Please refer to >>/shrine/33238 before reading on. Thank you. And now for your unscheduled update.
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It was later that Garion rose finally from the steaming water of the bath, braced now, warm and invigorated.
As he climbed from the sumptuous tub and sauntered, dripping, to wipe himself on one of the downlike towels, he recalled again yet that which had transpired after the concise exchange between him and his hostess; for it caused him great perplexity – so great in reality he had spent all bath turning it over in his mind.
“I'll take these to your room,” said to him the tiny woman. She had stood by then, and helped him remove his rucksack and coat. Shamed though he was, Garion was weary, and he did not push her away, though he might wish. “Go and bathe,” she ordered next, even as she still undressed him; “you smell, Garion, and I wager you are dead on your feet from all the hiking and tramping. Cold, too, I bet. Get it out of your bones. And don't be afraid to take your time. I'll go to the kitchen and see if I can round up everything you'll require in the meanwhile. See me there when you're done. I'll be waiting. Why? I thought I'd like to watch as you work, Garion, that's all. I might just learn something myself... well, among other things. Oh, and please, don't let it bother you—not at all. I can wait. I'm quite good at that, actually – wouldn't you agree? No, don't answer, please; I wouldn't want you to wrick your tongue assuring me of your best intentions. Anyway, I'm pleased to say that my sister has returned—finally, I might add—and so has my other pet, Utsuho – so that'll be all five of us eating tonight, counting you. A lot of work to make food for that many, isn't it? But don't worry – I won't fit in all that much, I don't think. I've been feeling as if I had a brick sitting in my stomach ever since last night. I wonder why. No, don't speak; I don't really care to know. Anyway, that's it. Go, Garion, and don't concern yourself with me... or not too much, at least. Run along now. Or you'll fall ill.”
And then, rather categorically, she had delegated him to the sultry bathroom.
As he towelled his self dry, Garion heaved with listless sigh.
Alone, he could permit leastwise so much.
A tall mirror hung nestled in one wall, and Garion walked to it, to see for any injury that might yet need treatment. He swung aside the wet towel and bent downward, surveying the many small hurts and swells that the hastened venture back had earned him. But to one's relief none bled, and so he wound the towel about his waist and straightened, and left, his sweat-drenched shirt and flannels folded on the floor, where Satori had said he should leave them.
Subdued, he turned out of the humid bathroom, and, grasping still the moist towel, sent he his step toward his guest-room, where he would find a fresh change of robes.
As he gained on it, however, cross alarm came over him; for the door was ajar, and he heard noise within even as he neared – sound of rustle and of shuffle, as though someone dragging cloth and feet across the carpets while they scoured the room in anxious hurry. And indeed, once Garion peered inside, he discovered there a person—a short person clad in old gold—and certainly without doubt, the person was scouring. On the bed lay Garion's travel-bag, turned and gutted of contents, and his habits and provisions lay scattered beside, all the while the person sifted through them, even as one might sift through chests of ancient prizes.
Garion stiffened; he would have none of it.
A bang of fist on the door, he cleared past the step, and the person, rightly started by his charge, jumped and spun to meet him, panic painting in her eyes – eyes that sought him out, and though they startled, flashed in a glare of outlandish ligug.
N oerngu bs pbl eryvrs ba ure zbhgu, gur crefba ghearq ntnva lrg, naq tngurerq cebzcgyl gur oybaq zna'f orybatvatf, onpx va gur ehttrq fnpx. Fur fgberq vg arngyl ng gur fvqr bs gur orq, rira cnggrq vg nf gubhtu gb znxr fher vg fgnlrq, naq nccebnpurq va ghea Tnevba, jub fgbbq nyy gur fnzr, uvf tnmr oynax naq ubyybj nf gung bs n pbecfr. Fur nccebnpurq, gragngvir fbzrjung, naq fghqvrq uvf srngherf, ure aneebj yvcf ncneg naq urrqyrff.
Fur pvepyrq—bapr, gura gjvpr—nebhaq uvz, naq unygrq ng ynfg va sebag; ure yvggyr cnyzf fubbx va fgenatr nagvpvcngvba.
Naq fur ernpurq gurz bhg arkg, naq—n zbzrag nsgre na nonfurq qrynl—ynvq gurz obgu syng ba Tnevba'f oernfg.
Fur jngpurq, rrevyl zrfzrevfrq, nf uvf zhfpyrf gjvgpurq, rira gubhtu ur uvzfrys erznvarq hazbirq. Nofrag fgvyy, fur chfurq, grfgvat uvf fgeratgu, ohg ur qvq abg ohqtr, naq erznvarq nf ur unq orra. N fhqqra wbyg gura, fur jerapurq njnl sebz uvz, naq, jvcvat ure purrxf bs oyhfu, fur crrxrq n svany gvzr va gur hafrrvat rlrf bs gur gnyy, vzzbovyr man.
Garion lurched, surprised; for all of a sudden the person stood a mere pace ahead, though she had been elsewhere seconds before.
Astonished, he ceded a step, and put one arm up, and froze in a defensive stance.
And all of that the person observed with a kind of droll curiosity.
She was a woman, Garion noted, though the term “girl” might flatter her more. She was young, and her skin was smooth, although her hair was grey as that of a crone. A faint hint of tan touched her cheeks, but these cheeks bore a shade of red also, for reasons unknown.
She wore a yellow dress familiar in design, though Garion could not place it, and on her chest rested an orb, even as that of his harsh-spoken hostess, though its eye did not glare at him hatefully; for unlike Satori's, this one was closed, and its lids were tightly pressed together.
She spoke first, as Garion did not, and her voice was quivering from nerve. “Ko... meiji,” she murmured, “I am Komeiji... Komeiji Koishi. Komeiji as in ‘pure earth.’ Koishi as in ‘beloved...’ I am... from the Palace of Earth Spirits... my sister's name is Satori.” She waited. “I am... Komeiji Koishi,” she said again, ostensibly confused. She paused once more, but Garion stayed quiet this time also. She blinked and twined her fingers behind her back, and after a second, uncertainly prodded: “... And what's your name?”
Garion was amazed. Such audacity after he had caught her rifling through his belongings!
And yet, that pang of anger vanished at once when he noticed his clothes and provisions no longer lay strewn about, and rested now packed tidily in his rucksack, exactly as he had given them to Satori.
Alert though he still felt, he nonetheless lowered his guard and spoke, acknowledging: “... I assume,” he said, “that you are the missing sibling I have heard about.” She nodded at that, feverishly almost, and exclaimed: “Koishi! Komeiji Koishi!” “... Koishi,” Garion repeated, committing the name to memory. “Komeiji Koishi.” “And you?” she asked him, her green eyes twinkling. “What's... your name? I only heard from big sister that we had a guest, but she didn't tell me any name, and neither did little sister Rin.”
It seemed there were sisters of all sizes in this house, and he did not know what to make of it.
[ ] “Nezumi Kozō,” he told her. And he did not appreciate invasion on his room. At the least, he demanded that the girl explain her doings. [ ] “Dias,” he introduced himself, “Bartolomeu,” but he cared little for her attentions; for he had duties to perform, and they called that he get dressed immediately. [ ] As he told her, “Albert Salvo” was his name, and albeit he meant no offence, he was occupied, and so he requested the gold-clothed girl outside.
[x] “Nezumi Kozō,” he told her. And he did not appreciate invasion on his room. At the least, he demanded that the girl explain her doings.
I was wondering when Koishi and Okuu were going to come back from their Heart-Throbbing Adventures. Not that I want to be super hard on Koishi, but rummaging through our stuff is bad even if she tucked everything back up nicely.
Thanks for not raging off the site, YAF. I like this story.
[x] “Nezumi Kozō,” he told her. And he did not appreciate invasion on his room. At the least, he demanded that the girl explain her doings.
>>7395 Sounds like YAF railroading once again, and incidentally doing a minor derailing of his original plot, though honestly looking for Tenshi underground? There's been better Tenshi related concepts.
>“All right.” The plain-dressed one disrupted their talk. “Enough of your sermonising. I don't appreciate being lied to, Garion.” She pushed Rin aside and bore down inimically at Garion, her crimson orb eyeing him all the while. She stood perhaps a pace from him and glowered as well. “Am I wrong?” she asked. “Isn't that your real name?” >“No.” He elected to tell the truth for a change. “It is not.”
>>7410 >rot13 For convenience's sake: And Garion stopped dead still, as though suddenly rooted. And his eyes glazed over and his arms became slack, though they clutched the towel still, through some miracle of will.
A breath of coy relief on her mouth, the person turned again yet, and gathered promptly the blond man's belongings, back in the rugged sack. She stored it neatly at the side of the bed, even patted it as though to make sure it stayed, and approached in turn Garion, who stood all the same, his gaze blank and hollow as that of a corpse. She approached, tentative somewhat, and studied his features, her narrow lips apart and heedless.
She circled—once, then twice—around him, and halted at last in front; her little palms shook in strange anticipation.
And she reached them out next, and—a moment after an abashed delay—laid them both flat on Garion's breast.
She watched, eerily mesmerised, as his muscles twitched, even though he himself remained unmoved. Absent still, she pushed, testing his strength, but he did not budge, and remained as he had been. A sudden jolt then, she wrenched away from him, and, wiping her cheeks of blush, she peeked a final time in the unseeing eyes of the tall, immobile man.
>>7419 How dare you even ask! I deny any and all affiliation with the “thingy!” I never would have written something so lewd! I am shocked, shocked to find that you would even think to accuse me of giving birth that piece! So shocked, in fact, that I am putting this story on indefinite hiatus! AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!
What are you going to do now, muhfugga? Huh? What are you going to do now?
[X] “Dias,” he introduced himself, “Bartolomeu,” but he cared little for her attentions; for he had duties to perform, and they called that he get dressed immediately.
Alas, Garion had scarce time to while away pondering the sisters and their dimensions.
And so, he elected, he must introduce himself. “Dias,” he said tersely to the giddy girl, “Dias Bartoleomeu.” “A difficult name,” Koishi commented. She put a pensive finger to her lips and mused. “A rare one, too: Di-as,” she articulated, “Barto... lomeu... How do you write it?”
But Garion ignored that. “I have duties,” he said flatly, “I must get dressed.”
And get dressed he did.
Afore the girl could say further, Garion curtly cast the towel aside and went direct for his pack, where he began to root through it and lay out his choice of clothes on the ironed covers of the bed – a fair evening shirt with creases and a pair of bister cords, which were his best, and also his least frequent-worn. And he replaced the rest of his garments as they had been, but firstly ensured they were all as the had left them.
And they were.
Garion eased, relieved, and stood upright; he wriggled into his underclothes, and into his exquisite dress; and he spun next, and set his eyes upon the silver-locked intruder again, a look of urbane restraint on his elegant face. She started at that; a tiny gasp escaped her; she floundered, but regained her composure, and returned the courtly look, and only the faintest dribble at the corner of her mouth betrayed she had been watching him all along.
“... I have duties,” he said again, vague how to proceed; he found now another yet person he must grow accustomed to, and the thought made him writhe, though he would not confess. “... I must leave,” he resumed, “your sister awaits me.”
Koishi inclined her head. She appeared to understand. She upheld her silent stare, however; and the stare, though candid, was unsettling.
Garion paid it no heed; he turned at the door, and gave the green-eyed plunderer a meaningful nod. She understood that also; they approached the door, and Garion held it for her, and she went outside, and Garion filed behind her. A curt quiet between them, Garion started toward the kitchen where he was bound, and Koishi followed, tailing him as a shadow.
As they walked, a sick sense of dread wormed in Garion's mind; he could feel Koishi's gaze on him constantly, and though she inconvenienced him not with idle chatter as was the habit of her sister, it filled him with malaise in its own regard. And so Garion sifted through his memory, seeking an apt topic for conversation, for talk would give him excuse to turn and face her, and he would feel safer with that.
“... Koishi,” he accosted eventually. “I have an inquiry.” As he did wheel around, Koishi startled; and she fidgeted, and let out, dismayed: “... Y—Yes?” “I have an inquiry,” Garion repeated. So did she. “... Yes?” Garion scowled. “... I am merely curious,” he assured. Koishi blinked. “... ah?” “...” “... Go... ahead?” Garion breathed. “... Very well,” he said. “I wish to ask of you: do you, Koishi, read poetry? Any kind,” he added, “I do not mean specific genres; any poetry at all.” Koishi considered. Although his tone was not as sedate as it was customarily, she seemed eluded by the fact. “... No,” she answered, thoughtful, “... Not really.” “... I understand.” Koishi continued. “Satori—big sister says I shouldn't. She doesn't read any herself, I don't think. She says it turns your brain to mush.” “... I see.” “I don't know that we have any in the house, even. Ah, but little sister Rin might know better; she dusts the books in the library sometimes. And do you read poetry, Dias?” “No.” “Ah? And why?” “It is for women.” “... Ah. And why do you think so? Don't men write poetry, too?” “Someone told me that, long ago,” Garion replied. “Men may write poetry, but it is all the same for women; a man may never write verse for another man. Such is as it is and has always been.” “And what would happen if a man read poetry?” “He would have to pay.” “What would he have to pay?” “A tall price.” “... Ah?”
Garion came to an abrupt stop; they were now at the door to the kitchen.
Koishi drew up also, and, anxious, expected Garion's next word. And yet, he would disappoint her.
“... Go,” he said shortly. She fluttered at him her long, fine eyelashes. “... Ah?” she made a noise, all bemused. “Go where?” “Away,” he told her. “I require no assistance; you may depart.” She did not move. “I will see you at the dinner table,” he went on. “Miss Satori also. Until then...” He left it hanging.
“... Until then,” she echoed. “Until then,” Garion agreed. “Until then.” “... Until then.” “Until then.” “...” “...”
She remained, staring at him still, her expression absent.
Garion dismissed it; he had, after all, duties to attend, and they took precedence over all.
A dark thought in his head, he turned and laid his hand on the kitchen door, beyond which Satori waited his arrival.
And though Garion caught her mid a restless pace, she recovered at once; and she acknowledged him as he entered.
She had, it turned out, changed in the meanwhile, even as had he; she wore now about her a weathered white apron that, albeit worn and faded, was as ample in trim and lace as a regal gown; and she had had her short hair tied in a small, loose bun, so that her eyes and forehead no longer were concealed below a tousled fringe. Although humble and customary of a scullery rather than a ballroom, the look suited her; for it was elegant still, and elegance became her.
“... I dread the day I show myself to you in something truly exquisite.”
One might feel obliged to indulge her, should the day come.
Garion, however, paid scant heed; he stared instead with open frown at the many goods piled across the broad counter. And what goods they were: red meats, and whole fish, and breads, and colourful fruit, and vegetables, and fragrant spices even; a towering lot of foods that dwarfed even the feast Rin and he had worked the day before. At last became clear to Garion the reason why the red-trussed girl haled a barrow with her wherever she went; for shopping of such scale only a barrow could accommodate.
“All fronts aside, you do have a childish side to you as well, don't you?”
Garion disregarded that.
Conscientiously he set about sorting through the produce; he slid what he required to the left and the rest right, and he laid out many pans and pots, and plates and cutting boards, and knives and ladles, spruce and orderly, even as had been taught to him. Satori observed that organised effort, herself staying ahead of standing in his way; and she neared only after he had finished, now weighing a knife in his hand even as he pondered.
“Have you any ideas what you're going to make yet?” she asked, leaning past his shoulder. Garion tensed. He gripped stronger the knife, and as though annoyed he flipped it over and turned. Satori blenched at that, and Garion laid the knife back down, though not before he regarded her a shade coldly—colder perhaps than he had intended. “No,” he answered blandly. “Not of yet.” “Ah.” She heaved a jaded breath. “Are you positive it's a good idea to cook in these clothes?” she asked next. “It'd be rather big of a shame if you got them dirty now. I can lend you an apron, if you'd like; I'm almost certain there should be at least one another somewhere inside all these drawers, what do you say?” Garion said nothing; he stared on, steadfast and impassive. “... Ah,” the small lady made a weary sound, “well, as you pretty well please, I suppose.” And still, Garion was silent. Satori gave an acid sigh. “... Say it if you need, Garion; don't leave me hanging like this, please.” Garion inclined his head slightly. “... Very well,” he said. As he did, he vacantly took up the knife, and tested its edge with one finger, even as he spoke on: “An apron,” he said, “is but a half-measure; the goal of cookery is to learn to prepare a meal without getting it all over oneself, not to shield and cower from it.” “Ah yes,” Satori agreed piously, “indeed, a wise thought—as always, I must add. I'll be certain to remember that in the future. Aren't you quite the expert, Garion?” “... I had a good teacher.” “An excellent one,” she agreed eagerly, “I am absolutely sure. Well, Garion, you're a professional through and through, that much is clear—” she gave him an acrid smile, “—but tell you what: sadly, I am not. As a matter of fact, no one ever went to the trouble of teaching me any of these many intricacies you consider common sense. So, Garion, you'll excuse me, but I'll wear an apron. And I'll very well smear things over myself if I please to.” “... I understand.” “I'm so glad that you do.” She crossed her arms and looked him up and down. “Are you completely sure you don't want an apron, though? I understand that you wish to leave a good impression on Utsuho and my sister, but—” She broke off; Garion was glaring. “... Am I mistaken?” she asked. “... Garion?” Garion glared on. He did not say that she was. “... Ah,” his hostess let out, “... I see.” “... I did not say anything.” “No. As a matter of fact, you didn't.” She breathed out. “Ah well, never mind, in that case... And Garion? If you wouldn't mind awfully, put away that knife, please; you're making me terribly nervous.”
I actually like Teruyo so no I haven't accused Teruyo of anything for one thing. As for YAF, nothing personal I just don't care much for his writing. For some reason every time I try to read anything of YAFs I find it grating and annoying; something off that bothers me to no end.
I only bothered to post on account of that other anon's statement which made me curious. As I read I found myself agreeing with >>7494.
Is there something wrong with not having the same taste or interest as the other readers here?
>>7501 >I could go into a random person's house and scream 'EVERYONE IN THIS ROOM IS A WHORE', but does that make it smarter?
Depends on you who ask and especially if the inhabitants truly are whores; perhaps not literally but all the same. One could do that and simply make some "improvements" to change all that. May even be best for the rest of the world even!
Even real whores know their place, where as the figurative ones tend to be much more troublesome and utterly wasteful
But hey for the sake of being on topic and provide some constructive criticism, I'd wish he'd employ someone to check his Grammar.
She accosted him again some few minutes afterward, as he was busy laying first groundwork for the meal.
“Garion,” she called; her voice was mild, even gentle. “Say... How do you feel about talking while you work?” Garion half-glanced from his task. “I prefer to listen,” he gave a curt answer. “I've noticed,” Satori told him patiently, “but I'd like to talk all the same... if you don't disapprove horribly.”
Garion muttered; he placed down the slab of beef he had been cleaning of fat and half-turned.
Satori was seated at the narrow table by one window; she watched him with her chin propped on her tiny hands, and a soft smile was on her ashen lips. She had never made a sound until now, and Garion had all but forgotten he had with him that single-person audience; indeed, he had been so absorbed in his duty that she had very nearly given him a start when she had at last decided to speak.
“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do scare you. I'd have held my heart in front of my face and pretended it's my eye if I did; that would have had a much better effect, I would imagine.”
She smiled wider then, and the smile was altogether winning.
“Ah, and again. I thought I'd told you to quit that; hadn't I, Garion?”
Garion took of it no notice; he turned once more and resumed his careful labour.
Satori, in her perverted understanding, regarded that as consent. “I'll let it pass this time then,” she said. “Anyway, I'd like to ask a few things, Garion. About your skills, for one—those you possess in supposedly great quantities. Am I correct in assuming they are a merit of that woman of yours?” Garion held in a squirm. “... Indeed,” he said aversely. “She taught me... many a thing.” “And cooking was among those things, too?” “... Affirmative.” “I see.” She mused for a moment. “A stupendous person she must have been,” she muttered. “And stupendously skilled herself.”
One might blush at all that undisguised flattery.
“Of course.” She paused briefly. “And you, Garion,” she pursued, “you have spent this last couple of...” “Years,” he supplied. “... years, putting those skills to rather extensive use in your quest to find that woman... even though she purportedly abandoned you—and even though you haven't the slightest even idea where in all the world she might be now?” Garion halted; and he turned yet again. “I have,” he told her sharply. “Have you an issue with that?” “No.” Satori flicked her pale fingers along her tied hair. “Not at all, Garion. I just thought it was rather... uncharacteristically romantic for someone of your... disposition.” “I apologise I do not write poetry.” Satori made a sigh. “And again with that. Never mind, Garion. Anyway, I assume luck wasn't on your side today then, was it? I mean, I don't suppose you'd still be here with me if it had been... am I right?” Garion gave her a flat look. “... Presumably.” “Presumably?” “Presumably.” “Ah.” She smiled faintly. “I think I understand.”
Garion did not answer; he stared for a moment more; then he wheeled away again, to go on at his task.
Satori smiled at that also; but she gave him a privilege of a short quiet afore she spoke on.
“Aside from that, however,” she resumed; “while you were out there, was it at all hard to find your way around? Did you get lost at any point?” “No.” “I see. And did you find anything at all—or anyone? Any... hints, or traces, or witnesses, maybe? Any clues?” “... No,” Garion replied, his tone ever so slightly sour. “Ah—” Satori cleared her throat, “—a shame, that. And the other denizens of the underworld—I don't suppose you happened on any of them along the way?” “No,” replied the blond man; then he stopped. “No,” he righted; “I met one.” “And which one would that be?” “You know her.” “Do I, now?” “I should infer so,” Garion said; “she claimed to be your sister; she was short and odd, with grey hair and green eyes, and dressed in gold.” “Ah yes,” Satori said sweetly, “I'm acquainted with her, indeed.”
Garion did not reply.
“I'm sorry,” apologised the little hostess; “I couldn't help myself, forgive me. So you ran into her somewhere in the house, then?” “She was in the guest room,” Garion answered. “Ah yes? And what happened?” “She was in the guest room,” he repeated. “It's her house, Garion—and her guest room—as much as it is mine; she has every right to go wherever she pleases.” Garion, however, was steady. “She was in the guest room,” he insisted. “As I said—” Satori began. “She was in my guest room,” he interrupted. “She was raking through my belongings.” “... Oh.”
A short silence fell upon the room.
“Well, I—” the small hostess hesitated, “—I should talk with her about it, I suppose; that wasn't very polite of her... not very.” “...” “I apologise, Garion. I'll knock the notion of doing it again out of her head.” “... Do.” “I will, Garion. I promise.” “... Good.”
A while after, Satori stood quietly and approached him.
Garion had done much in the meantime; he had finished fashioning the meat and had seasoned it; he had found a roaster and had placed five cuts inside; he had washed his hands and swiped clean the counter; and as the fire that he had set under the stove had been going for a while now, he had thought busily that he might make other preparations as it warmed.
Naïve, that he had thought.
Garion spun, all but beside himself at that abrupt intrusion.
And when he did finish calming his nerve, he discovered the hostess standing by, halting—timid, even—looking up at him; and it was an awkward moment afore she spoke and voiced what it was that plagued her mind.
“Could I—” she started, but shook her head near instantly. “No, that's not all right; let me try it again. Garion?” she said earnestly. “Is there anything I, ah, may be able to do?” Garion answered her not; he glared, wordless, and frowned inquiringly. At that, the small hostess made a pained moan. “Oh, don't look at me that way, please,” she asked. “I did say, if I recall, that I wished to learn something for myself today—didn't I; and this is as good a time to go about it as any... plus, I kind of want to give you a little bit of a hand myself... if you take my meaning.”
One might imagine she meant it an apology—however contrived.
She smiled insincerely. “Something like that perhaps, yes.” Garion narrowed his eyes. “And what is it you would do?” he asked. Satori pursed her pale, little lips. “I don't know what I could do, actually,” she confessed, “not really, at least; I never did spend a lot of time in kitchen; I usually have others take care of this part for me... Oh, but I am not completely inept, Garion, so don't you turn me down just yet, please; I can manage a knife or a pot, if need be... I think.” She paused. “Garion?” Garion was all but convinced, but he would not occasion an argument if he could. “... Cut the vegetables,” he surrendered. “Onion: dice,” he counted out. “Carrot: slices. Cabbage: shreds. Scrape the potatoes. Chop and cook the mushrooms. Scald and peel the tomatoes. Grind the nutmegs. Ready the flour and milk. Melt the butter. Uncork the wine. Crush the garlic. That is all for now.” Satori smiled a little wryly. “That's rather a lot, isn't it?” “Choose.” “Oh, so I've got a choice? Imagine that. I'd thought you'd have me do all of that.” “... Choose.” “Are you entirely certain, Garion?” she said innocently. “I can make a pick if I have to, but to be honest, I'd much rather you did; you know: just in case...” She left it hanging. Garion asked her: “In case what?” And she looked at him, a shade disappointed. “In case, Garion,” she told him somewhat acidly, “I find I'm not up to the task, so we can blame your faulty judgement instead of my lacking skill, if—or when—I cut my fingers and make a big, ugly mess of your wonderful cooking. I wouldn't enjoy that a lot myself, I don't think; and I'd loathe to have a guilty conscience if it did, by some random chance, end that way. Ah,” she smiled, “but I would mind somewhat less if you bore the responsibility for that chance, Garion. Wouldn't you?” She stopped, and again, looked at him expectantly; but Garion made no answer, and stayed silent even as was his custom. Satori shrugged her dainty shoulders at that, and gave up callously. “Oh well,” she said. “If you absolutely insist, I'll just go ahead and try my hand at cutting the vegetables. Can I perhaps get a knife anywhere around here?”
Garion duly handed her the knife; and true to her word, the fickle hostess took it and silently went about her chosen task.
And Garion returned to his, keen to finish soon. But...
… Intent as he was, he stopped.
And then he turned, not knowing himself why.
And there she was: the cross little hostess, slouched over a cutting board, the knife clutched awkwardly in her hand, and her lip tucked adorably between her little teeth. She was making sounds also, though was likely not aware herself, and the sounds were unseemly, unseemly rather for someone one should think she was striving to be.
Garion stood and sternly stared at her for a while, but as that while passed, he stepped behind her, and seized her brittle hands in his own.
She started, of course, but Garion did not notice, and he instructed, even as he righted her grip: “Hold it with all your hand,” he said, “all the way around the handle—thumb on one side of the blade and the other fingers on the other. Curl your index finger; grasp the blade firmly between it and the thumb. Are you following?”
“Ah,” she let out, “well, yes, so far.” She had terribly delicate skin on her palms, too, but that, also, escaped shrewd Garion's attention. He bluffly moved her other hand, and continued: “Hold the food in place; curl your fingertips under. Use the flat of the blade along your first knuckles; guide it by them as you cut, and always cut straight downward; and do not rise the blade higher than you need, and never uncurl your fingers, unless you wish them damage. Is that clear?” “I think I got the point,” she answered feebly. “Could you, ah, demonstrate, maybe?” “As you wish.”
He firmed his grip, and demonstrated, and even explained further even as he went.
Satori watched his expert movements, and nodded at his factly instruction. Garion let her free then, and heartened now, she picked up where he had left, and smoothly finished on her own, and faced Garion with requests for appraisal.
“Acceptable,” he judged. “Continue.” Satori breathed out. “I will,” she assured. She glanced at her own tiny hands first, however, and looked back at Garion with sudden ire. “Just so you know, though,” she declared, “I want this understood: I'm not Rin, I do not fancy being touched... without an express permission.” Garion gave her a flat look. “... I see.” “Have we got that acknowledged, Garion?” “... Yes.” “Good. I just wanted to get that out of the way. And I forgive you this time,” she added, “so don't ask, Garion; you've a wonderful economy with words; I'd loathe to destroy it.” “... Can I resume my own tasks now?” he inquired. “As a matter of fact, I was about to suggest that myself.” “... As you say.”
And Garion turned away.
“Ah, Garion?” he heard a question.
He turned again, cold and rigid.
“And the cabbage?” Satori asked him. “...” “How do I...?” she hinted. “...” “Garion?” “...”
Satori knitted her small brows, but then realised.
“Ah... yes,” she said, “I'm sorry, I forgot; you may touch me, Garion.”
Satori and Garion had carried all they had made to the crimson-draped hall, and they had set it out and arranged it meticulously on the table. Although he minded little himself, the little hostess had made it her quest to make her first self-made meal—or the first in a time, if one was to believe her—appear as presentable as humanly—and foodly—viable. And although one might deem it vain, and though Garion had done the bulk of the work, the staid young man had been gallant and patient, and had followed the hostess' directions without dissent.
Alone now, as the hostess had left in search of her wayward family, Garion tended himself to the last adjustments. Idly he paced around and around the vast table, and fixed the cups and cutlery, and swapped the bowls and plates around, and insured the pitchers were filled time and time again, more to steady hisself than of any real need; for there were five servings on the table, indeed, a five would eat, and among them was one he had not yet had the chance to meet, and he was anxious to meet her.
As anxious, naturally, as Garion might get.
As he busied like so, all of a sudden the door to the room opened—nay, flew, crashed open, rather—and Garion spun to cast his eyes upon an amazing figure, a figure that flounced inside happily, skipping and crooning out loud in a high and jovial voice:
“Fried Ham, Fried Ham; Cheese and bologna; And after the macaroni, We'll have onions, pickles and pretzels; And then we'll have some more fried ham!”
Garion stood stock-still, in awe.
She was tall, the cheery girl-stranger, more so even than he, her face was child-like and dark with freckles, and she was long and raven-haired. She wore on her a loose, white camise, trimmed with green, and a skirt—also green—that touched her knees, and bounced up and down even as did she, carefree and untroubled by the fact. A pair of wings, feathered and jet as the night itself, extended from her back; and they spanned well-nigh twice her height, and nearly took Garion off his feet when the girl brushed past, heedless, by the sights of it, of his awed gaze.
She wore upon her chest, also, an eye-like orb of blood-red stone; for such, it appeared, was the fashion in this place.
An open affection for ocular ornaments was not Garion's style, however, and he recovered valiantly from the shock of the winged one's lone arrival. She was not so concerned, though, and mindless of him still, she hopped around the table, and took a seat, one where the distance to the largest bowl of food was the least.
And then, out of nowhere, she froze as well, and gaped wide-eyed at Garion as though she only took note of him now.
And then she dove and disappeared.
But afore Garion could utter a word, she re-emerged: lunged out from under the tablecloth and straight at the astonished blond man.
“An intruder!” she cried.
And pounced him: pinned him down, even as a wild animal might its prey, and held him in place with both her long-fingered hands, that were cold and strong as steel, even though Garion was wiser than to struggle just yet, least of all so near the table laden with foods that had cost him hours of work. She grinned—not at him, but more to herself—and lay her wings down on the floor at both Garion's sides, spread out like the paws of a crouching cat.
Her eyes spelled danger, and danger was sign for Garion to gather his strength.
“... Get—” he started.
And it was then that the doors opened again.
“Ah,” said a small voice. “Okuu, so this is where were all along.”
“Master!” the winged one craned her neck and called out. “I caught an intruder!”
Garion twisted his neck and looked also.
“I see that,” said Satori, calm and unperturbed. “How remarkable.”
She strolled in, deliberately slow, and behind her followed her indolent sister and the cat-eared pet-girl, the latter of whom—as soon as she saw Garion and his dire position—cried out and rushed forward to his rescue.
But Satori barred her way.
“Quiet,” she ordered. “Okuu,” she said to the winged one, “manners, please.” “Master Satori,” exclaimed the black-haired girl, “the intruder—!” “Manners first, Okuu,” insisted the little hostess. “Or there's no dinner for you.” “Master Satori!” “I know about the intruder, Okuu; I have eyes. All three of them, as a matter of fact. Now, Okuu, manners, please. We'll see what to do with him after that. And you two,'” she threw a warning look at Koishi and Rin, “keep quiet and watch. Okuu, go right ahead, please. Say your name.”
“Okuu” whimpered under her freckled nose and cast her scarlet eyes down at Garion, who had been silent all that time, and still was, though she weighed heavy on him now.
“Utsuho,” muttered the girl. “I: Utsuho.” “Full name, Okuu,” Satori chided. Utsuho whined again. “Reiuji,” she surrendered. “Utsuho Reiuji is me.” “And he is?” Satori prompted. “And you are?” obeyed the winged girl.
[ ] “Griffin Temeria,” he said; then he turned to Satori and demanded bluntly: “Enough child-play.” [ ] “Ran,” he said. “Ran Borune.” And he would not be treated in such manner. [ ] “Adam,” he told her, “Sutler;” and though he might be an intruder, she should pay more attention to the treats he had stowed in his pocket. [ ] He held fast; none shall entertain themselves at his expense.
I'm in a place. I might resume this once I settle in. Might. Time will show. The place, too. I might as well die from a heatstroke tomorrow. I wouldn't like that a lot. I know you would, but I wouldn't.
Here's a picture. I don't know whether it's of Satori or of Tenshi, I chose it at random. My bets are on Satori. She's all over my Tenshi folder for some bizarre reason.
[X] “Adam,” he told her, “Sutler;” and though he might be an intruder, she should pay more attention to the treats he had stowed in his pocket.
And Garion obliged.
“Adam,” he revealed himself, “Adam Sutler, to be full.” And Utsuho nodded, though her eyes were heedless; and she snapped them to her master, scantly mindful that the blond man suffered. “So he is,” she said, “and now—?” “Will his name suffice?” Satori reminded. “Ah,” gasped the freckled girl. She looked back at once to Garion, and her huge eyes seemed to darken. “And what are you doing here?” she inquired. “Are you from above? Are you an intruder?”
Garion very nearly smiled there and then.
But he stilled himself. As queerly strong and heavy as the winged girl was, her bearing was even as her face—as that of a child—and he saw his chance in that; for children do fall for deceit quicker even than adults, and cunning was so our Garion that he could dupe the girl without her even knowing; and once she loosened her hold, he would wrench his arm free, and himself afterward; he would strike swiftly and without a pause: just one punch to the jaw or an elbow to the temple, and he would be victorious, indeed, he would be free!
Satori gave them both a pained moan, and an alike stare. “I don't know,” she murmured, “that that'll be necessary.”
But alas, neither heard or paid her heed; for it was between them now, and between them followed the exchange: “An intruder I might be,” said Garion, and Utsuho brightened instantly; “but,” he continued, “I assure you as I might, not an unenlightened one.” “Nun-nen-light?” she quizzed, ardent with curiosity. “I had a purpose in coming here.” “A purpose?” “Indeed,” he nodded. “As such, I will have you know, I did not come unprepared.” She tilted her black-trussed head. “I had known you and I would meet,” the blond man told her slyly. “And so, I came bearing gifts.” She livened. “Gifts, you say?” “Just there,” he said, “in my pants-pocket, I have something nice and sweet; you need only reach. I would do and offer it myself, in fact. Alas, for the moment, you have my arms prisoner, have you not?” “Sweets, you said?” She leaned lower, probing with her sprightly eyes. “Did you, really? Sweets?” “So I did,” he nodded. “And again, you need only reach; indeed,” he pushed, “do feel obliged to.” “Mm...” She closed those huge, jolly eyes, and fell into thought. “Sweets, sweets,” she seemed to mutter, “lollipops, candy bars, chocolate tarts, gummi worms! Which will it be? Ah! Which will it be!”
And though to listen alone was a joy, that was the end of it, for Satori came forward and tore Utsuho from her daydream. “Okuu,” she said, “I don't think he has any of these.” “No?” Utsuho blundered, and her sparkling eyes shot open. “No candy?” “No,” said Satori patiently. “No lollipops?” “No.” “No chocolate tarts?” “And no gummi worms,” said the hostess. “I wouldn't wager on candy bars, either. As a matter of fact, I know he hasn't candy on him at all.” “No candy!” Utsuho cast a downcast look at Garion, but he said nothing to that, and Satori spoke again: “Also,” she said, her arms crossed, “he isn't an intruder, despite what he says.” “Not an intruder?” the winged girl said, her eyes uncomprehending. “No,” replied the hostess, “not since I took him in and let him stay.” There was slight resentment in her voice. “And his name is Garion, so forget what he's just told you. You as well,” she said to her sister, “don't let him lead you on. Anyway, you can let him go now, Okuu; I don't imagine he'll be any trouble. Not now that we're all here. Am I right, Garion?”
Garion ignored that.
The poor Utsuho gave him a last wounded look before she crawled off him, all the while lamenting: “No candy! No candy!” and fluttering her wings in silent cries. Satori approached, and with her did Rin and Koishi, and the small hostess bent over.
“You aren't a rug. Get up.”
She offered her hand.
Garion did not take it.
A moment passed that they stared each other tersely in the eye, but at length, the man reached out to Rin instead, and the cat-eared she, glancing shortly at her master, at last helped Garion to his feet. Satori frowned; her arm fell loose along her side, and she gave Garion a sour look even as the man dusted his clothes from lying on the floor.
And then, once he returned her gaze, she said immediately: “I'm sorry.” “You are?” he questioned bleakly. “I didn't do that for my own entertainment, you know.” “Indeed?” “As a matter of fact, yes, indeed. I've told you, Garion, we are not as quick as you are, and Okuu must learn to—” she broke off and sighed. “Never mind. I'll explain it to you again some day, perhaps. Never mind. I had hoped you'd understand.” “Are you cross with me?” “Cross?” she feigned surprise. “Me? No, Garion, I couldn't be. Actually, you've shown me another thing I'll have to teach this child,” she motioned at the crying Okuu. “It's my problem, though—entirely mine. Enough of this, now. Let's sit down already and eat. I'm absolutely famished after all this.”
And she turned and went toward the table.
Koishi went after her, and Rin also, though she first gave Garion an impish sort of wink and wiggled her little fingers at him in a kind of secret sign. Garion started, too, but soon as he took the first step, he froze.
A pair of hands dug into his pockets and trashed all about, searching and exploring, while he stood rooted to the spot. Something touched his back, but he moved not; and only after the hands had stopped fondling his sides, he spun around, to meet with Utsuho's fiery glare.
She made a “hmph!” at him, and started past him, to the table, her wings cuffing him full in the face and chest and bringing him to his knees.
He stood upright again and stayed his nerve. This was nothing to grow angry at. Courtly as he could, he approached the table himself, where Satori had been waiting all along, and held a chair for her. She did not remark on it, so neither did he, and soon he also sat, and began to fill their plates with food—hers first, his second, as he was in no mood to wrangle.
He was, after all, a very well brought-up young man.
A time afterward, the blond man accosted the small hostess in a muffled voice.
Opposite of them the cat-eared girl, the winged one and the sister gorged themselves on food she and he had made; and though he had not heard her lay claim to the feat, from the little sights of her he stole, she was proud and content with herself.
And so he spoke silently, as not to irritate her humour: “I have an inquiry for you.” She smiled at him derisively. “For me, Garion? Why, you shouldn't have!” “You are cross,” the blond man accused. “You said you weren't.” “No, Garion,” she told him, “I'm all but cross. Do I really look like I'm cross?” “Yes.” “Well,” she told him calmly, “I'm telling you openly that I'm not, so there. I'm not cross, Garion, I'm just—no,” she shook her little head, “never mind what I am. What did you want to ask about? Not about my sister's favourite poetry, is it? And not about my being cross, I hope?” “No such thing,” said Garion, and he set his fork and knife aside and faced her. She did not do the same. She was cross, he could see; yet regardless, he went on: “It is my memory that you said you were not adept at cookery.” “So I'm not,” she replied. “What's your point?” “If,” he said, “you are as amateur at cooking as you say you are, how have you—you and your pets—survived for as long as you have? What did you eat all the time?” She set down her cutlery and looked at him. “Why the sudden interest?” “I am merely curious,” he lied. “No, Garion,” she told him firmly, “you're not. Again, why do you ask?” “I worry for you,” he lied again. “Garion.” “It is the truth.” “No, it isn't,” she insisted. “Will you at last tell me why, or shall I forget you ever asked?”
He did not reply.
She gave him a level gaze. “I didn't think so,” she said, and promptly returned to her meal.
Garion stared on for a brief more while. For another turned at the merry three across the table, and again then at the quiet little hostess. A furtive almost silence on his lips, he hitched his arm upward and reached, ever-so-slowly, for Satori's tiny, pale hand.
“Don't,” she said, not even looking. Garion froze. “Have you always been so crooked,” she asked, not looking still, “that you only abide by rules when it pretty well suits you? Is this another teaching of that woman of yours?” She set aside her plate and faced him. “Very well, Garion. I'll tell you. I don't much feature you will just drop it if I refuse to talk, will you? Never mind. Lay your arm back down, it'll go numb if you leave it like this.” She waited while he did just that. “Well then,” she said next, “let us begin by remembering first, Garion: what exactly am I?” “A monster,” Garion replied. “Astonishing,” she mocked; “you still remember. And haven't you heard about us, monsters: about those peculiarities of our diet that give your children nightmares? Surely you must have; I can't very well imagine you'd just stop because we asked you nicely. So, Garion, tell me, pretty please: what do we, monsters, usually eat?” “Human flesh?” he asked more than answered. Satori assumed a vicious, vicious smile. “Well now,” she purred pleasantly, “there you have it.” She straightened. “Is that quite all? I'd really much rather enjoy my food while it's still nice and warm. Are you satisfied, yet?” Garion gave her a steady look. “There are no humans underground,” he observed. “Maybe we ate them all, Garion,” the little hostess suggested. “How about this explanation?” “I do not believe it.” “And why not, pray tell?” “You are small.” “Yes,” she agreed. “And rather charming, I am led to believe.” “I cannot judge that.” “Judge all you want, Garion. It's a free world.” Garion groped for another argument. “You are...” “Weak?” hinted the hostess. “Compared to you and the others, perhaps—physically. I have my pets, however, and mark you, they aren't nearly so fragile.” “Still...” “I wouldn't eat a human, would I?” she completed his thought for him. “As a matter of fact, I wouldn't; you're absolutely right. Isn't it the same with some as with some of you? I've heard that there are humans in the surface world that abstain from meat for fear of causing hurt to all the poor, poor animals.” “Some do,” Garion confirmed. “Well then,” Satori continued; “it isn't all that terribly different with us, Garion: you eat animals, we eat humans, such are things in this world. But picture now that the chicken, cow or pig you're about to slaughter turns under the busy end of the knife, dons a scholarly façade and starts questioning your morals, over and over – you'd feel a little sick with yourself then, wouldn't you?” “No,” he told her. “It is not immoral to take the life of an animal to preserve your own. It is only natural.” “See?” smiled Satori. “Isn't this just what I said? I couldn't bear to eat you, Garion; you'd preach philosophy all throughout it and I'd lose my appetite. As I am right now,” she remarked a shade bitterly. “A human doesn't make the healthiest meal, anyway,” she went on. “At least in my opinion it doesn't – there might be other schools of thought out there for all I know. I made it a point to teach Rin to leave humans alone—as I did Okuu—but they have both been spending time above the ground; they might have picked up a bad habit or two... especially, I fear, my dear, dear sister. So, if I were you, Garion, I'd disabuse myself of any strange ideas and stay away from her: far, far away, in fact.” “I understand.” “I don't think that you really do, Garion,” she said, “but you don't have to, either.” He stared at her questioningly. “Never mind, Garion,” the little hostess told him. “It's not all that important right now.” She slid her plate away and stood. “You have not finished,” Garion informed her “No, Garion,” she replied. “As a matter of fact, no, I didn't. I don't have to. It's one of the few benefits of being a monster: eating is just a pleasure, not a necessity. I could go for years without ever touching so much as a grain of rice. And that is how I've survived down here – you have the answer to your earth-shaking question. Koishi,” she called suddenly to her sister, who had long done eating her share and was now engrossed in conversation with the pet-girls. “Are you done yet? Can we go and hear that message you had for me now?” “Ah... yes?” the green-eyed girl said vacantly. “Can we?” Satori nodded. “I should think so. Unless you were busy?” “Ah, no, no,” Koishi sprang to her feet, “not busy, not busy. Can go.” “Excellent. Garion,” the little hostess addressed once more the blond man, “you'll do the dishes, won't you?” “I will,” said Garion. “Great.” She halted. “Garion?” “Yes?” She slid one hand absently through her hair. “I'll want to talk with you tonight as well,” she said. “Will you have time?” “Yes.” “And strength?” “Yes.” “Great,” she said. “See me when you're done with cleaning, in that case.” “I will.” “Great,” she repeated. “I'll be waiting.”
She stared on at him, however, stroking that unruly hair, and it was only when Koishi muttered: “Ah... big sister?” and poked her in the shoulder that she tore her eyes from him and said: “Yes, it's nothing, let's go, Koishi.”
And then they went, colourful sisters both.
Garion turned to Rin, but the cat-girl had no answers for him, just a troubled smile.
So it was that Garion washed the dishes and stashed away leftover foods in soothing quiet.
Alone: for she who had aided him the day before had business to attend to, and had told him so beforehand, soon as she had done eating:
“She is very sorry,” she had told him, “little sister is, but she cannot help him at this time.” Garion had not pressed the matter—he could do it well himself, of course—but the cat-girl had felt meet that she apologises all the same, and, cradling his hand with both hers and grinning sheepishly, she had done just that. Utsuho, the winged one, had not proven better: she had eaten, scowled, and fled the scene, ostensibly angry with the blond man for deceiving her before.
Alas, Garion had enough company on his own, and he'd set about the task alone.
As soon as he had done it, he wiped his hands, left the kitchen, and headed for Satori's bedroom.
But even as walked the cold halls of the house, he found not all was well: from afar he heard shouts and screams, and they only grew as he neared his destination. And then he took a corner and saw: Koishi standing by her sister's room, while the latter filled the air with curses from behind the door. Koishi saw him also, and through swears and stomps and bangs, she jumped and pranced toward him, and called: “Dias! Dias, Dias, Bartolomeu!” She had not taken her sister's advice to heart, it seemed. She stopped and smiled at him, a pretty green-eyed smile, and stood there, waiting his reaction, which was as such: “What is afoot?” And he looked toward the door, behind which Satori raged. Koishi followed his gaze, but her smile stayed. “Ah,” she said, “the message.” Garion waited, but she said no more, so he asked: “What about the message?” “What about it?” The blond man reeled. “What angered her?” he tried, though it frayed his nerve. “Was it the message?” “Ah... yes? I think?” “I must see her,” he said. “See her,” the grey-haired girl parroted. And then her eyes went wide. “Not now?” “Now,” said Garion. “Ah, but she's angry! It's a bad idea, a bad idea, yes!” She drew closer, and Garion stepped back so that she would not touch him. She did not notice, or leastwise made no sign of it. “Must you see her now?” she asked. “Absolutely?” “I just said so.” “Ah.” She flicked her hair behind her ear. “Right now?” “Yes.” “What do you need from her, if I can ask?” “Information,” said Garion, though it was only half-true. “Ah.” She fluttered her eyelashes. “Make tea?” “What?” “Ah,” she seemed to collect herself. “I meant to say: can you make tea? We could talk—” she smiled again, “—but you'll have to make tea, because I can't.”
She moved forward again, and Garion flinched away.
“I need to talk with Satori,” he began, “not with—”
And it was then that it dawned on him the absent-minded sister might aid his search even as Satori; better even,mayhap, for she knew the world above ground also.
And yet, he wavered.
[ ] She was kind to offer help, but Satori he had promised. [ ] There was little harm in trying. He took up the deal, while Satori simmered down. [ ] She was of no interest to him, though, so he asked her about Rin.
>>7919 Little did you know, the REAL space was right below you ALL ALONG!
[X] She was kind to offer help, but Satori he had promised.
Such was his decision.
And though one might tell his ends and reasons, they were after all his own, so kept secret they were, even as were his fears of the faraway green-eyed girl. She was as Satori was, above all, but wilder; and her happy smiles and stares were full of promise – coy promise Garion did not wish to witness bloom.
“Koishi,” he spoke up, “you are kind, but—” She skipped toward him, nearly clashing with his chest. “Yes?” She beamed at him, turning up her tiny head. “Yes, yes, Dias?” She was small and vibrant, so vibrant she seemed to glow. Garion writhed; he drew back a step. “You are kind,” he said again, “but I cannot take you up.” “Ah?” she made a baffled sound. “Can't you?” “Not at the moment, no.” “Ah?” she let loose once more. “And why not?” “I promised.” “Ah. A promise, then?” “Yes. A promise.” “A promise.” She put one tiny finger to her lips; then she blinked. “A promise!” she exclaimed. “So he promised, didn't he! Ah, I remember now, I do! So he did, he did! Oh, well!” She straightened, twined her hands behind her back, and grinned. “I'll see you off in that case. I will, yes?” Garion scowled. “See me off?” “Ah?” Koishi startled. “Ah, I forgot?” She closed her eyes and frowned. “Ah! Caves! Caves, yes! I will see you to the caves!” “Indeed?” the blond man questioned. “Indeed?” mused the girl after him. “Ah, big sister told me...” she recalled aloud, “she did, didn't she? Searching for somebody, she said – in the caves, wasn't it?” “I am,” Garion confirmed. “So you are!” Koishi nodded eagerly. She froze and looked at Garion, surprised. “You are? You are, aren't you?” “... Yes.” “Ah.” She considered that. “If that's so, listen, listen: Komeiji Koishi leaves tomorrow morrow, too,” she announced. “She will go with you—I will go with you – a little ways, won't I? A little ways, perhaps – to the caves, yes?” “... A little ways?” “A little ways!” the dreamy girl twirled. “A little ways, yes! I'm going back up top!” she cooed, “to the surface world, there! It is spring now, did you know? Spring is warm and beautiful!” She spun on her toes. “Ah, the sun and leaves and flowers! Aren't they all just wonderful!”
Garion wondered briefly when he'd last seen the sun.
Koishi, in the meanwhile, danced on and chirped: “And the food – oh, the food! And songs and toys and sights! And the people!” She stopped and looked at him, her green eyes a joy. “Aren't you just glad?” she asked. “Aren't you just glad, Dias?” “I—” he staggered, “—that I am, I guess.” She smiled, but the smile soon faded. “I don't big sister is, though, I don't.” “Is she...?” Garion's mind was slowly giving up. “I think she's angry because of the spring,” Koishi went on. “She said to me: I wouldn't have it! I wouldn't! Ah, but spring comes either way, doesn't it, Dias? It does come always, always, yes?” “Normally...” “Normally,” Koishi echoed. “Ah, but maybe—maybe because the message was about spring? I don't know! Ah, but spring!” she sighed. “Spring is just—it is just so! Spring! And the music and the lights, oh!”
Garion watched in silence how she danced.
She jumped and spun once—then twice, then thrice—and squealed in delight. She tapped her heels together, and prancing still went around Garion, and the brim of her skirt grazed him, and the ends of her long hair brushed him, even as she whirled, whirled.
And then, abrupt as she had started, she stopped, and fright crawled over her little face.
“Ah, the mountain!” she gasped. At that point, Garion gave up thinking. “What about the mountain?” he asked, reining in his nerve. “Ah?” the green-eyed girl stared at him, confused. “Did you not just say something about a mountain?” “No, no! Not a mountain!” said Koishi; “what I meant was: the mountain person!” “...” “The mountain person...?” she tried once more, hopeful. Garion calmed himself. “So what about the person?” he pushed. “Ah, well,” Koishi made a troubled smile; “she told me, that's what I meant to say.” “She told you...?” “Ah... I'm sorry?” “She told you—” Garion said again, but she cut him off: “No, I meant: I'm sorry, yes?” “... Are you?” “I am!” she assured. “I mean, the mountain person said I should.” “...” “I mean, when busy...?” “... I do not understand.” She made a rueful face. “She said that you were busy so I should be sorry?” “...” “If you're a bother when busy and I talk?” “Are you making fun of me, little sister?” “Ah?” She appeared wounded by the idea. “No! I'm not—Ah, forget, forget! Caves! Caves, OK?” “I don't—” Garion began...
... but it was then that her eyes flafurq, rira nf gurl nyernql unq bapr gbqnl.
Fb, unccl nf vs jung unq gnxra cynpr jnf abguvat, jvgu n fxvc va ure fgrc naq n fbat ba ure yvcf, fur yrsg.
Nf fbba nf fur inavfurq sebz fvtug, Garion stirred, and when he came to, he was on one knee.
Koishi was there no more, though her jaunty airs lingered, as did—it seemed—her voice. As bizarre as it was, however, Garion was heedless to its oddity; he rose, and with him his spirit, and straight he went for the door to his hostess' bedchamber—where her yells and curses still marred the air, and even now seeped into the hall and filled dauntless Garion's ears—and entered.
Courageously, one might say: as one goes to beard a lion in its den.
And as before stood Garion stock-still, life vacant from his gaze, and the yellow-clad girl sighed with relief.
As before she approached Garion and touched him, her little hands tense. She reached for his face, but small as she was, it was out of her reach. So she beckoned Garion to kneel, and kneel Garion did, not uttering a sound. She took hold his cheeks and played with them for a scant while or two, smiling to herself and thinking strange thoughts only she would know.
At length, she'd filled her heart of that innocent play, and took this time Garion's head in both little hands. And eyes-closed she drew, closer and closer still, oblivious of all, until her tiny pink lips all but touched his. She jerked away then, thrill in her eyes and blush on her cheeks, and her small body trembled.
And she righted herself and exhaled, rife with excitement.
She regarded a last time Garion and all that was his: his (relatively) big body and elegant clothes, and smiled. She listened to her sister's curses flowing from behind the door, and smiled again. She was not needed here.
So, happy as if what had taken place was nothing, with a skip in her step and a song on her lips, she left.
And the lion—lioness, in actuality—was there, her rage manifest.
And a blinding white took Garion's sight the moment he entered, and the white was soft and made of fabric. A pillow, as it were, he found when it slithered from his eyes. A smart weapon it might be—in some quarters—but alas, poor against Garions, and ours stood tall and unimpressed even as the soft, velvety missile fell impotently to his feet – he stood calm.
A trifle less calm was Satori, who seethed at her would-be kill with undisguised fury. “Who said you could come in?!” she lashed out, her voice shrill. She heaved painfully again and again, and clenched her small fists, struggling visibly with sheer volume of her anger. “I never asked,” replied Garion apace, as was the truth. Satori nearly shrieked: “Why didn't you knock, you oaf?!” “I told you once,” Garion said flatly, “knocking is old and wasteful of time. It is an aged and outdated custom that, once removed, allows a much greater arrangement of—”
—life, one should finish, for Garion was let not.
Another pillow flew at him, as an arrow might fly, and the blond man took it valiantly, even not blinking once. And when that one projectile fell to his feet also, he found that Satori was all but ablaze: drained was blood from her face and bared were her sharp teeth; a small finger was shot pointedly at the door, and the furious girl barked: “Out! Out and right now!” “I came here to talk,” Garion said drily. “As you requested,” he added, too. “I take it back, then!” flared the small hostess. “Out of my deuced sight!” “I came here to talk,” the blond man repeated. “On my own accord,” he tried for a change. Satori, however, was indifferent to his tries. “I said get out!” She flicked her pale hand. “Are you deaf, you jerk? Out of my damned room! Can you not see I'm occupied?!” “No, I cannot,” Garion said coolly. “As is,” he went on to explain, “you do not seem, to any degree, by any task pressing enough to warrant a change of my plans.” “A change of your plans, my deuced ear! Get out of my sight!” “I refuse.” “No, you do not, as a matter of fact! Get out of my deuced room—right god damned now!” “I do refuse,” said Garion firmly. “I shall remain.”
She snarled an ugly oath, then drew and tossed another pillow.
Garion took that one also, willing neither to dodge nor to yield. Unflinchingly he drew himself up and demanded of the raging girl: “Calm down.” “Or what?” she returned. Garion frowned. “I have not come here to threaten you,” he said. She laughed at him a lofty laugh. “Ah, is that so?” she sneered. “Go on, Garion, make your threats, be my guest! I should calm down—or what? Whatever are you going to do if I elect not to? I'm listening. Will you turn me over your knee and paddle like you're my mother, perhaps? Or maybe throw me on the bed, push me down and hold me still until I stop kicking? Which is it? Give, Garion. I ache for your next words. Which will it be?” “Neither,” replied Garion equably. And then an unfamiliar smile stretched his dry lips, sly and scornful. “But you would like that, wouldn't you?” he asked levelly. “After all, you do enjoy being touched rather badly, don't you?” Satori flushed; her tiny, elegant features contorted into a hateful, hateful grimace. “Are you so sure of that, Garion?” she hissed, deadly quiet. “Are you really, really sure?” “I trust my valuation,” said Garion, maintaining his smile. “Is that so?” asked the small hostess, her shoulders trembling. “So it is.” “Why don't we correct that just a little?” she proposed. “I'll tell you what I'd truly enjoy right now, Garion. May I?” “Go ahead.” She shut her flickering eyes and breathed. “I'd enjoy, Garion,” she told him silently, “if you would kindly GO TO HELL!”
And then her silence shattered – like a pane of wafer-thin glass.
She erupted in a bout of loud name-calling and arm-flailing. She stomped toward the unoffending tea table and seized what lay on it. She heaved it all—tray, cups and all—and launched it one by one at Garion, all the while swearing what she would do to him should he continue not to remove himself from her sight.
And even so, Garion was still—save, needless to say, for shielding his eyes from the flying porcelain-shards—for menacing though the threats might be and many, one would find most physically improbable, and Garion knew that.
“Oh yes?!” snarled the rampaging hostess. She snatched one ornate plate and threw it at the blond man. “Improbable, you say?!” It burst into pieces on the wall behind him, and many sharp chips sprinkled the floor. “Calm—” Garion began, but she cut him off at once: “Shut up, you imbecile!” she yelled. “Improbable?! I'll show you improbable!”
She stormed toward her canopied bed and tore free the silken sheets.
And she launched them furiously at the defenceless Garion.
And they hit him squarely in the face, and he couldn't see.
“Calm down,” he implored, even as he untangled himself from the soft fabrics. “I did not say—”
Alas, the instant he saw her again, his voice left him, and a sudden panic came over his mind.
“Get OUT!!!” Satori shrieked and threw the tea-urn she was holding.
And Garion could do naught to dodge it.
Snarled by the treacherous sheets as he was, he could but stare, horrified, as the heavy brass vessel made an arch and smote mightily into his exposed forehead.
A resounding “bang” struck his ears.
Abruptly, his vision blinked; and he tumbled forward, onto his knees. And he clutched helplessly at the pounding swell on the front of his skull with one hand. And through the pain clouding his eyes, he saw: blood sifted through his trembling fingers and dripped, in vicious drops, onto the pristine, white sheets, and it was red, red.
“Oh dear,” a startled voice seemed to exclaim. “Garion?” it called. “Garion!”
A few hastened steps were heard, and they stopped before Garion, where they knelt.
Garion swung his free arm to push them away, but it swiped at empty air, and he swayed.
“Where did it hit?” someone demanded urgently. “Show me!” “Get away,” Garion grunted in return. “Show me, Garion!” “Get away from me!” he growled. A new wave of pain ploughed his brains, and he convulsed. “Shut up, you dunce!” the voice scolded, “let me see!”
A firm hand pried his fingers apart and parted his golden fringe. And fight though he might, his strength was not enough. Satori—for it was her, naturally—gasped and went at once to her feet. She went and retrieved something from a cupboard, then returned to Garion and knelt beside him again.
Garion felt a gust of warm, then a gust of cold, and the cold neared and pressed where he had been hit. Garion struggled to knock it aside, but Satori laid a restricting palm on his shoulder. Garion strained to look upwards, but there was but ice-cold white, and it shrouded half his sight, so he could only see the trembling knees of his small hostess, and that the blood had—for now, leastwise—stopped staining the expensive sheets and pillows.
“Quit worrying about that now, Garion,” Satori compelled. “Are you all right? Can you stand?” “I... do not know,” Garion groaned. “Give it a try. Slowly.”
She helped him from the floor and the colourful mess.
Gently, she led him to the upturned table and to a miraculously still-standing chair. She had to tiptoe to hold the ice-bag to his wound, but she coped without a word. And only when Garion had collapsed onto one of the chairs and relieved her of the task did she allow herself to utter a grief-stricken sigh.
“I'm sorry, Garion,” she said feebly. “I'm so sorry.” “... You are impulsive,” Garion accused. “I didn't control myself. I'm sorry.” “... Merely an observation,” he muttered.
Sceptically, he took the ice-bag away from his injury, only to discover it was not a bag but a shirt – a tiny sleeveless shirt, now soiled by his blood and crushed into a ball, wrinkled and despoiled.
“Quit making it sound like the end of the world,” Satori chided. “I didn't have anything else on hand. Now put it back where it was; you're bleeding again.”
And Garion did just that.
Satori sighed and looked to the mess she had made, and she bit her tiny lip.
“Sit,” Garion told her from the side. “I will clean it up.” “No,” she shook her head, “you shouldn't move yet, Garion, you'll make it worse.” “I did not say right now,” said the blond man. “Sit. I will clean it up once the pain has gone.” “No, I should—” “Sit,” Garion demanded. “I shan't let you do chores when you are angry.” “I'm calm now, Garion.”
Now, one might daresay.
“I really am,” she insisted. “I've calmed down. I'm not angry.” “Still,” Garion required. “Sit.” “No,” she declined, “I will—” “I implore you.” “No, I should—” “Satori.”
And Satori surrendered.
“No, I didn't—” she began, but broke off mid-sentence. “Or maybe I will,” she conceded weakly. “I suppose I will. I'm sorry. I'll sit.”
“Good,” said Garion and sank deeper into the soft upholstery.
“It really sets my teeth on the edge when you do that. I always seem to lose my train of thought.” Garion frowned. “When I do what?” “Not you, Garion,” sighed his small hostess. “Never mind.” And then she fell quiet, and wormed in her seat for a tense few moments afore she spoke again. “Garion?” she called his name faintly. “Are you all right now? Are you still hurting?” “Yes,” he grunted. “Yes to which?” “Both.” “Garion, please...”
Garion did not reply.
Satori groaned, a jaded little groan, but pressed no more.
Crestfallen on her face turned she instead to the disarrayed room: to the shivered glassware, and to the crumpled pillows, and the warped litter of bed-sheets, wrung now and smirched with blots of crimson lifeblood. And sighed the fair hostess again and wept inside, struck with regret, for it had been all her own doing, and it frightened even her self.
“Charming,” she murmured under her dainty nose. “I think I'll throw up.”
Naturally. One does one's best.
Garion lifted the sodden cloth from his head and stared inquiringly at the cross girl. She gave him a bleak look and once more exhaled. “It's nothing, Garion,” she told him, “it doesn't matter. Anyway, the ice's melted, hasn't it? Give it to me.” She took from him the folded shirt. “A moment, here,” she said and whispered a spell. Again, two blows brushed Garion's skin—one warm and one cold—and when Satori returned the shirt to him, there was new ice inside. “I thank you,” he told her, and pressed the cold bag to his still-aching forehead. “Aren't you going to ask?” the hostess questioned. “I know of magic; I need no explanations.” “Shame. I was looking forward to making one.” “Should I humour you?” Garion said flatly. “Shouldn't you?” Satori returned. “No, don't force yourself, please. I never should have mentioned it.”
Garion sat wordless for a few moments, but then: “... Go ahead,” he muttered, “explain.” “What's that?” the hostess asked. “Go ahead,” he said again, louder, “explain, if you could. I wish to learn; enlighten me.” “Are you making fun of me, Garion?” she asked crossly. “I would not do that.” “Or would you?” She paused. “... No. Of course you wouldn't. I didn't think you would. Anyway, there isn't much to ice magic.” She leaned back in her chair. “As a matter of fact, it is a simple process – so simple a child could do it... and indeed, some do. All that it does is transfer the heat out of the target—nothing more. Cold is not an actual state, it is merely a lack of warmth. So once that warmth is taken out of your target—be it air or anything else—it freezes, simple as that. And since there is steam in the air as well as all the other assorted substances, if you gather enough of it prior to freezing, it—” “What angered you?” Garion asked suddenly
Satori choked on her breath, her eyes a bit wild. “What—?” “What angered you?” Garion repeated. “I suffered for it; I have a right to know.” She grit her small teeth and glared. “Stop it, Garion,” she drawled. “I don't want to talk about it.” “I do, though.” “No, Garion,” she refused. “Out of the question. It doesn't concern you.” “Nevertheless.” “No.” “I insist.” “No, Garion.” “Satori.” “No!” She bound to her feet. “I won't talk about it! It's my business, not yours! I won't—!”
Alas, her voice vanished abruptly when Garion stood also and seized her small wrist.
And he cast the wet ice-bag aside, and bore his cool eyes into hers. And though fresh blood leaked and ran slowly down his brow, he made naught of it running, for it mattered not.
“Garion...” she uttered haltingly, “you're bleeding again...” “So?” the blond man said blandly. “Give it up, please,” begged the small hostess. “I told you, it really doesn't concern you.” “Correction,” he told her bluntly. “I paid for it. A price in blood, in fact. I demand answers thus.” “Garion, please, be reasonable.” “I do not feel inclined to. Give me an answer, Satori.” “No.” “Give,” he squeezed harder. “No.” “Give.” “No!” she yelped. “Shall I ask your sister, then?” he proposed. “She would know, wouldn't she?” Satori gagged at that. “Or should I?” the blond man struck on. “She upset you, didn't she? She is the reason I was injured.” “No!” gasped the small hostess. “She isn't—!” “So what is the reason? Give, miss Satori. Give or I'll go.”
She nipped at her lip and made a small face. “... Very well,” she gave up contritely, looking away. “I'll give. Just let go of me and I will. And wipe that blood off, please. It's making me nauseous.” And that Garion did.
Subdued and put out, Satori fell on her chair and squirmed to and fro until at last calm. And Garion was patient throughout, and waited noiselessly till she drew a deep breath and spoke:
“How well,” she asked, “would you believe I am acquainted with the Hakurei?” “I know you have met.” “Ah yes. A certain cat told you, didn't she. However, for you, she is shrouded by legend. At her own behest, too, I wager. She is nowhere as impressive as what you have heard, Garion. She is awful, mark my words.” “I mark them,” Garion assured. “You are not fond of her, I gather?” “I wonder? We didn't get off a very good footing, I agree. She broke into my house, after all. All justified, naturally, as it turned out, but I wasn't too pleased all the same, you understand. I called her out. She took it quite violently, as I remember.” “You challenged her.” “I might have,” Satori admitted. “I got what was coming to me, at that – in the end, I had to let her do as she very well pleased.” “Sickening,” Garion said indifferently. “And this is related, how?” “Are you so keen, Garion? Would you mind if I kept my own pace? I am still groping to come to grips with what comes next.” “... I apologise.” “And I forgive you. Anyway, the Hakurei has a reputation to maintain. As such, every year, she throws up a festival at her shrine. She invites everyone of moment to come and watch her flex her muscles and eat at her expense. Of course, your kind caught wind of that, too, so they come and jump in on the fun—only they have decency enough to bring their own food and keep mostly to themselves—or that's what I heard. I'm not welcome on the surface, so all I can go by is hearsay... and what my pets tell me. Anyway, it's purportedly all very formal—written invitations and all—and the guests are the cream of the crop: people... or monsters... you wouldn't—shouldn't want to cross. As I said: everyone of importance in this cursed world.”
She fell silent.
“Anyway,” she resumed before long, “the red-white wretch found my sister wandering outside the other day. She was never supposed to go near the cursed place. I'd told her so again and again: we are not... allowed... to be out there—not officially. And my airhead of a sister went and got herself caught by the single worst person possible.” “Is that why you were upset?” Garion asked. “No, Garion. Not by a large margin, it was not. Hakurei didn't savage my silly sister or anything. She didn't even scold her. She did something else entirely. She gave her an invitation to the entire deuced festival—which, it turns out, is in just a week from now. She even included additional two for my most notorious pets.” “So what is the issue? If she did not punish your sister?” “Were you listening at all, Garion?” Satori hissed. “She gave one invitation to my sister, then threw in two more for my pets. Isn't something just a shade off here?” Garion did not reply. Satori forced a smile. “I thought so, too,” she said. “Of course, I couldn't care less about that; I'd never planned to go to any stupid festival, after all—but then the had to go and tell my sister this message: ‘Oh, tell your sister she can come if she wants, too,’ she said. ‘I don't really care.’” “So that is—” “Of course it is, you dunce!” Satori rose and slammed her fists on the table. “She's mocking me, that stuck-up swine! She knows damned well I cannot go outside! She is the one whose kin forbade it in the first place!” “She permitted you to come out, though,” Garion observed. “She's taunting me, Garion! Can't you see? She wants me to come out to remind me why I consented to living in this place! She wants to humiliate me! And worst of all, she's subverted my own sister!” “Subverted?” “Oh yes, you saw how she smiled about the whole ordeal, didn't you? How she laughed? She was beside herself, Garion. She wants me to go. She wants me to play with her outside. She doesn't understand why it's not possible.” “And why is it not?”
Satori sighed and sat down, resigned. “I knew it'd come to this sooner or later,” she said. “I really would've preferred it had been later rather than sooner, but...” She leaned back and looked at Garion with somber eyes. “I should tell you something about myself,” she said. “I am a Satori.” “I am aware,” Garion said drily. “No,” the pale hostess shook her small head, “you misunderstand. I am a monster, Garion. I can read minds.”
Garion thought about that.
“Just so,” she confirmed acidly. “I'll have you know, however, I am a little bit bigger than that.” “You are still small,” Garion said seriously. “And rather pretty, I am led to believe.” Garion said nothing. “Why, thank you,” the small hostess said tartly. “Anyway, this minor ailment of mine is why I'm not considered good company on the surface – people don't find the knowledge that I can see into their hearts and thoughts all that comforting. I cannot imagine why. I'd learned I shouldn't investigate—or even ask. Or rather, they'd taught me not to.” “They are bigoted.” “And you aren't?” Garion gave her a callous stare. “I have nothing in my mind that would be of profit to you.” “Of profit, no,” she agreed. “Of amusement, though—perhaps.” And then, incredibly, the corners of her lips moved and turned up. “I must say I'm amazed, however—that you can still think these kinds of thoughts.” “Was that not what you anticipated?” he asked. “It was,” she replied, and her smile widened. “And my reaction?” “Adequate.” “Great. I would have loathed to miss your expectations. I fear you already knew, though.”
One should exert more care in the future.
“Maybe,” Satori agreed. And then she smiled again. “One for my side, then?” “Are you going to keep score?” Garion questioned. “As a matter of fact, yes, I am. Also, I want to thank you, Garion.” “Do you?” “As a matter of fact, yes, I do. I never realised how stupid I'd been about it until I went out and said it.” “Do you mean keeping secrets, or...?” he left it hanging. “Actually, it's both,” she said a bit too eagerly. “I should have told you sooner. And I shouldn't have gotten so mad about the invitation. It's so trifling when you give it more thought. I let my pride run away with me.” “Then you will go?” “No, Garion, I won't. I'll stay right where I am.” “But that is what—” “I'll stay,” she restated, her voice steady. “I won't let that red-white bandit harass and disgrace me in front of all of the Land. Koishi will be sad, but she'll get over it—no later than the festival starts, I feel—but I won't set foot outside of this house. Not in a thousand years.” “...” “I'll get back at her, though,” she went on. “She may have my sister, but she will sooner die of old age than get me. She might not realise, but that message was as good as a regular invitation. She won't have any right to complain if someone else appears in my place. I am but of zero moment to her, after all.” “I do not understand,” Garion confessed. “I'll speak plainly, in that case. Why don't you take this chance, Garion? Usually, your kind isn't let where the most powerful persons are – but with an invitation, well, they just won't have a choice but let you in, no?” “And why would I want to be let in?” “And why not? I can't help you with your woman... probably... but one of them may just be able to – for all you know, she might even be there when you arrive. Of course,” she added somewhat hastily, “if she isn't, and if no one feels kind enough to help you, you can always return to me—here. I'll always be here, after all.” She smiled. “Consider it, Garion; it's a great opportunity for you.”
>Garion gave her a callous stare. “I have nothing in my mind that would be of profit to you.” >“Of profit, no,” she agreed. “Of amusement, though—perhaps.” And then, incredibly, the corners of her lips moved and turned up. “I must say I'm amazed, however—that you can still think these kinds of thoughts.” >“Was that not what you anticipated?” he asked. >“It was,” she replied, and her smile widened. >“And my reaction?” >“Adequate.” >“Great. I would have loathed to miss your expectations. I fear you already knew, though.”
>One should exert more care in the future.
>“Maybe,” Satori agreed. And then she smiled again. “One for my side, then?” >“Are you going to keep score?” Garion questioned. >“As a matter of fact, yes, I am.
I'm lost, man.
So I guess Satori's objective is to exact petty revenge using Garion? Or something? I'd be more than happy to comply if it did not involve leaving. [x] He would not.
>>8050 Here's what I understood: 1) Satori and her pets are locked in the underground because some Yukari said so. 2) Koishi goes wander, and got invited by Yukari to a party. 3) Satori is butthurt and paranoid because she thinks it's a devious plan to mock her. 4) She thinks Koishi is part of the conspiration. 5) She wants to send Garion instead, because he's here. 6) She needs a paddling for doubting her sister.
I don't think it's so much a plan for revenge, but rather something to bury the hatchet and maybe get Satori out of the damn mansion. Even Patchouli goes out time to time. That's what I'm getting from it as Satori seems to be so quick to assume the worst about things.
Satori needs to see that not everyone is out to make her miserable. And if Reimu really is being as much of a troll as our little woman thinks, we can damn well take her to task for it. Won't the mind-reader find the red-white's shame and/or rage delicious?
>>8087 >her staying underground won't change anything You're wrong. Her relationship with Garion will change. With time, she'll trust him. Definitely. But Garion has his own issues. We need to work those out first.
besides, if we take her topside now, she'll spend the entire trip looking for reasons why we're right and we're big stupid idiots. can't change without wanting to change, etc.
[X] He would go. -[X] With her.Not now, my dear. Not now.
... that he would go.
Ultimately, what the small hostess tendered so cunningly was—to all outward appearances—sound, and it tempted. And pique him though it might to waive his own original plan, the soundness of it outweighed even the pique; for where many flock, flocks also chance that the one you pursue might flock also, and the shrewd Garion knew that.
And although turned he and turned the offer over and over in his mind, there was not a glaring flaw, not one single thing he might say against it, so he did not.
“Well, Garion?” Satori urged, though she knew already. “Have you arrived at any sort of decision yet?” Garion thought, quite inadvertently, that in spite of his silence, he had indeed. “Good,” the hostess inclined her small head. “Speak like have until now however, if you would kindly please. I do feel so disoriented when you don't give voice to your mind. I never know whom to respond to.” “I apologise,” said the blond man. “I was lost in thought.” “I could hear, yes.” She smiled, a sly little smile. “So? Will you take that invitation in my stead, Garion? I won't demand that you toss it back in that red-white cheat's face, so don't fret about any hidden catch – there are none, I assure you. As long as you stay at a safe distance from my sister and my pets, that is; there should be no unforeseen responsibilities. What do I mean? I can't vouch for their behaviour, Garion, that's what I mean. I won't force anything on you, naturally, but if you do go ahead and involve yourself with them, well, you'll have to deal with any situation that may arise at your own discretion. It's your own time you'll sacrifice, and your own effort, should you insist on sticking your nose where it doesn't belong. Otherwise, no one will hold you responsible. Not I, and hopefully neither that self-righteous shrine wench. I can't much feature she would be that stupid, anyway. Well then? Will you go, Garion? Or do you perhaps need one more minute to reconsider?”
Garion drew himself up in his seat.
Albeit already he had divined an answer for his hostess, it whetted his indignation still that he must comply with another's wish at the cost of his own, even if that other was one as agreeable as she. And scuffled he with that illusive slight, and scuffled unseemly, but wise or otherwise, that was Garion for you, and one should love him for what he was.
At last, he reined in his roused nerve, and heaved a ragged breath. “I will,” he yielded concisely. And that was all for now.
Satori watched him, a sharp intent in her eyes. “For now?” she questioned. “Was there anything else, Garion?” “No.” “Are you absolutely sure?” “Would you essay to find out?” he blundered, not yet in full control. She made a face, and the face was just a trifle quelled. “No,” she murmured. “As a matter of fact, no, I wouldn't.”
And she fell quiet, and fall quiet did Garion also, and they sat silent thus, each in harness of their own musings.
A time would come when Garion would ought to plot a strategy for the festival, and that occupied some part of his thought. The new possibility that it certainly presented shook some very fundamental mainstays of his purpose—though he would not yet say which. As such, it pained him still to go along with the clever proposition, all but as much as much sense it made to accept it. And even now, even as he struggled noiselessly in the confines of his mind, he tried to recompose his plans that had been so suddenly disrupted. And all of it was the fault of the small, ashen hostess. Truly, he would some day requite her for all the injustices she had done him. Some day, Garion thought.
Alas, that very thought was swept aside all but the instant it appeared, for sudden as a shower in the spring, Satori arose before him, and, sudden, she was unnervingly close.
Nary a sound she had stood, and noiseless still approached the blond man, where she pulled the cold compress rudely from his forehead along with his own stiff hand; and now she loomed over the sitting him, and examined his wound intimately, holding his hair parted with her slim fingers, and bearing a look of small disgust on her pale lips.
And Garion was frozen, ambushed as such, and dared not move while she loomed.
“It's coming along well, far as I see it,” she spoke in hushed tones. She was near him now, so he heard her clearly, and the faint hint of injury in her voice also. “At least you've stopped bleeding,” she went on. “It'll be gone before the week is done, I wager.” “Is that so,” Garion said laconically. “So it is,” replied the hovering hostess. “So don't worry about looking silly in front of all the ladies at the festival, if you were by chance. Give it a few days and it'll be as good as if it were never there. I promise you'll be at your very best when the time comes.” “I was not worried,” the blond man claimed. “I know,” she replied calmly. “I was just trying to make myself feel better, if you absolutely must know. And elevate the mood a little, I suppose. Maybe I weren't as prudent about it as I'd thought I was.” She let him go and pulled away. “I don't know any healing magic, Garion,” she told him, “but if I did, believe me, I'd have done everything in my strength to make it less painful for you. I'd genuinely love to, I really would—but I can't. Giving you more ice is about the most I can do. I'm sorry. I honestly didn't want to hurt you.” “And your point is?” he asked tersely. Satori sighed. “I wish you'd stop glaring, is all,” she replied. “I can't think why, but it's making me terribly nervous.” “I am not glaring,” Garion protested. “But you are.” Garion turned his glare aside. “Am not.” Satori made another of these bitter smiles. “Do you find my company so offensive now that you've found out about my ability, Garion?” she asked. “No,” he answered truthfully. “So you can still enjoy it?” “Still?” the blond man mocked. “Do you? Or don't you?” Garion grunted. “You are helpful.” “That isn't what I meant, Garion.”
But Garion refused to reply.
“... Very well,” Satori gave up at length. “Another question, in that case. May I, Garion?” “... Do.” “Great. If it isn't too much trouble, I'd like if you told me all that you know about me, Garion. All that you've surmised so far—barring the mind-reading part. Could you do that for me?” “And why would I?” “Indulge me, Garion. What kind of person am I in your eyes? I wish to hear it from your own mouth. What is there about me that strikes you the most?” “It did strike me that you enjoy being touched,” he said at once, “but would sooner do violence on one that implies it than acknowledge the fact.” Satori smiled at that thinly. “What else, Garion?” she urged. “Carry on, please, don't leave me hanging.” “You are proud,” he obeyed, perhaps too eagerly than he would have liked. “You cannot suffer an insult, however trite. You hold yourself in high regard and detest others for their preconceptions when you fail to see your own. You put yourself on the top of your imaginary podium and treat everyone below you as necessary evil. You are narrow-sighted, arrogant and conceited. And yet, at the same time...” “Go on, Garion,” she beckoned sweetly. “What at the same time?” “At the same time,” he went on, less convinced, “beneath all that, you want to be kind. You want to accommodate others even when it demeans you. You yearn for attention—and affection—of those around you, and desire their companionship. You wish to have them at your side... And to be touched.” “Was there anywhere you were going with this, Garion?”
“You are lonely,” he said flatly. And then, just on a whim, he added: “Satori.”
Satori was clapping.
“Very good,” she said once more. “A brilliant choice of words. I couldn't have found better ones myself. Cutting, ruthless, cruel—but not malicious. Harsh, but honest – to the point of brutality, as a matter of fact. And most importantly...” she paused and smiled, “... all wrong.” She leaned back in her chair, completely unperturbed. “Splendidly done, Garion,” she complimented. “I applaud you. Were I a regular person, I'd have been on my knees right now, making vows to mend my ways. Aside from being wrong, you did absolutely great.” “Did I truly?” Garion asked flatly. Satori smirked. “Haven't I just said so? As a matter of fact, Garion, you've yet to learn some rather basic things about me, I'm afraid.” “Such as?” “Oh, I don't know—” she shrugged, “—my favourite poetry, for one?”
“Now,” she said more staidly, “I was only joking, Garion. No need to get excited.” “Was I wrong or not?” he demanded. “I wonder, Garion,” she said evasively. “I wonder indeed. Sometimes, no matter how hard we'd like to believe, people don't really know their own selves, despite being, well, their own selves... Wouldn't you agree?” One would certainly feel obliged to. “I rather thought you might see it that way.” Satori smiled again. “Anyway, I don't really fancy hearing anything more about myself right now. I've had about enough of me for one evening, if you'll forgive me. I'm sorry for asking these kinds of nonsensical questions. I didn't want to irritate you. I'm done now.” Garion exhaled covertly and rose from his chair. “I shall set about cleaning up, in that case,” he declared rigidly. “No, no.” Satori made a weak gesture with her small palm. “Sit down, Garion, please. I'll take care of it—myself—later. I just don't feel like standing up right now.” “However,” Garion protested, “I said that I would—” “I'm well aware that you did, Garion,” the small hostess told him. “Still, I'd prefer to do it myself. It'll help me unwind before I go to bed, if nothing else. So quit worrying about it and sit down already.” “What would you have me do then?” Garion sat and asked.
Satori leaned forward and rested her chin on her small fists. “Why don't we pick up where we left off yesterday night?” she suggested. “Weren't you telling me about your first winter in the wild just before you went to sleep?” “I was.” “So what about it? How did you fare without a roof over your head? I hear winters topside have this habit of turning intolerable at complete random without a single forewarning. How did you cope, Garion?” “I was stubborn.” “Without a doubt you were,” the tiny hostess nodded . “If it wouldn't inconvenience you awfully, however, I'd like more details—about your woman, too, and how she fared in that winter. I find hearing about her oddly entrancing, for some reason. Go ahead, Garion,” she enjoined, “talk to me. I'm all yours.”
And Garion talked.
And with him barely noticing, the night soon grew old.
At the dawn of the third Garion-day, he woke late.
Although he'd had his reserves at first, his tongue, even as it had the night before, had unwound before long, and he'd stayed with his fair hostess in her bedroom until hours so late they appeared to him as pale morning. Swaying still, he rose from the tousled covers of his bed and found his yet-sleepy feet. A lone chair that he hadn't put where it was caught his still-hazed eye. On the chair were his clothes—the very same ones he had worn the previous day—washed and ironed now, folded neatly and ready to wear. So he wore them, as one should with fresh clothes, not thinking much of this benevolent turn of circumstance.
An inkling of an idea gathered at the edge of his mind, of course, but he ignored it, lest it interfere with his other notion, one that he must carry out today, that the night before he could not.
Rin did not wake when he slipped into his travel-clothes, and she did not so much as stir when he heaved his backpack and set out into the hall. She slept on, peaceful, breathing softly into his pillows and purring from time to time, even long after he had left and closed the door behind him.
Satori was dozing, slouched over the same reading table Garion had found her at the previous morning, when she had caught him trying to sneak out unseen. And there would be nothing remarkable about the scene, had it ended there. Alas, another person was there also, and the person was Koishi.
Undaunted by all, the odd little sister lay sprawled across the small table, face toward the sleeping Satori, and she listened, giggling all the while, as her pale sister stirred and muttered in her dreams. And when it seemed that the small hostess had mumbled all she had to mumble and had at last settled down, the strange-humoured girl grinned poked a finger at her cheek to provoke another bout of tossing and mumbling. It was all very droll in its own right, but the straight-minded Garion found it less than so.
Seeing him emerge from the darkened corridor, the queer grey-haired girl gasped and abandoned at once harassing her sister, and switched her crosshairs instead to the blond man. She rolled off the table and bound to her feet, and greeted Garion with a florid bow. She mouthed a hasty few words, but not one sound escaped her throat.
Garion opened his lips own to speak, but as soon as he did, Koishi ran up and sealed them with one finger. “Good morning,” the blond man spoke regardless. “Shush!” Koishi hissed and pressed the finger harder against his mouth. “I must speak with Satori,” he told her calmly. “No, no!” the little sister shook her head. “She's asleep!” “I must speak with her,” he restated. “No, no! Can't! She'll be angry!” “Still.” “She went to sleep late! I know! I heard her walking, walking. She must sleep. Shush.”
Garion cast a slow glance at his sleeping hostess.
She had shadows under her eyes. A heavy, brown-covered book lay atop her tiny lap, but the book had a dangerous title, so Garion looked away quickly, quickly.
“See, see!” Koishi called his eyes back to herself. “We will go. She can sleep. I'll walk you, OK? The caves, yes? The caves. I was waiting. Can go now. No?”
[x] No. The little sister is trying to drive a wedge between them. Unacceptable.
i love the tone of this so much. and the characterization. and that it's the best sort of fanfiction, the sort that presents everything in a new light while still seeming familiar. and the diction. i wish i could write like this
[x] No. This is the last time he will see her in a long time, for his and her sake, Satori's sleep must be disturbed. Also, I thought Komeiji (the elder) didn't read poetry? That question of hers had some meaning, but I'm too obtuse to find it.
Okay, I couldn't get it out in time. I posted something in /shorts/, but I don't reckon many of you will be able to appreciate it. Sorry, folks. Check back tomorrow, I might have something done by then. Sorry again.
Garion regarded once more the dreaming face of his hostess, but there was no change on it, no sign of wakening.
An unforeseen quandary arrived before him, and the quandary was pressing. While Satori yet slept, he would must stay his self and bide, even as his penchant grew and craved of him to move. A waste of time it would be, and indeed, that Garion would loathe, even as he loathed himself now for contemplating it. And yet, pulled at him concurrently the need to speak with the ashen hostess afore he plunged once more into the snaking caves whence he would return only in many hours. At that, the plan from the evening before lounged fresh still in his mind, and it vexed him to waive it now. A moment passed that he thought to invent a note to disclose his precarious idea, so that whatever reaction the small hostess displays blows over by the time he returns.
At length, however, he abandoned the thought, for it felt foolish, and he was nothing if that. Should chance allow, he would float it past her another day, in face and person.
At that point, he faced again the waiting Koishi.
“Can you go, now?” She renewed her efforts, fluttering her small eyelashes. “Will you? Nill you?” “I can,” Garion agreed at last, though he wavered still inside. “I will go.” Koishi withdrew her finger from his lips and cheered forthrightly and without care. She bounced and turned on her heel, and her skirt twirled, twirled, with a joyful flourish. “Quickly then!” She put her foot down and took his hand. “Can't wait till big sister wakes!” “Quietly, too,” Garion added; “you excite too easily, little sister.” She blinked. A blush began to mount in her cheeks, and she looked down guiltily, at her small, white finger, the very same she had used previously to silence the somber Garion. A moment of deliberation after then, she set it resolutely across her own rosy lips. She seemed pleased by that, somehow, because she smiled, and began to tug the blond man at a trot through and out the front door.
At the utmost moment, Garion wrenched his head around to look a last time at the sleeping Satori.
She was calm. She would not know he had slipped under her watch till she woke and scoured the house for him and her sister. Garion thought, perhaps not entirely of his own will, that an apology might be in due keeping once he comes home.
Home! He shuddered inwardly at the thought. It was not the best choice of words for someone such as him, indeed, but one should not say it was unattractive. Alas, Garion had his own theory.
“Come! Come!” Koishi called as she towed the brooding man through the red, red garden, and onto the stout stonework bridge. Only there did she release him to herself peer over the edge and laugh joyfully in the face of the maddening height.
Garion stepped forward.
Again, the great airs of the volcanic cavern furled about him like hot swathes, and the light—though dim—was painful on his eyes after the cold and dark that were the halls of the subterranean manor. Now in this light did it become plain that the strange, grey-haired girl was scarce—or indeed, nothing—like her cloistered sibling. She laughed without reserve and breathed with full breast. She spoke plainly and plenty when she did, so plenty in fact her tongue seemed to tumble often over the lengthier words and notions. She was everything but pale, for the sun had dyed her skin a wholesome tan.
Garion joined at her side, and peered also. As ever, the titanic drop made his stomach writhe.
“Cool, no?” Koishi asked animatedly. Garion turned and found her swaying on her tip-toes, and her sparkling eyes staring ardently into his. “... Striking,” he acknowledged, making some pretence of swaying himself to put a prudent distance between he and she. “It's been like this!” the merry girl went on, undeterred. “Hot now. Has been so. Hot.” “Has it.” “Since Okuu put the fires on again, yes.” She started briskly across the bridge, and Garion went in trail. “It used to be cold,” Koishi spoke on even as she walked. “Cold, cold. I shook and shook. I hugged big sister, but she was cold, too. We were cold both, sisters we.” “Is that so,” Garion said dryly. “So, so,” Koishi affirmed. “And then Okuu came and whoosh! Hot now. Sometimes too hot—not as on top, but hot. So hot big sister said house must be cold. Silly, isn't it? Hot is nice, isn't it? I like hot. I want to take off my clothes and bathe! So nice!” She spun once more and looked back at Garion. “So does Dias like hot, too?” she asked intently. “Dias might.” She knitted her brows at that slightly. “Dias should like hot,” she said. “Outside is nice because it's hot. Has Dias been outside, ever? Has he seen? Sun? Hot?” “He was born there,” Garion confessed. “So he has.” “He has!” Koishi exclaimed. “Goody, he has! And he was! Not a lot were. Not a lot of us, I mean. Us. Us is us, of course. We're us.” “So you are,” Garion granted. “Us is we – living here,” Koishi explained. “Underground. We're that. We aren't above. Under. Not above. We don't live above. We shouldn't, they say. Outside is not for undergrounders, they say. Underground is. I think. Outside for outsiders, that's what they say—but not outsiders outsiders,” she explained. “Outsiders-insiders, I mean. Outsiders-topsiders. We say outsiders because we're inside, downside. We're insiders, they're outsiders. Outsiders and insiders. Outside up, inside down. Silly, yes, but it's so.” “I understand.” “Goody, goody!” Koishi grinned. “So, Dias?” “Go on.” “What are you doing here, Dias?” she quizzed. “Outsiders don't come here. It's dark and cold. Outside is better outside. Underground is underground. What are you doing here, Dias?” “Searching,” Garion said simply. “Ah.” She waited. “Searching-searching?” she pushed. “Something?” “Someone,” he corrected. “A woman.” “A woman?” “A woman. I am searching for a woman.” “Ah. A woman. A woman, true.” Koishi frowned briefly. “And what did she say? She said yes, no?” “Who did?” “Satori, big sister!” Koishi exclaimed. “What did she say? Wasn't she interested?” “She was,” Garion admitted, “if not ever so intensely.” “Ah!” Koishi brightened. “She said yes then? She said yes?” “In a manner of speaking.”
Koishi let out an ecstatic squeal.
Garion could merely watch, confounded, as she spun around, flew and threw her tiny arms around his neck. Again and again she cheered, wishing him luck and thanking him for reasons he could not conceive. Alas, that was Koishi, and that was Garion, and one should not hold a grudge against them, for they were both who they were, and no force in the universe would change it. And being himself, Garion endured without a word, whether it pain him or not.
Shortly they arrived at the other precipice, where they stopped: Garion his stride, and Koishi her squeals; where vast and empty spread before them the forest of ancient stone columns. And the air became cooler, and the towering shafts dripped, dripped.
“There must have been rain outside,” Koishi observed, following Garion's look. “Where do you go, little sister?” Garion asked her. “Where I?” She pondered the question. “And Dias where?” “Wherever.” “I'll come along then,” she replied, “yes, I'll come along. We go together. We're like siblings now, aren't we? Aren't we?” “If so you say,” Garion said tersely.
And poising himself started he onward, among the great pillars.
Koishi hung from his neck still, but he let her hang. She would surely get tired before long.
Garion hoped, contrarily, that the long would not prove overly so.
Koishi released betimes her hold of the blond man and let him make his own pace, while she herself pranced radiantly around and around him, like a merrymaker around a bonfire. As the darkness closed about them and Garion lit his lamp, the jaunty sister slowed, and her mouth opened instead, and a great many tales gushed forth: long, perhaps, gone without a chance to be told.
She talked of the unseen city that lay veiled beyond even the Old Hell and of the queer folk that did inhabit its walls. She spake of the beasts and spectres lurking in the caves, keen to waylay the unwary traveller. She told him of the deepest reaches of the underground, where the very stone burned and the walls ran with living fire. And then her attention shifted, and she talked of the surface world: of the strange places she had seen and the stranger people she had met. She told him of the shrine atop a mountain, where a living goddess dwelt. She spake at length of the mansion by a lake, whose windows were boarded and whose basement housed horrors beyond imagining. She marvelled at the sky, and the sun, and the birds and trees, and all the while did the blond man listen, speaking not himself.
At noon-time, the roles were changed, and even as they sat leaning against the rock of a seemingly random corridor, fasting on his humble supplies, Garion spoke reticently in Garion-fashion of his journeys through the underworld afore the red-trussed pet-girl found him and took him to her master.
“Dias?” Koishi interrupted at one point. “What is this?” Garion turned to find her reaching out toward his face. Without thinking, he deftly knocked her wrist aside. Koishi stared at him worriedly. “What is it?” she demanded. “Has something happened?” Garion understood. “A misjudgement,” he said blandly, fingering the now-clotted gash on his forehead. “A misjudgement?” Koishi was confused. “I overestimated my chances, that is all.” “Chances?” “I do not wish to speak of it.” “Ah.” “Anyway,” he went on, “when the caves began to grow too cold to bear, I decided to swing around. An icy death in some forgotten hall seemed hardly satisfying.” Koishi nodded, forgetting ostensibly about the injury. “And that,” the blond man continued, “was when I wandered into the part of the underground where your sister lives. I did not know, at the time, what manner of creature would one day cross my path.”
Koishi listened, her green eyes glowing, while his story lasted, but resumed her own again as soon as they had finished eating and went on along the way.
A number of hours after, they came to yet another crossroads, where the yellow-clad girl stopped and faced Garion wistfully. “I go there now,” she pointed one way, “the surface is there.” “I see,” said Garion. “Will you be going back to big sister now?” “Indeed.” “Goody. Go. I'll be going, too – that way.” She smiled. “It's been fun: talking like that, and talking. Has it? Won't you say, Dias?” “Indubitably.” “We'll met again. We will, won't we? I'll be seeing you. Won't I, Dias?” “So it appears.” “Goody!” She set her hands upon her hips and breathed in sharply. “Well!” she said. “Off I go then! I do not want Dias to get mushy on me, do I? Good-bye, Dias!” “Good-bye,” the blond man answered. “Good-bye!” She took a couple steps, back-turned. “Good-bye!” She waved. “... Good-bye.” “Good-bye, don't cry!” “...” She grinned at him, an impish little grin. “Good-bye!” she said the last time.
And then she spun around and vanished into the pitch darkness of the passage. A moment passed, and the echoes of her steps abated and finally faded entirely.
At last, silence fell around Garion, and at last, he was left alone. As such, he did what Garions do when alone: he inhaled strongly the chill air of the caves and heaved a deep, nerve-calming sigh.
It was not that he despised the carefree little sister. As it were, he abode her company easier in some regards than he did that of her ill-disposed sister. And all the same yet, the previous hours had lain a strain upon him: a strain that had now at long last gone away, and he was happy at that, if only as happy as Garion got. One should say, it was not a lot, though it was some amount still.
In any case, that marked the end of the search for now, and Garion turned swiftly to begin the tedious voyage back. Strayed though he had far today, he had taken precious care and marked the turns and halls that he and Koishi he had chosen from among the dozens, so the way lay clear before him now. And staunchly he started, the dear brave boy, to return where he belonged, if only for the moment.
She was there when he arrived, naturally. One should not expect anything less of her.
“Spare us the cleverness,” the pale hostess chided. “Welcome back, Garion.” “Indeed,” said Garion, closing the front door behind him. “I am back.” The quiet stillness of the manor felt soothing somehow. “So you are.” Satori stood and approached him. She took his backpack and coat from him, and waited as he unlaced his boots. “Go have a bath,” she ordered, even as she had the previous time. “Get the chill out of your bones. Whenever you've had enough, I'll be waiting in my room. Come and fetch me once you're done. I'd like to make dinner with you today as well, if you don't disapprove terribly. We'll have slightly less work on our hands this time, since it's just the three of us again. Utsuho left, and so, I am led to believe, did my silly little sister. Oh yes, did you see her anywhere in the morning, by chance? Or did she sneak past you, too?” “We left together,” said the blond man. “She insisted.” “I see,” the small hostess smiled a bit stiffly. “I understand. Was she a lot of bother?” “No.” “Strange. I could have sworn little sisters were supposed to be a lot of bother.” “I apologise.” Satori looked at him mildly. “What for this time?” “I left without bidding you goodbye.” She sighed. “Quit worrying about tiny things like that, Garion. I'll die of sheer guilt soon if you don't.” “I apologise.” “Never mind, Garion.” She brushed her delicate hand tentatively through her hair. “It was my fault either way. I neglected my duties as your hostess; I shouldn't have fallen asleep while you hadn't left yet. It's all on me.” “I could have woken you.” “And I'd have been very put out if you'd done that,” she told him, “so as a matter of fact, it's actually better that you didn't. Anyway, the bath, Garion. We'll talk about it later if we absolutely must. Now you go and wash yourself; you're making my nose wrinkle.”
Garion inclined his head. Nimbly, he removed his mud-stained footwear and set off down the draped hallway.
“Garion?” Satori called after him. He halted mid-stride. “Yes?” “Did you find anyone today?” Garion grunted. “... No,” he said. “Ah,” Satori said. “Shame.” A strange note branded her voice. “A shame, indeed. Well, forget it, in that case. Go on now, chop-chop. I'll be waiting in my room, like I said. Just don't brood over it too much. She's somewhere out there in those caves, Garion. I'm sure you'll find her – sooner or later.” “Yes,” the blond man said firmly, “I will.”
Alas, little did he know.
The one he sought was someplace else altogether. Great beyond measure and far-reaching though they were, and filled to brim with hiding-places, there was nothing in the snaking caves of the underworld. Nothing to guide his search. Nothing to further his quest.
Over those days Garion grew piecemeal at home in the underworld. Slowly, he had settled into a routine: in the mornings he rose, bade goodbyes to his hostess and set out to the caves; in the evenings he returned, bathed and busied in the kitchen, the small woman watching over him and talking; and the nights he spent in her bedroom, again listening to her voice and staring in her violet eyes. An odd tinge: a shadow of qualm mixed with suspicion seemed to hatch at the edge of his awareness each time he did, but went away always all but as soon as he went to bed, and once more determined he departed in the mornings, persevering in his search.
Although one should say it was scarcely his affair, uncharacteristically, Garion did not surrender his plan for Satori and the festival.
“Come with me,” he said to her the fourth Garion-day. She stared at him incredulously. “Say what?” Garion closed his eyes; the prospects were dark. “Come with me,” he restated nonetheless. “All will be well, I assure you.” “Oh yes?” he heard her hiss, and his resolve sank. “Is that so? All will be well, will it? Well, Garion,” she said sweetly, “that I have no doubts about, but...” she inhaled, “let me just tell you really quick—again, I might add—what will most certainly not be well if you don't forget all about this idiotic idea at once!”
And then she began to fume, and Garion was forced to flee to escape the worst of it.
And yet, every morning he prayed of the pettish hostess to reconsider apropos goodbyes, and every morning she refused: angry at first, then gradually colder, even tired, but never willing to yield. She greeted him warmly still each time he returned though, and Garion rose with new motivation each new day.
So went his days—mostly.
Some were not as orderly.
( ) One day he was not feeling well, so he spent the evening alone, thinking. Alas, peace was not among the things he would be given. ( ) Another day, he returned earlier on a whim and found the hostess absent from the house. Gallant, he followed his wont regardless and went to bathe – and there the day went to pot. ( ) Another yet, he came back to Rin chasing desperately around the house. She begged aid of him, and he joined, reluctantly, in the efforts to bring her “siblings” under watch. ( ) Once, he stayed in the kitchen longer than usual, to trial at a recipe he thought might come in useful in the future. Someone's unbefitting relish for the sweet, however, made it so sooner than Garion had anticipated. ( ) One evening Satori and he were in her bedroom, reading, when a strange exchange took place. ( ) One morning, he woke exceptionally early, and not certain himself why, decided it was time, by way of apology or thanks, to impress the little hostess with a surprise breakfast. She was not such an early riser, however. ( ) During one ramble in the caves, Garion lost himself inadvertently in thought, and strayed farther than he had intended – all the way, in fact, through some secret short-cut, to the age-old bridge that joined the underworld with the surface. ( ) A guest from the underground city appeared suddenly in the mansion one night, and though just as suddenly as she had appeared did she depart again, she gave Garion a run for his money all the same. (X) The night before the festival, Koishi came home to prepare. ( ) She had come on another, too, unannounced, and Garion (haply) discovered her skulking in the library. (X) And finally, the day of the festival arrived.
(x) One day he was not feeling well, so he spent the evening alone, thinking. Alas, peace was not among the things he would be given. (x) One evening Satori and he were in her bedroom, reading, when a strange exchange took place. (x) One morning, he woke exceptionally early, and not certain himself why, decided it was time, by way of apology or thanks, to impress the little hostess with a surprise breakfast. She was not such an early riser, however. (X) The night before the festival, Koishi came home to prepare. (X) And finally, the day of the festival arrived.
(x) Another day, he returned earlier on a whim and found the hostess absent from the house. Gallant, he followed his wont regardless and went to bathe – and there the day went to pot. (x) One evening Satori and he were in her bedroom, reading, when a strange exchange took place. (x) One morning, he woke exceptionally early, and not certain himself why, decided it was time, by way of apology or thanks, to impress the little hostess with a surprise breakfast. She was not such an early riser, however. (x) A guest from the underground city appeared suddenly in the mansion one night, and though just as suddenly as she had appeared did she depart again, she gave Garion a run for his money all the same. (x) The night before the festival, Koishi came home to prepare. (x) She had come on another, too, unannounced, and Garion (haply) discovered her skulking in the library. (x) And finally, the day of the festival arrived.
Rather than picking all of them, just most of them. I'd be happy with all of them too, though.
(x) Once, he stayed in the kitchen longer than usual, to trial at a recipe he thought might come in useful in the future. Someone's unbefitting relish for the sweet, however, made it so sooner than Garion had anticipated. (x) During one ramble in the caves, Garion lost himself inadvertently in thought, and strayed farther than he had intended – all the way, in fact, through some secret short-cut, to the age-old bridge that joined the underworld with the surface. (X) The night before the festival, Koishi came home to prepare. (X) And finally, the day of the festival arrived.
(X) Another day, he returned earlier on a whim and found the hostess absent from the house. Gallant, he followed his wont regardless and went to bathe – and there the day went to pot. (X) Once, he stayed in the kitchen longer than usual, to trial at a recipe he thought might come in useful in the future. Someone's unbefitting relish for the sweet, however, made it so sooner than Garion had anticipated. (X) One evening Satori and he were in her bedroom, reading, when a strange exchange took place. (X) During one ramble in the caves, Garion lost himself inadvertently in thought, and strayed farther than he had intended – all the way, in fact, through some secret short-cut, to the age-old bridge that joined the underworld with the surface. (X) A guest from the underground city appeared suddenly in the mansion one night, and though just as suddenly as she had appeared did she depart again, she gave Garion a run for his money all the same. (X) The night before the festival, Koishi came home to prepare. (X) She had come on another, too, unannounced, and Garion (haply) discovered her skulking in the library. (X) And finally, the day of the festival arrived.
(x) Another day, he returned earlier on a whim and found the hostess absent from the house. Gallant, he followed his wont regardless and went to bathe – and there the day went to pot. (x) One evening Satori and he were in her bedroom, reading, when a strange exchange took place. (x) One morning, he woke exceptionally early, and not certain himself why, decided it was time, by way of apology or thanks, to impress the little hostess with a surprise breakfast. She was not such an early riser, however. (x) A guest from the underground city appeared suddenly in the mansion one night, and though just as suddenly as she had appeared did she depart again, she gave Garion a run for his money all the same. (x) The night before the festival, Koishi came home to prepare. (x) She had come on another, too, unannounced, and Garion (haply) discovered her skulking in the library. (x) And finally, the day of the festival arrived.
(x) One day he was not feeling well, so he spent the evening alone, thinking. Alas, peace was not among the things he would be given. (x) One evening Satori and he were in her bedroom, reading, when a strange exchange took place. (x) One morning, he woke exceptionally early, and not certain himself why, decided it was time, by way of apology or thanks, to impress the little hostess with a surprise breakfast. She was not such an early riser, however. (X) The night before the festival, Koishi came home to prepare. (x) She had come on another, too, unannounced, and Garion (haply) discovered her skulking in the library. (X) And finally, the day of the festival arrived.
(X) One day he was not feeling well, so he spent the evening alone, thinking. Alas, peace was not among the things he would be given. (X) Another yet, he came back to Rin chasing desperately around the house. She begged aid of him, and he joined, reluctantly, in the efforts to bring her “siblings” under watch. (X) Once, he stayed in the kitchen longer than usual, to trial at a recipe he thought might come in useful in the future. Someone's unbefitting relish for the sweet, however, made it so sooner than Garion had anticipated. (X) One evening Satori and he were in her bedroom, reading, when a strange exchange took place. (X) During one ramble in the caves, Garion lost himself inadvertently in thought, and strayed farther than he had intended – all the way, in fact, through some secret short-cut, to the age-old bridge that joined the underworld with the surface. (X) A guest from the underground city appeared suddenly in the mansion one night, and though just as suddenly as she had appeared did she depart again, she gave Garion a run for his money all the same. (X) The night before the festival, Koishi came home to prepare. (X) She had come on another, too, unannounced, and Garion (haply) discovered her skulking in the library. (X) And finally, the day of the festival arrived.
(x) Another day, he returned earlier on a whim and found the hostess absent from the house. Gallant, he followed his wont regardless and went to bathe – and there the day went to pot. (x) One morning, he woke exceptionally early, and not certain himself why, decided it was time, by way of apology or thanks, to impress the little hostess with a surprise breakfast. She was not such an early riser, however. (x) During one ramble in the caves, Garion lost himself inadvertently in thought, and strayed farther than he had intended – all the way, in fact, through some secret short-cut, to the age-old bridge that joined the underworld with the surface. (x) She had come on another, too, unannounced, and Garion (haply) discovered her skulking in the library. (X) And finally, the day of the festival arrived.
Classic bath scene, breakfast love, Parsee, Kisume and Festival. All of them are amazing.
(x) Another yet, he came back to Rin chasing desperately around the house. She begged aid of him, and he joined, reluctantly, in the efforts to bring her “siblings” under watch. (x) One evening Satori and he were in her bedroom, reading, when a strange exchange took place. (x) During one ramble in the caves, Garion lost himself inadvertently in thought, and strayed farther than he had intended – all the way, in fact, through some secret short-cut, to the age-old bridge that joined the underworld with the surface. (x) A guest from the underground city appeared suddenly in the mansion one night, and though just as suddenly as she had appeared did she depart again, she gave Garion a run for his money all the same. (X) The night before the festival, Koishi came home to prepare. (x) She had come on another, too, unannounced, and Garion (haply) discovered her skulking in the library. (X) And finally, the day of the festival arrived.
I wonder how big a letdown it'll be when he finally finds his goal.
Now it came to pass one of those days that wandered Garion into a part of the underworld which was familiar to his eye.
Stray had been his mind that day, and stray had been his thought. Afore embarking upon his rove as was his wont, done had he as he always did now (bade Satori good-bye and proffered once more that she come along to the festival), but this instance had been different: for the hostess had not launched into blusters, had not glared at him terribly, nor even had she renounced his ideas outright as was custom now; and that troubled Garion, for he was loath to such sudden change, even as he wished privately that she might at last submit. Silly though it was, and though he knew it, he could but sulk inwardly and ponder, for that was how he was, and how he was was a little contrary at times. One should not hold such trifles against him.
Alas, trifle, not trifle, the sulk had made his wit duller and his feet unruly that walk, and ere he knew emerged he from the narrow tunnels into a chamber of such height and such startling span as could dwarf a man's woes out of being. Such a remedy, of course, would be impossible for Garion (for he worried handsomely hard), but still he halted, and still he stared, even as his mind reeled.
A grade climb, like the hunch of a sleeping giant, shrouded the great cavern from where he stood, and a scarce-trodden trail snaked up the slope, and bent around its crest, where dim hung a nimbus of fantastic light, pale and green like that of copper-flame. And Garion started along the climbing footpath, while his thought grew darker and darker still. And his heart sank when he reached the summit, for there it was: the famous bridge that joined the underworld with the surface-world, that Garion had seen previously once, when he had first stolen into the caves, though it had been dark then (to his relief), and unattended. Now, strange, green-flamed torches which marked at even intervals the ancient wooden balustrades burned in the stale air of the chamber and lit the way, as they did the squat toll-house which oversaw the passage – the very toll-house that Garion had (rather effortlessly) sidled by unnoticed when he had first arrived in the underworld.
And he stood now rooted to the spot, baffled as to how he had found himself here, and whether he had by chance so lost himself in revery that he had walked unwittingly for days straight without knowing.
It was even as he wondered that a hoarse-sounding voice rippled in the silence, and the voice made Garion start.
“Halt!” it called, and Garion whipped around. “Who's there?”
A set of jade-coloured eyes flashed from the shadows beside the house, and a strange figure emerged.
She was short and flaxen-haired, and her gaze spelled wariness of the tollman kind: loftily assessing the traveller even as he fumbled to state his business in an acceptable fashion. She wore over her wispy-seeming frame a tight-fitting black camisole, over which any old how lay a loosely tied tan cape, frayed and patched in many spots and many times over, old, apparently, even as the ghostly bridge itself. A short, fleece-brimmed waistcoat encased her lean hips, and a pleated ankle-long dress, embellished at the ends with a length of washed-out red rope, fell from beneath it, grazing the cold stone floor and the threadbare sandals that she wore on her naked feet.
She eyed Garion again and again parted her dry, colourless lips to question the alarmed Garion. A row of sharp, vicious teeth gleamed ominously in the darkness; but then the blond man fell wordlessly to his knees and began to rummage through his backpack, and the tired-looking she fell silent, curious as much as confused.
At last he rose, and, a paper-wrapped bundle on his outstretched hands, he offered:
“I have food.”
“Say what?” rasped the woman, her green eyes probing. “I have food,” Garion restated. “I did not mean to disturb you; I was merely passing by.” “So?” she demanded. “I shall leave the food with you,” said Garion carefully, “then I shall be on my way.” She stared at him grimly. “Who in the blazes do you take me for?” “Am I mistaken?” he asked politely. “Are you not a—” “A monster?” the sharp-toothed tolltaker cut him off. “So I am. So what? Are you saying I look like the kind to bushwack travellers on the roadside for scraps of dry food? What am I, a common fairy?” Garion lowered his arms. “I apologise,” he said. “It has nearly always worked before.” “Are you trying to make me cross, stranger?” she asked, lifting one brow in a gross parody of whimsicality. “Get it? Cross? Since we're on a bridge?”
She continued to eye him expectantly, but he showed no reaction.
“Never mind,” she grunted disgustedly. “Hell with me.” She held a thumb to her mouth and gnawed on the nail until it broke with a sickening snap. She spat the splinter aside and glared at the blond man, whose own fingertips twitched involuntarily. “What are you waiting for,” she bristled, “a written invitation? Get on with it, stranger. Cross if you want to cross. I don't care for your business.” “What about the toll?” “Plague take your toll. Get out of my face.”
Confounded, the blond man inclined his head in good manner and started across the bridge.
It was not where he wanted to go, but the encounter had left him witless as to what to do. Numbly he regarded the strange torches that seemed not to smoke despite the flame, and he recalled a story he had heard once: that the condemned marching to hell would see fires fed neither by pitch nor by firewood, but by the souls of the ones that came before, which burned eternally in timeless agony, as both punishment and a sign to those that followed in their wake. The story chilled him to the quick.
And then the harsh voice of the tolltaker rang again behind him.
“Wait!” she called to him. “Hold fast, stranger!” Garion drew up and turned. She looked at him surlily, her arms crossed. “What have you got?” “What?” Garion asked dumbly. “What have you got?” she repeated. “Have you got meat?” “I might,” the blond man replied charily. “Give it here.” She approached at a jog and reached out her blistered hands. “I'll be cursed, but I won't pass up free food. Give it here, stranger. Quickly, I haven't got all day.”
Stumped at that sudden transition, Garion once more presented the paper-bound bundle to the inconstant tollwoman.
She plucked it from his open palm as one would pluck hot bacon from a pan and voraciously tore apart the paper wrapping. Garion watched, not without some disquiet, as she plunged her sore-marked fingers into the so-made hole and began to extract and taste one by one the many small snacks stored within. At length, he calmed and arrived at a decision:
“Would you mind,” he asked, “if I fasted as well?” She gave him a flat, perfunctory glance. “What do I care?” she returned. “Do what you want. It's anybody's bridge these days. I just own the house.” And then she returned to trying the offered foods. “This is good,” she said, pulling a strip of dried beef out of her mouth. “Where does one find it?” “The surface, most likely,” said Garon, even as he settled against the balustrade and unpacked his own rations. The scowling tollwoman eyed the meat with undisguised disdain. “So they have these sorts of foods on the surface, don't they? How awfully nice.” She stuffed the treat back in her mouth and swallowed it whole. “Are you here always?” Garion accosted, as offhand as he could. “Most of the time,” she replied. “I don't see how that's business to you, though, stranger.” “Perhaps not.” “I wager. Plague!” she swore at the next snack. “What the blazes is this?” “Sea bread,” Garion explained. “It is nutritious and does not spoil.” “It is vile is what it is! I envy the kind of people who have the time on their hands to invent foods that make one's tongue shrivel. Ha!” She tossed the brown biscuit negligently over the railing. “May you moulder there forever!” she bellowed after it. “Curses on you! Ghastly thing!” Garion writhed inwardly at the waste, but said nothing. “I have to wonder what kinds of monsters you goaded to leave you whole with this kind of food, stranger,” the tollwoman remarked acidly. “A monster with the taste for these things is a monster indeed!” “I made certain to be almost gone before they opened the pack,” Garion revealed. “Curiosity is a powerful weapon after all.” “Ha! Clever man! What is this?” “Corned beef.” “Is it spoiled?” “No; that is its normal smell.” “A monster can't trust their nose these days!” she scoffed. She sank her teeth into the pink meat. “Salty!” she exclaimed. “Just like my tears, isn't it! I love it. Ha!” “I am looking for a woman,” Garion tried at another topic. “How nice,” she muttered. “Well, look elsewhere, stranger. I haven't set my mind on you menfolk for ages.” “You misunderstand.” “Speak plainly then,” she advised . “I haven't set it on listening to shabby wordplay for a long time, either.” “You are the guardian of this bridge.” “I was, yes,” she admitted. “You overwatch it still.” “Ha!” She sneered. “And what does it matter, pray? Nobody walks the cursed bridge any more, stranger. Indeed, they fly their big fat bellies over it as it were not even there!” She made a retching noise. “I envy each and every one of them, I do! Not a care in the world! What is this then, stranger? A paper roll? And there is brown inside, or black.” “Tobacco,” Garion explained. “A plant.” “Can you eat it?” she asked, squinting at the thing. “It smells repulsive, mind.” “No,” he explained, “you smoke it. It eases your nerves.” “Another one of your mad inventions then.” The tollwoman rolled her eyes. “Humans! Plague take them!” “Some monsters did appear to enjoy it on occasion,” Garion reflected. “I wager!” She threw that away also. “Now, what was that about women, stranger? I am fraught with this compulsion to pry, if you'll excuse.” “I am looking for one. She knew me long ago. I purpose now to find her again.” “So you have one already! How nice it must be for you. What's it to me though?” “She does not fly,” Garion said, “not ever did, as far as I recall. She might have passed this bridge at some point. I surmised I might turn to you, the guardian. Surely, you would have took notice if someone had indeed passed here on foot?” He omitted by choice the fact that he had himself done that unmolested at least once. The scraggly tollwoman shook her sandy locks. “I wouldn't know, plague. As I told you just then, the bridge is hardly mine any more. What do I care about the hikers and trippers if most ignore me themselves? What do I care about tolls? I would have never noticed you myself, had I not been sweeping the yard right then. Ha!” Garion winced inside, struggling with the surge of disappointment. “You have not seen anyone then,” he wished to be sure. “Not one woman that might be that of my own? None?” “Grief is me, stranger,” she told him insincerely, “but I'd be lying if I said I have. Unless you want me to lie?”
Garion did not reply.
Still he sat, on the ancient planks of the bridge, sunk in chagrin. It was nothing that the tousled toll-taker had not seen his woman; indeed, he had known it scarce-likely before he had asked, yet the disappointment flared still within him, and flared; for it was one more hope made hollow, however small, and even as such, it ached.
Oblivious of his distress, the tollwoman continued to ask about various foods, and Garion answered almost mechanically to each inquiry, until there was nothing left in the paper bundle and she discarded it also into the chasm athwart which the great bridge ran. At that point she stood upright, a crooked smile on her thin lips; and she said, altogether pleasantly:
“Well, that was awful.”
Garion stood also, subdued, and stowed away his half-eaten meal. “Well, stranger,” the tollwoman said to him, “let's just do you a favour and say all that was just enough for a toll. You may come through.” “I thank you,” the blond man replied dryly. “So where do you go? Outside or inside? Quickly, stranger, the pass lasts only for so long.” “Inside.” “Inside, he says!” She scoffed once more and sketched a grotesque bow. “Welcome to the underworld, lost soul!” she hailed sourly. “We hope your stay here is as great as the lack of sense that led you here. Come on then! It might as well be that I do my duty for once and show you through. Hell with me,” she added, “I'll even give you something. Can't let any old scruffy human say I'm ungrateful, now can I?”
She laughed at her own private joke and started back toward the house, ushering the blond man to follow.
There, she left him and went inside. A few muffled oaths later she rejoined him, shoving a tattered box into his hands. Garion pulled open the slightly sodden lid to find a bunch of lopsided rice balls, each dirty-white and as big as his fist.
“Home-made,” the tollwoman boasted, “made them all myself, I did, with my own sweat and tears.” She giggled wickedly as though that were funny somehow. “Thank you,” Garion said uncertainly, for the lack of a better answer. “Ha! Say that again once you've had them! Oh, there is one with a surprise. You'll know it when you taste it.” “... Thank you,” the blond man said again. “I shan't tell anyone you are ungrateful.” She glared at him shortly. “Smart, aren't you? Well, stranger, look at all the damns I give. Oh, there are none, are there? Pity, pity. Well, if you don't mind me prying, where in the blazes are you headed, stranger? The underground is hardly the best place for humans.” “Old Hell,” Garion replied. “Old Hell! Well, paint me amazed; you really are mad.” “I will use my discretion.” “You will at that, won't you? Well, stranger, since I'm feeling generous today, there is a side passage going off that slope thereabouts,” she pointed in the direction Garion had, unbeknownst to her, come from in the first place. “The mind leech's animals use that one to get to the surface faster, the nosey things. Take it and you'll be there in no time. Although that might just take you the rest of your poor, mad life! Ha!” “Thank you,” Garion inclined his head regardless. “If I may ask one more favour...” “Asking won't hurt, will it?” “Such was my hope.” “Well, let's hope your hope is right. What did you want?” Garion breathed in. “If you ever see a woman passing,” he pleaded, “tell her, I beseech you, that searching for her is a certain man. She will know who he is, I am certain, if you tell her that his name is—”
“Now, hold you fast there, stranger,” the tollwoman croaked, interrupting. “I don't care for your name, nor for your business. Search for your woman on your own time. I'll have nothing with it.” “But—” “You smell odd, stranger,” she told him pointedly. “You're hiding something and I don't like that what you're hiding. I'll pretend to like you so long as you use the bridge, but off it, you're as much moment to me as this here pebble.” She picked up a small rock and tossed it over the edge of the drop. “See? Any damns? None, are there? No, stranger, your troubles are your own.” “... I understand.” “You better do, plague.” She snorted. “Well, if that is all, I have places to be, things to smash. Is it all? It had better be.” “Yes.” Garion nodded. “Fare well.” “Fare well!” she mocked. “Fare well, he says! Go to hell, stranger! Actually, I'm sure you will! Ha!”
And then she made off, laughing coarsely to herself.
Garion turned on the hell and set out down the slope, to the near-invisible opening by way of which he had found himself in this place.
As the cold, dark air of the tunnels closed about him, he exhaled wearily, for the encounter, though brief, had tired him beyond what one might assume. Absently almost, he opened the gift-box and took out one of the ugly rice balls.
All right. Great Scott, my ungodly lifestyle has begun taking its toll, it has. I'm sorry for missing yet another weekend, minna-nyan. Got to give meself a real hefty kick in the arse, I do. Aye, anyway, I don't want to make promises I may not be able to keep, but if I don't do that next scene by Friday, feel free to call up your Galician friends and have them toss me off the Torre de Hércules. Good lord, I suck. Also, a toast thank you to all of you offering words of affection for the story. It's gratifying to see that there are people enjoying it as much as, or more than, I am. It really is. I'd address each one of you individually, but I don't know that you care for such sentiments. So yeah. To the bottom, folks! Teetotal cheers! Yeah! Woo! God damn it! This post brought to you by the letters: E, S, T, R, E, L, L, A, G, A, L, I, C, I and A.
It was at a later time that same day that grudging our brave Garion did break his heretofore unbroken rule.
As the unsolicited brush with the fell tollkeeper had drained his wit near-dry (even as one has said once already) and set his insides aflame, the gallant young man flagged markedly when at last he came home. Quiet he let Satori take his coat and shoes, and likewise quiet bathed. Alike tight-lipped he busied in the kitchen, making only meagre small-talk with his hostess. Alike still he dined with her and the red-haired pet-girl, and alike yet poked at his plate with numbly held silver, his mind a wayfare and his clouded eyes a wander. Although, indeed, he had been assured of the meal to stay his twinging stomach, now he found the very sight of food made it only turn, turn.
Of course, he had but himself to blame – he had, after all (of sheer stubbornness), consumed the vile-tasting rice balls that the cackling tollwoman had given him. “Twould be a shame!” he had told himself firmly as each had passed his clinched throat. “A waste!” The words came to haunt him now. “A waste!” he had thought. A waste, indeed!
So it was that with some regret (of which he made no show) stood our esteemed Garion from the vast table and excused himself, though not before remarking rigidly to the quizzical-eyed hostess that he might not come call on her tonight. And true, he would not do, though it dashed him; for his mood was grim, and his health, even as he muttered without conviction under his breath, the first concern.
Or perhaps, who knows? perhaps he simply wished a calm hour to himself in a soft, warm bed.
And now, our dear boy lay alone in his room, agaze at the featureless ceiling, and brooding.
One would not say it became him, to brood. And yet despite, he did; for he had many a pressing reason to, and it was not his wont to waste. Again yet he reproached himself for the blunder. It was such a basic thing, such silliness! Any mother may tell: a child must not accept food from a stranger. And yet he had gone and done just that. A child would have known better! Such a thing!
Cursing, swearing silent oaths, he tossed on the bed for a moment with no particular sense of accomplishment.
And what of the tollwoman? What was her affair? What had she wanted to achieve, bestowing him with the rotten things? Had he wronged her somehow? Had he told an insult, unknowing? She had been rude, indeed, rude and impudent in handling him, brutish even, though he had done her nothing but courtesies; and respect as he might her frank and self-serving caution, it riled him all the same how she had been. Quash his hopes first! Then try to poison him, will she! A monster she was, all right!
Squirming, he spat the word in the confines of his mind. A monster! A monster...
Unwitting, his thought turned to the dainty-faced Satori. She was a monster, too, was she not? She had made a point of making the fact explicitly clear. And yet, for all her thrashing, glaring and arm-flailing, she was scarce monstrous compared to the flax-haired, evil-eyed tollwoman. She might be haughty and arrogant, true, but what woman wasn't? And a woman she was, that was all but free from doubt. She did, far as Garion could tell, possess all the features of one. She had the proper frame, though she hid it under outsized clothes. She had the small, baby-like hands, unstained by the efforts and labours customarily taken by men. She had the tiny feet, and the smooth calves, and the small narrow shoulders, the little voice that knew his name, and the soft violet stare that seduced him always each time she wished of him something against his will. She had the elegant gestures, the slightly unkempt but velvety hair, the...
Garion snarled a few ugly oaths and then clamped his teeth shut. Why was he thinking about this? Was he not supposed to be angry with himself?
And then that underlying haze, that shadowy suspicion he had been feeling for the past days began yet again to loom at the fringes of his mind.
Was this not why he was here yet, suffering all these pains? A dry laugh might have escaped his throat, had he not been tense so. There was no reason to be angry, after all! Quell though the cursed tollwoman might have his big Garion-hopes, he was conscious they were little-founded in the first place; for it would have explained a lot, and he knew, even now, though he would not say: he knew that even if it seems foolish, senseless, that which he seeks, that which he wants, may very well be—
There was a knock on the door.
Garion nimbly killed the thought and rolled around in the bed to face toward the wall. Another small tap broke the silence, but the callous young man made no response. Again yet it sounded, ever-so-louder, but all the same the blond man lay still and without a word. Thrice it tapped, to no avail.
And then the door steadily creaked open.
Someone came in, a few tiny steps, then gently shut the door behind them. Nary a noise they ghosted across the room, toward the bed where the quiet young man lay. And then they stopped. Garion thought them petulantly to come away.
“Oh please,” a mild voice said.
There was a patter of glassware, and a squeak of springs when someone sat down on the bed beside the lying man.
And Garion did twist around to face the interloper.
Satori regarded him with a faint smile, but there was no humour in that smile.
“Here,” she said, sliding a silver tray closer to his hands. There was a glass of water on the tray, and a tiny white envelope. Garion eyed them with a certain degree of scowl. “What is this?” he demanded gruffly. “It's medicine,” Satori replied softly. “You have a stomach-ache, don't you?” “I didn't ask for this.” “No,” she agreed. “As a matter of fact, no, you didn't. Now take it. On your tongue, then down it with water. It's a little bitter, yes, but then, you might just find it to your taste. Now, Garion; don't be a child. Now, now.” Averse still, he picked up the envelope and poured the contents onto his stuck-out tongue, then took the glass and drained it empty almost in one sup. Satori took it from his hands and set it down on the tray, even as the sulking man laid back down and faced the wall once more. “You're welcome,” the small hostess said without a shade of irony. “You really ought to tell me if you aren't feeling well though,” she added. “I really shouldn't have to read your mind to find out. I can't say I like doing that; not a whole lot, at least.” “I didn't ask you to do it,” he muttered. “So? You're my guest, Garion.” “My aches are my own. You needn't tend to them.” “I'd like to, though.” “Why?” “Why, because I like you a lot, Garion.”
Garion tensed up. Stiffly, he cast a glance over his shoulder at his small hostess.
She was smirking.
“Amazing,” she said sweetly. “You can be shocked. Colour me impressed. Oh, but don't tap, please; you'll bruise your knuckles.” Garion didn't. “Good, good,” Satori praised. “I was getting somewhat sick of that. Now, pretty please, roll over here and look at me, Garion, won't you?” That, in turn, he did, though reluctantly. “Good,” the hostess said once more. She set aside the silver tray and heaved herself into a more comfortable position. Garion felt the mattress incline under his back, but stayed still. Glowering, he watched as the small hostess resolutely made herself comfortable. “Stop that,” she chided. “I didn't do anything wrong with you, did I?” “No.” “Then stop glaring.” He unscrewed his eyebrows with some difficulty. “Do you want me to do away after all?” she asked. He did not say. She was very close to him though, and that he did not find it all that agreeable. “Well, that's just too bad, isn't it?” she said. “The bed is a single. We can't do much about it, now can we?” “Presumably.” She gave him a look that could melt the hearts of men who were not Garion. Alas, Garion was nothing if not himself, so his heart remained whole and his eyes cold. “Am I really so loathsome, Garion?” she asked sadly. “You could really make a girl cry with these kinds of thoughts, you know. Are you angry with me, by chance?” “No,” he said. “Not with you.” “Then with whom? Tell me. I might just be able to do something about them.” “No.” “Why not?” “It is my problem, not yours.” “And you're not willing to share?” “No.” “I see.” She sighed. “Well, I shouldn't push it then, I suppose.” She picked up the empty glass and, for a little while, fingered pensively the elaborate carvings. “Actually,” she spoke at length, “it was Rin that noticed something was off about you, not me. She observes you rather closely when you're in the house, did you know? You haven't spent much time with her since I stole you away, have you?” “No,” Garion admitted. “She still sneaks into your bed at night though, doesn't she?” “She does,” he confirmed. “I am a sound sleeper however.” “If you don't stir at it, then yes, you must be indeed. She makes a great deal of racket when she does that, usually. Oh, but you do talk with her, don't you?” “Only when we do the dishes together.” “Which isn't all too often, is it?” “She has her own duties,” Garion pointed out. “That she does,” Satori agreed. She stared at the glass a shade wistfully. “Where did you go today, Garion?” she asked. “Aside from the caves, I mean. Were you to any particular place? Anywhere of note?” “Nowhere important,” he lied. After all, he had gone to the bridge joining the above- and under-world. One should presume the place possessed leastwise some semblance of significance. Satori smiled. “Yes. And did you find anyone there?” Garion gave up at that point. “I did,” he said. “The tollkeeper.” “Ah, she. What was her name, again? Mizu?” The small hostess set a finger to her pale lips, trying to recall. “Mizushi?” she wondered aloud. “Mizuhashi, I believe? Was it? Garion?” “She did not introduce herself.” “Ah.” “She seemed unaware of what common courtesy entails,” the blond man went on. All of a sudden the urge to complain to someone—anyone—flared in his mind. And Satori, he knew, would listen. “She would not speak with me at first, even though I'd offered food. She told me to be lost, and only afterward did she—” “You did what?” Satori intruded on his story. “I offered food,” Garion humoured her. “Why did you do that?” “I always do when I encounter monsters in my travels,” the blond man explained. “They leave me alone once their attention is diverted.” “Didn't it occur to you that she might feel insulted?” “I had thought—” He broke off and reconsidered the idea. “I had not thought about it,” he concluded lamely. “I didn't think you had,” Satori said tartly. “If it were me, I'd pull your hair out.” “I do offer you food,” Garion observed; “every day, at that.” She made a face. “That's different.” “Anyway,” he decided not to pursue it further, “she would not have it, as I said, but only at first. Then we talked. She did not prove to be of help. She was... unaccommodating, to say the least.” Grunting, he lay his head on the silken pillows. An odd sense of wear and fatigue washed over him even as he did, and he shut close his eyes, eyes that were suddenly very tired. “It's the medicine,” Satori told him. “Don't worry at it too much.” “Mm.” “Anyway,” the little hostess went on, “you'll have to forgive her.” “Why?...” “She can't help it. That's how she is. How she has to be.” She sighed once more and turned her gorgeous eyes upward at the ceiling. “She's hopelessly insane. That's one of the prerequisites for living down here, I suppose—for humans, that is, not as much for us.” “She said she was—” Garion began. “—not human,” Satori filled in, “I do realise, Garion; but she did use to be one, whatever she says. We aren't all... born monsters, you have to understand. Some of us are born just like you are: into human families, and only then... well, certain things happen and we wind up changed. She was one such case, I gather. She came down here first as a pretty human girl—very innocent, if I do recall—and as the years passed, the underworld began to change her—or she began to change herself. We do not know. We are hesitant to try and find out. She does tend not to mince her words, you might have noticed. We don't know whether she had been appointed guardian of that bridge by powers that be or had taken it up of her own volition, but that was what she did before the sealing—and that's her function now. Although, I confess it, I do hear more and more from my pets that they simply fly over the bridge instead of walking nowadays, only to avoid having to have words with her. I do not blame them, but you have to admit she's been bereaved of any amusement she may have had of it that way. There is nothing left for her to do. It might just be that she treated you the way she did because you were the first face she'd seen in months, and she wanted to poke some fun at you at your cost. Gods know it gets boring down here – lonely, too... if you happen to crave company. “Anyway,” she continued crisply, “She wasn't doing it to get under your skin, Garion. So don't hold any grudges, please. I never spoke with her a lot, but I can imagine how she feels, seeing herself gradually become obsolete. What I can't imagine is how she feels as a former human. I wasn't born one; that's probably why I get into trouble whenever I interact with them. I've always been a Satori. Sometimes I wonder why I were... born into this particular body. Although I wasn't born, not so to speak. Or at least I can't remember being born... or having parents, or any family apart from my sister. I simply was, as if I'd always been. And how long was it? Oh, I don't know. As far as I remember, I've always been around. I told you once I used to be less civilised than now, didn't I? I can't remember much of those dark days. I was cold, blind, restless, an animal more than a person. Shameful, isn't it? But maybe that's why I can't remember being born. I don't know. I'll probably never know a lot of things. We all will never know a lot of things. Won't we, Garion? Wouldn't you say?”
She lowered her chin and looked at the lying young man, but his eyes were closed, his breathing shallow, rhythmical.
He was fast asleep.
“Wouldn't you say...” the small hostess repeated in a whisper. “Wouldn't you say... Stupid.”
She sat playing with the glass for a time, sighing and sighing, until at last she regarded the sleeping Garion once more. And she lifted her hand, a hand that was no bigger than a minute, and reached it out slowly, tentatively, toward Garion's face. And breath held and fingers near-trembling, she parted his hair to survey the ugly gash she had given him that day when he first brought that silly idea of his to her attention. She felt disgusted with herself and how she had done with him, as she ever did when she recalled it.
She let go of his hair, still staring at that rough, serious face of his, calm now, calm and unarmed, its haunted look that it had developed over the years and the customary frown gone. She thought that, like this, it was not a bad face to have, not a bad face at all. And then she started, for she realised all of a sudden she had been about to touch his cheek. And her little fingers quivered away, frightful, and her ashen lips took on a strange expression.
She stared on at him, wary that he might wake, but that he did not; and she breathed easier, and let her small shoulders drop. She looked down; and there it was, his coarse, practical hand, even now clenched into a fist, chary, chary.
Gently, she cradled that big hand in hers, and held it, held it until it relaxed.
It took a while, but she was very stubborn about it, and at length, it did.
Then she stood and straightened her clothes.
She would not be so selfish as to wake an exhausted guest solely to keep her entertained. She was a good little hostess, after all. And like a good little hostess, she set out to leave her guest to sleep undisturbed.
At the door, however, she stopped and looked back, and her eyes hardened like amethysts.
“One day,” she said ominously. “One day you and I will talk about this.”
※ thinking “I'll do it in the evening” won't magically make you do it ※ actually, just the opposite ※ you fucking love this story, just sit down and write ※ video games are not good inspiration ※ neither is discussing them with Danish shut-ins over Skype ※ don't accept any more invitations from those chicks upstairs; they're good fun, but you've more important things to do ※ Spanish people are fucking lazy ※ you're not Spanish ※ get back to work ※ oh, and get someone to clean that bloody doorstep; piss leaves ugly stains on wood
>>8373 Well, by more important things I really meant doing all the paperwork that's piling up on me as we speak. I have this innate inability to wrap my mind around legal issues, and let me tell you, this country and this university are flooding me with red tape. I'm drowning in adornments. That's kind of arrogant, don't you think? To assume that “more important things” refers to writing for your entertainment. Of course, I could always be lying about all this, so...
So it was no shock that woke our dear Garion early the following day.
Gently he opened his steel-grey eyes now, eyes easy and well-slept, and likewise gently rose to a sit, wondering himself how long he had been at slumber to feel rested as such. And though his inner wariness told suspicions about the time, another was there also, and it hinted strongly that it was early still, indeed, earlier than he woke at usual.
At that odd inward clash of opinion, he sat and wondered, and minutes flew creeping by, and flew, minutes that seemed like hours in the morning quiet of the mansion.
As she always did now, Rin lay with him in the bed, soft and hush, naked and warm. One could not begin to guess at what made the curious red-trussed creature wear to sleep nothing but a filmy lace-trimmed negligee and a dreamy smile, but for Garion, it mattered not; he cared not for her charms, and not for her reasons, only for her health (out of gratitude, of course); so he covered those lush pink shoulders with one half of the down-filled duvet and returned to his wonderings.
At length he tossed those aside together with his half of the beddings, and found his feet.
Silent (and just a little on the pensive side), he pulled on his fine evening clothes and skulked noiselessly out of the room. The corridors were, as ever, cold and dark, and the blond man briskened, his lingering bed-warmth seeping mercilessly away. He did not know what strange impulse cast his step, but soon he arrived at the kitchen door, where daily he laboured at the behest of his small hostess. The kitchen was empty now, naturally, and quiet, even as was the rest of the great underground house. And Garion was quiet also when he laid out the foods and utensils and began to busy away at them, not fully knowing himself why. He busied for some minutes, then some more, and finally done arranged the effects of his work on a large brass butler's tray and out he went again, into the dark hallways. As luck would have it however, aware this time was our brave blond boy of where he was bound, and quick was his pace, quick though also tense; for he knew what he was doing was rare, truly, rare and untried, and he was doubtful of the outcome, whatever the odds. And yet he kept going still, unwilling to turn back now.
At last his destination was there, and he pushed on the door, as always, without knocking.
As the room was familiar to him now, even as was the inside of his pocket, he took no note of its quirks, and went direct to the nightstand, where he laid down the tray, careful to head off any clinks and clanks of the plate and the glass afore they happened; then finally he looked down at the little figure sprawled over and under the silken covers of the great canopied bed.
She lay with her arms about her tiny chest, cold perhaps, or perhaps something else; her breath was faint and calm, and her nightgown smooth and modest. She slept on, peaceful, unaware, and the blond man watched in noiseless ponder how her little features moved as she breathed, and how tranquil she was, even though he was here, watching. He would not say, but it stunned him somehow, how pleasant she looked when she slept.
And then it dawned on him that he would need to wake her.
And he faltered slightly, for he had not an idea how to do it. She would yell at him if he touched her, and to utter her name softly till she woke seemed silly to him someway, silly and unbecoming. To let the tableware do the waking was foolish also (that's what he thought), and he found now he had run into a wall. And he struggled for a while, and squirmed, but no notion came to him, so he drew a chair from the table he and the hostess always sat at in the evenings, and placed it close to the bed, closer maybe than politeness dictated, and slumped down on it, cross with himself that he'd failed to see this problem coming.
It was all very silly in its own right, but Garion would only admit the fact after he is dead, and not until.
And then, inside, somewhere deep inside, he felt he would loathe to disturb that peaceful sleep anyway.
Some fifteen minutes passed since, and his patience was awarded.
The tiny hostess stirred, and her gorgeous violet eyes slowly came open. She gave a moan, mostly involuntary, and rubbed her small pale cheeks against the soft pillows. Then she sighed, a startlingly unrestrained sigh, and closed her eyes again—yet only for a scant moment, because they opened again before long, and she looked around, half-awake, until her fuzzy gaze landed at last on Garion. A child-like almost confusion began to mount in those misty eyes of hers, and she asked him, clueless:
“Garion? What are you doing in my bed?” She spoke in a voice that was so low, so bemused, and so defenceless that Garion suddenly felt very guilty for surprising her as such; but he shrugged the feeling off and replied in this flat, matter-of-factly manner that was his trademark: “I am not in your bed. Only beside it.” Satori considered the answer. “Ah,” she said finally. A hint of a smile touched her ashen lips. “That's all right, I suppose. Oh well.” And then her eyelids dropped and she slipped away again.
She would wake for good before long, he told himself. She would have to, knowing he was waiting. And indeed, a mere few moments after, she did.
She rustled out of the beddings and her eyes fluttered open. Then, naturally, she looked at the most out-of-place thing in the room. At Garion.
“Garion,” she said. Some confusion remained in her voice, but not as much as had there previously been. “Satori,” the blond man nodded. She liked it when he called her name, after all; he might as well try and ease her into the situation this way. “I was positive I was still asleep,” Satori said feebly, kneading at her eyes. “I hadn't really reckoned with the possibility of waking up to your face as the first thing in the morning.” She stopped and looked straight at him. “I thought I was having a dream.” “Was it at least a good dream?” Garion chanced. She smiled at him weakly. “I think that would really depend on the perspective.” She heaved her small frame up and propped her back against the bunched-up pillows. A vacant hand brushed through her bedraggled hair, and she murmured something Garion could not hear. “Well, but that's that,” she said then with a note of finality. “Now, to what do I owe this lovely wake-up call then? I suppose there is some conveniently logical reason behind it? I don't hate it, mind, not a whole lot, but somehow I can't find it in my ability to believe you just wanted to watch my sleeping face.”
Garion stood up without a word and retrieved the breakfast-laden tray. And he set it down unceremoniously on Satori's small lap, and retreated to his chair.
Satori looked at the meal spread out before her with a level mixture of perplexity and poorly disguised delight. She forced a stern face, however, and asked the blond man: “What is this?” “It is breakfast,” he replied dryly. “I see that, I assure you,” she told him; “I have eyes. What I'm asking is: why?” Garion tilted his head and looked aside, but did not answer. “Garion?” Satori prompted. “Did Rin ask you to do this?” “... No,” he gave up. “Did you have a nightmare or something?” “... No.” “Should I worry for you? Are you still feeling ill perhaps? Are you feverish?” “No,” he snapped. Then he rose to his feet. “If you do not like it, then I shall—” “No.” She shielded the tray with her own body. “As a matter of fact,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at the standing Garion, “no, I don't dislike it at all. Must you always assume the worst, Garion?” She gave him a sour look. “That's one part of you I find really hard to accept. I'm loving it, Garion. I've never had anyone bring me breakfast to bed before. It's a very nice thing to have, I find. I'm loving it, really. I just wanted to know why, that's all.”
Garion sat down. “I...” he said, “... do not know.”
And that was the truth.
She continued to study him with those beautiful, all-seeing eyes of hers, but even she, confronted with this lack of answer, had but one choice, and the choice was to forget the issue and simply enjoy what was given to her at a face value.
And enjoy it she did. She settled once more against the big fat pillows and picked up the fork and knife, and sampled each food with artless felicity. She took the cup in both hands and sipped curiously at the drink inside. She tasted the sandwiches, and the egg, and the bacon, and held her fingers to her mouth while she chewed, as though afraid that the food might up and run away while she's lost in delight. All of that Garion observed with studious calm. And even as he did, even as his pretty little hostess indulged herself happily in the stuff he had prepared, a queer, queer revelation washed over him gradually, as a warm spring rain might wash across a misty knoll.
She had told him once. She had no need of eat, nor of drink. Those were not necessities to her, for she was a monster and, indeed, could sustain herself, it seemed, with air and air alone. As such, to Satori, eating was not a demand; it was not that pressing exigency the poor toiled with in times of bad harvest – it was a pastime, truly; an entertainment rather than duty. A joy, put simply, of the likes of reading, knitting or gardening. Any of these could, in truth, fill her mind and time; but eating, eating was one such pleasure as only Garion could give her.
And he gave it to her now, of his own free will.
And the reason was so pure, so obvious that one should be dazed how he had not realised before. To acknowledge it, however, would not be his rule. So he made another explanation, our dear, dear boy, and accepted that instead. She had the day before come to him to cure him of his pains; now he returned the favour in the best way he could. And even if there were other reasons, they were but secondary to paying back his debt of gratitude.
Gratitude! A lesser man might blush at such plain a sophistry, but Garion was above a lesser man, and to blush would not become him. So he watched instead the happily eating Satori, that heart-filling sight, that sight a lesser man might smile at. And he did not smile, only watched.
A while had passed, and by and by, the small hostess finished her breakfast.
A jubilant sigh on her small pale lips, she handed the empty tray to Garion, and herself reclined, smiling sweetly, and very short, one might think, of humming like a nightingale.
“I could get used to this,” she murmured pleasantly. Garion did not answer. The small hostess looked at him. “Garion?” “What is it?” She made a musing sound. “No,” she said, “it's nothing, I guess. I just thought you'd say ‘do not think of it,’ or ‘I do not have the sort of time,’ is all.” That he did not answer, either. “Aren't you going to say it, Garion?” “No such thing,” he replied. “Would you do it for me then?” “If you would have me do.” “Would you like to do it?” The blond man fell silent. Satori gave him a small scowl. “It'd be really nice to have it, but I don't want to force you into anything. You're my guest, Garion, not my pet or servant.” “True.” “It's nice enough to have it once in a while. You don't have to belabour yourself trying to keep me satisfied. As a matter of fact, I was easier satisfied before you came. You've spoiled me, Garion. You've made me want to try all those foods.” “I apologise.” “There is nothing to apologise for. I just thought the implications were... interesting. Actually, you might be right. As a matter of fact, it might be just as well that you don't spoil me even further. I hadn't even noticed myself how...” She shook her head. “Never mind. I don't believe... I don't think we need this kind of thing.” “Thing?” “Never mind, Garion. It's nothing all that important.” She exhaled with sudden listlessness. “Just don't make these kinds of breakfasts a habit, that's what I wanted to say. It's lovely enough, but I wouldn't want to get too used to it.” “If so you wish.” “I do at that. It was delicious, Garion. Thank you. I loved it. I really did, so don't beat yourself over the head with it or anything. I really loved it.” “... You are welcome.” “Why, thank you. And now,” she said with a renewed smile, “I realise all cooks have their tiny little secrets that make their magic work, but how exactly, if I may know, did flavour that scrambled egg? I knew already you should salt it, but there was pepper, too, and... cheese, I think?” “Grated cheese,” Garion disclosed, “and pepper, yes. Also, milk: a tablespoon for each egg, all well whisked.” “And I suppose there is a method to whisking the eggs, too?” “There is,” he confirmed. “That is what makes them light and fluffy when fried.” “Tell me, pretty please.” “... Very well.”
And then he explained, at length, in great and masterly detail.
And the small hostess listened, fascinated, as though it had been the greatest mystery of the world coming unravelled before her small violet eyes.
And though Garion was heedless to it, a mystery of its own swirled and danced behind those eyes, a mystery much greater and much more mysterious than his cooking ways.
Thence Garion unwound little by little, and made some small-talk with the lounging hostess, as was their tradition to do when together in this room.
She had, Garion noticed in that time, a very frantic manner in bed. At one minute she sat leaning on the backrest; at another she hugged a big pillow and propped her tiny chin on its upper edge; at yet another meanwhile she lay facing the blond man, her head mounted on her tiny hands. She was, for all her upright elegance, a restless lier. Garion, quite predictably, did not know what to make of it, so he ignored it smartly, for fear it upsets her if he belabours the issue. She was a restless lier, true, but it was no business of his, and that was it.
At some point, however, they seemed to exhaust their subjects for conversation. Garion had elected not to speak his tales now, for morning was not the time for story; but it was, in fact, Satori who first found her topic-pot empty. She reclined now, stilly, the dainty little hostess, toying absently with the buttons of her nightgown. There were, as might be expected, all sorts of compelling side-effects to that play, but as they were lost on the only witness so one should not speak of them, out of respect for their privacy.
Garion sat wordless also, though he did not toy, did not fiddle with his garments, just sat.
At long last, Satori spoke up. “Aren't you going to ask?” she questioned a shade hastily. “Ask what?” returned the blond man. “Whether I'm going to come along with you to the festival, Garion,” she explained. “Aren't you going to ask that?” “Would it make any difference?” “No. As a matter of fact, I don't suppose it will. You're right,” she admitted a bit wistfully. “Don't ask.” Garion thought about it. “Come with me,” he then asked. “All will be well, I assure you.” She gave him a wry look. “Will it, really?” “Trust me.” “I'll think about it then.” Garion was startled. “Will you?” She gave him a wan smile. “You'll run away the moment I say no, won't you?” she observed. “You always do that, you know. I said I'll think about it, and I will, Garion. For a few more minutes, that is. Then I'll say no and we can go on about our days. Can we do that? Please?” “... As you wish.” “Thank you. It really is a bad idea, Garion.” “I do not see how.” “You don't, do you? Never mind. You don't need to. You have this nasty habit of keeping things to yourself, did you know? It's only fit that I do the same, don't you think?” “As you wish.” She smiled, brighter this time. “Thank you, Garion. You're very accommodating today.” “... No such thing.” “Oh, but there is. A few minutes is all, Garion. I won't ask for more.” “... As you wish.”
So they sat, in mutual silence, for those promised few minutes; then, in due course, Garion asked her again.
She said no.
The blond man stood and bade her farewell then, and she told him once more that the meal had been delicious and said good-bye also, and Garion left. Shortly, he swung by his room, where he changed into his travel-clothes and cloak, the started to the mansion's doors. There he ran into Rin, who had, as it turned out been just readying to embark on her own affairs. She offered to keep Garion company for a time, and he promptly agreed.
Together they left the house, and together talked of the weather on the surface, the seasons, the upcoming festival and other such trifling matters. Afterward, they parted ways; the lively pet-girl grasped strongly her wheelbarrow and soared upward in a trail of rust-flakes to some secret tunnel at the heads of the great stone pillars, while Garion lit his little oil-lamp and stepped once again into the cold wet dark of the snaking caves. The tiny flame cast a comforting ring of light on the ancient black walls.
'Cos Alkarl would rather I updated this than gobble up mans in Prototype.
※ ※ ※
At the end of the week they clashed again, the taciturn two, man and hostess.
A leaden day it was, a dreary day. And drear did Garion turn his step around betimes that day; for by causes unknown he had been made listless, and listless he would not sustain his search. A drag was in his stride the stripe of which he felt was not effect of weariness but something else rather, though he did not know what. So it came to happen that with the drag in step and frown on face he swung around and made back for the great underground cavern and the secret mansion.
There, as ever, waited for him the restful quiet that all but took his mind off the wear of the day. A part of it, however, he found missing, and that part was the pastel-skinned hostess who would have, by now, handled his coat and ushered him to bathe; yet she was not there, not beside the low table she would wait for him at as a rule, nor anyplace in sight. The table was empty, and the darkened halls silent.
At that Garion was not all too surprised; he had come home early, after all, and whilst she had claimed on some scant occasion that there were scarce any pastimes more precious to her than waiting at that table, reading (until her guest came home and pleased her with other, that is), it was not beyond conception that the insatiate small hostess would bore of it ere long, and seek entertainment elsewhere hence. And true, that seemed the case here now. That was, though, not reason enough for Garion to in suit rearrange his routine also. Coolly, naught a wait, he turned out of his heavy coat and boots, and at once parted for the bath-room, for his customary rest and soak. And even if he had been premature in his return, still Garion-evening was now in full flower, and our boy, like a cook proper, directed his thought toward the upcoming dinner and what he would make.
So it was that there were apt salads and soups and other such dishes but not enough heed in his head when he wrenched open the bath-room’s door and trod through. There was steam inside, thick, hot and milk-white, but too rapt with steak and spice was our dear Garion to take notice of the fact; smoothly he uncased his shirt and straight went for the tub that he might fill it afore he undresses fully and suffers cold. That was when he stopped and tautened near-solid, for all his plans came sudden crashing all around his ears.
There was already someone in the tub.
The truth made both she and Garion reel. The air became as stone between them.
The young man regained his voice first. “Satori,” he said; for it was she indeed. “G—Garion,” she returned the greeting, halting unseemly. “Welcome... back?”
There was a tense silence.
The steam clouded around them in solid-white drapes, and swirled. They did not speak. The water in the tub, boiling after the hostess had upset it at first, settled without hurry. The heights of foam that topped it, wiggling and sizzling from the movement, were like white cities on the sea. There and there, they looked as though marble spires with walls lashed to roundness by unrelenting breeze. There, a snowy mountain grew out of the depths, its sunken peak alike to that of a volcano. And there, in the mid of it all, sat a cowering girl: a startled fantasy of childhood clad but in blots of milky foam; and the cheeks of the girl were faint-red, flushed, though one could not say whether it was the unforeseen interruption or the heat of the water that made them so. There was foam around her modest breast, and across her elegant shoulders; and even in her hair there was foam, like pearls of white jewellery. The queer outfit swelled as she breathed, and then fell, and slithered, dripped, down and down her fair wet skin.
There was a stir under the foam and Satori stopped breathing so heavily. The pale little lips she had kept tightly sealed until now came weakly open; and she asked, a small faltering question:
“Why... didn’t you knock?” “I was not paying attention.” Garion lurched with the answer and backed a pace. Then his steely eyes sharpened. “Why did you not speak when I entered?” Satori remained still. “I... wasn’t paying attention, either, I suppose,” she said. “As... a matter of fact, yes, I was... I was thinking.” Then she lurched also. “You should have knocked,” she told him more crisply. “And before you start, I know. A waste of time. Yes. This is the bathroom, though. There’s only this one in the house. You should check if it is by chance occupied before going in.” “I apologise.” “Yes. That you do.” She paused. A thought seemed to hatch just behind her big violet eyes, but she struggled to put it into words. There was another stir, and the foam around her swayed and ebbed. “Ah, um, Garion?” the wriggling hostess said finally. “Could you, please, stop staring? This is an awful thing to do to a naked person... you know?” “I am not staring,” Garion said stiffly. “You may be right, but... it feels like you are, to me.” “Am not,” he insisted. “Yes. I mean... No. You’re...” She bit briefly on her lip, but that passed quickly. “Actually,” she said, “could you just wait outside? I was just about to get out anyway, so... pretty please? A minute and I’ll... be done, I promise.” “... As you wish.”
Then Garion made a strained nod and turned to leave.
“Ah, Garion?” Satori called after him before he went half way. The blond man drew up and asked bleakly: “Yes?” “Could you... Could you, ah, pass me that towel, over there?” “... Yes.” “Thank you.”
The blond man went to the stout dresser and retrieved the broad fleece towel that hung from one open drawer. Then, wordless, he trudged back to the tub where Satori waited, smiling sheepishly; and he stood a step away from it, the towel held before him on cold, rigid hand. She smiled even more and reached out one dripping hand.
And then her smile froze; for she could not reach the towel, and the blond man moved not, silent before her like a grave. She waited a while, but to no avail; and at last, petulant, she rose abruptly from the foam, one dainty arm set decently across her chest, and snatched the towel from that big rough hand of his. Then she turned away and crashed without a word back into the bath.
The water churned and splashed when she did.
Garion stalled a moment more, but she had nothing to say to him, so he spun around without sound and left and closed the door behind him. There in the shadowy hall, he fell crudely against a wall and sank to the floor. That had strained his nerve a tad, tell himself otherwise though he might.
A sombre face and discreet sigh, he closed his eyes and made himself to wait.
A slow time passed.
There was no sign of Satori keeping her promise. The pretty small hostess went on occupying the bath-room for ends only she could begin to understand. All the same, Garion stayed. There was little else to do, after all, and he was not at fault for it.
As he was biding his time thus, a sudden tumult tore aside the still silence of the hall. And ere long the source loomed from the dark: a litter of kittens, the very same likely that had pestered Garion the day he had first arrived in the mansion, came stumbling and yowling out of some unknown passageway into the hall where our blond man sat. They saw him, an easy prey, and gave a joyful cry; doubtless they thought he would for certes shower them with love and attentions having naught better to do with them. They came and flocked around his legs and feet, rubbing and pawing and meowing, but the prim young man ignored them altogether and soon they all fled, hissing and fussing in their noisy cat-tongue.
All but one.
There was one that remained. A tabby coat and big bright eyes it continued to beg Garion’s affection, its siblings’ ill temper lost somehow on its playful manner. It grazed his legs, and nuzzled at his sides, even wormed under his arm, but his teeth were clamped shut and his defences tight. Still the tiny cat nosed, and still it snuggled, unwilling to give up until the big man did.
And then, after what seemed an eternity, Garion’s hand moved.
At that instant, the bath-room door burst open, and the kitten bristled and scurried off like thunderstruck. Satori, clothed now, brushed and dry, came stamping through the door and rushed past the calm Garion, and the breeze of her passage touched his face and tossed his hair. After she had vanished behind a turn, he numbly found his feet and anew entered the sultry bath-room.
The steam had abated in the meanwhile, and he saw now, our close-lipped young man, the dirty shirt and dress and other garments that his sulking hostess had strewn about the floor and left to wet. Cool and not in the least troubled he picked the warm, wrinkled clothes up and laid them neatly aside in a basket for washing. Then beside them he stripped and laid his own. As he went, naked, for the tub, however, he was made to reel again.
The tub was still full, it proved, and the size of foam, the same sweet-scented foam the beautiful but irascible little hostess had played in before floated on the surface still, its soft white mass like ships made of clouds.
OK, I'm back in Spain now, which means I'll have both more time and more privacy for writing. I'll try and pick up the pace from here. Sorry for the Christmas/New Year delays, folks. It was a busy time.
Actually, fuck me, I have to take that back. I've been trying to write and I just can't get it out. I guess I'm just a tad bit stressed out and burnt out. Winter does that to me. I also haven't had a chance to kick back and chill for nearly a month now. So that's bad, too.
Anyway, excuses, excuses. I just thought I'd bring you up to speed. The story isn't on cancelled or on hiatus or anything, I'm just a tired old twat that hasn't tasted anything remotely alcoholic for too long. I need a drink. And to go out. I'll do that this weekend.
Until then, folks. Until then. Will you ever forgive me, my sweethearts?
And clouded was Garion’s humour following the bath and dinner.
There was no hostess waiting in the kitchen, no sharp remarks, nor ill-tempered stares. Thence, untroubled switched Garion from pot to pot, in puffs of hot steam and uncommon now almost peace. And though the small woman did attend dinner as wonted, not a word was passed between them: her, wilful, and him, aloof; and they were as though strangers all throughout the meal. Therewith, done prim Satori spoke a curt thanks, stood, and made hotfoot for her chambers, not once halting (which she had ever before) to pray the tacit Garion along.
So it was with the good-natured Rin that he made order of the table. Shoulder to shoulder they did the dishes, washing together and talking small talk, and even finished they kept one another company; the red-braided girl made ready for leave, and the strait-laced Garion saw that she did in due spirit. At length they parted on the front doorstep, shook hands, bade good-bye each in turn, and then the blond man was alone again in the darkened halls. Abrupt, the silence bore down on him queerly.
A moment thence, he marshalled his resolve. And steeled so he started, and went, the dear boy, apace, where he rightful belonged.
She was, there, when he entered her room; yet she did not move, did not look when he entered. A heavy tome in hand she sat, engrossed, indeed, too engrossed to take heed of the chary young man invading her realm. As such, the man trod on his tiptoes to the table, and lowered himself onto his usual seat, all the while pondering what he was to do.
And pondering he bode his time, an ill at ease time.
At length, however, he confessed his defeat; the hostess proved more tenacious than he. Cowed slightly by this course of proceedings he stood, went across the room to the bookshelf, chose a tome of his own, and once more sat down, intent on study himself.
Satori stayed as she had been all throughout, and even afterward was captive to her book still.
Now Garion swung ajar the leather-bound covers of his select volume and took in the musty scent of paper-leafs and the glitter of the golden-gilded initials. The pages crackled under his touch when he turned them, and the sound set his mind at curious ease. The tome treated of things that Garion knew only by hearsay, but where one might frankly find them boring, to Garion they were as though new lands spreading before his very eye. And read he on thus, aught attention any more on the little pale hostess.
They were such a pair, they.
And one should wonder whether they would always be. After all, it was not such a case that Garion could not make good conversation, of illness or of character; for that make he could, granted he wished. And Satori, too, had the skill for talk, which often she exercised upon her guest. And yet here they were, tongue-tied alike as two headstrong youths. Was it their clash just before that had made them so? But Garion was a sensible man; Satori’s body was nothing to him. She had long, shapely legs, but Garion did not think about it. She had fair and smooth skin, but he did not linger on it. A gentle little face adorned the front of her head, as pretty as a picture, but just as a picture the face was not for him to gaze at, admire.
And there was much to admire on that face.
Thereupon another wonder should cross one’s mind. There was little doubt that the hostess was not human – indeed, one could tell at mere glance there were parts of her that no human possessed: the orb and the cords, blood-red and coiling, in and out her faded smock. But her face was human, and her bearing, too, though whether they were as such of her own will and entertainment, or made so by a power greater than she, one could not say. Was it, then, her own picking of form? Or had some kind divinity seen it fit and willed it so?
One truly could not say.
“You’re really very noisy sometimes, did you know that?” Satori lowered her book and scowled. “No, I didn’t get to pick my appearance. As a matter of fact, I was born with these legs and this face, thank you very much. Is this answer about satisfactory?”
“Thank goodness. I do admit without beating, I used to be less pretty, once. I believe I mentioned that already, at one point or another. Anyway, yes, I used to be a whit less easy on the eye than I am now, but there’s not a kink in the world that a few decades of civilised life would not groom. You might want to keep that in mind.” The small hostess set down her book and leaned instead over the table, her chin propped on her hands. “The same goes for my pets, actually. They were as almost as bad as I had been before them when I first gave them this home. Still, as I said, a decade or five in a good house can turn even the vilest beast half-circle. Or a few weeks in the wrong company, if you happen to be my troublesome sister.” A sour expression crooked briefly her fair lips. “You do raise an interesting point, however,” she then resumed in the previous fashion. “There may have been some greater plan behind giving us these shapes, by whatever grand author had the idea, but as to what it was, well... You could take the simple guess and argue that each predator has their means of ensnaring their prey, but, to be frank, I’m not all that fond of this theory. And neither should you, really.”
One should certainly agree.
Satori smiled. “I’m glad you see it my way. Anyway, we don’t get to choose our forms, unfortunately. We may not be born the same way humans are, but we get about as much choice in it as they do. And if we don’t find our physical appearance agreeable, we’re free to do the same thing they do. I became acquainted rather well, with the lengths and efforts humans go, to adjust their outward appearances, before I came here. They do tend to do that a lot, you have to admit: either for their own liking, or the liking of their peers, or friends, or... loves, or whatever. We aren’t... that different in this respect. We do have a few, maybe somewhat unfair, advantages at our disposal, but we can’t magically change who we are. It’s just not how it goes... no matter how hard we might wish.”
There was a longer pause.
Then the delicate smile that she was smiling broke slowly into a vicious smirk.
“But,” the small hostess teased, “advantages or not, we would never go as far as try and steal someone else’s body or mind.”
Garion slammed his book shut and turned to Satori with a bleak face.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she told him. “Did I disturb you?” “You were talking,” the blond man accused. “Yes. As a matter of fact, yes, I was. Are you really into this kind of literature?” she pointed at the fat tome on his lap. “It seemed to me you preferred poetry to anything else.” “Yes.” “Is that ‘yes’ to both of those questions?” “... No.” “Then why don’t you make yourself clear, Garion? Speak your mind. We might just get along easier if you do.” “... Must you?” She batted her small eyelashes. “Must I what, Garion?” “You are cross,” he said. “Cross? Me, Garion? Whatever for?” Garion stared at her for a moment ere he spoke. “... I apologise,” he then bowed his head. “I was out of line.” “Out of line?” Satori was confused. “I should have knocked. You were correct in your reprimand.” “What do you—” Satori began. Then she understood. “Oh.” “I apologise,” Garion bowed again. “Yes. That. Yes.” She grunted. “I mean, no! As a matter of fact... don’t apologise, please. I could have locked the door, myself. I knew you wouldn’t knock if you came by; I ought to have thought of...” She shook her head. “Oh, bother...!” “I embarrassed you,” Garion said with still inclined head. “I apologise.” “I’m not... angry, Garion,” Satori assured, though her eyes were wild, “really, I’m... I’m not. A little embarrassed, yes, but not angry. This was my fault, not yours. I showed you the side of me I shouldn’t have yet, and... well, paid the full price. That’s all there is to it. You needn’t apologise. As a matter of fact, why don’t you... forget about it? All of it? At least try to, please.” “... Very well,” the blond man said. “I shall try.”
“Good, thank you. That should be a help.” She brought the flat of her hand across a half of her face and gave a deep sigh. “You age me, Garion, did you know that?” “I apologise,” Garion made a stiff reply. “Your apologies age me, too.” “... I apologise.” “Garion,” Satori moaned, “please, I don’t have an infinite lifespan.” “... I—” “Yes. As a matter of fact, yes, you do. Now let it lie.” “... As you wish.” “Good.” She smiled once more, and the smile was relieved. “Why don’t we talk about something else? I’m rightly sweet and enthralling, I suppose, but even the best confectionery should make you nauseous if you forget yourself and eat too much.” “True.” “Yes. I should know, I’m a girl. I learned it the hard way. But enough about me. Tell me about your pilgrimage to the Wind Goddess’ mountain, Garion.” “It was not a pilgrimage,” Garion corrected; “an aimless ramble, is what.” “Of course. So, how did you find the place? A shade cold, no? It was only the break of spring, you said, if I recall?” “Yes.” “Go on, Garion. Indulge me.”
And Garion did.
And unknown to him the small hostess watched him with undivided care all through half the night.
And even as that time of festivity drew nearer and nearer, so did the halls of the dark manor grow crowded. And though the day began even as any other, threefold strange would soon find it our dear boy; for three queer encounters waited him that day, and each would leave him even more bewildered than the last.
As bewildered, of course, as Garion may be.
The first came betimes after dinner, when done attending to his usual chores did the blond remain in the kitchen, for reason of experiment which had lurked in his mind for long a while now. The experiment was sweet and chocolate-coated, in nature and sentiment both: a tray of baked treats, brown, tear-shaped, with mice-like ears of almond and round blueberry noses. Although the idea of such a shape had struck the pragmatic Garion as childish and mayhap just a touch shameful, it was but an odd experiment, therefore he could allow some leeway to certain unnecessary embellishments. It was challenge for the sake of challenge, nothing else.
So he thought.
But the blond boy was not alone in his thought of sweets that day. That became clear when the kitchen-door crashed open and a familiar vision emerged from the shadowy hallway beyond. The vision was raven-haired and black-winged, and bore a grin so bright and so bold that it seemed to dare the very walls around to try to contain its fearless glow. The dare was made somewhat less menacing by the freckled cheeks and child-like eyes, but Garion knew that it was but cunning deception; he tensed and stayed where he was, for fear of inadvertent provocation and ensuing violence.
The winged one, meanwhile—Utsuho was her name—folded her great wings and squeezed with some difficulty through the doorway, throwing curious looks around, like red embers. The briefest narrowing of her eyes suggested that she acknowledged Garion’s presence, but her mind was hard at work elsewhere, and her nose was sniffing at the air, twisting and twitching with burning almost fervour.
And before long she located her goal. A victorious cheer on her lips she hopped toward the standing Garion, shoved him aside with one strong wing, and, eyes sparkling and mouth running, stared longingly at the mice-shaped treats that were cooling on the counter. A greedy hand shot at once for the largest, but was then stopped when a troubled look spread across the tall girl’s face, and she muttered:
“Ah, manners, manners... Master Satori said manners. There must be manners.” She turned grudgingly to the stock-still cook-boy. “You made these?” she asked, not making the least effort to conceal her true feelings. “You made these, right? Answer!” Garion forced himself to oblige. “Yes.” The girl livened instantly. “Can I taste?” “They are not finished.” “Ah! But!” She put her tightly clenched hands on her chest. “They have to cool,” Garion said firmly. “But they look finished!” Utsuho whined. “They are hot still.” “I won’t burn myself, I promise! Can I? Hey! Can I?” She seized the blond man by the shoulders and began to shake him back and forth. “Come on, now! I said I promised! Come on! I want to taste! The smell! Ah, I want them! Come on, let me have one!” Then, after some deliberation, she added: “Please?” Garion was starting to get dizzy at that point. “Fine!” he managed to gasp out. “Have it! Only let me go!” The shaking stopped. “Are you for real?” Utsuho almost glowed. “... Yes,” Garion murmured. “Go ahead.”
The girl gave a whoop and threw her arms around the still breath-short man. The black wings fluttered open and Garion found himself pushed into one as the jubilant Utsuho leapt at the treat-laden tray.
The wing was soft-feathered and gave off pleasant warmth, but it was thick and strong also, and would keep Garion in place like shackles should he struggle, which he was wise not to do. And so he held there, in the comfort of that wing, our dear, dear boy, and he held resigned, until at last the belligerent girl was done sampling.
One might say that, but once the sampling was done, there was scarce a thing left to eat.
Then Garion was released. There was a joyful sigh and the black wing moved out from behind him. The blond boy staggered; he caught his footing, however, and looked full in the delighted face of the winged girl. There was a smile on that freckled face that spoke joy of the stripe of which the world had not heard since ancient centuries.
“Ah!” Utsuho made a dreamy sound, chewing on the last piece of chocolate. “Oh! Mm. Ooh!” She touched her hands to her cheeks. “Mm. Aha! Om.” Garion stood staring grimly; there was little else he could do. The girl swallowed. “Ah! Oh yes, mhm! It was delicious!” “... Noted.” “The chocolate! Ah, and the nuts! The little-fruit, too. All delicious!” “...” “Oh!” She seemed to remember something. “Manners! Master Satori said: manners, else no dinner. That’s what she said. Okuu remembers.” She gave her full attention to Garion. “Thank you, uh...” There was a thoughtful crease on her forehead. “... person! Yes, thank you, person!” Then she became crestfallen. “The name,” she confessed, “uh... that, I can’t—” “Excused,” Garion forgave her. “Oh.” She took heart at that. “Then I can go, now.” It was a statement more than a query. “Yes,” Garion said regardless. “OK.” Utsuho backed toward the door. “It was delicious,” she said by way of good-bye. “Yes.” “You make good sweets. You are a good person.” “... Yes.” “See-you, person.” “... Fare well.”
And then she was gone.
Garion let his shoulders fall and mouthed his favourite oath.
There was, however, little sense in holding a grudge. The treats were, after all, merely an experiment, and in some roundabout way, he owed the winged Utsuho an apology for the time he deceived her in front of her master; the chocolate-nut things, meanwhile, had, unbeknown to him at the time, served that very role better even than it was due. A truce of some kind had been forged between him and the bellicose girl, which was more than apt a reward for a handful of treats. There was no waste here, the blond man reasoned, only opportune coincidence that she had come before him now.
And yet, he could not help the faint sting of resentment that she had left nothing behind for someone else to try.
A subdued sigh, he set about cleaning the new-made mess.
The second chanced anon, when, settled at last with his kitchen-work, was the dutiful Garion making his way to Satori’s chambers, for the evening ease and talk.
Amid the dark cool of the corridors it chanced; a sound first, then more. A cleated shoe tapped, tore aside the silence around him, and nary another warning shattered was the stilly air of the hallway; for a queer figure appeared from the shadows behind, and it bore down on Garion with speed, even as a great wave might bear down on naked shore. The figure was tall and ox-shouldered, clad in flowery dress; it towered higher even than Garion (who was no dwarf himself) and boasted hair as long as the waist and as bright as the purest gold. There was a horn spearing out of that hair, long and varicoloured, and like the bow of a ship it parted the air on her approach; for indeed, it was a she – one may not disclaim the ample evidence, even if one should wish.
There was a gaily sway in her step that told of taverns and beer-halls rather than dance-floors or ballrooms, but still her feet were fast, and still she stormed through the halls, sway be damned.
And then, miracle of miracles, even mid a drunken stride she saw: the frozen young man, standing, waiting, sizing her up with wary steel-grey eyes. And she stopped, too, and gave a big whoop, and joy broke out on her face in a great smile.
“O!” she foghorned. “Yeh, there! Yeh is t’one, ain’cha!”
Then she closed in, ere Garion could say but a word, and caught him in a rough bear-hug that could shatter the bones of anyone smaller than he.
“Big man, wot?” the tall woman pulled back and said. “All right, so long as yeh be all care-full-like with th’ gal, I s’pose.” There was a haze in her look and her teeth were bared in a huge grin. “And you might be...?” Garion questioned rigidly. “Ho!” The woman chuckled. “All b’ness-like, uh? Ah, well, par’n me manners.” She stood somewhat straighter and stabbed a proud thumb at her breast. “Ah be, uh, Hoshiguma, aye? Yuugi, that. That be me name. And yeh—” the thumb was twisted at Garion, “—yeh be that one. That, uh, wossit... Dias Barte... Bartohl... Bartolomhey, don’chu know. Ah, but eey, lookit yeh!” She took Garion by his cheeks. “All blond like a princess, but glares like Satori-lady she-self!” She laughed. “Tremble, o’ Old Hell! This one will yet be yer undoing!” “... Are you here about Miss Satori?” Garion forced his tone cold. “Oh, yea.” The woman let go of his face. “Is ‘er ladyship home?” “... Yes.” “Well, on, then! What is yeh waitin’ fer? Oop!”
A heave on her lips like a workman’s she seized Garion with one strong arm, and, like a farmer might a colt or a bale of hay, swung him crudely over her broad shoulder.
Then she sallied forth, through the halls, and wind was in her hair.
At the nearest crossway, however, she slowed.
“Dias ho!” she roared at the hanging Garion. “Wey be where to ‘er room, again?” “Left,” said the blond man dryly. “Then straight ahead. A big red door.” “O! Left! Goodness me! This ‘ere house be way big fer the likes of me mem-o-reh. Thank-ee, friend-o. Yeh is the help-est young’un Ah’s ever seen, Ah swears on this ‘ere huge heart o’ me.” “... You are welcome.” “An’ I am! Away, then!”
There were dark thoughts in Garion’s head when she picked up speed again, but in his head was where they stayed.
An argument would but glance off the loud woman’s ears, he felt, and, truly, flop though he might like dead trout, this was one swifter manner to travel the long empty halls of the sunken manor. Therefore silent he flopped, and let the horned intruder undisturbed do her legwork.
Even when she asked: “This ‘ere, is it?” about the door, he made but the scantest reply: “Yes,” and strait-faced looked how she elbowed the door open and cheering strode inside the small quiet room that was his and his pale hostess’s refuge.
Satori was there, seated in a cushioned chair, wide-eyed now at this invasion of her—and Garion’s—little hideaway.
“Yuugi?!” She shot to her feet. “You?!” “Aye!” the tall woman bellowed. “That be me, lady-o! Ain’t fergotten ‘bout lil’ ole me yet, eh? How’s yer day been?” “It—It’s been somehow,” the small hostess answered evasively. “Why are you...?” There was an unusual shake to her voice. Yuugi snapped her fingers. “O! Aye, that. There be good big a reason fer me bargin’ in like so; don’t yeh wonder no more ‘bout ‘at.” Absently almost she let Garion to the ground and slapped him on the back in comradely fashion. “Well, lady-o,” she continued to Satori, “the thing be, that there big festival wot be above be comin’ up, yeh see, an’ we was jus’ wantin’ to know if... yeh know, uh?” “Ah. Yes. That. I do know.” The small hostess gave Garion a cursory look. The blond man considered shrugging, but surrendered the notion quickly. There was no need of gestures, and anyway he was not certain what exact question the look was meant to convey. Satori screwed up her ashen lips, but that, too, vanished before long. “And you?” she questioned the hulking guest. “Are you going to go?” Yuugi laughed, a loud and unrestrained laugh. “An’ jus’ wot d’yeh think, lady-o?” “True,” Satori conceded. “I shouldn’t have asked. As a matter of fact... are you all going, by chance?” “All?” “The invited ones, I mean.” “O! That, yea. Far as Ah knows. O, lady bridge mayn’t wants to, now that me thinks. Ah be far-ly sure Ah cans make ‘er go, though—if yeh knows wot Ah’s thinkin’.” “You’ll only make her mad.” “Well, then Ah’ll gon’s t’have t’ jus’ calm ‘er down after-words, wot? Ah cans be real calmin’-like when Ah wants, don’chu know.” Satori sighed. “It’s your funeral, you know. And what about that other one? The, um...” “Ey’ legs?” “She. Is she going?” Yuugi tossed her chin up and down. “Aye. So she says. O! but when Ah came by ‘er there house-place jus’ yester-day, guess who Ah seen there!” “The bucket-child,” Satori said immediately as though she had known already. “Now!” Yuugi set her hands on her hips, “don’t yeh jus’ go ‘ead an’ read me mind like nothin’, oi. Well, anyhow, there was she, and...”
Garion stopped listening at that point.
On soft feet he retrieved a book from the shelf and took his customary place at the small table, then began to read as though the golden-haired guest had not been there at all.
Another laugh, however, tore his attention away from the tome.
Yuugi was grinning again. “Sure feels at home ‘ere, don’t ‘e?” “That he does.” The pale hostess had a strange expression on her little face. “There be a lot of rumour floatin’ ‘bout ‘bout yeh two, yeh know?” “All false,” Satori said stiffly, “I assure you.” “O. Now there be disappointin’ news.” “Are you making fun of me, Yuugi?” “I ain’t never o’ thought o’ that, lady-o.” “You’re taking pity on me,” Satori accused. Yuugi shrugged her bulky shoulders. “Only worryin’, lady-o; yeh know, friendly-like.” “Well then ‘friendly-like’ stop it, why don’t you? Garion,” the hostess snapped at the blond man. “Why don’t you go and see if you aren’t someplace else?” “I was reading,” the man complained. “As a matter of fact, yes, you were. Go do it somewhere else if you absolutely can’t be interrupted. Now, Garion,” she urged. “Scoot.” “... Very well.” He rose. “Should I—” “Yes, Garion. Quit asking questions you already know the answers to.” “Very well.” “I’ll be here. Give us half an hour or about and I’ll be yours again, I promise. And, please,” she said gently, “stop with these kinds of thoughts, all right? I’m not planning on disappearing anywhere tonight.” “... Very well.” “As a matter of fact, yes, it would be very well.” She smiled. “Thank you, Garion. Now go.” “As you wish.”
After that he inclined his head, to Satori, to Yuugi next; the horned woman raised a hand in mute apology and winked. Then the stern Garion left the room, pulled close the door behind him, and on went to seek diversion elsewhere. The halls were dark still, but even now behind closed doors the laughs of the devilish guest echoed loud off the walls.
And till they were gone, our boy resolved, he should not return.
Thereupon ended the second encounter.
The last loomed close now. Then would come the time of preparation.
>>8576 Ain't never would o’ thought o’ that meself, friend-o. Yer right, though. Good memory. I needs be after readin’ Polgara again some time. Rereading the Seeress of Kell at the mo’. One thing I dislike about Eddings’s writing is his gratuitous expyfication/copypasteing of female personalities. Cyradis’s lines could very well be spoken by Pol, Velvet, Ce’Nedra or any other female in the series, really. You’d have thought with his wife’s help he’d manage a wider variety of personalities. Unless they’re all expys of his wife. Now there's an awful thought. Still, it’s a nice read. I hope the same can be said of this story ;__; sniffle sniffle sobHA! You thought I’d seriously fish for positive comments here, didn’t you! Got you that time, Mr Reader!
Anyway, stay you frosty, my dear, dear ones. And don’t get hammered as often as I do. It's bad for your health.
>>8582 If these are your biggest complaints, I should be pretty proud of myself. Mention the typos and I'll have your bloody head off. Then mine. And then neither of us will see the end of this story. So don't do it, man. I'm loyally warning you.
>>8592 True. A little bit. The main cast was still a bunch of expys from the previous books, though (expies? expye?). Leitha = Taiba, Eliar = Kalten, Andine = Ce'Nedra/Ehlana, Bheid = Relg, Althie = Silk, Em = Flute. Em was sweet as candyfloss, however, so we can forgive her for not being entirely original. There was, now that I recall, one story in /eientei/ that reminded me closely of Em and Althalus's relationship. Adorable little thing.
>>8589 Now, that's just stroking my e-peen with a big fluffy feather and you know it.
Fled so our Garion, from those riotous laughs; and though he would sooner die than say he was fleeing, all the same his feet carried him away toward the great library, where dim lay in store for him silence and peace, for reading and waiting both.
And something else also; for another sought today to breathe the dust of olden lore-tomes, and she pranced now, in the shadows of the soaring book-shelves, even as a child might prance among the stalls at a summer fair. And her golden dress seemed to twinkle in the dark, and, too, did her joyous eyes and face. A ray of light fell upon her dancing shape from the door, where, in mute wonder, now stood our solitary boy. At once the girl halted in her dance, stamped her firm-soled shoes on the floor-stones, gave a cry of delight: “Dias! Dias Bartolomeu!” and, afore her voice were even allowed to melt away in the shadows, she launched forth a jolly rush, and flew cheering into Garion’s arms.
“Dias!” she cried again, her arms seeking out his shoulders. “Dias-Dias!” “Koishi,” the blond man answered with some apprehension. The grey-tressed girl nuzzled the front of his thick woollen doublet for some more few moments before she spoke. Then she looked up at his face and smiled, and the smile was like the stars in the night. “Dias!” Again she said the name. “Well met! Well met, isn’t it?” “So it would seem,” the blond man replied. “Well met, then! I was, here: looking,” she revealed. “Snuck in, I had. Into the house. I thought: nobody had seen! Then! Then I see: Dias. Had Dias seen?” “No.” “No? Had Dias heard, then?” “No,” Garion said once more. “I had thought to read, here. I intruded upon you by mere chance.” “Ah,” the girl understood. “Then nobody had seen.” “Not until now, no.” “Dias can see, though,” she said. “And intrude. I won’t mind. We’re like siblings, after all: like sister! And brother, too. These are we. Aren’t they, no?” “True.” “So they are! Koishi and Dias! Siblings.” She nudged at his chest once again with her tan nose and cheeks. “Siblings are super good, I think,” she mused in an undertone. “A sister you can have talks with and you’re not lonely, but a brother is bigger and you can hug him and it feels good. A sister is small and thin, so not as good—even big sister. Silly, no? Still small, even if big. Silly.” “... I suppose.”
There was a long pause while Garion gathered his thought.
At length, he spoke: “You should not do this, little sister.” Koishi turned her little head upward and to the side. “What this?” There was puzzlement in her bright loving eyes. She did not mark that he was touching her small hips with both hands, pushing at them ever so lightly that she would come down. “You should not embrace so recklessly,” he gave up. “Ah?” Koishi did not see his meaning. “Someone might be watching,” he explained, as was indeed true. “Ah!” That she recognised. “They might. Dias is right. Someone might see. Tell big sister Satori. Or she might see. It wouldn’t be too well, would it? She gets ideas. Sometimes she does. Silly ideas. She may yell. She does when she gets ideas. The silly ones, that is.” “Well then?” Garion urged. “Then?” Koishi repeated. “Then-then?” “...” “Dias?” Garion grunted inwardly. “Then release me, little sister.” “Ah!” she said with a little start. “Then release! Yes. Should release.” She did just that. “There!” she said next, smiling and drawing away, “released. Will Dias forgive little sister?” “What for?” Garion questioned, fixing his rumpled doublet. “See,” Koishi said, “big sister Satori – she says a thing.” “A thing?” “A thing. Yes. A thing: that I like to play leapfrog with my thoughts. She says that thing. So I heard.” “Truly?” the blond man said blandly. “Yes. And I do—don’t I, Dias? Sorry, then. I am, for playing leapfrog. Sorry. Yes. A lot of things aren’t to be sorry for, but this is. I think. I have only been sorry sometimes. A few times, yes, but not many. Ah,” she sighed, “but there I go, playing again! I was here, looking. I was. Then Dias came, and—hop!—leapfrog. But I was looking, yes? – looky, looky, like so.” “... Indeed.” “I was looking... A book!” she exclaimed. “There was a book I was looking—for, looking for. The book, yes. And the friend. Does Dias know?” “Know what?” “Ah?” she appeared confused for a second. “Ah. No, I meant: there was a friend. A friend, yes – outside, upside. Topside. A friend of Koishi, yes. Does Dias know? A big hat, long hair. That friend. Black-and-White. She wanted the book. She said: Koishi brings the book and we are friends. But I think we are friends already. What does Dias think? Are we?” “... If you perceive it so,” Garion granted. Then cleared he his head of this bizarre conversation, and, intent firmly to move on, asked instead: “Were you after any particular book?” Koishi gave that some thought. “Yes,” she said finally. “The friend did not want any book. ‘Of the Deep,’ she said, the title was. ‘Herbiage.’ This was that.” “‘Herbiage of the Deep?’” Garion wanted to clarify. “Yes.” “Have you found it?” “No. I was only looking, there—but Dias came, and...” She trailed away uncharacteristically. “But I was looking!” she said with a resolute clinch of fists. “Yes—looking! And now, here, Dias. Dias can help. Will you help, Dias? Two pairs of eyes see more than one.” “... An it please you.” “Yes. I should be pleased—if Dias would help. On!” she raised those small fists, “let us look. There, first. Then there. Come!” she intreated, “we will look and we can talk.” She half-turned and shot the blond man an impish wink. “An it please Dias, that is.” “Yes,” Garion said simply.
And he went after the girl, whose cheery feet had already carried her off between the tall shelves. And he glanced this way and that, making show of looking for the elusive tome, while his mind and eye wandered elsewhere entirely.
“I wish to inquire something of you, little sister,” he stated suddenly after a while. Koishi spun from the row of books she had been studying to meet his intent gaze. “Yes?” she made an eager nod. “What is it, Dias?” “You have gone to the surface world since our last meeting,” the blond man said. “How is it there, pray tell?” “How? How.” The silver-haired girl gave it some thought. “There is rain and there is bloom. The birds sing and the bees buzz. The sun is warm, but the sky is cold, such as it is in spring.” “And the humans?” “Ah! The humans! Yes, I have been to human-places. There is food there, and place to sleep, and other stuffs. The human-places are good.” “Indeed.” “And there is talk, too,” Koishi went on. “There is talk. Of the hunt and the harvest and the graze. And the festival, too. Oh! There is much talk of the festival! Does Dias know? The festival is coming!” “Dias knows.” “And there are stalls, already! And the carts are bringing the food and the drink and the toys. Already!” she said in amazement, “even if the festival is only tomorrow. Koishi is going, of course. Tomorrow. Today I come back to prepare. I come back, yes. But later.” “Later?” “Later,” she confirmed. “Now I come for the book. Then I come for real. Now I am not here yet. Not for real.” “... I see.” “Ah.” She turned at him again and pleaded with big eyes: “But Dias won’t tell, will he? Big sister Satori might think bad if she knows. Ideas, yes? And yell. She does that, yes? I have said.” “I shall keep it a secret.” “Goody, goody. Now!” she assumed a serious face, “let us look on. The book won’t find itself.”
That even the shrewd Garion could not dispute.
They looked then, together. And once done, they parted ways with none of the usual good-bye; for even as Koishi had said, she would return yet the very same day, and Garion had never been fond of prolonged good-byes anyway.
So ended the third and last encounter.
Now afterwards Garion retired from the cool library, to return whence once he was driven out. A time had passed now, longer, in reality, even than he knew, and the loud guest was ought to have gone.
And she had.
There was but Satori in the warm bedchamber, and she was alone and reading herself, as though to kill time till the tardy Garion arrived.
“Garion,” she greeted the blond man when he came in. “Welcome back.” “Satori,” Garion replied, even as he surveyed the room for any hiding guest. “She’s gone, Garion,” the small hostess assured. Then she smiled. “See? I told you I’d be yours in no time, didn’t I? You, on the other hand... You were a while.” “I apologise.” “As a matter of fact, yes, I’m sure you do. It isn’t very gentlemanly to make a girl twiddle her thumbs waiting, Garion. Well, not for too long, anyway...” She cleared her throat. “Something kept you, perhaps?” she asked crisply. “I don’t imagine Utsuho showed up out of nowhere again and gave you more trouble?” “No.” “Something else, then?” “Is it very important?” the blond man muttered. “No. I guess not. I’m sorry, Garion. It’s your own time. I shouldn’t have pried. I... I got a little impatient, that’s all.” “... I apologise.” “So do I, Garion. I guess that makes us even?” “... Presumably.” “Great. Can you sit now? I am all but certain nobody else will disturb us this evening. And even if, we still have a whole night ahead of us. You aren’t doing your search tomorrow, are you? The festival is in the afternoon, and I thought that we might...” “Yes,” the blond man said simply. “Great. Great...” The pale hostess smiled under her tiny nose: a small, wan, almost timid smile. Then she exhaled, and was straight again. “All right,” she said with new zest. “There is tomorrow, and then there is today—tonight, for the sake of accuracy. Sit, Garion. You’ve made me wait. Now is your chance to make it up to me.” “Very well,” he said.
And then he sat.
And he made it up to her, even as she had told him, though he would have even had she not.
After all, tomorrow would be the day they would part.
And there was no saying, no saying indeed, when—or if, should he find his goal—he would return.
The next morn Garion woke with a gentle shake and a hand on his shoulder.
The hand was small and soft, and its shake diffident, but even so heavy a sleeper as the blond man must rouse when such a hand joggles his shoulder unrelenting for minutes on end. And rouse so our Garion, kneading at his eyes, and turned numb to his waker, to whom he mumbled hoarsely: “I am awake,” which was only ever so slight an overstatement. Then he took the small hand, which was still laid on him, by the delicate wrist and moved it aside.
“Time,” he demanded, stirring from the covers. The waker—Satori, who else?—made a quick estimation: “You’ve a few hours yet.” “Good.” “Am I too early?” she questioned. “You said you wanted some time in reserve, but I did keep you up somewhat long last night. Should I come back in an hour?” “It is good,” Garion insisted. “I thank you, Satori.” “Mm.” She murmured. “Very well, in that case. You’re welcome, Garion.”
The blond man rose to a sit and gave the small hostess a pensive, wordless look.
The length of her light-blue smock was creased and the lace seemed more rumpled than usual. A pair of ugly dark shadows circled her big violet eyes. There were tangles in her short, pale hair. A few strands fell in little spirals over her forehead and brow.
Absently, she drew the unruly curls to the side.
“Was there something, Garion?” she asked mildly. “No.” He let go of her hand. “Are you sure?” “Yes.” The blond man rose from the bed with a heave. “You have plans,” he stated more than asked. “I do.” “Tell.” “Well—” Satori glanced aside, a finger busy at her locks, “—I thought we might make breakfast together, for once.” “Understood. Anything else?” “Nothing, not really. You’ll be occupied anyway, won’t you? You’ll need to pack your things. You left some in my room, I believe. I’ll bring them here later. You’ll also want to take a bath before you go. Then you and the others will have to give some thought to how to get you out of the underworld in good time. I fear one of them might have to carry you. You’ll have to work it out beforehand. Also, Rin wanted—” “I said I would do as you command,” Garion interrupted. “This is what you thought of?” “I would not ‘command’ you, Garion,” Satori said with a scowl; “and I know this is your way of showing gratitude, but as a matter of fact, I’m afraid I’d have no use for it. I didn’t let you stay because I thought you might be useful to have around the house.” “This is not what you said when you offered it.” “I was just being careful, Garion,” she protested in a wounded tone. “Things have... changed. You are handy to have around, but I wouldn’t have thrown you out to the wolves if you weren’t. You know I wouldn’t. I’m not like that.” “No,” he agreed. “You are not.” “Thank you. I’m glad you’ve finally realised it.” “... I apologise.” “That’s all proper and all, I suppose,” the small hostess told him testily, “but were you going to stand there all day? Was this perhaps why you wanted that extra time?” Garion assumed a wronged expression. “It was not.” “Well, what are you standing for, then?” “I was waiting for you to leave.” Satori blinked. “What?” “I wish to change,” the blond man explained calmly. “To achieve that, I must undress first.” “I was under the impression you didn’t find nudity all that embarrassing.” “No,” he agreed. “But you did.” “Ah.” It might have been some trick of the light, or the mist of doze clouding his sight, but Garion saw the ashen cheeks of his hostess flare up momentarily in an innocent, girlish almost, pink. “Ah. Yes,” she conceded in an unnerved voice. “That is... That is quite correct. You’re right.” She sprang from the bed and rose clumsily to her feet. “As a matter of fact, yes, I should leave now.” “Wait in the kitchen,” Garion instructed. “I shall be there shortly.” “Yes, Garion. I will.” She approached the door and halted there. “You’ll show me how to make those scrambled eggs you made that one time. That is,” she added quickly, “if it isn’t too much trouble.” Garion nodded. “As you wish.” “I’ll make some preparations, if you don’t mind.” “As you wish,” he nodded again. “Try not to make me wait this time.” “As you wish,” the blond man nodded once more. “As a matter of fact, yes, I—”
She broke off mid-sentence.
There was a look in her otherworldly gorgeous eyes that said she wanted to finish, but ultimately some other emotion prevailed in the struggle, and she gave up what she had thought to say.
“Never mind,” she said in a hasty undertone as she pushed through the door. “As you wish,” Garion replied for the last time.
The door shut close with a note of unspoken offence.
Then the blond man was one in the room.
With the peevish girl at last gone, he addressed himself to matters more mundane. Cracking still from the sleepy joints he turned out sluggishly of his sleeping-clothes and wriggled into house-ones. When done, he made the bed – tidied the covers, spread the eiderdown and arranged the pillows in a pleasant pattern. As an afterthought, he touched shortly the spot where the small hostess had sat until just recently.
The mattress was warm and indented rather deeply for merely a quick sit.
This, naturally, was of little import to Garion, and truly, of no impact. There was no harm done, no harm received; and though one might dash oneself to pieces sooner than make him say it, Garion was contented with how things had turned out. As he had purposed the previous night: he would fulfil whatever wish the small hostess burdened him with. But, alas for her, it did not mean he would submit completely. Indeed, even should he wish, he might not – one should not allow such a thing to pass.
Now thereafter Garion’s remaining time in the sunken manor was fleet but fairly peaceful also.
There was only minute talk between he and Satori when they busied, shoulder-to-shoulder, at the foods and the dishes in the kitchen. There seemed not to be need of it. The still-bedraggled hostess watched with lukewarm curiosity how the blond man broke and whisked the eggs, how he mixed with them the cheese and the spices, and how he poured them and handled the hot pan; only seldom did she chime in with a spare question or remark, satisfied otherwise by silence and with silence obliging.
They ate alone, at the narrow kitchen-table, with only one another for company. There was not talk here, either, as they ate: across from one another seated and like one another tacit. It was but afterward, long after it, that Satori spoke up: a stray remark, but artificial in its sound.
“Your hair is long,” she said. Garion felt a testing hand to his dry, flaxen strands. “True,” he admitted blandly. “You should have it cut,” Satori advised. “... Presumably.”
There was a long and weighty pause.
Then Garion cleared his throat. “Have you done it before?” he asked of the unspeaking hostess. “Cut hair.” “As a matter of fact,” she replied incuriously, “yes, I have. Why, I have cut Koishi’s hair, and Rin’s and Okuu’s for as long as I can recall. You’ll notice they still have all their ears attached. I should think I know how to work a pair of scissors.” “I understand.”
Another burdensome pause followed.
“Would you...” Garion began. “Yes, Garion?” “Would you be willing?” he inquired. “To cut my hair.” Satori considered the question for a moment. “Why,” she said in a disinterested tone, “I don’t think I’d mind a whole lot. Why do you ask?” “Could you, then?” “I wonder? Are you sure you can dawdle like so, though, Garion? You’re going away in just a few hours. You’ve yet to pack, even, am I not mistaken? Are you absolutely positive you want to spend your precious, precious time on some vain fancifying of your... self...” She fell quiet under Garion’s bleak stare. A weak smile then bent her lips; a smile meant, it appeared, more for her own silliness rather than the firm-willed young man. “I’m sorry, Garion,” she apologised in a soft voice. “I’m in a peculiar kind of mood today. I’m sorry for all this paltering. Of course I can cut your hair. I’d... maybe like to, even. You do like a big blond rug, you realise.” “I recall your saying so once before,” Garion observed. “That’s likely because it’s true, Garion. Come,” she rose and said; “let’s take it to the bathroom. I have all we’ll need there. Oh, and don’t mind the dishes,” she added. “I’ll do them later. I’m going to have lots of time after you’ve gone, after all.”
Garion did not protest.
And in silence yet again, they filed out of the now-familiar kitchen; neither talk nor hurry touching their minds.
And they walked the unlit hallways, diffident like so, and their paces carried far in the darkness.
There appeared something on the tousled hostess’s mind that she wished to say—maybe ask—but where there would have been voice to her thoughts already had this been another day, now oddly sealed were her ashen lips; and her slipper-shod feet shuffled along, bumping into each other, lost in some awkward wonder, even as was she. And Garion—Garion would not speak, either; for that was his rule, and he was a man of rules.
At last they arrived at the spacious bath-room and, in that maladroit muteness still, went both inside. The door was closed, then locked.
Satori drew a chair from one corner of the room and dimly gestured Garion to sit.
And Garion did sit, watching all the while as the small hostess gathered the tool she would need.
What happened after that was private, very private—one might even chance to say: intimate.
Then the small hostess swept up what mess they had made, and in soft, dreamy steps left, while Garion made ready to bathe.
T’was a long hour afore finally he emerged; and he was fresh now, strait-laced and clean-shaved. And though he had been intent to attend his own affairs at once, now he found that Satori had gone nowhere in the meanwhile; and she waited, cross-armed and tipped against one wall, her tiny lips screwed and her beautiful eyes closed.
“Satori?” Garion said in surprise. The eyes opened then, and the small hostess stood upright and answered: “Garion. You sure like to soak, don’t y—” But then she broke off, and her eyes widened. “Garion?” she said, disbelieving. “You... You’ve shaved?” “... Yes,” the blond man said uncertainly. “Why?” But the small hostess did not reply. On nervous feet she approached; in awed disbelief touched his smooth cheek. “Satori?” Garion was alarmed. “You... You look at least ten years younger,” the small hostess marvelled quietly. “You do. Why have you never before...? Ah,” she made a gasp and recoiled, remembering herself. “I’m—I’m sorry. This... This is just really unexpected, that’s all. You’ve surprised me.” “... I might have,” Garion conceded. “You did. You just... You look so much younger like this. I had thought... How old are you, anyway?” The blond man turned his steel-grey gaze away. “I cannot say.” “What do you mean?” “I meant what I said,” he drawled through clenched teeth. “Ah. I... I see. Yes. That’s... perfectly understandable.” The small hostess sighed, as she mastered herself anew. “As a matter of fact, yes, that’s only natural. You’ve been through a lot.” “... If so you say.” “I do. It was stupid of me to ask. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me, Garion? As I said, I’m in an odd mood today. I shouldn’t be bothering you with all this. I’m being a bad host.” “You are not,” the blond man disagreed. “I am, Garion; right now I’m just doing a lot of unnecessary things. I just—”
She wanted to explain.
But alas, she never would; for at that moment another joined their gathering, and lay it on new course altogether.
Out of the dark she came; out of the dark she seized: around the waist, she locked the tiny hostess in a rough embrace, with droll arms and even droller laugh.
Satori gave a shrill cry. “Koishi?!” A silver-haired head peered from under her arms in response; and indeed, the head was of the scatter-brained little sister, who giggled even now, and grinned at her own mischief. “Sister!” she greeted the squirming Satori. “And Dias. Hello.” “You said your hello yesterday,” the hostess chided. “Also, his name is not—” “Oh!” Koishi hushed, “shush, now. Dias,” she said again to Garion. “Hello.” “... Good day,” the blond man obliged. “Good day!” Koishi said after him. “It is. It is, no? Dias agrees. Are you ready, Dias?” “Almost,” Garion assured. “And you, little sister?” “Almost,” she repeated. “Almost, yes. Also almost—like Dias.” “Good,” the blond man supposed. “Yes. Good, no? All is good. And we are, too. All good. Oh!” she remembered. “About the ready. Sister!” Satori grunted in her hold. “Get off—” Koishi shook her small head this way and that. “Later!” she said. “Now! Will you help?” “Help? What—” “Yes! Help. I have to dress, no? There is need to dress. Have to choose! Help. Will you? Choose, that is. Sister?” “Are you honestly going to—” Satori started. Koishi, however, swiftly squeezed the question out of her breast. “Sister!” she whined in great misery. “Help! I shall never choose myself! Please? Sister!” “Oh, for the love of—All right, fine!” the pale hostess surrendered, “fine, hang it! I’ll help! Now let me go! You’re crushing me!” “Yes!” the younger sister exulted. “Sister will help! And Dias, too,” she said to Garion. “Help. Need to choose. The more, the better. Dias can say which is good. Can he not?” “He can,” said Garion. “Will, then!” Koishi said triumphantly. “There are many to choose. Yes: many. And not much time.” She released Satori and smiled. “Come!” she said. “I will dress. You will sit. Wait. Then see. And I will show and you will tell. Then I will change again. Come!” she urged, already dashing off. “On! Not much time left.”
And then she was gone.
Garion held, calm and unmoved, till Satori regained her breath.
“Sisters!” she muttered. “She only wishes your attention,” Garion said unbidden, not knowing himself why. “Attention! She could wish it in a way that doesn’t involve strangling it out of me! Did you know something? She very nearly cracked my ribs this morning when I told her I wouldn’t be going to the...” “... Satori?” “... It’s nothing, Garion,” she said in a subdued voice. “Never mind. Can we just... go and get this all over with? I ache to lie down and rest, but I don’t believe I’ll be let to do so until after we’ve put all this idiocy behind us.” “... As you wish,” Garion said, not fully convinced. “You don’t need to be, Garion. As a matter of fact, it’ll all be fine if you just do as I say.” “... As you wish,” he conceded. “Quit that. Come on, let’s go, already.”
And then she went off ahead of him, not once looking back.
The chamber whither she had led him was cramped and bare-furnished.
There were dust-motes on the cupboards and shelves, and the chairs were old; the windows were dark, and there was scarce sign of use in this room, save the unmade bed and loose garments strewn about the cold floor. The couch where Koishi had put down him and her sister, too, was aged and patched, and it was hard and small; so small, in fact, that they were huddled together, uncomfortably almost close.
“And now!” Koishi intoned, swishing from behind a rayon changing screen. “Feast your eyes!”
The dress she wore now—twelfth so far—was made of silk and low-cut. A modern piece it was, and of modern etiquette, such as one should be inclined to think indecent. And yet she wore it with such bright and childish innocence, even a mind most corrupt could not think it harm.
“Well?” The merry girl spun on a heel. The rim of her dress leapt up and danced along with her. “Well-well? What say you both?” Satori sighed. A growing exasperation was clear in her voice. “Wouldn’t you say it’s a little too revealing?” she demanded of her giddy little sister. “Ah? Is it?” Koishi looked down at the glittering straps and the deep cleavage and laced skirt. “Is it?” she said again. “It is pretty, isn’t it? Too revealing? I don’t see. What does Dias think?” Garion felt Satori nudge at him suggestively. The suggestion was swift and sharp-edged. “It might be,” he concurred stiffly. Koishi set her small hands on her hips. “Dias, too! No fun!” Then she stormed behind the screen again.
Satori sighed another of those strained sighs.
“This is all pointless, you realise,” she whispered to Garion. “Truly? How?” “Too long a story to tell right now, I fear. You’ll see, probably. Quiet. Here she comes again.” “Well!” Koishi appeared again, beaming. “This one must do!” Satori palmed her face feebly. “Koishi...” “What?” Koishi was confused. “What? What?” “These aren’t for wearing... outside of the house. Would you please put them back where you found them? And you, Garion,” she pleaded of the blond man, “forget what you just saw. This isn’t what it seems.” “... If so you say.” “No good?” the smaller sister moaned. “They were pretty. I thought. Dias? Well?” She spread her arms, craving appraisal. “Koishi!” Satori scolded. “Yeees, big sister,” Koishi surrendered. “I will put them back. Oh!” a thought flashed in her head, “but what about the dress Dias has?” The small hostess blinked. “The what?” “The dress! Dias has one. In his backpack. There. I saw. When we met first. Then. I looked in the backpack, and there it was! A dress. There may be more but I could not—Ups.” She covered her mouth with both hands. “Mmh mhhsh shpmmhfft fff shffah. Shopffy.” Satori turned sharply at the blond man.
But hardly had she parted her pale lips to question him, when, with a crash of wood, the door came open and Rin and Utsuho strode in, post-haste.
They were both clothed in long flowery robes, tied at the waist with broad belts of red and purple satin.
“Master Koishi!” Rin spoke first once they came in. “The time! Ah! Master Satori,” she said, noticing the small hostess. “And little brother. Good that little sister could find all of them here.” “What is it, Rin?” Satori’s tone was none too pleasant. “Ah, it is just that, Master Satori, that the time is short. Okuu and little sister, and Master Koishi and little brother must make ready at once, lest they be late to the festival.” “What are you saying, Rin? Isn’t it just barely after noon?” “Ah,” the cat-eared girl made a troubled smile, “little sister never told Master Satori, did she? Above the time is evening, now. After dusk, little sister should believe.” “What? But we just woke up a few hours ago!” “There is a difference in time,” Rin explained. “When Master Satori goes to sleep it is dawning in the surface world, already—usually, that is.” She grinned roguishly. “It is even worse now that little brother has made himself at home in Master Satori’s—” “That will be enough, Rin,” Satori warned. “Garion,” she turned to the young man, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know—” “You are not at fault.” He went to his feet and addressed the two robed girls. “I apologise. I should have known sooner. What is our time?” “The festival has since started, little sister thinks,” Rin replied. “They shall miss big part of it should they tarry, little sister and little brother both. The flight is fast, but it is a ways, still.” “I will gather my things,” Garion declared. “I’ll get the ones you left in my room,” Satori offered. “Go. I’ll bring them to you.” “I shall,” the blond man said as he went through the door. “Hurry!” Utsuho shouted after him. “Yes, little brother!” Rin joined her. “Run!”
And Garion ran.
And so it came to pass that in a run did his time in the underground mansion come to an end.
They were a short-breathed group when they gathered in front of the house: he, Rin, Koishi and Utsuho all. The winged girl loosened her robe and spread her enormous wings to the hot winds of the volcanic cavern.
“Ah!” she called in a dreamy voice. “This is the best!” Garion spoke with the cat-girl on the side. “I do not fly, little sister,” he told her gravely. “Yes, so does little sister remember. ‘All humans’ place is on the ground,’ little brother said. A wise thought then, but not now.” She stole a glance at her winged companion. “That one would carry little brother should he ask—but he should not. She has a penchant for dropping what heavy thing you put in her hand. Master Koishi, too, now that little sister thinks.” “What do you propose?” “That little sister carries him. Or rides, might she use the term exactly. Here!” she brought the flat of her hand on the rust-spattered wheelbarrow that stood at her side; “this will be who carries little brother: little sister and her trusty barrow.” “... You mock me,” Garion accused. “It is the only way,” Rin protested. “And believe little sister when she says it is the best also. She would be bereft should little brother plummet to his death, dropped by Okuu or Master Koishi. Now! Will he sit or not?”
Garion muttered a few unflattering words then clamped his mouth shut.
Only after he had found a position that would lessen the malaise of such uncouth form of travel did the question cross his mind:
“Where is Miss Satori?” “Ah,” Rin replied, looking back toward the house. “Master Satori told little sister a while ago that she was feeling unwell. Gone to lie down, rest – that’s what little sister heard her say. Sleep, perhaps. She smelled of lack of sleep today. Why does little brother ask now?” “I did not say goodbye.” “Will little brother want to go back and say it? Okuu and Master Koishi may wait. The other things may not.”
Garion thought about it.
The thought was long and hard.
“No,” he said at length. “There was delay enough. We should go.” “Is little brother sure?” Rin asked playfully. “Master Satori won’t hold a grudge, but he may yet—” “I am sure, Rin,” Garion said. “Go.” It was better this way. Rin shrugged. “It will be even as little brother wills it. Okuu! Master Koishi!” she bellowed at the other two. “He is ready! To the air! Rin and he will be right behind! The festival awaits!” She winked at the blond man sprawled in the barrow. “Or not! Things like that tend to run instead. Well now! Hold on tight. The wind may be strong tonight.”