You share a frown with Sakuya; Orleans can't see Moscow's drawings. She can't even see Moscow herself, except maybe the very top of her head. 'Why.' Sakuya mouths silently at you, looking alarmed, but you just shrug your shoulders. 'Sure.' You raise your voice and call out to Orleans through the fog-like gloom. Truth is, you're starting to get irritated at her interruptions. If she cares about her sister, why doesn't she come over here instead of hanging back like a scared animal? 'Tell your mother we'll be down in a bit - ' you drop your voice to a whisper quickly, ' - with you, Moscow?' The white creature blinks once, hard, and then nods slowly. 'With Moscow too.' You add in a louder voice, to Orleans.
But she's already gone; the rapid patter of her feet vanishes into the dust on the threadbare carpet, back down the corridor you entered from.
' ... Renko.' Sakuya clears her throat gently. 'That was unexpected. You don't think anything's about to happen?' Sakuya half-turns, supporting herself against the sofa, so she can watch the rest of the room. Her crutch wavers in one hand, as if she wants to raise it against the soporific power of the darkness blanketing the room. 'It's fine.' You shake your head, trying to reassure her. You haven't heard anyone - or anything - else approaching, and you're probably sitting right next to the scariest thing in the entire building already. But you are suddenly and sharply aware that Sakuya is outside the ring of sofas, trapped on the exterior of Moscow's little fort.
'Mossy.' You ask softly, deciding it's better to be safe than sorry. 'Would it be alright if Sakuya came in here with us? I can vouch for her.' Moscow looks up with her drowsy-lidded eyes again, and holds your gaze for several seconds before she looks at Sakuya. Several moments pass as her blank expression doesn't change, childlike decision building behind her eyes. ' ... okay.' Moscow says eventually. 'But she has to sit over there.' She points at the furthest corner, banishing Sakuya to the edge of her little kingdom.
It's absurd. You know it's absurd. It's a child's playfort made of ancient, moldering furniture. But once Sakuya is inside and sits down - with difficulty - in the corner, you feel a lot better about being in here without Orleans as a guide. Then, you divert your full attention back to Moscow.
There's something you can't get out of your head. A niggling thought, not even enough to be a suspicion really. Just the tiniest, most guilty of seeds, lurking in the back of your mind like an itch you can't scratch. You gulp and look down at your hands as you pull it out mentally, turn it over, examine it, consider it. You almost put it back and forget about it.
'Mossy, would you do something for me, before we go on, or discuss Rika more?' You ask, shooting a guilty glance over at Sakuya.' 'Okay.' Moscow agrees with childish simplicity. ' ... do you remember the girl in purple? The one who waved hello to you when we first saw you?' You continue, and notice Sakuya frowning in the corner of your vision. 'Mm.' Moscow gives a tiny grunt. 'That was Mary.' You start. 'I know.' Moscow says. 'Could you ... would you draw her for me?' You ask, letting out a breath you didn't know you were holding.
Moscow stares back at you for a long, long moment. Then, slowly, she cocks her head to one side, letting her eyes wander for the first time you've seen. She stares past you, at a point in the air; she even chews her bottom lip, creasing the pale flesh on her pristine teeth. ' ... can try.' She says softly. 'I'd really appreciate it, it would mean a lot to me.' You can't keep the eagerness out of your voice. Curiosity - mingled with lurking anxiety - boils in your gut. Moscow's eyes bob back to your gaze. She nods slowly.
She picks up the colouring book and starts flicking through the unused pages, past an array of animals; it takes her a very long time to settle on which one to use. Dog, cat? Bear? She sucks the end of one index finger as she decides, and you try to take a deep breath to calm yourself.
Moscow's just going to colour it pink or something. That's what's going to happen. Mary adding her blood to Yumemi's spell didn't mean anything. There's no way.
Mossy's little hands settle on a picture of a large rabbit.
She picks up her pencils.
[ ] Watch the process. [ ] You can't look, not until the end result.
There's no way of telling how metaphorical or representative these drawings are. It might only be the form of their magic, or something like that. Also, don't forget that Rika's is "what she was becoming," so it's already confirmed to just be potentially true.
She selects pencils: yellow, orange, red, purple, pink. She doesn't pick up the black.
Instead she starts with white.
She removes the Mary-rabbit's features by colouring over them with white, trying to fade them out underneath the colouring pencil. Eyes, nose, tufts of fur; it all vanishes into a white emptiness, leaving the shapes of an outline behind. You gulp and grit your teeth inside your mouth. But Moscow is not done yet.
She starts colouring the rabbit, and around the rabbit, in slow wavering circles of differing shades. The colours blend together under her fingers, and she rubs frantically to get them to mix, a dizzying effect that makes you blink and squint, unsure how exactly she's doing it. Melding each colour into the next and the next and the next, radiating out from the center of the Mary-rabbit; bubbling waves inside the outline, turning into slow, more muted colours outside.
It's completely different to the pictures of magicians. Far less threatening. More like a drug-induced dream than a child's nightmare. But no less bizarre. Moscow's technique makes you head spin as she expands the radiating colours right out to the edge of the pages, until they're so faint as to be almost invisible. The core of the Mary-rabbit is a boiling, churning cauldron of insane colours; Moscow didn't even use all the pencils, but there's some shades there you can't quite name. They're on the tip of your tongue, and you feel like if there was more, you'd know. But every time you focus, the colour seems to be elsewhere in the swirling vortex of creation.
But the image is static. You close your eyes for a moment and pinch the bridge of your nose. The image is static. It's just an optical illusion.
'Finished.' Moscow says, and then holds up her work. You nod, utterly throw by what the little sliver of white-cold has created. This is Mary. 'Um ... very interesting indeed.' You clear your throat. 'For comparison, if you were to draw me - I'm not asking you to - but if you were going to, would it be something like that as well?'
Moscow frowns at you. She gives you the kind of frown that only children get, when adults say something obviously wrong. ' ... no.' She says eventually. 'You're just this.' She turns the page to a picture of a wolf, puts her pencils down, and draws nothing. 'Right, okay, I get it. Sorry Mossy.' You apologise, even though your mind is still reeling. Mary? 'And thank you, for drawing Mary, it means a lot to me.'
You give her a big smile.
If Sakuya's eyebrows climb any higher they'll leave the building. You shoot her a quick, meaningful glance, speaking with your eyes. Keep quiet. Say nothing.
You need to talk to Mary. Sometime. Soon. Now.
'Mossy.' You clear your mind. First things first. 'Do you want come down with us? We'll talk to your mother about-' Moscow's head jerks up, ignoring you, looking over the top of the sofas, down the hallway you came from. Her eyes go from drowsy-relaxed to wide staring orbs again, huge red lamps shining out into the heavy grey air of the room.
The sound of rain on the windows fills the momentary silence. The howl of the wind whistles through the gaps in the building. Sakuya grabs her crutch and painfully levers herself up a little.
'My brothers are moving.' Moscow mutters. 'What does that mean?' You hiss in sudden alarm. 'Means they're moving. Mother tells them to move. Going downstairs.' Moscow keeps staring.
' ... we need to get back downstairs, right now.' You stand up and help Sakuya to her feet. She nods in agreement.
Moscow doesn't move.
[ ] Rouse her, get her to pick up her things and open the chair-door and follow you. [ ] Time is [b]a wasting[/i]. Grab Moscow, grab her things. Go.
'Mossy.' You step toward her and hiss her name under your breath. You have to get back downstairs, as quickly as possible. You need to get back to Mary, if those things are on the move. A dozen possible worse-case scenarios race through your mind; Yoshika might not be able to deal with whatever's happening - or about to happen - down there. You need to be there, yourself. The heavy grey air of the room suddenly feels as thick as tar, pressing in on your face and slowing your limbs, obstructing your path back. 'Mossy come on, grab your things, come with us.'
Moscow looks round, turning those huge red lantern-eyes on you. 'Come with you?' She asks, devoid of inflection, considering the offer with childlike patience. 'Okay.' 'Good, good.' You force yourself to let out a slow breath as Moscow hops to her feet and picks up her colouring book. A plan, a crazy plan, is already forming in the back of your mind. A hard oval of clarity, like a pebble held flat in your hand, ready to toss it in any direction, no matter how things fall. 'Renko.' Sakuya finally finishes picking herself up and stands next to you, unsteady on her crutch. 'I can't move that fast.' ' ... yeah, you can't. Right.' You stare at Sakuya, toying with the idea of just carrying herself yourself You could sort of- no, no, she's too tall for that.
'I could stay here until-' 'No.' You hold up a finger, feeling very certain about this. 'No more splitting up, you come down with us.' ' ... okay.' Sakuya nods after a moment, her eyes set and understanding. 'Renko, calm down. I can see the tension in your face.' 'Yeah, yeah.' You look away, down the corridor you came from, where Moscow's "brothers" are moving through the gloom beyond your sight.
Moscow slips her colouring pencils somewhere inside the white folds and frills of her dress, and then does the same with three of the little pile of books, passing over the others with a heavy hand, reluctant to go anywhere without them. She must know what you're planning. What you're planning whatever the situation is downstairs.
She hurries over to the chair-door and moves it aside, skirts held up in one hand, freeing her white-clad feet.
'Let's go.' She says, small and quiet. Her red eyes turn away, into the gloom.
The corridors of the ruined hotel have gone quiet. The door to the brothers' room is wide open as you pass, and you take a quick peek inside: rotten and stained mattresses, large items of shapeless discarded clothing, and a smell of fouled meat. But you can't linger long, keeping close to Sakuya and with Mossy barely two paces in front. She floats through the half-light of dust and rain like a ghost, turning her eyes at every doorway you pass, saying nothing to her silent sisters. Alice's other daughters ignore you completely this time. The chattering ones have stopped talking. The painter has hidden under her bedcovers, easel abandoned. Girls stare at you with wide, spooked eyes as you walk. One stubborn, dogged writer still lingers at a desk, scribbling words in a rapid, furious hand and ignoring her other sisters piled together in the bed at the back of the room. You almost call out to her, to ask her what's happening. But she doesn't look up, focused on her work, long orange hair a wild mess as she rakes her fingers over her skull just to get it out of her eyes. Mossy doesn't stop, you can't spare the moment. You leave the writing sister behind.
Down the long corridor, down the sweeping staircase and out into the hotel lobby once more. Moscow's little black shoes dance on the ancient carpet, and the rain blankets the filth-covered windows with a soft hum.
All is gloom.
A figure stands just inside the doorway that leads through to the huge empty dining room. A figure obscured by the angle of the door and some kind of high collar. A long, shapeless coat hangs down, covering the legs, hands tucked up inside the sleeves. You can just see a hint of a pair of large brown boots below the dragging, dirt-caked hem of the coat.
Moscow stops dead and you hurry to her side. 'Mossy, what is-' She turns, almost as if to run, but her little feet patter and stop again. You turn and see another, similar figure to the first; it stands just inside the entrance to the hotel, shadows too thick to make out any features, turned at just the wrong angle to see anything except the long coat and the big boots. 'Mossy-' You start again, reaching out for her shoulder. Sakuya tries to stand up straighter on her crutch, directing a piercing gaze at one of the shadowed figures, and then at the other.
' ... can't go in.' Moscow presses herself against your side. 'Can't go out.'
'We go where we damn well like.' You reply on instinct, reaching down and slipping your hand over Moscow's much smaller fingers, squeezing them in yours. With your other you reach over and take Sakuya's free hand. 'Come on.' 'Renko, we-' Sakuya starts, but you shake your head.
You walk toward the doors. Mossy follows. Sakuya picks up her crutch and adds her footsteps to yours.
[ ] Just walk. Don't look at it. Don't try to make eye contact. Walk. [ ] Look at the brother, make eye contact. What on earth is it? [ ] Stop just short of the figure. Talk, say where you're going. If you're not challenged, keep moving.
Like the last time, I've written myself into an awkward narrative situation and need to take some time to think it over leisurely rather than ploughing forward into a wall without looking where I'm going.
Hiatus will hopefully last no longer than 1-2 days, maybe even less. Just until I have this in order, then we'll continue. Apologies, audience.
Mossy doesn't resist or drag on your hand. Instead she pulls closer to your side, sheltering behind the curve of your body as you approach the coated figure just inside the door. Sakuya's face is as set as stone, betraying nothing, showing nothing but a faint air of defiance. Your decisive action must have bolstered her somewhat.
The figure inside the door - one of Moscow's "brothers" - stands as still as a statue. He - or it - doesn't turn or react as you draw to a halt several feet away, still presenting you with nothing but shadows and the collar of that overlarge coat. It doesn't even seem to breathe. The only hint that there's a living being underneath all that is the faintest glimpse of grey-pink flesh in the shadows. You're not sure if you can see the outline of an eye, or if that's just your imagination.
'We're going to speak with Alice.' You say loud and clear. 'Are we allowed in?' Moscow presses herself into your side; a child hiding behind mother's skirts. The figure in the doorway doesn't reply 'I said-' You clear your throat and start again, planning to repeat yourself just once, and then walk past.
The Brother raises an arm and waves you through silently. The hand that projects through the end of his sleeve is gnarled and white, like fresh-cut wood, and covered with bristles of white hair, like an old goat. You stare for a second, and then the hand vanishes back into the shadows along with the arm. The Brother returns to silence and stillness.
' ... come on, then!' You try to give Moscow an encouraging grin, but she hides her face in your side all the way through the doors, past her brother and doesn't look up again until you're halfway through the abandoned dining room. Sakuya looks straight ahead as well, composed but obviously spooked. You try looking back over your shoulder, at the figure you just passed; still, Alice's son is nothing but a looming shape held by the darkness. You stare for a moment, certain you can make out two tiny, beady white eyes looking back - but then you give up and focus on the door ahead.
Two more brothers flank the doorway into Alice's great hall, just as inscrutable and unseen. They're dressed near identically to the one you passed, and tower silently as Moscow buries her face in your side and steadfastly ignores them again.
You brace yourself for the worst as you push through the door, your fingers itching to be in contact with your pistol.
The room is exactly as you left it.
Yumemi sits alone in one armchair, leaning forward toward Alice. Mary is sitting with Hourai still, and Yoshika looks like she's in the middle of pacing up and down, her eyes narrowed tight and her chin in her hand. The only additions are Shanghai and Amsterdam, both sisters now returned, and a plate of teacups, most half-empty.
The whole room - bar Alice - looks up as you, Sakuya and Moscow draw closer, into the aura of the firelight and out of the shadows. Shanghai's face lights up at the sight of Moscow. 'Mossy! Come join us! Come join us for tea!' She pats her lap, but the little white ice-shard decides to stay attached to your side. She doesn't even respond. Yoshika narrows her eyes at you in silent question; she can tell something is wrong. You nod to Mary, who smiles back. She looks like she's been deep in conversation with Hourai. The red sister yawns and doesn't bother looking at you.
'Ahhh, you found my little Moscow.' Alice shifts heavily in her seat, her dark, cracked eyelids closed over her glassy black orbs. Her voice is filled with soft, maternal affection as she says Mossy's name, and she lets out a little sigh.
'We did, yeah.' You answer plainly.
[ ] Ask Alice what the sudden increase in security is about. [ ] Don't mention the brothers. She must know that you know. Tell Yoshika as soon as you can.
I can't see us getting a moment to tell Yoshika about it without Alice hearing it. And yet, I'm not sure we should ask what this is about if she isn't talking. Honestly, I really don't know what to do.
[x] Ask Alice what the sudden increase in security is about.
I don't think there's anything to win by not asking. As I see it, either there's an outside enemy, in which case we should ask, Alice is trying to trap us in, and is not hiding it, or the brothers are preparing a coup or some kind and Alice doesn't know about it.
The only thing that seems plausible to me is that either the shadow girl, the motorcycle girl or someone else is around. Anyway I think Alice is trustworthy for now.
'Mossy sweet?' Alice continues, holding out one hand limply over the arm of her chair: a clean, healthy-white tendril of flesh emerging from the shadows, fingers open to receive Moscow's touch.
Moscow doesn't move, remaining attached to your side.
'Alice, excuse me, but what's the-' You begin. 'Moscow.' Alice repeats, talking over you. Moscow hesitates, like a flutter of snow against your arm, and then reaches out one hand. She barely brushes her mother's palm before whipping her hand back again. The gravid mother-thing in the chair seems pleased, but Shanghai looks on with open concern on her face. Amsterdam ignores the exchange completely. ' ... Alice?' You clear your throat, darting a glance at Yoshika. Your chest tightens around your heart; there's no time to prepare. Your next words could trigger anything. 'You found my little Moscow, yes, yes.' She smiles to herself, slowly stroking her belly again. 'Now, she can help, yes, my special little baby, yes-' 'Alice.' You speak more forcefully. 'Why's the security suddenly increased? I thought something was happening, which is why we hurried down. Moscow and I were still talking about how she could help.'
Alice doesn't answer for a beat. Her huge black eyes open again, like an undersea creature staring out into the inky darkness on the ocean floor.
Yoshika visibly tenses up, her muscles like whipcord and steel. Yumemi goes white.
'Your ... sons, I mean, they're at the doors.' You say, your words lame and useless even as they exit your mouth. Alice's expression turns into a light, confused frown.
'What?' She asks. The bottom of your stomach drops by several feet as you realise she's got no idea. 'Brothers?' Hourai looks up, meeting your eyes with a lazy gaze. ' ... mummy?' 'Yes, yes.' Alice frowns harder, the first time you've seen her genuinely pained. She raises a limp hand to her forehead and rubs her eyes gently. Amsterdam is on her feet in a flash, smoothing her mother's hair back from her face and rubbing her shoulders. Alice's eyes flutter and she smacks her lips once, regaining whatever it was she momentarily lost.
'What. Is. Going. On.' Yoshika rounds the side of Yumemi's chair, taking a step toward Alice. You can see her gaze flicking rapidly between the thing in the chair and the brother still in the corner, the one Amsterdam called Carinae, still nothing more than a vague towering shape far away at the other end of the room. Amsterdam shoots an irritated glance at Yoshika, warning her off.
Hourai shifts in her seat.
You can tell exactly the trajectory she's about to take.
You get there first; gently touching Yoshika's arm. The last thing you need right now is a physical confrontation.
'Hey, hey, slow down.' You say softly to Yoshika. She grits her teeth and hisses quiet enough for only you to hear. 'Broken promises and entrapment.' She whispers through her teeth, sharp and on-edge, every part of her a razor right now. 'Calm the fuck down.' You insist again. She doesn't try to break your grip on her arm. Hourai doesn't move again.
'My sons, yes.' Alice speaks again, taking a little breath but letting out a long one. 'Nothing to worry yourself over, girls. They found a little intruder, nothing really, nothing to worry about.' Alice's clear tones are - for the first time since you met her - muddied by a self-reassuring mutter as she trails off. She lets a smile resume on her lips again, and sighs. 'Somebody got in?' Hourai blinks slowly. 'Nothing to worry about, sweet, nothing at all.' Alice repeats softly.
'What?' You stare down at her. 'Where? What kind of intruder?'
Alice shakes her head slowly.
'Nothing for you girls to worry over. Already being dealt with. After all, that's what boys are good for.' She pats her belly with a look of intense contentment.
[ ] 'Well ... that's good then, isn't it, Yoshika?' Force that smile, go along with it for now. [ ] 'We're not just going to sit here if somebody's come after us.' Demand an answer. [ ] 'Where?' You need to see this for yourself. [ ] Ignore Alice completely. Go ask Carinae.
I dont think asking Carinae is a good idea,because we dont know if he will answer anyone other than alice and even if he talks, alice probably wouldnt like it if we mess around with that stuff because "that's what boys are good for", and she obviously likes it better when people act like/are girls.
I am not dead! I also want to apologise for the lack of updates.
Bottom line, I haven't been taking very good care of myself lately, which has negative knock-on effects on motivation and creativity. I'm trying to pull myself together, and will be returning to the story ... soon. I'd rather take some time to sort myself out and continue the story properly, than make the mistake of the past and end it in a huff.
tl;dr: Story is fine, Rumia is just tired and confused. Back soon.
>>28450 Yes, I am, and I'd like to apologise to everyone who has been waiting. I'd like to restate that I'm not abandoning this story, I want to continue it, I think it's fun and good and absolutely will continue writing it.
When, I don't know. I won't blather on about personal issues here, I'm just ... having trouble unrelated to writing.
'You-!' Yoshika almost snaps out of your grip at Alice's dismissal, and you have to give her a sharp tug on the arm to stop her surging forward. She bites down the rest of her sentence as you catch her eye. Luckily her sudden outburst is quickly drowned out by Alice's three daughters; Hourai in particular doesn't seem soothed by her mother's assurances. The red sister stands up and casts about, half-sentences forming and dying on her lips, Shanghai shrugs and asks for more tea, and Amsterdam leans down to whisper something to Alice.
Yoshika bares her teeth at you in the moment of respite. Her face makes you flinch, but you hold her gaze. Moscow doesn't even bother to look up from your side; now she's no longer the focus of her mother's attention she's clinging to you like a limpet. 'We're not going to get anything out of her.' You say, keeping your voice low as you indicate Alice with a flick of your eyes. 'Why not ask the muscle?' ' ... Renko.' Yoshika rumbles, and for one horrible second you imagine that jaw opening wide and snapping at your face. But instead, her feral snarl turns into a grin. 'Don't mistake the matter for muscle. That's all it is.'
'No time for riddles, please.' You resist the urge to smirk, looking down at Moscow before Yoshika can think of a retort. 'Can we talk to your brothers, Mossy?' Moscow's red eyes swivel in their sockets, fixing on you like a pair of lamps in the fog of her pale skin. The roaring orange light from Alice's fireplace paints her clothing with a ruddy glow. 'Can we talk to Carinae?' You continue, gesturing toward the far corner, where the shape of her "brother" stands sentinel in the dark. ' ... if we must.' Moscow says in a small voice, barely moving her lips.
You nod, and then throw caution to the winds, reminding yourself that every great detective must sometimes just trust their instincts. Catching Mary's eye is the easiest thing in the world, a wink and a mouthed "cover for me" later, and then you're striding across the room without so much as a glance back at Alice and her daughters, counting on the moment of confusion - and Mary's people skills - to distract Alice long enough for you to speak with one of her sons.
Ten paces later and all is well. You glance back over your shoulder: Mary is steadfastly ignoring your departure, though Yumemi is watching open-mouthed. Then you realise that Yoshika has wavered, trailing you for several feet before dropping back again. A fist seizes your stomach, but a small hand slips into your own and stills the stirrings of panic. 'Before your mother notices, eh, Mossy?' You cover for your own nerves, glancing down at the tiny, ice-white girl as she trots along beside you. 'Quickly.' She barely breathes the word.
Away from the fire, the air temperature in the grand room drops quickly, along with the light. The windows, shrouded by decades of dirt and the veil of the rain, do little to illuminate the edges of the room, bathing the floor with grey twilight. The wind whipping the exterior of the ruined hotel doesn't help your nerves either, but you try your best to make out some of the features of the figure you're approaching.
Carinae looms in the corner, an inscrutable shadow, all angles and imagined shapes. You stop when Moscow stops, a good dozen paces away from the thing. Up close, "his" true size is more apparent: seven feet? Eight? The grey darkness makes it hard to tell, but Carinae is definitely taller than the other sons you saw by the doors.
[ ] 'What now?' Ask Moscow. [ ] ' ... fuck you're tall.' [ ] 'So are you like head bodyguard, or is there some kind of central command for you guys?'
Here we go.
I feel like I need to apologise for the low quality, but hopefully that's just me imagining that I'm rusty.