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You wave a hand in the air, creating enough of a gale to get everyone’s attention. It also makes Daiki fall on her butt, which is a plus. You walk over to the crime scene, Tewi following along, while everybody’s flustered by the wind.
“Hey, Cat Two,” you say, and two nekomatas turn. Damn it, there’s too many cats around. “...Daiki,” you clarify reluctantly. “Don’t worry about that nasty thing. I’ll take care of it—you deal with the humans, okay?”
“But this cat—and then youkai—needs to—!” she sputters out. Frantic doesn’t even begin to describe her. Obviously, the girl’s pumped up on adrenaline and all she can think about is killing the thing right in front of her. Gotta calm her down, you guess.
“Look at me,” you say. Daiki remains shaky, darting her eyes from you and back to the monster. “I said, ‘Look at me.’”
Daiki shrinks back but obediently does what you ask. Sheesh, you always have to resort to using that tone with mortals.
“Good.” You close the distance between you and the cat. “Now stop thinking about the youkai.” Softly, you add, “Don’t worry—I’ll take care of it. Okay?”
Wordlessly, she nods and lets you take the youkai away. You hoist the thing over your shoulders. Surprisingly, it’s lighter than you thought—there isn’t much mass behind the thing, but you guess that you don’t need huge brawn to swing two cats around.
“Also, human,” you call out to the teenage boy. His name’s Noboru, if you aren’t mistaken. He comes forward but keeps his face down, as if he were ashamed of something. Well, he should be. “Are you just gonna stand around looking like a fool? Come on, take off your coat and give it to your cat.”
“Is—Is that an order?” The young boy asks, though you can barely hear because he’s talking into his chest.
“What do you think?” You stand there, awaiting an answer. He responds by awkwardly shuffling his feet, so you sigh. “It wasn’t. It was a request. I’m not going to eat you, unlike this sleepy guy on my shoulder.”
“Um. Okay,” Noboru says after a pause. He takes careful steps to Daiki, untying his coat as he does so. Then he just stands there, conflicted. Typical humans, always so indecisive about everything. You’re about a second away from yelling at him again when he finally drapes the coat over the cat’s shoulders and clothes her. “Daiki.”
“I just want to say, um. Thanks.” He lifts her up by the hand. “For protecting me.”
She stands straight and pulls him in for a big hug. For a moment, he doesn’t know what to do. Then he hugs her back. Cue the rest of the family huddling closer to the cat, albeit hesitantly, with awkward hugging all around.
Noboru smiles. “And thanks for protecting my family, too.”
“Think nothing of it. This cat has been doing it since you’ve been born.” Daiki hmphs, but there’s some obvious tears trickling down her eyes. “It’s—It’s only natural,” she says as she wipes her eyes with her coat sleeve, getting blood and tears everywhere.
“All’s well that ends well, right?” Cat One laughs and starts to step away.
“Hey cat, before you leave.” Tewi waves over to Cat One. “What’s your name?”
“Che—ow.” She rubs the side of a bloody cheek. But still, she smiles. “I’m Chen,” she repeats. “You?”
“Tewi. Are you okay?”
“Mostly.” Chen grins and throws up a peace sign. “Like I said, I’m good at fighting. I hurt like heck, and everything’s sore, but I’m not gonna die. I’d, uh, come over and shake your hand, but I’m covered in blood.”
“No, it’s fine. Come over here.” Tewi waits patiently until Chen’s about two paces away. There, Tewi taps on Chen’s right arm, which elicits a sharp cry from the cat.
“Hey. What are you doing?” she hisses.
“Knew it. Lucky for you, I know somebody who can treat those injuries. So you’re coming with me.”
Chen adopts a wary look. “Is it free?”
“Don’t sweat the small stuff. I miiiiight use you for some manual labor after you’ve been treated, but that’s a small price to pay, right?”
Chen looks to you for guidance, but you only shrug. She turns back to Tewi suspiciously. “And I’ll be fine to do manual labor?”
“You’ll feel like brand new by tomorrow,” Tewi promises with a wink.
“Well… okay. As long as you can guarantee that, I guess. Then should we head out now?”
“Um, Miss Chen!” shouts Noboru. “Thank you too! For helping us!”
“Uh, Miss Chen?” Chen rolls her eyes. “Don’t get too ahead of yourself. I protect the weak, that’s my job… kinda. And, you!” She glares at Daiki. “We’re having a talk tomorrow. Stay here—I’ll come find you.”
“What a coincidence!" you say. "Daiki and I need to have a chat, too.” Right. You should probably talk to Hieda about all this. “So don’t run away now.”
“Okay. This cat will be here,” Daiki replies, still sniffling a little.
Chen bids the family farewell, and everybody sets off for the night. You split paths with Tewi and Chen, since they’re going over to Eientei and, well, you’re not. You’d love to go with them, but Eientei, to put it simply, isn’t a shrine, and, even more so, it isn’t your shrine. Plus, you have some baggage to take care of—a real chip on your shoulder, frankly speaking.
Halfway to the middle of nowhere, you drop the youkai on the ground and almost laugh at how pitiful it is. The thing already seemed like a husk when it was fighting the cats, but now that it’s sedated, the youkai looks like it’s deflated. The black miasma that emanated from its face is gone so you get to take a good look at its featureless face. There’s nothing apart from flesh. Boring.
You grab the thing by its throat and squeeze, applying force until it starts thrashing instinctively. If you really wanted, you could do this until it died, but that’s not really what you’re going for. You want to practice being nice, so you’re doing something new. Of course, being choked probably isn’t the nicest thing to do, but you don’t have a choice—it’s just how you work.
At some point, it realizes that its death is inevitable, so it stops struggling and lies limp. You seize that moment and devour. Its life, strength, and soul—you take it all for yourself. Its spirit courses out from your hand and through your body, so you slacken your grip on its throat. Bitter. It's bitter, as if its soul soured a long time ago, or if it were left out in the sun for too long. The youkai's spirit lashes out, still angry and confused. You silence it one final time as it disappears into the void. Physically, you release what’s left of the youkai.
On the ground is one of those brown-faced dogs you’d see walking around with humans. They're usually the dogs that patrol the village for youkai. There’s something silly about that—a hunter dog becoming a youkai. You lightly tap its chest with your foot, and it exhales through its nose.
Ooh. It’s still alive.
[ ] Take it home.
[ ] Leave it behind.