Problem is, Aya's got a point, too. That first piece isn't doin' ya any favors standin' on its own, not if that whole Keine-droppin'-in thing gives ya anything to judge by. And sure, it's been all quiet on the eastern front since then—nobody knockin' the door down to make sure Rinnosuke hasn't been robbed or chained to the radiator or stabbed in the back with a Swiss multi-tool (he hasn't even got the right pipes for a radiator and it's the gappy kind so it doesn't even make a good surface sideways), but if it happened once, it can happen again, and you're not lookin' forwards to gettin' used to all of Rinnosuke's buds stoppin' by to size ya over for all the wrong reasons.
Plus, it's a matter of principle. If you're gonna have a rep Gensokyo-wide, ya wanna make sure it's an accurate rep. Let 'em know you're awesome, but rockin'-guitar-solo awesome, not Old-Testament-Yahweh awesome, which was loadsa times not awesome at all.
“I'm game,” ya say. “Hit me.”
Aya looks over at the door edge, then at you again. “Hit you?” she says.
“I mean get with the askin' already—I'm agreein'.” And that's the second time in this many days you've dazzled someone with a card game metaphor, not countin' Rinnosuke who always pretends to get it and then goes leafin' through a pair of dictionaries when he thinks you're not payin' attention. It's sorta doofusically admirable, so you're givin' 'im a pass. “Ya wanna sit down or something?” ya add.
Aya does wanna sit down or something. She barely pauses to do the (belated) obligatory Japanese ritual politespeak, and then she's practically rushin' in, strides gargantuan with—
She's got little stilts on her shoes.
Under her shoes. She's got little stilts under her shoes. Like, attached. Ya didn't notice till she was actually walkin', but the walkin' made it pretty hard to miss. They don't send 'er towerin' over ya, but they're longer than most high heels' heels you've seen, and you've got no idea if it's a Japan thing or a Gensokyo thing or a her thing.
Ya miss home. At least there ya knew when stuff wasn't down with the paradigm.
“So, whaddya goin' for?” ya ask, while Aya makes herself comfy. “I mean, how's this gonna work? Ya got a bullet point list of questions for tossin' at me?”
That frindle's basically doin' donuts now. “Nobody knows anything about you,” says Aya, gleefully. “It'd be hard for anyone to come up with anything to ask in advance—even me. So I thought I'd start with some standard questions first.”
Yeah, that makes sense. So in some way, Aya's flyin' nearly as blind as you are! 'Cept not, seein' as she's got the home turf advantage, which manifests in myriads not limited to familiarity with local footwear customs.
Ya make your own method of comfiness across from Aya anyways. She's holdin' all the cards here, which is another expression 'bout card games ya haven't gotten to confuse anyone with yet. “So—ya want my name?” ya ask.
“If you would,” says Aya.
The pen hesitates. And then, back to quick enough but bein' real careful 'bout it, it starts tracin' characters 'cross the page. And then it stops again, and Aya turns her little notebook so you can see what kana she's got.
“Like this?” she asks.
It is. Ya tell 'er so, and she flips it back 'round.
“And what is your relationship to the owner of this shop?” she asks.
Ya glance up at the owner of this shop, who's decided to be real recalcitrant about the whole comfiness thing and go with standin' solid over the both of ya instead. He's watchin' the scene real careful, like some referee itchin' to blow the whistle at the first sign of foul play, 'cept with the watchin' bit not so much towards you or Aya but at the space in between. Which would be the field, followin' the simile. Or court. Pitch. Dependin'.
“Basically, I'm just hangin' at Rinnosuke's pad for the time bein',” ya say.
The pen does some jottin'. “So you're a friend of Rinnosuke's,” says Aya.
“Uh, I dunno if you can say 'friend', straight out. Rinnosuke, are we friends? Buddies? Or like, buddyesque, even.” Ya look at Rinnosuke again.
Poker face. Man, you're on a roll with this card game thing. “Not as much,” says Rinnosuke.
“Yeah, see?” ya say, back to Aya. “Like he said—not as much.”
“Then your relationship is strictly tenant and landlord?” Aya asks. “Or are you repaying him through work?”
“Nah—I just mostly sleep. And eat his rice. I mean, it's not like I'm not up for helpin' here—” ya add, anticipatin', “y'know, IDing the doohickeys—but the dude never asks. It's like—yo! Outsider, right here.”
“What? I ask you for help.” And Rinnosuke's got ish. “I just asked for your expertise—with the CD player.”
“Only 'cause I was hangin' over your desk right that sec. Most of the time ya just turn your latest gizmo over and over in your hands, and stare at it a bunch, and sigh.”
“I do not sigh.”
“Yeah, 'sigh' doesn't cut it. You go pneumatic.”
“Wait, wait,” Aya cuts into this side convo you and Rinnosuke've got goin' here. “Correct me if I'm wrong, but it doesn't sound like Rinnosuke is getting any benefits from this arrangement.”
“Uh, I guess not?” ya admit. “But Rinnosuke's just a real generous dude, dude. I seriously owe it to him big time for lettin' me hang.”
“And,” ya add, 'cause it's worth addin', “for not lettin' me get snuffed.”
This is what ya wanna say, ya find out, if ya wanna get Aya's posture from relaxin' to ramrod and her whole self leanin' over across atcha like a Weimaraner catchin' some serious pheasant smell. “Oh?” she says, in a voice that's held so tight it's nearly shootin' out both ends. “Why don't you tell me more about that?”
“The not-lettin'-me-get-snuffed part?” And maybe it's the fact that Aya actually got your name right when your mom's side of the family tree is still findin' new and original ways to bumble up “Christoferson”, but ya find yourself gunnin' it into the role of raconteur almost like readily. “Man, dig it, though,” ya tell 'er, and lay the shebang right out—from wakin' in unfortunate circumstances and fortunate pants, to askin' directions from a floaty black sphere thingy that turned out to be a lot less black-sphery than ya thought, to finally findin' a phone at Rinnosuke's and shortly afterwards out that the phone ya found at Rinnosuke's was dead and datin' to the Meiji period.
“I mean, not the Meiji period,” ya say, quick. “Full disclosure—I don't know when was the Meiji period. I'm from overseas—California. The curricula there's sorta lackin' in anything 'bout Japanese history, 'less ya go for it specific.”
“You're not Japanese?” Aya doesn't suddenly break into frantic scrawlin' here. You're guessin' the “Christoferson” mighta tipped 'er off. “You speak Japanese very well.”
“Yeah, no. My mom was Japanese, though. So I'm whatcha dudes call 'nisei', right?” Not that ya spend a whole lotta time on that whatever-sei stuff. Ya know your mom's mom's sister's daughter's son is a sansei, but only 'cause he spent last Christmas bonanza gripin' 'bout some dude assumin' he was all up into Japanese stuff when both his parents're jus solis.
One's a jus soli, and the other's also a jus soli.
Latin—where's Rumia when ya need 'er? They walked the Wong Kim Ark.
“But anyways, Rinnosuke was real cool,” ya tell Aya. “'Cause seriously, he coulda just totally given me the boot once he figured I wasn't gonna buy anything—y'know, left me for something passin' to chow down on—” Ya pause there. “I'm not a youkai, by the way,” ya say. “Did I say yet I'm not a youkai?”
Aya blinks at ya, and then makes very decisive-lookin' motions with her frindle hand without breakin' eye contact. “No,” she says. “You didn't say that yet.”
“Well, I'm not a youkai. So I was kinda totally most def not into wanderin' the woods alone, once I found out there was a whole lot more at stake than just walkin' in circles till I froze or dehydrated. Stuff's dangerous out there. As opposed to here, where Rinnosuke's got this neat little Alcázar de Gensokio set up where me dyin' isn't so much a thing. So yeah—dude's generous. I appreciate.” Ya nod, and nearly sit back in flourishment before ya remember the total lack of chairage Rinnosuke's got where it's actually needed.
Aya doesn't say anything, though. Aya's just sorta makin' a face atcha, the same sorta face a dude makes at a multiple-choice math problem when the answer they've worked out doesn't match a, b, c, or d. “You know that you can return to the Outside World if you go to the Hakurei Shrine,” she says, real careful, real gentle, real slow, real glancin'-at-Rinnosuke, “right?”
“Sure. Rinnosuke lemme in on that shrine jazz. I've just gotta get there, and I'm out.”
“But you're still here.”
“Well, yeah. I wanted Rinnosuke to take me there himself, but he nixed that plan.”
Aya does the facey not-sayin'-anything bit again, but this time it's heavier somehow. Like it's got some kinda serious weight attached to it. Then she takes off the newtons, dippin' her eyes away, and goes back to scribblin' in her book.
“Basically,” she mutters, “it's a little like he's kidnapped you.”
[ ] Hey, playin' up the poor-me and rollin' up sympathy might be the ticket to gettin' outta here! [ ] Okay, okay, ya oughta get everything straight before it degenerates—you have seen a sitcom before, ever. [ ] Hold on a tick, she'd better not be sayin' 'bout Rinnosuke whatcha think she's sayin' 'bout Rinnosuke. [ ]
[x] Hold on a tick, she'd better not be sayin' 'bout Rinnosuke whatcha think she's sayin' 'bout Rinnosuke.
I'm disappointed that only 1 guy picked this choice. Vigorously defending Rinnosuke's honour is clearly the choice that will make Aya humorously misunderstand their relationship, ya know? And obviously that's the best outcome.
[X] Hold on a tick, she'd better not be sayin' 'bout Rinnosuke whatcha think she's sayin' 'bout Rinnosuke.
“Yo, say what?”
Your response is quick. Like, machine-gun quick, is what you're hopin', but Aya just lifts her eyes slow up and atcha, totally undownmowed. “It's a little like he's kidnapped you,” she says, “I said,” she says.
And that's whatcha thought she said.
Only also that's straight up Cecil B. Loco. “Hold on,” ya say.
Aya holds on. Good.
“So what you're sayin' is—” And here's where ya do your checkin' with triplicity, 'cause a whole lot depends on this red-topped news dude scribblin' in her notebook inside this Japanese junk shop, “—Rinnosuke's keepin' me here? Like, against my will? Is that what you're sayin'?”
“Maybe 'kidnapping' is too strong,” Aya admits. And for a tick ya think she's gonna work towards amelioratin' this sitch, maybe, but then she goes on with, “It's more like you ended up here by accident, and now he won't let you leave.”
Which is just, like—
She can't be serious. She can't be serious.
'Cept she totally is serious. 'Cause the point when she coulda gone with the just-kiddin' flew by eons ago, and her pan is the-worms-crawl-in-the-worms-crawl-out-double-run-in-trump dead.
And meanwhile Rinnosuke's just standin' there, the ref suddenly ref'd, with his chassis froze and his fingers twitchin' inwards and his face the strangest of 'em all, 'cause it's not matchin' his body or his hands. His face is tired, like maybe it tried to go for anger or even just indignation and the parts gave out halfway. Like maybe outta overuse, or maybe resignation, ya think. And it's that—that bummed-out blasé thing settlin' over Rinnosuke's mug like a sheet over a stiff—that really reaches out and inside ya and touches off something visceral.
“Take it back,” ya hear yourself sayin'.
Aya blinks stupid atcha. “What?” she says.
“All that stuff. All that knockoffery you're unentrenchcoatin' like it's on sale. Take it back.”
Aya's pen does Morse against her pages as she stares ya in. “Well, even if you don't think it's true, it looks pretty bad—”
“Ya know what looks pretty bad to me? You, not takin' it back.” Talkin' atcha like you're a grade A moron, spoutin' this non-recyclable trash— “I thought you were gonna be neutralizin' whatcha did already, but if all you're plannin' on doin' is exacerbatin' our whole livin sitch, then lemme 'splain ya a thing.”
Ya put your palms flat on the table and ya push yourself to loomin'.
“Rinnosuke,” ya say, “pulled me outta the deep fat fryer. He coulda kicked me to the curb the tick I started layin' into 'im for his tin can telephones. 'Cept he didn't. He let me stay. He's lettin' me stay. He's lettin' me sleep in his blankets and eat his rice and I'm practically luxuriatin' here when I coulda been spare ribs.”
“And you say it's because he's generous,” Aya says.
“I know it's 'cause he's generous.”
“And you say he isn't getting anything from you.”
“Other than the natural awesome of my company? Nada.”
“And you say you aren't helping him,” says Aya, with her pen and her eyebrows and the serious lack of shuttin' up, “but I bet Rinnosuke's learned more about the Outside World just recently than he has for a long time.”
Ya catch, off the end of your eye, Rinnosuke's fingers and something real funny goin' limp and across his face, respectively.
And Aya—Aya looks like she's readyin' herself for the Pulitzer.
It's that mo when the will you've got for not sockin' this wannabe muckracker in the piehole starts roundin' to infinitesimal. “So what?” ya kick back.
In the same space, ya think ya see Rinnosuke's head jerk. Some blinkin'. You'd look to check to see, but you're on a roll.
“So what?” ya say again. “So I'm his personal encyclopedia. No problemo. I'll teach 'im as much about light bulbs and zeppelins and karaoke as he wants, up till someone shows up to play trailblazer.”
More pennin'. “And do you have any plans if nobody shows up?”
“Dudes've shown up already—this isn't Tristan da Cunha. I've just gotta find someone standin' still long enough to hear me out.”
'Cause that's what the pattern's been, right? Something always happens. Like they say something, or Rinnosuke says something, and then a buncha stuff happens and that's Virgil jettin' before you can even ask.
“I see.” One last streak, nearly runnin' itself offa the page—and then Aya rolls her arm, abracadabbin' her pen and papers away in on 'er, smooth enough you can tell she's practiced. “Okay!” she says, way too bright. “That should do it—that's all the material I need for now.”
Aya stops halfway through standin' and turnin' to jet to look at Rinnosuke, who's still standin' where he's been standin', but with a lot more chroma in his mug now that you're seein' it direct. “Sure!” she says. “A good newspaper serves the public. Who knows when I might have to interview either of you again?”
She smiles at the dude, just sorta benign, like she hasn't just everything-'cept-accused 'im of stashin' your corpse down the well.
Ya can't stand it.
“Ya don't know when you're gonna hafta interview me again, ya mean,” ya inject.
Aya looks like a laugh's pullin' at the top of her throat. “I know it's a great honor to appear in print, but I can't just interview you,” she says. “Sometimes something actually worth writing about shows up at Kourindou, even if only rarely. It's more worthwhile in a case like that to interview the shop owner and not just the Outsider staying at the shop—right?”
“Sure,” ya say. “'Cept, y'know, totally not my point.”
“Then what's your point?”
“My point is—I told ya, right? Rinnosuke's generous. Like, real generous. I never had to spend a night tryin' and failin' to get comfy on the forest floor, and it's Rinnosuke I've gotta thank for it. I mean, I told ya, right? All that stuff he's doin' for me? I've got a kinda sorta serious indebtedy feeling, comin' out of it.”
Aya just looks at ya, like she still doesn't get it. Which is fair, 'cause ya haven't gotten to the part to get.
“Ya wanna do a piece on me? Great. Groovy. Good luck, even. Can't 'zactly stop ya, seein' as I don't 'zactly know where ya hang. Tell 'em ya caught me schmoozin' with dudes from the Communist Party, if ya wanna. But lemme get with ya a thing straight—ya write anything 'bout Rinnosuke without pasteurizin' it down to sunshine and lollipops, and that where-ya-hang bit? I'll figure it out. Dig?”
Ya don't find out if Aya digs. Aya doesn't indicate diggin' or not-diggin'. Aya keeps smilin' and smilin', 'cept her eyes do this thing. “You're pretty courageous, to speak that way talking to a tengu,” she says.
“Yeah, I don't actually know what that is. That a youkai?”
“You don't know?”
“I said I don't know already, right?”
The smile goes horizontal, more than it already is. “You're an interesting human,” Aya says. “I think I might interview you again, actually, after the next issue comes out.”
“Yeah, now you've got it,” ya say, and smile back.
You remember, real suddenly, those toons ya saw as a kid—those budget ones, with the heroes shootin' energy beams all over the place, 'cept sometimes the bad dudes did that too (and those were the bad bad dudes, not just bad dudes), and sometimes, when the time to really dial up the drama got nigh, those two kindsa energy beams would meet, and there'd be some gruntin', strainin' energy beam stalemate. And then Aya turns off to at the door again, openin' it wide for the space to upchuck 'er out again, and then—
And then the back of her back breaks out in wings.
Flappin' feathery flutterin' black wings.
What the shippound.
Aya smirks atcha over her shoulder. “Thank for the interview,” she says. I won't forget your subscription—that's two copies, right?” And then she jets, 'cept also up.
By the time ya make it to the door yourself, Walter Winchell's done with her metamorphosis into a blip on the horizon, and ya watch, sorta mesmerized, even, till even that's gone with.
“Huh,” ya say.
Rinnosuke closes the door.
And then he does some more standin'—just stands there, lookin' at nothing in particular. And then he looks at you.
Ya look at 'im back.
His face's unreadable. Yours? Prolly not so much.
He opens his mouth, and there's a split-second tick where you're sure he's gonna now tell ya to shove off, or at least facilitate offshovin', but what he says is:
“'Alcázar de Gensokio'?”
“'Gensokio' is 'Gensokyo',” ya 'splain, breathin' easy. “And 'de' is sorta like 'of', or 'from'. It's Spanish.”
“'Alcázar' is 'alcazar'.”
Rinnosuke frowns. Or frowns more, anyways. “And what's an alcazar?”
“An alcazar's an alcazar,” ya say again, kinda. “Like your pad, here.”
Rinnosuke looks 'cross the room, eyes lingerin' for a tick extra on the window, like maybe he's checkin' he didn't develop a zwinger when his back was turned. “I think you're giving these walls too much credit,” he says, aridity tuned to max.
“I dunno,” ya retort. “There's a whole lotta pernicious stuff out there that wouldn't mind usin' my costae for a pack of toothpicks, and so far my rib cage's still where it oughta be, right? Good enough for me.”
And Rinnosuke tilts his head a little up like he's gonna say something else, like maybe just “Huh,” but then he doesn't, and he goes back to his desk and sits down all laborously.
Time to get back to readin', ya guess. Or tryin' to, anyways. Seriously, though, you've gotta fix up a system.
“So how does this CD player work?” Rinnosuke asks.
Or ya guess you're pickin' up where ya left off instead. “Kinda heavy question there, Mac,” ya say. “Whaddya know 'bout physics?”
“Just a summary is fine—a basic idea. There seems to be a mechanism to turn the CD, but...”
Ya perch over Rinnosuke's shoulder while he's busy squintin'. “Yeah,” ya say, “ya got that right. Ya see this glass bit here?”
“Yes? I wondered about that.”
“That's where the laser comes out.”
Yeah, this is way better than sloggin' through a whole buncha textbooks. You've gotta find some tunes for this dude—you're gonna blow his mind.
The day ya meet Aya ends up endin' somewhere on the far end of the bang-whimper spectrum. The mo that bird-winged birdbrain picked up her remiges and made contrails? After that, ya don't see 'er at all. She's prolly seein' you—gotcha under surveillance, waitin' for the picture-perfect shot—but if she's achin' for revengeance, either it's delayed or it's gonna come atcha in a form indirect. Yeah, tell the dude from the media outlet you're up for kneecappin' 'er if she writes atcha funny—that's the smart thing to do, right?
Ya don't regret it, though. Ya know which side of the toast you're butterin', and if that side hits the floor face down you're all 'bout the five-second rule. At most you're gonna scrape the real suspect bits off with a knife.
By the day after, whatever libel Aya's got cookin' up for ya has dropped to secondary import. Tertiary, even. There's much bigger fish to fry, ya fig, even if the fish you're stickin' your chopsticks in isn't fried in the first place. “Ya know what I miss?” ya say.
Rinnosuke pauses half through his own fish. “What?” he says.
“'Bout back home. Know what I miss?”
Rinnosuke, just revvin' up to get back to fish-stickin', holds off in midair, lookin' ya in a bit. “Ramen,” he says.
“And when you say 'ramen',” says Rinnosuke, voice barely inquirin', eyes half-shut, like a dude who's figured out he's in the path of an oncomin' train just a sec too late to do anything 'bout it but who's dedicated to bein' a good sport about it anyways, “you mean Chinese noodles.”
“Sure, Mac. There any other kind?” Actual serious question there for the dude. If there is anything out there that's gonna cause confusion by bein' also called “ramen”, ya wanna know ahead of time.
Rinnosuke, though—totally not so much the semasiologist. “We have ramen here,” he says. “Gensokyo has ramen.”
“It's not back-home ramen. That's sorta the point.”
“Ah.” Apparently that's good enough to make Rinnosuke get it all of a sudden. Or at least he's dead set on fish-tearin' already, gettin' it or no. “Do you mean some kind of change in the recipe?” he asks ya. “Is it a broad change? Something widely accepted in the Outside World? Or do you mean some kind of difference in the toppings or soup that's specific to California? It was California, wasn't it?”
“Uh...most def, totally, sorta, dunno, and ya got it.” Talk about a fusillade. “It's 'cause it's terribad, is the thing, Mac.”
“The ramen. It's not-good, basically.”
This time Rinnosuke doesn't stop with the fish even while he's starin' atcha like a dude starin' up at their tormentor when also their tormentor has an identical twin who shows up periodic to give the tormentee ice cream. “You miss the ramen from California because the ramen isn't good?” he says.
“Instant noodles,” ya 'splain. “Some dude got the notion for premakin' and dryin', and now ya buy the packs straight from the supermarket, soak 'em in hot water, add powder for the soup, and crack an egg in if you're feelin' really fancy. They've got shelf life ridiculous and all the sodium. It's pretty terrible.”
“It sounds terrible.”
“Totally terrible.” Ya grin, and get to defishbonin' yourself. “I miss it.”
And Rinnosuke's got no answer to that direct, it looks like. You can see through his eyeholes, though—there's something in there, gettin' the rumination. “Is that normal, in the Outside World?” he asks, finally. “To eat dried ramen, instead of making it yourself or going somewhere where it's made?”
“Well, instant noodles're basically a global phenomenon.”
Rinnosuke presses his lips and makes a real neat inspection of his chopstick ends. “I see,” he says.
And for some reason there's something 'bout that look that makes ya wanna qualify whatcha said. “Hey, I'm from California, though—remember? I'm sorta not statistically significant, if ya wanna get the lowdown on how Japan's gone by in a century.”
“And California is far from Japan.”
“'Cross-the-ocean far. Like, five thousand miles. Uh, eight thousand kilometers?” When'd Japan hit metrication? Ya dunno. “If it makes ya feel better, Mac, there's this totally sweet ramen joint like, three cities over. And my dad once tried to make ramen from scratch.”
“Your father's Japanese?”
“Ya kiddin'? Dude's so white he's a captainship away from singin' 'bout edelweiss. It's my mom who's Japanese—that's why she didn't help 'im.”
“I see,” says Rinnosuke again. And then he goes, “No, wait—”
And that's when Margatroid comes spillin' in though the door with all the grace of a rhinoceros on etorphine, prolly 'cause of how she's had to manage jigglin' the door handle without the benefit of her mitts, prolly 'cause of how said mitts've got a preoccupation at the mo with the haulin' of a clock frame housin' haphazard more gears that're visible than oughta be. Did she schlep that deal all the way here?
“Did you carry that clock all the way here?” Rinnosuke asks.
The look she's wearin' is rhinocerosesque, too. “I've brought your clock,” she says, 'cause ya couldn't see.
“Couldntcha've waited like, half an hour?” ya groan. “I'm breakfastin'.”
Rinnosuke stops shootin' Margatroid a funny look so he can shoot you a funny look.
“What?” ya say. “No TV, no tunes, no internet—I've gotta get my jollies somehow, Mac, and chow's as good as anything.”
“Yes, but this is lunch.”
“I thought we were skippin' lunch.”
“Usually we skip lunch, but today I woke up later than usual, so we skipped breakfast instead.”
“This what we usually eat skippin' lunch, though.”
“It's a light lunch.”
“I dunno whatcha eat for lunch here, but I'm bettin' it's not breakfast. This is breakfast. Ya can't just serve breakfast for lunch and say it's lunch—”
“If one of you doesn't take this clock from me this instant, I am going back home and I am taking this clock with me and I am not bringing it back.”
Rinnosuke springs up real speedy, unloadin' the load before Margatroid can jet. Funny look number three adorns his mug as it passes hands. “This isn't heavy,” he says.
“Surprisingly, clock repair only rarely results in a significant increase in the weight of the timepiece.”
Oh, snap. But also, yo. “Yes—but you seemed like you were having some trouble,” Rinnosuke 'splains quick.
“It's not a problem of it being heavy. Would you carry this with only one hand?”
“I suppose not.”
Sittin' comfy where ya are in the wings, and bein' real less concerned about what's gettin' hefted or not-hefted (unless what's gettin' not-hefted is a coupla chopsticks), you're in ace position to catch the whole convo goin' down the closest thing to objective there prolly is. And that's why, ya fig, between you and Rinnosuke, you're the one spyin' something small and dude-esque doin' a discreet arc 'round Rinnosuke's view while he's busy devotin' his brainspace to wooden clocks and the dudes who bring 'em.
Ya freeze your neck, so ya don't give it away. Yo, is that—
And it is; it totally is—one outta Margatroid's fleet of floatin' fantoccini, just like last time. Maybe 'zactly like last time, even, if that's the same not-dude with the bad 'tude who tuned the snippy to max when all ya wanted was a decent cup of joe (and that's “bad” as in “bad”, not “bad” as in “good”).
[ ] Not-dude's up to no good. Time to sound the alarm! [ ] Not-dude's up to no good. Time to make like a shadow. [ ] Not-dude's up to no good. Time to finish breakfast. [ ]
[X] Not-dude's up to no good. Time to make like a shadow.
The Hague's she doin'?
Ya glance back at Rinnosuke and Margatroid, still snarlin' at each other in the doorway. Both of 'em look like they're caught up full in whatever it is they're arguin' 'bout, but if what Rinnosuke toldja last time is any true, that's only half right. Margatroid's multitaskin', is the thing, apparently. The not-dude's her, as much as it's the not-dude itself. Yeah, she's snippin' and snipin' with Rinnosuke, sure, but she's also—
Also doin' what?
That's the question, and you're not gonna get it answered just lettin' her dude-shaped appendage float on behind your back. Ya put down your chopsticks—of your own volition, even—pull away from the table, and make like a shadow, doin' your own sneakin' sneaky sneakish sneakiness on the not-dude's tail. Ninjaesque, is what you'd call it, if ya didn't think it sorta inappropriate at the mo.
The relationship between proximity to Japan and concentration of actual ninja is proportional direct, is whatcha fig. The last thing ya wanna do is get yourself embroiled in some kinda ninja duel. 'Specially 'cause ninja don't have duels, is whatcha also fig. They just kill dudes without the dudes they kill knowin' they're 'bout to get killed. 'Cause they're ninja.
Still, you're pretty sneaky, even if you're not ninja sneaky. Sneaky enough to stay outta the not-dude's peripherals when it makes for the books, even, which is whatcha do. Ya watch, lurkin' (but in a totally justifiable and awesome fashion), as the not-dude hovers 'cross the spines like a barcode scanner tryin' to find the right angle, till finally, somewhere past the Chinese encyclopedia and the illustrated book of dinosaurs, it pulls the brakes, settin' itself to hoverin'.
And then it just hangs there.
“I'm fine with giving you one of my books, provided there's anything worth giving you one of my books for,” Rinnosuke's sayin', back at the door. Ya hear the irk he's workin' through loud and clear, 'specially with the space as cramped as it is.
Not that Margatroid's a lot better: “I've seen your standards of habitability,” she snaps. “If you were ever able to discern quality, that gift is now entirely beyond your grasp.”
“I can 'discern' enough—shouldn't there be a key to match this clock, for example?”
“Consider it yours, once I've picked out my book—”
Yeah, that's prolly gonna go on for a while. Ages even. Ya tune 'em out again. It's almost sorta fascinating, the rapport they've got in their totally-not-havin'-a-rapport-at-all, but the most listenin' in's gonna getcha here's a headache. What's really important here is the not-dude, still floatin' 'round the titles like it's waitin' for something—
And just when ya think that—just when ya think that—that's when it lunges forwards and starts pryin' the book outta the bookshelf with its little puppet hands.
So that's its plan, huh? Her plan. Or actually prolly it doesn't matter whose plan it is, 'cause you're totally awesome with playin' the plow in this sitch either way. Ya don't need a sec more thinkin' 'bout it to grab the not-dude by its not-dude waist and yank it off its spine.
Margatroid, doorwise, dries up mid-philippic.
“Rinnosuke!” ya call.
And that's how Rinnosuke ends up takin' in the sight of a little not-dude restrained in the bend of your elbow, legs kickin' in the air like it's trippin' the trepak fantastic and also on meth.
For what it's worth, Rinnosuke doesn't do alotta thinkin' 'bout it either, before he gets the pic. Ya know when he gets the pic, 'cause that's when that look slides over his face—the one that's like disappointment, 'cept not really at anyone particular but just more towards existence generally. “Ah,” he says.
Margatroid, trailin', doesn't say anything. She knows what's goin' on. She just presses her mouth together like she's got something to press her mouth together 'bout.
Well, she's got something to press her mouth together 'bout now. “Dig this, Mac!” ya crow, puttin' your arm at a jaunty kinda angle—better for showcasin'. “Not-dude was tryin' for a five-finger discount!”
Said not-dude, maybe finally recognizin' that the jig's up, stops with the flailin' and settles for givin' ya the stink eye. “This is wholly undeserved,” is whatcha feel like it'd prolly be protestin', if it was ever gonna protest like that.
Course, you're gonna hafta differ. “You totally deserve this,” ya tell the not-dude. “Rinnosuke, tell the not-dude it totally deserves this.”
“You deserve this,” Rinnosuke obliges obligingly.
“It totally deserves this.”
“You...'totally' deserve this. This seems miserable, even for you.” That last bit's at Margatroid, who doesn't look sorry, or even sorry she got caught. She just sniffs, like she's tryin' to suck up what's left of her dignity through her nose.
“A book of my choice,” she says. “That was the agreement.”
“Somehow, I don't remember agreeing to let one of your dolls sneak into my shop to steal the book itself.”
“Merely a collection of that which was promised me. You're one to speak of underhanded tactics, regardless—or can you honestly claim that you weren't delaying me at the door, as long as you were able?”
“For this trouble,” the not-dude seems to be sneerin' along, “it ought to have been three books held out for.”
Ya jerk your arm into your ribs, givin' the not-dude in between the sorta pressure nuts get 'round Christmas. “Grown-ups're talkin' now,” ya tell it. “Rinnosuke, tell the not-dude grown-ups're talkin' now.”
“Grown-ups are talking now,” says Rinnosuke. And back to Margatroid: “You wouldn't have been delayed at all if you had just wound up the clock.”
“And I suppose you would have let me in, once you'd extracted everything you'd wanted from me.”
“I try to keep my promises.”
“A pity your efforts so often come to naught.”
The not-dude's got enough room to nod its face, even if the front of it's all friz. “Perhaps the deficiency is innate,” it's like it's sayin'.
“Just like your douchiness?” ya shoot back. “Rinnosuke's worth twelve of ya at least, slackiness and all. Rinnosuke, tell the not-dude you're worth twelve of it at least—”
“Who are you talking to?”
And hold on a tick, 'cause that's not Rinnosuke; that's Margatroid, gazin' atcha like she's leanin' towards irateness but not a hundred percent sold on it just yet. Gazin' atcha and just havin' interrupted ya. Yo, rude.
Ya answer anyways, 'cause you're awesome like that. “Not-dude,” ya say, reshowcasin', rearmjauntin'. “Your not-dude. We're havin' a talk here.”
“Yo, dude, your not-dude's the one with the klepto tendencies. Maybe make it stop jawin' with the douchetasticality here?”
“You...you did this last time,” says Margatroid. “It's a doll. It doesn't speak. Or jaw.”
“It's metaphorical jawin'. Oblique. It's douchetasticatin' through its eyes.”
“Its eyes are made of glass.”
“Well, maybe not-dudes with glass eyes shouldn't throw stones.”
“That isn't the expression!” And then—Margatroid sorta deflates, blinkin' atcha. And then squintin' atcha. “How do you know that expression?”
Weird question, all of a sudden. “Man, I dunno. How does any dude know expressions?”
“No—that is—” And seriously, she's peerin' atcha like she's tryin' to shell your brain from your skull with telekinesis. “From where did you hear that expression?”
Weird question number two. “Like I said, I dunno. Where does any dude hear expressions from?”
The Bible, or Shakespeare, prolly. It's usually either the Bible or Shakespeare.
Ya don't hafta be the Fool to figure out that Margatroid's sorta unsatisfied with what she got from ya, though. She keeps on with the peerin' and the squintin', which wouldn't be half as unstandable if the little not-dude wasn't doin' it too, as tucked up against ya as it is. Ya see her mouth start to move—Margatroid's, not the not-dude's—and get yourself ready for your third dose of the weird—
But what Margatroid tosses ya this time is a real switch-up.
“Are you English?”
Or actually that's still totally weird, just a different brand of weird than the first two weirdnesses. “Wrong side of the Atlantic, dude,” ya say. “And plus wrong side of the continent, once ya get there. I'm from California.”
[X] Leer suggestive-like. Gratitude, eh? How much gratitude is she talkin' about, here? -[X] Haha, you're just messin' with her. But seriously, you better be gettin' something with definite tangibility out of the deal.
Yep. You were right. Totally weird. “I'm gettin' points for babblin'?” ya ask, tryin' to figure the game here.
“Not babbling,” Margatroid says. “Rather—I would like to hold a conversation with you.”
“In English, yes.”
Ya look, Margatroidwise. Margatroid looks ya back, brows flat, like this whole deal is beneath 'er and ya shoulda just started yakkin' straight off as soon as she said so, so ya look Rinnosukewise instead. 'Cept Rinnosuke's not even payin' attention here, 'cause he's got priorities, which is to say he's busy settin' the clock on the nearest flat surface—that's the floor, in this case—'cept with the kinda delicacy you'd 'spect outta someone handlin' a Fabergé egg and not a clock. It's a neatish clock, but not that neat.
Anyways, no help there. Back to Margatroid: “There a reason ya want me Englishin' atcha? Or's this just for kicks?”
Margatroid does the mouth thing again. When she answers, it's like she's doin' her best to not let on how much of a chore it is gettin' the words up and out her throat. “If you must know—it has been some time since I was last able to converse freely in my native tongue,” she says. “Hearing a familiar phrase, even in Japanese, sparked a particular sort of nostalgia.”
Oh, hey, so, in other words— “English's your first lang too?” ya ask.
“I would assume that would apparent, given my surname—'Margatroid'.”
“Surnames are kinda bupkis.” Just ask your mom's mom's sister's daughter's sansei son. Or your dad's dad's sister's husband's brother's son's daughter, who keeps havin' to tell dudes that she's never been to East Europe and her last name isn't even grammarized right for it anyways. Though, not like either of 'em are here. “Tell ya what,” ya say, “I'll make with the chitchat—just once ya hand over to Rinnosuke that key you've got.”
Rinnosuke lifts up his head at hearin' himself pop up in the convo, needin' a sec to get back in the groove of the whole deal. “Wait,” he says, “Maybe you—”
“I had intended to do so regardless,” Margatroid sniffs over Rinnosuke's whatever-he-was-gonna-say, producin' the junk hey presto.
Rinnosuke looks between the four of ya—you, Margatroid, the not-dude, and the key—sighs, and accepts the MacGuffin.
“Now—” starts Margatroid.
“Hold up,” ya say, “I wanna see this clock tick, first.”
“You believe I would break my word?”
Maybe, basically, but ya wouldn't put it like that. “Just wanna make sure it's all good,” ya say, playin' the diplomat. “Kinda a raw deal if we wrap up the talkin' and it turns out ya gave 'im the wrong key.”
Margatroid's eyes narrow. “This isn't the first clock that I've repaired,” she says.
“And havin' a Ph.D. didn't stop Louis Slotin from playin' it fast and loose with a screwdriver. Hit it, Mac!”
Rinnosuke looks atcha with a face that's most def not feelin' it and also maybe not feelin' that he oughta be feelin' it, but then it's back to crouchin' at the clock and he applies like ya said, stickin' the key in the key-shaped keyhole and turnin' it the way it turns. He takes the key out again, and—check it, it's not workin'; you were totally right about Margatroid's word and the hinkiness thereof—
But then Rinnosuke reaches behind the whole deal and nudges something, and hey! It ticks! And not just that, but after a whole buncha seconds you can actually time now, 'cause tickin', it's still tickin'! Which was the goal here, you're pretty sure—guessin' even by just the look spillin' over outta the side of Rinnosuke's face.
He's smilin'. Smilin' proud.
“Are you satisfied?” Margatroid asks.
Smilin' like he repaired the thing himself. “Yeah,” ya say. “Totally.”
“Wind the clock at least twice a day, if you want it to keep time accurately.” That bit's shot at Rinnosuke, who glances and nods and loses the smile. “Now—”
And then Margatroid curtsies.
Not totally—she just sorta pinches her dress with her spine keepin' straight—but it's still the most curtsyin' you've seen outta anything that wasn't a period piece.
“I don't believe I ever introduced myself properly,” she says, in accented-from-the-other-side-of-the-ocean-but-straight-up-honest English. “I am Alice Margatroid, the Seven-Colored Puppeteer. You may have heard of me.”
“Yeah,” ya say. Wait, you've gotta be Englishin' here too, was the deal. “Yeah,” ya say, in English. “Rinnosuke ran by me your whole title thing. Chris Christoferson.” And it's a real clumsy kinda maneuver, keepin' a not-dude in your armpit, but somehow ya manage to stick a hand out for shakin'.
Margatroid doesn't take it.
Yeah, okay, then.
“'Christoferson',” mutters Margatroid. Or ya guess it's Alice, now. Whichever. “That would be a Germanic name, wouldn't it?”
Somehow, ya 'spected the kookiness level to decrease once you were speakin' English both. Crazy wrong. “Naw,” ya answer, and get back to a comfier not-dude lock. “It's Californian. From California.”
“I'm Californian too, originally, so it's a Californian name. Anyways, names? Is that whatcha wanna yak about? 'Cause I'm all for it, if ya wanna.”
“'Yak about'—no, you're right. Actually, if you don't mind, why don't we talk about you?” Alice smiles like she's tuggin' at each muscle involved individually.
You do some browliftin'. “Me?”
“Yes. Even if Rinnosuke only informed you of my title—and this I very much doubt—” and she jerks her head over to pop off a real meaningful look that Rinnosuke's already been returnin' since he caught his name in the middle of all that foreign babble, before gettin' back to just you and her, “you know more of me than I know of you.”
Which's prolly true, even if Rinnosuke toldja a whole lot less than she looks like she thinks he toldja. “Fair enough. So where do ya want me to start?”
“At the beginning, of course—and once you've come to the end, stop.”
What, is she puttin' together a dossier? “I dunno, dude,” ya say. “That's alotta road to cover. Maybe narrow down what you're lookin' for here?”
“Then start with your entrance into Gensokyo, instead. Was your arrival intentional or accidental? The latter is more common, but the former is not wholly unheard of.”
Now that's answerabler. “Intentional?” ya snort. “As if, dude. The only locale I was tryin' to get to was Nod. Even the amblingest somnambulists prolly don't get outta bed in the wrong continent to a whole lotta tulgey and teeth.”
Alice looks like she's 'bout to nod herself, 'cept then she pulls back halfway with her brows doin' the limbo with concentration. Underarm, ya feel the not-dude tiltin' its own head, and ya don't look, but you've got the feeling like if ya did look, you'd wanna say the not-dude was wearin' the same expression even though that's impossible, prolly, what with the mug immobility. “You...got out of bed in the wrong continent?” Alice lobs atcha eventual.
“Well, not so much 'bed',” ya admit. “More like 'floor'. Of the woods.”
“You woke from sleep in the wrong continent.”
“Yeah, now you've got it.”
“I see,” Alice does some recomposin', gettin' herself straight before it's back to question time. “It must have been a surprise,” she says.
“More like I didn't know what the Funk or Wagnalls. I was linin' up beaucoup hypotheses before Rinnosuke laid it straight for me—like maybe I was trippin'. Or like maybe it was a B&E gone crazy farcical, with some skeevy dude luggin' me even zedcatchin' through the woods 'cause they didn't know what else to do.”
“Y'know—Nod again, forty winks—”
“Yes, yes.” Limboin' lower now. Limboin' lower now. “You...thought that perhaps you had been kidnapped in your sleep?”
“Yeah, now you've got it.”
“That seems to me a...less than reasonable guess.”
“More reasonable than 'spectin' a dude coulda gotten zapped intercontinental.”
“Yeah, sure, y'know—beamed.”
Alice maybe doesn't parlez-vous “teleported”. How low can those brows go? “In any case,” she says, “you're fortunate to have discovered Rinnosuke's shop before falling prey to the forest's more dangerous residents. Gensokyo isn't a safe land for humans to explore without care.”
“Yeah, if Rumia hadn't helped me out I woulda been chow ages ago.”
“I said,” ya cup a makeshift megaphone 'round your mouth, “if Rumia hadn't helped me out I woulda been—”
“I heard you the first time!”
“Then what's the problem, dude?”
Alice does her eyes shut, takin' in a breath deep and smooth. When she opens 'em again, it's only so far—gazin' atcha real dark through peepers squinchier than the Magellan Straits. “You say that Rumia helped you,” she says, level.
“Yeah, sure,” ya answer back.
“You say that Rumia helped you.”
“Little-blond-girl-lookin' thing, floats around, spits Latin, eats dudes—that is Rumia, right? We talkin' a different Rumia here?”
You're not talkin' a different Rumia here, and ya both know that real clear, both you and also Alice who's starin' into ya at the mo like she's considerin' maybe givin' up on telekinesis and just goin' for your head direct with a garden spade. And then she says:
“You see no problem with this?”
[ ] Direct all inquiries to your shruggin' muscles. It's been no problem for you. [ ] If she's raggin' on Rumia, you're gonna give it to 'er straight. In English. [ ] Nuts to this toit. You're takin' your English and shuttin' this whole deal down. [ ]
[x] 'plain Rumia's not-killin'-you thing in Rumia's lingo. -[x] Add that she's a good gal, deep down, right after the sharp teeth. You're tired of the whole 'random people assuming things about your people' game.
Well to be fair, she did want to eat us-even after she saved us. She didn't 'cause she was all surprised and stuff. And now she knows us, so she can go all 'YOU'RE MY DINNER NOW RAAWR' on us.
I'd be all for defending Rumia but we already did the overreacting bit today.
[x] 'plain Rumia's not-killin'-you thing in Rumia's lingo. -[x] Add that she's a good gal, deep down, right after the sharp teeth. You're tired of the whole 'random people assuming things about your people' game.
[x] 'plain Rumia's not-killin'-you thing in Rumia's lingo. -[x] Someone gave her the idea that attacking humans is a youkai's job. What's up with that?
Do we think Rumia is a good person? I mean, she's simple and misguided at best. She did admit to taking a big ol' bite out of a kid. But she's been a friend to us, so I guess I don't have a problem with claiming she's a good person deep down.
[X] 'Splain Rumia's not-killin'-ya thing as Rumia toldja.
“Y'know,” ya say, “between you and Keine and also the proclivity for blastin' that all these other dudes've been stoppin' by to exhibit, I'm kinda gettin' the feeling like Rumia's got a bad rap attached.”
“A bad what?”
“A bad rep?”
“If you mean to say 'reputation', I can assure you it is one well-justified.” And she does that thing where her whole mug wrinkles 'cept her nose, just for a tick. “I have seen what comes from an encounter with that child myself. Don't let her appearance deceive you—she is a youkai through and through, and she will devour you, given the merest opportunity.”
“Well, yeah, I know that. I mean, she told me so.”
“Who told you so?”
Alice looks atcha. She looks atcha like she's been betrayed by circumstances. Not you, specifically, but circumstances. Like she struck out beaucoup true with that garden spade, 'cept the garden spade turned out to have a durability of nil and broke into so many pieces, and now you're just standin' here in your modern-day digs with your brainpan disrespectfully intact—is what she's lookin' atcha like.
“What?” she says.
“Rumia told me,” ya say. “See, 'cause I was all like, 'Rumia, just shootin' a hypothetical here, but if ya got the chance to open up my insides and turn my guts into menudo, wouldja be down with that?' And she was all like, 'I would totally be down with that,' so yeah. I mean, I'm paraphrasin', but the gist was pretty clear, y'know?”
Alice looks atcha a tick longer. Then, hitchin' a ride on the voice of a dude who's gone through a whole lotta shovelkind-involved trauma, she goes, “How you've managed to keep your life here is beyond me.”
“Well, it kinda helps Rinnosuke's established this as a no-eatin'-dudes zone—thanks a bunchload for that, by the way, Mac—”
Rinnosuke perks up. “Excuse me?”
Oh, right, the Englishin'. “'Thanks,' is what I'm sayin',” ya 'splain, switchin' over to a more common lang. “'Cause you were all, 'No eatin' dudes in the shop,' remember?”
“Yes, I remember—are you talking about Rumia, now? I thought I heard her name.”
“Yeah, Alice's kinda wiggin' out here. 'Bout me and Rumia bein' all buddy-buddy, I mean.”
“'Wigging out'?” Alice parrots. “'Buddy-buddy'?”
“See? Totally wiggin' out.”
“Stop saying that—I don't even understand what is meant by that—”
“It's a clear enough meaning, given the context,” says Rinnosuke, and then he ducks back to clockadmirin' real quick, facesides twitchin', when Alice gives 'im a gaze like maybe she's reconsiderin' who oughta be gettin' the mechanic cerebrectomy around here.
“So,” ya say, mostly for savin' Rinnosuke's bacon, “ya wanna get back to English, or...”
“Listen to me,” says Alice. “Listen to me now, if you'll do nothing else.”
She doesn't wanna get back to English. “Okay?” ya say.
“Gensokyo is dangerous.”
She pauses there, real dramatic.
“Okay?” ya say again.
“I won't presume to know anything of your life before, but whatever safety you were once assured of—it won't be found here.” Alice's totally serious, as she's sayin' this stuff to you. “You cannot behave with such a measure of carelessness. Unless it is your desire to see your own life cut short?”
Ya nearly raise your hands, all placatey, 'cept ya can't do that, obvs, 'cause not-dude. “Hey, hey, listen, dude—I am all for keepin' myself unmasticated here, dig? Like, for reals.”
“You seem to act otherwise.”
“Well, I oughta be showcasin' my natural awesome to all the world, right? But instead I've been keepin' myself cooped up in here so I don't get chomped, so it's not like I'm limpin' 'round the woods with 'eat me' stuck on my back, or something.”
“Stuck on your—no, it doesn't matter. My point concerns your keeping company with Rumia. Surely, you understand the foolishness of associating with something that would happily kill you? Even you acknowledge this much. You have already acknowledged this.”
“And like I said, Rinnosuke established this as a no-eatin'-dudes zone. It's all good.”
“You honestly believe this will be enough to protect you?”
She's lookin' incensedwise now, Alice. Not incensed, but headin' at it, brisk.
“Sure,” ya say. “I mean, this shop is Rinnosuke's. If a shopkeep's not gonna have a say in what's happenin' in their own shop, who is?”
“And if Rumia decides to ignore your little agreement?”
“Then Rinnosuke'll prolly protect me. I mean, dude's been pretty awesome at it so far, right?” Ya glance at Rinnosuke, who's glancin' at you. Or just straight up lookin', actually. There's a kinda slackness to his mug goin' on, with his lips parted slightly, sorta almost, and the bits below his eyes all relaxed.
Ya give 'im a thumbs-up.
He doesn't thumbs-up ya back. Is that a thing here, even? Thumbs-uppin'? Ya hope so, 'cause, else? Total bummer.
Alice seems to be followin' your thumb just fine, though, checkin' it out, then Rinnosuke out, then you out. And then:
“You severely overestimate your host,” she says.
“Whoa,” ya say. “Rude.”
“I will not mince words on so important a matter.”
“And I'm not gonna take it if you're just gonna stand there and be super-completely ultra-gauche about the whole deal. I've got full confidence in Rinnosuke risin' to the occasion the sec skeet starts goin' down.”
And ya punctuate that with another thumbs-uppin' Rinnosukewise, though still ya don't get one back. Dude just keeps lookin' atcha, eyelids all the way to the top of his irides like they're balancin' there. And also he's got his upper lip pullin' up, for some reason. You can see his front teeth a little, just hangin'.
Hey, is he doin' the mug-wrinklin' thing too?
“So, may I assume you won't be taking my advice?” Alice says.
Ya refocus. “Yeah. I mean—thanks but no thanks, dig? Maybe it looks like I'm itchin' to get my neck bit out, but for reals? It's all gravy—”
“Then there is nothing more to say.” And Alice walks right past ya, farther up into the shop.
She comes back a sec later in the opposite direction, carryin' a book—prolly the same one as the one that set off this whole shebang, though ya can't tell for sure with it bein' clutched so close to her chest, and she's most def not pausin' to letcha read the title. She doesn't even bother lookin' youwise, not till she gets to the door, and then it's only just barely over her shoulder.
“If you would relinquish Shanghai?” she says.
“I don't have Shanghai,” ya say, 'cause that's true. “I think we stopped havin' Shanghai back in 1943. Or I guess 1941 de facto?”
“Shanghai would be the doll.”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” Ya leggo with the truncal restrainment already, and the not-dude—Shanghai—wriggles out with more wrigglin' than ya bet's actually necessary before floatin' on off next to Alice's shoulder.
And then it turns back, lookin' atcha like Alice's lookin' herself. Like it's sayin' over its own shoulder, “We wash our hands of you.”
“Sorry,” ya shoot back, “but I've got a pretty good idea of who's the Barabbas in this sitch.”
“What?” says Alice, half out the door.
“Hey, don't look at me. I'm just unmisplacin' the metaphor here.”
Alice turns around—actually all the way, this time—and looks atcha straight. And then, maybe followin' your eyes or something, she looks at Shanghai.
Shangai looks at Alice.
You look at Shanghai lookin' at Alice, and then look at Alice.
Alice stops lookin' at Shanghai and looks at you. And then she stops lookin' period, 'cause she's squeezin' her eyelids shut so tight ya think maybe the upper half of her face is gonna cave in on itself.
“The doll,” Alice grinds out through the gaps between her teeth, “does not speak.”
And then she's outta there. And ya wouldn't say the door got slammed, exactly, but it was slamesque.
“Yeah,” ya say. “So that happened.”
Rinnosuke looks atcha like you're real hard to see. And then he sighs and raises himself up, hands pushin' off his knees. “I suppose it did,” he agrees.
“Anyways, new clock.” And that's still tickin', by the way, so if Alice handed Rinnosuke down some kinda lemon it's not so obvious yet. “What's the plan, Mac? Gonna stick it on a shelf somewhere?”
“No—in the window,” Rinnosuke says. “As interesting as this clock is, it won't tell me how close it is to sunset or sunrise. I'll have to look for myself to know that much.”
“And Japanese clocks do?” ya ask.
“Cool. Hey, maybe if ya get a Japanese-type clock too, you can set 'em right next to each other! Best of both worlds.”
Rinnosuke smiles, almost, real faint, like he's savorin' the idea of that. And then that maybe-a-smile dissolves.
“You should have gone with Alice,” he says.
“Aw, man, don't tell me she got to ya?” Ya poke Rinnosuke's sternum with your thumb, like he's got a bug there ya wanna squash. “I'm tellin' ya, Mac—I trust ya. You've kept me kickin' this long, right? Outta anyone I can think of, there's no one else I trust more for watchin' my back.”
“Maybe,” says Rinnosuke, “but you still should have gone with Alice.”
“Alright, I'll bite. Why Alice?”
“Because she would have taken you to the shrine.”
You digest this, just for a tick. And then ya fling open the door, pokin' your head out into the great outdoors.
The whole wabe as ya catch it is Aliceless.
“Or if not the shrine, the village, at least,” Rinnosuke says.
Ya turn over your shoulder now, to snap back at 'im. “Yeah, well,” ya say, “how're ya gonna set that clock to the right time? I don't see any other clocks around here.”
Rinnosuke digests this, also just for a tick.
“Ah,” he says. “Nuts.”
“No, you're sayin' it wrong. Like this—'nuts'.”
“No, ya gotta really spit it—'nuts'.”
Rinnosuke doesn't immediately nuts back. “Do you feel better?” he asks.
“A little,” ya say, “'cept not. You?”
“I'd say about the same.”
“Yeah. Sure.” And ya sigh deeper than Rinnosuke ever did. “Nuts.”
Okay, so, the thing 'bout bein' awesome? Bein' awesome can be tough.
Take the stuff you've gotta deal with, for example. Here ya are here, bootin' up after a night fulla zed, and what's the first thing ya catch, hangin' all up over your face? The ceiling. Rinnosuke's ceiling, if ya wanna be specific—and ya do wanna be specific, in this case, 'cause bein' specific 'bout this ceiling specific makes a whole lotta things a lot more extrapolatable. For example also: You're lookin' at Rinnosuke's ceiling, so barrin' some serious relocation havin' happened while ya didn't notice, you're most prolly still in Gensokyo. And if you're still in Gensokyo, it doesn't take alotta assumin' from there to get at a pretty plausible kinda theory along the lines that you're not in California. And if you're not in California...
Well, that means you're not home, obvs.
So yeah. Takin' in that whole deal, any dude in your place would feel pretty sore. And plus pretty justified in feelin' pretty sore, also.
But you're not any dude, is the thing. That's something straight up relevant these morbs and megrims forgot when they started creepin' 'round your metatarsals, thinkin' they could claw themselves up and over into your psyche. You're Christie Christoferson, and above all else, Christie Christoferson is awesome. Crazy awesome.
How awesome are ya?
You're so awesome, ya make whoever you're hangin' with awesome by association. (Rinnosuke's been reapin' the benefits on this one.)
You're so awesome, your ennui is rad. (For serious, this pad needs some comic books already.)
You're so awesome that stuck five thousand miles from home, knowin' roughly zip 'bout who's who in the vicinity, you're still ninety-nine point nine percent sure that you're the most awesome dude in the local semidemihemisphere.
Or even the demihemisphere, but what the hey, right? You can be generous.
In conclusion? You're a hurricane. You're a meteor. You're a scorpion in a can. You're Christie Christoferson, and if there's a dude out there who can turn a day of potential bummerage into a day of awesome, it's you. Pumped up and ready to rock, ya rise outta your sheets like a phoenix outta yesterday's ashes—
And then immediately ya sit down again, gettin' those ashes all over, 'cause whoa.
What was that?
Okay, false start. Ya give it go number two, takin' it careful this time—Rome didn't get set up in a day, and awesome doesn't go zero to roarin' in an instant, as awesome as that'd be. There's an inertia to the whole deal, which is one of the reasons bein' awesome is so tough. You just make it look easy. Case in point: Apparently today the floor's had its fill of bein' walked on and consequentially it's tryin' to throw ya every time ya get vertical, but if that floor thinks you're gonna sit down just from a little tippin' and rollin', it's got another think comin'.
Oh, wait, now the walls're joinin' in. Actually, ya might be in trouble. “Mac,” ya call out. “Yo, Mac.”
When Rinnosuke walks into view, he's seein' ya leanin' between the wall and the floor like some kinda Pythagorean wainscot. “You're up early,” he says.
“I'm a regular Richard Saunders,” ya say. Your voice, ya think, maybe sounds funny. 'Cept ya can't say for sure, 'cause your ears're stuffed. “Ya got a thermometer?” ya ask.
Rinnosuke stares at your question for a bit, distinctly not fetchin' a thermometer. Then he gets up closer to you (which you're pretty sure's not thermometerwise) and puts his palm all up against above your eyebrows, pushin' over under your hair. “Your forehead's warm,” he observes.
“What's that in Fahrenheit?”
Rinnosuke totally ignores the question and still persists with the thermometerlessness, takin' the forehead-hand away but then puttin' it on his own forehead, for some reason. Then he nods, like puttin' his hand in a buncha places where he never had to put his hand and ya never asked 'im to put his hand has been real satisfyin' to 'im.
“You should lie down,” he says.
And then, 'cause that potential bummerage is rushin' to turn itself into actual bummerage real quick, he follows that up with the one kinda line ya really ultra-mega-seriously didn't wanna hear, not in a place like this.
“You have a fever.”
Let 'im tell ya something ya didn't guess already, maybe.
[ ] No way you're lettin' your own body getcha down. You've got a mission! [ ] Okay, so today's a bust. Awesome postponed till further notice. [ ]
[X] Okay, so today's a bust. Awesome postponed till further notice.
“Ya sure it isn't your head that's just cold? Maybe ya better get a thermometer actually. Just to double-check.”
You're just grabbin' at straws at this point, and Rinnosuke knows it. “Go back to your futon—I'll wake you up when it's time to eat,” he says, and gets to get back to whatever he was doin', before ya summoned him up. Ya grumble at 'im, even after his back's disappeared and ya know he can't hear it.
He's right, is the thing. Ya can't argue otherwise, not even in your own head. This isn't some dope bearin' down on you you can solve with a five-knuckle special delivery. You're sick. The call is comin' from inside the house. And with this sorta sabotage goin' on interior at the mo, ya seriously doubt you're gonna be able to pull off the kinda awesome you were plannin' on pullin'. Ya mean—you could try, yeah, and maybe even actually tear it forth outta yourself in all its splendor, just outta the strength of will alone. But in a place like this, where you're pretty sure the shiny white hospitals and ecnalubmata number to about nil, that's just beggin' for a John Henry sorta outcome.
Ya really don't wanna hafta admit it, but today's a bust, straight up. Ya put yourself back in the blankets and close your eyes lookin' back up at the ceiling.
When ya open them, Rinnosuke's sittin' over ya, doin' the hand-reachin' thing again.
He yanks his hand back, like ya stung 'im. Ya didn't even touch, the two of ya, so ya don't know what's up with that. But he recovers quick. “Here,” he says. “Sit up.”
Ya comply, proppin' yourself by your elbows. “What's up?”
What's up, it turns out, is a tray that Rinnosuke puts on your lap from just outta your vision. It's mostly empty, except for a bowl of something. Some kinda soup ya never bothered to get the name for. Or maybe ya did, 'cept if ya did it went out your other ear years ago, basically. “Ya made me breakfast?” ya ask.
“I've been making you breakfast since you came here,” Rinnosuke points out. Which—well, yeah, that's true. Gotta appreciate that. “Now, drink this. It's supposed to help with colds.”
'Cept maybe ya don't have a cold, ya wanna point out. It's not synonymous, havin' a cold and havin' a fever.
But breakfast's breakfast, even if it's some kinda cold-treatin' special, so ya grab the bowl on both sides, like you're cuppin' the cup itself, and gulp it down.
“What's wrong? Is it too hot?”
Rinnosuke's brows, liftin' hairlinewise, don't start relaxin' till ya put the bowl down real careful and make with the no. “My throat,” ya 'splain.
“Does it hurt?”
“It's sore, but it's not sore sore.” Ya 'splain that, too, so he can't get the wrong idea. “Quit with the hoverin', dig? I'm not gonna fall apart just 'cause my immune system's on high alert.”
“Drink your soup.”
Ya drink, even if ya try doin' it while givin' Rinnosuke a serious stink eye over the rim. It's not bad, now that you're swallowin' steelin' yourself first. There's some diff in the way the dude's made it this time—something strong, or something?
It's just the one bowl, though, so ya can't figure it out before it's just dregs and you've gotta give it up. Rinnosuke puts the tray outta sight again, and then—
Yo. The forehead again? For serious, this dude's gotta have a thermometer packed away somewhere. Like, one of those ancient iffy mercury types, even.
“Go back to sleep,” Rinnosuke tells ya, backin' off. “It'd be dangerous for you to get any sicker than this. I'll wake you up again for dinner.”
“Again”? Ya didn't get back to sleep in the first place. Didja? Or actually more important than that is the way this dude's talkin', like he thinks you're gonna bite the royal big one if he doesn't getcha wrapped up in a blanket this time ultimo. “It's a sore throat, Mac, not Y. pestis,” ya say. “The sec this gets beaten, I'm breakin' out all the awesome I planned.”
“With interest, even.”
“Yes, yes.” And Rinnosuke nods along, even while he's standin' up from outta your bedside, tray with emptyish bowl in hand. “I can hardly wait,” he says, “but until then—sleep.”
And then he gets.
So, ya guess you're just gonna be lyin' here for a while?
Seriously, though, talk about a total bummer. If you were gonna hafta make a list of stuff ya didn't wanna get caught in, bein' put adrift forcible on the Sargasso Sea of your own sickness woulda prolly be right on there, somewhere 'round root canals and tryin' to get the moola stuffed in your wallet when the cashier's already gone, “Next, please.” Ya shoulda asked Rinnosuke for a book, or something.
But that's okay. No, that's more than okay, even.
Yeah, that's right.
'Cause you're Christie Christoferson, and you're more than just plain awesome—you're paragonin' it. There's no problem that's come along ever ya haven't whipped, sooner or later, and some dinky little fever's gotta be no exception.
Rinnosuke says he can't wait?
One bout of zedcatchin' to burn out this fever, and Rinnosuke's gonna be ecstatic.
Rinnosuke's a haze.
Ya wanna focus on 'im over ya, seriously, but he's waverin' and it's makin' your eyes hurt. Waverin' without goin' anywhere's a neat trick. Ya wanna tell 'im that, congratulate, maybe, 'cept that's not workin', either, 'cause your tongue's stuck to your palate and someone's goin' at your braincase with the business end of a mattock when ya go for words.
Then Rinnosuke does the hand thing again and covers up one of your eyes with his palmheel and that's like a sign, right? Like, quit botherin', even? His hand's cool, anyways.
It's kinda nice.
“Your fever's gone up.”
He's nuts. No way that's a thing that's happenin'. Ya wanna tell 'im that, too, so ya peel away your tongue, and say:
And then ya stop sayin' stuff 'cause talkin' hurts now? Talkin' hurts now. Did your throat hear whatcha said about “sore sore” and get super-pissed? Can throats do that?
Maybe throats can do that. That explains something, prolly.
The hand goes away, lettin' the light in. It's pinprick dim. It's burnin' your eyes. Thanks, hand, is whatcha wanna say, ultra-sarcastic—and you're pretty sure someone else was sarcastic too; there's precedent—but then something's haulin' ya, sit-upwards, and the room keeps topplin' all over the place too, and you'd be topplin' with it 'cept something else's maybe holdin' ya back from forwards—
And then something's at your mouth? Something's at your mouth.
You understand “drink”.
It's cool, too. It's at the corners of your mouth and ya can't catch it all, 'cept whatcha do catch ya swallow. Swallowin' hurts, now, though. Your eyes hurt, your head hurts, everything hurts—
The things go away and there isn't anything that isn't yourself so ya fall back. Something soft catches ya. Everything's catchin' everything. Ya fell, like a puppet that got it's strings cut.
“Alice,” ya say.
“Alice isn't here,” Rinnosuke says, and he's nuts. Of course Alice isn't here. That's not the point.
“No,” ya say.
Rinnosuke does the hand thing again again again, and ya hear 'im hissin' something, even if ya don't hear the words. And then ya do hear the words, prolly 'cause they're other words.
“Just go to sleep—do you understand? I need to get something—”
They come rushed. Ya think maybe it's 'cause he's movin' atcha while he's talkin', like the Doppler effect 'cept not, but he's not movin' atcha, he's movin' away. And then he disappears. He left ya behind.
Of course Alice isn't here. She hasn't been here for a week. She didn't sneak in.
But she has dolls, though, and dolls can float through windows, and float through doors, and just float, generally. They semicircle 'round ya, on the blanket. It's like you're the stage, where they're performin' The Birds. They musta done that—float in. Alice doesn't hafta be here at all, if she can see through her dolls.
Ya tell 'em—
“It's your fault,” ya tell 'er and tell 'em. It doesn't hurt anymore, for some reason. “Ya didn't get Rinnosuke the right clock.”
The dolls don't say anything back. They don't even look like they're sayin' anything back. What's her game? They disappear. Something's swallowed 'em up. Ya left 'em behind.
Ya didn't leave 'em behind at all. They're on the ceiling, peerin' down atcha with invisible heads. But you can see their eyes, turnin' and turnin' and turnin' till they're fixed on ya, one-two-three one after another. They're distorted. The dolls—not the dolls—
“How interesting,” say the dolls.
The eyes crawl outta them. Ya close your own—
And then the light slips in, way too there to ignore, even with your lids shut tight.
It's too quiet.
Or actually it's not quiet at all, 'cause you can hear stuff just fine, like the foliage rustlin' around outside, and that wind chime Rinnosuke's got hangin', which you're pretty sure is also outside. Did the dude leave a window loose? Ya open your eyes a crack, just enough to make sure it doesn't feel like anyone's stabbin' ya in the retinae the mo you allow direct access.
Ya open your eyes complete, then. And for a tick—for a tick—the ceiling above ya seems like it's makin' like a dreidel—but then it straightens out to as fixed as it oughta be.
“Rinnosuke,” ya call out. Or try to, anyways. It sounds like someone took a cheese grater to your voice, and there's this sour gunk all up the back of your throat. Ya swallow, and cough, and give it go number two.
“Rinnosuke's not here.”
Ya turn your head.
Standin' a yay way away from ya, lookin' atcha like the power of her eyebeams is the only thing keepin' ya from springin' up and smashin' the place over, is something that looks like a little girl with a blue dress and spiky crystally back not-wings floatin' after her.
Yeah, you know that mug.
[ ] You're sick. She can just shove off royal while ya doze. [ ] What's up, Macduff? [ ] Who cares? There's some Rinnosukelessness to solve, here. [ ]
>>28712 Protip: don't trust the insights of someone with a high fever. This part here: >Ya didn't leave 'em behind at all. They're on the ceiling, peerin' down atcha with invisible heads. But you can see their eyes, turnin' and turnin' and turnin' till they're fixed on ya, one-two-three one after another. They're distorted. The dolls—not the dolls—
>“How interesting,” say the dolls.
I'm guessing either Yukari or a straight up hallucination. But probably Yukari. It's not so far fetched since she canonically visits Kourindou occasionally, I think.
[x] Who cares? There's some Rinnosukelessness to solve, here.
Also: >The things go away and there isn't anything that isn't yourself so ya fall back. Something soft catches ya. Everything's catchin' everything. Ya fell, like a puppet that got it's strings cut. 2cute 2imagine
You've got no clue, but just 'cause you're on a precariously tiltin' planet at the mo's no reason not to hi your hi. “What's up, Macduff?” ya greet 'er through the toxic frog in your throat.
Cirno's chin lifts. “My name's Cirno. I toldja already,” she says.
“Sure.” Ya dunno why she's so intent on offcastin' the moniker. Macduff was one of the good dudes. But the fam, though, so maybe she's onto something, turnin' it down. Cognomen syndrome. “Where's Rinnosuke?” ya ask.
“Rinnosuke's not here.”
“Got that much. Where's he not not?”
Cirno stares atcha with squinchy eyes, mouth pressed, chin aloft slight like she's steelin' herself to spit some serious truth. It's the calm before the deluge here. And then, when the whole world's holdin' on tight in antici—check it—pation, that mouth goes up at the ends, even while the brows're descendin', keepin' the eyes under 'em as squinchy as ever. And grinnin' that way, Cirno goes:
Dude, for serious?
“Dude, for serious?”
“He wasn't here when I got here,” she says, “so I dunno where he is. Right here's just me and you.” And that grin starts makin' with the lip-liftin'. Showin' teeth.
But forget teeth. 'Cause, yo—the dude left ya? Rude. Or maybe Rinnosuke's out for groceries, in which case less rude, ya guess. Coulda stuck a note somewhere before he hoofed it. Did he stick a note somewhere before he hoofed it?
“My name's not Macduff—”
“Yeah—hold your breath with the trumpets, will ya?” Ya work yourself up to sittin'. Something's off about it, like you're wearin' the wrong limbs. The room spins again. More chocolate gelt?
“Rinnosuke,” ya gag out, ignorin' it.
“What about Rinnosuke?” Macduff says.
“Rinnosuke,” ya say again. It doesn't hurt so much, this time. That's a lie. “Dude leave a indication? A note on the fridge? Something to pin 'im down with with contagious magic?”
Macduff—Macduff's got a set of chompers. Chompers and also those squinchy eyes, shootin' ya another look like the first look, 'cept again. 'Cept she keeps shootin' it atcha, way steady. And then the eyes float up somewhere else, and she shrugs, real slow. Ritenuto.
“I dunno,” she says.
Yeah, that's totally hinky. “Really ya don't know, or are ya still PO'd over the whole Rumia deal?”
“I toldja I don't know, didn't I? Maybe Rinnosuke left ya here 'cause he didn't wanna see what's gonna happen to ya.”
“Ya are still PO'd over the whole Rumia deal,” ya grumble. “Dude—the whole Rumia deal didn't even happen. Loadsa stuff didn't even happen.” Like Orwell and Camus chewin' the fat, Mithraism catchin' on big, or Walt Disney gettin' POTUS'd 1952. “Speakin' of—I mean—ya seriously fig Rumia'd make a good prez?”
Ya stare, Macduffwise. Cirno stares atcha back. Ya feel like—
Yo, did something sorta drift outta orbit, for a tick?
“I said—where's Rumia?”
“That's not whatcha said,” says Cirno. The brows sorta go back up again. Not all the way, though. The eyes're the same—it's the brows that're not. Variations on a Look from Cirno—yeah, that's it. Cirno. Not Scottish. Or French or Russian or American, either. “You were talkin' 'bout Rumia makin' a good something—something I don't understand—”
“No, yeah,” ya say, wavin' all that away. “No, but I mean—where's Rumia? Haven't caught 'er haulin' the caveat-nabisco-mausoleum shtick lately.”
“Y'know—ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo—”
“You're just doin' this on purpose now,” Cirno interrupts ya. Rude. “You're talkin' crazy again, tryin' to distract me—but it's not gonna work. Not this time. I'm prepared.”
Drift again. But the Earth drifts, even, so that's okay. That's eccentricity. “Yeah?” ya say.
“Yeah!” The eyebrows're down again, squinchin' her views, and ya wish they'd stop liftin' and fallin' and liftin' and fallin'. It keeps happenin'. Ya wanna ask Cirno what's the frequency. “'Cause—ya know that one youkai livin' in the forest? The one who hides behind all her puppets all the time?”
“Yeah,” ya mutter. “Alice. She's not here.”
“Yeah. Well, I snuck into where she lives, and I read her books.” Cirno puts her hands her hips, and now the smile's atcha shinier and toothier than you've seen ever, like she's the cat who just pulled off not just gettin' the cream but the whole carton of it. “She found me, but it was too late for her—I'd already gotten what I needed from readin'.”
That's groovy. Ya wanna say that, too, but there's grooves already in your neck. “So whatcha get?” ya say instead.
Ya stare, Cirnowise. Cirno stares ya back. There's a poundin' behind your eyeballs. It's the Earth, ya fig—see? This is exactly whatcha meant. Not just eccentric, but hyperbolic, even. Get it?
That's what happens when a planet drifts wherever it wants. It's gotta be careful.
“Huh?” ya say.
The smile is smilin' on, in exchange for that huhing. It goes on, in either direction. “I knew ya wouldn't get it,” she says. “It's 'cause they were all in the wrong language, a whole buncha them. 'English', she called 'em, but that doesn't matter at all. I got all the crazy words in my head that I can't understand, so now you can say all the crazy talk ya want, and none of it's gonna get me ever.”
“So like—jabberwocky vaccination.”
“I don't know what that means!” Cirno crows proudly.
“Cool.” Poundin'. Poundin' and driftin' both. The Earth orbits, but there's a line it's gotta follow, the one they used to draw in rings 'round the sun in solid white in the science books at school. You don't know how it's drawn now. It goes on too long. It goes on, in either direction. Who was that French dude, the one all about physics and astronomy? He had a limit and a lobe and a sphere, which're nouns, but it's the limit that's got a real big import right about now.
And your mouth is dry.
The smile—not your smile, but—
“Cool,” ya say. Or maybe ya didn't say that. “What's up?”
“Whaddya mean, 'what's up'?”
“Like, whaddya doin' here? Ya drop in to see Rinnosuke? 'Cause we're outta Rinnosuke. He's not here.” You're sure of that, somehow.
Cirno does some kinda hock of laughin'. “I betcha want me to be here for Rinnosuke, right?” she says. “'But I'm not, 'cause I'm here for you.”
Or but—no, yeah. Yeah. 'Cause—that makes sense. 'Cause Rinnosuke's away, and he's the comandante, 'cept Rinnosuke's away. Which means you got left—to do the comandantein'. You're the lieutenant comandante, and you can smile, too. “Me,” ya say, quasi-echoin' Cirno. Ya make as lieutenant-comandantey as ya can, sittin' in a buncha blankets.
“What's happenin'?” maybe ya say.
“Ya really wanna know?”
And before you can say, “Hit me,” Cirno does.
“What's happenin' is that you're not bullyin' anyone else, not after today. I'm gonna freeze ya over till you're beggin' for me to let up!”
“Wait—so—this is about the whole Rumia deal? I thought we were over that.”
“Course we're not over that. That's why I'm challengin' ya to a duel—get it?”
[ ] When a glove gets tossed, you've gotta pick it up. [ ] Nuts to her satisfaction. [ ]
>“So like—jabberwocky vaccination.” >“I don't know what that means!” Cirno crows proudly. Oh my god. I fucking love Cirno.
[x] When a glove gets tossed, you've gotta pick it up.
This is a funny quest, so she won't actually kill us. Worst case scenario we get beaten up, I think. And it would be adorable to the max to see Rumia get revenge on Cirno for getting revenge for our nonexistent deeds.
[x] Jesus Christ go ask Rumia about it what's wrong with you [x] Dude seriously I am sick, would beating up a sick person make you feel better? Because it would just make me feel worse and I don't know how much worse I can get before I just barf on your face.
[X] Nuts to her satisfaction. -[X] Yo, Macduff—just talk to Rumia already, why dontcha?
Ya watch Cirno's mug careful, checkin' for the bit where she's kiddin'. 'Cept—that bit's missing. She's serious. She's for duels for reals, like the kind ya do with guns or in balloons or with guns in balloons. Where's your balloon?
That was French, too. You're not French. “I'm not French,” ya tell 'er.
A sec ago, she looked like she was on top of the whole globe, or at least this semidemihemisphere of it. Now she's just lookin' incensedwise. You've gotta expound. “Y'know—nothing to fly with,” ya get started with—
And then something occurs to ya, comin' atcha with a headache right above your eye. Above your right eye. More headache. The amplitude is risin'. These're called “tidal forces”. “What about you?” ya say. “I thought you weren't French, either.”
“What's a French?” Cirno goes. And then she's all, “Wait—you're still tryin' to trick me! I'm not fallin' for that! I toldja—I'm challengin' ya, and there's nothing you can do to get out of it!”
“Whaddya mean, 'no'?
She isn't Scottish or Russian or American either. Ya established it. Anyways, that's good for you. The French are smart. “No,” ya resay, and start to stop comandantein', 'cause ya fig you've run outta reasons for it. Whatcha do instead is this:
Ya start makin' a little valley in your bed—for lyin' in.
That's important, 'cause ya might roll out if ya don't have something there to catch ya. You've seen some animals. “Why dontcha talk to Rumia anyways?” ya ask Cirno. “She knows the score.”
“Talk to Rumia 'bout what? 'Bout how ya chased 'er off?”
“No,” ya keep sayin'. “'Bout whatcha said. I mean, what you're sayin'. You're wrong.”
Cirno goes from incensedwise to more-than-incensedwise. “I'm not wrong!” she snaps. “You bullied my friend, and she told me, and now I'm stronger, and now I'm gonna fight you! What's wrong about any of that?”
“Any of that.” No, wait, what you're sayin' it— “I mean, I get it, dig? Prolly it was good intentions, for reals, but now ya keep on keepin' on with the calumny, and that's totally mega-douche in all the ways. You're wrong, and you've gotta talk to Rumia. She knows the score.”
“I'm not wrong! And why do ya keep sayin' that? What does that even mean, anyways?”
Alotta things mean alotta things. Dude's gotta specify. “Why do I keep sayin' what?”
“'She knows the score',” Cirno says, 'cept she curls her upper lip more upper and waggles her head on its neck and does this thing with her voice when she says it. Then, not doin' any of that stuff, she goes, “It doesn't mean anything. It's like that stuff in Alice's books, so it's not gonna work anymore. I said so. Remember?”
Ya don't. Ya did, prolly, but if ya did ya can't remember. It was on planet Earth, which skedaddled on the hyperbolic solid white. “What didja say?” ya ask. It's a smart question. It's a double-sided question.
Cirno doesn't understand the smartness. “I said you're not trickin' me again—'cause I read Alice's books—so stop tryin' to distract me!”
And ya feel like ya oughta be able to say something real real here, like there's something that fits into this bit, like how the papers ya typed up when ya still typed up papers always had that last paragraph for tellin' the dudes readin' the papers ya typed up when ya still typed up papers whatcha told 'em already in the paragraphs before the last paragraph, 'cause that's how papers work. Worked. 'Cept—
You're outta writin' papers. This isn't kosher. Ya don't have a balloon. You're not French.
There are many reasons.
“No,” ya say, and ya lie down.
Cirno says a whole lotta other stuff, but it's fine. You've already established what she's not, so ya don't hafta lend 'er your ears. It's the establishment that's important.
Lieutenant Comandante Christie Christoferson back in again.
For a tick, still stuck in dreamland (or whatever ya call it when the “dream” part's missin' from the equation), ya think you're tumblin' forwards. Like maybe ya decided to do forwards rolls in your sleep or something. Hey, sleepmurder's a thing, right? It happens in Canada. Comparin' that to this, sleeprollin' is normalcy.
Ya aren't actually sleeprollin', though. Ya open your eyes, and it turns out you're just bein' sat up again for like the second or third time. One of those. Ya can't figure which. “Yo,” ya say, tryin' to squinch out the eye boogers.
“Swallow this,” Rinnosuke says, and shoves a paper thing all up on into your mug.
“Do I look like a silverfish?”
“The powder,” says Rinnosuke, soundin' cranky. What's stuck in his craw? But yeah, aimin' your eye downish, ya guess there is a buncha powder sorta cradled in that paper packet Rinnosuke's got.
Though that totally raises more questions. Like—
“Medicine,” says Rinnosuke. “Swallow it.”
“Ya sure it's supposta look like saccharin?”
“I don't know what that is. Swallow it.”
“And where'd ya get this, anyways?”
“There...something like a clinic, in the bamboo forest. This should help your fever go down—” And before you can dodge, he makes with the foreheadhandlin' again.
“It seems to have gone down some on its own, though,” he mutters.
“So lemme get this straight,” ya say, rollin' your head to try to dislodge a buncha palanges. “Ya moseyed off to some hinky rural apothecary to net some equally hinky powder which some dude toldja would cool me off? Ya sure ya didn't just get mulcted outta your moola by some charlatan type? Dudes can just buy lab coats, y'know.”
Rinnosuke looks like he's gettin' as tired of sticking a thing in your face as you are havin' a thing gettin' stuck in your face. “It's from Eientei,” he says. “As long as you don't take any human medicine with this, you'll be fine. Now, swallow. I have a cup of water right here.”
“This is practically nineteenth-century medicine, Mac. You guys prolly still use mercury. Like that Chinese Qin dynasty dude—“
Rinnosuke doesn't wanna hear 'bout that Chinese Qin dynasty dude. Rinnosuke's decided that talkin' or no talkin', it's medicine time, and tilts the whole paper packet thing into your face, promptin' you to gawp pronto before it all gets all over your shirt. It works out as well as inhalin' a buncha powder works out with anyone.
Which is to say it sucks and ya start coughin' your lungs out.
Rinnosuke offers the water up, which is the least he can do after basically givin' ya the powdered medicine version of pneumoconiosis. “You don't know about the Meiji period, but you know about the Qin dynasty?” he says, while ya make with the gulpin'.
“Dunno 'bout the dynasty,” ya wheeze. “It's the dude I read up on. Like forty years back they found a whole fleet of terracotta dudes near where the emperor dude got tombed up under in. It's famous—for reals.”
“Even in California?”
“Sure, Mac—the dudes did a traveling tour and everything. The museums were jam-packed. Uh, with dudes wantin' to see the terracotta dudes, I mean. Not the terracotta dudes themselves.”
“Yes, I understood that much. Are you finished?”
You've still got a buncha sand down the wrong way, so no, 'cept also the cup's empty now, so yes. Ya hand it off again. “So, what'd I just take, Mac?” ya ask. 'Cause ya woulda rather the dude've toldja before pourin' it down your throat, but better ya fig now if you've gotta jot a will pronto, right?
“I wouldn't know,” Rinnosuke says.
Somehow this totally doesn't make ya feel better. “Ya don't know?” ya say, real loud.
“It's from Eientei,” Rinnosuke stresses. “I told them it was for a human, so there shouldn't be any complications. If medicine from Eientei doesn't help your fever, nothing else will.”
“I don't know what's an 'Eientei'.”
“It's the mansion where the clinic is.”
“What kinda mansion's got a clinic?”
Ya do a look-over at Rinnosuke's mug. Is he messin' with ya? Dude's mouth doesn't twitch, even.
“Ya prolly didn't need to head out anywhere, though,” ya say, decidin' you're gonna leave this Eientei biz in the dust. Life's too short to start wonderin' too deep 'bout clinics and mansions and clinic-mansions, and plus it might be real short, dependin'. “Like ya said, looks like the fever went down by itself. Guess ya wasted a walk, huh, Mac?”
“Better to be sure.” Rinnosuke stands up again. He sorta towers over ya, or maybe that's the last bits of the fever talkin'. “It's too late for dinner, but I'll make you something to fill your stomach with. You'll need it.”
Ya almost let that walk on by. “Wait a tick, Mac. 'Too late for dinner'? What time is it?”
“It's late evening.”
“I've been out of it a whole day?”
“You've been 'out of it' a whole two days.”
And ya turn that over in your skull, but even tryin' to jam your memories together like some sort of mnemonic jigsaw puzzle, you're fallin' totally short of two days' worth. It's seriously unfair. Ya shouldn't be able to lie down and have a coupla days zip past like that, not without you bein' the dude givin' 'em permission for the zip. Couldja get used to this? Couldja sit back for some shuteye Sunday and get a whole year beamin' out, now that the whole concept's got its foot in the door?
“I think I'm gonna need another thing of water,” ya say.
Rinnosuke nods and makes tracks towards watergettin'.
At least ya are better now. Yeah, you're no way at your full kinda pep, but at least you're mediocre instead of the straight up sufferin' ya had inflicted upon ya. Apparently, Gensokyo viruses hit like an eighteen-wheeler each. Or what's the plural of “viruses”? Not “viri”, right? Ya feel like it's not “viri”, but if ya weren't friends with Latin before ya got laid down, you're not gonna be buddy-buddy comin' outta the whole deal.
Rinnosuke pokes his head back in. “By the way,” he says, “Cirno is standing outside the front door with a particularly sullen expression. Do you know anything about that?”
“Yeah, no clue, Mac.”
Seriously, though—screw Latin. Some dead languages oughta just stay dead, thanks.
Your fever does go down, is the thing. One reason or another, Rinnosuke stops feelin' the need to feel up your forehead, and something like a day after that, ya get outta bed—like, actually stand up—and the planet's practically sittin' pretty under your toes. It's done tiltin' swift.
Rinnosuke puts it up to the hinky meds he shoved down your throat, of course, but yeah, he'd think that, right? You, meanwhile—you're pretty sure it's just your body remembered how awesome it was and decided it oughta rally up and show the whole bein'-sick idea who's boss.
Spoilers: it was your body. For reals.
Course, just 'cause you're on the rise doesn't mean you're up and runnin' the way ya oughta be. You can walk around Rinnosuke's pad without playin' pinball bumpers with the walls now, but it's a totally ugly kinda revelation when ya catch yourself passin' out for the zeds earlier than ya did before this whole deal went down. Whatever bug it was that left ya feelin' like overwarmed death got sent packin', yeah, but it got its licks in before it hoofed it, and it's showin'. Rinnosuke starts sayin' stuff like this:
“Be careful. You're still recovering from being sick.”
“Your body needs to regain its strength. You should eat more.”
“Go to bed earlier tonight.”
To which you start sayin' stuff like:
“We can't pull the brakes now, Mac—there's a whole lotta bein'-awesome we've gotta catch up on.”
“How 'bout you eat more? You're like one and a half bowls of rice a day plus assorted fish bits. Max.”
And also like:
“Okay, Mac, dig this, will ya? I appreciate ya—like, I'm talkin' deep appreciation here—but you're kinda maybe sorta startin' to hover. Just a little bit.”
Rinnosuke looks atcha like he's disgruntled at you bein' disgruntled, which makes ya disgruntled he's bein' disgruntled you're bein' disgruntled. It's a disgruntlement feedback loop. “If you don't care about your own health, you can't complain when someone else does it for you,” he says.
And that's the straight up stupidest thing you've heard all day. “What, ya think I don't care 'bout stayin' alive?”
“If you did care about staying alive, you'd go to bed earlier.”
“You haven't even not-rolled-out lunch yet!” And ya punctuate that by pointin' at the window, which is livin' up its whole not-opaqueness by lettin' beaucoup sunlight stream through it.
“If it was any earlier,” ya say, “it'd be darker.”
Rinnosuke's jawline goes real rigid for a sec. Then he goes: “There's nothing wrong with just keeping it in mind for now. You're still recovering, after all.”
“I'm comin' off a fever, Mac—I'm not dyin'. Whaddya think's gonna happen—like, I'm gonna relapse and snuff it right there on your floor if I stay up too late?”
Ya mean it as a gag, but Rinnosuke keeps doin' the jaw thing. “It's not inconceivable,” he says, slow, like he thinks ya don't get it. “Your fever was bad, and you're weaker now than you were before you got sick. If you get sick again, so soon...”
He trails away.
“You're makin' like I was on death's door,” ya say. “I mean, yo, thanks for worryin', but my fever went down on its own, remember? Ya went all up outta your way to pick up that powder stuff from the doc's—and also thanks for that, by the way; that's goin' way up on my Rinnosuke Morichika appreciation list for sure—but I didn't even need any of it. My body beat down that whole bein'-sick deal on its own, no problemo.”
“You don't know that!”
And now Rinnosuke looks...
He looks like that disgruntlement is reachin' its limit. Like he's gettin' ready to trade it in for some other emotion, like annoyed. And that's ridiculous, 'cause what's he doin', considerin' bein' annoyed? If there's anyone who deserves to be annoyed, it's you.
And then ya are annoyed, actually, just outta considerin' 'im considerin' bein' annoyed. It's the feedback loop concept all over again.
[ ] You're not finished. You've gotta keep stuffin' whatcha need to say into Rinnosuke's braincase till he gets it. [ ] You're one bad itch away from snarlin' in this dude's direction. You've gotta get outta this place—just for a sec. [ ]
[X] You're one bad itch away from snarlin' in this dude's direction. You've gotta get outta this place—just for a sec.
“That's it, Mac—I'm checkin' out.”
Rinnosuke goes from near-annoyed to something else in no time flat. Surprise, maybe. With an infusion of something sorta related to horror, 'cept not exactly. “It's too dangerous to navigate the forest on your own,” he goes, speedy quick.
“Who said anything 'bout navigatin'?” ya say. And then ya close your eyes and huff sharp outta your nose to get the angry chemicals out. “Look, I'm not actually headin' anywhere—I've just gotta get a thing of fresh air, toot sweet.” And the dude still looks leery, so ya add: “I'm just gonna hang out the door, dig? If ya seriously think something's gonna hook me from around the corner in a bad way, just yank my shirt or something.”
“If something 'hooks' you, I may not have the chance,” Rinnosuke says, but ya keep lookin' at 'im and he presses his lips real tight and turns back over to his knickknacks and doodads. That's acquiescence.
Ya weren't lyin', of course. This isn't one of those books or flicks where the hero—that's you—hightails it into the danger zone 'cause they're real PO'd about their circumstances, requirin' the secondary lead to bust in with a nick-of-time rescue. Ya get it. This is a real sketchy kinda locale, and if ya don't watch it, either ya might die slow walkin' 'round in circles till ya dry out—or ya might die fast when something sees ya walkin' 'round in circles and decides that Christie masala's back on the menu. Yeah, sure, maybe the world's not gonna end if ya suffer a sudden existence failure (though the decrease in awesome outta nowhere would totally be appreciable), but if it's all long-run equal, ya seriously don't wanna cease anytime immediate. Ya said you'd be stickin' to the door, and you're gonna stick to the door.
Plus, also, it's not like there's anything foresty out there to unstick yourself for anyways. Rinnosuke's pad would be a bigger draw for sightseein' than the place it's in—at least he's got the whole mélange of goodies to ooh and aah at. He could appeal to the tourist crowd, maybe, lettin' the Outside dudes peer at the Gensokyo stuff and the Gensokyo dudes goggle at the Outside stuff and then extractin' all their wallet contents once he's got 'em reeled in proper. Comparin' that to this, what's anyone gonna look at outdoors? Trees? 'Cause if a dude wants to look at trees, there's a lot of trees.
You're not a dude that wants to look at trees, 'specially now. Maybe if you were not-here, you'd have some real deep thoughts 'bout the leaves changin' color and decidin' they want a divorce from this polyamorous deal the trees've got set up, but the only thing the whole arboral ritual is bringin' to mind at the mo is the fact that it was September the time ya woke up in the wrong place, and now it's not.
So, yeah. Bummer. And time to pack it up and get back in, prolly. You're not feelin' any better—notin' the whole not-Californianess of your sitch isn't gonna cheer ya up anytime soon—but if you were anywhere on the road to snarliness while you were arguin' with Rinnosuke, now you're not. Or at least, the snarliness isn't gonna go Rinnosukewise, which is almost sorta as good. Ya puff into your hands to prep 'em for doorknobhandlin', and—
And what the hackmatack's that? Other than your spine lockin' up, ya mean.
Okay, Christie, get a grip. If you were gonna get Jurassic Wu'd out here, prolly there wouldn't be an announcement first. Ya hold a tick—just enough for your heartbeat and breathin' to get back to easy—and turn 'round. “'Sup?”
The dude standin' at the edge of where Rinnosuke's curtilage starts runnin' out is not a raptor. Raptors don't wear suspenders and red pants, for starters. Also they're a lot less in the hair department.
“Rinnosuke in?” the not-a-raptor says.
[ ] How 'bout this suspicious red-pantsed dude expounds first? [ ] Guess Rinnosuke's puttin' out the welcome mat. [ ]
[X] How 'bout this suspicious red-pantsed dude expounds first?
Still, just 'cause they're not a raptor, doesn't mean they oughta just get let in. “Who's askin'?” ya say.
Red Pants' eyes squinch up. “I'm asking.”
“And who're you?”
The dude doesn't say who's she. The dude waves her hand atcha like you're the hired help and she's one of those kindsa dudes who ends up on both sides of the guillotine when the revolution comes. “Look,” she says, “just go in and tell Rinnosuke Keine's friend's here, got it?”
“Yeah, sure. There a name I should drop?”
“You don't need a name,” Red Pants says. “Just go in and tell Rinnosuke that Keine's friend is here. He'll know who I mean.”
And if that doesn't sound hinky, that's 'cause it's so far off the scale it's left the whole concept of hinkiness off in the dust. “Yeah, no,” ya say. “I'm not tellin' Rinnosuke anything till I get a name. Like, at least.”
“And like I told you, you don't need a name. All you need to say is 'Keine's friend'. Rinnosuke will know who I am.”
“Look, I'm not sayin' you're wrong, but any dude can show up and go 'Keine's friend' at me. How do I know you're not, like, one of that Aya's dude's flunkies, itchin' for a scoop? Or maybe a rival shopkeep, tryin' to rub out the competition, and as soon as ya muscle your way in it's soap in a sock for Rinnosuke. Do ya have soap in a sock?”
“I don't have soap in a sock. Why would I have soap in a sock? And if I'm making up the 'Keine's friend' part, couldn't I just make up a name, too?”
You consider this. You consider this deep.
“Well?” says Red Pants.
“So it's not a perfect system,” you admit.
Red Pants looks like the only thing keepin' her eyes from rollin' is the eyelids holdin' 'em tight. “So are you going to tell him I'm here now, or what?” she says.
“Yeah, sure. There a name I should drop?”
“Are you serious?”
Ya shrug. “Gotta start somewhere. And I don't 'zactly have your fingerprints on file.” Wait, is fingerprintin' even a thing here? When did that get into vogue? You'll ask it out with Rinnosuke later, maybe. “So, name?”
Red Pants' beaucoup-focused gaze could light up the shady side of the moon, maybe. “Keine's. Friend.”
And that's whatcha call a stalemate. You can stare at 'er starin' ya down all ya like, and she can stare atcha starin' 'er down all she likes, but unless she gives ground this ish's gone as far as it's ever gonna go. And ya mean “as far as it's ever gonna go”. Maybe in times past this dude coulda just bust into the place like she owned it, but now she's gotta contend with you mannin' the pad.
'Cause this is something you can do for Rinnosuke lettin' ya lodge here, at least. While he's busy tinkerin' with bits and pieces from the Outside, you'll be the one watchin' his back. The eternal doorkeep. The durwan at the end of the world.
“I'm just going to go in and talk to Rinnosuke myself,” Red Pants says.
“What?” ya say. “I mean—yo, ya can't do that.”
“Are you going to stop me?”
Ya don't answer direct, but ya stretch yourself out 'cross over the door like a dude spiderweb.
Red Pants' eyes narrow to the narrowest, and her fingers twitch, but she doesn't step off from where she's standin', and you don't, either. You can feel it, chokin' up the air between ya—a tension in the air, like the smell of a storm 'bout to blow in and wreck someone's day but serious. Whatever's gonna happen, it might come down to the first move.
Ya stare at 'er, starin' ya down. She stares atcha, starin' 'er down.
And then ya dive for it as Cirno does some sorta flyin' limb thing at your head. “What the flippin' Karpathos?” ya yelp, a lot closer to the doorgap than ya were a tick ago.
Cirno scowls, hoppin' the dirt from the divot she's made in the forest floor. “You ducked,” she accuses.
“Yeah, no kiddin' I ducked. Were ya 'spectin' me to not duck?”
“It was supposta be a sneak attack! Course ya weren't supposta duck,” Cirno says. “You prolly only saw it comin' 'cause you're so sneaky.”
“Says the dude tryin' to make with the sneak attack in the first place.” More important than that: “Also plus I'm pretty sure that was totally not a sneak attack.”
Cirno looks atcha like you're the dunce. “Yeah it was. Didntcha hear me say 'sneak attack'?”
Okay, so maybe you were lucky not gettin' Wu'd after all. More important, though—ya table this sneak attack biz and get back to Red Pants before she remembers she's tryin' for a B&E here. If somebody'd woken ya up this morning with the news you'd be all up on sortie basically by noonish...
Well, actually, you'da been all, “Yo, do ya know something I don't? Or can ya tell the future? 'Cause if you can tell the future, that's either totally awesome or totally not awesome, dependin' on the level of deconstruction you're heftin' with it. Also, do I get home and see my family again? 'Cause, sorry for the whole selfish dude-can-see-the-future-I'ma-bother-'em-into-divination thing, but this is super-ultra-mega-buttloads important to me, so I feel like there's some justification here, maybe. I mean, it's less selfish than askin' for next week's lotto numbers, right? Or is there some observer-effect sorta deal where pickin' out the future changes how it all turns out? 'Cause if so, one, never mind, and two, bummer, dude.”
But that's also not important right now.
What's important right now is Cirno and Red Pants. And that's double the importance. You've gotta consolidate. “Red Pants, this is Cirno,” ya say.
Red Pants looks nonplussed. The one kinda “nonplussed”, not the other. “Are you talking to me?” she goes.
“Cirno,” ya say to an irate clodstompin' fairy, “this is Red Pants.”
“My name isn't 'Red Pants',” says Red Pants.
“Her name isn't 'Red Pants',” you admit, “but I dunno what her name is so that's what I'm callin' 'er tentative. Don't read a whole bunch into it. I coulda called her 'Pantalones Rojos' or 'She of the Carmine Trou'—”
“Her name's Mokou,” Cirno interrupts ya. “I already know who she is.”
“Hey, sweet—so, we all buddies here now, or what?”
“We're not buddies,” says Cirno.
“We're not buddies,” says Mokou.
See? Consolidation. And plus you got whatcha wanted, which was: “Yeah, okay, then—'Mokou,' she was all? I'ma drop that moniker over Rinnosuke's noggin and see how he reacts, so hold up here while I do that. Dig?” Ya reach to open the door, just enough to slipduck back into havin' a roof over your head—
“Hold on!” goes Cirno.
Ya freeze, touchin' the doorknob, even. Or now that your fingers're lingerin', ya guess it's more a doorhandle than a doorknob. It's a sorta knobby doorhandle, though, so ya fig it's a reasonable conflation. But like, where does a doorknob end and a doorhandle begin? That's important. So's Cirno pointin' atcha at the mo like some sorta crystalbacked Governor Moscow. “'Sup?” ya say.
This is prolly the wrong thing to say. Cirno's teeth clack, and you can see the pascals she's puttin' on 'em in the way her whole body goes rigid in the limbs. Her cheeks go—wait, is that carmine? Maybe that's carmine.
“That's it!” she goes atcha, real strong. “I letcha off easy last time 'cause ya went to sleep, and it wouldnta been fair to fight you when you were asleep, but you're not sleepin' now, are ya?”
“No?” ya say.
“No, you're not—so let's fight!”
And then Cirno puts out her hand, like she's pushin' against something, 'cept if she's pushin' against something the only something she's pushin' against you can see is air, which ya guess technically ya can't see at all, and the crystal things spikin' outta her back pulse, and her hands're mistin', and—
And her hands're mistin'?
And her hands're mistin', and the mistin' gets mistier, and Cirno's grinnin' all the way up her mug while she's standin' there, and you're standin' there, and her hands're mistin' over, and that's important, ya think, and there's this chill thatcha swear wasn't there a tick ago, something colder than cold, something like one of those winters where ya step outside outta your well-warmed indoors and the change of it cuts ya, trenchant, right down to the keest, 'cept this is different from that, even, 'cause instead of cuttin' ya the cold goes through ya like ya aren't even there, and there's a handful of mist she's got, breakin' out in shape and structure, and ya know that's important now, 'cept it reminds you of something, and—
And then the mist demists all of a sudden 'cause Mokou's gotten Cirno by the collar and made with the yankin', up and away.
“Lemme go!” says Cirno, flailin'.
“Yo,” ya say, as something twigs in your braincase, “were ya plannin' on blastin' me, just now? Was that what was with the hand thing?”
Mokou snorts. “'Blast'? That's a way to put it. Sure, she was going to blast you. And you just stood here.”
“Wow, okay. Rude?”
Cirno twists at the grip at her neck like she's bein' buddy-buddy with Ambrose Bierce. Her arms do their own kinda twistin', too, slappin' at the hands that don't belong to her, but those limbs're steadfast, straight up. “I wasn't gonna blast ya!” she protests.
“Oh,” ya say. “Okay. Less rude, I guess.”
“I was gonna freeze ya. That's different.”
“I'm takin' back the takin'-back. Actually rude. Actually totally rude.”
Mokou makes another kinda noise through her faceholes, this one less snortesque and more like she's approachin' completely done with the whole everything. “Look, just tell Rinnosuke who's here, alright?” she says. “I'll deal with this.”
“Yeah, no problem. 'Mokou', right?”
And ya dunno what Mokou means by 'deal with this', but also you're kinda not feelin' that sympathetic Cirnowise at the mo, anyways, so what riot act Mokou's got in mind for railin' Cirno with here you're all for, straight up. Dude the Smaller said she was gonna freeze ya—confirmation of that bein' a thing here, by the way—and maybe you've got too much skin in the game to offer an unbiased opinion but ya feel like arrivin' home with a few less phalanges than the last time you were in California would be kinda a serious bummer.
Seriously, someone call the fairy police here. Is there a fairy police?
And wonderin' on that (they'd have special fairy police uniforms, maybe), ya open the door and then close it again on the other side of it, and holler, “Yo, Rinnosuke—”
“I'm right here.”
He is, actually, standin' just to the side of the door where he's 'specially missable to a dude enterin', e.g., yours truly. “Yo,” ya say, a different kinda 'yo' this time. “Whaddya standin' there for? I figured you'd be tinkerin'.”
Rinnosuke just stares atcha for a tick, real quiet. And then he sighs and massages his mug, where it is between his brows. “I'm standing here in case I need to yank somebody's shirt,” he says.
“Oh,” ya say. Then ya grin, and whap the dude at the shoulder. “You're a A1 decent sorta dude, Mac. But I toldja I'd be alright, didn't I?”
“Somehow, it feels more like luck than anything else.”
“I'm just that awesome, is all. I've got permanent right-of-way, and the world yields. Anyways—the name 'Mokou' ring a bell?”
“If you're asking if I know Mokou, then yes. She's Keine's friend.”
“Huh. So she wasn't sellin' me something.”
“Yeah, she saved my bacon when Cirno decided to drop the Fahrenheit.”
“So, ya wanna see 'er? Or...”
Or judgin' how Rinnosuke's makin' tracks out the door, you've got the answer to that question pretty clear, actually. Ya follow 'im, out again—but then stop yourself by the door (like he was, 'cept on the other side of it) once ya see whatcha see.
'Cause a coupla yards this way's Cirno, lyin' face down in the dirt. She's been scuffed, like for serious, and her little fists spread out in front of her keep clenchin' and unclenchin', leavin' little clenchin'-and-unclenchin' trails in the dust.
And Rinnosuke takes a look at that mess, but only just, hitchin' in his stride for less than a sec even before gettin' back to gettin' to Mokou, there.
Ya almost don't catch it, but when ya look at Mokou Mokou's lookin' at you, and your eyes meet—but then that shifts off quick and she's watchin' an approachin' shopkeep instead, with an dead expression on her face like she's totally unrelated to whatever horrible fate coulda struck down a fairy in the prime of her fairiness while ya had your back turned.
So ya guess they're for corporal punishment in these parts, maybe.
[ ] But what sorta super-important matter is it that this Mokou dude's got to jaw 'bout? [ ] There's a fairy over here that just went through the wringer, and that's interestin'. [ ]
>>/gensokyo/13716 >Forest Mix because the MC is great (even though it is being a bit slow) You're a bit slow. (Just kidding. I was real tickled to see my story in the recommendations thread. Thanks.)
[X] Flip Cirno over so she isn't eating dirt. [X] Listen to Red Pants.
So what is it that Mokou was all ultra-eager to yak at Rinnosuke 'bout, anyways? You've gotten real curious—curious enough to drop all the eaves—but there're first things that've gotta be first, first, which is why ya head Cirnowise, instead. “Yo,” ya say, bendin' over a bit over her twitchin' fairiness.
Cirno doesn't answer, or stop bein' face down, even, but her dusty hands stop vascillatin' and decide that fists're where it's at, so prolly she can hear ya.
'Less, of course, she got her eardrums totally busted while ya weren't lookin', which is a possibility, you've gotta admit. She looked scuffed up in general back already from when you were standin' at the door, but now that you're all up close and personal ya realize it's more like she's actually ultra-super-scuffed. That blue dress she's donnin' has got some serious frayage that it didn't before, and those crystal spiky back things she's been luggin' 'round look like they're goin' through a bad time. Or the worst time.
Or like they caught a Dali painting or two and came away from the experience with some serious aspirations.
They're not actually crystally and not actually spiky anymore, is what you're sayin'. They're more melty. “Can ya hear me?” ya say.
Cirno's fists jerk at the wrist, like they've got places to go but can't figure out how to get goin'. Nothing concrete, in other words.
“If you can hear me, twitch a bit,” ya say.
Cirno twitches a bit.
That's half-relievin'. She's not deaf, at least, even though she could maybe still be a whole lotta other things. The idea of this dude havin' gotten impaired permanent sorta on your behalf is an idea that makes ya kinda ill the more ya think it. “Ya want me to turn ya over?” ya say.
Cirno mutters something ya miss entirely 'cause it's got too much ground in it.
“I'ma turn ya over. Tell me if ya want me to stop turnin' ya over.” Ya bend over more over, and roll over Cirno till her face-down's face up, careful not to touch her ex-crystal ex-spiky back things. “That better?” ya say, once you've got a full view straight of her mug.
Cirno doesn't tell ya that's better. Cirno looks ya on with an expression like she wants to rage and cry and upchuck in your general direction all at once.
Maybe try a different tack. “Are you okay?” ya ask.
“No,” Cirno says.
An answer. That's makin' progress. Maybe.
And ya don't know how to say whatcha wanna say next without actually sayin' it, so ya say it, just. “Those things comin' offa your back,” ya say. “They're kinda seriously busted up.”
“This kinda injury is nothing!” Cirno snaps atcha.
“Like nothing literal or nothing metaphorical?”
Your concern is not mollifyin' a dude's ire here. “Just you wait,” Cirno goes on. “I'm gonna get better, and when I do, I'm gonna freeze ya solid.”
“Cool,” ya say, and get disappointed when the pun goes over unappreciated. It's not anyone's fault, even. Gensokyo's just lackin' in English-speakin' ears. And seein' as Cirno's basically sorta alright, ya leave 'er lyin' and get over to where Rinnosuke and Mokou are still makin' all kindsa mouth sounds already.
It's Mokou who sees ya closin' in first, though, and she hauls shut her gawp before you're close enough to lean in an ear. Rinnosuke, catchin' on prolly with the way the dude he's chattin' with has suddenly given it up mid-sentence, does ditto and follows her gaze till it's the both of 'em starin' atcha like ya broke up a touchin' moment with an elbow drop.
“Yo,” ya say.
Mokou makes a neutral wordless acknowledgey sound, with a little bobby nod to go with it. She looks back at Rinnosuke. Rinnosuke, sensin' it, looks back at her. Mokou, catchin' Rinnosuke's sight, stops lookin' at Rinnosuke and looks at you again instead. Rinnosuke follows her gaze again and also again looks at you. Ya look at the both 'em, first Mokou and then Rinnosuke. Rinnosuke ducks your look and looks at Mokou, quick. Mokou, sensin' Rinnosuke lookin' at 'er like Rinnosuke sensed 'er lookin' at him, looks at Rinnosuke, then looks at you again.
“So,” Mokou says, “what was that about?”
“What was what about?” ya say.
“Cirno, trying to take it out on you like that,” Mokou says. “It's been a long time since I've seen her hold that much of a grudge. Usually she just gets beat up and leaves—she doesn't come back. What'd you say to her?”
“She lied!” Cirno interjects somewhere over your shoulder. “And she's a bully! She's a lyin' bully!”
Now Mokou's lookin' atcha like you're skatin' on thin ice, which totally hurts. Like, she's gonna take the word of the dude who tried to give you a flyin' boot to the head? “I am totally seriously not a bully,” ya say, quick.
“She's lyin' right now!”
“I'm not lyin', either—ya know, for a dude all crazy up in arms 'bout bullyin', you're real assiduous 'bout hectorin' me, ya notice that?”
“She told Rumia to run away when Marisa stopped by,” says Rinnosuke, low enough that Cirno's not gonna start screamin' in his direction. “Apparently, Rumia told Cirno, and Cirno misunderstood...”
“Huh,” Mokou says, and when she looks atcha now the maybe-you're-scum look is gone. Awesome. “So you're saying you helped Rumia.”
“Yeah! I mean—dude had serious objections to gettin' blasted, so when Marisa entered the pic I was all like, 'Rumia! Jet!'” Ya scramble for proof for a sec before ya remember it's right in front of ya. “Rinnosuke was there, too—Mac, you tell 'er!”
Mokou glances at Rinnosuke just long enough to catch the latter dude doin' his own bobby nod.
“See?” ya say. And maybe you're feelin' kinda PO'd at a fairy and this visitor dude puttin' on the spot, so ya grab the wheel while the driver's distracted by something happenin' on their smartphone (yo, dontcha know that's illegal in California?) and make a screechin' U-turn with this interrogation.
“And what's up with you?” ya say. “What're you all bangin' on Rinnsouke's door for?”
“I didn't get to knock on anyone's door, for some reason. Remember?”
“Same diff. With that whole mysterious Keine's-friend production you were displayin', ya had to have some mondo-super-important reason, right?”
Mokou doesn't answer ya immediate. She gazes atcha for a bit, and even though her eyes aren't movin' up and down it feels a lot like they're movin' up and down, and also like maybe she's not totally A-OK with what she's seein' here. And then she's all:
“I guess I wanted to see what kind of person Rinnosuke was borrowing from Keine for.”
Hey. Yo. What?
Rinnosuke looks pained.
“Anyway,” Mokou says, “I got what I wanted, so I'll leave now. Want me to tell Keine anything for you when I see her?” And she's back to speakin' not to you again.
Rinnosuke still looks pained. And also like something with too many teeth is chewin' his legs up while it's super-imperative he stay cool. “If you would thank her again—that would be nice,” he says.
Mokou nods one for the road, and stalks off.
And then pauses, when she gets to Cirno.
And then she picks up Cirno (to the dude's indignant protestin'), hauls 'er over her shoulder (ditto), and continues stalkin' till she's all stalked off.
So that happened.
Or actually, no way you can cover that with just “so that happened”, not when that dude let something so seriously significant slip just now. “Yo, Mac.”
Rinnosuke freezes from where he's tryin' to stealth back into the shop. “Yes?” he says.
“What was that about?”
“What was what about?”
Yo, is Rinnosuke tryin' to play dumb? Rinnosuke's tryin' to play dumb. There's no way he seriously thinks that's gonna work, right? “The part where she was all, 'This is the dude you've been borrowin' from Keine from,'” ya say. “That 'that'. What was that about?”
“Keine lent me some money recently,” Rinnosuke says. “That's all.” And he ducks inside before he's done talkin', even, like that's gonna save 'im.
Yeah, right. You're on his back all the way, like some kinda tenacious metaphorical monkey. “She sorta straight out said ya borrowed it for me, though,” ya point out. “So I'ma say it again, Mac: What's up with that?”
You can see it when it happens. Rinnosuke kinda just goes soft up the spine, his shoulders droopin', his head turnin' so he doesn't hafta look ya straight on. It's him givin' in. “You were sick,” he says. “I just needed some money to buy some medicine. That's all.”
That's the second time he's that's-all'd in sixty seconds, and ya believe it only a little more the second time 'round, i.e. basically ya don't. Or at most the amount's zilchesque. “Ya shouldn't hafta take out a loan for a bottle of aspirin, though,” ya say, totally strategically demolishin' his testimony.
Rinnosuke blinks atcha. “'Aspirin'?”
The look Rinnosuke gives ya indicates you are something like the opposite of helpin'.
“For headaches and fevers,” ya 'splain. “Ya get it outta any dinky drugstore, straight off the shelf, and then plonk down like five bucks for it at the counter, easy. Nothing worth mortgagin' for, Mac—ya dig?”
“I think some people would be annoyed at you comparing Eientei's clinic to a 'dinky drugstore'.”
“So it takes up a buncha that mansion space? Loadsa aspirin?”
“It's less the quantity of the medicine at the clinic and more the quality,” Rinnosuke says. His brows scrunch up. “Your aspirin—does it have side effects?”
It sounds like Rinnosuke's circlin' a point, so ya beat down the urge to tell 'im it's not your aspirin. “Sure,” ya say. “Ya don't wanna give it to kids too young, 'cause their livers can get all busted up.”
“And it doesn't always work, either.”
“Yeah, no. Sometimes ya down a coupla things and it's a no-go anyways.”
“And that is the main respect in which the medicine from the clinic at Eientei differs,” Rinnosuke says. “As long as the instructions are followed precisely—medicine from Eientei always works, and medicine from Eientei never has any side effects.”
His voice is low, like a dude wrappin' up a scary story, ready to spring the last gruesome punchline and watch the mugs 'round the campfire twist in shock as the whole tale reframes itself.
“The cost,” Rinnosuke says, “reflects this.”
“So ya took out a loan?” ya say.
Rinnosuke blinks atcha again, and it's like an end parenthesis, the drama switchin' off like that. “It's not as if I borrowed from a loan shark or anything like that,” he says. “It's Keine. And in any case, it isn't as if I make a habit of borrowing money from anyone. It should be alright, just this once.”
“Not my point, Mac. Ya shouldnta had to beg anyone for green at all.” There's so much severely messed up with what he's sayin' right now that you're findin' it almost kinda hard to start 'splainin' the ish you've got here. “Okay, like—is the budget seriously that thin that ya don't have the moola for medicine?”
“I don't usually put aside money any more than what's needed for immediate necessities,” Rinnosuke admits. “And I don't find all my merchandise myself, so when I go to the village...”
“Ya went to the village?” And he didn't take you?
“Only once since you began staying here—to borrow the money.”
Okay, yeah, that's alright, then. Can't 'spect the dude to drag ya delirious all the way to wherever it is. Ya feel sorta like a heel, too—this dude's been nothing but awesome, and the first thing ya think is maybe he's sneakin' out and playin' saboteur 'gainst your tryin'-to-get-back-home efforts or something. “Yo, Mac,” ya say, and you're slippin' into serious yourself. “Can I ask you a question?”
“No, I mean, like, a serious question. Like a you've-gotta-answer-this-straight-up-honest question.”
Rinnosuke's expression gets serious appropriate. “I'm listening,” he says.
“Is it that the budget's throttled—or am I the dude throttlin' the budget?”
The fact that Rinnosuke has to pause before workin' his vocal cords is pretty answery on its own. “It does cost more to feed two mouths than one, but I don't eat much anyway,” he says. “Didn't you notice that yourself?”
Forget bein' a heel—a heel's something you can lean on. And meanwhile at the other end of the body there's something climbin' up your sinuses, something like nausea 'cept not exactly. “Ya shouldnta gotten me that kinda medicine,” ya say, and that is totally the wrong thing to say and ya know it's the wrong thing to say and you're sayin' it anyways and ya can't stop sayin' stuff. “I woulda turned out peachy with a coupla generic tablets, or just regular bedrest and waterin', even. Blowin' a chunk of someone else's cold cash—ya get it, right? Ya didn't hafta do it for me.”
“I didn't quite do it for you.”
And now it's your turn to do the kinda stupefied blinkin'. 'Cause yo: Huh?
“When you became sick,” Rinnosuke says, and then he stops, and for a tick his whole face does like he's makin' friends with a lemon, or some lemons, or maybe all the lemons, even. “When you became sick,” he says again, and the pause's in the same place, and he can't get over the hump at all.
He won't look atcha straight. Ya move your face, and he turns his off away.
“I'd forgotten,” he says, real quiet. “Or rather, I'd let myself forget. Human beings are much more fragile than youkai.”
And that just hangs there, in the shopspace. Too long and takin' up too much room.
“Ya wanna unpack that?” ya say, and maybe ya don't sound so fierce either.
Rinnosuke sighs, but his back goes a little straighter, the whole dude stumblin' back towards the mean between lecturin' Rinnosuke and the other Rinnosuke, the one that slipped out just now that you dunno what to do with and maybe Rinnosuke doesn't either, if just shuttin' the door on it doesn't count. “Youkai and human beings may look similar, but they're fundamentally different,” he says. “A youkai is primarily a spiritual being. In other words, if you injured a youkai with a normal weapon, it's more likely that they would be able to fully recover, regardless of the initial extent of the injury.”
You remember Cirno sayin' her back things were gonna get fine. Or implyin' it, at least. “So gettin' sick's the same?” ya ask.
“There aren't many illnesses that affect both human beings and youkai,” Rinnosuke says. “And I'm somewhat resistant to most illnesses myself.”
“So ya panicked.”
“It's something like that.”
“So ya panicked,” ya say.
And Rinnosuke does another kinda face, but he doesn't say “no”.
“Okay,” ya say. “Yeah, okay.” Ya put your hand up through your hair, tryin' to think up something to say next, but all you're gettin' past bupkis is that you're overdue for a haircut, and you're not gonna say that. Rinnosuke peeled his skin back just now, just for a tick, just enough for you to catch something ya don't know what it was. Ya can't leave 'im hangin'. Ya won't leave 'im hangin'.
“Someday I'm gonna die,” ya say.
Rinnosuke looks alarmed. Maybe ya shoulda left him hangin'.
Or wait, no, you can save this. “I mean—yo, check it, Mac. We've all gotta bite the big one someday, dig? I mean, it's not like I wanna buy the farm, not till I'm full up prepared to join the choir invisible, obvs—but when a dude's clock winds down and it's time to kick the bucket, there's nothing much they can do 'cept croak.”
Rinnosuke's alarm's handed off the baton to some kinda amazed wonder. “Do all of those mean 'to die'?” he says.
“There's also 'bite the dust', 'start a worm farm', and 'snuff it'. It's a doozy of a lang I'm metaphrasin', Mac. The point is—” 'cause idiomology is totally awesome but not your groove right now, “—yeah, maybe if ya strap me to a bed and stick a tube down my throat and pour all your not-mercurial miracle drugs through me, maybe I'll live longer than I woulda lived otherwise. But that's not really livin'. Does that makes sense? No, but for serious, does anything I just said make sense? 'Cause I'm actually sorta playin' the whole speech by ear, here.”
For a way lengthy sec, all ya get outta Rinnosuke is him starin' atcha with eyes that make ya think maybe you're gonna hafta resort to tossin' bromides, here—they're not really clichés if he doesn't know 'em yet, right? But then he closes those eyes and whoa, actually, maybe ya kinda liked the starin' better, 'cause now he looks like he'd be sighin' again 'cept for that he filled up his sighin' quota already and now he doesn't have anything left in 'im to bother, even. It's heavy.
“It makes sense,” he says. “And I understand.”
“Well, y'know—it's good thatcha understand, I guess.”
He doesn't say anything after that.
Ya did it wrong.
“And plus also I'm sorry,” ya say in a rush.
The eyes open again. That's a good thing, right? “What are you apologizing for?” he asks.
“You know—for gettin' super-irate atcha just 'cause you were lookin' after me. I just felt trapped, Mac, dig? Like, I'm trapped in Gensokyo, yeah, but then it was like also I was trapped in the shop. And then I got down with the sickness involuntary, so I was trapped in bed. Like some matryoshka of traps, or something.”
Rinnosuke tilts up his head. “'Matryoshka'?”
“Doesn't matter.” Ya wave your hand away, in the direction of the not-matterin'. “Look. Listen. Even if I felt like a dude in a box, I shouldnta spewed all that junk talk in your face, not the way I did. So—I'm sorry.”
“That's fine,” says Rinnosuke in a way thatcha don't actually know if it's fine or not, and he turns off to do his own thing.
So that's an okay way for this to end, right?
The dude stops, and makes back again. “Yes?”
“Yo, Mac, but—I toldja before, right? That I appreciate?”
“You have mentioned that.”
Yeah, all the verbal irony here, prolly. That's fine. You can take it. “Well, I'm not just playin' lip service here,” ya say. “Like—do ya understand how awesome you are to me? Like, you coulda squashed me under your thumb first day under your roof and I wouldnta had a choice 'cept to comply with it, but ya didn't, and ya don't. You're awesome. Real awesome. Totally awesome, okay? So—thanks. Thanks a lot.”
And that's that, and ya keep lookin' at Rinnosuke, hopin' for a change here, somewhere, somehow, but it's not happenin' and Rinnosuke isn't anywhere as anything as ya hoped he was gonna be.
“I thought you would have used more words than that.”
Or yo, what?
“Yo, what?” ya say.
“Those words you string together, every time you want to stress something,” Rinnosuke says. “How did they go? 'Super ultra'? 'Mega super'?”
Ya goggle. Then ya gape. And then something coughs outta your lungs that isn't a cough. “Hey, yeah, ya got it, Mac! No problemo!” ya say. “You're—you're super awesome! Mega-awesome! Ultra-hyper-mondo-megalo-crazy awesome—How's that?”
“Better, I suppose.”
And maybe it's your brain paintin' pictures, but ya think maybe ya see the corner of his lips quirk.
You're hitchin' your own smile muscles up your face so tight you're gonna pull itself apart, but it feels like you're relaxin'.
Ya pause. Ya pause 'cause this is important. This is super important, and also ya pause 'cause pausin' gives more time for the rice to cool off. It's good-lookin' rice, and also good-tastin' rice if all the rice you've chowed down already on so far is anything outta which to draw a trend, but also it's fresh rice, which means also also it's hot rice that's steamin' itself up in front of you, which makes it uneatable.
Or, well, ya could eat it, but it'd be real painful and unenjoyable and overall a bummer. So ya won't.
The table across, Rinnosuke looks ya over his own bowls of rice and also not-rice and also fish. He's workin' his chopsticks in the last one, like he's preppin' to fill his facehole with dinner already but also thinkin' better of it at the same time. His specs've already gone foggy once.
Dude keeps glancin' atcha. Prolly 'cause ya stopped.
“Okay, so,” ya go again. “My mom's Japanese. Like, born in Japan and everything, which is how I can do all this Japanesin' atcha super great. Basically, she was all like, 'Christie. Bilingualism? Totally awesome. Get on that.' Ya followin' so far?”
Rinnosuke does that sorta mouth-openin'-head-tiltin' thing people do when they're gonna say a thing, 'cept they dunno how 'zactly they're gonna say it.
“I'm kinda paraphrasin',” you admit.
“That is...not what I was going to say.”
Oh. Huh. Well. “Anyways,” ya get on, “Mom was Japanese. And as a Japanese dude, she ended up eatin' all kindsa Japanese food. 'Cause...default. Dig?”
His chopsticks do, at least. “Just continue,” Rinnosuke says. “If we come to a part I don't understand, I'll let you know.”
“I'm countin' on that, Mac. Anyways, Mom came over to California, 'cause reasons, and as soon as she got transpacific, it was like also she got Damascened too. 'Cept metaphorically, I mean, 'cause Damascus and Japan're actually on the same continent. Like, Japan's here, obvs, and Syria's way over that way—which way's west?”
Rinnosuke extends a pointer finger in a manner that is kinda limp.
“Right. That's where ya get Damascened literal. And sometimes metaphorical, too, but it's the same continent as Japan so ya can't get there over the Pacific unless ya wanna go the crazy long way. Get it?”
Rinnosuke does the thing again. Then he says, “Do you remember when I said I'd let you know if we came to a part I didn't understand?”
“We've passed that point.”
“Okay, okay, lemme sum up, Mac.” Ya squinch your eyes and do some casual jazz hands. That's the body lang for when a dude needs a sec to get things in order real quick mental. “So my Mom's Japanese.”
And that's when Marisa bashes her way through the front door, her arms fulla something long and bent and seriously thrashin'.
“Rinnosuke! Quick! Hold this down for me!”
Rinnosuke's chopsticks freeze. “What.”
And then the thrashin' thing gets Marisa in the chops, and she gives out a cry and loses her grip and falls over, leavin' a sitzmark in the shop dust and the thrashin' thing twitchin' and jerkin' ditto.
“What,” Rinnosuke notes again.
[ ] There's a witch that got knocked over. Maybe ya oughta help 'er up? [ ] What's this twitchin' jerkin' thrashin' thing, anyways? [ ] Okay, this looks like alotta trouble. You're stayin' right here. With the food. [ ]
[x] What's this twitchin' jerkin' thrashin' thing, anyways?
>>28743 The plural of "viruses" is, of course, "viruseses".
The plural of virus would be virūs. Thus, "viruses", "cestuses", "fetuses", "nexuses", "sinuses", "lotuses", "anuses", "consensuses". (Not that "consensuses" looks like a word to me either, but what the hell.)
>>28823 Yeah, that "plural of 'viruses'" bit was a typo and ought to be "plural of 'virus'". When I noticed what I'd done later, when everyone had already voted and it was too late to change it, I spent a good time feeling I ought to drown myself in the sink.
Anyway, according to what I've managed to pull up, "vīrus" (which didn't actually mean "virus" back then, obviously) was a mass noun, which meant it didn't have a distinct plural form. At least, in Classical Latin. In Neo-Latin, where people who spoke Neo-Latin actually used it to talk about viruses, the plural was "vīra".
Though the point is moot, of course, because Christie doesn't know from Latin past "et cetera" and in any case doesn't care to. She's of the view that it ought to stay dead, even if everything sounds heavier if you slip in a few "ests" and "nons" and "sics".
[X] What's this twitchin' jerkin' thrashin' thing, anyways?
The twitchin' jerkin' thrashin' thing seems somewhere almost as nonplussed, slowin' its all-of-the-above as it senses that the dude who had a hold of it a sec ago doesn't anymore. It slows its rockin'—not totally, 'cause it's still rockin' and a-rollin' and movin' and a-groovin' and all that, but now it's not bein' so vivace 'bout it. More like it got a nasty shock or something, and now it won't stop reelin' with the feeling.
You've gotta side with Rinnosuke one this one, though, 'cause even if you can tell what this thing's doin', that's zip in the way of identification. The most you can tell is brown, and haired, and one end endin' in something knobby, and the other end not so much endin' as fadin' away which is a real bad trip so ya stop looking, quick, and...something in the middle like a big bulbous joint? It bends like one, anyways. “So, what's up with that?” ya put out there.
Marisa looks like she's gonna ask ya what “what” ya mean, till ya dip your eyes and she follows the dotted line. “Oh, this,” she says, pickin' herself up and dustin' off the dust on her duds. “That's a horse's leg.”
And on one hand, now thatcha hear it, that thing on the more endy end does look pretty ungulate, but on the other hand now you've got even more questions. Like “what”, and “how”, and “why”, for example. Ya look back at Rinnosuke, tryin' to beam 'em into his brain with questionvision.
“It's a youkai,” Rinnosuke says.
Yo—are ya psychic for reals? Or maybe he's psychic. “So is 'horse's leg' just the moniker, or...”
“No, it's actually a horse's leg.”
Okay, you're not gonna say that's weird, but—no, yeah, that's weird. That's totally weird. All of the weird, straight out. “Where's the rest of the horse?” ya ask, before realizin' Rinnosuke prolly wouldn't know, considerin' he's been in-shop and preppin' to feed. Better idea: Ask the dude who actually dragged in the thing.
“Where's the rest of the horse?” ya reask—Marisawise this time.
Marisa's sorta distracted at the sec, though. Marisa's skirtin' 'round the halfheartedly buckin' horse's leg like she's tryin' to sneak up on it, and ya think maybe failin' which is real concernin' considerin' the target's got no eyes. “What?” she says.
“Where's the rest of the horse?” ya threepeat.
“There's no 'rest of the horse',” Marisa says. “It's just the leg.”
Ya glance at Rinnosuke, who nods real slight, confirmin'.
“Okay, yeah, but where'dja get the leg?” ya ask. “Didja lopside a Beetwek or something? Delimb a whole troika? Is some dude gonna check out his stable tomorrow and find out they got a Khartoumin' from Down Under?”
Marisa looks at you. She looks at Rinnosuke.
“She's asking if you cut off a horse's leg,” Rinnosuke says.
“I'm askin' if ya cut off a horse's leg,” ya say.
“I didn't cut off a horse's leg,” says Marisa. “I told you—it's just the leg.” And punctuatin' that, she dives.
And also she misses, 'cause the leg holds it till the absolute last moment before bendin' at the knee ('cause there's not much else it's got to bend) and springin' 'cross the shop and outta Marisa's grasp floor like a bar of soap skiddin' 'cross a bathtub. It lands in a pyramid of unsorted books, knockin' 'em down in prolly the most illegal strike ever, and Marisa lands on her elbows.
Rinnosuke sucks air through his teeth in a wince you can hear.
“Dude,” ya say, “you alright?”
Marisa refeets, brushin' away the scuff marks. “I told you to hold it down,” she grouses.
“Marisa, take the horse's leg out of the shop now.” And that's Rinnosuke, who'd maybe sound more commandin' if his voice wasn't so high.
“But Kourin—I just got hurt. Aren't you supposed to sympathize with me?”
Rinnosuke doesn't answer. He's only got eyes for the horse's leg doin' its wary twitchin' and thumpin' in a bed of hardbacks. It does a particularly fierce kick at a skimmin' sorta angle—
And there's the sound of something becomin' multivolume.
Rinnosuke changes color. “Marisa!”
“I get it, I get it. But don't just stand there—help me catch it!”
That's an invite that's got “bad idea” in blinkin' neon all over it. You've never been kicked in the head by a horse before, which is an experience you're real uneager to cross off your list, seein' as most dudes where ya come from're generally susceptible to that sorta thing. Like, sometimes it kills 'em, even. And that horse is all leg, which means that if there's one thing it's got serious practice in, prolly kickin' is it.
On the other hand, Rinnosuke's got a look like his heart's breakin'. And ya live here, at the mo, which means you've got an interest that's kinda vested re: hopin' hoof-shaped holes don't start developin' in the walls for whatever reason.
Which is how ya become the leery accomplice in this sitch, strafin' with your arms out like you're playing soccer from either end of the field, tryin' to keep the hoppin' horse fraction from gettin' anywhere substantial without havin' to get too close up to the horse part yourself. Ya look dumb, prolly. Ya feel dumb. But seein' as ya haven't 'zactly got your trusty pickelhaube with ya, lookin' and feelin' dumb's just something you're gonna hafta stand.
No, but seriously, a proper helmet'd be beaucoup handy right about now. Even just something bicycular. Thing about helmets? They save lives.
“There! Quick, grab it!”
And then the leg's leggin' it right atcha, which is exactly whatcha didn't want happenin' here, and if there's anything even vaguely buckarooish in your heritage you'd seriously like it to kick in sometime in the next coupla milliseconds—
There's alotta pain, real suddenly, and the whole shop goes over sideways-up.
So yeah the third. Total cowboynessless? Confirmed. All of the confirmed, even.
“Got it!” Marisa's voice floats in from somewhere 'cross the universe. “Hey—you okay? You got hit hard.”
Ya tilt your head at an ugly degree. The floor's on the wrong side of your face, but you can see Marisa pinnin' down a lengthy mass of herky-jerk in a hold that'd look at home in the ring. “A mostly horseless horse leg just got me in the guts,” ya groan. “I'm groovy.”
“Is it bad?” Marisa says. “Rinnosuke—”
The horse leg, sensin' a split in attention, breaks into some sudden fresh thrashin', but Marisa's got this whole thing on lock, now, apparently. All she's gotta do is readjust her grip and even you can tell that leg's goin' nowhere, and you're at the wrong angle for tellin' anything exact at the mo.
“Rinnosuke,” Marisa goes again.
Rinnosuke doesn't answer, but you can hear his footsteps, comin' straight atcha from the other end of the universe till he's standin' right over ya. You don't see 'im standin'—your head's still angled elsewhere, watchin' Marisa wear less than a quarter of a horse down into submission—but ya feel 'im standin', in that weird almost-psychic way dudes feel things sometimes. And ya feel it, too, when he kneels down, even closer.
And then ya feel 'im liftin' your shirt and yo, and that's a totally different kinda feelin' altogether and yo, what?
“Hands off the merch, Mac!” ya snap, battin' 'im off. “Ya want me turnin' ya inside-out, or what?”
“I'm checking your injuries,” Rinnosuke says, like he's bein' the reasonable dude here. “Hold still.”
“It's not the injury-checkin' I've got problems with, it's the gettin' deshirted outta nowhere. Haventcha ever heard of askin'?”
Rinnosuke gives ya a look that's almost the Look. Like the Look's younger brother, or something. And then, tone flat utterly, like he's walkin' the party line and doesn't like it much, he says, “'May I lift your shirt.'”
“Yeah, fine, Mac. But no hinky business, dig?”
“I'm checking your stomach. That's all,” Rinnosuke says. He pulls the hem end up again, resumin' checkin', and ya don't know what he's doin', exactly, seein' as you're sprawled out all funny on his floor, but ya feel it real clear when the dude prods at your gut in a spot you'd rather not've gotten prodded. That's a sore spot comin' in, most def.
“So what's the verdict, Mac? Appendicitis?” ya ask.
You can see Rinnosuke rollin' his eyes, even though he's not really rollin' his eyes. He looks over your head Marisawise, just for a sec, then back to you. “You should be fine,” he says. “It's only a bruise.”
“Ya can't know that for sure, though,” ya point out. “It's just day one, gettin' socked in the stomach. Then maybe it's appendicitis, peritonitis, 'Rosabelle, believe'—if my worm bursts, I'm in a whole lotta trouble here, Mac.”
Rinnosuke's lips press out this way and that way for a sec. “If your 'worm' bursts—” he says, then starts again. “If you feel any more pain than this, tell me, and I'll see that you get to Eientei.”
“Eientei?” ya say.
“They should be able to take care of you there.”
“That's not what I'm worryin' 'bout, Mac. Didntcha already pass mad stacks for that antipyretic?”
“Cash, Mac, I'm talking cash—”
“More importantly—” Marisa cuts in, “Rinnosuke, have you got any rope? I don't want this thing to get loose again.” She's up to sittin' now, cradlin' the leg like it's some kinda mutant horse leg baby. The leg itself's gone limp, and ya don't think it's playin' possum this time—you've never seen a dazed leg before, but that's a dazed leg, no doubt about it.
“Rope,” Rinnosuke mutters. “I should have some somewhere.” And the dude lifts off, leavin' you on the ground and the whole frivolous spendin' ish incomplete in favor of rummagin'. He sticks his arm in one crate, elbow-deep, and ya still don't know how he tells one crate from another. “What is it that you're planning with that leg, anyway?” he asks.
“Remember that homunculus?” says Marisa.
Rinnosuke goes still. His head turns, slow and level, till he's lookin' at Marisa direct. When his voice comes out it's hesitant, like he's anticipatin' a bad punchline. “Yes?”
“Well, I don't know if you remember exactly, but my last try came out a lot runnier than it was supposed to.”
“I can't see how I could possibly forget.”
“Dude misses his toaster,” ya point out.
“It took days to clean up, afterward,” Rinnosuke adds. He goes back to diggin', and then stops diggin' and starts pullin' instead, comin' out with something long, flexible, and overall rope-esque.
Too bad it's a power cord.
“I've got it this time, though,” Marisa says. “Last time I thought I added too much horse stuff, but now I think I was wrong. It's that I didn't use the right kind of horse stuff that was the problem. If you want to make something weird, you've got to use weird ingredients, right?”
“You mean the horse's leg,” Rinnosuke says distractedly.
“No,” Marisa says. “I mean, not just the horse's leg,” Marisa says. “I probably can't make a homunculus with just a horse's leg. But I've got a lot of stuff left from that box I found, and I've been making things at home, too. It's a matter of putting it all together.”
Rinnosuke mutters something that's prolly not actually words in response as he goes on unloadin' odds and ends in search of the mysterious rope, and Marisa, lookin' real pleased at that last flourish of hers, lapses in quiet, smilin' at nothing and everything at once, but mostly at Rinnosuke's back.
The horse leg in her tight, no-escape grip twitches, and you're still on the floor.
Ya oughta take care of that.
[ ] Homunculus? This is the sorta crazy magic science you can subscribe to! [ ] No, but for serious, dude needs to leggo the leg already. It's not hers. [ ] If this dog-eat-dog sitch's the norm in Magic Bubble Land, maybe ya shouldn't get mixed up in it. [ ]
[X] Homunculus? This is the sorta crazy magic science you can subscribe to!
But instead, ya go, “So, whaddya gonna do now?”
Marisa smiles real cheery atcha 'round a buncha disconnected horse. “I already told ya, right?” she says. “As soon I tie this up, I'm taking it back home. Patchouli gave me some books on homunculi and shikigami—”
“'Gave'?” says Rinnosuke outta his crate, lookin' the Plinian ostrich.
“Okay, so she lent me some books—”
“She'll get them back eventually,” says Marisa, and ya guess that's more in line with Rinnosuke's Rinnospectations, 'cause the dude doesn't interrupt a third time. “Anyway,” says Marisa, “I've got some pretty good ideas on how to mix this leg in with all the other stuff I've got. And this is a lot of leg, so I can even mess up a few times and it'll still be fine!”
“Sweet!” And ya mean that, actually. Marisa's beamin' out some kinda excitement here, and you're findin' it all sortsa infectious. “Though, gotta ask—you're makin' a homunculus here.”
“Not here,” says Marisa. “I don't have everything I need here. That's why—”
Something dangly and limp and long drops in front of your face—and then straight down, coilin' itself over and over again as it hits the floor. For a sec part of your brain's thinkin' something 'bout snakes, maybe, either from the ceiling or flyin', which actually could be a thing considerin' where you're at, but then reality resolves itself and ya realize—hey, Rinnosuke found a rope.
“Hey, ya found a rope!” Marisa says. “Good going, Kourin!”
Rinnosuke doesn't respond to that. There's something in the silence that makes ya look up to where gravity did its trick and his arm's still there, hangin' over ya like one of the world's most generous ya-must-be-this-tall-to-ride stands—the ones set up at amusement parks over with the helpful friendly cartoon dudes to point out where ya just now realize ya got too old. 'Cept Rinnosuke's not pointin'. Rinnosuke's just standin' there, real quiet, hand open 'cause open hands facilitate rope-droppin'.
And then, still stickin' to mum, he retracts his hand back from over your head and puts it next to his side where it makes a lot more sense.
Hey, something 'bout that—just now, that was kinda—
And then Marisa goes, “Hold still, will ya?” and funny hand-overheadholdin' or not, that's your attention waylaid to the dude who's got a limb in her limbs. The horse one's twitchin' all over, now, like it's seriously aware the end is nigh, but Marisa's got one end pinned underarm, bendin' the rest of it against itself—like legs do, generally, though here it's mad obvious it's not the limb's choice—and loopin' the rope tight swift around the whole deal in a way that doesn't bode well for the ropee.
You've gotta lay it out here—Marisa? Seriously handy with wrappin'. And knots. You're actually kinda standin' amazed here, no lie. That horse isn't goin' anywhere, not if Marisa doesn't want it goin' anywhere anytime soon.
Oh, man, do they do Christmas in Gensokyo? Ya don't wanna hafta deal with unwrappin' Marisa's presents. Most irritatin' giftee 'sperience ever.
But hey, yo—you had questions, before ya got justifiably distracted by all this rope-droppin' and leg-wrappin', didntcha? “So you're makin' a homunculus,” ya say again.
“Yeah,” Marisa says. “If this works out. I mean, I'm pretty sure it's going to.” And the horse part goes on the floor, where it can't do more 'cept attempt rollin', and it can't do that either, just rock back and forth while Marisa does what she wants to do. It's not cylindrical enough, is the problem.
“Okay,” ya say, “so what's a homunculus for?”
Marisa starts outta knot-finalizin'. “'What's a homunculus for?'” she parrots. “Don't you know anything about homunculi?”
Yo, rude. It's not like you're totally clueless on the homunculus front. “I know what it is,” ya say, and then, when Marisa's givin' ya a Look: “Gimme a break—I'm from the Outside, remember?”
“So you probably never saw anyone performing alchemy like this before, huh,” says Marisa.
“It's not even a thing. The fantastic just got real.”
Marisa nods, 'cause—fair point, right? “Well,” she says, and then she grins. “Ah...to tell the truth, I don't have any plans for it myself. I thought I'd at least just make one, first, and then figure out where to go from there.”
“So ya don't know, either?” ya ask.
“I've got some idea. I think I can probably use it as a servant—ya know, to clean up my place, or something like that? But mostly I just wanted to make one. I mean, if it's possible, I want to do it, right?”
Yeah, so she doesn't know, either. Ya kinda dig that George Mallory 'tude, though. Also, lightbulb moment here: “A homunculus is supposta be real tiny, right?” You're pretty sure the answer's “yes”, but hey, worth double-checkin'.
“It's like a human being, but small,” Marisa says. “That's why it's a homunculus.”
Ya don't really get it, but tiny: Confirmed. “So if ya pull this off—what if ya make multiple of 'em?”
“Check it out—it took a heavy sec to get that rope dug outta Rinnosuke's crate of everything, right? But maybe ya coulda tied up your horse stuff in half the time if Rinnosuke'd had a little dude of his own to clear up the shop floor already. 'A place for everything', I mean. Get it?”
Marisa puts her chin in her hand in the classic I'm-considerin'-it post, but her eyes are lightin' up. “Yeah, I get it,” she says. “A homunculus for me, and a homunculus for Kourin. Hey, I could make a lot of homunculi, actually, with how much horse stuff I've got.”
“You could sell 'em! Capitalism rah! I mean, or something.”
“I don't know about selling them. Probably I'd just keep most of them for myself. But I could definitely spare one or two.”
And then he turns on his foot and walks outta the room, leavin' ya blinkin' after 'im with a feelin' like—yo, what the hey? Ya swivel your head between all that that just was a thing just now and Marisa, hopin' for the latter to make with the lightsheddin', but the way she's lookin', you'd bet prolly she's just as weirded out as you. She bounces back after a sec, though, with some crazy coefficient of restitution that wipes all of that out 'cept for the quirkin' brow.
“Uh—anyway,” she says, stoopin' to heft the hoof, “the ingredients probably won't be ready for a few days yet, but once they are, I'll come by and see what kind of homunculi Kourin likes. It ought to rub off some of however much he keeps saying I owe, too.”
Marisa shrugs. “I take some stuff from the shop now and then, but Kourin always makes a big deal about it. This way, he can't complain.”
“Takin' it back to barter? Guess I shoulda gone with 'socialism rah'.”
“Yeah, sure,” Marisa says, though somehow you're suspectin' that economics isn't so much her dig. “Like I said—it won't take more than a week. I'll be back pretty quick!”
“Yeah, and I'll catch ya! I mean, unless Rinnosuke finds a way to get me outta here between now and then. Which I'm hopin' for. No offense?”
Marisa's all smiles. “Hey, no problem,” she says. And then she nods a goodbye, and with one last, “See you,” she nudges the front door ajarer and makes tracks into the evening.
You've gotta say—that dude? She's a lot more agreeable when she's not tryin' to blast ya.
Speakin' of stuff that's agreeable, though, Marisa burst into the pad in the middle of dinner—or “beginning”, considerin' ya didn't even get to tuck in before unexpectedly independent horse legs became a thing for ya. You're starvin' like Marvin, and outta things you'd seriously enjoy at the mo, stuffin' your face's fixed itself in a pretty high rank. Ya head back to the rice—
Oh, right, hey, ya totally forgot how Rinnosuke wandered off mid-convo. Looks like the dude had the same idea as you, 'cept earlier. Doesn't look like he's made a lot outta his head start, though, any more than the pickin' at his rice and fish past the pickin' he already picked before Marisa was Marisa in the vicinity.
But the dude eats birdlike anyways. Kinda nothing new. “Pretty cool, huh, Mac?” ya say, slidin' behind your dish. “You're gonna have your own magic little buttlin' dude. That means all the time for inspectin' Outside stuff now!”
Rinnosuke pauses chopstickin' a single grain of rice to look ya over over his specs. His mouth opens like he's gonna say something. And then he closes his mouth and he puts his chopsticks down and he takes a deep breath and he picks his chopsticks up again and he still doesn't say anything.
He just feeds that singular rice grain into his facehole.
And then he does the same to another.
“Uh,” ya say, “yo. Mac?”
The dude breaks through his dinner in bits and pieces like the edge of an ocean sweepin' in 'cross a coast rock face, and like the ocean or the coast both he doesn't say a word.
That's bad-funky you're talkin' 'bout here, not good-funky, and ya don't mean the lack of body wash that's the sitch all up in this pad, either. No, when ya say something's gone funky, you're referrin' primarily to the dude in charge himself, the host keepin' your roast from goin' toast—Rinnosuke Morichika.
Rinnosuke Morichika, who's sippin' breakfast like he found some variant of tranquility at the bottom of one of his crates of Outside junk and decided to jam it in the back of his skull and put it in overdrive.
Rinnosuke Morichika, who's sittin' at the table perfectly level like all the dude needs is a real morning paper and his specs slippin' halfway down his schnozz to play the reasonable dad outta some 1950s family sitcom.
Rinnosuke Morichika, who's ignored ya for two days straight.
Or okay, it's more like one day straight and change, and he hasn't so much ignored ya as gone all the brusque all of a sudden, but still—there's something goin' on here and it stinks, honest to cod. Or surströmming, even.
Here's you tryin' to untangle this mystery, take four. Or four billion seventy-one mill, which is what it's feelin' like: “Yo, Mac.”
Rinnosuke's eyes rise atcha over his edibles. “Yes?” he says.
“Ya wanna do a thing? After breakfast? Uh, look for batteries, or something?”
Rinnosuke keeps with the starin'. His eyes aren't even sharp. And then he says:
“I'd rather not.”
And he puts his eyes down and goes back to eatin'.
Yeah, so it's like that. Ya don't know what the hey, and it's makin' ya lose your appetite—though you're gettin' real sick of white rice and cooked fish and brackish Japanese soup, anyways, so that's nearly a favor in some real perverse monkey's-paw kinda way. “Yo, Mac—Rinnosuke.”
Rinnosuke's eyes rise atcha. Again. “Yes?”
“I'm gonna hang, maybe. Ya mind?”
This time, the dude pauses in transportin' food, just for a tick. He recovers quick, though. That's like the extent of what you're managin' here. “'Hang'?” he says, though. Like, he does say that.
“Cabin fever, Mac. I'm goin' stir crazy, here. I wanna take a walk.”
You've had this convo previous, or at least something a whole lot like it. Last time, Rinnosuke was real unhappy with your plans. All kindsa objections. This time—
“It's dangerous in the forest,” the dude says, like he's summarizin' how many clouds this place's got driftin' up out at the mo.
“Yeah, I got that—that's why I'm just hangin', as opposed to takin' a nature trek or something. I'll stick myself right to the out side of that door—no lie. Whaddya say?”
Rinnosuke considers your request, or at least looks like he's doin' that. And then he goes, “Yes. That's fine,” and immediately starts blockin' his piehole like that's an excuse to get outta formin' more words that he has already.
Yeah. So it's like that. Or maybe you're just goin' crazy in the coconut, connectin' the wrong dots, puttin' two and two together and gettin' five—but you're pretty sure it is like that. Like this. Rinnosuke Morichika and the Mystery of the Grody 'Tude.
“Seriously, though,” ya say, “I'm just steppin' out—just for a tick, Mac.”
“Yeah. Cool, then. Just so we're clear on this me-goin'-outsideness.” And ya get up outta breakfasttime and make at the door as far as openin' it, even, before ya stop. And ya say:
“We are clear, right?”
The clinkin' sound might be Rinnosuke puttin' down his chopsticks something fierce. Or it could just be the natural sounds of chopsticks and dinnerware makin' friends, like what happens whenever ya eat with chopsticks no matter how ya feel. “I understand,” goes Rinnosuke's voice, flowin' over.
“Yeah, okay,” ya say, and ya close the door again, but not before you're on the other side of it.
So yeah. It's like that—whatever 'zactly “that” is. Or actually if you're gonna come clean you've gotta say that you don't really know what ya wanted outta that whole convo ya just had—if you can call it that, even—but it feels like ya didn't get it. And it sorta—
It feels like—
It's like ya ate something earlier that decided it was gonna buck the gastric tread and congeal itself in your chest cavity, instead. That's what it's like, right now. And ya don't like it and more importantly ya don't know what the hey still.
Which means officially it's time for Christie Christoferson to rev up the tie-dye vehicle and get to dealin' with the ish.
Seriously—you aren't just gonna mope.
[ ] All this tiptoein' is gonna drive ya into a hugjacket, royal. Nuts to the mess—let's haul out a confrontation. [ ] Don't just put two and two together—do some brainwrackin' with all the numbers, even. Give it a real think. [ ] Whatever funk this is, Rinnosuke can't keep it up eternal. Just gotta let it be, and the dude'll bust out with the normalcy soon enough. [ ]
File 14456604712.png - (128.82KB, 500x700, like peering across a nice steak.png)
[X] Don't just put two and two together—do some brainwrackin' with all the numbers, even. Give it a real think.
Though ya will slide down the door till you're sittin' at the foot of it, which you've gotta acknowledge is sorta mopin'-position-esque. In this case, though, you're reusin' the deal—this isn't mopin' you're doin', it's thinkin'. 'Cause that's what you're gonna do to deal with this whole sitch that's goin' on right now:
You're gonna think about Rinnosuke, and you're gonna think about Rinnosuke goin' funky with suddenness, and you're gonna put a whole lotta numbers together till the dead Brit mathmen're applaudin' from beyond the tomb. And then once you've figured out causes, you're gonna formulate a solution that punches that cause in its ugly mug, even if the mugpunchin' is primarily metaphorical.
You're Christie Christoferson. You're made of metaphorical punches.
Ya tilt your head back, thuddin' the back of your skull on the door light. There's alotta trees, here, but around the shop they sorta just break, so ya feel the light shinin' down on your own mug, easy. The air's sorta bitey, though—not a harsh kinda bitey, 'zactly, but like a puppy play-fightin' when it doesn't know its own teeth, which is a reminder from the seasons that you've been here way too long. But that's not important right now, right? Or it is important, but you've got priorities. You've got priorities.
Ya wanna figure out what's got Rinnosuke's goat, dontcha? First place ya gotta inspect is the point when that became a thing. He was actin' funny once ya resumed dinner, ya know that, but was he actin' funny before? It's kinda hard to tell, 'cause Rinnosuke can act sorta standoffish at times, even when he's all alright. Or at least Rinnosuke-alright.
But that's okay, 'cause you can work at this from another angle. An explementary one, even. Ya don't know when Rinnosuke's goat was got. When was the last point you can say real definite that his goat was ungot?
You were tellin' Rinnosuke 'bout your mom, werentcha? It's not like he asked a whole lotta questions, but he made statements, which indicated some sorta emotional sure-I-am-with-this-ness. So ya move forwards from that—and after Marisa dropped in all suddenly, Rinnosuke was real helpful 'splainin' that a horse's leg was a thing here, wasn't he? And plus he helped ya ask questions to Marisa even though the questions were clear enough all on their own—but he did do that, so he hadn't gone funky just then, prolly.
And then ya demonstrated thatcha weren't 'zactly brimmin' with vaquero ancestry, if ya wanna get real Lamarckian for a sec, and Rinnosuke tried to take off your shirt.
Yeah, you're not sure whether ya oughta mark that under “funky” or “not funky yet”, but Rinnosuke meant well, ya think, so you're gonna lean at the latter one for the mo. And also he did assure ya he was willin' to getcha hefted to Eientei if ya took a turn, so—that was nice. You believed 'im. Like—he said that, so ya know that meant something.
So, so, so—
“Nuts,” ya mutter. And then ya say, “Nuts,” again, 'cept kinda louder, and ya begin to suspect maybe despite whatcha shot for you're slippin' into mope anyways.
And then a voice in front and a little bit over ya says, “You aren't in this shop.”
Ya put your nose level real quick. Standin' there, right where the voice was comin' from (in whatcha bet isn't a coincidence at all) is everybody's favorite least-ingenuey ingenue.
Talk about a blast from the past. Or at least a blast from something like a month ago, which is technically still a blast from the past. “Yo,” ya say. “What's up?”
“You aren't in this shop,” Rumia says again.
That is up at the mo, also technically. “I'm takin' a break from inshopness,” ya 'splain. Or gloss, you've gotta admit.
“Ah,” says Rumia. She tilts her head, studyin' the inshopness aforementioned. Then she says:
“Can I eat you now?”
Like, super-least-ingenuey. Matchin' all the hallmarks of ingenueism 'cept for ingenueism itself. “Kinda maybe don't?” ya say.
Rumia considers this. Then she does a quick turn and settles herself at the doorfoot next to you in a real dainty maneuver, smoothin' her dress. Now she's smaller than you again.
She smiles up atcha. Ya smile down back.
“So,” ya say, “seriously, what's up? I haven't seen you makin' with the inshopness lately much either. I was here—where were you?”
“Cui dixit Dominus: Unde venis? Qui respondens, ait: Circuivi terram, et perambulavi eam.”
Rumia smiles up atcha. Ya twitch your smile down back. Right. Ya sorta forgot this that was her shtick. “Latin's a dead lang, dude,” ya say.
Rumia doesn't stop bein' subrident. “I went to the forest and the human village,” she 'splains. “When I was hungry, I ate. When I was thirsty, I drank. When I was tired, I slept.”
“Pretty steady lifestyle.” And that makes it your turn to throw in a recap, ya guess. “Cirno dropped in, sorta.”
Rumia does the little headtilt again.
“She still thinks I'm your oppressor and she tried to take off my head with a flyin' kick.”
“Ah,” says Rumia. She tilts her head the other way, her smile shiftin'. Ya think she's tryin' to think of something, maybe. “Cirno is Cirno,” she goes with, finally.
“That's prolly the case, yeah.”
The two of ya sit there for a while. It's kinda comfy, just sittin', crisp air or otherwise.
“I wonder if Wriggle taught Cirno to kick?” says Rumia.
“I don't think kickin' is something ya need to teach, generally,” ya say. “Who's Wriggle?”
“Wriggle is a firefly.”
A firefly taught Cirno how to kick, maybe. Sure, why not? You've munched enough popcorn watchin' dubbed Chinese dudes workin' out their differences on the small screen to pshaw animal inspiration in the art of makin' the other dude fall over and not get up again straight out. If snakes and eagles can cut the mustard, fireflies can't be too far off. “She got hauled off by some other dude, though—Cirno, I mean, after she tried to make with the decap,” ya say. “Ya know a Mokou?”
“I know a Mokou,” Rumia says. “I get blasted by her, sometimes. But not often.”
“Yeah, okay. And then Marisa showed up again like a week later—”
An idea sparks in your brains all of a sudden. It's a stupid crazy idea, or maybe a crazy stupid one, a real whaddya-thinkin', but it's the sorta idea that doesn't lose ya anything if it goes belly-up immediate. And besides—outta kidchops oughta unspool the mad fresh, right?
“Rumia,” ya say.
“I think something went messed with Rinnosuke, and I can't fig. Want the spiel?”
Rumia looks like she's doin' more considerin'. Then, bright as ever, she goes, “Okay.”
And somehow, just that far's a load off. Neat.
“Okay,” ya say. “So—Marisa dropped in, and she was haulin' something called a horse's leg—though, like, that's a youkai, apparently?”
“Mm-hmm,” Rumia says.
“Right,” ya say. “So, that's a youkai. Totally didn't know that like a week ago, know that now. So Marisa drops in, haulin' this youkai, and everything's hunky-dory, straight up, right? Like, there's a whole buncha crazy goin' down fast, but me and Rinnosuke—we're got that me-and-Rinnosuke thing goin' on, like usual. That good thing. I mean—”
Actually—man, how're ya gonna 'splain this?
“I'm sayin' stuff, and he's sayin' stuff back,” ya say, and it's totally inadequate. “We're fine, is the thing. Ya get what I'm deliverin' here?”
“Mm-hmm,” Rumia says again, and ya hope that mm-hmmin' is accurate.
Ya skip ahead, post-injury: “Okay, so—Marisa says she's gonna tie up the horse leg and use it to make a homunculus. Remember that vial, from the other Marisa-droppin'-in deal?” Rumia was there then too, ya remember well perfect, but ya had her jettin' before the main development breakout. Which is also why Cirno's itchin' to do a royal number on ya now, is the funny thing. Lotta stuff goin' back to that. “Okay, so that vial was her last go at homunculus-producin', 'cept long story short is that it kinda sucked at homunculusin', and Marisa said a whole buncha stuff 'bout addin' too much horse and left. Ya still with me?”
“Okay, so now then this time—Marisa's haulin' this horse leg—I toldja she was haulin' in this youkai horse's leg deal, right?”
“Okay, so Marisa's haulin' in this horse leg, and she's all 'bout—lightbulb, yo! It was the wrong kinda horse ingredient she used to mix up her homunculus last time, was the thing, maybe. 'Cept now she's got this new kinda horse ingredient, and this time she's gonna use that, and it's gonna turn out groovy—is what she says, basically. And I agree tentative with the 'groovy', 'cause—yeah, homunculus, groovy, right?”
Ya glance at Rumia. Rumia...doesn't say anything. She's doin' the headtiltin', though. So that means she's all ears still, prolly.
“So I point out that she's got something like beaucoup horse, and I fig if she could make some serious homunculusage last time outta some dinky vial, this time she oughta be able to make, like, all the homunculi, and maybe if it all turns out like it oughta turn out she can make some sweet change homunculus-sellin', or gift Rinnosuke one of her spares, maybe, even. 'Cept—”
It was then, right?
'Cept what was then?
“'Cept I dunno,” you admit. “Something went funky, and Rinnosuke went funky, and now Rinnosuke's gone all taciturn up in this sitch, and it's killin' me.”
Ya look Rumiawise one more time. She's still smilin' all headtiltedly up atcha, but her smile's sorta fadey at the edges, now. Or is that in your head? Ya can't tell. Problem with your head at the mo—it's mondo hecked up 'cause of circumstances, and plus if that smile even changed it changed small.
“So, ya got any ideas here?” ya ask. “'Cause if ya do, just, like, shove the words of wisdom into my mug or something. I don't mind, prolly.”
For something like a chunk, Rumia sticks to stickin' mum. You've got this think for a sec that maybe she's not gonna say anything at all, and ya unloaded all that for nothing, but ya tell yourself she's just ruminatin'. Or ya guess “rumianatin'”. Either way, she's doin' it, 'cause after a whole healthy sound of silence afforded ya she straightens up her neck and goes:
“I'm a youkai.”
Which is like—yeah, that's true, but also like: “Okay.”
“And a horse's leg is a youkai, too.”
“You're a lot better for conversin' with, though.”
“Have you tried?”
Ya look at Rumia, tryin' to fig if she's pullin' something wiseacre here, but ya can't tell. “No,” you admit, and it feels like you're givin' 'er a clear shot at your exhaust port.
She doesn't take it, though. Just smiles and smiles. “And Rinnosuke,” she adds, once she's done just-smilin'.
That's more like it. “Yeah, Rinnosuke,” ya say.
“Rinnosuke is also a youkai.”
[Pick one from each.]
[ ] And that's a lightbulb moment for you. [ ] Yeah, ya still don't get it.
[ ] Okay, now it's time for confrontin'. Bring the ish to Rinnosuke direct. [ ] How's this for words of wisdom? Let it be, like ya shoulda from the start. [ ]
[ ] And that's a lightbulb moment for you. [ ] Okay, now it's time for confrontin'. Bring the ish to Rinnosuke direct. -[ ] Explain that we did not consider Rinnosuke the equivalent of a wriggly horse leg in any way.
[X] And that's a lightbulb moment for you. [X] Okay, now it's time for confrontin'. Bring the ish to Rinnosuke direct. -[X] Explain that we did not consider Rinnosuke the equivalent of a wriggly horse leg in any way.
>>28900 If that's the actual reason then it's pretty silly. A horse leg that can't communicate or even think as far as we can tell is pretty damn far removed from something like Rinnosuke. If he gets upset just because half of him is in the same extremely broad classification of youkai as something that we approve of killing, then I'd say he's a huge hippie dildo. That's like getting upset over animal experimentation because lab rats are chordates.
>>28907 If anything, I think a youkai would be less likely to be concerned over such a thing than a human, given their nature as cold-blooded man-eaters. And I don't recall anything saying the horse's leg was developing. That's just what it is.
Anyway, I think a much more likely explanation (and with better precedent) would be that he's worried sick that Marisa's experimental and possibly extremely dangerous toy is going to be put right next to the human that he's just been reminded is very fragile and easy to kill. And we're putting ourselves directly on harms way after that whole thing with getting sick and using HIS money to get better. Not to mention the thing will probably wreck his shop one way or another. it's very inconsiderate of Christie.
Personally I still don't think that's quite enough justification for the silent treatment, but I guess Rinnosuke isn't used to dealing with people, being stuck here in the ass-end of nowhere alone in his shop.
[x] And that's a lightbulb moment for you. [x] Okay, now it's time for confrontin'. Bring the ish to Rinnosuke direct.
I don't know about confrontin', though. How about apologizing instead?
Whoa dude! That's some grade "A" bigotry right there. Youkai live off of fear and belief, not blood. You shouldn't judge all Youkai based on the actions of a few.
Regardless of what, exactly, the horse leg is; it's a youkai, and Marisa is going to kill it for no damn reason. That shit ain't cool on a multitude of levels dude. If Chris goes along with that shit, then she ain't cool.
[X] And that's a lightbulb moment for you. [X] Okay, now it's time for confrontin'. Bring the ish to Rinnosuke direct.
And for a sec you're all like—yeah, okay, kinda know that already—kinda know all of that already, actually, totally, so ya don't know why Rumia's feedin' all of this to ya now—
And then suddenly you're all—oh.
'Cause ya get it, all of a sudden, is the thing. Ya get it like you've had dudes all up in your mug for millennia tryin' to getcha to understand how maybe puttin' the weird circley things under the transportation might make the transportation not suck so much, and it's only now—like, now, just-this-second now—that the concept's slipped into place with a real loud clickin' noise. Now, and also for no reason at all separatin' now from all the other times someone 'splained themselves hoarse tryin' to talk your uncomprehendin' and apparently temporarily actually not awesome dudehood through the whole deal—is how ya get it. Like—plot twist! You were the dolt the whole time. The doofus. Maybe even the douche.
'Cause that horse leg was a youkai. You remember that, right?
And Rinnosuke's got some youkainess to 'im, too, half- or otherwise.
Which means that when ya stood right in front of Rinnosuke tellin' Marisa how you were totally down with seein' 'er mash a youkai up enough for fittin' in a dinky homunculus-holdin' vial—
Yeah, it's only a hunch, but you're thinkin' maybe ya didn't give off the best impression in that moment. By which whatcha mean is maybe ya suddenly before his eyes transformed into the heeliest heel that ever heeled in the history of heelies, holy rollin' Capitola. This isn't some ha-whoops peccadillo you can laugh off here. This was—is—pure unadulterated unilaterally-launched douchebaggery of a caliber ya never even considered you could be capable of outcarryin', consciously or not, and the realization of it's like someone stuck a fork in your guts, straight in, and twisted.
“Nuts,” goes your mouth. “Nuts. Nuts, nuts, nuts.”
But yo—kinda super obvious whatcha gotta do now, right?
“Thanks, dude,” ya tell Rumia, 'cause she did make things super crystal, even if ya don't like what you're seein' at the mo. “I'ma be right back.”
“Mm-hmm,” Rumia says, and scooches over just enough to letcha make back into the shop, which is whatcha do, right through, and when the door clicks shut behind ya, it's like it's sayin' “no goin' back” even though ya know bein' reasonable that you could one-eighty and step right back out again, so what does the door know—the door's not the boss of you—and now you're just anthropomorphizin' a shop door 'cause it's preferable to chompin' down on the bullet, which is whatcha oughta be doin', and whatcha know ya oughta be doin', so ya better quit just knowin' ya oughta be doin' it and actually do it, now.
“Rinnosuke!” ya call out. “I've gotta talk to you!”
There. Now ya definitely can't go back. Which is right, even if the door behind ya is oozin' satisfaction at it.
Rinnosuke, though, isn't 'zactly rarin' to welcome ya, which—can ya blame 'im? Ya can't, is the thing, so ya move farther in. He's not breakfastin' anymore—looks like he finished that up while you were discussin' the whole sitch with Rumia. Now he's back at his desk, the regular fiddlin'-with-Outside-stuff locale, 'cept instead of fiddlin' with Outside stuff he's just sittin' there with his eyes set low like he's lookin' at nothing in particular real careful.
Ya don't want 'im to look at nothing. Ya want 'im to look at you.
“Rinnosuke,” ya say again.
The dude's fingers twitch. “Yes?” he says.
“Maybe lend an ear for a tick?” ya say. “I wanna say a thing. Or no, I need to say a thing, here.”
“You can say anything you'd like,” Rinnosuke says. “You'll do that in any case.”
Yeah. Yeah, okay.
“I'm sorry,” ya say.
That doesn't come out anything as smooth as ya wanted, but it comes out. And Rinnosuke even actually lifts his mug, which is prolly as good as you're gonna get as a cue for goin' on.
So ya do. “I'm not gonna make with the 'scuses here,” ya say. “I mean, I guess I could try, and say a whole lotta things about, like, Outsiderness and the ilk, but after all this hanginaroundin' 'round here and 'round you the argument'd've the aerodynamics of a brick, so I can't. So I won't. Dig?”
“No,” says Rinnosuke. “What?”
Yeah, this isn't progressin' how ya wanted it to be. “Maybe lemme start again,” ya say. “The horse's leg. You remember the horse's leg?”
Oh, man, and that didn't come out right, either. The way Rinnosuke's gazin' atcha makes ya wanna maybe start diggin' straight down and see if ya can't eke out a new life somewhere 'round Brazil. “Yes,” he says, and didja know a dude could cram so much justifiable testiness into a single syllable? No, ya totally didn't.
“Right,” ya say. “Yeah. Okay. I hecked up.”
Rinnosuke doesn't say a thing. He just keeps on gazin' atcha. With those eyes.
“I hecked up,” ya say again. “I hecked up, Mac—Rinnosuke. I mean, like—I saw this horse's leg prancin' and I didn't see a youkai. Ya told me it was a youkai—I know, straight up, 'It's a youkai,' ya said, but it didn't click, and that's me. That's on me.”
Still with the nothing-sayin'. He's payin' attention, but ya don't know what he thinks, and so you've gotta keep talkin' here. You've gotta.
“And then Marisa was all like, 'Yo, I'm gonna ingrede this dude into a homunculus potion,' and not only did I sorta straight up basically approve of her juliennin' the dude or whatever it is she's gonna do with the dude—sorry, I dunno, sorry—but also I did it in front of you. I mean, I shouldn't've done it at all, but also I did it in front of you, and I was all up with how cool it'd be if Marisa carved up a youkai while I was standin' in front of a youkai—I mean, you—and then I was even all up with how even cooler it'd be if Marisa gifted what was left of the youkai to you and you're a youkai and I hecked up with the youkai and I hecked up with you and I hecked up and I'm sorry.”
And that finishes all at once, before ya even know it. Ya just run outta words.
Ya feel like ya ran a marathon. Or maybe a shorter distance, but also for your life.
And Rinnosuke is still just lookin'.
And then Rinnosuke goes, “Fine,” and puts his face focusin' back to the desktop again, and then he reaches for some doodad on the outskirts of it, and then he takes the doodad and puts it where he's focusin' and starts fiddlin' with it, like he's supposta always be doin', maybe, always tryin' to make heads or tails of the latest Outsider thingamabob that's gotten in under his eyes, and you—and he—
And that's Rinnosuke lookin' up again, his head tiltin' all graceful up off from one of those remove-the-ring-from-the-rest-of-the-metal-mess puzzles, and that's when ya realize ya actually said the thing.
Like, into the air. For reals.
“Yes,” says Rinnosuke, back atcha. Testy, or maybe testier. “It's fine.”
“But it's not, though,” ya say. Ya lean over—put your hands on his desk flat so he can't not look atcha even if he's not lookin' atcha. He's gotta look atcha. He's gotta get it.
“Ya can't forgive me just like that,” ya say. “I hecked up bad. Like there was a line, and I don't even know where it was. I flew over it, Rinnosuke. I hecked up.”
“And I've said that it's fine.”
“And it's not fine!”
“And I've said it's fine so stop talking about it!” And Rinnosuke slams the detach-the-ring puzzle on his desk and it jangles and he's standin', too, taller than you—
“I'm not gonna stop talkin' 'bout it!” ya shout. “I've gotta make amends! I'm the dude who doesn't know what in the even—I'm the dude with the heckin'-up rec, and I know you're here to catch me and I love ya for that, for serious, but now you're mad at me and it's right, you bein' mad at me and I don't know how I can fix this!”
“You don't even understand what you're trying to fix!”
“I'm tryin' to fix accidentally bein' a racist, speciesist douche!”
“That's normal! Youkai eat human beings! Human beings hate youkai! That's the usual course of events in Gensokyo and the only reason you can't seem to understand this is because you're an Outsider! If Marisa wishes to experiment on a youkai as simple as a horse's leg, I can't say anything to that!”
“Then why're ya so steamed?
“Because you're supposed to be different!”
And the shop sorta stops.
There's a sound in your head like someone left a TV tuned to a dead blue channel.
“What?” ya say.
Rinnosuke's standin' there, leanin' over his desk just as well as you. He's taller—you've noticed that already, right? But your faces're this close, anyways—you can see clear his lip twitchin', and the color runnin' out everything that's the neck up. His eyes skitter.
And then he sits down, real careful, real ginger, and puts his elbows on his desk and his hands laced and his face hidden behind it.
“Hold on,” ya say. “What?”
“Go away,” says Rinnosuke.
Ya can't see his look.
“Yo—hey—wait a tick, Rinnosuke—”
“I need you to go away right now,” says Rinnosuke. “I'd like it if you would leave me alone right now, just for a while. Would that be fine?”
And his voice, it—
“Yeah,” ya say. “Yeah, sure, Rinnosuke. I'll...” Ya point in a general awaywise direction, which Rinnosuke's not seein'.
And then ya make for it, leavin' the dude there, and ya don't know what he's thinkin' and ya don't know what he's sayin' and ya hecked up. Ya hecked up double, somehow. You were gonna apologize. How'dja shoot for an apologize and make things worse off? It's like—it's like—
His voice. He wasn't cryin', or anything like that. But his voice, yo.
It went wrong somewhere, maybe with the first flapjaw move.
Your feet take ya on a trip. You're just watchin' as ya drift through to the shop's front door, and then ya open it, and get on to the other side of it, and then ya close it behind ya, and then ya sorta just settle, and there ya are, sittin' out the front bummed with Rumia next to ya. Full circle.
“It's like I tried to make scrambled eggs,” ya say, real miserable real apparent, “'cept I ended up with mustard gas.”
“I don't know what that is,” says Rumia.
“Ya spray it on dudes and they break out in burnin', so it's sorta the last thing ya want with your kielbasa. Rumia?”
“I messed up.”
And ya thud the back of your head against the front door front, just to make the circularness super-ultra-complete.
[ ] You've gotta rectify. [ ] Maybe don't heck this up even further. [ ]
[X] You've gotta rectify. -[X] Find and stop Marisa from Frankensteinin' a youkai. -[X] Enlist the little weirdo next to you as a guide; she ain't bad people, chomp-threats aside. --[X] If she goes all maneater on you, offer a finger but no more-she owes you that much.
Yakuza dudes cut their finger to restore their honor. Following their example, we're going to lose one in order to make amends for Rinno.
...what? You didn't think Rumia would guide us for free, no?
It might work as a bribe, but one thing that concerns me is that wild maneaters such as tigers and lions usually start eating humans because they tasted one, even if it was just an abandoned corpse, and found it delicious. What's going to happen if Rumia decides that we taste better than her usual meal?
[X] You've gotta rectify. -[X] Find and stop Marisa from Frankensteinin' a youkai. -[X] Enlist Rumia as a guide. She's cool, chomp-threats aside.
The light shines into your own mug. It's cold. Not the light, though—just generally “it.” It's cold 'cause you've been here way too long, for serious, and behind ya, past the door that's busy proppin' ya up at the mo, is Rinnosuke sittin' in a locale that's at least slightly warmer, 'cept he can't enjoy that for obvious reasons, and you couldn't enjoy that right now, either, even if ya tried.
So this is crystal too, right?
“Yo, Rumia,” ya say. “Wanna do something stupid?”
You can feel the presence of Rumia's considerin'-it, even without turnin' your head to catch it. And then she's all:
Ya step out, and the crisp hits ya like a blanket of cold to the everything. Ya thought ya had a good handle on the weather yesterday, sittin' at the door outdoors and chattin' with Rumia, but that was post-breakfast, with the sun already up and vistin' its Mr.-Golden-Sunness on the population.
Now, on the other hand, is pre-breakfast. In other words: The sun's up, yeah, but it's only just had a good look over the horizon and now it's seriously considerin' callin' in sick and spendin' the next twenty-four in bed, though that whole metaphor maybe sorta breaks down when ya factor in how the whole globularity of the Earth means that the sun's already up somewhere anyways, so the hypothetical star-boss in this sitch'd be ages more likely to tell the whole miasma to quit whinin' and get a move on. The point is—
It's chilly. For reals.
Oh, and Rumia's here, too. “Yo,” ya say.
“Hello!” Rumia chirps. She's standin' there lookin' up atcha, her hands folded all dainty in front of her dress, all set up like it's a date the two of you are goin' on instead of what the two of you are really goin' on, which is most definitely not a date 'cept maybe to dudes who think goin' on a date really oughta involve the risk of disintegration.
You are not one of those dudes.
More importantly: “Dude—ya'ven't been here since yesterday, have ya?” ya ask. It's an actually reasonable question, 'cause it was yesterday thatcha arranged this whole meet-me-in-front-of-the-shop rendezvous with Rumia, also in front of the shop, and ya can't say she's late here she was standin' in front of the shop then and now she's standin' in front of the shop now and the effect's uncanny. Of course, thinkin' it logically ya doubt she actually spent the whole day and night standin' stock-still for your schedule, but that's the tethercat principle for ya—
“I didn't have anything I needed to do.”
Or maybe she did spend the whole day and night here, actually, which is also actually messed up. Like, for serious. Yo, just 'cause ya wanted Rumia here and now here and now didn't mean her doin' whatever till now was supposta be verboten. She coulda just done...Rumia stuff, or something, whatever that is. Chasin' people down, maybe? Chronocide through homicide?
Or maybe this is Rumia stuff. What'd she say? Drank when she was thirsty, slept when she was tired? Lookin' at a list like that, “waited for the other dude till the other dude showed up” doesn't fit too unsightlily.
“Just triple-checkin' on this—ya sure ya wanna navigate?” ya ask Rumia. “'Cause this is stupid. Like, this is a stupid thing I'm gonna be doin'. For reals. So if ya don't wanna get dragged all up into this mess, I am totally fine with that. All the fine, even.”
Rumia smiles up atcha, way very gently. “If you enter the forest alone, you'll be lost,” she says.
And ya kinda...can't deny that. “Well, y'know—wherever ya go, there ya are, right?”
Rumia's head tilts, like it's got the wisdom of your words weighin' it down. Then Rumia asks, “Do you know how to get to Marisa's?”
“Okay. Yeah. So I'll get someone else to play tour guide, maybe. It's not inconceivable.”
Of course the dude's asleep. That's sorta the point, which is what Rumia's barely-arguments arguments're really layin' down here. Gotta face it, Christie—minus the kindness of a small, bitey youkai, your efforts are screwed. “Alright, dude,” ya acquiesce. “I'm countin' on ya to get me there and back again.”
Rumia nods, a bit too floaty to call resolute. And then she turns, the edge of her dress floatin', too, and then also she's also floatin'—like, legit levitatin' off the ground floatin', 'cause dudes do that here—towards the vague ya-don't-know-where-'zactly border where shopness ends and forest is a thing again.
Ya hustle over after, tryin' to ignore the cold and the goosebumps breakin' out past your short sleeves. Seriously, first thing when ya get back, you're figurin' out where Rinnosuke's stashed the parkas.
Sometime when ya weren't lookin'—'cause you were cooped up at Rinnosuke's and fine with that, mostly—Gensokyo decided to get its fall on, and the foresty bit you're cringin' through at the mo offered its full cooperation. The day ya found yourself zapped into the wrong hemisphere, this place was green and green all the way through—or at least through enough. Now, though?
Now, everyone's gettin' their chlorophyll cut off.
Which gives ya an effect that's somewhere between neat and iffy: With the leaves in the droppin' mood, you can see real easy all the gnarlage the green was attached to, back when it was still green or still attached. And that's not metaphorical gnarlage, either—the branches over your head are crazy twisted all up into each other, givin' you the look of like you're walkin' through a long, twisty bower. 'Cept, instead of this bein' some cheery frescade outta some fancy garden, this is more like the arbor of your doom.
Well, not your doom. No way seasonal abscission's gonna be what takes ya outta the runnin'. But someone's doom, prolly. “Are we there yet?” ya ask.
“Yes,” says Rumia.
And then the whole tunnel of treedom just opens up, and you're standin' at the edge of something real clear and treeless with a great cottagey thing smack dab in the middle of it. There's even a path up to the front door! A path that's super useless 'cause the other end of it sorta just fades out into foresty detritus around your end, but yeah. Path.
“Full disclosure,” ya tell Rumia. “I totally didn't 'spect that we'd actually be there yet.”
Rumia looks up atcha—smilin', natch—but all she goes is, “Mm-hmm.”
The cottage says nothing.
“Alright, sure,” ya say. “What're we hanginaroundin' for? Let's rock this joint, already.”
[ ] If you're gonna punch unrighteousness in the face, you've gotta do it upfront! [ ] Infiltrate the enemy base! Like a Japanese ninja. Or a ninja. [ ]
We're trying to tell Marisa that we can't let her use a horse leg youkai to make homonculi, because that would involve chopping up a living youkai. We're doing this without letting Rinnosuke know because best waifu was distraught by how we gave Marisa the idea in front of him, even though he's half-youkai, thereby proving that we're just like the other youkai-hating humans in our dispassionate disregard for youkai. Hopefully, by taking the extreme course to resolve this, we reswolve Rinnosuke's beef with us and, hopefully, remember in the future that #YoukaiLivesMatter.
ALL THAT SAID, I have an idea!
[X]Knock on the door and give Marisa the lowdown on how we told her to chop up a youkai in front of a half-youkai's face. - [X] Have Rumia sneak in just in case. -- [X] Tell her that if she's caught, she was hungry and looking for food.
Marisa seemed like a pretty cool dude. Who knows, maybe a little explaining might be all she really needs, ya' know?
But in the likely event that fails, Rumia would make the cutest backup plan ever!
>>28939 You know, I can get behind this reasoning. She might not go for it immediately but after a short argument with this protagonist? Yep. Totally doable.
[X]Knock on the door and give Marisa the lowdown on how we told her to chop up a youkai in front of a half-youkai's face. - [X] Have Rumia sneak in just in case. -- [X] Tell her that if she's caught, she was hungry and looking for food.
[X]Knock on the door and give Marisa the lowdown on how we told her to chop up a youkai in front of a half-youkai's face. - [X] Have Rumia sneak in just in case. -- [X] Tell her that if she's caught, she was hungry and looking for food.
So I started writing this when one choice was winning and not the other. Sorry about that.
Does this count as a Christmas update? I'm literally updating on Christmas, after all, even if nothing Christmassy is happening in-story (you'll have to wait about two months for that).
[X] If you're gonna punch unrighteousness in the face, you've gotta do it upfront!
'Cause ya know what you're doin', and what you're gonna do. You've got a plan. You've got a compass in your head. And now you've just gotta make like that compass and walk.
Okay, so that's maybe actually the other kinda compass, but still. The point is, ya do what it is you were gonna do, which is get yourself up to a witch's front door. And then, with like all the resolution here—
Ya knock on the front door.
Just a coupla times, though. You're not Buddy Rich. Like, in alotta ways.
“Is this 'rocking a joint'?” Rumia asks.
“Sorta,” ya admit. “Like, maybe in a more old school way? Like more towards soft rock. The joint is bein' soft rocked by me.”
Rumia looks up atcha, sayin' nothing.
“Soft rock is still rock,” ya say.
Rumia looks up atcha still, also still sayin' nothing.
“Yo, if it's good enough for Billy Joel, then it's still rock 'n' roll to me,” ya say, and ya knock a coupla times more, puttin' ya just that much closer to Richness. Or only half that much, 'cause the door opens up back between knock one and knock two, leavin' your second knock knockless and more like you're fist jabbin' the air for some weird reason.
And Marisa's standin' there, takin' in your respectless respect knuckles with the 'spected respect, by which ya mean—not much. You're on her doorstep, which isn't hinky on its own, but also you're Rinnosukeless. It's suspect.
“Yo,” ya say.
“Hey,” says Marisa. And then a grin starts wrappin' 'round her mug. “Hey! You're the Outsider, aren't ya? The one Kourin's letting stay over. Uh, what was it? Ku...Ki...”
“Chris,” ya supply, before Marisa can start pullin' something painful outta Transliteration Station. “Chris Christoferson. But don't call me C.C., or we're gonna have words, remember?”
“Yeah, 'Christoferson'! That was it. What's up?” And, havin' gotten your surname with what you've gotta admit is a minimum of manglin', Marisa leans out the doorway, turnin' her head this way and the other.
“And where's Kourin?” she asks.
“Catchin' some serious zed? Least, dude was doin' that when I left 'im.”
“Ya mean ya got all the way here without anyone guiding ya over? For an Outsider, that's pretty gutsy.”
“Yo, just 'cause Rinnosuke's inshop doesn't mean I was guideless. I've got Rumia.”
For the first time, Marisa seems to recognize that you've got a little dude with ya, lookin' down at 'er with her grin goin' cocked. Rumia's grin, on the other mug, goes grinnier. Like, full chops.
“Rumia brought ya here?” Marisa goes.
“I'm kind of surprised she didn't just eat ya.”
“Well, she said she wasn't gonna, though.”
Rumia glances atcha, grin fadin' ever so slight.
“Well, she said she wasn't gonna eat me for now, though,” you correct.
Rumia goes back to great grinnin' again.
“Oh, well, if she promised, that's okay,” says Marisa. “So what's up?”
“Nothing much. This is kinda a social call.” Which is technically not a lie, seein' as you're here now, talkin' to Marisa, and Marisa's talkin' back. That's social, right? That's totally social. “Can we come in, or do ya want us to wipe our feet first?”
“Sure, come on in! Don't bother with the shoes—it's not like I take them off, either.” Which looks true. She's wearin' some buckley things that step over to the side so you and Rumia can get through the door and into Marisa's pad proper.
And speakin' of Marisa's pad—
Ya don't know whatcha 'spected from the interior of this place, but what you've got here standin' in front of your peepers is...actually not that far off, considerin'. Architecturewise, it's a match for what you'd get if ya showed any regular sorta dude the outside of some Europeanish-lookin' cottage and asked 'em to imagine the livin' space—just straight up homey, in that Europeanish countryside cottage sorta way. What's got this pad runnin' perpendicular to that model is what Marisa's got, litterin' her pad. And that “litterin'” isn't so much a hyperbole, either. The whole place looks like a typhoon swept in and out again, with clothes and books and everything else you can think of strewn across the floor like it's the largest shelf in the house. For serious and for example—here's a pile of tome-lookin' things half hidden off by another dress like the one Marisa's wearin' thrown over the all of it, and here's a corner fulla foresty stuff—weeds, and flowers, and leaves, and some fungi, too, all of 'em separated real neatly from each other, real careful, which is kinda funny, considerin'—and here's the shelves—like, the actual shelf shelves—'cept instead of bein' fulla books, most of 'em've got just rows of sciencey equipment instead—beakers, cylinders, flasks, and all the rest of that sorta stuff whose proper names you forgot since high school, gunk accumulatin' in the bottoms.
It's like ya stumbled into the home of the most easygoin' mad doc, is what you're sayin'. And seein'. Like it's all teeterin' one jostle away from one chemical here slippin' into one potion there and the whole pad goin' up in a sciencey magicky burst.
With you in it.
“So, if you're just visiting, Kourin didn't send ya or anything?” Marisa closes the door with a real inauspicious click.
“Naw,” ya say. “Actually, dude doesn't know we're here, even. Last we left 'im, he was conked out. Like, royal.”
“Huh, ya mean he was sleeping? Really?” Ya nod, and Marisa lifts her chin a bit. “That's funny,” she says.
It is? “It is?” ya ask.
“Yeah, sure. Kourin's not much for sleeping—least, not for as long as I've known him. He's nearly always awake, no matter what time I get around pounding at his door. I think it's owing to him being part youkai.”
Whoa! Just tossin' that off, witch dude? That woulda been some serious revealage if Rinnosuke hadn't already made like Chubby Checker and dropped the twist. “So youkai don't hafta sleep so much?” ya ask, and then ya remember ya have a youkai with ya. Like, right there. “So youkai don't hafta sleep so much?” ya ask again, this time in the right direction.
“I get sleepy when it's bright out,” Rumia says.
“So you're nocturnal,” ya say—no, hold up a sec. “Rinnosuke's not nocturnal,” ya point out.
“Well, he's up at night. That's like being nocturnal, right?”
“It's sorta nocturnalish, but I dunno 'bout straight up bein' nocturnal. If Rinnosuke was nocturnal, I wouldn't be able to watch 'im half as much as I've been watchin' 'im. Plus also he doesn't eat lunch.”
“If he was nocturnal, he wouldn't eat lunch, either.”
“Yeah, but he's up for not eatin' lunch. He doesn't-eat lunch with deliberateness.”
“So what you're saying is it's the difference between 'I didn't eat lunch' and 'I ended up not eating lunch'?”
“Yeah, ya got it! Like, major important subtlety.”
“You keep talking about lunch. I'm hungry now,” Rumia says, prolly not carin' 'bout the subtleties at all. Then, Marisawise: “Can I eat you for lunch?”
Marisa takes a half-step back. That grin on her mug goes from goin' easy to sharp in the tick of it, like something that wants a fist and without it matterin' so much if it's her mug it visits or someone else's. Her hand goes the side of her dress, and you can guess what kinda mystic something it's divin' for.
You've gotta salvage this, pronto. “Dude,” ya say, “ya can't eat Marisa for lunch.”
“I can't?” Rumia asks.
“Ya can't,” ya say. “It would be totally inappropriate.”
Rumia tilts her head. “Marisa's a human, and I'm a youkai,” she says. “If she runs away, it's fine to eat her if I chase her down.”
“Hey, listen, dude, 'cause I'm gonna reiterate. Eatin' Marisa for lunch? I'm rulin' that a real big no-go at the mo.”
“Yeah, listen to the nice Outsider,” says Marisa.
“Like, we were just outdoorsin' it, and ya saw it's basically still twilight out there, right? If ya eat Marisa now, that's breakfast.”
“Ah,” says Rumia. And then back at Marisa again: “Can I eat you for breakfast?”
“On second thought, don't listen to the Outsider,” says Marisa.
“Hold still, dude,” you advise. “She's like a Tyrannosaurus rex—her optics're tuned to movement. I mean, either that or whether she just ate. One of those, prolly. How long's it been since ya ate, Rumia?”
“A day ago,” says Rumia, “but I'm hungry now.”
“Oh, huh. Ya might be screwed, then,” ya tell Marisa.
Marisa's grin maintains, even while she's got fingers delvin' back at her pockets again. In retrospect, ya kinda suck at this salvagin' thing.
[ ] But if there's a dude awesome enough to salvage a failed salvagin', that dude is you. 'Cause you're awesome. [ ] And if violence breakin' out is a gimme, it's time to demetaphorize those metaphorical punches. [ ]
[X] But if there's a dude awesome enough to salvage a failed salvagin', that dude is you. 'Cause you're awesome. -[X] Ya know it would be mighty disrespectful to just up and eat yer host. Like, it would be fine you met her outside and nommed her but now that you´ve been invited inside you´re a guest and eating yer host a big no-no in the code of being a guest. And it aint like pirate code which are more of a guidelines. --[X] Ya know what Rumia, if yer hungry you can go and hunt down some poor bastard for chow. I´m sure Marisa here can show me the way back to Rinno. And thanks for getting me here.
This may sound bad to Marisa, but it´s not like we know the food to be, Marisa won´t have to fight in her home and Rumia gets her belly full of meat. Everyones happy, except maybe food but theres a chance that he is a deviant who likes that kind of shit. Or we can see if there is something to eat in the cottage other than yours truly.
[X] But if there's a dude awesome enough to salvage a failed salvagin', that dude is you. 'Cause you're awesome.
Time to pull out that Christie Christoferson emergency pizzazz. “Yo!” ya shout.
And that's got all eyes on ya in an instant, the ones in Rumia's kid head and Marisa's older one both, and in that instant Marisa's hand is stopped reachin' for that mystic something you're sure she's got hidin' in her witchy duds—though it's not like it's unreachin', either. It's just hangin' there, like it could go either way any sec now.
Still, ya did stop it. So—good start. Awesome start, even.
Kinda too bad you've got no clue for the next step.
“The little dude's got a point,” ya say, gesturin' at the little dude in question. Yeah, that's a segue, right? That's totally a natural progression of the stuff that is goin' on now.
Marisa's eyes go all narrowy. “Your chances don't look so good, even if it is two on one.”
Or maybe not. “No way, dude, I'm talkin' 'bout food,” ya say. And quick after, 'cause ya see that dangerous hand goin' for it: “Like, do ya know what it's like, troopin' through a buncha tulgey forest first thing in the morning?”
Marisa inclines her head, like you're the old crone and she's tryin' to see the young not-a-crone, which is totally up the wrong tree considerin' you're already the young lady to start with. And then, in a way that sounds like it's got a buncha ellipses tacked on at the prologue, she says, “Yeah.”
Ya blink. “Seriously?”
“I live here, ya know. I have to walk through the Forest of Magic if I want to get somewhere.”
“You can fly,” Rumia points out.
“Or I can fly,” Marisa admits. “But most of the ingredients I can find in the Forest of Magic are closer to the forest floor.”
“Okay, so ya know, then,” ya say, 'cause this is your shot. “Only the thing is, we set out first thing, without even, like, breadcrumbs. We're starvin' like Marvin here.”
“Starving like what?”
“Ya know, all up with the famishedness. I'm not askin' for a six-course meal, but if ya have any vittles just sorta lyin' around, I'll take responsibility for redirectin' 'em. Whaddya say?”
Moment of truth. Marisa looks ya through like ya stopped bein' a dude altogether and started bein' one of those 3D things where you're supposta put your eyes just so and—hey, it's a dolphin! Sweet. She does that.
And then she's like, “Well, it's probably a bad idea to fight here, I guess.”
“I'd be alright, and Rumia'd get better sooner or later, but you're just a regular human, so you'd probably die,” Marisa continues, and you're seriously, seriously glad she looks back around her shoulder just then 'cause if ya make half the face it feels like ya suddenly involuntarily make, that's some kinda face. “I've got some leftover snacks,” she says. “Ya want some tea to go with?”
You'd prefer a hot cuppa joe, honestly, but— “Yeah,” ya say. “That'd be ace.”
And that hand Marisa's luggin' finally gets far enough from that mystic something that breathin' is easy again. The woman it's attached to smiles, even. Kinda crookedish, like she's tryin' for a smirk but can't bother all the way, but it's still a smile. “Make sure Rumia doesn't get into my potions, ya got it?” she says.
“Dude, we're so hands-off, you can call us Juan Perón.”
Marisa looks ya through again, just for a tick. Then she goes, “Yeah, sure,” and turns off and away—to do food stuff, you're gonna assume, here. The second she's outta eyeshot, ya let yourself slump.
Ya don't know if that was close or not, but it felt close. And that's what counts.
“We should have eaten Marisa.” And that's Rumia, gazin' upwards atcha with innocent turtley eyes while the not-so-innocent and definitely not-so-turtley stuff comes out her maw. “Eating people is easier.”
“Yeah, maybe easier for you, but I like my proteins folded the way they are,” ya say. “Ever heard of kuru?”
“We're already here, though.”
Rumia's peepers are a lot less turtley all of a sudden, and that's when Marisa makes it back with the food and the drink and the change of subject. “Here ya go,” she says, and tosses ya over a—
Ya catch the thing, and then end up turnin' it one way and also another till your brain also catches the thing and ya fig the identification. It's...some sorta packet of crackers. Some sorta contemporary-lookin' packet of crackers, like, wrapped in plastic, even.
Ya feel like this has implications.
“That ought to be good, right?” says Marisa. “I'll get some tea heated up.” And then she's out again.
“Yeah,” ya lie into thin air, unpeelin' the stuff. Rumia watches over with something kinda like curiosity—yo, has she heard the theater-blastin' telltale crinklin' of plastic before? The answer “no” is actually a possibility here, 'cause Gensokyo—and ya spill the valuable innards into a coupla cupped hands the sec you've got 'em exposed. “Here, dude,” ya say, “Chow down on this.”
Rumia inspects what she's got. “Is that all?”
Which was kinda your reaction, too, but you've gotta smooth all these lumps out till you've got whatcha came for. “Better than not eatin' the thing, right?”
That gets ya a glance, and then Rumia takes the top cracker and carefully, real deliberate in its doin'-it-ness, bites it in half.
Well, chews once. Something that small doesn't last long enough to get a second crunch.
“Well?” ya say.
“Et dicetis: Hæc dicit rex: Mittite hunc in carcerem, et date ei panis modicum, et aquæ pauxillum, donec revertar in pace.”
And ya still don't do Latin, which makes it a neat time for Marisa to make her reentrance, heftin' a coupla steamin' mugs, one of 'em the usual Japanese handleless deal, the other a modren-lookin' thing with a chip in the rim. “I'm back!” she says. “Which one do ya want?”
“Ya got a difference in flavors?”
“What? Naw, just the cups.”
“Hit me with lefty, then.” By which ya mean the normal one, natch. Well, normal for you.
Marisa gives the mug over, and the feelin' of havin' a warm cuppa something against your fingers is a real blast of familiarity, even without the proper java smell that oughta accompany it. Caff or no caff, it's just not the same without the bean ya know and love.
“So what's up?” Marisa says, retreatin' over to an antique-lookin' desk in the corner of the room. She pulls at the chair parked into it by the in of her shoe, depositin' herself once she's got the space. “If Rinnosuke didn't send ya over, you've got to have your own reason for being here.”
“Eh, not so much, dude. Like I said, it's all a social call.”
“Huh.” And Marisa looks ya straight in the eyes in a mondo uncomfy kinda way, even while she's takin' a noisy sip outta her own mug.
“Okay, so it's part social call, part me bein' real curious. We don't have magic out in the Outside, remember? So seein' as you're like, straight up witchness, honest, can ya blame me for wantin' to get all up on that concept?”
Someone said something way back 'bout half the truth bein' real good liewise. Punch it up with something flatterin' and Marisa eats it, no problemo, grinnin' for reals. “So ya came over because ya want magic lessons?”
“I'm not committin' just yet, y'know? I could get zapped back Outside tomorrow. But if you were plannin' on pullin' some real hocus pocus today—maybe you could lemme watch?”
“Yeah, sure. It's not like I've got anything planned, though...”
“What about the homunculus?”
Marisa does one of those blinks and for a tick ya think ya went too fast, but then she goes, “The homunculus? What about it?”
“How far've ya got? Like, ya dice up the leg yet?” Please say no, please say no…
“Naw, not yet. I had to find all the right ingredients first, and that took a while. Plus not everyone was all that willing to lend me what they had. I was planning on getting started today, though, so if ya want to watch that, that ought to be alright.”
Score. And also: Whoa, dude, talk about just in time. A coupla hours later and ya coulda been here to rescue a pile of cuts, maybe. “Yeah, yeah! Though, speakin' of that—where is the dude?”
“Ya know—the leg. I don't 'zactly see 'em hoppin' 'round the place. Ya got 'em tucked away or something?”
“'Hopping'? What do ya think it is, a jiangshi? But yeah, I've got it. Ya want to see?” And without waitin' for an answer, Marisa puts down her mug, strides off over to some cabinet-lookin' block, and throws the door of it wide open.
Crammed inside it, bound up tighter than one of Rinnosuke's hardbacks, is the leg of the hour themselves. Ya see from across the room as it starts twitchin' mad the moment Marisa exposes it to the air, like it's watchin' the face of its doom appoach and is tryin' to hoof it literal before said face can arrive for realsies.
Or ya guess it isn't “like” that. Ya guess it's exactly that.
You're so close.
“So that's it?” ya say, tunin' up the nonchalance. “That's the key to homunculusin'?”
“Yeah! Or at least I think so. I'm not going to be sure till it works, or doesn't. Experimenting's a big part of magic, ya know?”
“Yeah,” ya say. “Can I hold 'em?”
Marisa looks atcha like the bus driver just missed her stop. “The horse's leg?”
“Yeah, the horse's leg. Can I hold 'em?”
Ya get a gaze a sec longer, but then Marisa shrugs. “Well, I don't see a problem with that, long as ya don't set it loose,” she says. The leg makes with beaucoup strugglin' as she hefts the whole deal up—and then she puts it over to ya, in your waitin' arms. Ya stagger—dude's heavier than they look. It's like tryin' to carry a whole horse. Or maybe horses're heavier than ya thought in the first place. Or maybe it's the fact that the leg's still twitchin' to flee.
The dude's smoother than ya 'spected, too. They've got tufts of hair stickin' out here and there—prolly consequential of gettin' stashed away in a space like that for a coupla days—but not so much that ya can't take away a quality of smoothness from the dude anyways. Muscles, too. Ya pat the leg, without thinkin' much about it—like that's really gonna get it to calm down, right? For all the dude knows, you're here to hold the pot steady while Marisa's carves choice cuts from the outside in.
But you're not, so ya put the leg down on the floor of the house, all real gentle. And then ya straighten up again, as careful now as gentle was.
“Dude's heavy,” ya say, 'cause why else wouldja've put it down?
Marisa grins. “Yeah,” she says. “It was real tough, tying it up, but it didn't want to come here on its own, so I had to run it down till it stopped trying to escape—”
And then ya punch Marisa in the face.
“Absquatulate, Rumia!” ya yell, scoopin' up a leg as Marisa reels. There's a sec where ya turn and there's a closed door and ya think—aw, nuts, ya messed up, but then Rumia pulls the doorknob and the door open and ya heft outta there (kickin' the deal shut behind ya) like there's a mad witch that's gonna be on your tail in the way too near future.
'Cause there is.
Ya punched 'er hard, but ya didn't punch 'er that hard. Ya don't hate 'er or anything, ya just needed a window of opportunity for skedaddlement, even if ya didn't use the window at all. And also her nose cushioned your fist, prolly.
Either way—ya barely get past the part where the cottagey environ turns into trees and more trees when ya hear that door fly open real sudden and ferocious with a cry of rage. 'Cept it isn't the door that's cryin' ragefully, but a witch, and the cry of rage sounds something like this:
“I'll burn ya to a crisp, ya thieving rat!”
So prolly ya made a mistake, just now. But it's the righteous sorta mistake, so it's sorta like ya didn't make a mistake at all! Right?
Ya double with the legspeed anyways, tryin' not to trip over your own those, which is a lot harder than it sounds with your arms fulla horse and a ground fulla forest. “Which way's the shop?” ya shout.
Rumia floats on by the side of ya, arms out out the sides, a model of serenity. Or maybe just lackadaisicality. It's a false model, anyways, 'cause she's keepin' at the same clip as you. “You should keep running,” she says.
“I am runnin'!” And plus easy for her to say—one of ya doesn't hafta jump and duck sprawlin' twisted roots and branches respective while they run, and that one of you is her. “Which way's the shop?”
“If you keep running, the shop will be there.”
“The shop'll be there if I run or don't run—”
There's a tree, somewhere like a buncha yards to the left ahead of ya, roots and branches included. And then there's a thing of heat and light, and then there isn't a tree anymore, and also there isn't the tree next to it.
Ya totally don't yelp as ya break to the right, though ya do shout, and this time it's shoutin' justfied. “Where's the shop now?” you're like.
“You should turn left,” says Rumia.
Ya turn left.
“You should turn right.”
“Ya said 'left'!”
“You should have turned left.”
“I did turn left!”
“You turned left,” Rumia agrees, and you're itchin' to get this cleared up, but then another tree turns into not-a-tree real quick and real bright and real hot and real closer, this time.
Ya turn right pronto. “Now?”
“You should turn left.”
Seriously? “Float me a line to trace, dude!” ya snap. “I'm missin' GPS here!”
Rumia stares atcha peacefully, which is a thing to do when the back of your throat is achin' with cold breaths and you can feel your sprint startin' to wind down and the third leg you've got is a load in your arms which ya can't swing 'cause you're carryin' that load which means you're too slow and there's a witch on your tail and ya don't know where she is 'cept she knows where you are and ya know she knows where ya are 'cause—
This time ya actually feel the heat, just early enough that ya look in reflex and see a way-too-wide beam of light go from somewhere up high to practically next to ya, like some rainstorm off formin' got sick of the whole deal before it started and decided to leggo the whole deluge all at once, 'cept instead of rain it's rainin' magic and fire and the concept of a whole line of trees to the right of ya just not existin' anymore.
Ya veer not towards that. “Rumia!”
“You shouldn't go left any more,” Rumia goes, noddin' cheerily. And still floatin', of course. Funny, how ya keep forgettin' that everybody here flies. That is like one more dimension than you're used to checkin'.
Dudes'ren't supposta hafta look up! Ya feel like this is unfair, prolly.
“I can see ya!” comes Marisa's voice from up somewhere.
Ya tighten your grip 'round the horse's leg, like that's gonna help somehow. “There'ren't any routes underground, are there?” ya say. Or maybe pant. 'Cause you're pantin' now. 'Cause you're in trouble. “Foggara? Parisian sewers? Anything to avoid a burny death here, dude.”
“It's hot underground, too, though.”
Another buncha trees gone and ya don't even hafta look. It's on the back of your neck. “Well, do ya have any ideas at all? 'Cause I don't wanna die.”
There's a tick of a clock ya haven't got, where you're still runnin' and Rumia's still floatin' and the two of ya (three of ya, leg included) are just movin' in a forest where movin' doesn't seem to make any difference, and ya think, clearer than ya oughta be able to—aw, nuts, but it's the end of the line, huh? You're 'bout to be all kindsa statistics.
Ya think of your mom. And your dad. And your brother, and a whole buncha other buddies and relatives you're never gonna catch again.
And then Rumia says, “You should keep running,” and floats—up.
“Dude!” ya shout or gasp or maybe just something. “I can't go that way!”
“You can't,” Rumia agrees. And then she says, risin' all the way: “Majorem hac dilectionem nemo habet, ut animam suam ponat qui pro amicis suis.”
“I still don't do Latin!” ya shout.
If Rumia hears ya, she does a good job not showin' it, just still risin' up, past the leaves and branches and everything else formin' the border between in the forest and out—and then she's gone, more or less, and ya stand there, squintin' up, tryin' to catch the dude in the spaces where the boughs break and you can actually see sky. Didja get left behind? Is that what's happenin' here? Did Rumia just cut her losses and dump your chattanooga here to get blasted? 'Cause if so, that's some seriously unexpected douchery.
The leg you're luggin' twitches, like it's concurrin'.
The sky you can see breaks out in stars.
And ya don't get it. And then ya think of slime monsters and caveat emptor. And the stars and lights're shootin', a whole buncha fusillades comin' and goin' from every which way so everywhere you're gonna lose track of the sun.
Rumia didn't leave ya. Rumia's buyin' ya time.
Ya clutch the leg tight and make for the keep-runnin' direction, and hope you've got it right.
Ya thought your legs and lungs and everything else was burnin' before? Now ya know burnin', and the super dramatic leapin' ya hafta do over roots and detritus and stuff hasn't helped. Ya don't hear angry witch sounds anymore, though, so that's a plus. Prolly?
Ya don't wanna think how Rumia's doin'. She came to you, when she thought she was gonna be blasted. Is she still holdin' out? Did she get vaporized?
Is this even the right way you're runnin'? If Rumia gave up her time for nothing that'd just be...like, ya don't even have words for that. All ya have is a horse leg, a set of decent kicks, and rapidly depletin' breath.
When the forest pauses and Rinnosuke's shop pops outta the woodwork, it's a miracle, straight up.
But you're not outta the woods yet. Literally, even.
Marisa knows where ya live. Which means, in case she delivers a beatdown Rumiawise and gets back on your heels—which is a possibility that is way too legit to be anything approachin' comfy—you've gotta hide yourself away, pronto.