There was neither star nor moon when they cleared the confines of the twisting caves.
And suddenly there were no dark walls, no more black ceilings hanging ponderously aloft, a weight of a thousand tonnes of earth and stone bearing down on one’s head from every square inch above. And the world was tall and wide, beautiful and limitless. The evening was in full wane now, and the night was in reign, cold, though warmer still than the deep underground.
Garion breathed deeper the cool rain-scented air.
A long time had passed since last he had seen the trees and the mountains, the grass and the sky. A long time it had been since he walked in the surface world; and such was his wonder that he paid but the scantest attention to the yawning chasm whence they arose, which loomed now behind: a rent in the green expanse of beech- and oak-wood. The eyes of the blond man and his roguish cat-eared chauffeur, however, were locked ahead: where a distant hill loomed and glowed, like a star borne from dark earth.
And what a star that was!
The hill itself sparkled with dozens of lamps and small fires, but even at its foot snaked a comet-like tail of even more lights: tens, hundreds of stalls and attractions spread along the meandering highway that joined the shrine and the town and the rest of the Land. And now that grey highway glowed with cheer and merriment, and even from so afar the music and the talk of dozens of adults and children alike could be heard, carried for miles by the wind.
“A sight for thirsty eyes!” said Rin with tangible excitement. “Truly,” Garion agreed in an awed voice.
They did not join the festivities directly, however.
A quarter-league from the highway Rin called Koishi and Utsuho to pull in and land in the thicket a goodly ways from the roadside. At first Garion was inclined to ask of the mischievous pet-girl to tell the reason for this abrupt detour, but the question was answered when Utsuho opened the top of her colourful robe to display the crimson orb embedded in her torso.
Then Rin laid a strangely incandescent hand to Utsuho’s chest, and the orb sank into the winged one’s breast, swallowed by the skin and the flesh; the same next happened to the great black wings that slid into her back with a wet sucking sound.
“This wouldn’t be a problem if Okuu could keep her robe closed at all times,” Rin remarked with a naughty smile, even as she “hid” her own ears and tail in the same manner. Utsuho puckered her lips. There was a hint of blush on her freckled cheeks. “It only gets hot sometimes!” she harrumphed. Rin grinned at that answer. “It shall be noted that which Okuu says is true,” she said gaily. “And Master Koishi,” she turned to the giddy little sister; “will she require Rin’s touch as well?” “I will use the usual method,” Koishi replied, her gaze unchangingly on the lights blinking between the trees and her voice vacant. “Yes. The usual. Usual is good.” “It shall be as Master Koishi wishes. What about little brother?” she turned lastly go Garion. “Would little brother like something removed as well? That silly frown, perhaps?” “I am not frowning,” the blond man protested. “That must mean the night is playing tricks on little sister’s eyes,” Rin admitted graciously. “Well! This is it, then. They are waiting like hounds in the slips, are they not? At any rate, little sister shouldn’t keep them any longer. They wish to see the stalls and the rest. As for little sister, she goes to the hilltop, to the shrine – to meet with... ah, acquaintances. Will little brother wish to accompany her? Master Satori told little sister what little brother hopes to find at the festival. She is willing to help, should little brother wish of her to.” “I thank you,” Garion assured, “but not yet. I will go there soon. I shall seek you then.” “It is little brother’s call. Then he will must excuse little sister now. Until we next meet!”
And then she took to the air again and shortly vanished through the treetops.
Garion looked to the remaining two.
“I’ll go this way,” Utsuho was saying. “I smelled sweets from this way.” “And I, this,” Koishi pointed in the opposite direction. “I saw a place where you can play.” “Then we’ll find each other later, after we’re tired,” the freckled girl suggested. “That way we won’t be able to tell Master Satori what one another was doing.” “A solid thought,” Koishi nodded with profound respect. “Done, then!” Utsuho said. “And done!”
They clashed open hands, and then went each their own way, wading through the brush, leaving Garion to his own decisions.
And the first of them he faced this very moment.
[ ] He went after Koishi. [ ] He went with Utsuho. [ ] He did not need a guide; he went alone.
But the decision was simple and Garion did not dally making more of it than it was.
Thus decided he shrugged off his heavy knapsack; then out of it he pulled a rough woollen burnouse, which he threw any-old-how over his travel-clothes. The burnouse was old and shabby, of nondescript colour; a splendid disguise it was, for those rare occasions when Garion did must go between his kinsfolk. A man in a cloak inspires suspicion in an on-looking eye, true; but it inspires fear also, and no townsman of whole mind accosts a fearsome stranger, so long as the stranger keeps out of their house and pocket. A cloak was, in this realm, as Garion had found, a splendid thing indeed.
Now clad fearsomely like so he shouldered again his precious luggage; and he waited, an idle minute or about, while the ardent two girls pushed through the undergrowth away on his left and right. They were gone before long, however, and once that was so, he himself started through the tall grass and the bush, forward: where there was light and crowd and opportunity.
The road flowed with revellers where he emerged. There were faces of all ages, and dress of every cut and colour, and toys and foods, and all the words in the world in the great talk that hovered over the great throng. The highway itself stood bordered by stalls of all imaginable sorts: from food and drink just to start, to books and toys and works of craftsmanship and blacksmiths. A hearty music played in the air, which was heavy with all manners of sweet scents, and the fair danced and laughed with it, even as fairs are wont to do.
Garion pulled up his deep hood and squeezed deftly into the undulating host.
As he began along the mobbed road he soon resolved to let his feet pick the direction rather than his eye. There was no reason for hurry now; for once our dutiful boy set to rest his customary vigilance and let the sounds and the sights swirl around him unnoticed. The crowd, as loud as colourful, paid no heed to his strange attire and quickly took him in as one of their own. The music played on, and hundreds of feet shuffled to its rhythm, and cheer filled the night.
And Garion walked on, too, his destination unknown.
A half-hour perhaps into this aimless walk was when he stopped first.
A booth had caught his wandering eye. A tumbledown booth it was, built with raw boards and nails and none of the splendour some other had boasted; but what it sold roused the boy’s interest. And what it sold were ropes and strings and cords, of various length and make, hanging in coils from crude hooks on the back-wall of the booth. The vendor, a seedy-looking man in a splotched apron, watched glumly as the cloaked Garion broke away from the ever-moving crowd and drew near; he twirled his thick black beard warily and eyed the blond boy with all but open mistrust.
“Good day,” said Garion and bowed, as was tradition in these parts. The vendor grunted. “Day,” he replied laconically. “You sell rope.” “Why—” the burly man skewed back at his merchandise, “—strike me blind, but that seems th’ case. Youn’ master be after wantin’ anythin’ in particular or jus’ lookin’?” “That depends.” “Don’t it always,” the surly rope-twister grunted again. “Well, if yer after jus’ gawkin’, make space t’least fer legit customers, a’ight? Yer blockin’ it all out fer ‘em other fellows, y’know.” “I apologise,” Garion said with another bow. “I wish to make a purchase.” “Now yer talkin’ talk.” The vendor rubbed his callused hands together. “Should o’ said that from th’ very start. What’s it then yer after, youn’ master?” “A length of rope.” “Natural. What sort?” “Treated,” the blond boy said, “that it won’t take off all of my skin if I rub against it too hard.” “Yer gon’ tie someone up, youn’ master?” Garion forced a thin smile. “Something, good craftsman. Something rather delicate.” The vendor lifted his big shoulders in a gesture of broad indifference. “Ain’t none of me b’ness, I guess,” he said. Then he rose ponderously from his rough-hewn stool and took one of the coils off of its hook. “This one, here—” he handed it to Garion, “—double hemp strand, soft as a sod’n baby’s buttock; boiled fer a day whole, pulled o’er a block, singed, washed and oiled with th’ best wax there is – not that it means anythin’ t’yeh, natural.” “Truly,” Garion agreed, testing the texture of the rope with the back of his wrist. It left only the faintest trace on his dark skin. “This is acceptable,” he concluded. “I will take it.” “Cert’nly. Cut it?” “Yes. A little over a yard will do.” The vendor sawed off the requested length of the rope and skilfully whipped the ends with strong twine. Coin changed hands. The craftsman brightened visibly hearing it jingle inside his apron’s pocket. “Hope yeh has good fun with whatever yer gon’ do with that there string,” he bantered in a much friendlier fashion. “As long as it doesn’t break,” Garion replied. “Now that’s jus’ bein’ insultin’, don’t yeh reckon?” “I meant no offence.” “Natural. Anythin’ else I kin do fer yeh?” “Yes, actually,” Garion admitted. “Whereabouts might I find way uphill?” The big vendor frowned. “And what b’ness d’yeh has up there, pray?” he asked. “There be no place fer humans up there, tonight. A festival of monsters it is, I tell yeh – no place fer good men such as me- and yeh-self.” “I thought the shrine maiden was ordained to exterminate monsters?” “An’ she does, gods bless ‘er good soul. ‘Cept tonight, natural – tonight’s a night when she’s suppesed t’ git alon’ with all o’ ‘em buggin’ buggers – play ball, drink tea an’ talk shop, all that rubbish. Where aroun’ is yeh from, not knowin’ such things?” “A distant place,” Garion replied indirectly. “Another o’ ‘em none-o’-mine b’nesses, huh? Well, youn’ master, if yeh wants yer bums eaten’ or somethin’, th’ stairs be up this here highway a ways. Yeh gots eyes all right, I kin’t much feature yeh kin very well miss ‘um.” “I thank you.” Garion bowed. “No charge,” grinned the vendor. “This time leastwise.” “You are kind.” Garion bowed a time again, this in large part to hide his grimace. “Fare well, good craftsman.” “Youn’ master as well.”
And that was the end of it.
Grumbling under his breath about this thing and that Garion re-joined with the rolling crowd and continued, somewhat less quiet now, on his vagabond way.
It took another haf-hour or more ere he halted again.
This halt, however, was less of a stray chance; for even from afar stood out from the colourful host its reason, and seeing it Garion veered nimbly off to the side, where a lone bench stood by the edge of the road, waiting for a tired traveller to sit and rest. There he sat, arms crossed, slumped low above his knees, from under the brim of his dark hood peering as a familiar green dress and black booties skirted by apace, unaware that they had missed a friend by but a length of an arm. Only after they had passed did the chary young man look up and see: that Rin was in the crowd, and that she was speaking animatedly to another at her side: a girl clad in like green, but silver-haired and at arms; a sword-sheath was tied at her belt, and her stride was powerful as she tore through the blithe throng. A sense of dread then stole over Garion, and he knew; he knew that one he must avoid, though he might not say why. One could have sensed her power even from afar, and the power meant trouble.
But to Garion it mattered not; he had but to move on and that was all.
And it happened so that beyond but the closest turn of the road he found the staircase which the mercenary rope-twister had told he would find. There was a gateway of a kind, tall and intricate, but weathered; and the steps, too, were old and crumbling: a hard climb they would prove in the dark, and indeed a long one: its end was lost on Garion’s eyes; for it was high above and the trees obscured the stairs’ end. There was no mistake, though; the halo of light over the treetops spoke volumes of the happenings aloft.
This was it: the Hakurei shrine, of which stories were told.
[ ] Garion mounted the stairs, careful not to slip. [ ] He did not; he would see all of the lower festival first.
[X] Garion mounted the stairs, careful not to slip.
And it was where his goal was tonight also.
Stout then set Garion his foot on the first stair, and then the second. The size of his pack swayed precariously as he mounted the sheer steps at a brisk speed; but his footing was sure, and his mind clear. He would not fall. The music and the hubbub below became hushed, and more hushed still, the further he ascended; but even from over above a new lay was heard: a spry lay, like more to a quick water-rush than the folk-dance tune played below. And so, with both airs sounding from front and back did Garion carry himself upward, his breath fading more and more with each high step.
About the half-way mark he ceased for a minute or indeed a few, to rest his burning lungs. Then he went on.
The lower festival was naught but out of a distant light when the peak of the stairs at last loomed from the darkness. There was great noise and glow beyond it, and the new music was loud now, lively and fast still, and it added to the row. There Garion spurned his tiring legs and leapt to the top of the staircase within a single breath. And what he saw there (once his eyes were clear of the fatigue-mist) all but took his breath away again.
What colour there was! And what wonder!
Naught but a poor sham was the festival below! There were dresses here, too, and food and drink, but what had Garion seen on the crowded highway paled in comparison to these rarities. All nearly fashion of wear could be seen on the guests—women mostly, as Garion remarked with some surprise—who milled about or sat upon bright rugs and blankets on the ground, busy at bowls and baskets and bottles, each more queerly clad than the other. And the shrine, squat and slant-roofed, stood vigil over the colourful guests, speckled with ribbons and banners and lampions of all shades of rainbow. The guests may not have been as many as there had been down below, but they offset the numbers with sheer diversity.
Thwarted by it all was our dear blond boy, though he would never confess to such a thing. But he was here on affairs of some significance, so he went regardless: not into the bulk of the revellers, but around instead, under the tree-shadows on the outskirts. As he walked he watched how the merrymakers all sat: in groups, it seemed, though they mixed here and there while they played and talked, some rowdier than others. There were some who he had known by sight or hearsay: Keine of the Human Village, its host and protector, and Eirin of the House of Eternity, nestled in the Bamboo Forest of the East, and a few others also, whose names eluded his memory. They were here all, humans and monsters alike, filling the night with mutual laughs and cheers.
A most bizarre sight it was, one should say, and so rare those tumultuous days, when a month gone by with no upset was basis for revelry.
A sharp command stopped Garion in his tracks.
A young figure stood in his way, red-clad and self-important, her hands set on her hips and her eyes ablaze. There was power to her presence: power such as even Garion could sense, and he held with no word, even as she had told him. There were ribbons in her brown hair, and her outfit betrayed her function.
This was the shrine maiden of Hakurei: warden and guardian of the realm.
Garion thought of bowing, but the fiery-red eyes left no illusions to what would happen should he move unbidden.
“What are you doing up here?” the shrine maiden demanded. The sound of her voice was youthful, but laden with authority beyond her years. “This isn’t a place for you. Get lost.” “I apologise,” Garion replied with great sincerity. “It was not my intent to intrude.” “Well, too late, friend,” she told him archly. “You’ve intruded already.” “I apologise,” the blond man said again. “Gods shall repay your manners in children,” she said with mock piety, “but you’re not welcome here tonight. Come pray some other time, friend. A week from now, perhaps; maybe they will have drunk the last of it by then.” “I am not here to pray.” “I stand corrected. You’ve no reason to be here in that case, boy. Scram. Go down-stairs if you’re looking for food and drink. You won’t find no one handing out alms here.” “That is not what I seek.” “You test my patience, stranger,” she told him, her look flinty. “I don’t care if you were here to beg charity or find your lost cat; this isn’t the right night for it. Turn around and leave—before I make you leave.” “If you will only listen—” “I’ll do what I very well please. And what I please right now is for you to leave.” “I wish only to speak with you.” “Are you trying to get under my skin? Go!” she barked, “for your own good, you deaf jackass! You have three seconds!” “I implore you—” But the shrine maiden was relentless. “One!” she counted, crossing her arms. “Grant me audience and I will be gone!” Garion felt himself become angry. “Go off! Now! Two!” “I need answers!” “Three! You asked for it!”
She stamped toward him, her fists clinched and aglow.
There was no other choice; he had to make himself known.
[ ] “I am Gawyn Trakand,” he would tell her, “and I come on behalf of one of your guests.” He would not say which, though. [ ] Or he could say he was “Atticus Finch,” here on a quest which the shrine maiden may aid. [ ] Although he might also say his name was “Takeshi Kovacs,” and that one Satori had sent him here, to convey her greetings and regards, for she herself had fallen to a fever and could not come, lest her condition—
“I don’t know that that’ll be necessary, Garion.”
The voice died in his throat.
A small, delicate hand slid into his and wrapped around his stiff fingers.
“Is this how you treat your guests, Hakurei?” a familiar voice said from his side. “Telling them to come away?” The shrine maiden blinked in astonishment. “You!” “The very same. Were you expecting some other, by chance?” “You’ve come.” “You’re stating the obvious, Hakurei. Are your brains out of sorts tonight?” The red-clothed girl glowered for a split-second, but then her lips broke out in a smirk. “You’ll forgive me,” she said sweetly; “I’ve had a few glasses. I’m supposed to see to that everybody gets along fine, but there’s some friends you just don’t turn down. And boy, they’re in dozens tonight.” “How droll. Well, you can go on your... toasts, if you wish. I won’t be trouble, you have my word.” “You got that right. You won’t. So try not to anger anybody tonight by accident, or I will straighten you out.” “Amazing adherence to duties from someone of your disposition.” “You’re on shaky ground, little one,” the shrine maiden hissed. “You’ll want to back off.” “Oh, you’re right. I’m sorry. I won’t do that again.” “You’d better not. I swear I’ll have you out of your hide next time. You!” she turned suddenly at the stupefied Garion; “what are you gawping at? I told you to be lost, didn’t I?” “I—” Garion began.
“Oh, do leave him alone, Hakurei,” Satori said. “He’s with me.”
The blond man and the shrine maiden both gaped at the smiling hostess.
As though to demonstrate just how dull she felt this whole ordeal to be she brushed her free hand through her neatly combed hair. There was a big coral brooch in that hair, pink to match the elegant robe covering her tiny frame. A pair of cute beige sandals peeked out from under that robe and showed her small feet. There was an uncommon glint in her eye and her lips seemed less pale than usual.
“With you?” the Hakurei exploded. “What, have you started taking humans in for your little zoo? Are you trying to make a big fat—” “No,” Satori answered before she could finish; “I’m not making a big fat joke on you.” “Then what is this? What is he? A—” “No, not that.” “Then a—” “Not that, either. Any other ideas?” The shrine maiden blanched. Satori’s smile grew. “And not that, either—not yet, anyway.” “You—!” “I’m not forcing him into anything, Hakurei,” the small hostess said. “Here,” she nudged at Garion, “tell her.” “Ah—” Garion coughed. “Yes.” “Yes what, Garion?” “I am... with you.” “What a nice thing to say. Are you satisfied, Hakurei? Will you stop molesting him now?”
But the shrine maiden did not respond.
Seething and mouthing vile curses she spun on her heel and stormed back in the direction whence she had come. There was an ugly red hue on her cheeks and steam was all but coming out of her ears.
“That felt good,” Satori said softly. Then she turned her beautiful violet eyes up at the shocked Garion. “Well?” she said. “Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Are you surprised?” Satori wanted to know. “... Startled,” corrected the blond man. Then he added: “Not very.” “I suppose.” The small hostess smiled. “After you’ve hammered the idea into my head for a full week...”
There came an abrupt crack of breaking glass and Garion turned his head reflexively at the source.
A golden-trussed figure in black and white was casting one after another mollifying gesture at the raging Hakurei, who was threatening with repeated violence a second tall bottle of expensive drink. A few guests turned also; but none spared more than the briefest laugh or quip and soon went all back to their previous interests. As did Garion. The small hostess waited him, her slim fingers flicking restlessly through her elegant hair.
With a cool almost sense of detachment he realised she was still gripping his rigid hand with her other one.
“Is that why you came?” he asked in a flat tone. Satori wavered briefly; her tiny smile dimmed. “Oh,” she breathed; “your harassing me with it for seven days straight? Not by a large margin, no.” The smile returned to her face. “I’m not that easily convinced.” “I see.” There was a short pause. “Aren’t you going to ask why, then?” Satori questioned. Garion gave her a narrow stare. The small hostess chuckled nervously. “You’re making this significantly less fun for me, you know,” she complained. “I lied just then,” she then confessed. “Your needling me every day might have swayed me—but only just a little.” “... I see.”
The band trailed away their headlong tune with a long fading decrescendo.
There were a few earnest claps; then the three musicians perched on a dais before the shrine inclined their hatted heads at one another and struck up a brand new air. A drawn violin note rang high and clear even above the bustling of the gathered host; a keyboard followed; and the trumpet also joined in the melancholy turn which spilled over the play-fraught courtyard like to a crawling mist.
The play, however, withered even as the song reached the assembled ears. And eyes were closed and glasses put down, and chins nodded to the tune, as though recalling scenes and stories from a time agone. There were no lyrics, but the lingering notes were more than enough, and they told tales such as might not be put into words.
“You didn’t say goodbye, Garion.”
The sudden accusation made the blond man start.
Almost unleashing that pent-up tension in an unsightly gasp, he spun to face once more the pale little hostess. “What did you say?” Satori faltered; her brows were knitted ever-so-lightly in a small scowl. But then courage found her anew and she spoke again: “You didn’t say goodbye,” she said once more. “You just disappeared—just like that. You don’t do that, Garion. You shouldn’t leave me... hanging like that.” “You disappeared first,” Garion remembered. “I only went to lie down, Garion,” Satori objected. “I wasn’t feeling my best. I didn’t catch much sleep. I was tired. I—” she hesitated, turning aside her deep violet eyes, “—I thought you’d come see me, that’s all.” There was a hurt expression on her little face. “I may not look the part,” she went on, “but you should know I’m very... I mean, there’s a reason why... Oh, what am I saying? I was upset with you, Garion,” she told the blond man crisply, “and I wanted to rub it in your face—with a rock maybe, or the sole of my shoe. But I cooled down along the way. And that’s where we are now. Are you pleased? You got what you wanted. You must be proud of yourself.” “I am not,” Garion replied; “furthermore, I never asked an explanation.” “You should have. You can’t begin to imagine how stressing this all is for me.” “... I apologise.” “Your apologies are cheap, Garion,” she chided. “You’ve smothered me with so many over the last two weeks that I can hardly tell the one from the other. As a matter of fact, I’m starting to think you don’t even mean them.” Garion was silent. “Great,” Satori said wryly, “we’re off to a nice new start.” “What would you have me do?” the blond man asked, resigned. “You remember what you promised last night, don’t you?” “That I should do however you wish, for the day might mark our good-bye.” “That day is still here.” “... True.” “You have your answer, then.” She looked at his heavy backpack. “You can leave that big thing there by the shrine,” she said. “You won’t be needing it just yet.” Garion was dismayed by the notion. “Quit worrying at it,” Satori sighed. “No one is going to steal it. As a matter of fact, they’re more likely to stuff it with some nasty surprise than help themselves to whatever treasures you hide inside so jealously.” “Still—” “Should I take it and put it up in a tree for you?” “... No.” “Then take it off, already.” “... As you wish,” the blond man yielded.
Aghast still mildly at the idea of leaving his only possessions with these strangers he wriggled out of the rough-sewn knapsack and walked a distance to the shrine, where he laid it in an unobtrusive spot.
“What now?” he asked once he returned to the frowning hostess. “Take me away from here,” she said. “This collective melancholy sets my teeth on the edge.” “As you wish. The festival below?” he proposed. “As good a place as any, I guess,” Satori replied, offhand on the face, but the touch of just the faintest unease in her voice was not lost on Garion’s keen ears.
All the same, he made naught of it; and he started instead, back toward the torturous staircase whose memory even now caused his knee-joints to scream in outrage. If ever had Garion envied the mystical ability to fly, it was now. But he had promised, and now he was paying.
The small hostess launched after him at a wobbly trot.
“Slow down!” she called. “These shoes weren’t made with running in mind.” “... I apologise,” he replied mechanically. “Garion, please; don’t apologise. Slow down.” “... As you wish.” He stopped. Satori caught up with him quickly. “You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?” she said in an injured tone. “No.” “You are. Are you angry?” “... No.” “I don’t believe you. Come here. Hold my hand.” “What?” “Hold my hand, Garion,” she said again. “I don’t want to lose you anywhere. You held it back there just fine. Couldn’t you do it again?” “I was distraught.” “That’s all right. Take my hand.” “...” “Take my hand, Garion,” she ordered. “Nobody here will remember you anyway. Why don’t you fold up all this propriety and store it away in a closet someplace?” Then, all the imperious quality gone from her lovely voice, she murmured: “Please? Garion?”
And without further protest Garion took her extended hand.
There was no more talk between them as they descended the great flight of stairs down to the brightly-lit highway.
The sombre music of the upper festival grew dim at their backs as they went lower and lower still; from ahead meanwhile the loud and lively tune of the stalls rose from silence at a steady pace. But contrary, the small hostess did not liven with it; indeed, the more they neared the noisy town’s crowd, the more and more her sandaled feet dragged behind. At last, when the down end of the stairs and the first colourful booths loomed in sight, they ceased completely.
“Garion,” Satori said quietly. The blond man turned obediently. “Yes?” The small hostess was chewing on her delicate lips. “Give me your cloak,” she muttered. “What?” Garion was confused. “Give me your cloak, Garion.” “Why—” “Just give me the deuced cloak!” The sudden shout set chill to the blond man’s heart.
Without protest he slid out of his cloak and let the pale Satori have it.
The hostess drew the long cloth around her small shoulders and fastened it tightly around her tiny chest and waist, seeing doubly that the cords and wires of her glaring orb were all safely concealed beneath the thick-spun collar and folds.
“You will swelter,” Garion noted blandly. “You were sweating already.” “I’ll manage.” She pulled the adorably oversized hood over her head. “This is nothing.” “Are you ready?” “I was born ready, Garion. Hand.” “As you wish,” he said and took hold of her small hand again. The hand was trembling. “We may yet go back if you wish,” he offered. “You told me it would all be all right,” Satori reminded him. “No, Garion. You misunderstand.” “What do I misunderstand?” “Everything. Can we go, already?” she urged. “All this dilly-dallying ages me terribly.” “... As you wish.”
And then they came down the last number of steps and, like a pair hand-in-hand, joined with the merry crowd.
>>8816 Now, if I said that was indeed the case, you might get the impression the story is on rails and your choices have no impact on its direction, no? And you wouldn’t like that a lot, would you? So, as you can see yourself, I can neither confirm nor disprove that suspicion. Sorry! Also, I saw that post. You know the one. You think this is a motherfucking romance, nigga? You think this is romance? I’ll rip your balls off, man! I’ll tear your heart out!
Ahem. Anyway! Sorry for not updating yesterday. Friday happened. A lot of mans were shot. Here be your dose of pretentious narrative for the day. Now with a choice that may or may not matter in the slightest!
Now among the crowd they walked, hushed both by the blinking lights and the wonderments.
And it seemed to Garion that with every minute in pass the small hostess pushed harder into his side, pinched tighter his limber hand. And there was no way to see her little face, obscured by the dark hood as it was, but it was plain that rather than the inspiriting sights her eyes were downcast instead, downcast at the ground, watching how her small feet switched in a nerveless scuffling gait. She was silent and cowed, but Garion did not speak about it; he only led the frightful little Satori along, even as she had charged him, and mused inwardly at idle topics. A long while had gone since they started walking like so, but time, it seemed, was not physic to the pale lady’s forlorn fright.
At last she also came to understand that.
“This isn’t working,” Garion heard a low whisper. There was a feeble tug on his busy arm. The blond boy drew up gently and asked the timid hostess what was the stoppage. “I’m hungry, Garion,” she told him in a wooden voice. “Aren’t you?” “No.” “Well,” the hostess was persistent, “but I’m still. Won’t you buy me something?” “I?” “Yes, you.” A thought seemed to occur to her right then. “As a matter of fact,” she went on to say, “you ought to be more or less obliged to treat me to leastwise something small. I fed you for those two last weeks, didn’t I?” There was a certain incongruity to that statement, but Garion let it slide. “Very well,” he said. “I will give you money.” “No, no!” her answer was thoughtless, even panicked. “No, Garion, you buy it, I’ll—I’ll even give you money, bother, just—” She broke off and her gaze flared. “Garion?” “Yes.” “I just happened to remember something.” “Yes?” “You told me—the day you came to my house—that you had no money. Am I remembering correctly?” “Yes.” “Then—” “I lied,” the blond man said simply. There was a surly pause under the wide hood. “You’re very good at lying,” Satori murmured finally. “Yes,” Garion agreed. “Was there something specific you wished to eat?” he followed up smoothly. “There are many food-booths around.” “Ah.” The small hostess started lightly. “Ah, um, yes. I wanted—” her eyes darted across the nearest stalls, “—that thing, there. A... toffee apple?” “Very well,” said Garion, showing her his free hand. Satori was baffled. “Give me money,” Garion said flatly. “You said you would ” “You...” Satori groaned. Then she dug under the cloak for her pockets. “I really hate you so, sometimes, did you know that?” An irritable hint traced in her voice, so unlike the meek first whisper. “There!” she slapped a few coins onto his outstretched palm, “—this should about cover it. Now go buy me the deuced apple, already. And don’t even think of doing this ever again!” “As you wish,” he told her, his face completely straight. Then, even as he began to steer her toward the richly-set sweet-stuffs booth, he recalled yet another thing. “I will need both my hands for this,” he said over his shoulder. “Would you—” “You’re awful, did you know that?” Satori was muttering. “... I apologise,” he assured her, “but it is true.” “Oh, be gone! All right—” she freed his hand, “—but be quick about it, thank you very much.” “As you wish.” There was a moment of timid silence. “... Thank you.” “You have already,” Garion pointed out. “Shush,” the small hostess murmured. “Apple.”
So it came to be that with the small hostess clinging to his back in lieu of the hand our dear boy bought a single red candy apple from the fat and puffy-faced sweets-maker owning the booth.
There were a few warm coins of change, but the hooded Satori made no issue of having them back as they retreated off to the side a ways, to the shadow of the trees and away from the stalls and the lamps. There the small hostess took the glistening red apple from the blond man’s hands and sampled it with a look of subdued anticipation on her dainty features.
“Oh my,” she exclaimed, her eyes suddenly alight. “This is great! Won’t you have a bite?” She held out the brilliant red candy to the absent-stared Garion. The blond man lurched, breaking out of the thought he was having, and looked more attentively at the treat being offered to him by the small thin-armed hostess. “I dislike sweets,” he said after a short while. “This is very good though,” Satori insisted. “Still.” “Give it a try, Garion. You’ll see.” “... Very well,” the blond man said blandly as he dropped to one knee. “Not like this,” Satori reproved; “you look like you’re my older brother this way.” “This bothers you?” “As a matter of fact,” she told him, “yes, yes it does—for reasons you don’t need to know. Get up and lean instead, please. Give me the pleasure, Garion.” “... As you wish.”
The blond man stood; then he placed one hand on Satori’s small shoulder, bent down and took a bite out of the gleaming candy.
The bite was agreeable first, but quickly the cloying aftertaste spread through Garion’s mouth like a pestilence, and he all but winced at how nauseatingly sweet it was. The fact alone filled him to brim with grim chagrin: it would be hours till the sickly taste washed out of his tongue.
“You really do dislike sweets,” said the downhearted Satori. “Yes,” Garion choked on his reply. “I do.” The small hostess looked ruefully at the shiny treat, then again at the spluttering blond man. Then she sighed. “I could try and be more bitter from now on, if you’d like,” she whispered as though to no one but herself. “You are fine as you are,” Garion grunted from the side, still spitting out bits and pieces of the red candy coating. “You weren’t supposed to hear that,” Satori complained. The boy wiped his sticky lips and straightened. “You wanted me to answer.” “Yes,” she admitted. “As a matter of fact, yes, I did. You still weren’t supposed to hear it. That’s an awful thing you did, you know.” “You wanted me to answer,” the blond man wanted to say again. But the small hostess would not have it. “I mean the candy, Garion,” she chided. “You don’t do that. You don’t. You could have... Well, you probably couldn’t have given it back to me, I don’t think, but...” “You wanted me to taste,” Garion took a stand. “You could have not spat it out.” “I told you I did not tolerate sweets.” “As a matter of fact, yes – you did. All the same, you... well, you... Oh, never mind,” she gave up. “I guess I’m just bitter because it was my money.” A second or two passed before she realised what she had said. “Oh, be quiet, you.”
One could not say no.
Now then after that the small hostess finished inchmeal the sweet red apple, and her face betrayed such delight in every petite bite that it all but seemed she wished to compensate for Garion’s frankly distasteful deed. All the while the incriminated boy watcher her tiny hands and mouth at work with a bland stripe of face; and though his mind was clouded with dark thought, he let none of it become outward on himself, lest it provokes between them yet more unneeded affray.
After she had swallowed the last of the sweet treat, he spoke: “Are you ready to continue?” he asked in a placid manner. Satori did not answer at first; she glanced shortly at the motley crowd and then made a quiet reply: “Yes, I... I guess so.” There was still fearful apprehension in her voice. “You do not have to do this,” Garion preferred. “But I want to, Garion.” “You are afraid of crowds,” he said brusquely. Satori recoiled as if stung. “I’m not!” “You are.” “I’m—I’m not, really!” “Satori.” “... All right, maybe—maybe just a little.” She pulled the hood lower over her eyes. “Shall we go back?” Garion asked. “No.” Satori let out a big breath. “I’ll be fine, Garion,” she then said. “I want to do this. You just... do as I say. I’ll be just all right. You said I would be, and I will. You can stop worrying.” “I was not.” “I know.” Satori screwed up her lips. “I only said that because it makes me feel better about myself. Anyway, let’s—let’s just go, now. I can do this, Garion. I know I can. You, too. You know.”
Garion mouthed a choice of few unattractive words, then, his mouth now sealed as close as a vault of ancient secrets, took once more hold of Satori’s dainty hand and led her gently back unto the loud motley crowd.
The hand felt very small and soft in his, and, though he would sooner take his life than say it, it was, all plaints aside, not the worst thing to hold; on the whole, it was even, in some very foolish and unpractical way, pleasant.
They had walked a time since then (but not too long a one) when again they were made to stop.
A thunderous call pealed out behind their backs as they were ambling past a bustling booth where children played at catching goldfish from a vast glass tank under the blest watch of their proud parents. The call was as loud as a thunderclap; several heads turned in mild shock, and Garion also was stayed dead fast in his tracks.
“Ho, Corin!” was the call. And the voice which uttered it swelled with great joy.
The blond boy spun at once, his eyes wide with surprise. A tall, middle-aged and heavy-set man was ploughing at a wild chase through the alarmed throng, his face all but split by a wide merry grin.
“Michael!” Garion called back. “Ho!”
Unthinking perhaps he released the small hostess’s hand and ran out to meet the oncoming man. The two flew into a rough joyous bear-hug. They were almost the same height, and their hair was plain as plain the selfsame golden blond, sprinkled here and there with snowy white in the older man’s case.
“What mighty winds have blown you here, you vagrant pup?” he asked of Garion. “The festival, old wolf,” Garion replied with a beaming smile. “The noise reached me all the way across the Land.” The one named Michael laughed. “How I’ve missed you, boy!” He set Garion back on the ground and gave him a long examining look. “You’ve grown,” he said. “I should think so,” Garion grinned. “The longer my legs, the faster I can run away again.” “You mangy old dog! Rachel would have you spanked.” “How is she?” the boy asked. “All well, I hope?” “Weller than most,” the old man said. “Actual, she’s gotten hippy since you left. All that exquisite cooking of yours left her wantin’ to learn herself. Who’s the little lady?” “The lady?” “O, there.” The old man nodded with his chin.
Garion followed the nod to Satori. The small hostess was gaping at them with mute bewilderment. The young man’s thoughts were fast now.
“Oh yes,” he said. “This little lady.” He circled around the speechless Satori and deftly pulled the hood off her head from behind. Then he put his hands firmly on her shoulders. “This is my betrothed, Michael.” Satori twisted around to give him a terrified look. The old man howled with delight. “What a sight! Heavens above! Who would have guessed!” He approached the quivering hostess and lifted one of her hands. The hand was limp. “Michael Redgrave,” he said, smacking a huge kiss on top of her tiny palm. “At your service, m’lady.” “Ah.” Satori gasped. “Sa—San... San Mei... pleasure... meet...” “All mine,” Michael assured. “Although I wonder!” he said to Garion. “The lady is smouldering. What have you done with her, you rascal?” “If by ‘with her’ you mean ‘to her’ without her leave, then by all means, I did nothing. Oh, do be serious, old wolf,” he grinned churlishly, seeing the old man’s face harden, “I didn’t do a thing. She’s only feverish because she caught the chill but wanted to see the festival all the same. I told her it’d only make it worse, but—well, you said bother that, didn’t you, San?” “Ah.” Satori squeaked. “Y—Yes. It is only... only once a year, so...” “Your luck holds, boy,” Michael said to Garion ominously. Then he smiled. “Well, San Mei-lady,” he said to Satori, “if this stubborn old younker ever gives you trouble, you just give me a shout and I’ll thrash his skin.” “Michael!” Garion moaned. “Oh, I’m just fooling!” The old man roared with boisterous laughter. Satori shivered, but forced a weak smile also. “Say, you two!” Michael went on to ask, tears almost rolling down his coarse cheeks, “now how about you two come pay my dear old wife a visit? She’d be over the moon to see Corin and his sweetheart, I feel me.” “Rachel is here?” Garion was surprised. “In her own lovely round person. We have a stall, actual—a shabby old thing, but it does the job. We sell cakes. Rachel was thinkin’ to make some spare coin before the summer’s end. And cakes are about the one thing she can make without burnin’ the bottom of—except water, mayhap, but with Rachel you never know. Anyway! What say you? It’s just there, behind the bend.”
Garion pretended to consider, his unusually bright face frowning with roguishly feigned dilemma.
The face faltered somewhat when Satori touched his hand and dug her tiny fingernails painfully into his skin.
She was shaking.
[ ] Garion decided to go with the old man. [ ] He decided otherwise.
Don't worry about slippage here and there. Sometimes you need a day. Heck, I'm generally too busy to update at all during weekdays, no sweat.
[X] Garion decided to go with the old man... -[X] ... but only upon confirming that his lady would not take a turn for the worse first.
If we're going to play him in character, he'll want to see his friends - but if Satori truly refuses point blank, he'll have to decline.
Perhaps she'll be tempted to come along just to see what kind of friends her companion keeps, and overcome some of her shyness. On the other hand, she may be unable to bring herself to continue the charade of betrothed.
This way, we don't force her - we've already made quite the advance upon her virtue, it'd be better to show a little restraint.
Waiting so warmly the enzymes in my body are fatally denaturing.
[X] Garion decided to go with the old man... -[X] ... but only upon confirming that his lady would not take a turn for the worse first. If Satori's willing to make such an effort, we should reciprocate~
All right, before this escalates, let me call in a Tac Strike the vote here. I’d like to say, though, that I appreciate your input, >>8833 (always nice to have that, so long as it’s not naval warfare or growing epileptic trees), but, well, I fear me majority is majority. Unless someone convinces me to be undemocratic and risk pissing off the masses before I sit down to write. Which ought to be about sometime tomorrow. I have to let my bloodstream clear of all the alcohol and the caffeine.
Stay on your toes, folks. Uncle Yian GOFAST-Ku out.
The blond boy let unknot his puckish frown and spent a large breath to a rueful sigh.
“Ah, well,” he said with some pomp. “Thanks all the same, old friend, but I have this sad inkling we’d better not. You know Rachel: she would be hours before she loosed us again. The night draws on, and San starkly isn’t her best today. Another time, I fear. I’d give my eye teeth to hear the love’s laugh when she hears I’ve been hooked, but...” He left it unfinished. The old man’s face grew soured. At length, however, he unfurled his arms in a gesture of helpless surrender. “That stands to reason, I reckon,” he gave up. Then he grinned. “I do think me I’ll keep my mouth shut ‘bout it till then, though. There’s no reason to spoil the surprise, now is there?” Garion also let show his cunning smile. “We’re sly alike, I see.” “Now!” Michael cautioned, “that there’s just flat-out flannelling, boy. You’ve a ways to go still. You’re not fooling this old wolf yet.” “It was worth a try.” The old man rolled his eyes up to the sky. “Alas, this boy!” he cried. “Will someone un-crook him before I pull out all my hair? No one? San, lady—” here he pleaded with the small hostess, “—for my heart’s sake. Won’t you work these kinks out of him with that magical smile of yours?” Satori worked out a faint chuckle, but that was all. “You, too! Oh, forget about it. As long as you keep him leashed close. Well, old scamp,” he said to Garion, “what then about the wedding? And don’t you dare try and keep my nose out of it, you rogue; I’ll nose around till I find the date and come myself if I don’t find myself invited.” “... Ah,” Garion exhaled and turned his steel-grey eyes to the side. “You’re trying me, Corin,” the old man said with a heavy stamp of the foot. “No, no,” the boy laughed; “pull your fangs in, old wolf. This is something else. We’re more or less planning to stay athwart of guests and carousals. We want a small private wedding, without anyone noising it about. The rainy season’s coming close. There’s a lot to do around the house before it hits. We don’t want to get caught up in needless social calls while there’s still leaks in the roof.” “You’re a match all right,” Michael muttered; “recluses both. Well!” once more he yielded with a shrug of his broad shoulders, “it’s your wedding, not mine, children. As long as you’re happy with the way it goes, this grouchy old bear will try and live with it. Where’ve you put your roots down, anyway?” “Are you going to come and steal our chicken in the night?” Garion teased. “Would I do that?” “Were you hungry enough, yes; I feel you might just forgo your scruples.” “Can’t even get hungry with Rachel these days,” the old man grumbled under his nose. “She won’t let my belly finish a growl ‘fore she slams some new experiment on the table. She’d thieve your precious poultry sooner than I could think of it.”
Garion smiled. “What have you gotten yourself into, old wolf?” “A fattening sort of fix—all thanks to you.” “I’ll scribe it down in my good deeds book. Anyway,” the boy cut through the idle talk; “we’ve settled down in the North. Although the whole truth is it was I who settled down; San had been there all along, spinning her baits and waiting to hook me. It seems to have worked out pretty well at that.” “The North, hmm?” the old man mused aloud. “Where exactly—if you don’t mind me pryin’?” “You’d pry all the same, old wolf,” Garion observed. “That’s true. Anythin’ wrong with it?” “I just thought I’d make it a point. Anyway. Are you acquainted with the name Moriya?” The one named Michael thoughtfully rocked his whiskered chin up and down. “Only by hearsay, but yes otherwise. A mountain, innit?” “Yes. At its foot lies a human town. Westerly of there there is forest for some leagues, then a wide empty plain. It has fertile soil and lots of free space. It’s a shade lonely of a place, but, as you said just then, we enjoy our peace and quiet. It’s quite lovely in that respect.” “And dangerous,” Michael remarked solemnly. “All on your own with no one else for ways around. What about the monsters?” Garion shrugged. “They had to get used to us.” The old man scowled, an odd crook for his round jolly face. “You’re not being serious, Corin.” “Was I ever?” “Corin, please...” “Give it up, old man,” Garion said gravely. “Times have changed. We’re safe there, San and I. As a matter of fact, San had lived there all her life before I found her and as far as she’s let me see, she isn’t missing any parts—soft or otherwise. Quit sighing at it and let it pass.” “Still—” “Are you going to let me lecture you, old man? Smile and laugh – like you always do.”
The one named Michael heaved a long and guilt-laden breath.
Then, as though it all had been naught but a bout of random folly, he laughed.
The laugh was small (for his size) and altogether bashful, but it was all the same a good honest laugh.
“I almost got you that time, didn’t I?” he asked, winking. “Very nearly, old wolf.” “Close enough, I suppose. Anyway,” he resumed in that same merry manner from before, “all that tomfoolery aside, it’s still a goodly trip from here to there, no?” There was a certain question in his voice. “Oh yes,” Garion said. “We were going to try to hitch it with the Moriya folks going back in the morning. Walking doesn’t look like too thrilling an option under current affairs. Someone ought to let us ride in their cart. Worst case we’ll pay the fare.” “Have you someplace to sleep? The lady looks to me as though she could faint at the weakest breeze and it’s still some hours ‘fore the night goes away. Say—” he snapped his fingers, “—if you haven’t, how ‘bout me an’ Rachel dust off your old room in the house? We could break the stall early and go back ‘fore the bulk of the folk crowd the road. What say you?” Garion disagreed. “It’s a little out of the way, old man, wouldn’t you say?” “True, that,” Michael professed. “Also, to my knowledge there isn’t a route that goes straight from the village to Moriya. We’d have to make our way back here anyway.” “What’d you have in mind, in that then case?” “I was thinking the shrine may grant us refuge for a few hours.” The old man smacked his tongue in disapproval. “You know what goes on up there tonight, don’t you, boy?” “I do.” “And you reckon the Hakurei’ll rent you a corner regardless?” “It’s a shrine, old wolf: a place of worship. She’s obliged to house the occasional pilgrim—festival or not—isn’t she?” Michael snorted. “Ha! You’re thinking smart, boy; I’ll grant you that. But I’ve got something better. Something surer.” “Oh?” “You recall that work-shop we opened up the summer before you went on your search? Well, Lady Luck has it the present Hakurei has a bent for snapping the ties of her shoes every fortnight or so. Anyway, she’s a nice girl an’ all, but it turns out her purse is even thinner than her laces.” “What’re you getting at?” “She’s done and made herself a big fat debt at my shop, that’s what. Now! listen to this, boy: I wouldn’t mind jus’ lettin’ go of that debt, actual—you know full well a pretty girl like her can spin me ‘round her finger with a flash of the dimples and a few honeyed words—but let’s play her a trick and say I won’t – leastwise not ‘less she has you over for the night. After, we can either do a lil’ bargaining or jus’ drop it entirely, see?”
Garion grinned. “And you call me crooked.” “It’s all ‘bout picking your fights, boy. You’re crooked because you’d swindle your own pa if he’d let you. I’d play the girl a fool no remorse, but I’m clean aware the stick has ends two. She has wits enough to swing it back at me, fine; I won’t dodge. I’ll take a blow from those hands any day.” “All right.” The boy nodded. “But how will she know I’m not pulling a fast one on her?” “You’ll scribble her a note: something only you and I would know. And if she brings it to me legit, she and I can talk the debt. Simple as that. It’s a tad of a gamble, aye, but the girl gambles her life each day; she shouldn’t pass on a chance to spare her savings a severe beating. There’s money, and then there’s more money. The latter is normally the better. Unless you have a wife spendin’ each an’ last pence on new foods to alchemically sodomise. Ugh.” The old man shuddered. Then his coltish stare landed on Satori. “I apologise from the bottom of my heart, m’lady,” he told her with a rollicking bow. “I’m keeping you out longer than I ought.” Satori jerked under Garion’s hands. “A—Ah,” she stuttered. “No—No, you’re...” “I know well enough when I’m overstayin’ my welcome, San-lady. And now’s it, methinks. I was only glad to see this rascal here again. I may not seem it, but I’m more than less fond of the pup.” The trembles came to haunt her small shoulders again, but a ghost of a smile nevertheless stretched her dry lips. “I—I see...” “Care for him, won’t you? He’ll make you wish you’d sewn his mouth shut with his jokes, but he’s a good boy down in the heart of his brain. Which is likely the reason a lovely girl like you loves him in the first place, aye?” “Ah. Ye—Yes... He’s nice... really nice, when... when he wants to...” “That’s the thing about him, innit? Anyway, I’ll make my exit here. Rachel’s probably thinking up new recipes already. I have to stop her ‘fore she goes on to make cake soup or worse. With your leave, m’lady.”
The grinning Michael kneeled, intent ostensibly to kiss the small hostess good-bye.
Satori made a small yelp and put up her tiny hands, but the old man was as big and indelible as a thunderstorm; he smooched her soundly on both her deathly pale cheeks, then moved on to stand and did the same to the waiting Garion. The boy took it considerably easier.
“Fare you well, hear?” Michael asked of him dearly. “I will,” Garion lied. “Visit us some time.” “I will,” he lied again. “When you’re done sprucin’ up the house and the winter’s not rolled ‘round yet, for one—if you manage. And if not, in the spring. Or the summer after. Rachel has to meet your wife. Come call on us. Whenever you’d like it.” “... I will,” the boy lied for the last time. “Fare well, Corin. San-lady.”
Then, the tall, flaxen-haired, grey-eyed old man shot them a soldierly wave with his big rough hand and, through the once again scattering crowd, went on on his own merry way.
A few moments passed hence, ere at last he vanished from their sight.
The instance he did, the small hostess sank backwards into Garion’s arms. Although it had been but a ruse that she had contracted the chill and was thus feverish, now one might conceive the ruse was truth after all: her small body was all but aflame, and her blood was racing, racing, and her breath was ragged, ragged. The crowd closed about them and flowed, flowed past: colours, faces and all, in unending streams. And time flowed with them, and trickled through their clasped hands.
At length, long long length, the small hostess was again calm enough to speak.
“I thought I’d die,” she said in a wispy voice. “Was it that bad?” she heard Garion ask somewhere very close to her ear. She freed herself feebly from his hold and turned to face him: only to find that there was no more grin on his lips, and no more laugh; no more did he enchant his speech with that playful note. The jolly Corin was gone now, and the calm, practical Garion was once again staring at her coolly with his plain, sober eyes. “You...” she began. “Speak,” he told her bluntly. Satori baulked for a second. “I didn’t even know you could smile.” “I possess the necessary muscles,” he said, his face completely still. “I really thought I’d die, did you know that?” “Was it that bad?” he asked again. “I’ve been embarrassed in many, many ways in my life, Garion,” she told him, “but this one, never this one – never. Why did you do that to me?” “... I apologise. I had not anticipated meeting that man here. I perceive I had made a mistake in... not equipping additional disguise.” “This isn’t what I asked, Garion. Why—” “I had thought to pursue the opportunity,” he explained impassively. “Should that man and his wife be convinced that I have found permanent engagement with you, I believed their needless concern with me and my whereabouts might be put to rest. I would have preferred to cement their conviction fully, however. With your aid.” “Then why didn’t you go with him?” The blond man looked briefly into her wide violet eyes. Then, even as briefly, he looked away. “... You were shaking,” he said quietly. “... Yes,” the small hostess agreed, also quiet. “As a matter of fact, yes. I was shaking. I was... I was just shocked. You should have... You should have heard his thoughts, Garion.” “What did he wish with you?” Satori hesitated. “He wanted... He wanted to... He was just so—just so glad, Garion: for you, and then for me. And he was so elated; I couldn’t tell what he’d do—or think—next.” “... Is that all?” “He kept—He kept shouting, Garion. Cheering. At one point he almost lifted me up and spun me over his head. And then, all of a sudden, he was so worried... so, so worried... And then, when he asked about... about monsters...” She shivered violently. “Garion, I’m—I’m so sorry. I’m so bad with this... this kind of thing. I could barely wrench my throat open. I could barely breathe.” “Calm yourself,” the blond man told her. “You are without fault. I made the decision. I must abide by its result.” “And he really wanted his wife to see me, did you know? And I could see that she’s a good person, and that she would have been happy, too. We... Maybe we should have—” “Would you have been capable of holding the act?” Garion asked her flatly. Satori choked. “I... I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s partly your fault, too.” “How?” “I told you. I hadn’t the slightest idea you could smile... like that. I was... surprised—to say the least. Why have you never smiled... like that at me?” “... It would have been insincere.” “And to them it isn’t?” “It is the only way they know me.” “So it’s a lie, too?” “... It is the only way they know me,” Garion insisted. Satori made a cynical kind of smile. “You lie to me as well, Garion.” “... I do.” “You’re very good at it, too.” “... So you have said.” “Then why—” Again, she doubted her words. “Then?” Garion wanted to know. Satori shook her head left and right as if to dismiss an unwelcome thought. “Oh, to hell!” she hissed in an undertone. “Never mind, Garion! I’m in shock; I’m blabbering. You dropped a giant bomb on my head back there, that’s all.” “... If so you say.” “What I’d like to know is what your relation is with those people,” she rushed on, seeking to shift the topic. “Who are they, Garion? You’ve never told me about them.” “Shall I tell you now?” he asked. “It might be just as well that you do. As a matter of fact, yes, please do. I want to understand.” “It is a long story.” “All of your stories are, Garion. I can’t say I dislike it, but you’re an extremely long-winded storyteller. I even think I know whose influence it is.” One might feel compelled to agree. “True,” Garion agreed also. “Shall we find place to sit?” “Yes. As a matter of fact, yes, let’s. I’ll rather wait than risk fainting again.” “As you wish.”
The young man reached out to draw the hood of the cloak back over her head.
Satori, however, halted his endeavours mid-way. She took hold of the hood and pulled it down again.
“I don’t think I need this any more,” she declared with a timid smile. “Indeed?” Garion asked blandly. “Yes. It was getting stuffy under that thing, anyway. I can handle this, Garion. As a matter of fact, I was recently told I have a cute face. I may as well flaunt it a little.” “... As you wish.”
The blond boy started back along the winding highway, away whence the old man had gone.
A few tens pace way from the pother of the fair they lighted upon it: a quaint bay of some size, cleft away from the highway by a copse of oaken boles and thin undergrowth. An old moss-grown well marked the centre of the darksome glade; and cloistered benches marked the outer rim, their weatherworn wood-roofs littered with loose branches and leaves. Crushed rock and gravel rasped beneath their feet as they walked to one such bench that was the farthest from the road; as so, one should surmise the bay was man-made – a checkpoint perhaps of a kind, or a lodge for wearied wanderers. Whichever it was, however, it mattered not to the close two; in some sparse dozen of subdued steps they crossed the clearing and found their stop atop the weathered timbers of the sheltered bench.
The fuss and excitement of the festival came to them now as a muted hum dipped in a condiment of varicoloured lights shimmering through the thicket on the other side; behind them, meanwhile, the nightly songs of crickets filled the dark. The place was so tranquil it seemed surreal that it could exist this near so loud and bright a fair. A peculiar sensation stole over the strait-laced Garion, and made him turn his head.
The sensation began at his shoulder and ended someplace low on his thigh.
“Do you mind?” Satori asked softly. The blond man considered that at some length. “... No,” he conceded finally. “Thank you.” The small hostess was talking in whispers. “I may have gotten more than I bargained for, I think.” “How so?” “I, well... I only...” She murmured under her little nose. “Oh, to the deuce with it... I said I wanted to show off my face, didn’t I?” “Yes.” “I didn’t anticipate that many looks. It unnerved me—a great deal, as a matter of fact—how... how many there were. And how they... looked. I thought I’d get stuck with that stupid smile forever.”
Garion reviewed the last few minutes in his mind. Indeed; he recalled: the small hostess had been smiling tensely all the while they had walked in search of a place to sit and talk.
The smile, now that he pictured it again, had been strained and rather silly.
Satori twitched. “Please don’t, Garion.” “... I apologise.”
There came from the highway a high winning whoop.
Someone, it seemed, had turned victorious at one of the popular game-stands. The crickets ceased their buzzing for a few seconds afore they resumed again their secret concert. Garion felt the small hostess squirm anxiously at his side.
After a few restless moments she regained her poise, and spoke:
“So?” “So?” the boy repeated. “The story, Garion.” “Oh.” “Quite. I didn’t let you drag me out here to listen to you think.” Or to nuzzle, as one might have suspected. “Shush,” she hushed. “The story, Garion.” “Very well.”
He let lax his tense shoulders and leaned against the creaking backrest of the old bench.
“It was some weeks after she had left me,” he began in a clear, unemotional voice. “I say ‘some,’ but it may have been one as well as four or ten. I had been made to forget the passage of time – the count of days was of no substance while she had yet been at my side. I hardly knew one day from the other. Anyway, it was of little difficulty to me to live off the growths of nature; the human stomach, however, is loath to routine: soon my diet grew stale and my belly claimed a change of repertoire, lest it refuse everything that was small game, mushrooms, herbs or berries. Although I grudged it, the silence of her leave played great sway on my decision. I hated it. The absence of her voice was as a gaping hole in my chest, and it ached relentlessly, light and dark alike. I craved to feel again the presence of another. I sought out the nearest road, and began to walk, hoping to find a lone farmstead or maybe even a village.
“And so I did. I had soaked to the bone by the time—it had been the rainy season even then—but in my wander I stumbled into what is known as the Human Village. I could not buy food, however, for I had no money, and I would not beg even if death itself was snapping at my heels. I rambled for some time instead among the houses, seeking one whose windows or doors would prove a fragile enough obstacle to overcome. I had the know-how, but not the tools nor resources required for burglary,” he remarked cynically, “nor the coin to attain them. At last I found one such house as could be entered by means of lightly prying the cellar doors from their hinges. I waited until after dusk with a rumbling belly in one filthy alley, and then went to work. I snuck into the cellar and crept my way through the darkness. I stubbed my toes in a great number of places, and my hair was thick with spider-webs when I climbed the stairs leading up into the house, but it was well worth the pain: the house was dark and still, save for the thundery snoring coming from the floor up. I was inside, and free to plunder.
“I snuck on aching tiptoes toward the larder. I had nearly erred there, I admit freely: the larder had a lock of its own, one such I might not open without a pick or a twenty-pound sledgehammer. I was about to curse my luck and vacate the damned house, but in a fit of anger I swiped at the door-handle, and lo and behold, the larder stood open; the lock, it turned out, had never even been engaged. I jumped, exultant: the foods within were free for me for me for the taking. I went inside and began to stuff my pants with whatever struck my fancy: pastry and vegetables, preserves and fruit alike. When my pants were filled, I began with my shirt; then, my mouth. I cared not for the discomfort. I was elated with my spoils.
“It was that elation that doomed me ultimately,” he confessed grievously. “Occupied like so with my loot I paid scant heed—very scant heed—to what was going on around me. I was stuffing my cheeks with a huge loaf of bread when the door to the larder swung open with a resounding crash. I froze in horror—I had not yet fully mastered my reflexes then—and nearly floundered to the floor spinning in my laden clothes to see who had discovered my scene of crime. I heard a shout: ‘Who here!’ and a big, ox-shouldered man was standing in the doorway, his face red with rage and an iron poker in his hand. Another figure huddled behind him: a woman of a certain age, cowering with fright.” “And that was...?” Satori made a stricken question.
Garion nodded slightly. “The one named Michael and his wife. At first I was all but sure it was the end of me – that he would skin me with that poker and hang my body out to dry. And then, when the light from the hall outside shone on my face and the bread slipped from my quaking lips, I saw that livid expression of his fall apart before my watering eyes. The woman peered under his arm and, too, became for some inexplicable reason wide-eyed and soft-faced. I had thought to use that opportunity and run, but the man set aside his sharp iron stick and bade me to come out to him – and be calm. I remember he was trying very hard to keep his voice set at that time—with little success. I caught wind of a chance; I listened, came out even as he had said to, and did my best to look oblivious of my food-stuffed clothes. I was told to return the spoils, of course; but after that was done, there were no thrashings, no rebukes, nothing I had anticipated would pursue, and nothing that might take their attention away from me and open up a way for escape. They took me to their small and tidy kitchen, seated me, and asked where I had come from, and what were my circumstances. I told them that I meant no evil; that I had been orphaned, wandering, and merely wanted something to silence my growling stomach. It was then that the woman began to cry.
“I was at some degree of loss, I recall,” Garion continued in a retrospective tone; “but I sat there all the same, making short work of any and all impulse to flee. The man told me his name, and that he would fix me some supper. I welcomed his offer – with perhaps too much enthusiasm than I had aimed for, but I was very hungry at the time. He boiled me a few eggs, sliced me some bread and ham, and then went to comfort his still-crying wife. After I had eaten, I was offered to stay for the night, which, with a now-full stomach and warm feet, I had not thought to refuse. I was led to a fully-furnished bedroom in the loft – which was strange, when I thought on it, because they were only two in the house, and this was not either of their rooms; then I was given clean sheets and even a change of clothes and left alone. I slept that night with more peace than I had in the weeks before then. At dawn the next day I was woken with a rich breakfast and an earnest tender of prolonged stay. I could not think why, but both the man and his wife were weeping as they watched me gorge myself on the foods and ruminate their proposition. At long last I finished and gave them the answer.”
“You stayed,” Satori said in a stirred voice. “Yes,” Garion replied. “Thenceforth the house I had thought to steal from became my home—temporary home, but a home nonetheless. I discovered before long that the woman, Rachel, had a scant economy with words. She would but stare at me most of the time, taking some strange pleasure in seeing my eyes stare back inquiringly, or sing while she washed me in a basin in the bathroom at the back of the house – but rarely talk of her own accord. On the other hand, the man, Michael, became gruff and outspoken almost as soon as he had gained rein on his emotions. It was under his supervision that I studied everything my... previous caretaker had failed to teach me. I had no need of schooling, but I became a regular visitor in the village school library. In my... still callow wisdom I deduced I should receive the best results of this arrangement if I contribute something to the household – to keep my hosts from thinking me a freeloader, if nothing else. I took up cookery, since it was sophisticated enough to impress my new wardens, but cost little enough effort to appeal to my young mind. Also because, to say frankly, Rachel’s cooking was sub-par, and Michael’s – crude. Over time, I became very proficient at it.” “Oh yes,” Satori agreed.
“Anyway, that was where I picked up the skill. After some months, their kitchen—our kitchen—became something not far off of a sensation in the village, and I was presented with an offer of employment. I began to sneak out of the house during the day to do shifts at the local inn, where I cooked and washed the dishes for good enough coin. One evening, however, Michael caught me returning home from work and wished to know why I insisted to work at such a young age when their house provided me with anything I should ever need. We sat down that evening at the table, and with his wife, we discussed at great length the cause—and the part of my past I had always before kept secret.
“I told them about her, and how I purposed to one day find her again; how I needed money to fund my search, and how, though I was grateful for their hospitality, I would one day leave on a journey with that goal in mind. I could see deep grief welling up in their eyes, but my resolve was stone-hard, and they could see this was not subject to argument. I did not understand the reason of their sadness, but when they asked me to stay ‘for a while longer,’ I graciously accepted. I required time to accumulate funds enough to last me those months I would likely spend travelling the Land, and some fields of my knowledge were yet in need of polish. Upon their prayer, starting that day I bode longer times with them at home, but all the while continued my employment at the inn. All was well again.”
Garion paused and cast a long pensive look toward the blinking lights of the festival.
Satori let him gather his thoughts without complaint.
“Some years hence,” he soon picked the story up again, “I reached majority. I informed my self-appointed parents—rather formally, I do recall—that on my next ‘birthday’— which was to say, the anniversary of my ‘adoption’—I would be leaving the house. Although they had never touched upon this topic in those years, they were not too surprised. I imagine they had grown accustomed to the notion across the years I had given them to become acquainted with it. At last the fateful day arrived. The night before Michael had me sit in with him and his wife for the last time while they explained to me something they felt I ought to know. I left early the following morning. I remember I breathed easier once I got on the road. I had grown so used to playing ‘the son’ that I had not become aware how exhausting it had been until I dropped the act. I had not lingered in any one place for more than one or two nights since then. I was always on the road. Always on the move.” He stopped and looked at the small hostess at his side. “Until I found you,” he added in a peculiar tone.
“What did they tell you, Garion?” Satori asked, her eyes brimming with urgency. “When you talked on the eve of your departure?” The blond man gave her a chill stare. “Are you certain you wish to hear? It is not a story of bliss or blithe entertainment.” “Are you worried for me, Garion?” “... No,” he said, turning away his steely eyes, “merely ascertaining.” “I want to hear—to know,” said the small hostess. “I read his thoughts, Garion. I saw something there... something he didn’t want to think about. Something... very bad. I want to know what it is. It won’t leave me until I do.” “It does not concern you.” “As a matter of fact, no, it doesn’t. All the same, I want to hear. I just... I want to know, Garion. I can’t explain it. I may be... just feeling a little guilty, maybe. I’ll sleep better if I know the whole story.” “... As you wish,” the blond man surrendered.
Again yet he went silent to order his recollections, and Satori was silent also, clinging to his arm in wait.
Then the blond man gave a tired breath and began to remember:
“Although it might at first glance seem they took me in of sheer pure heart,” he said, “the truth was much less pleasant—logical, perhaps, reasonable—but also darker. It was not that they were not kind people and would not have fed and housed me regardless—most likely they would; I have known Michael for years now; he is in all likelihood the kindest person to walk the world and not be made miserable by the less... charitable folks. The real reason why he and his wife embraced me into their homestead, though, was because purportedly I resembled their perished son. When we sat down that night, they told me: how they had lost the only child they had ever had and how my random appearance in their house struck them as a gift from the heavens.” “... Mm.” “I had the ‘same hair colour,’ they told me, and ‘would have been the same age’ as their son. I was altogether not of the same innocent disposition as their baby-boy had been, but they coolly ascribed that to my orphanage with such speed as you might not expect from the bereaved. I could ‘very well have been their son coming back home,’ they said, except ‘they knew that may not be so.’ I asked why. I was not curious, mind; I merely strived to please their needs. They were quiet for a while after I did. Then they told me.” He paused again. “Could you stop squeezing?” he asked flatly. “It hurts.” “Ah.” Satori gasped. “Ye—Yes. I’m sorry. I will.”
She did not.
Garion grunted, but let it pass.
“Anyway,” he went on, “the story was as so: some twenty-so years ago they married and had a child: a beautiful baby-boy with hair the colour of pure gold and eyes as blue as the sky. The boy grew big and healthy; he learned everything in a flash and never once had been trouble to his parents. At last, until the day of his fifth birthday, when he was... lost... to the terrors of the Land.
“As they were saying it, I could sense in their words great regret, see tears gather in their eyes as they cast sorrowful glances at the empty fireplace. It had been meant to be a glad day, that day; they were concocting for their growing son a splendid birthday party, with cake, presents and all the assorted mirths children enjoy on their birthdays. The boy, bright as he was, had throngs of friends among his peers, and they were drafted into the plot to keep the party a surprise until the appointed time. As such, they had to lure him away from his house and somehow keep occupied his ever-homecoming mind. The best way to do it was for him to leave the village altogether. And so his friends threw together an effort to bluff him into thinking they would launch an escapade into the woods—this time without the adults’ getting underfoot and ruining their precious boy-fun. That was the last the boy had been seen by anyone but the other children.
“The evening drew on,” the blond man continued, “and so a summons was sent for the boy and the children supposed to keep him away from home. Alas, the children were nowhere to be found – not wherever they looked. With a growing sense of dread the whole village was thrown into frantic search, which lasted even into the night. At last a three of the children made to distract the boy were found huddled together inside a shed. They were white-faced and horrified, and refused to speak. It took many long hours to convince them to speak. When they did, all they said was they had been assaulted by a monster deep in the woods, and that they had been the only ones to get away alive and unscathed.
“The village flew into panic. A runner was at once dispatched to the then-shrine maiden of Hakurei, but the message he returned was unambiguous – the shrine maiden had been pregnant with her own child for months now, and was presently in labour. As such, however she grieved it, she was ill-disposed for such endeavours as monster-hunting. A thunderstorm had set in as well, further hindering the efforts to find the still-missing children. All the same, the strongest and bravest men of the village mounted an armed search into the forest. They would sift it for three days hence afore they would chance upon the lair of the monster which had taken the young ones away.
“When they discovered at last the burrow where the monstrosity had brought the abducted younglings, for the greater number of them it was long too late. Some had died of hunger or dehydration; others, of wounds. A few were alive still, though only by the skin of their teeth. Of the boy, there was no sight; the monster had guttled him whole, to the last piece of flesh: not even bones remained after it was done ravening – only tatters of cloths and dry blood on the cold rock floor of the lair. It was speculated afterward that sated with one human the abomination grew frolicsome and attempted to entertain itself at the cost of the remaining ones. As it found, however, humans, especially the young ones, do not durable toys make, and before long absconded from its den, leaving its still-breathing prey to bleed or starve to death. The burrow was dug in hard soil; its branches went deep underground, and the entryway was a nigh-vertical shaft with such sheer walls as could not be climbed with but human hands and feet. The unconscious children were extracted by rope and litters, then brought back to the village. The unfortunate ones were returned to their parents for burial. The only thing Michael and his wife gained from the search was the bloodied scraps of the boy’s clothes.
“Almost as soon as he had told me that,” Garion continued with a faint sigh, “Michael stood from our table and went to retrieve the strong metal case that had ever before lain untouched on a shelf above the hearth. The box, he told me, was locked, and the key had been thrown away, for fear of the contents—those very scraps of cloths—becoming lost to accident or chance. They were, after all, he said, the only memento they had of their only child. After that, he told me they had both sworn to never have children again, for they might not bear the pain of another such loss and would surely die should it find them again. And they had been living since, smiling and making the best of what years remained of their old lives.”
Once more he paused for a longer breath.
“So ends the story of the boy,” he said finally, turning again to see the small hostess. “Should you desire, I may—”
But his words broke the moment he saw her.
She was holding one hand tightly to her face, clinching his with the other, and there were long, glistening streaks flowing down her pale cheeks, down and down, all the way to her tiny chin. She was shaking yet again: trembling, gritting her teeth and sobbing, sobbing, in so low and wretched a voice that Garion had not even heard until now. She cried suddenly, and the cry tore at one’s very heart.
“Satori?” Garion tried, himself unsure.
She did not reply, fighting a failing fight with the tears that came and came out of her covered eyes, and could not seem to stop. And there was nothing—nothing at all the boy could do to ease her pain, to make the cries stop.
So he did just that: nothing.
And he did nothing when she threw herself with a desperate wail into his arms. And he did nothing when the startled arms moved of their own will and closed about her tiny shoulders. And he did nothing when the crying hostess clutched at the front of his tunic and made it wet with tears.
And he did nothing—only was: simply there, for her, as firm and steady as stone, while the small Satori wept, wept.
The weeping receded with time, erelong to become but strangled moans and hiccups as the miserable hostess cried out the last of her anguish.
All that time our boy was silent, still: the want to speak long chased from his mind, his grip as tight and secure as if it were the only thing yet holding the shuddering little thing together. Somewhere inside, deep inside that fair-haired head of his, he had come already to accept it for a fact: that his story had riven the delicate Satori into pieces, and he was but simply making safe that she does not fall into tiny shatters afore her poor eyes dry and she is whole again. It was sound reason to do so—and even sounder excuse, though he might never think it that, even alone, late on a sleepless night.
As the small hostess calmed more and more, and as the hiccups became so sparse as not to hinder her speech, she began to ask questions.
“How?” was among the prime and most pressing.
“How was he be so happy?” she was murmuring. “How did he laugh like that? How could he? How? Garion?” She pushed away from his chest and bore into him her big glistening eyes. “How?” The boy looked down at her ravaged face. The ever-pale cheeks were sickly-hot now; and wet hair stuck in bunches to her small forehead. The answer he gave was level, even numb. “What do you mean?” “You know what I mean, you idiot.” Satori sniffed. “I can’t imagine how... how he could be so happy after everything that had happened. I just can’t imagine!” “It has been many a year since then,” Garion said stiffly. “So what! It was his only child, you dolt—his family! If I ever lost my family, my kin... my sister... I couldn’t imagine living on with the knowledge that I’d never see her again. We have been together for ever! Could you suffer knowing that all those years you had spent together with your nearest and dearest were over now? How? I don’t understand!” She choked suddenly and broke into brand new tears. Once more she buried her face in his damp tunic and wept. “How?” she was blubbering. “How? Tell me! How?!”
Garion heaved a heavy breath. “It is only natural,” he said in an unfeeling voice. “How?” “A human life lasts but over half a century,” he explained. “It is wasteful to squander so fleeting a time on mourning. One must come to terms with their loss and proceed with their remaining course, lest death seizes them unawares and they pass away in grieving. Such is the fate of so short-lived beings as humans. It is of no comparison to you – one that lives and has lived for eons.” “A few hundred years,” Satori corrected with a snivel. “All the same, you are ageless.” “Ageless?” “Ageless.” She moaned and gave him a weak jolt in the belly. “Stop saying it like I’m old.” “Are you not?” “I certainly am feeling my age tonight.” She sniffled for one final time, then again pulled her messy face from his chest. She was glaring—through tears, but glaring. “I don’t believe I have to say whose merit that is.” “...” “As a matter of fact, I think he’s being quite deliberate about it.” “... I apologise,” the boy meekly inclined his head. Satori whipped the wet hairs from her forehead in a haughty fashion. “I don’t want your apologies, Garion – not any more of them than I already have. I’d like a handkerchief, instead. Would you happen to have one, by chance? I think you do.”
Garion set loose her drooping shoulders and delved into his many pockets for the requested item. At length he unearthed a suitably clean piece of cloth, with which in hand he began to wipe the disconsolate little face of tears and what seemed like smeared dirt from his clothes. It was an unthinking gesture, and, if one had to be faithful to the honest truth, rather clumsy also.
Satori allowed him to have freely at face for a brief while, but then slapped his hand aside and took the task into her own. And then, all at once, she covered her eyes and laughed, a small crumbling laugh.
“I can’t take you, Garion,” she said after the laugh had died. “I just can’t take you.” “... I apologise,” the blond man assured, uncertain what the express issue was. “Are you even aware that I can’t remember the last time I cried? What have you done to me, Garion? Why are you doing this? So far you’ve made me angry, then very pleased, then you embarrassed me so profoundly my legs gave up under me, and then you brought me here and made me cry in your arms for the first time in who knows how long. What else are you going to do to me tonight, Garion? What else are you going to make me do?” “I apologise,” he said again, meaning, naturally, the arms business; “I was not thinking.” “As a matter of fact, no, you weren’t.” She resumed dabbing her small face dry. “I rather liked it, too.” She blew her nose and scowled. “I don’t know that I can hope to be sane tomorrow if you continue to toy with me like this.” “I apologise. I shall stop at once.” “I didn’t say that you should stop, Garion; I’d only like if you were gentler about it in the future. Coming out here already cost me a great deal of nerves, you know. I didn’t exactly feature it going down like this, either. I don’t even know how my heart is still in one piece.” She crumpled the sodden handkerchief and shoved it curtly at the confounded Garion. “I don’t regret it, though,” she added in a kind of self-deprecatory mumble; “I wonder if I’m maybe going senile. Were you going to swipe that speck from my nose finally?” she demanded acidly. “Or were you going to leave it there and let me make a baby out of myself in front of everyone?” Garion reached out without a word and rubbed the bit of dirt off her white skin. “Why, thank you,” said the stately little hostess with a graceful smile. “You’re the very soul of courtesy tonight.” “You mock me,” the blond man accused. “Yes. As a matter of fact, yes, I do.” She brushed her small fingers through her adorably mussed hair. “Can’t I, Garion?” “I did not say that.” “No. As a matter of fact, no, you didn’t. Shame, that. I would have loved to rub it in your face some more, but it wouldn’t be fun if you just sat there motionless while I... Oh, forget it. Never mind.” She let her shoulders slip even lower. “I should be thanking you. I learned something tonight—more than one thing, as a matter of fact. I had planned ruin this night for you for leaving me without even saying goodbye, but instead of that you ruined my plans for me. I don’t even feel like poking fun at you anymore.” “I see.” “So you do. Could you see a bit closer just for a moment, though?” Garion nodded; then he looked closer at his pert little hostess. She chuckled daintily at his unquestioning deference; and then, with rejuvenated zest, she smacked her small hands on her smooth cheeks and pinched her tiny nose. “How do I look?” she asked with a bold little smile. “Adequate enough?” “As if blushing,” Garion noted. “Good. With some luck I’ll make some hapless girl jealous when we come out of this dank hole—maybe even a guy. Wouldn’t you just adore that, Garion?” “I would not.” “I didn’t think so,” she admitted, “but I would all the same. Shall we go again?” “As you wish.” “I do, at that.”
The blond man rose to his feet and, completely unprompted, took hold of one of Satori’s delicate hands. The elegant small hostess smiled at him and stood also, making some swagger of her newfound enthusiasm.
“Wouldn’t you say it’s high time to go back upstairs?” she inquired of him as they went on their way back across the abandoned gravel-square. “I should think it’d be bad if your father caught us blithely promenading to and fro while I’m supposedly going down with a fever.” “Father?” Garion questioned. “Michael, Garion. Isn’t he, after all?” “I never had a father,” said the young man. “She was—” “—your only parent,” Satori finished his thought. “I know. Still.” “... I do not wish to think of him as such.” “I know. It’s why I brought it up. Anyway,” she went on afore he could protest further, “I want to buy a few things: some more sweets, I think, some snacks and maybe something to wash it down. Afterwards, we’ll go back upstairs and see if we can find someplace to sit and enjoy ourselves. Are we agreed?” “As you wish.” “Will you have anything? It’s my treat.” Garion gave her a sceptical look. “I was impressed upon,” he noted shrewdly, “that you had sworn never to allow me use of your money again.” “I changed my mind, Garion. I do that every now and again. I’m sure you’ve noticed.” “Not often, no.” She squeezed his hand. “Shush. I do—just sometimes.” “... If so you say.”
They left behind the deserted construction and waddled through the sparse brush back onto the lighted highway.
They had not walked a dozen steps when Satori pressed against the blond man’s side and folded her arms fixedly around one of his.
“Are you troubled by the crowd still?” he asked in a plain tone. Satori shook her head. “No. Well... yes. As a matter of fact, yes, I am—but that isn’t why. I only just now realised I haven’t thanked you yet.” “Thanked me?” “Yes; for telling me that story.” “I made you cry,” Garion reminded. “Yes. You did—but you held me afterwards, so you’re forgiven.” “... I see.” “Thank you, Garion.” “... Very well.” “I mean it. I think I understood something very important tonight.” “I see.” “Thank you.” “You are welcome.” “I thought I might be, yes.”
She turned up her small head and gave him a smile.
The smile was pale and a trifle degree ailing, but it was heart-wrenchingly beautiful.
It should be noted here that, appear though it might outward the very opposite, the guileful Garion had not in truth let his goal give slip to his memory.
And withal, in the meanwhile he convoyed the shy Satori from stall to stall while she made her buys. At first it was he, naturally, who conducted the purchases, prodded from behind with her timid suggestions; soon, though, there accrued starch enough in her spine that she dared speak to the shopkeepers herself—and herself hand on and receive the clinking change. So far went this part transformation in time that she haggled even distastefully with some less honest vendors when she deemed their price too high or their product wanting. As of that time on, the tall Garion was reduced from regal spokesman to a handsome but mute porter, carrying the buys in one hand while being led along by the other. And though the appointment might seem belittling on the surface, inward Garion was pleased; his throat was anyway parched from telling the tales of his youth, and the quiet interlude was more than welcome in his view.
So he told himself—until at one stall his anyway short breather came to a shorter even end.
As the now much braver hostess sparred vocally with the vendor of the fried-foods sold, our dear boy stood vigil over her back, lending but one ear to the haggling and not much else; he bode his time instead with idle musings and looks around the vibrant fair. It was by chance, pure chance alone, that a familiar shape flashed on the edge of one such random glance: a glimpse of cloth of known colouring and cut, and the minute gleam of flowing hair which melted away in the crowd all but the moment he looked; nevertheless, the sighting smote the bags from his hands and spurred his feet to a wild, wild chase. And heedless of the shouting and cursing he left in his wake, he bolted, to catch the momentary phantom of someone he knew.
But the phantom would not be caught.
After what felt as though years of hunt—of trudging through the reckless, swarming revellers, of running for some distance, stopping and scanning around in growing indignation—he came wheezing to a stop in the mid of the teeming road, his lungs aflame and his choler swelling.
At once he spat on the ground and opened his mouth to call in spilling anger:
But he could not. The selfsame sense of propriety which he had nurtured for ever since his abandonment rent now his burning chest and clamped his throat. What folly! he thought. Should he call for her now she might hear him still!
And yet he did not call. He could not call.
The ever-bellying anger took strong grip of his mind. This was ridiculous! In a last a furious last resort, he set one fingernail firmly between his teeth, bracing himself for the sting of pain and the desperate surge of pluck it would bring. It had ever worked before; now it would also! The pay in blood was negligible in comparison. The nail would grow back; the chance would not. Now!
The merrymakers carried on coursing and sliding around him as he stood motionless with one finger stuck stupidly in his mouth.
There was no pain. No blood. The nail was whole.
All ire gone suddenly from his head, the now-sober boy let the would-be sacrifice fall insensibly along his side. It did not matter. It did not matter, he thought again and again; the time was there still. And Satori... Satori would loathe if she were to hold a bleeding hand. Satori would scold him. Satori would...
With a rush of alarm he whipped around at the road behind him. She was nowhere in sight. Obviously! she might not have probably kept pace with him, let alone burdened with the bags he had dropped and left with her before bolting. And he had promised, too: that for this day and this night he would be hers to be: no matter what! Garion shaped a few ugly curses with his dry lips.
Then, his eyes watchful this time, he ploughed his way back toward where they had parted.
Some one or two minute distance from the place, he found her seated on a roadside bench, the bags piled around her in a protective circle and her tiny hands busy at an earthenware decanter.
She saw him also, and stood; her mouth opened hotly but then clammed back shut and the small hostess sat down again; her violet eyes were hot and her small brows, knitted. She unstopped her drink and chugged from it waspishly till Garion approached.
When he did, she offered it to him.
“Won’t you have a sip?” she said sweetly. “It’s just divine, I tell you.” “What is it?” the blond man asked charily. “Chokeberry juice, what else?” Garion reached his hand for the brown decanter, but the small hostess whisked it back. “I lied,” she told him crossly. “It’s wine, you dolt.” She took another heated swig. “I thought you’d left me again, you idiot.” She glared at him with offended eyes. “Why’d you go running off like that? Where did you go? Who did you see?” “I—” “It can’t have possibly been her.” “I cannot say.” “I know, Garion. I wasn’t asking anyway. Who did you see, then? Another old acquaintance? Or maybe just a girl with prettier eyes than mine?” The blond man frowned. “I would not do that.” “I know, Garion,” she told him pointedly. “I know. Gods, I know. I’m just angry with you, that’s all. Can’t you see? At least tell me next time you’re about to go off. I only have so many hearts to spare.” “... I apologise.” “I know that, too. I know too well.” She corked the decanter with a dejected sigh and looked at it speculatively. “Can you guess how much I gave for this thing—just in case you didn’t return?” “I do not know.” “I didn’t think you would,” she said in a sour tone of voice. “Anyway, about a quarter of the initial price is how much. It’s amazing how people yield to you the instance you sweep the uglier things out from under their rug. I wager I could have got it free had I pressed the issue.” “You blackmailed the seller?” Garion was incredulous. “I don’t like the sound of the word, but it probably amounts to the same thing. Are you proud of me, by chance?” She made a smug face. “I could have snatched the thing and run away, I suppose, but it didn’t seem too nice at the time. As a matter of fact, it seems cruel and hateful more than anything.”
Garion spread his arms diplomatically. “Satori, I—” She shook her small head left and right. “I don’t want your apologies, Garion,” she told him. “I don’t want you to do hurt me and then apologise. I don’t want you to do that. I want you to... I want... I want...” She made another sigh. “Never mind. I’m being silly again, that’s all.” Then she smiled weakly. “I’m just glad that you’re back. I really am. I don’t know that I’d be able to go back upstairs all by myself. Can we go, now? I don’t much care for staying down here any longer.” “As you wish.”
The blond man put half the bags in one his hand, then offered the other to Satori.
The small hostess smirked at him with feint innocence.
“Why, what is this about, Garion?” “What?” He was confused. “How were you going to carry all this stuff while holding hands with me? Are you feeling that swollen-headed tonight?” “I thought—” “You thought wrong. I’ll carry this little friend right here—” here she rapped her small fingers on the jingly decanter, “—and you can have it out with the bags. I know just how heavy they are, and believe me, you’re going to need both your hands.”
She stood from the stone bench and walked a few ostentatious steps in the direction of the shrine.
“Coming, Garion?” she called over her shoulder at the dumbstruck young man. “I wouldn’t want to have to leave you behind, you know.”
They had found an unassuming spot under the parasol of an old oak off the side of the big shrine-yard where prevailed the main share of the queer-dressed medley. There Garion arranged atop empty bags the various food- and drink-stuffs they had bought, and ranked them before them on the grass for easy pickings. The band was going still at their strings, keys and mouthpieces, and note after note their music fluttered jubilantly in the nighted air of the upper fair. The talk was ever as loud and spirited as it had been, though one might mark also that it was now half-slurred in some circles.
The varicoloured host was efficient carousers, not wasteful of their bottle and time.
“Oh, they get in my hair so,” the small hostess was muttering over her decanter, “so in my hair! Can you see that one, Garion—the one in blue?” “Which?” The boy half-turned from his task. “Over there.” She thrust her chin at one particular group. The group was five: four women of full age, and one girl-child, whose shoulder-blades had at some previous time blossomed with a pair of leathery bat-like wings. Garion tilted his head questioningly. “Yes,” confirmed the scowling hostess, “that one. That ‘child,’ as you put it, is otherwise known as Remilia Scarlet, just so you know. I understand she possesses a certain darkly reputation among your folks.” “They are not my folks,” the blond man corrected absently. His attention set on the group.
The one called Remilia had been listening to another of the group—a housemaid of a sort, by the looks—when all at once she doubled over in a clamorous laughter which left her sprawled on the group’s gold-embroidered rug.
The housemaid smiled at her dearly even as one might smile at one’s beloved.
“And she has the audacity to do that!” Satori bridled. “She locks her own younger sibling up in a basement and comes here to play. And she won’t even think once to come home early—oh no. ‘So much to eat, to drink,’ she’s thinking. What a joke.” She touched her hand irritably to her nose. “I honestly can’t believe some people.” “Satori,” Garion said. She looked at him with upset eyes. “What is it, Garion?” “The food.” He motioned at the prepared feast. “Oh yes. Thank you.” She summoned up a sweet smile. “You’re a dear.” “... If so you say.” “I do. Won’t you sit a little closer, Garion? I’ll read you what the others are thinking. It really makes me want to turn them over my knee and whack them with a book. It’s a scream, I tell you.” “... Very well.”
And so the small hostess passed the time pronouncing aloud the hearts and thoughts of the assembled throng.
As one should expect, most were concerned with but the matters at hand: the amount of food and drink left, the music grinding on their drunken ears, the fascinating dialogue between their two best friends of which they were no part of – such earthly things. The one Garion knew as the protector of the Human Village, Keine, worried handsomely for her students at the fair downstairs: an anxiety which stemmed, in the qualified opinion of the amused Satori, from her inability to mother her own children.
“What do you mean?” Garion wished to know what she meant by that. “She’s barren, Garion,” the small hostess explained. “She doesn’t want talk about it, but she presumes it’s an effect of her untypical... condition. She’s a half-monster, Garion. I don’t want to scare you, so I won’t tell you the juicier details, but she’s become rather obsessed with that odd aspect of her body.” Garion thought about that for a moment. “Can you have children?” he finally asked. “You are a monster also.” The question seemed to startle Satori just a little. “I... don’t know,” she answered with a nonplussed blink. “I’ve... I’ve never tried, really. I do have all the necessary... parts, but...” She grimaced unpleasantly. “Could we drop this topic, Garion? It’s just a bit vulgar, wouldn’t you say?” “As you wish.”
The one resting with Keine was Mokou of the Fujiwara clan, and this she was “in love with an idiot,” who “couldn’t seem to see farther than her cleavage,” which stirred all manner of agitated emotion in the young silver-haired woman’s head and a hearty chuckle from Satori’s small lips. She turned next to one she revealed as Ibaraki Kasen, now a close friend of the Hakurei and a person of many an unwholesome secret, and also a range of other unbecoming traits and professions, if the small hostess’s mutterings were to be taken as truth.
Then there was Alice Margatroid – “a recluse with a centuries-old vengeance,” and Aya Shameimaru – “a blatant fabulist and a hack,” and Yuugi Hoshiguma – whom Garion had “met already and seen for himself what a riot she is.” Away on the other periphery of the yard sat on an expensive carpet Kanako Yasaka, the wind goddess of the mount of Moriya, of whom Garion had heard from Koishi’s buoyant recollections – “a baby-girl inside and gross troublemaker,” according to her older sister’s expertise. With the plainly inebriated goddess were Sanae Kochiya and Suwako Moriya – a shrine maiden and sister deity respectively, “callow children keeping secrets from one other.” Away yet lay atop a thick blanket Yuyuko Saigyouji, who “pondered only where her girl-servant had gone,” and near lounged the queer party from the House of Eternity – “mad all, each next more than the previous.” They were also terribly presumptuous and hugely self-important.
Such a treatise went on and on, and the more the small hostess unwound, and the more she supped from her earthenware bottle, the brasher and brasher became her barbed narrative.
Soon Garion was resting against the trunk of the aged tree, listening no more to the words but rather to the timbre of her harsh but lovely voice, and felt her small hips nudge his side whenever she swung her arms in a cutesy fashion at the many mars and flaws of everyone assorted. The jaunty music played on, but was slower now and gentler, fitting perhaps the more delicate state of some of the hastier guests. The air was cool, but still and not at all chilling, and it was fraught with such delightful scents and smells as could lull one’s soul into beatitude. Against his wary self, Garion began to doze.
The doze lasted but scant minute or five, but it was pleasant while it lasted.
That which made it so short was, beyond all doubt, the mean little Satori. She was poking one sharp finger into his thigh in a furtive way, while looking still ahead at the rainbow crowd.
“And now the place is disgustingly popular,” he heard her saying, “even in the wintertime when the paths are loaded with snow. She thinks it’s the best thing since spoked wheel, but the others aren’t nearly so glad for it. Anyway,” her voice softened, “won’t you kiss me Garion?” “What?” the blond man croaked in half-daze. “Quit spluttering and kiss me, Garion. Can you? I’ll lead you. Start by putting your hands on my hips. I won’t bite you or anything, so lean over here and kiss me. Smartly now.” “Why—” “Shush. Will you kiss me or not, already?”
You know, as far as I've observed, she wants it anyway, drunk or not, so that's not the issue.
Now, would it make sense for the MC to kiss her? Unless I interpreted things incorrectly, he's been trying to hide whatever affection he may have for Satori, even to himself. If he kissed her in some uncontrolled impulse, he'd have to do some serious mental acrobatics to justify it to himself, and I think that'd be fun to read about.
>>8909 As a matter of fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems like the right choice. Both want the same thing, but one is too reserved and the other is in denial. What better opportunity will there be than this? Not to mention: >“That I should do however you wish, for the day might mark our good-bye.” So not only it's a good chance, it may be the last chance.
Plus, it's not like alcohol COMPLETELY shuts down your mind. She's still thinking, but being a little more inhibited about it, that's all.
I just hope I'm not completely wrong about the nature of the relationship. With YAF, you never know in these things.
Garion flinched once; this was not such a request as with he had reckoned.
And yet it was only that once that he flinched.
Satori was waiting, whispering, “Smartly,” her gaze riveted still someplace ahead; and smartly did Garion oblige, though the smart was dulled by the somnolence somewhat. All the same he turned—rolled over, more so—and cuffed his hands on her hips even as she had bidden. And though the hips jolted slightly under his touch, he thought naught of it, naught at all; for indeed, there was naught to think about and he was anyway befogged by the sleep, and could not think much, even should he wish. Which, senseless though it was, was fortuitous also: for he did not wish to think, and it helped a goodly deal to keep his thinks clear.
So he, in his post-doze haze, thought.
After he had thought that, however, another yet think came to him: that he should make known what his decision had been, lest he make a fool of himself and confuse the small hostess unseemly.
So he said, “Very well,” in his still-rasping voice, and stayed.
Satori chuckled at his a trifle overdue delicacy. “Are you ready?” she breathed a small question. “... I am.” “All right.” The small hostess closed her big violet eyes. Garion watched her waiting face for a tiny moment.
Then, they kissed.
“Ouch.” “...” Garion drew himself back. Satori was glowering. “Tilt your head a bit, won’t you?” she chided. “You almost broke my nose there. Yes—just like that. Great. Can we pretend you were just nuzzling me?” “... Mm.” “Great; let’s continue. Are you ready?” “... Yes.”
Then they kissed.
And when they did, straight away Garion arrived all together at a number of realisations.
Nay; not of that kind, now. Ordinary realisations they were, hard-nosed realisations that he was wont to make. And they were many. The first: that her lips were softer even and more petite than her hands, despite their venomous nature. The second: that his, in turn, were coarse and dry. The third: that he might bruise her like this, if he presses any harder. The fourth: that he had neglected someway to shut his eyes before they had begun and they were wide open now. The fifth: that her tiny breath was held, even as was his. The sixth...
Anyway, they were such banal realisations. And hard though hard they both worked to make the kiss work, one could not say it was one such kiss as would go down in the annals of history as worth of note. Indeed, “ungainly” but began to describe it; “clumsy” followed someplace in the mid, and “mousey” trailed near the tag end, where one should stop of sheer unease. Their lips scarcely even touched!
And it would have been such an awkward kiss till the end also, had not Satori thrown her arms all of a sudden round his rough neck and pushed of some strange impulse harder at our dear boy’s rigid lips. The boy blinked, but might not speak, nor gasp nor anything, only blink in a stupefied way.
Then, almost as sudden, it was over.
There came a shrill noise from behind Garion’s back, from the crowd; and it was such a familiar noise of shattering glass that Satori began to laugh. The laugh broke the kiss apart.
The small hostess pulled away, to no avail attempting to suppress her tittering laughter—laughter that bore Garion’s ears awfully like an insult. Surging, bloating with acrid suspicion, the blond man wrenched around his head to look whence the noise had come; and he saw, indeed: that the scarlet-clad Hakurei was stumping furiously away toward the shrine, snarling vile things, half a split bottle of drink clutched in her fist and the one called Kasen in hot pursuit, shouting, begging to come back. The front doors of the shrine opened then slammed shut behind them, and the slam rattled the tiles on the roof.
Garion turned his icy stare back at the giggling Satori.
“Oh, that was great!” She was gloating. “So great! I’ll be done in if it wasn’t just too great. Oh joy! Ah...” She brought her trilling slowly under control. “Yes... That felt good.” “Satori.” The small hostess turned her beaming face up at the scowling young man. “Oh yes,” she said in a quizzical voice. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t say it had to be on the lips, did I?” “Why did you not say?” he demanded. A growing irritation marked his voice. “Would it have made any difference?” Satori dared. He gave her a frigid look. The small hostess puckered her lips. “I’m only teasing, Garion,” she said, “no need to get excited. I didn’t mean anything bad by that. I wouldn’t do that. As a matter of fact, it did the trick just as well. Say—” she flicked her slim fingers through her hair. “Am I mussed?” “... No.” “Shame. I’m almost inclined to think you weren’t being serious.” Again the blond man glared. Satori gave him a sad little smile. “You can’t take a joke, can you, Garion?” “I do not joke.” She made a sigh. “I’m sorry if that was too much,” she said, “but that puffed-up housebreaker was staring at us, did you know that? She was thinking some very unbecoming things, too – about me—about us, in general.” “So?” “Quit giving me that look, Garion. I had to bring her down a peg, that’s all. I’m just a little tiddly; it was the first thing that came to mind.” She cocked her head at him girlishly. “If you feel cheated, though, we could always... do it again... if you’d like.” The blond man ground his teeth and looked away. “I would not.” “I didn’t think so,” Satori said softly. “I wasn’t being serious anyway.” She unwound her arms from his neck. “I’ll likely forget about it by tomorrow in any case. She deserved that, Garion. It really isn’t very nice to stare. And besides, it was... well. It was just. I hadn’t entirely thought it through, but it wasn’t all that bad. You’ll want to wipe your lips, though. You’ve my lipstick on them.” “Lipstick? You?” “As a matter of fact, yes; I’ve learned that make-up takes people’s minds off your wrinkles.” “... You have no wrinkles.” “How nice of you to notice. Could you let go of me now? I can feel my back going stiff.”
Although moodily, Garion relinquished her hips and turned again on his back, once more settling against the stem of the aged oak. There he stretched on the grass and let his wearied eyelids droop close.
When he opened them again, Satori was rubbing his mouth with one sleeve of her robe.
“I told you there was lipstick,” she told him mildly. “I can do this myself,” he grunted in response. “Well, why didn’t you?” Garion did not reply. “Your lips are really dry, did you know?” “... Hrm.” “Are you angry with me, Garion?” “... No.” She withdrew her hand and gave him an appraising look. “Maybe I should have left it alone,” she mused half-aloud. “Maybe it would’ve helped with the dryness. Oh well.” She diligently rolled up the dirtied part of the sleeve. “Can I lean on you a little, Garion? If you honestly aren’t angry, that is.” “What?” “I said, ‘Can I lean on you?’ I’m feeling terribly tired for some reason and the ground is hard. I want to rest my head on your shoulder. Can I? Won’t you elbow me in the side if I do?” “... I will not.” “Great. Thank you. I won’t say you’re a dear, since I don’t want to annoy you, but you are, did you know?” “... Yes.”
The small hostess sat down and nestled gingerly under Garion’s arm.
Once she did, she gave another sigh; this, however, was more a sign of fatigue than some else a thing. She laid her cheek lightly on Garion’s breast, and her pale hair tickled his chin. A while passed that she was quiet, but ultimately spoke again, in a faint, gentle voice:
“You don’t happen to see Rin or Okuu anywhere close, do you?” she asked. Garion scanned perfunctorily the flushed faces of the revelling guests. “No,” he said afterward. “I should wager they are down-stairs still. Why?” “I don’t feel like I can reach home alone tonight, is all.” “What about your sister? She would surely accompany you if enjoined.” Satori budged her head in a vague direction. “I don’t think so, Garion. She’s completely taken by this festival. She even passed by us one time back there and never even noticed.” “She did? I did not—” “No. As a matter of fact, no, you didn’t see. You couldn’t. This is what I meant when I told you her picking a dress was pointless—when she was trying them on and had us watch, recall? She uses her... powers... to go about unnoticed—unseen by anyone else. Or not unseen; it’s a trifle more complicated than that. Anyway, no one can see her, Garion—not without a certain kind of countermeasure. And still!” she moaned, “she wanted to wear a nice dress! I really don’t understand my sister sometimes.” “I see.”
There was a pause.
“Garion?” “Yes, Satori?” “Will you... Would you stay with me tonight?” “Where?” The small hostess hesitated. “I didn’t want it to come down to this,” she said, “but what about what your father—what Michael advised? Could you talk the Hakurei into...” She left it hanging. “Yes,” said Garion without delay. “Are you sure? After what I’ve done to her, you think?” “Trust me.” Satori laughed weakly. “I don’t know that I should,” she said, “but I will—but just tonight, you hear?” “As you wish.”
Another long pause followed.
The tri-coloured band trailed away their last song then came off their dais in a single file, their instruments floating inexplicably mid-air at their sides. A soothing quiet unrolled over the yard, where there was music previously as well as talk; now only the talk remained, though it was subdued now that the greater sound had gone. Whether the festival had begun to end or it was a momentary but break, Garion could not tell; either way, it was calmer now.
“Garion?” Satori whispered. “Yes?” “If I fall asleep, will you carry me to bed?” “... Yes.” “Great. Garion?” “Yes?” “You’re really very handy to have around, did you know that?” “Yes.” “I thought you might. Thank you, Garion. I’ll be counting on you.” “... Yes.” “Thank you.”
After that, the small hostess spoke no more.
The peaceful stage of the fair continued in mellow repose. Some commotion was occurring where a modest party of more sober guests straggled about the crowd collecting trash and other assortments and piling them under the large wood-stack set in the centre of the courtyard, but they were neither so loud nor so rowdy in their work as to upset the tacit peace.
Garion looked down where his hands rested on his lap.
In one of those big hands lay cradled another: a small, ashen hand, with tiny knuckles and even tinier fingernails. The boy turned it over gently with some bemusement; he could not pinpoint, however he tried, the exact moment when he had taken it again. But it mattered very little now. He had held it for so long already tonight. So long, indeed, that he felt an irrational pang of fear that he might have engraved his fingerprints on its tender white skin. But he looked at it now and there were no prints yet.
In time, all refuse had been gathered and tossed in a heap under the firewood.
Then fire was set to kindling, and thrown in also.
The fire flickered and guttered at first, but erelong the dried oak-sheaves and pine-knots caught flame, and a tall bonfire rose ponderously into the night sky, spewing out billows of dark smoke and bright-orange sparks. The faces of the guests switched to watch the flames dance, and the flames tinkled in turn in their musing eyes. Garion gazed also, solemn and thoughtful, with the small Satori sleeping noiselessly in his arms. The festal night wore on, slowly but inexorably.
Now in time also the Hakurei issued from the shrine. She measured cursorily what the drink-fest had become in her absence (doubtless to clamp down on any budding agitator), lingered for a while with those closest of her confidantes, then spoke in passing with the recessing trio of musicians. She stared at length into the blazing bonfire. At last, she spun prudishly on her heel and approached on terse, squeamish feet the lofty old oak where Garion and his hostess lay idling in the shadow.
She was smiling faintly, but the smile was tight.
“The little monster asleep?” she asked once in earshot. “As long as you keep your voice down,” the blond man gave a bland reply. The shrine maiden came close. “Cool off, friend,” she said. “What did she say your name was? Gor...? Gar...?” “Only one may call me by that name,” Garion said flatly, “and you are not she.” “Simmer down, man.” The Hakurei grunted. “Good grief. I have no quarrel with you. About the only quarrel I have is with that maddening little thing you’re hugged to so preciously. Why don’t we keep it that way? How are you finding the piss-up?” “So-so.” “At least you’re plain enough to say that.” She assumed a humourless face. “Would you mind awfully if we could pass up on the courtesies? I’ve never been one for prolonged urbanity, and you don’t look the type for pleasantries, either—if you’ll forgive.” Garion inclined his head indifferently. “An it please you, feel free.” “‘An it please me,’ dog’s blood.” The shrine maiden snorted. “Watch that lingo, you’d better, friend. Some of the folks out there might take it for a challenge. Anyhow—” her eyes hardened, “—I’ll skip to the thrust here. I’ll have words with you, friend. I have questions you’ll have to answer before you go back to your little underground love-hole. Strictly professional. I want to clear up a few points so this doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass-cheeks later.” “And I, also,” the blond man replied, “have questions I shall have you address.” “Aren’t we bold tonight? Well, leastwise we won’t have to savage each other about it. What do you say we get that out of the way now—before the night is out and I’m called to housecleaning? I won’t have to keep you till tomorrow evening that way.” “Actually,” Garion noted, “we are kept either way.” “Hmm?” the shrine maiden made an inquiring sound. “It is a long ways hence to the entrance to the underworld,” the blond man explained. “I do not fly; miss Satori should not carry me in this present state, and the others we have not seen since hours ago.” “So? It’s your headache how to get home. What’s it business to me?” “Grant us stay.” “Say what?” “Grant us stay,” Garion repeated. “Only until morrow, when we shall talk.” “And why would I do that, pray tell? I’m lodging someone else already, anyhow. I don’t care how you go about it, but you’ll have to make do on your own. Should have asked someone else to give you a lift if you’re so heavy. I can’t afford to give board to everyone too plastered to walk home.” “I did not say free of charge.” There rose an inquisitive brow on the young woman’s face. “Will you listen?” Garion asked. “Well...” The shrine maiden tugged tentatively at one earlobe. “If you reckon you can talk faster than the booze airs out of my blood...” “I shall try.” “Then I might just. Out with it, man. I can feel myself sobering up already.”
Garion described at some length the bargain suggested by his old caretaker.
As he talked, he saw in the corner of his eye a troop of youths come up the steep staircase from the fair down-hill. The youths were seven about, men mostly, and they halted at the threshold of the yard, their faces stuck in that sheepish kind of smile the young sport altogether too often. There passed between them a few hasty words (and elbows also), then two separated from the group and went to speak in an abashed manner with the resting band. The others bode where they were, pointing out to each other this and that colourful guest and exchanging suppressed laughs.
Our boy, however, paid them no further heed. Staid he finished his explication, and gravely then awaited the frowning shrine maiden’s response.
The shrine maiden pulled at her ear for a short time yet, but before long decided. “That stands to some reason, I guess,” she said. “You believe me then?” The young woman shrugged. “Why not? I can’t much feature the geezer handing out gossip like this to any old passer-by, and since you know it, well, stands to reason there’s a grain of truth to it, no? I could put myself behind it, I think—‘cept for it is a bit of a risk.” “A gamble,” Garion corrected. “No, friend. This whole blamed place is a gamble. I deal with it every day; I should know. Some days I wake up and wonder when I’m going to lose the stakes. Anyhow, what you’re telling me here’s just pure speculation. I don’t know that I like this secret note thing, see. I just can’t see it working out. I’d like me something more solid instead—like you walking with me to that shop tomorrow and settling it there on my own eyes, for one. And me beating you to a pulp if you turn out to lie. It’d be less of a risk that way—for me, at least. How’s that present itself to you?” “I cannot do that.” “And why not?” Garion set his jaw. “I simply cannot.” The Hakurei crossed her arms. “Well then, friend.” She assumed a dry smirk. “Seems to me we’re at an impasse. What do you recommend, in that case?” “Why me?” “You want to crash at my place, you crash on my terms. And since my terms are: ‘if I pretty well like it,’ it’s more or less on you to help me make up my mind. Well? I’m ears all over here, friend. Amaze me.”
The blond man squared his shoulders. “I do not—”
There was a call, and the shrine maiden wheeled back at once to meet it.
The caller was one of the young villagers from before. The others were now among the sitting crowd, talking each to another of the guests. The band was back on their dais and readying their instruments. The Hakurei took the situation in at one glance; then she unleashed an evil, evil scowl at the nearing youth.
“What’s going on?” she demanded in a fierce voice. “What are you guys doing here?” “Ah, well,” the young man faltered under her glower, “nothing bad, I guarantee you. We’re only after jus’ a little dance or two round the fire, is all. See, there be an awful lot of ladies ‘ere tonight, and—” “I told you specifically to stay away! Are you guys ‘after’ a nice hard beating, too?” “Now, now,” the youth placated, “there be no need for fiery words; the fire be fiery ‘nough on its own. As I was sayin’, we’re after a dance jus’, nothin’ more. We won’t be trouble, oh no. O’er us cadavers.” “Over your cadavers all right!” “Anyway, that aside—” “‘Aside!’” “—what I exact be here for is ask miss Reimu specific to dance.” The coarse-tongued young man sketched a flamboyant bow. “Will you dance with me, lady mine? An it please you, natural.” “‘An it please me!’” hissed the Hakurei, casting a black, black look back at Garion. “Well? Will you, nill you?” “Oh, fine, gods!” The shrine maiden drew herself up. “One dance, hear? Only one! After that, you’re gone!” “‘Course, lady mine. Shall we?” “One second.” She faced once again our dear blond boy. “When I’m back, you’d better have thought of something.” “I will,” Garion assured. “You’d better!”
Then the Hakurei whirled around with a flip of her dress.
The young villager shot Garion a friendly wink, then took the fussing young shrine maiden by the hand and all but dragged her fuming from her ears toward the bonfire—where already there were pairs standing in wait only for their tardy friends. The band tapped a trial rhythm, and then struck up a folksy air so bright and so jolly that alone one’s feet swayed wishing to join the dance. The couples fumbled for a moment with their first steps, but erelong found each pair their pace, and spun now round the bonfire even to the vibrant tune.
Garion closed his eyes, and despite the new noise, submerged himself again in thought. Stroking softly the dainty tops of Satori’s palms, he pondered what he should do next.
Sooner than he knew it the song had passed, and there tapped before him once more the hard-shod anklets of the ill-tempered shrine maiden.
When he looked at her, however, she was changed: there was an exhilarated gleam in her eyes, and her waist-long hair was loosed and windswept, and she was heaving with effort but heaving contented. The young villager was at her side still, and appeared, for reasons obvious, immensely satisfied with himself. They were both flushed and bright-faced.
The shrine maiden leaned down and gave the cautious Garion a wide, girlish grin.
“Come on,” she urged him in a whisper; “let’s get you roomed. Quickly now. I don’t want to miss the next one.” “And the agreement?” Garion asked diligently. The Hakurei pursed her lips. “Oh, blast it! I forgot! Why didn’t you remind me?” she directed the question at her partner. “We could’ve come up with something together.” The young villager shrugged. “It hadn’t entered me mind in the least, I fear me.” “You had your mind full of trying to grab my butt instead.” “An’ tryin’ not to trip while at it, yea.” “You’re beastly!” The shrine maiden jabbed the man flippantly in the arm. “Anyhow, well, about that deal... Ah, blast it, do or die; I’ll take that note or whatever. Worst case I’ll regret it later. Get on your feet and pick the cheeky thing up, friend; let’s show you to your boards. And you—” here she addressed her partner again, “—go and see if you can hold the next song for me.” “An it please you, lady mine.” The Hakurei rolled her eyes skyward. “Do you men all talk like this? Oh, forget it. Come, this way.”
Garion lifted gently the sleeping Satori and followed the shrine maiden’s lead.
She guided him to a narrow, dusty room where walls and floors were padded with large rush-twined mats. The room was bare (save for one walk-in closet) and dark (there was no lamp), but quiet also – a virtue, no doubt, of the cushioned walls. There the still-wheezing shrine maiden haled from the closet a hefty white mattress and unfurled it on the floor. Then she dug out armful of likewise bulky pillows and threw them down slovenly on the mattress.
“I recall you had some luggage on you, right?” she asked, dusting off her hands. “I don’t have any extra blankets, I don’t reckon. Got you any of your own on you, maybe?” Garion nodded. “I do.” “Good. Oh yes; don’t leave that food and stuff lying around out there. I can’t vouch for it still being there when we start sweeping up tomorrow. ‘Sides, I don’t want it getting underfoot. Go fetch it before you hit the hay.” “I will.” “The outhouse is on the other side from the front yard. The well is close by; you can’t miss it. Anything else?” “I think this is all; you may go now.” She gave him a nasty look. “Why, thank-ee-lots, good philanthrope! I could have been fettered here forever!” She shook her head and went for the door. “Anyhow, we’ll talk tomorrow. Sweet dreams. Jackass.”
“You are welcome,” Garion muttered when she was gone.
The blond boy laid the small hostess lightly on the pillows, then went out on soft toes to retrieve their foods and chattels.
The festival had not died out after the affirmed “one dance;” on the contrary, in the wake of the one followed the second, then the third, fourth and fifth and sixth, and a second wind roused the souls and feet of the guests. ‘Twould yet be a long night afore the last ounce of sweat was squeezed from their pores.
Although fit, Garion was, however, certainly not tireless, and he sagged and yawned like a lion once his and Satori’s belongings were collected and he was back again in their tiny guest room. Again and again feeling his face split with huge yawns he conjured up from his backpack a thick woollen blanket and set it aside for use; for now, though, he was duty-bound to care for his small hostess’s clothing. She would smother sleeping like so: in these heavy robes.
So first he undid the robe exactly enough to see for underwear—which the prim hostess had not neglected to assume that evening. He removed the satin belt and peeled the robe off of Satori’s slim shoulders and hips.
He noted impassively that the cords of her orb made the task harder somewhat than it had seemed at first.
When the small hostess was finally laid to sleep, Garion slipped out of his own clothes, then folded them up tidily and set them beside hers. Almost on a whim, he stepped to their heaped leftover buys and plucked out of the messy assemblage the brown earthenware decanter. There still splashed inside a swig or two of the drink. He pulled out the stopper, sniffed once at the contents, and then took a trying sip.
He was right.
It was not wine.
It was chokeberry juice.
He plugged the vessel again and carefully put it away.
With another great yawn he lay down on the mattress and swung the blanket over himself and the steadily breathing Satori. There was no need to make issue of this now. Or at all. As for tomorrow, he would see. Yes. Tomorrow.
Tomorrow might call for some hard machinations. ‘Twould be best likely if he did not clutter his mind with such trifles as this.
With that last thought, he drifted off to peaceful sleep.
>>8960 Soz, have to catch up with my other works and I spent the weekend getting pissed and snuggling up to stuff. I’m thinking tomorrow or the day after. A’ight? sal sal plz ;_; Here be scantily dressed Satori in the meanwhile.
While the point had not been unfamiliar to him, only now did he discover yet anew how restless of a bed-manner had his dainty little hostess. And more so: cold. She tossed around a dreadful deal, tossed and switched, as a frog on a hot rock; and her tiny feet were as though small animals scurrying over, under and around his legs. Suffer he did many a painful kick that night, our dear brave Garion, and many a cold toe; in the end, however, the squirming Satori had found an agreeable position, and our boy, overcome now with fatigue, passed at long last out and sank, heavy as a log, into the downlike pillows. Sleep was upon him finally, though alas, only after the longest time.
As such, he was none too gladdened when the sleep was torn from him again.
It felt as though it had been but a scant few minutes since had his eyes closed, but here a shaft of grey day-light was swamping his sticky eyes, and he knew at once he had been sound asleep for, indeed, a much more considerable time. The door to the room stood open; it was from beyond that the light shone into the windowless room. There was a figure leaning, framed in that door, and it was saying words, though Garion could not yet tell what exact it was saying.
The blond boy rose to a half-sit. The fore of his head ached insolubly in one spot.
The figure spoke clearer then, and its voice was captious. “Are you quite awake?” it asked. “Or will I have to give it one more shot?” Garion did not reply; he yawned instead and squelched his eyes at the figure. “Oi, what do I look like to you? A chambermaid?” The figure folded her arms. “Up, up, lover-boy. It’s interview time. Out of the damned bed! I haven’t all day to waste waiting on you to kindly get up. Hey! Are you even listening?” “Mm,” Garion murmured noncommittally. “Oi,” the figure growled; “don’t you doze off again, hear? Up, for heavens’ sake! Gods, you men! Anyhow, I’ll be in the main chamber. Got it? Good. Come there and we’ll have a chat. And don’t you keep me waiting, friend, or I swear to all I’ll come again and be much less generous that time!” The figure made a motion as though to close the sliding door, but stopped, and once more looked at the sleepy-eyed Garion. Then she made a disgusted sound, shut the door and left, grumbling to herself.
The young man let fly one more titanic yawn ere he elected to see what strange thing was weighing so heavy on his chest.
The thing was Satori.
The small hostess lay clinging tightly to his front, her tiny hands laid flat on his breast, and her hair a big tangled chaos. Asleep still, regardless of the earlier wake-up visit the oblivious she breathed on, in small warm breaths, at the blond man’s coarse neck. And though he could not say why, for some ill-conceived reason his arms were about her waist, enclosed someplace between the edge of her flimsy camisole and the other unmentionable. The place was very warm to touch and moved faintly up and down with her breaths.
With measured prudence Garion removed his arms from the place and rolled lightly to the side to let the slumbering Satori peel away from his chest. About half-way through, however, the small hostess stirred. She purred under her dainty nose and turned her head up to look at the bland-faced young man.
“Mm... Garion?” she mumbled. “Yes?” he asked vapidly. “Why are you in my bed?” “I am not.” She stared at him with blank, uncomprehending eyes. “It is not your bed,” he explained. “Oh,” she said. She closed her eyes and smiled. “Never mind then.”
And then she wandered off to sleep again.
The blond man slowly let her slip off of him and onto the thick mattress.
Then he went to his feet, swayed once when his balance wavered, pulled on some presentable clothes and went out without bothering the oblivious Satori to come along. And good. There were things to ask best kept from her little ears, however lovely they were.
The “main chamber,” so-styled, turned out a far cry of its name.
There was an altar in that room, unadorned; and there was a low-set table. Up to the altar there mounted a flight of a few wooden stairs: old and dark with grit, unused; upon it meanwhile roosted a once-white marble statue, blackened now by time, of a lush-bodied humanlike figure: the god of this shrine, presumably: long-forgotten by the marks, even by its priestess left to become caked in all-consuming dust. There was no reverence in this place to find, one should mark, no place for worship; this was no more a chamber of any stripe, main or otherwise, than Satori’s manor was a sunny roadside inn.
The Hakurei leastwise true to her word was seated at the table with a steaming teacup cradled in her work-specked palms. The palms were quaking in an ailing manner. The shrine maiden acknowledged Garion’s entry with a slight narrowing of the eyes. The eyes were bleak and circled with deep shadows.
“Sit,” she told him simply. Her voice was hoarse. Garion followed her direction without a word. “Sleep well?” she asked. There was a certain edge to her tone. “No.” “Well, isn’t that just a pity? Never you mind, friend,” she said when the blond man opened his mouth to answer; “I wasn’t trying to be insulting and I wasn’t really asking, either. I’m just a tad bit out of sorts this blamed morning. Or is it noon, already? I think it’s past it, at that. How the time flies when you haven’t had one wink the whole night.” The corners of her lips turned up in a pallid smile. “Anyhow, what do you say to some of that fabled Hakurei hospitality? Tea? Cookies, maybe?” Garion held up his hand. “Thank you all the same.” “Aren’t we just raring to get it done and over with today? Good heavens.” The shrine maiden released her cup and lazily cracked her knuckles. “Well, I can sort of appreciate that, I guess. I’ll waste any leisure time I have, but I’ll be pissed if I have to waste it trading fake civilities. I won’t apologise for planting that bump on your brow, by the way,” she added. “I did what I could to wake you up without throwing things, but you wouldn’t hear of it.” The blond man touched a finger to the aching spot on his forehead. So this was why it ached. “It compliments that other one you’ve got up there just fine,” the Hakurei joked. “Had to be a frightful hit, that one. Going to leave a scar, likely.” “It hasn’t healed?” Garion was a little disconcerted. “Oh, you can probably only see it in good light—” the shrine maiden smirked, “—but it’s there if you look. I’ve got my mother’s sharp eyes, that’s all. Anyhow, that’ll have to do for the courtesies. We had a nice little schmoose, that’s good; but I’ll be frank – I can hardly wait till we have this all behind us, too. I have stuff to do ‘sides worrying about your hairy love affair.” She set her hands down and assumed a stern face. “I’ll be blunt. You know who I am, don’t you?” “Yes.” Garion nodded. “Then you ought to be aware what your loverly lady-friend is, too.” “I am.” “I should bothered well think so. It’s pretty hard to miss, what with the tubes, eyes and all. Anyhow, ‘tis in my blood-duty to keep ones like her in check. I don’t mind them myself, not too much, but when they rear their ugly heads out of their holes and start stirring up trouble, that makes it my business to show them the underside of my boot. I can’t say that I enjoy it all too much, but I wasn’t offered any choice in the matter. I’m one of the powers-that-be as keep this place from flying apart.” She crooked one brow in distaste. “Did I just say ‘as?’ I’ve got to hurry on with this; I’ll slip into that awful speech completely if I can’t clear my brains soon. Anyhow,” she resumed in a tart voice, “long as they stay out the collective hair of the rest of the Land, I’ll allow them free roam with impunity. It isn’t too efficient trying to have them all locked up so I let them just settle down where they please instead. It’s been like that since I took over the job and so far it’s worked out well for me. One issue I’ve got to keep in my sights is that some tend to get into others’ hair quite simply by being there at all. It’s about their abilities and what they do with them, see. I don’t reckon there’s any need to point fingers here, is there?”
“No,” granted Garion; “but with the present exception—bidden by you, no less—she never does leave her house of her own accord.” “Yes, I suppose she doesn’t. I wasn’t saying that she does; I’m only drawing up the general overview of the case for you. I can’t begin to guess how much she’s told you or what, the awful little thing, and I need you here to keep some things clean in mind. What was I on about? Oh yes. I’ll be honest with you, friend. I’ve had the worst experience with humans getting together with monsters.” The Hakurei scoffed. “Only last month, believe, there showed up this looney-mad old hag from Hell with an agenda of making the Land some sort of free-love state where everyone’s hugs and kisses with everyone else. She don’t seem to see the fellers up in the town aren’t yet so very fond of the monsters, us and god-folk as to live with us door-by-door. Some are easy with it, yes, but then there’s this group down there that’s been proddin’ at the notion the monsters are ought to piss off totally and give free reign to humans.” She made a derisive smile. “It’s a real powder-keg of trouble ready to blow off, is what it is. And I’m sitting my butt right on the lid.
“So as you can clean see,” she continued, “there’s reasons why I’m not so hot on the idea of humans practising open loverly-doverly with monsters just yet. It’s inhumane maybe, yeah, and heartless for certes, but if it keeps this current ordeal from bursting at the seams, I’ll take the blame.” She halted and knitted her brows. “What the blazes did I just say?” “‘Certes.’” “Gods, what’s he done to me? Any-how-way, I couldn’t care less if she gets together with her likes and mourns the good old times gone, but when you join the pretty picture, that worries me more than just a tad. ‘Tis I, see, who’ll have to dirty her hands when a flock of half-humans begins to run amok because their parents are too far gone in their madness to keep them out of sight. Why madness? Has it crossed your thought by chance that there’s quirks to that sort of relationship that can’t be ironed out with one evening heart-to-heart? I have heard of too many instances of persons going bonkers in these sorts of engagements.” “Can monsters have children?” Garion asked quite seriously. “All the kinds of them?” The Hakurei spread her arms helplessly. “How am I to know? Some can. Other may not. Why don’t you knock one up and see? Actually, don’t. As long as I’m around, I don’t even want to hear of another one skulking about.” “Another?” “There is one,” the shrine maiden said with some unspoken grudge. “I’m not very warm of him, not too so, but he keeps to himself mostly, so I let him be. I don’t know what fashion of crazy romance spawned him, but he’s beyond all doubt a half-monster.”
Garion put his hand thoughtfully to his chin and frowned.
“Anyhow,” the Hakurei went on, “that fascinating sidelight aside, I’m sure you can see why I’m butting my nose into what may appear at first your own lookout. I’m not saying you’re to cut your ties here and now. I’m only asking that you’re discreet about your... thing. If you really... love her so, well...” the shrine maiden made a pained sigh, “there’s not much I can do about it, likely.”
“I do not,” said Garion, still thinking.
“Say what?” “I do not love her.” “Huh?” “I have no interest in her,” he lied; “not that kind, leastwise. Indeed—” he looked again at the now wide-eyed shrine maiden, “—I should go so far as saying your concerns are rootless.” “What’re you saying?” she asked him incredulously. “I am saying—” he began. “I know what you’re saying,” objected the Hakurei. “I just don’t know what you’re saying. I mean—shit.” The blond man stared at her inquiringly. “OK, all right, piss.” She nimbly re-established some pretence of composure. “You’re not... you know... an item?” “No.” “Then why were you... All right, I saw you yesterday, see? And you were kissing, all right? I saw it, I happened to. What’s up with that—if you aren’t a... a thing, you know?” Garion made a cool, calculated shrug. “She had played for me earlier,” he explained; “then I played for her. I owed her a favour; she chose that. I did not presume to question her choice.” This was what he had decided.
The Hakurei was batting her eyelashes in dawning understanding. “Then it was...?” “A misunderstanding,” said Garion; “on your part.” “And you aren’t...?” “No.” This he said firmly once more in the confines of his mind.
The shrine maiden stared at him for yet a short moment; then she buried her face in her hands. A weak laughter shook her failing shoulders; the laughter rose in pitch well as volume and she was laughing full-fledged a laugh soon.
“That cheeky thing!” she moaned in mid the laugh. “To play me like that! I’ll have her out of her hide, I swear to all!” Garion managed a taut smile. “Will you answer my questions now?” he asked.
The Hakurei rubbed her eyes with one sleeve; and she faced the blond man once more, with life back in her eyes now, and the stone off her chest.
“Ask away,” she said. “As long as you tell me by the way why you are then with her at all. I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind would suffer her company of their own free will.” The smile on Garion’s lips jerked. “Certainly,” he said nevertheless. “Or shall I say, ‘for certes?’” The Hakurei chuckled. “I’m begging you, no.” “Anyway,” the blond man pursued, “I came by her on pure chance; her living place I came upon, is what, to be exact. I have since used my welcome in its walls as base for my search.” “Search?” “I am on a quest to find someone—someone very important to me. I wandered into the underworld whilst on this quest—again, by chance alone; I met with her pet, then, one of them, one named Rin, and she was who guided me to her master’s home. As the master did not entertain the idea of me prowling in her ‘backyard,’ as she saw it, she volunteered for me stay within the rooms of her house. I stayed thus.” “I see.” The shrine maiden nodded. “That’s it, then? You’re crashing at her place for the time while you... search... the underground for that someone of yours. Am I correct?” “Indeed.” “And you came with her to my festival because...?” “I wished to speak with you,” Garion confessed. “I perceive you alone may answer—or be inclined to answer truthfully—the questions I wish answered.” “Why didn’t you just come by yourself? I don’t drive out visitors, normally—unless I’m in an especially vile state of mind.” “Would you have believed me then?” Garion countered, “that I am acquainted with one Satori, whom my questions concern? Would you have imparted knowledge of her circumstances unknowing whether I should not pass it unto unreliable hands? I understand the sealing and opening again of the underworld is subject to a manner of secrecy on this side.” “Good point,” the Hakurei admitted. “What do you want to know, in that case? Ask and I’ll tell what I can.” “I was informed the underworld was unsealed only in the recent times,” said the blond man. “When was that?”
The shrine maiden gave it some thought.
“I won’t say precisely,” she said, “but some months back is around when. I can’t tell the passage of time when there’s something cropping up every odd week. I’ve a lot on my head and it messes with it every so often.” “I see. Was the underworld sealed for long?” “I... don’t know. Some years, I’m sure.” She scratched her ear. “I’d never heard about it from my mother, see, but it should be safe to assume she knew about it; but if she didn’t think it important to tell me, it may have been before I was born. She always told me about her work when I was a child, but I can’t recall no thing about Old Hell. I only heard about it first when the raven-wings started making trouble in the neighbourhood.” “Then you do not know?” “I said that just then.” “An estimate, perhaps? Was it longer than a decade? A lifespan?” “I haven’t the tiniest idea, friend. I’m sorry.”
Garion gritted his teeth and swore harshly. This was not what he had hoped to hear.
“Was the underworld sealed absolutely?” he readjusted his question. “So as no one might pass this way or that?” “I don’t think so,” said the Hakurei with a smart flick of her fingers. “See, when that incident when I opened up the hole again—you’ve heard of it, haven’t you?—when it started there was spirits coming up in skeins from down below. ‘Course, spirits aren’t the selfsame thing as monsters or humans, but the sealing isn’t physical strictly, but magical, too—meaning, ‘tis logical to think there was some leaks someplace, this sort or the other. I hadn’t never thought about it this way, but there must have been. Why’s this intrigue you so much, anyhow?” “Never mind,” Garion muttered. “Whatever. Anyhow,” the shrine maiden continued, “I can very well picture why Mother’d want that place locked up. There’s all fashion of naughty personage squatting down there—our mutual friend included. Nobody likes their thoughts read. An existence conceived entirely for that very purpose is bound to ruffle a lot of hair – Mother’s in it. I’ll take any stripe of monster made for scaring children out of mousing in the basement over something that can see into my most private heart. I like my heart unseen, get it? I feel safer this way. And healthier, if you catch my drift. I’m sort of part to some fairly heavy stuff; I’d really rather it didn’t get out if I can help it. It’d be sick unhandy if it did. I can’t have anyone go spouting noising it about.”
“Why don’t I see if I can get it in writing, then?”
The Hakurei’s expression at once turned sour.
Garion wrenched his upper half around to meet the newcomer to the conversation.
It was Satori.
She was mussed and bed-haired. She was in her undergarments, though she wore over of them Garion’s thick leather jacket; her legs, however, were long and bare, unshod. She stepped up lightly and sat on her knees close—very close—at Garion’s side. The blond man gave her a demanding stare.
“That robe is a pain to put on, Garion,” she told him mildly. “I borrowed your jacket. I didn’t think you’d hate it all too much.” “I do not.” “As a matter of fact, yes, I can see that. You should have done something about your hair, though. You always look like such a haystack in the morning. Good morning to you, Hakurei,” she greeted the shrine maiden. “Were you molesting him again in my absence?” The Hakurei snorted. “Cut the bull, Komeiji. I know about you now. He told me he was only playing.” “Oh?” Satori did not as much as twitch. “What if I wasn’t, though?” The shrine maiden scowled. “Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it, Hakurei?” “I’m not playing your games, mind-leech.” “Why don’t we talk about that? I could use a good wrangle to get my blood running. Why is it that the thought of me, gods forbid, enjoying myself in someone’s company gives you so much grief? Why don’t we talk about it?” the small hostess challenged again. “I’ve been aching to tell you what I care about your thoughts for the longest time, anyway.”
So finally Satori can get some payback for all that slander. And, since she's a mind-reader, Garion's lie sholdn't fool her.
That said, I'm all for plot twists and the like, but if Garion's so dense as to not ask the Shrine Maiden simply if she has seen or knows the whereabouts of the person he's looking for, along with a lenghty description of her self, I'm going to find a way to break the fourth wall from the other side and murder him on his sleep.
>>8984 Satori is probably well aware of what's going on with him. She was there when this scene happened, after all:
>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.
By the way, I missed the opportunity to say it back then, but that misty knoll line is hilarious.
>That said, I'm all for plot twists and the like, but if Garion's so dense as to not ask the Shrine Maiden simply if she has seen or knows the whereabouts of the person he's looking for, along with a lenghty description of her self, I'm going to find a way to break the fourth wall from the other side and murder him on his sleep.
The next minutes proved trying for our beloved Garion.
The floodgates of the hatred the two women felt for one another, once opened, might never be closed again. And bile came forth in great volumes, and sizzling venom and rancour of such a vile kind as Garion rarely had seen or witnessed with his own two ears. Almost he threw down his fist and called, “Silence!” but even as the notion came to him he knew it should be useless to shout; the two would go on even regardless, until every insult was said and every malevolent look cast.
“Gods created us all in their image—” Satori was saying in a condescending tone, “—you and me alike, in case it hadn’t occurred to you. What makes me exempt, then? Why is it that the thought of me being happy disgusts you so? Is it envy, Hakurei? Are you envious that someone of my stature might, oh humanity, love and be loved as well?” The Hakurei was louring at the small Satori; her arms were crossed, her eyes – incensed. “You know as well as I do,” she said in a deathly quiet voice, “that my personal sentiments have none to do with this.” “And yet you let them colour your judgement—colour it ugly green, at that.” Satori crossed her arms also. “Why, if you’re so jealous, why-ever didn’t you go with that nice fellow from last night? Oh!” she smiled an innocent little smile and set one finger mockingly across her lips, “don’t speak. I know what you’re thinking. ‘Go with that lout?’” she made a guttural parody of the shrine maiden’s husky voice, “‘that lout who couldn’t count to two tens without pulling off his shoes? Absurd!’ Am I not right? Isn’t that what you were thinking? What an unkind thing to think for someone of your age, too. Wouldn’t you say? Why, maybe that is why you’re so lonely despite your status and overweening fame?” “And maybe that!” the Hakurei flared up, “is why you’re cloistered up in your blasted burrow and not here with everyone else! Get out of my head, you leech!” “Oh no,” Satori fleered, “I don’t think so, not yet. It’s rather obscene in there, I confess, but I think I’ll stay a while longer all the same.” “You’re digging your grave, Komeiji!” “Aren’t I just? Were you going to do something about it?” “Are you asking me to seal you?” the shrine maiden drawled, “here and now? ‘Cause it seems to be you’re close to begging for it.” “Wouldn’t that go against your work ethic?” “I’ll make an exception, don’t you worry. I will. I can do that if I very well please. So don’t you make me cross, little one, because I will end you. One more word I don’t like and you’re toast. And there will be one less monster in the world. Go you on, read my mind. See whether I’m joking. I dare you, little one. I dare you, cross me.”
“All right.” Satori took a deep breath. “What do you say to this, then? Instead of blowing off at each other, why don’t I give you a piece of advice, maybe tell you the crux of your problem?” “I won’t hear of it.” “Shame, because I’ll say it all the same. A good relationship, Hakurei, is a matter of time and sacrifice. What you possess is neither of these, not in nearly a sufficient degree. Why don’t we take me for an example? I am proud. I am narrow sighted, arrogant and conceited. I have a multitude of stoutly-held views that I’ll impose upon others out of that sheer arrogance. I admit it freely, I’m not the best person to walk this earth by any stretch of imagination. And then, take him—” here she motioned at the stiff Garion, “—he is cruel, hateful and tenacious, has rough, cold hands, messy hair and a loathsome habit of keeping too many things exclusively to himself. And yet we get along just fine somehow. Why do you suppose that is?” The Hakurei shrugged. “You’re both mad.”
“No, you deuced fanatic!” Satori slammed her hands on the table. “It’s because we’re both people! We have the same number of arms, legs, heads, hands, fingers, everything! We’re both living, thinking creatures! We breathe, we eat, sleep, talk, laugh, fall in love and forgive one another for our shortcomings – there is no difference! Why won’t you recognise that I’m not some ill-smelling vermin nibbling on your boots and getting underfoot when you go out on a stroll in the forest?! Why can’t I be happy if you aren’t?!”
“Will you keep your bleating down?” the shrine maiden hissed. “There are others sleeping.” Satori laughed. “And what is it to me, do tell? If I am so despised already, what do I care about waking some few late drunkards who don’t even see me as another person?” “Stop yelling, Komeiji.” “And what if I don’t?!” the small hostess yelled. “I don’t have to suffer your sectarian racialism, Hakurei! I don’t give a half deuced damn if you consider my living down in those caves punishment or insurance of your own sense of safety! I’m happy down there, you hear me? I’m happy! I’m doing just fine, damn you, your cursed family and your species’ irrational bigotry! I’m happy! And did you know something? I came all the way up here just so I could toss it in your stinking yellow teeth!” “Now you’ve done said it!”
The Hakurei leapt to her feet.
“I’d let it slip that you flash your blamed old-fashion lover-boy to piss me off,” she growled, clenching and unclenching her fists, “I’d let it slip even that you never said thanks that I let you crash at my blasted place! I’ll beat my head on the wall later, but I’ll let it slip! But I won’t—” she was all but shrieking now, “—won’t tolerate your coming to my blasted main chamber, sitting at my blasted table and telling slurs about my blasted teeth!” Satori gave her a smug look. “Why, you’re yelling, Hakurei.” “I’ll yell all I damned well please, you rotten brain-leech! It’s my house—my walls, my rules, my yelling! And I’ll wake whomever I very well want!” she added ere Satori could point out the danger; “they’ll be easy with it, they pretty well will. And do you want to know why? ‘Cause they’re my friends, is why—but, oh yes, you wouldn’t know what that means, would you? Would you, Komeiji?”
The small hostess squirmed, but her ashen face remained even as it had been.
[ ] Garion took steps at that point. [ ] He did not; it was not his fight.
>>8989 like dis if u cry evry time. Stri I lov u 5ever
[x] Garion took steps at that point. I think that's enough of that. As far as I can tell, Satori's in the right-even if she's being a bitch about it- but they're acting like kids. Bah, whatever, she has good reasons for being like that. Both have, anyway.
“Struck a nerve, did I?” on gloated the shrine maiden. “I saw that just now. I have eyes, I do. We aren’t near so much akin as you’d wish, Komeiji; bah! I should even go so far as say we’re of two different worlds. But I won’t; because I’m stuck here as you are: in this Land. But you can’t be farther from the others up here if you tried. They revile you, even your blasted monster-kin.”
The pale Satori gnashed her small teeth, but yet, spoke not.
“‘The same?’” the Hakurei jeered; “don’t make me laugh, you! You’re a leech is what you are: a parasite feeding off our anxieties. Your yesterday’s clowning just very well proves that, don’t it? And now, too! You won’t let it pass, oh no; you worm into our thoughts and wallow in them like a pig in mud—and the queasier they are, the better yet they feel, don’t they? Yes, I’m blasted stuck-up and racist; I was raised that way. And yes, I get lonely at times—like a normal damned person my age!
“But you can’t let it lie, can you, Komeiji; you can’t keep your yap shut, you crawling swine. You’ve got to smear my face in my own shit because that’s what makes you thrive. That’s what you are, Komeiji. You’re a worm. A maggot. A nuisance. And you know what? It sickens me to know that I’d have to exert myself lifting my arm just to remove something so pathetic as you from existence. I don’t even feel like I should bother, that’s how insignificant you are. Nobody would mourn you. That’s how little you matter. You’re nothing, Komeiji. Nothing.”
This was too much to bear for the slight Satori.
Also she launched to full stance, and also clinched her fists. There was a tinge, unhealthy red, to her cheeks, and furious was her gaze. A terrible storm of wicked, wicked contumelies gathered at the fringe of her mind: kind and loving usually, but now aflame, blood-red. And the storm thirsted, ached to be unloosed.
But then Garion moved also; and in that move he seized one Satori’s wrist: pulled her down forcibly (perhaps brutally) again onto her knees. And ice-cold were his eyes when she turned to him with protests, and cutting they were and relentless, so words died on the small hostess’s tongue.
Then the blond man backed from the shin-high table and bowed a low, submissive bow as a servant might bow when he wrongs his master: he laid his hands both on the floor before him and pressed his forehead down on them, kneeling still and hurting from the stale joints. All the same he bowed.
“Garion—” began Satori, but the young man cut her even as short as she had cut his hair. “Shut up, Satori!” he snarled in a way unsuffering defiance.
The small hostess reeled; this was first such time that her guest spoke to her in so harsh a mode. A bulge grew in her throat, stifling, for the words cut her to the quick.
“What?” she exclaimed. “No, it didn’t—” But Garion was fast yet again. “I said shut up!” he barked. Then he addressed the unspeaking shrine maiden. “I offer hereby words of apology on behalf of my hostess,” he declared, “who has erred to malign you in your own house; for that I apologise sincerely, for it was doubtless aided by my presence—” “Garion!” “—yet I pray you, daughter of the Hakurei, forgive her, and me also, for we have erred both. I wager this is bound also to her condition, made ill by all the drink she took in yester-night; which I should have stopped but did not—for which also I apologise from the bottom of my heart and beg forgiveness of the master of the house.” Once more he touched his forehead down on his lying hands. “I pray you, good priestess, forgive our unseemly demeanour, hers and mine both. I beseech you thus.”
Then he waited.
He did not see, but the Hakurei was nigh as flabbergasted by this display as was her enemy Satori, making choked sounds at his left.
Now there was a conflicted noise or two also from the shrine maiden ere she let fall her shoulders and the air fly from her chest through her tightened throat. And she spoke to him, and her voice was void altogether of the rancour she had shown before notwithstanding of her lessened state.
“Get your nose off the floor, man,” she said in a quiet way. “What are you, some sort of bug? Geez.” She released one explosive breath. “I haven’t never before heard an apology so long, I don’t reckon,” she said more crisply, “but I’ve got to admit, you have a way with words, Garion or whatever. All right,” she surrendered reluctantly, “I’ll let you off this time; but that’s because of you, man—not of her, got it? And if she so much as thinks to read my thoughts again, I’ll have her out of her pasty hide quicker than she can yelp your name once, hear?”
Garion rose back to a sit and grim-faced still turned to Satori. “Did you hear?” he wanted to confirm. The small hostess was biting on her lips, but inclined all the same her hot little head. “Good,” said the blond man. He made a wry smile. “I do prefer you like so.” The Hakurei joined in with a warped smile of her own. “See, one of you t’least has its head on their shoulders. I won’t say no more ‘bout this if you won’t, Komeiji,” she told the shaking Satori. “And if you watch your tongue don’t leap out of your mouth, I may even can continue my talk with your friend here maybe.” Satori did not answer. Garion, however, did. “I thank you,” he said; “however, I have heard already all which I wished to hear.” The Hakurei looked at him in a surprisingly clement way. “Are you positive, sure?” she asked. “A pity, ‘twould be; I find the fashion you spoke just then charming someway—though I wouldn’t go so far as say I like it, no. Still, I’d have liked to hear more. You’re good conversation leastwise, unlike some I could name.” One could mark her glancing a dare Satori’s way, but the dare went unanswered. “Anyhow,” she continued to Garion, “Thought you ever of becoming a storyteller sometime? I feel here you might tell a frightful good tale if you wished.” Unknowing what else to do, Garion bowed his head in acceptance of the compliment. “‘Course,” the shrine maiden said with an unserious smile, “you oughtn’t to let it get to your noggin, hear? Anyhow, this all done I fear me I’ll have to leave you and get some wink. We’ve swept up most of the mess already, so hopeful I can get some rest without no one whining in my ear. Yous twos can round your stuff up and get at going—better fast, too: it’s looking like rain outside. Anyhow, that said—”
All of a sudden, Satori spoke up in a sullen voice:
“Won’t you ask about your woman, Garion?”
The blond man looked at her: she was glowering at him terribly, but seemed genuine to help his failing memory. “... Yes,” he succumbed to her adorably askance brows, “I should, perhaps.” The Hakurei sat down again. “A woman?” she said. She sounded puzzled. “So you’re searching for some woman?” “Not ‘some,’ just,” he corrected. “A very particular woman.” “An old lover?” “Hardly. A caretaker. She cared for me when I was but a tyke. I purpose now to find her anew.” “And you reckon I might know her?” “I do not,” said Garion, “but...” He left it unfinished. “Ah.” The Hakurei made an understanding nod. “I got you, methinks. So, she was your mother, in that case?” “... Potentially.” “‘Potentially?’” “I do not remember,” the blond man explained. “It has been two decades since last I knew her presence. I cannot be sure; I may have forgotten much. She was young then, kind, loving. She adored stories, knew many a campfire tale she would tell me in late night. She knew always what ailed me and what to say to calm me in times of stress. And she loathed poetry, though she loved stories.” The shrine maiden smiled. “A good person, she sounds like.” “... Yes,” Garion said rigidly. “But ‘tis a broad sort of description, wouldn’t you say?” “It is all I remember.” “You told me she was normal,” Satori commented from the side; “no wings, orbs or monster-parts, you said.” “I did.” Garion was very careful now. “But as I said just then, I may have forgotten.”
There was a pause.
“... I see,” Satori murmured. “We’ll talk about this later.” “As you wish.” “All right,” said the Hakurei, “that’s all nice and all, but I can’t help you much with that much. Can’t you tell me her name? Or some such specific thing, maybe?” “I cannot.” “‘Tis a hard thing you ask, friend,” she told him dryly, “to find a woman knowing she was kind but loathed poetry. There’s women like that in flocks.” “So I understand.” “‘Good luck’ is the most about I can tell you. I’m a just a poor shrine maiden, see, not a goddess or no such all-seeing thing.” “I understand. I thank you still.” “You’re welcome as can be.” She smiled again, this time with plain self-deprecation. “I wish there was more cases like I could get a ‘thank you’ from as easy as this. Would make my life more agreeable to live. Not that I’ve done a whole lot of useful for you, friend. Aren’t I right?”
“As a matter of fact,” Satori chimed in again, “you could make yourself useful.”
“Oh?” The Hakurei eyed her with restrained choler. The small hostess assumed a polite expression. “Won’t you have a look at him, pretty please?” she said. “A closer look, if you will.” “What’s this about, Komeiji?” “I know nothing about spirits and such,” the small hostess told her, a strange glint in her beautiful eyes, “but I know they can be... intrusive, at times, know what I’m getting at?” The shrine maiden frowned. “Are you saying you’re afraid he might’ve caught one?” “It’s not unheard of, is it? As a matter of fact, he says he has stalked about the underworld for weeks now. I am safe mostly from such things—as is everyone else down there—but he is only human.” “Wouldn’t you say he’d have been showing ‘signs’ then?” “As a matter of fact, I’d thought of it. Still, I can never be too careful, can I?” “I’m not all too great with spirits,” the Hakurei confessed. “I can’t be positive, but... Hold on. Kas!” she shouted over her shoulder at the door on the far end of the chamber. “Won’t you grace us for a second?” She faced again the blond man and the suspicious Satori. “She’ll sense it better if something’s attached to him recently. She’ll be a moment, I reckon. She’d stayed up with me till white morning. Give her a minute.”
Garion gave his small hostess a questioning look.
“Only being careful,” she told him mildly. “That came out of nowhere.” “So did your bowing and begging.” “... True.” “Will you let me be careful for you, Garion?” “... An it please you.” “Thank you. You’re very accommodating today.”
The Hakurei grinned. “Horrible, isn’t it?” “I can live with it,” Satori returned.
In a while the far door opened and there an acquainted figure came into view in a sleepy, rolling gait.
The figure was Ibaraki Kasen from the yester-day fair; but gallant then, now a wrinkled sleeveless undershirt was her only dress, with naught underneath but bare skin; and her right arm was swathed in bandage from the shoulder to the end-most fingertip and it hung stiffly at her side while she walked and yawned wider and louder even than Garion had the previous night.
“Oo-ah,” she uttered something between a greeting and a groan. “What afoot, all?” The Hakurei sighed. “Wipe your face, Kas. You look dumb with drool coming down your chin.” The one called Kasen moaned. “Cut me some slack, sheesh. I’m sore all over. I should be permitted to drool if it’s the one thing I can do aside from trying to shuffle around and slamming my forehead in the walls.” “And you’re supposed to be a revered hermit.” “The body and the soul are two separate things.” The bandaged she stretched and once more gave off a deep yawn. “Now,” she asked next, “what was that howling all about? I heard some shouting earlier, too, but I couldn’t find my way out of my covers somehow.” The Hakurei gestured at the sitting Garion. “Take a look at this guy, won’t you?” The one called Kasen squinted. “It’s a guy,” she said critically, “I’ve seen one before. What about him? And is that one with him, or what?” “Yes,” said the shrine maiden; “and no, what I meant was: look at him.” Something passed between them as they stared each other in the eye. “Oh,” said the one called Kasen; “you ought to have said so to begin with. Uh-huh.”
She circled around the table and approached the blond man from the Satori-free side. She sat down cross-legged and gave him a motherly kind of glance-over.
“You’re seeming troubled, friend,” she told him. “Something on your mind?” Garion looked briefly in the direction of his sulking hostess. The one called Kasen laughed. “No, no, friend,” she said; “I mean in a more... metaphysical sense, catch?” She also looked at the glum Satori. “I thought I saw you two together last night, I did. What a pair. Anyway, what’s your name, friend?” “Would you settle for Mellon?” “I’d settle for just about anything below two syllables, friend. What’s your trade?” “I have none.” “What do you do, then? You had some big baggage on you last night, you did, if I recall—looked the type who goes around a lot, catch? Around... a... lot...” Another yawn forced itself out of her mouth. “A-ny-way,” she drawled lazily, “what do you do, in that case? With all that baggage, I mean?” “I am searching.” “Oh?” “... I am searching for someone,” Garion felt obliged somehow to elaborate. “A woman. A caretaker from when I was a child.” “Hmm.”
She touched her bandaged hand curiously to his blond hair.
“Can you tell me about her?” “I cannot—not much. She was loving, gentle... despised poetry.” “Uh-huh. Can you tell me what she looked like?” “I cannot.” “No?” “I do not remember.” “I see. Happens sometimes, hmm?” “Yes. But...” “But?” “I believe I may be beginning to understand.”
She removed the awful hand from his head.
“Well, I’m sure you’ll be fine.” She gave his cheek a playful pat and stood. “What can I say?” she shrugged at her Hakurei friend; “he’s a guy all right; no doubt about that.” The shrine maiden sighed again. “Kas...” “Give him a break, miss aspiring exorcist. Can’t you see he’s had a heavy night? Got those big bags under his eyes, even, good heavens. Also, speaking of heavy nights—” the bandaged one swayed on her slim legs, “—gods, my skull is splitting. I’ll go and drown myself in the well now, I think—if you’ll excuse.” “You’ll contaminate it, Kas.” “Then I’ll just use the bucket, sheesh. After I’m done, won’t you give me a nice humble burial—with no belongings and all that? Hermit quirks, catch?” “Sure, yeah.” The Hakurei dismissed her friend’s pleas with a wave of the hand. “Whatever you say, Kas. Oh, by the bye, you seen Yukari anywhere, by chance?” The one called Kasen grunted. “Where haven’t I seen her, you mean. I saw her foot—right, I think—in the outhouse just this morning; I thought someone’d been freaking murdered.” “Great,” lamented the shrine maiden. “It’ll take me weeks to put her back together.” “Can’t you just—sort of pull her out of it?” “And which part of her am I supposed to pull at, ah?” The one called Kasen sighed and rubbed infirmly at her temples. “I suppose I hadn’t thought of that.”
Satori, silent hitherto, made a short, disdainful snort.
The Hakurei gave her a warning glare. “This isn’t funny,” she said.
Soz, eagles, won’t be an update tonight. I’m feeling like a sprained dick with a burn. Could be ‘cause I’ve been staying up till seven writing latterly. I’ve got this next week off though (Spain!), so I’ll try to wrap up this arc of the story in that timeframe.
Stay frosty, saucy, lovely and toasty. Uncle Yian out.
Also, good lord, please don’t point out any mistakes I made in that thing above. It was nearly 8 when I finished it; I said bother to proofing, I’ll regret it later. But now that I do regret it, I don’t want to read it again. I need a god damn proofreader is what I do.
They were again in their narrow guest-room betimes, done with the spirit-talk now and with the good-byes to their tiring host through.
Afore they left, however, (and ere the Hakurei adjourned to her bed-chamber) ineluctably the worldly-minded shrine maiden drew Garion to the side where she slammed before him an inkwell and a pen and a ragged strip of linen paper, torn—apparently—from scrapped festal decoration. There Garion dipped the pen and scribbled on the paper a single word; then folded he the so-made note and passed it formally to the mystified Hakurei.
“What was that?” she asked of him, her eyes alight with interest. “A name,” said Garion; “he will know it. Then will the arrangement be complete. Indeed, it will with this; though should you be of a mind...” “Out with it, man.” “Should you be of a mind,” besought the boy, “say to him that I am well and have departed with safety. But, I implore you, say neither where to nor with whom. Will he pry, make it seem as though you did not know us. This is my request.” “Secrets, friend?” “Their own peace of mind,” Garion corrected. “And yours, if you wish no questions.” “Well, if it saves me trouble.” The shrine maiden shrugged. “I don’t know one of you, t’least. The other I could do without knowing. But if this don’t work,” she cautioned, “you’d best peep often over your that your shoulder, friend, ‘cause one day I’ll be there, hear? Not that it’ll do you good, mind. I’m quick as the blasted wind when there’s want to be. Hope we’re clear on this.”
Garion felt no need of answer; he bowed instead and excused himself ere more doubts arose.
The surly Satori waited for him anyway, and together (in a line, with Garion at the tag end) they made back to their appointed guest-room. Now there the small hostess clumped into the room whilst Garion turned at the step to slide the door behind them.
Satori told him not to.
“Don’t close it, Garion; let some light in.”
The blond man let his arms fall flat along his sides and veered to where she stood.
And stand she did, stand fast: hands on the hips and steel in the eyes. A scowl such as he had thought was for the likes of the scornful shrine maiden alone was on her small face; and he realised now for all that he had solved her dispute with the Hakurei with no harm to either side, now the anger, the bile and rancour from before were redirected at him that he encroached in their own affair.
And yet her tone was in the slightest but flustered when she said, “I’m very disappointed in you, Garion;” and it was only the fire inside and the manner she bore down on him with her beloved violet eyes which told it was indeed a fat understatement that she was “disappointed.” “Wroth,” mayhap, would have better cut it. And “furious,” surely.
“Quiet!” she snapped with a stamp of one naked foot. “Yes, I’m more than disappointed! And I’m more than ‘wroth’ or ‘furious’ as well! As a matter of fact, it should be more accurate to say I feel betrayed! After the lengths I suffered you last night, what I did for you, what you made me do, you go and tell the one person I didn’t want told that we were ‘playing?’ We were ‘playing?’ Were your brains sucked out when you were sleeping, by chance? We were ‘playing,’ my deuced ear! Are you crass? And then!” she roared on, “when I come and try to salvage my face, you jerk me down, tell me to shut up and beg the cursed witch for forgiveness? Have you taken leave of your senses? Or was there, perhaps, some very conveniently logical reason for doing that as well?” “There was,” the blond man said unyieldingly. “Quiet! Oh, I’ll tell you what I think of your conveniently logical reasons!”
And then she told him. At length.
When she was done finally listing her many incensed feelings, Garion almost wished she hadn’t.
“And to top it off,” she added by way of finish, “you left me alone in the morning! Why in Old Hell do I have to look around for your deuced baggage if I want to see whether you didn’t bolt while I was asleep? I can’t believe you, Garion. I’m hurt. I didn’t even think I could be any more, but you had to go out of your way to prove me wrong. Why do you do this to me?”
Garion did not know what to answer.
“Of course you don’t,” muttered the small hostess. “You never do; you only know when it pretty well suits you. Oh, why do I even care? Go on! Come in here and pack your things. Never mind my grouching. I can see flying out of here is only thing you can think about. What a joke!”
She spun on her tiny heel and walked on the still-laid mattress, where with a show of sullen irritation she kicked aside Garion’s thick blanket and flopped onto the mass of pillows with scarce aught regard for dignity or elegance.
The blond man took the blanket and rolled it up for storage. There were also the garments he wore the previous day; those, however, he did not touch. Then he recalled there was also foods leftover from those meant for him they had bought the previous night. This was worth saving, for the road, if that alone. With methodical almost caution he retrieved each food from the bags: some fruit there was, some half-eaten dried meat, a bottles few of un-drank water, and so on; and laid he them out in front of himself to elect which—and how—to stow away. After all, he was very near as loath of waste as he was of senseless argument. It was his calling to save.
There was a rustle behind him; someone shifted on the pillows. But Garion was too deep rapt in his task to take thought and turn. There was stuff to sort, to pack, to store. There was road ahead.
“Are you going to make me ask for it?”
A small question brought him out of it.
Though backward unlikely of himself, he turned at last round on the floor. Satori was looking at him; she was sitting up, her tiny chin propped on one wide pillow that she held close to her breast with her pale arms. The was a surly look yet in her eyes, but the anger: the towering anger from before, was as gone as though it were but a bad dream. This was perhaps a late observation, but the sober Garion noted now that she was awfully mussed this morning. There was no conveniently logical reason behind that observation. It merely was so.
The small hostess, as if heeding his thought, drew the unruly hair behind her ear.
“Am I going to make you ask for what?” inquired the boy. “You know what I want.” The answer was moody. “I do not,” he insisted. “Can we dispense with this, Garion?” Satori pleaded. “You know. And you know as well that I know that you know. I don’t feel like playing chase around the bush today. And don’t ‘pretend’ to consider, either, please,” she begged. “Say yes or no – if you’d like or not. I don’t much feature my heart surviving any more stoppages today. And don’t dally. Give me an answer, whatever it is, and we’ll be done with it.”
Garion did not pretend to consider.
Slowly he inclined his blond-haired head, his face fixed.
“I will return with you,” he said.
Satori stared at him for a second.
“You will?” “I will,” he asserted.
She made a feeble sound and buried her face in the huge pillow.
There ensued a few moments when neither said a thing; but again the little face came up, it was smiling—wanly, flushing, but smiling.
“I won’t thank you,” she said, silly, fighting down that tiny smile. “You’ve made me cross, so I won’t. But I’ll let you stay – for... taking care of me last night, if nothing else.” “As you wish.” “And for... discharging the situation earlier,” she said also. “I don’t automatically approve of the way you did, but it could’ve wound up nastily hadn’t you stepped in right then.” “There was a reason,” Garion reminded. “For grovelling and begging like you did?” “Yes;” he made a highbrowed nod. “The prideful are easily appeased with apologies and shows of submission.” “Ah.” The small hostess smiled. “That more or less explains it, I guess.” She halted; her little lips curved down slightly at the edges. “Is that maybe why you apologise to me all the time?” The blond man turned his eyes away. “... In part.” Satori laughed a sad little laugh. “Oh, I don’t think I’ll ever trust you again after today, Garion.” “Did you ever?” he chanced. “Once. I kind of enjoyed the outcome, too. Oh well. I’ll have to make do without trust somehow.” She smiled and extended toward him one small palm. “I won’t shake hands with a traitor,” she said, “but I’ll let him kiss mine and make a promise.” “What promise?” “That he’ll return to my house, with me.”
“... As you wish.”
Gently he took her hand, and gentler even kissed it on the top.
The kiss lingered. Garion knew not why, but it did. It was perhaps how cold it was that made him want to warm it; or how the tiny fingers twiddled lightly to and fro while he held them; one might never know. The kiss lingered all the same.
And then, in a girlish act of vengeance she whisked away the hand; and she flicked the blond man on the on the unsuspecting nose. When he flinched away and looked to her, accusation in his frown, she was smirking: a small, content smirk that told volumes of her thoughts.
“Now I feel a little better,” she said pleasantly. “Yes, that felt good.” “... Is that so?” “Quite so.” She hugged again her fat pillow. “I don’t know that we should expand on this subject, though. I’d asked Hakurei if she’d seen Rin or Okuu anywhere before she buzzed off,” she changed the topic; “but she told me she hadn’t. I don’t particularly wonder where they’d gone off to, either, and I’m probably better off not knowing; anyway, we’re on our own. Which raises an uncomfortable problem.” “What issue?” “Well—” the small hostess fidgeted, “—see, I don’t know that I’ll be able to lift you, Garion, let alone fly you—not with all this other extra weight you’re lugging around. Okuu could have, or even we could have split it, but...” “I can walk,” Garion proposed; “you may fly. We will meet once again in your realm.” “And what guarantee do I have that you’ll come? As a matter of fact, besides that, the road is dangerous; I don’t want you blundering into something along the way—not after you’ve promised.” “I have survived till now,” the blond man said flatly; “I will survive thenceforth also.” “What if I say I’ll walk with you?” suggested the small hostess. “Won’t that make things safer—for you and me both?”
“And what if you do? What difference will it make? Are you not weak and ill-suited for warding off ravenous monsters and greedy waylayers? Are you not anyway unfit for the hardships of the trail? You are not made for travel. You should imperil us both only. This shall not pass.”
... So he wanted to say.
But one lone dejected look from her overpowered his qualms.
“... You are not dressed for the road,” he noted dully instead.
Which was but partly the truth. She was scarcely dressed at all.
Satori glanced sideways at her colourful robe, folded and set on the floor by the mattress. “As a matter of fact,” she said with oh, so sad a sigh, “yes... you’re right. The shoes, too. They weren’t made with walking in mind, that I can tell you. This is hard. Any ideas what we might do? I shudder at the thought, but I might always borrow something from the Hakurei... or her fragrant friend. Although, no, they’ve both other frames; I probably would smother in their clothes. I don’t think there’s someone else in the shrine I could goad into trading off their habits, either. Ah. After all I’ve said, now this. What a spot. What should I do?” She looked to her precious guest. “Garion? What’s going on? What are you doing?”
The blond man had gone on soft toes to his backpack, where now untied he its outermost ties and, some whiles few of aimless rummaging, conjured up from within a long female dress: a strong-sewn, blue-white piece with a close-fitting bodice and a hanging skirt lined with a fleecy petticoat. The clasps on the bodice were iron-cast and by some unknown craft made to glitter with all the shades of the rainbow. There was footwear to go also with the dress: though, high travel-boots, with leather for strings and thick soles fashioned to weather years of wear and tear.
Garion laid the queer set before his hostess with not even the fleetest comparison to her small build.
Satori eyed him first, the plain-faced blond boy, then the clothes, then the again the boy. “Is this, by chance,” she asked, “the dress Koishi blurted about yesterday – when she was trying on her own?” “Yes,” Garion said shortly.
The small hostess picked up the tinkling bodice and gave it a speculative look. “It’s about the right size, isn’t it?” she remarked. “Yes,” said Garion. “The boots should also; if not, I will lend you cloth to pad them.” “Should I ask you why you have this?” “You should not.” “Why, I think you’re right,” she said sourly. “As a matter of fact, I likely shouldn’t. Oh well, there’s no harm in seeing if I can wedge inside, I suppose.” She stood and held the dress tentatively to her body. Then her look switched to Garion. The look was prickly. “What are you doing, Garion?” “... Waiting?” “And why are you staring at me while doing so?” “... Why not?” “I’m about to change.” “Then do.” “I don’t want with you staring.” “I have seen you stripped before,” the blond man said coolly. “In point of fact, I have stripped you also.” Satori was glaring at this point. “Which doesn’t change a thing,” she scolded. “Why don’t you go stand by the door, watch that no one comes in? I’m not in the habit of displaying myself almost in the nude for everyone to see.”
Though he grunted, our dear boy, he rose heavily to his feet and went on meekly to stand guard at the empty doorstep.
There was, of course, nobody such as might walk in and see what lovely sights there were to see in the tiny guest-room; the halls of the old shrine were still, dark, not a sound in them that would betray a chance sneak upon whom to bring Garion’s retribution for attempting to peep on his little hostess. They were gone all, the sneaks; or they were asleep, tormented by hungover dreams. Anyway it was for Garion’s ears only that the small Satori rustled out of his jacket and into that strange new dress which he had all along had in his possession someway. The rustling lasted some time; then there came the tell-tale “claps!” of the metal clasps snapping into place. ‘Twas when those claps rang that the blond man dared peek back over one of his shoulders.
The poor Satori was struggling frantically with the clasps, wresting with them to make more space in the dress for her chest.
With no needless word of explanation the blond man approached and nimbly took over her feeble efforts; he loosened the buckles and held up the flaps of the bodice whilst she squeezed her breast inside.
“It’s a little stifling,” she marked a small complaint. She did not mark that he had looked. Garion let the straps an inch looser yet. “Yes,” Satori said. “I can breathe now. It’s good.” “What of the boots?” the blond man asked, locking again the jingling clasps. “They’ll be fine. As long as you let me borrow a pair of socks.”
Under his scrutiny the small hostess fastened the last of her new outfit’s laces and patted it over appraisingly.
“I feel weird,” she remarked, “wearing someone’s clothes.” “As did I for years when I lived in with that man and his wife,” said Garion. “Indeed, I am familiar with the sensation; rest assured, however, it will pass.” “They didn’t give you your own clothes?” “They did. It was a time still afore I could recognise them as my own.” Satori gave him a half-jesting look. “You’re full of these little mysteries, aren’t you?” “Not by choice,” he said flatly. “Shall I pack your foods and clothes also with mine?” “If you’d be so nice. I don’t have on me anything to carry them in, I don’t believe.” Once again she slid her hands all along her sides, hips and thighs. “It definitely feels weird,” she murmured, “but this’ll have to do for now, I suppose. Are you ready yet, Garion?” “But a moment is all.”
“Great. I won’t say it too loudly, but this shrine makes my skin crawl. I should be glad to get out and smell the air.”
She watched for this short while when the blond man stuffed their belongings in his ostensibly bottomless knapsack.
“Oh, Garion?” she said almost casually. “That one, too. You’ll want to leave at least one of your hands free for me, won’t you?”
They issued erelong from the must-aired shrine and unto the grey outside.
After-noon was the time, as the Hakurei had said; bitter was the steel-grey of the sky, and the westering wind was chill. Anon our boy and his hostess made down the stone-hewn staircase to the highway, where the stalls and the crowds were gone home; empty was the road, still also and lifeless, through the bleak mist running with no one to sight. There was no stragglers, no horse-drawn cart nor carriage setting out which the two might take for a ways to curtail their journey; they were late, and late paid now fees in added foot-paces.
Along the road they started, west-ward, lee-ward, our boy in lead.
“How long a trip are we talking about, anyway?” asked him Satori, trailing at his side. “I may not say exactly,” replied Garion, “for I have not ever seen a precise map of this place. It is some few hours’ worth of walk in the way Rin and I and the rest took the last evening; but there is no road to there, nor to my knowledge a path we might walk through the woods. The one way seems to me wise is where I stole first into the underworld: where the bridge is and the tollhouse.” “Which is where?” “A half-day leastwise of fast walk there in this way—” he motioned vaguely beyond the trees where the wind blew, “—more if the weather goes awry. Are you sure you wish to walk? It is a ways. I should make good time on my own, but you...” He left it hanging. “Are you trying to get rid of me, Garion?” Satori asked without looking up. “No.” “Then you’ll have to get used to the idea you’ll make slightly worse time.” She sighed. “I don’t tire so easily, Garion. I’m small and thin and pretty, yes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t march for a few hours; besides, the air feels good today. I slept a lot, too, and rather snuggly, so I’m feeling refreshed. I can walk, don’t you worry for my legs giving up under me suddenly. Come the worst to the worst, you’ll just have to stop and rub them down for a bit.” “... If so you say,” the blond man gave up. “Aside from that,” she said in a winning voice, “weren’t you perchance supposed to hold my hand?” “I am.” “Only barely, Garion; you’re limp as a side of beef. Hold it like it matters to you—please?” “I sweat when I walk,” the blond man said helplessly; “my hands will be dripping wet before long.” “Then we’ll just switch them, won’t we? Sweat all you want, Garion; I’m not letting you go.” “... As you wish.”
He fixed his hold on her small hand.
And they walked, so long as the grey light lasted.
The evening crept upon them evenly as they did; but neither showed tells of fatigue, not the boy nor the hostess, and their time was good despite the first worries. They made but small talk when they walked, content more to see how the world basked in the hanging mist and how the trees they left behind swayed in the wind. The Land was vast, its forests green and lush, and the open fields they now entered infinite; still the ebbing haze made them closer somehow: more private, as if for the two of them only, for them to enjoy with no spying eyes. And indeed they enjoyed it, each in their manner, hand-in-hand walking under the clouded sky.
But such midway weather (between the rain and the clear) would not be forever.
Thunder growled and rumbled in the distance; and soon the air grew heavy with coming rain.
Anon the first droplets fell: taps of wet on the gravel of the road and their own shoulders. There was another crack of thunder and the rain came in more strength. The sky became darker and darker still as greater the rain grew. At some length, Garion came to halt; he turned his face up at the sky and sniffed at the cooling air.
“This might not pass by,” he observed. Satori swept the slowly wetting hair from her forehead and gave him a grave look. “That went past me all right,” she said. “What do you mean?” “There is thunder,” explained the blond man; “that means a storm is approaching. The thick of it might pass by; I often have taken to trail hoping I shall graze a storm and I did. This one, however, eludes me. I cannot say where it is going.” “How do you do that, anyway?” “I count the seconds betwixt the flash and the sound; then I divide it by five and the number is distance in miles—one-third a league—from the place where it struck. Then as it moves I count and compare the distances, relate them to direction whence the thunder came. Thus I approximate its heading. Once that is down, I measure the speed of wind, set it against the distances, and by knowledge of the surrounding land—” “That’s enough,” Satori moaned. “I didn’t need to know all that. I’ll hear about it with pleasure some other time. At the moment, all I need to know is I can trust you.” “You said you would not after today,” Garion remarked. “After today, Garion. I did say that, didn’t I?” “Sophistry.” “As a matter of fact, yes. It is. I’ll trust you anyway whenever it pretty well strikes my fancy. And right now, I’m decided I’m all yours. What do we do?”
The wind picked up momentarily, bringing in a sheet of cold driblets on their faces.
There was no thought in Garion’s head how to discern whether the storm would swing by their backs or side and leave them moderately only wet; or whether it would crash upon them with full force and pin them where they were in these open lands. Should they move on they might reach the underworld before much too long; but should they turn back now they might yet seek shelter in the brush beneath the trees they had left behind them some quarter an hour ago. The storm itself seemed one such as would not be gone soon if it came. The night also neared with each minute in pass.
Garion was torn.
[ ] They would move on. Their luck should hold, and to sleep outside was no good prospect for the brittle hostess. [ ] They would make camp in the woods for the night.
[x] They would move on. Their luck should hold, and to sleep outside was no good prospect for the brittle hostess.
If there is really thunder and lightning, very very frightening, making haste to get to the underground is necessary. The Satori mentioned many times her unnatural resilience, and I for one knows that being under a tree while a storm is not one's brightest idea. Ah fuck, what's happening to me? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME, YAF?
[x] They would make camp in the woods for the night. Ok, ok, get this. they're gonna be cold, wet, in a small tent under the rain with nobody for miles around. With Satori being as forward as she is, Im just not seeing how that WOULDN'T lead to something.
>Ok, ok, get this. they're gonna be cold, wet, in a small tent under the rain with nobody for miles around. With Satori being as forward as she is, Im just not seeing how that WOULDN'T lead to something.
Those are less romantic circumstances than you think. When you're truly cold and can't get warm even with snuggling, it's actually quite miserable.
That being said, the shared misery in close proximity IS a bonding experience, but somehow I doubt it'll lead to any... ahem... dallying.
Still, though, it's better than marching.
[x] They would make camp in the woods for the night.
Camping underneath a tree isn't a bad idea as long as you make sure to not camp underneath the TALLEST tree, which is a pretty easy distinction to make for an experienced camper (?) such as Garion. Seriously.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to update tonight (head hurts, most likely not the fault of my fuck-retarded sleep schedule and all the flags I cap and the FAST I go), so here’s some replies to keep your jimmies occupied. Whoop! >>9024 Appreciate it, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the story for you (by having you read it before it’s ‘finalised’). ‘Sides, it’s probably the best lesson (care and language-learning-wise) for me if I notice a typo/mistake when someone else has already seen it (one learns best when embarrassed of their errors). >>9034 Curb your enthusiasm, man. That’s slightly jarring. Please don’t do this. >>9042 Or this. Stick to the format or make a write-in. You’re making this harder for me. Thank you. >>9035 I don’t know, man. ┐(￣ー￣)┌ >>8048 >Garion thought about that. >“Just so,” she confirmed acidly. “I'll have you know, however, I am a little bit bigger than that.” Or maybe the thing was just tight and you should get your mind out of her brassiere, eh? >>9047 >Ah fuck, what's happening to me? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME, YAF? THE MANY SINGS TO YOU I AM A VOICE IN THEIR CHOIR >>9057 I fucking hate you. >>9056 I like you, though. You’ve got your head on right. This ain’t no bloody romance story, for gods’ sakes. Why can’t you other dudes understand? It’s a god damn Tenshi story is what it is. Good lord.
[X] They would make camp in the woods for the night.
But to tear in company was no comely thing to do so presently he stopped.
The time spurred also, and the rain, and sit though it didn’t well with him to like so discomfit his stately hostess there was no more prudent choice to make than that which he made now. Gripped he so the dainty little hand tighter; and with stark steadfastness on his young face looked to his Satori to reason to her his decision. But the eyes which met him were soft and trusting; and he faltered somewhat seeing how willing she was to—for better or worse—submit to his judgement. There was something in those eyes he would not say whether he liked.
All the same he spoke:
“‘Twill be a danger to stay on the highway in the storm,” he said; “best to seek shelter in the woods than be in the open when it does fall. The rain is one thing; the lightning – another.” “Are you afraid of getting struck by lightning?” she asked him curiously. “No. The chance is nigh zero. But it never hurts to be safe. And to resume out there with this over our heads smacks of folly. Only I worry—” “—for me?” “... Yes.” There was no reason to hide it. “The storm will not be gone soon; so much I can tell. Should we stop, we might well stop for the night. I can build shelter—though I have not often,” he confessed, “but it will not be what you should call good rest. To make camp in the woods is never gentle experience.” Again the small hostess drew the damp hairs from her brow; her little lips took on a small pout. “I’m no stranger to sleeping outside, Garion,” she told him pointedly. “I will manage. Why, you didn’t think I’d lived in that old house always, did you? As a matter of fact, I’ve slept in places—and company—worse than this current one. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.” “How many years since was that?” “That’s none of your business. It’s been a while, maybe, but it’s not something you forget. Anyway, I’ll sleep anywhere you’ll like me—tonight—so just point the way and let’s go. And quit worrying about me so much; you do it too hard for me to appreciate. I told you I’m decided I’m yours, didn’t I? I’ll only have myself to blame if I turn out to regret it. Quit worrying, I’m telling you!” “I apologise.” The blond man inclined his head. “I deduced it should be well to return under the trees and lay low where the wind will be less: some ways deep, I think.” “It hasn’t been all that windy.” “Yes, but it may pick up, and the shelter I may build will not shield us from that.” “Ah.” “Away from the road, too,” Garion mused; “I shan’t start a fire with wet wood quick if at all, but a lantern or candle gives light also, and I should rather it was not seen by any one stray passer-by.” “I didn’t see anybody while we walked.” “No. And I will be gladdened if it stays so. Such is the best way to camp. Alone.” “Alone, you say...” “Anyway, we best move,” hurried Garion; “while it is light still so we do not wander. Satori?” The small hostess drove the pensive cast from her eyes. “Yes, Garion,” she said. “I’m here. You’re right, let’s.” “Can you trot?” “As a matter of fact, yes; I should think I’ve got it in me yet.” “Then we shall trot.” “And will you catch me if I trip?” “I will,” the blond man answered without pausing. “Now—let us go.”
At a trot then they made back for the cover of the forest they had left not so long since.
The rain gathered (and indeed so did the wind) while they trotted; in chill cutting falls now it came, and at once Garion knew his resolution was wise. The falls eased under the trees; trickled they rather from the leaves above, but trickled still, cold, cold. Already was the undergrowth wet, and the wet clung to the boy’s and the hostess’s clothes when they veered off the gravelled road at seeming random after one point; but they ploughed on, through the dripping grass and the brush, in search of a camp-suitable spot. The grey light grew dimmer and dimmer yet the deeper they went; betimes to be all but gone and cede place to the darksome stillness of the woods.
At last one such spot they found: an elevated strip ‘tween a two of young birch trees: an even strip encircled by decline. A good spot indeed: higher and dryer than the surrounding ground, from which water would drain afore it collected. This the seasoned Garion chose; presently he untwined his hand from Satori’s small fingers and dropped without ceremony his gear-laden backpack. Thereupon he produced a length of stout cord which he pulled at waist-height between the two trees; then a broad sheet of dirt-green canvas with steel rings at the corners and flaps on the ends, which he threw over the cord like a clothesline.
“Come,” he called the watching Satori; “hold the other end. I will stretch it and install the pegs.”
The small hostess nodded seriously; then she went to help him.
At length the tent-stakes were in place.
“A mat is bound to the underside of my pack,” said the blond man, hammering at one stake with the strong heel of his boot; “take it then, lay it inside on the ground. I will have these down and come also.”
Again the eager Satori listened; she slipped the rolled-up mat from the blond man’s baggage then crawled inside the tent and there busied.
At the same time Garion stamped on each stake till secured it was in place; he shut next and tied the flaps on one end of the tent, ensured once more the pegs had not sprung, then went around and with his luggage in tow also crept inside. There in half-dark he dove once more unto the contents of his vast knapsack and from them, wrapped in pack-cloth, brought forth an oil-lantern, old and smoke-stained: the very same as which had lighted the onset of his venture into the underworld; now again he lit the blackened wick and the inside of the tent flashed alight in the bright flame. There was space enough, one now saw: to sit, alas, not to stand, but that was well also. The cord held fast; unlikely it would come loose soon. The rain rapped on the pulled canvas, but the in-side of it bode safe, dry; the mat meanwhile held the chill of the ground at bay. All was as well even as it might be.
And well was Satori’s smile when she saw how their shelter turned out.
She had pulled off her high boots and sat now cross-legged across from Garion, smiling happily and wriggling her toes.
“It’s a splendid little tent, Garion,” she praised him for his work.
The blond man made what could pass for a smile (had he moved his lips an inch) then handed her the cloth in which the lantern had been encased. The small hostess took it and began to towel down her wet hair.
The rain drummed on outside.
“A part of me can’t believe it’s doing this,” she said whilst Garion went through his backpack once more, “but the other can’t erase this stupid grin from its face.” “I see.” “I don’t think you do, but that’s all right at that. I feel so silly somehow, did you know that? Away from home, in the middle of nowhere; rain’s coming down in sheets, and I’m squatting in a tiny little makeshift tent with a messy golden-haired vagabond I met scarcely even a few weeks ago. Isn’t that a laugh? What am I, some flighty country girl on the run from home? Won’t you want to dry that hair, by the way?” she asked. “I’ll be very troubled if you come down with a fever in the morning.” “I will—once you are done.” “That’s great,” she said. Then she chuckled. “Oh, this is so silly, Garion! Why did I ever go along with you?” “I do not know,” said the blond man; “but will you eat with me also?” He spread before him the leftover foods from the fair but also some of his own.
The small hostess smiled even sillier.
“Well,” she said with mock indecision, “since we’re already here...”
>>9079 >The time spurred also, and the rain, and sit though it didn’t well with him to like so discomfit his stately hostess there was no more prudent choice to make than that which he made now. Maybe its just the ordering of the words but usually when I read your stuff there's a telltale flow to it but I had trouble discerning the recipients of your verbs (if that makes any sense, I don't have access to a means of finding out what it's actually called in terms of sentence structure.) But yeah, I did'nt mean any offense, just that I wouldn't put something like hootched-up writing past you but that's why we all love you. It's probably just me anyways.
>>9084 >I did'nt mean any offense None implied and none taken. Aside from your apostrophe placement – now THAT offends me mightily! I understand you complaint. I usually pace these fronted sentences with commas (yes, I do forgo grammar in favour of the flow), but for whatever reason I forgot them there. My bad. I did go ahead and consulted with a trusted friend and a fellow experienced writer (a native speaker – this may be an important factor) and he personally had no issues with it. But still, for your convenience, I’ll try to be more careful in the future. Keyword right there. And you other sweet dudes and hella niggas, disengage the Yian Defence Force. I’m writing this mostly for my own entertainment and to my own liking, yes, but since you’re reading it as well, I see no reason why I shouldn’t hear and adjust to any complaint anyone might have, as long as it doesn’t collide directly with my own intentions (like the general style or Tenshi not being in the story). There’s no reason for anyone to be upset.
Be excellent to each other. I’m kidding. That’d be an awful reference.
Weeeeell that was a dull weekend. But here I am. Update galore. Where “galore” stands for “one but... nothing out of the ordinary, really, but at least it’s FINALLY here. Holy SHIT, dongler, are you even trying?” I’d planned to have a choice in there somewhere, but since I was cut off from the rest of the world (oh god THE PAIN) I decided to go with what I liked most.
As they did the small hostess became more perhaps accustomed to the circumstance; before long she began to talk, and her questions filled the recess of their meal.
“Did you sleep like this often?” she asked our dear boy once. “Alone in the forest, in a tent?” “Not often,” said Garion shortly. “Where did you, then?” “Not in a tent.” He looked solemnly in the steady flame of the lantern. “Under the open sky, as a rule; faster to stand in the morning and move back on trail when nothing keeps your departure. Why?” “I’m curious, that’s all. Isn’t it dangerous to have this inside with us? It’s fire.” “The canvas is wet,” Garion marked; “it would not catch flame easily. The lantern also is crafted to snuff out the wick if it is tipped to the side. There is no danger; rest you assured.” “I’ll hold you to that.” Satori smiled. “As a matter of fact, even if I end up with my hairs all burned off, I’ll know leastwise who to fault.”
After they ate they settled down in two ends of the tent.
Their moods wound down with time; the rain thrummed on, unbroken, neither growing nor dying away. Quiet, the small hostess sat embracing her knees and watched wistfully how the blond man buffed away at a set of cast firesteels with a snip of rag. Thunder rumbled on away over and beyond the trees; and the forest was as if timid with it aloft: not a crack of twig nor crinkle of leaf nor even a shrinking bird-song while the storm blew.
As so passed something akin to an hour; but such a calm time it was and peaceful that one may not tell how long it was exact.
At length however the calm was broken; on her spot the slight Satori switched then spoke in a small voice:
“Garion?” “Yes?” said the blond man, not turning from his task. “I’m cold.”
There was a pause.
Then Garion murmured. “I see.” The small hostess knitted her brows. “No, you don’t. I’m cold.” “I cannot make a fire now,” said the boy in a terse way. “There will be no dry wood.” “I didn’t want one, Garion. I’m only cold.”
Garion put down his rag.
With not one word of question he reached to his backpack: for the heavy blanket inside, which he tossed next folded on the ground before Satori’s feet. Then, naught a say still, he went on back to polishing his toys, in his deepest heart believing the trouble was done. This, however, he was swiftly made to stop when the blanket flew at him and struck him dead-square in the face. On he scrambled to at once peel it off; but in the meanwhile someone light and smelling faintly of damp hair down fell on his lap and shameless leaned their little head on his shoulder.
Then the person craned up her neck to look at him with unhappy eyes.
“I told you I was cold,” she told him a pert way. “I did hear,” the blond man protested. “I gave you a blanket.” “I didn’t want a blanket, Garion,” said Satori. “Tell me. Aren’t you a little cold, too?” “No. Not very.” “Then you are—a bit. You’ll put these away—” here she motioned at his shining firesteels, “—you’ll rub them into fine dust if you go on. Then you’ll take this blanket and cover me and yourself. We should both be warmer this way. You’re a practical person, Garion. You should see the vantage in that.” “... Is that so?” “Trust me.”
It was, by nature, circular reasoning.
Withal our Garion pocketed his polished playthings; seized he then the rugged blanket, unfurled it, and swung it round his back and shoulders so that the ends overlapped on his front. These, in turn, he tucked about the little lady nestled on his lap. She sank against him then, and sighed: a content little sigh from ‘tween her small pale lips.
“See? Isn’t this miles better?” “... If so you say.”
To say now that at any other time he would be loath to such intimacy would not be great overstatement; but the logic—though circular—was sound, and shake as he might about it his blond head, he might not dismiss that they had been as close as this already once. There had been nothing for Garion to do but fall in with this quaint request, or order. There’d have been no real reason, indeed no sense, in saying no. Truly, no reason at all: this was no thing new.
“We’ve done this before?” Satori asked whimsically. Garion felt her shift cosily in his arms. “The previous night,” he said in a stifled voice. “You would not lie still... till I let you lie on me.” “Ah.”
There was a bashful silence.
“Well!” The small hostess cleared her throat. “At any rate, this goes to show Rin was right in one thing about you.” “Which is?” “You make for a great pillow, Garion.” “I do not take kindly to mockery,” he said bleakly. “I’m not mocking. I’ve seen finally why she took to sneaking in your bed instead of mine like usual. As a matter of fact, I’ll have to admit my defeat here: I can never hope to be as comfortable as you are, Garion. You’re likely to have been the most comfortable thing in my house to date.” “... You are mocking me.” “Would I do that?” she said innocently.
Garion did not reply.
Thereupon another silence followed—lengthier now: punctuated by only the rapping of rainfall on the roof of their shelter. Again Garion set his mind to wander – to matters mundane: to the land and the trail, and the weather and the rain, and the muddy bog which the road would become if it held; on the forest paths he thought, on the farms and villages, and of the underground caves: of the bridge and the tollhouse there, the twisting passages, and the sunken mansion on the magmatic lake. Of the miles he had gone he thought, and the years he had squandered. So long had he been at his quest. So long. But now! he was closer now: today evinced it, nurtured his conjecture. Yes; he was not certain, not yet – but nigher now, surer.
Surer, mayhap; but still he started when, beneath the cover of the blanket, a warm and now-familiar hand sought out and wormed into his.
“Oh, don’t do that,” Satori said irritably.
Almost unknowing he took hold of the hand and apologised.
At that, the small hostess chuckled. “You don’t honestly expect it to work me after you’ve told me what the trick is, do you? Ah,” she made a pleasant sound; “but did you know something? It does. I can’t imagine why, but I can never stay angry with you for long. We’ve been together almost constantly since yesterday evening, too, did you know?” “I have noticed.” There he cast his eyes down, but her face was hidden from his sight. “I suppose you might have,” she granted him in a courteous manner. “To be honest, I’d always thought I’d tire of you very rapidly if it ever came down to something like this.” “You have thought about such a thing?” “As a matter of fact, yes,” she said, “I have. I think about lots of things, Garion. It gives me something to tide me over the times when I’m by myself. I don’t have nearly so much leisure for thinking when I’m with you. Why is that, I wonder—don’t you?” “And have you tired of me yet?” Garion evaded answering. “And what would you say?” “Almost.”
She gave his fingers a painful tweak.
“Are you, by chance, trying to push it, Garion?” “I apologise.” “Consider my pride unappeased. I’m not so easily won over, I’m afraid. But no, I haven’t—not yet, anyway; not to say you’re helping your case a great deal. Why, at times I’m all but led to believe you’ve addressed yourself specifically to getting in my hair. Speaking of—” she said sharply, “—would you stop breathing in it, please? I can’t say in blunt truth I’m enjoying it all a lot. Thank you. And do not you go and be sorry yet again, do you hear? I’m already quite conscious you weren’t doing it on purpose; there’s no need to go out of your way to convince me of it. Are we clear, Garion?” “... Mm.” “The same goes for my ears. You can have my hands, but my ears are off-limits. Are we absolutely understood on this?” “As you wish.” “Great.” She let out an eased breath. “I’m rather attached to my ears. I won’t let you steal them as easily. Well, my hands too, but... as far as we’ve gone you’ve been tender enough not to pull them off, so I presume there’s no harm if you’ll touch them... every once and again. But my ears are a lot more sensitive than my hands. So there. Ah, but we were talking about something else, no?” she said glibly. “What was it?” “Thinking,” said Garion. “Yours, precise.” “Oh yes. That. What I was saying was: you gave me a goodly deal to think about. It’s in large part the kind of thing that makes my hair stand on the ends though, so don’t winch your arm out of its socket patting yourself on the back.” “I was not.” “As a matter of fact, no, you weren’t. You wouldn’t really do that, would you? You tease me—without knowing sometimes—but you never take pleasure in it, am I correct?” “... Yes.” “Why?”
The question surprised him.
“Why?” he could but repeat. “You view yourself very serious, don’t you?” Satori said inquisitively. “You tease me, but there’s always, always some very sober cause behind it. Sometimes you want something of me, so you pick words you’ve found I’m soft to. Other-times, you need me amiable for some inexpressible end, so you look at me or touch me where you suppose I’ll like it. I’ve noticed, Garion. You’re doing your hardest not to be too evident about it, but I’ve still noticed.
“As a matter of fact,” she went on, “I can name off the top of my head: when you offered me your hand after bolting off yesterday? Or another instance: when you brought me that wonderful breakfast to bed? You were reciting to yourself all the while: ‘only being grateful, only returning the favour;’ but you knew I wouldn’t hold it against you if you hadn’t done a thing. And yet you just kept going; you didn’t even allow for the idea of maybe enjoying it just a little – even if you take big satisfaction in cookery. You do, don’t you?” she asked him. “You do, Garion; you can’t fool me, not on this. Shouldn’t you be glad if the other person likes it too?” “... Maybe.” “Why don’t you, in that case?” Satori pushed on. “It’s all right to be glad of little things like that. You’ve only done yourself disservice so far by acting so prim and proper all the time.” “I do not need be glad of it.” “No. As a matter of fact, there isn’t a thing out there we should ‘need’ to be glad of. Some might say otherwise, but there isn’t; it all comes down to our personal liking. Still, we go out and play and enjoy things of our own accord—even if we don’t need to. Why would you say that is?” “I do not play;” the young man did not yield. “Oh, but you do. With my heart. A lot.”
That Garion did not answer.
The lantern flickered; it drew his gaze from the tiny figure rested on his lap. But the draw was momently; though he might wish, he would not be let forget that she was here, for presently she made herself known again.
“Garion?” she cooed his name. Once more the blond man looked down. “Yes?” “Can I turn around?” “Can I turn around?” implored the small hostess. “I’d like to face you.” Garion braced his self. “... No,” he said. “You cannot.” “Why not?” Satori’s question was disheartened. “It would not be proper.”
She made a small groan. “What did I tell you about propriety, Garion, remember?” she plained. “We’re just us here: nobody’s going to peek then noise about that you’ve hugged me for all in the Land to hear. We’re as alone as we could ever be. It’d be silly anyway, if someone were to announce something like that as if it’s so great. Why won’t you quit worrying for these petty appearances, even now? As a matter of fact, didn’t you say yourself we’d already been close like this once – in someone else’s home, at that?” “I did not say it,” he corrected. “No, you didn’t; but you might have as well. I was asleep at the time, anyway. I want to, if you won’t mind... I’d like to try it again—but awake for a change. Won’t you let me?” “No.” “Why are you like this, Garion?” she erupted. “I just want to face you, that’s all! Are you so bent on making me beg for it?” “... No.” “Then can I, at last?” “Ah. And if I do anyway?” she challenged. “Are you going to hit me? Shake me off, perhaps?” The young man shaped with his chapped lips a choice of uncomplimentary words. “... This is hardly fair,” he complained. “As a matter of fact, yes,” tweeted the devious Satori, “yes, it is. You’ve probably never noticed, but I’m a girl, Garion. I don’t have to always be fair. And even if I’m not, you’ll still forgive me because I’m small and nice to hold hands with. Won’t you just, Garion? Hold now!” she told him resolutely; “I’m turning. And don’t even think about pushing me away. I’ll hate you if you do.”
Then, as said, she did turn: twisted round under the warm blanket and embraced with longing arms the inflexible blond man.
Wanting, not wanting, he also closed his arms about her, if only to, in this new peril, secure a steadier pose. With indelible almost correctitude he well-nigh cricked his neck not to breathe again in her pale hair. The small hostess made no remark of it; she touched her tiny nose to his front and gave off, one after one, a number of delighted breaths.
“It’s such an ugly word, ‘peril’” she murmured, “isn’t it, Garion?” The young man ignored that. “You are strangely lovesome today,” he marked instead in a factual tone. “I like that word, though,” she answered, “‘lovesome;’ even if it’s a shade too strong,” she added instantly. “I’ll say ‘caught up in the moment.’ It’s a bit milder—and more accurate, as far as words go.” One does not however acknowledge normally when caught so, one should mark. “I’m brighter than normal,” she replied. “So I’m aware—and can acknowledge.” “‘The moment?’” asked Garion. “We’re alone, Garion. I’m cold. You’re warm and comfortable. I don’t mind if it’s indecent; I want a little of that warmth.” “Will it last?” he said, his voice unconvinced. “Until you knock me out of it, likely. Of course, then I’ll knock you out and boot you out on the rain, so you’d best not crowd it. I’d really rather sleep with something for a pillow than not—backaches, yes—and you don’t have anything else of the sort on you, do you?” “No.” “Then you’ll have to cope. Aside from that, though,” she continued, “is it really so strange? Why, if I think on it, I remember the assessment of me you made of me—after I had... well, you remember—and you said, among those other things you’d inferred, that I badly liked being touched – but now you turn it around?” “I do not know,” said Garion. “You were never so intimate when we stayed in your bed-chamber.” The small hostess tensed. “That... is something else,” she argued. “I don’t typically... when at home, it isn’t so... I’d die of shame if... Oh, do you know something?” she groaned. “Never mind. As a matter of fact, I said just then, didn’t I: the moment? And you’re ruining with your stupid sound logic and points. Gods, you’ve annoyed me.”
“... I apologise,” said the blond man; and by way of apology he held her closer.
This cost him great control, but he did not flinch.
“Am I really so loathsome, Garion?” she asked him pitifully. “... No,” he answered after a length of thought. “Then why are you so revolted to touch me now?” “It is...” he muttered, “... not proper.” “Why isn’t it? Who says that?”
Garion did not answer.
A pause came then, laden with tautness.
At last Satori spoke again in a dispirited voice.
“Garion?” “I am here,” he assured. “Why won’t you forget about her? About that woman of yours?”
The young man’s mind reeled. The words came like a fulminant noreaster and chilled him to the very core. He could not—not ever. It was all he had.
“... No,” he choked out, “I cannot.” “Why?” “It is... all I have.” Once more the tiny Satori stiffened. “And when you find her?” she asked then. “What will you do?” “I will thank her.” “Is that really all?” She did not believe him. “And what after?” “After?” the blond man echoed. “Aren’t you going to do anything? Go with her, maybe? Only thank her? And that’s it?” “... You have asked this once already,” said the anew staid Garion, “have you not now? I will thank her; pay her back for her kindness. This I must—am vowed to do. That is all.”
And it was all.
Satori made a whining sound. “I can’t take you, Garion!” she cried. “I’ll never take you. You’ll age me ancient before the week is out.” “Are you not—” he began. “Shush. A handful hundred years isn’t ancient; not to mention, that was the rudest of you. I have feelings, did you know that? I’m not human, yes, but it doesn’t change anything about the fact that I’m still a girl. I’m plump and soft in all the customary places.” “... You are,” Garion agreed. “I don’t think you’ve fully grasped it yet, but I’ll let it pass for now. Anyway, I don’t look my age this way or the other, so what does it matter if I’m a few hundred and not a few tens? I didn’t always live like now, either. I didn’t really like that previous life. I’d much sooner count my years from the point I learned to wear clothes and brush my hair, if I could.” “Which was?” “I’m not telling. As for you, you’ll have to come to accept that I’m not how or what you’d envision me. All things considered, you’re very thick, Garion,” she told him piteously. “We’ve spent so many nights together—even slept in one bed—but you’re still picturing me as something... or someone... I’m not.” “What do you mean?” “I’m a person, Garion. A normal person: with normal crotchets and quirks.”
The young man released a slow breath. “... Is that so?” “Yes, Garion,” she told him sadly. “Yes, it is so. It’s all really very silly, did you know that? You came to terms with my... peculiarity... in an instant; but somehow it unnerves you that under all the hate, the legends and the monstery nonsense is just a girl. A silly old girl living in a faraway hollow for a home. A silly old girl with no one dependable to hug to when she’s feeling lonely. A silly old girl who’d likely blithely fall for the first stupid passer-by to give her a deuced shoulder to cry on.” She halted and swore silently under her breath. “Gods, I’m so stupid, too. Why did I just say that? Never mind me, Garion. I’ll be back in order just as soon as I’ve gotten some sleep. I’m actually tired, did you know that? I really don’t know what made me say that. It must be—” “—the moment,” hinted Garion.
“I’ll take that,” Satori said in a little happier voice; “I’m tired, so I’m probably letting it run away with me farther than I ought. It must be that. The rain, too; it’s giving me a headache.” “Will you lie down?” offered the blond man. “And will you with me?” she returned. “Should you wish.” “Then I might just. I’d hate to have to lie on the ground alone. I’ve done it before, but I still wouldn’t care for it a lot. I’ve said this already, haven’t I? I’m repeating myself. Gods, I feel so doltish now.” “You shall be better once you lie down.” “Yes. As a matter of fact, yes, you might very well be right. You’ll take your shoes off, won’t you? They’re hurting my calves.” “I intend to.” “Great. Then I’ll just... wait for you, I guess.”
The small hostess gave forth a withered breath; with it she slowly came away from the blond man so he may carry out his intent.
“You may lie down,” he advised; “I will be with you but in a moment.”
Satori nodded; naught a sound of resistance she lay down on the mat: knees up, ill at ease, hands folded on her chest.
Our Garion, meanwhile, was ever as strait-laced; sedulous he discarded his hard-shod travel-boots and set them where they would not wet in flowing rain or morning dew. At that, he traced also along the edges of the tent for invading water, but found none; promptly then he threw the blanket across his back, and, like a child or animal on all-fours, crawled over the waiting Satori.
The small hostess did not look whilst he hovered over her like so; away, distant were her big violet eyes, and her palms were laid, protective-like, on the front of her breast. There she was: small and unarmed, only these tiny hands for defence. And with her here was Garion: tall and strong, honed by years of roving through the Land.
A thought flashed to his head; but smartly he brushed it aside.
This was not the time, nor was this the place; still he was not sure, still uncertain. Another thing, withal, was as plain as plain, though never had it struck him before: these clothes, these heavy robust travel-clothes, not hers, did not suit her, did not flatter her at all.
But this was but his passing thought.
That chased also from his mind he laid down; he spread and let settle the broad blanket then, again, he embraced the small Satori and held her tightly to his chest.
“Garion?” She was startled. “What are you—?” “You will start to kick once asleep,” he explained. “This is so you will not.” She made a muffled noise. “But Garion, you’re too... Ow. No! I don’t like this. Not so—”
She pushed away from him. Their eyes met.
“Oh dear,” she said in a wispy voice. “What is it?” “Nothing.” Her eyes darted. “Nothing, Garion. Never mind. It’s nothing. But... I kick? Are you serious?” “I always am.” “Am I that bad?” She was hurt. “Worse,” said Garion regardless, cool and unflurried by her look. “You toss and switch, toss and switch; until someone holds you in place, you will not calm.” “I did not know that,” Satori said sourly. “I’ve never woken up in a tossed-up bed after sleeping alone. But yes. You make sense. When Rin or Utsuho sneak in to sleep with me, they always cling as close as they can. Could it be I only do that when there’s someone else with me in bed?” she wondered. “I doesn’t sound the most elegant, does it—nor too sensible.” “It might not,” said Garion; “but it is so all the same.” “But if you hold me, I’ll...?” “Yes.” “... This is so embarrassing, Garion.” Satori shook her careworn head. “Why do you keep unearthing these things about me I myself would much rather never know? I don’t like it. I didn’t let you sleep with me so you could do that to me.” “Let?” he repeated.
Quite inadvertently he thought back on the previous night and the decanter of delusory wine-that-was-not-wine.
A slow flush made onto Satori’s tiny cheeks.
“Oh dear,”she gasped once again, pink and wide-eyed. The blond man understood. “It is of no import,” he said as fast as he might; “I wish no issue made of it. What is past is past.” “But I—” “No issue,” he insisted. She gave out a faded whimper. “But I... I only... Oh, bother!” She stuck her face in his vest. “I only wanted some excuse to bully you a bit, that’s all. I hadn’t planned for your finding out. As a matter of fact, Garion, it hadn’t occurred to me you’d want to check. Why had you to? But I shouldn’t have left it like that, anyway. I could have spared us both this talk if I had—” “I told you just then,” interjected the blond man. “I wish no issue of it.” “But I do!” Satori exclaimed. “See now? This is part of the problem, Garion. You’re much too good for me at hiding these thoughts. You’ve a way with that. A horrible way. You lock them away to yourself; but then out of nowhere you let them loose and all kinds of things come out. You’re really trying my heart like this. When you find me out doing things like that, tell me! Not think it!” she added; “tell! I don’t enjoy reading your mind that much, anyway; I try to hedge against it when I can.” Which, one should say, was rarely if indeed ever. “I can’t defy my nature,” Satori defended; “but I do try it. Anyway, next time something comes up of this like, just open your mouth and tell me! I won’t hit you. I wouldn’t do that again. I couldn’t bear it. I just want to know when I’m making a stupid out of myself in your eyes, Garion. Would you do that for me? Tell me?” “I cannot guarantee,” said Garion gravely. “That’s all right. I’ll be happy if you’ll just consider when it inevitably happens again.” “As you wish.” “Thank you,” Satori said without a hint of irony. “Oh, and Garion? You don’t have to turn and twist so hard. You can breathe in my hair. I don’t care any more. You can do whatever you like—just not with my ears.” “... As you wish.” “I might, at that.”
Overcome with weakness, she spoke no more. And still the inexorable rain drummed on outside.
Our dear boy also, was still; hardly he moved in those next minutes; but in time the swooning voice of his lovely hostess reached again his ear.
“There is one thing, though,” she whispered; “one you’ve never told me.” “Which is?” he asked. “When you kissed me, yesterday... Why did you on the lips? I never said it had to be there. Could you tell me, maybe, if there was a reason why my lips and not—not the cheek, or forehead, or even hands? I had really thought it would be there. I’d been led to think you’d taken a liking to my hands. Was there any particular reason why not them?” “... Not particular.” “Then why the lips?” “It seemed...” he steeled himself, “... appropriate, at the time.” This he firmly believed. Satori murmured. “... I see. Garion?” “Yes?” “And if I told you again: to kiss me, would you?” “... I would not.” “I see. I didn’t think so. But you’ll do anything else?” “I will.” “Then don’t ever tell anyone that I asked. Will you?” “... As you wish.” “Great. Ah, this takes the stone off my heart.” She moved lightly under the blanket. “I can’t think why, but I’m relieved. As a matter of fact, I’ll see now, I think, if I can perhaps still get some sleep tonight.” “Very well,” he said. “Then I shall also.”
“Good night, Garion,” said the small hostess. “Good night, Satori,” said the blond man.
And then she wilted in his arms and never again spoke that night.
And so a time passed that Garion listened to her breaths: these tiny breaths that were no bigger than a minute and each, warm, clearly felt on his neck. At its end, of that time, when the breaths were shallow and even as the sound of rain outside, he reached out from beneath their blanket and quenched the blinking flame of the old lantern.
Then once more he took the small Satori in his arms, buried his nose in her fragrant hair, and himself, promptly, gave in to deep, dreamless sleep.
The air was chill and fraught with that characteristic redolence of fallen rain.
The sodden ground was springy. The stooping blades of grass glistened with crystal rivulets. The boy came now to pull up beside a sere old birch-tree and narrowed his eyes at the morning grey afore. This, neither, was the way. Once more he swung right back and traced a winding half-circle past the odorous clumps of ferns and heathers on his western flank. A toppled bole of a splintered beech here barred the way. He did not recall it; even so he stepped up the slippery length of the bark-peeling trunk for perhaps a better view. But the view was not better still; not even this course struck any a familiar chord in his mind. Thwart there lay but deeper even forest; not aught was there sign of the gravel road they had fled from the dusking previous day.
Crestfallen with this Garion leapt off the overturned tree straight to a splashing ground. At once there came a call from somewhere about whence he’d started.
The call was dire—one might chance to say: panicked.
Our boy answered.
“I am here!” “Where? I can’t see you!” “Truly,” he said in an undertone. Then he shouted again. “Hold! I shall return!” “Soon, I hope,” it seemed to him he heard in reply.
A last round glance he stole at the nearby underwood; then at a short circumspect pace he started back toward their camp.
Thus he came out of the brush with wet shoulders and dripping hair. The rainblackened canvas of the tent was half-drawn over the cord-line; the inside was empty but for the mat and the gear. The small hostess stood cloaked in his blanket a little off; she was calm, but Garion saw the covert breath of relief fly from her little lips once she saw him.
“Garion,” she greeted him. “Good morning, isn’t it?” “Satori,” he responded curtly. “Cold though.” He came closer. The locks of her pale hair were curling, he noticed. “I was thinking the same,” she said. “Will I ever wake up and find that you’ve rather not run off while I was asleep than have so?” “Mayhap not.” “You’ll keep doing this, then?” “I wished merely to assess the situation.” “What situation?” “None now. Are you well?” “Other than cold, yes. As a matter of fact, I’ve slept fine—very fine. I’m pretty well, if I can be.” “I see,” he said, abstracted.
Careful he scanned her little face for tells or clues of mood.
But the tousle-headed Satori was true to her word; her voice no longer swooned, and sharp again and spirited were her beautiful eyes. There was no trace, indeed not a mark, of that yester-night spell of temperamental fondness; the small hostess was once more her wonted, oft-wilful self. Or leastwise she was not ill; this much he could surely tell.
Up from the folds of the blanket there slunk out a slim, girlish arm; a small ashen hand flicked through the messy hair.
“You’ve had enough yet?” she questioned in a deceptively naïve voice. “You can tell me when you have. I’ll try to keep still until then so you can have a good picture. Oh, you needn’t look away!” she said when he did that. “Come, look at me. I won’t be mad. I do so love it when you stare at me without saying a thing, after all.” “I have had enough now.” “Oh? Oh, good. I didn’t think I was that interesting a sight, anyway. I’m all right, Garion. Or am I so much tousled you couldn’t ascertain whether I’m really awake? No, don’t say; I usually prefer not to show myself to anyone right after getting out of bed. I think I look ridiculous, for one, but there isn’t any bathroom here or mirror I could use, so yes; besides, if this is the price to pay, well...” She smiled. “You know what I’d really like, though? I’d like to wake up one day, open my eyes and see you still there. Or, well, see some sign that you’re still there—in the house or somewhere around. That’s it.” The spell, Garion noted inwardly, was perhaps not yet fully gone; nevertheless, he gave a nod. “As you wish,” he said steadily. “However now. Will you wish to eat?” “That depends on what you’ve in mind.” “It was my thought to have warm food; but,” he went on to add, “there was no such kind of wood as I could find with which I may start a fire quickly. It is all wet still. The greens, neither, would catch a flame soon. There is birch about, that burns well, but—” “That’s enough, Garion,” said Satori. “I didn’t ask for a lecture. You just stack some in one place and I’ll care for the rest.” “How?” “Oh, this way and that.” She wriggled her fingers at him mischievously. “You’re very good, Garion, but I’ve got the advantage of cheating. Now. Quit glaring. I know this flies in the face of tradition, but I’d like something warm in my belly as well. Chop-chop. Wood, Garion. But towel down your hair first. You’ll catch the chill yourself if you walk around with a dripping head.”
A minutes thence they crouched over a bunch of sopping twigs and branches piled in a miserable heap.
Then Satori hovered one pale hand over; the wood began to crack and sizzle and steam came pouring out it in milk-white streaks. A look of deep concentration curved the small hostess’s brows and the pile of twigs burst into jolly flame.
“There we go,” she said, satisfied. “You can do your magic now.” “Why did you not do this last night?” Garion wanted to know. “When you were cold?” “You’re not stupid, Garion. Think for yourself a little. Also, I’ll hit you if you ask me something like that again. So don’t push it. As a matter of fact, what you ought to do is tend to that food. I’ll keep the fire going. I can do that, at least. Will you quit staring at me? I said I’m not telling. You’ve figured it out anyway, so there’s no point making me say it, is there?” “True.” “Great. Then get at that food, won’t you please? I’m perishing of curiosity what you’ll make this time.” “Very well,” he gave up and went to fetch his gear.
They broke their fast betimes, sitting beside each other and sharing foods.
The daylight grew and the drear haze fled farther into the trees. The air warmed. There came then the shy twittering of the birds chased away by the yester-nightly storm. The sun blinked from beyond the fringes of the thickest tree-tops and its fine rays soon bathed the dewed undergrowth in an intricate mosaic of lights and shadows. The small hostess, finished eating, licked her fingers clean then wiped them dry on the hem of the blue-white travel-dress.
“I’ll wash it when we get home,” she said, catching Garion’s look. “You’ll want it back, I presume.” “Yes.” “I thought so, too. As I said, I’ll wash it. I wouldn’t want whosoever’s it is to smell it and catch my scent. She might get the wrong idea. Oh, drop it,” she said, once more seeing his stare; “I’m only kidding! I’m in good humour. You’ll let me joke a little, won’t you?” The blond man did not answer. “I will must perhaps dull that,” he said instead. “There is trouble afoot.” “That does put a bit of a damper on it,” admitted Satori. “What trouble?” “I do not—could not recall which way lies the road. We were hurrying when we walked off it; I did not take heed to mark the trail.” “Oh.” She did not sound greatly concerned. “We should not stray,” said Garion. “Mayhap you do recall.” “Not really,” she replied evasively. A small shake of the head and she was looking at him again. “I had my eyes and mind elsewhere at the time. Have you looked around? You might just find something to shake your memory.” “I have. After I woke up, I went to look.” “Oh yes. That’s right. And still nothing?” “No.” “Well. That’s a fix then.” Again, her voice and face both were unworried, even mildly wondering.
Garion waited with his next thought.
“Could you,” he said at length, “do something: fly perhaps above the trees and see?” Now she frowned. “And why would I do that?” she said. “Have you looked up there? You can hardly see the sky. I’d scrape myself all over, forget that I’d get these clothes sopping wet, too. And let me remind you, the only others we have with us aren’t even suited for walking.” “We might dry them afterward.” “I don’t much fancy getting naked out here, Garion.” “You might wear those other clothes meanwhile.” “I’d have to get naked all the same at one point or another. No, Garion. Out of the question. I don’t want to. You’ll find the right way sooner or later anyway, won’t you?” “It might take time. We should not stray. A desultory choice might either take us back on the road or into the unknown. I do not wish to chance it. We should not stray,” he said again, firmer. “I think I told you yesterday,” Satori reminded, “that I’d trust you any time if it pleased me. And right now it does. I’m trusting you with this, Garion. You take your pick of the way. I’ll come along whatever happens.” “What if I blunder?” he wanted to know. “I am not infallible.” “And what if you do?” “We might stray.” “Then let us!” she said brusquely. “I can walk; I showed you that yesterday. We have food, too. What’re you so worried for? The things living here? I’ll drive them away. I can do that. You just point the way, Garion. I’ll go with you. We’ll be just fine. Trust me. I trust you, so why won’t you trust me?”
The blond man gave her a hard look.
Which at once she returned.
Again yet she slid her hand through her hair and challenged:
“What? Can’t you?”
There was a strained pause.
“You think this is entertainment,” accused the blond boy. “You aim to play with it for your own amusement.” “So what if I do? A little walk won’t hurt, will it?” “This is no play. To stray in this Land spells hurt.” “You’ve found this the hard way, of course?” “Yes.” Satori grumbled under her little nose. “Well, anyway,” she said, “no, I don’t think of this as a play. As a matter of fact, you’re right; it’s dangerous, precarious, hazardous – all those other ‘–ous,’ too. I’d be against it if you were to go alone. But I’m here as well. You’ll just need to focus on what you do best, and I – on what do I. It isn’t so difficult to figure out. Why do we have to fight about this?” “We should not stray still,” Garion persisted. “You say that, but isn’t this current ‘situation’ more or less your feat? You’ve brought us here, you’ve had us stay the night in a tent, now you’ve lost your direction. Shouldn’t you take responsibility? Instead of relying on me for it?” “I do wish to,” said the blond man; “but alas, I cannot alone. You must aid me, else this shan’t end well.” “And I’m saying that I will. I’ll do everything in my power to keep my less fortunate kindred at a distance.” “I did not mean that.” “Shame, because that’s all you’re getting at this time. That other thing? I said I didn’t feel like it. Still aren’t, so forget about it.” “You need but to fly up and look,” Garion pleaded. Alas, the small hostess was intractable. On she scowled at him, on she said: “Oh yes? Turn your head up then and do tell: do you see an opening I could go through, without ripping myself and this dress to shreds on the way? There’s none! It’s almost like a roof!” “Then we will walk a ways and find one,” he proposed. “And which way will we walk?” “Any.” “And if we go the wrong way and there aren’t any openings?” “Then you will fly on alone and find one. Thence you will return home and I shall make own way out of this forest.”
The small hostess gave him a fiery look.
“You’re so bent on having me go. Why is that, Garion?” “I do not wish to put you in danger,” he explained. “Well, I don’t want to put you in danger, either!” flared the pale Satori. “What do you say to that, Garion? As a matter of fact, no; don’t say a word. You’ve made me say one embarrassing thing already, that’s enough. You aren’t making me say another. I’m staying and that’s final.” “This is no play, Satori.” “So you’ve said. So it isn’t. I’m deadly serious.” “You endanger us both.”
She rose to her feet.
“There is no deuced danger, you idiot!” she yelled. “Why won’t you listen to me? Nothing will happen! Oh, and I was so glad earlier, too! This is about me, isn’t it, Garion? You won’t go if it’s with me!” “Actually,” he grated, “yes.” Also he stood. “This is about you.” “What’s the problem with me?” “You are not fit for the trail.” “I did well yesterday, didn’t I?” “In the day, yes. In the night, no.”
“Oh, so that’s what bites you, isn’t it!” the small hostess bridled. “This is it! You’re afraid because I forgot myself and showed you a bit of affection. You’re scared because we might even in the worst case have to sleep together again. Although that’s not very likely, if I may say so; but you don’t like it anyway, do you, because it doesn’t conform to your vision of ‘straying’ if it’s with someone you have to care for.” “... It does not.” “And you’re so disgusted with it that you’d send me away first, then brave this ‘dangerous’ forest on your own! You’re not lying to me, Garion. You liked it when I embraced you; you liked it when we laid down and you held me! And that’s why you’re so squeamish now; because you’re so cloistered up in that shell of blasé indifference of yours you can’t accept that you might have, gods forbid, enjoyed something involving holding another person so close! Why? Why do you put up this wall? You like touching my hands, but you’ll sooner slit your throat than say it. You like telling me stories, but you’ll always pass it off in your mind as some kind of payment of chore. You like my eyes, but you’ll turn yours away each time I look your way. Why, Garion? Are you so terrified that that woman of yours might conceive somehow you’ve been unfaithful if you show me a little warmth?”
Garion ground his teeth.
“This is what bugs you, isn’t it?” Satori struck on. “That’s why we’re having this talk. You’re afraid because you might have to let me close to you again.” “... That is not for you to judge,” he growled. “As a matter of fact, yes, it is! I’ll judge it all I want if I pretty well please! I’m that kind of conceited! Am I wrong? Or was there some other mysterious reason why you’re so against all this?” “... There was.” “Ah yes, so I can see. Then why won’t you come out and say it—think it, even? You’ve been awfully quiet up there all this time. Yes, I’ve been listening. You’ve thought some very unflattering things, but you’ve yet to let this one out. You’ll feel easier once you have, Garion. What is it? It can’t be healthy, curbing your own mind so hard. You’ll let it out, won’t you? You’ll tell me, sooner or later. And did you know why? You can’t hide from me forever. I’ll have you know here: I may not look it, but I’m very patient when I want to be. And I’m very stubborn, too, as you have once observed. So, what will it be? Will we have it my way? Or will you brood and brood about it until you’ve lost all strength? One thought, Garion. I’m still in there. I’ll hear it. You’re so very quiet. I’ve already made myself at home. I’m all up in there. I’m only waiting on you. Give, Garion. Or was there maybe something you had to say to me about it? Oh, how very lovely of you! Are you getting mad at me, too, now? Are you, really?”
This indeed, our boy was; he stood, in swelling anger drawing and, again, releasing draughts of heavy damp air.
Then he clenched his fists, squared his shoulders; he would not have it. This had to end and he would end it.
“You—” he began.
But another voice then overtook his.
“Now!” it said. “Now, now!”
They both turned their heads as one—both Garion and Satori—to seek out from the brush the owner of the intruding voice.
A queer animal then bounded to the ground before them from a high branch whence it had watched their bootless dispute. The animal was a cat: black as the night itself, two-tailed; its sanguine eyes brimming with human-like almost curiousness. Satori, seeing it, blanched, recoiled. She seemed to know it.
“Orin?” she made a startled cry.
The cat bared its gleaming fangs at this reaction: a peculiarly un-cat-like grin.
Then it shimmered, blurred; and where there once was an oddly-made cat, now there stood the red-braided, rich-endowed pet-girl of Satori’s house. At her side, though never had it been there prior, flaked flecks of rust her near-inseparable wheelbarrow. The cat-eared she groomed briefly her dark-green dress, then again yet flashed her white teeth and the surprised two.
“They never did expect little sister, did they?” she said. “She surprised them, indeed. So she enjoys to think.” “What are you doing here?” Satori demanded in a bristling voice. “What little sister? And what are they, little brother and Master Satori? Why, seems it to little sister that they were making camp in the dead of the Forest of Magic, like so. All alone, just two. She feels left out, down, too, little sister does. So warm it must have been: in that tent at night, the two of them so close.” Satori made a strangled noise. “Now!” laughed Rin, “she is but making a little fun. Master Satori will forgive her, no? She does always. Anyway, she was watching over them, little sister was, and this felt the right moment for her to come out. Out of the bush, of hiding. So she did come out.” “You were watching us?” Satori asked, disbelieving. “Since when?” “Indeed, that little sister was, she has just said. Since yesterday, mid-day, when Master Satori left the shrine maiden’s dwellings. Yes, that long, abouts.” “Quit with this ‘little sister’ nonsense! You’re not softening me up! How did I not sense you?” “Ah, but who is to say?” the cat-eared one mocked, undaunted. “So little sister—she means Rin, by that—so she thinks Master Satori was committed to other matters that her mind became numb to all else. After all, Master Satori is loving; and her love overpowers even her own nimbleness sometimes. But little brother anyway is in a cleft stick of his own cutting.” She turned to Garion. “Good day.”
She curtsied despite the inflamed looks from her master.
Garion said nothing; he inclined his head only.
Then Rin went on. “As little sister was saying, of his own cutting. The sky had been bad all throughout the day; he should have hurried when there was still right time; he would have reached the underworld and Old Hell that day even. Ah, but he may have had some motive that little sister knows not. Again, she cannot say. It is his mind and his alone if he did, whatever it were. Still, they stray even now, he and little sister and Master Satori all. This is their solution, right here, that they may be at ease: Orin and her barrow, even as they were the last time. This does not become a habit though, she hopes,” she added; “she has things else to carry, other than he. All the same now. Only he needs to gather his things and they may go home as soon. Unless—” here again she grinned, “—Master Satori and he desire to carry through their argument? Orin may wait. She has, after all, until now. Master Satori has said and done some nice things, yes, very nice: things she does not otherwise. She may have more in wait if little brother says the right word, dons the right face: the like he did last night. Master Satori was so dear last night; indeed, as little brother said it: even ‘lovesome.’”
“I don’t know that anyone needs to hear about this, Rin,” Satori said with a cautionary note. Once more the cat-eared she held up the rims of her dress and bowed. “It shall be noted that Master Satori so believes.” “I’m not joking, Rin,” warned her master. “This doesn’t leave the three of us.” “Ah, but Master Satori is blushing!” “Quiet! You say one word of this to anyone, Orin, one word—especially to Koishi—and you’ll go to a whole new hell. You’d better tie that loose tongue of yours tight if you don’t wish to part with your fur. And you—” she spun on an angry heel to the straight-faced Garion, “—you won’t say anything, either. You won’t, will you?” “No.” “You wouldn’t anyway, would you? As a matter of fact, I shouldn’t have asked. I’d never honestly thought otherwise. You’re too steady. Gods, if this didn’t age me a decade...” She palmed her small face. “And, Garion? I want... I have to apologise. I’m sorry. You know for what, don’t you?” “... No.” She cast him a sidelong look from ‘tween her slim fingers, but his confusion was not feigned.
“All right,” she gave a sigh; “bother, I’d have to do this before we got home one way or the other. I’m sorry for reading your thoughts aloud like that just then. You’re right to keep them locked away from me. They’re yours. I shouldn’t have... I could have stopped myself! This is why me and Koishi were so... Never mind, Garion. I’m just sorry. And, just in case, never mind what I was saying there, too. I let myself go too far. You don’t need to say anything. You’re fine as you are—if you’ll forgive my stealing the phrase.” “You remembered.” “I did. Will you forgive me, Garion? I’m really very sorry. I irritate too easily when one minute everything goes my way, then the next...” “Yes,” he said. “I know. You are excused.” “Great. Well, about that, I said fine, but... if you could do something about that hair of yours, I should be even happier. It’s driving me mad how it goes every which way, even after I went to the effort of cutting it shorter. It’s really making me cross.” “I shall see to it once we’ve arrived to your home.” “Great. That’s a relief, if I’ve known one today. Or, well, I have, once. Gods, what am I blabbering on about? Orin, this is also to stay between us,” she said to her fanciful pet-girl. “Garion? Yes. Thank you. That’s all right. You don’t have to stare at me. I’m only happy you aren’t harbouring any grudges; most people do when you push into their mind like that.” “I am not like most.” “That you’re not; in more ways than one, too.” “And will you forgive me also, Satori?” he asked. “As soon as you stop staring, then I’ll give it some thought. No, I’m kidding; don’t give me that look. Of course I forgive you. You needn’t ask. And don’t worry; really, don’t. I forgive you. I won’t make you kiss my hand again or anything.” “Then it is well?” he asked. “As a matter of fact, yes,” she told him. “It’s well. I’m glad we could put it all behind us. And let’s not talk about it again if we can. That applies to you as well, Orin. You squeak out one word to anyone and you’ll squeak till the end of your days.”
The cat-eared girl tilted her head playfully and smiled.
“Anyway,” Satori moved on. “Has Koishi come home yet? And Okuu, too, for that matter?” “Ah yes,” said Rin, “they have, yes, they have. As always, Okuu has come bruised; little sister—oops, Rin—she tended to her wounds however in Master Satori’s absence. Master Koishi, also, has come late in the night. She would not speak of what she did at the festival, no; but she was saddened to find Master Satori was not there to meet her. Then once more she went away in the morning when Rin also left in search for Master Satori. Oh yes—” she addressed Garion with this, “—this little sister has failed to say before,” she told him, “but she was cross with him that he did not seek her out at the festival as he had promised. But in his favour she was away soon. She did not remain even long enough to see how Master Satori arrived. She is no more cross with him, however; he is again and still as welcome to her as always.”
Garion nodded in silent thanks.
“Ah, but now!” the cat-eared she said in a more vigorous manner, “the day is wasting on this talk and little sister has yet duties to run. Then let little brother pack his tent and things, then let Master Satori gather hers, if there are. And let us then take flight. Orin will lead them out of the forest: this forest they both so feared. Orin knows the way. She will be the guide. She has sense of smell as shows her paths which neither little brother nor Master Satori may see. Orin will lead them.”
Then she stroked dearly the broad-side of her rust-splotched wheelbarrow.
“And little brother may once again ride his most favoured mount.”
Anon they were in the sky: above the forest, then over the flatlands beyond.
The wind roared in their ears. The miles below darted by in throngs at once. The Land was wide; but from up here, it seemed as though it had been but a fragment of its size. At one point regret stalked Garion’s thought: that he did not fly and wasted his years thus; but that also was soon blown from his mind with the high current. They had not talked much while they had been readying to leave; and even now the small hostess flew a goodly way in front, while her pet-girl, with our dearest boy in ride, tracked a ways behind. There was no say what was passing in her mind, but the instance of their fight must have still been present to her thought.
There came then over the breeze the shouting of Rin.
“She wonders, though!” she was saying, “little sister does! Would little brother indulge her wondering?” “Say on!” he replied, not turning from the wind. “And so she does! Was Master Satori telling the truth right then?” “As to what?” “As to that he likes to hold her hands! Was it the truth? Or was it a lie made on the moment? So curious is little sister that the question burns her. Well, was it the truth?”
But Garion did not answer.
“An it please little brother!” chuckled the cat-minded girl; “but she has such soft and pretty hands that little sister sees clear why he might like them. Yes, they are good hands to like, if she may say so herself; little brother amazes little sister with his keen eye.” “Is little sister done?” the blond man snapped. “Ah, she may very well. Carry they then on, she and little brother! Should he wish they may even pick up speed so they might see closer how Master Satori’s dress flaps on the air. Shall they now? Shorter and shorter grows the chance as they near home. She thinks she will now, so little brother had better hold on if he can. Away!”
And by some miracle of will, Garion held on.
Within the hour they were at the dark maw of the Underworld’s gate.
The jagged rock was as if teeth of some long-dead monster come to lay its head there for its final rest. Satori plunged fearless into that gaping blackness, and then after her did Garion and Rin. The Sun dimmed in this trodden hall, more and more the deeper they flew. Then came the bend.
At the utmost second the blond man turned about to catch the last ray of treasured light.
Then the Sun dipped and vanished, and as if at the shuttering of a lamp, black darkness fell.
※ ※ ※
HERE ENDS the first part of “Tenshi is in This Story.” The second part, “Tenshi may Appear in This Story At Some Point or Another,” carries on the quest for Garion’s elusive woman and his mysterious bond with the lovesome Satori.