The ceiling is only tall enough for me to crouch or crawl, and the room is only wide enough for me to lie down in it sideways. What's more, the walls, floor and ceiling are all cold, rough stone, meaning my knees and feet are permanently full of shallow cuts, and I hit my head on an outstanding bit of rock more often than I'd like.
I'm a bit clumsy.
It's hard to move around in here, so I don't clean it up much. I like it like this, though, it's cozy. I sleep in a cluster of blankets to a side, which as far as I'm concerned, is the best way to sleep. The little piles of trinkets and books don't help much, either. Children's toys, writing implements, all kinds of stuff serve to clutter what little space I have. They're mostly stolen, and I often have to toss some out to make room for more. Sometimes I dig to expand, using my claws. I don't think they were made for it, though; I keep losing them. It hurts, but I heal pretty fast, so it's fine. I wish I would remember to get a real tool for digging already.
I say claws, but really, they're not much. Some youkai have awful long ones that come to a point, to rip into flesh really easily. Not mine. Mine are just like a human's, except sharper and harder to break. Same for the teeth.
I'm something of a half-baked youkai. I don't even like the taste of human.
It's also dark.
The only source of light I have is a dingy, scorched kerosene lamp I swiped from the oni, who in turn probably swiped it from someone else. I think there's something wrong with the mechanism, because the fire keeps flickering for no reason. I'll have to get another one soon.
The lamp is only enough to give the room a red-yellowish... reddish-yellowish? Orangeish tinge when turned on, which imparts a comfortable warm aura to it. Perfect to drink hot chocolate by, if I had any. Unfortunately, the warm ‘aura’ does very little to alleviate the very real pervasive cold that the naked rock gives off. I only use it to read, staying in the total dark otherwise, even though I don't have very good night vision. It really is only just enough to read. Finding more oil is a bother, anyway.
So, to sum it up: It's small. It's dark. And it's really cold.
But most of all, it's home.
I built it myself, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. The dark is comforting, to me, and so is the lack of space. In fact, I'm a little scared of wide-open spaces. I can't really explain these things logically, it's just how I've been since I can remember.
I dug this place up into the ceiling of the underground tunnel. I tried to make it so the little circular entrance was hard to see if you were looking for it from the ground, and I think I succeeded, since I haven't gotten any visitors. It's quite a drop from here, since the tunnel grows quite big at this distance from the surface. One side slopes up, the other dips down to the bridge and the underground city beyond. It's lit by a number of torches on the walls, which seems to never go out. They're sparse enough that all they do is cast a permanent low-light to the whole thing, which is perfect for me. I like seeing things from up here. It feels familiar. This spot isn't the closest to the entrance proper, so humans who wander in usually get eaten by someone else before they get here. That's fine by me.
All in all, I'm pretty happy with my home. I couldn't imagine living upside, with all the sun and open fields. I went up to the entrance only once that I can remember, and it was really scary.
I pull my knees closer against my chest and drop the book I was reading. A really boring, thick tome about the history of some country, with tiny letters that are hard to read. It makes a heavy thump when it falls. I don't usually have much choice in the way of books; oni don't read much. A lot of the ones I find are under a piece of furniture, to prevent it from wobbling. I found one being serving as a coaster once, its cover irreparably damaged from years of being improperly used. It was a little sad, and a little funny. I turn off the lamp immediately, happily immersing myself in the dark. Saving fuel is important.
This is what I do most of my time. Read, think. Lie down near the entrance, peering down, watching the occasional underground youkai scoot by. Curling up under some blankets and relaxing is not a bad way to spend a day, either.
But in truth, I feel a little bored today. I want to see some living, breathing beings for once. Lonely, you could call it.
There are days like this too, sometimes. When it happens, I like to go outside and watch the people.
[ ] The bridge keeper is usually pretty fun to be around, even though she doesn't seem to enjoy my company. [ ] The oni are always doing something interesting. Plus, maybe I can find something new for myself in town. [ ] There's the spider youkai. She's cheerful and I think she likes me.
[X] There's the spider youkai. She's cheerful and I think she likes me.
>In fact, I'm a little scared of wide-open spaces. >I couldn't imagine living upside, with all the sun and open fields. I went up to the entrance only once that I can remember, and it was really scary. A creature formed from human fear has agoraphobia? How ironic.
[x] Spider option. Kiss-U-Me is back! Except that it is on another thread, by another author, in another universe and with a completely different conceptualization and behavior but beggars can't be choosers.
I don't leave my place a lot, but when I do, most of the time it's to see Yamame. Partly because she lives the closest to me, but also because she's the most agreeable of the people I know in the underground. The watchwoman and the oni have... their own issues. Or maybe I have my own issues with them. I don't know. But even though we hang around each other a good amount, I don't think we classify as 'friends'. She's soothing to be around and we get along and all, but... It's complicated.
Well, you'll understand soon.
I crawl into my solution for flying with some difficulty due to the lack of space, adding a(nother) scrape to my knee in the process of tumbling inside. I should do something about some of those loose bolts. Like I said, clumsy. I settle in, knees up, and we're off.
I've gone there often enough that I could let habit guide me and not even look where I'm going, but I always do anyway. First, because the wind on my face feels really good. I untie my hair beads to let it flow in the wind, wondering why I even have the things. It's like a free massage. I'd go even faster if I could, to feel it more.
Second, because no matter how many times I see them, the tunnels look amazing. I have no idea who put these eternal torches up, but I'd like to thank them. It'd be a pain to navigate otherwise, and more importantly, I wouldn't have the chance to appreciate how pretty everything is if they weren't there. You'd think “It's just a hole in the ground, right? A bunch of pebbles? What's so good about that?” and you'd be wrong. I have no idea how these things are created, but all around the cave are what I could call rock in funny shapes, if that wasn't diminishing it. There are the more obvious hanging spikes on the ceiling, but if you look around at the barely lit corners and crevices, the variety is astonishing.
There are dangerous-looking, fragile crystal needles, shining when the light hits them. Columns of stone, some so thick you'd think they're really holding up the ceiling, others barely the width of a pinky. Thin sheets of rock coming off the walls in smooth wavy lines, each centimetres from the other, and a lot more stuff. I've spent much time wandering around here, trying to find new things. I'd kill to know how these were created. Did someone make them? An artist with too much time on their hands? I'd like to meet her. I think it's a big waste that nobody else seems to stop and look at the cave, with how pretty it is. It's right there, you know? You just have to pay attention.
Pervading it all is the constant symphony of dripping water, echoing. You tune it out when you've been around for a while, but it's good to sometimes sit and really listen. It's silly, but I like to think of it as the heartbeat of the cave. Even though it's too chaotic to really be a heartbeat.
But I have places to go today, so I only give it a passing look, apologizing to the artist in my head. Your work will go unappreciated this time.
I don't really know how long it takes for me to get to Yamame's lair. Ten, twenty minutes? Half an hour? As you might imagine, I don't have much use for time-keeping down here, and neither does anybody else. On a stroke of luck, I did find a working watch small enough to carry around once, on the remains of an unlucky human, but... It was shiny, made a ticking sound and moved when I twisted a knob, so it's only natural to get curious about how it works, right? And so I ended up making it not work anymore. I still have the springs and stuff.
Anyway, let's just say it took as much time as it takes to eat a good meal, if I was hurrying. That sounds about right.
I'm in luck today, Yamame is already outside. Sometimes I have to wait as she finishes... whatever it is she does in her burrow. She lives kind of like I do, but her 'home' is dug into a wall and a lot more spacious than mine, from what I saw when I looked in there once. I don't like to be impolite, and she's never invited me inside.
She's in some light, airy sleepwear, doing, um... Stretches, I suppose. Yamame is quite eye-catching. She really fills out her dress, you could say. She's nearly twice my height, and honestly would be a bit frightening if I was on the ground. She's almost as big as the oni boss lady, except with all the angly muscles replaced by smooth curves. When she wears her usual brown clothes, her bright blonde hair specially stands out, matching the wavy trim of her dress. She always moves... really elegantly. No hesitation in any movements, no fumbling or anything like that, like everything she did was carefully planned and measured. It's her most striking feature, I think, her elegance. I automatically want to append a Miss to her name, it's that kind of feeling. There's no underground beauty contest or anything and I know it's stupid to care about this stuff, but I always feel plain next to her. I mean, I am plain, but I don't like feeling like it.
To be honest, I don't know why she themes herself after spiders. Maybe it's the hips? I mean, even in her puffy dress they stick out sometimes. Spiders have big 'butts' too, I suppose. She doesn't look particularly spider-like to me, and I've never seen her spin webs or anything like that. Where would she spin a web from anyway?
She's in a sitting position, one leg folded outwards and to the side, the other stretched out in front as she arches her body to touch her foot. She has her eyes closed and a serene, neutral expression on, which is really rare. She defaults to a cheery smile, from what I've seen.
I've never seen her doing this. I may have stumbled into a rare situation. She might not like someone watching her like this, half dressed as she is. Although she probably wouldn't mind it if it's me. Probably.
[ ] Alert her to my presence. [ ] Wait it out. -[ ]Watch her. -[ ]Don't watch her. [ ] She looks like she shouldn't be disturbed right now. I should go somewhere else. -[ ] Bridge. -[ ] City.
I hope you don't mind my liberal interpretation of Yamame's figure.
No, I have good reason to believe she'll pay it no mind. Still...
I feel my cheeks heat up. Now, I don't think about this kind of thing too much, but having Yamame around sometimes seems to get me a bit bashful like this. That's not to say I'm completely ignorant about it. I've found a couple of rather racy novels in my searches, but seeing the real thing in the flesh is... distracting, to say the least. And it's so much flesh, at that.
She's wearing some simple white shorts, no print or trim or anything, and they're just tight enough to leave a slight indentation at the point they give way to the long, shapely curve of her leg. Since she's stretching, still, I get to see every trace of muscle, taut like she's ready to leap at something at any moment. Now that I look at it, her thighs are really thick, and it doesn't look like they have that much fat in them. I wouldn't want to race her.
Like most everyone here, she's a bit on the pale side, although you can't see it in the usual lighting conditions. Her navel is exposed below the short camisole she has on, and the way she's bent sideways in her stretching position compresses the side of her stomach, showing the little extra meat she has on her, which you can't see when she's upright. Just enough to really make me want to pinch it and hear her yelp. That wouldn't do, though.
The camisole's only embellishment is a set of simple frills that adorn the bust. It covers only the basics, leaving her upper chest and most of her back out. Of particular note are the visible forms of her shoulderblades, shaped so well that I find myself wondering for a second if I'm looking at a sculpture of her someone left out here as a joke. She hasn't moved from this one position in a couple of minutes now, either. It's got to be straining. Framed between the straps of the flimsy garment, stretched straight by the weight, are Yamame's most... showy features. The silly thought I had before is gone when I notice her chest is moving up and down, however slightly. I can't even hear her breathing.
I feel like I'm red to my ears when I find I'm unconsciously palming my own chest, as if looking for something that's not there, and hurriedly put my hand down. I-I mean, I wouldn't want those things for real. They must be horribly inconvenient, especially with my penchant for wrenching myself into tight spaces. Finally, without opening her eyes, she starts shifting positions. Slowly, steadily, as if she's been practising, she stands with her legs spread far apart and, with her hands on her knees...
Starts... bending over my way. In her camisole.
That's when I dip my head back into the bucket. Okay, that's about enough for today.
She takes her sweet time finishing her routine, and I need every second of it to stop the fumes coming from my head. I see now the kind of 'fever' she induces in humans. You're not supposed to show things like this to young innocent girls. Honestly. This is her fault.
Eventually I hear a contented sigh coming from her general direction and I've calmed enough to risk a peek. She's already up and back to her usual smile, pleased to see me. Maybe even looking more refreshed than usual.
“Ah, you're here again! Hold on, let me get dressed.” She bounces inside and I'm alone once again. Good, she's not upset.
Before long, she's back in her everyday brown dress, her hair neatly tied into a bun and secured with a cute ribbon.
“Did you see me stretch? I got a new friend upside who taught me all sorts of stuff.”
I blink by way of acknowledgement, preferring not to dwell too much on how much I saw.
“Come on, let's go.”
I guess now would be a good time to accurately describe our relationship. This is the usual thing that we do. She guides me in aimless strolls while she talks endlessly to me about her life, things she does and the people she meets. There's just one caveat. She seems to think I'm some sort of animal.
Well, no, that's not quite accurate. She, along with everyone else I regularly meet think I am a feral youkai, which is to say that I don't really think. Feral youkai are supposed to only follow instincts, much like any animal you'd find in the wild. Many of them have monstrous or animal characteristics in body as well, making those with fully human forms like myself rare. The reason that everybody thinks I'm one is that I don't really speak. I can't speak i cant sp
n o ▓lking
I don't really mind, though. As long as I'm around, she pays attention to me alone, and I can't say it doesn't feel nice. This is enough to satisfy me. I also seem to have this effect on people where they'll start telling me all sorts of things, even if they're things that you really aren't supposed to tell other people. Crimes, their private thoughts and everything else. I have my theory about the reason: The underground is sparse in people, you see, and everyone gets a bit lonely occasionally. When I show up and seem to be listening, they don't think I'll be able to even process what they're saying, so they'll just talk and talk. They're happy to have anything, anyone at all to talk to. Except the oni. I've been told I'm a good listener.
I don't know, though. That might not be it. I don't know many things. Maybe I really am a feral youkai. I believe I think, but if I don't communicate it, what's the difference? What if every other 'feral' youkai also behaves just like me? How would I know? In my case, I would be a domesticated one, it looks like.
I've only been half-listening, but Yamame has been going on about a gatekeeper she met who's supposedly the exact opposite of our own bridgekeeper in temperament, while I orbit lazily around her. She always seems to have fun when she tells me of things she does in the surface. Maybe some day I'll get the courage to go out.
“Ah!” Yamame suddenly stops dead in the middle of her story. “I almost forgot. Follow me for a second.” She spins on her heels and half-sprints back and into her home while I struggle to keep up. We haven't gone very far, so it doesn't take long.
“Here!” She yells excitedly from inside, her voice echoing. “She gave me these!”
She hurries back out and proudly thrusts a white box with some characters I don't recognize at me. With a flick, she opens it and...
Wow, that looks tasty. There's a selection of brown swirly things in the box. I recognize them by the smell: chocolate. I had it once, and it was heavenly. This one isn't rectangle-shaped, but it still looks good.
“She said her boss gave her these... Guy-lee... Guylians? Yeah. Here, why don't you have some?” She holds them out to me with a smile.
It takes a beat for me to realize she's telling me to go near her and get them. I waver. I keep a good distance from people, always. My memory is bad, so I don't remember why exactly, but I have a good reason.
A good reason that I don't remember.
[ ] Go get them anyway. [ ] Stay away. [ ] Write-in.
I'm certain this is a bad idea. Every fiber of my body resists going too close to her, as it does going near anyone. A good comparison would be putting your hand on fire.
Still, that chocolate looks and smells mighty good. It's been quite a while since I've eaten anything. I do get hungry, but I don't have to eat all that often to live. Like a snake. When I do eat, it's scraps I find lying around. I look up at her.
She looks the same as always: Big, inviting innocent eyes wide open. This one couldn't hurt a fly. Which is very ironic, now that I think about it.
I've known Yamame for... a decade and something, now. And I haven't seen her wish ill on anyone, not even people who have openly attacked her just for how she was born. Or, that's what she told me. She might just be a really good actress.
I don't think so, though. She won't do anything.
None of that makes it any easier to approach her. It's not a rational reaction, so rationalizations don't help me at all. Have you ever tried to tell yourself that 'it's more afraid of you than you are afraid of it' when you're approaching a huge spider? Actually, that might not be a very good analogy given the situation.
Okay, I can do this. She's not gonna do anything. I get a little closer. She keeps her bright, encouraging smile. She's not gonna do anything. I hope she doesn't do anything. She looks even taller than usual at this distance. I shift my eyes to the box instead. Focus.
Slowly, fighting my urge to back out to a safe distance now, I move forward. She's paciently holding the box, still.
This is close enough.
Darting out as quickly and accurately as I can, I snatch one of the shell-shaped chocolates from the box. And then back to the bucket and a comfortable distance away.
Okay. Nothing happened. I'm safe. I can stop shaking now.
I inspect my bounty. Ah, I crushed it a little bit. My hands are all dirty. Without thinking too much, I pop the candy into my mouth-
Oh. Ooh. Oh-oh. Oh wow. I don't remember it being this good. What the hell is this? Am I eating pure happiness? Oh my. I suddenly regret eating the whole thing in one bite. It's gone all too soon. I eagerly set upon licking up what's left of the delicious sweetness on my fingers. Can't waste any of this. I hear a soft chuckle from nearby. Right, she's still here, and she hasn't moved. If anything, her expression has only grown more encouraging.
"Go on. I won't bite." She waves the box at me.
I guess one more won't kill me.
Once again, slowly, I take one out of the box. This time, I take special care to take the smallest bites I can, to make it last as long as possible. Oh, but it's divine. I haven't tasted anything this good in... ever, I want to say. What is this made of? Who made it? I'd like to fervently thank them.
The second piece of chocolate is gone before I'd like. I automatically reach for another one before I even have a chance to think about what I'm doing. Ah, damn, it's gone already. I started eating too quickly again.
It's the best few minutes I've had in a long time
...Oh. When I notice, It's too late. Almost too late. I've forgotten to back out of her range. I focused too much on the chocolate. When I look up, there's a hand descending directly on to my head.
Which is... No.
My pulse quickens.
don't don't touch me
keep going don't stop
don't look outside
its safe inside
get away from here
I'm fine. There's no need to run. I'm safe. Aside from being seriously shaken, I'm intact. She didn't manage to touch me. Ah, there's some tears. I wipe them with the collar of my robe.
I remember now why I don't get close to people.
Now, where did I end up? I recognize this portion of the tunnels, this isn't too far away. I should backtrack there. I hope she's not upset.
She's not there at all, actually. It looks like I knocked the box out of her hands in my scrambling to get away. The trouble is, she didn't pick the chocolates up. They're scattered all over. You'd think she would have picked them up. I should do that.
Setting down on the floor, I pick all of them up, nearly tipping over twice, due to leaning over my bucket a little too much. I'll take this box for now.
This is troubling. Yamame is kind and strong, but I've seen her sad a few times, like when she was beaten out of the upside by a shrine maiden. She doesn't like being stuck down here. I don't want to see her make that face again. I don't want to be the cause of that. I couldn't help what I did, but I still feel guilty. She might not even feel that bad. As far as she's concerned, this would be natural behavior for me, right? Even if she does get upset, she's a big girl. I'm sure she'll get over it.
[ ] Go look for her, now. [ ] She might need a little space. Besides, she can take care of herself. -[ ] This has been tiring, already. Let's go back home. -[ ] Find Parsee. She should get my mind off it. -[ ] To the city. That should get my mind off it.
>>11284 Returning the chocolates shows that Kisume places emotional importance on them, and understands the concept of responsibility. So I'm going to add it to my existing vote as well. -[x] And return her chocolates.
>>11287 Reading too much into it or not, statements like that get across your intentions and thoughts as readers to me, which is obviously useful since this is supposed to be an interactive story. I encourage everyone else to do it. Any thoughts you have, post em. And your apparent enduring interest in miss long legs has been noted.
One last thing, updates will slow down from now. I was only able to have one a day because I have Fridays off and I started Thursday, so I had 3 free days to write. I'm still hoping to have at least 2 or so updates a week, but you can't predict these things.
I can't just leave her alone. She's the closest I have to a companion. If she decides to stop talking to me, it would be... bad. Look at me. Even in this situation where I may have hurt my friend, I'm thinking of how it would be harmful for me and me alone. Terribly selfish.
I may be a bad person. I'll take this box back to her. I hope she appreciates it. The chocolate will be a little dirty, but it should still be edible.
First order of business would be to look in her place. I hope she doesn't mind this little indiscretion.
It's a little stupid, but I feel the urge look around to see if there's anyone around before going in, like some kind of thief. Which I am, come to think of it. Aaaand already I run into a problem. The entrance is only large enough for me alone to go in. No big flying homes allowed. There's only about a second of hesitation before I flatten myself against it before coming out, so as to spend as little time in the open as possible. I pull myself through the small gap in the rock, lose my balance slightly and nearly trip over myself like an idiot. It may have been better to fall. I find myself staring into a far wider, taller, carefully carved arched corridor. A shiver runs through my spine.
Okay, calm down. I can still go through with it. I just need to have a quick peek to find out if she's in here, plus I can see where the corridor ends just ahead. It can't be more than 10 paces. I press up against a wall, feeling the rough rock on my cheek, screw my eyes closed and take my hesitant steps sideways. I feel and hear the ragged sound of my clothes tearing a bit from the friction.
This is the reason I only wear these simple robes. Besides being easy to find, everything I wear ends up ruined, torn and dirty, so wearing anything more elaborate feels like I'm committing a crime. Most times they're way too long for me and I have to cut them down to an acceptable size, which also feels like I'm committing a crime, but I can't do anything about that. It's a bit transparent, isn't it? What I'm doing. But distracting myself like this does help.
I feel the wall abruptly end before me.
Then I unwittingly, stupidly open my eyes in reflex, and see nothing but blackness.
This is as far as I'm going.
The corridors opens up into the yawning maw of what must be her room, the darkness threatening to swallow me whole. It feels like it's growing, closing in as I look at it. It's way too spacious.
I only avoid tumbling down to the ground because of the wall next to me, which I hold on to for dear life.
My vision darkens and swirls, like when you stand up too fast. I find out that I'm breathing hard only because my heaving chest happens to enter my field of vision when I look at my feet.
It really feels like death is at my back, his scythe at my throat.
It's not that big of a deal, honestly.
I don't know if that's bad or good, but I've gone through this particular type of crisis enough times that it no longer takes me by surprise. After so many times, I can retain rationality while panicking and I know how to calm myself. Maybe that's the key. Practice.
I wish I didn't have to practice these things.
I face the wall and sit down, hugging my knees. Shut my eyes and take slow breaths, think of good things. My cozy home. My warm blankets, rough but comforting. My yellowed books, dog-eared and crinkled from having been read too often. A new one pops into my mind: the sweet taste of good chocolate. Focus on the cold stone prickling my legs, for grounding. A simple procedure.
It doesn't take too long to stop the shaking. Very passing stuff. Like I said, not a big deal. Really.
Controlling my breathing, I squint and force my eyes to look at the huge, tall chamber before me. Did she hollow out all this stone by herself? There's a cold feeling in my stomach. I don't want to stay here any longer than I need to. I take note of the essentials: bed, furniture, strange metal stand, uncategorizable stuff scattered on the floor, no Yamame. Time to get out.
Then, back to my safe place. Let's not dwell on what happened there too much.
If Yamame really wants to hide, there will be no finding her. There are tens of hundreds of twisty tunnels branching from the main one, like a giant inflated ant colony. It would take weeks to search all of them. I don't think she wants to hide, though. All I can really do is go up to the main entrance and search down where I can think she might be. It could take the better part of a day.
No luck. I go up all the way to the entrance, then back down to the chasm surrounding the city, even as far as where the spirits start showing up. I search every place I conceivably can.
It's been... a long time since I started.
It was night time up above when I went to the cave entrance, so she might have gone outside. I can't follow her up there.
It's been really tiring. Flying around for so long is draining, especially since I have to carry this huge hunk of wood around everywhere. I'm tired. When I'm tired my mind wanders. Today, it decides to wander in all sorts of unpleasant places where I don't want it to go.
I don't feel too good. I should go home.
I... can find Yamame tomorrow.
It's true that I feel guilty and I do intend to find her still, but I can't help but feel immense relief when I'm finally inside. Which in turn makes me feel more guilty. Muscles I didn't even know I had that were tensed suddenly relax. The oppressive feeling accumulated from having no roof over my head is gone, and a long sigh escapes my lips unbidden. I collapse into my nest, welcoming the scratchy feeling. It's a familiar place. This is why I said I don't get out too often. Things like what happened today are not rare when I leave my safe spot.
But now I'll have to do it again, and soon. My teeth clench at the prospect of going through all that a second time.
Well, it was my fault. There's nothing to be done about it. The alternative is worse. I may be overreacting to this whole thing, but I don't want to lose Yamame.
I set the chocolate aside. I'm tired and worried, but I can still loaf around in the usual way. It'll help me relax.
[ ] Straight to sleep. Busy day tomorrow. [ ] Dig through the pile of trinkets for something interesting I've forgotten. [ ] The usual pastime will do fine. [ ] Just another bite of chocolate won't hurt...
I curl up and nuzzle the covers, still basking in the satisfaction of being back home. With how tired I am, I could probably close my eyes and instantly collapse, but I know just the thing to help me wind down from the accumulated stress. I roll over and carefully light the lamp hanging from the wall, after a couple of broken matches. Hmm, I'm running out of those too.
There it is, my little personal trove of treasures. Where I've put everything interesting I've found in my years living here. It's a bit of a waste, actually. In truth, I rarely look through or use this stuff. It's just here because I find it comforting to have belongings. See, if I go back as far as I can remember, I had nothing. I found myself in this huge cave with not even clothes on me, no custom-fit home, but with every... problem I have to this day. It was a troublesome time, to say the least. It's gotten a lot better now.
...That still doesn't explain why I hoard all this, does it? Let's just say I like having things of my own. When I didn't, I was a lot worse off.
I've saved all this over several years, so I have a lot of interesting finds. I even found a couple of outsider artifacts. I think they were, at least. Always some kind of box, with those outsiders. They didn't do anything, so I opened them up to see what was inside and found a lot of flat green plates with lots of funny looking studs and lines on them. They still didn't do anything, but at least it was more interesting to look at.
Let's see here...
A gourd with elaborate decorations on it. I got chased halfway through the underworld for this one. It's funny in retrospect, but I suspect that's only because I don't have an angry creature capable of cleaving mountains running after me anymore. Now that I think about it, I should just have dropped it.
An old, worn and darkened 100 yen coin. I have no use for this.
Wow, a full sealed bottle of sake. I have no idea how this got here. I open it up, sniff it and yep, it's sake alright. I'll set this one aside for later.
A portrait of a cute young girl, with a childish face and long blonde locks. There was a man beside her, but I ripped that part out. I don't like men.
A long, slim pipe. I've never tried smoking, myself.
Ah! I like this one a lot. I don't know its name, but it's a musical instrument. It's a small metal bar with holes on one side that you can blow into for sad, lonely-sounding music. I really wanted to learn how to play it, but it was far too loud. I don't want to attract anything here. I still keep it because someday, I might have the chance.
A notebook full of notes on the underground and a half-sketched map to the entrance of the cave. I found this one on a corpse, along with a compass. Nobody came for it.
A small container of perfume. This would be wasted on me.
Half of a very nice teacup, with golden trimmings. I doubt it's actually gold. I knew I should have kept it in a safer place.
A glint in the middle of everything catches my eye. Ah, this one. I don't remember where I got this one. It's an ornate bronze hand mirror, with some abstract, loopy designs emblazoned on it. It's been a long while since I've taken a look at myself.
I look tired and dirty, but that's only because I am. The dark circles under my eyes look blacker and deeper than I remember, too. I look... gaunt. The consequence of living on bare minimum food. It's not so bad when you're used to it. My hair is a mess and longer than it should be. It's been a while since I've had a chance to have a bath, so it's kind of grimy and oily. I forgot to put my hair ties back on from when I left earlier today. I should have a comb and some scissors around here somewhere...
It's easy to forget how tall you are when all you do is float around other people above eye height. In all aspects, I look like a human child, except thinner. Plus, I haven't grown at all. I wish I would grow, even if just a little bit. I don't look too good, do I?
...Suddenly I don't want to do this anymore. The mirror clinks aside. I remove the cover of the lamp and put it out. The light didn't flicker today, so I get the silly notion to thank it. I don't, though.
I have things to do tomorrow. Can't stay up for too long. I settle in and face the rocky ceiling. Time to sleep.
I can't sleep. There's an odd tingling in my head, like something is digging a hole from the inside out, about to burst from my skull. Roll left, roll right, hear the soft rustling of cloth. Count the grooves on the ceiling. I can't sleep.
I'm exhausted. My eyes, my whole body feels like I've been getting hit with hammers the whole day. But I can't sleep. No embrace of refreshing slumber, no sweet oblivion, none of that. My consciousness stubbornly refuses to fade.
This too is routine. It could be worse, though. Sometimes I sleep for a little bit, have a bad dream and wake up. Then I can't sleep again. Again, as a youkai, I don't need sleep in the same way humans do, where you would die or be very heavily impaired by lack of sleep but... It sure feels nice.
The strange tingling has become a pervading numbness in the inside of my head. It's kind of a relaxing, benevolent feeling.
I know myself. It's not productive to just lie still when this happens.
I get up and into my bucket. A stroll will do me good. My mind feels all light... It feels good. ...
Just a second... What am I doing? Is this really what I usually do when I can't sleep?
“Hey!” I tense up, freeze. Nobody else should have been able to find this place. It's an airy, giggling sort of voice, half-whispering. Think of wind chimes. The kind of voice the most dangerous of people tend to have.
“Bucket girl! Come down here, I want to talk to you.” It's a girl. It's coming from outside. I stay still.
Some very, very long moments pass.
“Come oooooon,” She drawls happily. “I don't want to force you.” It's a clearly mocking warning tone, but I have no doubt she means it.
[ ] ...It doesn't look like I have a choice. [ ] Resist.
I crawl backwards until I feel my back bump painfully against the wall. No, no way I'm going to leave my very safe home to follow some suspicious, ominous voice. I may be weak at danmaku... and in general, but that doesn't mean I'm a free target. I'm still at least twice as strong as a human, and my fangs are still sharp...ish. If she comes in, I'm prepared. I'm prepared.
Saying it again isn't going to help me, is it? I've heard there are youkai that eat other youkai. What if that's it? I don't want to die yet. I must be barely 40 years old, I'm too young to die.
I squeeze myself against the wall further. My head is still buzzing.
There's an annoyed click of the tongue from outside. “Come on out, I'm really just trying to help you! I know about your situation and all. I just want to have a chat.” There's a pause and she mumbles, more to herself than to me, I think. “Hmm, it'd be more of a monologue, wouldn't it?”
She knows about me? How? Fighting light-headedness I dig through my memories, trying to match her playful voice with anyone, but I get nothing. It does feel vaguely familiar, but that's as far as it goes. Terrible thoughts bubble up. Enormous claws tearing my fragile body in half. Someone who messes with mind magic can't be good. I'll be killed. I don't believe for a second whoever this is wants to 'help' me.
“I'm waiting.” Another minute passes. Even though I'm sitting, I feel like I'm falling. I try my hardest to keep as still and silent as a corpse, which is looking uncomfortably near reality, from my perspective. Shallow, slow breathing. Or maybe it's terror seizing my muscles.
Finally, she speaks again, startling me. “Look, I tried asking and all,” her voice takes on a haughty, impatient note now. If anything, she's quick to change moods. “But I feel like helping you, so I'm going to help you and you're not gonna be the one to stop me.”
Whatever is going on in my head is reaching a crescendo. I don't want to be killed. It grows and grows, like someone is blowing up a balloon in there. Like there are enormous centipedes crawling around inside. Don't kill me, please. There's an immense pressure inside my skull I haven't done anyth
Like someone let go of a stretched elastic band.
And then... nothing. Nothing happens. I get up. As much as I can in this place, anyway.
“There, see?” Comes her muffled voice, triumphant. The annoyance from before completely forgotten. Across the room, into the bucket. And finally, out of the room.
There stands (or rather, floats) a beaming youkai girl, grinning with her entire body. Except her eyes.
“There you are, cute as always.”
The word 'sunny' pops into my head when I see her. It might just be the bright orange shirt of an expensive-looking, smooth material, but most likely it's the way she bobs and twitches playfully as she floats, sending her frilly skirt flowing. It seems like she's about to start tittering at any moment. Unlike people I see around here, she is not completely pale, showing something of a healthy glow even in this low light. The mass of her wavy hair looks like it hasn't been combed once in her life, wild, thin and thick strands of silver scattered all over.
And her eyes. The sole aspect of this girl that seems off to me. It could be just the lighting, but it doesn't look like she has pupils. Like she's staring straight through me. It's an eerie effect. It really makes me want to look away.
But what makes it obvious that she's a youkai is the floating... ball? A sphere of deep, live dark blue connected to her by thick cords. At least I assume they're connected to her. Although I can't see anywhere they'd actually go “into” her, she's even using them as what looks like a makeshift belt tied tightly around her waist, wrinkling her shirt. The floating sphere pulses slightly and moves by itself occasionally. Creepy.
“See?” She throws her hands up, “I'm not gonna eat you or anything. Although...” Alarmingly, she licks her lips. “You do look tasty, you know?”
That was a joke, right? I hope it was a joke.
“Anyway, I just want to help you. Don't ask me why, I just feel like it. Though...” She puts on an exaggerated thoughtful expression. “I think it's because your head is almost as broken as mine! It's why it took so long to get you down here. Usually people don't even notice what's going on. You're different, though. My sister told me not to mess with people's brains, but you're interesting and I want to, so I will.”
“Ah!” She snaps her fingers with a flick of the arm. “I should prove that I can help you, right? Hold on just a second.”
Why would I move, anyway?
She closes one eye like she's aiming and bites her lips. snap I blink. Actually, it's more like my eyelids twitch. There it is again.
“Done. Look, now.”
Look whe- oh
Before I have time to react, she launches herself forward and puts her arms around me, locking me in place and half pulling me out of my bucket. She's very... vigorous, rubbing her cheek forcefully against mine like a kitten.
I don't... feel anything. Actually, I do. I feel the soft elasticity of her cold skin and the tickling of her hair on my cheek. Why is she cold? I feel her arms squeezing me all around, through my robe, the pressure of her fingers on my back and her breath on my ear, making me shiver. I feel her chest pressing against my own.
What I don't feel is more important. I don't feel any fear. I don't get dizzy, my mind isn't shutting down, even a little bit. My heart is beating faster, yes, but for a different reason from the usual. I don't feel any urge to run away. It's amazing.
Despite how suspicious and strange this girl is, I find myself squeezing her back, burying my face on her shoulder. I can't help it.
It's only a few moments of bliss enveloped in warmness, hugging as hard as I can. Which isn't much. She's cold, but at the same time she feels warm. Does that make sense?
I feel rather than hear a throaty chuckle from the girl just before the moment is broken. She [i]inexplicably[/] decides to close her teeth around my ear, hard. I let out a surprised squeak and jump out of her arms.
“Sorry, sorry,” she says, drawing back still amidst laughs. “It just looked so tiny and chewy, and it was right there in front of me. I resisted as long as I could.” Which means not at all, I presume.
“That convinced you, right?” I suspect my expression tells her all she wanted to know, because she just smiles at me. No, I'm not going to say what kind of face I'm making. It's embarrassing. Her eyes don't even bother me anymore.
“Just show up at the Palace of Earth Spirits in a day or so, we'll find some way to fix you. My sister knows all sorts of stuff, she can help. And if you don't, I'll come and drag you out, hear? I was going to take you there right now, but you look like you need some rest.” I nod dumbly.
“Oh, and you'll still have the same problems when I'm not around, so don't try to go around hugging people. It would be too easy if I could just fix you like that, wouldn't it?” I frown, but I'm not surprised. It was too good to be true. I got a hug... I think I'm happy enough with that.
“I should go now, someone's coming. Be sure to come by, okay?”
She snaps her head to a point somewhere in the darkness, suddenly. I follow her line of sight, but I don't see anything but blackness.
When I look back, she's gone. Something unwinds in my head.
Oh... I see what happened now. At least she didn't physically force me out. I'm not sure what to think about this encounter. I'm relieved I'm alive and it felt good, sure, but was that even real? Should I trust someone who can apparently force me to do anything with just a thought? I shelve the thought for later, because someone actually is coming. I hear muffled mumbling from the direction she pointed out. There: two bright green dots, visible even in the darkness. It's the guard woman.
That's odd, she rarely leaves her post. She looks like she's searching for something. She also looks like she's in a bad mood. Then again, I've never seen her not look like she's in a bad mood.
[ ] Approach. [ ] It's none of my business. I should really try to sleep.
Also, Koishi deciding she wants to help us, and wants Satori to help us as well. Kisume is Really messed up mentally, if Koishi says she is. I wanna get to Satori and fix our hug problem. Then, I wanna go hug Yamame, as an apology for running away.
The green searchlights shift around, sweeping the place mechanically. I briefly think of trying to just watch her undetected for a while, but I don't think I could do it even if I tried; I'm not very stealthy. She's a watchwoman and takes her job seriously, although she doesn't want anyone to know it. I can't imagine why. She's spotted people minutes before they came into my view before, when we were together. I'm surprised she hasn't locked her eyes on me already. Parsee is, together with Yamame, 99% of what little social contact I have. Our relationship is... How should I put it? If Yamame is the one to cheer me up, I'm the one to cheer Parsee up. Or at least try to.
I think I succeed a little even just by smiling at her, even though she tries her best not to let it show. It's all I can do, at any rate.
Despite being dead tired, I decide to make a little time for her. Even though her personality is... abrasive, to put it nicely, I do like her. I don't know what it is, but I feel like she means only a tenth of the bad things she says, at most. I might just have a bad eye for people.
I move towards her, and immediately her eyes lock on to me. See what I mean? She's good at what she does.
As I approach, I can see her features better. Her blonde hair is, as usual, done up in a short, half-hearted ponytail that leaves most of her hair and her wavy fringe untouched, failing to conceal her long pointy ears. It's quite cute and looks a bit hard to do. She puts in quite a bit of work on her appearance, for who she is. That's what it looks like, anyway. Her hair is always flawlessly done, and her patterned clothes often have multiple layers to them, not to speak of when she wears the detached sleeves and scarf. She even wears make-up sometimes. It's kind of incompatible with her, but who am I to judge? I'd do the same if I could, probably. I could also bet that she trains when she's alone. She's slim, and from when I've gotten glimpses of her body before, and she looks really toned under that mass of clothes. Especially her legs. They're a runner's legs.
She has her customary toothy frown on, and when she fixes me with a stare, it feels like she's about to pounce me. Really sharp eyes will do that. She does have sort of an aggressive posture which would be intimidating if I didn't know her, but it's just how she is. Today, though, she lets out a relieved sort of sigh after she sees it's me, relaxing her stance.
Then immediately moves to cover it up. “What, she's fine.” She says, feigning uninterest. “What a waste of time.” Her voice is feminine, but hoarse and low by nature. Husky, you could call it under the right circumstances. It makes me think of a fine but potent liquor, if that makes sense. Pleasant to listen to, if you ask me.
I give her my best friendly smile.
“That cow of a spider bugged me for an hour to help look, saying she was worried about you.” She snorts. “Wouldn't tell me why.”
I hold back a chuckle at how plain of a lie that is. If Yamame was so worried about me, she wouldn't spend a whole hour trying to convince Parsee to search with her. I can only imagine she agreed to it because she got worried about me too, enough to leave her post. I feel a little flattered. Hopefully that's not too presumptuous.
She briefly scans me up and down. “Since there's nothing wrong with you, I'm going.” Ouch. If I didn't know Parsee, that might be hurtful. I do know her, though.
She makes a show of turning to leave. Ah, there. This is what she does to herself. I can't leave her alone.
Step, step, step, step. She turns and sees I'm following her. I'm given an acid narrowing of the eyes. I shrug it off and play dumb, tilting my head at her innocently. She scowls, just short of actually hissing. Actually, she has hissed at me in the past, I believe. I don't understand why she does it. It's clear she doesn't actually want me to go away, since she could very easily make me leave if she so wished to. In fact, I'd chance to say she enjoys me around, however mystifying that is. I don't do much to warrant it. Still, she does this song and dance every time. I really don't get it.
It was tough at the beginning, though. She succeeded in scaring me off the first few years, and it was only by accident that I started finding out she was actually a good person. Long story short, I saw her caring for some flowers. Isn't it great? I don't think a bad person could care for flowers in the underground. How do they grow down here, anyway? Must take a lot of work.
Really, she is a good person. She just makes it hard to see. That's what I believe.
We take the long walk (well, she walks, anyway) back to her place in the bridge. I can't help noticing the nervous looks she tosses my way, maybe checking if I'm leaving? She has more of a spring in her step than when she was alone. It may all be wishful thinking. I want her to like me, too. Maybe she's just annoyed...
Going down the main tunnel to the city always has me diving a little deeper into my bucket. It's intimidating. The deeper you go, the more everything grows: the stalagmites grow thicker, taller and the ceiling goes up and up until you can no longer see anything but pure blackness on all sides. Then, you realize there's no more tunnel. It's the underworld. It sometimes feels like you're shrinking as you go through it, rather than the tunnel growing. The chasm is sudden and precipitous. I haven't ever gone down there. Even being able to fly, looking down at the seemingly endless abyss petrifies me. Maybe that's for the best; this is hell. The empty blackness gives way to a plateau not too far ahead, and in the distance, the lights of the lively ancient city glitter brightly. In this place, it's less like it's underground and more like we've arrived in a parallel dimension where there's no sun. That's how large the place is. I was terrified in the beginning, but now, as long as I have a safe place to hide in, I'm fine.
The path of eternal torches continues along the bridge and follow a path to the city. Her shack is just beyond the bridge, to the side of the path. It's a modest wooden shack in western style, with only a living room, Parsee's bedroom and a bathroom. No kitchen. She brags that she built it herself, and it actually does look solidly built, despite lacking a paint job.
Parsee nonchalantly marches across the bridge, something I would be very afraid to do, were I on foot. It always looks way too thin and long to be safe. I know it's probably reinforced with magic and all, but it really feels like a long way to firm land again. At least it has some solid-looking short concrete walls for railings.
They also happen to be Parsee's favorite perch. After making sure we're the only ones around, she hops on top of one and lies down balancing herself precariously, resting her head. She kind of reminds me of a cat. It still makes me nervous; that chasm is no joke. Yes, I know she can fly. Still.
She lets out another tired sigh. There's no shortage of those.
Usually about now is where she would start complaining about stuff while I'd patiently listen, but she's not up to it today. She looks as exhausted as I am.
I settle down on the ground across from her.
She stares. It's unusual. I don't cower under her eyes. I'm not sure what we're doing, just eyeing each other like this, but it doesn't feel awkward to me. This is fine.
I make myself comfortable, sinking into the bucket a bit.
It's not like Parsee is unpleasant to look at. She's not frowning anymore. Her eyes are really hypnotizing. Green, but an uncommon light green, like green apples.
I'm really sleepy.
...Where have I seen a green apple before?
My insticts tell me sleeping in front of someone is not safe, but...
Veiny. Veins, extending from every direction to every other direction. Brown veins? No, branches. Branches and leaves, waving sedately in the breeze. And little dots of blue, lots of little dots, appearing and disappearing between the leaves. A bright blinding blue. What a nice place to wake up in.
My back is kind of ticklish. I should get up.
I sit up, and my first thought is that I am very small. The trees stretch up and way above me, knotted and thick. I could fit 5 of me in the trunk of any one of those. In fact, most of their branches closest to the ground are larger than me also. There's mushrooms my size littered around their bases, deep reds and purples and other colors that seem natural for mushrooms. Dead leaves and short plants litter the ground, no doubt aiming to make those lying down uncomfortable.
There's something strange about this place. There's something... really thick in the air, like if I lit a fire, it'd explode. It's like it should make breathing harder, but it doesn't. The something is centered on me. I can't see it, but I smell it without actually smelling it and feel it clearly: It's kind of like... sweet? Like a fruit, but there's too much of it. It's prickly. It feels like I could grab a hold of it and pull it to me easily. But I don't do that.
To one side, the forest gets far thicker, and the blips of light on the ground thin out quickly. To the other, the opposite happens, and the trees turn into a plain of grass, I think. I can't see to well from here. I get up and off the ground. Wow, what a difference. I don't have to carry my weight up and down like a barbarian; it feels way more natural than walking.
But I want to feel the leaves and ground beneath me, so I float back down. Crunch. Dirt, leaves, branches crunch and break, and it feels good. I rub my feet against the ground, digging into the loose, cool earth. When I realize it, I'm smiling. This is a pretty nice place.
Is it stupid to smile at nothing? If so, I guess I'm stupid.
Then, the trees end. There's no leaves to crunch anymore, now it's only grass. It's not as fun to walk here. I wonder, if I keep walking in this direction, will the grass end too? And eventually there'll be nothing alive. Or something else will take its place.
Ah, there's some smoke up there, coming out of a... It takes a minute to register. A house, of red brick, a well, a fence, some chickens, pecking at the ground. Humans, the word comes to my head.
The very next piece of advice to come to me is to leave. 'You should leave, humans are dangerous,' it's telling me. But I've never seen one. I want to know about them. Could you resist that?
The sun seems to shine unusually brightly on my face.
...Actually, no. It's just the grumpy green-eyed princess, holding up a lamp right to my face. Her frown is back.
It's over. It' a shame, that was one of the nice ones. Usually they aren't. Either way, I'll forget it in the space of a day, which is all the better; thinking too hard about them ends up badly.
Parsee – surprise! – looks displeased. She puts down something she's carrying on the floor next to me. It's... a plate, with an appreciable pile of quite good-looking pastries.
“What a good life, isn't it? Where you can sleep for...” She fishes a chained watch out of a skirt pocket. “Twenty damn hours. I'm lucky if I can close my eyes for two hours at a time.”
Good life, eh? If only. I smile at her by way of thanks for the food. The first time, she tried to give me a piece of raw meat which I obviously refused. What am I, an animal? She kept giving me food, though, and eventually got it right. She's a good cook, too. These crunchy whatever-they-are are delicious. And look, one of them is shaped like a heart. When I look up, she fumbles a bit and looks away, trying to pretend she wasn't watching me. She always does this, I guess worried that I won't like it.
She's such a cutie.
...Wait, wasn't there something I had to do today?
[ ] I can at least finish my food first. I know Parsee will worry over it if I leave any. [ ] No time to waste, straight to the Palace. [ ] It's a fancy place, so I should dress up as much as I can. Go back home. [ ] She said she'd come and get me, right? That'll work, then.
No idea why I had such a hard time writing this update. I'll accept any combination of choices that seem reasonable to you as well as write-ins.
[x] I can at least finish my food first. I know Parsee will worry over it if I leave any. -[x] Then borrow Parsee's bathroom to make myself presentable. Maybe wash my face or something. -[x] Then to the palace.
[x] I can at least finish my food first. I know Parsee will worry over it if I leave any. [x] It's a fancy place, so I should dress up as much as I can. Go back home. [x] She said she'd come and get me, right? That'll work, then.
These don't really seem mutually exclusive, so let me know if this vote doesn't work.
[x] I can at least finish my food first. I know Parsee will worry over it if I leave any. [x] It's a fancy place, so I should dress up as much as I can. Go back home. [x] She said she'd come and get me, right? That'll work, then.
[x] I can at least finish my food first. I know Parsee will worry over it if I leave any. [x] It's a fancy place, so I should dress up as much as I can. Go back home. [x] She said she'd come and get me, right? That'll work, then. If Koishi shows up before we get another vote, I'd just like to put forward the idea of grabbing the chocolates before we leave home.
I eat slowly, taking only enough to feel the sugary taste with each bite, so I can savor it for as long as possible. I don't get to eat good food too often, so this is essential. I feel bad about eating that one heart-shaped cookie, so I leave it for last. It looks so carefully done, the halves are even done in relief, sort of half-globe-shaped. I'm momentarily reminded of Yamame.
I look up at Parsee, who has seated on top of the railing again, with my best try at a questioning look.
“...What are you looking at? It was boring making those, so I had to amuse myself. That's it.” She crosses her long legs. I note her heels are slightly longer than her usual flat shoes. ...Now that I look at it, she's bothered to wear eyeliner today. It's subtle, but it makes her look quite different. I wonder if she's expecting someone? Going out?
...It seems unlikely. She's worn stuff like this for no apparent reason before. Makes her look womanly. Can't blame a girl. Plus, I can't say it doesn't work. Those eyes of hers really don't need any further highlighting though, I must say.
“...Stop staring at me like that. It's creepy.”
It renews my smile. The tips of her ears flare red. Parsee can't lie to me. I think she can't lie to anyone.
She ignores my mirth and lets out a long, tired sigh, choosing to look away. Hoo boy, that's the sign. I guess she's recovered her batteries while I slept. I take another cookie.
“You know that corpse thief was around while you were asleep?” She spits out, lowering her voice. Corpse thief, corpse thief. I search my mind. She has an interesting set of epithets for each person she talks about, as I've learned to recognize. The “corpse thief”, if I recalled correctly, was also the “exhumer”, “fat cat”, “grave robber” or my least favourite, “cheery bitch”, amongst others. She also likes to sprinkle such colourful adjectives as “wretched”, “damnable” and other, less palatable ones around. Usually those are left for special occasions.
I'd seen the cat-lady in person only twice, a perpetually skipping twintailed girl in a pretty dress, always with a pair of spirits floating after her. I'm not quite dumb enough to take Parsee's word for her character, of course.
“She told me she was going to the surface to have some 'fun',” she hisses, enunciating the last word as acidly as possible. I'd probably have winced if I wasn't used to her usual ways. “To rub it in my face that I'm stuck down here, same as her own miserable slave driver.”
Right, slave driver. Her boss. That's a whole can of worms I hope she doesn't open today.
“I know exactly the kind of fun she has upside. The slut.”
Um, you know, I still swear she's a good person. She just has some issues, really.
She crosses her legs the other way, impatiently. Angrily, more like, her face scrunching up and making her frown line clearly visible again. I kind of want to tell her she'll get wrinkles early like that, but even if I could, she's a youkai. I'd be lying to her.
Well, this is about par for the course. Interestingly, I never get the feeling that she's angry about the subject she's talking about, only funneling some other source of anger. I could be wrong. What do I know? I'm barely a fraction of her age.
I can't explain it well, but this part is why I enjoy being around Parsee. I don't know if it's just the ugly part of me that enjoys the 'gossip', or if I just like watching her make a fool of herself. Or plain fool herself. I wish I could do something for her.
“And you know what she said when she saw you?” Oh? I stop chewing on my minuscule piece of cookie.
“She said that she's glad I got myself a pet, so I can stop looking so lonely.” I can't help but notice the lack of her usual emphasis.
That's a pretty harsh remark. I understand, though; not everyone can stand Parsee.
I consider it for a second. Pet, is it? That's what it would look like at a glance, I suppose. I wouldn't mind spending time around her. I think I could even help to dull her edge, given enough time. I'd say that 'pet' is undignified, but I have no dignity to begin with, so it doesn't matter.
She huffs and goes silent. She's gone into introspection mode, now. Though calling it muttering mode may be more appropriate.
I'm done eating. I just can't eat this last one. It looks like too much work went into it.
...I've just had a good idea. I think I can make her a little happy before I go. I put the heart-shaped cookie square in the middle of the plate she handed me. Okay, this will take some delicacy and some courage, but I think it'll be worth it.
I float up a bit, plate in hand, which catches her attention. Alright. She lifts one eyebrow, eyeing me doubtfully. I get a little closer. Okay, this is the courage part. Steeling my nerves, I gingerly hold out the plate, and – – with as quick a movement as I can manage – place down the plate on her lap.
Ah. I feel skin on my hand. I touched hers a little bit. My heart leaps, but it's well within parameters. It's not so bad when I'm prepared for it
And I was right, it's completely worth it to see her look of near open-mouthed surprise. I spin and bolt as fast as possible, since I don't want to see her excuse for that. Really, that's the reason. I'm not embarrassed or anything.
I grin all the way home, ignoring how curiously warm my cheeks feel.
As always, stress drains away from me immediately when I scuttle inside, but for a change, I'm actually anxious to go back out. It's a new feeling.
She said I should come to the Palace of Earth Spirits, right? I have only seen it once, and from afar. I don't go exploring much, anymore. But if it's a palace, it's got to be fancy. I can't just go like this, can I?
A bottle of water and a piece of cloth is all I have to clean myself. I rub out the worst of it, but I still don't think this is good enough. If I recall, the administrator of the whole underground lives there. I need to look presentable. Unfortunately the nearest underground body of water is too far. She might come by while I'm out, and I wouldn't like that. I'll just have to deal with it.
I dig out the flat box from under my pile o' stuff, toppling over everything in the process. Damn, I'm going to have to clean up later. Here it is, the only set of clothes I bother keeping neat, for just such an occasion. It's actually not that fancy, just another robe like my other ones, but a lighter material, with some subtle flower patterns all over, barely a shade darker than the rest of it. You can't see them unless you're looking for it. The best part is the obi, a purple sash with a beautiful butterfly knot you can clip on to the back. I think it's beautiful, anyway.
It was a little complicated to get it on the first time, especially in the limited space of my home, but not all that hard once you know where everything goes.
I fiddle with the obi nervously. Now I just have to wait.
I pop my head outside for the twentieth time. Nothing.
I think it's been a day since she was here. Hasn't it? What if she's been here already while I was with Parsee?
While waiting, I find myself putting my arms around myself the best I can, something I don't usually do. I close my eyes and imagine the dull eyes, the cold but somehow soothing touch, the feel of the messy hair. I guess this is kind of like her.
Who am I kidding? No it isn't. It's completely different.
I put my arms down embarrassedly, biting my lip. What am I doing? I've been living like this for over a decade, yet one single person that can offer me some kind of comfort comes along and has me running after them like a child?
...I guess that's exactly the situation. It's a good thing I'm not very proud, or I might be having a lot more trouble with this.
I should go and try to find her, at least. I don't think anything happened to her; she seemed strong, but I shouldn't just sit here and wait for salvation. Sure having someone stopped by and offered to solve all my problems, but that doesn't mean I should stay passive and useless. And it's not at all just because I'm impatient to see her again.
I pull myself out of my house for the third time in what, two days? I feel a dull pain flare up on my shoulders that wasn't there before as I stare into the corridors again. Nothing to be done about it. I follow the trail of dim torches downwards again. Down here, at least there's not much risk of getting lost, unless you deliberately go astray of the main path. The torches go all the way from the entrance through the tunnels, past the city and to the Palace. I don't know if it goes any further than that, though. I haven't been there.
After a while of flying, I feel the vague dread of the tunnel widening into infinite blackness above and below. I focus on the bright lights of the city ahead so it passes quickly. I pass high above the bridge, trying not to attract Parsee's attention. It doesn't work: I feel her eyes on me even way up here, and indeed I can see them with a quick look down. Sometimes I think they emit light by themselves. But probably not. They're just like cat's eyes, reflective in the dark.
The distances down here really are impractically large. I'm getting a little tired already, even after sleeping however many hours. I wish I could fly faster. It looks like it's day right now over there.
The lanterns in the city are enchanted to follow a 24-hour cycle, mimicking the light of the sun. Personally, I just sleep and get up when I feel like it, but I guess if they do that, they can't gather efficiently. The city itself is unremarkable. Traditional wood and paper homes, mostly, clumped up onto one another. Some 'farms' with weird edible fungus, which is the best they get down here. Right now, it looks like it's the 'morning'. The place seems to be in a sleepy mood; I can't see much movement. When the lanterns dim, however, the other lights go on and the city bustles.
The oni are... intimidating. They are near invariably very large, muscular, rowdy and male. They don't harbor ill will towards me, in fact, underground youkai of all types are welcomed into the city. Still, sometimes when I'm near here, or when a hunting band passes by my slice of the main tunnel, I'll end up being chased by a curious oni. That's never good.
The road dotted with torches goes straight through the city. It's looking empty today, so I think I can risk going above it. Normally it'd horrible amounts of attention from anyone with a sharp eye.
Everything seems clear. I spot scarce signs of life: two people walking together and talking, one oni with a large curved horn collapsed in a ditch. Thankfully, nobody seems to be looking up. Like this, I'll make good ti-
The dull impact nearly tips my transport forwards before I get it under control. I must've flied into somebody's head.
Thankfully, I recognize that somebody's voice. It's the one I was looking for. I nearly tip over again as she pulls herself up by the rim of the bucket.
"There you are! Sorry for being late, I got distracted by something. Some things." I want to ask if her head is alright, but I think it would be pointless. She looks like she's forgotten about it already.
She vaults over and plants one foot inside the bucket, between my legs. I note the purple cord snaking under her socks, which are all the footwear she's wearing.
She's not about to...? Yes, yes she is. I turn my eyes aside as she pulls her other leg inside. Really, you're wearing a skirt, be a little more conscious. I feel like I should be protesting somehow, but I remain still. This bucket is plenty wide enough for me alone, but with two people, it's going to be a tight fit. She crouches and practically drops on my lap. At this distance, I can see the glistening of her lips and the patterns in her iris. And iris is all she has. They're dark green.
And um... She's a little heavy.
"C'mon, turn around."
I'm a little confused as to how I'm supposed to do that in these circumstances, but she doesn't feel like waiting and starts pulling and pushing me around. It takes some effort to keep stable in the air. Some struggling and rubbing of flesh later, I've managed to face the same direction as her, somehow ending up on her lap instead. I only got entangled on her weird cords a couple of times.
This... isn't bad. It's certainly softer than my usual seat, even if the bare stretch of her legs feels cold on my skin. I hadn't noticed, but she kind of smells faintly of soap. I must be terrible in comparison. I'm glad I'm not facing her. I've been getting getting into this kind of shameful situation a little too often these past days.
She puts one arm around my stomach, pulls me in tight against her and points somewhere down at the city.
"Let's go! I was doing something important before you showed up. It's the chance of a lifetime, I tell you."
I can't think too well. My head is fuzzy and warm, only this time it's from completely natural causes.
[ ] Take her where she wants to go. [ ] Going into the city is a bad idea. To the palace.
I wish I could say that I'm rationally and carefully thinking about this, but it feels more like I've drunk some of what the oni cook up. It's the rocking of her rhythmic breathing, I think. I follow where she's pointing without thinking on a short trip through the city, too busy trying to engrave everything in my memory to pay much attention to where I'm going, beyond not running into anything. None of the few people near give us a single look, which is all the better for me.
She scratches my head lightly, making me close my eyes for a second, reflexively. “Slow down, I'm trying to enjoy the ride here.”
I thought she said she was doing something important?
Well, I don't mind. Spending more time like this is certainly not something I'm opposed to. There's one advantage to being pint-sized: I'd fit snugly into near anyone's lap. Or it would be an advantage, if, you know, I didn't... ... In any case, this girl solves that problem, whoever she is.
I want to close my eyes to enjoy the moment better, but I'm driving. Her extra weight is barely noticeable. She's not heavy, but it's more that I've always been very comfortable with flying and able to carry things around with me with little effort just by... extending a bit. It's hard to explain.
I'm at least better at it than at running.
No, no, blink it away. Let's not ruin it.
I thought I'd be more nervous about this, but this girl's presence is strangely calming for someone who just yesterday was messing with my mind in uncomfortable ways. Although... maybe it's not so strange. If she's doing it right now, I've decided I don't mind. Provided I'm even able to decide anything, that is. It might be best not to think about the subject too much.
She lets out a dissatisfied 'Hmph'. “They're not being interesting right now.”
I partially snap out of it and have a peek. It looks like we came at a particularly slow time, like... Sunday morning. No fights, no ruckus, it's the calm part of the day. The glare from the lanterns is stronger than it looks from above, even heating the place up as the sun would. It's not a bad replacement... I think. I don't remember the sun well.
“Here.” She says as we pass an empty street, suddenly whispering. We're in plain sight, I'm not sure what good whispering is supposed to do.
I stop. We're before one of the houses like any other, a hammock hanging on the porch, someone sleeping inside. I can't see, but I'm immediately able to tell who it is from the proud red spike jutting out, bright yellow star emblazoned. Even I know who this is. More importantly, I know that it's a very bad idea to mess with her.
I wrestle my head out of her loose grip (and it takes some willpower to do that, I'll tell you) and throw her a worried glance. What I see only makes me more worried. Her eyes shine with a dangerously predatory gleam as she eyes the Deva fixedly. I wish she wouldn't smirk like that.
No, I correct myself. She isn't looking at the oni, but at the discarded sake dish on the ground, not a meter away where she lies. The sound of a tranquil deep breath tells me she's sleeping.
“See what I mean by opportunity of a lifetime?” Her smirk cracks into a grin.
Oh, no. No, let's really not.
She's already halfway out by the time I realize she's moving. I make a desperate grab for her and manage to close my arms around her leg. I thank all my stars that she actually stops.
It doesn't last.
She turns her head to me, grin unchanged. Her empty eyes become very noticeable yet again. “If you have an objection,” she half-chuckles, “you'll just have to... speak up.”
With no effort at all, she shakes me off, sending me spinning into the bucket and through the air. I spin once, twice. By the time I manage to stabilize, she's holding the dish up triumphantly, flashing me a winning smile. Still standing right beside the sleeping oni.
Her expression dies off quickly when a powerful manacled hand clasps around her wrist. The chain attached clinks, and it sounds to me like warning bells.
“Did you really think that would work on me, 'little sister'?”
“Maybe a little bit...?”
She lifts herself up. And up, and up. Knowing someone is tall and seeing it yourself are two completely different things. If the aura of raw power emanating for her wasn't enough, she stands in a proud upright posture, sticking her chest out. I can tell, as could anyone, that I'm standing in front of a being of immeasurable power, and the red horn jutting out of her forehead proves it. What's exposed of her arms show a good amount of tight muscle and little fat – which is likely just her own preference. Youkai as old and strong as her can more or less change their forms at will to suit their tastes, else I'm sure she'd be a hulking beast barely recognizable as a person. I've seen her fight once, and it wasn't much of a contest. My face aches when I remember what her opponents ended up looking like. Her fierce red eyes stay on the silver-haired girl, seemingly ignoring everything else. Thankfully, that includes me.
“I hate cowardly tricks.”
She just looks curiously over her shoulder at the wide-awake oni woman, seemingly unconcerned. Her hair falls in front of her eyes. She looks back at me. She winks.
And she's gone.
I'm holding an empty sake dish, red with yellow stars. It looks valuable. In front of me is a tall, blonde and very, very powerful oni. She shifts her eyes to me dubiously and takes one step. One heavy, threat-laden step that shakes me to the core.
It's heavy. It's like the weight of a mountain on me, and considering her title, that may well be what it really is. It's probably the most powerful entity for miles around, and she has her accusing eyes drilling holes through me. When I blink, I can see her breaking me in half, possibly as close to literally as possible, in my mind's eye. Maybe over the knee while I flail. My spine would break with a dry snapping sound, like rotten wood.
No, come on. It's not that bad. If I show proper respect and give her dish back, she'll let me go. I hope.
She takes another step and I wince, the whole world seeming to shake with me. I want to curl up and wait it out, like I used to. I'm set on the floor, and as such Yuugi seems ever larger than usual. This scenario seems strangely familiar.
I-its just my mind playing tricks on me, I'm sure. I tip my bucket down to the floor, horizontally. As long as I have this, I'll be fine. I can probably outrun her, granted she doesn't throw anything at me. If everything else fails, I think I'm pretty hard to kill. I've been through some dire straits in these tunnels, and yet here I am, in one piece. Good thing we don't scar easily.
In this position all I can see is the lower portion of her legs. The dual wooden platforms of the oni's footwear, the iron rings around each of her ankles, streaked and stained with dull orange rust. Everything above that covered with her odd translucent red-striped skirt. I can only see fuzzy outlines.
I put the dish down outside and stay quiet. Quiet. Don't mind the loud clacking of the heavy geta and the clinking of the chains. The clinking. Metal dragging against metal. Metal grinding against stone. It's rough, rusted and blackened by age, coarse and very very cold to the touch.
I really, really don't like that sound.
Clack, thump, clink. She's closer now, one foot right outside my door. I hadn't noticed, but those iron rings looks massively thick. They must weigh a ton.
Huh? I think she said something. I must've missed it.
She lowers her face into my view. She is rather womanly, for an oni. In a wild kind of way, with the long hair that gives you the impression it's just been left without a haircut for a long while. She doesn't look angry, which is good. She ignores the dish completely.
“Didja hear me?” She raises an eyebrow. I can't do much other than stare. These people are unpredictable, I can't relax just yet.
She clicks her tongue. “Answer when people talk to you, damn it.” Oh... did I annoy her? She slaps the rim of the bucket a couple of times. It's like a chorus of thunder around me.
Aah. There's a twinge in my head. This situation is a little too familiar. I don't want it.
I don't want this.
I feel the familiar wood against my bottom again. Going back further won't help, but I do anyway.
“Get on outta there, you.” No. If I get out, something bad is going to happen. I know this for a fact as sure as I know myself. I can feel it. She flips the bucket right side up.
She heaves a tired sigh. “I'm getting you out, you little bugger.” No. no no no no no no.
There's a scraping of metal against the wood as she reaches inside. please no make myself as small as possible knees up, arms around, head down
A tug on the shoulder of my robe. I can't move. I hear a hoarse, high pitched whimper, and I think it came from me. A pair of hands drag me out, yanking sharply by the hair. I have nowhere to hold on to, so I can only palm and claw at the dull metal surface dumbly as she's still trying to get a hold on me. Her hands finally find a grip under my arms. She pulls and I'm lifted in the air like nothing. I'm face to face with her.
Her eyes widen. “Whoa, are you alright?”
i'm not alright at all
Did I breathe too fast again? everything is fading-
Ow. My back hurts. Have you ever slept in a giant wooden bowl? It's not the most comfortable bedding.
Wait... Where am I? This isn't my place. My place doesn't have sliding doors this nicely decorated. Or any sliding doors at all. This room is fairly large. I can't think of many places in the underground that would have a building this big.
What did I do? I recall being with that weird girl for a while then... Something with an oni?
There's a clatter as the door opens. “Oh, you're up!”
Right. Her. I remember now.
I would be all nervous right now but... she's wearing an abashed smile completely uncharacteristic of an oni. It disarms her entire presence. She looks more like a scolded schoolgirl now than what she really is. That might be a good thing. It makes her a lot less intimidating
She steps inside gingerly and looks straight at me. It's like she's about to challenge me to something.
“Err... I'm sorry.” Well, that's straight-forward, at least.
“I sometimes don't think when I do things, so... yeah. My bad.” She fidgets around. It's really strange to see. “You gotta understand, though. It's been a while since anybody has been stupid enough to steal from me. Satori needs to keep her sister in check.” Her smile shifts to something more like what I'd expect from her kind, a full-mouthed grin. Whatever she felt before, she's gotten over it remarkably quickly. “You went limp as a dead fish when I pulled you out, and you were, you know...” She makes a motion like she's wiping her eyes. Oh. “Did anything happen?”
Did anything happen? No, nothing happened. Nothing happened, so I'm not going to think about it.
She sighs, still half-smiling. “Do you speak at all?”
I don't respond.
“Ah well, that's fine too. You meet all sorts down here, and we welcome everyone.” She strides over my way. I make an effort not to move. She suddenly drops her weight to the floor, sitting next to me. “As long as you drink properly. Don't gotta talk to do that, and you look like you need it.” Right. It would come down to drinking, wouldn't it?
She produces a tall bottle from somewhere and slams it down. I jump a little. “You do at least drink, don't you?”
Do I? I haven't in a long while, but I don't exactly remember why.
[ ] Drink? Sure, why not? [ ] I can't refuse an offer from her right now. [ ] No. In fact, I have places to be.
I haven't drunk anything in forever, though I don't remember exactly why. I think it's just hard to get: the people I obtain all these possessions from tend to keep a closer eye on their alcohol than anything else. I don't see any reason to refuse. She seems cheerful and friendly enough, with my mind unclouded. In fact, it wouldn't be hard to forget her extraordinary status, looking at her like this. Sitting cross legged in simple clothes, bottle in hand, like any other oni. I think I'd do well not to forget it, however. Very well.
I grab the stone cup she's put down in front of me. There's no going back now.
“Atta girl!” She uncorks the dark bottle with amazing gusto, sending a few droplets across the room. And wow, the smell instantly hits me. It's like pure alcohol. This is nothing like what I've had before. “This is some special stuff. The one I got it from tells me it's from the outside. Fancy stuff, eh?” She pours tops my cup with the brownish, foul-smelling liquid.
Hm... Don't they have tiny baby glasses especially made for this stuff? I think I've read about that somewhere.
“I'll tell you this, once I drink with someone, they end up with nothing to hide from me. Everyone shows who they really are with a little of the ol' hair of the dog in them. That's how I can tell someone's a bad person: they won't have a drink with me.” What's that supposed to mean? I don't like the look on her eyes. But it doesn't look malicious... I think.
She opts to drink straight from the bottle, tipping the bottle in a quick swig. Her eyes shut tight and her mouth deforms into something that kind of looks like a frown. “Ehh... It's not the best I've had. Drinkable enough.” She shifts her attention to me. “Now you.”
Yeah... no pressure or anything. I hold the brimming cup with both hands and bring it closer to- Oh, why the hell did I just do that? My eyes shut of their own accord, stinging with tears. I manage to hold the cup steady, at least.
There's a loud, free chuckle from nearby. Yeah, thanks.. “Yeah, that's how it is. Don't be shy, it goes down easy after the first sip.”
Well, no way around it. I shut my eyes tight and tip it back. It's... awful. I fill my cheeks with the horribly bitter, strong liquor. I try to swallow it quickly to get ride of the taste and it gets even worse. It goes down stinging and choking me. I have to put my hand to my mouth to stop from pushing it back up in the fit of coughing that follows. I can't even tell what the hell this was made of. Why would anyone drink something so vile? Ack. I wipe my face with the back of my hand. How did she drink this thing so casually?
Stupid question, I know. I put the cup back on the ground, still three quarters full, and look up at Yuugi. She has a smile on like she's proud of me. I'm gonna have to drink at least this whole cup, aren't I? It's from outside the barrier, I can't waste it now.
“That's a good girl. You managed to keep it all in. ” I dip into my bucket a little bit at the praise, feeling strangely bashful considering what it's for.
She downs a fifth of the bottle in one long draught. How? “Usually we'd talk over this, but I'll be the only one talking this time.” She takes another sip. I kind of feel like I should be keeping up with her, so I take another mouthful. “I don't mind.” I manage to only cough a couple of times. She said the truth, it doesn't taste so bad this time around. Or maybe that last one just killed all my taste buds.
“I won't ask why you're hanging around with that crazy girl because you won't answer,” she begins, slightly more seriously than before, “but do you even know who she is?”
Do I? No, of course I don't, but she did say she wanted to help me... before forcing me to do things by messing with my mind, sidetracking us for her own amusement and playing a cruel prank on me. But then again, I did sort of go along with it and nothing materially bad has come out of anything she's done. But most importantly... she's really soft to the touch.
I guess I still have to decide how I feel about her.
I move to shake my head in the negative and find that it feels really light. It's... kind of fun, so I end up doing it more vigorously than intended. Another sip, too.
“Her name is Koishi. She's Satori's little sister, and more than a little off in the head.” She scrunches her eyebrows, which interestingly, kind of moves her horn. I wonder how the mechanics of that work.. “I don't like to talk behind people's backs, but she in particular really wouldn't care. Doesn't care. If she decides she's gonna do something to you or with you, there's no stopping her unless by force.” A pause. “And you don't look like you have much force in you. No offense.” “I don't know what exactly what's wrong, but she's a walking disaster, that one. I don't recommend hanging out near her.” She looks at me with something like sympathy in her eyes. It's a little irritating knowing I'm being pitied, but there's nothing I can do. Plus I am in a pitiful state. If you hide long enough, she might get bored of looking.”
I'll think about that.
A sip... Oh, I'm out. Without really thinking, I hold out my cup at Yuugi, prompting her to laugh at me again. “Took to it like a fish to water, didn't you?” She pours me another full cup, still laughing. The bottle is nearly drained already. “You're a tiny little thing, so don't overdo it. Although... I do know another little thing who can hold her own. Maybe you'll be fine.”
I feel fine, I think. My head is really light, though. It's weird. I move around experimentally and find it much easier than it should be, like... airy? But also I have to hold my bucket with one hand to stay in place. I don't know what's going on. Are these normally the effects? I don't remember it being like this...
“So, I really think Satori should find some way to make her behave.” Oh, she's still going on? It's hard to focus with everything moving around. “I can't even imagine the kind of mess her sister makes up on the surface. I don't know how one of those slimy types who like to be a 'mastermind'” she pronounces the word with notable distaste. “Haven't come down here to complain about it yet. Or beat her until she agrees to do something.” “She only comes down here to stop by the palace usually, so it was strange to see you with her. Were you tagging along with her to the palace?”
I struggle a bit, but I manage to catch all her words. I wonder, should I still go look for Koishi after what she did?
[ ] Yeah, I was going to the palace. [ ] ...No, I guess I was doing something else.
I know what drinking does to you and I know that perhaps right now is not the best time to make decisions, but...
Her dancing silvery strands and oddly happy smile flash through my mind. I really can't see her as bad person, however inconsistent she is. I really believe she's trying to help me, somehow. I think I'll stick with her a little longer. I'd like to ask her honestly not to put me through pranks like she has again, but somehow I think it wouldn't matter too much. If Yuugi is telling the truth, (and I heard oni often do) If she wants to, she'll probably do it. There's little I can do about it.
It's really hot in here. How did I only notice this right now? I'm really sweating. I pull the sides of the robe as much as I decently can under the obi to cool down. I must be all red in the face and unsightly with the heat and the drink. It's embarrassing.
“Heey.” A hand waves in front of my face, the chains making a metallic clinking. I think that sound was unpleasant just a while ago, but my mind is in no shape to recall it. It takes me a second to snap out of my trance and focus on her. “It's just alcohol, not mushrooms. Don't pass out on me. Oh, and,” her eyes leave mine for a fraction of a second. “You're supposed to wear something under that.”
Her eyebrows are scrunched up towards the spike planted on her forehead. She really is concerned for me. The corners of my lips tug themselves up. She's great. She's a good person. No wonder even Parsee couldn't muster up a bad word about her that I can remember right now. That's really amazing. I should let her know.
My first try isn't so successful. Surprisingly, getting up intensifies the spinning by a lot and I'm sent down to where I started, letting out a little unintended 'oof' as the air is driven from my lungs by the impact. My own voice always startles me when I get to hear it. It's so squeaky.
Okay, I can do this. My mind is comfortably numb. It takes all of my concentration to just stand up, leaving no space for thoughts of unpleasant things. I brace myself against the walls and push myself upright a second time. It was just the surprise that took me off guard last time, I'm not really that bad off. I swear. Next step, climb out of here. With effort again, one leg over. Stop. Um, float a little (I'm too short to be doing this). The other leg. Holding heavily onto my bucket, I manage to stand up outside.
I really am outside. If I think about it too much, I'll collapse, so I won't.
A quick look at Yuugi tells me she's kind of bemused, which is odd. Wasn't she worried just now? Did my eyes lie to me? Did she just realize it's a normal kind of thing?
...It doesn't matter either way. The momentary impulse to flee into a hole is quickly washed away by a maelstrom of dizziness and my focused thoughts on her. I have to thank her... or something. I don't know what exactly I'll be thanking her for, but it really feels like she deserves it.
That's it, I'll thank her for being her. That sounds good. It sounds more than good, it sounds brilliant.
It only takes three unsteady steps before I collapse into the gap between her crossed legs, face first on her stomach.. Good thing she was close by, I don't think I could have walked much further. I fight to keep the bad thoughts away for a while longer. It's me touching her, not the other way around. This is fine. My bucket is in reach, only a couple of steps away. This is fine.
No, stop thinking about it at all, stupid.
A hand touches my hair carefully, resting on top. Then, it ruffles. “You're a cute one.”
Above the ear, too. I tip my head that way and end up losing one of my hair ties. I don't care at all. I can enjoy this.
There's one thing I still have to do though. This would be the hard part. I breathe in slowly and prepare.
“Th-” It fails me. I end up with a half-formed sound that means nothing. I'm really out of practice.
“Thaan – k” I drawl out the 'a' like an idiot and put a pause at the end that isn't supposed to be there, again like an idiot. My voice is the same overly high hoarse mess that escapes me from time to time. “Thank” isn't even close to a proper expression of gratefulness. I haven't even told her what I'm thankful for.
Still, I managed to do it. I guess.
One day I'll be able to do this without any 'extra help' from chemicals or mind-bending youkai. I'm sure of it.
The oni lets out an unladylike snort. “A really cute one.”
It's surprisingly easy to fall asleep with someone petting your head. I should stop swooning like this, though. Can't be healthy.
For once a quiet, dreamless sleep. Not that I mind dreams in general, but it's something of gamble, every time. Some of them make me feel bad the whole next day, even after I mostly forget what happened in them. If I could choose, I'd opt out.
Right now, though, I'm wishing I'd stayed unconscious for a a lot longer. Even just moving my still closed eyes sends a sharp pulse through my head, like there was a fishing hook stuck through it and pulling. And what is this taste? Did I sleepwalk into some carrion with my mouth open? Augh. I remember now why I avoid drinking. Although...
Scenes from last night flash through my head. I actually did it. I spoke. I got my feelings across to another person, and I did it by myself. Well, maybe not exactly by myself, but close enough that I can allow myself to be proud about it. Just a little bit won't hurt.
Feeling happy about my progress, I force my eyes open, putting in way more effort than just lifting my eyelids ought to take.
Oh hey, I'm back here again. I tap my trusty transport. She must have placed me back in here, together with this fuzzy, extremely comfortable blanket . That's surprisingly thoughtful of her. I'd have expected her to drop on the spot soon after me with how strong that stuff was. Then I consider who I'm thinking about and feel a little stupid. I can get away with blaming that one on my near catatonic state, at least. She doesn't seem to be anywhere in the sparsely furnished room. She'd be the first thing I'd notice.
I ball up into the covers (seriously, this is the fluffiest thing I've ever laid hands on. I'm not leaving it behind) and go look for my host. Right now I just want to lay down here and stay still in the dark, but I'm not complacent enough to do that in a stranger's house even if it's a particularly kind stranger.
Mustering even the minimal amount of concentration necessary to take flight comes with a its own punishment, another pang of sharp pain. I'm definitely not drinking that much again any time soon.
I take a little tour of her home, skulking around even though I don't need to, this time. Old customs die hard. It's not all that different from other ones I've been in, if not even less decorated and a tad more in order than others.There's a couple of well-crafted, fearsome oni masks hanging on the walls here and there, and that's about the extent of it. I don't search through her room though, that wouldn't do. The kitchen is, unsurprisingly, stocked mostly with meats and a variety of unmarked iquors. Fresh vegetable and fruit are conspicuously absent. Which only makes sense. We do live underground after all. I know for a fact some of them experiment with growing edible plants and fungi down here, and that's where most of their non-meat food comes from. All the drink is made from whatever is lying around: there are no formal manufacturers. Pretty much everyone makes their own alcohol as a hobby.
The meat comes from whatever creatures they hunt deeper underground. These caves stretch unfathomably deep and wide, and there's all sorts of things living down there. I see their hunting bands every once in a while, and they look quite fearsome. They wear their masks for it.
Actually, I knew Yuugi was outside in the porch again from the creaking sound of the swinging hammock, but I wanted an excuse to look through the house. I wasn't out all that long. The sun replacements are just now dimming and the more common lights are coming on, dotting the city.
Yeah, it looks like the place is livening up. There's groups of smiling horned men walking up and down, and every so often a loud laughter echoes through the street from somewhere way beyond. Things get louder and rowdier from here on.
She's still here, though. I near hear again, taking note of the curious looks from most of the passers-by. It's enough to make me want to hide behind her.
Oh, she's asleep again. We must have interrupted her afternoon nap before... or something. She looks so peaceful. I wonder if she knows she sleeps with her mouth slightly open. Her chest rises and falls slowly with her calm breathing.
Does every tall woman ends up with those?
I don't know how she manages to sleep with all this noise. Must be a necessary skill to live in this place. Although she really shouldn't sleep out here on that transparent skirt.
The horn really draws attention, with it's deep blood-red color... I wonder. That little yellow star is so perfectly etched. Has it always been like that? That'd be a hell of a weird birth mark. It's not rare to see horns painted or with odd paraphernalia hanging from them, so maybe it's just painted on. These guys have some unusual fashion statements. I still don't get all the shackles. I wonder how it feels. Is it smooth? Rocky? Does the yellow patch feel different?
Well. There's only one way to find out.
I place myself strategically so people on the street won't see me well. There, now I just have to stretch my hand out. That's all. Come on, I can do it Nothing's going to happen. Even if she were awake, she wouldn't mind, probably. It's not that hard. Gently, slowly, as to not even disturb the air around her. I had the impulse. You know, something that you know is a bad idea. Something that will undoubtedly lead to ruin in the very short term, yet you still do it anyway, because of the impulse.
Poke. I tense up, expecting some kind of instant heavenly retribution, but nothing happens. Obviously. It's kind of... rough, like stone. Sharp, too. It must be pretty inconvenient.
Sure enough, my intuition proves itself true.
There's a dry – and at the time, ominous – sound of feet stepping on wooden floor. I immediately recoil from the oni, although I wasn't doing anything reprehensible. It just feels like something I shouldn't have been doing. Blond hair, bright yellow bands. It's her. I think I just screwed up. She shouldn't have seen me with Yuugi like this. I don't really know why I think that, but that's how it seems to me. I mean, I wasn't doing anything wrong...
Yuugi opens her eyes, showing absolutely no sign of having been asleep at any point. Oh geez, she was awake the whole time, wasn't she? How did I not see that coming? I sink a little further in the blankets.
“I sure am getting lots of visitors today.”
Yamame seems normal. I guess I'm the only one worrying over such a silly thing. But then again, she's not smiling either. She's usually smiling. She bows respectfully, which makes me realize I haven't been nearly as polite as I should towards the oni. Oops.
“I'm sorry for interrupting, I was just looking for that youkai girl you have with you.” Her eyes pierce me painfully.
“Well, you've found her. What do you need?” She seems hostile, all of a sudden.
“I just...” Yamame wavers. “No... It's fine. I don't need anything. I guess I'll be off.” Oh.
I don't like this.
She's already through the streets and out of sight before the time Yuugi turns to me again. “Did you know that...Oh.” Her eyebrows go up when she sees my expression. “I think I misunderstood something.”
[ ] Chase that spider! [ ] Stick around for a while longer. Yuugi's company is agreeable, and I'm hardly in a state to be chasing people around. [ ] If I keep delaying it, Koishi is going to come 'drag me away', as she said. I should go take care of that already.
I couldn't come up with a good choice, so you can have an obvious crappy one where everyone knows which option will win. Also, FUCK I'M LATE
Yuugi waves me off. “Don't look at me like that, it makes me feel like I kicked a puppy or something. Just go already.” I bow my head to her, trying to look as thankful as I can in the split second I have before I bolt off after Yamame through the rapidly crowding streets. She's already out of sight when I set off, so there's no time to waste.
Or slightly above the streets. There's a few too many people down there: walking, talking, drinking, making merry. A substantial number of them are sitting on walls and roofs with bottles, doing what it is that oni do. So this is the place in full swing, the sun-lights (but by no means the city) gone completely dark. I haven't been here at this hour before, nor have I been here much at all, really. It's quite a sight. Like every single person decides to leave their home at the same time, raising a cacophony of laughter and yelling. I imagine that as the night wanes and they get more and more drunk, the noise and partying reaches a peak, and then it slowly peters off, with the more excitable and less alcohol-tolerant ones falling by the wayside on the streets. I can picture the drunken singing of bar ditties in my mind, even though they have no actual bars: every place is designated for drinking. It must be interesting to witness. I wonder how a people known for their impulsiveness, honesty, propensity to drink lots and horrifying strength can stay cooped up in a cave and not routinely have tons of murders in their hands. They must be pretty hardy, too.
Crap. I'm getting sidetracked. None of that is important right now. If I'm not mistaken, she took off on foot, meaning I should go up to have a better view. The city is not all that big, certainly smaller than the tunnels I wander. She can't have gone far, it ought to be possible to find her.
...Actually, it might be easier than expected. There, right ahead, the people are parting to let someone through. Someone with an unmistakable bright blonde bun and a cute black ribbon perched atop her head. However, something is off here. They're parting for her? That's not normal. I mean, she's attractive, but not that attractive. Nobody usually bats an eye at underground youkai down here, even the more monstrous ones. There's also a conspicuous lack of wolf whistling and pick-up lines being yelled. In fact, it's a little tense. A hush falls where she passes like she had a sound-dampening sphere around her – and it takes something severe to silence a crowd of jolly oni.
I wrack my brain for answers as I dart toward her. I don't recall her telling me anything that would cause this... I think. She did say that she had some trouble because of her power, but I think she'd have been clearer about it if it was this serious... right? Then again, maybe not. Maybe she has some things she doesn't want to talk about, even to herself. It's possible: I have some of those myself.
...Damn. Chase that thought away.
I think there's a better way to find out than speculating about it. Even if I can't find it about it, I can cheer her up a bit. Hopefully she isn't upset with me specifically about what happened back there, whatever it was. Even if she is, from past experience she seems to be unable to stay upset for long. I pray that stands true now.
I follow her downcast form from behind as she trudges through the streets and the people like she's fording a river. I want to be clear of everyone before making myself known, so I bear with just watching her for a while. It's not easy. Like this, she's practically radiating 'console me' at anyone who can see her. But nobody does. I lurk behind her until the last remaining homes thin out into the long road towards the bridge, flanked by its usual flickering lights. In her state, she completely fails to notice me.
I draw her attention by floating up in front of her. It takes her a second or two to realize she's not alone with the floor she was staring so hard at. She blinks quickly at me, as if to clear her sight. When it does come, as it was bound to even if the world were falling apart around us, her smile is just not fully there. It's an improvement... but I still don't quite like it.
“You're really safe.” She lets out a big sigh of relief, her shoulders visibly drooping for a second. “That's... good.” That doesn't sound like a 'That's good.' kind of tone to me.
I settle in my customary orbit over her head as she resumes walking. Oh geez. I just don't know what to do. If I could just talk... It's strange. I've been happy to just listen, and rarely. I've rarely ever felt any drive to communicate like this before now, but these past few days I've been getting thrown into these crazy situations... All this stuff is probably building up in hiding in my head. Once I stop to think about it, it'll all just collapse on top of me and I'll have a meltdown or something. I can nearly see it. I ought to put it off as long as possible.
Right now, though, my priority is Yamame.
She's back to looking at the ground. “I understand, you know. You don't have to hang around if you don't want to.”
What? What are you talking about?
“It's happened with other people before, so I'm kinda used to it.”
She shuffles her feet as she walks. “I know what my ability does... It was – it'd be stupid of me to expect anyone to stay around me for too long. Anyone can feel it.” What? Whaaaaaaat? No, you're being stupid right now, and I haven't felt anything, ever. Granted, it's not like we met every day, but still, what the hell?
“Um, it's okay, so... you can just go. It'll be fine.”
This girl. This idiot. How could I possibly leave her alone when she's making a face like that, with the misty eyes? How can she in her right mind go and say this kind of thing?
I need to do something to knock her brain into place.
Now, anger isn't an emotion I get to experience often, but damn. What the hell is this girl on about? Because she's just spouted some of the dumbest crap I've ever heard in my life. And the worst part is that I she doesn't even notice it. In fact, she's already ceased even looking at me. She's just moping, dragging herself away. It's so frustrating. I haven't seen her like this too often the time I've known her. I fly up in front of her, but her only acknowledgement is a quick flick of the eyes. I fidget. How can I get what I want to say across?
I could try to mouth something at her. Like... S-TU-PID. Actually, that might not work. Maybe... miming? I'm no good at it, but to say I don't dislike her, I could- I suppose if I put my fingers together like so and bend them like this it kind of looks like- like a heart...sort of.
......... No. Absolutely not. That's impossible, unreasonable and illogical. I'm not doing it.
She's already shuffling past me yet again. I can't think of anything good. It sucks. It really sucks. In a final fit of frustration, I zoom down in front of her, waving my arms up and down. I'm fully aware of how much I look like an idiot doing this, but I've run out of ideas completely.
Just don't ignore me. Please.
She scrunches her eyebrows and gives me a look, and that's it.
I clench my teeth. Come on. Do something. Somewhere hurts, but I pay it no mind. The pulsing headache that I'd nearly forgotten about by now flares up, also.
This won't do.
On an unfortunate impulse, I zoom down at her, sparing no strength.
The strong impact sound seems to echo through all of old hell and the underground, telling every soul and non-soul what a terrible friend I am. Instantly my mind seems to clear. All the anger and frustration are drained and I feel terrible about myself. That was enough strength to easily kill a common human, and I did it to what I think I could call my best friend. Maybe soon to be “could have called”. Oh, that's most certainly going to leave a bump. Hopefully it'll at least not open a gash.
I'm nearly knocked out of my bucket by the impact, while Yamame flops down to the ground like a handful of overcooked noodles. Well, at least she has cushioning.
...She's not unconscious, is she?
I circle around her quickly, looking for any wounds. Oh, oh geez. My stomach has gone cold and I find I'm twiddling my fingers. She's alright, isn't she? I think I at least see her breathing.... No, no, no. Ignoring the migraine I shake my head violently, trying to pull myself out of it. Come on now, don't be stupid. She's a hardy old youkai and far stronger than me. I couldn't seriously harm her even if I tried.
After maybe a half-minute of my nerves painfully attempting self-destruction at the situation, she finally stirs, dragging her golden bangs on the ground. I inhale for my big sigh of relief, but I can't finish the gesture. I'm not yet clear of trouble. I don't know how she'll react. I-I just don't know. She might smack me around or yell at me... or just walk away.
I'd rather take the smacking and yelling, honest.
I mean, I can't actually even picture her doing any of those things, but I also didn't know she had been harboring such a stupid worry. Clearly I shouldn't bank too hard on my knowledge of Yamame.
She sits up from the ground haltingly, slowly, like a zombie. It's worrying, although she doesn't look hurt or even affected beyond a now slightly scuffed and dirty dress. She stares at me with wide eyes. The impact half-undid her usually neat bun, scattering some of the surprisingly long hair over her features.
She has to do something now, right? Even if she gets really angry at me, I'll gladly take it. Just, a reaction, any reaction. Well, nearly any reaction. I wouldn't appreciate suddenly contracting a fatal youkai disease, although I'm pretty much deserving of it right now. I settle down before her and wait, feeling much like the rogue soul of a sinner before the eyes of a Yama, waiting for my punishment. If I had a tail, it'd probably be wedged firmly somewhere between my thighs right now. I guess I should be running, but I have at least enough shame in me to stay put and accept what comes my way. Maybe.
If it hurts a lot, I'll end up running anyway.
“You...” She stutters over the part of her skull that could very well be a gaping crack right now. “What was that for?”
I wish I could tell you. I sink a little further inside my bucket, leaving only my eyes and the top of my head visible from the outside. It might not be a very good time for it, but I also notice that I didn't give Yuugi back her fluffy covers back. They're still wrapped around me. Add stealing to my ever-growing list, I suppose. Actually, I already have that in there, don't I? Multiple times, too. Ah, to hell with it. Twice, thrice over to hell with it.
“Hmm.” In an unexpected gesture, the corners of her mouth turn up. I don't get what she's smiling about, so I remain still and silent. Her body rocks as a supressed chuckle ripples to her. Another one, and a few more in sucession. Then, her laughter is echoing all the way to the city while I can do little but look on, trying to think of a time when I've been more confused than now and failing utterly.
In time, she winds down.
“Aaah. I don't believe this.” She tucks her hair behind her ears, a vestigial smile plastered to her lips. “We're both pretty stupid, aren't we?”
Did I break her? Is she alright? Because I don't see what's so funny.
“Of course you don't care about that, do you?” YES! I mean, NO, I don't! Thank you! That's exactly what I've been trying t- “You barely even understand a quarter of what I'm saying.”
... Oh, I guess we're back to that. It's funny, that hasn't bothered me at all in the past, but when she says it now it makes me twitch. Actually, it's not funny at all, but still.
“So you just have good instincts. Of course you'd recoil from me. I've been so silly, taking it personally like that.” The way she smiles so innocently. I just want to yell at her, slap my forehead dramatically. Something.
Thankfully it's not very hard to lead her. It seems she didn't have a set destination when she set out from the city, so she's happy to wander around with me, already back to happily chatting and smiling as we always do, like nothing big had happened. Maybe nothing big did happen. She doesn't appear to even be aware I'm leading her somewhere. She's telling me something about how scary it was to actually be right next to the Yuugi Hoshiguma. I didn't think she was that scary. The first few minutes, perhaps, but that's because I was convinced she was looking to rip my guts out.
Some very familiar cave formations settle into their places, and my practiced eyes go directly to the barely noticeable hole on the ceiling. We're already here.
I break off, making sure she notices, and go directly up. Home sweet home. The desire to just iie down right now on my brand new flufly clover and not move for a week is strong, but I really do want to return these chocolates to her.
As I'm scanning the room for the fancy chocolate box, my eyes fall upon my old pen, an old, heavy metal thing I found fallen in a ditch somewhere. I made a splendid mess of everything when I tried to work out the ink mechanism for the first time. There's still ink stains on a lot of my stuff. I'm quite fond of it nevertheless. Has a nice feel to it. I can write. My handwriting is abysmal because I'm self-taught, but I could very well communicate if I tried to. The notion had just barely ever entered my mind before now. The me from two days ago would never have even consider this... but I could take it around with me. I could talk to Yamame, even.
But I also feel that's not a decision to be taken lightly. She's confided in me and I've seen her in many situations I probably shouldn't. I have no idea what kind of reaction she's going to have. There must be a reason she's living out here and not in the city, that the only one she talks to is someone she doesn't believe can understand or talk back in any significant capacity. However, the alternative is remaining as I am now. I'm not sure that's ideal any longer.
[ ] Take the pen, don't tell her right away. [ ] Take the pen, tell her right away. [ ] Don't take it.
File 136980821987.jpg - (665.94KB, 818x1157, im a kitty cat and i meow meow meow.jpg)
Alright. No reason not to, I suppose. Sure, it changes everything and I'll be communicating directly for the first time since I can remember and she might react badly and oh, I've started shaking again.
Come on, get it together. It's not THAT nerve-wracking. She won't do a 180 and hate me just because of one silly thing. I can do it. I should do it. It'll be much easier when I can actually talk to her. Well, 'talk' as in speaking may be far away at this point, but this is a good enough substitute for now.
I pick up the heavy metal pen and scatter a bit of my stuff looking for a stretch of paper. There. It's crumpled and torn in one corner, but should work for my purposes.
And the chocolate. Can't forget the chocolate. I'm all set. Time to go outside and face her.
...That's a person who wasn't here before. She's chatting up my Yamame. She spins on her toes to face me as soon as I approach, which makes me recoil on reflex. Not that I have any issue with her, but I have trouble dealing with new people. Particularly so if they're twitchy. Yamame also seems on guard. She's still wearing her smile, only slightly strained. She's bad with new people too.
As I thought, it's the girl-cat who often wanders the tunnels. I must say, she's far more striking up close than at a distance. She wears a voluminous black-green velvet dress which nevertheless makes it very clear how well she fills it. A pair of well polished black boots cover what the dress doesn't, so only a thin strip of her skin shows. A pair of eye-searingly red braids bob about with every move she makes, complementing the small team of bright wisps circling her, wispy tails trailing ectoplasm like smoke. Add to that the constantly twitching and turning cat ears perched atop her head and her final image is quite... restless. They're currently turned completely towards me, along with her cat-like slitted eyes. Somehow she seems curious and knowing at the same time, like she can see right through me even as she questions me for more.
It's an off-putting effect.
She seems pleased with my presence for some reason, wringing her hands excitedly. “Good, good, more people is good! Tell me, do you remember seeing one silver-haired... Oh!” She claps her hands in front of her face like she's made a discovery. The spirits near her zip around her, chasing each other. Every other time I've seen spirits down here, they've just been floating around slowly with no destination, so this is very odd to me.
“I nearly forgot!” With that, she actually does a curtsey, pinching the sides of her dress. It's a proper curtsey too, with toes out and torso dipping completely straight. I've never seen anyone else do a curtsey other than me, trying it out by myself.
...I happen to have a book on etiquette. Like I said, it can get very boring down here. Not lately, though.
“Greetings! I am one Kaenbyou Rin, shepard of the dead and retainer of the illustrious Komeiji Satori, supervisor of all of Old Hell and surroundings and master of the Palace of earth Spirits, etcetera.” She bows again, sending her fiery braids flying. “You've probably seen me aroundIn less fancy words, I'm an errand girl and on my spare time, I carry corpses around. Any-how-any-way, I'm looking for a silver-haired prankster. Either of you may remember meeting someone like that? Big fancy yellow dress with green skirt, blue veins outside her? Completely unreasonable?”
Wait... those were veins?
Yamame swiftly cuts in with a decisive, conversation-ending tone. “I'm sorry, neither of us saw anyone fitting that description. Was that all?”
The cat seems undaunted. More fired up, even. She shifts her attention to me. “Is that so? Because I could have sworn the little one over here opened her eyes wider when I said it.”
Um, oops. Clearly my poker face is not the best.
Yamame calmly plants herself in a spot between me and Rin. I appreciate that she's being protective of me and all, but... this isn't building a very nice atmosphere. People shouldn't fight.
Nobody will be able to enjoy chocolates like this.
“Oh, come on.” Rin steps towards us, doing a good job of looking predatory. That's not a good thing. “Be reasonable, won't you? I'm not going to hurt her or anything, it's just a little chat.”
“She can't help you and that's it.”
Another step. “Please!” She continues, not looking or sounding supplicant in the least. I get the feeling that if she had tails, they'd be swishing about madly right about now. “Master Satori gets very nervous when her sister is gone too long, you know. She's extremely good at covering her tracks, so it's an awful amount of trouble tracking her down. I need any help I can get.”
“I'm afraid it's impossible.”
The stage is set. Clearly I'm not the only one who's bad at communicating. Still, it looks like (somehow) it's up to me to defuse this situation.
[ ] No better place to start 'talking'. Agree to go. I need to go to the palace anyway. [ ] No better place to start 'talking'. Refuse to go, I have important business with Yamame right now. [ ] Everyone is just so tense. I should break out the chocolate. [ ] Just try to leave unnoticed. If I'm not there, they'll have no reason to fight. [ ] Write-in.
I might be the least qualified person to resolve this situation in all of Gensokyo, bar none. Actually, that's definitely the case. Unfortunately, I don't see anyone popping out of the rocks to volunteer, so I have to do it myself. Now that I think about it, I could just let them fight it out. It's all non-lethal. If I can save someone a few bruises and a day feeling sore, though, I can at least try. They'd be fighting over me. Somehow, that's doesn't feel too bad. Even though it should.
Rin is rearing to go, practically baring her teeth. In other circumstances, I might call it a grin. Yamame also looks like she might declare her cards at any moment.
Luckily, I have an excellent tool to make them get along. Food will mellow anyone out, but chocolate in particular has the power to make people happy, if I remember correctly. If only I'd brought that bottle of sake from home, I'd be set as the greatest peacemaker in the land. But first, I need to draw their attention.
Maybe a stern command. Just a nice loud “STOP!” I did manage to talk a few hours ago. I might be able to do it.
...Yeah, right. 'Stern'. Fat chance.
I fly out to the middle of where the opponents-to-be are eyeing each other, clutching the white box to my chest tightly enough that it folds. I hope I don't end up taking a few bullets to the head, myself.
I park myself between them and keenly feel two pairs of eyes on me which means I've already gotten their attention. Duh. It occurs to me I could skip the whole speaking thing... so I will. Just thinking about it makes me nauseous, but I know if I don't make a try at it, I'm never going to get better. And I'd like to get better, very much so. I'll just work at it another day. I really will.
“What's she doing?” The cat's voice breaks my reflective moment. Oh, right. Spaced out for a second there. I take out the now slightly crinkled box of delicious candy. For a second, I feel a pang of regret that I have to share them, then chastise myself for it as soon as I realize what I'm thinking. This thing isn't even mine. I've been living as a thief for too long.
At least I managed to turn her very obvious battle-lust into something approaching curiosity. I try to open the box slowly, putting a little flair into it. It seems like it works, because Rin's ears twitch and perk up. She edges her way to me, apparently forgetting completely she was about to get into a fight.
“Are those...? Oooh, they are, aren't they?” She claps her hands together excitedly. “We hardly ever get those. Do you mind...?”
Awfully polite for someone who was about to take something by force. Er, someone. No, that sounds wrong too. Well, you get what I'm saying.
She leans forward, plucks one chocolate from the box like it's precious and plops it into her mouth. The way she closes her eyes in bliss and her pleased hum let me know that she approves.
“They're so hard to find. We never get them down here, and only rarely upside.” She looks up towards me. “Where did you get them?”
At least my plan to calm things down seems to have worked. I didn't actually expect it to.
“Like I've been trying to tell you,” I jump a little at the voice. I didn't even notice Yamame sneak up on me. “She's-” She hesitates for a full second. “She can't talk. She's mute.” That's odd. Is that really her reason?
She stops to pop another entire chocolate into her mouth before responding. “So?”
“So even if she did know anything, she wouldn't be able to tell you.”
Rin stops chewing for a moment and looks straight at her. “Didn't you hear what I said? I'd be taking her back to Satori. You know, Satori, the Satori.”
“...Oh. Oh, right.”
Another chocolate goes down. I note the elongated canines on her when she opens her mouth. Frankly, they look pretty scary. I take one for myself, too. Little nibbles, so it lasts longer.
She licks her fingers as one of the wisps zig-zags around the box impatiently. Envious, perhaps? Seems like she's done eating, so I put it away. “Any other objections?”
“Ah, well...” She flounders and fidgets “That's...” It looks like it takes her some effort to complete the thought. “The thing is, she's-” She takes a hesitant glance at me, like she's feeling guilty for something. “Feral youkai. Even having her mind read, I don't think she'll be any help.”
“Is that so?” She glances at me. “She really doesn't look it. She's relatively clean and clothed, plus she recognized what I was talking about. If she's a feral, she's one of the smarter ones.” Thank you. I guess if I start actually doing things rather than just hovering around people, they tend to notice. “Satori could still get something out of her, easily.” She shifts to a joking tone. “Why do you care so much, anyway? Are you her mother or something?”
Yamame doesn't take it as a joke, though. The question seems to catch her off guard, because it only makes her stutter harder. Rin scrunches her eyebrows at her. “Seriously?”
“N-no, of course not.” She finally gets it out. “But it's just... just look at her.”
Rin scratches an ear. It twitches. “Hm. Yeah, I think I see what you mean.”
As do I.
“Look, if you're that worried about it, you can just come along. Miss Satori doesn't exactly appreciate visitors, but if you have a pure reason for it, she'll understand.”
Come along? Hm. I don't know. Of course, she's been great to me, but the way she acts, how she was just perfectly willing to sacrifice her own well being for me. It's a tad overwhelming. It's just that it seems like we could get very close very quickly if I let her. I don't know how I feel about that.
[ ] I'd rather she tagged along. [ ] I'd rather she didn't. [ ] I'd rather not go at all.
Sorry for being late again. Got really stuck on this update because it was mostly dialogue. I'm even weaker at dialogue than everything else, which you probably have noticed.
Once again I fail at the 'interactive' part of 'interactive fan fiction'. Ah well, whatever. I'm going to stop worrying about this. As long as some fraction of the choices matter, that should be good enough.