You’re sittin’ on the shop floor, goods arrayed in front of you like you’re the one barkin’ wares here instead of Rinnosuke. Discs, specifically, and specifically set out in stacks like you’re mid-solvin’ the easier Tower of Hanoi—though really, it oughta be a “Tower of Lucas”, seein’ as ya seriously doubt that that tale the dude spun ever came anywhere close to outta Vietnam. Or India, for that matter. That legend’s got the same sorta faux-exotic stink over it as “may ya live in interestin’ times.”
But anyways, discs. And stacks.
“Okay, Mac, check it,” ya say. “This is the stack of discs I’m beaucoup sure’re music CDs. Like, ninety, ninety-five percent sure. Genre I don’t always know ‘cause alotta these dudes I’ve never heard of—” this dude on this disc’s got a sax, though; that’s usually a good sign, “—but like I said, music. Most likely music. Eighty-five percent sure, music.”
Rinnosuke, sittin’ across from you, squints suspiciously. “Why is that number decreasing?” he asks.
“This stack, meanwhile, is what I’m pretty comfy labelin’ the games and programs stack,” you continue ‘splainin’. “Comfier than with the other stack, even, ‘cause the labels’re usually more of a giveaway. I’m talkin’ maybe like, seventy-five, eighty percent sure I’ve got it right here.”
“You’ve already lost fifteen percent. Are you sure I should trust your appraisal?”
“Well, if you can pull another dude with better Outsider chops, I’d totally be down for a second opinion. Two heads, right?”
“Oh, right. Sorry, Mac—English proverb. ‘Two heads’re better than one,’ is how it goes.”
“There’s a saying we have that’s like that. ‘Three people who come together have Manjushri’s wisdom.’”
“I dunno who Manjushri is, but that’s fifty percent more head.”
“Manjushri is a bodhisattva, associated with wisdom—what’s this third stack?”
“Uh, yeah.” And you were kinda hopin’ that maybe Rinnosuke would just completely overlook stack number three somehow, but honestly that had no chance of happenin’. “These are the ones I’m not so sure ‘bout. Like, at all.”
“Less than seventy-five percent sure?”
“A bunch less.” Ya take the toppest disc off stack three and display it for Rinnosuke in all of its relatively-label-lackin’-, backroom-burnt-, and definitely-never-sold-commercially-ness.
Dude leans, tryin’ to decipher the sloppily markered katakana. “‘Suudoku’?”
“Right? Like, is it the game? Is it a band named after the game? Is it a band, but the name’s coincidental? We dunno, Mac.”
“I don’t know what ‘suudoku’ is in the first place.”
“It’s whatcha do if the anagrams’re too easy but the crossword’s too hard and ya don’t know how to play bridge. More importantly, these discs we’re gonna hafta toss into the CD player and see if they cough up the tunes or not. So, whaddya wanna start with?”
Rinnosuke hovers over stack one and then stack three, torn as he is on the precipice of this mad momentous decision (stack two, bein’ definitely a different species altogether, gets ignored, of course). Slowly, though, his hand starts driftin’ towards stack one, dippin’ through the haze, approachin’ ever closer to sax dude and his sax—
And then, ‘cause something’s gotta happen just when the mood’s gettin’ good, there’s a knock at the door.
Rinnosuke’s hand stops. He doesn’t move. You don’t move. Neither of you says anything, like maybe if both of you are very quiet and neither of you hears anything else it’ll be like ya never heard anything in the first place. Like it’ll all’ve been your respective imaginations, and you’ll be clear to get back on the task at hand—literally, in Rinnosuke’s case.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. You’re almost nearly close to considerin’ thinkin’ ‘bout breathin’ again when it comes a second time—a triplet of healthy raps at the front door. ‘Cept not so much “raps” as much as “pounds.”
Rinnosuke sighs. “I’ll see who it is,” he says, his hand fallin’ away as he rises himself up into shopkeep mode.
Yeah. Bummer. “No problemo,” ya say, anyways, ‘cause you’re awesome like that, but even so, ya get a look from Rinnosuke before the dude’s face turns away in full to focus wholly on door-related matters. Dude knows, in other words, which is bummer the second.
Wait. Isn’t bad stuff supposta come atcha in threes?
The door opens. Ya don’t see it, but ya hear it, clear enough, and ya definitely feel the sudden drift of cold air and wet as it detects an openin’ and moseys on in just to remind ya that the winter months’re comin’ and you’re sorta lackin’ the skin for it. And then, while you’re withstandin’ the urge to curl into yourself (‘cause you’re not gonna let a little change in temp beat ya), ya hear something else, something that sounds real familiar in a whole lotta ways:
“Hey, Kourin. Lemme in, won’t ya? It started drizzling all of a sudden, and now my hat’s gotten all wet.”
See, ya know that voice. Only complication is, last ya heard it it was comin’ out a mug that’d just gotten your fist in it.
So there ya go—numero tres. And also that’s your cue to screw your courage to the stickin’ place, ‘cause if there’s a speedin’ wreck headed for your ribs and nil chance to get outta the way, you’re gonna face it till it delivers.
And by “face it,” ya mean “scooch yourself into a corner and then peek around aforementioned corner so you can see her but maybe she can’t see you.”
Hey, you’re brave, not dumb.
“Yeah I don’t know,” Marisa’s sayin’. “It might be the focuser, but—”
Marisa’s holdin’ something out, one-handedly, and it takes a moment for you to recognize it, but there’s no way ya couldn’t—it’s that mystic something, the one that’s both saved and threatened your chattanoogas over your stay in Gensokyo. It doesn’t seem to be bein’ utilized for blasty purposes today, though—rather, Marisa’s presentin’ it, like she wants her gathered audience to take a careful look-see.
And Rinnosuke is takin’ a look-see. He’s peerin’ real close, in fact, close enough that you’re concerned, even if you’re pretty sure Marisa doesn’t have violence on her mind. That mystic something’s not something that could accidentally go off, is it?
Oh, wait—talkin’ happenin’, here. Maybe ya oughta tune back in before ya miss something important. “Yeah, I don’t know. Something’s out of whack, or misaligned, or something,” Marisa’s sayin’ now. She shrugs, bobbin’ the mystic something nearly into Rinnosuke’s gazin’ mug. “And you’re the one who tuned it up last, so I had to bring it over, right?”
“You’re not suggesting I had something to do with it breaking?”
“Hey, it’s not broken, just kind of off. And anyways, I’m not saying it’s your fault or anything—I’m just saying you’re the best guy to fix it at all. Ya oughta be flattered!”
“It’d be more flattering if it didn’t mean more work for me. When’s the last time you paid for anything you got from this shop?” But even while Rinnosuke’s sayin’ that, he’s palmin’ the mystic something just the same.
It makes ya wonder how much of his gripin’ is legit, and how much of it is just some implicit, quasi-formalized gripin’ ritual.
“Just put it on my tab—but hurry it up, alright?” Marisa tilts in her boots, grinnin’. “It’s dangerous for a woman to have to walk around the Forest of Magic without anything to protect herself.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re just as dangerous even without your Mini-Hakkero.”
“Ya calling me a brute? No wonder you’re all on your lonesome all the time. Ya don’t know anything about how to treat a maiden.”
Rinnosuke makes a shift of her head like he’d consider rollin’ his eyes, maybe, if this biz actually deserved the energy of it, but then turns deskwards away anyway, mystic something firmly gotten. To make with the tuneage, ostensibly. And Marisa, still all very smiley-smile, follows.
Which means she’s gettin’ closer.
Which means the amount of time you’ve got till ya find yourself crumpled around a Marisa-shaped fender just cut itself short by just about all.
If there’s any time for figurin’ out how you’re gonna stand, that’s now.
[ ] You can scrape and bow, even if ya don’t mean it. Gotta keep it harmonious. [ ] It’s all in the past, now. Clean slate the deal—make with the greets. [ ] It’s all cleared up, but ya oughta keep an eye on her, just in case. [ ] Forget just keepin’ suspicious—she’s a nogoodnik, through and through. [ ]
[x] It’s all in the past, now. Clean slate the deal—make with the greets. -[x] Keep out of schnoz-clobbering range 'till you're sure that's not what's about to go down. Just don't look like you're keeping out of schnoz-clobbering range. Fly casual, or something.
[X] It’s all in the past, now. Clean slate the deal—make with the greets.
Only problem is—like ya said—ya don’t have alotta figurin’ time. Which is why the most ya manage to do is stand up and get yourself leaned against the wall instead of huddled when Marisa comes into your view, and also the other way ‘round.
The latter’s a lot more significant, in this case.
It’d be sorta comic, if ya didn’t have any stakes in it. The second Marisa sees ya, she stops—but the ‘spression on her mug doesn’t change. Like she ‘spected you’d be here, but didn’t ‘spect you’d be here specifically, in this spot, so obviously eavesdroppin’. Is it obvious you were eavesdroppin’? It feels obvious you were eavesdroppin’.
But maybe that’s just ‘cause you were the one doin’ it. Quick, casual mode engage!
Perfect. Not a hitch in the breath. Ya even managed to incorporate a lazy, uninterested half-wave in there, like this isn’t possibly the moment before intense violence breaks out.
Marisa doesn’t wave back. She crosses her arms instead, which is the opposite of wavin’ back, if anything, and fixes you with a real steely gaze. “Ah, you’re still here, aren’t ya,” she mutters.
Not exactly the most harmonious of responses, but also not the sound of the front of your face gettin’ flattened, so you’ll take it. “Yeah, I’ve been hangin’—primarily as Rinnosuke’s sweet tunes facilitator. What about you? Whaddya been up to lately?”
“Ahh, been working on a few potions. There’s some kind of side effect that keeps popping up, but I don’t know what’s causing it exactly, and it’s hard to narrow it down when you’re the only one you’ve got to test them on.”
“I’ve also been working out a unified theory of magic. I mean, there’s bits and pieces already, so you’d think it’d be easy, but I can’t figure out how to fit them together. Plus they’re just real ugly, so they’ve gotta be flawed in the first place, right?”
You have no idea what she’s talkin’ ‘bout. “Uh-huh.”
“Also I’m running low on a bunch of herbs and roots, so I’ve got to take care of that, but it’s harder to find what I’m looking for when it’s this close to winter.”
“Because I used a lot of the herbs and roots I had already.”
“To make a poultice.”
“For my broken nose.”
That steeliness ya noted? Now thatcha consider it, it hasn’t lessened, even through all that peaceable speech Marisa’s been merrily spoutin’. If anything, it’s gotten steelier. Like, considerably. It’s considerable. It can be considered.
You consider it.
And that’s what finally breaks Marisa outta her veneer of alrightness. Not that she flies into a rage or anything—but she notably stops smilin’, and cocks her chin, and peers down at you down the slope of her nose like she’s lookin’ at something that deserves to be real small. “That’s all you’re going to say?” she says. “Ya punch me, and then when you’ve got to face up to it, all I get is, ‘Uh-huh’?”
Do ya feel some serious uncomfiness here? Yeah. Yeah, ya do. But also you’re not gonna stray from droppin’ some truth bombs when the sitch demands it. “No offense, dude,” ya say, “but ya kinda deserved it.”
Marisa’s already narrow eyes narrow narrower. “That’s a pretty outrageous thing to say when you’re face-to-face with a witch. Shouldn’t ya apologize instead?”
“Well, I mean, we’ve all got alotta stuff to say ‘sorry’ ‘bout, right?” But ya raise your hands anyways. Not like you’re surrenderin’, but more towards the universal gesture for “don’t worry; no monkey biz here.” “Tell ya what—I did punch ya in the face, though, right?” Pause. “Right?”
Marisa twigs onto that you’re actually waitin’ on an answer, here, if real sullenly. “Right,” she says,
“Well, you were gonna mince a horse leg into real bits. And then ya blasted Rumia. I’m not sayin’ that justifies any face-punchin’—” That’s a lie, you’re totally sayin’ that, but ya say it anyways, quick, before Marisa can get up any protestations, “—but, y’know, you did some stuff, I did some stuff, yeah? Let’s just brush it off and call it even-stevens.”
Oh, right, right, that’s way too Germanic for this settin’. Especially considerin’ the rhymin’ thing. “Quits. We’re quits.”
And you were totally sure that was the right vocab, too, but apparently this isn’t workin’ today. Time to call in for support: “Rinnosuke, help!”
“She means to say that she’d like to consider the two of you to be in equal standing.” Rinnosuke arrives, roundin’ the corner himself like the angel of translation he is. Or, y’know, youkai of translation. Half-youkai?
Well, whatever kinda translator he is, he arrives, and thankfully, and also deliverin’ translation, which makes it altogether too bad that Marisa doesn’t seem to receive it too good, if the squinchy eyes indicate any. “Putting the both of us on equal standing is saying too much, isn’t it?” She starts smilin’ again, ‘cept this one doesn’t even pretend to reach that aforementioned squinchin’. “I mean, unless this person’s learned a lot more in the way of magic since I saw her last.”
“I might have gotten that wrong—excuse me—I mean that—She means that she’d, ah, like to return to a blank page. Let all resentments be erased.”
“‘Specially violent resentments,” ya interject.
Rinnosuke huffs. “Especially any resentments that may lead to my shop taking on any more damage than either of you have already dealt,” he says.
“So basically,” says Marisa (and that smile’s gone a bit squinchy, too), “ya want me to pretend like she never punched me in the face.”
Rinnosuke looks ya. And maybe it’s not a one-to-one translation, but it’s close enough, so ya nod back. “Yes,” he ‘spresses.
“Even though she punched me in the face.”
Jeez, she’s really fixed on the whole facepunch thing, isn’t she? There’s no helpin’ it—you’re gonna hafta address it somehow if ya want to move forwards into a glorious future together already or whatever. “‘Kay, how’s this?” ya dip. “If ya promise you’re gonna drop any beef you’ve got against me, Rumia, or the horse’s leg...”
“‘Beef’ also means ‘resentment,’ Rinnosuke says. “Or ‘grudge.’ ‘Malice’?”
“Yeah, basically.” And back to Marisa: “Ya drop all of those, and I’ll let ya punch me in the face. But only as hard as I punched you.” Which is a ridic concession, of course, but if it’ll set clear the air, ya know you’re awesome enough to take one for the team—
And Marisa punches you in the face.
Okay, so, in retrospect, you’re not actually sure why ya ‘spected she’d take a minute of careful consideration or something before haulin’ off and—well, facepunchin’. Which is what she did. Facepunch, ya mean, not consider. ‘Cause ya ‘splicitly gave ‘er permission to punch ya.
In the face.
Are ya awesome? Yeah, you’re awesome. But there are times—rare times, but there times—when despite all that awesome? You can also kinda be a dope.
“That felt good,” says Marisa’s voice, comin’ a buncha feet straight away from your nose, which is also in an astoundin’ coincidence the same buncha feet straight up from the floor. “I can’t remember the last time I actually hit somebody for real.”
“Really,” says a Rinnosuke, somewhere.
“I mean physically. There’s rules, ya know.”
“Right.” There’s a sound of existence shiftin’, and then the Rinnosuke—your Rinnosuke, for sure—hovers into view. He looks caught somewhere between worried and ‘zasperated, and also upside-down. “Are you alright?”
Ya can’t help grinnin’, despite yourself. “Aw, Mac—ya really care!”
“If you consider fulfilling my basic role as a host ‘caring,’ then yes.” Rinnosuke’s head moves ‘round till it’s right-side-up again. And then there’s a familiar hand, reachin’ down for you.
You take it. It’s warm, and firm, and hefts ya up with a strength that’s hidden in those loose sleeves Rinnosuke’s always been danglin’. Ya only take your hand back once you’re standin’—and once the sudden pain outta you movin’ through space under the circumstances you’re under suddenly manifests itself. Like, ya didn’t yank your hand back on purpose, is what you’re sayin’. Your face hurt, is all. ‘Cause Marisa punched it.
“Are you alright?”
“It’s fine, Mac, she missed the schnozz.” And got your cheekbone instead, but better the hard part than the soft part, right? And you’ve gotta give due props: “Nice whallop, by the way—” (said in Marisa’s direction, natch) “ya went from not-punchin’ to punchin’ fast.”
Marisa looks sorta weirdly disappointed. Like a birthday dude who’s not allowed to let on they don’t like the gift they got. “Let me do it again. I don’t think I hit ya hard enough.”
“Ya want another go?”
“Ya said I could hit you as hard as you hit me, didn’t ya?”
“Well, ya can’t hit me in full now; ya already hit me. If you’re gonna hit me twice, ya gotta make sure you’re only makin’ up the difference, or else you owe me a punch.”
“Sure, stand still—I’ll be real careful.”
And there’s something ‘bout that delivery that suggests maybe she’s not gonna be as careful as she says she’s gonna, but however careful her careful is, ya never find out, ‘cause before it can properly careful itself into carefulness (or uncarefulness, whichever case it mighta been), Rinnosuke is there, jammin’ himself between the two of you hands first with a stutterin’ wordless exclamation heraldin’ it. “No fighting in the shop,” he says with feelin’, once he’s got Japanese again.
Marisa’s mouth twists. “Come on, Kourin, don’t tell me you’re taking her side.”
“I’m not taking anybody’s side. I just don’t want any fighting in the shop. If you’re going to fight, I’d rather you do so outside.”
“Oh, huh. Alright, then.” And her grin flows back onto her mug like it’s a dress she’s steppin’ into. “You heard Kourin,” Marisa says to you. “Ya want to step outside and get this incident finished?”
Yeah, see this? This is your suspicions becomin’ less “suspicions” and more “deffo this dude’s lookin’ to get additional facepunches in.” “Ya already got your owed facepunchin’,” ya say. “Like, if you punch me in the face again, all you’re gonna be doin’ is accruin’ facepunch debt, and then I’ll hafta punch you in the face.” Which, y’know, not thatcha mind, but ya already did that.
“Yeah? What about that ‘making up the difference’ stuff? You’re the one who said I could punch you again.”
“It’s not that much of a difference. Like, you can nudge me, is what the difference is. Any more than that and I get to make up that difference your way—dig?”
“‘Dig’ means ‘understand,’” Rinnosuke supplies helpfully, from where he’s still doin’ his best job as a K-rail.
“Fine,” says Marisa. “How hard do I get to nudge?”
“As much as it’d take if ya added it to the punch ya punched me with to equal the punch I punched you with. It’s basic math, dude.”
“That’s not ‘basic math.’ That’s classical mechanics, at least.” Still, Marisa goes all concentrated. Then, real careful, real deliberate, she reaches ‘round Rinnosuke’s chest—
That’s past Rinnosuke’s chest, obvs. She’s not huggin’ ‘im—
And sorta baps ya on the shoulder. Not hard enough to hurt, but a solid enough to jostle.
And then she takes her hand back, lookin’ curiously sore at the free go she just got to cash in.
“So, honor satisfied?”
“Yeah, sure,” says Marisa, clearly meanin’ the answer “no.” But she puts her fist away. “What’d ya do with it, anyway?”
“My horse’s leg,” says Marisa flatly. “Remember? Ya punched me in the face, and then ya took off with it. Except—I couldn’t figure out why. At first I thought maybe ya wanted to keep me from making a proper homunculus—make one for yourself, first—but now that I’m here I don’t see a sign of a homunculus or anything. Actually, now I’ve got to wonder if ya even know how to make a homunculus yourself in the first place.”
“Full disclosure,” ya say, “I totally don’t.”
“Right, right.” And then Marisa’s features seem to go all sharp, high-contrast, all at once. Which—no, of course they don’t, not really. ‘Cept, also, the fact that they sorta seem to do.
“So,” she says, “what’d ya take the horse’s leg for, huh?”
Ya don’t really have a window into the mind of Marisa, here, but ya bet in Marisaworld that question got accompanied by some beaucoup dramatic musical sting. Unfortunately for the viewers at home, though, it’s actually a pretty easy question, so there’s no need to stammer or get overcome by apprehension or anything else TV people do when they get hit by the big demeanor-shatterin’ one-liner. “Well, ya did sorta indicate you were gonna make with the slice-‘n’-dice. I had to do something.”
“Why? I mean, it’s a youkai. It would’ve gotten better eventually, probably.”
And that’s—yo. “Whaddya mean‘they woulda gotten better eventually, probably’?”
“It’s a youkai. They do that sort of thing. I mean, ya can’t kill a youkai as easy as that. You could probably keep cutting off bits forever and end up with the same youkai ya started with, if ya did it right.”
And that’s—yo! “Don’t cut bits off dudes,” ya say, and are ya startin’ to lose your cool here? Yeah.
But it totally deserves it.
Which, in a seriously uncool turnaround, is a concept that now fails to land on Marisa’s side in any way, judgin’ by the ‘spression she’s wearin’. “What’s with the reaction?” she asks. “Ya didn’t have a problem with me taking the youkai before.”
“Yeah, and that’s totally on me,” says you. “I was a real douchemeister, even if wasn’t on purpose. So I’m tryin’ not to be. Dig?”
Marisa hums. “I don’t really ‘dig’ at all. And plus, ya still haven’t answered my question, y’know.”
“I already said, right? What’d ya do with the horse’s leg?”
“Oh, yeah, right.” She did ask that, admittedly. Your bad. That said: “Uh, sorry, but if I’ve gotta be honest, I’m kinda not down with sayin’.”
“No offense, but I’m something like ninety-nine percent sure that if I letcha know where the horse’s leg is at, you’ll hunt ‘em down straight out.” Ya pause. “Or actually, nix that ‘no offense.’ Totally offense. I’m not real concerned about your offense right now.”
“Well, wherever ya put it, ya can’t keep it cooped up in here forever. Sooner or later you’re going to have to let it out, and if I caught it once, I can catch it again.”
Wait. She thinks you’ve got the dude hidden in a closet somewhere. You can definitely use this to your advantage. “I dunno, dude. It’s a crazy big forest. Who knows where the dude can be, right?”
And ya smile, full teeth.
It’s a smile Marisa returns. “Yeah, you can talk big, but you’re just an Outsider. Probably ya haven’t ever stepped out of this shack without clinging onto Kourin’s wrist.
Rinnosuke pauses in his vague refereein’. “‘Shack’?”
“But I live here. I know this forest, through and through.”
“Like I said—I dunno, dude. I bet Outsider dudes like me’ve got funny ways of thinkin’ ya mightn’t even consider.”
Marisa pshaws with full pshaw power. “The only funny things I ever saw Outsiders do is keep checkin’ their little...fiddly things.” Marisa mimes, pokin’ at an imaginary something-or-other in her other hand.
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“This isn’t a shack. I’ve worked hard to establish this shop—”
“Well, joke’s on you, dude. I left my cellphone at home!” How’s that for—wait. “Actually, actually sayin’ that aloud actually bums me out a little.”
“That’s what ya get out of an Outsider.”
Rinnosuke says the name like a dude wavin’ a whip. It’s all-of-a-sudden enough that you and Marisa halt it with the belligerence full brakes and by reflex look at the dude that cut himself in.
And said dude—that dude—looks—
He hasn’t been suckin’ on a lemon, but—
“We handed the horse’s leg over to the Myouren Temple,” says Rinnosuke, plain and simple.
Ya give a great jerkin’ flap of the shoulders accompanied by a silent gurnin’ of the jaw, the universal gesture for “Why would you say that?” ‘cause seriously, why would he say that? There’s a reason you were dancin’ ‘round that reveal here. But oddly enough, when ya look at Marisa, ‘spectin’ the worst, she doesn’t look triumphant at all. In fact, she looks basically the opposite—with a slump to her back and a mug displayin’ full sullenness.
“Huh,” she mutters.
“Is this the end of it?” Rinnosuke says.
“Yeah, yeah,” says Marisa. And then, like she wasn’t inchin’ into a shoutin’ match a sec ago, she turns, walks herself to the nearest empty wall, and leans.
It’d look a lot cooler if she wasn’t definitely avoidin’ eye contact with everybody.
Rinnosuke sighs, tiltin’ his neck backwards, like a weight’s been lifted, then he goes walkin’, too—partin’ from Marisa more than they’re already parted, into the shop back.
Ya follow. And let nobody say you’re missin’ self-control, ‘cause ya wait a full sixty seconds (enough for Rinnosuke to settle at his desk and start studyin’ the mystic something real close in earnest) before lettin’ loose with:
Rinnosuke looks up. “Yes?” he says.
“I can’t believe ya just told that dude where the horse’s leg went! Ya know she’s gonna hunt it down and get all ’sperimental! Wasn’t that what you were against?”
Rinnosuke looks down again, back to the mystic something. He gropes for another, less mystic something at the edge of his desk—some tool ya don’t get a good look at before the dude’s got one end in hand and the other end in the mystic something mystic something. There’s a quiet click, and the mystic something’s something’s something juts out, just a little.
“The horse’s leg is safe,” Rinnosuke says. “Marisa won’t harm it.”
“Yeah? And how do ya know that?”
Rinnosuke twists his whatever. There’s another click, and another side of the mystic something opens up, pushin’ out. Then he sighs, and takes his hands away from the whole work.
The unidentifiable tool sticks out from the mystic something like a pin out a cushion.
“I told her, after all,” Rinnosuke says. “The horse’s leg is in the care of the Myouren Temple.” And then, seein’ thatcha don’t get it still: “Marisa knows better than to commit any serious offenses against Hijiri or the rest of the Myouren Temple. That sort of incident wouldn’t be able to be smoothed over so easily. And if there’s one thing important in Gensokyo, it’s the establishment and maintenance of the state of things as they are.”
Yeah, no lie, ya still don’t get that, not really. And Rinnosuke sees that, too. Ya see ‘im purse his lips, and look up at the ceilin’, like maybe up there’s the words he’s gotta use if he wants to properly bridge the gap.
“Do you understand what I mean when I say ‘the state of things as they are’?” he says.
“Like—the stuff that’s the usual, right?” ya say. “The stuff that’s the norm. The status quo.”
Yeah, you dunno how to say “status quo” in Japanese. “I think it means the same as you’re sayin’?” ya say.
“Well, let’s say that it does, and move on.” Rinnosuke turns his eyes back to the ceilin’ again, and ya stand there, feelin’ awkward, while he collects the verbage a second time. “It isn’t correct to say Gensokyo hasn’t changed,” he says, finally.
“Okay,” ya say. Ya don’t really know where he’s goin’ with this.
“At the same time—” Rinnosuke cuts himself off, makin’ a face, and starts again. “Some time ago, an incident occurred wherein divine spirits began appearing across Gensokyo in large numbers. I’m aware you might not understand what a divine spirit is—in this case, it isn’t necessarily important. What is important was that it was an incident, and investigated as such.”
Ya nod, to indicate you’re followin’ along. ‘Cept for where he knows you’re not, obvs.
“At the end of the incident, a certain—Buddhist saint? Taoist saint? Regardless, some sort of saint had been resurrected within the Myouren Temple, and the divine spirits had gathered to witness the event—”
Rinnosuke pauses. He purses his lips again. And then, with a sudden ferociousness, the dude grabs the mystic something in one hand and the tool in another and jerk-twist-clicks.
Another unidentifiable component shifts.
“I’m telling this wrong,” Rinnosuke mutters. The bones in the back of his hand flex the skin over ‘em, like they’re considerin’ breakin’ out, maybe, but they’re not entirely sure.
You approach, and real careful ‘bout it, what with the object of his workage. But ya do approach—up, till you’re standin’ close ‘cross from Rinnosuke, on the other side of his desk, lookin’ down at the crown of his head as his head looks down at his hands (and what’s in ‘em). “So, start again, Mac,” ya say. “You’ren’t bein’ tested.”
Rinnosuke sighs again, though this one’s a long hiss of breath. Like machinery lettin’ off steam. “What you need to understand is that the resurrected saint is considered a religious authority, of sorts,” he says. “In addition, the place of her resurrection was within the property of another, opposing religious authority.”
“Byakuren, right? ‘Cause Myouren Temple.”
“Hijiri Byakuren, yes. In addition, roughly two years before this incident occurred, there was a different incident, after which Myouren Temple was established, and Hijiri Byakuren began advocating in favor of peace between youkai and humans. Today, both of these authorities have gained not insignificant followings.”
“So,” says Rinnosuke, “considering the establishment of multiple opposing religious movements in so short a span of time, you can surely imagine the state of the human village today.”
Yeah, ya totally can. “I’m guessin’ ‘hectic’?”
“Actually, it’s very peaceful.”
Or maybe it turns out ya totally can’t. “Huh,” ya say.
“Almost immediately after each incident, Gensokyo returned to its usual state of affairs,” Rinnosuke says. “Of course, there were presences that hadn’t been there before—new movements, new people and youkai, a new building, in the case of the Myouren Temple—but, even so—”
You’re waitin’ for the rest of the sentence a good, heavy handful of seconds before ya realize it’s not comin’. It’s just the sound of Rinnosuke breathin’, and you breathin’, and the steady tickin’ and clickin’ as Rinnosuke does something to that mystic something’s innards you’ren’t qualified to guess at. You’ll all set to raise your own voice—like, to ask Rinnosuke whether he lost track of the speech, tryin’ to do two things at once—when Rinnosuke gives one final turn of the whatever he’s turnin’ and then gently, carefully, sets the mystic something down on the desk in front of ‘im.
He looks up at you again, which is a relief, somehow.
“Do you understand what I’m trying to get at, exactly?” he asks, and whether ya do or not is moot, actually, ‘cause he barely gives a moment before he gives the answer himself: “Gensokyo changes—but even as Gensokyo has changed, it hasn’t changed at all—not really.”
[ ] Ya don’t get it. [ ] Ya get it, and that’s weird. [ ] Ya get it, but isn’t that a good thing? [ ]
I'd prefer the 'But isn't that a good thing?' option but we're a bit too deep into warring votes for that to pull ahead now.
Instead, well, Horse Leg is important to Christie and all, but that's not what's bugging Rinno here. And I kinda wanna see him explain what he's getting at instead of backtracking to the topic of Horses and Legs and Witches and all of that, in this situation.
He says that with a full stop attached thatcha actually feel, right to your keest, made even heavier with the weight of something that he’s got balancin’ behind his eyes. There’s an importance here—is what you’re gettin’. And maybe you’ve spun outta orbit of the original subject here—‘bout a horse’s leg and a witch and a temple and why those three elements apparently aren’t gonna meet with disastrous results—
But ya trust Rinnosuke, dontcha? If he says it’s gonna be alright, you can let it go for a handful of minutes before ya ask ‘im to expound proper.
And besides, it is weird, what he’s talkin’ ‘bout. “Like, so, you’ve gotta lotta dudes with different philosophies, is what you’re sayin’, sorta. And not only that, but they don’t just peacefully move into the neighborhood, but when they arrive they’re usually accompanied by some sorta business-stoppin’ brouhaha—did I get that right?”
“You’ve gotten that right, yes,” says Rinnosuke. His voice is absent, but his hands curl, seemin’ almost to flutter just off the top of the mystic something. Like they’re a bird, thinkin’ ‘bout flight for the very first time.
‘Cept birds don’t have hands.
Bat, then? Bats are cool.
“So like,” ya say, tryin’ to put into words the image Rinnosuke’s painted in your head which is difficult, but also more difficult ‘cause part of you’s still thinkin’ ‘bout bats, “I mean—with all the stuff in Gensokyo, stuck together like you’re describin’, with more stuff stickin’ up additionally all of a sudden, and with incidents—like, you’re sayin’ something bad shoulda happened by now, is what you’re sayin’. Right?”
“Yes,” says Rinnosuke.
“And that it hasn’t—is weird. That’s what you’re sayin’, right, Mac? ‘Cause you’d think by now—” And now it’s your turn to break it off and start again.
You’re not thinkin’ ‘bout bats, anymore. You’re thinkin’ of Marisa, and Reimu, and Alice, too, even.
You’re not dumb.
“Hey, Mac?” ya say. “Are youkai treated okay in the village?”
Rinnosuke’s hands curl more, ‘cept they’re no longer flappin’. They just curl, as Rinnosuke pulls ‘em towards ‘im. Like the reaction of a dude gettin’ burnt in slow-mo. “There are youkai that live in the human village easily enough,” he says.
That’s not an answer.
Which is an answer.
“Okay, but—do alotta youkai live in the village?”
Rinnosuke’s mug sorta twists, and ya think—yeah, he knows there’s no reason to not answer this question, ‘cept for the one he doesn’t wanna say. “No,” he says. “There are some, but it isn’t common. And even those who do live in the human village usually do so under special circumstances—such as Hijiri, and her disciples at her temple.”
“And everyone’s cool with that?”
“To make any serious move against Hijiri Byakuren would disturb the peace of the human village, if not Gensokyo as a whole,” Rinnosuke says. “Nobody wants to do that.”
Which is another not-an-answer that’s also an answer, but also ‘splains why the horse’s leg is safe from Marisa’s horse’s-leg-vivisectin’ clutches. Only, wait, no, actually, ‘cause it doesn’t necessarily ‘splain that at all. “I dunno, Mac. Like, maybe it’s different here, but you’d think even if doin’ it would land ‘em in the brig pronto, there’d still be some dude way too willin’ to throw a brick through someone’s window.”
“You would think that, yes,” Rinnosuke says, lookin’ past your head.
“Or,” ya say, “you’d think some high-rankin’ dude would tacitly endorse some sort of anti-whatever-group-it-is sentiment. Maybe say they oughta be separated from the rest of the population, sayin’ it’s for their own good, or something.”
“You would think that, yes,” Rinnosuke says again.
But if you’re followin’ the gist of what he’s sayin’ (more like—spirilin’ ‘round the drainhole, is what it feels like is happenin’), Gensokyo’s a place that doesn’t break out in beaucoup awful stuff in the lines of apartheid or pogromen, and not just ‘cause no one here speaks Afrikaans or Yiddish. Or Dutch or Russian, either. “But what you’re sayin’ is, those things don’t happen,” ya muse.
‘Cept not exactly, ‘cause you’ve seen dudes with awful bad attitudes—
“Well, not quite,” says Rinnosuke, neatly readin’ your mind. He sits back in his chair, his eyes fixin’ on ya proper even as his head tilts a little away. Like lookin’ atcha straight on in all fashions is gonna have dire consequences. “There is certainly ‘sentiment,’ as you put it. It’s only that, somehow, that that sentiment never comes to anything.”
“At least it never comes to anything important.”
Like apartheid or progromen.
Rinnosuke says that in a voice that’s flat, totally flat, like a dude pushin’ back on their sternum as they walk to make sure they’re keepin’ their posture perfectly straight. Even so, for a tick, his lip twitches—but only for a tick, and then it’s back to that calm, explanatory mug he’s got goin’ on here.
“Nobody ever makes a significant move against youkai,” Rinnosuke says. “In return, the only important youkai who seem interested in interacting at large with the human village are those who wouldn’t have gathered excessive negative attention in the first place. It’s very fortunate.”
“Fortunate and...weird how that goes so smoothly?” ya guess.
Rinnosuke tilts his chin, hummin’ like he’s tryin’ to suss out life’s meanin’ without even keepin’ notes as he goes. It’s a real there hummin’, the sorta sound ya couldnta missed if you’d meant to—a hitch too loud to be accidental and rampin’ down steady in pitch like something in a cartoon takin’ a long while to fall.
It’s basically your daily value in irony and then some, is what you’re sayin’.
“Of course, it’s not something anyone sensible would complain about, you understand,” says Rinnosuke. “Who would complain about humans and youkai continuing to coexist in peace, as limited as that peace is? No matter your intentions, it isn’t something that comes across well.”
Yeah, ya think you’ve got it, after all. “It’s not gettin’ worse, but it’s not gettin’ better, either—is what you’re sayin’.”
“And that is why Marisa won’t act to cross Byakuren, or her disciples. She understands this, even if she doesn’t understand she understands this.”
There’s something wiseacre stickin’ in your throat, something like “Say it any louder and Marisa will hear it—from where she’s hangin’ back there.” Something like that.
Ya swallow it down, and don’t say anything, instead. Just watch, as Rinnosuke slowy tears his gaze off from you, like a dude peelin’ off a bandage bit by stickin’ bit. Back to work. Back to the mystic something, which his fingers go back to feelin’ out.
“Tell Marisa that repairing the Mini-Hakkero will take two days,” Rinnosuke says. “No, better make it three. I may have to replace some of these parts entirely.”
Well, okay, not really. You’ve seen it before—something flittin’ over Rinnosuke’s face with the message of “I’d rather ya hadn’t seen that.” So sure, if you’re gonna be technical, maybe it’s not new at all.
But when it comes to Rinnosuke and Rinnosuke bein’ embarrassed, you can definitely say that this is the first time you’ve seen it this sustained. Here’s how it started: Ya left to give Marisa the news re: mystic something repairage, and when ya came back from usherin’ ‘er out the door amid various snipin’—Rinnosuke had settled. Or maybe “unsettled.”
He’d settled pretty firmly into bein’ unsettled. There. That’s more how it was. Like between you goin’ and you comin’ back, Rinnosuke’d suddenly realized that yeah, he had gone into a grand jeremiad on cultural stagnation in Gensokyo, actually, and now that feelin’ he was feelin’ consequentially was ultra-regret.
From your spot at Rinnosuke’s little backroom table, you can see the dude himself, hard at work. He’s sittin’ away from you at his desk, nose buried in a thick tome that he occasionally takes his eyes off just long enough to scribble something on a piece of scratch paper. Notes, or something. Whatever it is, it’s takin’ all of Rinnosuke’s attention.
But if ya do this:
Slowly, deliberately, ya filter every spare ounce of willpower you’ve got into your Rinnosuke-focused sightlines. Should Rinnosuke be able to feel this, logically? No way, obvs. But this is Gensokyo, where dudes fly and shoot magic on the reg, so logically, logic is kinda light here. E.g.: It takes a second or two, but Rinnosuke sorta stiffens, midscrawl.
Just as slowly and deliberately, the dude turns his head.
He sees ya lookin’ at ‘im.
And then he doesn’t, and then also he doesn’t see ya lookin’ at ‘im, either, ‘cause he’s turned his head back to his book so quick ya almost hear the whipsnap, and if ya thought he had his mug close in previous, now he’s basically practically tastin’ the ink. Which is rude, but not in the usual way.
Like: It’s not so much him dismissin’ your existence as it is him hopin’ that if he pretends hard enough, both of you are just gonna forget that that just happened. And also forget that he was mid-dissertation when ya gave Marisa the heave-ho, actually. Also also also super-hopefully maybe if he goes churchmouse proper you’ll both forget he went on that trail at all.
But he’s gotta be steadfast in this whole ignorin’-reality biz. One stray meetin’ of the eyeballs, and ya just might take it as a signal to swoop in and ask ‘im to continue where he left off. Which is the last thing the dude wants.
Which, y’know, fair enough. We’ve all done stuff that goes super-embarrassing two seconds after it’s too late to take any of it back. And ya totally understand this method of enforcin’ a let’s-not-talk-about-the-thing zone all up in the vicinity, too. You’ve carried out this kinda strat in the past, though you were always more likely to make with a frantic subject change whenever the no-go topic started rearin’ its ugly head—as opposed to what Rinnosuke’s doin’ now, i.e., dead-endin’ social interaction completely. Problem is—this thing that Rinnosuke’s doin’?
He’s been doin’ it for two days.
Which—part of you is actually really impressed! And a bigger part of you wants to grab Rinnosuke by the scapulae and shake ‘im till actual words fall out, even if they’re just “Leggo my scapulae,” and the like, and the only real reason ya haven’t is that you’re not sure you can keep the leverage, once you’ve grabbed ‘im. Dude’s tall.
[ ] Bust the dude outta silent mode with a carrot. [ ] Bust the dude outta silent mode with “force.” [ ] Dude’s gotta get over it on his own. Leave ‘im be. [ ]
[X] Bust the dude outta silent mode with a carrot.
So there’s only one thing you can do. Well, actually, there’s alotta things you can do, even if you’re limitin’ “things” to “things you can do to solve this standoffish-Rinnosuke problem,” but this is the thing ya thought of first, so there’s only one thing you can do.
“Hey, Rumia?” ya say.
Rumia looks up from her prone-ish spot on the floor. “Ish,” since she’s kickin’ her legs up behind ‘er lazily and proppin’ her face up in her hands while she reads...well, you dunno what she’s readin’, actually, but whatever it is, she’s been fixed in it for the last twenty minutes.
That’s pretty much amazin’.
“Mm-hmm?” she says.
Last chance to reconsider. Ya don’t. Reconsider, ya mean. “Ya wanna help me with a thing?” ya ask, instead.
Rumia stops kickin’.
This prolly means “yes.”
Step one is gettin’ rid of Rinnosuke.
Not permanently, of course! Jeez, that sounded bad even while you were thinkin’ it. But anyways, if ya want what you’re wantin’ to do to have the effect you’re wantin’ it to have, Rinnosuke can’t be here for a while—is the problem.
Which means you’ve gotta figure out how to remove Rinnosuke from the vicinity. Temporarily, in case that still needs specification.
“Yo, Mac,” ya say.
Rinnosuke inclines his gaze outta his desktop surface, lookin’ at nothing, and then, after a sec, lookin’ at you. “Yes?” he says.
“Have ya got anything you’ve gotta do today?”
Ya get another pause at first, while the gears in Rinnosuke’s head spin. You can hear ‘em spin. And they make a sound like, “why-is-she-askin’-that.” “No...” says Rinnosuke. “I already did the shopping I needed to do immediately, and I don’t have anyone to visit...”
Well, nuts. “Couldja get something you’ve gotta do today?” ya say.
Yeah, ya don’t know why ya thought that’d work. Maybe better take it direct: “I’m gonna level with ya, Mac—this is gonna sound beaucoup suspicious. But.”
Rinnosuke starts peerin’ with intent. “But?” he ventures.
“But—I need ya to not be here from here till dinnertime.”
The peerin’ starts gatherin’ a suspicious flavor. Like ya thought (and said) it would. “Are you...kicking me out of my own shop?”
“Don’t think of it as gettin’ kicked out; think of it like you’re temporarily leasin’.”
“Wouldn’t I need to get something back for that?” Ya see Rinnosuke relax as the talkin’ continues. ‘Cause it’s familiar grounds, prolly. And also grounds that don’t seem to border on your last meaningful discussion.
“You are gettin’ something back for it. I just can’t tell you what it is. Which is also suspicious, I’ve gotta admit, but yeah.”
Rinnosuke’s gaze is a soul-searchin’ one. Soul-dredgin’. It goes from one end of the room to the other and cooks the particles along the way before reachin’ into your brainmeat and—rummagin’, ya guess, since Rinnosuke prolly doesn’t know what he’s lookin’ for, just that he’s lookin’ for something. But havin’ found (or not-found) it, he shuts off the headlights, or at least directs ‘em back to his desktop again. “Fine,” he says. “Fine. Is there any time in particular you’d like me not to be here?”
“I dunno. What times’d work better for you?”
“You do realize how ridiculous it is for you to be asking me when I’d like to be removed from my own shop.”
And you’re all set to snap at Rinnosuke that yeah, ya don’t need ‘im to point out how crazy-stupid this part of the plan sounds when it’s explicitly spelled out like he just did, when—
What was your plan again?
‘Cause if the end goal of your plan, whatever that was, was “get Rinnosuke back to speakin’ easy”—
Maybe if you’re knee-deep into this kinda conversational tone as you are, you’re doin’ it all wrong.
So maybe ya oughta hit this with another another angle. Or like, another another angle, seein’ as the second one you’ve tried isn’t workin’ out so well. So: “Rinnosuke, I wanna do something for you,” ya say.
Ya see Rinnosuke’s Rinnosukeness take a psychic jerk, like he’s in the passenger seat of a car that just nearly missed the exit, only the driver noticed at literally the last second and swerved practically ninety degrees off the freeway to catch it. Over the solid lines and everything. Only it’s just mental, obvs. “You want to do something,” he says, once he’s recovered. “What is it that you want to do?”
His tone is tentative. No, wait—apprehensive. Which: Rude.
“I can’t tell ya.”
“You can’t tell me.”
Something something you’re Narcissus again, but playin’ wiseacre isn’t gonna jump ya points right now, so ya choke down the observation. “I want it to be a surprise,” ya say.
Rinnosuke rubs at the bridge of his nose, over the bridge of his specs. Hey, that’s two bridges! Only they’re perpendicular to each other. Huh. “You want to do something, but ya don’t want me to know what it is,” he sums up, soundin’ way too tired.
“Till it’s done and I can’t properly present it, yeah.” And you’re a reasonable dude, so—compromise: “If I can’t convince ya to hang somewhere else, couldja stick to this room, at least? That way ya won’t see.”
Rinnosuke looks over his knuckles atcha. Then he puts his hand back down till it’s twitchin’ against his desk, eye contact with ya unbreakin’ all the while. Then, after a moment of just that—he closes his eyes, sighin’. “Is Rumia here?” he says.
“Rumia doesn’t know what I’m doin’,” ya say, ‘cause it’s true. “I haven’t told ‘er yet.”
“That’s not what I asked. But Rumia is here?”
“I mean, she was here when I came in to talk to you...”
Rinnosuke rises from his desk with all the gravity of a dude attendin’ his own execution. Ya follow ‘im out, and back into more book-featurin’ surroundings.
Rumia’s still here, though she’s shifted to sittin’ properly. Or more proper, seein’ as she’s still on the floor. Her head’s higher than her legs, now, anyways, and it (her head, ya mean) lifts even higher when Rinnosuke enters the picture—on account of lookin’.
“Rumia,” says Rinnosuke.
There’s a moment of not-sayin’-anything. Rinnosuke closes his eyes, bowin’ his head almost imperceptibly, reachin’ up again to have another go at massagin’ his face—but then he catches himself and lets his arm drop back down to his side. Generally reposes himself, actually, and when his eyes open again, they’re gazin’ Rumiawards straight and serious.
“Please keep Christie out of trouble.”
Rumia closes her own eyes, sittin’ there. Not tight, just gentle. It leaves her lookin’ beaucoup the picture of serenity. “Super speculam Domini ego sum, stans jugiter per diem; et super custodiam meam ego sum, stans totis noctibus.”
“I don’t know what means,” says Rinnosuke. “Nobody knows what that means.”
“They should know what it means,” says Rumia openin’ her eyes again. “It’s important.”
Rinnosuke maintains his own dead starin’. “Please keep Christie out of trouble.”
And that’s fair.
Wait, no, that’s only fair if Rinnosuke’s actually leavin’. “You’re goin’?” ya ask, as the dude starts to turn away.
He stops. “Didn’t you want me to?”
“Yeah, but—you don’t hafta, is what I’m sayin’. I can totally adjust!”
“I believe you,” Rinnosuke says, “but this way seems easier.”
And before you can come up with anything to say in response to that, he just crosses away and gone.
The sound of the front door shuttin’ sounds...wrong, somehow. Like someone playin’ a familiar tune suddenly jammin’ their fingers in the wrong chord.
This plan, right?
You’re really hopin’ it actually works.
“Okay, Rumia, check it: How do ya feel ‘bout procurement?”
Rumia, it turns out, works fast. Though, y’know, she can fly, so tailin’ it corvine prolly doesn’t take nearly as long as navigating all the trees would. Still, there’s the way back to consider, too. If ya can’t fly back, that’s a lengthy chunk of time to account for.
So it’s good that Rumia can fly back, is what you’re sayin’.
And also the dude she’s brought with ‘er. “Yo,” ya greet ‘er. You’ve been hangin’ in Rinnosuke’s shop’s doorway waitin’ for the return, seein’ as ya didn’t have anything else you could do. Yet. “I see ya got my message.”
Keine Kamishirasawa looks at you with something halfway between irritation and bewilderedness, which you’re tentatively gonna call “irrildertion.” “I didn’t get any sort of message,” she says. “I found Rumia in my room and she refused to leave until I promised I would leave with her.”
“That was actually basically the message. Awesome job, Rumia.” Ya thumbs-up the fetchin’ dude.
Rumia hum-nods back.
Keine looks between the two of you with third ‘spression added to the mix. Ya think it might be betrayal, so...“betrirrildaltion”? No, wait, that has way too many approximants. “Was there a reason you sent Rumia to seek me out, then?” she asks.
“Yeah. It’s got to do with Rinnosuke.”
“Rinnosuke?” And just like that, Keine is suddenly totally wide-eyed and attentive. “Is he alright?”
And that’s a complicated question. “Well, I mean, he hasn’t been showin’ any indication he’s gonna bite it anytime soon—”
Ya keep forgetting most of these Gensokyo dudes’ren’t so good at understandin’ Outside talk. “He doesn’t look like he’s gonna die, is what I’m sayin’,” you reword yourself. “Problem is, ever since Marisa stopped by—”
“I actually don’t know any other Marisas.” Ya look at Rumia. “Do ya know any other Marisas?”
“I don’t know any other Marisas,” says Rumia.
“There are a number of other Marisas,” says Keine, “though very few. What did Kirisame do?”
“Marisa didn’t do anything,” ya say, which is technically a lie, but true enough in the way Keine’s askin’. “I was just usin’ her to chronologically reference. Point is—ever since the time Marisa stopped by, Rinnosuke been sorta...” Ya trail off, wonderin’ how you’re gonna put it.
“‘Sort of’?” Keine prompts.
“I dunno. Sorta standoffish?”
Keine blinks, processin’, but then a small, wry smile forms. “Rinnosuke has always been a little like that,” she says. “He’s not the sort of person who opens up to people so easily. But that’s just how Rinnosuke is, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
And like, yeah, normally you’d maybe agree with that analysis, but there’s Rinnosuke-standoffish, and then there’s the kinda standoffish that’s happenin’ now, which is...different. Concentrated?
No—more than that, it’s more like there’s something there that wasn’t there before. Something not so conducive to this whatever-it-was that you and Rinnosuke’ve had (whatever that was, even—but that can wait another day for wonderin’). Like a blind spot in your eye, ‘cept you’ve suddenly noticed that it’s bigger than it oughta be.
And maybe it’s gettin’ bigger than that.
Only, ya don’t say any of that. Ya nearly do—open your mouth to spout it off, preformed by your internal narration—but ya don’t. It doesn’t feel right to say it to Keine. It’s not—ya mean, she hasn’t got, yet—
It’s yours, is the thing (yours and Rinnosuke’s). It’s yours. So ya say instead, “I dunno, dude. It’s just a feelin’. ‘Sides, I wanna do something for Rinnosuke for lettin’ me hang this long.”
“So you wanted to consult with me.”
“So I wanted to consult with you, yeah. More specifically, re: eats.”
Keine does that slight-headshake lean-forward thing dudes do when they don’t get what it is you’re layin’ down. “I’m sorry?”
“Well, there’s not alotta ways I can pay ‘im back, right? I mean, I can tell ‘im how Outside tech works, and I’m developin’ this whole musical genre sortin’ algorithm, but even with that down, there’s no way it’s breakin’ even with how I’m takin’ up his shopspace and usin’ his rice. Which is where you come in—re: eats!”
Ya get so excited in the middle of your mini-monologue thatcha end up punctuatin’ the end of it with a flourish, pointin’ your finger straight in Keine’s mug. Which becomes a frownin’ mug, as Keine leans outta the line of your indexer. “You...want me to help with something to do with food,” she says, while she floats.
“Yeah. To be specific, I need you to help me make it. ‘Cause one, I dunno any Japanese recipes, and two, I dunno where the stuff’s kept you’d use in Japanese recipes. It’s not like I can pop down to the local convenience store and pick up a jar of mole rojo.”
There’s a pause.
“‘Cause mole rojo isn’t Japanese,” ya ‘splain.
There’s more pause. Keine straightens back into where your finger isn’t anymore, stickin’ you with eye contact all on her way up. Call it a hunch, but that doesn’t look much like an I’m-totally-aboard-the-help-Christie-learn-cookin’-train ‘spression she’s wearin’. Like, it doesn’t look hostile, but she’s definitely still on the platform and not actually on the transport yet. “That’s why you sent Rumia to find me?” says Keine. “So that I could teach you how to prepare food for Rinnosuke?”
“Ya did make ‘im that lunchbox that one time. So I figured you’d know the first thing ‘bout Japanese food, at least?”
“Well, you wouldn’t be wrong, in that regard. And—I suppose that if this is for Rinnosuke’s sake, I don’t have anything else that needs to be tended to immediately.”
“Rumia, help me out here?”
“Rumia, help me out here more helpfully?”
“Manducemus et epulemur.”
No reinforcements. “I’m psyched,” ya say to Keine instead, and then speed on, in case she doesn’t get that, either. “So, what comes first? I wanna see if I can get this finished before Rinnosuke gets back and sees what I’m springin’ on ‘im.”
“Oh, is this intended as a surprise?”
“Yeah, ya got it! Basically a surprise thanks-for-lettin’-me-mooch present.”
Keine nods, but with a sorta strainedish look on her jaw. Like even though she’s goin’ forwards, she’s still not totally aboard. Which I guess means she’s train surfin’, if you’re gonna follow the metaphor ya set out earlier. “What is it that you’re planning to make?” she asks, anyways.
“No idea, dude,” ya say.
Oh, hey, it’s your good friend, the pause, and also Keine lookin’ like she wants to say something and also not sayin’ that thing specifically. “That’s alright,” is what she does say, eventually. “I understand that it might be difficult to decide when you have that many choices. How about this—what food do you have on hand right now?”
“No idea, dude,” ya say.
Keine somehow manages to personify what’s gotta be the full body of unamusement she’s feelin’ atcha right now. It’s a doozy, ‘specially considerin’ you’re gettin’ it at point-blank range. “Yeah, I toldja,” ya say, “I dunno from Japanese recipes at all.”
“That’s fine,” says Keine, in a voice that suggests that that’s not as fine as she’s playin’ it. “We’ll just start with something that isn’t as complicated.”
Ya think of notin’ aloud that the qualifier you’re shootin’ for is less uncomplicatedness and more whether it’ll fill Rinnosuke’s stomach, but then ya don’t.
Maybe don’t bite the hand that feeds ya, right?
Ya hear it, carried from far away, on the faintest of ocean winds. The hauntin’ melody of two drumbeats and a cymbal.
“One soup, three side dishes,” says Keine. “You can use this phrase to understand the makeup of a typical meal.”
Ya understand the words easy enough, but you’re findin’ it kinda hard to apply ‘em to what Keine’s got laid out in front of you. Like, it’s not a lot of foodstuffs, but seein’ this wall of it in its un-proper-mealed forms is kinda intimidatin’.
At least ya know it’s all the right stuff. Keine took care of that, even if she did hafta zip out and back again to fetch a coupla items Rinnosuke was lackin’. Come to think of it, ya didn’t actually have any guarantee she’d come back—she coulda skedaddled, sayin’ she was off to fetch, and ya woulda been left here sittin’ on your metaphorical keys.
But she did come back, so that’s fine. Right? Ya raise your hand. “What about rice?” ya ask.
Keine blinks. “What about rice?”
“Is rice one of the side dishes?”
“No, rice isn’t a ‘side dish,’ precisely.”
“So this isn’t gonna have rice in it? ‘Cause we eat alotta rice. We eat alotta rice, right?”
“We eat a lot of rice,” Rumia agrees.
“Rice is part of a typical meal,” says Keine. “It’s only that it isn’t one of the side dishes.”
Huh. “That seems inconsistent,” ya say. “Ya oughta call it, ‘one soup, three side dishes, and some rice,’ then.”
“And pickled vegetables, too,” Rumia adds.
“The veggies’ren’t a side dish, either?” says you. “Okay, ‘one soup, three side dishes, some rice, and also some pickled veggies.’ Now that’s all of it, right?”
“Cool!” ya turn back to Keine. “Problem solved. What’s next?”
Keine gazes into your soul.
“For the pickled vegetable dish, I’ve brought some cucumbers. Normally, I would pickle them for one or two days, but since this is your first time, a few hours should be fine.”
You inspect the preproduct close. Yeah, that’s cucumbers, alright. “That’s weird,” ya say.
“Is something wrong?” says Keine.
“Nah, I was just thinkin’—once these cucumbers get pickled, they’ll be pickles, right?”
“You’re asking me if they will have been pickled?”
“No, I know they’re gonna’ve been pickled. What I’m sayin’ is that pickled cucumbers’re pickled, but also they’re pickles. But just ‘cause something’s pickled or a pickle, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a pickle. I mean, even if it is, y’know, a pickle. Right?”
“You’re sayin’ things weird again,” says Rumia.
Keine gazes into your soul.
There are jars and bowls and all kindsa other stuff with stuff in ‘em, and Keine stands in front of ‘em like a game show host introducin’ a new car. “To make miso soup, we’ll need dashi and miso,” she says.
“Problem,” ya point out. “I dunno what that is.”
Keine nods jerkily, like now she’s considerin’ the company she’s got at the mo, and yeah, now that she is considerin’, your not-knowin’-the-thing kinda figures. “Dashi,” she patiently ‘splains, “is a kind of soup made from konbu and katsuobushi.”
“Problem. I dunno what konbu is, either.”
Keine nods again, this time a little more like a dude itchin’ for the end of talk. “Konbu is a kind of edible kelp. We’ll be using dried konbu, soaking it and boiling it in water to bring the flavor into a broth, then adding katsuobushi—”
Keine twitches. “Fermented dried tuna. Is that all you have a problem with, or is there anything else you’d like me to explain for you before we continue?”
“Well,” ya say, tentatively, “I actually dunno what a miso is, in the first place, so...”
Keine stares into your soul.
“I was able to find this at the market,” says Keine, unwrappin’ a small but solid-lookin’ load. “As far as the side dishes go, this is one of the easier ones to prepare, so it should work for you making dinner.”
Ya lean forwards for the reveal. “Smells like fish,” ya note.
“Yes, well—it’s the collar of a yellowtail. We won’t need to do much more than cook it on the stove for a little less than half an hour. First, though, we’ll want to brush it with some oil...”
Keine walks ya through the mini-paint-job, then guides you guidin’ it onto the heat. “Remember to keep careful watch, though,” she says. “You don’t want it to end up overcooked.”
“Yeah, I getcha. Rumia, couldja keep an eye out for us?”
“Okay,” says Rumia. And with the formality of a military presentation, she fixes herself in front of the stove and stares.
Granted, most militaries don’t have their soldiers stand with their arms straight out, but yeah.
Once this delegation’s set straight, though, Keine turns ya lightly by the shoulder and lowers her voice, like she’s got a secret to tell. “Are you sure that’s wise?”
“Yeah?” ya say. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“You...don’t see anything wrong with putting Rumia in charge of watching over your food?”
“Naw, not really. Yo, Rumia—ya are totally alright with overwatchin’, right?”
“I am,” says Rumia, not even movin’ her eyes.
“And makin’ sure that stuff doesn’t burn too long?”
“Quis poterit habitare de vobis cum igne devorante? Quis habitabit ex vobis cum ardoribus sempiternis?”
You consider that, for a tick, then turn back at Keine again.
“That prolly means ‘Yes.’”
Keine stares into your soul. The stare passes through, unpowered, and goes out the other side of it.
Her face is limp, ‘spressionless. Her eyes’re two circles, with big black dots in the centers.
“Hey, this stuff turned out pretty good!” ya say.
Keine doesn’t say anything back.
“I mean, it smells good, at least,” ya say.
Keine doesn’t say anything back.
“We make a pretty good team, cookin’,” ya say. “You do the directin’, and I...”
No, wait, Keine did most of the veggies too, right?
“And I...” ya say.
And it was basically her preparin’ the meat and the rice, while all ya did was follow her footsteps. Handsteps? Handprints?
“And I...” ya say.
In fact, if you’re gonna be honest strict, it’s more like Keine did all the cookin’, while ya watched and took mental notes. At least, you were supposta be takin’ mental notes. And ya did! It’s just thatcha don’t know if everything ya set down in your brain is gonna stick—
“I helped!” ya say. “Hey, dude, maybe you can come over again and talk me through the steps next time? Or we could fix something else! I mean, one meal can’t be the limit of Japanese cuisine.”
Keine stirs to life the same way a crowd stirs to terror. “No,” she says. “I mean—no, you needed my help because you wanted this to be a surprise for Rinnosuke, didn’t you? Now that there’s no need for that, there’s no reason you can’t experiment on your own. Rinnosuke should be able to help you, too. I understand he has been preparing most of your meals already.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Maybe next time I can try his faves, then. Though prolly he’d cook his own cookin’ better than I would—”
You’re interrupted by Rumia glidin’ into the room—glidin’, literally, her toes skimmin’ the floor as she swoops upright, then touchin’ down in their landin’. “He’s coming,” she says, cheery as ever. Or do ya note a note of surprise-party excitement quiverin’ in her voice?
“Well, then,” Keine says. “I should leave, shouldn’t I?”
Keine smiles, lookin’ kinda sickly. “You wanted to thank Rinnosuke by making a meal for him, didn’t you?” she says. “It wouldn’t do any good to tell him that I helped you. As a gesture, it wouldn’t be as meaningful. And...I’m sure being there would only ruin the mood.”
[ ] Keine’s sayin’ ya oughta lie, but ya guess it’s alright if she want to give ya credit, so sure. [ ] No way. You and Keine and Rumia did a team-up, didntcha? So that’s how you’re gonna present it. [ ] Forget “helpin’ ya.” Keine practically pulled the whole shebang! She deserves credit most of all. [ ]
>Rumia closes her own eyes, sittin’ there. Not tight, just gentle. It leaves her lookin’ beaucoup the picture of serenity. “Then he cried, Lonely as lion am I, that have charge of the Lord’s watch-tower; day after day I have stood here, night after night I keep my post.”
>“I don’t know what means,” says Rinnosuke.“Nobody knows what that means.”
>“Rumia, help me out here?”
>“Rumia, help me out here more helpfully?”
>“Naw, not really. Yo, Rumia—ya are totally alright with overwatchin’, right?”
>“I am,” says Rumia, not even movin’ her eyes.
>“And makin’ sure that stuff doesn’t burn too long?”
>“Which of you can dwell with devouring fire? which of you shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”
>You consider that, for a tick, then turn back at Keine again.
[X] No way. You and Keine and Rumia did a team-up, didntcha? So that’s how you’re gonna present it.
Ya snort. “Are ya kiddin’? There’s no way I’m gonna gettin’ away with sayin’ I pulled this off on my own. I mean, I coulda, if I’d really, really had to. But it definitely wouldnta turned out half this good—or a quarter, even.”
Now Keine looks sickly and uncomfortable, even with that very-nice smile plastered over her jaw. ‘Specially with that very-nice smile plastered over her jaw. “I’m sure you could have managed as well, if you’d given yourself the chance.”
“Ya mean, even though I dunno any Japanese recipes, I dunno any Japanese foods, and I dunno the layout of the typical Japanese kitchen.”
Keine takes your retortion with the same sorta strangled grace as a dude anglin’ for a raise does when their boss’ beloved pet Maltese starts takin’ Maltese-bite-sized chunks outta their shin. “Sometimes, when it comes to a gesture like this, what you do isn’t as important as the fact that you did it at all,” she says, inchin’ for the door. “Rinnosuke is kind, despite what he shows at times—I—”
She cuts herself off (also, stops inchin’ for the door). A funny ‘spression forms over her mug, swallowin’ all else.
“I’d like to believe that he would understand,” she says, and starts ichin’ again.
“You can see what he understands yourself, once he gets in,” ya say, inchin’ after. “Look, Rinnosuke’s never gonna believe me and Rumia cooked this all up on our own, irregardless, right? It’s not like your role in this whole shebang is gonna be a secret.”
“You wouldn’t have to say that it was me who helped you,” says Keine, ichin’ slightly faster. “Just saying that you needed help should be enough.”
“Yeah, and who else coulda done it?” Ya pick up your pace. ‘I mean, who’re you suggestin’ here? Alice? Alice hates Rinnosuke’s guts.”
“It could be anyone else who frequents this shop. Reimu—Marisa—”
And the fact is, ya don’t know enough ‘bout Reimu or Marisa to say they wouldn’t, so it’s a good thing that Keine, lookin’ over her shoulder to talk atcha, just in that moment finds Rumia in prolly the most awkward way anybody can find anybody, i.e. by walkin’ straight into them even though if the walker had had their head turned in the proper direction they woulda seen the dude walked into was clearly there and nowhere else.
It catches Keine pretty enough by surprise that she loses instantly that Reimu-Marisa-related train of thought she was spoutin’ off and just goes silent. Silent, and starin’ at Rumia in that mute astonishment.
Rumia stares back. Smilin’, arms out wide. Also, blockin’ Keine’s way through the door.
That’s prolly an important point to include. Maybe.
Keine spends another coupla seconds gazin’ down at Rumia confusedly before it occurs to her that this is an obstacle she oughta be able to circumvent, easy. She steps to the left—
Rumia also steps to the left.
Keine stares down at Rumia with a ‘spression like of all the possible reactions she coulda gotten outta Rumia, this is the sole one her math missed. But yo, no matter—she steps to the right—
Rumia also steps to the right.
Yeah, now Keine’s worried. She thought she was dealin’ with some sorta Joe Moron here, but Rumia just busted out her grandmasterness and put ‘er in check. Ultra-check. Super-ultra-check. Whaddya gonna do now, Keine?
Keine steps to the left.
Well, that’s disappointin’. Even you know Rumia’s just gonna step to the left again (your left—her right, obvs). Still, Keine gettin’ caught all up in Rumia’s schottische does give ya the perfect opportunity to step up and take Keine’s shoulder—
And turn ‘er ‘round—
And start marchin’ the dude over frontways, where Rinnosuke can be ‘spected to be a thing.
As far as maneuvers go, ya pull that one off pretty smooth, if you’re gonna say so yourself. Keine isn’t ‘spectin’ it, for one, which gives ya a full coupla seconds before she even actually starts tryin’ to break out. “What—” is all she manages to get before ya push ‘er out front, and then before she can recover any recoverier, ya give ‘er a push (just a gentle push, just to keep ‘er off balance), and she goes stumblin’ forwards, one-two-three steps before she catches herself enough to put her footin’ back to deece—
And then the front door right in front of ‘er opens, and Rinnosuke halts midstep in to discover a dynamically posed Keine basically right in his space.
“Keine?” Rinnosuke says. His voice goes high at the end, but not too high, like he was all set to do some surprised exclaimin’ and remembered at the last sec that it wouldn’t jibe with his usual emotionally constipated demeanor.
Keine, with infinite carefulness, rearranges herself into something that doesn’t resemble part of an art installation called “Mannequins in Flight,” featurin’ mannequins in flight and created by someone who really enjoys mannequins (but platonically). She also tries to rearrange her mouth into a friendly smile, but that one shows a lot less success than the mannequin thing. “Rinnosuke,” she says.
This doesn’t lighten Rinnosuke’s confusion, for some reason. “What are you doing here?” he says, and then he looks like he’s gonna say something else, only he doesn’t, cause he angles his chin in sudden recognition, instead. “Is that fish?”
Keine, sensin’ an opportunity, pounces on it like a diabetic pounces on their stick of insulin. “Actually, I think your guest should be the one to tell you about that,” she says, and now you’re the one off-foot when Keine grabs you by the wrist and, in some twirl of Gensokyo judo, switches positions with you so you’re in front and her in back.
Well played, Keine. But Rinnosuke’s already seen ya, so there’s no way you can run, now, even if you are closer to the back door. You’re trapped by social convention! “Keine and Rumia and I,” ya say, just to seal ‘er in extra, “made ya dinner.”
Rinnosuke blinks, like the words he just heard went through his brain and out again without a titch of comprehension touchin’ ‘em. But only “like,” ‘cause then he turns to Keine and he’s like, “What’s this for?”
“As I said,” Keine says, “Christoferson should be the one to tell you about it, not me.”
With mute acceptance, Rinnosuke looks youwards. Which is your cue to start ‘splainin’: “I figured I’d do something to repay ya for lettin’ me shelter this long, y’know?” ya say. “So me and Rumia fetched Keine and got ‘er to teach us how to Japanese food. Keine did the heavy liftin’, though.”
Rinnosuke makes a little “huh” sound, then tilts his nose again and starts followin’ it to the source, which is a pretty easy trek, considerin’ how small the shop is. Ya barely have time to steel your nerves before he’s standin’ before the dishes proper, takin’ in the rice and miso and pickles and everything.
Is he lookin’ upon the deal with a critical eye, or is he just lookin’? Ya can’t tell. He just looks very Rinnosukeily blank, which could mean anything.
Finally, though, the dude breaks mum: “How much did Keine help you with this?”
“Like, all the way, basically,” ya say. “I toldja she did the heavy liftin’, right? But me and Rumia totally did watch and learn and assist, when she told us how to assist.” Ya nod towards Rumia, who nods back, before beamin’ up at Rinnosuke with kiddish pride. Or just pride, maybe. For all you know, you’re wearin’ the same sorta ‘spression.
“Huh,” Rinnosuke huhs again, and without further comment, sits himself before the meal. He gives it one last lookover, sharp gaze gazin’ sharpish at each of the dishes, then takes the chopsticks, which go down, then up again (with load) like a culinary crane game.
With infinite trepidation, the fish gets a taste.
There’s chewin’. Then a lack of chewin’. Rinnosuke’s eyes go slightly wide, and ya can’t tell what that means, no matter how hard in that split second ya try.
And then the chewin’ starts up again. “It doesn’t taste bad,” Rinnosuke says. “Keine really did help you.”
Something in your chest ya didn’t know was tied up in knots relaxes, just like that. “Right? Without Keine, I woulda hecked it up, big-time. Gettin’ Rumia to find ‘er was my prime contribution.”
“You did take part in preparing the food yourself,” Keine juts in, apparently uneager to collect spotlight.
Too bad, ‘cause you’re shovin’ ‘er onto center stage. “Like I said, all me and Rumia were were extra sets of hands.” Which’d make Keine hexapodal, but that’s not important right now. “They don’t give Oscars to best boys.”
Rinnosuke pauses in the middle of pickles. “What?”
“What?” says Keine.
“Yeah,” ya say. “‘Best girls’?”
“What?” says Rinnosuke, again.
“‘Best dudes.’ Point is, direct your accolades appropriate, Mac.”
“But there was a reason, wasn’t there?” Keine says, scrabblin’. “You’re the one who wanted to thank Rinnosuke, after all.”
Which ya mentioned already, but: “Okay, yeah, I guess had an organizational role.” Which is sorta like bein’ a producer. Producers get Oscars, right? For Best Picture. “But ya know, even bein’ the dude who asked for the whole thing, it feels more like I just stood over while Keine did all the important stuff.”
“And if you hadn’t asked, I may never have done anything at all.” It’s a back-and-forth without goin’ anywhere, and ya know enough chess to know you can only do that so many times before you’ve gotta call draw. So ya do the only thing ya can do, which is...quit playin’. Which leaves you quiet and Keine also quiet which nothing to talk back to (though she smiles, very pleasantly) and, uh...
What’re ya supposta do now? You’d do a lot better with something to argue against. Which maybe is another reason ya didn’t wanna give it up.
Luckily, Rinnosuke saves ya from figurin’ out what you’re gonna do with your hands, metaphorically speakin’. He’s halfway to rice when his chopsticks hang.
“What are you eating?” he asks.
“What?” ya say, ‘cause it’s your turn, ya guess.
“This is a meal for a single person,” Rinnosuke says. “Didn’t you prepare anything for yourself?”
And of course, Rinnosuke, havin’ something high in the observational category, doesn’t even hafta hear ya answer to know what you’re answer is. He sighs, makin’ a motion like he’s gonna put his fingers to his face before he remembers he’s already got his set of chopsticks in ‘em. So he puts those down, and—still doesn’t touch his mug like ya thought he would. Instead, those well-worn, spindly fingers he’s got lift his rice bowl and offer it towards ya.
“Eat,” says Rinnosuke.
This is not whatcha wanted. This is actually sorta the complete opposite of whatcha wanted. “This is supposta be me repayin’ you for moochin’ off you this long, Mac. I’m not gonna mooch off ya some more in the middle of it.”
“You’re hungry, aren’t you?” says Rinnosuke, totally ignorin’ your totally cromulent argument. “And if you aren’t hungry now, you’ll be hungry soon. I doubt you’ve eaten anything since breakfast.”
“I doubt you’ve eaten anything since breakfast.”
“I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast, so if anyone should know how hungry you are, it’s me.”
“I’m not hungry!” You’re hungry. “I wasn’t hungry, not till ya said I was hungry!”
“Then it’s my fault, and my responsibility to feed you. Eat the rice.”
Oh, snap—you got got. There’s gotta be a way outta this one...
While you’re rackin’ your brains, though, Rinnosuke’s already on to Keine. “And you, Keine,” he says. “Have you eaten?”
“There’s something at home waiting for me,” says Keine, which may be true, but seein’ as she’s been tryin’ to flee the scene from the get-go, ya can’t trust like that. “Actually, I was just leaving when you arrived.”
Rinnosuke nods—or starts to nod, then jerks to nonnoddingness in the middle of it. “Wait,” he says, climbin’ outta his sit and tryin’ to put down the bowl of shame simultaneous, “There’s something I need to give you.” He finally gets the rice situated and leaves, weavin’ ‘round you and Keine and Rumia, disappearin’ a room over—then reappears, nearly snap-quick, before you can even start wonderin’ proper. Ya don’t recognize what it is he’s luggin’, for a sec, before ya do—it’s that box that Keine brought that one time, the one that had the food in it.
“I washed it out,” says Rinnosuke, “but I haven’t had the opportunity to return it until now.”
Keine’s face starts out astonishment before spiralin’ up tornadoish into a smile you can only describe as “super-pleased.” See? This is whatcha get when ya stay for your proper dues.
“Thank you,” she says (though it’s really Rinnosuke that oughta be doin’ the thankin’), receivin’ the box of the hour—cradlin’ it, like it’s made outta some sorta precious stone. “I know you usually eat the same thing, so I wanted to make you something different—something you hadn’t had in a while.” A pause, like she’s got a million things she might wanna say, and they’re all burstin’ at the back of her lips, eager to be the first to get spake.
In the end, what slips out into the ether is: “Was it good?”
“Ah—I wouldn’t know,” says Rinnosuke. “I gave it to Rumia.”
Keine’s smile stops. Doesn’t die, doesn’t disappear. Just stops.
(Rumia’s not smilin’ either, and that what your brain picks out as surprisin’, in this second-long scene that lasts forever. Rumia’s not smilin’. Ya thought—barely, in the moment ya had to form the think of it—that Rumia’d be sayin’ something ‘bout how the food was good, or at least smilin’, like she’s always smilin’. But she’s not doin’ that, and she’s not doin’ this, either—smilin’. And that’s real weird.)
“Ah,” says Keine.
“I’m sure she enjoyed it,” says Rinnosuke, in the unsteady timbre of a dude who’s cottoned onto the fact that something’s wrong, but who’s unable to figure what, exactly. “She isn’t very picky over what she eats.”
“Yes,” says Keine, dully. “I know—I understand.”
She’s still cradlin’ the box, but less like it’s precious and more like it’s something she’s gotta keep hold of that’s uncomfy to the touch. Something too hot, or too cold, or even just too greasy that in any case in a better world she wouldn’t contact with anything else but her fingertips, if even just those.
“I have to go,” she says. “I meant to leave, earlier, but...” She trails off, gesturin’ clumsily. Extra clumsy, with her hands full.
Rinnosuke nods slowly. He makes a sound like he’s gonna say something.
He doesn’t say something.
And Keine turns around and walks, spine-straight, till there’s the sound of a door openin’ and a door closin’ and she isn’t there anymore, and even then Rinnosuke’s still standin’ there, lookin’ into the space where she was. Then he shakes his head, like to unweb it, and goes over and down and back again to sit.
Ya look at ‘im, thinkin’ of things to say, and also thinkin’ bout how Keine had a lot to say, too, and maybe she said exactly the wrong thing, and that’s prolly not her fault at all.
Rinnosuke catches your gaze and totally misunderstands it. “You can sit down, if you want. Even if you aren’t going to eat anything.”
“No—yeah. Sure, Mac,” ya say, and slip yourself into the other edge of the table. Rumia takes a third side, still not smilin’. Ya see ‘er reach out and dismeat a piece of fish off the yellowtail. Not a large piece—not the sorta piece you’d ‘spect from Rumia goin’ for it. Just a bit that comes off easy, from the way it was all fit together when the fish was still a fish full-time.
“Y’know,” ya muse, “I guess you’re only human, too, huh, Mac?”
Rinnosuke ponders this, adjustin’ chopsticks. “I’ve always thought myself more youkai than human.”
Yeah, ya shoulda worded that better. “What I mean is—” ya say, “you’re a dude, just like everyone else.”
Rinnosuke doesn’t even bother respondin’ to that. Just shoots a look over like—well, yeah, what else is he supposta be?
He goes back to eatin’ rice and pickles and yellowtail, and ya watch ‘im fill himself with the food you produced, and maybe he’s not exudin’ mad beams of joy as he’s doin’ it, but he is doin’ it. And as outcomes go...
So here’s something that’s gotten way too obvious since ya dropped into Rinnosuke’s pad and he letcha have your stay: Rinnosuke and Keine have a thing. Like, not a romantic thing—ya think; ya can’t say for sure, mostly ‘cause ya can’t say anything for sure—but definitely, totally some sorta thing.
And that thing—whatever that thing is—just bubbled over yesterday, culminatin’ in Rinnosuke just sorta casually shatterin’ Keine’s heart into a bajillion sparkin’ pieces. Which’d be bad enough on its own, that casual cruelty, and which’d draw from outta you an appropriate tellin’-off, ‘cept for the rub, which is this: You’re not sure if Rinnosuke even actually knows.
Like, he hasn’t said anything or done anything to indicate noticin’ that yesterday was any different than any other Keine-centered pop-in-pop-out. He hasn’t been puffin’ himself up with self-justification or gone on any ramblin’ monologues of regret on how he basically ripped out her soul and took a great gapin’ bite into the deal. But it’s not like he’s done the opposite, either—like, dropped something in the way of, “I wonder why Keine left so quickly,” or anything like that.
Dude was either casually cruel or casually cruel and also clueless, and ya don’t know which.
Of course, there’s nothing stoppin’ ya from askin’ Rinnosuke ‘bout it—like sayin’, like, “Hey, Mac, didja notice, maybe, how metaphorically ya laid Keine ‘cross the shop floor and then did an Irish stepdance on her chest with baseball cleats?” In fact, introspectin’ a little bit here, that course of action’s more your style, right? Just rip off the generic adhesive bandage and yank that ish into the forefront.
Ya don’t do that. Instead, ya sit out front of the shop (door shut behind ya, so as not to get overheard) and lay out your thoughts like brickwork: ‘So, best case is that I tell ‘im, and he’s all, ‘What? Oh, heck, I’m the douche.’ And then he apologizes to Keine, and everything gets hunky-dory. Or at least hunky-dory-approachin’, right?” Ya pause, to make sure there’s understandin’.
Rumia nods, so there’s understandin’. “Mm-hmm.”
“The problem is, though,” ya say, and pause, colelctin’ your thoughts into something that sings well. “The problem is—what if he knew what he was doin’?”
Rumia says nothing.
“Like, what if I tell ‘im, ‘Mac, ya broke her heart,’ and he goes, ‘Yes, I know I did, ‘cause I did it on purpose’? I mean, it wouldn’t change anything. He’d still be the same Rinnosuke as before I’da asked ‘im what the hey. But the Rinnosuke who’d say that is a different Rinnosuke than the Rinnosuke I woulda thought I’d known. And I dunno if I’d be all that comfy, livin’ ‘round a Rinnosuke like that.”
Rumia still says nothing. She looks at you, not smilin’, but not frownin’, either. Then she stands from her sittin’ beside ya and looks down at you. Like she’s the adult. “Are you leaving?”
“What?” ya say. “No! Well, I dunno. I mean, if Rinnosuke’s really that cruel, I should leave.” Ya pause. “Should I leave? ‘Cause, like...if he is that cruel, he’s also been cruel all this time. But still, he’s looked after me, so—sometimes he’s cruel and sometimes he’s not?”
Rumia continues sayin’ nothing for a while yet. And then, standin’ close as she is, she doesn’t hafta reach so far to take her hand and put it on your head, like a parent or guardian consolin’ a child.
Wait, doesn’t this sorta feel like it oughta be goin’ the other way to this?
“Scienti bonum facere, et non facienti, peccatum est illi,” she says.
Ya sigh, lookin’ up. “I don’t know what that means.”
Rumia pauses her pattin’. She tilts her head for a sec, like there’s a weighty thought up there, then untilts and resumes as she was with her hand. “You’ll know,” she says.
“I know alotta stuff.”
“If you should leave,” Rumia says, patiently, “you’ll know.”
And the thing is? Prolly, ya will. If ya ask Rinnosuke, and it turns out that cruelty was just cruelty for the sake of cruelty—well, then you’ll talk to ‘im. Maybe see if he’s sorry or not. Mistakes get made, right?
But if he was cruel and he knew and he still knows and he doesn’t care, no matter how much ya lay it out for ‘im...maybe ya oughta leave.
No—if that’s the case, prolly definitely ya oughta leave.
But ya don’t think Rinnosuke’s like that. Ya really don’t. He’s not. And ya think about that, like how sure ya are of that, and how sure ya can be, and ya let Rumia keep pattin’ your head.
Up till ya hear the voice, anyways. Then ya turn your head.
The voice is attached to a dude in a green vest-and-dress combo, the sorta outfit that straddles the line between casual and uniform like another, less dress-wearin’ dude straddles a show pony, complete with a bow tied at her collar. Her hair is light—gray, actually, a match for Rinnosuke, which makes ya wonder if this dude’s part youkai, too.
Also, she has swords. As in—more than one sword. Two swords, one long, one shorter, both hooked up to her back like something out a samurai flicks (though admittedly, you’ve watched, like, two samurai flicks in your lifetime, and ya fell asleep in the middle of the Kurosawa one).
Also also, there’s some sort of...indistinct, blobby mass, hangin’ over the dudes shoulder. Large, too—almost as large as the dude herself. That makes the second time you’ve met indistinct masses in this forest, though, unlike the time when it was Rumia, this mass is translucent, like a cloudy soap bubble without the rainbowy reflections on the surface.
She prolly knows she’s got that thing followin’ ‘er, right? “Yo,” says you.
“Yes—hello—” If the dude has anything to say ‘bout catchin’ the two of you midpat, she doesn’t show it. “Do you know if the proprietor is in?”
You and Rumia share a glance. Glance twinsies! “Maybe,” ya say, lookin’ back at the dude. “Who’re you?”
It’s a real simple question, but it seems to catch the dude in a funny way. Like she didn’t ‘spect this sorta suspicion level, somehow, despite bein’ a double-sword-wieldin’ dude with a mysterious accompaniment. “I’m a customer,” she says. “At least...I’d like to be a customer?” The confusion in her voice increases exponentially with each word, the end of that question-that-wasn’t-supposta-be-a-question-when-it-started escapin’ her vocal cords in something a lot like a doorhinge that wants serious oilin’.
Which sounds reasonable—her wantin’-to-be-a-customer-ness, ya mean, not necessarily the squeakiness—‘cept that the last dude that wanted to custom ended up drivin’ a tank through the place, and while you and Rinnosuke and Rumia are plus a tank, now, you suspect Rinnosuke doesn’t consider that get worth the whole shebang that immediately preceded it.
Or wait—did that drunk dude count as a customer? Either way, what you’re tryin’ to say is: After that last hubbub, ya wanna be a bit more discernin’ in who gets let into the shop. ‘Specially if they’re luggin’ with ‘em objects of violence. “Alright, I’ll walk ya through the vettin’ process,” ya say (and if ya had a pencil and notepad with ya, now’s the time you’d take ‘em out to use ‘em, only ya don’t, so ya don’t). “Whaddya got in the way of qualifications?”
“Uh, um...qualifications for what?”
“For being a customer, obvs. We’re beaucoup select when it comes to clientele.” Or at least now ya are. “Now,” as in “as of this moment.”
It’s technically not a lie, is what you’re sayin’.
So it’s a good thing that this dude also doesn’t think it’s a lie. In fact, she seems like she’s takin’ your claim totally seriously seriously, her eyes upturned, the better to pore through her brainmeats. “I’ve been a customer here before,” she offers hesitantly.
See, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. “Cool, cool, cool,” ya say. “And how much violence didja mete?”
There’s a sec where the words’re sinkin’ still into this dude’s mug. And then they reach, and she goes stiff like someone hooked ‘er up to a car battery. “[/i]‘Violence’[/i]?” she squeaks.
“Violence towards other dudes (youkai included), violence towards merch, violence towards the shop itself—that kinda destructive behavior, basically.” Ya pause, and think of Rinnosuke. “Emotional violence also counts.”
“I wasn’t violent at all!” Dude looks honestly distressed you’d roundaboutly accuse ‘er of such behavior. “If anything—if anything, I—I might have helped the proprietor...”
That high energy she started off with drops like a pair of concrete shoes off the continental shelf, leavin’ ‘er humblin’ and mumblin’ before ya, not even her eyes reachin’ yours.
With this sorta demeanor, the dude doesn’t seem threatenin’ at all, even with the swords taken into consideration. But it’s not like you’ve never been fooled before...
Decided to add something extra to my vote for a little fun.
[X] Ask Rumia if she's on the level. -[X] Let her in anyway. - - [X] As a precaution, tell her that she is to switch the places of her two swords. That way if she gets rough and draws 'em she'll get mixed up because the left one's on her right hand and the right one's on the left. Genius, huh?
>>31057 Hey, don't call people "retard" in my thread, okay? 'S not cool.
Not Really Anonymous2018/08/07 (Tue) 21:45No. 31064▼
[X] Ask Rumia if she's on the level. -[X] Let her in anyway. - - [X] As a precaution, tell her that she is to switch the places of her two swords. That way if she gets rough and draws 'em she'll get mixed up because the left one's on her right hand and the right one's on the left. Genius, huh?
[X] Ask Rumia if she's on the level. -[X] Let ‘er in anyways.
Maybe better leave it to someone more in-the-know when it comes to Gensokyo-type threats. “Rumia,” ya say. “Whaddya think? Friend or foe?”
Rumia tilts her head, considerin’. Then she untilts it. “She can cut things,” she answers. “She can cut most things.”
The wannabe customer’s head rises, too, only this head’s got a thing of astonishment to it. Like it’s seriously concerned that Rumia’s word is what its entry into Rinnosuke’s is hingin’ on.
“I figured she wasn’t luggin’ practice swords,” ya say. “I mean, can ya blame ‘er? It’s a jungle out there.”
“It’s a forest,” says Rumia.
“It’s a forest out there,” you correct yourself, even if it doesn’t sound as snazzy. “The question is, is she gonna use those swords on stuff they shouldn’t be used on?”
Rumia considers this, too, though a touch longer than her earlier consideration. “If she tries to cut too many things,” she says, “I can run her away.”
Which she says like it’s a Rumia Promise, ‘cept, y’know, kid youkai (albeit one with high-level biteyness) versus dude with two swords? You’re not really feelin’ it. Maybe over to Swords Dude for the rebuttal?
Swords Dude bristles, but not as much as ya woulda thought she would. It’s a slight bristlin’, like, yeah, she finds Rumia’s whole surety kinda insultin’, but only just. “If it comes down to fighting, I’m sure that I can hold my own,” she says, before rememberin’, oh, right, she’s arguin’ against violence: “That is—not that I would fight anyone here, of course. At least, not unless they attempted harming me, first.”
Muy interestin’. Rumia, your response?
“I can run her away,” Rumia says again, then ‘spounds: “I ran her away, before.”
This time, the bristlin’ is a tick more pronounced, extendin’ to the blob she’s got tailin’ ‘er. Maybe they’re connected? Still, dude seems to take care not to make like Buddy Rich just yet, stickin’ diplomatic: “I don’t think you did. I mean—I don’t remember. I think I would remember, if we had ever faced each other—”
“Test of courage.”
Sword Dude progresses straight to irate-cat level of bristles. “That was—that wasn’t a fight—I was off guard, and there was everybody else—”
“So what you’re sayin’,” ya say to Rumia, “is that she’s no problem.”
Rumia nods. “Mm-hmm.”
Ya take another look at Swords Dude. With the understandin’ that nobody’s real set on listenin’ to her side of the whole noodly event, she’s shut up, spoutin’ a solidly un-at-ease look in the meanwhile. Visible poutin’ aside, that’s another point in her favor, maybe—that she knows when to fold ‘em. Ya scooch out her way, accordingly. “I guess if Rumia says so, it’s all gravy,” ya say. “Custom away.”
“I’m...not sure I should be pleased at being let in so easily or not.”
“I can bar ya after all, if ya want.”
“No! No—” Swords Dude reacts with severe franticity at that, makin’ up the steps and into the door before you can reblock her way. Meanwhile, she’s still stutterin’ and mutterin’: “I actually—I actually need to see the shopkeeper—I mean, the proprietor—so if you would let me in—”
And then she lets herself in, ‘cause Rinnosuke’s front door is pretty easy to operate, generally, as long as it’s not locked (though she misses the handle on the first try)—and, just like shuttin’ it shut shut Rinnosuke outta overhearin’ what you and Rumia were talkin’ ‘bout, it shuttin’ behind Swords Dude shuts out you.
She could totally still be mutterin’ on in there and ya wouldn’t know.
You could find out, though.
Ya look at Rumia. Rumia looks at you.
And then ya both open the door up again and squeeze yourselves in before either of you can miss anything.
If there’s any fireworks here for goin’ off, though, the pyrotechnics haven’t near started up yet. This is more like barely pre-show, when the crowd’s still millin’ and settin’ down cloths for sittin’ on. The calm before the blaze as Swords Dude and Rinnosuke—as ya see—size each other up, tryin’ to fig ahead of time how this’ll all play out.
Then Rinnosuke says, “It’s too early for clearing snow, but you can rake up the leaves outside.”
Swords Dude...well, it’s a given what Swords Dude does, by now. “I’m not here to clear snow from the roof.”
“Technically, you weren’t here to clear snow from the roof the first time, either.”
“Yes, but—no, but I mean—” The irritated (metaphorical) floof starts to recede, and then, after a moment, the irritation, too. “Must you do this every time?” she says, weakly.
And actually, now that she’s less all up with the indignance or the uppuffery, she just looks just...kinda tired, really. Like, enough that it makes ya feel a little bad for puttin’ ‘er through the rigmarole out on the outdoors. Not super-ultra-regretful, but regretful enough.
Maybe ya better play arbitrator here. “Yo, Mac, ya know this dude?” ya cut in.
“Ah,” says Rinnosuke, realizin’ you already aren’t gonna just sit on the sidelines on this one. He motions at Swords Dude halfheartedly. “This is Konpaku Youmu,” he says. “She’s an occasional customer, and even usually pays with money.”
Youmu groans, head droppin’. Her blob bobs distressedly, as much as a blob can distressedly bob.
Speakin’ of which: “And the, uh...” Oh, wait, is this rude? Ya sidle up to Rinnosuke real quick, leanin’ up and in to say it out the corner of your mouth. “And the blobby deal,” ya say, “what’s up with that? Can I ask that—‘What’s with that?’”
“I can hear you,” says Youmu. She reaches to touch at her forehead slight, irritation comin’ on back on what you can see of her mug with the way it’s drooped. “I’m...I’m right here. I can hear you.”
Rinnosuke hums in understandin’. Like he’s sayin’, “I get why ya don’t get it.” “It seems that she’s a half-phantom,” he says. “That’s what what told to me, at least.”
Oh. So bein’ half-phantom means ya get a little blobby thing on your tail. Yeah, ya still don’t get it. “So when ya say ‘half-phantom,’ do ya mean like that she was turned halfway phantom in some sorta dangerous phantom experiment incident, or is it a hereditary thing?”
“I don’t know that myself. If you want to know, you would be better off asking her directly.”
“Yo, Mac, ya can’t just ask someone why they’re half-phantom.” Though when ya think about it, maybe standin’ here and whisperin’ all ‘bout how she’s half-phantom could be just as bad—
“Excuse me!” Youmu says, breakin’ into your introspectin’. “I was looking for some cookbooks, and...” and then she seems to suddenly realize she’s shoutin’, totally unneededly, and her voice coasts down back into embarrassment and distress, “and I was wondering if you held any that I could buy. From you. That I could buy from you.”
And then she clams up all over, dippin’ her face again, and ya can’t see it, but if it was red? Wouldn’t surprise ya.
Are you the douche here? Ya kinda feel like the douche here. It doesn’t feel good to feel like the douche here, ‘specially considerin’ how you’re plannin’ on confrontin’ Rinnosuke re: his own doucheish behavior. So, with one last coupla glances (Rinnosuke’s, meanin’ “Leave it to me, Mac”; Rumia’s, meanin’ “Cover me, dude”), ya step forwards, transformin’ yourself into the shop rep. “Ya lookin’ for any sorta cookbook in particular?”
It’s the first time in forever ya haven’t had to ask something like that with the whole service smile attached. Or the voice. Feels cool, yo.
Youmu straightens herself up, tryin’ to recoup her dignity. She actually pulls it off, which is actually kinda impressive. She must be used to this sorta thing. “Yes—Lady Yuyuko has become interested in foreign cuisine, lately. So—that is—I wondered if you had any books that could help me in preparing a meal?”
Oh, sweet—finally, your weeks of bookwormin’ through Rinnosuke’s library collection is payin’ dividends. “So, like, Chinese food?” ya ask, wanderin’ shelfwards. “We’ve got a bevy of books on Chinese food.”
When ya glance back, though, Youmu’s shakin’ her head no. “I was hoping you would have something more...foreign?” she says.
“Like French?” ya say.
“Yes,” says Youmu, then shakes her head again. “No,” she corrects herself. “I...don’t know? I don’t know what ‘French’ actually is.”
“It’s real high-culture food—you can tell, ‘cause it keeps its own language. Like, there’s a dish that’s snails called ‘escargot,’ but even where people aren’t French it’s still called ‘escargot.’ Also, they call the waiters ‘garçon.’”
“Wait—what did you say?”
“Like, ‘Garçon, the bill, please,’ with a cedilla and everything. It also means ‘boy,’ though—I dunno how insultin’ that is.”
“No, no, before that—you said something about snails?” Youmu says. “You...eat snails?”
“I don’t eat snails generally. Rinnosuke, help?”
Rinnosuke gives you a look over his specs like if he could sigh without bein’ seen to sigh, he’d do it. Instead, he joins ya over at the bookshelf. “I do have a few books on German cuisine you might be able to buy.”
“German...” Youmu mutters to herself. And then: “That doesn’t have any snails, does it?”
“If I knew snails were gonna be such a dealbreaker, I wouldn’ta mentioned ‘em,” ya grouse.
Rinnosuke ignores ya. “Not that I’m aware of,” he says to Youmu. His finger scans over the shelves before dippin’ in to pluck the middle-sized book it was lookin’ for. “This might be something close to what you’re looking for. It has a number of recipes—for example...” He opens the book, literally singlehandedly, adjustin’ his specs with his other hand as he searches for something appealin’.
And then he squints and peers even closer. Ya look over his shoulder. Or well, around.
“For example,” says Rinnosuke again, squintin’ closer at what he’s got in his hands, “‘Stollen.’”
“It’s actually a ‘sh’ sound, Mac, even if it doesn’t look it. ‘Stollen.’”
“‘Stollen.’ Like ‘ough,’ not ‘o.’ ‘Stollen.’”
“You’re the last who should lecture anyone on pronunciation,” Rinnosuke mutters, but tries one more time. “‘Stollen.’”
“Yeah, now you’ve got it!”
Rumia applauds politely.
“‘Stollen,’” says Rinnosuke. “Yes, ‘Stollen,’ and...” He leafs a chunk of the book back, lookin’ for something else—finds something else, squints, looks at you, looks back at the page again, and tries: “‘Schnecken.’”
“Hey, first try!” This time you join in with Rumia on the applause, promptin’ Rinnosuke to look between the two of you, eyebrows raised. For a sec ya think it’s surprise—well, it prolly is surprise, too, maybe—but then his cheeks rise and his mouth curls in the slightest smile—
And you’re like—yo.
It’s a nice smile, is what you’re sayin’. “Do another, Mac!” ya cheer.
Rinnosuke turns his smilin’ mug back to the book. His finger works its way in, slidin’ into the textblock, liftin’ it over—ya crane your neck to see, pushin’ your chin cozy against the bone of Rinnosuke’s shoulder. You’re holdin’ your breath, even if ya aren’t doin’ it literally, and ya think Rinnosuke is, too—like you’re on the edge of something sweet, the both of you, and the page turnin’ over is leadin’ ya there, gettin’ itself together just right to show ya—
Yeah, huh, that’s—Pfeffernüsse. That’s what it says, on that page—“Pfeffernüsse.”
Rinnosuke stares at the word himself. It’s a long, quiet stare, one ya can’t read, and wow, y’know, ya never noticed it before, but “Pfeffernüsse” has alotta consonants, doesn’t it?
It totally does.
Rinnosuke closes the book and doesn’t mention the consonants at all. “In any case, there are a large number of recipes here,” he says, going back to salesdude mode. “Many of them appear to be sweets, too, if that’s something you might be interested in. How does that sound?”
“Sweets,” Youmu murmurs. “Yes, I think Lady Yuyuko might enjoy them. How much would you sell that book for?”
And with that, Rinnosuke and Youmu get to the part of Gensokyo commerce ya can’t grok in the least—hagglin’. ‘Cause let’s face it: If there’s one aspect you’re absolutely American in, it’s understandin’ the concept of sales prices bein’ final. You’re not used to the otherwise whole ritual, y’know—first it’s overpriced, then the buyer offers something underpriced, then the first dude offers a price that’s still overpriced, but less overpriced than the first overpriced price—
Like, ya understand it’s a thing that happens, in places that’ren’t American, and even some places that are. It’s just not something you’d be good at yourself, not without alotta practice. Which hasn’t happened, considerin’ no one’s had the opportunity to try and unload goods on you.
And speakin’ of the unloadin’ of goods—
Rinnosuke and Youmu are gesturin’ and noddin’, still at it with pinnin’ down an agreeable price, but from how much less animated they were from a moment ago, you’d guess they’re quick closin’ in on a deal—which is something you’re feelin’ real mixed about. Like, not that you’re against Rinnosuke makin’ dosh! You’re totally not against that. In fact, you’re against bein’ against that, if anything.
It’s just that there’s something you know that ya think maybe Youmu doesn’t. Something ya noticed when you were peekin’ ‘round Rinnosuke’s shoulder to catch a little look-see.
Namely, that book Youmu’s hagglin’ for—it’s in German.
There may be some minor ethical hinkiness goin’ on here.
[ ] Maybe let Youmu know? Like, she should see what she’s gettin’ before she gets it. [ ] Bad luck, but dude shoulda checked the merch herself beforehand. All sales final. [ ]
[X] Bad luck, but dude shoulda checked the merch herself beforehand. All sales final.
Check it, Rinnosuke also knows the book is in German, right? So this is the perfect opportunity to see if he intentionally attempts to screw her over. Or at least offers a refund if he accidentally screws her over.
> “Scienti bonum facere, et non facienti, peccatum est illi,” she says.
Yeah, you kinda got a point.
[X] Maybe let Rinnosuke know he should let Youmu know? Like, she should see what she’s gettin’ before she gets it. - [X] Try to upsell her on a German-to-Volkssprache dictionary. There's gotta be one of those around here.
> “German...” Youmu mutters to herself. And then: “That doesn’t have any snails, does it?” > > [...] > > [Rinnosuke] leafs a chunk of the book back, lookin’ for something else—finds something else, squints, looks at you, looks back at the page again, and tries: “‘Schnecken.’”
Hey. Heeeey. What exactly are you trying to pull here?
[X] Maybe let Rinnosuke know he should let Youmu know? Like, she should see what she’s gettin’ before she gets it. - [X] Try to upsell her on a German-to-Volkssprache dictionary. There's gotta be one of those around here.
Let's not scare away our only actual paying customer.
[X] Maybe let Rinnosuke know he should let Youmu know? Like, she should see what she’s gettin’ before she gets it.
“Hey, Mac,” ya say, “can I talk to you for a sec?”
Rinnosuke pauses outta squeezin’ Youmu for the next red cent. “Just once business is concluded,” he lobs your way, before turnin’ back and returnin’ to the bargain like he barely paused.
So this time, ya tug his arm, real firm. “Hey, Mac,” ya say, “can I talk to you now?”
Rinnosuke frowns, but with a “Please excuse me”—to which Youmu nods, apparently as eager to get this negotiation to a close as he is—allows himself to be walked til you’re whatcha consider a good distance away. By which ya mean, obvs, a distance away enough that if ya hiss real careful, Youmu won’t be able to overhear how Rinnosuke’s basically cheatin’ ‘er outta dosh.
Which is the point ya take, first off: “You’ve gotta tell ‘er the book’s in German.”
Rinnosuke takes his time chewin’ your suggestion over before replyin’. “Is there any reason I should tell her the book is in German?”
“I dunno, Mac, ‘cause it’s decent?” ya shoot back instant. “I mean, German isn’t exactly the vernacular ‘round here—is it?”
“There are some speakers of German—I’ve found a number of spellbooks in European languages, for whatever reason.”
Ya don’t even bring up that that’s not whatcha asked. Ya just stare at Rinnosuke, till he loses the game of don’t-blink and tilts his eyes away from the playin’ field.
“It isn’t,” Rinnosuke says, like each mora’s a tooth bein’ pulled. “The vernacular.”
“Right,” says you. “So—ya gotta tell ‘er.”
Those metaphorically pulled teeth clench for a tick (they can do that ‘cause they weren’t pulled for realsies). “You don’t know that she doesn’t understand German,” says Rinnosuke.
“Yeah?” Ya look over ‘round Rinnosuke. “Yo, uh—Youmu!”
Youmu blinks all quizzical, but sorta leans and tilts her head—meanin’, “I’m listenin’.”
“This is totally unrelated to anything ever,” ya call, “but do ya know German?”
Pause. “German?” Youmu says.
“Like, speakin’ it, hypothetically. Or readin’ it. Or anything like that.”
“German,” Youmu says again. “No, I—no. No, I don’t know German. Why?”
“Just settlin’ a bet,” ya say, and get back into huddle. “Hey, Mac—”
“I heard.” Rinnosuke squeezes his eyes shut and also his mouth into a thin line. If ya didn’t know better, you’d think he was tryin’ to use his psychic powers to pack something in in the background. He lets it off after a sec, though, and if anything actually did get successfully mentally squooshed, ya didn’t notice. “If I tell her the cookbook is in German,” he says, “she won’t buy it.”
Yeah, just like you suspected—Rinnosuke’s doin’ his best to swindle Youmu at the mo. It’s remarkably uncool activity, ‘specially comin’ from a dude as cool as the cool dude you’ve thought Rinnosuke was, though that impression has been takin’ a beatin’ but good, as of late. “Dude,” ya say. And you’ve got this whole idea of a spiel lined up, something ‘bout havin’ pride as a dude who provides goods to other dudes or something like that, ‘cept it never even gets started, ‘cause Rinnosuke—
Rinnosuke’s visible irkedness jumps points, all of a sudden, and he rounds all up on ya, as much as he can when he’s lookin’ at you already. “This is one of the few customers I can get actual money from,” he hisses. “Haven’t you been here long enough? You’ve seen how I fare with the rest of my customers.”
And left unspoken, but hangin’ in the air as good as if he’d said it anyways, is the logical follow-up: That maybe money wouldn’t be such a big deal if he wasn’t spendin’ more than a single dudesworth of it on rice, et cetera.
So—can a dude blame ya if ya flinch?
You startin’ seems to start Rinnosuke, too, though. Ya see the irritation run out, or else get back in under the mask again—like all of a sudden he’s remembered that it’s him who’s supposta be here, and not this other Rinnosuke who’s a lot madder and also a lot obviouser ‘bout bein’ madder. “That’s not what I meant,” he says.
To which ya think: What’s not what he meant?
Dude goes on: “I only meant that—that this is a critical sale. No, not critical—” He straight up literally shakes the sentence off and tries again (again). “I don’t necessarily need to sell her that book—but I need to sell something to her. I need to sell something to somebody.”
“Alright,” ya say.
Rinnosuke blinks, and ya get the feelin’ he didn’t actually ‘spect that agreement. “‘Alright’?” says he.
“Alright,” ya say. “I mean—we don’t hafta sell ‘er that book, right? As long as we’ve got any foreign cookbook.”
“And it shouldn’t be French, or Chinese,” Rinnosuke reminds you.
“Right—but even so. I mean, you’ve got mad stacks of books here. There’s gotta be something that fits the bill decent here—right?”
“How do you not have any cookbooks,” ya ask, which is a totally reasonable question.
“I have a number of cookbooks,” says Rinnosuke. “It’s only that there’s a particular focus on Japanese food among them.”
“Yeah, but that’s like, diametrically opposite to what we’re lookin’ for. Also, I think I keep findin’ and rulin’ out the same cookbook again and again, and that’s drivin’ me nuts.”
“Why don’t you take the book off of the shelf once you’ve determined it’s not what you’re looking for? It’ll save you the trouble of seeing it.”
“Oh, nice, Mac. You’re a lifesaver.”
“I’ve been doing that this entire time with this shelf. Haven’t you noticed?”
“Yo!” ya ‘sclaim. Ya lift your head so quick, ya nearly whack it on the underside of one of your shelves. Just nearly, though, so it’s fine. “What’s it about?”
“It’s about mochi.”
Rinnosuke doesn’t even look out whichever tome he’s studyin’ for eats. “That would be more Japanese food,” he says, voice muffled slight by the cage of pages.
“Dude,” you agree. Ya fitt your head back under the shelf again. “Also, I recant my ‘yo.’”
The unsteady interjection floats over to the foot of the shelves where you three’re sittin’. It’s Youmu—remember Youmu? You remember Youmu. She’s the dude you were tryin’ to find that book for and everything.
“Should I come back some other time?” asks Youmu. “If you’re busy...” She says that “busy” with a wobblin’ pitch at the end—the same question-that’s-not-a-question, like last time.
“Don’t go anywhere,” ya say, beginnin’ what’s prolly the first of a whole lotta tomey towers. “We got this.”
“Are you sure?” says Youmu.
“We got this,” ya say.
“You can sit down, if you’d like,” Rinnosuke adds. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”
Youmu looks the opposite of comfy, actually, but does what Rinnosuke’s told ‘er to do, wanderin’ awkwardly at the nearest sit-down and placin’ herself into position like she’s got an egg to mind. When she’s lookin’ sufficiently occupied with that (and ya don’t feel so much the eyes at the back of your neck), ya pause layin’ your literal literary foundation for a sec and huddle in closer Rinnosukewards. “‘Please, make yourself comfortable’?” says you.
“Is there something wrong with that?” Rinnosuke whisper-rasp-hisses back. “I am the host.”
“No, it’s just—that’s gotta be the nicest you’ve been. Even with Keine—” Your brain catches onto where your tongue is goin’ a titch too late, and by the time ya try cuttin’ it off, it’s already escaped. Your words, not your tongue. That’d be a whole different kinda problem, though this one isn’t so teeny, either. “I mean,” ya shove in, hopefully before Rinnosuke notices where you were goin’ there, “that was kinda nice, is all. I didn’t know you do that.”
“I have an interest in retaining what regular customers I have left,” Rinnosuke says. “It isn’t that I believe that Youmu is as inclined to break another of my walls down with a tank of her own, but...”
“Yeah, yeah, I dig. Ya find anything yet?”
Rinnosuke sighs. “It seems I’ve stocked my shelves mainly with books on East Asian cuisine—when there are books on cuisine at all. And you?”
“Something on French stuff. Ya might be able to sell it, if ya play down the snail bit.” Which is your fault—is a deal you’ve gotta cop to here. If ya’dn’t run a flapjaw so much—just a little less more than ya did, even—Youmu mighta taken that volume and gone Julia-Childin’ it up ages ago. “Rumia?” ya call for an update.
“If you put ice cream in mochi, you can have mochi ice cream,” says Rumia. She frowns, then looks her eyes over the page at the two of you. “What’s ice cream?”
“A frozen dessert made from hen’s egg, powdered milk, and butterfat, among other ingredients,” says Rinnosuke.
“It’s good,” ya add, before your brain catches up, re: “Wait, a sec, hold up—powdered milk? That’s not right.”
“Isn’t it?” Rinnosuke says. “I’ve come across descriptions now and then, and powdered milk seems to be a primary ingredient.”
“No way, Mac. You’ve gotta have milk. Like, regular milk, like ya get out a cow. I mean pasteurized and everything, but...” Ya gesture, mimickin’ whatcha hope is something halfway resemblin’ the pasteurization process. “There’s a hard limit on egg, too—what kinda ice cream’ve you been eatin’?”
“I haven’t been eating aisukurin at all. I’ve only read about it, and even that hasn’t happened very often. It isn’t a dish of common mention in the books I’ve collected.”
“Yes?” Rinnosuke’s brow squinches. “That is what we’re talking about, isn’t it?”
“No way. We’re talkin’ ‘bout ice cream.”
Rinnosuke nods. “Right,” he says. “Ice kurin.”
“That’s what I said. Is that not what I said?”
“That’s not what you said,” says Rumia.
“What?” Rinnosuke’s head jerks Rumiawards. “Then what did I say?”
“You said, ‘aisukurin,’” says Rumia.
Rinnosuke looks at Rumia like a dude who’s gone to bed havin’ set a mousetrap, only to wake up the next mornin’ and find that sometime in the night the mice set up a humantrap in response. Settin’ his useless book aside, he sorta clumsily arcs his way over to where Rumia’s sat so that he can look over her shoulder.
Which she lets ‘im, smilin’ her smiley smile as she looks into his ear. ‘Cause that’s where his head is, and she’s turned to face ‘im, but there’s no space in between. It’s perfectly reasonable, prolly.
“‘Aisukuriimu,’” says Rinnosuke, goin’ over each of the katakana. Least, you assume it’s in katakana. It could totally not be. “‘Riimu’? I know I’ve read it ‘rin’—are they the same thing?”
“I dunno what aisukurin is in the first place, Mac, so that’s a question I really can’t answer.”
“Excuse me,” Youmu cuts in. She sort of totters where she’s sittin’, like she doesn’t know whether she oughta get up or not. “I really don’t mind coming back at a later date, if that would be easier? Tomorrow? I could come tomorrow.”
You and Rinnosuke trade glances for a sec, and then, real quick, like off some sorta unheard signal, ya spring to your feet both and beat ‘em down the room Youmuwards. Well, as much as you can “beat” while tryin’ also to look super-casual ‘bout it. “We’ve found a couple of books that might be of interest to you,” says Rinnosuke, and he doesn’t sound desperate at all, seriously. “The first is this one—recipes of German origin.”
Youmu squints. “This is...the book that I was buying to begin with, isn’t it?”
What? Oh, yeah, it is. What the hey, Rinnosuke? That’s in German. Ya went over this.
That’s the ish ya try to convey with your eyes, anyways. This time, though, Rinnosuke catches it and returns with a jut of the chin and a tensin’ ‘round his own eyes.
It’s like he’s sayin’, “Well, what else am I gonna do?” Which is why you’re in the picture. “It is,” you admit to Youmu, “‘cept we weren’t gonna just letcha pick the first tome ya saw. What if it was totally subpar and we coulda done better? Which is why my rec is this.” And ya display your own pick with full ta-da energy.
Youmu squints additionally. “‘Furansu’—is this ‘French,’ too? That one—the one with the snails.”
“Yo, it’s not just snails. Dig it, will ya? There’s a reason they call the French output the pinnacle of western cuisine.”
“You force-feed a duck—no, wait, that’s also ethically hinky. Uh...you get a scorpionfish—no, hold up, those dudes only hanginaround in the Mediterranean, so that’s a no-go. Um, Proust...”
Ya trail off before Youmu’s blank stare of total blankness.
“Remember Proust?” ya try.
“I don’t know who that is,” says Youmu.
“I thought we ruled out French cuisine,” Rinnosuke mutters youwards, in a voice that’s prolly just loud enough for Youmu to overhear. Ya nudge ‘im in recompense.
Only softly, though. Ya swear.
But yeah, looks like your effort to find something to fit Youmu’s hankerin’ for foreign recipes—sorry, readable foreign recipes—has produced a ginormous zilch. Which means the only book left for Youmu to possibly take is the one she can’t read, which isn’t fair—either for Youmu, ‘cause she can’t read it, or for Rinnosuke, ‘cause he’s gotta make a livin’, right?
There’s gotta be a third option, here—is what you’ve been assumin’ throughout your brisk library look-see. Only—course there hasn’t “gotta.” This isn’t some prepackaged lateral thinkin’ puzzle with a trick solution in Martin Gardner handwritin’. This is real life, and sometimes in real life there’s no easy answer to a half-youkai in a magically cut-off portion of Japan needin’ to mislead a half-phantom into purchasin’ a book on foreign cuisine in a language she doesn’t understand.
So if you’re gonna make the wrong choice, no matter what, the least you can do, maybe, is go with the way that seems least wrong. Which is why ya open your jaw and say, quick, before your lips can clamp down and trap it like maybe they oughta:
“The book’s in German.”
That sorta hangs there, like all kindsa neck-breakin’ sentences’ve hung before. There’s a chance, prolly, ya think, for Rinnosuke to hear the sentence, comprehend it, and fast-talk Youmu past it so that Youmu doesn’t comprehend it and your ethics’re satisfied. Only he doesn’t do that. And that’s not his fault—he shouldn’t be ‘spected to do that (this isn’t his fault, mostly). He doesn’t do that ‘cause he’s too busy with his head twisted at you, his face caught somewhere between shock and betrayal and simmerin’ anger—
He doesn’t fast-talk, or even talk fast, is the point. All he does is he looks at you, and ya look at him, or actually past ‘im, and that’s way enough time for Youmu to lean forwards and take a closer look at the book that Rinnosuke’s been carefully guidin’ ‘er off from takin’ a close look at.
“That’s...in German,” Youmu says, havin’ confirmed it with her own two eyes. She gazes up at Rinnosuke with her brows furrowed. “Do you have any cookbooks that are in Japanese, instead?” she asks, like this was all some sorta innocent mistake. “I...don’t think I’ll be able to read this.”
Rinnosuke doesn’t look at Youmu. Rinnosuke keeps lookin’ at you. “We have French,” he says, from somewhere steady and firm but also far away.
“I’m not sure I want French,” says Youmu. “If it’s French...”
“If you don’t like snails, you can always choose a different recipe.” Rinnosuke finally takes his eyes off you, and suddenly you can breathe easy again. Ya didn’t even know you were havin’ trouble in the first place. “They’re—” He looks at you again. “They aren’t all snails.”
Ya nod, jerkily. “They aren’t all snails,” ya say for the sake of confirmation—even if it comes out more parrot than anything else. “Actually, most of ‘em’ren’t snails. Maybe forget I ever mentioned snails.”
Youmu grimaces, a bit, like someone who’s just found out that the mystery flavor at the center of the jumbo gobstopper isn’t so much “cherry” or even “birthday cake” as it is “earwax,” but who’s sportingly tryin’ to preserve the mystery for onlookers anyways. Then she sighs. “It can’t be helped,” she says. “If this is a book of foreign recipes, it should have the sort of meals Lady Yuyuko wanted...I hope.”
And after all that sound, and also fury (and maybe you’re meanin’ the term in multiple senses, there), the transaction that follows is basically the definition of “anticlimax.” There’s some hagglin’ again—though a lot more clipped and overall despirited than it was last go—and then Youmu takes the French cookin’ book, and, with a bow and a half-muttered thanks, she and that bobbin’ blob head out the shop door.
So, yeah. That happened. Or this happened. Or maybe right now, it’s that it’s happenin’, ‘cause it hasn’t really ended yet—is whatcha think, as ya watch Rinnosuke standin’ there. He hasn’t moved from his hagglin’ spot since he and Youmu wrapped that up—he’s still starin’ into the air that coulda been fulla dudeness minutes ago as he runs his thumb absentmindedly over some thingum he’s got in his hand which you assume equals Gensokyo currency. Ya watch ‘im, and ya watch his back (when’dha get behind ‘im ya don’t know) as it slowly relaxes, muscle by mousin’ muscle, the strain runnin’ down the his edges like something viscous down a shower drain.
Ya wait till it’s all tipped out of ‘im before ya open your mouth. “Hey,” ya say.
Rinnosuke’s head jerks, a little. Just to the side. That’s acknowledgment, right?
“So,” ya say, “that worked. I mean, that worked out.” Ya pause. “Didja get a profit?”
Rinnosuke turns—no, it’s more like he whirls, and—
And for a sec: His face.
It’s still Rinnosuke, and there’ren’t any new features to it. Same mouth, eyes, nose, et cetera. But the look he’s got—
And then he closes his eyes—closes ‘em tight, presses his lips just as tight as that, holdin’ all of the above in that tensed-up way—for a sec, then two, then three—before releasin’ all of in a sigh, his face—ya can’t say “relaxes,” ‘zactly, ‘cause it doesn’t do that. Not even the way his back did, when it could (and did) go back to wound-up in an instant.
He doesn’t say anything, and doesn’t look at you, and he walks right towards you. And then it walks right past you, not even reactin’ to the way ya flinch.
>>31162 Sorry for the two-month wait. It's been a time. I got into a new job this September, so between training and studying I haven't had much chance to write except on weekends, and that's got to contend with everything else I'm writing.
>>31167 I've only read two of your previous works. I knew you had written that 2hu/yellow submarine crossover, but I somehow only just now realized you were the one that wrote that Tskuhime/Haruhi crossover.
>>31182 There's another Tsukihime/Haruhi Crossover that's decent, though I felt like the author showed who his waifu was a little too much, Seven Nights of Melancholy. It's been years since I read it, and longer since it updated, so I can't recall too much about it, other than said waifuing, it being of >20k word count, and Shiki's magical eugenics making him uncomfortable around non-normies.
Ya think you’re prolly making some good choices here.
Ya look to your right. Rumia’s sittin’ there, bein’ as Rumiaesque as usual. She catches the turn of your neck, lookin’ up at you and smilin’ her Rumia kinda smile. It’s a real slice of comfort somehow, knowin’ that even with everything changin’, Rumia’s still gonna Rumia.
Ya look to your left. Nobody’s sittin’ there, which makes sense, since nobody was sittin’ there to begin with. Actually, now thatcha think about it, ya don’t know why ya even looked that way in the first place. That’s weird, right? Like, okay, the chance that someone coulda warped into said space in the time ya weren’t lookin’ straight at it is higher than zero, prolly, ‘specially in the sorta place Gensokyo is...but if ya follow that logic, ya oughta be lookin’ every location ya aren’t lookin’ at at any given moment, and ya don’t have near ‘nuff eyes for that.
That way lies madness, is what you’re sayin’. At some point, ya just sorta gotta give it up, and look at whatcha can without the concept of “lookin’” takin’ over your whole life. Look to live; don’t live to look—if ya wanna get succinct.
Course, just ‘cause there’s nobody that isn’t you or Rumia that’s sittin’ to your left, doesn’t mean that there’s nobody that isn’t you or Rumia that’s sittin’ here with ya at all. Case in point—the dude across from you, eyein’ ya like an appraiser eyes a newly discovered Han van Meegeren.
And when ya say “the dude,” of course, ya mean—
(Write-in for the dude. I reserve the right to veto.)
(Getting back into things after a break. Wrote some fanfic, studied up for work. Trying something out. Might crash and burn, might not.)
But wait. Are ya starting too much in the future? Like, just totally in-media-ressin’ the whole thing? ‘Cause while maybe that sorta thing is all the rage in low-budget experimental films, and also big-budget films that’ve heard that that sorta thing is all the rage in low-budget experimental films, it doesn’t do very good when what you’re tryin’ to pull at the mo is explanation. If ya want someone to understand something, you’ve gotta start at the foundation and work your way up, buildin’ the whole deal brick by brick under.
Well, unless you’re workin’ on the Statue of Liberty. Then everything works out fine, somehow. And turns green. Go fig.
But you’re as far away from the Statue of Liberty as you could be right now, and in more ways than one. The point is—the point is (and this is a beaucoup important point to lay out, is whatcha think) hoofin’ it from Rinnosuke’s abode was the right thing to do, or at least the preferable thing to do, or at least the thing to do that was the most preferable by you. But preferable or unpreferable, it didn’t change the fact that once you’d left Rinnosuke’s—like, just taken your first steps out, with nothing but your clothes (jeans included) and Rumia at your side—
Thing is, ya didn’t actually have a place to go, didja?
Or even know the where of a cheap hotel.
(Ya feel like there’s serious biz to be made here in the printin’ of a good Gensokyo Baedeker, but that’s sorta adjacent to the point right now, and back then, too.)
So, where could you have gone, with said where featurin’ the strong possibility of not only you bein’ welcomed with lackadaisically-to-fully opened arms, but Rumia as well?
Maybe there was more than one answer. Prolly, even. But one answer came to you first, and that’s what ended up countin’.
“And that’s why I’m here.”
Your audience sits, totally enraptured. Prolly. See what ya did there? Narrative hijinkery, all up with.
Your audience’s name, incidentally—‘cause it’s just the one dude, seated there—is Kogasa Tatara. Ya know that ‘cause that’s what she introduced herself as, after ya came stalkin’ up the road up to the temple, tryin’ to ignore both the cold and the rows and rows of little underlegged statues—which you’re pretty has gotta be a Buddhist thing, only since you’re totally lackin’ context it felt more like something out a horror flick. Not that you can talk, when you’d barely look twice at the sight of a dude with his limbs literally nailed into a crossbeam.
Also, theophagy, sometimes.
Point is—it only occurred to you up on that walk that ya didn’t ‘zactly have a letter of introduction or anything to vet ya, which led to you wonderin’ if just lettin’ yourself in’d be gauche (again, cold)—so it was a real stoke up luck when ya came up to the up stairs up front and found the dude—Kogasa—sittin’ up on ‘em like a kid on a real fancy stoop. She was starin’ into nothin’, the handle of a wide, purple umbrella tucked between her arm and the rest of her bod, the whole deal perched low over ‘er like it could swallow ‘er if it snapped shut right, prolly.
And then from there it was just—“Yo, I’m Christie,” “Yo, I’m Kogasa,” (or she didn’t say “yo,” but whatever), and the three of you went from cold to...well, still a little cold, if you’re gonna be honest, but at least ya had the whole temple roof over your respective heads, which helped out a lot.
And still does.
Which brings you to now, i.e. the time of you finishin’ off your summary of what brought ya here in the first place. Kosaga’s brow quirks as she mulls over your conclusion—like the whole deal doesn’t ‘zactly add up for her—but if she’s got questions, she keeps ‘em internal. “I...don’t understand all the way, but...you were thrown out too, right?”
“What? No way, dude.” Ya thought you were summin’ up the whole series of events pretty good while you were doin’ it, but if this dude thinks that, obviously ya weren’t. “I threw myself out. Plus it’s not like we’re partin’ for good, dig? This is just me takin’ a break, tryin’ to figure a coupla things out before I get back.”
Kogasa smiles. It’s a real tight-at-the-edges smile. “But that’s what I thought, too.”
You’ve got a feelin’ this dude’s veerin’ off at a way different conversation here. Ya look to Rumia, quick-off, like maybe she’s got a suggestion on how ya oughta be handlin’ this—but no, she just returns your glance elastic, so no help there. Which means it’s full on up to you to drag this convo back to full-‘round comprehensibility. “So, this is Byakuren’s place, right?” ya ask. “Ya know when she’s gonna be back? Or...here?”
For a sec, that tightness gets tighter—then it unravels completely into something you could call “unsure” at best. “I don’t actually know,” Kogasa admits. “I...don’t actually live here.”
You pass another look Rumiawards, but it’s No Help 2: The No-Helpenin’. “Yo,” ya say, out of a lack of bein’ able to think of anything else to say in that moment, and then: “Should we actually be in here?”
“I don’t think Byakuren would mind,” says Kogasa, all way too casually for the words she’s sayin’, “and it doesn’t matter if anyone catches me.”
Okay, so: You and Rumia? Prolly just became accomplices. Like, not thatcha mind breakin’ the law per se, ‘specially if the law’s unjust (or maybe even just dumb), but you’d kinda wanna know beforehand that that’s something you were gonna do before ya did it. It feels sorta unfair, dingin’ you and Rumia for crimin’ when neither of you had mens reas.
One mens rea, and then a second mens rea for the dude of you who didn’t have a mens rea already.
More importantly: “It doesn’t matter ‘cause no one minds, or it doesn’t matter ‘cause you’re committed to breakin’ and enterin’ in anyways?” ya ask Kogasa.
“Ha ha,” Kogasa says, not laughin’ but actually sayin’ the words “ha ha,” (though that unsteady ‘spression does lighten up a significant titch). “Well, to be honest, if they didn’t mind, there wouldn’t be a lot of use doing it.”
Okay, see, maybe ya might as well be Rumialess here, ‘cause here ya are in Gensokyo, and you’re totally lost. ‘Cept ya do have Rumia, actually—she’s right here, next to you—so ya give it try number three and shoot ‘er a look thatcha pray is chock fulla meanin’. A meanin’ like—“I’m kinda startin’ to socially flounder here, dude, so if you could gimme a hand that would be totally, totally cool.” And maybe your prayers are answered, ‘cause Rumia studies your beseechin’ mug for a sec, before huffin’ a solid breath, deflatin’ slightly, the model of a parent who’s just reremembered that they signed up for this whole nurturance responsibility when they decided to have a kid in the first place.
“She’s a youkai, too,” is what Rumia says.
Kogasa looks at Rumia, like she doesn’t get why she’d say that, then looks at you—and then her brows raise in understandin’. “You didn’t know!” she says, gleeful. Her smile goes sharp. “How does it feel knowing you’ve been talking to a youkai without knowing it? Aren’t you surprised?”
Are ya? “I guess?”
“Really?” Kogasa leans in, youwards slight.
“Well, I mean...sorta?”
There’s a moment more of eyein’, and then Kogasa’s semivicious-lookin’ ‘spression sorta just loses whole fierceness of its grip. “Are you sure?” she says, haulin’ skepticism with it. “You don’t feel surprised.”
“Yeah, I guess it’s not really surprise,” you admit. “It’s more like—I assumed a thing, and then that thing turned out to not be the thing it was, so I had to do some semi-on-the-fly recontextualizin’. I dunno if you can still call it ‘surprise.’ Can ya?”
If Kogasa’s mug looked any flatter, it’d be sticky-taped off of graphite. “No, you can’t,” she says.
“Yeah,” ya say.
Ya shift, feelin’ kinda uncomfy. Nothin’ makes a noise, but ya hear it, anyways—that hollow unsound, like something out there ringin’ below your edge of hearin’. It’s the sound of silence, ‘cept magnified by the on-edgeness hauled alongside the whole you’re-prolly-not-supposta-be-here sitch.
“So,” ya say, to make it stop doin’ its deal in your ears, “why are ya makin’ with the B&E, anyways?”
“‘Bii and ii’?”
“Theft,” Rumia ‘splains.
Though you’ve got ish: “Not theft,” you correct ‘er. “I mean, ya could break-and-enter to start off a theft, but I feel like it’s two different sections of the deal, right?”
Rumia nods her head “no,” all sagelike. “It’s theft,” she maintains. “Because she takes.”
Ya look at Kogasa, who’s notably not shufflin’ miscellaneous temple valuables into the insides of her vest. But now thatcha properly assess, she doesn’t seem to have or have had any ish, herself, with the “theft” claim. So Rumia’s right, maybe? “You take?” ya ask.
“I’m a youkai who takes the spirits of her victims.” “Spirits,” Kogasa says, though she’s not talkin’ the ghostly kind, prolly. Instead, it’s the kinda “spirit” that’s written in four strokes, as in “heart.” Still, it sounds totally nefarious, doubly comin’ from how casually the dude’s sayin’ it as she sits there—legs under, back straight, umbrella prim and horizontal on her lap. “There are some youkai who eat meat, right?” she adds. “It’s like that.”
So she’s some sorta spiritual, psychic vampire, is what she’s sayin’? How does that work? Also, how far front-doorwards can ya get if ya suddenly spring from your sit with Rumia underarm? Askin’ for a friend.
This table isn’t nailed down, is it?
Ya rearrange yourself, shufflin’, nudgin’ it with your knee to check for if it tilts. Like, for in case ya hafta flip it, hypothetically. “So, what’s that like, stealin’ spirit?” ya ask, way very unsuspiciously. “Like, ya need a spirit straw to stick a dude’s jugular or something?”
Kogasa seems weirdly affronted, almost. “I take spirit. I’m not a vampire,” she says. Then she sighs, slumpin’ slightly, her eyes leavin’ off ya (which gives ya a good opportunity to stick your hands under the table blanket deal and see if you can get a good grip for heavin’). “It used to be easier,” she says. “People used to be surprised if you told them you were a youkai. Now, people don’t mind anymore.”
“So ya want ‘em to mind.”
“Well, they don’t have to mind. But they aren’t surprised, either! I can’t get anybody to be afraid, but they could at least be surprised...”
The dude trails off, visibly startin’ to mope inwards, so ya take that moment left ya and hail Rumia. Yeah, again, even though you’re pretty sure you’re losin’ points for it by now—like, big-time. “Are ya gettin’ this?” ya mutter, your voce sotto.
“I told you,” Rumia mutters back with deep, deep patience, “Non in solo pane.”
“See, it feels like you’re droppin’ knowledge here, but I don’t get it—”
The door slides open behind ya in a rush, crashin’ against its end with something between thud and wham. Ya twist your head thatwards, sideways, hard and sudden, nearly pullin’ something that’s not supposta be pulled.
There’s a dude there.
Which is—no duh, course there’s a dude there; that door prolly didn’t yank open itself, but more important to ya seems the look of the dude—or maybe the look on the dude. ‘Cause that look—wide-eyed and startled beneath the hood of that mantlet-lookin’ thing she’s wearing—is a look that right now applies towards you.
It’s not a badwrong look, per se, but ya didn’t head off on this expedition plannin’ to have a look like that turned at you. It’s not good bodeage, is what you’re sayin’.
“Look!” Kogasa lurches clumsily to her feet. “Do you see? That’s the kind of reaction I wanted!”
“You brought other people,” says Hooded Dude.
“I’m here, even though you probably didn’t expect me to be!” says Kogasa. “Aren’t you surprised?”
“I’m not surprised you’re here, but I am surprised you brought friends, this time.”
A real complicated series of ‘spressions passes over Kogasa’s mug before the whole deal settles on a sorta muted triumph. “I’ll accept this!” she crows.
“That’s good,” says Hooded Dude. And then, as it settles on the whole room that Kogasa doesn’t actually have a post-win plan past just keepin’ sittin’ there and waitin’ for the next thing to happen: “Please leave.”
Kogasa gets, with a demeanor somewhere between “saunter” and “flounce.” Like she’s bein’ gracious, and this isn’t retreat. And maybe it is, for her? You dunno. Maybe it’s just ‘cause ya barely had three-fourths of a chat with that dude, but it felt sorta like the more she gabbed, the less ya got.
Like ya said, though—only three-fourths of a convo. As sample sizes go, that’s...not.
“You should leave, too—and, you should stop spending time with people like that.”
Hooded Dude says that, and ya snap back to the present, realizin’ all of a sudden that she’s been starin’ atcha ever since Kogasa waltzed outta this scene. And then she stares at you for a sec more, while you’re tryin’ to process that sentence she just dropped, ‘cause—yo, what?
“Yo, what?” ya say, and then it clicks in your head: “Hey, no way, dude—I didn’t break into this place.”
Hooded Dude keeps starin’ at you. Then she stares around you, and then back at you again. Like she really, seriously wants to point out the composition of the admittedly totally reasonable conclusion she’s gathered up here, but also like she’s just too not-confrontational to lay it out straight in front of you.
“I thought she was legit,” ya ‘splain, before she can press the point in something other than eyeballs. “Like—that she actually lived here. I’m actually here to see your dude.”
Hooded Dude seems like she relaxes, minutely, but she’s still pretty all up on guard here. “I see,” she says. “You’re here to see somebody?”
“Yeah—your head dude—” and ya blank on the name, but only for a sec. “Byakuren?”
This time, the relaxin’ jumps in bounds. Or glides upwards, which is a lot more fittin’ for jumpin’ than boundfully jumpin’ would be. “You’re here to see our sister?” she says. “If you’re here to see her, you can’t be too disagreeable a person.”
“Trust me, I’m totally agreeable.” This is Byakuren’s sister? Well, now thatcha look at ‘er, there’s something in the way she operates that’s Byakurenesque. “Is she in? ‘Cause if she’s not in, I can wait.”
You’ve got nothing better to do, right?
“You don’t need to,” says Hooded Dude. “She returned with us. I’ll bring you to her right now.” She shuts off that last sentence with a short bow of the head—not so much an actual bowin’ as much as just her sayin’, “I acknowledge you exist”—and then, without even waitin’ for you to indicate one way or another that you’re up to follow her, turns ‘round and startin’ walkin’ out from the room she barely walked in. Ya stumble pretty bad, rushin’ to your feet and out the door, half ‘spectin’ that when ya turn the corner out, the dude’ll’ve disappeared—but no, course not; she’s right there (though walkin’ away as steadily and not-lookin’-back-ly as when she started), and ya fix yourself easy into her footsteps behind ‘er. Largeness or smallness of the place irregardless, it doesn’t take long till you’re led to the dude you were seekin’—Byakuren, standin’ midchat, surrounded by a millin’ host of dudes you can only describe as “motley.” Like, ya think ya see some of ‘em havin’ tails there? And that dude is literally dressed as a sailor, so that’s a thing.
“Sister,” Hooded Dude calls, which has the effect of not only drawin’ Byakuren’s attention, but also the attentions of everyone else on the scene.
Which means, suddenly, all eyes on you. You can see the mass question passin’ over the multitude of mugs: Namely, “Who’s this dude and when’d she get in?”
Luckily, there’s an exception to that movement, seein’ as there’s a dude in this company who has met ya, i.e. the Byakuren you’ve been lookin’ for. “Christoferson,” she says, smilin’ gentle as she draws herself outta the crowd. “I wasn’t expecting you to visit today.”
“Yeah, my bad.” Ya suddenly feel kinda awkward, ‘specially with this group of dudes who’re so obviously thick with each other in front of you as they are. Up till now, you just sorta assumed that between Byakuren’s invite a month ago and this place bein’ a religious site, there’d be a general open-doors policy—but maybe not? “If it makes ya feel better, this is more biz than pleasure. Or I guess I don’t have any biz to biz, but it’s more businessy pleasure than the regular pleasant pleasure.”
Byakuren, still smilin’, takes in your wordage—you can see her turnin’ it in her head till it makes sense for her. “A consultation, then.”
“Well, sorta? Mostly I was thinkin’ more refuge. Not that I’m in trouble or anything, but I know you’re all over that human-youkai goodfeel.”
Byakuren nods. And then, havin’ gotten that your presence is solid here, she turns back to the huddle behind. “This is Christoferson—Chris Christoferson,” she says, and glances at you again, like she’s not sure she got that right.
Ya nod a yes, even though part of you thinks she’s totally sure, actually. You dunno. Could go either way. “‘Chris’ works,” ya say. “Just don’t call me ‘C.C.,’ or we’re gonna have words.”
“Christoferson is the human who helped bring the horse’s leg to the temple,” Byakuren continues.
One of the dudes—the one dressed like sailor—gets a furrow ‘cross her brow. “I thought you were the one who brought that one,” she says to Byakuren.
“Byakuren brought the horse’s leg here,” says Hooded Dude, “but she got the horse’s leg from a human, first.”
Sailor frowns. “I don’t remember that.”
“You weren’t here.”
“Yeah, that’ll do it. So it’s her fault Kyouko’s lost her way?”
“I haven’t lost my way!” That’s one of the shorter dudes here. There’s a pair of floppy animalish ears on her head, and they sway at the ruffly ends as they turn backwards. “I’m sure they’re still settling in—you can’t expect someone new to be comfortable so fast.”
Sailor gets a look like a woman on the verge of cryin’, or at least pretendin’ to cry, and then suddenly hoists “Kyouko” into a full-bodied hug—“hoists,” ya say, ‘cause with the height difference she’s actually pickin’ this Kyouko up by the underarms. Like, feet leave the ground here.
“She’s so pure-hearted!” Sailor fake-bawls to no one in particular. “Still trying to see the best in people, even when they don’t deserve it at all!”
“M-Minamitsu!” Kyouko kicks availlessly. “Let me down!”
“Not a chance!”
Kyouko continues to struggle as Minamitsu, obviously deliberately unheedin’, keeps on with the bodily contact and the heapin’ of accolades. To be hoenst, ya don’t know what to make of it. “Hey, dude,” ya hiss, lowerin’ your voice so (hopefully) the only dude that can hear ya is the hooded dude who brought ya to this group. “Should I be here?”
Hooded Dude hums, lookin’ into this entire...whatever-this-is. Another one of the previously-standin’-‘round dudes seems to have joined in by now, though over Kyouko protestin’ and Minamitsu protestin’ her protestin’ ya can’t hear what she’s personally addin’ to the whole experience. It’s one of the dudes ya thought earlier mighta had a tail, only now that you’re payin’ attention you can see it’s not tails she’s got. Or maybe they are? Ya don’t know what they are, is the thing, ‘cept that they’re comin’ outta her back and that half of ‘em look like tentacles and the other half look like someone plundered the halves off a few pairs of beaucoup oversized scissors.
Also, she’s wearin’ a little black dress? With stockings. That’s weird, right? Weirder than the sailor thing.
“It’s alright for you to be here,” says Hooded Dude, and ya realize ya sorta zoned out for a sec—though maybe it’s Hooded Dude’s fault, partly, for takin’ so long to mull it over. “Sister says you’re a friend to youkai, besides.”
“It just sorta ended up that way. Though I mean, like—” ya gesture, “with this goin’ on, should I be here? ‘Cause I can go to another room or something.”
“It’s alright,” Hooded Dude says again. “Because it’s always like this anyway.”
She says that, but she’s smilin’ while she’s sayin’ that, real fondish.
So that’s fine, ya guess. And you’re even gonna say something to that effect, only ‘cept that’s when what you can only call an explosive ahem drops into the room. It’s actually super-impressive: There’s nothing really loud ‘bout it, least not unusually, but it sorta reverberates or resonates or does something funky with acoustics that, instead of gettin’ lost in the chaos like an ahem of its volume ought to have, it hits. Like, your ears are suddenly fulla ahem and not much else, and from the way everyone else in the place’s friz where they’re standin’, heads twisted sourcewards, you’re pretty sure you’re not the only one.
And of course, when you’re talkin’ ‘bout the source, ya mean Byakuren, who’s lookin’ impossibly tranquilly over the assembled assembly—smilin’, even. “Minamitsu. Nue,” she says, and the coil of her voice sounds close to creakin’, even if her voice itself isn’t. “The two of you seem to have some free time to spare. Why don’t you find us some tea to serve our guest?”
Minamitsu, without breakin’ eye contact, gently places her Kyouko back onto the ground. “Do you really need two people to make tea?” she mutters.
“Right, right, tea—sorry about that. C’mon, Nue.”
“I ought to be saying ‘come on’ to you,” that one called “Nue” says. “You made trouble longer than I.”
“Sure, sure. C’mon.” And she grabs Nue’s wrist, trippin’ her down the hall and away at an unsteady half-jog.
Ya follow the two of them down till the feelin’ of eyebeams gets unignorable. “So, those dudes,” ya say at Byakuren, “they’re Buddhists too?”
“Most of the youkai here are Buddhist monks in training,” Byakuren says. Off to the side, Kyouko raises herself to her feet, with another of the dudes—taller, robes, crowned with some orange nenuphar-lookin’ thing—helpin’ her up. “This vocation isn’t a simple one, and they are still in-training, so please forgive their indiscretions for now.”
“Yeah, no, it’s cool.” Ya wave off the apology. “I dunno from Buddhism, remember? Which means I don’t know from Buddhist-monkhood, either.”
Byakuren looks like she’s ‘bout to say something, and then her eyes light up. And then she still says something, though you’re gonna bet it’s something totally different than the first something she was gonna say, prolly: “In that case, why don’t Ichirin and I tell you of this temple’s history?” she says. “As a temple, it’s only very recently that we’ve been established, but this structure saw use long before that—would you like to hear the story?”
[ ] She’s piqued your interest. Ask her to lay it on! [ ] Hold up, didn’t someone mention the horse’s leg? [ ] Not now, with this Rinnosuke ish hangin’ over ya. [ ]
[X] Hold up, didn’t someone mention the horse’s leg? Should probably ask about that first. Hopefully it's nothing immediately an issue, like it's actually a Muslim and converted Kyouko, and we can continue on to the tour after hearing about it.