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[X] You need someone you know you can trust. Go tell Yuugi first.
It has to be Yuugi. She's the one person involved in all this who you know you can talk to without getting hurt (at least, not immediately, physically hurt), she's the most interested in helping everyone actually get along with one another, she'll be able to help you tell the council head when it comes time -- and above all, you really want to talk to her. It's been a long time since breakfast, and you've passed yourself back and forth between people who want to use you, people who want to kill you, and people who need their heads examined enough times that you're no longer sure who fits into which category. With Yuugi, not only do you know where you stand, but you're pretty happy to be there, too.
If you're going to get there, though, it means leaving here. Taking a deep breath and holding it, you hit the top of the stairs at a brisk pace and just keep on walking; through the door, across the foyer, out the main door, and into the street without breaking stride. You don't see anyone, and if anyone sees you, they keep it to themselves.
Just as you had hoped. The coast looks clear out here, too; not really that surprising, given that the search was already ending when you snuck off to meet Okuu the better part of an hour ago. With a last look behind you, you head down the stairs and out onto the road. From here, you'll cut through the edge of the city, but after that it's just empty road all the way up until you get back home and--
Sure enough, when you turn around to look, you find none other than your oni benefactor, raising a hand to flag you down as she walks across the street towards you.
"Wha--" Er, maybe asking what she's doing here is a little rude. "H-Hey, Yuugi!" you call back haltingly, waving back to her.
"Good timing!" she booms, greeting you with a clap on the shoulder as the two of you meet. "I was just comin' over to see what was keepin' you! So what, you get held up?"
...You were really hoping you'd have a little more time to straighten things out in your head before telling Yuugi. "Uh, yeah. About that--"
"Hey, you had to skip lunch searching, right? You wanna go get something to eat?"
Damn it. In any other situation, you'd be more than happy to accept such an invitation, but right now, the two of you need to talk about things that you'd rather not have overheard. "Sounds good, but before that," you say hurriedly, casting your eyes back and forth over the street once, "I was hoping we could talk a little bit about, uh--"
"Oh, that? Don't worry about it!"
...You just left the mind reader's house, right? "Huh?"
"You're talkin' about, uh," she hesitates, lowering her voice slightly, "what we talked about this morning, right?"
"Uh..." This morning was so long ago.
"Y'know..." Yuugi casts another glance over your surroundings and leans in a little closer, lowering her voice even further. "What you overheard?"
"Oh!" Ah, yes, the other person/group that wants you dead. "Uh, that was--" Not what you were talking about. "Didn't you say I shouldn't worry about--"
"Well, yeah, but you seemed pretty freaked out, so I figured I'd do a little diggin', figure out what's up." She shoots you a cocky grin and thumps her chest once with her fist, puffing up with pride. "And now I've got it all figured out for ya. C'mon, I'll tell you 'bout it over a burger."
"Yuugi, there's something else," you say hurriedly, and Yuugi turns back around, looking at you confusedly. "After the search, I was... well, I found... something out, and, uh..."
"Yeah? Something interesting?" she asks casually, still clearly not catching your drift.
"Something that we need to talk about soon." Still nothing. "Somewhere where nobody else will be able to overhear us," you add pointedly.
And now she gets it. The switch from confusion to shock comes almost instantly, but the transition to melancholy takes an unpleasant eternity as you watch Yuugi's happy mood evaporate bit by bit; first her slumping shoulders, then a heavy sigh, and finally an almost pained expression that's quickly hidden by a hand at her brow, massaging her forehead.
Damn it. If nothing else, it helps to know that you're not the only one who feels like you're up to your neck in this shit, but this isn't what you wanted.
"So... okay. Yeah." It sounds like she's talking to herself at first, and you're almost struck by surprise when she raises her head to look at you once more. Her expression is... resolute; no sadness, but none of the happiness from a moment ago, either. "So, you wanna... yeah. Okay." She sighs once more, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear idly. "Okay, let's head home. We can get som--"
"--n the way-- eh?"
Fuck this. You're rebelling. "I've considered it carefully, and I've come to the decision that I have nothing to tell you that cannot wait for a half hour. Now, you and I are going to go get some food, and God help whoever or whatever should stand in our way. Understood?"
And just like that, the resoluteness is gone, replaced first by utter confusion, then an uncertain smile as she shakes her head. "Really, we don't have to--"
"Yuugi!" The mock anger comes naturally, fueled by the leftover real anger at your circumstances, and Yuugi actually jumps as you step toward her, brandishing your index finger. "There comes a time in a man's life when he must put his foot down! I have put my foot down," you say, stomping the ground for emphasis, "and I do not intend to pick it back up, except to move it in the direction of a burger! Now, are we clear?"
Your final line is the last straw, and Yuugi's smile, growing steadily through your speech, breaks into a big, throaty laugh, and she bends double, grabbing onto your shoulder to brace herself as she shakes with laughter. "Crystal," she manages after a few seconds, wiping a tear from her eye as she looks back up at you with a grin.
"Excellent. Now," you say, bowing slightly and extending your arm to gesture down the road, "lead the way, if you would be so kind."
"Hm." Yuugi straightens herself back up with one last chuckle, eyes following after your gesture, and her expression turns thoughtful for a moment. "We're gonna have to run if we wanna beat the dinner rush, so..." And then, with a small step away, she reaches out and grabs hold of your outstretched hand. "Hope you can keep up!"
And before you can even realize it, the two of you are off, Yuugi's grip holding tight as she takes off down the road, pulling you off balance. You catch one last glimpse of her smile and hear her laugh echo back at you as you stumble awkwardly for a few steps, and you can't help but laugh in turn as you right yourself and pick up the pace, catching up to beside her as the two of you run off to who knows where.
"...And this is supposed to taste like meat?" you ask skeptically, peeling back the bun of your just-delivered meal to inspect the contents. It certainly doesn't look like meat.
"Well, no, it still tastes like tofu, that's why you've gotta cover it in sauce. But the texture," Yuugi says, opening wide to take a bite of her own burger, "is just like the real thing."
"I don't get the point."
"Cows don't eat rocks and dirt is the point. Meat ain't cheap down here, and oni without meat ain't happy oni."
"But it's still not actually meat, right?"
"Well, yeah, it's not like we actually need meat to live. It's just, y'know, a lifestyle kinda-- oi, are you gonna eat the damn thing, or just stare at it until it gives up and jumps in your mouth?"
"All right, all right, I'm eating," you say, parrying Yuugi's playful jab from across the table as you pick up the burger. You're actually a little surprised to see a meal like this down here; admittedly, the sandwich isn't exactly the most complex of humanity's inventions, but it only caught on in the village due to the relatively constant influx of people from outside the border. Does this mean that the oni are still in contact with humans on the surface somehow? Or maybe oni come in through the border and end up down here, just like--
"You've got five seconds before I hold you down and shove it in your mouth, Taizou. No joke."
You roll your eyes at Yuugi one last time and take a big bite. It's... sweet, but with a bit of a tang to it; something like a teriyaki sauce, but without the saltiness. The 'meat' itself is pretty flavorless, of course, but you have to admit that you wouldn't have guessed it wasn't the real thing if Yuugi hadn't told you.
"Not bad at all," you say, taking another quick bite almost as soon as you swallow the first one. It's got a little spicy flavor to it, too; even better. "What's in this sauce?"
She shrugs. "I don't have a recipe or anything. He puts in a whole load of molasses when he makes it, though." Well, that explains the sweetness. Not the spicyness, though. Wow, this actually has a little bit of a kick to it. "And ketchup is the base, I think." A lot of kick to it. Damn. "Oh, and there's like a barrel full of hot peppers in there."
Yuugi's hand reaches your glass a moment before yours, dragging it across the table and just out of your reach. "Makes me thirsty just thinkin' about it." Your fingertips just graze Yuugi's glass as she snags it with her other hand, holding them both at shoulder level on her side of the table. "Yes, indeed, I do believe I could drink both of these and still be thirsty."
"I will fight you, Hoshiguma," you growl, letting your mouth hang open to let your breath fight to cool the raging inferno in your mouth.
The small table squeaks against the floor as you make another fruitless lunge, and Yuugi leans her chair back on two legs, easily keeping herself and her hostages out of your reach.
"..." You're literally tearing up here. "...Please?"
With just the slightest hint of a smug grin, Yuugi wordlessly passes your glass back into your waiting hands, and you snatch it away instantly and drink, downing half the water inside in a single breath. As the pain in your mouth and throat slowly ebbs away, you collapse back into your chair involuntarily, gasping for air, and let Yuugi resituate the things displaced by your brief struggle. As the table squeaks back into position before you, you raise your head up at Yuugi once more, her expression meticulously absent any trace of malice or cunning.
"...It is pretty good."
"A little spicy, though," Yuugi says earnestly.
"A little spicy."
For the next few minutes, the two of you banter back and forth, talking about nothing in particular as you finish off your meals in short order (it's not that bad once you're expecting it, really). Yuugi was right to rush over here; in just the time it took for the two of you to get your food, the restaurant went from virtually empty to more than half-full, and the entryway is already full of people waiting for a table as the two of you make your way through the crowd and out the door back onto the street.
"So what was that you were going to say about finding something out?" you ask, following Yuugi's direction through the city.
"Ah, yeah. Nothin' much, really, I'm still thinkin' that the whole thing's not gonna be that big of a deal, all told." She shrugs. "I think I can tell ya who you overheard back then, though."
"Really?" That sounds like a pretty big deal to you, given that you were too drunk to give her any useful information about what you heard, apart from the message itself.
"Wasn't that tough, really. I'd already been keepin' tabs on who thinks what about oni-youkai relations and such, y'know, just in case it ever came down to it." You're not entirely sure what anything would 'come down' to, and the phrase sounds a little foreboding, but you keep your concerns to yourself as Yuugi continues. "And I hadn't heard so much as a whisper about any plans to get rid of you from the council proper, which just doesn't happen unless people are actually trying to keep secrets."
"Add it together with what you heard, and you have to figure that these two guys have been meeting each other outside of council work for some 'I hate humans' parties or whatever." She's a little more subdued than before, but some of that prideful energy creeps back into her speech as she continues to elaborate. "And obviously they're not just gonna tell everyone what they're doin', which means they're leavin' a trail of dodged questions behind 'em. Really, the only hard part was findin' the first couple of guys whose schedules had one too many coincidences. From there, it was just figurin' out how far out their little meetings went."
Wait, so she spent her day walking around and cross-checking people's schedules for you? "This sounds like it was a lot of legwork," you say appreciatively.
"Well, it's not like it was strictly business. Y'know, have some drinks, gossip, take care of some errands," she chuckles. "Basically a normal day, plus a little extra."
"I really do appreciate it, though." Honestly, you had begun to let the topic slide out of your mind in light of more recent events, but now that you're thinking about it, the prospect of more information is already making you feel safer. "So what did you find out in the end?"
"Looks like it's four people, maximum. Definitely Takeshi Taka and Yoshio Sakai, those're probably the two you overheard. Probably Eri Kishimoto, maybe her brother Masao Kishimoto. Uh, you may not have actually met any of those guys," Yuugi adds hesitantly, catching your expression.
That's not what you were thinking about, though. "Yoshio Sakai... blonde hair, kind of young-looking?"
"That's the one. How'd you... wait, don't tell me he's--"
"One of the oni I'm supposed to be commanding in the search," you finish unhappily. "I remember his name because I specifically called him out for not paying attention before the first search."
"Haha, ouch. So after he probably already had his horns in a knot over working under you, you went and chewed him out?" It looks like Yuugi's finding this a lot funnier than you are, but she cools it after taking a look at your expression, giving you a slap on the back. "Hey, I still think you shouldn't bother worryin' about the entire thing. This is just FYI, so you know who you're lookin' out for."
Well, you did hear at least one thing that made you happy. "No chance of Rasetsu being on the list?"
"Nah. He keeps to himself, really." She snickers. "Well, more like he's creepy enough that people stay away from him naturally. Ah, here we are."
You'd been taking an unfamiliar route through the city ever since you'd left the restaurant, so it's not until she pulls out a ring of keys to unlock the door that you recognize this place as Yuugi's liquor store. So this is where she was headed? You cup a hand over your mouth and nose to ward off the suffocating odor of sake in the air, and keep it there until the two of you have crossed through the main room on the ground floor and made it up the stairs to the distillery on the upper level.
"So." Your feet barely hit the floorboards, though, before Yuugi turns around, hitting you with that serious stare from before. "Now's your turn."
Well, it's not like you didn't know what you were coming here to do. You find yourself a uncluttered spot up against a wall, far enough from any fragile-looking equipment that you feel safe, and lean back, taking a few deep breaths. You already more or less know what you're going to tell her -- it's just a matter of how you're going to say it, now.
[ ] Write-in.
Kind of a tailor-made "lengthy dialogue write-in" point, but do feel free not to do it like that if you prefer.