!foOlREAVlE 2014/06/27 (Fri) 00:40 No. 1669 ▼
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“What is a curse, anyway?”
Komachi’s voice was a beautiful but faint phenomenon, swamped by the unremitting din of the taproom. Though she was positive it had been a shout when it had left her friend’s cherry-pink lips.
Eiki Shiki leant closer across the table, pretending ignorance.
“What is what?” she launched over the noise.
“A curse!” Komachi shouted back. She twirled a finger in the thick air. “That thing what you Yama sign. That thing!”
“Ah.” Eiki shaped a tepid smile. “That thing.”
Komachi’s interminable curiousness of the technicalities of her job never failed to sour their outings. The Yama being interrogated buoyed her tankard up to her mouth. She winced when her wrist flared up with pain.
Eiki Shiki had not expected anything else. She had hoped for it, might be even wished it, but she had certainly not expected it.
The pub room where they sat, faced on the opposite sides of a table which as well might be but an oversized stool, was packed beyond sensibility. It hadn’t always been so. New Hell’s administration recognised well enough the work of the Yama demanded a clear mind, and no clear mind exists under constant duress. So the City had been allowed to accommodate those officials off-duty to relieve their accumulated tension. Taprooms and other such establishments rose so (and fell, like empires) in the torch-lit streets, and commerce enjoyed a healthy afterlife in the Underground City.
This one, this loud place, had been one of many like upstart businesses when Eiki and Komachi had first found it. A quiet and intimate place – and as any quiet and intimate place, it soon saw a hefty influx of customers seeking just such a quiet and intimate place – missing the point entirely in the process.
A sigh whispered between Eiki’s lips. The one touch of consolation was Komachi was wonderful tonight. So exquisite and princess-like had she looked when they’d met up, that immediately Eiki had known she had spent all the hours since off-shift making up her hair.
The Yama wrote that up as a compliment.
“That is such an ugly word,” complained Eiki, sniffing. “Curse!”
Komachi grinned. “Isn’t it, though? What’d your rather call it, then?”
“How about ‘punishment?’”
“You’ve a cute idea about words,” giggled Komachi. “At any rate, any-old-body can tell what a curse—er, punishment—is – but what’s it about exactly? Why plant anyone such a rotten potato? Weren’t we of the Judgement call s’posed not to meddle with our clients? Or are the higher echelons aware of something I aren’t? All you’re supposed to do is judge them, no?”
“Well yes,” allowed Eiki, “and no. Sometimes there’s no choice but meddle.”
“Therein’s a story!” exclaimed Komachi. “So, like when?”
“When our decrees aren’t being honoured, for one. Or when the... the client attempts meddling themselves. Trying to break the sentence, skip the cycle, this kind of thing. Anything that goes against the proper order, basically.”
“Why not brute force it? That’s what our department does.”
“Well, we,” said Eiki, “aren’t supposed to meddle. There’s rules out there, you know, Komachi? Your orders are regulated, too. You’re only unleashed when our methods fall short of delivering. You’re more of a... a later resort. Job-wise, I mean.” Eiki mentally sledged herself at that last remark, but continued, “To wit, our means are designed to be subtler. To see if we can be gentle about it, so to say.”
Komachi playfully cocked her head to the side. “With a curse, huh?”
“Well, it is better if they come back to us of their own fault, OK?” proposed Eiki. “We can’t be put to blame that way. The curse isn’t meant to kill – our zone is full of the sorts immune to that stuff anyway – only to influence. All it does is... uh, ease them onto a shorter path to us. Quickens things up, after a fashion. Urk.” She drowned her poor wording in a swig from her cup. “Well, this’ll have to do. There’s probably no better way to put it. That’s as much as the manual says, anyway.”
“As much as you’re going to tell me, you mean,” Komachi smiled knowingly. “You sly vixen, Eiki.”
“A Yama has to keep her secrets,” shrugged Eiki. “Too many ears, too many mouths – you know?”
“A curse itself,” agreed Komachi. “And what a one. So-o,” she offered mock-chivalrously, “what does the great Yama you say we get away from those pesky ears? Go somewhere, ah... more private, say?”
Eiki’s heart made a leap for her throat. She raised her chin to look her beautiful friend straight in the eye. Komachi looked straight back.
The great Yama swallowed a globe of hot spit.
“A—Anywhere you have in mind?” she stuttered out.
Komachi made a show of considering. “Well,” she said at length, “one of my in-chiefs happened to nab a bottle of something real good off some poor soul just latterly. And, as it chanced, it made its way somewise into the fridge at my place.” She tapped the bridge of her nose conspiratorially. “What a mystery, eh? Just rubs your interest, don’t it?”
Eiki Shiki wrestled to keep the corners of her mouth from quirking up.
“It’s moderately intriguing,” she granted.
“Well then,” said Komachi. “Why don’t we go about solving this puzzle? Now, Eiki.”
They did, leaving the unpleasantness of death and curses for another night altogether.