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A time later, Garion stood before the stout oaken slab that was the door to Satori's chamber.
As Rin had proffered, he had let the chore of doing the dishes fall into her care so he might straightaway humour the command laid on him by his short-tempered hostess; and however hard might it gall his sense of duty, the droll, feline-eared maiden had been particularly insistent that he goes at once.
Garion had gone, then, though he had asked for directions first, and now he was here; and he breathed deeply, and cleared away the tart displeasure which had taken sway of his face as he walked.
He steeled himself.
And then—a quick, resolute move—he clutched the old brass handle and pulled, and as the door was set ajar, he stole inside, silent, and closed it back again behind him.
A small voice sighed, bothered, at his sudden entry: “Have you never heard of knocking, Garion?”
Garion, however, let it pass for now; he stood upright and surveyed this new place.
The room was warm—though dim—and snug—though garnished princely, with wreaths and bright garlands, and silky drapes trimmed with flowery frills, and rich antique furnishings. A canopied bed stood by one wall, by the wide, two-part window that was made of stained glass; opposite of it, meanwhile, squatted a broad, ornate wardrobe, a great mirror engrafted in its front. A bookshelf the breadth of the room itself spread across another wall, and a gold chandelier hung from the ceiling, dead, though shining still with the reflected light of the magmatic cavern outside.
Garion noted all these, then turned at last to the small in comparison wicker set of round table and chairs that lay in a corner, where, once again, he discovered the heather eyes of his hostess louring at him over a fat volume of undisclosed writing.
“Ah yes,” she said to him pleasantly, “how grand of you to finally notice me.”
She had, he observed, forgone the rich, scarlet bathrobe, and wore now again the same old clothes she had worn when Garion had met with her first – a washed-out smock of pale blue, and a faded pink dress that fell partly over her dangling feet. She reclined and crossed her legs at the ankles, amused.
“Are you perhaps disappointed?” she asked in a conversational tone. “I could change back, if you'd like.”
Garion ignored that.
Although he would sooner drive splinters under his toenails and kick rather than say it, he found this old outfit flattered the little hostess and her snowy complexion much more than the deep, fleecy red of the extravagant robe.
“Why, thank you,” she said; “it's great to know that we're both pleased.”
Garion disregarded that also.
“I believe,” he explained instead, “is an outdated and unproductive tradition.”
Satori gave him a half-smile. “How so?”
“I would have entered anyway,” he answered matter-of-factly, “and the sooner I did, the sooner we might start out on what you would have us start out; knocking would have been redundant.”
“And if I was in the middle of undressing?”
“And what if you were?”
“I asked first,” she returned. “What if you came in and I was naked, Garion?”
“... I would see you.”
“Have you no notion of decency, Garion?” she asked testily. “I can understand if you don't mind being seen yourself, but hasn't it occurred to you that some people may find it embarrassing?”
“... Not at all,” he replied. “Nudity is a natural aspect of our bodies; there is nothing shameful about it.”
“So,” she said casually, “what you're saying is, I could get naked right this very moment and you wouldn't mind, Garion? Not one bit? Not even a little?”
“Ah yes,” she said acidly, “then maybe I should do just that, what do you think? As a matter of fact, let's all strip naked and frolic with our extremities flapping about without a care in the world like wild animals, why don't we?”
Garion thought about that for a moment.
“I was joking,” she told him coldly. “Now, take a seat, please. I want to talk, and you're making me nervous with how tall you are. I don't care for being looked down on all that much. Are you men all so huge in the above-world? No,” she shook her head, “forget it, I don't really want to know. Sit down.”
“Must I?” he asked.
“As a matter of fact, yes, you do. Sit, Garion, pretty please. And don't take too long; we've already wasted a good deal of that time you wanted to save so much.”
“... As you wish,” he gave up.
“Good,” she said. “I just adore winning. I may yet take to telling you to sit, I feel. Don't you?”
Garion did not answer; under Satori's watchful eye, he approached, drew the chair, sat, and reclined; his legs stretched out.
As chance would have it, their feet touched—her bare, his socked—but they did not move, nor he, nor she; and they discounted the fact, neither willing to relent first. Satori poured for him a cupful from the silver tea-urn arranged on a tray on the small, round table, and slid it across, toward her straitlaced guest.
As he received it and lifted it to his lips, the small lady gestured at his coarse hand. “What happened to your fingernail, Garion?” she asked, more curious than worried.
Garion swallowed the hot liquid firstly, and then he revealed: “I broke it.”
“I see that. How?”
“Cooking,” he nimbly made a lie. “A mere accident. Nothing of great concern to you, though.”
She eyed him suspiciously. “... Is that so?”
“So it is.”
“Ah,” she said, “I see.”
A hush minute followed, where neither uttered a word; but then Garion felt her toes brush shortly his loose foot, and Satori spoke up, tentative at first, but soon determined.
“Garion,” she said, her violet stare turned aside. “I... must apologise to you.”
Garion said nothing; he elected to let her continue however and whenever she willed.
And will she did. “I've forgotten how you surface people are,” she resumed after but a second, “and I've forgotten that I should adjust when I speak with you and of your businesses. I don't really suppose you care for my apologies, but I'd like to say them anyway.”
She cast him a wry kind of look. “Aren't you even going to tell me not to bother?”
“Why should I?” he said seriously. “It is your apology, not mine.”
“... Are you trying to make me mad again, Garion?”
“No such thing. Say on, if so you wish.”
Satori groaned under her breath. “... Actually,” she said, “do you know something? Never mind me; I should apologise for Rin most of all.”
“... Indeed?” Garion asked.
“She brought you here, didn't she? And, please, don't say otherwise; I know she did. She isn't exactly skilled at hiding her thoughts. She inconvenienced you, didn't she? I beg you to forgive her. She doesn't realise what she's doing; she sets her mind on something and she can't think about anything else. She gets carried away and does stupid things. She and Utsuho both; they're terribly simple. They think of nothing but food when they're hungry, they ponder mischief when they're bored, and they can grow very... impudent, let's say, when it's their time and they can't find anything to occupy their attention. They're animals, Garion, you can't blame them; they can't help it. I know, because I couldn't, either, once. I've learned a lot since then, but I've got a greater capacity for that – and my... other talents, too. They don't. So please, forgive them – Rin for forcing you to come here, and Utsuho in advance, because she is bound to do something stupid once she comes back from wherever she is right now. I can almost guarantee she will.”
“And you?” Garion inquired. “What should I forgive you for?”
Satori muttered something Garion could not quite hear; and she put one little hand over her pale forehead, and she sighed a plaintive sigh, a whine almost, and set her beautiful violet stare again on Garion, bashful, though cross still. “... I told you just now,” she said. “Never mind. And stop that, please; you're not being very convincing.”
Garion said nothing, merely waited, sober and unmoving.
Satori, meanwhile, righted herself, and even as she did, Garion felt once again her touch as it grazed his leg and stopped halfway across his shin. A more poised face now, Satori refilled her cup, and—holding it close to her small, ashen lips—she sat back, softer and pensive, though the eye of her orb scowled on, harsh as ever and unyielding in its glare.
A mellow smile twinkled across these tiny lips, and she spoke in a subdued voice: “I'm sorry if it makes you uneasy,” she said. “It's not scowling, that's its natural look; I can't do a whole lot about it.” Garion gave her a flat look. “And don't call it an ‘orb,’ if you'd be so nice,” she requested calmly. “It's my heart, Garion, it's kept me alive since I was born, and I think that warrants at least some respect, even if it seems a bit... rude at times.” Garion lifted a questioning brow. Satori nodded, pleased visibly with that small reaction. “A heart, yes,” she said. “It doesn't look like one, I know, but it's warm and it beats, just like a normal heart. Would you like to feel?”
She chuckled, a startlingly earnest chuckle. “I don't know that I'd let you, anyway,” she confessed, toying with the handle of her teacup. “It could get torn off, if you tugged at it too hard. I used to have nightmares about it. Of course, I wouldn't wager I'd die if you did that,” she added impassively, “but I'm fairly sure it'd hurt all the same. And I'll have you know, I'm afraid of pain just as badly as the next girl.”
“... I see,” he gave a bland reply.
“Do you like to cause people pain, Garion?”
Garion stared. “... No,” he said carefully. “... Unless it serves my plans to do so.”
Satori gave him a sullen little smile. “You're crueller than I thought.”
“As they say,” he tented his fingers and returned, “life is full of those little disappointments.”
Satori sighed at that. “Is that also what your woman taught you?”
“Somehow,” she said, “I knew that'd be the case.”
She fell once again quiet then, and wondered at some length; and Garion did not disturb her, even though the touch if the tiny foot on his shin grew more grating on his nerves even as the time went on.
Another minute passed, and neither he nor she uttered a word until Satori broke her idle daydream, and the silence also, and spoke in a settling tone, even as she laid the now-empty cup on the tray: “I'd love if you told me more about this woman, Garion,” she said.
“I would not.”
Satori made a small shrug. “I suspected as much,” she gave away. “If you'll let me finish, however, maybe—just maybe—we'll arrive at some kind of an agreement.”
Garion considered. “... Go on, then,” he decided, “I will listen, if you wish me to.”
“Ah—” she smiled, “—why, thank you; that's absolutely lovely of you.” She reached out and deftly seized his hand before he could tap his knuckles on the silver tray. “Garion,” she said reproachfully, “please.”
“... Never mind,” she breathed, resigned. She glanced down at their connected hands, and, the briefest stall after, wrenched hers away. “I'd like to hear about the woman, as I said,” she resumed the previous thought, “but I'll understand if you're too worn out tonight to entertain my curiosity. I don't think I'm that interested, anyway. I'll show you to the guest rooms. Come on, Garion; I can see on your face that you're tired.”
[ ] He consented. He was weary, and his nerve was strained. Sleep would do him good.
[ ] “Not yet,” he said. His body was wearied, but his mind was sharp still. He would tell her.
[ ] He stopped her. Although his strength was flagging indeed, he still had questions of his own.
Sorry I didn't update last night, I found myself beset by some unforeseen