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[X] Can you punch a ghost?
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.