Saturday, February 11, 2017

Akuma No Imouto Chapter Two

Yesterday, you started to work for your sister at the bar which she owns.  Yesterday, you also learned that in the process of owning this bar, your sister collects objects representative of people’s darkest secrets to trade for magic spells from a warlock named Arthur.  This is not the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to you, though, because you and your sister are demons, trapped in the mortal world through an inexplicable mishap which you have yet to learn how to comprehend.

Unfortunately, yesterday was not the best start to your job.  You spent, after the first fifteen minutes, about three hours absolutely incapacitated due to panic attacks and flashbacks spurred on by that whole secret collection thing you foolishly decided to take part in.  Ryo assured you at the time that you wouldn’t remember the inside of Gwyneira Bartrop’s mind, but you did.  She didn’t, so it strikes you as odd.  Maybe the spell was only ever meant for one person.

Today, you intend to do better.  Sure, you shattered all of Ryo’s expectations for you when you did get to work; she expressed that you did a better of job of handling the floor tables than Neptune ever did by far.  Not in an entirely complimentary way, of course, but you know she meant it.  You take some pride in being better than her past roommate, though you didn’t get anywhere near as many tips as she apparently used to.  So you’re better at your job, but she was much prettier, and probably flirtier than you are.

Your intention for the day is to work the entire shift.  Which… isn’t a lofty goal, but would nonetheless be an improvement over yesterday.  You’ve also decided that if Ryo goes secret hunting again today… You’ll go with her.  After yesterday that seems like an awful idea, but you know that there are a few reasons for it.  You need to know if it’s a repeating thing, that you remember the mind.  You also feel like you have to expose yourself to those sort of things again if you’re ever going to be able to power through getting triggered.  It’s been over a decade and you feel like you should be over it by now.

In any case, Ryo doesn’t kick you awake at noon today.  She kicks you awake at half past noon.  Also, she doesn’t actually kick you today, just yells at you.  Already off to a better start.  Once more, you get ready, then go downstairs and clean up.  Today, Koren’s already arrived by the time you get to work, but that’s fine.  You set to doing what needs to be done immediately, and Ryo opens the bar not long after.  Unlike yesterday, it’s a while longer before anybody comes in, and when they do there’s no one interesting until it starts get busier.

The first person to catch your eye is a kid who looks to be about twelve, and this one’s not like Gwyn.  She’s wearing bright colors, and if not for the red eyes, you’d mistake her for human, but since you know what to look for it’s pretty obvious.  There’s only two tables, with most people still sitting up at the bar, including her, so you approach.  She turns to you before you can say anything and holds out a hand, “Hey there.  I’m Akira Katsuki, and I’m a regular here.  So you’re boss-lady’s brother, eh?  It’s nice to meet you,” You shake her hand.

“Akira Katsuki… That’s an interesting name,” You note, not wanting to say that it seems a bit masculine for a small girl.

Akira Katsuki
“What?  Oh, don’t worry, that’s my real name.  My work name is Loli-pop!” She gives you a sweet smile, then drops it and switches to a blank look, “I’m an Okaburo, dummy,” Oh, so this is the one.  He sticks his tongue out at me, “And I only work for humans, okay?  I’m much too small and fragile to indulge the kinks of yokai!” With this, he picks up the vodka shot that’s on the bar in front of him and downs it.  The human patron two seats down gives him a weird look, which he waves off and raises his voice with a turn that direction, “I’m not working tonight, okay?”

“I heard about you.  Just a little bit, anyway, that we have a regular who makes the mortals think we serve hard liquor to children,” You shrug, “That’s evidently you.  So, what brings you to the human world anyhow?”

“Got summoned by an idiot,” He answers, leaning forward on the counter with his elbow, chin in his hand, “The standard story.  Guy summoned me, refused all three of my very reasonable contract options, then tossed me outside and put up wards.  Worried I’d come looking for revenge or something, I guess, like I could do that!  There isn’t any violent power in me.  Besides, business is good these days.  Lots of lolicons around.  Human world rocks if you take advantage of how terrible it is!”

“I guess that’s one way of looking at things,” You can’t help but make a strange face at this, “You’re seriously okay with that?”

“Hey, I do better here than I ever did back home, y’know?” He taps the bar, “Look, when you’re literally a species of demon that’s known for prostitution you’ve got to look on the bright side!  Anyway, Boss-lady!” He shouts out to Ryo, “Can I have another round, please?” She gives him a nod, then finishes up the drink she was working on and makes his as he turns to you again, twintails swinging back and forth by his shoulders, “Anyway, what’s your deal, since I just told you so much about mine?”

“I’m a gashadokuro,” You respond, putting your hands in your pockets, “Don’t have a clue how I ended up here.  Ryo and I were just minding our own business one day, and suddenly we just couldn’t see the stars.  Since then, we can’t even get into Ura Town...”

“Gashadokuro?  Euch!” He makes a face and sticks his tongue out again, holding his hands in the air with limp wrists, “I couldn’t imagine, if I had to eat bones…”

“Isn’t that more or less what you do anyway, Katsuki-kun?” When I say this, he tenses his shoulders and turns red in embarassment.

“...Touche…” He just mutters, then looks away, “That thing you said, though, about showing up here without an explanation… I heard that’s been happening lately,” He stares across the bar at the cabinets behind it, “Met a vampire from America, said the same thing happened to her and three of her friends too.  Then there were those sisters in Nagasaki… It’s kind of concerning…”

“Concerning?  Of course.  However, there is an explanation, Akira,” Somebody else’s voice interrupts the conversation, and you look over to see… A walking disaster.  Honestly, this person makes no sense whatsoever, even to you.  You’re used to hideous abominations.  White hair, a trenchcoat, unusually colored eyes… Heart earrings… A rifle…

“Who the Hell are you?” You throw common courtesy out the window in your confusion.  The confusing person doesn’t seem to care.

True Whitman
“True Whitman,” The answer is as if you’re supposed to know what that means.

“He’s one of the most well-known demon hunters,” Akira answers, and you take a step backwards, “Ugh, don’t worry about it!  He only deals with demons who hurt other demons, or go after him.  He’s an Earthly demon himself, so… He’s good!”

“Of course,” True nods, then holds a hand up in an odd pose, “I’ve been in the game for a long time… More than I can say for most, you know.  Idiots who go after plain and simple human killers don’t stand a chance of living for long,” He shakes his head, “That’s the flaw in hunter logic, you know.  It doesn’t matter, if some humans get eaten.  That’s how the population stays reasonable.  Gotta think like law enforcement, if you’re a hunter.  Go after the real criminals, not the demons just going about their business.”

“Ha!” Akira looks over his shoulder to smirk at True, “If you think law enforcement’s only after real criminals you’ve got another thing coming!  Human police should be more like you,” He picks up the drink that Ryo just delivered, but doesn’t drink it yet, “Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people get arrested for panhandling and stuff like that.  Pointless, really.  So expensive for the government, too…”

“Well,” True shrugs, then sits down next to Akira, “Anyway, this transience phenomenon.  I can explain it… But I can’t solve it.”

“Hey, Whitman,” Ryo walks over and greets him, “What’s it gonna be today?”

“Ryo,” You turn to her, “He says he can explain how we ended up here.”

“Wait, seriously?” She squints at him, “And why haven’t I heard about this before, huh?”

“Probably because I never knew that you were a victim of the transience phenomenon!” He answers, “Guess you should hear it too.  Basically… The reason that demons have trouble getting back if they’re summoned by an idiot is the bureaucratic backup, right?” He’s referring to the fact that the contracting records get sorted through at a much quicker pace than the summoning records, “Well, even when the files aren’t sorted, there is a record that you aren’t there.  If you get shifted by transience, which happens due to pools of magic forming in equivalent locations in the human world which deteriorate the barrier between worlds, then there is no document created to state that you’ve left.  Therefore, the demon world thinks you’re already there, so the version of you trying to get in now must be an impostor.”

“Okay, well, how do we make that stop?  I’m not too concerned with getting home, but it would be nice to at least go to Ura Town again,” Ryo questions, having not heard the bit earlier when True said that he didn’t know how to solve the problem.

“I have absolutely no idea,” He sighs, running a hand back through his hair, “Really, I’ve been trying to research the transcience phenomenon, but I haven’t gotten anywhere beyond figuring out why you can’t get back, not how to solve that problem… Far as I can tell, nobody’s figured it out.  Word’s barely even getting around in the demon world, and there haven’t been any of the traditionalists’ most favored children disappearing, so it’s not a priority in any way…”

“Damn,” Ryo sighs, shaking her head, and you just shrug.  You’ve given up on the idea of ever leaving the mortal world again at this point, so it isn’t much of a disappointment for you to hear it’s still, to all knowledge, impossible, “Wait, research?  Whitman, I thought you were a hunter, not an occultist…”

“You can do a bit of both, you know,” He puts his hands behind his head, “Though, I do have the help of an occultist, most of my info comes out of interrogation and hearsay, depending on the moral qualities of my source.  It’s not tough to get info out of somebody who’s afraid for their life…” True chuckles, showing off sharp teeth.  So he really is a demon, even if he hardly looks the part, “And hey, how about a gin and tonic?  No ice, thanks a bunch Masaomi.”

“Demons who harm other demons are usually cowards deep down!” Akira notes, laughing to himself with a hand over his mouth, “Pretending to be strong and brave by taking on strong opponents… And I mean, what’s the point in hurting somebody if you don’t need to do it to live, right?  I sure wouldn’t hurt a human, since I don’t eat them!  It’s a waste of energy, fighting other demons or anyone else just because you can.”

“I have to agree,” True nods, and you look around the room to make sure none of your tables need anything.  Don’t seem to, so you turn your attention back to the conversation at hand, “Violence for the sake of it, may be fine in the demon world, but that’s not how things work around here.  Demons that pick fights with other demons, they’re a big danger to everyone in the human world, so I…” He closes his eyes, “Handle them.  What I do is useful.  That’s how I’m alive.  Hunters who go attacking any old demon, course they get killed!  You can’t expect to go up against demons unless you have more demons on your side. It's like trying to fight the mafia without the support of another group, someone's going to want revenge, and if those revenge-seekers outnumber you, you're boned.

“I see…” You nod slowly.  This is fascinating stuff; No, really.  You’ve never actually learned a thing about hunters before, so meeting one and learning about what successful demon hunting really is, it’s cool.  School only ever talked about the ones who were bad at their jobs, the ones who killed a few demons without regard then got killed themselves.  The ones you have to keep an eye out for, because otherwise you could end up as one of the victims in their short run.

“Anyway,” Akira stretches his arms out over his head, “Think I’m gonna head out.  I stay till closing most nights, but,” He finishes his most recent drink then yawns, “I had an unusually busy day today.  Same number of customers in daylight as I usually get when I work at night, so I’ve gotta get my beauty rest~”

“Looks like you’re moving up,” True notes, “Congratulations, but don’t overwork yourself, kiddo-”

“I’m older than you, Whitman,” Akira rolls his eyes, “But yeah, don’t worry.  I’m always gonna take Saturday nights off, no matter how much demand there is,” He chuckles, then stands up, “I’ll see you next week, if you’re still in town?”

“Yeah, probably.  Annie’s filming right now so there’s not a lot I can get done on my own over in the states, may as well stick around here,” True nods, closing his eyes then fiddling with one of his earrings, “Hold up a minute, Akira,” He downs the last drops of his drink, then stands as well, “You really gonna try to get a taxi this time of night?  Let me give you a ride.”

“Hm, let me think a minute.  Difficulty flagging a taxi at nine PM because I look like a gradeschooler, or sitting in a sidecar, I think I’d prefer the taxi troubles,” He grins, waving a hand in the air, “Thanks for the offer, though!”

“I don’t have a sidecar anymore,” True puts his hands on his hips, “Annie finally decided she’d rather ride tandem, so I was able to scrap the damn thing.  You up for that?”

“Well, isn’t that a little illegal?” Akira questions back, “Then again, it’s not like I’m following many laws in general most days, so… Yeah, I’ll take you up on it.”

“Great,” True chuckles, then turns and waves to you and your sister, “Stay classy, right?”

“...Right,” You nod, then look around the room again and notice that one of your tables seems ready to order food, having closed all their menus, so you walk over there and put on your best ‘I don’t hate my life!’ expression, “Hey folks, ready to think about some food?” The customers at this table are tourists, as you learned when taking their drink orders; Lucky enough, demon language is a universal mid-translator.  Not that it makes sense for a language to function that way, but you aren’t about to question it due to its usefulness. Admittedly, it's still most comfortable to hear and speak Japanese due to growing up in the demon world's equivalent, but if you exert the energy you can handle any language necessary.

“Yes!  But…” The older of the two women seated there smiles at you, with an oddly deep laugh which sounds as if it would be an intimidation tactic in any other situation, “Everything on the menu looks delicious, so I was wondering what you’d recommend?”

“I had a question too,” The younger one speaks up, glaring at you, “Are you usually in the habit of serving obvious minors?”

Evelyn Niemuth
“Evelyn!” The older one hits her, “This is Japan, you have to consider the cultural differences and respect them!”

“Actually,” You speak without regard to the fact that these two are human, due to the very inhuman creature seated beside them, “That supposed grade-schooler is over a century old.  The drinking age in Japan is twenty, and we follow that rule.”

“Er…” Evelyn blinks, then looks up at you, “How exactly does somebody that old look that way…?” She then glances at the table, “Did I forget to log out…?  Serena, we logged out, right?”

“Uh,” You glance at the bar, but Ryo’s busy with other customers so you decide it’s best not to try asking her to help you figure out what to say.  Instead, you decide to just explain it in your way.  Not a smart move, “I don’t know what this is about logging out, but Akira, that supposed child who just walked out, he’s a demon.  Like your companion here!”

“...Demon?” The older woman, apparently named Serena questions, then turns to the creature across the table, “Howl, are you a demon?”

Serena Niemuth
It shrugs, and seems to flicker out of existence for a moment before it looks at you with empty, empty eyes.  You swear you can see something moving around inside the blank space, and it’s somehow unsettling even with all that you’ve seen in the demon world.  Maybe… it isn’t a demon, but what could it possibly be instead?

“We have no clue what Howl is,” Evelyn speaks up again, holding a finger to her chin, “We just found it!  Uh, its in-game avatar looks a little more human, but we never thought to ask about its past.  I always just assumed it was a cryptid…”

“Huh…” You crouch down and try to examine the thing, but find yourself unable to look for too long at such a bizarre being, so you stand back up and look around the bar, frowning.  It doesn’t seem like there are any telepaths around tonight, as far as you can tell, and thus no way to communicate with something which has its mouth stitched and arms bound, “Well, how long are the three of you in the area for?”

“Well, we’re heading out to Kobe tomorrow morning, but we might be back in a couple of weeks,” Serena answers you, leaning on the table, “We’re visiting a friend who’s in our guild, in a game that we play, and she lives out there so we’re staying with her for a bit.”

“Kobe, huh?  That’s a bit of a trip from here,” You can’t help but make small talk, which is fine at a place like this.  It’s still not especially busy, and even so, there are other bars in Tokyo that are clearly for people who are in a hurry.  A relaxed atmosphere is part of the appeal of Akuma Spirits, “And the trip by train is kind of expensive too… Are you renting a car?”

Howl, The Wanderer
“No,” Evelyn shakes her head then gives you a bright smile, “There’s no need for any of that!  Howl can travel faster than the speed of light!  Of course, I still caught it with some skilled roller-skating, back in 2015, but that’s just because of my stupendous luck!”

“Faster than light?  How can it do that?” You wonder, and glance at it again for only a moment, but it sends shivers down your spine.  What you won’t ask out loud is how those two can stand to be around this thing for any extended period of time.

“Well, it’s not like we’re scientists…” Serena laughs, “We couldn’t even afford this trip if not for Howl’s traveling ability,” As she says this, it looks to you and gives an innocent wave, as if it isn’t an affront to all life, “But, as far as we can tell… It can fold spacetime?  That sounds ridiculous, huh?  I bet that’s not the real explanation!  It just, is always flickering in and out of existence, and if it wants to reach a certain location when that happens, then… It does, and so does anyone holding onto it!”

“That makes no sense whatsoever, but I’m not one to argue with the workings of something so strange,” You give the creature a nervous wave back, “So… What’s this game that you play called, huh?”

“We’re not supposed to tell other people to play it, but…” Evelyn crosses her arms, “It’s called Faetale Halidae.  It’s shareware, technically, but most people can only afford the VR ware to play it if they’ve been specifically invited and gifted the hardware,” She looks away, “Even if you can buy it on your own, it’s seriously advised that you don’t play if you never received an invite.”

“That sounds pretty weird,” You stand up straight and look at the ceiling, “Seriously advised?  That makes it sound dangerous!  And what’s with the name, Fatal Holiday?  Why would somebody make a VR game with a title like that?”

“No, no, Faetale Halidae!  It’s a play on Faerie Tale, and the in-game world is called Halidae,” Serena’s smile is sheepish as she waves a hand in the air, “Though… There are rumors that if you die in the game, you die in real life, but I don’t believe them.  I’ve died in-game plenty of times, and I always respawn.”

“That still sounds… Scary, I think that’s something I’d prefer to pass on, so you don't have to worry about me going to look for it,” You shake your head, then look to Serena again, “You wanted a recommendation?”

“Yes!” She nods, “I just can’t decide…  The menu is so extensive, too!  Western foods, and Asian ones, all in one menu… Either you have an excellent chef, or a very disorganized one!”

“Well, I’m afraid that I can’t decide for you either,” You sigh with an apologetic look, “The truth is, I just started working at this particular bar yesterday, so I haven’t had a chance to try much of the food yet.  I did have the beef stew, though, and that was good, but… That’s all I’ve tried so far.”

“Oh!” Serena chuckles, “Well, that’s funny, hm?  In that case, just bring us anything!  Leave it up to your chef.  I’m not allergic to anything, and Evelyn’s allergic to strawberries, but nothing else.  Oh, and for Howl, do you think you could just bring any one of your soups, and a straw?  Er, do you have straws here?”

“Good question,” You have no idea if this place has straws.  There are the tiny stirrer straws, of course, but legitimate straws?  Who drinks their alcohol through a straw?  It isn’t as if you ever serve legitimate children here, as has been made clear several times already.  Ryo’s not as busy anymore, so you wander over to her, “Hey, Ryo, do we have any full-sized straws?”

“Hm?” She looks to you, then crouches down to search under the counter, coming back up with a wrapped, full-size straw, “One of the three I’ve got left down here.  Used to have a regular who would only drink through straws… Dunno why he stopped coming, but yeah, we’ve got a few left over from then.  Why?”

“We’ve got a customer over there with its mouth stitched shut and it wants to drink some soup through a straw,” You answer, pointing at the table in question with the straw after you take it from her.  It feels a little weird referring to a living being as ‘it’, but since Howl’s… handlers?  Referred to it that way, you will too, “That’s fine, right?”

“Yeah, of course…” Ryo mumbles, staring off at the table with her eyes slowly narrowing in confusion, “What in the world…?”

“I know, right?” You mutter, “It doesn’t know if it’s a demon, and I’m tempted to think it’s not, but… What could it be?  If Whitman hadn’t left yet, maybe he’d have some ideas…”

“Doubt it,” Ryo shakes her head, “Something that strange?  He’d have to bring Annie with him,” She turns to you and chuckles, “I could tell by the way he was talking about her, she’s the occultist that he mentioned.”

“How could you possibly tell that?  All I could tell is that they aren’t romantic…” You gripe, walking towards the kitchen window to relay the request to Koren, “Couldn’t that Annie person just be a friend or relative?”

“He mentioned that he can’t get a lot done without her in the states, which makes sense.  It’s a lot tougher to pin down demons over there, but there are yokai all over Japan.  Don’t need an occultist to find us around here, but across the ocean there?” Ryo answers, and you suppose that makes sense now that she points it out to you.

“Koren,” You call into the kitchen, and she slithers up the window, hands clasped in front of her, “There’s a table who can’t decide what to eat, and they asked you to decide for them.  One’s allergic to strawberries and one can only eat soup, but apparently anything goes aside from that.”

“Oh!” She leans out of the window and looks over to the table, wide-eyed, “Those three, right?  I can do that!  In fact, I’ll make them the perfect meals,” She turns to you again and winks, “Skill isn’t the only reason my cooking is renowned, you know.”

“What’s that supposed to mean!?” You question, but she’s already turned around and gotten to work, humming a song under her breath.  Well, whatever she meant by that, you turn back around and find Ryo in your face, “What do you want??”

“Nagi,” She waves a finger in the air, “Your customer service demeanor is slipping~” She sticks her tongue out at you.  What is with everyone and sticking their tongues out today? “You know, you gotta be polite and friendly around customers, even when you aren’t speaking directly to them, or you won’t get tips and you won’t be able to buy anything for yourself!”

“Ugh,” You roll your eyes, but return to that fake smile as you lean against the wall.  It doesn’t seem as if there’s anything for you to do at the moment aside from wait for Koren to finish cooking.  The only other table you’ve got is wrapped up in conversation with each other, menus still open; but there’s not enough time for you to pop off to clean something, either.

“You know, Nagi,” Ryo steps closer to you, hands clasped in front of herself, “I bet that strange creature over there in the corner, it must have a really juicy secret… Arthur’s coming by on Wednesday to collect the book we got yesterday, and it would just be amazing if we could give him two top-notch secrets in one collection…”

“There’s one fatal flaw in that idea,” You look away, leaning backwards as she tries to get into your personal space again, “I don’t think we can get that thing to drink a complimentary cocktail…  It doesn’t seem like it would just trust us like that.  Maybe if it could somehow communicate, but right now I just think that we shouldn’t try…”

“Right now?  Well, is it going to come back here?” She takes a step back again, blinking as she works through the implications of your wording.

“The group said they may be back in the area within the next few weeks, so… Maybe?” You shrug, glancing over at the three again.  Two normal, American girls… And that freak?  It’s a strange party, to be sure, “Do you think we could try to have a telepath in here, when they’re back?  You know at least one telepath, don’t you?”

“I could probably manage to get one to hang around a bit…” She nods, tapping her chin with her eyes closed, “I’m just trying to think.  That’s not a very common skill, you know!  Just because I’m more social than your dumb ass doesn’t mean I’ve got a whole phonebook of demon friends… There’s a half-demon, though, who could probably do it.”

“A half-demon?” You tilt your head to the side, “You say you don’t know too many people, then you pull that out?  Isn’t it ridiculously difficult for humans and demons to have children together?”

“Yeah, mostly.  You’ve still been using some sort of birth control though, right?” She gives you a harsh look, and you nod.

“Not reliably, but I have… Been trying?” You chuckle, rubbing the back of your neck, “Anyway, how’d you even run into a half-demon old enough to come in here…?”

“The power of modern medicine, Nii-chan,” She gets back to work as she continues talking to you, “It’s possible now, to counteract the immune deficiencies that half-demons have.  The telepathy’s the only power that she's got, but it’s something.  She works a few blocks away, too, so it would be easy to get her to come by when she’s needed.  Tonight wouldn’t work though, she’s away on weekends.”

“So you did know somebody fitting all along!” You bristle again at the fact that she evidently knows this telepath on enough of a personal level to know her schedule and everything, and she didn’t just say so outright, “Can you call her?”

“Tomorrow morning,” Ryo starts mixing another drink for one of the other customers seated at the bar, “Unlike you, Nagi-nii, she isn’t nocturnal, and I can’t very well make a phone call while I’m working!  She’ll be asleep by the time we close.”

“Whatev-” You can’t get through your next word before Koren rings the bell in the window and you jump, then turn to look at her, “Done already…?”

“Of course!” She waves her tail back in the kitchen, where only you can see it, and gives you a grin that bares her teeth, “Even when I make specialty meals, I pride myself on quick service!  I mean, after you’ve been on Earth for over a thousand years, you had better be the absolute best at what you do…”

“Great,” You nod, then pick up the dishes, already a pro at handling multiple plates.  Well, not a pro, but you’re capable and not about to drop them if you’re in a stable mental state, “You’ll want me to bring back their comments, right?”

“Yep!” She nods again, then turns around and you make your way back to the table in question, distributing the meals and placing the still-wrapped straw down in front of Howl.  You cross your arms and smile at them.

“Here we go!  What the chef decided on for you,” You continue standing there, “She’d love to hear what you have to say!”

“Oh, of course,” Serena nods, then actually looks at her food, and her eyes widen in surprise, “This is… This wasn’t even on the menu…” Sitting on the table in front of her is a bowl of clam chowder, with a packet of oyster crackers on the side, “It’s been forever, since I had good clam chowder…” She’s stunned.

“When are we gonna visit Boston again anyway?” Evelyn questions, having already stuffed a bite of her own meal into her mouth; A sirloin steak, cooked rare, with steamed cabbage.  That was on the menu, “Hey, maybe we could bring Red with us and we could all hang out with Olivia and Cordelia…”

“Maybe,” Serena chuckles, waving a hand, “Howl really does make travel like that easy…” She looks at it, to see that it’s just staring at the chicken noodle soup in front of it.

“Er,” You realize your mistake there, but try to cover your tracks, “I didn’t want to be presumptous and set up the straw for it, so-”

“You didn’t want to get too close to it, right?” Evelyn questions, and you grimace, but she just smiles back at you, “Wow, I don’t blame you!  Do you remember when Howl was all over the news?  They were calling it The Wanderer and everyone was terrified because it was showing up on like, the Eiffel Tower and shit,” Somehow, you’ve flipped the younger girl’s switch into a talkative mode, “And then I caught it!  I was gonna make a lot of money, but then… I kinda got attached!  So now it’s my friend,” As she says this, she sets up the straw for it, and it finally closes that one visible, disturbingly empty eye as it leans forward and sips at the soup.  You can’t tell if the other eye is closed behind its bangs.

“You can tell your chef that she did an amazing job,” Serena speaks to you again, and she seems like an incredibly warm person with the way she smiles now, “In fact, I don’t know how she managed, but she actually brought us our favorite foods…  How do you think she could know that?”

“I have no idea, Miss,” You shake your head, then flash her a grin in response, “Maybe she’s just a very lucky guesser,” That’s not a lie.  Not a complete lie, anyway.  You really don’t know how she did it, but you’re sure it wasn’t just a guess.  Koren’s a mysterious woman.

“Well, she deserves our compliments,” Serena nods at you, Evelyn returned to her ‘mouth full of steak’ silence by this point, “And thank you, too, for the lovely conversation!  We’ll definitely be back here before we leave Japan.”

“I’m glad to hear that!  I’ll let her know,” You nod back, then turn around and go back to the kitchen window once more, where Koren’s already waiting to hear back, “So, they liked it.  Uh, apparently those were their favorite foods, one of which wasn’t on the menu?”

“Oh, of course!” She nods, clasping her hands together and opening her eyes wide again, which is unsettling.  Normally she at least has one of her eyelids closed a little bit, “Since it wasn’t busy, I specialized the meals.  I can’t do anything as interesting as read minds, of course, but as I said, I’ve been around for a long time.  Since I was focusing on improving my cooking skill at the time, when I got the opportunity to get a new ability, I decided I wanted to know what anyone’s favorite foods were at any time.  Even if they don’t really know what their favorite is!”

“That’s…” You sigh, slouching your shoulders, “The option to learn a new ability is such a rare chance, and that’s what you used it on…?”

“I’ve heard all sorts of terrible things about demons who take those gifts for selfish reasons though, or try to become too powerful…” She fidgets, holding a finger to her lips and giving you a pathetic look, “So you know, I didn’t want to take that risk, I picked something simple and practical for my life!”

“I guess when you put it like that, it makes sense…” You roll your eyes despite your concession, leaning against the wall next to the window, “Ryo always keeps busy, doesn’t she?  Even at busy times, the floor tables don’t fill up very much, but the bar’s hardly had any empty seats since five…”

“Yeah, your sister works hard…” Koren nods, leaning forward on her hand, “That’s why I decided to work here, after all.  I came by when she was just starting out, and her drinks were already top notch, but the kitchen in the back of the building was empty.  I could tell she was trying her hardest… So I wanted to help her,” Her smile softens, “She’s like the rebellious teenage daughter I never knew I wanted.  Except she’s twenty-five.  That trademark Masaomi Hostility is rather endearing, I have to say.”

“Trademark Masaomi Hostility?” You question, frowning, “What the Hell is that supposed to mean, Koren?”

“Well, exactly that!  You and your sister are both so adorably, how should I put this… Tsundere?” She offers, chuckling, “You’re rude, but not in a way that makes people dislike you?  I can’t quite articulate why I find this something to admire, but I do.”

“Well…” You look up at the ceiling, “I’m glad, to tell you the truth.  It’s nice to have somebody looking out for us.  I’d say it’s nice, to have that in the human world, but… Truth is, we never had that in the first place.  Just each other.”

“Well,” She tilts her head to the side, “I’m not about to leave you two younglings to flounder on your own anytime soon.”

Next Chapter --->

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