File 148264214210.png - (422.47KB, 1400x600, I think it's time we blow this scene.png)
[X] Which means you've got responsibilities, here. Estimate as truthfully as ya can.
Which means you've got responsibilities.
Regardless of any douchenozzle tendencies this dude in front of you's displayin'.
Nuts. “Eight dollars,” ya say, puttin' the disc back down. “I'm gonna say 'bout eight dollars.”
Rika does a squinchin' of the peepers, royal. “You paused,” she says.
“I didn't pause.”
“You paused,” Rika says again. “Before you named your price, you paused.”
“That wasn't a pause,” ya say. “That was more like a happenstantial ellipsis.”
“That would be a pause. That's a pause. An ellipsis denotes a pause.”
“As the dude who either did or didn't pause, I think I can tell if I paused or not, which I didn't,” ya say. “Tell 'er, Mac. Tell 'er I didn't pause.”
Rinnosuke sits there lookin' ya both askance, cheek of his mug restin' easy in his palm.
“Mac,” ya say again.
“She didn't pause,” Rinnosuke says. His syllables come out half-squashed, squeezin' between his lips and the hand he's not even botherin' to move away for understandability.
But that's good enough. “See?” ya say, whirlin' back to the dude ya like least here. “I didn't pause. Eight smackers, over easy. Whaddya iratin' at me for, anyways? That's scant compared to what the others're worth.”
“My problem is that the more you talk, the more I think that you're simply making these prices up as you go.”
Well, ya can't say she's wrong.
“You're wrong,” ya say.
Or ya guess ya can. Whoops! And with that, ya flip label-side-up the grand finale of disc procession and—oh, wait, this last one's actually just tax preparation software. Talk about an anticlimax. “Yo Mac, how'dja score these again?” ya ask. “Singularly.”
Now he takes the hand off. “Three hundred yen each,” he says.
“Yeah—ya got this one right, I think. So the total is...”
And then ya don't say what the total is, 'cause ya realize something. Ya realize something kinda significant.
“Hey, Mac?” ya say, out into the open air. “What's three hundred yen in dollars?”
“I still don't know that.”
“Right, gotta ballpark. Lemme see—it's prolly three dollars—”
“An exact one to one hundredth exchange rate?” Rinnosuke interrupts ya. “That seems unlikely.”
“I said I was ballparkin' it, didn't I?” Not that the dude hasn't got a point. “Okay, we'll round it down. Let's say two-fifty. See, we're not cheatin' ya here.” That last bits directed Rikawards—
Not that said dude appreciates it. “I don't know what you're doing,” says Rika. “You don't know what you're doing—”
“Wait,” says Rinnosuke. “What price did you set the others?”
“Ten, fifteen, eleven, eight. So if ya add those together—”
“Forty-six point five. Wait, forty-six point five what?”
“Forty-six point five dollars.”
“I don't sell in dollars.”
“Yo, dig it, Mac. Did I ever steer ya wrong? Just means we've gotta convert back to yen again. So if three hundred yen is two point five dollars—”
“This is mathematics,” Rinnosuke mutters. “Where did I put my brush?”
“Gotta be straight with ya, Mac, it might not be two point five dollars. We're imaginin' all kindsa spherical cows here.”
Rinnosuke pauses fumblin' 'cross his desk to glance atcha. “I don't know what that means.”
“Sorta like when the teach tells ya to put down g as ten in baby's first physics class.”
“I don't know what that means, either—ah.” Rinnosuke locates his instrument all flourishy, then drags a thing of paper in and starts jottin'. “Three hundred yen is two point five dollars—”
“Wait a sec, Mac,” ya stop 'im. “Write it as a fraction. Or actually, no, gimme the brush.”
“Oh, do you have another method of working out the amount?”
“Definitely, Mac. I'm not gonna tell ya it's better, 'cause I don't know, but I know I can work it out.”
“Go ahead—I'm interested in seeing this, now.”
“Lemme see if I remember, first. Ya set it up as ratios, and...yo, hold up, six hundred equals five? That's totally not right—”
The both of ya look up from the scratch paper that's already startin' to look more scratch than paper. Hey, writin' with a tool like this is mad difícil, okay? More importantly, that's not a good look adornin' Rika's mug there, and also her everything else. Looks straight up frumious. Clenched fists and jaws and everything.
“Yes?” Rinnosuke says.
“What's up?” ya say, simultaneous.
“I'm not paying that amount.”
You and Rinnosuke mull that over, just for a tick.
“What?” Rinnosuke says.
“I'm not paying that much,” Rika says. “I was never going to pay that much—I have a budget.”
“Arentcha jumpin' steps here, dude?” ya ask.
“You don't know what the final price will be, yet,” adds Rinnosuke.
“I don't need to know the final price; it's obviously too much—I can tell it's too much, even now.” She picks up the eight-dollar disc, displayin' atcha the specterish soldier gracin' the label of it. “How much is this one? It's the second-cheapest.”
You and Rinnosuke hunch back over your inkin'—oh, wait, there ya go; flubbed your ratios. No wonder the math fell over into itself the moment you took your hand away. Some multiplication, a little long division, and you've got a number that actually looks reasonable. “So that's nine hundred and sixty yen,” you come out with, while Rinnosuke double-checks your figures.
“And added to this one—” and Rika lifts the tax software, “one thousand two hundred sixty yen.”
“Yeah, that's how addition works. Cash, credit, or debit?”
“Ha ha, just kiddin'! I know prolly they don't have ATMs in Gensokyo. Just fork over the moola dude.”
“I believe she's asking you to pay what we're owed,” says Rinnosuke. Which—yeah, duh.
Rika's mug goes real still, 'cept for her eyes. The CD she's liftin' lowers, just a bit, catchin' the light. Not as much as it would if it was shiny-side-out instead of soldier-side-out, but it catches the light.
“I have a budget,” she says. “That price falls only just inside it.”
“Lucky, dude,” ya say.
“If you hadn't changed the prices I would have been able to buy all these items and stay in my budget.”
Ya glance at Rinnosuke, who glances back doin' a sorta shrug that's done without shoulders. “True,” ya say.
“But you changed the prices.”
“Also true,” ya say.
“That's not fair. You—just changed the prices. You took what I thought was fine to pay and you made it more.”
“It's not so much the price increased,” Rinnosuke cuts in. “Rather, what you're paying now is what these items were worth all along.”
“And I still have to pay more,” says Rika, totally not up for digestin' Rinnosuke's logic, no matter how logicky it actually is. The CD shifts again, this time more youwards. “If she hadn't readjusted these prices, I wouldn't have to.”
“If you want to blame anybody, blame me for underpricing these items in the first place.”
“And you're going to keep doing it? You're going to keep having her raise the prices, and raise the prices—if she raises the prices, what am I supposed to sell anything for? There isn't any profit.”
Ya blink. “Wait, that's what you're all steamed about? Not makin' so much on the markup?”
“At least I buy,” Rika says, and it's kinda unnervin', how this dude can pitch so close to shoutin' with her face so tight. “There's nothing wrong with selling what I've bought—you aren't going to sell; I've been here enough to know—if I sell what I buy and buy off what I sell there's nothing wrong with that.”
Ya glance at Rinnosuke, flickerin' your eyes between the significant parties in this deal. That means, “Yo, Mac, is this normal?”
Rinnosuke shifts, lookin' all way very uncomfy, which you're pretty sure means, “No.” “That's fine,” he says to Rika, his supercooled shopkeep persona holdin' together in all the main places. “But I can't let you leave with anything I sell here unless you pay for it, first.”
Rika opens her yap again—but nothing comes out, even though her teeth gnash and her lips work and her neck arches like that's where all the words are jammed. She looks at Rinnosuke—at you. All around her, like maybe there's some backup here she missed that's just about to rise to her defense in a super-dramatic movie moment.
“So, this is going to keep happening,” she croaks. “You're just going to raise the prices—raise the prices—and that's it? Because she says so? So she's an Outsider—who is she to say? Authority—what authority? Whose authority does she have—”
“Dicunt ei: Cæsaris.”
The three of you—you, Rinnosuke, Rika—turn like a trio of tops to look at the new voice in the matter.
Rumia stands center stage, arms outstretched, somewhere between standin' and floatin' and balancin' on her own two feet.
“Tunc ait illis: Reddite ergo quæ sunt Cæsaris, Cæsari: et quæ sunt Dei, Deo,” she says, and ya don't understand any of it, but you're pretty sure this is the opposite of backup.
Well, whatever it is, it settles it. Mug stone-still, throat bobbin', she transfers the moola from her person to the desktop, takin' the appropriate discs in exchange.
“Thank you for your continued patronage,” says Rinnosuke.
“No problem,” Rika definitely doesn't say even slightly, as she tries to set Rinnosuke on fire with her mind. And then, like a windup doll that hasn't gotten the hang of flesh yet, she walks 'cross the shop floor and then out.
There's a moment of perfect pin-droppin' silence. And then the whole shop seems to let loose its breath, expellin' this tenseness ya didn't even know was buildin' up, and you relax, lettin' your shoulders slump. It's maybe your imagination, but ya think ya feel Rinnosuke doin' basically the same next to you.
He handles the CDs Rika didn't buy, peerin' close up at 'em like he's tryin' to discern their secrets by eyeball alone. “These CDs...” he mutters. “Are they really worth so much?”
“Who cares?” ya say. “The important part's that we got leftovers. Where'dja put that CD player?”
“On the shelf above the radiator...” Rinnosuke sorta trails off in the tail end of that sentence. “Wait,” he says.
Oh, yeah, there it is, alright. And perched on top of it is that set of those headphones Rinnosuke was talkin' 'bout, a coupla weeks ago. You collect both. Or maybe more than both, if headphones are already a both, though that's kinda besides the point right now. “Cross your fingers, Mac,” ya chortle. “Barrin' some egregious scratches, we've got tunes incomin'!”
“Is that why you raised the prices? Only because you didn't want her to buy all of the CDs?”
“It's not an 'only' thing, Mac. I mean, like, ya seriously did have all these tunes underpriced—I just gave ya the out for pumpin' those prices up to proper. Now ya get to sell this stuff for more than just spare change, and I get to showcase for you the power of music. That's what we Outsider dudes call 'win-win.'” Ya glance at Rinnosuke there, and—
That look on his mug. It's...complicated.
“Hey,” ya say, rearrangin' priorities pronto. “Something wrong, Mac?”
Rinnosuke shakes his head, his facemood goin' back to normal. Well, Rinnosuke-normal. “That you'd done what you'd done for my benefit—I suppose is what I thought,” he 'splains, and—
There's something 'bout the way he says that, something real, and it makes ya wanna look at something else that isn't 'im, just real quick. Or someone else. Rumia. Ya look at Rumia.
Rumia looks at you.
Then Rumia's head does the minisculest of shifts and she's lookin' at Rinnosuke, which means you've gotta look at Rinnosuke after all, which ya don't wanna, but you've gotta.
There's something itchin' at the insides of your epidermis. “Hey, Mac,” ya say.
“Hm?” Rinnosuke peers atcha, just over the rims of his glasses.
Ya realize, all of a sudden, thatcha didn't actually plan something to say. Ya open your mouth anyways.
The tank smashes through the wall.
“What?” says Rinnosuke.
“What,” says you, for related but not-exactly-the-same reasons.
The tank lumbers forwards, in through the giant hole where shop used to be, crushin' beneath its treads a whole lotta shelves and crates and knickknacks and tchotchkes that two and a half seconds ago quit bein' shelves and crates and knickknacks and tchotchkes real quick and started bein' rubble, instead. It's a weird tank, even excludin' the whole it's-a-tank-in-Gensokyo-isn't-that-how-things-aren't-supposta-be-here angle—hatted with something like a squat pyramid of a roof painted a bright healthy red with a yin-yang sign facin' forth, with a coupla thick ropey things hangin' from the frontal eaves and some zigzaggy papercraft hangin' from that to top it off.
But forget form, for a sec, 'cause there's the important part, which, yeah, ya maybe mentioned already, but it sorta bears repeatin', 'specially this moment:
That's a tank.
Like, legit. Made outta tank parts, with a turret and cannon and everything. A turret and cannon that're shiftin' on their own azimuth, angle-adjustin' till the whole deal is pointed properly, i.e. right atcha.
You're not gonna lie. This is not how ya saw this day goin'. “Down!” ya yell, and head there yourself.
The sound of the cannon going off is—actually, it's a lot less explodey than you figured it was gonna be. Like, not that you've had alotta 'sperience with tanks, but if a tiny gun goin' off makes a pretty strong blam, any dude'd 'spect a gun like like to make a blam immense, right?
Only it doesn't. Like, it's still a pretty good blam, as far as blams go. Seven out of ten blammage, which is a passin' grade. It's just...flat, is all. Like the sorta thing you'd get at your local laser tag maybe if the dude in charge sprung for the better SFX. Actually, if ya wanna be totally honest? It's not so much blam as blat, and the fact that's one letter off kinda makes it disappointinger. Like it got so far only to fall flat on its face a foot before the finish line.
Still puts another hole in the opposite wall, though.
Like, it's not a big hole. It looks like a fireman went to town on the wall, instead of a tank.
But that's still a hole.
You're really, seriously, totally glad ya ducked.
Rinnosuke, meanwhile, assesses the calamity with a calm eye. “What are you doing?” he says, leanin' forwards like the desk in front is the only think keepin' 'im from leapin'. “No fighting in the shop!”
His specs are askew, the dude half-covered in dust from just standin' too close to the recent coupla instances of destruction alone. What you're sayin' is that he presents himself as less than a figure of authority right now.
So it's kinda surprisin' when the tank actually does lurch to a stop, treads jerkin' bit by bit till they've got themselves a nice place to perch on top of all the wall and not-wall (well, it's all not-wall now, but that's splittin' hairs). Then, after a moment longer, something in the roof of the machine shifts—the peak of the roof swingin' up and open like it's on hinges, pushed open by a dude's hand.
A moment after that, the rest of the dude follows.
You really oughta be surprised here, but somehow? Not so much.
Rika's red-faced, pantin', and ya don't think it's all from bein' cooped up in that machine of hers. Her eyes run the room—at Rinnosuke, at you, at Rinnosuke, at you—settlin' on you before her mouth cracks open in a lopsided grin. “Extortionists,” she says—calls out, in a way you're nearly 'spectin' her to follow it up with “lend me your ears.”
She doesn't though. Just keeps grinnin', eyes wide and glassy.
“Dude,” ya say, holdin' your palms out in what you're pretty sure's the universal gesture for “calm the holy oak down.”
Unfortunately, this is totally the wrong move, on account of the fact that is kinda gives the dude with the tank something to focus on. Which she does. “You,” she says. “You did it.” Her peepers to Rinnosuke again. “You let it happen.”
Rinnosuke freezes mid-step, less like a dude tryin' to get significant tracks from a desk before another dude both with and in a tank notices what he's up to, and more like a dude tryin' to get significant tracks from a desk before another dude both with and in a tank notices what he's up to and failin'.
“Extortionist,” mutters Rika, her eyes goin' back to table-tennisin'. “Extortionist, extortionists, extortionists—”
The other half of Rika's smile perks, which does wonders for the dude's facial symmetry and also gives you a bad feelin' like you're gonna need to do some serious ruin' soon but ya don't know in what direction. She reaches down—sorta stoops, in her stand, still lookin' out the top as she fiddles onehandedly with whatever knobs and levers she's got workin' in there.
The turret—cannon attached, obvs—rotates outta your direction.
Which is cool.
It rotates in Rinnosuke's direction, which is not.
>>29628 Tanks are designed to destroy very large objects from very far away, which they are very good at doing. However, tanks are not designed to destroy individual people at point blank range, which is why infantry can take out a tank relatively easily. All Christie has to do is climb up the tank, open the hatch, and punch Rika right in the face.
I agree with you. A simple metal latch would Defeat 99.98% of mortals attempting this. I think we should give tank designers and builders some credit here, and say they probably put a lock on the hatch.
Ya act. The moment this dude's got her eyes trained outta your direction, ya run for it. Not away. 'Cause, like, that'd make sense, right? Run away from the angry dude behind the death cannon, and maybe if ya zigzag she won't time it right to getcha.
But no. Like ya said, that'd make sense. So that's not whatcha do. Instead, in that pinpoint in all of existence where both cannon and dude've forgotten you're even there, maybe, ya run at the both of 'em. Like, straight line. Ya aren't even disguisin' it here or tryin' to act in any way sneaky so it's no surprise that Rika notices the whole thing of you gettin' at 'er when you're only halfway and reacts like like any sane dude would.
Lucky for you, reactin' consists of fumblin' at her tank-insides to start swivelin' the cannon back atcha again, and by the time that starts happenin', you're already there—clamberin' up and over and onto the body of the whole deal, even as Rika's stopped rotatin' and started revvin' it tryin' to catch ya under the whole mess. She gets close—the toe of your sneaker fallin' into the shadow of the tank-front before ya manage to scramble it up after ya—but only close. And “close,” as you've heard one dude or another say, is a deal that only works out in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Speakin' of which: “Yo—Mac—got any hand grenades?”
Rinnosuke's standin' at the end of the room like a football player mid-play who's somehow still not sure which way to run. The only thing savin' his chattanooga at the mo is the fact that Rika looks to be operatin' similar, if the way the turret's jerkin' is anything to judge by. The cannon lurches back towards Rinnosuke—back towards you (totally ineffective as that'd be)—to him—to you—
“Do I have what?” Rinnosuke says, and if it's a sorta distracted answer ya can't really blame 'im for it at the mo. Like, at all.
The cannon does another lurch, your way again, and then does a second lurch in the same direction. Ya look at Rika, who's lookin' at you pretty clearly now, eyes narrow, teeth showin' as she mutters something ya can't hear over the racket, and you suspect she's decided on a target here. “Grenades!” ya shout, as ya make yourself neighbor to the side of the cannon, which is a terrible place to be but prolly a lot better than straight in front. “Do ya have any grenades?”
“That's not an item familiar to me!”
Just say 'no,' Mac. But okay, then—time for plan B. Or at least it's gonna be time for that, once ya actually think up a plan B to put in motion. You're not gonna lie; ya sorta went off at this half-cocked here, which is the main reason the next thing ya do is grip onto the side of a tank cannon, sleeves protectin' your grippers as much as that counts for, as the turret the deal's attached to turns your way and then keeps turnin' your way—you attached—the dude turnin' it tryin' to dislodge ya off it so she can blast ya proper.
“Get off,” she says, and she's not mutterin' now. “Get off, get off, get off get off get off—”
Yeah, ya kinda wish she'd get back to mutterin'. “Yo, Mac!” ya yell. “Stop this crazy thing!”
“And how exactly do you expect me to do that—”
The idea gets moot, though—in a good way—'cause another ring-'round-the-rosie between you and the cannon and ya swing just right to find a place to stand, lettin' yourself get deposited back onto the tank front like a dude steppin' off at the train station (the cannon continues, clippin' ya odd over the skull on the pass, but that's just gravy—you can count bumps and bruises later).
From there, it's not too hard a step up one more to the roof of the thing, where Rika's pokin' her head out, still lookin' atcha like ya shivved her dog. You ignore her snarlin' and whatnot (“Waiting game—I'm done waiting—done being extorted—”) and as the cannon halts in its turn and starts unturnin', the best to make friends again, ya go for the main problem in this shop, fingers scrabblin' at the tank-roof's slope before finally findin' purchase and friction and everything ya need to pull yourself upwards—
And then your face explodes in what-the-hey pain and ya lose all grip ya had and fall—and stumble backwards—lose your footin' and slip and fall some more and then land, square on your back on the shop floor with a solid thwack through the back of your skull and out the anterior.
She punched ya in the face, ya realize, somewhere between the thunder. She punched ya in the face and then ya fell down. That's totally unfair. She shouldn't be allowed to punch ya in the face. She's already got a tank—
Ya think someone says your name at this part, maybe. You're not sure. Everything's gone kinda tinny, like you're 'speriencin' the world through a Strombus shell. That's sight, too, by the way—you've gotta blink more than a few times before the shadows and lights sort themselves out and your eyes go back to deliverin' like they're supposta.
Though part of ya kinda wishes they hadn't, considerin' that when ya bend up your neck to assess the evolution of the whole sitch as it's gone while you've been dazed, it's the cannon you're face to not-face with direct. The end of it you'd prefer not havin' so close, to be specific.
It'd be a good time for a bout of dramatic silence, with the whole world holdin' its breath for that infinite sec, 'cept the tank's still a tank and doesn't stop rumblin' and clankin', tanklike, so that doesn't happen.
“It's your fault,” Rika mutter-mumble-says, far up past her end of the cannon, and even though she's not shoutin' you can hear her enough to understand. Maybe that's the drama kickin' in. “I'm running behind—even now I'm running behind—that's your fault. You're all extortionists, but you're the one who started this.”
“Dude,” ya croak back, “you're a cracked egg.”
You're lyin' on the floor and Rika's got a tank pointed at your sweet mug. Obviously, you're in prime position to insult 'er from here. And she's gotta be thinkin' the same, guessin' by how her mouth stretches out into a double-row wall of teeth and she reaches down one more time to activate the pseudoanachronism that's about to reduce ya to Planck smithereens—
And then something small, angular, and multicolored flies through the ether like a fragment of rainbow shrapnel, shatterin' into plastic-gloss chunks against Rika's brow, sendin' 'er rearin' back—and the cannon does that too, the danger end of it suddenly jerkin' itself upwards and away from your mug with the unintended pull or push or you-dunno-how-tanks-work that Rika's accidentally done in there, in the same mo blastin' like it and she intended, but it's too late and maybe the shot's loud, like the sound of someone testin' a nail gun by your head, and maybe ya feel the heat of it, even, but it doesn't hit ya, and that's what's important—just goes flyin' bare feet over your nose like the worst limbo consequence.
There's a sound of more wood becomin' not so much anymore, but you don't've time for assessin' the damage—ya roll, put your hands against the shop floor, push yourself up—
And ya see Rinnosuke there, just for a sec—only for a sec, 'cause that's all you've got to look at him in, but ya see 'im in that sec, feet in a stance, one arm millin' back, the other outstretched in something kinda like a lunge 'cept not exactly, 'cause a lunge and a throw aren't the same thing at all, and if there's anything else ya catch in that sec it's how definitely not tucked-away-in-a-position-that'd-stand-up-to-tankin' he is.
There's something there, something ya oughta get, but ya seriously don't've the time here. Maybe later, when ya do. But for now? There's a dude in a tank, who has a tank, and also the tank, and all that's still a major factor right now.
(And if you've got a head to ruminate with later, maybe you can cover how ya keep gettin' your bacon pulled out at the last possible. 'Cause—that? Not a trend you appreciate.)
Rika gets her head back on in 'bout the same time it takes for you to get to your feet and start scramblin' back towards maybe-safety, which is either a nice enough coincidence or a really unfortunate one. She shakes her head to dislodge the concussionesquity like a character out a slapstick cartoon, then her eyes go back to narrow and focuses in on what she's got marked as the main threat in the room. Which isn't you anymore—good news!
Bad news—it's the dude who just took a crack at Rika's cranium long-distance, i.e. everyone's favorite shopkeep. Rika snarls—like, legit snarls this time, no words, even—and cranks her turret over himwise without anything even like a quantum of hesitation.
Which means it's your turn to make the rescue—like you were ever gonna leave Rinnosuke's save unrepaid. “Yo, eyes on me, gearhead!” ya holler, takin' a threatenin' step in the unwisest of directions once more.
“Stop talking!” Rika says, and the turret goes your way again—only to pull a version of a repeat of that whole unsurety routine it had on earlier, the cannon waverin' back and forth before settlin' with pointin' unsteadily in a spot between you and him. Rika seems a lot more aware of it this time, though—kinda settled down from her whole tank-aided berserker rage that she was all 'bout earlier. Maybe whatever Rinnosuke threw at 'er knocked something the opposite of loose?
Point is, in the time it takes for a dude to throw a knickknack at a second dude who's in a tank and then for the first dude to realize the possible profundity of regret, this whole deal's settled into a weird equilibrium. In this corner, Rika, who is a dude in a tank. Like some sort of Gensokyo tank that shoots magic bullets, but still a tank, with all the entailments bein'-a-tank's got attached. Up against her? The tank-bashin' tag team of the awesome Christie Christoferson and the also-awesome Rinnosuke Morichika. Only, Christie and Rinnosuke can't bash a tank easy at the mo, 'cause tank, still with the entailments. And the dude in the tank can't take the obvious route a dude in a tank would think of takin', 'cause if she makes to 'splode you again Rinnosuke's likely to take the opportunity to strike, maybe, and also swap the names if it's him she goes for instead. You're in a stalemate, in other words. Holdin' each other in check. And maybe she's got her king in ace position, but you dudes're bishops, 'cause you can move diagonally, and this chess metaphor went rank seriously quick but ya don't have time to construct a proper one, not now, not with a tank potentially pointed at your face. It's a matter of priorities, and priorities are kinda obvious, right now.
Point is, whatcha need—or whatcha don't need, maybe, dependin'—is a tiebreaker.
Ya see 'er the moment ya think 'er, like the answer to a prayer ya haven't gotten the chance to kneel for even—a dark figure out the shadows with a mug beatific (and how'dja miss a shinin' face like that, ya can't say). She's a shootin' star in a black dress, tracin' down a swoop of night, a dive bomber with an angel's smile—
And then also a lot like most shootin' stars she totally fails to actually hit a dude, smashin' face-first into the side of the turret just shy of anything Rikaform instead with a sound to make Chuck Barris nostalgic and then bouncin' off into a crumpled heap on the shop floor.
Which ya guess would make 'er a meteorite now, followin' the metaphor.
Since now she's landed.
“What,” says Rika, takin' her eye off the two of you just long enough.
And this time, you've got a plan to go with it.
Okay, so it's not a complicated plan—“do exactly whatcha did last time, 'cept this time don't fail,” basically. But with you knowin' 'zactly where you're goin', and with all of Rika's attentions on the wrong dude—
She's bendin' over out of her tank head to look; it's like she wants to give ya a bigger target; it's too perfect—
It's the sorta scene that wants a slow-mo shot wide. Here's you, runnin' for a tank like your life depends on it, 'cause it does. Here's Rika, still sufferin' momentarily under the effects of what-the-crispies-was-that. Ya spring—
Some subconscious inklin' worms its way through Rika's head; ya watch 'er turn—
One foot landin' on the tank-front but ya don't even pause; no time for that; just another jump, your fingers itchin' for the handhold ya didn't grasp proper before—
Rika's body still turnin', eyes goin' wide, her realizin' what's goin' on—
Ya swing yourself up, to where you're gonna do the most good—
Rika almost lashes, almost shields herself, tries to split the difference, doesn't—
And ya punch 'er in the schnozz.
It isn't a very hard punch, you've gotta admit. You're at a too-funky angle for it and goin' for gettin' the hit at all instead of gettin' it right. But four fingers and a thumb do what they're supposta do, which is enough, which is get the first bop in so you can string it up in a combo—
Rika's head snaps back—her body goes back, slammin' itself against the lip of the into-the-tank—slips, starts to fall in—
Oh, no way you're lettin' 'er back into with the guns. Ya grab the collar of her shirt before she can drop, haul 'er—
(It's either her bein' light or you bein' all hopped up on determination, or maybe it's both, but she lifts easy, and ya aren't 'spectin' that—)
And ya pull too hard, 'cause she goes up, and you go back, and it's fallin' tank tank fallin' tank tank floor head.
Ow. Also, why does that keep happeni—.
Your totally righteous grouse 'bout head injuries becomin' a thing is cut off as your view of the shop roof stops bein' a view of the shop roof and suddenly starts bein' a view of an angry woman draggin' herself up over you. Ya thought she was ragin' before? Well, she was.
It's just that, now, she looks like she's gone so far she's come out the other end.
She's got a mug like she stepped it through a cloud of sindoor. She's got her teeth so tight ya wouldn't be surprised for one to get flyin' out. It's her hands on your collar now, bunchin' up the fabric tight in a coupla clenched fists. Her eyes—
—are wide and wet.
“Years,” she hisses, without movin' her jaws. “Years.”
You try sittin' up. It doesn't work. For obvious reasons.
“I have spent years saving,” says Rika. “Years and years. I'm not going to throw away years saving just because you're starting this now. There are prices for buying and buying for selling, and I'm running in place—almost running in place—and I have so much to do to her.”
“Dude,” ya say, and it's harder than you'd like with the feelin' of fingers way, way too close to your neckway, but ya manage, “I have no idea what you're talkin' 'bout.”
And then Rika takes the whole neckway problem an inch further, or farther, or more than an inch anyways, and takes that collar you've got and pulls. Not far, not all the way to you sittin' up, just enough that you're sorta hoverin' over the floor and it's mad uncomfy. And also your shirt fabric's prolly gettin' stretched. Like whoa.
“I am buying things and selling things and I am making profit,” Rika says, and you've got no idea here if she's tryin' to 'splain things to you or just goin' at it like the light at the end of a fuse. “I'm not making enough and that's okay; it's positive, but then you say 'raise the price' and he raises the price, and the kappa don't work for free.”
“'Kappa'?” ya—ya kinda gurgle, to be honest.
“There's a tank—I haven't built it; I haven't had it built, but it's up here—” And Rika makes a motion with her head, and her fingers pull, “—and they want it in a lump sum—the kappa—and I have spent years. I have spent years and years and I'm almost there and there's a better tank to build. There's a miko.”
“What's a miko?” ya ask.
And it's kinda funny, 'cause it's this question that stops up this verbal lahar. She just sorta freezes, not pullin' ya up, not pushin' ya down, just stares, her features relaxin' with the broadsideage of it all.
“What?” she goes
And then before she can say any more than that a hardback book comes cartwheelin' through the air stage left and gets 'er in the temple straight on, right with one of those pointyish corner bits.
She's barely up enough to stumble, but she does, off to the side again, her fingers goin' loose and finally lettin' your shirt be shirt. But yo, forget the sartorics—this seems like prime opportunity to get away from the dude who's been tryin' to do ya in, so ya do that, scootin' yourself backwards first of all and then gettin' to your feet and coverin' the rest of the distance in leggin' it, over to where Rinnosuke standin' tense.
His eyes go over atcha, just for a tick, and then return to the dude on the floor. His hands're up in front of 'im—not zombie-esque, but more like just hangin' there limp and curled, like he doesn't know what to do with 'em.
“Nice shot,” ya tell 'im, readjustin' your collar. “Ya really threw the book at 'er.”
“I just grabbed what I had,” Rinnosuke says. “I don't think I damaged it, but I can't be sure.”
Oh, right, the idiom isn't gonna exist in Japanese, obvs. Also, ya can't believe ya actually said that. Seriously, that's shame ya feel right now. “What was that thing ya threw the first time?” ya ask. “Y'know, right before I was gonna bite it.”
“A sort of puzzle cube,” says your savior to the power of x. His eyes don't lift from Rika, now. Ya join' 'em in starin'.
Dude's just lyin' on the floor, face-down.
She's alive, right? Rinnosuke can't've hit 'er that hard.
“You can turn the faces of it independently,” continues Rinnosuke in that weirdly distracted way he's got goin' on right now. “I can't tell for certain, but I think the goal was to shift the faces in such a way that each face was only one color.”
“Yeah, sounds 'bout right.”
Thanks, Ernő Rubik.
“So,” ya say, “Mac—what do we do now?”
Rinnosuke doesn't answer you, at least not with words. But he glances at you as you glance back, and then like on some signal unheard the two of you start approachin' the dude, slow and wary. 'Specially slow and wary, as ya get within potential strikin' distance. A snake can getcha even with its body chopped off, and plus ya have seen a horror flick, ever.
And it's a good thing ya did that, too, 'cause that's about when Rika starts stirrin', and ya don't mean soup. One arm reaches out like a spider's leg, bracin' itself against the floor—the head rises—
Rika looks up at the two of you lookin' down at her, and ya think—things've gotta look really awful from where she's lyin', don't they?
Her jaw creaks open.
“Qui patiens est multa gubernatur prudentia; qui autem impatiens est exaltat stultitiam suam.”
'Cept of course, it isn't Rika who says that. It's Rumia, instead, who's just joined ya at the Rikaside, makin' your duo a trio. She raises her arms in a T-pose, apparently no worse for the wear, and ya think—that's good. That's totally good. You were seriously worried, after that whole slam-into-the-tank deal she fell into—
And suddenly, laser.
It doesn't vaporize Rika, not like it did the poltergeist, which, y'know, lucky her, but also lucky you, 'cause you're kinda not up to watchin' somebody die today, even if this dude woulda been all for it happenin' the other way 'round. What the laser does do is send the dude skiddin' 'cross the shop floor like a spider hit with the full blast of a hair dryer. She goes tumblin' end over end, a sprawlin' silhouette in this whole lightshow of pain Rumia's cheerily dealin' out, up till she slams up against one of the walls she didn't bust, bouncin' off it in a way that makes shelves rattle and you wonder if Rumia isn't actually all up into the idea of ironic comeuppance.
That is ironic, right? The whole concept of irony's been kinda floaty lately. Not that that's new or anything. Like, who uses it to mean “playin' Socrates” nowadays?
Point is, Rika doesn't try gettin' up again. Ya don't know if she's unconscious—detectin' that sorta thing is totally not your forte, dig—but maybe she's gonna be disinclined to give it a second go either way. Even determination's got its limits.
“Rumia?” ya call out, keepin' your peepers careful even as ya look otherwise.
“That was totally sweet,” ya say. “Like, totally. More than made up for the whole dramatic-entrance-only-to-smash-yourself-in-the-head-with-a-tank thing.”
Rumia's smile droops at the edges into something kinda sheepish. “It's bright,” she says. “I can't see well when it's bright.”
“And I get sleepy.”
Ya all stare at the dude on the ground some more. Dude still hasn't stirred. Maybe she is conked out proper this time.
Rinnosuke is a presence. “Yes?”
“I've gotta asterisk here.”
“You need to do what?”
“A word of warnin', Mac, warnin'. It's just that, uh, considerin' real recent developments, I don't think rememberin' this dude's name's gonna net ya a repeat customer. Like, even if ya do remember her name.”
Rinnosuke's head turns on its axis. Very very carefully, like it might fall off, till it's facin' you and not watchin' the dude who might or might not get up again like it oughta be doin'. “Do you really think so,” says the mouth attached to the front of it.
“Yeah, Mac,” ya say. “Just a hunch. There's some attitudes even hoomalimali can't soften up, y'know?”
The eyes that're also things attached to the head regard ya. At least, you're pretty sure they're regardin' ya. You're not lookin' 'em straight, for various reasons.
“I don't know what that means,” says Rinnosuke.
“My customer tried to kill me, two of the walls of my shop have been badly damaged, a significant amount of merchandise has been destroyed beyond salvaging or selling, and I don't know what the word that you used means.”
Various various reasons. “Um,” ya try, “well, look on the bright side, Mac. You've got us here with ya, right? We can get through this together.”
Somewhere behind ya, there's a grand crack as some construction gives up the ghost. And then the sound of alotta smaller other somethings hittin' the floor all at once in what you can only call a chord of destruction.
Or a mess.
“A mess” works.
Rinnosuke makes a sound somewhere 'round his velum.
“Yep,” ya say, and maybe it ya say it loud enough it'll have miraculous effects, “Gonna get through this together. You and me, and also Rumia. But seriously, Mac, we're just gonna blaze through this, you'll see. You'll be up and back to chargin' people in no time—”
And now they have a defense turret for the shop! And if any youkai get uppity tank can be used to drive over their sorry asses until they actually pay. Would not help with stronger gensokyians but then again, what does?
> “I am buying things and selling things and I am making profit,” Rika says, and you've got no idea here if she's tryin' to 'splain things to you or just goin' at it like the light at the end of a fuse. “I'm not making enough and that's okay; it's positive, but then you say 'raise the price' and he raises the price, and the kappa don't work for free.”
I just realised that Rika was bankrolling her new tank by purchasing things from Rinno and then selling it at marked-up rates, and that is why she reacted so strongly to our meddling.
But....but...why? Why Rika? Why do you need a tank? Why do you need anything? There no rent or taxes in Gensokyo. Why immediately resort to murder? I'm sure the dude would have accepted a handie in exchange for the tank goods, it's not like anyone else pays money.
If recent events have taught us anything, it's that we need work out. You never know when another Tank's gonna want to bash skulls with us, and the next dude to drive it might actually have to IQ necessary to lock the top. 'Specially because of this Chekhov's boss fight.
>“—and they want it in a lump sum—the kappa—and I have spent years. I have spent years and years and I'm almost there and there's a better tank to build. There's a miko.”
Sanae? I can't think of anyone else so close to the kappa.
Stay thine words, oh ye of little faith. I don't think anyone has ever even thought to ask the poor man. I mean like...we could be dealing with a "40 year old virgin" type scenario here. Who knows what dark desires lurk deep within the murky depths of his heart? Also, Chris claims to be a true bro, but she hasn't even asked to help him find a sexy girl to settle down with. Or at the very least find a dumb braud willing to let him get the tip wet, know what I'm sayin?
Come on guys, is this really the place for this discussion? I mean, I know we all miss Patchy Quest, but let's not let our intense feelings of sadness and loss cloud our judgement. I'm sure OP would appreciate it if we went back to praising his amazing story.
So there's this pretty famous puzzle. Like, mad famous. You're talkin' practically ubiquitous here, least to the globe's western half. It goes like this:
You're on one side of a river and ya wanna get to the other. There's no bridge. There's a boat, though, left out for any dude to use just as long as they're on the same side of the river as the thing, apparently. And it is on your side, which is cool, 'cept for the further complications ranklin' the whole sitch.
See, not only have ya gotta transport yourself over the river, which would be fine, but also there's a wolf, a goat, and a cabbage you've gotta get over as well. And the boat's only a two-seater, one of which has gotta be you, owin' to the general inability of wolves, goats, and especially cabbages to boatrow.
Oh, and also as long as you're babysittin' it's all hunky-dory in terms of wolf-goat-cabbage relations, but if you leave the wolf and goat on their own while ya take the boat to the other side, that goat is goin' down the gullet. Ditto for if ya leave the goat and cabbage unattended, 'cept it's the cabbage that bites it. Or gets bitten. Whatever.
And no, ya can't squeeze the wolf and cabbage into one seat. There's not enough room, or the boatin' system has a very strict only-two-passengers-slash-cabbages policy, or something.
Now, considerin' all this—the river, the boat, the boatspace, the four of you cispontine minus the pont—how do you end up on the other side, company intact?
“All I'm sayin' is, I feel like the answer would be applicable here,” ya say to Rumia. “Or something.”
Rumia tilts her head, clearly givin' the whole matter the thought it deserves.
You adjust your sittin' and continue.
“I mean, it's not an exact science, prolly. But it fits, right? Thematically. I mean, Rinnosuke's left us alone before trustin' us not to get blasted or chomped one way or another, but...”
Ya wave your hand, acknowledgin' the new ventilation Rinnosuke's pad is all about at the mo. Which makes ya slip a little—but no, you've got it. Still, ya adjust your sittin' again, this time more firmly just in case.
“So like, thoughts?” ya ask. “Corrections? Various ruminations? I'd do the wordplay there, but it doesn't really work in Japanese.”
“I ate a goat, once,” Rumia says. “When you eat a goat, it makes a lot of noise. Most humans do, too.”
Legit fascinatin', but you're not sure it helps. “The goat's a metaphor,” ya say.
Rumia hmms, head still tilted.
“Also I think in this particular sitch there are multiple goats. And the wolves are indefinite. And the cabbage can bite back, potentially. Like I said, thematic.”
Rumia hmms again. Then, carefully, slowly, like a dude outta the high-stakes world of contact jugglin', she restraightens her neck and reaches her arms out the sides. “You should take the goat to the other side,” she says. “Then come back, and take the wolf or the cabbage to the other side. Then come back with the goat, and take the cabbage or wolf to the other side. Then come back, and take the goat to the other side.”
And havin' said that, she puts her arms back down, brushes down her dress, and sits all very dainty on the floor beside ya.
Ya look at Rumia.
Ya look down at your hands.
Ya work out the math yourself. Fingers're involved.
“Huh,” ya say. “I kinda thought that'd be a lot more help than actually it is.”
“Bonum est confidere in Domino, quam confidere in homine.”
“Still don't know Latin.” Ya bend sideways just a tilt, lookin' down over. “How 'bout you?” ya ask. “You got anything?”
Rika looks up from where she's lyin' prone on the shop floor and also pinned square underneath the gravitative force of you. It's not a real friendly look. Or a real I-am-champin'-at-the-bit-to-assist-in-logic-puzzle-application-slash-Latin-translation look, either.
She sorta shifts, tryin' to break free, but that whole sittin'-on-'er deal you've got goin' on at the mo is a real obstruction there. Also the fact that while she was out of it you and Rinnosuke took every vaguely cordlike production in the pad and wrapped 'em all over the dude with enough twists and turns to make a Scout break out in hives. Knots'ren't your forte (though ya can't speak for Rinnosuke), but quantity's its own kinda quality, right?
“So that's a 'no,'” ya say.
The gaze Rika rolls up atcha is fulla bale, straight up. “Fmff,” she says.
Rika's all set to agree further, prolly, or at least make a lot more with the muffled mumblin' (which is close enough, as far as you're concerned), but then ya never get to know for sure, 'cause Rumia just sorta peps to attention, standin'—not straight, 'zactly, but alert, lookin' somewhere over your shoulder past the back of it on. Ya turn your neck, followin' her eyesight.
It's Rinnosuke, which is cool.
And he's brought company.
It's a coupla dudes Rinnosuke's got with 'im, specifically. One of 'em's walkin' close to Rinnosuke's side, like she's ready to pull 'im down and take the bullet instead, the other trailin' behind in a meanderin', zigzaggy sorta way. And seriously, they couldn't be more off opposite ends of the spectrum if ya tried. Like, the dude next to Rinnosuke? The 'spression she's wearin' belongs on the mug of a dude that is all outta bothers and isn't shy 'bout lettin' an audience know, while the other dude—the trailin' dude—isn't even here right now. You can tell that from the unfocused gaze she's totin'. Where she actually is ya don't know, but if ya hafta guess—
Orbitin' Jupiter, prolly.
The clothes are a little more samey, in the way gettin' your pinky finger cut off has some thematic similarities with losin' your head. Outta-Bothers is bearin' a mostly red something that ya might kinda accurately call a dress, if it weren't missin' the armpits for some reason. As it is, ya guess it is a dress, still—just a sleeveless one. Or there are sleeves, but those sleeves're just hangin' there, detached. Ya can't guess how the dude keeps 'em up, not without a closer study.
The other dude, meanwhile—Jupitous—is wearin' what you'd guess to be a normal robe set, featurin' a casual spotty pattern of flowers or fireworks or starbursts (which are also flowers) or at least something radial near to the hems of it. That's not weird. What is weird is that the robe? Jupitous is drownin' in it, practically. Like, there's wrapped up for the oncomin' winter—which ya get, totally; Japan's gettin' cold, yo—and then there's this, which is kinda approachin' overboard with vigor.
Though okay, it's not overboard yet. There are levels. But it's gettin' there.
But back to the important part: Rinnosuke's back, which is totally, totally cool. You'd spring up, if ya weren't doin' the way important job of keepin' a tank dude down, which ya are—so, well, ya don't. Ya just wave hello, callin' out a hearty, “Yo, Mac!”
Rinnosuke waves his head back. Or, as some dudes like to call it, “nods.” Which is also a hello.
Unfortunately, the dude's not the only dude in the vicinity zeroin' in on the sound of your dulcet notes. The moment ya break the air, Outta-Bothers—you remember Outta-Bothers, from earlier—does basically the same, lookin' your way as good as Rinnosuke ever did. Only problem is, she's not so keen on the greets, apparently? Which'd be fine on its own, you've gotta admit. After all, you dunno her, and vice versa. What she does do, though, is focus a laser beam of sight right atcha—no, over you, like you're at the grocery store and she's lookin' for the bars that say how much ya cost.
Ya kinda don't like it. Like, nothing's solid, but—it's inducin' with the badfeel, you've gotta say? Yeah.
And that badfeel gets even badder when she shifts that same look over to Rumia, 'cept when she does that the laser beam ups in intensity drastic. And that's the new normal it holds at, even when it moves off 'er and starts takin' in the less important bits of the scene, like Rika, and, y'know.
Which is still there, 'cause, y'know, can't move a tank.
Rika could move a tank! Don't wanna let Rika move a tank. For obvious reasons.
Point is, that's a real unsteadyin' look, which means it's a seriously awesome time for Rinnosuke to make himself the center of the universe. “Was there any trouble?” he says.
Tryin' not to get any Outta-Bothers in your peepers, ya give 'im a thumbs-up. This thumbs-up means “everything rocked,” and not “yes.” It's a real important distinction 'cause “yes” would mean the opposite of “everything rocked,” here. “Tank dude still secure!” you report. “Me and Rumia were on it.”
“She didn't run, so I didn't eat her,” Rumia adds.
Tank Dude below yourself stops squirmin' quick. Like, real quick.
Rinnosuke nods some more, which you're gonna interpret as supreme satisfaction that Christie Christoferson and Rumia Wait-Does-She-Have-a-Surname-Even are on the case. Then he sees a thing, and that noddin' stops partway. “Why is she gagged?” he asks.
Ya glance down at Tank Dude. Specifically, at the dustin' cloth you had Rumia shove across her mouth halfway through the waitin' game.
“It's thematic,” ya say.
“I see,” says Rinnosuke, after a pause. Then he turns his head, acknowledgin' the dudes he brought with 'im—both the one to his side and the one laggin' behind.
Outta-Bothers catches the turn and does ditto at the one dude in the back who hasn't. “Well?” she says.
Jupitous raises her head slowly from where she's busy makin' rounds. And then, suddenly—like, you're talkin' blink-and-ya-miss-it suddenly—all that dopiness drops and she pops into focus sharp. Didja really say she was circlin' Jupiter? Turns out the reason she was circlin' Jupiter was 'cause Jupiter's a good place to circle if you're a death laser. What's up, Project Excalibur?
“Aha,” mutters Jupitous, takin' in the tableau. “Well—something's certainly happened here.”
Yeah, ya can't really argue with that. “Who's the dudes, Mac?” ya break in, before all of this can get any more ahead of you.
Rinnosuke does the sorta sweepy arm gesture done by all dudes tryin' to facilitate introductions. He gestures at Jupitous first (which is kinda weird, actually, considerin' Outta-Bothers is a lot closer). “This is Kotohime,” he says. “She's a...”
That sounds like some serious unsurety, Mac.
Outta-Bothers pipes in to back 'im up, though. “She's a police officer,” she says, and—well, okay. Ya mean, she doesn't look like how you'd think a cop would look, but then again, it's not like ya ever thought about what a Gensokyo cop would look like at all, right? Maybe this set-up is totally advantageous to the Gensokyo Police Department. Or maybe there's some magic in the robes or something. Right?
Rinnosuke continues, unheedin' of your analysis, prolly 'cause he can't read your mind. He does his second intro, motionin' at Outta-Bothers. “And this,” he says, “is...”
Ya wait for the bit that comes after this pause, only to realize after, like, a good hefty ten seconds that it's not gonna happen. Rinnosuke just looks at you, then at Outta Bothers, and it's a look ya can't 'zactly read, 'cept for the extreme uncomfiness.
In the end, Outta-Bothers finally, finally takes over herself. “Hakurei Reimu,” she says.
Real life doesn't have a soundtrack attached, but if it did, ya feel like ya woulda gotta a real forebodin' chord there. Or at least a subtle change in room tone.
[ ] Maybe get some exposition from Rinnosuke here? [ ] Might be advantageous to buddy-buddy with a cop. [ ] Better to beat uncomfiness head-on—talk to Reimu. [ ]
[x] Better to beat uncomfiness head-on—talk to Reimu.
We don't have the greatest track record for first impressions, but this Reimu dude already seems to be filing us under "pain in the hiney." Let's see if we can't head that off at the pass and maybe establish amicable relations. It could work, right?
[X] Better to beat uncomfiness head-on—talk to Reimu.
There's something real uncanny 'bout this dude. Some kinda aposematism you're pickin' up on a level ya can't entirely pick up on.
Which means the really smart thing to do is to charge 'er head-on, in a matter of speakin'. Ya look 'er in the eyes direct and stretch your mug into a CFL smile. “What's up, dude?”
Rinnosuke's whole face flinches. Like, just all at once. It's a neat trick.
As for the receiver of your upwhattin', she doesn't react in any way that makes ya any comfier. She glances at you, at Rumia (why Rumia keeps bein' a thing ya don't know), turns her head so she can glance properly at Rinnosuke—
“'What's up,'” Rinnosuke cuts in, before this dude—Reimu—can staredown the whole globe. “It's a greeting—it means something like 'what is happening?'”
“Then she should say that,” says Reimu, and, wow. Prescriptivist much?
Still, gotta grin and bear it. “So, who're you dudes?” ya ask, pointin', as to leave the “you dudes” unambiguous. “Rinnosuke said he knew a dude who could take care of a whole tank-dude-attacks-the-shop aftermath, but he was sorta skimp on the deets. Or, like, in what capacity this caretakin' would come in—y'know?”
“I don't understand most of what you said,” says Reimu.
Reimu sorta regards ya for a sec more before switchin' over abrupt to Rinnosuke. “Already dropping honorifics?” she says.
“We've been living in the same house for two months,” Rinnosuke says.
“You've been living in the same house because you haven't sent her away.”
“If it's using honorifics,” Rumia says, her voice slippin' into the forefront like the sound of a dinner bell, “she never did it at all.”
Reimu looks at Rumia with a gaze that could prolly drill a hole in something that isn't a kid-sized youkai in a black dress. Then she looks at Rinnosuke with a gaze that's almost the same as that, but isn't.
Rinnosuke doesn't return that. Actually, he looks like returnin' it is the last thing he wants to consider. Maybe better help 'im out? “Uh, yo.”
You punctuate your yo-ing with another arm-wavin', which turns out totally unnecessary. Everyone's lookin' atcha even without. But they're not lookin' at Rinnosuke anymore, so...mission accomplished?
“Are we talkin' 'bout me?” ya ask. “'Cause, like, if we're talkin' 'bout me, I kinda wanna be involved in that, dudes.” You consider. “And also Mac.”
Reimu digests what's a totally reasonable request, and, havin' digested it, sorta just kinda tosses it away, turnin' back at Rinnosuke—whoops. “'Mac'?” she prompts.
“It's something she calls me, for some reason,” Rinnosuke says, avodin' eyes.
“You have nicknames?”
“She has a nickname for me. Why is this important? This isn't what I needed your help with—”
“Ah, I understand now.”
That's not Rinnosuke or Reimu. It's not Rumia, either, and it's definitely not you.
All the eyes in the world check Kotohime out.
'Cept instead of givin' 'er stage fright, all that that eyeballin' does is sorta gracefully pump 'er up, that Mona Lisa smile gettin' ever Mona-Lisaer. She closes her eyes, not to block anything out, but like she's gotta close 'em on account of the fairy dust that got all sprinkled on her lashes.
When she speaks, it's—level. Enunciated, 'cept only to a spot and not any more than that.
“Then, others, who are you? The one called Master Rinnosuke spoke to me, that he knew of one who understood the method by which the aftermath of an attack upon a shop by a war-vehicle could be resolved. However, only of this he spoke to me. Of the one's method, he spoke not. May this yet be understood?”
She opens her eyes again.
There's no diff in the quiet the shop's all about, there. But it feels like there is, anyways. Like ya had a brush, just then, with some kinda nebulous magic.
“What,” says Reimu.
“—is what she said,” says Kotohime, and the magic's gone.
Rumia nods. “She says things weird,” she says, in—oh, come on, is that supposta be commiseration or something?
“This I-can't-understand-the-dude shtick is totally unwarranted,” ya grouse. “I'm intelligible. Like whoa, I'm intelligible.”
“No, you're not,” says Reimu.
“You're not,” says Rumia.
“Not particularly,” says Rinnosuke.
“I understood her!”
“See?” ya say, and also, Kotohimewards, “Thanks.”
“Though it took me a minute to place it in normal words.”
“Okay, maybe stop helpin' me out here.”
“I'm not helping.”
“Yeah, that's, like, all beaucoup clear, at the mo—”
“My guest's habits of speech aside,” Rinnosuke interrupts, “I'd like it if someone would take custody of the person who demolished my shop.”
Reimu holds an unblinkin' stare Rinnosuke's way.
Kotohime swings her eyesight all at various places. And dudes.
“The person Christie's sitting on,” Rinnosuke specifies.
Ya offer up a visual aid. By wavin'.
“Ah,” says Kotohime, and ya can't tell if she's only really really noticin' Rika now, but, like, ya wouldn't be surprised? “That's fine, then. It's been a long time since I got to put somebody in jail.”
And, that hinky sentence all out there, she crouches down, grabbin' hold of Rika by the back of the collar. Which is prolly close enough to police custody in a place like this, so ya roll yourself off the dude, feelin' your joints pop with the shiftin' of 'em. Sittin' on a dude that long'll drive ya stiff.
Rika, of course, starts gagmouthin' with new energy the sec this hand-off starts, but one, not your problem, and two, she totally deserves it, whatever the “it” that's settin' off this new kinda protest is. Discomfort at gettin' manhandled, maybe. Or just the realization she's been snatched by the five-oh for realsies now.
Dude tried to getcha with a tank. Your sympathy's at an all-time low, here.
Anyways, ya finally get to stand (on wobbly legs, you've gotta admit), and the sight of Kotohime luggin' Rika like a dude haulin' a particularly ugly sports bag is real neato, no kiddin'. “Thank you for your cooperation,” the cop says, salutin' with the hand unloaded.
And then she about-faces, and, with a back straight and a bearin' almost militaryish, marches out the shop front door, criminal load squirmin' and mumblin' and protestin' the best anyone can protest without words to protest with all the way through till the sound of it fades into forestry.
That was admittedly kinda cool. “Exeunt, stage right,” ya mutter.
“You said you didn't know Latin,” says Rumia.
“It's not Latin, it's theater. Total diff—”
And then ya turn and hey, that Reimu dude—when'd she get so close?
Okay, so she isn't close-close. Like, there's plenty of air between the tips of your noses respective. But she definitely got closer while you were literally seein' Kotohime and baggage off, enough to make ya pause mid-sentence, even if it was right before the endin' punctuation. Uncool. And kinda not insignificantly creepola.
“Yo,” ya offer, tentatively.
Reimu doesn't yo back. She's back to scannin' mode, and if ya thought it was unnervin' before, this close it's a straight up neurectomy. It doesn't help the way she's got her head set—juttin' her chin atcha like an actual neurectomy—involuntary on your part, natch—isn't totally outta the question here. Even her lowerin' it a centimeter makes ya feel a little better.
“So,” she says, “you're still here.”
“Uh, yeah?” ya say. “Not like I put a tank through Rinnosuke's wall, right?”
Reimu continues on like ya didn't just make a good point there. “I thought you would've left by now,” she said. “Left, or died. One of those.”
“Yeah, between the ghost in the machine and the dude in the tank, it's kinda a wonder I haven't totally bit it,” you admit.
“And the failed homunculus, too.”
“Yeah, and the homunculus, too—” Ya stop short, so you can double-check that proper, what it was ya just said. “Hey, dude—how'dja know 'bout the homunculus?”
Reimu doesn't tell ya how she knew 'bout the homunculus. Reimu stares ya in the eye, like she's lookin' deep for something. Like she's studyin' your process on some sorta test and she's actively givin' ya every chance to pass, openin' all the doors ahead of you so you can see the finish line, and even with that goin' for ya you're still found wantin'.
Those eyes, man.
“Anyway, you're not what I expected.” And then that eyeline finally breaks and if that isn't a breath of fresh air, ya dunno what is.
Though the comment makes ya raise your eyebrows. “You were 'spectin' something?”
“No, not as much. Mostly, I wanted to see the person Marisa let use her Mini-Hakkero.”
And then ya spoke too soon 'cause the eyes're back, the eyes're back, not cool—
“Uh.” Ya take a glance at Rinnosuke, but if that worried-lookin' look en pointe all up on his face's any clue, you're thinkin' he's not gonna swoop in to save ya again. “If you're hopin' for a repeat performance, I'm gonna hafta disappoint,” ya said. “Marisa and me aren't 'zactly on speakin' terms, at the mo.”
“I heard that, too,” Reimu says. “But you seem to get along well with Rumia.”
Ya look at the dude in question. Rumia is still there, and still Rumia, which ya think is pretty good thing for Rumia to be, if anyone's askin' you for opinions. She smiles atcha as she leans your way, the corners of her crescent mouth stretchin' ever so slightly more than they're curlin' already, and that makes ya feel better, actually.
“Yeah,” ya say. “Rumia's a real cool dude. She's hauled my chattanooga outta some serious damage, y'know? When a dude does that, you've gotta appreciate.”
“Even though you know what she is?”
You're not likin' the direction this whole convo's takin'. “Ya mean, like, a youkai?” ya ask. “'Cause I know she's a youkai. Rinnosuke told me and everything.”
Reimu looks at Rinnosuke. There's a pause, while Rinnosuke realizes that he's the dude 'spected to talk, now, and then he fumbles in accordance. “It was the first thing I told her about,” Rinnosuke says. “It didn't change anything.”
Reimu makes a low, considerin' sound.
Then she looks to you. Ya kinda wish she'd stop lookin' here. Ya kinda wish she'd stop bein' here. There's some serious subtext goin' on here and you can feel it passin' ya by like the sinister of a horror-flick shark grazin' a swimmer's toes.
'Cept in this case the swimmer's never heard of a shark or a horror flick and has no basis for properly proportionatin' the threat.
Something's down there.
“Most Outsiders come in two kinds,” Reimu says. “Either they're too afraid, or they're not afraid enough.”
She was talkin' 'bout you, and you're an Outsider, so ya guess technically she didn't just shift from fourth to first without a segue there. Still, no idea where she's goin' with this. “Yeah?” ya say, fishin'.
Reimu doesn't bite. Just keeps starin' atcha. Then she looks at Rumia, the same kinda deliberate look she's been gracin' mostly youwards here.
Though if it affects Rumia in any way, dude doesn't show it. Just smiles her Rumia smile, and float-skips over to poise herself by the hangin' of your arm. She's got her arms in instead of out, but she tilts her head and you can feel her ribbon, brushin' against ya.
Reimu shifts her eyes up. Youwards again.
“As long as you know, you can't complain,” she says. “Don't think it's anyone's responsibility but your own.”
Yeah, you've got no idea what the haysel. “Sure,” ya say. “No problemo, dude.”
And whaddya get in reply? A snort. Ya didn't even know soul-weary snorts were a thing. But if that's the sound a Reimu makes when the high beams in her peepers get turned down—which is what happens—then you're all very down with that. Or maybe she's still got those things on full-blast, and ya just can't tell 'cause they aren't pointed directly atcha. Like traffic lights.
Either way, it's Rinnosuke she's all involved in, now, which makes it fine for you, either way. Maybe not so fine for Rinnosuke, dependin'. “Set out some tea the next time I come over, will you?” she says to the dude. “All this talking made me thirsty.”
“If you're asking me to prepare tea in advance, that's impossible,” says Rinnosuke. “You never tell me when you're coming over, anyway.”
“I come over often enough you should be able to figure it out by now.”
“If there isn't any pattern, I can't predict—”
Whatever objection Rinnosuke got for objectin' with is lost on Reimu, though, 'cause she's barely got her own words out her gab before she turns on her heel like a whip and strides out the door like she owns it. The stride, and also the door. And maybe everything else.
Then she sort of pushes—'cept, it's not so much pushin' as pushin' and pullin' and doin' nothing at all, all at the same time—
And she goes floatin' up and off. And then she clears the doorway, so ya can't even see 'er anymore.
And she's gone.
“So, that was meaningful,” ya say.
You can feel Rinnosuke's eyes. Ya don't mind as much, though. Ya like these eyes better. “'Meaningful,'” the dude parrots, dead flat.
“Well, like, I mean, I'm not sure what the meanin' was, but I'm pretty sure it was meaningful,” ya say. “Kinda like a Zen koan, y'know?”
“She's not a Buddhist; she's a Shintoist.”
“I dunno what that is, Mac.” Rumia shifts off in any old direction, her ribbon glancin' off your arm again as she passes off—ya sorta absentmindedly reach after it as it goes, but you're too slow to unravel it or whatever. Oh well. “Hey, Mac,” ya say, as something occurs to you. “That Reimu dude—maybe I've got my ears back up, but did she say her last name was 'Hakurei'?”
The question just sorta hangs there. Ya look at Rinnosuke to make sure he doesn't need a rebootin', but no—dude's lucid. Eye contact and everything.
“Yes,” he says slowly, like he's real apprehensive 'bout the monster at the end of the sentence, “she did say that.”
“Yeah, I thought so,” ya say, noddin'. “Wasn't sure, though. I thought it coulda been one of those things—y'know, like when you're hearin' stuff real unclear and ya don't get all the audibles, so your brain's like, 'Well, something's gotta go in that empty space,' and tries to fill in the gaps itself, 'cept it sorta sucks at it. Ya know what I'm talkin' 'bout, Mac?”
“I can't say for sure that I have or that I haven't,” says Rinnosuke. “It's definitely the first time I've considered the idea.”
“Seriously, Mac? Well, now ya know what you're listenin' for, right? If that happens to you, and ya know it's happenin' to you, you've totally gotta let me know.”
“That might be difficult. If I hear something incorrectly, I may not know I heard it incorrectly in the first place.”
“Ooh. Good point, Mac. Yeah, you've gotta be vigilant like whoa.”
Ya look at Rinnosuke and Rinnosuke looks at you. Rumia wanders back into the room, her hands together, cuppin' round something black and colored and plasticky. Rubik again, or ya guess his pieces. Rumia squats down and lets one of the larger remains tilt outta there. It lands on the floor, skitters for a sec, and then more or less balances diagonal 'cross a coupla faces of it.
Rumia stands up and clear again, peerin' down at her openin' move. Then she looks at the rest of the rubble she's got ahold of in that handbowl of hers. Assessin'.
“Hey, Mac,” ya say.
“Yes?” says Rinnosuke.
“Isn't 'Hakurei' also the name of that one shrine I'm supposta be headed off to?” ya ask.
“It is,” says Rinnosuke.
“And I'm guessin' that's not a coincidence, right, Mac?” ya ask.
“No, it's not,” says Rinnosuke.
“Yeah,” ya say.
Ya sit down (you're used to sittin' on the floor by now), tentin' your knees up in front of you so you can study 'em—your knees, ya mean. Course, ya can't see 'em, 'cause your jeans're in the way, but you're A-OK with studyin' those, instead, so whatever.
Are ya gettin' a hole? Not that that'd be a surprise, considerin' all the death-defyin' highjinkery you're puttin' this one singular pair into. Jeez.
“To be honest, I expected more than that,” says Rinnosuke.
“Huh? More than what, Mac?” ya say.
“Your response,” says Rinnosuke. “I expected you'd react in something closer to the usual fashion.”
“Yeah,” ya say. “I'm kinda emotionally drained at the sec. Way too much happened, and I'm pretty sure it's not even, like, afternoon proper, yet. That's, like, mega-ridic.” Ya look over at the clock Rinnosuke never got to set, like you're actually gonna get something useful outta that, but ya don't even get the clock—no, wait, there it is; it just got knocked over sometime durin' the whole tank thing. When'd that happen? “I.O.U. one soul-cleansin' 'nuts,' Mac.”
“I don't know what that means.”
“Rain check, Mac, rain check. Trust me, I am totally gonna go off and scream at the heavens. I just hafta work up to it, is all.”
Rinnosuke looks at you. Rinnosuke looks at the hole in his wall. Rinnosuke looks at the other hole in his other wall.
“We can't sleep here tonight,” he says.
“'Cause there's holes in the shop?”
“Because there are holes in the shop, yes.”
Man, it's been a day and a half.
[ ] That Alice dude has a pad, right? You've been there. It had walls. [ ] Maybe ya oughta make up with Marisa. Or make truce, at least. [ ]
[X] That Alice dude has a pad, right? You've been there. It had walls.
Although I wouldn't mind meeting with Marisa (and potentially seeing how far she's gotten with the homunculus stuff at this point) I feel as though Alice may be the safer option...although I use the term "safer" somewhat loosely.
I was the one responsible for setting this off, and I asked for only a SMALL increase in the price. Y'all bandwagoners are really funkin' up my groove here, and I don't take lightly to that. It was you dolts who got her so pissed off at you, not me.
[X] That Alice dude has a pad, right? You've been there. It had walls.
“So, what's it for us, Mac?” ya ask—not thatcha don't immediately kick your head into gear and start wonderin' it forwards yourself. “Ya got a friend you can mooch a bed off from?”
Rinnosuke's mug goes a little painful. “Not exactly,” he admits.
That doesn't sound right. There's gotta be someone in Rinnosuke's monkeysphere willin' to lend a coupla sheets, at least. “What about that Keine dude?” ya ask. “Arentcha you and her all significantly buddy-buddy?”
The pause is deep. You're talkin' fathomless. Profound. “Keine and I are...spending some time away from each other,” Rinnosuke finally says, and—well, ya know how really unspecified meaningfulness has been, like, all the rage, lately?
More of that, there.
You're starin' at Rinnosuke's face, tryin' to suss that mystery out, when something occurs. “Hey, Mac—does this have anything to do with why ya came home back from the festival with a mood like a rotten egg?”
That mug you've been studyin' does a transfiguration hard. You're catchin' regret, with a dash of irritation and a sweet spoonscoop of inwards loathin'.
That means “yes.”
Though he's not the only one feelin' regret here. Kickin' Rinnosuke into the dumps? Not your intention. “Okay, so Keine's out,” ya blast ahead, before the dude can explicate. “Who else've we got?”
The whole pad drops into silence as you and Rinnosuke both give a big show of thinkin'. Or maybe he's actually thinkin' for realsies—you just don't wanna admit you're comin' up empty, here. Or effectively empty, anyways. Like, your brain's got ideas bubblin' all up in it, if you're gonna be honest. They're just kinda subpar ideas, so ya give 'em the ax before they can get voiced.
It's only when Rumia wanders back into this whole silent scene like some kinda restless ghost thatcha decide—enh, nobody else's up to it, apparently.
You'll say the not-so-good thing.
“Yo, Mac,” ya say.
Rinnosuke looks up, makin' a clipped hummin' interesty noise.
“Okay, so, I've got an idea here. Only? Serious drawbacks attached. Hear me out, though—”
Alice opens the door.
“'Sup!” ya say.
Alice closes the door.
You and Rinnosuke and Rumia-makes-three sorta just stand there for a sec, checkin' out the wooden barricade that's just gone shut in your respective faces.
“Wow,” ya say. “Rude.”
“But not entirely unexpected,” Rinnosuke mutters, and this time he knocks, though his pattern's a bit lighter and tighter than yours.
And maybe that's the trick, 'cause Alice opens the door again, even though she knows who's on the other side. Not happily—totally not happily—but she opens it. “Yes?” she squeezes out through her teeth.
“There was an incident at Kourindou,” Rinnosuke says, in a tone you'd nearly call apologetic if it wasn't so tight, too. “We need a place to stay for the night.”
Alice closes the door again.
“So is it Rumia's turn now?” ya ask.
Rinnosuke doesn't not look at the door. “No,” he says.
“'Cause I dunno if you remember, but Rumia's seriously good at the whole gettin'-into-places thing.”
“Your windows are open,” adds Rumia.
“They don't shut properly,” Rinnosuke admits. “They never have.” He reaches over and does the door again, harder this time. Not as hard as you did it, but harder than last time.
The door opens immediate. Was Alice waitin' on the other side? “You understand I'll be compensated for this,” she says.
“I didn't expect otherwise,” says Rinnosuke.
Alice and Rinnosuke stare at each other a moment longer. It reminds ya of those comics—the ones where you've got two superpowered dudes dukin' it out with energy beams, only they're both about evenly matched in that category so all it's gonna come down to is either who's got the most in reserves or who can pull off a sudden oomph to get all the way over. It's like that, only in this case the energy beams're invisible, and also produced out the eyes, and they don't break eye contact the both of 'em even while Alice pulls the door open just enough of the way that Rinnosuke can get through, if he wants, though only awkwardly.
Which he does. So he does. Which means he breaks the staredown first, and then has to pretendin'-he's-not-doin'-it-on-purpose avoid Alice's crazy maintained gaze.
Yeah, Mac, you're not foolin' anyone. Sorry.
You duck in after 'im—easier for you, since you're smaller, even though it's really mostly the duds—and bam! There ya are, walls to the left of ya, walls to the right of ya, and none of 'em with any holes they're not supposta have. It's a pretty cool sight, 'specially comparin' it to the alternative. Okay, yeah, sure, so prolly the host isn't so keen on you (and you're harborin' something like that vice versa, most def), but like your mom always says, “When life give ya lemons, squeeze 'em in someone's peepers.”
What you're sayin' is, you're gonna keep this place lemony fresh—
There's a sec where ya think Alice has learned how to pluck up the thoughts as ya pass 'em through the ether, but then ya look behind, and it's not you she's noin'. Who she is noin' is Rumia, who also she's blockadin' the door against with her own self.
Ya tip-toe to catch the ish, though not by much, 'cause Alice's short enough already.
“Guests may be negotiated,” Alice says, voice pitchin' somewhere between snotty and snooty, “but this is where I set my limits.”
You blink a bit, checkin' for if Rumia's committed some houseguesty faux pas, but no, she's just standin' there, smilin' up at Alice, head tilted just slight.
Though now that you're lookin' at it, that angle seems a little stiff. And so does that smile. Like the placement of both of 'em, and that's all. “Dude,” ya say to Alice, before it can get any more ya-don't-like-it-er.
Alice whirls, glarin' your way instead. “You may be content to endanger your own life, but don't assume your recklessness universal,” she snaps. “I'm generous already, allowing the two of you a night.”
Oh, this whole deal again. “Come on, dude, Rumia's cool,” you protest. “She's not gonna eat us here.”
Alice looks at you like she's watchin' a centipede uncurl on her kitchen floor.
Okay, fine. “Rumia,” ya say, over Alice's shoulder, “you're not gonna eat us here, right?”
Rumia's eyes, on the other hand, look like your brother's ex-girlfriend's. Which, y'know, still kinda offputtin', but better than the myriapodology.
“Rumia,” ya say, “kinda maybe please don't eat us here.”
The tilt of Rumia goes more natural, though she seems to wholebodily relax. Like a poiseful version of a slump. “Okay,” she says.
“See?” ya tell Alice. “It's all gravy.”
Alice looks at you, then at Rumia, then at you again, like she's just makin' completely sure this is all happenin' in front of 'er and also behind 'er and more importantly not not-happenin'. “No,” she says again, once she's all done, youwards this time.
“Dude,” ya dude. “It's winter, basically. You're not seriously gonna make a dude sleep in the snow, are ya? 'Cause that's cold. Both figuratively and literally.”
“First of all, it won't snow in Gensokyo until at least the next month,” says Alice. “Secondly, even if it were to snow tonight, your unwisely chosen friend is a youkai. It's exceedingly unlikely she'll suffer from exposure, let alone perish by it.”
“Huh.” Ya look over at Rumia again. “Seriously?”
[ ] Well, it's no big, then, right? See ya tomorrow, Rumia. [ ] No way you're leavin' Rumia hangin', youkai-skin or no. [ ]
[X] No way you're leavin' Rumia hangin', youkai-skin or no.
Is letting Alice give Rumia the boot the smart decision? Yep. But at the same time, Rumia's good people, even if she's got a deserved rep for eating other, presumably also good people. Like, Alice may be being a chode, here, definitely, but she's got good reason to be a chode, considering who's fixing to get in.
You gotta stick up for the people who've been good to you, and Rumia's been nothing but good - even setting aside how she'd have totally tried to eat us when we first met if we'd tried to skedaddle, the girl's packed lasers and blasted ghosts and just generally been a grand dude.
[x] No way you're leavin' Rumia hangin', youkai-skin or no. -[x] Or, to put it in Rumia's words: "If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"
[X] No way you're leavin' Rumia hangin', youkai-skin or no. -[X] "Come on Alice, you are youkai too, right? So if Rumia decides to have a humanitarian midnight snack she´ll munch on me or go on a nice midnight flight. I know you don´t really like me so you gotta see the underneath the underneath or look for the silver lining or something like that. You savvy? --[X] Besides, she´s really a nice girl if you leave out the `eating humans` bit and i don´t think it can be held against her since that´s what being a youkai means to her."
[X] But we totally had you set up as part of our girls only slumber party. Don't you want to braid each other's hair and talk about boys? - [X] Or girls, if that's how you drift. Like that Gallant Pig Marriage they came up with in Rome, you know?
In case my past vote was a little confusing (I was trying to channel her style), I was referring to the story of Pygmalion and Galatea; mostly I want to see Alice's reaction to our implication on her "relationship" with her dolls (plus, it might distract her enough to concede on the Rumia issue).
[X] No way you're leavin' Rumia hangin', youkai-skin or no.
“Cool,” ya say. And then ya go back to Alice, 'cause: “Still the principle of the thing, though. Are we in or what?”
The space between Alice's eyebrows twitches. “Surely you can't be serious.”
Oh, man, if she'd been speakin' English? Perfect setup. How does that keep happenin' now, when ya can't do the thing? Things. “Dude, I am totally serious,” ya say instead. “I mean—yeah, maybe hypothetically Rumia totally could stand gettin' dumped out in the chill overnight, if that happened. And maybe she wouldn't even get a runny nose from the deal. But just 'cause ya can, doesn't mean ya hafta. Dig?”
“I agree wholeheartedly.”
Blinkin' happens. “Ya do?”
“Yes. It might be that I can allow a dangerous youkai into my house, if I'm so inclined to do so, but it doesn't necessarily follow that I have to.”
“Okay, one, not cool,” ya say. “And two, aren't you a youkai, too?”
The question seems to leave your maw in slow-mo retroactive as Alice's mug does—well, does something. Whatever it's doin', it's givin' a feelin' like a dude who's just realized they stepped on a landmine the moment before they aren't gonna be able to not realize they stepped on a landmine any longer.
“There is a difference,” hisses Alice. “I'll ignore the insult, if only because you know no better.”
And call it a hunch, but it feels like your chances of gettin' Rumia in just dropped.
Ya switch to a different tack toot sweet. If ya can't appeal to logic, you're gonna razzle and-slash-or dazzle 'er with natural awesome. “Check it, dude,” ya say. “I dunno what reason you've got this hate-on for youkai for—
“Their tendency toward violence and generally uncivilized behavior?”
“Yeah, like, there's tons of things 'bout ya I dunno, 'cause we don't spend a whole lotta time next to each other, for some reason.”
“The sheer irritation of your presence may be some minor matter.”
“But anyways, I've got my loyalties, dig?” And ya point at Alice grand, like a dude in a courtroom 'bout to turn the whole deal upside-down. “So check it,” ya say. “If you're gonna kick Rumia on out into the not-even-streets-out-there, then I'm followin' 'er. Whaddya say to that?”
Alice's door is hard against your back.
“Okay,” ya say, “but I won the moral victory.”
“Mm-hmm,” Rumia says.
You adjust your sittin'. It's a real useless effort, though. Between the cold, hard ground and the cold, hard door, there's no way you're gettin' comfy out here.
“We're not 'here' anymore,” Rumia observes.
You consider that. “Yeah,” ya say.
There's a cold wind, 'cause winter's becomin' a thing, if it isn't already, and also Japan. Most of it sorta whiffs over the treetops, visitin' on ya some real atmospheric susurratin', but enough of it gets through to your level thatcha shiver and try pullin' your jacket collar up to guard.
Ya fail at that, mostly 'cause you're not wearin' a jacket.
“Y'know,” ya say.
Rumia tilts her head. That's her I'm-listenin' tilt, you're pretty sure.
“Ya could hold that wherever ya are, that's your 'here.' Like, that's an argument you could make.”
The headtilt doesn't jostle a millimeter. The smile, though, spreads out at the ends. Maybe even that same millimeter the neck decided not to deal with.
Dude is conserved.
“Totally not gonna make that argument, though.” Ya make that super clear. “It's a hinky argument that counts on bein' technical, and not even a cool technical, like if ya were trickin' a demon into not gettin' your soul or something. It's just a douchey, spirit-violatin', language-dependent, we-all-know-whatcha-meant-and-we-all-know-ya-didn't-mean-that kinda technical.” You say that, lookin' over to make sure Rumia's got the picture proper.
Rumia's smile does its deal at you, just as her as it ever was. Then the dude of the hour goes, “Okay,” runs her hands down down the front of her dress in a way that's real familiar by now, and takes a sittin' spot beside ya at the outside foot of the door.
“Hey, dude,” ya say.
“I've got a buildup of lame wordplay. Wanna hear a joke?”
Rumia considers the offer. “Okay,” she says.
“It's in English, though,” ya warn. “'Cause I dunno Japanese puns, just English puns. That all good with you?”
“I don't know English.”
So much for that line of convo. Ya go back to tryin' to find the sweet spot for your spine against this door, which ya theorize is a thing that exists but also which ya suspect is on the aforementioned door's otherside, which makes your theory a real unfalsifiable one at the mo. (Yo, is this what it's like to be a string theoriest? Double bummer.) Like, you'd try any of the door-testin' procedures that occur to you, if ya could, but this whole bein'-corporeal shtick you've bein' haulin' for two decades plus is keepin' ya outta the relevant testin' area.
Somewhere off over your head, a bough shifts. Ya look up and out, but if there's anything to catch, ya don't catch it.
Well, it's prolly just the wind again. Or a squirrel.
Wait, do they have squirrels in Japan?
“Do you want to tell the joke?”
Ya swivel your head Rumiawards. “What?” ya say.
The look on Rumia's face stays the same, but somehow she's givin' off a different kinda air outta her. Like an elementary school teach with an overabundance of love and an underabundance of sleep. “If you want to tell the joke, you should tell the joke,” Rumia says. “It might be funny.”
“What the point?” says you. “Not like you're gonna understand it.”
The woods are silent and tulgey as all whatnow. Whatever that squirrel or not-squirrel was—if there was even a squirrel-slash-not-squirrel at all—it's royally shoved itself off, prolly outta consequence of hearin' your voices and not wantin' to be in the vicinity of that. Squirrels're skittish, right?
You're pretty sure squirrels're skittish.
“Yeah, okay,” ya say. “So...”
“If it's a funny joke,” 'splains Rumia, with the infinitest of patience, “it'll be funny when I don't understand it, too.”
Can't argue with that. Or actually ya totally can argue with that, but at the same time, it sorta feels like there's a real cromulent point Rumia's got in there somewhere. So what the hey, right? “Okay, check it,” ya say.
Rumia looks up atcha all attentively, back straight, eyes lit.
“If the both of us got booted out here outta solidarity,” ya say, “does that make this a sit-out?”
From somewhere far off, over the rockin' mountains and rollin' seas, comes super-faint but super-there the echo of a distant rimshot.
Nah, just kiddin'. That doesn't happen.
It woulda been totally cool if it had, though.
“I don't get it,” says Rumia cheerily.
Ya shrug. “What'd I tell ya, dude?”
“Dies mei velocius transierunt quam a texente tela succiditur, et consumpti sunt absque ulla spe. Memento quia ventus est vita mea, et non revertetur oculus meus ut videat bona.”
Ya stare at Rumia. Just for a little bit.
“That's my wordplay,” Rumia 'splains. And then she doesn't stop smilin', but the whole look goes a little wan. Dude looks kinda apologetic, almost. “I told it wrong.”
“Well, if it's a funny joke, it's gotta be funny even if I don't get it, right?”
And Rumia's smile still doesn't shift, but her head does, just a titch, and it's like she's sayin', “Touché.” And then she and you go back to sittin', and it's quiet, yeah, but it's a good kinda quiet. Ya don't mind it.
Or at least ya wouldn't mind it if it wasn't so cold. “So,” ya ask, more outta desirin' distraction from your own goosebumps than anything else, “what's that line like when ya tell it right?”
And ya don't find out what, actually, 'cause that's the moment the door behind ya solid all of a sudden isn't, sendin' ya tumblin' backwards literally headlong into the gap. The back of the skull is the first of you to find out, and the usual way, too, which you've gotta point out real quick is a thing that keeps happenin' and you're also real quick gettin' tired of it happenin', thanks.
At least it's Rinnosuke lookin' down at you instead of some-hypothetical-one else. “Are you okay?” he says, kinda unsteady halfway through, like he's still stuck tryin' to process your entrance even though he's the dude that engendered it.
Still, the concern seems legit. The least you can do is a thumbs-up. Which ya guess is a thumbs-to-the-side from his perspective, but he can prolly figure out whatcha mean. “'Sup, Mac?” ya say.
“I've arranged matters with Margatroid,” Rinnosuke says, after a sec.
And also prolly he doesn't mean it, but you've gotta say it: “The way ya said that made it sound kinda fearsome, Mac. Is this good news or bad news?”
“You'd call it good news. Would you please get up from the floor?”
“Fair 'nuff.” Ya flip yourself over, all turtley, climbin' up in the air and turnin' on your footballs till you're facin' the right direction, i.e. towards the dude who letcha in. “So, what's the deets, Mac? Behavioral authority I'm not, but I feel like Alice didn't just do a total one-eighty on the deal here.”
Behind ya, Rumia stands just out the doorway, all politely passin' up actual encroachment, appraisin' this whole sitch as it develops. That's prolly the smart thing to do.
“I was able to arrange matters with Margatroid,” Rinnosuke says to you. “She says that she'll allow Rumia to stay, but only for one night, and nothing longer than that. That was the best I could get her to agree to.”
“And how'dja manage that?”
Rinnosuke's mouth stretches out at the sides. Whoa, déjà vu. “I am a shopkeeper,” he says. “My job is to convince others to buy items they might not be inclined to. It took a little while, but I found an argument that Margatroid would accept.”
“Sweet, Mac! What was it?”
“Six books of my choosing, owed me at a date or dates also of my choice.”
That's not Rinnosuke. That's Alice, makin' herself a presence as she peers at you (and also at Rumia, but mostly at you). She's not smilin', but she's managin' to radiate this grim sorta triumph anyways, which you've gotta admit is a real neat trick and a half even as much as you don't like it. Seriously—the way she looked sayin' what she said was something like a dude deliverin' the witty action flick pre-kill line, which'd actually be alright if also she wasn't standin' there givin' off the impression like she's the villain of the piece.
Like, if she'd ripped off a latex face instead and gone all, “Ha ha! In reality, it is I, the nefarious Fräulein van Winter!” you'da been only half surprised. Sixty-five percent surprised, at most, and most of that only 'cause nobody's a fräulein anymore. They're all fraus. Frau. Frau-en? They're one frau, and also an indeterminate number of 'em followin' that.
Full disclosure: You dunno from German. Null.
But more importantly, you're just realizin'—maybe that bit Alice just mouthed off was the pre-kill line, actually, 'cause you're lookin' at Rinnosuke now and—there's no easy way of sayin' this, but you're pretty sure he just had his dignity executed. Like, he's sorta still actually technically got his composure, in the same way an asterisk-laden baseball record's still actually technically in the books, but the only thing hidin' that 'spression he's got on his face is the rest of his head.
He looks embarrassed.
“Hey, Mac,” ya say, and then ya don't say anymore, 'cause words. Words. For some reason they'ren't a thing that's happenin' right now?
“Your benefactor proposed an exchange of goods for favors,” Alice says, like ya aren't goin' through a crisis at the mo. “Whatever it is responsible for your complete lack of self-preservation instinct must be communicable.”
Ya look at Rinnosuke again.
Rinnosuke looks at you. He looks past ya. He's not lookin' atcha at all.
“Dude,” ya say, and ya still can't say anything else. Rumia toddles in behind ya—behind ya, carefully, like she can count on you to aegisize. You dunno if ya can. Ya try again.
And that's a triple no-go on the wordage, and ya can't understand why. Like, ya know whatcha wanna say: “Thanks, Rinnosuke, for gettin' Rumia let in by givin' up a buncha un-up-give-'em-ables.” But all of a sudden you're aware of your tongue, and it's massive, and ya can't get it to do anything but uselessly fill up all the gawpspace.
But slowly, like maybe what you've somehow managed to squawk out is enough, Rinnosuke's head shifts—not a lot, but just enough to focus on you instead of out there. His eyes, too. They're meetin'—yours and his.
Ya open your mouth. You're gonna get it right this time.
Ya breathe in—
“I have one guest room,” Alice says, and whatever it was you were gonna say straight up just dies in the back of your throat. For realsies. “I can't see three individuals as yourselves arranging yourself comfortably in such space, but that difficulty is yours, not mine.” She turns, all military-like in demeanor, then stops, archin' her neck sideways for the partin' shot.
“Meals,” she says, “are not within my purview.”
And then she stalks off, leavin' you, Rinnosuke, and Rumia fillin' up the foyer, stealin' glances triangularly like something's gonna go off if any of you are direct about it. Rumia's the first to break it off, but more outta occupation with some else than any kinda mutual uncomfiness—she pushes the door away till it shuts into the frame with a sound that's way, way more audible than it oughta be in a sitch like this.
“Yeah, so,” ya say.
Rinnosuke looks at you, and you look at Rinnosuke, and Rinnosuke looks away from you, and you look over Rinnosuke's head, and you and Rinnosuke suddenly suck at this for no apparent reason, ya guess.
It's not like you were 'spectin' Alice to suddenly surprise ya with a full-course meal, but the dude remains real firm on her disclaimer. Well, it's not like she herds ya over to the dinner table and makes ya watch while she gobbles up three kindsa poultry, but she didn't notably not do dinner, either. It just doesn't come up from 'er. At all.
Do youkai not eat or something? No, check yourself; that definitely can't be it. Rumia's a thing. Ya know Rumia's a thing, here. Get it together, Christie.
Luckily, Rinnosuke is Rinnosuke, and also awesome, and so the dude saves the day once again, duckin' outta the pad before night can fix itself firm over your respective heads and returnin' in a surprisingly shortish time with muchables. Meat, specifically, and rice, all of it in a buncha little what-you've-gotta-guess're-bamboopunk-versions-of-takeout-containers. You're all for that, and ya know Rumia is too, if the way the stuff goes from in the containers to not is a clue.
And then it's bedtime, which is a problem, but also a surprise, 'cause goin' straight to bed after supper? Not the norm, as far as norms've been normalized over the whole stayin'-at-Rinnosuke's deal. Then again, it's not like Rinnosuke can complete his customary after-dinner fiddle-with-the-Outsider-thingamabob activity, not when all the thingamabobs that'd fulfill the fiddlee role are over at Rinnosuke's pad and also importantly not here. Dude can't poke and prod and theorize and get grinned after from behind your fingers, obvs, so he's skipped to the next item on the list, which is just “go to bed.”
Which is where “problem” comes in. Remember “problem”? Ya said “problem,” first.
There's only one bed. A standalone closet, a waist-high set of drawers featurin' a single lantern-lookin' thing that's pretty good at castin' the whole locale in forebodin' dimness, but only one bed.
That's a problem.
Or wait; actually, that's not a problem at all. “I call dibs on the floor!” ya call out.
Rinnosuke jerks his head over so fast you're amazed he doesn't pull a muscle. Or maybe he did and he's just seriously chill 'bout it. “What?”
“I call dibs on the floor,” ya say again. “Like, throw down a blanket and an extra pillow or something. You and Rumia can take the bed.”
“Okay,” Rumia says, and points herself off crowish in a mattressy direction.
Unfortunately, she's the only dude that done. “I am not sleeping in the bed with Rumia,” Rinnosuke says.
“Why not?” ya say back. “There oughta be enough room. Rumia's small.”
“I'm small,” Rumia agrees, already liftin' the covers.
“Yeah, see? Bed's kinda narrow, but you can totally make it work.”
“It isn't a problem of how I'll fit on the bed,” Rinnosuke says. “It's a problem of how I'll survive the entire night.”
Ya narrow your peepers. “Is this a Rumia thing? Mac, ya oughta be the second dude to know—Rumia's cool. Rumia, you're cool, right?”
“I'm cool,” Rumia agrees, adjustin' her pillow.
“You're the only one she's 'cool' toward,” Rinnosuke says. “I still don't know how you accomplished that.”
“Well, I am seriously awesome. But also Rumia's awesome, too, so we ended up combinin' our powers to create this rainbow bridge of awesome between Christiekind and Rumiakind,” ya say.
Rinnosuke looks at you with the mug of a dead man.
“Or something. C'mon, Mac, ya know Rumia's alright. She's been hangingaroundin' your shop all this time, right? And she hasn't ever tried givin' you the chomp.”
Rinnosuke looks at you with the mug of a pained dead man. “That's true,” he admits, “but I can't depend on that.”
“Mac, ya can't depend on anything. How do ya know I'm not gonna suddenly spring up this second and go for your jugular with a shivvy device I secreted away on my person specifically for this purpose. Ya can't.”
“Then you can sleep with Rumia,” says Rinnosuke, takin' a step back.
Which is a solution, you've gotta say, 'cept: “Yeah? Then where're you gonna sleep?”
“I'll sleep on the floor, or perhaps find a chair in the kitchen. Anywhere will be acceptable as long as it's somewhere else.”
“Veto, Mac. There's no way I'm takin' the bed while you're takin' the floor.”
“I'll be fine. I'm used to sleeping on the floor, after all.”
“And like I told Alice, just 'cause ya can manage something, doesn't mean ya hafta. You take the bed.”
“You're the guest. I won't make you sleep where you'll be less comfortable.”
“This isn't your pad, Mac. We're both guests.”
“And I shall evict both guests if they don't form a compromise!” snarls Alice, all of a sudden loomin' into the room like a jerky horror flick specter. “Now go to sleep!”
And she slams the door shut so hard you're pretty sure back home they're wonderin' what that was.
The two of you stare in that direction for a tick. “Uh,” ya point out.
There's a sound of breath blowin', and the light from the lantern goes out, plungin' the room into dark. “Good night!” chirps Rumia.
There's the sound of someone settlin' into a bed, somewhere real close. And then the sound of an irate cottageowner makin' floorboards creak, but then that's over with, too.
“Hey, Mac,” ya say, once it's clear the sitch isn't gonna change on its own.
“Yes,” goes Rinnosuke's voice, from where you'd expect Rinnosuke's voice to come.
“That closet—ya think it's got any spare sheets in it?”
“It's possible,” goes Rinnosuke voice.
The silence is a yawnin' chasm. Or maybe just the gap between a wall and a stick of furniture.
“Hey, Mac,” ya say again.
“Yes?” goes Rinnosuke's voice.
“My eyes haven't adjusted to the dark yet.”
There's a sigh in the dark. “I'll go and see,” goes Rinnosuke's voice, and then prolly it does.
There are sheets and pillows. Turns out Alice keeps the closet pretty decently stocked. Guess she already at some point figured the possibility of multiple guests.
Even luckier—it's proper futon, not just sheets. Sure, they smell like camphor and disuse, but still:futon. You're all for that.
You can sleep on a futon. You've been sleepin' on a futon. It's just like Rinnosuke's pad!
Well, 'cept for the fact that Rinnosuke's sleepin' on a futon right next to you. That's new. The next-to-you part, not the futon part. You're pretty sure Rinnosuke already slept on a futon.
If ya reached out, Rumialike, you're pretty sure you could touch 'im. Though ya don't do that, obvs. As it is, you can feel the sorta himness that he's exudin'. Not, like, body heat or anything, though maybe there's a difference there, too, but the fact of 'im just bein' there. The dude's presence.
It's sorta weirdly comfortin', and at the same time? Not. Not thatcha think you've got anything to fear outta Rinnosuke. It's just thatcha haven't slept with another dude this close since—see? Ya don't even remember when. Sometime when you were years younger, with either your mom or your dad or your brother or some close-family combo.
“Nervous nostalgia”—that's the perfect way to say it, and not just 'cause it's alliterative.
[ ] Time for some shuteye. [ ] With a slumber party, talkin' is obligatory. [Choose one.] -[ ] 'Bout Rumia. -[ ] 'Bout the shop. -[ ] 'Bout the festival. -[ ] [ ]
-[x] 'Bout the festival. I've decided my goals as a voter in this story are: to poke the hive as many times as possible, make things as awkward and terrible for everyone as I can, and to see some lovin'. And on that note, I'm displeased at the nonexistent amount of sexual tension in that last stretch of this update. Don't compare him to family, god damn it.
[X] With a slumber party, talkin' is obligatory. [Choose one.] -[X] 'Bout Rumia. --[X] Let's check out Rumia's pad tomorrow. -[X] 'Bout the shop. --[X] You know I have to pay you back for those books, right? Where do you suppose a girl could find a job around here?
First of all, OP wouldn't include talk options if we weren't allowed to talk. Second of all, they just defaulted to Alice's house without even asking Rumia what her place is like.
Eh, I'm sure OP can handles two conversation topics. I won't let him sell himself short by claiming otherwise. Also, this is kinda an important turning point in the story, so I want to milk it for all it's worth.
[X] With a slumber party, talkin' is obligatory. [Choose one.] -[X] 'Bout Rumia.
“Hey, Mac.” Ya whisper the dude's way, more 'cause ya wanna poke a stick in the craw of this whatever-it-is mood you've got hangin' here than 'cause ya wanna talk—though it's not like ya don't wanna talk to Rinnosuke, either. It's win-win, is what you're sayin'. Or at least it would be, if the dude on the other end'd pick up.
“Hey, Mac,” ya shoot off again, tunin' up the amplitude by just a touch. And also the rasp, but that's incidental.
This time, ya get a response—a telltale rustin' of sheets as Rinnosuke checks in. And then: “Yes?”
The dude's voice is heavy, like maybe he actually managed to nod off already and ya just pulled 'im out. Oops. Well, ya can't unwake 'im, so ya might as well get on with what it is you're gonna say.
Which is this: “Thanks.”
And ya leave it like that, not cause that's the end of it, but just 'cause that's the most you can get outta your gullet by your own devices. And seein' as you're off from the shop right now, ya don't have any devices, so—complication. But hey! Ya got that far, at least, which is the sorta achievement you can do a mental finaglin' of into victorydom, so it's all gravy.
Or that's what you're figurin', up till Rinnosuke says, with all the sleep drainin' outta his voice:
Which means you've gotta repeat yourself. Which sounds terrible, and actually is, but not as terrible as it sounds, since sayin' what you've already said before is easier than sayin' something new entirely. “Thanks,” ya go again, and wait for the comeback.
Yo, did the dude nod off again? Ya didn't take that long.
But then Rinnosuke's voice comes spiralin' outta the dark beside ya, slow again, 'cept this time it's thought weighin' it down instead of sleep. “Alright,” he says, carefully. And then, after a sec of that soakin' into the air around ya, “Christie.”
“Yeah?” ya say.
“What am I being thanked for?”
Okay, 'zactly how half-asleep is this dude here? 'Cause you're gonna be PO'd big time if it turns out actually he's zonked off total and what you're gettin' now is auto-reply. Like, bearin' your soul just to find out it's crash landed on deaf ears? Not your plot twist of the week, thanks. “For lettin' Rumia in,” ya say. “That's what I'm thankin' ya for.”
There's a rustlin' of bedsheets offa your head. Like someone sittin' up a bit. Or someone just turnin' incidentally. Hard to tell without lookin'.
“I wasn't the one responsible for letting Rumia in,” comes from Rinnosuke. “That was Margatroid.”
“Yeah, but you were the dude 'sponsible for gettin' Alice to let Rumia in. Which means you're the dude I oughta thank. Which is why I'm thankin' you now.” Ya pause. “So—thanks, Mac.”
Another thing of quiet. “I didn't have a choice,” goes Rinnosuke, finally soundin' full awake. 'Cept he isn't sayin' it mournfully or anything, not like how you'd anticipate anyone sayin', “I didn't have a choice,” to sound like. It's more matter-of-fact. The sky's dark, the floor's hard, and Rinnosuke didn't have a choice.
Which is bupkis, of course. “Ya totally did, though,” ya say. “I mean, ya didn't hafta save me. I was basically plannin' to stick it out out there all night, if I had to.”
“I know,” says Rinnosuke
“But, like, I mean,” ya say, and here's you tryin' to cram feelin' into words and not gettin' it 'zactly right, but you've gotta try, “ya gave up books. And I know ya like books. And ya gave 'em to Alice, and I know ya don't like Alice. So that's like—double whammy. Ya dig, Mac?”
“Yes,” says Rinnosuke. “I dig.”
“Yeah,” ya say.
And more quiet happens, and ya mean what you're sayin', is the thing.
So why does it sound so limp?
Ya wanna tell 'im right. Ya wanna impress it all up on 'im, the breadth of thankfulness you're hostin' under your skin at 'im. But whenever ya try, it just comes out all—platitudey. Which is why you're just repeatin' yourself now, prolly.
If ya can't wow 'em with quality, shoot for quantity instead. As strats go, it's usually a good one.
“So yeah,” ya say. “Thanks for lettin' Rumia in.”
And as much as ya don't wanna, ya figure ya oughta leave it at that. Not thatcha wanna shut up, but at this point you're just gonna annoy with your thankin', and that's something like opposite direct of the sorta deal you're tryin' to get across. Ya turn your head back to the sleepin' position and shut your eyes, ready to get yourself delivered first-class to Nod.
Maybe it didn't end all satisfactorily, 'zactly. But ya said the thanks, and then Rinnosuke accepted the thanks, or at least didn't slap it down partway with a howlin', “Rejected!” so as far as you're concerned?
It's all fine.
And then it turns out the clock runnin' down was a fake-out and you're still playin'. “Yeah, Mac?” ya say, openin' your eyes and proppin' yourself up.
A pause. Then: “I don't understand how you can trust Rumia so deeply.”
Ya glance over at where Rumia's dozin' to see if she got summoned up by the mention and totally fail to reach any conclusions on the ish on account of your eyes haven't perked up that much yet. Bummer. “Is this another one of those ya-don't-get-Gensokyo things, Mac?” ya ask.
“Yes. Well, no. Not entirely.” This pause sounds like a thinkin'-over pause, so ya let 'im have it up till your 'spectations're totally confirmed: “You know what Rumia is.”
Ya mime hittin' a buzzer even though ya don't know if Rinnosuke can see ya, or if he's watchin', or if he'd know from game shows in the least if either of the above. “Youkai?” ya guess.
“Not an incorrect answer, but I can't say it's as simple as that, either,” Rinnosuke says. There's a rustlin' of sheets, that could either be a dude sittin' up or turnin' incidentally. Ya dunno which. “I may not like Margatroid—”
Ya sense understatement.
“—but she was justified in feeling insulted when you compared her to Rumia—even if it was inadvertent.”
“Yeah, I'm not gonna lie. I'm kinda not all up on the whole youkai hierarchy thing.” Ya can't keep yourself bent like this forever, so ya sit up, or sit up too, dependin'. “How's it go—horse's leg, Rumia, Alice, you?”
Your hypothesis is swallowed by the darkness.
“Oh, wait,” ya say, quick-realizin'. “Or you, Alice, Rumia, horse's leg, maybe. Are we goin' from-the-bottom-up or from-the-top-down?”
“Which one is from-the-top-down?”
“You, Alice, Rumia, horse's leg. Well, you, Rumia, horse's leg, Alice, but ya said Alice got insulted, so I'm guessin' she puts herself over Rumia, at least.”
“It's not so simple as ranking individual youkai, either,” says Rinnosuke. “First of all...”
He trails off.
“Wait,” Rinnosuke says, soundin' kinda off his feet.
“Yeah, Mac?” ya say.
“You...put me at the top?”
Ya blink, and some of the darkness comes away offa your eyelids. Ya catch Rinnosuke's edges in front of ya, but but then your eyeballs shift and everything you're seein'—the little you're seein'—jostles and slides and rearranges till ya can't tell if what you're lookin' at is actual Rinnosukeness or just flyin' fly floater pareidolia.
“Course I put ya at the top,” ya say in Rinnosuke's general direction. “Who else am I gonna put at the top?”
“Ah, I suppose this is restricted to youkai you have actually encountered yourself...”
“Well, yeah, but even if I'd met alotta youkai already you'd still be number one, prolly. I mean, you're awesome.”
Rinnosuke says nothing, and ya peer into the darkness to make sure he hasn't been eaten by a grue or the nearest native equivalent (who is maybe takin' the bed at the mo, actually). Your eyes're finally adjustin' proper, and you can see the dude's outline continuous, if you try super-hard and maintain your gaze super-steady. Ya can't make sense of anything above the neck, though—not till ya realize you're lookin' at his head in profile, facin' off from you like some sorta black-on-black silhouette portrait.
“Why do you trust Rumia?” he asks, real careful, real quiet, and ya don't think the quiet part's just 'cause he doesn't want the dude to know he talkin' 'bout 'er behind her back right in front of 'er.
Ya shrug, which Rinnosuke can prolly see. If you can see Rinnosuke's shoulders, dude can see yours. Or maybe not, considerin' those specs of his. “Why wouldn't I trust Rumia?” ya asks.
“She's a youkai.”
“You're a youkai.”
He scowls, or maybe he doesn't. “She eats humans. Humans who are lost, or humans who think they can get through the Forest of Magic without being harmed.”
And ya wanna say something—like, all Osgood it, like, “Yo, nobody's perfect,” but if you're gonna lay it straight with Rinnosuke right now (and you're totally gonna lay it straight with Rinnosuke right now; point A to point B like you're some kinda California crow)—yeah, ya would have problems if all of that was happenin' back home, wouldntcha? If it was you and Rumia in Los Ojos instead of Gensokyo and Rumia decided she was gonna keep on keepin' on with her whole eatin'-the-dudes routine.
This? This is called cognitive dissonance.
Sometimes you're kinda not so awesome. Ya can't help it. Dudekind wasn't meant for awesome that sustained.
“Yeah, that's a thing she does, Mac,” you admit. “And, like, I know that that's a thing she does? But I've never seen 'er actually do it, and that makes all the diff.”
“But you know she eats humans,” says Rinnosuke.
“I know she'd eat me, if I was like, 'Go for it, dude.' Like, there wouldn't be a second between that and the curtains droppin' on my chattanooga. Just blink, and then total skeletalization.”
“But you don't care.”
“It's not that I don't care. Like, I would totally rather not get devoured. But the first time I ran into the dude, she saved me. She brought me to you, Mac.”
Ya pause there, in case Rinnosuke's got any more he's gotta interject.
“So, yeah, Mac. I guess I've only ever seen 'er at her best.”
And then there's nothing else you've gotta say, so ya leave it like that. Which means now it's seriously Rinnosuke's turn in this hot convo you've got goin' on at the sec.
Ya look at the dude—you can see 'im now, not super-clear, but clear enough. He's sittin' on his futon, lookin' at you as much as you're lookin' at him. There's the hint of a brow and a mouth drawn low and straight, respectively, but nothing else more than that.
The shape of a jaw shifts.
“And what would you think if you did see her eat somebody?” Rinnosuke asks.
The shape of Rinnosuke seems kinda a little totally unimpressed with your answer. “You don't know?” it says, encroachin' at the border between a loud whisper and yo-there's-a-dude-sleepin'-here-rude.
“I don't know,” ya say again. “Like, maybe I'd feel bad about it? Maybe me and Rumia would get into some sorta serious big-time argument. Or maybe 'cause it'd just be some dude I don't know from a village I've never been at, I just wouldn't care. Which is totally uncool, but, like, it's outta my monkeysphere, dude. Eat along whatcha want, as long as ya don't visit the sincere chomp on anyone I love. Ya dig, Mac?”
You're not shoutin'. You're talkin' normal, which is bad enough, since it's the middle of the night and now you're the dude bein' rude, indisputably. But it feels like ya shouted, just now.
“I dig,” says Rinnosuke, like an echo that came back wrong.
“Cool,” ya say.
It's all cool. It's all gravy.
It's also sorta not.
“Anything else ya wanna get all up on about?” ya ask.
“No,” Rinnosuke says.
“Ya wanna nod off for realsies now, Mac?” ya ask.
“Yes,” Rinnosuke says.
Ya lay yourself down, and a second later Rinnosuke does ditto.
Your head sinks into your pillow, and it occurs to ya, just all kinda incidental, that with the both of ya layin' your heads down right next to each other, you're not far at all. It's gotta be an inch or less gap between the nearest pair of shoulders.
Less for sure, seein' as you're feelin' it again—that himness.
Y'know, Christie makes a good point here. Youkai may think that all humans are alike, but likewise Christie didn't really grasp the difference between Rumia and Alice. Some people might wonder at why MCs are so quick to befriend youkai in other stories, but when you get right down to it, why wouldn't they? Why would some random outsider give two shits about some insular, backwards village stuck in feudal Japan?
Put like that, it's no surprise that someone might favor the company of their new friend and not give a damn about the human village.
And there's the flipside, which is why Christie isn't completely on the RUMIA 4 LIFE train. She does kill people, out of a need for food rather than malice, but the difference is splitting hairs.
But the reverse is that the humans of Gensokyo actively hunt youkai. It's part of the whole weird balance that makes the place run. You've got a number of factions all balanced against each other. It's just that Christie isn't necessarily on the "human" faction just by the dinT of her species. I guess we'll see how she feels after actually visiting the human village. If she ever does.
Sleepin' in a different pad is mad uncomfy, for serious.
You're not talkin' 'bout the quality of the sheets here, of course. The beddin' ya got for sleepin' on (and also in) was all good, more or less, even if it did smell like it came out a closet. Which it did, fair 'nuff, but just 'cause it comes out a closet doesn't mean it's gotta smell that way. There's something to say 'bout the occasional thing of fabric softener—right?
It's not a physical comfort thing, is the point you're tryin' to make here—more like mental. After two months and change of gettin' accustomed to Rinnosuke's roof, havin' this new one suddenly switched in on you is kinda seriously uneasin'. So ya do sleep, but ya sleep unsteady, and ya sleep light, which is prolly why ya wake up earlier than ya woulda managed normally.
Rinnosuke's standin' in the corner, adjustin' the hems of his robe. Same robe he wore to bed, which makes sense—ya didn't see 'im luggin' anything with 'im when ya made the trek to Alice's the three of you. The sound of your sheets shufflin' must catch at 'im—he sorta starts, and turns 'round, a surprised look to his mug.
“You're awake,” he says.
“Morn to you too, Mac.” Ya sit up and stretch a bit, tryin' to knock your joints outta sleep mode, then brush down your shirt to make sure you're not exhibitin' excessive belly button. Your shirt's all up with the beaucoup wrinklage, which is only to be 'spected, considerin' that not only didja sleep in this one, but it's been your next-to-sole torso-coverer since ya got dropped into this place.
Yeah, see? Rinnosuke slept in his duds, too, but compared to yours? Only sorta wrinkly. That's 'cause the dude's before had an actual change back at the pad. A lot less wearin' of that particular set makes it a lot less with the wearin'-out.
Rinnosuke looks down atcha kinda curious. “Is there something wrong?” he asks.
And that's when ya realize you're starin'. Whoops. “Naw, Mac,” ya say quick. “Just thinkin'.”
“'Bout clothes.” And ya spread your arms to emphasize.
Rinnosuke starts peerin'. Atcha, but only generally, like he's tryin' to work out prime numbers in his head and you're just sorta incidental. “That's right,” he mutters. “You keep borrowing my robe.”
Unavoidable. You're alotta things, but a nudist isn't one of 'em. “If it makes ya feel better, it's a mad comfy buncha robes you've got.”
“That doesn't make me feel better.”
“Seriously, Mac? Not even a titch?”
“Not really, no.”
“Uncool, Mac.” Ya shake your head in pretend despair, which'd be a lot more convincin' if ya weren't smilin' (plus teeth), but what the hey—ya weren't shootin' for verisimilitude anyways. “So, where's Rumia?” ya ask.
Rinnosuke's eyebrows go up. “Rumia's in the same place,” he says, and motions with a twist of the wrist—ya follow that over to the bed, where the dude ya know and love is a kid-sized lump under layers of beddery. She'd look like some kinda fabric lipoma if it wasn't for her crown pokin' out up out of the top of the sheets at (but not on) the pillows.
Still asleep, in other words, or at least lookin' like it, no thanks to you and Rinnosuke and the way you've been basically yodelin' by her ears the both of ya. Ya tune it down, pronto. “Should we wake 'er?” ya whisper.
Okay, not “whisper,” 'zactly, but it's definitely more towards whisperdom than it was before.
Rinnosuke, meanwhile, doesn't even bother modulatin', but he was kinda easy with the voice in the first place, so you'll give 'im a pass. “Better to let her sleep,” is what he says.
“Yeah, right on,” ya say, and get up proper, which involves actually bein' on your feet.
“The longer she's asleep, the less likely she is to cause trouble, whether it's chasing humans or otherwise. What are you doing?”
You're real careful as ya pull at the bed's bedsheets, rollin' 'em down from the top till they've got Rumia's whole mug at least displayed to the world. She looks a lot the same asleep as she does awake. Like, sure, there's the closed eyes. That's not the same.
But the muscles in her face, all relaxed, and the mouth of hers that's got a quirk to it? Yeah. That's classic Rumia. “Just bein' sure, Mac,” ya say. “Ya know how many dudes suffocate in their own bedsheets in a year?”
“I can honestly say I don't.”
“Yeah, me neither. But I don't wanna see us part of that population.” One last settlin' down of the covers at shoulder-level, and there—Rumia's the very model of a little kid almost done rechargin' for the new day. Also, this is prolly the first time ya ever tucked someone in. Like, sure, you've babysat before, but only ever dudes old enough to do in themselves. It's a new, weird-but-not-bad-necessarily 'sperience.
“If Rumia can survive an everyday extermination, I'm not sure a heavy sheet over her face is anything to be concerned about.”
“Didn't think you'd be so pro-smother, Mac. Do I hafta be worried?”
“I'm not going to suffocate you in your sleep, if that's what you're asking.”
“Only in my sleep?”
“I'm not going to suffocate you at all.”
Ya grin at Rinnosuke. “Cool,” ya say. “Then I'm not gonna suffocate ya either.”
And ya don't get a return grin, but there's something behind Rinnosuke's eyes, and ya feel like it can't be too bad.
“Speakin' of Rumia,” ya say, “whaddya say 'bout breakfast? I wanna ask Alice if she does vittles.”
This time, the something behind Rinnosuke's mug is lower down, at the cheek, pullin' up just momentary the corner of his mouth. “I don't know myself,” Rinnosuke says, his words pulled outta his chest like a magician practices the trick with scarves. “I don't think you'll find out unless you ask her.”
“Well, what're we waitin' for, Mac?” ya say. “Let's head off the borborygmi.”
Ya hold the door open for 'im on the way out, and then try to squeeze through the doorway at the same time as 'im anyways. It works out—nobody falls over.
That's cool, too.
The kitchen is fulla dolls, dolls, dolls. Blonde hair, and ribbons, and little hand-sewn dresses, and painted faces with starin' marbley eyes. They hang 'round the space in rings, like the eyes of an ophan, silent 'cept for the sound of joint-rattle multiplied over itself.
And in the center, playin' the hub all these not-dudes are spoked up to, stands Alice, feet flat, head stiff-angled, arms ramrod tense straight floorwards with the hands at the ends of 'em curled up in palm-cuttin' fists. Ya watch those hands goin' tense—
Tense, and each time those fists tense all the dolls hanginaroundin' twitch, all of 'em, all at once, like they're attached to strings pulled tight and every measure counted's got 'em played simultaneous pizzicato.
'Cept instead of dulcet violinin' what you've got is joint-rattle. Ya mentioned that, right?
“This, says Alice through every one of her teeth, “is not an inn.”
“See, this is what I'm talkin' 'bout,” ya say to Rinnosuke. “Here she is, up with all the fury, and ya know what's strikin' me? Not the colors. Like, I'm seein' lotsa hues here—acknowledged—but they're basically comin' up bupkis on the should-I-care-'bout-this meter. I'm more concerned with the quantity. Haven't I toldja quantity's its own quality?”
“I don't think you have,” says Rinnosuke.
“Wait, seriously, Mac? I thought I did. Or maybe I just thought it. But anyways, see, right now I'm payin' attention a lot more to the number of dudes she's got as opposed to whether they're well-made or whatever. As titles go, 'the Thousand-Armed Puppeteer' trumps.”
“'Seven-Colored' refers to the appearance of her grimoire, not her dolls.”
“And if her title was 'the Seven-Colored Grimoirer,' I'd be totally for it, but it's not, so I'm not.”
“I dunno. Is there a word for 'someone who grimoires'?”
“A grimoire is an object, not an action.”
“Now it's both. Grimoire, grimoired, don't grimoire, can grimoire—”
[ ] Let's make it a lazy day 'round Alice's. [ ] Let's off some time with a forest walk. [ ] Let's see how the shop is standin' at the mo. [ ]
Ya break outta the grammar ish (“grammar,” “grimoire,” that totally can't be a coinky-dink), fixin' your notice on the dude that's injected herself back into the whole convo just now, i.e. Alice. She's stopped doin' the whole tense-relax pattern with her fists, ya notice, but only 'cause she's decided that tense twenty-four-seven is where it's at instead. The dolls 'round the pad've followed suit, twitchin' and vibratin' and rattlin' hangin' in their places so much you're half ready for 'em to fly apart of themselves outta the strain of it.
“I have exhibited the utmost patience in the face of your behavior,” Alice seethes through the gaps between her incisors, “and you have responded with insults, mockery, and an apparently inexhaustible reservoir of idiocy. I would have been justified in leaving you to perish in front of my door as soon as I saw your faces—you and your friend youkai both. And yet, despite my better judgment. I let you in. I let you in. A mistake, I fully admit now.”
With every word Alice directs your way, the tension to the room racks itself out farther and farther. Forget just the dolls—it's you ya feel like is goin' strung here. Like, you and this room and all of reality as ya know it.
And all it wants is one bad-angled rasgado and the whole sitch's likely to snap right at your fingertips.
“Tell me,” hisses Alice, “is this how you repay hospitality? A roof and a free bed given you? Is there anything that I gain by not simply tossing you out upon your respective ears this very moment?”
“Yeah,” ya say. “Books.”
The dolls hangin' keep hangin'. But also they go limp.
Hangin' and limp.
“I mean,” ya say, “that's whatcha said, right? Books.”
The concept you've let loose just now seems to slowly permeate into the sitch. Or diffuse. Or omose, or something. “That's. True,” Alice says, somehow without movin' her face at all.
“And also, y'know, we're sorta awesome. So books and us. You're kinda totally gettin' the winnin' end of this deal, here, dude.”
A wave of rattlin' passes through the all of Alice's dolls, from one end of 'em to the other and endin' with the dude herself, though with her it's not so much “rattle” as “twitch.” But now her face's moved, in other words. Well, the part of her face below one of her eyes, at least, and only as briefly as the word “twitch” implies.
Still, that's movin'.
“So yeah,” you conclude.
Alice says nothing for a tick, and then she hitches a real sharp take-it-in of breath through her jaws. “Very well,” she says. “If you must continue sheltering yourselves in my home, I would thank you to do so in a manner as unobtrusive as possible. I will be occupied with various tasks of great importance through the afternoon, and have no wish to be disturbed from them. Do you understand?”
Ya throw a thumbs-up. “No problemo, dude.”
And Alice looks like she wants to dispute that for serious, but if that's a thing, it gets swallowed, and the dude goes “Indeed,” like the word is made outta glass comin' up 'er.
“But y'know,” ya say, “just double-checkin' here—so you're not developin' anything here in the way of munchables—”
“Thank you for the care,” Rinnosuke says, and grabs ya by the shoulders and steers, and long story short but that's how ya end up outside Alice's cottage in something like forty-five seconds at the most with an attendin' Rinnosuke over your shoulder and a still partway-dozin' Rumia being a thing over shoulder number two.
Good thing ya went light on packin'.
“Hey, Mac?” ya say, Rinnosukewards. “I don't think it was the whole pad she meant—”
“Do you want her to demand that specifically?”
Yeah, okay. Point, maybe. “So, where now?” ya ask.
Rinnosuke's lookin' at you, and for a sec he's got a mug like he's all set to find the nearest warm stone to laze on and ruminate over all the twists and turns of life that've brought 'im up into this moment, but then he doesn't do that at all and stops lookin' at you and starts lookin' down the path instead. Or at least what passes for “path” in a place that hasn't got any, e.g. this one.
“Let's go back to Kourindou,” he says.
“Already?” says you.
Rinnosuke nods. “I can't say for sure, but with Reimu driving it, I wouldn't be surprised if the construction were nearly finished by now.”
Ya nod, and then catch up to what you're noddin' at. “Wait, what?”
Rinnosuke tilts his head at you, a silent question. Prolly something like, “Whaddya wait-whattin' at?” 'Cept he doesn't actually say that, of course, 'cause silent.
So ya expand: “Hasn't it been, like, a day, Mac? Since the whole tank-through-the-wall deal.”
“Less than a day, but yes.”
Yeah, that's whatcha thought. “Don't wanna rain on the whole parade you're marchin' here, Mac, but I dunno any dude that can effect a whole wall goin' up in a day. Even if that Reimu dude was mad terrifyin'. Right?”
Rinnosuke says nothing.
“Right?” ya say again.
Rinnosuke still says nothing. And then he continues still sayin' nothing, and then real slow, real careful, like he's not sure he oughta be doin' it himself, he smiles.
Ya know that smile, even with it bein' the weaksauce version. That's the smile of a dude who's got some crucial slice of info tucked away. It's the I-know-something-you-don't smile. (Ya know that smile 'cause you're the one usually smilin' it.)
Not that it looks bad featurin' on Rinnosuke's mug instead. It's just unexpected, is all. Weird, but not bad-weird. Just not-the-norm-weird.
Which is an okay weird.
'Specially since he's smilin' at all. Why doesn't he do that more? You've seriously gotta make 'im do that more. “Lemme guess,” ya say. “Magic, right? Like, some sort of instant shop-buildin' hocus pocus you've gotta prep, but then—whammo, instant establishment, right?”
Rinnosuke's smile goes a titch wryer, but it's still a smile, and also still a good smile. “If there's a spell that does that, I at least don't know of it.”
“So what—beaucoup speedy builders? Or just beaucoup builders, even, maybe?”
“Something like that.”
“Are ya gonna at least tell me if I'm gettin' warmer?”
“Like, closer to whatever deal it is you're hidin'. Warmer.”
“I did say 'something like that,' didn't I? I'd say that means you're getting closer.”
“You're enjoyin' this, Mac.”
Rinnosuke doesn't say that he is, which means he is. Totally.
“'Something like that,'” ya gripe. “More like ''zactly like that.'”
'Cause it's not like you've gone your whole life without seein' construction workers construction-workin', but this is something else, for serious. It's less construction workers, even, and more like a swarm of ants goin' the pad over and through, though instead of ant bites they're deliverin' repair.
Okay, so maybe that's a bit exaggerationy, there, sure, but only a bit. 'Cause you're watchin' a wall go up, gettin' worked at by what's gotta be six dudes simultaneous, and with that many cooks in the broth you'd think they'd be gettin' all up in each others' ways, 'cept—and here's the twist—they're not. “Concerted” is a word. So is “hivemind.”
And then one of the dudes you're watchin' gets her thumb stuck between two things of wood which brings that whole section of shopwallraisin' up to a clamorous halt and never mind, you'll stick with “concerted.”
Still impressive, though. Impressive enough that the fact that a not insignificant number of these workers've got horns is actually a distant second on the check-that-out scale.
“Seriously, Mac. How'd they get this much done already?”
“It is only a repair to the damaged portions of the walls. It was never going to take as long as rebuilding a home completely would.”
“Yeah, but still.” Something occurs to you. “Though I guess it helps when ya don't hafta worry 'bout the utilities,” ya muse.
“Like water and electricity. I'm not gonna say it's global, but back home it'd be super-weird if ya had a liveable pad without that stuff comin' through the walls.”
Rinnosuke looks thoughtful. And also kinda confused. “I can't say the same for electricity, but we do have water.”
“Yeah, outside. That's not the same, Mac. I'm talkin' runnin' into the pad. Like, from a place.”
“But wouldn't there be considerable drawbacks to having water run through your home? I imagine it would be less clean the farther downstream you lived. Do people with higher wealth or status get to live closer to the river source? What if they dump something into the river? Do the people downstream have to bear with it?”
“De infantibus Hebræorum est hic.”
And there's Rumia on the other side of you, as smiley as ever, and also as ungettable as ever. At least ya don't hafta carry 'er anymore. Dude got heavy.
But yeah, you and Rinnosuke bust out the usual Rumia's-Latinin'-again procedure, i.e. it's not any of your faults respectively she's goin' outta her way to speak a language she knows neither of you understand, so you're just gonna sorta ignore 'er till the verbage starts makin' sense again.
Huh. When ya put it like that, it sounds a lot douchier than ya considered it previous. Kinda too late now, 'cause you're already doin' the whole pretend-she-didn't-just-do-the-Latin thing, but maybe ya oughta reconsider for next time?
Wait, wait, more important at the sec. Rinnosuke said a thing, didn't he? Ya follow that back. And then follow that forth 'cause whatever mental image he's got in his brain—rivers through residences, and not in a reasonable metaphorical way—is totally off, obvs. “It's not like you're thinkin', Mac. Like, you're not gonna have a strait runnin' through your livin' room or anything. It's more like—okay, Mac. I'm simplifyin' here, right?”
Rinnosuke nods, and looks to be lendin' you his ears for realsies.
Which makes ya 'specially nervous, now. Ya don't wanna get this wrong, not for him. “So it's something like—imagine a buncha water gets collected somewhere. Then, that water gets treated so that it doesn't kill ya when ya drink it—which, mondo concern, natch. Then it gets piped up to everywhere you'd 'spect to get water from, et voilà! You've got the hookup.”
“That simple! Well, I say 'simple,' but...” Ya shrug, by which ya mean that actually water supply and sanitation is a beaucoup complicated affair; yo, John Snow. “But anyways, yeah. Pads on the Outside've got walls all fulla stuff. If it isn't pipes for water, it's gonna be wires for electricity.”
“And so, since there's more work to be done, repairing a wall is going to take longer,” Rinnosuke muses. “It makes sense.”
Ya nod, and appropriately concluded, this whole convo just sorta peters out. Ya watch, Rinnosuke and Rumia alongside ya, as the construction workers with horns and the construction workers without horns do a great heave-ho and literally raise the roof. Or at least a portion of it.
Did ya mention that this is impressive? 'Cause, actually, maybe ya oughta actually actually mention that it's impressive. “These dudes are goin' fast, though,” ya say. “Like, even accountin' for the less-total-work thing. I don't hanginaround alotta construction sites, but every team of hardhats I've seen—these dudes have 'em beat by far. So, uh, you dudes win on that front?”
Rinnosuke considers his victory, and then doesn't rub it in your face 'cause he's awesome like that. “Most of them look to be oni,” he says instead—the workers, he means, obvs. “I imagine they have experience rebuilding homes.”
“Missin' some context here, Mac.”
“Well, they're oni, after all,” Rinnosuke says. “You understand.” And the he pauses and gets a look like—oh, right, this dude's an Outsider, so no, she wouldn't, maybe? “Ah—”
“They break things,” Rumia chimes in.
Rinnosuke nods, lookin' uncharacteristically appreciative for Rumia's presence. “Yes,” he says, takin' back the reins. “Oni are often—”
“So they fix things,” Rumia interrupts.
Rinnosuke glances Rumiawards, waitin' for any upcomin' sentence additional. When it's pretty certain that no, he's got the floor here, he starts up again. “Oni—”
“If they didn't fix things, they wouldn't be able to break things anymore,” says Rumia.
Rinnosuke looks down at Rumia, his thankfulness runnin' out quick.
Rumia looks up at Rinnosuke, and doesn't seem to notice. Or care.
And here's you in the middle, literally, feelin' the eyelines like rebar through your torso, which is a bad place for rebar to hang out, generally. “So, oni?” ya venture.
Rinnosuke maintains his not-technically-a-gaze with Rumia a sec longer before givin' in and lettin' himself recede back into exposition mode. “What Rumia says is correct, more or less,” he says, and that's the first time that permutation of words has ever seen air outta his maw, prolly. “Most oni enjoy competing in contests, especially physical ones. Additionally, drinking and, ah, participating in various festivities are common pastimes.”
Huh. “That sounds like the sorta combo that'd have alotta stuff comically shatterin' off-scene.”
Rinnosuke starts to nod again, catches himself, then screws up the bit between his eyebrows. “If you mean that it would lead to significant property damage—then yes, you're absolutely right.”
“So they've gotta be handy with a hammer and nails to compensate,” ya sum up. “Yeah. I can dig it.”
“Also they don't want to be blasted.”
You look at Rumia. Rumia is smiles, smiles, smiles all the way downtown and you're still tryin' to figure out what in the holy hey she meant by that when she lifts her hand and points, out, where all those dudes're workin' in ways that've been described already. For a sec ya don't know what she's gettin' at—you've seen those dudes, thanks; what does she think you've been jawin' all up on about this whole time—
And then ya catch something—someone there. Which, y'know, not so strange on its own. There's lotsa someones there. Only this someone doesn't seem to be actively participatin' in the whole home improvement deal. Or inactively, even, like if they were the foreman, directin' but not necessarily haulin' wood and nailin' it down themself. They're just standin' there, hands on their hips—hands on her hips; sorry, that's a her, or at least ya think they are—
Or actually ya more than think they are, 'cause ya recognize those duds. Red, and dress, and skimp at the pits.
It's that Reimu dude back.
She hasn't noticed you, or at least she doesn't look like she's noticed you. Maybe she already noticed you and ya didn't catch it 'cause ya weren't noticin' her—that's totally possible, right? Either way, she's standin' there, hands, hips, et cetera, watchin' what's happenin', but not in a way that's suggestin' she'd actually care if these dudes started puttin' the house in Betty-MacDonald-style. No, whatever she's lookin' at or for is a lot more specific.
[ ] Let's bother the intense-lookin' dude; this is a good idea. [ ] Maybe how 'bout we just hang here for a while, Mac. [ ] Think one of those workers'd mind a little confab? [ ]
[x] Think one of those workers'd mind a little confab?
I want as many people as possible to experience the wonders of confabin' (if that even is a word... I've stopped caring long ago with this story) with us. Reimu already has, so moving on to the next target.
[X] Let's bother the intense-lookin' dude; this is a good idea.
It’s a mystery!
And the thing ‘bout mysteries—they wanna be solved. “Hold my sake, Mac. I’m goin’ in.”
“You don’t have sake.”
“It’s metaphorical sake. Hold it anyways?”
Rinnosuke looks like he wants to press the ish further. Then he does a mental shrug (you can see it happenin’, in the slope of his shoulders), huffs a sigh that even the lowdownest of tired dogs would get concerned about, and holds his thumb and index out just far apart enough to be grippin’ an imaginary sake-holder of some kind. One of those dinky cups, maybe. Ya don’t know for sure, ‘cause imaginary. You look at it (even though it isn’t there, whatever it is), and then ya look up at Rinnosuke.
Rinnosuke looks ya back and doesn’t back down from it.
“I’m not gonna lie,” ya say. “I didn’t actually ‘spect ya to do the hand thing.”
“You did just teach me about houses in the Outside World,” Rinnosuke says.
“So this is a tit-for-tat deal?”
“Something like that.”
You’re still lookin’ at Rinnosuke’s mug and Rinnosuke’s mug’s still lookin’ at you and the mug’s also just as neutral as it is a lot, at least since ya dropped into this dude’s pad and didn’t drop out—
But there’s something there, maybe? Some sorta—
No, not exactly. But whatever it is, it makes ya feel uncomfy, straight out—though not a bad uncomfy, ‘zactly. Just a twitchy, antsy sorta feelin’, like either you’re standin’ still when you’re supposta be movin’ or movin’ when you’re supposta be standin’ still, and either way ya can’t stand it so ya nod, and ya break that weirdly solid gaze Rinnosuke’s sightin’ your way, and ya go towards Reimu, like ya planned.
And while you’re doin’ that, you’re thinkin’: Ya don’t know what Rinnosuke’s got to appreciate and-slash-or supply either tit or tat in exchange about. Ya barely gave ‘im anything. Like, ya did set down some Outside World knowledge for ‘im, which definitely maybe a dude could say was awesome, but ya didn’t set down a lot, didja? Just mostly “houses do water and power.” Still awesome, but not that awesome.
Also, you’re close enough to Reimu now. “Yo!” ya greet.
Reimu turns to face ya, real deliberate. It’s the turnin’ of a dude who is controllin’ every arcsecond of it and wants you to know that. She does that till she’s facin’ ya full on with a look on her mug of the totally unimpressed.
More importantly, she doesn’t yo back. She doesn’t anything back, ‘cept look ya up and down, like she’s makin’ sure, yeah, it’s really you. Then she goes back to watchin’ construction, like ya didn’t just burst onto the scene.
And then she says: “It’s not done yet.”
“So the shop.”
Reimu doesn’t respond. Which is fine. No, seriously! ‘Cause now you can get to business without gettin’ spun off on some sorta conversational tangent. “So what’s with the whole watchdog impression?” ya ask.
Dude doesn’t look off from what she’s lookin’. Not even with just her eyes. “I’m making certain nobody gets any foolish ideas,” she says.
And then she doesn’t say anything after that.
Yeah. Jabberjaw, she’s not.
Ya try again: “What, like puttin’ the rooms in wrong-way-’round?”
“That would only be an improvement.”
Ya glance back at Rinnosuke, who luckily isn’t payin’ attention to this whole you-and-Reimu thing at the mo. He’s engaged in his own little convo, actually—guess without something Outsidery to investigate, he’s gotta occupy himself somehow.
It’s kinda nice, though—seein’ him and Rumia get along. Or look like they’re gettin’ along, at least on the surface. He’s gettin’ more wordflow than ya are with Reimu, anyways.
C’mon, third time’s the charm...
“So is this construction deal a sorta side biz? Like, ya run it outta the shrine, or something?”
This time, ya get something offa Reimu’s face, even if it’s just a twitchin’ of the eyebrow. One of ‘em, not both. “I have enough to look after without adding a crowd of oni in particular,” she says.
“Really? ‘cause I assumed ya were the foreman here or something.”
And finally—finally—ya get a full faceturnin’, though the face you’re gettin’ the faceturnin’ with isn’t exactly harmonious. In fact, with that flarin’ at the nostrils and that wrinklin’ offa the alae besides, dude looks like she just thought of something terrible. Or disgusting. Or both. It’s only there for a sec, though, and then it gets schooled away.
“Foreman,” Reimu repeats, dully. “No, I’m not. If anyone could be called the foreman—”
“If anyone could be called the foreman, it’s me!”
Who the hey—
There’s an empty space next to Reimu, where nobody’s standin’ or sittin’ or anything ‘cause nobody’s there to do anything, which is totally normal and wouldn’t want pointin’ out, usually, ‘cept that this empty space—suddenly it’s not empty. Suddenly it’s fulla something, though you’re havin’ a hard time figurin’ what “something” is before it turns into “something else.” At first it looks like a buncha floatin’ flecks, like there’s a ‘stremely high pollen index that’s also somehow ‘stremely localized, but then those flecks turn into larger flecks which turn into larger bits thatcha can’t honestly call “flecks” anymore, and you’re watchin’ as all these bits (not flecks) gather into fewer but also larger bits, like some sorta reverse mitosis—
And then suddenly (alotta things happenin’ suddenly) it’s not bits at all, but a dude—a girl-lookin’ down, almost as low-down to the ground as Rumia, ‘cept unlike Rumia, and also unlike Reimu, and more like the dudes over there overseen—this dude’s got horns. Long horns, twistin’ like someone wrung ‘em out, one of ‘em terminating in—
Is that a little bow?
Wait, but she’s also got a bow herself. Like, additionally, a larger one, more directly in the way bows’re usually worn, specifically in this case on the back of her hair. She’s wearin’ two bows, in other words, which is almost excessive. Ya mean—it’s not, in the end, ‘cause it’s only two bows, but if she was wearin’ a third bow? That would be excessive, most def. As it is, she’s just sorta toein’ the bow line.
Though of course you’re one to gawp seein’ as you’d do the same, if you had the horns to get away with it. “Yo,” ya say, liftin’ your hand in greets.
The new dude laughs, handliftin’ back atcha. The chain at her wrists clink. Also, she’s got chains at her wrists, with basic-geometric-shape-lookin’ weights and gravity hangin’ off the ends of ‘em. Prolly ya shoulda noticed this before the bows, but yo—it’s near-excessive bows, she was sportin’.
Ya can’t be blamed here.
Maybe. “So you’re the dude doin’ the foremannin’,” ya say.
The dude nods, smilin’ with mad cheer and also all her teeth. “And you’re Christie Christoferson,” she says.
She pronounces your name properly, which is a real cool breeze after so many dudes lettin’ their u’s pass through. “Dude, you’ve heard of me?” ya say.
“Heard, seen—did a little investigating myself.” The dude nudges the Reimu next to her, who somehow scowls down back with minimum movement of the mug, which said dude merrily ignores. “Reimu’s not the only one who’s been curious.”
“Oh, huh.” If this keeps happenin’, maybe Rinnosuke should charge admission. Fork over some yen, see the Outsider—that oughta offset some of the Christie Christoferson caretakin’ cost. “Sorry to surprise ya, then, ‘cause I’ve got it on good authority that I’m actually more awesome than rumors suggest,” ya say. “Or maybe actually less awesome. Depends on the rumors.”
“I dunno. Could be the rumors are actually spot-on.”
“Seriously. Right, Reimu?” The dude nudges Reimu again, who this time doesn’t even react ‘cept for bein’ nudged. She doesn’t seem to mind, though—just peers back atcha again, that toothy thing she’s got settlin’ into something easier. Then she thrusts one manacle-wristed hand your way.
“I’m Ibuki Suika,” she says. “’Put ‘er there’—that’s how they say it where you’re from, right?”
“Dude.” Ya meet Suika halfway, graspin’ the hand that grasps yours, and do a coupla firm pumps—everything a cool handshake’s supposta be, in other words. Still, you’re grinnin’ like Suika is by the end of it. “Dude,” ya say again. “Ya know how much I’ve gotten in the way of handshakes since I got dropped in here?”
“Not a lot?”
“Like the bare minimum. How’dja know I was a handshakes dude, anyways?”
Suika shrugs. “The name was a clue—that and everyone knows you’re an Outsider. They shake hands a lot, for some reason.”
“And when ya say ‘everyone’...”
“Well, everyone that’s heard of you.”
Dude. Could you possibly be actually super-popular? Are you the Gensokyo version of a cryptid, i.e. just a normal dude ‘cause in Gensokyo cryptids are the norm and vice versa? Are there actually tons of Gensokyo dudes campin’ out in the forest tryin’ to get a glimpse of you like the dudes who’ve been years tryin’ to snapshot Bigfeet?
Well, you’re kinda hopin’ not that last one, ‘cause that’d be creepy. Like, mega-creepy. Creepola to the max. Privacy is a thing, dudes; you’ve covered this before.
Ugh, now ya wanna change this topic before ya get any uncomfier (too late). “So anyways, you’re the dude in charge of the rebuildin’ goin’ on, though, right?” ya ask, totally subtly and conversationally deft.
Suika’s already-grinny grin grins up at the edges. Just a little more, enough that ya can’t help thinkin’ she’d make a neato jack-o’-lantern. “I wouldn’t say I’m in charge,” she says. “I just called in a few favors, that’s all.”
“Oh—so, like, you’re one of Rinnosuke’s buddies, then.”
“Ah, well, we’re in the same circles. Actually, it was Reimu who asked me if I could help out somehow—” Nudge, nonreaction, “—so I definitely couldn’t refuse.”
“Nice,” ya say. And then, Reimuwards, “Nice.”
That’s what gets the most reaction outta Reimu, weirdly. Her eyes widen a bit, at the edges—and then they dart, over to where Rinnosuke’s hangin’ before flickin’ back to you again. Her lips twitch, like they’ve got four different things to say, silence included, and they don’t know which they want first, or at all.
And then she seems to realize she’s tellin’ and schools her face outta that unschoolage and back into what you’re startin’ to ‘spect as the usual Reimu intensity. “Not as nice as you think,” she says.
“I dunno,” ya say. “Ya prompted the whole shop-rebuildin’ project, didntcha? That’s totally nice.”
“It’s not selflessness,” Reimu says. And for a sec ya think she’s gonna leave it at that—at that mysterious sorta phrase with currents underneath that everyone and their grandma seems to spout off in a place like this, but then she also says: “I’m ensuring I don’t pay for my own tea.”
Well, whatever reason it is, she’s still facilitatin’ the buildage, so it’s all good. Like, standin’ here, you can really actually believe that everything’s imminent on goin’ back to normal (and wow, ‘cause that’s totally a relative term).
“By the way, any of ya got a time frame for shop-rebuildage completeage? I don’t wanna rush a dude, but...”
The corner of Reimu’s mouth twitches, which is prolly not a good thing, answerwise, and then Suika laughs through her teeth, which is the same thing, ‘cept definitely. The latter gives a good shot of considerin’ the matter—tiltin’ her head upwards to imagine and thumbin’ her chin in the classic I’m-thinkin’-‘bout-it pose, even—before returnin’ the query with a grand shrug. “Hard to say, hard to say!” she says. “It’s not easy to get oni to work at anything but their own pace, you know.”
“Really?” Ya glance back at the hammerin’ and whatnot happenin’ simultaneous. “‘Cause these dudes look like they’re operatin’ pretty steady.”
“For now. We’re oni, after all. Who can tell how we’ll be feeling in a few minutes?”
“Huh. Bummer.” But seein’ as these dudes are literally puttin’ a roof above your head, it’s not like you can complain. “I’ll tell Rinnosuke, then—prolly we can finagle another sleepover at Alice’s pad?”
You’re not sure.
I mean, unless Rinnosuke’s all set to keep tradin’ literaries, but he’s given up enough pages for your sake already than you can stand comfy over. Have him hoof over any more, and you’re gonna be feelin’ like the pits.
And speakin’ of pits, is it just your imagination, or is someone diggin’ a coupla them in the side of your skull? Ya look over, and—
Oh, hey. Ya wouldn’t think a dude could go from zero to eighty-five in the space of time it takes a second dude to get distracted by the Gensokyo barterin’ system, but apparently a dude can. Also, didja mention already that Reimu’s kinda scary? ‘Cause Reimu—kinda scary. “Yo,” ya offer, weakly, hopin’ that maybe that’s the secret password to get those laser eyes offa your general vicinity.
It’s not. “You stayed with Alice,” Reimu says.
It’s not a question. Ya answer it anyways. “Yes?”
“I don’t know any other Alices?”
Reimu regards ya. And regards ya. And continues regardin’ ya, while the silence attached to the regardin’ just sorta hangs. It’s a very weighty and significant hangin’, the sorta hangin’ you’d ‘spect to have with a body at the end of it. Prolly Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s, ‘cause you’d need more rope that way.
And then Reimu stops with the eye thing, just all of a sudden, turns on her foot, and goes stalkin’ off towards the construction.
“Dude,” ya say. And Suikawards: “Did I say something wrong?”
Suika’s eyes are dark and narrow. Her smile’s a crescent moon upended. “It’s more like you said something right,” she says.
You don’t even try puttin’ that one together. “I don’t get it.”
“That’s fine. There’s a lot of things humans don’t get.” And she glances off at Reimu, who’s now standin’ before the whole hammer-and-nails shebang and makin’ sharp indications at the whole company attendin’ you’re just too far off to make sense of, and then Suika looks back at you again and yeah, that is totally a sentence that’s drippin’ with meaningfulness, that sentence. Like, that sentence’s got layers. And ya don’t know what any of those layers consist of, ‘cept for maybe the uppermost of ‘em, and even then just the topsoil.
But like this dude’s said, there’s alotta things dudes don’t get, right?
So it’s fine. Maybe. And even if it’s not, you can just head back to Rinnosuke, the half-youkai shopkeep, and Rumia, the dude-chompin’ beast in little-girl form, your two best friends in this magical forest in the middle of a Japanese bubble dimension in which they both live, and now in which you live also.
What ya thought about normal, something like a minute ago? That again, ‘cept more that.
Not that it’s a bad thing. Like, you’re not picky, even with your life havin’ clearly changed with all the changes in a relatively short amount of time. Change can be totally cool! And on that positive note—
“Okay, so—I’m just gonna get back to Rinnosuke and company and tell ‘em whatcha said ‘bout oni and paces—yeah?” Ya stick out your hand for the goodbye shakin’. “Nice talkin’ atcha.”
Suika doesn’t take your hand, though. What she does is—yeah, you’ve got it—regard ya, which is a serious case of déjà vu to visit on ya. At least she’s a lot more cheery-lookin’ in the way she does it than Reimu was—smilin’ and all. “You know,” she says, “this might be the most change there’s been without an Incident attached to it.”
Ya hear the capitalization—“Incident.” That’s even though Japanese doesn’t really do capitalization. Maybe puttin’ the word in all katakana or something, or with the dots, but not capitalization. “Change?”
“You wouldn’t see it yourself, since you’re the one causing it, but sure, change.”
“No offense, dude, but that’s gonna need a little unpackin’. What...”
Ya trail off.
Reimu’s done talkin’ at the construction dudes, it looks like—ya see her walkin’ a walk that wouldn’t be unfit in combat boots, right towards you, and then past ya, her eyes pointin’ straight like you or Suika aren’t even there. Ya can’t help turn your head to follow—and then watch her almost-stomp up to where Rinnosuke’s still at. The dude doesn’t notice ‘er at first—he’s kinda preoccupied with Rumia, who’s ended up perched on his shoulder somehow like the manbitiest parrot, which’d be adorable if it wasn’t for the air of imminent doom approachin’—but then he does notice, and for a sec he just sorta gapes before pluckin’ the kid he’s heftin’ off his person and into thin air where she bobs, not-mindingly.
Ya see ‘im say something to Reimu—belated greets, prolly. The slight movement of the back of a dude’s head tells ya Reimu is prolly respondin’, but if ya wanna know what with, you’re still outta luck—with all the shopworkin’ sounds, it’s all lost. Rinnosuke tilts his head at it, whatever it was, and there’s a pause—and then Rinnosuke’s eyebrows rise, and he nods, and Reimu nods, too, and ‘bout-faces and starts stompin’ back again, back to where she was overseein’ the whole deal. Ya watch ‘er pass you again, and then ya look at Rinnosuke, who’s wanderin’ after like he’s been drawn in her wake (along with Rumia, who trails behind).
He seems to lose the guidance ‘round where you and Suika are, though—just sorta meanders over and putters to a stop, like he hasn’t got the energy to keep up with that company so he’ll go with you and hope nobody noticed you dudes were the second choice.
Ya totally noticed. Ya don’t mention it, though. ‘Cause, like, been there. “Hey, Mac. What was that about?” ya say.
Rinnosuke looks at you with a ‘spression that’s not at ease, ‘zactly, but maybe might get there someday with a some luck and also some pluck, and also also more of one than the other. “We’ll be able to move back into Kourindou by the end of the day,” he says. “At least, we should be.”
Now it’s Suika’s turn to make with the eyebrows. “That soon? Really?”
“That’s what Reimu told me.”
Ya look over yourself—ya can’t tell if the dudes’re workin’ in a way that’d be considered “speedy”—no context, so ya wouldn’t know one pace from another—but with the way Reimu’s standin’ here, hands on her hips again, ‘spression taut, beamin’ laser eyes at whichever dude’s unlucky to be her focus any given sec—
Like, you’re not exactly an unbiased observer here? But you’ve got a feelin’ like if Reimu’s decided something’s gonna be a certain way, it’s gonna be that way or else. Ya can’t justify it too well, even to yourself. It’s just this sense of authority waftin’ offa her, is what it is—something past parent or angry boss or pissed-off police officer pullin’ all the stops to make your infraction ‘spand into full life consequences.
If it was Reimu versus the world, you’d bet on the world, ‘cause attrition. But you’d think about it, first.
Suika considers the whole sitch. Or acts like she’s considerin’ it, anyways—thumb on her chin and tiltin’ her head up and hummin’ ponderously and everything. “Well, if Reimu’s said that, it’s gotta be true,” she says, finally. Then her grin goes broad and she leers atcha—not in the way a dude leers at other dudes on the street, but the way a dude leers when they’ve got all the cards and they know it.
“Why don’t you two go spend some time somewhere else?” she says. “We oughta be done here by sundown, at least.”
“Three,” ya say.
For the first time in this whole convo—encounter, actually—Suika looks sorta off-foot. “‘Three’?”
You point at Rumia, who’s swayin’ in some nonexistent breeze over Rinnosuke’s back. She has her hands restin’ in each other behind her back—her slimness and her blonde hair leave ‘er resemblin’ a dandelion still frontin’ with the pseudanthium (though completin’ this simile means that Rumia’s hair is gonna blow away in the wind sometime soon, which is a mental image you’re real okay with abandonin’—not that she couldn’t rock the bald look, if she wanted to, but this train of thought has taken a worryin’ line and ya wanna abort before it ends up at one of those urban-legend train stations that’s half in this world and half in another, and gettin’ off at that point basically spells a dude’s doom, only now thatcha think about it you’re in Gensokyo where it’s supernatural whatnow up the wazoo twenty-four-seven, so it might already be too late).
“Yeah, me, Rinnosuke, and Rumia, dude,” ya say. “Three.”
Rumia seems to notice Suika’s gaze for the first time. She waves merrily, which makes her look less like a dandelion, ‘cause dandelions don’t have arms, and you’re totally okay with that.
Rumia not lookin’ like a dandelion, not the general armlessness of dandelions. Though you’re okay with that, too.
Suika recovers quick, once she’s got your line. “Huh,” she says, first, but then she’s back to her usual mug and the tone to go with it: “Well, then you three should go have fun somewhere. Like I said, we’ll be done by sundown.”
You and Rinnosuke look at each other. There’s some raisin’ of the eyebrows and the tiltin’ of the heads, while Rumia stands to the side and officiates blandly, but it doesn’t take long to get to an implicit decision.
Yeah, sure. You can take a walk.
Okay, so maybe “walk” isn’t totally the right word. “Walk” sorta implies ya know where you’re goin’, even if it’s only in what direction. What you’ve got here—with you and Rinnosuke and Rumia just headin’ out and if ya curve away from your ray then whatever—is a “mosey.”
Ya let that happen for a while, just you and Rinnosuke puttin’ one step in front of the other and Rumia doin’ similar but not identical ‘cause floatin’—and then break it. “So what’s up?”
Rinnosuke’s got a furrowed brow. “’What’s up?’” he repeats.
“With Suika. Like, if you can tell me anything,” ya say, and when that’s clearly not gettin’ ya what you’re lookin’ for, you expand: “Like, there was an introduction, but I feel like if I wanna get the four-one-one on some Gensokyo dude, maybe I better ask someone who’s actually a denizen? E.g. you.”
“Ah...” Rinnosuke trails off, noddin’ in an oh-that-makes-sense sorta way. “Ibuki Suika—she’s an oni, just as the other workers are. As far as her interests are concerned, they don’t differ much from the typical oni’s, either—alcohol, fighting, and festivities. Past that, she’s been involved in a few incidents, but nothing that hasn’t been put to rest relatively quickly.”
“And she and the Reimu dude are—what, buddies?”
“It’s difficult to tell, especially where Reimu is involved.” And there’s something funny in the way Rinnosuke says that that you’ve gotta look at ‘im, like maybe it’s printed on his mug what or why. Maybe ya shouldnta looked at all, though, ‘cause as soon as Rinnosuke notices you’re noticin’ he shakes it away (whatever it is). “I suppose you could call them friends,” he says quick, more normal ‘bout it. “They don’t go out of their ways to impede each other.”
“That’s a kinda low bar for friendship, Mac.”
“I suspect Ibuki might call it a friendship anyway.”
“Yeah, but, like...that’s on her. It doesn’t make it very friendshippy just ‘cause it’s called that.”
“They help each other more than they actively hinder each other—why is this an argument?”
And the thing is, you’re all set to shoot something right back—what, exactly, ya don’t know, and prolly ya still wouldn’t know till it parted your jaw—but yeah, why is this an argument? Ya don’t know that, either.
So ya settle down and shut it, at least as far as the concept of friendship goes. “So they’re friends, huh,” ya mutter.
Rinnosuke’s mug is blank. “They’re friends,” he says.
“Also,” Rumia says, “once Suika made the moon explode.”
Ya digest that, just for a sec. Like, the words, and the sentence, and the place of the words in the sentence. “What,” ya conclude.
“No, that isn’t right,” Rinnosuke says, quick. “You can’t say she made the moon explode.”
“Can’t I?” says Rumia.
“You could, but it would be inaccurate. Certainly, the moon appeared to explode—
“—but it wasn’t the actual moon that exploded, but only the image of the moon, as it was reflected in the heavens. You might not know this, but the moon that we see in the night sky is only a reflection of the moon and not the moon itself—otherwise, human beings who saw it would go insane. In short, the actual moon was unaffected.”
Yeah. Okay. Like, that sounds totally fake and-slash-or mind-blowin’, but okay. Just as long as she didn’t actually blow up the moon.
‘Cause that would be kinda terrifyin’? Just a bit.
“If you wanted to be accurate, you would say that what Suika actually made explode was the canopy of the sky itself.”
Never mind! Still kinda terrifyin’. “I guess if you can blow up the sky no one’s gonna complain when ya call yourself their friend,” ya muse.
Rinnosuke blinks, like he forgot he actually had an audience to the lecture he was layin’ on ears here. “I suppose that’s true,” he says, unsteadily, and the three of you get on with this walk to nowhere.
As far as habitats go, you’re a dude of the city. Sure, your home’s got plenty of green and space to it—smog-choked urban dystopia it’s not, thanks—but ultimately it’s still a whole buncha zones and streets in grids, with public transport and upkeep on the reg. Hikin’, meanwhile? Yeah, you’ve been campin’ a coupla times, ‘cause your dad’s the sort, but trompin’ through high green with the sun on your back and the bugs at your arms is primarily on that side of “not your jam.”
Walkin’ through the forest, as aimlessly as ya know you’re walkin’ right now—somehow, it’s not so bad. Maybe it’s the company. Rinnosuke’s Rinnosuke, and Rumia’s Rumia. A coupla dudes and a childish fun-sized dude, and...
Yo, maybe you’re just pareidolizin’, but walkin’ side by side like this, the three of you look like some sorta familial unit, is all. It’s a weird feelin’. But not a bad feelin’. Maybe this is why your dad was so set on campfires—this whole thing of you’re-here-and-I’m-here-and-I’m-here-with-ya.
There’s enough clearin’ in this walk of the forest you could do something fun if ya wanted, prolly. Like, ya don’t have a deck of cards or anything, but you could nudge Rinnosuke, just a little, and watch ‘im stumble, also just a little, not enough to actually be mean, and then you could laugh, and maybe Rumia’d laugh, and maybe Rinnosuke’d laugh, too, though ya can’t image that too well.
But it’s a possibility.
Ya don’t do that. What ya do instead is ask Rumia a question she prolly wouldn’t know the answer to, tiltin’ your head down Rumiawards to ensure the direction’s clear as crystal. Or as clear as a bell. Or a clear as a bell made outta crystal, which’d be a severe ‘spression of ostentatious luxury. Like, seriously, dude, just donate to meaningful causes or something.
“So, Rumia,” is whatcha say, “ya think they’re gonna be done soon? With the shop.”
“Sapientia ædificabitur domus, et prudentia roborabitur. In doctrina replebuntur cellaria, universa substantia pretiosa et pulcherrima.”
Yeah, you’re not sure whatcha ‘spected. And you’re all set to give it up for a loss like usual when Rumia continues:
“But Rinnosuke already knows a lot of things, so that’s okay for now.”
“What?” Rinnosuke says.
“What?” ya say.
Rumia smiles up at you. “You know a lot of things, too,” she says, and for some reason, ya can’t help thinkin’ she’s makin’ fun of you. Laughin’ at you, behind her face.
>No foundation for a house like wisdom, no buttress like discernment; no furnishing may be found for the rooms of it so rare and so pleasant, as true knowledge.
It doesn't matter if they have a house or not, because they have knowledge far more precious. With a focus on important things and a flabbergasting lack of prejudices, they could surpass almost any obstacle.
Also, not sure if Reimu appreciated them forcing a friend (or a friend of a friend) to be more sociable or if she just doesn't want them to spend another night with her.
Ya say that over the domicile, amplifyin’ your voice appropriate to make sure it reaches over where Rinnosuke’s sittin’ full up in his deskiness. Which isn’t much, of course. It’s not like the pad’s bustlin’. You’re pretty sure Rinnosuke hears ya loud and clear, is what you’re sayin’.
Still, Rinnosuke doesn’t say anything back. Doesn’t even look your way, in fact. Just stares straight where he’s been starin’, his chin in hand on arm on elbow on aforementioned deskiness. Just stares and doesn’t say a thing.
Ya gather up the dishes and do ‘em neat to the side as best ya can. Which isn’t much, ‘cause ya can’t get to the well with the way it’s sprinklin’ outside, but a spread of plates can wait one day without spoilin’ so bad they start itchin’ at the senses.
“Thanks for the breakfast, by the way, Mac,” ya say, while you’re finishin’ that up.
Again, no response, ‘cept for Rinnosuke starin’ in the same direction, which isn’t at you, in case you’ve gotta make that clear. Like, it’s not like he owes ya a look, or anything—he’s the dude who did the good breakfast; if anyone owes anyone here, it’s you owin’ him, which is why the thanks.
Still, it’s kinda ranklin’. Like, the dude isn’t even zoned out into a hefty tome or anything—he’s just starin’.
Ya approach. From the side, so ya don’t break his viewline. “Hey, Mac,” ya say.
No response. Again. Which ya ‘spected, but yeah.
“Hey, Mac,” ya say again. “Ya got something needin’ doin’ ‘round here? Knickknacks needin’ sortin’? Shelves needin’ sweepin’? I ask ‘cause I’ve got a whole lotta free time and it occurs to me helpin’ ya keep the pad optimal’s the sorta thing I could totally use up an hour with. Or more, even.”
And...nothing. Nada. Your sweet bait goes unbit, and it’s startin’ to irk ya now. Ya tilt your head, puttin’ it as close to Rinnosuke’s—location-and-angle-wise—as ya can, but it’s not like ya needed to do that to figure out the deal here. Ya already know what he’s starin’ at—he’s starin’ at the same thing he’s been starin’ at for the last three-ish, four-ish days, which is a length of time far outside of reasonable mope allowance.
He’s starin’ at the tank.
Rika’s tank, which is just hangin’ inside the shop at the mo. And also has been hangin’ inside the shop for the last three-ish, four-ish days.
‘Cause the oni didn’t remove it.
They just built the shop back up around it, apparently.
“It’s not that bad, y’know,” ya say.
“It’s not that good, either,” says Rinnosuke, finally breakin’ his vow of silence.
“I like it.”
“I know you like it.”
Ya shrug. “Yeah, but I do like it. Like, there’s this sweet juxtapositional effect between the baroque intensity provided by the tank’s bein’ there and the classic Japanese architecture you’ve got surroundin’ it. Plus, it fits with this unintentional-quasi-organized-semi-techno-junkyard motif you’ve got goin’ on here.”
“I understood very little of that, except for you calling this shop a junkyard.”
“I didn’t say it was a junkyard; I said it had a techno-junkyard motif. Like, aesthetic. I mean, you’ve gotta face it, Mac—ya hoard alotta odds, and also ends.”
“The majority of these are objects of research as items from the Outside World. I would think you would understand.”
“And I totally do, Mac, I totally do. Nothing wrong with combinin’ form and function.”
Rinnosuke looks like he’s achin’ for a way to follow that up—like, you’ve got something on how the tank, in its full tankiness, provides the perfect capstone to the gallery of mechanical doohickeys with capabilities that more likely than not can’t be fully realized in this environment—but after a while of ponderin’ he just aborts and then just settles himself farther into his chin-holdin’ hand, sighin’ like he’s Atlas and his union-regulated breaktime just quit. “Intense as it may be, I don’t have any use for a tank.”
“Don’t be ridic; everyone’s got some use for a tank. Like, other than the obvious.”
Okay, so you’ve gotta think about a bit. “Put a buncha flowers in the cannon and call it a statement?”
“And what sort of statement would that be?”
“’This cannon’s a real nice place to put flowers.’”
Rinnosuke props his chin up a little more. You can see ‘im considerin’. Then it dips again. “It’s too deep to hold flowers,” he mutters. “They’d just fall through.”
“Yeah, I don’t think you can stick stems in there without makin’ it obvious you’ve gone through alotta effort makin’ ‘em stick, and at that point it swings past charmin’ and into kitsch. Art’s tough.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about anymore.” Rinnosuke pauses. “That is—I don’t know what you’re talking about anymore again,”
“Don’t worry ‘bout it, Mac. It’s been done already anyways, and echt to boot. Neither of us’re Bernie Boston.” And ya hunch next to where Rinnosuke’s sittin’, cuppin’ your own chin in a hand on an arm on an elbow on a desk.
And then, ‘cause it’s the sorta thing you’re supposta do when you’ve got your chin where you’ve got it, ya sigh—partially ‘cause the tank’s still a thing, and it’s bummin’ Rinnosuke out, clearly, and partially ‘cause ya realize all of a sudden thatcha shoulda maybe gotten a chair before settin’ yourself here instead of just stoopin’. Like, yeah, ya could go and get one now, but at this point it’d just ruin the moment, and ya don’t wanna do that, ‘specially since that’s gonna happen on its own, inevitably, eventually, and anyways.
Case in point: The sound of the front door swingin’ open like someone put all of their weight on it before botherin’ with the handle, includin’ with that the blunt thump that comes after outta the lack of a little sproingy doorstop thing at the foot of whole deal. Sounds like company. Or a customer, maybe, even.
Ya swivel your chin on your palm to look at Rinnosuke.
Rinnosuke looks at you.
It’s a funny, irrelevant kinda realization, but this close up, you could count the flecks in Rinnosuke’s eyes. If ya wanted to, ya mean. Or maybe if ya didn’t have this whoever that just came through the front to hafta worry ‘bout. Either way, countin’ gets a rain check while ya use your peepers to laserbeam a message into Rinnosuke’s thinkpan instead. Something like, “Mac—now what?”
Rinnosuke doesn’t answer. Which is weird, ‘cause you could swear it’s a totally cromulent question. Or maybe ya just suck at lasers.
[ ] Shopkeep, assist! [ ] Shopkeep, stay put—you’ll field this. [ ] Shopkeep, don’t worry ‘bout it. The shopper can find us if they need to. [ ]
Rinnosuke will quickly have to play middleman when whoever busted in the door doesn't speak Christie Christopherson-ese. Which is the idea, mind - there's nothing like a good game of "what the fuck did she just say?" to pull Mac out of a funk. Or occasionally to put him into one, but today's heavy mood is pretty exclusively tank-focused, so it should be fine.
No help for it—gonna hafta get unsubtle. Ya add a sharp nod to your repertoire, jerkin’ your chin in the direction of someone else. Now Rinnosuke gets it, if you’ve gotta guess from how he straightens up in his seat. He holds eye contact a sec longer, and then, with a nod from his end—see, now he gets it—he makes for business.
You follow, of course. Ya don’t know if you can help out, but at least you can pump up a dude with the moral support. And if ya can’t do that, whatever’s about to go down’ll prolly beat hangin’ lonesomely in the back by a beaucoup margin.
Even if it’s just a sale. Like, “I would like this stick of gum,” “Here’s your stick of gum,” “Thanks.” Not that Rinnosuke actually sells gum, but that kinda quick-easy-simple sorta thing.
Maybe Rinnosuke could sell gum. You’ve gotta talk to ‘im ‘bout his model. What kinda dosh do convenience stores accrue?
One thing at a time, though.
Standin’ in the middle of the shop floor is the potential customer, head craned away to peer at the numerous whatsits populatin’ a far shelf. She doesn’t seem to notice you’ve come forth, not till Rinnosuke does his usually Japanese shop greety how-dos—then she starts, totterin’ about-face, nearly falling sideways off her own feet when she gets to the end of it and momentum disagrees. She recovers just barely, stumblin’ in just the right direction with the sort of clumsy adjustment that comes from a subconscious brain realizin’ that the dude in charge is never gonna not almost slam their chin on the floor, so it’s up to them to preempt becomin’ hospital regular.
Then, havin’ accomplished not-dyin’, the dude palms her hair (long, every-which-way) outta her face, straightens the shoulders of her white coat (or lab coat, ya guess ya should say, ‘cause that coat doesn’t look like it’s been white for ages), and, carefully, painfully, focuses her spec-shielded peepers on the both of ya.
“Huh,” she says.
Ya look at Rinnosuke’s face just in time to see it sculpt itself into merry-shopkeep mode. It’s kinda creepy. “Welcome!” he says, bowin’ slight. “Can I help you?”
The dude’s eyes settle offa your general vicinity and onto Rinnosuke. Or through Rinnosuke, maybe. Like the dude’s inklin’ where to stare but that’s it. “This...” she mutters.
You and Rinnosuke hang tight, breaths bated.
“This...is a shop,” the dude concludes.
Well, ya can’t say that’s not true, ya guess. Ya look at Rinnosuke, who’s lookin’ at you, and if your ‘spression isn’t matchin’ that what-do-I-do-with-this question he’s wearin’, it’s at least gotta be something close.
Decisions are made, and Rinnosuke turns back to the dude, who’s got her head bowed and her thumb and index pressed hard to the bridge of her nose. “Yes, it is,” he says.
The dude groans. “No,” she says. “I mean, yes, it is, but I mean...” One last massage to the schnozz, then she tilts her head back and inhales through it in a way you can hear over here. “It’s fine,” she says. “What do you have?”
Rinnosuke looks to the left, where countless knickknacks, whatchamacallits, and et cetera populate walls and shelves from the bottom all the way up.
He looks to the right, where ditto.
“Uh,” he says.
“Right. Right,” says the dude. You can see the jaw in her face clench. “It’s all here, isn’t it. I’ll just, um...”
She gestures, wordlessly, which is an adverb this dude tacked onto herself way too late, prolly. Then, on a set of feet that seem determined to step as goofy as possible, she makes her leanin’, staggerin’ way to one or another side of the shop.
You and Rinnosuke are a lot more open to glance-sharin’, now that the dude you’re glance-sharin’ over isn’t gonna catch it. “Hey, Mac,” ya hiss. “Ya know that dude?”
“I’m not sure,” Rinnosuke murmurs back. “I may have seen her before, but it’s just as possible I haven’t. I don’t think that she’s a regular customer.”
You consider the dude in question. Yeah, you’d think Rinnosuke’d remember some lurchin’ doctor-lookin’ dude, but then again, maybe the bad footin’ isn’t so much the norm for the dude. Like, maybe she just had a bad night last night (or a very, very good night, even) and now she’s perusin’ for an analgesic, which might be unfortunate if that’s the case ‘cause you’re pretty sure Rinnosuke doesn’t stock medical stuff. It’s more forebodin’ masks and wooden carvees and the occasional halfway deconstructed computer inside.
Then again, ya can’t just assume that, either. In fact, you’re not gonna know this dude’s circumstances unless ya get ‘em to ya, from her own two lips or otherwise. “Say, Mac—Christie Christoferson with the assist. How’s about that?”
Rinnosuke pauses just for an instant. “If you’re asking to greet the customer yourself, I can’t see it doing much harm.”
“But maybe a little harm?”
This time, the pause’s just a tick longer. Just a tick—only a tick—but still. Longer’s longer. “Christie,” says Rinnosuke.
“Rumia aside, you haven’t exactly lived a peaceable existence since you began staying here.”
And what can ya say to that? When he’s right, he’s right, and here, he’s right. “All that sorta stuff never happened back in California,” ya grouse, knowin’ full well that’sn’t much of a defense. “You wanna take ‘er instead?”
“Well...you didn’t do so badly, last time, even if the aftermath was unfortunate. And since this customer isn’t a regular...”
“So even if I heck up, it’s not like you’re gonna lose beaucoup sales to it.” Ya nod. “Alright, Mac, watch this! If I make this sell, you let me commandeer that record player for a daysworth. Deal?”
“I don’t understand why you’re so intent upon having me listen to something called ‘jazz.’”
“And I keep sayin’ that etymology ultimately means bupkis!”
“Why did you begin with the etymology, anyway? That seems as if it’d be the least important aspect of a musical genre.”
“I dunno. ‘Cause ya give off that I’m-scholarly-so-I’d-appreciate-the-trivia vibe? I guess?”
“I wonder if I should thank you for that assumption.”
“I dunno that, either. Gimme a ‘go for it’?”
Rinnosuke makes an unqualifiable face but dutifully sends it your way—“Go for it.”
“I’m gone.” And ya make for the dude of the hour.
Said dude is still there, still studyin’ the same wall. If she’s overheard any of that rapport you’ve been raisin’ with Rinnosuke, she doesn’t show any sign of it. Actually, now that you’re seein’ her closer you’re not sure if what she’s doin’ wallwards is something you can call “studyin’.” It’s more like she’s just starin’, and the fact that there’s a wall in the same general direction her eyes’re pointed is just sorta incidental.
And more importantly, wow. ‘Cause—ya didn’t catch this, back when the dude was at the other end of the property, but the dude is haulin’ a stench. Something strong. Something alcoholic.
No wonder she’s completely out of it. “Yo,” ya say, tryin’ to find a spot upwind. “Can I help ya?”
It takes a moment for the dude to drift back from hangover land, but when she arrives, she arrives suddenly, turnin’ so quick and clumsy she’s nearly fallin’ over from it. “What?” she says, then, “No.” And then: “Well, yes, maybe—perhaps.”
And maybe ya oughta be doin’ your best here, ‘cause it’s jazz that’s the stakes, but all you can consider for a sec is the realization that this dude hurlin’ is a very real possibility.
Alright, Christie, play it smooth. “Cool,” ya say. “So, whaddya lookin’ for?”
The question slowly permeates. The dude opens her mouth. And then she closes it again, and raises a hand to smudge the groggy out her face. Something escapes her mouth—words, ya mean, thank your luck—but ya can’t hear it. Too mumbled, too muffled. Though, seein’ as her gaze’s drifted away from you, it prolly wasn’t spit for you in the first place.
Then she seems to remember—oh, right, conversation, and her tide comes in again. “Something to hurt people with,” she blurts.
Oh, didja say “tide”? Ya meant “tsunami.” With all the pain and destruction that sorta swift water implies, and maybe also this tsunami is made of sake. Is this a sake smell, comin’ out of ‘er? Full disclosure, you dunno from sake. You’re not a drinks dude, generally.
For what it’s worth, though, the dude seems to catch on to how absolutely bonkers her answer was. “No,” she says, squinchin’ shut her peepers. “What I mean is—an object that could be used to possibly hurt others.”
“That’s not a lot better, dude,” ya say.
“For self-defense! I need some sort of object for self-defense.”
Considerin’ where this is, that actually makes sense. You’ve nearly bit the big one enough times that investin’ in a coupla knuckledusters wouldn’t be the worst idea ever. Still, ya take a quick look over Rinnosukewards, just in case what makes sense to you doesn’t make sense to him.
He nods. Guess it makes sense, period. Which means it’s definitely time to pick it up with the sellin’. “Ya know what kinda self-defense ya want?” ya ask.
That jaw clenches again, though this time it seems a lot less ‘cause of whatever it is that’s goin’ on with her that’s not the lookin’-for-product aspect and more ‘cause of the lookin’-for-product aspect. “I...can’t say,” says she. “I thought I would take stock of my options, first.”
“Thank you.” And a smile sorta flickers, but that’s the operative bit—“flickers.” Then it’s back to frownin’ and lookin’ generally in pain again. “Unfortunately, I...”
She trails off.
And then on again. “Too much,” she says. “I’m sorry. A moment.” And jerkily, like, in discrete increments, she everything but collapses down onto her haunches. One hand lifts her specs, while the other works beneath ‘em to try that pressin’-at-the-nose procedure one more time, like maybe, just maybe, this time it’ll do the trick.
Her hair falls forwards, back over her face while she’s doin’ that. Ya can’t see alotta face, once that happens. But what face ya do see has ya suspectin’ that that trick? Still undone.
Maybe you better captain this dude’s shoppin’ trip.
[ ] A weapon, maybe? Like a knife, or a bat? Knifebat? [ ] Maybe stick with defendin’, most of all. Where’re the vests? [ ] Forget weaponry; this dude’s radiatin’ pain. Maybe take that on first? [ ]
>>30079 The shop is now literally build around the tank. We couldn't get it off here even if we could move it.
On the other side, that makes it quite the conversation piece.
[X] Forget weaponry; this dude’s radiatin’ pain. Maybe take that on first? -[X] She seems like she was attacked and is looking for payback... but you know what they say: "Handle weapons while drunk, end up sleeping in a hearse's trunk"
[X] Forget weaponry; this dude’s radiatin’ pain. Maybe take that on first?
First thing’s first—keep the dude at optimal shoppability at all. Ya make a move to join the dude on the floor, ‘cept more in a supportive fashion, makin’ awkward pats on the back ‘sposed to you. “Hey, Mac—got any aspirin?” ya call.
“We don’t,” says Rinnosuke.
“Nothing? Acetylsalicylic acid?”
“We don’t,” says Rinnosuke again. “We’ve had this conversation before.”
“Or at least one that was like it. Remember the last time we talked about medicine?”
Oh, right, that whole Eientei thing—with Rinnosuke splurgin’ and you gettin’ real frustrated re: aforementioned splurgement. “What about willow bark?” ya say.
Rinnosuke looks all set to threepeat with the noin’, but then ya see his mug sorta double-take. “Willow bark?” he says.
“‘Cause that’s what it’s ‘stracted outta—willow. Did we get that far, talkin’ ‘bout willow?”
“We didn’t get so far as talking about willow,” says Rinnosuke, and slips into a muse. Like, ya see it happenin’, the way he puts his thumb under a chin and recedes into ponderance. “Willow bark,” he murmurs. “I’ve heard of it used for human inflammation before...”
“Yeah, sometimes the old ways’re awesome. So do we have it?”
“No, we don’t.”
Rinnosuke almost says something, but catches himself before it can escape and goes with a sigh instead. “Do you remember me telling you how youkai are primarily spiritual, rather than physical?” he says.
Ah. “So ya prolly wouldn’t need ibuprofen,” ya mutter. “Got it. How ‘bout a thing of water?”
That’s a lot more doable in Rinnosuke’s direction. He goes off to get a cup, and you’re left keepin’ up with the backpats, which ya carefully transition into small circles when ya realize that with the way this dude’s perched you’re kinda just as likely to send ‘er pitchin’ over as provide comfort. Which would run counter to the whole provide-comfort goal you’re shootin’ at, here. So it’s little circles, and plus ya make little sympathetic murmurin’ sounds ‘cause that’s what you’re supposta do when you’re carin’ for someone in thunderous pain, it feels like.
Is this what bein’ a mom’s like? ‘Cause you’re gettin’ flashbacks, sorta. But, like, from the other end of this.
Finally Rinnosuke gets back with a cup. He ducks down to your level and puts it in the dude’s face. “Drink this,” he orders. “I understand it helps.”
That’s a hinky phrasin’. “You understand it helps?” ya say.
“I moderate my own drinking, and I’m a youkai besides—careful.” That last part’s directed at the dude, not you, obvs, as the dude—Rinnosuke, ya mean, this time—tilts the whole deal of water all up so that the dude—not Rinnosuke—can get at it. Which she does, though the unsteadiness between the both dudes and the cup between ‘em sends more than a coupla drops missin’ their mark.
Still, it seems to help. Or at least it makes the dude uncurl a bit. She sits on the shop floor, palms behind ‘er, head tilted back like she’s studyin’ something real curious on the ceilin’, ‘cept ya know she isn’t ‘cause she’s got her eyes closed. “Thank you,” she says, voice creakin’ out the arch of her throat.
“Yeah,” ya say. With this dude no longer all roly-polyish, your stint as backpatter is done with, but ya stay low to the ground anyways. Maybe to be all camaraderie-y or something. “What happened?” ya ask. “Did this come on all of a sudden, or what?”
The dude groans skywards. “No,” she says. “Since I woke up. I hoped it’d go away.” She opens one eye, fixin’ the ball of it ‘round till it’s on ya, a real funny look in more ways than one, ‘specially seein’ how she doesn’t move the rest of ‘er. It’s like she’s peerin’ out from under her own face.
“Have you ever been invited to an oni’s drinking party?”
Ya glance at Rinnosuke for the right answer, but he’s inscrutable for it. “No,” ya say.
The dude nods, which is also kinda funny with her head back already like it is. She closes that eye again. “If you ever get invited,” she says, “refuse.”
Right. Ya figured this was a hangover, the first time you were close enough to catch a whiff, but it’s kinda nice to get the confirmation. “Nix the oni symposia,” ya say, ‘cause it sounds like good advice, disoriented delivery or no. “No problemo, dude.”
“Or maybe you can’t refuse,” the dude continues. She lets her hands slip till she’s out on her back on the floor, only just slow enough to avoid thumpin’ her head at the end of it and makin’ a bad thing worse. “I couldn’t refuse,” she groans.
Now Rinnosuke nods. Like what this dude’s describin’ is the sorta event he’s familiar with. Which—is it? Like, is that a thing? Gettin’ shanghaied into a drinkin’ party? “Ya couldnta just turned ‘em down?”
Eyes open again. “I couldn’t refuse,” the dude says again, and okay, you’re sensin’ subtext.
“Teetotalism? Tell ‘em you’ve got an absinthe abstinence? Y’know, that you’re just not down with alcohol?”
Dude does a thing that is either a laugh at the lowest settin’ or just her tryin’ not to spew. “The last thing I need,” she says. “Oni that think I think I’m better than them.” She raises one of her arms and sets it over her mug, prolly tryin’ to find a middle ground between eyes wide and eyes shut. You’ve been there.
“I am better than them,” the dude says. “That’s why I need self-defense.”
Ya don’t know what she means by that, but that’s something you can ask over later, when you’re done with this peer pressure biz. “Ya sure ya can’t just say, ‘No thanks, I don’t like drinkin’,’ when the bottle’s goin’ ‘round?”
Another groan, this one lackin’ words till the end at which point it morphs into words after all, stressed out, with symptoms of severe irkage. “I couldn’t refuse.”
“It might be considered rude,” Rinnosuke cuts in, seein’ thatcha need some ‘splainin’ done to you. “It could even be considered insulting.”
“Seriously,” says Rinnosuke.
“So is that a Japan thing, a Gensokyo thing, or an oni thing?”
“I wouldn’t know if it’s a ‘Japan thing,’ but it’s somewhat customary when it comes to drinking with someone of higher status.”
So a Gensokyo thing, then. At least. “That’s...kinda uncool, Mac. Like, I’m not all up for prohibition or anything, but a dude should be allowed to sit out the synchronized keg-standin’, I feel like?”
Rinnosuke shrugs weakly in whatcha recognize as the universal gesture for “well, whaddya gonna do?” Bummer. Ya wonder if he’s ever had to bottoms-up when he’d rather not. Come to think of it, ya haven’t seen ‘im drink much while you’ve been stayin’ with ‘im...
“What if ya tell ‘em you’re religious?” ya say, dudewards. “It doesn’t even hafta be a lie. You could convert to Islam or something. Ya know a Byakuren? There’s this horse’s leg she’s hostin’...”
The dude—this dude, not Byakuren, obvs—lifts her arm enough to make her uneasy gogglin’ obvious. She studies ya with a bloodshot eye, just sorta uploadin’ ya ever so slowly into her brain. Then she says: “You’re telling me to convert to another religion to avoid drinking.”
“Yeah, just be real latitudinarian about it. Not like that’s not what alotta dudes do already, right?”
Another straight-on gazin’ with that eye. You’d feel better if she was usin’ both of ‘em instead of just stickin’ with the vulturous cyclopism. As it is, she’s too close to the floorboards to make ya feel all that good about it. When she finally shuts that peeper it’s kinda relievin’. “I’m not converting to another religion to avoid drinking,” she says.
And then she adds: “I’m an atheist.”
Ya don’t know what makes ya look at Rinnosuke then, but you’re kinda glad ya do, ‘cause the ‘spression he’s wearin’ is one that wants rememberin’. He looks like someone took a swing at ‘im with an inflatable hammer—more discombobulated by the fact of the hammerer goin’ through the trouble than the potential risks of bein’ the hammeree. His mouth works for a sec or two in a way that makes ya think maybe it’s a good thing the dude on the ground isn’t watchin’, before it straightens out and flies right. Or talks right. Whichever. “Are you saying that you don’t believe in gods?” Rinnosuke says.
The dude on the ground makes an affirmy hummin’ sound and a jostle off the neck that could prolly be a nod.
Rinnosuke seems to take it as one, anyways. “You don’t believe in gods,” he says, though he’s gotta pause, first, before he says it. Like he’s gotta double-check the words.
He didn’t hafta double-check the words. The dude on the ground grunts, with a brief curlin’ of the lip, and this time the nod is a nod most def. Like, still jerky and awkward, considering the dude’s position on her back, but ya can’t call it not a nod.
“You are aware that gods exist,” says Rinnosuke.
Ground dude flings her arm off ‘er, revealin’ some glarey eyeballs. “That’s why I need something,” she hisses, before immediately regrettin’ that action and squeezin’ her eyes back shut again.
And while she’s rerecuperatin’ and ‘causin’ a general holdup to the dialogue, here’s you lookin’ wordlessly at Rinnosuke for the footnotes.
Lucky for you, Rinnosuke’s awesome. “Have we talked about gods before?” he asks ya.
“I’ll level with ya, Mac. After the first coupla weeks, all the days I’ve spent here’ve kinda started meltin’ together.” ya say. “Not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s kinda hard to retrieve something concrete outta my time here, y’know.”
Rinnosuke takes a sharp breath in like he’s the one with the hangover. “Yes,” he says with a strange voice. “I know the feeling of days running together.”
And then he stops speakin’.
And then there’s a pause.
And then it’s like he remembers—oh, right, there was a convo goin’ on here, so he gets on that. “I’m not sure how much of this you’re already aware of, but gods require belief—often in the form of worship—in order to continue their existence. To deliberately place yourself in opposition to these gods...”
He trails off, like that’s all he’s gotta say. Which, y’know, maybe. But also sorta not. “Just double-checkin’, Mac,” ya say, holdin’ up a traffic-stoppin’ hand. “Gods—they’re real?”
“They’re real,” Rinnosuke confirms.
“Like, how real are we talkin’? Didja have a coupla guys growin’ cabbage or something, and one of ‘em prayed for a crop blessin’, and the other one very carefully didn’t, and then they compared crop output and repeated the ‘speriment elsewhere the year next to make sure it wasn’t just the soil or the year or something?”
In the corner of your eye, the dude on the floor opens hers—eyes, ya mean—and then closes them, hard, and then opens ‘em again. Her head tilts your way.
“I mean that they’ve been publicly witnessed,” says Rinnosuke. “Though, your idea of comparing the effects of blessings does sound interesting.”
“Witnessed? Witnessed doin’ what?”
If your brain did audibles, yours’d be playin’ a record scratch. The bad kind, not the kind DJs pull when it’s time to get funky. “’Flyin’’?” ya say.
A corner of Rinnosuke’s mouth moves in a real unfamiliar way. It takes a sec for you to realize he’s smirkin’. “Sometimes they walk,” he says.
Oh, snap! What’s this wiseguy routine you’re gettin’ outta Rinnosuke all of a sudden?
Ya kinda like it.
“An experiment,” goes a voice interruptin’ your smilegazin’.
It’s the dude on the floor, natch, and there goes Rinnosuke’s nice-lookin’ mug. “What?” he says.
Floor Dude hauls herself up to sittin’. The bottom of her lab coat pools around ‘er like a shallow blast radius. “You mean an experiment,” she says. “For gods.”
Well... “‘Bout gods, more like,” ya say. “And I’m not really suggestin’ anything.”
“No—I mean—” The dude licks her lips. Her eyes’re shinin’ behind her glasses, which normally’d be okay ‘cept that right now her eyes’re also red and it’s not a good combo. “I can do that.”
And that just sorta hangs in the shop for a few seconds.
“Okay,” ya say.
“I can do that,” the dude says again.
“I’ll do it.”
“Okay?” Yeah, you’ve got no idea. Ya look at Rinnosuke, hopin’ for a clue, but he’s as off-foot and slightly iffy ‘bout these circumstances as you are.
The dude on the floor does her best to become not the dude on the floor, foldin’ her legs beneath her and makin’ to stand at your level. She’s still disoriented, though, so it takes a coupla tries before she bends her legs in the right ways in the right positions and not in something suggestin’ dadaist origami.
“I’ll prove it,” says the dude. “I’ll show them. We don’t need any of them—gods. All the time, gods.”
She lurches towards you, and ya step back short quick. She doesn’t seem to notice. “Gods,” she hisses gleefully.
This time when ya shoot a glance at Rinnosuke it’s less, “What the hey is she talkin’ ‘bout?” and more, “Mac. Mac. Save me, Mac.” Before he can dash in all heroic, though, the dude—the no-longer-on-the-floor dude, ya mean, obvs—seems to retrieve some semblance of not-bein’-on-a-manic-high and steps backwards herself, givin’ ya back a little bit of your ex-personal bubble. She stumbles, her head turns, and ya think, okay, now she’s gonna chuck it—
And then she bows. Deeply, firecely, comin’ to a jerk of a stop at the end of it and poppin’ back up to standin’ just as fast like she’s one of those drinkin’ birds.
“Thank you,” she says. She smiles, crooked.
And that’s right back to, “What the hey, et cetera,” towards Rinnosuke. “Yeah,” ya say, ‘cause she did thank ya. “No problemo?”
Dude nods. “It’s perfect. If it’s down on paper—facts, numbers—you can’t ignore it.” She turns around—turns again—turns a third time, eyes lightin’ up now that she’s found the door—and then she’s stumble-dash-hobblin’ to the exit, like a dude on a mission.
Which she is, ya think. “Yo, dude—werentcha gonna get something? A weapon?” ya call out.
She’s practically under the doorway when she cranes her head back—fast, for a dude hung over. “There’s no time for that!” she crows. “If the gods won’t leave me alone, I won’t leave them alone! They’ve hurt me long enough! I’ll strike back where it matters—worship! You don’t worship a useless god!
What-the-hey multiplyin’. Ya look for something else to say, before she’s fully skedaddled, but all you can come up with is, “I thoughtcha didn’t believe in gods.”
“Just because gods exist, it doesn’t means I have to believe in them!”
And that’s it—she departs. Poof. No more dude; just a door wide open and its doorform door-window into the clearing. It’s gray outside, but the rain’s stopped, or at least thinned out so much ya can’t see it from here, which is practically the same thing.
Rinnosuke ambles over that way, and for a sec ya think he’s gonna leave, too—but no, course not; all he does is shut the thing, and that’s it. Curtain drops, lights go on, finis.
So that happened.
Whatever “that” was.
“Okay, Mac, level with me here,” ya say. “Was that weird?”
Rinnosuke gets a funny, lax kinda look. “A little stranger than what I’m used to bearing, yes.”
And ya wanna say, like, “Only a little?” but now thatcha think about it, what happened just now? It was mysterious, incomprehensible, and totally removed from whatever inch of context ya coulda used to fit it into the bigger picture. So—not a lot different than what you’ve already gone through, hanginaroundin’ the shop as ya have so far. What’s quotidian’s relative, ya guess. Have ya said that before? ‘Cause it’s the sorta thing that oughta be repeated, if ya haven’t.
Speakin’ of repeatin’: “I’m totally stealin’ that,” ya say.
“Stealing what?” says Rinnosuke.
“‘Just ‘cause gods exist, doesn’t means I hafta believe in ‘em,’” ya quote. “Like, that’s got something. ‘Specially if gods really are just walkin’ ‘round the place here, like ya said.”
“They are,” says Rinnosuke. “In fact, to me it’s stranger that there wouldn’t be any sign of them.”
Huh. “I’m not sure if things’d get more or less cacophonous on the Outside if deitous confirmation dropped,” ya say. “Either everything’d get real quiet—like, have ya ever said something real embarrassin’ in a crowd just as the whole company goes silent? Either that, or things’d start ‘splodin’ on a regular basis.”
“On an even more regular basis,” you correct yourself.
“Well, that wouldn’t be that different from Gensokyo.”
“Yeah, maybe. And plus, just ‘cause it turns out oh, wait, there is a god—”
Ya pause again, but this time not ‘cause ya said something wrong, but ‘cause ya said something right. Or the dude that just left said something right, rather, and the words’ve just settled just right.
“‘Just because it turns out there is a god’...” Rinnosuke prompts.
Oh, right. “Like she said, sorta—just ‘cause there’s a god, doesn’t mean you’ve gotta subscribe to their newsletter. Dude’s not an atheist; she’s a misotheist.”
Rinnosuke tilts his chin, just a bit. “Did you make that word up just now?” he asks. “I understand what you mean, but...”
“I’m not gonna lie, Mac, I sorta extrapolated the kanji off the buncha words I did know. Like, I figure if that one kanji’s in ‘misogyny’ and ‘misanthrope,’ and the other two’re in ‘atheism’ and ‘pantheism,’ ‘misotheism’ doesn’t sound that hinky. Right?”
Rinnosuke looks like he’s digestin’ whatcha said for reasonableness. Then he says: “Who taught you Japanese, again?”
“My mom. I mean, everything I didn’t learn myself, since she was the only one I knew who was there to hammer in the vocab on the reg. Why?”
“Your vocabulary is...”
He trails off.
Ya look at him.
He looks at you.
“I was curious,” Rinnosuke says.
“My mom is pretty awesome,” ya say.
“She must be,” agrees Rinnosuke, and turns off to walk into the shop depths.
Ya follow behind. “What about you?” ya ask.
There’s a hitch in Rinnosuke’s step. “Am I awesome?” he says.
“Ya are awesome,” ya say, “but I was more fishin’ for whether you had an awesome mom, too.”
Rinnosuke doesn’t answer that. Doesn’t give a sign he heard ya say that, even, just keeps walkin’ till he reaches back ‘round his desk. He shuffles a few piles of knickknacks—lifts a tacky-lookin’ coffee cup up out off the center of something to fetch what’s it’s sittin’ on—
“What’s that?” ya ask.
Rinnosuke turns the mystery object youwards. It’s dark, and discal, and loopin’ with the grooves. It’s a record.
And you’ve got a hunch ya know what’s on it.
“Aw, come on, Mac,” ya say. “This dude again?”
“You said you wanted to play some music of your choice, if you made a sale.”
Oh, yeah. Yeah, that was a thing ya said, in the heat of your high. “We never made a deal on what’d happen if I didn’t make the sale, though,” you protest.
Rinnosuke doesn’t even say anything back, just raises his eyebrows, like he’s ‘spressin’ the astonishment of someone else’s mug. Someone else way, way far away.
Some tunes take a while to get dug. The first listen’s the roughest and the worst, and you’re sure that’s the last time while you’re livin’ you’re ever gonna listen to that—and then ya listen to that again anyways, and after a coupla more tries the thing just sorta grows on you, somehow. Like moss, or a lipoma. You know alotta songs like that. You’ve got alotta songs like that, saved all up in on your MP3 player, wherever it is back in California.
This song, the one with the dude in the groove exhibitin’ very waily opinions on how tragic it is to be a man?
This isn’t one of those songs.
“I’m gatherin’ the dishes, Mac. Dig?”
This time, ya call that out before Rinnosuke vacates offa breakfast. Whatcha get in return is a nod and a mouthed something that maybe could be, “Thank you,” and you’re totally cool with that. It beats gettin’ stared through, anyways.
Though that tank’s still there. Which is weird in its own way. Like, all of a sudden there’s a new normal, and it’s got a tank included with it? Not that that’s bad on its own, or anything. It’s just...
It’s a thing, ya guess.
Yesterday’s rain’s worn itself out, not that it was pourin’ strong in the first place. No clouds, is what you’re sayin’, though the sun’s not enough to burn through the chill you’re feelin’. Winter’s not here yet, you’re pretty sure, but it’s fast approachin’ becomin’ a thing.
Rinnosuke finishes his heap of rice, et cetera, and gestures his empty bowl over your way. That makes it the last of the got-to-washes you’ve been accumulatin’, which means it’s time for you and the well to make acquaintances.
“Hey, couldja check my washin’ up, after I’m done? I mean, ‘cause I’m used to a whole different setup.”
“Is it really that different?” Rinnosuke asks.
“Trust me, Mac. Alotta soap isn’t even soap anymore.”
Rinnosuke’s brows furrow. “If it isn’t soap, what is it?”
And you’re all set to tell Rinnosuke ‘bout detergents when ya hear the front door swing. Yeah, looks like you’re gonna hafta table this for now.
Standin’ in the middle of the shop floor is Reimu Hakurei, head turnin’ slow and owlish ‘round the shop, like she’s committin’ it all to memory. The moment you’re on the scene both those peepers go your way instead, though, and ya don’t like that any more than you’ve liked it before.
Which ya haven’t, primarily.
“I’m running low on tea,” Rinnosuke says.
“Why is Asakura Rikako trying to organize farmers.”
Rinnosuke doesn’t say anything after that. And then he turns his head and joins Reimu in this whole looking-at-you deal she’s got goin’ on here.
“I don’t know what’s goin’ on,” ya say, “but whatever it is? Totally not my fault.”
Which isn’t a “no,” technically. Like, ya could head out as ya are without clippin’ any social mores—‘cause of that alone, anyways.
But there’s a bigger issue at work here.
Or actually a colder one.
Rinnosuke’s voice is the voice of every carpoolmeister who’s had do some excessive idlin’ at the curb. “You’re the one who wanted to go to the festival,” he points out, from the other side of the wall.
“I know, Mac! Gimme a sec!”
See, when ya decided to hook a nap back in the California Bay Area, it was the start of September, and also the California Bay Area. Fall was all set to set in, sure, but it wasn’t like ya had to make any heavy adjustments, not for a city that maybe gets sleet once a year, if even.
‘Cept, course, now you’re not in the California Bay Area. Now you’re in Japan. And Japan? Japan gets cold. You’ve seen enough sauna monkey pics to know that much.
“Even Rumia is better prepared, and I still don’t know where she found that komon!”
“Hey! Not cool, Mac! Lemme just do a thing—”
Well, that’s whatcha say, anyways—“Lemme just do a thing.” Try as ya might, though, the thing remains undone, and at this point you’ve gotta face facts—if the thing is gonna be done at all, it’s gonna be done by not you. Ya divest your hands of the whole tangle and make for bitin’ the bullet: “Hey, Mac?”
“Couldja be a frood and gimme a hand? Please?”
Rinnosuke, rightly assumin’ your don’t-peek edict is now old and busted, comes in through the entranceway. His ‘spression, tangential to irkage, takes in the mess you’re displayin’—and then stops exhibitin’ much in the way of irkage. Or anything at all, for that matter, ‘cept for a jaw slightly dropped.
And then Rinnosuke says: “Are those my clothes?”
“Not all your clothes,” you correct. “The pants’re mine. It’s just the robe, dig?”
“Why are you wearing my clothes?”
“’Cause it’s cold, Mac. I need the layer. I just can’t get the belt right—” Ya give it another tug in front of ya—the belt, or the sash, or whatever it is you’re gonna call it, and of course seein’ as it’s still untied the sec you dehandle it it goes useless loose, regardless how much you’ve twisted the ends over and under. “Is there a special knot you’ve gotta hitch it with?” ya ask. “For all I know I got it right, and then I undid it again.”
Rinnosuke’s mouth works, like he can’t decide whether he’s aimin’ to say one thing or the other. Then he closes his mouth, shakes his head, and goes, “Hold still.”
You hold still. Well, still enough, anyways—your head follows as Rinnosuke approaches, comin’ closer in that deliberate footsteppin’ he’s all ‘bout. And then he’s standin’ right in front of you.
Catch that—kneelin’ right in front of you. “You never bothered with the obi before,” he says, as he starts fiddlin’ with the sash over your waist.
“Ya mean while I was washin’ my clothes?” ya say. “My goal there was kinda just ‘don’t be totally stark.’ I wasn’t plannin’ to do any leapin’ ‘round, then.”
“So you plan to be leaping around now?”
“Well, walkin’, anyways. But I’ve been test-pacin’ and I can’t get this belt to hang on comfy.”
Rinnosuke does a low hmm. And keeps fiddlin’. Then, with a frown fallin’ over his mug basically nimbostratous, he all of a sudden undoes everything he’s done so far, sendin’ the sash ends tumblin’ down again. He starts again, under your great puzzlement, but this time it’s not even an even ten seconds before he does a near-repeat, this time yankin’ his almost-sorta-knot apart, ‘spression illustratin’ vexation.
“Hey, Mac,” ya call.
Rinnosuke stares, lowered brow, which’d be a lot less uncomfy if he weren’t doin’ it so close to your navel. “I’m having a little trouble,” he admits.
“Isn’t this your belt?”
“It’s not a belt—and I’ve never had to tie one from this angle.” He purses his mouth, like he’s comin’ to a decision that doesn’t look too good, and then says, “Turn around.”
Ya turn. Ya hear behind ya, as Rinnosuke stands up.
He stays close. Close enough you can feel ‘im, when he moves, without needin’ visuals to fig how, exactly. So when he tilts his head downwards, sendin’ his breath a slow and steady warmth past the skin of your jaw—yeah, ya get that, clean and clear.
“Don’t move,” Rinnosuke says, quietly. “I need to see what I’m doing.”
His arms move next, slippin’ on over and past your hips to the front of you. Not touchin’—not touchin’ ya much, maintainin’ careful a gap of space between him and you and adjustin’ to keep it whenever his sleeves dip too close—
And then his hands close in, with petal-handlin’ caution, and just sorta light on the not-a-knot across your you.
You can feel that, too. And ya feel it when his hands start movin’—clumsy, of course clumsy, seein’ how he’s workin’ here—findin’ the ends of the sash again and movin’ ‘em back to center—loopin’ one end behind ya, in front of ya, around and over—pullin’ the other end, over and under and through—
“Too tight, Mac,” ya whisper.
“I have to hold both ends at the same time,” Rinnosuke murmurs. “It isn’t easy like this.”
Ya feel the loop loosen, though. And then Rinnosuke lifts one hand, one end—one end, that he tucks in through itself—
And his hands drop away. Arms, too, back where they belong, to the dude’s own sides instead of yours.
“There,” says Rinnosuke.
Whatcha oughta do is take a coupla back-and-forth walks across the room, or jump to see if the deal keeps under strain, but ya don’t “Cool,” ya say, touchin’ the knot just as delicate as he was doin’. “Thanks, Mac.”
“The knot should be in the back, though. You need to slide it around.”
“Yeah? Well, that much I can handle, prolly.”
Ya don’t, yet. Rinnosuke’s still standin’ too close. If ya slide the deal ‘round now, you’ll end up with your elbow in his stomach, or something. That’d be a real foul way of payin’ ‘im back—an elbow in the stomach.
“It’s not the right kind of knot,” continues Rinnosuke. “It’ll hold, but you might gain some attention from it. Still, I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Yeah. I’m totally okay with this. Like I said—thanks, Mac.”
“I mean it.”
“I know you do.”
“Good. ‘Cause, like—I mean it when I thank ya, y’know? And when I say stuff like ‘you’re awesome.’ I’m not just tryin’ to butter ya up. I seriously mean it.”
“Yeah, well—like I said, good.”
It’s an odd sorta silence that follows. Not bad—ya can’t call it bad, ‘zactly. But there’s something all up in the deal, something you’re havin’ trouble stickin’ your finger on. Like someone switched out the room tone behind it while you weren’t payin’ attention.
Someone—you or Rinnosuke, maybe—takes a deep breath in.
“You’re ready now.”
And that’s not you or Rinnosuke. That’s Rumia, standin’ in the entrance with the barest of tilts.
There’s no springin’ apart all super-dramatic, but it feels like there shoulda been, just then.
You recover first, or at least ya do it audible: “Yeah—check it,” ya say. “Rinnosuke got the belt to stick. Nifty, right?”
Rumia’s eyes dip, takin’ in the duds you’re showcasin’. Her verdict hangs, but after a sec:
“You should wear more clothes.”
“It’s not that cold, is it?”
“You shouldn’t wear more clothes now, because you have more clothes now,” Rumia says. “But you should wear more clothes.”
Ya don’t get it, not at all. And when ya look at Rinnosuke, to see if maybe he’s catchin’ something you’ve missed—
The dude’s eyecorners towards fill up towards ya, just for a sec. But only the sec. And his face’s got nothing to it.
“So, what’s up with the festival?” ya say.
You’re walkin’ through the forest, which’d be just askin’ for an unmarked grave at the best of times, if you were doin’ it alone—so of course, you’re not, obvs. Rinnosuke’s here, a bit to the side and also ahead, pointin’ the party in the right direction, and farther up from that is Rumia, who’s floatin’ a bubble of slight dim with her arms outstretched. Every few seconds she takes off a little, weavin’ ‘round trees and such in a way you and Rinnosuke can’t do anywhere as quick or gravity-unbounded, and you’re almost sure that this time, she’s gonna forget she’s part of this group and leave ya behind, the two of you—but she always slows down at the last second before she can all-the-way fade into evenin’, lettin’ ya catch up before pickin’ up speed and startin’ the whole routine again.
(Incidentally, when ya say “evenin,” ya mean “evenin’”—dusk’s fallen harder than the House of Usher here, and the whole trees-and-also-more-trees deal you’ve got on every side of you—includin’ up—isn’t ‘zactly helpin’ issues with the light. Though, now thatcha think about it, no wonder Rumia’s so zippy right now. If light makes her drowse, this is prolly the other end of the zeitgeber.)
“Tori no Ichi,” says Rinnosuke, and oh, right, ya asked ‘im a question, didntcha. Ya snap to listenin’, better so that none of that scholarly tone the dude’s switched into heftin’ goes to waste. “It’s the day of the bird. Each day of the bird in Shimotsuki is another Tori no Ichi.”
“The present month.”
So November, basically. Ya think. Or at least it maybe is now. There’s no reasonable reason to assume that your months and Rinnosuke’s months match up at both the ends. “Right, so what makes today so birdish, anyways?” ya ask.
Rinnosuke studies your face. Ya spy his brow quirkin’, just a bit, but then it’s back to matchin’ with default Rinnosukeness. At least you’re pretty sure it is—ya only catch a glimpse before Rinnosuke nods in an oh-I-get-it sorta way. “Do you know about the—”
The thing Rinnosuke asks ya if ya know is a coupla morae that’re too vague to glean meanin’ outta without context, of which in this case you’re given bupkis. When ya tell ‘im that no, ya don’t know, he punches out a different set of syllables in your direction, and while ya recognize the part that means “twelve,” there’s still that mystery “shi” that’s eludin’ comprehension. It takes Rinnosuke tracin’ the kanji in the air (he tells Rumia to wait up—she does, glidin’ ‘bout-face to watch the impromptu vocab lesson) before ya get that it’s branches he’s talkin’ ‘bout. Twelve of ‘em, to be exact. Apparently it’s a system for reckonin’ time, based off Jupiter.
Though Rinnosuke calls it the Wood Star, not “Jupiter,” obvs.
‘Cause he’s Japanese, and not Roman.
And speakin’ of branches, here’s Rinnosuke takin’ one up from the forest floor and usin’ it to trace some circles into the dirt—which doesn’t work too well, ‘cause the dirt is mostly grass, which makes it way unsuited to gettin’ geometry traced into it, but anyways the point is that he’s really into ‘splainin’ this to you, actually and ya don’t wanna halt it, not when he’s got his eyes bright and that almost imperceptible upturnin’ at the corner of his mouth—
But while you can listen and nod easy at the dude here jabbin’ on ‘bout how birds go on the west end of the circle, even if ya don’t really get it, once he starts recitin’ how goin’ ‘round the circle clockwise from there ya get dog, i (“i”?), ne, cow—
Yeah, at that point you’re past mostly lost and straight up over the end of the planet’s edge, and if ya wanna properly appreciate you’re gonna hafta stop ‘im there. Which sucks, but you’ll try to make it quick. “Mac?” ya say.
Rinnosuke looks up from his invisible diagram. There’s a moment—and then all at once he sorta catches up to himself standin’ there, and this thing of embarrassment passes over his mug all veillike. He recomposes himself, but that ship’s already sailed and hit an iceberg and brought to light the necessity of makin’ major changes in maritime safety practices; whoops. “Yes?” he says.
“So are there gonna be alotta birds at the festivals? Like boucoup perchin’ cockatoos or something?”
Right, not Japan-native. Dude prolly doesn’t know from cockatoos. “Jacamars,” ya say. Wait, that’s even more not-native. “Buntings. Larks. The family Crow.”
There’s a pause. A whole new host of ‘spressions zip down the Rinnosuke’s Mug ‘Spressway. Then something like recognition pulls to the side of the road and puts its deal in park and: “I expect there’ll be a certain crow at the shrine, yes, but it’s a different kind of ‘bird’ that I mean, at the moment,” he says. Or possibly he says, “it’s a different kind of ‘tori’ that I mean,” which could actually mean something totally different, ‘cause homophones, but either way Rinnosuke takes up with the stick again, pointin’ to the westest section of his little invisible circle.
“As well as its own month, time, and direction, each brach has its own animal,” the dude says, slippin’ back into scholar mode like it’s a comfy set of PJs. “Today’s is the chicken.”
Okay, so it’s not just birds in general that gets the honor here. Though, uh— “The chicken?” ya say. “Like, layin’ eggs and cock-a-doodle-do—that kinda chicken?”
“Yes, that kind of chicken. And then the dog—”
Hey, ya got that one right!
“—the boar, the mouse, the cow...”
“I’ve gotta be honest, Mac—this reads less like a system for time and more like a sorta hinky dinner menu.”
Ya get The Look for that, which is all kindsa nostalgia, but also fleetin’ ‘cause it quickly morphs into just mostly confusion. “I understand chicken, boar, cow, and even dog, under certain circumstances, but I wouldn’t imagine mouse as dinner,” says Rinnosuke.
“Yeah, me neither, but apparently there’s this rat about yay size in Middle Africa?” Ya hold your hands ‘bout a forearm apart, which elicits a satisfyin’ goggle from a Rinnosukewards direction. “I mean, I dunno myself, but my mom's mom's sister's husband's brother sent pictures. And also a recipe. But mostly pictures.”
Rinnosuke twists his mug in a way that ‘spresses perfectly clear what he thinks re: the order Rodentia and the consumption of its members by human beings. Or also the conumption of its members by any half-youkai named Rinnosuke Morichika, ya guess. “And this is done willingly?”
“I’m not sure the rat has any choice in the matter, Mac.”
The Look again! It’s like a blast from the past, today. “What I’m asking is,” says Rinnosuke, “it isn’t because of lack of choice, or from desperation?”
“Oh—no way, Mac. This stuff’s a delicacy—is what he said, anyways. And, plus, like, I dunno if it wasn’t just that he got a really awesome cook, but half the letter was just him ravin’ over it—tossin’ out a whole lotta adjectives.”
“And are adjectives unusual for the letters you receive?”
“No, I mean a whole lotta adjectives. Adjectives like ‘juicy.’ And ‘succulent.’ And ‘fall-off-the-bone tender.’ And ‘wonderful layer of melted fat.’”
There’s a weighty second where three dudes in a forest stand in that forest (or float, in Rumia’s case), heads tilted the better to consider the imagery thatcha dropped there just now. Not sayin’ anything—just considerin’. And then:
“Those last two weren’t adjectives, strictly,” says Rinnosuke.
“I’m hungry now,” says Rumia.
“So you weren’t hungry before, then?”
“I was hungry before,” says Rumia, pleasantly aggrieved, “but I’m also hungry now.”
“Yes, of course you are,” says Rinnosuke. He tilts his head backwards, far enough to prominence clear the apple of his throat—and call it a hunch, but ya doubt he’s thinkin’ ‘bout mouse meat again. Then he takes a deep breath, settles his chin back to level, and continues: “We’ll make it to the shrine. If today is anything like the last Tori no Ichi, there should be food stalls set up by now.”
Assuaged by the concept of vittles awaitin’, Rumia brightens, which is kinda ironic in terms of word choice, considerin’. She floats back-to-front and back to point forwards. To be honest, you’re feelin’ similar—after all that talk ya spouted on prime kinda edibles, you could use something to gnaw on yourself.
Only problem—or biggest problem, anyways: “I kinda don’t have cash on me,” you admit.
Rinnosuke doesn’t say anything. And then Rinnosuke says, “I know.”
And with that, like those words out the dude were some sorta signal—you’re all on again, shrinewards, Rumia first, then Rinnosuke behind, and then finally you, walkin’ in Rinnosuke’s footsteps.
Well, ya can’t complain, if you’re gonna be honest with yourself. Rinnosuke’s bein’ nice enough to lead ya to the festivities at all—you ‘spectin’ ‘im to unload his pockets for munchables on top of that is just unreasonable, for realsies.
Besides, when ya consider whatcha do have—a pad to hanginaround in, nice meals, a guide (i.e. Rinnosuke), two of the most awesome dudes ya coulda ever buddied with, (fifty percent of which is Rinnosuke), Rinnosuke—
Seriously, when you’ve already got it all like that, who cares ‘bout some snacks?
Yeah. No doubt about it.
It’s all gravy.
The movement outta sheer forestage and into civilization is a sorta sudden one. One moment you’re trekkin’ your way through what’s basically an obstacle course of trees—
And then ya sidestep a trunk around, and yo—a path, comin’ in under your feet basically perpendicular. And not only that, but dudes.
Well, just a coupla dudes.
A coupla dudes in nice-lookin’ robes. A man and a woman, in fact. Their faces turn atcha as ya basically spill outta the forest all upon ‘em. It’s gotta be a sight to see, from their perspectives—first this cheery-lookin’ girl floats her way outta the darkness. Then this stern-lookin’ glasses-wieldin’ dude just sorta steps in their way like a thief springin’ his ambush on a pair of travelers.
And then finally, there’s you, and while you wanna say your relaxed and amblin’ demeanor oughta be puttin’ this audience at ease, ya can’t deny that your mode of dress isn’t the coordinatedest. It’s fine as far as you’re concerned, of course, but it’s prolly not ever gonna see itself swaggered down the runway, not with the top half from Gensokyo and the bottom half de Nîmes. De Gênes?
Well, wherever it’s de, it’s definitely part of the package these dudes prolly didn’t ‘spect to see trompin’ outta the tulgey wood. And honestly? The deal’s sorta mutual. Which is why you, Rinnosuke, the dude, and the other dude just spend a moment there doin’ some equally mutual starin’.
(Rumia doesn’t, of course—she’s totally okay with the current sitch as she looks between the all of ya—but that’s Rumia.)
And then, like dudes tryin’ their best not to provoke a tooth-bearin’ predator (which Rumia technically is, ya guess), the robed pair of surprisees inch a circle ‘round ya, arms cautiously aloft so that even their sleeves don’t brush (yo, Aladdin)—and, once they’re clear, march a mean tryin’-not-to-look-like-a-mean-hustle hustle down the path away.
So that happened.
For a sec Rinnosuke just stands there longer, starin’ off after ‘em, his mug doin’ a real complicated twist. Ya don’t know what it means, but ya don’t like it, so ya nudge ‘im to recapture his attention—and erase it, more importantly. “Which way, Mac?” ya say.
Rinnosuke’s return to the present isn’t unbumpy, but he gets there. Uh, here. “This way,” he says, pointing the opposite direction from the departers. “They must have been leaving.”
“Their loss. More festivities for us, right, Mac?”
Rinnosuke does something that might be a nod, or might just be the natural bobbin’ of his head as he moves into walkin’ mode. But other than that? No answer.
Anyways—turns out that coupla passersby was the first two of a whole bunchload, ‘cause now that you’re on an actual road, dudes are a thing. The sight of ‘em, obviously, but the sound, too—bits of convo comin’ atcha, flowin’ on the wind from you-dunno-where. It’s a good sign you’re gettin’ closer, as ya dodge and duck the stares that come outta havin’ your party headed by a little dude who floats (though nobody actually does any short-stoppin’, unlike that first time—prolly ‘cause you three’ve cut out the whole burstin’-outta-the-forest element).
The road finally ends at a grand-lookin’ stone staircase shootin’ up a hill that makes your legs ache just considerin’ it—but seein’ as there’s clearly everyone else goin’ up and/or down the thing without open gripin’, you choke it down and make with the ankleliftin’. Surprise twist: It’s as tedious walkin’ up the thing as ya thought it was gonna be, and it isn’t long till you’re gettin’ real envious of Rumia and her ability to ignore gravity. You’re startin’ to feel like less of a potential festival-goer and more like the ultimate dude in a coffle (the fact that you three’re maneuverin’ in a straight line doesn’t help), when finally ya crest over the top—
And yo, look at all those lights.
Look at all those dudes.
Look at all those lights and look at all those dudes.
There’s paper lanterns for days—alotta small ones, strung up overhead, pole to pole, and large ones, too, hangin’ off the sides of set-up stalls like to act as mothbait. Painted kanji and fancy decorations. Robes and robes and robes and robes, and even if ya don’t know from robes when they’re Japanese you can tell, here and there, that the dudes wearin’ ‘em are wearin’ ‘em to the nines. And speakin’ of the dudes: There’s alotta dudes—didja mention that already? ‘Cause there are. A whole lotta dudes, that is, spread over the locale like dude butter on shrine-ground toast, a whole host of dazzlees rhubarb-rhubarb-rhubarbin’ into the night.
It’s kind overwhelmin’, if you’re gonna speak first impressions. ‘Specially since you’ve been spendin’ the last two months plus under the same quiet roof—or mostly quiet, anyways. Point is, maybe you’d better focus on something specific before the overstimulation drives ya into a shutdown.
“Hey, Mac, what’s with the things?”
Yeah, things—by which ya mean those things that everyone and their uncle’s luggin’ with ‘em here. It’s a good topic, is whatcha think, ‘specially considerin’ thatcha can’t ID what they are, even. At first glance ya mighta thought they were fans, ‘cept no, they’re not, fannish handle notwithstandin’. Castin’ an eye as one passes closer, they’re more like...trinkets? Just a buncha shiny little trinketesque stuff, like what maybe you’d get out a bag of party favors or something. ‘Cept, instead of bein’ in a bag, all this stuff—and it’s a good amount of stuff, you’ve gotta say—is on that ya-already-mentioned handle, like some sorta bouquet of kitsch.
“The things everyone’s holdin’—those things.” Ya mime, for illustration. “What’re those?”
Rinnosuke blinks atcha. “You’re talking about the rakes?”
Rakes? Either you’ve misheard him or he’s misheard you. “Sorry, Mac, but didja say ‘rakes’? Like whatcha-use-to-sweep-up-dead-leaves rakes?”
“Do you not have rakes on the Outside?”
“We do have rakes, it’s just—they’re longer, usually. And also usually they don’t have a buncha stuff attached to ‘em. What’s up with that?”
For a sec longer Rinnosuke’s still just lookin’ atcha—but then he does a short nod, like some realization’s come ripe. “I see,” he mutters. “She couldn’t recognize it as a rake.” And then, at regular-voice levels: “Those are auspicious items—charms for good luck, and the like. As part of Tori no Ichi, people sell these rakes as a way of praying for success in business. You could say that with so many charms, they’re trying to ‘rake in’ fortune.”
Now that he mentions it, alotta stalls you can see here seem to be displayin’ that merch—those rakes he’s talkin’ ‘bout. Still, you’re sensin’ a big, Rinnosuke-shaped hole in the plot. “Why’ven’t you got a stand standin’ here, then?”
‘Cause, face it—if there’s a dude who could use some positive biz? It’s this guy, Mr. Has-Had-a-Worryin’-Number-of-Visitors-Try-to-Smash-Up-His-Shop-Recently.
Rinnosuke, though, rather than reactin’ with a reasonable “What an awesome idea!” gets a look to his mug like he’s got his gum stuck in his braces. This, even though he doesn’t have braces, so that’s extra-impressive. “I suppose it’s not something I’m too concerned about,” he offers ya, sorta pathetically.
And, well—part of ya wants to cry, “Yo, I sense bull,”—but it’s not like ya know anything ‘bout proper Gensokyo prayer, right?
“If ya say so, Mac. Anyways—” Who needs segues? Not you. “—this place is pretty bustlin’. Like, even if it’s just lookin’, I’m havin’ a blast, I’ve gotta say.”
Rinnosuke’s face relaxes. Guess he swallowed his gum (which, y’know, seven years, but that’s an ish for later). “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself,” he says.
“Yeah, me too. There’s alotta sweet stuff to just rubberneck at. Plus, some stuff that’s almost the same but different. Like, in California we’ve got the right to bear arms? But it looks like here you’ve got the right to bear hands, instead!”
“Yes,” says Rinnosuke.
A second passes.
“Wait. No.” says Rinnosuke. “What?”
“It looks like here you’ve got the right to bear hands, instead!”
Rinnosuke’s brows furrow. He looks at you leerily, like ya do before ya ask someone if they’re sick. He doesn’t ask if you’re sick, though. Instead he says, real carefully, “That’s what I thought you said.”
A second passes. Somewhere in the crowd, a kid laughs. Or maybe it’s something that looks like a kid. Either way, ya catch a glimpse of dress in the midst of all those robes. Then it’s gone.
“In California, we’ve got the right to bear arms,” ya say, “But it looks like here you’ve got the right to bear hands, instead!”
“Is this another one of your references? I keep telling you that I don’t understand them.”
“This is better than a reference, Mac. It’s wordplay.”
Rinnosuke’s brows furrow furrowier. “How is this wordplay?”
“Okay, see, in English, ‘bear’ means, like, ‘to possess’ or ‘to carry.’ And ‘arms’ means something like ‘weapons’ or ‘ordnance.’ But ‘bear’ can also mean ‘bruin’ and ‘arms’ can mean the body you’ve got between your shoulders and your wrists. And in Japanese, the kanji in ‘rake’—”
“’Bear’ and ‘hand.’”
“Yeah! Ya get it, Mac? Ya get it?”
“Yes, I get it.”
A second passes. A third one, kinda ironically.
“But also, I guess it’s not as funny as it woulda been if I hadn’t needed to walk ya through it,” you admit.
“It isn’t, no,” says Rinnosuke. “I’m not sure what you thought would happen when you told a joke that required specific knowledge of both the Japanese and English languages.”
“Primarily, I thought I’d’ve told a joke that required specific knowledge of both the Japanese and English languages.”
Rinnosuke pauses, but this one’s too short to call a second. “Well, I can’t say you’re wrong.”
“Technically correct is the best kinda correct, Mac. Now how ‘bout we make ourselves part of his scene?”
[ ] There’s a crowd over there. What’s that about? [ ] Hey, check it. That dude over there’s starin’ at us.
So this new chapter is completely separated from the events of the previous chapter?
I'm sorry but it kinda makes the previous chapter feel incomplete, it feels like it ended too abruptly without a proper resolution.
Like we have a normal beginning with Christie and Rinnosuke on their usual activities in the shop, then Rikako shows up half injured and in some sort of daze, followed up by Christie deciding to help and Rikako explaining the situation which leads to the conversation about gods and Christie's experiment and Rikako getting intrigued by it, making the decision of appliying it and leaves, the next day Reimu comes, demanding an explanation for Rikako's behavior....
And then that's it?
Onwards to the next event days later? Without Christie giving Reimu a proper explanation nor seeing how Rikakos's experiments develop nor the consequences of said experiments?
That's how that particular storyline ends?
I hope i'm not sounding too hostile, it's just that it feels that there's should heve been more to that, it feels skipped that we were witnessing a particular event and all of the sudden we flashforward into the future with no resolution to that event.
Author of Forest Mix here. Your issue is cromulent, and I will do my best to address it here, though whether I do so satisfactorily will be a whole 'nother can of beans.
Issue one: That last scene just ended; what.
Forest Mix isn't the first CYOA I've ever attempted. My previous stories had a serious problem, however—namely, that I'd write update after update after update of essentially nothing happening. Or, no, maybe that's not the best way to describe. Things would happen, but even so, plot wouldn't actually progress, meaningfully. You'd get to the end of the thread and Jean-Eric Portaggones would be, in-story, an hour later than when the thread had begun.
This wasn't something I wanted to repeat, so I came up with an "episodic" system. Basically, I decided to plan my story as something like a TV show, divided into "episodes." As in—episode starts, opening credits, plot happens, closing credits, episode ends. Similar to TV shows, between episodes, any amount of time might pass (to a reasonable extent).
You may have noticed that I occasionally end an update without giving any choices for Anon to vote on. That's because that's the "end of episode"—the part where, right after, the scene fades out, and you get EXECUTIVE PRODUCER DICK WOLF. Following that logic, the update after that kind of update is the start of a new episode. And like I said, between those episodes is usually a timeskip.
Could I have indicated this "episodic format" better than I currently am? Deffo. But maybe understanding my thought process, the sudden ending kind of makes more sense, right? The main "plot" of the episode—Christie meets Rikako—is wrapped up. Scene change. One last bit of stuff happening, and then fade out. Roll credits.
Or actually, now that I reread it, that scene where Reimu pops in might be more like something out of those sitcoms where they have the credits over one final scene. And then Jean-Eric Portaggones gets their last laughs in, and then Castle Rock Entertainment jingle.
This explanation got out of hand.
Issue two: So what about the Reimu thing?
I mean, what do you imagine happened after the fade out? I'll tell you what happened. Reimu was all, "What happen," and Christie was all, "This happen," and then Reimu was all, "I see k bye."
I mean, maybe a little more frustrated and sarcastic than that, but yeah.
In my head, it was just Christie describing to Reimu everything that had just happened in the previous scene, in other words. Considering that, I'm not sure it would have added anything to further drag the episode out.
Issue three: So what about the Rikako thing?
What about the Rikako thing?
Rikako's got an idea to test whether gods are worth their prayers. Now she just has to organize and carry out this big experiment. Which could be a problem. It's not exactly something she can pull off herself in a lab, right?
But yeah, Christie's given Rikako that idea. That did happen, definitely. It's in continuity.
Whether Christie is going to get any further involved in Rikako's plans, though, is an entirely different matter, one that depends on what choices Anon picks.
Hope this answered some questions you might have had. If you feel like I didn't cover something, or if you just have anything else to ask or say, feel free to post further. I see if I can respond.
>“Why is Asakura Rikako trying to organize farmers.”
> Rinnosuke doesn’t say anything after that. And then he turns his head and joins Reimu in this whole looking-at-you deal she’s got goin’ on here.
> “I don’t know what’s goin’ on,” ya say, “but whatever it is? Totally not my fault.”
This is called a punchline. The update ends there because that's the joke, see? Curtains fall, cue applause. It's not even the first time the OP has done it. Hell, it's the whole reason I'm reading this thing.
>>30265 Not that guy but the episodic and actually incremental nature of this cyoa made me like it so much that I barely notice it is supposed to be a slice of life story. Probably because there's no stagnation and a clear overall goal.
[X] Hey, check it. That dude over there’s starin’ at us.
Rinnosuke’s brows go straight up, at him hearin’ that. “You already know what you want to do here? That’s impressive, considering you didn’t know what Tori-no-Ichi was when we arrived.”
“You’re lookin’ at it the wrong way, Mac. My goals here haven’t changed—‘hang out,’ ‘have fun,’ and ‘be awesome.’ The only hitch is gettin’ there.”
“That might be called a very large ‘hitch.’”
“Are ya kiddin’? I’m already succeedin’ three for three . I’ve just gotta keep it up! Now, lemme see...”
You stretch your neck and gaze all ‘round yourself, lookin’ for something interestin’. There’s all these rakes Rinnosuke mentioned—maybe you can get ‘im to spring for one? Or maybe you could check out all those stands standin’ there, heapin’ out foodstuffs—even if ya can’t eat any of it, what with your still-in-California wallet, just watchin’ (and smellin’) ought to fill ya up psychic.
And then your vision panorama you’ve got operatin’ here stops, ‘cause ya find something. Or maybe something finds you. In the evershiftin’ crowd of twistin’ and turnin’ and otherwise rotatin’ dudes, there’s a set of eyes stood there with the sorta stock-stillness you’re used to seein’ more in statue and street performers pretendin’ to be ‘em. They’re open wide—not surprised, just wide—and attached to a mug ya can’t quite place till ya look past just the shape of it and take it together with the long-flowin’ hair and more importantly the funky headgear.
“Huh,” ya say.
Quietly, too, but Rinnosuke hears it anyways, which is actually impressive. “Did you find something?” he asks, turnin’ atcha.
“More like, ‘someone,’ Mac,” ya say. “Check it.”
And ya point at Keine, and Keine’s pointed at, and maybe those wide eyes go wider, but maybe that’s just the way back up from blinkin’ or the natural movement of her mugmuscles. Ya can’t tell, not from this far away, and it mostly doesn’t matter, anyways. The point is—that’s Keine, of the spaceship-shaped hattery and the off-and-on visitations, and now that you’ve pointed that out, Rinnosuke can see that that’s Keine, too! Which he does, you confirm, when Rinnosuke doesn’t say anything like, “Yo, it’s Keine,” and instead maintains with the radio silence—ya look at ‘im sideways, at his face, and he’s lookin’ in the right direction, seein’ Keine perfectly well—you’d bet—only—
It’s kinda funny, but suddenly he’s wearin’ the same look Keine is.
Well, not funny ha-ha. But funny.
There’s something here that feels off, like maybe ya put your foot in it lettin’ yourself point ‘er out, but before you can pin that feelin’ down Keine takes a step—and then another. And then a third, not even lookin’ at the crowd past ‘er as it parts in front of ‘er like it’s the Red Sea and here’s Moses, achin’ for the Promised Land. Just one step after another till there she is, square in front of Rinnosuke, almost sorta encroachin’ in his bubble, but not quite.
And then she stops there. And then she doesn’t say anything.
And Rinnosuke doesn’t say anything, either.
Yeah, it’s a whole lotta not-sayin’-anything happenin’ here. Not that you’ve got room to not-talk, seein’ as you’re not sayin’ anything, either, over here on the side where you’ve just become the third wheel on this bike someone loaded down with subtext while ya weren’t lookin’. You’d try—not like you’re the last dude to get their gums flappin’, ‘zactly—but here’s another kinda sorta funny thing: Your voice is dead in your chest, and try as ya might, ya can’t get it to Easter Sunday.
So here ya are, watchin’ this car-crash-in-slow-mo, stuck thoroughly on the sidelines, and if someone’s gonna lose at chicken or if it’s all gonna go up in a fiery conflagration it can’t happen quick enough.
It’s Keine that gets this ball of overripe awkwardness rollin’. Ya see ‘er lick her lips (that’s nervous liplickin’, not here’s-some-leftover-barbecue-sauce, obvs)—and then something like an artist’s rendition of a witness’ recollection of a smile gets fit into her face. It takes a coupla tries, before it sticks.
“Rinnosuke,” she says.
“Keine,” says Rinnosuke back.
Keine nods, like—yes, she is Keine. Her smile tries to become a little less wan. Results’re mixed. “How are you?” she says.
“I’m fine,” says Rinnosuke, soundin’ absatively unfine in every way.
Keine nods some more. “That’s good,” she says, like she actually believes ‘im. And also: “I didn’t think you’d come to the festival today.”
“It wasn’t my plan to. Christie wanted to see what it’d be like, though, so I brought her.”
Keine’s peepers flicker your way, and ya wave when they do. So maybe the bike is a trike, after all. Must be why the convo’s been so stable. “Is that the reason you came?” she asks.
There’s a pause, heavy with all kindsa meanin’ ya don’t have the decoder ring for. This time, when Keine looks your way, her eyes linger. And then they go back to Rinnosuke, and—
And still nothing, actually. The pause extends.
Yeah, this isn’t gettin’ anywhere on its own. Like, you’re not askin’ these two to speedrun the convo or anything like that, but whatever this is you’re bearin’ witness at is clearly stuck fast in the mud. Which means it’s time for some Christie-Christoferson-brand pushin’. “Hey, Mac—you and Keine met up at that last Tori-no-Ichi, didntcha?”
Rinnosuke starts at the sound of your voice, head twistin’ in your direction like he’s only just remembered you’re there, too (which is super-unfair, considerin’ Keine even acknowledged your thereness). He trips over his syllables for a sec—shakes his head to clear it—“We did,” he says, all very neutral. “I told you, didn’t I?”
“I thought ya did, but I wasn’t sure,” ya lie cheerfully. “I mean, that was like a week-plus ago. What’dja do when ya met up, anyways? If Keine knows some ace festival spots, I wanna get in on that.”
Keine stares at you and just you and not Rinnosuke, which is sorta what you were goin’ for. Well, as long as that mutual stareage is done with, it’s all gravy. “There was a stall with yakitori...” she starts, slowly—
“We didn’t really have a chance to visit any of the stalls after we met.” Bam—Rinnosuke with the interrupt. He says what he says, sendin’ Keine meanwhile the kinda eye contact that puts the “side” in “sidelong.” And also the “long.” And the general concept of sidelength.
“We didn’t,” says Keine, “but there isn’t any reason we couldn’t visit now.” Her smile stretches, like at some point in the past she heard that that’s how a dude’s meant to ‘spress friendliness but she’s not so good puttin’ it in practice. Well, maybe she can feel how straight up grimacey it looks, ‘cause she only holds out for a sec or two before givin’ up on it. “Could we talk?” she says, quietly. “I’d like it, if we talked.”
Rinnosuke’s whole mug squinches. Then it goes loose again as he huffs out a lung fulla sigh. “Alright. Let’s talk.”
“Thank goodness. I mean—I’m glad.” Keine’s strained smile relaxes basically instantly into the real thing, though it’s mostly relief it exudes. “I’ll show you the stall I’m talking about—I didn’t get the chance to eat there, last time, but it smelled appetizing.”
“I would have assumed you’d have stayed loyal to one stall in particular.”
“Well, under normal circumstances, yes, but Mokou told me she would be sitting this festival out—though I don’t know why—”
There isn’t even any need for Keine to grab Rinnosuke by the wrist or even make explicit the request he follow the leader. All she does is half raise an arm—barely a go-thither-by-way-of-hither gesture—and Rinnosuke falls in line behind like he’s takin’ cues outta Robert McCloskey. It’s a maneuver so casual you’re left watchin’ after it, not realizin’ you’re gettin’ left behind till Rinnosuke—just on the edge of bein’ swallowed up by the crowd—half-turns and does his own little wave your way. Then ya start, and jog up back up to Rinnosuke’s side before he and Keine can pull a total Houdini.
Yeah, that one’d be your fault, prolly.
“Are you alright?” says Rinnosuke. The look he’s givin’ is more confusion than concern, though.
Well, what can ya say? “Sure, Mac. Just got distracted for a sec.”
Rinnosuke presses his lips together, though if he hmms to accompany that ya can’t hear it, not over the general festival din. Then he says: “You need to stay close. It could be dangerous to get lost in a crowd like this.”
“Ya mean like someone here’s gonna stick a knife in my back or something?”
“What? No, not that dangerous.”
“If there’s degrees, you’ve gotta specify, Mac. Like, worst-case-scenario me here. What happens if I get lost?”
Rinnosuke’s eyes turn up in thought for a sec. “We become separated, you’re left on the shrine grounds after the festival is over, and seeing no other choice you attempt to make your own way through the Forest of Magic, where you encounter a dangerous youkai.”
You digest this, just like that hypothetical youkai is prolly digestin’ you. “Bummer, Mac,” you conclude. “Gimme your sleeve.”
Obediently, and without missin’ a step, Rinnosuke offers his hand towards ya. Ya pluck a little edge of fabric off his wrist and keep tight to it—well, as tight as you can manage with your thumb and pointer. Still, that’s something like a hundred percent more connected to Rinnosuke than ya were thirty seconds ago, which means your chances of youkai-related death just went way down, right?
Ya smile at Rinnosuke.
He doesn’t smile back, not really, but his lips sorta flex, and he nods.
Should you be noddin’ too? Ya feel like ya oughta be noddin’, too. Or something—
And then Keine goes, “Oh, here it is,” and oh, right, Keine’s a thing. She turns back to look at you and ya leggo Rinnosuke’s sleeve, leavin’ his wrist hangin’ suspended in midair, though he does lower it, after a sec. Keine looks at the space between ya two with a face kinda puzzled—then she shakes that off and slaps on something more pleasant-tour-guidey. “Do you want to order? I don’t mind paying for the both of us.”
“I already owe you, so no thanks,” says Rinnosuke. “I’ll just have the negima. What do you want?”
It takes a tick to realize that it’s you Rinnosuke’s lookin’ at, askin’ that, and even once you’ve got that figured it’s all you can do to send ‘im just a coupla confused blinks before the implications settle proper. “I’m eatin’?” ya say.
Rinnosuke does that thing where peers over his glasses atcha, like maybe if he isn’t wearin’ his prescription it’ll make more sense, whatever it is. “Do you not want to eat?” he says.
“I do wanna; it’s just that I didn’t think I was gonna.”
“I already told you I knew you didn’t have any money.”
“Yeah, but I thought whatcha meant was like, ‘I know ya don’t’ve money, so also I know you’re not gonna be able to buy anything.’”
“What? Why would I mean that?”
“I dunno, it seemed a perfectly reasonable deal to mean!”
Keine motions for attention. “I can pay for your guest, too, if that’s alright,” she says Rinnosuke’s way.
“I don’t want to take any more money from you than I already have,” Rinnosuke says, over his shoulder. Then back to you: “Why would you think that would be reasonable?”
“Why wouldn’t it be reasonable, Mac?”
“I’ve fed you so far, haven’t I?”
“Rinnosuke,” says Keine. “This isn’t meant to be a loan.”
“Yeah, ya have,” you admit, “but that was, like, necessary food. This doesn’t feel like that so much.”
“If you think I’ve been feeding you the bare minimum to survive, you’re mistaken.”
“Yo, for serious, Mac? So I...” Ya motion towards the meat, and also towards the dude behind the heatin’ of the meat who is becomin’ either increasingly bemused or increasingly bemused, dependin’ on which definition of “bemused” a dude is comfier at.
“Yes, yes, ‘for serious.’ Pick a kind, and I’ll treat you.”
“Oh, uh, I don’t really know from yakitori, so I guess I’ll go with the same you did. What was it?”
“Negima.” Rinnosuke turns to the grillin’ dude, who raises his brows like he’s goin’—“Okay, ya gonna order now, then?” “Two negima,” says Rinnosuke. “Keine, what are you ordering?”
Keine doesn’t tell Rinnosuke what she’s orderin’. Keine stares into Rinnosuke’s eyes like she’s tryin’ to see her way into his soul.
Rinnosuke shifts uncomfily.
“I’ll have the negima,” Keine says, not breakin’ eye contact.
Rinnosuke, also not breakin’ eye contact, lifts a trio of fingers unsteadily towards the dude of the meat. “Three negima,” he says.
Meat Dude swivels his head between Keine and Rinnosuke apprehensively, and then, like maybe he’s detectin’ a storm on the horizon, takes actually an actual step back and gets to preparin’ with the edibles that way, even though he’s got to nearly keep his arms straight to do it.
Meat Dude is maybe a font of wisdom.
“And,” adds Keine, “I’ll be paying for it.”
Rinnosuke sorta starts where he stands. “I told you,” he says. “You’ve already done enough for me.”
“I don’t mind doing this for you,” Keine says, straight up not smilin’ anymore. “I want to do things for you. We’re friends, aren’t we?”
Rinnosuke pauses before he answers back, like he’s tryin’ to put his thoughts in order. “Yes,” he says finally, “but I shouldn’t be able to take advantage of you just because we’re friends.”
“You aren’t taking advantage of me.” Keine shuts her eyes tight—her whole face tight, actually, like to collect herself. When she starts talkin’ again, it’s real measured in tone and tempo. “Rinnosuke,” she says, “Is it really so terrible if I do something for you, when I have the opportunity?”
And Rinnosuke—says nothing. Ya see his head move off a little. Past Keine’s, like it hurts to look directly.
Keine takes advantage of this sec of off-footery to advance. Her hand seeks towards his. “Rinnosuke,” she says, gently, “this is what friends do.”
Rinnosuke’s own hand, at his side, does a twitch. Like it’s sensed its partner handin’ through the air and hasn’t made its hand-mind up on what to do ‘bout it. But then, just slowly, it rises itself—
And ya watch.
And Meat Dude watches.
And Keine pretends she’s not watchin’, but her eyes flicker down towards the space in between ‘em, just for a second. So she’s watchin’.
Meat Dude grimaces sharp and returns his attention full-meter to his meat. You can sympathize. Like, it’s not like you’re totally socially adroit—your philosophy is to just jump in with your metaphorical guns blazin’ and hope for the best, and if the best doesn’t happen, can’t be helped—
But even you can tell that this moment, whatever it was leadin’ up to, has been completely, totally, three-feet-high-and-risin’ ruined.
And Keine’s got that, too, if that look of—what is that? Anger? Annoyance? Indignation? Disgust? Whatever it is, her mug’s got it in spades, and that hand that seemed so close just sorta swiffs back down to the side of her dress. “That isn’t what this is about,” she says, flatly.
“It isn’t?” says Rinnosuke.
“No,” says Keine, even flatter. “You made it entirely clear what your opinions on moving to the village were, the last time.”
Rinnosuke’s hand keeps where it is, like it hasn’t yet figured out the hand meetup got canceled. “I thought you were going to try to convince me anyway,” says the dude himself. His voice’s got something to it—a shade of embarrassment, maybe.
Whatever it is, it’s not enough to assuage Keine’s whatever-that-is. “I wasn’t going to try to convince you,” she says, and she doesn’t say it through gritted teeth, but only just.
“Alright,” says Rinnosuke, with a tone that gives absolutely no clue as to whether or not he believes it.
Keine can tell. “I wasn’t,” she says.
“I believe you,” says Rinnosuke, still soundin’ like he sounds.
And Keine says nothing to that, just looks Rinnosuke in with eyes radiatin’ heat.
It’s another kinda moment, ‘cept this one feels less like it’s gonna culminate in a petalshower of emotional intimacy and more like it’s just gonna snap, with mega-undesirable consequences for anyone rubberneckin’ too close by, you included. You’re seriously considerin’ breakin’ in anyway—just takin’ it upon yourself to shake that box of sweaty dynamite—
And then Meat Dude—apotheosize ‘im—beats ya to it, and that’s a load off but for realsies.
It works, too—just the words (and the presentin’ of the aforementioned meat) have the effect of stickin’ a blade into this drama bubble Rinnosuke and Keine’ve got goin’ here and lettin’ the tension of it run out the tear. Like, it’s not like the two of ‘em get happy all of a sudden, or anything—they’re still makin’ with the affectation of apathy and the barely disguised sullenness, respectively—but now that the meat’s here, it’s a lot more socially pressin’ to table the whole deal for chow.
Plus, y’know, actual food. So you’re kinda low-key hyped about that. Not thatcha know how this is gonna taste, but it’s on a stick, so it’s gotta be good, right?
Ya wave it in the air a coupla swishes, gettin’ some of the heat off, and then, before you can think that maybe ya oughta not, ya put the first chunk of the deal past your lips and delonginate it.
And the result is...
“Yo, this isn’t half bad!” ya ‘sclaim (with your mouth full, but this deserves it). “I’m tastin’ something—what’s this, some kinda allium?”
“It actually is spring onion,” says Rinnosuke. “It’s called ‘negima,’ after all.”
Yeah, ya get it—‘cause “negi” means “spring onion,” is what he’s sayin’. “That was gonna me my next question—I just didn’t wanna assume, is all. Ya know in France they call potatoes ‘apples’?”
Rinnosuke actually looks up from his own skewer. “What do they call apples?” he asks.
“They call apples ‘apples,’ too, but also they call potatoes ‘apples.’ They’re both apples.”
“Then how do they tell the difference between them?”
“Apples and potatoes look pretty different, Mac.”
Rinnosuke multitasks. By which ya mean that he shoots you a real unamused ‘spression and takes off more of his stick-food at the same time. “How do they tell the difference between them in speech?”
“Right, check this—apples’re ‘apples.’ But potatoes’re ‘apples of the earth.’”
“‘Apples of the earth’...”
Rinnosuke mulls over that for a bit, starin’ into what’s left of his meat. Keine, beside ‘im, parts her lips like she’s gonna say something. Only then she doesn’t. So she’s just sittin’ there, on the cusp of words, lookin’ between Rinnosuke, and you, and Rinnosuke, and you—
“Do you know where the word ‘potato’ comes from?” says Rinnosuke, all of a sudden.
Course, he doesn’t say “potato,” ‘cause Japanese. He says “jagaimo.” But that means “potato.”
“Uh...” Ya give it a think. “‘Imo’ is ‘tuber’; I know that much.”
“Yes, but they’re called ‘jagaimo’ especially because they came from Djakarta.”
“So they’re literally Jakarta tubers! That’s real cool, Mac.” Ya devour your own stick-food and look over at Rinnosuke.
Like, it isn’t a big smile, but he’s got the slight upturnin’ on the ends of the lips and the muscles beneath the eyes and everything. That’s good. Ya want ‘im to smile. It means prolly he’s happy? And yeah, ya don’t know much on Rinnosuke’s circumstances, ‘zactly, but ya want Rinnosuke to be happy.
If ya knew tradin’ word trivia was gonna make ‘im smile, ya woulda done it ages ago. What else can ya toss up?
“Hey, Mac,” ya say.
“I get that the ‘negi’ in ‘negima’ is ‘negi’ ‘cause spring onions’re ‘negi.’ But what’s the ‘ma’?”
“Ah,” says Rinnosuke, and then he finishes his yakitori.
He’s lookin’ aside atcha as he does it. The last of the meat, and then all he’s got left is a stick, and that he holds in front of ‘im with way too much poise for it to be incidental. This pause is on purpose too, ya realize. He’s creatin’ for you a moment of suspense.
And then he’s all:
“The ‘ma’ is for ‘tuna.’”
No, wait. What? “Tuna?” ya say.
Rinnosuke nods, still with that little lip thing.
Ya look down at your own stick-food. “There’s tuna in here?”
“But it’s called ‘negima’ anyways.”
You consider that.
And then ya shrug.
“Guess ya can’t count on etymology for everything,” ya say.
And plus, as long as it tastes good and isn’t gonna kill ya, who cares, right? Ya follow Rinnosuke in with the yakitori-finishin’, then look at the solitary dude left in this race.
Keine’s sittin’ there, inspectin’ her stick-food with her eyes rather than how she’s supposta be doin’ it, i.e. with her taste buds. Or, well, ya guess you can see a coupla bites off the topmost chunk of the deal, but even with that, she isn’t even halfway through—which means unless ya wanna betray the social obligation you were leanin’ on just a minute ago to put an end to the arguin’, you and Rinnosuke’re gonna hafta sit here till she’s finished.
It’s a bummer. Like, not that you’re generally impatient, ‘zactly! You’ve been in Gensokyo long enough without overly complainin’, haventcha? But with all the sheer festivalness happenin’ on every side of you, you’re totally chompin’ on the bit here to get back to properly immersin’ yourself in it.
Are there games? It sorta feels like a festival’d have games. Though, ya dunno what sorta games a Gensokyo festival’d have.
Man, ya bet this snackbreak woulda been faster with—
Your spine goes stiff. Your stick for eatin’ meat off goes tumblin’ outta your fingers and into the rest of everything else that’s litterin’ the ground. Ya barely even process that. Instead, ya put your hand up, grabbin’ it onto Rinnosuke’s arm.
Rinnosuke looks up. Looks at his arm, your hand, then follows that up to the rest of you. “Yes?” he says, clearly wonderin’ what in the even now.
“Mac,” ya say, in a voice achin’ to bow itself under the hubbub, “Count us off.”
Your seriously dramatic wordage, unfortunately, fails to fetch outta Rinnosuke the sorta reaction you were goin’ for, seein’ as no part of hypothetical reaction includes confusion. ‘Cause that’s all that Rinnosuke is. Confused. “What?” he says, confusedly.
Keine, sensin’ rightfully something real tense goin’ on in her vicinity (well, something else real tense), leans in towards ya. It makes ya wanna not say anything further, considerin’ the Keine interactions (Keinteractions?) you’ve seen so far, but maybe in this case it can’t be helped. “Count us off, Mac. How many dudes’ve we got in this party?”
The confusion doesn’t abate, though to his credit Rinnosuke does actually look over to do the countin’. “There are three of us,” he says. “Is that what you’re asking? How many we make, all together?”
“Right,” ya say. “And that oughta be the right number. ‘Cept Keine came after.”
It takes something like a full second for Rinnosuke to get it, but then you’re real glad he’s done with his meat ‘cause his little skewer joins yours down in Little Floorville. Though if you’re gonna talk differences, instead, you’ve gotta mention that Rinnosuke actually jolts. Less the spine-stiffenin’ you got and more a full-on electrocution.
If Keine was just suspectin’ something was hinky a moment ago, now she knows. “Rinnosuke? What’s happened?”
Rinnosuke ducks his head with supreme dejection. “Rumia happened,” he groans.
“Rumia?” Now it’s Keine’s turn to perk, though hers is the most restrained outta the whole bunch. She turns, scannin’ the crowd. “She’s here? Did you see her?”
“I don’t see her. That’s the problem.”
And Rinnosuke’s startin’ to look deeply disappointed in all the circumstances happenin’ right now, so you take over. “What Rinnosuke’s sayin’ is,” ya ‘splain, “we brought Rumia with us.”
“You brought Rumia here? I’d understand you bringing one of the less dangerous youkai, but—” Keine cuts herself off, finally puttin’ two and two together in the fashion of the rest of the class. “If you brought Rumia here, where is Rumia now?”
Rinnosuke does a thing that definitely isn’t a smile but prolly involves the same muscles. “That would be the problem,” he says.
Keine takes a step back from the yakitori stand, turnin’ her head again, a real worried look to her face. The potential Rumianess of the vicinity has just skyrocketed, and she’s dealin’ with it the best she can, ya guess. “How long ago did you lose track of her?”
“Uh, a little before ya showed up?” ya say. “She was here when we got here, right, Mac?”
“She was there when we happened upon that couple, at least,” Rinnosuke quasi-confirms.
“What couple?” says Keine.
You and Rinnosuke look at each other for a sec, all like—what, though. “Jeez, I dunno,” ya say. “Just a couple.”
“It wasn’t anyone we knew,” says Rinnosuke. “Only a couple leaving the festival as we arrived.”
“So it’s possible she followed this couple into the forest,” says Keine.
“Naw, naw, check that.” Ya raise your hand in the classic stop position. “Rumia couldnta been followin’ those dudes—she was definitely here when we were headin’ up the staircase. She was floatin’, remember?”
“So Rumia is here,” says Keine. “Somewhere at this festival.”
Rinnosuke nods, a grimmish ‘spression formin’ on his own mug, now that he’s got the weight of this sitch properly settlin’ on ‘im. “That would be likely,” he says.
“I don’t think she woulda left immediate, at least,” ya add. “Last I checked, she was totally psyched re: festival food. So, prolly, she’s gonna give procurin’ that a decent try before she ever hoofs it.” Ya decide not to mention that “last ya checked” was something like two weeks ago. Or a fortnight, if you were gonna be into that.
“I see,” says Keine. “Then—” She pauses. Another look ‘round herself. “If what you say is true, she may have been to one of the stands selling food already. I helped in setting up for the festival, so I should know where all of them are located—I’ll visit them, and ask whether anyone’s seen a youkai matching Rumia’s description. In the meantime, you...”
Another pause. ‘Cept, this one sorta lingers. And not in the high-tension, high-suspense sorta way, either. Up till Rinnosuke breaks it, anyways:
Keine makes a face like she’s got a taste she’s distinctly unkeen on. Then she goes: “You should stay here and wait.”
“You want me to wait?”
“It...would be for the best. That is—in the event Rumia tries to find you, it would be easier if you stayed in one place—unless you’d like to search with me?” Her voice rises on the last bit, like something just growin’ proper wings and tryin’ out this “flight’” biz it’s heard good things about.
Now it’s Rinnosuke’s turn to pull a pause. It’s a long one. Longer than Keine’s, even. And even though Keine would be totally justified in promptin’ Rinnosuke to skip to the end of it, like she had happen to her—she doesn’t. Just lets it run, as far as Rinnosuke’s willin’ to take it.
He takes it pretty far. Not too far, but far enough.
Still, it does end. Though it’s got some inertia to it, when it does. Enough that when Rinnosuke does speak, it’s a slow kinda deal. Haltin’, unsteady. “No,” he says. “What you said—it makes sense. Somebody needs to stay here, in case Rumia passes by. And I’m recognizable.”
Keine’s head jerks shallowly. “Right,” she says.
“Right,” says Rinnosuke.
Keine doesn’t say, “Right,” again, but she opens her mouth for it. Then she closes it, and turns, carefully, balancin’—
[ ] Help Keine out with the searchin’. [ ] Stick with Rinnosuke.
[X] Help Keine out with the searchin’. - [X] Hey, if I were to dab my clothes with a bunch of meat juice, do you think that might find her. Well, she might eat me, but then we'd at least know who's she's eating than not know who she's eating and who she's not, right?
>>30331 [X] Help Keine out with the searchin’. - [X] Hey, if I were to dab my clothes with a bunch of meat juice, do you think that might find her. Well, she might eat me, but then we'd at least know who's she's eating than not know who she's eating and who she's not, right?
[X] Help Keine out with the searchin’. - [X] Hey, if I were to dab my clothes with a bunch of meat juice, do you think that might find her. Well, she might eat me, but then we'd at least know who's she's eating than not know who she's eating and who she's not, right?
—and Keine snapback unturns, like she was on a rubber band pulled tight that someone just let go, lookin’ ya straight on like she’s heard the words outta your maw, yeah, but they weren’t supposta happen.
Which—maybe ya can’t blame her, almost. You weren’t plannin’ on sayin’ those words, either. They just sorta did that.
Whatever the case, Keine only takes a sec before she recovers, her ‘spression goin’ hard in places. “I’m not certain that’s wise,” she says. “It’s much too dangerous for an ordinary Outsider to wander on their own, even here.”
And if she’d been listenin’, she’d know ya just got the don’t-wander spiel from Rinnosuke. There was sleeve-holdin’ and everything. Ya don’t mention that, though. “I wasn’t plannin’ on wanderin’ on my own,” ya say, instead. “I figured I’d stick close to you. Four eyes’re better than two, right?”
Keine visibly mulls that over, but if she’s comin’ up with any reasonable sorta objections, she at least doesn’t mention ‘em. “Rinnosuke,” she says instead, “are you okay with this?”
Rinnosuke pauses just a bit too long. “Yes,” he says. “Why shouldn’t it be? With you looking after her, she should be safe.”
“Right,” says Keine.
“Right,” says Rinnosuke. And before the two of ‘em can go past déjà vu and into straight up time loop, he turns off, starin’ straight forwards instead of in Keine’s direction. Which, incidentally, puts his sightline right through Meat Dude, who’s been standin’ here all this time—natch; it’s his stand—and right now’s tryin’ his very best to develop invisibility.
Like, it’s not workin’, obvs. But it’s a respectful attempt.
You, you’ve gotta contend with another coupla measures of Keine gazin’ into the back of Rinnosuke’s skull before she pulls up, too. “Stay close to me,” she says your way, signifyin’ the gettin’-to at of the most important ish at hand, i.e. the findin’ of a floaty friend.
Ya thumbs-up with vigor, ‘cause seriously, you’ve got it already. But hey, she’s gotta make sure, ya guess. You can respect that, too. “So what’s the plan?” ya ask.
“I don’t think there should be any changes—we should visit the food stalls, and ask if anyone’s seen Rumia.”
“Groovy.” And before the two of you can get outta sight—easy, in a crowd—you do some turnin’ back of your own, hangin’ a goodbye wave for Rinnosuke. “Catch ya later, Mac!”
Rinnosuke doesn’t “catch ya later” back. Maybe he doesn’t even hear ya, over the festival sound. He just stands there, at the meat, like he’s deep in thought over what he’s gonna order and not anything else. The last ya see of ‘im before Keine leads you away is his back—tall, stiff, clothed up in that familiar-by-now half-wrinkled robe.
It’s the only back that’s there, at the customer side at the stand. And with the light from the stand rayin’ past ‘im, it looks dark by comparison.
Dark, and sorta lonely.
Keine’s plan is logical, and methodical, and also, if you’re gonna be honest, totally limp. Like, it makes sense! Visit all the places Rumia woulda liked to go to and see if Rumia’s maybe actually been anythere! Ya couldn’t do it better if this festival was on the Outside.
It’s just that that’s all there is to it, basically. Keine leads ya to a food stand (‘cause ya don’t know where they are), Keine talks to the food stand dudes (‘cause ya don’t know who they are), Keine thanks the food stand dudes for their time and leads ya to the next food stand on the route. Rinse and repeat, and then keep on rinsin’ forever ‘cause the back of the shampoo bottle never said “stop.” Sure, ya get some stares pretendin’ not to be stares, from passersby and food stand dudes both, but it’s never anything more than the fleetingest of curious glimpses. Keine’s clearly some sorta authority here, from the way everyone reacts to the dude with a friendly kinda deference—maybe they figure that if you’re walkin’ so obediently at her shoulder you’re prolly no problem. Or if ya are a problem, you’re not an important one.
Which, y’know, it’s fine. You’re not a problem, and it’s not like ya wanna be. But still.
In any case, it isn’t long (okay, not long long) till you and Keine wind your ways over to where the stands end and the crowds start thinnin’—without havin’ caught report of either Rumiahair or Rumiahide. Or ya guess Rumiaskin, unless it is Rumiahide, actually, in which case Rumia’s in alotta trouble—so ya hope not. Keine’s lookin’ kinda troubled herself, though ya think prolly Rumia’s well-bein’ isn’t so much of a factor there. “We’ll have to search the other end of the shrine grounds as well,” she says.
“Cool,” ya say, in her footsteps, followin’ as she pulls a turnaround. And then ya don’t say anything else, ‘cause it’s back to lookin’ for Rumia again. Only even limper, ‘cause where before your walkin’ got at least broken up by Keine tuggin’ you aside so she could check in with vendor number so-and-so, now she’s already done the askin’.
In other words, it’s just you and her, walkin’ silently. And not, like, the companionable kinda silence either. Just silence.
You’d think the fact that the festival’s so loud’d help, right? Right? Like, it’d compensate or something? It doesn’t, though. Go fig.
“How is Rinnosuke?”
And then suddenly that not-companionable-particularly silence’s broken. “What?” ya say, lookin’ Keinewards.
Keine’s mug is ‘spressionless. “How is Rinnosuke?” she says, again. “He’s still hosting you, isn’t he? I thought you might be able to tell me, considering the amount of time you’ve spent with him.”
Her gaze is steady as she says that—by which ya mean it’s fixed steadily forwards, pointed towards nothing in particular ‘cept for the direction she’s walkin’ in. Which is a weird way to act with your eyes while you’ve got someone you’re actually literally talkin’ to, ya think, but...
The way she holds herself. With her chin a mite too high and her neck a mite too stiff.
It makes ya wanna put a little bit more thought into your answer before ya loose it.
Not that it helps. Uh, maybe ya better come up with something else? “Like—Rinnosuke is Rinnosuke, right?” ya quicksay, keepin’ gropin’ for the right words, ‘cause these aren’t those, for sure. At least Keine’s lookin’ atcha proper, now. “I mean—he’s sorta vaguely morose, I guess? And sometimes something sets ‘im off into a real downer of a mood?” And sometimes it’s something ya say or do that does that, specifically, but ya don’t wanna zoom in that far. “So, like, I dunno. He seems basically together, but if this is a real downturn from how he was before I fell in, I wouldn’t really know.”
Keine looks ya in a tick longer, then looks away, breathin’ out what looks like all the air out her bod. “No, you wouldn’t,” she agrees.
She sounds tired.
“So is that how it is?” ya ask.
“Is that what happened? Did something a serious bummer happen Rinnosuke’s way? Or something?”
It takes a little for Keine to get what you’re askin’, but then she shakes her head. “No,” she says. “Rinnosuke—this is how he’s always been.”
So it’s a basic check-up. Yeah, that’s fair. Rinnosuke seems like the sorta dude who you’d ask “How’s kicks?” and whether you’d get a truthful answer back’d be a crapshoot. Not that any lyin’ ya got’d be malicious, but a white lie’s still lyin’, right?
The meds, the ones he rushed to fetch when you were heftin’ a wicked fever. All the rice he’s been scoopin’ your way.
Rinnosuke was maybe never gonna complain ‘bout all that stuff, not unless ya asked.
(Or maybe he woulda complained, eventually. But whatever breakin’ point he’s got re: Christie-Christoferson-carin’, ya never reached it, and ya still haven’t. Which is kinda…)
“No,” says Keine, all of a sudden. “I’m wrong.”
And that yanks ya outta your thoughts, real neat. “Huh? So something did happen?” ya ask.
“That isn’t what I mean,” says Keine. “It’s only that—” Another stop. And then: “He was smiling.”
Ya try to parse those words in a way that deserves the next-to-dramatic tone Keine dropped ‘em with. It doesn’t work. “Yeah?” ya offer, finally.
“Yeah,” ya say, “when he was talkin’ ‘bout potatoes. What’s the big deal? He does that.”
Keine says that like she isn’t really there, in a way ya don’t like and that makes ya look to your side at ‘er, sharp. She’s facin’ off again, ‘cept this time even more so, so ya can’t even see her eyes.
Ya really wanna see her eyes.
“Uh, yeah, he does,” ya say. “I mean, not a lot—which, y’know, bummer—but it’s not like he’s dour twenty-four-seven. Like, you’d know that, if ya ever saw ‘im put on his records.”
And it’s like—yeah; didntcha tell Keine ‘bout the poltergeist? Only: Yeah, but ya didn’t tell ‘er ‘bout the record player aspect of it, so fair ‘nuff. “Rinnosuke found this record player, and we got it workin’ again,” ya ‘splain. “Anyways, there’s a buncha tunes he had lyin’ ‘round the pad to go with it, and he likes all the terrible ones. No accountin’ for taste, I guess.”
“I see,” says Keine. “Rinnosuke hasn’t told me anything about this at all. When was this?”
“Man, I dunno. A month ago, maybe? Something like that.”
Keine doesn’t have any follow-ups to that. Her lookin’-away-from-you seems to solidify.
Something inkles in your mind. A feelin’ like maybe ya said the wrong thing, or at least something that Keine woulda been better off not hearin’.
So, of course, ya prod what’s causin’ it. “He wasn’t keepin’ it a secret from you or anything, prolly,” ya say. “I mean, it’s not something ya go outta your way to mention, right? Like if I ate a really awesome burger or beat my personal record paddle-ballin’. I don’t think I’d tell anyone, not unless I got asked ‘bout it specific.”
You can see Keine’s jaws tensin’ (ya don’t hafta see her eyes for that—totally different part of the skull). When she speaks, it’s in a real low voice, something ya almost wanna lean forwards, the better to hear.
Ya don’t hafta, though. Ya hear it well enough. “I understand,” is what Keine says, “but I would never have asked.”
“Oh, huh,” says you.
And ya don’t really know what else to say to what she’s said, so the whole convo at that point just dies an ungodly, ignoble death. Bummer. The two of you walk in silence (surrounded as ya are by the loud of the festival), backtrackin’ your steps, passin’ by again all the stalls you and Keine already passed by. You see one or two stallkeeps glancin’ up to catch ya as ya go by—or maybe (prolly) it’s Keine they’re lookin’ at. Or maybe they’re just liftin’ their heads respective for one reason or another and it’s got nothing to do with either of you. There’s a lotta stuff to raise heads for here, after all.
“I’d like to ask you not to talk to Rinnosuke about the Outside any longer.”
And there’s something that makes your own head jerk up. “What?”
Now Keine shows her eyes again. “I’d like to ask you not to talk to Rinnosuke about the Outside any longer,” she says again—enunciates, even. Just to make sure ya don’t mishear. Or think ya did, which was the ish, just now.
Also, what times two.
“Ya mean—don’t answer any of his questions?” ya say leerily. “‘Cause he asks questions.”
“No. Please listen to me, very carefully. I’d like to ask you not to talk to Rinnosuke about the Outside any longer.”
And then she pauses there, like—didja get that?
Yeah, ya got that.
“You wanna ask me not to talk to Rinnosuke ‘bout the Outside anymore,” ya say, just to confirm.
Keine nods. “That is what I’d like to ask from you.”
Her eyes are clear, and piercin’, and don’t blink often enough for ya to feel comfy ‘bout it. Now you’re the dude that wants to stop meetin’ ‘em. Or at least if you could find something to say in response to a dude’s confession—that’d be good, too. Like, beaucoup, even.
And then, all of a sudden, Keine’s drilly gaze stops bein’ drilly and starts bein’ confused. And mildly gobsmacked. It drifts off your face, redirectin’ itself somewhere over your shoulder, and ya turn to follow it.
It’s the stand—the one you and Rinnosuke and Keine were at originally. Jeez, comin’ back took a lot shorter than the other way ‘round, didn’t it? Prolly helped there’s nobody Keine had to yak with the second time through. More importantly, there’s Rinnosuke.
More more importantly, there’s Rumia, hoverin’ in midair next to Rinnosuke, leanin’ towards the meats like she’s magnetized. She’s chattin’—her and Rinnosuke, with Rinnosuke—but ya can’t hear what’s goin’ on from where you’re standin’.
Not that it isn’t moot in a sec, ‘cause the moment Keine realizes ‘zactly what she’s lookin’ at, she rushes over to surreptitiously barrel herself in between the two of ‘em (leavin’ you to hoof it behind, incidentally). “Rinnosuke,” she says, something like a mite too loud to be normal. “You found her.”
Rinnosuke freezes halfway through gettin’ another thing of stick-food past his lips, his eyes flickerin’ between Rumia and this dude who just nearly put out his sternum, i.e. Keine. “It isn’t so much that I found her as it is she found me,” he says.
“There was food and I was hungry,” Rumia agrees, haulin’ a meat-stick of her own. Or two, actually—one skewer for each hand, each of ‘em chock fulla delicious or a variant thereof. And there’s no tellin’ it’s Rumia’s first coupla skewers, either.
Rumia’s prolly havin’ a good time, is what you’re sayin’.
“It’s good you waited here, then,” Keine says to Rinnosuke, and only to Rinnosuke. “Rumia might have come and gone without any of us ever seeing her.”
Rinnosuke glances over Keine’s head at Rumia again. “That might be true, yes,” he says.
His voice is distracted, almost more like steam slippin’ off from between the pipes than any kinda intended verbage, and ya wonder, suddenly, what it was that Rinnosuke and Rumia were talkin’ ‘bout, before Keine bustled into their hedgerow.
And speakin’ of the dude—
Keine tries to eke out a bit of comfiness in the basically-no-space she’s jumped. She fails with manic cheeriness. “Well, now that you’re all together, would you like me to show you around? I don’t think I’ll be needed right at this moment, so I should be able to show you some of the more interesting stalls that have been set up.”
“That wouldn’t be my decision,” Rinnosuke says. “Christie was the one who wanted to come—so you should ask her.” He nods your way to direct.
Keine follows the pointin’ of his mug till she’s lookin’ at you herself, her host’s smile greasepaint. “What about you? Is there something that you wanted to see here?” she asks.
“I kinda saw it already, dude,” ya say. “See?”
Ya punctuate with a easy gesture, a flick of the wrist at the stand you’re at. It’s not that quick, of course. Keine catches it, and follows it—and then totally doesn’t at all see what it is you’re seein’, lookin’ back at you with her smile pleasant and also totally uncomprehendin’. “You have?” she says.
“Yeah, we had the whole discussion ‘bout etymology and everything.”
The incomprehension tapers off. “You’re talking about the yakitori?”
“Hey, don’t knock the negima! That stuff was pretty cool. Right, Rumia?”
“I didn’t have negima,” says Rumia. “I had skin.”
“Fair ‘nuff. How was that?”
“I liked the part that was crispy.” Rumia pauses. “I also liked the part that wasn’t crispy.”
“That’s the sauce,” Rinnosuke says. He’s got another stick, replacin’ the one he had dropped when ya left ‘im. Or maybe replacin’ a replacement. Ya don’t know how much he’s had, either.
“Christie—Christoferson.” Keine fumbles with your name like she’s not sure where to cut it before just goin’ with the extra-formal whole hog just in case. “Other than this stand, isn’t there anything else you wanted to see while you were here?”
“Yeah, I guess it’d be kinda funny weird if we hiked all the way here just for the yakitori.” Ya put yourself into the whole group, on Rinnosuke’s other side, and give the matter a good musin’.
But not too much musin’.
“Ya know any stands that do cotton candy?” ya ask.
Keine looks stares at you. When she blinks, she does it like a dude who hasn’t had enough sleep and wants to savor it. “‘Cotton...candy,’” she echoes.
Yeah, that was a reach. And so’s this. “Corn dogs?”
“I haven’t heard of a ‘corn dog’ before, either—is that—” And the part that makes ya feel bad is that Keine is actually honestly concentratin’, rackin’ her brainmeats proper and everything. “I’m sorry—my English isn’t very good. Though, I might be able to find someone who speaks the language, if you don’t mind waiting.”
“Naw, don’t worry ‘bout it. Prolly if the name doesn’t ring a bell ya don’t have it at all.” What else, what else? “Funnel cakes?”
Rinnosuke makes a skewer-complimented gesture. “I recognized ‘cake,’” he says.
Rumia perks. “Is there cake?”
“That’s what I’m tryin’ to fig, dude,” ya say. Then, back to Keine: “What about churros? No, wait, wait—what about caramel corn? That stuff’s crackerjack!”
Keine does another measured blink. Her eyebrows reach towards each other like a coupla tragic star-crossed lovers. “All these things you’re naming,” she says, slowly. “You’re talking about more food.”
It doesn’t sound like a question, but ya answer it anyways. “Yeah—sorry, I guess I kinda wasn’t clear ‘bout that? Totally my bad, dude.”
“Isn’t there anything that you wanted to see here, especially, though?”
“Yeah? I mean, all that stuff I just said—”
“Other than food.”
This might deserve more musin’, after all. Ya turn to Rinnosuke. “Hey, Mac, is there anywhere you wanna see?”
“Not particularly,” Rinnosuke says.
Ya look back at Keine. And, with the forthrightest air of whaddya-gonna-do, ya shrug.
This is how ya festivate: First, ya eat yakitori. Then, ya eat more yakitori. Then ya eat food from the stall a coupla stalls down, which isn’t yakitori but tastes pretty good anyways.
It’s the stall after that where Keine begs off, mid-chowdown. Specifically: She apologizes, while your mouths’re full (some fuller than others, Rumia) and says that she’s gotta go, ‘cause she’s got “responsibilities.” Which might be true. If she’s a major factor of this fête goin’ on swimmingly, she can’t spend the whole night hangin’ out, even if it’s with the three awesomest dudes in Gensokyo.
Then again, maybe she’s just fleein’. She’s real hurried ‘bout that departure.
Then again then again, responsibilities.
Anyways, with Keine outta the ‘quation, stuff gets a lot less conversive. Turns out she was providin’ the majority of the verbage, and now that she’s not a thing anymore, most of what comes outta your three’s lips is just, “food, please,” and “how much,” and “thank you,” and “that’s good” (‘cept for one stall where ya hit something ya didn’t ‘spect to be so spicy, where your utterin’ lies more along the path of “sweet Christmas, Mac, hydration, stat!” but that’s the sorta risk ya run when you’re foodily adventurous). Ya don’t know how much time it takes, ‘zactly, but ya reach a point eventually where ya look down at the space food used to be and realize that fittin’ in another morsel’s gonna be straight up impossible.
“Well, Mac, I’m stuffed,” ya cheer. “Whaddya wanna do now?”
“I should be asking you that question,” says Rinnosuke, ‘round the hand holdin’ up his chin. Dude was the first of you three to stop eatin’, something like four or five stalls back—since then, he’s been patiently hostin’ your expedition. And fundin’ it, too.
Aw, man, all that effort ya put into figurin’ out how to pay ‘im back—ya just undid it, didntcha? And then some. ‘Cept when ya say “some,” whatcha really mean is “super tunloads.”
Eh, no use worryin’ ‘bout it now, ya guess. If ya wanna balance your karma, you’re just gonna hafta start again from here. “I mean, we’ve been tourin’ nothing but food stands since we got here, Mac. Which—I am totally fine with, obvs, but isn’t there something you wanna do while the festival’s still rockin’?”
“I said it to Keine already, didn’t I? There wasn’t anything in particular I wanted to see here.”
“Nuts. Ya really meant that, huh?”
“You thought I didn’t mean it?”
“Well, ‘cause if ya hadn’t meant it, now I coulda tagged along with you, while you did something ya wanted to do—is what I figured.”
Rinnosuks sighs. “I didn’t want to come to the festival in the first place,” he sets down, firmly and nonnegotiably, and also he said that to Keine too, didn’t he? More or less.
He only came ‘cause you wanted. Ugh. Ya knew, but havin’ it thrown righteously in your mug like this, ya can’t feel anything but a heel.
Well, now that you’ve confronted the ish, there isn’t anything left ya can do ‘cept to wind this event down. “Alright,” ya say. “Ya wanna go home, then, Mac?”
Rinnosuke considers this. Then he looks at Rumia, who’s, of course, still vittle-inhalin’ with the ease of a baleen whale on a krill feed—at least till she notices the eyes lightin’ on ‘er. She finishes the last of her little tasty batterball things (that no doubt’ve got a proper Japanese name thatcha weren’t listenin’ to) and looks back up at where the gaze’s comin’ from all like—
“Are you full yet?” Rinnosuke asks.
Which is kinda whatcha ‘spected, but still impressive. ’Specially considerin’ that Rumia’s rate of eatage has been outflyin’ yours this whole time.
Prolly not good news for Rinnosuke, though. Ya see ‘im heave a hefty sigh, slumpin’ in his steps with the weight of it. And then he straightens up, reachin’ for his change—
“Are we leaving?”
And then Rinnosuke looks back, ‘cause he’s gotta look back, ‘cause Rumia isn’t to his side anymore. She’s stepped away from the food stall—back, natch—and now she’s floatin’ there, toes grazin’ the ground, hands folded in front of her—komon, right? Anyways, lookin’ at ‘er, it’s pretty much amazin’ how much she looks the very model of a very well-mannered young dude and not like actually a dude that eats other dudes occasionally and also that spent the latest chunk of time stuffin’ her mug royal.
Rinnosuke stares. The hand reachin’ for his money stops reachin’ and settles. “Are you finished?” he asks, trailin’ off at the end, like that’s where he realized that him hopin’ on her is maybe not supposta be happenin’ here, generally.
“Nothing ever finishes,” says Rumia, smilin’.
“Are you finished eating.”
“Ah.” And Rumia tilts her head to ponder this, just for a sec. “Yes,” she says.
“But you’re still hungry,” Rinnosuke says.
“I’m always hungry,” says Rumia. There’s something funny ‘bout her smile, now thatcha look at it. Something lopsided, if you’ve gotta say—but before you can say for sure, she closes her eyes. “Et respondit ad illum Jesus: Scriptum est: Quia non in solo pane vivit homo, sed in omni verbo Dei.”
Which, y’know, what that means you dunno, ‘cause Latin. But with that, the whole Rumia-eatin’ matter’s settled, basically, so Rinnosuke nods the stallkeep an awkward goodbye, and you and him and Rumia start makin’ steady tracks in the direction home. Rummia settles between ya, electin’ not to hover for once, not even on her toes, her (not-old-timey-Japanese-lookin’) shoes kissin’ the ground solid as she takes up the middle of your peloton.
And that’s that, basically, as ya clear the stands and lights and the thickest parts of the crowd. Ya mosey with care down the grand stone stairway—Rumia hoppin’ the steps, ‘cause she doesn’t hafta worry ‘bout gravity, or any bruise-breakin’, bone-shatterin’ sudden stops comin’ consequential of a slip of the sole, the lucky dude—and by the time ya get to the bottom, with the noise and sight hidden by the whole ascent behind ya, the whole night feels almost like it didn’t happen. Like a dream, is what you’re sayin’. You’d nearly bet on it, if it wasn’t for the other dudes on the same path as you doin’ similar—walkin’ for home.
But then, of course, Rinnosuke guides ya off the path and into the line of trees borderin’ it, and ya step into the forest and—that’s it. Those dudes you were talkin’ ‘bout, just a sec ago? They might as well not exist anymore. Or not have existed anymore, ever, ‘cause that’s infinitely more terrifyin’, and also just as possible in a place like this where flying’s a thing and so is magic—
Okay, ya know what? That’s not a productive line of thought. For serious. You’re just gonna abort, if ya don’t mind. Which ya don’t.
Unfortunately, without something so solid and-slash-or terrifyin’ to fix on, your mind wanders easy, and it isn’t long till you’re back on the topic of host-inconveniencin’ houseguests and how ya far basically pretty solid into that category. What can ya do? Apologize?
Yeah, that’d be a start, actually. “Sorry, Mac.”
Rinnosuke turns his head sharp youwards, like he forgot you were there, or didn’t ‘spect to hear from you, at least. Which—ya kinda understand. You’re kinda surprised the trees didn’t just swallow up the decibels instantly somehow yourself, to be honest.
“What are you apologizing for?” Rinnosuke asks.
And with the dude’s face formed in something like actual passin’ confusion—wow, guilt. “Y’know, for makin’ ya bring me to the fair,” ya say. “I really shoulda figured ya didn’t wanna go from the start of it, right? ‘Cept I didn’t, so I sorta just dragged ya out here, so—I’m sorry?”
Wait, why’dja say that like a question? That was totally not a question.
And that’s successfully not a question, but also it’s severely lackin’. In ways.
“I’m seriously sorry.”
Better. Only, Rinnosuke’s mug, rather than clearin’ into a ‘spression of oh-right-that’s-true, settles even more thoroughly into that confused direction it’s already gone some distance in. “I still don’t see why you’re apologizing,” he sighs. “I was the one who offered to take you, in the first place.”
“Yeah, but ya wouldnta offered if I hadn’t made a whole stink about it the first night, right? So it’s my fault again.”
“You were quick enough to stop when I told you why I was leaving alone the first night, so I’m not sure anything you did qualified as a ‘stink.’ Besides, it was my choice whether to take you—I could have just as easily put an end to the matter entirely.”
“Yeah, but...” Dude, just accept the classification of this as douchery, already. “Like, ya coulda spent tonight indoors doin’ whatever instead of gettin’ dragged out here by yours truly, right? I stole that from you.”
“Well, it’s not as if I would have accomplished much of anything, anyway,” Rinnosuke mutters. Then, at regular volume: “And...it wasn’t as bothersome for me as you’re making it sound. There were parts that were interesting. The part about the potatoes, for example.”
“Ya wanna hear more ‘bout potatoes, Mac? ‘Cause I can do that.”
“Well, it wouldn’t have to be potatoes, necessarily—” He breaks off there, maybe sensin’ that he is sorta not landin’ it with this consolation, possibly, and switches tracks. “But if you feel guilty, there is something you could do for me.”
Your chance at redemption. “Hit me.”
“Could you sort through my collection of compact discs? Some of them are missing cases, and I can’t tell the difference between the ones that play music and the ones that don’t.”
And if that’s all he wants outta you, you can totally fulfill. It’s not gonna make up for you existin’ in inconvenient ways, but it’s a start, at least. “No problemo, Mac! I’ll get right on that—as soon as we land home.
“It doesn’t have to be done that soon. Just sooner rather than later, preferably.”
“Hey, if you’ve gotta pull off a job, better sooner than leavin’ it hangin’ over your head for weeks, right? So it’ll make me feel something like loads better, too.”
Rinnosuke hmms, and nods. “Then you do can do as you’d like,” he says, gently, and it’s not like he breaks into a sudden shiny toothy ecstasy-beamin’ smile, but—
Well, ya feel better ‘bout this, too.
Ya nearly start as a hand slips into yours. It’s a cool thing, cool enough that for the first moment ya barely notice it from the cold, winter-approachin’ air ‘round it. But then ya note: feelin’, and fingers, and ya glance over.
Rumia looks back from her spot next to you. Her eyes flicker down to the link she’s makin’, then up at your mug again.
“I want to hear more about potatoes,” she says.
Huh. “Double no-problemo, dude,” ya say. “Ever heard of french fries?”
She hasn’t. It’s awesome. You’re no psychologist, obvs, but you’re pretty sure her mind? Blown.
That said, I can't believe we've made it all the way to the end of a fourth thread. I'm really genuinely thankful to you all for sticking around. This story wouldn't be half of what it's been without your reactions, discussions, and theories.