[X] Through the back! -[X] Inform the leg of your plan.
Lucky for you, you've got 'sperience in this “hidin'” biz. In through the back of the shop—and that's some breath catchin' in your throat, the way you've gotta juggle a leg while jigglin' a handle, but then the door gives, and ya basically nearly fall through—and then—
“Check it,” ya gasp. “Do ya trust me?”
The horse's leg doesn't answer 'cause they haven't got a mouth. They twitch and nudge at your arm with their leg, though, which either means, “I trust ya,” or, “I beg ya, please don't dismember me more than I'm already reverse-unmembered; I've got horse leg family.”
“Okay, listen up—I've got an ace hidin' space. The problem is, if ya make with the buckin', you're gonna give it away. How good're you at playin' statue?”
The leg slows twitchin'. That means, “Totally good!” Either that or, “I've given up on continued livin' and await the cessation of my existence in quiet despair.” The first one, prolly.
Also close enough.
Just gotta hope Rinnosuke hasn't done any remodelin' in the past few hours. Though if he has put in a serdab after all, that'd be totally sweet. Ya doubt it, though. And plus you're not totally sure you've got the time to get serdab-huntin'.
There's the sound of a door openin' from somewhere up front.
Your blood goes kelvin.
Yeah. Time to hide. Ya cross your fingers—mentally, 'cause your finger fingers're busy handlin' support, at the mo—and make for point B. And you're double lucky, 'cause it's still there—that wannabe table box.
Seriously, Rinnosuke's lackadaisical approach to furniture is just savin' your bacon, here. “Red light!” ya whisper hard, and then you're in it, the both of ya, you cramped up and the horse's leg with ya.
Yeah. Yeah, this is fine.
Hidin' in a hidin' spot: accomplished. Almost lets ya ignore your heartbeat doin' a timpani in your eardrums. Or the fact ya haven't actually got a step two to this plan. Or a step whatever-number-it-is-after-the-step-this-is. Yeah, okay.
Slowly, slowly but surely, ya feel your heartbeat diminuendoin'. Your breathin' evens out till it's something you can handle through your nose again. Least the horse leg doesn't hafta manage that. Least, you're kinda sure they don't hafta breathe. Do they have a heartbeat? You'd think they don't have a heartbeat, what with the whole missin'-the-part-of-the-body-where-you'd-stick-a-heart-usually thing, but then you've gotta wonder what's keepin' 'em operational. Magic youkainess? Prolly magic youkainess—
That door-openy sound? It happens again. 'Cept louder. And accompanied by a:
“Now I've got ya!”
Yeah, that's definitely who you were 'fraid it was gonna be. Oh, man, what happened to Rumia? She totally got past Rumia. That doesn't look good for Rumia. Or the horse leg. Or you. Or your heartbeat, which just went rocketin' up again.
“Yeah!” goes Marisa's voice. “Try running now, why don't ya—you're trapped. After exterminating a youkai, a regular Outsider's no problem—”
And Marisa says more, 'cept you're not really processin' any of it, 'cause—“exterminatin'.” “Exterminatin',” she said, just now.
Rumia didn't get blasted. She got exterminated.
It's takin' everything you've got not to make like a jack-in-the-box and spring. Ya manage it somehow, by reintroducin' logic. Like: You've got a horse's leg to look over—that's priority one, at the mo. And if ya wanna get pragmatic: Marisa's not even in the room; she's in the room over, and if ya jack-outta-the-box now she'll see ya comin' a mile away and it'll be you on the wrong end of that mystic something.
You've got no choice. You've gotta remetaphorize your punches, if maybe just for now.
Sorry, Rumia. You deserved way awesomer than this.
Ya grip the horse's leg even grippier as Marisa's steppin' gets clearer. Like she's circlin' ya, gettin' closer and closer even if she's not in the room yet, 'cept of course ya can't tell. “Where is everyone?” ya hear 'er mutter to herself—ya hear her mutter. See? That's totally not a good sign.
And then she calls: “Yo, Kourin!”
The pause that answers is way too loud.
Yo, is Rinnosuke—is Rinnosuke not here?
“Huh,” Marisa goes, and you can imagine her standin' 'round all casual, maybe takin' her hat in one hand and itchin' a wonderin' itch where her hair parts. “What the heck—nobody's here?”
Somebody's totally here, ya think, and your thinkin' is way too loud, too. Hey, witches don't do telepathy, do they? Pluckin' thoughts outta the ether?
Or clairvoyance. Do witches do clairvoyance? 'Cause now thatcha think about it, that totally sounds like something witches maybe would be able to do, in which case ya might be totally screwed.
But if remote viewin' is a skill all up Marisa's repertoire, it's not one she's up to usin' at the sec, apparently. “Did they run off together?” ya hear 'er groan, closer than ever. And then, like a miracle, ya hear her footsteps 'cross the floorboards—recedin'.
Ya hold your breath. Ya manage, somehow, even though between the stress and the bein'-on-the-home-stretch-ness ya can't get anything more than a thin gulpful. And then, just when the used-up air's formin' a gravitational well in your chest—
A door opens.
A door closes.
Ya wait a moment more, just in case—just a second more, 'cause that's all you can last—and then ya let the air 'scape through your teeth with a sound like a punctured tire. Ya feel like a punctured tire, anyways. Seriously, you're not cattish in the least—anyone who uses the words “catlike grace” to describe ya is either graspin' for a phrase or just plain bonkers—but you're sorta sure ya used up one of your nine lives just now. Or at least a life's worth of luck. Does that mean one of your lives is gonna be luckless, or does the lucklessness of the one life redistribute itself 'cross all the rest of the life ya haven't used up yet? Assumin' reincarnation is a thing, of course. Which, considerin' the disenhorsed leg you're clutchin' right now, it actually might.
Okay, is she gone? Ya think she might actually be gone, now. “See, what'd I tell ya? Ace hidin' space,” ya whisper, legwise. “Now let's bust outta this box; I'm not built for pullin' a Waldo Jeffers—”
Ya shift towards gettin'-out-ness, and something creaks. It's just the sound of a floorboard in a dusty old forest shop past the edge of civilization settlin', most def, but maybe also it's Marisa, not actually out yet, readyin' herself to pounce. Ya can't be sure.
“Or on second thought,” ya whisper, “this is a pretty comfy box, actually. Maybe worth stickin' in for a sec. Admire the wood grain.”
If the horse leg's got any opinion on wood grain, they don't letcha know.
“Yeah,” ya whisper. “Or, y'know, maybe a sec longer. A coupla seconds. A minute. Whaddya say to a quarter hour? Quarter hour sound good?”
The horse's leg quivers, but they don't make a sound, which makes it real easy for you to hear nothing else makin' a sound, either.
“I like the way ya think, dude,” ya whisper. “Right on—full hour. 'Round the clock we go.”
“I spy—with my little eye—something that starts with the letter 'B.'”
The horse's leg sorta cocks, then swivels, like a bird tryin' to fig their surroundings. It takes you a sec before ya see where ya went wrong.
“My bad, my bad. I spy with my little eye something that starts with the letter 'H.'”
This time, the leg swivels directly in your direction. Ya get the feeling they're lookin' atcha, even though they haven't got anything to do the lookin'. 'Cause leg. What's their ish now?
“'Ha.' I spy something that starts with the kana 'ha.' My bad again, dude. How 'bout it?”
The horse leg sorta hangs there. And then, gently, they reach out and just sorta prod the inside side of the box you're in.
Which you're still in.
“Nice,” ya say. There's a thing of sweat makin' its way down your collarbone, and you're gonna ignore it if it kills ya. Or maybe just till it gets way more uncomfy than it is now. Right now, it's just uncomfyish, like someone playin' their tunes loud 'cept also at a distance. “Okay, my turn again.”
The horse's leg prods you.
“Dude, not my fault ya can't talk. Now check it: I spy—with my little eye—something that starts with the letter 'H.' I mean 'U.' I mean 'u.' I mean 'horse.' I mean 'kana.'”
Didja mention that you're sweatin'? 'Cause you're sweatin'. 'Cause it's hot. Even with this box featurin' five sides instead of the traditional six, it's not exactly the most airy of locales. Still every time you're tempted to poke your head out—or at least flap the tablecloth—the thought of Marisa maybe standin' there with her mystic something glowin' in the direction of your skull makes ya think a little mugginess isn't so bad.
“Say, how much English do ya know, anyways?” ya ask, and almost miss the sound of the door openin'.
You and the horse's leg both go real still, real quick.
There's no Marisa-style gloatin', this time, but the footsteps are heavy and frantic. Ya hear 'em clear even where ya are—they pace, and then pause, and then pace and pause again. It's the sorta footsteps ya think you'd get outta someone lookin' for something in a hurry, which isn't an interpretation that makes ya feel so good.
The footsteps head in your direction, and you'd hold your breath again if it wasn't already so hard to breathe—
And then someone else does. Breathe, that is. There's a sigh.
And ya think—ya think—you're not an exhalation expert, past the fact that you've been doin' it regularly for about as long as you've been livin', and anyways the sample size you've got is kinda lackin', but ya think, maybe, that this mystery sigher might be male.
And ya don't hear your mystery sigher sayin' anything along the lines of, “What's up, Marisa, and whaddya doin' in the back of my shop?”
“Hold tight,” ya mutter, repositionin' the horse's leg around ya as much as you can manage in a hemmed-up space like this. “I'm just gonna wager it all. If I get blasted, up and mojamatize—I'll try to buy ya time.” Which is payin' it forwards, right? Jeez, Rumia…
Okay, moment of truth. Ya slip a finger under the edge of the tablecloth and lift it just an inch's worth, settin' your eye at ankle level—the better to peep without it gettin' mutual. And then, after a tick of takin' in the sights, your brain puts a name to the shapes and ya straight up toss the cloth off and let yourself emerge like something out a magician's trick.
Well, a stage magician, which is something you're gonna hafta specify now thatcha know magic's actually a thing down here. It's like “acoustic guitar.”
And more important than another instrument ya can't play: Ya can't think of anything more relievin' at the mo than the sight you're catchin' in front of you—Rinnosuke, and his tall, slightly slumped, decked-in-the-same-duds back.
Rinnosuke doesn't yelp or anything, but the turnin' he does is pretty quick. For a sec he just sorta goggles—and then his face pulls his mouth down by the ends and he says, in a voice thatcha don't know where it's goin': “You're here.”
And then he goes: “You're here?”
And then he goes: “Where were you?”
Which you've gotta admit is not the welcome-back you were 'spectin', but you can work with this. “Sometimes,” ya say, tappin' your noseside, “you've gotta keep the Christie-Christoferson-style awesome on the down low.”
Rinnosuke's eyes flicker. “Were you hiding in the box?”
“Like I said—keepin' it on the down low.”
“Were you hiding in that box again?”
“Hey, I'm not happy 'bout the temp-down, either, Mac, but whaddya gonna do?”
“Why were you hiding in that box again?”
And that's the sixty-four thousand dollar question, right? Ya make back for the box, 'cause your reasons are there—before unstartin' quick. “Yo, Mac—serious question. Can ya keep a secret?”
Rinnosuke doesn't give ya a yes or a no, just stares atcha like—like ya don't know what. For serious, that's a straight up inscrutable 'spression there, past the super obvious not-happy part.
Aw, what the hey. You can count on Rinnosuke, right?
Yeah, you can count on Rinnosuke. Dude hasn't letcha down when it counted yet. Ya duck back boxwise and—
The horse's leg goes still when ya touch 'em, like it's tired of strugglin' and set to leave it to fate. Ya wanna tell 'em it's okay—you're leavin' it to Rinnosuke here, which puts the odds a lot more in their favor—but instead ya just lift 'em back and out and sorta just stand there not really presentin' it Rinnosukewise. Rinnosuke, meanwhile, just sorta...blinks.
“Is that...” he mutters.
“Yeah, Mac, it is. I mean, unless you weren't gonna say, 'Is that not the horse's leg that got dragged in a coupla days ago?' in which case it isn't.”
Rinnosuke's mug goes—well, not wobbly, but sorta unsteady. But not a completely bad unsteady. More like those things they put under buildings so that when an earthquake hits they take the most of it and all the major back-and-forth gets eaten up. “Where did you get that?”
“Where do ya think?”
“Did...Marisa stop by while I was gone?”
Well, yeah, but prolly not in the way Rinnosuke meant. “Not exactly?” ya try.
“It's more like I went to her. Or actually it's actually 'zactly that.”
Okay, now that's wobbly. “You went into the forest?” he says, his voice risin' up the scale as he does that.
“Rumia was there, too.”
“Don't you understand how dangerous the Forest of Magic is?” The leg flinches in your arms at the tone. Ya pet 'em, like that's gonna help. “It's different from the forests of the Outside World—it's not a place fit for Outsiders to wander! There are—poisonous plants—dangerous youkai—”
“Homicidal witches,” ya add helpfully.
“Homicidal witches,” Rinnosuke parrots. And then he stops with the tirade and just stares. Well, he's been starin' all this time, but this is one of those stares that just goes through ya and over ya all at the same time.
“Christoferson,” Rinnosuke says. “What, precisely, did you do.”
“Promise not to freak?”
“What did you do?”
“I maybe possibly mighta punched Marisa in the face.”
Yeah, you just...you just let that slip out, ya guess.
Rinnosuke goggles, which is a good word for what he does. “Why would you do that,” he says, and it isn't even a question.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time?” ya offer. “And—I mean—I kinda figured she wasn't gonna just go, 'Oh, ya want me to set loose the potential essential ingredient for homunculus-producin'? No problemo!' Right?”
Rinnosuke opens his mouth again, then closes it again, then puts his hand up to his head, staggerin' like he's the dude who got socked.
“So anyways,” ya barrel on, “I punched Marisa in the face, and then I ran, and Rumia was there too. And then...”
Ya pause, 'cause—ya don't wanna think about it. But then ya don't pause, 'cause you've gotta.
“I think Rumia got blasted,” ya say, more quiet. “And then I made it to the shop, 'cept Marisa was on my tail. And—you weren't here.” It doesn't mean to come out like you're accusin' 'im—more like just as a statement of a thing that happened—but it comes out accusey anyways, enough that Rinnosuke's gaze sorta snaps.
“Of course I wouldn't be here,” Rinnosuke says, and whoa, his voice—that's a lot—it's a lot fiercer than you've heard outta him. Almost ever. If not completely ever.
And then he goes:
“I was searching for you.”
Your incomprehension only sets off this pocket of what-it-is-this-is you've accidentally uncovered. “I was searching for you!” Rinnosuke says. Not shouts, not yet, but it's close. “What do you imagine I felt—when I awoke to find that you had gone missing, that you weren't inside the shop—I thought you had been kidnapped, perhaps—maybe that you'd gone outdoors and been taken away—and to choose Rumia as a companion, of all people—or even of all youkai! Don't you understand how foolish your actions were?”
Lookin' at Rinnosuke's mug as he hollers atcha, his words startin' to ramble and disjoint—it feels like someone's playin' connect-the-dots in your head.
“Rinnosuke—Mac,” ya say, careful. “Were ya worried about me?”
Which seems to incense the dude even incensier. “You—you don't appear to understand. The Forest of Magic is dangerous!” And now he is shouty, most def. “It's not unheard of of even experienced villagers to perish—what chance would an Outsider have? At the very least, you could have spoken to me first—told me what it was you had planned—”
“No way, Mac. This was something I had to do myself. And also with Rumia, but mostly myself.” Ya heft the horse's leg in a gesturin' sorta way, the leg jerkin' slightly from the movin' of it, but otherwise pretty calm. Guess it's figured it's outta immediate hot water for now.
“I was the dude who let Marisa take this dude for the chop,” ya say. “Like, right in front of your eyes. If I'd known what I was doin' I woulda been flauntin' it, practically. So I couldn't go 'round abrogatin' the 'sponsibility of the rescue mission, dig?”
Rinnosuke doesn't indicate diggin' or not-diggin'. He just stumbles backwards, findin' the nearest sturdy crate and lettin' himself sit on it, puttin' his head forwards in his hands like he's the guy in that one van Gogh painting, 'cept more Japanese and less bald. He doesn't look like he's gonna cry or anything, just like there's an unreasonably monster headache formin' behind his brows.
He sits there for a minute or so, silent, and ya watch 'im sittin', not sayin' anything either. Well, a little, anyways.
“So, um, what're we gonna do?”
Rinnosuke lifts his mug outta his knuckles painfully. “What are we going to do concerning what?”
Ya proffer the horse leg again, who's got a better grip on gettin' gestured with this time, despite not havin' anything to grip with.
“The horse's leg,” Rinnosuke says.
“Yeah, the horse's leg,” you confirm. “Dude's kinda in a tight spot, 'specially if witches make a comeback.”
“I...” Rinnosuke takes a deep breath, on his way back to bein' more Rinnosukeishly collected again. “I'll ask around, the next time that Keine stops in. There's a temple in the human village that serves as home to a group of youkai. I can't make any promises, but...”
He trails off, but he's already gotten past the awesome part, so that's alright. “Mac,” ya tell 'im, “if I wasn't holdin' onto this dude at the mo, I'd hug ya.”
Rinnosuke does the whole openin'-the-mouth-but-not-sayin'-anything thing again for a tick. “I see,” he says, finally.
“Yeah, no kiddin'! Though, uh, ya know I also wasn't kiddin' 'bout the whole Marisa-punchin' thing, right? 'Cause that actually was a thing, so I feel like that's gonna be consequential. Just, y'know, FYI.”
This time the pause is longer. A lot longer. It's a pause Rinnosuke this time doesn't actually open his jaw, but it's still a long pause, accompanied by a sorta arcin' headtilt like the words to break it are stuck in the dude's throat and he's tryin' to ease 'em over and out all clandestine. When he does, it's just a handful, tumblin' offa his tongue one at a time, like a line of linguistic ducklings:
“This is my...”
He closes his eyes—tight, like it's another headache—then opens 'em again.
“This is my shop,” he says, a lot more easily and still not totally so. “I may not be able to protect you when you leave, but...if I can keep Rumia from her usual habits, I should be able to maintain peace when Marisa comes by as well.”
No, not “huh,” actually. More like:
“Whoa,” ya say. “Hey, Mac—hold up a tick, will ya?”
Ya bend down and ease the horse's leg off onto the shop floor. Finally free of anyone's clutches, they just lie there for a mo—and then they stretch, all 'sperimentally, like they're just makin' sure the muscle still connects to the bone and the bone still connects to the marrow and the other stuff bone oughta connect to. And then, in one strong flex, the whole leg hops themself up from the floor and right-side-up, hoof side pointin' downwards and not-hoof side pointin' up.
And then and then, it seems to realize—yo, this is for reals, apparently? No takesies-backsies? And you can see it light up. Which is a real neat trick to pull off, 'cause no face.
Ya watch the dude prance in circles 'round ya both, jumpin' and leapin' and boundin' like they're performin' some one-legged gopak.
It looks a whole lot like a happy endin'.
Though ya don't wanna say anything concrete. There's alotta bad sequels that kill off the dude who got through the first flick first thing. Talk about a potential bummer.
And maybe Rinnosuke's got the same notion, 'cause he sighs as he turns off to do Rinnosuke stuff. And then he squawks, 'cause ya just came up behind him and threw your arms 'round his neck, and ya mean in the nicest way possible.
“What—Chri—what are you—”
“It's called a 'hug,' Mac—I warned ya.” Rinnosuke's taller than you. Not a lot taller—not like a headful. But taller. Ya notice that when ya hug 'im, though ya don't know why now. Maybe 'cause only now you're talkin' into the back of his neck, but still, not like ya didn't notice it before.
Though the whole hug biz doesn't look like it's all up the dude's alley—the vocalizations and Rinnosuke-tryin'-to-throw-ya-off-ness is a clue, maybe—so ya make with the catch-and-release, slippin' off Rinnosuke's shoulders. He stumbles forwards, all divested of the weight of you all of a sudden, lookin' backwards atcha almost all woeful once he's got his footin'. It makes ya wanna laugh, but not a mean laugh, if that makes sense. More like—yo, sometimes stuff happens and it's pretty sweet! That kinda laugh.
Ya don't laugh—ya just smile, is all—but Rinnosuke wrinkles his nose anyways. “Exactly how long were you sitting inside that box?” he asks.
“Beats me,” ya say. “I got to Marisa's, and then I got from Marisa's, and then from then till now? I'm sorta clockless here. Why?”
Rinnosuke looks mad uncomfy. “Ah,” he says, and then he says, all way very simple: “You're perspiring.”
Ya already know you're seriously sweaty here. Ya discreetly take a whiff—ya don't smell that bad, but you're overdue for some soap, anyways. “Yeah, I oughta do a bath—I'll take one of your robes, okay?”
Rinnosuke sighs again, deeper, though ya feel like something so no-one's-at-imminent-risk-of-bitin'-it as a matter of baths shouldnta gotten the huffier one. “Fine,” he says.
“Sweet! Thanks, Mac!”
Ya dodge past 'im, bathwise. Ya think ya hear 'im mutter something under his breath as you're passin' by, but whatever it is, it's too muttery to catch. Enh—you're pretty sure the dude woulda said it louder if it was any important.
“Oh, by the way,” ya call back, rememberin', “Marisa maybe thinks we eloped.”
>Finally free of anyone's clutches, they just lie there for a mo—and then they stretch, all 'sperimentally, like they're just makin' sure the muscle still connects to the bone and the bone still connects to the marrow and the other stuff bone oughta connect to. And then, in one strong flex, the whole leg hops themself up from the floor and right-side-up, hoof side pointin' downwards and not-hoof side pointin' up. >And then and then, it seems to realize—yo, this is for reals, apparently? No takesies-backsies? And you can see it light up
Sweet Youkai Jesus, that was good. There's nothing like getting an update that's worth the wait and more.
Is Rumia actually dead? I wouldn't think so, whatever Christie believes, but either way, we owe her one something fierce. Long live Christie Christoferson, the witch-punching, youkai-rescuing, Rinnosuke-vexing legend.
Keine looks at the dude holdin' a horse leg in her arms in front of her like she's never seen a dude holdin' a horse leg in their arms in front of her before and now that she has she's not a hundred percent sure she's better off for it.
The dude is you.
“In any case,” Rinnosuke finishes, gesturin', which is a thing he can do 'cause he's not the dude doin' the horse's-leg-holdin', “I would appreciate it if you were to contact the chief priest and ask her if she has the means to take in another charge.”
Keine looks at Rinnosuke, back at the leg, and then back at Rinnosuke again. You'd wave, 'cept, again, leg.
The leg themself's on their best behavior. Ya can't blame 'em. Basically their future's gettin' decided here, right? Yeah, they could try strikin' out on their own, maybe, but Marisa's already done the whole horse's-leg-catchin' once. If she does it again, ya don't think you can pull off a repeat of your dramatic extractin'. So really, they haven't got a leg to stand on.
Aw, man. You've gotta teach Rinnosuke English, stat. How's he supposta fully 'preciate your awesomeness if ya can't sling your wordsmithin' at 'im without havin' to 'splain yourself? Seriously, it's for his own good.
“Couldn't you come to the village yourself?” Keine says. And then, real quick, trippin' over herself to get the words out: “Not that I mind! I'll gladly help, only—I haven't seen you visiting the village, lately. I've been a little afraid that something happened to you.”
“So you're checking on me now?”
Ya can't see Rinnosuke's mug from where you're standin' (a little bit behind, a little bit to the side), but somehow you're imaginin' he's doin' the one-eyebrow lifty thing. His voice has the one-eyebrow lifty thing tone.
Instead of meetin' it head-on, though, Keine's gaze sorta drifts while the dude herself equally sorta embarrassedly. “I guess I've been caught,” she says.
“It's hard to say I 'caught' you when you made the revelation yourself,” says Rinnosuke.
“That's true. Though, you still haven't answered my question.”
Keine waits for the rest of it. And then she realizes there isn't gonna be a rest of it, and shifts all uncomfily for a tick before decidin' she's exhausted all the dialogue options here. “Alright,” she says. “I'll ask Hijiri to come here. Just—take care of yourself, will you?”
“I always have.”
“And eat—I mean, eat more. You've never eaten enough.”
“I'm fine, Keine.”
“It's only that I worry, with you living by yourself, and so removed from anyone else—”
Uh, yo? You're not exactly chopped liver, here.
Rinnosuke's got his own objections, too, though his're down a different kinda road. “I wouldn't call myself 'removed,'” he says. “Marisa lives fairly close by, and it isn't difficult to reach the shrine from here.”
“I think you know that that isn't what I meant by 'removed.'” Keine says, but after a sec longer of tryin' to laservision Rinnosuke's mouth open, she gives up on the ish, stickin' an unsteady sorta smile on her own mug and takin' her goodbye.
Rinnosuke shuts the door behind 'er. And then he just stands here, like he can look through it, past it, all the way to where Keine's back is goin' off into the distance, maybe. There's something real lonely 'bout the sight of 'im. Ya can't stand it.
So ya ruin it. “Yo, Mac.”
Rinnosuke turns off from lookin' doorwise, very deliberately. “Yes?” he goes.
“What's stoppin' ya from fetchin' this priest dude yourself? Like, legit question, Mac. I know you've taken hikes to the village before. Like, for rice and stuff.”
“Not in the past week.”
Ya mull that over, just for a sec. Yeah—he's right, actually. For the last buncha days Rinnosuke's been real sedentary over here. Not that that's different from how the dude usually is, but if the question someone's tossin' into the room's “Has Rinnosuke been out in the last weekabout?” then the answer's totally prolly undoubtedly “No.”
“Huh,” ya say. “'Spectin' someone to drop in, Mac?”
“The possibility of somebody 'dropping in' is the problem,” Rinnosuke says. “This is my shop, but I find that when I leave, my authority leaves with it.”
“Ya got a hunch or something, Mac? Like someone's gonna throw a party while you're gone? Heft some of these wares?” Ya heft the horse's leg shelfwise, and it extends itself, pointin' like you can't all way very obligingly. Specifically, at this one sweet coffeepot. Is that junk or silver?
Rinnosuke, though, gives ya the Look, which at this point is just inducin' all the nostalgia, so ya guess your guess 'bout parties is super-off-the-target. “What I'm saying,” he says, “is that it might be difficult to enforce my 'no fighting' rule without my presence. Rumia was unexpectedly trustworthy in that respect, but I suspect Marisa might be less so.”
Two and two together. “So you're stickin' 'round to protect me, Mac?”
“Well...” And this time, it's Rinnosuke's eyesight doin' the gaze-drifty thing. “Yes,” he says. “As much as I can, I suppose.”
Ya ponder that, and havin' pondered that, nod. “I'm gonna hug ya again,” ya say.
There's his eyes back. “What?” he goes.
“I'm gonna hug ya again.”
You can feel Rinnosuke's brain takin' that sentence apart, analyzin' it for meanin' and puttin' together the perfect proper response. “Don't hug me again,” it finally comes up with.
No dice. “I'm definitely gonna hug ya again,” ya parry.
“Don't hug me again.”
“I'm puttin' the horse's leg down.”
The rest of the day passes by real uneventful, Rinnosuke's worries or otherwise. If Marisa does drop in, she does it real stealthy, which strikes you as bein' kinda un-Marisa. Granted, you've got a sorta wispy sample size on what constitutes Marisa behavior, but ya think you've got a tentative grasp on the deal.
It's the day after that you're helpin' Rinnosuke sort through his collection of LPs—also he has LPs, also also no, Mac, just 'cause CDs and LPs've got the obvious similarities doesn't mean they're both supposta have or not have the grooves; they work completely differently, sorta—
Anyways, it's while that's happenin' that there's a knock on the door.
You and Rinnosuke look doorwise for a sec, and then Rinnosuke gets up from his squattin' next to you to answer while you get busy quick stuffin' the discs back up the sleeves—all the better to get 'em though unscathed, if it's a blastin' incomin'. Ya finish up an album with some woman dressed to the nines featured on the cover—what an “enka” is, ya don't know—just in time for the future to open up by a set of hinges and fate to come roarin' in.
“Hello—you must be Morichika?”
'Cept not so much “roarin'” as “squeakin'.” Or “meowin'.” Or some other onomatopoeic metaphor 'spressin' the fact that it doesn't look like a blastin' is gonna ensue, not yet, 'cause this isn't Marisa after all, but some other dude entirely.
Ya get a better look at 'er while she and Rinnosuke are exchangin' the regular Japanese bow-and-greet. She's decked in black and white, like the dude ya thought you were gonna get, but that's where the resemblance ends. No hat, for one thing. And long hair a color ya can't tell exactly—brown or blonde, maybe, or maybe something in between those two and also purple; it hurts your eyes lookin'—but the number one diff is that this dude looks older than Marisa did.
Well, ya say “looks,” but it's not like she's got a whole lotta lines in her face. Or any lines, even. It's more of a maturity thing—like an air of it it's like she's exudin'. It's the sorta thing ya either can't practice or hafta practice a whole lot to pull off.
“And you must be the Outsider,” the dude says, turnin' her attention to you. “I'm afraid Kamishirasawa didn't mention your name—I'm Hijiri Byakuren, the head priest of the Myouren Temple.”
[ ] Yo, this dude seems pretty cool. [ ] Yo, this dude seems pretty cool—but so did Marisa, right? Gotta reserve judgment. [ ] Yo, this dude seems pretty cool, but so did Marisa. Ya won't be fooled again. [ ]
You know what I really hate? Aprils Fools' Day updates. Wink, wink!
[X] Yo, this dude seems pretty cool—but so did Marisa, right? Gotta reserve judgment.
And now it's your turn. Ya try to follow along with the salaamin' the best ya can, but there's a serious difference in execution, and not just 'cause your regular MO's the five-fingered pump. Ya play monkey-see with the greets as straight as ya can, just till it's time for your nose to point groundwards.
And then when ya bow, ya bow shallow, with your eyes tilted up to make sure this Byakuren incomer isn't makin' to pull something off while you're bent at the waist. It's not thatcha think this dude will, exactly. Maybe she's cool.
But ya thought Marisa was kinda cool, too, and look where that gotcha.
“Chris Christoferson,” ya introduce yourself, once you've got your bowin' all stuttered out (and with your chin unkicked, too). “I'm just this dude, though.”
Byakuren smiles. It's a kind-lookin' smile, all goodwill-radiatin'. “The same could be said of me—so please treat me kindly,” she says, and then her gaze turns off ya, sweepin' past the crates and hardcovers and busted electronics and yeah, the coffeepot and the albums, too, like she's lookin' for something in particular.
“I'm afraid this isn't a purely social call, however,” she continues, once the woodwork's failed to give any revelations. “Kamishirasawa informed me that there is a youkai here requesting shelter—is that true?”
“I'm the one who made the request, actually,” Rinnosuke says. “Christoferson—”
“Got it, Mac.”
And ya crook your thumb and pointer into over your lips and pitch a whistle worth a New York cab.
Byakuren flinches just a little. Rinnosuke does, too, 'cept a lot less littly. “Was that necessary?” he's all.
Ya shrug as the horse's leg comes boundin' in. “Ya wanted me to fetch 'em, didntcha?”
“I somehow expected you'd move more than your arm.”
Yeah, maybe if you weren't busy keepin' an eye on this newcomer dude. “My bad,” ya say like a breeze while the horse leg's settlin' into something approximatin' settlin' at the side of your leg, lookin' up at Byakuren. Or anglin' up in a way that looks like lookin', only, 'cause total lack of peepers.
“Byakuren, horse's leg,” you facilitate. “Horse's leg, Byakuren. Uh, wait, your name isn't actually 'horse's leg,' is it?”
Now the horse's leg's not-lookin' at you.
“Yeah, the just-a-leg thing kinda does a damper on communications,” ya say. Not that you'd have alotta luck understandin' with the rest of the horse attached, seein' as your skills don't include horse whisperin', even if they are manifold and awesome—
And you're about to say that, actually, like even out loud, even, when ya feel something pickin' at your temple like a fingernail at a day-old scab. Ya look, and it's Byakuren, puttin' a chisel to ya with her eyes. Though, like, a thoughtful chisel. So like Auguste Rodin, basically, though that's bronze so why she's got a chisel you dunno.
“'Sup?” you're all.
Byakuren blinks. For a tick ya think ya see her go a little unbalanced, but then you blink, too, and she's back to normal and smilin' and radiatin', as she was. “I apologize for staring,” she says. “It's only that I'm impressed—you seem to have formed something of a rapport with that youkai.”
“Sure,” ya say. “It comes outta makin' up for your heck-ups.” And ya glance just Rinnosukewise for a tick, 'cause how couldja not?
“I'm...not sure I'm familiar with that term,” ya hear Byakuren say. “I'm afraid I was sealed away in Makai for some time—I've found myself lacking in familiarity with certain turns of phrase used on the surface nowadays.”
“I'm not sure being on the surface would make it any better,” Rinnosuke says, glancin' atcha back, just for a tick. “What Christoferson is trying to say is that she made a mistake, and subsequently endangered herself in an attempt to compensate for it—though it could be said that the initial mistake wasn't much of a mistake at all.”
“Or you could say maybe that the whole 'initial mistake' was totally initial and totally a mistake, for serious, and me doin' the crazy stupid thing wasn't me tryin' to make a statement or balance out my karma or whatever but me tryin' to make things right,” ya say, still glancin' at Rinnosuke, just for a tick.
“Excuse me, but when you say 'karma'—”
“Or,” Rinnosuke cuts in, still glancin' atcha, just for a tick, “it could be said that as what little wrongdoing that occurred was negligible in the first place, any attempt to rectify it was wholly unnecessary—not to mention the matter of the risks far outweighing even the best of results.”
“Or,” ya return, rampin' up your glancin', just for a tick, “you could say that maybe it was totally completely ultra-douchetastic and leavin' the whole sitch to rot woulda been the worse option!”
“Or,” Rinnosuke goes, matchin' his glancin' as straight and steady as yours, just for a tick, “it could be said that the only reason anybody felt the need to endanger themselves was because the supposedly wronged party not only overreacted and refused to communicate their grievances, but also had their expectations set incorrectly in the first place!”
“Or you could say that the dude was totally in the right to get all aggrieved and you're not supposta set your expectations below sea level, Mac!”
“You're from the Outside! You still don't understand what constitutes normal treatment in Gensokyo—Ah!”
You and Rinnosuke are suddenly mirror images, each of ya nursin' half a pair of bruised ankles while a horse's leg manages to effect an air of smug superiority like they didn't hafta get their fat pulled outta the fryer by yours truly.
Rinnosuke recovers outta bein-kicked-ness first—prolly 'cause of that “spiritual” stuff the dude was goin' on on like half a month ago. “I think you can understand the situation well enough,” he tells Byakuren, like everything that just happened just didn't. “If you would take the horse's leg to relative safety, I would be grateful.”
“Yo, hold on a tick, Mac!” 'Cause you can interject, smartin' shin or no. “Ya can't just unload the dude on the first set of hands ya see!”
“Considering that unloading this youkai is the entire reason the head priest is here, I'd think it'd be easy enough.”
“Doin' right and doin' easy are totally orthogonal. Maybe this dude passes muster on your end—” and ya point your chin towards this Byakuren dude, who's lookin' ya back just as careful, “and, y'know, maybe the musterpassin' is right, even. But I dunno I'm all convinced just yet.”
“I'm not sure why that would matter.”
“I'm the one who had to Canadian Caper the dude outta hostile territory, Mac. If anyone's got the privilege to check out anyone's muster, it's me.” And since you've got that cleared up, ya focus your eyeballs Byakurenwise at full intensity.
Byakuren, though, just smiles, all very not-intimitatedly, which is kinda not the mood on her end you were goin' for here. “It's admirable for you to have such concern for a youkai's well-being,” she says. “I'll accept this challenge—please, question me as you wish.”
Well, okay, then.
“Mac, get the chair.”
Byakuren sits in the chair. She's smilin', blinkin' into the light, but you can tell she's really just tryin' not to show off her uncomfiness. Prolly. Ya don't know for sure, but you've got this theory up in your head that maybe chairs are a Japanese dude's weakness. There's gotta be a reason you've had your inshop meals sittin' on your legs direct, right?
Though maybe it's just 'cause the tables are so low. If ya had chairs, you'd hafta stoop to chopstick up your eats. Kyphosis.
“Is this really necessary?” Rinnosuke asks. He's the one with the flashlight.
“It's totally necessary. We've gotta ascertain like, intentions and capability and stuff.”
“I meant the flashlight.”
“Also super necessary. I dunno if you've noticed, but your pad's kinda off the grid, Mac—else I woulda gone for the classic desk lamp setup.”
“There's a classic setup?”
“I don't at all mean to hurry you,” says Byakuren, squintin', “but would you like to ask me anything?”
“Yo!” Ya whirl on this gallhoardin' dude. “I'm askin' the questions 'round here—Mac, ask this dude some questions.”
Rinnosuke sighs, but keeps the flashlight trained, 'cause he knows what's up. Which he oughta, seein' how long it took the both of ya to find a coupla good D-sized batts to plug into the deal. Ya thought findin' a D was a trek on the Outside, but now ya know how easy ya had it. “What makes you qualified to look after a horse's leg?” he asks.
Byakuren does her back straight. “As the head priest of the Myouren Temple, it is my sincere belief that youkai have an existence that is equal to that of human beings. As such, if a youkai wishes a peaceful coexistence among others of its kind, I am more than willing to offer them a haven from humans that would do them ill.”
“Uh-huh.” You squint, too. “So you're sayin' you're in charge of this temple place?”
“The Myouren Temple, yes.”
[ ] So you're religious? [ ] So you're good for horse's-leg-afterlookin'? [ ] So you're one defensive dude? [ ]
“I organize services and events at the temple in order to attract youkai and like-minded human beings,” says Byakuren. “Of course, the ultimate goal is to help lead youkai toward an enlightened existence. As I stated before, youkai and human beings are of equal standing—thus, there is no reason that youkai, too, cannot become bodhisattvas.”
Ya nod. “Yeah,” ya say. “I got, like, none of that.”
Something shifts in this Byakuren dude, is the only way you can put it. She was already sittin' straight, but it's like between tick one and tick two someone hitched a curtain rod up her spine. She looks at ya, and her eyes are all up in your face, even from over there.
“A human being seeks to attain enlightenment not for themselves, but for the sake of all living beings,” she says. “Is it truly impossible to believe that a youkai may follow this path, as well?”
“Uh, beats me,” ya say. “Ya kinda lost me 'round 'bodhisattva.'”
Byakuren's eyes go back over where they're supposta be, and for the first time, the dude's off her game solid. Like, noticeably, even.
Rinnosuke steps in to save your bacon. Or save Byakuren's bacon. He's savin' someone's bacon, anyways. “Christoferson is an Outsider, and from California additionally. I doubt she understands anything you're talking of.” And then, youwise: “Hijiri is a Buddhist—she's the head Buddhist priest.”
“Oh, Buddhism! Yeah, I know Buddhism. We've got Buddhism in California.”
“Then—” Byakuren starts.
“It's just seriously minor, over there. For serious—I know like, five things about Buddha, max.” And 'cause that sounds like the sorta thing you've gotta prove, ya start countin' down phalanges: “How to spell 'Buddha'—in Japanese and English, so that's two—the dude founded an ism; that's important—dude was mad hefty—” Ya gesture, indicatin' heftiness all around the stomach area.
“'Hefty'?” says Byakuren.
“Yeah, sure, I've seen the statues. Um, Barlaam and Josaphat—”
“No, please, if you would stop for a moment—” Byakuren again, “—when you say that the Buddha is hefty—”
“Well, I mean—big, jolly guy, right? I toldja, I've seen the statues. Kinda like Santa, 'cept way less hair. And he doesn't swear a shirt.”
Byakuren just stares, her mug shiftin' through all kindsa microexpressions.
Or maybe you've got this wrong. You're not exactly the Buddhist in the room, after all. Wait, then who is the big dude?
Rinnosuke makes a light sound, tappin' a fist also light into his other hand, a combo real effective at drawin' all eyes in the room (plus also the eyes that aren't there, in the case of the horse's leg). “She's talking about Hotei,” he says. “He's sometimes identified with Maitreya—although—” and now he's fixin' ya with a funny, bright-eyed look, “—I'm surprised you know of Hotei. You haven't shown much knowledge of gods and youkai in past conversations.”
And now he's fixin' ya with a less funny, less bright-eyed look. “Never mind,” he says.
Aw, man, he wasn't hopin' that hard you'd know something 'bout the bajillion supernatural dudes they've got floatin' 'round here, was he? “Sorry, Mac,” ya say, and ya hope that sorry's as sorryful as ya feel it. “The only Hotei I know is Quixote—ya got any windmills?”
“I don't understand that reference.”
“I don't understand yours.”
The way Rinnosuke lifts his chin reminds ya of a dude recoiling from a blow. His mouth is fixed in a straight line—ya feel bad something like instantly. Ya didn't mean to come out so harsh. “Sorry,” ya say again.
Then Byakuren coughs and ya jump, 'cause—what the everlovin' hey, you forgot she was there? Though you're kinda glad ya see Rinnosuke flinch, too. And the horse's leg whirl around. Wait, does that mean the leg was watchin' you and Rinnosuke? Ya don't know what to think about that. Like, it's not like ya had any reasonable sorta 'spectation of privacy talkin' gods and caballeros, but still. “Leaving Hotei by the wayside for but a moment,” she says, “the Myouren Temple is a Buddhist temple.”
She pauses there, like to see if ya got it. Ya got it. “Right,” ya go, indicatin' itgotness.
“As Buddhists, our duty is to attain nirvana in order to liberate all beings from the cycle of samsara. This is achieved, in part, through cultivating within ourselves the Six Perfections.”
“And that sounds, like, really cool,” ya say, 'cause it does, 'cause ya actually know what nirvana is, and not just 'cause of the Seattle grunge scene, “but what about not-Buddhists?”
“Non-Buddhists are included, of course,” Byakuren says. “One becomes a bodhisattva to save all beings, not only those who adhere themselves to the tenets of Buddhism.”
“No, I mean—what if the horse's leg isn't a Buddhist?”
Byakuren stares something like in your direction, like the question ya just asked is hangin' in the air between you and her and she's tryin' to focus on you and it at the same time. Then she says: “I'm afraid I don't quite understand?”
“Like, three rahs for Buddhism and all,” ya say, “but you bein' all in charge at this Myouren pad is kinda a concern, dig? 'Cause like, what if the horse's leg decides they're not gonna be a Buddhist? Are ya gonna just toss the dude out on their leg?”
“Or like what if they wanna be a Muslim horse's leg? Like, what if they hop up to you one day and go like, 'Ms. Byakuren Hijiri, I've finally realized my dream,' and you're all like, 'Oh? Do tell!' and they're like, 'Ms. Byakuren Hijiri, I'm gonna be Gensokyo's first horse's leg alim'? Do ya even have minarets in Gensokyo? And if a horse's leg converts to Islam, are they halal? There are so many questions.”
Byakuren doesn't even start takin' a whack at any of your questions. Byakuren keeps starin' roughly youwise, sayin' absolute squat—though the corner of her mouth twitches, like it's itchin' to say something, only but it's been outvoted by the rest of the system. She turns off ya, lookin' Rinnosukewise instead with a look on her mug like...
Actually, what that 'spression's supposta be ya don't know, but seein' it ya feel like ya oughta be irked or vexed or something. Well, if she's gonna look at dudes, you can look at dudes, too! Ya glance at the horse's leg.
The horse's leg catches your eye. With its leg. 'Cause it still hasn't got peepers. Yeah, ya don't know what else ya 'spected. Maybe Rinnosuke instead?
Ya look at Rinnosuke instead. Rinnosuke's lookin' back at Byakuren. He looks...
Ya don't know what that look means, either.
“The Myouren Temple may be a Buddhist temple,” Byakuren says, reachin' words forth like feelers, “but it would be remiss if I did not extend the offer of refuge to any youkai seeking only a peaceful existence. Generosity, after all, is a precept of Buddhism.”
“Aces,” ya say. “If that's true.”
“I assure you that it is.”
Is it? 'Cause ya don't know, is the thing. Sure, yeah, in all the years you've been around you've picked up a coupla things on how to operate a Buddhist, but it's not like you were tryin', or ever cracked open a “How to Buddhist” textbook or anything. Ya just overheard this and read something 'bout that, and that's totally not the kinda foundation ya wanna fig a religion on top of. It's like—do ya want the Abe Maruya? 'Cause this is totally how ya get the Abe Maruya.
Actually, those Japanese old Christians are pretty cool, but that's totally not the point. And also anyways—as much as ya really, really don't wanna admit it—maybe you're not the dude who oughta be makin' the final say in this. Ya gotta give that up to someone else—someone who's actually been livin' in Gensokyo all this time, who knows how the land's laid out and also something 'bout whatever weird human-youkai dichotomy it is that's the norm here.
“Whaddya think?” ya ask, turnin'. “She good?
The horse's leg cocks its above-the-knee bit, like a dude tiltin' his head down to ruminate real deep on a thing.
And then it does a noddy kinda jig, and hops over direct to Byakuren's chairside.
“Guess that settles that,” ya mutter.
“Then you don't object?” says Byakuren.
You're about to say “yeah”—a careful sorta “yeah,” but a definitely a “yeah”—when ya remember how ya hecked up last time and the heck-ups that came outta that heck-up. So ya look at Rinnosuke instead.
Rinnosuke looks back like he doesn't know why you're lookin' at 'im. He shifts his head, just a tiny bit. That's Rinnosukespeak for “Yes?”
Ya blink up at Rinnosuke and then jog your skull towards the horse's leg and the chair and the Buddhist who's in the chair. That's youspeak for, “So, whaddya think?”
Rinnosuke glances his head at all that stuff ya already mentioned in your internal narration, then looks right back atcha and rolls his eyes. 'Cept, only almost. Almost rolls his eyes. It's only eyerollesque, which prolly means like, “There's nothing to object to.” Or maybe, “She's what she looks like.” Or maybe something kinda sorta towards, “At the very least, she means well”?
Which is like, three different messages dependin' on how ya interpret it, but they're all on the plus side, sorta, so ya get back at Byakuren and go, “If the horse's leg says they're good with you, I'm good with them bein' good with you.”
Byakuren smiles smilier, the outside ends of her eyes narrowin' in just that tender sorta way. She stands, hands sweepin' the front of her digs down like there's anything to sweep, and bows the same as she did at the start, way deep. “Then I'll endeavor to not disappoint your trust,” she says, and sounds like she means it.
“Yeah, sure, ya better not,” ya say, and seein' as that's made clear, ya turn off and get your final words in in a direction legwise.
“Yo, dude,” ya say.
Said dude stands straight, payin' attention.
“Okay, so, maybe this dude,” and you're pointin' at Byakuren, while you're sayin' it, “is really all that and a bag of chips. But in case she turns out something like super skeevy creepola, you remember there's always a shop door open for ya. Ya dig?”
“I feel like I should have some say in this,” ya hear Rinnosuke go from somewhere not as important.
The horse's leg does that no-head headtilt again, just for a sec or two. And then, seemingly outta nowhere, they spring a coupla real quivery jumps before standin' themself square once more—exceptin' one last quick bob for the road.
So ya guess they do dig.
And there's not alotta stuff left to say, so ya watch as Byakuren and the horse's leg pull off their ritual goodbyes (though they're a lot more regular-lookin' in Byakuren's case) and exit, stage right—
“Thank you,” says Byakuren, straddlin' the doorway like the properest clown at the metaphor rodeo.
You're not really sure what she's thankin' ya for, but ya say, “Yeah, no problemo,” anyways.
But Byakuren nods, like that all makes sense. “If there is ever the opportunity, please feel free to visit at the temple. It would be good for us all to be reminded that there are human beings and youkai even outside our grounds willing to live together so harmoniously.”
And then she's outta there, with fifty percent more leg than she had when she came in.
Ya stare at her and the horse's leg disappearin' into the trees, even after ya can't see 'em anymore, up till Rinnosuke gets sick of your gazin' and closes the front door in your face.
“Huh,” ya say, “barring some kinda plot twist, I'm thinkin' that counts as a good endin'—right, Mac?”
Rinnosuke does the whole eyes-through-the-door thing you've seen 'im pull before, and then he turns atcha with a look on his mug drywall-flat. Graphene, even. And then, soundin' weird, soundin' accusatory, he says, “You didn't ask to go with her.”
And ya freeze. 'Cause—yo, that's true. Why didntcha ask to go with her?
She lives in the village, right? Ya knew that.
“Aw, nuts,” ya mutter.
“'Aw, nuts'?” says Rinnosuke, and ya look at 'im, and yeah—that's an eyebrow.
There's a way of wordin' what you're gonna say in a way that doesn't make ya out to be a regular doofus-and-a-half, but whatever it is, it kinda escapes ya at the mo, so ya give it to 'im straight: “I kinda forgot.”
“Yeah, this is a my-bad sitch here, straight up, so...my bad.” Ya try a disarmin' grin and feel yourself hittin' something skullish instead. “I dunno if this'll make ya feel better, but I really think I'd like spendin' my days in your shop more than I'd like rubbin' elbows with Buddhists, Mac.”
“That...does not make me feel better, no.”
“Besides, can ya imagine me gettin' into Buddhism?” ya barrel on before his point can settle. “Like, sittin' asana along a buncha other monks, not wantin' awesome stuff and not not-wantin' not-awesome stuff? Listen, Mac, I am all about that tanha.”
Rinnosuke opens his mouth. The bit between his brows squinches a bit. “I thought you didn't know anything about Buddhism.”
“Huh? When'd I say that?”
“You were very particular about it. You counted on your fingers.”
“Oh!” Yeah, that thing! “No, I said I didn't know anything 'bout Buddha. Mad diff, Mac.”
Rinnosuke looks atcha the way Byakuren looked atcha, mouth twitchin' and all, 'cept he actually gets halfway to wordage before he apparently decides he's not gonna bother and reaches up to massage that squinchy bit. “Human beings and youkai living together harmoniously,” he mutters.
“That's what she said.”
“I wonder where that happens?”
“Ouch, Mac. Ya wound me.” Ya clutch at a palpitation that isn't happenin'. “Now let's see whatcha got in the way of playback. You've gotta have a phonograph in here, somewhere.”
“'Phonograph'?” Rinnosuke's brows go back up and the squinchy part goes away, which ya like. “I can't recall ever stocking an item by that name...”
“Well, it's called alotta other stuff, too. 'Record player' ring a bell? 'Turntable'? 'Gramophone'?”
Rinnosuke taps his chin, thinkin' into the distance, and ya get the feelin' you're gonna get through a whole lotta dusty boxes before dinner rolls in.
Which is totally alright by you. Like ya said—between shopkeepin' and meditation, you'll take the junk. No sweat.
Another fall afternoon stuck in Japanese fantasyland, and this is how ya spend this one: sortin' order outta chaos square on your chattanoogas like some jean-wearin' Genesis-era Yahweh.
Well, that's whatcha wanna think, but you've gotta admit that fishin' tunes outta Rinnosuke's hoard is prolly a lot easier than separatin' lights from darks, no matter the laundry 'sperience you've got under your belt. All you've gotta do here is dig out anything that looks musicky and categorize 'em further into categorical categories. For example: This CD? Ya recognize the band, even if the dudes in it passed their heyday back in the Triassic. So that goes in pile A.
Vinyl—ya don't recognize this band, but vinyl is vinyl is vinyl, so that goes in pile B.
Dude heftin' a sax on the front of a jewel case? Pile A.
Straight up record sleeve? Pile B—pile of shiftin' pieces inside when ya pick it up notwithstandin'. You can sort broken from playable when you've got something to play these on at all.
Plain CD, divorced outta packagin', labelless 'cept for a felt-tip date on the unshiny side?
Okay, so maybe you're gonna hafta start a pile C for at-the-mo-unknowables, here. Still, it's a pretty easy algorithm to roll out on. Give it a week, and Rinnosuke's gonna have the biggest music library this side of Gensokyo!
Or any side of Gensokyo, prolly.
Kinda lackin' the means for CD-playin' generally, prolly, Gensokyo.
“I have to admit—this is more discs than I thought I had.”
You'd spin around, 'cept it's hard to do that sittin', so all ya can do is sorta crane your neck to check out the Rinnosuke in the doorway. The dude's standin' there, tray in hand, lookin' down atcha with a 'spression all sorta amazed at the organization you've wrought.
Which he should be. You've racked mad stacks of tracks as you've sat in the back, with the coupla careful cylinderworths you've accrued set up before ya, CDs on the left, vinyl toppin' vinyl sleeves on the right. There's a lot more vinyl than CDs, is something you can see now that you're keepin' 'em separated. The result looks like some mini medium model of the Guggenheim.
Woulda been more fittin' to make more like Nat King Cole, but you've got a hundred percent too much tower for that. “Awesome, right?” ya say, Rinnosukewise. “I don't know how much of this is actually gonna play—like, some of these dudes are lookin' pretty gnarly—”
And that's the bad kinda gnarly, the maybe-someone-took-the-concept-of-scratchin'-a-bit-too-literally kinda gnarly—
“But tentatively? You've got, like, a veritable olio of genres here. For serious!” And ya gesture with the appropriateness, as ya talk: “You've got jazz. You've got classical. You've got your croonin' dudes in 'spensive suits.”
“I've got food.”
“You've got food—yo, you've got food? Gimme.”
Rinnosuke settles himself on the floor similar, sittin' close enough you can call it “close” but far enough he can set the tray between ya, givin' you a look at what he's been balancin'—a bowl of those Japanese crackers you've gotten real familiar with since ya started takin' up Rinnosuke's shop floor and a coupla steamin' mugs to make the contents go down easy. Though, you've got ish:
“Ya didn't hafta pour one for me, Mac. Ya know tea's not my thing.”
Rinnosuke's brows jog. “I do know,” he says. “Which is why this isn't tea.”
Hey, yeah—now that he says it, the mugs are the same, but the mugfuls've got different colors to 'em. And the smell comin' off that one is twiggin' something in your brainspace. It's strong, almost like—
“Yo, no way,” ya gasp. “Is that—”
“Coffee,” Rinnosuke confirms. “I found someone selling it at the human village. I was shopping, anyway, so it wasn't too bothersome.”
Ya grasp the mug, ignorin' the slightly-too-hot at your palms, and bring it up to breathe deep at. Yeah, that's the smell. That's definitely the smell. “Oh, man—isn't coffee supposta be mad 'spensive or something, though? Ya didn't hafta lay down the dough on my account.”
“I've already made a habit of paying for you at this point,” Rinnosuke says, and then his whole mug implodes on itself, like he just took the greatest suck at the world's lemoniest lemon. “That is—coffee isn't strictly expensive. It's just something of a luxury item—that's all.”
Yeah, that's not pullin' off the assuagement here. You've got no idea what Rinnosuke's finances are like, but you're pretty sure he's no Croesus. Still, even if Rinnosuke was ready and willin' to return to the village for some goods-and-services take-backsies, you're pretty sure there'd be no way for him to pull it off at this point.
What with the product poured out in front of ya, and all.
So ya say, “Thanks, Mac,”—tryin' not to let on the mixedness of your mixed feelings—and take a swig.
And then it's like, oh, yeah, whoa. Whoa. 'Cause even with the aroma stuffin' itself up your nose farther than “la Marseillaise,” it didn't occur to ya how much ya missed this till ya actually made with the quaff. The taste is different than anything ya ever picked up mornings—sweet, somehow? But whatever Rinnosuke did to these beans, it's definitely, absolutely, positively, verifiably, bonafiably coffee.
You're halfway down it before ya notice. It takes real effort to get your mug outta the mug. “Mac?” ya say.
“Don't take this the wrong way, but I think I seriously love your guts right now.”
And if Rinnosuke has anything to say to that, ya miss it, 'cause you're already back in the cup for part two.
Ya put the mug—empty, now, natch—back to the tray and take one of the crackers in exchange, huffin' a real sincere laugh into it. “Lemme tell ya Mac, that was just what I needed. Like, for realsies. Now, ya wanna take a look-see at your greatest hits, or save it for later?”
Rinnosuke blinks atcha in a way that sorta reminds you of this cat ya saw at the last Christmas bonanza, which ya only realize now is sorta weird 'cause ya know your dad's dad's brother doesn't do catkeepin', but there it was. After a mo, though, the dude—Rinnosuke, not your dad's dad's brother—shifts his eyes over where he oughta, i.e., at the tunes. When he talks, his words aren't all there in the same way his gaze wasn't.
“Which one of these would be the best?”
“The best for retrieving music from.”
And ya stop, mid-cracker, 'cause that's a question with some serious implications behind it. “Hey, Mac,” ya say, 'round the crumbs. “Are ya sayin' ya found something?”
Rinnosuke hesitates. “I can't be certain,” he admits. “Do you remember that 'CD player' I asked you about, some time ago?”
It takes a mo, but—yeah, actually. “The one we were jammin' buttons on when that flyin' reporter showed up?” ya ask. “Like—it had the juice, but it needed a thing of headphones, right?”
“'Headphones or earphones,' I believe you said,” says Rinnosuke. “I was able to find some—though I'm not sure if they're the right kind of equipment.”
There's a moment, hangin' there, while Rinnosuke's words take the long way through your skull, flagged for double-checkin', brain breakin' out the thesaurus to make sure it hasn't heard it wrong. And then it turns out it hasn't heard it the wrong way, and the whole idea of what Rinnosuke's said goes off in your understandin' like an old school cherry bomb.
When's the last time ya heard a proper tune?
It's been ages since ya heard a proper tune.
Or, y'know, months.
“Well, whaddya hanginaroundin' for, Mac?” ya say, dunkin' your unchomped cracker half in your no-coffee. “Let's get to lasin'.”
And ya stand up and make it halfway to the next room over when Rinnosuke suddenly goes, “I manged to find a record player, as well,” and ya stop and spin so fast that you're the one with beaucoup RPM.
Yo. Yo. Quick question, out to the universe: Is it actually your birthday here? Did reality realize the bum hand it doled out atcha and decide it oughta make up the diff, pronto? 'Cause this sudden kinda fortunacy is insane. There's comin'-up-Christie, and then there's comin'-up-Christie, and right here, right now? Everything's comin' up Christie, triple sevens, everybody gets a new car. Ya thought ya loved Rinnosuke before? Right now, you're burstin' with love at Rinnosuke. And the world. But mostly Rinnosuke.
“Mac,” ya say, turnin' round again, meetin' his eyes while the smile stretches so far 'cross your face your cheeks're already sore, “you're makin' my day.”
[ ] Grab a record—gotta start low-tech and work Rinnosuke his way up. [ ] Grab a CD—it's time to show Rinnosuke the awesomeness of modern tech. [ ]
(Would you believe someone picked up my request in a drawthread? If I knew who to thank, I'd thank them.)
[X] Grab a record—gotta start low-tech and work Rinnosuke his way up.
“I'm very glad to hear that,” Rinnosuke says, starin' at your chompers unsteadily, “I think.”
Ya barely hear 'im. You're back to the Guggenheim, lookin' over your work with your peepers are the criticallest. Somewhere in this library you've got here is the perfect record to serve as the first superhot leap forwards for Rinnosukekind, and there's no way you can make that pick lightly. You're stuck between a six-header and a real heavy drinker, is the problem—on one hand, it'd be a serious bummer for Rinnosuke to get spun into the future on some real syncopated grooves (not that there's anything wrong with syncopation by def—Leroy Anderson was tight), but pick something golden and a bad turn on a player past its heyday could carve a scratch right across the deal.
And that'd be a bummer more permanent.
Not to mention the records themselves—it's not pessimism when ya know the bits and pieces of this collection've been in better mitts. Rinnosuke—ya love the dude—you've covered thatcha love the dude, right? But the way ya fig, the dude prolly doesn't know from records. Which—nothing wrong with that, but the dude prolly doesn't know from records.
So—whaddya gonna do, then?
“Are you looking for something in particular?” Rinnosuke voice is the hammer to the kitchen window of your musin'. Ya blink at 'im a few times, 'cause—whoops. Forget he was there. And then you grin.
“Mac, I'm gonna blow your mind—just like I promised.”
“That sounds terrible. Also, I'm not sure I remember a promise like that.”
“Well, I promised me. Which makes it super-important, as promises go.” Ya know whatcha oughta do, here. The textbook answer's poundin' at your cellar door—whatcha oughta do is heft the pros and cons, consider the risks, and strike a balance between idealism and reality.
Thing is, though, you've done enough waitin' for one lifetime, and the siren song of maybe actually siren songs is havin' a pipe-up out in the back of the edge of hearin'. So what the hey—ya grab the first whole-lookin' record ya spy (the name on it's Japanese, and ya don't recognize it one bit), and start for makin' tracks again.
Oh, wait. Important element you're almost forgettin' here, maybe.
“Come on, Mac,” ya say, to the dude who's still sittin' there with his mug untouched, “let's tango.”
Maybe literally, even.
Okay, full disclosure: Your record player 'sperience is lackin', straight up. You were a CD-heftin' kinda dude first, and then ya switched over when mp3s became a thing. Nothing wrong with that. You're a product of your time. It's not like ya preferred mp3s to CDs in an audiophilic sorta way, either—it was just mad convenience, bein' able to pocket every album ya had at once, and then some.
The point is—ya haven't had alotta opportunity for record-player-inspectin', 'cept for at your mom's and your mom's shop. You've got the gist—needle in the groove, twist this, adjust for speed—but if Rinnosuke's acquisition is busted, the two of you are outta luck.
Though it doesn't look busted. What you've got, laid out on Rinnosuke's desk, is a surprisingly small flattish rectangular dealie—stress on the “small,” here—with a coupla knobs and a speaker 'bout the same size standin' separate. Ya flick the appropriate whimjab and the bit that spins spins as it oughta ('cept for the recordlessness, natch).
Ya tilt the thing over, peerin' at the bottom. “Hey—ya found some batteries, too? Score.”
“What batteries this record player has were already there when I found it, actually.”
“Huh. So we don't know how much juice this thing's got left, then. Uh, not that we'd know unless we got something fresh outta the package.” Ya set the thing back down and stop the spinnage—but only so you can get your mystery record up on where you're pretty sure it's supposta go.
Though, now that you've got it on—you're really not sure if what you've got is supposta look that way or not. The record's just a bit longer across than the player is front to back, and this is just a seven-incher, which means that the media's got the media player beat in at least two dimensions no matter how ya slice it—which is a real appropriate turn of phrase, seein' as how the whole disc-on-the-side-of-the-end-of-a-rectangle construction makes the whole thing look like the world's most cumbersome themed pizza cutter.
Come to think of it, “turn of phrase” is pretty fittin', too. “Turn of phrase.” Too bad Rinnosuke's not gonna get it, not without a coupla hefty English lessons.
With the record perched the edge there and turnin' guaranteed, you're tentatively in the biz. You dunno if this is an LP or something a lot shorter, but if the singer starts makin' like Bagdasarian, you can always dial it down. Or the other way 'round, if it's the other way 'round. “Ready, Mac?” ya say.
“Yes, yes,” Rinnosuke says, soundin' cross—but when ya look at 'im, he's leanin' attentively over the whole mess like the smoothest of criminals.
Yeah, he's more than ready. Most def. Ya don't laugh, but ya let yourself grin, real wide. “Alright, Mac—fingers crossed!” ya crow, and ya lay the needle down.
There's the thump as the record comes to life.
Nothing but a buncha staticky hissin'.
Yeah, ya kinda forgot the lead-in was a thing. “Should it sound like this?” Rinnosuke asks, and you're 'bout to tell 'im that it should, actually, when the groove kicks in and the sound of some big, brassy 'splodes outta the speakerbox.
So maybe ya jump. Rinnosuke jumps jumpier. And stares, peepers gogglin' more and more gogglesome as the horns're joined by an electric guitar strummin' a slow, easy arc of notes—the percussion, subdued, beatin' out the measure behind it—orchestral strings slippin' in to take the lead before the brass comes back in full force to snatch it back like a coupla dudes out of a fight scene that's been choreographed to perfection—
And then all that awesome collapses in on itself like a bad soufflé 'cause it turns out there's a singer, too, and the way he applies the words to the tune is enough to make ya nostalgic for the dulcet tones of Florence Foster Jenkins.
Ya mighta chosen poorly outta that pile of records, is what you're sayin'.
The only plus side is that it's Japanese singin', so it's not a total loss for Rinnosuke's ears. Like, he can actually understand the vibrato-laden wailin' that's determined to drown out everything beautiful. Not “everything beautiful 'bout the tune,” “everything beautiful.” “Pretty sweet concept, hey, Mac?” ya say, anyway, smilin' through your teeth, 'cause at least you've got that much true. “Whaddya say we swap out records? See what else we've got stacked here—”
“Wait a moment,” says Rinnosuke. “I want to hear this.”
Talk about meticulous. “Ya don't hafta listen all the way through,” ya inform Rinnosuke. “If the machine works this far in, it's prolly gonna work as well for anything else that doesn't suck.”
“Yes, yes—still, I'd like to listen to this, just until the song has run through.”
“Ya mean, 'cause the whole voices-outta-the-box deal's wowed ya over, and ya don't wanna interrupt?” ya guess.
“I'm impressed by the technology the Outside World has access to—but what I mean is that I'd like to finish this song particularly.” Rinnosuke's voice lowers to something mumbly. Like he's half talkin' to himself, or something. “I don't think I've heard this style of song often before. Certainly, not with this instrumentation.”
Aw, man. “Don't tell me ya like this stuff, Mac.”
“Well...” Rinnosuke averts his gaze just for a sec—and then there it is, back on it. “I don't understand it completely myself, but there's something about the way the singer expresses his words—sincerity, it could be?”
“It's… heartfelt. I wonder if the singer was in great pain, to have managed to infuse the lyrics with such raw emotion?”
Is he kiddin'. “There's no say the dude who wrote the words is the same dude singin' 'em. Havin' one dude pen the tune while another dude belts it out is like, a thing.”
“Perhaps it's the lyrics themselves, then. It might have been that the author wrote them with such great sorrow that even the singer could easily sympathize. Here, listen.”
The singer, not so much hittin' the notes as circlin' 'em, expresses a sincere heartfelt sorrow regardin' women, i.e., how women sure are women who can afford to do womanly things like smilin' and lyin' down in bed and dependin' on the male gender, while he, bein' a manly man, has been tragically doomed to a lifespan of doin' manly man things like hidin' tears and hidin' pain and similar acts of severe emotional constipation.
You're kinda unimpressed here. Like, just a skosh.
[ ] You're gonna hafta insist on a change, here. Maybe someone that doesn't warble. [ ] Well, if Rinnosuke digs it, you can stand sufferin' for a minute or two, ya guess. [ ]
[X] Well, if Rinnosuke digs it, you can stand sufferin' for a minute or two, ya guess.
But if Rinnosuke digs this—like, if he really does dig this stuff...
Ya look at Rinnosuke—all of 'im. He's standin' there, stock-stiller than a posable doll, one hand hangin' just as frozen in the air in a weird half-gesture like there's an unconscious part of 'im that wants to be conductin' this mess. His face is turned at the spinnin' record, eyes fixed like he's forgotten you're a thing. And that smile—
'Cause he's smilin', is the other thing. A faint quirkin' of the lips, the sorta telltale thing a dude only lets out when they don't have a clue they're lettin' it out at all, reachin' all the way up to the corners of his eyes. He's lookin' at that record with something like wonder, with some light ya know ya hafta have had yourself at some point—though tryin' to remember 'zactly when is like tryin' to remember something from a dream ya had years ago (and ya don't mean like that one with the clowns and the hamster ball—nightmares don't count). It's a nice look on 'im, and you're hit with something, all of a sudden. Something true.
Ya want 'im to look like that more.
Ya wanna make 'im look like that more.
And that's why ya can't yank this record, even if it is descendin' to the depths of cacophony at the mo. 'Cause it makes Rinnosuke look like that—like this—and if ya make Rinnosuke stop lookin' like this and can't get it back again you're actually never gonna forgive yourself.
So what the hey. The record's only got two sides, right? Let 'im have his wailin' Japanese machismo. On your turn, you'll show 'im some real tunes, maybe. And havin' decided that, ya find a wall of the room that's outta the way, relatively, and lean...
Right as the record player—and the music, consequently—grinds to a sudden halt.
Yeah, the universe's got a real lousy sense of humor.
Rinnosuke blinks like a betrayed owl. “What's happened?” he cries out—legit cries out, reachin' toward the record player halfheartedly before yankin' his fingers back again like he's afraid he's gonna make it worse, whatever it is. His mug goes through a whole lotta 'spressions in a millisecond—there's disappointment, there's despair, there's something bittersweet—before recoverin' enough to pull “stoical” back all up and over again. “I suppose you warned me about the batteries,” he grouses. And then his lips twitch into the ghost the smilin' he was doin' a minute ago. “Still, that I was able to experience both the music and the technology of the Outside World—I'm thankful.”
And that's it, ya guess. With the juice down to zip, there's nothing left on the to-do list 'cept to get all introspective 'bout the ephemerality of stuff—
That record stopped spinnin' real suddenly, didn't it? Like, real suddenly. Like, one mo it was goin' at the appropriate RPM, and the next it was all—wasn't. Maybe ya just wanna make this last a little longer, but there's something kinda hinky 'bout the steepness in that deceleration.
'Cause the thing is—yeah, ya don't know a whole lot 'bout record players, 'cept how to use 'em without gettin' the vinyl scratched up, but if it was a battery ish, shouldn't it've just run down? Like, slower and slower, till the whole deal slid over into stop, as opposed to givin' up the ghost straight through in a New York minute.
Course, maybe you're wrong, but— “Lemme take a look, Mac,” ya say.
Rinnosuke watches ya quizzically as you approach, something like hope formin' behind in his eyes. Or something. Maybe. He gives ya space, anyways, steppin' aside so you can start off your examination, which is another word outta all these words that implies ya know what you're up to.
Okay, so, whaddya gonna do first? Might as well start with the...
Ya lift the needle outta the groove. And then, when that doesn't actually do anything dramatic, ya lift the actual record out and over.
The record player's spinny bit starts spinnin' again. Like, instantly. Next to you, Rinnosuke makes a noise that gets caught halfway out his throat before his lungs manage to wrangle it back in again.
“Huh,” ya say, and put the record back where it was a second ago.
The spinnin' stops.
Ya lift the record again.
Ya put the record back.
“Huh,” ya say again, mostly 'cause ya don't know what else to say and Rinnosuke's eyes on your back are startin' to burn through.
“Is the problem something else?” he asks.
“Most def,” ya say, 'cause—yeah, that's true, at least. “But I dunno what's keepin' it from actually playin'—”
Ya give the whole deal a nudge as ya say that, like all it needs is a little inertia to get over the hump—
And the record starts spinnin' again. Smooth as butter, like it never stopped.
“Huh,” ya say ('cause why not go for a hat trick).
“It's working,” Rinnosuke observes.
“Yeah, sure, Mac.” Ya don't know whatcha did, but ya definitely did it. Which is a maybe a good summatin' of a whole lotta things, but now's not the time to introspect, now when there's a record literally makin' the rounds, and the only thing keepin' it from singin' its tune again is the touch of a lonely needle. “Whaddya say—take it from the top?”
“You don't mind?”
“When a song ya dig gets interrupted halfway through, you've gotta start from the start again, right?” 'Cause, like—there's nothing that more throws off a dude's groove. And speakin' of groove, with a flick of the wrist, it's no problem layin' the needle into the one that matters.
A coupla seconds, for the lead-in to lead in...
And then the brass swaggers in and ya watch as Rinnosuke's shoulders relax.
Yeah, see? The way the space between Rinnosuke's brows smooths out. The guitar comes in, right on schedule, and the drums, and ya don't say anything aloud, but inside, you're like—
There we go.
Ya don't even mind when the vibratin' vocals come in. Well, no, that's totally a lie—ya totally do mind; this dude is still, like, ultra-mega-terrible—but whatcha don't mind outweighs whatcha do mind, and by a lot.
It's a moment ya wanna preserve somehow—like, not so much so that the good times never end, but so you can take it out anytime and remember it crystal-clear. This moment—or this whole day, even, if that'd be better. You standin' here, and Rinnosuke standin' there, and the look Rinnosuke's featurin', and the raspy mournful voice of some Japanese artist ya can't stand comin' over the speakers, and that raspy mournful voice suddenly pickin' up in speed and pitch as the strings smash together in a grand orchestral pileup over the singer's chipmunkesque squeakin', and—
“That's not supposed to be happening, is it?” Rinnosuke says, lookin' worried.
“Oh, come on!”
“I didn't think it was.”
“I was kiddin' with that Bagdasarian thing!”
And while Rinnosuke's wranglin' with pronunciation, ya take a look at what the problem is now. Or, well, ya know what the problem is now, but ya don't know why. There's a knob to fiddle with speed—maybe if ya tune that down, you can finagle the right speed for this record?
That doesn't work. In fact, the record starts spinnin' faster—the singer goin' straight up chiropteran—which doesn't even make sense but ya feel like maybe shouldn't be possible—
“Yeah, Mac? Kinda busy, at the mo—”
Ya lift your eyes off the dials—
And see the record, lifting off its little record restin' place, needle still fixed in it as it spins (faster and faster and that singer's gonna pass outta human hearin' soon, ya swear), and ya don't know what to say to that 'cause that shouldn't be possible either.
'Cept that this is Gensokyo, you remember, as the record, still playin', levitates totally clear of the machinery that oughta be turnin' it. Gensokyo, where “impossible” is kinda permanently out to lunch.
A dude can fly. Why not records?
Rinnosuke sputters something ya only half hear—
The music stops.
And then suddenly you're bein' yanked to the floor as something goes thwip and was that the wind, passin' overhead? No, that was something else, goin' way too fast and way too close and ya don't even care you're almost sittin' in Rinnosuke's lap at the mo basically 'cause look at that, that's the record hoverin' in the air at the far side of the room like the world's angriest frisbee; how is that a thing.
“Kya ha ha.”
And who said that.
“Invisibility?” Rinnosuke mutters, beneath ya, turnin' his head the same as you. “No—rather, it's—”
The air above the record player seems to color in in blotches. Blonde hair, brown eyes—it's a girl, ya realize. Something like a teenager, though ya don't know what teen would dress like that, if they had a choice—like a maid outta something post-Edwardian, topped off by the mismatch of a floppy, ribboned hat.
“Yes, I see,” Rinnosuke says, back all the way to his regular old analytical personality, despite his spot on the ground. “You're a noise spirit, aren't you.”
“You've struck it,” the girl says. Or “spirit,” ya guess. There's a weird, singsong thing about her voice, like that “you've struck it” was a snippet out a tune ya don't know. Or a nursery rhyme.
Wait, forget about nursery rhymes. “'Noise spirit'?” ya ask, 'cause seriously—“noise spirit”?
“A phantom that can make noise—and manipulate objects remotely,” 'splains Rinnosuke hurriedly. And then, goin' back to the main ish from the land of footnotes: “Why is a noise spirit here?”
The spirit dips, like a kid goin' for a curtsy, which is maybe what she is. “I've decided to haunt your shop,” she says, real cheery—then switches over to something sorta pensive.
“Actually,” she admits, “I'm haunting your record player.”
Rinnosuke's mouth just works, for a sec. “Why,” he finally manages.
The spirit looks at 'im like a teach who's gotten a real stupid answer. “Because I'm a noise spirit,” she says.
Rinnosuke presses his thumb against the bridge of his nose. “Of course.”
“Although I prefer 'poltergeist.'”
Hold up, you know that word. “What's the diff between a noise spirit and a poltergeist?” ya ask Rinnosuke aside.
“There isn't any difference,” Rinnosuke hisses back. “They're two terms for the same type of existence.”
“Oh,” ya say. “Wait, why didntcha just say 'poltergeist'?”
“Is there something wrong with 'noise spirit'?”
“'I dunno what's a noise spirit, is the thing.”
“But you know of poltergeists?”
“We already call 'em poltergeists in California.”
“Well, you know now that a poltergeist is the same as a noise spirit, so it shouldn't matter anymore which word I use in referring to it—”
Someone makes a sound thatcha mighta thought was a real cough if it hadn't been so not. You and Rinnosuke look upwards. The spirit is still there, floatin' over the record player in all her floatingness.
“Would you like for me to wait?” she asks. “I can wait, if you'd like for me to wait.”
Ya pick yourself up from the floor, wavin' that off. “My bad. So what's up, uh, poltergeist dude?”
“Don't say 'my bad'—why are you saying 'my bad'? She's haunting my shop!”
“Actually, Mac, she's haunting your record player. Right?”
“That's precisely it.”
“I know she's haunting my record player. Why are you haunting my record player?”
“Because I'm a noise ghost—”
“And don't say 'because I'm a noise ghost,'” Rinnosuke says, just a skosh too late. He climbs to his own feet, real huffy about it, and brushes something imaginary offa the front of his digs. “A better question, perhaps—how long has my record player been haunted?”
The spirit hums. “I'm not certain,” she says. “It was a time ago, I know—I tried to haunt a shrine, but that didn't work out...”
“You tried to haunt a shrine?” Rinnosuke says.
“I haunted a mansion. But I'd become too familiar to the ones living there—that would be why I picked up for the shrine.”
“You haunted a mansion, then a shrine—then my record player.”
The poltergeist nods. “That's precisely it,” she says. “I thought it best to begin at the beginning—to haunt small again.”
Ya nod at her noddin'. “Gotta work your way up.”
“That's precisely it, as well!”
“Stop helping the sound ghost.”
Rinnosuke makes a sound like he's chokin' on his own esophagus as he paws at his own forehead. He takes a breath deep—then lets it hiss out through a set of clenched chompers, loud and slow, his shoulders strainin' to relax to it. “I would rather not have you haunting my record player,” he says, grindin' out those words hard, pestle to the mestle. “Please leave.”
The poltergeist makes that hummin' tone again, then shakes her head. “I don't believe I will,” she says. “No one feared me at the mansion, and I was set from the shrine quick. You I've at least bothered.”
“Then let me use the record player.”
The poltergeist nos her head again. “If I let you use it troublelessly, it wouldn't be very much of a haunting. It would be more...cohabitation?”
“Why are you doing this.”
“Because it's fun.”
“Alright, alright.” This introduction's gone on long enough, and ya wave your arms to get the attention of this coupla belligerents. “Look, dude—”
That's stops ya. “Say what now?”
“Kana Anaberal. It's more personal than 'poltergeist dude.'”
Which—okay, yeah, fair enough. “Kana, dude,” ya say.
“Yeah, yeah—Kana.” Ya pause there, in case she's gonna make with the objections additional, but ya seem all clear. “Like, the stuff ya spun for us, just now—I dig it, yeah? Gotta find a pad for hauntin'. Or a record player.”
“Preferably not a record player,” Rinnosuke interjects.
Ya wave at 'im to clam up. “But yo, dude—”
“Kana,” ya say. “What you're doin' now—like, maybe you've got some totally wicked sweet intentions here, but it's kinda cruel. Here's a dude that finally got the four-one-one on how to coax the mad tunes out a neat track of vinyl—like, he's been waiting for this his whole life, even—”
“I haven't been waiting that long—just ever since I determined the record player's purpose—”
“His whole life,” ya stress again, “and now that he's got the awesome Outsider smarts to get this operation rollin'—that's me, by the way; I'm the awesome Outsider—here ya come, lettin' him have a taste of some ace symphonics before pullin' it outta his ears like that one trick magicians do with the dime where they hide it in their hands and pretend they're pullin' it outta your ear, and you're like, 'Yo! I had a dime in my ear!' Except that's a cool trick and this isn't. Like—dig?”
Ya pause there, to see if the poltergeist digs.
She looks atcha expectantly, so ya guess maybe she digs? At the least of it she doesn't not dig. Maybe.
“Kana,” ya say. “Whaddya say? Be a stand-up dude. Be a mensch. Be the frood of the hour. Let the dude have his tunes. It's just mad decent.”
And havin' made your totally unargueagainstable argument, ya wait for Kana's reply.
And glance at Rinnosuke, who glances at you, then back at Kana, which makes ya think you oughta look back at Kana, too, and yeah, that's definitely Kana. That's definitely seriously Kana. For serious.
“Uh,” ya say, “so, like, ya dig all this, right? Ya get it? Like, totally strikes a chord?”
Kana smiles. “I do.”
“Right. So then—you're gonna let us listen to the tunes now, right?”
Kana takes a breath (or at least looks like she is), still smilin', a floatin' inselberg of peace in a world of troubles.
Then she says, “I don't know that you understand the point of a haunting,” and makes a grand gesture with her hand, and ya yelp as Rinnosuke pulls the back of your shirt just in time that the spinnin' record—yeah, remember the record? Hoverin', levitatin', chock fulla manly whinin'?
It whizzes across the air right in front of you, close enough you can feel it—at neck height.
“Kya ha ha,” Kana says, and that's not even real laughin'; does this dude have a quota of laughs to get through while she's tryin' to off your chattanooga—
“Your persuasive skills are somewhat lacking,” Rinnosuke notes, as he pulls ya along.
“Yo, Mac, I didn't see you breakin' out the mad salespitchery—whoop—”
Ya duck as another record nearly gives ya an overeager haircut, barely catchin' its inertia as it knocks a whole row of tchotchkes clatterin' off a shelf. That's “another record”—as in, “not the same one.” As in, “oh, yeah, right, ya just stacked all of 'em out there all neat and tidy, didntcha.” There are some serious plusses to leavin' a room unuppicked, it turns out.
Then a third record swings in from vertical, like a pendulum without its pit, and ya fig weighin' the pros and cons of housekeepin' can wait till you're outta dodge and far away from the sound of shatterin' porcelain. “Mac!” ya say, weavin' and stumblin' and somehow findin' Rinnosuke's wrist somewhere between the blurrin' vinyl and the kya-ha-has. “Come on, Mac—we've gotta jet—”
Rinnosuke pulls, too—in a direction that's opposite any doorin'. “No—she has to stop haunting that record player—”
“Mac, if ya don't quit—” Ya dodge—that's that first record, the terrible one, and it tumbles in spinnin' over itself past your cheek—slows in midair, 'cause they can do that—starts loopin' 'round— “Mac, if ya don't quit—”
It'd be a sight as metal as anything if ya didn't hafta live through it, is the thing. You're halfway through a storm of spinnin' spiralin' death records, the two of ya, your hand grippin' Rinnosuke's like a lifeline, duckin' and trippin' and turnin' as ya try desperately not to find an edge, shoutin' over the sharp hummin' of a close shave and the sound of everything else gettin' scattered and toppled and overturned—
And in the middle of the whole maelstrom, smack dab in the eye, is the record player—and Kana, floatin' overhead, arms outstretched to orchestrate.
“Kya ha ha,” she says, and she says it bland but her voice is merry. “Kya ha ha.”
[ ] You've gotta get outta this place! [ ] You've gotta get outta this place—and Rinnosuke's comin' with! [ ] Can you punch a ghost? [ ]
So you'll note that I (and the characters) call Kana a noise spirit. This is what I meant to do.
Shortly thereafter, my characters inexplicably start calling Kana a noise ghost, which is an understandable error, right? Spirit, ghost—the point is, it was supposed to be "noise spirit" there, too, and that it's not is just—my bad.
Shortly thereafter that, I use the term "sound ghost."
At that point, there's no excuse.
So yeah, word of god, for the record, it's supposed to be "noise spirit" all the way. So just, uh, mentally fill that in, if you could. Sorry.
And it's kinda funny—like, not funny ha-ha funny; more like funny like something-smells-kinda-funny-in-here funny—but that laugh—
That laugh that Kana states your way, with the bare minimum effort needed to eke out the D-plus of passin' laughin' grades—
That, more than Kana stealthbustin' her way into this refuge, more than the poltergeist playin' multiball with the hits of yesterday, more than the way Rinnosuke's straight up lost it bad enough that he's runnin' in the one direction he shouldn't—
That's what makes your teeth clench and your seein' go narrow. That's what solidifies 'zactly what you're gonna do, and how you're gonna do it.
That's the reason you're headin' in the 'zact one direction, too.
Can ya punch a ghost? You dunno, but you're gonna find out—
Well, ya think that, but that's easier thought than done. It's been sheer seconds since Kana went and decided that everything in Rinnosuke's shop would look a lot better everywhere else, and already—you've gotta give it to 'er, 'cause if this is maelstrom, she's tuned it full up Charybdian. Yeah, you're set on pushin' her schnozz in, but you're barely a foot in when you're leapin' back, avoidin' by hairs a record come swoopin' by edgewards rhinoplastic.
Ya glance, into and upwards.
The poltergeist meets your eyes.
Yeah, okay. So that's how it is, huh? It's on. Grand Valley State alumna you're totally not, maybe, but you've been in enough junior high fistfights to've got down pat the art of dodgin' already. Ya take a lunge in—
'Cept ya totally don't 'cause Kana can see ya doin' it, that's the thing, so ya just jerk in that direction instead, and as a coupla things of vinyl get real interested in you real speedy ya throw yourself in and sideways instead.
The records go right past ya, cuttin' the air close enough you can hear it happenin', but that's miles better than anything cuttin' through you, so it's fine. It's great. It's downright—
This time ya do lunge as another record jinks outta its path right for the rest of your face and okay, synonymizin' later, 'cause right now you've gotta keep those feet fleet.
And ya do. Like ya said, you've got practice, when it comes to not gettin' hit. And the room isn't so big, anyways. Ya don't need more than a spillin' of moments to get from there—
Rinnosuke shouts, somewhere over your shoulder.
Your arm arcs back.
—to the desk—
Thumb outside the fingers...
—close enough to Kana and the record player that you can catch it as she realizes your plan—
—as her eyes go wide—
—as your feet leave the ground, as your arm uncurls, as ya put every pound-force you can muster behind a handful of knuckles—
—as your face grins, all the way to its molars—
And then your entire blow just kinda whiffs right through her mug and you've got a blink of dismayed realizin' before your own momentum makes with the treachery, first way too eager with the assist helpin' your knee find the top edge of the desk—thanks, didn't know where that was, 'zactly—and then straight up flippin' you over the entire deskness, sendin' ya barrelin' through the few knickknacks still adornin' the deal and into a heap of crumpledom at the foot of the other side.
When your sense of up and down kicks back in, you're starin' up the back end of the deal from your new nook on the floor.
Kana starin' down the deal to peer atcha direct is just the icin' on this cake of serious unfortunacy. Uh, at least ya don't hear stuff flyin' around anymore? If ya knew all ya had to do to get this dude to quit was toss yourself headfirst over Rinnosuke's writin' space...to be honest, ya still definitely wouldnta done it. Your head hurts. And your knee. And your et cetera.
“Yo,” ya say, to Kana's upside-down face, 'cause it seems like the sorta totally cool, in-control kinda thing a totally cool, in-control dude would say.
“Hello,” says Kana.
There's a moment, with you on the floor and Kana not, where ya get hit with this thing of perfect, mutual understandin'.
And then that's over with, and Kana goes, “I don't understand how you thought this would happen.”
“I thought I was gonna punch ya,” ya tell 'er, 'cause lyin' on the floor with your neck crooked up the furniture is maybe the time to start gettin' honest. “I thought I was gonna punch ya in the chops.”
Kana smiles atcha down dainty. “I'm a poltergeist,” she says.
Oh, yeah. “Poltergeist.” That's prolly somewhere on the list of items displayin' limited punchability. Ya show off your shiny molars one more time. “Uh, no hard feelings, dude?”
“'Kana,'” said dude says, and then she raises her right hand in a sweepin' sorta upwards motion, real gentle, real deliberate, pointin' out at eternity just so, like a maestro goin' for that first note of a symphony showstopper, 'cept instead of the flutes and the oboes and the clarinets and the bassoons and two kindsa French horns and the timps rockin' it in support, whatcha get is a fleet of spinnin' death discs arcin' up over Kana's head to arc down into you.
Like, not your head, specifically. Just—you.
Somewhere across the room, Rinnosuke says something—something else. Shouts something. Ya don't hear it. It's just noise. All you can process is the sharp edges (impossibly sharp, magically sharp) comin' down atcha with no space for you to scooch, and all you can think is—
Is this it? For serious?
You wanted to go out awesome. Mom'd be disappointed.
The records hit.
The records hit.
The records hit.
The records hit, and it's funny, but maimage hurts way less than ya thought it was gonna. Like, you were 'spectin' spinnin' death vinyl, but it feels more like someone just took a buncha records and flung 'em at your you really hard. It still kinda hurts, 'cause ya do mean “really hard,” but it's a lot less “improvised delimbin'” and a lot more “ya just took a buncha records and flung 'em at my me really hard; what the fuggin' crap.”
Not whatcha 'spected, in other words.
And Kana holdin' steadfast to the general theory of relativity all of a sudden, sittin' aghast at the very edge of the desk, the lower spread of her fancy apron wispin' away into the air like the smoke from a blown-out candle—ya weren't 'spectin' that, either.
And ya definitely, positively, super-certainly for reals didn't 'spect Rumia—descendin' from up on high as statelily as a black marble column. Her eyes are closed like she couldn't be serener and she's got her arms outstretched to the max as much as she ever did.
But this time, there's the shadow of something that isn't there, touchin' at her fingertips.
Ya right yourself up, which is a thing you can do 'cause you're not dead somehow. Or not “somehow.” Ya know how. She's right there, after all. “Yo,” ya tell 'er.
Rumia's sights open up. Just a squinch, but from your spot on the floor ya catch it easy.
“You're there, now,” she says.
Ya don't get it, but she's definitely lookin' your way, so she's talkin' to you. Prolly. “I'm where now?” ya ask.
“You're at the shop,” Rumia says.
And ya still don't get it, but then ya do, and—oh. Oh. Was she worryin' 'bout whether ya made it back, all this time?
Ya don't know 'bout Rumia bein' the best, but she's somewhere in the top ten, for sure. Forget that iffy marble simile ya cobbled together back there—it's an angel that's what she is.
It's a totally heartfelt moment, and then of course Kana breaks into it 'cause technically you were in the middle of fightin', right? Right. “Who are you?” she says, tryin' to recoup her dignity from her spot on the desk. And then she sorta manages it, 'cause her gaze goes narrow, even if she's still smilin' with it. “Only any old youkai,” she says—to answer her own question, ya guess.
Hey, now thatcha think about it, it's prolly hard pickin' up the news from a spot you're stuck hauntin'. Though ya woulda figured she woulda caught Rumia's existence by now, what with the frequent Rumia inshop poppin' and all.
Anyways, if bein' written off like a bad check is a substance all up in Rumia's craw, she doesn't show it. She doesn't even shift, as far as her bod, past what it takes to levitate from point A to B. “Qui respondit: Nequaquam:” she says, in Latin, 'cause Rumia, “sed sum princeps exercitus Domini, et nunc venio.”
If ya didn't know how much ya missed that unintelligibility, ya know now.
I.e., ya missed it a bunch.
Kana isn't so much up to hearin' these sorta things as you are, though. She looks up and across at Rumia, settlin' herself into a catlike I'm-here-'cause-I-choose-to-be—and then the space around her eyes crinkles in a way that's seriously ugly and that's how ya find out Kana knows Latin. “What a blasphemous thing to say,” she says, outta that gentle half-smile.
“Is that so?”
And then Rumia hits Kana with a laser.
It's the sorta thing you've gotta watch a second time to make sure it really happened, even though ya can't 'cause time doesn't work that way. One second it's all clear: Here's Rumia, swoopin' in ever so slowly, the cavalry come to save your bacon, here's Kana just about to rise up like some predatory animal tensin' itself up for the strike, and then—laser. Rumia doesn't even point, or chant, or do any of the sorta things you'd think'd be involved in the biz of makin' magical lasers lase.
She's just standin' there, in that floatin' T-shaped pose, and then it's just there, in front of 'er. And then it's from there to there.
There's a clatter of the last of Rinnosuke's desktop knickknacks makin' it to not-Rinnosuke's-desk. By the time you're focusin' on the right bit of the scene—by the time your peepers can focus at all, considerin' the flash of the magic Rumia pulled (and that was outta Rumia; you're still kinda processin' that part of the deal, but that can wait), whatcha see is Kana, still standin'-floatin' on the desk—
But barely. Now, it's not just that apron of hers that's floatin' away. A serious chunk of her hat—the right end of her dress, from shoulder-height down till the unformin' tapers off at the waist—
She winged 'er, is whatcha realize. Rumia—she got 'er (with lasers, which are a thing Rumia can get dudes by), but Kana dodged. Not totally, but enough outta the way for it to matter.
And that smile on Kana's mug? That veneer of grooviness she was wearin' even while she was tryin' to make you a coupla new orifices? She's dropped that, totally, the ugly 'round her eyes takin' up the rest of the work, now. Or ya guess it's the other way 'round, that that ugly was always there and you and Rumia knocked the wall down, little by little, till Rumia knocked it down all the way.
“You—” Kana snarls.
Rumia lases 'er again. And this time, you can catch the laser while it's happenin' instead of goin' by a blinksworth of a memory snapshot. You can do that 'cause Rumia sustains the whole deal, this time. It's blue, ya see. The kinda blue ya get when ya wake up too early, after the color's made it into the sky but before the sun's caught up to it. Blue to white to bright, but even though it's bright—even though it's makin' the afterimages in your eyes burn even without you havin' to shut 'em, first—it somehow makes the whole pad seem darker, and ya aren't sure it's just the contrast. There's the smell of something—cool, is the only way you can describe it, and a sound like—leaves? Something walkin' across grass—in the forest—no, it's not touchin' the grass, it's just—leavin' its mark, but that isn't even there, either—
And then it stops.
And when the dust and light and magic settle, and the silence goes on a little bit too long for a poltergeist to suddenly haul out the counterattack, ya stand up (one of the records siftin' offa ya as ya rise), and the pad is Kanaless.
Rinnosuke picks himself up, too, on the other side of the shop (and the desk). For a sec he just sorta stares a hundred yards in every direction, like his head hasn't gotten all caught up yet, but then he starts. “The record player!”
'The record player'? Seriously? There's faulty prioritizin', and then there's what Rinnosuke's doin', which is also that 'cept also he's takin' it to a whole 'nother level like some bespectacled bamboopunk elevator. “Forget the record player, Mac!” ya go. “Rumia just vaporized the dude! Rumia!”
Rinnosuke blinks stoppin' midstep, like he's just now catchin' up with the plot. He turns his head, just enough to acknowledge how much Rumia exists with an “Ah—yes—thank you,” before gettin' back to rushin' for his beloved groovemeister.
Which is like—what. 'Cause—hello? Miracle? And not just a regular run-of-the-mill miracle either, but, like, a supermiracle. Take the Bible (for example—not that you're a Christian or anything): That deal was fulla miracles—had miracles comin' out the wazoo, burnin' speakin' bushes and multiplyin' fish bits, and even that treated resurrection like it was a real high on the dynamometer.
Whichever. Or maybe neither. It's all Greek to you.
But seriously, Rumia is here. Alive. Which is a concept you're still tryin' to get across to Rinnosuke here: “Mac. It's Rumia—remember Rumia? Wanted to make chitlins outta my innards? Busts Latin with total disregard for comprehensibility? Laid her life down to take a blow from a mad witch? It's Rumia. It's Rumia.” Ya turn to the dude of the hour herself. “You're Rumia!”
“I'm Rumia,” Rumia confirms.
“See?” And back to Rinnosuke, who's about a coupla inches away from makin' out with his tuneturner. “How is this not a totally big deal?”
Rinnosuke returns your indignant confusion with just-confusion, confusedly. “She's a youkai.”
Ya look at Rumia.
“I'm a youkai,” Rumia confirms.
Yeah, okay, so...
Ya squint, lookin' between the hero and the not-hero. “I'm missin' something here, Mac,” you admit. “Maybe clue me in?”
Rinnosuke shoots ya The Look, though not so much The Look as The Look Lite, which is still all kindsa nostalgic. “I told you before, didn't I?” he says. “Rumia is a youkai. She wouldn't die, even if she were killed.” And then, while you're puttin' the usual numbers together in your own head, it looks like Rinnosuke's doin' the same thing. 'Cept different. And also quicker, if the way his eyes do some minor sproingin' is anything to indicate. “Don't tell me—you didn't think that Rumia had been permanently killed—”
“I thought she was dead,” ya say, more that a little sullen about it. To Rumia: “I thought you were dead.”
“I wasn't dead because I'm a youkai.”
“I thought you sacrificed yourself to help me escape, dude.”
“I did sacrifice myself to help you escape.”
“Yeah, but—” It's just—it's like someone pulled the rug out under ya, and then when ya managed to pick yourself up did it again. “I thought you were gone forever. Like, I'm talkin' permadeath, here. Most dudes out there not in Magical Japan Land—if they get vaporized, that's it. Game over. Finito.”
Rumia rumianates. “Ah,” she says.
“That doesn't sound convenient at all,” Rumia says. And then, she adds: “Humans are strange.”
And that—that completely Rumia Rumianess—is the final bash with the hammer to knock a hole in the levee and let everything flood in outta there like a Haarlem emergency. Ya don't even think before ya do it, pluckin' Rumia from her floatingness and pullin' 'er straight into your shoulder.
She's close enough she could prolly bite out your jugular without stretchin' her neck, but ya don't think she's gonna. Or maybe ya just wanna believe she's not gonna, not now. You dunno. You've gotta hug 'er anyways, 'cause—or ya know what? Screw the conjunctions. You've just gotta hug 'er.
“Rumia?” ya say.
“Hm?” Her voice, all up against your bones.
“I am totally stoked you're not dead.”
There's a pause, then Rumia's arm sorta slithers across over behind your back. Not far, 'cause she's only got the kiddy armlength, but far enough you can get what she's doin' back. Then she goes: “Et mundus transit, et concupiscentia ejus: qui autem facit voluntatem Dei manet in æternum.”
“I still don't know Latin, dude.”
Pause the Second. “It means I'm going to live forever.”
“Right on!” Something occurs to you. Or not so much “occurs,” 'cause ya already knew it, 'cause it happened right in front of you, but the info from there is applied to over here and you're like—oh. “Also, uh, since when can ya shoot lasers? Is that a new thing? 'Cause I don't remember you shootin' lasers before.”
“It's hard to shoot lasers,” Rumia says. “They're bright, and it makes me sleepy.” And she sorta rests her chin on your shoulder with that, like now that she's admitted it she's gotta follow through.
You are totally okay with that.
Something you're less okay with—it's got, like, some of all the cumber, what with the Rumia slung all across ya, but ya hobble-step over vaguely in Rinnosuke's direction. That dude is lookin' ya on with a gaze stuck somewhere between concern and apprehension, 'specially as ya get closer in on 'im and he realizes you've got purpose.
Lucky for him, your purpose is just gettin' close enough that you can whap 'im with the hand farthest away from the Rumia-huggin' that's goin' on right now. It's still a real awkward maneuver—you've gotta sorta job Rumia's weight all onto the other arm, and it feels weird 'cause actually Rumia is handlin' alotta the load herself, what with the levitation—but that's okay 'cause it's not like ya wanna actually cause the dude some serious bodily harm.
Ya just wanna whap 'im hard enough for 'im to know you're whappin' 'im, is all.
Which he does.
Now he's just gazin' atcha all puzzled. “What was that for?”
“You lemme think she was dead!” ya tell 'im, strongly. “Seriously, ya coulda told me it was a comic book death she was pullin' here, instead of the real thing. What the Helsinki, Mac!”
“I did tell you. Youkai are spiritual beings; normal weapons won't hurt them—don't you remember me telling you that?”
“In what crazy up-the-messed world do ya live in that giant death lasers are normal?”
Rinnosuke looks like he's gonna say something else. Then he doesn't say something else, and then he does say something else, 'cept it's just, “Oh.” And then: “Ah.”
“Yeah, 'oh, ah'! Like, maybe take my weltanschauung in account, Mac?”
For a sec the dude just stands there against his desk like even the concept of agreein' to your totally reasonable request is causin' 'im pain all up in his physicalities, but then he sighs. Mournfully, even. “I understand.”
“Sweet,” ya say, and then ya hit 'im again.
The betrayal on his face. “And what would that be for?” he asks.
“Remember when the poltergeist came outta the record player and started tossin', y'know, all the stuff?”
“I don't remember that because I wasn't there,” Rumia says over your shoulder.
“Considering it just happened, yes,” says Rinnosuke, ignorin' the dude. “Although I think she only directly manipulated the records—” He starts again. “The records!”
“Hey, yo, hold up a tick, Mac,” ya say before Rinnosuke can go rocketin' off. And 'cause the dude's practically hoppin' standin', ya speed it up and get to the point: “Remember also when the poltergeist came outta the record player and started tossin' all the stuff, and the first thing ya did was run straight into the middle of it?”
Rinnosuke looks atcha straight for the first time since Kana vacated the record player.
Ya make a half-shruggin' motion with the half of the pair of arms you're half-usin' to half-hug Rumia. That means, “Well?”
“I don't remember that because I wasn't there either,” Rumia says.
That “well” got misdirected. Oops. Anyways.
Rinnosuke looks down at the record player that he prolly woulda installed into his own chest cavity like some groove-tracin' cyborg implant by now if he had the anesthetic to pull it off, then back to you. He looks embarrassed, at least. “I may not have been thinking straight, in that moment,” he admits. “All I could think was that I couldn't allow that record player to come to any harm.”
Yeah, that was pretty clear.
So ya whap 'im again.
Rinnosuke brushes your handprint that isn't there off his sleeve. “What?” he says, actually soundin' like he doesn't think he still deserves it, which he totally does, for the record.
“Are ya stupid or just crazy-go-nuts?” ya snap. “Ya saw what that dude was pilotin', didntcha? Ya coulda had a free callosotomy!”
“With fries!” Ya make for a fourth whappin'.
This time, though, Rinnosuke dodges. Yo, is he allowed to do that? He's totally not allowed to do that! “As I said, I wasn't thinking straight, then. It was a perfectly reasonable action, given the circumstances.”
Now Rinnosuke's lookin' indignant, which is another thing he's not allowed to do. “Do you know how long I had that record player?” he asks, and this sounds like one of those rhetorical question things so ya wait for 'im to answer it, which he does. “I don't know myself. I've had that item for years and years—but I never actually expected I would put it to any use. This is what I do. Old items, aged items—I wait for them to finally slip into Gensokyo, and then I take them and put them away on my shelves, but all I know is what to call them, and what they're meant to do. I don't know how to use anything that I have. I don't know anything about electricity, or batteries, or 'juice.'”
Dude's on a roll. And your mouth is dry. Ya don't know why that is.
“But now—today—finally, at last, I got something to work. A record player! A device to play music! Today was—it was the first time I heard something so clear from the Outside World.”
“And then the poltergeist crashed the party.”
“Not even a minute was given to me. So can I be blamed for putting myself at risk to hear more of it?”
[ ] Uh, yeah? Between the dude's well-bein' and some passin' tunes, there's no contest. [ ] Nah. Dude's got a point, even if it's a total bummer of one. [ ]
[X] Eh, kinda. On the one hand, yeah, you can blame a dude for that. On the other, you can also blame a dude for tryin' ta punch a ghost, so it's not like you're occupyin' the moral high ground here or anything.
> “Qui respondit: Nequaquam:” she says, in Latin, 'cause Rumia, “sed sum princeps exercitus Domini, et nunc venio.” "Who responded: By no means: but I am the first among the army of the Lord, and now I come." Joshua 5:14.
Id est: imprimus, that Rumia's gonna lay the Biblical smack down on a dude; and secundus:
> Forget that iffy marble simile ya cobbled together back there—it's an angel that's what she is.
“Et mundus transit, et concupiscentia ejus: qui autem facit voluntatem Dei manet in æternum.”
"And the world passes on, and with it its longings: but he who does the will of God shall abide for ever." 1 John 2:17.
> Pause the Second. “It means I'm going to live forever.”
You know what? I like this vote better than my first one. Rescinding >>29278 in favor of-
[X] Eh, kinda. On the one hand, yeah, you can blame a dude for that. On the other, you can also blame a dude for tryin' ta punch a ghost, so it's not like you're occupyin' the moral high ground here or anything.
[x] Eh, kinda. On the one hand, yeah, you can blame a dude for that. On the other, you can also blame a dude for tryin' ta punch a ghost, so it's not like you're occupyin' the moral high ground here or anything.
[X] Eh, kinda. On the one hand, yeah, you can blame a dude for that. On the other, you can also blame a dude for tryin' ta punch a ghost, so it's not like you're occupyin' the moral high ground here or anything.
[X] Eh, kinda. On the one hand, yeah, you can blame a dude for that. On the other, you can also blame a dude for tryin' ta punch a ghost, so it's not like you're occupyin' the moral high ground here or anything.
>She wouldn't die, even if she were killed. dohohoho
[X] Eh, kinda. On the one hand, yeah, you can blame a dude for that. On the other, you can also blame a dude for tryin' ta punch a ghost, so it's not like you're occupyin' the moral high ground here or anything.
[X] Eh, kinda. On the one hand, yeah, you can blame a dude for that. On the other, you can also blame a dude for tryin' ta punch a ghost, so it's not like you're occupyin' the moral high ground here or anything.
I mean like, I wouldn't be opposed to Rumia route. Just sayin.
[X] Eh, kinda. On the one hand, yeah, you can blame a dude for that. On the other, you can also blame a dude for tryin' ta punch a ghost, so it's not like you're occupyin' the moral high ground here or anything.
Do you not see the dynamic here?
The Cool Mom, the Stuffy Dad, the Magical Hero Daughter (habit of human consumption aside)?
We go Rinnosuke route...
... and RAISE Rumia.
Well, really, sorta' just let her hang when she wants or something.
[X] Eh, kinda. On the one hand, yeah, you can blame a dude for that. On the other, you can also blame a dude for tryin' ta punch a ghost, so it's not like you're occupyin' the moral high ground here or anything.
[X] Eh, kinda. On the one hand, yeah, you can blame a dude for that. On the other, you can also blame a dude for tryin' ta punch a ghost, so it's not like you're occupyin' the moral high ground here or anything.
[X] Eh, kinda. On the one hand, yeah, you can blame a dude for that. On the other, you can also blame a dude for tryin' to punch a ghost, so it's not like you're occupyin' the moral high ground here or anything.
Yes, he totally can.
Is whatcha wanna say, anyways, but ya bite it back before it can escape. 'Cause yeah, he totally can; he definitely totally can, but it's not like you can set 'im straight when you're kinda lackin' the moral high ground here. Maybe he did the dumb thing and pitched himself headfirst into the middle of the hurricane, but you were right behind 'im, is the thing. So, seein' as ya followed in his footsteps, can ya really start lambastin' the dude here without lookin' like you're pullin' some kinda Janus act all of a sudden?
Yes, ya totally can. Which is why ya whap 'im again, 'cept this time harder 'cause he grand effin' deserves it.
Rinnosuke does a cry of surprise, which ya dunno why he does. You've been whappin' 'im all this time; “surprised” is like the opposite of what he oughta be.
Maybe he thought that since ya missed the last time he was safe forever. Yeah, that's totally not how it works. “Ya numbskull,” ya belt at 'im, and this is you bein' kind, for serious. “Ya zip-thinkin' cranial vacancy. I don't care if it's Norfolk Rhapsody No. 3 you were jettin' after. Ya don't stick your head in a woodchipper for a set of tunes!”
“I think I should be the one to make that decision,” Rinnosuke retorts.
“Not when you're non compos mentis, ya shouldn't!”
“'Non compos mentis'—”
“You said you didn't know Latin,” Rumia says down your spine.
“It's not Latin, it's legal,” ya say to 'er. And to Rinnosuke: “It means you're bonkers up the wazoo.”
Rinnosuke looks sorta taken aback, like he didn't 'spect to get called insane after actin' totally insane. Aback and sour. And then he's all, “I wouldn't have been seriously hurt, in any case. You remember what I mentioned about the differences between youkai and human beings, don't you?”
“What, all that spiritual stuff?”
“Yes, 'all that spiritual stuff.' Without a spiritual aspect to the noise spirit's attacks, I was completely safe. Or at least safer than you were. One of the advantages to being part youkai.”
“Yeah? And what's the spiritual worth of a poltergeist pullin' a Harold Sakata over your Adam's apple?”
Rinnosuke blinks. “I understood none of that,” he says. “Who's Adam?”
“He was the first human,” says Rumia. “He begot Seth.”
“Who's Seth?” says Rinnosuke. “No, first—who's Harold Sakata?”
“Adam was the dude who couldn't keep his gob shut when it counted,” ya cut in, bringin' it all back to focus. “So, y'know. Pertinent.”
There's a sec where ya sorta just let that suffuse all up in this biz.
Then Rinnosuke goes, “Are you speaking at me or at Rumia?”
Ya strongly consider whappin' the dude again, 'cept actually your arm's tired. “I'm speakin' 'bout you, ya dippin' stick. Rumia unloaded the play of the game. She's the dude of the day—Rumia, you're the dude of the day, by the way—”
“I am of all days,” says Rumia.
“Yeah, whatever, but you—” and ya point your chin at Rinnosuke, “you were basically itchin' to play martyr for one terribad tune on a slice of plastic, and that's just like—seriously? Seriously?”
The sour on Rinnosuke's face goes up from citrus to cream of tartar. He folds his arms, lookin' atcha down like he's the one who oughta have ish in this deal. “As I already told you, I'm a youkai. There isn't much a noise spirit could have done that would have left me injured for long, if even at all. If anything, I should be the one annoyed.”
“What? 'Cause I didn't catch your favorite record when it was doin' the fly-around?”
“Because you put yourself in danger, as well,” Rinnosuke points out. “You followed right behind me, after all. If what I did was foolish, what you did was exceptionally so.”
Did he just say that?
Did he just seriously say that?
Maybe ya just got hit with some sorta auditory hallucination. Like, maybe this is a sudden case of schizophrenia you're dealin' with right now. 'Cept no, ya know that's not it; Rinnosuke thought those words, and then he opened his mouth and his tongue made movements and he said those words, and the words traveled from Rinnosuke's mug to your ears in the form of vibratin' waves through the air, and then your ears caught those waves and the psychoacoustics went down and ya got those words understood, and those were the words that he actually seriously said, for reals.
Full disclosure: You've been feelin' kinda irate up to this point, what with Rinnosuke's serious misprioritizin' and his unwillingness to cop to it. But now?
Ya kinda see red. Or at least coquelicot. Something 'round that, anyways.
Something low-frequency enough that pairs real good with the sound of something inside of you goin' snap.
“Ya dunce,” ya feel your mouth sayin'. “Ya crapshot. Ya floppin' tove. Ya flapjaw vacuum.” And as you're sayin' this, all these words that're nearly comin' offa your tongue on their own, you're advancin' on 'im, too, closer, even though you were close already, Rumia still perched lookin' backwards over your shoulder, Rinnosuke doin' his best to keep the space from you to him constant through the careful application of backin' up—
“Ya greased ouroboros,” you're snarlin'. “Whaddya think I ran into a recordstorm for, huh, Mac? Whaddya think I was thinkin' before I decided to stick my head into that secondhand multiball guillotine, huh?” Rinnosuke's not answerin' any of these questions, which is real bad for him 'cause none of these questions are rhetorical and he's runnin' outta back-up space.
Ya take the opportunity to stick your uncarryin' hand in his astonished mug, pointin' into it like the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come.
“I ran after you, ya towerin' nosebridge-rest! I ran after you! Is it seriously so crazy inconceivable that some dude, i.e. me, might be willin' to follow ya into a whirlin' mess of tunes? Which part of 'I appreciate ya' do ya not understand?”
And Rinnosuke, up against the wall—
He quits with the backtalk. Or even any talk at all. He just looks atcha—a little past ya—out to the other end of your eyes—his lips parted frozen just a slip enough that you can catch a sliver of teeth. He's not movin'. He's not blinkin'. You're not sure he's actually breathin'.
“You didn't need to do anything,” he says, finally, with a voice like an unoiled door. “I would have been fine.”
And that's it. That's the last of what you can stand and ya can't stand any more. Ya whip your hand out—your empty hand, your un-Rumiaed hand—and ya put it around Rinnosuke's neck.
No, that's not right. Ya put it around Rinnosuke's neck—behind it, first, then back atcha from the other side—and then usin' the arm you've got connected to the wrist end of it, ya pull Rinnosuke atcha, neck and all.
He's tall, and maybe prolly more solid on his feet from it, but with the element of surprise it doesn't take a whole lotta tuggin' to tip him forwards hunchin' stumblin' with a cry of surprise into ya.
Now you've got a dude for the other shoulder, too.
You've got 'em linked to you like one of those elementary school paper chains ya made for celebrations, You facin' one way while each of 'em face the other, over your shoulder to look at whatcha can't. And you're glad you've got 'em where you've got 'em; you're glad you've got 'em on either side and not face-to-face, 'cause if ya had 'em face-to-face, they might see either of 'em or even both the look your ugly mug's producin' at the mo.
[♡] I'm okay with the events that are unfolding currently.
> Or at least coquelicot. Wait, what's Flandre got to do with anything?
> greased ouroboros > secondhand multiball guillotine Stop. Stop. I'm dyin' here, Mac. (Or would Nic be the right form of address there? ... Eh, generally your NIC will have a MAC address anyway so I guess it works as is.)
>>29344 > Also does Christie actually understand half the things she says? Every goddamned word. Even the ones that aren't.
That's always true, obvs. Or at least more true than not true. Stuff happens a lot. Even if ya decided to make like a Tussaud and keep it up for a minute straight (which you're not gonna do, seein' as you're in the middle of something here), stuff'd still be happenin'. Just, not to you. Or at least not from ya. Or maybe from ya anyways 'cause of you doin' nothing. Point is—even when stuff's not happenin', stuff happens.
But there's “stuff,” and then there's “stuff,” and there's “happenin'” and then there's “happenin'.” And while stuff's always happenin', stuff isn't always happenin'. 'Cept, stuff did happen yesterday, when ya decided (for some reason) thatcha had to rectify a shopkeepless shoulder. There was stuff, and it happened.
'Cept, thing is, you don't know what that stuff was.
Or maybe you oughta be sayin' ya don't know what that stuff is, 'cause whatever it is, it's still happenin', or at least are the aftereffects. 'Cause this?
This is the awkwardest breakfast in the world.
Ya keep your head down, givin' your rice the attention it so rightfully deserves. It doesn't really help. You can still feel Rinnosuke drillin' eyebeamholes in the top of your skull.
It's good rice, though. It's got green stuff in it. And this soup is good, too. And this fish, even though separatin' the fish parts ya wanna eat from the fish parts ya don't wanna eat is a serious pain. You should tell 'im that. Not the sufferin' of separatin' fish parts, but how ya like the fish. And also the fish parts.
Some of the fish parts, anyways. Ya raise your head—
And just barely ya catch the sight of Rinnosuke lowerin' his head so fast he nearly feeds his breakfast to the wrong part of his face. Okay. That's fine. No, seriously, that's totally fine. Rinnosuke prolly doesn't wanna talk right now, which is a position you can totally get behind. Like, not permanently, but sometimes a dude just doesn't wanna shoot the breeze, and what kinda dude wouldja be if ya couldn't respect another dude's talkin'-not-wantin'-to-ness? So yeah, totally fine.
Though maybe if ya watch 'im he'll look up again, and then you'll know it's okay to talk.
Any second now.
Any second now.
Sittin' at the third side of the breakfast table like a happy medium, Rumia glances between at you and Rinnosuke in that order and back again. You can see her do a mental shrug outta the off-center of your vision, then pick up her servin' of fish by the tail and drop it into her toothy maw, fish parts and other fish parts at all. It's kinda weirdly comfortin', understandin' that there's someone here able to withstand the awkwardest of awkwardness through sheer blithe well-okay-then.
Meanwhile, here ya are, and here's Rinnosuke's, and yo—did Rinnosuke look like he was gonna lift his mug just there? Ya get back to lookin' at your rice, real quick. It's not that you're avoidin' Rinnosuke here, of course. Like, you're both sittin' all supervoluntarily at the same table here. That's the opposite of “avoidin'.”
It's just—this is some real interestin' rice, is all. It's got green stuff in it. And Rinnosuke maybe didn't wanna talk so you're just bein' considerate. You're the model of good-guestiness here, and you're determined to keep that model all up in the air as long as you can—
There's a knock at the door.
Oh, man, talk about the cavalry.
[ ] Rinnosuke. Rinnosuke should answer the door. You're busy lookin' at this green stuff. It's definitely green, Mac. [ ] You're so good-guesty that you're gonna answer the door for Rinnosuke—too late, Mac, already up— [ ] Now if ya just sit totally still and don't move a mouse this whole deal oughta resolve itself. [ ]
[X] Now if ya just sit totally still and don't move a mouse this whole deal oughta resolve itself.
'Cause, thing is, it's not like you're avoidin' Rinnosuke—ya clarified that already, didntcha? Even if just to yourself. You're not avoidin' Rinnosuke. It's just—
And maybe it's just 'cause you're mad uncomfy and you're runnin' outta green stuff to investigate, but—wouldn't it be cool if other stuff happened, now? 'Cause, not thatcha mind this stuff happenin' that's happenin', but—like, if something else happened, and that other stuff happenin' sorta just superseded the stuff that's happenin' right now, that would be aces. And now there's been a knock at the door, and if that's not a sign of other stuff happenin', you dunno what it is.
You can see it already in your mind's eye and all. A knock at the door means someone's gotta answer it. And who does all the door-answerin' in this pad? Rinnosuke, generally. Which means he's gotta get up and answer the door. And then whoever's at the door is just generally gonna be a thing, 'cause dudes are things, generally, and then—
And then stuff'll happen, and ya don't know what stuff'll happen, 'zactly, but it's gonna be...stuff.
And that's cool.
That's cool that stuff'll happen. You'd really like if it happened, soon.
That first knock at the door reknocks, 'cept three times at much. A tripet tuplet of the original. You've gotta hand it to the artist, branchin' out like this.
Across the table, ya see Rinnosuke's schnozz sorta flare as he does an almost sorta imperceptible sigh. And then he shifts all up into gettin' up—
And then his eyes flicker over 'cross the table back, and your lookin' and his lookin' meet, and whoops, that was a mistake, 'cause Rinnosuke just stops, mid-upgettin'.
And stays there.
Starin' at him.
Starin' at you.
Starin' at him—
The mysterious doorknocker knocks their three again, 'cept harder this time. Noticeably harder. Harder enough that it's enough to break ya outta your freeze and get the coupla ya liftin' your mugs in that direction.
“Um,” says Rinnosuke, swivelin' his head back to you. For a sec you're thinkin' he's gonna start the whole starin' biz again—but then he dips his head and gets back to gettin' up, like he was supposta from the start. Course, you look away, too, 'cause it's easy for you, and you've gotta help Rinnosuke out, right?
The point is, ya look away. So you're the dude that notices first. “Yo,” ya say, “Where's Rumia?”
Rinnosuke goes friz for the second time in a minute flat.
Somewhere out in front, where stuff is happenin', there's the click of a knob settin' free its latch and the pitchin' whine of some hinges that want some serious oilin'.
You and Rinnosuke share stare number three.
And then, like a synchronized swim team, 'cept minus the swimmin' and the water and the clothes and the trainin', and also there's only two of you, ya both shoot outta your seats like whoa and make for a mad scramble frontdoorwards.
Just in time, too, maybe, 'cause there's Rumia, and there's whasserface—Keine, her name's “Keine,” right—and while Rumia doesn't look much more than totally cheery and alright with Keine and her bein'-here-ness that's been revealed just now, Keine's not so pumped at the opposite revelation of the actually-been-here-for-a-while-ness that Rumia is rockin' super-obvious.
In fact she looks significantly less than pumped.
In fact she's sorta standin' in this stance, one foot back a bit, shoulders tense, hands raised loose, and if ya didn't know that stance, it'd hafta be 'cause ya haven't been playin' attention, like, all your life. That stance is the kinda stance that expresses an assumption that not only is stuff gonna happen, but stuff is also gonna go down, and the stuff that is due for a downgoin' might maybe include, for example, a drastic increase in localized levels of mad buttwhoopin'.
So that's not cool. Not thatcha have anything against Keine or anything, but as far as you're concerned, ya can't let Keine even attempt to whoop Rumia. Like, even her appendix, or her palmaris longus, let alone her butt.
If they take away your appendix, that's not so much a big deal, minus the appendixlessness. Like, you can live an appendixless life, no sweat. Livin' without a butt? That's more serious, for serious. There's a whole lotta problems that come outta buttlessness. First of all, whaddya gonna sit on?
Hey, is this why so many dudes in Japan sit with their legs bent under 'em? Oh, man, this could explain so much. Also, ya don't actually know if Rumia already doesn't not've a palmaris longus. Or an appendix, which is possible.
Luckily, nobody in this pad is gonna get their seat unseated, maybe, 'cause as soon as you and Rinnosuke round yourselves into visual range Keine's shoulders relax and all other signs of imminent buttwhoopin' just sorta cancel, which is cool. “Rinnosuke,” she says, with relief that is something like ultra-obvious. “You are here—I thought something had happened.”
At the side of your side, Rinnosuke does a face with his face. “What could have happened to me?” he says.
Keine looks at Rinnosuke. Her eyes flick over at Rumia, who's still standin' in front of the Keine-in-the-doorway, fingers twined up behind her back, shiftin' between the heels and pads of her little black ya-wouldn't-'spect-a-carnivorous-youkai-to-be-rockin'-'em shoes. Ya can't see her face, but ya bet she's smilin' like the position she's in at the mo is alright and not totally, like, not.
“I thought you might have forgotten to eat,” Keine says, a tiny pause slippin' in after each word like she's writin' poetry à la Tristan Tzara and havin' a seriously improbable time of it. And then, recoupin' her breath, “I brought you lunch.”
She extends an elegantly long-fingered hand—the sorta hand people talk about when they're talkin' about “piano player hands,” even though that's totally the wrong dimension for it—and yo, whaddya know? That definitely is some food. Or at least it's something sorta box-shaped wrapped in a patch of patterned cloth. Technically, it could be alotta things. It could be a box of jumpin' spiders. You've got to ask yourself—is this Keine dude the sorta dude who'd bring a box sayin' it's lunch and then bam! Actually, it's jumpin' spiders?
It's prolly not jumpin' spiders.
That said, there's a whole 'nother buncha awkward arisin' from the clothed consumables Keine's conveyin' carefully. Check it—“it” bein' Rinnosuke glancin' at the clock in the window (which still isn't set, so ya don't know why he's actually doin' that) and then back to the dude in the doorway. “You're early for lunch,” he remarks gently, and also correctly, considerin' that literally it was breakfast you were havin' the grand chowdown over right before someone came ringin' the bell metaphorical.
Your rice is gettin' cold. Rumia's rice is gettin' cold. Ya don't know if Rinnosuke finished his rice, so ya can't say anything about it, sorta, but if he didn't finish his rice, it's also gettin' cold.
Keine, maybe sensin' the chill she's lettin' into the room and also the grain, adds a self-conscious sorta quirk to her smile. “I thought you might be able to save it for later,” she admits. And then, when nobody has anything to say to that, she tilts her head, glancin' a clear line from her footspace in.
Rinnosuke answers the silent question just as vaguely, steppin' back to clear the runway. And Keine takes a step forwards, and—
Doesn't, actually, 'cause Rumia's still there, standin' like the cheeriest little blockade right in Keine's way, still rockin' her heels, and all the subtleties that just passed in that wordless convo did their passin' all the way over her head.
Which makes sense.
'Cause she's short.
Keine studies Rumia like a dude who's just turned their test sheet over only to realize there's a backside to it. Then her gaze goes off 'er, and back to Rinnosuke again. “Rinnosuke?”
“Why is Rumia here?”
“Ah,” says Rinnosuke, and then opens his mouth and then doesn't say anything else.
Which ya fig as your cue to jump in. “Eatin' breakfast,” ya say.
Keine's pupils nudge youwise for a tick, but other than, ya barely get the time of day. Which. Rude. 'Specially 'cause neither of you actually know the time of day and if she could drop that off that'd be totally sweet, thanks. “Why is Rumia eating breakfast at your shop?” she asks Rinnosuke, instead.
“At some point my shop became a boarding house,” Rinnosuke responds wryly. “It seems even a single lodger sets a precedent.”
Keine considers this. “If you'd like, I could remove her?” she says, with the question mark and everything.
Rinnosuke opens his mouth again.
“Mulieres populi mei ejecistis de domo deliciarum suarum; a parvulis earum tulistis laudem meam in perpetuum.”
And then he closes his mouth, 'cause yo, here's Rumia with the mad Latin! Bein' all around the Rumia as you've been, you're used to it. So is Rinnosuke. Keine? Not so much. She's lookin' at Rumia real unsteady, like she's isn't a hundred percent sure that the buncha dead lang outta Rumia's maw isn't harbingin' some sorta special attack.
Then she looks at Rinnosuke again, with eyes that ask, “What is this, and what do I do with it.”
Rinnosuke just sighs—deep, too—and turns tail to head back to the breakfast table. Keine follows, after a sec, first inchin' real careful around Rumia—the little dude rotatin' to track 'er like she wants to make sure that headgear stays geosynchronous—and then makin' tracks for closer to Rinnosuke's backside, though she's still walkin' real crooked when she catches up to the dude—sorta sideways, all the better to keep one eye on Rinnosuke and one on Rumia simultaneous.
And as for the little dude herself—
“There's still food,” she says, and floats after the rest of the gang.
And if that's not a philosophy ya can't get behind, ya don't know what is.
Keine's whole bein'-there-ness at the table is a real mixed blessin'. Rinnosuke seems a skosh less uncomfy, now that he's got someone there he seems to know how to deal with, is one thing.
Other thing is, though, that Keine's sittin' at the fourth side of the table with nothin' in front of 'er while everyone's chowin' down. Well, she has got that box of lunch in front of 'er. It's even food, like everyone else's got. But seein' as she's marked it for Rinnosuke-related use primarily, she's not unwrappin' it, much less sneakin' a munch.
Also, like ya said, everyone's chowin' down, which means also that everyone's got their gawps too full to pull some proper convo. Rumia's just devourin' her bowlful, you're chopstickin' between fish and rice nearly as quick, and even Rinnosuke looks focused on gettin' his devourables to his mouth without too much delay. So Keine's just sittin' there.
At some point, though, all the mouth sounds that aren't talkin' must be a real burden on the dude, 'cause she hauls the first words out herself. Like, if she can't break fast, might as well break silence. Or something. “So, then, Rumia really is living here with you?” she says. “Like the article said.”
“'Living' is a relative term,” Rinnosuke says, at the exact same time you say, “It's more like sustained houseguestiness.” Ya hear the end of Rinnosuke's sentence just sorta snap off at the end, like a piano piece with the last finger let up too soon. Ya hear it, and also ya hear yourself doin' the exact same thing. Ya look at Rinnosuke.
Rinnosuke, lookin' at you, stops lookin' at you.
Ya stop lookin' at Rinnosuke. “She comes and goes,” ya say, at the exact same time Rinnosuke says, “She usually comes in through the window,” and there's that cutoff again. This time, when ya look at Rinnosuke, he's not lookin' atcha.
Actually, Rinnosuke's lookin' at his fish like he can maybe heat it back up with laservision.
Ya stop lookin' at Rinnosuke, and if he stops lookin' at his fish and starts lookin' at you, ya don't see it.
Keine, meanwhile, looks at the both of you.
“Like the wind,” ya say to Keine, not lookin' at Rinnosuke.
Keine says nothing.
“That...wouldn't necessarily be an inaccurate comparison,” says Rinnosuke.
Keine says nada.
“'Cause she comes in through the window,” ya say.
Keine says zip.
Or actually, Keine says, “Is everything alright?”
“Everything is fine,” Rinnosuke says.
“Kinda not?” ya say.
Ya look at Rinnosuke lookin' at you. Ya look away from Rinnosuke lookin' away from you.
“Well, there have been some difficulties.”
“It's all gravy, though.”
Keine looks at the two of you like a tired mom facin' down a coupla paint-splattered kids who won't stop insistin' that they weren't the ones who made that mess, honest. “Has something happened?” she says.
“Nothing so much,” Rinnosuke says.
“Something's always happenin',” ya say.
“A few minor events,” Rinnosuke admits.
“Nothing to get outta bed about,” ya caution.
“There was a poltergeist. She had to get blasted,” says Rumia. And in the ensuin' silence, the dude pushes her empty, riceless bowl forwards, like to say she's done.
You can see the sentence permeating Keine's Keineness. Ya know the exact time it hits the center of it, too, 'cause her head twists Rinnosukewards with peepers wide. “A poltergeist?” she goes. “Are you okay? Were you hurt?”
“It's fine. I wasn't injured,” says Rinnosuke, real fast, like maybe if he puts this part on fast-forwards it'll be over sooner. Dude, this isn't a videotape. You don't even know videotapes. “I'm part youkai, after all, so there wasn't much the poltergeist could do to affect me in the first place.”
“Oh,” says Keine, relaxin'.
“'Cept decapitate 'im,” ya point out.
“We almost got decapitated by a mad poltergeist,” ya say, in case Keine doesn't get it. “We're almost-decapitation buddies now.”
“We are not.”
“What?” presses Keine.
“Well, we both almost got decapitated, didn't we? I mean, that poltergeist dude was flingin' disci sharp end forwards, wasn't she? For serious, Mac.”
“'Sharp end forwards'?”
“The noise spirit—”
“The noise spirit couldn't attack either of us as long as we stayed out of its range,” Rinnosuke says. “As long as we stayed out of its range, there was nothing to worry about.”
Keine considers this sittin' on the edge of her seat, which is a neat trick, 'cause, y'know, no chairs. Her head turns atcha stiff, like the joint of a toy that's been too wound-up. “You were there,” she says.
“Oh, yeah, totally.” Ya nod.
“Please tell me,” Keine says, with a voice of someone tryin' to keep it together, and maybe not keepin' it together so much, if “it” is the dude's voice. “Rinnosuke is telling the truth, isn't he?”
In the corner of your eye is Rinnosuke.
Ya don't know what that expression means.
[ ] The answer is “technically yes,” which is also the best kind of yes. [ ] Does omission count as lyin'? Just askin' for a friend, here. [ ]
>Mulieres populi mei ejecistis de domo deliciarum suarum; a parvulis earum tulistis laudem meam in perpetuum >The women of my people ye cast out from their pleasant houses; from their children have ye taken away my glory for ever
Well what the fuck does that mean.
[X] Does omission count as lyin'? Just askin' for a friend, here.
[x] The answer is “technically yes,” which is also the best kind of yes.
Something tells me that we'll zag with Rinnosuke's zig either way. Or maybe he'll make with the zag and we'll zig and then Keine'll zog just for extra zig-zag-itude. Meanwhile, Rumia will continue to make like a Rumia.
>>29401 Father of two from Sodom who kept some angels from getting 'known', had his wife turn to salt for rubbernecking when fire rained down, and got a little too freaky with his kin after some drinks.
>>29407 Biblical warning that some peoples were about to be forcefully acquainted with some lands where they weren't native and faiths might be questionable, which was kind of a nope for the Tetragrammaton man. Basically, Rumia's saying Chris and Rinno are not to be deprived of her awesomeness.
I swear, I'm a staunch atheist and this story is turning me into an amateur scholar of all manner of Abrahamic hoo-hah.
[X] The answer is “technically yes,” which is also the best kind of yes. -[X] But he's leavin' out the most important part, which is Rumia bein' awesome.
Even so, you can feel something passin' out of it—and passin' into you, it almost feels like—up till the moment ya turn your head enough to cut off Rinnosuke's sightline completely. 'Cause you've gotta focus here, of course:
“Yeah, sure,” ya say, all very believey. “Rinnosuke's nailin' it.”
The mouth edge of Keine's mug twitches, real jerkily. She looks at Rinnosuke.
“'To nail,'” Rinnosuke supplies (totally unnecessarily, you've gotta add here). “The meaning is—something like 'to perform correctly'?” His voice pitches on that, like maybe he's not sure, and he glances your way.
So ya make with the confirmation: “What he said—dude's layin' down some A1 supertruth over here.”
Keine says nothing. Keine right up atcha again. Keine looks back at Rinnosuke.
“'A1'—'Of high quality,'” says Rinnosuke. “So you understand, everything turned out fine. I wasn't hurt. It was—only something that happened.”
It's a hobblin' finish, one Keine gets her pounce all up on upon like a cheetah bombin' the sickest roodebok in the herd. (Hackin'-up-a-lung “sick,” not awesome “sick,” obvs.) “'Only something that happens'?” she says in those tick marks again, which puts 'er at three for three for not understandin' understandable understandables. “To use 'only something that happens' to describe being attacked by a noise spirit—”
“Poltergeist,” ya point out.
“What else has been happening to you?” Keine asks, and yo, that's a difficult question to answer even when ya haven't been magickin' slime monsters and smugglin' horse legs and dodgin' poltergeists.
You've got the feelin', all of a sudden, that “magickin' slime monsters” and “smugglin' horse legs” and “dodgin' poltergeists” all fall under one big wrong-answers umbrella. Even if she does know 'bout the horse leg already.
“Nothing's happening,” Rinnosuke says. “You said it yourself, after all—I'm too removed from most people in Gensokyo.” There's a dip in the way he says that, something ya wanna pull a proper study over, but it's gone way too fast, with the dude speakin' right on: “Something like being attacked by a noise spirit—”
“Poltergeist,” ya point out.
“—is more an exception than anything else.”
And for a sec Keine looks like she's got a whole lotta material to let loose re: all that, but then she takes a deep breath and just sorta—slumps, in her no-seat. “Fine,” she says, in one of those ways that indicates real clear that nothing is fine at all, “So then—what happened?”
“What happened to the noise spirit?”
“Ah. Well...” Rinnosuke trails off, his gaze shiftin' over at Rumia, who's still real busy shovelin' rice into her big toothy gawp. Which is kinda impressive, you've gotta admit—that she's managed to pace herself enough for there to still be rice, is whatcha mean.
Or no, wait, actually that's a second bowl.
When'd Rumia get a second bowl?
“Well?” says Keine, followin' Rinnosuke's eyeways with her own. Which means she's gazin' at Rumia too, but she doesn't seem to be puttin' it together.
So it's your time to shine. “Tag in,” ya say.
Rinnosuke looks at your outstretched hand with all of the incomprehension. “What?”
“C'mon, Mac. Tag in.” And ya jerk your phalanges at 'im, stressin' the taggin'-in zone, till carefully, hesitantly, the dude just sorta reaches out himself and just dip-touches his fingers over yours.
Ya yank your hand back, and also the spotlight. “Okay, so,” ya say, “if you're all all up ons about catchin' up on what went down, you've come to the right place! And also the right dude, which is me. Dig it: Lasers!”
Keine stares at ya.
Rinnosuke takes his taggin' fingers and uses 'em to rub the space between his eyebrows.
Maybe she didn't get it. “Lasers!” ya 'splain again.
“The noise spirit had lasers?” says Keine.
“One, 'poltergeist,'” ya say, “And two, no way, dude. The poltergeist just tried to hit us with a buncha really sharp stuff, which, y'know, bad enough, right? But when I say 'lasers,' what I mean is the cavalry.” And ya let that sink in.
Keine's own brows sorta squinch. “Is this to do with the horse's leg again?”
Unsunk. “The cavalry's a metaphor,” ya clarify. “And also Rumia.”
The whole party sans the dude turns heads to check out said dude, who, takin' note of also-said checkin'-out, looks up from her ricechopstickin' and transmits a toothy (also, ricey) smile.
“Is that my rice?” Rinnosuke says.
“You weren't eating, and I was hungry,” says Rumia.
“You're saying that Rumia used lasers,” says Keine, ignorin' the rice ownership biz.
Ya thumbs-up. “Ya got it!”
Keine's eye waver between you and the dude you're talkin' about. She scooches backwards, just so much. “You don't seem to harbor any ill will toward the one who attacked you, however.”
“Huh? Naw, dude. I have all the grudges. I'm, like, the grudgiest.” Keine just looks seriously confused here, so ya barrel on: “But a whole buncha grudgy will was, like, flat zippo in the face of a poltergeist playin' razor disc hot potato with mind bullets. If it wasn't for Rumia showin' up all of a sudden, we coulda been cephalophores.”
“I mean, hypothetically.”
“Like, we coulda gotten Catholic really quick. And then canonized. You dunno!”
“No,” says Keine. “I mean—I don't know if I understand. Rumia—helped you?”
“'Helped'? Dude, if she hadn't swept in and double-blasted the poltergeist into sheer nonexistence with laser powers, it coulda been curtains!”
“Well, not 'sheer nonexistence,' exactly,” Rinnosuke cuts in. “It would take the use of unusual means to permanently destroy a noise spirit.”
“Yeah, unusual means,” ya say. “Like a laser.”
“Spiritually unusual. As it stands, Rumia probably drove the noise spirit away, but I don't believe she actually destroyed it.”
Wait, what? “But—Rumia! Laser.”
“Nevertheless, it's likely the noise spirit is still out there,” Rinnosuke says. “I should tell Reimu, the next time she comes by—it did mention it had haunted a shrine before—”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Ya put a hand up to totally stall any more of Rinnosuke's musin'. “You're sayin' the dude's still out there? All poltergeistin' up the pad and everything?”
“Well—not our pad, but—yes, it probably is still out there.”
“Which means it can get back. Haventcha ever watched a horror flick, Mac?”
There's a lingery pause all up in the tablespace before Rinnosuke realizes, like, oh, wait, you're actually lookin' for an answer here. “No?” he says.
“Well, lemme lay it out for ya—the dudes who survive a horror flick? They totally bite it in the sequel. Like, nine times outta ten, decidin' to costar in The Revenge of the Attack of the Music Box Ghost when ya barely survived The Attack of the Music Box Ghost in the first place is just straight up temptin' fate. It's like sayin' 'there's no way anything can go wrong'! Ya know what happens after ya say 'there's no way anything can go wrong,' Mac?”
“Something goes wrong?”
“Something goes totally wrong.”
Rinnosuke digests this—but it looks like it's a meal goin' down easy, if the mug of stone he's wearin' is anything to take it by.
“'Pad'?” says Keine.
“Hm?” says Rinnosuke.
“You said something about your 'pad'?” says Keine.
“Oh. Ah—'pad'—that would be something like 'location.' Or perhaps 'home'?”
“Nix the vocab lesson, Mac!” And ya tune up the dramatics, 'cause this is totally a sitch where doin' that has all the justification. “Like, am I the only one cognizin' the ish here? If the poltergeist is wanderin' free, what's gonna stop it from tryin' to shave our heads off again?”
“The noise spirit shouldn't be able to regain its full strength anytime soon. And before that...”
“I'll ask Reimu for assistance in that regard, when I speak with her,” Rinnosuke says. “She should know how to ward my shop against undesirables.”
“And you're sure there's not gonna be any poltergeists droppin' in to give us the musical chop till then.”
“Like, how sure, though? Seriously sure? Or are we talkin' 'bout just a middlin' kinda sure? 'Cause, like, seventy-five percent sure is still sure, but it's like—ya flip two coins, and if both of 'em are heads, ya lose. And lemme tell ya, Mac, that's a really easy way to lose—”
Ya stop talkin'.
Rinnosuke opens his mouth again, like he's gonna say something besides your name. And then he pauses, and his eyes sorta twitch up, just a bit, but just a bit enough that he's lookin' straight into yours, and ya think a minute ago, or however long it was ago when Rinnosuke was starin' straight atcha like this, and something was hangin' there in the air between the two of ya, something that meant something, only that was then and this is now and this is more so. Like, more than that, and ya still can't interpret.
Ya dunno what this look means.
You dunno what any of these looks mean.
“I'm,” says Rinnosuke, carefully. He pauses again, with a look like he's got a bone in his throat. Then he finishes: “All of the sure.”
And the world starts breathin' again. “What?” ya say.
“I'm—all of the sure,” Rinnosuke says, the words fallin' off his tongue clumsy, the wrong shape for his gab entire, and he's still lookin' atcha and you're still lookin' at him and whaddya supposta say? Or do?
What can ya do, besides believe 'im or not?
And if that's your choice, if it's comin' down to either trustin' Rinnosuke or slappin' down his say-so right in his face—then—yeah. Yeah. There's nothing you can do 'cept—
“Yeah, okay. Okay, Mac,” ya say, noddin', and this gaze like a telephone wire passin' between the two of you—ya break it.
Ya break it.
And ya pick up your chopsticks to break fast, too. Or, y'know, try. “Dude—where's my rice?”
“Rumia took it, while you were busy shouting.”
“What?” And when ya look, it's unmistakeable. Rumia's total bowlage has increased. “Dude!” you protest.
Rumia looks up from your rice with a simple smile. “You weren't eating,” she 'splains, like a mom havin' to retread the same admonishin' she hauled out last week, “and I was hungry.”
Yeah, ya kinda can't argue with that, maybe. At least you've still got your fish. “Nuts,” ya mutter, and dig in into that, instead. “Well, least maybe if the poltergeist does show up—”
“Yeah, but if it shows up, at least maybe Rumia can laserblast it again. That was awesome. Rumia's awesome. Rumia?”
“Mm-hmm,” Rumia agrees. “Non timebis eos, quia Dominus Deus tuus in medio tui est, Deus magnus et terribilis.”
The proclamation hangs over the breakfast table like a ghost strung up to a ceiling fan.
Well, like, if there were ceiling fans in Gensokyo.
There are ghosts, at least.
Keine takes the baton, seein' as no one else is touchin' it. “I'm not sure if I can understand how Rumia contributed, but—regardless—Rinnosuke—this is exactly the kind of situation I've been talking about.”
“Actually, Rumia brought up the poltergeists,” ya say, pointin' at Rumia.
Rumia waves with her chopsticks hand like she's gonna put an eye out.
“Not the poltergeist,” says Keine. “That is—I mean—not the poltergeist exactly. I keep telling Rinnosuke that instead of living in the Forest of Magic, surrounded by any number of dangerous youkai,” and she gestures at Rumia, too, though Rumia doesn't wave this time, “he should move to the human village, where it's safer.”
“And I keep telling you that I'm fine where I am,” Rinnosuke says. “There's nothing in the Forest of Magic that can hurt me that badly. After all, I'm a youkai myself.”
“It doesn't mean you're invincible.”
“I know I'm not invincible. I don't expect to be.”
Keine looks like she's gonna take the subject and run, but then she breathes deep, and whatever she was gonna say gets swallowed down like all the breakfast she isn't eatin'. You've got the feelin', all of a sudden, like you're watchin' this from a mostly-shut wardrobe in the corner of the room instead of sittin' at the table where you're at. “At least—if you set on staying in the forest, only stop by the human villager every now and then.”
“I do stop by.”
“You make the occasional shopping trip—that's not the same thing and you know it.” Another deep breath. Keine shuts her eyes and tilts her head back slightly, like she's recoupin' something.
And then she repeeps her peepers again.
“There's a festival in about a week's time,” she says. “I won't tell you that you have to be there. But—it would be nice to see you there. It would be nice to see my friend there.”
All quiet on the breakfast front. Rumia jostles her—your bowl. It clatters against the table, and in this thing hangin' over everybody it sounds like all the bells in that one nursery rhyme about churches and fruit, all at once.
And still, 'cept for Rumia herself, nobody moves.
“About a week's time?” finally, Rinnosuke says.
“You know the one, don't you?” says Keine.
Another holdup, shorter this time. “I can't make any promises,” says Rinnosuke. And then he takes his fingers off the keys again, just long enough for it to get dramatic, before sayin', “but I'll try.”
A smile sorta wrinkles its way across Keine's mouth. “That's all that I can ask for,” she says. She stands up, like now that she's got what she came for there's no reason she's gotta stay here any longer. Or maybe whatever's hangin' around—the ghost, the mood, the whole inch-painful convo—is chokin' 'er out and this is more survival than anything else. “I hope I'll see you.”
And she's off, or at least starts at it, but then Rinnosuke's says, “Ah, wait.”
Keine pauses. “Yes?”
That cloth-wrapped box Keine brought over—Rinnosuke nudges it with his dip-touchin' fingers. “You forgot this.”
“I didn't forget it,” Keine says, still wearin' that wan worm of a smile. “I told you, didn't I? I made it for you.”
“I see,” says Rinnosuke.
And it's one final smile and glance and look and turn and she's outta there, and it's back to you, Rumia, and Rinnosuke, 'cept now there's a lot less food on the table.
Or you'd guess, seein' as ya don't know what's in the box. Is it meat? Is it jumpin' spiders, which is technically also meat? You've been over this; ya don't know. It's a mystery.
Rinnosuke sighs. His eyes go over to you just long enough to catch ya catchin' it, and then they go away real quick.
And then he nudges that food box again—this time in Rumia's direction.
Rumia unpauses outta her after-eatin' daze to look at the box, and then the finger, and then the hand the fingers attached to, and then the dude that's attached to the hand. Something develops over her mug—a look like she just found Jesus in a slice of toast. Her eyebrows work.
“It's fine,” Rinnosuke says. “You're still hungry, aren't you?”
That look turns into something that's straight up glee, and Rumia unwraps the box with gusto. As far as lunchboxes go, this one's a real fancy one—no plastic clasps or superhero stickers here. Rumia gets the whole deal open faster than you can blink, and then she's back to usin' her chopsticks to convey the comestibles over to that which comests.
That's a crazy kinda generosity Rinnosuke's displayin', though ya shouldn't be surprised. Rinnosuke is an awesome dude—he took ya in, didn't he? Still, you've gotta ask: “You okay with that, Mac? Dude brought it over for consumin' by you.”
Rinnosuke sorta slumps a little. There was a rod in his spine, and now there's not. “It's fine,” he says. “I skip lunch, anyway.”
And the two of you watch Rumia eat and eat, and none of it is arachnids, not even a little.
After Keine leaves (and Rumia gets her binge on), ya totally 'spect that things are gonna go back the way they were ante-Keine-bein'-there-um. Long silences. Eyes lookin' everywhere but each other. The works.
But yo—Keine? Dude's a catalyst, apparently. 'Cause when she takes a hike, havin' disengorged the whole festival deal where it can get properly appreciated—
Things go back to normal, actually.
Or, y'know, as close as you can get to normal in a forest fulla dudes who'd drink your insides straight from the source if they could. But hey—it's a week and change after the morning Keine dropped in, and somehow you're still back to schmoozin' with Rinnosuke again, so you'll take whatcha get.
Okay, okay, so it's not exactly back-to-normal back-to-normal (second law of thermodynamics represent), seein' as Rinnosuke and you are definitely rememberin' to forget to remember to talk about that whole stuff ya had all over the place before Keine stopped by, up to and includin' the not-talkin' and not-glancin' and general not-havin'-a-good-time. Like, it's a tacit agreement you've got goin' on here, a sorta I-won't-mention-it-if-you-don't. But stuff is pre-stuff now, like it was before that poltergeist poltergeisted all up in your faces both, or at least it's resemblin' pre-stuff stuff close enough.
And that's pretty good.
It's not perfect, but it's fine.
And also fine.
“No,” Rinnosuke says.
'Cept for that. That's less fine. You react to this betrayal the only way a dude who's been shivved in the back by the closest of friends can: “Dude,” ya say.
“No,” Rinnosuke says again, like ya didn't hear 'im the first time, which ya totally did and in fact was whatcha duded to in the first place (keep up, Mac). “What made you think you were coming with me?”
“More like—what made ya think I wasn't comin' with ya, Mac? We were all here when Keine laid out the invite.”
“I was the only one Keine 'laid out' the invitation to,” Rinnosuke says. “At no point were you invited.”
“And that is totally a theory, but hear me out, Mac—what's more likely? That Keine decided to break out the ultra-rude and conspicuously not-invite me in front of my own face, or that she did invite me, only she was all up in with the implicity doin' it?”
Rinnosuke ponders your question.
For like a moment. “The first one.”
“Bzzt! Wrong. Also besides I spent all week matchin' up the duds I was gonna wear to the whole fête, so it's not like I can just not-go now, right?” And so sayin' so, ya take your outfit and maneuver it for optimal displayness, which is to say thatcha lean one of your shoulder blades and break out the finger guns dudewards.
Bang. Yeah, maybe aimin' for perfection is an ultimately asymptotic biz, but you're standin' close enough to it ya figure you can just declare nuts to Zeno and step over the finish line anyways.
Rinnosuke eyeballs your sweet deckees with some totally undeserved skepticism. “Those are the same clothes you always wear,” he says. “You only have one set of clothes.”
“Ya mean one set of awesome clothes.”
“I can tell you with all certainty that I don't mean that.” And Rinnosuke crosses his arms, lookin' all like a sturdy dude-tree and just as likely to get timbered. “In any case, you aren't going.”
[ ] Get all up with the protestation [ ] Get all down with the acquiescence [ ]
Is ignoring all that Rumia did to put you two together the best way to go about this? Letting Keine hang out alone with him is something you all find acceptable?
Rinnosuke is just scared -of many things- but he'd probably enjoy hangin out with Chris.
If we stay with Rumia she will probably say something like "despexistis omne consilium meum et increpationes meas neglexistis, ego quoque in interitu vestro ridebo et subsannabo cum vobis quod timebatis advenerit" and leave.
“Aw, man, for serious? Nuts.” And ya make a big show of slumpin', shoulders slopin' and chin dippin' at your sternum.
Rinnosuke looks sorta casually surprised for a tick, before that morphs off into something softer. “It isn't as if I'm against you coming with me,” he says. “I—”
He pauses there. It's one of those meaningful pauses. The ones with layers.
Like onions. Or stratigraphy.
Then he sighs real light and gets on with it. “It's just that I'm not expecting this will go very well.”
Ya do one of those comic caught-off-guard kinda blink-blinks. “What's up with the pessimism, Mac?” ya ask. “Ya pull a Nebuchadnezzar?”
“I don't know what that means,” Rinnosuke grumbles. “Anyway—it isn't you, exactly. It's Keine.”
“Maybe unpack that?”
Another sigh. This one's louder. “I expect I'll be having a serious conversation with Keine tonight. It's something that's long overdue. Nothing bad—” he says that quick, noticin' the look your face makes, “but it's something that's a bit serious, despite the festivities. I don't think you'd have a lot of fun, even if you did come with me.”
Yo, Mac, havin' fun's the secondary goal. Priority one's just the hangin' itself.
Ya don't say that, though. Something 'bout the real sober look Rinnosuke's wearin'. “Yeah, okay, fair enough, Mac,” ya go instead. “Yo, Rumia!”
Rumia floats herself out the next doorway way very unshabby. “Yes?”
“Yeah, the festivity's a no-go—dude's doin' it alone.”
“Oh,” says Rumia, somehow conveyin' disappointment despite the smile fixed like regular on her mug, and turns and floats out again.
“See, Mac?” ya say. “We were all beaucoup pumped to jet. Kinda wish you'd told us it was business and not pleasure.”
Rinnosuke does not see. He's still starin' over where Rumia isn't. “Was that a komon?”
“Was what a what now?”
“A komon. That—” Rerememberin' that you're from California (yo, Mac), Rinnosuke motions to himself from approximately his shoulders down, which unfortunately tells ya squat. The dude's got talents, but charades isn't one of—
Oh, wait. “The robey thingy?”
Dude makes a face. “Yes, the 'robey thingy,'” he says. “Where did Rumia get a komon?”
“I dunno. Where does a dude usually get a komon? The komon store?”
“There isn't such thing as a 'komon store.'”
“Well, maybe there should be, Mac. How good can ya bespeak?”
Rinnosuke looks almost like he's considerin' it, or almost looks like he's considerin' it, or looks like he's almost considerin' it, or something. Then he says: “No.”
“Yeah, prolly for the best,” you admit. “I. M. Singer's got ya beat.”
“Please stop using words and phrases I can't understand.”
“Hey, it's not my fault you're, like, literally a hundred plus years outta the loop.”
Rinnosuke closes his eyes and sighs, but he doesn't roll his eyes so ya guess you'll let 'im get away with it. “Please look after the house while I'm gone.”
“Ya got it, Mac.”
“And don't open the door for anybody.”
“Ya got it, Mac.”
The way he says your name makes the smile slip off your pan. You're talkin' PTFE here. “Hey, Mac, I gotcha the first time, dig?” Ya raise your right hand up like you're doin' the world's most stiltedest high five—y'know, for swearin'. “No frozen ponds, peroxide blondes, or stocks and bonds. Me and Rumia'll be bunkered down here like it's the end of the world and we're totally inexplicably okay with the raw deal.”
Rinnosuke's mouth tenses, but then he nods. That's you reachin' 'im. “Fine,” he says, and turns for the door—
And then he turns again, the model of a dude who's just realized he was high on the road to forgettin' something.
“In about two weeks, they'll be holding this festival again,” he says. “That is to say—it's the same festival. If you still want to go then, I can't see why you wouldn't be able to, I think.”
There's something wrong with his face. Dude's trying to beam your way conciliation and it's not workin', 'zactly, but the effort's enough that you've gotta forgive the fallin'-short-ness and give 'im an A-plus anyways. “Sweet,” ya say, and mean it. “Can't wait to see the Japanese version of kettle corn and cotton candy.”
“It's the best part of any fair, Mac—chowin' down on all the stuff that's bad for you.”
“There's more to most festivals than just food, you know.”
“But the food is, like, a humongo plus.” And ya hitch a thumb ceilingwards like to illustrate.
Even Rinnosuke's gotta nod to that. “I'll be leaving now,” he says.
And kinda wantin' to hold 'im here more but knowin' that's totally not cool, ya say, “See ya, Mac.”
And Rinnosuke's out the door, which closes with a click like something slippin' into finality, and ya stare at the smoothed-out wood of it, and Rumia floats back out again, once more decked in her regular Rumia duds, and she looks at you—smilin' her Rumia smile, natch—and ya look at her, and ya say:
“We're totally sneakin' after 'im.”
Rumia nods. “I'll be hungry, soon,” she says, and if that doesn't mean she's so down with the concept, you'll eat your kicks yourself.
Ya wait something like five to ten minutes before ya make to jet, though—so as not to have Rinnosuke catchin' ya steppin' on his heels, which is an error which would maybe totally kinda conflict with general precepts of sneakiness. By the time ya fig it's safe enough to step out, evening's gotten all up on the locale with an alarmin' swiftness. Or maybe it just looks that way—it prolly doesn't help that there's a whole forest in the way, plus the boughage it's rockin'. Point is—where ya are at the mo? Dark.
Not that that's gonna stop ya.
Course, you havin' waited a decent handbag of timepieces also means that Rinnosuke's long gone, but the way you're thinkin', it can't be hard to fig his destination—right? Ya mean—dude's goin' to a festival. Those're usually held someplace specific, and not everywhere simultaneous.
Which leaves ya with the whole forest problem—namely, gettin' from inside it to out of it even through all the super-encompassin' tulgeyness. You're not gonna lie—awesome as ya are, the sylve isn't your hang. You're more a downtown kind of dude.
Luckily, you've got a Rumia. “Alright, dude,” ya say. “Let's roll.”
Rumia nods, her head bobbin' on a body that's also bobbin', 'cause floatin'. “Where?” she says.
Something sorta inkles at your sinuses. A notion. “To the festival,” ya say. “Ya know which way it is, right?”
Rumia nods again, slowly this time, like a mathematician who's just seen all the equations click together before his eyes into something that lays super-bare the plumbin' of the universe.
“No,” she says.
You detect a problem, maybe.
“Wait,” ya say. “For serious?”
You detect a problem, definitely.
“I'm not gonna lie,” ya say. “I kinda assumed you'd know how to get to the festival. You not knowin' how to get to the festival kinda just throws a total kibosh in the works.”
Rumia tilts her head Rumiaesquely. “Why would I know how to get to the festival? Festivals are bright.”
“Yeah, but festivals are fulla munchables. Or at least that's the case with the festivals I know.”
A moment to consider, and then Rumia's like, “That's true.”
Which it is. “Seriously,” ya say. “Do you know what foods get deep fried?”
“Tempura,” says Rumia. “Tonkatsu.”
Hey, you know what those are! That'd be totally awesome if the point wasn't moot. “Bzzt! Trick question!” ya crow. “The answer is actually 'all foods.' All foods get deep fried.”
You have totally blown Rumia's mind just now. Like, it's been expanded all over the outside of Rinnosuke's front door like she's got a beef with indulgences ('beef,' get it?) and wants to discuss. Only, Rumia won't stop not translating Latin, so that's a diff.
“Okay, so this is some actual setbackiness, but it's all gravy. We've just gotta induce. Rumia!”
“If you were a festival, where wouldja be?”
Rumia does some serious-lookin' thinkage, tiltin' her head this way and that like her brain's a Faraday flashlight. Her eyes roll upwards in severe ponderance. Any harder than she's thinkin' now and that ribbon in her hair's gonna start smokin', maybe.
Then she stops with the maneuvers and her eyes refocus back on ya. “If I were a human festival,” she says, “I would be with humans.”
“And where else is there gonna be alotta humans than a place called the 'human village'?” you conclude, unable to keep how supremely pumped you are outta your voice. Ya proffer a closed fist, Rumiawards.
Rumia completes the fist bump.
See, with this team-up? The two of you are unstoppable. You dudes are the most awesome detectives in Los Ojos and Gensokyo, bar none. And that's two separate hemispheres, so it's almost like you dudes are the most awesome detectives in the world, also, even if it's not actually that.
“Alright, dude,” ya tell Rumia. “Let's roll for realsies.”
And ya do.
No response. Better try again.
Something up in the watchtower moves, which isn't a very specific description but a totally cromulent one considerin' the circumstances. It's dark—that's circumstance number one. Also, that watchtower is high up. Like, seriously high up. Whoever architected it didn't stop halfway.
So ya think the something up in the watchtower is a dude, but it's beaucoup unclear.
Still, whatever it is, it does move, and it's the sorta movin' that matches up to a dude lookin' over the side of a watchtower. “Hello?” wafts a vocalization down atcha.
“Yo!” ya say again.
“Hello?” says the voice, louder this time.
The two of you are pretty dead set on this ish. Clearly, you're the one who's gotta compromise here. “I'm lookin' for a dude!” ya shout up. “Have ya seen 'im?”
There's a weighty pause on the other end of the line.
“What?” shouts the voice.
“I said, 'I'm lookin' for a dude!'” ya shout again, 'cept, y'know, louder. Or you're tryin', anyways. “Have ya seen 'im?”
“Have I seen who[/i]?” the voice yells.
“A dude!” ya shout back. “His name's Rinnosuke!”
“What does he look like?”
What's he look like? “Dude looks like a mensch!”
“He looks like a what?”
“Dude looks like a mensch!”
“I don't know what that is!”
“He doesn't know what that is,” ya grumble, 'cause it's the sorta thing that wants stressin'. “Rumia, help me out here.”
“He wears glasses,” Rumia points out.
“He wears glasses,” you agree, and turn your head back up at the watchtower dude again. “Dude wears glasses!” ya shout.
“Dude wears glasses!”
“I can't see glasses from up here!” the dude shouts. “Try something else!”
“'Try something else,' they said,” ya say to Rumia, 'cause also stressworthy. You think so, anyways.
“He has clothes,” Rumia points out.
“He has clothes,” you agree. “Dude's got clothes!”
“What kind of clothes?”
And it occurs to you, all of a sudden, thatcha know nothing about Japanese clothing. Well, 'cept for komon. Ya know what komon are, now. “It's a sorta—it's a sorta robe! A robe, sorta! Like, a Japanese robe!”
Pause. This one's a lot longer. Okay, so maybe not a lot longer, but most definitely it's longerish.
And then the dude shouts down again.
“We're in Japan!”
“What?” ya shout.
“We're in Japan!”
Ya look at Rumia.
“Why's that important?” ya shout up.
“As a consequence of location, most robes here are Japanese no matter what!” the dude shouts back. “The only exception is if they're visiting, but this is a rarity due to Gensokyo's closed off nature!”
Yeah. Okay. Ya guess. “What kinda description'd be good, then?” ya ask.
“What kinda description'd be good?”
“Frankly, unless this person is notably unusual in appearance, I can't see myself being of very much help no matter what you say!” shouts the dude. “I can't really see anyone from all the way up here in the first place!”
“Then why'dja ask me what Rinnosuke looked like?” ya shout.
“Because if he had been notably unusual in appearance, I would have been able to tell you that I hadn't seen him!” the dude shouts.
“So there could be, like, a stream of dudes wanderin' past and ya wouldn't be able to tell any of 'em from Joe Cool?” ya shout.
“I don't know who Joe Cool is!” the dude shouts. “But yes!”
“Dude!” ya shout. “What kinda guard are ya?”
“I'm not a guard!” the dude shouts.
“What?” ya shout, even though you can hear what this dude's sayin' and don't actually need the repeat.
“I'm not a guard!” the dude shouts again.
“Then why're ya in the watchtower?” ya shout.
“This isn't a watchtower!” the dude shouts.
“So if you're not a guard and this isn't a watchtower,” ya shout, “Whaddya doin' up there?”
“I just like high places!”
“Cool!” ya shout. “But this is the human village, right?”
“Technically, no!” shouts the dude “But if you keep going down this road, you ought to read the village proper!”
“And the human village is where the festival is, right?”
“Whaddya mean, 'no'?” ya shout.
“There isn't a festival there!” shouts the dude.
“There isn't a festival there?” ya shout.
“There isn't a festival there!” shouts the dude.
This time, the pause's on your end. Which you'd appreciate a lot more if it wasn't happenin' to you, prolly.
“Then where's the festival, dude?” ya shout.
“The festival's at the shrine!”
“The Hakurei Shrine!”
And that's a familiar-soundin' locale.
“And if I wanted to get to the Hakurei Shrine, how would I pull that off?” ya shout.
“Can you fly?”
Rumia can, but ya feel like this is a sitch where you kinda hafta round down. “No!” ya shout.
“Oh!” shouts the dude. “You'll probably have to walk through the Forest of Magic, then!”
“It's on the other side!” the dude adds.
“It's on the other side,” ya mutter, 'cause, y'know—seriously? Like, for serious? Didja just take a long, foresty trek the wrong way completely.
The answer is 'yes.' Yes, ya did.
“Thanks!” ya shout up at the dude in the not-watchtower.
“Not a problem!”
And very far off, in an upwards direction, is a movement that fits with a dude decidin' to not look down over the side of what isn't a watchtower.
“That,” ya say to Rumia, and if it isn't a relief to get to lay off with the shouting anymore, ya dunno what is, “was a total time-waster.”
Rumia nods. “It was.”
Ya shift your eyes down the road as indicated from up high, like maybe if ya strain 'em hard enough you can zap reality into something palatabler. Like you can beam over the whole party, or something. Blink, and it was there all along.
It doesn't work, but ya didn't really 'spect it to.
“Ya good to maybe show me back to Rinnosuke's pad?”
And as Rumia floats off in the direction ya both came in, and nobody's lookin' straight atcha, ya huff a sigh grand
By the time ya get back to the shop, you're three-fourths the way to bummed out, even with the Christoferson-brand awesome you've got as the buffer. The whole trek through the tulge ya had to perform—twice, there and back again—prolly isn't helpin'. Or who're ya kiddin', actually. It's definitely not helpin'. Your dogs're barkin', your skin's gone sweat-clammy, and your ears ache from the chill even though the fastest speed ya went was a mosey. Ya barely pause to kick off your shoes and shut the door behind ya before followin' the still-hoverin' Rumia into the shop proper and pickin' a spot at the low table to fold up and conk out against and on, respectively. Like the philosopher Calvin said, some days even one's lucky rocket ship underpants don't help, and you don't even have those.
Ya let another sigh off, turnin' your head to mash your left cheekbone against the hard surface (and tryin' to heat up that side's ear with proximity). Seriously, though—considerin' Rumia's regular joie de vivre, you'd hafta haul out the searchlights to find another dude in the area more steeped in the whole kinda-not-bein'-okay-ness you've got goin' on at the mo. And maybe some bloodhounds. And one of those fancy flashlights that point out the stains ya really wish ya hadn't had pointed out to ya afterwards.
But hey—now ya know where the festival really is, right? Maybe you can catch a second wind and go for treks number three and four. You'll just sit here a mo first, just for a decent thing of breathcatchin'...
The sound of the front door openin' again goes through your ear. Not so much the ear you've got pressed between the table and your skull, though that one got some sound through it, too. Mostly the other one. The one pointin' straight up. And then the one pointed to the side, 'cause you've jerked your head outta horizontal and back into its upright position. Yo, didja doze off here?
“Rumia? That you?” ya call out into the air in front of you. “Man, sorry 'bout the hold-up. Ya wanna get ambulatory again?”
That's not a Rumia. That's not a Rumia at all.
Ya lift your head so fast your ears sting again. What's a dude gotta do to catch a break in this place?
And also—when'd Rinnosuke get so there? Seriously, he's basically loomin' over ya. All you can do is blink for a coupla increments, and then you're like, “Jeez—warn a dude before sneakin' up on 'em, yeah, Mac?”
Rinnosuke glowers darkly, which is kinda funny 'cause “glower” doesn't sound like the sorta thing a dude can do darkly, what with the “glow” sittin' all up in it up front, but yo—it manages, somehow. “I don't see how I could make it any more obvious,” he says, and—
And he doesn't sneer that, but he comes awful close.
Ya pull an encore with the blinkin', and then ya decide to bust apart his argument, 'cause that seems easier. “Arentcha supposta do that 'I just got home' proclamation when ya drop back in?”
Rinnosuke doesn't react well to the point. “I'd rather not have lessons in etiquette from you,” he says.
Wow. Touchy, Mac. Which is also what you're gonna say, but then you look at his mug.
There's something off about it.
It's not like he picked up any dramatic bleedin' wounds or anything, but—it's like he's got a bajillion more lines linin' it when ya look at 'im right now, which is a bajillion more than he had when he set off earlier. Although—it's not like you can see any of these lines here. The lines are metaphorical, is the thing. The lines are drawn in. Or maybe the lines are drawn inside. Or maybe maybe it's the totality of his mug that's drawn inwards. You dunno.
All ya know is that he doesn't look like the same Rinnosuke that he was a whole buncha hours ago.
Not that that 'scuses any level of douchebaggery, though. If gettin' splayed low down by the world was a free pass for jerky jerk jerkiness, no one'd ever get anything done. It'd be a planet fulla grumblin', mutterin', snappin' misanthropes. Whatcha oughta do is curb this unsociability straight, toot sweet, before it can fester into something worse!
That's whatcha ought to do.
“What's wrong, Mac?” ya ask, instead.
Rinnosuke's pinched liney 'spression clears up, but it's outta incomprehension more than anything else. It's his turn to do the blinkin'. Then his face settles into something more Rinnosuke. Or at least more neutral. “There's nothing wrong,” he says.
Well, if he doesn't wanna unload it, he's got the right.
[ ] This topic feels like a bomb. Maybe replace it? [ ] Press the whole ish like a big shiny button. [ ]
[X] This topic feels like a bomb. Maybe replace it? Rinnosuke knows about the perambulating. I don't know how, but he knows. He's developed a sixth sense about Chris' tendency to not just stay the lutefisk put, and Chris has played down to his expectations yet again. Plus, Keine probably told him that Chris is a liability and needs to be tossed as quickly as possible.
[X] This topic feels like a bomb. Maybe replace it?
“Well, c'mon, Mac,” ya say, pattin' the tabletop like you're tryin' to sound out a cantaloupe. “Get a load off before ya bust your ankles.”
Rinnosuke stands there for a sec longer, like he hasn't heard ya. And then, carefully, stiffly, he maneuvers to the tableplace across from you and settles himself at it. So he's sittin' now, but he still doesn't look any better.
He's not here, is the thing. He's somewhere else. Somewhere where he's still gotta look like that, whatever it is that he looks like.
You stare into him, and he stares past.
Ya don't like it at all.
“Mac,” ya say.
Rinnosuke's eyes come back to over here. There ya go. That's better, at least.
“Did I ever tell ya 'bout the time my dad tried makin' ramen for the whole fam?” ya ask. “Like, from scratch, not the dried stuff.”
“You've mentioned it before,” says Rinnosuke, like he wants to say anything else but that.
“Yeah, but did I ever, like, actually tell ya? Like, did I actually unload the whole tale into your eardrum, or did I just get partway?”
There's a long pause, like a neck gettin' strung out. Then: “Whatever kind of story it is, I don't think you ever completed it,” Rinnosuke says, and it sounds almost like an admission.
“Then I totally didn't tell ya. You'd know, if I'd toldja.” Ya lean forwards, crossin' the tablemiddle, sorta maybe also gettin' into Rinnosuke's grill a little. Not by much, though. “Okay,” ya say conspiratorially. “I'm gonna tell ya that story, Mac. But before I can tell ya that story, I'm gonna hafta tell ya this story.”
Ya let that hang there, in the space between ya, as short as it is. Rinnosuke's eyes are focused entirely—on your face, on the here and now. He doesn't say anything. You don't say anything. The world is holdin' its breath.
Ya lean back again.
“So my mom's Japanese,” ya say.
The sound Rinnosuke makes is both wordless and from the keest.
“See,” ya continue, like ya never heard 'im, “bein' Japanese and also from Japan, my mom ate a whole lotta Japanese food before she made it over to California. Like, uh, ramen. And tempura and tonkatsu, prolly.” Ya pause, lookin' at Rinnosuke to make sure he's keepin' up.
Ya can't actually tell. He's lookin' atcha, at least, but that could mean anywhere from anything to royal bupkis. It's a mystery.
“So anyways, Mom jetted over to California, 'cause reasons, and the moment she landed she took one look at the local cuisine and got Damascened, basically. And also metaphorically. And cibariously.”
“You mentioned this part, too,” Rinnosuke intones.
Ya sorta blink-blink. “I did? Wait, Mac, have I toldja this story? 'Cause if I've toldja this story—”
“You didn't tell me anything,” says Rinnosuke. “You went on a tangent about how Japan was...on the same continent as another place. I don't remember where.”
“Damascus, prolly. But that's just the metaphor. And ya know what's a metaphor?”
It takes a tick for Rinnosuke to fig ya for nonrhetoricalness? “What?”
And ya just about lay it on 'im, but then ya catch yourself. “Wait, that joke doesn't actually work in Japanese, 'cause it's a pun. Never mind. Where was I?”
Rinnosuke sits at the table like he's got the weight of everything from here to the Kármán line pressin' on his thoracic curve and he's tryin' to bear it with, like, all the grace. Ya can't imagine why.
“Right!” ya say. “Anyways, Mom landed in California, and got hit with an epiphany of deliciousness. Like, bowled over. And the epiphany went a little something like this.” Ya plant your hands on the table, for effect. “'I, a Japanese dude, have grown mostly eatin' only Japanese food. I coulda been eatin' all kindsa food, but I botched it, and this is the only life I've got. From now on, I'll eat every other kinda food there is!'”
And ya lean over.
And you're back in Rinnosuke's grill.
“'But not Japanese food.'”
And ya get outta that grill again. Short trips only. A grill is a terrible thing to infringe upon.
“My mom's a pretty cool dude,” ya say.
Rinnosuke seems beaucoup less impressed. More confused, actually. “Why not Japanese food?”
“I toldja, Mac—'cause she'd been already eatin' Japanese food, all her life. So now that she had the total opp to scoop some sweet variety, and also other flavors of variety, she couldn't eat any more Japanese food, right? Every not-not-Japanese meal woulda just been furtherin' the gap between 'have-eaten foods' and 'coulda-eaten foods.'” And spelled out like that, there's no way Rinnosuke can't understand.
At least, ya think there's no way Rinnosuke can't understand.
He's just starin'. Ya dunno what that means.
“Rinnosuke?” ya say.
If he's hung, ya dunno how you're supposta restart 'im—but luckily, dude's just takin' a mo to process, is all. A funny sorta look passes over his mug in increments, and then he's back to normal. Well, for a given definition of “normal.” “And what about the ramen?” he says.
“The ramen?” ya parrot. “Oh, yeah, the ramen! So even though Dad knew Mom was all no-go on the Japanese cuisine, one year for her birthday he decided he was gonna make ramen for her anyways. From scratch. Like, I'm not exactly followin' the logic here, but I think he thought he'd blow her over with a nostalgia bomb? Like, it'd be a cute thing, even with her whole vow and everything. Ya know how married dudes are, right, Mac? Always doin' cool things and teasin' and swappin' coupley in-jokes?”
There's another thing of did-Rinnosuke-freeze-or-not, 'cept this time his expression's a lot more all of it. Whatever “it” is. And then that expression goes very methodically not.
“No,” Rinnosuke says. “I don't know.”
“Oh. Well, they do do like that. Or at least my parents do. Anyways...” Ya take a sec to find your place again. Oh, right. “Right, so—complication. It turns out that the average Californian kitchen is totally not equipped to make ramen. I mean, flour, salt, water? Yeah, sure, in spades! But alkalis? Not so much, 'cept for bakin' soda. And bakin' powder, which is just some bakin' soda and also some not. And lye, sometimes. But for ramen apparently ya need that stuff—y'know, sodium carbonate, potassium carbonate—or wait, was it sodium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate? If it's sodium bicarbonate that's just bakin' soda after all—”
“Huh? Yeah, Mac?”
“Stop, just for a little.”
You stop, just for a little. And then, as Rinnosuke's gaze slides off ya, off into space, ya don't stop stoppin'. Ya watch his face, in fact, to make up for the difference—his lips, movin' gentle and slight like they've got something behind them that wants serious care. And then, almost sorta tentatively, he's all, “Do you mean kansui?”
“Kansui!” ya say. “That's it. See, Mac? This is why you're awesome.”
“I'd hope I'd be 'awesome' for reasons other than being able to identify comestibles.”
“Oh, yeah, most def, Mac. This is just, like, exhibit I-don't-know-what-number-this-is in the line of evidence for awesomeness. Or we've run outta numbers, even. We've moved on to letters.”
“Wouldn't it be the other way around?”
“That's how awesome you are, Mac.”
Rinnosuke looks atcha with a look like he doesn't know how to take that everything ya just sent washin' over 'im, then apparently decides to pretend that it didn't happen, or that it happened but didn't matter, or something. “You were talking about your father?” he says.
“Oh, right. So there we were in the kitchen.” You gesticulate thereness with a motion tabletopwards. “Dad was tryin' to figure out how to whip up some kansui substitute. My brother had his lappy cracked open searching for recipes re: that. I was recordin' all of this, 'cause yo, maybe this was hilarity in the makin', and also for the sake of posterity. And then...”
Ya trail off for effect, and Rinnosuke takes the bait: “And then?”
“And then my mom strolled in with cheeseburgers for everybody.”
And ya let that sink in.
“I don't know what those are,” Rinnosuke says.
“It's a thing of ground beef between a coupla buns with a slice of cheese,” ya say, “but that's not the important part. The important part is that my dad begged Mom to help him outta this self-imposed Tartarization, and what she did was laugh in his face, and then eat her cheeseburger, also in his face. And then she ate his cheeseburger, also also in his face. And then she ate my brother's cheeseburger, also also also in his face. And then she ate my cheeseburger, also also also also in his face.”
“She was sick for the whole night.”
“But then she was like, 'Totally worth it.'”
Rinnosuke stares and stares and stares. Stares and stares and stares. Looks and gazes and watches and works all the everything ya just fed 'im in a way you can actually see happenin', clear through his peepers. Some muscle between his eye and his cheek jostles—just a quick hitch—then settles down again. His head tilts just the teeniest bit upwards, like there are words down his throat and he's gotta make this much room to squeeze 'em through.
“Your mother...” he finally says.
“Yeah?” ya say.
“You...take after her, don't you?”
“Y'know, everyone's always sayin' that?”
“I can't imagine why.”
“Yeah, right? Beats me, Mac.”
This time jostle's a bit closer to the lip, just the tilt of the end. Kinda like a half...
“Did you say you had a brother?” Rinnosuke asks, before you can figure it closer. “I don't think you ever mentioned him before.”
“Dude, really? Musta never come up. Not a secret or anything, though.” Ya shrug. “Ya wanna hit me up for the deets right now? 'Cause I'm all for it, Mac.”
And so's he, apparently. Ya musta piqued his interest or something, 'cause thirty seconds to a minute later and you're paintin' the best kinda picture, which is a picture of you and your family and your life as you've ever lived it back home. It's a lot to say, but ya know Rinnosuke's keepin' up, 'cause you're makin' sure Rinnosuke's keepin' up. You're talkin', and Rinnosuke's listenin', and he's thinkin' 'bout you and your family and everything else you're talkin' 'bout, and what he's not thinkin' 'bout—
Ya dunno what it is, what he's not thinkin' 'bout.
But you're totally down with 'im not thinkin' it.
“By the way, Mac,” ya veer, midway out your family tree. “Ya didn't bring any festival food, didja? 'Cause I am totally starvin'.”
Rinnosuke's mouth quirks solid. “Somehow I'm not surprised you're so friendly with Rumia anymore,” he says. “What happened to her, in any case? She wasn't here when I returned.”
Sweet update. I mean, actually sweet not sweet-as-in-cool; but it is that, too. But, foremost sugary. As in, if you had to give this update to a guy with diabetes and a guy with a hypothermia, you'd give it to the second guy for sure. Metaphorically, I mean. You wouldn't give a guy freezing to death an update because A- an update is not something physical, although you could print it or something, I guess and B- He has no use for it (reading isn't usually big in the list of priorities for a guy in that situation: third or fourth at best, even if he's a touhou fanatic) and C- He's dying. Not giving him a blanket, warmer clothes or the last rites would be uncool (metaphorically speaking) and pretty damn cold (metaphorically AND literally speaking, considering you're giving him the cold shoulder - and probably a cold chest and legs et al.-)
I forgot where I was going with this. Regardless, good job.
You look at Rinnosuke, and then ya pretend ya aren't, quick, before he can look ya and see it for himself.
And somehow, even though ya haven't seen it—ya know he's doin' the same thing exact.
That's what it's come down to, you and him down from your first meetin'-up to your sweet cohabitation to this. Ya thought it was a slick mess you were 'scapin' the first ya found your way in outta the woods? Ya thought a witch pushin' magic at your forebrains was anything worth worryin' about? Ya thought a geist with a bad 'tude hurlin' audibles your way was excuse enough for thinkin' your neck was on the dotted line?
Forget it. You were young and a dope and thought the world worked simple. Now, ya know better. Now, the stakes are high.
You glance up again, tryin' to eke out an advantage somewhere in this biz. Like maybe the future's there, written up on Rinnosuke's mug in sparkly ink. It's not, of course. This isn't comin' down to anything but destiny and chops.
“Ya ready, Mac?” ya ask, 'cause if this is gonna play out, the least you can do is make sure it doesn't play out dirty.
Ya nod back. Like a return salute between a coupla dudes all set to run each other through. “Alright,” ya say. “Three—two—one—”
You pick scissors. Rinnosuke picks rock.
“Rinnosuke wins,” Rumia says.
“I win,” Rinnosuke says, and somehow, the severe lack of gloat makes up for the severe lack of gloat. Ya dunno how he does that. Either way, it's super-clear who the victor is in this bunch, and outta that, it's super-clear who the loser is, too. Like lookin' at the light half of a dichotomy and inferrin' outta that half the half ya can't see that well.
It's you. The loser is you. Ya dip your chin in glum, as such a thorough beatdown deserves.
Rinnosuke, meanwhile, gets to sit back in his spot, foldin' his arms, lookin' very satisfied despite not lookin' satisfied in the least, which is also a neat trick. “You know where the water is, don't you?” he says.
“Yeah, yeah—just out the back. Don't worry, Mac, I've got this. I said, didn't I?” Ya stand up and start gatherin' the plates. Breakfast was awesome—it usually is, since it's Rinnosuke cookin' it up—but the specter of potential defeat was hangin' all over ya while you were shovelin' food into your mouth and tryin' to ignore 'em rattlin' their chains. And now they've properly incarnated, so, y'know, not so cool.
But a promise is a promise, and anyways, it's the absolute least you can do after moochin' off Rinnosuke's care so long. Like, for serious. At this point it straight up behooves ya. Not thatcha think Rinnosuke woulda tossed ya out on your auricle if you'd never made the offer, but still.
You owe 'im a million. Well, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine, now.
Breakfast isn't the kinda meal a dude lays out the smorgasbord for, generally, and the one Rinnosuke whipped up for the three of ya this mornin' isn't outlyin' the norm. It prolly won't take more than one trip from here to over there to get this dishstack you're heftin' outta condition “used” and back to “clear for offeatin'.” Yeah, what you're really worried about here is the path—you're inured to the evershiftin' junk dunes this pad features, but that doesn't mean ya don't still find something with your plantars every now and then, and if that happens now there's a good chance Rinnosuke's gonna see a sudden decrease in owned number of plates. And ya don't want that, 'specially since...
Things're good right now, is the thing. Like, Rinnosuke's Rinnosuke, and you're you, and somehow everything is better than it ever was right now, maybe? Like there is this thing between you and him right now, connectin', and maybe it's hairstrand-thin but that doesn't mean ya wanna break it. Ya like it.
Ya reach the back door, jigglin' it open—tougher than it sounds when you've only got two hands, and both of 'em are busy dishhandlin'—and step out into where the water is—
And that's when ya hear a woman's voice, back in the shop.
Not Rumia's voice. A woman's voice.
It's too quiet or too far away or some combo of that and that to hear, wordwise, but ya strain your ears anyways. And then the voice stops, and then another voice starts up, and that's Rinnosuke's voice.
So: Whatever it is, he's gotten it taken care of, prolly. Or “gettin'.” He's gettin' it taken care of. It's in the care of Rinnosuke.
[ ] Naturally you've gotta check on it anyways. [ ] You can leave it to Rinnosuke, of course. [ ]
[x] You can leave it to Rinnosuke, of course. I know you're gonna do it. You're gonna do that thing where the shiny red button looks like it's gonna do the thing, but said shiny red button is just a distraction from the real thing-doing. You're not fooling me, sir. I will not be conned into your shiny red button pushing.
>ろうんもわあのつるぎ I see what you have done here, my dude.
I would have gone for ろぉんもわぁ myself, though I guess that makes it even more obvious? Except if you can't finagle hiragana. But who can't do that? I mean, pfft!
>>29555 It's a joke about the Kusanagi no Tsurugi, lit. "Grasscutter Sword", something that Rinnosuke still possesses, as far as I remember. Instead of the proper rendering (at least, as far as writing it in pure hiragana goes), the writer dude-mensch has written it as "Lawnmower Sword".
No, seriously, no problem. 'Cause, like—what's the ish exact here that'd justify ya droppin' these plates and rushin' back in in the first place? Is Rinnosuke in a jam?
Well, anything's possible, obvs.
But if ya wanna settle on a specific sorta answer to that query? You're gonna hafta go with “prolly not.” Prolly this is a customer. 'Cause this is a shop, right? You know shops, by way of Mom. And the thing about shops is thus—when they're workin' right, customers are all up in 'em.
And you know who else knows shops? Rinnosuke knows shops. In fact, he's intimately familiar with the whole concept, what with bein' the shopkeep. You decidin' he can't handle shopkeepness all of a sudden and also decidin' to hover over the back of his shoulder to make sure it all goes hunky-dory isn't just unnecessary—it's insultin'.
Ya get to cleanin'.
It's not hard, cleanin'. All the offwashables wash off, easy. Just gotta provide more than a lackadaisical rinse, and that's basically most the job done.
So knowin' all ya know, and understandin' all ya understand, and knowin' and understandin' also the importance of hygiene where it applies concernin' all the stuff that touches the other stuff ya put in your mouth, there's absolutely no reason to speedrun the dishwashin', and beaucoup reasons to not speedrun the dishwashin'. Ya oughta take this nice and slow. Nice and easy. Nice and easy and slow while ya listen to the voices of Rinnosuke and some dude ya don't know alternate, sometimes louder, sometimes softer, all times indecipherable all the way through.
The moment you've got those dishes clean ya pick 'em up and turn yourself around and in again.
Turns out, though, that the scene ya burst into upon isn't actually burstworthy, after all. At least, if Rinnosuke's in distress he's doin' a real good job hidin' it, sittin' at his desk with the side of his face in a hand on an arm on the aforementioned desk. He looks bored, is what you're sayin'. His eyes flicker atcha as ya make your reappearance, but they go back to watchin' the pair of trou wagglin' upright in front of one of his many goodie boxes.
Ya take a second look, and the anomaly resolves itself. What ya reasonably thought was a standin' set of pants is a standin' set of pants, actually; it's just that there's also a dude standin' in 'em, bent over so far into the crate that for a sec they looked topless. Caligula, not Banerjee, natch. Also, they're mutterin', which prolly helped eradicate the illusion faster. Pants don't mutter. And they definitely don't mutter like this dude's mutterin', steady and Boléric like she's got a major number in a Gilbert-and-Sullivan.
“...treads are the problem; maybe I can simplify—no, that won't work; I'm short on material to trade now; it's all trading—little by little, just as long as I can find something; I already owe enough...”
Yeah, it's not exactly heavy dragoon material, let alone major general, but it's got its own kinda rhythm. Ya dump the plates and stuff at Rinnosuke's elbow and make with the catch-up.
“Here ya go, Mac. Sparkly clean.”
That's you, obvs.
Rinnosuke glances at the plates, just a quick once-over to make sure ya didn't leave any leftovers, which ya haven't, 'cause you're not an animal, Mac. Anyways, figurin' that out on his own, he does a short nod and goes back to checkin' out the dude at the box. “Thank you.”
“Hey, no problemo. Scissors is scissors, right?” More importantly: “So who's the dude?”
With the plate sitch over and done with, there's no reason for Rinnosuke to lift his lookin' away from Box Dude. So he doesn't. “A customer,” he says. “She's a regular customer.”
“You've got regular customers?”
Okay, now Rinnosuke looks at you. And ya kinda wish he wasn't. Ya seriously don't deserve that look. That look, that's makin' ya feel guilty deservability regardless. That's a mean trick to get from an honest question.
“Sorry,” ya say anyways, 'cause you're awesome like that. “But seriously, who's the dude?”
Said dude straightens up, holdin' something aloft that gleams in the light, examinin' it with all the pomp and also circumstance that holdin' a gleamy something aloft usually goes with. You can see 'er clearer now—dark hair, pigtails, clean white shirt tucked into those crazy trou which've actually turned out to be pretty standard trou now thatcha know there's no autonomy to 'em. With her head tilted up to check out the gleamery proper, she looks like a model—not like a walkway model, but someone who does poses for art. She looks like she's set for a work about discovery and-slash-or the march of science (or at least something else that marches).
“Is it good enough? Is it? No.”
And then the moment ends and she lobs the something into a rapidly accumulatin' pile on her left and bends herself over into the box again. Obviously not gleamy enough.
“I told you already,” says Rinnosuke, respondin' to the question ya almost forgot ya asked—between all the mutterin' and gleamin' and everything else this new dude's showcasin'. “She's a regular customer.”
“Yeah, but, like—does she have a name?”
There's a sound that sounds like a dude rummagin' through rummageables, and more importantly not like a different dude, one ya know and respect, answerin' your question.
“It's entirely reasonable for me to not know the name of every one of my customers.”
Ya nod. “Totally, Mac.”
“In fact, it's more reasonable for me not to know any given customer's name. A customer is normally only concerned with products and prices.”
“Preachin' to the choir, Mac.”
Rinnosuke looks like he's gonna stress the whole proper properness of name-not-knowin' a third time, which is a good number to do anything in, if you've gotta pick, but then just sets his mouth shut. Or actually it's like he sets his whole face shut, the head it's over the front of basically grindin' as it rotates along the azimuth more customerwards and also less youwards.
“No,” mutters the dude in question. “No, no, no, no, he'll sell it for a high price—I'm walking backward—I'm barely walking in place, and if I don't keep that up it won't be subpar material; it'll be no material; I can't contend with no material; it isn't feasible...”
“Is the dude always like this?” ya ask.
“You know—the whole muttery-soliloquy deal.”
“Extortion!” The dude's voice lunges hiss-sharp. For a tick ya think she's heard ya, though ya don't know how she's gotten “extortion” outta that, but then she's down to her old susurrus and ya realize it's not so much that. “Extortionists—I'm surrounded—on either side,” she goes on, “but I'll show them—it's a waiting game, a waiting game, pile on and pile on and pile...”
“It's not unusual,” Rinnosuke admits.
Ya tilt your eyes at 'im, even though he's not lookin' atcha enough to see. “Just say 'yes,' Mac.”
“Then yes—the muttering's a familiar trait.”
“Huh.” Ya watch it ongoin', just a few seconds longer—the rummagin' and the mutterin' and the shiftin' and the bendin' and all the miscellaneous little motions this dude is goin' through—till something occurs to you all of a sudden. “Hey, where's Rumia?”
Rinnosuke's mug creases like a mirror with time delay. “You weren't watching her?”
“How could I be watchin' 'er? You told me to degrodify the dishware—”
And then the sound of undertone ramblin' comin' from boxwards abruptly pitches off into the horizon in a hundred twenty plus decibel shriek, the dude whose gawp it escaped outta losin' her balance off her heels and landin' chattanoogas-first into the shop floor.
“Never mind; found 'er.”
Rinnosuke makes a low, wordless noise from somewhere 'round his pharynx.
[ ] Help Rumia out (and also the dude, ya guess). [ ] Ya kinda wanna see where this is going. [ ]
You approach Rumia—and the dude, consequentially—tryin' not to clomp too loud as ya do that. The dude on the floor is busy blinkin' all up out into nothing, like she's still processin' everything that just happened to her, and maybe you're just being super-polite—read: super-awesome—but it'd feel something like totally uncool to jostle her mind while she's readjustin' to reality (been there, done that, got the comfy shopkeep robe). Also—and this is maybe you worryin' with all the unnecessity—there's something about this sitch that's...
Well, it's not screamin' “powder keg,” 'zactly, but it's sorta halfheartedly mutterin' something 'bout cheap fireworks, the kind kids pop on the street and then toss in the trash usually when it's a holiday but sometimes 'cause they can. Not anything to get too concerned about, if you're gonna be practical about it, but still technically a fire hazard.
Closer as you are, you can see exactly what it is that's got this new dude so spooked. Namely, Rumia—though ya knew that much already—peerin' out the top of the crate like her name's Jack, sleepily makin' motions like she's wipin' away the eye boogers—though you'd think she'd need to sleep more than this for the grit to develop proper.
More importantly, did the scream wake 'er up, or did the her-wakin'-up cause the scream? That's the real mystery, right there. What would the philosophers say?
Wait, wait, you've got it: “First I woke the screamin', and then I ate its leg.”
On second thought, you're gonna leave the philosophizin' to the philosophizers, at least for now. There's a time to untangle a sweet koan, and this isn't it. “Yo,” ya say to the floor dude, who still hasn't recovered. “What's up?”
And apparently that's the signal for floor dude to shoot up like a stalk of wheat and no longer be floor dude anymore. She whirls around, lookin' straight atcha—and then around ya, at Rinnosuke instead. Her mug is twisted up in all kindsa emotion, though now thatcha see it proper, she doesn't really look freaked out. More just alarmed.
“You have a youkai in a box,” she says in a single breath.
“She stops by every so often,” Rinnosuke replies.
The two sentences swift through the air at each other, collide—and totally fail to make any sort of impression either way. Like, there isn't even a transfer of momentum. They just bounce right off and go their separate ways, the both of 'em.
Rummagin' dude looks at Rumia (done yawnin', currently busy fixin' her Rumia smile), then back at Rinnosuke again. “You have a youkai in a box,” she says again.
“More like—the youkai has herself in a box,” ya chime in.
Now the rummagin' dude seems to notice you. “What.”
“I mean, she's her own youkai,” ya 'splain, and look at Rinnosuke. Little help?
“We aren't her guardians,” Rinnosuke says, 'cause he's awesome. “She leaves and returns as she pleases, and we have no say in it.”
“'Cept unless we ask.”
“What?” That's Rinnosuke, not the rummagin' dude.
“Like, if we ask Rumia if maybe we can hang later,” you 'splain.
“Yes, but in that case the decision is still ultimately Rumia's,” says Rinnosuke.
“I'm just sayin', Mac. Like, we've got influence.”
“As much influence as an Outsider and a beleaguered shopkeeper can have.”
“Hey, influence's influence—”
“Why do you have a youkai in a box,” the dude asks.
Which is totally not cool 'cause ya just went over this, you and Rinnosuke both. Rumia's her own dude, dude. What's all this jabberin' like she's not even in the room? You've gotta rectify.
“Rumia,” ya call out.
Rumia, straight outta Nod and fighting fit, stands at attention. Or as attentiony as Rumia gets, anyways. “Mm-hmm?”
“Whaddya doin' in the box?”
Rumia looks at the box all around her, like she's just gotta check for herself. Then she says, “Standing.”
Which is true.
“Okay, yeah,” ya give 'er, 'cause, like ya said, true. “But like, what were ya doin' when this dude screamed?” Ya motion out to the dude you're talkin' 'bout, just so everybody's real sure. “Or like, before she screamed, even. Like, of interest are circumstances both pre-scream and post-scream.”
Rumia considers this, castin' her mind back, back to when she was younger and things were less complicated. Those happy golden days of yore are super not comin' back.
“I was sleeping,” says Rumia, once she's thunk her grand think. “And then there was a scream, and I wasn't sleeping anymore.”
Mystery solved, ya guess. Does the dude have any objections?
“I thought she was a bundle,” says the dude. The abashment is all up in her, shinin' like a nightlight, or even its primitive ancestry, which is like a nightlight, 'cept bigger. And brighter. “I thought she was a bundle, and then she moved.”
Rinnosuke's eyeballs narrow. “A bundle?”
“A bundle,” the dude says. “A bundle of clothes, a bundle of cloth, something in a bundle—”
“A bundle of awesome,” you suggest.
Rumia doesn't nod, but she does the thing again, standin' straight and majestic and arms-out like she's a character in a video game that's glitchin' the way out.
It sort of just passes over the rummagin' dude. Not very effective. Too bad. She looks at Rumia, and then at you.
“Is she your youkai?” she asks ya. “Your familiar?”
Dude, ya just said. “She's her own youkai,” ya say again, stressin' the relevant bit. “Who are you, anyways?”
Rummagin' dude blinks, then starts, like the realization she kinda totally skipped over introductions is a deal physical. “Right, right,” she mutters, then nods, stiffly, like a bow for dudes who're too busy for bows. “Rika. I'm Rika.”
And that taken care of, she turns back to the grand box of stuff—and then starts again, hands frozen midair in pre-pluck, 'cause, oh, right, there's Rumia.
And it's back to you and Rinnosuke again. “Could one of you move this?” she asks, wavin' her arm vaguely Rumiawise.
Ya think ya know what she means, but you've gotta make sure. “The box?”
“The youkai,” Rika says.
“She's her own youkai,” ya say again, which makes it say number three, which is also coincidentally the number of strikes a dude goes for before they're shoved back on the bleachers. “Maybe ask 'er direct.”
Rika blinks atcha like the words are goin' through one of those slidin' block puzzles in her brain. Then they get to the end of the whole shifty mess, ya guess, 'cause the dude says, finally, and also properly at Rumia: “Could you move out of the box?”
Rumia tilts her head. Then she says, “Okay,” and does the levitation trick, up and over and down again, in a place that isn't shaped like a box. Or ya guess she's still in a box, dependin' on how lenient a dude is with their definition of what constitutes a box and whether this shop counts as one, but the dude with Rumia-related ish is in this box, too, so prolly she can't complain 'bout that.
And she doesn't. But also she doesn't say “thank you,” either, just sorta...noddin' all vague in the new Rumia-direction, like either she doesn't think a “thank you” is merited here or the word've gotten stuck in her craw. One of those, and not both. Either way, she's back at the box like that, resumin' rummagin', though kinda more carefully this time. Like maybe she's gonna find another Rumia in there, if she doesn't watch out, and especially if she does watch out.
She's not gonna find another Rumia in there. Prolly.
“Her name's Rika, by the way,” ya tell Rinnosuke. “In case ya missed it.”
“No, no, I heard her.”
“See, that's good. So now the next time she stops in, you can be like, 'Hey, Rika,' and she'll be all like, 'Hey, this shopkeep knows me by sight! That's awesome.' And then when she's got the choice, ya know what shop she's gonna go for?”
“Is the answer 'this shop'?”
“The answer is 'this shop,'” you confirm. “My mom pulls the same trick. She's all, 'Yo, Mrs. Pendergrass! Lookin' young! How's the longcase treatin' ya?' And then by the time Mrs. Pendergrass is out the door, she's prolly haulin' with 'er some bric, and also prolly some brac.”
Rinnosuke does a thing that maybe might be a smile in an alternate universe. “That sounds like a worthwhile strategy.”
“If most of my regulars actually paid me, it might even work.”
“You understand my main difficulty.”
“Yeah. That's tough, Mac.”
“I'd like to buy these.”
Ya start. Somewhere between the chitchat and the jibjab, the dude Rika teleported up to Rinnosuke's desk. Or maybe she just walked and ya weren't payin' attention, but it was prolly teleportation. Now she's standin' here—like Rumia, 'cept with less box—and—
The sweep of her mitts spotlights her intended loot in the same way a magician—the sleight-of-hand kind, now that you've gotta differentiate—lays a deck out across a table. 'Cept instead of cards, what it is Rika's showin' here is CDs. A whole discography's worth, shiny-side-up—well, a band's discography, anyways, considerin' the artists that churn 'em out like sweet aural butter.
More importantly, CDs. You were lookin' for those, werentcha? Ya look at Rinnosuke, tryin' to connect his peepers to yours so you can properly wordlessly beam over the mad significance of this discovery.
Rinnosuke does not allow ya peeper access. “One thousand five hundred yen,” Rinnosuke says, and Mac. Mac. Seriously?
Subtlety can stuff it—it's up to you to save the day. As usual. “Denied!”
Oh, now Rinnosuke looks atcha. And also Rika, which ya guess is the more important lookin'-atcha at the mo, if only just. “What?” she says.
“I said, 'Denied,'” ya say. “There's no way you're buyin' these CDs, not at a price like that. Check it.” And ya reach to pick up CD number one, startin' from the left. “See this name? That's 'Geirr Tveitt.' As in the Geirr Tveitt.” You're too busy pretendin' you remember who Geirr Tveitt is to remember who Geirr Tveitt is. Norwegian dude, right? “'Twelve,' uh, 'tri-røystes fyristudiar'—that's a classic, dig? I wouldn't let this go 'cept for at least ten bucks even. Or actually you're lucky I don't aim for fifteen, which is what a piece like this deserves.”
Rika continues her bout of lookin'-atcha. Good. Then she stops lookin' atcha and looks at Rinnosuke instead, which is less good. “Who is this?” she asks.
“I'm Chris. Chris Christoferson,” ya say.
Rinnosuke nods, motioning your way. “She's Chris Christoferson.”
“But don't call me C.C., dig? Or we're gonna have words.”
“We're having words now,” says Rika. “What do you mean 'have words'? We're having words now.”
That's alotta prattle ya don't have time to get all swept up into, so ya ignore it and make for the next discsworth of inspectin' instead. “'Stuart Sutcliffe and the Beatles: Live at the Kaiserkeller,'” ya read. “See, this one's a fifteen-dollar for sure. Mac, how much is that in yen?” That's with the y silent, natch.
“Uh,” says Rinnosuke.
“What's the exchange rate between U.S. dollar and yen?”
“How would I know that?”
“Yeah, guess that's not a fair question, Mac. My bad. Still, my point totally stands. Even ballparkin' the figure, ya oughta definitely be chargin' this dude more than a measly four thou.”
Rinnosuke looks like he's gonna say something, but then he stops halfway, lips parted slightly, tongue encroachin' just past his incisors. His eyes wander back and forth—between you and the open air, like there's something there to read. Or maybe there is! You dunno.
He nods, carefully. And just as carefully he goes:
“By 'ballparking,' do you mean 'estimating'?”
You nod, too (less carefully, though). “Yeah.”
Rika doesn't nod. Rika looks quick from you to Rinnosuke to you again, which is sorta the opposite of noddin', 'cause horizontal. “What?”
“If you were to look at these CDs,” says Rinnosuke, very still very careful, “what price would you recommend they be sold at?”
“Well, I'd hafta look at the CDs, Mac—'cause, awesome as I am? Not clairvoyant.”
Rinnosuke ponders this, for a sec or two. Ya see it happenin', right beneath the surface of his eyeballs.
And then he does a motion that's mostly in the wrist thatcha recognize as the commonly accepted universal gesture for, “Well then—get to judgin', already.”
Well, not so sweet if you're the dude who's about to get a price increase all up on her twitchy mug, i.e. Rika. “Wait,” she says. “That's not fair. You can't do that—make these cost more just because I want them.”
Rinnosuke's brows go up. “This is my shop.”
“And who is this?” Rika points atcha with some fierceness—or lunges, if ya wanna be real clear about it. Seriously, half a foot closer and that woulda ended knuckle-deep all up in your nostril. “Why are you listening to her? If this is your shop, why does she get to raise the prices—she says, 'Raise the prices,' and you raise the prices; what makes her an authority?”
If Rika hoped she was gonna intimidate Rinnosuke with that barrage—no luck, dude. It just washes over 'im like a gentle sea breeze over, like, an anvil. Or a wrecking ball. Or one of those giant combo safes like they have in the cartoons. “Christoferson is an Outsider,” he says, with all the patience. “As such, she's the most qualified in this shop to appraise items from the Outside World.”
“I'm like an authority on not-Gensokyo things,” ya say, flippin' over the remainin' CDs like a read-'em-and-weep. “'Ike at the Mike'—ten bucks! Or maybe eleven. Yeah, gotta make it eleven. That's some classy letterin' on the label.”
“Are you sure she's an authority?” says Rika. “She doesn't seem much like an authority.”
“Do you know what 'Aiketta Maiku” is?” says Rinnosuke.
Rika considers the circle-cut image. Aiku considers 'er right back, visage agrin, forehead ashine.
“No,” she says, glumly.
“Then I don't think either of us are in any position to repudiate her conclusions,” says Rinnosuke, but when Rika purses her mouth and looks down at the CDs again he looks your way, brows raisin' again, though this time the meanin' behind that is deliberate. That's the look ya shoot when you've got someone pullin' something supreme unwise within your vicinity and you'd like anybody out there to maybe confirm that yes, this is goin' somewhere solid, and someone knows the plan even if you don't.
You've got no idea why he's lookin' atcha like that. You double thumbs-up at 'im anyways.
It sorta has an effect? It make 'im look a little less...whatever that look's supposta be, anyways. Still, better wrap it up. “'Check Your Ammo'—kinda niche, so—”
And that's when something occurs to ya, all of a sudden, like how a wayside cow occurs to a speedin' train tryin' futilely to apply the brakes, and also this is before the advent of cowcatchers.
'Cause—what was that Rinnosuke said, just now? That neither he nor she're in any position to contradict your price-settin', owin' to your Outsiderness and their not?
In a weird way, they're puttin' their trust in you, is what that sorta means. Like, you could say this disc you're heftin' is worth gold bricks and they wouldn't be able to say no to that, mad suspicions otherwise regardless.
In other words—this isn't just Rinnosuke proppin' ya up. Ya really are the authority.
[ ] Which means you've got responsibilities, here. Estimate as truthfully as ya can. [ ] Which means you can cut a break, if ya want. Estimate for less than it's worth. [ ] Which means you can extract max profit from this dude! Estimate that price high. [ ]