Sakuya just stares at Yoshika for a second. You reach over and place a gentle hand on her shoulder, through the blankets. 'Go on.' You say, nodding, being the good cop. 'Of course I saw a fifth!' Sakuya speaks through gritted teeth, around Yoshika's fingers. 'Your servitor-creature!'
You and Yoshika share a split-second glance of alarm; her sharp expression is just as surprised as you feel.
'We don't-' You start. 'You pretend weakness yet you ... you took from me what is mine!' Sakuya's eyes still shimmer with tears. 'Let go of me.' She says in a quieter voice, looking more and more like a scared teenage girl than a competent assassin. You remind yourself that last night she was going to kill Yumemi. Then you reach over and take Yoshika's arm. 'Ease down, ease down.' You say in a calm voice. 'Yoshika, come on, ease down.' You try to sound as much like Mary as you can: calm, soothing, gentle-voiced. Yoshika slowly lets go of Sakuya's chin, frowning hard at the girl, and Sakuya instantly jerks back, banging her head on the wall and wincing. ' ... look, Sakuya.' You clear your throat as Yoshika sits back. 'There really are only four of us. Anything you saw was not sent by us. What was it?' Sakuya glares at you from behind her knees. You sigh and pinch the bridge of your nose.
'The servant of another appears at the scene of Yumemi's kidnapping.' Yoshika purrs slowly, thoughtful. 'And strips away her kidnapper's powers to move unseen and unheard. What does this tell us, Renko?' 'That somebody else is looking out for Yumemi.' You answer without hesitation, and then glance back at Sakuya. 'Was it a sort of black, fuzzy shape, like a shortish girl? Wouldn't come properly into focus when you saw her?'
Sakuya's eyes widen a fraction. Success.
'Was it?' You repeat, wanting to be certain. 'Come on, Sakuya.' 'I will not help you.' She answers from behind her knees, her tone more shaky than defiant. 'You are the pawns of a witch.' 'No, we're not.' You say as gently as your irritation will allow. 'So the fuzzy girl - guess we can call her that - stopped you from killing Yumemi. That's ... new.' You blow out a breath, no closer to understanding than you were before.
'I was not instructed to kill Yumemi specifically.' Sakuya corrects you, her voice weaker now, just plain exhausted. The tears in her eyes have dried up. 'Oh?' You raise an eyebrow, hoping she'll offer more. 'My Lady wants a new tame magician.' Sakuya says slowly. 'Ours has become a ... ' She trails off, her eyes focused on nothing.
[ ] 'Ours?' Press that point. [ ] 'Tame magician? Well, sorry, but she's taken.' [ ] She's speaking without encouragement. Just wait, wait, she'll get there in her own time.
You wait a beat as Sakuya trails off, watching the way her eyes drift, something heavy and dark behind those grey-blue pools. Yoshika's mouth opens with a wet click, but you hold your hand up to silence her interruption. ' ... our ... our witch.' Sakuya mutters. 'She became a monster. I am,' she seems to gather herself, raising her head a little. 'I am primarily hunting her. I have not found her yet.' 'She matured.' Yoshika adds in a quiet tone.
Sakuya closes her eyes; the sound of the rain blurs into your thoughts, and you glance out of the front windows, at the weak dawn light beginning to struggle through the clouds.
'Matured into what?' You ask, feeling the overwhelming need to break the oppressive silence. Yoshika doesn't reply, brooding with her arms folded. 'She must be put down.' Sakuya whispers into her knees, eyes still closed. 'By my Lady and all that is holy, she must be put down.' 'You don't have a hope.' Yoshika says, and Sakuya frowns. 'A pupa may be squashed underfoot, larva pulled from the rotting bough of a tree, maggots crushed and baby birds wing's broken. But you hunt a fully grown eagle. Your eyes will be torn out and your entrails will be eaten.' Sakuya doesn't reply. Yoshika turns to you. 'Her's is a suicide mission.' She continues. 'Her Lady probably has some other trick up her sleeve, to be deployed when her pawn fails.' 'I will not fail.' Sakuya says, voice steady and calm. 'I am her sword and I am her shield, and all that is holy loves me. My armour is faith-'
'Pffft.' Yoshika sighs with derision, standing up before you can stop her. '- and my weapon is purity.' Sakuya finishes her little mantra, and then lets out a slow, calming breath. 'Sakuya.' You say, hoping she'll be a little more relaxed now. 'I believe you. You won't fail.' She nods very gently. 'Can you tell us what happened to this other witch?' You ask.
Sakuya goes silent for a moment. You wait. 'Her name was Patchouli.' Sakuya says, still not opening her eyes; she must still be exhausted. 'She was very old, she had been in our household since before I was born, and before any servant could remember. She was ... ' Sakuya gulps. 'She was a friend to my Lady, and pleasant enough in her own way. She ... ' 'Matured?' You try as Sakuya trails off. 'She changed.' Sakuya affirms. 'Into something else. There is nothing of her left.' 'Naivety.' Yoshika grunts, pacing slowly up and down at the back of the room. 'Power corrupts all; your witch is still there, just powerful.' 'I refuse to believe you.' Sakuya says quietly.
Yoshika stomps off into the kitchen.
There's more you need to know.
[ ] Sit next to Sakuya, try to be companionable and work out what to do with her. [ ] Ask to inspect her healed wound, or at least suggest she takes a look at it; maybe that'll put things in perspective. [ ] Ask Sakuya what she wants to do now. Return to her Lady, help you out? As long as she doesn't try kidnapping Yumemi again.
[x] Power is relative. You're far more powerful than me, Yoshika, does that mean you're corrupted? [x] Ask to inspect her healed wound, or at least suggest she takes a look at it; maybe that'll put things in perspective.
>>27560 >How would kidnapping Yumemi have helped her, anyway?
This was answered in the first post of this thread.
>'I was not instructed to kill Yumemi specifically.' Sakuya corrects you, her voice weaker now, just plain exhausted. The tears in her eyes have dried up. >'Oh?' You raise an eyebrow, hoping she'll offer more. >'My Lady wants a new tame magician.' Sakuya says slowly. 'Ours has become a ... ' She trails off, her eyes focused on nothing.
You wait until you're sure Yoshika isn't going to stomp back in.
'Sakuya?' You try, seeing if you can rouse her. She looks a lot calmer than before, almost meditative. Her eyelids flicker at the sound of her name, but she doesn't respond. You figure this is a good time to ask. 'Sakuya, have you seen your wound yet?' You say as carefully as you can. 'Do you mind if I take a look at it? Just to make sure it's healing as it should be.' You bluff; you've got no idea what a wound like that should heal like, especially when combined with Yoshika's medical methods. But you do want to make sure Sakuya's aware of it; better a little shock now than a freak-out later.
'Mm.' She grunts softly, and opens her eyes, looking back at you. The sound of the rain fills the space between you and her. Sakuya shifts her knees down, feeling her ribcage underneath the blankets, her expression softer than it was before. Neither of you speak as she moves, the gentle rustle of fabric-on-skin fading into the rain-drumming. She reaches out of the blankets and runs one hand through her hair. 'I know it's there.' She says eventually. 'Yeah.' You nod back, unsure how to respond, alone in the dawn darkness with the woman you shot. 'It doesn't hurt. I just ache.' She says, looking away with what would be embarrassment, if it wasn't for the lack of any blush on her cheeks. Carefully she lowers the blanket around her right shoulder, revealing perfectly smooth white skin, pale as milk, wrapped around tightly trained muscles, all of them limp with exhaustion.
The wound is a darker patch on her ribcage, the bones suddenly terminating at the edges: a soft spot of vulnerability, a hole where a second heart should be.
Yoshika's work has done wonders though. There's only a little visible scarring, where Sakuya's skin meets Yoshika's replacement material. Her hardened flesh-vomit, you remind yourself, peering politely at the remains of the wound. 'Internal damage lingers, like weak foundations.' Yoshika's voice floats from the doorway, her face seeming to hang in the shadows there. Sakuya covers herself again at the sound of Yoshika's voice, but the bruise-coloured girl quickly vanishes again, bare feet padding on the kitchen floorboards. You're left alone again with Sakuya and the rain. She clutches the sheet over her damaged chest.
'I ... ' You shake your head gently. 'I'm not sorry. I don't think I can apologise.' You give her a sad smile. 'But I'm glad it's mended. For all that counts.' ' ... mm.' Sakuya blinks at you a couple of times. 'That is ... rare.' She struggles for the word, clearly treading new ground. 'Among those involved with mages and sorcerers. There is little honour in this hunt. No real warriors. Only monsters, animals, assassins.' She sniffs and pulls her knees back up to her chest, but this time she puts her chin on them instead of hiding her face away. 'Haha.' You can't help but laugh softly. 'You think I'm a real warrior? Like I said earlier, I just got lucky.' Sakuya shakes her head. 'It is not a measure of skill. It is about how one conducts oneself.' 'Like, professionalism?' You ask. 'Mm.' Sakuya grunts, growing quiet again before letting out a long sigh. 'I fear I am here because I have forgotten what it means. I ... ' She closes her eyes. 'I am an instrument of my Lady's divine will.' She opens her eyes again. 'But I have spent too long fighting the monstrous.'
'Is that why you tried to kidnap Yumemi?' You ask, trying to clear your voice of judgement or accusation; you've already won, this woman is beaten.
'Yes.' Sakuya meets your gaze with tired eyes. 'I think so. I should have ... invited her?' She frowns, but then shakes her head and whispers. 'I feel lost, my Lady.'
[ ] Okay now she needs a hug. [ ] 'Can you ask her what to do? Your Lady, I mean, literally?' [ ] Hold out your hand to her. You don't need words to explain what you're offering.
You don't say anything; there's nothing you can really say that will make it better. You've seen crises of faith before.
Instead you bridge that gap of rainy dawn darkness between you and the woman you shot, leaning forward and giving Sakuya a hug. It's very simple gesture: just your head over her shoulder and your arms awkwardly around her back, what little of it you can reach with her sitting against the wall as she is. At first you think she's going to freeze up and reject you, maybe react like she's been doing with Yoshika. After all, last night you shot her. There is no etiquette for this situation, but you're pretty damn sure that hugging is not what you're supposed or expected to do.
Well, screw expectations. You're Renko, and you'll hug whoever you damn well want to hug.
Sakuya relaxes, placing her forehead against your shoulder and her good hand weakly on your side. You breathe a silent sigh of relief. The rain presses compact space all around the pair of you. Neither of you say anything; this moment wouldn't really make sense with words. You don't feel the need to qualify the embrace, or disclaim anything, or tell her that sure you like hugging other girls but this- No. There's none of that at all. In fact, you feel like you understand a tiny portion of what Sakuya was just saying about conduct making a warrior. Eventually you let go and sit back. Sakuya does the same, and your gazes meet without the need for words. Sakuya sniffs a couple of times. 'Thank you.' She murmurs, and you just nod.
'So ... ' She breathes again after a moment. 'What are you going to do with me?' 'I hadn't really thought about that yet.' You answer honestly. Sure, she could be making all of this up, everything she's just said could be lies, but she doesn't come off as a hardened dissembler to you. She's wearing her heart on her sleeve. 'You can stay here until the wound is properly mended, then ... ' You shrug, genuinely not knowing what to do with her. 'Mm.' Sakuya grunts. 'What would you do, if you healed up and just left?' You ask. ' ... I don't know.' Sakuya sighs. 'I feel like I've lost my way.' 'Go back to hunting for this witch of yours?' You prompt. Sakuya's expression looks heavy at your words. 'Well, what do you want to do?' 'I wish to serve my Lady.' Sakuya answers that one without hesitation, and then her eyes flick to you, full of innocent curiosity of the kind you've seen on Mary so often; simple things shared between girls in the dark. 'What about you, Renko? What do you want to do?' 'Me?' You raise one eyebrow. Sakuya nods.
You think for a moment, letting your eyes wander over toward the rain-soaked windows. The sky has been painted with great grey brush strokes now, by the hand of a mad painter rolling back the night with colourless lead in his palette.
'I have to know.' You say, talking to the rain. 'I want to believe, and I have to know. That's me in a nutshell.' You run one hand through your hair, turning back to Sakuya to find a curious expression still on her face. 'I mean there's so many leads ... I have to, I just have to.' You trail off and then feel your words tumbling out, giving Sakuya an abridged version of Rika's abandoned office, of Yumemi's sob-story, of the unknown that's suddenly fallen into your lap. She listens without interrupting, until the end; her lips part with a slow breath out, her eyes more alert than they were before, thoughts churning behind those inscrutable grey-blue pools.
'You are hunting too, in a way.' She says. 'I have never heard of this Rika. Patchouli may have known of her.' 'Yeah?' You lean forward hopefully. 'Perhaps. We will never know.' Sakuya says with a melancholy tone. 'But your hunt is ... honourable. I think.' 'Yoshika told me we'd end up being targeted by sorcerers just for harbouring Yumemi, let alone looking for Rika. I'm not sure this honourableness thing will hold out when that happens.' You shake your head, still not sure what to make of that possibility. You managed to shoot without hesitation once, but that situation could not have been clearer.
'I believe it will.' Sakuya says, looking right into your eyes. 'You have ... you have a feeling about you, a ... ' She trails off, more shy teenage girl again than super-athletic assassin woman. 'A quality. A confidence that I only feel myself at the love and praise of my Lady.' She looks down as she says this, cheeks glowing with colour; you've never seen somebody actually head-over-heels in love before, but you would bet Sakuya is totally in deep with this "Lady" of hers. You just nod, not wanting to pry into something so obviously intense. 'Do you have ... ?' 'Something like that of my own?' You finish her sentence. She nods, curious.
[ ] 'I guess I have Mary ... it's not really the same thing though.' [ ] 'No, I don't think so. There's just me, and what I believe is right.'
'No, not really. I don't think so, anyway.' You answer honestly. 'The only thing I need to have faith in is myself, that's all.' You shrug, feeling a little awkward talking about this. If Sakuya is a warrior, and so are you, then your inspiration, your analogue to her Lady would be ... Mary. Sort of. 'Maybe I'll have something like that eventually, who knows?' Sakuya nods slowly at your words. 'Then I believe you will bring a measure of real honour to this ... this grubbing in the gutter.' Her eyes wander away again. 'I have decided on an answer to your question, Renko.' She stares off into the darkness of the entrance hall, the corners still barely lit by the ethereal dawn light beyond the sky. 'Ah? Which one?' You ask. 'I cannot be other than the instrument of my Lady's divine will.' She repeats like a comforting mantra, and then continues in the same measured tones. 'But I no longer wish to be an assassin.'
You wait for her to continue, to explain; Sakuya's eyes flick to you, and then away again, visibly embarrassed.
The rain has stopped.
'I have ... ' Sakuya continues after letting the true silence sink in for a moment. 'I have found myself as the skulking night rat, opposite a true ... ' She gestures at you with her good hand, unable to finish the sentence, half-choking on her words and looking away at nothing. 'I understand.' You say, saving her from the embarrassment. 'I do. Really.' ' ... good.' Sakuya nods to herself, and then takes a deep breath and slumps back a little, as if cleansing her mind. 'It remains to be seen how I can continue serving my Lady though, if I choose not to be ... what I have been.' 'Well,' you shrug and sit back, pushing her lighter tone even further. 'You could start by apologising to Yumemi. Maybe make a proper formal invitation to her, or whatever you were talking about earlier? I doubt she'll take it, but hey.' 'Perhaps.' Sakuya agrees, but half-heartedly. 'Really I must continue my fruitless hunt.'
You stare at her across a gulf, and then bridge the gap in one great leap.
'Sakuya.' You sit up, suddenly brimming with confidence. 'Become a warrior again then. Don't just reject one label. Take on another!' 'I would ... I would, but, this hunt, this fight-' 'Uh!' You hold up a finger, and Sakuya blinks at you in surprise. You haven't interrupted her like that yet, and she doesn't know what to make of it. 'No buts, no ifs. You said it yourself, you're your Lady's sword and shield? Well, be them.' ' ... I don't even know how any more.' She trails off. 'I don't know how to counsel somebody I shot last night.' You counter. 'I don't know how to protect a fledgling witch, or manage a zombie-thing. But here I am,' you gesture at yourself. 'Doing it all the same. Want some pointers, want me to help you make it up as you go? Remember what I said, I can even help young women gone astray.' You let a cheesy grin slip onto your lips, and Sakuya cannot help but smile a little. She really dazzles when she smiles, like a totally different person.
'You are very strange in some ways, Renko.' Sakuya manages at your antics, shaking her head. 'I think it is what gives you your ... determination. Thank you. Perhaps I will try. But you haven't answered my question.' 'Eh?' You raise one eyebrow. 'What are you going to do with me?' She asks, looking far more alert than she did before.
[ ] 'Do you want to help us?' [ ] 'Nothing, for now. In fact, you should maybe get some rest, or eat more.'
'Nothing, for now.' You shrug, speaking honestly. 'In fact you should probably get some more rest. Or eat more. I'm not entirely sure how you're supposed to recover from a gunshot wound, but I bet it involves a lot of cups of tea and comfortable pillows.' 'Mm.' Sakuya lowers her eyes from your gaze, and then clears her throat gently. 'Tea would be nice.' She murmurs softly. 'You got it.' You say, slapping your palms against your knees as you rise to your feet. 'Probably best if you don't try to wander around on your own right now though,' you add, feeling a little bashful about saying this. 'Mary and Yumemi are still asleep. Yumemi will probably faint at the sight of you or something.' 'Ah ... ' Sakuya nods once, and her eyes follow you as you head toward the kitchen.
'Renko.' Her voice flutters with unseen nerves, stopping you in your tracks. 'May I ... may I join you?'
You turn back to her, a small pale creature crouched underneath blankets in the dark. ' ... of course.' You answer, without really thinking. 'In the kitchen, I mean.' She gestures, looking a little awkward. 'I like kitchens.' 'Oh yeah?' You prompt, interested, as you walk back over to her to offer her some help getting up. Slowly, Sakuya levers herself off the wall, and then staggers to her feet, trying to keep her balance and keep the sheet around her shoulders at the same time. You catch her underneath her good arm, holding her side and ready to grab her a little more forcefully if she falls. 'I'm alright, I'm alright.' She nods, but doesn't try to shake you off. 'Just very slow.'
Very slow indeed; Sakuya takes short, shuffling steps, like a patient recovering from a terrible illness, wrapped in her night-clad hospital gown. The blankets leave her powerful calve muscles and neat toes exposed. You help her along. 'I used to be,' she clears her throat gently. 'A maid, before I was ... what I am now. Kitchens are the same, wherever you go, whatever tastes you're cooking for. If I'm going to sit and rest, I'd like to be in there.' She gives you a smile tinted with teenage shyness, and you wonder if you should revise down your estimate of her age.
Thank the Gods this happened at Mary's place and not your apartment. The state of your kitchen would probably knock Sakuya unconscious again.
'A maid?' You ask, finding that a little hard to believe. You can't imagine her lithe, athletic, dancer's body wrapped in a stupid looking maid's uniform, running around with a feather duster and restocking toilet roll. 'For my Lady.' She explains. 'Maid, bodyguard - not that she needs such things - and companion.' 'Huh.' You grunt, barely resisting the urge to ask if her "Lady" liked the maid look.
Yoshika waits in the kitchen, standing by the windows and looking out at the garden; her hands are on the worktop, arm muscles tensed, and her eyes are wide open, scanning the dripping greenery like a hawk. The struggling dawn light lends her sharp expression a nightmare mask, and you feel Sakuya stop under your hands, her feet faltering. 'Yoshika?' You ask. 'What is it?' 'I spy, I spy.' Yoshika whispers, putting a finger to her lips. She doesn't move from her vantage point, paying you and Sakuya no attention at all.
'Come on.' You whisper even quieter to Sakuya, and then finally manage to coax her forward and get her to sit at the table. She nods her thanks and leans back in the chair, clutching her blankets around her chest. 'I spy a little watcher, Renko.' Yoshika whispers again as you cross the room toward her. 'Shh, careful.' She holds one hand back to ward you off. 'You'll startle it.'
[ ] Don't move any further then. 'What is it, Yoshika?' [ ] Peer over her shoulder. You can be stealthy.
You stop short of Yoshika's outstretched hand, trying to peer past her at the garden outside.
'What is it?' You whisper, keeping your voice low. 'A watcher that thinks it is not.' Yoshika replies, no longer turning her head now; her eyes stay fixed on one point, one half of a staring contest you cannot see. 'Or perhaps a spy passing us in the night.' 'It's not night anymore.' You say the first thing that comes into your head, frustrated by hanging back. 'Night creatures can become daylight intruders.' Yoshika says, not missing a beat. Sakuya shuffles in her chair and turns away. 'Some of them.' Yoshika adds, and you swear there's a hint of mockery in her voice.
'This isn't anything to do with-' Your eyes widen slightly and you glance at Sakuya. She's resting her head on the table now, eyelids heavy, breathing slowly. She seems only peripherally interested in your exchange with Yoshika. 'No.' Yoshika cuts off your question. 'A different order of beast to our wayward thrall.' 'I am not-' Sakuya rouses herself slightly, but Yoshika cuts her words down with a harsh chop of one hand, not taking her eyes away from the window.
'I spy a fox in the bushes. Watching us back. Watching us watch. Little watcher child.' Yoshika almost slips into that dizzying sing-song voice, but brings herself up sharp.
'There are plenty of foxes around here, Yoshika. We're on the edge of the suburb.' You almost sigh and roll your eyes. 'Not like there aren't.' She replies. 'Are you sure it's not just your i-' You begin, but without warning Yoshika spins away from the window. She all but vaults over the kitchen table, drawing a flinch and gasp from Sakuya, who struggles not to fall backward on her chair in surprise. Yoshika moves like a spider through the open kitchen doorway, limbs hauling her out using the door frame. A second later you hear the front door open and then slam again.
Sakuya blinks rapidly in Yoshika's wake, looking at you for guidance. 'Foxes?' You ask her, as lost as she is. Sakuya shrugs and shakes her head, and then tentatively rests on the table again. You peer out of the window where Yoshika was looking, but you can't see anything except the waterlogged garden and the houses much further beyond. You get a cushion for Sakuya to rest her head on, and make two cups of tea.
Before the water is cool enough to drink, the front door slams again. Yoshika returns to the kitchen, carrying a dead fox in two pieces.
'Bloody hell.' You comment, taking in several things at once as Yoshika. 'Don't put that on the table! It's filthy, Mary will have a fit.'
The fox is one of the largest you've ever seen, lean and powerfully built, with jaws that look like they could rip the throat out of a young cow. More of a dog than a fox. Certainly not fed on urban scraps and garbage; its coat is thick and healthy and rich autumn-red. Or was. Now it's stained with blood, and the decapitated head hangs limp in Yoshika's hand. Yoshika's arms and hands are covered in the crimson mess as well, and her torso is splattered with a streak of gore, interrupting the beauty of her tattoos. She looks like a predator herself, flushed after a kill. At least she had the good sense to steal an empty bin-liner from outside and carry the animal in on that, instead of dripping on the floor.
'Does it look like a city-bound refuse rat to you, Renko?' Yoshika holds the head up like a trophy, grinning a big, hungry grin. Like a shark about to take a bite. 'No, no it doesn't.' You agree. 'It's big, sure, but it's an ordinary fox?' 'Mm.' Yoshika grunts, weighing the head with one hand. Sakuya stares with curiosity, but is otherwise unreadable. 'It was watching us? So what, is Snow White gonna attack us with songbirds and forest creatures now?' You ask with a sigh, unsure what to do about being stalked by a regular fox. 'I do not know.' Yoshika stares into the glassy black dead eyes, and then tosses the fox's head into the air.
You almost look away.
She throws her head back, opens her mouth wide, and keeps opening. Her jaw unhinges. Surely, you think, her skin must break. But it doesn't, and the fox's head vanishes into her gullet, followed swiftly by the rest of the body, and then the bin-liner too.
She rights herself with a smack of her lips, mouth back to normal. Sakuya stares at her with a look of frowning curiosity, but you've probably got shock written all over your face. 'Just in case.' Yoshika gives you a razor-thin grin. 'You think it was an animal familiar?' Sakuya asks her, eyelids still heavy with exhaustion. 'Yes.' Yoshika grunts, but answers to you. 'Keep a sharp eye turned to the bushes and alleys, look for the watchers. And use your nose.' 'My nose?' You raise one eyebrow, and then it clicks, your eyes widening. 'Yumemi's apartment, she said whoever trashed it left behind a wet dog smell. Oh.' 'Mmmm.' Yoshika rumbles, one hand over her belly and the dead fox she's ingested.
You hear the faint, far-away creak of somebody moving upstairs, followed by the shutting of the bathroom door.
'I think somebody's up.' You say.
[ ] Go see who woke. Fill them in on Sakuya. [ ] Wait down here for now. Make some more food. Keep an eye out for foxes.
[X] Go see who woke. Fill them in on Sakuya. >>27634 We're going to spend next few days of in-game time locked in the house, building up our party and waiting for Sakuya to recover. It will be ultra-intense!
You leave a mug of tea in front of Sakuya, almost patting her head on instinct; you stop yourself at the last moment and leave the kitchen feeling a tad awkward. Yoshika goes to wash her blood-soaked hands at the sink, and you can hear the sound of running water as you head up the creaking stairs and into the dawn-gloom of the corridor.
The rain has started again, but only inside the bathroom; somebody's using the shower, and a corona of light spills out around the door frame like a ragged halo on a giant angel lurking at one end of the hallway. When you peek into the thick, fluffy darkness of Mary's bedroom, you find that Yumemi's futon is empty. The heavy scent of three girls' night-sweat - one of them yourself - wraps around your head and pulls you into the room, the smell of Mary's body the strongest of all.
She's crawled out of her futon and back into her own bed, fast asleep on her side, a pillow clutched to her stomach like a deformed teddy-bear. Her hair has turned into a wild mane of blond overnight, to scare away the nightmares and bogeymen. She's drooling on the pillow, and her pajamas are twisted a little around her middle; her face is utterly serene, sleeping like a baby. ' ... Mary?' You whisper. She doesn't respond.
Instead of waking her you step forward and pull the covers up a little further, over her shoulder, tucking the pillow in as well so she won't feel lonely. You wonder - free of embarrassment - if she can smell you on her bed, from last night.
'Mm, Renko?' Mary's eyelashes flicker as you step back again. 'Izzit morn- ... ' She trails off again, smacking her lips and shuffling deeper down inside the covers. You stay perfectly silent, unsure what to do. It's not like you haven't done this before. You've slept in the same room as Mary more times than you can count. You've woken up first and dashed off to do something, or been woken by her flouncing around, or sat in opposite beds and talked about life, the universe, and her latest Psychology experiment.
You've never before wanted her to wake up right now.
'Yeah.' You say softly. 'It's morning, Mary.' 'Mmmmmm.' She grunts and sighs, burying her face in the pillow she's hugging. 'Renkoizit- erh?' 'It's coming up on,' you glance at the clock. 'Eightish. Almost.' You exaggerate a little, but you know Mary won't have stayed late. Not with you sleeping and Yumemi probably passed out.
'Sleepahhh.' Mary complains, puffing her cheeks out in a subconscious sleep-tantrum.
[ ] Alright. Let her sleep. Go wait for Yumemi to get out of the shower. [ ] Come on, Mary. Rise and shine. After all, this is the first time you've had alone with her since Yumemi turned up.
'Come on, Mary.' You lean over her, a smile leaping unbidden to your lips; she smells of hot skin and sunlight-lace, even in the lull of the storm still poised outside. 'It's time to get up, everyone else is awake. We're gonna go hunting for clues, remember?' 'Mmmmm-mmmm!' Mary frowns into her pillow, her mind still wandering on the other side of the wall of sleep. She bats outward with one hand, letting it fall limp. 'Renkos- mmm.' She grunts and tries to roll onto her front, but the pillow stops her completing the motion.
You laugh quietly, all the crazy happenings of the last day washed away by the sight of your best friend being sleep-grumpy. You put a hand down automatically, touching the side of Mary's face before you know what you're doing. 'Mary? Mary. It's me, yes, and it's time to wake up.' You crouch down so you're face-to-face with her; you get a whiff of sticky saliva and the sweat on her chest. 'Renko.' Mary murmurs, but it sounds more like "wenkoo". 'Come on. Before Yumemi finishes in the shower?' You ask out loud, admitting it. 'I wanna talk.' 'Mmmuuzzmmm.' Mary makes a sleep-noise, and then begins to slowly unfurl her limbs with the heavy, aching slowness of a bear coming out of hibernation. She arches her back against the bed, stretches her arms - probably wiggles her toes underneath the covers - and then ...
'Buuwaah- ... ' She trails off, going still again, eyes closed with perfect serenity.
'What have I got to do to wake you, huh? Kiss you?' You ask, an idea popping into your head. You act before you can reject it, running on the bounce in your legs and the fire in your belly. You lean forward, cupping Mary's cheek with one hand, and then plant a kiss on her forehead. You almost feel like your lips should come away powdered with the softness of her skin, or like there should be a massive red lip-stick mark on her forehead, like a brand, making you feel guilty. But the kiss changes nothing, except how you feel; that was very much the right thing to do.
Finally, Mary's eyelids flicker open, regarding you with a slow, dazed look. 'Renko?' Her voice is clearer now. 'Mmmm, what time is it?' She pouts. 'Almost eight.' You say, straightening up, suddenly embarrassed by how close your faces were. 'Everyone else is up.' 'Mmmm.' Mary rolls over in bed, smacking her lips and closing her eyes, hugging that pillow, the one that must still smell of you. 'Hey, hey! Sleeping off.' You say. 'Come on, I've got food on, and there's somebody downstairs you need to meet.' 'Uh?' Mary finally opens her eyes without coaxing. 'Oh the- the woman?' She tries to sit up, running one hand over her hair and looking at you with a dizzy, sleepy expression. 'Yeah. Her name is Sakuya. Yeah I befriended her.' You say, still not sure what to make of that. 'I think.'
You give Mary the short version of what you just spent the last two hours doing, and her faces slowly goes from sleep-addled grump-Mary to bright and alert and peering at you in curiosity.
'Renko, Renko! I have to talk to her too, then!' Mary picks herself up, swinging her legs out of bed. 'Is she healed properly? Is she just with Yoshika now?' 'Uh, yeah, and yeah.' You answer, feeling like you're getting swept up again. 'I left her with a cup of tea.'
'She'll need clothes, and-' Mary starts, standing up and stretching, so her body pulls taut underneath her pajamas, and her hair bounces like a waterfall of gold.
[ ] Let her do her thing. She's in good hostess mode already. [ ] 'Mary, I wanted to just. You know. Talk for a minute?' You don't even know what about. You just want to monopolize her a little.
You just say her name, and she catches the soft hook in the back of your tone: the bit you can't say. Or can't usually say, because this time it comes out smooth.
'I just wanted to, know you, talk for a minute? Maybe before Yumemi gets out of the shower and interrupts us.' You half-ask, half-request, but you already know that Mary won't deny those words, not coming from you. 'Renko~?' She cocks her head and gets that irresistible little smile, the one she gets when she's trying to hold back a bigger grin. She flows back onto the bed like molten honey and you flop down in the chair. 'What is it- oh!' Mary's face lights up. 'You're wearing my t-shirt!' 'Ah?' You glance down. Oh. You still are wearing her clothes. 'Yeah, well, there was nothing else clean around.' 'I don't mind!' Mary chirps, folding her legs underneath her.
You become hyper-aware of the sound of running water from down the hall, silently willing Yumemi to spend as long in the shower as she likes.
'Yeah ... ' You trail off, mentally picking through the dozen things you could say here. At least six come-ons and romantic one-liners get rejected before they reach your fore-brain; there's no point using them on Mary. She's Mary. 'Do you need a hug, Renko?' Mary fills the gap, leaning forward with a concerned expression. 'I mean you did shoot a person last night.' 'I slept like a baby, Mary, I'm fine.' You grin at her; you really did. 'I mean- ugh, that sounds terrible, doesn't it? She was healing by the time I slept, I didn't-' 'I know, I know.' Mary nods with that easy understanding, breaking into a big, cat-like yawn and stretching again. 'The last day has been kind of crazy.' You puff out your cheeks, and Mary nods with sagely wisdom. You both fall into a companionable silence for a moment. ' ... is this what you wanted to talk to me about?' Another little smile jumps across Mary's lips. 'I don't know!' You protest with a half-grin, which dies quickly as your next words blossom across the space between you, coming from nowhere, spurred on by madness and courage.
'Say, Mary,' you ask. 'Did your bed smell of me?'
' ... hm,' Mary makes a curious little sound, trying to cover up the fact her eyes just widened at you and she's suddenly filled with visible nervous tension. 'Hmm.' She repeats, and then picks up the pillow. Rosy blush floods her cheeks; probably yours too. Mary settles the pillow in her lap, her arms around the bottom as if around your own imaginary rump. She buries her lower face in the soft, welcoming material, and closes her eyes. She's hiding. ' ... Mary?' 'Yes.' 'Does-' 'Yes!' She repeats, breathless. Her eyes flutter open, staring at you over the top of the pillow.
Deer in headlights; you, not her. Just for a second.
'Hehehe- ahehe ... ehhh.' You try to laugh it off, but Mary flows out of her bed and over toward you, still clutching the pillow to her front and hiding her face. This moment feels far more surreal than anything you've seen in the last twenty-four hours. Your best friend, Mary, floating out of bed on feather-light footsteps and crossing the room with all the tension of a girl about to steal a kiss. Far more heart-stopping than omnivore zombies and shooting a person. 'Mary?' You ask, almost leaning back in the chair as she bobs from foot to foot right in front of you, leaning forward.
She's blushing like a tomato behind that pillow.
You hear the imitation rain of the shower cut out.
Mary's eyes leave you with a flick; she glances at the door.
[ ] Break the moment. You both know what that meant; you can continue it later. [ ] Distraction attack get! Pull Mary onto your lap. [ ] 'Mary. Quick.' Whisper. Get her attention again.
You lean back and sigh loudly, breaking the atmosphere of the moment between you and Mary; the last thing you want to do is rush this all at once, snatching hurried fumbles together before you're interrupted. This is important enough to wait.
The silence stretches out.
You glance back at Mary. She's frowning at the doorway now, pillow lowered a little to expose her liquid-soft mouth, cheeks puffed out with irritation. ' ... gah! What is she doing in there? Come on already, Yumemi!' Mary whispers, half-amused, half-exasperated. Then she looks back at you, and you catch the giggles as well, putting a hand over your mouth to stop yourself.
This, this is the real moment you were waiting for: laughing together with Mary, both of you fully aware what just passed between you, and yet carrying on as normal.
'This is so silly.' You shake your head when Yumemi still doesn't open the bathroom door. 'We could have done- well, a lot, by now!' You don't need to define what you're talking about there. 'I knoooow.' Mary whines softly, her blush still strong but a lot more manageable as she throws a teasing, sidelong glance at you. 'I bet she's using all my floss or something.' 'Can I get that hug now?' You grin up at Mary, and she doesn't hesitate. She covers and uncovers her mouth with the pillow, and then tosses it over her shoulder to land on the bed with a soft flump. Before you can say "shall I stand up", Mary leans forward and drapes herself across your shoulders, giving you a face-full of her golden hair and a nose-full of her sweet and tangy night-sweat. She squeezes you gently, and you hug her back.
It's exactly as it's always been, the same old hug, and you realise that even though something just changed between you and Mary, it's always been there. You've always hugged like this.
'Breakfast?' You whisper in Mary's ear as you finally hear the latch on the bathroom door. 'Breakfast!' Mary chirps and then bounces away from you. She leaves the imprint of her hands behind, and her scent lingering on your body. Just the way she always has done. Yumemi pads into the room a few moments later, a towel wrapped around her shoulders, hair fuzzed up from drying, peering nervously at the pair of you. The towel exposes her calves: thin and pasty, little sticks of pale flesh against the ancient hardwood of Mary's floor. 'Morning.' You flip a hand up at her. 'Morning.' She replies flatly. 'M-mary have you got some clothes I can-' 'Of course, of course!' Mary says, and launches into a routine of trying to find things that will fit the much smaller girl.
You rub your hands together. Time to make plans.
' ... okay, but what do we do with her?' Yumemi asks you, eyeing Sakuya warily across the kitchen table.
Your tiny fire-haired witch - or whatever she really is - sits nursing the same cold cup of tea, dressed in ancient hand-me-down jeans and a white tshirt with a long-faded peace sign that Mary probably hasn't worn since she was ten years old. So far she's treated Sakuya with the wariness of a deer watching a loping wolf, those big amber eyes turned up to maximum beam, boring into Sakuya's head like twin floodlights. Sakuya, for her part, has said almost nothing to Yumemi, except for a simple, but heartfelt apology: something about her Lady not approving of such behavior. She doesn't correct Yumemi when the smaller girl refers to her in third person, as if she wasn't there, or complain about Yumemi's constant spooked staring. Yoshika lurks by the wall, listening without comment.
'She caaaan ... uh, good question.' You frown, glancing at Mary for help. You didn't think this part through. 'I can walk now. I believe.' Sakuya says softly. 'I will not be a burden.' 'I'll help you, Sakuya!' Mary leans forward with a beaming smile on her face. 'I even think there's a pretty sturdy crutch somewhere in the cupboard, if you need.' 'Then she comes with us.' You slap the table with the flat of your hand. 'I don't know ... ' Yumemi gulps.
'There are other options.' Yoshika rumbles softly from the gloom.
The storm last night hasn't yet blown itself out; heavy clouds sagging with rain hang over the city outside, and the wind has picked up, whipping leaves across the garden, whistling through the gaps in this old house and sending drafts shivering up your spine. The first thing Mary did was find some clothes for Sakuya, so at least you haven't got to worry about her getting pneumonia or something with that chest-wound. Though she does look funny in a long brown skirt and one of Mary's oversized purple hoodies.
'Yeah, other options.' You mutter, chewing them over.
You do need to swing by your apartment at some point today. If only to reload.
[ ] No. There are no other options. You all go back to Rika's office, together. [ ] Plan B: Somebody(s) goes to Rika's office, grabs what they can, and gets back here. - [Define] [ ] Plan C: ??? - [Define]
Pretty much this. Sending Yoshika and bunking down in the house seemed appealing for a while but keeping everyone together and focusing our full attention on the task at hand seems like a better option.
[ ] No. There are no other options. You all go back to Rika's office, together.
Until Sakuya is back up to snuff, Yoshika is the only one we can rely on for defense. Sure we have a gun, but didn't Yoshika and Sakuya point out earlier that it shouldn't have been as effective as it was? We can't keep relying on some unknown force intervening on our behalf again.
'There are no other options.' You look up from the table and around the room at your rag-tag posse, grinning to yourself as you spin your hat on one hand and then sweep it onto your head, brim low over your eyes. Oh, oh you're feeling this role today, yes you are. You don't know if it's the extra sleep, the realisation you're elbow-deep in the paranormal and about to dive deeper, or the far greater realisation that you and Mary have slipped beyond friendship without so much as a backward glance. Maybe it's all three. Whatever. You feel like you could box a bear into a corner and have room left for seconds.
Nothing is sweeping that out from under you. Not on your watch.
'No other options.' You repeat. 'We all go, together, and stick together for now, until we're back here. Got it?' You raise one finger, indicating this is not really a question at all. Mary beams at you, and Yoshika gives a sharp, toothy grin of approval. 'That includes you, Sakuya. You're in no shape to be left here alone, if we're being watched by ... something.' You shrug. 'We can go slow if you like. We got all day, no rush.' 'Are you sure about this?' Yumemi asks, looking a little pale.
'Absolutely.' You grin at her.
You cut quite the pack heading up the road to campus: you and Mary both with an inexplicable spring in your steps, Yoshika hunched up in an overcoat and hat dug out of Mary's closet, Sakuya easing herself along with the help of a stainless-steel medical crutch stolen from a hospital decades ago, and finally Yumemi, looking pale and drawn, her eyes unable to rest on one point for more than a second, clutching her bag to her chest like a shield. Just another group of female students, heading home after post-deadline parties. Yeah, right. You don't know of any drink in the world that would turn a girl Yoshika's colour. You just hope nobody on campus decides to hit on anyone; Yoshika's all bundled up but Sakuya is still clearly an extremely striking woman, crutch or no crutch. And you know just the sort that would zero in on Yumemi's vulnerable-looking exterior right now.
Of course, thinking about all that is just a way of deflecting your attention from the real threats. You try as best you can to watch for foxes, even with the wind gushing across the street in slow, heavy bursts, rustling the hedgerows and shifting the masses of wet leaves in the gutters. You've got four umbrellas between you, in case the lead bulge of the sky opens again and disgorges itself once more. Four umbrellas, and your gun. It sits heavy in your inside pocket, but you try not to think about it too much.
There's almost nobody else out this early, and your little group barely speaks all the way to the campus, except for Mary chattering with Sakuya as she tries to help her along, and your occasional terse exchanges with Yoshika about what you should be looking out for. Foxes. Strange women. Things that are different. You sigh and focus on getting back to Rika's office.
Campus itself is a labyrinth of concrete wind-tunnels, the towering buildings forcing the wind down between them in guttering pulses of face-whipping power. It's much, much quieter than it was this time yesterday. With the holiday here the only students still on campus are the post-grads, or the hardcore lifers like you and Mary, people who would rather share each other's company over the weeks without classes. And most of them are probably tucked up in bed. Together. Happily drunk or whatever. Not standing outside the physics building in a huddle with some crazy people and wondering why the automatic doors aren't opening.
'This place is ... impressive. Stark, but impressive.' Sakuya keeps craning her neck to look upward at the buildings, despite the wind. 'What is there to see?' You ask, glancing back at her as you put your face to the glass front of the entranceway. They can't have shut the campus down, it's only the first day of the holiday. 'Such buildings. They are statement.' Sakuya gets an appreciative look in her eye. 'A statement of detachment is as much a statement as that of power.' Yoshika purrs at Sakuya, but this time the sliver-haired woman nods in agreement, establishing a wary silence between them. ' ... I just see concrete.' Yumemi mutters, stepping up next to you. 'Door power is off, right?' She glances at the automatic doors.
'Lights are on though.' You grunt. 'Campus shouldn't really shut, even over holiday.'
[ ] There's always the manual option. Just open the doors. [ ] This stinks. Head in the back way, the way you used yesterday.
The wind picks up, whipping your hair into your face and almost blowing your hat off; you can't stay out here forever. Certainly not with Sakuya wobbling on that crutch. 'It's probably just a mechanical fault.' You mutter, reaching over to try yanking the automatic doors apart yourself. You take the recessed handle and-
The doors spring open like normal, making you jump and almost trapping your fingers. You whip your hand away in a flash. 'Well, whatever then!' You try to laugh, but Yumemi just stands there with one hand to her own throat, pale-faced and waiting for you to venture inside first. 'That wasn't normal, was it?' She asks in a small voice. 'Not exactly.' You admit with a shrug. 'But it means nothing, come on.' You almost roll your eyes; is Yumemi going to get spooked by every stuck door and floorboard creak now?
Yoshika stomps past you, head high, into the physics building. You share a glance with Mary before following.
The lights are on, the doors are unlocked, there's one lone admin lady fluttering around the downstairs office; other than that, the place is as quiet as a grave. Your combined footsteps make a huge rattling clatter as you head up the stairwell, waiting at each floor's landing for Mary to finish helping Sakuya. The wind outside somehow still finds places to slip in, even through the concrete-and-glass bulwark of the building's exterior. Faint whistling - rising and falling - tugs at the edge of your hearing, threading in and out with the sound of the wind scraping the walls outside, like an insane, phantom duet. Lights flicker on automatically just ahead as you climb and walk, the deeper parts of the building waking like a brooding stone giant as you make your way to Rika's office.
By the time you get there, Yumemi's face is red with all the stair-climbing, and her eyes are even more shifty than before, her nerves driven to fever-pitch by the slow-motion orchestra of the wind. As soon as you're all inside the office and the door is safely shut, Mary fusses over her like a mother hen, and Yumemi seems to melt into her easy sympathy.
'This place is filthy. Such a mess.' Sakuya frowns, swaying gently on her crutch and frowning with professional discomfort. 'It was like that when we got here.' You half-joke. 'And it's a good thing we never cleared it out, right?' You cast an eye at Yumemi. 'Mm.' She nods, clearing her throat and glancing around, her fingers already twitching with the need to get at this stuff. 'I think we should begin-'
'Ahhhh!' Yoshika lets out the sigh of a waking bear, throws off the coat she was wearing, and dumps it on the table. She flexes her hands and rolls her arms like a prize-fighter, naked from the waist-up, tattoos and heavy breasts on full display. ' ... carry on, baby bird.' She purrs at Yumemi after a moment. 'Yeah,' Yumemi takes a deep breath. 'We should start with anything that looks like a scientific paper. If you find something like that, give it to me. Okay?'
'A-okay.' You give her a big thumbs up. Behind you, Sakuya totters over to sit down heavily on an old cracked-plastic chair. 'Sorry, I need to ... ' She sighs with effort. 'It's alright, Sakuya. You sit.' You reassure her, watching as Yumemi can't contain herself any longer. She starts rifling through the boxes like a ferret digging holes. Mary hovers by the desk, trying to pick where to go first.
Yoshika leans back against the wall, eyes half-closed.
[ ] Start on the boxes too. [ ] Go through the desk. [ ] Look in the cupboards.
Yumemi's already box-diving like she's pearl-fishing, pulling out handfuls of paper and shuffling through them, casting them into piles or shoving them back in the box. Mary drifts over to the cupboards, idly opening one of them and peering at the same old junk you've seen so many times before.
But you've got the bright idea. Oh yeah; you've got the knack. The detective's nose, the sixth sense that rolls in your gut like a belly of butterflies and honey.
Or maybe you're just doing the obvious.
Regardless of private-eye style or sheer dumbass luck, you cross around to the back of the room, to the back of Rika's ancient hardwood desk, and plop yourself down in the same seat you were in yesterday. You ease into the cracked leather and beaten stuffing, listening to the way the wind rattles the window right next to your head.
You've sat in this seat hundreds of times, just eating lunch or chatting with Mary, or reading your notes. But now the position takes on a new meaning; no longer are the drawers just full of campus detritus. This time when you slide them open - the wood protesting, dry and brittle - you can feel Rika's fingers on the handle, and you wonder what she left behind.
As Mary and Yumemi move down the side of the office, you empty the contents of all six desk drawers onto the table. Most of them you just up-end, but two of them you carefully unpack, getting the attention of both Sakuya and Yoshika. 'Well well well, look at this.' You mutter to yourself, sorting the rubbish from the intriguing as the wind howls outside and slips fingers of cold around the window frame.
Whatever else Rika was like, she sure wasn't very well organized. You toss aside empty pens, pencils chewed down to stubs, cigarette cartons, a huge number of pink overdue notices from the campus library, a empty lunch box crawling with mold, unused post-it notes and untouched notebooks. The fallout of any academic life. You even find things you wish you hadn't; the pair of once-white panties scrunched up in a ball gets a disgusted expression out of Sakuya, and you knock them to one side without touching them directly. There's even a blouse in here, reeking of ancient sweat.
The interesting stuff you sort through much slower.
Mary turns to look, holding the old camera from the cupboards. Yumemi, however, has found something she's looking for, and sits with her back to the wall, nose buried in a sheaf of yellowed papers. Her lips are parted with all the tense excitement of a young teenager looking at her first paragraph of smut fiction.
'Well, we know where she bought her groceries.' You sigh with anticlimax, flicking through the collected receipts from a handful of supermarkets. 'And her diet, I guess. Soup, soup, bread, soup, tins, more tins. Enough coffee to kill an elephant ... ' You trail off, spreading several of the receipts out. 'Lots of painkillers. Hey, look at this.' You point at a bunch of them, and Mary peers over your shoulder. 'What is it?' Sakuya asks, unwilling or unable to lever herself up right now. Yoshika just watches. 'She was buying over-the-counter codeine, two packs here, three here, another one on the other side of town, all at different supermarkets so nobody flagged her up as buying a truckload of them at once.' 'Codeine?' Sakuya frowns. 'It's a kind of opium.' You try. Her eyes widen. 'Normally it's just painkiller, but she bought enough to get very addicted, over ... well, months.' 'Ah.' Sakuya nods. Yoshika shrugs lazily. 'Sorcery is hard work.' She rumbles with obvious distaste in her teeth.
'Mm.' You grunt, and then notice the odd one out. One of the receipts isn't from a supermarket; half stuck between two others, it doesn't have any of the bright colours or "Please come again!" too-chirpy mantras grabbing your attention. You pull it out and hold it up.
2 pcks wht phosphor 1 roll sc wire M40 FPM Lot. no. 48 Lot. no. 17 Service charge
That's it. No prices, no total.
A phone number, and an address all the way on the other side of town.
You vaguely recognise the street name, somewhere in the back of the industrial districts, maybe. Not a very nice place.
Mary's eyebrows climb almost to the ceiling.
You still have a whole pile of interesting junk here, but-
[ ] Pull out your cell phone; ring the number. [ ] Wait up on calling the number. Sort through the rest of your findings first.
You resist the urge to call that number; a good detective takes her time, she pours over the information until the pieces fit. You can do the rash, jumping-through-windows thing later. Or not, you hope.
'Okay, so we have a mysterious shopping list, and a contact number.' You place the receipt on the table, starting a pile of potentially important items. 'Could I?' Sakuya holds out one hand, curious. You reach forward to pick up the receipt again and take it to her, but before you can so much as brush it with your fingertips, Yoshika scoops it off the desk and hands it to Sakuya, wordlessly. 'Thank you.' Sakuya says with a polite nod of her head. Yoshika grunts. 'Right, so, that's number one.' You rub your hands together and reach back into the assorted junk. 'This is number two. What do you think these fit, eh?'
The two keys clink together as you hold them up on their ring. One of them is long and heavy, probably iron, only the total lack of rust saving it from looking like a prop in a gothic horror play. The other key is hard and neat, stainless steel, could fit any lock in the world. Except the tag attached to it has a six-digit number and a tiny corporate logo printed in miniature.
'Oh, oh! Renko, Renko!' Mary almost explodes on the spot, pointing and bouncing from foot to foot. 'I've seen one of these before!' ' ... you have?' You ask, stunned. Even Yumemi has looked up at Mary's sheer energy. 'Yes, just like this.' She reaches forward and turns the tag on the second key, looking at the number. 'It's a private bank vault key. I think one of the major branches in the city runs a set of deposit-boxes, you know?' 'Ahaha, I don't know, but that's wonderful!' You grin like a maniac, feeling the smoky atmosphere of the noir film descend on your vision again. 'A bank vault key, huh? Well I wonder what a little old professor could be storing in a bank.' You whip the key through the air and wrap your fist around it. 'Guess we'll find out!'
Mary gives you a gentle pout and a tilt of her head; the same look she gives you when you laugh at one of her psychology experiments.
'What?' You ask. 'You can't just walk in there with the key, Renko.' Mary explains. 'I've seen it a couple of times, with my family.' She gets a rosy blush in her cheeks, but continues. 'You have to have ID, and proof of things and stuff,' she waves vaguely. 'Oh.' You stare at the key. 'Not much use to us then.' 'Walls and doors will not have stopped all.' Yoshika rumbles from the corner, her arms crossed over her chest. 'Whatever Rika left behind under lock and key will be long gone, if it was of any use.' 'We don't know that for sure.' You protest. 'Mm.' Yoshika grunts, but her lips curl into an approving smile. 'Lead on, lead far, back into the vaults below.' She sings off-handedly. 'Perhaps.'
'Maybe I'll do exactly that.' You stare at the bank vault key for another moment, and then put it aside, along with its gigantic, ungainly companion. The big key is a total mystery.
'And this,' you reach back into the pile and pull out a box: a small cube of steel, no bigger than two fists put together, and extremely heavy. 'Well I don't think either of those keys fits in this lock, it's too small- Ah!' Your fingers slip as you touch the lock, and you almost drop the cube. 'Yeah I don't think-'
Your hands slip again. Yoshika stands up straighter, frowning.
'Shit-' You curse as you fumble the cube from your grip.
The metal cube tumbles end-over-end, threatening to hit the desk; It's going to leave a huge dent, break something, or roll onto the floor and shatter, perhaps smashing whatever's held inside.
'Oop!' You make an instinctive grab for it, and the room seems to stand still as your hands pass through empty air. The cube is just out of your reach as you fumble in empty space.
It hits the desk - running from your grasping fingers - and bounces. You almost slide forward onto the desk in surprise, scattering papers, as you try to catch it again. Metal shouldn't bounce like that! You make one last swipe, stretching across the table, your concentration buffeted by Sakuya's flinch and Mary's sharp intake of breath.
Yoshika whips one hand out without moving any other muscle in her body, catching the cube instantly in the bony cage of her fingers. ' ... ah.' You pant, still a little shocked. That all happened so fast. And it was all so wrong. 'Yoshika-' 'Stillness and silence.' She interrupts you with a whisper, eyes locked on the metal box. Everyone else gets the hint as well, and nobody even breathes as Yoshika stands there with her arm outstretched.
She brings the cube toward her face with aching slowness. ' ... ha.' Then she breaks into a sharp grin, full of scorn and dark amusement. 'A metal guard that feels only a pulse. Loyal to our missing scholar, in all likelihood.' She traces a finger around the keyhole, but the cube doesn't run from her or slip from her grasp, like a kitten allowing itself to be petted. 'Crude toy.' She grunts. 'Can you open it?' You ask, straightening up from the desk and dusting yourself off. Your cheeks burn with embarrassment at fumbling the metal box like that, but at least you know it wasn't your fault. Yoshika glances at you, thinking, a slow casual boredom about her eyes. She shrugs. 'Crack it like an egg.'
'I should be able to-' Yumemi starts, and then freezes and hesitates when all eyes look at her. 'I could ... see if I can turn it off?' She tries, looking like she wants to hide behind her papers again. 'What about the keyhole?' You ask. 'Um ... ' Yumemi trails off.
[ ] Leave it for now, have Yoshika hold onto it. [ ] Get Yoshika to crack it open. [ ] Get Yumemi to disenchant it, or whatever.
'Leeeeet's,' you draw the word out, thinking. 'Just hang onto it for now, alright? We need to get through this stuff and get back home as quickly as possible. Let's focus on sorting, grabbing, and hauling. We can investigate stuff like that later. Mostly.' You sigh and run your hands through your hair. That makes three clues, three leads, though you're not sure where any of them could take you.
'What else is here?' Mary steps forward and rummages in the pile of Rika's junk as well, sorting objects, standing them up, separating them out. You're content to watch for a moment as she works her magic, quietly humming to herself as if she was merely clearing up a kitchen cupboard. 'Film cartridge. Spent.' You pick up the little cylinder of plastic and metal, checking the tab of exposed film at the end; the roll has all been used, pictures taken. 'Haven't seen one of those in years!' Mary chirps. 'Mm.' You agree quietly. 'Yeah, nobody uses anything but digital cameras these days.' 'Maybe she was making physical back-ups.' Yumemi offers, a glint of hope in her eyes. 'It's a standard practice in some fields. Better to have a hard-copy than only digital.' 'Yeah, yeah, but nobody does it on an ancient analogue camera any more.' You say, still frowning. Where would you even take a roll of film to get it developed these days?
'Renko, what are these?' Mary shakes a flimsy cardboard box back and forth, full of spongy-looking white disks. You cock an eyebrow and pull one out, feeling the material yield under your fingers slightly, a disquieting texture of mushroom-flesh and chalk sending a grinding shiver up your spine. ' ... I have no idea.' You shake your head, and then the realisation clicks. 'Oh. Replacement filters for a gas-mask, I think. I don't think they're normal though.'
The wind whispers through the gaps in the room as you and Mary sort your findings from the desk. Yumemi keeps herself busy sorting through the boxes of notes, throwing the majority of them back in, seemingly more interested in the potential findings there than any evidence of where her mysterious professor Rika went. After a few minutes Sakuya gets up and manages to wobble over to the desk, leaning on it heavily and peering at the things you dump into your coat pockets for safekeeping.
Most of the papers left in the desk are of no use at all. Photocopies of ordinary physics textbooks, worksheets for student testing, dry notes about academic meetings. The real meat is in the unseen things, the items that almost slip through the gaps. A post-it note with a phone number on it, underlined in red and written twice. A bottle of benzodiazepine tablets, almost empty, the label picked away by nervous fingernails. Fingernails. A lot of fingernails; Rika clearly liked to chew and didn't bother to even try throwing them at the bin. There's another bottle of tablets too, but this one is unlabeled, and the tablets are plain white.
You hold up a strange fragment of black metal to the light outside, trying to figure out where it came from. It's no larger than your hand, yet when you hold it up you can see a slight curve in the surface. Could be from anything. More crap.
'Renko.' 'Mm?' You glance at Mary. She's agape at the piece of paper in her hands, and you lean over to see. Sakuya keeps a respectful distance. 'This is an electricity bill!' Mary exclaims. ' ... left in her desk at work?' You can't quite believe that one. 'Address!' Mary turns the printed sheet toward you. Debt. Last notice. Threat of disconnection.
And Rika's home address.
'Oh!' You grab the paper, the tone of your voice ripping Yumemi's attention away from her reading for a moment. 'Oh this is gold. Yumemi, I think this is Rika's home address. Or was. Maybe.' You gulp down the excitement, trying not to get too excited. 'Let us hope she was buried deep.' Yoshika interrupts. Yumemi frowns at her like an irritated cat. 'Yeah we don't have to race there or anything.' You hold one hand up, folding the paper and carefully tucking it into your pocket. 'Other people probably live there now anyway.'
You take stock of your findings: A phone number and address for a mystery shop in the industrial district, a mystery phone-number, a mystery locked box, two mystery keys, undeveloped mystery photographs, mystery hunk of metal, a lot of drugs, and Rika's home address.
You turn away from the desk again as Mary drifts over to help Yumemi sort through the scientific papers and print-outs, staring out the window at the wind whipping through the trees and scouring the lichen from the building opposite. Sakuya hovers by your shoulder. 'Have you found what you were looking for, Renko?' She asks softly, eyes wandering between your face and the view through the window. ' ... not yet!' You exclaim with a grin, and almost wink at her. 'Leads, what we have now is leads,' you hold up a finger. 'Now we follow them.' Sakuya nods as if this is the most sagely wisdom in the world. 'Tracking the hunt.' She murmurs.
[ ] Go help Mary and Yumemi with the papers. [ ] Stay here for a bit, talk to Sakuya. [ ] Follow up one of those phone-numbers.
>Follow up one of those phone-numbers. I'm just being paranoid here, but when we get around calling these, it'd be best to record the calls, or at least let everybody hear what's being said. [X] Stay here for a bit, talk to Sakuya.
'I guess you could call it tracking.' You glance sidelong at Sakuya, watching as she steps closer, still supporting herself weakly with the metal crutch. Yoshika lurks in the corner of your eye, impassive against the wall as if she's trying to appear as furniture. 'Hunting ... ' Sakuya says, but trails off quickly. She places one hand on the window, peering outside at the lashing winds. 'Something on your mind?' You ask, still curious about this assassin-warrior, whatever she really is.
'Have you ever hunted a person before, Renko?' Sakuya asks, quietly so the words pass only between you and her. 'No, I need not ask that. Of course you have not.' 'Yeah, I haven't. Certainly not in the sense I think you mean.' You answer carefully. 'It is not as easy a task as one is led to believe.' She continues softly, glancing back at the table. 'Your Rika may have left behind spoor and tracks, to draw further on the metaphor, but she may be hidden very deep.' 'Ahhh, don't you worry.' You stretch your arms above your head and shoot a grin at her. 'I'm sure we'll find something.' ' ... that is partly what I fear.' Sakuya says. 'Mages are slippery, Renko. They trap their escapes, they lead would-be assassins or even disciples into a labyrinth of dead ends and death.' 'Well,' You say reasonably. 'Except Rika wasn't a witch, or a mage, or whatever. She was a scientist.' ' ... scientist.' Sakuya frowns slightly, and catches your eye with a curious look in her gaze. 'Has she perhaps gone by other names? Another identity?' 'That,' you admit. 'Is a very good question indeed. If she has done then we have no way of really knowing. Why? You think you might have known of her under another name or something?' 'Not myself.' Sakuya shakes her head gently. 'Maybe another.'
'That reminds me, in Rika's notes there was all this stuff about a mirror.' You explain to Sakuya. 'Just before you turned up, we saw the same thing, a mirror. I assume that was something to do with you? I thought Rika's notes were about you.' 'Yes.' Sakuya frowns harder. 'The mirror is a point of travel, and is retracted back once travel is complete. But ... ah.' Sakuya's face grows colourless as she stares off out of the window.
'Ah?' You follow her gaze, but she's just staring at nothing. 'There is ... ' Her voice is feather-light now, a brush of air and nothing more. 'One other capable of my ... level of clarity, approaching the purity of time I am ... usually able to reach. Your Rika may have been in contact with her. Though for what reason I don't know.' 'Sakuya?' You put a hand on her back gently, feeling her chilled flesh underneath. 'You alright?' 'Yes, yes.' She gulps, taking a long breath and closing her eyes gently. She repeats some kind of mantra under her breath, but the only words you can pick out are "my Lady", "divine" and "love".
As Sakuya mutters to herself, your eyes are drawn out of the window again, like magnets slipping toward metal, and then finally slamming together with a metal twang; your gaze picks out a curious sight. Just beyond the gap between the two buildings, standing on the wide central campus courtyard, are the most striking pair of twins you've ever seen in your life.
You can't even make out many details at this distance, but you don't need details to notice those two girls. Twin manes of silky, honey-blond hair flow wild in the wind; they must be turning some heads alright. Not only that but they're wearing matching outfits: thick polo-neck jumpers and long, fluttering skirts, one girl in blue and the other in red, both trimmed with white. Either they're the closest sisters ever or they're some kind of extremely high-class prostitute duo.
They're asking something something, probably directions, as you notice much pointing going on. Pointing at the physics building.
One of the girls looks up.
[ ] Stay, watch, wave. [ ] Duck back, turn out the lights. Nobody is in here.
Damn, damn, where we spotted? Doesn't seem wise to call out, but I doubt we can hide anyway. This may be the last time we get to check Rika's office so it'll make sense to stay and probably get in a fight, but Sakuya, Yumemi and Mary would be dead weight and we got Yoshika and maybe Renko if that gun can be put to use. On the other hand if those twins are hostile they're probably a much better team than Yoshika & Renko. The only thing I can think of is...
[x] Duck back, wait a minute and turn out the lights. Nobody is in here. Turn on the lights in another room.
Turning out the lights, waiting for them to get in the building and using a simple trick to confuse them.
>>27741 I don't like this. If anything, I imagine they would check both of the rooms at once. That might give us slight edge, yes, but this would still be pretty damn suspicious. So they would be prepared for any shenanigans.
>>27742 It wouldn't be suspicious because they wouldn't notice it. The idea is that once they come in (and can't see our room) we turn off the lights and turn them on somewhere else. Then they wouldn't know where we are at all unless they have supernatural senses or happen to have counted the number of windows on the building's facade and enter the hallway knowing already which door they're gonna open. It would buy us a few seconds at least.
Very close sisters, cheerful, bright blonde hair, wearing blue and red?
I'm thinking either human Shanghai/Hourai, or Mugetsu/Gengetsu. Can't think of anything else that fits. But I have a sneaking suspicion that we'll be seeing them again very soon, no matter what we do now.
>>27745 I get the feeling they were talking about the building, not actually seeing us, so acting like we're not there is a pretty sound option. better than letting them know outright that we're there. Otherwise they'd have made some other gesture to let us know they're on to us.
When I was referring to seeing them again later, I was thinking about Mugetsu's and Gengetsu's normal haunt. We might be able to avoid them out here, but if it is them, we'll just see them in our dreams later.
>>27750 That's terribly unsound logic against superior foes, particularly when all we have as weapons is a hot zombie and a gun. No reason to be confidently giving up a rare advantage (possible surprise)
>>27750 Being overestimated could by us a bit of time, but since we don't know anything about our enemies, we would must likely regret it since they'll attack in full force from the start, something we can't really prepare for.
>>27759 As I see things revealing ourselves would do more harm than good as whoever's out there is far more likely to be enemy than friend. And various wars have shown what happens to soldiers stupid enough to recklessly stick their necks out: They get their heads blown off.
You stay at the window as the blue sister looks up; she runs both hands over her head, capturing her blond mane and keeping it out of her face, fighting the power of the wind for a few moments. The other sister nods to the girl they were asking directions from, and then the pair are left alone again. They touch hands briefly, their fingers like white butterflies in the wind; a curious gesture, the sort of thing you'd expect to see from nervous lovers. The red girl waits with her face turned down, her hair whipping around her head like a nest of snakes.
The blue sister stares at the physics building.
You can't tell if she's looking directly at you from this distance. Her features are too small, too far away; the only impression you get is the amused twist of her mouth, and the haughty, high angle of her chin. Her head turns and-
Yes. She meets your eyes.
You smile back at her, even though she probably can't see you as anything more than a dark outline in a distant window. Yoshika's warnings and the events of the last day make you cautious - they could be anything, anything at all - but they're most likely just another pair of students. They're out in broad daylight, asking people for directions, and it's hard to miss a pair of beautiful sisters in matching outfits. Not exactly very stealthy. You raise a hand and wave at the blue girl. She drops her hair again, grabs her sister's hand, and then they slowly make their way across the square until they vanish behind the corner of the window, out of your line of sight. Right toward the physics building.
'I think we might have company.' You say softly, trying not to alarm your little group too much. 'What?' Sakuya blinks at you, catching the last moment as you watch the sisters vanish beyond sight. 'Two girls-' You start, turning toward the room. Yoshika has stepped away from the wall, hands flexing slowly either side of her hips, eyes wide and staring. 'You saw little watchers?' She asks, but you shake your head and tell her about the blond sisters. As you speak, Mary looks up, and taps Yumemi's shoulder so she'll listen too.
Yoshika's eyes narrow and she seems to sharpen, her muscles gaining the extra definition that comes only with incredible tension. 'Do you think we're in danger?' You ask bluntly. Yumemi has already started turning pale. 'Always and forever.' Yoshika grunts, and then watches the door. 'We are in a blind, dead end. This is not a good place.' 'I agree.' Sakuya tries to draw herself up taller, hampered by the need to support herself on the crutch. 'They could have just been students.' You shrug. 'Mary, not friends of yours or anything?' Mary shakes her head, doing a very good job of putting on a calm face and holding Yumemi by the shoulders. 'Assume the worst and the worst will not come.' Yoshika mutters. 'There is an up and a down, one back, one front?' 'Uh ... ' You gape at her for a second before you realise what she's asking. 'Yes, the stairwell is open at top and bottom, and there's front and back doors to the building. The routes don't cross unless you go up and then all the way down the main stairs again.'
'We ... we should get out of here.' Yumemi grits her teeth, holding back her nervous stutter and almost exploding into action. She grabs fistfuls of the papers she's been reading, stuffing them into her bag, folding them into corners, taking whatever she can. Mary tries to soothe her down, but that only serves to draw an irritated tint to Yumemi's panic.
'Wait, wait.' You hold up both hands. 'Assume the worst,' you glance at Yoshika, who nods approval. 'They know we're here, they're more than a match for us, and they intend to kill us. Right? Right. So.'
[ ] 'We turn out the lights, we stay put, and put something heavy against the door.' [ ] 'We go out the back door right now.' [ ] 'Two groups, one goes out the back, the other out the front. See them and you turn around and take the other route.' [ ] 'Somebody - me - goes out to draw them away, then the others make a break for home.'
1- Don't separate the party. We don't know what they can do. Finding out alone is not a great idea. 2- Barricading the door? Yeah right. Because it will work so well if we assume they're a match for Yoshika.
I really can't see fortifying the room being of much use since they've seen us and the other options could backfire horribly. Especially if the sisters split up. At least this way if we run into them we're all together and not trapped in the office.
You take a long glance around the Sealing Club meeting room - around Rika's office - at the debris and junk, at the strained faces of your companions, at the now-empty desk and quickly pilfered boxes of notes. Your pockets are full with the things you came for, with clues and leads and the leftovers of Rika's life. Yumemi is making short work of what she needs. You're done here.
'We go out the back door.' You say, deciding. 'Right now. Right now.' You repeat, jabbing a finger at the door to the stairwell. 'Same way we went yesterday, Mary.' 'Right.' She nods, breathless with the mixture of excitement and danger. You can almost feel it in the air, like a thick fog that makes you senses hyper-sharp, every muscle thrumming like a coiled spring. 'Now!' You repeat.
Everyone moves. Mary takes Sakuya's good arm. Yoshika almost hauls Yumemi up by the scruff of her neck, the smaller girl struggling free to cram the last few of her desires into her bag, even her pockets overflowing with papers as well now. She stuffs them into the pockets of Yoshika's overcoat too, quickly donned again, until the pair of them are both overloaded. 'Out, out, come on!' You swish a hand through the remaining crap on the table, scattering worthless library slips and ordinary physics notes onto the floor. There's nothing else, nothing, you've been through it all. 'They're probably nothing, okay, just relax, probably just students. It's just in case.' 'I go first.' Yoshika rumbles, flicking the door handle up and striding out in the stairwell. Yumemi scurries after her, holding the bag to her chest. Mary and Sakuya follow. You-
'Shit!' You exclaim on the threshold. 'One- one second! Don't wait for me, go!' You shoo Mary onward. 'Renko!' Mary glances back over her shoulder, eyes wide. Yoshika shoots you a narrow gaze as well, loaded with the scorn of experience. 'I mean it, I'll be two seconds!' You repeat. 'Get down the stairs, I'll be right there!'
You throw yourself back into Rika's office and rip open the cupboard doors; you never checked them!
There's no time now, just a few scant moments to catch up with the others. You're not coming back to this office again. Maybe never. Yumemi found you here, Yoshika followed her, the shadow-girl saw it, and now there's these matching twins. This office is a death-trap.
You don't have time to examine the objects in the cupboard in any detail. There's the old camera; you grab it and throw the strap around your neck. Brooms, a dustpan and brush, two stacks of unused paper, a bin-bag. You shove the bin-bag out of the way.
Under the stacks of paper is a book. A hardback book. A big heavy hardback book that you all but rip out from under the paper and clutch to your chest. No time to even read the title. You-
A speck of black catches the corner of your eye. You almost fall over as you halt your run before it even began.
There's a tiny black notebook in the cupboard. It's taped to the inside, at such an angle that you'd never see it unless you'd turned like you had, to run away without closing the door.
You rip it off the wall, electrical tape coming away in your hand; you shove it into your pocket.
And then you run.
'Renko!' Mary turns at the sound of your footsteps barrelling down the stairwell behind her. Sakuya greets you with a simple nod. You guess she understands speed. Yoshika all but ignores you, as she's reached the bottom, first through the ground-floor door and out in the corridor beyond, Yumemi close at her heels. 'Present for you!' You hold the hardback book out, then shove it into Mary's bag so she doesn't have to let go of Sakuya. 'Ah, you found something!' Mary smiles, and Yumemi looks over her shoulder at the sound of this discovery.
'I did, I did.' You say all in a rush. 'Are we clear yet? Yoshika?' Yoshika grunts as you all enter the corridor together. It's empty; not a soul in sight 'I guess they both came in the front way.' You say, gulping softly. 'Don't say it out loud, you'll jinx our luck!' Mary almost whispers, and in any other situation you'd laugh at her being playful. Right now you just hold your breath and hurry along the corridor together, heading for the exit.
You round the corner; the glass doors are in sight.
The red sister leans against the wall by the doors, as if waiting for you.
She looks up as you come into view.
She's utterly beautiful. Her mane of blond hair has been swept into a wind-blown waterfall, draped down her back and across her shoulders. Her skirt hugs her hips like a second skin, and then fans out around her legs in waves of fabric. The red polo-neck jumper picks out every curve of her figure - as perfect a feminine body as you've ever seen. Too perfect. Her eyes are a deep, boiling amber, almost red. There isn't a single blemish or mole on her face. Only her expression mars her beauty; she looks glum, eyes filled with melancholy and perfect bow-shaped lips down turned in a morose pout.
'Oh. Hm. There you are.' She sighs, blinking slowly. She's looking straight at Yumemi, but then her eyes take in the rest of your group.
She wavers back a little, hiding her mouth behind one limp red sleeve.
Yoshika bares her teeth and flexes her fingers, holding them like claws.
[ ] Keep walking. Put yourself between her and Yumemi if you have to, but just get outside. [ ] Gun out. Now. There's nobody else in sight. Bluff your way through. [ ] 'Yoshika, get her.' [ ] Hold up. 'What do you want with Yumemi?'
You step ahead of Yoshika and hold one arm out sideways, stopping her from pouncing. Yumemi all but cowers behind you; you can feel one of her shaking hands on the back of your coat.
'What do you want with Yumemi?' You ask the girl in red, keeping your voice level. You check over your shoulder before she has a chance to answer, scanning the corridor behind for any sign of her blue-clad sister. The red sister doesn't reply. She just wavers back a little more, sleeve over her mouth still; you've seen that kind of gesture before. It makes you think of shy teenage girls. If anything she's less and less threatening by the second. But she isn't freaking out at the sight of Yoshika; you try not to let your guard down. 'Uh ... ' She mutters eventually, just before you open your mouth to ask again. 'Um ... mm.' 'She is an automaton.' Yoshika rumbles like a hungry tiger, speaking through her teeth. 'Fake flesh and wooden brains.' 'H-hey, that's not nice.' The red sister complains softly, her eyes heavy-lidded as she blinks at you again.
'I said,' you repeat yourself. 'What do you want with Yumemi? Answer me.' ' ... um, you should ask my sister.' The red girl trails off awkwardly. Her voice is slow and almost sleepy in its lack of bounce. 'We're not waiting for your sister. I'm taking to you.' You risk a step forward: the red girl backs up further, giving off an impression of lazy teenage disinterest rather than nervous caution. 'Yeah. Mm.' She shrugs, sending that waterfall of blond hair rippling briefly. 'Answer me.' You grunt. ' ... mom wants to talk to her.' The red sister answers. 'Mom?' Mary pipes up. 'Yeah.' The red girl shrugs again, listless, and finally her gaze slides away from you and off to the side. She looks at the wall, bored. Then she gestures weakly with one hand. 'You comin' then?' 'Me?' Yumemi whispers from around your side, eyes wide with terror and awe.
'I don't think she's going anywhere without us.' You wrap your arm around Yumemi's shoulders, holding her to your side. 'Oh.' The red girl grunts. 'Assassination,' Yoshika murmurs into your ear, her voice like a rock. 'Is quiet and unseen. This invitation may be a real one.' 'Somebody really wants to talk to Yumemi?' You whisper back. Yoshika holds your gaze for a second and then gives a big shrug.
You turn back to the girl in red, thinking fast. 'Who's your mother?' You ask. 'Mom? She's mom.' The girl looks you in the eye and frowns a little, confused. ' ... mummy.' She murmurs. 'Right.' You grunt back, and then glance down at Yumemi. 'Your choice.' 'Not alone, not alone. I think we should go!' She whispers back between her teeth, her face a waxy pale.
[ ] Okay. Yumemi's choice stands. Get out of here. [ ] Don't go yet. This invitation could be real.
' ... maybe.' You whisper back to Yumemi, who begins to quiver softly with cold sweat. You turn back to the girl in red. 'What does your mom want you to do with Yumemi, exactly? Take her somewhere?' 'Uh ... ' The red sister looks off to the side and sniffs loudly. 'Show her to mom?' She sounds unsure, and then gulps. 'You should ask my sister, she'll be ... you know.' 'No. I don't know, and I'd like a straight answer.' You ask, harsher than before. The red sister shrinks back, pouting and looking at the floor. 'Please.' You add. 'Just ... take her to mom.' The girl in red shrugs. 'Mom knows best.'
Mary clears her throat softly before she interrupts. 'What's your name, sweetie?' She says, exactly as if talking to a child. The red girl looks up, meeting Mary's gaze. ' ... Hourai.' The girl looks uneasy, shifting from one foot to the other. 'Hourai! That's lovely.' Mary claps her hands together. 'Now, what did your mummy tell you to do, exactly?' 'Mom ... ' The girl in red gets a slow frown on her face, directed at Mary. 'Don't talk to me like that.' She complains, petulant teenage girl deep in every syllable. 'I'm sorry, sweetie.' Mary continues without missing a beat, holding her hands up in apology. 'Sorry. What did your mom ask you to do?' 'I dunno.' Hourai sounds more and more grumpy now. 'Just to follow my sister and find the person mom wants to talk to.' 'Okay.' You take a deep breath. 'I guess that makes sense.'
Yoshika lets a low growl leak through her teeth. 'Down, girl.' You mutter. 'Anyway, right, so ... what if we all come with Yumemi, to see your mom?' You ask. 'Uh ... I ... I d-dunno.' Hourai shifts with greater uncertainty now, holding one arm with her other hand across her chest. 'You- you'd have to ask-'
'There you are!'
The voice which rings out from behind you could not be more different to Hourai's; it bounces and flounces and skips, with feminine curls and a rising pitch of excitement at the end. Just like its owner, who you see as soon as you whip your head around. It's the other sister, the one in blue, rounding the corner and approaching you with a beaming smile on her face.
Physically the two sisters are identical, right down to the total lack of blemishes, moles, or visible pores. But the one in blue is sunlight to Hourai's moon-glow, her hair springing as she walks, her chin high with pride and assertiveness, her chest out and forward. Her eyes flicker with amusement - a bright, cloudless blue to Hourai's boiling midnight sky - jumping between Yumemi and you and Yoshika, taking in the whole group. Yoshika swings around like a hunting hound, head bobbing low as she steps around Mary to stand as first facing the new arrival. The girl in blue stops several feet away at this, her great big smile faltering slightly at the sight of Yoshika's naked aggression.
'Hello, hello there!' She gives you all a little wave, and then holds out one finger, pretending to be having trouble. 'Ummm, you, maybe?' She grins and settles on Sakuya, and then lets out a bubbly laugh. 'Sorry, I'm looking for somebody! A miss Yumemi?' She raises her eyebrows in question.
Hourai points at Yumemi, without even raising her arm. The blue sister ignores her.
'Yes, we know.' You stare her down, defying her sweet exterior. 'She doesn't go anywhere without us. Understand?'
The girl in blue blinks and rocks back slightly, mouth open in polite shock. 'Oh. Oh, um, I'm terribly sorry!' She looks utterly aghast. 'I only- I'm only following directions, you see. My name is Shanghai, and my mother wants to speak to a miss Yumemi. She sent me - us! -' Her gaze flicks to Hourai. 'To find her. I hope we're not being a bother?' Her eyes linger on Yumemi, but you keep hold of the smaller girl for now. 'She can speak to her in our presence then. All together, or none at all.' You say, a little softer, defeated by this vision of sweetness.
Shanghai hesitates briefly, and then looks at Hourai. The girl in red shrugs softly, and then crosses the space to her sister, giving Yoshika a wide berth. The sisters touch hands, look into each others' eyes, and lean close, whispering in voices like soft cotton. You almost feel compelled to look away, like you're witnessing a secret exchange between lovers; it's too intimate. They absent-mindedly brush at each others' hair, and the whispers are delivered so close, lips almost touching cheeks and ears.
After a few seconds of this, they break apart again and Shanghai opens her mouth.
'That would be okay!' She smiles wide. 'Right now?' You confirm. 'Of course! It's quite a walk though!' She laughs softly. 'I'm sorry for all the bother. Mother finds it hard to get out much.' 'Really?' Sakuya interrupts. 'So, she won't meet with Yumemi in a public place?' Trust an assassin to think of that. The sisters share a quick glance, and then Shanghai shakes her head sadly.
'I'm sorry, that would be ... really difficult.' She looks strained.
[ ] Alright. Follow the sisters. [ ] No. Ask for an address. Somewhere you can go later. Without these two as escorts.
Well... Those two are rather polite about it, but we are talking about walking into a witch's domain here. And Sakuya's not fit for a fight at the moment. And of course, Yumemi's trust in us will fall hard should we accept against her wishes.
Can't we ask for opinions first? We need to calm down Yumemi if we are to go anyway.
[x] No. Ask for another day. You're kinda busy today, but what if they came to see you tomorrow?
I like this one, as I really like this Hourai. And it seems to be the best choice, all things considered, as it helps keeps us in their good books.
Oh, and forgot to mention it, but thanks for keeping me, at least, on my toes HY. Maybe it's because I have horrible guessing sense or overanalyzing, but I keep seemingly missing the mark. You've broken off enough from canon to make it fresh, and hard to assume anything.
And now, you're making me wonder how advanced Alice might be, if both Shanghai and Hourai are, for any real measure, alive.
Yeah, it's hard to say if they are alive or not. But what separates an automaton from a construct such as Yoshika? I suppose we'll be seeing.
A sacrifice may be the case. Or perhaps she was grievously injured/deathly ill, and had no choice but to use her creations in her stead? Difference being, were Shanghai and Hourai created (upgraded?) by free will, or by necessity?
I know we can't trust Alice at all, yet. Her two dolls may seem and act completely innocent, but it isn't sinister outright that they are. If she wanted us dead outright, she could have simply sent them on a search and kill mission. By requesting a meeting, it means she believes that Yumemi is worth something of value, and can be persuaded to part with it. That, or that Yumemi could be persuaded to assist her in some regard. Or maybe if she's feeling particularly altruistic, has information that she wishes to give her. However, I don't see any of these mages freely giving without something in it for them.
The only thing I believe we can assume is that Yumemi isn't dangerous enough to kill, and that she has something of value to Alice. Whether it is in the good manner (I want to help you) neutral (help me and I'll help you) or evil (help me or you're of no use) is left unknown.
Also, hasn't it been Rika the entire time? I don't believe she is the same as Rikako, unless I missed something major in this story. I believe it is notable that the professor is Rika, instead of being one and the same as Rikako. It means we might have another scientist we can persuade to our cause. Please correct me if I'm wrong, though.
I will be honest that I am hoping that the dolls at least are good.
>>27824 >as it's not as >as it seems as Didn't someone just tell you to stop doing this? How can you not realize how douchey this sounds?
>It's hard to tell >not black and white >it seems >It's too soon to conclude anything. Several people have already expressed uncertainty about the situation while making more substantive points. That includes the post you're directly replying to. You are adding absolutely nothing to the discussion. Shut up, Wiseman.
>>27823 So, you're saying that we're pretty sure that she doesn't want to kill us outright and that you're confident that we can escape if she wishes to capture us? Well I can't argue with you, it seems pretty solid. Except for the maid-in-clutches thing but since it has been stated time and time again that she's a feather, I guess we can carry her if shit goes south.
There's a good chance that the risk is worth it, after all; and diplomacy is Renko's strong point.
Finally, let me add that, considering the focus of this story is a silent battle among wizards, I'm pretty sure that Alice will be a foe. I hope I'm wrong though.
That's pretty much exactly what I'm saying, in a much less wordy form.
But if she is going to be evil and want to kill us in the end, then she probably desires knowledge. The knowledge of what Rika was doing. (To the effect of asking us to 'give her that book') So, it is best to go and find out what is in that book, along with everything else, before we're forced to make a choice whether to give it up.
Although, if it comes down to such a situation, what should we do? Barter? Knowledge for knowledge? Knowledge for doll? Etc. This is all assuming that she wants the books/papers/what's in them. If she wants Yumemi... well, can we even make that bargain? At that moment, I don't think so.
The biggest advantage we have is that Renko is not a mage, as you did point out. Renkodoesn't think like the rest of them, and as such can appeal to the cynics and the disaffected. But are her beliefs strong enough to turn another mage, or will Alice be too set in her ways to budge?