Big menus of cheap food with cheery service — that was the basic pitch of every family restaurant. And it was often a successful one, at that. The tengu-heavy ends of Gensokyo had seemingly become mushroomed with them, luring in people of all stripes and even species.
One of those famires chains was Freshtaste, an established chain with a new location in an equally recent commercial area. Rumor had it that the latest shop was struggling in its first year, but no one would know by looking: the lighting was as warm, the benches as soft, and the soft drinks as endless as any other location.
A crow tengu woman walked in through the sliding glass doors, the cool breeze of the air conditioning making soft waves in her wings. Her black hair was parted neatly down the middle, straight as a ruler, making her wide forehead protrude and gleam underneath the lights. She instinctively pat the satchel over her shoulder as she strode up to the counter, next to a blackboard listing the day’s specials and a small sign asking politely to wait for service. She glanced into the restaurant proper to get a feel for the room. This evening’s crowd looked like the usual assortment of half-awake salarymen, gossiping mothers, and teenagers filling the booths of the restaurant.
“Good afternoon! Sorry for the wait. Welcome to Freshtaste! How many tonight?”
The tengu turned to the waitress that had just grabbed her attention. She was a little on the short side, with her slender arms holding a small stack of menus against her chest. She was flashing a bright, beaming smile, and the bangs of her grass-colored hair were almost but not quite long enough to cover her eyes. The waitress’s wings flitted behind her. They were thin, almost translucent, with a trail of yellow along the edges that was so thin and golden that they looked gilded. Definitely not crow tengu’s wings; that much was clear.
“No trouble at all! Just me, please,” the crow tengu chirped.
Her smile widened, pleased with her luck as she followed the waitress to a quiet-looking booth. The waitress whisked herself away, returning moments later with a glass of water and a small basket of utensils, including a packaged oshibori — a hand towel with hot water for customers to clean their hands.
“Please enjoy yourself,” the waitress said as she placed a menu in front of her, bowed, and then vanished again.
The tengu flipped through the menu, pretending to look for something to order. The morning set with pancakes actually looked quite tempting, but she reminded herself why she really came here. When she saw the green-haired waitress waiting primly, albeit a bit listlessly, by the drink bar, she pressed the button on her table — a technological convenience of the famires that made shouting for the staff unnecessary. She nodded to herself as the same waitress headed towards her.
“I’d like a coffee, and if it’s not too much to ask—” the crow woman set the menu aside with a flourish and turned to face the waitress directly, “—an interview with you, ma’am. The name’s Teru, and I work with the Amaden Rapid.” She reached into her satchel and brandished a pen and notepad, suddenly wearing a wide smirk that showed how pleased she felt with herself.
The waitress froze, her smile suddenly looking painted on. She bowed slightly, then blinked. Her wings buzzed nervously. Without a word, she turned and scooted off towards the employees-only door.
“Miss Manager?” she called, her voice loud enough to hear through the door and across the room.
The waitress returned after an awkward silence, accompanied by the manager, a wolf tengu with sleepy eyes and brown hair with white roots, even along her tail, though her ears were still mostly white. A name-tag on her collar listed her name as Iroha.
“She said you wanted to interview her?” Iroha asked in a soft voice, equal parts gentle and tired.
Teru nodded, flashing a business card. “Fumii Teru, at your service. I cover local stories for the Amaden Rapid. I came by here around lunch, and when I saw her, I thought she’d make a nice story. No offense, but I’d never seen a faerie bus a table before. Especially not with such a serious, hard-working expression!”
The faerie waitress glanced up at her manager, trying to figure out if that was a compliment.
“So, I was hoping to just get a quick profile of her. It shouldn’t take long, and it could make for good publicity, if I say so myself,” Teru finished.
Iroha scratched her ear in thought, unmoved by Teru’s hopeful expression. She took Teru’s card, looked at it with only minor interest, and shrugged her shoulder.
“Alright, but I’ll be holding you to the ‘quick’ part. And I’ll be keeping an eye on you in case you’re up to anything.”
Teru nodded, her wings jostling with excitement. “Of course, ma’am. And, um, I was serious about the coffee order.”
The waitress perked up, her wings buzzing again, and hurried towards the drink bar. She returned half a minute later with a fresh cup of coffee and placed it gingerly in front of Teru. She scooted into the other side of the booth facing Teru, needing to look up to make eye contact.
“Thank you very much for agreeing on such short notice,” Teru said, clicking her pen. “First things first: Could I get your name?”
The faerie nodded, though she struggled to come up with an answer. “It’s… not exactly a name, but everyone calls me Daiyousei.”
Even trying to explain her own name — or what counted for one — felt awkward to the faerie called Daiyousei, as did talking about herself in general. As soon as the words had left her mouth, she wanted to excuse herself and go bus a table. Anything to get out of having to talk with this strange tengu woman.
The journalist, Teru, gave a long hum of interest as she scribbled in her notebook. “Daiyousei, eh? That’s got a nice ring to it. Maybe a little long to pronounce, but…” She looked back up at Daiyousei, pushing her half-moon glasses up. The faerie could swear her forehead almost had a glow now. “Anyway, how long have you been working here? From what I’ve seen, you already look like a natural.”
Daiyousei scrunched her face in thought; despite being part of her job, numbers had a way of not working well for her. How long had it been? One, two… She resorted to counting out on her fingers after losing count for the second time.
“Ffffffour months?” she concluded, holding up as many digits.
Teru seemed to acknowledge the figure, dubious as it was, and jotted it down anyway. “And how’d you land your job here? Did anything draw you to it?”
Daiyousei winced. Of all questions to come out with. She fiddled with the bow on her collar. “I don’t like to talk about that.”
Hoping for some help, she looked to Miss Manager, whose ears jumped to attention right away. She immediately raised her hands in front of her, making a clear ‘X’ with them — an oft employed signal when she was around.
Either ignoring the signal or not seeing it, Teru went on. “Aw, come on. I’m not a scary person. If there’s any big, juicy secrets, your big sis’ll keep—”
Miss Manager cleared her throat loudly, causing Teru’s pointed ears to twitch. Finally, the crow woman couldn’t ignore the call to stop her prodding. With a quiet click of her tongue, Teru crossed out a few lines in her notes and carried on, her smirk noticeably lessened.
“Right, moving on. Mind telling me where you came from? I mean, I’m guessing you’re not from around here, right?”
“The, um… big lake. With all the fog. Out by the huge red house. I lived around there.” Still not a real nice question, but she’d been away long enough that thinking about it didn’t make her stomach all queasy like it used to.
Teru nodded as she continued writing, the edges of her mouth curling back up. “How interesting! That’s an awful long way from Amaden. Surely, you could tell me just a little about how you got here. Pretty please?”
Daiyousei didn’t even have to look at her manager this time. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Miss Manager’s hands going up in an even more emphatic signal. About the same time, a third pair of eyes drew her attention: her coworker Oboro, the short girl who could have either been a tiny, stocky human or a pudgy kappa; she’d never told either way. Ever the curious one, Oboro had hoisted herself over the booth back to watch what was going on, sending a cheery smile and a wave at Daiyousei.
Fight the growing urge to crawl under the table, Daiyousei tried to block out Oboro and flicked between Iroha and Teru. It looked like the latter was ignoring the signal to stop again. Well, maybe it didn’t hurt to answer this time.
“I… erm, walked. I mean, I could have f-flown, but—”
“Alright, enough, Dai.” Miss Manager interrupted, then gave Teru a look, her ears lying flat to show she was coming to the end of her patience. “If you’re going to keep bothering her with personal questions, maybe we should just end this here.”
Teru and Miss Manager locked onto each other, neither one showing any willingness to back down now. Just as Miss Manager was looking about to get up from her seat and escort Teru out, there was an airy laugh from the next booth.
“That’s our dear Miss Iroha, sticking up for Dai when she’s in trouble,” Oboro said, now hanging over the back of the bench, looking on in total interest.
A look of inspiration flashed across Teru’s face, and she jabbed her pen in the air toward Miss Manager. “Alright! I’ve got one that isn’t personal, I swear. So, you’ll be kind enough to let me ask it, right?”
“I will throw you out if you keep screwing around, just so you know,” Miss Manager answered after a pause.
“How are you getting along with your coworkers?” Teru asked Daiyousei immediately, ignoring the obvious threat.
“Oh! If I can chime in, I’d just like to say that Little Dai here is just the sweetest. She’s so considerate!” Oboro piped.
A wave of dread struck Daiyousei, sending heat coursing through her face and all the way to the end of her pointy ears. Once Oboro got onto one of her little doting streaks, there’d probably be no end. She opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was an embarrassed squeak.
Just when she’d thought things had got their worse, a hand descended from above, tousling her hair roughly. She looked up to see another one of her coworkers perched over the seat back of the booth behind her, another crow tengu with short, scruffy mauve hair, wearing the stoic look of someone who works all through the night without rest.
“Really, Iroha? That’s not like you to do others’ work for them. You know protecting Dai is part of my job description, right?” her crow coworker remarked dryly.
“K-K-Kiki!” protested Daiyousei.
Miss Manager cleared her throat again, louder this time. “I don’t believe I ever said you two could join in. In fact, I’m sure there’s someone who needs—”
“Um!” Daiyousei squeaked even more loudly. She hadn’t exactly been optimistic about the interview, but everyone’s attempt at helping was, well, unhelpful.
[ ] So she pouted and harrumphed until her coworkers gave her some space. [ ] So she just let her coworkers answer questions for her. [ ] So she panicked.
It was obvious enough that they were overwhelming her. The smell of fear had been wafting from Dai for the past couple of minutes, and it was getting to be about unbearable for Iroha.
“Give her some space,” she snapped, swatting Kiki’s hand off of Dai’s head. Her ears fell flat against her head as she looked between Kiki and Oboro. “Now, clear off. If you can’t find work to do, then… just go look busy.”
There was some grumbling from Kiki and a murmur of indignation from Oboro, but they knew better than to question Iroha in that state. The two hopped out of their booths, grabbed some loose menus, and made for other corners of the store, leaving a silent table. Looking nonplussed at the whole exchange between the manager and employees, Teru adjusted her glasses and smoothed out her part.
“Well, erm… that’s quite nice, isn’t it? It really looks like all of you make good, um, friends.” She was putting on the sugar tone used when talking to children, but only halfheartedly. Despite not liking the reporter very much, even Iroha had to feel a bit bad about ruining her flow.
Dai’s head drooped in a slow, trembling nod like she was a little mechanical toy. Then, her mouth opened.
What came out was not answer to the question. In fact, it wasn’t anything resembling speech at all. Iroha’s ears clamped down just in time as a shrill, piercing cry emanated from somewhere deep down in the little faerie. A pained Teru frantically sealed her hands around her ears as well, a moment too late. The noise was long, loud, and beyond anything Iroha had ever witnessed from anyone in all her days in restaurants.
In spite of the unearthly noise she’d just made, Dai merely sat there in the booth, wearing the same tight smile as when dealing with any other difficulty. However, her eyes were dewy now. It was only a matter of time before the tears started. Iroha grimaced.
Teru unplugged her ears at last, a look of undisguised shock replacing the irritating smirk she’d worn the rest of the time. She looked at Iroha with an unspoken question in her eyes. Iroha glanced over her shoulder at the back office, then nodded to Teru, who nodded back vigorously. They both slowly rose from the booth and stepped away, all too aware of the looks of the various patrons left in the place. Another couple of complaints, another couple of complementary drink bar tickets, and another tongue-clicking from the district manager, for sure.
Before they retreated fully into the back office, Iroha gave one last look at poor Dai. Oboro was already sitting across from her, frantically offering a handkerchief. Iroha smiled sadly and shook her head.
“Good thing I’m the manager here.”
All in all, the rest of the business with the reporter didn’t take much time. More than fifteen or twenty minutes couldn’t have passed before they emerged from the back office. Back to what counted as buzzing for a half-empty shop, Iroha noted.
“I appreciate all of your help,” said Teru, giving a deep bow that almost ruined her part. Rising quickly, she smiled sheepishly, looking around the restaurant. “And, erm… I’m terribly sorry about the…”
“Make it the last time and we’ll call it good,” Iroha replied with as much false cheer as she could inject into her voice — which wasn’t much given how close to exhaustion she was tipping.
With one last good-will token of a free drink bar voucher changing hands, the two parted ways there. Iroha heaved a heavy sigh as soon as the reporter disappeared through the sliding glass doors. Her ears and tail could barely remain upright. If paying off a reporter was the last bit of trouble she had to deal with before the night was done, she might just drink a little less. Maybe.
Wondering about the state of her star employee, Iroha made her way back to the booth where she’d left the teary-eyed Dai, a vague dread making the trip a plodding one. Luckily, it was empty now. Only a few used tissued dotted the tabletop. She reached for them without thinking, eager to occupy herself with something that wasn’t managing for once.
“Sorry, I’ll get those,” piped a familiar voice from behind.
Iroha barely had to turn around to know who it was. Back to her usual form, Dai was there with an empty tray in hand, wearing a determined face that was neither a smile nor a frown. Hovering nearby, almost keeping watch in case she had to intercept anyone, was Kiki; it was the most active she’d been in a couple of weeks, Iroha thought.
Catching Kiki’s eye with a smile, Iroha leaned in close to whisper. “How many vouchers are we down?”
Kiki’s normally blase expression lit up with a slight quirk in her mouth. “None, actually. Our little Dai-D— ahem, Dai went and apologised to all the tables,” she said, loud enough to ruin Iroha’s attempt at discretion.
“It was the right thing to do,” Daiyousei said with a stern face as she carried the tissues away.
Iroha and Kiki exchanged a look. For once, there was a perfect understanding between them: They didn’t have to worry about their Dai.
This story is a collaborative effort between Fluffy Mask and Mask of Gold. Unfortunately, the two of us also have conflicting work schedules, which means that during the week, we don’t have too much overlapping free time. Because of that, while we’d love to put out (tee hee) daily updates, it’ll probably be more like updates every 2-3 days. Sorry about that.
We’ll still be aiming for that 30k, so don’t give up on us just yet!
“—and the customer was visibly touched when she got it back. Despite numerous gestures from the grateful woman, Daiyousei refused to take any compliment for it. This reporter couldn’t have been more charmed by her humbleness.” Kiki read the article clipping aloud slowly, exaggerating her intonation perhaps a bit too much in an attempt to sound dramatic. Despite being for Daiyousei’s benefit, she sounded like she was reading off an imperial decree.
The faerie pursed her lips, feeling embarrassed being complimented in print but still eager to hear more. “What else?”
“Hold your horses, I’m getting there.” Kiki cleared her throat. “All in all, she looks right at home in her waitress uniform, and it looks like she’s here to stay at Freshtaste’s newest branch. It looks like they’ve got bright days ahead of them. And that’s it. Lot of words to not say much,” she finished with a dry chuckle, pinning the article back up on Miss Manager’s corkboard wall.
“Still, I think it’s a nice article,” Oboro said.
“It'd better be. Only I can badmouth Dai!” Kiki retorted, nudging Daiyousei with her elbow and laughing when she nearly fell over. Oboro shared in the laugh, earning an annoyed buzz of the little faerie’s wings. The things she put up with around here.
There was an annoyed grunting and the handle of a door jiggling, followed by a thud. What had been a dull roar of conversation for the past few minutes lowered to mutters all of a sudden. Daiyousei looked around. All of the waiters and waitresses gathered wore sober expressions now, including Kiki and Oboro. Daiyousei swallowed in anticipation of what came next.
Struggling to navigate with stacks of files under one arm and a monstrosity of a drink — it looked like a coffee, except there was a mountain of whipped cream, chocolate, and powdered sugar camped atop — in the other hand, Miss Manager forced her way backwards through the door, the force of a single shoulder blow enough to nearly send it off the hinge.
“Right, I’m here,” she huffed, setting the coffee and documents down on her desk and almost falling into her chair. That was the signal for everyone to quiet down completely. “I know it’s early. Oh, Tenma, do I know it’s early. And I’m sure you’re all dying to know why I called you in.”
Around the room, people glanced at each other nervously. Daiyousei didn’t like the sound of the word ‘dying’.
“To make things short: we’re getting audited. Apparently, the sales aren’t quite what the suits hoped.”
Whispers and gasps of shock rose up around the room for a second and then died down. Miss Manager took the opportunity to lap at her monstrous sugar drink.
“Oh no!” Daiyousei cried as soon as the pronouncement was made. However, realising she might have jumped the gun, she turned to Kiki and Oboro. “What’s an ‘aw-dit’?” she asked in a whisper.
Kiki’s wings were ruffled, her face frozen into one like she’d bit a lemon. Oboro’s already narrow eyes had become lines against her furrowed brow. Neither looked prepared to explain.
Miss Manager’s ears flopped over as she sighed and wiped her mouth. “You can just ask, Dai.”
“S-Sorry.” The faerie blushed.
“It’s fine. Like I said, the suits aren’t happy with our performance. Some guys are coming from corporate to make sure we’re doing everything right. Y’know, the way we’re supposed to.”
Shoving down the notion that she was about to ask a dumb question, Daiyousei raised her hand. “So, why’s that bad?”
“Because we aren’t,” Kiki muttered faintly.
“Because,” Miss Manager said sharply, glaring at Kiki, “my boss’ boss’ bosses can decide our branch is done if things aren’t going to their liking.” Seeing a hand going up at one side of the room, she sighed again. “Yes?”
“What do we do?” someone asked.
“Our best, that’s what. You all know the drill by now. Just take extra care not to skip steps or cut corners today. I’ll probably be sticking to the office until they get here.” She thwacked the papers stacked up next to her. “Gotta get this mess at least halfway organized, but I’m here if you need me.”
Daiyousei snapped out of her nervous trance and nodded hard enough to make the ribbon in her hair bounce. There were stakes now. She was nervous, but also kind of excited. This could be a chance to prove herself.
The next hour was a rush of activity as they opened up. There was the usual slow trickle of people in the wee hours of the morning, mostly half-awake third-shifters grabbing some food before collapsing. Daiyousei still made sure to check every box with them, giving them her beamingest smile and hurrying over as soon as she was called for something.
Just as she got back from serving another stack of pancakes, she suddenly felt the air in the room go cold. Two well-dressed wolf tengu — one a reedy-looking woman, the other a man with a bit of a belly — stood in the waiting area, looking judgmentally over the place. She scuttled forward to greet them while her coworkers exchanged looks.
“Good morning, sir and ma’am! Welcome to Freshtaste! Will this be a party of two today?” she asked, punctuating each sentence with a crisp bow.
“Do you… work here, ma’am?” the fuller-figured wolf said after a pause, adjusting his glasses.
“Yes, sir! I can get you seated as soon as you’re ready,” she replied with another bow.
“Dai!” came a shout from behind.
The two wolves’ ears leapt up at the sound. Daiyousei turned around in time to see Miss Manager hurrying along as fast as she could without breaking into a sprint.
“Good morning! You must be the auditors. My apologies, we’re all a bit excited today!” Miss Manager said with a strained laugh as she skidded to a stop.
“Miss Iroha, I presume,” the paunchy one said with a nod.
“Wonderful! Now, if you’d just follow me, I can show you to the office.”
The pair followed her into the restaurant proper, then away from the booths and tables. Daiyousei felt her wings buzz involuntarily from the nerves as she turned and went back to her normal waitressing duties. The rounded auditor had gone into the back office with Miss Manager, but the slim one was standing by the wall, holding a clipboard and asking Oboro a few questions. She must have been checking to make sure everyone did their job, she realised.
A surge of energy made her wings buzz even harder. If that was the case, then she was going to show her how hard she could do her job.
[ ] The friendliest service! She’d make them see nothing but happy customers. [ ] The properest service! She wouldn’t let a single napkin be out of place. [ ] The unrelentingest service! Nothing would break her stride.
Personal life events on one side have made for extraordinary coordination difficulties. As this is a collaborative effort, these circumstances have led to further continuing delays. We appreciate your understanding and do apologise for any inconvenience. Thank you and have a good NaNoWriMo.
Sorry for the delay!HR Mask!D6Kp1b/sKc2019/11/27 (Wed) 23:20No. 31417▼
[x] The unrelentingest service! Nothing would break her stride.
How many months had it been, Daiyousei wondered, since she’d been given the frown she was now receiving from the lady auditor? Sure, she’d only been employed for a handful of months, but she was seasoned! That doubtful ‘Can you even do your job?’ frown that she’d gotten so many times during her newbie phase was nearly as grave an insult as flicking her on the forehead; merciless teasing had left her noggin size as a sensitive matter.
Then and there, Daiyousei resolved to meet the auditor lady’s challenge. If there were any doubts as to her ability to take orders and serve food, she’d smash all of them with the efficiency and courtesy that had won her a few nice words in the crow lady’s paper.
As the auditor took a seat, the little faerie made a beeline for her, faster than her coworkers but not fast enough to look like she was running through the restaurant. She placed a menu on the table with delicate care, channelling her inner sunshine into her smile.
“Here’s your menu, ma’am.”
The auditor’s ears drooped and her constant frown became more of a line painted across her face in pale, glossy pink. “Thank you.”
“And here’s an oshibori. Can I get you started with anything to drink?”
“Not at the moment.”
“Our special of the day is the hamburg steak set and the—”
“Yes, I’m aware,” the auditor said crisply, now switching to a blatantly forced smile that flashed just a hint of fang.
Sensing a hint of danger, Daiyousei decided it was best to back off. “Just press the button and I’ll be there in a jiffy to serve you!”
The auditor’s ear twitched, a noise that sounded vaguely like a ‘Thank you’ mingled with a groan escaping her lips. With a click of her pen, she checked various boxes and scribbled notes on her list. Whether or not they were good, Daiyousei hadn’t the foggiest, but she still felt some small sense of victory.
Daiyousei gave a little bow, then backed away toward the front of the shop. Her head craned as she heard the jingle of the door, but Kiki had already beaten her to it. She positioned herself near the wall, watching the seats like a hawk. A few minutes later, as soon as she had scooted over to replace one table’s napkins, the chime sounded. It was obvious whose direction it’d come from.
It’ll take more than that to catch me off-guard, she thought to herself. Oboro started her slow, measured walk towards the auditor’s table. Daiyousei was already closer to the auditor from her table, and with a little power-walking it was easy to beat her coworker to the punch.
“What can I get for you?” she piped, her ordering gadget unfolded and at the ready.
The auditor stifled another grumble. Another point to Daiyousei. “I’ll have the miso salmon.”
“As you wish.” The little tablet beeped happily as Daiyousei punched the corresponding button. “And will you be having that as a set, ma’am?”
After a slight pause, the auditor’s eyes flicked down to the menu, searching the details for something she’d overlooked. “The... B set, please.”
Daiyousei resisted the urge to grin with victory. “Miso salmon with salad, soup, and drink bar. Coming right up! The drink bar is over there.”
She turned away from the table, and Kiki caught her ear as she walked towards the kitchen.
“Dai, erm, have you ever heard of the phrase ‘malicious compliance’?”
“Of course,” Daiyousei whispered back, then quickly thought better of pretending. “I mean, no.”
“It’s basically when you follow the rules so hard that you annoy everyone around you.”
“I’m not doing that! And, I mean, if I was, aren’t we supposed to follow all the rules with the auditor?”
Kiki pursed her lips. “Just, erm… Maybe you should cool your heels a little. Let some of your coworkers help out, y’know?”
“I’ll think about it. Anyway, it’s super important that I get this order to the kitchen.”
“Alright,” replied Kiki, her crooked smile unable to hide her lack of confidence.
Daiyousei slipped into the kitchen and read out the order, making sure to stress that it was the auditor’s. The normally sass-prone kitchen staff were unusually pliant at that announcement, only giving barked affirmatives and setting to work. If that was the kind of reaction she was getting, maybe the faerie could deal with having auditors around all the time.
As she emerged from the kitchen, the door’s saccharine jingle played again and she made a beeline to meet whoever had shown up. Kiki joined in the race to the door, letting her long legs carry her faster.
“Remember what I said?” the crow whispered.
“But I gotta do my share around here to show the auditor lady—”
“HEY! WHAT ROCK DOES A FAERIE GOTTA CRAWL UNDER TO GET SOME GRUB AROUND HERE?” bellowed a voice from the doorway.
Daiyousei felt the air go cold, figuratively and then literally, as she noticed the four feet and three inches of pure sass hanging out at the entrance. Of all days, Cirno had chosen today to drag her icy tucchus to the newest Freshtaste establishment in Amaden. To make matters worse, she was holding up a handful of wadded old bills.
“I GOT GEN-U-INE STOLE— I MEAN HARD-EARNED CASH MONEY. I’M A PAYIN’ CUSTOMER, DANGIT!”
“Mmkay, you can take this one,” Kiki whispered to Daiyousei before vanishing with the full speed of a crow in retreat.
Daiyousei walked up to the podium that Cirno was currently dangling herself from. Smiling through gritted teeth, she greeted her former friend-cum-burden.
“Welcome to Freshtaste. Will this be a table for one?”
“Now we’re talking! Can you believe the number of places around here that won’t let a faerie in? I’ve got good money, too! Absolute dummies, all of them,” Cirno groused, thankfully a little quieter.
Taking that for a ‘yes’, Daiyousei gestured towards a far corner of the shop. “Right this way, then.”
She could feel the eyes of every customer on her as she led Cirno as far away as possible from any other seats. Cirno climbed into the booth, getting her grubby feet all over it before bouncing in her seat.
“Right, well, here’s our menu. Can I get you started with—”
“Waaaaait a minute, you look kinda familiar.”
Daiyousei froze, her eyes going wide. She’d suspected Cirno hadn’t recognised her at first, and that was a good thing. What wasn’t was the prospect of the little blockhead rubbing two brain cells together and remembering what her favourite victim looked like.
“You look like an old friend of mine. She had green hair like you, and she was all nice and polite and stuff like you, too.” Cirno squinted, deep in thought as Daiyousei’s wings nervously buzzed. However, the thought evidently froze solid, leaving her to shrug and abandon it. “I was trying to find her so we could play but she up and disamappeared.”
Trying not to sigh with relief at her old friend’s dimness, Daiyousei cleared her throat. “Perhaps I could get you started with a drink, or—”
“She was nice and all, but she was kind of a real drag, always bowing and saying sorry and stuff.”
Daiyousei felt a very strong urge to say that she was always bowing and apologizing because Cirno had never stopped dragging the both of them into trouble. Her lips pursed as she said nothing.
“You know, my friend is my friend and all, but she’s super boring!” the ice faerie went on, oblivious to the heavy silence. “Do you know what her idea of fun is? Doing that thing with strings! Y’know, the one where you put strings on your fingers and…”
She gave a flailing demonstration of playing cat’s cradle. It was really more like her wiggling her fingers and waving her arms like someone about to fall out of their seat. It gave Daiyousei a severe jab of annoyance to see her favourite game mocked. The horrible pantomime just added more sting on top.
“And she’s such a scaredy-cat, too! Like when I was tryna put bugs in the red-and-white lady’s hair, and she was all—” Cirno’s voice rose to a mocking falsetto, “—’Ohhhh noooooo, Cirno, don’t do that! She’ll be all mad at us and bop us and stuff!’”
Daiyousei noticed her teeth were grinding together. It was easy to assume that her former friend was going out of her way to mock her, but if anyone was dim enough to not realise what they were doing, it was Cirno.
“You look like her, is what I’m saying,” Cirno concluded, slamming down onto the booth seat with a bounce and resting her elbows on the table, grinning stupidly.
With more force than she’d ever mustered before, Daiyousei whipped the ordering gadget out of her apron and folded it open, trying to ignore the bile rising in her throat. “Would you like to order something, ma’am?”
“Shaved ice! Shaaaaaaved ice! Melon flavored, with tapioca!” Cirno belted out in an impromptu song, all eyes descending on Daiyousei once again thanks to the cacophony.
“Coming right up,” Daiyousei hissed, then promptly escaped the conversation, leaving Cirno singing to herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the auditor looking at her with a victorious smirk. There was a faint snapping noise that she ignored as she kept walking briskly.
“D-Dai-Dai? Are you alright?” Oboro asked, appearing next to her.
“I’m fine,” she said in a tense monotone. Looking down, she saw that she was still holding her gadget — and her white-knuckle grip had snapped it in half.
And here I thought I was a good fit for the human life, Daiyousei thought to herself as she continued gripping the halves of the now useless hunk of plastic. The relentless annoyances had made her blood start to boil, and she felt something well up inside her that she hadn’t felt in ages.
“Will you be okay handling Cirno’s table? We could—”
“It’s fine,” Daiyousei lied. Her fae blood cried out for revenge.
More specifically, revenge via pranking.
[ ] That auditor was everything that was wrong with her day. [ ] Friend or no, Cirno would pay dearly. [ ] Nobody would escape unpranked.
Cirno may be stupid, but I'm pretty sure she can't be stupid enough to not recognize Daiyousei, meaning she's intentionally pushing her. It we prank her, it can be explained as "just a thing fairies do to each other, and we already know Cirno anyway", but if we take it out on everyone, that means we fail as a waitress. Especially since the auditor is probably the one who set Cirno up for this, judging by the "victorious smirk" when Dai finally snapped.
In the just-pre-dawn hours, Iroha walked the streets of Amaden without much force in her step. She couldn’t even bring herself to take the usual route to the store, content to circle and zig-zag the alleyways without touching the main street. Some of the neighbourhoods she passed through she’d never seen once in all her time in the outpost.
As long as she kept going, she felt, there would be no reason to go on. There would be no reason to break the news. Maybe everyone would just go home. And then what? Would they just stay away the next day? What about HQ? There was no way they wouldn’t come knocking. The thought made her queasy. Almost queasier than thinking about what she was going to have to tell her employees.
This cycle continued over the hours until sunlight crept between the cracks in roofs. Amaden was already starting to wake up. Seeing people hanging up the noren for the day, Iroha chided herself for her weakness. This was far from her way. Running had never made her a star manager.
Resigning herself to her own professionalism, Iroha took a deep breath, perked her ears up, let her tail stick up proudly, and returned to her customary path to work. She was going to do things properly this time.
The store was soon in sight. It looked like just about everyone had gathered, as promised. She couldn’t stand to look, but Iroha forced herself to look into her employees’ faces, feeling the weight of their disappointment. Some even seemed reproachful towards her. There was really little point to making this announcement; the atmosphere made it obvious word was already out. Still, Iroha had to as manager.
Taking another look around, she sensed something missing. There was Kiki standing by the door. But where was Oboro? And where was…
“Hey,” she called out to Kiki, “have you seen Oboro or…”
“Dai-D—I mean, Daiyousei? Well, I can’t say I really know. I ran into Oboro on the way in. She said she was going home.” Kiki shrugged.
“When she knows we’ve got a meeting?”
“Yeah, I dunno either. Anyway, she said she saw our little fae friend on the back of a cart heading out of Amaden.”
Apparently remembering something, Kiki pulled a note out of her pocket. “I almost forgot. She passed this note on. Straight from Daiyousei, she said. I guess it’s for you. Didn’t read it, I swear.”
Unfolding it in a hurry, Iroha scanned the note. Then, she scanned it again. And again. She had to laugh. In a way, she’d expected and hoped for this from the moment that faerie walked into her office. It still didn’t make the news any less sudden.
Facing the rest of her employees, she spoke up. “Everybody go home. We’re done. HQ’s words. You’ll get your pay, don’t worry. Just go.”
The confusion showed in their faces, but they eventually dispersed. Having done with it, Iroha couldn’t help but smile in spite of herself.
“Uh, I think that’s pretty bad news, all in all,” Kiki said, lingering afterward.
“Frankly, I don’t even care about that,” Iroha said. Her tail was even swinging. “I’m just glad to hear that she finally figured things out.”
“If you say so. I kind of hope she comes back.”
Iroha shook her head and laughed. “She won’t.”
Daiyousei let her pen drop. The letter still wasn’t finished, but she couldn’t bring herself to go any further. Writing was hard for her, even after some practise. There were too many things to talk about that she couldn’t even decide which to pick.
“Dai-Dai! Come and play!” called a voice through the bushes.
“Yeah, we’re gonna play tag! If you don’t hurry up, you’re gonna be it!” said another voice.
Hearing the call of her friends, Daiyousei shoved the letter and all of her writing implements back into the little box she kept, putting it back into its place in the tree roots. Right next to it rested her old Freshtaste uniform. She smiled seeing it for the second time that day. She really needed to figure out how to get it back to Miss Manager. Right after she finished writing that letter.
So, that's it. Sorry it took so long, and even more sorry that it didn't directly follow from the last vote.
The whole thing is that we both kind of lost interest in the whole story concept early on, and it became obvious that we weren't going to be able to force ourselves to keep going. We tried to steer things to a quick ending, but it was that last damn vote that we got hung up on. We had literally no idea how to handle the follow-up.
I decided to just lay this to rest, even if it's not a particularly great or satisfying ending. I don't consider it a very great or satisfying story to start with, so it's only fitting, I guess.
Anyway, it's done and ended, and I'm happy with that part.
>We had literally no idea how to handle the follow-up.
Was the follow-up not 'prank Cirno for funsies and then move on with the story'? Man sometimes you authors seem like a completely different species. Anyway thanks for the ending giving us closure, I hated every word of it.
>>31587 I wish it was that simple, but it isn't and never was. Like I said, we had a hard time keeping things going in general for lack of interest on our part. By that point, it's better to just cut things off and call it done.
Colour us both dissatisfied with how it turned out, but things were always likely to end up that way. Again, I'm just glad it's over.