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[ɚ] Accepts. Girl knows how it is, missin' family... 'sides, she's got almost nothing at stake in this.
One's more harmless than the last, isn't it? She might be setting me up; the message could just say THE INVASION IS NIGH. BE PREPARED. Or worse.
I think I can count on her offer being good, at least. It really is in her best interest to help me get home safely so that the letter can be delivered. I have confidence in that, at least.
"I'd be happy to deliver it for you," I say, belatedly putting a more altruistic spin on it. Kana-mama would frown at my diplomatic blunder.
Elis is more forgiving, it seems, just looking happy enough to hear it said. "So shall it be," she tells me. "I'll write up the letter after breakfast. Speaking of which..." She delivers a light slap to Keshti's rear, getting a yelp of surprise causing him to jump away from her table. "Get that little butt of yours off the table and put it in the kitchen already!"
He scurries off to do her bidding, and I can't help but feel a little something odd about that. I take another sip of tea, which has at least cooled dowhy is this stuff so horribly bitter. Stupid auto-pilot reactions.
I tell her a few more Rikako stories, but they're pretty short. Not even stories, really; more like little details and things about her and where and how she lives. Small things. I apologize when I can't think of anything more to add, but she's plenty pleased by what I've given her.
A minute or so passes while she gets her accent back under control, and another two while she composes her thoughts for her half of the bargain. When she begins, all trace of exuberance is gone, and she leans forward, clasping her hands loosely and looking me in the eye.
"First and foremost, dear, you're going to need to get a different look. You must have the Goddess' own luck to have not been spotted yet by anyone else before meeting me."
I look down at my clothes, not getting what she's saying... for a moment. Then her panic at seeing my resemblance to Reimu comes rushing back. "Shrine maidens aren't very popular here." Spoken, not asked. She nods, huffing a sigh of weary amusement.
"Ha. That's... that's an understatement. The reason you're lucky you met me is because I was scared enough to bother asking who you were, first. Most of Makai would respond with the most lethal and immediate force first, and ask questions... probably never. Everyone remembers when Hakurei and her hooligans came stomping through."
"Your son didn't seem particularly worried."
The corners of her lips twitch upward into something that looks like a smile on the outside. "Secret code; I told him it was all clear. Probably the only reason he didn't kill you on the spot is because he's used to me inviting onje in. Humans that get it in their head to go spend months or years training in the magical arts in a world of demons where the air is toxic and are lucky if most of us even give 'em the time a' day... Well, they're a pretty strange bunch, and he's learned to ask first."
"...He would have killed me if you hadn't?"
"Didn't you read the note in the shed? 'Not while you're on my property,' like it said. ...That means he'd have taken you out into the street, first. I'm nothing if not a devil of my word." She looks at me for a beat, and then rolls her eyes. "Oh, don't look so scared, Kochiya. That you're still alive now means that's how I want you." The way she sounds faintly irritated at having to remind me of my ensured safety is both unsettling and comforting for reasons I can't quite pin down.
She unclasps her hands, and reaches over for her tea, taking a sip . It's quiet for a bit, and from somewhere else in the house, I hear the distant but familiar clatter of kitchen-sounds— pans being placed on a stove, in this case.
"Anyway. Wearing that in public is a death wish," she says, after a few seconds. "Fashion's a pretty loosely defined thing in Makai these days, so you could get away with pretty much anything else. Especially because you're onje."
Erf. Clearly, the idea I'd had about using my miko status to keep the locals at bay would only backfire terribly. But the way she says that reminds me of something the white woman told me. I clear my throat and ask, tentatively, "Don't the spellcard rules prevent lethal duels?"
She tilts her head slightly. "Spellcards?"
The white woman was not lying. Even after truth upon truth upon terrible truth poured forth from her too-pale, almost lavender lips, I had hoped that at least one would be false. If she spoke even one, this was, nevertheless, not it.
"They're a... it's a Gensokyo thing, after all. Never mind, it was a dumb question." I say, disheartened. She shrugs, and then picks up where she left off.
"The only thing worse than the outfit would be doing anything specifically linked to shrine maidens. Using seals, uh... that little stick of yours looks different enough from Hakurei's that I don't think it'll draw attention. I'm assuming that for your intents and purposes, it's about the same thing as hers though, right?"
I eye my haraegushi. True, it does serve many of the same functional purpose as Reimu's gohei, and they are used for similar reasons. A haraegushi is not as versatile in its range of applications, or as common a sight as a gohei, however. I actually have to do more work from the ritual and magical side of things to make up for this lack of flexibility.
But in my current predicament, I wouldn't trade this for Reimu's gohei even at gunpoint.
The reason I use this is because every miko of Lady Kanako was required to have a symbol of office that, in addition to being a spiritual tool, is also easily weaponized. When I want it to, the wooden stick in my hands can become as hard as steel, the paper wedged into the top as unyielding as titanium, its edges able to cut through oak like butter.
It really says a lot about Kana-mama's younger days.
"I guess you could say that." A little bit of petty revenge.
She just nods, unaware. "Something to keep mum, then, unless things go bad. What else..." She trails off, then snaps her fingers after thinking for second. Oh! Can't forget those; do you have those... the balls that Hakurei had, half-white and half—"
"Oh, her yin-yang orbs?" I suppress a shudder at the memory. Soccer has been slowly but surely growing more popular in Gensokyo. Reimu, if she bothered, and if she could be persuaded to not use her hands, could probably be her own team and still win. And that would be with a ball made out of leather patches, not rock. And only one ball, not two simultaneously. I'm convinced she played sepak takraw at a championship level in a past life, or something. "What about them?"
"Do you have anything like that...?"
"Oh. No. Well, sort of," I say, trying to think how you explain religious symbolism in a few sentences, and doing a very bad job of it. "I mean, the symbol is part of the faith, kinda sorta. Well, a lot, in a way. Uh. Really short version, no, I don't have any balls." She does not smirk or smile. I still blush.
"Argh. I mean... Okay, for her, like, for her shrine, those are a large part of the history, so they've also worked their way into a lot of her personal symbolism. Kind of... thing. Moriya Shrine doesn't have such an artifact. Well, we sort of do, but my—" "—gods carry theirs with them. Oh! The animal trinity, that's a big one." I point to my coil and pin. No need to have a symbol of the third member; I am the third.
"You use the animal symbology a lot?" she asks, peering at the ornaments.
"...Sorta, yeah..." I'd decided to work a frog motif into my danmaku when I set out yesterday morning, mostly because Suwa-mama was the one I consulted first after finding out about the UFOs and the treasure ship. And I guess because I thought it'd make her laugh . But other than that, I guess I haven't really had something that symbolized my power...
Oh. No, I definitely have a thing like that.
"Mostly," I add, recovering from having trailed off in a mumble, "I use a star." I hold out my hand, and reflexively trace out the shape on my palm with my thumb, causing a the traced shape to appear, glowing white-blue.
Elis chuckles as she looks into my hand. "Oho~ Good taste, Kochiya." she says, glancing up at me and tapping her star-marked cheek with a grin. Looking at the demon, I can't help but return it, even if it's with a tinge of nervousness.
Sitting back, I close my palm and dismiss the star and its light. "You'll be all right on that front, then," she says, brushing back her hair. "Basically, the less you look or act like Hakurei, the longer you'll live. Since you aren't a youkai, don't even mention Gensokyo. Oh, and don't expect anyone else to be as friendly as me to onje like you, even at the best of times."
...Welp. Goodbye, good mood.
"Don't look so down about it," she tells me, leaning back in her chair, and crossing her legs. "I've seen people worse off than you manage to make it in one piece. Heh, if anyone's got a better chance of surviving Makai than the average onje, it's a shrine maiden. I'd suggest getting better with your magic real quick, too. There's literally no better place to work on it. ...You should also expect to get your hands dirty."
This last comment is spoken in a different tone than the others. Calm, neutral, fact-stating, the kind you have to use when you say awful things in a way that doesn't cause panic.
I visibly flinch the instant her meaning becomes clear. "What?" I ask. Worried, no tremble yet. When I look over to her, I find her already staring at me. Ready for this part.
"It's Makai, dear. While "lethal force" isn't as permanent for us as it is for humans, I daresay you could ensure that it would be with less effort than most."
...There's something unsaid there, and Elis sounds ...very certain of that statement.
I... guess it makes sense? Thinking about it, it's obvious that she's referring to my abilities as a miko. Divine powers and demons are pretty classically opposed. But it usually only seals or banishes them. I guess that becomes a lot worse if you're doing it to the demon themselves, on their home turf. But why does she look so—
And then, the cause of the certainty of her words clicks in my head like a precision mechanism. Elis had been clearly stating it quite literally from the beginning. But I hadn't considered permanence as part of the equation, until now.
Elis just quietly nods, once my hand slowly rises to cover my mouth.
Expect to get your hands dirty.
Yokomura-sensei, the guidance counselor at school, always looked faintly sad. Not depressed, and not unhappy. But sad.
Guidance means saying things they won't want to hear, I suddenly realize. But they will be things you need to hear. To know.
Elis doesn't look sad, but if I had to say these sorts of things to people, I think I would look like Yokomura-sensei, too.
We stay that way for a while, in the silence of our thoughts. The sounds of cooking filter through the halls, but they fail to break the mood.
It's Elis who makes the first move, and I actually jump in my chair when she suddenly sits up and claps her hands once. "All right, enough gloom and doom, dear. You said you packed all this for 'incident resolution'," she says, pointing at my pack. Her voice isn't bright and artificial, but strong and clear. She glances up at something above and behind me. "We've got a few minutes more before he's done with breakfast. What exactly was going on, if you don't mind me asking?"
Mind? I could almost cry for joy at this change of topic.
[ ] The short of it. Just gives her the highlights, an' leaves it at that.
[ ] The... middle of it? Not too much, not too little; she's just happy to be talkin' 'bout other stuff.
[ ] The long of it. Takes it from A to Z, with nothing left out. Girl ain't in a good place right now, and tellin' the whole thing'd take her even worse places. This ain't on the table.
Summer quarter's over, so this theoretically means more time for updating! At least until the 8th, because then I go to China for a week or so. I think I'm going to be kept pretty busy during that trip, but we'll see if there's time to squeeze in an update or two (On the plane rides to and back, if nothing else).
...Oh wow. No, definitely not a reference to that. It's an actual name.