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>[x] Save the fancy ribbons for the date, but join Meiling.
"I'd love to," I reply, offering her my arm. Taking my hand in her own (as warm as the rest of her), she leads the way, taking me out along the wall.
"Your friends are quite the handful," Meiling says, fingers brushing the wall as she inspects every stone. Despite the relaxed, almost sleepy tone, her body feels coiled and ready, and her eyes flit rapidly across brick and mortar, taking it all in.
"Yeah, they are," I say. "It was nice to see them again, though. Even if Clover apparently became much more perverse than I remember."
Meiling giggles. "There's nothing wrong with that. Besides, she probably was always that way, you just never noticed."
"Maybe, yeah," I admit. "I'm certainly not too different. Though after the last few days, maybe I should consider a rest."
Meiling's light and airy giggle turns into a full, loud laugh. "Come on, Kazuki. We're going on our first big date tomorrow. Do you really think I'm letting you get through that without a little fun?"
I turn a little pink at that, even as my heartbeat picks up a little. "I...suppose I didn't, no."
"I won't pressure you, of course," Meiling reassures. "But...well, I'm willing to do anything you want. Just remember, you're not the only one with those kinds of thoughts."
I grin nervously. "I definitely noticed that."
"I would hope so!" Meiling replies with a squeeze of my hand.
We're quiet for a little bit after that exchange, continuing to wend a slow circuit around the mansion grounds. "So, what are you inspecting for?" I finally ask.
"Any sort of cracks, chips, or damage," she explains.
"Really? I don't think I've seen a scratch on these walls in my life." Then again, I haven't exactly been looking...
"They're rare, but they happen. It's very important to maintain this wall."
I chuckle, looking at the masonry as we slowly walk along. "I guess it doesn't surprise me that you're so committed to something you've been guarding for centuries."
"Well, there's more to it than that," she says with a giggle, "But I suppose there's that, too."
"So, what exactly is it that makes the wall so sturdy?" I ask.
"Well, it's guarded by yours truly, for starters," she says with a faint but real hint of pride. "But more directly, a combination of things. The biggest is the wards Miss Patchouli placed on them, with my help."
I blink at that. "You two work together a lot more than I would have expected."
"She really isn't so bad, I promise," Meiling says. "Your rocky start aside. We're actually good friends."
"Well, be that as it may, you're six feet of outdoors and martial arts. She's a bookish indoor pet librarian with an attitude."
Meiling laughs at that. "Harsh, Kazuki. What would you do if she overheard you saying that?"
I grin. "Come on, what's she going to do? Blow me up at lunch instead of breakfast? Besides, Koa likes me."
"Now, now, you should be careful. You know that Koa is literally compelled to follow any order Patchouli should give, right?"
I...didn't, actually. "That's...huh."
"It's a long story, but the both of them are very happy with the arrangement, I promise you," Meiling assures me. "Although, as I'm sure you realize, there's a great deal about this place that you don't know."
"Oh, yeah?" I ask, sensing the playful lilt in her tone, a sure sign of another word game coming. "Like what?"
She pauses in her slow, steady patrol around the wall's perimeter, turning to look at me more closely. "How about this, Kazuki? We'll start with something close to home. Something about me."
"I'm listening," I reply, feeling a tinge of excitement at...whatever this might be.
"I'll tell you. But first," she waves a finger teasingly before gently tapping the tip of my nose, "You have to guess. I don't expect you to know it, but all the clues are there, if you know where to look. If you get it right...well, I'll be very impressed."
She kneels, putting those bright blue eyes before mine with an almost hungry expression. "Well?"
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