the note awkwardly in one hand, the gun hanging limp in the other; you cover your moment of hesitation by flicking the safety catch back on. 'Renko, what does it say!?' Mary looks fit to burst, trotting around the side of the table. You half-toy with the idea of pretending the note says something else, but you can't. Mary peeks over your shoulder and scans the message, her expression collapsing as she does, into tight lines of worry around her eyes. 'Oh.' She says. 'An interesting bargain,' Yoshika murmurs. 'Well, what does it say?' Yumemi complains, still sitting at the table and frowning at the three of you. Yoshika avoids her gaze, looking directly at you.
'An interesting bargain.' She repeats. You catch the meaning of the look in her eyes.
'Hey, no.' You say on reflex. 'No no, we're not doing that.' You stab at the note with one finger. Yoshika shrugs with all the fluidity of a cat pretending not to care, and then flips the silver knife in one hand, testing the weight. 'Not doing what?' Yumemi complains, sounding peevish by now. 'Not doing anything.' You grunt, and crumple the note up in one hand. 'Prudence would suggest-' Yoshika starts, but you cut her off. 'No.' You hold up one finger. 'We play this by my rules, and my rules say we don't give anyone to anything for any reason. Got it?' You raise you eyebrows at Yoshika, purposefully putting your gun back into your inside pocket. This isn't a threat; it's just how things are going to be.
Yoshika holds you gaze, and then looks away again. 'What does it fucking say?' Yumemi stands up, nearly aghast. 'It wants us to put you out there, alone, and then close the door.' You explain. 'Our mysterious visitor is her for you, it seems.'
Yumemi's face goes white, and she just stares at you for a long moment. She gulps very hard, and sits back down with a thump.
'We're not going to do that.' You say. 'I'm armed, as you no doubt saw, and we're staying together in one room.' Mary doesn't react to your mention of the gun; you thank the Gods she knows it's not the time to bring that up. ' ... t-thank you.' Yumemi mutters, taking slow, deep breaths. 'Do you have any idea who or what it could be?' You ask, putting your hands on you hips and trying to look like a woman of action. 'No ... no, never seen a knife like that before.' Yumemi shakes her head.
Yoshika's head jerks up and she reaches forward, jamming the knife into a corner of the kitchen table. It stays there as she turns back toward the door, shedding the red gown with a shrug of her shoulder to reveal her tattoos again, and corded muscles tensed for release.
'Going hunting then.' She grunts, facing away from you and reaching for the door handle.
[ ] Let her go. [ ] 'We stay in the same room. You heard what I said.'
'Yoshika.' You warn her with an edge in your voice. 'You heard what I just said. We all stay in the same room. We go upstairs together. We wait until we have proper daylight.'
Yoshika pauses, but doesn't turn around. You can practically feel the tension in her shoulders, muscles bunching like steel cables underneath her skin. The discarded robe lies at her heels. 'Come on, Yoshika, you wanted me to lead.' You say a little quieter. 'Leadership.' Yoshika almost purrs, without turning around. Mary raises on eyebrow at this; you haven't told her about that conversation yet. 'Requires knowing when to delegate to those with more experience.' 'Yes, but-'
Yoshika yanks the door open, and then strides out into the entrance hall, her fingers flexing like claws, her head swivelling from side-to-side. She sniffs the air.
'Yoshika, I said we're staying here, dammit!' You hiss, peering cautiously through the doorway. Mary sticks behind you like glue, gulping loudly, one hand holding the side of your jacket in a gesture of support. Yoshika takes three deep breaths, frowning and turning in a slow circle 'We are being observed.' She rumbles. 'Though I do not understand now.' 'Y-you mean they're in that room? Right now?' Mary actually links her arm with yours, unsure if she's going to pull you back into the kitchen or just hold on tight. ' ... perhaps.' Yoshika cocks her head to one side and closes her eyes. 'What's she doing?' Mary hisses in your ear. 'Dunno.' You shrug.
A sinking feeling settles in the pit of your stomach; you lean backward, around the kitchen door, and look back at the table, with Yumemi's delicate bloodwork laid out.
Yumemi isn't there anymore.
'Shit!' You exclaim, scrambling back into the kitchen. Mary lets you go, and you yank the door back, duck under the table, even consider opening the damn cooking pot. But she's not there, no trace of her, no trace of any of her possessions being moved. Her blood-soaked pen is right where she left it. You never heard a thing. You stare at the chair she was sitting in, mouth agape, as Yoshika springs back into the room on the balls of her feet.
'Aha.' She mutters darkly.
'We find her now!' You almost shout.
[ ] Yoshika takes the upstairs, you and Mary take the downstairs. [ ] Yoshika takes the downstairs, you and Mary take the upstairs.
'She can't have gotten far! I ... I think!' You tear your gaze away from the empty chair, turning it on the back door of the kitchen. She must have- but you never heard it open! You never heard anything. Truth is she could be anywhere. 'Quickly now, Renko.' Yoshika murmurs, making sure your brain doesn't go into a loop. You nod and take a deep breath, and then gesture at the back door. 'Yoshika, ground floor, now.' You say, keeping your voice level. She nods once and then-
She moves like a spider, or some kind of giant fleshy insect; her limbs turn at all the wrong angles, too fast for you to see, rubber-banding with whipcord speed. The back door of the kitchen slams open, and she's through before you can even let out a gasp of shock at her body, at what she can do. You hear her bound - scurry, slither - into the basement, before you recover yourself and grab Mary's hand. She's still staring after Yoshika, with mixed shock and curiosity on her face. 'Come on, we check upstairs, let's go!' You say to Mary, and she nods, following you without hesitation.
At the foot of the stairs, amid the sound of the drumming rain, you take your pistol out of your inside pocket again, in full view of Mary. 'Renko!' She hisses, checking over her shoulder once with nervous tension. 'I-' 'Mary,' you raise an eyebrow. 'I know, I know, but don't just shoot Yumemi by accident!' She gulps. 'I won't.' You take a deep breath, flicking the safety off, and keeping your finger off the trigger.
The stairs creak under your twinned footfalls; you do your best to keep your tread light, but it feels as if your heartbeat will drown out the noise. You peer into the upstairs corridor, Mary following close behind. Downstairs you can hear the faint sound of a door shutting, hopefully just Yoshika moving through the house.
'Okay, which room?' You hiss to Mary. 'Uh ... junk room!' She points at the room you dislike the most, and you sigh inwardly. The one with the open door and the shadows of discarded furniture, the one with objects that seem to move in the darkness. You creep toward the doorway and then reach in, feeling for the light.
It comes on with a painful electric flickering, illuminating the stored debris of the family here before Mary: dressing tables, bin-bags of ancient clothing, a series of small crates piled up against the far wall, three mouldering mattresses in a heap, and all matter of brick-a-brack and leftovers. Pens, children's toys from decades past, chipped mugs, even a toilet seat and a car's steering wheel. A series of three vases - with designs that you've never cared to look at for too long - sit on one of the dressing tables. You wish Mary would throw them out already.
Yumemi's not in here.
'Renko, look!' Mary sweeps past you and points out of the window, the one that overlooks the garden.
In the middle of the dripping green tableau, one figure crouches, and another is bound hands and feet, left lying in the soaking grass. The bound figure is clearly Yumemi, her clothes and hair soaked, her eyes wide with terror. The other figure has a hand over her mouth, stopping her from screaming. The other figure is an enigma. Clearly female, yet dressed like something out of a nightmare; she's wearing all-black clothing, a cross between a bodysuit and bulletproof armour, complete with a balaclava covering her face and head. Lining the chest and back of the suit, like bullets in a bandoleer, are more of those silver knives, giving off a dull sheen in the grey rain-light.
The woman checks behind her, in some kind of panic, and sees you looking back at her from the window.
[ ] Downstairs and outside, now. [ ] Open the window, aim at her, but bluff. [ ] Open the window, aim at her, pull the trigger. [ ] Open the window, jump down.
[x] Open the window, aim at her, pull the trigger.
I'm assuming Yoshika will hear the gunshot. And that Renko will probably aim away from Yumemi a bit too much and miss, but this should get Yoshika here fastest. Damn, I don't see a better option than risking Yumemi's life here.
[x] Open the window, aim at her, pull the trigger.
While it will take that extra second, opening the window ensures that the round is not deflected by the glass. We don't want it spiraling wide, or hitting Yumemi because we didn't take a completely clear shot.
Also, is it possible to get a description of the gun we're using? I'm currently assuming 9mm hollowpoint rounds from something similar to a Glock from the description. Would prefer a 45 cal, but this will do. If we're using full metal jacket, though, we need to make sure to use enough rounds to put the figure down.
'Oh ... ' Mary freezes up under the mysterious assassin's gaze. All you can see are two pale ovals in the black of the balaclava.
There's no time to think, no time to answer any of the dozen questions popping into your head.
The woman in black reaches for one of the knives on her suit.
You race to the window, slamming it open; the rain and wind lash at your face, invading the house.
The woman in black shouts something, but her words are lost in the storm.
You level your pistol with both hands, lining up the shot exactly as if you were shooting targets on the range; you sure hope nobody is watching this from a far-off bedroom window.
You don't feel very tired anymore.
The pistol kicks in your hands, twice, a neat double-tap. As textbook-clean as you can make it against the power of the storm raging outside.
The woman topples forward into the grass, falling half over Yumemi, leaking crimson from an unseen wound.
She doesn't move.
Five minutes later you're downstairs. Mary wraps blankets around a shaking, soaked-to-the-bone Yumemi, carried in moments earlier like a baby in Yoshika's arms. She's in shock, blinking slowly and not speaking, having to be led upstairs to the bath by Mary, who seems to be taking this surprisingly well. The bindings used to tie her wrists and ankles lie in a pile by the door - not rope, but plastic pull-ties, and frighteningly efficient.
Yoshika slams the door again, and dumps the second retrieval from outside: the woman in black. She's bound the wounds with towels, just to stop the woman bleeding all over the garden and the floor inside. But you can already see the slow scarlet wave soaking through them.
You take a step closer to the soaked, black-clad figure. She's unconscious, the visible flesh around her mouth and eyes a pale, ashen grey of blood-loss and near-death. Looks like one of your shots went wide, and the other caught her somewhere in the right of her chest. That armour she's wearing isn't bulletproof in the slightest.
'You're still holding your weapon.' Yoshika, dripping with rainwater, takes a step away from the dying woman and stands next to you. 'Ah ... am I?' You glance down. You're gripping your pistol so tight that your knuckles have gone white. 'Put it away. This is done.' Yoshika says softly, and then waits for you to do so. 'What about her?' You nod at the dying woman. 'We can't have a body on our hands, I-' 'I will deal with any physical mess.' Yoshika says again, softer than usual, and then narrows her eyes and draws herself up to her full height, a couple of inches taller than you. 'But life may not come to that. Life is a strange things. It hangs on, if it is given purchase.'
' ... what?' You blink, in no state to unravel her nonsense right now. 'She's fucked, she'll die of blood loss in minutes. Gods, I hope nobody reported those gunshots.' You take a deep breath. 'She will die of blood loss in under ten minutes.' Yoshika confirms. 'I can prevent that.' ' ... you can?' You ask, feeling a weight lifted from you somehow, in some way you don't quite understand. 'I will. It is not your decision to make.' Yoshika rumbles, and then steps over to the dying woman again.
'Do you need-' You start, staring at the ashen skin of the woman you've shot.
'Nothing.' Yoshika grunts, and crouches down.
[ ] Just watch her work, whatever this is. [ ] No, you don't want to watch, go upstairs with Yumemi and Mary.
Well, I know they're almost certainly legal here. There's, ah. Not much in the way of guns that ISN'T. Hell, the state next door doesn't require any sort of permit for concealed carry, resident or not.
>>27391 I doubt Renko's, she's in need of sleep, possibly some food and a bit of comforting as before today, I doubt Renko ever remotely harmed a person with a gun and she just went and just about mortally wounded someone.
You stand there awkwardly for a few moments as Yoshika turns the dying woman over and peels the blood-soaked towels away from her wounds. Then you gather yourself, finally putting your pistol - safety back on - into your pocket. You sit down on the floor, trying to calm down, feeling placid and a little shocked.
Yoshika handles the woman in black with with a curious mixture of delicate care and roughness; she rips the fabric away from around the entry and exit wounds, great big ugly ragged holes in the side of the woman's chest. You can see spars of rib, pulped flesh, everything slick with crimson, but you don't look away. Yoshika gently touches the edges of the exit wound, as if about to peel the skin back. Then, to your confusion and disgust, she leans forward and lets a long gooey string of her spittle slide out from between her lips and fall with a wet splat into the wound. You have to remind yourself that she's anything but human, and this is anything but an operating table.
She waits a moment, and then reaches into the wound after her saliva, jamming her hand in almost to her wrist. The woman, even unconscious, jerks in pain. You almost move forward in alarm, but Yoshika's fingers work quickly. Slick with blood and fragments of pink lung-tissue, you can hear her fingers cracking something; a moment later she pulls her hand back out, and the bleeding is much slower. There's still a lot of it, but it's no longer the dark red arterial gushing of a dying body.
' ... are you doing surgery with your bare hands?' You mutter, not really expecting an answer. But it seems as if the worst is past, and Yoshika answers as she turns the woman onto her back again and begins stripping the black outfit off her. 'In a manner of speaking. I am no saw-bone.' Yoshika mutters, using her nails to rip away the rest of the woman's bodysuit. 'But as the body supports the soul, so the soul can support the body.' 'Mm.' You grunt in agreement, even if what she's doing is quite beyond you.
The woman in black slowly becomes the woman in nothing; Yoshika rips away the bodysuit armour and tosses it aside in pieces, revealing pale flesh underneath, wrapped around extremely well-toned muscles. The mystery assassin is built like an acrobat, with long, powerful legs, rippling muscles on her stomach, and small, high breasts. If it wasn't for the gaping wound and the ashen-grey of her skin, she would be quite exceptionally beautiful. Yoshika tugs the woman's heavy black boots off as well, throwing them with the rest of the clothing. You get up and cross over to the pile, picking up a piece of the bodysuit and examining it.
It looks bulletproof, but it certainly isn't; there's a neat hole in the plate where your shot penetrated. Now you've got your hands on it you can tell it probably wouldn't even stop a knife. The plates are made of some kind of light plastic, easy to bend with your hands. The silver knives, on the other hand, are very real and very sharp. You nick the end of your thumb on one as you try to take it out of the bandoleer. 'Tch.' You suck the tiny wound, and then look up to watch with intense curiosity as Yoshika removes the woman's balaclava at last.
Even unconscious, the mysterious woman's features are incredibly fine, like the daughter of some high-class family, with a sharp nose and high cheekbones, slender lips and long eyelashes. Her hair, however, is a sweat-soaked mess of bizarre silver-grey, cut short to fit well under a helmet. 'Renko, blankets.' Yoshika grunts, and you obey, busying yourself digging out blankets from inside the cupboard. You glance over your shoulder with a curious gaze as Yoshika leans over the now totally-exposed wounds.
She leans in, all the way, and then-
You feel sick.
Yoshika brings something up from inside her throat, like a grey-flesh putty, and makes the most disgusting retching noise as she expels it into the woman's wound. You watch, holding a pair of blankets up like a shield for you body, as Yoshika vomits this gunk into the woman's flesh, and then uses her hands to seal it off around the wound, like scraping cement. ' ... uh.' You grunt as Yoshika holds out her hands for the blankets. You pass them to her, feeling a little numb. 'What ... ahem, what about tying her up, she might still be-' 'Weak from blood loss, weak as a child.' Yoshika shakes her head. 'She is no threat to anything right now.'
You reach down and help as Yoshika wraps the woman's torso with the blankets, trying to warm her up.
'We need heat.' Yoshika rumbles.
[ ] Okay, you can put the woman upstairs in Mary's bed for the moment. It's the warmest room in the house. [ ] Okay, go drag a space heater into the entrance hall, and get whatever else you need. The woman should stay in here for now.
[x] Okay, go drag a space heater into the entrance hall, and get whatever else you need. The woman should stay in here for now.
>>27396 She was shouting something which we didn't hear her over the storm. Whatever she wanted to do, she didn't have time to act or react since Renko shot her too fast. Also, she took Yumemi without us seeing her so she probably did use her time skills.
You glance back over your shoulder as you go in search of a spare space-heater; you know Mary has a few, one usually just kept upstairs in her bedroom.
Yoshika is already licking the blood, bone and compacted flesh off her own right hand. You try to ignore it.
'Okay, what now?' You ask, looking down at the still-unconscious woman, wrapped in several layers of blanket like a swaddled baby on the floor. The space heater hums away quietly a foot from her side, and you've even found a cushion to prop up the back of her head. 'Now?' Yoshika glances at you, raising both eyebrows. 'We wait.' 'Will she live?' You ask, your mind already jumping forward to the prospect of questioning her, of finding out who she is, of- of- ... but such thoughts trail off as the tiredness takes hold of you again, weighing your limbs down hard. 'She will.' Yoshika takes a deep breath and sits down opposite the woman. She crosses her legs over her thighs, a meditation position, before she resumes talking. 'Life is a strange thing, Renko. Nature's way of keeping meat fresh, some prefer to think. But even they cannot cut it away without a measure of ignorance. One must be ignorant to be ruthless.' ' ... yeah?' You ask, feeling like you're missing the point. 'You are not very ruthless, Renko. I like that.' Yoshika says, and then falls silent again. You just look down, still feeling awkward.
'I do have one question.' You say after a moment of thought. 'Two, actually. She plucked Yumemi out from under our noses, I never even saw her. So how come she stopped in the garden? Yumemi's mouth wasn't even gagged, how come we didn't hear her scream?' 'Moving without travelling.' Yoshika answers without hesitation. 'This is what Rika's rather misguided paper was attempting to limit and inscribe. She did not understand the technique. This one does,' she nods at the unconscious woman. 'But why stop? If she can- what? Teleport? Why didn't she just do that, instead of getting shot?' You ask, puffing out a long, tense breath, finally asking what's been weighing on your mind.
'Something threw her off.' Yoshika says with a frown. 'We shall see.' 'We shall? You mean when she wakes.' You nod. 'She may not co-operate.' Yoshika says with a dark tone in her voice. You let it pass, not wanting to think about that. What other talents are hidden up Yoshika's sleeves? Doctor, poet, torturer? You gulp and glance up the stairs.
[ ] Okay. You need some sleep. You really do. [ ] Go check on Yumemi and Mary. See if you can ask about what happened to her.
Very tempted to see how far we can push Renko. But it's been four threads and we haven't had proper sleep yet? We might need to be getting on that. Besides, we don't want her to conk out due to fatigue at the wrong time.
'I'm ... ' You sigh, closing and rubbing your eyes, feeling the exhaustion seeping into your bones. 'I'm going to get some sleep.' You finally admit how tired you are. Today has been a non-stop whirlwind, and the only thing that's going to keep you up now is if the police start hammering on the door asking about those gunshots. It's only the tiredness which keeps from you worrying about that. 'I will stand sentry, and listen for the wind.' Yoshika says, her voice back to its easy singsong, and you get the distinct feeling she's repeating a familiar mantra of some kind. 'Yeah, thanks.' You mutter, and then make your way up the creaking stairs.
On the upper floor you pass the bathroom door, light spilling out from the cracks, and the sound of a hair-dryer obscuring the low murmur of Mary's voice. She's taking good care of Yumemi. You can leave that to her. Everything is going to be okay. Everything is dealt with and under control.
You can sleep now.
When you stumble into Mary's room, you can't be bothered to do anything more complex than just use her bed. You should drag one of those extra futons out, or get some fresh sheets, or something, but now you've given in to the tiredness you just don't give a shit anymore. You throw your jacket on her chair and drop your skirt on the floor, stepping out of it and wandering over to the bed with bare legs. At the last moment before you climb in you spot Mary's discarded pajamas from last night on the floor.
Well, sleeping in your shirt won't feel so good. Why not?
You unbutton your shirt and cast it aside, standing there for a moment in nothing but socks and panties, skin turning to goose-pimples in the cold. Then you drag Mary's over sized fluffy pajama shirt on, and climb into bed. You wrap the covers around yourself in a tight, comforting cocoon.
One deep breath fills your lungs with Mary's smell, but you haven't even got the energy to blush.
You blink several times in a dark room, face down and clutching a pillow. Mary's smell is everywhere. Your skin feels like warm putty. One of your feet is cold.
The sound of the rain hammers down on the roof above, trying to lull you back to sleep with static. It doesn't quite manage to drown out the sound of two other people breathing softly in the room. 'Mmm ... ' You grunt and turn over, blinking hard and peering at the blurred numbers on Mary's bedside-table clock.
Damn, you've been asleep for over twelve hours. Your mouth feels dry and your bladder is very full indeed. For a moment you toy with going back to sleep, and then blush furiously in the dark at the realisation you're surrounded by Mary's smell and even wearing her clothes. Luckily there's nobody to see you. You sit up and glance around, the moonlight struggling through the rain and barely illuminating the room. Mary's pulled the futons out and placed them close together, leaving the bed for you. On one of them is Mary, sprawled in her sleep like a relaxed baby, wrapped in fuzzy pajamas and with a dozy smile on her sleeping face. On the other is Yumemi, hunched up in a ball under the covers, her face barely showing over the top.
You get up and go to the bathroom. When you catch sight of yourself in the mirror, you can see that the bags under you eyes are gone.
You feel like you could run a marathon.
[ ] Go downstairs, check on Yoshika, make some breakfast, clean up. [ ] Go back to sleep, or at least go rest and wait for Mary or Yumemi to get up.
After grabbing your skirt from the bedroom and draping your coat over your shoulders, you head downstairs, bouncing on the balls of your feet even in the darkness. You don't bother to change out of Mary's tshirt - about three sizes too big for you - since Yoshika most likely won't care. Hell, you'd keep it on even if Mary was awake. You feel on top of the world. Ready to face anything, even the huge stuttering embarrassment of that particular conversation you'd end up having.
When you reach the entrance hall, you find the mysterious assassin still unconscious, wrapped in her swaddling blankets. But even in the dark her face glows with returned vitality, and her breathing is stronger; whatever disgusting process Yoshika performed seems to have worked. The woman will live.
Of Yoshika herself there is no sign.
You peer into the corners of the room, half-expecting her to jump out like a bogeyman in the dark, but she's not there either. You shrug inside and head into the kitchen, finding the table covered with empty bowls, dirty with leftover stew and bread. You throw them in the sink and get the water running, and then stop dead when you turn around. Yumemi's blood-work thing is complete. It stares back at you like some kind of nightmare face from the wall. Somebody's shifted the fridge to make more room for it, and each sheet has been pinned there with a blob of blu-tac. The completed pattern sends a shock of distaste through your stomach, and you look away from the strange angular symbols, focusing on the rest of the room. You jam some bread into the toaster and then wander back out into the entrance hall again.
Still no Yoshika.
You poke your head into the adjacent, unused sitting room, and even crane your neck for a good look out into the garden. Where's she run off to now? You thought she was going to stand watch over the unconscious woman, just in case.
A few minutes later you return to the entrance hall, munching toast and honey, a mug of tea in your other hand and some eggs cracked and ready in a pan for when Mary wakes. The assassin's clothing and boots are still lying exactly where Yoshika left them, and you sit down next to the pile, placing your tea on the floor and examining them with a much more alert eye than last night.
The hole your bullet made in the bodysuit gives you access to the inside, and you tear the fabric open to expose one of the ineffectual armour plates. It is indeed made of very light, white plastic, completely useless as armour. But it's covered with a fine black scrawl, in handwriting completely unlike that on the note the woman left on your door. This writing is sharp and harsh, written in a quick, angry hand; and it's in Latin. You can't read a word of it, but you could probably translate it given a while with a dictionary. It seems to be several phases repeated over and over again, your bullet hole interrupting one of the lines like a powerful break in speech.
The knives are a mystery, weighted completely wrong for actual throwing. You lay three of them on the floor, awake enough not to scratch yourself this time, but the knives can't tell you anything more than you already know. The woman's balaclava and boots are perfectly ordinary, if oddly devoid of manufacturer's marks or labels. "Who the fuck are you?" You sigh at the woman, frowning at her sleeping face. No wallet, no phone, no nothing.
[ ] See if you can wake her. Don't overdo it though. [ ] Leave her for now, go look for Yoshika. [ ] Take the armour plate upstairs, go translate it on the internet.
[x] Take the armour plate upstairs, go translate it on the internet.
We probably do need to find Yoshika, but let's trust her for now. We need to find out more about this woman. I'm curious, though. Is there a chance that this isn't Sakuya? We might have met a wild Muse here, might being the operative word.
You pick up the single extracted plate of "armour" and take it upstairs with you, mug of tea in your other hand. Back in Mary's room you creep across the carpet, being careful not to wake either of the sleeping girls. They might have gone to bed much later than you. In the corner of the room you find Mary's larger bag, the one with the pouches for electronics inside, and pull out her hefty, slab-like laptop, settling it on her desk and booting it up.
Keeping the screen brightness turned right down so as not to wake Mary or Yumemi, you slowly translate the Latin on the sheet of armour, trying to make sense of the word order, writing down the results on a piece of paper next to you.
It's nonsense. Or entirely ritual. You read over the four lines, holding the paper up to the weak moonlight after shutting the laptop. You're not even sure some of the phrasing is correct.
"Blood [of] my(?) blood protect thee(?) beyond."
"You lie down to sleep; you wake again, because I sustain you."
"The full armour of your Lady protects you, so you may take your stand."
"Love, and love, and love; will always surround your soul(?)."
You sigh. Whoever wrote it at least seems to have cared about the poor woman you shot, even if she's not very good at fashioning real armour. Then again, it's probably not for stopping bullets at all. It's probably for something else entirely. You pick up the plastic sheet again and give it a curious sniff, thinking that maybe you can smell magic, like petrol or oil. But there's nothing. It doesn't make your fingers tingle, or your head spin. It's just matter.
You head back downstairs, leaving Mary and Yumemi sleeping soundly in their futons. The mystery assassin is still asleep as well, wrapped in her-
You stop dead and narrow your eyes.
Not by much, but it's obvious once you stop and really look at her. She's shifted a few inches to the left, shuffled and disturbed her blankets, but then attempted to resume exactly the same pose, without looking like she's moved at all.
Good thing you're wide awake, or you wouldn't have spotted that.
[ ] 'I know you're conscious. Thirsty?' [ ] Take out your pistol, work the slide. [ ] Just sit down near her and start talking without warning.
You stare at the silver-haired woman for a few moments longer, and then open your mouth. 'I know you're conscious.' You say with a little sigh. 'Thirsty?'
Her eyelids flicker, struggling open, pulled down by a weight of exhaustion far greater than what you were feeling last night. Her long, dark eyelashes frame foggy grey eyes, tinted with blue, like hidden gems behind a veil. For a moment you think she's faking the weariness, but then you remind yourself that you shot this woman. You left a gaping hole of smashed bone and pulped flesh in the side of her chest, of course she's going to be tired.
'Thirsty?' You repeat. 'Blink twice for yes?' You try, unable to resist the joke, spirits lifted by hard proof that you didn't murder this woman. ' ... mm.' She grunts, low and weak in her throat. Her eyes follow you across the room as you duck back into the kitchen again and return with a glass of water. You'd get her tea, but she's probably dehydrated. Setting the water down by her side, you hesitate about what to do next; you don't want to touch her, just in case. You've seen all the old spy movies and thriller flicks, she could have a needle in one of her fingernails that delivers a nerve-toxin, or poison laced in her hair, or- or-
'Can you sit up? Do you need some help?' You crouch next to her. 'I don't really understand what was done to uh ... help you, so ... can you, ah.' You trail off as the woman coughs once and then slowly, painfully, levers herself up against the wall, into a half-sitting position with the cushion against the small of her back. She clutches the sheets around her shoulders, draws her knees up, and then resumes staring at you; she looks pale and weak, her head nodding slightly as she struggles to keep it up. She doesn't touch the glass of water. 'You need to drink something, slowly, I think.' You say, meeting the woman's gaze. Her eyes flick to the glass and back again, but she doesn't respond. 'No.' She grunts. 'Okay, whatever. We can do that too.' You get up and walk over to the kitchen, keeping your ears pricked for the sound of her struggling to her feet. She doesn't try.
Five minutes later you return with a plate of toast, scrambled eggs, baked beans, and even a waffle. You're carrying one knife, but two forks, and a fresh cup of tea. You sit down a few feet away from the mysterious woman, and starting eating as you talk. You gesture with eggs, wave your toast around, and eat loudly. 'So, what's your name? Mm- Mine's Renko. Renko Usami, I'm ... well, I'm old enough to be fourth-year, but I'm really a third-year physics student. Mm, where does Mary get these eggs? I think they have a higher fat content than the ones I buy. Duck eggs, maybe, you think? Whatever.' You shrug and shovel down another mouthful. The silver-haired woman keeps looking at all the food on your plate, and you notice her start gulping, opening and closing her lips. 'So, the girl upstairs - that's Mary, my best friend - this is her house. Neat place, huh? Some old pile on this side of town, just happened to still be in the family. Real big family, business connections, you know the type.'
'Uh ... ' The woman leans forward, frowning hard now, looking pained. 'Something wrong?' You raise your eyebrows. She meets your gaze, and then struggles to compose herself again. 'Want some?' You pick up the spare fork and spear a large helping of egg.
The exhausted woman reaches out from under her sheets with one hand, and picks up the glass of water with exaggerated care. Then she raises it to her lips and takes a slow, halting sip. Finally she nods. 'Here.' You scoot closer to her and balance the plate of food - mostly still full, even after your show - on her lap, getting her to straighten her knees and stop hunching up. 'You need ... ?' You raise the fork, as if to feed her, but she shakes her head, blushing, and takes it from your hand.
You watch as she eats, slowly but with intense hunger.
After a few mouthfuls she slows down a little, staring at you sidelong like a feral cat caught with a fresh kill. ' ... name's Sakuya.' She croaks, and then continues eating.
[ ] Keep up the general talk. Seems to work. And she doesn't seem dangerous right now. [ ] Be direct; ask her why she's here, what she wants. [ ] Just settle back and wait for her to say more herself.
[X] Keep up the general talk. Seems to work. And she doesn't seem dangerous right now. -[X] At some point in your awkward and flustered ramblings, apologize sincerely for hurting her - it was just that she was threatening a friend, and for a second she just had to focus, but then you realized what you had done, and you know you had to, to protect your friend, but that doesn't stop you for feeling bad about it, you don't make a habit of shooting people...
Renko is not ruthless. I daresay it would be in character for her to just continue to blather on just because she's the actually the one feeling intimidated here, next to this recently-shot invalid.
'Sakuya?' You repeat her name, wishing that Yoshika was here to sing it and lull her into a sense of security. You'll just have to do your best on your own for now. 'Sakuya, right, well.' You sigh and sit back a little, giving her some space to eat. 'Like I said, I'm Renko. I'd shake your hand, but you look sort of busy now. Mary's the plump blond, she's sort of my girlfriend.'
You said that without thinking, running your mouth on automatic; or were you marking your territory? You ignore it for now, verbal slip or unconscious warning. It doesn't matter, there's nobody else to hear.
'The short one with the red hair, that's Yumemi. She's upstairs as well.' You carry on, leaving out the part about how Sakuya must already know who Yumemi is. 'And around here somewhere should be Yoshika. She's impossible to miss, you'll know her when you see her.' Sakuya almost completely ignores your introductions, focused on eating. But her eyes dart to you every few moments, like an injured predator sizing up a rival but attempting to appear nonthreatening. 'You know, I really like your hair.' You say, completely changing the subject. 'I've never seen a colour like that before. At first I thought it was grey, but you're not old enough for that, are you?' Sakuya shakes her head slightly. 'Yeah, thought so.' You gesture at her. 'Looks good short as well.' 'Mm.' Sakuya grunts through a mouthful of food. 'Do you want some clothes?' You try. 'If you want to get out from under those blankets, I mean. Mary's got plenty to spare and I'm sure she wouldn't mind if-'
'Stop.' Sakuya grunts weakly, swallowing the last mouthful with painful desperation.
'Stop? Stop what? Being nice?' You spread your arms, letting sarcasm slip into your voice. 'Sakuya, I don't have much choice. What else am I going to do? Gloat? Treat you like ... what, exactly?' You shrug. 'Just chill, eat some more beans, have a bath if you want. Hell, tell me what you really think of me. Scream, shout, throw the plate. Go on. If you want.' Sakuya just regards you with the same harried, tense expression, taking short, painful breaths. 'I'm not going to bite.' You say. 'Get it over with.' Sakuya looks away from you at last, and stares down at the plate. 'Get what over with?' You sigh inwardly. Fatalistic prisoners. This is the last thing you need right now. 'We - well, Yoshika - patched you up, we put you to bed, kept you warm. And here I am ... feeding you. So. We're not about to go all thumbscrews and electrodes on you. I call the shots here,' you gesture at the house in general. 'And I say none of that.'
Sakuya glances up; you finally realise how young she is. Probably about your age. The bodysuit and the pain and the ashen skin made her look older. For one long moment you're just two girls looking at each other over a plate of food as the rain drums on the roof above your heads.
' ... you're just the good cop.' She mutters, sinking further down against the wall.
[ ] 'Oh no, I'm the bad cop. Mary's the good cop.' [ ] 'If I'm the good cop, that makes Yoshika the bad one. And she kept you alive.' [ ] 'I sure am. Yumemi's the bad cop. She does a mean pistol-whip.'
'Oh no, no no no.' You grin, almost laughing. 'I'm the good cop? You haven't met Mary yet. She's the good cop. I'm the bad one. I'm down here giving you a hard time and taunting you with food. Mary will probably make you eat chocolate and let you sleep in her bed.' Sakuya blinks at you, disbelieving, or uncaring. 'Seriously, whatever ... oh I don't know. What am I supposed to say in this situation, anyway?' You lean forward, raising your eyebrows and spreading your hands. 'Dealing with the would-be-kidnapper of your ... I don't even know what. Basically I've never had etiquette training for how to talk to somebody I've shot.' ' ... Renko.' Sakuya says your name, and then stops. 'That's me.'
' ... you are in charge?' She starts to frown, finally putting the now-empty plate down next to her, moving her right arm with great difficulty. 'I think so. Sort of. Kind of by default.' You say. 'Mary isn't the leader-type, Yoshika wants to be some kind of ... I dunno, foot-soldier, or something, I don't understand. Yumemi means well but she's kind of a wet blanket.' Sakuya shakes her head slowly. 'You're lying.' She croaks out.
You place your chin in your hand. 'About what?' 'The witch is your Lady.' She says, shrinking back like a cornered feline. 'Just playing with me.' She gulps down a painful lump in her throat. 'You mean Yumemi?' You almost laugh. 'What are you on?' Sakuya stares back, defensive and withdrawn. 'Look, if anybody is my "lady", it's Mary, but lets not get into that right now.' You try to explain. 'We picked up Yumemi at university the other day, never seen her before then. Completely new to us.' ' ... why.' Sakuya grunts. 'Why what?' 'Why protect her?' Sakuya asks. 'Because.' You feel a smooth smirk growing on your face. 'Because that is what I do, Sakuya.' You can almost see the cigar-smoke filled room again, feel your feet up on your desk as you stare at the would-be assassin, a slip of a girl wrapped in her coat. 'I help damsels in distress, girls with nowhere to turn, and even young women gone astray.'
Your point sails over her head, and the moment vanishes again
'But what do you do?' You ask. 'What is your thing?' ' ... I am my Lady's sword and shield.' She says, raising her chin slightly in a show of pride. 'Sounds interesting. Who's your lady?' You ask, trying to draw out more of that pride.
The front door swings open with a loud click, admitting a sudden gust of wind and dawn rain, the darkness outside raging for a moment and then disgorging Yoshika. She looks no worse for having stood outside for however long she's been out there, and simply shuts the door again, dripping water onto the floorboards, her tattoos shining under the droplets on her skin.
Sakuya freezes up as Yoshika turns to face her. The bruise-coloured girl has a sharp, inquisitive expression on her face.
' ... construct!' Sakuya almost spits, and then hunches up harder, shrinking away from Yoshika and fumbling clumsily in the general direction of the knife-belt still strapped to her ruined bodysuit.
She can't reach. She'd have to crawl across several feet of floor to get there, and right now she can't even roll over. You and Yoshika both watch her for a moment, until you can't stand it any more, your chest aching with pity at the sight.
[ ] 'Yoshika, go somewhere else. Now.' [ ] Take Sakuya's groping hand, try to calm her down. [ ] Look away, wait for her to tire herself out. At least give her the dignity of not watching.
Sakuya's struggling is too pitiful to watch; she half-topples onto her side, wincing and gritting her teeth, trying to keep the blankets pulled around her chin as she reaches for the knives. She keeps her gaze locked on Yoshika like a house cat facing down a tiger, hissing with panicky breathing through her gritted teeth.
'Hey, hey, hey.' You scoot forward from your sitting position, taking her groping hand in both of yours and trying to steady her, helping to make sure her blankets don't fall away. 'Sakuya, this is Yoshika, she's not going to do anything.' 'Construct!' Sakuya spits again, and then turns her accusing eyes on you. 'Liar!' She tries to throw you off, but she's far too weak, only managing to unbalance herself. You catch her again. 'Woah, woah, just slow down here-'
Sakuya opens her mouth wide; yup, she's going to bite you.
Yoshika steps forward and catches Sakuya's chin in an iron grip. The silver-haired girl whines, gritting her teeth again, bite averted. She swivels her furious gaze back to Yoshika as the stronger woman forces Sakuya's chin around to face her. 'Yoshika!' You scold her automatically. Although thankful for being saved a bite-mark on your hand, this is not going to calm Sakuya down at all. She's as tense as a cornered fox. 'Let her go, just-' 'What's her name?' Yoshika talks over you. 'Sakuya!' Sakuya grunts between her teeth, not letting you answer. 'I said, Yoshika, let-' You begin, and Yoshika finally listens, releasing Sakuya's chin again and stepping back. You quickly let go as well, not wanting to invite another bite, or a scratch at your eyes.
'Ugh ... ' Sakuya curls up in a ball again and starts coughing, wiping weakly at her face. 'Liar, liar.' She accuses you, staring at you from over her own knees. 'About what?' You ask, trying to keep calm and stay in control of the situation. 'Look, none of us are going to do anything to you. Please don't get all bite-happy, yeah? Save that for the food.' Sakuya stares at Yoshika; her expression is half cold professional hate, and half petulant teenage girl. 'I am a construct, yes.' Yoshika says to Sakuya, her features sharpen with amusement, her eyes narrowing. 'A very, very old one. Nothing to do with the little mote of dust you were trying to snatch from the air yesterday.' Yoshika gestures up the stairs. ' ... I don't ... ' Sakuya glances between you and Yoshika, her eyes shifting with wary confusion. 'I don't understand.'
'Well, that makes two of us!' You slap your hands against your knees and grin at her. 'I only have the foggiest idea of what is going on here, why you're here, what Yoshika is, or what the fuck Yumemi is actually doing that makes everyone want to have a private tea party with her. Yeah? So.'
Yoshika regards you with quiet pleasure. You hold the grin.
[ ] 'Enlighten me, Sakuya. What are you up to?' [ ] 'We're hunting witches, and mages, or maybe bugbears and werewolves. I dunno, we haven't really begun yet.' [ ] 'What did you call Yoshika? A construct? Care to elaborate?'
'So enlighten me, Sakuya.' You spread your hands, holding them forward and palms-up in a gesture of welcome and offering. 'What are you up to here?' 'What am I ... up to?' She narrows her eyes, a cornered animal being offered treats. 'Yes, what are you up to?' You repeat. 'What's your gig, girl? What is your whole razzmatazz about? What is your modus operandi?'
Yoshika stands silently, folding her arms; you almost tell her off for playing bad cop.
'I mean other than kidnap Yumemi. We get that.' You shrug. 'Come on, please?' Sakuya eyes you warily, as if she doesn't understand or believe what you're saying. 'Okay, different question. I know your name now. But I don't know what you are.' You try. 'I'm a student. Mary's a student. Yoshika's a ... zombie. What are you?' 'Human.' Yoshika grunts for her. Sakuya glares daggers at Yoshika. 'Stop.' You hold up one hand to Yoshika. 'Sakuya, what are you?' You ask in a more gentle tone. ' ... I am hunter. I hunt those my Lady desires killed.' She says, still frowning at you as if there's something wrong here. As she speaks, Yoshika wanders over to the discarded armour, crouching down and extracting one of the plates like you did before. Her eyebrows climb as she reads the Latin. 'Okay, and who does she desire killed?' You echo her own words.
'Mages.' Yoshika almost whispers, holding up one of the plastic armour-inserts. 'You're hunting sorcerers.'
'Yes.' Sakuya raises her chin, eyes flickering with pride again. 'A human!' Yoshika shakes her head in disbelief, standing up and walking back over to the silver-haired girl. 'A human servant, of a nightbound Lady, yes?' ' ... you know my Lady?' Sakuya's expression shifts slightly, muscles softening. 'I can smell it on you, thrall.' 'I am not-!' Sakuya grits her teeth, but you interrupted. 'Ah! No! Both of you.' You hold up both your hands. This conversation is spiralling beyond your understanding enough as it is. They glare at each other, Sakuya with barely suppressed, impotent rage, Yoshika with naked contempt. 'Right. Can we rewind a little?' You ask, nodding in answer to your own question. 'You're hunting sorcerers, Sakuya? Is that why you were after Yumemi?' 'Yes. I hunt by my Lady's command.' She answers after turning her gaze on you; much softer than the one she gives Yoshika. 'I do not question.' 'A human doing the job of a sorcerer's familiar.' Yoshika rumbles over your head. 'You're lucky that lead and rain were the worst you faced.' Sakuya raises her chin again, eyes filled with cold confidence. She even allows the blankets to fall an inch, showing the perfect milk-white of her shoulders.
'I have killed a dozen and one mages.' She says, her voice empty of gloating.
'Ha!' Yoshika barks with laugher and turns away, waving Sakuya's claim down. Sakuya doesn't respond, merely ignores Yoshika and meets your gaze again. 'Okay, Sakuya, you know what? That's great.' You grin again. Her newfound confidence falters in confusion again. 'But you're-' 'We are in the same business, currently. Sort of. So! We're on the same side.' You offer your hand to shake, in an honest gesture of solidarity, however bizarre this conversation is getting. 'Same side?' She frowns. 'Hunting sorcerers. Apparently!' You keep grinning.
Sakuya stares at your hand.
[ ] 'Come ooooon, girl.' [ ] Okay, maybe it's too soon for that. Politely withdraw your hand. [ ] Reach into blankets, find her hand. Shake shake.
Sakuya stares at your hand like she doesn't know what to do with it. You resist the urge to clear your throat, just keeping the big welcoming grin on your face, silently willing her to accept.
She looks back up again.
Oh. She actually doesn't know what to do.
'I'm trying to shake your hand.' You say, unable to keep the grin out of your tone, mocking her as feather-gently as you can resist. 'Come on, it's under there somewhere.' You continue, and reach over to her tightly tense body. 'Ah!' Sakuya flinches like a startled cat, hissing through her gritted teeth. 'I don't-' She clutches the blankets to her chest with her left arm, eyes wide, trying to back up against the wall. You ignore her panic and lift up the corner of the sheet.
'What are you doing?!' Her black-clad assassin's mystique vanishes in the voice of a spooked teenage girl. You catch a glimpse of milky-smooth hip and thigh - not that you didn't see it all last night, bared naked and blood-drained - and her right hand, hanging limp by her side. 'Shaking your hand.' You say, and then reach inside, taking her hand in yours. You have to support the wrist with your other; the wound has left her right side weak and exhausted. But you raise her hand out of the blanket and give it a proper shake, looking into her eyes. Sakuya stares back at you like you're a mad woman. Her hand is limp and soft. 'There!' You exclaim. 'Now we're good. We're on the same side, I think.' ' ... there are no sides.' Sakuya mutters, withdrawing her hand with a skittish flicker. 'There is only my Lady.' 'Sure, sure, but there are sides!' You grin and sit back again, feeling eloquent. 'Isn't that right, Yoshika?' You call over your shoulder to Yoshika, who has spent the last couple of minutes wandering away in disgust or disinterest. 'Mm?' She grunts. 'Sides! There's us, right. Me, Mary, Yoshika here, Yumemi, you.' You continue with a smile at Sakuya. 'Your lady, whatever. On the other side? Sorcerers. We have the same aims.'
'Mm.' Yoshika grunts again, eyeing Sakuya. 'And, okay, lets be honest.' You spread your hands. 'I'm no expert bodyguard. We have a trainee wizard and a zombie poet, and that's it, so-' 'Stop lying.' Sakuya mutters again and seems to withdraw into herself, pulling her knees up to her chest. 'I thought we went over this already?' You ask, getting genuinely annoyed now but trying to appear calm. 'None of us are Yumemi's witchy pawns. Yoshika here is a freed slave or something. I'm a lucky university student with an illegal firearm. If you don't believe me I guess you can talk to Mary and-'
'Then how did you stop me?' Sakuya speaks to her own knees, eyelids heavy, expression glum. ' ... I ... ' You look to Yoshika for help, but she just shrugs, affecting disinterest. 'I shot you.' You add, feeling lame: 'With a gun.' Sakuya frowns in irritation, her breathing getting harder. 'Not that.' She says through gritted teeth. 'Then what?' You stare, bewildered. 'How did you do it? ... of course you won't tell me.' Her lower lip wobbles slightly; moisture beads in the corners of her eyes. She does a very good job of appearing stoic even on the border of tears.
[ ] 'Sakuya. I don't understand. You need to work with me here.' [ ] 'Yoshika, what is she going on about?' [ ] When in doubt, apply hugs.
I think Sakuya's going to get into a mental breakdown about how her Lady didnt care enough for her to give her good body-armor. After all, I can only assume she went in thinking nothing could hurt her in the least, only for that to be shot right down. please dont kill me anon
Anon, it's all and well to be excited at the prospect of damaged goods, but remind yourself why she's damaged. She's damaged because we shot her, and we shot her because she was in the process of dragging our friend away to kill her. It's fine to pump her for information, but to think that we can overcome her loyalty to her master with a warm meal and a few kind gestures is incredibly naive. Since she's failed her first attempt, we need to ascertain whether or not she will continue to try and complete her duty, before we can disregard her as a non-threat.
Besides, we shouldn't give her hugs. That's Mary's department.
She looks utterly distraught, but you can't work it out; is it just because she failed in her task?
'Sakuya. I don't understand.' You say to the girl as she begins to cry silently. 'You need to work with me here. What are you talking about?' She turns her face toward you, eyes shining with moisture. 'I'm no sorcerer.' You continue. 'What I did was just basic, physical stuff. I shot you, that's all.' 'A human doing what she is doing,' Yoshika interrupts with a low rumble. 'Would not come armed with only knives and her body.' 'Was it you?' Sakuya grits her teeth at Yoshika, struggling to stem the slow flow of tears. 'No.' Yoshika shakes her head, regarding Sakuya with an odd gaze; as if trying to work something out.
'Then how did you catch me?' Sakuya asks through her teeth, turning her face away from you again. 'I saw you from the upstairs window.' You say, still feeling a little lost. Then you put two and two together, remembering Rika's paper that Yumemi bad, all that stuff about teleportation and travelling without moving. ' ... ah, something interrupted your ... motion?' You raise an eyebrow, groping for the right term. 'You interrupted the purity of my time.' Sakuya sniffs and turns accusing eyes back on you. 'You have taken it from me.' 'Your ... teleportation? Right. That's how you got Yumemi out of the room without me noticing.' Sakuya nods weakly; Yoshika lowers her eyelids with thought. 'And no I didn't,' you explain. 'I didn't even know you were doing that. That wasn't any of us.' You shrug.
'Why do you persist in lying?!' Sakuya's tears roll openly down her cheeks now. 'Hey, hey,' you hold up both hands, trying to placate her. 'You lie about your numbers, your strength-' 'Sakuya, that wasn't me, or Yoshika. Yumemi maybe?' 'Just stop.' Sakuya almost sobs, burying her face between her knees.
'Enough.' Yoshika steps forward, crouching down and grabbing Sakuya's chin with one long-fingered hand, forcing her chin up. Sakuya pants like a cornered animal. 'Yoshika.' You sigh, but she ignores you. 'Our number is four.' Yoshika grunts at the girl, picking up on the word you lost in her angry accusations. 'You saw a fifth, didn't you?'
Sakuya's eyes flick between you and Yoshika, half-terrified, half-confused.
[ ] Let Yoshika handle this. [ ] Okay, you have the idea. Peel Yoshika off her, take over.
[x] Let Yoshika handle this. -[x] Get a bit worried. If she says you lie about your numbers it means that the intruderfrom last night is still present.
So, either the shade (Let's call her Muramasa for now) or another one is still present. And what about the Mirror? We have to ask Sakuya about that too. She could've snatched it with her time stop anyway.
I'm going to take a few days off updating to figure out what to do next with the story; maybe just until Saturday or Sunday, maybe Monday.
I've got a good cast of characters here and a nice atmosphere and setting rolling along, but I've had multiple people tell me now that there are big issues with the story; poorly presented central conflict, lack of proper motivation, lack of weight in Renko's actions, etc.
So rather than retreating into my grumpy cave and powering forward into a brick wall like I used to whenever this happened in a story, I'm going to take a little break, and open up the rest of this thread to discussion, and then continue once I have some better ideas.
How do you feel about the story so far, audience? Have you identified the main conflict, do you feel engaged by it? What do you think of Renko? Who are you curious about?
>>27532 Well, from the way it was described by Yoshika, if feels sort of like sorcerers fighting each other just because they're aware of each other and to stop one from getting the top prize before them. Sort of like the HGW of F/SN?
But then with Sakuya's arrival, it seems there's also a side that just hunt sorcerers.
Flow was good so far: we don't really know much, Renko is a bit confused by all this but this is all normal: we still have no idea what we really stepped into and we lack information. Sakuya could shed some light on this (as you not decided to take a break now) if she can be convinced of our POV.
Renko's alright as is the rest of the cast. I don't know what you have in plan with Maribel, but I'm sure you have ideas in store for her.
I had no problem getting engaged either. As stated, speed of this is alright.
Poorly presented central coflict: The conflict right now is to protect Yumime (no wait, that's the chick from Hellsing, I meant Yumemi), for no other reason than the fact that she asked us for help and seems like she could use it. The MC is painfully oblivious to her methods and true intentions, but this was decided on a vote so it isn't your fault. It is true that the explanation of the conflict-within-the conflict is dragging on though. All indicates that it is going to be a literal witch hunt, but they haven't started yet. That's why this seems kinda like an introduction. If that was your intention great, if not, take care.
To protect a seemingly innocent person is a motivation that goes perfectly with Renko's attitude. It is a somewhat weak reason, but it is by no means unfeasible or unheard of. This will probably (hopefully?) change when they get more information on the matter.
Lack of weight in Renko's actions:
You know when you do something once and then a person who's being unreasonable or immature (like a kid or an angry girlfriend) take that single situation and turn it into a common ocurrence because it fits their needs? Well this is what happens. The vote (singular) where this happened is TOW we ordered our zombie moe to stay put and she left anyway. I guess it is too much to think that a person who has recently stopped being a slave may disobey an order... but leaving character development aside, I'm guessing you did it because her leaving was the best path possible. I have seen many writers like you, who tend to twist the outcomes of choices in order to help anon. Guess we are ungrateful beings.
I'm liking it. I admit there is some confusion as to what is going on, but that can be excused. I mean one day has barely passed in story and Renko was sleep deprived though most of it.
As for the railroading. It was done to teach us a lesson, wasn't it? One that it seems we're already putting into practice. But I see Anonymous' point. If a bad choice is made, we should be penalized for it in someway.
>>27534 Think of it this way: Yoshika knows how inexperienced we are in such matters. She believed she had to go and did so regardless of what we wanted. What it shows is that Yoshika, while trusting us with leadership, may act on her own during a conflict. This is something Renko will need to talk with her about. If we don't do that, it will most probably come bite us later.
>>27536 It might be her remaining instinct or need to feed or whatever.
As far as my remarks? I'm concerned about how all the plot lines staying balanced (the main plot, the romance subplot, etc). That and votes that seem to want to get a little too friendly with Sakuya.
>How do you feel about the story so far, audience? See above statement
>Have you identified the main conflict, do you feel engaged by it? I feel it concerns this 'game' and how it'll affect the duo and while nice, I fear it'd overpower the other plot arcs.
>What do you think of Renko? I think it's a nice if a tad too dense rendition, which I feel sort of contrasts with her grounded personality.
>Who are you curious about? Can't really choose one personal but rather what in Gensokyo caused such a thing and how or if things between Renko and Maribel would progress. Stories with these two in the center are pretty rare these days.
Whenever Yoshika went against "orders" I thought that we were losing her respect as a leader, which very well come to bite us hard later on.
On the plot and our lack of understanding on it, I like it. Very much so.
The only part I didn't like about this story were the kind of "not very important" votes we had lately. Really, that talk with Sakuya took too long, maybe she's a ticking bomb or something but it felt like we were crawling and scratching trying to get a +1 to character affection or something.
Other than that, I love this story, specially the hard choices.
>>27541 Time is invested on this Sakuya, not wasted. She is scared and genuinely good while still loyal (I can't remember the last time I saw a Sakuya that wasn't a bitch a robot or a drone, no wait I can: AFT) I usually don't like her but this one... I like her.